My Takes on Life, Sports, and the Blurred Line Between Them 
Barack Obama Proves He’s (Slightly) Smarter than Roger Goodell
Posted on 9 April 2011 
As we all know, the NFL is mired in a protracted legal battle stemming from a combination of greed and stupidity on the part of both the players and the league and owners in failing to reach an agreement on a workable collective bargaining agreement. As a result, NFL fans everywhere must now sit and wait to see whether there will even be football played in 2011 and if so whether it will be played by their favorite NFL stars, or by replacements (unless you—like me—have chosen to boycott the league until they get their act together). 

At the helm of this quagmire was Commissioner Roger Goodell, who presided over the kangaroo court of "negotiations" between the two sides only to see two extensions fail to result in consensus, leading us to the situation we find ourselves in now: no football to look forward to, no respect shown the fans by the league and its players, and no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. 

That all happened in early March, but just over a month later, it appeared it might happen again—in much more grave a circumstance. 

Republican and Democratic leadership in Washington DC was locked in a similar stalemate in "negotiating" something much more important than the fate of professional football over the next few years—the 2011 federal budget for the United States of America. With the economic situation requiring sizable budget cuts, the two factions were at odds over what to cut—determined to retain funding for "their" line items motivated more out of party loyalty and ego than the good they could bring about for the American people. 

The Associated Press put it quite well in an article late on Friday:

WASHINGTON – The federal government lurched toward a shutdown for the first time in 15 years on Friday as Republicans and Democrats in Congress struggled for a way out and swapped increasingly incendiary charges over which side was to blame.

Congress and President Barack Obama were essentially holding 800,000 federal employees (and ultimately millions more Americans, myself included) fiscally hostage in the name of ego and bickering. The underlying altruism of the policies they were supposedly defending had lost virtually all meaning as both sides were much more concerned about winning the battle than what they were actually fighting for. 

To top it all off, Obama repeatedly projected a firm stance that he would not sign short-term extensions to allow more time to reach a consensus, which seemed all but certain to result in the first federal government shutdown in 15 years. Luckily he came to his senses. 

Just before 11:00 eastern on Friday, the two sides agreed to an extension of just under a week, which should provide enough time to reach a permanent agreement for the rest of the fiscal year. Despite his previous stance, the President signed off on it. 

The agreement gives hope of budget continuity for the foreseeable future, though major hurdles still lie ahead. Overall, however, it proves the dangerous inherent shortcoming of the US political system. Make no mistake that the two-party system is a necessary element to ensure checks and balances and create an atmosphere of competing ideas. But when that competition begins to overshadow the gravity that the ideas represent, the livelihood of millions of Americans becomes a tawdry poker chip on the congressional table. 

In nearly all cases, politicians have the good of their constituencies at heart and are truly trying to promote policies they think will benefit the United States. It is fantastic that we a have political system that brings together so many diverse viewpoints on how to make the country better, but without proper mediation the structure can quickly become volatile. 

As long as the president is beholden to one side, this issue will persist. Every president claims to want to foster cooperation, but ultimately they live in constant fear of crossing the party that brought them to power, and this fear vastly outweighs the motivation to truly embrace the good the opposition party brings to the table. Friday's resolution offers some hope that this could change, but ultimately, we as a country should never have been put in a position of being played as a pawn in this budgetary game of chess. 

Congress needs to learn to play nice, and they need a truly non-partisan leader to teach them and play referee. Virtually everyone has political leanings, but the current party system offers a president little to no motivation to foster cooperation and cohesion. Maybe that will change, some day.

Keep the Faith! 

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King Me: San Jose Sharks to Face Los Angeles Kings in the First Round of the Playoffs
Posted on 13 April 2011
By virtue of a Chicago Blackhawks' loss to the Detroit Red Wings Sunday morning, the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion San Jose Sharks learned that they will face the Pacific Division and intra-state-rival Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.

The matchup marks the first time the two teams have met in a playoff series. The Kings are also the last team from the Pacific Division that the Sharks have yet to meet in the playoffs.

The Sharks met the Anaheim Ducks in a forgettable first-round gaffe two years ago, and played the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round back in 2002 (the Coyotes having then just recently transplanted to the desert from the snowy plains of Winnipeg). The Sharks have met the Dallas Stars three times in the playoffs, most recently in the second round in 2008, when their bid to climb out of an 0-3 series hole fell short in quadruple overtime in Game Six.

Drawing the Kings might logically troublesome among the "fin-actic" community—especially based on the Sharks' historical track record. In five previous playoff series against division opponents, the Sharks are a paltry 1-4 with their only win coming against the upstart Coyotes in 2002. More troubling yet is the fact that in four of those series, the Sharks were the higher seed and enjoyed home ice advantage.

Still, the eventual champion Sharks have yet to shy away from a challenge this year, and the Kings should be no different. The Sharks recovered from a horribly inconsistent start to the year to build a strong team identity. They lead the league in fewest shots allowed despite a supposedly mediocre defensive core, they wrapped up a fourth consecutive division crown, earned their coach a tie of a long-standing NHL record for most wins in his first three seasons, had incredible scoring distribution with seven different 20-goal scorers, and played through a plethora of key injuries.

Against the Kings this year, the Sharks are technically just .500 at 3-1-2. However, two of those losses came in the shootout—a gimmicky method of deciding games that thankfully is not viewed as legitimate enough to be carried over into the post season.

"Experts" and "fans" alike will doubtless play heavily upon the apparent problems the Kings present to the Sharks, but in many ways this could be an optimal draw. The Kings are a very talented team, with a developing core of youngsters and talented to frustrating young goaltending, but they do not present the type of physical challenge that a team like Anaheim or Chicago would have, and they lack the edgy grit of a team like Phoenix.

Moreover, the Kings are missing two very key players in Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar, though admittedly Ryan Smyth and Jarrett Stoll have been thorns in the Sharks' side all year. The biggest advantage for the Sharks, however, may be the much easier travel that this matchup creates—with just a short one hour flight separating the two cities as opposed to the much more arduous treks to Chicago or Nashville.

Finally, the Kings lack the playoff aura over the Sharks that Anaheim, Chicago, and Dallas possess—the same mental advantage Detroit had enjoyed up until last year.

Ultimately the Sharks should not have cared whom they had to face, but there are many reasons to believe that the Kings are a favorable draw. The Sharks cannot afford to look past Los Angeles, but for those of us who dare to do so, this matchup sets the Sharks up well on their march to eventual glory.

Other Notes:

Head coach Todd McLellan was placed in a bit of a quandary before Saturday night's game in terms of whom to start in goal.

One the one hand, the Sharks needed a win to secure the No. 2 seed and with it home ice advantage in a potential second-round matchup with the Red Wings. On the other hand, goaltender Antero Niittymaki was coming off a difficult loss to the Anaheim Ducks in his only start since January.

McLellan chose to field the best possible team by foregoing the planned start for Niitty and again turning to Antti Niemi. The decision worked in that the Sharks won the game and clinched the No. 2 seed. It also allowed Niemi to atone for a four-goal-against performance the previous night in Phoenix.

Many other factors were at play, however. Niitty now enters the playoffs with still considerable rust on the heels of a performance that was beyond mediocre. Furthermore, McLellan's decision to start Niemi implies at least on some level that he was not willing to risk Niitty losing the game to allow him to get more work. Both these factors could have an effect on Niitty's confidence if called upon in the playoffs.

The Dallas Stars faced a key situation in the final game on the NHL schedule, with a chance to control their own destiny and earn the final playoff berth with a win over the Minnesota Wild. Had they carried through, it would have seen all five Pacific Division teams make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in NHL history.

The Stars ultimately fell short—they were outscored 2-0 in the third and surrendered the final berth to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Still, the fact that the possibility of five of eight Western Conference playoffs teams all hailing from the Pacific Division lasted until the final game on the schedule gives the division a very strong (almost irrefutable) argument as the toughest in hockey.

This means that the Sharks—as champions of said division having compiled a favorable 14-5-5 record against division opponents—have already proven significant gusto just to get to where they are.

Will any of this amount to anything come Thursday night? Maybe not, but we can hope.

Keep the Faith!

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Jarret Stoll Suspension Proves NHL is willing to Compromise Safety, Integrity, and Justice for Ratings
Posted on 16 April 2011
The 2011 Stanley Cup Champion San Jose Sharks survived one the worst-officiated Stanley Cup Playoff games in recent memory to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime to open their first-round series. The win gave the Sharks a critical lead in the opening series and marked the first time in several years that the Sharks had opened the playoffs at home with a win.

The Sharks opened the game looking determined to prove this year would be different than all the disappointing post seasons of years gone by. Dany Heatley scored less than thirty seconds into the game, and while the Sharks could not build on that lead through the rest of the first period, they were clearly the dominant team.

Defenseman Ian White was clearly excited for his first career playoff game, flying around the ice and displaying incredible energy and effort. Then, late in the first period, that all changed.

Kings forward and noted pest Jarret Stoll took a clear cheap shot on a defenseless White, intentionally driving his head into the edge of the boards with a nasty hit from behind. To the chagrin of a collective 17,562 at a sold-out HP Pavilion, no penalty was called.

The Kings enjoyed a major momentum swing from that moment forward, as the Sharks had to play with a shortened bench, absent one of their top defensive players. Joe Pavelski saved the day in overtime, but it remains to be seen how long White will remain out of the line up.

The hit was a prime example of the type of intentional and dangerous physicality the NHL has preached against all season. The league has paid lip service to player safety and limiting head injuries in frequency and severity all year. Everyone (likely including Stoll himself) was expecting a lengthy suspension from the league office.

Instead, Commissioner Gary Bettman and his laconic staff deemed in their infinite and infallible wisdom that this malicious shot was worthy of a mere finger wag and one-game suspension for Stoll. The ruling is one of the most atrocious examples of league hypocrisy since the lockout, and a stunning example of just how low the league is willing to sink for ratings and profit.

There is absolutely no justification for this suspension being anything less than the rest of the first round, and suspending Stoll for the entirety of the playoffs (should LA actually advance) would be perfectly within reason. It appears White will be able to return this post season, perhaps even later this series, but the NHL cannot allow the severity of the injury dictate the magnitude of the punishment. They need to step up and start seriously targeting dangerous hits with intent to injure.
Officiating has a tendency to become more lax in the post season, and clearly there is something to be said for letting the outcomes of such important games be determined on the ice and not at the scorer's table. But when the league decides to nearly turn its back on such an egregiously ruthless play for no other reason than to spare an already-injury-depleted underdog one of their leading scorers and maintain as much drama as possible in a first round series, things have gone way too far.

The decision on the Stoll suspension (like the greed-induced lock-out and plethora of pathetically gimmicky rule changes that followed) is clear and continuing proof that the NHL really does not care at all about player safety, fair competition, or even the basic quality of the product they are putting on the ice, so long as they are drawing as many casual viewers and corporate partnerships as possible.

The suspension is shear hypocrisy in its purest form. The Sharks must now rise up against the new-found adversity of the White injury, as they have all year. No matter how hard they work, they should not expect to draw many more penalties if Thursday's game was any indication. The NHL seems hell-bent on pumping artificial drama into this series.

If their track record to date this season is any indication, the Sharks will find a way to overcome these new challenges. Maybe then they will finally get some respect and some calls will go their way.

We can all dream.

Keep the Faith!

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Alan H. "Bud" Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, recently announced that he strongly expects the MLB playoff field to expand from 8 teams to 10 in 2011—creating either a one-game or three-game play-in round between two Wild Card teams before the normal current structure would then resume.

What does this really mean? In short: the same man who brought us the first World Series cancellation since the disco era, the only tie in an All Star game on record, and the mass escalation of the steroid scandal thanks to a tendency to turn a blind eye to breaches of league policy in the interest of higher ratings has yet more to "offer" the world of baseball.

Since taking office, Selig has literally waged war against the decency, credibility, and respectability of what was once America's favorite pastime. It should then come as no surprise that he now aims to do even more harm to this once-proud game by further eroding the importance of the regular season and adding a gimmicky extra round to an already over-inflated post season.

How can more playoffs really be a bad thing? A second wild card spot will add to the drama of the stretch run—helping more teams and more markets remain relevant as October draws near. People love to see fresh blood in the post-season, and ratings are the life-blood of any sport.

Such lines of argumentation are about as flawed as one can get.

Keeping a few extra teams in the conversation later into fall might make things more interesting in Toronto or Cincinnati, but at what cost? Even Selig knows that expansion to 12 teams in the playoffs is unwarranted and a 10-team field is simply a no-win. Baseball would be caught in a quandary of whether to make the first round so short that it completely trivializes the stretch race, or making it long enough to be legitimate, but in so doing penalizing division winners by forcing them to sit through an artificial lay-off.

Either way, it would be a slap in the face to the team that wins what is currently called the Wild Card berth. A one-or three-game series is simply a joke, and even if it were expanded to seven games, how is it fair to make a team that has fought over 162 games to establish their right to play in the post season defend that right in a new play-in round?

All this for what? A few more middle-market teams and new faces in October and November? For anyone who thinks new teams mean higher ratings in the playoffs, care to guess where 2010's World Series battle of misfits ranked among all-time ratings? Dead last.

Players as diverse as Tim Lincecum and Mark Teixeira from teams as different as the Giants and the Yankees have come out in stark opposition to the idea. It stands as nothing more than another desperate ploy by a major sports league to garner broader support through gimmicks, rather than making the product on the playing field better.

Maybe one day leagues will realize that the way to grow a fanbase is to improve the quality of the product on the field, not desperately blow false enthusiasm into the game by making idiotic rule changes to appeal to bandwagoners that haven't the slightest clue about how the game is really played. The game should belong to the real fans, and those in charge of the game should be beholden to them.

Maybe one day, Selig will figure that out. The proposed playoff expansion is nothing less than a giant middle finger to any true baseball fan.

Keep the Faith!

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Bud Selig Continues His Assault on Baseball, Common Sense, and All Things Holy 
Posted on 29 April 2011

What Osama Bin Laden's Death Should Really Mean to Barack Obama and the United States of America
Posted on 2 May 2011
News broke late on Sunday night that long-standing United States Public Enemy No. 1 Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US and coalition forces in Pakistan.

The overwhelming sentiment to this sudden, shocking news was one of jubilation. Thousands died needlessly in the shameless attacks of September 11, 2001, and Bin Laden's death was the first tangible accomplishment of the resultant War on Terror since the execution of former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein—an event that seems a lifetime ago.

Almost immediately, crowds gathered outside the White House waving American flags and chanting "USA"—in a show of patriotism unseen since the solidarity exhibited in the weeks following the original attacks. In many ways this makes sense: Bin Laden was an outspoken anti-American extremist who helped plan and fund the attacks of September 11, and after a long struggle and much sacrifice, a decidedly evil force in the world had finally been brought to justice.

Celebration would seem inevitable. But does the death of Bin Laden really change anything?

Sure it gives the president a much-needed boost in his approval rating as he kicks off his re-election campaign, it MAY in some way give the victims' families some closure and resolution as they continue to deal with their losses, and it gives us as citizens the chance to dust off those lapel pins that have been sitting in a drawer since 2002. But are we any safer? Was anything really accomplished? Does Bin Laden's death make the War on Terror any more successful than the amorphous and vague War on Drugs?

The final bounty on Bin Laden's head will total some nine-plus years of effort, thousands of civilian and military lives, and billions of dollars—and for what? The death of a singular and aging figure-head who had been virtually unheard from in years and was reportedly already fighting a bevy of debilitating health conditions? Is a world without Bin Laden worth all that?

Is the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any other nation really safer now than they were in August of 2001?

One could well argue that the effort and expense (in dollars, years, blood, and lives) expended in dispatching Hussein and Bin Laden has if anything emboldened those who think like them and given them yet another tangible motive to carry out more attacks (especially considering the fact that Bin Laden was not even afforded the trial that Hussein withstood). One would also be remiss not to stop and think what good could have been brought about in directing these efforts elsewhere.

But what's done is done (be it "justice" or not), and history does not change. All we as a nation can hope for is to make the most of the current situation—which presents many opportunities to Obama and his administration, if they know where to look.

In wake of the tragic events of September 11, there arose of sense of solidarity and patriotism among Americans perhaps unseen in our nation's history. Democrats and Republicans broke from their heated political debates to stand arm in arm on the steps of the Capitol singing "God Bless America." Literally every television personality—from the staunchest conservative to the most left-wing liberal—donned American Flag lapel pins, and the nation as a whole stood behind perhaps the most controversially-elected president ever as he outlined his path forward.

The Bush Administration managed to squander this historic swell of patriotism within several short years, and by the time Obama faced John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, the country was again combatively divided. Obama took office pledging to foster unity among those in political power, but by the spring of 2011 his controversial policy choices had created such a public and congressional rift that the nation faced its first federal shutdown in nearly two decades.

The euphoria seen around the globe on election night had faded for all but the president's most resolute supporters. Now he has a second chance.

Right or wrong: Osama Bin Laden is dead. We can argue to no end about the virtues of the act or how it was handled, but the fact of the matter is that it is done. If the president can seize on the wave of patriotic cooperation that this event has brought about, perhaps he can use it to affect some true good. Let us also not forget that we as citizens must play our part as well. This event has reminded us all that despite our differences we are all Americans, and we all want to make our country—and our world—a better place in which to live.

That should be true take-away of Sunday, May 1, 2011.

Keep the Faith!

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"Torture" Takes Time: The Use and Abuse of the Word "Torture" in the Bay Area Sporting Scene 
Posted on 13 May 2011
The San Francisco Giants won the 2010 World Series (by some lapse of universal reason and justice) against a very daunting set of odds—spawning the late-season and playoff mantra of Giants' baseball as "torture." Now, months later, the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion San Jose Sharks are being accused of torturing their fans as well.

The Sharks may well be guilty as charged—especially having just subjected their fans to a grueling and at times horrifying thrill ride of a seven-game series with the Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks may be better dungeon masters than even the Giants. After all, the Giants never let a series go to the final game in their march to a title.

So what's wrong with the use of "torture" in talking about Sharks' hockey?

The people using it.

Spring in the Bay Area is generally marked by two occurrences: the return of Giants' baseball, and the start of another Sharks' playoff run. Most years, nearly-irrelevant early-season baseball soaks up more than 90% of the attention span of Bay Area sports fans. But just as I predicted after the Giants went the distance, this year Bay Area residents are eager to celebrate another title, drawing much more attention than usual to Team Teal.

This added "interest" has drawn many of the same bandwagoning bafoons who probably thought Pablo Sandoval deserved World Series MVP consideration to dye their Brian Wilson ZZ Top costume beards teal and start "supporting" the Sharks in this their twentieth season.

With few exceptions, these are the types of marauding morons that are spouting out most of the comparisons between the Giants and the Sharks and most of the talk of how torturous this road has been. It is true that this run has already had plenty of torture, but real torture is something known only to true and loyal fans.

I am by no metaphysical means a Giants fan by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly I can admit their true fans have endured plenty of torture through the years. Waiting more than 50 years to see your team win a title certainly qualifies as torture, as does watching your team cough up a seemingly secure World Series Game 6 lead only to lose in seven.

The Sharks have twisted the knife on their loyal supporters too: teasing fans with growingly-dominant regular season campaigns only to find newer and newer ways to devastatingly disappoint in the playoffs. Torture was watching a Presidents' Trophy-winning squad cave in the first round to a division rival thanks mostly to an impossibly hot goaltender. Torture was watching the Sharks drop two games in the Western Conference Finals at home in 2004, draw even, then lose in six games. Torture was watching the Sharks go shift for shift with the Chicago Blackhawks after vanquishing Detroit, and not winning a single game.

These new "fans"—many of whom are local sportscasters and other media personalities generally known for discounting the Sharks' potential—do not know torture.

Torture is something that is earned. Before you start talking about torture, you have to have suffered. A bandwagoner knows no suffering—by definition.

The Sharks delivered a winning effort when it mattered most in the second round, and hopefully this year's experience has taught them more about winning and character than last year's bout with Detroit that seemed too easy and somewhat unearned.

As the Sharks continue to advance, expect the noise from the bumbling bandwagon to approach a deafening roar. Sure, being a Sharks' fan is torture, but the real torture for the true fans is having to listen to fair-weather, fickle fools talk about how they feel the pain of the rest of us.

Keep the Faith!

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The San Jose Sharks certainly ran into their fair share of bad luck, bad bounces, and bad calls in what proved to be their second-consecutive Western Conference Finals defeat, but ultimately they simply ran in to a vastly superior opponent.

They may have been the finest Sharks team ever to take the ice, but they simply could not match the Vancouver Canucks, who ranked first in nearly every statistical category in 2010-2011 on their way to the President's Trophy and an eventual Stanley Cup Finals berth. The Sharks actually out-played the Canucks in many respects, but the Canucks capitalized on nearly every mistake and opportunity en route to a 4-1 series win.

But as the Sharks face the prospect of reloading for another run at their ultimate goal, they might take note the approach apparently being employed by free-lance Bay Area minister Harold Camping. Camping generated international publicity this past week when he predicted that the world would come to an end on 21 May, triggered by the Biblical rapture.

When such events clearly failed to materialize, Camping wallowed in seclusion for about a day before emerging in shockingly vindicated fashion and proclaiming that his prediction had not been wrong, but simply incomplete, and that the true end of the world will be delayed five months until late October. This was actually the second time Camping had to double back on a bold prediction and concoct a "feasible" explanation (he previously predicted the rapture would occur in 1994, only to admit after the fact that his calculation method had been flawed).

Clearly, to most Camping is nothing more than a loony, self-absorbed zealot with a much stronger conviction in his own questionable world view than in the true doctrine of any real religion. However, lost in his madness, the Sharks might be able to find some method of success, if only they look hard enough.

Camping had a surprising number of "true" believers convinced in his apocalyptic forecast, so much so in some cases that people were inspired to purge their worldly belongings and take pilgrimage to Oakland to join the rapture with their own kind. In similar fashion, the Sharks had many among their fans and even critics—myself certainly included—convinced that this was the year they would crest the summit and bring the Cup to San Jose.

Like Camping's prediction of global Armageddon, the reality of the Sharks as Stanley Cup Champions failed to materialize on cue. So what can the Sharks learn from Mr. Camping?

When the reality of his conviction did not materialize as planned, Camping did not throw his arms up in defeat or recede into anonymity. He also did not radically change his approach. Rather on two separate and seemingly devastatingly embarrassing occasions, Camping emerged almost redoubled in his fervor, foretelling an updated timeline for his ultimate prediction.

The Sharks could benefit from this approach. Following each playoff disappointment, so-called experts always emerge declaring this is the time the Sharks must clear the slate and start anew. I have often been one of those people. But if the Sharks' play this season proved anything, it proved that this approach would be a mistake.

The Sharks are on the right track, and if they continue down this path, they will win a Stanley Cup—soon. The Sharks' demise this season was crafted less from their own shortcomings, and more as a function of a simply superior opponent being just a little bit better.

The experts will surely file this campaign away with the rest of the Sharks' historic playoff disappointments, but this season was different, and any reasonable hockey fan can see the progress of the last three seasons as brightly as the teal on the home sweaters at HP Pavilion.

The Sharks must remain steadfast in the belief that they are Cup-bound, and re-emerge this fall with fresh legs and the belief that they will hit the jackpot in their 21st year of hockey. They could learn something from Harold Camping, indeed.

Keep the Faith!

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Major League Baseball used to be the Great American Pastime—a place where fathers and sons could bring their gloves and enjoy a hot dog with their peanuts and crackerjacks while sitting amongst well-dressed and well-behaved fellow fans and enjoying the on-field exploits of not only legendary players, but legendary Americans, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson. Baseball was still simply a game, and the act of going to the park was focused on the joy of watching world-class athletes compete on a grand stage.

Oh, how far the game has come (or more properly—fallen).

Fathers still bring their sons to the park, but rather than simply enjoying the game, they must now stand watch for nine innings or more, protecting their children from profanity, rowdy drunkards, and the occasional flying undergarment. There are a few truly respectable, some might say "classic" modern superstars trying to keep the dying embers of the game's heritage from being snuffed out by the winds of "progress" (Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard come to mind), but by and large the legends of yesteryear have sadly surrendered the game to a pack of overly-egotistic, overly-greedy, oft-unkempt and in most cases likely overly-enhanced band of unsavory characters. The aspiring little leaguers of today have precious little to look to in the way of good role models.

Bumbling commissioner Alan H. "Bud" Selig's silent consent of the steroid era has called the legitimacy of any present or future record chase into question. Ridiculous publicity ploys like the unbalanced schedule, interleague play, and the rumored playoff expansion have subjugated major stretches of the season to little more than exhibition status. Pushes for parity have undermined the major league power structure—which had created such compelling drama for generations—and have left the dividing line between contender and pretender in an almost-indecipherable haze. Major League Baseball has lost touch with its roots to such an extent that 29 of 30 major league teams have taken to wearing a dizzying and ever-devolving array of "alternate" solid-colored softball jerseys in a shameless ploy to bolster merchandising revenues (certainly I need not delineate explicitly the one team that refuses to do so). This practice stands as perhaps the most outward and obvious manifestation of the game's regression.

It would seem that Major League Baseball finds itself in dark days indeed. But it could still get so much worse.

To date, Major League Baseball has resisted the almost overwhelming urge to sheepishly follow all other American professional leagues by employing a salary cap. They have rejected calls to pacify and court a broader fan base by limiting game durations through such ludicrous means as a pitch clock. It seems somewhere in the rat's nest of Selig's cranium, a minuscule store of conscience and respect for the game's heritage does reside.

In addition, he and the rest of the leagues' owners have once refused and once happily narrowly avoided having to refuse billionaire tycoon/buffoon/Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admission into the realm of Major League Baseball team owners.

Cuban made the highest bid to purchase the Chicago Cubs from the Chicago Tribune several years ago, only to see the sale fail to be approved by the requisite 23 major league owners. Last year, he was outbid in hopes to land his home-town Texas Rangers by a group headed by team legend Nolan Ryan.

Now with Frank McCourt's deposition as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers seemingly imminent, the buzz around Cuban has resurfaced with renewed fervor. "Experts" are touting Cuban as a savior of sorts, someone who will bring fresh "excitement", "creativity", and "vivacity" to a game in desperate need of a make-over to regain its once-prominent place on the American sporting landscape.

Cuban would bring change, Major League Baseball needs change, but the type of change baseball needs and the type of change Cuban offers are diametrically opposed.

Cuban's admission into the major league owner ranks would only progress the sort of disturbing trends that have undermined the proud heritage of the game. There was much pontificating last fall about the value of the World Series match-up, pitting two "fresh faced" and "fun" teams against each other on the game's biggest stage. The argument was that not only were the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers refreshing alternatives after the much more traditional match-up between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies the year before, but both had players and fans that infused the World Series stage with creativity, energy, and excitement.

Did baseball fans outside Texas and Northern California agree? Most said yes, but the numbers said no. The 2010 World Series drew the worst ratings of ANY World Series to EVER BE TELEVISED. So much for generating fresh excitement in the game.

Certainly geography played a role in the poor ratings, as absent a team from east of the Mississippi River, the majority of the heavily-populated East Coast had little direct reason to stay up late and watch the games. Nonetheless, if the match-up truly was the wonderful miracle it was made out to be, the series should have been able to draw better ratings than at least a few previous fall classics. To some extent, the failure to do so was a resounding indictment by the silent majority of traditionalist major league fans of exactly the sort of ludicrous "traditions" the Giants' and Rangers' players and fans were partaking in.

Mark Cuban will only enhance such sorry displays. Can you imagine the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers (a franchise of tremendous tradition and history) accepting their World Series tennis bracelets? If Cuban had his way, that is precisely what the Mavericks would have received after winning the NBA title.

Many say there is no such thing as bad publicity, but history has proven such ignorance wrong time and time again. If Mark Cuban is the only man that can save Major League Baseball, death might be a preferable fate. Major League Baseball needs change, but that change should help fix what is wrong with the game, not make matters worse.

Keep the Faith!

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San Jose Sharks: Time to Plead the Harold Camping Defense 
Posted on 2 June 2011

Major League Embargo: Why Mark Cuban Should NEVER Own a Major League Baseball Team 
Posted on 30 June 2011

The True Tragedy of 9/11: We Have Remembered the Day, But Forgotten its Lessons 
Posted on 11 September 2011
As is doubtless the case with most every American, ten years of time has failed to extinguish my memory of the horrific events of September 11th, 2001.
I remember my mother telling me of the attacks on New York and Washington when she woke me up that morning. I remember pensively driving to high school and standing in awe with my classmates as we watched the World Trade Center towers collapse just before the school day began. I remember the surreal experience of going from class to class and watching each teacher attempt to walk the tight rope trying to decide whether to continue with the planned curriculum or stand down to simply discuss the day's events. I remember the eerie and seemingly unending silence of a sky devoid of aircraft.
Without a doubt, any American who lived through that day would have no difficulty recounting his or her personal experiences from that late summer day a decade ago, whether those experience were—like mine­—removed, distant, and sheltered, or tragically were much more first hand. As a nation, we have made quite good on our vow never to forget the events of that day.
We have also done well in remembering and honoring those who lost or gave their lives that day or in the years since. Thousands died needlessly that morning, for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many more gave their lives in the hours, days, and weeks that followed, attempting to save as many of these innocent victims as possible. Still more have died over the last decade, defending our country and our way of life while fighting for specific military objectives with which perhaps they themselves did not agree. The value in honoring the memory and sacrifice of these brave and unfortunate Americans is unquestionable.

However, while we as a nation have done so splendidly remembering this tragedy and honoring those lost and affected, we have all too quickly forgotten two extremely valuable lessons we learned that day at tremendous cost. Firstly, the events of September 11th proved unequivocally that the cavalier bravado of America's leadership on the international stage rubs a good many the wrong way, even to the extent of putting our citizens at great risk. Secondly, the experience showed that Americans can band together as a unified force in the face of great adversity.

To the first point, while no American would condone the attacks on our nation, a good many were willing to admit that in some way, we as a nation and a people may have been somewhat responsible for creating the resentment that ultimately bore these terrible acts. This is a lesson that we have apparently forgotten.

The military "accomplishments" that America has realized since that infamous day—namely the removal of Sadaam Hussein and Osama bin Laden from power—are somewhat debatable in their ultimate utility. However, the heavy-handed means used to bring these dubious ends to bear are questionable at best. Furthermore, the raucous, celebratory, and vindictive reaction of the majority of Americans to the news of the deaths of Hussein and bin Laden has surely done little to improve the international perspective of our nation.

To the second point, while the image of the smoking and crumbling twin towers is forever seared in the national memory, we seem to have dismissed some other powerful images from that day which should have proven equally if not even more influential. People everywhere began to wave and display the red white and blue, strangers dropped their biases and preconceptions and helped one another without hesitation, and Democrats and Republicans set aside bitter political disputes and stood hand-in-hand on the steps of the Capitol singing God Bless America. For a time, everyone was decidedly cooperative, happy to be alive, and proud to be American.

If this sentiment had lasted, America could have wrested something truly wonderful from one of its darkest days. However, the speed with which this positive by-product dissolved back into "normalcy" is arguably nearly as tragic as everything else we as a country lost that day. Ten years later, the average American is just as introverted as he or she was on September 10th, 2001—perhaps more so. Distrust runs rampant as there are perhaps more people today who believe our own government perpetrated these attacks on its own people to justify a military invasion in pursuit of natural resources than believe NASA faked the Apollo 11 moon landing. But maybe worst of all, political animosity is arguably at an all-time high, when we need cooperation more than ever.

Bitter and illogical, almost childish disputes between politicians nearly caused a government shutdown months ago as leaders from both parties held thousands of federal employees hostage by refusing to pass a national budget more in an effort to prove a point to their opposition than out of any genuine concern over the terms of the proposed compromise. The economy is in shambles, but politicians are more concerned with attacking their supposed adversaries than working toward solutions that could help the constituents who invested faith in them by voting them into office.

The problems facing America today are daunting, but they become nearly insurmountable when we as a country are spending more time fighting each other than banding together to fight them. As we pause to reflect on the tenth anniversary of one of our country's darkest hours, let us also remember the positive lessons that emerged from that tragic day. Our inability as a nation to retain these lessons has been sorely disappointing, but the good news is it's not too late to dust them off and use them to our best advantage moving forward.

Keep the Faith!

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Ignorance is Bliss: World Series Game 6 Proves Parity's Negative Effect on the Game of Baseball 
Posted on 28 October 2011

There was a time when a true baseball fan could confidently look forward to the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series, assured that he or she would be treated to a showcase of the American Pastime played at its highest possible level. Even lacking a vested interest in either competing team, the caliber of play would still captivate any real fan and the entertainment factor would be well worth watching.

Combatants would not only be evenly-matched, but also dauntingly talented. Opponents would duel deep into games, scraping and clawing for the most meager of edges. A single run could be monumental, and the game would literally hang on every pitch.

Nowadays, however, the once-storied fall season in Major League Baseball is anything but classic.

The primary factor in the game's regression was the player strike of 1994 and subsequent desperate efforts by many in power to cater to fringe fans and "grow the game" by forcing drama through parity. The primary argument is that increased parity creates better distribution of odds and talent and that makes for better baseball. No longer are the Yankees or Braves so dominant. Any team can win it all and that's good for the game.

But is it really?

Anyone naive enough to believe that the constant success of teams like the New York "Evil Empire" Yankees hurts baseball need look no further than television ratings. When marquee teams like the Yankees or Red Sox are involved in a postseason series, ratings are consistently solid. Fresh blood may be an interesting novelty for a couple of hours, but it rarely holds the public interest as well as the presence of a storied franchise.

Love them or hate them, people care about major teams. Hardly anyone is indifferent to the Yankees or Red Sox, and when people care, they watch.

Ratings are one thing, quality of play is another.

By and by, teams like the Yankees are factors in the postseason so consistently because they consistently play the game at a high level. People can defame their infamous spending habits, but the fact is they put quality products on the field year in and year out and reap the benefits of doing so. In order to help other teams compete, baseball must intervene and artificially "level the playing field."

Policies like the luxury tax and revenue sharing (in essence creating a de facto salary cap), recent institutions like the addition of the five-game Wild Card play-in, and shameful decisions like the leagues' silent consent of the mass proliferation of steroids and PEDs have all contributed to leveling the playing field and kindling interest among casual fans. The unfortunate part is that rather than maintaining the original quality of play, these practices have largely driven all teams toward a common mediocre median in the interest of bolstering league balance.

The game has suffered undeniably as a result. Perhaps this was never highlighted more definitively than in Thursday's Game 6 of the World Series.

Two alleged league champions engaged in a brutally sloppy exhibition of spring-caliber baseball wherein neither team could muster the wherewithal to bring about a decisive victory. The teams combined for five errors through the first seven innings and—seeking their first title in franchise history—the Texas Rangers failed to record the decisive out with a two-run cushion in back-to-back innings before surrendering a walk-off home run.

Sure the finish was dramatic, but it simply wasn't good baseball. Statistically, the pitcher always holds a tremendous advantage (an incredibly good hitter still makes out more than 60 percent of the time). How then can any true fan claim a five-error, 19-run ordeal as anything resembling good baseball? Even with two lineups as powerful as the Cardinals' and Rangers', one cannot sensibly claim that the final score was a result of great hitting beating great pitching. Even if it was, you cannot write off five errors.

World Series baseball should be a showcase of a great game being played at its highest level. True fans can appreciate the game's inherent drama, without needing the artificial "excitement" created by the increased scoring and common-denominator balance of power fostered by today's league executives. A true fan of the game will gladly accept their fair share of laughers for the privilege of seeing two supremely talented teams fight it out for the right to call themselves champions. That is how champions ought to be crowned.

Instead, Major League Baseball, like all too many modern-day professional sports, is fast-becoming a game where pitifully little separation exists between "good" and "bad" teams. The result is a game where a champion might rely as much on fortune as talent and dsicipline on their way to a title. Unfortunately, the moniker of "World Champions" is far too seldom truly earned in today's game.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is that Major League Baseball has created a fan base where the majority of "fans" not only accept but excitedly welcome this reality. This regrettable majority opinion has not only served as justification for further degradation to this once-great game, but has even begun to convince some former purists that the changes afoot are beneficial.

Baseball is fast losing its collective grip on reality, and most "fans" couldn't be happier. For them, ignorance truly is bliss. For the rest of us, we can only hope we haven't seen the last of baseball that derives its drama from the competition between two supremely talented foes, rather than from the mediocrity inherent in an annual bout between the two seemingly interchangeable teams du jour.

Keep the Faith!

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