Thursday, April 29, 2010

14 Will Get You Bronze

By Tony Mangia

U.S. Gets Gymnastics Medal from China

Go back ten years. The summer of 2000. President Bill Clinton was still trying play happy couple with Hillary, 'Gladiator' was bloodying up theaters, and "Smooth" by Carlos Santana was unavoidable on any radio station. No George Bush, reality television or i-pods--yet. The U.S. Olympics women's gymnastics team remembers that year in Sydney and so, apparently, did the International Olympic Committee after they stripped the Chinese women's team of their bronze medal for cheating.

The committee took away China's medal because their coaches lied about the age of one of their team members--even though the IOC still has doubts about other teammates ages then and now. The grown-up eye make-up fooled officials for the past decade but not anymore. Dong Fangxiao claimed she was 17 years old in 2000 but was outed as actually being 14. In an interview, Dong stated she was born in the 'Year of the Ox', which was 1986. Oops...what? The minimum age for gymnastic competitors is 16. I still have a hard time rationalizing this policy or condemning it. Aren't the Olympics supposed to showcase the best athletes in the world? What's worse, lying about your age because you are a superior athlete or being penalized just because you are too young?

Remember Todd Marinovich?

Supporters of the age minimum, claim it prevents still-developing children from being abused and injured. Like these same kind of kids aren't filling up gymnastic 'puppy mills' all over America, never mind Russia, Romania and China. Just check out the soccer moms at Saturday morning matches or any suburban ice rink after school. They are filled with little Michelle Kwans who can skate as good as they can walk. Supporters use China--and other countries--as examples of stealing away youngsters with athletic aptitudes from their families and forcing them into tortuous sports camps. Strip malls all over the U.S. are loaded with these types of 'recreation centers.' Whether its ballet, gymnastics, soccer, figure skating, spelling bees or boy's football-- thousands of American kids are pushed to the limit by coaches or their 'helicopter parents.' Television commercials glorify moms and dads getting their little ones to the rink for 6 a.m. ice time before school and then more practice in the afternoon. What's the difference? That these exhausted kids get to plop down in their own room every night?

The IOC took away a 14 year old girl's dream for something she was probably coerced into. It's not her fault that she was better than most of the other gymnasts. Is it her fault for being that young and talented? A gymnast's life span is short. They claim a running back's career is fleeting--by 32, you're body is broken--only with a healthy bank account. Well how about being over-the-hill by 21. How many 30 year old gymnasts are sticking it off the uneven bars or competently dangling on a balance beam? Dominique Dawes, one of the benefactors of the medal switch, and a gold medal winner herself, was asked if this decision would inspire her to return to competition. Her response, half jokingly, "Oh wait, is there a maximum age?" Oh yes, in your sport, there is.

Which brings me to the Olympic men's (boy's?) competition. There's a 14 year old British kid on the Olympic diving team. Even Freddy Adu was signed to a pro soccer contract at 15. Olympic boxing participants cannot be pros--a good idea--but hockey and basketball players can earn a living from their sports and still compete. Fourteen year-old boys play basketball and box in the AAUs and don't forget about junior hockey leagues? Where's the continuity in the Olympics? Do minimum-age proponents think the kids they are 'protecting' still don't compete outside the four year event? Cheating is using HGH or head-butting--not training, practicing and competing while at your peak. How can you call someone world champion if the real champ's only infraction was being too young?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Draft is Daft

By Tony Mangia

Does anyone ever get the NFL draft picks right? Like fortune tellers, weathermen and NCAA bracketers before them, every spring the football prognosticators rear their over-informed heads and make determined picks. Vertical leaps, arm strength, 40 speed and psychiatric evaluations make the difference in being considered a sure first round pick or being ditched at the prom, ala Brady Quinn. For example, the experts take on QBs Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen caused the most drama this year. Clausen would be a top ten pick and skeptics piled on
the Tebow beatdown. Guess who was holding his you-know-what on Friday while the ex-Gator was wearing a glass slipper in Denver? Draft foreseers, like TV weathermen, still get to keep their jobs even after calling for sunshine when its pouring rain.

Take Mel Kiper Jr. and his high-browed predictions--please take him and his Chicago Bears helmet haircut. Does anybody really pay attention to this guy? It seems like NFL teams don't. Sandra Bullock has more foresight than Kiper. The 2010 draft's first three--no...four--were gimmes. My grandmother could have picked them correctly and she still sees Don Meredith on Monday Night Football. In order: Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams were the top picks on everyone's board but, after that, Kiper only had 13 of his top 25 players even picked in the first round. And who is this other guy, Todd McShay? Where the hell did he come from?! Just what we need, another draft pundit.

ESPN bought the draft to prime time this past week. They had a countdown clock in the left hand corner of the screen to remind us about Thursday night all week and even the next day for the second round. People actually care that much about the second round?! Maybe those crazed fans in the gallery at Radio City actually plan their Friday nights in between rounds of WWE Smackdown and Wii? The network apparently did get it's ratings. I dozed off by the twelfth pick. It was like watching a "Housewives of Wherever" marathon--loud, in your face--isn't everything on ESPN-- and with a gaudy sense of fashion. Gotta love some of the size 50 zoot suits suits the players wear. Living room shots of Clausen and McCoy--Colt, not Gerald--flapping in the breeze made for fun viewing. Still, I was laboring to even make it to the New York Giants 15th pick without nodding off. I heard they picked another defensive end. Did Osi retire again?

Back to the experts. The New York Daily News got 5 of the first 32 picks correct--INCLUDING the first four mulligans. The New York Post was 4 of 32 and the esteemed Peter King of Sports Illustrated was 4 for 28 after the first four. I did better in this year's NCAA's and that is not small feat considering that Kiper has a staff of 40 and lunch with football guru, Chris Berman .

After the weekend's spectacle, Kiper barely addressed his fricassee of mis-calculations and blabbed on about next year's early favorites in the draft. Who pays this guy? He is getting credit for making the draft an event. He should get the blame. ESPN did right with John Gruden's breakdown of the top four QB's and, next year, they should promote the ex-coach's opinions--if he's still around. Gruden's thoughts are more valid than the computer-crunching dork, Kiper and some of ESPN's other analysts. They're turning into a male version of "The View" and Chris Mortensen is slowly morphing into Joy Behar. Will the bickering never end?

Roger Goodell and the NFL claimed the show was a ratings bonanza and it quietly buried the Ben Roesthlisberger conundrum underneath all the glitz. It isn't the Super Bowl, but I bet its not too long before Disney (which owns ABC and ESPN) puts it on the regular network. David Stern, of the NBA, has already complained that the evening draft cut into its basketball playoff programming. Sorry David and 'Fringe' fans, coming soon to ABC prime time, "Must Flee TV."


The Angels took some of the wind out of the Yankee's sails by taking two of three from the pinstripes this weekend but sound full of hot air themselves. Dallas Braden (who?) threw a tantrum after A-rod stepped on his pitcher's mound. Funny, how A-rod always gets into these quarrels. Glad that Angel's coach, Mike Scoscia (an ex-catcher) called Mark Teixeira's bull-rush into catcher, Bobby Wilson, legit. Hey, if you don't want to get hit, don't block the plate.

Andy Petite pitches like he's found the same fountain of youth Mariano Rivera has been slurping out of. Granderson has cooled off, but I'm not reminiscing about Johnny Damon ...yet. Javier Vazquez has returned to 2004--not in a good way. Gardner is getting to base and leads the league in stolen bases. Nick Johnson is "banged up". So was Hideki Matsui but Godzilla would be, and is, hitting .300.

This pie-in-the-face routine around MLB has to stop. It was funny and spontaneous last year with the Yanks--even though it got tiresome--but now it has turned into The Cleveland Show--a retread of an original flash of genius.

Is it me, or does anyone else notice how loud women's softball is on television? Where does all that chatter come from? It sounds like the miked all the spectators and given the kids free Red Bulls.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Big Changes in the Big East

By Tony Mangia


Can't say things aren't exciting in the Big East Conference this spring. It seems like a carnival has come to town. First, the coaches carousel in men's basketball keeps going round and round. One by one, programs dumped their coaches; some successful in wins--Boston College's Al Skinner--and others in restoring ethics--Norm Roberts at St. John's. In other cases, coaches went away after judgmental meltdowns--Bobby Gonzalez of Seton Hall--and others just went kicking and screaming--Fred Hill at Rutgers.

The most fireworks came from St. John's, who signed,
ex-UCLA head coach and ESPN analyst, Steve Lavin. In short time, Lavin has already signed local high school coach, Maurice Hicks, as director of basketball operations and Rico Hines as an assistant. Lavin flew out to California to get a commitment from Los Angeles prep star Dwayne Polee Jr. Polee led his team, Westchester to a state title. Lavin is quickly showing that there is more to recruiting than New York. The Red Storm may have snagged a golden ring with their new head coach.

The calliope music keeps pumping as Steve Donahue takes over at Boston College. Donahue led his Cornell squad to three consecutive Ivy League titles and was one of the NCAA's Cinderella teams this year. Around comes Oliver Purnell on a flying horse, the new top guy at DePaul after seven years at Clemson. Next comes Seton Hall, who hired Kevin Willard, even while ex-coach Gonzalez is still claiming he was fired without cause and is still owed two years salary. Even ex-Rutgers coach, Fred Hill, got an $850K buyout while the Knights start their search for a replacement. It was an awkward parting of ways, because Fred's father is the school's baseball coach and junior was last seen, in the dugout, spewing obscenities at the opposing team's coaching staff. Fran Fraschilla, of ESPN, and Ex-Ohio State's Jim O'Brien have been seen buying tickets for the Piscataway campus merry-go-round. Rutgers may need to offer them more than cotton-candy to take a job at the football-promoting school.


It began in 2003, when ACC plucked three of the Big East's vital football programs--Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College like peaches on a tree. Now along comes the Big Ten to fatten itself up for the BCS. Word is, the conference is preparing to raid what's left of the Big East's growing--and successful-- pigskin division. Pundits agree that either Syracuse, Pitt or Rutgers--or all three-- would be willing to break away in two years. Missouri, from the Big 12, has also been named in the coup. Seven years ago, in the ACC raid, the Big East was able to re-load with Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida--with the Cardinals and Bearcats bringing their powerhouse basketball programs--and decent football teams--into the mix. It seemed like a winning formula for the Big East back then. Things don't look so rosy this time.


The only alternative--and obstacle-- is Notre Dame, alone, joining the Big Ten in football, as well as, other sports. It is an attractive alternative to taking more than one team. The Fighting Irish history and alumni are strong. There lies the problem. Notre Dame, as an independent in football, control their destiny each year. They make their own schedules, have their own television contract, and pretty much rule their own little 'Gipperland' without much interference from other conference big shots. The Big Ten needs the leprechaun more than the Golden Domers need them. Adding Notre Dame would give the Big Ten a total of 12 teams. The Big 12 name is already taken, so they could call their conference The Big 11 or Big 13. They still call it The Big Ten with 11 teams--not that it matters. Let's just combine both conferences and call it the Big 27 or the Big Teast or just give the Big Ten all of the Big East's football teams.


The Big East doesn't make it easy to root for. It has changed so many times from the original seven in 1979. It's a mish-mosh of teams--is Temple in or out? Why is Notre Dame in every Big East sport but football? Some teams play Division III in some sports and some schools don't even field teams in others. Add more teams in the '90's. It's over expanded, with too many teams coming and going. The conference could survive without DePaul and Marquette and some say St. John's and Villanova should go to a mid-major. Fat chance of giving up a charter member and hoops powerhouse. The loss of Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers--and possibly West Virginia-- would kill Big East football. Grandiose solutions of being able to rebuild the conference with mid-level programs like Memphis and Central Florida(?) are slimmer than Calipari fielding an all-senior team.

It's going to be hard for teams to resist the lure of the Big Ten's substantial $22 million yearly television revenue share per program, compared to The Big East's paltry $8 mil. Television contracts and national visibility, in football, carry a big stick. So-called loyalty clauses, a $5 million penalty, and a 27 month notice to leave have already proven to be moot deterrent in past exoduses. The Big East laid down when the ACC came pillaging before and, Big East commissioner, John Marriatto, isn't exactly puffing out his chest by stating he, "Doesn't want to talk about it." How's that for taking a stand? They want to bring big-time football to the east coast but, ironically, at the expense of the Big East conference. Big East basketball will thrive either way, but a death knell looms for its football teams after the poachers have their way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Sweet (and Sour) 16

By Tony Mangia


Great time for sports fans. Baseball fills the air. The NHL and NBA playoffs are in full swing. Fantasy leagues and playoff picks are pending. Maybe you are planning a road trip on your vacation? Want to check out the Celtics in Boston or see if this guy in Atlanta, Jason Heyward, is all he's cracked up to be. How 'bout da Saints in New Orleans this Fall or maybe you still have a thing for Bill Parcells, the Big Tuna, in Miami. The Big Tuna...ahhh...tuna. This gets me thinking about food...and road trips. Which city is the best for eating out? Not tailgating before a game but chowing down during and after the game? With the NCAAs still only a couple of weeks old, and bracketology still on the brain, here comes The Sweet and Sour 16.

I'm not talking about ballpark food. No Dodger Dogs (over-rated) or cities that couldn't tell the difference between a slice of pizza and a Hot Pocket. I'm talking bout the whole cuisine of a sports town. Food that could even attract fans to losing franchises (ie. Kansas City, Buffalo) and make them forget about their miserable sports existence. Which city or region has the best food to watch sports?

First the bubble teams. You know, the wanna-bes with a single superstar. The Washington Hogs and Hoggettes sound delicious but the only food in our nation's capital is pork--lots of it. Seattle salmon is really health food; not made for a Super Bowl party. Tennessee has great BBQ but so does the whole south and the Milwaukee Brewers sounds refreshing enough, only we're talking about food. So let's see who made the cut.

The number 1 seeds: Carolina, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans. Number 2 seeds: New England, Baltimore, Miami, Arizona. Number 3 seeds: Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay, Dallas. Number 4 seeds: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago.

First round action. Atlanta fields a pulled pig sandwich at Fat Matt's and blows away San Fran's Chinatown. Dim sum is sports food for ping-pong. A few cities lose because they are one dimensional. Philly cheese steak. Pat's vs. Geno's is all we hear about. Ho hum. The pizza at Totonno's or Lombardi's--or any parlor in New York--knocks out the roast beef smothered with Cheese Whiz. And it is called a hero, not a hoagie! Although, for my taste, the best pizza is in Jersey--it's the water. So head over to Newark for a Devil's game. Chicago, another one-trick pony, only known for it's deep dish pizza. Acme Oyster Bar on Bourbon Street scores mightily against the Windy City's one star attack. Myrtle Beach and its 'all-you-can-eat Southern buffets' overtakes Cincy's 'World's Best Chili" reputation. Anyway, the best chili con carne I've ever eaten was in a snowstorm in Silverton, Colorado. So take that Reds and Bengals.

The first round continues with the famed wings of Buffalo--thank the four Super Bowl losses of the Bills for popularizing them--getting gobbled up by the crab cakes of Baltimore. What bar doesn't make great wings anymore? Is it worth a trip to a Bills game to get the real thing? I don't think so. Dallas is famous for its beef and I'm not talking about rump roast Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones. It eeks out a slight upset win over the Tex-Mex of Arizona. A Navaho Indian pudding almost put 'Zona over the top. Too little too late. The 'chowda' of New England beats the strip steaks of K.C. and the delightful Sheboygan bratwursts of Green Bay lose to the awesome stone crab claws in Miami. Did you know the claws grow back and help increase the shellfish's population? The male crabs can't kill each other until their weapons re-form.

Quarterfinal action begin with an epic battle between New York and Baltimore. It's hard to ignore the bay and its scallops but the real powerhouse is Boog's BBQ at Camden Yards--its the Albert Pujols of sandwiches. Former Oriole, Boog Powell's outfield stand vies with the great sandwiches of New York. If Mantle and DiMaggio had sandwiches, they would be named at the Stage Deli. I think the corned beef at the Carnegie or Katz's equal old Boog's but, it is the variety of New York dining that gives the city an edge over the harbor city. New Orleans rolls over Dallas. The oyster po'boys, at Mother's Deli, dwarf any thing that Dallas can throw at them. Carolina hush puppies, biscuits and gravy, or any rib-stickin' breakfast they serve wins hands-down over the lobster rolls of New England. Even the Waffle Houses don't disappoint. Deduct points for the Boston accent too. In another close battle, the Atlanta peach cobbler is upset by Miami. The stone crab stars again.


We've boiled, filleted, stewed and baked through the first two rounds. Its now between the four big grills: New York, New Orleans, Carolina and Cinderella (you need at least one)Miami.

Miami brings out the big guns against the mighty BBQ of Carolina. Tasty Cuban cuisine keeps Miami hanging around then, in the waning moments, it brings out the key lime pie. Upset! Miami makes the finals.

New York's run finally comes to an end. Traditional fares are thrown like Eli's bombs--some connect. Out come the bagels and calzones and the all night restaurants but they can't keep up with the jambalaya and Dixie beer and all-night partying of the Creole Nation. It isn't even close. New Orleans meets Miami in the finals.

Compare this match-up to IXX, the debacle between the Bears and Patriots. It's over from the beginning. Miami has old reliable, the stone crab. New Orleans piles it on early and often. Gumbo, crawfish, turtle soup, baguettes...gator gumbo! The crab doesn't stand a chance. All the fashion models and open-air cafes of Ocean Drive can't beat the down home charm of the French Quarter. Like it's favorite son, the Saints, New Orleans are declared Sportwatching Food Champions. The French might have given us mimes and berets but, all is forgiven, thanks to the bayou's cuisine.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ringing in Yankee Stadium

By Tony Mangia


It all felt so familiar but, at the same time, so different. It has been nine years since the New York Yankees last hoisted a World Championship flag. It is banner number 27 for the Yankees but the first for this Yankee Stadium. The new structure can now, almost unarguably, be called "The House that Jeter Built."

The old stadium's partial grandstand lurks to the south. The rubble is a reminder of past glories of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, as well as, the lean years of Horace Clarke and Jerry Kenney. There are two physical links between the two arenas--the Core Four (Jeter, Petite, Posada and Rivera) and the Bleacher Creatures.

Chicago has the Bleacher Bums. Cleveland lays claim to the "Dawg Pound. The Redskins have the Hog Pit, or whatever it is called, and the Oakland Raiders have the local psych ward. The Yankees Creatures are one of a kind. Think of 'Jersey Shore' with more tattoos and more Yankee blue than spray tan. The real tans start arriving after Belmar beaches open in May. The hair gel ratio is a push.

Starting your day with a Creature means having 11 a.m. beers at Stan's Sports Bar across the street, under the 4 train--that is if you can squeeze in the door. You exit Stan's with a morning buzz and into a sea of Yankee souvenir vendors. Sadly, down-on his luck, ex-Yank, Dwight Gooden was giving autographs for $45 a pop. I'm sure it was true because the hand-drawn signs pointed to paltry line outside another bar. A guy's gotta make bail somehow and Yankee fans are softies when it comes to no-hitters.

It's easy to find the bleachers; just listen for the "Boston sucks" anthem, and follow that crowd. Once in the bleachers, you know you're not in Flushing anymore. No pocket protectors, calculators or score sheets. Its about the party--not the stats. It is loud, rowdy and the nine-dollar beer lines never end. Hopefully, you won't end up in front of a giant, suds-guzzling screamer. The kind of guy who yells the same obnoxious rant over and over. And over. There's nothing you can do. It's part of the bleacher culture.

You can always count on the loudest jeers and cheers coming from the aluminum planks split by Monument Park--which looks more like a bronze graveyard. Celebrities, be wary of that noise amongst the giant video screen in centerfield. The opening day roster of the famous attendees included Paul Simon--accompanied by his hit song "Call Me Al"--who got his closeup and a loud applause. Martha Stewart's mug was blown up to three stories on the giant screen and the bleachers erupted into boos and other expletives. Bleacher Creatures just don't travel in her table arrangement and horse-set crowd--unless that pony is running at Belmont. Matt Lauer just got a lot of "who cares." Fame is but in the eye of the beerholder.

You might get lucky and sit near an extreme sport participant--a Boston Red Sox fan with the cojones to wear a 'Sawx' jersey. A lone red shirt surrounded by pin stripes and blue--think Nancy Pelosi strutting through a Tea Party rally. Of course, one of these dolts showed up to rile the pot. It always goes the same way; playful kidding at the start, friendly jabs in the second act and then...the beer runs out. The 7th inning beer stand cutoff and the creatures are milling around, looking for something...anything to pass the last two innings. Lo and behold, the loud mouth Red Sox fan. You can guess the final act and it usually ends with staff intervention and an police escort out for a couple of guys. That's entertainment and yesterday's game didn't disappoint.


High expectations were in the chilly air. Today was not only about opening day; it was a celebration continuing from last Fall's playoff run. Yankee legends, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, handed out the Championship rings. There was a tribute to ailing trainer Gene Monahan. I can't remember a game, in my lifetime, where he was not in the dugout--literally. He has been the Yanks caretaker since 1973 and I always thought there was a Gene Monahan II carrying on. Fan favorite, Bernie Williams, tossed out the first ball. The day began had all the trappings of a George Steinbrenner Farewell ceremony. Oh yeah, The Boss--behind sunglasses--was there and got a standing O. The Yankee players all got rousing cheers, culminating with, who else, the Captain, Jeter.

Johnny Damon, now in Detroit, couldn't make it and Jerry Hairston Jr., currently on the Padres, made a twelve hour round trip to the stadium on his day off to get his ring but, the biggest ovation of the day was for a player on the visiting team, Hideki Matsui. He sure looked odd in a red uniform. Every ex-Yankee does. Matsui's introduction couldn't have been more rousing and the smiles and hugs of his ex-teammates showed their admiration. Godzilla's clutch-hitting and professionalism is sure to be missed this year.


Not lost on this jubilant opening day crowd was the value of their seasoned veteran quartet. Andy Petite may have a touch of gray on his face. Jorge Posada runs the bases like a drunk rhino--a drunk 38 year-old rhino--and critics still try and find faults in Jeter's game. Only Mariano Rivera still continues to defy nature. He freakishly still has the body he had ten years ago and the cutter still cuts like no one else's.

Think of it. These three (Posada, Jeter, Rivera) have been teammates for 14 seasons; more than any trio in modern sports history. Any sport! If Petite didn't take a few years off, as an Astro, back home in Houston, it would be all four. Five championship rings each and nine years in-between. It says a lot about them and the organization.

Yesterday's game didn't go against type either. The standard script goes like this: Petite pitches six innings of shutout ball, Jeter homers and makes plays, Posada gets three hits and Rivera comes in and saves the day. It's as conventionable as a 1930's western but it's a formula that didn't hurt Gary Cooper. Hey, isn't he the guy who played Lou Gehrig in that movie?

Only reliever, David Robertson's meltdown and grand slam to Bobby Abreu smudged a perfect day. It only lent to the most spectacular intro in sports--Rivera and Metallica's 'Enter Sandman.'

The Yankees opened the year by winning two of three from both division rivals the Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. They are off to their best start in seven years. They have a good mix of veterans and youngsters, speed and power, and a smattering of good pitching. The Creatures have another year of bragging rights. Nothing could look better from the bleachers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tiger Loses...Wait...Phil Wins!

By Tony Mangia

A memorable victory by Phil Mickelson ended a wild and crazy week of golf at The Masters on Sunday. Mickelson won his third Green Jacket at Augusta, amidst the circus that is Tiger Woods, and by not pulling a "Phil"--another word for playing haphazardly-- as he has on many other occasions. One potential Phil was averted Sunday, after "Lefty"--the good Phil--shot through the trees on the par five 13th hole. Instead of playing it safe by putting it on the fare way, Phil lifted the ball off of the leaves and through the slightest opening of pine trees and plunked in on the green. This was the dagger that killed any chance of Tiger pulling up from behind and held off a charging Anthony Kim.

The "Tiger Woods Welcome Back Tour" or, as it is formally known, The Masters, began with his 34 minute press conference--or 'you'll never get me to say anything.' Part of the festivities included one of his mistresses, Jocelyn James, making a guest appearance at the nearby Pink Pony Strip Club and planes flying over the galleries with banners ballyhooing "Bootyism" and "Sex Addiction," that is until the FAA clipped the wings of the pilots for "mechanical" violations. Another affair popped up. Really? This time a 22 year-old ex-babysitter who Woods knew since she was fifteen came out. Imagine his self-control for six years? Let's not forget Nike wheeling out that twisted black and white commercial; where Woods' dead father asks his son, "Have you learned anything." I'm sure Tiger is thinking--in the numbing, minimalist spot-- that "sexting" is a bad idea.

It wasn't all emerald greens and sun-splashed days at the conservative club. Masters spokesperson, Billy Payne, admonished Woods for his sordid deeds and how he let down "our children and grandchildren." This brought out the always astute Charles Barkley. He called Payne a "punk" and 'master on the plantation" and even wished "someone would punch him in his face." The street finally comes to the fairways of Augusta.

ESPN did its best to keep viewers informed about the tournament by flashing "TIGER ALERTs" throughout the day--barely paying attention to the leaders. The crowds swooned at his every swing--even when the prickly Woods occasionally reared its head. He shook hands and gave away gloves to fans. Image is everything--especially now for Woods and his sponsors.

Now back to the real story. CBS didn't get the fairy tale--Tiger winning--it wanted but golf got a real storybook ending. Who couldn't be moved while watching a triumphant Mickelson hug his longtime caddy, Jim Mackay, march from the 18th hole through the cheering crowd and finally into the arms of his cancer-weakened spouse, Amy. Good thing Woods' wife, Elin, was plunking herself down on a private jet instead of watching. I'm sure it would have devastated her. Tiger had to lick his wounds alone.

Make no mistake about Mickelson's foibles and image. He cold-shoulders the same fans who salute him. He has his own loyalty to sponsors and has an reputation for blowing shots at crucial times--but he is not surrounded by scandal and an out-of-proportion ego. His detractors feel that he didn't cash in while Woods was in hiding. Phil, they claimed, was M.I.A. and should have brought his "A" game. I guess they didn't hear that both his wife and mother, Mary were battling breast cancer. Some men think of their families first. Still some had the nerve to say that Mickelson didn't win it as much as Woods lost it. Poor Tiger has a lot on his mind. Even after ditching into the clubhouse a crestfallen Woods brooded, "I'll take time off and re-evaluate things." Think all the other tour golfers weren't rooting for Mickelson?

Woods hasn't let it be known of his next tournament but, whether or not he plays, this week's final leader board fielded a great quintet at the top. Besides Mickelson and Woods, there was a strong finish by Anthony Kim, K.J. Koi, kept pace with Tiger all week looked solid, and finally, second place finisher, Lee Westwood, who seems on the verge of getting his first major. I think these five golfers could make the tour interesting this summer and the Woods/Mickelson rivalry is about more than golf in some circles.

Whichever tournament Woods decides is the next stop of his comeback tour; I'm sure the canned cheers of his fans will follow along with his personal baggage and more controversy. The Masters winner, Lefty, will be there. The big question that people will ask is, "will his wife, Elin, accompany Woods?" Myself, I'm wondering if Woods' caddy, Steve Williams, is planning to stash an anti-aircraft missle among the irons; for any planes carrying anti-Tiger banners over Woods'personal air space?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

First Pitches, Final Fours and Second Chances

By Tony Mangia


A jam-packed weekend of sports began with CBS's over-hyped version of "Hoosiers" at the Final Four in Indianapolis, continued with the best sports rivalry in Boston, and ended with apologies and adulation in Augusta, Georgia.

The New York Yankees began the defense of their 2009 World Championship against the Red Sox on Sunday. Some new faces on both squads and some missing on the Yankees. The face of the Yankees--Derek Jeter-- and probably the entire league--even Boston fans find it hard to criticize him-- has finally ditched his infamous "fade' haircut. The Yanks will miss Hideki Matsui's bat but, I doubt the same can't be said about Jeter's coif. It's the same style he brought into his rookie season in 1996 and the same one he displayed winning five championships and the hearts of thousands of adoring women and teenage girls. The non-threatening hairdo came straight out of "The Cosby Show" and, while everyone else was shaving or carving names on the side of their heads, Jeter had the same thatch of hair on top that was slowly pruned away before it reached the top of his ears. It never seemed to change and was always perfect in shape--much like the man himself.

This is the same consistency that Jeter has displayed throughout his career. While slumps and scandals dog other elite players, the 'Captain' collects hits and pushes on towards Cooperstown. How he performs so magnificently and still shows quiet restraint in the soap opera that is the New York Yankees belies the modern professional athlete. I mean the guy is in a contract year and has not turned it into a personal crusade. There hasn't even been a peep by his agent. It's a sure bet the shortstop will end his career in pinstripes.

Jeter is the thinking man's player. Another player I would categorize as "Jeteresque" is Ichiro in Seattle. Both men make the game fun to watch; throwing out runners, stealing a base and slapping singles and doubles around American League stadiums. Don't let their batting averages fool you, both can easily jack one out too. How great would it be if the Yanks had landed the Mariners centerfielder a few years ago. The future hall of famer deserves a championship too.

One other constant the past few years has been the bullpen. It's ugly presence reared its head again at Sunday's opening night against the Boston Red Sox. A tired C.C. Sabathia was left in for the sixth and couldn't hold on to a 5-2 lead. Last year's familiar relief shuffle started and the World Series ticker-tape parade was a foregone memory.

Jorge Posada's passed ball--boy, is it gonna be fun for Jorge catching A.J. Burnett's late-breaking throws this season--cost the Yanks the game. They are but one of the Yankee's odd couples. The other odd duo and festering controversy is between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Chamberlain is the most over-rated pitcher in New York. He has been babied from the start. For every great outing--sometimes he's earned a fist pump--Joba throws a couple of stinkers. Phil Hughes has taken everything he's been handed and should be the eighth inning set-up man. His relief record proves it--in 44 appearances, Hughes is 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA. Compare that with a 8-9 record and 5.22 ERA as a starter. Use Alfredo Aceves as the fifth starter and stick Hughes in the all important set-up position. Chamberlain and Chan Ho Park could be the the answer.

It's a long season. Manager Joe Giraldi has plenty of time to tweak the team. Center fielder, Curtis Granderson, looks like an improvement over Melky Cabrera and, combined with Jeter and Brett Gardner's proven speed, it looks like the the Yanks will run on a lot of teams. Speed and power--what a combination!


Another week, another dozen Tiger Woods stories. First, it began with his Kindergarten teacher accusing him of lying about a racial incident almost 30 years ago; then it was a rumor of Tiger possibly changing his name back to the less threatening Eldrick, and now sporting a Malcom X goatee. It continued with the announcement that the Masters has hired 90 extra security guards to protect Woods from his wild and crazy mistresses. There is always the chance that one of those harpies might swoop down on their star attraction. Wouldn't that be a photo op? Finally...whew... Tiger held his mea culpa in front of the press on Monday. All this before anyone teed off.

A new alias might confuse some people but it could be one of the great name changes in sports history. Think of the religious ideals that led NBA star, Lew Alcindor, to forever be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the anti-war and anti-slave statement made by boxer Muhammed Ali after changing his name from Cassius Clay. Now comes PGA golfer and sex addict, Woods, monumentally dropping the first name, Tiger, and changing it to the less predatory and way less sexual--and his given name--Eldrick. Funny, you can't spell "dick' without Eldrick.

Tiger's, um, Eldrick's(?) press conference went pretty smoothly--as would be expected within the cozy confines of Augusta. Woods, who sounded like a pubescent boy as his voice cracked, "Sure", to the the opening question, "Are you ready?" He opened the Q and A with a uneasy smile and shifting eyes.

Woods pretty much summed up what everyone already knew or could figure out. "I had a busted lip," he answered about the November crash and, "I did everything to the letter of the law," he claimed when asked about driving under the influence of the drug Ambien. He bristled when asked about his wife. " Elin will not be here this week," he snarled at a reporter and quickly turned his frowning face to another question.

On the golf course, there would be "less negative outbursts," he smirked. Those grins disappeared when asked why he used an unlicensed Canadian doctor, Anthony Galea, to help with his rehab. "There was no HGH or PEDs," Woods said, "Only PRP injections."

Lots of illegal substance's initials were mentioned but there was no real substance for the first thirty minutes. Finally, Woods spent the last four minutes happily answering questions about the tournament. He'll play to "win this thing." Afterwards, Woods walked outside to practice in front of 20,000 giddy fans. He actually smiled, reached out and shook hands--maybe he thought some of the women were handing him text addresses? Amazing how 45 days of therapy and three months of bad press can change a surly, entitled adulterer into Mother Teresa. Tiger Woods seemed unscathed in front of his adoring gallery and army of security guards but, he still has a long way to go in his personal life.


The NCAA Basketball Championship game between the upstart Butler Bulldogs and, perennial Final Four participant, the Duke Blue Devils was an exciting match-up of similar team styles--fundamentals and shooting-- but to call it a 'classic' is a little overzealous unless you are from Indiana or CBS. It was a close game that could have been won by the underdog, Butler, if the final three-pointer didn't bounce off the rim. That's all. I have to admit that the Bulldog's Gordon Hayward is a fun player to watch--running the floor, shooting and grabbing boards like he was rabid. He reminds me of a bigger Steve Nash; only with defense. Butler makes it to the Final Four next year. Not as Cinderella.

Thursday, April 1, 2010



By Tony Mangia

The courtships were hasty. Time was running out. The list of potential coaches seemed to be thinning out. All the metro-area schools were grabbing familiar local names—Seton Hall hired Iona’s Kevin Willard, Fordham grabbed Hofstra’s Tom Pecora and, even that blast from the past and ex-Manhattan and St. John’s coach, Fran Fraschilla, had been seen sniffing around the Iona campus. It was like a New York City version of basketball musical chairs.

St. John’s University, arguably, the biggest suitor, seemed to get that hint of desperation out of its voice. Memories of futile dalliances with Billy Donovan and Paul Hewitt were an afterthought. University athletic director, Chris Monasch, had finally found his soul mate—and he was 3000 miles away--actually, an ESPN studio out of Bristol, Connecticut. Steve Lavin, the ex-coach of UCLA, stumbled out of the gate with long-shot odds but is, now officially, the head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm Basketball program.

Lavin’s signing came with a bang and a posse. I don’t only mean his attractive wife Mary Ann Jarou. At his Wednesday announcement, the new head coach divulged that his “dream team” of assistant coaches would likely include the legendary coach from Purdue, Gene Keady. I didn’t know Keady,73, was even still alive until I saw a close-up of his bad comb-over –or cheap toupee—last week at the Boilermakers Elite Eight game on CBS. Lavin's ex-boss' stare--cold as a Terre Haute frost--alone would be worth the price of admission next season.

The coaching announcement, held in front of 300 administrators, clergy and impatient boosters, set off the most fireworks seen on the Queens campus since…the Felipe Lopez signing. The words “relevant’ and “legacy” are being tossed like Duke three pointers while university president, Rev. Donald Harrington has declared, ”We belong in the NCAA Tournament.” The same words came with the aside, “ And do it with academics.”

Everyone knows it’s about winning. St. John’s has gone out and given Lavin, who has been out of coaching since 2003, a $8.75 million to $9 million contract to bring the basketball program into prominence once again. Lavin may not be the best tactician—he has been accused of not knowing whether a team was showing zone or man-to-man—nor does he have local ties to the ample New York high school leagues but he has shown he can recruit on the west coast. If he can bring in Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, ex-coach Dave Leitao or Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen—all with local recruiting ties—and Keady comes aboard with his tactical acumen, this team could really be a dream. Lavin’s profile on ESPN—as an analyst—makes him visible to young players and that by hiring a familiar television face, St. John’s is already trolling the local basketball courts and has the attention of talented blue-chippers. Kids who know Lavin from cable would probably ask, "John Wooden, who's he?"

College basketball in this city has been stagnant. You actually have the New York media calling Siena and Cornell –at least they’re in the tournament--local teams! That’s how starved fans are. Don’t even get started on the pros. The Knicks are years away and the other night the Nets celebrated like they won the championship and, in reality, all the jubilation was for “not being the worst team in history!” Sad.

Steve Lavin can resurrect this city while it lies in a basketball coma. He inherits a team with five returning starters and the support of Red Storm fans. He can bring his Pat Riley flair and hair and his Hollywood smile and wife. He can replace the stoic Norm “who?” Roberts with unbridled enthusiasm. Lavin has called the St. John’s program a “sleeping giant.” Now he'd better bring his winning ways and start kicking that giant’s feet.


Good to see Eli Manning at the NIT--now known as the NCAA Tournament Expanded Field--and sporting that befuddled sideline look. I thought he only used that at Giants Stadium. That's one more sighting this season than ubiquitous brother Peyton.

The lack of star players in this year's Final Four has CBS desperate for a selling point. If I hear one more analyst compare Butler with the film, "Hoosiers," I'll watch "Semi Pro" in director's cut version. Spare me. Butler has an .800 winning percentage over the past three years and is always fluctuating around the top ten. There's no "Hoosiers" without Hackman or Hopper anyway.


Who cares about the Joba Chamberlain/Phil Hughes pitching controversy. It's all about the rightie/leftie debate of Yankee minor leaguer, Pat Venditte and his six-fingered glove!. Can't wait for the majors to figure out how to regulate throwing ambidextrously. One right, two left, one ... wait, I'm not sure. I can see it now, Venditte throws right and then some rule disallows him from throwing left. He'll look like Peter Sellers in "Dr. Strangelove" trying to hold his forbidden arm down.

From E.R.A. to H.G.H. to E.D.

Roger Clemens may be bringing Dr. Ruth to his next hearing. Already embarrassed by allegations of steroid use, Roger Clemens is being dragged through the mud by country singer, sex tape participant and alleged mistress, Cindy McCready. She claims dirty movies and erectile dysfunction are only some of Clemens' alleged woes but, Roger the Rocket's attorney, Rusty--unfortunately and ironically named--Hardin, claims it is all hearsay.

First it was Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger with his assault charge. Now it is teammate Santonio Holmes on the police blotter for the same thing. Since when did the Steelers start morphing into the Cincinnati Bengals, rap-sheet wise?