Speed Read: The End Of The Road For Smoltz?

One of the sadder sights in sports is watching a legend come to a realization that, despite still having the desire and the will, they just don’t have it anymore. You could see it in John Smoltz‘ eyes when he was staring blankly out of the Red Sox dugout last night, stewing in the crushing reality of getting battered by the Yankees for eight runs and nine hits in just 3 1/3 innings of a 13-6 loss.

John Smoltz

It was the first time the Yankees have beaten the Sox this year, and maybe the last time we’ll see Smoltz on the mound. He’s now 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA. He’s given up at least five runs in six of his eight starts. He has zero quality starts and hasn’t gone more than six innings in any game. More importantly, he’s pitching for a team that’s struggling to stay ahead in the wild card race and can’t afford to give the guy charity starts, even if he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. In some ways, it’s probably better to be Tom Glavine — a guy who wanted to go out on different terms but might be better off that he didn’t have to go out this way.

As for the Sox, it can’t be good knowing that you’ve won eight of nine from your biggest rivals and you’re still 3 1/2 games out of first. The Yankees are 10 1/2 games better than the Sox in games in which they haven’t played each other. And with A-Rod back in the lineup, it’s hard to see the Sox winning eight of the next nine the teams play. In fact, the Yankees haven’t seemed so in control of the AL East since 2006. And any time you have Muhammad Ali wearing your cap in the stands, that can’t hurt:

Muhammad Ali Yankee hat

And now, I bring you what may turn out to be the lamest sports feud ever. Seems that former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent has drawn the ire of John McEnroe’s father (who also happens to be named John McEnroe). To the point where the elder McEnroe felt compelled to write a letter to the PALM BEACH POST about a column Vincent wrote that was supposed to be a tribute to Walter Cronkite. Yes, the combined age of the people involved in this dispute is about 341 years (and one of them’s dead!).

Fay Vincent

(A fine baseball historian, but a total hack when it comes to tennis)

Vincent’s original column was a nod to a comment Cronkite supposedly made after the senior McEnroe was seen shouting at CBS president Tom Wyman because a network cameraman accidentally ran onto the court to capture the end of the 1985 US Open Final a point early:

Mr. Cronkite and I had sat silently through all this, but with Wyman’s explanation, the cultured and civil Cronkite whispered in my ear, “Fay, a real block off the old chip.” I laughed loudly and told him he had it just right.

For many years after, whenever I saw Cronkite at a gathering or in a restaurant I always made it a point to remind him of the event and to congratulate him for such a perfect and witty comment. Interestingly, he always admitted he remembered.

Somehow I recall Cronkite more fondly and respectfully than I do either of the two McEnroes. By the way, the father was a successful partner in a major New York law firm.

Old Mac isn’t having any of that noise.

John P. McEnroe

(”You cannot be serious, Fay!”)

Quoth Mac Sr.:

I write in response to Fay Vincent’s recent column, which centered on a comment from Walter Cronkite and involved my son and me. He recalls sitting next to Walter Cronkite and Tom Wyman, president of CBS, at an unidentified final match at the U.S. Tennis Open. I held Mr. Vincent’s tenure as the commissioner of Major League Baseball in high esteem, but must reconsider after reading his unflattering and virtually totally inaccurate account.

BOOM! Take that, Vincent. I bet you’ll think twice the next time you consider spinning a yarn about the 1985 US Open final like nobody’s gonna call you on your bullcrap. In McEnroe’s defense, it appears as if Vincent completely botched not only the most basic aspects of the match (for example, he contends that the younger McEnroe dispatched of Ivan Lendl easily when Lendl actually won in straight sets). But McEnroe’s real anger is directed at Vincent’s accusation that he directed a profane tirade at Wyman. He then goes on to essentially say that Vincent made up the “block off the old chip” quote and even gets in this weird comment about Cronkite:

Personally, I had two brief encounters with Walter Cronkite over the years. The first was in the men’s room at the Yale Bowl one year at halftime of the Yale-Harvard game where we briefly spoke (but did not shake hands). A similar incident happened in the men’s room at a Manhattan restaurant a few months later and I said something like “we have to stop meeting like this,” at which he chuckled and agreed.

It’s a shame Cronkite isn’t around anymore, if for no other reason than the inevitable “I’m pretty sure we shook hands” rebuttal that would’ve been in the paper on Monday.

grumpy old men

Andre Ethier hit his third walk-off homer of the season last night against the Braves. By comparison, Ichiro has one walk-off hit in nine years.

• The Patriots have acquired Raiders holdout Derrick Burgess, who led the NFL in sacks four years ago.

• Remember when Freddy Adu was a big deal? 19-year-old American soccer phenom Jozy Altidore has joined English Premier League team Hull City, and should be in their lineup for the opener against Chelsea next week.

Jozy Altidore

• YAHOO!’s Dan Wetzel has an interesting take on the Michael Crabtree situation (which we covered yesterday), specifically on the notion that Crabtree is trying to negotiate based on where he was going in mock drafts, and not the actual one.

• THE WIZ OF ODDS says sports betting is back on again in Delaware.

• Hockey season may seem far away now, but those Red Hot Flames will make the wait a little more palatable. I’m guessing that what happens at the 0:55 mark won’t be included in the montage at Brett Hull’s Hall of Fame induction:

Julio Castillo, the minor-league pitcher who was convicted of assault for throwing a ball into the stands last year, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years’ probation yesterday.

• As a huge Guided By Voices fan, I have to tip my cap to WALKOFF WALK for building a post around comparing Robert Pollard and Roger Clemens.

• Topps has signed an exclusive deal with MLB to become the sole licensed manufacturer of baseball cards starting next season. This comes as quite a shock to those of us who thought they stopped making baseball cards in 1991.

John Hughes hadn’t directed a movie in 18 years, but his death is still a shock to any of us who grew up in the ’80s. He had his hand in a few clunkers over the years, but where would any of us be today without Ferris Bueller or The Breakfast Club? How would we know how to properly chatter?

Should the Red Sox give John Smoltz another start?

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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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Now Put George Washington’s Hair in Your Spokes

The top two trading card companies have lost their ever-flippin’ minds.  They’ve finally moved up from the history-gutting desecration of Babe Ruth jerseys and bats of baseball’s best and just started slapping anything vaguely historical and creepy into a wax paper pack and calling it “collectible”, like George Washington’s hair.

Smell my hair!

You may find it shameful and ridiculous to chop up pieces of human history and jam them into the hands of OCD adults (because, c’mon, only the 10-year-old Alex P. Keaton’s trying to collect the whole Ronald Reagan set). You would be correct.  We don’t send kids home from a natural history museum field trip with chunks o’Cleopatra for a reason.
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Review: Sklars’ Topps Web Series Far From Mint

The reviews are in for Topps’ new Web series Back on Topps, starring Randy and Jason Sklar. OK, “review,” but it’s a Web series - what did you expect, Roger Ebert? Unfortunately, AD AGE isn’t being too kind, calling the Sklar Brothers “dopey” and saying the whole thing seems like a “sad imitator” of shows like Arrested Development. Is this the Waterworld of promotional Web series?

Back on Topps

The premise? The Sklars play Leyland and Leif Topps, who find out that their uncle has sold the company business to a corporate conglomerate owned by Michael Eisner. They struggle to keep the mission of Topps cards afloat as the mean penny-pinching executive plots their downfall. Also, there’s a stalker. And sports cameos by Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Kevin Love. So basically, whatever B-list athletes happened to be hanging around in LA that day and were down for getting a free lunch.

Is it any good? Check out an episode for yourself after the jump:

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Cool Card Collectible: Rudy Rooting With Red Sox

We offer evidence of another pumped-up day in the world of sports:

• Topps shows what a bunch of cards they are by inserting Rudy Guiliani into the Red Sox’s World Series celebration:

Rudy Guiliani Red Sox Card

• HBO is cancelling “Inside The NFL”, denying us the chance to see more manic Marino tantrums.

Jeremy Shockey has better things to do than attend some silly Super Bowl parade.

Terrelle Pryor said he wouldn’t choose his school on Wednesday, but others are trying to make the choice for him.

Pedro Martinez & Juan Marichal do enjoy themselves a good cockfight:

Pedro Martinez cockfighing

(Pedro handling his cock before the big fight)

True to his word, Shaq doesn’t let Steve Nash down.

• Like the SEC gals and Big East boys, the Green Bay Packers experience their own teleconferencing fun.

• ESPN needs to hire a spellchecker for the “PTI” graphics guys.

Topps New Card Shows Rudy Enjoying Joy Of Sox

WBZ-TV in Boston has a report that shows the venerable Topps baseball card company knows its way around the public relations block.

Rudy Giuliani Red Sox

To drum up publicity for the company’s new MLB baseball card set, a card showing former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani celebrating the Red Sox World Series victory will be included in the set. Giuliani (in)famously claimed he rooted for the Red Sox will campaigning for president last year in New Hampshire.

The now-failed presidential candidate was photoshopped by Topps into an image of Boston’s on-field celebration after defeating the Rockies in the 2007 fall classic. The front and back of the card are after the jump.

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Tampa Bay Named Topps Organization of the Year

TB RAYS - BOTTOM OF THE STANDINGS, TOPPS OF THE HEAP Good to know that their 66-96 record was not in vain, as the Tampa Bay Rays have been put on top - by Topps:

Ruddy Lugo Topps Devil Rays card

The baseball-card company announced that the perennial AL East cellar dwellers have been declared the 2007 Topps Organization of the Year.The rankings are based on the number of awards given out to players throughout the season. Keep in mind, it’s not just the men on the major league roster that matter, but also all the hitters & hurlers in the team’s minor league system.

So the Rays were able to clinch the title by accruing such accolades as Players of the Month in the Southern and International Leagues.

Jim Hickey Elijah Dukes

Other awards that helped secure Tampa’s top spot include Best Alcohol-Fueled Police Chase By a Pitching Coach, and Most Creative Threats To A Spouse.