Can’t Say I Saw THAT Coming

Here’s to the highly unlikely in baseball: Bo Jackson’s dominance of two sports, Ken Caminiti’s addiction to cocaine (sadly ending in death), the Red Sox’s 2004 ALCS comeback against the Yankees, the Cubbies’ 100 year-long drought, the Mets’ 2007 collapse (paving way for the resurgence of the National League champion Colorado Rockies), and Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, & Bonds standing little chance to make the Hall of Fame collectively. These teams and individuals watched as irony and karma struck destiny and glory square in the nuts, showing that any and all is possible—and surely against what you initially intended (row-sham-bow, anyone?). Below are five more storylines to add to the mix, all of which will affect the state of our national pastime, for better or for worse.

 5. George Bush: The Next Commissioner of Baseball? Our nation’s 43rd leader, Mr. George W. Bush, will go down in history as America’s most disgraced commander-in-chief, whose last act in the Oval Office may involve pardoning a self-proclaimed criminal (see Marion Jones). Prior to his tremendously awful tenure in the White House, Bush served as an adequate ‘managing general partner’ of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, who, under his watch, brought a thrilling close to Nolan Ryan’s illustrious career. Speculation behind Bush’s potential as baseball’s leading man rose long before his stint as governor of Texas, as one-time commish Fay Vincent discussed the possibility of Bush serving as baseball commissioner in the 1990’s. Upon leaving the White House, baseball commissioner would be an ideal position for W (unfortunately, it is a dream that will be put on hold due to the extension of current commissioner Bud Selig’s contract). With Bush at the helm, who knows what would be in store for the game of baseball?

4. Mark Cuban: The Next Cubs Owner With July dwindling to a close, Mark Cuban, boisterous owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Internet tycoon, has made the final cut (out of three others) as potential principal owner of the Chicago Cubs, a franchise bolstered by fans in love with the North Side’s lovable losers. Imagine the Friendly Confines of Wrigley visited constantly by the NBA’s most raucous (and most fined) owner, whose antics often earns the ire of referees and fans alike? Imagine a franchise of tradition (Harry Caray, outfield ivy, the post-game Go Cubs Go sing-along, the raising of the white W flag after each Cubs win, and the 7th inning celebrity Take Me Out to the Ballgame rendition) suddenly infused with new, albeit ‘far-from-customary,’ blood? Say what you will about Cuban’s unorthodox ways (he, not his coaching staff, is often the one jeering at referees), Cuban has pumped enough money into the Mavericks to make them relevant again (they were a game removed from taking home the 2006 NBA championship after spending countless decades as the league’s doormat). It’s one thing to own an NBA franchise: it’s a whole other to man one of baseball’s most storied organizations. Mark Cuban may be the next man behind the curtain for Chicago.

3. Albert Pujols: Going Against Doctorly Advice….and Dominating Prior to the 2008 MLB season, Albert Pujols came face-to-face with a career-altering decision: would he forgo the 2008 campaign for surgery or play through unbearable pain in order to continue his monstrous career and, perhaps, put the Cardinals back in the playoffs? The scenario that medical experts conveyed was rather imposing: Pujols, by agreeing to play, would be one errant swing away from shredding, perhaps even separating, the tendon that holds the elbow joint intact. Second opinions further suggested that Pujols could play, although he would be beset by gut-wrenching anguish. Ever the fiery competitor, Pujols opted to play this season, a juncture that has the Cardinals within 6 games of the NL Central-leading Cubs, all thanks to Albert’s .353 average, 20 homeruns, and 60 RBI’s, including a recent dinger that bested the New York Mets in 14 innings (on Saturday, July 26th). Now that is baseball legacy in the making.

2. Jeff Samardzija: The Cubs’ Next Big Thing Bo Jackson’s turn as a two-sport athlete was logical, when you consider Bo’s positions (running back for the Raiders and leftfield for the Royals) were dictated by his blazing speed. While contributing swimmingly in both sports, Jackson paved the way for the likes of Deion Sanders, who starred for the Atlanta Braves and Dallas Cowboys, among other NFL clubs. Unfortunately, Jackson endured a hip injury (later resulting in the condition avascular necrosis, which results in a shortening of the blood supply to the pelvic region) that abruptly ended his career in both sports. Enter Jeff Samardzija. In 2006, Jeff Samardzija helped deliver a 10-win season for Notre Dame, ending his career as an All-American wide receiver for the Fighting Irish. Due in part to Samardzija’s success, Brady Quinn became a top-20 NFL pick, the heir apparent to Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson. Many NFL analysts thought Samardzija was pegged for a spot on an NFL roster, seeing as how his footwork was complemented by a set of hands that could reel in any ball thrown his way. But there was the matter of Samardzija’s true passion: the sport of baseball. Putting a prestigious past behind him (Jeff holds multiple Notre Dame receiving records), Samardzija ended up signing a $16.5 million incentive-laden contract with the Cubs in 2007. Due to numerous circumstances (stellar Cubs closer Kerry Wood is on the disabled list with a sore blister and Carlos Marmol cannot get a handle on his location), Samardzija was called up to join the Cubs in their most recent series against the Marlins at Wrigley, a time when Jeff compiled his first major league save with an overpowering fastball and slider. Could this be the Cubs’ answer in the bullpen that delivers the Cubs their long-awaited World Series victory? Manager Lou Piniella and a legion of Cubs fans sure hope so.

1. Rick Ankiel: From Bust to Boom Ask your grandfather: what Rick Ankiel has accomplished has never happened in the history of the sport. At the age of 20, Ankiel began his career as a major league hurler, compiling an 11 – 7 record with a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts, good for seventh in the league. Then came the 2000 playoffs. In spite of his outstanding stuff (Ankiel possessed a 97 MPH fastball and devastating curveball, both of which could deliver a strikeout), Ankiel faced the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs and threw seven wild pitches, five of which were hurled in one inning (the first time that had happened since 1890). From that day forward, he was never the same. The tumult continued in 2001, as Ankiel was sent down to AAA to work on his control. As fate would have it, Ankiel would never pitch in the majors again. By 2005, Ankiel opted for a drastic change to his career: he wished to channel Mickey Mantle, so as to become a power-hitting centerfielder. By 2007, Ankiel was called up by St. Louis in a late August call-up. His major league experience would continue through 2008, where he is hitting .278 with 22 homeruns and 56 RBI’s, wielding a glove that is worthy of best-in-the-league status. Human-growth-hormone controversy aside, Ankiel has proven his value in the mythology of treasured baseball lore.


Baseball’s Unbreakable Records

In a recent ESPN program entitled Unbreakable Records, Ozzie Smith, who won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves for masterfully manning the shortstop position for St. Louis (a feat that has not been accomplished by any position player), discussed the importance of ten remarkable feats achieved in baseball history by both team (the Yankees’ accumulation of five consecutive World Series from 1949 – 1953) and individual (Eric Gagne’s 84 save streak for the Los Angeles Dodgers). Prior to the show’s airing, 160+ managers, players, and coaches in Major League Baseball were polled to determine the five most arduous records to reach in all of baseball. Brought to you here is a personal re-working of this esteemed list.


5. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 Game Hitting Streak  Pete Rose came the closest to DiMaggio’s impressive mark, stringing together 44 consecutive games in which he was able to reach base via a hit (quite fitting, when you consider Joltin’ Joe beat out Wee Willie Keeler’s one-time record of 44-game streak of hitting safely). Upon going hitless in the 57th game of the streak, DiMaggio went on another 16-game hitting streak, which calculates to hitting safely in 72 of 73 games in 1941. During this season, perhaps DiMaggio’s best, the one-time Mr. Coffee would not win the MVP; that distinction was instead held by Ted Williams, holder of another outstanding record for the ages.


4. Ted Williams’s .406 Season Arguably the game’s greatest hitter (and the anti-thesis of quitting), the Splendid Splinter was going into the final day of the season having amassed a batting average of .3995, which would have effectively rounded up to .400, the first time the feat would be accomplished since 1930, when Bill Terry did so. Williams, as recommended by many Red Sox personnel, could have sat out the the doubleheader slated for that day in order to achieve this aforementioned exploit. Instead, Williams played both games, going 6 for 8, raising his collective batting average for the 1941 season to .406. Although George Brett and Tony Gwynn came awfully close, nobody has hit .400 since Williams accomplished the astounding deed in a year that would later live in infamy (the Pearl Harbor bombing would occur months after Williams’s greatest summer). As his career average would suggest (.344), Williams was the master of the art of stroking the baseball, a testament to his poise and uncanny sense for dominating opposing pitching like nobody else could.

3. Nolan Ryan’s Tandem: 5,714 Career Strikeouts and 7 No-Hitters Ryan’s efforts are ahead of DiMaggio’s and Teddy Ballgame’s for the sole reason that, in the modern era (post Bob Gibson, who compiled a a record 1.12 ERA in 1968), the game favors the hitters. When you consider (1) the mound has been lowered and (2) the fences have been pulled in through the construction/renovation of many contemporary ballparks, what Ryan did was extremely unfathomable. Randy Johnson most recently passed Roger Clemens on the all-time strikeout list, hoarding an upwards of 4,600 K’s. In order for the 44 year old Johnson to pass Ryan, he would have to average 300 strikeouts per season for the next three years (something he hasn’t done since 2002). What’s more impressive are the seven occasions in which opponents could not register a single hit off of Ryan, the latest of which came in 1991, his 25th season in the bigs. His 292 losses (to his 324 wins) are not indicative of his prowess; for instance, in 1987, Ryan led the league in ERA (2.76), but compiled a win-loss record of 8 – 16, suggesting that Ryan was often the victim of poor run-support. At times, Ryan has been criticized for being erratic (he once walked over 200 batters in his season; in fact, his wild ways earned him a one-way ticket out of New York and California), but his ability to embarrass hitters was truly tremendous.

 2. Cal Ripken’s 2,632 Consecutive Games Played Streak Consider this for a moment: the most recent player to come close to Ripken’s streak since Cal broke Lou Gehrig’s old record was Miguel Tejada, who played in 1,151 games consecutively, some 1,500 games shy of the mark Cal ended up setting. For Ripken to shatter the Iron Horse’s record by some 500 games is a testament to Cal’s immense capacity to play through bangs and bruises that have made mortals of lesser players. Perhaps the game’s greatest shortstop of all-time, Ripken played the game with the ultimate sense of grit and determination that defined the outstanding ballplayer he was. For many, Cal was Mr. Baseball in Baltimore and beyond, the game’s truest ambassador whose place in Cooperstown was well-deserved (an honor held in the same year, 2006, by San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn, the modern-day equivalent of Ted Williams, minus the power numbers).


1. Cy Young’s 511 Career Wins During a time when homeruns were as rare as blue moons in the night sky, Cy Young (for whom the award for the annual best pitcher in the National and American Leagues is named) did things as a pitcher that will NEVER be accomplished, namingly his 749 complete games (Roger Clemens’s 118 is nowhere near Young’s mark) and 815 starts in a career. Through the use of five-man rotations, bullpens, specialist pitchers, and closers, and the restriction of starts made by pitchers (hurlers may reach 35 starts tops in an injury-free season), Young’s feats have truly become a thing of the past, especially his career win total (guys like Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, the best pitchers of the past twenty years, have only won 350 and 354 games respectively). Despite losing the most games in baseball history (316), Young’s standard for winning ballgames is the most unbreakable record in baseball. PERIOD.

The Josh Hamilton Story

As it appeared originally on the blog “The V-List” on July 14, 2008: 

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, much like he did when he beat out Derek Jeter for the 2006 American League MVP, edged out a fan favorite to win the 2008 Home Run Derby, with a total of five homers in the final round of competition. His opponent? Josh Hamilton, a baseball legend in the making, who battled demons that made lesser men of professionals like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, players who made inspirational, championship-inducing comebacks with the Yankees that pales in comparison to what Hamilton has done these past two campaigns with the Reds and Rangers. Should the season end today, Hamilton would win the MVP award outright, in lieu of his flirtation with baseball’s elusive Triple Crown, last achieved by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. To add to these feats, Josh won over a fickle Yankee Stadium crowd with a Mantle-esque swing that crushed a ball measured at 504 feet. In the first round of this evening’s slugfest, Hamilton hit a record 28 homeruns (four more than the previous record holder, Bobby Abreu, compiled in 2005), his accomplishment met by 58,000 lauding crowd members emphatically chanting his name, the majority of whom were Yankee fans, that, in all the years I have followed the organization, have never glorified the accolades of an opposing player so passionately. Hamilton, as he proclaimed himself in an article featured in an ESPN spread last year, wished for a better life, one he found through family, baseball, and belief in God. Upon bowing out in the final round of tonight’s derby, Hamilton committed a task that was perhaps more arduous than any addiction or pitcher he has yet to face: he gave praise to God in front of a legion of new-found Hamilton followers, a wave that has reached some tens of millions in light of the show he put on at the derby. Say what you will about his past: as Hamilton continues to joust with addiction, he remains clean en route to one of the greatest baseball stories ever produced in the game’s fabled history. With 95 RBI’s and 21 homeruns to his credit thus far, Hamilton is sure to impress with a strong finish to the 2008 season, one that conveys sports’ capacity to allow stories of the human condition to prevail.

Please Don’t Go: The Case for Yankee Stadium

As it appeared originally on the blog “The V-List” on July, 12, 2008: 

Despite the aura and mystique that Yankee Stadium has bestowed upon its in-house tenants, the Bronx Bombers (26 World Series championships, 39 American League pennants, and a gaggle of Hall of Famers), ‘The House that Ruth Built’ has been privy to several papal visits, the 1925 Notre Dame/Army game altered by the ‘win one for the Gipper’ speech, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (the NFL’s first overtime contest, a 23 – 17 win by the Johnny Unitas-led Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants), Pele’s tenure as New York Cosmos’ striker from 1975 – 1977, numerous Billy Joel, U2, and Pink Floyd concerts, and boxing matches that featured the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Max Baer, Rocky Graziano, and Sugar Ray Robinson. Although many associate the Stadium with our national pastime, the Yankees’ home field is a sports arena that has attracted audiences of varying interests for nearly 85 years. Renovated in 1975 and 1976, a project funded by benefactor George Steinbrenner (a time during which the Yanks played their home games at Shea), the Stadium has developed an ambiance of winning, professionalism, and poignancy that has earned it the title of the Cathedral of Baseball. July 15, 2008 will mark the last All-Star Game (the Stadium’s fourth) to be played in the Bronx, while September 21 (at the earliest) may in fact be the last game contested at the Stadium, playoff berth notwithstanding. With construction of the new Yankee Stadium to end in early 2009, the old Stadium will be bulldozed, only to be recalled in history books and the minds of baseball fans across the nation. Should this deconstruction take place? This Yankee fan says no. Here’s a look at why:

5. There are no foreseeable plans to construct ‘The Bat’ at the new Stadium site. Constructed as an aesthetic cover to an eyesore of an exhaust pipe, the 138-foot tall rendering of a Louisville Slugger stands as a meeting place for ticket holders looking to rendezvous with fellow fans sitting in their section before each game. ‘The Bat’ is a landmark by which all fans can relate and easily seek out, as it is the epicenter of the many vendors peddling hot dogs, pretzels, and pinstriped memorabilia outside of the Stadium’s gates. Although current renovations do include the upheaval of Monument Park (a collection of plaques that commemorate Yankee legends) and the inclusion of the trademark frieze atop the scoreboard (the white fa├žade that lines the upper interior of the Stadium), there is no intention to include ‘The Bat’ in the current architectural state of the new Yankee Stadium. In spite of this exemption, the nonchalant uprooting of locker room artifacts and placards for their placement in the new Stadium simply will not be the same–it’s the equivalent of dusting off your old NES games and revisiting them for old time’s sake, knowing that your Xbox 360 collection currently predominates. Just as the old Yankee Stadium has transmuted into a highly identifiable landmark (with pennants and championship-caliber lineups compiled along the way), attempting to recreate the former Yankee aura simply will not cut it knowing what was previously sacrificed in the name of tending to the corporations and suits that will flood the new Stadium. After all, why relinquish a perfectly good product that still works just fine (Yankee Stadium continues to pull in over three million fans on a yearly basis, in spite of the third-world atmosphere surrounding the Stadium’s confines)?
4. Thousands of seats are being removed for more luxury boxes and party suites. At its peak, Yankee Stadium held an upward of 70,000 fans (in 1942), a far cry from the 57,545 it currently holds. For various reasons (the infrastructure of the Stadium is too fragile to hold such numbers and baseball implemented the ‘batter’s eye’ in all ballparks; hence, the ‘black’ and loss of hundreds of seats in right-center), Stadium architects were given no other choice but to modify the seating arrangements in order to keep the park up-to-date with its safety codes. The new Yankee Stadium will hold 52,325 fans at maximum capacity, a number that dwindles from the original capacity in light of Steinbrenner and Company’s incessant desire to incorporate luxury boxes and party suites along the mezzanine, two measures that allows businesses to keep the Stadium’s revenue costs in the black. As is the ongoing trend in the construction of new ballparks, stadiums are constructed with luxury boxes in mind, all in the name of procuring filthy money hand over fist.
3. Shall we call it “The House that A-Rod Built?”
Say this about Alex Rodriguez: with three American League MVP’s to his credit (two with the Yankees) and the inevitable onslaught of Barry Bonds’s homerun mark, A-Rod is worthy of the spotlight and a place in Cooperstown as one of the game’s greatest. Even so, Rodriguez does not, nor will he ever, amass the same kind of ‘Ruthian’ resume that the Babe did. In light of the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, baseball was on the operating table, a sport in desperate need of a savior. Enter George Herman Ruth. His capacity for clubbing mammoth homeruns lifted the game from the Dead Ball Era and made the pastime worth following again. In 1923, Ruth’s third year with the Yankees, the Stadium was constructed, an era that was forever fortified by Babe’s dominance as baseball’s greatest power hitter. Without the Babe, the Yankees don’t go on to win four World Series during his Yankee tenure, nor do fans fathom the namesake that will forever belong to the old Stadium. Alex Rodriguez, arguably the face of the franchise, will usher in a fresh era with the new Stadium’s construction, but has a long way to go before he deserves his name hypothetically associated with a ballpark.
2. The Ghosts of Yankee Past won’t take too well to a relocation. When Yankee captain Derek Jeter waxes nostalgic about the ballpark he so masterfully made his own domain, he fondly speaks of its intangibles, the ‘ghosts’ who mythically manipulate games in the Yankees’ favor. Now, imagine excavating the very grounds these spirits called home for so many years and you get a sense of the horror new Stadium architects are facilitating. Think Poltergeist II, when Craig T. Nelson realizes that the home he purchased in the first film was erected on top of a burial ground for deceased cult members, led by the demagogue pastor Kane. The spirits of these misled cult disciples were not exorcised in the first house and would follow Carol Anne wherever she went. Pretty terrifying, huh? If Yankee brass knew any better, they would ask for Pope Benedict’s return to the Bronx in order to perform a service that allows the ghosts of DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig, and Ruth to rest peacefully. If not, we’re talking a curse of Red Sox proportions.

1. Says loyal season ticket holders everywhere, “You expect me to pay WHAT?” You better sit for this one. While you’re at it, remove anything breakable from your reach, pop a shot of tequila, and prepare a bucket for possible upchuck. Currently, you can ‘afford’ a seat behind home plate at Yankee Stadium for $250. The same seat in the new Yankee Stadium will cost… (figure will be written out for much-needed emphasis)…TWO THOUSAND, FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS, ten times the original cost!!! Mind you, these seats will be catered, but unless Yankee ownership intends to defray the cost for a year’s worth of groceries, you are s%$# out of luck. Many current season ticket holders will be expected to fork up twice the amount they already pay on their ticket plan. If they choose to not pay such a price, then to hell with them; the Steinbrenners will find somebody else that will. For a game that is sustained by the common man, an everyday Joe that can enjoy a game anywhere in the ballpark, whether it be in the bleachers or the upperdeck, the sport of baseball is willing to excise this fanbase in exchange for suits with gargantuan money market accounts. As the Yankees are willing to embrace this trend, you can say goodbye to the Bleacher Creatures that made the Stadium the experience it is today, while you nuzzle up to a yuppie who knows nothing about the game and guzzle that eight dollar brew of yours.

I Feel Good: Our National Pastime

As it appeared originally on the blog “The V-List” on July 11, 2008: 

Typically, the hours leading up to baseball’s July 31st trade deadline are noted for a flurry of transactions that could make or break an organization’s attempt at reaching the postseason. In 2008, the biggest blockbusters have already been made, as Athletics’ ace Rich Harden has made his way to the Cubs in Chicago’s response to the Milwaukee’s acquisition of last year’s American League Cy Young award winner, the robust C.C. Sabathia. In either case, the Cubbies and Brewers have made their intentions clear: they will work diligently to label themselves as serious World Series contenders. In lieu of these ambitious moves, the V-List takes a look at the best feel-good stories of the MLB season thus far.

5. Geovany Soto: An NL First Pop quiz, hot shot. Who is the first National League rookie to start at catcher for the All-Star team? If you guessed Johnny Bench or Mike Piazza, you would be wrong. This distinction is held by none other than current Chicago Cubs backstop Geovany Soto, who proved his worth to the organization by mashing the ball in a late-September call-up in 2007. By hitting .289 with 15 homers and 52 RBI’s, Soto, much like his compatriot Kosuke Fukodome, has invigorated the North Side of Chicago with tremendous flair and passion for the game. Many games have been won off the bat of Soto, to which the Cubbies are grateful, as they hold the best record in the National League at 54 – 36. Much like Dodgers’ catcher Russell Martin before him, Soto has infused youth into a position once dominated by the likes of Pudge Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, who are at the tail ends of their respective careers. Here’s to many more All-Star appearances by this Puerto Rican sensation, who just might aid his ballclub in taking home the franchise’s first World Series in 100 years.

4. The Kid Goes for 600 Injuries have derailed promising careers of legends (Sandy Koufax) and near Hall of Famers (Don Mattingly) alike. For Ken Griffey, Jr., arguably the game’s best all-around player in the 1990’s, “The Kid” watched as his assault on Hank Aaron’s homerun mark crumbled, simply because his move to the Cincinnati Reds has brought nothing but injury after career-threatening injury. Even so, in a June contest against the Florida Marlins, Griffey continued to utilize his sweet power stroke as he reached career dinger #600 (and counting) for his illustrious career. Although Barry Bonds has already surpassed Aaron’s record, it’s Griffey’s career that moves baseball fans the most, simply because Griffey is a man of class and passion, one who plays the game each and every day like a Little Leaguer awaiting the reward of an ice cream cone at the end of a Reds’ victory.


3. Tim Lincecum: Diminutive Size, Behemoth Effort The folklore surrounding Giants’ lefthander Tim Lincecum is astounding when you consider little Timmy was 4’11” entering his freshman year of high school. Some ten years later (and a foot taller), Lincecum dazzles fans by the Bay with 98 MPH heat, a weapon that has delivered 10 wins, a 2.49 ERA, and 122 strikeouts for a team depleted by the departure of many talented ballplayers, including Barry Bonds. Lincecum first burst onto the scene on an ESPN broadcast of Sunday Night Baseball on May 6, 2007. With a freakish stride of seven and a half feet, 129% of his height (most major leaguers average a stride that is 83% of their height), Lincecum has given Giants fans a reason to show up to the ballpark, knowing that their ace of the future has many more gems left to bestow upon San Francisco followers willing to wait for a Renaissance in the Bay City


2. Jon Lester: No-Hitting Cancer Survivor For the first time in Boston Red Sox history, two Boston hurlers pitched consecutive no-hitters from 2007 to 2008, the first completed by Clay Bucholz on September 1, 2007, the latter accomplished by Jon Lester on May 19th of this season. What is especially awe-inspiring about Lester’s feat was the fact that only a year ago had Jon battled lymphoma, a form of cancer. Upon his return from chemotherapy and radiation treatment in August of last year, Lester returned to the organization and pitched in the decisive fourth game of the 2007 World Series, an effort that delivered Boston’s second title in four years. In Lester’s no-hit effort, Jason Varitek was behind the plate, a catcher who ended up calling his fourth no-hitter, an MLB record (an achievement he endured with Lester, Bucholz, Derek Lowe, and Hideo Nomo, all pitchers for the Red Sox).

1. How About Them Rays? Upon joining the Rays in April of this year, third baseman Evan Longoria surfaced as the next big thing in Tampa Bay, hitting .270 with 16 homeruns and 47 RBI’s at age 23. Longoria anchors a lineup strengthened by the likes of Carl Crawford, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Jonny Gomes, a group that has led Tampa Bay to the best record in baseball at 55 – 34. As if the hitting corps weren’t remarkable enough, the Rays are further stabilized by a pitching staff led by Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza, James Shields, and Edwin Jackson, a young quintet that will later be revitalized by star prospect David Price, who is currently dominating Double-A. Managed by Joel Maddon, the Rays are on the fast track toward taking the AL East divisional title, as the squad currently holds a lead of 7.5 games ahead of the Yankees and 4.5 games ahead of the Red Sox. In a season peppered with surprises (the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins), the Rays are at the forefront of an enticing AL East race that will come down to the season’s final weeks, a juncture no Rays fan could have envisioned, even Dick Vitale, a season-ticket holder since the team’s inaugural season in the bigs.

Curses of the Sports World

As it appeared originally on the blog “The V-List” on May 25, 2008: 
curse (n.) : the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, or doom befall a person or a group.
Whether you believe in superstitions or not, a great many organizations and players (not to mention game personnel) have endured a curse long enough that this doom encapsulates their very being. Observe the course of sports history and how curses have affected its timeline
5. 1940!

Upon winning the Stanley Cup to cap the 1939-1940 season, the New York Rangers would fail to hoist the Cup again for a record 54 years thereafter. As is customary for winners of Lord Stanley’s trophy, various players, coaches, and personnel within the organization toted the the prize to numerous hot spots within the city, only to have it stolen, marking the first and only time this has happened in the Cup’s history (mind you, the Cup has been used as an ashtray, a champagne flute, and has been dinged up countless times; the Cup itself annually goes through more cosmetic maintenance than the King of Pop). During one sixteen year stretch starting in 1951, the squad would fail to make the playoffs twelve times. The Rangers even lost a contest in the mid-1940’s by a score of 15-0 and even started a goaltender who maintained an unheard of 6.20 goals-against-average. Everywhere the Rangers went (especially Nassau Coliseum, where the rival Islanders play), the team was chided with the abhorrent chant of “1940!” Under the helm of Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and coach Mike Keenan, the Rangers would outlast the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win the Stanley Cup in 1994, a moment in New York sports to recall forever. Curse ended, a miracle 54 years in the making.

4. The Madden Curse
Every August brings the promise of the monumental release of Madden, a title that has redefined sports role-playing on gaming consoles across the nation. Unfortunately, athletes appearing on the cover of these annual installments have either endured a serious injury or failed to live up to expectations. For some, the ‘Madden Curse’ has seemingly destroyed careers. Here is the list of the players who have been eerily victimized by the publicity stunt: Daunte Culpepper (banished to the Oakland Raider bench), Marshall Faulk (the one-time answer to Barry Sanders who now calls games on the laughable NFL Network), Shaun Alexander (one of the NFL’s most prolific MVP’s who has sustained a decline ever since the cover appearance) Donovan McNabb (does the man even have a functioning lower half to his body?), and the notorious Michael Vick (Atlanta’s one time Messiah; he ended up breaking his leg in the 2004 preseason and endured, you know, that whole dog-fighting scandal, for which he is serving three-years’ jail time). The men listed here weren’t mere NFL mortals; they were bonafide superstars. Luckily, the next cover athlete (Brett Favre) has retired, so the curse cannot wholly affect him…unless his ego goes the way of Roger Clemens.
3. The Sports Illustrated Cover Curse
Unless your name is Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a combined 86 times, countless teams and individuals have succumbed to the dreaded SI Cover Curse. The upstart 2005 Cleveland Indians were 15.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the standings in July, battling to within 1.5 games in September. Sports Illustrated opted to cover the resurgence prior to the 2005 playoffs. The Indians would then go on to lose six of their next seven games and miss the playoffs by a mere two games in the standings. Need more proof? The 2008 NCAA championship season: March Madness. North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough was featured on the cover TWICE during the Tarheels‘ prospective championship run. North Carolina, arguably the deepest and most talented team in the tourney, would lose an ugly contest in the Final Four to eventual champion Kansas, a loss that prompted the exodus of countless stars. Hansbrough, the epitome of dignity, has opted to stay at Chapel Hill for his senior season, but would later be shown on Sportscenter jumping off a frat house roof into a pool. If your team is in the midst of a hot streak, let us hope they don’t make a doom-impending cover of Sports Illustrated to foil it all.
2. The Chicago Cubs and the Curse of the Goat
During Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, Cub fan Billy Sianis purchased two tickets: one for himself and one for his goat. By the fourth inning, after proudly parading his goat around the park, Sianis was personally ejected by owner P.K. Wrigley in lieu of the foul odor emanating from the farm animal. Upon leaving, Sianis infamously remarked,”The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” Ever since, the Cubs have not appeared in a single World Series. This may not explain the Cubs’ prior futility (after all, they hadn’t won a World Series since 1908 to that point), but the Cubs have been terrible ever since 1945, even despite having rosters amassed with the likes of Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Sammy Sosa, Ron Santo, and Mark Grace. And if that doesn’t grind your gears, Cub fans, Chicago’s 2008 season was commemorated with a Sports Illustrated cover featuring Kosuke Fukudome. How’s that for celebrating 100 years since your last World Series victory?

1. The Curse of the Bambino
In the 1919 season, Red Sox ownership was fed up with star pitcher George Herman Ruth, who openly requested that the team double his salary. In need of a way to finance a potential Broadway smash entitled No, No Nanette (which would not grace the stage until 1925), Sox owner Harry Frazee, after turning down the tempting offer to bring Shoeless Joe Jackson to Fenway, sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees for a ******** $100,000. Ruth’s homerun prowess emphatically ended the Dead Ball era (he hit 60 homeruns in 1927), gave the Yankees their first championship (1923, the same year Yankee Stadium,”The House that Ruth Built,” was constructed) and singlehandedly made fans forget about the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 as baseball entered the high times of the Roaring Twenties. Although Nanette was a success (more so in the the way of a London production than the New York production), Frazee and the Sox would endure 86 years of futility. For every Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, and Wade Boggs that went through the organization, the Sox were thwarted by the likes of their own (Bill Buckner) and the likes of the Yankees (Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, and Mariano Rivera). Never has a single transaction in the sports world done so much for the respective success (Yankees) and failure (Red Sox) of two organizations. The mantra of the 2004 Red Sox may have been ‘Reverse the Curse,’ but not before the Yankees would win 26 championships of their own since the trade of Ruth to the Bombers.

Why the New York Yankees Will Remain 26-Time World Champs for a Long Time Coming

As it appeared originally on the blog “The V-List” on May 22, 2008: 
Complaining about the New York Yankees’ most recent strife is rather unfair when you consider I have witnessed four splendid World Series championships in my 27 years of existence. In fact, from 1996 to 2000, the Joe Torre-led squad maintained a dynasty not seen since the Big Red Machine of the late 1970’s. In light of the Yankees’ late 90’s dominance, baseball has had its share of futility. There are three generations of Chicago Cubs fans that have NEVER seen their ballclub revel in the glory of a championship. Furthermore, not since the double-play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance has Chicago even sniffed the possibility of bringing home a World Series, their last title coming in 1908. Since then, our country has endured 18 presidential administrations, involvement in four major wars, a Great Depression, the rise of commercial airline travel, the addition of four states to the Union, the use of automobiles as an acceptable mode of transportation, and six World Series for the Boston Red Sox, the team that once personified losing (although two of those titles were amassed in 2004 and 2007, but what Yankee fan pays attention to THAT?). The New York Yankees of the 1980’s were just as pitiful, seeing as the pinstripes of those years were limited by the obsession of signing players to exorbitant contracts (see Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield). Baseball, like life itself, is dictated by the ebb and flow of cycles. The Yankees of today are beginning to revert to a cycle that doomed them twenty years ago, and it all has to do with five moments that sum up their current string of Atlanta Braves-esque performances (remarkable regular seasons tainted by poor playoff production. Here’s looking at you, A-Rod and Giambi).
5. Overvaluing Prospects

The 2008 rendition of the New York Yankees vested a tremendous amount in the likes of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to lead them to glory. Two moments in Hughes’s first year implied success on a monumental level: (1) through seven innings of a contest against the Texas Rangers, Hughes sustained a no-hitter, only to go down with a hamstring injury that kept him out of action until August; (2) Hughes garnered the only victory (in relief for bust Roger Clemens) the Yankees compiled in the 2007 postseason against the Cleveland Indians. Drooling over such potential, the Yankees all but pencilled him in as a number two starter behind ace Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Ian Kennedy, on the other hand, had a much smaller body of work: his sparkling 1.89 ERA came in a late-September call-up that lasted for three measly starts. And Kennedy was the answer to an eventual Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina departure. Now look at them. In twelve starts, the two are a combined 0-7 with an 8.73 ERA. Sure, teams taking a risk on young pitchers will endure growing pains, but consider: Johan Santana could have been had in a package deal for either of these two pitching studs. The only prospect worth such hype is the electric Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera’s heir apparent until….
4. Ruining a Good Thing (i.e. The Role of Joba Chamberlain)

Set-up extraordinaire Joba Chamberlain has conveyed such moxie, confidence, and flair that he is all but destined for greatness of epic proportions. In only his second game at Yankee Stadium, Joba threw at Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis in retaliation for a dirty play he committed innings before. Not only was Joba proving himself as a Yankee, he was doing it on the big stage in the middle of the most heated rivalry in all of sports. This was the start of a career that saw Joba compile a minuscule 0.38 ERA over 24 innings of work in 2007. As baseball’s most prolific set-up man, Joba was grooming himself as Rivera’s replacement when Mo’s contract expires in 2010. And yet, Joba will abandon a role he so magnificently lived up to (as per Yankee brass, who made the decision last night) in order to become a starter. Joba appears to have the mindset to dominate on the major-league level as a starter, but what happens when the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, and Russ Ohlendorf are blowing the leads that Chamberlain himself hands to these bums? Relief man Hideki Okajima was the X-factor that led the Red Sox to their 2007 title. The Yankees have now sacrificed their own intangible force by toying with Joba’s tenure in pinstripes.
3. Constructing the Star-Studded Roster

In 2001, when the Yankees succumbed to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven brutal games, the Bombers simply could not hit. In Game 7, when the unbeatable Mariano Rivera was thwarted by a bloop single off the bat of Luis Gonzalez, I was granted a haunting moment no different from a Bill Buckner-like blunder, one that has intruded my sweetest dreams on countless occasions. Rather than attribute this paltry hitting to the sheer brilliance of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, the Yankees organization blamed the lineup for its inability to perform in the clutch. This mentality resulted in the Jason Giambi signing, the lead domino in a series of botched acquisitions that were dictated by panic and financial clout. For every transaction that worked in the Yankees’ favor (Hideki Matsui and Mike Mussina), the organization was strapped by many others that failed (Jose Contreras, Kyle Farnsworth, Kei Igawa, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, to name but a few). The Yankees compiled their World Series titles due in part to the play of consummate ball players (Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, Jim Leyritz, Joe Girardi), not superstars. The need to fill each position with an All-Star is what has killed the Yankees over the years, especially when you consider the Alex Rodriguez signing….
2. Getting Bullied by Scott Boras

Hear me out: I am an enormous Alex Rodriguez fan. I am rooting extremely hard for him to overtake Barry Bonds’s grasp on the homerun title. But trading for, and eventually signing, Alex Rodriguez has defined the Yankees and their egocentric methods, even if he delivered two MVP’s during his tenure with the team. Hell, Bonds won FIVE MVP’s while with San Francisco, amounting to ZERO rings for the Giants. Signing A-Rod to a ludicrous contract would suggest that he, not Derek Jeter, should be considered the face of the franchise. And if that is the case, the Yankees will (1) sell a kajillion tickets for the life of A-Rod’s contract (which appears to be all the organization cares about anymore) and (2) allow Jeter’s professionalism and hustle take a backseat to this superstar craze. Although A-Rod cleaved his association with agent Scott Boras, Rodriguez found himself distracted by Boras’s constant push for opting out of his contract with the Yankees, even going so far as to let the story seep into Fox’s coverage of the 2007 World Series, an incident that was despicable on Boras’s (and partly A-Rod’s) behalf. You would think that the young George Steinbrenner was at the helm behind such decisions, but think again.
1. Granting the Keys of the Kingdom to Mr. Hank Steinbrenner

Although this is the first season in which George Steinbrenner has little to no say in the operations of the team he still owns, you would imagine that his poor health allowed for the likes of his sons Hank and Hal to pull the strings long before the 2008 campaign. The man behind the curtain of Oz is now Hank Steinbrenner himself, a man whose decisions and choice of words echo the Big Stein of old. Under his watch, the likes of Joe Torre and Don Mattingly were screwed out of managerial candidacy, paving the way for the Joe Girardi show (a man, unlike Torre, who is ensconcing himself in the spotlight with his own weekly show on the YES Network. Yes, those egomaniacal days are here again!). With Hank running the show, the Yankees are on the fast road toward the laughingstock the organization was in the 1980’s, much to the delight of Red Sox Nation, more so to the chagrin of us Yankee fans.