Monday, May 31, 2010

He Has the Cano-Do Attitude


By Tony Mangia

AL EAST TIGHTENS UP

A week ago, baseball fans---including me---were hoisting the Tampa Bay Rays on their shoulders and proclaiming them the best team in baseball. Young, fast, and with good starting pitching. They could possibly win 120 games. Yankee fans were left scratching their heads after after dropping 5 0f 7 against the Rays, Red Sox and Mets. They looked old and tired. Nobody, including old reliable Derek Jeter, was picking up the slack. Then, two things happened--the schedule and Robinson Cano.

Two old Yankee ego-boosters--the Minnesota Twins, who dropped 2 of 3 in their new stadium, and Cleveland Indians who arrived at Yankee Stadium and gave the home team another lift. Nothing lets off more steam than wins against your favorite punching bags. The upcoming timetable includes the cellar-dwelling Baltimore Orioles, twice, and the pitiful Houston Astros. Ten of the next thirteen games are against losing clubs. Only Sybil-personality Toronto has a winning record but they are, of course, the Blue Jays.

Seven days and everything has tightened up in the AL East--arguably the best division in the majors. Boston has a little hot-streak going while the Rays have cooled. Only 5 1/2 games separate all four teams. It's going to be a long, hot ride this summer.

ROBINSON CANO LIVING UP TO ALL THE HYPE

Yankee second baseman, Robinson Cano, is smoking up the place. He opened up the week with a grand slam against the Indians and continued a torrid hitting spree. Check out these stats: second in the league in batting .362, fourth in runs scored with 36, 37 RBIs and tops with 71 hits. He also leads the Yanks with 10 home runs and a muscular .607 slugging percentage. Cano had always seemed to squander his natural abilities in the past. He is , sometimes, one of the most complete players in the game. He has the skills to be the best second baseman in the majors, but has always frustrated purists with his immature attitude and major hitting lapses. Cano's play in the field this year has been exemplary. He looks like a Gold-Glover and seems comfortable as the team's slugger---until A-Rod and Teixeira get their mojos back. Right now, he only knock on Robbie is his base running. He still stands around admiring a hit one minute and, in the next, over runs a base. Cano could finally fulfill the Hall-of-Fame credentials he seemed destined to a couple of seasons ago. He looks like he is really enjoying the game, too.

CORE FOUR ENCORE

So much for the pundits predicting Jeter's demise after he got some timely hits in the week gone by and boosted his average to a more Jeteresque .297 . The same goes for Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Rivera has a relatively low 10 saves this year, but last week picked up three---including two in one day against the Twins. Catcher, Jorge Posada looks like he's ready to return after two weeks on the DL. He says the walking boot he had been sporting was removed and, after a short rehabilitation stint in the minors, he'll be ready for the Blue Jays series.

COMIC RELIEF

The Yank's starters---Pettitte, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett--have been spectacular so far. They are a combined 18-4 with a 2.86 ERA. C.C. Sabathia still struggles and Javier Vasquez is only worth his snuff against NL teams. So that means he's good for what---3 wins this season? The real problem continues to be the bullpen. Joba Chamberlain continues to disappoint and Dave Robertson's great stuff of last season is junk this year. Pitching coach Dave Eiland says C.C. has corrected the throwing problem and it was just poor pitch selection. Is Chamberlain the most hot-and-cold pitcher in the bigs? I guess "The Joba Rules" haven't panned out as planned.

Red Storm Rising

It was a good week for St. John's University. Basketball coach Steve Lavin has already gotten a commitment from California high school hoops stud, Dwayne Polee and has surprised the experts by attracting the interest of other west coast blue-chippers . The team has announced it will open the season in The Great Alaska Shootout. The prestigious early season tournament will be a great gauge how far the Red Storm's veteran team will go in the upcoming season.

The Red Storm baseball team won the Big East Tournament by sweeping #10 Louisville, twice, and #18 Connecticut in the final to get an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. The Johnnies (40-17) have been streaking the past few weeks and should make a good run for the regionals. Freshman pitcher, Kyle Hansen (younger brother of Pittsburgh Pirate, Craig) was awarded the Jack Kaiser Award for the tournament's most outstanding player. It marks a record sixth conference tournament baseball title for St. John's.

Ex-St. John's star, Ron Artest, made the biggest three-point shot since he drained two against Duke to end Blue Devils home court winning streak (against non-conference opponents) at Cameron in 2001. Artest owned the Dukies in the final minutes of that game. The other night, Artest hit a last second trey to win the pivotal game five against the Phoenix Suns. The L.A. Lakers went on to win the series in the next game. In true Artest style, his timing wasn't as good the the next day, and he showed up late for the Lakers practice.

Congrats to another ex-Redmen basketball star, Walter Berry, and now---college graduate. The 1986 National Player of the Year received a baccalaureate degree from the university on Friday---27 years after his freshman year.

Now It's Known as U Con

The NCAA has slammed the University of Connecticut basketball program with eight major violations and specifically cited coach Jim Calhoun by claiming he "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance." I'm not sure what that means but anyone who follows college basketball must be shaking their heads and asking, "What took so long?"

The Huskies have two NCAA championship banners hanging in their gym won before the current allegations between 2005-09. The violations center around calls and text messages to recruits. Big East coaches, in the past, have accused Calhoun of sending third-tier coaches or assistants to hype UConn to already verbally-committed recruits---a violation. I remember Calhoun giving players "season-long" suspensions for breaking team rules and criminal laws, only to quietly reinstate the offender just in time for the opening of the Big East schedule.

Calhoun is a Big East bully, with a five-year, $13 million contract, who always boasts his teams bring $12 million annually into the school. Funny, he never mentions the 30% graduation mark of his players.

JERSEY SCORE

Three years, seven months and 27 days until Super Bowl XLVIII in the Meadowlands. The temperature over/under is 34 1/2 degrees. Snow? 6/1 odds. Global warming is a handicap. I like the Florida organizers who claim the awarding of the game to Jersey was fixed. Yeah, everything and everyone in the Garden State is like The Sopranos.

Just wondering who the half-time act will be? Jersey boys, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi will probably battle it out with Wyckoff's own favorite-sons, the Jonas Brothers. What about the cast of Jersey Boys? The opening act could be Coolio, Ice-Cube and Ice-T or or Foreigner singing "Cold as Ice." Wait, instead of half-time musicians, what about Ice Capades? Won't need a rink---just use the frozen turf. Better yet, the NHL could have their All-Star game. This way people will actually watch it. I'm thinking big. What about a Frank Sinatra tribute or, maybe, a Jimmy Hoffa extravaganza. Give each spectator a commemorative shovel to dig around the old stadium's fifty-yard line. Come to think about it, maybe the fix WAS in.

"Now boys, don't get caught watchin' the paint dry!"

Filmdom lost a real legend over the weekend, Dennis Hopper, 74. His career spanned six decades and, in that time, has any actor had a part in more groundbreaking films than Hopper? Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and as the nitrous oxide huffer, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. The list goes on: Cool Hand Luke, True Romance...Sports fans will remember Hopper as the town drunk turned assistant coach, Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch in the fact-based film, Hoosiers.

Based on an underdog Indiana High school team that won the 1954 state championship, Hoosiers is regularly listed on critics top sports films of all time. Hopper got his second Oscar nomination for the role of Shooter. It's sad to say that, with all the cookie-cutter, pretty-boy actors of today, it will be hard to find a actor who can play strange as well as Dennis Hopper did. R.I.P.









Friday, May 28, 2010

Blogger Buzz: Blogger integrates with Amazon Associates

Blogger Buzz: Blogger integrates with Amazon Associates

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

By Tony Mangia

WHAT TO DO WITH DEREK JETER?

Only a quarter of the 2010 season has passed and media skeptics have started to swarm all over New York Yankee Derek Jeter's slump like Lindsey Lohan at a swag bag table. Even the most loyal Jeter fan has to be concerned about the anemic batting average, his left-side fielding, and how all this plays into his contract year. A four or five year contract for a 36 year-old shortstop, on the downside, has to already be on GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family's mind. How do the Yankees handle New York's favorite son?

Television analysts talk about future Jeter like he will become a 37 year-old unemployed son--- living in the basement, not paying rent and driving up the grocery bills. In other words, they claim the future Hall-of Famer will become a burden and take up a spot in the line-up, not produce and eat away salary space. At this moment, Derek Jeter is leading all vote getters in the MLB All Star balloting and is on pace to end the season with 36 doubles, 16 home runs and 100 RBIs. Down season?! How many other shortstops will be able to say that?

Jeter entered this season knowing that the Yankees brass never negotiates during a contract. He never whined, made excuses or went to the media through his agent. Jeter's expressions, manners and comments belie the fact that he is off to a slow start at the beginning of a contract season. Imagine players like Gary Sheffield or Manny Ramirez not moping, complaining or dogging it under the same circumstances? I still hear Shef, and I don't even know if he still plays.

Yankee fans knew this day would come; only not when Jeter was slumping. All along, he has done it all with an abundance of class. He accepted A-Rod and his shenanigans along with the media glare. Heck, Randy Johnson only lasted one day before he got into pushing match with the paparazzi. In 15 seasons, you've never seen Jeter sitting in the dugout. He's always standing at the rail, one leg up, scoping out the action on the turf. After a big hit, he's the first over the rail to high-five a score.

HANK IS NOT GEORGE

Jeter's relationship with George Steinbrenner is that of father and son. He still calls "The Boss," Mister Steinbrenner. Hank is like Jeter's older stepbrother. The younger boss doesn't have the emotional ties to Jeter that the old man does---but business is business and George is basically out of the picture. Nobody wants to keep Jeter for old times sake, ala Seattle, who brought back a broken down Ken Griffey Jr.. Nobody wants to remember The Captain hobbling to first base like Yankee great Mickey Mantle in his final seasons or just plain fall down like 41 year-old Willie Mays in the 1973 World Series. Even the staunchest Jeter-hater will never find enough flaws to see him fail miserably. Jeter doesn't have the physical, financial or personal afflictions to allow him fall down like those other greats.

WHAT IS JETER WORTH?

Do they sign Jeter to four or five years? Does he get a pay cut? Is he limited to the DH role? Is Jeter valuable to any other club? Would the face of the Yankees take a pay cut just to stay in New York? The Yankee brass must make a decision--and I'm pretty sure they know what they want to do but, because of team protocol, they can't make anything public yet. Derek Jeter's value goes past Elias statistics and Bill James' fantasy blather.

The thought of Jeter in another uniform would kill most Yankee fans. I'm sure they would rather an eternity of listening to the innocuous "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z---no, that's too cruel...maybe some simple water boarding---instead of envisioning their shortstop making "The Dive" or "The Flip" in anything but pinstripes.

Button Up Your Overcoat

Super Bowl Awarded to Swamps of Jersey

Am I the only New Yorker who isn't excited about the 2014 Super Bowl coming to New Jersey? That's right, Jersey! Thanks a lot Tampa, for using Dick Vitale in your promotion video. Is that the only celebrity you could get? We probably secured the bid after his third "Ba-beee!" While optimistic (really optimistic) local fans conjure up visions of a Giants/Jets scenario, New Yorkers who aren't delusional know this will be a pain in the ass.

I'm all for cold weather games but, NIMBY! The game will overload the city with one of two things we already have an abundance of---tourists. Hipsters are the other scourge. Hipsters, for the uninitiated are those twenty-something roaming the Lower East Side into Bushwick. You've seen their uniform--- canvas high tops, quirky Tee-shirts, forearm tats, I-pods in their ears and messenger bags slung over their shoulders. Don't forget the hats that look like the kind Swiss mountaineers wear. Go to any "dive" bar and you'll see herds of them swilling PBR's between talking about their band's new song. It looks like a Yodelers convention. Whew...glad I got that out of my system.

Tourists, on the other hand, roam our streets four across, arm-in-arm---like something is going to swoop down and take on away. Their lazy strolling, looking up and pointing tends to slow the locals down. Now imagine, in February, another 150 thousand crowding our streets, even more, with their huge, puffy, down-comforter coats. Sleeping bags with sleeves.

LOW-FAT CITY

It also means making the city look more like the Mall of America than the urban dwelling it should be. Mayor Bloomberg (the Patriots fan) lauded the Giants and Jets for their efforts in securing the game. Translated, this means he can put in more pedestrian malls and attract the few franchise restaurants we don't already have. Then, he can force them to use non-saturated fats, stop using salt and put up calorie charts so we're all healthy, if not happy. Oh yeah, there will probably be a excess tax on sugar drinks, sodas and juices by then.

I know a lot has been made of numbers since New Jersey/York got the big game. Temperatures, inches of snow, Rex Ryan's waist line, but the real numbers are in dollars. How about 1.7 billion to build an unnamed facility without a retractable roof? During game week, extra soldiers, cops and agents will dip into New York's Homeland Security fund while the city keeps extra salt and snow trucks warmed up---just in case of the big blizzard---and diverts money from fire and police budgets to make sure everyone can freeze their buns at GIANTS Stadium!

New Yorkers who think it will be easier to see a Super Bowl live will be shocked to find out the NFL sells less than 1,000 tickets to each team's season-ticket holders. Their only hope is for an 18 inch snowfall on Friday. The airports will close and all those extra tickets will be given away to fill the stands. Even the Mayor of East Rutherford (the city where GIANTS stadium sits) will get in.

IN THE YEAR 2014

Let me set the scenario at Super Bowl XLVIII, in "Trump's The Apprentice and Miss America Stadium", for Giants and Jets fans in the land of make believe. Rex Ryan now weighs 87 pounds. He needs a brace to support his giant head. Mark Sanchez now works on a sit-com produced by George Lopez. Eli Manning hasn't been seen since 2010 after someone gave him the wrong directions to the new stadium. Tom Coughlin's face got so red he blew up and Justin Tuck is still auditioning for Tiki Barber's "job" on The Today Show. The Player's Union is on strike. Replacement Giants beat replacement Jets on a freak 70 degree day. Finally, New Yorkers, and the rest of America, had to watch the game on Pay-Per-View.





Monday, May 24, 2010

Taking the L Train


By Tony Mangia

Yanks Must Regroup After Lost Week

Thousands of Yankee fans watched the Lost finale last night; only it wasn't on ABC. They watched their team drop the rubber game against their cross-town rivals, the Mets on ESPN. The three game series ended with Mets closer K-Rod on the mound, arm raised in victory, and Yanks slugger A-Rod standing at the plate swinging at strike three with two men on. It ended a hell week that saw the Yankees lose 5 of 7 against the AL East leaders, Tampa Bay Rays, the hated Mets, and blow a 5-0 lead against their arch-enemies, The Boston Red Sox. Like the television series, the Yanks answered some questions, but left a lot of mysteries, too.

It's really bad week for the Yankees, when they call Javier Vasquez the best pitcher during that spell. He pitched a masterful one-hitter for six innings in the first game of the Subway Series until he left the game with an injured finger. "Masterful" and Vasquez sure haven't been used in the same sentence all season. Maybe the Yankees should have him pitch every game against the National League. Only now, after bruising his digit, he joins a long list of injured pinstripers---Jorge Posada, Nick Johnson and Alfredo Aceves won't see action for a few weeks; while Nick Swisher and Marcus Thames are "day to day." Now, the return of Curtis Granderson looms larger than the reported return of Paula Abdul to American Idol.

The week started with a wild come-from-behind victory over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. The four hour game (a nick in time for these two teams) battled back-and-forth until the Yanks pulled out the walk-off win. Yeah, there was a pie-in-the-face. The breakdown appeared devastating to the Bostonians. The next night, the Sox looked ready to concede the season, after falling behind 5-0, until bungling plays by the Yankees' fielders allowed the visitors to win. Next, the Tampa Bay Rays rolled into town. They completely out pitched New York, outhit them and finally ran all over them. Six stolen bases in the first game, alone. They made the two-game sweep look easy. They seem like the real deal and made the veteran Yankees look old and tired.

Catch Some Rays

The Rays also made the home team's younger players look stale and showed the Yankees future who the real up-and-comers are. They are 32-12 and lead the rest of the majors by 6 games! Their record is no fluke, but winning this division isn't automatic. The Red Sox looked punch drunk seven days ago, too. The Yankees may be banged up and the top of the lineup is slumping badly, but fill-ins have performed admirably. The starting pitching on the Yankees is still good, even after the past few losing scuffles, but the Rays staff is even better. Tampa Bay is young and can go deep into the game. They are not the upstarts of two seasons ago; so sneaking up against anyone won't happen. The Yankees had beaten Tampa Bay seven straight at Yankee Stadium, and took two of three in April, until last week. That is, until they got a real look at this peaking club. It remains to be seen if they have staying power---a few injuries here... There's still 120 games left to play, so its too early to crown the Rays champs yet.

The Good Things

The Yankees have survived, despite all of their injuries. They still have the most potent offense in the league. They lead the majors in runs scored and on-base percentage. Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes looked mortal last week, but are still having good seasons. As a whole, the Yankee starters are 18-7 without Vasquez. Even with batting free falls by Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and A-Rod, the Yankees can still grind out plays and score. They did have 38 runs cross the plate in six days---too bad the other teams scored more.

The Bad Things

The major off-season moves aren't panning out. Vasquez, Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Chan Ho "Out of the" Park haven't played well or have been nicked up. Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera both had bad weeks and the bullpen has struggled on-and-off all season. The injured list is growing faster than C.C.'s ERA.

The American League East is no longer a two-horse sprint to win--maybe its a three way trot to place. Yankee manager, Joe Girardi's yappings about Josh Beckett's extra warm-up pitches and then Cervelli's non-home run call against the Mets might be out of frustration--not desperation-- but he doesn't have to hit the panic button--yet. Last week's botched game against the lifeless Sox, let another team back into the playoff picture. Toronto is nipping at the Yankees' heels while the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins are formidable opponents from the Central Division. All five of these teams are legitimate wild cards if Tampa Bay doesn't cool off. If anything nice came from the losses to the Mets, its the benevolence of Girardi's team. It probably saved Mets' manager, Jerry Manuel's job.

SHORT JABS

EXIT 16W, YA MOOK!

Looks like the 2014 Super Bowl is coming to the Meadowlands. Oh hell, it's still Giants Stadium! Last year, during the Super Bowl game, nighttime temps in the swamps of Jersey hit 5 degrees--without the wind chill! Lots of things to keep the players and fans warm and busy all week. Visit the club where Plaxico shot himself and the hotel where L.T. got busted. If it snows, Mayor Bloomberg says 800 workers will be available to clear the roads. Security is another thing, last year during a blizzard, the NYC F.B.I. offices closed down, when only one agent showed up for work, because all the others called in a snow day.

WATCH WHERE YOU AIM THAT, GUV'NOR, IT'S ME FACE

Love the new mascots the 2012 Olympics unveiled in London last week. They look like deformed Teletubbies with urinals as heads. Makes me pine for Izzy in Atlanta.

I.B.S.? I THOUGHT IT WAS THE NEW DEVELOPMENTAL LEAGUE?

According to The New York Daily News, an ESPN staffer was canned in 2009 for repeatedly using the garbage can as a toilet. The worker is suing because of irritable bowel syndrome caused by stress. Maybe she thought it was the in-box for the Fill-in-the-blank show.








Monday, May 17, 2010

THE SORE FOUR


By Tony Mangia

BIG WEEK AHEAD AT YANKEE STADIUM

The past week or so has been a busy time for our elders. Betty White got the Ensure Tour rolling on Saturday Night Live. Then the Rolling Stones got it rocking, on Friday, with a re-issue of the classic album, Exile on Main Street. Now, the world prepares for the release of another"Sex and the City" movie this weekend. Oh, those four fashion-obsessed ladies-- Carrie, Samantha...and the other two. Anyway, those four central characters have carried the SATC franchise for over a decade--and maybe now a little cellulite is bubbling out from under their wind-blown skirts. The movie will still draw legions of fans and high grosses. It's called staying power. This leads me to another long-standing New York foursome with a penchant for pinstripes---the Core Four. Now, Yankee fans think this group's slip is showing after one blown game.

Yankee fans, shouldn't panic over Mariano Rivera's first blown home save since 2007. The grand slam he allowed against Minnesota was a long-time due. Minnesota has been New York's punching bag for too long---12 losses in a row. The Twins are a good, scrappy team and Mariano has owned them for years. Look at the Stones' Keith Richards. Don't stare too hard; it could hurt your eyes. He looked ancient four decades ago and he's still stumbling around, making good music. Richards really has nothing to do with baseball, but he fits my "old" theme. Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire, even addressed Rivera's bad pitching (let's say It looked like Richards threw them) and said, "It's not something that you will often see." Yankee fans---all cocky with the title and good showing so far---might overreact at their star closer's one inning breakdown. They hear Metallica, see his trot and figure its automatic---especially against the Twinkies. Rivera had to get his first blown save at the new stadium some day. Worse, it could have come against the Sox or Rays.

The past week has been an eye opener for the Yanks. There was the power outage against a tough Tigers team last week. Good Detroit pitching quieted most of the Yank's bats. The Core Four's leader, Derek Jeter, continues to slump but always regroups in a big series. Jorge Posada seems to have overcome his nagging injuries and pounded the ball pretty good over the weekend. Andy Pettitte is still defying nature and improved to 5-0. I wouldn't compare him with Golden Girl White, yet, but 37 is pretty old for a starting pitcher. Outside the core, Mark Teixeira continues to bash his way out of an April swoon. He leads the American League with 16 RBI's during the month of May.

The upcoming week will be a good barometer of where the Yankees are headed. Boston comes to town with a chip on its shoulders. They are 7 1/2 games behind the East-leading Tampa Bay and 5 1/2 behind New York. A pair of loses could knock the Sox out of contention, even at this early stage of the season. The Rays have a young pitching staff, look strong and aren't going to fade like last year. The Yankees, themselves, can't afford to drop two and let Boston back into the race either because they face-off against Tampa for two games after the Sox leave town. Boston has an even rougher path after New York--upcoming road series against the Phillies and Tampa Bay. Finally, later in the week, the Yankees leave the stadium for a three-game series against pesky, cross-town rivals, the Mets. By weeks end, the Yankees could easily be north of the Rays in the standings or nipping at Boston's heels for third place in the east.

SHORT JABS

Say Hello to the Second City, LeBron

Know how I know LeBron James isn't coming to New York? Because Mayor Bloomberg threw his two cents into the ring. Look at his sports recruiting record with the Olympics and the west side stadium fiasco. The city is dealing with terrorists and getting money from Homeland Security and our mayor is worried about the Knicks' salary cap. New York, begging for anything, ain't right.

Belmont Bust

Belmont will be without the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners and now the New York Racing Association says the Belmont Stakes on June 5 could be the end of New York horse racing because they have run out of money. Now they know how I feel at OTB.

Try Some Tiger Balm

Tiger Woods says he is taking off for an extended period while his neck injury heals. Doctors have recommended "soft tissue massages and medication" for his "bulging disk." Wasn't that exactly what he was doing all those years with his bimbos and Ambien?

It's Called 'Four a.m. Memories'

The new scented candle that smells like White Castle hamburgers will go great with my gym socks cologne. Does the candle come with a scowling burger flipper in a hairnet?












Tuesday, May 11, 2010

YANKS AT THIRTY


By Tony Mangia

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

So how's that trade-off with the Detroit Tigers working out for the Yankees? I wasn't missing Johnny Damon until this series started last night. The former 'Idiot' showed some of that Yankee-killer flair he had in Boston by hitting a home run in his first game against his old team. It's not too bad. Compare it to running into an ex with a downgrade as a companion.

The Yanks are in fine shape though, after winning nine of ten series they've played, and are still running are neck and neck with Tampa Bay for the AL East lead. Last year at this time , they were 6 games out. The new members of the Yankees--- Curtis Granderson(the replacement for Damon from Detroit), Nick Johnson, and Randy Winn---have been mediocre, at best, but still have knocked in 20 runs between them. The real story is the long-awaited emergence of Yankee trade-bait: Phil Hughes and Brett Gardner. GM Brian Cashman hung on to both, even when fans were clamoring for them to be packed off. Francisco Cervelli and Marcus Thames have also filled in admirably as role players.

Gardner is batting .344, Cervelli is hovering around .400, and Thames is up to .390 after a slow start. Gardner is one of the league's leaders in stolen bases and is an defensive improvement over Damon in the outfield. Gardner's speed is something the Yankees haven't had since Rickey Henderson and before his "bad hammy" days. Hughes has been sensational as the fifth starter and will probably be moved up unless Javier Vasquez turns it around---quickly! Fill-in players, like this gang, sure eased the slow starts of Mark Texiera and A-Rod while covering up nagging injuries to Jorge Posada and Granderson. The starters---combined and minus Vasquez---are 16-2, while ,amazingly, the bullpen has consistently pulled its own weight.

Tex Heating Up

When all is said and done, the Yankee infield could hit 160 home runs. Jeter and a part-time Posada are good for 25 each. A blossoming Cano could smack at least 30 while a slow-starting A-Rod should hit 40. Tex and his April hitting drought have parted ways and once he really heats up, 40 jacks is a low-ball total. This is one of the most complete infields, offensively and defensively, in the modern era. The Big Red Machine and the 80's Phillies teams are a couple of barometers, but this pinstripe five are all potential Hall of Famers too.

Think a Red Sox fan designed the Sports Illustrated cover two weeks ago? The bubble wrap mailed to Derek Jeter should be wrapped around injury-prone Nick Johnson, STAT! I think that means fast and put him in storage bin. Speaking of the Sox---and I know its early---they look deader than Josh Beckett's arm. The only time his fastball shows life, is when its aimed at a Yankee's head. And what about David Ortiz? Big Papi sure hasn't been the same size since he came out last year about his "careless use of supplements and vitamins?" He's smaller than Oprah.

EYE ON THE PRIZE

There aren't many players I would pay to see before they retire---Jeter, Tim Duncan, Peyton Manning. I wouldn't hesitate to fork over some beer money to watch Ichiro just shag flies and take BP. They are all clutch and make plays that make your jaw drop. Now, even without being a big NBA fan, Steve Nash becomes a must see. I've always liked his play making and running style but his performance, while beating the Spurs in game four last week, was a classic. LeBron James can dominate and can put on a show; but doesn't seem to make his teammates any better. The other day, after getting inadvertently elbowed by Duncan, Nash took six stitches to the eye and returned to the game with his right eye swollen shut. He looked like Rocky after his fight with Apollo Creed. Its not the first time he became a bleeder. Last year, Tony Parker of the Spurs popped Nash and busted up his nose during a playoff game. He was an even bloodier sight that time.

This time, Nash strutted out of the locker room and, without missing a beat, drained a three-point shot from six feet beyond the arc! Nash's slashing lay-ups and "half-look" passes that night helped the Suns sweep the playoff-hardened Spurs. Even Duncan paid his respects to Nash after the game. Well, that's kind of expected from the classy Duncan. Dallas owner, Mark Cuban must be kicking himself for letting Nash go. He'll really regret it when Dirk Nowitzki opts out of his current contract and goes to Phoenix to be with his running buddy.

Short Jabs

Does this thing between A-Rod and Cameron Diaz mean we'll have to watch her blow kisses at him from the $2500 seats all season? Kate Hudson was bad enough.

Please baseball, stop with the shaving cream pies after a walk-off victory. It's like this Betty White over-exposure. It's old, tired, white and in-your-face.

Manny Pacquiao (who I will call Pacman from now on because its too hard to spell his name) seems to be getting over his 'True Blood' and 'Twilight' fears. His camp says he will take a blood test 14 days before the fight now.

When did Ken Griffey Jr. turn into Grandpa Simpson? Falling asleep during a game, by his locker, when he was supposed to be pinch-hitting. Money well spent, Mariners. Sadly, this could become another Willie Mays farewell tour.





Monday, May 10, 2010

L.egal T.rouble


By Tony Mangia

DANCING WITH THE BARS

It's not surprising about the mess ex-Giants and football icon, Lawrence Taylor, got himself into last week---it's the sheer stupidity. Taylor's fast, blitzing style of play not only pleased fans but that same recklessness has also followed him off the field too. The alleged rape of a sixteen year-old girl in an upstate New York Holiday Inn was the latest in a long-line of the ex-linebacker's criminal offenses and convictions. The "runaway" was dropped off at Taylor's room by a pimp who allegedly punched her for, at first, refusing to go. What did Taylor do after he was done with her? He gave the beaten and black-eyed girl $300, sent her on her way, and hit the hay. The girl notified her uncle of the alleged rape and he called the authorities. Police said Taylor was sound asleep when they knocked on his hotel room door a few hours later. He was denied a request to use the bathroom and was led away in handcuffs.

Taylor was charged with third-degree rape and solicitation of a prostitute and is out on $75,000 bail. His attorney, Arthur Aidala, denied the charges and claimed Taylor was a "family man" and "he didn't know the girl was underage." Any time those two phrases are mentioned in the same breath, something just can't be right. "As with any celebrity, Mr. Taylor is a target," Aidala claimed. That same notoriety is what charmed courts and kept him from prison in the past.

Taylor's battles with drug and alcohol demons are well documented. He admitted smoking crack the night before games and beating drug tests by using other people's "clean urine." His play on the field had many players and coaches overlook any infractions that occurred. Fans adored his roving, balls-out play. The more devastating a hit, the better. There wasn't a bar or night club where he didn't have drinks lined up and paid for by his admirers. He WAS that vaunted Giants defense which won two Super Bowls--tough and unyielding---just like his persona and lifestyle. The crime that prosecutors are now charging Taylor with now is so repulsive that none of his past supporters can say anything. What's scary is most people don't seem to put it past Taylor. His open admissions of his past trangressions have come back to haunt him. Giants owner, John Mara refused to comment on the charges and all that his ex-teammates can say is that they thought he cleaned up his life. Taylor's current, and third, wife called it a "setup."

Most Valuable Prisoner

It's been over ten years since Taylor was arrested for drugs. He claimed in his book," LT:Over the Edge", he would go through $1000 worth of crack in a night. He was busted for buying cocaine from an undercover agent in 1996, but police reported finding no drugs in his hotel room in the latest incident---only a bottle of liquor. In 2009, he was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident---then driving two miles without a front tire and, before that, tax evasion charges and bankruptcy.

There aren't a lot of things that haven't been said about L.T. in the media. It all comes down to too much. Too much adulation. Too much partying. Too many incidents. Taylor is not some tragic figure who deserves our pity. He needs help plain and simple. In a best case scenario, Taylor's claim he unwittingly paid for an underage prostitute will be proven. Not much light at the end of that tunnel--a light jail sentence and divorce--if he's lucky. The roar of thousands at Giants Stadium now becomes the silent stares of twelve of his peers in a jury gallery.

There is talk of banishing Hall of Fame members for criminal actions. Where do you start? The violence of football is glorified as macho--a man's sport. Its what separates the members of Canton from the run-of-the-mills. Does a DUI constitute banishment? How about assaults and drug convictions? How do you distinguish the man on the field from the man off it? The 1986 NFL MVP has been given many chances and Taylor seemed to benefit from them. This time a young girl is involved in the most sordid of crimes---rape. Lawrence Taylor has let down too many people for too long. If he is found guilty, even the most ardent fan will find it hard to remember Taylor as a gifted athlete. He will get his day in court and, this time, it seems even the staunchest of a Lawrence Taylor goal-line stand may not help.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Philadelphia Story


By Tony Mangia

BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKERJACK.
I DON'T CARE IF I EVER GET ZAPPED.

Watching a Phillies game these days is nothing less than electrifying and I'm not just talking about a Roy Halladay strikeout, a Chase Utley double play turn or a Ryan Howard blast. I'm talking about zero-tolerance Philadelphia's newest fan favorite--tasing. It's the newest security conundrum from the city that first brought you stadium municipal courts with holding pens and famously booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game. Now, a hilarious video of a towel-waving nineteen-year-old kid getting tased, in the outfield by a Philly cop, is a YouTube sensation.

Philadelphia, a city that banned hoagies (maybe if they were called HEROS) from entering stadiums after 9/11 for security concerns---that mozzarella could be a plastic explosive---is now at at the center of controversy, again, because of its police department's use of excessive force. They even banned cheesesteaks for god's sake! Oh come on. Philly is the home of the late-70's Flyers 'Broad Street Bullies' whose smack down style of play caused the NHL to revise its rule book and add about fifty pages of new disciplinary regulations. I can't believe the outcry. I love the support.

At the center of the controversy is the Penn State student who ran onto the field waving a white towel. He was chased by three lead-footed security personnel and a real cop. This is AFTER the teenager called his father to ask his permission to disrupt the ballgame. After a "I don't think its a good idea" reply from his dad, the jerky kid responded like any other teen would do after getting advice from his pop--he did exactly the opposite! While running around like a scared matador waving a white cape for about sixty seconds, the cop brought the stray doggie down with a direct hit to the rib cage. A stunt that would have only been seen by those fans in attendance, and been forgotten by the next pitch, would now would be seen by millions. The stunned jackass went down like a well...a stunned jackass. Now the public and police want to review the officer's use of a taser and his lack of restraint in taking down the lawbreaker. Police review the officer? Penn State should review the student's application at its university and his father should be slapped around for siring the goofball. What kind of kid calls his father for his blessing to break the law? Maybe that Chicago father and son team who jumped Kansas City first base coach, Tom Gamboa, in Comiskey Park a few years ago? The same lunkheads who dropped a knife at the foul line.

Citizens Bank Park erupted in cheers as the shocked teen went down. He could've been felled by a 9mm for all they knew and, as the convulsing kid laid on his stomach waving his his white terry like a surrendering Frenchman, the roar got louder as the crew corralled the spastic colt. Philly fans have a long record of stadium disobedience and intolerance. Go back a few years to when some Duracells were thrown at J.D. Drew's head up until last month when some freak purposely puked on a police captain's daughter to understand why jails were first installed in the bowels of the Vet. Many other stadiums have followed suit and now have their own mini-Alcatrazs alongside the player's locker rooms. The Oakland Raiders have a whole section for such culprits. They call it loge seating.

GOODBYE KATE SMITH

I say, to hell with the usual seventh inning stretches. No more sing-alongs like "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" inside Wrigley Field or "God Bless America" at Yankee Stadium. Milwaukee almost gets it right with the sausage races and it was close to perfect when that opposing player took a bat to the sweet Italian one. Just pump up the Metallica and set some lanky teenager free in the outfield during the stretch and sic three or four really fat and out-of-shape security guards on the speedster. The wranglers could be armed with tasers and stun guns under their yellow 'SECURITY' wind breakers. See if that wiry little punk could evade his chubby hunters while AC/DC blasts through the loudspeakers. The crowd goes wild when a guard clutches his chest. The fun ensues as the teen races around the bases and his predators huff and stumble around the infield. MMA and the X-Games combined. Royals and Pirates fans might actually show up for the seventh inning alone. Bill Veeck would have loved it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Money vs. Manny


By Tony Mangia

Mayweather Win Brings Talk of Pacquiao Matchup...Again

Now the real fight begins. They'll be lawyers, doctors and fight officials throwing words, reports and regulations at each other like jabs and hooks in the ring. Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s dismantling of Shane Mosley on Saturday backed up Mayweather's claim that he is the true welterweight champion. Manny Pacquiao's camp has boasted that title was his after he soundly beat Joshua Clottey in March. Really, both of these fights were only semi-finals leading up to what the people consider the real championship fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao. The only thing holding back the biggest payday in boxing history is whether or not Pacquiao will submit to Mayweather's demand of taking blood and urine tests on his timetable.

After getting rocked by a Mosley right in the second round in Las Vegas, Mayweather proved why experts claim he is the greatest "pound for pound' fighter in the world. His decision over "Sugar" might have tilted that unofficial title in his favor. Luckily for boxing fans---and boxing-- -both men can fight in the same weight class, so maybe we can finally lay to rest all of the debates and see the real thing. Or can we?

Oscar De La Hoya---who has fought Mayweather and Pacquiao and lost to both---said, after he saw Mayweather's precise 12-round decision over Moseley, that he thinks Mayweather (41-0) is the best fighter of this generation and maybe of all time. Many said the same thing about Pacquiao after he battered Clottey. Critics of Mayweather rail that he has never defeated a legitimate welterweight but now the victory over Mosley, a three-time champ clams them up. Clottey was outclassed by Manny and 'turtled up' the whole fight leading many to agree Mosley is a superior fighter and competitor. Still Pacman diehards will suggest that Mosley was 38 years old and on the exit ramp out of boxing. He did have Mayweather in trouble in the second round but claimed his "neck tightened up" and "couldn't finish the job." By the seventh round, Mosley looked his age, leaving "Money" dominating the next ten rounds.

To Pee or Not to Pee

The pressure now seems to be squarely on Pacquiao's shoulders. Mayweather will not fight him without Olympic-style testing and that is final. Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, said he will not agree to drawing blood within 24 days of the fight because Pacquiao believes that any blood drawn will leave him "feeling tired" because is smaller in size. He has agreed to blood tests before the 24 day cutoff. "If Manny takes the test we can make it happen," says Mayweather," If he doesn't, we don't have a fight."

Saturday's fight was a huge draw and---no small fault of Mayweather---Money lived up to his nickname and made close to $40 million. Mayweather proved his drawing power along with his fighting power. He proved he can take a punch from a strong fighter and recover. Pacquiao was a cat toying with a ball of yarn in his decision over Clottey--outpunching his opponent an incredible 1200-256--and proving he has amazing stamina and energy. Now he can prove his greatness by fighting Mayweather and exploiting Money's rare, but occasional lapses in defense.

Mayweather stepped up and backed up his bravado on Saturday---he boasted that he is better than Sugar Ray Robinson AND Muhammed Ali. He can't fight them but, immediately, there was that familiar murmur of a fight with Pacquiao, possibly in November. Talks fell through last December because of the blood-testing requirements and people became suspicious of Pacquiao's refusal to test and blamed his interest in campaigning for senate in his Philippine homeland while the media claimed Mayweather was ducking Pacman by using the blood testing as a excuse. Right now, Mayweather has the edge by virtue of beating a more substantial opponent.

Both fighters don't need each other---or the cash. Mayweather seems content with taking his "Experience" on the road. Japan, Dubai and England are only a few of the places where he could fight for millions. Pacquiao has his political aspirations to keep him busy. Boxing really needs this fight. It is the most hyped event that never happened. The purse would be staggering---the largest ever. The welterweight division is loaded with good fighters---Andre Berto, Miquel Cotto--- and in the midst of them all rise Mayweather and Pacquiao--two different boxers with the interest of fans and the fight game in their hands. The solution should be simple. There must be some sort of middle ground. How much blood actually has to be drawn? Test the fighters up to 24 days before and directly after the bout. Just don't leave the fight outside the ring in some medical lab or lawyers office.