The Sports Central Newsletter
November 2003 - Issue #106
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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|
- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "A Sports Manifesto"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Win George Steinbrenner's Money"
- Marquee Matchup: Patriots vs. Broncos
|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|
Sports Central is all about sports. But what really constitutes a sport? With recent television coverage of poker, billiards, etc., the field of sports seems to be rapidly expanding. Somewhere, a line has to be drawn, and one lighthearted criteria has to be that if you can drink *beer* while playing it, it is definitely *not* a sport (sorry, poker)! Read on for Brad's take on what really is a sport ... a surprising and enlightening read in this month's O-Files.
Finally, Mike sets The Boss of the Evil Empire himself, George Steinbrenner, straight in the Feature Article. Looking at the Yankees' failure to win another World Series with a sky-high payroll and hefty expectations, Mike exclaims, "If Steinbrenner wants to find the reason for his "failure," he needs only to look in one of his numerous mirrors and fire himself." Ouch. But the truth hurts.
- Marc James
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|-- THE O-FILES--|
"A Sports Manifesto"
By Brad Oremland
October is the greatest month of the year for North American sports fans. It's the heart of football season, the World Series, and the beginning of the regular seasons in the NBA and NHL. Even MLS is in full-swing.
Rather than celebrating any of those, however, this month's O-Files is devoted to bashing just about everything else.
ESPN and the Olympics have contrived to bring us dozens of activities masquerading as sports. Synchronized swimming. Ballroom dancing. Even poker! If you can drink beer while you play, your activity -- unless it's rugby -- is not a sport.
For some reason, everyone wants to classify their activities as sports now. Poker is a competition, sure, but to most of us, sports imply some sort of physical work. Poker is a card game. Chess is a board game. Not all games are sports.
Ballroom dancing is a demanding physical activity that requires an enormous amount of talent and practice. But it isn't a sport, either. The competition is forced. In football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer, anyone watching knows who won. Races -- sprints, marathons, you name it -- have a clear winner. If you need judges from seven countries to vote on who won, your activity is not a sport.
Even though some kinds of racing -- running, swimming, cycling, skating, skiing -- are sports, others are not. Horse racing, for one. Sure, the horse does a lot of work, and I guess I would consider it a sport from the horse's point of view. But I don't really consider a jockey to be an athlete, and I certainly don't think the owner and trainer are athletes.
Auto racing? There are those who claim that drivers are under enormous physical strain, but until they have to start working out, they aren't athletes, and their competition isn't a sport.
Sports require serious physical exertion. A midfielder in soccer has physical skills and endurance that would make a bowler look like his ball. A professional basketball player puts in a lot more physical work than a golfer. I mean, CEOs don't hit the court on their day off to relax, then go have drinks at the Third Basket.
Leisure activities -- golf, bowling, fishing -- are middling sports at best. I've written about golf in this column before, so I guess I must consider it a sport, but it's a lot like mini-golf, and I'm pretty sure that's not a sport. Bowling bears a suspicious resemblance to skee ball.
Billiards is tough, and playing well consistently is difficult and impressive, but this goes back to the beer thing. An out-of-shape chain-smoker paralyzed from the waist down could be a terrific pool player, but not an athlete. Same with darts. If you play in a bar, it's just a competition. Like foosball. Or drinking contests -- sure, they take enormous physical stamina and probably some practice, but consuming alcohol definitely does not qualify as a sport.
So what makes a sport? Well, heavy physical exertion, for one. And real competition, preferably with a clear winner based on scoring more points or finishing first. There are some exceptions I would consider: boxing, maybe gymnastics or figure skating, and -- especially -- wrestling; if the ancient Greeks did it, it's a sport. Common sense can be used to eliminate some activities that fit this criteria, such as competitive eating. Incidentally, if I ever start a band, I am going to call it "Competitive Eating," and if you steal the name, I will hunt you down (hunting is not a sport).
None of this should be taken as a slam at anything. I love poker and darts, I think watching auto racing can be fun, and I don't have anything against skee ball. But I hate the idea that cheerleading or fishing is a sport. I want more track and field, more judo, more triathlon (now there's a sport -- three, in fact). Keep the Olympics sacred. Keep ESPN fast-paced.
As a sports fan, October has left me as happy as a clam, but there's a long winter of curling and ice dancing ahead, and it's going to take more than a few games of pool and darts to get us through. Happy November.
Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
|-- WHAT'S NEW AT SPORTS CENTRAL? --|
A look back at the new articles from the week of 10/27/03 - 11/02/03:
NFL: Football's best worst team
By Gary Geffen
After a bubble-busting thrashing by Tampa Bay, the Cowboys seem to be asking themselves the same questions as last year. Do they have a quarterback and running back? SC's Gary Geffen explains why Bills Parcells Cowboys are making a case for being football's best worst team.
NHL: What happened to that goalie?
By Vishal Patel
Put an eye on the stat-sheet for goaltenders after the first two weeks of the season none of the big names from a year ago are there. Not even the names you've been used to hearing the past couple years. SC's Vishal Patel takes a deeper look at this year's early goaltending surprises.
COLUMN: "JQ": Major league mythmaking
By Greg Wyshynski
As the afterglow of an exciting and popular baseball postseason begins to fade, SC's Greg Wyshynski reveals that the news actually wasn't so good. That, plus Darrell Russell joins the Redskins, new NBA and NHL uniforms, Viagra, and the Steve Bartman costume ... all in the "JQ."
NBA: The memoirs of NBA Opening Night
By Danny Sternfield
It's been so long. After a tumultuous offseason, the NBA is back. It's Opening Night. Spurs vs. Suns. Lakers vs. Mavericks. Shaq vs. Kobe. Oh, and the Heat play the 76ers (as if anyone cares). It's time to settle in with SC's Danny Sternfield as he recalls a night of hoops.
MLB: Dispelling the Yankee rumors
By Marco Santana
The New York Yankees fell just one step short of taking yet another title. The Marlins stopped them. But the Big Boss's reaction to the loss has sparked many rumors that could negatively affect "Public Enemy Number 1," according to many fans, says SC's Marco Santana.
TENNIS: "Hitters and missers" of 2003
By Mert Ertunga
There were many hits and misses during 2003 in the tennis world. For some players, it was memorable, for others, it was forgettable. From Gustavo Kuerten to Venus Williams, SC's Mert Ertunga picks the hitters and missers of 2003.
NFL: NFL Week 8 power rankings
By Brad Oremland
The Week 8 power rankings from SC's Brad Oremland have everything you've come to expect -- rankings and analysis for every team in the NFL -- but this week, Five Quick Hits focuses especially on television coverage. Check it for all that, plus thoughts on Donovan McNabb, Chad Pennington, and the undefeated Chiefs.
MLB: The story of the miracle Marlins
By Joe Kaiser
Against all odds, the Florida Marlins stole the hearts of baseball fans in each corner of America as they marched their way to the World Series Championship. Nobody saw it coming. Few yet believe it did. It was the perfect end to the best October in recent memory.
|-- FEATURE ARTICLE --|
"Win George Steinbrenner's Money"
By Mike Round
After all the excitement of the ALCS, the World Series caught the New York Yankees in a prolonged hangover. The upstart Marlins, $50 million payroll and all, small-balled their way to earn the right to sell their WS rings on eBay. The Boss went into one of his temper tantrums, fired the cloakroom girl and hitting coach Rick Down and vowed to make changes. But whose fault is it that the Evil Empire has gone a whole three seasons without winning it all?
It can't be much fun being George Steinbrenner. Okay, there's the money in the bank account, the fact that you own the world's most famous sports team, and the supreme power you hold in your empire. But the drawbacks are immense. There's the fear of failure and humiliation, led by the overriding, all consuming fear that one day the hated Boston Red Sox will stop shooting themselves in the foot and become competent. There's the fear that the rest of baseball will stop being scared of you and use their collective imaginations to beat you. There's the fear that one day you won't be able to find a decent navy blue blazer and white roll-neck in any reputable men's tailors.
The first fear is pretty safe for the next few years, so quit worrying, George. After all, the Sox have just fired the only manager in recent memory capable of uniting a whining, selfish clubhouse. Plus, they have an injury-prone ace with a dubious attitude and a slugger with an even worse one on a contract that's so ridiculous even Tom Hicks wouldn't agree to it.
Scarily for The Boss, the second fear is a reality. No one who matters is scared of New York and hasn't been since the Angels dispatched them from the 2002 playoffs. The $183 million payroll might make the media groan that baseball is a one-team sport, but no one inside the game is buying it. The 2003 New York Yankees are a collection of pseudo all-stars with no heart and no stomach for a battle.
Steinbrenner likes to apportion blame when he doesn't get his way with the world. The Yankees couldn't hit with runners in scoring position against Florida, so out went Rick Down. I checked the numbers for the series and Rick Down went 0-for-0 at the plate. Aaron Boone went a mighty 3-for-21, Jorge "AL MVP Candidate" Posada went 3-for-19, and Jason "You Throw 'Em, I Slug 'Em" Giambi went 4-for-17. All three of those guys are veterans who know how to hit without Rick Down's input. They failed, not Down.
So if it's not Down's fault, then who can Steinbrenner blame? How about GM Brian Cashman? Giambi, Boone, almost the entire bullpen, and hapless starter Jeff Weaver have come to town under his watch.
Cashman is a difficult evaluation. His reputation has suffered this season, with cause on the face of things, but increasingly, he merely looks like Steinbrenners' lap dog. The Boone trade looks more and more like a Steinbrenner panic move, designed solely to stop Boston getting Freddy Garcia from Seattle with Boone apparently slated to move to the Pacific Northwest via Boston to play ball with his brother, Bret.
Boone represents a minuscule batting upgrade, at best, from Robin Ventura. Boone played 160 games this season, hitting 24 homeruns with 96 RBIs and batting .267. Last season, Ventura played 141 games, hit 27 homers and had 93 RBIs with a 247 average. Even allowing for Ventura being in decline, it's hardly a huge upgrade, without factoring in Boone's panicky glove.
Boone is arbitration eligible and will cost about $6 million a year to bring back. Cashman should be recommending he be cut loose but, given that the team gave up super-prospect LHP Brandon Claussen to get him, that's unlikely and Steinbrenner has shown before he's prepared to carry overpaid underachievers on the roster.
The Jeff Weaver (owed a whopping $15 million over the next two years) trade looks even worse and was another get-him-or-Boston-will deal. Weaver is 51-63 lifetime with a distinctly average 4.59 ERA and has never had a winning season. Opponents bat .274 against him. He has a dubious temperament and reacts badly to pressure. I admit it, I was a Weaver fan when he was in Detroit and his last full season there was full of promise, despite his team playing at AA ball standard. What I didn't like about it was the fact that the Yankees gave up Ted Lilly, another precious LHP.
Lilly has blossomed into a genuine number three starter in a strong Oakland rotation, which is exactly what he should have been in New York. Rick Peterson has straightened out some of Lilly's delivery issues and he looks a different pitcher than the guy Mel Stottlemyre gave up on. Add in Weaver's collapse, the struggles of New York's "bullpen by elimination," and Stottlemyre's resume doesn't look so good. It's easy to coach Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera, guys who basically coach themselves. The test of a good pitching coach is the borderline guys and how they respond. Stottlemyre is mulling retirement over. If he doesn't go, he should be pushed.
Joe Torre, after a season of vicious in fighting with the owner and his Tampa-based yes-men, looks safe, and rightly so. Torre didn't have a good series, but his achievements since 1996 allow him a mulligan. His decision to send Weaver in for the 11th and 12th in Game 4, after 27 days of rust -- sorry, rest -- was justified by the mind-numbingly stupid explanation that, "I wanted a guy in there capable of going five innings."
Given that Weaver's ERA was around 6 and he was pitching the bottom of the inning, the chances of him going that long without giving up a run was as likely as Arafat being on the Bush family's Christmas card list. Torre seemed to think he could afford to lose Game 4 and still win the series behind David Wells, Pettitte, and Mussina. As it turned out, he lost the next two games and the series.
If Steinbrenner wants to find the reason for his "failure," he needs only to look in one of his numerous mirrors and fire himself. His trades and free-agency moves since 2000 (and make no mistake, they are all his decisions) have decimated what was the best situational hitting team in baseball. That record setting '98 team had holes in it, for sure. They could never settle on a third outfielder to compliment Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill and Chuck Knoblauch at second was, well, Chucky. But that team had guts and nerve in the clutch. Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez weren't "number-hangers" or hyped by the media like Jason Giambi and Aaron Boone, but both of them came up with crucial plays when it mattered.
Steinbrenner's intimidation culture and constant humiliation of the coaching staff has been a major distraction. There's no doubt that he resents both the way Torre has been credited for the post-1996 success and the affection the fans have for the manager. In part, this explains the owner's acquisitions of Mussina, Giambi, Weaver, and Boone; his guys and his acclaim when they succeed, though someone else's blunder when they fail.
The whole Tampa operation, with its staff of faceless, talentless mediocrities, exists solely to annoy the New York coaching staff and Torre in particular. In the ideal Steinbrenner world, Torre quits in the offseason and comes back next April to see his number retired before he goes fishing. Then he can introduce Bobby Valentine to the Bronx. The sole reason Torre hasn't been fired is that Steinbrenner is scared to death that Boston would immediately hire him and The Boss would have to face the wrath of the fans.
So how does George Steinbrenner approach the winter? Firstly, he'll be urged to re-sign Andy Pettitte at whatever cost. Good move, as Pettitte has long been the anchor of the rotation. Next, he'll look to sign a marquee free-agent to energize the fans and the organization. If it's Vladimir Guerrero, Kevin Millwood, Kaz Matsui, or Mike Lowell, good move, though Lowell returning would be tantamount to Steinbrenner admitting a past mistake, so that is unlikely. If it's 36-year-old Gary Sheffield at $12 million a year, bad move. Sheffield is more of the same, a number-hanger who chokes in the postseason.
The Yankees need to return to the values of 1998. Patience at the plate, pitching, solid glove work, and waiting on your opportunities before pouncing, and here the impetus for change lies with Torre. If Alfonso Soriano, Giambi, and Boone can't adapt to that philosophy, then move them out for players that fit, though moving Giambi's contract looks next to impossible. Homers might make Sports Center, but they don't put rings on your fingers by themselves, as the Braves will testify.
One thing is for sure -- the Bronx soap opera goes on.
Mike welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
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|-- MARQUEE MATCHUP --|
By Anthony Brancato
New England Patriots 20 (+2), DENVER Broncos 3
Monday, Nov. 3rd, 9 PM EST; Invesco Field; Denver, CO; TV: ABC
Apparently, Mike Shanahan has no plans to sign either Jeff George or Rob Johnson, so Danny Kanell, a proven NFL failure, gets the start once again. After struggling somewhat despite winning the Super Bowl two years ago and struggling even more last season, Bill Belichick's defense is off to an excellent start against the run in 2003, giving up less than 90 yards per game on the ground and not allowing any individual runner to record a 100-yard game all year. Imagine how tough they'll be here, shoving eight in the box on most downs, the idea being to stuff Clinton Portis and make Kanell beat them.
On offense, Tom Brady will be seeking to avenge a four-interception outing in his last visit to Invesco Field two years ago, and has a good shot to do it as his receivers are averaging better than a full yard more per completion than last year's figure. "Lawyergate" and the 31-0 opening-day loss at Buffalo that followed now seem like an antediluvian memory in New England, and the Broncos appear destined to fall four games behind idle Kansas City (in the loss column) in the AFC West.
* Home team is capitalized.
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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 12/06/03.)
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