Monday, November 30, 2009

All Part of My Fantasy: I Have to Push the Pram a Lot

Score for the Week: Squid 83.87, Galahad Lancelot 68.38
My MVP: Drew Brees (QB, New Orleans) with 18 receptions for 371 yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 sack, -1 yard rushing
Melodrama: A squeaker in a match-up that didn't involve me directly. My week 13 opponent barely got by Orson Welles which kept my slim playoff hopes alive.

It's hard to believe but I am still in playoff contention. One game out with one to play. I'm hopeful for a win for myself but I need help in other corners as well. I suppose I should be pleased just to be in the mix after my dismal 0-4 start but I'm holding out hope for more. That trade with The Kicker is looking better this week as Fred Jackson (RB, Buffalo) had a huge game as well.

I suppose I'm okay with Derek Jeter as SI's Sportsman of the Year. He's a Yankee but it's hard to argue with his bona fides. I think he's a better choice than Peyton Manning would have been. I would still argue that Roger Federer is considerably more deserving but it's a lost cause.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: Nikolay Makes His Case

Curtain Call
Player: Andy Ram
Nation: Israel
Age: 29
Current Doubles Ranking: #10
Doubles Partner: Max Mirnyi (Belarus)
Notable Conquests: Bryan/Bryan, 2nd seed; Dlouhy/Paes, 4th seed and Cermak/Mertinak, 5th seed
Tour Page:
Personal Website:
Today's Match: lost to Bryan/Bryan in straight sets

Yes, that is written correctly. Mirnyi and Ram had a round-robin win against the Bryan brothers but lost to them in the final.

This was Andy Ram's first time in the final match of the year-end tournament, though not his partner's . Mirnyi is, in fact, a former champion with the great Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden). Mirnyi is not Ram's usual partner. They have teamed up for the current year because Ram's usual mate, Jonathan Erlich, a fellow Israeli, has been out all year with an injury. Erlich will be back in the coming year and will team up with Ram again. Mirnyi will return to a former partner: Mahesh Bhupati (India). That leaves Mark Knowles's dance card open once again, though with his sure hands at the net, he won't be alone for long. A hard-serving lefty would seem a good fit, Frenchman Michael Llodra, perhaps. The partner carousel probably adds to the difficulty in fans latching on to doubles but if you like soap operas, it can get interesting from time to time.

Hats off to the Bryans. They needed to win four straight matches in order to clinch the year-end #1 ranking and they pulled it off.

And my goodness, hats off to Nikolay Davydenko (Russia) as well. The list of players who have beaten Federer and Nadal in the same tournament is very short. Add to that del Potro and he bagged all of the year's Slam winners in the same week. The quietest perennial top-10er you'll ever see, Davydenko has sent out a warning shot for next year. Success at year-end does not always translate to the following season but Davydenko has certainly had an impressive fall swing: Kuala Lampur, Shanghai Masters and now London. At 28 years of age, Nikolay has just had the best week of his career.

2010 should be very interesting indeed. All of this week's contestants plus Roddick, who was supposed to be here, should be strong again next year. And then, of course, there's the brute squad that follows.

One bold prediction for the coming year: Novak Djokovic will be year-end #1 for 2010. However, Federer's still the favorite for the Australian until proven otherwise.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: The Backhand's Pretty Good, After All

Curtain Call
Player: Robin Soderling
Nation: Sweden
Age: 25
Current Ranking: #9
Notable Conquests: Rafael Nadal (Spain), 2nd seed and Novak Djokovic (Serbia), 3rd seed
Tour Page:
Today's Match: loss to Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina) in three sets

Any week in which you've beaten both Nadal and Djokovic is a great week, especially considering the fact that Soderling only made it to London courtesy of Roddick's withdrawal. He fought hard today but JMDP was just too good in the end. Soderling will finish in the year-end top 10 for the first time and, as previously discussed, can take credit for the biggest upset of the year in beating Nadal at the French.

Did you hear that? That was a collective "Uh oh!" from the men's tennis world in response to del Potro's play today. He had some absolutely breathtaking shots on the backhand side today. How many players do you try to keep in the middle of the court because his shots from the wings are so devastating?

Hats off to Davydenko for finally beating Federer for the first time in his ATP career. He is now 1-12 lifetime against the mighty Fed.

ATP Tour Finale: Roger Is Snubbed Again

Curtain Call
Player: Oliver Marach
Nation: Austria
Age: 29
Current Doubles Ranking: #14
Doubles Partner: Lucasz Kubot (Poland)
Notable Conquest: Dlouhy/Paes, 4th seed
Tour Page:
Personal Website:
Today's Match: lost to Bryan/Bryan in straight sets

An unusual number of players have been eliminated in the group stage despite having 2-1 records: Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic on the singles side and Kubot/Marach on the doubles side. This is the partnership's first time in the year-end tournament. Marach is the older and the lower-ranked of the pair.

So, once again Roger Federer will not be Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. It's perhaps a minor detail for a man who has received just about every other award the sports world has to offer but the premier American sports publication has been in denial of the world's greatest athlete for quite some time now. The window is probably past. Great as he is, Federer's years of greatest dominance are probably behind him.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: First Eliminations

Curtain Call
Player: Fernando Verdasco
Nation: Spain
Age: 26
Current Ranking: #8
Tour Page:
Today's Match: lost to Andy Murray (Great Britain) in three sets

Verdasco had never qualified for the final gala before and will finish with his highest ever year-end ranking. I can imagine it's pretty hard to take three losses in a single week but he did well to get here. Hiring Darren Cahill as his coach shows that he's serious about contending for Slams on a regular basis.

Verdasco and Murray have both been eliminated with Federer and del Potro moving on to Saturday's semis. On the doubles side, Fyrstenberg, Matkowski, Nestor and Zimonjic go home while Bhupati, Knowles, Cermak and Mertinak soldier on.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: Is He Real?

Today, I watched the Year-End #1 trophy presentation for Roger Federer with my daughter. Afterwards, she asked, "Is Roger Federer real?"


"Is he still alive?"


It was really very sweet. I didn't get into explaining about live television vs. fictional stories on television. It was a reasonable question. It seemed overly simple to just say "this is happening right now."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: Poaching

Day session -
Bhupati/Knowles d. Fyrstenberg/Matkowski in three sets
Juan Martin del Potro d. Fernando Verdasco in three sets

Night session -
Cermak/Mertinak d. Nestor/Zimonjic in straight sets
Roger Federer d. Andy Murray in three sets

Mark Knowles is another favorite of mine, partly because he is a rare top international athlete from the Bahamas, partly because he may well be the best volleyer in the world but mostly because of what happened to him a few years ago in his breakup with longtime doubles partner Daniel Nester of Canada. Nestor decided that Knowles didn't have the serve to compete for majors anymore so he cut his pal loose and hooked up with the Serbian Zimonjic. After Knowles and Nestor made the announcement but before they actually parted ways, they won the French Open together. Suddenly, an already awkward situation became downright surreal. The two decided to finish the year together anyway and move on to their new partners afterwards.

Anyway, I've always felt that Knowles got a raw deal and hope that he benefits more from the breakup than Nestor and that in the long run, poetic justice will be served.

I'm still learning about this game I've come to love so dearly. I am occasionally hindered by the fact that I never played the game myself except for a mini-course in college. For instance, I never understood what poaching was in doubles so I finally looked it up on the Web today. It's when the player at the net intercepts a ball before it bounces back for his teammate to get.

I'm so happy that Fed beat Murray. I can hardly express how happy that makes me. Roger has now wrapped up the year-end #1 ranking.

All Part of My Fantasy: Stonehenge

Score for the Week: Squid 67.88, Spinal Tap 48.09
My MVP: Vernon Davis (TE, San Francisco) with 6 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown
Melodrama: My blockbuster trade with The Kicker. I traded Philip Rivers-Ryan Grant-Santonio Holmes for Drew Brees-Fred Jackson-Eddie Royal. For the current week, he got the better of it: 25.38 points from his new guys as opposed to 23.79 points from my new guys.

Spinal Tap was another friend I met through The Kicker. We were once all on an intramural basketball team together. Somewhere, there are some very funny "promotional photos" of us in our thrift shop team uniforms. I don't believe I've seen him since graduation.

So, I'm two games out of a playoff spot with two weeks to go. I've got a tough opponent this week so wish me luck.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: Day 2

Day Session -
Max Mirnyi (Belarus)/Andy Ram (Israel) def. Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA) in straight sets
Robin Soderling (Sweden) def. Rafael Nadal (Spain) in straight sets

Mirnyi has always been one of my favorites. He is one of few doubles stars who's also had success on the singles tour, rising as high as #18 in the world and winning one title. He's another one who has a body seemingly more suitable to another sport. His father was a top volleyball player. Nicknamed The Beast, Mirnyi is a nightmare at the net for opponents in singles or doubles.

I have to admit that the Bryan twins creep me out a little bit. They're almost robotic in their execution: The Stepford Doubles Team.

One of the most interesting differences between the singles and doubles players is their ages. The average age of the eight singles players this week is 24 years. For the 16 doubles players, it's 32. With two people to cover the court, you don't accumulate mileage on the legs so quickly. It also stands to reason that in a more tactical game, the wisdom of experience is more valuable. I'd love to see doubles become a career extender for the top singles players. Say, for instance, that rather than riding off into the sunset forever, Federer might spend a year on the doubles tour. He could play a bit longer and it would be fantastic publicity for the doubles discipline. I'd love to see him team up with Nadal. It's bad enough having to face one of them. How about both?

Soderling v. Nadal was, of course, a rematch of perhaps the most significant match of the entire year: Soderling's defeat of Nadal in the fourth round at the French Open. It was Nadal's first ever defeat at Roland Garros and ended his four-year reign as champion. Was it a great day for Soderling or a bad one for Nadal? Rafa, gentleman that he is, gave full credit to his opponent. Indeed, today's match served as further proof that he is vulnerable to Soderling's style of play. I think that if Rafa had won that match, the rest of the summer might have gone quite differently. I believe he would have claimed both the French and Wimbledon again. Of course, it was an injury that caused him to pull out of Wimbledon but I'm sure it's easier to play through pain when you're on a win streak.

Soderling only made it to the Tour Finals as an alternate when Andy Roddick pulled out. He will finish the year with his highest ranking ever and can take credit for changing the narrative in 2009.

Night Session -
Lukasv Kubot (Poland)/Oliver Marach (Austria) def. Lukas Dlouhy (Czech Republic)/Leander Paes (India) in straight sets
Novak Djokovic (Serbia) def. Nikolay Davydenko (Russia) in three sets

There are three Poles in the doubles draw this week making Poland the best-represented country for the event. Who would have thought? The Poles have done well so far, too. Kubot/Marach is the youngest doubles team here and tonight, they topped a legend. Leander Paes has quite the resume: 41 doubles titles overall, 6 men's doubles Slams, 4 in mixed doubles plus an Olympic bronze medal in singles. But that's nothing compared to the fact that he survived a parasitic brain infection - one that was initially thought to be a tumor.

Djokovic is the hot player on tour at the moment and has to be considered a threat to defend his title. I've always been fond of Davydenko, though, and nearly always root for him. The man has been camped out in the top 10 for years now and yet he goes virtually unnoticed. A few years ago, as Andy Murray was first getting attention, he had a fourth round match against Davydenko at the US Open. The match was essentially even when its completion was delayed until the following day. Murray, the little snot, couldn't stop himself from complaining to the press about having to get up early in the morning to prepare. Davydenko was not impressed and delivered an absolute pasting to finish him off, tatooing him 6-0 in the fourth set. It was a delightful, welcome-to-the-big-time-now-quit-your-whining moment.

This really is a wonderfully television-friendly event. In two days, we've seen all 24 players involved in the tournament and no one's been sent home yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ATP Tour Finale: London at Last

The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals began in London today. The top eight singles players and the top eight doubles teams all qualify. Everybody plays three matches in a two-group, round robin format. The top two from each group advance to the semis, winners to play in the final on Sunday.

This is one event that does right by doubles. Each session begins with a doubles under-card followed by the marquee singles match. Tennis Channel is airing all of the matches except for the singles final which will be on ESPN2.

The day session began with an upset as the eighth-seeded Polish team of Fyrstenberg and Matkowski took out the top-seeded Nestor (Canada) and Zimonjic (Serbia) in straight sets. Nestor and Zimonjic are also the defending champions so this is big. For me, the best part of doubles is the play at the net. Pessimists will say that doubles specialists are players who couldn't cut it on the singles tour. While that may be true for a lot of them, from what I see, the top doubles players are just better at certain skills than their singles counterparts. They approach the game more tactically and have a softer touch on their volleys, thus allowing better control. What's nice about this particular event is the opportunity to see the top teams playing each other. If doubles is included in the coverage of other tournaments, it's often in the early rounds with only one quality team involved. This is a lot more fun.

Andy Murray's three-set victory over Juan Martin del Potro followed. If you've read my US Open posts, you've no doubt already surmised that Murray is not exactly my favorite. He's got plenty of game, of course, but has yet to exhibit the fighting spirit he's going to need if he's ever going to pose a real threat to the Federer-Nadal axis. I also resent the fact that he seems to get a lot more attention than the already more accomplished Djokovic and del Potro.

Del Potro's game still seems unformed to me, despite his US Open triumph. On the one hand, his running, cross-court forehand is absolutely nuclear, a weapon far greater than any one shot either Murray or Djokovic has in the bag. On the other hand, I don't feel that he yet has as strong an all-around game as the other two. His shots down the line are strong but not nearly as ferocious. He attempted a few cross-court backhands of similar pace today but dumped them in the net. If the rest of his arsenal ever catches up to that one point-ending shot, he may have the top tier all to himself in a few years.

The night session's doubles match was not as dramatic, with Bhupati (India) and Knowles (Bahamas) taking out Cermak (Czech Republic) and Mertinak (Slovakia) in straight sets, much as expected. In the final match of the night, Federer beat Fernando Verdasco, yet another left-handed Spanish Adonis, in three sets. Fed looked sluggish in the first but, as usual, dug deep and delivered an authoritative 6-1 third set to leave no doubt. This, to my mind, is what del Potro needs in order to become king: tricks to fall back on when his usual overpowering stuff isn't enough.

For Murray and Djokovic, on the other hand, I think Nadal should be their model going forward. They've both got all of the shots but they lack Rafa's competitive ferocity. Needless to say, it should be an interesting week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Checking in with the Capitals: Too Much of a Good Thing?

I found out earlier this week that the NHL Network carries live games - very dangerous information. Versus is becoming more and more irrelevant all the time!

Caught a decent portion of the Caps' 2-1 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening, including Ovechkin's goal. Washington has had a great start to the season, currently boasting the best record in the Eastern Conference. I wonder, however, if they are playing Ovechkin more than they should. I know he's the second coming and I'm sure he's delighted to get so much playing time. But I worry that letting him take such long shifts is an injury risk. Besides, I think they'll be a better team come playoff time if they build some trust in other players and other forward lines. Ovechkin recently missed six games due to injury and the Caps went a perfectly respectable 4-2 in his absence. Why not build on that?

It has been my experience that hockey fans feel a greater devotion to their game than do followers of other sports. Moreover, watching tonight's pregame festivities reaffirmed my belief that the Canadian love for hockey exceeds the love we Americans feel for any of our games. And yet, amazingly, no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993. Canadian teams claimed seven consecutive titles from 1984-1990 but only the one since. NHL lineups are still loaded with Canadian-born players but the local teams aren't what they used to be.

Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that Toronto hasn't won the Cup since 1967 and doesn't appear likely to end the drought any time soon. The Maple Leafs hold the second most championships all time, trailing only mighty Montreal. But this proud franchise boasts only four wins thus far in the current season, against 17 losses (six in overtime).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Checking in with the Hoyas: The Longest Minute in Sports

I caught the last 55.1 seconds of the Georgetown-Temple game this evening, which is to say I caught a decent portion of the action. Don't get me wrong. I adore basketball but the last minute of a close game always seems endless. Georgetown won 46-45 as part of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

Before tennis took over, basketball was my game. I love watching and I love playing, though I haven't played in years. I would not say I was ever very good at playing but I can watch with the best of them. Just as I know the exact moment that I became a tennis fan, I also know the exact moment when college basketball became my sport of choice.

For Christmas one year, my father got us two tickets to the Georgetown-Syracuse basketball game at the old Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland. The game was sensational. The crowd was on its feet for the entire last minute - even my usually unimpressed father. The Georgetown Hoyas won it with a last-second bank shot and the electric surge that went through the crowd was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I was hooked.

Georgetown was quite a team in the '80s. Led by their enormous head coach, John Thompson, Jr., and the only slightly taller Patrick Ewing at center, the team made the national finals three out of four years. They won the title one year. The two championship games they lost are considered two of the greatest games in NCAA history. The Hoyas never reached the Final Four again during Thompson's reign but he had plenty of exciting teams through the years. The team we saw that day was one that Thompson himself referred to as Reggie and the Miracles. The team's star was Reggie Williams, a silky smooth small forward who was a fantastic college player but he never quite found his way in the pros. 1986-87 was his senior year and he was supported by a rag-tag bunch of freshmen and sophomores. No player was over 6-8 so no true center. In truth, few of them even qualified as forwards. But they were relentless, particularly on defense. They had a three-freshman platoon at point guard assigned to harass the opposing point man for 40 minutes with 15 fouls to give. Exciting, comeback victories were the norm. They won the conference and the conference tournament but fell short of the Final Four, losing to Rick Pitino's Providence Friars in the regional final.

They have, for the most part, been my favorite team ever since. I had a crisis of faith earlier this decade as the University of Maryland rose to national prominence. I've always liked both teams but have rarely had to choose as they don't play each other very often. But they did play in the NCAA tournament in 2001 and I had to make the choice. I rooted for the Terps because I thought they had the better chance to make it to the Final Four, which they did. But all else being equal, if I had to choose between a championship for the Hoyas and one for the Terps, I'd pick the Hoyas.

The team is now coached by Big John's son, John Thompson III. He learned defense from his father and offense from the legendary Pete Carrill at Princeton. That's a potent combination for a college coach and as long as he sticks around, the Hoyas should be strong. They're off to a good start: 2-0 with tonight's win, ranked #19 in the nation.

I still haven't had my annual Hoosiers viewing yet. I've gotta get on that.

All Part of My Fantasy: I'm the Ugly Stepsister

Score for the Week: Cinderella Story 53.90, Squid 45.80
My MVP: Kellen Winslow (TE, Tampa Bay) with 7 receptions for 102 yards
Melodrama: Watching Matt Hasselbeck's last-second, ill-advised, goal-line, shovel-pass interception against the Cardinals. Some weeks, I have loved the guy. Some weeks, he's made me want to cry. That's sports, I guess.

Cinderella Story is the one league member who did not go to college with the rest of us, much to her credit, I'm sure. She is the wife of The Kicker who talked her into joining at the last minute so we would have an even number of teams. To say that she has held her own in her rookie season is putting it mildly. Every week, Yahoo! Sports posts the Blowout of the Week and CS was on the winning end for three weeks in a row. She took out her own husband along the way.

We have only met CS a few times but my wife and I enjoy her immensely. She is facebook friends with both of us and we have gotten to know her better online. I have to say that I was expecting a bit more along the smack talk front but she's been busy at home. She certainly had the last laugh.

I am now 3-7, thus assured of a losing record for the season. While I'm not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, I'm 3 games out with 3 to play. The writing's on the wall. The Kicker and I have a blockbuster trade in the works but it's probably too late for me to do much more than salvage some pride.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paris Masters: Djoker on a Roll

Novak Djokovic defeated Gael Monfils in 3 sets today to take the BNP Paribas Masters title. It looked like a rout early as the Djoker took a 6-2, 3-0 lead but Monfils fought back. If Monfils could string a whole match of solid play together, he'll really be dangerous. But today, The Djoker was the better man.

This makes two straight titles for Djokovic who took out Federer in his hometown tournament in Basel just last week. It does speak well of a player if he wins on enemy turf. He's the defending champ for the year-end gala so he'll face some added pressure going into London. But he's certainly in good form.

This is sort of a quiet time of year as the tennis calendar goes. The top players are usually staggering to the finish line as their bodies repay them for the abuse they've taken during the summer slog. The Paris tournament, in particular, is one that usually suffers from lackluster performances by the stars. Thus, it becomes an opportunity for those lower down the ladder to pick up some cash and shore up their rankings. Djokovic, despite not picking up any big titles before this one, has had a consistently strong year. He is hitting peak form as others in the top tier are dragging. I don't mean to take anything away from him. Get while the gettin's good - more power to him.

The length of the tennis season is rough on the players but I think it's great as a fan. Most of the players get about a month-and-a-half off at this point. The last two meaningful events - the year-end championship and the Davis Cup final - involve just an elite few. Back when I would have considered college basketball to be my favorite sport, I had months to yearn between seasons. With tennis, I'm usually too busy in the holiday season to give it much thought.

There is legitimate criticism about the calendar but I feel the congested summer season is more to blame for banged up bodies than is the fall swing.

On to London.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Paris Masters: A Battle of Dangerous Floaters

The penultimate tournament on the ATP tour calendar wraps up this weekend in Paris. The BNP Paribas Masters is the last big one before the 8-player tour finale. Semis were on the Tennis Channel today.

I was out getting my hair cut as Djokovic dispatched of Nadal in straight sets but I caught a decent portion of Stepanek v. Monfils. At this point in their careers, both players are best described in tennis parlance as dangerous floaters: strong players who usually don't pose much of a threat to win titles in the big tournaments but nobody wants to have to play them. Radek Stepanek is a warrior: prepared to battle for every point and concedes nothing to anyone. He holds two career victories over Federer - no small accomplishment.

Gael Monfils has to be considered one of the best pure athletes on the tennis tour. I've often thought of him as a great player in the wrong sport. For all of his gifts, his gangly frame and movement style seem to me better suited to a basketball court. He was overpowering as a junior player but has yet to find a foothold in the top echelon of the senior tour. Perhaps this tournament can help propel him forward.

He is a very exciting player to watch. Today, he attempted a flying, run-around, cross-court forehand which few tennis players possess the body control to even imagine. Unfortunately for the highlight reel editors, the shot went long - but not by much.

Monfils's victory today means that for the second year in a row, there is a Frenchman in the final. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga was last year's champion. Monfils has some history with Djokovic. The two played a memorable match at the US Open in 2005. Djokovic won the match with some perceived gamesmanship, an unfortunate knock against him throughout his still young career. Monfils has never beaten him in an ATP-level match. Surely, it would be sweet to beat him for the first time in front of the home crowd.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Any Given Year, Any Given Team

This year's World Series was my worst-case scenario as a sports fan. I get bored when the same teams win all the time so a championship series between the all-time World Series leader and the defending champions is more or less a disaster. I am not a market analyst, of course, but for my own sense of aesthetic and fairness, I feel it is important to spread the wealth. If big market, big budget teams always win, I see little point in a league expanding to the point where the smaller fry stand no chance. Sports need occasional Cinderella stories to remain vital. I have many objections to the NBA but far from least among them is the fact that the league rarely has a championship series that doesn't feel scripted. Setting aside the question of whether or not parity is actually desirable, how does a league achieve it?

I feel the NFL's Any Given Sunday philosophy is a beautiful thing. The league certainly has its fair share of problems but I fully support all of its efforts to promote parity. Dynasties do exist but they don't last nearly as long as they have in other leagues. The 49ers, Steelers and Cowboys have all had strong runs in the Super Bowl era but nothing to compare with the Yankees in baseball, the Canadiens in hockey or the Celtics and Lakers in basketball.

On the other hand, maybe the European soccer leagues have the right idea. Drop all pretense of the weak teams posing any real threat to the perennial powers. If a team can't cut it in the top league, the whole club is relegated to the minors. In a given year, it means that every team has something substantive to play for late in the season: league title, qualification for the next year's European tournaments or mere survival.

And of course, there is the small matter of anti-trust law hanging over all of this. Professional sports leagues have long been seen as exempt from anti-trust obligations. I will admit there is some sense in this as the product they are selling is competition itself. So, to a point, I support any measures taken to preserve an equal playing field. It still doesn't sit well with me. I realize that collusion among NFL franchise owners doesn't present the same dangers as similar practices in the energy industry would but my democratic heart (small d) can't help feeling that any industry being allowed to thumb its nose at anti-trust sets a dangerous precedent. But then professional sports as anything beyond an exhibition doesn't work at all, does it? I can't win.

For baseball, I'd say a meaningful salary cap is a must. But before discussions of contraction ever come up again, I think they might consider a European style promotion/relegation system. Would the lesser teams take a hit? Most definitely. But in the long run, it might make for more meaningful seasons in the smaller markets. It will never happen, of course, but I'd certainly prefer it to seeing teams disappear entirely.

Monday, November 9, 2009

All Part of My Fantasy: Week 9

Score for the week: Squid 61.85, Boston Bean 50.65
My MVP: Matt Hasselbeck (QB, Seattle) with 39 completions for 329 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and 1 sack plus 5 yards rushing
Melodrama: The strangeness of rooting for both teams in the same game as I did for the Monday night game. I wanted Santonio Holmes, the Steelers' receiver to do well but their defense to do poorly. 1 out of 2 was enough to win for the week.

I met Boston Bean at the beginning of my sophomore year. He came in as a transfer and I was the student adviser (called RAs at other schools) on his floor. The Commish and The Kicker were under my jurisdiction as well. I was the most unnecessary student adviser in world history on that mostly senior floor. On the floor were three Phi Beta Kappas, two team captains and the editor of the student newspaper. In all honesty, I felt more like a mascot. They did enjoy being fed, though, so they'd show up for study breaks if I provided food.

This next week, I take on the Kicker's wife. She has complained about the lameness of our league's trash talk. I shall endeavor to fix that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November Baseball: Team of the Decade?

Damn Yankees! They've done it again. I think they have to be considered the team of the decade (sorry, Bosox fans). Four American League titles, two World Series championships. They were the team of the '90s, too. Heck, let's be honest. The Yankees have been the sport's showcase franchise since the 1920s.

The question, of course, is if anyone can unseat them in the coming years. In the coming decade, it would have to be a team that can compete with them financially. The crosstown Mets seem the most likely. In the American League, their arch-rival Red Sox are the best candidate. We shall see.

Just wait until next year!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Baseball: Life Behind the Plate

After Mock's comment, I've been trying to watch Jorge Posada more critically. I don't know. I have a natural sympathy for catchers. It is, without a doubt, one of the most thankless positions in sports. I can't help but admire someone who's done it so well for so long, particularly when they also manage to make offensive contributions along the way. You can't hide a bat at catcher. You can't really hide one at shortstop, second base or center field either but the fielding demands on a catcher go far beyond those of other every day players. How anyone handles a major league pitching staff without an advanced degree in psychology is astonishing to me.

Every sport has these disparities to varying degrees. In football, I'd say it's offensive guards who get the short end. In soccer, it's defensemen with even goalkeepers getting a bit more glory. Hockey does reasonably well. The plus/minus rating is a wonderful statistic which helps to showcase the contributions of defensemen. Penalty minutes are also badges of honor for the league's enforcers. Even so, a high-scoring forward is more likely to win an MVP trophy. Basketball seems to offer five equal positions but a closer look at history shows that a weakness at center or point guard is a far greater liability than deficiencies at the other three spots.

I highly recommend Roger Angell's Season Ticket. His chapter on catchers is a must read.

All Part of My Fantasy: Luck, Be a Lady Tonight

Score for the week: Sand Dolls 68.91, Squid 52.95
My MVP: Mike Thomas (WR, Jacksonville) 146 return yards, 4 receptions for 55 yards and 7 rushing yards
Melodrama: Hoping for a big game from my kicker. I had Jason Elam (K, Atlanta) going into Monday night's game. If he'd had 6 field goals of 50+ yards each, I'd have won. Amazingly, that didn't happen.

Sand Dolls was another football player I met through The Kicker. I haven't seen him in a few years now. I think the last time was a Super Bowl party at his old apartment in lower Manhattan. Rams over Titans. That was nine years ago. Maybe a wedding since then?

If I win the rest of my games, I'll have a winning record for the season. Is that really too much to ask?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Baseball: Mark Grace's Best Assets

My wife is on the record as saying that she would watch more of the World Series coverage if they offered more posterior shots of Mark Grace. I imagine it wouldn't hurt if they also made him wear his old baseball pants.

November baseball officially began this evening thanks to the rain delay. As previously stated, I am pulling for the Phillies in the Series. It's a no-brainer, really. Apart from being an Orioles fan and therefore obligated to hate the Yankees, I believe in spreading the wealth. The Yanks have had far more than their fair share of championships. There are those who say it's good for a sport to have a team like the Yankees - easy to love, easy to hate, helps to drive the narrative. But I don't buy it. I think it's good when every city has a chance to feel that kind of joy from time to time.

And yet, I find that a rooting interest is a tenuous thing in baseball. Over the course of a game, I often find myself pulling for an individual player from the opposing team. For instance, I find it difficult not to hope that a middle reliever does well even if he's pitching for the bad guys. Ditto for pinch hitters and runners and certainly defensive subs. They're not superstars. They're just athletes trying to make a living - admittedly, a lucrative one.

With the Yankees, it's particularly complicated. Yes, I hate the team. But I can't honestly say that I despise all of the players. How can one not be impressed by Mariano Rivera with the career he has put together? I feel similarly toward Jeter, Matsui and Posada. They're not ostentatious braggarts. They are dignified sportsmen who love their game and play hard for their team every night. It's hard not to respect that.

A-Rod, on the other hand? Bum. The Yankees fell hard in my estimation when they let Joe Torre go. Four World Series titles still not good enough for the boss? Despite what I might feel about some of the individuals involved, it is always poetic justice when the Bombers fall.