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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WNBA Seeks Legitimacy With Superstar DUI Bust

Someone at the WNBA finally realized that we’re never going to take them seriously as professional athletes until they start acting like it. So it’s quite the PR coup for the league to have one of their top stars arrested for DUI.

Diana Taurasi

(”Who wants another round?”)

Star guard Diana Taurasi must have wanted to celebrate being the leading vote-getter for the all-star team. Or maybe she just wanted to drink away the realization that she’s trapped in the WNBA, and trapped in Phoenix. Either way, we’re going to break down her arrest and add or subtract “Barkley Points” where needed to gauge the appropriateness of her actions to a professional athlete.
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Speed Read: Artest Shuns Cavs, Chooses Lakers

The Lakers are already the defending champs, and while the Cavs are adding an over-the-hill Shaq and Boston is making overtures to the shell that once housed Rasheed Wallace, the champs may have made the biggest splash of all — adding the insane, yet extremely talented, Ron Artest.

Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant

(Odds Ron’s going to forget he’s Kobe’s teammate and gets a flagrant 2 on him? About 2-to-1.)

The news came somewhat out of nowhere last night, as ESPN was still reporting during the early evening hours on the east coast that LeBron James had been reaching out to Artest in an effort to get him to Cleveland. ESPN expert Chris Broussard went on Sportscenter downplaying that situation, and within a couple of hours Artest was in ESPN’s L.A. studio announcing his intention to sign with the Lakers for the mid-level exception.

This is all fine and dandy, but does nobody remember about this?

Although, to be honest, Artest is just about the only guy in the league who could do this and then ask Kobe to go out to Applebee’s afterward. This guy doesn’t exactly go about things the normal way. I mean, we are talking about a guy who once tried to work at Circuit City in the offseason to get the employee discount.

Here’s what Ron-Ron had to say about coming to L.A., according to CBS SPORTSLINE:

“L.A. is what it is,” Artest said. “I’ve been here for the whole summer, and it’s pretty good. It’s good for me. I know Lamar Odom, so that’s pretty cool.”

Awesome, they can totally ride bikes together and eat toooooons of gummy bears.

All the clamoring for the Lakers to pony up the cash to keep Trevor Ariza sure went away quickly, considering that Artest is accepting the mid-level (which will be under $6 million next year) while Ariza was looking for something in the $7 million+ range. And now word is out that Ariza will be taking Artest’s place in Houston, and will in fact accept the mid-level (though over the full term of five years).

Trevor Ariza

(”Here’s how many titles I’m going to win in Houston.”)

I’ve seen baseball games delayed for a wide variety of reasons (I was at Shea Stadium once when the sprinklers came on unannounced, or there’s that one time a plane crashed beyond the left-field wall), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game get derailed by bees. In the ninth inning of yesterday’s Padres-Astros game at Petco Park, a swarm overtook a jacket that was draped over a chair down the left-field line (the coat belonged to a ball girl).

bumblebee man

Apparently, the swarm’s queen bee took up residence inside the coat, which led to thousands of workers, or drones, or whatever they are, descending on the area around the jacket. It was nearly an hour before a beekeeper arrived on the scene to take care of the bees. He dove right into the jacket, sprayed the bees (which were in a mass about the size of a soccer ball) with some sort of agent, then shoveled the presumably dead bees into the jacket (PETA is already preparing to complain about this I’m sure), which was put into a plastic bag and carried away. Eyewitnesses report that the beekeeper received the biggest ovation of the day, as the Astros cruised to a 7-2 win.

bee warning

Bee swarm

Now, while you watch two guys named Andy battle it out on Center Court, here’s some links to get you through your Friday:

• The Phoenix Lifelock Mercury’s Diana Taurasi got a DUI early on Thursday morning. It’s about time WNBA players start acting like real athletes.

• A suspected rapist who was attempting to assault a woman yesterday in San Diego was fought off successfully by the woman, then he tried to run away from her. Which might have worked…if the woman wasn’t a marathon runner. Let’s just say the future’s not looking too bright for this guy right now.

I’m a big 1964 Topps baseball card guy, partly because of the multiple laughable errors made throughout the set by Topps’ editorial staff, which seemed to exist of a five-year-old with a learning disability. And Keith Olbermann delivers us the most ridiculous error in the set (if you’re not getting it, just read Dave Bennett’s bio again):

19-year-old Dave Bennett is 18 years old

• The World Series of Poker’s main event starts today at the Rio in Las Vegas, and among the thousands registered to play over the next few days is none other than Barack Obama. No, the Prez didn’t buy in himself — a poker pro named Richard Sklar (who also happens to be an ex-con) put up the $10,000 to enter him into the event. Sklar then made a number of bets with other pros that Obama would show up to play at least one hand. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Phil Gordon are among the pros who said they’d pony up big cash for charity if he does show. GAMBLING ONLINE has details, as does this thread at poker site TWO PLUS TWO.

•  The CFL has indeed fined Toronto WR Arland Bruce, who posed as Michael Jackson’s corpse in the end zone after scoring a touchdown on Wednesday.

•  In 1990, Family Feud had an entire episode pitting five Major League players against five umpires. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Rick Sutcliffe rocking the Cubs jersey tucked into jeans and the late, great Eric Gregg saying “what’s your name, baby?” Here’s Part 1 of 3 (thank you UNI WATCH for the tip):

• GAME ON says the rumors that the Texas Rangers had to borrow $15 million to meet payroll are not true, though there is a framework in place if they do need to borrow money. That’s comforting.

• New Grouch Chairman of the BCS Overlord Oversight Committee Harvey Perlman on the idea of a college football playoff (courtesy of the WIZ OF ODDS):

“If you look at college football now, it’s the greatest sporting event spread over September, October, November, December and a little bit of January that the country has. A playoff would seriously diminish the regular season, as it has in college basketball… This isn’t basketball. This isn’t March Madness. Football’s a different game, different environment. We have different traditions. It’s hard to see why a playoff is a good idea.”

I’m with you, Harvey. I don’t even know why any of these silly sports with their useless playoffs even have a regular season. An arbitrary, invitation-based system guided by a perplexing computer formula is obviously the way to go for any sport that wants to be taken seriously.

• Mariners prospect James McOwen (who honestly wasn’t much of a prospect prior to this year) extended his California League-record hitting streak to 39 games with a 3-for-4 night in the High Desert Mavericks’ 6-2 win over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes at the most awesomely-named park in all of baseball — The Epicenter.

Danica Patrick might want to stick to the GoDaddy stuff, and steer clear of the Elton John glasses:

Danica Patrick glasses

Who’s been the the most important acquisition by an NBA contender so far this offseason?

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Ex-Con Russian Pays Well For WNBA “Girlfriends”

The LOS ANGELES TIMES sends Megan K. Stack to a place called Vidnoye, Russia, to write about the owner of a women’s professional basketball team. Sounds bizarre, eh? Well, when you read the piece, you’ll know why.

Shabtai von Kalmanovic Tina Thompson

(What a lovely couple!)

The owner is an ex-con, greaseball named Shabtai von Kalmanovic. Kalmanovic, who claims to have made his money erecting buildings in apartheid South Africa, was once jailed in Israel for being a Soviet spy. He uses his countless, questionable millions to lure the top WNBA stars, like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, to play for his Moscow-based team, “where they live in luxury and play before halfhearted audiences.

The way the story reads, it’s almost as if the WNBA players are von Kalmanovic’s private, little harem. And the way he talks to them does nothing to dispute that notion.

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