East Coast Bias: Why I Hate The World Cup

Disagreeing With The Pine

Eugene has Riding the Pine where he checks out his MLB power rankings. I have to take issue with a couple things, though. Eugene in italics:

  1. [Yankees]: Another top notch starter could be had for top prospect Phil Hughes, like Barry Zito or Dontrelle Willis (if/when either team falls out of contention). The outfield is starting to settle, with the emergence of Melky Cabrera, but another real player could help put Terrance Long where he belongs. — First off, the Yankees have already said they have no intention of trading Wang or Cano. This means, off the bat, the Marlins are going to laugh at them if they offer a prospect for Dontrelle Willis. He’s 4-7 with a 4.05 on a team that just two weeks ago figured out how to play the game of baseball together. Put that together with the fact the Marlins could, if they keep playing the way they are, take a legit shot at the wild card, and there’s really no reason they can’t finish second in the East. The Yankees are not getting a top starter for prospects. A top starter is going to cost them Melkey Cabrera, Chien Ming-Wang, Robinson Cano, or some combination thereof with a prospect or two. The Yankees maybe, MAYBE, can swing a 3 or 4 starter for a prospect. That’s it. Besides, Dontrelle’s one of the best pitching bargains in baseball right now and Loria isn’t going to ditch him when this team he’s trying to shop has a legitimate chance to run at the Wild Card with the lowest payroll in baseball. The Royals are going to have a hard time crying poverty and small market if $14 million can buy you a playoff berth.
  2. [Mets]: Dealing Kris Benson doesn’t look so smart now. Neither does dealing Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. Now the Mets need a starter. They do have a solid option in house: Aaron Heilman. He is wasting his talent in the bullpen. The Mets won’t do that though. They do have an extra outfielder to trade now, but not the one teams want (Lastings Milledge) — The Mets dealt Kris Benson to get rid of his wife, Anna Benson; that’s really the reason. The Mets have a rotation of Pedro Martinez, a resurgent Tom Glavine, El “I only pitch in September” Duque, Steve Trachsel, and Alay Soler (a rookie who’s 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with a CG-SHO-W under his belt already) with four prospects and Heilman waiting in the wings to start. If anything, the Mets will be trying to shop Trachsel for prospects, and let Brian Bannister or Kenny Maine get some starts down the stretch. Don’t be surprised, if the Braves fall out of contention, if the Mets try to put together a package of prospects (they have some, the Yankees don’t) for John Smoltz, which will give them the best rotation in baseball for the next two years. Granted, it’s more likely that Smoltz gets shipped to his hometown Tigers, but if I can get Smoltz through 2008 for two pitching prospects, Victor Diaz (who can fill in for Francoeur, who will take over Andruw’s spot in center), and Steve Trachsel, I don’t blink. As for the Zambrano/Kazmir trade, the Mets will never live that down, especially when Kazmir manages to pick up a Cy Young on a losing team.
  3. [Braves]: This could officially be the end. I’m not writing them off yet, but many already are. If they fall any further out of it, they have plenty to shop. Andruw Jones could be a haul from a contender since he is a free agent after the season. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson don’t appear to be in the long term plan, so either one of them could be packing it up. — Andruw’s contract is up on 2007, not the end of this year. If they move him, it will be at, or almost at, the deadline… and it will probably be to the White Sox for some insane package of prospects that involves the Sox’s best relief pitcher not named Bobby Jenks. If they do stay out of it, they’re in an excellent position to rebuild, as they have some huge pieces they can move for young talent.
  4. [Marlins]: Besides Joe Borowski, the Marlins don’t have much they need to do. They won’t win this year; that is a given. — I disagree that this is a given. The Marlins got off to an awful start and it’s a team full of rookies, I will grant that, but they rattled off a 9-game winning streak before dropping one to the Orioles. They played the Yankees tough in three games, beating them 5-0 in the second game of a day/night double on Sunday. They still have about 40 games against the sub-.500 teams in the NL East, upcoming stands against Devil Rays, Pirates, the incredibly beatable Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Also, don’t think for a second that Jeff Loria won’t put a couple million more dollars into this team if they start looking like they could contend. A few million here earns him a stadium and a city in 2008. He can rent a couple players for the remainder of the season and still field the lowest payroll in baseball. Do I think the Marlins have a legit shot at the World Series? Not really, but I do know that a team full of 22 year old guys aren’t going to get tired down the stretch and I definitely would not even consider putting money against them winning the Wild Card as there’s only one team (The Astros) who are proven contenders after the All-Star Break, and even they are relying on a shaky closer, a 43-year old monster, a disastrous Pettitte, and a gimpy Oswalt.
  5. [Cubs]: You don’t know how excited I am to see the Cubs down. I respect the team and their fans, but I love this. They have parts that won’t be back, and some that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Moving Todd Walker won’t be too hard, considering he is having a pretty good year, but moving un-necessary parts like Neifi Perez and Jacques Jones could be a little harder. Juan Pierre could also be an attractive player at the deadline. — I’m with you entirely on this one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see if some team in the closer starved National League makes a play for Kerry Wood and drops him into that role. Wood doesn’t have the endurance to go six or seven, but he might have the stuff to go one. The price will likely be right as they Cubs won’t be expecting a ton for him.

Eff The World Cup

Just that quickly, attitudes can change.

I will admit, this season, I really did get caught up in the World Cup. In New York City, it’s everywhere. You walk past bars at 10 am on weekday and people are rowdy, watching the games, and rooting for their country. You walk past it at lunch time and guys in business suits are standing next to guys in tattered jeans and t-shirts drinking beers and rooting on their respective countries. It’s something to behold. It’s an event. As I sat watching the US/Ghana game on Thursday, I was excited. When the US scored to tie the game, it was the same feeling of light-headed elation I get when David Wright takes a ball deep or Eli Manning throws a 40-yard strike for a touchdown.

In short, I was a fan.

For that short, three-minute span, I really was a fan of soccer. I could see myself following a soccer team. I could see myself picking a team and rooting for them. I found myself really for the first time appreciating the game of soccer.

Things can change very quickly.

After we tied the score up, the game quickly devolved to remind me about everything I hated about the game of soccer. I touched on why the American fan generally doesn’t care about the sport of soccer two weeks ago, but what I never really touched on was why I hate the sport of soccer. Primarily, because I hadn’t seen it in four years and I tend to forget things that brutally annoy me when I don’t have to deal with them. The second half of the US/Ghana match reminded me, in excruciating detail, what I hate about watching World Cup soccer.

Number one, first and foremost, the thing that makes we want to throw hot coffee on professional athletes and grin as they writhe in agony; flopping. Every single time I see a professional athlete, a guy with the best conditioning in the world, the guy who can jog and sprint around a field for ninety minutes, a guy with a sheet of muscle around his entire body, flop around the ground in bogus agony, I literally want to fly to the location, and cockpunch said athlete. I should have a device that teleports me to the location just for this purpose. Then, to see them get stretchered off, only to return to the game five minutes later gives me the type of heartburn usually reserved for jalapeno peppers sprinkled with chili powder. Can you tell me why it is that a guy carried off the field is allowed to return to the game? Obviously, he’s too hurt to walk, why should he be allowed to come back in the game? Can we put this rule change in? Can we also start handing out pink cards in World Cup soccer? A pink card would be presented for flopping around on the ground in agony if someone breathes on you too hard. After your first pink card, you are required to trade your shorts in for skirt. Second pink card you have to turn in your jersey for a little tank top. Third pink card, you get a little tiara symbolically marking you as “Queen Fairy”. Fourth pink card, you are declared a female and disallowed from men’s soccer. These are cumulative throughout your career. There is not enough room in the database for me to go on about how much this part of soccer frustrates and annoys me because it causes play to stop. Let’s just say, if you want to tell me that soccer players are tougher than anyone in American sports, I’ll tell you you’re an idiot. Basketball players might exaggerate contact, but they don’t writhe around pansies after hit. Anyone see Shaq cry when Jerry Stackhouse knocked him into the third row? Anyone see Kobe cry when Raja Bell clotheslined him?

And you want to know the real reason soccer never catches on in the United States? Because it’s always a disappointment. Every four years since 1990, we put up with three to six months of “this could be the year” talk. Every four years, ESPN, SI, and all these news outlets race to get people on to tell us how “this is the best squad we’ve ever had” and “this could be the year we have a chance”. Then, there’s a game or two and we almost seem like we have a chance. And what happens? We choke. We choke in the worst way possible and burgeoning fans get disgusted with the sport all over again and immediately go back to not caring. I hate the US Team for getting me excited about this every four years and I hate them even more for choking after I’m excited. This doesn’t mean we have to win, but it does me we don’t want to watch a game where we take a thousand shots on goal and every one glances off the crossbar. Our team played with zero desire and zero urgency in the first half. In the second half, they couldn’t make shot. We deserved to lose.

At the end of it all, that’s the real problem. We, as Americans, can’t get behind things that we’re no good at. Unless we’re the best at something, and we’re beating everyone else at it, we just don’t care. We watched the original Olympic Dream Team with giggling admiration as they leveled people by 50 points. As a country, we can’t get behind the US soccer team because, deep down, we know other countries are going to destroy us. As such, we choose not to care about the entirety of the sport.

Does that doom soccer forever?

No, probably not. Europe caught up to the NBA in a remarkably short timeframe. We got owned in the Olympics because we still expected to be the best and we just weren’t. Our NBA players play the game in an entirely inferior way to European players now and, because of that, looked like amateurs. We still like basketball because we know we at least have a chance. In the World Cup, we really know we have no chance but, like idiots, we let the sports outlets convince us we have a chance and, eventually, it only ends up hurting the game as a whole because we get excited only to be horrifically deflated for the next four years.

The Knicks

In a shock to… really no one, the Knicks fired Larry Brown as their coach and announced their new coach… Isiah Thomas. I don’t have the exact facts on this, but I’ve heard rumors that this resulted in the deaths of no less than 12% of the New York Knickerbockers’ fanbase. Just for a moment, let’s recap the wisdom of Isiah Thomas in New York thus far:

Has traded for Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Malik Rose, Penny Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, and Antonio Davis.

Has signed Kurt Thomas and Jerome James.

Has failed to waive Allan Houston under the ALLAN HOUSTON RULE.

He has traded away: a 2004 conditional first round pick and a first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns, a 2005 second round pick to the Hawks, a 2006 second round pick to the Rockets, and a 2006 first round pick, second-round picks in 2007 and 2009, and rights to swap 2007 first round picks to the Bulls. In return, they got a guy center with a heart condition who, honestly, could drop dead at a moment’s notice.

Traded Penny Hardaway’s expiring contract to the Magic to take on Steve Francis’ $17 million/year through 2009. This may have made sense if they didn’t already have three shoot-first guards in Jalen Rose, Jamal Crawford, and Stephon Marbury.

Long story short, Isiah has spent three years in New York City “stockpiling weapons” in a way no one really understands. He trades good young players, and future good young players, for a bunch of guys who really have no interest in ever passing or even think about looking for an option other than shooting. The Knicks have no interest in playing defense and no one on the team (except Channing Frye) can grab a rebound. They took on contracts that they can’t possibly trade away… ever. No one, except for Isiah, of course, is going to take on Marbury’s contract. Instead of socking away Penny’s and Houston’s money, perhaps saving for a certain free agent from Cleveland whose contract expires in 2007, the Knicks saw fit to bring on a fourth shoot-first guard in Francis, thus ensuring that LeBron will find himself in New Jersey (or Brooklyn) in 2008.

Now, rather than blaming Isiah for assembling the worst patchwork team in history, Jim Dolan has chosen to fire Larry Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, and let Isiah coach the Knicks. So now that Isiah has stockpiled all these weapons, the mastermind gets to show us exactly how he meant them to be used. And they’ll be the same mess they were this year… maybe more. Five guys trying to score 50 points a night, and thus scoring 16, playing no discernable defense, while paying $30 million more in salary than the nearest team in the league.

At the beginning of Isiah’s mess, I did believe he had a plan. It seemed to be “trade for as many shitty contracts as you can, as long as they all expire by 2007.” This made sense. 2008 would be the year that Lebron, Carmelo, and D-Wade all became available (Lebron with an endorsement deal from Nike that pays him extra if he’s in New York). In 2005, the plan apparently changed. Quentin Richardson was brought in with his contract through 2010. Steve Francis was brought in with his contract through 2009. Expiring contracts were traded off for long term contracts… long enough to take the Knicks out of being a serious contender for any of the big young players. Essentially, if the Knicks want any of those players now, they’ll have to trade for them to get them in under any of the cap-exemption rules.

I’ll put it this way. If Isiah Thomas actually does have a plan through all of this, he’s the smartest man alive because he’s the only one who sees it. I see a Knicks team that’s stuck in salary cap hell through at least 2010, with half of their draft picks traded away, and nothing good on the horizon. I beg a Knicks fan to tell me I’m wrong or show me where Isiah’s going. Someone’s got to see it, right?

It’s funny, since I moved to New York, I really wanted to go see a Knick’s game. It was on my list of “stuff to do in 2006.” The cheap seats at Madison Square Garden are $75. Almost $100 to watch a team win 20 games. I have said, at length, that the reason the Royals are so bad is because the fans allow them to be. I refuse to spend any money to support the Knicks and their $125 million management mess. In fact, Dolan has given me another rule on my “Rules of When It’s OK to Change Team Affiliation”. When your owner has no desire to win, nor does he care about what his fans think. This also counts for Royals’ fans and Cubs’ fans. This will be a full column, soon.

In Closing

I went a bit too long this week, I blame the World Cup. Regardless, this finishes me off and I’ll see you on Thursday over in Wrestling.

As always, I’d love to hear from you, click the link below and send me your thoughts. At the very least, it allows me to make a mailbag column when I’m feeling lazy.