Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Breaking: Dan Snyder Is Still A Jerk.

Dan Snyder.  Odds are, that name provokes a reaction in you that falls somewhere on a uniquely calibrated scale.  Unlike nearly every other mathematical expression of value, The Snyder Meter exists within two negative extremes: snickering derision and outright disgust.  This guy has taken one of the most storied franchises in the NFL and systematically turned it into a sad, awful punchline.  If half the stories of Snyder's shameless money-grubbing, furiously petty retributions, and complete disregard for Redskins employees and fans contained even a modicum of truth, it'd be solid grounds for declaring the guy a certified dick.  Unfortunately for football lovers in the greater D.C. area, pretty much none of these sordid tales are apocryphal.  And, because he's Dan Snyder, we've got another gem to add to his already bloated resume of pathetic asshole-itude. 

As you know, in one of the few semi-justifiable decisions since he began his reign of terror, Snyder approved trading several Redskins draft picks to grab QB Robert Griffin III with the second pick of this year's NFL draft, and the former Baylor signal caller projects to be a superstar in every sense of the word.  So then, it's smart, basic PR 101 to give your well-spoken, endearing, humble, tailor-made-to-be-adored-by-fans-around-the-league young stud gunslinger a big press event, right?  Let the kid introduce himself officially to the league as a part of your organization, flash a few smiles, make a few quips, and speak earnestly of his aspirations for himself and the Redskins for the upcoming season.  This isn't a head case apt to shoot his mouth off and say something stupid; you've basically been gifted a truckload of stellar free publicity just by putting the media in a room with the kid and letting things take their course.  What could possibly go wrong?

Oh right; the idiotic megalomaniac of an owner could decide to ruin the first truly positive thing that's happened to the team in years decades a really long freaking time by engaging in an utterly needless display of territorial dick-swinging.  Turns out that in addition to the Redskins, Dan Snyder also owns D.C. sports radio station ESPN 980 (WTEM, the irony of whose call letters should be noted.)  Anywho, last Wednesday, during this big-time media event that was being covered by a boatload of press organizations at both local and national levels, Snyder decided that rival Washington sports station WJFK (106.7 The Fan) would no-way, no-how be allowed to cover Griffin's presser.  Reportedly, the station's personnel were told that if they persisted in trying to broadcast the event, their media credentials and those of all WJFK staff would be pulled, possibly in perpetuity.  No coming in the stadium, no interviewing players, coaches, or other team staff, no access whatsoever.  Was the team within its rights?  Yup; exclusivity coverage rights can be granted by NFL teams at any time.  That doesn't change the fact that it was yet another supremely stupid, petty, and myopic move that will do nothing but incite the ire of fans and media; par for the course with Snyder and the Redskins.

On a related note, was Dan Snyder hired as a consultant when NBC and Twitter were planning their 2012 Olympics coverage?  What?  I'm just asking.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Atlanta Braves Really, Really Hate Mondays.

The Atlanta Braves are in the middle of one of the most bizarre streaks in the long, streak-addled history of major league baseball.  Apparently, despite getting paid incredible amounts of money to play a game for a living, the Braves despise the start of the work week just as much as the rest of us.  Possibly more, in fact.  The following is an actual, real statistic:  Atlanta is 0-12 on Mondays this season, and actually have an 0-16 streak going back to the horrendous end to last year.  In tribute to that inexplicable and patently absurd streak, I present a recommended pregame clubhouse playlist for Atlanta as they send Tommy Hanson to the mound tonight against the Marlins' Mark Buehrle tonight. 

1. Monday Morning - Fleetwood Mac
2. Monday Morning - Death Cab For Cutie
3. Monday Morning - Melanie Fiona
4. Monday Morning - Pulp

(There are a lot of effing songs titled "Monday Morning."  Seriously, I left like nine more off this list because at some point you can't really go back to that particular mixtape well anymore and I felt like four consecutive opening tracks was, in fact, "some point.")

5. Rainy Days And Mondays - The Carpenters
6. Monday Monday - The Mamas and the Papas
7. I Don't Like Mondays - The Boomtown Rats
8. Stormy Monday - T-Bone Walker
9. Manic Monday - The Bangles
10. Monday - Wilco
11. Come Monday - Jimmy Buffett
12. Monday Afternoon - Lori McKenna
13. Blue Monday - New Order
14. Blue Monday - Fats Domino
15. Monday Night - Ryan Adams

Play good tonight, boys. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Fast: A Recollection.

On the eve of the Summer Olympics in London, allow me a reminiscence on falling in love with the summer games, forgotten sprinters, and the word "fast."

I have no idea where this disparity came from, but at some point early on in childhood I attached myself to the idea that the Winter Olympics are much more enjoyable than their summer counterpart.  Maybe I found the aesthetics of snow and ice superior to those of grass and water and whatever composite they make tracks out of.  Maybe it was harder to focus on the Summer Games since, you know, it was summer and there was driveway wiffle ball to be played.  Since I was six years old or whatever, I can't be sure of my cognitive and emotional process, but I suspect the primary component in my decision was speed.  Humans can run, swim, and bike pretty damn fast.  However, they can ski, skate, luge, and bobsled faster still, gravity being the uniquely helpful mistress that she is.  There is something about a person moving at a velocity usually reserved for big league fastballs that is inherently visceral and compelling.  The blur of national colors, the flail of poles, and the slap-whoosh of a skier whipping tightly around a gate faster than the camera can track is the sort of shock-and-awe inducer that can't really be replicated on foot (or without hiring Michael Bay's CGI folks).  To my tiny childhood brain, the Winter Games were simply faster, and therefore more entertaining.  1996 changed that.  

I was fortunate enough to attend quite a few events at the Atlanta Summer Olympics.  For two weeks, my home city was a miasma of bustle and fervor and even-more-horrendous-than-usual traffic.  Being in the middle of it all was a total rush, and most of my memories reflect that racing, whirring lack of specificity.  But a few moments still resonate clearly in my mind.

Getting trapped on a stalled MARTA train with the Romanian water polo team.  They were resplendent in their matching shiny tracksuit thingies, laughing and joking with the passengers in broken english about how ungodly hot it is in Atlanta in summer, which first of all: no sh*t, and second: why were they wearing full-on track suits in that heat?  They were a gregarious and endearing bunch, though.  I was bummed when they got trounced in the first round of competition.  

Standing in the Morehouse gym and watching USA Basketball kick the snot out of Arvydas Sabonis and the eventual bronze medal Lithuanian team.  Seeing that much elite basketball talent up close and all at once was like a religious experience for my 14-year-old, hoops-addicted self.  Just an incredible night. 

Fun tangent: did you remember that Mitch Richmond was on that iteration of the Dream Team?  I didn't until I looked them up.  Honestly, his name looks a little out of place on the roster next to Stockton, Barkley, The Admiral, Dream, Shaq, Pippen, etc.  For whatever reason, Richmond never commanded that "legendary" aura for me in the same manner as the other guys on that squad, but perusing his career numbers (6X All-Star, 5X All-NBA Team, ROY, 21 PPG, 45.5%FG / 38.8%3FG / 85.0%FT career shooting splits, over 20,000 career points) it appears I was short changing the guy a little.  My bad, Mitch.  

Back to the concept of speed, and my most vivid recollection of the summer: through a family friend, we somehow acquired tickets to the July 29 track-and-field slate of events at what would later become Turner Field.  Running that night in the 400 m finals was a man whose name you've probably forgotten unless you're a big track fan (but which you'll instantly recognize once I jog your memory. ... pun intended.): Michael Johnson.  Johnson was the hyped track athlete that year, having demolished the 200 m World Record in the Olympic trials, and everyone expected him to perform well.  Johnson had an odd, upright running style.  Rather than the powerful fluidity of a Usain Bolt, he looked like footage of a Terminator sped up to 1,000 frames-per-second.  (And I mean the clunky, lumbering contraption from the original movie, not any of the smoother-functioning next generation models.)  There was no grace in Johnson's stride, just a piston-like explosiveness that translated into ungodly propulsion. 

As the runners settled into the blocks, you could feel a collective tension shrink the entire stadium down to the singular focal point of Michael Johnson and his totally boss gold shoes.  Then this happened:

Dude flat smoked everyone else.  As he broke away down the stretch, (seriously, look at the building-sized swath of daylight between him and silver medalist Roger Black!), the stadium erupted in delirium.  We knew we were witnessing history being crafted right in front of us by a man who was exploding what "fast" meant and replacing it with something else entirely.  I have seen a handful of transcendent sports moments live in my lifetime, but this was the iconic flash that defined that two weeks for me*, and really the instant that killed my Winter Olympics bias and turned the Summer Games into something more than two weeks of watching the greatest basketball team in the world obliterate everyone else.  Ever since then, no matter how busy and convoluted my life gets, I make it a point to watch all the Olympic track events I possibly can.  Men's, women's, hurdles, relays, sprints, whatever.  These people, they know from fast.   

*Here's how strongly that moment impressed itself upon me: that was also the night that Carl Lewis, at a miraculous 35 years of age, took home his fourth Olympic gold medal in the long jump.  One of the greatest athletes ever by any measure put a beautiful and truly epic capstone on his career, I witnessed it in person, and it still somehow wound up being my second-favorite moment of the night and the games.  The long jump is cool and all, and Lewis' performance was incredible, ... but it wasn't fast.   

Of course, there is the memory we wish we could forget, too.  I recall arriving home late one night (actually early morning on July 27, according to the internet) from a day wondering around Centennial Olympic Park and all the various surrounding attractions and flipping on ESPN to see how the Braves had done, only to see terrible footage of the park bombing, which we hadn't heard about because it happened while we were driving home.  As it turned out, we had been standing mere feet from where the bomb was placed about twenty minutes before the detonation, and we only left because mom and my cousin were tired.  It was eerie and horrible and hollow-feeling, a reminder of our own impermanence and that even something as big as the Olympics is small in reality.  Everything I just spent time fondly recounting doesn't matter a jot compared to that bomb going off.

Except, of course, in the odd way that it does.  Michael Johnson gave us a luminous breath, a glimpse of what we're capable of when we bring our utmost skill and timing and focus to bear upon a moment.  Usain Bolt did the same in 2008, and he may do so again.  If not, it will be somebody else.  Dawn Harper or Lashawn Merritt or perhaps some other, heretofore unheralded speedster.  Either way, I can't wait.

Faster, higher, stronger, as the motto goes.  I'll take faster any day.     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wrong Man, Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

Trading emblematic athletes is always a minor tragedy of sorts for the particular franchise and fan base losing them, but it's also a whiplash-inducing event for fans at large.  The sight of a great player who has long been synonymous with a team suddenly wearing different colors never sits right in the mind's eye.  Some visuals just rattle your insides with cognitive dissonance.  Joe Montana as a Kansas City Chief.  Steve Nash as a Los Angeles Laker.  And now, Ichiro Suzuki as a Yankee.

(Don't you feel just a little bit sick after reading that last sentence?) 

The departure is not surprising in and of itself.  Aside from Ichiro's rookie season when Seattle won a monumental 116 games, the Mariners have been perpetual occupants of the American League's sub-basement for pretty much his entire career.  Like Nash, who also left his longtime franchise at age 38 for greener pastures, it's entirely understandable that he opted to be dealt to a contender before twilight too fully dulls his transcendent (and already in considerable decline) skills.  For the M's, their superstar's diminishing value made it logical to trade now, giving their younger outfielders increased playing time and getting what they can in return.  Tactically, the trade made sense for both teams.  (Though there is more than a little incredulity regarding the fact that the Yanks somehow got back cash concerns as part of the deal.  What, they needed the money?  Really?  Someone should have told Brain Cashman to cram that particular stipulation up his ass.) 

I won't rehash all the angles of what acquiring Ichiro means for New York; read this piece on Grantland by Jonah Keri if you're interested in the details.  What I want to talk about is how monstrously unfair this all feels.  To Seattle, to the rest of the AL East, and to Yankee haters (read: right-thinking individuals) everywhere. Of course, this is a far cry from actual unfairness, which only exists in sports when a) someone cheats, b) there's a blown officiating call so egregious that it will be recalled with perfect clarity and anger decades hence or c) you live in Cleveland.  But this has the unmistakable feel of unfairness; the sickening and wretched sensation of karmic impropriety.  To paraphrase Chris Rock: "that s*** just ain't right!"

First, Seattle fans have really seen and suffered enough.  There was the unconscionable hijacking of their beloved Sonics, the metaphysical descendents of whom just played their first of what will likely be many thrilling NBA Finals.  They have the most likeable and exciting young core in the game, a once-in-a-generation talent in Kevin Durant, and a well-run organization who are apparently also luckier than is really OK.  (See: Perry Jones III, drafting of.)  Then there are the Seahawks.  Despite a respectable seven playoff appearances since 1999, and a great run of NFC West titles from '04-'07 Seattle has never been thought of as a great or even a semi-formidable team.  And of course their lone Super Bowl appearance, against the Steelers in 2005, saw them get phenomenally hosed by some of the worst officiating in NFL history.  Aside from Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, who incidentally was recently arrested on a DUI charge and may be suspended for the beginning of the 2012 season, they haven't had a legitimately electrifying player since, well, ever.  (No disrespect meant to Matt Hasselbeck, who was a very good quarterback, but he didn't exactly make you gasp in awe with his play.)  Oh yes, and the Mariners are the only MLB franchise other than the Nationals to have never played in, much less won, a World Series.  For Seattle fans, watching their last great player leave town to don the pinstripes must be a nasty a kick in the teeth.  Surely no one begrudges him trying to find a contender after giving his soul and his considerable gifts to Seattle for so long, but running straight into the arms of the Evil Empire ... it's just so grimy.  Oh well, at least they have the Sounders.

And if you're another team in the AL East, you have to feel like North Texas playing Alabama last year.  You've already been blown out and utterly thrashed, and now they're just shamelessly running up the score.  Granted, Ichiro is not the devastating force he was four years ago, but he still improves a team that already has baseball's best record and a seven game division lead.  It's just piling on at this point.  You almost have to throw something.  Like the Gatorade jug in the dugout.  Or the towel.

For the Yankee haters out there, that feeling of abject disgust rising in your gut is comprised of the two components: firstly and obviously there's anger because of everything I just mentioned above and the fact that there has been no exemplar of "the rich get richer" in sports (and maybe life) quite so blatant and glaring as the Yankees.  And secondly, because most baseball fans genuinely like and admire Ichiro.  Yankees should not be genuinely liked and admired, they should be reviled.  Hell, I have the utmost respect for Derek Jeter's remarkable career and abilities, but his thinly veiled egomania and never-ending slew of bullsh*t cliches and platitudes make me positively ill every time they flash his smug, robotic "I'm just happy to be playing ball and gosh I hope I'm making my parents proud" smile across the TV screen.  Having a likeable guy, full of legitimate quirks and personality, makes it much more difficult to just kick back and hate the Yankees in peace.  Ichiro's mere presence on the roster has upset my and every other non-Yanks fan's baseball ethos.  New York's unassailable and inherent evil is ever so slightly diluted.  How dare they deny us the right to hate to the utmost by trading for a gem of a guy like Ichiro?!?!?  It's annoying, damnit!

Anyway, best to Mr. Suzuki with his new team, condolences to Seattle for yet another sucker-punch sporting occurrence, and here's hoping things don't get any worse for the rest of us.  I trust no one is stupid enough to believe it, but we can hope.

Oh, and as always, damn the Yankees.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wish List

We're through the doldrums now.  The Claret Jug has been awarded (congrats, Ernie!), the Olympics and the MLB trade deadline are coming down the pipe, and we're accelerating rapidly towards fall.  Ah, autumn.  The crisp, cool quality of the morning air.  The leaves in brilliant ocher, maize, and vermillion.  The shrill of a whistle and the bark of a snap count.

Football.  FOOTBALL!!! 

As we gear up for training camps, preseason prognostications, fantasy drafts, Red Zone purchasing, and all the other attendant trappings of another NFL season, every fan draws hope and optimism from the sacred reservoir of an 0-0 record.  A clean slate and limitless possibilities can do wonders for the constitution and attitude of even the most downtrodden fan base.  (Well, maybe not Jacksonville.)  Most fans though, if they're truly honest with themselves, acknowledge not only the glowing facets that could, with the right confluence of luck and circumstance, find their teams still active deep into January, but also the flaws that might prevent such bliss.  With New Orleans as (relatively) weakened as they'll ever be until Drew Brees retires, and the Bucs and Panthers still not complete enough to pose viable threats, 2012 will the Falcons' best shot at the NFC South in the immediate future.  Here are five things I wish Atlanta would fix sometime before the season starts at best and by the trade deadline at worst.

1. Better distribution of carries.  I've been griping about this for three seasons now, but it bears repeating: Michael Turner cannot handle the amount of touches the Falcons give him every year.  We've seen it time and time again.  Right around week 13, "Burner" starts looking not-quite-himself.  By the time the playoffs roll around, he's utterly spent, hitting the hole like a '73 Pinto instead of a Mack Truck, and his dilapidated abilities have a crippling effect on the rest of the offense.  I know Turner is a rhythm runner, and he needs his carries to get into the flow of a game, but Mike Mularkey habitually placed far too heavy a burden on him, and it killed Atlanta in key spots more often than not.  New OC Dirk Koetter will likely favor a more pass-oriented attack anyway, but let's hope he also has the good sense to look at the bench and say to himself "hey, I've got Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers over there, and those guys can play.  Maybe I should come up with some ways to use them more often so our primary back isn't dead on his feet by Christmas."  Just a thought.     

2. Linebacker depth.  That this hasn't traditionally been an outstanding element of the team hasn't hurt them too terribly, but with Curtis Lofton's departure and the recently-announced injury of Lofa Tatupu, the Falcons' best two linebackers are Sean Weatherspoon and, um ... Robert James, I guess?  Do those names strike fear in your heart?  (Sadly, Falcons fans are nodding for the wrong reasons.  Opponents, not so much.)  Before Tatupu went down, Atlanta would have been thin but functional at the position.  Now, bolstering the LB corps quickly is of paramount import.

3. Left Tackle.  Left Tackle.  Left Tackle.  Pray for a miracle emergence from draft pick Lamar Holmes in camp, but if it doesn't happen, do something. Trade, beg, barter, visit a crossroads at midnight, whatever.  Here's an incomplete list of possible starters at left tackle that would be better than Will Svitek and Sam Baker:
  • A cow.  Preferably one of the Chick-fil-A mascots, as they'll feel comfortable Atlanta, can't accidentally eat the Georgia Dome's artificial turf, and appear to be bovines of above-average intelligence. 
  • Former Falcons coach Dan Reeves.
  • Russell Brand.  (Won't help protect Matt Ryan, but only good can come of having him repeatedly trampled into the turf.  I hate Russell Brand.)
  • The Kia that Blake Griffin jumped over in the Slam Dunk Contest.  Uvo definitely plays funk better than Will Svitek, and might, in fact, play left tackle better too.  
  • Blake Griffin.
  • A Sam-Baker-shaped patch of air.  Roughly as effective as a patch of air actually occupied by Sam Baker, but with zero salary cap ramifications.
  • Bartleby the Scrivener.  Sure, a fictional 19th-century longhand document copier won't do much good against NFL defensive ends, but at least he'll have a ready-made answer for every media question he's ever asked.  "Why didn't you block Da'Quan Bowers on 2nd and 8?"  "I preferred not to."    
  • My 87-year old grandpa.
  • You, if you're reading this ... unless you're Will Svitek or Sam Baker.                                                                        
4. Let it rip.  The NFL is a passing league, and the Falcons have the personnel to be highly effective in that vein.  (Entirely contingent upon successfully fulfilling wish # 3.)  You've got Roddy White and Julio Jones as elite vertical threats, an excellent-when-healthy (and woefully underutilized) slot receiver in Harry Douglas, intriguing young hybrid backfield player Jacquizz Rodgers, and Tony Gonzalez, who is only the best tight end of all time.  Matt Ryan will never be Tom Brady, but he's more than capable of maximizing the efficacy of all those weapons if given the opportunity.  Dirk Koetter needs to bring some of his fearless aerial creativity to bear this season.  I don't mean air it out all the time, but utilizing more spread formations and a complex screen game, mixed with Julio and Roddy's abilities to fly, should make Atlanta a dangerous proposition for opposing defenses.

5. Mike Smith needs electroshock therapy any time he even contemplates Turner-up-the-gut on 4th and short.  YOU DON'T HAVE OVIE MUGHELLI CLEARING HOLES ANYMORE MIKE!!!  THAT WON'T WORK!!!.  Ahem, sorry.  Bad memories.  Bad, bad memories.  /recalls O.T. against the Saints and playoff game against NY last season.  *cringes.*

There you go.  Five wee wishes.  A pentagram of paltry requests.  A quintet of quintessential queries. It's not too much to ask.  Right?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aurora, Colorado.

Arena Apothecary sends thoughts and prayers to all affected by the horrible shootings in Aurora, Colorado.  May healing and solace find you all. 

Also, please read this beautiful piece on Deadspin about Jessica Redfield, a young hockey journalist killed during the incident.   

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why The Knicks Really Let Jeremy Lin Walk.

Oh, Jimmy Dolan.  He can't, he won't, and he don't stop.  The Knicks' owner just spent the last 24 hours getting killed by everyone.  Fans, media, bloggers, pundits, children, small animals, non-sentient life forms, and even one very angry rock in Central Park can be heard on the matter.  Dolan and his organization let Jeremy Lin walk, for nothing, to sign with the Houston Rockets. 

This is the latest blunder in a long and storied saga of failure for the embattled Knicks owner.  Sure, he landed STAT and 'Melo, but the Knicks' playoff record since those supposedly momentous acquisitions is an abysmal 1-8.  However, you can't blame Dolan for cancelling Season Two of Linsanity: NYC.  It's not his fault.  Arena Apothecary has obtained the exclusive scoop on why New York allowed Lin to go ply his trade in the Texas desert instead of Madison Square Garden.  As you might imagine, it's a tawdry and sordid tale, but I swear it's all true.  Our story begins as these things so often do, with a phone call in the dead of night ...

Houston, Texas.  July 11, 2012.  3:43 AM

Daryl Morey hadn't been sleeping well of late, so the ringing didn't jolt him out of a deep and restful slumber or anything close to it.  He didn't even glance away from his computer screen, plastered with a myriad of windows filled with players' stats, salaries, and other various arcana.  He just lifted the receiver out of its cradle; didn't even glance at the caller ID. 


"Code Word: Avalon," said a voice Morey recognized.  It was digitally altered to prevent actual identification of the speaker, but he'd heard it a lot over the past week or so and, being the shrewd man he was, Daryl had a pretty fair idea of who was on the other end of the line.  Or at least who the voice represented. 

"Understood."  Morey put the phone down, wondered if he should proceed immediately, and decided against it.  In the morning, he'd set things in motion.  He was a man who understood patience and consideration; for whom the biding of time was as easy and natural as breath.  Things had not gone according to plan of late, and he wasn't sure how much "Avalon" would help, but it would be a step in the right direction. 

He was going to get back something he'd lost.

New York, New York.  July 15, 1:07 PM

The point guard's phone chirped at him from his pocket, the opening to the second movement of Stravinsky's "Right Of Spring" signifying a new text message.  The sender was not a contact he recognized, and the number had 13 digits.  Puzzled, he thumbed the screen:


He stared, wondering if this was an elaborate joke of some kind. 

WHO IS THIS?  He replied. 














He slipped the phone back into his pocket in a daze.  He wasn't sure how they could possibly know what his team would do, but he was sure they were right.  Maybe Houston would be better this time, after all.  Maybe he could simply play good basketball without being the center of all this lunacy again.  Maybe. 

Brooklyn, New York.  July 16, 2012.  9:35 PM

James Dolan stepped off the elevator feeling somewhat curious but mostly terrified.  The two large men in somber dark suits who flanked him hadn't said anything since they forced him into that ostentatiously appointed limo.  He had no idea where he was.  They'd taken off the blindfold in the lobby of what appeared to be a shabby, nondescript hotel.  Peeling wallpaper and one forlorn, dying plant in a flea market-quality vase had met his eyes upon its removal, and things had not improved in the last two minutes.  That was how long the ancient, decrepit elevator had taken to climb six harrowing floors, creaking and lurching the entire way like The Little Engine That Could with a pack-a-day habit and a bum wheel.  As disoriented and scared as he was, Dolan was at least grateful to be back on what he hoped was solid, not-rotted-through ground.  A little way down the hall, one of the men escorting him stopped by a room whose number had been scratched off the door and executed an incredibly elaborate knock that, now Dolan thought about it, sounded an awful lot like the drum intro to Led Zeppelin's "Rock'N'Roll."  (He didn't know that it was actually the snare drum part to a scherzo by Dmitri Shostakovich.)  The door swung open, and the men in suits gestured for him to enter.

The sight that greeted him was as far removed from the dismal aesthetics of the hallway as humanly imaginable.  Two figures were silhouetted by elaborate yet tasteful back-lighting.  One man was sitting in what appeared to be an actual gilded throne.  The other stood to the right and slightly behind the seated figure.  Both were smoking what smelled like very expensive cigars, and the wall behind them was adorned with what might well be an authentic Degas.  The man on the throne dangled a finger in a glass of what was most likely very expensive alcohol. 

Opulence, Dolan thought.  He has it.  

The smaller man, the standing one, spoke first.  "Mr. Dolan.  You are not going to match Jeremy Lin's offer sheet.  You will let him go."

Dolan lunged forward.  "Are you kidding me?!?!?!?  The guy is a certified marketing goldmine!!!  On top of that, he might not be a terrible player either!!!  We -- accchhhh!"

That was when the men in suits restrained him rather forcefully.

"Mr. Dolan," said the man.  "My employer here would like his team to have a most glorious new beginning.  In Brooklyn.  We would be assisted in that objective if you allowed Jeremy Lin to leave.  You will let Mr. Lin go.  This will appear insane, but you have made so many crazy moves in your tenure already that people will not look too hard at this one.  They will say that you are weak and stupid, as you have been before.  Your fans hate when anyone famous and important leaves your city.  You are going let your most important sensation in two decades go to Houston, which will be particularly insulting because it is perhaps the third-best city in Texas.  There will be outrage and agony in the streets, and many Knicks fans will disavow your team to come root for my employer's much cooler and less heartbreaking team.  This will come to pass."

"And what, exactly, makes you think I'll do that?"   

"If you do not, we will pay every musician within 300 miles a hundred thousand dollars per year NOT to play with you ever again.  JD and the Straight Shot will cease to exist."

"That's insane!  No one has that kind of money!!!"

"We do, Mr. Dolan.  We.  Do.  Your music is an abomination anyway.  Joe Turner and Bobby Blue Bland roll over several times in their graves when you open your mouth.  We will be doing the world a favor." 

"So I'm supposed to let Lin go, take a beating in the media, and in exchange you won't actively crush my dreams of musical glory?"

"No more than you crush them by being on stage."

Dolan paused.  The man's proposal was ludicrous.  Surely they were bluffing!  At the same time, he couldn't just let his awesome blues band die.  When else could he where those sweet blazer-and-jeans outfits on stage?  When else could he ease the pain in his soul with song?   

"OK, I'll do it.  It's not like I care anyway.  It's just a stupid basketball team."

"A wise choice, Mr. Dolan.  We will be in contact soon about acquiring Madison Square Garden as our venue in 2018.  Good night."

The two imposing men in suits led him out of the room and back down the hallway.  As they neared the elevators, the doors opened and a familiar figure stepped out.  Dolan's jaw dropped to the floor.

"David?  What's going on David?  What the hell is happening?"

The man walked by without a thought or a glance.  At that moment, James Dolan's blood pressure hit critical mass.


In a calm, soft voice the bespectacled man replied.  He was barely audible in the dingy hall, but his word cut through Dolan like a knife.   

"No sleep til Brooklyn, Jim.  They are the future.  And your band sucks."

New York, New York.  July 17, 2012.  4:00 PM

Sources at ESPN announce that the Knicks will not match Jeremy Lin's offer sheet.  Feelings of outrage and betrayal surge through the populace.  Pandemonium in the streets. 

Somewhere, the man who sat on the gilded throne and said nothing while his underling cajoled one of the most powerful owners in sports is smiling.  Jeremy Lin is gone.  The Knicks are no longer a viable threat, at least not from a publicity and marketing vantage point.  Gotham is his.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Square One: Penn State, College Ball, and Ourselves.

I spent the weekend away, celebrating the birthdays of two dear and wonderful friends.  And, because we are all more or less sports people, one albeit somewhat reluctantly, a few sports discussions naturally insinuated themselves into the fabric of our time together.  Eventually on Saturday night, the conversation turned to Penn State and what exactly ought to befall the university in light of the Freeh Report's findings.  I believe that the answer reached in the protracted debate that followed was a hardline, conclusive "I don't know."  And we don't, because nothing like this has ever happened in sports before.

O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick notwithstanding*, the vast majority of previous sports scandals have been, at their cores, precipitated by one of two factors.  There's the financially motivated stuff; throwing the World Series, point shaving, Tim Donaghy, etc.  And then there's your run-of-the-mill idiocy of DUI's, PED's, and stuffing loaded guns down the front of one's sweats before a night on the town.  This is most of what passes for "appalling" and "tragic" in sports, which is to say occurrences that aren't really either of those things in the grand scheme.  Those were acts of some impropriety or unlawfulness which were duly (and occasionally unduly) punished, and they frame much of our context for wrongdoing within the sphere of athletics.  Which is why everyone is having such a difficult time codifying our reactions, emotional, mental, and in the case of the NCAA, putative, to what happened in Happy Valley.  There is no precedent or reference point immense and awful enough to really calibrate a response beyond unutterable disgust and sadness.   

*It is not my intention to minimize the terrible nature of either of those stories, but they were the acts of disturbed individuals which, while monstrous, involved nothing approaching the willful and repeated institutional coverup of horrific crimes that Penn State engaged in from 1998 until last fall.   

So the question becomes: what happens now?  Whom to punish, how severely, and to what purpose?  And, perhaps equally important: who metes out that punishment?  I mentioned O.J. and Vick above, but those were fairly straightforward cases wherein the law took its prescribed course.  (Even though the conclusion was disgraceful in Simpson's case.)  O.J. went off the rails and wound up in jail anyway despite his acquittal.  Vick did his time and returned to playing football.  Cut and dried.

The waters which various authorities now have to navigate in Penn State's case are more than somewhat murkier.  Truth be told, they make the Hudson or the Charles look like clear mountain streams.  In the case of the primary actors as identified by the Freeh report, old age and the justice system have done or will do much of the heavy lifting.  Joe Paterno is dead, Jerry Sandusky is in jail, and Spainer, Schulz, and Curley are likely going to join him for a very long time.  Their lives are certifiably wrecked, which is as it should be.  Also, there is the legion of civil cases coming down the pipeline that is apt to significantly cripple Penn State fiscally, just as it has already been crippled in critical (if less tangible) areas like reputation and prestige by the exposure of this scandal.  But what further penalties can or should be enacted?

Allow me one suggestion at the outset: take the statue of Joe Paterno down.  Do it right now.  Firstly because there ought not be bronze statues of shamefully heinous monsters standing anywhere in this country, no matter how many career wins they amassed or how many young men they helped graduate.  And secondly, because if the university does not remove it, it will assuredly be defaced, damaged, or destroyed by someone(s) very soon.  Then that person or group of people is going to have to go to trial and possibly jail for vandalism, and every possible measure to prevent one single additional human from suffering due to this already hulking tragedy should be taken.  (Update: as I was writing this, I refreshed Deadspin to discover that a plane is indeed circling above Penn State and trailing a banner that reads: "Take the statue down or we will."  So there's that.) 

Having gotten that out of the way, let's deal with the non-legal bodies who could hand down further punishment to Penn State.
Within its purview, the NCAA may impose sanctions up to and including the death penalty on Penn State's football program, and everything is on the table.  While I don't necessarily disagree with Penn State football ceasing operations for a season or two or ten or ever, here's what the NCAA should not do: they should not listen to the people I've heard over the past few days saying "if they gave it to SMU, then they must give the death penalty here."  There is a precedent there, but precedents are dangerous things to follow blindly and should therefore be thoroughly evaluated before doing so, as most past or present members of the Supreme Court would tell you.  I also believe that the NCAA must either enact the death penalty, or declare this outside of their ability to handle altogether and leave it to the courts.  Revoking scholarships or bowl eligibility, doing anything less than the maximum, will simply be one more failure.  It must be all or nothing.  The quagmire of imposing the death penalty is that every hotel, eatery, and bar in or near Happy Valley will suffer greatly without the revenue they derive from home games every fall.  Do the proprietors and employees of those places deserve to have their livelihoods jeopardized?  Hell, in the worst economic scenario, a football death penalty could decimate Happy Valley entirely.  This of course does not account for how many innocent students will lose their scholarships, athletic or otherwise, without the football program and its annual windfall of revenue.  Are these outcomes we can live with, simply because someone must pay? 

The rebuttal of course, is that SOMEONE MUST PAY.  Children were raped.  Lives were ruined.  Minds and bodies and souls were irrevocably damaged.  And every business and student and athlete and alum and townie involved with State College was, to a certain extent, complicit with that.  This is what happens when the type of monolithic godhead status ascribed to Joe Paterno and Penn State Football (and to the almighty dollar and college athletics in general) is allowed to reach a fever pitch of the starkest absurdity.  The people involved eventually believe that kind of power to be immutable, and that it must be used to protect itself and its wielders and their checkbooks at all costs.  It is a fair bet that the men in the Freeh report were not the only ones with ample opportunities to stop what was going on.  How many law enforcement officers simply chose not to ask the right (and I use that adjective in every sense) questions.  How many people, when they heard the whispers, and there surely must have been a few over these many sickening years, said "shhhhhh!  We don't talk about that."  The self-perpetuating construct of JoePa's irreproachable sainthood and the sheer reverential gravity of what he and that program meant to the university and the town collapsed, but only because the architects and builders refused to acknowledge the need for severe renovations.

To some extent, Most of those same difficulties lie at the feet of the state government of Pennsylvania as well.  Being a public university, I presume the state legislature can impose whatever sanctions it sees fit upon its institution, and they may enter this equation before all is said and done, asking themselves the same questions and weighing the same consequences.  

I have no idea what the correct course of action is regarding Penn State.  It is probably not my right, and thankfully not my responsibility, to determine how and when and on whom the ax should fall.  I do know that this is far from the only college in the country where football owns this kind of status.  We can hope that nothing so atrocious ever transpires again, but hoping is a poor substitute for critical evaluation.  The intricacies of execution will be difficult questions for another time, but college athletics need an overhaul that has nothing to do with students earning millions for their schools and getting a pittance in return.  This is about priorities and how warped they may become.  This is about our perceptions and our willingness to change them.  When "win at all costs" gets this insane, something has gone terribly wrong.  It's us.  It's them.  It's THE GAME.  Now we just have to figure out how to start making it "the game" again.  I'm open to suggestions.        

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guessing Game: Kobe and the Definition of Legacy

Apologies for the protracted absence.  We've had family in town this past week and between work, the holiday, and tour-guiding them all over Atlanta's sundry attractions, I haven't had any time at all to sit down and write.  Since baseball is All-Star Breaking for the next few days and the NFL will be a hail of mini-camps and contract disputes until August, let's talk hoops.  The NBA has gone sideways with trades and signings over the past two weeks as the league's terrain undergoes a heavy re-landscaping.  The Hawks suddenly have cap space again, the Heat have Ray Allen, the Nets acquired Joe Johnson's contract and safely re-upped Deron Williams, the Pacers retained Roy Hibbert, the Knicks snatched J-Kidd, Houston's plans fell apart entirely, and the Timberwolves took a flyer on Brandon Roy.  Oh yeah, and the Lakers signed Steve Freaking Nash.

Before we go any further, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Suns fans everywhere.  If this trend persists, Phoenix is going to wind up with almost as many basketball abandonment issues as Seattle.  The Matrix, Joe Johnson, STAT (whose departure looks great for the Suns in retrospect), and now Nash.  Sure, Robert Sarver is a doofus whose continual refusal to do spend what is necessary to build a winning organization has precipitated most of those moves, but the best guys always seem to leave the desert for other, more verdant (both metaphorically and literally) destinations.  Nash's departure, by far, is the worst blow to morale the Suns could have suffered, and though I suspect no one begrudges him leaving to pursue a ring in the seemingly infinite twilight of his career, his choice of L.A. has to rankle.  So, Phoenix, I'm sorry.

Now we come to the matter of exactly how this is going to work.  Over at Grantland, Sebastian Pruiti did his usual stellar job of assessing the on-court tactical ramifications, and Hardwood Paroxysm's Steve McPherson delved into whether or not Kobe is emotionally capable of ceding enough possessions to Nash to make their backcourt pairing functional.  The most intriguing question though, at least to me, is which voices in his head Kobe is and will be listening to.  Whose version of events would he prefer to be remembered in fifty years?  How is he defining the single word that has seemingly dominated every action of his career thus far?

What does "legacy" mean to Kobe Bean Bryant? 

I honestly think Steve Nash couldn't care less about the L word.  He's smart enough to know that he is a. arguably the greatest pure shooter in NBA history b. inarguably the best offensive point guard of his generation c. a future Hall of Famer and d. chasing a ring but absolutely content with that resume otherwise.  He's great but not All-Time Top 10 great.  And he's OK with that.  Kobe, obviously, is another story.  But we've had a hand in creating that narrative as well. 

Outside of those who bleed purple and gold, we as NBA fans have generally put Kobe in a hell of a tough spot over the years.  The same bloodthirsty, pathological competitiveness we praised in Jordan became the linchpin of all criticism and invective leveled at Bryant.  Kobe's a ball hog.  Kobe's an a-hole.  Kobe drove Shaq out of town.  Kobe only cares about winning if he can be the hero of the hour.  We buried him even as he came as close as anyone ever has to replicating Jordan's two-way transcendence on a basketball court.*  A guy who could score from anywhere on the floor in the teeth of any defense; a hoops savant who became a devastating passer when he opted to relinquish the ball; a vicious perimeter defender; an implacable demon with ice water in his veins and pale ghosts behind the eyes; Kobe The Destroyer was lord of all he surveyed.    

*Note: until LeBron's career is further along, anyway.     

And yet ... we never wanted to give him credit.  Even at the apex of his otherworldly powers, we tended to focus on the flaws.  I can't think of an athlete who has had their nits picked more than Kobe.  (Yes, even LeBron.)  And the thing about our collectively scrutinizing gaze is that it has irrevocably shaped his motivations and attitudes over the years.  Despite what he would have us believe, Kobe cares a great deal about what we think because in a way, we are the curators of his legacy.

After all, we're the ones who will tell our children and grandchildren what it was like to watch him play, but also who he was as a person, at least in the public eye.  That perception will resonate long after he plays his last game and his likeness is enshrined in Springfield.  And so what legacy Kobe leaves behind ultimately becomes a guessing game.  What, in the end, do we want of him?  The sixth ring is obviously a requirement to vault him into must-be-discussed-with-MJ-even-though-that's-patently-absurd status, but what aesthetic path to its attainment will we most appreciate?

Scenario 1: Kobe willingly subverts his game and allows Nash the keys to the offense.  His scoring totals and usage rate will decline, but Nash's artistry brings substantially increased output from Gasol and Bynum via pick'n'roll and pick'n'pop situations.  Meanwhile, Kobe winds up with a preposterous amount of open looks as defenses try to account for a point guard as surgically talented and nonstop as Nash having so many weapons at his disposal.  Also, Nash needs his considerable allotment of nightly rest.  Miraculously, Mike Brown is smart enough to stagger the rotations properly, Kobe can get his ball domination fix while the ancient PG is on the pine, and his notoriously petulant nature is still marginally appeased.  With Nash at the helm and Kobe as his most devastating option, the Lakers destroy the Western Conference because you simply can't stop that quantity and variety of offensive firepower, then defeat Miami in the Finals when the Heat can't handle L.A.'s interior size.  

Probable legacy ramifications upshot: Everyone who has eviscerated Kobe over the years for being a ball-stopping egomaniac gets a little misty as they discuss this final, wonderful capstone to his career.  "He finally figured it out," they'll gush.  "Kobe learned to share, to be not just a great basketball player but a consummate teammate!"  Everyone loves a redemption story, and in many people's eyes, this would be the ultimate NBA iteration of such.  Conversely, everyone who perpetuated the "he can't win without Shaq" and then, after he did, the "he only won his first three because he had Shaq" argument will shout that he only got his last ring because Nash showed up to run things and put an aging demigod over the top one last time.     

Scenario 2: Kobe plays nice for the first six weeks of the season, then reverts to form.  Nash, because he's wired the way he is, plays along, knocking down shots from all over the perimeter or finding Bynum and Gasol for easy looks down low.  Nash winds up enjoying the decreased workload's lesser physical toll and flourishes as one of the most dangerous and versatile second options of all time.  Meanwhile, Kobe continues to kill people in iso's, but is much more comfortable because he can give it to Nash for stretches if the trapping becomes to heavy and persistent.  Also, opponents now live in mortal terror of doubling The Mamba with the most dangerous shooter ever roaming the arc.  Nash essentially becomes a much better version of Robert Horry in the playoffs, while Kobe remains the archetypal alpha dog and closer, drops 38 in the clinching game, and takes Finals MVP along with his sixth title. 

Probable legacy ramifications upshot: Those who have always found Kobe's brand of me-first annihilation somewhere between distasteful and VIOLATING THE SANCTITY OF THE GAME says that despite six rings and a litany of individual career achievements, Kobe was a mean, selfish S.O.B. who didn't or couldn't "play the game the right way."  Meanwhile, those who drink the Mamba Kool-Aid declare that while Nash was a wonderful addition to the team, Kobe was the reason they won the title because he's clutch and a proven winner and everything else you hear from that crowd.

(Note: if the Lakers get bounced in the second round again, it will be Kobe's fault in many people's minds.  Either he was selfish and didn't relinquish enough touches to let Nash achieve maximum efficacy, or he was too old to sustain his dominance and couldn't cowboy up anymore, and gave the rock to Nash too much.  Both viewpoints are somewhat idiotic, but we are illogical creatures and that's how we operate sometimes.)

Ultimately, whatever percentage-based alchemy of hero ball and and letting Nash be Nash Kobe settles on for the coming year will dictate which of the above reactions is most prevalent among the fans and scribes who determine the fates and gradations of NBA history.  Kobe knows this, and he's probably sitting somewhere right now wondering what his best course of action is; not just to get that sixth ring, but to do so in the most beneficial fashion for his legacy.

To be fair to Kobe, he only has to deal with this because Jordan came first.  MJ had the luxury of not worrying about any future historical context, because he was creating that context on the fly.  (Pun intended.)  There was nothing in the past for him to be compared to.  As someone said shortly before he was drafted, Jordan was Dr. J, only with a jump shot.  And killer perimeter defense.  And even more killer will and instinct.  Like Doc, Jordan had a prominent showmanship element to his game, but it was calibrated to destroy and demoralize, not amaze and entertain.  The point is, Jordan wasn't the least bit concerned with history and his place therein.  He was a gunslinger, rolling into town to call out the best and fastest any adversary had to offer.  Then, the flash of steel in sunlight, the report echoing in the dusty street, a dead man on the ground.  And Jordan on his horse, riding on to the next town, the next challenge.  And so on.  Jordan made history by destroying everything in his path.  Kobe knows he must destroy everything in his path in order to make history.  It's a subtle difference, but I believe it explains much of why Kobe is the way he is.        

A hundred years hence, some NBA historian will dig up Kobe's numbers.  Five (or six?) rings, insane point totals, finals MVPs, PER or whatever replaces it in the metrics crowd, win shares, etc.  The numbers won't matter.  We all know Kobe is a badass; we don't need stats to back up the obvious.  What will matter is how we remember him.  This next season will begin (and possibly entail) the final chapter of Kobe Bryant's career.  His legacy is up to him, but it's also up to us.  The question is what do we want from Kobe, but it's also what does he think we want?  Alpha winner/killer?  Integrated, unselfish cog in the machine?  Whatever the outcome, how he elects to play this season won't just be the last word on his legacy, it will be a referendum on ours as well.  Who is Kobe Bryant, basketball player?  Who are we, basketball fans?  And precisely how are those things connected?  I don't know yet, and neither do you.  Neither, maybe, does Kobe. 

But because this is sports and we love prognostications, go ahead.  Take your best guess.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

All Praise Danny Ferry: Newly-Minted Atlanta Deity

Remember last week, when I wrote a post cautioning against getting overly optimistic following Danny Ferry's hire?

Well, I feel that perhaps my exact sentiments were poorly expressed therein, and I'd like to take another stab at it.



Yes, I'm sure that was what I meant.  Thanks for letting me clarify that.  Carry on.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Ghost Of Pitching Changes Past

Not to speak ill of the semi-retired, but a certain facet of Bobby Cox's managerial style used to drive Braves fans up a wall.  Let's be honest here: though he was and is and is a lifelong top-echelon baseball thinker, the man had a penchant for inexplicable bullpen moves.  Cardinals fans are nodding in sympathy right now, but this tendency wasn't anything akin to Tony La Russa's mad scientist schtick.  Most of the time it wasn't some elaborate, matchup-oriented chess maneuver or high-concept stunt.  Neither Bobby nor pitching coach Leo Mazzone ever went in much for that brand of gamesmanship.  No, it was simply that he'd leave a starter in a few batters too long, or pull them when they were cruising, or send precisely the wrong guy to the mound in key situations.  Worst of all: you knew it as it was happening.  You could just feel it. 

Any Atlanta fan over the age of 25 knows exactly what I mean.  Maybe John Smoltz would be in a jam, clearly having an off night.  His stuff wouldn't have the electric zip it usually had, guys would be tagging singles left and right, and Bobby would leave him on the mound.  We'd collectively sit there thinking "get him out of there!!!", as if we could telepathically force our manager to make that decision through sheer force of will.  By the time he listened to our ESP prompting, it was almost always too late.  Conversely, maybe Tom Glavine would be ripping through opposing batters, and then with one out in the sixth, for reasons known only to himself, Bobby would yank him and send Armando Reynoso or Mike Remlinger or some other poor soul out to the mound.  Your gut would tighten, you'd wince, and you'd think "Oh f*** here it comes."  And it would come.  The leadoff walk.  The double into the gap.  The crack of a towering homer leaving the bat to slice through the humid Georgia night and land deep in the seats.  As if by alchemy, a two-run lead would become a three-run deficit. For all our gawdy starting rotations (and often underrated bullpens) of that halcyon 14-year run, Bobby's pitching changes sure could spin straw into crap.  

When it was announced that Fredi Gonzalez would be taking Cox's seat in the dugout, the general thinking was that a guy who spent a number of years with the organization was the perfect replacement.  Gonzalez, after all, understood the Braves Way, or How Bobby Did It, or whatever.  Unfortunately, that apparently includes a pronounced atavism regarding Cox-ian bullpen management.

I was driving home from work on Friday when, in the opener of a semi-critical series with the Nats, Andrelton Simmons sent a two-run dinger juuuuuuust over the wall in left-center; his apparent favorite spot in Turner Field.  That homer completed a four-run rally to tie the game; it was pretty much the definition of a momentum shift.  How did Fredi Gonzalez capitalize on this windfall?  He sent freaking Chad Durbin to the mound to pitch the next inning.  As soon as that particular bit of information came over the radio, I tensed up.  Such a move had all the makings of a disastrous Braves bullpen moment, and I knew what was going to happen before it came to pass.  As I held the steering wheel in a death grip, Michale Morse launched Durbin's first pitch into the right field stands.  The Braves lost 5-4.     

On June 12th, Gonzalez pulled Mike Minor, who was (and still is) in dire need of a confidence boost with one out and a man on first in the 8th.  Minor had been mowing down the Yankees for seven innings, and commanded a four-run lead.  Instead of letting him roll, or sending in Craig Kimbrel to get the last five outs (heaven forbid we use our best reliever for more than one inning at a time!!!), Fredi sent a woefully struggling Jonny Venters to the hill.  The next few minutes unfolded like so: single, walk, A-Rod grand slam to tie the game, single, Fredi pulls Venters and STILL doesn't go to Kimbrel, sends Cory Gearrin out there instead, Nick Swisher hits a two-run homer.  Yankees win 6-4.   

And tonight, just now as I was writing this, yet another example manifested.  Our promising young starter Tommy Hanson was in the middle of a superb performance against the lowly Cubs, allowing just one run through six innings of lights-out work.  Now, here's the thing about Tommy: he has endurance problems and generally does not fare well late in games.  Over the last week, Atlanta has been subjected to the sort of  triple-digit heat and drenching humidity that usually waits until August to fully afflict us.  This is the stuff that drove humans to invent central air conditioning because at some point on the thermometer oscillating fans become utterly worthless.  Vicious, implacable summer weather.  The kind that drains the body's energy and addles the mind.  The kind that turns even the most finely-tuned athletes into staggering, dead-eyed versions of themselves.  In other words, precisely the sort of conditions under which one does not send a starting pitcher of questionable stamina back out for the seventh inning.

Actually, I'm going to cut Fredi a little slack on sending Hanson out for the top of the frame.  Before tonight, the man hadn't lost a game since May 28th, and he was clearly in a groove on this sweltering evening.  The problem was leaving him out there after two consecutive singles to start the inning.  I mean, how glaring and obvious a red flag do you need?  Right then, the prudent action was to get Hanson the hell off the mound and send in Eric O'Flaherty or some other competent arm.  Nope, Fredi left him there even as he was clearly faltering.  So of course, Hanson walked Darwin Barney to load the bases and then gave up a three-run double to Luis Valbuena.  4-1 Cubbies, which was still the score when Freddie Freeman flied out to end the game.  Bobby Cox's one fatal managerial flaw is alive and well in the ATL. 

Look, like every Atlanta native, I revere the man.  He wrote out our lineup cards for the entirety of my cognizant life up until a few seasons ago.  But he had a genetic deficiency when it came to when and how to make pitching changes, and I deeply wish Fredi Gonzalez's memory retention of managerial techniques had excluded that particular tic.  I know baseball is difficult and fate is capricious, but in 14 years we only won a single World Series with one of the greatest pitching rotations ever assembled and a lot of heavy bats.  With (mostly) lesser lights on the roster and brutal competition these days, what can we realistically hope for in 2012?  If the answer is going to be anything beyond "a decent regular-season record" then Fredi has to shake those bullpen idiosyncracies.

Fans, on balance, are not anywhere near as knowledgeable as those who have had years of intimate involvement with a sport.  We do, however, have the ability to recognize patterns when they're staring us in the face.  This is one such pattern.

Dear Fredi: if you won't listen to your gut, listen to ours.  Or, failing, that, listen to logic.  Please stop mismanaging your pitchers.  I gotta tell you man, we've danced this two step before and we're beyond tired of it.


Braves fans everywhere.