Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saturday 06/14 (Very) Quickie

Lost in the news of Tim Russert's death: It was the 4th anniversary of Ralph Wiley's death, which I remembered in a post published earlier this morning.

Tiger Woods is 1 stroke back of the US Open lead after 2 rounds: No signs of knee problems yet! Again, I either wanted to see him win (but predicted he wouldn't) or fail epically. Looks like the latter is out of the question.

MLB to use instant replay as of August 1? What an amazing development that will ultimately help the game. Kudos to MLB for being aggressive about getting it implemented.

More MLB: How freaky was that Chipper Jones BP injury?... Back-to-back-to-back HRs for the Phillies (including, of course, Chase Utley) in that 20-2 rout of the Cards... Congrats to Barry Zito on racking up his 10th loss... Walk-off Watch: Chad Tracy for the D'backs in a 1-0 10-inning win over the Royals... Who had Andy Sonnanstine with 7 wins?... Fantasy Stud: Grady Sizemore, with 2 HR, continuing his All-Star-caliber season.

NFL: Why do Bills executives keep getting subpoenaed to talk about the Marshawn Lynch hit-and-run case?

NBA: I don't know where those Elton Brand-Gilbert Arenas team-swapping rumors are coming from, but I'm not sure I like them. Sure, Brand would give the Wizards an imposing frontcourt presence in the East, which combined with Jamison and Butler would be the best frontcourt in the East.

That said, as I am pretty convinced the Wizards will never win the East, let alone the NBA Finals, I would rather be entertained 82 games a year by Gilbert Arenas on my team than fall short in the playoffs (again) less entertainingly. That's an interesting prospect to flesh out, actually. I'm going to think about that for next week.

-- D.S.

Remembering Ralph Wiley

Tim Russert's death reminded me of another passing a few years ago, and as it turns out, it was four years ago yesterday: Ralph Wiley, who also died of a heart attack, also while doing something he loved -- in Wiley's case, watching the NBA Finals.

Wiley was a colleague of mine at Page 2 and, though I didn't know him as well as others, I hope he would have considered me a friend. Beyond his writing talent, which -- both at the time and with the benefit of hindsight -- I felt was pre-eminent in sports media, he had a huge heart, particularly for younger writers. A copy of the "attaboy" email he sent me when the Quickie was launched remains in my wallet, it meant that much to me.

Much like Russert's NBC colleagues were lamenting his lost voice and direction during this most momentous of presidential election campaigns, I feel like sports has been missing Ralph's voice for the last four years, between the scandals and the sensations. I would have loved his take on Vick; I would have loved his take on the Donaghy scandal. I would have loved his take on the past NBA season.

The other day, I went back into his archives to try to see if he had written about noticing anything untoward in the now-infamous Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals. I ended up getting lost in it for an hour -- and I could have spent much much longer, his columns were just that good.

I think Ralph would have made an amazing blogger -- while I'm not sure anyone wrote a long-form column better than Ralph, I think he would have loved to complement his longer writing with the blog platform, particularly its give-and-take with the community. While Page 2 gave him a new platform and a new relevance as a giant within online sports media, I think he would have been even bigger as the medium has advanced over the past four years.

He remains dearly missed, and I regret not having this post yesterday on the anniversary of his death, which continues to sadden me.

-- D.S.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert Dead at 58 of a Heart Attack

This is incredibly shocking, for a couple of reasons, most notably that Russert was probably the most larger-than-life person in all of political media.

He effectively had "called" the Democratic nominating process for Barack Obama the night of the Indiana-NC primaries, and it could be argued that it was the beginning of the end of the beginning. He seemed to be particularly energized by this election year.

His connection to sports was obvious (especially on Meet the Press) and he was a passionate fan, especially of his beloved Buffalo Bills. Whenever I was at a Wizards game, he seemed to be there. He was on the Board of Directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Here is a relevant sports-focused Q&A with him from an old Page 2 feature.)

The timing seems remarkably cruel (as if the timing of death is ever anything but), given that it is Father's Day weekend and Russert's best work probably came when writing about his father, "Big Russ and Me."

Condolences to his family, friends and fans.

-- D.S.

Friday 06/13 A.M. Quickie:
Celtics Title-Worthy, Lakers Chokers, More

I cannot freaking believe the Lakers blew that lead. The series is over. (I'd say "all but over," but really -- who are we kidding?)

That's the lead of my Sporting News column this morning.

And it's not like the Lakers choked -- well, yes, they did choke. But the Celtics deserve the credit for putting together the greatest comeback ever in a single Finals game.

To review: Boston sports fans now own the best playoff-series comeback of all time (2004 ALCS) and the best championship-series single-game comeback of all time.

I can't decide if it happening in Game 4 when they were already up 2-1 makes it more or less impressive -- sure, it could have been in a Game 7.

But the larger assumption was that the Celtics would simply say, "Hey, we're on the road. We're down by 24. Let's write this one off and concentrate on winning 2 of the next 3."

That is precisely what they DIDN'T do, and that is why they are now going to be remarkably worthy NBA champions.

Please consider my track record of crapping on Boston teams when evaluating the sentiments above.

It might not seem like it, but I am not some out-and-out hater; I recognize and appreciate greatness in sports when I see it -- and that was a GREAT win. A champion's win.

Yesterday, I might have been dismissive. Today, it is easy for me to accept them as champs.

Meanwhile, I feel like Jamie Moyer is one of those pitchers that you really need to go out and see in person if he is pitching in your town on any given day. What he is doing at 45 is nothing less than remarkable, even with that 4-plus ERA.

Did you know that only 250 players in MLB history have 2,000 or more hits? That's not quite the 600-HR Club, but it's pretty damn exclusive -- and now Ray Durham is in the group.

(I was have been doing a lot of milestone-related research this week, what with Griffey and now Durham, and you know whose name pops up on both the all-time HR and all-time hits list? Ellis Burks. 350+ HR and 2000+ hits. Who knew?)

The NFL may not want reporters live-blogging from the press box, but I argue that that's not what they should be focusing on anyway -- it's a waste of their time and energy.

NBA Draft: Obviously, I am more attuned to Marreesse Speights than most. He will be a better pro player than college player -- he needs to be in the right system, though, because he was soft. I would have loved to have him back on the Gators next season, but it is what it is.

I have a fairly straightforward rule: If you are going to be a first-round NBA pick -- at any draft slot -- you are pretty stupid not to jump to the pros. An extra year of college might raise your draft stock (and thus your first contract), but I think that a year of practice under NBA coaches (even if you aren't playing that much in games) makes you far more ready to succeed in the NBA than an extra year of college productivity.

There is a lot more in the column today. Here is a link to check it out.

It's Father's Day weekend, so happy father's day to all those dads out there. I'll be blogging all weekend as usual, but if you're not stopping by until Monday, happy dad's day.

-- D.S.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thursday 06/12 A.M. Quickie:
Tiger, Phil, Rondo, Soriano, Pujols, More

First, if you missed it yesterday, I'd direct you to the post directly below (or here). It's a book review, but also a bit of a discussion-starter about the role of youth sports in society.

OK, so today's Sporting News column leads with the US Open, but only so I can have the rare chance to say "Field" over "Tiger." I am torn between rooting for some kind of awesome Tiger-as-Kerri-Strug victory for the ages vs. Tiger falling totally flat on his face and failing.

Meanwhile, I'm ready to stop talking about whether the NBA is rigged and simply look forward to the NBA ensuring that the Lakers win Game 4 tonight -- I'm quite sure the NBA has special psychokinetic powers that will keep Rondo gimpy...oh, and they'll use them! -- and make the NBA Finals a little more interesting (if exposing the 2-3-2 format as anti-competitive).

Seriously, if there were any concerns that the NBA is rigged, the league's insistence on using the 2-3-2 format in the Finals should shut that down. There couldn't be anything less competition-friendly than that.

Over in MLB, it's a big morning for injuries: Soriano. Pujols. And it's a big morning for Dan Uggla, who would be the best 2B in MLB if it wasn't for Chase Utley, who happens to lead Uggla for the NL HR lead, but only by 1 after Uggla's walk-off grand slam last night.

There's a ton more in the column today, so check it out. And, if you're a Varsity Dad fan, I will be updating that blog a couple of times today with after-thoughts from yesterday's post about Tom Farrey's book "Game On."

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slow Children Playing: A Book Review of "Game On" by Tom Farrey

"Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children" by Tom Farrey was one of the most fascinating sports books I have read in a long time, and it would make an amazing Father's Day gift.

Actually, I would like to send a copy to every dad (and mom) out there who harbors fantasies of athletic glory for their children. I have a simple message: Get over it.

When I launched the Varsity Dad blog, its mission was simple: How to raise an all-star sports fan. I intentionally side-stepped raising an all-star athlete, because I think it is delusional at best and debilitating at worst.

Farrey's book both re-affirmed my perspective and enlightened me to angles of it that I hadn't previously considered.

First, a disclosure: Tom and I worked together at back in the mid-1990s. We got along very well back then -- for an ex-newspaper guy, he "got it" about online media. He has since gone on to fame as part of ESPN the Mag and, most recently, the "E:60" TV show, but he remains someone whose work I really admire. I consider him a friend.

I tagged quite a few details throughout the book as I was reading it, but one stood out as simple, yet profound:

"Kids play, then become fans. Not the other way around."

There are some pretty disturbing things in the book: Youth-sports participation levels are plummeting, particularly in the inner cities. State, local and national government and non-government organizations are gutting sports, park and rec budgets.

Farrey found incredibly compelling individual stories to tell to highlight some of the larger trends. I wanted to loathe these people; thanks to Farrey's fair portrayal, I found myself pitying them.

(That's not to say I didn't find a handful of people to loathe, among them Bobby Dodd, the sketchy impresario of AAU -- perhaps the biggest scourge in youth sports in the last century -- and the various charlatans, like Hoop Scoop's Clark Francis, who "rank" youth basketball players, then box out responsibility by claiming cost-of-doing-business.)

The book is cleverly divided into 14 "ages" as chapters, with each representing a fascinating facet of the youth sports machine that roughly corresponds to that age. Yes, there is plenty to talk about for "Age 1" or "Age 2" or "Age 3"; youth sports mania doesn't start in elementary school. If you believe some of the stories in the book, if you are just thinking about youth sports then, you are already helplessly behind if you want your child to be a star.

And I guess that's the point: Do you want your child to be a sports star? Even if your motivation is to earn your child a college scholarship (which is insanely competitive, usually not that much money, usually debilitating to the kid and, more often than not, going to parents who may not need the help), you are selling out your kid's youth -- not to mention putting a lot more money in than you will probably get back in scholarship funding -- for something that likely isn't worth it.

Don't get me wrong: I want my kid to play sports. At their best, I think youth sports build confidence, help physical development (in this day and age, almost synonymous with "avoid obesity") and teach the value of teamwork, hard work and sportsmanship -- at least when they are taught by people who know what they are doing, which is often a rough assumption.

I played youth sports. Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, EVERYONE played soccer. We had a robust open youth league. I played from 1st grade until 4th grade, two seasons per year. My team was horrible. I should know: I was the goalie, and responsible for much of that horribleness.

When I was in 4th grade, a new kid came to our elementary school, and he was like this man-child all-world goalie. He joined our open, neighborhood team of friends and I was quickly displaced. It worked out OK: We actually won our division title, which after those years of winlessness felt pretty good.

Then the super-goalie left for a "select" team, as did our best offensive player. A few of us were recruited to play on another "select" team with kids from another school and neighborhood. It was supposed to be a merger, but we were basically filler for the team's finances; I rarely played. Even the cool jersey -- with collars and names on the back! -- had my last name misspelled. I lasted one year, then hopped to another select team (warm-up suits with my name on the back!), lasted one more year, then gave up soccer. I wasn't good enough, and I didn't enjoy the pressure of "select."

I didn't pick up youth sports again until high school, when I joined my high school's "no-cuts" rowing team, which was an amazing experience.

Still, in way way way distant hindsight, those early formative years playing in the "open" soccer leagues feel really fun; as we got older -- and this is just in the span of elementary school, mind you -- it got so much less fun, first with a dictatorial coach who led us to our one and only division title, then the whole "select" experience.

Do I harbor fantasies of my kid being some sort of athletic superstar? Of course, but only because I am a huge sports fan. But he won't be the next Tim Tebow or the next Jordan Farmar or the next Ryan Braun.

After reading Farrey's book, I'm not even sure he will make it through elementary school sports leagues. And I'm not even sure I want him to.

I will push him to enjoy sports on his terms, but even if he was insanely passionate about playing one particular sport -- something I will attempt to keep from happening, frankly -- I think that part of being a parent is managing your child's sports experience just as actively as you would manage their education or their health or their manners or their ability to deal with life as it comes in any form.

To the extent that I want my kid to be a really good sports fan, I similarly don't want to inflict my own interests on him; if he doesn't want to be a sports fan, that's fine with me. To the extent that "kids play, then they become fans," I want to make sure he has the chance to be exposed to all sorts of play. He doesn't have to play pee-wee football to love football; maybe it's just throwing the ball around with his old man or his friends in the neighborhood.

If they can find the time in their (over-)scheduled youth-sports lives to play backyard football. Because that's an open question. The real shame will be if there isn't anyone around to play with him. I'm hoping that Farrey's book sparks a conversation about what parents can do -- and should do -- to encourage their child to participate in sports.

As you can tell, reading the book prompted a lot of introspection, and I'm not even close to thinking through all of the various factors. What I know is that it doesn't make me want to inflict the hyper-competitive youth-sports culture on my kid, but it does make me want to run outside and play with him on a beautiful spring day.

"Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children" by Tom Farrey is published by ESPN Books and available at bookstores (or you can just click here for Amazon.) Tom's site for the book can be found at

Let's keep the discussion going in the Comments section. I will try to post them as often as I can.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 06/11 A.M. Quickie:
NBA Scandal, NBA Finals, Pujols, More

So apparently there was an NBA scandal yesterday and the Finals made a brief appearance.

The scandal all comes down to one thing: Do you believe Tim Donaghy? (That is the lead of today's Sporting News column.)

Do you believe, as David Stern would argue, that Donaghy is a convicted felon and thus disqualified from ever telling the truth?

Or do you believe that Donaghy had no reason to lie -- and certainly no reason to lie to the federal agents who were pushing him?

Instinctually, I believe the latter -- I believe Donaghy. Because I believe my own eyes. I remember that Lakers-Kings series in 2002 and remember how most fans (at least the conspiracy buffs) were like: Cripes, this reffing looks like they're trying to rig the series.

At the time, perhaps you were laughed off by the "purists" or the mainstream media, which had a vested interest in protecting its relationship with the NBA. But evidence sure seemed to favor the conspiracy-minded.

Now there is corroboration, at least in the form of a convicted felon.

I have always believed that the league influenced the officiating -- perhaps to ensure dramatic series, but if nothing else, to protect stars and correct "mistakes" (even over-correct).

It's not a leap to hear what Donaghy had to say and say, "I believe it."

The second part of that is: If you kind of suspected that the NBA was enhancing the officiating all along, this kind of revelation is hardly shocking, let alone enough to turn you off to the game. We've been watching since 2002; you simply said: Eh, that's the way it is.

The fact is, even if the league wanted the Lakers to avoid losing in 6 to Sacto back in 02, the Lakers were the ones who gritted out the Game 7... or the Kings choked it away... or, at the extreme, the league cooked the series to ensure its biggest draw advanced to the Finals.

So: If this comes as a shock to you, you were naive. If this doesn't move at least a little (if only to confirm your conspiracy theories), you were jaded beyond help.

I don't think this harms the league at all: The Donaghy scandal broke last summer... and the league ended up with what many avid fans felt was the best season in a decade or more.

OK, so, where were we? Oh, the Lakers finally won a game? Fantastic. I'm sure the NBA made sure the refs knew that home-court advantage should mean something. (Oh shoot. There goes the conspiracies again.)

Here is the full Sporting News column from today.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday 06/10 A.M. Quickie:
Griffey, Strahan, NBA Finals, Viagra, More

My favorite Ken Griffey home run ever doesn't even count toward 600: The blast off the warehouse wall during the 1993 Home Run Derby. But I'm not sure any of his HRs were as symbolic of his power and playfulness as that one.

Griffey leads today's Sporting News column.

Speaking of Sporting News, did you see this in today's New York Times? (What: No mention of the bloggers? Damn! They missed the best angle!)

Meanwhile, I'm sure the cover of the NY Daily News -- about Roger Clemens and others using Viagra for performance enhancement OUT of the boudoir -- will be a popular meme today.

Otherwise, we're talking:
Free-throw disparity in the NBA Finals...
Evan Longoria's awesomeness...
The White Sox finding another hero...
MLB on iPhones...
Coaching changes in the NBA...

(OK: Who else has vivid memories of Vinny Del Negro while he played at NC State?)

And if you are from Holland or just like the color orange, congratulations on your big 3-0 win over Italy.

You know what June in the NFL is? Scandals and retirements. Cedric Benson goes down as one of the biggest draft busts ever... Michael Strahan heads off to a very lucrative TV career (without Jason Taylor's drama-queen element)... T.O. is T.O.

Here is a link to the complete column.

More coming later today, and if you stopped by yesterday, you know that I'm not kidding.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Who Will Be Deadspin's Next Editor?

6-to-1 odds? That puts me somewhere between Big Brown and Da' Tara, I guess.

The level of amazing names around mine on that list (with a couple of laughable exceptions, including mine) shows you what a top-tier job editing Deadspin would be.

You could argue that -- various issues aside (which I may or may not get to in a future post) -- it is the most coveted top-editing job in sports media.

-- D.S.

iPhone SDK Apps: MLB Hits Lead-Off HR

I have been tracking the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference today, and the SDK apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch have at least one sports application that might intrigue:

Among the case-study apps that Apple unveiled, one came from MLB. Let me quote from the live-blog:
The app shows today's games with live, detailed scoring. It also includes real-time video highlights, which are delivered right after the play -- not the game. It will be included in the launch of the App Store.
That emphasis is mine.

This is a game-changer. Presuming that other leagues follow suit (and that's no given; MLB is pretty forward-thinking when it comes to tech apps), this might totally redefine a highlight culture that has been dependent on "post-game highlights."

When the highlights can come as soon as they happen, we are connected that much more closely to our sports (and, from the league's perspective, to MLB). This feels like a win for both sides, fan and league.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: That was fast. (Uh: As fast as usual.) Reader KL writes in with a quasi-correction/explanation to the above post:
I just wanted to let you know that MLB currently offers real-time video highlights on their website, through Game Day. This new app will move it to the mobile world, but they already have the functionality. I was impressed when I noticed it earlier this year and really like the forward thinking nature of it. Moving to the iPhone just takes it one step further.
Fair enough. iPhone and iPod Touch owners only! (Really: Moving this functionality to mobile will be big, won't it?)

On College Football Preseason Picks

SMQ drops two must-read posts about CFB preseason picks.

The first is philosophical, and I largely agree with it. You can't see Stanford-over-USC coming, but you can certainly stop with using the "on a neutral field" argument for creating your rankings in favor of SMQ's "resume"-based rankings.

The second dives right into a look at the preseason mags' picks at the top.

I spent my weekend immersed in Phil Steele's preview mag -- just so you all don't think I'm playing favorites here (um, more than usual), Steele himself picks Florida as his No. 1 team. (Athlon did the same thing, though Lindy's picked them 6, most presumably based on Lindy's belief that Florida will lose head-to-head to Georgia, who the mag tabs as their No. 1 team.)

Rather than the unexpected title of 2006, I actually had been eyeing 2008 as Florida's best shot to win it all: Tebow and Harvin as juniors, time for Meyer's blue-chip recruits to develop a little and, most of all, a very friendly schedule (as friendly as the SEC schedule can be).

That's one reason I can't buy Georgia -- hell, UGA might not make it through their first month, which includes at South Carolina, at Arizona State and Alabama in back-to-back-to-back weeks.

SMQ is right about one factor: There appear to be three virtual "play-off"/"play-in" games: USC-Ohio State, Georgia-Florida and, to a lesser degree, Oklahoma-Missouri. If the winners of those games also run the table, they are the clear-cut favorites, with the winner of the first two with an inside track -- precisely because of the inspiration for this post:

Preseason rankings matter. Even the ones that come out in the magazines in May and June. The reason is because perceptions matter, when the control of the national-title game is in the hands of "human" pollsters.

If you start the season near the top and just keep winning, you will stay at the top. Period. Even though the reasoning that put you there originally -- the Original Sin of Rankings, so to speak -- was based on virtually nothing.

Compare that to the fate of the teams that start the season unranked -- or near the back of the Top 25 -- and have to wait for things to happen in front of them (beyond their control) to move up. Not to get an early start on crapping on Ohio State, but look at Ohio State last year.

Preseason rankings matter, because of all of the factors that go into ranking teams in the various human polls -- and I'm talking about the ones that "matter" -- the greatest factor of all isn't W/L or strength of schedule...

It's inertia.

And make no mistake: The place where that battle is won -- and, remember, this is presuming that the team at the top simply keeps winning to maintain its place there -- is in the preseason.

So you can mock the preseason magazines or the preseason rankings; you can try to call them meaningless. But you do it at your own risk. In the absence of a playoff, they are as big of a factor as any -- at least until the wins and losses on the field set things right.

So I will gladly take that No. 1 ranking from Phil Steele or Athlon's, just as I'm sure that Ohio State will take its No. 1 ranking from a cumulative total.

Fortunately for everyone, both Florida and Ohio State face up-or-out games at least once this season. And even if they win those, there's always the black swan.

-- D.S.

Monday 06/09 A.M. Quickie:
Celtics, Belmont, Nadal, ChiSox, More

I think that the Lakers' comeback from 24 down with less than 8 to play -- even in a loss that put them in an 0-2 series hole -- was more telling than the Celtics' win.

The 2-3-2 format offers the opportunity to the Lakers to come roaring back with 3 straight wins, with all the momentum in the world and knowing they CAN win in Boston.

I am obsessed with Big Brown's epic failure, so much so that its ramifications across sports fandom led my Sporting News column this morning -- failure in the face of can't-miss success is so much more interesting than winning. Schadenfreude rules.

For example, the Giants' win was amazing, but not nearly as interesting as the Pats' losing. Da' Tara was a fine longshot story, but Big Brown losing was much more fascinating.

The Celtics went up 2-0 in their Finals series, but the Lakers' comeback was much more revealing. (And for all the hype for the Big Three, Leon Powe's unexpected 21-point surge was by far the most interesting of the Celtics' victory storylines, perhaps in all of the postseason.)

There is a ton more in today's column:

Celebrating the White Sox...
Honoring Dom Hasek...
Mocking Pat Riley...
Marveling at the US Soccer team...
Ripping Bill Plaschke...
And a lot more... after the jump.

More later today.

-- D.S.

-- D.S.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday 06/08 (Very) Quickie

Big Brown chokes away Triple Crown: I can appreciate if you bet against Big Brown winning (although there probably weren't many of you), but would you have taken longest of long-shots Da' Tara? I don't think so. While less historic, I found BB's loss far more dramatic than I likely would have found a win.

Suns to hire Terry Porter: The team was built around D'Antoni's "7 Seconds or Less" philosophy -- will Porter simply keep that going, or will he put another twist on it?

Ana Ivanovic is the new Maria Sharapova -- actually, she's No. 1 in the world and riding a French Open championship.

Cedric Benson is the new Pac-Man Jones? If nothing else, kind of delinquent.

Who put Johnny Damon in the way-back machine? 6-for-6 with a walk-off single?

Joe Crede: 2 HR for the 2nd straight game. But, no, I don't need HR and RBI on my fantasy team (on whose waiver wire Crede has been available for weeks), not at all.

Now that the Mets are 1 game under .500, the question is: Is Willie Randolph going to be fired this week?

NHL Awards: Looks like Alex Ovechkin will be MVP. At least, if you believe

Jim McKay, 86: Condolences to family, friends and fans of one of the most legendary sports broadcasters. His work during the 1972 Munich Olympics may very well have been the most memorable news reporting by a sportscaster in the history of television.

MDS interviews Leitch about his Deadspin departure: You probably won't get more in-depth insight into this story than this post here, if you're interested.

-- D.S.