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Santa’s Wide World of Sports Christmas List

As we engage in a season of cold weather tailgating, roasting one Mr. Chesterfield J. Nutz over the open fire, along with brats, dogs, and wurst — and is there anything wurst than the New York Jets offensive ineptitude? — we barrel toward the beloved festival known as capitalism’s greatest trium– er, Christmas!

It’s that time when temperatures are low and Dwight Howard’s free throw percentage is even lower, when Santa does a check down on his list, perhaps calling an audible for those last-minute developments mussing up his BCS (Big Claus Shopfest).  (Santa has the sports package on his dish so he’s in the know at the North Pole.)

From the usual historic moments to record-setting performances to unnaturally enhanced performances to memorable blunders and self-inflicted goofs that have left us entertained, offended, perturbed, and beholden to our idiosyncratic whims, it’s certainly been a year for the fan.

Thus, it is an unenviable task he has this year as the world of sports was once again flush with compelling storylines, dynamic heroes, and reviled villains.  Though even the vilified might receive a gift as Santa believes it is better to give than to lead the league in receiving yards.

And decked out in crimson, this Saint Nick, not to be confused with Nick Saban, will soon take to the skies to deliver to all that which was earned in the year that was.  On board his sleigh this year, he has stocked these items for the following people:

“Clipper Darrell” – Your rightful place back in the Staples Center to see LA’s best professional hoops team.

Jeremy Lin – A TexMex-flavored reboot of Linsanity.

Jon Vilma – A better excuse.

Saints Bountygate – Helmet-to-helmet contact.

Jeremy Shockey – A tight end relocation program in case he was the one that ratted out the Bountygaters.

Curt Schilling – A redo in the gaming world.

Austin Collie – A desk job.  It’s safer.

Albert Pujols – A better start.

Junior Seau – A solid legacy and some inner peace.

Magic Johnson – All the batting practice he wants.

The Los Angeles Dodgers – A thank you note from the Boston Red Sox.

Andy Reid – a fresh start.

Alex Smith – a starting job somewhere as he’d probably make a pretty decent starting quarterback.

Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel – a better year, in every conceivable way.

San Diego Chargers fans – Whoever the opposite of Norv Turner is as their next head coach.

Cole Hamels – A five-game suspension where he actually misses five starts.

Andy Pettitte – Ginkgo biloba so his memory comes back to him.

Ozzie Guillen – A job coaching Fidel’s national team.

Derek Jeter – A Groupon for Jenny Craig.

Tiger Woods – A meeting with the old Tiger Woods.  Maybe he can learn something about winning.

Timothy Bradley – A win in a match he clearly gets outboxed.  (He got that gift early.)

The Replacement Referees – The knowledge that their horrendous pass interference calls live on.

The NBA – A new slogan: “NBA Action – It’s broken and we fix it.”

The NFL – A change to the rules stating that if you throw a challenge flag on a play that was going to be reviewed anyway, you will be not be penalized and it will still be reviewed.

Penn State University – A lot of mouthwash to wash that taste out of your mouth.

Olympic Spoiler Alerts – You’ll get your gift in five hours.

Augusta’s Women – Women’s restrooms.

Lance Armstrong –  A lifetime supply of “Livestrong” bracelets with the “v” etched out which feels more accurate.

The 8th place finisher in the last dozen Tour de France races– A medal.  Gotta figure he was the top clean finisher.

Lebron James – A new monkey for his back.

Stephen Strausbourg – Another 40 innings.

Detroit Tigers Third Base Coach Gene Lamont – A stop sign.

Tim Tebow – Anything he wants… er, well, except a starting job, of course.

The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Detroit Lions – The extra win they deserve.

The San Diego Chargers – Oh, what the heck, you can get another win as well since you probably only gave up 28 yards on 4th and 29.  Of course, you realize how inept you were for letting it even be that close.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar – Eye black with the Spanish slur for Yunel Escobar written on it.

A-Rod – A cushion football fans use when sitting on the bench.

Shaun White – A lifetime ban from hotels.

Chipper Jones – A peaceful retirement where he can go back to his given name — Andruw.

Adam Greenberg – At least one more big league at-bat, this one against someone other than the knuckleballing Cy Young Award winner.

Melky Cabrera – A better excuse.

Derek Fisher – A new line of work now that flopping has been outlawed.

Mike Brown – The “death stare penalty” sentenced to Kobe Bryant in response to Kobe’s “death stare” at his former head coach.

Kobe Bryant – A huge party where the other guests are NBA players and coaches he’s publicly called out and ridiculed over the years.  There will be clowns and a caricature artist and a piñata.  (Three guesses who the piñata will be.)

Pablo Sandoval – Kung Fu MVPanda.

Felix Baumgartner –  A souvenir photo of his death-defying jump, like one of those snapped on a roller coaster.

Miguel Cabrera – Three crowns.

Mike Trout – An MVP to go with his ROY.

The New York Marathon – Another chance to run the 2012 marathon in 2013.

Johnny “Football” Manziel – Three more years to play like a freshman.

The New Orleans Pelicans – Nothing.  This was just an attempt to get used to their name…  Nope.  Can’t get used to it.

Dwayne Wade and Ndomukong Suh – Soap.

Dale Sveum – A bright orange jumpsuit so Robin Yount recognizes him from the birds.

Justin Verlander – A win in an important game.

Andrew Luck – Well, he certainly doesn’t need any luck so he gets just a little more seasoning.

Peyton Manning – Another Super Bowl win to put a little space between the number of titles he has and the number his brother Cooper has.

Tom Brady – Another Super Bowl win to solidify his place in history.

Jon Gruden – A coaching job so that he may bring his energy and enthusiasm out of the broadcast booth and into the locker room.

The San Antonio Spurs – $250,000 to cover their ridiculous fine for strategically resting players.

David Stern – A time machine to bring him to 2014 so that he can retire already allowing the NBA the chance to regain the legitimacy and dignity it lost spectacularly under his tenure.  Heck, he can go as far into the future as he wants.

NHL – A year off.  You’ve earned it after going so hard these last seven years.

Bud Selig – A title that has eluded him his whole career:  “Best Commissioner.”

Miami Marlins – A new stadium so you can start drawing fans.

and lastly, Bobby Valentine – Another job with a major league team, preferably one that requires him to repeat the words, “Peanuts here!” over and over again, something he may be able to handle without embarrassing himself. The operative word is may.

And after his task has been completed, Santa will then disappear along the horizon, these words echoing soundly behind him, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a fair fight,” preferably one finally between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

 

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

 

Featured Image by: Feelart

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Why Baseball is STILL America’s Pastime

By now, you’ve all heard the classic George Carlin routine about baseball and football.  If you haven’t, you haven’t yet found the Internet and are not reading this now.  Here’s a snippet, just to get you in the mood:

“Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.  Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”

“Baseball begins in the spring, the season of life.  Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.”

He describes how one is a fun, childlike game, and one is comparable to a war.  There is one other difference that has manifested itself more since the great comedian’s passing — more people tune in for football.

Yes, even with its hiccups, football wins the ratings war (defeating handily such cinematic brilliance as “Honey Boo Boo”). It is huge in the fantasy divisions, a juggernaut in merchandising, and is generally referred to as the most popular sport in America.

BUT, and make no mistake about this, baseball is still America’s pastime.

This may be due to the literal definition of the word. A pastime is something you do more passively. And there’s little more passive than sitting for three hours watching a baseball game. (Well, there’s fishing, but that’s significantly less attended than all but a Miami Marlins game. There’s irony in that statement.)

Football is active and engaging. So the term pastime seems out of place.

We still have a joy in our hearts for the sport of baseball. It’s an enduring classic. Attending a charity event recently for the Harold Pump Foundation, baseball legend Steve Garvey channeled his inner James Earl Jones (“Terence Mann” from “Field of Dreams”) when, describing the allure of his sport, he told me, “The one thing that’s been constant over the years with wars and famines, inflations and recessions, baseball’s always been there and that’s why we love it.”

Former Cardinals centerfielder and base-stealing giant Vince Coleman told me, “Baseball’s always exciting to me and the funnest part is that keeps it exciting is you see guys going out stealing bases obviously to excite the crowd.”

And he tells me, with lightening-quick* Billy Hamilton coming through the Reds’ farm system, we’re gonna be seeing even more flash soon.

(*It should be noted that Hamilton has not been run against any act of nature so it remains to be seen if he is genuinely lightening-quick.)

There may indeed be a renaissance of the game. In order to look into the future, we inevitably look toward the past. Home runs are down, base-stealing is up, and, as the great Reggie Jackson told me, “The glasses are back in style now, the aviator glasses” which he made fashionable as he patrolled the outfield several decades ago.

But what of the changes to the league, in the form of an extra wild card. Will they diminish the fondness people have for the game? All-time great and lifelong member of the All-Classy Team Joe Torre assures me, “It’s gonna be great. I think the one-game playoff is gonna be a Russian roulette. I just felt in the past that the winner of the division didn’t get enough of an advantage and now I think that this levels the playing field, because if you get in the wild card, you’re going to have to win that extra game in order to get into the playoffs.”

And the fans are not going away. This is part of who they are, their upbringing. Actor Billy Bob Thornton embodies that statement. The die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan was watching the game (as he does 162 times a year) before having to leave it early to attend the charity function. He grew up playing baseball.

An Arkansas native, he gravitated naturally to the red birds because, “Their Double A club, the Arkansas Travelers, were in Little Rock, so we saw all those guys come through Little Rock, and it was the closest team because we had no pro team.”

A lot of the fun comes from the rivalries deeply engrained in a team’s culture. Thornton explains, “We’re natural-born enemies with the Cubs, but… Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love the people there and our rivalry with the Cubs. There’s actually more respect within that rivalry than you might think. I love the Cubs much more than I do the Brewers or the Reds. The Reds have done a couple of things to my Cardinals that I’m not too fond of.”

Love or hate, both are emotions based in passion and the game, though slow-paced and superficially mellow, maintains a white-hot heat just beneath the surface. It’s different than other sports, but that’s another of baseball’s unique attributes.

Garvey, who lest we forget set the National League record for consecutive games (1207) played over seven-and-a-half seasons, sums it up by saying, “Each sport is inherently important and appealing to certain fans. Our games, it’s a long season, 162 games and playoffs; around 80 games in hockey and basketball; sixteen to get to the playoffs in football. So they all have their nuances. Baseball is timeless. the clock’s not gonna run out.”

George Carlin couldn’t have said it better. It’s timeless. It’s our pastime. And it will always be.

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Fanism: Re-examining Stereotypes of Sports Fans

With the recent passing of Rodney King, it’s prompted us, as a nation, to revisit race relations in this country.  Without getting too much into that, I’d like to stride along a parallel path to point out that as civil rights have navigated peaks and valleys throughout history, there is an issue that has run consistently over time, under the radar, an unspoken ill, eschewing logic for gut feelings and emotion.

Fanism in this country (the generalized labeling of an entire group of fans with a single, specific characteristic) is still rampant.  So I say, as the late Rodney King said on that fateful day in 1991, “Ow.”  (He also said “Can’t we all just get along?”  And upon further consideration, I’d say that second quote probably resonates more with my article, so I’ll go with that one instead.)

Think of those fans you hate, or those fans that drive you nuts.  It’s not only them as individuals per se, but everyone like them.  What traits do they all have in common that bug you, that you’ve seen as a recurring theme among them?

We stereotype.  It’s human nature.  When you get down to it, aren’t we all a little bit fanist?

Stereotypes are a funny thing. They begin when there is a recurrent theme pertaining to a certain group, whether focusing on region, gender, Veganism, whatever.  Sometimes they are exaggerated, like, for instance, not all Jews have Chinese food on Sundays and not all Amish like to polka.  Sports fans are no different.

Are the stereotypes true?  There are things you think of rival fans that have become engrained in your mind as fact.  It may be an accurate description, or you may be manifesting something unfounded, but convenient.  What do we base them on?  Sociological studies?  A coin flip?  Some prankster with a popular blog?  There isn’t a think tank out there that holds a meeting and decides, “We’ll start saying that Milwaukee Bucks fans are bad tippers.”  (Although if there was some office to manipulate these kinds of made-up labels, outcomes, and so forth, I would imagine it would be overseen by David Stern.)

Fair or not, these characterizations are stuck with fans of these teams.  And sometimes, the actual portion of the fan base that resembles this may only be a very small percentage, if you will — the one-percenters.  (Except these outlier fans have a lot less money and a lot more free time to do stupid, mean things than the one-percent of guys who are too busy ruining the American financial system.)  Yet it sticks to them.

Let’s go around the country.  What do you think when you think of certain fan bases?

Let’s start in the Northeast and my ol’ stomping ground (Ironically, that’s where the term stomping ground began as well as there’s actually a stomping ground dating all the way back to revolutionary times when patriotic Colonials would come home, tired from a long day of rabble rousing just to stomp around for a while to let off steam.  It was a forebear to Zumba classes.)

When you think of Boston fans, you may immediately classify them as the racist city in the sports landscape.  This image has formed over decades, beginning with the fact the Red Sox were the last team to assimilate black ballplayers onto their major league squad, continuing through the 60s, even as Bill Russell won championship after championship on a predominantly white ballclub, to when former Celtics player Dee Brown was pulled over and charged with DWB (“driving while black,” to those not hip to the slang), up to the present.

Last month, Bostonian’s seemingly sunk to new lows with racist tweets after the Bruins loss to the Capitals.  A few weeks later, they were caught dumping beer on Lebron (technically on top of the screen that covers the tunnel back to the locker rooms) as Lebron passed underneath.  Now fans are calling Boston fans racist and classless.

But classless doesn’t stick as a label for Boston.  Every fan base has classless fans.  That’s an unfortunate fact.  (Sports are there to give the lives of such fans some worth by providing them a team of their chosen to put their energies in the hopes of that team succeeding where their lives have failed.)  But in terms of classless, I think fans would call out Detroit or Philadelphia before Boston.  Racist?  Well, yeah, Boston fans still can’t get out from the grinder on that one.

If you’ve been to Philadelphia, you know their fans to be among the least civil of all.  They have that reputation.  They’ve thrown ice balls at players, and Santa Claus.  They boo visiting players who get injured.  Philadelphia’s a tough town.  It comes from circumstance.  They’re not as big as New York and not as historic as Boston.  It’s cold there and everyone’s internal chemistry is messed up from eating scrapple and cheesesteaks.    They have an inferiority complex bigger than any other city.  In fact, they are superior to other cities when it comes to feeling inferior.

But we mustn’t forget New Yorkers.  They are brash and confident.  It comes from living in New York.  If they weren’t, they’d be eaten alive.  But to others, it comes off as being obnoxious.  Couple that with a sense of entitlement from decades of championship-winning, even before they were born, and it comes out to the world.

Oh, and before I leave this region of the country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that New Yorkers also like to point out that Boston fans are whiney.  Not all of them, but an inordinate number of them.  It comes from having to deal with Yankees fans for decades.  Strange how the successful of the Celtics has not tempered this character flaw.

Proximity contributes to these depictions, but not always.  For instance, Dodgers fans are all the way on the other side of the country.  And they are very knowledgeable.

They enjoy the game and seem to have an East-Coast acumen toward it, seemingly from their Brooklyn lineage.  (Save for  a segment of the fans with anger management issues, but there are many fan bases who have that.  It could have been as a response to Frank McCourt’s horrible management of the team.)

Down the road, the (whatever city they are claiming to be a part of this week) Angels fans are nowhere near as knowledge as Dodgers fans.  They wait for the Rally Monkey to tell them what to do.  Truth be told, even he doesn’t know what’s going on.

Then there are Lakers fans who are, by and large, not knowledgeable at all.  They’re not really fans of the NBA, which is an odd thing to say.  They love the Lakers and have a knowledge of that team (except when trying to make the case that Kobe is a better player than either Magic or Jerry West, and even Kareem), but are woefully misinformed when it comes to reality.  Many continue to call their giant Spaniard Paul Gasol.

Conversations with their fans might find you listening to their claim that their team is a top-notch defensive unit in spite of statistics that would betray their argument quite uncompromisingly.  They might be 11th in the league, but what do numbers matter?

Interesting that Los Angeles is known, as a city, for its non-reality.  The weather is always nice, breasts are always perky, and time does not progress.  So it would stand to reason that they could attempt to make a case that a mediocre defensive team is, in fact, among the best in the league.

But they are certainly passionate toward their team.  Seattle is a different beast.  In football, the Seahawks possess one of the loudest fan bases and home field advantages, but once the game is over, they are surprisingly calm.  It’s a relaxed, laid-back region. It also rains a lot, which may do some to cool emotions.

Remember the Super Bowl that Seattle won, but the officiating team presented to Pittsburgh instead?  Egregious call after call went against the Seahawks until they could no longer regain momentum.  In 2010, four-and-a-half years later, referee Bill Leavy admitted to blowing the game.  But Seattle fans took it all in stride, with disappointment, but civility.  Could Philadelphia fans have done that?  Oakland fans?

How many times have you cringed when someone mentions the term “Raiders fan?”  They have the reputation of being criminals which isn’t fair… since they can’t defend that rap because they’re all in jail.

I kid! I kid!  Or do I?  Are you saying you place Raiders fans in high regard?  Chargers fans certainly do not.  When the two teams play each other in San Diego, Raiders fans draw very well because Chargers season ticket holders frequently give away that game because they don’t want to deal with Raiders fans.  Is that unfounded?  An urban myth?  No.  It’s what they’ve found out over the years.

St. Louis fans are nice, Chicago Cubs fans are resigned to failure, Cleveland fans make Cubs fans look like Yankees fans, Miami fans are Cuban, Texas Longhorn fans hook things, Duke fans are spoiled, Alabama fans are morons (if you’re an Auburn fan), Auburn fans are morons (if you’re an Alabama fan), the list goes on and on.

Remember, these are stereotypes.  You’ll be able to point to fans in each of these cities that don’t fit, but this is how a city is perceived.

I’m sure there are people reading this (or having it read to them due to the big words) who slam their fist down and scream, “Who the hell does this guy think he is?!  We’re not like that at all.”  Or the ones who equate my article as the lunatic rantings of a typical bitter, jealous, and whiny Boston fan who just enjoys watching his gums flap in the wind.

But that’s just blatant fanism and you should be ashamed of yourself.  Rodney King was right, we should just get along.  But then, in sports, where’s the fun in that?

 

[Featured Image by: David Castillo Dominici]

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Yankees/Red Sox Fans: A Rivalry Renewed

As Fenway Park celebrates its 100th birthday, a day when the Boston Americans beat the Highlanders of New York by a score of 7-6 in eleven innings while scores of other people were being unceremoniously tossed off a cruise ship in frigid waters, we see that there is still a cold war between the two rivals.

Though the past few years have been rather innocuous, New York City (a city with a fanbase that routinely goes on Red Sox fan sites to criticize Boston backers about caring so much about what New York is doing, while at the same time, explaining how they don’t give Boston a second thought) has sunk to a new low.  (Ironic because Boston is the city that’s built on landfill.)

A controversial New York subway ad tells Big Apple commuters not to give up their seats to a Red Sox fan, even if she is pregnant.

This seems a waste of some good money, the need to recommend this behavior.  You’re talking about a fan base with members who, twice in the past decade, have literally killed Boston fans.  Believe me, pregnant Boston fans are grateful when your greatest crime is simply not getting up on a crowded train.

In fact, we’re taught to be wary any time a Yankees fan makes a sudden movement, such as standing on a crowded subway.  So don’t worry, the edict itself isn’t what’s so disturbing.  It’s the fact that this ad is an act of blatant fanism!

That’s right, fanism!  Who would’ve thought that in an age where we have a White Sox fan in the White House that we could still be subjected to this type of treatment.  All fans should be created equal.  Yes, I’m a Boston fan, but if you prick me, do I not bleed?  If you feed me, do I not burp and undo my belt?  If you tickle me, do I not laugh and then very quickly summon a policeman because, seriously, we’re grown men, why are you tickling me?!

It all begins with Rosa from Hyde Park, in her third trimester, being forced to stand on the subway until she can’t take it anymore and edges into a seat just ahead of a Yankees fan, thus earning her a citation for refusing to relinquish her seat to a non-pregnant Yankee fan.

Where does it end?  First, you don’t stand for a pregnant Red Sox fan, then you don’t allow Red Sox fans to use cabs, celebrate the Macy’s Day parade, buy M&Ms at the giant M&M store in Times Square.  (That place is like a playground for me!  Please, God, no!)

I know there are some New Yorkers out there who will risk alienation to do the right thing and let the pregnant Red Sox fans have a seat, societal customs be damned!  But this is about the authority behind the ad.

Yes, we’ve all heard the anecdotes about how Yankees fans refuse service to someone wearing a Red Sox hat in a coffee shop.  Or the deli worker who skips the number of the guy wearing the Jeter jersey.  These are individual acts and isolated.  But for an edict to be decreed by the MTA, this is too much.

You might be saying to yourself, Boston fans are just as bad as New York fans.  In many ways, they are.  They can get in your face, wreaking of peppers and onions, and fail to cover up all their bodily creases.  But listen to what they say. . . when they’re not slurring:

Boston fans hate the Yankees, as in “Yankees Suck!.”  Yankees fans hate Boston.  They mean the entire city!  “Boston Sucks” is what they scream.

Boston fans are arrested for climbing a pole or lighting a fire.  New York fans are as well, plus, uh, y’know. . . there’s also the murder charges.

Boston fans take credit for the number of championships they’ve won in their lifetime.  New Yorkers take credit for championships that were won before their grandparents were born.

(Have you ever had a six-year-old brag about the 27 World Championships his team has won and then blow cigarette smoke in your face?  It’s not fun.)

C’mon, New York!  It’s bad enough some people consider Boston to be a suburb of you.

Look at all Boston has done for you!  First off, the Red Sox and former owner Harry Frazee gave you half of their team, including Babe Ruth in exchange for a bucket of chicken and some donuts, which in turn brought you your first few championships.

Lest we not forget what city’s residents selflessly traveled the 180 miles down route I-95 during the tragic times of 2011.  You said you’d never forget.  Well, that lasted just over 10 years.  You certainly won’t be confused with elephants.  (Although from a distance… maybe just try a light beer every so often.)

Let’s go back even further and remind you that if it wasn’t for the good people of Boston, we, as a nation, might be drinking tea and watching cricket at the merry ol’ ballgrounds.  Some of those pregnant women to whom you want to give blisters gave birth to the revolutionaries that spawned this great nation; the same revolutionaries that fought for your freedom; the same freedom that allows you to decide whether or not to stand for pregnant women or not without consequence.

Show Boston that you’re leaning in the direction of right over wrong and don’t give them any more ammunition that proves their already deeply-stilted opinions of you.  You’re the bigger city.  Act like it!

I’ve met Yankees fans who don’t appreciate Boston fans and never will.  And vice versa.    That’s why they’re around, so that we, the more reasonable fans, can mock them openly on shows like “The Real Housewives of South Boston” or “So You Call that a Lougie?!” on cable access in the Bronx.

The rivalry ebbs and flows dating back before Fisk and Pinella got into it or, more recently, Varitek showed A-Rod the stitching in his glove.  Steinbrenner 2.0 tried to pick up the slack when he took over, but the fans weren’t as interested.  Nineteen games against each other every year put a simmer on things.  But someday, the fire on the field will reignite, and those players will feel the same resentment as their forebears did.  But then, they get paid a lot of money to participate in the fighting.

Let’s leave the pregnant ladies and other Boston fans out of it.  Isn’t riding on the subway torture enough?  Let them ride the No. 4 Train to the new Yankee Stadium, so that you may bilk them out of their hard-earned money with your ridiculous prices for beer and bag check.

It wasn’t long ago that we were all Yankees.  And we battled the Confederates.  I have a dream!  That one day all Red Sox and Yankees fans can come together in peace and harmony. . . to gang up on Philly fans.  Seriously, those folks don’t deserve a seat anywhere, pregnant or not!