Friday, June 20, 2008

Mass-destruction and a fond farewell

The last time any region has experienced a decade with as much dominance over the professional sports scene was probably in the 1960's when Massachusetts saw titles in the NBA practically every year, closed out the decade (1969-70 season) with a Stanley Cup, and sent the Sox to the 1967 World Series and the Patriots to the 1963 AFL Championship (both lost).

From 1961 until 1970 the city was home to nine titles in the big four of professional sports...of course eight of those came from the Celtics.

With the '08 baseball season in front of us still, we're looking at three more seasons before the end of the decade (starting from '01) and Boston already has six titles spread over three sports.

While there were more titles in the 1960's, by virtue of where the titles have come from - the Patriots (3), the Red Sox (2), and the Celtics (1) - and how much of it happened.

Consider - since 2001 the Patriots finally rose to prominence, becoming the most dominant football team of the decade, winning three Super Bowls, appearing in a fourth, and amassing the two longest regular season winning streaks in league history including the only undefeated 16-game regular season.

Move into baseball and you have the Red Sox who have swept their National League counterpart in the World Series twice - the first of the Championships after turning the table on the arch-rival Yankees. En route to delivering their first Series Title since 1918, the Sox became the first team to ever overcome an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS and had a hand in dealing the worst meltdown in the history of the post-season to their rivals. It was a thing of beauty. Add to all that the fact that the Sox are the only team to win two since 2001 and the Yankees are 0-2, it's only icing for the members of Red Sox Nation.

That brings us to the Celtics.

For the better part of the decade the Celtics have been awful. I mean, brutally bad. Not Knicks bad - they weren't carrying either the payroll nor the highly touted talent - but they were scraping the bottom.

In delivering this year's Championship, the team was part of the NBA's biggest turn around ever, extended their league leading number of championship banners to 17, and prevented Phil Jackson from passing Red Auerbach as the coach with the most Championships. Putting together this season's edition, Danny Ainge positioned the team to compete for the rest of the decade.

On the periphery, taking the place of previous Boston area teams that got to the Big Dance, but not able to seal the deal has been the New England Revolution. The Revs have been the runners up to the MLS Cup four times ('02, '05, '06, and '07).

Of the six major league sports now represented in Boston (including the Major League Lacrosse Boston Cannons), New England/Boston has made appearances in the finals of five of the leagues, missing out on only hockey. The Cannons lost by two goals in the 2004 championship game.

In the combined seven seasons since the inception of the 2001 seasons there have been 41 potential titles (hockey missed one due to labor strife). The teams from the Boston Bay area has had teams compete for 12 of those (29.3 percent) and won close to 15 percent of the titles.

By any account, those are impressive numbers.

Speaking of impressive numbers and the post season...

While he hasn't officially announced retirement, Curt Schilling is done. His shoulder is cooked.

It's been a fun ride while it's lasted. I haven't always agreed with Schill's opinions - but as someone who makes his scratch as a reporter, I can tell you, he's a reporter's dream. An absolute quote machine and a clutch performer.

He's the sort of person that I think I would not get along with in a personal relationship - but he'll always get a pass for bringing Boston their first World Series title since Babe Ruth was on the team.

I wish him well recovering from his shoulder surgeries and in whatever his subsequent career is.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Observations on the Hub of the (Sports) Universe

I guess Kermit was's easy being Green.

During this decade Massachusetts has seen three Lombardi Trophies, two World Series titles, and just earned a seventeenth banner for the rafters of the Bahstin Gahden. Historically, there's still something missing...Bruins, I'm looking at you. You have two season left to get over the hump before the new decade begins.

Reebok has already commemorated the Celtics' achievement with a great ad that can be seen over at A Red Sox State of Maine.

Here's another from them -

From David Letterman -

"The hookers in Times Square are offering the Willie Randolph special. They'll screw you in the middle of the night when no one is looking."

An observation on Tiger's win...

It was impressive that he did this on one leg, but let's not confuse what Mark Twain called "a good walk spoiled," with things like Tyler Hamilton winning a stage of the Tour de France (and subsequently completing the race) while supporting his weight on a collar bone broken in two places (in one of the earliest stages of the Tour), or Reggie White playing with a torn hamstring (according to the doctors, the connection at the bottom had torn cleanly, causing the muscle to roll up like a window shade), or Drew Bledsoe playing with hardware holding the finger bones in his throwing hand together, or Jack Youngblood playing through the NFL playoffs on a broken leg.

It's golf.

It's not like Tiger is sprinting down to first and rounding the bag, or chasing down a fly-ball. He doesn't drive the lane with the big bodies laying some weight on him.

Let's keep this in perspective.

Woods was impressive winning the US Open on one leg. But let's be realistic - having been a caddy and seen the people who golf (and I saw a lot of Joh Daly-esque physiques out there) and I can honestly say - the hardest part of golf, from a conditioning and strain on the body stand-point over the course of 18 holes is borne by the caddies.

Young Guns...

I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears mentioning again.

Sox fans as a whole are getting spoiled.

Each time a pitcher goes down, he gets replaced with a more than adequate replacement as a starter. And it seems like the rotation just keeps getting younger.

The current rotation -

Masterson (23)- 4-1, 3.00
Lester (24) - 6-3, 3.18
Matsuzaka (27) - 8-0, 2.53
Beckett (28) - 7-4, 3.87
Wakefield (41) - 4-4, 4.19

Should the youngsters falter, Bartolo Colon is waiting in the wings, as is (likely) Schilling, who has not had to rush back due to the success of the youngsters. None of that includes young guys like David Pauley, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, or Michael Bowden.

Let's face it - from a starting pitching standpoint, the Sox are loaded. If the team's bullpen hasn't had so many meltdowns, none of the current starters (other than Masterson) would have fewer than six wins, and I would venture to say that Lester would have at least nine, as would Matsuzaka whose first start was a no decision.

First Amendment

Whenever a reporter or any other sort of pundit says something stupid, a-la Don Imus or Jemele Hill, and gets suspended or fired, all the idiots come out of the wood work defending the right of the idiot to say what they said, and claiming suppression of the reporters' rights to freedom of expression.

I want to remind all the idiots out there that, yes, people like Jemele Hill certainly have the right to make stupid, ill-thought out, and offensive statements. ESPN as her employer has the right to make a statement as well. They have a right to state their disapproval at being used as a forum to propagate any sort of writing they find offensive, and possibly damaging to their bottom line.

What the critics of ESPN don't get is that ESPN has not suppressed Hill's ability to express herself freely in our society. They have just removed themselves from being her forum, her vehicle for dissemination.

They have done nothing to violate her civil rights. It would be no different than ESPN refusing to give space on their site, or in their magazine to a neo-Nazi spokesman who wanted the company to print his editorial comments regarding the superiority of the Aryan Race.

Sure, Hill's statements were meant to be hyperbole, but it's unconscionable that she even typed the line, "Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim," let alone submitted it for publication.

It's one thing to make the comparison to The Evil Empire - a Star Wars reference, a reference to a piece of fiction - and another to link a sports franchise and its fan base to the world's most notorious genocidal mass-murderer of the last century.

As much as Hill deserves the suspension and a subsequent firing, I want to know what ESPN is doing about the editors who let this travesty make it into print.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Contrast greater than just opposite coasts

There is a long list of things that Boston did differently than Los Angeles.

No excuses.

No whining about officials. From the coach or the players.

No bad knees.

No bad ankles.

No bad shoulders.

No travel issues.

No family issues.

No overwhelmed bench.

None of that would be an issue for the Celtics on the way to their 17th Championship.

They played hard. They supported their teammates. They got big contributions off the bench, grossly outscoring the Lakers bench. They played with intensity and pushed the Lakers around, imposing their will like champions, while the Lakers looked to the officials for charitable handouts.

They played the Finals as though they had found the fountain of youth after looking, at times, through the preliminary rounds of the playoffs like they were old.

The Lakers played as though they were expecting to be handed the championship - from their coach and the top of their roster to the last player off the bench. The Celtics played like they wanted it, like they could taste it. It didn't stop with the Celtics' Big Three - at times Rajon Rondo, Eddie House, James Posey, Leon Powe, and PJ Brown all came up big at some point whether rebounding, working the ball to the open shooter, or putting the ball in the hoop.

The bottom line - Boston came through when it counted.

No one on the Lakers can say the same.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

17 and other thoughts

The Celtics were well on their way to raising the team's 17th banner no later than the middle of the second quarter, when the team did their best to break the spirit of the Lakers. For the green and white it wasn't a game, it was a statement. It was a statement to all the pundits that believed that the Lakers were a better team than the Celtics. It was an emphatic "in your face" to those who said the Lakers were deeper, those who said they had a better bench, those who said players like The Big Ticket was more Gar-not than Garnett.

There may have been no play that represented the desire of the Celtics old-timers better than the one Kevin Garnett had as time waned in the first half.

Late in the second, Garnett got knocked to the ground, and as he was falling, put a fastball off the glass and through the hoop. He finished the three point play. It was indicative of how more Boston wanted the game. It was part of a 26-6 run to close out the second quarter and put the team up by 23. It was shortly after the Celtics went ahead and started to get cutesy with the ball.

It appears they learned their lesson, forcing 11 turnovers in the first half.

For the first time in the post-season, the Celtics seemed to know how to stick the knife in.

By five minutes left in the third, the team was up by 30.

This wasn't a game. It wasn't a court. It was the slab in a morgue, and the Celtics forensic scientists dissecting the corpse that was the vaunted and heavily favored Laker team coming into the Finals.

By the fourth quarter the Boston was playing the part of doctor, while Los Angeles played...well...dead. Boston looked like they were playing a pick-up game in the yard while the Lakers looked miserable.

It was a celebration. A celebration for the lifers like PJ Brown, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce - all guys in their 30's, all guys that never got close to a ring. Now they all have 'em. They are part of a basketball legacy that accounts for more than 27 percent of the league's championships. And they were put together by a guy who was part of the last championship back in 1986.

For Boston fans it represented the region's sixth professional championship in the last seven seasons, spanning three sports. Joining the Patriots with three and the Red Sox with two, the Celtics have become the latest to earn the duck-boat parade through the canyons of downtown.

Somewhere Red Auerbach is smiling and smoking a cigar.

The Number Two -

Earlier in the evening Jon Lester continued his crusade to be considered among the Red Sox top pitchers and their top youngster. Lester, now 6-3 with a 3.18 ERA, dominated the Phillies for seven innings one day after Bartolo Colon was smoked for four runs in four innings, and the team lost a laugher to Philadelphia.

In his last six starts, Lester is 4-1, has pitched 39.1 innings and given up nine earned runs for a 2.06 ERA. That's not just good - that's a team's ace.

To put into perspective what Lester is doing - particularly in relation to the proposed Santana trade.

Lester is in his third season, has already started 16 games and logged more than 96 innings. Santana in his third season operated as both reliever and starter, and still only logged a total of 12 more innings than what Lester has already done before the All-Star break. In Santana's 27 appearances, he knocked out a 2.99 ERA and an 8-6 record. Lester's numbers compare favorably - and he's doing more for the team.

On a pace to have 18 more starts this season, should Lester keep pitching like this, he will win between 15 and 20 games and log 200 innings.

It's a long season and anything can happen, but until the Dice-man returns, the younger of Boston's cancer survivors is the team's ace.

Can't say I saw that coming.

One final pitching note -

Is it just me, or did the Sox jump on the first available excuse as quickly as possible to put Bartolo Colon back on the shelf (possibly saving him for the stretch run), in order to see whether or not Justin Masterson is for real?