03.29.06

Cooking With Fabregas

Posted in Football at 3:15 am by

Arsenal 2, Juventus 0 (Champions League, QF, first leg)

Sorry, I think I deserve just a little credit for not going with “Absolutely Fabregas”.

All of a sudden, Arsenal’s loss of Patrick Viera last season seems a little less devestating. Not only is the (mostly) young Gunners side coming into its own with poised showings against Europe’s toughtest competition — last night’s impressive display following Arsenal’s ouster of Real Madrid — but the home side’s composure was in stark contrast to the 2nd half meltdown suffered by Fabio Capello’s men. From the Telegraph’s Henry Winter.

If Cesc Fabregas’ name danced merrily on the lips of every Arsenal fan as they strolled into the ground last night, then mention of Kolo Toure surely featured in ensuing utterances. Organised superbly by Toure, Arsenal’s defence equalled AC Milan’s Champions League record of seven successive clean sheets.

Juventus coach Fabio Capello must have secretly admired the mobility and steel of Toure and his defensive cohorts, particularly as his own back five cost £100 million – 20 times more than Wenger’s rearguard. Toure was magnificent, even inflicting two stealthy tackles on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who wore the bemused look of someone belatedly realising he had been pickpocketed.

This compelling first leg was played at an intensity and speed that Juventus failed to match. At times it resembled an FA Cup tie, although the only Englishman to touch the ball was Brian Barwick, the Football Association’s watching chief executive, who caught a wayward clearance from Zebina.

The foreign hearts in the Arsenal ranks were filled with an English passion as they tore into esteemed guests, the sixth-placed side in the Premiership giving a wonderful advertisement for the English league. The suggestion that Arsenal would struggle against more physical European opponents, and would melt when Vieira and Emerson crunched into challenges, was soon mocked.

Even Robert Pires, who would normally struggle to tackle a petit fours, flew into challenges on Vieira. The thought must briefly have passed through troubled Italian minds: had they plucked the wrong French ball-winner from Highbury? “Welcome Home Patrick – Toujours the Fantastique 4″ read one banner on the North Bank. Nobody had bothered to add anything about Pires tackling him.

I didn’t get to see last night’s Benfica/Barcelona match in its entirety, but there’s a pair of saves at Ronaldinho’s expense that ought be shown on “SportsCenter” in an endless loop. “What Chris D’abaldo is to Saliva,” I can already hear John Buccigross intoning, “Moretto de Souz is to Benfica”.

Hometown Boor Bashes Bruins

Posted in Basketball at 2:52 am by

After the ethical lapses of Jim Harrick and the abomination that was Steve Lavin’s hair, you’d think there’d be tremendous civic pride over the recent achievements of Ben Howland’s UCLA basketball team. Think again, suggests the LA Times’ resident pain in the neck Bill Plaschke, who thinks the Bruins are so dull, “UCLA could win a national title and get hurt in recruiting.”


(Cedric Bozeman spies Plaschke ducking out to purchase nachos during Saturday’s UCLA/Memphis trudgefest)

The scoreboard flickered with the sort of numbers that Southern Californians love.

At a football game.

The playing surface was littered with the sort of diving stops and up-the-middle defense that Southern Californians adore.

At Dodger Stadium.

To many in its hometown, UCLA’s return to college basketball’s Final Four with a 50-45 regional championship victory over Memphis on Saturday was more confusing than cathartic.

This is fun?

This is entertaining?

This is L.A.?

More Deadwood than Hollywood, the cold-blooded Bruins are two winnable games from making their town’s sports fans face a long-dreaded question.

What if a national championship is brought to Los Angeles by a bore?

Why was Saturday’s 10.2 Los Angeles rating for the Memphis game only one-third the rating the game received in Memphis, and less than one-third the rating of other recent L.A. teams in playoffs and World Series and bowl games?

And did you talk to anyone after the game, or after any of the first four UCLA tournament victories?

The three words I have heard most often are “A great game.”

But the next three words, spoken in the same breath, are “Hard to watch.”

Shenin : MLB Is Parity-tastic

Posted in Baseball at 1:59 am by

Citing the White Sox’s improbable championship run last season, the Washington Post’s wishful thinker Dave Shenin declares “It’s Anyone’s Ballgame”.

In hindsight, the White Sox’ success should not have been so unexpected simply because they were mediocre the year before. In fact, they were the fourth team in five years to win the World Series after logging 85 or fewer wins the year before — including two champions (the 2003 Florida Marlins and the 2002 Anaheim Angels) who had losing records the year before.

So, with the dawn of the 2006 season upon us, we say to thee: Have faith, Milwaukee (manager Ned Yost, shown above). Hang in there, Arizona. Believe, Baltimore. This really could be your year.

If the period from roughly 1995 to 2001 will be known forever as the Steroid Era, perhaps this one will be known as the Parity Era. The evidence, as it was in the last era, is right in front of our eyes:

Eight different NL pennant winners in the last eight years. Four straight unique AL champs. Six different teams winning the World Series in the last six years. In the last five years, almost half the teams in baseball — 13 out of 30 — have played in a league championship series. And by our count, there are perhaps 17 teams good enough to win it all this season.

“It’s not like it used to be a few years ago, when you felt like only a few teams could win it all,” Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said. “Look at our division [the NL East]. Any one of us could have won it in the last month.”

Perhaps instead of the “Parity Era,” we should call this one the “Era of Fundamental Soundness.”

Gaze at the Big Picture of Baseball over the last few years, and you can almost sense a sea change coming over the game. In the post-steroid era, the impact of the long ball clearly is diminished, and what is taking its place is a renewed emphasis on pitching, defense, athleticism, teamwork — all the things the 2005 White Sox, like the 2002 Angels and the 2003 Marlins, possessed in large quantities. (The 2004 Boston Red Sox? We’ll call them the exception that proves the rule.)

If anything, the trend should accelerate in 2006, the first year in which amphetamines are banned from the game — which is expected to result in starting players getting more frequent days off, and making the quality of a team’s bench that much more important.

Computer Associates’ Islanders Scam

Posted in Hockey, The Law at 1:49 am by

Perhaps someone other than Stan Fischler should’ve done the accounting? Newsday’s Mark Harrington on the forthcoming Richards/Kumar trial.

A fondness for exotic cars, “frequent” personal use of a Gulfstream V corporate jet and a $51-million loan backed by his restricted Computer Associates stock to buy one-third of the New York Islanders all may play cameo roles in the upcoming securities-fraud trial of two former CA executives.

In papers filed this month in advance of the trial in May, federal prosecutors said they intended to make an issue of the stock holdings and “lavish lifestyle” of former chief executive Sanjay Kumar (above, left) and co-defendant Stephen Richards to allege they had motives to manipulate the company’s books in the $2.2 billion accounting scandal. Kumar and Richards have pleaded not guilty to securities fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges.

In one of the more illuminating sections of the March 3 filing, the government draws a direct correlation between the $51 million line of credit Kumar secured on June 30, 2000, to buy his Islanders interest and the company’s July 3, 2000, announcement that it would miss financial projections. The latter disclosure, released just before midnight during the July 4 holiday weekend, caused CA stock to plummet 43 percent, or a collective $13 billion, when the market reopened July 5.

Kumar was able to use restricted CA stock as collateral for the loan because the CA board had voted days before the purchase to ease a restriction on the sale or transferral of the stock, prosecutors said. The vote took place the same day a Delaware court approved a settlement forcing key CA executives to return 4.5 million shares of stock from the plan.

“The Islanders purchase likely caused the 35-day month practice to extend for more quarters than it might have otherwise existed,” prosecutors charged.

The 35-day month refers to CA’s extending financial quarters beyond their close date so that more sales could be piled on, a violation of federal securities law.

Whammo!

Posted in Baseball at 12:01 am by

With no available videotape, the Associated Press photographer Brita Meng Outzen provides the Boston Globe with a blow-by-blow description of Monday’s brawl between Boston’s Julian Tavares and Tampa Bay’s Joey Gathright.

Rocker Still Smarting Over Glavine Blow-Off

Posted in Baseball at 12:00 am by

Sorry I missed the following item from Monday’s New York Daily News and T.J. Quinn, but I’ve actually had to read it a second time just to be certain that John Rocker hasn’t accomplished the near-impossible : he’s made Tom Glavine seem like a sympathetic figure.

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker said he didn’t want to be “pigeonholed” as a bad boy last night, but then he took a few shots at onetime teammate Tom Glavine on the “Daily News Live” show on Sportsnet New York.

“He’s had a few comments to make against myself that I thought were out of line and really sort of unnecessary and people took his side because he was the more mainstay Braves guy,” Rocker said. “I just really thought as far as reaching out to younger players and reaching out to his teammates, somebody who could ‘rah-rah’ in the clubhouse, really kind of stayed to himself. … You walk past him in the hall, he wouldn’t even look at you.”

Rocker said he idolized the Braves growing up in Macon, Ga., and didn’t like the cold shoulder he got from Glavine.

“You know, to go and get something to eat and sit down at a table with him for 10 minutes after a game and you grew up idolizing him and he won’t even look at you, that’s rude. Maybe that’s just his personality and he’s a quiet guy, but to me it was rude,” Rocker said.

03.28.06

The Cyborg-Sense Of Danny Fortson

Posted in Basketball at 11:10 pm by

This would explain an awful lot. (link culled from True Hoop).

Reggie : Must…Kill…The Bronx

Posted in Baseball, Ugly New Stadiums at 10:40 pm by

The AP and the New York Times on the continued attempts to make the new Yankee Stadium a reality, regardless of whether the neighborhood wants it or not.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson testified Tuesday when the New York Yankees pushed their proposal for a new $800 million ballpark before a City Council subcommittee.

Jackson (above), who acts as an adviser to the Yankees, said he’d had his share of fights with owner George Steinbrenner. And he said he knew the relationship between the Yankees and the neighborhood wasn’t always great.

”You can’t change the past,” he said. ”I do think there’s an opportunity to engage with people who are trying to help.”

Jackson’s testimony added drama to a packed hearing that had plenty of emotion but wasn’t even expected to result in a vote. Various committee and full council votes on the 53,000-seat stadium plans are expected on April 5.

Jackson’s entreaties that city leaders ”engage” with Yankees officials pushing for a new South Bronx stadium across from their current one caused some council members to bristle.

”It’s an uneven relationship, and it’s almost abusive,” said Councilwoman Helen Foster, who represents the Bronx neighborhood.

She cited longtime stresses on the impoverished neighborhood — traffic among them — resulting from the Yankees’ presence. She questioned whether the current plans were taking Yankees fans’ concerns more seriously than those of Bronx residents.

Linda Florence, who lives near the stadium, said she didn’t mind the Yankees getting a new ballpark. But she’s worried about the loss of green space in a neighborhood where it’s scarce.

”Don’t take away the parks that are central to our neighborhood,” she told the council.

Adam Arce, who works in security for the Yankees, said a new ballpark would be a boost for the team and nearby businesses.

”This is a trigger,” he said. ”This is a starting point.”

Councilman Charles Barron, questioning the Yankees’ commitment to the largely minority neighborhood, asked team president Randy Levine how many upper echelon ballclub officials were minorities. Levine said he found the question ”offensive.”

Packer Plugs The Final Three (Plus One)

Posted in Basketball at 6:00 pm by

The superb recent performances of several schools that we’ll charitably call not-exactly-national-powerhouses have done little to quell CBS’s Billy Packer, writes the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein.

Billy Packer–a.k.a. the Scourge of the Missouri Valley Conference, the Enemy of the (Wichita) State–was as feisty as ever while speaking with reporters Monday to promote CBS Sports’ coverage of the Final Four.

Again he did not back down from those who accused him of showing bias toward the major conferences.

He pointed out that in the final Associated Press poll, none of the 72 voters ranked George Mason among the Top 25 teams.

“Now I don’t see anybody clamoring for members of the AP [poll] to apologize for not giving George Mason a vote,” Packer said.

“That would be ridiculous … I find this rather stupefying that it’s: `Billy Packer made this horrendous mistake.’ I’m in the majority. There was no one in the country, no knowledgeable observer of basketball, who had George Mason playing Wichita State [in the Sweet 16]. So why would anybody apologize for that?”

Packer, though, confirmed he had seen very little, if any, Missouri Valley competition during the season.

But he said that didn’t change his view that the committee should have recognized that the power conferences had dominated the tournament in past years.

Said Packer: “You’d have to say that what the Valley did this year in the tournament should certainly give them some weight in the future.”

It’s Official : Bannister Wins 5th Spot In Mets Rotation, Heilman To Relieve

Posted in Baseball at 5:34 pm by

For those who’ve not followed the Mets’ seeming indifference towards Aaron Heliman, this might seem like a 3rd string quarterback controversy. But when there are questions marks surrounding spots 1-4 in the Mets rotation (Pedro’s toe, Glavine’s 80 mph fastball, Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano being, well, Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano) and Heilman was declared untouchable in at least one rumored offseason deal, at the very least, this is a 2nd string quarterback controversy. From Newsday’s David Lennon.

The bullpen phone rang for Aaron Heilman shortly before 9 o’clock yesterday morning, when the pitcher formerly known as the Mets’ No. 5 starter was called into the manager’s office and told his job title had changed.

Brian Bannister soon followed, and in a matter of minutes, the Mets had pulled off their best trade of spring training without going outside the organization. Or so they hope. Promoting Bannister on the strength of his Grapefruit League resume is a calculated risk, and giving him Heilman’s spot makes it even more so.

“I look at it as, ‘What makes our club better?’” manager Willie Randolph said. “Both deserve to be in the rotation. We have some questions with [Jorge] Julio coming in late and [Duaner] Sanchez getting acclimated. But Aaron [Heilman] just makes that nucleus out there that much better.

“That’s all. And that’s not to say really that this is etched in stone. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is about what’s best for the team at this point in time.”

The key word being “team.” Heilman was not exactly thrilled after receiving the news, and the Mets are fortunate he doesn’t have Jose Lima’s flair for public speaking or there may have been some early morning fireworks in the clubhouse.

The Mets are also fortunate Heilman doesn’t share Jose’s flair for pitching. Lima Time allowed 5 runs, all earned, in two innings of labor earlier today, as Florida beat New York, 12-7.

ESPN’s marketplace maven Darren Rovell reports that when and if Barry Bonds passes Henry Aaron’s all-time mark of 755 career home runs, Major League Baseball “will in some way formally celebrate.” As opposed to the day the Sultan Of Surly retires, a moment MLB plans to unofficially commemorate with a huge party most of us aren’t invited to.

Released by the Red Sox on Monday, 2B Tony Graffanino was picked up waivers today by Kansas City.

16 year veteran Marquis Grissom has declared his retirement after failing to land a job with the Cubs