Thursday, May 22, 2008

Soccer versus Gum Surgery (I'll Take the Latter)

I went to the dentist today. The last of several appointments involving deep-tissue cleaning of my gums. I’m doing what I can to stave off the prospect of actual surgery. So now I have prescription mouthwash that’ll melt the top layer of metal off a Sherman tank, and I’m trying to get good about flossing (rots o’ ruck) and using this weird little gum massager they gave me.

It was an early appointment, and I was done by 10:30, and my mouth felt very strange and numb, and soon after it started to hurt as the novocaine wore off.

[Did you know: There’s epinephrine in novocaine. So as the dentist needles up your gums, your heart rate rises. I always thought those jitters I got were simply from being “in the chair”—or simply the trauma of having the gums assaulted with needles (“Okay, you’ll feel a little ‘pinch’ here”). But no, there’s a more direct reason why it happens. The doc took my pulse: 89. Definitely higher than the normal 70, but apparently in the right zone for an epinephrine fix.]

Later, back home, my mouth hurting more and more, I tried to work a little. Not much luck. (I failed to take any aspirin or acetaminophen, just because I try to avoid taking medicine if possible.)

Finally, I decided I was hungry and recovered enough to get some food. I also figured that I could get a drink (a medicine I do not avoid), so headed off to my favorite sports pub, Sam’s, in Nashville’s Hillsboro Village.

I rarely hit pubs at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. I figured it would be quiet. Couldn’t imagine any major event on the big-screen telly at that time, and besides, isn’t everyone at work?

Surprisingly, Sam’s was bustling. I found one of the last seats at the bar, looked up at a husky guy, and asked if anyone was sitting there. “You are,” he bellowed. “As long as you’re rooting for Manchester United!”

Of all things, a soccer game was dominating the three oversized TVs. Stranger still, there was a goodly number of other guys sitting at tables away from the bar, hollering loudly, urging on the soccer players.

Sore teeth, I thought—and soccer. Ugh.

I ordered a Margarita and some spinach dip with chips. Suddenly, my new pal to my left roared with approval, and I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

The event was the UEFA Champions League, uh, championship, explained to me by Soccer Guy as “the Super Bowl of soccer.” Described by a wire service report as “a night of high drama and emotion,” the competitors were Manchester United and Chelsea, both teams from England, yet the game (match?) was being played in Moscow, of all places.

Soccer Guy explained to me a little of why it was that two British teams were playing in Moscow. Near as I can figure, it would be as if the NFL had gone international in its regular season (teams all over the globe), with, say, Berlin bidding for, and then hosting, a Super Bowl played by the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots.

The score was 1-1 when I arrived at the bar. An hour later, it was still 1-1, I had finished two Margaritas and my food, and I’d been eyeing a TV on the other side of the bar, which was broadcasting Vanderbilt versus Florida in an SEC baseball game. (Could we maybe put that up on just one of the big screens?)

Then a guy came up and asked Soccer Guy about his plans for the near-term. SG said, “I don’t know, man. This could go on a while. I figure at least another hour.”

Another hour? Sure enough, it stayed tied at 1-1, the clock ran down, and then the two teams went into what they call “extra time,” a Byzantine exercise that I’ve never had the patience or interest to understand fully.

I was done. I was driving, so one more drink was out, and besides, the soccer just made my gums hurt more. Soccer Guy didn’t even notice I’d left.

I found out later that Manchester won the game after the extra time expired, beating Chelsea 6-5 in a series of “spot kicks,” which is sort of the equivalent of two football teams (real football, I mean) having their placekickers square off in a field-goal match. Theoretically, this could have gone on forever, so long as each team equaled the other’s spot kicks.

I simply don’t get soccer as a spectator sport. I was dying for Soccer Guy to ask me how I was liking the match. I was prepared to say, “Not too much. There’s just too much scoring for me.”

Watching guys run around with intensity holds my interest for about a minute. Watching them run up and down a really wide and long field for an hour with no one scoring is just plain stupid.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Soccer is subtlety and drama, and you just have to appreciate all the constant strategies of moving the ball up and down the field (and up and down and up and down and up and down), not to mention the sheer stamina factor involved and the occasional semi-violent collision (which fans seem to take as a personal affront).

In soccer, the goalies have different-colored uniforms than their teammates. Soccer has weird things like “yellow cards” and “red cards” (I think they’re like detention slips that get handed out at boys’ boarding schools). The teams committed 47 fouls in this match. (Isn’t that a lot of fouls? You’d think soccer was cleaner.) Then you’ve got your “corner kicks” and “offsides.” (Whatever.) Plus these were British teams, but there were guys playing with names like Van der Sar, Anelka, Cech, Ronaldo and Drogba. (Probably signed as unrestricted free agents from the Eastern bloc.)

I have relatives who love soccer. My sister’s boys play it big-time and they excel. It’s the big, modern suburban game for “civilized” families. But for a Margarita-swilling, couch-potato sports junkie like myself, it’s a crashing bore. (Sorry, Soccer Guy.)

I’m also reminded of the episode of “King of the Hill,” when Hank’s kid Bobby stinks at football and so then gets involved with soccer. It’s hilarious to see Hank wince and grimace when the wine-and-cheese soccer coach announces that soccer is “a game where everybody gets to play, and no one ever loses.”

Yes, and that’s why soccer sucks. Come to think of it, it’s worse than gum surgery.



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Torre Could Be Facing Facts: Jones a Dodger Liability

During the baseball offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed former Atlanta Braves slugger Andruw Jones to a two-year $36.2 million contact. Too bad they didn’t just hold on to that money. It would have made a nice donation to the poor devils in Burma and China beset by natural disasters. And the psychic return on that would have been considerably higher than the impact Jones has had on the Dodgers’ season thus far.

Jones supposedly has a sore knee and sat out last night’s game. But suddenly, with the subtraction of Jones and his .167 batting average (2 HRs, 7 RBIs), the Dodgers’ lineup is looking like it should have five weeks ago.

Manager Joe Torre kept mixing and matching his youngsters, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, in the outfield, bookending Jones in center. The kids have talent, and, in theory, this was an interesting experiment. The problem was it left Juan Pierre and his .301 lifetime batting average (and a $44M contract of his own) sitting on the bench.

Last night’s Dodgers lineup looked just right: Pierre in left (leading off), Kemp in center and Ethier in right. The trio was a combined 8-for-13 in the Dodgers’ 6-5 victory over the Reds. Kemp is hitting .320. Ethier .291. Pierre, finally getting playing time, raised his average to .286, and he’s got 17 stolen bases.

The Dodgers lack power, for sure—only 31 homers in 44 games. Jones was supposed to help resolve that problem. Only 31, and theoretically at the height of his powers, Jones in fact exhibited serious decline in 2007—of the kind that should have given the Dodgers’ brass pause.

Earning $14 million last year with the Braves, Jones’ batting average dropped 40 points to .222. His homer total droppped from 41 in ’06 to 26 in ’07. His RBIs fell from 129 to 94. His slugging percentage sagged .118 points.

Jones slumped badly in the latter half of last season and could never really fix whatever ailed him. Now, with even fatter Dodger dollars filling his coffers, Jones’ power numbers in ’08 project to 8 homers and 28 RBIs—for the entire season. And this with Torre sticking gamely with him, Jones having appeared in 42 games, more than any other outfielder.

For the sake of the team’s investment, and the sake of driving in runs, Torre has given Jones every opportunity to reestablish himself as a premier power producer. It hasn’t happened. And the minor miracle is that the Dodgers—without a single player with more than 5 home runs, and with primo shortstop Rafael Furcal and fragile Nomar Garciaparra dealing with nagging injuries—still hold a solid second place in the National League West, five games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Jones might be finished. When power guys suddenly lose it altogether, and can’t reclaim even a whiff of their production in a solid one-fourth of a season, it’s cause for serious concern. And speaking of whiffs, Jones has 44 of ’em, on pace for a season-long 160 or so. (This would top the 147 he had in 2004.)

The good news is that Torre may have found an outfield combo he can stick with. Power will remain a concern, but he’ll get hits, baserunners and runs scored from Pierre and the kids. If the pitching can hold up, the singles/doubles offense might be enough to remain in contention.

Meanwhile, sitting at the end of the bench, nursing a bum knee, is an extravagantly priced free-agent who all but defines what it means to put a big chunk of dough on a losing horse. Somebody in the Dodgers front office should have checked Jones out like a thoroughbred. His past performances weren’t good and certainly didn’t deserve such risky wagering.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just "Show-vive," Baby! Preakness Bettors Look for Money in the Wake of Big Brown's Expected First-Place Finish

By Steve Brady

[LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Behindatthebar was scratched on Friday from Saturday's 133d Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course because of a bruise in his left front foot. Behindatthebar trained early Friday morning at Belmont Park, but trainer Todd Pletcher said he was not satisfied with the way his horse galloped. The foot bruise was subsequently detected. Behindatthebar will now be pointed for a possible run in the June 7 Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.]

Big Brown stared history down in the Kentucky Derby—and history blinked. He looked like the best horse going into the race, and he paid off at odds of 2-1. He was the first horse since the filly Regret in 1915 to win the Derby off just three prep races, and only the second horse ever to win from post position #20. (The gelding Clyde Van Dusen accomplished that latter feat in 1929.)

It’s one thing to beat a field of the top thoroughbreds in the country; it’s another to beat history. Big Brown did both, and he’s now a strong contender to win the Triple Crown, if only because he scared off almost all of his previous competition. Only one of Big Brown's Derby competitors will challenge him in Baltimore. Add to that the fact that there is almost no other early pace in this race, and the Preakness looks like a cakewalk for BB (post position #7).

BB's only competition on the front end is Tres Borrachos (#2), pictured left, but he’ll burn out by the top of the stretch and look like tres borrachos ("three drunks") by the time he gets to the wire. No, there’s really no getting around Big Brown as the probable winner of this race.

But horse racing is a betting man’s game, and even with his superior talent, Big Brown won’t be worth much as a wager. His odds’ll be so low, you’d get a better rate of return in a money market savings account. Even an exacta with BB on top won’t pay much unless you can narrow the place horse down to just one or two.

Also, there are no guarantees in racing. Things can happen—even to the most talented horses. Things happened to Barbaro two years ago in the Preakness, and something happened to Eight Belles at the recent Derby. Considering the risks, it’s tough to take odds of less than 1-1 in a Triple Crown race, and Big Brown should go off at less than 3-5. (He should win—but at less than even money??)

On the other hand, if you had picked Denis of Cork to show on Derby Day, you would have done all right—better than the win bet on BB, and that was for coming in third. And if BB hadn’t come in, the show payout would have been through the roof.

So, the gambler's question this time isn’t "Who will win?" It’s "Who will come in second and who will show?"

Riley Tucker (#10), Giant Moon (#11) and Kentucky Bear (#8) will try to stay close to BB in the opening quarters, but probably won’t have much left in the tank to hang in there to the wire. Of those three, I think Riley Tucker will stick around the longest. Icabad Crane (#3) has experience over this Pimlico track, but won’t get any pace to run at this time, and may get caught in traffic.

I tend to like late runners, so I’m picking Behindatthebar (#5), pictured left, with underrated jockey David Flores aboard, to finish strongly. I also think Alex Solis will know when to move Yankee Bravo (#4), pictured right, and give him a chance to finish in the money.

The race's late entry, Gayego (#12), is the lone holdover also-ran from the Derby, having finished a disappointing 17th. Gayego got jostled around at the start at Churchill Downs and never got into the race, yet trainer Paulo Lobo says his horse emerged no worse for wear. He might be a wild-card choice, worth considering for an exotics play.

So, here we go again:

The Picks
1. Big Brown
2. Behindatthebar
3. Yankee Bravo
4. Riley Tucker

For a rundown of the complete Preakness field, visit Video of the contenders' past performances can be viewed at the Daily Racing Form site.

Steve Brady is Sports Media America's resident horse-racing handicapper. He lives and works in Los Angeles and maintains a regular presence on the Southern California track scene. Steve also performs and teaches with the improvisational comedy ensemble Cold Tofu.

Do the Right Thing—Let Rose In

I woke up today and realized that I missed Pete Rose’s birthday. It was a month ago today, April 14.

I always remembered Rose’s birthday (4/14/41) because it was printed on the back of his baseball card many years ago—as birthdates always were and are—and for some goshdarn reason it stuck in my head. (I also remembered Frank Howard’s—8/8/36—but not the way I remembered Pete’s.)

Pete is 67 now. That’s how old my father was when he died. So that sober thought made me think how sad and pointless it is that Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Here the guy is, heading toward 70, the equivalent of a rock ‘n’ roll geezer act, making what he can off his name and fame, with 4,256 major league hits to his credit—and the tightasses at the Hall of Fame refuse to let him in.

Many of us know the truth: That Pete is, and always was, a little kid stuffed into a baseball uniform. He probably shouldn’t have gotten married or had kids or tried to do anything responsible—because kids don’t have the maturity to do things like that successfully or without making major mistakes and screwing up.

Lots of screw-up guys get entangled in hardcore gambling. Women, too. It happens. And looking back, should we be surprised that Pete, an overgrown kid paid well for playing baseball and doing Aqua-Velva ads, was one of them?

Yet the visual, anecdotal, and statistical facts don’t lie: Rose was a great baseball player. Ten seasons of 200+ hits, 17 times an All-Star, 1963 Rookie of the Year, 1973 National League MVP, 6 World Series, the 44-game hitting streak, plus 24 seasons of unallayed hustle and intensity, the sincerity of which no one—not even his sternest critics—has ever questioned.

Rose gave us big video moments—the Ray Fosse 1970 All-Star Game collision (left), the scrap with the Mets’ Bud Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS, the world championships with the Big Red Machine, the amazing foul pop-up catch in the 1980 World Series for the Phillies. And anyone who ever saw him play—I recall for myself one time in the late ’70s at Wrigley Field—would be crazy to venture that the guy wasn’t giving his all every single moment on the field.

Rose was born, and driven, to play baseball. If quantity of giving is a measure of anything, then he is truly the Hit King. He amassed his incredible hit total combining a certain skill with indomitable will.

4,256 hits. Achieved without steroids. The nearest active player to him (presuming Bonds is finished) is—don’t snicker—41-year-old Omar Vizquel, who somehow has, without many people noticing, totaled 2,602 career hits as of this writing. (Way to go, Omar! Who knew??)

The only active player with even a remote chance to approach the record is Alex Rodriguez, currently with 2,276 hits and soon to turn 33. If ARod plays 10 more years and averages 200 hits per year, he can pass Rose by. Anyone want to wager on that happening? (Besides Pete, I mean.)

And by the way, Pete’s record as a manager was even okay: 412-373 for a .525 winning percentage. That’s higher than Terry Francona (.512). Or Jim Leyland (.495). It’s exactly the same as Dusty Baker. Heck, even Casey Stengel only had a .508 lifetime winning percentage.

So what I think is that the baseball powers-that-be oughta lighten up on a little kid named Pete Rose, one of the most compelling baseball players and baseball-playing personalities of all time, who unfortunately had to face grown-up things, bungled the job, ended up doing time and now trolls the outcast waters of the sports memorabilia circuit.

It’s time to recognize what Rose did when he was a player in good standing. It’s time to forgive. And to honor.

Do it now. Before he dies of a sudden heart attack. Before that critical moment passes when the man cannot know how much he was appreciated for the contributions he made ON THE FIELD.

He was great. I know it. And you know it, too. Let him in.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Barbara Walters—Auditioning for Tackiness

My brilliant brother Steve has an excellent expression: “We’re gonna die just in time.” Alas, in the case of the publication of Barbara Walters’ memoir, Audition, we all missed the death deadline and now have to suffer through the ugly media coverage of what sounds like utter rubbish, including Walters’ revelation that she had an affair with former Massachusetts senator Edward Brooke. (Where’s that character the funny Kristen Wiig plays on “Saturday Night Live” when you need her? You know, the auntie who reviews films? “Gack!”)

An opportunistic skeeve, Walters will now make appearances to sell her book, including an “Oprah” spot and God knows how many forthcoming trash “entertainment” shows. Now 78, and no less a refuse-monger now than she was in her heyday as a ”journalist,” the pathetic Walters still seeks attention and continues to embarrass herself, mainly because that’s always been her M.O.

Devoid of any intellectualism, Walters has been an obnoxious media presence for decades, exploiting her New York connections to gain a foothold as a “TV personality,” first on NBC, and later ABC, foisting on a defenseless world her sappy, witless, often tasteless brand of reportage, some of which included simply awful interviews with actual world leaders.

Just because Walters has had a podium for however many decades doesn’t make it right, and I’ll leave it to you to surmise how an average-looking broad like her, with a less-than-average mind, who never went to speech school to improve her stupid-sounding regional vocal style, turned it all into a mega-millions television career.

But even if we grant that Walters indubitably established herself as a TV presence through all the years, that’s no excuse for her taking the low road now that she’s a doddering old fool. And yet, would we expect anything less? Sad.

A person with grace, class, a sense of decency and a seriously iconic public profile doesn’t publish a tell-all memoir unless she’s so insecure and craving the limelight that she doesn’t care where the grapeshot of her naval-gazing musings lands.

Edward Brooke is now 88, living out his life in Florida. But no, that’s not enough for Walters. Let’s dig up some bones and say “Look at me!”

Stupid people—Walters’ career-long audience—will possibly buy her book, if they have any money left after buying groceries and filling their cars with gas. Meanwhile, the “author” will sanctimoniously make her media appearances, defend her work, and no doubt tell us how cathartic it all feels.

Here’s the truth, Barbara: Nobody of any substance cares. And that will be the legacy of your life and career.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The 134th Kentucky Derby—Can Big Brown Deliver?

By Steve Brady

The first Saturday in May is upon us, and once again I attempt to untangle the mysteries of the Kentucky Derby, once and always a chaotic race. There are a couple of stories to keep an eye on in this year’s Run for the Roses.

The story off the track is the same one taking place in every other aspect of modern life—the availability of free information provided on the web. Horseplayers no longer have to buy solely into the opinions and perceptions of racing analysts and clockers. For any of the significant races leading up to the Derby, there is easily accessible video evidence you can peruse with your own eyes. Seeing is truly believing.

Didn’t catch Big Brown (left) demolishing the field in the Florida Derby on March 29? No problem. Go to YouTube and watch it to your heart’s content. You were busy taking a box of old flannel shirts to Goodwill on April 12, and didn’t see Gayego hang on to win the Arkansas Derby? No sweat. A couple of quick clicks, and it’s right there on your laptop. Having a hard time believing that Bob Black Jack really set a world record on January 26 in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita (6 furlongs in 1:06.53)? Well, what are you waiting for? Click fer chissakes!!!

In fact, between YouTube,, and, you can watch videos of almost any race you want—and it’s all completely free. The Derby site (see link, below) has videos of all the major prep races. It’s absolutely invaluable. They even have video footage of all the contenders going through their morning workouts at Churchill Downs, so you can see how they handle the new surface.

On the track, the big story is the post positions of the major players. The Derby has an extremely large field, with a two-tiered method for determining starting positions. They first draw a number for order of selection, then choose a post position from the available slots. Colonel John (pictured above, the 4-1 second favorite) had an early selection, and got a nice, comfortable spot at post 10. Big Brown (the 3-1 morning line favorite) was one of the last to pick and—given his limited options—chose the far outside post (#20).

The outside is where all the speed is. In posts 17-20, you’ve got Cowboy Cal, Recapturetheglory, Gayego and Big Brown. A little closer in (at 11 and 13) are two more speedsters, Z Humor and Bob Black Jack.

I am wondering if that is why Dick Dutrow, Big Brown’s trainer, chose the outside post. Jockey Kent Desormeaux does not like going to the lead, and he may want Big Brown to sit off the pace until after the speed battle has been determined. If he can do that, he’s got a good chance to win, but if he gets caught up in a pace battle, or if he is forced into a wide trip outside of the other speedsters, it might open the door for one of the closers.

Inside of Z Humor, there is no blazing speed, so the break should be very interesting on Derby Day. While all the horses on the outside are bolting toward the front, look for horses on the inside—Pyro, Colonel John, Court Vision (pictured, left)—to try to settle into a nice position and wait for their stretch run.

Interestingly, there is no real “cold closer” in this race. The closest we have is Court Vision, which is why I’m giving him a chance at long odds (20-1) to finish in the money.

[Quick trivia: There are only seven active jockeys who have won a Kentucky Derby, and four of them are in this race. Desormeaux is one. The other three are Mike Smith (on Gayego, 15-1), Calvin (“Bo-rail”) Borel (Denis of Cork, 20-1), and Edgar Prado (Adriano, 30-1).]

The Picks (with odds and post position)

1. Big Brown (3-1, #20) is the morning line favorite and difficult to ignore. BB’s had only three races, but he demolished the competition every time (by 11-1/4, 12-3/4, and 5 lengths), and his times at a mile and 1/16th and a mile and 1/8th are the fastest in this field.

2. Colonel John (4-1, #10) After his recent blistering workout at Churchill, he may eclipse BB as the favorite. But is he the best horse in the field? I’m not convinced, but he does seem to be the most dependable in-the-money finisher.

3. Court Vision (20-1, #4) is a pure pace play. If BB and Gayego get hooked up with Bob Black Jack and Recapturetheglory, he could take advantage of the situation.

4. Pyro (6-1, #9) was second in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and the favorite earlier in the season until a disappointing finish on April 12 at Keeneland in the Bluegrass Stakes on Polytrack. Can you throw that race out now that he’s back on dirt?

5. Gayego (15-1, #19) is coming up as the wiseguy choice. He might be for real. Still, he didn’t look completely comfortable working out on the Churchill dirt.

The Plays

  • A show bet on Colonel John
  • A three-horse boxed exacta using Big Brown, Colonel John, and Court Vision
  • If you want to get fancy, you can play a $1 trifecta bet:
    4, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 19, 20 = $27
  • If you want to get even fancier, you can try a $1 superfecta bet:
    4, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 19, 20/ with 4, 9, 10, 19, 20 = $54 (If this one comes in, you can buy me dinner—in Monaco!)

For a rundown of the complete Derby field, plus related video features on the horses, visit

Steve Brady is Sports Media America’s Los Angeles-based handicapper.