Wednesday, December 21, 2005

+ = Good

To quote the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy: "Bottom line: The Yankees just got better and more interesting, and the Red Sox just got worse and more boring."

There's no more ringing endorsement for a move (or lack of a move, in this case) than Dan Shaughnessy condemning it. Danny Boy, despite his Steve Forbes-esque good looks, tends to be a bit irrational and overexuberant (too bad we can't raise interest rates to keep him in check).

Thus, Ben Cherington, Jed Hoyer, Larry Lucchino: sleep well tonight, you made the right move. To re-sign J.D. would have cost upwards of $13 million a year, a number so astounding I had to check again to make sure that is really what the Yankees are going to pay him. He really must be Jesus, cause it is an f'ing miracle anyone would pay close to that amount for him. Manny's contract ($20 mil per year), in comparison, looks like a downright steal.

There's really two reasons I don't like Johnny Damon: he's a jerk and he's a mediocre baseball player.

With regards to argument # 1, the evidence is indisputable. Behind that sly smile lies an immature, selfish, imp of a human being---that is why kids tend to gravitate to him. Do you remember when Fox cut to a shot of him clipping his toe nails during the ALCS (the results of his efforts coming to an eBay auction near you any day now)? I still remember that taste of pizza as it returned up my asophygus before I choked it back down. The guy also has an insatiable lust for women, especially ones that aren't his wife. There was even a rumor that he claimed to have slept with nurses while his wife was giving birth to their twin daughters. Just a rumor, but the fact that it is even plausible makes you take pause.

JD's book, Idiot: Beating The Curse and Enjoying the Game of Life, is a must read for any aspiring jerk. He uses much of the book to denigrate his first wife, the mother of his two daughters, who he admittedly cheated on while they were stil married. He apparently told his wife to go to Orlando with the daughters shortly after their divorce, and was angry when she returned north, saying "I was with three more girls while you were gone." Classy.

Another great excerpt: "I had some one-nighters that I had never gotten to experience before. It was fun. I ended up having to carry around a separate cell phone. I didn’t want them to have my main number because my phone would have been ringing off the hook." Even Classier. You gotta wonder with all that hair if there is a brain underneath there.

But JD's biggest sin is his inability to play good baseball. To recap, in 2005 Johnny Damon had 624 at-bats, ending the season with an OBP of .366, a slugging percentage of .439 and 18 stolen bases. Paging Dr. Mendoza Line. Not exactly what you'd expect from a guy that made $8.25 million last year. You could have gotten similar production from any number of players at a fraction of the price. For instance, Dave Roberts in only 411 at-bats had an OBP of .356, 2 less home runs than JD, and five more stolen bases. All for the princely sum of $1.35 million. I'm guessing Bill James didn't cry himself to sleep last night. And for all those diving catches we see Johnny Damon make, did you ever notice how weak his southpaw throws are? The reason you see so many plays at the plate against the Red Sox is because every third base coach in the AL knows the book says send the runner when the hairy one will be throwing home. Let's be happy for Johnny Damon though...he'll finally be in a city big enough to accomodate his ego.

There is a term in sports called "addition by subtraction." While the Red Sox lost their link to prehistoric man (Thog from SNL looked more evolved), what they gained is the opportunity to finally have a smart, strong-armed centerfielder/leadoff hitter who can get on base on a regular basis. They might as well give a contract to Rickey Henderson and his crouch...all you need is a warm body on first base for Big Papi and Manny.

WWJDD? What Will Johnny Damon Do...sleep with Derek Jeter's girlfriend of the moment, clip his nails during the sixth inning, throw a quacking duck from centerfield that still can't reach the catcher on the fly, ground out to third base many times on ill-advised swings, and ultimately quash any hopes you have of making it to the World Series. Congratulations, Yankees. The Evil Empire just got a little eviler...

Random Comment: Belated thank you to Drew Barrymore and "Fever Pitch" for ruining the Red Sox's 2004 World Series Championship.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

+ = about 25 cents

The year was 1991...a time of great uncertainty in this country: the Gulf War introduced "chemical weapons" to our vocabulary, riots crippled Los Angeles following the beating of motorist Rodney King, basketball superstar Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive and the baseball Hall of Fame voted to ban Pete Rose. But if there was one certainty, it was that I was going to be rich when I grew up. Not from hard work, or a frivolous lawsuit, or hush money from Michael, I was going to retire young off what I thought to be one of the greatest baseball card collections ever assembled.

Forget putting the cards in the spokes of my tires...I deified my rookie Kevin Maas', my rookie Todd Van Poppels, my rookie Chris Sabos (and God knows you couldn't open a pack of Upper Deck cards without finding a Chris Sabo). But rather than appreciate the cards, or even read the stats on the back of them, I placed them in vinyl sleeves for safe keeping. The better the card, the better the vinyl. These were my little weekly investments...instead of putting my money in a cookie jar, I invested in glossy covered pulp.

Now, nearly 15 years later, it is safe to admit that I made a huge mistake. As baseball still recovers from the 1994 strike that shut down America's pastime, and deals with a steroid scandal that calls into question just about every single record on the books (except Craig Biggio's amazing hit-by-pitch total), one thing is for sure: baseball cards are worthless. What happened? Blame video games...when was the last time a Ken Griffey rookie card took its baseball bat and kicked the ass of Sammy Sosa's rookie card? Baseball cards are for dreamers, for baseball wonks, for kids like me that were completely inept at video games.

Now, my baseball cards are safely stored in the temperature controlled environment known as my bedroom closet in my childhood home. A relic to a more innocent time, when 2-D entertainment was still acceptable, when oversized baseball card folders made you cool, when collecting holographic stickers of baseball teams didn't call your sexuality into question. Will baseball cards ever become popular again? Doubtful. Instead, like their distant cousin "The Pog", they will likely be relegated to obscurity and nostalgia.

And that isn't going to make me rich anytime soon.

And now, some highlights and lowlights from my baseball card collecting days:

-The day I purchased a t-shirt from Dave's Dugout in Lafayette so that I could get a free pack of baseball cards every time I went in there (note to Dave's kids: you're welcome for that college education I paid for)

-The day I traded baseball cards with a fellow aficionado, with the biggest trade being the anti-Moneyball "Eric Davis for Mike Greenwall" move

-The day I switched from collecting baseball cards to collecting comic books, because the investment community seemed to favor Superman over Dave Kingman

-The day I found out that when you wrote to Nolan Ryan for an autograph, he sent you back an autographed photo; I wrote to him every week

-The day I got a book of home addresses of baseball players, making it possible for them to find love letters from me amongst interest-free credit card offers (thank you Ron Santo for actually believing me and sending me back an autograph)

-The day I got an entire set of Michigan State sports cards at a trading card show in San Francisco, just so I could get the Magic Johnson cards; brilliant, Wood, brilliant

-The day I started collecting these $5 glossy sports memorabilia magazines (the name of them escapes me), thinking they too would one day be worth money

-The day I went to a comic book convention in Orinda...even though I had never read a comic book cover-to-cover (I came home with a signed X-Man whom, I have no idea)


Monday, December 19, 2005

= Insane

As recently as three years ago, you could trade shares in the Boston Celtics on the New York Stock Exchange (unfortunately, your ownership didn't constitute the ability to fire Jim O'Brien). Nascar is really just 30 billboards racing 500 laps around a course, with the winning billboard (oftentimes Home Depot) getting the added bonus of having Gatorade poured all over it. Vince McMahon created a farcical football league called the XFL that was sunk by the cameramen's inability to remove focus from the cheerleaders to the field of play. But the intersection of sports and business is nothing new. I'm sure during prehistoric days, Cromagnum's wagered on races between Wooly Mammoths (with an obligatory Cromagnum with Golden Palace shaved on his chest disrupting the race).

But modern times' most interesting intersection concerns one Mark Cuban, the flamboyant Dallas Mavericks owner and self-proclaimed technology visionary. For those who don't know the story, Mark founded an Internet company called AudioNet with fellow Indiana University alum Todd Wagner. Their goal was to allow IU fans to listen to games across the country, rather than just in the local area that picked up the radio signal. AudioNet, rechristined (adding .com in 1999 virtually doubled your market cap), was purchased by Yahoo! for $6 billion dollars during the height of the dot com glory days, netting Mark a cool $1.7 billion on paper. On whichever island the Yahoo! executive that greenlighted that deal currently resides on/owns, I hope he chokes on his crab cakes or mahi-mahi. $6 billion for a business that was easily replicable, demonstrated very little cash flow, and run by a snotty little s-head like Cuban ?!? That is why most modern executives are required to go to business school, so they can learn discounted cash flow...and common sense.

But back to Cuban, who used his money to buy amongst other things: a Gulfstream G-5 (purchased on the internet, of course), a smoking hot wife (just kidding, she wasn't purchased, because according to Cuban "never mix romance with business"), a 24,000 square foot mansion in Dallas, and oh yes, the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks purchase was the culmination of young Mark Cuban's fantasies, and young Mark Cuban continues to reappear at the American Airlines center in the form of 5 year old-esque tantrums.

Though you can't fault the guy for his business acumen, you must wonder, "Can Mark Cuban finally be declared legally insane?" This, after it was recently revealed that his latest business venture is "a high-tech toilet seat that provides all of the hygienic benefits of a traditional bidet." I don't know about you, but I didn't notice a lot of requests on Christmas lists this year for bidets. Brondell, which makes the Swash, received $1.3 million funding from a group of investors including Mark Cuban, the head "Swasher." Highlights of the Swash include filtered posterior and feminine warm water wash, a warm air dryer and a remote control. This beckons two major questions: do you really want warm air coming from your toilet and under what circumstances would a remote be necessary?

This unlikely outlay of money by Cuban comes on the heels of his investment in Landmark Theaters, an art-house chain that doesn't seem like much of a growth opportunity on the exterior (or interior or posterior for that matter). His plan for success: switch the projection from film to digital as soon as possible (at a cost of $100,000 per Sony projector). Meanwhile, competitors are waiting for studios to foot the bill for the new digital projectors, which will save the studios the large amount of money they spend on physically distributing the actual film. Cuban still seems to believe that even with sub-par movies deluging the screens, people will come out to the Landmark, extoling "the virtues of enjoying a movie in a theater with fellow movie fans" (source NY Times). I can't wait to join everyone else for the cathartic experience of Cameron Crowe's forced dialogue in Vanilla Sky 2 (since this blog doesn't have audio, you'll have to imagine the obligatory whisper of "open your eyes").

In conclusion, Mark Cuban is very, very rich. But let us not forget these stats of the Dallas Mavericks: 0 NBA championships, 0 Conference championships, 1 Division championships (1987). You can buy Shawn Bradley, but Shawn Bradley can't buy a jump shot. And as Yogi Berra said, "A plan in your head isn’t worth the paper it is written on." So while bidays and digital theater chains showing mediocre films may sound like a good investment idea...oh wait, they don't sound like good investment ideas at all! I guess I prefer the Oracle of Omaha (Warren Buffet) to the Dunce of Dallas (Mark Cuban).

Editors Note: In that last sentence, I was going to replace the word "Dunce" with another "D" word pertaining to female hygiene.

Second Editors Note: Did anyone catch Gauntlet 2 last week when our favorite alcoholic, Ruthie, said of castmate Jo, "Bottom line? She's just crazy." That's dangerously close to the pot calling the kettle black...or in this case, the Budweiser bottle calling the kettle black.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

+ = Roid Rage

If you stopped by expecting commentary on the Vikings Pleasure Cruise, you will be sadly disappointed. What else is there to say? Daunte is an assman, Moe Williams likes the boobies and Bryant McKinnie is very, umm, "giving."

No, today's discussion surrounds the antics of American hero, Lance Armstrong. It seems during the 2004 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong pulled off a Tony Stewart-esque maneuver, and chased Italian racer Filippo Simeoni so that he could threaten him over his participation in the trial of Lance's former doctor. A comparable situation would be Barry Bonds chasing Jason Giambi around the baseball diamond with a bat, threatening to shove it where the sun don't shine.

People love Lance Armstong (especially the same type of people that like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees). I don't like Lance Armstrong. My feelings for him are similar to my feelings towards Jeff Gordon: you've got to respect his athletic accomplishments (I mean, at least Lance actually peddles, Jeff just presses a gas pedal), but you can't like him as a person (especially if you are similar to this fundamentalist Christian author).

First of all, similar to Jeff Gordon, Lance underwent a highly publicized divorce. The publicly stated reason was that Lance's celebrity status got in the way of the marriage. Understandable: while he was jetting all over the country getting congratulations, the wife had to stay home with the 2 year old and twin infants. I mean, c'mon Kristin Armstrong, he needs someone by his side to fawn over him at all times. Enter Sheryl Crow. Thanks to Sheryl, Lance has been able to rededicate himself to a life of receiving nonstop congratulations and promotional appearances. If it makes him happy, then why the hell is Kristin Armstrong so sad?

We can also thank Lance for bringing the color yellow back into vogue (random sidebar: apparently the guy who played Big Bird owns a huge property in Connecticut). Is anyone else annoyed by the ubiquitous yellow bracelets adorning people's wrists? Slap bracelets in junior high were cool...rubber bracelets, not. I'm all for donating money to cancer research, but must we also sacrifice our fashion sensibilities? My philosophy: if it's yellow, let it mellow...or better yet, throw it out.

And finally, we have Lance physically threatening other racers because of their testimony. The interesting part of the article is that he initially apologized for his behavior, and then recanted, and said the incident never happened. How can you apologize for something that never happened? And why would he be angry at a fellow rider for testifying against a mutual doctor that was found guilty of illegally supplying steroids? Could it be because Lance...because Lance...because Lance...I can't say it because I have no proof. But French media outlet L'Equipe did say it earlier this year. While I'm not sure if it is L'Truth, I certainly think there is a possibility Lance will be L'Exposed as a cheater.

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said it best in reaction to the L'Equipe story: “Without doubt…what we have learned has increased the lassitude toward him." And so it is with great lassitude (the May 13, 2002 Word of the Day) that I conclude.

Today's Link of the Day: Matt Leinart's incomplete pass

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

+ = Sad

The story du jour concerns the impending retirement of the incomparable Rickey Henderson. Or does it? This guy has had more farewell tours than Cher, more comebacks than Grant Hill and enough misuses of the third person to kill a sixth grade english teacher. And just when it seems like he might finally hang up his cleats...his agent, Jeff Borris, announces that he will again try out for the Major Leagues. Barring one of the thirty members of America's favorite monopoly offering him a contract, he will return to the Golden Baseball League's most celebrated franchise (not to mention 2005 Champions), the San Diego Surf Dawgs.

The story broaches two major issues: what exactly is a Surf Dawg and why won't Rickey realize that it is time to retire? For the former question, I refer you to the Wikipedia. And for the latter question, I have absolutely no answer. Seeing Rickey in a Surf Dawgs uniform (and let's be honest, there can't be too many people willing to admit they've attended a GBL game and seen him in person) makes me sad. It reminds me of the time I saw "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka wrestle in college in the New England Championship Wrestling League. Jimmy looked less like an eagle soaring off the top ropes, and more like a competitor in the Red Bull Flugtag competitions endlessly promoted on TV.

How old is Rickey Henderson? Henderson is old enough to be Danny Almonte's father. He made his Major League debut while Theo Epstein was still soiling his Huggies. And he participted in "Billy Ball" (Billy Martin's style of play, not Billy Beane's). This past season, facing pitchers who were for the most part middle relievers at Division II schools, Henderson hit a whopping .270, with 5 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He used to be able to do that in a single weekend series.

The man made famous for saying "this is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey" and for framing a $1 million check (rather than cashing it) is slowly fading into oblivion. So what's preventing him from retiring? I think he doesn't know what to do with his free-time. We've seen what happens to other prominent MLB players when they retire (see Kirby Puckett's groping lawsuit, Steve Garvey's alleged children out of wedlock, Darryl Strawberry's crackpipe, etc). Reports suggest he may go into coaching...I can't wait to see the conversations he would have with players as a third base coach ("Rickey didn't send you home. Rickey said stop at third. Rickey can't believe you didn't listen to Rickey. Rickey holds the all-time runs scored record, dammit").

In conclusion, to all aging athletes (and Geraldo Rivera), I suggest you follow the advice of The Who, and f-fade away. Nobody likes a Karl Malone...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

+ = $50,000

Today's sports story revolves around a common theme in today's culture: man's inhumanity to other men. And I'm not talking about fights over parking spots at the mall.

No, today's story actually took place on November 7th, when the Chicago Bears' 293 pound center, Olin Kreutz, got into an altercation with 320 pound Bears tackle, Fred Miller. November 7th, incidentally, was evangelist Billy Graham's 87th birthday, but I digress. On that day, the aforementioned Kreutz and Miller visited a North Chicago shooting range on the invitation of the Chicago FBI. What better form of community outreach than having two recognizable Windy City sports stars pumping lead into concentric circles? Obviously, a toy drive just wouldn't have brought the community together in quite the same manner.

What follows is a little unclear...according to reports, a fight between the two burly linemen brokeout during a barbecue with FBI employees following a round of shooting. Was the argument over who got more killshots on the target or who got the last chicken wing? Who cares. The result was Fred Miller needed surgery for a broken jaw and missed a start for the first time in 110 games, and Olin Kreutz ended up with 13 stitches resulting from a gash in his head. Oh, and both players were fined $50,000 (Kreutz said he would appeal, Miller declined comment---possibly because it would have required him to open his jaw).

Chicago Tribune editors were basically handed manna in the proverbial news desert, able to finally use the headline NFL Gives Jaw-Dropping Fines. But beyond that, there were no winners (Chicago did end up winning the game the following week without Miller, against the hapless 49ers). Why must men fight, teammates no less, especially after a wonderful day of barbecuing and repeatedly firing pistols to simulate killing a perpetrator? If they had known what the extent of the fines would be, would these gargantuan men have faught over who got to kiss the cook at the barbecue? And what kind of coach would allow such a field trip to the North side? Where's the Love-ie, Coach Smith? If the Bears end up winning it all, will we be hearing a new rap tune, "The Super Bowl Scuffle"?

To recap: Jeff Kent riding a motorcycle? Stupid. Aaron Boone playing basketball? Dumb. Olin Kreutz and Fred Miller brawling at a shooting range during the middle of the season? Moronic (note: I am more than willing to amend this answer to "Perfectly Fine" if these two men are card-carrying NRA members).

Random aside: Do you think while Stan "Tookie" Williams was receiving his lethal injection at midnight, OJ Simpson was asleep, dreaming of whether to bring out the lob wedge or the sand wedge for his approach to the 18th at Pebble Beach? Congrats to Reggie Bush...let's hope he turns out more like Charles White or Marcus Allen, if you know what I mean.