"Who's officiating tonight?"

>> Wednesday

Am I excited about the start of the NBA season? Of course. But the reservations abound. (And it has nothing to do with crotchety arguments why the NBA doesn't seem as magical as it did when you were in fourth fucking grade.)

No, I'm not all that concerned with the Donaghy thing, though I highly doubt that the every other ref is on the up-and-up as the recent round of NBA interrogations asserts. But that isn't the root of the problem. That goes back either to a) the dawn of the league or b) the beginning of superstardom in the NBA.

I'm mildly worried that another official on the take is going to impact a game or a playoff series. Who couldn't be? But it's one official--one official with limited chances to screw a certain team in over the course of a game.

My problem, as it's always been, is with the officials in general and their indelible impact on the game. Basketball may be the toughest sport to officiate. It's judgment call upon judgment call upon judgment non-call. The standards are necessarily vague, and thus, the power of the officiating crew is immense. And yet, the overlords aren't entirely powerless, but they sure do act like it.

I'm not sure I will ever take either of the last two NBA Finals seriously. I don't think any honest man can. In retrospect, the same might be true of the Bulls' fifth and sixth titles.

Tell me--What good is a championship when the officials give it to you? Or, to a lesser extent, the chance to play for one? Others may disagree, but I don't see that as much of an achievement.

Listen--I think Dwyane Wade is a great, stupendous, awesome guy like everyone does (especially those of us who went to Marquette). I'm also endlessly impressed with what LeBron has been able to do coming into the league as a freaking child and keeping his head so much better than any of the rest of us could and immediately becoming the most chirismatic man in professional sports.

But they've gotten help. Did they earn 99.5% of what they've returned on sheer talent and commitment? Absolutely. But neither deserved the pinnacle moments that have thus far defined their careers.

The Dallas-Miami finals in 2006 were a travesty. As was last year's Pistons-Cavs series. Neither Wade nor LeBron could do any wrong. No wait--They could. But they'd always have the stripes to pretend otherwise.

It's rare that I don't agree 100% with Rasheed Wallace, and this was no exception:

"There's a lot of people out here who think they really beat us," Wallace said. "It was ourselves. We beat ourselves. We fell victim to the little, personal NBA thing where they're trying to make it a world game and get ratings and all that. They wanted to put their darling (LeBron James) in there, and they did put him in there. Look what ended up happening.

"So this game, this ain't basketball no more, it's entertainment. It's like WWF. Ain't no more real wrestling. All the days of Ric Flair and Rick Rude and Jake the Snake. Right now, the (expletive) is all so fake. Just like this game. It's so fake."

How are people okay with this? How do people watch LeBron pile up points in overtime of a conference finals game with free throws that he didn't earn and not get frustrated?

People rip 'Sheed for overreacting late in Game 6 of that series, but if I were him, I doubt I've even been that civil. The Pistons had just endured a fuckover of a series like I've never seen, and yet they managed to neither attack anyone nor destroy any expensive equipment on the court. I don't think I'd have had such control.

Why does the NBA have to be like this? The black sheeps will never get a fair shake in the public eye or marketing world, but shouldn't the basketball court be the one place they can? It's bullshit--just pure fucking bullshit.

And I don't see it changing. Ever. And what's worse is that we're only at the start of a very long era of NBA superstar culture. Wade and LeBron have many, many years ahead of them. Duncan's not done either.

I still love the NBA. But yeah, it's gotten hard. I usually embrace the adaptations of a league and tell people to come off it when they try to say, "It's not like it used to be." But this is different. It's not progress; it's regression. It's not a natural adaptation; it's the blatant stiffling of natural adaptation. And it pisses me off.

I hope this season can prove me wrong. But my faith is dwindling.

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Here's to a Former Legend

>> Tuesday

Robert Goulet passed away tonight...a moment of silence for "The Man, The Myth, and The Legend"

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The Eleven Stages in the Life-Cycle of a Sports Fanbase

This one reads like a bad Bill Simmons column, but bear with me.

Hearing the Rockies fans kick ass til their dying hour Sunday night--screaming through the ninth inning as if they were the ones just outs away from a title--had me wondering: What makes them so positive? They were down 3-0 in the series and trailing in the game, facing the almost-hopeless prospect of rallying against Papelbon.

So why were they so boisterous when so many other fans might have given up?

Well, out of this line of thinking, I came up with a hair-brained theory. I think all sports fanbases cycle through these following eleven phases from the birth of their franchise to its indefinitude. Teams fluctuate between these phases as success or failure dictates, sometimes moving up the scale, other times moving down.

Of course, these are totally made up and mostly written during my lunch break at work, so don't hold me to any standards of coherence or intelligence, please.

1. Infancy

During infancy, the fanbase had that childlike sense of wonder--not knowing what's to come, not really caring. They have no expectations because they don't know what to expect or when to expect it. This stage lasts through the first couple years of a franchise (or a new league) before superstars emerge or major free-agent agent signings take place.

Going with the example of the Rockies, even though they acquired Andres Galarraga prior to the inaugural season, they didn't expect much out of him. (They certainly didn't expect his mind-blowing '93 production.) Their first real free-agent score was Bill Swift prior to '95, which, incidentally, panned out pretty well.

2. Optimism

The fanbase moves into optimism at the first tangible sign of improvement, whether this be the first winning season or the rectification of the team's early flaws.

Again in terms of the Rockies, the '95 season fits this description on both accounts. Not only did they win the Wild Card, but they overcame their pitching woes of '93-'94. Ostensibly, the '95 season was no better, with the Rocks ranking last in the NL in ERA. But adjusted for park factors (i.e. being in way higher altitude), they ranked second.

3. Gratitude

You didn't get the miracle that optimism conjures up with that first whiff of success. But you're grateful nonetheless. Your boys didn't go all the way this year, but you still applaud their effort as they leave the field for the last time on the season.

This stage may be the most wholesome and heartwarming of them all, but it's also the most fleeting.

4. Disappointment

After that initial stride of improvement, you're convinced that better things are ahead. So when the team regresses or treads water the next year, disappointment sets in.

Of course, disappointment is all relative to where the bar's been set. For a team coming off its first winning season, disappointment is missing the playoffs. For a team that's lost in the first round a few times, disappointment is falling short of the championship. And so on.

This phase is sometimes passed over because the team does, in fact, take that next leap immediately. But this is not very typcial.

5. Fatalism / Self-pity

After a few years, disappointment turns into fatalism and self-pity. "We'll never win!" "Why do we always get the bad breaks?" "When do we get our year?" "Why does God hate me?"

Once a fanbase hits this stage, it's hard for them to leave it. Just ask the Cubs or every Philadelphia team. Even when things go right, the fatalistic mind only sees the hardships. And the longer this phase lasts, the harder it is to escape.

6. Guarded optimism

This is the old, "We've seen this before. Well, I'm not getting sucked into believing this time!"

As opposed to plain old optimism, which is positive and forward-minded, guarded optimism is mostly governed by expectations of failure.

7. Belief

The team is finally nearing the pinnacle, and the fanbase finally believes. The longer the fanbase has been mired in fatalism, the later this stage hits. It might not kick in until there's two out in the ninth inning of the World Series clinching game with the home team holding a ten-run lead for some fanbases. For others, it might start with a great first-half of the season.

8. Euphoria

Just as fleeting as gratitude but far more dangerous, euphoria is reserved for the title clinch. It usally carries through the first month or two following the championship, if not longer. Arguably, this should be called the "schmalz phase," since this is the period during which every player's biography comes out in paperback and every fan buys a championship license plate holder.

9. Skepticism / Disbelief

Once the initial euphoria wears off, the fanbase turns its thoughts to what might-not-have-been. As the focus turns toward the next seasons, the definicies that the previous year's team overcame are picked apart and belabored. No one is entirely convinced that last year's team was "for real," nor that they can reproduce their results in the years to come. The pressure to buttress and/or maintain the already talented roster is immense, and management usually obliges.

10. Expectation

This is the ugliest of all the phases. It marks the destruction of innocence, the beginning of the end. Euphoria warps its way to greed, and greed leads to delusion. The championship is no longer an aspiration or a prize; it's manifest destiny. The fans forget that each new season brings new players and a new set of circumstances and fail to see past the uniform colors. Expectation is where sport devolves from object of enjoyment to ugly obsession.

11. Jadedness

Jadedness is the end of the line. It can come about either from an overabundance of winning or simply from too many years of repeat results. The jaded fanbase supports their team--often in record numbers--but they do so coldly, lovelessly. Any sense of wonder or mystery have given way entirely to expectation. Adulation has given way to suffocating scrutiny. There is no joy in winning, only relief, and the anger in losing is violent.


So, kids--Now that we've explored these eleven stages that I've completely made up, what stage is youuur favorite team in?????

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Random Thoughts While Eating My Wheaties

1.) Why in the world did Tony Kornheiser try to compare Brett Favre (Fav-er-a) to Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan? I mean, how the hell is it possible. Tiger Woods has won what it seems like thousands of PGA championships (I know it's like 12 or something) and MJ won 6 titles. Brett won one Super Bowl...yes he's good, but come on, it's a no contest.
2.) That said, maybe it is just me maturing, but Brett Favre is sure fun to watch...you never know what is going to happen next.
3.) Speaking of Brett, I have to say while it is disappointing that the Bears decided to take this season off, it is fun seeing the Packers, Lions, and Browns having some fine seasons. I mean, who the hell saw these teams playing as well as they are?
4.) Man, Steve Spurrier really knows how to recruit....I mean his team is a writer's dream having players with names such as Captain, Smelley, and Succup. The puns are endless!
5.) Why the hell wasn't The Ole' Ball Coach wearing a visor Saturday night?
6.) Ben Gordon wants the Bulls to pony up and pay him "Big-Man" money. Apparently 5 - years, $50 millions won't cut it. I think we can officially welcome K-B to Chicago.
7.) A-Rod to the Cubs...Whatever it will take, Cubs management had better sign this guy. Imagine this lineup: Soriano, Theriot, A-Rod, Lee, Ramirez, and DeRosa.
8) Wow, Jeanie Zelasko was looking hot on Sunday...in that "I wouldn't touch her with 10 ft. pole" kind of way
9.) ESPN, or "The Extra Sexual Network" really showcases it's superior knowledge in sports by allowing Patrick McEnroe to talk about why the Patriots will not make the Super Bowl. Now I am not saying the Patriots will certainly make it to Arizona, but McEnroe's reasoning is because they do not have a running game. Um, okay....
10.) Go Ducks!

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A question

>> Sunday

What percentage of people watching NFL Countdown would you guess actually know that The Knack wrote "My Sharona"? Ten percent? Five?

Apparently, Chris Berman thinks it's much higher, or he wouldn't keep slipping "the knack" into every highlight of Titans kicker Rob Bironas. Apparently, Chris Berman also thinks "Bironas" sounds like "Sharona." However, he is an idiot.

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Typical f-ing Rockies

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. But am I surprised?

Hell no. This always happens to us. This is so typical of the Rockies. We finally get close, finally get to the World Series, come in winning 20 of 21 and looking unstopable, and just like that, it's over. We're gonna get swept--fucking SWEPT--in our one big chance. After all this waiting, all the years of heartbreak, they go out and break our hearts.

My dad, my grandad before him, now me--When I think of all the heartache this team has put us through over the years, it makes my heart ache. I want to raise my own kid a Rockie fan, but I feel like it would be cruel to put him through what we've been through. Here me and dad are freezing in the stands tonight, so ecstatic to finally see our Rocks in the Series, and four hours later, we're crying in our Coors. Just typical Rockies.

I remember going to games at old Mile High Stadium with dad as a kid. We stuck with them through thick and thin. I remember one year on opening day it had been snowing like a mother all week. Dad and I used to park in the old McGillicutty Carbide factory on 18th and Federal and hoof it to the stadium to save a few bucks. We were trudging through 16 inches of snow on the walk from the lot to the gate that day. They still had the plows on the field during BP. The guys were sipping bullion in the dugout between innings to keep from stiffening up. Also, that was back in the days when Mile High only had the two concession stands, so they ran out of coffee and cocoa in the thrid inning. To keep us warm, Dad used his flint and some hot dog wrappers to build a bonfire out in the left-field bleachers. Man, I'll never forget that...

...Fuck! Down 0-3. I know crazier things have happened, but... Damn! We fell down 0-2 in Fenway because the boys were rusty. Ok, fine. But tonight we had them back in our house, in the thin air, amidst the magic of Blake Street and the mystique of the Rockie tradition. There's no way we could have lost this game. But then we go out and get beat by Yokozuna and Kamikaze and that damned British kid. Man, the game has really changed.

Well, this is it. I'm done with them. I can't believe I'm even saying that, but I'm done with this team.

Damn it! We've gotta win tomorrow night!

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Left-handed relievers know what it's like to be black

>> Thursday

Very few of us really know what it's like to be stereotyped. To be marginalized. To be told what you are and what are not capable of doing. To be expected to do certain things well and other things poorly because of a superficial trait that you had no control over. Few of us know what it's like to be black.

But lefty relievers do.

Tim McCarver thinks it's "surprising" that Hideki Okajima can retire right-handed hitters as well, if not better than, he can retire left-handed hitters.

But tell me--who would ever say, "Surprisingly, he can also get out lefties," about a righty?

Who would ever expect a right-handed reliever to speak for all righties on how to retire a right-handed hitter?

Who would ever pigeonhole a right-handed reliever as a "righty specialist"?

What right-handed reliever would ever be brought on board as an orginazation's token righty?

What right-handed reliever would be expected to perform a particular way or have a certain demeanor on the mound becuase of the structure of his brain?

They wouldn't. Because they are right-handed.

But left-handed relievers... They know what it's like to be black.

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Hey Patty Nikson--Either stop sending us email, or don't come to this site anymore!

This has nothing to do with sports (because, you know, there's nothing important going on in sports right now), but Ithis super-professional-looking piece of spam that ended up in our Gmail struck me as funny:

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I'm no dietician, but I'm pretty sure "calorized fat" is not an actual scientific term and that 99.4% of those statistics are 93.7% bogus.

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Two Many Puns

Headline for Chicago Sun-Times Preview piece for tonight's Fire-DC United playoff series.

"Misfiring Fire needs to finish, or it'll be finished."

Ugh.

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A post for me and maybe Zuch or anyone else who might actually enjoy this

>> Tuesday

(Scroll down for pictures and videos if you don't like writer-based prose.)

The last couple nights, hopelessly starved for baseball and lamenting the approaching end of the baseball season, I've been surfing YouTube for any MLB and MLB-related videos I could find. And the following was my stand-out favorite. It's a montage that someone put together from home-video of the demolition of Old Comiskey Stadium, set to a sweet Tom Petty song.

Having gone to Old Comiskey once (maybe twice?) in my early childhood thanks to annual Cub Scout outings, I have lingering and somehow vivid memories of walking into the stadium and sitting in the left field bleachers, throwing trash on the warning track (because I was a dumb kid and thought that was fun). It was exotic for me, being from an all-Cub fan family for whom a Sox game was a grudging concession. And I figure there must be a reason that it stuck.

Watching Old Comiskey-set clips of the '77 "South Side Hitmen" and Harry Caray-Jimmy Piersall broadcasts in high shool resurrected those forgotten memories and bridged my Cubs-Sox biases, opening my eyes to the appeal of loving the black sheep. And I guess that's the point of those historical pieces--instilling an intense sense of nostalgia in those who have little or no meomory of that which is commemorated. Well, score one for them.

You might say the video is pretty sappy--and I guess it is--but it should hit a nerve with anyone nostalgic for a demolished stadium, whether it's County Stadium, Boston Garden, or the Madhouse on Madison. In the video's comments, I learned that they're finally putting the wrecking ball to Tiger Stadium, a place I obnoxiously captured in photo after photo after photo during a college service trip in 2005 and wished like hell I'd experienced from the inside before the Tigers moved out.




Yeah, destruction and rebirth is the heart of reality, but I think it's okay not to enjoy it if you so choose.

Anyway, I'm done with the maudlin crap for the night, and I'll leave you with the video and some other funny stuff. Becuase we're funny here. ...Funny, funny guys.



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I guess it takes residents with money and mansions (and more-than-adequate means to leave) for the federal government to take notice of a distaster

Sorry... Short political diatribe that has nothing to do with this post, but I figured I'd slip that in.

Anyway, I wanted to get one last semi-philosophical baseball post in the books before the season ends and these posts become even less tolerable.

Tonight's lecture: Self-sacrifice.

Wanting to watch some baseball tonight, I caught Baseball Tonight featuring baseball-men talking about baseball tonight. They were doing their World Series preview / "Web Gem" awards show, and it got me all riled up about fancy defensive plays.

Ok, so this is a recycled conversation, but the show reminded me that those who make fantastic defensive plays are often hurting their teams and/or themselves.

Is this always the case? Of course not. Nick Punto, for example, was featured prevalently on this show, and--if you've ever seen Nick Punto's hitting statistics--you know as well as I do that if he were ever asked to take the rap on a Johan Santana murder charge, he should confess. Indeed, self-sacrifice may be his greatest asset.

But several players featured--Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Eric Byrnes--were shown making reckless plays that maybe, just maybe, they should have reconsidered. Actually, what got me going on this notion was that Coco Crisp catch that ended the ALCS. Yes, it was awesome and as dramatic a play as a play that an 11-2 lead in the ninth can produce, but was it worth risking a knee injury that could have cost him the World Series and, potentially, next season just to save Papelbon a few pitches? I doubt it.

Some featured plays, like Martin's over-the-railing catch of a foul ball, must have made some GMs wince and then die from heart attacks, while others were simply bad risks. One play was particularly egregious--a falling-away barehand scoop and peg by John Smoltz on a slow roller along the third baseline. It was a much easier play for Chipper Jones and should have never been handled by Smoltz.

Do I think that a player should pull up short every time he has a chance to make a run-saving catch? Well of course not. But I cringe every time I see a great player do something risky to make an out that will probably not impact the outcome of a game. One of their "classic" Web Gem clips was the famous Ken Griffey Jr. backhanded catch against the wall in a 1995 game. Of course, that was the same classic play that broke Griffey's classically valuable right wrist and put him on the DL for most of that season. Yes, Griffey returned to dominate the Mariners' incredible stretch run later that season which saw them make up 9 1/2 games in the standings and eventually go to the ALCS. But if Griffey had bailed out before going writst-to-wall at 67 miles-per-hour, I doubt the Angels ever build that lead.

"Don't be a hero" is a pretty tired cliche, but it's one that any MLB star should probably internalize. Great athletes, especially young ones, think they're indestructible, and I think it's one of the burdens of management to drill that into a guy before it's too late. Having said that, I doubt I'd heed that advice if I were a Granderson or a young Junior. It would probably take me at least three or four injuries to make a change in my game.

But as a spectator, I always dread that next unnecessary injury. I dread missing action from one of the game's most enjoyable athletes. I dread that sinking feeling I get watching a guy give up his future financial bonanza and his legacy on a risk that he didn't need to take.

I realize that those things happen, and they always will. But I just wish athletes would realize that they are bigger than the team and bigger than the game. They'll have their chance for heroic self-sacrifice if they so choose, but it doesn't have to be for an out.

Anyway, thanks for skimming. I'll be back in April.

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My Not Keeping My Mouth Shut Could Cost Me 400 Smackers

Back in July, my girlfriend who presently lives in Washington, DC, home of this year's MLS Cup Final, asked me if I was going to fly out to visit her anytime this fall. I told her probably not. Law school is a real bitch and I don't want to fuck things up in the first semester and get myself behind the eight-ball early with a slow start. I did however mention that should the Chicago Fire make it to the MLS Cup Final, I would be looking to make the trip.

I mean, what were the chances? At the time, the Fire were playing their worst soccer in the history of the club, and had gone through three coaches in a month. They had just been bushwacked 4-0 at home by Houston Dynamo on national television, and showed little signs of life. It was a mark good enough for a 4-8-4 record (16 points), and last place in the Eastern Conference.

But just like the deadbeat dad in Angels in the Outfield who was forced to eat his words after he promised his son they'd be a family again if the Angels won the pennant, I am looking at having written a check that my checkbook can't cash. My Fire went on a tear in the second half of the season, going unbeaten in 12 of their last 14 league games. They'll start their Eastern Conference Semi-final with top seed DC United on Thursday night at Toyota Park, only three wins away from the final. Airfare from St. Louis Lambert International to Washington Reagan the November 18th weekend is close to 300 bucks. Throw in a game ticket plus food and booze and could become an expensive proposition real fast. Good for me, good for the Fire I guess, but probably another reason in the long list of reasons why it's not a good idea to bet hundreds of dollars on a league with as much parity as MLS.

But I got 5 out of 8 playoff teams right, 3 of my 4 SuperLiga spots correct, and even picked two first-round playoff series (Dallas vs. Houston, DC vs. Chicago) right on the money back in April.

So now we're down to the final 8. These teams will square off in a two-game, home-and-home, total-goals, extra-hyphenated series. Basic premise, if team A wins the first game 2-1, but team B wins the second game 2-0, then team A is fucked because they lost 3-2 on aggregate. Ties are broken with extra time and penalty kicks if necessary.

#1 DC United vs. #4 Chicago Fire
#2 New England vs. #3 New York
#1 Chivas USA vs. #4 Kansas City
#2 Houston vs. #3 FC Dallas

First with DC and Chicago. You can see both these games on ESPN2 the next two Thursday nights. Chicago has been the hottest team in the league since the All-Star Break, going 6-2-6 against a slate of opponents that was probably the second-hardest in the league. The backline has been bolstered by the addition of Wilman Conde, and has only allowed 10 goals in their last 14 league matches. However, the offense has continued to sputter, finding net only 18 times in those games. Over the same timespan, DC's defense has allowed 13 goals since the break, but in contrast to the Fire has found net 30 times. DC are backed by Golden Boot (League's leading scorer) Luciano Emilio. The Brazilian has scored 20 goals; the first 20-goal-scorer in MLS in 5 years (Carlos Ruiz, 24 goals, 2002). However, DC has shown some trouble with Chicago's backline. The two teams met twice in the second half of the season, a 0-0 draw at RFK and a 1-1 draw at Toyota Park. Fire keeper Matt Pickens set a club record for shutouts this season with 10. The defense is much improved, and while DC has been the gold standard for MLS this season, I think Chicago's back line may be able to hold out long enough to make it interesting and make the Black-and-Red faithful sweat a little. DC ultimately has a lot more talent and should be the favorite, but Chicago is a DANGEROUS 4-seed. Historically, Chicago has been DC's bugaboo in Cup play, going 5-0-1 against United. The black-and-red have yet to score a goal on the Fire in knockout competition. I'm not picking this series because I just don't know.

New England vs. New York
New England coach Steve Nicol has taken the mantle of "almost, but not quite" away from Red Sox fans and New England and placed it squarely on his own team. They made it to MLS Cup 2002, only to fall to the LA Galaxy 1-0 in extra time. They then made it to MLS Cup 2005, only to lose again to the Galaxy by the same scoreline in extra time. Returning to the Final in 2006, they managed to score, but were equalized by Brian Ching's header minutes later as Houston Dynamo eventually won on penalty kicks.

New England partially redeemed their losses by winning the U.S. Open Cup earlier this season, and now take on New York, a team that has only won one playoff series in 11 years in the league. However, with Golden Boot runner-up Juan Pablo Angel, New York may finally have the talent needed to take the next step. However, they've kind of backed into the playoffs, with only two wins in their last 10 games, including some embarassing draws against Los Angeles and Salt Lake. New York also went 0-2-1 against New England this year. New England's offense is prolific. Second only to DC United in terms of goals scored. New York is right behind New England in third, but has a leaky back line that surrendered the 4th most goals in the league this ear (1.5 a game). I see New England pushing through and continuing the heartbreak for New York.

Chivas USA vs. Kansas City
Really no preview necessary. Kansas City finished 5th in the East. Had the format been the same as last season, they wouldn't make the playoffs. However, under MLS's new playoff format, since the East's 5th-place team had a better record than the West's 4th place team, KC moves over to the Western conference for the playoffs. There they'll meet a Chivas USA team that has been on fire all season. The loss of leading scorer Ante Razov may hurt, but I see Chivas moving on here. Kansas City has been in freefall over the second half of the season, while Chivas USA has burnished their championship credentials, winning the Western Conference title, and the Los Angeles Derby.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo
The Texas Derby foes meet in the playoffs for the first time, with Houston looking the favorite, sporting the league's best defense at 0.77 goals allowed per game. Houston went 3-0-1 against the Hoops this season in league play. For Dallas, "Beckham Rule" signing Denilson from Brazil has been a total bust. His insertion into the Dallas lineup has caused nothing but problems and distractions. He only has one goal...on a penalty kick. Houston should move on. Their backline is too strong and they have enough offensive firepower to win. I see them playing to defend their MLS Cup title in Washington in late November.

I'm looking at a Houston vs. DC/New England/Chicago final, and maybe I'll be there, or maybe I won't go broke. Who knows?

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RIP, Max

>> Monday


Those of you not from Wisconsin probably aren't all that familiar with Max McGee, former hard-partying Lombardi-era player and beloved color announcer alongside Jim Irwin (Irwin and McGee were, by the way, the greatest football radio announcing duo in NFL history, no question).

McGee passed away tragically Saturday after suffering a fall from the roof of his home in suburban Minnesota in a sad end to a full life. And man, I mean full. In case you've never heard the story, here (from AOL sports by way of Green Bay, Booze and Broads) is the legend behind one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history. It's long, but it's worth it.

The morning sun was peeking its nose over the palm trees on Sunset Boulevard and the still-lit neon lights of the Whiskey-a-Go-Go were almost surreal in the early morning glow of Jan. 15, 1967.

Max McGee, wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers and man about town in every town he passed through, was saying good night and/or good morning - it all depended on your point of view - to three full-figured stewardesses, two in the fashion rage of the day - hot pants - and one in a mini-skirt.

"Ladies," McGee went on, "it’s been a festival, as always. You are all too beautiful for words. I only hope that I more than made up for the disappointment of Paul Hornung not being here."

"Oh, Max, you were just WON-derful," said the one in pink leather hot pants.
They hugged him and he squeezed back as three cabs arrived - one to take one of the stews to her day job in the friendly skies, another to take the other two home. McGee slipped $20 bills into the cabbies' hands.

The third cab would take Max McGee back to his day job, momentarily operating out of the Hilton Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, near downtown Los Angeles and a 10-minute ride from the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the pro football team for whom he played, the Green Bay Packers, would meet the Kansas City Chiefs that afternoon for bragging rights in pro football.

Forty-five minutes later, Max McGee was running a screen pattern through the lobby of the Hilton, using potted plants and pillars as his cover to avoid the one man he did not want to see - head coach Vince Lombardi.

Not that Lombardi would have been too shocked. He had caught McGee many times over the years, usually along with his running mate, Paul Hornung. This time - in a reverse shocker of equal proportions - Hornung had decided not to go out on game-day eve.

Los Angeles was Hornung’s favorite city in all the world - it had an endless buffet of females - but he was getting married on the Wednesday after the big game and, well, the famous Golden Boy wanted to save himself.

McGee made it to the elevators, unseen. He hit the eighth-floor button. Home free!

It was going on 8 o’clock and Hornung was stretching out of a sound sleep when McGee entered the room.

"Tell me all about it, Max," Hornung said. "Like I was there, m’man!"

He had not seen McGee since bed check at 11:30 p.m., when Max, fully dressed, was huddled under the covers, waiting for a Packers assistant coach to look inside the room.

As soon as the coach checked in, McGee checked out - and no amount of pleading by McGee could get Hornung to change his mind and join him.

Now, in the morning, they sat on the sides of their beds and McGee told Horning tales of the Sunset Strip and the three high flyers who knew both of them.

Hornung whistled. "We’d better get down to team breakfast," he said. "Get some coffee into you. Buses leave for the stadium in an hour." It was almost 8:30.

McGee, 34, had not slept a wink except in the cab ride back to the hotel, but then he figured he’d get plenty of rest on the bench during the game against the Chiefs.
McGee by the Numbers

From 1958-1964, McGee was one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, but injuries had limited him to 10 catches in 1965 and only four in 1966. Boyd Dowler had become quarterback Bart Starr’s favorite target.
Hornung was three years younger than McGee, but his career had followed a similar trajectory. He led the league in scoring in 1959-1961 - there are those who would tell you that Paul Hornung led the league in scoring every year - and he was, with the Giants’ Frank Gifford, a true Golden Boy of the game, but injuries savaged him and, in 1966, a pinched nerve in his neck had resulted in arm weakness that limited him to 200 rush yards. He had not been the Packers' kicker for years.

No, Hornung and McGee figured to have plenty of time to themselves on the Green Bay bench, plenty of time to check out the action in the always attractive Coliseum crowd, plenty of time to talk about Hornung’s wedding, which was three days away.

The Packers' breakfast room air was thick with tension. The prestige of the old-line NFL was threatened by the AFL’s new kids on the block. To lose to anyone, ever, was unthinkable to Lombardi. To think of losing to these punks was beyond comprehension.

Lombardi liked having Hornung and McGee around because they usually kept the team loose, but, on this morning, Hornung’s wisecracks were minimal and McGee avoided even eye contact lest the Visine had failed to do the job (much less the Listerine and the Folgers).

"My dad had the best spy network in the history of football spy networks," says Vince Lombardi, Jr., then a young law student on the scene. "But I know he never was wise to Max being out on the town all night. Max got away with a big one!"
In the pre-game warm-ups, McGee and Horning gave it a half-effort. "I don’t think I did any stretching," McGee says. "Why would I bother?"

On the third play of the game, as Hornung and McGee literally were planning the Monday night wedding rehearsal dinner, they heard the gravel voice of Lombardi yelling, "McGee, McGee, get your ass in there!"

Dowler had separated a shoulder, and McGee, a man who had anything but football on his brain barely six hours earlier, suddenly was thrust into the primary spotlight of the biggest game of his career - one that later would be christened Super Bowl I.

But when McGee got up to go into the game, he couldn't find his helmet. He didn't remember seeing it the pre-game - and he didn’t worry about it because of course he wasn’t going to play anyway, was he? Now he grabbed a helmet that belonged to a reserve defensive lineman... and, with no potted plants or pillars in his way, got his ass into the game.

A couple minutes later, he scored on a spectacular 37-yard pass from Starr. The normally pinpoint quarterback threw the ball short and behind McGee, who reached behind his body with his right hand to make a one-hand catch.

When McGee came back to the bench, he said to Hornung, "Hey, if Bart throws me the ball, I know I can win the damned car!" Sport magazine was offering a 1967 Corvette to the game’s most valuable player.

McGee was unconscious - literally and figuratively - and he made one crucial catch after another all day, including a 13-yard collaboration with Starr in the third quarter that gave Green Bay a 28-10 advantage,

McGee's second touchdown catch was nearly as amazing as his first. He was hit hard before catching a strike from Starr, which he juggled before securing it against his body.

In the end, the Packers were supreme 35-10, and the man about town had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Starr, the family man about his house, had nine other completions for 108 additional yards, and no more touchdowns.
The Corvette went to the quarterback.

"They should have given two, m’man," Hornung said to McGee.

The Golden Boy joined in the wild celebration - and he would get a full-share winner’s check of $15,000 - but he never saw any action because of his arm and neck injuries.

Late in the game, Lombardi had come to Hornung and asked him if he wanted to go in so he could say he had played in the first Super Bowl. Hornung had declined.
The former Heisman Trophy winner, Notre Dame All-America, overall No. 1 draft choice, and two-time NFL MVP had too much pride to simply make a cursory appearance.

McGee got a winner’s share, too, and it was a major dividend to his non-marquee income. He laughed about it with the press in the Packers' locker room.
With impish tongue in cheek he said of Starr’s first touchdown pass, "You pay a quarterback a hundred thousand a year, you expect him to throw it a little better to a twenty-five thousand dollar end. I thought the ball was going to be intercepted. I was trying to knock it down... and it stuck to my hand."

"And were you trying to make the second score look tough, too?" asked a man with a notepad.

McGee laughed. "Make it look tough? I’d just got my bell rung. Lucky I held onto it."

"Your best day ever?" someone shouted from the back of the pack.

"I’ve had better days," McGee said. "But I never timed one better."

Rest in peace, Max.

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Prelude to a winless season

While it may be early to make such a claim, Miami could be in a heap of trouble with Ronnie Brown out for the season. On a team that has already lost its starting quarterback and traded away their top receiver, this team does not have a whole lot of firepower. With a decimated secondary and not enough speed on defense, they will consistently give up a ton of points. It would be ironic if the only team to ever finish the season undefeated would be the first to go winless in a 16 game slate. All in all, I hope that Miami stores have excellent liquor sales to help Dolphins fans make it through the 2007 season.

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Nike Puns to the Game

>> Sunday

Here were the first two so-called "Nike Keys to the Game" for the Pats-Dolphins:

If you have a Lemon, make lemonade (allusion to Miami starting QB Cleo Lemon)

Elementary my dear Watson (appeal to the Pats to involve Ben Watson in the passing game)

Evidently you can't make a hilarious pun with "Welker" or "Stallworth."

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X > Y; therefore Y > X

>> Friday

Buster Olney, apparently unable to interpret simple numerical comparisons, saw this graphic regarding the ALCS:

________________________In 2 Red Sox wins __ In 3 Red Sox losses
BA ahead in the count:____________.350_____________.222
BA behind/even in the cout:________.357_____________.232

And concluded this:

"You see .350 when ahead in the count when they've won, compared to just .232 in their losses when they're behind in the count. That shows how important for them to get ahead in the count."

To be fair, it's generally advantageous to hit ahead in the count, but no--the numbers from this series do not demonstrate this fact.

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Why Manny Ramirez is our hero


I'm way late on this because I've been too wrapped up in work and personal affairs to read the sports pages in the daily post, but I have to talk a little bit about Manny Ramirez's post-Game 4 remarks on Wednesday.

Let's just start by saying, Manny Ramirez is awesome in every respect imaginalbe. And his latest show of honesty gives me a sense of vicarious catharsis that I haven't felt since Gilbert Arenas told everyone to take the stick out of their ass and just enjoy some basketball.

"If we don't do it, we'll come back next year and try again . . . If it doesn't happen, who cares? There's always next year. It's not the end of the world."

Thank you, Manny Ramirez. Thank you for having perspective. Thank you for understanding that not everything is in your control. Thank you for knowing that your work is not defined by competetive structures. You are awesome.

Matt and I had a nice phone conversation last night (how I learned about this story--thanks Beck) on this topic--the proceding being a rehash of our thoughts on this topic.

People are upset because Manny doesn't seem to be taking his competetive duty seriously. But competition can mislead you. Competition can stray your focus. Competition can destroy you... when you direct it the wrong way.

Manny understands competition. Manny may be a flaky weirdo who exists and plays baseball in a vacuum, but I think that makes Manny the most perfect baseball competitor that we have ever seen because Manny doesn't care. He doesn't care that the purists are obsessed with competition, or that the fans and blowhard newsmen are the same. Manny just watches that silly white ball and hits the behayzeus out of it. And that's what baseball players are supposed to do.

He is phenomenally talented. He can watch an 0-2 slider miss the zone by three inches and not even flinch and then smoke a dead-center dinger on the 1-2. He may be the most talented hitter (at least top five) us twenty-something punks have ever seen. How has he done it? In order, 1) talent, 2) talent, 3) not giving a fuck, 4) not buying into the purist bullcrap.

As relayed to me by Matt, ESPN Radio invited Wade Boggs on the air to talk about Manny yesterday morning. Evidently, he was disgusted by Ramirez's words, as were--I'm sure--scores of other active and retired ballplayers.

But really, what's the big deal? Why the condemnation? Are you jealous, Boggs? Do you resent Manny because his talent is so phenomenal that he can excel at baseball without obsessing over it? Are you mad because Manny can dominate the game of baseball without worshiping it? Do you hate that you lost sleep and clumps of hair over your failures and ate chicken before evey game because you were so damned superstitious and worried about the game's outcome while Manny goes on smiling under his wacky braids and--heaven forbid--seems to enjoy himself on the field?

We've said it over and over: Baseball is not an effort sport. You don't try in baseball; you react. It is a game played most effectively in a purely instinctual, almost hypnotic, mindset--not with a busy mind and feelings of duress. One could argue that this is true of all sports and even many professions. Excessive effort and obsession with work are what give people ulcers, one-dimensional personalities, and strained relationships with their spouses and children. What a shame that Manny can't be like that.

Say what you will about Manny's track record as a defensive player. But if you think for one second that he isn't 100% focused when he's at the plate, or that he somehow exhibits a lack of regard for his at-bats, then you have never watched Ramirez hit. He is the epitome of the perfectly honed-in, perfectly reactive major league hitter.

So of course, Manny wasn't going to let the negative press worry him in Game 5. Instead, he scorched two hits and drew a walk, but undoubtedly, the Boston sports talk airwaves were filled with critics railing on his off-the-fence single last night. Such is the trade-off with Manny. But really, who's counting? I'll take the man on my team any day.

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Good to the Last Match

The MLS playoff system has more than it's fair share of detractors. Traditional soccer fans bemoan the fact that a team that finishes with the 8th best record over the season is only 4 wins away from winning a championship (As LA Galaxy did in 2005). Other fans cry afoul at how 8 out of 13 teams make the postseason, rendering early-season games meaningless.

Well, regardless of the detractors, this is shaping up to be the wildest finish to an MLS playoff chase in years. With the Cup playoffs starting next Thursday, teams have one last chance to impress and earn their way in. Three games this weekend carry massive ramifications for teams looking to extend their season.

Colorado at Salt Lake, Los Angeles at Chicago, Kansas City at Dallas.

These four teams are clustered together within 3 points of each other. Each with one game left, and it may come down to tiebreakers, or even goal difference.

SATURDAY PREVIEW
Kansas City's hot start this season (6-3-2) had many people believing that first-year coach Curt Anolfo would be the man to lead KC back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. That's not so much the feeling at Arrowhead anymore. Kansas City has fallen from the top of the Eastern Conference to 5th place, having gone 3-7-3 since the All-Star Break.

FC Dallas has nothing left to play for. They are in the playoffs. They know their seed. They know a matchup with either Chivas USA or Houston Dynamo awaits them at home next week. Who knows if coach Steve Morrow will bench his starters, which could open the door for KC. However, Dallas has a deeper bench than KC, and should prevail in this one given KC's recent run of poor form. KC stays on 37 points. They are Fire fans on Sunday.

Salt Lake has nothing left to play for, except the Rocky Mountain Cup against their rivals Colorado. In one of MLS's few bad-blood rivalries, the Stormin' Mormons are in the position to knock off their rivals in the Cup (1-1-1 record this season) and to knock them out of the playoffs. Colorado is a team in flux. They look like world-beaters one day (knocking off Chivas USA on the road last weekend), and can look abysmal the next. Head coach Fernando Clavijo's job may be resting on this game. I can see a tie here. Colorado ends up with 36 points, and is eliminated.



SUNDAY PREVIEW
This is the big one. (Hence more analysis).

The one benefit Chicago and LA have is that they will know for certain exactly what they both need to make the playoffs before the last match of the regular season kicks off at Toyota Park on Sunday afternoon.

While Kansas City's season story is a literary tragedy, Chicago and Los Angeles have been cliched sports movies. Both teams start off the season poorly, untill a new player comes on. David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, perhaps the Jimmy Chitwood and Even Uglier Jimmy Chitwood of MLS arrived to help rescue their teams. Blanco succeeded, scoring 4 goals and notching 6 assists in 13 games since arriving from Mexico's Club America.


Despite Blanco's addiiton, the Fire's attack still leaves much to be desired. Costa Rican International striker Paolo Wanchope looks sluggish and out of shape; scoring only two goals in 13 games- a terrible rate of attrition for a striker who is supposed to be a focal point of the Fire's attack. The Fire's offense is in similar straits; having scored multiple goals in a game only twice since September 1 (a 2-1 win over New England and a 2-2 tie against New York). Colombian International Wilman Conde has been a huge pickup for the Fire, and has helped solidify a backline that was showing it's age. The Fire have only ALLOWED multiple goals in a game twice since the All-Star Break. This Fire team plays catanaccio, an Italian model of soccer, focusing on tough defense, rough play in the midfield, taking advantage of referee's lack of position, and capitalizing on set piece opportunities.


Los Angeles plays more free-flowing, attack-oriented soccer with strike points Landon Donovan and Honduran International Carlos Pavon. Their injury woes have largely solved themselves, and if they can get into the playoffs, it will cap a Colorado Rockies-type run of going undefeated in 7 matches (6-0-1) to come back from the soccer grave. However, last night they were playing New York, who employs similar tactics. On Sunday, can the Galaxy's strikers adjust and get through the defensive midfield and backline of Chicago to recieve pinpoint passes from #23? Two unanswered goals may put the game out of reach for either side. Chicago has only come from behind to win once all year (two weeks ago against New England). Los Angeles has done so three times in the last month, however, in each of those games, LA had a man advantage by the end of the game, and poached a goal in that time frame. The conspiracy theorists will tell you the league is influencing the refs to issue red cards and get the Galaxy and their poster-child into the playoffs. I don't buy it...yet.

It's a sold out crowd in Chicago, and not just of the Beckham jersey-wearing, puberty-going-through, thunderstick-banging type. Chicago has drawn over 20,000 fans for each of their last 4, and 5 of their last 6 games. It will be a largely pro-Fire crowd. As bad as Chicago has been at home this season (5-3-6), LA has been even worse on the road (3-7-4). I could see a tough, hard fought match with a late flurry of a finish. My heart says Fire to win, but in all reality, I think this one is headed for a gritty 1-1 draw, which would send Chicago and Colorado to the playoffs.

MLS Cup Playoff Preview next week...

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For Your Consideration...

>> Thursday

OLD

NEW
Discuss...

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Wake Up Jerry Angelo

>> Wednesday

You know, that little matter of Chris Chambers going to the Chargers for a second round pick. That would not have been a bad deal for with the Bears, as our receiving crew of Butterfingers Berrian and Old Man Muhammad clearly could not use an upgrade. Of course, that second round pick could go towards future All-Pros like Mark Bradley (who may actually be good if he got a damn chance) or Dan Bazuin.

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Tim McCarver assumes that we're all idiots

>> Tuesday

In the midst of Clevland's huge fifth inning.

McCarver: "You would think that leading an inning off with a walk would lead to more multiple-run innings than leading an inning off with a home run..."

Well, I suppose if I were a moron I would think that...

"...but we did some research, and lead-off home runs have actually led to more multiple-run innings than lead-off walks."

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Heeb Watch: NLCS Edition

>> Monday

A few weeks back, I asked, "Why are so many people wondering whether Rex Grossman observes the Sabbath?"

Well, I've been checking the SiteMeter again, and as it turns out, everyone's wondering the same thing about Troy Tulowitzki and Bob Melvin.

Not to be a stereotypin' sonovabitch, but I realize it's kind a big thing when a Jew breaks into the sports big-time. Yet I'm still confused by the incredible fascination. Help a gentile out, anyone?

As far as tonight's game, go Team Tulo-vit-zki. As Paul mentioned last week, the Rockies' fan base really deserves some respect, and as grouchy as I get about feel-good stories, I'm impressed that the Rockies' organization has evidently solved the weirdness of their geography to build a fine team. Part of me longs for the Blake Street Bombers of old, but I know that's a time gone-by, and these new-generation Rocks are just as excellent to watch.

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Gyrations

A few moments ago during the Indians-Red Sox game, Timmy Mac referred to one of Dice-K's pitches as a "gyroball."

First of all, has anyone used this term since spring training? I thought we were all over this would-be sensation.

Second, the pitch was, what I'd call, either a tailing changeup (81 mph on the gun, dropping away from a lefty, released with a "turning-it-over" motion) or perhaps a borderline screwball. Back in spring training, I remember watching some Youtube videos tagged "Gyroball" where he throws this same type of pitch. This is not proprietary technology. Many good pitchers--Maddux, for one--have been throwing this for years.

Now to those of us gullible dreamers believing there was a magical new pitch out there, a Gyroball was supposed to be a pitch with changeup speed and a vicious, late, right-to-left lateral break. It sounded impossible, and evidently, it is. Or at least Dice-K doesn't throw one.

One more random observation for those of you watching this game: Is the NFL Films-style effect employed in the head-on pitcher close-up intentional, or is some FOX engineer just screwing with the technology? I missed the first inning, so maybe this was explained as FOX's newest gay gimmick. Help me out, folks.

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YCS Rant on Booing Part 6,743

>> Sunday

I know, I know, we do a lot of complaining about fans booing their home team and players here. Most of it is probably validated, even if we have nailed that home ad nauseam. However, after hearing this ridiculousness during the Seahawks-Saints radio broadcast, I had to chime in. After getting stuffed on a play, some incredibly audacious Seahawks fans actually booed Shaun Alexander. Can you get any more damn ungrateful? The Seahawks without Alexander would have accomplished the same as my (never ending) quest for gainful employment: nothing. However, it's awesome to know that a bunch of drunk idiots think they can do better than a future Hall of Fame running back.

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People who cover Landon Donovan think he's a great player

I know otherwise.

Landon Donovan has won the Honda US Player of the Year award.
The reason was because he scored 9 goals this year during National team duty. That is fucking horseshit. 5 of those goals were scored from the penalty spot, where if you miss, there is a major problem with your offensive capability.

Had YCS been given a vote, my vote would have been for goalkeeper Tim Howard or defender Carlos Bocanegra, who anchored a US "First-Team" backline that surrendered 8 goals in 13 matches (4 to Brazil). But because the award is voted on by the media, and Landy's the most-recognized player, he gets it.

I'm not sure if I'm more pissed off that Donovan won it, or that the soccer writers who vote on the award just didn't bother to do any research.

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My lord, it's come to this

The TBS studio broadcast team is so bad, so dry, so utterly deficient of charisma and insight that the network had to fish the well for Mr. Instant Ratings himself, Sir Charles Barkley--a man who knows little-to-nothing about baseball--to bail them out. Which tells me one thing: The mere presence of Charles Barkley--speaking on any topic whatsoever--is more profitable to TBS than the combined baseball insight of a four-man studio crew.

That leads me to wonder: Where the hell is Steve Stone for these LCS?! They're wasting their best asset! This is bogus! Just bogus.

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How Does Bill Simmons keep getting work?

Simmons hops on the "Holy freakin' crap! Every team from Boston is playing wicked hahd-cowh right now" bandwagon that seems to have been repeated ad nauseum the last week or so.

Yes, Boston College is #4 in the country.
Yes, the Red Sox are in the playoffs.
Yes, the Patriots are pretty good.
Yes, the Celtics have KG.
I'll even throw in that the dirty, theiving $%@#$^!#% New England Revolution are MLS Cup favorites as the playoffs get underway next week.

Things these phenomena have in common: Each team plays in Massachusetts.
Things these phenomena don't have in common: Everything else.

Is it remarkable? Perhaps, but no more so than a scheduling quirk that has the Yankees play the White Sox on the same night the Bears play the Jets.

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Stick to the NBA, Sports Guy (Part XVILVLXXIIII)

When I saw that Simmons answered an all-MLB mailbag this week, I just had to see what Bosto-centric lunacy this unearthed. It wasn't the gold mine I'd expected, but it did offer a few ignorant opinions that I had to address.

2. Manager Eric Wedge stuck to his guns, started Paul Byrd in Game 4 (I thought Wedge was crazy, like so many others did) and pitched his embattled closer in the ninth when he easily could have brought out a lights-out Rafael Betancourt for a second inning, announcing to everybody, "This is our team, this is what we did all year, I'm not changing now." And it paid off. They won. You have to hand it to him.

(Wedge didn't get enough credit for dusting off the Artist Formerly Known as Trot Nixon, then starting him in Game 3 for the simple reason that Trot has ALWAYS owned Roger Clemens. As soon as I saw Trot in the lineup, I thought to myself, "Wow, I don't care how washed-up Trot is, he's hitting a homer in this game." And it happened. Sure, Trot ended up blowing the game open with an outfield error a few innings later, but it happened. Let's make sure that Trot ends up in Clemens' nursing home 50 years from now. Assuming Clemens has retired by then.)

More on his first point following bullet-point 4.

But first, the Trot Nixon thing.

The hindsight provided by the Nixon error aside (managers can't anticipate such things), I'm not sure the hindsight of the homer entirely justifies the start.

Granted, Nixon's career line against Clemens is impressive: 16-40, 8 BB, 5 HR, 5 2B. But pitcher-batter matchups are funny things. 1) They rely on small sample sizes, obviously. 2) As players age, their games change and adapt to the loss of physical abilities, creating an entirely new head-to-head dynamic. I mean, would anyone say that Dwight Gooden vs. Rafael Palmero in 1987 meant anything in 1997? I think the same goes for Nixon-Clemens. Most of those matchups took place when both were in their primes. Both players have seen their skills diminish considerably.

Who does that favor? Hard to say. Consider that Tony Gwynn absolutely owned the greatest pitcher of all-time (no bias), Greg Maddux--39-94, (.415), 11 BB, .997 OPS. Against John Burkett, a decidely less talented pitcher, he went 9-39 (.231), 3 BB, 2 2B, .561 OPS; vs. Ken Hill: 14-52 (.269) .700 OPS.

So sometimes a player will hit much worse against a worse pitcher (in terms of overall numbers) than against a great pitcher. My point being, Clemens's dimishing skills could actually make him more effective against an individual hitter who has also aged, and who is--I don't know--55% as effective as he was in his prime.

4. Joe "Never a Doubt!" Borowski slammed the door on the Yanks with one of those classic Borowski saves -- he gave up one homer and another potential homer that curved foul before whiffing Posada to end the series. I never thought a baseball closer could match the "no, no, no ... yes!!!!" dynamic of Antoine Walker in his prime, but Borowski has to be the most compelling guy in the playoffs right now, a potential successor to Calvin Schiraldi, Mitch Williams, Jose Mesa and everyone else of that ilk. Can you win a World Series with a closer who makes the '96 John Wetteland look like Eric Gagne during his 84-save streak? If you remember, the 2001 World Series champs survived two Byung-Hyun Kim meltdowns in the same series. So it's definitely possible. It's just that Indians fans might be throwing up blood for the next two weeks.

I swear--I'm not out to trash Jo-Bo. As I've already mentioned, I loved him in '03. I admire his perseverence (not getting a real major league gig til he was 31). But he is not good. B.H. Kim has nothing to do with this argument.

Yes, Kim was a little kid in '01 and may have been spooked by postseason play. Or maybe he was just hurt by good hitters getting good wood on decent pitches. But revisionists who believe that Kim was not an effective reliever that year, or that his '01 WS appearance ruined his career are sadly mistaken. He had an excellent '01 season (98 IP, 58 H, 113 K, 1.04 WHIP) and followed that up with an '02 of 84 IP, 64 H, 92 K, 1.07 WHIP. All excellent.

Borowski has done nothing of the sort in his career. Will that mean he'll have a series like Kim had? Of course not. But does he slightly hurt the chances of the Indians winning this series? Undeniably. (Also, Schiraldi was awesome in '86--something Simmons's Buckno-centric mind forgets.)

Anyway, that was about it for refutable comments. Sports Guy spends the rest of the column sticking to the only thing he knows better than the NBA: non-sports topics.

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As long as we're being nit-picky about ESPN

Here's one time I really wish I had ESPN Insider:



I'd love to read the Insider preview to this match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Redskins. I guess that's the problem with the 24-hour media cycle: nobody has time to edit anything.

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Chris "Boomer" Berman--unfamiliar with famous Latin phrases / literary references

Trying to offer up one of his classic (read: played... so played!) Bermanisms for the again unretired Vinny Testaverde, he gives us:

"Vidi Vidi Vinny Testeverde"

Sorry, Boom. Not even close. You can't even do your own stupid schtick right. You suck.


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Not another save rant!

>> Saturday

Sorry, but I just can't take it.

Joe Borowski sucks, plain and simple. He's not--as so many broadcasters (including Buck and Timmy Mac tonight) have implied--a wily escape artist with a penchant for bending but not breaking. He is simply a bad relief pitcher who personifies the meaninglessness of the save and, moreover, how easily a major league pitcher can compile saves given the opportunity.

I don't mean to badmouth Joe personally. How could I ever forget the way he pitched in '03? (Aside: Dusty Baker's going to an NL Central team not the Cubs or Brewers! How long before he benches Adam Dunn for walking too much?) I don't think the guy ever missed the catcher's glove that year. That backdoor slurve that barely broke but still fooled the lefties was awesome. But guess what? That pitch breaks even less now, and his super-straight low-90s fastball is now a super-straight high-80s fastball.

It's hard to be a quality major league pitcher when you have you zero quality major league pitches.

Here's Joe-Bo's line this year: 65 2/3 IP, 77 H, 9 HR, 17 BB, 58 K, 1.43 WHIP, 45 Sv

Now a sane person would look at that and say, "Wow, a 1.43 WHIP is really high--especially when it's so heavy on hits. Just goes to show that saves are really an accidental product of opportunity, not a reflection of performance."

But if you're a 115 year-old baseball writer with a full-grown moustache over each eye, you might say, "That just shows he might give up a few hits but buckles down when it counts."

I just can't understand how a halfway intelligent person could let such a flawed, convoluted stat trump all other measures--including one's eyes--in judging a reliever's ability. It boggles my mind and makes me angry.

And as I've pointed out so many times, Borowski isn't a first-time phenomenon.

Antonio Alfonseca, 2000: 70 IP, 82 H, 24 BB, 47 K, 1.51 WHIP, 45 Sv
Todd Jones, 2000: 64 IP, 67 H, 25 BB, 67 K, 1.44 WHIP, 42 Sv (5th in CY voting)
Jose Mesa, 1999: 68 2/3 IP, 84 H, 40 BB, 42 K, 1.81 WHIP, 33 Sv

If anyone but Jose Mesa put up that line, he would be fortunate to have a job. But because he was already firmly entrenched in the Sacred Fraternity of the Closer after his dominant '95 season, the Mariners kept giving him the ball in the ninth.

I truly believe that Jones and Mesa are two examples of guys who've made lengthy careers on one or two good seasons and facial hair. I'm 100% serious about that. It's the "closer face" phenomenon. All they needed was one year with a high save total, and people would continue to say things like "He has a closer's mentality" about them because of their facial hair.

For a guy like Mesa, I can understand why the "closer" rep sticks. He's always thrown hard, even as he's gotten old. But Jones hasn't thrown hard in years. Borowski never has. Nothing about him fits the mold. Yes, many guys (Hoffman, Saito, Foulke, Quisenberry, Jones, Wilhelm, etc) have succeeded as closers without throwing hard, but just about every one of them had an exceptional changeup or some other exceptional offspeed pitch (i.e. Wilhelm's knuckler). Borowski does not. Borowski is all reputation, and you'd be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

P.S.: How many times is FOX gonna play "Dirty Water" in this series? We get it. It's about Boston.

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What's the deal with airplane peanuts?

Just wondering... Is there any other "State" school that's known better by their initials than their full name other than LSU? Everytime I hear an announcer say "Louisiana State," I'm like, "Who?" What makes them so special? Am I right, ladies? Don't get me started... Don't even get me started.

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Open Letter to David Stern

>> Friday

Dear Commissioner Stern:

I'm not gonna lie. I'm not really an NBA guy. Hockey, baseball, college basketball, college football, and two different kinds of professional football get my attention before the NBA does. I've been over the reasons why I don't like you so many times they've become like the lines to any movie we've seen too many times. Knowing exactly where they come up and learning them by heart. No defense. Spoiled millionaires. Music piped in during the run of play. Too slow-moving.

I can probably count the number of NBA games on one hand I've watched from start to finish since finishing grade school. I can't bring myself to care during the playoffs, or the regular season, much less during the preseason.

But this preseason, my head had turned. This NBA European experiment has caught my eye, and while it hasn't brought me back into the fold, it has made me curious. I'm not an NBA fan, and to quote Ferris Bueller, "I'm not European. I don't plan on being European. So who cares if they're socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still wouldn't change the fact that I don't own a car."

OK. The last part wasn't too relevant, and I'm not sure if you've done this for years, but whoever dreamed up this NBA-teams-take-on-European-teams is a genius. Even if it's just in the preseason, the most meaningless preseason of all, I turned and looked. Even though I knew the likely outcome, I legitimately wanted to see if the New York Knicks could knock off Maccabi Tel Aviv. I wanted to see how Spanish Champions Real Madrid would do against the Toronto Raptors.

Why? For the last several years, it has been universally regarded that the NBA is the best basketball league on the planet. However, whenever NBA players represent the Stars and Stripes in a major international tournament, they seem to come up short against foreign national teams that maybe have one or two NBA players, and "collection of stiffs." Well, those guys are never really stiffs. They're stars in their own right, just not in the NBA. Toni Kukoc was a well-established international star in Europe before moving to the Bulls in the mid-90s.

I can only hope these pre-season exhibitions are the start of something. It's no secret that the NBA seems to have more or less tapped out its market potential in the U.S.. Disagree? Where else would you put a new team? If the first cities that come to mind are Louisville and Kansas City, then there's nowhere else to go. It's also no secret that David Stern is looking to Europe, saying that London's O2 Arena could be the site of a future NBA regular season game. European stars like Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, (or any assortment of Eastern Europeans who have succeeded over the past 10 years in the NBA) are making their mark on the NBA, and the next generation is looking to follow their lead.

What I'm proposing is a regular competition at the beginning of the season at a neutral site. Let's say...Madison Square Garden this year and O2 or some other European arena next year. Take 4 NBA teams based on results from the prior season and play them over a week against the Final Four of the Euroleague or four invited international teams to guarantee a good gate draw (ie: Bring in Maccabi, Panathanaikos, Real Madrid, Treviso, or some other big European team.)

Offer a big prize to the winners. Use it as a way to kick off the season. You could even play it in the summer, during both offseasons. It's not like the WNBA is drawing anything besides red numbers on your balance sheets. It would essentially become the Ryder Cup for Basketball. NBA scouts would get increased exposure to how up-and-coming European talent would do against NBA competition. The NBA players who may be representing Team USA would get increased exposure to international tactics and international rules. It would be new. It would be different. It would be exciting and interesting. It would reflect the growing international influence in basketball. Make tickets cheap if you're worried about low gates. Do it for charity. It couldn't hurt.

If it was done this past year, let's just set it up for shits and giggles using the NBA Finalists, the league's best regular-season record, and the host team (Let's say it's at the Garden) along with 4 invited Euro teams.

Group A
CSKA Moscow (Russia, Euroleague Finalists)
Panathanaikos (Greece, Euroleague Champions)
Cleveland Cavaliers (USA, NBA Finalists)
New York Knicks (USA, Host team)

Group B
Real Madrid Baloncesto (Spain, Spanish Champions)
Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel, Israeli Champions)
San Antonio Spurs (USA, NBA Champions)
Dallas Mavericks (USA, Regular Season Best Record)

Group stage games in Cleveland, New york, San Antonio and Dallas. Top two in each group advance to semifinals at the Garden. Winners move on to Final. You could finish the whole tournament in a little over a week if you start on Friday and end the following Sunday. Sure, for the first few years, the best of the NBA might trounce the best of Europe, and we end up with 3 or 4 NBA teams in the semifinals, but isn't that what we have already in the pre-season? Just NBA teams playing each other? But there, it's in meaningless games. Here, let's make it interesting. Let's put something at stake.

Call it stupid, but I think it's a great idea. And I think whoever came up with your NBA Europe Live is on to something.

Sincerely,
Me

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I need some help from people that really know football

>> Thursday

As my typical disclaimer when I talk about football, I only follow the facets of the NFL that directly pertain to fantasy scoring. Thus, I don't know what to make of the Panthers signing (and possibly starting this week) Vinny Testaverde except, "What the F?"

Really, isn't there some better option somewhere? Isn't there some amazing college QB that couldn't quite cut it as a pro that can step in? I mean, isn't there someone with legs that have 20 less years on them that can run a pro offense nearly as well as Testaverde? Or even if they aren't smart enough or accurate enough to, isn't that person still a better option that Testaverde? Isn't Kordell Stewart still around somewhere?

I realize that the QB position requires the skills of decision-making and reading coverage as much as scrambling, arm strength, and durability. But I really, really find it hard to believe there isn't a single person in this world that can fill in better than a mediocre, middle-aged QB who hasn't had a good season since the 90's. I guess Brett Favre is getting old, but he's still 7 years younger than Testaverde and one of the greatest of all-time.

Is Testaverde even still effective? MLB pitchers can play well into their 40's, but that's about the only position in any pro sport that you might expect a player to be effective at such an age.

So Matt and Matt and whoever else, help me out. I'm perplexed.

Finally, does this mean I should sit Steve Smith this week?

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For best results, take out of context

"I was there when Gayle Sayers hurt his knee. I have great memories of Soldier Field."

-Brad Childress, Vikings head coach on his homecoming to Chicago on Sunday


(context: The previous sentence, Childress mentioned watching games at Wrigley Field. Sayers hurt his knee in 1970, a year before the Bears moved to Soldier Field. Still hilarious.)

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Which team should I root for?
















There are so many great teams in baseball's League Championship Series' that it is almost impossible to pick a team to root for. Well, if you need a little clarification, let me help you find that perfect team so you can root them on to postseason glory.

1.) Colorado Rockies (er, Colorado Rocky Mountain Highs)

What's not to like about this team....they've got spunk, they've got grit, and they've got the man with the best looking facial hair in Todd Helton since Al Hrabosky. Plus, they have a stadium named after that Beer can which turns blue when cold.

2.) Arizona Diamondbacks (er, Snakes)

The team has Doug Davis and Livian Hernandez as it's #2 and 3 starters. Any team that wins 90 games with those two in the same locker-room deserves a chance at history. Plus, the team has Jeff Salazar as its starting right fielder for the playoffs...thats all you need to know.

3.) Cleveland Indians

Man, how can you not root for a team that has Kenny Lofton on it's roster. I mean, the guy is great and definitely in this man's mind, is a sure first ballot HOFer. Plus, for all you Chicagoans out there, can you really root against a team whose mascot looks astonishingly like number 33, Scottie Pippen?


4.) Boston Red Sox

Only if you're Gay!








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Just Asking

>> Wednesday

Am I the only person really hoping for a Rockies-Indians World Series? You know...just to see if ESPN would even cover it?

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YCS Super Sports Reporting Team Exclusive: Joe Torre's postgame speech

>> Monday

We write a lot of brilliant commentaries, pithy observations, and hilarious gags on this blog, and we're proud of them all. But what we pride ourselves most in at YCS is our hard, investigative reporting.

And tonight, we really pulled it off again, getting access to the Yankees locker room to bring you Joe Torre's postgame speech to his players. (Pretty amazing how we went from zero press credentials to covering one of the biggest sporting events in the world overnight, huh? Oh, and don't ask us why we didn't just record it and re-wrote it instead. It's just how we do things.)

Here's the exclusive transcript of his speech:

Well, boys. What can I say... This one's tough to take. I don't know if any of us can take much positive out of the way this season ended. We were built to win it all, and we didn't do that. It's as simple as that.

This is hard to say, but I just wanted to leave all with these last parting words before we get out of here: I hope you all die.

You guys really screwed me this time. Thanks. No, really. Thank you for getting me fired... Thanks a million... Thanks a hundred and ninety-six million.

My God. You can't give me one series. Not one damned series the last three years to save my ass? Now that batty old turtlenecked schmuck is gonna put me out on the street because after 97 years as a business man, he doesn't know the term "diminishing marginal returns."

Ok, I know; I know. The postseason takes luck. We've been through this talk. But you don't think just one time, for good ol' Joe, you could've actually made all that "winning when it counts" crap work? For me?

So fuck you.

Fuck you guys for getting pasted in game one. Fuck you guys for being dominated in game two. Fuck you guys for only scoring two runs off Paul fucking Byrd tonight! I mean... My God. It's Paul Byrd. Just look at him throw the damned ball. He looks like "Fat" Freddie Fitzsimmons out there. You guys remember "Fat" Freddie? Huh? No! Of course you don't! ...I don't! ...Because he pitched in the goddamned thirties!

Derek... You have got to be kidding me. Three times on base in four games? You know George already has Eckstein on the line, don't you? Where was the underhanded cut-off flip to the plate play this time? Hell, I'd have even taken one of those famous deep-in-hole backhanded stops that almost any major league shortstop can make but that people make a big fuss about when you do it. But you gave me nothing, Derek, and now you're dead to me.

Jorge... Hoo-ray on the career year! Best year of your life at 36! How about that? Round of applause, everyone! ...Quit clapping, dumbshit! I was being sarcastic! For the love of God, Jorge, where was that career year crap the last four games?

And Manishevitz--or whatever the hell your name is--when I say I have you in there for defense, that does not mean you are exempt from hitting the ball. I know you're usually terrible so I shouldn't be surprised, but I had you pegged as my "poor hitter who has an inexplicably awesome series." You were my Brosius. You were my Leyritz. And you did nothing.

And Kim Jong. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Waing. A big shibal nom to you. Three outs? That's all? Three outs? I mean, what happened? Too much math? Too much communism? Tell me something else your country does, so I can make fun of that too. Cram it!... Taiwan... I don't care where you're from. You couldn't give me-- wait... You speak English? Well good. Then I don't have to translate: Die, asshole.

Alex? Hell... mad as I am, even I can't rip you. You've been pissed on enough, and I already know they'll be saying that home run wasn't "clutch" enough or early enough or loud enough or some shit in the Post tomorrow, so you get a pass.

And lastly--Villone. Nah, don't worry. This has nothing to do with your pitching. What the hell am I gonna say about a third of a damned inning? Nah... It's your voice. It makes my skin crawl. I don't know why; it just does. Always wanted to tell you that. So please don't let me hear you speak again until I'm out of here.

As for the rest of you--well, not you Mo--but most of you: I hope you all get injured. You're the reason I got fired, just as much as I'm the reason we've lost in the first round the last three years. So if that's how how Big Stein's going to judge me, that's how I judge you. That's just how it is.

Now all of you get the hell out of my sight. Except for you, Mo. I love you.

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Yeah, because that's the only place where people still like you

If you missed it, Craig Sager was just interviewing Jon Bon Jovi, who revealed that Bon Jovi will be opening their next tour with ten straight dates in New Jersey. Um, yeah, like the post title says.

Also, Jon really knows his baseball. He should quit music and go into broadcasting. Just kidding. But he should still quit music.

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What Not To Wear


I'm not normally one to play fashion police. After all, most of the contributers to this blog remember me fighting over a pair of jean shorts like a homeless man fighting for a can of Dinty Moore.

But I have to issue a mandate on sports jerseys, because this has been bugging me longer than this blog has existed. If you wear a player's jersey to a game, the player must fall under one of the following categories:

1. Current player on the team (obviously).

2. Legendary player of the team (Robin Yount jerseys never go out of style in Milwaukee).

3. Hilariously obscure former player that makes people say, "I didn't even know they sold his jersey." (Like the Mike Prior jersey I saw at Lambeau Field last year)

But the Bills fan I just saw wearing an Eric Moulds jersey? No. Sorry, but that's not allowed. The guy doesn't play for your team anymore. I realize he spent a decade as a Bill, but he had just four 1,000-yard seasons in that time, which is decent but certainly doesn't give him legendary status. If you don't want to invest in a new jersey (and as a Bills fan right now, you're probably better off saving your money) just wear a team T-shirt or something.

As a rule of thumb though, if the number is not retired, it should not show up at the stadium. Unless I see a Carmen Castillo jersey at Clevelend's pending ALCS appearance...that would be great, and it would be permitted under the hilariously random clause.

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Most vaguest trivia question EVER!!!!!

Sonic Trivia Question from tonight's Yanks-Indians game:

What happened on this date in MLB history that never happened before and has never happened since?

What??! I think that's one of those questions they'd ask people on the gallows to save their lives back in the old days. I mean, seriously, without any bounds, that could literally be anything. Lonnie Smith homered off Bob Welch on a 1-2 count with two outs in the fifth? Willie Mays called Leo Durocher "daddio" in the dugout?

Answer: Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series. Wow. Did he? Never heard that one before. Imagine that. A perfect game. In the World Series. I'm surprised no one's ever mentioned this rare occurrence before.

YAWWWN.......

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Giving credit to some great fans where some real credit is due

>> Saturday

The Phoenix Snakes and the Denver Rocky Mountain Highs (YCS needs to get on board with this revised team name too)... You have to admit that neither of these teams have much history (well, the Snakes did win a World Series on a lucky jam-off-the-handle single), but I really have to give credit to these fans.

The Colorado and Arizona fans were wild towel-waving freaks in their respective series. I was kinda shocked about the level of energy in Arizona and Colorado; the level of energy was insane. And because these series were broadcasted on TBS, you know that the crowd noise wasn't some ploy by Fox Sports to make the game seem more intense than anyone could ever imagine.

I do have to say that in a way, the enthusiasm seems a little contrived. The MLB sticks a new team into a high-population area and hopes that fans buy into the buzz. On the other hand, you have to give credit to fans who really went all out for teams that started as bunches of schmucks plopped into a profitable metropolitan area and grew into successful franchises.

Also, you have to admit it's "easier" for Cubs fans, Bo Sox fans, and Spankees fans to buy into the long traditions and/or supposed curses of their clubs, get really riled up for the playoffs, and cheer their asses off for a tradition that really have little part of. But it takes a real fan and a really proud inhabitant of the Southwest to cheer for teams that have no more than a decade and a half of a comparatively un-storied history.

Thus, I congratulate the Snakes and the Highs on their well earned berths into the NCLS. The fans earned it, and so did the teams. Please though, put down the towels -- that goes for fans of all professional and non-professional teams. We're all getting really sick of inhaling towel threads.

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Cubbie Youtube gold

Whether you're a Cub fan or not, these are worth a watch. Especially if you love hilarious old commercials, '80s green-screen effects, Harry Caray, Bill Marray, Steve Stone the Christ, baby blue Expos uniforms, or Wrigley Field without the backstop ad board.

Enjoy.















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