Archive for June, 2006

Other Folks Deserving of Some Independence
June 29, 2006

A few years back my lady friend and I were at Rhythm & Booms and we were surprised to find out that the big fireworks spectacular was set to the music of The Beatles. Now I would question the sanity of anyone who would say a negative thing about The Beatles’ music (well, except for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), but for an Independence Day party? Weren’t The Beatles, you know, English? And isn’t Independence Day all about celebrating our freedom from the English? Do you think Barbara Walters is going to celebrate her independence from Star Jones by reading chapters from Star’s book Shine: A Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Journey to Finding Love? Seriously, the 4th of July should be about Spotted Cow, sparklers, and Grand Funk Railroad. No Beatles, Stone Roses, and certainly no Kajagoogoo allowed.

Where am I going with this? Oh, in celebration of Independence Day, here’s some sports figures and teams who could use some independence of their own:

1. The Green Bay Packers. Is it too late for them to declare independence from new head coach Mike McCarthy? I know he hasn’t coached a single game yet, but does anyone have a good feeling about McCarthy (apart from Bears and Vikings fans)? He didn’t come in with a good resume to begin with, and his sparsely-attended workouts are a sign that he does not command much respect among his players. But, you say, the players like the laid-back approach. Well, who was the last Packers coach to be lauded for a relaxed demeanor? Ray Rhodes. And we all remember all well he worked out.

2. The Buck. When I heard that Milwaukee’s NBA team was unveiling a new logo this week, I was hoping that the organization was going to replace the deer, not just the color scheme and font type. I’ve always felt the buck mascot looked not intimidating, but sad, as if he was looking down the barrel of a gun on the first day of deer season. But no need to change the name of the team — why not just replace the deer head with a picture of humorist Buck Henry? Or former Hee Haw co-host Buck Owens? Or just a pile of money? After all, what symbolizes professional sports more than money?

3. Alex Rodriguez. I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for any good-looking guy making $25 million a year, but Rodriguez deserves freedom from those annoying Yankee fans. So the guy had a little bit of a slump through most of June, which fans hope he broke out of with his 12th inning game-winning home run against the Braves this week. He still has an on-base percentage of almost .400, he’s got 55 RBIs, and he’s a solid threat to go deep every time he comes up to bat. Yankee fans shouldn’t be booing and jeering that. Nor should they be complaining everyday — this means you, Regis — because the team is “only” 44-32. Suck it up, Yankee fan. Things could be a lot worse. Right, Royal fan?

4. Adam Morrison. The former Gonzaga standout, just picked up by the Charlotte Bobcats with the third pick in this week’s NBA draft, needs some independence from his agent or whoever it was who gave him the advice to become a spokesperson for EA Sports. So now Morrison will not only be known as a softie who cries during games, but also as a geek who plays video games? At least free yourself from that mustache, Morrison. I’ve seen boys at my son’s daycare with more impressive facial hair.

5. Mike Golic. He may be a more polished broadcaster, but does Mike Golic’s on-air radio partner, Mike Greenberg, ever have any interesting insight on the world of sports? Has he ever made a correct prediction about anything? Don’t his “stone-cold lead-pipe locks” always turn out to be wrong? I think ESPN keeps him on the air because he’s a company shill, never afraid to gush over the latest “Dancing with the Stars” episode or embellish World Cup ratings. Golic, and ESPN Radio listeners, deserve better.

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The National League Stinks
June 26, 2006

Tupac Shakur was still alive. Bob Dole had realistic presidential aspirations. And everybody was doing the macarena.

That was summer 1996. The last time that the National League won a Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

You know, the National League. The league that hasn’t won a World Series game since 2003.

I’ve got nothing against the National League. In fact, I prefer their rules over the American League’s rules. I think the DH is ridiculous. (What’s even more ridiculous is that the leagues even have different rules. It would be like the AFC playing two-hand touch.)

But every year at this time, during interleague play, it just becomes more and more clear how much more competitive and flat-out better the teams in the American League are to the teams in the National League.

This season, only two National League teams have a winning record against the American League, the Mets and the Rockies. One of the so-called elite NL teams (if indeed there are any), the St. Louis Cardinals, just got swept by the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. And AL teams that were struggling for wins are having an easy time getting victories against NL teams that are considered to be in competition for playoff berths.

Nowhere is this disparity more obvious than in the case of the AL’s Kansas City Royals. The Royals have long been one of the league’s doormats. And no more so than this year as they currently own MLB’s worst overall record. But they are a stunning 9-3 against National League teams (including 2-1 against your Milwaukee Brewers). Hey, the Royals could be on top of the NL Central right now!

Or conversely, you wonder what the Brewers record would be if they were still an American League team. Maybe about 12-62. With those 12 wins coming against National League teams in interleague play. No wonder Bud Selig had them moved over to the NL. Could be the smartest thing he’s ever done.

Dwyane (Not Dwayne) Wade, Brewer Bias, and The End of U.S. World Cup Soccer
June 22, 2006

MVP By Slimmest of Margins
As much deserved praise as former Marquette standout and NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade is receiving after his remarkable series against the Mavericks, you have to wonder what would be written about him this week had his two missed free throws at the end of game six been more costly.

Say Jason Terry makes that three-pointer at the end of regulation to tie the game. Then say Dallas, fueled on by the home crowd, wins the game in OT. Then say that Dallas rides that momentum into game seven where they easily handle the shell-shocked Heat. Not hard to imagine Wade not being able to walk the streets of Miami without getting pelted with rocks and garbage. But as it played out, Wade is the most popular person in Miami since Phillip Michael Thomas.

I Can Appreciate Home Team Bias, But Come On . . .
During game one of the Tigers/Brewers series this week, either Daron Sutton or Bill Schroeder (or as I refer to them, the one who shills for The Good Feet Store and the other one) made a reference to how both teams had been improving, making it sound as if the Tigers and the Brewers had a fairly equivalent recent history.

Let’s see: In the last three years, the Brewers have had won-lost percentages of .420 (2003), .416 (2004), and .500 (2005.) As of this writing, the Brewers are at .493 for the 2006 season. Over the same period, the Tigers have been at .265, .444, and .438, and are right now sporting the best record in baseball with a .658 won-lost percentage. Seems like one team is actually turning it around while one team is hopelessly mired in mediocrity.

U.S. Soccer Team Down, Out, Forgotten About
So the United States is officially out of the World Cup after losing to a country whose name most Americans would probably confuse with a sexually transmitted disease. I would say that this is a terrible blow for the growth of soccer in this country, but it’s hard to imagine soccer being less popular here. Maybe if it was discovered that both the MLS and the World Cup were 100% funded by Al-Qaeda.

The good news for ABC and ESPN — leaders in World Cup soccer and National Spelling Bee coverage — is that the Netherlands are still in it. Seriously, have you seen Rudd van Nistelrooy attack the ball? Get your Rudd van Nistelrooy jersey now and thank me later. It’ll be your most prized article of clothing since that “Back Off Man, I’m A Ghostbuster” T-shirt you had in the eighth grade.

They Need It More Than Screech
June 16, 2006

Recently Dustin Diamond, the “actor” who played Screech on Saved By The Bell, went public with a plan to stop his Port Washington, Wisconsin house from being foreclosed: He is selling commemorative “Save My House” t-shirts for $15 each. He hopes to sell enough to raised the $250,000 needed.

I have limited sympathy for Screech. On the one hand, he will forever be known as one character and he has probably no chance of finding acting jobs that don’t somehow parody his Bayside High persona. But on the other, he has made some nice coin as Screech and if he had managed his money even remotely wisely, he wouldn’t have to stoop to this act of public begging. Did he ever think, after he and A.C. Slater and Zach Morris went their separate ways, of going to college and getting a real job. Worked for Dee from What’s Happening, who’s been a veterinarian for years now.

In short, I can think of many more worthy charities to donate $15 to than Urkel. I mean Screech. How about these sports figures? They need money for good reasons:

Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks owner needs a new haircut. Even Jackson Browne is starting to make fun of him.

Mark Attanasio. The Milwaukee Brewers owner needs money to fill huge holes in his starting pitching rotation caused by injuries to Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka. Problem is, what quality starting pitchers are available?

Rickie Weeks. The Brewers’ second baseman leads the MLB in errors. Maybe he needs a bigger glove. I’d suggest eye surgery, too, but he’s hitting well, so I guess he can see OK.

Tiger Woods. The golf superstar needs a vacation. It was heartbreaking to see him falter at the opening rounds of the U.S. Open, especially since you know he wanted to play in honor of his late father on Father’s Day.

Bruce Arena. The head coach of the U.S. soccer team will need funds to look for a new job following the Americans’ disastrous showing in this year’s World Cup. Bruce, ESPN and ABC didn’t pay millions of dollars to televise Iran vs. Angola. Without the U.S. team in the tournament, U.S. ratings will go from disappointing to lower than Emily’s Reasons Why Not.

Dirk Nowitzki. The Dallas Mavericks superstar needs to buy his shot back. Judging by the first four NBA Finals games, it’s missing. As is any semblance of competitiveness.

Ben Roethlisberger. Dude needs a motorcycle helmet. And some new teeth.

But hey, I would never tell you how to spend your money. So, if you want to help, go to www.getdshirts.com. But sorry, donations are not tax-deductible. Neither is the money you spent on those Saved By The Bell DVDs. And don’t lie. I know you have them.

Big Ben’s Big Mistake
June 13, 2006

There are many positives to take away from Monday’s car/motorcycle accident involving Ben Roethlisberger. Early indications are that Roethlisberger’s condition could have been much worse, that the surgery to repair multiple facial fractures went well, and that he should be able to resume his job as the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers by the time they open the NFL season on September 7 against the Miami Dolphins. (Big Ben vs. Daunte — two QBs trying to prove they can come back from injuries? Good opener, NFL and NBC.)

The bigger positive is the spotlight the accident shines on the importance for motorcyclists to wear helmets while riding. Roethlisberger was not wearing a helmet, and he has gone on record — despite warnings from his head coach and former Steeler QB Terry Bradshaw — as preferring to ride sans helmet. Hopefully multiple facial fractures, a broken jaw, and the knowledge that he could have suffered far worse injuries to his brain will cause him to rethink his position.

I’m not a big believer in denying people rights. I don’t agree with NFL teams including clauses in contracts that completely forbid their players from riding motorcycles (Browns TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. broke such a clause and lost $3 million when he was injured in a motorcycle accident in May 2005). I can even understand the liberating appeal of riding without a helmet. I just don’t think feeling the wind in your hair is worth the risk of feeling your brain leave your head after a head-on collision with a Chrysler New Yorker.

Undoubtedly Big Ben’s accident will result in NFL teams getting tougher on players who insist on riding motorcycles. Perhaps even a league-wide helmet mandate will result. But the best outcome would simply be an awareness among motorcycle riders of how senseless it is to ride without a helmet. No one is suggesting that motorcycle riders are less safe than other drivers, but cycle riders are more vulnerable to all of those inattentive drivers out there who operate their vehicles while talking on cell phones, eating McChickens, or just plain daydreaming.

I was surprised to learn that only 20 states (and D.C.) have a law that requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Wisconsin is not among them. Seems like it should be. (Can you imagine if this accident had happened to Brett Favre? The helmet law would be passed before Favre could be discharged from the hospital.)

Oh, the other positive that came out of this story? It forced ESPN to cease their World Cup coverage for a few minutes.

Life After Soccer
June 12, 2006

So the United States lost its World Cup opener convincingly to the Czech Republic, setting the stage for an early US exit from the tournament. I guess we’re supposed to feel disappointed. But no more than the folks at ABC and ESPN, who for some bizarre reason ponied up hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast 64 games of this incessantly unpopular sport.

Call me short-sighted, but if US ratings are lousy even when the American team is playing, what will it be when the US is eliminated and the schedule is full of matches between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia and Togo and Switzerland? Togo? I’m guessing the numbers will be just below what TV Land routinely sees for reruns of Good Times. Probably worse, because a lot more people love Esther Rolle than love Togo.

Of course, if they can get Suzy Kolber and a drunken Joe Namath to call the games, even I’ll tune in.

Marquette vs. Wisconsin in the NBA Finals
June 8, 2006

So it’s early June. The Brewers are languishing around the .500 mark. Yet another steroid scandal has hit Major League Baseball. The Stanley Cup playoffs are on, but you don’t get the Outdoor Life Network. And unless you’re hooked on Gameshow Marathon, there isn’t much on TV to watch or TiVo.

What do you do? Well, you might want to think about watching the NBA Finals, which start Thursday night. Not only is the matchup one of the most intriguing in years – neither the Miami Heat nor the Dallas Mavericks have ever been to the NBA Finals, so no one can complain about being sick of the Pistons, Lakers, or Spurs, but there is a distinct local angle for Wisconsin sports fans.

In his third season with the Miami Heat, former Marquette guard has emerged as one of the league’s most exciting players to watch. He even took a crack at Michael Jordan territory in Friday night’s deciding Game 6 of the East Finals against the Pistons when he played masterfully despite being stricken with the flu. Unfortunately for the Heat, Wade is still fighting the flu bug and Miami is going to need him if they hope to win the Finals. Fortunately for the Heat, if last Friday’s game is any indication, it will take a lot more than the flu to keep Wade from making major contributions to his team.

In his second season with the Mavericks, former Badger standout Devin Harris isn’t the breakout star that Wade is. But he doesn’t get the playing time that Wade gets, since owner Mark Cuban and head coach Avery Johnson have arguably the deepest team in the league, with Dirk Nowitzki as their undisputed leader. But when called upon, Harris has been delivering and he may be the biggest X-factor in these Finals.

Which team you root for may have a lot to do with whether you’re partial to Marquette or Wisconsin. Being an alum, I usually side with the Badgers, but here I’ll be pulling for Wade. He’s much more crucial to his team’s success than Harris is – Dallas could win without Harris, but Miami can’t without a healthy and hot Wade.

My pick? Miami in 6. Wade is outstanding, coach Pat Riley towers over Mavs coach Johnson as far as Finals experience, and last I checked, Miami had a player by the name of Shaquille O’Neal, who also knows a thing or two about winning championships. O’Neal wants to prove he can win without Kobe, and he will. But should be a great series. And you don’t need to find Outdoor Life Network on your channel lineup to watch it.

The Mallards
June 2, 2006

Pardon me for being tardy in pimping the start of the Madison Mallards season. The Mallards got off to a less-than-quacktastic (sorry) start though, as they dropped their first game to the Thunder Bay Border Cats 6-1.

I have absolutely nothing against the Mallards or their league and I can appreciate their place in the entertainment spectrum of the city. But I get a little tired of hearing people wax effusive at how inexpensive it is to take in a Mallards game at Warner Park. Usually these comments are accompanied by complaints about the expense of going to Brewers games.

Well, as my grandfather would say (at least when he was sober), “you get what you pay for.” Last time I checked the team was in the amateur North Woods League and is comprised of players who often aren’t able to make even minor league rosters. Think of who you can possibly see play when you make the trek to Miller Park: Besides Brewers Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Geoff Jenkins, you could have the opportunity to see Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, or even Roger Clemens. Take in a Mallards game and you might see — well, Danny Dressman or Bobby Hubbard or even Jordan Wolf. Nice guys probably, but no one likely to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. And I’m sorry, but Mallards vs. the Waterloo Bucks or Rochester Honkers just doesn’t excite me like Brewers vs. Cubs or Brewers vs. Cardinals.

And by the way, you can get into Miller Park for $12, so it’s not like we’re talking about the difference between buying an iPod and buying a ViewMaster. And if you’re going to complain about the gas money spent driving from the Madison area to Miller Park, why not make a whole day of it and take the kids to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum or go to the Mitchell Park Conservatory? Then you’ll get your $2.89 a gallon worth. Or stop at the Johnson Creek outlet stores on the way. Guys, your lady friend will appreciate it, and maybe she’ll even let you stop off at the Arby’s next door for a Beef ‘N Cheddar.

Again, if you love the Mallards, more power to you. But just don’t compare the experience to going to a Brewers game at Miller Park. I have a baseball-obsessed friend who to me perfectly sums up how seriously you can compare the two: He goes to many Brewers games every year and each time always arrives early and stays far after the final out. He attended the Mallards opener . . . sort of. Actually, he just stuck around long enough to get his free stuff the Mallards gave out on the first night and promptly left. Had to get home to watch Baseball Tonight and see what was going on in the real baseball world.