Friday, July 27, 2012

...Do I Hear Tympani? RUN...to Your TVs!

That must mean one thing...That this is...
An Olympic-sized introduction.

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Alrighty, folks, we've made it to the point in time where there's a two-week stretch in which you can't say there is nothing to watch on TV. Today, the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London will commence, and thousands of competitors from numerous countries will proudly represent their respective homelands and compete for the ultimate prize of being named the best in their sport.

If you've been keeping track with Olympic coverage, some events have begun even before the opening ceremonies based on the massive involvement of it by many teams (It's soccer and archery, if you haven't been keeping track). Some may actually go simultaneously with the opening ceremonies (which is awkward, if you ask me). If this is all that will be playing in your household for the next two weeks, you may actually watch things that you never considered to be sports in your life. I'm talking about shooting, fencing, handball, equestrian, wrestling, and other various things they put on in the late hours. The more popular sports that people watch here in the United States are women's soccer (not the men), swimming, and gymnastics. I'll admit, it will be rather awkward not seeing Olympic softball and baseball on my television this season, but there are bound to be other interesting sports to watch. People like Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will be all over television sets, and people will be squealing all over Facebook and Twitter over the big athletes that will become legends during these Olympic games.

Grant it, you might feel like a total dope if you get caught watching something like water polo or mixed doubles badminton, but it's kind of interesting on how much you become engaged in a sport you may have never watched before. For example, I was absolutely sick off my bum during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and while I was laying on the couch one morning, I was watching mixed doubles badminton between China and Great Britain. That was probably the most exciting thing I had ever watched. Sure I was sick, but oh man, that was cool. Table tennis came on after that. Words can't express the feelings on that one. I'm not even being sarcastic either. At any rate, your mind can be opened when you watch the Olympics. I know someone who is now a big curling fan with thanks to the Winter Olympics. I will admit, I did get into handball for a little while, but who the heck plays that in the United States? Anyway, oh man, these events are hypnotizing.

In the cases of national news coverage, a lot of the hubbub involves David Beckham, a British native and world-known soccer player, who is allegedly "doing something special" during the opening ceremony. My brain says: "Him? I'm more interested in seeing his wife reuniting with the Spice Girls, for crying out loud." In reality, I'm excited for him. Obviously there's no glass ceiling for him, and he's a good sports poster child for doing anything in representing Great Britain. It should be a fun kick-off to the next two weeks of sports. Except...I really don't feel like hearing this as the theme song for the next two weeks. It's Muse's attempt to be Queen and it's absolutely horrible.

The Olympic games are unpredictable and have many exciting twists and turns. I'll admit I'm looking forward to it.

--AZ

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Red Whines: Is Penn State Deserving of a Large Punishment?

(RIP @JessicaRedfield)

There hasn't been a bigger sports story over the past nine months than the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal. Numerous people have kept up with the trial, the aftermath at Penn State, the Freeh Report, and the question of the future of the Penn State athletic program. According to the Freeh Report, there were indications among the administration that Sandusky was performing lewd acts and nobody did anything about it. Considering how this stuff had been occurring over a 10+ year period (possibly longer), this is seen to be a massive faux pas by every big name that worked at the University in that time period.

You know what this means...
Joe Paterno has left the campus.

Joe Paterno is now known as the biggest load of taboo in the college sports world. People are demanding that the statue erected in his honor out in State College be removed due to the unveiling of all of the underground work to cover up Sandusky's low-brow tendencies. It was like they were trying to get away with murder or something and then someone just happened to say something about it 20 years later. What I think is not only were they believing in the "out of sight, out of mind" deal, but they were also thinking that it was some sort of phase and if they'd ignore it, it would cease. Obviously, that didn't work.

Today, critics are suggesting that due to the infractions committed by Penn State's administration and athletic programs, they should be given the "feared" Death Penalty by the NCAA. Others are considering loss of broadcast games or loss of scholarship opportunities. The Penn State community will be finding out their fate during a NCAA conference in the morning. I wrote about the Death Penalty before, and just by reading how other people got this killer of a penalty, you can clearly see why I am writing about this: Punishment from the NCAA makes NO SENSE in a scandal like this.

Don't worry. There's a method to my madness in saying this.

Here are the reasons:

Almost everyone from PSU's administration has stepped down amid the controversy. Ever since Graham Spainer and Joe Paterno were fired from their positions at Penn State, almost everyone involved or associated with it followed suit and resigned. Trust me, it was pretty obvious they all knew something, but do you think they would be stupid enough to tell the players of their involvement in the scandal? Out of fear, they chickened out and jumped ship. Especially in a new era where there are more than enough officials innocent of this, I don't think they deserve something that a couple of idiots hid from 10-15 years ago. However, if there is anyone still there, I'm pretty sure something should at least apply to them.

Secondly, there should be no reason to punish the football players that had no say or action in this just because of association. If I were a sophomore defensive tackle or whatever, I would be rather upset because I wasn't involved in the sex abuse scandal. I don't actually doubt that the players didn't know anything during their football years at PSU, but for the incoming guys certainly had no clue especially after Sandusky's retirement in 1999.

Thirdly, this is clearly an internal matter within the University, the coaching staff, and the administration. There's no need to shut down a football program because a rotten apple went and spoiled the bunch. Sure, we're dealing with a guy who has committed numerous sex crimes among young boys and even more people covered it up for over a decade. However, I don't think the NCAA should intervene in ways of punishment for judgments of people who are no longer in power at the University.

This is a rather sticky situation that I think even the NCAA will have trouble administering. If anything, I would suggest restrictions in administration and the coaching staff would work just fine. Shutting down the football program won't solve anybody's problems. The coaching staff as a whole might have screwed up big time, but don't punish the players and other students who didn't have a choice in this.

--AZ

Friday, July 20, 2012

Attendance: The Underlying Fever Pitch

Vacation is one of those things when you do stuff like soul searching and attempt to get a tan or something. Me, on the other hand, will read the sports columns and burn due to my fair skin (or what I call "albino characteristics"). When it comes to freelance writing, I guess you never truly get a vacation from that.

After watching ESPN First Take and reading articles on the Internet, I came across something that I hadn't really realized before reading/watching. Statistics have been showing that attendance figures for major sports around the United States have been decreasing over the past year. Why is that? The first couple of arguments that come to mind are the recession, the extreme weather as of late, and a more obvious choice--the team's record and popularity. When all else fails and those three factors come into play, there are a few options that can eliminate all stress and work.

Hellooooooo technology!

If there's a capability to go to a bar or a restaurant or a friend's house or your own comfy couch, then you have the capability to view the action of a sporting event through a magical box they call a television. What's so great about that?

It's FREE


There's HEAT and AIR CONDITIONING


 There's HOME COOKING

...among other things. Sometimes people will admit to being bored being at a sporting event because of the lack of numerous camera angles and loud and charismatic announcers telling you every single thing going on as well as some anecdote to spice it up. Let's be frank about this: It's just easier and much more efficient if you're pinching pennies and don't want to go out and face the elements. Plus, it might actually be more fun to watch stuff at a bar. Why? I don't know, just start drawing some suggestions here and they'll more than likely make sense here.

In all seriousness, in the different realms of sports, you have to look at each aspect and think about why they might actually be suffering. Low attendance figures means lower revenue, and lower revenue is never a good sign for sports franchises. Oh yeah, and don't forget about how ridiculous the concession stands may be. Sure, you can tailgate if you're daring enough, but I'm sorry, I don't feel like spending more than $5.00 on a bottle of water. That's just highway robbery. Anyway, let's take a look on how it's affecting each sport and explore a conclusion of the American Big 4 as a whole. I won't mention soccer in the States...that's an entirely different animal with really ridiculously faithful fans.
____________________________________________________________

BASEBALL

Ah, yes, what was once known as "America's sport" is having a ridiculous time getting good attendance figures in some cities. Considering where you may live, you may have to deal with extreme heat and rain unless your team plays under a dome (which is cheating, in my opinion, except in Arizona where it's totally necessary). Another issue is that teams have more than 80 home games, which, if there is a maximum seated capacity of 40,000 or so, requires you to sell at least one million tickets if you want to have a half decent attendance figure at the end of the year. In cities like The Bronx, Boston, and Philadelphia, these guys have no problem selling out every home game. Team performance may help, but in cities like that, going to a ballgame at night is part of a lifestyle for people. If you look at places like Oakland and Houston, they don't have a big enough fan base in their proximity, and on top of that, teams like these are either sandwiched or near another team doing significantly better than them. I guess you can say that they're stealing the fans and the thunder. When there's 162 games for all 30 teams, you kind of wonder where all of the people are actually getting the money to spill into these ballpark seats.


HOCKEY

EHHHHHHHYY! In Canada, you don't really have to worry about filling up the seats. Hockey is a religion there. However, I'm talking about the well-being of AMURRKA. It's sad, but attendance figures in hockey have gotten so bad in certain parts of the United States that your team might have to come from behind in everything and surprisingly win the Stanley Cup to save your financial issues of the team. The one thing I (along with my younger brother) never understood is this: Why are there hockey teams in cities with a climate that is the polar opposite of the ideal hockey weather? Don't get me wrong, I bet Nashville has a good fan base, but what about Dallas and Phoenix and Florida; how can places that have other attractions on top of other leagues playing simultaneously with the hockey team survive? You do feel bad for the teams that keep the bandwagon running after a good postseason run until they have the chances of dropping in the standings. Plus, I have been told that in certain cities that the ticket prices are unusually high and people are somehow still paying the prices for these games. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't blow $35 on nosebleed seats for even the worst of hockey teams in this country. That's just sickening. At any rate, it's nice to see that there are more than faithful hockey fans around the country that are beating the odds and filling up the seats in the world of ice.


BASKETBALL

This is where we get to the not-so-bad as far as attendance figures goes, shockingly enough. In some cases, figures could either be really really good or really really lousy. I don't think I have to start naming cities, but certain teams barely get 10,000 people at a game, and then there are hardcore basketball cities that can double that almost every single home game. It does make sense that there were issues getting fan bases back after the lockout, but when franchises are upping prices to compensate for lost time is not the smartest thing in the world to do. Before that hullabaloo, the financial options were much kinder to get the people back into the seats and remaining engaged. For example, the Sixers (until their playoff run this year) had a rough 2-3 years getting decent attendances. Tickets were as low as $15 unless if it were a big team like the Lakers or the Spurs. It got so bad that a college student like me actually processed a thought that I could go to a Sixers game because I could actually afford it. I give mad props to these marketing crews to keep people coming along. In my opinion, I really think it depends on where you live to see where the real interest is in basketball. I, for one, don't think that Who Dat Nation is a good place for that (for starters).


FOOTBALL

Here...is America's new "America's sport." With dwindling attendance figures from over the past four years or so, you can't really tell that in certain stadiums. Due to a significantly shorter season compared to the previous three sports leagues I've mentioned, tickets are much higher, concessions are ridiculously high, and it can get super cold outside (unless if you're in Texas or Minnesota or somewhere like that). You would be surprised after seeing so many crazy people with face paint and costumes that there are other cities that might actually have problems filling up the seats in places like Oakland (I see a trend here) and Cincinnati. Also, there is something called the "Blackout Rule" incorporated by the NFL which states: "a game cannot be televised locally if not sold out within 72 hours of the game. The rule is designed to entice fans to the stadiums with the threat of not being able to see the games" [Thanks, BusinessInsider!]. People can be royally screwed over if they can't buy tickets to the games. If people are in the same position as you, guess who's going to be struggling to find an online outlet to watch the football game? It's a screwy rule that can really hurt fans and can actually lead to a lack of fans. Ahh--who am I kidding? Football won't die, it's just that colorful stadiums might die.
____________________________________________________________

In conclusion, this is just society's way of saying that we're stepping more and more into a futuristic lifestyle where we actually don't have to be at the event to see what's going on. I tend to be against this, because sometimes you actually have to be there to fully experience something. For example, I've never been to a football game (SUE ME) but I would love to sit at one just to see how crowds react to plays and how they cheer teams on. Personally, that's why I enjoy going to soccer games because that's just a completely different atmosphere compared to baseball and hockey. However, if you're someone like me who barely has money due to unemployment, you can't experience those things on a consistent basis, ergo my previous statement on how the poor economy is a driving force in the need to use more technology to keep up-to-date with sporting events.

I do feel a bit of sympathy for a lot of these sports franchises because they half-expected the economy to affect them but they didn't expect their cases and issues to be as much of a trainwreck as it has been.  Like a lot of people say, it's going to get worse before it starts to get better. It could possibly go up from here, but then again, the unforgiving economy might not have dropped rock-bottom yet. I guess it's just a waiting game at this point. For now, we might as well just get the recliner all warmed up to watch the next sporting event on TV.

[The Olympics.]

--AZ

Thursday, July 12, 2012

THE INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE LEAGUE OF SUPER AQUAINTANCES (OF THE NBA)



Hi there ladies and germs it’s your friendly neighborhood guest writer Cowboy. I’ve been asked to babysit while the lovely AZ is on vacation (lucky!).
[Well, I'm back.]



          In the world of sports there has been a cornucopia of fads both on and off the field. Being a child of the 90’s who can forget those gosh awful starter jackets, or more recently in the NFL with the popularity of the two tight-end system made popular by the New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hern├índez.


          The newest edition to this growing list is the idea of “The Big 3” or “The Big 4” in the NBA. With the Celtics, Knicks, Clippers, and the most familiar the Mia (sorry) the World Champion Miami Heat this concept has taken over the NBA, making teams look like a collection of superheroes more suited for a summer blockbuster. For the interest of clarity I don’t include the Spurs on the list of “Big 3’s” because all three members (Duncan, Parker, Ginoboli) have been together throughout their entire careers. 


          As of the writing of this article there have been two moves (one rumored) that will alter the “Big 3” landscape. First with the signing of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, ending the reign of the very first “Big 3” in Boston. And with the newest installment of “Where in the world is Dwight Howard going to play next season,” it seems that his next landing place will be with Jay-z and the New Jer (my apologizes) the Brooklyn Nets. 

AZ's Note: What an unoriginal design. My old advertising professor would have keeled over and died seeing this.

          But I believe the saying “too much of a good thing,” does come to mind here, and if this whole concept is actually hurting the NBA as a whole. Well there are a few ways both good and bad one can look at this concept. But the main ones are in my opinion first if it is done in the correct way with the right players it can rejuvenate a franchise. When the original “Big 3” (Allen, Garnett, and Pierce) was formed in Boston the franchise hadn’t won an NBA title since 1986, and put a breath of fresh air back into a historic team winning a title in 2008. Also before Lebron famously “took his talents to South Beach,” the Miami Heat hadn’t won a championship in six years. Long and the short is this methodology does work (when used well).  

         
In this new world of basketball commentary where stars are being called “Batman” and “Robin,” the thing that is quickly becoming a memory is the idea of a singular superstar leading his team to the title. Looking back at the last 12 years of NBA titles here is how it all stacks up.


Los Angeles Lakers: 4


San Antonio Spurs: 3


Miami Heat: 2


Boston Celtics: 1


Dallas Mavericks: 1


Detroit Pistons: 1




          Minus the Pistons, Spurs, and Mavericks; all the other teams had some sort of a “Big Three” behind them. While there were varying degrees of the “Big 3” (.i.e. Kobe and the other two guys or Pierce, Allen, and Garnett) there was still the concept at the center of their championship run.


          So while this concept has positives like bringing new life into the franchise whether historic or a newer franchise. And without giving the whole NBA a psychological evaluation onto why some players feel like they can’t win alone. So to those teams lucky enough to have a “Big 3” consider you lucky.


CT



Monday, July 9, 2012

The MLB Midseason Slant for 2012 - All Banged Up

I seriously can't believe it.
We're halfway through the season and some of us are to the point where we're practically wheeling ourselves in.
Kudos to Cyanide and Happiness
At any rate, we've seen a lot of different races and chases, and many of them are good enough to have a theme song. Trust me, with some of the games I've watched, yes, Yakety Sax is completely necessary. Because I'm a kind person (and writing a good amount of this while away on my own vacation and asking Andrew to post this) here is the MLB Midseason Slant for 2012 with added Division Analysis Action!

2012 MIDSEASON SLANT
(needs fireworks or something)
[Not a personal editing note for Andrew. Ha ha ha.]


NATIONAL LEAGUE

Eastern Division


Analysis: Anybody who follows baseball can really tell that these standings are a massive flip-flop from over the past five years. New management, name changes, and injury have been a large asset in this division. Are they keeping up with the Joneses? Some of them are contenders, so absolutely.

Washington Nationals (49-34) – WHOA. Where did these guys come from? Ever since their trip from Montreal, they never really had a chance of anything, usually falling into 4th or 5th place in the East. This roster of underrated players has massive strength in their pitching as they lead MLB in ERA, opposition AVG, and WHIP. Of course there’s still time to go, but hopefully the young guns like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg can keep up the fight and head into October for the first time in their inception.

Atlanta Braves (46-39) – Atlanta is about as average as average can be. Their power is pretty representative in their outfielders, and with Chipper Jones in his final year, the youth needs to pick up where he left off in the hot corner. Sadly, their loss of Tommy Hanson (MLB ERA leader) to Tommy John Surgery is going to be a thing to rebound from, as their pitching staff has been ailing in their own ways (no decisions, etc.). However, they can heat up in the second half without warning. Their chances are good.

New York Mets (46-40) – Smart hitting has certainly taken them very far. It’s not necessarily a total power-hitting team, but they are patient at the plate and can look at a lot of pitches. However, they can be rather streaky and have their little quirks here and there. The first quirk that comes to mind is their errant fielding. That can often screw up a good thing in a game. Based on pitching alone, R.A. Dickey is having a fantastic year and is looking to continue screwing up swings for the rest of his career. As long as there isn’t a massive collapse, they should be a good Wild Card team.


Miami Marlins (41-44) – Holy day-and-night-months, Batman! After having a fantastic month of May, they completely tanked in June (especially during Interleague play) and got bumped out of the first-place duel for now. While guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Reyes are putting the ball in play, the pitching has been rather sketchy and problematic at times. Their loss of Mike Stanton to surgery could also prove to be a massive problem as well.

Philadelphia Phillies (37-50) – Again, WHOA. We haven’t seen them in this position since before their dynasty started. Plagued with injuries, this team has had major woes with pitching (loss of Halladay, bullpen is poor) as well as clutch hitting. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard may be back, but I doubt they could save the whole team. Who is the only shiny guy on this team right now? Carlos “CHOOCH” Ruiz. Other than that, get your act together, Charlie Manuel and Company. The axe could fall fast on the season.

Central Division

Analysis: This division has a knack of being tight in the first three to four spots or so and then a total deadbeat in the last few. Most of the teams in this league have their strength in numerous areas and it clashes into a fun race. Is there going to be a fun race until the end? Most likely. Poor 'Stros.

Pittsburgh Pirates (48-37) – These guys aren’t the best hitting team in the league (aside from Andrew McCutchen's brilliance, they're next to dead last in AVG.), but they have exceptional pitching in the rotation (Burnett, McDonald) as well as in their bullpen (Hughes & Grilli, to name a few). A winning season could be just what the doctor ordered at PNC Park. Unfortunately, these guys aren’t usually a second-half team and usually have a rough patch come August. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this year. The guys need to add some smart hitting to complete the formula. It's really nice to see them leading the Division at the half for the first time since 1997.

Cincinnati Reds (47-38) – Dusty Baker’s team is faring out relatively well. Problem is, you can tell who the big names are and who aren’t based on the source of productivity of the team. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Joey Votto is having another great year, and Johnny Cueto is pitching with style. This team rides on leader momentum, and they can make the NL Central race fun to watch if the lineup stays away from the DL.

St. Louis Cardinals (46-40) - This season, the defending World Series champs is a team that's fighting hard despite the numerous amount of players that have taken a trip to the disabled list. Their bats are contagious (Albert who?) and their pitching is decent as well. The loss of Chris Carpenter may put his future with the team in question, but his absence doesn't look like its affecting the Cards' determination to make another trip back to the Promised Land. In exchange, the rotation needs to remain strong.

Milwaukee Brewers (40-45) - Here's one of those teams that have their star players in offense and pitching and then the rest of the team more or less watches pitches and set up opportunity. Don't get me wrong, Their record doesn't show it, but guys like MVP Ryan Braun and Corey Hart are pushing the lower guys along and getting them across the plate. Pitchers like Zack Greinke (awkward MLB photo...) have been doing their job and have been trying to keep these guys in contention. There are a lot of guys on this team that can be given a chance to play; they all need to be consistent.

Chicago Cubs (33-52) – D’oh. I genuinely feel bad for these guys year after year. Even though they aren't at the bottom of the ladder, there are a lot of chinks in the Cubby armor. The hitting is often in bursts, and even though Ryan Dempster hasn't pitched a lot of innings, he's the only consistently effective pitcher on the team. I wouldn't completely give up hope on these guys, it's just that whatever they are doing right now isn't working.

Houston Astros (33-53) - I think this is the time where we start wondering how they're going to fare out in the different realm that is the AL West. Over the past two seasons or so, they've lost their bigger-named talent (Bourn, Pence) and they've continued this downward spiral. Their pitching isn't very good--Wandy isn't that bad though--and only having three eligible candidates hitting over .250 is a sign that there's a problem in Houston. (See what I did there?)

Western Division

Analysis: Here’s the awkward Western front. I feel bad for the divisions that have two good teams and the rest are usually under .500. You don’t automatically want to see a straight shoot to the postseason, but at this rate it could be that way. In a perfect world, you can see a classic shoot-out in the West that could go until the last week in September.

Los Angeles Dodgers (47-40) – Now that all of the divorce stuff is out of the way, it looks like the whole team and staff is officially back on track. On paper, it might seem that way. In reality, these guys have gone several games without Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and you wouldn't know it based on their record. Their pitching has been excellent. You can't ask for anything better than Chris Capuano and NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. If the team stays healthy, you have a great threat coming from the Old West.

San Francisco Giants (46-40) – It sucks to see guys like Tim Lincecum having problems at this point in the season, but on the other hand, guys like Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong are having strong outings regardless of the issue. In times past, their hitting hasn't been tops. This year, Melky Cabrera and comeback kid Buster Posey think otherwise. Their inner fire could really lift some other mini woes come second half. They could actually be a playoff team again this year.

Arizona Diamondbacks (42-43) - To me, Arizona has had a really wild hitting squad. I never really recognized them for their pitching. That actually stands here. Their team batting average is near the top in the National League, and it often makes up for sometimes shaky pitching. They're still a home run-hitting crew, as Jason Kubel, Aaron Hill, and Paul Goldschmidt have over ten pops a piece. I'd like to see the pitching surge in the second half; it could really pump up team morale and any chance to play extra baseball in the fall.

San Diego Padres (34-53) - Ladies and gentlemen, here's the National League team chilling in the AVG. basement. This is also a team that has become well-acquainted with the 60-day DL. Although they've always been known to have a pretty scary-looking bullpen, it doesn't prove to be that scary when it gets worn thin due to poor run support and the rotation doing their job to no avail. There is, in fact, a curse for these guys, but since I didn't mention the Cubs one, they're safe from that here. This could be another woeful season for them this year.

Colorado Rockies (33-52) – No, the wildfires aren’t the reason why they’re down at the bottom. Constant injury and poor pitching has really taken a toll on this once-threatening team. Although they are infamous for being a hot second-half team, we ask what kind of artillery is available that they could do this. Dexter and CarGo can only do so much with sub-par pitching, people. The team ERA is over FIVE. That would make anyone's brain explode at how the heck that happened.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Eastern Division

Analysis: This division has teams with a lot of uppers and downers. With new management and enough injuries to literally fill a whole hospital, there is something rotten in the state of the AL East. This is when you can tell the farm systems are incredibly effective in a pinch.

New York Yankees (52-33) - Even if you aren't a baseball fan, you should come to expect this at some point in time. Their hitting is strong. Derek Jeter is going for history this year. One thing is for certain this year: they're a home run team--the home runs keep flying out of Yankee stadium and that's how they're functioning. Their pitching has had their falls and injuries, but they're fighters, as most of their games are close. Expect them in October. They've had a good-working formula for years and years and years and it hasn't stopped working yet.

Baltimore Orioles (45-40) - Well this is something different to look at. Considering the fact that these guys are usually in the basement eating Cheetos, seeing a halfway decent lineup is a breath of fresh air. Although their pitching isn't the best, I'm an Adam Jones fan, so seeing him lead the team in AVG. is nice. They also got the home run bug too. That's fun to see. I'd like to see them make the Wild Card chase. Seriously.

Tampa Bay Rays (45-41)- At best, the team is so-so. I'm not overly impressed with their hitting, and their pitching is not working with enough run support. Their losses to the DL have been throwing things for a loop as well. Although their rotation is effective and their bullpen is strong as well, their hitting is not enough to keep these good pitching blessings intact. Health and a lineup that sees the ball consistently should be a good medicine for these boys.

Boston Red Sox (43-43) - Oh boy...Another injury-ridden team. Don't get me wrong, they're seeing the ball rather well, but it clearly isn't showing in the rough competition in the AL East. Their starting rotation isn't exactly the best in the league, and it leads to their hot offense to make up for those problems. Luckily the pitching isn't having a complete meltdown; the current injuries that the BoSox are dealing with could drain out the offense and make the team look like its amounting to nothing. The starting rotation needs to wise up before more woes happen on the team.

Toronto Blue Jays (43-43) - Let's play the game: "How Many Pitchers Have Been on the Disabled List So Far?" Seriously, it's been a rough first half for that in Canadaland. Although they're at .500 at the half, it hasn't been easy, and the AL East doesn't have a large margin for error. The lineup and hitting have been pretty steady for these guys, and just imagine what it would be like if there weren't so many pitchers dropping like flies. Health is key from this point forward.

Central Division

Analysis: This is usually one of the most exciting divisions in the league. Why is that, you ask? Because its always so tight, I have the hardest time analyzing who is actually going to win the division based on what qualities they have. There's always a good hodgepodge of talent located here.

Chicago White Sox (47-38)- They don't have the scary-looking records like the other league leaders, but this is one of the squads who have been more healthy than the others. Paul Konerko is having an excellent year, while this dude Chris Sale is drinking the tears of his victims on the mound. They're fun to watch (according to someone I know that has DirecTV) and their offseason deals have worked in their favor this far. They need to keep working the plate and bullpen a little more efficiently if they're going to keep the opposition at bay.

Cleveland Indians (44-41) - On paper, they don't look like the strongest unit, but it looks like y'all are in for a surprise. Smart plate appearances and small ball are working wonders for these boys. They have had kinks with pitching and the like, but they're making up for unfortunate events with close games and good streaks. I don't think that could last, but then again, teams with this formula have made it to October. Still, it would be good for them to have something to fall back on. Rotational pitchers should be on their to-do list before the trade deadline.

Detroit Tigers (44-42) - These guys are fun to watch too. Justin Verlander is having a good half as usual, and the hitting is doing their respective jobs. Although the loss of Victor Martinez may have shaken the team in the beginning, they're keeping strong and their fielding is holding up. Their hitting may only go so far though--if health is in the team's good graces, then we could see some fireworks in Detroit. You can't call this team 'average' even though they lie in the middle of the pack--they can sneak up on the lead in the second half.

Kansas City Royals (37-47) - I saw the starting pitching for this squad and literally winced. Bruce Chen is still playing?! Anyway, this is a case of a good offense, but worrisome pitching that could screw the whole team over. It literally has BoSox written all over it. Their offense is Top 5--excellent. They're way under .500--not very excellent. It seems like there are pitchers that either cant keep a lead or just dig a deep enough hole. It's rough.

Minnesota Twins (36-49) - As I was looking up stats for pitching, I noticed none of them were eligible for applicable ERA statistics. Aaaah injuries and blowups! Fielding isn't exactly the strongest, and a higher-than-average offense obviously isn't strong enough to get these guys out of the hole. At least Joe Mauer still has endorsements...right? In all seriousness, a good offensive team should not be sinking to the bottom like this. I do feel bad for them because they deserve more.

Western Division

Analysis: For being the smallest division in the league, there doesn't seem to be that much of a tightness there at all. There's just two teams over .500 and the others are picking their noses. The thing is, you shouldn't count the other guys out--there's always the Wild Card.

Texas Rangers (52-34) - Life can't get much better for these guys in first place. Although they don't have the most fearsome of pitching in the AL, their offense is what they're most known for. They have proven in this first half that they don't always need the long ball to win games (don't tell that to Josh Hamilton--we like him the way he is) and that if the pitcher has a rough game, there's always a chance for the blow to be softened. The team is in a good age right now. They'll be giving the league a run for their money for a while now.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (48-38) - One thing I always liked about these guys is their pitching. That like hasn't failed me thus far. Jered Weaver is being an absolute beast, and even with CJ Wilson going to the DL, it looks like there won't be any problems on that front. There's also this dude named Mike Trout--nobody knows where he came from, but he's been this awesome thing at the plate and in the outfield. There are a lot of exciting hitters and fielders on this team. They seriously have it all. If Texas doesn't falter, these guys will certainly be the kings of the Wild Card this year. I really like their chances.

Oakland Athletics (43-43)- Ouch. I understand these guys are at .500, but they're there for reasons that are really strange. They've lost several pitchers due to elbow surgery, and they still lead the American League in Team ERA. (I'm serious. Look it up.) Their lineup is healthy for the most part, but (in the amount of games played) over half of the team is hitting under the Mendoza line (meaning under .200) and they're dead last in Team AVG. It's like two polarizing concepts are wiping this team out of any possible credibility. The hitting staff needs to change and pronto. That is all.


Seattle Mariners (36-51) - I don't doubt that this team is in a massive funk, but they've been in this position numerous times in the past few years and it's getting old. Sure, I believe that King Felix and Kevin Millwood are doing quite well, but when Ichiro himself is having a strange year, you know things have been going south. This team has a lot of scrubbed players, and some trades could bring some added freshness to a team that's needed it for several years. I'd say they should start with the infield and go from there.

I can't tell you how many Twitter updates I've been getting about injuries and replacements. Apparently a lot of guys are going down. Is it the heat? Could be. Whatever it is, it is making an impact on the standings in baseball this season.

Let's have a good break. I'm gonna enjoy the rest of my vacation.

Until next time in October...

--AZ

Sunday, July 1, 2012

AZ's Slant on Sunday - EVERYONE HAS A PRICE


But in all seriousness...

I read an "unusual fact" on Twitter a couple of days ago. It read: "65% of former NBA players & 80% of NFL players go bankrupt after a few years of retirement."

We have officially confirmed that the recession is affecting everybody in the country. We don't need to name the athletes under fire, of course, but you can clearly tell that there are athletes out there that are afraid to retire from the sport out of fear of running out of money.

In today's day and age, we may think of the argument of what I like call "The Old Yeller Complex" which I had talked about on The Sports Nut Blogs last year. In a nutshell, there are arguments such as: if there are athletes that are still healthy and want to play despite their age, they should play; or if older athletes still hang onto the game, it eliminates the chances of younger guys getting in the game and forming their own careers and legacies. In this era, it doesn't matter about how much you love the game and how old you're getting; in this terrible economy, it's either work or wither.

Our economy. It's beautiful, isn't it?
Some athletes are fortunate that after retirement they are welcomed back by sports organizations to work in the front offices or in recruitment staff. There are others that are incredibly fortunate and even get a job in broadcasting regardless of how terrible their analyses can be. Not to sound partial, but issues like this totally suck for people like me that just recently got out of college and are looking for a job/additional experience (because God knows some don't have enough for anybody). But in being impartial, these athletes have worked for years and years and received a hefty paycheck. However, when they stop working, they're not getting a viable source of income, and taxes start spanking them around the spanking court. Let's not get into possibilities that there are underground practices, because that could be killer on the bank account too. Anyway, they may get benefits post-retirement, but it might not have the same perks like if you were a military retiree or a big businessman that is stepping down after so many years.

You may also have to configure the psychology on how big of a hit bankruptcy can be on a big athlete post-retirement. Sometimes moving backwards isn't always smiled upon, especially if the money that was spent at the time of "gaming," as I call it, was on cars and condos and what have you. When you see the big drop they take after losing so much money due to taxes and inactivity, you can feel bad for them. That's why they have no choice but to go back and do anything possible. Most of the time, you'll see the lesser known retired people taking broadcasting or front office jobs, and then you'll see the bigger guys take on the endorsements and television deals. Some of it isn't terrible, but it's a dog-eat-dog world, and everyone has a price.

I'll admit, once these guys become professional athletes, they're always gonna have a foot in the door, so if there's any danger of bankruptcy, there's always a way to rebound. It might not seem like it, but they have it pretty well. Too bad they have the two things they can't avoid: death and taxes. For those guys that take their foot out of the door, they can downward spiral into some dangerous stuff. Yaaay, economy! But in some cases, the foot in the door can eliminate the chances for other non-athlete workers to get their chance in the spotlight. If a guy wanted to do analysis for the NBA and has been working hard for nearly ten years to get there, I'd think he'd be pretty angry if he lost it to Charles Barkley. That would be turribul.

For people like us, it isn't fair. However, it also isn't fair that there are guys that have worked their bodies to the point of falling apart just to lose it all once they retire due to national policies. Trust me, I wouldn't really want to see a guy like Curt Schilling working at a Walmart. That would just be awkward. At the same time, it would almost be degrading for him because he was at the top of the world at one point, and stupid stuff happened where he just lost everything he practically earned over the course of 15 years. If I had a ton of savings due to a lavish broadcasting career with some sports news outlet, I'd be pretty mad too if I lost it all in a matter of minutes.

Welcome to the vicious cycle that we call life, sports world! Enjoy the ride through the Tunnel of Rejection and Financial Crapolla!

--AZ

Unnatural Selection - How Substances Ruin Sports as We Know It.

In the past month, two MLB players have been handed 50-game suspensions for testing positive for PED's, or performance enhancing drugs. Over the past few years, issues like this have been common not only in baseball, but in football, soccer, MMA (Remember Cyborg?), and even "professional wrestling."

There's so much caution today. This is such an awkward era. And it's for a stupid reason too.

Every single time you do something important you have to give a urine sample or a cotton swab of some fluid to make sure you're "clean." Why? Because you don't want to play unfairly, do you? Sometimes, making bad choices can not only ruin you as the athlete, but it can also give your sport a bad name. The problem can also be blown out into major obnoxious proportions.

Do you want an example? This one is super fun to talk about.

There's this goofball out there in the world of baseball named Jose Canseco. Most people in the global village know him as a pompous finger-pointer who calls people out on Twitter just to feel manly. (He even put his phone number on a tweet once looking for a fight. I'm not making this up. I laughed for an hour over it.) Back in 2005, Canseco released a book called Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits; How Baseball Got Big which wound up accusing numerous baseball players that he had crossed at one point in his career to have used illegal substances. Some of these guys included Mark McGwire, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, and Jason Giambi. After this book was released, the media began swimming in dirt and baseball around the world as we knew it started covering from heavy fire. There was a blacklisting almost as scary-looking as Senator McCarthy's Communist blacklisting in the 50's. Players who were prominent in the game were then placed under suspicion for usage. It was almost like prohibition all over again.

It was so bad, even the tabloids had fun with it.
The link RIGHT HERE is a personal favorite cover page (somewhat NSFW).

Oh no, it gets worse than that too. Canseco released another book in 2008 called Vindicated where he called out Alex Rodriguez on using steroids. After the accusation, more court cases went underway. Numerous guys were convicted of steroid use (hey Mark McGwire, how are you doing?) and some were even accused of perjury soon afterward (Roger Clemens, is that you?). It seemed like a well-cared-for sport was working underground operations for at least 15-20 years, according to Canseco. In retrospect, it's completely obvious that a lot of the players that were accused of drug use were juiced in their careers. When Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, you knew it wasn't natural. When Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, you knew even more that something wasn't right with that. When Roger Maris hit 61 in '61 (ha ha ha) it just seemed more natural. I also think of how ridiculously bulky some of the guys were back in the day.

Look at the vein popping out of Lenny Dykstra's right forearm. That is all I have to say about that.

The problem I have with the publishing of Canseco's book is that out of nowhere, some washed-up dude who obviously had a problem just went and published all of this knowledge without warning. I would have totally understood if there were previous speculations on a couple of players, but instead it was just like:




"WHAMO, here are some names thrown out there because I'M JOSE CANSECO! BWAAAAAHHH!!!!"






Some of the suspension cases are extremely unfortunate. Many dieticians and physical therapists and doctors have been charged with giving athletes supplements that are traced with illegal substances. There are issues in which these people come under fire that include the doctor or whomever it is not telling the athlete of the instance that there may be something questionable in the medication that they have been prescribed or in dietary pills that have been recommended.
The most unfortunate of cases come from other....let's call them "practices." About a week ago, I looked up online that there can be cases in which substances can actually be transferred through...sexual intercourse. Yes, people, the birds and the bees can get men in trouble in more ways than one! If a woman is taking medication that contains some sort of steroid or additional hormone (i.e. birth control pills), it can be physically transferred and may actually be traced on a drug test. Trust me, I saw that and was shocked. Apparently it's rare, and the exposure has to be prolonged.

Okay, before I begin "the talk" from out of nowhere, let's move on from that.

There are different kinds of what people call "illegal substances" or "performance enhancers." One of the more common ones that is heard nowadays is HGH, or Human Growth Hormone. It pretty much speaks for itself. There are also different kinds of steroids that are meant to affect muscle build and bone structure. Also, there can be substances that increase the level of testosterone in the system, ultimately affecting strength and other features. Of course, there are side effects from these things, which include the body practically falling apart, and something called "roid rage" where the additional chemicals from the steroids whack out the brain. Bad things have happened from that--especially when head injuries may be involved with it.

One form of "enhancement" that has been a shaky subject as of late is eye surgery. The most well-known player to have gotten it is Brian McCann. A lot of critics claim that this is a physical form of performance enhancement as it clears the vision and adds more detail to an individual's vision. Guys, what is Lasik Eye Surgery then? I know people who have gotten it; their usage compared to steroid use is apples and oranges. If there is an issue with someone's eyesight and they're a professional athlete, I'm more than certain that eye surgery should be a healthy resort.

Babe Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer, for goodness sake. Why do we need man-mones to achieve greatness? [Religious rant alert] If God (or Allah if you're a Muslim) gave you this body, you should use it to your fullest extent. You shouldn't have to add additional stuff that shouldn't be there just to bump up your performance and getting a heftier paycheck. I know it forces the overall game and sport into fourth gear, but let's also think and consider this: What does it show the kids? What does it do to the prospective players that want to play? They shouldn't have to take performance-enhancing substances to be good or to keep up with the other guys. Stupid things like this kill the sport.

This is why we can't have nice things. People have to try and "cheat" for greatness, and for what? More media coverage in the form of a court case? Settlements that cost millions of dollars? It's not worth it. What has to be taught to the kids and the current high school/college athletes is that athletes are made through hard work and determination, not through a pill or a syringe. If the issue is to correct a problem such as eyesight or lack of cartilage, then I would think that's alright. If it's to build muscle or strengthen bones, it's called calcium and protein--simple as that.

Performance enhancement is a poison...It's always going to be around in a sneaky way and it's always going to hurt someone and something when least expected.

--AZ