Friday, April 30, 2010

The Black Keys' New Anti-Video Video

Killer riffs, dinosaur puppet, and bikini-clad models, an adolescent's dream and a record company's attempt at viral marketing. Works for me, too. 


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hot Dog Millionaires and Scoot's Herb

This morning, I read with pleasure this charming Vic Ziegel column about horse racing, hands down the most enjoyable 2-minute span of my 40-minute, Brooklyn-to-Manhattan, shoulder-to-shoulder commute. Writing about Derby hopeful, Noble's Promise, Ziegel starts off with an apocryphal anecdote about two "hot dog millionaires," just a wonderful term, who see their fortunes dashed when their horse, a sure thing, takes off in the wrong direction.   
My friends Paddy and Al got a trainer's tip on a cheap horse, a longer than longshot, in the last race at Monmouth. So they were packing enough cash to artichoke a horse and managed to be $1.75 ahead before even reaching the track. How they did it: At every 25-cent toll booth, instead of flipping a quarter into the basket, they gave the basket a hard slap. The green light flashed on and we went sailing through.

They managed to hold on to most of their stake until the race that would make them hotdog millionaires. The horse broke nicely from the gate and, a few steps later, was passing the entire field. How he did it: he was running in the wrong direction.

He beat nothing. And it wasn't long before Al and Paddy - you could say they were disappointed by the horse's lack of interest - caught up to the trainer to hear his explanation. The trainer claimed to be as stunned as the people he had been kind enough to call.

He had, he said, asked the jockey what happened and was told, "the other horses ran too fast."
I don't know what it is about horse racing, but something about the sport of kings almost always inspires great writing. More Ziegel, this time about Noble's Promise's sinus problem:
McPeek, in fact, didn't know where the horse would be this Saturday at 6:34 p.m., Derby time. Noble's Promise had to win the game called Stop the Mucus. "Were we concerned that we wouldn't be right for the race? Yes, we were," the trainer admits.

A four-furlong workout on Monday became the horse's SAT. The track came up muddy, and Noble's Promise ran a golden 48.4. Better yet, the congested lungs that gave him trouble in the Arkansas Derby three weeks ago scoped clean after the workout.
Last Friday, still singing the mucus blues, the trainer said Noble's Promise was only 60-40 to make the Derby. Horses will cough, to let people know there's a problem, but they can't spit. The problem was mucus. Around the corner from McPeek's office, Noble's Promise was in his stall, breathing into a transpirator, a vacuum cleaner-looking device first used by Darth Vader. "It speeds up the drying-up process, helps break up the mucus," McPeek says.
Just fantastic. Speaking of which, over at his site, my friend John, a lifelong racing fan, devotes a chunk of his blog to the ponies. One of my favorite pony-related posts begins thus: 
Saturday morning, I went to Aqueduct Racetrack to conduct an interview .... At the Borough Hall subway stop in Brooklyn, I asked the conductor of an A train if he was stopping at Aqueduct. He said, "No, you need the next A. The one to Far Rockaway." As he was closing the train's doors, he asked, "You got a sure winner?"

"Yeah," I said, chuckling, and thanked him for the transportation advice.

As the train started to pull out of the station, he leaned out of his booth and said, impatiently gesturing with his hand, "Gimme that sure thing." Since I wasn't going to the track to play the races, I knew nothing about the day's card. But I didn't want to disappoint him, or look unprepared, or something, so I just made it up -- "Number four in the first race," I said, holding up four fingers.

Then I started to feel bad. It was almost two hours to post time. He had plenty of time to call in a bet if he wanted, and he did seem eager to hear the pick. Granted, I don't look like the most trustworthy source for a "sure thing," and there are no sure things, anyway, so if this guy was going to believe the word of someone on an A platform at 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning, that's his problem. But I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt. So I started hoping that the 4 horse would be scratched when I got to the track.
That's basically John-- and New York-- summed up in one great story. Read how the story ends here

As for me, the horse's name was Scoot's Herb, a 7-1 shot, if I remember correctly. I was probably 11, maybe 12. A family friend took me and a classmate to a Devils game (corporate seats), when they still had green in their jerseys and still played in the Meadowlands, back when Continental Airlines Arena was still called the Brendan Byrne Arena. They beat the Penguins 7-0. 

After the game, before heading home for the night, the family friend took us to the Meadowlands Race Track, The Big M, a one-mile track located on the other side of the arena's massive parking complex, for the last three races. In the first race, we picked the seven horse, Phil's Scooter, because of the score of the game. Five dollars each, I think. He won. We lost in the second race, betting a nominal amount on, I think, a horse named Phillies Phun, or something vaguely similar to Phil's Scooter. 

For the last race of the night, we pooled our remaining resources, probably $20, at most, and decided to pick the favorite. Almost at once, though, our eyes caught sight of Scoot's Herb, also the number seven horse. My friend and I, in an embarrassing attempt at fitting in to our new, unfamiliar surroundings, exclaimed that it was a sign, a sure thing. The family friend rolled his eyes and said, "Why not?" By the first turn, Scoot's Herb was so far ahead of the field, the three of us started jumping up and down, screaming louder than we did at the hockey game. After the race, we divided our winnings--150 bucks, (the family friend threw in an extra $10 to even out the pot)-- a king's fortune for a young kid, before finally calling it a night. 

To this day, I still haven't been privy to such luck in any subsequent trips back to the track.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Hate Everything About You

Over at my sister site, my writing partner and I are running through our 25 least favorite members of the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively. So far, I've only mustered enough animosity to write one post, while Ben, his Sawx already five games out of first place, has delivered four quality posts about Chan Ho Park, Marcus Thames, Sergio Mitre, and, most recently, Curtis Granderson. The kid's been busy. 

Like the Sox, I have some ground to make up. In my defense, it's been awfully hard to get worked up either way about an 9-11 team. I'm sure my dander will rise with greater purpose once the Sawx break from camp, and the front office starts to get a better handle on the team's 25-man roster. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Funk Brothers

It's Friday, the sun is shining and Phil Hughes' people are about two or three more posts away from slapping me with a restraining order, so I thought a nice musical number or two or three would be appropriate. 

Here is Stevie Wonder playing "Don't You Feel It?," backed by the Funk Brothers, Motown's house band, who, legend has it, played on more number 1 songs than Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys combined. 

As YouTube commenter "bigmikerocks" notes, that sound you hear at the 13-second mark is the Motown sound delivered in one perfect drum roll. That was the Funk Brothers: Everything in it's right place. 

If you haven't checked out "In the Shadow of Motown," Paul Justman's remarkable documentary about the Funk Brothers and their unique sound, do so immediately. It is outstanding, simply amazing. I shut down everything to watch it whenever it airs, usually late at night on some obscure cable channel. Every scene includes an amazing story, followed by an equally amazing performance of a particular song by a modern artist. One example stands out. Backed by the surviving members of the Funk Brothers, Joan Osborne just kills "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" Her performance is, in a word, breathtaking. 

As for anecdotes, band member Jack Ashford, a tambourinist, recounts at one point how James Jamerson, arguably the world's greatest bassist, was rustled out of a bar, in the middle of a bender, at the bequest of Marvin Gaye, to lay down the bass line for Gaye's seminal "What's Going On?" Jamerson, who could barely stand up, decided to play his part prostrate on the studio floor. Here's an isolated track of the final result.

The entire documentary is filled with great stuff like that, including what I like to refer to as a Stevie Wonder story. Simply put, a Stevie Wonder story is a story about any widely regarded person, famous or not, who, according to the storyteller, is worthy of his reputation. In the documentary, pianist Joe Hunter explains how Little Stevie Wonder, then seriously just a kid, would hang around the studio asking questions about arrangement and chord progressions, things like that. Smiling broadly, Hunter goes on to explain how after a few more questions, it was clear to everyone Wonder didn't need the Funk Brothers' help. He was good to go. If you're lucky, you've either met or worked with someone like that. A friend of mine recently told me a well-known magazine editor is even better than advertised. A nice Stevie Wonder story. 

Because it's Friday and YouTube won't allow me to post any clips from the documentary, here's a perfect mix of "What's Going On?" and the Beatles' lovely "She's Leaving Home."

Like I said, everything in it's right place.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Phil Hughes Bar

Yes, one exists, and it's beautiful. So inviting. Named after the bar's former proprietor, who purchased the building  after emigrating from Galway in the 1960s, the Phil Hughes Bar is located at 88th and 1st Avenue, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. 

I plan on frequenting this bar every fifth day for the rest of the Major League Baseball season, weather permitting. 

Phil Hughes

The legend of Phil Hughes--and my unabashed man-crush on him-- continues to grow. Last night, the 23-year-old pitched seven innings of no-hit ball, his second flirtation with a no-no in his young career. Although he lost his no-hit bid in the top of the 8th inning, Hughes announced to the rest of the league that he's figured out this whole pitching thing. 

Lest I be accused of falling prey to the curse of the small sample size (it was, after all, one game), consider this: Since June of last year, 62.5 total innings pitched, including the playoffs, Hughes' ERA is an outstanding 1.325. During that same time, he struck out 81, while walking 20, one of whom Hughes intentionally awarded first base. Yes, Hughes racked up these numbers as a reliever, but they tell an interesting story. By pounding the zone, the previously tentative Hughes has hit his stride, so to speak, as a pitcher. 

I said it before and I'll say it again: Phil Hughes is the real deal, exactly what the Yankees front office and scores of Major League talent scouts promised.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Essence of Phil Jackson, In One Quote

When asked about Kobe's Game 2 performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phil Jackson, the NBA's Pedant in Residence commented: "What did Mark Twain say? Rumors of my demise are overrated, or whatever." In 13 scant words, the Zen Master illuminates everything we've come to detest about him. I mean, it's almost all there: a rhetorical question, coupled with a pretentious--and, true to form, botched--literary reference, followed by a smug-- and, true to form, botched-- attempt at modesty. 

Thirteen words, 66 characters, an efficiency of self-expression not seen since the inception of the Triangle Offense. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

James Johnson Meets LeBron James

See, this is just not fair. James Johnson defended LeBron as well as humanely possible, and he still ended up with his neck nearly lodged in the rim. Without any weak-side help, the poor kid never stood a chance. LeBron's lift is explosive, brought to you by the good people at NASA.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kelly Dwyer's Quiet Assassination of KG

Like Kelly Dwyer, I had some strong feelings about Kevin Garnett's antics at the end of Saturday night's first-round game between the Celtics and the Heat. Like Dwyer, I called Garnett an ass, and quietly bemoaned KG's gradual but all too inevitable slip into bullish predictability

Unlike Dwyer, though, I didn't have the heart to snuff the poor bastard out
Why this sudden regression into, dare I say, childish petulance? Well, you've seen it before. He's a lion in winter. He's older, the legs aren't there, the hops have hopped out of him, and he's scared. He's insecure, he's never had to play basketball like this, he doesn't like it, and he's lashing out. He's the basketball version of a distinguished gentleman suddenly turning into a right old coot in a senior citizen's home, treating the help like dirt for reasons that don't go beyond the fact that the distinguished gentleman needs help, now.
Man, that's cold blooded. That's Tony Soprano suffocating Christopher after the car accident. Or the Nazi soldier in "Saving Private Ryan" whispering to Private Stanley Mellish as he slides a six-inch blade right through his heart.   

Bad Baseball Makes For Good Radio

On Saturday night, while the Mets and Cardinals blundered their way through a sloppy 20-inning, 2-1 ball game, a friend of mine, a long-suffering fan of the New York Metropolitans, texted, "Be thankful you're a Yankees fan." This morning, I asked another friend, a different but no less beleaguered Mets fans, why Ike Davis, the team's highly touted prospect, is still playing in Buffalo while the major league club continues to struggle offensively. What followed was an expletive-laden rant about Omar Minaya, Frank Catalanotto, Mike Jacobs, and Daniel Murphy. Both friends are smart, reliable, level-headed adults. Both have called in to WFAN, the Mets' flagship station, to vent their frustrations.

I'm convinced, now more than ever, the Mets' entire organizational philosophy--from the acquisition of Gary Matthews, Jr. to trying to ruin the career of their star short stop-- is an elaborate, underhanded marketing campaign for the FAN. Bad baseball makes for an angry fan base, which makes for good radio. There's really no other explanation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cap Space

The National Basketball Association just announced next year's salary cap will be a robust $56.1 million, $3.1 million higher than previously speculated. For those scoring at home, that extra $3.1 million exceeds the amount Donnie Walsh still needed to free up to sign two max free agents this off-season, if he decides to go down that particular path. Despite reports to the contrary, that's far from a foregone conclusion. Walsh could decide, for instance, to resign David Lee to pair with a max free agent, like LeBron, and use the remaining cap space to sign Marcus Camby. Or he could sign-and-trade Lee, or try a number of different things to fill out a roster. My point is, Walsh is headed toward July 1 with every available option at his disposable. This is wonderful news for Knicks fans. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Scott Stapp's Marlins Fight Song

Submitted without comment, mostly because I'm at a complete fucking loss for words.

Closed-Captioning Impaired

The Yankees' 1-billion dollar stadium apparently still has a few glitches, particularly the enormous video screen's closed-captioning system, which scrolls above the center field bleachers like the opening credits to Star Wars. Before yesterday's 5-3 loss to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, according to the New York Daily News, the screen had some interesting interpretations of various messages from Yankees players. A.J. Burnett, for instance, was captioned "A.J. Burning Net," a more accurate description of the schizophrenically talented pitcher than the front office would probably like to admit. Later, the recently acquired Curtis Granderson was rechristened "Curtis Grapdersson," while Brett Gardner was awkwardly renamed "Dwreg Gardner." Fan favorite--and aspiring thespian--Nick Swisher warned those in attendance about balls and bats leaving the field during "warm yums," which is a pretty apt moniker for the hyperactive outfielder and, not unlike A.J.'s Burning Net, probably more fitting than anyone--teammate, fan or front office executive-- would care to admit.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nick Johnson's Party in the U.S.A.

At the Yankees' home opener this afternoon, Nick Johnson stepped to the plate to the infectious, sugar-coated chords of Miley Cyrus' single "Party in the U.S.A." He homered two pitches later. Whether an intentional choice or not, I'm afraid Mr. Johnson might have to stick with the tween's song for the duration of the season. A player on a streak has to respect the streak. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Conan Signs With TBS: Very Funny

It's not FX, but Conan O'Brien has decided to take his act to cable, right where he belongs. “In three months," O'Brien wrote in a press release announcing his decision, "I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.” O'Brien's show, scheduled to begin in November, will air weekday nights, Monday through Thursday, at 11 p.m., pushing, somewhat ironically, George Lopez's new show to midnight. 

Conan's move to cable is another sign of network television's dwindling cultural relevance. There's really no way around this: The best shows on television currently air on cable. Or the internet. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Courtney Lee and the Vagaries of Sport

Ta-Nehisi Coates still gets chills watching Vince Young's improbable 99-yard touchdown drive against the Cardinals back in November. "It's funny watching this now," he writes. "You see a few errant passes, and you see how this could have gone another way." Coates' post brought to mind Courtney Lee and his missed layup attempt in last year's NBA Finals. 

A more friendly bounce and Lee's a hero. The Magic, down 1-0, would have gone home tied with the Lakers at a game a piece. With three straight in Orlando, the Magic would have been in a great position to capture their first NBA title. But the ball bounced the other way, and the Lakers went on to win the series in five games. After the season, Orlando's front office shipped Lee out to the swamps of Jersey for Vince Carter, where Lee endures one of the worst seasons in the history of the Association. 

Sometimes it's just too easy to see how things could have gone the other way. 

Go, West. Or Just Get Bent

Yankees-Red Sox games are tense, contentious, back-and-forth affairs, managed as if every pitch, at-bat, or late-inning defensive alignment could mean the difference between a trip to the World Series and a one-way ticket home for the winter. That’s what makes them so great, and so much fun to watch. Or so I thought. MLB umpire “Country” Joe West sees things a bit differently. 

“It's pathetic and embarrassing,” he told the Bergen Record before Wednesday night’s rubber game between the Yankees and Red Sox. “They take too long to play. They're two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest?” 

I understand, as an umpire, West is charged with keeping up the pace of a Major League game. That is, after all, his purview. In that regard, and that regard only, West's desire for a speedy outcome is warranted, and duly noted. But to describe as "pathetic and embarrassing" the Yank's and Red Sox's style of play--a deliberate, grind-it-out attack that has produced seven World Series titles between them in 13 years-- is asinine, kind of like dismissing outright the musical contributions of Bach and Handel because their compositions were, you know, too composed. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Earl and Tiger

If there's a more affecting/manipulative commericial broadcast this year, it will probably feature a papal apology. Looks like the good people of Nike took the shockingly sound advice of Bill Simmons. A few months ago, after Tiger's creaky public mea culpa, the Sports Guy mapped out a clear path for Tiger out of the rough:
Had I written the speech for him, I would have started [...] with an anecdote about Tiger's father and the man's expectations for his son. We found out about Tiger through Earl. We grew attached to Tiger through Earl. They had one of the best father/son relationships in sports. Earl was the one person who made Tiger seem like anything other than a golf-ball-cracking cyborg. Like so many others, I wondered if Tiger lost his way after Earl's death, no different than Jordan riding a Double-A bus in 1994. If the goal of this news conference was to get people to feel sorry for him and give him another chance, then Tiger should have gone there. It wouldn't have been disingenuous. It would have been true. And it would have made him seem more human.
Play it where it lays, Tiger. Play it where it lays.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Matt Howard's Pick

Years from now sports fans will remember 2010 NCAA Tournament as the year Duke returned to the top of college basketball. Such is their right. I choose to remember instead Gordon Hayward's beautiful miss and Matt Howard's sternum-shattering pick, the glorious, lasting image of this year's Tournament.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Yet Another Reason to Root For Butler

The hometown Bulldogs attended their morning classes today, before meeting up for a 12:30 p.m. film session in anticipation for tonight's national championship game against Duke. Tip off is scheduled for 9:21 p.m., with the Dookies a 7-point favorite. I imagine 90 percent of the country is pulling for Butler to pull off the upset. I haven't been this proud to be part of a majority since we elected Obama president.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2010 Opening Day Live Blog

7:57 p.m. Pitchers and catchers reported. Rosters set. Lineups announced. Pageantry complete. Play ball.

8:07 p.m. Before Pedro threw out the first pitch, the scoreboard showed a clip of him throwing Don Zimmer to the ground. Despite the organization's newfound respect for run prevention, the Red Sox will always be the Red Sox. You stay classy, Boston.

8:10 p.m. One pitch, one out. A slow start to the season.

8:13 p.m. Yanks go down 1-2-3. Cashman should have resigned Damon.

8:17 p.m. I realize it's Opening Night, but ESPN is reporting the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. My mind is blown.

8:21 p.m. Dueling 1-2-3 innings. Why am I not surprised?

8:28 Jorgie juiced one! A bullet off the Pesky Pole.

8:30 The first home run of the season, quickly followed by the first official "Yankees Suck" chant. I'd forgotten how much I love baseball.

8:31 First Yankee at-bat, first Yankee home run for Curtis Granderson. He and Posada are on pace for 1,296 combined home runs.

8:36 p.m. Just heard John Sterling's home run call for Granderson: "Curtis, you're something kinda grandish." Clearly, Sterling's already in mid-season form.

8:42 p.m. Every Kevin Youkilis at-bat should come with a lobster bib.

8:45 p.m. According to the Daily News' Mark Feinsand, Curtis Granderson was the first Yankee to hit a home in run in his first at-bat since Cody Ransom. File that under "tempered expectations."

8:46 p.m. David Ortiz has rediscovered the stroke that earned him a one-way ticket out of Minnesota.

8:59 p.m. Just found out Sterling's Granderson home run call was a reference to a song from "Finian's Rainbow." I'm not sure he realizes people are actually listening to him.

9:02 p.m. Remember when Mike Cameron patrolled the outfield at Shea with Mookie and Darryl?

9:06 p.m. I hate to say this, but I'm pretty sure that luxury suite will be the closest LeBron gets to a New York team this summer.

9:12 p.m. Why did Ellsbury change his number to No. 2? Because he was the Sox's second best option for left field.

9:20 p.m. All this talk about a Gardner-Winn platoon makes me think the Yankees envision a Willem Dafoe-like ending for poor Brett.

9:23 p.m. Marco Scutaro just watched his UZR zip right by him.

9:27 p.m. Beckett's called strike three to Nick Johnson was Beckett's definition of run prevention.

9:30 p.m. Tough out call on Dustin Pedroia to lead off the bottom of the fifth. His brother got a more generous ruling from the Woodland, California judicial system.

9:36 p.m. My favorite baseball writer, Tyler Kepner, just tweeted this about Swisher's last at-bat against Beckett: "Swisher holding off on a close 3-2 pitch to extend that inning was huge. He's really been such a perfect fit for this team." I couldn't agree more. Brian Cashman does not get enough credit for stealing him from the White Sox for Wilson Betemit and some spare parts.

9:42 p.m. I'm convinced Robinson Cano is going to have a monster year. If he weren't on the same team as Teixeira and A-Rod, I'd float his name as a potential MVP candidate. Again, I'm thinking 20+ homers, 100 RBI and a batting average well above .300.

9:51 p.m. Beckett's final line: 4.2 innings. 8 hits. 5 earned runs. 3 walks. 2 home runs. 1 k. I think Theo just pulled his latest contract offer.

9:57 p.m. I've been doing this for two hours, and it's still not an official game yet. Yankees-Red Sox games go on forever. I mean, I'm running out of beer here.

10:01 p.m. Remember when Mike Cameron caught the last out of Tom Seaver's final complete game?

10:05 p.m. After that throw from Gardner, Joe Girardi just asked the rest of the platoon to retreat to the airlift. He'll take care of Gardner himself.

10:17 p.m. I know it's the smallest of small sample sizes, but it should be interesting to see if the Sox can make up a 3-run deficit at Fenway. A few years ago, that would not have been an issue. It will be this year, though.

10:22 p.m. And yet CC looks gassed. This should be an interesting inning.

10:24 p.m. If I were Girardi, I'd give the ball to Robertson.

10:32 p.m. Girardi does like to make games interesting.

10:35 p.m. CC's final line: 5.1 innings. 6 hits. 5 earned runs. 4 ks. 2 walks. Not much better than Beckett's outing, although CC was more than fine his first two times through the line up.

10:41 p.m. I'm probably biased here, but it seems to me like the Yankees are still in complete control of this game.

10:45 p.m. Cano just needs 99 more RBI for 100. What did I tell you?

10:55 p.m. Can't say I'm sorry I missed Steven Tyler's version of "God Bless America."

11:00 p.m. Ah, Fenway. A-Rod's shot hits the top of the Green Monster, while Pedroia's long fly ball clears it. So it goes.

11:05 p.m. Youkilis knocks out Chan Ho Park from the game with a lazy, high double to left center. In this ballpark, it's no wonder the Red Sox won 56 home games last year. They only managed 39 on the road.

11:12 p.m. A wild pitch and a passed ball give the Red Sox their first lead of the season. Spoiler alert: It won't be their last.

11:19 p.m. Four relievers to get 5 outs. Girardi ball is back, bitches!

11:30 p.m. Neil Diamond, Steven Tyler and Pedro throwing down Don Zimmer. This is why I will never root for the Red Sox.

11:34 p.m. Remember when Tom Yawkey wouldn't let Mike Cameron play with the white players on the Red Sox?

11:41 p.m. The New York Times reports another reason why I will never root for the Red Sox.

11:44 p.m. Pedroia comes through with a 2-out RBI. Sox lead the Yanks 9-7 in a game that just refuses to die. What else is new?

11:48 p.m. Remember when Joba used to be untouchable?

11:57 Four hours later, the first game of the 2010 season is officially in the books. Red Sox win. I'm looking forward to the next 161 games. Just not tonight. I'm off to bed. Thanks for checking in.

Friday, April 2, 2010

MLB 2010 Predictions

Ready or not, Opening Day is Sunday. I have to admit, this season kind of snuck up on me. I still feel as if the World Series ended six or seven weeks ago. Hard to believe it's time again for another 162 games. But here we are. The Yankees had a pretty quiet Spring Training. Joe Girardi and Co., in a somewhat controversial move, awarded the 5th starter spot to Phil Hughes, sending Joba back to the bullpen. Whether or not the team messed up Joba's future development in the process, I can't say. If you want to weigh in on the debate, head on over to River Avenue Blues, where the Gang of Three considers this issue more seriously than the Vatican considers its policy toward predator priests. I wish I were kidding.

In a less controversial move, Girardi decide to go with the newly acquired Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left, a perfectly reasonable decision. He also penciled in Nick Johnson in the 2 hole, and Robinson Cano in the 5 hole, behind Alex Rodriguez. I love both of these moves. Johnson is the perfect No. 2 hitter, and I expect Cano to have a monster season. I'm thinking 20+ homers, 100 RBI and a batting average well above .300. The kid's always shown talent, and I have a feeling 2010 will be his break-out season.

Other than those moves, however, the Yankees will field this year an almost identical team as last year's championship bunch. Which is fine with me. It's hard not to feel confident when the everyday lineup consists of Derek Jeter, Johnson, Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, Cano, Jorge Posada, Granderson, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. And a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez and Huges. And a bullpen of Alfredo Aceves, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park, Joba, David Robertson and the incomparable and seemingly ageless Mariano.

On paper, at least, this team looks primed to make it back to the World Series. We'll see if they can live up to such lofty expectations.

I understand prognostication is bad for business. I'm going to take my chances, though, and predict the six division champs, the two wild card winners and the eventual World Series champion. This year, I'm also taking a crack at picking the AL and NL MVPs, ROYs and Cy Young winners. Here, as always, goes nothing:

American League:
Rays (Wild Card)

MVP: Josh Hamilton
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
ROY: Wade Davis

National League:
Braves (Wild Card)

MVP: Troy Tulowitzki
Cy Young: Roy Halladay
ROY: Jason Heyward

World Series:
Yankees over Rockies

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Young Guns

Ian Thomsen's out this morning with a great profile of the Oklahoma Thunder, one of the NBA's most exciting and promising young teams. Thomsen's piece, which explains how the Thunder's recent success is largely a byproduct of the Celtics' most recent championship runs, makes a strong case, whether intentional or not, that there still exists in the NBA the possibility of mutually beneficial trades. The Celtics got Ray Allen from the then-Supersonics, which inspired Kevin Garnett to force a trade to Boston. A 17th championship soon followed, while the Thunder committed in full to building a team around superstar Kevin Durant, a once in a generation talent, drafting Jeff Green with the draft pick they received in return for Allen, and, in subsequent years, Russell Westbrook and, most recently, James Harden.

A win-win for both teams, although the thrust of Thomsen's thesis is the up-start Thunder is now better positioned for the long term than the aging Celtics. Fair enough.

Thomsen includes this Doc Rivers quote, arguably the most on-point thing Doc's ever said.
"The one thing you see when a young team plays well, it's clear that there's one player that's better than all the other young players,'' said Rivers. "That allows all of the other young players to play their roles. In most cases, young teams are all even [in terms of the players' talent] and they're all fighting each other to be the star. There's no doubt that Durant is the guy on this team."
I think that's exactly right. I forget sometimes how much of star-dominated league the NBA is. Without a dominant talent, young teams can languish for years. This year's Nets teams is a good example. As are the Warriors. And the T-Wolves. All three carry a roster of young NBA talent, solid NBA talent, actually, but no real distinguishable break-out star who can take over a game, or carry his team to, say, five-straight. None sport a star who gives them an immediate identity. None have a singular talent to build around. Behind a talent like Durant, though, the Thunder is poised to become a force in the league for years to come. Can you imagine this team without him? They'd probably be the Knicks.