Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Of Quarterbacks and Kings

> August 19th, 2009

New York, NY

So the first full week of preseason football is in the books, and it’s time to take a look around and assess the quarterback situation around the league. More than any season since I can remember, QBs were all over the news, so let’s start with the ones that garnered the most headlines.

Kyle Orton

Mr. Black was really pulling for Kyle Orton, but reviews out of Broncoland were lukewarm at best. In mini-camps and training camp rumors were that Chris Simms was pushing Orton hard and at times looked much better. Coach Babyface was quick to squelch those rumors and give Orton his full blessing leading up to the first preseason game against the Niners.

Three interceptions later, Josh McDaniels might want to reconsider his blessing. After Simms easily outplayed Orton in week one, McDaniels was quick to give more verbal support for Orton, but it will be really difficult to defend him if the turnovers keep piling up and Simms looks sharp again. You have to wonder if Coach Babyface wants to stick with Orton only because he demanded a QB in return. Obviously it will look like he misjudged talent if Simms, who was already on the roster, gets the nod to start.

Still, Mr. Black gives it another week before Simms gets a start, and is looking for him to be named starter before week one. Nothing will hurt McDaniels more than an 0-3 start, especially against marshmallows like the Browns, Bengals and Raiders.

Jay Cutler

Jay “Supercuts” Cutler also had a rough start. He had some trouble handling the blitz and threw a few turnovers of his own. Unlike most other professionals he was quick to deflect some blame onto his receivers:

"Devin is more of a go-get it guy, he is not really a back shoulder or jump up and get it [guy],'' Cutler said. "You learn from it. We made some mistakes. It's the first preseason game. Luckily enough, we have some time to correct them and keep going."

- Jay Cutler

The Windy City spin machine quickly went into damage control, explaining that Jay wasn’t throwing Devin Hester under the bus, but actually was explaining it was his fault for throwing the wrong pass. Ummm, riiiiiiiiiight.

This seems to be the Cutler M.O. in Chicago. He’ll attack a person or group with negative comments (ie, Denver’s fans, Devin Hester) and once he realizes he’s spoken out of turn, backpedals and the spin begins. Personally, I can’t wait to see how he spins his first three interception game when he’s forced to play without all the weapons he had in Denver, or his first 38 – 35 loss, when he pops off about how “the defense let this one slip away.” At the end of the day, he’s just an immature kid that can’t deal with being a leader. How will he deal with a season where he isn’t mentored by a head coach?

Either way, it will be fun to watch since right now it’s still a love affair between the Bears faithful and their strong-armed (but poorly shorn) quarterback. When this one blows up, it will be spectacular.

Peyton Manning

The hits keep coming, as Peyton Manning had roughly 5 yards passing in his first preseason game. Peyton is a notoriously slow starter, and has often voiced his disdain for preseason football, so I’d expect another great year. Especially with little bro making more money.

Brett Favre

And finally, Brett Favre has again decided to play football. Like a child who won’t let go of a toy, Brett clings to the glory days and still thinks he can be competitive. Unlike last year, though, fans are wise to his ploy and are calling him out as a has-been who just wanted to duck training camp.

More to come over the course of the NFL season, including the headline “Heartbreaking loss for Vikings as Favre throws four INTs.”

Be posting again soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jim Johnson, (May 26, 1941 – July 28, 2009)

July 29th, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

July of 2009 has probably been the worst month on record for famous people in sports and pop culture. A partial list of those who have left us this month include Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Chronkite, Ed McMahon, Arturo Gatti, Steve McNair and Vernon Forrest.

But the one loss that Mr. Black is compelled to write about is Jim Johnson. There isn’t a single Eagles fan (or Philly native) that I know who hasn’t commented on his passing, and a ton of football figures agree.

“There was no fine man than Jim Johnson,” said owner Jeffrey Lurie. Ex-players agree, even eliciting a very honest and emotional blog post by Brian Dawkins, who extolled Johnson’s toughness and ability to develop schemes to make players their best.

If you can judge the character of a man by what people say when he’s gone, we’ve obviously lost a legend of the gridiron. If you need other proof, just ask any fan who has the best defense in the league over the last few years, and almost all of them would put Philly in the top three to five.

We’ll all miss the NFL Tonight highlights of the Iggles returning fumbles off the blitz for TDs, the big hits over the middle and sacks of whoever the Redskins put under center year after year.

Wishing his family the best in what’s an obviously tough time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Just Go Away Already

July 15th, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

So it’s been a month between posts. Part of it’s laziness and part of it’s that the summer months aren’t the most interesting in the world of sports for Mr. Black. Baseball doesn’t really matter until August and outside of a few major trades/contract disputes the NFL isn’t too interesting.

But in the lull of sports called the Major League Baseball All-Star Break, one little news item caught my attention and brought me back to the keyboard.

Brett Favre.

Brett, we all know you want to stick it to the Packers. We all know how important it is that you can “give it your all” and how important it is to “make the right decision.”

We also all saw you fail miserably last year with the J-E-T-S. JETS! JETS! JETS! Then we all saw you run like hell after ripping apart the organization and costing Mangenius (#1 on the list of unfortunate nicknames in sports) his job.

So take note: You are no longer the lion in winter, the graybeard that represents the old school who does things right. You’re just another “look at me” athlete with an ego too big to survive without the cameras. Take a look and read this next paragraph slowly.

We don’t like you. Most of the fans never have. The fact that Chris Berman loves you is a pretty good clue no one else does. You never deliver in the clutch, throw too many INTs and should have left four years ago. So please, exit stage left. Now.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Miami Beach, FL
June 7th, 2009

AB: 194
R: 18
H: 38
HR: 2
RBI: 22
BA: .198

Today, I'm officially starting the countdown until "the best baseball fans in the world" the Boston Red Sox fans, turn on David Ortiz and run him out of town. The organization has a history of eating it's own, and the fans are as fickle as their rivals to the south, so it will be interesting to see if Big Papi lasts until August.

In the meantime, enjoy the following link to The Onion Sports:

Crushing Dreams

Miami Beach, FL
June 7th, 2009

It seems that Marvin Lewis isn’t just happy crushing the dreams of Bengals fans, but also crushing the dreams of school children.

In a good idea gone horribly wrong, about 20,000 elementary- and middle-school students received a voice mail from Coach Lewis inviting them to Paul Brown Stadium this summer for a Bengal-sponsored event rewarding students with a 4.0 GPA. There was only one problem….the call went out to ALL students in the district, not just the 4.0 GPA students. Just one more example of technology making everyone’s life better.

Anyway, the problem was quickly fixed, as the parents of the dummies who have GPAs under 4.0 received calls uninviting them to the event. So those lucky parents got to tell their kids that, no, they don’t get to meet the coach of the team with the sixth-worst record in the NFL. Lots of little dreams were dashed last year, just like the Bengals’ playoff hopes after week 7.

My question is this: Why not turn a negative into a positive and invite all the kids to hear Coach speak anyway? After all, that’s pretty cool for a little kid to go to the stadium during the offseason. Lewis could even give a little motivational speech about hard work and reaching goals, and reward all the 4.0 students with a autograph or photo. Maybe even Ocho Cinco could come down with his buddy Carson Palmer.

Wouldn’t it be nice to show the kids that with a little work, come great rewards, rather than just ruin their week? Just a thought.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Has Baseball Started Yet?

May 25th, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

NOTE: Before reading realize I had no time to proof and rewrite. I apologize to you and the English Language.

I've always said that baseball doesn't matter until July, so basically up until that point I only pay casual attention to it. This year, however, Mr. Black had a little more cause than usual to watch.

The Yankees opened the New Yankee Stadium™ successfully destroying nearly 100 years of tradition and pricing all but the most wealthy fans out of their seats. After realizing that having 10 empty rows behind home plate looks bad on TV, they quickly cut prices in the most expensive seats by 50%, meaning it was only $425,000 for a season seat behind home place.

Also, Alex Rodriguez was the latest player to get busted for steroids. Knowing that he is only slightly more sane than a 16-year old on prom night, it was fully expected that he’d quickly fold like a house of cards this year, saddling the Yankees with another multi-gazillion dollar contract.

Finally, it was time to watch all the fun in Los Angeles, as Mr. Black’s least-favorite team would get a whole year’s worth of Manny Ramirez…which would truly test Joe Torre’s innate ability to ignore the massive ego that is the modern baseball star.

Well, the early season hasn’t disappointed. The New Yankee Stadium™ is a complete disaster. A-Roid came out swinging the hottest bat in the league. Manny tested positive and as a bonus David Ortiz is cold as ice, Barry Zito is so cold that after three years he’s become Encino Man and the Yankees are suddenly in second place, only a game out of first. What a great two months. Let’s take a closer look.

The New Yankee Stadium™
Besides being the most expensive ticket in pro sports on a game-to-game basis, the “house that greed built” also is averaging more homer runs per game than Coors Field did in it’s first year.

Stop and read that line again.

Yes, Coors Field gave up an average of 3.7 home runs per game in it’s first year. That was with a starting rotation of Kevin Ritz (the staff ace), Billy Swift (the ever-present high-priced free agent that promptly had a 101.32 ERA), Armando Reynoso (The Silent Assassin, the only guy that understood you had to pitch down in Coors Field), Bryan Rekar (no idea who that was and I lived there at the time) and Starvin’ Marvin Freeman. None of these pitchers had an ERA below 4.20.

With the Yankee’s starting pitching, there is an average of 3.9 home runs per game in the new stadium. Luckily for the Yankees, the field is much smaller than Coors Field, or the solo and two-run homers would be three and four run home runs.

I guess the Yankees figure chicks dig the long ball, and are looking to increase their female fan base. God knows Melky and Robbie are working on it.

Alex Rodriguez
Well, well, well. Mark down the day, because Mr. Black was wrong. Thinking the pressure would be too much, I figured A-Rod would fold and have a terrible year. Instead he’s hitting home runs like every at bat is in Coors Field….oh wait, most of them have been in Coors Field East.

Well, at least he’s been hitting in the clutch. And Mark “Don’t Mess With” Texiera is batting about .868 with A-Roid in the lineup. So now the Yankees have some offense and I hate to say it, but there’s a huge difference with Alex in the lineup.

Manny Ramirez
Oh Manny, you so crazy…using steroids and pissing off the entire LA roster (but not the city since no one watches sports there). This gives me great pleasure, although a small part of me is sad to see one of the scariest power hitters legacies tarnished. Back in the day (before MLB had any testing policies) there was no one scarier to have come up to bat. Unless it was Gary Sheffield, who was also juicing, or…..

David Ortiz
Who’s fall from grace has been fast and furious, not unlike Mark McGuire. Now, I’m going out on a limb here, but doesn’t he look a lot smaller now, and he’s bothered by nagging injuries even though he mainly DHs. Lots of parallels to, well, everyone who juiced. Just sayin’.

And one more thing to watch:

Barry Zito
I had one of those, “Hey, whatever happened to Barry Zito?” moments yesterday morning when I was grabbing breakfast. Well, lo and behold, just as I was thinking that SportsCenter had some lowlights of him getting shelled.

Like Manny and Papi, he was once one of the most feared at his position. His curveball was absolutely sick, dropping from 12-6 and making everyone look foolish. Then, he signs with the Giants in 2006 and proceeds to become Carl Pavano, but without all the injuries (but all the sucktitude).

I’m kind of torn on this, since I really used to like Barry Zito since he seemed like a nice fella and was fun to hang around. So, I’m hoping he turns it around. Especially since the Giants need to make up some ground on the Dodgers.

And a bonus thing to watch:

The Texas Rangers
Wow. 2½ games up in the AL West. Nuts.

But it’s only May.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Millon Dollar Arm and a Five Cent Head

May 21st, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

I mean to post this about the Denver Nuggets yesterday, but things were a little hectic for Mr. Black down in the tropics.

Read the headline above, because 'Melo, Chauncey and the rest of the fellas outplayed the Lakers for 40 minutes in Game One, just to fall apart and hand the Lake Show the game. Personally, I hate the Lakers, Kobe, The Stapler, Pau Gasol (for ruining my fantasy basketball team for three straight years) and Phil Jackson. So nothing worse than that loss could have happened to me Tuesday night.

Still, the Nuggets have no one to blame but themselves because they flat-out choked. Turnovers on inbounds passes, missed free throws by EVERYONE and in playing tight cost them Game One. This points to huge issues in this series...the Nuggets have to finish the series by the sixth game, since they are a little too immature at this point to hang in a big Game Seven.

Mark my words on this one, last night's game may just cost them the series unless they win Games 2, 3, and 4.

Gotta run, a flamingo is giving me the evil eye at the coffee shop.

Happy Birthday!

May 21st, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

Mr. Black would like to wish a happy birthday to Eddie Royal. He's hard at work in the gym today, which is why he was such a pleasant surprise last year, stepping in for Brandon "the slow learner" Marshall. With Eddie in the lineup, the Broncos offense never missed a beat, Eddie piled up huge numbers in the first three games and overall he was a really bright spot in what was an overall sub-par season.

So Eddie, happy birthday and keep up the good work. Looking forward to see what you do next year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Avery Comments on Tortarella and Offseason

May 18th, 2009
Miami, FL

Newsday had a great article yesterday that covered an interview with Sean Avery where he talked about the offseason, Coach Tortalini and the major needs of the Rangers. The Greek sent it over to me, and I have to thank him. So, well thanks, Greek.

Lots of good stuff in there...according to Avery, we need a scorer, which is obviously a really shocking statement. (Cut to Glen Sather negotiating a trade of Gomez for Roberto Luongo "just so we have some insurance in goal.") Also, Avery has some great things to say about the coach. Overall, it looks like Tortarella is going to change the whole mindset over at MSG. Let's hope the players listen.

The whole interview is here, along with a great survey on who to keep and who to dump. Quite a few people seemed to miss the playoffs this year, as the results will surprise you.,0,4293275.story

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Secret Identities III

May 10th, 2009
Miami, FL

The guy talking to Paul Pierce is one of the best pure shooters in the NBA and had one of the best playoff runs Mr. Black has ever seen in his last series versus the Chicago Bulls. Ray Allen was taking more shots than a sorority girl on spring break, and knocking them down like Pistol Pete Maravich. He was an absolute assassin, killing the Bulls at key moments and hitting game-winning shots, shots to put games into overtime, and shots to kill momentum.

But we all know Walter Ray "Jesus Shuttlesworth" Allen could shoot, but like a true legend he took the stage and showed us a whole new part of his game. Like Jordan coming back from baseball with a sick fadeaway, Ray suddenly developed something totally unexpected -- defense, and that's what is making his playoff performance special.

Which makes Mr. Black wonder, is Ray Allen harboring a secret identity? He looks strikingly similar to Mos Def. Mos is a rap legend. Mos spent years putting out amazing rap as half of Blackstar, and just when we started to think he was just part of a great group, he starts dropping amazing solo records, the last which was a hard rock-influenced sound we had never heard from him and pushed his musical talent further.

In addition to that, just when we all thought, "hey, that Mos Def is a talented musician," he starts to take on more and more crazy acting roles, holding his own against Jamie Foxx in "Collateral," as an action guy in "The Italian Job" and "16 Blocks" and in a variety of comic roles.

Odd, but both of these two guys continue to show that they have many, many sides...perhaps there aren't really two guys, but a single, super-talented guy. After all, Brooklyn and Boston aren't THAT far apart, right?

And on the Eighth Day, He Created the Playoffs

May 9th, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

Mr. Black here, logging on from sunny Miami. I just got back from talking some business with Hyman Roth, and felt that it was time for a blog post.

I’ve been guilty of probably looking on the negative side of sports a bit too much in this little corner of cyberspace, but not today. It’s a day to celebrate all that is good in sports, since right now we’re in that special time. NFL teams are starting mini-camps, the bad free-agent investments are starting to show themselves in MLB, and NHL and NBA are in full playoff stride.

In case you’ve missed it, the NBA Playoffs have been great this year. Cleveland is steamrolling through the East, and they are truly a joy to watch. Lots of fast breaks, alley-oop passes and big plays by guys whos names don’t rhyme with DeRon Flames.

This is a rare situation in pro sports; a team that genuinely seems to enjoy playing together and has a great time winning games. If you have a moment to tune in, do it before the media picks up on the fun they’re having and starts the “they’re young, talented and have a good time” stories and ruin it for everyone. Seriously, you’ll see at least five big dunks, some genuinely hilarious celebrations and the coolest glasses this side of Sarah Palin on Mike Brown.

If you have been watching you probably saw the Bulls/Celtics series, which was the best series since the Lakers/Kings in the late 1990s. Hopefully the Bulls will stay together and go head-to-head with the Celtics for a few more years…the one thing that may derail that is Kevin Garnett’s wonky knees, which might actually be wear and tear. If it is, that will be a real shame since KG has always been one of my favorite guys to play ball. Here’s hoping he retires gracefully if his knees are done, rather than pull a Walton and kick around for another five or ten years.

On the last NBA note, Denver may have finally solved the code by bringing back Chauncey Billups. More than one friend of Mr. Black has observed that he’s just the leader the Nugget’s needed, and if you don’t believe me, watch their games. He’s the Reggie Jackson of this team, the straw that stirs the drink, and he’s making everyone around him better. Right now, the Nuggets are playing nine players deep and getting big plays from all of them. They look a lot like San Antonio did when they won their titles, except you don’t fall asleep watching.

A nice bonus has been that Carmelo Anthony has really blossomed now that he’s not looked at as a team leader. Anyone who follows the Nuggets realized about two years ago that Carmelo, while immensely talented, is not an alpha-dog. Now that he’s had the pressure of “team leader” taken off his shoulders, he’s just asked to be the most talented guy on the court and he’s playing way better, quickly becoming “big time,” as evidenced by the heads-up game winner tonight against the Mavs. The old ‘Melo would have felt contact and just thrown the ball at the rim, this time, he played through a foul and when it wasn’t called, set his feet and made a huge game winner. It should be interesting how he reacts when he meets Kobe. Will he press, or play within himself and let the game come to him.

So that’s three things to really celebrate, and that’s just in the NBA…

It’s also NHL playoff time, and Gary Bettman’s dream matchup between the Caps and Pens is living up to the hype. Both Cindy Cosby and Alexander Ovechkin are playing like me in NHL ’09, and so far it’s been an amazing four games. Start TiVo-ing the games because each one has about three highlight goals.

Not lost in this are great series’ in the Western Conference. We should all be hoping for a Wings/Hawks series, because besides being an old NHL rivalry, the Blackhawks are just young enough to get under the Red Wings’ skin and make this a tough series that also has lots of scoring. Suddenly, those things aren’t mutually exclusive in hockey again.

It’s spring, life is good.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What Were They Thinking III

May 7th , 2009
New York, NY

Welcome back, readers. All five of you.

Mr. Black has been traveling so there hasn’t been a post recently, but there’s lots happening in the sports world, so it’s time to get right back into it. No better way to leap into the world of sports blogging than a quick “What were they thinking.”

Manny Ramirez
Let’s start with the biggest, most muscular story of the day. Manny Ramirez, Mayor of Mannywood, has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and been suspended for 50 games. It seems he was using female fertility drugs to boost his testosterone levels and potentially mask other PEDs.

Manny, Manny, Manny…really? You actually care enough to cheat? I’m shocked. If this was a recent habit he developed, this was incredibly bone-headed, even for Man-Ram. He almost single-handedly made baseball relevant in L.A. (sorry Angels) and the city had a genuine love affair with him. It’s the perfect environment for him since L.A. is a casual sports town at best and Hollywood has so many head cases Manny can actually be considered normal.

After all the contract back and forth this offseason, this may have just used up the entire well of good will for Manny. If the Dodgers don’t hold onto first and Manny hits a cold streak when he comes back, perhaps there will be a late season trade to the Yankees.

By the way, anyone need a dreadlock wig? The Dodgers just bought 6,000 if them for a “Mannywood” promo. No joke.

Selena Roberts
Speaking of performance enhancing drugs, what exactly Selena Roberts was thinking by adding “allegations” of A-Rod using steroids in high school to her book? As a big fan of hers, I was shocked since she’s usually an incredibly responsible sports journalist in every sense of the word. Keeping this in the book was a no win situation, so I wonder what was she thinking.

She already had nailed A-Rod for using during his MLB days, so the book was already going to be a seller. Adding in more allegations just smacks of naked greed and a desire to sell books. As a journalist, she has to know that this will damage her reputation more than A-Rod, and at this point you really need a smoking gun or someone who will go publicly on the record as a witness to nail anyone for using.

Joe Girardi
I’ll keep this one short: Joe, don’t go to mat for your steroid-shooting player when your $200 million dollar team can’t hold a lead and is in third place (again). People might start paying attention to you, and I mean people named Steinbrenner.

Vinny del Negro
Watching the Celtics-Bull series, I couldn’t help but notice that Vinny del Negro had some special assistants. Who helped him sketch out strategy in the tightest of seven game series’? Why it was Bernie Bickerstaff and Del Harris. Yes, you read that correctly…Bernie and Del. Yes, the men who have driven the Nuggets, Hawks and Lakers into the ground.

Vinny is widely regarded as one of the three or four worst coaches in the NBA, so I’m not sure if he should get the “what were you thinking,’ Vinny or if it’s the Bulls management for allowing him to hire his own assistants. Obviously, they are going for the record of lowest basketball IQ on a bench and seem to be doing it quite well since Vinny ran out of timeouts in four of the seven games.

Brett Favrve
Another short one: Brett, you’re 75 years old. Stop calling the Vikings. And when it goes public you did, don’t deny it and retire again. This whole thing is starting to damage your reputation as an inaccurate QB that blows big games down the stretch.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Mourning

April 30th, 2009
New York, NY

Good morning public. Sorry for the radio silence, but Mr. Black was in mourning yesterday. The New York Rangers were eliminated in Game Seven, and frankly I didn’t have the heart to write a well thought out piece, and it would have just been angry gibberish aimed at a choice few. Rather than “write angry” I took a day off to enjoy a nice spring New York afternoon.

But the sports world doesn’t stop turning, so I have a ton to catch up on, so getcha popcorn ready. Here we go:

RIP Glenn Gondrezick
Many of you have no idea who this is, but Mr. Black does. Gondrezick played for the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks in the early- to mid-1980s, and was a 10th man at best. His passing hits me a little harder than most fans, since I had a personal experience with him.

Now, in spite of my fancy ability to write in full, coherent sentences, I didn’t grow up going to a fancy prep school. My school was in a neighborhood that, while not quite dangerous, was definitely not the kind of place an NBA player wants to spend an off evening. But my Catholic League basketball team’s coach somehow knew the Gondrezeck’s and asked Glenn to stop by our practice sometime. Quite randomly on a Wednesday night, he did surprise all of us (including the coach) by stopping by for the last half hour of our practice. He gave a quick talk about hard work, playing hard, winning as a team and the NBA. He then proceeded to give us some tips on shooting form (not that any of us were able to emulate his form), and did a short demonstration.

Being the smart ass kids we were, we decided to count out how many shots he made in a row:

Baseline shot from the corner. Swish. “One.”
Stepping over a foot. Swish. “Two.”
Over one more foot. Swish. “Three.”
Back a foot and over. Hits the back of the rim, up and in. “Four”

And so on and so on. He proceeded to hit 43 straight jumpshots. Now, these weren’t 15-footers, but all between 20-and 24-feet. He just has a rhythm. Shoot, hands up for the pass from coach, set, shoot, swish. It was mesmerizing and for an elementary school kid, 24-feet seemed like a mile away.
At the end of the performance he had gone 47 for 50. At that point I realized two things. First, this guy was better than anyone I’d seen in person. Second, as good as he just showed us he was he could barely get any playing time. So although I played organized sports for another 10 years, I quickly put aside any aspirations of going pro.

He passed away on Monday at 53, of heart failure. He received a heart transplant last fall and apparently, it just didn’t take. As a college player, he was in a Final Four in 1977 and had his number retired at UNLV. As a pro, he was at best a role player but always a fierce competitor and he was the kind of guy who showed inner-city kids how to shoot a basketball. Which in my world gets you a ticket to heaven and a starting spot somewhere.

Gondrezick is survived by a daughter and two sons. Mr. Black’s thoughts and prayers are with you.

New York Rangers Season Wrap Up
The Blueshirts were bounced from the playoffs two nights ago after an amazing start to the series. For those of you not following the series the Rangers jumped out to a big lead and then couldn’t finish it, losing three consecutive series clinchers.

In a way, this series was a lot like the season. Early on, the team overachieved, and the fans started to believe the team was better than it really was. A quick does of reality set in with a tough loss, and the team started to lose confidence and play was inconsistent. Finally, struck by a lack of leadership, the wheels fell off. Pretty much what happened from September to March.

Looking at the season overall, it’s amazing that the team was able to finish as strong as they did and make the playoffs. With Florida, Carolina, Montreal and Pittsburgh finishing strong the team was still able to hold onto a playoff spot and win lots of big games down the stretch. With great play by Henrik, they were able to put a scare into Washington, but in the end Henrik, and the team just ran out of gas.

So taking stock of the past, here are some thoughts on the future.

Keep Tortarella
Coach still has the “interim” tag on his title, but the team would be smart to remove it as soon as possible. Without a true on-ice leader, the team needs his fire and by keeping him they give the team some badly-needed consistency. This is a young team that for the most part responded well to Tortarella, and his style of coaching and forcing players to take responsibility would be good for the team.

The Redden Albatross
The Rangers have another $33 million dollars tied up in Wade Redden over the next five years. Read that again. $33 million, five years. You probably just threw up in your mouth a little if you’re a Rangers fan.

So the theory is that the Rangers are stuck with him. No team will take the contract, and so the team has to be content to let him steal money from them. Even though he showed flashes of decent defensive play in the playoffs, there were enough lapses (including the series-winning goal) that the team should give serious consideration to letting him go. As in release and eat the contract.

The Rangers young defensemen (Staal, Girardi, Mara) really grew up in the playoffs and rather than give Redden more ice time, hand over his powerplay duties to Staal and Mara and call it a day. We can continue to train defensive linemen on the job or hopefully find a free agent bargain. At this point, all Redden does is keep young talent off the ice.

What To Do With The Rentals
Derek Morris and Nick Antropov were rental players. Morris didn’t do much in New York, and I’m not even sure he got off the plane. He was quite invisible in both regular season and playoffs. No need to resign him then.

Antropov needs to get resigned. He’s one of the few players we have who can play around the net. With his size and soft hands, he turned into a good scoring option for the team and was solid no matter who was on his line. When he plays with a mean streak (like in Games Six and Seven) you see the potential for him to be one of the three best players on the team. With Tortarella coaching he might really excel.

Nik Zherdev
In college, I had to take Economics. For some reason, I just couldn’t get my head around the practice, although I knew all the theory inside and out. So when we had weekly quizzes, which were really low pressure and on specialized subjects I always pulled an ‘A.’

Mid-terms and the finals were a different story. With so many different theories and so much coming at me, I’d never get it right. Every big exam was the same story: ‘D-.’ So at the end of the term, I had a ‘C.’ Knowing I was smarter than this I took two more Econ classes with the same result. Awesome grades on quizzes, epic fail on Mid-terms.

Nik Zherdev is economics. The Rangers are me. Cut bait now.

Free Agents
We need a couple decent defensemen and someone that can score. Not much is out there and we have no money. So let’s be careful on this and only sign on player…we need to save money to keep Dubinsky, Callahan and Staal around.

The New Yankee Stadium™
I’m sure you’ve all seen the story. The Yankees announce 50% price cuts on the unsold Legends Seats at the new stadium. It’s nice to see greed bite a franchise in the ass, even if it’s one of my favorites. If you want to know how I feel about the new stadium, read my earlier post.

Even with these seats filled, the Yankees still sold their tradition, and even though it’s early in the season, I feel like the bullpen is too weak to finish better than third in the brutal AL East. Having A-Rod back will hurt more than help, since our only wins are close games, and he’s approximately 0 for life in big situations. Wang seems to be truly damaged which means we lose a stud pitcher.

If we do finish third, here’s what I imagine happening at the Steinbrenner Compound in Tampa, FL.

It’s late October, George, Hank and the family are all seated at the dinner table. It’s the long, ornate table like in bad movies. George and Hank are seated on opposite ends.

George is showing his age, so he’s slightly out of it, hard of hearing and his eyes are squinty.

GEORGE (yelling): Hank! How’s the team doing this week?

HANK (slightly sheepishly): Well, Dad. We we’re not playing. We finished third, I thought I told you.

GEORGE (yelling): What? We’re playing right now and it’s in the third? Let’s put the game on, I love watching my boys! Who are we playing, is it Detroit?

HANK (Louder): No. We’re NOT playing, we finished third in the division.

GEORGE (yelling, in anger) WHAT! How? What happened? This is inexcusable?

HANK (sheepishly) Well, we were a few games out and the Rays were in NY, A-Rod was hitting and it was s quiet in the new Stadium that everyone could hear the Kaballah chants Madonna taught him. Fans started to chuckle and it got in his head. He went 0-44 for the last two weeks of the season. That and we had to pitch Nick Swisher as a set up man. At least his ERA was in single digits.

George throws a glass at Hank, which hits the wall. Brian Cashman comes in to quickly clean it up and replace it. He never makes eye contact with George or Hank.

HANK (panicking now) It’s just that …. Wellthenewstadiumisreallyemptythefansaren’trowdyandballsflyoutallthetime.


HANK: But Dad, we can’t it will cost….


Yankees move back and win 115 games and the 2010 pennant. The End.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Has It Really Come Down To This?

April 27th, 2009
New York, NY

So we roll right along into Game Seven in the Rangers and Capitals series, and the on-ice ugliness hasn’t reared its head quite yet. The Blueshirts simply aren’t gritty enough to engage with the bigger Capitals team and have been pushed around like George McFly in Back to the Future for the last three games. This series hasn’t exploded as I thought it would, but there is a definite feeling of ill will among both players and also among the fans. Has this become the rivalry I thought it would? No, but there's still some excitement.

By their nature, any Game Seven is a cliffhanger and this one shouldn’t disappoint unless Your New York Rangers roll over early.

The NHL went a long way to keeping this game tight by suspending Donald “The Skating Ogre” Brashear for six games after his shenanigans before and during Game Six. No need to rehash his boorish behavior, as everyone knows the suspension was well-deserved. (SIDE NOTE: Honestly I’d expect someone who has been on the receiving side of a cheap head shot to be more respectful, but what can you say? The NHL Goon is a strange and dying creature.)

The suspension will force Commissioner Bettman to have the referees call the game tight. This creates an interesting dynamic, which the Ranger’s can play to their advantage. With inconsistent and poor officiating so far, players have had a problem defining the line between good, hard-nosed play and something illegal. So far the Rangers haven’t really looked for that line, but that’s another story and will be the theme of the post-season wrap up.

As the more aggressive team, and one spurred on by a hometown crowd, the Caps can easily incur a couple pentalties early just trying to find the line between right and wrong. They will no doubt have high intensity and judging by thier pre-game comments look for the entire team to step up physical play. Think about a power pitcher coming out for a Game Seven. Almost universally they are too amped and walk a few batters early. The same type of thing can happen here.

If the Rangers play aggressive hockey and out work the Caps in the corners, they’ll definitely draw some early penalties. The team made some good strides in the last game on the power play, putting some pucks on net early and getting some offensive-zone faceoffs.

With some pressure on a rookie goalie on a game Seven, grabbing an early lead isn't out of the question. As the less talented team, this has really made a huge difference for the Rangers because it allows them to play a tighter defensive style and protect thier goalie better. In this game, a one goal lead won’t be enough, however as the Capitals will remain aggressive no matter what. The bare minimum to win is a two goal lead coming out of the first.

The danger, obviously, is being out hit early and being pushed around the ice. The key tonight is hard work in the corners early and blocking early shots, not hits. I'm a bit worried that we have the moxie to even come out and work in the corners because MSG has turned into an arena of silence.

So far, all the talking between games has been by the Capitals, which really scares me. Brashear has defended his hit saying it was a great hit that “takes a guy out of the lineup, forces them to change things around.”

Mike Green has noted that the Caps will all need to step up phyisical play without the Ogre. What about from the NY Locker Room? Crickets.

The current Rangers team is missing is a any team leadership without Jagr and Shanahan. They evolved to team led by Henrik Lundqvist and it takes a special kind of goalie to be a vocal team leader because that player’s words have to instill confidence and keep the team loose. For far from Henrik? Crickets.

This team desperately needs some attitude and swagger. We need Henrik to say, “Just get one guys, and I guarantee a win.” That's putting your balls on the line as a goalkeeper, but we have no one else with the gravitas to put it all on the line.

Game Seven is his to steal, so step up and grab it, Henrik. This team is set up to go only as far as you will take them.

Tonight’s Numbers
A look at the numbers, from

A look Inside the Numbers as the Rangers and Capitals prepare for a decisive Game 7:

* The Rangers will play their first Game 7 since the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals against Vancouver. In franchise history, the Rangers have played seven Game 7s, with the home team winning every game:

1. 1939 at Boston – L, 1-2 (OT)
2. 1950 at Detroit – L, 3-4 (2 OT) (Stanley Cup Finals)
3. 1971 at Chicago – L, 2-4
4. 1974 at Philadelphia – L, 3-4
5. 1992 vs. New Jersey – W, 8-4
6. 1994 vs. New Jersey – W, 2-1 (2 OT)
7. 1994 vs. Vancouver – W, 3-2 (Stanley Cup Finals)
Overtime goal scorers: Mel Hill (1939), Pete Babando (1950), Stephane Matteau (1994)

* The Capitals will play their seventh Game 7 in franchise history. Five of the previous six have been played on home ice:

1. 1987 vs. NY Islanders – L, 2-3 (4 OT)
2. 1988 vs. Philadelphia – W, 5-4 (OT)
3. 1988 vs. New Jersey – L, 2-3
4. 1992 vs. Pittsburgh – L, 1-3
5. 1995 at Pittsburgh – L, 0-3
6. 2008 vs. Philadelphia – L, 2-3 (OT)
Overtime goal scorers: Pat LaFontaine (1987), Dale Hunter (1988), Joffrey Lupul (2008).

Jim Schoenfeld has been the head coach for two of the Capitals' previous six Game 7s: 1988 (with New Jersey) and 1995 (with Washington).

John Tortorella is 2-0 in Game 7s, both in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning:May 22, 2004 vs. Philadelphia – W, 2-1; June 7, 2004 vs. Calgary – W, 2-1 (Stanley Cup Finals).

One bright spot is that we have slightly better numbers in a Game 7. Still, the Capitals are a mentally and physically tougher team, so look for them to win unless the Rangers get two early goals. But a man can dream, right?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's On, Part Deux

April 26th, 2009
New York, NY

Mr. Black woke up to a brutal hangover and a Tortarella suspension. Both were expected since an 88 degree in New York means a marathon of outdoor drinking, and when you read the Washington, DC coverage of the incident in Game 5 it was fairly apparent that Tortarella was out of line. Let's face it, NHL doesn't like videos of a coach trying to get into the stands with a stick and had to do something.

Also the NHL policy is very clear. Any player or coach that has a physical altercation with a fan, including squirting water or throwing objects into the stands, will be suspended. No fine, no discussion. Fan altercation = suspension, no questions asked.

Now, don't think I'm condoning what Coach Tortarella did. He should know better, and there's no excuse for throwing things at fans. It didn't show much class and he's shown no remorse for losing his cool. Now the team is without it's greatest motivator and head coachmand I can't begin to guess how this team will respond, since calling Your New York Rangers neurotic is an understatement to say the least, but their track record of responding to adversity as a team is poor at best.

My hockey consigliare, The Greek, had an interesting observation on how the fans will respond, though. Now that it's public NHL condones unruly actions from fans, the Garden Faithful will be raining everything not nailed down onto the Washington bench. After all, the onus is on the Capitals to
ignore the fans and if anyone reacts, they get a Game Seven suspension. Although the policy is in the right spirit, the wording is really problematic and will do nothing to protect the players and coaches, especially in this case. What the policy does is foster a mob-mentality, and so look for the debris to be raining on the bench.

It's not right, but the fans will respond and don't expect it t be pretty. For the rest of the fans who don't act like hooligans, thier focus will be on the ice, and they need to step up and supply some energy for a team that never seems to generate thier own.

Jim Schoenfeld is perfectly capable as a coach, and has a fiery temper of his own, but with only two player who bring energy to the ice, but the team will need more help from the fans than usual. Without a loud and slightly unruly crowd, I doubt the team outside of Avery and Callahan will respond by stepping up and coming out with energy of thier own.

So c'mon guys, let's get ready to hit the Garden today and scream ourselves hoarse. To get everyone excited, Mr. Black had the Rangers go the pregame talk early and taped it for everyone to watch:

Imagine Naslund, Zherdev and Dubinsky all fired up like that.
Let's show them our support.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It’s On!

April 25th, 2009
New York, NY

Well, the Rangers/Capitals series has definitely moved into rivalry territory, but in a completely different way than Mr. Black imagined. With the benching of Sean Avery, Coach Tortarella removed the catalyst for the rivalry, and unfortunately the catalyst for The Rangers last night. Things still got ugly with plenty of ill feeling all around and a renewed sense of drama brought on by the decisive Caps victory. A few key players helped bring this up to rivalry level:

Donald Brashear and John Erskine
The Capitals goon and slightly more talented goon both helped notch up the intensity. With the game well in hand, Bruce Bodreau gave both big minutes in the third period and these guys didn’t disappoint and did their best to intimidate the Rangers. With Ryan Callahan, Lauri Korpikoski and Brendan Dubinsky on the ice for most of this period, the team could have folded and backed down, but the kids didn’t and instead stepped up pushed back. Most notable was Brendan Dubinsky, who mixed it up with both Erskine and Brashear, obviously putting the fear of God into Mama Dubinski, because if there was a fight between him and either of the goons he’d be hospitalized (think the first half of Buddy Revell and Jerry Mitchell in Three O’Clock High).

Luckily, Colton Orr was called in as reinforcements to provide to get the big dogs to back down. Luckily for the Rangers he didn’t hurt himself, or any teammates.

John Tortarella
There should have been an announcement last night that “the role of Sean Avery will be played by John Tortarella,” since Coach benched Sean the Menace and put the kibosh on my vision. However, every play needs a villain, and Coach filled it to a “t”. Almost immediately he lost his cool, as the team lacked fire and discipline, quickly taking dumb penalties (I’m looking at you Gomez) and losing all momentum.

As the game wore on, his lack of composure drew the attention of the crowd to the point that he threw a water bottle over the glass and grabbed a stick, seemingly to go after a fan. With images of Bruins vs. The Ranger fans (or Slapshot) in their heads, stadium security quickly stepped in, but the damage has been done. Coach is public enemy #1 in Washington and will be a target as long as he’s behind the bench. Which leads up to the key player last night:

Matt Bradley
Light-scoring Matt Bradley provided the hero in act five of the drama. After scoring five goals all regular season, he scored two in the first period, including a soft goal against Henrik Lundqvist that no one expected to sneak in. Bradley provides the Capitals a Rudy-like figure to rally around, and was really the key figure in game five. Although they’ve easily outplayed the Rangers in three and a half games but still find themselves down in the series but still came out flat. They were lucky to get two quick goals that helped energize the crowd.

The Washington Fans
Loud, boisterous and incredibly active, they gave the Capitals the kick in the pants they needed in this game. From the chants of “Lund-qvist!” to the loud ovations for minutes after evey goal, they energized and supported a team that really started out slowly and very obviously got under the skin of the Rangers and their coaching staff.

Of all the parties involved the Washington fans are most responsible for ratcheting this up into rivalry territory, I have to pay my respect to them.

So what’s waiting in Game Six?

It’s an afternoon game, which can be a blessing or curse for the teams. In this case, it seems to really favor the Capitals, since throughout the series they’ve been the more level-headed team, and like I said earlier, have outplayed New York.

Pressure all falls on the Rangers, as a sixth game with the lead puts requires them to close out the series NOW and not go back to D.C. Add on being home with a hard-to-please crowd at MSG, and the pressure goes through the roof.

New York’s youth and many neuroses have all come to the surface this series, whether it’s a lack of confidence by key players, a Jekyll and Hyde work ethic, lack of a cool head on the bench or ice. After being soundly defeated by the Capitals, who have been down in a series before, the Rangers now find their backs against the wall.

Here are the keys to winning:

Henrik Lundqvist
This is a no-brainer since Henrik is the backbone of the team. But many times this year, Henrik has looked human and the tendency has been for him to play himself back in to form. But by being pulled last night he won’t have that luxury. With little scoring support, he has to come out and stand on his head. If the Rangers give up two or more goals, they have next to no shot of winning, unless:

Markus Naslund and Nik Zherdev Show Up
During the first two games, Markus Naslund was making a concerted effort to play more physically and own his area of the ice. This really added to the Rangers forecheck and created some offensive momentum, which led to Theodore being pulled after Game One. That Naslund needs to show up at The Garden, not the invisible forward of the last two games. In three games, we’ve only put minimal pressure on Simeon Varlamov.

Another big step in that direction is Nik Zherdev just showing up, period. Over the course of the season, he was a second in goals scored and total points for the Blueshirts. Without a powerplay of any kind, the Rangers need him to create scoring chances even strength and put some pressure on the Capitals goaltender. He’s incredibly skilled, and a couple solid chances can lead to a misplay or cheap goal which would be a huge momentum changer.

Finding The Right Combination of Drury, Avery and Voros
One of the three needs to be a scratch, and this decision really affects the team’s mental makeup, which as I mentioned is fragile at best.

Drury biggest contributions have been off the ice, as he seems to provide a sense of security (or perhaps aspiration) for the younger players, as he’s won a Cup and is a battle-tested playoff veteran. However, at the moment he’s been very quiet on the ice as a center man that can’t take a face off or shoot hard with his bad hand/wrist. So he’s really half the player he usually is. He needs to be more vocal at the very least and give the youngsters the motivation to make plays.

On the ice, he tends to come up big in key moments. If you think he has been a bust this series, remember his Game Four goal. His first shot is about the hardest he can shoot, which is aenemic, but he shot through a perfect screen and created a rebound, which he was able to put off the back of the goalie for a key-two goal lead. That goal was huge and tilted momentum to the Rangers for almost a full period. If you’ve ever played hockey, you know the difference between a one and two goal lead isn’t huge, it’s massive. In my eyes, Drury becomes a must-play, with a charge to be more energetic on the ice and vocal on the bench.

Avery brings a fire and energy to the team that you must have in the playoffs. It was fairly obvious that without him on the ice, the team is a little lost and less confident. But unlike the regular season, he hasn’t gotten under the opponent’s skin and has drawn bad penalty after bad penalty. I find it hard to believe that we can continue to kill the Capital’s powerplay as effectively as we have, so it’s a real stretch to say that the pro’s outweigh the cons with Avery.

Voros is healthy and can fill in some real minutes. He definitely doesn’t bring as much skill, and was -2 last night. However, against a team as fast and skilled at Washington, he might be able to eat up minutes and add to the forecheck without taking penalties.

If were Tortarella, I’d play Voros and Drury in Game Six, and if it goes to a Game Seven, I’d play Avery and Drury there. With the Garden crowd urging him on, Avery will have a four penalty night, and that’s just too much power play time for the Capitals for the next game.

The Rangers Power Play Must Shoot
The Ranger’s Power Play has to start shooting the puck, even if it’s from the blueline. It’s gone from sad to pathetic, and the team looks completely lost a man up. No one has the confidence to carry the puck, and we simply aren’t getting the play set up, much less getting scoring chances.

At this point, hoping for scoring from this power play is like hoping to win lotto. The opportunity now is to get any additional pressure on the goalie. Shoot every chance you get, and hope we can get attacking zone face offs. At least here there’s an opportunity for set plays and who knows, maybe a soft shot or two can be mishandled and we get in the Varlamov’s head….

Tortarella Can’t Get Suspended
It’s a very hazy story of what happened yesterday when Tortarella threw a bottle into the crowd. There isn’t a clear video of the incident, and depending on who you listen to he was provoked or just completely lost his cool. Either way, the NHL can’t ignore the incident and has to levy some punishment. Here’s hoping it monetary, and not a suspension because the team needs coach on the bench more than they need any player outside Lundqvist.

So here comes Game Six. Lots of pressure on the Rangers, and hopefully we’re up to it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Do I Smell Rivalry?

April 25th, 2009
New York, NY

Tonight is game five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal between Your New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals and there’s an interesting subplot brewing. With the incredibly talented Capitals on the edge of elimination, many hockey writers inside and outside of The Beltway are already penning the articles about them underachieving, only waiting for a final score tonight to declare the Caps a postseason bust. That’s the main plotline, and you’ll be able to follow it on Vs, ESPN, NHL TV, The Washington Post and New York Times. The New York Post will run a trite headline like, “Ovie and Out!” but the story will be just like all the others.

The subplot that interests me is that a rivalry that may have started to simmer over the last couple weeks between the teams. It hasn’t manifested yet, but the ingredients are all there: A much more talented team being upset by a less talented one. A fiery personality that’s capable of terrible things in Sean Avery, and a potential Hall of Famer on both teams in Ovechkin and Lundqvist that fans will either deify or vilify, depending on your ZIP code.

Also, we have a perfect stage in the Verizon Center. Intense, anger-filled and fully absent of any NY Ranger fans. The angry mob will see their potential champion about to be eliminated, and the perfect foil in Sean Avery will be the focus of their hatred. The loud and angry crowd will help focus the Rangers and give them a bunker mentality. Perfect for throwing blows.

The NHL Playoffs: We’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge.

Here’s what we see tonight: A high-scoring first period with the Rangers leading, followed by a tight, hard-hitting second. Sometime during the second Ovechkin and Avery go hard to the boards and blood is spilled. This will touch off a huge brawl (the real kind, not the fake playoff kind without punches) and a new hockey rivalry will be born.

This will no doubt be a dirty play by Avery, and he will probably get some sort of suspension. Hell also be skewered in the press (with the exception of the Daily News, they love miscreants). To me, this isn’t a bad thing since he is completely off the reservation at this point. His play this series has bordered on embarrassing for the Rangers, but because he’s essentially our fourth-best player we can’t bench him. I’ll worry about the implications of suspension in the next series.

The point is that Avery is capable and willing to do something that will fire up this budding rivalry, and tonight he will.

The great news is that both teams are young, and none of their stars are going anywhere for a while. So we’ll have years of trash talk and every time they meet, hopefully in the playoffs for many years to come. The Broncos/Raiders, Avalanche/Red Wings and Rangers/Flyers all had similar storylines.

Time for a new one. Let’s go, Sean. Put some lumber in their teeth and let ‘em know you’re there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Playoffs Make People Do Strange Things

April 22nd, 2009
New York, NY

“Well, everyone talks about how classy or un-classy I am, and fatso there just forgot to shake my hand I guess. . . We outplayed him. I outplayed him. We’re going to the second round.”
- Sean Avery

Well, it's NHL Playoff time, and the excitement and pressure can make people do strange things. Take above quote, for example. It's not strange that Sean Avery would say or do something stupid, he's proven many times over that just about anything can come out of that mouth and he will do anything to get under a team's skin.

What's surprising is that in this case, a "classy" case like Martin Brodeur essentially started the whole issue by refusing to shake Avery's hand in the lineup after the series. One of the great traditions in sports is the hockey post-series lineup, and to snub someone is usually only reserved for truly classless individuals. Be a winner and take the high road, seriously.

Which was why it gave me great pleasure to watch last night's Carolina/Devils game. Not only did Carolina win, but they did it with real style. After losing a three-goal lead, they won on a tip-in with .02 seconds left. Not only was it great to see an exciting end to a game, but seeing the ever classy Marty Brodeur throw a little girl-style hissy fit was awesome. Marty, Marty, Marty if you're going to show poor sportsmanship, at least break your stick. Don't just stomp your feet and threaten to hold your breath.

Video here: at about 1:45 in there's the start of his little fit and the apologies by the TV crew.

My friend Amy did have the quote of the night, which needs to be made in to T-shirts, bumper stickers and signs immediately. Her response to the whole play?

"Suck it, fatso!"


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jay Cutler, Take a Look Into Your Future

April 22nd, 2009
New York, NY

John Elway left the NFL to own a chain of successful auto dealerships, restaurants and a professional sports franchise (yes, it's Arena Football, but people pay admission).

Jay Cutler, look to Jim McMahon for a peek into your future.


April 21st, 2009
New York, NY

To: The New York Rangers
From: Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner
Re: April 20, 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal

It has come to the attention of the National Hockey League that last night the New York Rangers Hockey Club had a promotional giveaway for their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal game. The League encourages giveaways as a reward to fans for their loyalty through a long season, however we cannot endorse last night’s promotion.

Reports confirm that the giveaway wasn’t a playoff towel, as in previous years and was instead a set of Thunderstix noisemakers. Giving away such a product at a hockey game represents poor judgement by the organization, a lack of respect for the great tradition of the National Hockey League and a marginalization of the pursuit of the oldest trophy in professional sports.

In light of the type of giveaway must take action.

We have no choice but to revoke your status as an “Original Six” NHL franchise. This is not a permanent measure, and the organization’s status can be restored after a probationary period to be determined. Please understand that is sanction isn’t based on subjective measures, but on the following facts:

  • Thunderstix do not make fans louder, but actually more passive since they can’t clap.
  • Thunderstix similar to sushi bars at arenas, rally monkeys, Chardonnay, and salads have no place in North American sports.
  • The brand of Thunderstix given out last night included a blue light, which changed the pre-game dynamic from “electric” to “electronic” . . . we’re a hockey league, not a rave promoter.

In the meantime, we are temporarily transferring your “Original Six” status to the Philadelphia Flyers based on style of play, fan loyalty and the level of professionalism of the organization.

We sincerely hope that The New York Rangers organization fix their promotional giveaways and return to their proud traditions soon. Upon a return tradition, their status as a premier NHL franchise will be restored.

Gary Bettman
Commissioner, National Hockey League

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Were They Thinking: #2

April 19th, 2009
New York, NY

So I’ve been posting to the blog a fair amount more than initially planned, partially because the world of sports gives me so much to work with. Between playoffs, NFL free agency, greedy owners, complete ineptitude and overall boneheadedness, I actually have way more stories than I know what to do with.

But with so many things to write about, I forgot “What were they thinking?” last week. So better late than never, here’s this weeks post:

Jay "Chicken" Cutler
In only our second week, we have our first repeat honoree. But first, the good.

You were surprisingly classy and poised after the trade. In fact, you said all the right things by playing the “hometown boy” card, acting surprisingly contrite and thanking the Broncos, and paying the proper amount of respect to the Bears organization. In fact, you acted quite humble. Smart move considering you’re the new franchise QB in the third largest media market in the US.

But, Jay buddy, look at this as a fresh start and think before you act out there in Chicago. You know what’s not smart? Not examining WHY the Broncos happily let you go. If you’d read the Denver papers/blogs on the way out of town, you’d have known about the rumors of a teensy little drinking problem and a lack of “football sense,” which is sports code for a thick skull. If you had done that, you might have reconsidered spending a good portion of your first week in Chi-town getting hammered and being photographed like the shot above.

Also, you might have reconsidered canoodling up with the fame-seeking Julia Allison, who calling a celebrity might be as much of a stretch as calling you mature.

Stay home, learn the playbook and grow up. Your new coach and organization isn’t noted for babying star QBs. And there's a writer in Chicago, who's last name sounds like Maserati, that loves to remind people about these indiscretions on "Around the Horn" after a three-interception game.

Louis Admunson
Louis, I like you.

First you’re ballsy enough to scorn the whole "culture of bling" in pro sports and ride a bike to work. That’s very down-to-Earth and frankly, really cool.

And after having noted prankster, Shaq, hide your bike every day this season, you decided to get back at him. As much as I like you, and it was smart to wait until late in the season so you’re not looked at as a rookie so that the repercussions aren’t magnified, it's never, ever, ever a good idea to mess with Diesel. For a few reasons:

  • First, he’s way better at pranks than you are. Never, ever get into a prank war with someone that does this as a hobby. It will never end well for you. As an athlete, you should know that by now.
  • Second, don’t mess with a man’s car. A shoe filled with shaving cream is funny, and quickly forgotten. A guys car, especially a guy who loves cars like Shaq, is more than a little sacrosanct. A good rule on what to target in a prank is, "if he wouldn’t let you borrow it, don’t mess with it."
  • Third, don’t do it at the VERY end of the season. Get him with a week or so left, because now he has nothing but time to think of something to do to get you back…and good.

Take the above three points, recall Shaq isn’t noted for his off-season work ethic and has more money than Wells Fargo. Now, what are the chances you don't get hit so bad with a prank that it costs you literally tens of thousands of dollars.

It’s not wise to fool with Shaq. Like he says, “You mess with the Shaqtus, you get pricked.”

Lori Epperson/Heather Anderson
I have to go back to high school to get our first group winners. A couple things allow me to group these two together.

First, they are both high school coaches. Second, they both had to resign last week. And third, they did things that no one in their right mind would think was smart and would be conducive to keeping a job in education.

Lori Epperson resigned from her teaching position at Edgewood High School outside Dayton, Ohio, after taking four female students — three 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old — to Club Masque, a strip club that features exotic male dancers. Yes, that’s dumb. But what’s even dumber is that the club is 18+, so it was a felony to take the 17-year old. But take the cake is that one of the children was her daughter, which not only makes her guilty of bad judgement, but also bad parenting (for some people at least).

And it gets better, her defense is that the children’s parents had to sign a permission slip before the kids should go. Now, I’m wondering which is more naïve: announcing this little trip to parents, or thinking the kids would legitimately have parents sign the form.

Compared to Lori, Heather Branum of Anderson County high school is a genius. While on a road trip with the softball team she coached, the 29-year old allowed a hazing incident where the freshman players had to swim nude/semi-nude of 15 minutes in the pool at the private house the team had rented. As an authority figure, nothing should make her more worried than the word “hazing” unless it’s the word “sexual predator” (since Miss Heather felt she needed to supervise the proceedings). No matter how you spin it, half naked high school girls in a swimming pool isn’t something you should be involved with, unless you’re a half naked high-school boy.

The good news is that somehow, Heather got to keep her teaching job. Hopefully it’s math. She can teach her class the following equation:

Adult + Hazing + Under Age Kids + Partial Nudity = No Job or Jail Time

Carlie Christine
And like Isiah Thomas, we’re still back to school.

Casa Roble High cheerleading coach, Carlie Christine, thought that no one in the school she coached at would ever see her “Cyber Girls” layout on I can understand why, I mean, what are the possibilities that some teenage boy would google “cyber girls?”

And if someone did stumble across the photos online, it’s not like anyone would say anything. I mean, there’s no group that’s nicer than a gaggle of teenage girls on a cheerleading squad. They're totally level-headed and would never hold a grude. What are the chances that someone on the squad would be angry for being disciplined and do something rash?

The odds of someone telling parents or the school about the photos couldn’t be more than 99% or 99.5%.

But Carlie wasn't the only one who learned something, the parents learned a few things too, "I was in shock that the girls had seen it and knew about it," a parent told CBS13. "The whole football team has seen it," says one parent.

Wow. High school kids hide things from their parents and look at nudie pictures, including mature leaders like the football team. I had no idea.

See you next week when I review the Denver Broncos free agent signings. Let’s hope the GM doesn’t make “what were they thinking.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Behold, The Genius of Nick Swisher

April 17th, 2007
New York, NY

So before leaping into the latest entry into the blog, Mr. Black wants to clarify something to my dozen or so readers.

I love baseball. I love the Yankees. I love free, corporate seats to sporting events.

But I hate where the business of baseball is headed. No other sport holds the emotional place in my heart that baseball does. My fondest memories of childhood and family revolve around the game, so it pains me to see a franchise mortgage their mystique for money. Plus, taking my kids to their first Yankee game shouldn’t costs more than a Rolex, which it will if I want to sit in the front row. And I will, that's how I roll.

But as wrong as all the business of baseball is, Nick Swisher is all right. Let’s take a look at the genius that is Nick Swisher:

He keeps things loose, in fact if he saw the Facebook ad to the right, he’d probably blow it up and leave a copy in each locker. After all, we love the Yankees and the Yankees love the Yankees, but not THAT way. Who the hell art directed that ad?

He plays music in the normally serene Yankee clubhouse, within a week the press noticed.

He doesn’t care if he starts, just that he plays well.

He’s statistically, the Yankee’s best pitcher (0.00 ERA, 1 IP)

He’s also their hottest hitter at the moment (.406 BA)

He fries up all the chicken fingers before games (OK, that’s not true, but chicken fingers were the best thing to eat at the old stadium and I hope that’s still the case. If it isn’t, I want Swisher on the case).

The motto on his website ( is “work hard, play hard.” And he has an ode to his Grandma on the site…which you have to read. Right. Now.

If you ever been part of any team, you gotta love this guy.

He’s the baseball equivalent of a puppy dog, excited to do ANYTHING associated with the game. And you just can't help but like him. Seriously, read an interview with him, check out his site, google him, whatever. You can't help but like him. He’s everything A-Rod isn’t: emotional, exciting, genuine and fun.

Mark my words, he’s going to be the clubhouse leader with Jorge Posada and will be absolutely clutch this year.

Hip, hip, Jorge!
On another note, the Yankees played seven great innings of baseball yesterday to open up The New Yankee Stadium™. The good news is C.C. Sabathia looked solid, the defense made some great plays and the crowd was loud and raucous (to he honest, I was a little surprised by the last one). The bad news is that major league games still last nine innings and when the bullpen took over, the wheels fell off. In the end, it was a 10-2 Yankees loss to launch "The House That The Need To Pay A-Rod Built," a division of the YES Network.

The one ray of sunshine is that Jorge Posada was the first player to hit a home run in The New Yankee Stadium™. It was an inside fastball off Cliff Lee that he hammered into monument park in right-center, and was absolutely beautiful. There's a photo of the swing above you can enjoy for posterity sake.

Jorge is one of the few Yankees to be very vocal about the need for the team to carry the tradition of the old stadium to the new, so thank goodness he’s the guy that went yard. Hopefully people will talk about his home run when the Third Yankee Stadium™ is built on Saturn by Hank Steinbrenner IV.

Upcoming Post
So I’m working on a post “Who’s a Real Yankee,” where I run through the current team player-by-player and decide who’s worthy of the pinstripes. I’m interested in what you all think (really, I am -- seriously), so shoot me an email with some thoughts. I’ll use the best submissions as part of my post.

Feel free to forward to friends as well. I want to hear what as many people think as possible.

Oh, and join Mr. Black's Facebook group and invite friends. Let's talk some sports, people.

Secret Identities II

April 16th, 2009 New York, NY

Mike Francesa (right) and The Fabulous Sports Babe (left).

Mike and The Mad Dog came on to the YES Network in 2002, right around the time that the Fabulous Sports Babe went off the air. Coincidence? Mr. Black wants to know.

I'm guessing it IS a coincidence since the Babe was one of the best and most well-versed sports radio personalities of all time, while it's becoming more apparent than ever that Mike knows nothing about sports. The Babe followed every sport and did her homework on every topic she covered, and seemed ready for any question. She was a treat to hear during drive time when I lived in Denver, and to this day I totally rip off her "score more points" line when someone complains about losing to an inferior team based on a late game call.

Mike on the other hand, covers nothing outside the New York region and his best move is screaming at callers and hanging up. Or talking about movies he never sees.

But looking at the pictures maybe, just maybe . . .

By the way, can we all petition XM/Sirius/NASA satellite radio to give The Dog back to Mike Francesa? The show is absolutely awful without him. One of life's little pleasures when taking a day off work was being able to watch or listen to Mike and The Mad Dog. Now it's just sad.

Dog. Some back! You're my boy, Blue!

For Trade: 86 Years of Tradition For A Luxury Box

April 16th, 2009 New York, NY

"I'd give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in the first game in this new park.”
– Babe Ruth

Today the Yankees officially open the New Yankee Stadium.™

It’s a sad day for fans of the Yankees and their great tradition, because we lose not only the Grand Dame of all sports venues, Yankee Stadium, but a huge edge.

In 1923, Yankee Stadium was the most spectacular stadium in sports. Before the original Yankee Stadium, teams played games at parks and fields. Seating over 70,000 fans, it was the first “stadium” in baseball and boasted three decks of seating, a 15-foot copper façade almost all around the stadium, a near-total enclosure to keep out prying eyes, a whopping eight toilets, a cavernous center field that only the best players could hope of covering and a short porch to right custom-made for the Yankees new star, Babe Ruth.

It was a monument of hubris for a tradition that did not yet exist, a true cathedral of baseball. And the Yankees christened it as holy ground almost immediately. Ruth hammered the first homer and a crowed cheered so loud “the building felt like it would come down,” and the Yankees won the first of 26 titles in the first season.

As the game evolved, so did the stadium. It went from state-of-the art to timeless. Updated in 1967 to be more comfortable for fans and totally rebuilt in 1973. It still kept its unique character while hosting more World Series’ than any other stadium. Yankee Stadium aged, the mystique grew and it became a stage that could make or break legends. Playing on hollowed ground is what made players “real” Yankees. The mystique was about creating a moment of your own in the stadium:
  • Reggie’s three home runs in Game 6
  • Rag’s July 4th no-hitter
  • Gehrig’s speech.
  • The Mick hitting a home run off the façade
  • Fans swarming Chris Chambliss as he rounds the bases in 1976 ALCS
  • Jeter’s dive into the seats versus the Sox
No other stadium is filled with so many emotional moments and joy for the fans.

So why tear it down?

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Rhymes with "honey"....

Yes, money. The organization sold its home field advantage for luxury box revenue.

"Fans? Fuck the fans, pay me," is what the Steinbrenner family say.

The Yankees organization bamboozled the fans more than the Baltimore Colts did when they left town under the dark of night. Before fans really knew what was happening, the new stadium was half built. The Yankess announced the new stadium will all the fanfare of a September call-up.

No discussion about losing the mystique of the franchise, no talk of what the emotional the cost would be. No talk of a Fenway-like revitalization. Nothing.

What was the biggest moment of the stadium move? A heartfelt speech after the last game in the old Stadium by the captain, Derek Jeter:

"… although things are going to change next year, we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change -- it's pride, it's tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world.

"We're relying on you to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories that come to the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them on from generation to generation. On behalf of this entire organization, we want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world."

Touching, Derek.

Perhaps you should have run this by the Yankees, though. Because as fans, our thanks was this:
  • A home without a lower-level seat less than $350 between the foul poles.
  • A stadium where a prime season ticket costs $850,000 per year.
  • Home field with fewer seats for a franchise that sells out 90% of its games.
  • Home field bleachers with obstructed views (how can you obstruct a bleacher seat – that’s truly great architecture).
Yup, that' a salute. Of the one-finger variety. So much for passing along seats from generation to generation, unless your Donald and Ivanka Trump.

But the news isn’t all bad. The training facilities, 30,000 square foot clubhouse, PCs in the lockers and spas seem to be excellent. The players are raving:

"There are screens in your lockers, lockers that are three times the size of other places. Cubby holes. We have a chef. It's just crazy stuff. It's the best venue in any sport, I guarantee you that," said Brian Bruney

"I think everyone is going to be a little bit spoiled," Jeter said.

"Amazing, they did a great job," Andy Pettitte said. “I'm just thankful to have an opportunity to play here. You feel really spoiled."

I hope there's room for the ghosts of DiMaggio, The Babe and Thurmon Munson.

Yes, fans. We’ve tore down the Sistine Chapel. What was once a franchise with a legendary park full of tradition just another money-grubbing franchise with a faux-throwback stadium. Forget the fans, bring on the luxury boxes.

Roll call will be a little quieter this year, and not because there are few fans, but less passionate ones. The Bronx-bred lovers of the Yankees are priced out, and the corporate fans have taken over. A proud franchise loses its mystique today.

What does mystique mean? It’s an edge…and without that edge, the onus is on the team to bring over a winning tradition immediately. Because from today forward, they don’t have the passion of fans, they don’t have teams that dreading to come to the Bronx. Let’s hope the Yankees look around and decide they should earn these comforts and win a title -- now. And 25 more, because that’s what it will take to replace the Original.

Here’s what we’ve lost, from someone who had everywhere:

“This was the place, the number-one place in baseball. The stadium was like the Empire State Building or the Grand Canyon of baseball, and every time I stepped inside of it I had to pinch myself!"
- Mel Allen, the Voice of the Yankees (1946 - 1965)

Goodbye Yankee Stadium. We’ll miss you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to School

April 14th, 2009 New York, NY

There’s an empty office in The Garden today. Noted franchise-ruining President and coach Isiah Thomas is packing up his wrecking ball and heading to the NCAA. It’s expected that he’ll be announced as head coach of Florida International University in Miami, FL.

Even though he was locked in a closet (or sent to scout Khazakstan’s pro league) for much of last season, he was still collecting a check from the Knicks so Mr. Black is glad see him go. No single person has done more to embarrass the New York Knicks, Stephon Marbury included.

In four short years as President and/or coach, Isiah:
  • Lost over 60% of his games
  • Racked up the highest payroll in NBA history
  • Brought in noted cancer Stephon Marbury
  • Traded for or signed the All-Underachiving team of Zach Randolph, Steve Francis, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose and Nazr Mohammed
  • Ran off Larry Brown in less than a year
  • Cost MSG $11.6M in a sexual harassment lawsuit (only 1/2 of Starbury's annual salary)
  • Blamed an overdose on his teenage daughter
  • Ran off one of the most rabid fan bases in pro sports

So thankfully, he’s gone and we’re no longer paying him. Mr. Black is hoping that we exorcize all the Isiah demons and Donnie Walsh keeps moving the team in the right direction.

Enjoy the NCAA Zeke, please stay there.

A Sad Day for Baseball

April 14th, 2009
New York, NY

There’s an old saying that death comes in threes.

After the sudden and tragic passing of Nick Ardenhart, he baseball world lost two more yesterday in Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych.

Most of you have already heard about Harry Kalas, the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, who collapsed in the press box before the game and died at the hospital. Even if you aren’t a Phillies fan, you probably heard Harry’s voice on NFL Films. More than likely 90% if sports fans under the age of 50 enjoyed Harry’s work, and we were blessed to have such a talent as part of our life. There was a time when a group of voices defined the sports landscape: Harry Caray, Mel Allen, Chick Hearn, John Facenda and Harry Knowles all were part of that group. Over the last few years, we’ve lost them all and only a few remain.

As a friend of mine said yesterday afternoon, “I feel like a good portion of my childhood died.”

Shane Victorino and the Phillies paid a fitting tribute. After hearing of his passing, they asked themselves what he would have enjoyed. Well, it seems he enjoyed a quiet smoke at the yard when no one was around, so a few guys (including some non-smokers) had a quick cigarette in the clubhouse before going on to win on a game winning home run by Shane Victorino. A touching and non-PC homage, and I’ve immediately become a Phillies fan.

Rest in peace, Harry. I think God has a doubleheader tomorrow you need to call.

Lost in the news about Harry was the news that “The Bird” Mark Fidrych passed away at 54 in an accident on his farm.

For those of you that don’t follow baseball, Bird was the 1976 Rookie of the Year with the Detroit Tigers and but only pitched five seasons. During that short career, he thrilled baseball with a sublime rookie season, dominating the AL with his pitching and entertaining fans with his personality. Carrying the torch of slightly-off center 1970s baseball players he groomed the mound with his hand, talked to the ball in his glove and celebrated big outs with high-fives to team mates all around the diamond.

Growing up we played baseball with joy and abandon because one of our heroes did.

Mark, there’s an army of high-fiving, baseball-conversing, Tiger hat-wearing kids from the 1970s who want to thank you for showing us how to have fun.

Here's hoping the old saying is true and baseball holds onto some of its characters a little longer.