Archive | October 2015

Missing Connections

After several sports posts, now for something completely different! 

I found this post that someone shared on Facebook today and found it a striking indictment of the device-savvy culture we have today. 

Removed: Photographer Removes Phones From His Photos To Show How Terribly Addicted We’ve Become

A photographer named Eric Pickersgill had an eye opening experience in a coffee shop in New York. A family was sitting there and everyone had their phones out except the mother. She just sat looking out the window, feeling so alone with her closest family zoning out and becoming engrossed by their devices. Take a look at the full project on his website. 

http://www.ericpickersgill.com

It’s saddening to think that people can be that close in proximity and yet that far apart in their own worlds. I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve done that. It’s rather commonplace now a days. We have the ability to access games, information, text messages, and social media forums that didn’t exist years ago. It’s remarkable to think of all the ways we can connect with people on other sides of the world now that we could do before. We can learn so much more at the drop of a hat than was previously possible, just by pulling out our phones and typing into our Google search bars the question we have. And yet we are very far apart from each other. How frequently do we see people gazing into the wonder of our cell phones at the expense of everything else in the world?

I see this as a problem. Admittedly, I am a serious offender as well. I get absorbed into it, and while there are many good things to be learned from the Internet sitting in your pocket, it’s not the whole world. It serves as an easy distraction for a society that has forgotten how to interact with the world at large, and with others as true individuals. I’m trying to work on this, and I’ll continue to improve as time goes on. It’s not fun being a phone addict; it pulls you out of the real world and into a confined space the size of your hand. 

Louisville Recruiting: What a Disaster

The University of Louisville houses one of the most prestigious basketball programs in collegiate basketball. The Cardinals have won 3 national championships, made the Final Four 10 different times, and have produced some excellent players, including Basketball Hall of Famer Wes Unseld. Today though, none of that matters.

Former escort Katina Powell has alleged that she was a part of organizing parties to aid in the recruitment of players to the Louisville program. The parties were effectively makeshift strip parties where recruits would stay in Minardi Hall, the on campus dorm where the basketball players and many other athletes live on the Louisville campus, then would enjoy the night with drinking, music, and side deals. When I say side deals, I mean sex. Powell kept a journal of all the parties hosted at Louisville. Included were notes on the number of players she had sex with, how much money she was paid personally, how many girls danced and took money on side deals, and how the girls would be compensated by one of the graduated assistants, later coaches, Andre McGee. And all of this took place over four years. Four years in which they either had to keep it quiet or had to get the consent or de facto permission of the brass at Louisville. And this continued after Andre McGee, one of the alleged ringleaders of the whole operation, left to go to another college and accept a different job.

The allegations were brought to Louisville privately over the summer, and were only made public in a book “Breaking Cardinal Rules”, released earlier this month. Yesterday, ESPN’s investigative program Outside The Lines released a report on the whole mess yesterday. I watched the initial report and some of the adjoining interviews on the OTL program yesterday. It’s a damning report with incredibly serious allegations. Take a look at it here, and judge for yourself.

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/13927159/former-louisville-cardinals-basketball-players-recruits-acknowledge-stripper-parties-minardi-hall

Rick Pitino, the head coach of the Louisville basketball program, and Hall of Fame coach, has denied knowing anything about it. He has done the usual routine of claiming that all of this happened under his nose with him being blissfully unaware of the things taking place on campus. To be blunt, I don’t believe him. Head coaches of major sports programs are the CEO’s of the respective organization. They need to have their thumb on the pulse of the program, and an enormous part of the job is recruiting players to the school. The coach has to be on top of the recruiting process, otherwise the team will run into issues with being not under NCAA regulations. Is it possible he legitimately didn’t know? Yes. Is it probable? Not at all. Especially since these parties took place in an on campus dorm for the athletes, and it’s named for Pitino’s brother-in-law, who was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Pitino has said about this “I hope that’s not true, because that building means a lot to me.” I believe him there. That’s also why I’m skeptical that he didn’t know that something was going on there.

At best, this is serious mess in which girls sold themselves out for both the money they could make for themselves and to convince the potential recruit to attend the school and play for the Cardinals. At worst, the administration and the head coach allowed all of this because the basketball program benefited in a huge way. Louisville won three consecutive conference championships from 2012-2014, went to the Final Four in 2012 and 2013, and won the National Championship in 2013. They achieved enormous success on the back of recruiting excellent players and remarkable coaching from one of the best in the business. One of the best who was either blissfully ignorant of illegal and immoral things going on in his program on campus in a dorm named for his late brother-in-law, or worse, knew it and allowed it. Neither option is good, and either would merit Pitino’s dismissal from Louisville. Exploitation of young girls for sex is a horrendous sin on its own, without the added issues. The fact that all this happened and the program won because of e recruits who came because of that is awful. Pitino might have a name now synonymous with Louisville basketball, but if it is shown he knew anything about this and didn’t stop it, or if he was just being negligent in his responsibilities, he deserves to be removed from that job. 

Flip Saunders: Honorable Coach

The basketball world was stunned today by the sudden passing of Philip Daniel “Flip” Saunders. He was a life long basketball player and coach who earned the respect of everyone he played for and with and coached. He never topped the polls as the best coach in the NBA or at any college, he never coached in the Finals, and while he attended the University of Minnesota, the Golden Gophers were suspended from NCAA postseason play. He only won a conference championship one time, a Big 10 Championship as an assistant coach in 1981. For most of his career, he didn’t win much of anything. Yet people still loved him to no end. He was loved by his players with the Minnesota Timberwolves, even though they only made it out of the first round of the playoffs once and never made it to the NBA Finals. John Wall spoke efervescently about him and Saunders was only 51-130 after being fired in the middle of his 3rd season. Yet he was loved by so many in the coaching world and in basketball at large. Why? Simple. He was a champion without a ring. 

Sports center so much around winning and success that many coaches who are respected but aren’t successful on the court will get fired quickly. Flip Saunders was not the most successful of NBA coaches, and never led his team to a championship. He did lead the Timberwolves to success in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, capped off with a 58 win season and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. And he did lead the Detroit Pistons to 3 consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances from 2006-2008, including a franchise record 64 wins in 2006. He found success while coaching, but never got his team to the pinnacle of success. He fits into the category of people who were excellent at their job but never won a title. Think Chris Webber, Rick Adleman, Reggie Miller, and others who were successful and respected in the basketball world but never climbed the mountain to win a championship. He earned the respect and admiration of his players everywhere he coached, and the outpouring of respect and love for him and his family was incredible. Most poignant was this picture from Kevin Garnett, the best player he got to coach.  

 
Flip Saunders died suddenly of Hodgkin Lymphoma at the age of 60. Gone too early. He might’ve finally won a championship with the team he was building in Minnesota now. May God welcome him home. 

Star Wars: OPEN IN THEATRES TODAY PLEASE!?

I’m an enormous Star Wars fan. I’ve watched every movie more times than I can remember, except Attack of the Clones, and I’ve been an avid follower of the series since I learned it exists. I know all the lines to most of the movies and will happily take time out to rewatch the films again. Yes, I know the prequel trilogy is vastly inferior and there hasn’t been a truly great Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi in 1983, which means there hasn’t been a great Star Wars film released since I’ve been alive. However, I still appreciate the originals, and the good parts of the recent films. 

When Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, we could sense that a new Star Wars film could follow pretty soon. When it was announced, we all were happy that we could put the mediocrity of the prequel trilogy behind us and could be cautiously optimistic, especially when George Lucas was announced to be only a creative consultant, not director. Then the first trailer came out, and it blew our minds. It was a simple trailer intended to only show a few elements of the film to get us interested. It did exactly that. Take another look at it here. 

Then a second trailer was released with an appearance by Han and Chewie at the end which set the hype to overdrive. 

Last night, it was advertised that a new trailer would play during the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and Eagles. Since I have 2 exams this week and I don’t like either of the teams playing, I passed on the game. I waited until the trailer was posted online. 

And when I saw it, my reaction was something akin to the following. OH IT LOOKS SO GOOD!!! CAN IT COME OUT TODAY????? IT LOOKS AMAZING!!!! OH THE MUSIC!!!! IT ALL SO WONDERFUL!! 

So yeah, needless to say, I am ridiculously excited for this movie to come out. December cannot come soon enough! 

Lamar Odom: A Prayed For Adversary

I didn’t like Lamar Odom when he played professional basketball. He was quite an excellent player at the University of Rhode Island and a solid contributor for the Clippers and Heat before joining the LA Lakers. That was what I knew of him when he played for my least favorite team in basketball. He played very well in a losing effort against the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, which I celebrated. He continued his efforts and finally won two championships in 2009 and 2010. The 2010 NBA Finals still sting. It remains among the most painful memories I’ve ever had as a sports fan, and Lamar Odom was a part of defeating the Celtics. Naturally, he was on my list of least liked athletes. I was happy when the Dallas Mavericks swept aside the Lakers in 2011 to end their reign, while Odom won the 6th Man of the Year Award.

However, that’s where things started turning for him on the basketball court. He was supposed to be traded from the Lakers to the Hornets for Chris Paul, but the trade was vetoed by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Odom was personally offended by the team’s attempts to trade him, and requested he be traded to a contending team. The Lakers did so by trading him to the Dallas Mavericks. While Dallas would make the playoffs this season, Odom would languish in the Development League and when he was on the Mavericks roster, he sat on the bench and was traded to the Clippers after the season. He played the 2012-13 season with the Clippers as a reserve player. And while the Clippers made the playoffs that year, Lamar was hardly a part of the team and left after the season. After playing 2013-14 in Spain and finishing it in New York, he hasn’t played professional basketball since. I lost track of Lamar when he got to the Clippers. I just thought he was playing out the string as a backup and would become a veteran NBA player, like what Kevin Willis and Danny Ferry did at the end of their careers. It turns out Lamar had many bigger problems than basketball and got into serious trouble. But how did it go so badly?

Well, look at Lamar’s background. He’s from a broken home. Born in the rough neighborhood of South Jamaica Queens, NY, his father was a heroin addict and was never around. His mother died of colon cancer when he was twelve, and he was raised by his grandmother. He scraped through school, transferred several times over, and eventually made it to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Playing for a powerhouse in collegiate hoops, things were actually going well for him. However, his unusually high ACT score was questioned by Sports Illustrated, and while taking summer classes at UNLV, the school released him from a scholarship. He also was cited by Las Vegas Police for soliciting prostitutes and had to leave UNLV. He went to the University of Rhode Island and found success in a second tier NCAA program. HE helped the Rhode Island Rams win their first conference title, and played well enough to be drafted fourth overall in the 1999 NBA Draft by the LA Clippers. He went on to have the NBA career detailed above, while seeming to have it together off the court. There were some terribly tragic moments, like in 2006, when his 6 1/2 month old daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS). And there were moments when he got in legal trouble, like when he was arrested for drunk driving. But most of all, there were the Kardashians. Specifically, he married Khloe Kardashian and became part of a reality TV show. I think he lost his way there. Surrounded by cameras, having every moment of your life filmed, and having that life be as stressful as a Kardashian life. It’s a bad scene. And after many months of separation, the two finally divorced, and Lamar’s life has spun out of control since then.

Lamar was recently found laying unconscious  in a notorious brothel in Nevada, called Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch. He was taken to the hospital and is in a coma from all the drugs he had injected and taken. He has received an outpouring of support and prayers from all over the sports world and he deserves every single one. He’s gonna need a miracle, because as a friend described, he is a walking corpse at this point.

I never really liked Lamar Odom as a basketball player. He provided me with one of my most painful memories as a sports fan, and starred in a reality show that I never watched, but knew enough about that made me not really like Lamar that much. But knowing his full story and his situation, I don’t feel anything but sad for him, his family, and hopeful that something will turn and he will get better. No man deserves that fate. I hope you get better Lamar! This coming from an avid Boston Celtics fan.

When Did We Become Wimps? 

Watching game 2 of the NLDS between the Mets and the Dodgers was fun. Entertaining baseball with excellent voices on the call in a competitive series will never go out of style. The only sad part of the game was in the bottom of the 7th inning. In part of a rally that would win the game, Chase Utley slid hard into second base, taking out Mets second baseman Ruben Tejada. When Tejada fell, he broke his fibula, ending his season and putting the Mets in an unfortunate position. The Dodgers would score 4 runs in the inning, take a lead, and the bullpen would preserve a 5-2 victory. Game 3 will be in New York on Monday, but that’s not the post game chatter right now. Currently, the sports media and commentator sphere is centered on whether or not Chase Utley’s slide was a dirty play. The overwhelmingly vocal majority of pieces and opinions I’ve seen have called for Utley to be suspended for a dirty play that amounted to trying to take Tejada out of the game entirely, as if this slide amounted to an NFL style tackle. Now that he has been suspended for games 3 and 4, and will appeal. The critical media have gotten their wish. 

And I just sit here face palming at how vitriolic and unnecessary the reaction has been. What Chase Utley did has been normal practice for as long as I can remember being a baseball fan. Take out slides to mess up double plays are a normal part of baseball. Just ask Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter, or anyone who plays a middle infield position. It happens, and you just have to deal with it. Also, ask Jacoby Ellsbury about making that slide. The runner can get hurt making that play too. In 2012, Ellsbury slid in hard to 2nd to break up a double play. Tampa Bay shortstop Reid Brignac fell on top of Ellsbury, and the fall caused a shoulder injury that would keep Ellsbury out of the lineup until July. Or better yet, ask Chris Coughlan of the Cubs and Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates. In a late September game in Pittsburgh, Coughlan slid hard into second base to break up a double play. Kang came down hard and got hurt, a knee injury ended his season. Since Coughlan could touch the base with his hand, the slide was legal, just unfortunate that an injury resulted from it. What was the reaction? Pirates manager Clint Hurdle spoke publically about it, saying it wasn’t a dirty play and just a part of the game. Even Kang himself refused to call Coughlan’s slide dirty. Refreshing, because Kang had done a blatantly illegal slide on Danny Santana of the Teins earlier this season. Many other teams do this too. Injuries happen in this sport with unfortunate frequency. They happen on these sorts of slides with sad reccurance and the players know that. Let them play baseball. 

Now to the play in question. First, Ruben Tejada was a fool for trying to throw to first to get the double play. It was not going to happen then! It was a poor throw from the bag at second with a speedy runner headed to first. The right thing to do would be to just hold the baseball, take the out at 2nd, and just face the next batter without trying to be a hero in an impossible play. He didn’t do that. He opened himself to being taken out by Utley. Not to say he deserved to get injured, I don’t wish that on anybody. But if you’re not aware of your situation and what’s the smart thing to do, you will put yourself in a bad situation, and open yourself up to potential injuries. That’s the rule of thumb with all sports, not just baseball. The athletes all know it, and all reasonable fans should know that. 

Well was Utley’s slide necessary? If there was no chance for Tejada to turn the double play, shouldn’t Utley just flare out of the way of the throw to not get hit by the ball and not slide? Well, only if there is a reasonable way for him to know what’s happening on 1st base, which there is not. The runner going to second has to keep his head on the base and has to just run to beat the throw to the bag. If he can’t beat it to the bag, then he has to make it as hard as possible on the guy on 2nd base to complete the double play and keep the inning going a little bit longer. That’s fundamental base running that I heard when I played in little league. I never had any issue with it, nor did any other kid in little league when I played. If a group of little league kids get that, I think season major league ball players are smart enough to understand that detail. 

Then there is the matter of the player in question. Chase Utley is a decorated baseball veteran, who was a key in the Philadelphia Phillies run of success from 2007-2011. They won 5 straight division titles, 2 consecutive NL Penants, and the World Series in 2008. In his time there, he was a respected player who worked hard, played hard, and earned every ounce of respect he’s earned to this day. I never heard anyone accuse him of being a dirty player, and I would never accuse him of such a distinction. He continued his level of effort and passion in LA this year when playing for the Dodgers. He wasn’t as successful, hitting only .202 in his time with the Dodgers, and playing out the string as an old veteran, but still made good hustle plays, and was a part of the Dodgers’s effort to edge out the defending champion Giants in the NL West. 

Knowing all this, I ask people who wanted Utlet suspended: You want to suspend a successful major league player several games for doing something that is a regular occurrence just because the worst possible outcome happened? Not to say it’s a good thing Tejada got injured, again it’s never fun to watch someone be carted off the field with a broken fibula. But to act as though Utley is so clearly at fault for intentionally injuring someone is absurd. The color commentators of the game, Ron Darling and Cal Ripken, got it correct. “These plays are a part of the game.” Let them be grown men and play like such. The simple fact that people are trying to brand Utley’s play as dirty is, from my perspective, unreasonable. Late? Probably a bit late, yes. Illegal? Not at all. 

I don’t know when we started complaining about plays like this, but I wish we hadn’t started. Again, it’s sad that Tejada is hurt, but injuries happen and the play in question is a relatively frequent occurrence. Quit the complaining and let’s get back to baseball! When did we start complaining about these plays, or whining as though the players are papers to be protected at all cost? I don’t get it. They’re grown men. Let them play like men. 

Cubs vs Cardinals: The History You Never Knew

Did you know that the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have only met twice in the playoffs before this year’s National League Division Series? No? Well let me tell you a funny story about one of the fiercest rivalries in sports history. 

First, a little background on the franchises in this rivalry. The Chicago Cubs began their existence as the Chicago White Stockings in 1870. They played in the National Associaton for a year before taking a 2 year hiatus in 1871 and 72 because of the Great Chicago Fire. They returned to the National Association in 1874. They joined the National League as a founding team in 1876, and have played in the NL ever since. 

The St. Louis Cardinals have a more complicated origin story. The St. Louis Brown Stockings began play in the National Association in 1875. They joined the National League the next year when the NA folded after 1875. They recorded a successful first year, including the first No-Hitter in National League history, against the Hartford Dark Blues. They lost their National League affiliation in 1877 because of a game fixing scandal. The team continued to play as a barn storming team, but went bankrupt by 1881 and were on the verge of not existing when Chris von der Ahe purchased and completely reorganized the club. In 1882, the team joined the American Association, a rival to the National League. They picked up Charles Cominsky as a new manager, changed their name to the St. Louis Browns and turned into the most successful franchise in the league, winning 4 consecutive league pennants. 

With the success of the American Association, the owners of teams in both leagues decided to put on a series to decide the champion of professional baseball in the United States in 1885 They called this series the “World Series”. The Brown’s opponents? The Chicago White Stockings of course.  

 They arranged to play a best of 7 game series to determine the winner, and the series actually failed to do so. One game was called due to darkness and ended in a tie. In the second game, the umpire made a hugely controversial call, and Browns manager Charles Cominsky pulled his team off the field in protest, thus forefeting the game to the White Stockings. The remainder of the games were played and the series ended tied 3 wins a piece with one tie, the only series to end in a tie, and it is bitterly disputed to this day who actually won the series. This remains the only time a “World Series” was played and ended in a tie. 

With bitterness towards each other, the team’s won the pennants on their respective leagues and met one more time in the World Series.  

 There was a clear winner this time, St. Louis won in 6 bitterly contested games. The final game of the series was quite exciting! The Browns tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, and forced the games into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning, Curt Welch got on base, then came around to score on a wild pitch. His slide home was called the $15,000 dollar slide because winning the series earned the Browns about $15,000 dollars in prize money. It ended up being the most famous play in 19th century baseball, and another piece of the building rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis. 

This was the last time the two teams met in the post season for 119 years. The World Series was played until 1891 when the American Association folded. When the Association folded, several teams, including the St. Louis Browns, were absorbed into the National League. The NL remained the only major baseball league until the American League was founded in 1901, and the rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago remained intense and personal. The clubs changed names a few times over, but the animosity remained. The White Stockings became the Colts in 1889, then the Orphans in 1898 before becoming the Cubs in 1903. The Browns became the Perfectos for one year, in 1899, then became the Cardinals in 1900. 

The rivalry from the Cardinals rejoining the National League as the Browns in 1892 was one sided. The Cubs were much more powerful and dominated the Cardinals early one. The Cubs won most of the games and when the modern World Series began, the Chicago Cubs won 3 consecutive NL Penants from 1906-1908, and 2 straight World Series, in 1907 and 1908. They won 7 more NL Penants from 1910 until 1945, making it 10 NL Penants in the modern era. The Cardinals didn’t win a Pennant until 1926, and it took them until 1931 to tie the Cubs in World Series championships. But when the tide started changing, it shifted rapidly. To this day, the Cardinals have won a total of 19 NL Penants and 11 World Series titles. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and haven’t even won a Penant since 1945. The teams still draw huge crowds, increased attention for their meetings, and the upcoming meeting is the most significant in a long time. 

I think the Cardinals are the better team of the two this year, but the Cubs will give the Cardinals a difficult match up in their 3rd ever post season match up. It’s quite striking that the first two meetings were in the original World Series. They couldn’t have met in the playoffs from 1892 until 1968 because there was no National League Championship Series yet, and they couldn’t match-up in a playoff series until 1995, when a 3rd division and the Wild Card slot were added. This is so far the only time the teams have met in the modern era of playoff baseball. It should live up to the rivalry the clubs and cities have built over the years, and should provide people like me, who don’t really have that big a rooting interest in the series, with some high quality baseball! They’ve made for some memorable fights from the 19th century to the modern day.

And that’s the story of the rivalry you never knew!