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A-Rod’s A-Bomb Leaves Us Wondering: Has Baseball Become “A-Fraud” Itself?

2/10/09

Rodriguez Steroids Baseball

I don’t know about you, but as a baseball fan, today I feel totally broken hearted.

If you’re a sports fan, and more specifically a fan of Major League Baseball, it’s difficult to feel anything but sorry for yourself following the events of the last few days.

Already a damaged sport, baseball, which has forever been known as America’s favorite pastime, may have suffered a blow it’s unable to fully recover from.

Alex Rodriguez, the golden boy of the sport and arguably the most talented athlete who plays it, admitted yesterday he was guilty of using performance enhancing drugs between the years of 2001 and 2003.

The A-Rod story has already been beaten to death (and deservedly so) but I wanted to talk about something I feel has now become an even bigger issue, which is the integrity the game still has (if any) along with the importance it will have moving forward.

Talking about Rodriguez briefly, you can give him all the credit you want for being honest and admitting his use, but that simply doesn’t cut it.

He cheated. Plain and simple, and as clear as can be.

The man was “A-Fraud’ in every sense of the word.

Hall of fame? Forget it.

If I had a vote, there isn’t a chance that he, or anybody linked to using steroids belongs among the immortals of the game who may have been everything from drunks to racists, but also earned their immortality by playing the game the way it was supposed to be played.

There cannot be a spot in Cooperstown for a player who knowingly gave himself an illegal edge in a sport most will agree he never needed to begin with.

Of course anybody who is familiar with the kind of person Alex Rodriguez has revealed himself to be, he’s a selfish, superficial, self conscious and as he proved during his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons yesterday, utterly disingenuous.

(Watch it for yourself below)

Sure, he admitted to using these illegal substances, but as Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated points out, his interview raised more questions than answers.

Ironically, for a player who is as obsessed with being bigger than the game as Rodriguez is, his use and admission may be the very thing which pushes baseball to the point of no return.

If it hasn’t already, baseball is on the cusp of losing it’s innocence.

* * * * *

Remember how simple it was when we were kids?

For almost all of us, we knew we weren’t going pro.  We knew we weren’t going make millions playing a game.  But it was that game we came to love.

We loved it because it just felt pure to play.

Having a catch in the backyard.   Little league at bats.  High school try outs.

No matter how far you went, just playing was more than enough.

The real treat was always seeing the big boys make it look so easy at the ballpark.

Seeing our idols in person was as cool as it got.

They became our idols and our heroes.

These men were larger than life, and were getting paid- lots, and lots of money- to play a game we would have given years of our life to spend a day playing on the big stage.

We looked up to these people because we saw them as everything we knew we couldn’t be.

Of course as we get older, we learn some of the harsh realities that life reveals to us.

At some point, sooner than later for most, we learn that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, we won’t turn into a piece of candy no matter how much of it eat and girls, in fact, don’t have cooties.

Of course the other truth we learn is that human beings, as wonderful as they may appear, make mistakes.

That applies to everyone from our teachers to our parents to the very athletes we thought were infallible.

* * * * *

Professional athletes aren’t perfect, no matter how many records they’ve broken, championship’s they’ve won or gold medals they’ve earned.

Forgetting about Major League Baseball for a moment, you have Kobe Bryant, among the brightest stars in the NBA who a few years back was accused of rape, and although he had the charges against him dropped, his image was permanently altered.

You have Michael Phelps, who despite winning eight gold medals wasn’t able to swim his way out of a photograph which showed him smoking out of a bong.  Phelps was suspended three months and his image has also been tarnished.

Speaking of Olympians, while not discriminating gender, Marion Jones also was a gold medalist who was found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs and had to relinquish the medals she earned.

The NFL most recently has Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress shoot himself in the leg, ending his season and ruining his teams chances of repeating as champions.

Of course baseball takes the cake when it comes to the star power of the mistake prone.

Look back at the last fifteen years, and think of the biggest names the sport has produced:

Three come to mind, and those names are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez.

Wouldn’t you know it, all three find themselves at the center of the steroids storm.  While Rodriguez gave his admission yesterday, allowing him to salvage a shred of respect, Bonds and Clemens have steadily denied their alleged drug use since the allegations were first made.

* * * * *

As baseball continues to struggle with it’s image, the biggest hit isn’t take by the sport, but rather by the people who invest their time and money in it.

I’m talking about us.  The fans.  The kids and the teenagers and parents who grew up loving this game, continued to love it as we got older and for those of us lucky enough have passed on that love to our children.

We are left watching press conferences and reading tell all books and watching staged interviews instead of worry about why our favorite team hasn’t signed that all star left fielder or why our team’s best player, with a runner on third and nobody out, ahead in the count 3-0, couldn’t work out a walk or find a way to get that runner in.

Instead of cheering for records to be broken we are now forced to cheer for them to withstand the test of time.

I think I speak on behalf of all baseball fans when I say that as bad as a season may end, or as bad as an at bat may go or a pitcher’s start may be, those are disappointments you learn to live with.  As they always say there’s always next year for your team to get back on the horse and try again.

But finding out one of your hero’s turned out to be nothing more than a liar and cheater?  Where does that fan turn?

After spending the money on the jerseys, and after driving hours and hours to see them play and arguing with your friends until you lose your voice that your favorite player is better than theirs, what are you left with?

Baseball, and sports for that matter, are intended to be our escape from reality.  However what happens when we need an escape from our escape?

* * * * *

The main point I was hoping to make is actually more of a question I’ll propose:

Has Major League Baseball become nothing more than a fraud?

Has our beloved pastime been battered and bruised so badly that it’s unrecognizable?

I’m not sure the sport is beyond rescue, however with the Alex Rodriguez revelations, baseball is dangerously close to losing the faith of its loyal fan base.

Sure, the owners will still make their money and the players will still get their paychecks but what about the fans?

In an economy that continues to free fall, and ticket prices that continue skyrocket, baseball hasn’t helped itself in an effort to convince fans to spend that extra dollar and show up for a product that is holding on by a thread.

When the sport’s biggest names have turned out to be nothing more than cheaters, why leave the couch and pay money to watch the selfish, greedy villains disappoint us more with their actions off the field than on it?

At what point do we stop watching all together?

The saddest reality is that such a question needs to be raised.

* * * * *

I’ll end with this, a quote from the movie of all movies when it comes to baseball, Field of Dreams.

“The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past…It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again…”

Whether or not the sport is capable of reminding us why we fell in love with it in the first place has never been more uncertain.

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February 10, 2009 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I’m Thankful For This Year (New York Sports Edition)

11/27/08

A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to everyone out there.

On this day of thanks, I thought it would be fun to list the 10 things I’ve been thankful for in 2008 when it comes to New York sports.

As a fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and Syracuse basketball team, I tried focusing on my teams but had to stray to come up with 10, especially with the teams’ lack of success.

10. The Major League Baseball All Star Game

I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the final All Star Game ever at Yankee Stadium.  As I sat out in the left field bleachers, I couldn’t see everything, but I made sure I stuck around for all 15 innings and all five-plus hours in watching the American League pull out the victory and claim home field advantage in the World Series.

Seeing all the legends like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron was a once in a lifetime experience, and the whole night was as good as it gets for a baseball fan.

9. October Baseball without the Yankees

Now, the Mets weren’t part of the postseason either, so I know I’m opening myself up here for major criticism. However, after having to watch the Yankees extend their season for 12 years in a row, enough was enough.

The fact that the team wasn’t able to make the playoffs in the final season of their historic ballpark was icing on the cake.  It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fanbase.

Of course it only made things sweeter seeing Joe Torre get his Dodgers into the NLCS.  However, his firing was still the correct decision, right George?

8. Henrik Lundqvist

I’ll admit it, I don’t watch a ton of hockey, but when I watch the Rangers, I can’t help but marvel at how dominant king Henry can be between the pipes.  He stands on his head night after night keeping the team in games when the offense struggles.

Back in the spring, when the Rangers were looking to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, Lundqvist was sensational against Pittsburgh. Lundqvist led the squad when they weren’t able to capitalize on power play opportunities.

Lundqvist is quietly one of the five best athletes this city has to offer.  Write it down.

7. Jonny Flynn

After two seasons of missing out on the NCAA tournament, the orange have jumped out to a 5-0 start, including road wins on back to back nights against Florida and Kansas.  The big reason behind their early success has been the play of sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, who is making a case as one of the best one-guards in all of America. His name has been mentioned in the same breath as guards like Darren Collison and Ty Lawson.

Flynn forced overtime Tuesday night with a game tying three with 6.4 seconds left. His ability to create shots for his teammates and score the basketball will make Syracuse a contender throughout the year.  He’s the best pure basketball player Jim Boeheim has coached since Carmelo Anthony.

6. Leon Washington

The Jets’ most valuable player in my eyes, Washington makes something happen every game.  You can pencil him in for making at least one game-changing play, whether it’s a long touchdown run or taking a kickoff back to the house.

Leon has been important in spelling Thomas Jones, and the two have formed a dynamic rushing tandem that has helped put the Jets on top of the AFC East, and in contention for a possible postseason run.

The quarterback handing Washington the ball has been a pretty big reason for their success as well, but more on him later.

5. The Escape, the Catch, the Upset

I’m not a Giants fan, but unlike the Mets-Yankees hate I’ve developed growing up, I always root for the Giants unless they’re taking on my Jets.

While my Jets were nowhere to be found in January, the Giants’ playoff run last season was something that any sports fan could appreciate.  Going on the road and winning games in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay, when the wind chill was -20, and defeating the previously undefeated Patriots was all sorts of fun.

Of course the moment from that game that I, like everybody else, will think of first was the escape of Eli Manning and the throw and catch to David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet on the Giants’ final touchdown drive, setting up the game-winning score.

The game was phenomenal, the Giants won a hard earned championship, and the Patriots were denied their piece of football immortality.

4. Johan Santana

While the Mets’ season ended up being a waste, the performance of Johan Santana was anything but that.  Santana was brilliant, winning 16 games and finishing third in National League Cy Young voting.

It was his final two performances of the season, including his complete game, a three-hit shutout on the second to last game of the season (a game I was at), that electrified Mets fans and gave them hope that they would be able to avoid a second consecutive late season collapse.

Of course they didn’t, but that was no fault of Santana, who was pitching with a torn ligament in his knee.  For all the prospects and money Omar Minaya and ownership gave up to bring him to Queens, and in the midst of a very disappointing season, Santana certainly shined.

3. Donnie Walsh

I could have given Isiah Thomas a spot and spoken about how I’m thankful for his removal, but I’m going to group that with Walsh. Since being hired by owner James Dolan, Walsh wasted little time in removing Thomas as coach.

Walsh not only was able to effectively end the dreadful Isiah Thomas era, but he hired a proven winner in Mike D’Antoni. He has already begun to clear cap space for when LeBron James, among others, becomes a free agent in 2010.

The trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph clear nearly $28 million of cap space going into the summer of 2010, when the Knicks will be primed to start a new era with James leading the way.

Walsh would have topped my list, but still hasn’t gotten rid of Stephon Marbury, although that probably isn’t too far off from happening.

2. Shea Goodbye

I’ve been going to Shea Stadium for nearly 15 years, and at 21 years old, aside from the places I’ve called home and the classrooms I’ve been in, there isn’t a place I’ve spent more time than the former home of the Mets.

Although the season didn’t end as planned, I was able to drive home from Syracuse to attend the final three regular season games in the history of the ballpark.  It was an emotional weekend, and it was great seeing the likes of Mike Piazza, Doc Gooden, and Tom Seaver one last time at Shea.

The final season at Shea also included Billy Joel as the last entertainer of the stadium, and I was lucky enough to be there when Paul McCartney came out.

All in all, some of my best memories were at Shea, and knowing I’ll never be there again to watch baseball is something that probably won’t sink in until I’m watching games at Citi Field.

1. Brett Favre

I can’t think of anything greater than one of your favorite players joining one of your favorite teams.  Such was the case when, in early August, the New York Jets acquired one of the greatest to ever play the game to be their quarterback.  Brett Favre was the centerpiece to an offseason makeover following a disastrous 4-12 season.

Bringing his one of a kind skills and child-like exuberance, the Jets find themselves at 8-3 and in contention for a division championship.  Favre has completely changed the culture in the Jets locker room.  Over the course of the season the group has come together as a unit and played the type of winning football Jets fans aren’t all accustomed used to.

Favre is easy to like and easier to root for, especially when he’s getting his team victories.

November 27, 2008 Posted by | Personal, Sports, Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Royal Flush: Knicks’ Moves Pave Way for Landing Lebron

11/22/08

A wild day of wheeling and dealing by President Donnie Walsh leaves the Knicks fans salivating at the chance of landing a big price in the summer of 2010.

In a pair of moves, the Knicks began trimming the fat of their bloated payroll, sending Jamal Crawford to Golden State for Al Harrington, while shipping Zach Randolph to The L.A. Clippers for Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley.

Crawford has been a Knick since 2004, and was among the first big moves Isiah Thomas made in trying to surround Stephon Marbury with fresh faces.  Unfortunately, like almost every other move Thomas made, Crawford wasn’t able to deliver any sustained success, as he was a talented but streaky scorer who lacked defensive prowess and was maddeningly inconsistent.

Randolph, also acquired by Thomas, brought scoring and rebounding and was supposed to team with Eddy Curry to form an dynamic tandem in the front court.  Of course that never materialized as Curry regressed and proved he couldn’t share the court this Randolph, who despite putting up decent numbers, contributed to a 23-59 season.

The additions of Harrington, Thomas and Mobley should please Knicks fans most by the lengths of their contracts, all of which expire after next season.

By dumping Crawford and Randolph, the Knicks shed two contracts which extend beyond the “Summer of LeBron”, and with their departure goes some 27 million dollars of cap space heading into the summer of 2010.

These trades are more about the players going and the cap space opening up than it is the new faces.

Harrington will probably start at the 4 and average is 13 and 6, while Mobley can fill in at the 2 and provide a decent outside threat with some veteran savvy this team hasn’t had in a long time.  Tim Thomas, who will be starting his second stint in New York after playing with the Knicks between 2003 and 2005, could see some minutes off the bench.

At 6-6, despite their improved performance under head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks were hardly a championship contender, and by moving their two leading scorers Walsh has loudly and clearly stated that the process of rebuilding is in full effect, even it comes at the cost of sneaking into the playoffs and suffering a first round defeat, which is probably the best the Knicks could have hoped for this season.

Madison Square Garden has’t been able to enjoy a winning basketball season in nearly a decade, and probably will have to wait another two before their tested patience is rewarded.

With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash among others all available in the summer of 2010, Walsh has now put the Knicks in a position to sign at least one of this and perhaps a pair should he be able to shed the contract of Curry and/or Jefferies between now then.

While that may seem daunting, Walsh has backed up his word in working to get the Knicks in better cap-shape by 2010, which he has, and a whole lot faster than anybody probably he could.

Yes, the team’s two leading scorers are gone, and though Crawford was a fan favorite, he was one dimensional and when he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t giving the team anything else.  Randolph, for all the stats he filled a box score with, has never proved hes a winning player capable of playing completely within a system.  His numbers this season were good, but too many times possessions would stall with his poor shot selection.

Their losses shouldn’t be mourned by Knicks fans, as the bigger picture is one with a very bright promise of hope, which is something they haven’t been able to feel since Isiah Thomas set the franchise back into a seemingly bottomless abyss.

Thanks to Walsh, hope can finally float for Knicks fans, as the franchise is moving in the right direction.

And in less than two years, that direction may lead straight to royalty in the form of a King.

James, that is.

November 22, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Not ‘Wright’: Mets’ Playoffs Hopes Flatline

9/25/08

Flip the switch, pull the curtain down and tear it up already.

Shea Stadium was given an early farewell last night, thanks in part to yet another devastating loss by the New York Mets.

In falling 9-6 to the Chicago Cubs, this loss hurt as much if not more than any other this season.

And for all the blame the bullpen has (rightfully) earned this season, last night’s loss primarily gets credited to the offense, who failed miserably late in the game.

In the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, the Mets had runners on third base with nobody out, yet combined, they were able to muster only a bases loaded walk in the 8th, which at the time tied the game at 6-6.

There were two very questionable decisions made by the manager and one of his coaches, which were not sending Jose Reyes- the franchise’s all time stolen base king in the 7th inning which in turn led to Daniel Murphy lining out into a double place, as his rocket line drive landed harmlessly in the glove of first basemen Derek Lee, who stepped on first to retire both Murphy and Reyes.

In the 8th inning, following a Carlos Delgado lead off double, Carlos Beltran ripped a single to center, which could have potentially scored Delgado.  Unfortunately, third basemen Luis Aguayo held Delgado at third without hesitation, preventing the tying run from even attempting to score.  While Delgado would eventually score following a bases loaded walk, Jose Reyes couldn’t produce any bases loaded magic two nights in a row, grounding out weakly to second to end the threat.

And then came the ninth inning, where its safe to say and hope of the Mets making the playoffs came to a near dead end.

Murphy lead off, and laced a ball into right-center field, hustling his way all the way to third for a triple.  Nobody out, runner on third, and up came the face of the franchise, the captain in waiting, the guy Mets fans wanted at the plate: David Wright.

Lou Piniella decided to allow his reliever, Bob Howry, to pitch to Wright instead of walking him and Delgado, in attempt to set up a potential double play with forces at any base.

Despite the fanfare surrounding him and the MVP talk which once again picked up some steam during the last week, Wright has been anything but valuable this season with runners in scoring position, hitting an inexcusable .242 in those situations, worked the count to 3-0, before fouling off a couple of very hittable pitches, only to chase a fastball well out of the strikezone, stranding Murphy at third.  Piniella decided to have his reliever walk both of the Carlos’ to load the bases, and Howry proceeded to get Ryan Church to ground out to second, forcing Murphy at home, while Ramon Castro struck out.

If all of the air wasn’t sucked out of Shea following the Mets’ inability to score more than one run during those final three innings, it certainly was a half inning later, when with two outs and nobody on, Luis Ayala , in his second inning of work, allowed a single to Ryan Theriot, who after stealing second, scored on a bloop single to right by Lee.  The final knockout punch was delivered by Aramis Rameriz, who crushed a home run off Ayala with a runner on, punctuating what would turn out to be a very forgettable night at Shea for New York.

The loss was crippling, not only becasue it was once again of the self-inflicted variety, but because with the Phillies getting mauled at home by the Braves, the Mets could have tied up Philadelphia in the loss column, while also maintaining their one game edge in the Wild Card- something of course they were unable to- as the Brewers took care of the Pirates in Milwaukee.

This loss certainly tops them all, and despite how bad the bullpen has been, and even despite Oliver Perez coughing up the 5-1 lead his team gave him, the Mets were gift wrapped an opportunity to put themselves in prime position to erase the nightmares of last season, needed nothing more than a fly ball from their third basemen.

For what it’s worth, and its hardly consolation after a loss last night, Carlos Delgado all but put penciled his name in next seasons opening day line-up after coming up huge once again last night.  With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the third, Delgado took advantage of a distracted Carlos Zambrano, who seemed to allow Reyes’ antics running down the third base line get into his head, as he served up a grand slam to the Mets first basemen.

Delgado also doubled to lead off the 8th, and eventually would score on that bases load walk, and did all he could to help get his team past the demons of last season’s collapse which seem to taking in Shea’s final days along with the fans.

Johan Santana can’t pitch every night, but it seems like down the stretch unless he’s on the mound, the Mets find ways to lose these pivotal late season games.  Jerry Manuel seems hesitant to pitch his ace on short rest this weekend, although the situation may force his hand if come Saturday the Mets find themselves in an elimination game.

It just doesn’t get much worse than it was last night at Shea Stadium, which will now likely host it’s finall games Sunday, following another brutal loss which took the Mets’ playoff destinty officially out of their own hands, and puts their postseason hopes very much up in the air.  And ironically, had David Wright done just that with a fly ball, we would likely be having a very conversation this morning.

But he didn’t, and the team took one step closer to missing out on playoff baseball for the second time in as many years, doing so in an eerily similar fashion, while taking all of the life out of ballpark dying to breathe some October air one more time.

Sadly, it appears those hopes, along with the team, are already flat lining.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | New York Mets, Sports | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mets’ Collapse (Encore Performance) Continues

9/23/08

Here we go again.

I know I’m beating a dead horse, and come to think of it, thats more or less what the Mets resemble, but Jerry Manuel’s ballclub seems to be flatlining once again despite being an arms reach away from a postseason berth.

Last night, the Mets found yet another way to reach rock bottom, as the fatal blow came from the opposing teams starting pitcher, who took rookie Jon Niese deep from a fourth inning grand slam which broke open a 2-2 game.

It’s tough to say whether or not this is deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said, or whether or not the Mets will stop this lateseason landslide before they find themselves on the outside looking in for a second consecutive October.

Once again, the Mets control their own playoff destiny, as they maintain a one game over a Milwaukee Brewers team who has been trying its best to avoid a late season meltdown of their own.

And while the Mets will wake up this morning still holding onto a playoff spot, you wouldn’t know it by the vibes surrounding them.

Last night, Shea Stadium, beginning it’s final week of regular season baseball it’s rusting and rotting walls will ever witness, saw its crowd turn quickly on their favorite choke artists, as cautious cheers turned into defening, sustained boos.

The one big difference between this season’s late season slide and last is the absense of Willie Randolph, who ended up being the scapegoat for the 2007 disaster, losing his job in the middle of June earlier this season after his team failed to show an ability to get out of its own way through the first 70 games or so.

And while Randolph was enjoying the festivities Sunday night saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium, his successor may have to start preparing to say goodbye to more than his current ballpark come Sunday.

He may lose that interim tag after all- along with his chance of coming back next season.

But just as the blame was somewhat unfairly placed on the shoulders of Randolph, Manuel has done his best to weather this storm that only seems to strengthening by the day.

Once again, this falls on the players.

The bullpen has been putrid, but the offense continues to leave far too many runners on, notably in late game situations.

It would be a shame to spoil some of the feel-good stories around this team, whether its the resurgence of Carlos Delgado or the brilliance of Johan Santana.

And despite those, a failure this season to clinch a playoff spot would be nothing short of apocalyptic for this franchise, which is still very much trying to heal its emotional wounds from how horribly last season ended.

And yet with a chance to atone for their shortcomings last season, the Mets seem to be lacking the same killer instinct they needed last season, along with the mental toughness the team their chasing manages to find a nightly basis.

The Phillies, who were last season’s beneficiaries of the Mets collapse, have once again this year come from behind while leaving the Mets in their rearview mirrors, now holding a 2.5 game lead with the Mets having only 6 games left to play.

As Joel Sherman states in today’s New York Post, a second consective collpase would be “two much too handle”.

6 more games, at home, with the Cubs and Marlins at hand.

The Mets will start Santana tonight, and again on Sunday in Shea’s finale.

This is why the Mets went out and got him, and why GM Omar Minaya isn’t just yet preparing a resume for job interviews.

Santana’s maginificant season has come down to these last two starts, where he can help pitch his team into the playoffs and put the nightmarish memories from last season.

Succeed, and Shea Stadium will be given a stay of execution.

Fail, and everyone from Minaya to Manuel may not be so lucky.

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Movies, Sports | , , | Leave a comment

Mad Dog Put to Sleep: Chris Russo released from WFAN

7/14/08

“AAAAAANNNNNNNDDDDDDD GOOD AFTERNOON EVERYBODY! HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”

The signature opening of the Mike and the Mad Dog radio program, heard everyday between 1 and 6:30 on WFAN in New York City will never be heard again on the stations airwaves as long time afternoon host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo was released from his contract after nearly 20 years of co-hosting one of the most successful radio shows in history.

Living in New York, Mike and the Dog, or as I (along with others) more lovingly refer to them as Fatboy and Fruitloops, spent the last 20 years becoming as big a fixture in New York sports as any of the teams they spoke about.

Their unique combination of ferociousness (Francesa) and lunacy (Russo) captured the ears of New Yorkers and made them households names for any true New York sports fan.

Despite their flaws, which are probably too many to count, they had an indescribable appeal which had listeners (and viewers following their simulcasts on the YES network) tuning in day after day, suffering from what I would best describe as “trainwrecks disease”, as no matter how much one couldn’t stand them, day in day out you found yourself listening to what they had to say, regardless of how much you agreed or disagreed with them.

As one of their fans, going to school outside of the area forced me to see much more of them than I probably ever should have been subjected to, but watching them on YES every day up in Syracuse kept me touch with the sports scene back home, and allowed me to get inside access to athletes, managers and coaches I couldn’t get anywhere else.

It really is the end of an era and sad day here in New York, of course while trying to keep things in perspective- nobody died and both men will certainly continue to live secure lives financially (both pull in well over 7 digits a year), however drives home will never be the same without Dog’s ranting and raving about anything and everything, and Mike’s know-it-all, condescending remarks that drove you crazy yet still left a smile on your face.

While they would have you convinced otherwise, these two guys hardly knew what they were talking about all the time, but their distinctively different personalities are what made the show so addictive, and while you never really knew a whole lot about their personal relationship, hearing them argue with one another only created the sort of on air awkwardness that had you coming back for more.

Over the years, including many before I ever heard of either of them, they had their issues including a time when Mike was away and Russo came on the air and started the show by introducing it as the Mad Dog and Mike show (or something to that effect) which resulted in Francesa calling in and demanding an apology.

The tension always seemed to be there yet was sort of like the big elephant in room, and only recently got to the point of no return, as after nearly 20 years, Mike and the Mad Dog are no more.

Reports say that Mike Francesa has signed a new multi-year deal with WFAN and will host the show solo, while Russo was released from contract under “mutual” terms. There have been rumors that he was seeking a new deal with Sirius satellite radio.

Personally, I can’t think of any aspect of the media more synonymous with sports here in New York than Mike and the Mad Dog, and not having the two of them together anymore is disappointing.

We’ll see if the FAN decides to replace Russo in any capacity, although for the time being it appears as though they wont, leaving Mike without his partner of the last two decades.

And listeners without their favorite dog.

August 15, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Reasons Willie was Fired

6/18/08

So we know the story by now, Willie Randolph was unceremoniously let go by the New York Mets in the most disgraceful of ways, having been flown cross country to manage a game his team would win, only to fire him in the middle of the night.

This just didn’t sit right with me, so I decided to ask around and find out why exactly this went down the way it went down.

Plus, my anger and frustration about the whole thing needed to be balanced with something to laugh about.

If you live in the New York area, you should be able to appreciate most of the references.

10. After losing out to Emmitt Smith for a spot in the latest Just for Men advertisement, he was offered a spot in a new Giuseppe Franco Procede commercial, but declined, which must have ticked off team brass that had set up a meeting between the two.

9. During his final meeting with team management, he was asked what his ultimate goals were for this season, and upon revealing they included “going to Disneyland”, he was granted his wish. (Randolph was fired with the Mets in Anaheim)

8. Knowing that a possible firing was imminent, an opportunity fell into the laps of ownership with their trip out west, knowing that Joe Torre was now managing in Los Angeles, Willie was convinced to fly cross country by being promised a chance to spend all of his free time with Joe.

7. When catering in from Subway for post game meals, Willie was told the sub’s would no longer be freshly toasted, upsetting the manager and causing an even greater rift between himself and his superiors.

6. Management found out Willie was an avid Soprano’s fan, and so after Jets head coach Eric Mangini was given a cameo in a final season episode, Willie wasn’t pleased. To appease their manager, they executed a Soprano’s style hit on him, having Omar Minaya fly out despite assuring his manager everything would be fine. Omar was originally against the idea, but when Stevie Van Zandt was unavailable (Silvio Dante), Omar took matters into his own hands.

5. Was told that should the phrase “the Yankee way” be uttered one more time, his job was as good as gone. At that moment, Jose Reyes popped his head in the room, smiling ear to ear thanking Willie for a gift he found in front of his locker, a DVD set featuring the 1996-2000 Yankee Championship teams. After Jose quietly tip-toed out of the room, management took one look at Willie, and the rest as they say, is history.

4. In a private meeting with ownership, he was asked to comment on his working relationship with GM Omar Minaya, and said while he felt the two worked well together, suggested that it would be in the best interest of both him and the organization to hire Isiah Thomas. Management considered the idea, but decided Isiah would probably end up creating too many off the field distractions, something they believed Minaya wasn’t capable of.

3. After watching an episode of Celebrity Apprentice following Sunday’s doubleheader, Willie joking commented to owner Fred Wilpon that “it’s a good thing we’re not on that show, because you’d have probably canned me months ago”. After an awkward pause, Wilpon politely told Willie to enjoy his flight.

2. Was told he’d be given job security if he agreed to manage the rest of the season wearing the Mr. Met costume, but refused only because he was afraid of the racial connotations he would expose himself to wearing a giant white baseball for a head. When he said he’d sooner manage wearing a Mickey Mouse costume, making the decision to fire him minutes from Disneyland too poetically appropriate to pass up.

1. Was told for the final time that he would not be released from his contract during the season to audition for American Idol, and upon Willie being visibly displeased with this decision for the 4 consecutive year, management told him they had come up with a compromise, but refused to elaborate saying “lets put it this way, you’re definitely going to Hollywood”.

June 18, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mets’ Handling of Randolph’s Firing Disgraceful

6/17/08

I went to bed a little after 1am on the east cost, the Mets having just won 9-6 out in California, and as far as knew, manager Willie Randolph had survived another day of rumors and speculation surrounding his job status.

Sure enough, roughly two hours later, in the middle of the night, following a 3,000 mile flight and a win, Willie Randolph was fired.

Regardless of whether or not Willie deserved to be fired, and cases can be made for and against his dismissal, the way in which it was handled was an absolute atrocity.

Mets management, headed by owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, along with General Manager Omar Minaya who reportedly flew out to Anaheim to meet his ball club, had the nerve to allow Randolph, and his entire coaching staff, to travel cross country, manage and coach on Monday against the Angels, only to announce this decision at midnight in a hotel room.

It was a classless move by an organization that really shouldn’t wonder why they continue to be seen as second rate in a city that features another organization that has had it’s own share of bad press in the handling of a managerial move when Joe Torre left the Yankees last fall.

In the Mets’ handling of Willie Randolph’s firing, they once again proved to be a bigger story off the field than on it, which has seemed to be the class all season.

Before a single pitch was thrown this season, the talk was about last season’s epic collapse and the impact it was going to have on the team heading into a new season.

There was Billy Wagner calling out his teammates for lacking accountability after losing 2 of 3 to the lowly Washington Nationals, supposedly pointing in the direction of the lockers of Carlos Delgado, among others, when stating that

“You should be talking to the guys over there,” he snapped to reporters in the clubhouse…”Oh, they’re not there. Big shock,”

There was the self-inflicted controversy surrounding some comments Willie made to a reporter regarding the criticism he was receiving, and whether or not race was an issue worthy of being considered.

“Is it racial? Huh? It smells a little bit…I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I think there’s something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah Thomas didn’t do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. … I don’t know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There’s something weird about it.”

Randolph did apologize, and a press conference was called simply to announce he had been spoken to, marking the second press conference called by the Mets organization to give a public vote of confidence to Willie, although neither time (the first being following the end of the last season) left you feeling like management was fully backing their manager.

It is more than fair to have questioned the job Randolph had done between the lines, and his firing wasn’t unjustified.  However, the manner in which it was handled was almost sickening.

One report out states that The Mets had already made this decision prior to their leaving for the west coast, and if true, that only epitomizes the lack of any decency this team could have shown three of their employees.

Randolph, his coaches and his players, had endured weeks of questions and wondering amid a disappointing start to their season, and the uncertainty around Randolph’s job was clearly a distraction to a team that needed nothing less than something other than baseball games to focus on.

Willie will likely be more remembered for the way his team collapsed last season, losing a 7 game lead with 17 games to play and relinquishing an opportunity to win back to back division titles for the first time in franchise history.

His record of 302-253,  with a winning percentage second only to Davey Johnson in Mets history, is now a thing of the past, as Randolph can take another 3,000 mile trip back across country to finally rid himself of the sorry excuse for a ballclub he had probably lost the ears of.

The word being most thrown around the press this morning is cowardly, referring to the way in which the Mets handled this whole thing, and a more fitting word doesn’t exist.  I probably sound redundant but the way in which this was handled was just without class and without any sense of professionalism.

As a Mets fan, and as somebody who has bled Mets orange and blue and both follows this team and supports it as closely and and as hard as anybody, I can’t feel worse for Willie, in spite of the fact that finding justification for his firing isn’t all that difficult.

But somebody who has invested lots of time, energy and no shortage of money into this team, I find myself utterly ashamed of the team I root for, and quite frankly, pretty upset with the way in which this all happened. If the team wanted to fire Willie after the collapse, fine.  That would have been understood.  If they wanted to fire him back in New York a few weeks back when the media was all gathered and a press conference had been called at Shea to announce his staying as manager, that would have been acceptable.

But this was, for lack of an original word on my part, just completely cowardly and disgraceful.

To announce this decision in the middle of the night, in all likelihood to avoid the publicity disaster which awaits Omar Minaya and the rest of management later today, and to avoid the newspaper headlines and media circus sure to present itself at the team’s 5pm conference.

Maybe it’s ironic or maybe just meaningless coincidence, but Willie’s final days at Shea Stadium as manager took place with his predecessor, Art Howe, sitting just a few feet away in the opposing dugout.  Howe was no stranger to a similarly graceless exit, as the team had announced with two weeks left Howe would be fired at season’s end, yet stayed on to manage as a lame duck.

For a team that has lacked consistency on the field, they certainly have shown it off the field, and for all the wrong reasons.

On a day in which the world of sports showed us that humility and grace still exist in the form of U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate, the Mets reminded us that the other end of the spectrum is very much alive as well.

The team’s hierarchy should be embarassed  and ashamed of the way they handled themselves, looking only to protect their image in the process, while showing no regard for the people whose jobs they were taking away.

And for a team that has always played second fiddle to the other team in town, they can pat themselves on the back because they finally found a way to upstage their crosstown rivals, by giving their manager an exit only George Steinbrenner could have executed.

This was a classless move, by a classless franchise, and the only positive thing I can think of coming out of this is that Willie and his dismissed coaches can rid themselves of the real disaster here.

The team itself.

June 17, 2008 Posted by | New York Mets, Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

Eye of the Tiger

6/16/08

I started writing this post at around noon on Monday, and it started like this.

After watching yet another dramatic putt touch the bottom of the cup, the greatest golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, continues to establish himself as not only the most dominant athlete in his sport, but arguably the most dominant athlete of this generation, and MAYBE the greatest athlete of all time.

Now, five hours later, and another unbelievable victory in yet another major tournament, how far away are we from anointing Tiger Woods as the greatest athlete of all time?

It’s a bold statement, and before venturing off into debating whether or not he’s the greatest ever, lets start with talking about the greatest athletes of a generation.

The first guy is Babe Ruth, who during the 1920’s and early 30’s was the best there was.

During a dead ball era when home runs were few and far between, George Herman Ruth brought a flair for the dramatic to a game which had never really experience a superstar of his kind.

No, he wasn’t the most graceful guy on the field, but man could he hit.

714 home runs later, including a single season best 60 until 1961, Ruth was first player who transcended his own sport, and became bigger than the game he played.

Being a great athlete has two primary requirements as far as im concerned.

Individual dominance in relation to your competition, and winning.

As far as Babe Ruth is concerned, he had the likes of Ty Cobb playing during the same era, and while Cobb didn’t hit for the power Ruth was able to, he holds the highest lifetime batting average in the history of the game, and until Pete Rose, held the record more most career hits with well over 4,000.

But Babe Ruth was dominant in a way Cobb wasn’t, as his power was a game changing threat every time he came to the plate.

And if you want to talk winning, Babe Ruth played on 4 world championship teams with the Yankees, in 1923, 1927, 1928 and 1932, while also winning 3 (while being a major contributor to 2) world championships with the Red Sox in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

Muhammad Ali is the next guy, as during the 1960’s and 70’s, there wasn’t a better fighter pound for pound.

Between 1960 and 1970, the man didn’t lose. At all.

31 bouts and not a single defeat, it wasn’t until 1971 when he faced Joe Frazier for the first of their 3 historic matchups, that Ali lost a professional competition. Sure enough, in their two subsequent meetings, Ali was victorious both times.

Finishing with a lifetime fighting record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts, Ali is regarded by almost all experts the greatest boxer of all time, and ESPN ranked him as the greatest US athlete during the 20th century.

For the first ten years of his fighting career, nobody was really close to his level of dominance, and upon meeting his match when he lost to an equally undefeated Joe Frazier, was far and away the most dominant athlete his sport had ever seen.

Michael Jordan is the third and only other athlete which belongs in the conversation (before bringing Tiger to the table), as he was never anything less than the greatest player on the floor during the prime of his career.

Jordan didn’t find championship glory until 1991, 7 years after being drafted 3rd overall by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, but once he put that first ring on, there 5 more to follow, including two separate 3-peats.

Jordan retired the most prolific scorer in the history of the game, and his 6 champions rank second only to Bill Russell, who has 11 to his name.

The obvious follow up point to made here is why Russell doesn’t enter into the conversation, and it’s a fair point because his winning is unmatched in professional team sports.

My thing with Russell, and of course he played during the 50’s and 60’s, half a century before I started watching sports, is that from everything I’ve read about him, he was probably the greatest defender and rebounder of his time, but his scoring was nowhere close to that of Jordan.

His career also crossed paths with Wilt Chamberlain, who is also considered by many to be among the greatest basketball players to ever live, if not the greatest ever. Having played the same position and achieved individual success Russell did not, the two seem to cancel each other out as both could be considered the greatest players of their generation.

Which leaves MJ, who when it came to the big moment, shined brighter than anyone.

Game winning shots were a frequent occurance, and the shot he made against Utah (pictured above) which for all intents and purposes ended his career (or the part of it worth remembering) is an everlasting image that will forever be awed at.

A 14 time All Star, a 5 time Most Valuable Player and a 6 time Finals MVP, nobody is more accomplished individually as Michael Jordan, and you throw on top of that his 6 championships and come away with another case to be made for the greatest athlete of all time.

So what about Tiger?

Comparing Golf to sports like baseball and basketball is difficult, because Tiger’s success on the golf course has been achieved without the help of a teammate. So in that regard, the best comparison to be made from those afformentioned would be with Ali.

However, we could start by talking about whether or not Tiger is the greatest golfer of all time.

At the ripe old age of just 32, Woods has compiled 14 major championship victories, second only to the legendary Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 major’s during a 24 year stretch, compared to the 11 years Tiger has needed to collect his 14.

Again, I’m not old enough to have ever watched Jack play during the peak of his career (he won his last Major in 1986 as I was born a year later), but based on not only how many times Tiger has won, but the way in which he has won, not to mention the fact he’s won just four fewer majors in more than half the time it took Jack to win his 18, the arrow would seem to point in the direction of Mr. Woods.

It is also difficult to compare the two based on the very different era’s in which they have competed, as Nicklaus played in an era where finesse and precision was more commonly seen as compared to today where mashing the heck out of the ball off the tee and chipping out of the rough is the more fashionable thing to do.

In fairness to Jack, not only does Tiger thrive his ability to hit the ball farther than most, but his short game is second to none. And this brings up the piece of evidence in not only defending the claim that Tiger is the greatest golfer to ever live, but is arguably the greatest athlete of all time.

The difference in competetiion, between Tiger- the world’s number 1 golfer for an unfathomable 500 straight weeks now- and the rest of the field, including Phil, Vijay, Ernie, etc- is so drastic that often it seems to be a smarter bet taking Tiger against all of his competitors, despite the odds.

Unlike a team sport, Tiger cannot dish and drive, as MJ, Magic and Kobe all had and have the ability to do if they run into s big guy down low. Tiger can’t pass off a long range putt to somebody standing closer to the hole for a one-timer the way Gretzky and Messier could have.

Not trying to take anything away from these other great athletes, but Tiger has won, and dominated in such a way- on his own- that it isn’t a reach to place him on a list before any and all other athletes who have played before his time or during it.

After winning his first major back in 1997, slipping on the Green Jacket at Augusta for the first of 4 times, Tiger seems to have a nact for coming up with the big shot- be it a drive, wedge, chip or putt- whenever the time calls for it.

Jordan is considered so great in part to his ability to perform under the most pressure pact conditions, and Tiger has thrived in conditions potentially more pressure-pact.

When lining up a 14 foot putt, Tiger has to analyze that green, determine any slopes or ridges to take into account, use the right amount of force while considering the speed of the green.

The basketball courts Jordan played on were always 94 feet long, the hoop was always 10 feet above the ground, and even though he had to deal with having his shots contested, the degree of difficulty, at least as far as im concerned, is non-comparable between taking an 18 foot jump shot and sinking an 18 foot birdie putt.

Need proof?  Check this out.

Ok, so how about comparing Tiger to Ali?

Ali didn’t have anybody out there in ring with him to tap in when he got too tired.

He also took far more physical punishment during 15 rounds (when his fights went that long) than Tiger takes during 4 rounds of 18 holes (and sometimes 5 plus a sudden death hole as was the case this past weekend).

And unlike Tiger, it took Ali more than 10 years of professional fighting to suffer defeat, while Woods- who wins a lot- suffered defeat professionally before success.

Margin of victory can be another way of assessing greatness, and in the case of Ali, he won by KO in 37 of 56 victories.  Tiger meanwhile, won his first major in 1997 by 12 strokes, and 3 years later won the US Open by 15 strokes.

I could probably spend hour and hours going through each of Tiger’s wins, big shots and achievements, but in the interest of saving some time and getting right to the point, lets try and determine where Tiger’s legacy, still very much a work in progress, compares to those of the greatest athletes to have ever lived.

It’s scary to think that at only 32 years old, Tiger probably still has some of the best golf ahead of him.

What also helps his cause is his immense popularity, along with his signature moments- be it a fist pump, the red shirt on Sunday or kissing another trophy- all help in creating the force that is Tiger Woods.

Looking back no further than this weekend, in what some are already considering to be one of the classic sporting events ever, Tiger, playing with a bum knee, rose to the occasion like only the greats can do, and overcame the adversity of both his injury and his competition to claim his 14th major title in just 11 years.  And his win wasn’t without one of those signature moments, in fact it included all three I mentioned.  A putt to force a playoff, in his Sunday red, sinking to the bottom of the cup giving us a reaction that only his fans can appreciate and his enemies likely despise.

Ali was a 9 time heavyweight champion and gold medal winner.  Jordan won 6 titles and Babe Ruth, a member of 7 world series championship teams, joins the other two in elite status, each being regarded among the best their sport, and sport in general, has ever seen.

Placing Tiger atop the list of golf’s greats isn’t much a stretch, and as his dominance and success continue, his place along side the likes of Ruth, Ali and Jordan might be a stretch.

That’s because as far as im concerned, his name belongs above them all.

June 17, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments