Archive for July, 2009

Brett Favre and ESPN’s Plan Of Global Dominance
July 26, 2009

Ronnie, You Rat!

Ronnie, You Rat!

Anybody who knows me knows that during the summer, I spend three glorious hours a week watching CBS’s Big Brother. I make no apologies for it, as I find the program endlessly entertaining.

However, this summer — thanks to a “gift” from DirecTV — I’ve been able to watch Showtime 2’s Big Brother After Dark, which is a nightly, three-hour  unedited and uncensored live feed of the Big Brother house from 11 PM-2 AM CST.

After watching it for just a few minutes, it’s quite clear that Big Brother After Dark is the dullest program I’ve seen since The New Zoo Revue. I now have newfound respect for the loggers and editors of the CBS version of Big Brother.

Like those Big Brother editors, who every week perform a small miracle in filtering through endless hours of unwatchable material to pull out three hours of pure gold, I’ve sifted through endless games, highlights, and sports-related articles to bring you only the most interesting weekly (OK, give or take a few days) news. 

So here we go: 

1. Brett Favre. A few months ago, I wrote several blogs about Favre’s possible return to the NFL to play for the Vikings. I eventully got complaints from some readers that my blog had too much Favre, similar to  my doctor telling me that my diet had too much soda. So I eased up on both. What happened? Page views for my non-Favre blogs dropped and I turned into a narcoleptic from caffeine withdrawal.  So from here on out, it’s all Favre and all soda all the time!

Anyway, there is now some spectulation that Favre, who weeks ago seemed poised to become the best old-fart Vikings quarterback since Randall Cunningham, is having second (or third or fourth or fifth) thoughts.

ESPN reported that if it wasn’t for potential teammates Steve Hutchison, Adrian Peterson, and Jared Allen encouraging him via text messages to join the team, he might already have decided to stay retired. (I’m impressed that the 39-year-old Favre knows how to text; I’m younger and I have no idea.)

So what’s the hold up? Favre’s surgically-repaired throwing arm apparently feels fine, his throwing motion since the surgery (according to Vikings coach Brad Childress) is good, the Vikings obviously want him, and it’s doubtful that Favre’s competitive fire has completely extinguished over the last couple of weeks.

Methinks that with the physical obstacle cleared (mostly, I’m sure last year’s performance has Favre still wondering whether he can actually withstand another 16 weeks of games, Favre is now finally contemplating the obvious question of “can I really play for the Vikings?”

Never mind that the Packers front office has given Favre their blessing,  never mind that most Packer fans have moved on to Mister Rodgers’sNeighborhood, never mind that the Vikings system seems a perfect fit for Favre, never mind that Favre says that playing for Minnesota is no big deal, that “it’s just football.”  

I believe Favre is seriously contemplating his legacy and is finally realizing that playing for the Vikings is not only a big deal but also a double-edged sword; if he can take the team to the Super Bowl (remember, the Vikings somehow managed a trip to the postseason last year despite being saddled with the two-headed goofball machine of Gus Frerotte and Tavaris Jackson at QB), then he will be the toast of the Twin Cities and Packer Nation will burn his enemy Ted Thompson in effigy for letting Favre go.

If Favre bombs in rival Minnesota, then the return will be an lifelong embarrassment for him and he will go to his grave enduring jokes about it, similar to how people still make fun of  Shelley Long for leaving Cheers or deride John Travolta for his series of talking baby movies.

I still say Favre puts on his purple jersey and plays — his decision is expected to come no later than July 30, the day that the Vikings open training camp — but I was wrong about the timing of his original retirement and I was wrong about the Packers taking him back when he changed his mind a year ago. I would not be surprised to be wrong again.

2. ESPN Conquers World. I read with interest this piece regarding the growth of ESPN’s local Web sites. According to the article, it has taken only three months for ESPN Chicago to become Chicago’s most popular sports Web site, and ESPN will soon add new sites focusing on New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles sports, with more to come.

Now, I love ESPN. I watch games on ESPN, I get much of my sports happenings from ESPN News, and I listen to multiple ESPN podcasts every week (PTI is just as good audio-only, and of course, there’s no commercials). But I also hate ESPN. More precisely, I hate its power. (Put in Big Brother 11 terms, ESPN is the “athletes’ clique” of the house.)

While plans apparently aren’t in the works for an “ESPN Wisconsin” Web site, you’d have to think that if the New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas sites are as successful as the Chicago site has been, then the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader In Sports” would have Wisconsin high up on its Web expansion list.

Why? Well, living here, we know that the passion that Wisconsinites have for the Badgers, Packers, and Brewers is unparalleled. And we also know how special our relationships to our teams are. Well, ESPN knows it too: Recently ESPN The Magazine released their annual “Ultimate Standings” of sports franchises, in which teams were ranked on how much they “give back to the fans.”

In the standings, both the Brewers (at seventh) and Packers (at 13) ranked in the top 15; Pittsburgh was the only sports market to have two franchises ranked higher. (Yes, I’m counting “Wisconsin” as a single sports market, and no, these rankings did not rate collegiate teams.) 

So Wisconsin seems like an ideal location for ESPN to target with one of its “local” sites. Here’s where I get all indignant and rally for my readers to support their local sports columnists and reporters, which I unwaveringly do. Trouble is, due to recent cuts, there are less local sports columnists and reporters to support.

Do you live in Madison and want to read a local reporter’s take on the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the most fervently-supported franchises in all of baseball? Sorry, since laying off long-time reporter Vic Feuerherd earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal can only offer up generic AP stories. (I know several fans that would probably submit more compelling recaps for free.)

As a fan of several Wisconsin sports reporters and columnists, I hope that any inroads ESPN may attempt to make in supplying so-called “local” coverage here will be met with either indifference or outright anger. But what ESPN wants, ESPN usually gets. And Wisconsin media outlets may not be able or willing to offer much resistance.

3. UFL Misunderstood, Still Lame. In my last entry, I mocked the United Football League for being a colossal waste of time and money. Since then I heard a very interesting interview (yes, on an ESPN podcast. Damn it!) with the commissioner of the UFL who crystalized the goals of the league.

Instead of working against the NFL (which he acknowledged was a losing battle), he said the league will be working in tandem with the NFL in terms of developing talent and providing a place for second-tier players (like J.P. Losman, who recently signed up) to acquire more playing time.

Makes sense. I still won’t be watching.

4. Erin Andrews. Speaking of ESPN, this Erin Andrews peephole Internet video blather reminds me of why I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet similiar to my relationship with ESPN. 

Like most people, I can now no more imagine life without the Internet then I can imagine life without the microwave or indoor plumbing. But the power of the Internet to destroy someone’s privacy is scary. But not as scary as Joyce DeWitt’s mug shot.

Tell Mr. Furley I Used This Months Rent For Bail Money!

Tell Mr. Furley I Used This Month's Rent For Bail Money!

Oh, before I go, Monday (July 27) is my thirteenth wedding anniversary. Thanks for putting up with me for thirteen great years, Keri. Your patience is remarkable. Happy anniversary.

A Month Of Sports Blog Entries
July 12, 2009

Hey, did you know that July was National Blog Posting Month? The only trouble is that apparently to properly commemorate National Blog Posting Month, you’re supposed to post to your blog every day of the month.

Well, it’s too late for that, so I thought I would do a month’s worth of postings right now. Hey, if Pat Sajak and Drew Carey can tape a month of game shows in a few days and then spend the rest of the month filling in for Regis, I figure I can attempt the same sort of accelerated work schedule. (Although I may have some trouble with the filling in for Regis part, unless Sajak or Bernadette Peters gets sick and they get very, very desperate.)

July 1:  Have you heard about this new United Football League starting up in October 2009? If not, I’m not surprised. Unlike previous failed attempts to start up competing football leagues (remember the XFL?) , this one seems like it’s not even trying to succeed. They will play games during the regular football season, guaranteeing them that football fans will be too busy watching the NFL or college to care. And they only have four teams!? Four teams?! Not much excitement in that schedule: “Well, let’s see. We play New York, then Orlando. Then we take on New York and then it’s Orlando again . . .” I think the body of Karl Malden keeps a more interesting schedule than that.

July2: One thing I do like about the UFL: The head coaches. We’re talking NFL rejects Dennis Green, Ted Cottrell, Jim Hastlett, and Jim Fassel. Hey, when this UFL thing folds about five days after it starts, can VH1 sign these guys up as potential suitors on Daisy of Love?

July 3:  July 3 is my wife’s birthday. How did I celebrate my wife’s birthday? By renewing my DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket package after I promised her I was going to cancel it. Sorry, ladies, I’m off the market.

July 4: Our nation’s birthday. Too busy listening to Lee Greenwood to blog.

July 5: Dr. James Andrews, who repaired Brett Favre’s torn biceps tendon, tells the media that Favre “wants to play and he wants to play for the Minnesota Vikings.” Favre’s eventual signing with the Vikings is now officially the most sure-fire sure thing in sports since the last time Favre came out of retirement.

July 6: It is reported that Favre and his wife have put a down payment on a condo in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina and that the Vikings will force single-game ticket buyers of the Viking/Packer tilt to also buy Vikings/Chiefs preseason game tickets, which would ordinarily have the same street value of tickets to a Bonnie Hunt Showtaping. Wait, and Favre’s signing is still not official?

July 7: Brewers GM Doug Melvin publicly rips into Ryan Braun for his recent comments. Later that day, the Brewers lose to St. Louis 5-0. Let’s see: zero runs, but it’s the pitching that’s the problem. Got it.

July 8: Police confirm that the death of Steve McNair and girlfriend Sahel Kazemiwas a murder-suicide. Among the recent crop of deaths from Michael Jackson to Billy Mays to Farrah Fawcett, McNair’s is undoubtedly the most disturbing celebrity death of all.

July 9: Realize I’ve forgotten to mention that the Milwaukee Bucks majorly screwed up by losing Charlie Villanueva to the Detroit Pistons. But reporting that the Bucks have made a personnel move is like reporting that Eddie Murphy has made a bad movie. Just sort of loses its excitement after the hundredth time.

July 10: The Brewers lose 12-8 to the Los Angeles Dodgers after surrendering six runs in the tenth inning. Huh, maybe Ryan Braun was actually on to something . . .

July 11: A day after the bullpen melts down against LA, it then holds the Dodgers scoreless over four innings to secure a 6-3 win for Milwaukee. Wait, I get it, it’s Carlos Villanueva. He’s the problem. OK. Glad we figured that out.

July 12: Oh, the Tour de France is on. I was going to watch it, but TV Land has a Hogan’s Heroes marathon on. The decision which to watch? Not even close.

July 13: We’re at the MLB All-Star break. Here’s what I think about the midseason classic (no, not that BS Survivor clip show they run every cycle), spread out over several days of thought: One, let the fans vote. Period. I know that fans are generally going to be biased and uninformed, but who cares? It’s the fans’ game.

July 14: Related to giving the vote entirely to the fans, let’s drop this crap about the game meaning who gets home field advantage in October. It’s utterly ridiculous that the question of whether game one of the World Series is played in Los Angeles or Boston should be resting on the shoulders of the Royals representative batting in the bottom of the ninth. It’s an exhibition game and it should be devoid of any meaning apart from its inherent entertainment value. Like America’s Funniest Home Videos.

July 15: If MLB insists on the All-Star Game counting for anything, then you have to let the managers manage the game like they would a real game. Which would mean a lot of players not getting in the game and a lot of guys complaining about having their time wasted. And then there’s a myriad of situations with the pitching if the game is to be played like a real game. It’s just not worth the hassle.

July 16: I know it’s summer, but some kids aren’t allowed to stay up as late as they want in July any more than they are in October. Can’t we start the All-Star game — a game which I believe appeals more to young fans than anyone else — at a reasonable time, like 6 PM Central? I know that presents difficulties with TV coverage, so why not have it on Sunday, with the All-Star break being Saturday-Monday instead of Monday-Wednesday? I mean, the NFL and NBA All-Star games may be the most meaningless games on the planet, but at least the leagues know enough to schedule them on the weekend.

July 17: Speaking of the All-Star Game, shouldn’t All-Star Game announcer Joe Buck have been banned from television after that disasterous HBO show of his? That was the worst thing HBO has aired since D.C. Cab.

July 18: Time to look back on my preseason baseball predictions to see how I’m doing at the All-Star break. Let’s do a division a day: I picked the Cubs to win the NL Central with the Cardinals as a team that could surprise. Thanks largely to injuries — pitcher Ryan Dempster and catcher Geovany Soto being the latest casualties — the Cubs are in third place. Looks like my team to surprise — the Cardinals — now have the inside track. The Brewers? They can do a lot of things OK, but seemingly little very well. I just don’t see it.

July 19: I picked the Phillies to repeat in the NL East and they’ve currently got a four-game lead. Although their pitching stinks, I don’t see any other team in the division as a threat. I feel good about this pick.

July 20: In the biggest no-brainer of the divisional picks, I went with the Dodgers. They’ve currently got the best record in baseball. But the Giants are a good story.

July 21: I picked the Cleveland Indians to win the AL Central. The same Indians that currently have the second-worst record in baseball. I should probably have my sports blogger license taken away from me for that one. I like my “surprise” team, the Tigers, to pull away with this one in the second half.

July 22: In the toughest division in baseball, I went with the Red Sox to take the AL East. But with the Yankees lurking at only two games back, I’m not ready to call this one yet by a long shot.

July 23: I went with the Angels, who lead the division by only 1/2 game over the Texas Rangers, who somehow are 10 games over .500 despite my thinking that they had been contracted several years ago. I think the Angels will finish it off.

July 24: I picked Boston over Philadelphia in the World Series. It was a boring pick then, and it’s a boring pick now. But it still seems logical, a heck of a lot more logical than say the CBS series Harper’s Island. I’ll stick with it.

July 25: With training camp a week away, the Detroit Lions will have been mathematically eliminated from the 2009 NFL postseason. Hey, if Matthew Stafford wins one game, he’s taken his team to another level. I don’t think a number one pick overall has ever faced less pressure.

July 26: It’s Bratwurst bobble head day at Miller Park. A bobble head devoted to a sausage? Nothing like furthering those stereotypes about Wisconsinites. (But seriously, if you’re going, let me know. I can trade you a Barrel Man bobble head.)

July 27: My wedding anniversary. A reminder to self to spend more on my wife than I spent on the NFL Sunday Ticket package. (See July 3 entry.)

July 28: Why couldn’t they have made February National Blog Posting Month?

July 29:  It’s the MLS All-Star Game! Woo-hoo! Wait, that “S” stands for “Soccer”? Oh, forget it . . .

July 30: Brett Favre spotted at White Castle in St. Paul. An official signing announcement is expected anyday now . . .

July 31: Trade deadline in baseball. Will Ryan Braun get the pitching help he asked for? Methinks Braun will experience the same crushing disappointment I experienced on Christmas of 1981 when I expected that Atari 2600 and got a “Quiz Wiz” instead.

Ryan’s (False) Hope
July 6, 2009

Greetings, sports fans. I have returned from a nasty back injury that hasn’t exactly 100% healed but I thought I’d better return so I could give all of you that incisive Tour de France analysis that I know you all crave like a drunk craves a White Castle chicken ring sandwich at bar time.  

Speaking of back injuries, you remember back in 2004 when Sammy Sosa got placed on the DL because a pair of violent sneezes brought on back spasms? Remember what a boob we all thought he was because of that? Well, thanks to Mr. Sosa and my sensitive back, I worry every time I have to sneeze.

That’s why I never pluck my nose hairs or look directly into the sun: The potential for sneezing fits and resultant back spasms is off the charts, almost as strong as the potential that I will now cry whenever I see Captain EO. Good thing the 3-D movie theater that I had installed in my hyperbaric chamber is soundproof.

I also took advantage of my debilitating pain to use some of my furlough time — or as my warden used to call it — work release time. 

And after reading Ryan Braun’s comments over the weekend, I’m wondering if some of his teammates — particularly his pitchers — wish that his mouth would take a furlough.

For those of you too caught up in mourning Karl Malden to know what Braun said, on Sunday after the Brew Crew were slaughtered 8-2 by their hated rival the Chicago Cubs, Braun laid into Milwaukee’s starting pitching, claiming that playing “constantly behind in games” is “not easy and not fun.”

It’s a shame when you make only $6,373 a day and can’t even have fun doing it.

Now I have no idea how Braun’s teammates react to statements like this one or the one he made early last season after he questioned the team’s heart after a five-game losing streak. (Yes, they improved after, but methinks playing the next group of games against the Pirates and Nationals helped more than Braun’s soundbites.) And obviously what his teammates think about what Braun says is a heck of a lot more important than what I think.

But if I was a pitcher in that clubhouse, I’d be a little annoyed at the pointing of fingers, especially since in the last eight games that so-called vaunted offense that Braun represents was shut out twice and batted a paltry .250 while going 6-for-28 with runners in scoring position.

But clearly Braun feels that lousy pitching is to blame for losses such as last Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to the Mets and Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Cubs, two games in which Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Suppan pitched a combined 14 innings and gave up a combined two earned runs.

Look, it’s hard to dump too much on Braun, who is generally productive enough and likable enough that if he had accepted ABC’s offer to be The Bachelor, even I — who swore off dating shows after wasting hours on Joe Millionaire several years ago — would probably watch it.

And you’d be challenged to find too many Brewers fans who in essence disagree with Braun. No one I know believes that this team can ride Mike Burns, Seth McClung, or a returning Manny Parra to a .500 record, much less a postseason berth.  

But Braun’s kidding himself if he believes that there’s a miracle cure out there for the Brewers’ pitching woes a la CC last year’s acquisition of CC Sabathia. The simple fact is that the best bets in this year’s lousy market tend to be aging veterans with injury issues like Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Ben Sheets, not pitchers in their prime like Sabathia.

The best hope that the Brewers have is that lightning strikes twice and the stumbling, bumbling, crumbling Cleveland Indians decide to dangle Sabathia’s old pitching teammate Cliff Lee as trade bait.

The good news for Braun — and Brewer fans — is that should Lee become available, it’s not hard to see Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio making a run at him like they did with Sabathia.

And that’s the key: Braun is lucky enough not to play for the Pirates, but for a team whose management has proven is not afraid to make its team better when the right possibility presents itself.

Unfortunately, should a pitcher of Lee’s caliber become available, who does he replace in the rotation? Parra? Burns? McClung? The addition of someone like Lee would give Milwaukee basically three quality starters, and that’s including Suppan, who, despite his recent successes, I trust about as much as I trust my two-year-old daughter not to bite me when I’m not looking. Which is not much.

And if they would make a move to shore up the pitching rotation, Melvin and Attanasio would still be left with a team whose batting average is solidly in the bottom third of the majors. Which isn’t too promising.

I can appreciate Braun’s craving for pitching — the NL Central is right there for the taking. Unfortunately, it’s right there for the taking for pretty much all of the teams. The Cubs in particular look to improve the most as they get some key starters — Aramis Ramirez in particular — back from the DL.

Satisyfing Braun’s pitching craving could amount to little more than that drunk satisfying his White Castle craving — momentarily satisfying, but ultimately a waste of time and money.