Welcome! (I guess...)

For those of you who by some extremely unlikely set of circumstances happened to stumble upon this page, I apologize to you. For those of you who intentionally came to this page - yikes! As the title of the weblog indicates, these are my Ramblings About Whatever. There is a chance that I will ramble about just about anything (as I am in this introduction), but only a select few topics will actually make this site. Enjoy! (I guess...)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pacers-Heat: Game 5 - Morning After

So my cable reception ended up getting screwed up last night sometime in the third quarter and I did not see the end of last night's game five.  As a result, I did not see or hear about Miami's Dexter Pittman's hard foul on Indiana's Lance Stephenson in the closing moments of the game.  I have since watched the play and I wish that I could say that I was shocked at how the officials judged the play, but I'm not because they also judged the play a Flagrant "1".

This foul was even more absurdly called than the Udonis Haslem foul discussed in my previous post.  Stephenson was driving toward the basket and Pittman steps across the lane and throws an elbow at Stephenson's head/neck area, knocking him off balance.  You can see video of the play here, courtesy of NBAHighlight247.  (Additionally, here are the videos of the Hansbrough foul and the Haslem foul mentioned in the previous post, again courtesy of NBAHighlight247, which were not available at the time of my last post.)

What the officials did in calling those plays in last night's game was absolutely gutless.  If those referees are unable to judge the differences between those three plays, then they do not qualify to officiate basketball games of any level, and particularly not NBA games.  People can disagree about whether the Hansbrough foul should have been called a flagrant.  I thought it was borderline; I thought it could have been called either just a foul or a Flagrant "1".  And at halftime of the game, there was a disagreement in the Inside the NBA studio where at least Charles Barkley thought that the Hansbrough foul was not a flagrant foul, but it certainly was not a "borderline" Flagrant "2" foul as Steve Kerr had judged during the game.  However, the plays by Haslem and Pittman were clearly Flagrant "2" fouls and both should have been immediately ejected.  I am definitely at an absolute loss as to how Pittman was not ejected.

If the NBA has any spine, three things should happen.  First of all, the officials that worked last night's game should not be allowed to work any more games this postseason.  They have demonstrated an inability to judge the degree of severity of fouls and this cannot be allowed to persist in the NBA playoffs.  The second thing that the NBA should do is elevate Haslem's foul to a Flagrant "2" and suspend him from Game 6 of this series.  Had Haslem been charged appropriately during Game 5 and subsequently ejected, the suspension would not be necessary.  But since it seems clear to me that Haslem intentionally took a shot at Hansbrough's head, he should now be punished with a one game suspension.  Finally, Pittman should be suspended for multiple games.  I think that Tim Legler suggested three to four games, saying that it should not be as severe as Metta World Peace's seven game suspension for elbowing James Harden in the head due to World Peace's previous history.  That is a fair assessment, but I would disagree because at least in the case of World Peace it was a spur of the moment kind of thing and I do not think there was premeditation.  Pittman seemed to have time to think about what he was doing and decided to follow through with a dangerous elbow to another player's throat area.  I think that Pittman deserves a suspension at least as long as World Peace's seven games.

That is what the NBA should do if the organization has any spine.  However, as the NBA seems frequently to appear to try to protect their glamor teams and players, I'm highly skeptical as to whether they will level a stiff, but deserved penalty to their darling Miami Heat.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pacers-Heat: Game 5

So I'm watching game five of the Pacers-Heat Eastern Conference semifinal series right now and decided I had to take issue with Steve Kerr's analysis.  There were a couple of incidences occurring relatively close to each other during the second period of the game where first Tyler Hansbrough of the Pacers was assessed a Flagrant "1" foul for a foul committed against Miami's Dwyane Wade and then the Heat's Udonis Haslem was assessed a Flagrant "1" foul for a foul committed against Hansbrough.  First of all, if you see replays of these two plays, it is pretty clear that there is absolutely no equivalence between these two fouls.  The referees screwed up in their assessments, as Kerr suggested, but Kerr's analysis seems absurd as well.

First of all, I'll provide the definitions of the two types of flagrant fouls as listed at NBA.com:

Flagrant "1" (FFP1) - unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent. The opposing team is awarded two (2) free throws and possession.
Flagrant "2" (FFP2) - unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. The opposing team is awarded two (2) free throws and possession and the player committing the foul is automatically ejected.
Now Kerr explains that Hansbrough's foul was a borderline Flagrant "2" offense and Haslem's was definitely a Flagrant "2".  With Kerr's assessment of Haslem's foul, I wholeheartedly agree.  Haslem's foul on Hansbrough was unnecessary and excessive.  He made no pretense of trying to make a play on the ball, but instead chose to rake both of his hands across Hansbrough's face and head.  It seemed clear to me that this was a retaliatory play for Hansbrough's foul at the other end of the court.  However, Kerr's assessment of the Hansbrough foul is completely unsupported by what occurred, and I'm unsure of what he was actually viewing.

First of all, Hansbrough makes a clear attempt at blocking the ball on Wade's drive toward the basket.  So clear is this attempt by Hansbrough that he actually does make contact with the ball during the play.  And this was a more difficult thing for Hansbrough to do than Haslem considering that on Hansbrough's shot he went straight up in the air attempting the shot while Wade was attacking the basket when Hansbrough met him on his right side, with the ball shielded by his body.  Yet, Hansbrough was able to block the ball away with his right hand as the two met.  It so happened that Hansbrough collided with Wade lower with the body and then on the follow-through of blocking the ball, Hansbrough's hand hit Wade across the face, but this does not rise anywhere close to "unnecessary and excessive contact."  I'm not sure what Kerr was looking at, whether he was reacting just to the fact that Wade's face was bleeding and that he went to the floor, but it is absurd to say that was a "borderline" Flagrant "2".  If anything that was a borderline Flagrant "1".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2012 Kentucky Derby

I've been thinking a lot about the Kentucky Derby in the thirty or so hours since the race was run.  It is always an exciting event for me, but this year I was a bit lucky to catch the race as I was attending friends' Cinco de Mayo party and almost missed it as I arrived right about post time.  And so I did miss the opening of the starting gates, but the television was on in time for me to start watching while they were still in the first quarter of a mile.

As I said, I'm always excited about this race and when March comes around each year, I'm searching for information about prep races the horses have done to get an idea about what horses will truly be in contention for the victory.  I knew about Hansen, the horse that had won last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then went on to win the Eclipse Award as America's top two-year old colt.  I knew about Gemologist, the undefeated colt that had won the Wood Memorial .  And I had also heard about a few of the other horses such as Union Rags and Take Charge Indy.  But about a week or so out from when the Derby was to be run, I learned about a new horse that I had heard nothing about to this point.

And that horse was of course Bodemeister.  I was on ESPN's horse racing page and I saw a link to the story about the Arkansas Derby that had taken place on April 14, a Bodemeister win by 9-1/2 lengths.  I was stunned to read about this since the Arkansas Derby is considered a fairly important Kentucky Derby prep race, with the winner having a pretty good shot of qualifying for the early May race.  You just don't normally see horses winning this type of race by 9-1/2 lengths.  I remember back in 2008 watching Big Brown race and win the Florida Derby, another important Kentucky Derby prep race, before going on to convincing victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.  I was of course impressed by Big Brown in that Florida Derby, but I was far more impressed with Bodemeister's destruction of the field in the Arkansas Derby.  Bodemeister just seemed to get the job done far more easily than Big Brown, and the former's margin of victory was double that of the latter.  Of course a large part of this could be attributed to the competition each faced.  I have not gone back to compare the fields that the two colts faced in their final prep races.  But to get to the point, I was so extremely impressed with Bodemeister that I could not wait to see what he would do in the Kentucky Derby.

Bodemeister was installed as the morning line favorite for the race, as I thought that he should be because it was truly tough to find a performance by another colt in the field that rivaled that Arkansas Derby performance.  The lines changed of course, but I have read somewhere that Bodemeister remained the post time favorite.  As we joined the race shortly after the start, I saw the first quarter-mile fraction: 22.32 seconds, with Bodemeister in the lead.  Wow, I thought.  And then he continued through a half-mile of 45.39 seconds and three quarters of a mile in 1:09.80.  I was absolutely stunned seeing these times.  I don't think you generally see fractions this fast at the Breeders' Cup Classic when the best horses in the world are assembled.  When Bodemeister hit the three quarters mark in sub-1:10, I thought that there was no way he'd be able to hold on over the last half mile.

But Bodemeister kept pushing on, hit the mile in 1:35.19, and seemed to open up his largest lead of the race as he hit the quarter poll and started the run for home.  As Bodemeister ran down the stretch, you could see that the early fast fractions were catching up to him, as the other horses in the field started catching up to him.  That is, some of the other horses that did not follow closely to his torrid pace.  The horses that were close to him in through the middle of the race were not so as the race came to its conclusion.  And in the end, only I'll Have Another was able to pass by Bodemeister in the final sixteenth of a mile to win (2:01.83), having stayed away from the fast early pace.

I have read a few people's commentaries on the race and there are a number of them that seem to share my sentiments in being more impressed with the runner-up than the winner.  Yes, it is crazy to say this, but for me it is true.  The Preakness Stakes is coming up on May 19 and I more excited than I was going into Big Brown's 2008 Preakness (provided Bodemeister does go on to run, that is).  Generally I'm pulling for the Kentucky Derby winner to take the Preakness so that for once in my lifetime there will be a Triple Crown winner that I remember, since I was only a few months old in 1978 when Affirmed won the last Triple Crown.  But this year I've decided the Triple Crown can wait one more year.  I just want to see Bodemeister do something special in these last two races.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Tribute to Mariano Rivera

It is amazing to me that I'm sitting here today writing a post titled A Tribute to Mariano Rivera, but on this morning I feel that I need to do just this.  My interest in baseball has fallen in a severely exponential way in the last decade.  Twenty to twenty-five years ago I could sit and watch baseball all day, but now I can rarely sit through an entire half inning of the sport.  The game bores me and certainly in the last decade or so I have found it comical that many people still refer to it as 'America's Pastime.'  But the biggest reason that this post might be surprising is that to the extent that anyone can still refer to me in any way as a fan to any degree of anything related to baseball, I am a fan of the New York Mets, and Mariano Rivera is the longtime closer of the New York Yankees, the team that I hate more than any other professional sports team.  But yesterday, prior to the Yankees' game against the Kansas City Royals, Rivera, while catching balls in the outfield during the Yankees' batting practice, went down with a torn ACL.  Such an injury means that he is done for this season and at forty-two years of age, he may have pitched his last ball in professional baseball.  I cannot think of a sadder turn of events for the sport of baseball.

I have not always been a fan of Rivera.  Indeed, for many years I hated everything Yankees-related.  True, while I was in college in Massachusetts I grudgingly rooted for the Yankees because I enjoyed playing the role of arrogant New Yorker and hated being immersed in New England fandom.  I hated having to hear about all the Boston sports teams non-stop, year-round.  I grew to hate the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, and Red Sox, and so I could root for the Yankees (again, grudgingly) because of the angst that arose in the region each time the Yankees succeeded during those years.  (I was in college from 1996-2000.)

But things changed during the summer of 2000.  At the conclusion of the year, the Yankees would go on to defeat the Mets in the World Series, a fact which crystallized my eternal hatred for the Yankees.  However, it was in the summer of that year that my animosity started to build toward the team.  The Yankees and Mets were playing an interleague game at Yankees Stadium and the Mets' Mike Piazza was facing the Yankees' Roger Clemens.  Now Roger Clemens had struggled when pitching to Piazza in the past, and just like any professional athlete who is facing some difficulty and in need of a few tweaks to his game, Roger Clemens made some adjustments and threw a fastball that hit Piazza in the head.  A real tough guy that Roger Clemens was, throwing at people that he could not get out fairly because he knew he was protected by the American League designated hitter rule.  But then we fast-forward to the World Series and in Piazza's first at-bat versus Clemens since Clemens had hit him in the head, Piazza fouled off a pitch, causing the bat to break, with the barrel tumbling out to the left of the mound if you are facing home plate.  And of course Clemens, being the great guy that he is, picked up the bat barrel and threw it in Piazza's direction (and to this day I believe he threw it at Piazza), but seemed to mouth the excuse, "I thought it was the ball," as Piazza took exception and started walking toward the mound.  Of course no data was provided on how many times during Clemens's career when a ball came out toward the mound that he was roughly forty-five degrees off in the direction the ball should have been thrown (you know, toward first base), but maybe this is some research that the Elias Sports Bureau can do.

Yes, I digressed, but at least some of the digression was necessary to illustrate the extent of my antipathy for the Yankees.  The conclusions of the next four baseball seasons brought considerable enjoyment for me as the Yankees lost in excruciating fashion.  In 2001 it was to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series, in 2002 it was to the California-Anaheim-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the division series, in 2003 it was to the Florida Marlins in the World Series, and then finally in 2004 it was the epic choke-job loss to the Boston Red Sox in the league championship series. Delicious.  But as I look back now, the loss to the Diamondbacks was the most amazing of those losses because in game seven of that series, the Diamondbacks beat the unbeatable Mariano Rivera when he was called on to do what he seems to have been born to do: slam the door at the end of big baseball games.

I have long hated baseball's seeming ever more liberal reliance on relief pitchers.  I hate the absurd amount of useless statistics that are developed for baseball like the 'quality start' and the 'hold.'  And I also think that the save statistic has been cheapened due to the fact that these days a pitcher can pitch six innings, give up three runs, and then get a pat on the back with a way to go with that quality start!  And then you have two or three pitchers come in and 'hold' the game, before finally the closer comes in and gets a save, many times surrendering more runs than innings pitched.  I respect the relief pitcher role less so than any other position in baseball and generally scoff anytime anyone even hints that one of these people deserve to be in the Cy Young Award conversation.  However, Mariano Rivera is different.

Mariano Rivera is different because when he came on to pitch, you believed that there was no chance he was going to blow a lead.  You almost felt you had a better chance of drowning in a lightning storm than to see Rivera blow a save, particularly in a big game.  And this is what makes that loss by Rivera in game seven of the 2001 World Series so amazing.  Rivera was not one of these relief pitchers who only recorded the easy save or would routinely pitch himself into trouble while in the course of hanging on by the fingertips at the end of games.  He came out to pitch in the tough situations and you knew it was lights out.  In game seven of the 2001 World Series, Rivera came in to start the eighth inning with the Yankees leading 2-1, and though I hoped for a Diamondbacks win, I knew it was not going to happen.

It is been more than ten years since that game took place, and my memory of all of the events of that game and World Series have faded a bit.  I confess, I did have to look up the information to be sure that Rivera came on in the eighth inning of a 2-1 game, even though I suspected that this was the case, but I do not want to look up and recount an entire play-by-play.  But I will never forget the final play of that game.  I remember sitting there in my apartment watching that game, stunned that finally after having won the last three World Series, the Yankees just might be on the verge of losing.  Rivera had already surrendered a run and the winning run was on third base with less than two outs.  I was getting excited, but still I left room for that inevitable disappointment that I thought was coming.  In the back of my mind, I just knew Rivera was somehow going to pull off some magic act in that ninth inning, the Yankees were going to win that World Series, and that blown save would largely be forgotten over the years.  But with a drawn-in infield, Luis Gonzalez blooped the feeblest of feeble hits just over shortstop Derek Jeter's head.  Had Jeter been in his normal fielding position, this would have been an easy catch and I believe those Yankees find a way to win again.  But it was not meant to be as that feebly hit ball landed on the ground and finally beat the unbeatable Rivera.

After years of reflection on those Yankees teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a few of those players I still truly despise (see Roger Clemens), a few I'm indifferent toward (see Andy Pettitte), a very few I have come to grudgingly respect (see Derek Jeter), but Mariano Rivera is the only one that I have come to like.  I still remember back to the 1990 ALCS that the Oakland A's swept the Red Sox 4-0.  I loved the A's teams of those years.  I loved the Bash Brothers.  I loved their swagger.  I still vividly remember during one of those games when A's legendary and Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley mowed down Dwight Evans swinging and gave a gigantic fist pump out of exuberance of the important moment, but also with at least a little hint of taunting his vanquished opponent.  I have never been one to truly disdain taunting and showmanship, but it is because we never see a hint of either of these things out of Rivera that I respect and like him so much.  He always came out in a no-nonsense, business-like fashion.  And he almost always got the job done emotionlessly.

But there is one more reason why if the event of yesterday spells the end for Rivera, I will find it to be a truly sad day.  Mariano Rivera wears the number forty-two.  He is the last Major League Baseball player to wear the number 42 other than on Jackie Robinson Day when every Major League Baseball player wears the number 42.  Major League Baseball took the rare step of forever retiring the number 42 some years back in tribute to the important legacy of Jackie Robinson.  Now I was never alive when Jackie Robinson played, nor was I alive at any point while he lived.  I do not intend to compare the baseball or life achievements of Robinson and Rivera.  But I can think of no better person to be the last to wear the number 42.  I have always known that Rivera would one day leave the field, leaving Jackie Robinson's number 42 to be worn on that one special day each year by all, but I know now that I wish and hope that that one day was not yesterday.