Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Baseball Boner

You have to be pretty antiquated to remember "Merkle's Boner". After all, it was the talk of the baseball world 100 years ago. Fred Merkle was a young New York Giant whose failure to touch second base cost the Giants a game and helped the Cubs win the pennant.

That was then. This is now. Why, you ask, was Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins standing out there in the rain during Game 5 of the World Series? Good question.

Look, I have no quarrel with the fact that they started the game. The weather is a fickle thing, and everyone involved felt they could squeeze in Game 5.

But like the old Bob Dylan line says, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. All you had to do was open your eyes and look at the scene in Citizen's Bank Park. What a mess. You play football or rugby in weather like this. Not baseball.

The Lords of Baseball must have been too busy wining and dining corporate clients to notice what was going on down in the muck. Sure, they wanted to get the game in so they could preserve the sanctity of Fox's programming schedule, but long before B.J. Upton became the best mudder since Empire Maker in the 2003 Belmont Stakes, this game should have been halted.

Would it be impertinent to suggest that maybe, just maybe, playing games in the Northeast in late October is asking for trouble? That maybe, just maybe, baseball should think about shortening the endless season?

Perhaps. But at the least, baseball needs to make sure its showcase doesn't turn into a bad joke. And that scene in Philly was no laughing matter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bad Nike

Stop right here if you think this is one of those screeds about Nike's sweatshops, or its contributions to rampant consumerism. Plenty of other folks carry that torch, so I'll lay off.

No, I'm cranky about the lame way The Goliath Of Beaverton handled its women's marathon in San Francisco a few days ago. Perhaps you've heard by now: a schoolteacher from New York named Arien O'Connell flew out to SF and, running in the big mass of "non-elite" runners, ran the fastest time of the day.

"Fastest time of the day" means "winner", right? Not so fast.

By Nike's corporate logic, only a runner in the "elite" group (the ones who get a 20-minute head start so they won't have to weave through the 10-minute-milers) can "win" this race. About the only argument in favor of this position is that the elite runners might have adjusted their tactics or strategy if they knew that someone in the pack was gaining on them. Easily outweighing this argument is mine: someone running in the main pack lacks the built-in advantage of starting out front.

Nike finally buckled after a few days of criticism, and announced that it is now recognizing Arien O'Connell as "a winner" of the event. They'll send her a trophy, just like the winner got on race day.

Lame. Arien O'Connell is THE winner of the race. Period. If Nike has trouble grasping that, perhaps its executives could sit down and study a few of the company's ubiquitous ads.

Just do it, Nike. Just do it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have an old friend who has held 49ers season tickets for many, many years.

He doesn't live in the Bay Area anymore. Hasn't for years. But he held onto those season tickets when he moved to Portland and still flies back once a year with his wife to catch a game, walk the streets of San Francisco, and get together with my wife and me for dinner.

When this tradition started, I'm pretty sure the main reason for the trip was to see the 49ers play.

Now, I'm pretty sure the San Francisco tourism thing (and maybe the dinner with old friends) is the big deal (if not the reason) behind the trip.

Look: new head coach or not, the 49ers have faded beyond relevance. Who really cares? Does anyone beyond a small tribe of hardcores really live or die with the team anymore?

Heck, weird as they are across the Bay in Oakland, at least those Black Holers are still fired up about their Raiders.

I may be out on a limb here, but it feels to me like the Raiders, with all their problems, are closer to relevance and success than the 49ers.

How did that happen?

I'll ask my Portland friend at dinner this Sunday night.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

All Hail The Rays

Look, my teams have been on vacation for a couple of weeks now. So I've had to adopt a postseason favorite. And it hasn't been hard to decide.

Phillies and Rays.

Philadelphia, because the alternative is the Dodgers. Please. Plus, Bay Area guys Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell are key cogs.

Tampa Bay, because the alternative is Boston. Ugh.

Look, I was as delirious as the rest of the non-Yankee nation four years ago when the Sox ended their long drought and won it all. But the whole lovable loser underdog thing is so untrue anymore. The Red Sox are among baseball's richest franchises, spending more than $133 million on this year's payroll. The Rays are among the poorest, spending only $43 million (hell, that's less than the cheapo A's).

Let's face it: unless you're living in the Northeast, this whole Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big joke. They're opposite sides of the same gold coin.

The Rays are unquestionably this year's feel-good story. The Little Ballclub That Could. Worst-to-first. Cool manager. Outfielder (Rocco Baldelli) with a bizarre strength-sapping illness who hits a playoff home run at Fenway Park.

Yes, their ballpark stinks, but even the dreary concrete Tropicana Field has a cool angle: how many other ballparks have a live stingray swimming around in a centerfield tank?

Hop on the Rays bandwagon now, while there's still room.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A High-Def Dilemma

I have finally made a bumpy landing in the 21st century. Over the weekend, at the prodding of my college-aged son, we chased away some gremlins and finally connected our shiny new 58" plasma panel to cable TV (I'll spare you a long story here about why the set hung on the wall for 5 weeks without being connected).

My reaction after watching a few hours of sports on this monster: OMG.

We've had a high-def TV for a while, but it was a little guy. Everything looked better in high-def, but it was a subtle thing. Now, with all the acreage of our mega-TV, I am asbolutely blown away when I tune in a ballgame. You can see the stitching on the bills of the ballplayers' caps. You can pick up the ice shavings on the hockey goalie's shoulders after a big save.

So what's not to like? This: once you've tasted a good Gruyere, you'll never eat Cheez-Whiz again. In other words, I'm spoiled by high-def. And some games are still not in high-def.

It is almost physically painful to watch a game in standard-def (I'm now calling it low-def). My ever-patient (and long-suffering) wife points out, quite logically, that the picture has to be better than what we watched for years on our 1980's-vintage 27" TV.

But with all due respect, she just doesn't get it. And I can only hope and pray that someday, every game, home and away, will arrive in my family room in glossy high-def goodness.