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?

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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

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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

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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.

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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

March Madness: The American Way

The NCAA Tournament is the most American of all sports institutions.  Yes, even more than NASCAR.

MarchMadness

Here in the U.S. of A., we are often very results oriented.  The process that leads to those results often gets forgotten or lost in the shuffle, or even disregarded in some systemic way.  For example, our presidential elections are decided by an abstruse system that officially turns a blind eye to a candidate who wins the popular vote if he or she loses the electoral college.  There’s a system in place that is used to determine a winner, and if someone else believes that it would have been more “fair” to crown a different winner, the system pays no mind to such beliefs.  This idea is never more true than in our sports leagues.

We are a playoffs country.  Continue reading

What happened to the MOP?

For many decades, the “Most Outstanding Player” trophy of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament went to a signature star, year after year, many (or even most) of whom went on to have Hall of Fame NBA careers and become all-time legends.  The more recent winners have been… let’s just say less memorable.  Why might that be?

North Carolina Tar Heels v Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m sure you’re thinking that the duration of college athlete careers is the cause.  While the greats of yesteryear commonly stuck around for all four years of college ball, the “one-and-done” freshman stars of today’s game are the rule rather than the exception (at least among top talents).  However, I’m convinced that is far from the only reason for the decline of the MOP trophy, and I’m fairly confident it’s not even the biggest reason.

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