Monthly Archives: January 2012

Anyone For Tennis?

It may have almost nothing to do with New York, but I would be doing you a disservice if I failed to point out that the greatest sports event of 2012 probably occurred on Sunday.  No, not the Pro Bowl and certainly not the NHL All-Star Game.  I am talking about the Australian Open Men’s Final.  Novak Djokavic beat Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5.  The match took an amazing 5 hours and 53 minutes to complete, meaning my DVR had long stopped taping by the time I started watching.  It’s unfortunate, because it was as dramatic and intense a sporting event as I can recall watching.

But, I imagine most of you didn’t see it and don’t mind missing it.  For some reason, tennis has become an afterthought in this country and I cannot figure out why.  Some argue that it is the lack of an American dominating the sport.  I like to think that we aren’t that provincial as a country and besides, the Williams Sisters are very American and very, very good at tennis having each won the career Grand Slam and 12 Majors a piece. No, I think the reason nobody watches tennis anymore is Pete Sampras and the tennis that he played.

In the 1990’s tennis became a serve and volley game.  A typical point was serve, return, volley to win.  Service games were tidy, quick and easy.  Pete Sampras was great at it and he dominated the sport, but I suspect he also put people to sleep.  It was the baseball equivalent of everyone grounding out to second.  You appreciate the dominance of the pitcher, but you wish you saw a bit more action.  (Nothing against Sampras by the way, he was simply the best of that era.)

The thing is, tennis isn’t like that anymore.  As the Australian Open Final showed, tennis is now lots of action.  Points can last for minutes and we have been blessed to have three of the best players ever to play the game all near the top of their games at the same time.  Between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, you have 31 Grand Slam titles.  Federer ranks first overall with sixteen, Nadal is fourth with ten and Djokovic (the youngest of the three) is tied for twelfth with five titles.  It’s an amazing collection of talent and apart from the 2009 US Open, they have combined to win every Grand Slam title since the 2005 Australian Open!

We should be soaking in this run of excellence because it is truly a rarity.  Yet, tennis hardly enters the consciousness of American fans.  It’s a shame because they are really missing something.

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Wait Till Next Year

Over on Fox.com, Ken Rosenthal has a look at all of the calculations and discussions going into expanding the playoffs this season.  To sum it up, it is possible, but the calendar is a huge problem.

The regular season is slated to end Wednesday, October 3rd and the World Series is to begin Wednesday, October 24th.  Since the Divisional Series theoretically could take 7 days and the Championship Series 9, you only about four days to play with right now.  And this assumes that the weather cooperates.  It doesn’t seem fair to me to create the potential for the scenario Rosenthal mentions where a team plays a night game on the 3rd, has to fly to play a tiebreaker on the 4th, fly to play a wild card game on the 5th and start the DS on the 7th.  Obviously, the tiebreaker is a long shot, but even without that a team in the wild card would be severely penalized this year because they would get either zero or one days off before the start of the Division Series.

Better to hold off on this expansion of the playoffs until 2013 when they can set the schedule to accommodate it.  I am all for this expansion, but only at a pace that makes sense.

The Perfect Storm?

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the last decade has been a bad one for the Knicks.  It would require too much therapy to repeat everything that has gone wrong, so let’s just leave it at that.  And now, in the season where the Knicks are supposed to restore the franchise to prominence, they seem to be spiraling down the drain.  Throw in the fact that you can’t even watch the games in NYC right now and it is another lousy time to be a Knicks fan.  Normally, there isn’t much you can do about that.  Your team stinks, that’s the way life goes. But what happens if a new team moves into “the area”?

Starting next season the New Jersey Nets become the Brooklyn Nets.  They will be playing in a new arena, possibly with Dwight Howard on board and ownership that is a lot better than Jim Dolan.  There arena isn’t very popular as a neighbor, but it will be very easy to get to from a lot of places, Long Island included. So could all of these forces combine to convert Knicks fans into Nets fans?

I would say that for casual fans absolutely, but for the stronger fans it would take something more.  Take me, I grew up rooting for the Knicks and even though I will be living about a mile from the Nets new home, I have no plans to convert.  But, I am also sick to death of Jim Dolan’s ownership and watching mediocre basketball.  When Dolan tried to bring Isiah Thomas back into the organization after everything that had happened, that almost ended my Knicks’ fandom.  If he tried that again or did something worse (is there worse?) I would have to think long and hard about a change of allegiance.  How about you, is it Knicks forever or could you make a change if pushed?

Factual Errors

Two mistakes are being made a lot around the New York City sportsworld today.  One is trivial, one is most certainly not.

The trivial one is that Rooney Mara, nominated for an Oscar for her role in “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo” is the granddaughter of the Giants founder. It’s an easy mistake to make because everyone thinks Wellington Mara founded the Giants, but he didn’t, his father did.

There are a few nuggets of Giants history that don’t get a lot of press.  It is widely known that Tim Mara, the founder of the Giants, bought the franchise in 1925 for $500.  It is not as well known that he was a bookie.  I should note that bookmaking was legal at the time, but think about that one for a minute.

When Tim died in 1959, he left the team to his two sons, Wellington and Jack, each receiving 50%.  The brothers got along and worked well together, but Jack died in 1965 and left his share of the team to his son, Tim.  Tim and Wellington did not get along at all and the Giants fell into disrepair in the late 60’s and 70’s as the two owners feuded.  Things got so bad at this point that fans hired a plane to fly a banner reading- “Fifteen years of lousy football, we’ve had enough” over Giants Stadium and Pete Rozelle, the NFL Commissioner to put the Giants back on the path to winning.  It’s been a pretty happy time from there and while it may seem to current Giants fans that it all started with Wellington, we have to remember his father was the guy who actually bought the club 87 years ago.

*****

As for the more serious item, a lot of column inches are being devoted today to the idea that the Yankees treated Jorge Posada badly by not offering him a contract in 2012.  Before I argue that idea, I would like to link to my post on another site praising Jorge yesterday.  Please don’t take the following as a critique of Posada’s career, it is simply acknowledging the reality of where he is now.

Jorge hit .235/.315/.398 last year.  That would be above the league average for catchers in the AL, but Jorge can’t catch anymore. So, you stick him at DH where AL hitters went .266/.341/.430, far better than Jorge’s numbers.  Some will point out that Jorge exceeded those numbers when hitting against righties, and he certainly did (.269/.348/.466) but he is 40, can’t run or really play anywhere other than first and made $13 million last year. I simply can’t knock the Yankees for not wanting to offer him a new deal.

Even if you assume that he would perform at the same level as last year, how much would you offer him for that?  A couple of million at most I would think and what would Jorge think of that?  I think it is far better to do what the Yankees did.  They didn’t string him along, they made a smart business decision.  Jorge should understand that, don’t forget that he got the Yankees to go to four years on his last deal by flirting with the Mets. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with what the Yankees did.  They showed the respect they should for Jorge’s career with yesterday’s retirement ceremony and they showed baseball sense by not bringing him back for 2012.

 

 

Rematch Time

Apologies for not posting sooner, but a nice virus came and knocked me out for about 48 hours.  Luckily, I still got to see the Giants handle San Francisco and advance to the Super Bowl.  We knew before last weekend that a Giants win would send them to a rematch of one of their previous Super Bowls and the competitor in me wanted to to be Baltimore. After all, we owe them one.  But, I am not sure that would have been the best matchup for New York as San Francisco came very close to KO’ing Eli Manning.  Anyway, we can save those thoughts for another day.  As for the game, I came away with four quick impressions.

Everything you need to know about the Giants’ rushing game is captured in the fact that they went out on a wet field and attempted passes at more than a 2:1 rate than runs. And call me crazy, but I think the Giants are a much better offensive line when Boothe is at center and Petrus is at guard with Baas on the bench.

It is disgusting to read that Kyle Williams is receiving death threats over his mistakes in the game.  Nobody should ever have to worry about their life based on something they did on the football field.  Please do not confuse the following as condoning that in any way. How could Williams get anywhere near that punt that bounced off his knee? It’s football 101 as a punt returner that in a close and late game you stay far away from the ball if you can’t catch it.  I understand he is not the starting punt returner, but he should have known that and his coaches certainly should have reminded him.  And I don’t think you can kill him for the fumble in OT.  While it didn’t look like a particularly hard hit, Joacquin Williams got his hand right on the ball and remember that ball was wet.

I think you have to give Eli tremendous credit for his performance in that game.  He showed toughness but I wasn’t in love with some of his judgements.  When I think of “bad” Eli, I always think of the same throw.  He launches it off his back foot and spins away from the pressure coming right at him.  I hadn’t really seen that throw this season, but I saw it more than once in this game.  (Including the play where the interception wasn’t made because the two 49ers defenders launched into each other.)  I just hope that is a habit Eli buries for a second time.

Finally, Devin Thomas is the best special teams player the Giants have had since…David Tyree.  Yup, I said it.

Back tomorrow.

The Ship Be Sinking

Michael Ray Richardson uttered those words about 30 years ago to describe the state of the Knicks.  It seems like an appropriate quote to review tonight.  (People forget the second part of the quote, which was comic gold.  When asked how far the ship could sink, Richardson replied, “Sky’s the limit.”)

The Knicks didn’t just lose to a bad team tonight, they lost to a bad team that earned its first road victory of the year.  Thanks to a temporary weekend out to the New York suburbs, I could actually see the game and it was an ugly affair.  The offense is broken.  The defense is indifferent at best.  Part of it is the lack of someone who can play point guard.  Part of it is the fact that the Knicks gutted their team to get Anthony.  Part of it is a coach who doesn’t know how to coach defense.

The question is, can it get better?  Conceivably, Baron Davis could come in and solve the point guard problems, but even if he does the bench will remain thin. That’s not going to change this season.  Jim Dolan forced Donnie Walsh to make that Carmelo trade and then took the credit for it.  Something tells me he won’t be trumpeting that fact anytime soon.

Rain, Rain Go Away

While we get ready for some snow here in New York, the forecast for San Francisco is rain.  That could be a problem for the Giants.

New York has been very good on offense, but that is because of their passing game and not their running game.  In fact, the Giants ranked dead last in rushing yards per game with 89.2 and dead last in yards per carry with 3.5.  If the field is sloppy and the Giants are forced to run the ball, will they be able to?  I would say no and while I won’t join Jerry Rice in calling Brandon Jacobs “soft” I think Jacobs is a big part of the problem.

Jacobs’ numbers are ugly this year, but it is not entirely his fault.  I will never understand why the Giants continually try and run Jacobs outside the tackles.  This guy is listed at 6’4″ and 265 pounds, he is made to pound it through the tackles.  Bad play calling aside, Jacobs hasn’t run with the same fire and he looks like he is also running more upright than he did in the past.  Hopefully, Rice’s comments will bring some of that anger back to Big Brandon.

The Giants offensive line deserves some blame as well.  Consider the fact that Eli was sacked 16 times in 2010 and 28 in 2011. I’m not saying they should have kept O’Hara and Seubert, but they didn’t do enough to replace them.  David Baas hasn’t impressed me and the injury to Beatty hurt as well.  It’s too late to do anything about it now, but I hope Wisconsin’s Peter Konz is around when the Giants make their pick in the first round of the draft.

For now, I will sit back and hope the weather improves and the tarp stays on the field.  (Longtime Jets fans will know what I am talking about.)

Four Championship Games

This will be the Giants 5th NFC Championship and sadly, I am old enough to remember them all.  Here are my four experiences.

Giants vs. Washington- January 1987, East Rutherford, NJ.  The Giants first NFC Championship was also the first time I went to a Giants game.  Yup, I was in the stands on a cold and windy day that saw the Giants beat Washington 17-0.  That was a weird game because I really didn’t think the Giants were going to lose.  They were the best team in the league without question and they had taken apart San Francisco the week before.  They already had two wins over Washington that year so I simply expected a third one.  Hey, I was young.

Giants vs. San Francisco- January 1991, somewhere over the East Coast  Yup, I was on a plane for most of the Giants game against the 49rs because I was in college and had to get back from Christmas Break.  Luckily, the plane I was on was heading to LaGuardia, so the pilot gave us update and I also used my walkman to listen to parts of the game when I could find a radio channel that worked (sorry FAA).  I was supposed to connect to another flight through LaGuardia that was delayed just enough for me to see Lawrence Taylor force that fumble and Matt Bahr kick the Giants into the Super Bowl.  When I boarded the connecting flight, the pilot came on the PA to announce that only Giants fans were welcome on this plane.  I’m pretty sure that the delay, which was blamed on maintenance, was so that the pilot could see the end of the game.

Giants vs. Minnesota- January 2001, Boston, MA. My 3rd NFC Championship game experience was watching this game from my apartment in Boston.  I could actually see the lights of Fenway Park out my window, but on that day my eyes were glued to the set.  I remember a bunch of friends were going out to watch the game, but since none of them were Giants fans, I decided to watch the game alone.  Well almost alone, my fiancee came in and out of the apartment a number of times from shopping and other stuff (she’s more of a hockey fan.)  I still can’t believe how dominant that offensive performance was.  Then again, remember who the offensive coordinator was.  (Hint, he coached a playoff team last weekend)

Giants vs. Packers- January 2008, Brooklyn, NY  It was seven years between NFC title games for the Giants and personally I had been busy.  The fiancee was now a wife.  We had moved back home to New York and had added a dog and a daughter.  Going into the game I knew the Giants would have to play the 18-0 Patriots if they won, so I had decided to really try and enjoy this game.  Lawrence Tynes made that very hard with those two misses in the 4th quarter, but he certainly redeemed himself in OT.

And now we come to our 5th NFC Championship Game.  Looking back on the previous four feels was certainly a walk down memory lane, but the thing that sticks out is that I have never been in the same place twice.  So, does sports karma direct me to find a new place to watch the game this Sunday?  Hmmmm….

The Invisible Team

Has anyone noticed that the Rangers have the best record in the NHL?  After 43 games they have 60 points and sit a top the Eastern Conference, but they don’t seem to get a lot of attention in the local media.

Part of it is the fact that they are a hockey team.  I love hockey, but I get that a lot of people don’t.  It’s not a game that the casual fan necessarily makes a connection with.  Furthermore, it is the sport that loses the most on TV.  Watch a football game on TV and you don’t miss much.  Watch a hockey game and there is a lot that you simply don’t see.

And watching a game has become harder recently.  Time Warner Cable and MSG Networks have gone to war and the result is that the Rangers are no longer on local television.  The dispute started January 1st and to date, the two sides haven’t sat down to talk about things.  That isn’t a good sign.

It’s funny, but I think back to 1994 and the Rangers were the toast of the town.  Part of it was the fact that they hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in 44 years, but they also hit a fallow period for New York sports.  The Yankees were a team with a great history that hadn’t made the playoffs in 13 years. The Giants were on the decline after a Super Bowl win in 1991.  The Mets had squandered a budding dynasty. Other than the Knicks, the Rangers were the only game in town and they had superstars like Mark Messier to capture the imagination of the city.

And here we are 17 years later and the Rangers can’t seem to get any attention.  Ryan Callahan isn’t Messier, but he is a force on the ice.  Marian Gaborik can score with anyone in the league and Henrik Lundqvist may be the best goaltender in the NHL right now.  It may not add up to much come the playoffs, and Rangers’ fans certainly understand that, but it is a great story right now.  Hopefully, it starts to get some attention.

 

Welcome

Welcome to a blog about New York sports.  For the past nine years I have blogged about the Yankees at http://www.yankeesredsox.com, but I wanted to broaden my horizons and blog about all of the New York sports scene. So I will use this forum to write about the Giants, Knicks, Rangers, St. John’s and anything else related to NYC sports.  My Yankees posts will continue at my other site, but I will also publish them here.  

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @nycsportsfanatic, drop me an email peter@yankeesredsox.com or leave a comment. 

Thanks for reading,

Peter