Sunday, July 30, 2006

White House Unlikely To Deal Cheney Before Trade Deadline

With Monday afternoon’s trade deadline looming, speculation has been rampant about a handful of major league stars. No player has been more in demand than Washington Nationals outfielder Alfonso Soriano. However, the market for another high-priced veteran in D.C. has been very limited. Sources close to the White House concede that the Bush administration is unlikely to be able to trade Vice President Dick Cheney.

Upon taking office in 2001, Cheney was viewed as a significant asset to the administration for his savvy veteran leadership. However, most observers feel that he is well past his prime. Potential trading partners have been scared off by Cheney’s age and health problems, as well as the additional two year commitment to him beyond this season. Additionally, other clubs feared that a clubhouse disagreement could lead Cheney to shoot a teammate.

The New York Yankees’ acquisition of Bobby Abreu from Philadelphia appeared to kill the White House’s best hope for a trade. The Bronx Bombers are known for stockpiling high-priced veterans. However, even they did not find Cheney appealing, particularly given the administration’s request for highly touted pitching prospect Philip Hughes in return. Most observers considered the White House proposal to be completely unrealistic. They added that Hughes would be a bad fit for the administration, given the right-hander’s lack of foreign policy expertise.

The Yankees were also fearful of the baggage Cheney might bring to the Bronx. Reportedly, his proposed trade to New York dictated that all Yankee Stadium concessions would be run by Halliburton. Additionally, the vice president’s abysmal approval rating meant that his acquisition would likely alienate Yankee fans. As third baseman Alex Rodriguez remarked, “I can’t imagine such an unpopular guy playing for our team.”

A source close to the White House indicated that President Bush is very disappointed over his inability to make a trade. Finding a taker for Cheney could have eased his regret over an ill-fated deadline deal he made in 1989 as managing partner of the Texas Rangers. In that transaction, Bush traded away a young Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox. The president is still eager to atone for that mistake. Upon his inauguration in 2001, he was dismayed to learn that the 12-year-old deal could not be nullified by a presidential veto.

The White House’s urgency to deal Cheney has been heightened by the stance of another high-priced veteran in the administration. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that he is not going anywhere. Last week, the president reportedly sent an aide to Rumsfeld’s office to see whether the Cabinet member might waive his no-trade clause. According to White House sources, Rumsfeld responded by sending the staffer to Guantanamo Bay.

With Cheney seemingly remaining in Washington for now, the administration apparently holds out hope that he will exercise his option and become a free agent after November’s mid-term elections. In the meantime, as Vice President he retains the right to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate as necessary. President Bush would love to trade for another guy who specializes in breaking ties. But David Ortiz is staying in Boston.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Californians Urged To Cool Off By Wearing Dodger Uniforms

Over the past two weeks, California residents have had to withstand a record-breaking heat wave. Sweltering conditions have led to dozens of deaths and caused fears of blackouts and widespread wildfires. In response, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has drawn inspiration from the Californians who have been the coldest over this period. The governor has implored Golden Staters to cool off by wearing Los Angeles Dodger uniforms.

The Dodgers have provided a model for dealing with the heat by remaining remarkably frigid since the All-Star break, losing 13 of 14 games during that span. Wednesday’s 10-3 drubbing by the San Diego Padres was the eighth consecutive setback for Los Angeles, dropping the club to 7.5 games behind the first-place Padres. The Dodgers’ team ERA has risen in line with the soaring temperatures. Last Saturday in Woodland Hills, the thermometer hit a staggering 119 – roughly the Dodgers’ slugging percentage these days.

As a result, putting on a Dodger uniform should cool off Californians better than any air conditioner could. Immediately the uniform brings a refreshing chill, as well as the experience of striking out with a man in scoring position. However, with safety as a prime concern during the heat wave, residents are advised to use caution. Wearing the Dodger uniform does carry a significant risk of injury. On the bright side, anyone who wears J.D. Drew’s number 7 could get an unexpected bonus – receiving $11 million per year for no apparent reason.

Dodger uniforms are just one of many strategies Governor Schwarzenegger has considered in dealing with the crisis. At one point, the governor volunteered to reprise his role as Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin and put the entire state on ice. However, advisors got him to reconsider, noting that the mere mention of the awful movie would doom his hopes for re-election this November. As an alternative, Governor Schwarzenegger has held discussions with his Colorado counterpart Bill Owens to see if Owens will send the Coors Light Silver Bullet Train to cool off California.

One area in which the Dodgers will not be able to help residents is with power failures. Tens of thousands of state residents lost power this week, as aging transmission equipment failed under the heavy demand load caused by the heat. However, the Dodgers have no power to spare, ranking last in the National League with 82 home runs. Governor Schwarzenegger remarked with a chuckle, “Only Gray Davis has less power in this state.” He continued, “If the Dodgers keep losing, it’ll be ‘Hasta la vista, Grady.’” The line was in accordance with his re-election slogan “Four more years of tired catchphrases.”

The cooling effect of the Dodger uniforms has given hope to Al Gore in his fight against global warming. The former vice president has requested the creation of gigantic Dodger uniforms, large enough to cover glaciers. One such uniform is already in use, as 290-pound reliever Jonathan Broxton has donated his. Gore is particularly inspired because the sports world made him despondent about the issue just last month. The NBA finals left him convinced that nothing could be done to stop the Heat.

While the Dodgers are doing their part during the heat wave, the neighboring Angels are refusing to keep themselves cool. The Angels are 17-5 during July and have moved into a first place tie with Oakland. With the scorching activity around him, the Rally Monkey is sweating buckets. And he’s begging for a Dodger jersey.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tiger Woods To Enter 2007 Tour De France

Sunday in Paris, Floyd Landis realized the ultimate achievement in cycling as he won the Tour de France. On the heels of Lance Armstrong’s seven straight victories, it was the eighth championship in a row for a U.S. rider. Next year, another American hopes to experience victory on the Champs-Elysées. Tiger Woods has announced his intention to enter the 2007 Tour de France.

Woods had his own moment of glory Sunday, winning his third British Open and 11th major championship overall. It was an emotional occasion, representing his first major title since the passing of his father Earl. However, in one respect the victory was like all ten of his previous triumphs. Tiger had led by one stroke as play began on Sunday, and he is now 11-0 when leading after three rounds at a major. Tournament officials at Royal Liverpool Golf Club considered canceling the final round, knowing that the outcome was no longer in doubt. However, out of custom and respect for the fans, they proceeded with play on Sunday.

The Tour de France is similar to a Tiger-led major, as the concluding Sunday is merely considered a formality. A 59-second advantage, achieved by Landis in the penultimate stage on Saturday, was considered insurmountable in Sunday’s short and flat final stage. Therefore, Woods feels that he would be at home in France, assuming that he can grab the lead before the final stage. All he has to do is change sports, survive an indescribably grueling competition through thousands of miles of country roads and mountains, and outrace the best cyclists in the world. The Jack Nicklaus comparisons would then cease, as Nicklaus never finished better than third at the Tour de France.

If Tiger does lead the Tour on the final Sunday, he will have to adapt his attire. A treasured tradition of the event is that the leader wears the yellow jersey. However, Woods famously wears red on Sunday during golf tournaments. He has been so successful maintaining the lead while wearing red, other Tigers are following suit. As long as they sit atop the American League Central, the Detroit Tigers plan to wear red shirts during Sunday games. Woods is willing to forgo his beloved red in favor of yellow, but he does plan to ask Tour officials for one accommodation. He would like to wear a green jacket over the yellow jersey.

The magic of the yellow jersey apparently does not extend to Tiger’s current sport. Sergio Garcia, his final round partner at the British Open, wore a yellow shirt and yellow pants on Sunday. Unlike Landis, Garcia faltered in yellow, shooting a 73 and finishing seven shots behind. Sergio refused to blame his attire, claiming that his struggles resulted from being Sergio Garcia in the final round of a major. On the bright side, his all-yellow ensemble has made him the favorite to star as Big Bird in the next tour of Sesame Street Live.

As an American rider, Woods is also required to endure a debilitating health issue before he can win the Tour. Greg LeMond, the first U.S. victor, captured two of his three championships after being severely injured in a hunting accident. Armstrong famously overcame cancer before his historic run. Landis is afflicted with a hip ailment, osteonecrosis, and plans to undergo hip replacement surgery. In turn, Tiger has already planned how to get injured, answering the dreams of golf rivals Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, and Ernie Els in the process. Woods has invited the trio to send him to the emergency room by striking him repeatedly with their favorite clubs.

One final challenge will remain for Tiger before he joins next year’s Tour de France. It is common knowledge that no competitive cyclist can be taken seriously unless he has rampant doping rumors swirling around him. Therefore, Woods has hired a publicist who specializes in making steroid allegations against athletes. After the charges circulate to the point that he is frequently labeled as a cheater, Tiger will be prepared for the rigors of the Tour.

In the end, Woods expects to hoist a champagne glass next July as he pedals to Paris in victory. Golf does not provide the same opportunity, as drinking would be out of place for a champion golfer before he finishes the final round. Unless it’s John Daly.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ways Hillenbrand & Gibbons Could Have Settled Dispute

On Wednesday, the Toronto Blue Jays dismissed designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand from the club, leaving them 10 days to either trade or release him. Hillenbrand’s banishment was the culmination of a long-running feud with manager John Gibbons. After a clubhouse confrontation on Wednesday, it had reached the “either he goes or I go” stage for Gibbons. General Manager J.P. Ricciardi agreed with Gibbons that Hillenbrand had to leave, but perhaps Ricciardi should have explored other ways to decide which man got to remain with Toronto. Possibilities could have included the following:

Canadian Idol: A panel of judges determines who stays, based on the better singer of baseball songs like “Centerfield” and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

Chariot Race: Toronto enjoys a spectacle worthy of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The loser is replaced in the organization by Charlton Heston.

Chugging Contest: The clubhouse meets the frathouse as the beer flows, with Hillenbrand and Gibbons getting tanked enough to forget why they were mad at each other. They are last seen embracing and shouting, “No, YOU are the man!”

Duel: The last recorded duel in Canada occurred in 1873, so the nation is long overdue for another one. As the manager, Gibbons gets to decide whether pistols or swords are used.

Fiddle-Playing Contest: “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” is reprised in the clubhouse, with Hillenbrand and Gibbons replacing Johnny and the devil. Judge Charlie Daniels decides whether the defeated man also loses his soul.

Final Vote: Similar to the All-Star Game, voters at get to decide the last guy standing. Out of habit, Bobby Abreu is also on the ballot.

Freestyle Rap Competition: Hillenbrand and Gibbons channel Eminem in 8 Mile. The winner stays in Toronto AND gets Brittany Murphy.

Girl Scout Cookies: Whoever sells the most thin mints remains with the Jays. A distinct advantage goes to the man who looks best in a girl scout uniform.

Hot Dog Eating: Winner gets recognized as the “Kobayashi of the Clubhouse.”

Improv Competition: The men pay tribute to the strong improv comedy presence in Toronto. Hillenbrand goes first in the clubhouse, requesting an occupation, vacation destination, and household appliance.

Jeopardy!: This is a natural, as host Alex Trebek hails from Ontario. Team officials may regret this method, as the winner will spend the next week phrasing everything in the form of a question.

Judge Judy: The judicial television star decides who has to go, after berating both men for the poor choices they’ve made in life.

Science Fair: The creator of the better science project stays with the ballclub, but he is immediately labeled as a nerd in the clubhouse.

Shoot-out: The two men entertain the hockey-mad Toronto fans as they take the ice. The shoot-out also benefits the Maple Leafs, providing a chance for new goaltender Andrew Raycroft to get some practice.

Spirit Competition: In order to prove who has the most team spirit, Hillenbrand and Gibbons decorate players’ lockers and perform cheers in front of teammates. They conclude the contest by reading their essays on “What It Means To Be A Blue Jay.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Huey Lewis: Face of the Steroid Era

Late last week, it was reported that an indictment of San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds could be forthcoming. The potential indictment would relate to charges of perjury and tax evasion stemming from Bonds’s 2003 grand jury testimony regarding the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO). However, it is time to shift the focus to the real culprit in the performance-enhancing drugs controversy. Rather than Bonds, that individual is another star from the Bay Area. 80s pop icon Huey Lewis is the true face of the steroid era.

Huey Lewis & The News launched the steroid era in 1983 with their song “I Want A New Drug.” The tune blatantly expressed a need for new designer steroids that would beat drug testing. Without the influence of this irresistible pop confection, few athletes would have had any desire to use performance-enhancing substances. Today legislators are clamoring to remove drugs from sports. In 1983, Huey Lewis & The News brazenly put drugs into Sports, their #1 album.

The song’s success inspired Victor Conte to found BALCO in 1984. During the 1970s, Conte had actually played with The Tower of Power, which served as the horn section for Huey Lewis & The News from 1982 to 1994. Conte and Lewis shared a dream to spread the gospel of performance-enhancing substances through music. Lewis had failed in his previous attempt at this goal with the short-lived band, Steroid-Popping Accordion Gods.

The synergy between BALCO and Huey Lewis reaped huge rewards in 1985 with the Back To The Future soundtrack. "The Power of Love" became a #1 smash, with “Love” being a euphemism for Stanozolol. Huey’s obsession with performance-enhancing drugs was shared by BALCO chemist and film star Doc Brown. Onscreen, Brown was fixated on time travel, but most of the doc’s work in his laboratory was devoted to developing steroids. He succeeded in bringing such substances back to 1955, when ‘roid rage inspired George McFly to finally knock out Biff. However, the use of steroids backfired, as they made George sterile and kept his son Marty from ever being born.

Huey and his mates further thumbed their nose at the anti-drug forces in 1986 with their #1 hit “Stuck With You.” When he crooned, “I’m so happy to be stuck with you,” Lewis was singing to his favorite syringe. He also was responsible for the development of HGH, which stands for Huey Growth Hormone. However, despite the mountain of evidence against him, his adoring public still refused to believe that Lewis was leading the steroid movement. The fans would not accept the idea that rock and roll could be infiltrated by drugs.

The sinister influence of Huey Lewis on sports has been particularly problematic for Bud Selig and his fellow commissioners. Selig consistently denounces Lewis, an avid San Francisco Giants fan, but his authority to punish someone who has never played major league baseball is severely limited. He has banned the group from performing the national anthem at Giants games and has ordered AT&T Park personnel not to show Huey and his wife on the Kiss-cam. The commissioner is also consulting advisers on whether he can punish San Francisco players named Lewis. If so, the 1994 Gold Glove for outfielder Darren Lewis could be revoked.

In any case, it is time for the commissioner to invoke the “best interests of the game” clause and ban Huey Lewis from baseball for life. It is true that Huey has never failed an MLB drug test, and that other members of The News were part of his conspiracy. However, he was the one in the spotlight - getting the girl in the music videos – and therefore he is entitled to a greater penalty than his mates. If the lifetime ban does not make Lewis feel remorse, there’s one punishment that is guaranteed to do so. Lock him in a room for four hours and play a continuous loop of “Hip To Be Square.”

Saturday, July 15, 2006

How U2 Relates To The Sports World This Summer

U2 has often been in the consciousness of American sports fans recently. This presence is not only due to ABC and ESPN’s use of the band’s music to promote their World Cup coverage. In fact, many of U2’s hit songs have particular relevance to the sports world this summer. Descriptions are included below.

All I Want Is You: Isiah Thomas speaks to a mirror.

Bad: The U.S. team sums up its World Cup performance.

Beautiful Day: Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons describes Roy (Halla)Day as Halladay takes the mound.

Desire: Male Wimbledon fans say what they feel while watching Maria Sharapova.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: Mark Cuban is quoted after the NBA finals.

I Will Follow: A Tour de France rider discusses his strategy.

Mysterious Ways: Phil Mickelson describes the path of his final tee shot at the U.S. Open.

New Year’s Day: Duke football coach Ted Roof tells his team when he expects their season to end. Then Roof and the players laugh hysterically.

Numb: Marco Materazzi describes how Zinedine Zidane made his chest feel.

October: The Detroit Tigers learn about a month that was previously unknown to them.

One: Kansas City Royals manager Buddy Bell predicts how many wins his club will get during a 12-game road trip.

Staring at the Sun: Steve Nash groupies gaze at their hero.

Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of: The National League loses yet another All-Star Game.

Sunday Bloody Sunday: San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan reveals what he expects on a weekly basis this fall.

Until the End of The World: A Philly sports fan states how long he’ll have to wait before the city’s next title.

When Love Comes To Town: Davis Love arrives in New York for the U.S. Open.

With or Without You: The Belmont Stakes go on without Barbaro.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

NL Wants Rangers Out of All-Star Game

Tuesday night it appeared that the National League would finally break its All-Star Game drought. The NL needed one more out from Padres closer Trevor Hoffman to finish off a 2-1 victory. However, Texas shortstop Michael Young dashed the NL’s hopes with a two-run triple to rally the American League to a 3-2 triumph. Afterwards, the NL was united in its desire to ban Rangers from the All-Star Game.

Ever since 2003, Texas has been a thorn in the side of the NL during the midsummer classic. That year, the commissioner’s office proclaimed, “This time it counts,” admitting that the first 73 editions of the midsummer classic were a waste of everyone’s time. Ranger third baseman Hank Blaylock went on to smack an eighth-inning homer off Eric Gagne to rally the AL to a 7-6 victory. It was only fitting that home field in the World Series was determined by someone from a club in the midst of its fourth consecutive last-place finish.

In 2004, Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano won MVP honors with a three-run dinger off Roger Clemens as the AL cruised 9-4. Soriano was the first All-Star Game MVP from the Rangers since 1990, when a 60-year-old Julio Franco accomplished the feat. Last year, Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira smacked a two-run homer off Dontrelle Willis during the AL’s 7-5 win. Willis had been known to struggle against switch-hitters whose names were difficult to spell.

Noticing a trend, National League clubs decided to enhance the senior circuit’s chances by bringing Rangers to their side. During the off-season, the Washington Nationals traded for Soriano. Skeptics claimed that he would upset clubhouse chemistry by refusing to play the outfield. Also, as a well-known individual moving from Texas to Washington, many observers expected him to invade a foreign country. However, Soriano silenced the critics with a strong first half that earned him the lead-off spot in the NL lineup on Tuesday. Less successful in acquiring a Ranger were the Brewers, as Walker, Texas Ranger has been a bust in Milwaukee.

The NL did feel that playing Tuesday’s contest in Pennsylvania would offset the power of the Rangers. The NL’s last All-Star victory came in Philadelphia in 1996. All-time, the NL had been 7-1 in the Keystone State, including 4-0 in Pittsburgh. If the NL had held on to win Tuesday night, it likely would have requested that next year’s All-Star Game be moved from San Francisco to Scranton. After that, the National League would have urged major league baseball to follow the lead of Little League and hold its showcase summer event in Williamsport every year.

However, the NL’s hopes were once again dashed by a Texas infielder, as Young earned MVP honors with his clutch hit. In response, NL teams have joined together in their request to ban Rangers from the midsummer classic. They point out that despite being in existence since 1961 (originally as the Washington Senators), the Rangers have never played in the World Series. Therefore, they should not be allowed to decide home field advantage until they actually participate in the Fall Classic. One NL owner drew a parallel, noting, “If Skybar won’t let you in the door, you don’t get to decide what martinis they serve.”

Unlike most AL clubs, Texas actually had a losing record in interleague play. However, next July in San Francisco, the National League wants to avoid the Rangers at all costs. Unfortunately for the NL, most observers expect commissioner Bud Selig to allow the Rangers to participate. If so, rather than “This time it counts,” the game's slogan will be “Don’t mess with Texas.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Great Sports Weekend For the French Turns Sour

For most of this past weekend, it was a joyous time for French athletes. Their presence on the world stage loomed as large as the Eiffel Tower. However, their jubilation ended Sunday night as Italy celebrated a World Cup championship. A great weekend in French sports suddenly turned to misery.

On Saturday, France’s Amelie Mauresmo made her country proud by defeating Justine Henin-Hardenne to win Wimbledon. The top-seeded Mauresmo became the first Wimbledon women’s singles champion from France since 1925, when Suzanne Lenglen defeated England’s Joan Fry in the final. After that match, the embittered Fry allegedly placed a curse on French women, prohibiting them from winning at Wimbledon. Most tennis historians do not believe in the hex, although they do acknowledge that Fry often wore a witch’s costume on the court and played with a broom instead of a racket. According to the legend, the curse would only be broken when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series.

While Mauresmo’s triumph across the English Channel was sweet, the French also prevailed on the other side of the Atlantic Saturday night. Jeff “Frenchy” Francoeur smacked the go-ahead homer to rally the Atlanta Braves to a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. In appreciation, the Turner Field crowd delivered the Tomahawk Chop chant in a French accent. The sound was music to the ears of new Braves third base coach Gerard Depardieu.

Sunday the French continued to flourish, as Sylvain Calzati won the eighth stage of the Tour de France. Ukrainian Serhiy Honchar currently wears the yellow jersey, but the home fans enjoyed seeing Calzati’s moment of glory. He also entertained his countrymen in ways beyond winning. After the race, he pretended to inject himself with steroids, yelling, “Look at me, I’m Lance Armstrong!” to the amused French spectators.

With all this sports glory, the stage was set for France to win its second World Cup championship. Captain Zinedine Zidane continued the momentum by converting a penalty kick in the seventh minute for a 1-0 lead. The retiring Zidane had led France to the 1998 World Cup championship, and a second title would have vaulted him past ZZ Top as the most accomplished ZZ in history. As a tribute to his namesake rockers, he reportedly considered playing the final in sunglasses and a long beard. Zidane chose to go without those accessories, but he was inspired by a pre-game speech by the band’s Billy Gibbons, who told the French team, “You’ve got legs, you know how to use them.”

Unfortunately for the French, the jubilation did not last. Italy evened the score later in the first half, and neither side managed another goal in regulation. Zidane earned an early exit during the second overtime period by head-butting Marco Materazzi in the chest and drawing a red card. Reportedly, Zidane’s outburst resulted from his career-long frustration over being the last guy listed in the program. To his credit, the French legend remained respectful of the rules of soccer and refused to use his hands in striking Materazzi.

Italy ultimately prevailed in penalty kicks and celebrated the nation’s fourth World Cup championship. The outcome means that France must relinquish certain privileges to Italy until the 2010 World Cup. For the next four years, open-mouth smooching will be called Italian kissing, and the former cast member from 3rd Rock From the Sun will be known as Italian Stewart. Also, the world’s most famous slutty hotel heiress is now named Rome Hilton.

So a weekend that carried such promise for French sports ended in heartbreak. However, the most famous resident of Paris is smiling today. Because the Mona Lisa is Italian.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Hidden Base Trick Inflames A's-Angels Rivalry

Thursday night Frank Thomas socked a walk-off home run to lead the Oakland Athletics to a 7-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This type of drama has been typical in recent years for these American League West adversaries. However, the Big Hurt’s blast was not the only development to infuriate the Angels on Thursday. The Halos were livid when Oakland pulled the hidden base trick during Orlando Cabrera’s at-bats.

The Angels shortstop singled in the 5th and 7th innings to extend his streak of reaching base to 63 consecutive games. The streak is the longest in major league baseball since 1960, passing a 58-game stretch by Barry Bonds in 2003. Statistics on such streaks are incomplete before 1960, but the Elias Sports Bureau has Boston’s Ted Williams with the major league record at 84 straight games in 1949. Some may wonder how a record can be affirmed when statistics from that era are acknowledged to be incomplete. An Elias representative admitted, “Look, we’re praying that we don’t find some nobody who had more than 84. If we throw the name ‘Ted Williams’ out there, no one really questions it.”

Since Cabrera doubled off Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman on April 25, no opponent has managed to keep him off the bases for an entire game. However, the A’s devised a strategy to do just that. They put their plan into practice Thursday night whenever first base was unoccupied during a Cabrera at-bat. Oakland removed first base from the ground and hid it from Cabrera’s view, reasoning that he can’t reach base if he can’t find it.

The strategy seemed to work. Cabrera’s two hits came when first base was occupied, so the A’s could not remove it without the runner noticing. He was retired on the other three occasions. In the first inning, Angels manager Mike Scioscia screamed to the umpires that A’s first baseman Dan Johnson had stashed first base under his uniform. When questioned by the crew, the ridiculously bulging Johnson responded, “Noooo... I’m not hiding first base. I’m just… on steroids! Better test me after the game!”

The A’s gamesmanship was particularly brazen during Cabrera’s third inning at-bat. Oakland legend Rickey Henderson slid head-first into first base before pulling it out of the ground. Henderson held the base aloft while proclaiming, “I am the greatest base-stealer of all time!” Henderson then dashed off the field while announcing, “Rickey’s gonna take this bag to Cooperstown!” Amazingly, none of the umpires saw any of this.

The Angels had suspected that their division rivals might use devious tactics to halt Cabrera’s streak. The Halos kept a watchful eye on Oakland catcher Jason Kendall, who had charged the mound against Los Angeles pitcher John Lackey in an earlier matchup this season. A crafty old catcher himself, Scioscia warned Cabrera that Kendall might try to tie his shoes together while he stood in the batter’s box. With the Angels distracted by Kendall, the A’s apparently felt that they could easily pull off the shenanigans at first base.

Tonight the angry Angels will be particularly aware of the activities at first base. First base coach Alfredo Griffin will be on high alert, so the hidden base trick may not be available to the A’s. All-Star Oakland pitcher Barry Zito will have his hands full as he tries to stop Orlando Cabrera’s streak. Unlike the show on Fox, this version of “The O.C.” is not ready for a summer hiatus.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Anti-Americanism Rampant At European Sporting Events

July 4 is upon us, so today is a day to honor and cherish the United States of America. Baseball players and fans will do so in ballparks across the nation, finding extra meaning in today’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. However, U.S. athletes do not enjoy the same freedoms when traveling across the Atlantic. This summer, European sporting events have been consistently hostile toward American athletes.

The latest example came on Monday, when Shenay Perry was routed 6-2, 6-0 in the fourth round of Wimbledon by Russia’s Elena Dementieva. With Perry’s elimination, no American male or female was still alive in singles play. Perry was philosophical about the defeat. She remarked, “It would have been great to make the quarterfinals, but seriously, even I’ve never heard of me!” Like the Founding Fathers more than two centuries ago, Perry sacrificed so that others may benefit. In her case, the defeat allowed fans to enjoy a Russian Hottie Fest between Dementieva and Maria Sharapova.

Saturday’s third round particularly showed how unwelcome the Americans were in England. Playing in the last Wimbledon of his great career, Andre Agassi fell in straight sets to Rafael Nadal. The second-seeded Spaniard, practically unbeatable on clay, rudely decided to play great tennis on grass. That same day, defending women’s champion Venus Williams and two-time men’s runner-up Andy Roddick were also eliminated. The Brits shed no tears for them. After Roddick won a point during his defeat to Andy Murray, the public address announcer informed the spectators, “Advantage Mr. Roddick.” Normally he would stop there, but the announcer continued, “But he’ll lose anyway. Mandy Moore was too good for that wanker.”

Last month’s French Open was just as unfriendly toward U.S. players. No Americans made the semifinals after Venus Williams fell in the quarters. James Blake, the last American man, was eliminated in the third round. The tournament has a history of hostility toward U.S. men, being the only Grand Slam singles title eluding Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors. Many tired stereotypes exist about the French, particularly when it comes to being rude to American visitors. However, such an image came to life after Blake’s defeat, when a group of beret-wearing men stormed onto the court and attacked Blake with baguettes while praising Jerry Lewis.

Europe’s anti-U.S. antagonism was not confined to tennis, as shown by the World Cup held in Germany. Feeling confident with a #5 world ranking, the Americans were promptly dismissed after two losses and a draw. To their credit, the Italians did have a guilty conscience about the America-bashing, even putting a ball into their own goal to make the U.S. feel happy. However, the group stage ended with the USA heading home in humiliation. It is unclear why this squad received such hostile treatment in Germany. At no time during the tournament could this team be considered offensive.

The harsh treatment of American athletes in Europe undoubtedly stems from the continent’s disapproval of the Bush administration. European protests have been constant throughout the Iraq war. President Bush is often viewed as a bully, unilaterally pushing his own agenda while failing to join other nations in supporting measures such as the Kyoto Protocol. Just this week, the President infuriated Portugal by expressing his condemnation of Lisbon marriages.

The anti-Americanism is likely to continue at the Tour de France, which is no longer a sure bet to bring victory for the USA. For the first time since 1998, the Tour will crown a champion other than Lance Armstrong. The doping-related expulsions of co-favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso have seemingly enhanced the chances of Americans Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, and George Hincapie. However, they are unlikely to overcome a controversial new rule. During the race’s concluding stage on July 23, all U.S. cyclists are required to ride tricycles into Paris.

Americans will hope for friendlier treatment that same day at the British Open. However, fans of Scottish golfer Colin Montgomerie have other ideas. Desperately wanting Monty to win his first major, his supporters have successfully lobbied for golfers from the United Kingdom to receive one mulligan per round. Monty’s backers are also rumored to have sent false e-mails to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, indicating that the tournament has been moved to October.

Despite the harsh treatment they’ve endured in Europe, American athletes can appreciate the freedoms they enjoy at home. Today they can celebrate the Declaration of Independence, ratified 230 years ago in Philadelphia. Where antagonism toward athletes would never be acceptable.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

National League Fails To Qualify For All-Star Game

The National League has not won an All-Star Game since scoring a 6-0 victory in 1996. Only an infamous tie in 2002 has interrupted the American League’s domination since then. However, this year the NL has suffered its greatest embarrassment of all. Today commissioner Bud Selig announced that the National League has failed to qualify for this year’s midsummer classic.

The commissioner invoked the “best interests of the game” clause in making this decision. During interleague play, concluded on Sunday, the AL wound up with a 154-98 edge over the NL. Selig determined that any league winning fewer than 40% of interleague matchups does not belong in the summer’s showcase event. “Our fans deserve a competitive game,” noted the commissioner. “If we stick the National League in there this year, the NL will get flattened worse than Ray Fosse.”

Instead, the All-Star Game will primarily be an American League intra-squad matchup. Noting how the voters favored the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, one side will be comprised entirely of players from those clubs. That team will be known as the Yank Sox. Fan selections Ichiro Suzuki, Vladimir Guerrero, and Ivan Rodriguez will be shifted to the opposing club, with Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, and Jorge Posada taking their places in the Yank Sox lineup. A typical clutch hit by David Ortiz could bring wildly mixed emotions for Red Sox fans. They would cheer his heroics, then curse him as a traitor for driving in Derek Jeter.

The NL will not be completely absent at the All-Star Game. As a nod to the home city of Pittsburgh, fan choice Jason Bay of the Pirates will be allowed to play. By joining up with American League stalwarts, Bay will have a rare opportunity for a victory in PNC Park. His fellow Keystone Staters from Philadelphia will also have a role - one year after Bobby Abreu dominated the Home Run Derby. Hoping to see just as many blasts this year, the commissioner’s office has announced that this year’s Derby will be pitched by the Phillies’ starting rotation.

The “Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote” has also been adjusted to accommodate the senior circuit. Fans can elect one New York Met to join the Boston/New York club. Options include NL fan choices Paul Lo Duca, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran, plus pitcher Tom Glavine. Voters will also choose the final representative on the other side, from among fan choices Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, and Alfonso Soriano, plus pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Webb. Additionally, Selig announced that Houston Astros manager Phil Garner will still get to perform his duties as scheduled, since Ozzie Guillen will likely say something to merit a suspension in the next week.

Because the National League will not field a team, the All-Star Game will no longer decide the host of the World Series. The American League will retain that right this October, although the commissioner noted that home field will be irrelevant in the Fall Classic. “The only way the National League will win the World Series, “ commented Selig, “is if you’re talking about the one in Williamsport.”

The issue will be revisited before next season’s All-Star Game. The NL will surely rise again, just as the AL rebounded from dropping 11 consecutive midsummer classics between 1972 and 1982. The California Angels’ Fred Lynn hit the first grand slam in All-Star history to help the AL snap the streak in 1983. The National League will look for something similar if it returns to the All-Star Game in 2007. Taking no chances, the NL will have the 55-year-old Lynn batting cleanup.