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: Get Ready To Bowl For Relevance

All last-minute 11th-hour college football playoff protest lock-in petition candlelight vigils have failed, and the BCS has already declared who will play for the national championship. Sorry, Texas, Alabama, and Utah — two other states, Oklahoma and Florida, are going to the BCS Championship. Is it the right one? Meh, probably. But if we had playoffs, it might’ve been something weird like Texas Tech and Penn State. Yuck.

Bowl of cereal

Looking at the BCS games:

• We have two teams outside the top 10 that are in the BCS? Well, hell, put ‘em in the same game! Unlikely Big East champion Cincinnati and ACC winner Virginia Tech will see each other in the Orange Bowl.
• This might be hard to believe, but Ohio State is in the Fiesta Bowl. This is not a repeat from 2006, 2003, or 2002. Honestly, why even have bowl contingency plans for these guys? They’ll play Texas.
• The last time Utah played in a BCS game, they got set up with BCS fall boy Pittsburgh and massacred them. This time they’ll get a slightly better challenge, facing off against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
• And the Rose Bowl. Hey, sure.

Now to go through the rest of the bowl games, one by one, in painstaking detail. Okay, just a couple interesting ones:

Charlie Weis with lei

• Really? Does Charlie Weis wearing a lei this year represent anything that should happen in a fair and God-governed just world? The Irish went 6-6. Instead of schlepping off to some obscure game in Boise or Houston, Notre Dame gets the Hawai’i Bowl. No-foolin’ not-snowing beach-humpin’ Hawai’i. Since they play the local football squadron, odds are the Rainbowless Warriors will probably whump them, as is the local custom.
• Boise State, by going perfect, gets the high honor of playing not another strong power-conference team, but probably the next strongest mid-major, TCU, in the Poinsettia Bowl. Perhaps one of the most recently-created games will be the locale of the best non-BCS game. If nothing else, the bowl game will be a step up from 2006, when TCU smashed Northern Illinois by 30.
• “We beat the guys in the national championship game!” “Really? Because we beat the guys who beat the other guys in the national championship game!” It’s Ole Miss and Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
• The MAC got five games. Five games? Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, too? Eek. As for Ball State and Tulsa, who both were supposed to roll in as the MAC and C-USA champs, respectively, they will lock helmets in the GMAC Bowl in a battle of Elisha Cuthbert-style sloppy seconds.

If I missed your favorite team’s game, I’m sure I did it for a good reason and/or to protect you. But no, seriously. Your team has a great shot to win the game. Here’s the master list of every single one.

Cardinals - NFC West champions

Yes, the Giants and Titans also clinched the NFC East and AFC South divisions respectively, but the Arizona Cardinals also gave themselves a division championship by virtue of not being the Seahawks, 49ers, or Rams. They’re 8-5, a record which isn’t even guaranteed an AFC Wild Card spot. Six of their wins are against losing teams. Against winning teams, they give up over 32 points a game. The Arizona Cardinals win the NFC West, everyone. The lone argument in favor of implementing a bowl system in the NFL.

In other fuss-trating news around the lower 48:

  • “I’m very frustrated on the way, particularly today’s game unfolded,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy kinda said. That’s how the Packers’ official site transcribes it, but ‘R’ you sure about that ‘R’ in the word “frustrated?”
  • So here’s a fun one. Carolina Panther Jeremy Bridges was arrested — perhaps a first in NFL history — over a dispute involving champagne. THE ROCK HILL (SC) HERALD reports when it was uncorked, some other diners got sprayed. Although it doesn’t say in the story, I think you can assume what ensued. FOOD FIGHT!
  • Time for a good news story from the MIAMI HERALD. Miami Hurricanes football assistant Stephen Field pulled a driver out of a flipped over car and to safety. And whaddya know, he’s a safeties coach.
  • The announcement from the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee is today at noon. Ron Santo is long overdue and will find out today if he’ll be put in the Hall of Fame.
  • Say buh-bye to Varitek, Red Sox fans. His agent says he will decline arbitration with Boston, and will talk with other teams. Of less consequence, Paul Byrd won’t accept arbitration either. The Boras has spoken.
  • Oh, yes, the Lions are still 0-something. The DETROIT NEWS looks at the depth chart, finds a little-known playmaking receiver named Calvin Johnson and asserts they have to throw it to them more if they’re going to win a game. Interesting idea!
  • Professional tolerable columnist Norman Chad writes The Michael Vick diaries. Pay the man, Shirley.
  • A Niagara Falls-area beat writer doesn’t like going to Toronto for Bills games. Don’t worry — once they’re permanently in Toronto, you won’t be assigned them anymore.
  • MVN OUTSIDER notes that the Carolina Hurricanes are making really bad personnel decisions when it comes to their coach.
  • Like we could go an entire Speed Read without previewing the upcoming NAIA football championship game. Mighty Carroll College, from Helena, Montana, has won five of six championships. The Saints opponent is the plucky University of Sioux Falls Cougars. Both teams’ colors are purple and gold. Oh, how embarrassing to wear the same dress to the debutante ball!

Hey aren’t you excited for the bowl games? Aren’tcha, aren’tcha, aren’tcha?

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