Speed Read: NL Weaker Than Obama’s First Pitch

If MLB and Fox executives are wondering why no one watches the All-Star Game anymore, here’s Exhibit A: the winning run for the AL in their 4-3 victory over the NL was driven in by an eighth-inning sacrifice fly from Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles, a name that resonates with a thud among all but the most die-hard baseball fans. And the person he scored was the Tigers’ Curtis Granderson, who can be politely called “slightly more well-known than Adam Jones.”

Adam Jones

To put it mildly, if the All-Star Game was a weekly series, it would be on the verge of cancellation by now. Especially after TV critics would have inevitably slammed it for its lack of imagination and formulaic structure. Yes, we get it - the AL is always going to win. Can’t we just have a twist on that every once in a while? (And not the shoddy “Who’s Going to Pitch?” cliffhanger that Bud Selig and company cooked up a few years ago.)

Barack Obama

After 13 years of not seeing the National League win, it’s not surprising that people just aren’t that interested anymore. But there was an attempt to spice things up this year by bringing in a big-game star for a special guest appearance: President Barack Obama. After warming up with Albert Pujols in the batting cages before the game, Obama took the mound and delivered a pitch that was about as effective as his pitch for the bank bailout.

I’ll leave it to WIDE WHITE to give a breakdown of Obama’s pitch as it relates to his policies, but suffice it to say that it was neither great nor awful. He should just be thankful that Pujols was there to make a great pick to keep the ball from hitting the dirt. (And that was Pujols’ best play of the night, since he went 0-for-3 before the hometown crowd.)

The game MVP was Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford, not so much for what he did at the plate but for his actions in the field, most notably his catch that robbed Brad Hawpe of what would have been a go-ahead home run in the seventh. And the NL can’t blame the loss on the AL being fired up because of Ichiro Suzuki’s notoriously profanity-laden pregame pep talks - President Obama’s visit to the clubhouses took up so much time that he didn’t get to give one.

Speaking of Ichiro, he took some time out of his schedule on Monday to visit the grave of George Sisler, whose record for hits in a season he broke in 2004. It was a nice touch, except for the fact that instead of bringing flowers or a wreath, Ichiro just swore at Sisler’s grave for 15 minutes straight until being escorted away by cemetary workers. Oh well, I guess it’s the thought that counts.

While MLB was playing a game that no one really cares about, the NBA is knee-deep in something arguably more exciting and definitely more important: free-agency. The main story right now is what will happen to Lamar Odom, and the saga took another turn last night as the Lakers have pulled their three-year deal worth $9 million off the table. The reason? Owner Jerry Buss is upset that Odom’s people haven’t responded to the offer while continuing to negotiate with the Mavericks and Heat.

Lamar Odom

But there’s another free-agency drama going on that is a little more below the radar screen, but just as fascinating. The Portland Trailblazers have made a four-year, $32 million offer sheet to promising young Utah forward Paul Millsap, who is a restricted free agent. That means that the Jazz have until the end of the week to match the offer and keep Millsap on the team.

The problem is that Millsap’s offer from the Trailblazers includes an immediate cash payout of $10.3 million, which Utah would also have to do if they match the offer sheet. And apparently, the cash isn’t flowing through the streets of Salt Lake as readily as Mormon children, since the Jazz ownership would likely have to take out a short-term bank loan to get the deal approved. (Portland doesn’t have that problem, since $10.6 million is vending machine money to billionaire owner Paul Allen.)

Not only does this make me question the solvency of the Utah ownership group, but it also makes me wonder how the whole loan process would go down. Would they have to wait in line at the bank before getting seated at one of those tables out in the lobby. What would they have to put up as collateral - Jerry Sloan? It simply boggles the mind.

Other sports news:

  • It turns out that with 22 points, WNBA star Diana Taurasi outscored her blood alcohol level the night she was arrested for a DUI - barely, as the AP reports that she’s been charged with an “Extreme DUI” after her blood alcohol level was shown to be 0.17 percent - twice the legal limit in Arizona.
  • Speaking of the WNBA, they announced their All-Star Game starters yesterday. No word on if Michelle Obama will be there for the traditional “First Fundamentally Sound Screen” of the game, or if they’ll get “stuck” with Hillary Clinton.
  • One thing you might not have seen at the All-Star Game (other than the National League hitting the ball) was a lot of black players. The PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER floats one reason why: the lack of strong black male role models in the inner cities makes it tough to find coaches for organized games.
  • The WALL STREET JOURNAL gives us an “Unofficial Guide to Life as a Ref” while wondering why NFL refs make so much for working one game a week.
  • With all the talk about Tiger Woods taking on Turnberry this week, there’s one thing that should be noted: Padraig Harrington is going after his third freakin’ straight British Open title. USA TODAY says it might be difficult since he’s completely changed his swing from last year.
  • The World Series of Poker Main Event is down to the final three tables, and poker celebrity/Norman Chad man crush Phil Ivey is still very much in the hunt, standing at fourth place with more than 11 million chips. Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari is also alive as they play down to the final table tomorrow.
  • Bud Selig calls claims of collusion to drive down the price of free agentssome make-believe scenario that doesn’t exist.” Right, because MLB would never get involved in collusion.
  • ESPN goes a different route and hires former NBC President Don Ohlmeyer as their new ombudsman. His first call: hiring his good friend O.J. Simpson to replace Bill Simmons as “The Sports Guy.”
  • Anthony Randolph notched his name in Las Vegas NBA Summer League history by tying the single-game scoring record by putting up 42 in the Warriors’ victory over the Bulls. Something tells me you won’t find any pictures of him posing with a basketball with “42″ written on it.
  • While sports talk radio is struggling elsewhere, it seems to be alive and well in Boston, where legendary rock station WBCN in being pulled off the air and replaced by the city’s third all-sports station.

Which remaining free agent is worth the most money?

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Speed Read: Hey, It Could’ve Been Ravens-Eagles

Did you enjoy your Sunday night? Good, because it was the final eve before your inevitable onslaught of storylines involving the unlikely Arizona Cardinals and the storied Pittsburgh Steelers. Ken Whisenhunt meets his old employer. Larry Fitzgerald gets to show off his skills against his alma mater’s city. Um .. the Steelers punter played for the Cardinals last … year … zzzzzzzz. So while you stock up on hardtack and duct tape as you hunker in your bunker, just pretend how fun it would be had Sunday’s losers have actually won.

Bizarro Super Bowl XLIII

It’s a battle of redemption versus repetition. Donovan McNabb, having been benched earlier in the year, is now 2-1 in NFC Championship games and getting to start his second Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco became the first-ever rookie quarterback to even be in a Super Bowl. And John Harbaugh, the first-year head coach, can follow in the footsteps of Baltimore coaching icon Don McCafferty in trying to win a Super Bowl as a rookie head coach. Home teams are now a stunning 3-7 in the NFL playoffs, and the Super Bowl will finally see two Wild Card teams face off. And, of course, what are the odds? The last time the Ravens were in the Super Bowl, the site of the game was … Tampa.

Andy Reid playoff beard

And what of beleaguered head coach Andy Reid and his sudden stubble? We’ve only known of the portly Philly coach as having a clean chin and a scraggly mustache. Now his playoff beard, a trend among hockey players and some basketballers, could now catch on when it comes to the head of NFL teams. Especially if the Eagles can win their first Super Bowl in franchise history, giving the City of Brudderly Love two championships in as many pro sports finals. Does this mean the 76ers have a chance this year? (Spoiler: No, it does not.)

Ray Lewis murder trial

But the most gripping storyline is probably Ray Lewis. Yes, he was a Super Bowl MVP the year after being charged with murder stemming from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but at the time he wasn’t wholly embraced as a household figure. All he’s done since being acquitted of murder is play tremendous football and be the face of an NFL team — as a linebacker. That’s no small feat, and maybe Brian Urlacher of the Bears can say the same thing, but quarterbacks are supposed to be synonymous with a franchise. Now he can play for the Super Bowl ring with the stigma of his checkered past mostly gone … and maybe this time, American can embrace him.

Bizarro Super Bowl Quarterback

Er, anyways, back to reality.

  • Thanks, ST. PETE TIMES, for putting out all the story lines for the Cardinals and the Steelers in digestible, organized fashion. Now turn off your laptop and TV, go out, and jog off some extra pounds.
  • THE 700 LEVEL is understandably crestfallen over the Eagles loss
  • …while THE EBONY BIRD is equally scatterbrained and searching for answers.
  • An astute FLICKR user (Flickerer?) caught one Steelers sign whose author knows the history of the NFL dating back to at least the mid-90s:

    Steelers sign about Ravens

  • ESPN seems like it’s a little early for another contrived feature meant to generate useless discussions … but here it is. “Mt. Rushmore of Sports” has fans figure out who the best four sports figures from each state are. For once, the South Dakota version will look extremely boring.
  • Avalanche teammates Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk had a lot in common after Sunday’s game … “You scored your 300th goal today? OMG me too!
  • Oh, hell. I knew I had January 17th marked on my calendar for a reason, but I forgot about Curtis Granderson’s charity basketball game featuring Kid Rock getting fazed by one of his hallucinations … oh, wait, that actually is a large fluffy tiger.
  • The unemployment rate in MLB is over 50 percent … well, if you only count the players that wanted to sign for another team.
  • Arkansas freshman basketball player Brandon Moore wins the traffic infraction bingo game: DWI, reckless driving, no insurance, no registration, and fake ID. He didn’t even need to use the free space!
  • And finally … Jim Rice blames Big Stein for never winning a World Series. Steinbrenner, if you recall, let a ground ball go through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

It’s been less than 24 hours … which SBXLIII story line are you already sick of?

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Thorne Won’t Be Guarding Borders Anytime Soon

During Wednesday morning’s Boston-Oakland tilt in Tokyo, ESPN thoughtfully took the time to promote another of its televised events: Saturday’s Civil Rights Game against the White Sox and Mets. Steve Phillips made a compelling argument after the Civil Rights Game promo for the progress of minorities in baseball in the last half-century or so:

Phillips noted the Detroit Tigers could reasonably field a starting nine that did not have a single white person. As he rattled off the starters for such a squad (including Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio OrdoƱez, Curtis Granderson, and Jacque Jones), he built a strong case for the widening influence of baseball internationally and shrinking domestic (i.e., African-American) influence.

Gary Thorne’s wizened response? “Pretty good international team.”

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