Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hey Floyd! $60 Mil Could Buy You a New Set!

By Tony Mangia

MAYWEATHER LETS DOWN BOXING AND FANS

The dog days of summer are here. Pennant races in full swing. The X Games are on ESPN. A new season of Jersey Shore. No, not the show, I actually hang out down on the 15th Street Beach in Belmar. Just when I got over the drone of vuvuzellas, now comes "Wadda you lookin' at?" on the boardwalk and "Yo dude, you really got some air" on the television. All that said, what has really gets me riled is Floyd Mayweather Jr.

It has been a few days since Bob Arum announced the upcoming November 13 fight between his fighter, Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito. A decent bout, but not the fight every boxing fan wanted and deserved. PacMan will be going for a record eighth world title in eight weight classes. Talk about the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world; Pacquiao just might someday win a title in every weight class.

Pacquiao (51-3, 38 KOs) will battle the shamed Margarito (38-6, 27 KOs) at 150 pounds for the vacant WBC light-middleweight belt at a still undisclosed location. Margarito may be unable to get a license in Las Vegas---because of last year's plaster of paris handwrap incident---so promoters are looking to a possible meeting in Monterrey, Mexico---Margarito's home turf.

Mayweather's camp has done nothing short of ducking Pacquiao. First, it was the drug testing clause then, the split of the purse, then time off. Now, like a bunch of schoolboys puffing out their chests on the playground---lots of finger-pointing and name calling---everyone involved is claiming its not their fault that the "fight of the century" will not happen this year---and probably never will appear in the annals of boxing.

HBO THROWS IN THE PROVERBIAL MONKEY WRENCH

HBO Sports President, Russ Greenburg said he got involved as a mediator between Golden Boy Promotions---which represent Mayweather---and Top Rank---which reps Pacquiao. Greenburgh cited the "unprecedented world-wide appeal" of a fight between Money and PacMan. The biggest Pay per View and payday in the history of boxing. Greenburg said he talked to both promoters at the beginning of May and couldn't get anyone to shake hands. Great...only thing is both war parties deny talking with HBO.

Golden Boy executive, Richard Schaefer said, "Floyd Mayweather is taking a vacation." He goes further by stressing, " Why would Floyd start talking about a future fight just days after fighting Shane Mosley?" Arum just flat out called HBO a liar. Now boys...

Its too bad boxing fans won't get to see the two best fighters in the world this fall. Senator Pacquaio has has his constituents in the Phillipines to look out for. Retirement wouldn't be a stretch. Rickey Hatton has been making noise about a rematch with Mayweather at Wembley Stadium in England. Hatton feels he was robbed by the referee, in his last defeat to Money, by denying him a chance to use his in-a-box clenching fighting style. Maybe a home town ref will help. Couldn't hurt as much as your last beat-down, Rickey. Could be a big payday for Mayweather without the threat of losing.

When Mayweather says, "Well, I'm not desperate," in reply to a meeting with Pacquaio, all fans hear is "I'm chicken." Mayweather has more excuses than Charlie Rangel. Nobody wants to hear about the big, bad taxman or claims that Money's brand is "being undefeated." Pacquaio had called out the self-centered welterweight and Mayweather didn't step into the ring...period. All of Mayweather's followers, who made him rich and famous, should realize that their champ isn't on vacation, he's in hiding.

SHORT JABS

Let's Do The Math

Funny how everyone calls the New Jersey Nets Jay-Z's team. Yup, he put up $1 million, but didn't the tall Russian pay $200 million for the team. How's that "Title in five years" plan working out so far, Mr. Prokhorov. You should feel at home, Newark is the Siberia of the NBA.

Memories of Linda Pepper in High School...Die Linda Die!

Read somewhere that Cleveland thought about retiring LeBron's number because he is the greatest player in Cav's history. Wow, that's like having your steady girlfriend leave you for your best friend in the middle of a party and you still keep a picture of her on your wall and...I don't want to talk about it...

Yeah...riiight...

Heard that West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins broke seven ribs in a slip in his hotel room. Seven ribs!!!!??? At least he wasn't driving.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

West Side Story Solved




Story and photos by Tony Mangia

MYSTERIOUS WOOD SCULPTURE ARTIST REVEALED

Upper westsiders have been noticing the whimsical art for years. Bikers and runners on the riverside path can't help but stare at the ever-changing piles of driftwood with the occasional plastic or metal accessory stacked up every twenty feet or so apart. Car drivers stuck in rush hour hell can even see the odd folk art along the West Side Highway. It helps break up the monotony of a long jog or boring commute. Dozens of these sculptures appear out of nowhere north of the 79th Street boat basin and disappear before crossing 110th Street.

Like wood cairns popping up out of nowhere, these displays line the east shore of the Hudson River. Some are simple, maybe a couple of small pieces of driftwood, to the elaborate jigsaw of a hundred sun-bleached branches and trestles which form small fortresses. Most of the sculptures must resemble giant eagle's nests and waving life-size stick figures to the passing sailors on the endless procession of barges. Other pieces need a little more interpretation. It must look like a tiny wooden Stonehenge and the stick man of Blair Witch to recreational boaters. "They are fun," exclaimed a fan named Mary. "Haunting," comments her friend, Andrea. Both agree that they like the stick monuments and, like anyone else who has seen them, wonder why and who would spend time building these temporary exhibits rising up for a mile and a half along the banks of the Hudson.

For years I peddled up Riverside Park to the George Washington Bridge on my bike--even when the path was an obstacle course of muddy patches, stairs and ventures onto Riverside Drive, not the smooth paved path it is today. The funny looking bundles of river wood were always there--always changing. The maze of crooked branches and driftwood made me smile. They were a wonderful mystery until I met the single-named creator--Alvaro.

Alvaro, who lives in Manhattan, and rides his bike to the river weekdays around noon to scavenge among the rocks for his building materials. Alvaro explained that he has been doing this since spring and has taken up where the "unknown old man" who started it, stopped. The unassuming artist doesn't delve into his personal life except to say he's of Italian descent by way of Columbia. He has been in New York for 22 years and proudly states that he is a stained-glass artisan by trade. The tanned Alvaro claims his Italian heritage draws him down to the river to "create and do something artistic." The Hudson River Greenway is his art gallery.

Wandering on the craggy river shore, between casting fisherman, and lazing street people, Alvaro picks through the bottles, paper wrappers, old diapers and "Coney Island Codfish"-- otherwise known as used condoms. Alvaro doesn't specify what makes a good piece of building material. He doesn't seem too particular, but he does pick and choose. Maybe it is the crook of a branch or the width of a stump? Maybe it's the right bow of a small tree that completes a previously unfinished piece? Only the soft-spoken artist knows.

The sculptures usually have a short life. They have no names or titles. They are never the same and like a child's sandcastle swept away by the tide, Alvaro's creations meet a similar fate--only to wind and vandals. The northern gusts of the Hudson can topple some of the lighter stacks but the real culprit are kids and "one bitter, old homeless man who has something against my work," claims Alvaro. He doesn't know who the culprit is but has spotted him vandalizing his work. Alvaro doesn't come to the river on weekends, so packs of destructive teens usually break up the works. Each Monday, the artist starts gathering his wood, finds a new spot and starts building his happy parade of formations again.

I don't know how long Alvaro will keep crafting his temporary driftwood curiosities. The river will continue to yield an unending supply of material and inspiration and--in a city full of franchise chain stores, loud pop culture and fake celebrity--Alvaro's synthesis of vision and anonymity help give New York back some of its quiet incantation. I know the quirky little structures in Alvaro's free art show can make anyone's journey up or down the Hudson shore a little more enjoyable.




Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yankees Pinstripe Hopes On Mitre

By Tony Mangia

CASHMAN CLAIMS HE IS NOT SHOPPING FOR STARTER

Yankee GM, Brian Cashman has stated the Yankees will not be looking for a starting pitcher to fill in the holes left by a healing Andy Pettitte, a reeling Phil Hughes and off-keeling A.J. Burnett. It's hard to believe that Cashman, who last month almost went all-in for Seattle ace Cliff Lee, will put all his trust in a pitcher with eleven starts over the last two seasons.

Sergio Mitre is returning to the starting five after injuring his oblique in June. He was pitching well before the injury (2.88 ERA) but has a history of fading before the fifth inning. Mitre is a bleak 13-24 with a 5.42 ERA as a starter and only averages 4 2/3 innings---not a good prospect, considering the hot-and-cold Yankee middle relievers and a sub-par Joba Chamberlain is waiting in the wings for another eighth inning melt-down.

Pettitte has a groin pull and is optimistic about returning to the lineup in three weeks--not the 5-6 weeks the team first claimed. A lot easier said than done for a 38 year-old. He is positive this means he will be well-rested for the stretch run. Ahh, the optimism of age.

Phil Hughes got raked over the coals last night by the Angels. He does not do well after resting and manager, Joe Girardi---the pitcher's sandman (not in a Mariano Rivera way)---will continue to limit Hughes' outings. He already has thrown 106 innings this season---more than any other year in the majors, so Girardi is fluffing his pillows already. For the next few weeks, Yankee fans may be seeing Javier Vasquez---4-2, 2.55 in his last 8 starts---as the team's number two starter. Who would have pictured that scenario six weeks ago?

Cashman would be as much of a head case as door pusher/puncher, Burnett, if he doesn't explore what's available before the July 31 trading deadline. Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly, and Don Haren are all worth a peak, all of them are good, but not Cliff Lee good for a short-term fix and a pillage of Yankee prospects.

SHORT JABS

More Like Taken Out of Bounds

I'm getting a little tired of politicians, celebrities and sports personalities using the old "It was taken out of context" excuse. Last week it was Dwayne Wade with his 9/11 remark and now its gasbag Tim McCarver comparing the Yankee organization to two of the most murderous regimes of the last century. McCarver announces his games like he's some college professor and viewers will be popped quizzed afterwards.

McCarver said, "You remember those despotic leaders of WII...where they used to take those pictures of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot them." He continued," They would airbrush them out of the pictures, in a sense, that's what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre."

I know he's good friends with Torre from their Cardinal playing days and feels that the ex-Yankee manager got a raw deal when he was let go by the Steinbrenners, but it's unbelievable that anyone---especially in front of a national television audience---would compare a business decision and a slight at the last game at the old Yankee Stadium to Hitler---I just got a chill typing that name---and Stalin. I guess history wasn't this professor's major.

A few days later McCarver recanted---somewhat. "My analogy was inappropriate," he admitted, "In my opinion the underlying point remains true." He should never do another Yankee game again.

Forget Me Nots

Sorry to hear about the legendary former-North Carolina coach, Dean Smith, is suffering from memory-loss. He had too many great moments to forget everything...I hope. I'm just wondering if it is contagious? Seems like some of the football staff at NC can't recall any cases of improper recruiting violations and the same seems true at South Carolina. We already know that Pete Carroll has amnesia since he left USC.

Too Soon?

I know George Steinbrenner had plenty of non-fans, so I had to laugh when I heard one of his most vocal detractors, ex-Red Sox pitcher and resident hippie, Bill Lee's gut response after The Boss's death. The Spaceman's bluntly said," When Hell freezes over, he'll be skating."


Monday, July 19, 2010

Over 3,000 Take Dive Into Hudson River


By Tony Mangia

THE 2010 NAUTICA NYC TRIATHLON

Sunday morning at 99th Street alongside the Hudson River and, with the sun barely peaking over the skyline, over 3,000 colorful, rubber-capped athletes line the riverbank and get ready to take the plunge. The temperature is already over 80 degrees, so a dive into the murky water will be more of a welcome relief than a shock to the system.

Welcome to the start of the 2010 Nautica NYC Triathlon---the only Olympic-distance triathlon event in New York. Won this year by Filip Ospaly of the Czech Republic---the field included participants from 44 states and 23 countries. People from all walks of life including men and women pros, first-timers and a record number (over 70) of para-triathletes competing in conjunction with the Accenture USA Para-Triathlon National Championship.

YOU WOULDN'T KNOW THEIR FACES

In a world of entitled and wealthy sports "heros", triathletes are an anomaly. The $30,000 in prize money is called chump change in the NFL and NBA and it is basically pro-sports minimum wage considering all the hours a triathlete puts into training.

Today everyone will be challenged by the heat, humidity and soupy air of Manhattan. The thousands of enthusiastic supporters and rubber-neckers lining the Hudson, West Side Highway, city streets and paths of Central Park will push the athletes past limits some couldn't imagine. The heat will fell a dozen runners and one London man will end up in critical condition at New York Presbyterian. In 2008, Esteban Neira was pulled dead from the Hudson. "It's a tough day," said Race Director, Bill Burke, "its a pretty low considering what we expected." This is no leisurely jog around the park.

REAL CHALLENGES

Such are the challenges of any athlete---especially these. There is a "Psych Station" at the starting tent, manned by psychologists who offer consultation for the jittery beginners and the occasional seasoned pro. Some competitors must overcome more adversity. There are inspiring stories all along the riverbank. War veterans missing limbs and people overcoming a multitude of traumatic emotional and physical set backs. This year's women's division winner---repeat champion---Rebeccah Wassner, was followed two minutes later, into second place, by her twin sister, Laurel. Laurel is a cancer survivor. "One-arm Willie" Stewert was one of 12 National Champions crowned in the Challenged Division. This race is the only qualifying event for the ParaTriathlon World Championships. To qualify, competitors must finish in less than 4 hours.

TRUE GRIT

I met one 33 year-old man, Rajesh Durbal, from Orlando. He started participating in the combination 1.5K swim, 40K biking, and 10K run thirteen months ago. His best time is 3 hours and 5 minutes. Raj does this despite missing both legs from the knees down and part of his right arm at the elbow.

I first see Raj near the starting dock, relaxing, sitting under a tree with his prosthetic legs splayed wide. His smile is almost as bright as his spirit. He tells me, simply enough, he started this as a "challenge." Is that an understatement? He also mentions he is getting ready for the Ironman in Hawaii on October 9th. A man of few words and many goals.

Rajesh's "handler" stands by the triathlete. He is an intricate part of Raj's day---as are other handlers for the many challenged athletes. He will carry the athlete on his shoulders from the swimming exit dock to the bike rack and, later, meet him to give him his running legs. These are the same type of carbon-filled prosthetics made famous by the South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, in 2008. The Cheetah Flex Foot, as they are called, make Rajesh stand about 6'6", although he needs no accessories to stand tall.

At the finish line, runners in all dimensions roll in. Some stagger while some speed up. Rajesh appears to welcoming cheers as he bounces through a finish-line ribbon. The 90-plus temperatures and steaming pavement haven't crushed him---physically or spiritually. "Did I break three hours?, are his first words. He's finished in the top-half of the field---an amazing feat of athletic ability.

I only met Rajesh Durbal briefly. There are a lot more questions I would have liked to ask, but it was his moment. He did tell me the hardest part of the day was the biking. Well it was only 40K, my man---and, oh yeah, you did break three hours. Best of luck in Hawaii.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Decision: Pacquiao/Mayweather


By Tony Mangia

PACQUIAO/MAYWEATHER: ANOTHER LEBRON MOMENT?

Don't hold your breath for the "Fight of the Decade." The welterweight showdown by arguably the two best fighters in the world will not happen. Noise from both Manny Pacquiao's and Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s camps suggest that neither fighter is as close to an agreement as the public has been led to believe. The silence from Mayweather is deafening.

Top Rank's Bob Arum has given Mayweather until Friday, 11:59 p.m. deadline to accept terms for a potential November 13 bout with his fighter, Pacquiao. Arum hasn't specified whether it was Eastern or Pacific time, but when you open the sports pages on Saturday, don't expect to read about the fighters shaking hands.

WHO'S DUCKING WHO?

This talk has been teasing boxing fans since January, and the intrigue is beginning to wear thin. While many boxing fans wonder if Money is backing down from Pac Man; Mayweather suspects that his potential foe is juiced up on drugs and has refuted Pacquiao's claim that blood tests weaken the Filipino fighter. Pacquiao has agreed to blood testing up to two weeks before the fight---a two week window that Mayweather has refused to sign on to. Mayweather backers'message is that avoiding the blood-drawing is a ruse for Pacquiao to skip the bout.

Dividing the fight purse is one of the other contentions. Top Rank wants a 50/50 split, while Mayweather thinks he deserves 60 percent. This isn't the first time these two teams have squared off outside the ring. Oscar DeLa Hoya's firm, Golden Boy Promotions---which promotes Mayweather---has a percentage of all of Pacquiao's promotions---according to a 2007 contract. Pacquiao currently has a lawsuit against Golden Boy contesting that document and requests that the firm relinquish all interest in Pacquiao's promotional rights. Mayweather may not want fight an opponent that is suing his promo team---or it could be more of an incentive.

WHAT KIND OF LEGACY IS THAT?

Floyd Mayweather is known for his outrageous behavior, but his logic is sometimes just as crazy. He recently said his "brand" is being undefeated. Pretty Boy claims his legacy lies in managing to retire undefeated. Whhaaat!? Does this mean he is afraid of Pacquiao? What kind of talk is that for a fighter? If he ducks Pacquiao, his brand will be undefeated, but he will be branded a fraud. Boxing historian, Burt Sugar, said the last time he could recall a boxer avoiding an opponent in this fashion was 100 years ago when "Gentleman" Jim Corbett "retired" for four years to avoid facing Bob Fitzsimmons. Corbett came out of retirement and, as fate would have it, got beat by the shadow he couldn't run from anymore.

SNOOP CHIMES IN

Snoop Dog released a video supporting Mayweather and teasing Pacquaio. In a way only the rapper could convey, he tells Pacman, "Show us you ain't dirty and you ain't takin' no drugs...you need to squab one on one." In Pacquiao's defense, he also could have rhymed, " To show I ain't no chicken, Pac Man can go two weeks with no needle prickin'."

If The Fight of the Decade doesn't occur, the fight world will have to settle for the Filipino Senator, Pacquiao, in a re-match against Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margerito. Margerito---suspended for one year for using illegal hand wraps--- is the more intriguing of the two.

It could be that Mayweather knows he's on a downslide. At 33, Money has fought only six times---winning by close decisions--- against inferior or fading fighters. Pacquiao, in the same span has fought 11 times against superior competition.

Mayweather is capable of leaving the ring being the richest and one of the greatest fighters of all time, only if he meets Pacquiao. A win and his legacy is secured in stone. If he refuses to fight, he will be undefeated with an asterisk---no, with a question mark. To both, just hurry up, the decade is coming to an end!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

LIFE WITHOUT GEORGE


By Tony Mangia

YANKEES SECOND-HALF CONCERNS

The New York Yankees had a tough week. First the loss of their beloved announcer, Bob Sheppard, and then the death of their larger-than-life owner, George Steinbrenner. One of the only people whose death could cast an ample shadow over the All-Star game. Twisted minds may wonder if the man who burst into this world on the Fourth of July held on long enough to take his last breath on MLB's big day---come in with American flags and fireworks and go out with peanuts, Crackerjack and a national audience. No, Steinbrenner loved the game too much for that kind of attention.

How will the club handle the adversity? Wow, that's a word that's never been tossed around the Yankees locker room before. The fiery glare of The Boss had been replaced by a more grandfatherly squint in recent years. Derek Jeter may be the face of the team, but even Steinbrenner's scowl from the owner's box still made him the face of the New York Yankees. Don't think George's aura isn't all over Yankee Stadium---his Yankee Stadium.

QUESTIONS ABOUND WITHOUT THE BOSS

Is the Yankee philosophy still the same? Will they stay the course? Will the team lose its edge? Yes! Yes! No! The mission will be even more reinforced. The Core Four will be undoubtedly be galvanized for a second half run. There will be a "Do it for The Boss" mentality. There is a loyalty that runs deep within the Yankees, and it will rear its prideful head.

The Yankees are sitting pretty with 56 wins and lead division rivals, Tampa Bay and Boston, by 2 and 5 games respectively. These are still concerns, however. Tampa Bay looked to be fading a few weeks ago, but seem to have collected themselves. Boston---never count those guys out--- has withstood pitching woes, an early hitting slump by David Ortiz, and an all-star roster of players on the DL. A dozen important Red Sox players are nursing injuries at this very moment. The real questions don't lie within the Yankees' psyche, it's more of a physical concern.

First and foremost, there is the bullpen. I hate to continually harp on Joba Chamberlain, but the phenom has fizzled. He continues to give up runs and blow games. Early-season set-up savior, Alfredo Aceves has a bulging disk and his return is unlikely. The Yankees hoped to get Cliff Lee and use Phil Hughes (an All-Star starter) to be the set-up man. Right now, there aren't too many starters of Lee's quality available that could replace Hughes. Don't even get me started on Chan Ho Park. The search for a reliable eighth inning hurler to set up Mariano Rivera must begin...and soon.

The DH has been complicated so far this season with the injuries to Nick Johnson and Jorge Posada. Didn't the Yankees learn anything about the injury-prone Johnson the first time around? The only injury that hasn't shelved him is ebola. Posada continues to struggle with a broken foot...and knee...and thumb...and calf... Marcus Thames is another role player who needs his own private ambulance. Curtis Granderson's .240 average and surprising lack of power won't cut it in the second half. The Yankees need a slugger like Ty Wigginton of the Orioles to pick up the slack. I'm sure Brian Cashman is on the horn right now. The spirit of George lives on.

SHORT JABS

The All-Star Lame


Did anyone make it past the third inning that night? I never heard of any of the players on the field after Phil Hughes got punched out. I even tuned in to watch that weird-looking dude, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. That home run derby is a real ratings grabber too. Who won?

NCAA Tournament Expands to 68 Teams...Why?

The Road to the Final Four will begin with the First Four next March. The formally 65-team format will include two of the lowest seeded teams, rated 65th to 68th; all small schools that earned automatic bids, then the winners will face a top seed in the first round...whew...wait...then the teams rated 34th to 37th --weak teams from major-conferences will play for two spots in the main bracket...got it so far? Then...they will represent the First Four seedings and then...whew...water please... then this would result in the winner advancing to play the #7 seed. That simple! Can't wait to see what the new bracket sheets look like.

Pass the SPF 300, Hurry Please!

Watched outdoor bowling on ESPN last weekend. Not as exciting as a outdoor NHL game. The best part was watching the pin-pals bake in the sun and force warm beers down their gullets. I never knew people could actually glow.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

R.I.P. GEORGE

By Tony Mangia

THE STEINBRENNER YEARS: A VIRTUAL SOUNDTRACK FOR NEW YORKERS


If the death of Yankee's announcer, Bob Sheppard, was the demise of the Yankees' voice; the passing of Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, was the elegy of the sports and social soundtrack of New York for the past 38 years. As a kid growing up in New York and its confines, I can relate parts of my life to sound bites of the Yankees during the Steinbrenner years. The death of The Boss wasn't as much of a shock---he was sick for years---as much as a reminder of how much of my life revolved around the New York Yankees.

I received two calls from childhood friends in Tampa and New Jersey today. "Steinbrenner died" were the first words from both. It was like they were somberly breaking the news of the death of a close relative or another comrade. "Remember that game when...," each continued with a different story. I remembered every moment.

FROM EMPTY SEATS TO FULL POCKETS

Being a Yankee fan in '70s New York meant mean streets, Horace Clark at second base, tons of empty seats at the Stadium, and a prized Roy White Edition bat from Bat Day. The Mets were still living off of their "miracle" years and were the toast of the town. All that changed when that Cleveland interloper, Steinbrenner took over. The arrival was as smooth as burlap and he cleaned shop with the same gruffness.

First came Catfish Hunter and then the Reggie Jackson. The big mouth who was pompous enough to diss our blue-collar hero, Thurman Munson. There were the battles between The Boss and dirt-kicking manager Billy Martin and the consequential hirings and firings. But with all that, there were the victories.

I remember listening to inimitable and nasally Phil Rizzuto. His "holy cow!" after a Ron Guidry strikeout or a Craig Nettles line-drive stab. Listening to the action on a sunny Jersey beach while Goose Gossage struck out three Red Sox players in row during an August pennant drive still resonates. WPIX broadcasts, with the Scooter, Bill White and Frank Messer didn't seem to last until past midnight. Maybe they did, but who cared. It was all a young Yankee fan could ask for.

It wasn't all winning and glory for the Yankees. The '80s provided nothing except the brilliance of Don Mattingly and series of suspensions for Steinbrenner, the feud with Yogi, a scandal that involved Dave Winfield and finally banishment---then re-instatement like only The Boss could have done--- from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Fay Vincent. The Yankee owner became a pariah, even among many of the Yankee faithful.

Then came the Jeter years. The Boss seemed to mellow---maybe it was the Joe Torre effect---and winning in the Bronx was as regular as the 5 train. The new, gentler Steinbrenner took wayward souls like Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden---who threw one of the most improbable no-hitters---and gave them second (and third) chances. Four championships in five years made the New York Yankees the longest-running class act in all of sports.

Then it seemed like The Boss wasn't around. He was occasionally spotted perched in the owner's box. There was the horrible sounds of Red Sox cheers in 2004. A strain so vile, it reverberated in Yankee fan's heads until last year's championship. Slowly, the feebler version (dare I say that) of the boss from hell quietly handed the reins over to his sons, Hank and Hal.

If Bob Sheppard was the opposite of the loud-mouthed, lights flashing stadium announcers of today, then George (New Yorkers can call him that) was antithesis of the current garden-variety " Look at Me" sports team owners. George did everything to win. Emphasis on win!

Now, New York City looks like a friendly mall, Yankee Stadium seats are full---and $2500---All-Star, Robinson Cano turns the double play at second, and I think the bats on Bat Day are the size of pencils. The more things change...the more they...change.

STEINBRENNER CHANGED SPORTS FOREVER

Love or hate the Yankees and/or Steinbrenner; he was one of a kind. He introduced sports to the high-priced free-agent and the option of owning your own network. Opposing teams, owners, and MLB brass lambasted him. Heck, even pinstripe fans had love affairs, then threatened to break his kneecaps or just tolerated the bluster and arrogance of the man. If you were lucky enough to be a Yankee fan for the past thirty years, you've enjoyed one of the great New York stories.

I hope Derek Jeter is given a moment during tonight's All-Star Game to express the feelings of Yankee fans like only the humble shortstop can, "Thanks and Rest in Peace, Mister Steinbrenner."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

By Tony Mangia

New York's LOST Weekend

The annoying buzz of vuvuzellas has been replaced by the even more irritating whine of New York sports fans. In one giant middle finger to NYC, the Rangers, Warriors and Pat Riley took pitcher Cliff Lee, Knick David Lee, and some Cavalier player named LeBron James from the spotlight of Broadway. Hey New Yorkers, suck it up. For once, the Yankees and Knicks know how Pittsburgh and Kansas City have felt for two decades. Welcome to the world of small market teams.

The only ones who should be heartbroken are the downtrodden Cleveland fans. LeBron treated those poor souls like a star jock who breaks up with his high school girlfriend at the prom. He's having a menage a trois with the homecoming queen AND the valedictorian and shoving it down the exe's throat. Stringing the naive Cleveland faithful along for months was disrespectful, but dumping them in front of 8 million was deplorable. James didn't owe the fans a contract; in fact he owed nobody, but he should have shown a little more class.

The only other thing missing, besides contrition, from The Decision: LeBron James on ESPN Thursday night was a line up of James' suitor's team caps in front of his highness, and that which one will he put on his head moment. Pity the off-spring of champion-starved fans who named their kids LeBron or LeBron and James who, after that night, face a childhood of schoolyard bullying and beat downs on Cleveland playgrounds.

The New York Knicks didn't stand a chance of bagging LeBron---especially after they sent Isiah Thomas as some kind of mercenary to lure him to Madison Square Garden. I thought there was a restraining order against him filed by the city of New York. Doesn't he a a coaching job at Florida International anyway? Shouldn't he be recruiting high school players for his real job instead of mucking things up in New York? He is---and always has been---the kiss of death for the Knickerbockers.

AND IF YOU TRY SOMETIMES, YOU TRADE WHAT YOU NEED

The Knicks betrayed their own fans by trading David Lee. Lee who has been their most consistent and popular player since Patrick Ewing was given the bums rush to San Francisco. How's that for loyalty? They get a 21 year-old unproven to compliment Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire has no defense and doesn't rebound. Two things Lee does good...all-star good. There has to be some reason the Phoenix Suns didn't fight for Amar'e. Could it be they know something about his bad knee the Knicks don't know or is it that the D'Antoni system is really better suited with Steve Nash?

Even those bumbling Russian spies could have figured out that King James was headed to "South Beach" and the Knicks still crossed their fingers on landing LeBron. Speaking of those hapless Reds; I have the feeling it won't be the last we see of Anna Chapman---the sultry redhead. She has all the qualifications to become a media success in this country---good looks and a scandal. First, comes the nude spread in Playboy, then film and movie deals, a reality show and finally, a cooking or talk show. How long before this inept traitor is a contestant on Donald Trump's The Apprentice. Get 'em while they're hot baldy.

I Teardrop NY

It makes me laugh when I hear the New York media and sports radioheads claim LeBron isn't tough enough for their city. First, they went begging for the man, next they cried when he chose Miami and lastly, they gripe about it like Jersey housewives. Way to woo free-agents. A courtroom date with Lindsay Lohan has less drama. Now Knick fans and their poster boy, Spike Lee, have their eye sighted on Denver star, Carmelo Anthony next year. James showed up for Anthony's wedding on Saturday at Manhattan's Cipriani's and was jeered by the crowd. Sunday's New York Post headline blared Welcome to N.Y., Jackass next to James' photo. While Miami gloats, New York City shows its thin skin.

New Jersey (which had no chance), Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Cleveland can stamp their feet as much as they want about James not choosing their city, but there really isn't any merit to their temper tantrums. There is one thing they can all complain about---tampering. Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, gets fined for suggesting it would be nice to have a LeBron in Dallas, but Bosh, Wade and James can meet for breakfast and joke about forming the threesome weeks ago? I bet Pat Riley was the waiter. LeBron didn't look the least embarrassed when he said he didn't make up his mind until the morning of his television announcement. Yeah, riiiiiight.

THERE'S A-ROD & FAVRE

Has anyone been more entitled than Lebron James? Starting with his high school games being broadcast on ESPN? In the end, James owed no one nothing. He had every right to go where he pleased. Ohio has no lease on his talents and the future of the Cavaliers isn't exactly bright. The team had won nothing with James. Hell, Ron Artest has more championship rings.

Still, LeBron came out looking like two other James---Jessie and Jessie. Channeling motorcycle James, LeBron has traded his long-suffering wife for a bombshell bimbo and a role as a third wheel on a custom-made trike; while robber James was a legendary outlaw. Not nice. LeBron would have been better off in the Second City. Carlos Boozer played with James and is better than Chris Bosh. James would still be the man in Chicago, while Dwayne Wade has the ring in Miami. No matter where LeBron James is, he's still Akron's own...and you'll never change that.

YANKEES LOSE TOO!

New York teams are used to getting what they want. They think its their god-given right to land every sports star on the market. In every match up against other cities, the New York media always plays the Us vs. Them angle. From culture---we have the Met---to entertainment---Broadway---to cuisine---Junior's cheese cake, whatever. New York loves to compare and conquer. Hey LeBron, I would take a Joe's Stone Crab platter in Miami over a Katz's pastrami anytime! Now, the New York Yankees, who are not used to losing---on the field or in the backrooms---get beaten to the punch by a relatively small-market team. The pinstripers get a taste of their own pine tar.

The Texas Rangers snatched Cliff Lee from the Yankees bankroll after the Seattle Mariners balked at a minor-leaguer the two teams had verbally agreed to. The only people happy about the results are the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Phil Hughes---who won't be banished to the bull-pen to make room for another starter. The Rangers starting rotation has been good, but the acquisition of the all-star Lee gives them a stud for the playoff run.

The Yankees starters have been dominating teams over the past few weeks. They will survive the loss of Lee and could possibly land him in the off-season. It's Joba Chamberlain who has been killing the team. He failed to protect a one-run lead against Seattle on Saturday wasting another great effort by Javier Vazquez. No wonder GM Brian Cashman vied for Lee, the Yankees need someone who can get three outs in the eighth inning.

SHORT JABS

THOSE DIRTY DUTCH


One good thing about the Netherlands losing the World Cup---besides a long-awaited come-uppence for the settlers of South Africa---is that wooden shoes will not become a fashion staple here in the U.S.. The thought of hipsters adding clacking oak Sketchers to their wardrobes and tapping up and down the sidewalks of the Lower East Side makes me yearn for vuvuzellas.

THE VOICE OF GOD GOES HOME

This weekend saw the passing of NYC legend, Bob Sheppard. The Voice of God,as Reggie Jackson once anointed him, was the announcer at Yankee Stadium for over fifty years. His sterling voice introduced the names of all Yankees from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Derek Jeter. Jeter recorded Sheppard's intro and still uses it to this day. I remember Sheppard announcing games at St. John's University---where he taught. If you grew up in NYC and went to a Yankee, Giants or Redmen/RedStorm game, you were a fan of Sheppard, even if he wasn't on the field. "Now batting for the Yankees, the shortstop, number 2, Derek Jeter, number 2," in Sheppard's baritone will be used at Tuesday's All-Star Game to honor the great enunciator.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The LeBron Hour

By Tony Mangia

Everyone is all set tonight for ESPN's broadcast of The Decision: LeBron James. The King will finally let the millions of people with no lives know where he is going. There was speculation that because the show is being broadcast from Connecticut, he was going to the Knicks. Madison Square Garden is only an hour away, they reasoned. He could be going to Boston with that kind of logic. For Jay-Z's sake, Newark is only a fifteen minute PATH ride from the Garden, so he could be going to the Nets. Enough with the geography angle, the NBA season doesn't begin for three months and he has his own private jet, anyway.

Then, I reasoned Martha Stewart was even closer, so maybe he was taking that P.A. job on her show. LeBron has shown a knack for entertaining and his commercials are fan favorites. You gotta start somewhere. Finally, it dawned on me, what better way to garner a captive audience for a new show than to have a fake press conference? From unidentified sources, I've found out that---like MTV did with music videos---ESPN is eliminating sports news and will be only be showing reality shows and sit-coms. Tonight is the premier of One is Enough, LeBron's new comedy.

At first, I was angry because tonight I had my heart set on Larry King (gonna miss the old coot) and the last period of MLL All-Star game. That's the pro-lacrosse league for anyone who doesn't live on Long Island or in Maryland.

NO ROSES FOR CLEVELAND?

I was ready to accept the conceit and arrogance of LeBron making a spectacle of himself while breaking up with Cleveland in front of 18 million people. Most sensitive guys do it by e-mail. He was ready to draw it out for an hour on live television. Can't imagine Derek Jeter breaking the hearts of Yankee fans like that. Kevin Durant---one of the NBA's rising stars---just quietly signed five year deal with the Thunder---wherever that team plays---even Kobe Bryant was a church mouse when he opted for the Lakers six years ago. Then, I heard the wonderful news---it was all a ploy to get One is Enough off with a bang.

ESPN TO PREMIER NEW SIT-COM

One is Enough, the new half-hour sit-com stars LeBron as L.B., an ex-college basketball star with a career-ending injury, who moves into the Akron, Ohio home of his grumpy high school basketball coach played by that other advertising chucker, Peyton Manning. It's guaranteed to be funnier than Dane Cook and any of the dozen Tyler Perry comedies put together. It's like The White Shadow---with less afros--- for these sports-obsessed times .

The hilarity begins when Coach's wife, Roseanne Barr---who coaches the girl's hoops team with her curious bench coach, played by Ellen DeGeneres---keeps trying to break an 129 game losing streak. Boy, is she fun to be around. L.B. has to share a bedroom with the rebellious teenage daughter, named Tiger, played by---sans bracelet---Lindsay Lohan. Sparks fly whenever L.B. tries to put his Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade posters over her pinups of Robert Pattinson. The tension is high, but they always seem to kiss and make up...a lot. More hijinks abound whenever little Nicholas', the precocious, white kid with a bowl-haircut from next store, draws L.B. into his innocent schemes, which always seem to backfire.

A SPECIAL EPISODE

In tonight's episode, the Coach scolds L.B. and little Nicholas for making prank "verbal commitment" phone calls to John Calipari and Coach K. Betty White guest-stars as the brassy---and foul-mouthed---grandmother. She cheats on her husband, played by Digger Phelps, and, tonight, seduces Rick Pitino, in exchange for L.B.'s scholarship, on a dining room table inside a Kentucky BBQ.

In future episodes, more laughs ensue when Tiger gets a mispelled F**** U tattooed on her forehead and gets caught carnally recruiting prospects in a college dorm, while little Nicholas gets a life lesson, from guest star Plaxico Burress, after accidentally (or is it?) shooting an annoying recruiter, named Kiffon, played to typecast perfection by Michael Strahan. To say the least, Coach has his hands full and man, do the audibles fly.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Anything But LeBron

By Tony Mangia

HEY BRADEN, YOUR THIRTY MINUTES ARE UP!

Dallas Braden of the Oakland A's is milking his days in the limelight. The pitcher pitched a perfect game in front of his grandmother on Mother's Day and the final scene on the diamond looked like a fuzzy-warm snapshot from Norman Rockwell gallery. It was only a couple of weeks after the then unknown lefty dissed Yankee superstar, Alex Rodriguez, for crossing in front of the mound. Braden challenged A-Rod to "Get off my mound", but now finds himself on the disabled list and unable to keep the drama with the Yankee third baseman going on the field. Now Braden is challenging his own team for putting those same famous fightin' words on tee-shirts. The Oakland pitcher must commute from Napa Valley because it sounds like he has a lot of whine.

Life on the diamond for Braden hasn't been so kind since his no-no-no in May. He has lost 5 in a row and become a punchline, Robinson Cano caused a ruckus in the Yankee locker room by jokingly hoisting the infamous tee. A-Rod, himself, wondered out loud if he was entitled to a cut of the profits. Braden also told reporters he felt entitled, but called putting the shirts at souvenir stands a "suicide request."

"They're trying generate revenue, get butts in the seats," the angry hurler said, "at what cost do you do that?" Braden said he feels that the tees puts him in a direct Dallas vs. A-Rod situation. The A's organization said they are just fulfilling fans requests and generating interest in the series which continues tonight and tomorrow in Oakland. Oddly, the only thing missing in this three-game set is Braden.

For a guy who doesn't want to raise the Titanic, Braden can't keep his mouth zipped. Asked if he crossed paths with A-Rod since the April 22 incident, the A's version of Niecy Nash, shot back, "No, I must have lost his number."

A-Rod is no new-comer to controversy, and he takes it in stride. Whether its dalliances with strippers, romances with movie stars, PEDs, or just yelling "Hey!" from behind a Toronto infielder settling in to catch a fly pop, the third baseman perseveres underneath the unyielding New York media. A-Rod's stoic facade still hasn't endeared him to opponents and fans. The future Hall-of-Famer isn't even popular on his own team. Braden said he does not regret the way he handled the situation and claimed he was only trying to respect the "fraternity" of baseball players.

WAY TO GO GRANNY

It's too bad that Braden won't be playing this week. The Yankees took the first game at the Coliseum. The reeling A's are eight games back and nearly out of contention. A Braden/Rodriguez confrontation would have livened things up and added another 15 minutes of fame to Braden's career. If the A's really want to put fannies in the seats, they should print tee-shirts with the succinct line spoken by Dallas Braden's grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, after his perfect game: "Stick it, A-Rod." Those are words that could sell in all American League stadiums.

SHORT JABS

Lesnar Not LeBron


What New York really wants is MMA. Brock Lesnar, the UFC behemoth, could be the kind of draw Madison Square Garden should welcome with open arms. On Saturday, over 16 thousand fans filled the MGM Grand Gardens in Vegas to watch the North Dakota wrestler force opponent Shane Carwin into a second round submission after taking a brutal first-round beating himself. Some fans paid thousand of dollars online for tickets to see the heavyweight match-up. New York Governor Paterson is still trying to legalize the sport and help fill tax coffers.

For My Last Meal, I Want 60 Hot Dogs, 300 Wings, Nine Dozen Ribs...

On July Fourth, competitive eater, Takeru Kobayashi, was arrested at the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition in Coney Island. In a bizarre---in an arena whrer gluttony is sport---twist, the former champ was lead away in handcuffs after the 128-pounder tried to storm the boardwalk stage. Promoters would not allow Kobayashi to participate unless he agreed to sign a contract which prevented Kobi from entering other contests. Joey Chestnut won his fourth yellow mustard belt in a row by downing 54 dogs. Sadly, some people soberly equate these two competitors to Pacquaio and Mayweather.






Friday, July 2, 2010

LET 'EM THROW JOE!


Story and photos by Tony Mangia

PITCHERS CATCH UP TO HITTERS

I guess the Yankee's manager, Joe Girardi, didn't get the memo stating that 2010 is being called the "Year of the Pitcher." Sure, for every Carlos Zambrano pulling a Mel Gibson, there is a Ubaldo Jimenez winning 13 of his first 14 starts---in mile-high air of Colorado, no less. The Nationals Stephen Strasburg and Reds Mike Leake have become the aces of their staff---oh yeah, both are rookies. The abundance of no-hitters and two perfect games (and another phantom one) so early this season seem to back the theory of maybe performance-enhancing drugs were more prevalent among hitters than previously thought. This explosion of dominant pitching hasn't been seen since the late 60's when MLB lowered the pitcher's mound from 15 to 10 inches. Today's hitters might want to consider lowering it to five fingers.

GIRARDI'S TWISTED RULES FOR PITCHERS

From the team that brought you---sorry to say---the shaving cream pie-in-the-face and The Joba Rules comes The Hughes/Burnett Rules. Girardi surmises that starter Phil Hughes has to pitch less than 175 innings this season to be effective. So the over-manager has decreed, less than halfway into a season and in the midst of a playoff race, that his best pitcher will skip a start in Los Angeles and go to the back end of the rotation after the All-Star game; sparing the 24 year-old Hughes a few innings of wear and tear on his valuable wing. Meanwhile, Girardi believes that his worst starter, A.J. Burnett (the pie innovator) should be pitching more to get his mojo back. He claims the two will be better prepared for the playoffs. Let me get this straight...use a slumping player more while benching one of your hottest? Hey Joe! Hear that chomping? It's your old nemesis, the Boston Red Sox nipping at your cleats. Oh yeah, those pesky Rays are still only two games back. THERE ARE STILL 83 GAMES TO PLAY! You can't clinch without winning now!

The Joba Rules. Limiting the number of pitches thrown by a virgin arm. Pretty cute after Joba Chamberlain first burst on the scene in 2007. The rightie delighted fans with his strikeouts and fist-pumping. He was the new set-up man---heir to John Wetteland and Jeff Nelson. Then came the night of the midges in a playoff game against the Cleveland Indians. Who could forget that humid, sticky night? The bugs on Joba's neck...the cans of Raid...Joba's loss of innocence.

Chamberlain was micro-managed by Girardi for the next two seasons. He competed with Hughes over starting or coming out of the bullpen. Hughes won that battle and, thankfully, put a rest to that drama. Joba is like M. Night Shyamalan with his big summer debut and then the series of flops afterwards. Chamberlain occasionally has the extraordinary inning and can freeze a batter and wow the crowds, but his only consistency is his inconsistency.

Joe Girardi was a major league catcher and saw all kinds of pitching slumps and streaks. It's hard to argue with the idea of pitching yourself out of a slump. Burnett pitched a solid six innings yesterday against the Blue Jays, but one good outing doesn't make up for five stinkers and an ERA of 11.35. Burnett had the same song-and-dance routine last season---one good start for every four breakdowns. The Girardi plan seems to have worked for Javier Vazquez. The once-struggling starter (6-5) has picked it up in the last few weeks. He could possibly be 9-4 if it wasn't for a lack of Yankee run support.

Look at the Texas Rangers

Girardi's habit of pulling a pitcher based on pitch counts has constantly back-fired. Going to a bullpen with Chan Ho Park and Dave Robertson is futile. Both relievers have soaring ERAs and creeping confidence. The Texas Rangers' no-name rotation averages almost seven innings a start. The team is on fire too. As for the once-streaking Hughes, he was drubbed by the Mariners in his first start after giving his right arm a nine day vacation. Only time will tell if the Rangers drill-sergeant pitching coach, Nolan Ryan, will exhaust his staff or Girardi's nursery school approach will get the Yankees into the playoffs.

Oh Say Can You CC

CC Sabathia had a monstrous June and has whipped off six straight wins with an ERA of 2.00 during that span. Nolan Ryan would be proud of the 116 pitches he threw against the Mariners and only Jorge Posada's passed ball allowed two runs. The workhorse, Sabathia, has become the ace he was imported to the Bronx for. CC, Hughes and Andy Pettitte could be the first triple-10 games winners, before an All-Star break, on the same team since the Orioles Cuellar-Palmer-McNally trifecta in1971.

SHORT JABS

Double Eagle


Forget the pile of cash LeBron James is about to score. Tiger Woods' wife Elin's attorneys have begun talks for a divorce settlement starting at $750 million. It would be the largest amount ever awarded in a divorce case. A fat bank account and no golf clubs or sext messages lying around the house---a win-win situation.

Gag Me!

Must be a little bittersweet for Red Sox fan/actor Dennis Leary to use Derek Jeter in the ads for his cable show Rescue Me on FX. It's like Rudy Guiliani making out with Curt Schilling.

Go On LeBron

Take it to the bank. Lebron James is going to Newark. BFF, Jay-Z and the tall Russian will lure King James and Carlos Boozer to the New Jersey Nets. LeBron, just make sure your Lojack system is working when you park your Escalade outside the Prudential Center.

Flops, Sweat and Tears

Getting used to the vuvuellas in a soothing sort of way. Alexi Lalas still moping over the U.S. elimination annoys me now. The Netherlands win their first World Cup.





Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Rising Sun



By Photos and story by Tony Mangia

SEATTLE'S ICHIRO SEEMS TO HIT FOREVER

He broke in as a rookie at age 27 and took the American League by storm--leading the league in batting and stolen bases. The Japanese import led his team, the Seattle Mariners, to a record 116 game winning season in 2001, while being voted both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player--an unprecedented debut. The rightfielder with the soccer-like single name continues to defy all his long-surrendered critics and take his fabulous career into the gloaming. One can only hope Ichiro gets a chance to showcase his skills one more time in a national stage like the playoffs. Maybe it is the fans who'll bask in the privilege of seeing one the game's most exciting players shine on network television beyond his tenth All-Star game.

Ichiro Suzuki may one of the greatest rightfielders baseball has ever known. He is definitely the finest and most athletic this generation has to offer. Nine straight Gold Gloves and nine straight 200 hit seasons attest to his durability and consistency. A rifle arm, blazing speed and occasional power makes Ichiro a demon in every aspect of the game--in the field, on the base paths and at the plate. The right-throwing and left-hitting Ichiro is chasing 4,000 professional hits and his 262 hits in 2004 broke a single season record that stood for 84 years. Don't forget his record of 41 consecutive steals without being caught.

Detractors may consider Ichiro's first years in Japan's Pacific League no more than stat-padding--sort of like the NFL's Warren Moon's, which include his inflated CFL statistics but, even if you took Ichiro's statistics for his first nine-plus years in the AL, the Hitsman has numbers that scream Hall of Fame. Does 350 stolen bases and over 2,000 hits in America mean anything? He still keeps runners at bay with his 50 mm sniper arm and don't call him just a slap-hitter. You should see the bombs in batting practice.

The Seattle Mariners haven't seen a playoff since losing the ALCS to the Yankees in 2001 and had high aspirations at the beginning of this season. Felix Hernandez finished last year with a sparkling 19-5 record and another ace, Cliff Lee, made the startling decision to leave the NL champions Philadelphia Phillies and head for the grunge city--giving the Mariners (on paper) one of the best one-two punches in the majors. All-around good player Chone Figgins came over and consigned himself from leadoff to second while bringing more sure hands to an already good defensive team. The team got out of the gate slow and the power hitters, Seattle's favorite son, Ken Griffey Jr. and always a risk, Milton Bradley have failed miserably. The streaking Mariners just took two of three at Yankee Stadium but remain 14 games behind the ever-improving West Division.

Ichiro's current contract ends in 2012. This decade's premier leadoff hitter is still batting .330 this year and once said at his last contract signing, " I'm going to do my best to play ten more years here." That leaves seven more years for fans to enjoy the 37 year-old's pre-swing contortions and idiosyncrasies and they're well worth the wait.