Monday, May 28, 2012

Lose-win for Roddick (and other Monday morning musings)

A week and a half ago, after they stormed to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference final, the Los Angeles Kings were all but awarded the Stanley Cup on the basis of their size, depth, goaltending and a smattering of the team of destiny aura that comes with being an 8th seed that dispatches higher-ranked teams with authority. Fast forward 11 days and the Kings are probably still the favorites in the Stanley Cup final, but only marginally so against a New Jersey team that has size, depth, goaltending and no shortage of its own team-of-destiny identity. It's difficult to imagine either team requiring fewer six games to seal the deal, and for reasons including momentum, experience and home ice - which admittedly hasn't been an advantage against the Kings - I like the Devils...Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjdal's dramatic win in the prestigious Giro d'Italia is a crowning personal achievement for Hesjdal and a feather in Canada's cap abroad, but it's probably the worst thing that could happen for Montreal motorists and recreational cyclists who have to share streets and bike paths with Tour de France wanna-bes who fancy themselves the next Hesjdal. And while we're on the subject, the same rule applies to bicycle pants that applies to capri pants: unless you look like Hesjdal or Rafael Nadal, don't wear them...There's nothing in history or geography that marks Boston and Tampa as natural rivals, but the Red Sox and Rays might have more mutual ill will between them than exists among the other 28 major league baseball teams combined. The printable terms Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon used to describe the Bosox after only the latest bench-clearing incident between the two teams included cowardly, incompetent and idiotic, while Boston manager Bobby Valentine countered that the Rays were immature, out of control and unprofessional. That feud is not over...It would be politically incorrect of me to make a kamikaze reference after Japanese driver Takuma Sato's self-destructive passing attempt on the last lap of yesterday's Indianapolis 500. Watch the replay and draw your own conclusions. Just remember - ix-nay on the anzai-bay...Too bad for former world number one Andy Roddick that he flamed out in the first round at the French Open, but I can think of bleaker scenarios than being stuck in Paris with Brooklyn Decker and nothing to do.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baseball goes to the NERDs

There was a time when a baseball player's value was determined in relatively simple terms - batting average, home runs and runs batted in for hitters, and earned run average, innings pitched and wins for pitchers. If you wanted to get more exotic in your analysis, you could delve into numbers like slugging and on-base percentages, opponents' batting average and strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
However, since sabermetrics entered the baseball maintream some 35 years ago, the defining measure of a player's value has shifted towards statistics like on-base plus slugging, or OPS, and walks and hits per innings pitched, or WHIP. Fair enough, but the baseball geeks were on a roll, and we now routinely hear and read about stats like Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), Defense Independant Pitching Statistics (DIPS) and Late Inning Pressure Situations (LIPS). So we have BABIP and DIPS and LIPS to go with OPS and WHIP and FRIP and FRAP, and since we're so enamored with these statistics, I'd like to suggest a few more: Nominally Equivalent Rain Delay, Doubles Off Righthanded Knuckleballers, Duration Under Maximum Batspeed, Bat Arc Rotation Factor, Pitcher to Umpire Tangibility Zone - or, for short, NERD, DORK, DUMB, BARF and PUTZ. I think they'd fit right in with the existing overanalysis.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Russians represent (and other Monday morning musings on a Tuesday)

Random observations from a busy weekend in sports: say what you will about Alex Ovechkin as as NHL playoff bust - he answers the call and gets the job done for Russia at the world hockey championships, which is more than can be said for Canada's Stanley Cup also-rans. Ovechkin embodies a patriotic streak among post-Soviet era Russians for whom winning at the international level is at least as important as professional success, even if losing no longer means two years of garrison duty in Vladivostock...If it pains you to watch Lanny McDonald score on Patrick Roy and celebrate Calgary's 1989 Stanley Cup win at the Forum in that Scotiabank commercial, watch for a fleeting glimpse of McDonald's teammate, Brad McCrimmon, and think about what's really important, like the families McCrimmon and 43 others left behind when they were killed in a plane crash in Russia last year...Score another one for baseball nostalgia: those 1920s-era uniforms the Pirates and Tigers were wearing in Detroit Saturday were so authentic, it felt like the game should had been played in fast motion black-and-white with ragtime piano music instead of commentary...Every time I watch an NBA game, I regret that I didn't name my sons LaSam and DeCharlie...The US Army Brass Brigade played God Bless America before Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, apparently while on leave from torturing terror suspects with off-key oom-pah waltzes at Guantanamo Bay...Meanwhile, perpetually-excited NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip described the race as "no bars hold." Also, their walls are to the back, there's no yesterday and it's every self for his man...This just in: Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister is an early 7-2 favorite to be in my dog's dinner bowl if he doesn't win the Belmont Stakes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tortorella's act getting old fast

When William Shakespeake wrote that "brevity is the soul of wit," the Bard had evidently yet to see a John Tortorella news conference.

There's nothing remotely clever about the contempt with which the New York Rangers coach treats the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate. For a short while, Tortorella's conduct with the media was amusing, as long as you weren't one of the reporters trying to wring a 30 second clip out of a guy whose collective post-game musings amounted to 36 seconds. It's not Tortorella's job to give good clip. Good questions beget good answers, but Tortorella seldom even addresses legitimate queries with anything more than "we're keeping it in the room", "I'm not going to answer that" or the ever-popular "no."

Beyond being dopey, Tortorella's conduct is unprofessional. Trust me - most reporters are at least as loathe to deal with him as he is with them, but it's their job, and they consistently extend a professional courtesy that Tortorella routinely fails to extend in return. Somewhere along the line, Tortorella's hubris cost him his perspective. If it pains him so much to deal with reporters, maybe he'd like to take a coaching job in the East Coast Hockey League, where the media demands are a fraction of what they are in the NHL, as are the salary, fringe benefits and quality of working conditions. There's nothing like eating cold French fries on a 12 hour bus ride from Trenton to Kalamazoo to make you pine for the good old days of answering a few dumb questions at Madison Square Garden before grabbing a late dinner at your favorite Italian joint in the Village. And if he wants to avoid the media altogether, there are hundreds of minor hockey associations that would love to have an unpaid volunteer of Tortorella's stature and experience. A few 5:30am practices and overbearing parents demanding more ice time for little Timmy, and Tortorella would soon realize that his professional responsibilities in dealing with the media are not so daunting after all.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mulligan for MacLean

Ron MacLean is a terrific broadcaster, but sometimes he tries too hard, and last night was one of those times. The Hockey Night in Canada host's comparison of the players in the Rangers-Capitals series to first response emergency personnel in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington was ill-conceived, but it wasn't malicious or part of a pattern of insensitivity.
The camera doesn't lie, and over 25-plus years on the national stage, it's become abundantly clear that MacLean is a decent man as well as a diligent professional. It's his commitment to excellence that got him into the trouble he got into last night. He could have mailed it in and opened the broadcast with the stock cliches that so many sportscasters fall back on (and how are you this morning, Bob Cole?), but MacLean isn't one to resort to trite platitudes or rest on his considerable laurels. He strives to give the audience something of substance. The 9/11 analogy isn't something he threw out there off the top of his head, and he probably struggled with whether to use it before breaking one of the cardinal rules of broadcasting - when in doubt, leave it out.
An apology is both warranted and expected, but that should be the end of it, and it probably will be, especially after the next time Don Cherry or Mike Milbury do or say something so outrageous that it puts MacLean's honest mistake in its proper perspective.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The power of radio

Dear radio programmers and consultants,
Please refer to the letter below the next time you tell your announcers that birthday wishes are hoakey and nobody cares. This is the power of radio, and a textbook example of how you build a loyal audience one listener at a time, because there is no other way.

Hi K103 Crew,
I want to thank you for the great job you guys did last Thursday (May 3rd) for my son Nicholas' B-Day. I called last minute in the morning to see when the birthdays announcements are read. Java hepled me out and gave me the times and Ted sent me an e-mail asking me to confirm. I had already missed the morrning B-Day announcement but sent an e-mail with info for the 11:45AM & 5:45PM times. I was teaching and my son was in class for the 11:45AM one by Suzy (my parents heard it though and said it was great).
Yet I knew my son would hear the 5:45PM one so I sent another e-mail to Sean & Brady with additional info. I picked my son up from school unexpectedly and drove with him to Burlington, Vermont. He had no idea what was going on and thought that his gift ended at a weekend in Burlington and was very happy. Little did he know when we arrived at our hotel at 5:15PM that Sean & Brady would be telling him live over the internet a half hour later that he was going to his first Fenway game in Boston on Sunday and that that was his gift. He sat there shocked and speechless with tears in his eyes as the guys spoke to him personally and broke the news to him. What a memory!
I want to update you and let you know that the game went 17 innings and lasted over 6 hours. Although they lost 9-6, the game had everything and was the first game since 1925 to have a position player from each team pitch (because both teams ran out of pitchers). There was a Boston player who got his first major league hit (a grand slam), a play at the plate in extra innings to keep the game going, two amazing plays by Pedroia in the 16th, etc. After the game, they let the fans who remained onto the field (only around 1/4 of the crowd remained). It was only supposed to be for the kids but they let everyone who stayed partake in the event as a thank you for staying. We got home at 3:30AM on Monday morning!
I have attached a picture of my son Nicholas making an imaginary catch around Pesky's Pole as a thank you to the K103 Crew. If there is any way to get hold of the announcements please let me know. I would love to have them as a memory and only thought of videoing my son listening to the announcement after the fact.
Thanks again!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Kings #8 in the seedings, #9 in LA's heart

It's a measure of the parity in the NHL that the top two seeds in the West and three of the top four in the East are already out before the end of the second playoff round. The 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings in particular are a shining example of how - beyond winning enough games to make the playoffs - regular season results are relatively meaningless compared to peaking in the post-season. The Kings' remarkable playoff run is also giving overdue market exposure to a team that suffers the borderline indignity of playing eighth or ninth fiddle to two major league baseball franchises, two NBA teams and multiple big-time college football and basketball programs. Kings players who would be superstars in more traditional hockey markets are blips on the radar in southern California, where world class hockey talent enjoys the same level of notoriety as the finest surfers in Nepal...At one point during the first period of last night's Philadelphia-New Jersey game, Hockey Night in Canada gasbag Bob Cole yelled "forechecking supreme." I'm not sure whether he was referring to the pressure the Devils were bringing to bear in the offensive zone, or placing his order for a late dinner during the first intermission...A full month into the baseball season and five months after signing a contract worth a quarter of a billion dollars, Albert Pujols finally hit his first home run for Anaheim yesterday but still swung the bat like an Italian grandmother trying to shoo the bambini out of the kitchen with a broom. While his long overdue first homer is a gorilla off Pujols' back, it remains to be seen whether it represents a quick fix for some seriously messed up hitting mechanics...Canadian-owned I'll Have Another's breathtaking comeback win in front of a record crowd at Churchill Downs Saturday reinforced the Kentucky Derby's claim to being "the most exciting two minutes in sports." Meanwhile, the West Indies cricket team continues preparing for its upcoming test match with England as part of the least exciting five days in sports.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Has he fixed them yet?

I hope Marc Bergevin enjoys the honeymoon, because it's going to last exactly as long as it takes for him to hire a new head coach, make the third pick in next month's draft and re-sign restricted free agents Carey Price and P.K. Subban.
Those are only the most pressing concerns on a cluttered agenda for Bergevin, who was introduced as the Canadiens general manager yesterday to the universal approval of fans and media - even the ones who stumped for broadcaster and third-time bridesmaid Pierre McGuire. But no matter how much he has going for him - whether it's his Montreal roots, NHL experience, engaging personality or chic fashion sense - Bergevin is going to run afoul of at least a portion of the public the first time he has to make one of the several important decisions he faces between now and the opening of training camp.
The Patrick Roy-for-coach club will be as alienated by the hiring of another coach as the anybody-but-Roy camp will be if St. Patrick gets the job. Bergevin will be damned if he drafts Mikhail Grigorenko and damned if he doesn't, depending on whether the talented but typically enigmatic Russian is snapped up by one of the two teams drafting ahead of the Canadiens, which circumstances dictate is doubtful. For however long and however much Bergevin re-signs Price and Subban, there will be know-it-all naysayers scorning the contracts as too expensive, too long or not long enough. And he's got to figure out how to operate within the salary cap while crippled by excessive multi-year commitments to appallingly overpaid underachievers Scott Gomez, Rene Bourque and Thomas Kaberle.
Yesterday was an uplifting day for the Canadiens - the dawn of a new era, even - but the fundamental realities confronting the team have not changed. The challenges for Bergevin are many and daunting, and he'll face them under enormous and constant scrutiny in a city that doesn't suffer fools or failure gladly.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Choice of Bergevin like a breath of fresh air

I don't profess to know a great deal about Marc Bergevin, but I do know this: among the candidates the Canadiens interviewed for the vacant general manager's post, he's as qualified as anyone, and he can't be any worse than Pierre Gauthier.
It reportedly came down to Bergevin and broadcaster Pierre McGuire before the Chicago Tribune broke the story last night that the Canadiens have settled on Bergevin, who served this past season as an assistant to Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman after stints as director of player personnel, assistant coach and scout. He's been in the league in one capacity or another since 1984, when he played his first of nearly 1200 games as an NHL defenceman. He's also the politically correct choice, being a French-first, bilingual Montreal native.
What's intriguing about Bergevin is that he's described a prankster with a quirky personality - a description supported by a photo of Bergevin in full Julius Caesar garb, presiding over a kangaroo court at an international tournament in Norway a few years ago. Not that a knack for mirth and merriment is high on the list of qualifications for the job, but quirky pranksters are conspicuous by their absence in the Canadiens front office, and a guy with a sense of humour would represent a welcome departure from somber deliberations of Bob Gainey and Gauthier's detached, button-down corporate stylings.
Ultimately, Bergevin will be judged by how the Canadiens progress or regress under his watch, but infusing some personality and character into the process certainly can't hurt an organization with a history of taking itself far too seriously.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ovie, fans deserve better

I don't care if the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup, eradicate Third World poverty and cure baldness - I hate the way coach Dale Hunter is using Alex Ovechkin.
Unfortunately for all, events only served to feed into Hunter's sense of his own genius last night when Ovechkin scored the game-winning goal on a third period power play to knock off the Rangers 3-2 in New York, tying their second round series at a game apiece. It was a rewarding end to an otherwise frustrating night for Ovechkin, who played fewer minutes than Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich - all important contributors to the Caps' cause but without a Calder, Hart, Art Ross or Rocket Richard trophy between them, while Ovechkin has a combined total of six.
When he plays with the relatively free reign he was given for most of his first six NHL seasons, Alex Ovechkin is the most exciting player in professional hockey. The fun he has playing the game when he plays it at the level he's capable of makes it that much more fun to watch, but his trademark passion and enthusiasm have all but disappeared under Hunter's thumb, and little wonder. Shackling a player with Ovechkin's offensive instincts and ability is the competitive and marketing equivalent of telling Babe Ruth to bunt, Peyton Manning to run-block or hooking Secretariat up to a plow. It's a massive waste of talent, and a disservice to the fans and the game.
Whatever success the Capitals are enjoying in the playoffs is despite the way Hunter is using his best player, not because of it.