Nothing ever changes in the National League East, going back to 1991. Since then the Florida Marlins have won two World Series crowns. The New York Mets fell apart and bottomed out, rose again in a new era, and then fell apart and started over again. The Philadelphia Phillies escaped mediocrity and formed a loveable and grimy squad that almost won it all, imploded and started rebuilding with new stars. The Montreal Expos sent future Hall of Famers to every other team except their own, and never took a step in the right direction. There was a strike that cancelled the World Series. The wild card was invented and Major League Baseball went to three divisions per league from two. But nothing has changed. Every year over that extended span, the Atlanta Braves have always wound up as champions of their division.
As sick as this sounds, Rob Pelinka may have just saved the league thanks to his questionable ethics. We are at a very dangerous time for the NBA. The league is highly unstable right now. Some of the biggest names in the league trying to force their way onto other teams by complaining publicly through the media. An endless barrage of potential mega-block buster trades loom that will redistribute talent in a spattering of directions that will leave everyone confused. The break up of the Lakers and success of the Pistons is creating seismic waves that has teams re-evaluating their philosophies and scrambling for a piece of the Laker yard sale. Teams are awarding indefensibly horrendous contracts to mediocre players as the unsigned superstars sit back and laugh as their potential dollar amount sky rockets by the day. Along came Rob Pelinka, whose indiscretions are going to create tension between teams and agents that should at least slow down the out-of-control signings.
And now, starting for the American League All-Star team as voted on by the baseball fans out there… with a stellar 11 home runs, 31 RBI and a .238 batting average, former MVP Jason Giambi! Every year the fans make a mistake or two with their selections for All-Star game starters, often voting on reputation or recognizable names instead of on how a player has performed in the current season, and that’s not always a bad thing. It brings more star power to the game, which is supposed to be more of an event than a competitive game anyways. Cal Ripken Jr. was a constant presence in the starting lineup over the years, despite a career that was on a noticeable downward plunge. But the fans loved him because of the streak that kept him in the public eye, and even more importantly, because they knew who he was. One year Jose Canseco was voted as a starter despite missing virtually the whole first half of the season due to injury, but he was still the most exciting player in the sport at the time, so he still deserved to be there at a showcase for the sport. Jason Giambi has no business being at the All-Star Game in 2004.
McGrady and Yao. Yao and McGrady. This is fair, why? Remember how the Lakers threepeated on the strength of having the two best players in the league and a great coach? Well that’s exactly what the Houston Rockets will have soon enough. When it comes to the best inside-outside combo, they might have that already.
A quick glance at baseball’s league leaders in home runs reads like this: National League – Jim Thome, American League – Manny Ramirez. They are two of the biggest stars in the game, both establishing their Hall of Fame credentials with every titanic blast, but have both remained somewhat mysterious to the public. Blame part of that on Major League Baseball’s reluctance to promote superstars, but also look at the two men as two personalities that you wouldn’t expect to find in professional sports.
In the fifth inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds, the New York Mets finally had Mike Piazza at the plate with Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes on base, something that has never happened before. What took place was all too familiar.
As he approached career home run number 500, the coverage surrounding Ken Griffey Jr. intensified. Since arriving in Cincinnati he has been plagued with a well-documented injury bug that put his career into a deep freeze and kept him off the baseball fan’s radar. Maybe there was the occasional “What if?” and “What ever happened to?”, but as far as the prettiest swing in the game, the brightest smile with the swagger to match, and the impossible running, jumping, gravity defying centerfield show stopping, Junior was a forgotten man. So far, in 2004 he has shaken the curse of the injury, rediscovered his power stroke, and is the heart of one of the most surprising teams in all of baseball. Then he did it. Number 500.
After overcoming injuries to everyone except Payton, the ominous presence of the Kobe trial, Phil Jackson’s wait-and-see approach to the season, constant bickering between their two biggest stars, and a tougher Western Conference than they had ever gone up against, Los Angeles was still alive.
That miraculous shot by Fisher was indicative of how the Lakers overcame obstacles all year long. Were they overconfident heading into the Finals?
Of course they were! And because of that smug arrogance and cockiness, the Laker experiment failed miserably.
Is that being too harsh?
Can a team that reached the Finals be considered a total failure?