Lucky Number.

As I wrote in my review of Moneyball, I have been a longtime lover of baseball. What I may have not made clear was that I happen to root for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I spend a lot of time in pain.

Last year was exciting in that the Pirates were in first place in the NL Central for a legitimate chunk of time. Young talent was meshing (and hitting), the pitching rotation was coming together.. it was EXCITING. The season fizzled into nothingness (read: finishing 18 games under .500), which is nothing new for the Buccos, but it stung a little more after hope snuck its way in.

Welcome, sir.

With reservation, I have begun to pay attention to Pirates news again, most notably of late being that former Yankees P A.J. Burnett was traded to the Pirates. In New York, my Yankees-fan friends and colleagues are split on whether this is a “good riddance” or “good for the Pirates” situation. I saw Burnett pitch a few times this past season in pinstripes; sometimes he was wild, sometimes he locked games down. I had no idea what kind of guy he was outside of that (other than hearing he listens to wildass rock music). But today, I think I know him a little better.

Pirates P Daniel McCutchen (also a once-upon-a-time Yankee), is currently rostered as #34, which is Burnett’s number. It is tradition for veterans to purchase a gift for a player who is willing to give up his number (which McCutchen was). These gifts are usually nice, but I’ve never heard of this before – Burnett, instead of getting McCutchen a nice watch, is going to start a college fund for McCutchen’s (currently in-utero) daughter, who is due in May 2012.

Well I’ll be damned.

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – February 23 Edition

Bringing out the big pictures today.

The Good

Will Andrew Luck throw?

The NFL Combine is underway (having begun 2/22 with a variety of arrivals). Measurements are being taken, examinations (medical and psychological) are in process, and interviews with NFL teams and the anxious media are taking place. A full 327 draft prospects will be involved in the NFL’s annual team testing over the next week. This is a chance for unranked prospects to make a statement. This is a chance for poised-to-go-early-in-the-draft favorites to prove their worth. And nearly every scout, head coach, GM, and player agent will be on site to take it all in. The first day of workouts is this Saturday (2/25) – check out a complete schedule of events and players to watch.

 

The Bad

found guilty.

George Huguely, former University of Virginia lacrosse player, was convicted yesterday (2/22) of second-degree murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love (who was also a lacrosse player at UVA). Huguely was sentenced to 26 years in prison, after a jury decided that his crime was not premeditated. It is reported that Huguely, in a supposed drunken rage, kicked through Love’s locked bedroom door on May 2, 2010, and shook her violently (angered over their relationship and Love’s connection with another male student). Love was found dead by her roommate hours after the incident. The Yeardley Love death and subsequent George Huguely trial and conviction have placed a dark cloud over not just the University of Virginia, but over the sport of lacrosse itself.

The Fugly

 

holy shit.

On Sunday (2/19), ESPN fired an employee for the use of the racist headline “Chink in the Armor” connected to a story about the Knicks, and specifically Knicks guard and phenom-of-late Jeremy Lin, losing to the New Orleans Hornets Friday night (2/17). Lin is the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. The headline was only up for a little over a half hour before it was taken down, but clearly (see above) a few people noticed. ESPN is not alone in their racially-driven folly when it comes to Lin – Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock tweeted this last weekend:

Gridiron of Time.

The Super Bowl commercials maybe weren’t as funny as in years past, have been labeled underwhelming by some, and overtly political by others (Karl rove was “offended” by the Chrysler/Clint Eastwood “Halftime in America” spot… SIGH). But now that these spots are in full rotation, and I’ve gotten to see them over (and over) again (how bad are you starting to feel for tiny “Wego” having to lug all those Bud Lights in his mouth to lazy assholes at pool parties?), I have to say that the NFL’s Timeline spot featuring a visual evolution of football players through the years, running and leaping and smashing across a time-warped gridiron, is pretty damn cool.

The Good, The Bad, the Fugly – Super Bowl Edition

The Good

So pretty.

The New York Giants are having a nice little Monday (after beating the New England Patriots 23-17 in the Super Bowl last night, capturing the franchise’s fourth Lombardi trophy). Two Giants deserve to be especially pleased – head coach Tom Coughlin and #3 receiver Mario Manningham. Coughlin became the NFL’s oldest coach (at 65) to win a Super Bowl (his second championship win in four years) and hushed the naysayers who had called for his head after a 7-7 start, a midseason four-game slump, and a Week 15 loss to (haggard) Washington. No matter of record or criticism, Coughlin stayed behind his guys, and they stayed with him to the (fruitful) end. One of those guys was Manningham, who was mostly outshined this season by fellow receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz was double-covered into oblivion last night, making Nicks and Manningham QB Eli Manning’s prime targets. Nicks hauled in 10 catches for 109 yards and was the go-to man for most of the night, but in a moment reminiscent of David Tyree’s ball-against-head catch in 2008 that allowed the Giants’ game-winning drive to continue, Manningham pulled in a fourth quarter 38-yard pass (with the Giants trailing 17-15), his toes inches from the sideline. The Giants were again able to keep driving, score late (albeit almost not late enough), and hold on defensively for the win.

The Bad

She calls him "Tommy".

Gisele Bundchen, wife of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, publicly shared her postgame analysis after being prompted by a Giants fan who shouted “Eli owns your husband!” – “You (have) to catch the ball when you’re supposed to catch the ball. My husband cannot fucking throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can’t believe they dropped the ball so many times.” She’s got a point.

The Fugly

She loves football.

In a moment I somehow completely missed (bathroom break?), singer MIA gave the world the middle finger during her part of Madonna’s halftime show. She reportedly also sang “I don’t give a fuck” during said finger-flipping. Whoops. The NFL is hastily apologizing for another halftime show debacle, and this time NBC gets to deal with the FCC — CBS was the network that had the unfortunate pleasure of broadcasting Janet Jackson’s 2004 boob revelation at the hands of Justin Timberlake.

 

Moneyball.

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”

A tear was dribbling down my cheek when Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane (General Manager of the Oakland Athletics) spoke this (DAMN good) line in the Oscar-nominated film, Moneyball. If the tear admission didn’t cover it, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment.

Baseball, for those who have never felt any connection through playing or otherwise, is what I’m sometimes told is “incredibly boring”. I will not fight those who are of this camp; I pity them. I apologize if that sounds pretentious (I’m lying, I do not apologize), but not everyone is going to love baseball – it’s just that if you do, you get it. You get why this marathon of a sport plays on our collective flair for the dramatic, for rooting for the underdog, for wars waged between heroes and villains, for triumph of spirit or sheer talent, for comebacks, for getting to watch grace under pressure emerge in front of you. In each season, for each team, there are trends, streaks – and they read like very different chapters in a lengthy book.

As a lifelong sports fanatic and athlete, and almost-as-long romantic, Moneyball, for me, captured the intricacies of both. It brought to life the minutiae of baseball (statistics are an integral part of the story), provided characters whose lives revolve around the game, while still being identifiable humans outside of it, or at least adjacent to it. The film’s dynamo and star, Beane, searches for what it means to do anything meaningful. And your guts (and heart) get tied up in this mystifying journey with him, his team of castaways (specifically former catcher Scott Hatteberg, played by Chris Pratt) and assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill’s portrayal earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination) during the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season, whether you know what happened or not.

Baseball lover or hater or indifferent football fan, watch this movie. And maybe find something to love. After all, how can you not be romantic about baseball?

Goodbye, Joe.

I have been struggling mightily as to what I want to say about Joe Paterno. He passed away due to complications from lung cancer one week ago (January 22, 2012).

Most people, I feel, are still chewing on the former coach’s role in the Jerry Sandusky horror story, the fact that Paterno didn’t go to the police when a confession of witnessing an act of child abuse was brought to his attention. I am still chewing on it myself. I am chewing on the fact that Mike McQueary, the aforementioned direct witness, did not call the police himself, passing the information to Paterno instead. I am chewing on the fact that had Paterno reported what McQueary told him to the (State College) police, Paterno would have been giving the police hearsay information. I am chewing on the fact that Paterno did report McQueary’s confession to Gary Schultz, the head of University Police, which has jurisdiction over all crimes committed on campus. I am chewing on the fact that when Schultz failed in his duty to investigate, Joe never followed up.

There are so many foggy, intertwined emotions swirling in my gut regarding Joe Paterno’s connection to his undoing as a coach. I’m not sure how long it will take for me to find a place to land, or if I ever will. But apart from these unresolved feelings, I do know that Paterno was a man who so deeply loved Penn State, and more importantly, the people who passed through it. He cared about people. He valued academics in a culture that quite often puts athletics first, and on a pedestal. He and Sue, his wife, donated over $4 million to the university, which included funding for the library on campus as well as for the erection of a non-denominational spiritual center. He was part of one of the first major college programs in the US to embrace black players, a program that fought for all of its players to be on the field in segregation-era games. He left this program with the number one academic ranking among the top 25 teams in the country in 2011, as graded by the New America Foundation (which also showed no achievement gap between black and white Penn State players – a rare feat in Division I-A football).

And he wanted all of that to be his legacy. Joe was not a hero, but Joe wasn’t a villain either. He was a human.

Goodbye, Joe.

...

 

 

 

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – January 12 Edition

New year, new news. Did everyone watch the BCS bowl games? Did everyone want to poke their eyes out after the national title game was the most boring of the bunch? ANGSTY SIGH. Anyway, here are the winners for the first “The Good, The Bad, The Fugly” of 2012.

The Good

AP Photo - "I'm bigger than boxing."

Boxing icon and social activist Muhammad Ali turns 70 next week (on Tuesday 1/17) and will be celebrating the milestone this Saturday (1/14) at a private party held at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY. Ali and his wife spent over 10 years raising money to found and operate the center, which highlights Ali’s life – from three-time world heavyweight champion to passionate activist (known for being outspoken on war, segregation and poverty). The party will serve as a fundraiser for the center, an ongoing exhibit of Ali’s commitment to social activism.

The Bad

...

Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, inspiration in part for the movie Jerry Maguire, has filed for bankruptcy protection (Chapter 7). Steinberg, who has represented notable NFL players such as Steve Young and Troy Aikman, is/was known as one of the first “super agents”. He had pushed the bankruptcy filing for quite a while in order to fulfill “moral and legal obligation to people who advanced [Steinberg] funds or performed services in good faith.” Everything (creditors, collections agencies, etc.) caught up with him, though – Steinberg’s total debt is allegedly over  $1.4 million. Steinberg struggled with alcohol over a period of years but has reportedly been sober since 2010.

The Fugly

Eek.

Anonymous New York Jets players voiced their intense displeasure and criticism of QB Mark Sanchez in the NY Daily News this week. One unknown player was quoted saying, “we have to bring in another quarterback that will make him work at practice. He’s lazy and content because he knows he’s not going to be benched.” Yikes. I don’t think Sanchez is a star-caliber quarterback, but it’s a bit cringeworthy to read that so many players (veiled in anonymity) are bashing him in a very public manner. The article (see gaudy cover above) also pointed to some (obviously still anonymous) players calling for Sanchez to be booted in favor of Peyton Manning (should Manning get healthy).

Check back this weekend to read what I learned in 2011. Seriously, do it.

Pigskin Preview – BCS Bowl Game Breakdown

The Conference title games are long gone (does anyone even remember what happened?). The BCS gods (computers) configured the final rankings and match-ups. The bowls (all 1340983475 of them) have begun. But the big mammajammas (read: BCS Bowl Games) are still looming.

Lots of people find the bowl breakdown come end-of-season wildly confusing. To quote the BCS on the web, “the BCS is a five-game showcase of college football. It is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game, and to create exciting and competitive matchups among eight other highly regarded teams in four other bowl games.”

I’m not putting a dog in the fight about the BCS this year, whether I think it’s a good system, whether there should be a playoff etc. etc. I’m too tired. What I will say, however, is that there are going to be (should be) some damn good football games to bring in 2012.

Bowl Championship Series (in chronological order)

Pretty... kind of.

Rose Bowl – Oregon vs. Wisconsin on Jan. 2, 2012, 5 p.m. (ET obv) in Pasadena, CA

  • #5 Oregon and #10 Wisconsin fire off the BCS start gun for “The Granddaddy of Them All”, better known as the Rose Bowl.  The Ducks lost last year’s title game to Auburn (cough, Cam Newton, cough), and Wisconsin actually lost last year’s Rose Bowl game to TCU. Both are looking for Rose Bowl glory in this now-fairly-standard match-up of Pac-12 & Big Ten champions. Watch these two VERY different, but very high-powered offenses go to work.

 

This bowl sounds like a joke.. but it's not (anymore).

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl – Stanford vs. Oklahoma State on Jan. 2, 2012, 8:30 p.m. in Glendale, Ariz.

  • After a shoddy match-up last year (Oklahoma faced four-loss Connecticut, in a low-rated and low-attended game) and a scandal involving wrongful political campaign contributions by Fiesta Bowl employees (including the subsequent booting of then president and CEO John Junker), the Fiesta Bowl has what looks like redemption in the form of a great game. #3 Oklahoma State, who some/many thought should have been in the title game, and #4 Stanford, led by likely first pick in the NFL Draft QB Andrew Luck, will bring their offensively-potent squads onto the Arizona gridiron this year. This very well may be the best match-up of the BCS bunch (remember the offensively riveting LSU v. Alabama game earlier this season?)
If your sugar container looks like this, you're fancy.

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl – Michigan vs. Virginia Tech Jan. 3, 2012, 8:30 p.m. ET in New Orleans, LA.

  • The Sugar Bowl takes the controversy mini spotlight (of sorts) this year because of the teams playing in it. #13 Michigan will face #11 Virginia Tech – do they seem like fairly middle of the road-ranked teams? Yes. That’s because they leap-frogged teams like  #6 Arkansas, #7 Boise State and #8 Kansas State (Arkansas and Kansas State will meet instead in the Cotton Bowl on January 6). People are pissed off, Michigan and VTech are defending their right to play in the Sugar Bowl. It’s not leaving a great taste in a lot of mouths. The Hokies having trouble selling off their share of tickets was not helping matters either. Players to watch (if you watch) – Michigan’s QB Denard Robinson (a multi-purpose offensive threat) and Virginia Tech’s RB and ACC player of the year, David Wilson.
That orange is wearing a crown.

Discover Orange Bowl – Clemson vs. West Virginia Jan. 4, 2012, 8:30 p.m. ET in Miami, FL.

  • In yet another high-octane offensive showdown, #23 West Virginia (they get a bid because they share the Big East title and because the computer said so) and #15 Clemson meet in the Orange Bowl to try to light up one another. Both of these teams averaged over 33 points and 440 yards per game this season. Clemson started the season 8-0, upsetting ranked teams and climbed up the rankings themselves, setting school records for pass yards, total yards and scoring along the way. The Orange Bowl will be the first-ever BCS bowl for Clemson.
The big one.

BCS National Championship – LSU vs. Alabama Jan. 9, 2012, 8:30 p.m. ET in New Orleans, LA.

  • In a VERY high-profile rematch (the first title game rematch in BCS history actually), #1 LSU will face #2 Alabama, this time  with the national title on the line. After all the talk of high-powered offenses in the BCS bowls, it’s (almost) refreshing to talk about two stalwart defenses who helped make a 9-3 final score possible when the teams clashed in November. The Tigers won that battle in OT, but I’m sure the Tide has other plans for the title game (like getting into the endzone). They also have something to prove to those who think/feel this rematch shouldn’t be happening. As mentioned earlier, Oklahoma State almost fought its way into the title game (beating rival Oklahoma 44-10 in the last week of play), but Alabama held the edge – the Tide finished second in both the Harris poll and the coaches’ poll, and by enough to overcome the fact that Oklahoma State had the edge in the computer rankings. If the system hasn’t pissed you off enough by this point (I know I said I’m not going to fight about this.. but I can take jabs), take into consideration that  no matter  what happens in the title game, for six years in a row, a team from the SEC is going to be crowned victorious. The system has ensured it.


 

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – December 15 Edition

The Good

Drew Brees giving Elmo a lift.

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees appeared in an episode of Sesame Street this morning. Brees’s segment featured a lesson on the word “measure” in which he teaches Elmo (see above) how to measure random items including (surprise) a football. Brees brought his family (his wife and sons – Brittany, Baylen (age 2) and Bowen (age 1), respectively) to the taping, which took place in April.

The appearance on Sesame Street is likely unsurprising to those who follow Brees outside of football. The Brees Dream Foundation is responsible for raising millions to repair playgrounds, schools, and parks around New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

On top of his off-field merits, Brees is this season’s current NFL-leading passer (4,368 yards) and is on pace to pass (pun) Dan Marino’s 1984 record (5,084 yards). What a guy.

The Bad

Concernicus.

NL MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for a PED (performance-enhancing drug), with a testosterone level at possibly the highest of record in the MLB (based on their historical testing results). If the findings are upheld, Braun is looking at a 50-game suspension to start next season.

Not only is it bad news for baseball that a league MVP has tested positive for something that has been banned, but Braun needs some PR help of his own – in a 2009 interview with mlb.com regarding the then-swirling Alex Rodriguez roid controversy, Braun said “The best thing he can do is come out, admit to everything and be completely honest. The situation will die a lot faster if he tells the whole truth.”

The Fugly

Photo Credit: Deadspin

Sam Hurd, Chicago Bears WR, is currently in jail and facing federal drug charges. Hurd was arrested Wednesday (12/14) night after allegedly articulating interest in buying (a shitload of) drugs from an undercover agent with intent to distribute (five to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 lbs of marijuana, to be exact).

According to the federal complaint, Hurd (26) allegedly told the undercover agent that he worked with someone else (in relation to his drug acquisition) and that he and his partner distribute/sell approximately four kilos of cocaine per week (in and around Chicago).

It gets worse – Hurd, who has only 8 receptions for 109 yards and no TDs this season, has allegedly supplied drugs to a double-digit list of NFL players.

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – December 10 Edition

The Good

The National Basketball Association (or NBA for shortsies) announced Thursday (12/8) that, as part of their collective bargaining agreement, they are planning to adopt a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. To boil the jargon down, the new policy’s umbrella will specifically include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation (which does not, however, include gender identity or gender expression). The policy effectively only covers men (gay or bisexual men in the NBA), since no women (gay, straight, or in between) play in the NBA, but this is marked on a human rights level – there exists no legal protections for LGBT employees on a federal level, so private employers have the ability (but not the requirement) to adopt policies that protect said employees from workplace discrimination.

This is fairly HUGE for the NBA to be a part of, as the organization is inherently part of a greater theater of homophobia that exists in professional sports. The National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) opted to include sexual orientation in their respective non-discrimination policies earlier this year as well. Baby steps, but hell, this is progress that is notable. I should also note that several current (and the current part is oh so important) professional athletes have publicly voiced their support of LGBT equality, including the NHL’s Sean Avery (which is probably wildly surprising for some, and not at all for those of you who know he interned in the fashion industry), NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita (and former-NFL-player-now-commentator Michael Strahan), and current NBA point guard extraordinaire Steve Nash. Watch Nash’s video promoting the now-enacted marriage equality law in New York State:

The Bad

Oregon State freshman defensive tackle Fred Thompson, 19, collapsed and passed away Wednesday evening (12/7) while playing basketball at a recreation center on campus. Reports are now coming out that it is likely Thompson suffered a cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that in this case led to death. The 6-foot-4, 317-pound DT had no known heart conditions. Thompson’s 20th birthday would have been this Sunday.  

The Fugly

Jerry Sandusky - Bernie Fine

Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine are still in the news, for absolutely awful reasons. Sandusky was arrested again Wednesday (12/7) and charged with 12 additional counts of child sexual abuse (involving two new alleged victims). Sandusky is now facing more than 50 charges, and yet he was able to post bail (which was only $250,000) on Thursday (12/8). The charges against this man (monster) are HEINOUS, and yet he is able to return home. There is something wrong with this, and it legitimately makes me see red.

Onto Bernie Fine, there is also something so wrong with this – Bernie Fine can’t be charged with child molestation (despite credible accusers) because the statute of limitations has passed. Onondaga County Dist. Atty. William Fitzpatrick said this week that had he learned of Bobby Davis and Mike Lang’s (both step-brothers and former Syracuse ball boys) sexual abuse accusations in 2005, Fine would have been arrested and charged with child molestation.

“Bobby, I’m sorry it took so long,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick also harshly criticized ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard for not turning over a tape recording accuser Bobby Davis had given the news outlets (in which Fine’s wife admits to Davis that she knew what her husband had done to Davis) to the police. Meanwhile, ESPN is still backpedaling as to why they held onto the tape for eight years without doing a damn thing.

Jerry Sandusky is likely going to rot in prison and have hell to pay abuse-wise when he gets there (prisoners are not kind to child molesters). Bernie Fine is likely going to get away with sexual abuse of children. This is fucking ugly, and this is fucking wrong.