Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quick Takes - Secret Santa, psychosis, and sports!

I'm very glad you're alive.

I received a mystery gift on my desk today. It's not a small gift, either. It's quite larger than most gifts I receive. But I have to admit, I'm afraid to open it. Not because I want to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in my heart by waiting until Dec. 25th to open it. No. I'm more afraid that it's some sort of mail bomb, left by a mortal enemy who thought a finely-wrapped present would be a brilliant way to blow my face off. It's got hand-curled ribbons, people. If that doesn't say crazy I don't know what does.

I'll probably just have some holiday beer and open it later.

That reminds me of a weird story, about a "fan" who tried to kill Bjork. I can't fathom why anyone would want to kill Bjork -- she's an Icelandic fairy princess sent from the netherworlds to ease us into death with her haunting music -- but one particular fan thought it would be a great idea to mail her an acid-spraying bomb and end her musical career/life. He filmed himself making the bomb, filmed himself mailing the bomb, which I bet was the least-riveting part of his one-man documentary, and then he filmed himself blowing his brains out with a gun. A happy ending for all. Of course, the police intercepted the acid-spraying bomb and saved Bjork from an untimely death, which is awesome of the police to have done (Biophilia ruled). But what brings so-called "fans" to try to murder the people they love? And why doesn't that type of stuff happen very often in sports?

I'm not calling for it to start, obviously; I'm thrilled that crazy people seem to avoid sporting events, but outside of a few rare instances (like the Iraqi football player who was shot and killed on the field a couple years ago by an incensed "fan" after missing a crucial penalty), the crazies have left sports alone. Maybe it's because athletes, while otherworldly in physical traits, don't make the type of mental and emotional impact on people that musicians and artists do. When you watch an athlete, you're watching someone do something physically extraordinary. When you watch a musician or an artist, you're watching someone create. And while those two lines can blur with especially gifted athletes (Michael Jordan comes to mind), athletes are usually following a script more than writing one. They're fulfilling the strategies of their coaches, they're fulfilling the promise of their physical skills. I don't want to discredit athletes with this discussion either; athletes are incredibly creative and exploratory within their sports, and in order to transcend into "greatness" they have to tap into the emotional collective of the fanbase and their peers, but artists connect with people and people connect with artists on a different level. Whereas in sports, people connect with teams, and occasionally players, but more for the joy of watching them perform exceptional feats than for what they do to inspire and intrigue.

  • The Texas Rangers have won the negotiating rights to Japanese star pitcher Yu Darvish after posting a winning bid of $51.7 million. The Rangers will now have 30 days to sign Darvish to an MLB contract, or they'll get their money back and Darvish will go back to Japan. Damn. That's a lot of money. The Rangers said they didn't want to start out the bidding by "insulting" Darvish and his Japanese Club, The Nippon Ham Fighters (who I assume have some sort of pig mascot ...), by posting a bid lower than what the Red Sox paid in the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes years ago, but, come on people, it's baseball! Isn't there something better we could do for Japan than give one of their baseball clubs $50 million? There's still a ton of clean-up left to do from the earthquake and tsunami; what if the Rangers had made a bid of $25 million to NPHF (Neil Patrick Harris' Fighters) with a promise to donate the other $25 million they would've paid for Darvish's services to a tsunami relief fund? Did I just blow your minds?
  • A transformer blew at Candlestick Park last night, just minutes before the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers was set to start, and it left both fans and players in the dark. The players, however, were in the locker room, which prompted a delightful question and response between a member of the media and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Media: "Coach, what was it like in the locker room [after the lights went out]?" Harbaugh: "... It was dark."
  • And people wonder why the newspaper industry collapsed.
  • If you're wondering if there's such a thing as the East Coast Bias, this morning, the day after the 49ers routed the nation's beloved Steelers 20-3 in prime time, ESPN talking heads were still debating whether or not the Steelers are Super Bowl favorites (or at least in the top three after Green Bay and New Orleans). I think an NFC West team could win the Super Bowl and national broadcasters would still be arguing about how much better the AFC East is.
  • I was listening to the radio last night, and the local sports station, 710 ESPN, had their "Hot Stove League Show" on, where they were discussing everything under the sun (rain?) about the Seattle Mariners. When they got to Franklin Gutierrez, the light-hitting/great-defending center fielder for the Mariners, they decided that if Gutierrez can hit "12-15 homeruns with a .260 batting average" next year, then he'll be a top player for the team and worthy of a contract extension. Those of you outside of Seattle who are reading this probably just did a double-take ("Is that for a whole season?"), but things have gotten so bad here offensively that, when I heard it the first time, my reaction was, "Fifteen homeruns would be AMAZING!" Good thing we've spent all winter beefing up that offense.
  • Jimmy Rollins apparently turned down more money from the Milwaukee Brewers to stay with the Philadelphia Phillies: "You have to take everything in consideration when you've been somewhere since you were 17. To go somewhere new, at this part of my career, you feel like a rented player because you weren't part of the process of building the team up. From the first day I got here in the big leagues, it was about making this team a contender and then a champion. Those things have been accomplished, the champion part not as often as I would've liked. Obviously, when money is on the table, and it's guaranteed, it's tempting. But you think of everything else that you've done and what you will be able to do going forward and where it makes sense for you to do those things." ... Albert Pujols does not compute.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Takes - The real Santa

This is a test, children. Keep it together.

I was walking around downtown Seattle on Saturday, trying to immerse myself in the holiday spirit that comes with hundreds of thousands of people crammed together in a tight space. It's cozier that way. There was a huge line of people waiting to take their picture with Santa in Nordstrom's, and yet, only a few feet away, sat another Santa, a lonelier Santa, who struggled to find a willing child to sit in his waiting lap. Could it have been his hand-scrawled cardboard sign that read "Photos with Santa" in a depressing scratch? Could it have been his thin, ragged beard patched with flecks of grey? Or maybe it was his dirty costume that hung off his body like skin on a skeleton. Whatever it was (if not a combination of the three), there were a lot of people wasting their time in the Nordstrom's line when they could've had a much more authentic experience with the sidewalk Santa.

The real Santa isn't all about the flashing lights and lengthy lines. He doesn't want to make children cry out of fear or devour their parents' wallets with overpriced prints. He wouldn't try to recreate some plasticized North Pole that makes a mockery out of his world and the hard work his elves really do. The real Santa would've been that guy on the corner; a quaint sign in his spotted hand, tired and weary from busting his ass making toys for the entire world, seeking only the true of heart to sit on his warm (hopefully not from urine) lap.

Everyone who walked by the real Santa to wait in a line filled with gluttony, selfishness, and greed will surely have failed the big guy's test. Don't people get it? Wouldn't that just be so brilliant of Santa? To put two Santas across from one another -- one shiny and corporate sponsored, and another, with a cardboard sign and a smelly coat -- and test out who really cares about Christmas, who really appreciates the spirit of the season. It's like some sort of religious moral story that the entire city failed, and, if you look at demographics data from the country, that means ~75% of those people who walked by that hangdog Santa were god-fearing Christians who are preparing for what's supposed to be their f*#&ing World Series of charity and kindness! But no, no, it's better that you have the fancy Santa from the fancy Nordstrom's so your gold-plated scrapbook isn't jeopardized.

  • Just realized that if Justin Bieber had been the halftime entertainment during the game between Tom Brady's New England Patriots and Tim Tebow's Denver Broncos, our species would no longer have been viable after every young girl in the world exploded.
  • According to a source, Jacksonville Jaguars' owner Wayne Weaver's added a clause in the contract of his sale of the team to Shahid Khan in which Khan must pay $25 million to a charity of Weaver's choice if he moves the team from Jacksonville within five years of purchase. Hey, Sonics fans, does this sound familiar? Clay Bennett (*spit*) had to agree to pay the city of Seattle ~$50 million if Seattle didn't get a new franchise within a certain timeframe after "relocating" the team to Oklahoma City (*spit*). Of course it didn't happen, and of course Bennett was more than willing to give up $50 million for an asset worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and I'm sure Khan will have no problem parting with $25 million for the huge financial boon of moving the team to a better market. Do these owners think we're stupid? Or are they just used to throwing cash at their problems to make them go away?
  • Throwing cash at a problem to make it go away is also known as "Pulling a Kobe."
  • Although Kobe Bryant's wife did just file for divorce, so I guess his $4 million dollar "whoopsie" ring was just a Band-Aid. That's an expensive-ass Band-Aid though. I buy the cheap Kroger ones.
  • ESPN has announced that ESPN college football analyst/whiny dad/Texas Tech saboteur Craig James is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Texas. If elected, his first order of business will be to make his son the starting wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers.
  • The New York Knicks have allegedly signed the waived-carcass of Baron Davis to a veteran minimum contract. Did they need someone to direct a documentary about the team's season? I can't think of any other reason to sign Baron Davis.
  • The Indianapolis Colts avoided a winless season the same day the Green Bay Packers lost out on an undefeated season. I think we know which team got their pictures taken with the real Santa.
  • Barry Bonds has been sentenced to two years of probation, 250 hours of community service, a $4,000 fine, and 30 days of home confinement for Federal charges of obstruction of justice. Seems like a bit of a light sentence, eh? For contextual purposes, let me just leave Bonds' estimated earnings over the course of his MLB career right here: $188,245,322. Boy, he's really going to think hard about what he's done.
  • I want to clear up a potentially-awkward situation: Yesterday I sent a message over Twitter to my friend Kevin, a Bears fan, that said, "Go Seahawks!" I was not watching the game at the time I sent that message, and it was only after I sent it that I realized that Bears WR Johnny Knox had just been taken off the field on a stretcher after being hit by the aforementioned Seahawks. Whoops. Can I buy all you Bears fans $4 million rings so you'll keep reading?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quick Takes - Medium-to-Long Takes

Get on with it!

There have been some complaints from my faithful readers (the two of you), that my Quick Takes are no longer "quick," but have morphed, instead, into something more akin to Medium-to-Long Takes. I apologize profusely for wasting your time with extra words. We are all busy folks with much to see and do on the Internet (especially if you're my friend Steve, who has gone to corners of the Internet the Japanese couldn't even imagine), and my meandering stream-of-consciousness rants are devouring your daily consumables. It will stop today. I promise. I'm not just going to ramble on about the daily sports news anymore, wandering through my brain like, well, like Steve wanders through the Internet (if you haven't guessed, I'm referring to weird pornography). You want hard facts, you want the ADD version of the sports world, because that's what you've grown accustomed to. ESPN delivers the news in bite-sized versions: A streaming ticker with one-sentence stories running 24-hours a day, sound bites, 30-second timers on talk shows before being forced to move on to the next subject by some obnoxious buzzer. We want our news like we want our needles, quick and bloodless.

But I like blood, dammit. Whenever I get a shot (I make it sound like it happens a lot ... it really doesn't), I always watch the doctor put the needle in, I watch them push the tubes up into the suction release and I marvel at how quickly they fill up. It's cool that we can just drain our own blood and it has almost no impact on our bodies. Blood? Pshh! That's what our bodies think, and that's what I think too. Which is why I profoundly rescind my apology and will venture forth writing Quick Takes however I please! "Quick" is an arbitrary term anyway, so either you need to re-define your definition or just learn to read faster. There are a lot of books available on speed reading (although that could be a frustrating medium to choose to learn that subject). I'm sure it's a useful skill. Not in the post-apocalypse or anything, but maybe if you're trying to ... read faster.

I weigh all skills against their usefulness in the post-apocalypse, and, surprisingly, speed reading isn't high on my list.

  • I want to further refine my argument yesterday about steroids, without getting too much into detail (I have a beast of a pro-steroids article cooking and don't want to waste it on a medium-to-long take). When I say I don't care about steroids, what I'm really saying is that the arbitrary decision to exclude steroids from professional sports is hypocritical and pointless in the grand scheme. Ignoring the fact that sports stars from the dawn of sport have used enhancers to supplement their above-average talents, the way leagues and Congress (who shouldn't be involved in the first place) have decided to put steroids in the cross hairs, while all sorts of other performance enhancers are allowed and legal, is just idiotic. Tiger Woods recently said he'd used PRP (blood spinning) to overcome knee and tendon injuries in the past, where doctors remove a small amount of the patient's blood, concentrate the platelets and growth factors, and then inject them at the site of an injury to promote healing. That's legal, but steroids aren't. That's legal, but blood doping isn't, where a patient essentially incubates his blood in a higher-oxygen environment and then has them reinjected into the body just before an event to sustain longer endurance and activity. We're just throwing darts here, people, and steroids have become the easy scapegoat to try to show fans that the leagues promote physical fairness. But steroids are an external enhancement, just like the insane supplements athletes take, the energizers, the muscle-builders, etc., they're all external enhancements. I could write about this for days, so I'll just end it with this: If an adult athlete wants to take steroids to perform better at his job, and he's willing to risk his own long-term health for the short-term benefits of increased performance (and increased $$$), then I say go for it. It's already happening, and players are already taking them (and not taking them, don't forget), so just stop the ridiculous parade; stop pretending like you care about athletes' health and the messages you're sending to kids and let these already-talented, already-above-average physical specimens do what they feel is necessary to compete at the highest level. Most will choose their health, but for those who don't, let them make that choice. You're already letting them make the choice to get concussions, to damage their brains, to become obese to play certain positions in the NFL, you're already letting them make the choice to take powerful enhancements and nutritional supplements, and you're already shooting them up with cortisone, vitamins, etc. and giving them pure oxygen and chemical solutions to give them energy and sharpen their senses so they can play at their best during a game, even if they're so injured they shouldn't be able to stand. Steroids are meaningless.
  • I think I just blew my pro-steroids article on a medium-to-long take. Oh well.
  • The New Orleans Sterns have finally traded away Chris Paul. After vetoing a deal to send him to the Lakers, then vetoing another deal to send him to the Clippers, the league agreed to send him to ... the Clippers! The Sterns will receive three players and a first round pick and will give up Paul and two worse picks. So it seems like everyone makes out okay. Everyone except Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who incurred a net loss on players he can creep out.
  • Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd was arrested at a steakhouse in Chicago last night on federal drug charges. Hurd told a CI (confidential informant ... I know what that means because of "Dexter") that he wanted to buy "five to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana per week for distribution in the Chicago area," according to a report by ESPN's Michael Wright, and now faces serious criminal charges. Hurd first came on the police's radar after a man was stopped with $88,000 in cash, intent on purchasing cocaine, while driving a car belonging to Hurd. The man told police that the car and money belonged to Hurd. Authorities confiscated the money, and Hurd contacted them to get the money back. He called the police to get his drug money back! Awesome! You didn't see that on "The Wire," did you?
  • There are very few rivalries in sports as fun as Blackhawks-Canucks. And things have picked up a lot of steam lately with both teams using the media to trash one another. After Chicago center Dave Boland talked shit about the creepy Sedin twins, Vancouver head coach Alain Vigenault responded: "When you have comments like Bolland's, he's obviously an individual whose IQ is probably the size of a bird seed, and he has a face that only a mother can look at." It's a great attempt at trash talk, and he does well with the Monty Python-esque kicker at the end, but, dammit, he really lost it when he compared a measurable statistic to a physical object. I know what he was trying to say, but go with, "His brain is the size of a bird seed," or, "His IQ is quite low for his age," but don't say his IQ (measurable mental statistic) is the size (physical trait) of a bird seed (physical object). Let's just chalk this one up to him being French-Canadian.
  • This, right here, is what's wrong with the NBA, from an ESPN Truehoop article on young Clippers (now Hornets) guard Eric Gordon: "[Clippers head coach] Mike Dunleavy repeatedly begged Gordon, who loves to absorb contact off the dribble, to be more expressive with referees so he could earn more trips to the line." I hope David Stern falls in a chocolate river and can't be saved for what he's done to the NBA.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quick Takes - Sigmund Newton

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year!

I am fascinated by dreams. I think they open a window into the subconscious that nothing else can. But then sometimes I have dreams that don't make any sense; that can't be gleaned for their symbolism to better understand my subconscious. I had one of those dreams last night, and it involved Cam Newton.

I was at a baseball field, "Sandlot" style, with a bunch of people I didn't know ... plus Cam Newton. Cam was on the other team, and he was so much bigger and stronger than everyone else that it almost seemed unfair to be playing sports against him. Should we be playing a game together that involves any sort of physical exercise? Can't we just go toe-to-toe digitally so that I can have the advantage? But no, we were going to play baseball and there was nothing I could do to convince anyone otherwise. But Cam was, as expected, completely unstoppable and everyone quickly lost interest in the game. I decided I'd had enough of his showboating and ... success ... and started to play dirty. I threw pitches at his giant head. I would try to trip him as he ran the bases. I was saying horrible things about him and being a massive douche at every opportunity. There was no explanation for it, other than that I hate losing. But after I'd tripped him for like the 300th time and buried his face in the gravely dirt, something came over me: Guilt? Remorse? A deeper understanding of my own fears and insecurities?

Cam stood up and said, "Man, can't we just play?" And my whole body sunk into a black hole (if it were a real black hole it wouldn't "sink," the gravitational pull would've ... well, you get it) of embarrassment. He turned out to be the nicest human ever (NHE) and I started weeping. Yep, I started weeping. And I was fully grown in this dream. I was current me, which makes this dream even more awesome. I had worked so hard to demonize him and make him look like an idiot, I had worked so hard to try to win, that I had become something I wasn't (damn, I sound like LeBron James right now). He saw me crying and said, "Whoa, it's okay, dude! It's just a game! Just ... don't trip me anymore, okay?" And I rubbed my nose clean like a 6 year old and said, "Okay," and then I walked around the field and shook every opposing player's hand and said I was sorry through tears. The rest of the game was fun, but I don't think I'm going to get invited back to that field ever again.

  • Here's a fun stat for you: Tim Tebow is dead last in the NFL in QBR (ESPN's comprehensive Quarterback Rating system) for the first three quarters of a game. He's also first in QBR during the fourth quarter. Maybe NFL teams should stop changing their defenses in the fourth quarter to try to manage a slender lead and keep attacking like they do in the first three quarters. I know. I'm an idiot. I'll go back to my cage now.
  • Steelers linebacker James Harrison was suspended one game by the NFL for yet another nasty hit on a quarterback, this time for lowering his head and going helmet-to-helmet with Colt McCoy, who had to leave the game with a concussion. Harrison was flabbergasted by the suspension and wrote a note on Twitter to show his dismay: "LOL." He also said that he isn't going to stop playing the way he plays because he tried it once and it "felt awkward," which is a good reason to continue putting peoples' careers in jeopardy.
  • If Ryan Braun's positive test for performance enhancing drugs is confirmed, should his MVP award be given to someone else? I've been thinking about that a lot lately, ever since news came out of Braun's alleged failed test during the playoffs this year. Steroids are obviously still a huge part of professional sports, despite dwindling prevalence in the post-steroid era of McGwire and Sosa, but the leagues are delusional if they think anything less than a lifetime suspension is going to work as a deterrent. The sad fact is that steroids provide results, and results provide paychecks and awards and records and Hall of Fame ceremonies, and if you happen to get caught, people will eventually forgive and forget (unless you're Alex Rodriguez, but that's just because nobody likes him). If Braun did take steroids, part of me says, "So what?" If he's willing to do something like that to his body for the potential benefits of a successful sports career, and I shouldn't have to remind anyone that he's an adult, then why does it matter? (Other than the fact that steroids are illegal, but so is marijuana ... just because something's marked 'illegal' by the government doesn't make it wrong). People have been cheating for years in sports -- there are more Hall of Famers in Cooperstown who cheated one way or another than those who didn't -- and you can do whatever you want to police it and remove it from the game, but players will always find another way to get the competitive advantage. The reward is worth the risk in their eyes. Just look at Ryan Braun. He just won the freaking MVP of the National League. He's got a massive paycheck and he'll be able to take care of himself and his kids and his kids' kids because of that risk. So, personally, I don't care about steroids. There, I said it. I don't care about steroids.
  • Cleveland Browns president (and former Seahawks coach!) Mike Holmgren said that quarterback Colt McCoy was not checked for a concussion after being hit by the aforementioned James Harrison last Thursday night. McCoy came out of the game for two plays and then popped right back in. The NFL would be the worst doctor ever: "Doctor, my chest is on fire and I can't feel my left arm." Hmm, what's your name, son? "Erik." All right, he's cured! And here's the keys to my Porsche, feel free to drive as fast and recklessly as you can with it in that school zone around the corner.
  • Manchester City players dressed up for a Christmas Party. Just bizarre. Also, they call Waldo from the "Where's Waldo?" series "Wally" in England? Who knew! Is that really necessary? Is Wally more approachable than Waldo in Britain? That'd be like us calling Harry Potter "Harlo Potter" in America, just for the hell of it. It's a name, people, I think it can survive the cultural divide.
  • Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr. wrote about an incredible encounter he had with LeBron James in 2010. Now, I've never been a fan of James, even when he was the golden child in Cleveland. His decision with "The Decision" was absurd and oblivious, and his attitude with the Miami Heat last year were immature and, I think, showed a lot about his true character. But, my word, this story just blows me away: "I've seen a lot of entourages, but none like his. In July 2010 I got an assignment from Nike to shoot LeBron right after his TV special announcing his move to the Heat. We rented the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, where the Lakers and the Clippers used to play, and there were 53 people on my crew -- including hair and makeup artists, production people, a stylist. I had $10,000 in Hollywood lighting. It was huge. When LeBron arrived, it was as if Nelson Mandela had come in. Six or seven blacked-out Escalades pulled up, a convoy. LeBron had bodyguards and his masseuse. His deejay was already there, blasting. This for a photo shoot that was going to last an hour, tops. This is how crazy it was: I wasn't even allowed to talk directly to LeBron. There was a liaison, someone from Amar'e Stoudemire's family. I would say to him, 'O.K., have LeBron drive right,' and then he'd turn to LeBron and say, 'LeBron, go right.'" Is LeBron James Tom Haverford in disguise?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quick Takes - Battlebots thoughts

Prince Fielder hitting a homerun off C.J. Wilson?

The offseason is my favorite part of sports. I enjoy the offseason far more than the actual season, which maybe tells me that I don't really like sports, I just like the construction of sports teams. I've never thought about it in those terms before. I mean, I certainly enjoy watching sports and have since I was a little kid, and I love going to games and reading about games, but the games were just a byproduct of the transactions and decisions of the front office and the strategies and implementation of the coaching system. Each player is an essential component of a robot, and the game is just the Battlebots arena (awesome show, remember?!) where you finally get to see if that circular saw was a better choice than the BFH: The last word is hammer, I'll let you guess what the first two are. Right now, Major League Baseball is in the thick of the offseason, and I'm so freaking excited about possible transactions that it almost doesn't even register to me that the players actually have to play games next year. If the team makes the right transactions, can't we just pump the players' attributes into a computer and simulate the season? That way we can get to another offseason for more trades and free agent signings!

I think that type of thinking comes from the video game generation. And I'm not one to throw that "video game generation" nonsense out there lightly. I'm a part of that over-stereotyped and under-appreciated group. But we've had the luxury of playing games that let us simulate seasons so we could focus entirely on the offseason. Developers even made games (like Football Manager) that take the actual day-to-day gameplay out entirely and, instead, give you control over every aspect of a franchise, down to the janitors' salaries to the color paint you want the stadium to be. And now, sports games even let you simulate through the parts of the game that you don't want to play, so you can just play offense with your favorite NFL franchise and let the computer simulate the defense. You can just hit with the Seattle Mariners (they need the help), and you never have to bother laboring through boring pitching mechanics. We expect immediate results and responses from our sports now, and that translates a bit into how we consume them as fans.

That isn't to say I like the offseason more than the regular season because I'm a drone whose decisions are completely out of my own hands. I like the offseason because it aligns with what I enjoy the most about sports (the strategics before the battle), not because I'm a pre-programmed robot who's been taught to consume offseasons. But that doesn't mean I don't have a video game hangover either. I expect my teams' GMs to be pulling strings left and right to make my teams better. Imagine that. What's the wait?! Just go ... DO SOMETHING! That's how I feel, and it's completely absurd and unfair at times to expect, but real GMs are playing with completely different money than I am. Their jobs, their legacies, their careers are at stake, as well as the happiness of fans and the financial sustainability of the franchise, and when I'm at home playing armchair GM, my kittens' happiness is at stake if I can't sign that wunderkind striker from a tiny Tippeligaen team to join the Arsenal. The risk is null for me, and it's massive for them. But risk avoidance can be a crippling factor for a professional sports team; it's often the crippling factor that takes a successful franchise and turns it into a "rebuilding" joke. People become afraid to spend money or take chances on players, and so you end up with a constant recycling of the same mediocre talent through the league-wide system because it's safe and predictable.

That's the draw of the offseason though. It's finding players who can make your team better. Not just better, but playoffs-better. Finding players who are risky -- whether financially or schematically -- and watching the story unfold. In video games, we just simulate through that story because the immediate response from the system is there to tell us if our decisions are right. But in the real world, we have to watch each game, measure each season, and determine after multiple years whether or not our teams made the right decisions. It sounds more like politics than sports, but that's what makes the offseason so intriguing, it's that decisions are so volatile, but can also take so much time to seed, that impatience takes over for logic and reason.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs fired head coach Todd Haley with three games to go in the season, less than one year after Haley led the Chiefs to a division title (the Dolphins also fired their coach, Tony Sparano, after trying to hire someone else while he was still under contract last year, missing out on replacing him, and rewarding him with a "sorry" contract extension that they will now have to pay him as severance). A letter to NFL teams constantly shuffling in and out new coaches: Stop it. It doesn't work. Coaching, really anything, is about consistency. Coaches and players need time to learn and grow within a system built for their success. If you don't have that system, then sure, go in a different direction, but the persistent impatience doesn't help anyone be successful. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn't all that successful when he first started coaching basketball at the D1 level, now he's the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. It takes time, people. I think coaching is really about two things 1) the right system, and 2) the right players. That's it. The first one is much easier to attain; NFL coaches are all at the level they're at because they understand the game and know how to win, while the second one is a completely random clusterfuck of chance, good luck, bad luck, and players' personal decisions and commitments to being great. If the team is failing, it can definitely be a systematic issue where the coach needs to be replaced, but I think losing (and winning) is based far more on personnel than coaching.
  • The NBA and David Stern have bollocksed a second Chris Paul trade from their league-owned New Orleans Hornets, this time with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers offered up a boatload of players, prospects, and picks for Paul (too ... many ... Ps), but the league wanted more, and the Clippers backed out. David Stern will apparently have his cake and eat it too. And then eat your cake. And the cake of that little crying orphan over there. And that baby celebrating its first birthday? That cake's just going in the trash. Perfectly edible. Stern's just really full and doesn't want anyone else to get to taste cake.
  • I think NBA fans should file a class action lawsuit against David Stern for emotional damages.
  • After the Denver Broncos won in overtime against the Chicago Bears on a 51-yard field goal by Matt Prater (who also hit a 59-yarder to send the game to OT), cameras zoomed to find Tim Tebow, who let out a war cry and then yelled, "Thank you, lord!" How about, "Thank you, Matt Prater"?!?!
  • The New York Mets were granted a $40 million bank loan from Bank of America to continue operations until minority shares in the team can be sold. The team also took a $25 million loan from the league last year, which it has still yet to repay. Call me crazy, but don't you think you should have to pay off your first loan before taking out a second loan twice as large? Did the New York Mets consider filling out a FAFSA?
  • Albert Pujols' wife is pissed and telling everyone about it. After her husband accepted a $250 million deal to join the Angels, people in St. Louis gave Pujols guff about abandoning them and the city that gave so much to him. But Mrs. Pujols said the Cardinals lowballed them (for five yrs./$130 million ...), and that, "When [the fan backlash] came down, I was mad. I was mad at God because I felt like all the signs that had been played out through the baseball field, our foundation, our restaurant, the Down Syndrome Center, my relationships, my home, my family close. I mean, we had no reason, not one reason, to want to leave. People were deceived by the numbers." She's mad at god! Holy shit! We have a breakthrough! A religious person is actually blaming god for something (even though she's blaming him for ... her husband only being offered $130 million instead of $250 million ... or something ...), instead of falling on her sword and saying that moving away from everything they've known and loved for a better paycheck is all part of god's plan. This moment should be studied!
  • Amidst all the Aaron Rodgers zealotry, Drew Brees is putting together his own impressive season. Brees has 4,368 yards thus far, which puts him on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. Plus, Brees is going to be on Sesame Street this Thursday! Top that, Aaron Rodgers!
  • Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher is taking an extended break from football because of a battle with ulcerative colitis. While it's always great to see Manchester United go down a man, especially the obnoxious Scotsman Fletcher, I'm really going to miss uncontrollably repeating "Fletchahhh" in an obnoxious British accent every time an announcer says his name.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quick Takes - The Death Driving Circuit

These guys get it.

I often wonder what sports will be like in the future. I wonder if the modern day sports even can be played in the future; if they'll even be transferable to some future Matrix-y world where people are consuming better, faster, more vivid information and entertainment. Will sports have to adapt and become more connected, more fast-paced, more violent and aggressive? Or is their stoic simplicity what has keep them surviving in our current era? Baseball has changed very little in the last 100+ years. The players have changed a lot, to be sure, and the stadiums have shrunk, but the game itself (and the fan experience, to a certain extent) makes baseball something of instant nostalgia. The same could be said for most sports. There's a consistency that allows their history to remain current and their core games to stay mostly untouched by idle hands. But is that sustainable? The one example I always think about is Nascar. Some people love Nascar, sure, but a dwindling fanbase and dwindling TV ratings have shown that Nascar is a "sport" in decline. The same could be said for boxing, although boxing has been sent to the nursing home by something bigger, stronger, faster, and more violent (more Daft Punk?), as opposed to Nascar, whose self-contained boredom seems to be forcing even the most die-hard fans to trim their mullets. But that's really the point. Boxing seems so tame compared to MMA, and fans have mostly rejected boxing for its grotesque counterpart.

There was a terrible movie that came out a few years ago, "Death Race," about a future world where convicted prisoners had to race and battle in suped-up cars for their freedom (or something ... let's be honest, I saw it once, and it didn't leave the deepest impression on my vinyl). While the movie is nearly unwatchable, unless for its unintentional comedy, I really feel like they were onto something though. If you want to make something like car racing watchable, make it hilariously-violent. Add jumps, spikes, cannons, machine guns, trap doors, tigers, whatever. That's how car racing will survive into the next century; that's what people want to watch and will shell out their hard-earned cash to see on Pay Per View. Nobody watches Nascar for the racing, they watch it for the crashes and the post-crash handbags. So just ... get on with it. You know? They don't even have to be convicted felons on death row, they can just be crazy people who volunteer (not actual mental patients though, that would be beyond disgusting to do) to participate in our death driving circuit (DDC!). Think of the heroism, the intrigue, the highlights! I'm not even a violent person, and I don't enjoy watching it in really any form (except theatrical), but how could you not watch it? At least once! It's like bull fighting, only the bulls are people, and they're volunteering, and there are guns and lasers and explosions (I think I just fixed bullfighting too).

That works for car racing, but would it translate to the unshakable beacons of human sport: Baseball, basketball, football(s)? Would exploding baseballs and land mines work? Would people want to see their favorite NFL player's leg get caught in a bear trap? I don't think so (maybe their least favorite player ...). I think the difference is that those other sports have remained mostly-unchanged and successful for as long as they have because the sports are already fun and exciting at their core. You can tweak, and you should tweak, but a full futuristic renovation will lose what's already beloved. While the technology and methods of fan consumption will surely change, the actual gameplay of our great human sports will probably stay the same. Unless we're talking golf and tennis; time to spice those bastards up.

  • The Yankees have apparently won exclusive negotiation rights with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima with a $2 million bid. A star in Nippon Professional Baseball, Nakajima now has 30 days to negotiate a contract with the Yankees, else they lose their $2 million and their rights to the player. As a Mariners fan, I have to say, I'm the tiniest bit pissed off about this thing. I know I shouldn't expect every top Japanese player to end up in Seattle, and I'm not sure Ichiro wants to share the spotlight either, but for a measly $2 million bid (we've spent more on stupid free ballpark giveaways), the Mariners could've worked out a deal with a young Japanese star, at a position of need for the club, in the best market imaginable for his talents. I would've tossed some cash at a Kickstarter project to sign him for f*&%'s sake.
  • When the Chicago Bears were up 10-0 heading into the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that Tim Tebow was going to do something to orchestrate another late-game win for his team. I watched the score creep closer to equal on my phone while I drifted around the mall, soaking in the "holiday spirit" (ahhh shopping!). When the Bears gave the ball back to the Broncos up 10-7 with less than two minutes left, there was no doubt in my mind that game was, at the very least, going to overtime. Why the hell did I expect that? The easy answer is probability, but let's just call it religious magic instead. And sure enough, the game went to overtime, and as I walked deeper into the pit of the Christmas season (ahhh buying stuff!), there was a crowd of people huddled around a bank of TVs in the mall. It was all men, and they were all watching Broncos kicker Matt Prater line up a 51-yard field goal to win the game for the Broncos in overtime (Matt Prater for MVP?). My first thought was, "You can take a man out of his home, but he'll just recreate it somewhere else," and my second was, "This guy standing next to me in sweatpants yelling profanities at whoever would hear him is not safe." The kick went through, the Broncos won again, Tim Tebow thanked the lord profusely (He's a Broncos fan), and I slipped away from psycho-sweatpants and hid in a Gamestop.
  • This is how ridiculous this Tim Tebow delusion has gotten: ESPN has a poll that shows, state-by-state, which current NFL quarterback fans would want to lead their team to a 4th-quarter comeback. Aaron Rodgers thankfully finished first in the overall voting, with 41% of the vote, while Tom Brady barely squeaked ahead of Tim Tebow for second place (Drew Brees and Eli Manning finished behind Tebow ...). But in Colorado, 47% of fans would rather have Tim Tebow than Aaron Rodgers, who only received 30% of the votes! People in Colorado would rather have Tim Tebow than the quarterback of the undefeated defending Super Bowl champions and the QB who's threatening to break every passing record in the books this season. Serious question: Is winning ugly more fun?
  • I don't know why David Stern even tries to hide it anymore: Just remove all GMs from their teams, take full ownership of all basketball and financial operations for every team in the NBA, orchestrate and micro-manage every minute detail so your league is perfectly crafted to your personal liking, and invade Poland.
  • Wait, Matt Hasselbeck got hurt on Sunday? But that never happens!
  • Thanks to David Stern's infamous Chris Paul trade veto, multiple teams are falling apart and having to part ways with those included in the initial trade for pennies. The Lakers sent Lamar Odom to the Mavericks for a trade exception and a protected first-round pick, which made Kobe Bryant really happy, "I don't like it. To be honest with you, I don't like it. You're talking about the Sixth Man of the Year last year. He played lights out. I don't understand the criticism of reality shows and this, that and the other. I don't get it. I don't understand that. He had his best season last season, clearly wasn't a distraction, and he played his ass off. I don't get where that comes from." It comes from a team having to scramble to move Odom after stabbing a necessary knife in his back to pick up arguably the best point guard in the NBA, only to have the commissioner pull that knife out, show it to Odom, point to the team who did it, bandage him back up and send him back to his would-be-murderer like everything's going to be okay. And, the best part, the Lakers just made the defending Western Conference and NBA Champions better. What a disaster.
  • New Jersey Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov plans to run for the Russian presidency this year. Let's see how he'll do: Money for bribes? Check! ... Looks like he'll do okay.
  • Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, "The Special One," is going to be digitizing his talents for a cartoon series called, "Jose Mourinho and the Special Ones," where the Madrid manager will counsel children on how to be great footballers and great human beings. I could puke at how heart-warming that sounds. Never one to be left behind, the NFL has announced it will be airing its own cartoon series, called, "Rex Ryan and the Bleeping Bleeps," where New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will berate children in expletive-filled tirades before dunking them in sausage gravy and biting their heads off.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Quick Takes - Dear Major League Baseball

I just want to order one of these. Thanks please.

Dearest Major League Baseball. I have tried to order a Greg Halman jersey through your online shop on two different occasions now, and both times the order has been cancelled. The second order was processed by your people over the phone. Clearly there's a glitch in the system. I know you don't know me, and maybe you think I'm trying to order a Halman jersey for insensitive reasons, which wouldn't make sense at all, but I am trying to order a Halman jersey because I really liked him as a player, was excited to see him grow and mature into an everyday outfielder for my hometown team, and I don't want his memory to be tied to the tragedy that occurred in the Netherlands last month. I want to remember him as a Mariner. As a baseball player. As someone who contributed and can continue to contribute to the franchise, even if it's through a shared camaraderie with my fellow Mariner fans.

So, I'm not going to bother calling a third time to try to understand why my order was, once again, cancelled. I'm not going to re-place the order again, only to wait a week later to find out it's been cancelled without any explanation as to why it was cancelled and then having to pointlessly re-order a doomed order. I'm not going to spend my time on the phone trying to talk to someone who doesn't know why this keeps happening either. Just stop trying to morally police my jersey purchase. I would love to wear the Greg Halman jersey to Safeco Field next year; to honor and celebrate his contributions to the team in my own way. Feel free to give me a call. Or e-mail me. Or do whatever you need to do to get in touch with me. Because I'm tired of trying to hunt you down to understand why this system keeps bouncing back my fandom.

Love, Erik.

  • If you thought the power struggle in the NBA was over because the lockout ended, holy crap, were you wrong. David Stern just put his foot down in a way that completely undermines the CBA and his role as commissioner of basketball. Stern vetoed a trade between the league-owned New Orleans Hornets and the Houston Rockets & Los Angeles Lakers that would've brought point guard Chris Paul to LA. The league said they vetoed the trade for basketball reasons, which is completely absurd, and are going to end up losing Paul next year for nothing. This was someone with a burnt ego getting revenge, and the repercussions this might have around the league could be massive. Stern has completely lost his mind. The trade was good, from a basketball perspective, for everyone involved, even for the Hornets who were losing the best player in the deal. The Hornets were getting multiple starters and a first-round pick. Talk about a good way to turn a disgruntled, wantaway player into assets. But no, Stern has bent over backward to keep the struggling Hornets in New Orleans (after allowing them to move away from Charlotte ... hypocritical asshole), even going so far as to set arbitrary attendance marks that the team needed to hit in order to stay in New Orleans, and then allowing the team to give away free or super-discounted tickets to fans to hit the arbitrary mark. He's decided that this team is personal, unlike the Seattle Supersonics, who he treated like a McDonald's cheeseburger, and he's going to force them to hold onto an asset that will lose all value at the end of the year, just so New Orleans can have decent attendance this year and not have to relocate. I'm just in utter shock. And imagine how the Rockets and Lakers must feel right now. They had the opportunity to make their teams better, and the league said, "Nope, sorry." Oh, and don't forget that the league, after purchasing the financially-dead franchise and promising to return them to a fiscally responsible system, pulled off a trade last year that increased payroll! Everyone was up in arms, but Stern and Co. just buried it and kept plugging away. This Chris Paul thing is the exact opposite of that, but it all comes down to the same thing: David Stern does whatever benefits David Stern the most.
  • Leave it to Charles Barkley to nail the Tim Tebow situation: ""I want to make a personal plea to Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Mr. [Julius] Peppers, please stop the madness. I'm just so tired ... I like Tim Tebow. He seems like a good kid, and I wish him success, but I am Tebowed out. So this is my personal plea for you three guys, please stop this madness." I wish Charles Barkley would just follow me around and narrate my life. "These gas prices are turrible!" Indeed, Sir Charles, indeed.
  • In the past week, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Miami Marlins of Miami have spent over $500 million on free agents. Recession? Major League Baseball laughs at your silly "recession."
  • Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy got popped by Steelers linebacker Jerome Harrison last night and left the game for two plays. He returned shortly thereafter and ended up throwing the deciding interception in the Browns' loss. After the game, McCoy said he couldn't even remember the hit, and it was later confirmed that he had sustained a concussion on that play. Pat Shurmur, the Browns head coach, showed off the vast medical knowledge that most NFL coaches have and said, "He was fine to go back in." You nailed it, Dr. House.
  • A lot of people are questioning the value of Albert Pujols at 10 years/$250 million. The idea is that paying Pujols that cash right now makes sense because he's still very much in his prime, but even in five years, the Angels could be paying Pujols $25 million a season to sit on the bench and hold personal sunflower seed spitting-distance contests, which, you could argue, is not worth $25 million a season. But Pujols is moving to the American League, where he will have the opportunity in a few years to switch to DH once his legs and fitness start to go, extending his career and the value of that absurd contract. And with the increased attention and ticket/merchandise revenue the team is going to get from having him on the roster (in a big Latin American market), even if the final years of that contract end in a 41-year-old Pujols struggling to get his walker to the plate, from an economics standpoint, it still may be a financially-sound move. Alex Rodriguez's massive contract with the Yankees may have been a financial mistake, especially as his numbers begin to dwindle and his injuries go up, but a) the Yankees operate in a different economic world than the rest of baseball so they can absorb a bad contract and keep spending on top of it, and b) Pujols will be chasing big, historical marks toward the end of his career, and he will bring people to the ballpark regardless of how often and how well he's playing (plus he's infinitely more likable than Alex Rodriguez). People want to be a part of history, and Albert Pujols will be setting and re-setting records left and right in his final years in the MLB. So good job, LA. I wouldn't have given him that long of a contract (mostly because I don't believe in long-term contracts), but under these circumstances, it's hard to argue with his acquisition.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Quick Takes - Nocturnal admissions

I would have gone with you to the end, Aye Aye, into the very fires of Mordor.

I am not a morning person. I'm so not a morning person that I often try to stay up late enough at night that it absorbs the morning entirely and I sleep until the afternoon begins. It's always been a great system for me, my brain is most active and imaginative at night, but then I got a real job that pulls me out of happy slumber day in and day out like some strong-armed Lucha Libre wrestler toying with a midget wrestler (that's not offensive because they actually do that). The only things that have managed to successfully pull me out of bed early in the morning are a) work, b) travel, and c) Arsenal matches. But even then, the 4:45 a.m. Arsenal matches are always a doozy, because going to bed simply isn't an option. If I go to bed, I'm sure as hell not waking up a couple hours later only to fall asleep 10 minutes into the match and miss the whole thing entirely. So instead I stay up, I mow through energy drinks and try to distract myself with "Borderlands." There has to be a better solution than this.

I'm not suggesting that the English Premier League play all its matches in the wee hours of the British night to allow the handful of American viewers streaming matches to get a few extra hours of sleep. No, what we need is a standard time ... for the WORLD. Our bodies are incredibly resilient and adaptable. I know I personally would have no problem becoming a nocturnal creature, and anyone who didn't want to be nocturnal could move to a place where day = day. Day sports would be played in those countries, and night sports would be played in night countries, and then us night people would get to watch day sports in foreign countries and night sports domestically, all during our waking hours. Problem solved. We would create an entirely new nocturnal economy and we'd battle with the day traders (battle is a generous word), all the while, we're getting loads of sleep, watching great sports all around the globe, and not worrying so damn much about when the sun's going down. The sun is always down in our world, and we like it that way. Plus, we'd undoubtedly go through some evolutionary changes and become bioluminescent and develop super-eyes. And I'm already pale, so no worries on that end either.

  • The Angels have ruined everything. Not only did they swoop in and steal Albert Pujols from the Miami Marlins (for 10 years, $250 million ...), who are now pursuing Prince Fielder in response to losing out on Pujols, but they're also in the same division as the Mariners, which means the Mariners are even more behind the rest of the division than they already were (that's a helluva sentence; ugh, I can't even look at it again, it's hideous). And to make things even worse, the Angels have also signed arguably the top free agent pitcher on the market, C.J. Wilson, and are assembling one of the better starting rotations in baseball. But don't fret Mariners fans, Seattle is looking to bring back 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, because if we aren't going to win games, at least we can feel nostalgic about when we did.
  • Seattle is also reportedly interested in former Mariners Jeff Francis, Carlos Guillen, and Arthur Rhodes. Next, they will hire a crazy German to plasticize Dave Neihaus' body and place him in a dramatic pose inside the broadcast booth.
  • Jose Reyes told reporters he doesn't mind having to cut his luxurious dreadlocks to join the Miami Marlins (they have a team rule regarding hair length ... don't ask me, I'm just the messenger). I think for $100 million dollars, I would let each one of my hairs be plucked from my body with tweezers, so why is this a big deal? Why is him agreeing to cut his hair for $100m an actual news story? Can't we all just go, "well, yeah, of course, cut your dreads, who gives a shit," and not hear about it for a week on ESPN? Of course not. Hooray for 24-hour news networks. You enrich our lives.
  • Yes, Eddy Curry is signing with the Heat! This is going to be high comedy. He does know they're a basketball team, right?
  • LeBron James may have finally realized that "The Decision" was a bad one, but that doesn't change the fact that he's still remarkably delusional and unaware. James gave an interview to ESPN where he candidly talked about the mistakes he made, how he played terribly in the NBA Finals and that losing in the Finals was something he didn't think he'd ever have to face (he only referred to the one with the Heat, I guess he forgot about getting swept by the Spurs in an earlier NBA Finals), and that he hated being cast as the villain. LeBron used an all-too-willing corporate platform (again) to tell people that they shouldn't hate him anymore; that he's not a villain and that he's just going to go back to playing happy basketball. But do you just get to announce that decision to the world and move on with it? Doesn't "the world" have a say in this too? Just telling people you aren't a villain anymore doesn't change the perception people have of you, and announcing it, while a rare moment of honesty for James, in an ESPN-certified interview just undermines what you're trying to say. If you didn't want to be the villain, you didn't have to publicly stomp on your fans in an hour-long TV special, you didn't have to go to Miami and have that ludicrous WWE-style introduction with an overwhelmed Dwyane Wade and an out-of-his-element Giraffe screaming to the rafters, and you didn't have to wait until a year later to come out and have an honest moment with your fans about your decisions and your emotions. Sorry, LeBron, you are the villain still, and it's out of your hands to decide when that status gets to change. So just play hard, don't be a douche, and stop running to mommy ESPN every time you're feeling sensitive and want people to be nice to you.
  • New rules in the NBA?! It all looks, surprisingly, very promising: Emphasis on reducing bailout calls by officials on offensive players actively working to get fouls while shooting (players jumping into other players' arms on jump shots; jumping into contact in the lane and throwing up a shot to ensure it's a shooting foul), and an emphasis on speeding up the game (strict timeout stop and start times; fewer times when substitutions can occur; instant replays only viewable during full timeouts, not 20 second timeouts). The only thing missing is a rule that during intermission of every quarter, both players and fans get to throw swords and axes at a giant blow-up doll of David Stern positioned in the middle of the court. Maybe in the next CBA.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick Takes - The Mrs. Clause

No, Santa! She's too young!

I have watched "The Santa Clause 2" twice in the last week, which means it's officially the holiday season! I know, you're wondering why I get to declare the holiday season "official" based solely on my own arbitrary film selections; please don't ask questions, you just slow everyone else down. Tim Allen stars as Santa Claus (previously the cleverly-named Scott Calvin), and he's loving life as the big cheese: Santa approval ratings have never been higher with any other Santa before him. Pretty impressive. But then! He finds out that in order to stay as Santa Claus, he has to have a Mrs. Claus by Christmas! Twenty-eight days to find a wife or he goes back to his crappy life as Scott Calvin. Everyone in the North Pole goes freaking bonkers and Santa goes back to the United States to find himself a lady. It's the "Mrs. Clause." The plot is set.

But here's my question: Why not just have one of the elves volunteer to marry Santa? Sure, they might not have great chemistry or be a good match, but who gives a shit? No, really. All the elves love working for this Santa, and he's obviously doing a great job with toy distribution and child happiness, so can't one of those little lady elves bite the bullet and go for the arranged marriage? Are elves that ... wait for it ... selfish? Santa is supposed to be some sort of giant king elf, so it makes more sense for him to marry an elf instead of some random woman (aka a different species); are they encouraging bestiality in this movie? Maybe there was a sub-Mrs. Clause that stated it had to be a human to prevent this type of thing, but, man, who wrote this freaking contract? In the end, Santa falls in love with the principal of his son's school, tells her he's Santa and that he needs to marry her, she, naturally, freaks out and thinks he's a sociopath (which he sort of is, but that's neither here nor there), and all looks lost for Santa and the North Pole.

Even THEN, none of the elves stepped forward and said, "You know what, I'll take care of this. It can't be that bad, right? I'll have a lot of alone time. I won't have to do this bullshit sweatshop labor anymore. And I'll basically rule this place like the First Lady of Christmas. I think marrying that giant fat elf is worth it. So I will marry Santa and save Christmas. You're all welcome. Now get me some hot cocoa and cookies because I'm Mrs. Claus and I need to fatten up for my husband."

  • The Miami Marlins have one strategy this winter: Buy everyone ever. They don't care who you are, they don't care what your market value is, they're going to go after you and give you a contract worth $100 million. They don't want to have any negotiations, they don't want to talk, they want to pay you $100 million and go back to drinking mohitos on the beach. They don't care about their ugly ass uniforms or the federal investigation into their financial practices. They don't care that they just ripped off the fans in their own city to pay for a new stadium despite having a huge surplus of cash. They're just going to buy free agents. All the free agents.
  • Seattle Mariners target Prince Fielder is also a target of the Miami Marlins, because he's a free agent and, dammit, they're going to try to buy him, but who would want to live in humid, crappy Miami over the lovely town of Seattle? The night life may be great in Miami, but the real life is going to leave you wanting, Prince Fielder. We have everything you could ever want here in Seattle: Flying fish, mountains, volcanoes (ahhh!), the Pacific Ocean (best ocean ever!), a retractable roof, a delirious fanbase, and a huge audience in Japan. You think being a Miami Marlin is going to be good for your image? Sign with the Mariners and go to Japan on vacation. Seriously. Whatever bonuses you think you'll get from the Latin American community will pale in comparison to the Japanese adoration you'll receive as a member of the Mariners. You're going to be treated like a king (puns really don't get old, do they?). The Japanese love giant Americans who play sports, almost as much as Americans love tiny Japanese who play sports. It's a weird thing our two countries have going right now, and quite poignant that this is all coming up on the anniversary of the day the Japanese bombed Josh Hartnett.
  • Erik Bedard has a home, and, holy shit thank you baseball Jesus, it's not with the Seattle Mariners! Bedard has signed a $4.5 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates (he must've turned down the $100 million offer from the Marlins because Miami is hot and sticky), which means the Pirates basically just took $4.5 million and set it on fire. Good luck out there, you irritable, injury-prone bastard. And thank you, Pittsburgh. We owe you one.
  • The Green Bay Packers have a grandfathered rule that allows them to sell shares of their team to the public (NFL teams can't sell stakes in the team for profit, except the Packers ...), and have re-opened the bidding for 250,000 shares to the world. Over 1,000 shares sold in the first minute of bidding, all for the low, low rate of $250, and it's expected that all 250k shares will inevitably sell out. You may think that's a good investment -- buying a stake in one of the more profitable franchises in all of sports -- but you have limited voting rights, you don't gain any cash if the shares go up, you have no additional involvement with the team whatsoever from being a shareholder, and you can't sell your share after you've bought it. But you do get a paper certificate you can hang on your wall. Yay. Are the Green Bay Packers run by that "Get A Star Named After You!" company?
  • After rumors swirled around the NFL that Brett Favre would come out of retirement to helm the quarterback-less Chicago Bears, Favre is now unequivocally telling the media that no, he's not coming back if the Bears call, he's staying retired. And we know that when Brett Favre says he's retired, he's retired.
  • Tracy McGrady has agreed to a deal with the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks' medical staff just collectively sighed. But hey, overtime is time and a half, guys!
  • Retiring Orlando Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide says he wasn't drunk when he totally drunk-dialed Dwight Howard the other night, which some are speculating prompted his sudden decision to step down as CEO in a last-ditch attempt to keep a disgruntled (and probably weirded-out) Howard in Orlando. We've all been there, Bob. We've all been there.
  • Both Manchester United and Manchester City were knocked out of the Champions League today, which means Arsenal is clearly the better team in every way, shape, and form. Carry on.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quick Takes - Robot vicars

This could get awkward.

I watched the last Arsenal match on my phone, in bed, on a Web site running Flash that I've never been able to access with a mobile device before. It was one of those wow moments in my technological life, which maybe says a lot about my life (let's just move on), but for all the struggles I had with the iPhone to watch Arsenal matches without having to get out of bed (let's just move on from this too), switching to an Android phone has been a revelation. Flash, on my phone, on a big, beautiful crystal clear screen, without having to even break the heat seal of the morning bed. I know that in a few years streaming matches will probably move away from Flash on the Internet anyway, so this will be a short-lived win for my streaming life (sounds like a shitty reality TV show), but for now, the mobile war I've been battling for years has a robot victor. As opposed to a robot vicar, which would be kinda awesome and would certainly not be programmed to molest altar boys, unless the programmer decided that's something a robot vicar should do (not sure why a programmer would do that, but programmers are weird and gross). That wouldn't really be the robot's fault, it'd the programmer's fault.

How in the world did I get to molesting robot priests when all I wanted to do is gloat about my cool new Android phone? Not that I'm molesting robot priests, they're "molesting robot priests" ... you see the distinction? Or maybe the proper grammar would be "molesting-robot priests," but that makes it sound like they are priests who only molest robots, which isn't accurate for either molesting robot priests or regular molesting priests. Okay, I've got it figured out, they're "molesting robot-priests." I swear I'm good at English and not a sociopath.

  • ESPN's in trouble again, this time for its selection for when/when not to use subtitles. ESPN chose not to use subtitles on a white girl with cerebral palsy who was difficult to understand, but chose to use subtitles on an impoverished black man who was equally as "difficult to understand." Their reasoning behind not using/using subtitles came down to a problem with overthinking: Too many focus groups, too many people being asked if they could understand speech, and a confirmation biased approach to subtitling; adding subtitles ahead of time and then asking people if they thought they were needed. "Did these subtitles help you understand that person?" Wait, there was a person? I was just reading text. Yes, that text helped me read better. Thank you, ESPN.
  • Greg Oden, or as I like to call him, Greg Lincoln, for his uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln (and my suspicions of Marfan Syndrome being the cause for Oden's injury issues), is leaning toward accepting Portland's qualifying offer of $8.8 million for this year, allowing him to be an unrestricted free agent in 2012. A little word of advice for Greg Oden: You've been injured basically since you came out of the womb. Take the money. Take the ridiculous $8.8 million that Portland is mind-numbingly offering you. You have no idea how long you're going to be healthy and in the league. So take the money. There's nothing to think about. It's $8.8 million for god's sake. You probably won't even play this year, and they'll just give you money to not play. Take the money! Why is this even a discussion?!
  • The New Orleans Hornets are apparently approaching the Chris Paul situation (Paul has allegedly handed in a trade request to the Hornets to go to the Knicks and be with his BFF Carmelo Anthony) with "eyes wide open," according to David Aldridge. I think eyes wide open is the preferred method of negotiation, unless they want to try to lure him to stay with some weird sex party.
  • The annual MLB Winter Meetings are taking place in Dallas, Texas. What that means, for you laypeople, is that you can watch old white men walking around hallways on a live webcam! Finally!
  • I have to admit, I was really excited about the NBA lockout. I was desperately hoping that LeBron would star in "Kazaam 2," Delonte West's rap career would take off, and Metta World Peace would, I don't know, move to Nepal or something and try to get the Dalai Lama drunk on Hypnotiq. I'm a bit disappointed that it's over now, but there's a new form of excitement brewing in my belly, one of the post-lockout, where fat players desperately try to get back into shape, thinking they'd have a full year off to lounge about and pursue other interests and then using the next offseason to get back into shape, only to realize a little too late that they don't have enough time to get into proper shape for this season and running around gassed like Oliver Miller for the first 30 games of the season. Someone needs to make a drinking game to this: The NBA Fitness Challenge.
  • What the hell is happening in Denver, where the Broncos are now 6-1 under Tim Tebow after another dramatic win on Sunday? I chose hell intentionally because of Tim Tebow and his inability to say a sentence without referencing god and Jesus and religion, which is probably the most obnoxious thing in human history outside of Criss Angel's whole existence. I don't have a problem with Tebow's religiosity, honestly, I don't, but can't he find something to say that's his own, creative thought? Can't he find something to say that isn't a reference to god and the Bible, especially when asked questions about something as trivial as a sport? There's just got to be more to him than religious finger puppetry.

Golfpunk: The Icy Fairways, Part VI

Written by Erik Ian Larsen & Lucius Wisniewski/Illustration by Lucius Wisniewski

Click the image to view in full resolution!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quick Takes - Them!

I've come to eat your carrots.

The largest insect ever found has been discovered by an explorer in New Zealand. Called the Giant Weta Bug, this creature has a wingspan of, wait for it, seven inches, and weighs as much as three mice. I'm not sure why they didn't just weigh it with a scale, instead of releasing details in cryptic mouse measurements ... "This human is 102 mice tall! Amazing!" The Giant Weta Bug is a known species, but none has ever been found this large, which makes this big bastard (see above) the largest bug on record and the number one enemy of humanity, thanks to our unnatural fear of insects. At least until the prawns arrive on our planet and are forced to live in shanty towns in South Africa because their mothership is stranded in the atmosphere without anyone to fly her away from the trigger-happy humans.

I've been trying to figure out why insects strike such fear in the human heart. Is it some sort of evolutionary thing? Where insects have represented something to our species for so long -- pestilence, crop death, disease, etc. -- that we are naturally predisposed to fear and dislike them as a means of species survival? Or, and this is where I think the truth really is, are we evolutionarily JEALOUS of the insect?! Oooo, you didn't see that coming, did you? Insects have pretty much everything figured out, and I think when we see their physical and social traits, we get a little butthurt and spray them with nuclear cans of Raid because we can't stand how awesome they are. Exoskeletons, organized societies and colonies, tremendous reproductive rate, population growth that would make India green with envy, super strength, super environmental resistance, poisons, pincers, cool jaws, stingers ... the list goes on and on! If insect brains got even close to a primatological level, we might as well just move to a different planet. Or join them as their pets and/or literary entertainers. I would volunteer to write insect-related fiction (sci fi, fantasy, insect sports columns, whatever they needed) to satisfy their insatiable thirst for the written word.

  • Some NFL teams have water boys who run out onto the field during breaks to give players a squeeze of fresh water, but the Seattle Seahawks have taken things to another level: Marshawn Lynch, the always-entertaining running back and purveyor of "Beast Mode" in the Emerald City, has his own personal SKITTLES COACH, who feeds him Skittles after touchdowns and even runs onto the field occasionally to give him Skittles during a timeout. Marshawn Lynch is fueled by Skittles. It apparently started as a kid; after he'd score a touchdown his mother would give him a bag of Skittles after the game as a reward. And now, as a full grown man and NFL star, he's decided, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Taste the rainbow.
  • In an effort to actually fulfill his role as the third wheel of Miami's "Big Three," Chris Bosh has added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and has vowed to be more aggressive. Problem is, have you ever seen what an aggressive giraffe looks like? It's awkward and horrifying.
  • Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was demonstratively apathetic during last night's brutal loss to the Seattle Seahawks (woo!), being caught on camera zoned out while quarterback Vince Young tried to work out pass routes with him, not running hard on routes, and warming up with the defensive linemen instead of the wide receiver group prior to the start of the game. When asked about his display after the loss, Jackson handled things like a pro: "If that's what they saw, that's what they saw. I don't have to sit here and answer them questions. My teammates know what it is. I'm not answering none of that type of question. If you're going to ask something about the game, do that. You're asking questions that don't even mean nothing. Next question." Aside from disappointing grammar, Jackson seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders, eh? This is why people love and sympathize with professional athletes, because of their hard work, dedication, and humility.
  • Is Bill Buckner headed back to Boston? The infamous first-baseman, who Boston Red Sox fans unfairly crucified for an error in the World Series decades ago, may be returning to the Red Sox as a hitting coach under new manager Bobby Valentine. If they can rig a machine that chucks live babies at the plate, Buckner would get those Red Sox hitters all batting 1.000. I hope I'm not the only one who obsesses over "Curb Your Enthusiasm," because if I am, everyone will think a) that joke is weird, and b) I'm weird. I guess the latter is true regardless of the joke.
  • Former Liverpool winger and current Hoffenheim star Ryan Babel had a run-in recently with Spongebob Squarepants. Not the actual Spongebob, because that's just impossible, but a man he hired to come to a kids' birthday party dressed as Spongebob to entertain the kids. When the man arrived, he took off his Spongebob helmet and started smoking cigarettes in front of the kids. Babel confronted him, and the man said, "EYY MAN ... EFF YOU AND THESE UGLY ASS KIDS ... I JUST GOT OUT, AND I’M HERE TO GET PAID." Spongebob was fresh from prison! And that prospect caused Babel to choke up, telling Spongebob that he could, in fact, smoke, just not to blow it in the kids' faces. The best part of this story is that Spongebob Convictpants was actually stand-up comic Kevin Hart playing a prank. Let's all laugh at Ryan Babel. He clearly hates children.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quick Takes - Fact checking

And which guns are these?

I saw a sign on the back of a totally douched-out pickup truck the other day, that said, "Guns don't kill people, abortion clinics do." No no, guns do kill people. Seriously. They do. Have you seen the news? Have you read a newspaper? They for sure kill people. Say what you want about abortion clinics (actually don't, just keep it to yourself and stop trying to force people to live their lives the way you want to live your own), I don't need to talk about them here, but guns for sure kill people. All over the world, people are being killed with guns. They're probably the biggest reason why people are killed, other than heart disease and car accidents (and Kathy Griffin's voice).

So if you're going to drive a douchey pickup truck -- and when I say douchey I mean lifted suspension, tinted windows, giant off-road tires that are super useful in suburban Washington, truck balls, No Fear stickers, crazy bumper stickers, and Dodge Ram accessories attached to every conceivable light -- with all sorts of unnecessarily-inflammatory bumper stickers just to be a massive asshole to every stranger who happens to drive behind your diesel-guzzling ozone killer, at least try to make a coherent point. Cite a few studies, show your sources proudly, treat your truck bumper like a research paper! And don't just use Wikipedia, really sink your teeth into the fact-finding mission. Who knows, maybe you'll stumble upon a scientific journal or two and, mistaking them for stereo instructions, end up reading something scientifically accurate and learn something new. Or just learn something period. And maybe you'll actually decide to change your mind, and you'll work relentlessly to pull the sticker off your bumper, only to realize that it's been on there too long and the glue has formed a symbiotic bond with the metal, so you just end up with this crappy white sticker-peach fuzz where your bad science once lived. Still though ...

  • A little personal moment I feel like sharing: I ordered a Greg Halman jersey today from MLB.com. Go Mariners. And much love for Halman and his family. I was really excited to watch him grow into his potential and become a great MLB outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, as I'm sure everyone else was too, and while I'll never get to see what he would've become, I can at least honor him and remember him every time I put on that jersey.
  • Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki wants to leave Japan and play in the Major Leagues, and has said he will only play for the Seattle Mariners. Wait, someone actually wants to play for our team?! Can someone get Munenori on the phone with Prince Fielder?
  • Josh Freeman likes to shoot guns in his time off from the NFL. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback apparently forgot he had a thumb injury, which was supposed to heal over the team's bye week, and went shooting with his father. An unexpected recoil at the gun range re-injured his thumb and now it looks like he'll miss the team's next game. Freeman at least understood the stupidity of the situation, "In hindsight, it wasn't the smartest decision, but I've got to learn from it. No more shooting guns in season." Unless you're Plaxico Burress. Or Marvin Harrison. Or Aqib Talib. Or Shaun Rogers. Or Chris Cook. Or Laurence Maroney. Or Robaire Smith. Or Ronald Fields. Or Gerald Sensabaugh. Or Marshawn Lynch. Or Donte Whitner. Or Willie Andrews. You know what, we're all the way back to 2008 now. Let's just let bygones be bygones.
  • Leave it to an interim athletic director to come up with the stupidest ideas. Interim AD Paul Pendergast, who sounds like an unlikable character from Harry Potter, thought it would be a good idea for everyone in attendance at UConn basketball and football games to say the Pledge of Allegiance, including the "under god" nasty bits, before the national anthem was played. Not only is it exhausting and a bit humiliating to have to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance just to watch a goddamn sports game, but a) why are we so concerned with these public displays of patriotism during sporting events when half of the players weren't even born in America? Are American sports fans threatened by international success in American sports? And b) if we're going to say it, why don't we try it they way they said it for 150 years before the "under god" was pointlessly added in the 1950s by Catholics with ridiculous government power.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named Nascar's most popular driver for the ninth straight year, which makes him 23,349th in the overall sports standings. Get it? Because people hate Nascar? You get it.