What a Messi made

Why Lionel Messi should thank Michael Phelps, and other ramblings about historical legacies.

It was a chance to stand beside, if not pass, his country’s greatest soccer star.  A rare moment, in his prime, when he could take full advantage of his singular talent.  A golden opportunity to enter the rarefied air of the consensus all-time greatest sporting legends.  Messi (with a massive assist from an excellent defense) made his Argentina squad relevant, at times impregnable, and nearly unbeaten at this World Cup.  But in the end, once the comfort of the group stages were behind him, he looked all too ordinary and could not quite inspire his countrymen to glory.  Even though he dazzled with his usual mesmerizing dribbles and pristine shots, and even though Argentina made it farther than most expected them to, and even though he was even awarded with the 2014 World Cup Golden Ball (best player) award, many will judge this World Cup as a detriment to Messi’s legacy rather than a benefit.  It’s illogical.  It’s not fair.  It’s also sure to happen.  Just look at his face below — despondent for his country’s loss, and surely aware of its ramifications for him as an individual.  Here’s why that’s a bunch of bull.

Lionel MessiPhoto credit: Clive Rose, Getty Images

Continue reading

A Luis cannon

Maybe it’s all an elaborate toothpaste advertisement.  Maybe his scoring prowess is derived from some form of medieval cannibalism.  Maybe he has a “taste” for the dramatic.  Regardless, the Luis Suarez clown show marches on. Suarez, a singular talent and loose cannon who plies his trade for Liverpool and, more relevantly, for his native Uruguay, has been a rising star on the world soccer scene for several years.  He has scored fantastic goals, energized successful teams, enraged onlookers with flops, and nearly exploded the soccer world four years ago with his strategic handball that bought Uruguay a ticket to the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup.  Now, four days after receiving a four-month ban from soccer, as well as a nine-match international ban and a large fine from FIFA for biting his World Cup group stage Italian opponent Giorgio Chiellini, the Uruguayan striker is making waves again, this time for an apology.

suarezbitePhoto credit: Getty Images

First, some background.  Soon after the incident, Suarez was unapologetic (to say the least).  More specifically, he denied the bite and claimed that he had “lost his balance” and not actually attempted to nosh on the Italian entree in front of him.  This claim did not exactly ring true for me, and, presumably, for whatever percentage of the observing public is not from Uruguay. The primary factor working against Suarez, other than the fact that he obviously freakin’ bit Chiellini, is that, as you surely know by now, he had already been suspended twice in his career for biting opposing players.  In April of last year, Suarez was banned for 10 games for nibbling on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, whose Serbian flesh was simply too irresistible for the clearly hungry Suarez.  He issued an apology for that incident, saying he had committed “inexcusable behavior.”  In 2010, he munched PSV’s Ottman Bakkal during a play stoppage.  That particular bite involved an absolutely unequivocal lunge toward Bakkal’s trapezius muscle that legitimately made it seem like Suarez was seeking nutrients from the victim’s jugular. Continue reading

Klose but no cigar

He might be the least celebrated soccer legend of all time, at least on this side of the Atlantic.  Even though World Cup coverage is everywhere these days, and even though he plays for one of the most prominent national teams in the world, 36 year old Polish-born German striker Miroslav Klose gets about as little attention in the United States as possible, considering he is tied for the all time record for World Cup goals.

Klose1

Klose’s recent goal as a sub in the 2-2 draw between Germany and Ghana was his 15th, tying him with Brazilian legend Ronaldo.  He also has a few more achievements and oddities to his name.  He won the Golden Boot for most goals at the 2006 World Cup.  He is one of only two players to have scored five goals at two different World Cups.  He is the only player to have scored four goals at three different World Cups.  He is one of only three players to have scored at four different World Cups.  He recently passed Gerd Muller as the all time top scorer for the German national team. He once scored five goals in a game while playing in the Italian Serie A.  He was the 2006 German footballer of the year.

His record tying goal came on Ronaldo’s home soil against Ghana, while Ronaldo’s 15th goal had come on German soil against Ghana.  Klose’s career smacks of “chosen one” status, and he seems to simply be the type of player who rises to the occasion on the biggest stage.  In this way, he is very similar to Landon Donovan, and stands as a primary argument for why Donovan perhaps should have been included on the 2014 U.S. roster — some fellas just show up.  Indeed, according to Wikipedia, the German national team has never lost a game when Klose has scored one of his 70 international goals.

So why the hell haven’t Americans heard of him?

Continue reading

Tulo

Recently, balls have been flying around and out of Coors Field like the cards at the end of a Solitaire game.

One big reason is that the best player in baseball (no, not Mike Trout), has been unleashing hell all spring.  That player is an unstoppable force of Polish descent at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.  Troy Tulowitzki, the Colorado Rockies’ “large” shortstop in the grand tradition of his idol Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken, has quietly been putting together one of the greatest starts in decades.  And although the Rockies don’t tend to get much press on the coasts, it has become impossible to ignore the greatest shortstop of his generation.  At least, while he stays healthy.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Colorado RockiesPhoto credit:  USATSI

Continue reading

Ironic Name Hall of Fame: Donald Sterling

Although he is splashed across the headlines this week, the Los Angeles Clippers’ longtime owner and agitator has had less than a “Sterling” reputation for some time.

Sterling

Believe it or not, Donald Sterling is currently the longest tenured NBA owner.  That is, until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver convinces three-quarters of the other NBA owners (22 out of 29) to force a sale of the Clippers, after which he’ll just be a forlorn billionaire business magnate who will (likely) profit more than $1 billion upon the team being sold.  Not even Clippers numbers guru Cliff Paul knows the bounds of Sterling’s pocketbook.  You can almost hear the gold plated violin playing over his left shoulder.

There is a pretty strong consensus that Sterling is a bad dude and a general stench on the Clippers organization.  Over the years, he has been involved in several discrimination lawsuits, notably involving both his copious real estate investments (with allegations that his rental philosophies fell…let’s just say shy of Fair Housing Act standards) as well as a high profile employment discrimination suit brought by former Clippers executive and Lakers legend Elgin Baylor, alleging racially charged remarks and disparate treatment along racial lines.  He allegedly called Baron Davis a bastard.  He has been involved in shady business practices.  He has been accused of racist statements on many occasions.  His fans find him creepy.  His posture is terrible.  But the lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine levied on Sterling, announced today by Silver in response to the outrage over recordings in which Sterling made racist remarks, is still fundamentally surprising.  After all, powerful people tend to squeak by these obstacles.  You rarely see heads roll when it comes to rich folk in the private sector.

“In this country, you’re guilty until you’re proven wealthy.”  — Bill Maher

Continue reading

Da Spurs

There has been an invisible war raging for a decade and a half, not unlike the invisible war being waged between spam messages and your email filter.  The San Antonio Spurs have been battling age, irrelevance, and history.  Somehow, the “boring,” un-hip, small market basketball team from central Texas has become the most historically fascinating sports franchise of our era.  In other words, they’re winning the war.

spurs2Photo credit:  Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images

As you probably know, players generally grow old, rosters turn over, and partnerships grow stale.  Teams fluctuate.  A team might be at the top of the league, then crash out of the playoffs, then stumble back in and lose in the first round a couple times, then lose in the Finals, then win a couple titles, then lose early for three years, then crash again and miss the playoffs with no relief in sight.  That’s the profile of the Lakers for the past twelve years or so.  They have been all over the place.  And that “all over the place” resume is easily one of the most successful teams in the entire NBA over that stretch.

Most teams are more like the Orlando Magic.  A few All Stars here and there.  Some coaches fired.  An unexpected Finals trip in 2009.  A few early and mid-playoff exits.  A few terrible years.  So it goes in a competitive league of 30 teams with a salary cap.

And then there are the Spurs. Continue reading

Mack the Nate

Exactly two NHL players have been born in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, a town of about 25,000 people on the Atlantic coast east of Halifax.  One is Sidney Crosby, among the superstars of his generation, and future Hall of Famer.  The other is Nathan MacKinnon.

MacKinnon, rookie for the upstart Colorado Avalanche, has been a standout at every level of hockey he has yet experienced.  He is quickly making a name for himself on the national stage in 2013-14 as the 18 year old phenom capable of handling a speeding puck more deftly than Garfield handles a lasagna:

MacKinnon

The lines and angles on that play are so perfect that they’d make an architect blush.  And it is what we have come to expect from MacKinnon, himself barely old enough to ride a motorcycle unsupervised.

Continue reading

Cutting a handsome figure: Sports team skylines

HongKong from above

Every city has a feel to it. Ah yes, the fountains of Rome, the smog monsters of Beijing, and the Ian Zeiring Chippendales posters of Vegas.1

Walking the streets of a city is the best way to get a sense of its ambiance — a person strolling through New Orleans’ French Quarter would never mistake their surroundings for the streets of Cairo.  But every city also has a larger visual identity, and a city’s skyline is the best way to get a sense of this broad aesthetic character.  Think of it as the shadow that each city casts on the wall while it awkwardly dances in candlelight in an 80′s teen movie.  The silhouette created by a city is partially determined by population and wealth and development prospects, of course, but it also reflects the image that the city wants to present.  The steady low rooftops of Washington, D.C., broken only by historical monuments and colossal political egos, cut a very different figure and send a very different message than the contempo towers of the Frankfurt skyline, which advertise the city’s status as one of Europe’s leading centers of finance and cocaine.

Likewise, every sports franchise has a history.  Some teams have short and forgettable histories, like the Charlotte Bobcats, who will be soon changing their name to the Hornets to begin that forgetting process as soon as possible.  Some have long and storied histories, like Real Madrid and the New York Yankees.  If you plotted a team’s success and identity over time, what would it look like? Continue reading

The Miggy bank

Two hundred and ninety two million dollars.  Of the U.S., not Monopoly, variety.  With that kind of money flying around, you’d think we were talking about a tech company going public, or, gasp, a re-election campaign of a junior senator.  To be sure, Miguel Cabrera’s new 10 year $292 million contract (technically a contract extension) with the Detroit Tigers has certainly made his piggy bank as fat as, well, a pig.

TigersPiggyBank

So is he worth it?

What does “worth it” even mean in professional baseball?  The modern era of bloated contracts and, seemingly, zero consequences for massive overbuys, is still so new that we probably don’t know yet.  Everyone knows that athlete compensation has ballooned in the modern era.  Hell, I’ve gotten so used to it that I don’t even bat an eye at nine figure deals these days.  But the colossal Miggy contract, which is the biggest in the history of professional sports, got me wondering about just how recent this phenomenon is, and whether baseball is as far ahead of the pack as it seems.

Let’s start here: the ten priciest sports contracts ever have all been in baseball.  Amazingly, 23 of the 25 priciest sports contracts ever have been in baseball.  The only exceptions have been champion boxer Floyd Mayweather and his ongoing deal with Showtime ($180+ million), and Formula One and World Rally Championship driver Kimi Raikkonen ($153 million from 2007-09).  The rest are baseball players.  That is amazing enough, but doesn’t alone come close to capturing the recent deluge of cheddar spewing forth from MLB checkbooks.  People have griped about the salaries of sports stars for generations now, but the real explosion has been more recent than most people think, and the degree to which baseball has dominated this domain, particularly at the high end of the spectrum, is sure to surprise some folks. Continue reading