Tuesday, February 21, 2006

WBC shunned by MLB; fear of DL to blame

Looking around, no one seems to be that excited about the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which isn’t that surprising, considering very few of the players themselves seem interested in participating, as evidenced by their refusal to participate. Apparently, nobody wants to get hurt. And I’m not talking about feelings getting hurt, as in “I just couldn’t cope with losing to the Dominican Republic when WE invented this sport.” I’m talking about groins.

Which begs the question: Are there bigger party-poopers in the world than baseball players?

I think not.

Now granted, while I believe the idea of a World Baseball Classic is a great one, the planning behind this inaugural event makes little sense. For starters, why is this Classic being held one month before the regular season, thus ruining spring training, and providing us with a tournament full of rusty athletes who are trying to moderately represent their country while at the same time, trying not pull a hammy? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to host this event in November? Or December? Or January? Why not fill up a non-baseball month with baseball, at a decreased risk of having the event adversely affect the actual season? I don’t understand.

Regardless, the concept of a World Baseball Classic is an admirable one, and in my opinion, long overdue considering the blatant influx of foreign talent into Major League Baseball. This is something that all true baseball fans could get really excited about, assuming of course, that the actual baseball players we are so familiar with would, ya’ know…like, play. But alas, each passing day brings news of yet another popular baseball player who refuses to play for country X. Mariano Rivera will not play for Panama because he is “not ready.” Nomar Garciaparra will not play for Mexico because he needs to focus on “switching positions.” Tim Hudson will not play for the U.S. because he is “concerned” about injuries. Eric Gagne has declined to play for Canada because (drumroll please) he is worried about getting injured. And Barry Bonds won’t be playing for the Dominican Republic because he’s “not Dominican.”

Okay, okay, that’s a lie, although Bonds really isn’t participating. But it’s evident that many of the stars of MLB are scared of getting injured. Of course, these are the same babies who refuse to participate in the MLB All-Star Game every year for similar reasons, even though loyal fans have gone out of their way to vote them in.

In short, many baseball players are scared of getting hurt while playing baseball, which would, in turn, hurt their chances of playing baseball. Of course, Rockies’ rookie Clint Barmes injured himself last season carrying venison up a stairway (true story). But whatever. At least he didn’t get hurt playing in an exhibition baseball game, because THAT would have been embarrassing.

To be honest, I can understand. Sometimes I don’t go to work on Monday because I have been resting all weekend, and am fearful that I will hurt myself at work, thus causing me to miss more work. And get this – I don’t even have a guaranteed salary! Also, sometimes I am scared that a comet will hit the earth.

It’s not just the players themselves who are scared of injuring their fragile little bodies – the owners, managers, and general managers are undoubtedly giving each other high-fives every time one of their own opts out of the WBC. Protect that investment from doing anything stupid, like playing baseball for his country.

There are two main factors involved here. First, inflated salaries breed constant concern regarding an athlete’s well being, even though anybody with a brain knows that injuries are part of the game. It is this mentality in sports that leads to scenarios like the Indianapolis Colts resting their players at the end of the regular season (that worked out well), guys like Pedro Martinez asking to go home for the All-Star break instead of to the All-Star game, and big-name NBA players refusing to enter the Slam Dunk Contest, or even an invitation to play for the U.S. Olympic team. Secondly – and I’ll isolate this issue to baseball – there is an overwhelming sense that, because these games “don’t count,” it is a pointless risk to participate in them. In this sense, MLB itself mirrors America, and all of us baseball fans are forced to deal with the frustrating ethno-centrism. Who says what counts here? Just because you aren’t getting paid for something, you can so easily shrug it off? Just because an event doesn’t fall within the context of your employment, you have every right to refuse? The World Baseball Classic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and so many of the players view it as a mere nuisance, and that is very frustrating for someone who loves and respects the game. After all, Major League Baseball is NOT baseball. It’s just a league.

Let’s face it - the injury excuse is just a cop-out. Many of the stars of MLB feel they’re above participating in an event that celebrates the game that made them famous. But if you believe in the injury concerns, and if you feel compelled to defend the actions of many popular major leaguers, you may ask me – a reputed Yankee fan – how I would feel if Derek Jeter got injured during the WBC, thus jeopardizing his availability for the 2006 Yankees. To this, I would reply that I’ve seen Derek Jeter get injured on Opening Day, and there is nothing to do except lament the fact that it happened, and move on. To this, I would reply that I’d rather see Derek Jeter come through in the ninth inning of a U.S. victory, than NOT see him sitting on his couch. I’d rather see him get injured playing baseball than carrying venison up a staircase.

Once again there is a fun and exciting event that may potentially get ruined by the indifference of popular Major League baseball players. So thanks, Gagne. Thanks, Mo. Thanks, Nomar. Thanks to all you guys who refused to be a part of such a wonderful idea. Maybe I’ll catch you guys at the 2006 All-Star Game.

Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Trade me now…or else

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there – I want to be traded.

I know, I know. I don’t actually operate within a field that can cater to such requests. And, I really like where I’m at anyway, to be honest. But still – I want to be traded.

I don’t care where either. Send me somewhere where I can write captions for brochures advertising toaster ovens. Send me where the weather is warmer, so I can write outside. Send me where the weather is colder, so I can buy those popular furry boots. Send me somewhere that I can be reunited with a former editor, with whom I had a great working relationship in some past life. Send me closer to home, because this particular part of New Jersey scares me. Send me where we can win…NOW. Win what, you ask? I don’t know. Just trade me. And if you refuse to trade me, I will continue to churn out mediocre columns in my sleep, like the one you are currently reading.

Now, if this were, say, professional sports, this request would immediately be followed by agents, general managers, coaches, teammates, equipment managers, and the like, scrambling around in an attempt to appease my wishes. Why? Because I said so. Duh.

Now, listen. I know it’s a tired song and dance to compare the professional sporting world to, ya’ know, real life. I’m well aware that it’s an entirely different atmosphere, and I’ve never been envious of the type of fame and scrutiny that comes with it. I don’t care about how much money athletes make (unless they suck). I can deal with the arrogance and I can even deal with the annual “labor agreement” that threatens to halt play of whatever sport’s turn it is to be involved in a such a mess. Whatever. But this “trade-me-now-or-else” trend is just plain ridiculous.

Who hasn’t thrown their hat in the ring during the current “I want to be traded” fiasco? It’s a seasonal thing for Boston’s Manny Ramirez, and he never even has a concrete reason as to why. Miguel Tejada wants out of Baltimore because he doesn’t like the way things are going there. Terrell Owens wanted out of San Fran, and when he was traded to Baltimore, he got his way out of there too. Ron Artest wanted to be traded from the team that stuck with him after he went into the stands to beat up some fans. And he got his wish. (But just barely, because that situation was T.O.-esque: “Trade me now! Wait – not to THAT team!”) Last year, Vince Carter wanted out of Toronto so bad that, when he wasn’t purposely missing games with fake injuries, he was launching shots 10 feet behind the 3-point line, and then miraculously not getting back on defense. Basically, he blackmailed the Raptors. But hey – whatever. All is fair in love, war, and when you’re tired of playing for your current team, regardless of what your contract may state.

What drives me nuts is not even the fact that athletes are demanding trades left and right. What is inconceivable to me is that franchises around the country are acting on these disgruntled whims, as if they were orders sent from some kind of higher power. The Red Sox front office tried in vain to trade Ramirez, a guy who consistently drives in 140 runs, never gets in trouble, and helped the team win their first World Series in 86 years. The 49ers were so ecstatic to rid themselves of Owens that they traded him for…umm, I have no idea what they got for him. Yes – I have no idea what the 49ers received in return for arguably the best wide receiver in football. Who did the Nets give up to get Carter, who currently averages about 60 points per game? I don’t remember. But, at least Carter is happy, because that’s all that matters.

And at least Herm Edwards is happy, the coach who clamored his way out of New York because the grass was greener in Kansas City. Yep – the Jets traded their COACH for a draft pick because he wanted to go somewhere else. This “me first” trend has gotten so bad that even coaches aren’t immune to it. And there’s even a bonus in it for them (the coaches), since it’s “politically incorrect” for someone in a position of authority to express their displeasure – they get to lie about it.

The inmates really are running the asylum. When does it stop?

What is most troubling about the current atmosphere of professional sports is this: the minute an athlete, or now a coach, has to face some adversity, they want out. If the team isn’t winning, they want out. If they don’t get along with their teammates (Shaq doesn’t even get a pass here), they want out. If they don’t like the coach, or the manager, or the general manager, or the owner, they want out. Worst of all, if they feel that they’re not making enough money under their current CONTRACT, they want out.

What is a contract, anyway?

And speaking of contracts, mine is about to expire shortly. And by “shortly” I mean in two years. I’d like to renegotiate. I signed it under extreme duress, and at the time, I wasn’t aware of how much money other writers were making. Do you have any IDEA how much John Grisham is worth?! But, if you don’t want to pay me, at least trade me to someone who will. That’s the least you can do. And I suggest that you do it, because you don’t want to be around me when I’m not happy. Let’s just say that I lose my motivation.

In fact, now that I think about it, I feel some carpel tunnel coming on.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Important dates and other minutiae

I am very good with dates. For example, say I am at the bank, and I am filling out some paperwork alongside another person who is doing the same, and this person asks me the date. After a few seconds of pensive thought (which often includes looking at what date I put on MY deposit form), I will always tell them the date. And at least 8 times of out 10, I am right. Call it a gift.

Unfortunately, I am not as keen at the assignment of EVENTS to various dates. This is especially odd considering that I was a history major in college, which, quite often, constituted the act of matching up dates with events. I made up for this area of detriment with my inherent ability to bullshit my way through any 18-page paper thrown my way. My dates may have been off, but details are often irrelevant when you are waxing poetic about why King George III was legitimately insane. (Sample: “King George III of England was born simply ‘George’ sometime around the time of Jesus. And let me tell you – that guy was crazy. Allow me to explain…”)

Throw in the fact that some historical information doubles as trickery, and it makes life that much harder. For example, there is the famous trick question, “When was the War of 1812?” which seems self-explanatory, except that the answer is “never.” This tomfoolery suffices to explain why I left history in the dust years ago, and am now bullshitting my way through other stuff.

Anyhoo, I bring up my inability to remember the importance of various dates because, just yesterday, I forgot my parent’s anniversary. Again. And this wasn’t an instance of me forgetting to email, or call them. In fact, on the contrary, I DID call my mom, only this communication was to serve my own self-interest, as in “Hey mom. It’s me. Did you finish editing my article yet? Because I need it. Okay, good. Hey – did you like ‘24’ this week? Yeah, I wish Jack was real too. But you finished my article, right? Okay, well, I guess I better go. Ummm, what are you and Dad doing tonight?”

It was at this point when she informed me that her and my father were going out to eat. To celebrate their anniversary. Ouch. At first, I tried to lie my way through it, actually trying to convince her that I was waiting until the very END of our conversation to wish her a happy anniversary. (“Oh wait, mom – before you hang up…Haaaapppyyyyy ANNIVEEERSAARYYY!!! Ha ha! You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?!” Yeah – that sounds like me.) Then I topped THAT off by telling her that I mixed up the date of her anniversary with my cousin Mark’s birthday, which does happen to be the day after (Happy Birthday, Mark!), but is something that I am only aware of because my mom mentioned it over the weekend when she was casually reminding me to remember her anniversary.

Yes, because she realizes she has a son that needs to be reminded of such matters, my mom actually gave me fair and advanced warning of said anniversary, casually mentioning it to me sometime during the Super Bowl, at which point I made a mental note to remember, and then finished drinking my beer. (Hmmm…coincidence?) I think it went something like this: “Wow, this game is pretty boring, huh? Maybe I should use this time to think of what to get Mark for his birthday, which is on Friday, February 10. I always remember Mark’s birthday because it’s the day after mine and Dad’s anniversary.” It should also be noted that my mom doesn’t do this so that she gets a call on that day, or a present, or anything like that. She actually does it selflessly – so that I don’t feel like an idiot for forgetting. Obviously, she failed.

Maybe remembering my parent’s anniversary would be much easier if it were tied a more famous and memorable event than Mark’s stupid birthday. For example, my wife’s birthday – March 9th – is a date that I never forget, because it’s the same day that the Notorious B.I.G. was shot (R.I.P.). Basically, I need the date of when a rapper I never met was killed to remember the date my wife was born. I think it was three years ago, when I was driving around town, listening to a Biggie tribute on Hot 97, when I said to myself, “Oh crap! Why are they playing so much Biggie? I better pick up some chocolates!”

And it’s not just my parent’s anniversary that I have been known to forget. Two years ago I forgot my friend Pete’s birthday, about two weeks after I had asked him to be my best man. Obviously, I am not his.

In summation, if your birthday/anniversary/anything else I am required to remember through small, thoughtful purchases and phone calls, does NOT fall on the same date as a famous rapper’s slaying, please forgive my forgetfulness in advance.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, Happy Anniversary! As Biggie would say, please give me “One more chance.”

And Mom, if you’re reading this, please email me the corrections.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Super Bowl XL, where everyone’s a winner!

Last year, before Super Bowl XXXIX, we encouraged the females to ask “Big Time Sports” some football-related questions, in order to prepare them for the big game. It was a huge success, even though none of the women who took part in my poll actually watched the game, instead opting to go in another room and gossip about the hot topic at the time, which I think was whether or not Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey were EVER going to have a baby. Mystery solved.

Nevertheless, it bothered me that, after all of the fun we had with football-related questions, none of the women managed to watch the game. I felt duped. Used even. So I wanted to delve further into why, exactly, the women still avoided watching the Super Bowl last year. I gathered up the usual suspects, and implored them as to their reasoning for not watching the biggest football game of the year. And lo and behold - every single one of them responded the same: “I always feel bad for the loser.”

Being a veteran of Super Bowl parties, I am very familiar with the following scene. Most of the guys in the room are intently watching the end of the game, even if it is a blowout, to see if the spread will be covered. The women, using their innate female biological forces, sense that the game is ending, and slowly begin filing into the room, asking questions like, “Who won?” and “What happened to the carpet?” and “So, I guess I’m driving.” Inevitably, the cameras that are capturing the bliss and joy of the winning team will eventually pan to an offensive lineman of the losing team, alone on the sidelines, with his head down on a bench. This is immediately followed by a chorus of “Awwwwwwwwwwww.”

The women are saddened by the harsh reality that, once again, both teams did not win the Super Bowl. In fact, the only person I know who breaks the mold of this uber-sensitive, football-indifferent woman is my cousin Cara. She is a cold-hearted, sports-tolerant woman - a rare and endangered species. But that is it. My wife, for example, always feels bad for the loser, and usually manages to make ME feel bad about not giving a crap. This is especially difficult during Yankee games, when, hypothetically, I will be cheering for a late-inning Yankee home run, until the camera shows the pitcher on the mound, and my wife clutches her chest in an overt motion of sympathy for a man she doesn’t even know – the middle reliever of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

But back to football. While everybody is falling all over each other trying to figure out who is going to win Sunday’s game, I want to focus on the loser of Super Bowl XL, whoever that may be. I want to make the women feel better about the outcome, regardless of the fact that the outcome is required to name a non-winner.

For the team that reaches the Super Bowl – the culmination of the entire NFL season – only to lose, it is okay for them to be sad. After all, their hopes of being named “champions” were just flushed down the toilet. But they shouldn’t be sad for long (five good minutes should suffice), because life goes on. And as life is going on, they will have to spend the millions and millions and millions of dollars they make for playing football along the way.

Many women don’t know this, but the average football player makes $12 million per second of actual football action, not including practice. Of course, after a Super Bowl defeat, any number of players on the losing side will tell you “it’s not about the money,” but then they will get in their private jet that is made out of gold, and fly to their third home in Maui. This is where they will grieve the loss. And the more talented of those players will actually be forced to LEAVE Maui after two weeks so they can go to the Pro Bowl. In Hawaii. Wait – is Maui IN Hawaii? I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never had the good fortune of losing the Super Bowl. So when you have to wake up at six o’clock the next Monday morning, so you can go out in the freezing cold to warm up your car, so you can go teach 29 third-graders how to spell “Mississippi,” all the while trying to avoid the cavalcade of germs, snots, and boogers, try not to feel bad for the guy whose team just lost the Super Bowl, and who is exercising his angst on a lounge chair with a margarita.

Another thing many women aren’t aware of is that, like Valentine’s Day, there is a Super Bowl every year. All of the players on this year’s losing team, unless they are too old (in which case they will retire at THIRTY-SEVEN on their multi-million dollar pension), will have a chance to go back to the Super Bowl next year. It is not like the guy who has been practicing his ice-luge skills for twenty years, only to fail miserably in the Olympics, thus disappointing his entire family, and embarrassing the whole nation. That idiot has to wait four years for redemption. The football player only has to wait a year, and if he wants, he can demand that his contract be “renegotiated,” or he will go to a team that he deems has a better chance of reaching the Super Bowl the following year. So don’t feel bad.

To make yet another popular analogy, going to the Super Bowl is like being nominated for an Oscar. It is an honor just to be nominated, or something like that. I mean, there are thousands of NFL players who will never even get to go to the Super Bowl. Take Peyton Manning, for example. If you’re going to feel bad for anyone, feel bad for HIM. He’ll never make it to the big game because all he cares about is being a good teammate, and unfortunately, his offensive linemen are a bunch of incompetent jerks. And his kicker is an idiot. And his wide receivers never run the right pattern. It’s not his fault. Geez.

You see, it’s just about getting to the Super Bowl. Anyone will tell you – the actual game means nothing. It’s just about the parties. And these guys have been partying for two weeks straight, so when you see some guy on the losing sideline hanging his head after the game, it’s not because he’s sad – he’s just hung over. In fact, he’s actually happy the game is over, so he can go home and take a nap. In Maui.

The fact is, you’d be better off feeling bad for the winner of the Super Bowl this, and every year, because those guys aren’t going to get a day off for the next three months. They’ll have to go on all the radio shows. They’ll have to film random TV spots, pimping some worthless merchandise. They’ll have to go on the Tyra Banks show, and pretend that Tyra Banks is smart and engaging. They’ll have to do Disney-related commercials. Not to mention they’ll have to hop on board a dangerous float for some parade, and then do that cheesy “Ms. America”-type wave, where the hand is slightly cupped. Then, after all that, they’ll be expected to win it all again NEXT year. Really though – I’ll take five minutes of grief for a springtime of freedom any day.

So ladies, if you walk into the TV room at the end of whatever Super Bowl party you decide to attend this year, and you just happen to notice a big, burly man crying his eyes out on the loser’s bench, don’t feel too bad for him. He has a lot more money than you, and you’ll probably see him on “MTV Cribs” in a few weeks, showing off a walk-in closet that he doesn’t even USE! He may even be dating Jessica Simpson by then. Of course, you may be wondering why, if the actual game doesn’t mean anything, us guys get so excited to watch the Super Bowl in the first place. But I told you already – to see who will cover the point spread.

Geez – don’t you women EVER listen?

Now who’s driving home?