The 2014 Sporties Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Sporties our annual celebration of the best of Sport and the Sports world.  Let’s dive right in shall we:

Game of the Year – Last year of course featured the absolutely bonkers Auburn / Alabama game in addition to the Brady vs. Manning Bowl in which Brady staged an incredible comeback.  This year the contenders are much fewer and farther in between.  There were a couple of crazy baseball games and a couple of crazy football games.  However, the most exciting game I watched?  No question it was the bonkers World Cup match between the US vs. Portugal game which came down to the absolute wire and featured some of the top players in the world playing out of their minds.

Shocking World Cup Moment of the Year – Brazil gets tuned up by eventual champs Germany.  It was relentless, wave after wave of unstoppable strikers and you began to feel worse and worse for Brazil fans.  Simply awful.

Championship Dominations – One theme of the year was definitely beat downs in the finals: the LA Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Seahawks all cruised to victory over, in some cases, more ballyhooed opponents.  I will also not neglect to mention the Canadian hockey team and their punishing win over the US in the Olympic Finale.

Series of the Year – The best series of the year took place in hockey, and featured the LA Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks in a war that served as the real Stanley Cup final.

Breakout of the Year – The biggest winners of the World Cup was the Men in Blazers who are single handedly bringing soccer to the masses of America through their insanely brilliant show.  During the biggest sports event in the world, the two men locked themselves in a small room nicknamed “Bob Ley’s panic room” where they proceeded to break down football and culture simultaneously.  When they got home it was a quick shift to NBC Sports where they continued to have the highest rated podcast and a shockingly well rated TV series.  They are stone brilliant and they are now both a must watch, and must listen.

Pod of the Year – After the praise I just gave the Men in Blazers, you would rightfully assume they have won the Pod Award…but this is actually a battle that stretched beyond the sports world!  Three of my must listen pods: the aforementioned Blazers, Hollywood Prospectus and SerialHollywood Prospectus is highly entertaining and funny, and includes the occasional deep dive into the movies of David Fincher or the music of Taylor Swift.  It is fun and light and takes pop culture analysis to a whole new level.  Serial tells the story of a 15 year old murder allegedly committed by a young man named Adnan Syed.  The podcast is hypnotic and brilliantly conceived as we wander through the murky depths of a story where we may not want to hear the outcome.  A truly powerful experience; and a very addictive one as I powered through four pods believing I was only on the first one.  Wait?  Isn’t that only three pods when I actually mentioned four?  Yes, because it is high time someone gave praise to the true return of the Starters.   Last year I was almost out on them, as their 44 minute shows were simply not enough time to properly appreciate them.  Given that their time as “The Basketball Jones” was astounding and creative, it felt a little bit as if they were being contained in a small box that stripped away all their talent.  This year I was on the edge of being out completely when I heard they were cutting down to 22 minute shows.  I was done: I tried, but all their zany antics had been stripped away simply because there was not time.  In some ways it was good because it focused their great and insightful basketball minds.  However…it was putting them in a box.  I was done.

And then I heard the news.  On Fridays, the Starters would be unleashing “the Drop” a return to their old, off the walls ways.  Welcome back boys.  Before the first pod I waited with trepidation and had not looked forward to a pod like that for some time.  When I listened, all my fears vanished.  The boys were back.  In the following weeks, they have truly returned to their off the walls roots where their crazy energy and unstoppable hilarity continues.  What a glorious return.  Another year and you might be the pod of the year: right now it is the Blazers for their consistency.

Sports Books of the Year – I read some great sports books this year, many about football (American and otherwise).  The best: League of Denial by Mark Fairinua and Steve Farinua  / Showtime by Jeff Pearlman / Michael Jordan by Roland Lazenby / The Football Business by David Conn and Against Football by Steve Almond.  Another must read is the William Hill Sports Book winner: Night Games by Anna Krien which takes the microcosm of the misdeeds of the Australian Rules Football league and expands it through the sporting world.  An interesting take on the lengths teams will go to in order to protect their players and the depths players will sink to in order to fit in.  An important achievement and must read book.

Team of the Year – The Kansas City Royals because no other team did what they did, with the expectations that team had coming into the season.  Even in defeat they are worthy.  Runners up: San Antonio Spurs, Team Canada and Seattle Seahawks.

Off Field Moment of the Year – LeBron James returns to Cleveland…as read by Frank Caliendo playing Morgan Freeman.  Runner Up: Wait, is that Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter?  What could they possibly be discussing?  Is it possible for all the evil in the modern world ensconced in one luxury box?  Another runner up: remember when Bob Costas got pink eye in Russia?

Sportie Man of the Year – No one and I mean no one, gives Sidney Crosby enough credit.  He deserves to be the Sportie Man of the Year because he guided one of the most dominating hockey teams through a grueling slate to the finals.  It did not look good and certain points but the best players truly shine when it matters most and the way Crosby dominated at both ends of the ice in the final was astounding to watch.  He deserves more recognition for the way he dominates his sport in an especially competitive time: remember when Ovechkin or Crosby was a serious question?  Now it is likely Crosby or Toews.  Crosby though is our Sportie Man of the Year.

The 2011 Sporties!

Welcome to the first annual Sportie Awards!

The Sporties cover the entire world of sports in a variety of catagories.  Get ready to be amazed…

Ready?  Okay, here we go, without further ado, your 2011 Sportie Winners:

Game of the Year – World Series Game 6

Given that some are calling this the best baseball game of the past 50 years, it definitely gets this year’s Sportie.  The twists and turns in this game had your stomach in knots and it was impossible to move for the duration.  Probably the most entertaining baseball game I have ever seen. 

Best Sports Moment – Aaron Rodgers putting on the belt after winning the Superbowl.

Not only did Rodgers completely erase all doubt and blow away the last Favre lovers (given that he is better) he did it with a team of vets and youngsters who played harder than anyone else.  Every now and again the right guy takes one. 

Sports Books of the Year

Net Worth by David Cruise and Allison Griffiths – Imagine a world where the entire system of Government is corrupt and run by a brutal dictator.  This is not about the USSR but rather the illustrious history of the NHL detailed brilliantly in Net Worth.  The best thing the authors do is provide indelible portraits of former (and future) greats / horrible people such as Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Eddie Shore and Eric Lindros.  Their takes are unique, insightful and at times, utterly devestating.  Easily one of the most infuriating sports books ever written. 

Loose Balls by Terry Pluto – The 2nd funniest basketball book ever written (behind Bill Simmons epic tome) is an oral history of the wild ABA years featuring so many hilarious anecdotes that it becomes impossible to put down.  The characters are  outrageously larger than life and rendered brilliantly human.  My favorite story: Marvin “Bad News” Barnes on a morning plane that took off at 8AM and landed at 7:59AM – “I ain’t flying on no time machine.  I ain’t taking no plane that goes back in time.”

Diving into Darkness by Phillip Finch / Blind Descent by James Tabor – What sort of person can reach the pinnacle of sport diving?  What sort of person could push themselves to not only dive as deep as possible but into a cave?  Finch takes on the likes of two men who make an epic cave dive…and the one who must fight to survive.  So vivid are his descriptions that the reader is transported along into the abyss.  Tabor tackles an even more harrowing quest to discover the deepest place on Earth.  He follows the Bird / Magic of the caving world through their harsh journeys fraught with danger.  Both books are claustrophobic reading experiences that challenge as well as entertain. 

Most Devestating Moment – Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals

Not only did we have to suffer defeat, but we also had to deal with all of Surrey rioting and looting Vancouver stores.  Thanks once again for improving our Post-Olympic Image Surrey. 

Pod of the Year – Men in Blazers

I had essentially planned on giving this to Bill Simmons BS Report forever, but the Men in Blazers stole my heart.  Easy to do with an informative and hilarious look into the world of futbal.  How can one not burst out laughing when each week they are treating us “Great Friends of the Pod” to exchanges like the following:

Michael Davies: “If you could have dinner with Gregori Rasputin or John Terry who would it be?”

Roger Bennett: “You’re asking me to choose between a man who is a serial rapist, cult leader, who once raped a nun…and Gregori Rasputin?” 

Michael Davies: “Just so we are clear, Rasputin was actually the nun raper.”

Roger Bennett: “I would take Rasputin since he is dead – the conversation would be better.”

Sportie Man of the Year – Lebron James

Everyone just stopped reading, but hear me out: who else garnered more ink or attention this year than LBJ?  Be it for his epic collapse or his epic play, he was the man.  Period.  We could not get enough of him when he was dominating and we could not get enough when he was disappearing.  Ultimately the choice is clear. 

The Bobby Baun Hall of Fame

A few years ago (okay, 47 years exactly),a man  a legend named Bobby Baun broke his leg in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.  He was hit in the ankle with a shot, went off to the training room and was told the following: His leg was broken.   

Most athletes would have quietly accepted their diagnosis and returned to the bench in their street clothes – some NBA players…(cough, cough Andrew Bynum) would have enjoyed it – Baun took another route.  He asked for his leg to be frozen and then inexplicably returned to the game

Had the tale ended then and there, Mr. Baun would not be the namesake of the following Hall of Fame, however, the story was far from over.  Baun not only returned to the lineup, he went on to score the winning goal in overtime.   Yes, the man continued to play with a broken leg even when the game went to overtime.  Then he scored the game winner, with the series on the line for the Leafs. 

Baun was far from finished – he went on to play in Game 7 and help lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup.  The fellow in the picture on the right who shows no indication of the broken leg while he jubilantly celebrates with Lord Stanley is the Patron (Padrone and Godfather) of only the most dedicated and resiliant in sports history.  The Bobby Baun Hall of Fame honors those who fought through normally horrendus injuries or illness to play in the toughest of times.   

How does an athlete become eligable for The Bobby Baun Hall of Fame?  

1) The injury / illness must be significant Playing with a slight head cold does not count for anything here.  The injury must be serious enough that the player would normally sit out but instead choses to tough it out. 

2)  Only playoff time counts – An injury sustained during the regular season and played through is important, but in the playoffs there must truly be no such thing as an injury.  The stage on which the athlete played through the injury definitely plays a factor: if your team is being massacred in the first round and you play through a torn knee does not mean as much as triumphantly returning to a Stanley Cup Finals game with your team on the brink of elimination and scoring the winning goal in ot despite your broken freaking leg! 

3) The return to the Game / Series must have a positive impact on your team – If you should not have played and made the team worse, you will not get as high a place in the Bobby Baun HOF; conversely, if the team won and you were the reason, your rank will be much higher.  Ideally, the team should win the Championship led by the injured player.

4) Lifetime durability will be given a special section. 

5) Andrew Bynum / Wilt Chamberlain / Greg Oden / Alex Mogiliny need not apply.  Additionally, playing hungover does not equal playing with an injury.  Sorry 1990’s Cowboys.   

6) Superstars stepping up means more – Let’s face facts: if Michael Jordan plays with an injury and dominates, he will have a larger overall impact on his teammates then if Bill Wennington triumphantly returns from a torn clapping hand. 

7) A new class is eligable each year at the end of August.

Without further ado, some of the initial inductees to the Bobby Baun HOF:

Baun, Bobby – See above.

Jordan, Michael – Scoring 38 points in an NBA Finals Game was a frequent occurance for His Airness.  Scoring 38 points with a brutal flu and single-handedly leading his team to victory in Game 5 the 1997 NBA Finals was a once in a lifetime event.  Jordan was weak, feverish and collapsed in Scottie Pippen’s arms at the conclusion of his Epic Game.

Elway, John – We are slightly cheating here because we have no proof Elway was actually injured at any point in the Super Bowl…but he most certainly was.  When he stretched out and took a brutal hit to gain a crucial third down in the fourth quarter against Green Bay it showed just how much Elway wanted his first ring.  He definitely earned every inch of it and personified winning at all costs to an entire generation. 

Ripken Jr, Cal / Favre, Brett – Special mention goes to these two men who fought through all kinds of injuries (including, in Ripken’s case a freak broken nose at an All-Star photo shoot) and emotional trauma (the death of Favre’s father) to become the “Iron Men” of their respective sports. 

Howe, Gordie – Not Hockey’s Iron Man…but he should be.  “Mr. Hockey” excelled for nearly four decades in Pro Hockey (you read that right…4 decades) and played well into his 50’s (even making an All-Star Game in the WHL).  Tough as nails and one of the greatest hockey players ever, Gordie simply did not believe in either aging or injures.

Pierce, Paul – In Game One of the 2008 NBA Finals, Paul Pierce was carried off the court after a nasty collision.  The Lakers proceeded to have their way with the Celtics.  Pierce had never made it past round 2 in the playoffs until this point and he made the most of it.  His dramatic return led to a Celtics victory in the Game and completely shifted the entire series.  Rumors swirl about the actual degree of his injury but his impact on the game and series upon his return negates all speculation.

Yzerman, Steve – Stevie Wonder injured his knee early in the 2001/2002 Campaign and while this would have stopped most NHL’s cold, he had other priorities.  Chief among them was winning the Stanley Cup.  Playing on one leg for the entire season and playoffs, Yzerman was able to achieve his goal.  In the process he won the Conn Smyth trophy and essentially willed the Red Wings to victory. 

Koufax, Sandy – The 1965 World Series is one that has gone down in history due to the remarkable performance of Sandy Koufax.  His arm had been bothering him all season and by the World Series appeared to be in serious danger of falling off.  Despite the pain, Koufax dominated all season…then refused to pitch Game 1 of the Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.  (At this point you are wondering how he could possibly be eligable for the Bobby Baun HOF…but just you wait…)  Koufax pitched a complete game shutout in Game 5, leading the Dodgers to a 3-2 Series Lead…then returned to pitch Game 7 on two days rest – with his still injured arm.  All Sandy did in Game 7 was throw a three hit shutout to clinch the series.  Shockingly, he was voted MVP. 

Kesler, Ryan – Against the San Jose Sharks, Kesler “blew a tire” and was carted off while panicked Canucks fans went into near cardiac arrest.  Fortunately, not playing was definitely not in the cards and Kesler immediately returned to score the goal that sent Game 5 to OT.  He would play the entire 2011 Stanley Cup Finals on one leg. 

Rondo, Rajon – After a bad collision with Dwyane Wade, Rondo got up and his arm was pointing the wrong direction.  He left, then came back and proceeded to win Game 3 singlehandedly.  Unfortunately, the Miami Heat realized he could not play defense and torched him the rest of the series.  He makes the HOF for his immortal post-game comments; when asked how his arm was, Rondo responded “Still broke, hurts pretty bad, but I’ma keep playing”.

Bossy, Mike and the 1983 Islanders – The 80’s Islanders played through everything.  After defeating Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals, Gretzky and Kevin Lowe noted that no celebration came from the Isles locker room.  Instead, everyone was hurting and getting treatment.  Lowe commented “that is what it takes to win”. 

Exactly

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Inagural Class of Inductees for the Bobby Baun Hall of Fame. 

 

2011 MLB Preview

Opening Day is here!  Time to make some picks:

Division Champs AL:

1) Red Sox – The team had an impressive offseason (picking up Adrian Gonzalez / Carl Crawford) and given the Yankees inability to land a marquee free agent for one of the first times in their history, it appears to be Boston’s year to run the table. 

2) Rangers – Last year’s AL title winner was supposed to be the team to beat…this season.  Given their ability to rise early, this season should be even better behind their big bats. 

3) Twins – The team has started a great franchise the right way, by building around their two superstars: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  One of the most solid teams in the league for the past few years, this could be their season to advance into the World Series.

4) Wild Card: Yankees – Not the trendiest of picks, but A-Rod has had one of the best Spring Training seasons of his career.  He may be the key for the team given their lack of great pickups in the off-season.  CC Sabathia could be on track for his slimmest (?!) season and a Cy Young.  Another possibility: The Rays come through again

NL Division Champs

1) Phillies – My title pick from 2010 turned out to be a bit lame in the Playoffs…but with their rotation I would bet on a bounce back season.  Especially when four of their starters could win 15-20 games.  Sure, their power appears weaker but they might just win a lot of 2-1 games.

2) Brewers – A team led by men named Prince and Braun will take their division.  The Reds are another possibility with the rise of their young talent.  However, in my opinion, the Brewers have enough power to battle through.

3) Giants – The reigning World Series winner comes into the season with a lovable cast of characters – The Beard!  Barry Zito! – and confidence from going all the way.  Can they do it for an entire season?  Maybe all this team needs is to get into the playoffs and then they can ride their hot arms and quick bats.

4) Wild Card: Braves – A young team, full of talent and finally transitioning away from the old guard (except the immortal Chipper Jones) is ready to take center stage.  Too bad the team ahead of them in the division has one of the best rotations since the ’86 Mets or ’95 Braves. 

Award Winners:

MVP’s – Albert Pujols, Cardinals / Joe Mauer, Twins: Both are poised for big years and there is no way to bet against Pujols in a contract year when he may be playing for free agency. 

Rookie of the Year – Jeremy Hellickson, Rays / Brandon Belt, Giants:  Two trendy picks, but with rookies you never know.  I would not count out Freddie Freeman of the Braves given their excellent farm system.

Cy Young – Roy Halliday, Phillies / CC Sabathia, Yankees:  Halliday is the best pitcher of the current era and Sabathia is looking slimmer than ever.  The Phillies fantastic rotation may hurt Halliday – but should he stand above them he will shine even brighter.  Sabathia will have to carry the Yankees in a tough division where every team can compete; he could be in line for 23 or 24 wins.  The Mariners Felix Hernandez could take the AL Award. 

World Series Matchup:

Trendy pick is the Phillies vs. Red Sox, but show me the last time trendy panned out in the MLB playoffs?  I will go with Phillies vs. Twins with the Phillies rising as champs in 2011.

MLB Playoff Preview

What better way to preview the race to the World Series then to imagine this year’s MLB playoff teams as classic movie villains?   

NL Teams

1) Philadephia Phillies =  Michael Corleone

Why:  The Phillies are hands down the team to beat this year.  Pitching is a major strength and for the most part that is how championships are won.  Imagine, if you will a seven game series against the Phils – they could pitch (2010) Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, former Ace Cole Hamels (who could be the number 1 pitcher on 90% of the teams in the league) and recent addition Roy Oswalt twice.  If they each win one game, you are going to game seven.  Halladay will not lose and Oswalt has been on fire.  Throw in one of the best lineups in the National League anchored by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and the Phillies are one of the most complete teams in the postseason.  Like Michael Corleone they have a plan and can execute it at a very high level.  They are ruthless and can outmanuever any team they face.  The competition will not know what hit them, only that they have had their ranks completely decimated in moments. 

2) San Francisco Giants = The Joker

Why: While the Giants sport a solid starting rotation their lineup is less terrifying then most of the other teams in the playoffs.  That said, their starting pitching, should it come alive, could be enough to carry them through to the NLCS at least.  Tim Lincecum has turned it on in September and the team has really refused to lose, ultimately snatching the division away from the Padres down the stretch.  Their hitting may leave more to be desired but the Giants are coming into the playoffs nearly as hot as the Phillies.   

So why Jack Nicholson’s Joker?  The Giants are a tad back and forth to say the least.  Their pitching could dominate but they may not be able to put any runs on the board.  Barry Zito could regain his Cy Young winning abilities or he could completely fall apart.  Like the Joker they may be able to make some plans that will put them through to the next round, but against a superior pitching team like the Phillies they will struggle to get on base and score runs. 

3) Atlanta Braves = Hans Gruber

Why: The Braves have returned to the playoffs thanks to a thrilling victory that enabled them to avoid a one game playoff with the Padres.  They certainly have a spark, playing for manager Bobby Cox in his final season as Skipper.  Cox knows how to win in October but the team is “inconsistent” to put it mildly.  Rookie Jason Heyward best exemplifies the team with his back and forth play – at times he has looked like a superstar while at others he has appeared plain and ordinary (struggling down the stretch).  Veteran leadership and clutch hitting has been missing most of the season thanks to an unfortunate injury to third baseman Chipper Jones.   Their bullpen is strong but the Braves may not have enough to finish out.  Like Hans Gruber of Die Hard fame the Braves have a classy leader who definitely has some tricks up his sleeve.  They may have enough to last a few rounds with the Phillies but in most scenarios will be thwarted by being tossed off a roof. 

4)  Cincinnati Reds = Dr. Evil

Why: The Reds made a valient effort getting into the playoffs, even winning out their division from the champion Cardinals….however, their young nucleas has a serious lack of playoff experience that may come back to haunt them.  While Joey Votto has been in triple crown contention all season and their pitching better than average (13th overall) they definitely do not have enough to take the Giants or Phillies.  Dr. Evil has a lot of plans and appears fearsome at first…then he throws out the elaborate sharks with lasers death plan and proves to be less terrifying then originally believed.  The Reds may turn out the same way. 

AL Teams

1) Tampa Bay Devil Rays = Darth Vader

Why: Excellant pitching and a young (but experienced) core that has been to the World Series help the Rays push to the top of the NL.  All season they stood toe to toe with the Yankees and ended up on top of the division.  Winning over the Yankees means a lot because now the Rays can play Texas instead of the Twins.  Overall the Rays have played great all-around ball this year led by Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.  If those two can keep it up and the pitching remains solid there is no reason the Rays cannot make it back to the Series.  Darth Vader appeared as a terrifying menace that could not be defeated, an all around power and symbol of the seductive power of evil.  In the end: not so much as good overcame evil, even within his own soul.  Will the Rays lose their edge too against the daunting Yankees who they have slugged it out with all year? 

2) Minnesota Twins = Jaws

Why:  The Twins are scarier then they may appear at first.  The Yankees wanted desperately to avoid playing them.  So did the Rays.  Like Jaws, they are lurking out in the water waiting to strike at any time.  Yes, they are not at full strength due to a rash of injuries but they still have the power and pitching to be very dangerous in the playoffs.  A couple of hot starts by boy wonder Joe Mauer could make all the difference.  If their pitching can maintain its overall ERA of 3.50 they can win a series or two.  There are a lot of “ifs” for this team but no one wants to play them in the first round at full strength or not.  The other teams may definitely need a bigger boat if they want to put the Twins away. 

3) New York Yankees = The Wicked Witch of the West

Why: The defending Champs certainly have an uphill battle if they want to plan another parade down Broadway.  For one thing they have struggled down the stretch and gave up the division crown to the Rays.  Head to head they have struggled against Tampa and may have trouble putting Minnesota away.  The Yanks also sport a roller coaster ride of a bullpen (even the unflappable Mariano Rivera has had trouble lately) that may give away close games.  However…on talent alone the Yankees are the best team in either league.  CC Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers this year, Rivera will probably be Rivera once October gets going, Kerry Wood and Joba Chamberlin had good finishes to the regular season.  Mark Teixeira and A-Rod have earned their money at the end of the season.  The only possible comparsion for them?  The Wicked Witch of the West who is incredibly dominant but cannot stand a little water.  New York may be a house of cards waiting for one bad outing to blow them down.  Otherwise, they can win the whole thing.

4) Texas Rangers = Freddie Krueger

Why: The Rangers can play…maybe just not as well as the Yankees or Rays.  They will not be an easy out, especially when Josh Hamilton is at the plate (.359-32 homers-100 RBI).  Cliff Lee is a great pitcher and could go twice in any series and the young team has a lot of potential.  The problem for the most part: they have not fully reached it yet.  They will and this is an important first step in gaining valuable playoff experience but it may not be their year just yet.  Freddie Krueger likes to slice and dice and the Rangers have similar abilities but if they want to win it all, they are dreaming of next year already. 

World Series Pick: Rays vs. Phillies

Champion: Phillies in Six.