DG’s Quick Hits October 29, 2007
RED SOX WIN SECOND SERIES IN FOUR YEARS
In 2004, no one expected the Boston Red Sox to overcome the Curse of the Bambino in winning the World Series, but they did just that overcoming a 3-0 series deficit against the hated New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series while going on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 to capture their first Series in 86 years. This year, they didn’t have any cure but that didn’t stop the Sox from overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Cleveland Indians in this year’s ALCS while stomping all over the overmatched Colorado Rockies in a four game Series Sweep. In 2004, no one outside of the Red Sox clubhouse expected the Sox to win the Series, this year everyone in baseball saw it from a mile away as soon as Boston claimed first in the AL East way back in mid-April and held on to the end. In doing so, Boston exposed a Colorado team that surprisingly wasn’t hitting, shutting them down with their excellent pitching staff while clobbering the Rockies’ staff who must have felt they were under siege the entire Series.
The victory is no doubt going to raise questions about baseball’s economic system simply because Boston- usually lumped with the Yankees in terms of baseball’s “big spenders”- won. However, since 2001 (when baseball ratified its new collective bargaining agreement) there have been six different Series winners, with only one- Boston- winning it twice. Besides, we should give the new CBA a chance- 20 different teams made the playoffs since 2001, an impressive feat given the fact that each year only eight teams qualify, so on both counts it’s not like the same teams rotate earning the prize like it is in European soccer. On the other hand, Red Sox fans must be wondering if they’ve become the Yankees and the Yankees have become the Red Sox- I mean, now Boston is winning and the Yankees are choking. Oh how quickly the tide turns.
SO MUCH FOR “THE STANDARD”
Two days after Philadelphia Flyer Randy Jones levelled Boston Bruin Patrice Bergeron into the boards during the Flyers’ 2-1 win, the National Hockey League suspended Jones for just two games. NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, the one who is mainly responsible for handing out suspensions, stated in the league’s press release (NHL.com) that the hit wasn’t comparable to earlier hits to the head (like Jesse Boulerice’s hit on Ryan Kesler and Steve Downie’s hit on Dean McAmmond), adding that while Jones hit an unsuspecting Bergeron, he didn’t “intend to injure his opponent”.
Campbell is correct that Jones’ hit wasn’t as dangerous as Boulerice’s hit or Downie’s hit (it also wasn’t as dangerous as Nashville Predator Jordin Tootoo’s unpunished charge on Phoenix Coyote Daniel Winnik but that’s another matter), but it could be reasonably argued that neither Boulerice (who was battling with Kesler at the time) or Downie (whose hit was reckless but probably wasn’t targeted at McAmmond exclusively- he would have dinged whomever was coming around the net) intended to injure their opponents either. Furthermore, looking at the video, it’s apparent Jones hit Bergeron from behind, Bergeron didn’t suspect the hit coming, Jones left his feet and used his elbow, which, under my own math, should equal at least ten games, at least if we’re to believe the NHL’s new standards on hits. Of course, that should have also meant that Tootoo should have been suspended for his obvious charge on Winnik, but who watches a game between Nashville and Phoenix anyway? In any case, the message the NHL is sending is clear- it doesn’t care about violence. Otherwise, it’d crack down hard on it, not lessen up simply because too many “hockey people” (who took too many hits themselves it seems) whine about how “there’s no hitting left in the game”.
THIS AND THAT
- The biggest loser in Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory’s failed bid to land a seat in the Ontario legislature may be Ontario itself. While the Conservatives were probably a long shot to win Ontario anyway, Tory is far and away the province’s best leader. Here’s hoping he gets another shot.
- Earlier last week, I had an unexpected road trip to Pittsburgh when my friends and I didn’t realize that a Leaf game against the Penguins was in Pittsburgh. The trip was still an eye-opener, because Mellon Arena was packed with Penguin jerseys and a crowd far more vocal than it ever gets at the Air Canada Centre, where Leaf fans are priced out of their favourite team’s arena. It’s been said that Toronto could support a second NHL team- now it’s a case that they need one, because the Leaf organization is certainly abusing its monopoly.
- PJ Stock on the poor defending by the New York Rangers on Nikolai Antropov’s 3-1 goal for Toronto: “in the old days, you used to be able to shove him down and cross check him but they don’t allow that anymore. They should go back to that.” Uh, P.J., that’s against the rules- knocking a player down is interference, and cross-checking is already a penalty. What the Ranger defender should have done was move his stick in such a position that he can put the blade of his stick in front of Antropov’s stick, tip or lift Antropov’s stick as soon as he receives the puck or even “nudge” Antropov out of the way in trying to establish his own positioning. All such moves are legal hockey moves, and should be routine decisions by defensemen. Some days I wonder when hockey people will end their crusade against the NHL referees that “unfairly penalized them” and just understand that the game is now being called by the book (there’s no new rules) and that the game is better off because of it. The way hockey people talk you’d think that defending is impossible when the game is called by the book and it isn’t- the options are there, people now just have to realize it.
- I know it’s old, but Steve Kouleas mentioned on The Spin while commenting on Jesse Boulerice’s hit that he didn’t remember Original Six era players receiving the same kind of disrespect that NHLers receive nowadays. He may be right, but let’s also not forget how the game was played in the Original Six era- with six teams, at most only the best 100 hockey players could play in the NHL, whereas today over 700 players will compete in the NHL by the year’s end (counting minor league call-ups). Furthermore, due to the size of the league, teams played each other 14 times, now, with 30 NHL teams, clubs play each other eight times if they’re divisional opponents, four times if they’re conference opponents and just once if they’re inter-conference opponents, with the divisional games all spread out through the year. That means that one, fringe players today don’t possess nearly as much skill as the fringe players of the Original Six (and thus today the most some players could do is lay a cheap shot) and two, players don’t see each other enough to really gain enough respect for each other. Sure, players can research opponents online but it’s not the same as it would be if they played them, and in the Original Six era, you were guaranteed to play each other at least once a week. That’s a world of difference than it is today.
- While we’re on the subject of the Original Six, if Ross Bernstein, author of “The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL”, is correct, players actually struck each other with sticks until they hit the bone. Something tells me that the battles we see today are pretty tame.
- Don’t look now, but the Buffalo Bills are 3-4 after that stunning 13-3 victory over the New York Jets, with games against the defensively inept Cincinnati Bengals and the simply inept Miami Dolphins in the next two weeks, meaning Buffalo could be 5-4 by the time they play the New England Patriots on November 18. Of course, before Bills fans get giddy let’s also not forget that Buffalo let a winnable game against Denver get away from them in Week One and that Miami is still Miami, meaning those records will be meaningless come game time. Still, the prospect of a 5-4 Buffalo team is a positive development for a team that’s had so much go wrong for so long.
- So the New England Patriots scored 52 on the hapless Washington Redskins…so what. As Mike Wilbon himself put it, “they’re professionals, if you don’t want them to score, stop ’em.” Yeah, running up the score is classless, but these are the Redskins, not Trinity College- Washington are technically the same league as New England and aren’t that far below the Patriots, so there’s no reason for New England to “let up” if they have the chance. Besides, back-up quarterback Matt Cassel got a touchdown- that says something about how Bill Belichick treated the final few moments of the game, and just how good the Redskins really are.
- If the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will be playing each other to determine who gets to stay undefeated, can the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams- the two winless teams remaining this season- play each other so one team can get a win? Of course, that begs the question- does anyone *want* to see those two teams play? Watching the Dolphins flail around against the New York Giants in London and the Rams blow a two touchdown lead at home against the Cleveland Browns makes me think a Miami-St. Louis game would be a 3-0, penalty-filled contest…or even 0-0…oh, the horrors of that!
- Hey, Toronto Blue Jay fans- Mike Lowell, World Series MVP, is a free agent. Wouldn’t he be a nice fit on a Jays team that lacks intensity and leadership? The Jays have the talent to compete with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, just not the mental toughness to do so. Lowell would go a long way in rectifying that, even if it means having to give up on Troy Glaus.
- So, Juventus are stuck in fourth on 17 points following a 3-1 loss to Napoli (their first loss to Napoli since March 25, 1990, a streak of 18 winless games), and AC Milan are stuck in 13th on a measly 10 points. Meanwhile, Inter Milan are leading Serie A with 21 points. I know it’s early in the season, but maybe this means that Inter really are that good and that last year- when Milan went on a similar dizzy spell- Milan really didn’t stand a chance for the scudetto in 2006-07. Of course, Juventus fans, if their team loses, would probably whine about how Calciopoli robbed them of their best players (in particular Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira, mainstays at Inter now) and that this year’s title “won’t count”. Oh well- it wouldn’t be Italian soccer if someone didn’t whine.
- Speaking of implosions, does anyone know what’s going on at Chelsea? Jose Mourinho, the team’s best manager in their history, leaves in a huff after the team draws 1-1 at home to Rosenborg of Norway in the Champions League to compliment an ugly start to the Premiership season despite the fact he won the FA Cup in 2007 and the 2005 and 2006 Premierships with the team. Then questions start abounding on the commitments of several key players to the team, foremost amongst them Didier Drogba, amidst the hiring of former Ajax Amsterdam manager (and noted disciplinarian) Henk Ten Cate as an assistant to Mourinho’s replacement Avram Grant. The team’s 2-0 win over Schalke 04 in the Champions League should right the ship somewhat, but right now this is still a team in disarray.
- Story of the season: Manchester City. Don’t look now but Sven-Goran Eriksson has the club third in England with 22 points, four behind co-leaders Manchester United and Arsenal. City has already beaten United this season, and a Premiership victory would go a long way to casting City out of United’s long shadow. Of course, losing 6-0 to Chelsea doesn’t help Eriksson’s title aspirations, but if there is something City fans can draw upon, it’s the fact that Eriksson is a winner, moulding a consistently strong English national team and Lazio to the 2000 scudetto. City are on their way up.
- Speaking of remarkable results, take a look at what Walter Smith is doing at Rangers: seven points in the Champions’ League, including a strong performance in a 0-0 draw against Barcelona and a 3-0 win over Lyon, and second in Scotland, three points behind Celtic (whom Smith beat 3-0 earlier in the year), a much closer result than the mile behind the team finished in 2006-07. It’s probably too early to crown Rangers as champions this year, but if Smith- who last managed Rangers in 1998- plays his cards right, he just might add European hardware to Rangers’ stockpiled cupboards.
- I know this is old, but Craig Forrest needs to stop viewing the Canadian national team with rose-coloured glasses. During Canada’s friendly against Costa Rica, he admonished the fact that Canada’s U-20 players all listed foreigners as their favourite players, citing the reason as a lack of exposure for the Canadian national team. Craig, the real reason why no one picked a Canadian player is because they stink. Okay, I’m being harsh to some of the Canadian players who do possess world-class talent, but you can’t tell me you’d take Dwayne De Rosario, Atiba Hutchinson, Julian de Guzman or Paul Stalteri over the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Zinedine Zidane, or David Beckham, no matter how good any of them are.
- Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports wrote a story stating that Thierry Henry said he’d consider signing in the U.S. Rogers used the story as proof that Major League Soccer is a legitimate major league, but he- like the rest of the overtly giddy North American media- forget that quality is what makes a major league, not a league’s title. Henry’s contract with Barcelona runs out when he’s 33, and, depending on Barcelona’s successes in his three years there, Henry might not leave when he’s 33, because at that age he can still contribute to a Barcelona title drive. Considering that the MLS has nothing to offer European stars except a break from the overbearing European press (as the really prestigious titles are in Europe), there’s no reason to believe a mass exodus of European stars is about to happen any time soon. Plus, the MLS does a poor job of keeping its own quality players- the likes of Tim Howard, Cory Gibbs, Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley (among others) all play in Europe. Americans, who are used to watching the best baseball players, the best basketball players and (presumably, considering it’s played nowhere else) the best football players, aren’t drawn to the sport unless they’re watching the best (a fact not mentioned by the North American soccer press), so regardless of how “good” the MLS is, unless the league becomes a real quality league (at least in terms of American talent) then the sports-buying public will stay away in droves. I, for one, hope that soccer can catch on in North America because it’s a great sport, but the MLS needs to improve its talent level (especially in terms of American talent) first. Otherwise, as long as casual soccer fans know that the MLS is a soccer bush league and that the real soccer quality is on at 7AM on a Saturday, soccer in the U.S. will get the attention it deserves- nothing.
- Rogers also wrote that Toronto FC is proof of the MLS’ legitimacy because TFC managed to create a “buzz” in Toronto for the sport by appealing to soccer’s traditions (such as not using a nickname). Being a Toronto resident, I can safely say there is no “buzz” for TFC at all- all summer, the Blue Jays and Argonauts dominated sports talk, often burying TFC coverage which often felt “thrown in” (like hockey often is in the U.S.). Of course, TFC were garbage but the team didn’t receive nearly as much press as the Raptors did in their first season. I’ll give TFC the benefit of the doubt in that it is Year One, but, like the MLS, TFC has a long way to go before it can safely establish a solid place in the Toronto sporting landscape.
- Last, but not least is TFC manager Martin Johnston’s plea to have TFC’s Canadian quota reduced to five from 11, because it hamstrung Johnston’s team depth in the face of so many TFC injuries. This is a move I would not support, because the goal of TFC was to promote Canadian talent and reducing the amount of spots for them defeats the purpose. Of course, a real Canadian league would be a nice alternative, but considering we in Canada think we can’t operate anything without the Americans’ help, that’s not going to be happening anytime soon.