Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy Monday, DFW!

Back with a vengeance, from the excitement that was Disneyland, I rejoin you with promises of blogging non-stop between now and July 13th, when I engage in another vacation.

I generally try to get a fill-in for this blog, but due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control, it obviously didn’t happen last week. Sorry about that.

A quick review of vacation:


Malibu Beach
Venice Beach
Dana Point Harbor
Huntington Beach (gets a bad rap; I enjoyed it – good body surfing)
Weather most days
Tower of Terror Ride


Not too much else.

And now, on to sports:

Everyone have Padilla at 10 wins by the final week in June?

On the way to a 5-3 win Sunday, Vicente Padilla fed the aggressive – almost undisciplined – Washington Nationals a steady dose of hard stuff for seven innings to earn his 10th win of the season and legitimately make himself a contender for a spot on the American League All-Star team. He is tied for second in the AL in wins and has won eight of his last nine decisions.

Closer C.J. Wilson followed suit in the ninth for his most efficient save in more than two months. It came at a time when Wilson's job was in peril after consecutive poor outings earlier in the week.

"That's the way you have to pitch," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "If you know their hitters, you know they are aggressive hitters. They will go after it really early. There's no sense throwing them breaking balls until they hit the fastball."

Padilla backed away from the slow curve that has often dotted his performances. He threw just one, which Dmitri Young hit for a long flyout, in the course of 102 pitches. Everything else was hard. Even when he went to breaking stuff, he stuck with the hard slider.

The free-swinging Nationals, owners of the lowest-scoring offense in baseball, were all too happy to try and hit those fastballs as far as possible. After a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first, Padilla got 16 outs from the next 16 batters. The only two to reach base were erased by double plays. Pinch hitter Willie Harris caught up with a fastball in the sixth. Ronnie Belliard caught up with one in the seventh to tie the score at 3-3.

"He was throwing the fastball on both sides of the plate, and when he realized they couldn't keep up with it, he kept throwing it," manager Ron Washington said.

The Rangers (39-38) scored twice in the eighth on back-to-back, two-out, pinch-hit singles by Frank Catalanotto and Ramon Vazquez. In the bottom of the inning, Eddie Guardado threw his low-resolution version of the fastball for a 1-2-3 inning.
Wilson came on for the ninth and threw consecutive fastballs to get ahead of Lastings Milledge 0-and-2, and then tried to get him to chase a slider off the plate. Milledge didn't go for it. Wilson didn't throw another breaking pitch in his 10-pitch inning. He finished off Milledge with a 97 mph fastball, then threw six more to Young (single) and Jesus Flores (double play) – all of which hit 95 or higher – to finish off the game.

It was the fewest pitches Wilson has thrown in a save opportunity since April 16.

This week with the Rangers:

Tue. 24 at Houston 7:05 p.m. Ch. 27
Wed. 25 at Houston 7:05 p.m. FSNSW
Thu. 26 at Houston 7:05 p.m. FSNSW
Fri. 27 PHILADELPHIA 7:05 p.m. Ch. 27
Sat. 28 PHILADELPHIA 7:05 p.m. FSNSW
Sun. 29 PHILADELPHIA 5:05 p.m. FSNSW

First, Mike and Greg, now Mike and Chris are splitting up? …nothing lasts forever in radio…

"Mike and the Mad Dog," the most successful, influential show in sports talk radio history, could soon be history itself.

Barring a change of heart, the partnership between Mike Francesa and Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo is not expected to survive to see its 19th anniversary Sept. 5, industry sources with knowledge of the situation said.

They may have already done their final show together; their next scheduled broadcast is not until July 11.

It is not clear which host would remain on WFAN, only that it would not be both of them. One factor appears to be a fraying of their personal relationship in recent months.

Reached on vacation Saturday night, Francesa flatly said, "No comment."

Russo, meanwhile, denied knowledge of a potential breakup, and said that his contract, including a no-compete clause, runs through October of 2009.

"That is news to me," he said. "I have not heard that... That is fascinating information."

Later, he added, "The only thing I can say is I am signed under contract for another year and a half. I don't think WFAN is going to let me out of that... I wish I had leverage like that."

Operations manager Mark Chernoff said Saturday night, "They are under contract, and we expect to have a nice, long run with 'Mike and the Mad Dog.'"

The reasons for a potential breakup are not entirely clear, and likely are multi-faceted.

Each host has had other media opportunities, and would have no trouble getting another lucrative job. And there are ways of getting out of contracts early under certain circumstances.

Clearly, though, their relationship is one element in the drama. Several WFAN staffers have observed them feuding off the air in recent months.

On the air, Francesa and Russo have had some spirited arguments, but nothing out of the ordinary for talk radio. Still, avid listeners had been closely monitoring the show for signs of a rumored rift.

Those signs were subtle, such as Francesa declining to ask Russo how he is after Russo had opened the show by inquiring into Francesa's well-being.

But beneath the surface, what had grown from a rocky start in the early 1990s into a close friendship appears to have deteriorated.

Russo did confirm strains in the hosts' relationship, saying, "I think we've been going through that," but he added, "I think we've been fine the last couple of months."

While Russo said he is under contract through '09, Francesa's status is murky. Newsday reported earlier this year he had agreed to terms on a new deal beyond this calendar year, but there never was confirmation it was signed.

Francesa has a Sunday night television show on WNBC-TV, and Russo also has done TV work, including appearing as a guest on "Late Show With David Letterman."

They are believed to be among the highest paid sports talk radio hosts in the country. In 2005, New York Magazine reported Francesa made $1.4 million and Russo made $1.3 million.

A great Tiger Woods column

It is the summer of 1998 and a young Tiger Woods has felt a twinge in his left knee. A routine inspection of the joint reveals not a lot, but then there is a postscript. 'You've got the beginnings of a problem with your anterior cruciate ligament. Eventually it will be a real problem.' And Tiger's life went on.

Fast forward to last summer. Frustrated by his relatively mediocre showing during The Open at Carnoustie - he tied for 12th place - he returns to his home outside Orlando in Florida and does what he loves to do, which is run. If he had not embraced golf so early Woods might well have been a top-class athlete, regularly running just over 50 seconds for 400m as a teenager. He still runs as much for the joy of it as for the fitness it helps him retain. It was while he ran last July that the cruciate ligament finally gave up.

There was, apparently, no big drama, no falling to the ground like a stone as Ernie Els did three years ago when he ripped his ligament tooling around on a yacht. No, just a sort of 'swoosh' and that was it. Painful yes, but only for a short time and after that Tiger's life went on again. Despite the problem he subsequently played in 10 events and won eight of them. No one outside his special circle of friends and minders knew anything was wrong.

Then shortly before the Masters in April, he felt a different, and sharper, pain. This one brought him up short. Surgery was no longer an option, but a necessity. First, though, there was the Masters to take care of. He putted averagely and finished second and then he told us that he was going to have arthroscopic surgery. No big deal, he would be back within six weeks.

Only it was nine weeks and he had not played golf during this time, not even walked a few holes. His coach, Hank Haney, has revealed that his practice regime immediately before the US Open consisted mostly of hitting half a dozen balls before climbing back into the cart to rest his knee. His doctor did not have a problem when Woods said he wanted to play at Torrey Pines. Instead he told him to go ahead, that the knee was so bad he he could not damage the joint any more, but that he doubted he could stand the pain. Woods grinned and said he was definitely playing and, what's more, he was definitely going to win.

This was more than bravado, this was the inevitable echo of all the work his father had put in while Tiger was growing up. It was clearly a loving relationship, but it was also weird. Earl Woods, a Green Beret officer, had been taught how to deal psychologically with possible capture by the Vietcong. He never was captured in Vietnam, but he brought these skills to bear on his prodigiously talented son so he was able to reassure him that although he might occasionally encounter an opponent physically better on the day, he would never come up against anyone stronger mentally.

It was this toughness between his ears that allowed Woods to deal with the pain as he made his way around the California course he loves so much. Over 91 holes he grimaced and occasionally yelped, but never, not once, did he stumble towards quitting. 'It is what it is,' he said. And he did what he did, which was to play his part in one of the most compelling of sporting dramas. His average swing speed was a numbing 124mph, the fastest recorded. Biomechanics show that this meant he put eight times body weight on that left knee every time he hit his ball. As a right-handed golfer he had no choice, for it is this colossal weight shift from right leg to left that ignites his extraordinary power.

'Ouch' does not capture it, but, despite this, at no point did he admit to the real depth of pain Woods was feeling. His caddie, Steve Williams, a consistently unattractive character - but one who is brilliant at his job - rarely talks about the boss who has made him rich, but a couple of days ago he did just that. 'Tiger never complains,' said the New Zealander. 'That's one of his greatest attributes. I'm a bit of a fast walker and there were a few times when he told me to slow down so he could walk at my pace, but that was it.' Even Williams did not know the full extent of Woods' problem until, the US Open won, Tiger turned to him to say quietly, 'We're done for the year, Stevie.'

There always has been a refusal on Woods' part to reveal any weakness and he took this to new, and guarded, heights in California. But there was another reason and one that reflects hugely well on him. He could have told us last Sunday what the situation was after sensationally forcing an 18-hole play-off the following day. Except that Tiger did not want to unnecessarily upstage Rocco Mediate's biggest day in the game. At 45, Mediate was overachieving in this US Open as much as Woods was underplaying his knee.

To understand this gracious approach by a man who is swift to seize every other advantage we need to go back in time again to the first major Woods won, the 1997 Masters. This maiden victory was as much about the colour of his skin and the old, bigoted place he was playing as it was about his youthful exuberance and talent. The other pros paid lip service to these thoughts as that final Sunday began, but then, as usual, they finished their own rounds and hit the road so swiftly they were just a series of blurs as they exited Augusta National. This is the way it always is.
When it is over for them, it is over. It was what it was.

The big exception that day was Mediate, who enthusiastically hung around for three hours after his own round was completed to stand and applaud Tiger as he pulled on his green club blazer. Before that he had been among the first to shake the new champ's hand and, yes, there were tears in his eyes as he did so. Woods, understandably, never has forgotten that simple, yet exceptional, gesture. 'This was history in the making. You think I was gonna miss it,' he told those of us who spotted him.

So, here we, are. The rest of the year stretches before us. Next month The Open at Birkdale, then the USPGA Championship in Michigan and then the Ryder Cup in Kentucky in September. It is a glittering menu, but the main man will not be at any of them. The scatty mob who have complained over the years that Woods is too dominant are about to find out what life is like without him. There will still be drama, still be winners, but, clearly, it will not be the same.

Lee Westwood, whose own campaign at Torrey Pines endorses his claims to legitimate contender status now, said this week that he would still be thrilled to win The Open, even the one that Woods did not play in. 'When it goes down in the history books there won't be a note beside it to say that Tiger didn't participate,' he said. He is right, but what is also right is that he, or whoever else might win at Birkdale, will know for as long as they live that they did not beat the greatest golfer ever to draw breath. It is a short straw, even if it comes with a long bonus.

Greatest golfer ever? Hell, Tiger Woods has legitimate claims to be considered the greatest sportsman ever. No one in my lifetime has dominated their chosen game for such a length of time. No one ever has been a bigger global celebrity. Not Muhammad Ali, not Pete Sampras, not Pele, not Michael Schumacher. Back in March I tried to make this point during a knockabout debate on Radio Four's Today programme and was, predictably, howled down. There will still be howls, but, I suspect, significantly fewer now.

A girl dunks! …Now I will watch women’s basketball…or not…

Candace Parker became the second woman to dunk in a WNBA game and the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Indiana Fever 77-63 on Sunday night.

Parker took a pass from Raffaella Masciadri, dribbled the length of the court and dunked with her right hand with 29 seconds to play.

"When I caught the ball and there was an open lane, it was a good opportunity," Parker said. "I'm happy that I was able to do it in Los Angeles in front of the home fans."

Lisa Leslie, her Sparks teammate, is the only other WNBA player to do it — throwing a shot down during a game in 2002.

"Obviously, it means a lot having the first person to do it on my team," Parker said. "There's going to be more to come in the league itself."

After boredom set in, The Wall Street Journal decided to figure out who the best athlete in the world was, and came up with a confusing verdict

The Journal's Top 10

HOW WE DID IT: We gave the performance stats and achievement records of 79 male athletes to a panel of 5 judges, and asked them to rank the competitors based on six criteria: speed; vision and reflex; stamina and recovery; coordination and flexibility; power, strength and size; and success and competitiveness. The final category examined success—records held and victories—as well as competitiveness, based on the sport's popularity. Soccer, for example, the world's most popular sport, was judged the most competitive. The panel gave a total score for each athlete in the first round. Sixty athletes were eliminated in the second round, either because of low scores or because they were not first in their field. Our panelists then made the final ranking. Yale statistician John Emerson helped normalize the scores so no single panelist could exert undue influence.

THE JUDGES: Ed Coyle, exercise physiologist, University of Texas; has studied top athletes, including cyclist Lance Armstrong. Steve Fleck, chairman of the Sport Science Department at Colorado College and former head of the Physical Conditioning Program for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Eric Heiden,orthopedic surgeon at a Salt Lake City sports medicine and training facility; won five gold medals in speed skating in 1980. Kris Homsi, director of sport science for Sparq, a training and assessment company used in college recruiting. Mark Verstegen runs a group of training facilities called Athletes Performance.

AND THE WINNER IS: ROMAN SEBRLE. The Czech decathlete could jump over Shaquille O’Neal. He could throw a 16-pound ball the length of a 53-foot yacht. From a running start, he could leap over a two-lane highway. Mr. Sebrle has ideal size, according to physiologists, and expertise over a range of athletic pursuits, employing the speed of an NFL back and the vertical jump of an National Basketball Association forward. Some judges questioned whether Mr. Sebrle could withstand a tackle by an NFL lineman, but none questioned his talent in the 10 track and field events that make up the decathlon. He has won Olympic gold and silver medals for the Czech Republic and is the current world champion.

Duke knows its place …and what a sad place it is….

A Franklin, Ky., Circuit Court judge sided with a devilishly clever argument and ruled in favor of Duke University yesterday in a breach of contract lawsuit brought by the University of Louisville.

Judge Phillip J. Shepherd agreed with Duke's lawyers -- that its football team is so bad that any Division I replacement would do.

U of L sued Duke for $450,000 -- or a series with another Atlantic Coast Conference opponent -- after the Blue Devils backed out of a four-game football contract with three dates remaining.

The contract called for a penalty of $150,000 per game if a date with a "team of similar stature" could not be arranged.

Duke's lawyers argued that the Blue Devils, who are 6-45 the past five seasons, are so bad that any team would be a suitable replacement.

Judge Shepherd agreed in his summary:

"At oral argument, Duke (with a candor perhaps more attributable to good legal strategy than to institutional modesty) persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower. Duke's argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville."

According to Shepherd, finding a suitable replacement literally meant any NCAA Division I team would suffice -- including those in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA).

After the teams played their initial game in 2002 -- a 40-3 U of L win in Durham, N.C. -- Duke opted out of the remaining games in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Thanks in part to Duke's cancellation, the Cardinals scrambled to find a 12th game for the 2008 season before signing an agreement with Memphis in February. U of L will play at Memphis on Oct. 10, and the Tigers are scheduled to play at U of L in 2010.

"We're disappointed with the ruling," U of L spokesman Kenny Klein said. "We will take our time to review the decision and explore our future options."

Tiger Woods Magical 3rd Round back 9 at the US Open

Violet Hill – the song currently running through my head

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