Friday, May 28, 2010

Let Timmy Breathe

I was leaving AT&T Park yesterday, a day after Tim Lincecum's career-worst start (and a day after some fans booed the two-time Cy Young Award winner off the mound), when I heard a couple of guys discussing Lincecum's recent struggles.

Since their grammar was a tad on the rough side (there may have been alcohol involved), I'll present a sanitized version here:

Guy 1: "Dude, Lincecum sucked last night."
Guy 2: "Dude, you are being far too critical in your assessment of our beloved right-hander."
Guy 1: "Dude, are you blind? He sucked."
Guy 2: "Dude, that's not the point. Give him a break. He had a bad day."
Guy 1: "Dude, he doesn't get paid all that money to have bad days."
Guy 2: "Dude, you never had a bad day? Get real."
Guy 1: "Dude, maybe you're right. I remember when I was his age. I screwed up a bunch."
Guy 2: "Dude, you're still screwing up."

It went on from there in the same general vein. The point: while some are quick to panic when a ballplayer underperforms, others get it. And Tim Lincecum is our Timmy, our Freak, our Boy Wonder. You can see his frustration, his perfectionism, his discomfort with failure right there on his face.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy felt compelled to call a meeting with Lincecum. Surely there are technical and tactical things to discuss (for example, Lincecum needs to learn to hold base runners better), but you can be sure the gist of Bochy's message was this: everyone has a bad day (or two or three), and the measure of a man is how he puts it behind him.

The temptation among some is to panic, to assume the worst: "Lincecum's lost it." It's a free country; if you want to live in the panic zone, it's your right. But even a half-drunk fan stumbling out of the ballpark gets it right when he counsels patience.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Golden State For Sale

In truth, it's only one of the four NBA teams in the Golden State that's for sale, but it's the only one that calls itself "Golden State".

I speak, of course, of the Warriors, a franchise that has withered under semi-absentee ownership for lo, these many years.

Or has it? Published reports indicate there's plenty of interest among would-be buyers. Big names like software tycoon Larry Ellison and health club tycoon Mark Mastrov are being mentioned. And supposedly, Chinese money is interested.

That money from China is intriguing. As the old saying goes, a billion people can't be wrong. China already has a bona fide NBA star in Yao Ming, a burgeoning economy, and, well, a billion people. If the Warriors become China's Choice, it could be huge. Think of the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Yankees and their worldwide brand equity.

The new owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, already has designs on his native Russia as a new sphere of influence for the NBA. Prokhorov appears to have the money and the hubris to pull it off. But can Prokhorov penetrate China?

It may be hard to wrap your brain around a future where the hapless Warriors become A Big Deal, but it really could happen.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Next Enemy, Please

Postseason playoff series require rapid recalculations (at least they do if your team keeps winning).

Last week, Sharks fans despised Detroit. Now that the Dead Things are roadkill, the new enemy is the Chicago Blackhawks.

Enjoy the artwork. Unless you're a Chicago fan, in which case you're the designated Bad Guys for the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Opening Pandora's Box

I can't help but wonder if the Phoenix Suns and team owner Robert Sarver really want to go where they've just gone.

The decision to wear those "Los Suns" jerseys in their playoff game against San Antonio moves the controversy about Arizona's new immigration law from the sidelines onto the playing field. And while you may well agree with the outrage over the Arizona law, are you ready for every ballgame to become the equivalent of a political rally?

Sarver and Suns star Steve Nash (pictured above) made it clear: they weren't just trotting out the Spanglish jerseys in honor of Cinco de Mayo. They were taking a stand against a law they consider to be wrong. In Sarver's words, "the result of passing the law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question."

I'm not here to argue that point or to take a stand on the merits of the bill; plenty of other people are already on that beat. But: think for a moment and you can probably name plenty of other issues where people on one side or the other of the debate feel as strongly as Sarver does about the Arizona immigration bill. For starters, maybe the Patriot Act or the Roe v. Wade decision. See what I mean?

The NBA is living proof that America is a melting pot. Go scan the roster of any NBA team and you'll find a guy from another country. Only the crankiest xenophobe would argue that this is a bad thing. Nash himself is a foreigner (Canada) and a terrific argument for how America benefits by tapping into a worldwide pool of talent and ambition. This is true whether the immigrant is a landscape laborer or an NBA star.

I have no problem with an athlete or a team owner expressing a political viewpoint. In fact, to be honest, I rather admire the ones who do. It lets me know they can think about more than their stats.

But I am a little uneasy about seeing the discussion cross onto the field of play, perhaps because I'm worried about how far this trend might go.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Officiating in The Second Season

Want to start an argument? Tell any sports fan whose team just lost a playoff game that the officiating was just fine.

Right now, Detroit Red Wings fans are frothing at the mouth, convinced that the guys in striped shirts were more important than the guys in teal shirts (the Sharks) in San Jose's 4-3 Game 2 victory over Detroit. The lunatic fringe among them see a vast conspiracy by the NHL; while I'm a little hazy on how this is supposed to work, they apparently think the league wants its warm-weather franchises to prosper.

Leaving that silliness aside, there remains the question of how visible the refs should be come playoff time. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: "the refs shouldn't decide the game. Let them play!"

Baloney. What's the point of the rulebook and the officials who enforce it? That's an easy one: to prevent either side from gaining an unfair advantage. The best team should win, and one way you prove you're the best team is to avoid penalties or fouls.

I have never understood the argument that the officiating should change once the playoffs start. Of course, I believe the officiating should be even-handed. But "letting them play" isn't even-handed. It's a way of letting the less-talented or less-disciplined team back into the game. That's not fair.

Much of the furor in Detroit centers around the second penalties called during Sharks power plays. Both were pretty easy calls, setting up the dreaded 5-on-3 advantage for the Sharks. Few are arguing that the Detroit players were blameless; instead, they fall back on a variation on the "let them play" theme and argue that the officials shouldn't award 5-on-3 advantages in the playoffs. Absurd, of course: by this logic, a shorthanded team could break every rule in the book.

Some of life's best lessons are learned young. I once complained to a coach about the ref who'd whistled me for three quick fouls in a basketball game. I railed that the refs were deciding the game, not the teams. The coach's response sticks with me today: "If you don't want the refs to decide the game, don't let them."