Archive for July, 2007

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney caused a stir last week by mentioning that conference expansion might be on the table for a school other than the usual suspect of Notre Dame. Last year, I argued for Syracuse as being the best choice other than the Fighting Irish for a 12th team and I still stand by that. Rutgers has a great location near New York City, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than one good football season to make them a viable candidate. The always entertaining mgoblog, even though it supports the enemy, had an intriguing comprehensive write-up on the potential additions. That being said, I disagree with his analysis. If the Big Ten goes in a direction other than Notre Dame, I believe that it’s got to be toward the East Coast as opposed to adding onto the fringes of the Midwest. We need to look to expand our boundaries instead of looking inward. Anyway, here are some links:

(1) Certain Degrees Now Cost More at Public Universities (New York Times) - A number of public universities, including the University of Illinois, are starting to charge more for engineering and business programs compared to the rest of school. I’m glad I got in and out when there was still flat pricing.

(2) Celtics, Wolves Closing in on Deal (ESPN.com) – This was exactly what I was worried about: Kevin Garnett coming to the Eastern Conference to a team other than the Bulls. Even though Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are on the downsides of their careers, adding KG to Boston will catapult that team from the doghouse to the upper echelon of the East. Do I have confidence that the Bulls would be able to shut that team down in a head-to-head playoff series? Nope. Joe Smith is a decent power forward, but it’s not as if though he’s leaps and bounds better than P.J. Brown. Assuming Dwyane Wade are healthy next year, I would put the Heat (don’t read too much into the Bulls’ sweep with Wade at half-strength), Cavs, Celtics, and Pistons ahead of the Bulls next year. I know I’m beating the proverbial dead horse here, but this is what happens when you don’t have a superstar – other teams pass you by pretty quickly (i.e. the Cleveland Cavaliers of the early-90s). This Garnett deal isn’t set in stone yet, so maybe the Bulls can make one last run at him, yet it’s extremely disappointing that they haven’t tried already.

(3) How Do Cats Like Rabbits? Very Much, And Preferably Raw (Wall Street Journal) – In response to the pet foot contamination scare from earlier this year, raw rabbit has all of the sudden become a hot commodity among cat owners. This might be something my cat would go for, but he’s already ridiculously spoiled. I honestly think that he believes my wife and I are his pets, considering that he’s the one that’s fed on demand and gets his poop picked up everyday.

(4) A Dark – But Not So Secret – ‘Knight’ For Sequel (Chicago Tribune) – Since my office is right by some entrances to Lower Wacker Drive, I’ve been seeing props for the new ‘Batman’ movie all over the place, including a Gotham City police car and paddywagon. Other than that, though, the filmmakers seem to be keeping the shooting under tight security.

(5) It’s Official: The Cubs Are Awesome (Goat Riders of the Apocalypse) – Don’t get too cocky, guys. Meanwhile, I’ll just go back to seeing who will be left on the South Side by the end of the day.

(6) Briggs Signs (Da’ Bears Blog) - Despite an offseason of Drew Rosenhaus-fueled acrimony, Lance Briggs will back in Chicago for one more season. Only a month until football season – I’m getting all tingly inside.

And finally…

To my horror when I went out to lunch today, the Chinese chicken place (it was one of those places that just had two neon signs that said “Teriyaki” – despite having little in the way of Japanese food offerings – and “Chicken”, kind of like a roadside restaurant that is identified by only an “Eat” sign or the “Hot” pancake syrup at IHOP) at the Citigroup Center food court in the Loop has been shutdown. If you’ve ever been in that food court, you know exactly what I’m talking about: $6.05 after tax for a heap of fried rice plus two different types of fried MSG of your choice. With the cheapest lunch in the Loop outside of McDonald’s pushing towards $10, the Chinese chicken place was an oasis of full and inexpensive goodness. I have no idea why it has closed since it has always had the longest line in that food court. The obvious thought would be health code violations, but normally there would be notices with respect to that and there none visible. Anyway, this has been such a terrible blow to me (I’m seriously getting the shakes just thinking of the Cashew Chicken/Sesame Chicken combo that I’d always get) that I just had to get it out. R.I.P., Chinese chicken place.

About these ads

Some random links to take your mind off of point shaving and dog fighting:

(1) No Objections Here (Washington Post) - Here’s the pecking order at large law firms from someone with first hand knowledge: (1) partners, (2) summer associates, (3) administrative and support staff, and (4) full-time associates.

(2) The Race is on for the ‘God  Particle’ (New York Times) – This could turn out to be Fermilab’s magnum opus.

(3) This Never Would Have Happened at Marshall Field’s (Chicagoist) - I used to eat downstairs at the State Street store formerly known as Marshall Field’s all of the time when I worked on the east end of the Loop back in the day.  This won’t be happening much in the future, though.

(4) New Lion House Space Opens (Chicago Tribune) – No real comment here other than that I’ve always loved the Lincoln Park Zoo and the link has a picture of a red panda.

And finally…

(5) Remembering Harry Caray’s Last Broadcast (Deadspin) - Even as a Sox fan, I miss the voice calling out for Arne to check out the guy in the sombrero.  R.I.P., my man.

david-beckam.jpg

Mr. Posh Spice AKA David Beckham has arrived in America and there’s been the predictable discussions as to whether his presence in Major League Soccer will finally bring the United States into concurrence with the rest of the world of viewing the original football as a preeminent spectator sport.  A lot of the naysayers argue that Americans will never warm to soccer because we need lots of scoring (being the land of excess that we are), which soccer doesn’t provide.  Of course, I’ve always found this ludicrous, since a 1-0 pitchers’ duel in baseball is infinitely more exciting than a 12-11 slugfest, while football of the American variety assigns multiple points to each of its scores which artificially raises the numerical total score (we might look at it differently if a 21-14 game was instead called a 3 touchdowns to 2 touchdowns game).  Sure, there are those that like scoring for the sake of scoring, just as there are those that believe Larry the Cable Guy is a comedic genius.  That doesn’t mean that this is necessarily the view of the majority.

However, I will be a naysayer on soccer’s popularity as a spectator sport in the U.S. on a different front which ought to be obvious but I rarely hear being brought up in discussions about the game (in contrast to the simplistic “low scoring” issue).  If you’ve ever read “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, he uses an apt sports analogy as to how the United States has attained its success over the past century.  He states that historically, we have been the best on grabbing the “first round draft picks” from around the world in nearly every walk of life, whether it’s scientists that come to study and research at our top universities, computer and technology pioneers building companies in Silicon Valley, financiers running the world’s capital markets on Wall Street and LaSalle Street, actors and actresses making films in Hollywood, and competitive eaters attacking hot dog stands on Coney Island.  Our success has largely been predicated on attracting the best of the best from the rest of the world (look at the disproportionate number of immigrants in America that have founded technology companies, run corporations, or are A-List celebrities) and the world of sports in general is certainly no exception.  The world’s top basketball players, even if they are superstars in their home countries, invariably long to come to the NBA.  The same thing applies with baseball.  When we watch professional sports in this country, part of the allure is that we know that we are watching the very top players in the world competing at the highest level.  That’s why we feel justified (or maybe we’re so vain) to crown our ultimate winners in the postseasons of our pro sports leagues as “World Champions” – other countries be damned.

Of course, there’s one glaring exception to this superiority, if you haven’t already figured it out: soccer.  If we called the champions of the MLS “World Champions”, that would be the biggest joke to the rest of the world since the fact that we voted George W. Bush into office not once, but twice.  (I’ll admit that I was a contributor to this.  Sorry, folks.)  Do you know how NBA fans like myself have a nice chuckle over the grainy footage posted on YouTube of Yi Jianlian posting up 5′ 5″ power forwards in the Chinese Basketball Association since the quality of play between the leagues is so glaringly wide?  Well, that’s exactly how fans of the English Premier League and other top European leagues feel when they watch the MLS.  The reason why watching the MLS feels like watching minor league baseball to me is because that’s exactly what it’s comparable to: it can be perfectly nice family entertainment for an evening, but it’s very apparent that the best in the world aren’t on the field.

Americans have already shown that they have the capacity to watch top quality soccer with their increasing interest in the World Cup and the U.S. national team over the past decade.  The ratings for the World Cup last year vastly exceeded expectations even when the U.S. team got bounced out early.  However, that doesn’t translate into increased attention for the MLS at home since the average sports fan intuitively knows the difference in the quality of play between the World Cup and MLS, even if the games have the same 1-0 score (just as you can tell the difference in the quality of play between a Major League Baseball game and a minor league baseball game even if the scores are the same).  We will gladly spend our precious time and hard-earned dollars on watching the best of the best, whether it’s sports or movies, but we will only give a passing glance to anything less than that.

What American soccers needs is David Beckham… from five years ago when he was in his prime, along with attracting other soccer superstars from around the world while they are at the tops of their games as opposed to being on the descent.  Until the MLS (or some other professional soccer league) gets to the point where it can legitimately call its champion at the end of the year the “World Champions” or at the very least be able to compete with the top European leagues without being laughed off the field, soccer as a spectator sport is going to have a hard time gaining traction outside of the World Cup and the U.S. national team.  The scoring issue has nothing to do with the soccer’s problems.  It’s all about the quality of play.

(Image from The Big Lead

Playing off of the argument that White Sox fans are the new Cubs advanced by the Ted Lilly Fan Club a couple of weeks ago, I’ve come to realize the inverse is becoming true as well: Cubs fans are the new White Sox fans.

Up until a couple of years ago, Wrigley Field was a happy-go-lucky haven for former Greeks from Big Ten universities to act as if though they were still Greeks at Big Ten universities.  Beer flowed freely, sunbathers in bikinis vastly outnumbered those keeping score of the ballgame, and above all else, everyone had a great time whether or not the Cubbies won or lost.  The Cubs fans that I knew when I was growing up were the ones that made Wrigley Field into the world’s largest outdoor beer garden where the actual baseball game was secondary to getting blasted and hitting on every female with a pulse.  While this in and of itself might be a perfectably acceptable activity, it also advanced the notion that Cubs fans didn’t care about how bad their team was and that the Tribune Company could run the club into the ground since people would continue to fill up Wrigley Field into perpetuity.

Today, the beer still flows freely and the bikinis are in force as strong as ever, but what used to be a seeming indifference to the game play on the field at Wrigley has turned into an atmosphere of narcissism and short tempers that are on par with, dare I say, White Sox fans.  For example, in yesterday’s Cubs fans took all of 8 innings to start booing newly acquired Jason Kendall after he dropped a pop fly.  In earlier times, Cubs fans would have been too busy planning out their bar crawl plans through Wrigleyville after the game to even notice that something like that even occurred.

It all started with ire directed at particular players.  I remember being at a Cubs game where the fans were riding Todd Hundley so hard that when he hit a homerun, he actually extended his middle finger to the sky as he rounded third base.  That’s the type of player-fan interaction that everyone strives for.  Also, two words: LaTroy Hawkins.  ‘Nuff said.

Still, it took awhile for Cubs fans to get to the point of such hostility with those players, such as Hundley batting .100 for a couple of seasons or Hawkins blowing a record 183 save chances in a row.  What’s striking today is the new immediacy of the fans’ reactions these culminating in Kendall not even getting a one-game grace period.

Short-tempered, negative, people who throw trash on the field everytime something goes wrong?  That used to be the definition of a pure White Sox fan.  Now it looks like the North Side is catching the fever.  Honestly, I actually respect Cubs fans a little more as a result of it.

After the White Sox got pummeled by the Twins for a total of 32 runs over the course of a doubleheader this past Friday (for those of you breathlessly waiting for a diatribe on the state of baseball on the South Side, it will come soon enough), I came to the somber realization that this is a pretty terrible time of year as a sports fan if your baseball team’s play is in that purgatory between the major league level and AAA ball (as the Sox are demonstrating right now). While it isn’t a complete disaster in the City of Chicago overall since the Cubs are in some type of bastardized version of a pennant race with the Brewers right now where 82 wins for the season will likely yield the playoff spot out of the NL Central, as far as the male side of the Frank the Tank household is concerned (the female side was raised far north of Madison Street, so she doesn’t share my current plight), the real baseball season is over until playoff time (although fantasy baseball is still fortunately kicking for me).

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt so down on baseball so early in the year since the White Sox have at least been somewhat in the playoff hunt or at least not completely out of it during the summer on a consistent basis since 1990. The problem is that there’s nothing else out there right now to fill sports void for me right now – it’s still a few weeks from the start of NFL training camp, the NBA draft is already over, and the start of the NFL and college football seasons are two months away. I don’t even have the Mark Buehrle trade watch to think about anymore since the Sox (wisely) just signed a contract extension with the lefty. Simply put, July is a pretty bad sports month if your baseball team is out of it. This got me to thinking about which months of the year are best for sports fans and concurrently which are the worst, which is perfect timing since I haven’t put up a mindless and gimmicky sports ranking in a long time.

My ranking of sports months is based upon what I watch on a regular basis, which are Major League Baseball, NFL Football, NBA Basketball, College Football, College Basketball, the major golf tournaments and the occasional Grand Slam tennis match. Thus, you won’t see any references to hockey and NASCAR, even though they might well be worth watching live and in-person. I’m also only taking into account annual events, so I won’t refer to a number of items that I enjoy such as the Olympics, World Cup soccer or the Ryder Cup since they don’t occur every year. Finally, I’m approaching this from the perspective of how much I’d be excited to watch these events regardless of whether my favorite teams or players are involved or playing well. With all of that in mind, here is Part 1 of my ranking of the months of the sports year from worst to first:

(12) JULY

Team Sports in Season: Major League Baseball

Major Events: MLB All-Star Game, Wimbledon finals, British Open, start of NFL training camp, MLB trade deadline

Comments: I remember not too long ago when the MLB All-Star Game and the festivities surrounding it such as the Home Run Derby was the sporting event that I anticipated the most during the summer. With the combination of the steroid scandal plus the abomination of Chris Berman at the announcers’ mike, though, the Home Run Derby has become a complete farce. The baseball All-Star Game itself is still the best of any of the pro sports leagues, but with the advent of interleague play, there is no longer the mystery of what would happen in certain AL-vs.-NL matchups. July is certainly a fantastic time of year if you’re British with Wimbledon and the Open Championship, and while I enjoy taking in those events, this is a pretty bad month on the team sports front if you’re baseball team is out of the pennant race.

(11) AUGUST

Team Sports in Season: Major League Baseball, NFL Football (preseason)

Major Events: PGA Championship, start of U.S. Open (tennis), start of NFL preseason

Comments: Pretty much the only thing that makes August slightly better than July from a sports perspective is that the NFL preseason has started which means we can be preoccupied with whether Rex Grossman should be back starting at quarterback for the Bears. I’ve been on record before as stating that watching NFL preseason games is awful (even though I invariably end up viewing a ton of them to fill the time), but what’s important about August as a sports fan is that September, one of the best sports months of the year, is just around the corner.

(10) MAY

Team Sports in Season: Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball (postseason)

Major Events: NBA Playoffs, NBA Draft Lottery, first series for main baseball interleague rivalries, French Open

Comments: NBA Playoffs are in full swing at this time of the year while it’s still early enough in the baseball season that there’s still hope for your team even if it’s off to a bad start. Plus, for those towns with major interleague baseball rivalries such as Chicago, the first of those series is almost always near the end of May.

(9) FEBRUARY

Team Sports in Season: NBA Basketball, College Basketball, NFL Football (postseason)

Major Events: Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Game

Comments: It’s weird to consider the Super Bowl as a February event, but it looks as if though that’s going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. So, with that being the biggest single event on the sports calendar, February is the beneficiary of the NFL’s insistence of putting two weeks of hype after the conference championship games. These are the dog days of the NBA and College Basketball schedules, although the end of the month perks up again as it becomes crunch time for college teams on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Historically, February has gotten a bad rap from sports fans since it’s sandwiched between the NFL playoffs and the NCAA Tournament, which are arguably the two best sports events of the year, but when compared to July and August, there’s still a good amount going on from a sports perspective.

(8) JUNE

Team Sports in Season: Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball (postseason)

Major Events: NBA Finals, NBA Draft, U.S. Open (golf), second series for main baseball interleague rivalries

Comments: The NBA crowns its champion and then gets into tis future a couple of weeks later with its annual draft. We start getting a real sense as to who will be the contenders and pretenders in the baseball world, while the U.S. Open humbles the world’s best golfers. This is the best sports month of the summer.

(7) DECEMBER

Team Sports in Season: NFL Football, NBA Basketball, College Football (postseason), College Basketball

Major Events: NFL playoff races, college football conference championship games and lower tier bowls, ACC-Big Ten Challenge (college basketball)

Comments: Much in the way August sets the table for the buffet of September events, December is the precursor to the spectacular array of events to come in January. The difference is that there’s a lot more importance and excitement in terms of what happens in December (i.e. divisional races in the NFL and conference championships in college football) than the NFL preseason and dog day baseball games in August. Plus, basketball on both the pro and college sides are getting into full swing.

I’ll have another post up with the rest of the rankings in the near future.

2007_06_sports_joakim_noah_draft.jpg

If you’ve ever read “Freakonomics”, there is a chapter analyzing how certain words in real estate listings are correlated with either higher or lower sale prices later on.  Essentially, words that are used to describe specific attributes – for example, “granite countertops”, “new hardwood floors” or “remodeled bathroom” – are highly correlated with higher sale prices.  On the other side, adjectives that really don’t describe anything in particular, such as “charming” or “quaint”, are associated with lower real estate prices – they’re really just B.S.

Check out the adjectives for Joakim Noah that we keep seeing: “high energy”, “simply a winner”, “has presence in the locker room”,  “hard worker”,  “gym rat”, etc.  Those certainly aren’t bad descriptions – it’s a good thing that Noah isn’t described as being a loser or a lazy player.  However, it’s more of the lack of the concrete descriptors that bothers me, such as “scores well in the post”, “hits 10-15 foot jumpshots with consistency” or “makes more than 75% of his free throws”.  Joakim somehow has a reputation as a good defensive player, but it’s not as if though he’s really a shut-down defensive post player or talented shot-blocker.  Noah is like one of those real estate listings that has a lot of amorphous B.S. adjectives without giving any indications of the concrete attributes.

I’ll be honest – I never was a Joakim Noah fan while he was in college.  That being said, I’m also not one of those guys that’s going to hold disdain for a player while he was in college against him when he joins one of my favorite pro teams.  I mean, former Michigan Wolverine Anthony Thomas was the central culprit in the most scarring sporting event that I have ever witnessed live in person, yet I gladly took his NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year performance a couple of years later as a member of the Bears in leading the team to the playoffs.  Joakim was definitely annoying with the Florida Gators, but it’s not as if though he ever reached a J.J. Redick level of hatred for me.

The problem, though, is that the Bulls already have an abundance of severely offensively-challenged big men with Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas.  With the Bulls in pretty good position to challenge for the top spot in the Eastern Conference this season, this would have been one of those times where they should have drafted for need as opposed to who they might have thought was the best player on the board at the time (besides, after Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the next 10 or 15 players were essentially rated the same).  Spencer Hawes, despite having the complete goofy lanky white guy look perfected by Brad Miller, would have been the better pick here (and it’s not as if though that would have been a stretch considering that he went only one pick later to Sacramento).

Of course, what I’m hoping is that there is some method to John Paxson’s madness here.  For me, that would mean that the Joakim Noah pick is a precursor to a big-time trade for Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant, either in terms of trading Noah himself or allowing the Bulls the flexibility to move Ben Wallace and/or Tyrus Thomas.  (By the way, what’s up with Isiah Thomas getting some GM-sense, all of the sudden?  That Zach Randolph trade was a complete fleecing by him.  A few weeks ago, I was hearing the Bulls would have to give up Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich if they wanted Randolph.  After seeing the Knicks only have to give up Steve Francis and Channing Frye, though, I’m shocked the Bulls weren’t in the mix with an offering of, say, Andres Nocioni plus maybe Thomas.)  If that’s the reason for the Noah pick, then I’m perfectly game for that scenario.  However, if all three of Big Ben, Thomas, and Noah are still on the roster in the fall, I’ll be completely befuddled as to why this pick was made.

(Image from Chicagoist