Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This is not the post I expected to be writing today. Not because I thought the Rangers would win last night. I didn't. Rather, because I thought they would get embarassed again last night for the third straight game, punctuating a humiliating collapse. But they didn't. For 6 games, the Rangers forwards and defenseman were outplayed by a better team, and it was only because of the superhuman play of Henrik Lundqvist that they were able to "steal" a few games and have a chance of this series. But not last night. Last night, the Rangers showed heart, played a physical game, took the game to their opponent instead of letting it come to the them, and simply put, were the better team on the ice. Unfortunately, the better team doesn't always win. A few bad bounces, missed opportunities, and questionable officiating resulted in a 2-1 Game 7 defeat and an early playoff exit.

Let's get the referees out of the way quickly. I'm not going to claim that the Rangers lost this series or even last night's game because of the refs. I try to avoid blaming the refs when my teams lose. Instead, I usually blame Aaron Heilman. But the reffing in this series was a total joke. Donald Brashear goes unpenalized for a blatant cheap elbow to Blair Betts' head in Game 6 that knocked Betts out of the series and was so egregious that the league suspended Brashear for 5 games for it. Then later in the game, a scrum in which Brandon Dubinsky got bitten by a Caps player resulted in a game misconduct being given to...Dubinsky! Last night, I counted 5 obvious penalties on Caps players that went uncalled: 2 blatant ones against Avery (who it seems needed to be decapitated to draw a penalty), a clear bench minor for too many men (they had 7 guys on the ice), a goalie interference, and a high stick that hit Dan Girardi in the face. All of these were "missed." Fine, I get it, it's Game 7 and you want to let them play. Except in the third period, when Girardi cleanly checked Alex Ovechkin right on the puck, the refs pause, see Ovechkin appealing for a call, and the hand goes up in the air...2 minutes for interference. The good news, however, is that the NHL's wet dream of a Crosby-Ovechkin Conference Finals is still on track. I'm sure Gary Bettman slept fine last night.

But enough about that because that's not what this should be about. The Rangers played their hearts out last night. Sean Avery was the best player on the ice. Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan showed why they are the types of players that will one day wear letters on their jerseys. Lundqvist was dominant, making one acrobatic save after another, but ultimately not good enough. I didn't expect to be saying this the day after they blew a 3-1 series lead, but I am proud of this team. They left everything they had out on the ice and can go into the offseason knowing that at least when everything was on the line, when the knife was at their throats, they gave it everything they had.

Still, despite my lingering pride, I am left devastated once again by a team that gives me enough reason to hope and then crushes me again and again. The '94 Rangers were the only team I ever saw win a championship, but I was 11 years old and didn't appreciate what it meant. Since then, it has been mostly disappointment. This one was bad, but nowhere near the top of the list. (To review the official top 5: '06 Mets, '98 Jets, '00 Mets, '07 Rangers, and '07 Mets. Those were all much more crushing. How does '94 Knicks not make the list? Unclear. Too long ago and I was too young, I suppose.) That's right, a playoff series in which my team won the 1st 2 games and led 3-1 in nowhere near the worst. Those are the kind of teams I root for. So why do I do it? Because as bad as last night was and as shitty as I feel today, that's how good the ride to get there sometimes is. I obviously will never forget Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, but you know what else I'll never forget? Game 6, the night before. Last night sucked, but going to Game 4 last week and holding on for a 2-1 win was incredible. So even when it ends in tragedy, I'm still left with the moments of euphoria that led me there. Also, I'll let you all in on a little secret: as pessimistic as I sometimes seem about my teams on the outside, deep down I'm actually way way too optimistic, which is actually the bigger problem. On a fundamental level, I always expect we're gonna win, but in the end, we always seem to lose. I know one day my payoff is coming and it will all be worth it. I hope. This Rangers team could probably look very different next year. They have a bunch of free agents and I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion of breaking up the core of the team - I'm looking at you, Scott Gomez. It will be a long, interesting off-season. But until then, let's go Mets and let the Mark Sanchez era begin...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Open Letter To NHL Referees

Dear NHL Referees,

Let me begin by saying that I am not the type of fan that usually blames the referees when my team loses. I am much more likely to blame the players, or a player in particular, for a poor result. However, when a fan witnesses officiating that is so egregious and impacts the outcomes of games in such a real way, there is nowhere else to turn.

I am referring specifically to the officiating in last night's game at Madison Square Garden, game 3 of the 1st round playoff series between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, but more globally, I wish to discuss the way the entire fraternity of officials has treated Sean Avery since he has returned to playing in the NHL.

I have been following sports closely for close to 20 years and I know that sometimes it becomes hard to be totally objective and to separate the identity of the players involved when calling a game. Indeed, I have seen Michael Jordan get questionable foul calls and Greg Maddux get dubious strike calls because of their stature. And sure, I expected that when Sean Avery returned to the Rangers that his reputation would precede him and that he would therefore very rarely be given the benefit of the doubt. However, this treatment has escalated to such an absurd degree that it crosses the line and severely calls into question the judgment and professionalism of the referees involved.

Several weeks ago, in a game against the New Jersey Devils, Avery was beaten like a rag doll by Devils forward David Clarkson. Despite the fact that Clarkson was the only player to engage in a fight, as Avery was dragged twice to the ice, both players received penalties. Similarly, the goaltender interference penalty he was given last night was a total joke and there's no way any other player would have been penalized for similar actions. Furthermore, the Avery targeting has been working the other way as well: players on other teams routinely commit infractions on Avery (slashes, high sticks, etc.) that go "unnoticed." It's almost as if the NHL referees have put out the word to the players in the league: do whatever you want to Sean Avery because we're not going to call it.

As referees, your job is to police and manage the game, not to decide it. I implore you: for the remainder of this series and for the rest of the playoffs going forward, call the game as you see it. A penalty is a penalty and a non-call is a non-call, regardless of who the players involved are. This matchup features some of the best and most entertaining players in the NHL and we as fans deserve a series that will be decided by the men in blue and the men in red, not the ones in black and white.

Yours Truly,
Avious Avservations

Yankees Buy Another World Series Title

The following is a work of satire in the mold of "The Onion." None of the quotes attributed to in the piece are real. It is entirely a work of fiction. Enjoy...

Yankees Buy Another World Series Title

Completing a week that featured a whirlwind of activity and intense negotiations, sources inside the New York Yankees organization revealed late last night that they will be holding a press conference this morning to announce that they have acquired the rights to the Florida Marlins' 2003 World Series Championship. This latest deal marks the latest in a series of acquisitions that now leaves the Yankees with 38 World Championships to their credit.

"Today is a tremendous day for the entire New York Yankees organization," said Yankees Senior Vice President Hank Steinbrenner. "To be able to provide another World Series title for our fans is really what it's all about and is what makes this job truly rewarding."

The deal is said to include a one-time payment of $30 million dollars, which combined with the money the Marlins anticipate they can raise from selling off their 2003 World Series rings, should be able to combat the high deficits the organization is dealing with in the face of a struggling economy. The Yankees, by contrast, believe that they can generate enough revenue from the sale of 2003 Yankees World Champions merchandise to offset a good portion of the payment. Correspondingly, the Marlins front office has issued a press release announcing a recall of all Marlins' championship paraphernalia from 2003.

This purchase is the twelfth such deal the Yankees have struck over the last few months as part of a new campaign to use their massive financial resources to buy World Championships. The idea was spawned in an off-season meeting when Steinbrenner, frustrated that his strategy of doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to sign top players kept backfiring, realized that it made more sense to spend money to secure championships in a way that wouldn't be left to risky propositions such as the bounce of a ball or the swing of a bat. After being turned down by the commissioner's office in their attempt to suspend the rest of the 2009 season and be declared World Champions in exchange for the sum of $150 million, the Yankees turned to past championships, which legally are considered the property of individual teams, who are therefore free to sell them.

The Yankees' spending spree has been met with much controversy across the baseball world. "We simply can't compete with them," said Kansas Royals General Manager Dayton Moore. "They have their own television network, a brand new state of the art stadium, and unparalleled resources with which to buy championships. A small-market team like us doesn't stand a chance."

Not surprisingly, most Yankees fans have lauded the organization's efforts. "My son turned fifteen this past winter. He was too young to remember the 2000 series, so he has had to endure eight insufferable seasons following this team without seeing them win a single championship. That's a tragedy," said Joe Bradley, a lifelong Yankees fan. "We are truly grateful to Mr. Steinbrenner, who with his passion for winning and commitment to spending has enabled my son to attend twelve ticker tape parades in the last 5 months." When asked if the current Yankees’ policy was bad for baseball as a whole, Bradley responded, "Other teams are free to do the same thing and invest their money back in the team exactly the same way, but they're too cheap. That's why we have 38 championships and they don't."

The 2003 purchase means that the Yankees now won World Championships in a remarkable nine straight years from 1995-2003, having previously purchased the championships of the 1995 Braves, 1997 Marlins, 2001 Diamondbacks and 2002 Angels. It appears that they will come up empty in their quest for a streak of ten straight championships as the commissioner's office has been steadfast in their position that the Yankees could not be declared the champions of the strike-shortened 1994 season and the refusal of the Boston Red Sox to part with their 2004 title for any amount of money. According to Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino, the 2004 championship was "one prize the Evil Empire will never get its tentacles around."

As part of its Yankees Classics series, the YES network will air the 2003 World Series, with its revised footage, in its entirety this week. "It means more work for me," said Yankees' play-by-play announcer John Sterling, "but that's what being a true Yankee is all about. We work just a little harder and go that extra mile in the spirit of the tremendous Yankee tradition. That's why we have 38 championships."

Still, others around the league are in denial about the Yankees' latest exploitation of their competitive advantage. "I don't care what anyone says. We won that championship," said Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, who was a member of the 2003 Marlins. "They can buy all the championships they want, but they can't buy heart and they can't buy soul." Steinbrenner would not comment on a rumor that the Yankees were in negotiations to buy Beckett's heart and soul.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Showers

Today is April 1 and while for others, particularly those that are employed by Google, this day marks an opportunity for all sorts of pranks, shtick, and hijinks, for me, turning the corner into April means one thing: baseball is back.

The amazing thing about the start of the baseball season is that no matter how long the offseason and spring training drags out (and this year's felt as long as any I can remember) opening day still somehow totally sneaks up on me every year. I've been reading about the upcoming season for weeks, yet somehow when I woke up this morning it only hit me for the first time: "oh my god, baseball starts in 5 days."

Opening day is a fresh start, a new beginning for every team, the point at which every baseball fan can find a way to talk themselves into the idea that if things break right, this could be their year, no matter how bleak their chances actually are. However, somehow I feel like I haven't anticipated this one as greatly as years past, and as I mentioned, this offseason and spring training seemed unusually long. I think that's because I, as a Mets fan, am approaching this season more anxiously than excitedly, and I think the collective Mets world is experiencing something similar. Most years, we as Mets fans fall into the category I described above: we look up and down our mediocre roster and analyze our pathetic record from the previous year, yet somehow convince ourselves that things will work out. They rarely do. Then in 2005, something weird happened: the Mets got good. The season ended disappointingly, but showed signs of promise, so we were pumped to watch the team grow in 2006. And boy did they ever, coming as close to the World Series as you could without making it there. So we headed into 2007 knowing we were good and just missed and excited to try again. And it was going well for a while, until this happened. But that didn't kill our spirit. It was a fluke, a tsunami of misfortune that we were ready to just forget. But then it happened again (sort of.) And now we enter a new season, nervous that no matter how well we play, no matter how big of a lead we build in the standings, nothing is safe. And that makes us nervous as hell. SI giving us the kiss of death, doesn't help matters. So because of all that, I think a lot of us are entering this season with a more nervous anticipation than the usual excited frenzy of years past. Still, opening day is opening day, so here is a list of the top 5 things I am excited about for the upcoming Mets season:

5. Ends of games- Without a doubt the greatest villain in the Mets' collpases the last two years has been the bullpen. We've seen the stats about how if games ended at the end of 8 innings, the Mets win the division by double digit games last year. This was the most glaring weakness on a team that was otherwise pretty solid and consistent. And at least on paper, they have addressed that weakness. Signing K-Rod and trading for J.J. Putz gives them a 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen that is as good as anyone, save the alternate reality where the Yankees were smart enough to leave Joba in the pen. But more than that, they have purged themselves of pretty much everyone who was complicit in the debacles of the last 2 years (with the exception of Pedro Feliciano, who was less at fault than others and is a serviceable lefty reliever) and included some young live arms in Brian Stokes and Bobby Parnell. I haven't seen much of Sean Green or Darren O'Day, but at this point just seeing names I don't recognize as part of our bullpen makes me smile. And if we can ever get Wagner back at some point this season, the notion of a Wagner/Putz/K-Rod three-headed monster to close out games will be a terrifying prospect for opposing teams.

4. Jose, Jose, Jose- We have been fortunate enough to have the sheer joy and excitement of watching Jose Reyes play baseball on a daily basis the last few years. However, that entire time has been coupled by a degree of frustration as we were constantly teased by flashes of the player he could be but only getting sporadically. I think that changes this year. I think 2009 will be the year that Jose Reyes makes the leap into superstardom. Why this year? I don't know. But it has to happen eventually and this year is as good as any. David Wright is a tremendous player, but I feel like we know what he is. Reyes, on the other hand, is a player whose ceiling is so high that we can't fathom it. It wouldn't shock me to see him hit 25-30HRs and steal 50-60 bases in the same season one day. Let's make 2009 the year.

3. CitiField- I will miss Shea Stadium. I will miss the excitement I got every time I drove down the Grand Central and caught that first glimpse of Shea poking its head around the corner. I will miss the way the upper deck shook, reflecting the excitement of a sell-out crowd at a big game. Most of all I will miss the memories I forged there at the 100+ games I attended there in my life and cherish the friendships I cultivated with the people with whom I shared those memories. My first baseball game was (fittingly) the day the Mets were eliminated from contention at Shea during the last week of the 1990 season. I was there chanting "F*** You Rocker" along with 55,000 others as he made his 1st appearance at Shea after his infamous SI interview. I was there for Piazza's 2nd game in a Mets' uniform (the 1st was Shabbat), countless Mets-Yankees triumphs, and the unforgettable pennant clincher in 2000. I was there for the double play at the plate against the Dodgers in the 2006 NLDS, for the night John Maine, Jose Reyes, and Paul Lo Duca kept us alive for another day in Game 6 and then to watch Endy Chavez lift our spirits and Carlos Beltran (but really Aaron Heilman) break our hearts the next night in Game 7. And then I was there for the last regular season games the last 2 years as the Mets sealed their fates on stomach-punch collapses. I will remember all the happy recaps and the depressing train rides home, which were far too frequent. I will desperately miss Shea because Shea is all I know. But it's time for a new home and a new place to form new memories with new people (and some of the same.) And from everything I have seen and heard (I will be visiting for the first time this Sunday), CitiField will be a beautiful ballpark and will be a tremendous place to watch a ballgame. So I am truly excited for that experience.

2. A New Murph In town- Not Dan, not Danny. It's Daniel Murphy. And he means business (hattip Harold via friend from school.) I have never been as pumped for a young player at the start of a season as I am for Daniel Murphy. And that's because unlike other up and coming prospects, the emphasis with him isn't on his tools but rather on his approach and the way he plays the game. While the jury is still out on whether this kid can be a top player, I can't foresee a scenario where he isn't a good one. He just plays the game too well (working the count, taking the extra base, just flat out playing smart baseball) to not be good. And even though he has proven to be somewhat of an adventure in the field, he is exactly the type of player that I love, that will fly under the radar for casual fans, and that only those of us that watch this team day in and day out will truly appreciate.

1. Johan Santana- No need for a pun on this one. Johan is the man. Michael Jordan never made it to New York and Wayne Gretzky and Brett Favre weren't the same by the time they played here, making this the only time I have had the privilege of seeing the undisputed best in his sport play for my team in the prime of his career. And I use the word privilege carefully because it truly is a privilege every time I get to see this guy pitch. While he doesn't necessarily bring with him the excitement level of say, Pedro in '05, every single time he takes the mound is a can't miss event. People thought I was crazy when I expressed mild disappointment at what was a very strong showing in the first half. But that was because I knew what he was capable of and he lived up to my very high expectations in the second half, going 8-0 with a 2.17 ERA, highlighted by a heroic 3-hit shutout on 3 days' rest in the season's penultimate game to stave off elimination. The guy is truly a remarkable athlete and I will make it my business and my duty to see every single pitch of as many of his 35 or so starts that I can this season.
And with that, my nervousness has now shifted to eager excitement. 5 days to go...