Sunday, December 9, 2007

Star Trek Online

Listen, I'm gonna go ahead and come right out and say it: I'm a nerd. I like all the stuff nerds like: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, computers, video games, and the like. So when I heard that there would be a massive online multiplayer Star Trek game, I was obviously delighted. The concept of crewing a starship in the Star Trek universe was very appealing, and, barring some foul-up, should be a lot of fun.

See this article:
http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/50065

For those of you who aren't fans of reading, the article says that a new company has taken over the development of the game, and is planning on setting it up to be a more casual (their word, not mine) experience.

Vomit.

Are you kidding me? The most enjoyable games are those that are in fact too complex. I don't want a game that has been dumbed down for the masses; I want the game that every gaming company wants to make: easy to learn, hard to master. When I hear that they want to make it a "casual" game, I'm thinking it's going to be more like the Sims online or something.

Also mentioned in the article is that the company is exploring a different payment structure, where there wouldn't be a month-to-month fee, but you would have to pay for extra features inside the game. Apparently this strategy has been very successful in Korea. Well that's great, except this isn't Korea. What exactly am I going to have to pay for inside the game? Flight school? Engineering lessons? Transportation? Food? I don't like this, not one bit.

I play World of Warcraft. I've tried out Star Wars: Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings online, and I found all of them to be seriously lacking when compared to WoW. I was disappointed, but not surprised. The Star Wars universe has its own flaws and foibles, so it's only fitting that its video game counterparts have some of the same problems.

But when it comes to complexities and fanship, Star Trek blows Star Wars out of the water. You can't give "Trekkies" a subpar effort; they'll lose their shit. The one thing I like about that is that, in those vehement supporters of the Star Trek universe, I've got a group of dedicated advocates who will do their best to ensure the game lives up to the standard of Star Trek. Many previous Star Trek games have disappointed, but an MMO should be held to a higher standard. You're not just creating an adventure. You're regenerating the entire Star Trek universe that thousands of people already know cover-to-cover, so to speak. You can't mess this up; they won't stand for it.

The main difference is that the average Star Wars fan is a casual fan, often young, and not necessarily a critical thinker. The average Star Trek fan expects a high level of discourse when they talk about their show, and certainly will expect a genuine representation of their universe from a game purported to offer gamers the true "Trek" experience.

Maybe this is all for nothing, and it'll end up being awesome, and everyone will go home happy. But I'm not holding out hope.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Beowulf: The Game

GameStop has Beowulf: The Game on a massive price drop from $59.99 down to $19.99 for both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. I've heard good things about it so far in limited reviews, and for twenty bucks, it's not that much of a risk to take a chance on it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hawaii Isn't So Sunny These Days

What a load of crap. As you might have guessed, I'm talking about the BCS system that has produced a title game of Ohio State versus Louisiana State.

Now, I have no problem with those two teams going head-to-head, and in fact, I'd probably venture to say that they're the two best teams in the country, at least based on the limited information I have, as a casual NCAA football fan. Sure, Hawaii is undefeated, but their schedule very weak, having only played one team viewed as a top 25 team this year (last year's Cinderella Boise State). Georgia looks to be on fire, but the fact is they aren't the champion of their conference. Virginia Tech is the ACC champion, but they lost (handily) to LSU earlier in the year, so it seems silly to send them to the title game ahead of LSU.

But hang on a second. Why does it seem silly to send VT over LSU? Could it be because we think that, when two teams "settle it on the field," the team that won is the better team? Doesn't that capture the entire idea behind a playoff system? And doesn't a system that fails to give a championship opportunity to an undefeated team seem to miss the whole goddamn point? Every chance Hawaii has had to "settle it on the field," they've come out on top. I know it doesn't look good if you put a team with such a weak schedule into the championship game, and the pressure on Hawaii (and on everyone who picked them to play in that game) would be immense, since it'd be an unconventional pick. But sometimes you've got to go with what makes sense. I applaud the few voters who gave Hawaii their first-place vote.

Here's my biggest problem. Was there any way Hawaii could've played its way into the title game? Last year's Boise State team was dominant and went undefeated, but didn't play any ranked teams. They were left out of the championship talk. Hawaii defeated a ranked Boise State team this year, but still didn't get any serious consideration for the BCS championship game.

I'm not someone who tends to think that playing fields should be leveled. I'm not crazy about affirmative action or quotas, or the concept that you can improve your stock when applying to colleges if you're able to legitimately classify yourself as Black, Hispanic, or Native American. But the reason I don't like those things is because we've got lots of examples of minorities who have achieved. Certainly not enough to be able to say that we, as a nation and as a species, have grown beyond the stigmas based on color, creed, or anything else, but enough to say that most everybody has a shot.

But that's not the case for non-BCS schools. They simply have zero chance of being able to play for the championship of their own league. That's insane. It's one thing to say, "We know we're not good enough to win the title, but we're going to go out there and play our hearts out and try to win some games." But that's entirely different from, "We're as talented as anybody, and we can win every game on our schedule. But even if we do, we won't be given the opportunity to play for our championship." If I were anyone of influence at any of those schools, I'd start telling people that we need to try to get sent back down to 1AA, so that we can have a shot at a title.

This year was like a perfect storm for a non-BCS conference team to sneak into the title game. Everybody relevant lost at least 2 games except for Ohio State, who had a notoriously weak out of conference schedule and played in a Big Ten that endured a down year. Nobody looks all that good, but Hawaii still gets no "dap." What would it take? Would a team like Hawaii, Boise State, or Utah need to schedule multiple out of conference big time BCS teams? Say something like playing Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas A&M? Oh, you mean like the Utes DID in 2004, and then they went on to wipe the floor with Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

How do we not learn from that? Or from Boise State/Oklahoma last year? Do people really think that the best team can only be one of the 65 teams in BCS conferences? And do we really think that, by picking teams only from those conferences, we're assuring ourselves of a great, competitive, memorable championship game? Let's explore the history of BCS title games, shall we? To make things easier, I've bolded the games that were won by 17 points or more:
  • 2000 - Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29
  • 2001 - Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2
  • 2002 - Miami 37, Nebraska 14
  • 2003 - Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)
  • 2004 - LSU 21, Oklahoma 14
  • 2005 - USC 55, Oklahoma 19
  • 2006 - Texas 41, USC 38
  • 2007 - Florida 41, Ohio State 14
That's four out of eight that were blowouts. And I'd venture to say that a 13-2 game tends to not be particularly entertaining.

I'm not going to argue that there haven't been a couple of tremendous games. Ohio State/Miami was a classic, and Texas/USC was perhaps the greatest college football game I've ever seen. But it is by no means a guarantee that, when you match up two BCS teams, you'll have a highly competitive, down-to-the-wire game. So why not give Hawaii a chance?

I'll tell you why. Because nobody gives a shit about Hawaii. Hawaii doesn't have the storied history of LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC, and on and on. So when you poll coaches to figure out who the best teams in football are, is it any surprise that they go with the big name programs? As a matter of fact, why in the hell are we asking NCAA coaches, 95% of whom have their jobs on the line for the entire season, to make objective evaluations of every other college football team in the country? Steve Spurrier makes no secret of the fact that he votes for Duke as the #25 team in his poll until they lose. Granted, that's usually week one, but the fact that that's even possible is evidence of how flawed the system is. Whatever happened between the colleges and sports writers to cleave the writers from the evaluation process has got to be buried in the interest of a more perfect system.

Is a playoff system the answer? Probably. It's worked for every other sport I've ever watched or cared about. There isn't a playoff system out there that I've ever seen or heard of that hasn't worked, that hasn't accomplished its precise goal of making sure that the team it declares as champion had to go through the other contenders.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Cheap Jerseys

ESPN Shop has a bunch of deals on football and basketball jerseys under $25. I'm hoping that link takes you directly to the lists of jerseys, but if not, I'll try to post better links later tonight/tomorrow.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Expansion Packs

When I was a kid, I hated expansion packs. I felt like the game company was robbing me, asking for more money just so that I could have a few more levels, a few more features, a little more functionality. And as a video game kid, I couldn't help but comply. Thirty dollars more for the Lord of Destruction expansion for Diablo II? You're an ass, Blizzard. Why didn't you just include this in the original game?

But I was wrong. Dead wrong, in fact, 95% of the time. It's true, a lot of the stuff included in the Diablo II expansion probably could've been included in the original game, though it obviously would've taken some time to get it resolved and programmed and tested and produced. But hey, what's a few more months when you're talking about thirty whole dollars? Well, it's time for the next game to come out, like Dungeon Siege for example.

But more than that, how about the fact that it is thirty dollars? Expansion packs very rarely rival the original game in price, and often, shortly after the expansion comes out, a full package include the game, expansion, and occasionally a strategy guide becomes available for $50. The "Battle Chest," as it's sometimes called. Take that into consideration the next time you pay full price for the newest Tiger Woods, or Madden, or 2K game. Expansion packs offer about the same amount of new content as the annual iteration of the popular sports games, but are available for substantially less money than the original game.

Let's cite a few examples of particularly impressive expansion franchises (Blizzard will dominate the list, but they dominate gaming, so it's reasonable).

World of Warcraft - The Burning Crusade expansion offered a brand new continent, two new races, a new profession, hundreds of new items, monsters, and skills, and a few more "instances," or dungeons, to those unfamiliar with the game. The next expansion, set for this winter, will add another continent, another new profession, a new class (far more interesting than a new race), siege weapons and destructible buildings, and another bevy of new items, monsters, skills, etc. The new expansion, in fact, is the main reason I'm continuing to play and pay for World of Warcraft. I've always wanted to be a death knight.

Starcraft - The Brood War expansion was one of the earliest expansions in my gaming career. It offered a few new units (not too impressive), but also offered completely new campaigns, with a full compliment of missions to undertake that rivaled and perhaps even surpassed the original campaigns, at least in terms of difficulty. That shit was hard.

Half-Life - Not along the same conventional expansion pack lines, but Half-Life spawned a number of expansions, such as Opposing Force, Blue Shift, and Team Fortress. On top of that is the immensely popular Counter-Strike, which started as an independent mod of Half-Life, but was developed into an official release. All of these games were relative successes on some level, and they're all built on the same framework of the original Half-Life. Chip, I promise, someday I'll play that set you bought me for my birthday a few years ago.

However, to be completely fair, there is one game franchise that has completely murdered the concept of an expansion pack to the point of obscenity: The Sims. The Sims came out with seven total expansion packs from August 2000 to October 2003, and while each was available for a reasonable price of $20-$30, the rapidity with which they were released suggests that they were not delayed by coding or testing constraints, but rather in an attempt to generate as much revenue as possible from each set of added features. While Maxis and Electronic Arts are entitled to take whatever path they choose to released their product, it has made me wary of purchasing new games, knowing that the potential for several expansion packs in the near future exists.

But The Sims is the exception and not the rule. For the most part, expansion packs offer game companies the opportunity to respond to requests and suggestions from their respective gaming communities, and expand and enhance their video game experiences. As a sincere gamer, I'm all for the production of top-quality titles, and I like the idea that, if enough people think a certain new feature or game change is a good idea, the company has the chance to integrate it into the game through an expansion pack.

And now you know part of the reason I refuse to buy brand new sports games.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sorry Shula, No Champagne this Year

Now that the "Game of the Century" is over and everyone is looking forward to the rest of the season, its time to take a brief look back at the game and a look into what is coming. The Pats/Colts game came with a lot of hype and a lot of action. Both teams played extremely well and, as we usually see in the NFL, a turnover is the play that seals the deal.

Its all over now with the Patriots leaping over their last true hurdle in what will end up being a spectacular season. Watching and hearing about what the Patriots have been up to all year, there should be little doubt that they are going to push that gas-peddle even more.

The Patriots remaining schedule starts with a Bye Week this weekend, three (3) away games, and four (4) home games. The away games are at Buffalo, at Baltimore, and at NY Giants. The furthest is Buffalo at 458 miles away. Their home games, which should all be easy wins, come against Philadelphia having an off year, Pittsburgh, who will be the only chance of a loss, the NY Jets, who can't decide which QB is best for them right now, and the 0-7 Miami Dolphins.

At this point in time (week 9 before the Monday Night game between Pittsburgh & Baltimore), New England's opponents have a combined record of 23-32, and its probably a safe bet that it'll be 24-33 after this evening's match up.

There's talk that the Ravens will give them trouble in Baltimore during their Monday night showdown. As a fan, "Any given Sunday" drops into my head, but this Ravens team has had an inconsistent year. I don't see this being nearly as tough of a match-up for Brady and his Boys as Pittsburgh will, and with that game at home, New England will have the home-field advantage.

The green light is on. Belichick has not shown any signs during games of slowing down, so why start slowing down now?

Sorry Shula and the rest of the 1972 Dolphins, you will have to save that champagne for another celebration.

Monday, October 29, 2007

World Series / Opt-out

World Series

Did people forget that all year, as well as all last year, the consensus was that the American League had the 4 or 5 best teams in baseball? I guess last year's World Series confused us, but we all knew the Tigers weren't one of the three best teams in baseball; they just happened to win enough games at the right time to make it to the World Series. But the Red Sox were one of the top 3 teams in baseball, and they proved it by rolling over the Rockies.

The Rockies had a very nice lineup, but the Sox pitchers shut them down mostly. The Rockies had a staunch bullpen, but the Sox got to 'em. The Rockies were hot, but the Sox cooled 'em down (it's up to you to decide if the 8-day layoff caused that). While I was very disappointed with both the outcome and the lack of competitiveness throughout, there can be no doubt that the better team won.

Is there any doubt anymore, though, that the Red Sox are simply a hairier version of the Yankees? While the Yankees have the highest payroll, a staggering $52 million higher than Boston, the Red Sox' payroll is another $26 million higher than the #3 team, the Mets. Any time you can fit another team's payroll (even if it's just the lowly Devil Rays) between yours and the next one behind you, you're paying some outrageous salaries. And remember, Alex Rodriguez just declared that he'll be opting out, so that salary and Roger Clemens' salary come off the books for the Bronx Bombers, as well as potentially Jorge Posada's, Mariano Rivera's, and Bobby Abreu's. There's a distinct chance, though probably still less than 50%, that the team with the highest payroll next year is in fact the Red Sox. They're no longer the "idiots" or what-have-you.

I'll still root for them against the Yankees, but that's it. They're the baby Evil Empire, like the Olmec when compared to the Mayans.

Alex Rodriguez Opts Out

How exciting is this? The best player in baseball (try to look at Rodriguez's numbers and argue that) is suddenly on the free market, barring some radical change in his intentions. It's such big news that, on ESPNews tonight, it co-owned the "Breaking News" headline on the bottom line, along with "Red Sox win World Series." That's big.

I'd make guesses as to where he'll end up, etc, but I really need to be hitting the hay. So I'll just give you one intriguing idea: the Philadelphia Phillies. Nobody's talked about them being a big spending team, but certainly a team in Philadelphia has got plenty of money. Howard, Utley, and Hamels should still be in their arbitration periods, which will keep their salaries in check. With Rowand likely departing due to free agency, the Phillies will be in the market for some kind of bat. Obviously Rodriguez is a little bigger bat than Rowand, but I think he'd fit great. Plus, with someone like A-Rod in the fold, you have to think that Utley, Howard, and Hamels are more enticed to stick around; you know the offense is going to have some juice to it. I'm not a Phillies fan, nor am I an A-Rod fan, but I think it's a good fit.

Feel free to share your thoughts or guesses as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Damn Yankees

To briefly summarize the relevant information:

Joe Torre, manager of the Yankees, is offered a 1-year contract with a pay cut that has incentives based on reaching/winning the World Series. He declines.

About a week later, Yankee ownership says that whoever the new manager will be taking over a "team in transition," and will not be expected to win the World Series every year.

Sportswriters and the general fan population cry foul, saying that by the Yankees offering the type of contract they offered Torre, they illustrated their sentiments and expectations. Additionally, because their payroll outweighs everyone else's in baseball, any manager for the Yankees should be and will be expected to win big right away.

Alright, so now you're caught up. And I, of course, disagree with the sportswriters and general fan population mentioned above.

Expectations will always be high for the Yankees; I don't debate that point. But wasn't there a little bit of disdain for George Steinbrenner when he said if the Yankees didn't go to the World Series, Torre would lose his job? Wasn't that disdain from exactly the belief that it's stupid to expect to win the World Series every year? Maybe the new management team actually has some baseball sense. You can't be offended when one guy says something, and then be offended again when the new guy says he disagrees with the old guy.

Secondly, why can't Joe Torre be held to a different standard than some new manager? Joe Girardi, Don Mattingly, and Tony Pena have a combined 4+ years of managerial experience, with Pena as the only one with more than a year. Joe Torre has 26 years under his belt as a manager, and 11 first place finishes. Even if the roster stays essentially the same, the team will be "in transition" because they'll have a relative neophyte at the helm. If you keep expecting managers to win in their first year with the club, you're going to be going through a lot of first-year-managers.

Finally, the roster may in fact look quite different. The following players from the Yankees' 25-man roster have either expiring contracts or some kind of option (player or team): Bobby Abreu, Roger Clemens, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jose Molina, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Luis Vizcaino. It's a safe bet that at least 4 of those players won't be back, and potentially up to 8 (Abreu has a team option which I imagine they'll pick up). That means you could have new starting third baseman, catcher, right field, closer, and 2 new starting pitchers. And you'd be replacing Hall of Famers at at least 3 of those spots (A-Rod, Clemens, Rivera).

I'm not saying it's wrong to expect the Yankees to be a playoff team. Even if they lose all of those players, they'll sign new guys who can play ball, without question. But this is the first time in 34 years that Yankees higher-ups have demonstrated some ability to evaluate Major League Baseball with some logic, some temperament. We should not be castrating the new guys for not being as crazy as The Boss.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

HaloCountry

Since HaloNation seems to escape us with every attempt, we are making a solid attempt to get people together for HaloCountry.

What is HaloCountry? Getting together a serious group of people online for some Halo2 custom games.

Leave Saturday evening, November 3rd open for some serious Halo2 online gaming with some great company.

Contact Joe Mattingly or myself (or respond to this blog) if you have any questions

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kobe Bryant Trade (3)

To re-iterate, here are the criteria that a potential trade must satisfy for Kobe and the Lakers to both approve of it:

A) Kobe must be traded to a playoff team.
B) Lakers must receive a starter who can handle the ball.
C) Lakers must receive young talent.
D) Lakers must receive expiring contracts/unload undesireable contracts.

I decided to reword aspect D to take into account the value of moving a bad contract. Now, let's look at a couple less trite trade ideas, ones that don't involve the front-running Bulls or Mavericks.

Trade #3: Hawks trade Joe Johnson, Josh Childress, Lorenzen Wright, Acie Law IV, and Shelden Williams to Lakers for Kobe Bryant and Vladimir Radmanovic.

A) 1 point - While the Hawks were once again a lottery team last year, they keep stockpiling talent, and keep maturing. They've got playoff potential. Plus, Atlanta is very supportive of its athletes; I have to think Kobe can appreciate that.
B) 2 points - Joe Johnson can play either guard or small forward, and is a marquee player. He gets buried in Atlanta right now, but for the Lakers he'd be a big deal.
C) 2 points - Childress, Law, and Williams are all very young and talented.
D) 2 points - Almost $7 million comes off the books next year between Childress and Wright. More than that, however, Radmanovic's $20+ million over the next 4 years gets shipped out of town.
Total - 7 points, it's a little unconventional because of how bad the Hawks have been, but in my heart, I think it would work.

Trade #4: Knicks trade Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, Nate Robinson, and Fred Jones to Lakers for Kobe Bryant and Vladimir Radmanovic.

A) 1 point - The Knicks seem somewhat improved, and a starting five of Marbury, Bryant, Quentin Richardson, David Lee, and Zach Randolph seems like it could work.
B) 2 points - Both Crawford and Robinson have ball handling skills.
C) 2 points - Curry, while turnover-prone, is talented offensively and still pretty young. Robinson is young as well.
D) 1 point - Again, Radmanovic's contract gets tossed, which is nice. Fred Jones also has $3.3 million expiring this season.
Total - 6 points, again, it's not a playoff team from last season, but a team that could be a 48-50 win team if this trade were to happen.

Trade #5: Celtics trade Paul Pierce, Brian Scalabrine, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen to Lakers for Kobe Bryant and Vladimir Radmanovic.

A) 2 points - Nobody questions that the Celtics are ready to compete.
B) 2 points - While not everyone would be crazy about it, Pierce can handle the ball.
C) 1 points - Davis and Allen figure to not be prominent in Boston's rotation, but they could develop in the Lakers' system.
D) 1 point - Allen's $2 million contract expires, plus they unload Radmanovic (see a trend?). Scalabrine's contract negates about half of Radmanovic's, though.
Total - 6 points, another one that I couldn't realistically see happening, but it gives the Lakers a lot of potential pieces.

Trade #6: Suns trade Shawn Marion and Eric Piatkowski to Lakers; Lakers trade Kobe Bryant to Jazz; Jazz trade Andrei Kirilenko, Gordan Giricek, and Matt Harpring to Suns. ($8M trade exception used to acquire Harpring).

A) 2 points - Jazz? Yes.
B) 1 point - Piatkowski isn't a dream to handle the ball, but Marion is probably the best player they could hope for in any Kobe trade.
C) 1 point - Marion's not really young, but he's so good you have to give another point here.
D) 1 point - Marion's contract is $3M less and a year shorter than Kobe's, and Piatkowski is a free agent after this season.
Total - 5 points, I know, it's not "enough" points, but wouldn't this be the trade that would leave everyone involved pretty happy? The Suns get another defensive force in AK47, plus two flexible hustle guys in Harpring and Giricek. The Lakers get Marion, a perfect guy to build your team around because he can fit into so many roles. And the Jazz get Kobe, the scoring guard they haven't had since Jeff Hornacek.

In the end, the trade that happens will probably be a permutation of one of the deals with Chicago or Dallas, but it's fun to look at other possibilities. In the NBA, because salaries are such an important factor, they tend to dictate the deals that can happen. Also, there are a lot of trade restrictions in the NBA, preventing guys like Andres Nocioni, Morris Peterson, Darko Milicic, and Rashard Lewis from being traded until December 15th. My guess is Kobe gets traded between that date and Christmas, when so many guys fall back into the realm of "trade bait."

Kobe Bryant Trade (2)

When you're trading a superstar, you obviously have pretty high standards for what you want in return. Thus, I established the following criteria that a potential trade that I believe the trade would have to satisfy for it to happen:

A) Kobe must be traded to a playoff team.
B) Lakers must receive a starter who can handle the ball.
C) Lakers must receive young talent.
D) Lakers must receive expiring contracts.

Initially, I thought that only one of the last two would be necessary, but realistically, to equal Kobe's value, the other team would probably need to provide both. However, to take into account the different caliber of players (and contracts), I'm setting a variable of 0, 1, or 2 points per trade aspect. For the Lakers to accept the trade, they would need at least 6 points in return.

The two teams that seem to come up a lot when talking about Kobe Bryant trades are the Bulls and the Mavericks. So I played with it a little, and came up with the following two trades that seem to benefit both teams involved, and match up salary-wise.

Trade #1:
Bulls trade Tyrus Thomas, Chris Duhon, Viktor Khryapa, Joakim Noah, and Kirk Hinrich to Lakers for Kobe Bryant.

A) 2 points - The Bulls are still one of the sexy picks in the Eastern Conference.
B) 2 points - Hinrich has his faults, but he's definitely a very solid ball-handler, and is talented enough to command a starting role immediately.
C) 2 points - Thomas was in the mix for the #1 overall pick a year ago, and Noah has got the potential to be a solid contributor.
D) 1 point - Over $5 million in expiring contracts between Khryapa and Duhon. It won't get them under the cap, but it'll get them closer.
Total - 7 points, looks like a decent deal for both parties.

Trade #2: Mavericks trade Josh Howard, DeSagana Diop, Nick Fazekas, and Jason Terry to Lakers for Kobe Bryant.

A) 2 points - As long as Dirk is a Maverick, they're a safe bet to make the playoffs.
B) 2 points - Terry is a fantastic point guard. He's a little seasoned, but can still play with the best of them.
C) 2 points - Howard is highly touted, and last year he really started to shine. Fazekas could be decent.
D) 0 points - Only the $2 million for Diop expires next season, and there's over $50 million committed to Howard and Terry over the next 4 years.
Total - 6 points, and Dallas has to give up a lot of its core, plus Kobe goes to a Western Conference team. I don't see this happening.

So the trade with the Bulls is the one that will probably happen, right? Well, hold on there. You should know by now that, once I get started talking about trades, I don't stop until everyone else is bored to tears. I'm going to make a third post, using the same evaluating factors, but looking at trades between the Lakers and teams besides the Mavs and Bulls. Get ready for that.

Kobe Bryant Trade (1)

So what did we learn about the NBA trade climate over the summer? Well, we learned that, if all parties want to make a trade happen, a trade will happen. The NBA salary cap is such that there are a wide variety of ways to make things work, and when you're talking about elite players like Kevin Garnett, there's no shortage of buyers.

Your next question is, "What about Shawn Marion and Andrei Kirilenko? They wanted to be traded, but they're still on their respective teams." Right you are, but in those instances, only one party wants to make a trade happen (though the Suns seem willing to move Marion if the situation is right). The Suns and Jazz both had very nice seasons last year, and aren't hankering to break up their cores. The Timberwolves and Celtics were both sub par teams last year, so shaking things up was appealing to both sides.

Now, let's look at the current situation with Kobe Bryant. Unless we've been deceived, it certainly seems like Bryant wants to be traded. Now to the harder question: do the Lakers want to trade him? They've postured themselves recently to suggest that they do, but Bryant is a transcendent player who's still in his prime. It's never easy to toss that kind of talent aside, and it's even harder when your team is coming off of a playoff appearance, regardless of getting bounced in the first round.

But it's no fun to say that a trade won't happen, so we'll take the comments of Jerry Buss at face value, and start looking at potential trades. Also of note: In the NBA, matching salaries is just as important as matching talent. Luckily, ESPN.com has what they call the NBA Trade Machine, which evaluates trades on a salary basis to determine whether or not a particular trade works out. I'm currently working on another post that will have a few trades I've examined. I'll post it as soon as it's done.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Inappropriate" Video Games

If you're in the loop as far as video game news goes, you're already aware that Soldier of Fortune: Pay Back has been banned from being sold in Australia. If you haven't heard, there's a brief article about it on Gamespot that you'll want to read before continuing with this blog entry.

Being someone who disagrees with censorship at just about every level, my opinion on this is pretty predictable. Refusing to give people the option to experience a work of art is wrong. And there's no question that, on all relevant levels, and to anyone who appreciates them, video games are as much works of art as novels, songs, poems, paintings, or movies. The amount of creative energy that goes into creating a video game is tremendous, and, if any of you care to differ, I'll be happy to toss in another blog in the future outlining all of the different ways a video game qualifies as art. In fact, I'll probably do it anyways, regardless of your level of interest.

Back to the matter at hand, however, what kind of place has Australia become? Isn't that where the UK sent all their criminals? Are government officials afraid that, if the citizenry is exposed to these violent images, they'll revert to their murderous, criminal ways? I mean, the United States government does a decent job of trampling free speech rights from time to time, but just about anything that doesn't involve child pron is fair game (I intentionally use a misspelling there, "pron," to avoid the kind of Google searches I'm not looking for).

Check out this list of games that were "refused classification" in Australia, which means they cannot be sold in the country:
  • Manhunt
  • Grand Theft Auto III
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
  • and apparently various others...
I understand the "spirit of the law," as is commonly used when talking about sports in America. The idea is to prevent people deemed incapable of compartmentalizing the game's experience (read: kids) from purchasing the game without the approval of someone with the authority to judge that capacity (read: parent/guardian). But in Australia, it's not "kids" and "parent/guardian." It's "everyone" and "the Office of Film and Literature Classification." What kind of bizarre country doesn't believe its citizens can be trusted to act responsibly in response to violent or sexual imagery in a video game, or in anything for that matter? What a shallow life those people must live.

Grand Theft Auto isn't just a game in the U.S.; it's a whole phenomenon. It's spawned countless mimics, like Saints' Row (really fun game, by the way) and Tony Hawk's Underground 2. To think that the people of Australia are playing a different, toned down version of the game is troubling. As Americans, we think all the time about how many countries in the Middle East have oppressive laws, forcing the rules of their religion on the general populace. But it's a fair bet that most people in those countries are Muslims, and take their religion seriously, so the government is implementing laws that reflect the desires of its constituency.

It seems to actually be a little bit worse in a place like Australia, where most video games are okay. It's okay to be sort of violent, or sort of sexual, but there's a point (and an arbitrary one at that) beyond which you're not allowed to venture.

As an aside, the clips I saw of the game looked really interesting, and knowing now that it's considered particularly graphically violent, I'm going add it to my list of games to wait for to drop to $20-$30 and purchase. (I never buy anything new; I'm a cheapskate, remember?)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oh Dear, the BCS Again.

What if.

Those two words are scaring the pants off of people who back the BCS system in college football. People who've resisted a playoff for one reason or another may have some reckoning coming their way this season, and if so, it's about time.

What if USF runs the table, and we're stuck putting them in the national championship game? What if more than 2 teams finish undefeated...again?

The BCS has always been purported as being the way to "finally" determine who the #1 team in the country is, and crown a national champion. The group that put together the BCS system acknowledged that the previous system was flawed. They realized that the system works better when fans, sportswriters, and players could feel confident that the team declared as "champion" deserved the moniker. Declaring a true national champion was (and still is) in the interest of the perpetuation of the sport.

But somewhere along the way, someone messed up. The current system still has bowl-style flaws. At the end of the year, only 2 teams get a shot at the national title. The path to the national title game passes through Columbus and Pasadena, but also passes through the evaluative minds of coaches, computers, and the American media machine. What sort of strange world do we live in where the championship decisions of a sport (even an "amateur" sport) are decided by people making guesses as opposed to playing head-to-head games, and getting your winners from their actions on the field?

"But Joe, the NCAA tournament uses a selection committee to determine who's eligible to play for the national championship." Right you are. In the end, even professional leagues have to make concessions; in the NFL, tie-breakers are used to determine playoff teams occasionally, and the tie-breakers are probably equally effective in choosing a playoff team when compared to a voting body of experts. But we're not talking about a field of two here. We're talking about a field of 12 in the NFL, or 65 in college basketball. We've acknowledged that it's inappropriate to have every team play every other team and hold a 300-team tournament at the end of the season. But we've also acknowledged that more than two teams are worthy of a chance.

Here's the kicker, a la Tim Cowlishaw on Around The Horn (and various others): "The college football regular season is essentially a playoff system. For the most part, it's 'win or go home' all year long." For the most part, yes, it's win or go home.

Except, Boise State went undefeated last year and never got a shot to get into the title game. So they defied logic, by winning and going home.

Except that Michigan's only loss last year was to #1 Ohio State by 3 points, but got squeezed out of the title game. (Don't talk to me about Michigan ending up losing in their bowl game and Florida winning the title; ask any poker player if the results justify the tactic, and they'll tell you the right move is always right, and the wrong move is always wrong, regardless of the results).

Except that, in 2004-2005, Auburn, Utah, and Boise State all went undefeated, and none of them were afforded the opportunity to play for the title.

Except...except....except....

Now look at this season. Right now, the following six teams are undefeated: Ohio State, South Florida, Boston College, Arizona State, Kansas, Hawaii. Of those six, five are in BCS conferences. Could we again be looking at a situation where an undefeated team from a top-caliber conference gets left out of a championship game? I wouldn't be surprised. Arizona State has a brutal schedule coming up, and Ohio State has some very loseable games, but there's a very real chance that we'll have 3-4 no-loss teams come bowl bid time.

And that's where the concept of the "year-long playoff" fails. In every other sport, if you never lose a game, you've got a shot at the title. College hoops, if you win every game, you earn an automatic bid, either through your season or your conference tournament. College football is the only sport where you can win every single game you play, and still be considered only the 4th best team at the end of the year. If it's a year-long playoff, then every undefeated team is still alive.

So BCS, I wish for you that Ohio State loses (I wish that for myself as well, just as a selfish Penn State fan), and all five of the other teams run the table. You'll get to enjoy Boston College vs. South Florida as your marquee title game matchup. You'll see Kansas vs. Arizona State in one of the other BCS bowls. Hawaii will take on South Carolina. Your ratings will go in the tube, and you'll keep paying $1.8 million to Notre Dame for the luxury of being able to include them in the BCS system.

Without question, a true playoff system is the answer. It vastly reduces the impact of politics, biases, and television exposure in the determination of who'll play for the title. Grab the top 16 BCS-rated teams, seed them according to ratings, and let 'em go at it. The fact that this is somehow difficult for college chancellors or athletic directors or anyone else to grasp is a testament to the total ignorance of the general American population.

I'll leave you with this. Beano Cook, ESPN analyst, said, "The BCS is college football's equivalent of prayer in school. There's always got to be a debate about it." He forgot to add, "It's something that only idiots think is right."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Evander Holyfield and the End of Boxing

So apparently Evander Holyfield lost a title fight this weekend in Russia. This should not come as any great surprise, as Holyfield is nearly 45 years old. However, the fact that he could even get a title fight speaks volumes about the sad state that boxing is in today.

It wasn't so long ago that Mike Tyson was the next big thing in boxing, and he plowed through the competition to achieve super-stardom, including a video game franchise. He had a couple of classic fights with Holyfield (even if one did end with an ear-biting incident), who then went on to fight the next big thing, Lennox Lewis. Lennox Lewis was a tremendous boxer who defeated everyone in his path, but then a funny thing happened: he quit.

The fact was, the competition in boxing by the time Lewis became champion was so weak that Lewis could never hope to reach the same level of stature as his predecessors. For there to be a Batman, there has to be a Joker. For anyone to claim to be elite at anything, they must be tested. And there were simply no valid tests for Lennox Lewis. So, rather than wait around for a new boxer to emerge while putting his body on the line against low-level competition, he retired.

At first I thought, "Why not just keep boxing, pulverizing each opponent and collecting a paycheck?" The reason, however, is that his paychecks would be smaller than those of previous champions, because nobody would be anticipating the possibility of Lewis losing. So he gets less money to fight less accomplished boxers, boxers who might try wild haymakers that could injure Lewis because they're so overmatched. Lewis made the right decision to preserve his long-term health.

The long-term health of boxing, however, is a different story. The heir apparent for boxing's fans is the mixed martial arts circuit, but there's something less elegant about MMA. Boxing drew fans from all walks of life, from the railroad worker and garbage man to the CEO and the MD. Because of this, massive amounts of gambling and widespread interest helped fuel the boxing industry. For the moment, the ultimate fighting world can't pull those kinds of numbers.

Will boxing die off? I doubt it. It will endure, just as horse racing and the Olympics have over the years. And there will always be an occasional story that floats up on SportsCenter or PTI, mentioning an old boxer doing something new, or a new boxer doing something exceptional. But the long-term prospects for renewed success are bleak.

It's too bad, really. The old times getting together at Lu's house for boxing matches with the guys, having Mrs. C cook up all sorts of goodies and Lu's dad bring down pizzas, those were great times back in the day. I'm not optimistic that boxing can recapture that kind of interest, but I'll keep hoping.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fable: The Lost Chapters

I finally completed the "expanded" version of Fable this past weekend. For those of you who've never played either version, it's similar to the original Legend of Zelda. You control your character with a 3rd-person Grand Theft Auto style point of view, and move him through various zones, killing enemies and completing quests. The general setting is a standard medieval realm with swords, bows, magic, etc.

The game has a series of gold (primary) quests that progress the story, as well as silver (optional) quests that become available at different times during the game. At a number of points during the story, specifically in determining how you complete quests or which optional quests you accept, you can choose to make "good" or "evil" decisions. While the big selling point of this game is how your experience changes based on your decisions, I didn't find the two paths to be substantially different, which was disappointing. If you spared character A, their assassins would come after you later. If you killed character A instead, character C's assassins would come after you. Small changes in dialogue don't constitute a unique gaming experience.

That being said, the game is enjoyable, as long as you're able to accept that you can't play it twice through as you might with other games that change more dramatically based on your decisions.

Now, to address the "Lost Chapters" portion. There is definitely additional content, scattered throughout the story as well as an extra set of quests after the end of the original game. While I don't think this extra content justifies a full-price purchase if you already own the first game, spending $20 at this point to get the updated version isn't a terrible idea, and if you don't own either, you definitely want to go with the Lost Chapters version, if only because it's simply a better economic decision. The additional 2-5 hours you'll spend playing the added pieces of the game for essentially the same price as the original is obviously worth it.

Overall, the Fable entity as a whole is a nice basis for a sequel (the upcoming but still a ways off Fable 2), for which I'm pretty excited. Fable 2 sounds like it will have greater player immersion, and hopefully they will have really deepened the impact of "good" and "evil" decisions throughout the game.

And if you're wondering, yes, I only play games that have been out at least a year. I'm still enjoying NCAA Football '05 and Madden '05.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Travis Johnson: Bonehead Extraordinaire

Travis Johnson, on the block thrown by Trent Green resulting in Green getting a concussion:

"It was uncalled for. He's like the scarecrow. He wants to get courage while I wasn't looking and hit me in my knee instead of trying to hit me in my head. God don't like ugly, you know what I mean?"

The scarecrow needed a brain; it was the cowardly lion who needed courage. Knee injuries are less serious than head injuries, so I don't know why Johnson says Green should've hit him in the head. And "God don't like ugly" is the most bizarre comment I think I've ever heard. The good news is that Johnson had the class to stand over Green's motionless body and taunt him, likely saying something like, "That's what you get for trying to block me!" What a horse's ass.

I'm not saying that Green was innocent; Tiki Barber and Cris Collinsworth said the hit was a "cheap shot," and they know more about football than I do (though Jerome Bettis said it was fair, and it's possible he knows more about football than the other two combined). But there's a funny thing about "cheap shots;" they're almost never illegal. If what Green did was a legal block, and I haven't heard anyone say Green deserved a flag for his block, then Travis Johnson needs to suck it up and take it like a man. You got blocked by a quarterback, son. Own up to that fact, and acknowledge that Trent Green got the better of you, instead of whining and bitching about it being "uncalled for." Christ.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Postseason Awards

I'd like to take this time to discuss the potential recipients of the American and National League postseason awards; that is, the winners of the MVP and Cy Young awards.

First, the AL MVP and NL Cy Young have already been wrapped up by Alex Rodriguez and Jake Peavy, respectively. You're welcome to look at the numbers yourself, but if you're any kind of baseball fan, you already know that those awards are locked.

So, let's move on to the other two awards, which are in fact wide open. I'm going to comment on players based on their Yahoo Fantasy Baseball rankings, which seems as valid an order as any to sort by. (Stats with *'s after them indicate league leaders).

NL MVP

1. Matt Holliday, Colorado Rockies -
(.340*, 36 HR, 137 RBI*, 120 runs, 11 SB) The Rockies slid into the playoffs, winning 14 of 15 games to close the season, and Holliday was a huge part of that epic run. He hit 12 home runs and racked up 30 RBI in September to lead the Rockies to their first playoff appearance in years. Many people believed that the Rockies had to make the playoffs for Holliday to win the MVP award, which I think was unfair, but Colorado made the point moot. Holliday ought to be your NL MVP.

2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins - (.332, 29 HR, 81 RBI, 125 runs, 51 SB) More reasonable as a fantasy MVP than a league MVP, Hanley continued to grow and impress in his second full season in the big leagues. But the Marlins will have to at least break .500 for one of their players to win the MVP award.

3. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies - (.296, 30 HR, 94 RBI, 139 runs*, 41 SB) Comparable to Hanley Ramirez, but on the Phillies, Rollins will get some consideration for the MVP award, but some of his potential votes may go to his teammate Ryan Howard. Rollins is another player who'll get more credit in fantasy circles than he will in MVP voting.

4. David Wright, New York Mets - (.325, 30 HR, 107 RBI, 113 runs, 34 SB) Wright had an extremely balanced season statistically, and had one of the better seasons for a 3B in recent memory. However, the only thing voters will remember is how the Mets crumbled in September, and Wright will end up as someone who just had another great season. He's a decent bet for a future MVP award, though.

5. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers - (.288, 50 HR*, 119 RBI, 109 runs, 2 SB) Fielder seemed primed to have a breakout season in 2007, and he certainly didn't disappoint, becoming the youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs in a season. Heading into September, Fielder was the favorite for the MVP award, but as Milwaukee fell in the standings and Colorado surged, Holliday took the lead. The voters will show Fielder some love, but playoff berths seem to be a prerequisite for most MVP winners.

Other impressive performers this season include Ryan Howard (47 HR, 136 RBI), Miguel Cabrera (.320, 34 HR, 119 RBI), and Jose Reyes (119 runs, 78 SB*).

But hold on a second. There's actually a player ranked in between Rollins and Wright: the aforementioned Jake Peavy. Peavy's numbers this year were absurd (19-6, 2.54 ERA, 240 Ks in 223.1 IP), and as I said, he's a lock for the Cy Young award. While many voters tend to shy away from selecting pitchers as their MVP winners, I would not be surprised nor would I be upset if Peavy received a substantial number of votes for his tremendous season. I do think that it's probably time to establish the MVP awards as solely for hitters, but until that happens, the elite pitchers deserve consideration for the MVP awards.

My prediction: Matt Holliday, probably in a landslide, with Prince Fielder garnering most of the #2 votes.

AL Cy Young

1. J.J. Putz, Seattle Mariners - (6-1, 40 saves, 1.38 ERA, 82 Ks in 71.2 IP) It's rare that a closer gets much consideration for Cy Young awards; it really only happens when a closer has a year that defies logic. While Putz had a very nice season, it's not a season so rare to see out of a closer. You'll find similar statistics out of Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan, so don't look for Putz to grab any first place votes for Cy Young.

2. Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins - (15-13, 3.33 ERA, 235 Ks in 219 IP) In most fantasy baseball leagues, losses carry no punishment, which is how a guy with 13 losses ends up #2 on the list. Santana was certainly a very nice pitcher this year, but the high number of losses, combined with the expectations of so much more out of Santana because of his previous performances, will keep him on the outside looking in when it comes to the Cy Young award.

3. C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians - (19-7, 3.21 ERA, 209 Ks in 241 IP*) Finally a real legitimate Cy Young candidate. His 19 wins were tied for second most in the American League, and he pitched more innings than anyone else in the majors. He was the ace for a Cleveland team that finally started to perform after a few disappointing years.

4. Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox - (20*-7, 3.27 ERA, 194 Ks in 200.2 IP) What's funny here is that the one win difference between Beckett and Sabathia (likely explainable due to the difference between Papelbon and Joe Borowski as closers) will end up being the difference between a Cy Young award and second place. The fact is, the 20-win mark is still a very big deal in all baseball circles. While Sabathia's complementary numbers are at least as good as Beckett's, the Red Sox' ace will likely bring home the gold.

5. Erik Bedard, Baltimore Orioles - (13-5, 3.16 ERA, 221 Ks in 182 IP) I considered skipping Bedard because of his low win total and the Orioles' failures this season, but absolutely worth mentioning is his ridiculous K/IP ratio. Not even the incomparable Jake Peavy can touch Bedard when it comes to his strikeout frequency. If the Orioles can repair their bullpen and develop a couple other starters to go with Bedard, Baltimore could be a solid team, and even if they're only a few games above .500, Bedard could demand reckoning as a Cy Young candidate like Santana has for the Twins over the years.

6. John Lackey, Anaheim Angels (I will never call them by that ridiculous conglomerate of a name they've given themselves) - (19-9, 3.01 ERA*, 179 Ks in 224 IP) Very solid numbers, but again, missing out on that 20th win will cost him 1st place votes to Beckett, and in the end, it'll be between 19-game winners Sabathia, Lackey, and Wang to fight for 2nd place. The strikeouts from Lackey and Sabathia should force Wang into 4th, but never underestimate the power of the New York media.

7. Dan Haren, Oakland Athletics - (15-9, 3.07 ERA, 192 Ks in 222.2 IP) Haren is unlikely to get much consideration outside of the later votes (4th, 5th, 6th place votes), but he had a very nice season. More importantly, he sports a beard as thick as my own, and that counts for something in my heart.

My prediction: Josh Beckett by a solid margin, with Sabathia, Wang, and Lackey
very close to each other for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively.


Now go watch some playoff baseball. It'll do wonders for your back pain and migraine headaches. Wait, don't quote me on that, I'm not a doctor.

But it might help. :)

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Mets

Wow. You know, if...

No, you know what? There's really not much else you can say. Just, wow. Big time choke.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Race to the Finish!

(It only reads well if you say it in the Super Smash Brothers voice)

The American League is all but locked in. The only thing left to determine is who plays where, and let's be honest, that's the boring part. Playing for home field advantage, regardless of the sport, has a lot less flavor than playing to squeeze into the playoffs.

Which leads us to the National League. If you haven't taken a look at the standings recently (Michael), I suggest you take a moment and look at what's going on in the senior circuit. Precisely zero teams have locked up playoffs berths. The NL East is tied between the Mets and Phillies, and the loser will likely not make the playoffs. The Cubs have the largest division lead at 2 games, and with a series at Cincinnati should be able to wrap up the division before the Sunday, but nothing is certain in the wild NL Central. And the loser of that race will not make the playoffs.

Which brings us to the most exciting and seemingly strongest division in the NL, the West. The Diamondbacks have a slender 1-game lead over the Padres for the division, and the Padres are in the lead for the wild card. But don't look now; the Colorado Rockies, long dismissed as a "can't pitch" team, are 1 games out of the wild card, and are playing some of the best baseball in the country right now. The reality is that there's a strong chance that games played on Sunday, the final day of the season, will be for playoff berths. And there's just as strong a chance that we'll need "extras," that is, 1-game playoffs, to determine who gets into the playoffs.

As an aside, Matt Holliday is just tremendous. He's hitting .338, and is the NL RBI leader with 132. He won't get the accolades he deserves because he plays out west and isn't on one of the historic teams, but fantasy owners know that he's among the best in the game. If you get a chance to watch him bat, enjoy it.

Especially if it's this weekend. All these games are going to have playoff implications.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Suggestions for the Space Race

Below is a list of a few games that have been suggested for the Space Race. They're listed in alphabetical order, so as to not add in my own potential biases. Add your own comments if you would like to suggest any other games. (NES and SNES games work best).
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Dragon Warrior 2
  • Final Fantasy
  • Final Fantasy 3 (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Secret of Mana
Additionally, it has been suggested that, instead of "real-time," we use game time played as the measuring stick by which to determine the winner of the space race. Obviously this would disqualify any games that don't have that feature integrated, but would balance the competition between people who have different schedules. However, it would also change the way I play the game, and I imagine that's true for others as well. Additionally, we would want a cap on how long it can take, so we're not waiting for months and months to find out who finished fast enough.

In the end, it will be up to the eventual participants as to how we'll measure victory/defeat. Again, post a reply or contact me in some other way to express your interest.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Does Louisville suck?

The short answer is yes, but there's more to it than that.

The big news Saturday night was that Syracuse managed to play Louisville's kind of game and edge them out for a victory, putting a serious damper on the Cardinals' chances to go to a BCS game. But this loss shouldn't have been as surprising as people thought.

First, Syracuse may have been 0-3 coming in, but they played...just kidding, Syracuse got crushed by three currently unranked teams: Washington, Iowa, and Illinois. And Kentucky appears to really have something going this year, a pleasant surprise for the people of the bluegrass state who've been disappointed with Louisville so far.

But let's look farther back, at a game that screamed to us that this Louisville team wasn't the superior team of last year. I give you exhibit A, Louisville vs. Middle Tennessee State, a team that lost to Florida Atlantic by 13 the week before they played Louisville. The Blue Raiders put up 42 on Louisville, scoring on plays of the following distances: 78, 23, 24, 39, 1, 79. It was clear after looking at this game's stats that, barring some complete transformation, Louisville was going to have trouble beating any teams with reasonable talent. And go figure, Kentucky and Syracuse edged the Cardinals.

What I found amazing was that at the half against Syracuse, Louisville was down 21-7, and on ESPN News, Robert Smith declared that Syracuse would get blown out of the game. It wasn't even like he was meaning to be bold or anything, he just completely discounted the Orange's ability to play football. Somehow, Smith seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Louisville couldn't stop anyone, despite back-to-back games giving up at least 40 points.

Is the entire country retarded like this? Are wins and losses and rankings the only things that people look at when trying to evaluate teams? Louisville should've gone down in the rankings after their suspect game against Middle Tennessee, and they should've dropped out of the top 25 after they lost to Kentucky. They're obviously unranked now, but the rankings have made a lot of people more surprised than they needed to be. Louisville is the new Kansas State. They have a potent offense, but can't really stop anyone, so get used to some .500 seasons down south.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Time to retire, Steve McNair

I love Steve McNair. I was a big Titans fan when he was there, and I don't personally know anyone who was as happy as I was when they made it to the Super Bowl.

But that was a long time ago. Steve McNair is not a top 5 quarterback in his conference anymore. Interestingly enough, he's not even the best quarterback on his team. Kyle Boller finally seems like he's getting the hang of professional football. Granted, his start last week was against the Jets, but in the interest of full disclosure, McNair's start in week 1 was against a defense that gave up 51 points to the Browns. And McNair managed to engineer an offense that turned the ball over 5 times, including 3 of his own fumbles and an interception.

Boller came in late in that game and gave the Ravens a chance to win, first with a TD pass to Todd Heap that was called back on a phantom offensive pass interference call, then with a pass that bounced off of Heap's chest and was intercepted by Mike Myers in one of the most impressive football-grabbing acts I've seen in years.

Last week, against the Jets, the Ravens offense chugged along. Boller passed for 2 TDs, no INTs, and finished with a QB rating of 97.9. Perhaps most importantly, Baltimore won that game.

Kyle Boller is still only 26 years old, and he's under contract this year and next. Steve McNair has shown that his "game management" skills may be dwindling, since the crux of a "game management quarterback" is his ability to avoid mistakes (like multiple fumbles, just as a random example). I think, with him showing a little bit of sass, you've got to give Boller a chance to take this job from McNair. McNair isn't necessarily the best option right now, and he's certainly not a long-term solution, but Boller could be.

Plus it's just fun to say Boller, if you say it like I do. Bah-ler.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is the NFL truly the "No Fun League?"

http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ap-tofined&prov=ap&type=lgns

Terrell Owens had a post-TD celebration that was funny, well-timed, and unobtrusive. He was fined $7,500. I'm so sick of the bullshit that the NFL throws down about this, and what's even more appalling to me is all the commentators (especially the ESPN NFL Countdown crew) who say, "Stop show-boating, just give the ball to the ref and get back to your sideline."

What is so wrong about allowing these players to be individuals? Can you imagine if, the first time Sammy Sosa did his signature hop after slamming a ball, he had gotten fined and told not to do it again? Whether you find it contrived or endearing or somewhere in between, it's certainly part of who Sosa is, and has surely helped Sosa to make money in endorsements. Why is the NFL so opposed to their players trying to express themselves in some way?

Chad Johnson apparently had multiple conversations with league officials about his planned celebrations to ensure that he wouldn't be risking a penalty or fine. That's kind of a bummer to me. I'd like to see some celebrations that weren't necessarily "approved," especially if it means more celebrations like Owens' from this past Sunday.

The level to which the NFL apparently dislikes its players disgusts me. I'd gladly stomach things like Joe Horn's cell phone gimmick and T.O.'s Sharpie incident to ensure that the people who I tune in to watch are allowed to be themselves when they celebrate. That's the basic idea behind free speech, which seems like a pretty good idea. Give it a whirl, NFL owners.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Donovan McNabb Is A Complete Idiot

How's that for being more critical, D-Mac? Hopefully when you do your research for your next HBO interview, this post comes up in your Google search, and you can lament the woes of being a professional athlete.

The fact is, it's not black quarterbacks that get criticized more than anyone else. It's quarterbacks. Peyton Manning broke records and was still cited as someone who "couldn't win the big game." John Elway had a similar reputation right up until the end of his career. Jim Kelly is starting to receive some of the credit he deserved, but he's still not thought of in the same class as Elway, Young, Montana, Marino, etc.

And bad white quarterbacks get yanked with seemingly the same frequency as bad black quarterbacks. Cade McNown actually improved slightly in his second season, but was shelved for Shane Matthews, who didn't have the mobility or game management skills of McNown, and proved it. And what about Kelly Holcomb, a career 64.6% passer who's been a perennial backup annually, even after helping to lead Cleveland to their only winning season since being re-born as an expansion franchise?

I do not argue that McNabb personally takes more heat than most white quarterbacks, but look at his specific situation. He's been the face of a Philadelphia team known best for losing 3 consecutive NFC championship games, then losing in the Super Bowl the next year. In that Super Bowl loss, the offense appeared to have no sense of urgency at the end of the game when down two scores, and game management decisions/mistakes will always fall on the coach and the QB, even if the superstar WR doesn't say that the QB got tired.

Speaking of Terrell Owens, that's another situation that McNabb botched. His whining and unprofessional stance of "I don't like this guy, so he's got to go" probably cost them another shot at a Super Bowl. Think about your work, for those of you who have jobs. Do you have to work with people you don't like? I bet you do. Do you demand that they be removed from the company? No, because you're not a Nancy who can't deal with having his feelings hurt.

On top of all that, McNabb is the starting quarterback, the most prominent figure on a sports team in Philadelphia. Philadelphia fans apparently didn't like Mike Schmidt, lifelong Philly, 3-time MVP, 10-time Gold Glover, Hall of Famer, and arguably the best overall 3B to ever play the game. Philly fans are best known for booing Santa Claus and cheering when Michael Irvin suffered what ended up essentially being a career-ending injury. They're gonna ride you a little bit, pal.

Are there fewer black quarterbacks than white quarterbacks? I haven't crunched the numbers, but that sounds correct. There are more white people than black people in the United States, so that shouldn't come as too big a surprise. But the thought that owners or coaches adjust their depth charts based on race is hard for me to fathom. With as massive a business as the NFL is, and with as precarious as head coaching jobs are in the NFL, I can't imagine that anything other than a player's ability to lead the team to victory would determine whether or not they started.

McNabb is a tremendous athlete, and has had some fantastic seasons. If he were my team's starting quarterback, I'd be delighted. (Especially if we're talking about the Vikings here, because good gracious, Tarvaris Jackson is awful). He's not transcendent, but there are maybe 2 quarterbacks who fall into that category in today's NFL: Manning and Brady. If he wants to be considered transcendent, then do some transcending, buddy. Stop popping off at the mouth whenever you feel slighted and concentrate on winning football games, which so far you're not doing so well.

Is it possible that McNabb is right, that fans and media and ownerships are more critical of black quarterbacks? Yes, it's possible. But I'll need some kind of proof before I buy into something that outlandish. Show me numbers.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Space Race

Not really a "space race," but a race. I challenge Chip (and whomever else might be interested) to a race to beat any long-term RPG game that we have or is easily obtained. I have most NES and many SNES role-playing games. It'd be awesome if we all had Final Fantasy X, because that's a great game to play through, but neither of us even has a PS2, let alone the game.

So what say you, cowards and weaklings? Do you dare rise to the challenge made by someone who's got a glorious amount of free time?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Final Fantasy - Voices of the Lifestream

For those of you unfamiliar with it, OC Remix is a site dedicated to remixes of video game music, new and old. Among the most entertaining remixes are songs from Megaman 2, Super Mario Brothers, and the topic of this post, Final Fantasy. These songs are always available free of charge, and without any registration requirements.

From time to time, OC Remix conducts larger-scale projects involving the collaboration of a number of artists. These collaborations produce "albums" of music from the same game. The newest such album was released today, and is based on Final Fantasy VII. You can see the information about the project here, including download links. Or, if you use a BitTorrent application, you can download a torrent of the project by clicking here.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mike Lowell

I'm not a Red Sox fan, nor am I a spiritual person. And I'm certainly not attributing any supernatural context to this. But it's definitely a nice story. Well, the aftermath is nice, not so much the 4 kids dying in a car crash. Whatever, just read it.

Boston Herald

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

MNF booth

I got a few quick glimpses of the Monday Night game last night between San Fransisco and Denver. Ron Jaworski debuted with Tony Kornheiser and Mike Tirico. I've briefly caught Ron's booth work last year when ESPN/ABC hosted two Monday night games on the kick-off weekend, and I've liked his work.

I didn't watch a lot of it because I was flipping through the Ravens/Eagles game and the Orioles/Yankees game, but from what I saw, I was very impressed. I think Jaws clicks extremely well with Tony K. Mike Tirico is more of a moderator that maintains focus. If he wasn't there, the booth might side-track off the on-field action.

Either way, I'm a lot more excited now for Monday Night Football than I was when Joe Theismann was doing his thing.

Anyone else check it out? Any comments?

Arsenal 2007-2008 EPL Kick-off

For those of you that haven't noticed, the English Premiere League started up last weekend. Between work and vacation, it even surprised me a little.

After driving home from the beach on Saturday, I was up early on Sunday to tend to my dog's needs. I sit down in front of the TV and realize that Arsenal is playing Fulham.

Arsenal isn't picked to do well relative to their past success. They've been predicted to finish 5th in the EPL behind Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspurs.

Anyway, when I tuned into the Arsenal game, they were down 1-0 in the 76th minute. Fulham's only goal was scored in the 1st minute when idiot-old bag Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann got lazy with a pass back to him, made a mistake, that put the ball right into a Fulham attacker's foot 15 yards from goal. Arsenal had a a bunch of great efforts that just never seemed to go into the goal. Eventually, during a drive into the penalty area in the 83rd minute, U.S. Men's National Team starter Carlos Bocanegra body-checked Kolo Toure, causing a penalty kick and a new found confidence. The game was mostly dominated by Arsenal, they just couldn't finish. Now that they tied the game up, their control and crisp passing eventually led to another goal scored by Hleb in the 89th minute.

A late second half sub to follow this year: Nicklas Bendtner. He's a 19 year-old forward from Denmark that helped Birmingham get promoted last year while on loan from Arsenal. I doubt he'll start the next game, but he'll get there by season's end. I never heard of him before this past Sunday, but he looked good.

U.S. Men's National Team man-crush WATCH: Benny Feilhaber signed with Derby County Football Club at the end of last week. This newly-promoted EPL squad has an uphill battle, but I'm going to try and follow them just to watch Feilhaber do his thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Review of the 2007 Home Run Derby

I'm gonna take this opportunity to spout off about how bad the Home Run Derby was this year. I'm a big fan of the Derby and always have enjoyed it more than the actual all-star game (Joe and I went to the Derby in Pittsburgh last year if you recall). This year's was unbearable, for quite a few reasons.

1. The first round - The first round was pathetic, nobody hit more than 5 home runs. This huge lineup with bonafide sluggers (much bigger hitters than the past two years where Jason Bay and Troy Glaus were hitting) like Vlad, Howard, Pujols and Fielder can only muster a combined 15 home runs between them with 40 outs to do it? It was terrible.

2. Barry Bonds - What ridiculous tripe everything that comes out of this man's mouth is. He talked for what seemed like 15 minutes about shit that nobody cares about when Pujols, the biggest name in the field was batting and you couldn't even pay attention to him. I don't know how many people outside of San Francisco care about Barry and his record-chasing. But I might sooner hear more about Paris Hilton's jail time at this point. I can't wait for it to go away.

3. Splash Zone - this was the most dissapointing thing in my mind. HR's fly into McCovey cove with ease, seemingly at least 1 per MLB game played in SF. A big fat fucking zero Homers landed in the cove during the event. After all the ridiculous hype and the logo for the game featuring the wet ball, and the big emblam in center field featuring the wet ball. They, ESPN and The Giants, have to be crushed. There were more Homers into the river in Pittsburgh last year (which is MUCH furter away from home plate) than there were into the cove this year. Someone should have had their pitcher prepared to throw them inside (or outside) pitches so they could turn on them and take advantage of the right-field wall.

4. Duration - It's an exhibition, it went 3+ hours, that's longer than a freaking MLB regular season game. It went entirely too long.

5. Drama - more like "lack of drama". Nobody wants to see a bigtime slugger going against Alex Rios in the finals. Especially nobody wants to see Vlad have to hit a measely 3 Home Runs in the finals because Rios laid an anemic egg by hitting 2.

6. The fat latino contigent that waved flags and toweled off the hispanic players. Where the hell are the border patrol at, take these pudwacks out of the stadium in handcuffs. They were on tv more than the players. Who decided that it's ok for them to interrupt players turns by toweling them off in between outs? Then they mobbed Vlad after he hit two home runs in the finals thinking that he'd won because nobody in Venezuela can do simple math apparently. Berman was obviously annoyed and for once he and I were exactly on the same page. Shitty.

So, Overall, not too good, not too good at all. As much as i'm no longer a Kenny Maines fan, having him out in the bay was a good idea (that they then ripped off during the allstar game - which also was boring). Berman finally learned that you can't say "Back back back" for every home run, and well, i can't think of another positive thing to say. Jeers to the Home Run Derby and ESPN's telecast of it.

Oh, it did look lovely in HD. There's one good thing.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Flaw In The Draft

What's the most exciting part of the NBA or NFL drafts? Heck, what's arguably the most exciting part of most professional sports?

Trades. Trades can change the whole landscape of the league, and the direction of a team. I won't say "most," because I don't have the numbers, but a lot of trades take place on either draft day or in the few days leading up to the trading deadlines. Since the NBA draft took place last night, however, you can guess that I'm going to talk about draft day.

ESPN's draft coverage really kills the drama and excitement of those trades. We get the trade information very early, from ESPN "insiders." Then, 1-2 hours later, the trade is announced from the podium. It's like, why even bother announcing the trade from the podium at that point? Everyone knows that Jeff Green is going to Seattle, leave it alone.

But that's not really what I want. I want the trade announced from the podium, instead of by Rick Beucher, or whoever. When Green was available at the fifth pick and the deal was a go, that's when the trade should've been announced. Part of the fun of the NFL draft is watching it quietly, eating and relaxing, and then without warning, you hear those nifty little words from Paul Tagliabue: "We have a trade."

My understanding is that part of the problem sprouts from NBA trade rules, which are murky at best already. The extent to which the NBA has butchered the way free agency, trades, and the draft ought to be run is astounding. It's no wonder that they have trouble attracting new fans. For all the shortcomings baseball might have (such as arguable parity), there are very few times when the business end of baseball gets in the way of a deal. The business end may prompt a deal, for instance when a player's contract is expiring and the team can't afford to re-sign him. But the Tigers never have to worry about matching salaries with trade partners to make a deal happen. The NFL seems to do a good job of keeping business considerations out of draft day, and the NBA should take a note. Bring the drama back to draft night.

Another piece of this puzzle is the information before draft night about the Trail Blazers deciding on Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Sure, that's great that ESPN found that out a day or two in advance. What a great piece of breaking news. But it would've been a lot more tense on draft night if you didn't know which of them was going #1 overall. The NBA doesn't know how to turn the NBA draft into good television, making more money for everyone involved.

I'll share my opinions on the actual draft itself sometime soon, possibly via Internet radio with Joe Mandi, but more likely on here or on the forum.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Battlefield 1942 Mods

What is a "mod?" A mod is an add-on to a game, usually created by a third party, adjusting the game in some fashion. Sometimes it involves only a small change, such as adding blood to a fighting game, or changing weapons or vehicles in a first-person shooter game.

But sometimes the mods are more encompassing. For example, Counter-Strike was originally a Half-Life mod. It offered completely new weapons, levels, characters, and a completely new goal. It used the Half-Life engine to run a completely separate game, one that millions of gamers enjoyed.

A couple years later, Battlefield 1942 came out, and not too long afterwards, its own mods began to surface. While there were many, many mods, there's no question the strongest performance was by the Desert Combat mod. It integrated flawlessly into the Battlefield 1942 environment, changing weapons and vehicles, and adding its own maps and missions for a completely new gaming experience. I have played Desert Combat for years, and I've always enjoyed it.

But there are so many different mods out there, why would I limit myself to just this one? Sure, it may be the most notorious and best-received mod for Battlefield 1942, but surely these other mods offer another new experience. It's a great way to avoid paying for a new game.

Well, yesterday I downloaded 4 different mods, with the hope that at least one of them would turn out to be a real enjoyable one. To say I was mildly disappointed would be something of an understatement.

HomeFront
Noted as the "Halo mod," I was excited to see what this one had to offer. Sadly, anytime I tried to get into a game using this mod, the game crashed. So while the interface had me feeling optimistic, I never actually saw the game. This would be a problem for most of these mods.

Pirates
With this one, I was able to get into a game, and the GUI clearly was adjusted to represent the pirates game. However, the actual gameplay, including weapons and vehicles, was exactly the same as the BF 1942 game. I tried to find an online game to see if that might offer the true gameplay, but best I could tell, there were simply no servers running the Pirates mod. So screw it, I said. Uninstalled.

Galactic Conquest
This is it, the Star Wars mod I had heard about for years. I figured, finally, I'll get to see if it's any good. Wrong-o. This was another one that didn't work at all. It's possible that I have a new version of BF 1942 that is incompatible with the older mods, but shit, I don't want to have to roll back my BF 1942 just to check to see if that's the case. So no go.

G.I.Joe
This was the only one that seemed to at least offer a glimpse of what it's supposed to be. All of the player skins were changed to standard "Joe soldiers" or "Cobra troopers," which is okay, though I had been hoping to take on the cold visage of the opportunistic Destro. But maybe that's too much to ask for in this kind of game. The vehicles and weapons were adjusted to be more like the original G.I.Joe gear, though the vehicles were a little limited. Two jeeps and two helicopters, no heavy vehicles of any kind. Also, on the custom G.I.Joe maps, the AI seemed to be simply missing. The enemy soldiers would just sit there, in their bunkers, waiting for who knows what to happen. In the end, a deleter.

So I'm back where I started. I've got Battlefield 1942 and the elite mod, Desert Combat. I'll have to ride these waves for now. I hear Battlefield 2 has some worthwhile mods, maybe I'll check them out if I ever get that game.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Still?

Somehow, some way, I'm still in first place. It's a slender 1-point lead over the prohibitive favorite and 2-time defending champion SexyParties, but for now, it remains a lead.

I owe a lot of my place in the standings to the outstanding play of Prince Fielder and Grady Sizemore over the past 6 weeks. Sizemore has really energized his batting average (and through that his runs and RBIs), and in case you've neglected your SportsCenters, Fielder is leading the NL in home runs with 23. Second place? Fellow Brewer J.J. Hardy, a full 7 home runs back.

I traded my poster boy Jonathan Papelbon for pitching depth in Oliver Perez, James Shields, and Brian Fuentes, in the hopes that Fuentes can be solid enough to at least cover Papelbon's saves, and Perez and Shields can pick up the wins that I can't get from my other starting pitchers. Starting Ervin Santana only at home has given me very solid ERA and WHIP numbers from him, but I need the wins. I'm in the bottom half in wins, and it's very tight. If I could stretch out a couple wins beyond the competition, I could pick up a lot of points.

Batting average is still precarious, but I've benched Adam Dunn in the hopes that Chris B. Young, Carlos Pena, and Kevin Kouzmanoff will be able to post decent power and speed numbers while countering the damage that Kinsler and Dunn have done so far. Kinsler is still in the lineup for now, but if he doesn't kick out of his slump, Kendrick can slide right in, so long as he's got the batting average to help me out.

If you're not sure you'll be competing this year and have an outfielder or 2B who's got a great bat and a history of high batting averages, let me know. I'll be more than happy to talk about sending you Kinsler and/or Dunn and/or a pick, depending on who I'm getting. It's a shame that Utley fellow is on the damned SexyParties.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If He Retired Today....

Sam and I had an interesting conversation about a number of players and whether or not they would make it into the Hall of Fame if they were to retire right now. A few were no-brainers, like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, and it looks like LaDainian Tomlinson would probably be a shoo-in as well.

But no-brainers are no fun. So we encountered a few that we weren't too sure about, and I figured I'd open it up for debate.

First, Donovan McNabb.

His career QB rating is 85.2, and he sports a 152-72 TD to INT ratio. He is, in fact, the 2nd least intercepted quarterback in NFL history (Neil O'Donnell is #1, though, so don't know how much to take that into account). He has accumulated 22,000 passing yards, an average about about 3,400 per full season.

But that's part of McNabb's problem. Only three times in his eight-year career has he played all 16 games, which means that his individual seasons haven't been that impressive. He's got three seasons with 20 or more passing TDs, and four with 3,000+ passing yards.

Not helping McNabb's cause is his playoff history. He's had more 3 INT games (2) than 3 TD games (1). That's not to say he hasn't had his moments in the playoffs. 4th and 26 comes to mind, a game in which he threw for 248 yards and ran for 107 more. But he'll be best remembered for his failure in the Super Bowl against the Patriots when the Eagles offense inexplicably chose to not convert to a 2-minute offense, essentially throwing away the game. While most people attribute Terrell Owens' comments about McNabb being "tired" during that last drive to Owens' distaste for his (now former) teammate, you have to wonder if there's some truth to it. Every fan across the country knew it was crunch time, but the Eagles putzed along like they had all day.

In the end, we both agreed: as of right now, McNabb is out of the Hall.

Next, we viewed Torry Holt.

Holt was drafted the same year as McNabb, so the equal time under their belts makes this a slightly easier comparison. He's got 64 TDs, an average of 8 per season since his debut in 1999. He's picked up yardage by the ton, with two seasons of over 100 yards/game. Additionally, over the past four years, he's picked up at least 9 TDs and at least 1150 yards.

One advantage Holt has over McNabb is that he does, in fact, have a Super Bowl ring. Additionally, he was a crucial part of his team's success, one of the main pieces of the "Greatest Show on Turf." However, while Holt was an important part, he wasn't even the #1 receiver on that team. So while his statistics are impressive recently, his team's success, a strong determining factor in the eyes of many NFL Hall of Fame voters, has been minimal while he's been "the man."

Holt was also the fastest in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards, so he's certainly at the very least on pace for a Hall of Fame career. But again, Sam and I agreed that, were he to retire today, Torry Holt would not make the Hall of Fame.

Finally, we reviewed Shaun Alexander.

Alexander was drafted in 2000, but as a running back, has likely completed more of his career than either McNabb or Holt. Alexander has been a touchdown machine, scoring 16, 18, 16, 20, and 28 from 2001-2005. He missed 6 games last year due to injury and scored only 7 touchdowns, and his yards per carry was down to a career-low 3.6, from 5.1 the previous season. He has 96 rushing TDs, and 107 total for his career.

He held the single-season rushing touchdown record....for a year.

While Alexander has been an outstanding producer for 5+ years, again, Sam and I both believe that he would need to add to his career statistics to justify a spot in the Hall of Fame.

In the comments for this post, give your input on these three players, whether you agree or disagree, and suggest other borderline players who you'd like to debate. I'm happy to look at stats and pass judgment on people far more athletic than me.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Where are you, Rick Ankiel?

The year was 1997, Floridian Rick Ankiel, a fireball hurling lefty went 11-1 with a 0.47 ERA during his senior season, striking out 162 batters in 74.0 innings pitched, and was named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today. He signed a contract out of highschool with the St. Louis Cardinals and received a 2.5 million dollar signing bonus, one of the highest ever to that point. He stormed through the minors, dominating every level, and being named minor league player of the year in 1999. His first full season in the Majors was 2000, where, at just 20 years old, he posted 11 wins, a 3.50 ERA, and had an unbelievable K rate (9.98 batters/9 innings pitched). He was armed with a fastball in the 93-94 MPH range, and also possessed a heavy sinker with great movement, as well as his main strikeout pitch, a devastating curveball which some scouts have called the best they've ever seen. He was the heir-apparent to the great pitchers of the time and seemingly had a long, dominant career ahead of him in the Major Leagues.

The Cardinals won the National League Central Division championship that season. Injuries to other pitchers left Ankiel and Darryl Kile as the only fully healthy starters left on the Cardinal roster. Wanting to maximize their appearances, and due to the fact that Ankiel, only 20 years old and without much major league experience, needed four days of rest between starts, manager Tony La Russa chose Ankiel to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Then things all went wrong.

The Cardinals jumped to a lead early in Game 1, scoring six runs in bottom of the first. Ankiel had walked two batters in the top of the first, as well as allowed a single, but escaped unscathed. He also allowed a double in the second inning, after striking out the leadoff batter, but ended the inning with a double play. It is in the third inning that Ankiel lost control. Here is the line score from that inning:

Maddux walked; Furcal popped out in foul territory; Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Maddux to second); Ankiel threw another a wild pitch (Maddux to third); A. Jones walked; Ankiel threw a third wild pitch (A. Jones to 2nd); C. Jones was called out on strikes; Galarraga walked (Maddux scored on a 4th wild pitch by Ankiel; A. Jones to 3rd); Jordan singled to Lankford (A. Jones scored, Galarraga to 2nd); Ankiel threw a 5th wild pitch (Galarraga to 3rd, Jordan to 2nd); Sanders walked; Weiss singled to Lankford (Galarraga scored, Jordan scored, Sanders to 2nd); Mike James replaced Ankiel; López popped to Viña; 4 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Braves 4, Cardinals 6.

Ankiel shrugged off the event at first, joking about the fact that he was the first pitcher to throw five wild pitches in an inning since Bert Cunningham of the Players League in 1890. But in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, Ankiel was removed in the first inning. Of only 20 pitches thrown by Ankiel, five went past catcher Eli Marrero, including two official wild pitches. Ankiel appeared again in the seventh inning of game five, facing four hitters, walking two, and throwing two more wild pitches. The Cardinals lost the series four games to one to the Mets. He returned to the majors in 2001 but again had issues controlling his pitches, walking 25 batters and throwing 5 wild pitches in 24 innings, and was sent down to AAA.

The source of Ankiel's problems was apparently not mechanical. He toiled in the minors and experienced more control problems and never regained his pitching form. In 2006, Ankiel was invited to spring training with the major league squad again, but this time as an outfielder. He had a slim chance to make the team as a reserve player. His fielding impressed scouts and managers, and he has shown flashes of power hitting in the minor leagues. He never resurfaced with the big-league club that year. So far this season, in 46 games for the AAA Memphis RedBirds, Ankiel is batting .266 and leads the team with 12 home runs and 40 RBI, he has 2 stolen bases (in 5 attempts) and has committed 4 errors as their everyday right fielder. Manager Tony LaRussa has stated in spring training that Ankiel doesn't figure into the mix at the big-league level in 2007, but rather needed to play regularly at Class AAA Memphis as he continues his conversion from pitching. "It isn't because he isn't capable," La Russa said. "(But) unless you can guarantee that he would get 400 or 500 at-bats, it would be a bad move for him and for us." Seemingly however his numbers are viable for a AAA outfielder close to a promotion. Watch for Ankiel to possibly be a late-season call-up once the roster expands, especially if the Cardinals don't work their way into the NL central race.

Note: much of the background info was ripped off lovingly from wikipedia... I wrote this because I honestly wanted to know what was going on with Ankiel and thought that others might find it interesting.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...