Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pull the Trigger, Omar!

Good news: there's more Phil to go around. No, I haven't put on 10 pounds. Shut up. Jerk.

I've been writing for Dr. Stats for about three years now. If you haven't checked it out, that's a subscription-based fantasy football website. And it's, like, WICKED good. There's a lot of excellent stats and projections, hence the name. Anyway, we recently added a free blog to the website, which I will be updating regularly. (As opposed to this free blog, which I update somewhere from "sporadically" to "who the #$%& knows?". The difference, of course, is that I'm paid for that blog. No one cuts me a check for "Ranting and Rambling".)

Anyway, I'll be updating the fantasy football blog 2-3 times per week with useful tidbits and such. Check it out at http://www.drstatsfantasyfootball.com/.

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On the subject of real football, with the season upon us, I'll be updating finheaven.com a bit more often, and we'll soon be launching canesheaven.com, where I will once again be a featured columnist. Really, I should just move to Miami. It would make a lot more sense for everyone. Anyway, I'll post those articles, or at least links, here, under the guise of actually putting up a real post.

Okay, onto the substantive part...

I absolutely do NOT understand the Mets' reluctance to pull the trigger on a Barry Zito for Lastings Milledge trade. All indications are that the A's would do this trade and this would give the Mets a postseason rotation of Martinez, Zito, Glavine and "To Be Determined" (probably Orlando Hernandez). That would be, by far, the best playoff rotation in the NL. When combined with perhaps the best lineup in the NL, that would make the Mets heavy favorites to represent the Senior Circuit in the World Series. And that rotation stacks up with anyone in the AL, too. Only Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States of America on Planet Earth could seriously rival that. Maybe Chicago too, if Mark Buerhle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia start pitching more like Buerhle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia.

As it stands, the Mets are prohibitive favorites to represent the NL and take the AL representative to a semi-competitive 6 game series. With Zito, they become a bona fide World Series contender, certainly the rival of Chicago or Detroit, who I believe to be easily the two best teams in the AL. Boston can join that group if Josh Beckett starts pitching more like Josh Beckett, as can the Angels if they get another bat or two, and the Yankees can if Sheffield and Matsui get healthy bodies and Alex Rodriguez gets a healthy head. Oh yeah, and Randy Johnson turns back the clock five years and Mariano Rivera's arm doesn't fall off from overuse. (Suffice to say, I'm not exactly sanguine about their chances.)

Where's the downside here? All we hear is "oh, he's represented by Scott Boras, and they might not be able to resign him." Okay, so if they don't, they've traded Milledge (a top 10 prospect) for two months of Barry Zito, and therefore a greatly improved shot at a World Series title. And oh yeah, two first round picks. This is conveniently overlooked by almost every sportswriter out there, save the brilliant Buster Olney. If Zito walks, the Mets still get two potentially excellent prospects in return. And in recent years, they've parlayed those high picks into quality players. Milledge was a first round pick. David Wright was a sandwich pick (that means he was a pick between rounds 1 and 2, not that they pulled him out of the Wonder Bread factory). Mike Pelfrey was a first round pick. Scott Freakin' Kazmir was a first round pick. That's a heck of a lot better track record than most teams have.

Incidentally, I believe the Mets could definitely resign Zito after the season. They're already considered at least co-favorites to do so, and with a two month trial period of Pennant Fever: Queens, one has to think Zito would be excited to stay. But even if they don't, that's hardly a tragic worst-case scenario.

Chances at a World Series title don't come around often. And yeah, Milledge is a special talent and all, but it's been 20 years since the last one in Queens, and a lot longer in most other places. This team was built to win now; Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner have far more years behind than ahead. There is an impressive core of younger talent, but the Mets have to assume that those guys I just mentioned will fall off at some point, some sooner than others. I've long believed the Mets signed Pedro to a four year deal counting on two excellent years, one good one and one write-off. Well, this is his second year.

I don't think the Mets will be as strong a team next year as they are this year. And in 2 or 3 years, there will be other contenders emerging. The Marlins, for example, should be able to make a run then...and then they'll dump everyone a couple years after that, because they're cheap and start over yet again.

Omar, pull the trigger, get Zito, and bring the pennant back to Shea Stadium, where it belongs.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

WWJGD? and Hollywood Sucks, Part XVI

When I drive, I try to keep a simple philosophy in mind. I call it "WWJGD?" Or, "What Would Jeff Gordon Do?"

See, the way I figure it, Gordon is one of the very best drivers in the world. Every week, he hops out on a track with 42 other infantile egomaniacs (10 points for that movie reference), and he's managed not only to stay alive, but almost always avoid an accident and drive well enough to capture 4 Winston Cups. This separates him from, say, Dale Earnhardt, who drove his way to 7 Winston Cups, but unfortunately didn't meet the "stay alive" requirement that I find to be so important.

This philosophy has served me well. The other day, I was on the Thruway, and my lane was ending, with a car on my left. There were two choices: slow down or accelerate. Actually, I suppose a third choice was "drive into the guardrail", but I rejected this out of hand. What would Jeff Gordon do? Would he slow down and let some soccer mom from Poughkippsie in her 3 ton Volvo with a "I Derek Jeter" bumper sticker get in front of him? Or would he mash the gas, zoom by and yell "Yanks Suck!"? I think you know the answer to that one.

Oh sure, this has cost me a couple speeding tickets, and given a few passengers heart attacks. And the other day, I tried to run a DeWalt Tools delivery truck off the road. But by and large, I'm a fan.

The other day, my wife and I were driving to Buffalo. In the eastbound lane of the Thruway, there was someone obviously having a bad day. I deduced this from the several emergency vehicles with flashing red lights. My wife asked me to slow down so she could get a look. I said, "Jeff Gordon wouldn't slow down so you could look at an accident."

She replied, "sure he would. If there's an accident, the caution flag would be out."

I may need to rethink this new philosophy.

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I watched the movie "Firewall" recently. (Yeah, I know, I'm like SOOOO up on movies. Coming soon: Phunwin's review of "Citizen Kane".) It sounded cool; bad guys kidnap good guy's family and make him rob a bank, before getting their comeuppance. Had a great cast, too. Here's the problem, though: it was like a 1 hour, 45 minute episode of "24"...only with a feeble old man doing Kiefer Sutherland's action scenes, and a plot so implausible that it made the infamous "mountain lion" storyline look reasonable by comparison. But it did have Mary-Lynn Rajksub saying things like "Screw you, Jack!" (As an aside, if she's trying to avoid being typecast as Chloe O'Brien for the rest of her career, this isn't helping.)

You know what's really sad? Harrison Ford hasn't done anything good in almost 10 years. He's a lot like Aerosmith that way. Hollywood Homicide wasn't anything great. K-19: The Widowmaker sucked. That flick with Anne Heche sucked. Air Force One was the last good movie he's done. Seriously, check his IMDB log. More than likely, he sat back and said, "you know what? Screw it all. I'm considered one of the greatest actors of the last 30 years, I'll just sit back, wait for a script that looks like a summer blockbuster, make my $15 million every year and be happy with that." I don't blame him for that; I'd probably do the same thing if I was him.

Still, I feel like it's guys like Harrison Ford that should be doing movies that are, you know, worth plunking down $8 to go see. He's long since clinched a spot as one of the greatest actors of my lifetime; the only guys I'd definitely put in front of him are Robert DeNiro and Tom Hanks. (Arguments for Al Pacino or Morgan Freeman will be entertained, however.) Maybe it's the never-ending stream of crap that gets kicked out of Hollywood studios that's driven Ford to this point. Maybe he threw up his hands and said, "there's nothing left worth doing, so I'll just make an annual popcorn flick until I'm too old to be a leading man." Still, it seems like a sad state of affairs.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A World Cup Finals Diary

I didn't keep a minute-by-minute diary of the World Cup Finals, as I often do with an important sporting event, so here's my recollection of things as they happened...

Pre-Game
* We are LIVE from Phil's Man Cave! Actually, it's not live at all, I'm typing this the next day and taking my best guess as to what happened and when.

* Zinedine Zidane. Hey, did you know he's retiring? Seriously, I had no idea!

* I'm recalling to Lan and his girlfriend a story about the last time Italy was in the World Cup Final. In 94, I watched the game at my friend Sal's house. Sal's parents came over to America in (I think) their 20s. Sal was in fact born in Italy when they were visiting family there (this led to a situation where he had both Italian and American citizenship, which was kind of funny, because when he turned 18, the Italian Army tried to draft him). Suffice to say, I wasn't pulling for Brazil that day. Italy infamously lost on penalty kicks, most notably when Roberto Baggio, their best player, sailed one over the crossbar that would have continued the contest for more PKs. Sal's dad, ordinarily a pretty soft-spoken guy, unleashed a cloud of obscenities in English, Italian, Engtalian and Italish that hangs over Rochester to this day. After about five minutes, I just whispered to Sal, "I'm going home now. Thanks for having me over" and left. So, uh, the Italians, they care about this a little bit. Let's make no mistake about that.

* Before the game, Lan and I agree that Brazil might be the only country on earth that's actually afraid of France. Say what you will about France, but they flat-out own the Brazilians.

* Is it just me, or does Brent Musberger finally look really old?

* The final tally of guests: my wife (who's not really a guest), Lan, Jamie, Joe, Nathan, Francis (our resident Italian import), Kev and his 11 month old son. Excellent strategy by Kev: bring the little man to keep the girls occupied and not asking questions like, "why does the goalie have a different colored jersey?" Actually, that is a good question. Darn it Kev, thanks for preventing my wife from asking questions that I'm too dumb to answer and too ashamed to ask.

* Right before kickoff, I distribute Peroni around the room. Forzi Italia! Kev's son gets into it by immediately trying to drink Kev's bottle. If ever there was a chip off the old block, he's it.

First Half
* Kev immediately wins a $20 bet with a co-worker that there would be a dive in the first minute. Actually, Henry looked legitimately shaken up on that collision. No matter, I think he still collects.

* Six minutes in, Malouda goes through the penalty area, and as Materazzi (you'll never believe this, but I had to look up that spelling) gets close, Malouda takes a dive. Penalty. Marcelo Balboa hails Malouda's acting abilities as Zidane (who's retiring after this match, you know) fakes Buffon out of his jockstrap and chips it down the middle. Balboa disgraces Italian-Americans everywhere by administering verbal fellatio that would even make Brett Favre blush. Okay, that's a lie...it's pretty clear that Favre's ego is so out of control that no amount of flattery will make him blush.

* After the first ten minutes, Italy starts to settle in.

* 19 minutes in, and the Italian with the top knot (why don't any of the Japanese players have those?) wins a corner. Pirlo bends it and Materazzi buries a sweet header. The Man Cave is going wild, and it's 1-1! Francis laments that it should be 1-0 right now. Let's see if the soccer gods repay the Italian side later.

* Ten minutes later, Materazzi just misses with a header, but he fouled the French defender anyway.

* Apparently, the referee tonight is the same guy that sent Wayne Rooney off against Portugal. I recall that was a pretty tardy red. Tardy as in late, not slang for retarded.

* Italy pretty much owns the rest of the first half, just missing a second goal when Toni puts one off the crossbar after a corner. Thuram had to make a great play on the ball before that just to give Italy a corner, since Barthez looked beaten. But despite several chances, Italy can't score and it's 1-1 at the half.

Second Half

* All France from here on out. I mean ALL France. A nice run by Henry right after the half, but he can't do anything with it.

* 53rd minute, Malouda goes down, for real this time, in the penalty area. Ref says "play on". Wow. THAT was a penalty, folks. I have zero doubt in my mind that was a make-up call. At the half, I would bet serious cash that someone told the ref that he rewarded Malouda for a dive in the penalty area, and he said "I'm not giving France a PK unless someone gets knifed in the penalty area". That's the difference between refs/umps in American sport and international soccer referees. American refs strive to get every single call right, and will not give a make-up call if they screw up. If they did, Dirk Nowitzki would have shot about 90 free throws in the last three games of the NBA Finals. International soccer refs seem to strive to keep their impact on the game as neutral as possible, and are entirely willing to make a bad call the other way to make up for a previous bad call.

* A few minutes later, Henry and the soon-to-be-retired Zidane play a nice two-man game that goes nowhere when Henry makes one pass too many.

* Seriously, I think someone slanted the field so it was about 20 degrees downhill toward the Italian goal. France is making everything happen, and the Italians look like they're just waiting for the hammer to fall.

* De Rossi and Iaquinta come in for Totti and Perotta. Totti was completely ineffective. De Rossi has apparently made amends for committing assault on Brian McBride.

* Offsides wipes out an Italian goal. Damn. We couldn't get too excited; it was clear offsides.

* Ribery, who looks like he was motorcycle riding with Ben Roethlisberger, sends one into the 15th row from way out there. He's been awesome in this World Cup, but kind of a non-factor today.

* 80th minute and Zidane goes down with a shoulder injury. This could be the end of a fantastic, bombastic, magnefique career! Nope, he's staying in the game, despite initially signalling for a sub.

* Vin Diesel comes in for Italy, wearing a Del Piero jersey.

* More French attacking, but they're a day late and a euro short everywhere.

Overtime
* Dull start, but both teams are pretty tired. I don't know why the Italians are tired; they didn't do a damned thing for the last 40 minutes. In one particularly bizarre instance, there's five Italian players within three yards of the Italian player with the ball...at midfield. They look like an elementary school girls team, for crying out loud!

* 99th minute, and Ribery just misses a chance to all but end it. Whew! He's subbed out right after that. Not his best game; he was all over the field against Portugal and Spain.

* Buffon punches out a cross, and when it comes back in, he makes the save of the game on a Zidane header. Wow, that thing had "game winner" written all over it. Italy's just marking time until penalties, which has "bad idea" written all over it, since Zidane and Henry are automatic on PKs.

* Joe: "These guys look like they just want to sit around and sip their vino. Enough with the Italian work ethic!"

* De Rossi goes down after getting smacked in the head. That's karma, by the way. Henry is subbed out moments later. I know he's tired, but wouldn't you rather have him out there for penalties, since it's going there?

* Zidane headbutts Materazzi in the chest! Looks like a pretty hard headbutt, too, and Materazzi, of course, plays it up as much as possible by flopping to the deck. Buffon's screaming at the fourth ref to tell the head ref what happened, and finally, the fourth ref does his job. After some delay and deliberation, Zidane's career ends with a red card. Wow! They follow the two up the field on replay, and it looks like Materazzi just said something to set him off. We're betting on the old "seen any naked pictures of your wife?" "No." "Want some?" exchange.

* Balboa: "they should not show that on the replay here at the stadium!" Absolutely, because as we all know, the fans should have no idea what's happening until they read the paper the next day. Are JP Dellacamera and John Harkes warming up in the bullpen? Can they get here in time to handle the PKs? It's amazing; in the Ecuador game, Balboa was all over David Beckham's case, calling for him to be subbed and then dropped from the team. But somehow, Zidane gets all the slack in the world from Balboa. This guy's a national disgrace as an announcer. Seriously. I'd take the drunk ghost of Harry Caray calling the 2010 Cup over this loser, and I take back anything good I've ever said about him.

* Even 11 on 10, Italy can't press the advantage. In fact, France has a great chance a few moments later that just needed a really good pass to tie it together...something that the dude who just got sent off could have provided.

* We're going to penalties. Italy has a big advantage now. They've got the better keeper, and France's best PK takers are out. They've got karma, too. The soccer gods owe them for 94.

Penalties
* Pirlo and Wiltord trade successful kicks.

* Materazzi steps up with a disconcerting "deer in the headlights" look, but buries his. Trezeguet...hits the crossbar!! Once again, the Man Cave celebrates. It should be noted that Barthez has been flopping around like a fish out of water. Italy just has to put it in the net; I don't think he could stop a balloon right now.

* De Rossi and Abidal (there's no flippin' way this guy was born in France. Algeria, maybe) hit theirs. Right before Vin Diesel steps up, I say to Francis, "he'd better make this. I heard Baggio's next." He gives the same nervous half-laugh that you'd have expected from a Red Sox fan if you told him that Buckner was coming in as a defensive replacement. Immediately, I realized that Francis might stab me with a broken Peroni bottle if Del Piero misses. Fortunately, he buries it. The ball, not the broken bottle.

* Sagnol hits for France, and Dave O'Brien finally has his moment of melodrama: "Fabio Grosso has the World Cup on his foot." Eh, it's not quite Jack Edwards, but that'll do. Grosso buries it, and Italy are the 2006 World Cup Champions!

The Post-Game
* Joe asks how much I'd give to see Zidane's face as Italy won it. Would you rather see that, or know what Materazzi said to him? I'd rather know what Materazzi said, but I'll entertain arguments the other way.

* Julie Foudy's talking, for some reason. It's not that I have anything against women working as studio announcers or sideline reporters for men's sports; Leslie Visser's good, as are Michelle Tafoya and Melissa Stark, and...uh, that's about it. Francis pleads with ABC to cut her microphone off. Actually, there was about a five second pause from her, and we thought they really did. Blah blah blah, what a shame about Zidane, blah blah blah...

* I'm expecting Wynalda to rip Zidane a new one, and sadly he follows the same "what a shame" storyline that Foudy does. What the hell? Wynalda's the same guy who went on a tirade against Bruce Arena that was so venomous that Arena won't return Wynalda's calls. For God's sake guys, call a spade a spade! It should be noted they haven't mentioned the Italians once yet.

* Musberger quickly shifts the topic of conversation to the Italian team. Joe: "that's why he's an old pro." Musberger had to drag Foudy and Wynalda off Ziadane's jock once again a few minutes later.

* Shots of the Italian guys celebrating on the field. Apparently, the dude with the top knot vowed to cut his hair if they won. Meanwhile, Gattuso, apparently taking Michael Davies' rating system a bit too much to heart, is running around without his soccer shorts on, exposing a pair of tighty-whities for all the world to see. Um, great. Lots of hugging, kissing and all those other things that European males do.

* It's the trophy presentation, and for some reason, the refs get medals, too. Even Foudy thinks this is stupid. She then pontificates on what a great feeling it is to win the World Cup. Wait, how would she know? That's like asking Swin Cash, Sheryl Swoopes or Vince Carter what it's like to be a basketball champion. And please don't bother me with that PC, "We Love Title IX!" piece of junk known as the Women's World Cup. The World Cup is a 20 pound (I think) statue of solid gold. The Women's World Cup is a wood carving wrapped in aluminum foil and held together with scratch-n-sniff stickers.

* Apparently, FIFA asked Zidane not to rejoin the team for the medal presentation. I understand why they did it, but still, he was the best player on the second best team in the World Cup. That's got to count for something. One of the French guys just sticks the silver medal in his pocket in disgust.

* The Italians get their gold medals and Cannavaro (who should be the Golden Ball winner) holds the Cup in the air as everyone goes absolutely nuts. Now THAT'S a trophy presentation.

The Aftermath

Zidane won the golden ball award, which seems ridiculous to me since he might very well have cost his team the game. No matter, it's a fitting end to the love affair the media has with him. He's a fantastic player, of course, probably the best since Maradona was at the peak of his powers, but still, the coverage was a bit much.

On the whole, I thought ABC/ESPN's coverage was mixed. Balboa was terrible, and Dave O'Brien seemed to have only an intermittent clue as to what was happening. Dellacamera and Harkes were a much better team and should have been the #1 team. And what happened to Jack Edwards? I haven't seen him in forever, so I assume he no longer works for the Worldwide Leader, but I loved his work in 2002, over the top as it was. Tommy Smyth should have been in the booth as well, but they probably figured they couldn't keep him under control so well from there. Early on, they had too many technical glitches, but that got better as the tourney moved forward.

And as for the champions, they were a deserving team. But I have to say, the Italians benefitted from their fair share of luck. They missed Argentina and Brazil, and got Germany, who they always beat and who were playing above their heads anyway, and France, who had just run a Spain-Brazil-Portugal gauntlet. Meanwhile, Italy beat Australia and Ukraine to get to the semifinals. Apart from the second overtime against Germany, when they were magnificent, I never got the feeling that Italy were genuinely the best team in the tournament. If they played Argentina 10 times, I suspect the Argentines would win 7.

But, that doesn't matter now. History will recall Italy as the best team in the world for 2006, and that's how it should be.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Forzi Italia!

I really wanted to write more on this, but alas, with in-laws knocking at the door, demanding to be let in and welcomed, I've got to keep it brief, with the Final tomorrow. I'm hoping to write up a World Cup Final diary for your (and my) enjoyment.

* I would have to assume that the majority of Americans watching tomorrow are pulling for Italy. I certainly am, as are, I believe, all the folks coming over to my house. Nick, who's arguably replaced Lan as our resident turd in the punch bowl (a watershed moment, really; that's got to be a wakeup call to Lan), shot me a quick "Vive Le France!" email, but mercifully, he's out of state for the weekend. That said, I found myself chuckling at Michael Davies' line that Americans should pull for France, as the country that won us our independence. While that's true, I'd posit that our debt to France was repaid in full some 162 years later.

* My cheering against France aside, they've played with a tremendous amount of grace and class in this World Cup. Obviously, anyone that rips through Spain, Brazil and Portugal in consecutive games merits respect, but the way they've won impressed me greatly, enough that I'm actually finding myself glad they beat Portugal, though I was pulling for the Portugese in that game originally. A team like Portugal simply doesn't deserve to be in the Finals. I understand that diving and acting is a common part of international soccer, but these guys took it to a whole new level. Just a shameful display.

* However, I'm looking forward to Christiano Ronaldo's first game for Man U after the World Cup. Have fans ever rioted against one of their own players before? Might happen, even if I thought Ronaldo didn't actually do anything wrong.

* I also had reservations about cheering for Italy. I mean, there appears to be a fair amount of evidence that guys on that team were involved in the match-fixing scandal in Serie A. That makes cheering for them like cheering for Barry Bonds, but worse. Say what you will, but what Bonds did was legal in MLB at the time he did it, even if it was distasteful. I'm not sure what it says that we have to point to France as a paragon of virtue in this World Cup. Nothing good, I'm sure.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Dim Future For The Legality of Same-Sex Marriage?

I plan to give some extensive commentary about the World Cup, but before I do, a quick news snippet (you know, for those of you who, for reasons all your own, rely on my little corner of the internet for news): The New York Court of Appeals has refused to recognize same-sex marriage.

I've never really made up my mind on the whole issue of same-sex marriage. I suppose I'm more or less ambivalent to the concept itself, and don't really see how two men or two women getting married cheapens my marriage to my wife. So in a vacuum, I have no real problem with it. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of the ever-increasing tendency of activist judges (our pet term for "liberal judges") to read laws and rights that simply aren't there. So, I suppose my stance, convoluted as it may seem, is this: if a state legislature wants to write same-sex marriage into law, fine, but if a court wants to read it into a law that clearly didn't contemplate the concept, I'm opposed.

If my stance is convoluted, I'm obviously not the only one, because it appears that's precisely what the NY Court of Appeals found. New York, some 97 years ago, defined marriage as between man and woman. The Court of Appeals, in a rare and welcome display of reading black-letter law, said, "that's the law", and denied the appeal of the same-sex couples.

This isn't a great sign for the future of same-sex marriage. One assumes that, to the extent there was a grand design by its advocates, they intended to slowly bring court cases to the forefront, counting on judges to read it into law, and perhaps ultimately bring it before the Supreme Court. It seemed like a sound strategy; it certainly worked for abortion advocates. After all, if legal costs are expensive, and appellate litigation even more so, those costs are nothing compared to a massive statewide, or nationwide lobbying campaign. It's a heck of a lot easier to convince 4 New York Judges of something than 76 New York Assemblymen, 31 Senators and a Governor. One assumes that the plan was to start in the most favorable places possible, and as the concept became more widespread and acceptable, count on other states following. After having civil unions legalized in Vermont, and marriage legalized by judicial fiat in Massachusetts, New York seemed a likely target, being a deep-blue state that borders both Vermont and Massachusetts.

Obviously, that's out the window now; if the highest court in New York, not particularly known for its conservative tendencies, isn't going to recognize same-sex marriage, it seems to have precious little future in places like Ohio or Pennsylvania. It seems that the whole "equal protection" argument is a loser. And if that argument is a loser, advocates of same-sex marriage will have to get state legislatures to pass a law allowing it. That's going to be much more difficult and much more costly, and probably dooms same-sex marriage to a few protected enclaves for the foreseeable future.