May 30, 2011

The Chase Utley effect.

Chase Utley returned to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup on Monday, May 23. Since then, they are 5-2, scoring 44 runs and making mincemeat out of the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets.

Coincidence? Probably. I wrote about the Phillies' hitting woes recently and noted that fans shouldn't worry too much. They'd been gross at the plate for a while, but there's too much talent around for the bats to be painfully quiet all year. An offensive explosion like this was sort of inevitable.

But I do think Chase's return helps. It has to be a comforting sight to see no. 26 manning second base, especially when the other options have been Pete Orr, Michael Martinez and pitcher extraordinaire Wilson Valdez. If Utley's really the kind of player that leads by example, then his mere presence on the field should pay dividends.

For a while there, it seemed like Chase wouldn't even play in 2011; there was talk of Grady Sizemore-esque knee surgery that would keep him out for months, if not a year. Would the team pursue Michael Young and his gigantic contract? Was it a mistake not to trade Roy Oswalt in the offseason for a bat, any bat, to fill a now-obvious gaping hole in the lineup?

But he's back, and while there's the occasional glimpse of gimpiness, he's allowing Phillies fans to believe that his old self is right around the corner, that the should-be Gold Glover and Silver Slugger we've grown to love hasn't disappeared after a good chunk of time lost to the bum knee and hip.

Coming into Monday's game with Washington, Chase is 5 for 21 with a homer. Nothing spectacular, but Charlie Manuel is on record as saying he likes what he sees. His year is just beginning, and if the past few have been any indication, maybe such a late start is a good thing.

To the naked eye, Utley seems to break down a bit at the end of every season; that's kind of an inevitability with how hard he plays. But after 50 games on the sidelines, resting not only the knee but the other nagging ailments that bother any baseball player on the other side of 30, could Utley destroy the final 100 games and truly revive the Phillies offense? I wouldn't put it past him.

And by the way, I just traded for him in fantasy baseball. It's fair to say I'm all-in on Chase Utley's well-being, and the Phillies are, too.

May 28, 2011

Everything's falling into place.

The best team in baseball; that's what the Boston Red Sox are.

The 30-23 record is still a bit behind the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies, but that's what happens when you start 2-10. Between April 16 and May 29, the Red Sox are 28-13, which is best in the majors. And the results aren't magic; the Sox are finally playing up to their talent level.

They have won six series in a row, beginning with a sweep of the Yankees in the Bronx and leading up to a series win, which should have been a sweep, in the home of the AL-best Indians. "AL-best Indians"; how did that become a phrase, by the way?

The Sox still have their weaknesses. Crappy old John Lackey is on the DL and Daisuke Matsuzaka may be out for a while, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Even when effective, he makes golf look face-paced. Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew have all been fairly cold -- though there have been signs of emergence -- and Daniel Bard has looked very human, probably due to overwork during the absence of Bobby Jenks.

But the rest of the team has picked up the slack whenever necessary, and the big three of Lester, Beckett and Buchholtz have been near-automatic wins lately. They have combined for a 15-6 record, and Beckett in particular has been devastating, sporting a .95 WHIP. If anyone says they predicted that, walk right up and knee them in the junk.

The lineup, once a demonstration in choking, has begun hammering the ball for homers and hits with runners in scoring position. Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have turned into a 2011 Murderers' Row row (let's call it "pwners row") and the Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek catching duo has improved their game in every respect, bringing order to chaos.

The bullpen seemed it could be a chink in the armor, but Matt Albers and Rich Hill have been a pleasant surprise. Jonathan Papelbon has been his old dominant self, and the return of Jenks and Dan Wheeler should allow Francona to lean on Bard less often, making him more effective and keeping his right arm firmly attached to his body.

So where does all this leave the Red Sox? Well, they've already grabbed first place in their division; if they remain healthy, don't expect them to relinquish it. If the rest of the AL isn't afraid, well, they should be.

May 19, 2011

Should we be worried about the Phillies?

The Philadelphia Phillies are 11th in the National League in runs scored with 170. They're 13th in homers with 32, 8th in average (.249) and 11th in OPS (.686).

This, obviously, is not a good thing. One of the most surefire ways to win a baseball game is to outscore the other team.

How big a deal it is, however, is up for debate. I would argue that Phillies fans have gotten a bit spoiled after years and years of outstanding hitting. In 2006, the Phillies led the National League in runs. Ditto 2007, followed by a third-place finish in 2008 and another top showing in 2009.

But that was a fantasy world where the 1-through-5 hitters were (mostly) Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. Those guys brought home two Most Valuable Player awards and a boatload of All-Star berths and Silver Sluggers, an embarrassment of riches for one baseball team. And I haven't even mentioned the great Pat Burrell!

Now that 2011 has rolled around, it's clear that those days ain't coming back. Werth is sputtering along in Washington, Rollins' power has evaporated, Victorino is streaky and injury-prone, and Utley has yet to suit up for a game. Ryan Howard's still locked into the no. 4 spot, but his current .813 OPS would be the worst of his career.

So the Phillies can't hit. But you know what? They can pitch. The staff has an ERA of 3.06 -- good for second in the National League -- along with 30 quality starts and 348 strikeouts (first and second, respectively). Even with Joe Blanton's struggles, Roy Oswalt's time off and Cliff Lee's unexpected mediocrity (3.84 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, which would be his highest since 2007), the Phillies have dominated on the mound.

To a certain extent, I think fans should accept that the Phillies will play a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 games. At the end of the day, a victory's a victory, and there's nothing wrong with coming out on top of a nail-biter.

But at the same time, let's not absolve certain players of their shitty performances. Ben Francisco, Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez are all hitting under .230, and Wilson Valdez isn't much higher at .247. I don't care if the Phillies trade for Jose Bautista tomorrow, you won't score runs if four semi-regulars hit under .250 (although it would be nice if they did somehow trade for Jose Bautista).

And it certainly doesn't mean that management should stand pat. Utley's return should help, but he's just one man (with a bum knee to boot). Is Dom Brown the answer? He's probably part of it. A healthy, hype-worthy Brown could be the kind of major shot in the arm that this offense needs. But, as Amaro made clear today, Brown won't be in the Majors until the team is ready to play him full-time. If there was ever a time to get creative and/or push for a little more payroll room, it's probably now.

To be fair, no one in the Phillies organization seems particularly pacified by the team's 26-16 start. The 2011 roster is remarkably expensive (roughly $172 million in Opening Day salaries), which could mean two things: Maybe the cash register's tapped out, or maybe ownership is all in. Can they afford to watch $172 million go to waste on a team with glaring flaws, especially if a tantalizing bat becomes available?

And then there's Charlie Manuel, who loves to hit. The only thing he likes more than hitting is probably winning, but I think his version of heaven would be a combination of the two. He's not gonna sit back and suffer through a season of squeakers, not if he can help it.

So should we worry about the bats? Kind of, but that energy would be better spent praying for the starting rotation's good health. The Phillies have surprisingly morphed into an aggressive organization with a winning pedigree, the kind of ballclub that gets what it wants (and needs). If the offense still stinks in late June, I find it hard to believe Amaro and company won't recruit a savior or two from out of town. Whether it'll all be enough, of course, remains to be seen.

May 14, 2011

John Lackey sucks.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, recently complained that John Lackey was killing his fantasy team. I told this friend that he had no one to blame but himself; Lackey has the ability to go deep into games and get wins, but often allows a bunch of runs and records very few strikeouts. While Lackey provides some real world value, he isn't a very smart fantasy pick.

But lately, I've realized that I was wrong. Lackey has no real world value.

What happened to Lackey last year has been discussed almost to death. He didn't pitch as poorly as his numbers suggest, and he was a victim of bad luck and crappy defense. Plus, his performance improved enormously in the second half of the season.

But who cares?! That was last year, and what's happening with Lackey right now can not be explained through advanced metrics or bullshit excuses. John Lackey sucks.

After taking the loss against Toronto, he is 2-5 with an ERA of 8.01; frankly, he's been much worse than those numbers show. In his 39.1 innings, he has allowed 35 earned runs and 53 hits! Read those numbers again and think about how bad they really are. In seven starts, he has allowed six or more runs six times!

And it's not just that he's losing, it's how he's losing.

On May 4, the Red Sox played a 13-inning game against the Angels in which they burned the entire bullpen. They really needed Lackey to come up big the following day. Lackey responded by getting absolutely pounded for eight runs in four innings and forcing an exhausted bullpen to finish it up. I bet I could give up eight runs and I wouldn't have to work as hard; can I have a contract?

His May 11 start against the Blue Jays was, in many ways, worse. In the bottom of the 7th, the Sox were down 4-3. Lackey hadn't pitched particularly well, but he kept the team in the game and they were in position to make a comeback. But what followed was the worst thing to happen in Canada since free health care.

After walking Corey Patterson, Bautista hit a rocket into left field. Carl Crawford misread the ball off the bat and got turned around. The ball hit off the wall for a single. Lackey put his arms up in exasperation, obviously furious that his teammate didn't catch the missile.

But he seemed to buckle down and was just a few good pitches from getting out of the inning unscathed, until up to the plate strode David Cooper. Cooper was a rookie with only 28 at-bats, but Lackey still walked him to force in a run, then allowed a 2-run double to John McDonald. When it was all over, Lackey had allowed nine runs on nine hits and the game was out of reach.

Lackey should have seen Cooper as an out and gone aggressively after him, pounding the strike zone, rather than nibbling and handing the Jays a run. But what stood out to me was something that Lackey has shown a lot of this season; his bad attitude. John Lackey has always been a whiner who complains and barks when umpires don't think a pitch five inches from the plate is a strike. You're not Greg Maddux, John.

Pitching poorly every now and then can be excused. Showing up your teammates cannot. What John Lackey fails to realize is when you allow this many balls to be hit hard, a good number of them are going to fall in. Crawford didn't drop a lazy fly ball, he misread a screaming line drive. If I were Crawford, I might have a few words for Mr. Lackey:

"Sorry I didn't catch that bullet, John, but who allowed the other 8 hits and five walks? Wasn't me. In fact, I got two hits tonight and my numbers are gradually improving, unlike yours. Maybe at some point I will be hitting over .320, which is what batters are hitting off of you."

Asked why he was still in the game after walking Cooper, Lackey explained that he'd had good luck against the next batter, McDonald: "Everybody's had success with him in the past. You can't give up hits like that to him when you have other guys in that lineup who can hurt you."

Everybody has had success with him? McDonald had a home run and a double off you, John. Not "everybody," just everybody else.

This makes me ask: who is John Lackey? When the Red Sox signed the former Angels ace, I was excited because I knew what he brought: a good moving fastball, a nasty curve, pinpoint control and a warrior's mentality. He had pitched on the biggest stage under pressure and would take personal responsibility for the outcome of a game.

But who is this guy? A guy who nibbles at the edges of the strike zone, walking batters and wondering why calls don't go his way. Or hangs nothing curveballs to bottom-of-the-order hitters, putting men on for the meat of the lineup, at which point he decides he is a gunslinging Texan who needs to show off his big balls. It's pretty hard to challenge hitters when your fastball is 89 MPH over the middle of the plate. That, as Dennis Eckersley would say, is salad.

After the game, Lackey said, "Everything sucks in my life right now, to be honest with you." He wouldn't elaborate about what sounded like a personal problem, but rumors circulate that John's wife is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. That's no laughing matter and isn't something Lackey should be judged for, but he can not allow it to affect his performance on the field or how he treats his team mates.
John, you can either block the rest of the world out so you can pitch or, if your off-field troubles are too distracting, take a leave of absence. No one would blame you. Hell, put yourself on the DL or something, because the team favored to win the AL pennant is under .500 and they won't make a comeback if one of the starters is an automatic "L." Take a page from your ace, Jon Lester. He also lost to Toronto this past week, but he never blames his teammates and always takes responsibility for his own game.

It's time for John Lackey to pitch to his pay grade, because Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, Yankees signings that I laughed at, are pitching far better. In fact, the Sox have the oldest pitcher in Red Sox history, Tim Wakefield, sitting out in the pen and dreaming of getting his job back. I always defended Lackey and gave him the benefit of the doubt, but I'm running out of patience.

I know exactly what he is. Right now, that would be the number one reason the Red Sox can't get on a roll. And also, a mouth breather.

May 8, 2011

A royal wedding: My night with Prince.

On Friday night, I unexpectedly received one of life's most esteemed gifts. In possibly the most momentous snap decision of my life, I stumbled over to the holy Inglewood Forum and into the good graces of rock 'n' roll royalty. I found my Prince, and boy am I glad I coughed up those 25 bucks.

Armed with a very standard amount of Prince knowledge, I decided to attend the concert based on the idea that Prince will do everything you'd expect him to do. And if that fell through, I was at least certain I could find something entertaining about his crowd.

I turned out to be right about the Prince fans (Princettes?) in the stands, not that it mattered. Because that little black fellow with the fluffy boots, far-too-frilly collars, and killer screeching abilities really can make ya move. Everything about Prince that night was spectacular: his voice remains ridiculously good, his dance moves are still as nimble and homoerotic as ever, even his Brandon Routh-style haircut looked better than Brandon Routh's. And Prince is 52 years old! Suck on that, Superboy.

Those of you who were once like me may be wondering, "What’s so great about Prince in concert?" My response: "Where do I start?" The man carries a live show like only a handful of artists are capable of. His stage is shaped like a penis, but also like his infamous symbol, a declaration to his tenure as The Artist Formerly Known As. He rises from underneath the stage before every song and descends back under at its end.

He also invites flocks of fans up on stage for his last number and concludes the show by throwing his guitar to one lucky serf in the standing room section. He is fully aware that everything he is doing is epic, and he fuckin' loves every minute of it. The feeling is mutual, my liege.

And then there was the music. I honestly can’t remember the last time I head-bopped and thigh-slapped so hard that I woke up sore and stiff. After nearly a three-hour performance, it seemed as though Prince was going to keep us groovin' into eternity. He played everything from Michael Jackson to Prince to Kool & The Gang. At one point Prince even loudly declared, "Do you know how many hits I have?!" I don't think we've invented that number yet.

It was sometime during the fourth encore when I realized that you can’t put a price tag on live Prince. In fact, I almost feel as though I robbed him a little bit that night. To quantify the joy that Prince delivered would leave me indebted to Prince well into this string of twenty-one consecutive Prince shows in Los Angeles. So be it. I thank you, kind Prince, for your generosity.

May 7, 2011

There's something dying down on the highway tonight.

"Every day it just gets harder to live, this dream I'm believing in."
-Bruce Springsteen
First off, kudos to the Boston Bruins. Save the third period and maybe overtime of Game 2, they dominated the entire series. Unlike some teams that wilt after a grueling first-round match-up, the Bruins grew stronger and more confident.

And as for the Philadelphia Flyers? Well, we probably should have seen this coming. On April 8th, I described in great detail how the Flyers were in serious trouble. But six days later, I predicted that they'd beat the Buffalo Sabres in six games.

Am I bipolar, or just naive? Anyone with eyes could see that the Flyers over the first 60 games and the team since the end of February were two different entities. The simple answer is that the defense wilted and exposed mediocre goaltending; my dad thinks the league figured out that they were weak along the wings and against the boards.

Either way, it wasn't pretty. But fans kept expecting them to flip this mystical "switch" they always talked about and turn into the Flyers of old. Which they did, for Game 7 of the Sabres series, but apparently the switch only had a 24-hour effect. Once Boston came to town, they were back to being the lackluster team of spring.

Did they tune Peter Laviolette out? Is Mike Richards not fit to wear the C? Did swapping goalies every game have an unforeseen emotional impact? Or did just injuries just wear down a team that peaked early and paid the price?

Answers should come in a few days. I expect to hear numerous concealed ailments finally announced, and it's widely speculated that Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton have played their last games in Flyers uniforms. Excuses will be made to sugarcoat this team-wide meltdown, and a few of them might even make sense.

For the most part, though, I think this group of guys gets one more chance. Management will bank on Claude Giroux becoming a full-blown superstar and James van Riemsdyk continuing to mature into an All-Star caliber forward. Nikolai Zherdev, Ville Leino, Sean O'Donnell and (hopefully) Dan Carcillo will be set free. Paul Holmgren will use that freed-up money on a goalie like Ilya Bryzgalov. We'll pray that Kimmo Timonen, Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger can stay healthy. And the Flyers will probably once again be among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

If that doesn't work out, however, there will be massive changes. Holmgren's seat is getting increasingly hot, and even though I think he's one of the best coaches in the league, so is Laviolette's. It's much easier to fire a coach or general manager than it is to trade locked-up players like Richards and Carter. And after a performance like this, it's much easier to justify.

By last night's Game 4, the Flyers had made it easy not to care. But we still had to show up and pretend like 2009's remarkable comeback could happen all over again. Hell, I even wore my Flyers jersey through the streets of Boston last night. And as expected, the reaction was less than favorable.

But at the end of the day, the Bruins got out the brooms and sent the Flyers packing. I'm not even remotely upset with Boston. They pounded the Flyers into submission, outskating them up and down the ice. They looked like a hungry team that wanted desperately to win, while the Flyers played like a group of guys that lost their way a long time ago.

We all thought this would be a season to remember, maybe one that finally brought home that elusive Stanley Cup. But in the end, it was nothing short of a disaster: Months of expectations shattered in one week of tepid mediocrity.

Dave's final word on the All-Star Game.

Editor's note: This will be the final word on the wholly irrelevant matter known as Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. But I am a fair and just blogmaster, and I wanted to give "The Bear Jew" a chance to rebut my rebuttal.

A few days ago, I wrote a piece about the 2012 All-Star Game and my disappointment at it not being held at Fenway Park. Well, King Myno himself didn’t agree with me, and said so in his own post. The gauntlet has been thrown down and the King has challenged his lowly vassal. Prepare to be debated!

I agree with some of the King's points. The Red Sox are overexposed and still under .500 in 2011, but do you really think they will miss the playoffs? Cause I don’t. And our fans? They may be as loud, obnoxious and arrogant as any in the game, but I don’t find that trait to be unique; it's more an unfortunate aspect of the human race. Most people just suck, Sox fans included. And should we really have judgment passed on us by a Phillies fan? You guys are as close to soccer hooligans as baseball fans can come. Let’s just agree that none of us are even close to perfect.

And when I spoke of "real fans," I was not talking about those of the Red Sox. I was talking about baseball fans around the nation. A real fan loves the game and its history, not just the team they follow. If I sounded like too much of a homer before, let me put my own bias aside and note that everything I said of Fenway is also true of Wrigley Field. Wrigley will turn 100 in 2014, and it should host that year's All-Star-Game for all the same reasons that Fenway should host next year. Exceptions should be made to mark occasions like these.

Fenway and Wrigley are old and uncomfortable; I can’t refute that. But I think those stadiums have something special that makes them worth preserving and visiting. History and a sense of continuity are the key themes that make baseball great. It’s part of the game's romance. Everything will be compared to all that came before and all that will follow. I can’t make anyone else feel the buzz that I do in Fenway, but trust me, it is there.

I’ve never really seen baseball without interleague play and cable TV. Fans now can see any team anytime, so you’re right that the All-Star Game is no longer special. The last time it was, I was a zygote. But while the All-Star Game and baseball have lost a bit of their luster, I don't wish everything to revert to the past. Platform shoes and disco should stay dead, and I don’t want players to be owned by one team until they too die.

I just wish that players would occasionally choose to stay in the same place, not chase the highest paycheck. The heroes of the past had their flaws. Babe Ruth was a drunken womanizer, and he was the symbol of the game in a romantic era. But it would be nice for players today to stop getting DUIs and do a better job of embracing what could be heroic legacies. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but a girl can dream, right?

And while the Midsummer Classic will fill any park, no matter where it's held, it's hard to argue that games at Fenway or Wrigley won’t draw more viewers. The Red Sox and Cubs have large markets that are more likely to watch the game if it is in their home park. Add in people that would’ve watched anyway and anyone interested in the park's 100th anniversary, and you will probably find that the ratings are much higher than usual.

At the end of the day, should the All-Star Game just disappear? Maybe. I'd like to improve the event, but if it’s going to slide even further into insignificance, I would support dissolving it all together. It clearly doesn’t mean much anymore, and it takes up time in the middle of the season that could be reduced to a two-day break for all the players. And dropping it sure would make it easier to end the season sooner or fit in an additional playoff round, if there is to be one.

So, my good King, it seems we agree on on some issues and disagree on others. Maybe right now you don’t share my desire for more meaning and nobility in the game, but let’s see how you feel when Citizens Bank Park turns 100. Assuming, of course, that medical science continues advancing and the world doesn't come to a screeching halt.

May 5, 2011

Fenway Park is actually pretty crappy: A counterpoint.

My colleague Dave Goldstein recently wrote an impassioned piece about the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and how it was passed over for the 2012 MLB All-Star Game.

I love "The Bear Jew" and I'm tickled pink that we've added him to the stable at King Myno's Court, but that doesn't mean I agree with his every opinion. Join me now as I pick apart Dave's piece, Fire Joe Morgan-style.

You can imagine my surprise when it was announced that the 2012 All-Star Game would be held at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. I practically rubbed my eyes in disbelief.

Major League Baseball making an unexpected, less-than-stellar decision?! I don't believe it.

I didn't just think the All-Star Game wouldn't be at Fenway; I was sure it would be. The same way I'm sure the sun will come up each day.

If Dave had seen 30 Days of Night, he'd know that the sun doesn't always come up.

Deciding on a venue is neither random nor turn based; a prospective host team petitions a MLB committee for that privilege, and the choice is made based on how long that stadium had been waiting, how much money the organization has put into renovations and historically significant opportunities.

That seems fair and reasonable, especially since it keeps the game from being controlled by annoying, overexposed teams with insufferable fan bases. Like, for example, the Red Sox.

Since 1999, few other All-Star Games have really been memorable. 1999 was a landmark year because of the occasion, atmosphere, cast of characters and performances.

"Atmosphere," meaning that it was at the great, grand Fenway Park. It's time to dispel some myths about Fenway. I've been there roughly a dozen times now. My first visit was like a lot of people's: "Oooh, look at all the history caked into these dirty walls and those pee-soaked floors." Every trip after, I've found it to be unnecessarily cramped and outdated. The sight lines are awful, and it's difficult to navigate.

But in Boston, people will tell you that it's the best place to watch a game in the whole wide world. They act like it's character-building to be uncomfortable and less-than-satisfied while watching baseball, like an old timer who laments how easy kids have it these days. It's a baseball stadium! You're paying to watch people run around and play a sport. I'll take a nice, clean arena with cozy seats and many available amenities any day of the week.

The All-Star Game has been in general decline for many years. It was once a dramatic highlight of the baseball season.

The dramatic highlight of the season? For as long as I can remember, it's been a chore for the players and a novelty at best for the fans. Maybe it was the bee's knees 40 years ago, but computers those days were also the size of 18 city blocks. If you'd rather live in those groovier times, perhaps you shouldn't be reading my blog on the Internet.

Baseball made an effort to inject some intensity back into the game by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league, but even the tangible reward hasn't produced a clear return of drama.

Did anyone think this was a good idea? If so, do you still? How arbitrary and idiotic is it to have the championship round of a professional sports league impacted by a vaguely comprehensive collection of its semi-stars?

The appropriate response? Allow the All-Star Game to slowly fade away. Maybe it's still a cash cow and Major League Baseball's trying to wring every last dollar from it, but in about 10 years, people will give even less of a fuck than they already do. All-Star Games in general are sad, outdated commodities that even the players try extremely hard to avoid.

Baseball executives should have been drooling while they pictured it; Fenway Park, covered in bunting, filled to the bursting point with fans.

Fans, or rich assholes that can afford jacked-up prices for a mostly irrelevant exhibition game.

National networks with their cameras pointed toward a field full of baseball's best players, many coming from the home team.

The Red Sox are 14-17, tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for last in the American League East. Just four of their players rank in the top-130 in OPS.

In a cartoon, this is when your pupils become dollar signs. If baseball wants to retain viewers while overcoming the black eye of steroids and competing with the NBA and NFL, this move is a no-brainer.

Come on, Dave. Although ESPN sure has tried, not everyone is enraptured by the magical, life-altering existence of the Boston Red Sox. People sitting at home watching on TV will not give a fuck if the game is being played at Fenway Park, in Kansas City or on the moon. Well, maybe if it's on the moon.

I get frustrated with baseball because, like every entertainment industry, it is more concerned with its profit margins than with its product.

Yes, we should go back to the good old days, when the game meant something and players were basically indentured servants. The owners would save so much on salaries, tickets would be cheaper, beer would flow from the taps! I see no downside to this.

It is hard to see the romance when everything is brought to you by Coca-Cola, PlayStation and Viagra, and there are more people like Scott Boras and A-Rod than Branch Rickey and Christy Mathewson.

For all we know, Branch Rickey molested collies and Christy Mathewson strangled babies. Let's not deify people because they were good at sports and born a long time ago.

The people at Major League Baseball may not have considered this, but is it possible that all of the flashing lights, shiny objects and other gimmicks designed to attract casual fans aren't working and are instead, cheapening the game and driving away the real fans?

This could be a very legitimate point, but the undertones appear to be that Red Sox fans are "real fans" and we can only appeal to them by having a special game at their Mecca. Or, that "real fans" would nod their heads and find value in the game being at Fenway. So a long-time Cincinnati Reds enthusiast would be jazzed to see the All-Star Game end up in Boston? I think he'd be too busy stuffing his fat face with Skyline Chili to care.

It has been longer for Kansas City and granting the game to a small market city shows parity, but choosing Fenway Park is better for the game.

Again, what's good for Red Sox Nation is good for "the game." Fuck the Royals, right? Oh, and by the way, the Royals are 17-14 with super-prospect Eric Hosmer on the way to the Majors.

The Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium, Forbes Field, Tiger Stadium; they're all scrap. But Fenway is still here and next year is her birthday. Isn't that worth celebrating?

Don't assign a sex to the stadium, Dave. And if Fenway was a 100-year-old woman, I'd push for an assisted suicide.

The 2012 Midsummer Classic will be anything but a classic.

Americans opened their newspapers on April 21, 1912 to find a story gripping the nation. Earlier that week, the world's largest and grandest ocean liner, the R.M.S. Titanic, was sunk by an iceberg, taking 1,500 people with it. Through the majority of the dead were poor and anonymous, the front page was covered with the names of America's and Europe's richest and most distinguished casualties. Industrial tycoons, millionaire moguls and European nobility headlined the names and personified the tragedy.

Historians have since identified the sinking of Titanic as the symbolic end of "the gilded age," a time of grandeur in Western society: obsessions with wealth, larger than life personalities, miracle inventions and man's mastery of the universe. The world had pinned its hopes to 45,000 tons of iron, but when that symbol sank into the abyss of the Atlantic, their aspirations were curtailed, not to recover until after the second World War.

But the death of one dream coincided with the birth of another, this one more innocent, and as of today, more relevant. Bumped from the front page that same week was story about the far more successful maiden voyage of another symbol of engineering; a new ball park in the Fens of Boston.

The Boston Red Sox had opened their new home with a thrilling 7-6 extra inning win over the New York Highlanders, which on any other day would have been front page news. Since then, Fenway Park has made it into far more headlines than the Titanic. The oldest and most historic sports venue in the country has hosted some of baseball's greatest players and moments. If Babe Ruth is the most iconic personality in baseball history, then Fenway is certainly the iconic stage.

Across that stage strode Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Bobby Doer, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. Hundreds of Hall of Famers have played within its confines in one uniform or another. And hundreds of near-mythical moments have occurred before its green monster. Arguably the greatest game ever played was Game Six of the 1975 World Series. Where did it happen? Fenway Park, of course.

And next year, this fully functional museum will be celebrating its centennial year, which is kind of a big deal. Most entertainment venues not called the Coliseum never even get one. So you can imagine my surprise when it was announced that the 2012 All-Star Game would be held at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. I practically rubbed my eyes in disbelief. I didn't just think the All-Star Game wouldn't be at Fenway; I was sure it would be. The same way I'm sure the sun will come up each day. It seemed to be such an obvious choice that a debate would be a waste of time.

I have nothing against the Royals home park. It's a beautiful stadium, with its worst feature being the plethora of empty seats. But the Royals could host any other year and nothing would be lost. Passing up the chance to put the Midsummer Classic in Fenway is a serious lost opportunity.

Deciding on a venue is neither random nor turn based; a prospective host team petitions a MLB committee for that privilege, and the choice is made based on how long that stadium had been waiting, how much money the organization has put into renovations and historically significant opportunities.

Kauffman Stadium recently completed extensive renovations, but Fenway itself has finished a multi-stage renovation which started in 2003 when the Red Sox were acquired by Tom Werner and John Henry; both qualify in the first category. Kauffman has been waiting longer -- since 1973 -- whereas Fenway last held an All-Star Game in 1999. But there was a reason for that, and it relates to the last point.

The '99 game was a celebration of the 20th century and gathered nearly every living Hall of Famer at the time. This All-Century team was the largest assembly of baseball talent ever, and the fact that it all happened at Fenway Park was no accident. Major League Baseball took advantage of the opportunity to highlight the greatness of the last century and it was a spectacular success, still remembered as one of the best ASGs ever. Since 1999, few other All-Star Games have really been memorable. 1999 was a landmark year because of the occasion, atmosphere, cast of characters and performances.

The All-Star Game has been in general decline for many years. It was once a dramatic highlight of the baseball season, with the heated rivalry between leagues on display for the whole country to see. The old-fashioned baseball mentality meant that despite each teams warlike competition with each other, they felt an even more raw hatred for the opposing league. It made for a single game of cooperation between the leagues players in a display of league pride. The games were brutal battles of honor and baseball fans ate it up.

But baseball has changed since the 1970's. The constantly increasing emphasis on free agency and contracts meant teams no longer stayed together for years as they once had. And if players could leave the team, they could also leave the league. With players switching things up constantly, there was no longer any hatred between squads since a rival one year could be a teammate the next. Espris-de-corps for team and league hasn't been taken very seriously in some time, and the fight was taken out of the ASG.

Baseball made an effort to inject some intensity back into the game by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league, but even the tangible reward hasn't produced a clear return of drama. The result has been a predictable drop in ratings for the All-Star Game, which has been an unfortunate trend in general throughout baseball.

Major League Baseball is a business, and even if arguments about history and the quality of the game fall on deaf ears, losing money and ratings will not. There are two ways to improve ratings: drama and large markets. MLB was smart enough to recognize an opportunity in 2008. They staged the ASG in Yankee Stadium for the ballpark's final season, tapping into both the enormity of New York's market and the historic occasion of saying goodbye to a legendary stadium. The event was a success and even featured an extra-inning thriller to live up to the hype.

Fast-forward to the present day and World Series ratings have been on a steady and disturbing decline. MLB is looking for a way to generate more interest in the game, and a chance has been served to them on a silver platter. Or perhaps a green one. The game's oldest and perhaps most loved park is turning 100 years old. Not only that, but it is in a huge market, has an immensely popular powerhouse team and is on an all-time high sellout streak.

Baseball executives should have been drooling while they pictured it; Fenway Park, covered in bunting, filled to the bursting point with fans. National networks with their cameras pointed toward a field full of baseballs best players, many coming from the home team. Maybe Carl Yastrzemski would throw out the first pitch.
Editor's note: He's not dead yet? Well, I'm sure he'll die soon.

In a cartoon, this is when your pupils become dollar signs. If baseball wants to retain viewers while overcoming the black eye of steroids and competing with the NBA and NFL, this move is a no-brainer. But instead, the 2012 All-Star-Game will be held in Kauffman Stadium. The game will be the same as it is most years; a lot of commercials and a worthless Chevy will go to the MVP, who probably already drives a Bentley. Who wants to watch that?

Money is what I would use to pitch to MLB executives, but as a fan, I think there's far more important matters at stake. I get frustrated with baseball because, like every entertainment industry, it is more concerned with its profit margins than with its product. It is hard to see the romance when everything is brought to you by Coca-Cola, PlayStation and Viagra, and there are more people like Scott Boras and A-Rod than Branch Rickey and Christy Mathewson.

When memorable moments are getting harder to find, every lost opportunity becomes severely magnified. The people at Major League Baseball may not have considered this, but is it possible that all of the flashing lights, shiny objects and other gimmicks designed to attract casual fans aren't working and are instead, cheapening the game and driving away the real fans?

It has been longer for Kansas City and granting the game to a small market city shows parity, but choosing Fenway Park is better for the game. The increased revenue and the drama of a historic moment are a much bigger draw than Kauffman Stadium, which could just host the next AL game. I haven't seen anyone drop the ball like this since Manny retired. Too soon?

The Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium, Forbes Field, Tiger Stadium; they're all scrap. But Fenway is still here and next year is her birthday. Isn't that worth celebrating?

May 3, 2011

I fear the mustache of Tim Thomas.

Monday night's Flyers/Bruins showdown had everything you'd want from a postseason hockey game.

Patriotism! Amped up on the blood of Osama bin Laden, the fans went wild for a stirring "God Bless America" duet from Lauren Hart and Zombie Kate Smith. The unbridled enthusiasm translated into a hot start for the Flyers.

Deception! Despite Paul Holmgren's repeated text messages to the contrary, Chris Pronger is not healthy. Is it his back? His hamstring? All we know for sure is that he's less than 100%, and there's no hope for a deep run without Pronger.

Intrigue! Brian Boucher left in the second period with what seemed to be a dislocated finger, although Peter Laviolette dubbed it a "malfunction" after the game. The Flyers are the kings of playoff spin, and I'm not sure I mean that in a good way.

Excitement! James van Riemsdyk continued his postseason domination with two goals and eight shots, prompting some bloggers to declare their undying love for the budding star. He's the best player on the ice right now, and it's not even close.

Disaster! Even though the Flyers put 54 shots on goal, only two snuck past mustachioed Bruins netminder Tim Thomas. Dominating the third period and overtime is neat, but you won't beat a team like Boston without taking advantage of any and all opportunities. The Flyers, now 1-5 against the Bruins this year, found that out yet again on Monday.

Boston is beatable. They're thin on defense, susceptible to lengthy outlet passes and allow more than a few odd-man rushes. They also have no answer for American hero JvR.

But they've got Thomas, the great equalizer, and he's already standing on his head. This is also a different team than last year's choke squad. The Bruins have come out with an aggressive, and justified, air of confidence around them. When they go into attack mode, the Flyers look taken aback. And Laviolette's team has turned the puck over way too much to survive being stuck back in their own end.

I still think the Flyers can win this series. And that's not even because of past experiences; home ice doesn't always mean what it should in hockey, and the Flyers have proven to be an excellent road team. Their margin of error slims by the day, though, and this handsome, terrifying face will continue to stand between them and victory.