Man Crush of the Week

 

It’s rare as a sports fan that you get to witness history. I may have done so on Sunday when I was fortunate enough to witness the highly-anticipated debut of one of the best prospects in baseball: 20 year old pitcher Clayton Kershaw. I watched the young lefty’s first start in the big leagues from the Loge level of Doger Stadium on a cloudy afternoon in Southern California, and I left with the same butterflies I came in with.

Now I’m not one to believe the hype. I am one of the biggest cynics you will find when it comes to young talent, especially young, hard-throwing pitchers. I’m used to seeing guys come up from the minors with electric stuff who fail because they have no idea how to pitch.

They throw 95+, but leave it in the middle of the plate. They have a devastating breaking ball, but can’t throw it for a strike. They get caught up in trying to strike everyone out, and build up 100+ pitches by the fifth inning.

And that is exactly the kind of immaturity Kershaw displayed in his first inning of work. After striking out Cardinals leadoff hitter Skip Shumaker, he walked the second hitter and gave up an RBI double to the great Albet Pujols (due in part to shotty fielding by Juan Pierre). Kershaw ended up striking out the side, but threw over 20 pitches and looked like he had no chance of locating his breaking ball. I figured he’d struggle to get through 5 innings and give up 3 or 4 runs while striking out 7 or 8 (shades of Chad Billingsley, and we see how that’s turned out so far).

But, presumably after a mid-inning talk from dugout leader and catcher Russel Martin, Kershaw turned the corner. He got a groundout on the second pitch of the at-bat to start the second inning, and he cruised from then on.

With the game tied at 2 (the second run scored on a sun-ball off James Loney’s face and a high throw to home from Blake DeWitt), Kershaw, rather than being satisfied with a great first start, finished his job by getting a fly out to left field with runners on second and third to keep the game tied. After the Dodgers took the lead in the bottom of the sixth, Kershaw was in line for the win in his first big-league start, and would have gotten it if not for a leadoff walk by Cory Wade and a throwing error by Martin in the seventh.

Kershaw’s final line: 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 ER, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, 102 pitches

they look good together, don\'t they?I know the Cardinals aren’t exactly the ’27 Yankees, but Kershaw looked brilliant. More impressive than the mid 90s fastballs and the 12-6 curveball was the fact that he actually PITCHED. He was economic with his pitches and got big outs when he needed to.

I believe the hype. Kershaw is the best lefty starter the Dodgers have seen since….um….Odalis Perez? Kaz Ishii? Carlos Perez? Wilson Alvarez?

I don’t want to draw any comparisons to a certain Dodgers Hall of Fame left-handed starter (we’ll just call him Randy Nofax), because that would be unfair, but Kershaw certainly looks like the real deal.

 

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Shootout Shenanigans

he\'s lucky his team won

I have to admit, soccer has definitely grown on me. It used to be just as taboo as hockey in my household, but now I can sit through most of a soccer match (even though I don’t understand what’s going on most of the time) and I usually enjoy it.

This caused me to watch the Champions League (I don’t really know what that is) Final today on ESPN2. I knew that Manchester United and Chelsea are both from England, and that Cristiano Ronaldo is good, but that’s about it. Anyway when I turned it on in the second half it was 1-1, and, not surprisingly, the game ended in a tie. After 30 minutes of extra time (and a Chelsea player getting ejected for slapping a Man-U player in the face…only in soccer), the game was still tied. So the game went to penalty kicks.

Winning the Champions League is widely considered the highest prize for a soccer team, and now it was going to be decided by a schoolyard activity that involves just as much luck as skill. Manchester United ended up winning after Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka was denied by goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, but it felt like they had won by forefeit or something. Even though shootouts are appealing because you actually see goals scored, it’s not the right way to crown a winner in one of the world’s most important championship games.

This got me thinking about what the equivalent of a shootout would be in the popular American sports, and this is what I came up with:

 

Baseball: If the game remains tied after 12 innings of play, both teams clear the field except for a pitcher and a batter. With the pitcher throwing his best stuff, the batter gets one swing to hit the ball and try to round the bases and score before the pitcher can retreive the ball and either touch home plate, tag the runner with the ball, or hit the runner with a thrown ball. The teams alternate just like penalty shots until a winner is determined.

So if the batter hits a line drive, the team will pretty much score (assuming the runner doesn’t tear his ACL rounding the bases). If it’s a pop fly to the infield or a weak grounder, you’re gonna see some serious hustle!

Ideal Matchup:  Juan Pierre vs. Bartolo Colon

 

Basketball: There are some pretty easy equivalents in basketball. A game of HORSE or a three-point contest seems logical. But in order to simulate the one-on-one nature of a shootout, I suggest a game entitled, “Dunk on Him!”

It’s pretty simple. Instead of a second overtime, one team selects its best dunker and the other picks its best defender. Each player starts at the half court line, on opposite sides of the court. When the whistle blows, they both sprint towards the basket with the offensive player trying to dunk the ball and the defender trying to stop him without fouling. This solution will result in countless SportsCenter highlights and will take half as long as the 45 minutes of an NBA overtime.

Ideal Mathcup:  Josh Smith vs. Kevin Garnett or Anybody vs. Patrick Ewing (he got dunked on a lot)

 

 

Football: Ok everybody hates the NFL sudden-death overtime and college overtime is almost like a shootout to begin with, so we have to come up with something different…and here it is.

Each team selects an offensive player (probably a running back) to go through an American Gladiators-style Breakthrough and Conquer against one of the other team’s best defenders. For those of you not familiar with the show (the original, not the Hulk Hogan version), first the runner has to juke and get by a defender and then immediately attempt to wrestle and push the defender out of a painted circle.

Ideal Matchup: LaDanian Tomlinson vs. Ray Lewis (original AG used two Gladiators, but I think it’s fair to have just one defender required to do both)

 

 

So, in an effort to unify the sports, I suggest we adopt these tie-breakers for our major sports. They’d be a lot more soccer-like and could help bridge the gap between American sports and European sports. Or soccer could just continue playing until somebody actually wins. I guess that could work too.

No-Hitter = No Career

If only I were two years older

 

Tonight, John Lester accomplished one of the most sought-after feats for a pitcher: he threw a no-hitter. When it was mentioned that Lester is only 24 years old, I got to thinking about other young studs who have burst onto the Major League scene with no-hitters early in their careers.

Unfortunately for Lester, the list isn’t pretty.

Here are all of the pitchers in the last 10 years to throw a no-hitter at the age of 25 or younger, accompanied by their career statistics. *WARNING* If your name is John Lester, you might not want to read any further.

 

Jose Jimenez: Threw a no-hitter for the Cardinals on June 25, 1999 at the age of 25 (although he is Dominican, so it’s possible he was 35). His career was shaky at best after that, adopting the closer’s role with the Colorado Rockies for four years. He saved 41 games in 2002, but still managed to lose 10 games.

Bottom Line: career record of 24-44, 4.92 ERA in 7 years.

 

Eric Milton: Threw his no-hitter at the age of 24 for the Minnesota Twins on September 11, 1999 to beat the Angels. He notched double-digit victories in four of the next five seasons, with a high of 15 wins in 2001.  His career steadily declined after signing for big money with the Reds, and now when you mention his name people say “Who? Oh yeah, him. Wait…oh ok yeah yeah I remember. What happened to him?”

Bottom Line: career record of 87-84, 4.69 ERA in 10 years.

 

A.J. Burnett: No-hit the Padres at the age of 24 while pitching for the Marlins on May 12, 2001. Burnett has gotten a lot of money since then in exchange for being one of the most inconsistent pitchers in baseball. He’ll look unhittalbe one game and then give up 10 runs the next. Needless to say his dedication and heart have been questioned.

Bottom Line: career record of 73-70, 3.81 ERA in 10 years. Not terrible, but nowhere near expectations.

 

Bud Smith: Oh boy. This is pretty much the name I was thinking of when I came up with this list. The youngest pitcher (21 years old) on the list, he tossed a no-no on September 3, 2001 to beat the Padres. There’s just no way to make this guy’s career look good. He went 6-3 that year for the Cards and 1-5 in 2002 before he went to the minors, never to return. The Good News is he did pitch with me in the Golden Baseball League in the summer of 2006. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

Bottom Line: career record of 7-8, 4.95 ERA in two seasons. Sad, but hey, he can always say he threw a no-hitter in the Major Leagues.

 

Anibal Sanchez: Came to the Marlins along with Hanley Ramirez in exchange for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett before the 2006 season. He made the move look good afer throwing a no-hitter on September 6, 2006 to beat the Diamondbacks at the ripe age of 22. He finished that season strong, going 10-3, but ran into arm trouble shortly thereafter. He started only 6 games in 2007 before scheduling his date with the operating table, and has yet to appear in a game since.

Bottom Line: career record of 12-4, 3.24 ERA in 1+ seasons. Promising start, but will he ever pitch again?

 

Justin Verlander: If Lester has a ray of sunshine, it’s Verlander. After a Rookie of the Year 2006 campaign, he threw his no-hitter on June 12, 2007 at the age of 24 in the midst of another stellar season. He finished 5th in the AL Cy Young Award voting that year, but 2008 has been a different story. This season he is just 1-7 with a robust 6.05 ERA. Is it possible he peaked a little early? Time will tell, I suppose.

Bottom Line: career record of 36-24, 4.02 ERA in 2+ seasons. Displayed Hall of Fame stuff, but throwing 104 miles per hour every pitch for 60+ starts takes a toll on the old elbow.

 

Clay Bucholz: It was scary how much Lester’s no-no resembled his teammate’s from less than a year ago. Bucholz baffled the Orioles on September 1, 2007 with a mid-90s fastball and a knee-buckling 12 to 6 curveball. The Sox were careful with Bucholz, and limited his innings for the rest of their championship 2007 season. He secured a spot in the starting rotation this season, but has struggled thus far (2-3, 5.53 ERA) and is in danger of getting sent back down if he doesn’t straighten out.

Bottom Line: career record of 4-5, 4.15 ERA in the middle of his first full season. There’s still hope for him, but history dictates a long, mediocre career.

 

As you can see, the history of youngsters throwing no-hitters does not bode well for Jon Lester’s career. Whether it’s injuries or inconsistency, bad things seem to happen to people who throw no-hitters under the age of 25.

If there’s anyone who knows how to stay humble, it’s Lester, who survived cancer to even be able to throw his no-hitter. Everybody’s rooting for you to buck the trend, Jon, and I hope you do.

Man Crush of the Week

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, I’m surprised my man crush has taken me in different direction. After Lebron and Paul Pierce went back and forth last night in Bird-Dominique fashion (or so I’m told by ESPN every five minutes), I was sure one of them would secure this week’s MCOW Award.

Or maybe it would be Chris Paul who, as a third year player, has taken the New Orleans Hornets to a seventh game at home against the defending world champion Spurs.

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, most of the time you can’t control your feelings. That’s why this week’s Man Crush goes to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun.

I’ve thought about it long and hard, and here’s what I think drew me to Ryan Braun:

1. He’s a SoCal Native (Thousand Oaks, about 15 minutes from my house)

2. He hits dingers

3. He hits a lot of dingers

Quite Braun-y

Quite Braun-y

After a mediocre start (by his standards), Braun’s bat has turned smoldering hot this past week, hitting 8 homeruns in his last 8 games, bringing his total to 13 for the year. In the process, last season’s Rookie of the Year earned himself a monster contract extension that will pay him $45 million over the next eight years.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he packs on some pounds in the future ($45 million + 8 years in Milwaukee = lots of sausage and beer) but as of now Braun’s slender frame makes his unbelievable power a mystery. Adding to my Man Crush is the fact that Braun, unlike most power hitters, hits breaking balls just as well as fastballs. That mean’s he’s not going to stop hitting homeruns when pitchers stop throwing him fastballs(see: 1994 Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin).

Braun also officially announced his presence as a left fielder (after a horrendous stint at third base last year) by appearing on the SportsCenter Top 10 with a sweet diving catch.

Sorry Bron Bron, but Braun takes the MCOW this week. Wait, what?

Fat Is The New Skinny

 

If this is plus sized, i am in trouble

If this is plus sized, i am in trouble

Last night, Whitney Thompson was named the winner of cycle 10 of America’s Next Top Model. She was the first “plus-sized” model (meaning she weighs more than 100 pounds) to win the crown since the show began in 2003. It was seen as a monumental step for the modeling industry, according to the show’s creator, Tyra Banks.

This got me thinking that it was about time “plus-sized” athletes got the recognition they deserve. The following athletes have managed to succeed in their sports despite weighing nearly as much as an 18-wheeler. In no particular order, here are three of the best “plus-sized” athletes of all time.

 

 

 

mmmm....hot dogsCecil Fielder: Cecil, also known as “Big Daddy” is one of the largest men ever to grace the baseball field. His listed weight on baseballreference.com is 240, but the 6-foot-3 first baseman was pushing 300 by the time he retired in 1998. Fielder excelled despite a penchant for hot dogs, making the All-Star team 3 times and leading the Major Leagues with 51 homeruns and 132 RBI for the Blue Jays in 1991. Fielder is unique in the fact that his girth wasn’t a result of getting out of shape in his later years. He was fat when he came into the league and fat when he left it. Oh, I’m sorry, “plus-sized.”

P.S.- Cecil’s son, Prince, is not afraid of the cheeseburgers either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

who ordered the Duck?Kevin Duckworth: This guy, again under-listed at 275 pounds , made an immediate impact in the league as a true center for the Portland Trailblazers in 1987-88. The 7-footer averaged over 15 points per game for four straight years until the Cinnabons got to him. As his scoring average went down over the next six years, his weight went up, leading to this flattering picture in his final year in the league with the lowly Los Angeles Clippers.

 

 

 

 

 

William “The Refrigerator” Perry: One of the most popular “plus-sizers” of all-time, the Fridge embraced his hefty nature from Day One, using his considerable size to become an effective player on both sides of the ball. He was also on the 1985 Superbowl Champion Chicago Bears team who entered into legendary status with the greatest sports-related rap in music history. (Yes, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to put this video up, the Fridge blesses the mic around 4:42)

 

 

 

Congratulations to Whitney and the three athletes above for opening doors for “plus-sized” people in both the sports and modeling world. Hopefully these two worlds never collide, although it would be interesting to see a spread of Big Daddy, The Duck, and The Fridge in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I’ll start a petition.

There’s Nothin’ Wrong With A Little Man Love

Today I’d like to start my weekly installments of the MCOW Award, otherwise known as my Man Crush of the Week.

 

For those of you not familiar with the term, “Man Crush,” it is simply an expression of one man’s respect and admiration for another man. Often times a MC extends beyond simple admiration to the point where you find yourself daydreaming about him or feel butterflies when you hear his name mentioned.

 

Let’s get something straight (no pun intended); a Man Crush has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It’s just like in middle school when you suddenly and inexplicably find yourself attracted to the nerdy girl in class. You can’t put your finger on it, but for some reason you just can’t take your eyes off her. 

 

You don’t want to admit it and risk getting ridiculed mercilessly by your friends, so you just chalk it up to hormones and hope that it goes away in a couple days. And usually it does.

 

For example, my first Man Crush came in 2001, when the Lakers were playing the 76ers in the NBA Finals. Having not seen much of Allen Iverson (that year’s MVP) during the regular season, I found myself mesmerized when he dropped 48 points to single-handedly deal the Lakers their only loss of the postseason in Game 1 (and humiliate the self-proclaimed “Iverson-stopper,” Tyronn Lue, in the process).

 

 I don\'t think Tyronn had a man-crush on him

Iverson’s remarkable performance (and his dreamy brown eyes) left me swooning over him for about a week, at which time the crush subsided and moved on (probably to Kobe).

 

Now that you have a reference point, I would like to hand out the inaugural MCOW Award to none other than…Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard.

 

This one’s probably long overdue, as the crush hit its apex during his mind-boggling performance in the dunk contest earlier this year, which led me to use the image of his “superman” dunk as my desktop background. Howard, 6’11” 265-lbs., displayed the agility and leaping ability of a guard while bringing the dunk contest back to where Vince Carter left it in 2000.

 

 

Howard took the next step this year, becoming the most dominant big man (21 points, 16 rebounds per game) since Shaq’s glory years (yes, they’re over Shaq). He put up ungodly numbers (22 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks per game) in the first round against the “best” Toronto had to offer (cue Stephen A. Smith exclaiming “Rasho Nesterovic!”), and has now boldly taken the Magic where Tracy McGrady has never gone before.

 

After having a tough series opener in Detroit, Dwight bounced back to almost lead his team to victory in game 2. He then gave the Pistons a solid thumping in game 3, officially announcing his presence as a playoff force.

 

Add to the list of accolades that on Thursday he was named to the All-NBA First Team, and it’s easy to see why I have developed a Man-Crush on big Dwight Howard.

 

Who knows where Cupid’s Arrow will land next week.

Crying Foul

Sometimes even helmets can\'t help youWhile watching the Yale-Brown game Sunday (Yale lost, 7-0 and 9-0 at home), a foul ball flying at about 200 miles per hour hit an empty seat three rows away from me. Although I was putting on a tough facade for the crowd, I was cringing inside and thanking the baseball gods for not striking me down.

The incident made me think about the new mandatory helmet rule for first and third base coaches in the Major Leagues. The rule was put into effect for the 2008 season in the aftermath of the death of minor-league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh on July 22nd of last year.

The incident REALLY made me think about the bozos who oppose the rule and continue to fight it to this day. I looked around and found this interesting article by Ward Gossett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which describes different coaches’ opposition to the rule and the likelihood (or lack thereof) of a similar rule being implemented in college or high school baseball.

I’d like to highlight one Major League Moron who sums up the backwards thinking that has stifled progress in baseball since it was invented.

Braves first base coach and former Major Leaguer Glenn Hubbard (Gossett mistakenly calls him Gene) said that he doesn’t want to wear a helmet while coaching because it makes him feel silly. (Apparently, posing for a baseball card with a snake around his neck DIDN’T make him feel silly)

If only a python could protect you from foul ballsWhen Hubbard was forced to wear a helmet in a spring training game, he said, “You know what it feels like? Look at that kid over there. That’s what I feel like. A batboy.”

Well, Glenn, the batboy has enough sense to realize that a helmet just might help him out if a line drive comes screaming towards his head. Maybe you should be trying to imitate him.

Hubbard is 50-years-old, which makes him relatively young for a baseball coach, but his comments sound like that of a 95-year-old remembering the good old days when women couldn’t vote and you had to get your news from a newspaper.

I played baseball competitively for almost 20 years and at every single level I ran into old fuddy duddys like this guy. They call themselves “traditionalists” but if they were truly steeped in baseball tradition, they would know that the entire game was founded on adjustments.

The game of “base ball” (2 words) originally played in the late 19th century is practically unrecognizable compared to today’s game. Baseball itself evolved through change, yet these “traditionalists” continue to oppose it.

On May 20, 1882, a writer for the New York Clipper said that the policy of not charging an at-bat to a batter who walks was “nonsense.”

Imagine where the game would be today if we listened to “traditionalists” like him.

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