Thursday, January 27, 2011

*Melo-Drama: Legacy of the Superfriends

Watching the New Jersey Nets' futile attempts to land Carmelo Anthony has been like watching seniors have sex: it's awkward, depressing, and you just know it's going to end with both parties getting hurt. After weeks of public speculation, posturing, name mentioning, and ego stroking, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov finally took the classic Russian strategy and pulled out after the damage had already been unquestionably done. The level of star-player ass-kissing in the NBA is now reaching ridiculous levels and we have the Miami Axis of Evil to thank for it.

When Lebron James and his annoying, tag-along kid brother, Chris Bosh left their respective teams for the greener pastures and lush media market of Miami, they set a new precedent for the way players are expected to carry themselves in their pursuits for title rings. The trick to this new-age practice of me-first sportsmanship is making it about the rings. You want to leave the team and city that made you a multi-millionaire, and an international celebrity because you think this other team can give you a better chance at a title. Magic won 5 titles with the same team. Micheal won 6. These are the heroes that history will remember as true champions and ambassadors of the sport. Role models. If Miami goes off for a half dozen titles the public will give them as much credit as a kid playing franchise mode on Xbox set to easy so he can stack his team and go 82-0. The line has been drawn. If you want to compete just text your buddies and coordinate a mass exodus to a team on the rise.

The NBA is traditionally a league that is driven by the star power of their premier players, but gone are the days of GM's and owners being able to keep these brats in check to any plausible degree. Spoiled-rotten players are now only one Tweet away from essentially holding their franchises ransom, with a list of demands complete with pizza for the hostages and a helicopter on the roof to whisk them away to a city of their choosing. Why embrace qualities such as perseverance, loyalty, and class when one can simply disregard these relics for the far trendier traits like self-gratification, elitism, and the raising of one's profile?

Carmelo Anthony (and more specifically his wife) saw the circus that became the Miami Heat this past summer. With his contract about to expire why not bolt for the hometown Knicks? Who's to stop him? The Nuggets now find themselves in a position where they have to move a player against their will. A player they have spent the past eight years building their franchise around. They're also in a position where the entire league knows just how desperate they are to get something, anything, to show for their massive investment.

Sports is after all a business, and investments need to produce returns or you FAIL. This is a notion lost on this generation of athlete; They are the source of revenue for these businesses. These teams pour millions into marketing, merchandising, and payroll to make star players star players. Somewhere along the line said athletes grow a misplaced sense of entitlement and seem to forget that it is a two way street, this business of sports. The pampering is taken for granted and they begin to believe that they are in fact the larger-than-life deities their Nike ads portray them as.

The Nets pulled out all the stops to bring Carmelo to the Jersey shore, but in the end it simply wasn't good enough. Melo is going to be Knick sooner or later, regardless if the team that gave him a career gets a return, or the team that wanted him gets their image dragged through the mud, and both get a roster full of disgruntled team mates. Why should that concern Carmelo? Carmelo isn't playing in either of those cities next year so why should he care? Where is the accountability? The same will go for Chris Paul. The same will go for Deron Williams. The same will go for whatever big-name free agents are available year-in and year-out from this season forward. Parity be damned, the NBA is now a league of cool kids and science geeks. Get used to it. Thanks a lot Lebron...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

*Anthopoulos is Aces (so far...)

The sporting landscape in Toronto looks like a scene out of "The Road"; A barren, desolate landscape, devoid of warmth or sunlight, where the inhabitants are restlessly scouring the earth for some sort of hope, or at least sustenance to make it through another day. A little much? Well, when in Rome.

Let's examine the evidence:

Bryan Colangelo came dripping swagger into power with the Raptors, but as we approach the fifth anniversary of his hiring we have seen a team in constant flux with an almost yearly house cleaning and very little results. They currently sit 12th in the east.

Brian Burke came aboard as Maple Leafs GM with similar hype and confidence, and although he seems to make all the right moves, he is dealing with a franchise so deeply entangled in futility that he may not even last to see the fruits of his labour finally pay off. They currently sit 12th in the east.

Toronto FC...well, it says something about your state of affairs when your star captain (a Toronto native) gives your team the big F.U. to tryout for another club without permission or notice. They finished with 9 wins in 30 games and have yet to make the playoffs in their existence.

The Toronto Blue Jays finished 4th yet again in the AL East, but for good reason this statistic is somewhat misleading. They finished 4th in the toughest division in baseball while having a 10 win improvement over the previous season, and after losing the best pitcher in baseball. Not too shabby, and the reason for this startling forward progression is because of the astute vision of rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos.

Upon his hiring in 2009 Anthopoulos had a daunting task placed in front of him as his first order of business; trade Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher in the league and the heart, soul, and face of the franchise for umpteen years. He handled the task with veteran panache, scoring one of the top young pitching prospects available in Kyle Drabek. He followed that up by fleecing the dumbstruck Mariners by acquiring ace starter Brandon Morrow for average middle reliever Brandon League. Not a bad start.

Moving forward Anthopoulos outlined a legitimate and feasible vision for how the team was going to be handled, and has stuck to his word to a tee. The focus would be to stockpile young assets and to focus on building from within, while having a strong focus on pitching depth. With the acquisitions of players such as Drabek, Yunel Escobar, Adeiney Hechavarria, Travis D'Arnaud, and Brett Lawrie he did just that. Lawrie, considered by many to be a blue-chip prospect, came in a high-risk deal that sent Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee. This move was met with question marks by many fans and pundits, but it speaks to the confidence AA has in his young starting rotation, and you don't often get high rewards without taking high risks. The kid's got balls.

Going into this latest off-season the Jays had several roster holes needing solutions. The corner infield positions were in flux, as was the catching situation, the team lacked a legitimate closer, and needed to add speed to the top of the order. Triple-A MVP J.P. Arencibia and veteran back-up Jose Molina will take care of the catching duties. A re-tooled Aaron Hill and a cheaper Edwin Encarnacion will handle 3rd base, and the latter will double as a first baseman in a platoon situation with Adam Lind. The acquisition of Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch creates a solid internal battle for the closer's position and adds depth to the bullpen. Free agent singing Rajai Davis will add forty to fifty stolen bases and outfield mobility. Check, check, check and check, and all within the plan he set in place when he started out.

Beyond all of those roster questions, Anthopoulos also had to replace an outgoing potential hall of fame manager in Cito Gaston. Over fifty candidates were interviewed for the position with no stone being left unturned in the search for the right synergy. In the end AA settled on John Farrell, a man with no Major League management experience. Dumb move? Think again. John Farrell has a resume that includes five years as a head of player development in Cleveland, and four years as the pitching coach for Boston. A track record that directly mirrors the game plan of the Anthopoulos regime. Me thinks me sees a trend here.

The only hurdle left to conquer this off season is the arbitration of reigning Major League home run king Jose Bautista, which according to sources should only be a formality as Bautista is very happy in Toronto and will likely re-sign. AA also avoided going to arbitration with Escobar and Jason Frasor, signing both to one-year deals, taking care of the team's short-term needs at their respective positions while giving the team flexibility in the long-term.

It is still far too early to grade the job Anthopoulos has done with these Blue Jays. There are too many what-ifs and yet-to-be-seens to know exactly how deep an impact he will make on a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since the World Series glory days of 1993. There is however, one distinct attribute these Jays can boast that no Jays team has been able to over that span: direction. Alex Anthopoulos is a man with a plan, and even though the arms race in the AL East is always the toughest, this team looks poised to compete.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

*Onion Sportsdome Long Overdue

A lot has happened since we kissed 2010 goodbye: The Seahawks sneaked into the playoffs with a losing record and somehow upset the defending champs, Team Canada screwed the pooch for 20 minutes and settled for silver in the World Junior Hockey Championships, and Lebron James defied the odds by making himself into an even bigger douche when he dissed his hometown again, this time over Twitter. All of these things are awesome, but last night the world got sportsed in a whole new way. Enter "Onion Sportsdome", a satirical take on ESPN's "Sportscenter". Think "The Daily Show" with less facts and more ridiculousness.

The glory of the format lies in the details, and the guys at "The Onion"  have got them nailed. From the sets, graphics, and riff-wailing live band to the testosterone-laden mile-a-minute rhetoric and lack of interest in soccer (the button for soccer on their website is labeled "Women's sports / Soccer"), this show oozes authenticity. It's this realistic approach that makes the over-the-top content so hilarious, and just like "The Daily Show" & "The Colbert Report" the jokes do, on some level, make a statement. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh rewriting the NBA rulebook to make the game cooler, the city of St. Louis giving Albert Pujols a working key to the city and opening the homes and fridges of it's residents in an attempt to get him to re-sign, Alex Rodriguez writing, directing, and starring in a broadway musical, all comedic gold and not-so-subtle shots at the ridiculous egos we nurture in the sporting world.

The arrival of  The 'Dome, at least to me, seems long overdue. There is Terminatoresque body count to the amount of spoof news shows that have tried to duplicate the success of "The Daily Show", but none have skewered the unique tone of sports broadcasting. There are so many aspects of this medium that are hilarious in and of themselves that all one needs to do is embellish the style only slightly to achieve the perfect comedic pitch, and Onion Sportsdome seems to have done that beautifully. The absurdity of the stories being reported seem to fit perfectly into the context of the show because the people presenting them to you are caricatures themselves.

The writing is top-notch, the anchors banter with the best, and the content is hilariously (and surprisingly) poignant. Here's hoping we get a lot more 'Dome in the future.