Monday, May 17, 2010

Sports Rants

There's so much going on in the world of sports right now, a lot of which can be downright amazing if viewed in a certain way.

For starters, there's the LeBron James thing, which was all the rage on sports talk radio around the country at the end of last week. Personally, I never thought LeBron was even seriously considering leaving Cleveland until about a week ago. I was sure he would stay, and in fact the only thing I thought that might get him to leave would be if he managed to lead the Cavs to the championship this year. I figured then, after finishing what he started in Cleveland and bringing that loser city their long-awaited sports championship, he might feel free to move on to bigger and better things. But I thought that if he was not able to finish the job this year once again, I simply couldn't see LeBron leaving the city in the lurch and going somewhere else to play out the rest of his career.

And then I saw LeBron's last two games against the Celtics. Sure, all anyone is really talking about is his second to last game, when LeBron put up pretty much the single worst game of his career in an 18-point effort that included an abysmal 30% fg shooting performance on the day. You won't hear much about his last game, where LeBron managed to put up a triple-double including nearly 20 boards on the day, but in reality if you really sat and watched that game as well -- in particular the second half, and really in particular the fourth quarter -- then you know as well as I do that something happened to LeBron before those final two games of the series with Boston. Something happened in that locker room -- maybe between LeBron and a teammate, maybe with his head coach, but it was definitely something. Maybe something went down with management that opened LeBron's eyes to the fact that his future is not or should not be in Cleveland. But to me, LeBron played those last two games -- out of nowhere, mind you -- as if he already knew he was leaving. Before last week, I could not have conceived of circumstances such that LeBron would leave Cleveland without winning a title, but then right before my eyes I feel like I watched those very circumstances unfold in a very public and yet inexplicable way to us fans. One way or another, I still would not be surprised to see LeBron remain a Cav -- in paricular if he can sign a short-term deal and still have time in a few years for his max-dollar mega-contract -- but I can no longer say that I don't expect him to leave Cleveland now. His face looks to me like he already has.

The next item I would be remiss in mentioning is this business about the Phillies being accused of attempting to steal signs from the opposing catcher. It seems that some video was taken of a Phillies coach sitting in the bullpen in left center field with a pair of binoculars and staring seemingly towards the pitchers mound. For their part the Phillies have denied any attempt to steal signs, and explained away the bino's in the bullpen by claiming that the coaches were trying to work on Carlos Ruiz's catching stance, but that is basically cripe since I've seen shots of the coach with the bino's at his eyes during the top half of the inning when the Phillies were at bat and not in the field. As a result, I have to say that is a pretty pathetic and sleazy move by the two-time defending NL champions, as I have always maintained that I can't stand cheating or cheaters or anything associated with it.

All that said, some have suggested that this places the Phillies on a par with the "Spygate" Patriots of some years ago. This is absurd for several reasons. For starters, the Pats won three superbowls in four years by cheating. The Phillies have done nothing of the kind, nor have they thus entirely caused the other teams in the league to entirely restructure their game plans to compete like the unbelievable success of the Patriots did. To compare the Phillies and their one title with this nucleus to the Patriots in that respect is just plain silly before you even start off. And this doesn't even take into account my second point, which is that it's an undeniable fact -- something with you haters out there were oh so quick to point out to me last year when A-Rod was caught stealing signs and communicating them in real time to his teammates -- that stealing signs is an understood part of baseball. Now I'm not trying to justify anyone breaking the rules -- you saw what I wrote just above about this being a bush league move on the part of the Phillies, if true -- but at the same time, equating trying to steal the catcher's signs in baseball with someone illegally taping the defense coordinator's playcalls in football is patently silly. One thing is done all the time in the sport, by every on-deck batter and every time a runner gets to second base. The other is done, well, never. By anybody. One is considered totally a part of the game within reason, and the only is wholly not allowed.

For the two reasons I mentioned above, to compare the Phillies' transgressions -- if even proven or admitted -- to those of the Patriots is redonkulous. But there's an even dumber point to all of this, something which I heard Buster Olney communicate quite well on ESPN Radio a couple of days back, and which I think basically opens and shuts the issue of whether this is really a big deal, and why you won't hear boo about the Phillies stealing signs in the future despite people still to this day talking all the time about what a dirty, cheating, lying bunch of scuzzbuckets the New England Patriots are. In football, the signs the Pats willingly stole are signs that could not be obtained anywhere else, in any other way other than using cameras to record them during walkthroughs and even during games. With the Phillies, on the other hand, it is in my view not even very likely that the binoculars were being used to pick up the catcher's signs, because if the Phils wanted to steal those signs there is a much better way of doing that than having some old man with bad vision sit behind a grating deep in left field and stare through binoculars at a little man crouched some 450 feet away -- just turn on the damn tv! I mean, have these guys ever watched a baseball game on television? Ever? That center field camera -- you know, the one that they show mostly every single pitch from in the entire game -- basically captures the catcher's signs on almost every single pitch. Believe me, if the Phillies -- or any other team for that matter -- wanted to steal the catcher's pitch signs, they wouldn't even dream of having some old fart peer at them through tiny bino's 150 yards away. They would either look up at the tv screen, or if not available, pay $5 a month for unlimited tv access on someone's iPhone. That's all. They could pay a teenager probably $25 a week to record the signs from every single pitch every thrown at Phillies hitters through an entire season, from the comfort of his own den at home. So to suggest that that's what was going on with the Phillies coach and his binoculars against the Rockies and the Mets this season, it is just plain ludicrous and they can suck it. Yeah, that's the reason the Mets haven't performed well against the Phillies the last few seasons -- we're stealing signs! It's not that the Phils are the best lineup in the National League in 50 years or anything, that has nothing to do with it. Johann Santana woulda shut the Phils out the other day (instead of giving up 10 runs in under 4 innings) if only we hadn't been stealing his signs. Uh huh. I got news for you, Mets and Rockies fans: any professional baseballer will tell you that the great pitchers, when they are on, would still get everybody out even if the batters knew what pitch was coming when. Comparing this "scandal" to that of the Patriots or any real-life cheaters out there is unfair to the Phillies, but more than that it is unfair to the teams like the Eagles that the Patriots brutalized by their illegal, sleazy disqualification-worthy deceptions.

Lastly, no sports recap from this weekend could possibly be complete without mentioning the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, I'm not going to sit here and act like I'm the biggest Flyers fan this side of Broad Street nowadays. But when I was a kid, I was all about the Flyers. My family had season tickets -- there's no better live sport to go see than NHL hockey, bar none -- and I grew up playing street hockey with the kids in the neighborhood basically 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and my older brother and I were as in to the Flyers as anyone was in to any team when we were younger. My interest has waned somewhat in the wake of some truly disastrous decisions made by the league, its owners and its players over the past several years, but in the end of course I am from Philly and always get excited to see one of my childhood love-affair teams doing well. And what the Flyers did in Boston over the past week is absolutely legendary stuff. After dropping to an early 3 games to 0 series deficit in their second-round playoff matchup with the Boston Bruins, the Flyers suddenly turned everything around, winning Game 4 at home before taking Game 5 in Boston and then the must-win Game 6 at home again to force an unlikely Game 7 back at the Garden in Boston. To make matters even worse, however, the Flyers then quickly fell to a 3-0 deficit in Game 7, on the road, all in the first ten minutes of the game one day after losing their starting goalie for the next month or more. But then something clicked, and this team that knows No Fucking Quit at all scored a goal to end the first period, another in the 2nd, and then they tied it up in the 3rd before scoring the go-aheader with about 7 minutes left in the game to take the win and the series 4 games to 3. Although it is the third time in NHL history that a team has fought back from a 3-0 series deficit, it is the first time that that team did so in a Game 7 on the road in which they dropped quickly down 3-0 in goals just minutes after the puck was dropped. And after this Flyers team quickly went out and spizzanked the Canadians 6-0 to start the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday night, one has to wonder if this year's Flyers are another Team of Destiny for Philadelphia, the city that once was a place were sports championships were just never won.

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