March 3, 2014
Masahiro Tanaka debuts with Yankees: The New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka had a strong debut for the team in Spring Training. Pitching two scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tanaka struck out three batters allowing only two singles. The $155 million man also did not allow a walk and while it’s only Spring Training, he at least looked the part of a potential ace in his brief debut. Investing so much money in him, the Yankees need Tanaka to pay off handsomely and help the team to the postseason.
Allen Iverson’s jersey retired: Allen Iverson’s NBA career ended after the 2009-10 season and the Philadelphia 76ers point guard had his jersey retired by the franchise last week. Iverson was one of the best players in his generation and the honor was well deserved. He was an 11-time All-Star, Most Valuable Player Award winner, two-time All-Star Game MVP, and he led the 76ers to an NBA Finals appearance. The guard topped 30 points per game in four different seasons in Philadelphia and was one of the franchise’s best scorers.
Richard Petty challenges Danica Patrick to race: Iconic race car driver Richard Petty made headlines recently when he said that the only way Danica Patrick could win a NASCAR race was if other drivers stayed home. Petty, though, took things a step further saying he could beat Danica in a race – today. He hasn’t raced in more than 20 years but said he would take the challenge of racing her. Regardless of who would actually win, Petty just comes off looking a bit foolish in all of this. Nearly 80 years old now, he’s essentially challenged Patrick to a head-to-head race to prove he’s a better driver. If it ever happened, I’d stand in line to tune in. Petty, though, just comes off as looking like a bully picking a fight simply for the sake of doing so – and he’d lose.
NBA Draft change could be on the horizon: New NBA commissioner Adam Silver is throwing around some ideas for potential changes in the league. One such alteration could be the way players are drafted. Silver is reportedly considering a move that would give the top pick to all 30 teams in a rotation format. Under the current format, the worst teams are thrown into a lottery and given the top selections. The idea, while intriguing, is simply too flawed. Not only could players adjust their entry points into the league by staying in college shorter or longer in order to be picked by the team they would prefer to play for, but it also would allow the best teams to widen the gap and become even more dominant. The Lottery isn’t a perfect system since franchises often can tank to secure a better chance at a higher pick, but it’s a better solution than giving the best teams top spots. Just imagine a stacked Miami Heat team getting the No. 1 overall selection this year, for example.
Wichita State finishes regular season undefeated: The Wichita State Shockers’ college basketball team finished their regular season undefeated. The team had some close calls along the way, including a three-point overtime win against Missouri State, but have mostly won their games comfortably. The 31-0 Shockers are a good team, but it’s hard to be completely sold on them as an elite one. The Shockers don’t have a single Top 25 win to their credit and even the major-conference foes they’ve faced, Alabama and Tennessee, aren’t having great years. Finishing undefeated with any schedule is a supreme achievement but Wichita State remains largely untested at this point.
Blues land Ryan Miller: The St. Louis Blues swung a deal with the Buffalo Sabres for star goaltender Ryan Miller last week. Miller and Steve Ott head to the Blues in exchange for a package, including Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier and two draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2015. That seems like a lot to give up and on the surface, but Miller could turn the Blues’ title hopes into reality. Only time will tell if the deal was a good one, though. His 2.70 goals against average ranks only 28th in the NHL and while his .923 save percentage is good for tenth, he also hasn’t recorded even a shutout all year. Still, as Buffalo’s franchise leader in wins and a former Vezina Trophy winner, Miller still has a reputation of a top goalie.
Basketball court storming fiasco: A college basketball game ended with a court storm … and then a brawl.
Ryan Braun homers in first Spring Training at bat: Following his suspension for his violation of drug use by Major League Baseball, it’s safe to say that Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun wants to prove some doubters wrong. He got off to a good start with a home run in his first at bat in his first game back in a Spring Training game. Braun has a difficult road ahead and will never win back all of his fans, but he can put a lot of the negative talk behind him by having a big season. Winning cures a lot of ills and if Braun helps the Brewers do that, the majority of the team’s fans will welcome him back.
February 24, 2014
Olympics: The Winter Olympics in Sochi concluded last week with the U.S. finishing second overall in the medal count with 28. Host country Russia topped all countries with 33, including 13 gold medals. There were a myriad of disappointments for Americans, but none perhaps greater than the hockey teams falling short of their goals. The women’s team held a late 2-0 lead over Canada in the final before giving up two late goals and falling in overtime, 3-2. The men lost a disappointing 1-0 game to Canada in the semifinals and were crushed 5-0 by Finland for the bronze medal.
Daytona 500: After a delay of more than six hours, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won NASCAR’s most prestigious race, the Daytona 500, on Sunday. The event has seen its fair share of weather delays, but the fact that it was pushed back to the evening seems to suit more fans, anyway. For some reason, the race under the lights seems like the way the go.
NBA Trade Deadline: The NBA Trade deadline came and went with a flurry of activity last week. No move was bigger than the Indiana Pacers trading away Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner. The Pacers dealt a legitimate talent in Granger, but are also in a better position with the deal. In Turner, they get a younger player who is doing more this season at a lower price. Trading away a former franchise cornerstone was difficult, but Granger was struggling through a dismal season and became expendable. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers getting even better but they did with this swap.
San Francisco Giants bring back Barry Bonds: Former slugger Barry Bonds is back with the Giants – as a Spring Training instructor. Bonds’ return will raise some eyebrows due to his past alleged steroid use, but the fact that he will only be around in the Spring means he can likely dodge those issues for the most part. If Bonds ever wants to become a full-fledged coach like Mark McGwire in St. Louis, he may need to confront the steroids topic head on. For now, though, he can offer his advice and experience for a few months and then head back out of the spotlight.
Jelena Jankovic is not happy: Tennis player Jelena Jankovic was in the middle of receiving a beatdown at the hands of Serena Williams and promptly threw a temper tantrum in the middle of the match. Then, the announcer told her to shut up. So there’s that.
Syracuse losses: After a season filled with close wins and a few miracle finishes, the luck of Syracuse’s basketball team has run out for the time being. Fresh off incredulous victories against Pitt and North Carolina State, the No. 1 Orange lost two straight college basketball games to Boston College and Duke. The loss against the Eagles was particularly ugly as Boston College is one of the worst teams in the ACC. Syracuse still has a very good chance of landing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the team clearly has some more work to do – and with three of their final four games on the road, things won’t be easy for the Orange down the stretch.
Got jokes?: No? Matt Lauer does.
Jason Collins signs with Brooklyn Nets: The Brooklyn Nets made a bit of NBA history by signing center Jason Collins to the roster. Collins became the first openly gay athlete in the league to sign and then appear in a game over the weekend. With Collins and Missouri defensive standout Michael Sam set to join the NFL, the doors appear to be opening up in professional sports for gay male athletes.
Heat win statement game over Thunder: With all due respect to the Indiana Pacers who currently lead the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat game against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week was a matchup of what could be the league’s two best teams. The Heat haven’t been as dominant this season as they were last year when they won 66 games, but they continue to prove that winning a third straight NBA title is well within their grasp. The Thunder are a trendy pick to win it all this season, but the Heat walloped them (in Oklahoma City, no less), 103-81. Lebron James suffered a broken nose in the game, but the victory sent a clear message to the rest of the league – Miami remains the team to beat.
Jim Harbaugh trade: Some interesting news broke from Pro Football Talk, who reported that the San Francisco 49ers nearly traded head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns for draft picks. Coaches have been traded before, but it just doesn’t happen that often. And with Harbaugh leading the Niners to three consecutive NFC Championship games, it seems a bit ridiculous that San Francisco would want to part with their head coach – despite the fact that there appear to be contract squabbles between the two sides. Nevertheless, the report broke, and Harbaugh and 49ers’ CEO Jed York both vehemently denied it. Still, Pro Football Talk isn’t a fly-by-night organization and it’s difficult to imagine them getting their facts mixed up. Generally, where there’s smoke there’s fire. If nothing else, it’s possible the two sides at least discussed the idea.
LSU gets commitment … from 14-year old: You’ve probably heard of committing early, but LSU made some headlines for accepting the commitment of a 14-year old quarterback to play football for them. In 2018. Zadock Dinkelman received a scholarship offer and committed to the school despite never playing a down of varsity football. For what it’s worth, Dinkelman is the nephew of former NFL quarterback Ty Detmer, but the news is still a bit difficult to digest. The idea of parents allowing a 14-year old child to make adult decisions reeks of foolishness and it’s even more puzzling that schools have the ability to offer scholarships to kids so young. Still, as long as the NCAA allows it, this type of thing will continue to happen as coaches try to beat each other on the recruiting trail.
February 17, 2014
Winter Olympics – The Winter Olympics continued last week and the United States is holding its own in the overall medal count. As of Sunday, the Americans were in a tie for second place with Russia with 16 total medals. The Netherlands led the way with 17, including five gold medals. One intriguing story line is that of the U.S. men’s speed skating team. The ballyhooed unit was expected to bring home several medals, but as of Sunday, the team was still looking for their first piece of hardware. Several skaters complained about the suits designed for the Olympics and that brought about a change to an older version. That didn’t help matters immediately, though, as the U.S. is still without a speed skating medal after dropping the 1,500 meter race.
NBA All-Star Weekend – The NBA held their All-Star weekend and as usual, there was the standard amount of shenanigans. The highlights on Saturday night were a reformatted three-point shootout and dunk contest. The events, along with the skills contest, were part of an East-West team format that had its highs and lows. The fact that the players individually had to work together was intriguing, but it was a bit counterproductive since the highlight of those weekend contests is to spotlight individual achievements by individual players. Beyond even that, the new dunk format, which featured a freestyle round and one-on-one battles, just confused even the NBA’s own players. Marco Belinelli took home the three-point shootout title while John Wall was named the top dunker. The weekend concluded in the defensive struggle that was the East’s 163-155 victory. The Cavs’ Kryie Irving took home MVP honors after scoring 31 points and recording 14 assists.
Derek Jeter’s final season – New York Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter announced that he will retire at the end of this season. The decision means the future Hall of Famer will have played his entire career as a Yankee. Jeter will turn 40 this year but as his 2012 season proved, he’s still capable of not only contributing, but thriving. At 38, he turned in one of his best seasons, batting .316 and leading the league with 216 hits. Beaten down by injuries, though, Jeter had a 2013 to forget, appearing in only 17 games. While it doesn’t sound like a change of heart is in the cards, if Jeter goes on to another 2012-like season, what then? I’m not expecting Jeter to go back on his word, but a big season might make it that much harder to step away.
Pigs can’t fly … but they can surf!: Um … yeah
Jadeveon Clowney says college athletes should be paid – Former defensive star for South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney, was the latest to speak out about college athletes being paid money to play. Clowney said in a recent interview that he might have stayed in school for another season if he would have received money. The argument is a complex one and while it makes sense to some degree for athletes to be compensated beyond a scholarship, opening that can of worms isn’t something the NCAA should be interested in. How would you determine which athletes get what amount of money? What about athletes of non-revenue sports that work just as hard? What about programs that can’t afford to pay players? The idea of paying players creates just too many hurdles and would shift the competitive balance of college sports even more out of whack.
Roy Oswalt retires – Pitcher Roy Oswalt ended his career, announcing his retirement from Major League Baseball last week. The three-time All-Star won at least 14 games seven times and finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award in five different seasons. Oswalt was one of the game’s underappreciated hurlers and is only 36, but the retirement makes sense at this point. He hasn’t been a serviceable pitcher since 2011 when he was 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA with the Phillies. Oswalt struggled badly in 2012 with a move to the American League pitching for the Texas Rangers, going 4-3 with a 5.80 ERA. He went back to the National League hoping to jumpstart his career with the Colorado Rockies, but was even worse last year with an 0-6 record and an 8.63 ERA. Still, Oswalt finishes with 163 wins and a 3.36 career ERA, and he was one of the best pitchers of the 2000s.
Shut your mouth – A South Korean basketball coach apparently heard enough from one of his players. His solution? Force the player to tape his own mouth shut. On TV. For real.
Orange keep rolling – Syracuse’s dream basketball season continued with a pair of dramatic wins this week. The Orange had two narrow escapes with nailbiting wins over Pitt and North Carolina State. Syracuse remained undefeated snatching a win from the Panthers on a Tyler Ennis buzzer-beater from well beyond the three-point line earlier in the week. Trailing by one on Saturday with only about ten seconds to play, the Orange stole an inbounds pass from the Wolfpack and scored a late layup to win the game. Syracuse’s season has included a string of miracle finishes and at some point, you have to wonder if or when it will catch up to them. At 25-0, the Orange will just keep riding this streak for as long as they can.
Matt Kemp not a backup – Los Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Matt Kemp made some waves last week when he said he wasn’t a fourth outfielder. The team has an interesting decision to make now that Kemp is healthy since they still have Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier. The Dodgers have no doubt looked to trade one of the four players, but likely haven’t found a deal they like. It’s really a good problem to have if you’re Los Angeles but the Dodgers would still be better served by trading one of the four since keeping everyone will cause one of them to be unhappy and they can use a deal to bolster a weak spot on their team. Plenty of teams are looking for quality outfielders and the guess here is that someone gets dealt this season … if not before it even begins.
February 10, 2014
Winter Olympics open for business: The Winter Olympics began in Sochi last and while the talk in the early part of the week was focused on hotel rooms and some negative talk of the host city, that was quickly forgotten once the games started. The U.S. wrapped up the weekend with a solid start, winning two gold medals and four overall, sitting in second in the medal count behind only Norway and in a tie with the Netherlands.
Sochi Opening Ceremony fail: Four out of five ain’t bad!
Michael Sam announces he is gay: The NFL will in all likelihood have its first openly gay player next season as Missouri All-American Michael Sam made his historic announcement over the weekend. His interview could affect his draft stock, obviously, with some GM’s perhaps wanting to avoid the attention he would bring to their team. However, his talent won’t be overlooked and the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year will almost certainly be selected.
National Signing Day: College football’s National Signing Day came and went on Wednesday and the big winners were again the SEC teams. The conference had seven of the top ten recruiting classes according to ESPN and the rich just keep getting richer. The ACC, including the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, made some headway, with three top 12 classes (Miami and Clemson were the others). But overall, it’s still the SEC’s world.
Maurice Cheeks ousted in Detroit: The Maurice Cheeks era in Detroit was indeed a quick one. The former player and current coach was let go by the club after only 50 games this season. While the Pistons aren’t having a great year, the move was a curious one as even at only 21-29, Detroit sat a mere ½ game out of the playoffs at the time of the firing. Whoever inherits the reins will be getting a team with some potential. With Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond, the team has solid young talent, and players like Josh Smith and Rodney Stuckey provide some quality depth. However, even in the weak Eastern Conference, the Pistons still are a couple of players away from making any serious noise until their young stars develop a bit more.
Tracy McGrady trying hand at baseball: That title isn’t a typo – former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady is hoping to play professional baseball. The basketball star played some baseball in high school, but yeah, that’s about it. The first thing you should know about this is that it’s not a Michael Jordan-sized attempt. Jordan went into the Chicago White Sox’ minor league system in the hopes that he could reach the majors. McGrady will be trying to pitch for the Sugar Land Skeeters – the same team that gave Roger Clemens the opportunity to pitch for a few games in the past. The Skeeters are an independent team not affiliated with any major league club and even a successful stint there isn’t likely to land T-Mac on an MLB roster.
Nine out of Ten: Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Martin says he wasn’t surprised at the team’s dominance over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl last week. During an interview, Martin boasted that the team could probably beat Denver 90 out of 100 times with the Broncos maybe getting “lucky those other ten times.” Martin could surely learn to respect his opponent a bit more and while the Seahawks easily handled the Broncos, I’m not sure that any team could shut down that offense 90 times out of 100 – especially considering that Seattle figured out Manning’s hand gestures and knew what was coming most of the time.
Memphis Grizzlies tattoos: Who wants a free Memphis Grizzlies’ neck tattoo?!?! Don’t raise your hands all at once.
Ralph Kiner dies at 91: Former Pittsburgh Pirates star and Mets broadcaster, Ralph Kiner, passed away at the age of 91. Kiner started his career by leading the National League in home runs in his first seven seasons and later became one of baseball’s most recognizable announcers, calling games for the New York Mets. Kiner was one of the few players that was a Hall of Famer and able to transition over to become a quality broadcaster.
Damian Lillard Ironman: Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard has a busy weekend ahead of him. Last week, he announced he would participate in the Slam Dunk event, Three-Point Shootout, and the Skills Challenge during Saturday night of the NBA All-Star weekend. That won’t be all, though. On Friday, Lillard will play in the Rising Stars Game and then will take the court on Sunday for the All-Star Game. All in all, it’s the first time anyone has participated in all of the three Saturday events, let alone everything else during All-Star weekend. The ‘losers’ in this are actually the Trailblazers who could use a rested Lillard coming out of the break. Still, it’s impressive that he is willing to do so much and as a legitimate superstar, this is exactly the kind of the participation the league needs from its best players.
February 3, 2014
Seahawks Crush Broncos in Super Bowl: Quick, raise your hand if you saw that coming. Seattle winning the game wasn’t a huge surprise, but their 43-8 dominant performance over Denver was a shocker. The Broncos bumbled their way to a loss with four fumbles seemingly unable to do anything right and Seattle’s defense was the clear MVP. After a record-setting year, Peyton Manning will again wear the label of big game loser with a dud of a performance that included some errant throws, two interceptions, and a fumble. The game wasn’t all on Manning, but he’ll get the brunt of the blame for the team scoring a meager eight points after a record-setting season.
Psychics Predict Super Bowl: Not only psychics … psychic manatees. Ah, that makes a lot more sense.
Broncos vs. Seahawks … for Real!: Continuing the Super Bowl theme, Deadspin asks a very important question: Who would win a game between real broncos and real hawks?
David Stern Steps Down as NBA Commissioner: After 30 years as NBA Commissioner, David Stern is stepping down from his post as Deputy Adam Silver has been promoted to the job. Some players weren’t always fond of Stern using his authority to, at times, make unpopular decisions. However, what can’t be denied is the significant impact he leaves on the game. Under Stern, and with the backing of superstars such as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, the NBA took a significant step forward in the late 1980s. The league started promoting their individual stars much more and has had an amazing run under his watch. Stern leaves the sport in excellent shape, poised for more international growth as more and more players in different countries are playing while their fans are scooping up merchandise and watching games. Some will argue that the NBA doesn’t have the great personalities it once did, but in Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and other young stars, the league has a slew of players ready to move the game forward.
Lance Berkman Retires: Beaten down by injuries, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman announced his retirement from baseball last week. Berkman was a former six-time All-Star and also finished in the top five in MVP voting four times. Playing mostly with the Houston Astros, he hit 366 career home runs while batting .293. At 37, he could have potentially played a bit more, but the first baseman has battled injuries over the past two years, only playing a total of 105 games over that time. Berkman also won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 – the same season in which he was named the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Michael Young Retires: Also in retirement news, longtime infielder Michael Young announced he was done last week as well. Young was one of the sturdiest players of all time, never once landing on the disabled list in a career that spanned 14 seasons. Young, who played most of his career with the Texas Rangers, was also one of the top versatile infielders of his generation. Other infielders have played second, third, and shortstop as he did, but Young was one of the best at it. He had more power than most such players, slugging 185 home runs over his career. He also was a seven-time All-Star covering two positions, when he played primarily as a shortstop and third baseman. Young also was an All-Star Game MVP, won a batting title, and was awarded a Gold Glove as a shortstop. Few utility infielders had the type of success that he did.
Andrew Bynum Signs with Pacers: Oft-troubled center Andrew Bynum signed to play with the Indiana Pacers the rest of the season. Bynum has never been the same since leaving Los Angeles as part of the Dwight Howard trade. He suffered injury woes to his knees that never even allowed him to play for Philadelphia in 2012-13, then hobbled his way through 24 games with Cleveland before they traded him to the Chicago Bulls … who promptly released him to save salary costs. Based on all of that and the drama he brings, the move reeks of foolishness for a team competing to win a title. But if healthy, he’ll be a fine backup for Roy Hibbert. That, of course, is a Bynum-sized ‘if’.
Awkward High Five Gif: 3…2…1…Go!
Centers Selected among All-Star Game Reserves: NBA centers Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert were left off of the All-Star Game starting lineups in their respective conferences, but were two of the bench players chosen, among others. The NBA continues to make a mockery of its midseason classic by not making a center mandatory for inclusion on the starting team. The center position is deemphasized by some teams and many consider today’s game more guard-oriented. However, it makes little sense to declare an All-Star roster as essentially the best ‘team’ in a particular conference while leaving out one of the primary positions. After all, can you imagine an MLB All-Star team without a starting pitcher or a Pro Bowl squad without a quarterback?
NBA Fans Drop Ball … Again: This seems to be a regular routine, but fans again made a supreme gaffe in selecting Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant as an All-Star game starter. Bryant has played only six games, and not all that well, by the way. The future Hall of Famer struggled with his shot and averaged nearly six turnovers per contest in his few games this year in between injuries. Despite that (and the fact that Bryant won’t likely be ready to play by then, anyway), fans saw fit to vote for the superstar as a starter. I’ve always been for fan involvement, but when injured players who aren’t even fit to play in the game are selected, it makes it difficult to justify that fans should continue to have the privilege to vote. On some level, the vote is about fans getting to see who they want to play. On the other hand, though, players can even have incentives about being voted as an All-Star built into their contract. It isn’t exactly fair to take any financial reward or even just the satisfaction of starting an All-Star game from deserving players.