Friday, July 31, 2009

Is Anyone Really Surprised?

So the latest leak of results from the supposedly-confidential 2003 Major League Baseball drug tests names some big names: Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who would play significant roles a year later in the Red Sox miracle of 2004.

Pardon me for not getting all bent out of shape about this. And no, I'm not a member of Red Sox Nation, blinded to the misdeeds of my heroes.

I came to the conclusion long ago that steroid use was the norm during the late 90's and early 00's. I mean, did we really think all those cartoonish physiques were solely the result of healthy diets and hard work in the weight room?

So why do we keep gasping when yet another figure from the 'Roid Years is outed? Shouldn't we just accept the obvious: lots of players on lots of teams were juicing. We may never know exactly who, but why does that matter so much? We can't possibly know precisely how steroid use affected the game--did sluggers hit the ball farther? Outfielders gain a half-step? Pitchers pick up a half-foot on the fastball or 10 extra pitches of durability?

Let's just accept the obvious and move on. If you think the sport can be cleaned up, speak out in support of stronger testing and penalty programs for the future. But let's quit trying to relive the past.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Jekyll and Hyde

It's an old movie, but the same story is playing out every 5 days for the San Francisco Giants.

His name is Barry Zito, and there seems to be no middle ground. He's either really, really good or really, really bad.

I went through Zito's stats for the 2009 season, and frankly, I was amazed.

As of this writing, he's started 20 times this year. Using the "quality start" yardstick (3 or fewer earned runs in 6 innings), I've categorized 11 of the starts as "good" and 9 as "bad". In fact, one of the "good" starts wasn't technically a "quality start" because Zito only went 5 innings, but he did get a win and gave up only 1 earned run.

Anyway, here's the poop: In his good starts (covering 74.2 innings), Zito has a 1.81 ERA! In his bad starts (covering 44.2 innings), it's 9.47!

That "good game" ERA would be the best in the major leagues (Kansas City's Zach Greinke is the current leader at 2.08). The "bad game" 9.47...well, it stinks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Maybe the Best Sport on TV

I know. We cycling fans can be insufferable, going on and on about the seemingly meaningless details of a sport dominated by one guy from Texas and a bunch of Europeans.

But do me a favor. Just watch one stage of the Tour de France on Versus, and make sure you watch it in high-def.

It may not convert you into a hardcore cycling nut, but you might get gently hooked. With the changeover this year to high-def, the Versus tour coverage might be the best sports TV you can find.

The scenery, of course, is tremendous. You'll get all sorts of aerial shots of chateaux, fields, villages, and peaks. You'll get remarkable closeups of the riders (some supplied by cameramen like Marin County's Greg Peterson, who ride as passengers on motorcycles). You'll get first-class graphics, including interesting data like the current heart rate of a few riders.

And you'll get tremendous commentary from Phil Liggett (my esteemed colleague Steve Bitker pays him the ultimate compliment, calling him "cycling's Vin Scully") and former Tour competitor Paul Sherwen. They're informed, witty, erudite, and offer as complete a picture of the event as anyone could while sitting at the finish line while the event stretches out over more than 100 miles of road.

Liggett and Sherwen strike the fine balance between keeping the hardcores happy and welcoming the newbies. They are major celebrities in a minor (to Americans) sport.

I do have quibbles with the Versus coverage. There's an unfortunate blurring of the line when they insert "demo" segments with cycling equipment makers like Specialized and Cannondale. These thinly-veiled commercials should be identified as such.

Interviewers like former pro Robbie Ventura can seem amateurish at times. Questions can veer from the inane ("How did you feel?") to the "inside baseball"-type queries than can cause eyeglaze for many viewers. In fairness, cycling probably doesn't have a deep pool of English-speaking former riders with great screen presence.

And Versus sometimes misses things. When American Levi Leipheimer fell near the end of Stage 12 (breaking his wrist, as it turned out, and forcing his withdrawal from the Tour), it went unreported on Versus. It's a reminder that an event that takes place on the largest playing field in sports can be hard to follow.

But Versus has gotten better each year, and this year's Tour de France coverage is worth a look. We've come a long way from the days of sappy John Tesh music (come to think of it, sappy John Tesh commentary) on Tour TV coverage as our penance for being bike nuts.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Make Sure You're With Fans

My "Where were you?" story:

My wife and I were driving back from Lake Tahoe Friday evening, listening to the early innings as Jonathan Sanchez began what would turn into a masterpiece against the Padres. As a side note, my seats at AT&T Park were empty, since nobody saw fit to buy them, even at my reduced price on StubHub.

By the 5th inning, we were looking for a place to park near our favorite Mexican joint, La Pinata #3 in Alameda. By the 6th, we were sitting with a nice view of a TV showing the game. By the 7th, we'd been joined by our neighbors Ron and Linda (and Linda grabbed the chair next to me, facing the TV). I'd alerted my kids in Phoenix via text message and they'd tuned in via Slingbox.

The 8th was tough for me: a bite of mole enchilada, a sip of margarita, another text message from the kids, try to stay with the conversation at the table. And then the Juan Uribe error ended Sanchez' perfect game. I groaned loudly...and realized nobody else in the place was paying attention to the game!

By the 9th, I had made sure everyone at my table was aware that Sanchez was flirting with history. My wife was a bit blase', having seen Ed Halicki's 1975 no-no in person at Candlestick Park.

After Aaron Rowand's terrific catch for the second out of the 9th (more text messages to/from the kids), I stood up. It's what you do when a guy's about to pitch a no-hitter, right? Neighbor Linda stood up, too.

We shouted and pumped our fists as Sanchez got the final out on a called third strike.

And then we looked around the room at a bunch of people eating, drinking, and chatting, blissfully unaware that a man had just thrown a no-hitter. As I continued to exult, a fellow at the next table finally showed a sign of interest. With a big smile, he said, "Hey! A shutout!"

Uh, yeah.

Lesson to me: there aren't as many sports fans around as you think. When a magic moment happens, make sure you've found a few to share it with.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In My Defense

OK, this picture is already causing me problems.

Careful readers of Alameda Magazine have noted the fact that yours truly appears to be operating a motor vehicle in a less-than-safe manner.

I'm going to fall back on the "red light defense". I swear there's a stoplight just out of view. While I forget what I was saying to KCBS colleague (and fellow Sports Fan) Steve Bitker when the photo was snapped (probably correcting his erroneous view on some sports-related matter), I would never drive with no hands.

The photo accompanies an article in the summer edition of Alameda Magazine (read the whole piece by clicking here and scrolling down to find the article) about our carpool habit. I know what you're thinking: "Are you two guys really worth a magazine story?"

I don't have a good answer for you on that one. It was nice of the magazine folks to write about us. And it was nice of Al the Photographer to catch our good side (from behind). But they're making me do a lot of explaining.

Stoplight. Just out of view. Really.