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The View from the Cheap Seats

August 12, 2009 under Cheap Seats, Uncategorized

It was the kind of weekend Yankee fans imagined when C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett cheap_seats_3_owumand Mark Teixeira were signed last winter. Burnett and C.C. each turned in a dominant performance on the hill while Teixeira’s big bomb sealed the four game sweep over the hated Red Sox.  Heading into the home stretch with a six game lead, the Yanks have hit their stride; getting contributions from every part of the lineup.  With Phil Hughes filling what was a gaping hole in the Bombers’ pen and Mariano Rivera enjoying a career year; it’s looking like there may be a deep October run in the new stadium.

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In what may be a sign that MLB clubs are feeling the effects of the weak economy, the Blue Jays jettisoned their two time All Star outfielder, Alex Rios, for, essentially, nothing but relief from the obligation to pay the balance of his contract.  Even more alarming is that, despite the fact that Rios is just 28 years old; no team other than the White Sox was interested.

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When they tee it up today in the PGA championship at Hazeltine, it’ll be the last chance in ’09 for Tiger Woods to win a major; something that hasn’t happened since 2004.  He comes in on the heels of two straight wins that followed a missed cut at the British Open.  The way things have gone for him this year, however, if he doesn’t get out fast, it’s not likely he’ll come back. 

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Could we please cease and desist with the ridiculous notion that the Red Sox and Yankees are part of the “greatest rivalry in sports”?  They play each other at least eighteen times each year, the regular season results usually mean nothing as both routinely qualify for the post season and they rarely meet each other in the playoffs.  Earlier this season, New York lost eight straight to Boston and yet, found themselves six games ahead of the pack just two months later.  If Michigan lost eight straight football games to Ohio State, they’d have suffered almost a decade of misery that likely included zero trips to the Rose Bowl.  That’s a rivalry. 

The networks and talking heads calling the games can say anything they want to hype the matchups but can’t undo the reality that the players just don’t care as much as the fans.  They’re too transient and have a much larger financial stake than emotional.  Head down to Philadelphia this fall and ask a Navy offensive lineman what it means to beat Army.  Walk into the Duke locker room on the first day of basketball practice and ask any of the players the date of the North Carolina game.  They’ll know.  There was a time in baseball when Jackie Robinson retired rather than accept a trade to the hated New York Giants.  Remind Johnny Damon of that little bit of history when you ask if he circles the Boston games on his schedule.  Yanks-Sox is a great watch because the teams are two of the game’s most talented and each is a contender for the AL East crown, not because the outcome is a matter of life and death to the participants.

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NationalFootballPost.com reported that the Jets have spoken to an NFC West team to gauge interest in RB Thomas Jones.  A Jet source claimed the report was untrue and I hope that’s the case.   Heading into the season with a new coach, new QB and a scarcity of talented receivers, it’s inconceivable to consider dealing the team’s best offensive player.

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I’ve been chastised at times by Cheap Seats readers unhappy with the lack of attention given to soccer in this column.  So, with the World Cup qualifying game (sorry, match) being played yesterday in Mexico City, I thought it’d be a good time to take a peek.  Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that, despite the fact that the U.S. hasn’t won a game (sorry again, match) against Mexico in its last twenty three tries, its players only worked out together for two days.  Two.  Seems that the players have other commitments and the whole qualifying system is an inconvenience to many.  Could it possibly be that this World Cup stuff isn’t as important to the players as my soccer antagonists would have me believe? 

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In a season that’s become unwatchable, Johan Santana gives disappointed Mets’ fans a reason to tune in every fifth day.  In an ongoing tribute to professionalism, Santana is tied for the Major League lead in wins.  Each offseason, the agent for a sub .500 pitcher will make the case for a salary increase by pointing out that his client’s team averaged a paltry amount of runs during his starts.  It’s a ridiculous argument as it doesn’t take into account how many runs the pitcher allowed.  It doesn’t matter if his run support was bad if his ERA was worse.  Anyway, think about Santana when you hear that argument next year.  If a pitcher is a big, tough guy who cares more about the team’s record than his own, he’ll have plenty of wins no matter how meager the run support.

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The View from the Cheap Seats

July 21, 2009 under Cheap Seats

cheap_seats_3_owumIt had come down to this. A nine foot putt that would break a little bit to the left as it got to the hole. It was the kind of putt Tom Watson had been knocking in all week in writing one of the most incredible sports stories of the last decade. Seeking to become the oldest player in PGA history to win a major by a full thirteen years, Watson needed only to drain this short bender to raise the Claret Jug. Seemingly unfazed by the fact that his approach shot had been right at the flag before rolling off the back edge of the green, Watson decided to putt his ball rather than chip up, and failed to get it as close as he wanted. Sadly, his second putt never had a chance and he was off to a four hole playoff against fellow American, Stewart Cink. Somewhere between the eighteenth hole and the first playoff tee, however, Watson seemed to tire, as if suddenly realizing how old he actually is. He bogeyed the first to drop a shot back and drove his ball way left on the third, ensuring Cink’s first victory in a major. And just like that, the Open Championship became that novel we’ve all read; a terrific story with a terrible ending.

I’ve heard the argument many times that golf is a game and not a sport. That, while there are athletes that play, athleticism is not required. There are points on both sides with which I agree. But, if anyone tries to tell me that what we all watched on Sunday morning wasn’t sport, I’ll have to check them for a pulse. Tom Watson, an unfailing gentleman and one of the most popular players in the history of the game, gave us a glimpse of the determination and heart of a champion. That, while age may compromise ability and endurance, it can never douse the competitive fire that burns within a great player. That, some times, when things are right, true champions have the ability to reach back and remind us what made them so special. At the British Open, this was the second time in a row where such magic was witnessed. Last year, Greg Norman was on the leader board through Sunday, only to fade on the back nine. Watson, however, just kept coming, unfazed by the attention and seemingly savoring what had to be a completely unexpected result. Until the ending went bad on eighteen.

In 1975, after the Reds and Red Sox had done battle in what may have been the greatest World Series ever, a Boston writer said that the Sox had won the series “three games to four.” Anyone who had witnessed the Game Six heroics of Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk knew exactly what he meant. I thought of that Sunday, as I watched Watson struggle to find his ball in whatever they call that high stuff that passes for rough on the other side of the pond. In my heart, Tom Watson won the Open Championship. Stewart Cink won the trophy.

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With Michael Vick having completed his term of house arrest that was the last part of his prison sentence, the debate about whether or not he should be able to resume his NFL career rages on. Vick will meet soon with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to find out his fate in a meeting that will surely be difficult for the man convicted of operating a dog fighting ring. Two years ago, before Vick pled guilty, he met with Goodell about the charges and lied right to his face, telling the league boss that he was innocent. Not much of a chance that Goodell will forget that one.

I’m both amused and saddened by various aspects of this controversy. It’s almost comical to hear the experts theorize that franchises are worried about taking a public relations hit for signing Vick. Rest assured that the decision to ink the troubled QB will come down to one point: Can he help our team? If he can, he’ll be signed. If he can’t, he won’t. The sadder issue is the indignation that many feel toward Vick for his horrible crimes. Now, I’ll be the first to say that his offenses were horrendous, despicable and inhuman. His abuse of the animals knew no bounds; not even murder. However, he’s served his sentence, paid fines and lost two years of compensation. He can’t legally be prevented from pursuing a career. But, even if he could be, where are the groups outraged by the current professional athletes that have abused women? Michael Vick is the first sports figure I can recall that’s been convicted of animal abuse while, each month, we learn about another player that smacked around his wife or girlfriend. Isn’t it a shame that dogs seem to have more advocates than women?

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For those Knicks fans waiting for the free agent class of 2010 to return a championship banner to Madison Square Garden, it’s been a tough summer. First, the NBA announced that it was lowering the salary cap by a million dollars. Then Trevor Ariza, who eventually signed with Houston, revealed that while Cleveland was recruiting him, he was assured by LeBron James that the Cavs’ superstar would resign with his hometown club. Miami started negotiating a long term contract with Dwyane Wade and Steve Nash re-upped in Phoenix. Unsure about whether to save the cap money or re sign David Lee, the Knicks have let their best player twist in the wind all summer. Fans had better hope that Lee returns, Danilo Galinari recovers from back surgery and that draft picks Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas can actually play as it’s looking more and more likely that they and not any of the potential free agents, will be the team’s core going forward.

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If the reports that Omar Minaya turned down an offer for Toronto ace Roy Halladay that would have sent Jonathan Niese to the Jays are true, then let’s get Niese up to the big leagues. You can’t tell your fans that you’re not giving up on the season and then trot Livan Hernandez out to the mound every five days. There’s a reason this guy’s got a closet full of jerseys.


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