Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ryan Braun Results Thrown Out

This was a situation that was already a no win situation for major league baseball and it only got worse.  First their National League MVP failed a drug test.  Not how you want to celebrate one of your best players.  He then challenged the test results and won, something that has never happened before.  MLB then came out and said the results were correct and Ryan Braun got off on a technicality.  So now MLB is slandering their own and has even mentioned taking this to court.  What a mess.

There are zero winners here.  Ryan Braun now has a failed drug test hanging over his head.  And while he won the arbitrator over his test results were not said to be wrong.  So while he may be happy to have this part over with he'll always have a failed drug test staining his reputation.  Baseball for it's part must now fix the testing system to avoid this particular issue happening again.  It is a black eye and you have to wonder how many other players who tested positive had a shot of getting their suspensions overturned.  Add to that the attack they leveled on Braun post overturned suspension and they need to take a step back.  National League Central teams not from Milwaukee not have to face Braun 50 more times than they had planned for.  Fans lose as we now have a great player with a failed drug test, a flawed testing system that we will always wonder about, and  more talk about a subject, performance enhancing drugs, that we would be just as happy to avoid. 

My take is it is what it is.  A failed drug test.  That fact has not changed and I'll always view Braun as someone who failed the test.  Baseball must move on.  Fix it and be ready to handle the next time this occurs.  These situations are bad no matter how they come out so baseball executives must handle them with more grace.  I'd rather not ever have to deal with the subject but it won't go away.  Much better players than Braun have already gone down in a cloud of suspicion or guilt.  And there will be more.  I just hope the testing gets better and the subsequent handling goes smoother.  Controversies like this one do nothing but hurt the sport. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 Topps Baseball - Let Baseball Season Begin

A writer on stated it is the beginning of spring or the baseball season when he opens his first Topps baseball card pack of the year.  I apologize but I can't find the story or the writer's name.  I took a cue from this story and grabbed me a 36 card rack pack and decided to open it up and share my thoughts.  They are nice looking cards with a small Topps logo in the upper left corner and the players name and team logo at the bottom of the card in what I can only say is a swoosh.  Not a great description but the pictures below show the design.  Overall I like the fronts as there is plenty of room for the picture.  The back has the player's stats and key information.  Quite a bit of information to include how acquired which is one you don't see that often.  Interesting that you see OPS vice OBP as a stat.  Very nice card back with colors matching the team.  Overall I like the design quite a bit.  The Derek Jeter card, #30, is a shot you've seen a million times of him in the air making a throw to first base.  I won't throw many complements towards the Yankees but this is a nice card. 

Included were many event based cards - St. Louis Cardinals NLDS Game #5, Jim Thome 8th ever to hit 600 homeruns (checklist card), and Bill Mazeroski's walk off.  I liked the Cardinals card while the Thome card looks like a normal card with the event at the bottom and a checklist on the back.  Also in the pack were a golden moment (Joey Votto), gold standard (Frank Robinson) and golden great card (Babe Ruth) - I see a theme here though none of these were exceptionally attractive.  A Timeless Talents card pairing Joe Morgan and Brandon Phillips was a nice card.  A couple of league leaders cards were also in the pack.  Nothing special but I do like that the back contains the top 10 in the category and not just the top 3 shown on the front. 

Again a nice set.  All pictures were in game photos so no spring training staged shots.  While the photos are very good I think the backs were my favorites.  Includes all the player's stats, quite a bit of information on the player himself, and of course the requisite Topps banter when room permits.  Below are a few of the highlights.  Pick up a pack if trading cards are something that interest you. 
Ben Revere, #62, is a great action shot as he goes for the diving catch in the outifield.  The picture doesn't show it well but his last name is in silver and does show up quite clearly.  This is the same for all the pictures you'll see in this post. 
Brent Lillibridge, #228 is another great action shot. 

Jered Weaver, #250, is not an action shot but is still a cool picture with him showing great emotion. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life In The Big City

It had been 10 years since I had been in close proximity to a large city prior to moving to Illinois in 2011.  I've lived in Phoenix and Colorado Springs so I'm not new to living in, or close to, a large metropolitan area with pro sports franchises.  But I will say I had forgotten what it is like. 

Being 45 minutes outside of St. Louis I get to enjoy a wealth of sports coverage.  Here I obviouly get to hear about the Blues, Rams, and Cardinals on a daily basis.  The great thing is the local media also covers the rest of the league or at least the major storylines.  This is great.  Being a sports nut I can't ask for much more.  After 10 years of being relegated to ESPN it is like the flood gates have opened.  Fox Sports plays tons of Blues and Cardinal games and carry Rams related pre and post game shows.  Other channels offer coverage as well.  Even if it is St. Louis centric I just enjoy talking sports. 

Many of those I work with are locals but I'm lucky that they also follow the leagues as a whole.  It has been a while since I could really talk sports with someone.  And best of all I'm only 45 minutes from a game when I want to see live action.  Being here during the Cardinals' run to a World Series victory was almost as fun as being an actual fan of the team.  My team wasn't in it so I was free to just enjoy with my buddies.  It was a great experience.  At times I would play the foil and root for the Rangers.  It was all good fun.  Something I haven't been able to experience in quite a while.  No matter what the experience is, being near a large city has been nothing short of fun for my inner sports geek. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fantasy Sports - Can They Really Be a Bad Thing?

From time to time I hear fantasy sports is a bad thing.  Mike and Mike in the Morning is the show in particular but I've also heard D'Marco Farr on St. Louis' 101 ESPN station mention his disdain.  How the heck can fantasy sports be a bad thing?  Anything that generates interest in a sport has to be good right?  Heck the NFL will have a game next year that will award $1 million to anyone who can pick the highest scoring player at six postions (two each at RB and WR).  And the game is free.  Doesn't seem as though they think it is a bad thing. 

The most common complaint I hear is that fans root for teams or players opposing their own.  I will say a true fan won't root against his own team.  Will they think it is ok if player X scores against their team if the game is out of reach?  I think so.  But root against your own team?  No I don't think so.  If someone is rooting against their team I'd have to put them into the casual fan category and say they don't have a real rooting interest.  In this case that fan now has more interest in the league as opposed to just their supposed team. 

I consider myself a hardcore fan.  Maybe not a zealot but I follow all the leagues, have quite a bit of knowledge on the players, teams and history and then have my team that I follow to the bitter end.  Fantasy sports has enhanced even my following of the leagues by asking me to dig deaper into boxscores and other teams.  I don't see this as a bad thing.  Now I care how many points Kevin Martin of the Rockets scores, if Andy Dalton of the Bengals threw a touchdown and whether or not Kansas City Royal Joakim Soria garnered a save.  I know more about the different teams and players.  Is that bad?   

Fantasy sports also generates tons of conversation.  I'm usually in two leagues for baseball, football and basketball and buddies from work are usually involved.  The conversations start as soon as the leagues are formed.  We talk about who we want to draft and how we think we can win.  There is always the requisite trash talking as well.  During the season we are always talking about our teams and players whether good or bad.  It is great.  Again how is all this interest in a sport a bad thing? 

My fantasy sports playing started in the early nineties.  My good friend started a group of us from work doing a fantasy baseball league using stats we pulled from USA Today every Wednesday.  No computers back then.  I was hooked.  Again I was already a big fan.  This just added to the excitement.  Even if my team wasn't playing I had more reason to care.  I now play the major sports leagues as well as NASCAR and the various college sports post season games.  I started hockey two years ago though I'd be hard pressed to name 10 players in the league.  Now I can and I'm not as lost when watching highlights on ESPN.  The bottom line is any interest in a sport and league is a good thing.  Fantasy leagues only enhance their passion for the game and I for one don't see any negatives. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI

I really enjoyed the Super Bowl.  I had no rooting interest per se.  I do have a man crush on Michigan alum Tom Brady so going into this game I wanted to see him grab ring number four.  I stated to friends that New York was the better all-around team and gave the edge to the Giants in this game.  Their running game was healthy, they were peaking in the playoffs, the defense was playing very well and Eli was a stud this year.  On the other hand I woudln't make a career of picking against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  

New England was no slouchin this game but they did themselves in with mistakes.  Tom Brady started it off with the intentional grounding call.  You just had to know those two points would be critical  in this game and they were.  Then a critical 12 men on the field penalty by the Pat's defense on third and three at the New England 11 was huge.  NY fumbled though it might have been overturned but still three points would have been better than the eventual touchdown the Giants got.  Huge mistake.  Then Brady threw the interception on first down.  He basically threw it up for grabs.  I don't understand that when it was a first down play.  On third down maybe as you'd have to punt if it didn't work for you.  Last but not least the Patriot's receivers dropped some passes on New England's final drive.  As good as the Patriots are I have to believe they will drive themselves crazy all offseason thinking about what could have been.

New York on the other hand won this game.  They played very well on both sides of the ball.  With zero turnovers they played the game they had to play to win.  Eli had a wonderful game completing 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown.  Add to that another signature moment hitting Mario Manningham on their late fourth quarter touchdown drive for 38 yards and this team was meant to win.  New York added 114 yards rushing keyed by a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and his 72 yards.  The MVP though should have been punter Steve Weatherford.  He had four punts and three of them were inside the New England 10 yard line.  Wow.  I thought this was huge to the game making the Pats go 90+ yards putting them at a disadvantage.  His fourth punt also had a chance to be downed inside the 10 but the New York Giant player downfield was unable to make a play on the ball. 

Some seemed critical of Tom Brady and wonder if his star is fading.  What?  This was his fifth Super Bowl and he has won three.  Add to that this year's 13-3 season and he has no reason to hang his head.  That kind of talk is ubsurd.  He is one of the great quarterbacks of this era hands down.  On the other hand it may be too early to start the bust in Canton for Eli Manning but I will say you must start the discussion.  While his career hasn't been marked with greatness he is only 31 and if he adds some addtional years like this one (Super Bowl ring or not) I think he'll have to be in the disucssion.  Very few quarterbacks have two Super Bowl rings to their name so it will be interesting to see which side of the argument he lands on when his career is over. 

I thought this was a very good game.  New England players and fans will think they were one catch or non-mistake away from winning the game.  I think New York just won it.  They capitolized with a touchdown after the 12 men on the field penalty and made the long touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.  That is winning football.  Congratulations to the New York Giants.  Now I can't wait for next season!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

All-Star Games - Are They A Good Thing?

The NFL Pro Bowl was last week and it caught flack for lacking any effort by the players.  One person complaining was NFC Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rogers who also took a shot at his teammates for lackluster play.  All-star games have long been looked at as either fun, a waste of time or somewhere in between.  Fans enjoy seeing the big stars while players either enjoy the pageantry or dislike having to play an extra game.  The different leagues do theirs somewhat different in an effort to entertain their fans.  I've always enjoyed them myself and here I'll look at some of the pros and cons as I see them in the big 4 (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) sports. 

I think baseball is the best of the four by pure nature of the sport.  The pitcher versus batter scenario works great as we get to see matchups that we might not get to see otherwise.  Interleague play may have lessened this to some extent but it is still great to see the great pitchers and batters go against each other.  Baseball's all-star game comes midway through the season and includes the homerun contest.  I can take or leave the homerun contest but the game is my favorite all-star game. 

The NBA also holds it's game midway through the season.  Some will complain about the lack of defense but I think this is what makes it great.  Who doesn't like street ball?  You really get to see the one on one skills of players.  Yes it doesn't resemble a real game but it does showcase the NBA's talent.  The NBA has skills contests that have been different throughout the years but are usually entertaining.  The three point contest was always a favorite of mine as it showcase's true skill.  The slam dunk contest has gotten somewhat tiring over the years and sometimes lacks the big name players but it can still be entertaining.  The 3-on-3 contest employing everyone from past greats, current players, pop culture stars and even WNBA players can also be enjoyable.  Overall I think the NBA does well in putting on a good show. 

I'm a very casual follower of the NHL but I do enjoy their all-star show.  The skills contest is fun.  These guys have skills I think match those of any other sport.  They've gone to a system of late where two players pick the two different rosters from the pool of players picked to participate.  Not saying this is a homerun but I definitely give them points for creativity.  Again a nice showcase for the sport.

Now the NFL.  Their game was held after the Super Bowl until two years ago and is now held between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.  No matter when it is played it still suffers from a lack of enthusasm by the players.  Many feign injury to avoid going.  While some enjoy the trip to Hawaii they haven't put much effort into the game for some time now.  I do remember when the games were competitive and very enjoyable to watch.  What little I saw of last Sunday's game looked nothing like those.  I have no great answers to the problem.  In a sport that is very physical and injuries common I can understand players being leary of going all out.  Still the NFL needs to figure something out.  As is the game is a farce. 

I always enjoy seeing all the great players in one place.  It is even better when they get a chance to display the great skills that make them special.  There are also those plays or moments that you'll never forget.  John Kruk hitting against Randy Johnson in the 1993 all-star game stands out.  Not everyone is into these games but I for one enjoy watching them and hope the NFL can rescue their showcase game.