Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Return of Mac Attack: John McEnroe Ignites Controversy as U.S. Open Begins

Article first published as The Return of Mac Attack: John McEnroe Ignites Controversy as U.S. Open Begins on Blogcritics.

Once again John McEnroe, the former combustible tennis player and now analyst for CBS, has had a problem with his mouth. Sometimes he has his foot in it; other times a tennis racket. While he has proven to be a savvy and insightful commentator during tennis tournaments, he also has the track record for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and now he has gone and done it again.

Mac is in trouble for saying that professional female tennis players are playing too much tennis. "I think that it's asking too much of the women," McEnroe said. "They shouldn't be playing as many events as the men ... The women have it better in tennis than in any other sport, thanks to Billie Jean King. But you shouldn't push them to play more than they're capable of."

What is he talking about? The female tennis players cannot do what the males can do? Didn't King prove that a fallacy when she beat Bobby Riggs all those years ago? What basis does he have for saying this?

Caroline Wozniacki is seeded No. 1 at the U.S. Open, in part because Serena Williams is injured and not playing, but also because she has played in enough tournaments during the year to up her ranking. I was surprised as anyone to see this, but that is the way of things.

Big Mac ought to know better, but he often shoots off his mouth and gets in trouble in the broadcast booth, just as he did on the court. He is politically incorrect to the point of embarrassment because he is making this a gender issue when it shouldn't be. If it is an issue in tennis that players are playing too much tennis, it has nothing to do with gender. Period.

Are tennis players - male and female - playing too much tennis? How much is too much? Can we compare baseball to tennis. How about a 162-game schedule, plus spring training, and possibly playoffs? In football you have the preseason and 16-game schedule, and if you're lucky enough to survive that without injury, maybe the playoffs.

Professional sports tend to be year round affairs at this point. Athletes are working out and honing their skills all the time. The best way to do that, I would say in any game, but in tennis especially, is to be out on that court against an opponent. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The same way you get to the U.S. Open: practice, practice, practice. This goes for both men and women, Big Mac.

Hopefully McEnroe will come out an apologize, calm down the women - and men - who are offended by his comments, and the U.S. Open will go on and be enjoyable, as it usually is, to watch, but you just never know with Big Mac. He may just say something worse in the next two weeks, so stay tuned.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Offense Sputters in 16-11 Loss to Redskins

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Offense Sputters in 16-11 Loss to Redskins on Blogcritics.

"It's only a preseason game; its only a preseason game; it's only a preseason game." Imagine Coach Rex Ryan saying that as he clicks his heels together three times, hoping the good green witch will grant his wish and send him to the Land of Oz - the Super Bowl. He better hope for that kind of magic, because right now his offense looks like it is in serious need of a wizard to grant it some heart, some brains, and lots of courage.

In last night's game against the Washington Redskins at the New Meadowlands Stadium, the first-team offense didn't look any better than it did in last week's game against the Carolina Panthers. It has scored only two touchdowns thus far in the preseason, and last night QB Mark Sanchez was 13 for 29 with an interception. He redeemed himself late in the game with an early fourth quarter ten-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller.

What is more alarming are the turnovers - two in the first half - and Ryan readily admitted that this was troublesome. "When you turn the ball over like that, it kills you." There was a total of four turnovers last night, and Ryan rightly called that just plain "ugly."

About the interception he threw, Sanchez said, "It was just a poor throw." Uh, yeah, Mark, how about a really bad one. The Jets' Vernon Gholston had recovered a fumbled punt, and Sanchez literally threw that opportunity away on the Redskins' 34. It was a big mistake on a night of many of them for the Jets.

Sanchez was sacked twice because offensive linemen D'Brickshaw Ferguson and Damien Woody couldn't protect him, but both LaDainian Tomlinson and Shone Greene shined in the running game, collectively gaining 142 yards on 23 carries. Still, Ryan has to be worried by what he sees at this point in the preseason with one game left on Thursday against the Eagles.

Another bright spot was the defense last night, holding the Redskins to three field goals over three quarters, but cornerback Antonio Cromartie got a holding call and and one for pass interference, making everyone think just a little bit more about holdout Darrelle Revis. If his return is not imminent - and it appears more unlikely each day - Ryan will have more to worry about than his second-year quarterback and a very shaky offense.

Over all, what stands out in last night's game is that the offense is faltering. You can blame linemen, running backs, and wide receivers all you want, but the true center of this storm is QB Mark Sanchez. While I remain a believer in him as a talented, smart and dedicated guy, it appears clear that he has to take a step back to take some steps forward. As Sanchez goes this offense will go, and right now there is reason to be concerned.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What Hate Looks Like: NYC Taxi Driver Slashed Because He's a Muslim

Article first published as What Hate Looks Like: NYC Taxi Driver Slashed Because He's a Muslim on Blogcritics.

I knew it would happen; it was not a question of if but when: a New York City taxi driver, Ahmed Sharif, was recently slashed by a passenger because he is a Muslim. You would think that Sharif would be filled with anger, but yesterday on the steps of City Hall he professed love for his city, for his country, and a desire to just live in peace.

Twenty-five years ago Sharif came to the United States from Bangladesh. His dream, like so many who came before him, was to come to here for a better life. Lost in all the hub-bub about the so-called Ground Zero mosque, is the people like Sharif who want to live here because it is supposed to be the land of the free, the home of the brave. Isn't it strikingly obvious enough that people from Muslim countries want to come here, leaving places of oppression for a fresh start in our country? It is a story told again and again over the decades. The "golden door" noted on the base of the Statue of Liberty beckons people from all over the world to seek the dream of freedom.

Sharif was driving his taxi in the city on Tuesday night, working hard to support his wife and four children. All was well until a drunken passenger, Michael Enright, a twenty-one year old student at the School of Visual Arts in Brewster, NY, got into Sharif's cab and asked him if he were a Muslim. Enright then reached around the security partition and stabbed Sharif several times. Somehow Sharif was able to get out of the car, lock the perpetrator in the taxi, and get the police who arrested Enright.

Mayor Bloomberg invited Sharif, his wife, and children to City Hall. Bloomberg gave the children gifts and used the opportunity to talk about Enright and his disgraceful actions. Bloomberg to his credit did not use the occasion to discuss the mosque controversy, but it inevitably came up as a reporter asked Sharif if he felt the attack was because of the mosque situation. Sharif, showing a dexterity for handling reporters that more politicians should have, said, "We didn't have a talk about the mosque." Here's the case of a man who should be angry, should be outraged, but he handled the question well instead of fanning the flames.

Thankfully, Sharif is going to be okay, but the wounds he bears are not solely the responsibility of his attacker. Politicians on both sides of the debate regarding the mosque here in New York City are just as culpable, for they have used this controversy to stoke the fires of their own agendas, regardless of how much that enrages people and makes the issue hotter than furnace of hatred that caused Enright to attack Sharif.

Meanwhile, across the oceans somewhere in a dank and dusty cave, the architects of 9/11 and their minions are huddled around a fire and laughing their heads off. They couldn't have asked for a better gift than to have an American attack a Muslim on the streets of New York. One might say to the other how it would have been better if the cabbie had been murdered. Another might wish for a few more Muslims to be attacked and killed. The more the better for them. Nothing helps them more in their recruiting efforts. Nothing.

9/11 seems long ago now, but for many of us who lost people that day, it is always present. As William Faulkner wrote, "The past is not dead; it's not even past." New Yorkers will never forget 9/11, and no one in the United States should either, but in remembering those loved and lost, we also have to remember the essence of what makes this country great, making it shine like a beacon of hope for everyone else in the world.

We should take a good look at an innocent man like Ahmed Sharif. He is not responsible for those planes that ruined our city, or the mosque that people fear will ruin it too. No, Sharif is just a working stiff; like most of us, he is trying to get through each day, work hard, and get his little piece of the American dream. If someone tries to stop him or others like him from attaining that, then they are not any better than the terrorists who flew those planes on 9/11, but you know as well as I do that we are better than that. Much better. Now is the time to stop and show the rest of the world.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rolling Stone Picks the Top Ten Beatles Songs

Article first published as Rolling Stone Picks the Top Ten Beatles Songs on Blogcritics.

If you are like me, when you see the list of top ten Beatles songs as chosen by Rolling Stone magazine, you will probably say, "Hey, what about ________?" Each person will no doubt fill in the blank with a song that is not on this list. While I believe all the songs on the list are wonderful, there are more than a few missing that I think merit being there.

Here is the list of the ten songs:

1. "A Day in the Life"
2. "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
3. "Strawberry Fields Forever"
4. "Yesterday"
5. "In My Life"
6. "Something"
7. "Hey Jude"
8. "Let It Be"
9. "Come Together"
10. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Interestingly, two songs written by George Harrison are here (numbers 6 and 10). As most Beatles fans know, whoever sang lead vocals on the Lennon-McCartney collaborations was the writer of the song. That means John gets four songs in there (numbers 2, 3, 5, and 9), while McCartney comes in with three (number 4, 7, and 8). The number one song "A Day in the Life" features lead vocals by both Lennon and McCartney, signifying that they did indeed work together on that one.

Of course, the list could be so much longer, but the point of a top ten in anything is to narrow the field to the best of the best. Some would argue that some really excellent songs are missing, and I couldn't agree more. The group recorded more than two hundred songs, and this covered a period that while relatively short (1962-1969) really spanned the cultural change of the decade, adapting to - and sometimes influencing - the times and bringing fans that loved them along on their "Magical Mystery Tour" of music.

From that first song "Love Me Do" they recorded as a single to the last song "The End" that actually closed out the group's life as a band with the apropos lyrics - "And in the end/the love you take/Is equal to the love you make" - they spanned the spectrum of pop and rock and roll, and so many fans have favorite songs that it is difficult to ever come down to what would be a list everyone would agree upon.

As I look at the list, it seems that the magazine tried to painstakingly take songs from each era of the band's history. With "I Want to Hold Your Hand" covering the mop-top years, "A Day in the Life" capturing their creative peak, and "Let it Be" closing out the songbook as it were ("Let It Be" was released after "The End" which is arguably their final song as a band).

I still have problems with the list. How can you include "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and leave out "A Hard Day's Night" and "She Loves You"? What about "All You Need Is Love" instead of "Yesterday"? Why is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" there at the expense of "Get Back"?

Well, I could go on and on, and that is the whole point. It is probably impossible for any of us to ever come up with a top ten list of Beatles songs to please everyone; however, Rolling Stone has given us a somewhat definitive list that captures the essence of the Beatles over the course of their time as a band.

Sure, we can all squawk about what is left out, but perhaps we should sit back, enjoy the music, and just "Let It Be."

Are You Ready for Some More Football? : NFL Owners Want 18-Game Season

Article first published as Are You Ready for Some More Football? : NFL Owners Want 18-Game Season on Blogcritics.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell announced yesterday that the thirty-two owners of the teams "overwhelmingly support" an 18-game season. He indicated that they would like to see this implemented as soon as the 2012 season.

This is interesting timing since, according to a report in Forbes Magazine, things do not look good for the upcoming negotiations between NFL players union leader DeMaurice Smith and Goodell. They note that "expert observers think the chances are real for a drag-out battle escalating to a strike or a lockout."

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires in March 2011, so this concept of an 18-game season would definitely be one of the hot items on the table. Since Forbes is almost guaranteeing some kind of stoppage due to problems in negotiations, why would owners put such a proposal on the table at this time? Probably because they want to be certain to have some kind of leverage should a lockout drag on for more than a few games.

This cannot please players very much, considering the 16-game season is already gruelling enough for them, but an increase in games played is not unprecedented. The NFL has gone from a 12-game season to a 14-game season to the current 16 games, so it has happened before. How would the schedule look if this is implemented? Would we be playing the Super Bowl in March?

I think the 16-game season is certainly long enough; with some teams going into the playoffs and playing additional games, it would definitely drag the season out unnecessarily. Two more games added to the season, while no doubt enhancing the owners' coffers, will increase the chances for more injuries and certainly will present a tougher terrain for the players each year. This could well be one of the sticking points if a lockout occurs during negotiations next year.

We do not need an 18-game season in the NFL. I think Goodell and the owners would do much better to start thinking about ways to avoid a lockout next season by doing everything they can to make certain the current 16-game season is played in its entirety in 2011.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: It's a Hard Knock Life

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: It's a Hard Knock Life on Blogcritics.

As anyone who has seen this season's Hard Knocks on HBO can tell you, it probably isn't the worst place in the world for a football team to get exposure. Yes, you get a weekly dose of Gang Green in all its glory and infamy, with Coach Rex Ryan getting a little heat for his language from Tony Dungy and inspiring Patriot's Quarterback Tom Brady to say he doesn't watch the show and "hates" the Jets. Is this the way to conduct a preseason or what?

Now we hear reports that on tonight's episode of the show that we could have a special guest star: contract holdout Darrelle Revis. Is this just a good ploy to spike those viewer ratings or is it a way to finally get both sides to the table? There are always rumors in the world of Gang Green, and there have been plenty of them going around this week that Revis was close to a deal, but then we get alternating stories about the Jets and Revis being about as far apart as the Golden Gate and George Washington Bridges.

A report in the New York Daily News last week suggested that both sides were $40 million apart in the negotiations, and there has been no budging from either side as we reach day twenty-four in Revis's holdout. That is why these rumors about Revis appearing on tonight's episode of Hard Knocks, while intriguing to say the least, seem dubious. During this whole time the team has maintained that negotiations are "confidential," and so we have heard nothing new; that is nothing new except for all the rumblings, grumblings, and gossip that gets dissected on talk radio day after day.

What is interesting to note is that a significant deal was announced regarding All-Pro center Nick Mangold. He signed a seven-year deal making him the highest paid center in the NFL ($57 million). The whole Revis thing looks considerably more disdainful when we note that Mangold came to camp without a deal. While he may or may not have known a deal would be reached, Mangold took the view of the team coming first. Revis is making it clear that he comes first, but maybe tonight things will change in the unreal world of reality TV.

How long can this holdout last? Maybe all season? "Who cares!" the Jets will tell us, courtesy of the tunnel known as Rex Ryan's mouth. He says that they are confidant in Antonio Cromartie stepping up on the left and rookie Kyle Wilson on the right, backed by the less than astounding Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman. "To the right of them; to the left of them." Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, but things have to be considerably better for the Jets without Revis than those Light Brigade guys Tennyson wrote about, right?

So tune in tonight to see if the green really hits the fan: same Gang Green time; same Gang Green station. There could be some genuine fireworks, and even if Ryan doesn't shoot his mouth off, Revis just might show up. Da-da-da-dum.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Concert Review: Jonas Brothers at Jones Beach, NY - 8/22/10

Article first published as Concert Review: Jonas Brothers at Jones Beach, NY - 8/22/10 on Blogcritics.

Would you wait in the pouring rain for twenty minutes to see a musical group perform? Well, back in my time I probably would have done that to see the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and my Mom told me about the extraordinary measures she and her friends took to see Frank Sinatra, so I am not surprised that my daughter was totally willing to weather the storm - and then some - to see her favorite group, the Jonas Brothers, perform live at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY.

Jones Beach Theater is an ideal location to see a concert, providing that the weather is cooperating. I've seen a number of shows there, and the sound is excellent and the backdrop of the ocean is truly lovely; however, it was anything but for my wife and daughter Lauren, my wife's sister, and Lauren's three cousins. On this dark and oh so stormy night they braved the elements to see the Jonas Brothers and they were not disappointed.

What follows is nine-year-old Lauren's review of the concert in her own words.

"Jo Bro Night" by Lauren

So my cousins Tanina, Marina, and John and me with our moms went to the Jo Bro concert. They're also known as the Jonas Brothers. Demi Lovato and the cast of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam were also there. It was a really rainy night, of course on the concert day.

We all went to our seats about twenty minutes before show time. We were worried that lightning would come and we would have to go home, but none ever came, so the show went on.

When it started, nobody in my family knew who the girl was on the stage, but then after she said her name, it popped into my head: Alyson Stoner. I love her! She told us all about the new Disney movie Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam and her other new movie Step Up 3D. I didn't even know she was in that.

Then she sang a song she wrote, but after that and a BOOM of thunder, the Camp Rock cast came out and took the stage with Alyson. They sang some songs from the movie and then Demi Lovato came out and sang her songs "Here We Go Again," "Get Back," and "Don't Forget." She had some help from the Jonas Brothers with her first album you know.

Then we had a big break so they could clean the stage. It felt like 80,000 minutes. Then finally the Jo Bro's manager came out and said he was their manager. When he said, "Here are the Jonas Brothers" we started screaming, really screaming! I mean we were there in that rain only for them.

They sang some of their best songs like "SOS," "Love Bug," and "The Year 3000" and many, many more songs. At one point Joe gave Nick a chance to sing his Camp Rock song, but he gave him only two minutes and twenty seconds and timed him, but Nick played it so fast and he did it.

At the very end they said this was their favorite show on the tour. We all clapped and screamed for them, and it was over and we ran in the rain through the parking lot. My cousins and I saw Demi, Joe, and Kevin plus Nick going on their tour bus with the police cars blocking them.

When we got home we had to use a lot of towels to dry off, and we had to peel our clothes off because they were so wet. I put my PJs on and went to bed thinking that even with the rain that was the best day of my life, and it had to be the best Jonas Brothers concert ever!


Monday, August 23, 2010

LA Dodgers Get Barajas Off Waivers from the Mets

Article first published as LA Dodgers Get Barajas Off Waivers from the Mets on Blogcritics.

The LA Dodgers (63-62) and the New York Mets (62-62) are not going anywhere this year, but that didn't stop the Dodgers from claiming catcher Rod Barajas, whom the Mets had put on waivers. The Mets got cash in the deal and called up outfielder Jesus Feliciano from AAA Buffalo to take Barajas's place on the roster.

The deal makes sense for LA because Russell Martin is out for the season with a hip injury. Manager Joe Torre had been using veteran Brad Ausmus and rookie A.J. Ellis behind the plate in Martin's absence, but this move indicates how well that was working out.

This Mets fan is sorry to see Barajas go. He got off to a really good start with the Mets this season, but his bat turned cold and then he went on the 15-day DL at the end of July. Since returning he has looked sluggish at the plate and in the field, but the big positive with Barajas is his fantastic presence and team spirit.

As he said goodbye in the clubhouse yesterday, it was obvious that he was well liked by Manager Jerry Manuel and his fellow players. No doubt a few Mets players were wishing they were going with him. Since the All-Star break the Mets are 14-22, and moves like this one - and the release of Alex Cora, another extremely popular player in the clubhouse, on August 7 - must be seen as a message that 2010 is another lost season for the Mets.

Barajas is an over all good guy and deserves a shot at playing every day, which it seems he will get to do in LA. Barajas brings 12 homers and .225 batting average with him to the Dodgers, but the most important thing is his winning attitude. Torre certainly got lucky to get Barajas, who will become a free agent at the end of this season.

The Mets seem very intent on letting rookie Josh Thole spend the bulk of the time behind the plate. All along it looked like next season would have been his turn, but now he gets his shot at being every day catcher. Thole looks very good thus far in the limited opportunities he has had (1 homer, 9 RBI, and .292 avergae), and his defense and handling of pitchers has greatly improved since spring training. It's no surprise the Mets resisted using him for any flashy trades at July 31 trading deadline. It would seem that Thole is the Mets' catcher of the future and that future starts right now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Beat Panthers 9-3

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Beat Panthers 9-3 on Blogcritics.

Coming off last week's disappointing 31-16 loss to the Giants in their first preseason game, the New York Jets had a disappointing 9-3 win against the Carolina Panthers. How can any victory be disappointing? While the first-team offense looked good last week, this week it seemed like it didn't show up. If not for Nick Folk's three field goals (one a 49 yarder), the team would have suffered an embarassing shutout.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez looked like he couldn't find his game last night, completing five of ten passes for a miniscule twelve yards during his truncated playing time. Mark Brunell was no better, with three completions in seven attempts for a measly two yards. In total, the offense got three first downs and a total of forty-five yards in the first half.

Coach Rex Ryan must be wondering about his second-year quarterback and that sluggish offense. Rookie Joe McKnight had four carries and a total of five yards in the first-half, and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson was beaten by Everette Brown who promptly sacked Sanchez. The only offensive bright spot was LaDainian Tomilson, gaining twenty-six yards on three carries against the Panthers' first-team defense in the first half.

The good news last night was that the defense looked very sharp in the first half. Some fans might be asking, "Darrelle Revis who?" after watching the defense shut down the Panthers. Highlights were Jim Leonhard's interception and a sack of Carolina's QB Matt Moore. Rex Ryan should be very pleased with what he saw in the first half, with the Panthers getting just two first downs and sixty-seven total yards. A very impressive night for the Jets' D.

Over all a win is a win, but fans will recall that this team was 9-7 last year even with the league's best defense because they had trouble scoring points, and last night's game seems to suggest a similar problem brewing this year. If the first team defense continues as it did last night, they are going to be very stingy with opposing teams, but Sanchez and the offense had better start getting things together and fast.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Obstructed View: New Skyscraper Will Alter New York Skyline

Article first published as Obstructed View: New Skyscraper Will Alter New York Skyline on Blogcritics.

The so-called Ground Zero mosque is not the only controversial building be planned here in New York City. There is a threat of a new building to rise very close to the Empire State Building at the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue. Named 15 Penn Plaza, the building will be 67 stories and reach a height of 1,216 feet, bringing it close to the height of the Empire State's top floor. Depending on the vantage point of the person looking at the buildings, 15 Penn Plaza could very well block the view of the Empire State Building or be seen as almost on top of it.

Builder Steven Roth has the support of the City Planning Commission and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, but he is opposed by the owner of the Empire State Building, Anthony Malkin. Also many New Yorkers, including this writer, are against the idea.

Many years ago when I was looking at apartments in Astoria in Queens, New York, the real estate agents were talking about many things: lighting, spaciousness, new cabinets, new appliances, high ceilings, and renovated bathrooms. The one thing though that stood out was when they talked about the "unobstructed view," which meant being able to see Manhattan across the river. All the other things seemed inconsequential if I had that lovely scene to look at every day.

New Yorkers like their "unobstructed views" of the rivers to the east and west, of Central Park, or of the cityscape, most notably the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. We used to also have this love affair with the Twin Towers, and sometimes I catch myself still looking there for what is gone, and then I sadly remember what happened. New buildings will rise there, and we need and want that to happen. Those buildings will alter the skyline and be seen positively by most New Yorkers.

The city has had one terrible alteration to its skyline in 2001, and this would just be offensive to the aesthetic sensibilities of most of us. On talk radio here in New York, people are sounding off. Many people cite good examples: would Paris allow a skyscraper to be built next to the Eiffel Tower? Would London allow one next to Big Ben? Would Moscow allow it next to Red Square? Would Hollywood allow one to block the view of Hollywood Sign? Obviously it would not happen in any of these cases, so why should it happen here?

Malkin is not in this battle all alone. The Municipal Art Society is opposing the construction, and there is a poll on their web site to allow people to vote in favor of or against this new building construction. At the time I am writing this, 68% of the voters are against the building going up so close to the iconic landmark, and as the word spreads I am certain that percentage will get higher.

After 9/11, I think New Yorkers took comfort in the symbols we had left, and the Empire State Building was an old, defiant friend, a beacon that shone at night and glistened during the day. It reminded us then and still that we are New Yorkers, and we can handle anything thrown our way.

There is a serene beauty to the Empire State Building, a grace that seems to have long vanished from elsewhere in our lives. It deserves to stand tall and proud for all New Yorkers, unobstructed by anything, including the shadow of another building that can just as well be built somewhere else in the city.


To Tell the Truth: The Tale of Roger Clemens

This article first appeared as To Tell the Truth: The Tale of Roger Clemens on Blogcritics.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
-John 8:32

We always want to believe people, at least I know that I do. When someone tells me something, I like to think that person is being honest. We hope that this will carry over to our children because kids tend to lie, sometimes often, and if they learn the truth is better than lying early on, perhaps they will not succumb to this childhood malady consistently and then fall deeper into the truth-less abyss later on.

Who knows the truth about Roger Clemens? I am not saying this on a superficial level. We fans of baseball only know that. We certainly don't know Roger, just as we don't know Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Mark Sanchez, Eli Manning, and all the other sports figures out there. We think we know them, but we only know what is presented to us: the persona that has been honed as the marketable entity that comes across on the field and in interviews.

I'd like to think that the person who knows Roger best is Roger. Perhaps his wife and children would fit in there, then his friends, his teammates, and so on, but the only person who truly knows Roger is Roger. It is like that for all of us. We live our lives, though surrounded by people, ostensibly alone. Within our own minds and in our own hearts, we know the truth of truths. No one else knows everything we know. No one.

If you are like me, I want to believe in the essential goodness of each human being. I want to believe that everyone has a good heart, but as reality slaps us in the face again and again, we understand that is not the case. People who strap bombs onto their bodies and walk into crowded places are not good. People who harm innocent children have no goodness in themselves. We realize that there are many fine people, but that bad ones exist and, even if in their hearts they see themselves as heroes, we know that is because something has warped their ability to discern reality.

Roger Clemens says he looks forward to telling the truth. His former trainer Brian McNamee says that he only told the truth. Andy Pettite told his version of the truth, and he will likely be the key witness in this whole thing. Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, and many more told their truths as well. It becomes a he said; he said: my version of the truth verses your version of the truth. Who can prove what? How far will it go into a person's inner sanctum? What consequences are there if somehow or other the facts are presented that your version of the truth is false?

In this case, if Roger Clemens lied, he did so under oath. Again, in my naive world, I like to think that if you raise your right hand and place your left hand on anything - the Bible, a stack of baseball cards, or even The Wall Street Journal - that you have now committed yourself to truth telling. A lawyer friend of mine joked that lying under oath happens all the time. Whew! There goes my faith in the system, but then again it becomes the court's duty to decipher truth from lies. My friend says good lawyers can pick away at the veneer of lies and get to the truth. Hmmm.

Whatever happens to Roger Clemens is going to happen. I have heard reports claiming that he could get anything from thirty years, to thirty days, to a suspended sentence. I can tell you this, and I'm saying this as a Met fan, I don't see any good coming from Roger Clemens staying even one minute in jail. What will that prove about the system and about lying? What will that teach the kids who look up to sports figures? Nothing, if Clemens goes on and still claims he told the truth, was wrongly accused and incarcerated, and then comes out and writes a book about the whole thing and makes even more money, he stands to be more of a folk hero than anything else.

I think what has to happen is a concerted effort toward truthfulness. If Roger can tell the truth, kids might think, maybe I should too. Yeah, I did take that pack of gum from the store. Oh, I did lie about not having a test tomorrow. I did break that lamp, Dad. Sorry. Like that's ever going to happen, right?

The problem is that lying is all around us. People lie and famous people make a career out of it. In the world that is professional sports and in the everyday world the rest of us know, people lie and that is never going to stop. Sadly, something like this only reinforces the convictions of those who lie to push the truth even deeper into that despicable me. It becomes a "No one will ever know what I know!" kind of thing.

None of us will ever know Roger's truth; the question is does Roger know the truth, or is it so far down and covered with camouflage stories that even he doesn't know anymore?

Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." Maybe Roger should try it and see how it feels. Hey, maybe we all should.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Frankenstein Is Not the Monster!

This article first appeared as Frankenstein Is Not the Monster! on Blogcritics.

Okay, this is such a trivial thing that most people are going to think, "Who cares?" Unfortunately, I do, and it has been driving me crazy over the years to hear people wrongly referring to the monster as "Frankenstein." As a devout fan of the cinema and lover of classic books, I want to set the record straight: the monster is not Frankenstein; the doctor who created the monster is!

I have come to this point - of actually putting on record my feelings about this - because my daughter was watching a cartoon, and I was mortified by the reference to "Frankenstein's brain," in the lyrics sung during the opening credits. The show, Phineas and Ferb on Disney Channel, came on again a half hour later, so I made a point of sitting down to watch. As the words "Frankenstein's brain" are sung, one of the characters is seen staring into the open skull of what looks like the monster from the movies.

This seemingly inconsequential fact has annoyed me for a long time. People always refer to the monster as Frankenstein. If one reads Mary Shelley's fantastic book, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, it very clear that the title refers to the doctor, who like his Greek counterpart, stole something from the gods and is punished accordingly. By creating life from nothingness, Frankenstein sends himself into a tragic journey where genius meets harsh reality, resulting in disaster for his family, friends, and community.

The early film versions of the story make this fact clear as well. Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster; though even the 1936 film Bride of Frankenstein no doubt added to the confusion, with the female monster being created as a "bride" by Frankenstein for the monster, but it seems the public started thinking of the monster as Frankenstein and it continues until this day.

Go into a costume store before Halloween, and the misconception is printed in bold letters on the front of the bag containing the monster mask and clothing. You can even check this out in online costume stores, where "Little Frankie" costumes are waiting for the baby you love to be dressed and ready to be scary this October 31. At this point the confusion is so intensely ingrained in the general public that it is almost impossible to hope for an end to the madness.

When I tried to explain some of this to my daughter, she said, "Like, what's the big deal, Dad?"

Well, I guess it is no big deal, but it will continue to bother me from now until Halloween and beyond. I had to say it and now I have: Frankenstein is the creator; the monster is just that, a monster.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

TV Review: South Pacific Live from Lincoln Center on PBS

Article first published as TV Review: South Pacific Live from Lincoln Center on PBS on Blogcritics.

Sometimes a little television gem comes your way when you least expect it. Such was the case in getting to see South Pacific last night on PBS, broadcast live from the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center here in New York. With the show ending its two and a half year run this Sunday, it seemed to be a perfect time to let home audiences in on this amazing revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 classic.

One of the wonderful things about this revival is that it is the first in New York since the original run on Broadway sixty-one years ago, so unlike many other shows that have had multiple reincarnations, this seems particularly fresh and yet surprisingly timely. With its depiction of life in a war-torn world and disturbing elements of racial intolerance, South Pacific was obviously ahead of its time in 1949 and a good reminder to us all that some things still need changing today.

Anyone who has seen the film South Pacific on television over the years, starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rosanno Brazzi in the lead roles, will remember the story of love and loss on a small island in the middle of World War II. What is pleasantly surprising here in the stage production is that Kelli O'Hara as American nurse Nellie Forbush and Tony Award winner Paulo Szot as wealthy plantation owner Emile DeBecque impress with their performances and seem much more well suited for their roles than their cinematic counterparts.

All the classic elements of a great Broadway musical are here, and the set design (by Tony Award-winning designer Michael Yeargan) is so fluid with a backing screen changing colors and images to match the moods and settings of each scene, and a retractable stage reveals a full 30-piece orchestra. While nothing can compare to being in the theater itself, the television viewing experience is a fine one. The fact that this was a live performance also enhanced the excitement of watching this production as it unfolded, and during the intermission we were even treated to Alan Alda doing interviews, most notably with the daughters of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

All the great songs sounds better than ever, even "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," with all it's connotations of anti-feminism, comes off well and fits perfectly into the show as it always has. My pulse fluttered during "Some Enchanted Evening," and it made me understand the power and allure of this musical, reminding us that true love can hit someone at any time in a crowded room, even during the midst of war in a far away place.

The story is still powerful as we see Forbush first fall in love with DeBecque and then, after she discovers that he is a widower and has two-mixed race children, refuse his proposal and run off into the night. The second couple, as these musicals always have one, is Lieutenant Joe Cable (Andrew Samonsky) and the beautiful island girl Liat (Li Jun Li). Here too the deep-set prejudices Cable brings with him to the war disrupt their romance and threaten any chances for true happiness.

One only has to really listen to the words of "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" to know the strength of the message sent here. In essence, as powerful as a soliloquy in a Shakespearean play, the song is meant to reveal Lt. Cable's issues with race, but we can also understand that love, if it is meant to conquer all or not, can in the end just break someone's heart.

It must be noted that this broadcast of South Pacific is as good as it gets in terms of theater coming to television. Only the other night I was watching Animal Crackers starring the Marx Brothers, and I could see how obvious it was that their stage show had been brought to film in an awkward but still hilarious manner. In this viewing of South Pacific, there was nothing apparently wrong with anything, the camera angles and sound all providing "a you are there" kind of feel, and even a brief glimpse of the audience in certain scenes only enhanced the moment as authentic.

If you are coming to New York this weekend or live here, there are four more days left for you to get to the theater and see this fantastic show. If not, there is always the promise of a repeat broadcast on PBS. Either way, try to find a way to see this production for a truly unique experience suitable for the entire family.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NY Giants Legend Bobby Thompson Dies at 86

NY Giants' baseball legend Bobby Thomson died at home in Savannah, Georgia, on Monday at age 86 after a long illness. Thomson has long been remembered for hitting a game-winning home run at the Polo Grounds in New York in a playoff game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.

War stories. That is what old Dodgers fans passed down to their kids and grandchildren, just as I always got the story about the "shot heard around the world" and what it did to Dodgers fans. For those of you who don't know, it was Bobby Thomson who hit a three-run homer off the Dodgers' Ralph Branca, winning the game and the three-game playoff series in favor of the NY Giants. As always in the Dodger's hall of what might have been - the woulda-shoulda-coulda place where fans of Dem Bums cried in their beer - Thomson stood out as the guy who stopped them from going to the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Bobby Thomson did this long before I was born, but that didn't stop the story from being told enough times for me to be mesmerized by it growing up. When I got old enough, I would see Thomson on television shows, usually with Ralph Branca sitting next to him. The two of them seemed like good old friends, laughing and recounting the day of October 3, 1951, like it was the day they both graduated from high school. In truth, that is probably closer to what it was: that day they both became enshrined in baseball lore, permanently attached to one another as much as if they had walked down the aisle and received diplomas together.

I think Thomson and Branca taught a lot of us kids what it meant to accept things as they were. Thomson always came across as a good winner, almost as if he were just lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. He never seemed to have come down off that cloud after hitting that homer, as if he still didn't believe after all those years that it happened the way it did. Branca, on the other hand, taught us how to be a gracious loser.

It seemed apparent that he and Thomson had become friends over the years; there was never even a hint of animosity and almost a glowing respect for Thomson. Branca and Thomson were linked forever by that one pitch and swing, and they both will be remembered as class acts who understood their place in baseball lore and were humbled by the magnitude of moment that inextricably linked them.

There were rumors at the time, no doubt perpetrated by frustrated Dodgers fans, that the Giants were stealing signs all season and particularly during that playoff series. Giants manager Leo Durocher - who had once been manager of the Dodgers and championed Jackie Robinson as his player - was known to play the game to win. Even if the Giants were able to steal the signs, and even if Thomson knew what pitch was coming from Branca, he still had to be able to hit it over the fence. Nothing, even the rantings of these crazed Dodgers fans (some of whom were members of my family) can diminish the impact of that home run.

There are more than a few legendary home runs that baseball fans remember: ones that won a pennant or a World Series. We talk about them today as "walk-off homers," and it is a powerful truth that nothing in baseball, in all of sports I believe, is as monumental as this. Of all the homers ever hit, the balls sailing over the wall into the hands of fans during the course of all the years baseball has been played, only one homer has ever been called "the shot heard around the world." No other home run. Ever.

Bobby Thomson played fifteen years and hit 264 home runs during the regular season. He will always be remembered for one of them, one of 32 he hit in 1951; but he will also always be remembered for having the class and dignity that becomes part of lore and legend. He leaves Branca behind now, but no doubt he is taking his place among those like him, the passed on baseball legends, in the field of dreams in the great beyond.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Good News for NY Mets Fans: K-Rod Gone with the Wind

Article first published as Good News for NY Mets Fans: K-Rod Gone with the Wind on Blogcritics.

For those of you Mets fans who are also movie buffs, do you remember that scene near the end of the classic movie Gone With the Wind, when Rhett Butler (Clarke Gable) and Scarlett O'Hara (Vivian Leigh) say their final words to each other. She asks him about what she will do without him, and Gable utters that famous line, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Well, flash forward to the drama that has unfolded with Mets closer Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez and his going all Joe Frazier on his poor girlfriend's father. K-Rod should have known better, probably did know better, but he was seeing red and cursing his way to a brawl as he entered the Mets' players family lounge. In front of other players' wives, children, and family members, K-Rod punched out an older man and, in the process, damaged his pitching hand.

We learned on Monday that K-Rod will be out the rest of the season because of the injury sustained during his tantrum. I was listening to talk radio here in New York yesterday, and some Mets fans were lamenting another lost season - as if K-Rod's departure is the only reason why the team is floundering - but most were happy to see him go. I count myself among them.

When the Mets signed K-Rod, there were rumors about his volatile personality. I discounted that as the usual stuff when a new guy comes to town, but as soon as he started closing for the Mets, I was less than impressed. He made Armando Benitez seem like Mariano Rivera the way he pitched, with the game almost always tediously on the brink of being lost with him on the mound. Despite his impressive save totals coming from the Angels, we didn't see him as invincible and, in fact, he seemed rather susceptible to being beaten all the time.

Now, it seems, the Mets will have a pastiche closer mechanism, judging from what Jerry Manuel had to say on SNY after Monday's game. It could be Hisanori Takahashi one night; Oliver Perez the next night, and so on. Hey, why not throw Luis Castillo in there and see what the heck he can do? The closer-by-committee version just might end up doing as good a job as K-Rod, but that's not saying much.

It is apparent that K-Rod now becomes K-Dud; he is gone and will not likely pitch for the Mets ever again. The Mets will try to void his contract based on his injury being caused as it was during a fight. The Players Association will probably take his side, but in the end we have to hope he goes someplace else and becomes a problem for another team.

The Mets and their fans know the truth and understand it has to be this way. Wouldn't be nice if K-Rod asked you, "Where will I pitch again?" to be able to answer, "Frankly, K-Dud, I don't give a damn"? Well, the Mets are going to say just that and then he can take his anger management classes in another city and drive their fans crazy with his antics. Gone with the wind never sounded so good!

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Miss Revis in 31-16 Loss to Giants

Okay, Jets fans, it's the morning after the big game against the Giants. Keep telling yourselves, "It's only a pre-season game; it's only a pre-season game." Maybe if you close your eyes and wish real hard, Darrelle Revis will appear in a cloud of smoke, and he'll be back on the team. Yeah, that's about as likely as Francisco Rodriguez ever pitching another inning as a Met again.

The truth, the hard sobering truth, was visible in the first football game ever played at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Monday night. Antonio Cromartie, who has earned the number one spot in Revis's absence, was beaten in one completion by Hakeem Nicks, but he also missed two interceptions. Kyle Wilson, the first round draft pick taking over Cromartie's position on defense, went untested in the game.

The real worry was seen in the lack of depth now apparent, with both Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman looking like they were in big trouble last night. Especially even when Eli Manning left the game because of an injury, these guys were burned by the Giant's back-up QB Jim Sorgi. Not a pretty picture to be sure.

All of Rex Ryan's bluster about the team being headed for the Super Bowl suddenly seems more ridiculous than ever now. With this real weakness exposed, it doesn't matter how great Mark Sanchez and the offense looked in the first half. If the defense is going to be like this come September 13, Ryan's going to be drowning his sorrows in large Mickey D shakes soon enough.

Hopefully, Woody Johnson was watching this game carefully. The Giants beat the Jets and made the D look bad. Revis is no doubt at home watching ESPN and grinning from ear-to-ear. As Rex Ryan removes his big foot from his big mouth, Woody should be taking the wallet out of his back pocket. A Jet fan's homemade sign at last night's game sent the message loud and clear: "Pay Revis!" Come on, Woody, you know you want to. It's going to be a long, tough season if Revis sits it out because you wouldn't do what was right for this team.

Monday, August 16, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Jets and Giants Pre-Season Game Overshadowed By a House That's Not a Home

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets and Giants Pre-Season Game Overshadowed By a House That's Not a Home in Blogcritics.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
- Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

It should be so exciting: the Jets are playing their first game in a new stadium, but sadly it is not.
The pre-season game played by the Jets and Giants tonight at the New Meadowlands Stadium is not so much a tale of two teams but rather of two cities. In Dickens's novel, it was about two unrelenting forces in history: London and Paris; in the saga of Gang Green and Big Blue, it is New York City and East Rutherford, New Jersey. Uh, yeah, New Jersey!

The point is as a Jets fan I feel like someone without a home. Fifty years of existence has brought us to this moment: the Jets play a game tonight as a "home" team in a city that is anything but. The Jets haven't truly had a home since December 1983, when they left Shea Stadium for the decidedly unfriendly confines of a place called Giants Stadium in the state of New Jersey, no less.

I grew up as a fan of the New York Jets, and I have never been able to get comfortable with them playing someplace other than New York. I went to one game at Giants Stadium, and I couldn't enjoy it at all. It was kind of like having your mother's Christmas dinner in a stranger's house. Yeah, Mom is still there and serving her turkey, but I am sitting at somebody else's table.

I am the first to admit that Shea Stadium was never really home either. As a Mets fan, I didn't mind the Jets sharing space with their baseball cousins. Both started in the Polo Grounds and then made the move to Queens, but at least it was in New York City. Shea was built as a baseball stadium, but it still felt better than going to the alien world of the Meadowlands. It is as if the Mets would have moved to Yankee Stadium and had to play their games there. How do you call a place "home" that is named after your cross-town rivals that most of your fans despise worse than an Elvis impersonator?

Some of you have heard this rap before: The Jets and the Mets are always playing second fiddle to the established titans of the Giants and the Yankees. They are supposedly the teams that own this town, and no matter what the Jets and Mets do it isn't good enough. Well, after all these years, there is no way to undo this perception, and it has not helped that the Jets and Mets have performed poorly over recent years.

Last year, however, the Jets were steps away from the Super Bowl. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez led a team that defied expectations, and we excitedly watched playoff games that mattered to us as Jets fans. Now the team is back better than ever, though lacking Darrelle Revis on defense and that has many of us nervous and worried.

Still, as the Jets step on that field tonight, they do so as a home team; unfortunately, their home is still not their own. They share it with their rivals the Giants, and it is located in a state that is not New York. It is a tale of two different teams and takes place in two different cities. As Dickens noted in his famous book: "it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us."

Yes, Jets fans, another season where we have it all and yet we have nothing. If only Citi Field could have been built as a home for both the Mets and Jets, but that was not to be. The Dodgers left us; the baseball Giants left too, and it's time for New York Jets fans to wake up and realize we are empty nesters. Our little green birdies flew the coop a long time ago. We can either be fans without a home or fans without a team. For now, I'm staying with the Jets, but like it has always been since 1983, it will not feel like a homecoming by any means.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Kiss is Still a Kiss: Remembering the Iconic Times Square Photograph

Article first published as A Kiss is Still a Kiss: Remembering the Iconic Times Square Photograph on Blogcritics.

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss,
A sigh is just a sigh;
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
-Louis Armstrong's "As Time Goes By"

What is it about a kiss that makes it magical? In the case of one sailor and a nurse, it is the essence of romance itself: two strangers literally passing on the street, caught up in the celebration of V-J Day, which marked the end of World War II, briefly embraced and kissed. Who knows how many people were kissing all over America at that moment, in sort of a midnight on New Year's Eve kind of rapture.

I have always been enamored with the nurse in the photograph. Though her face is not visible, we see her shapely legs, one bent in the crush of the kiss, her left arm slightly bent as she is no doubt surprised but not shaken or upset. The sailor's hair is dark under his white cap; he cuts a dashing figure that could obviously sweep a girl off her feet. We can't see his face either, but it is obvious that both must have been glowing when they saw each other, inspiring the man to take a chance, and for the woman to acquiesce so willingly.

The sailor didn't just kiss the nurse either: he took her in his arms, leaned her back, and smooched her like it was the first and last kiss they would ever share, and sadly, it was. This encounter would be long forgotten now, but it was captured for eternity by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine. In literally a shot heard - and seen - around the world, the nurse and sailor became a symbol not just of the end of war but of the greatness that was the New York City of that time.

In Times Square in New York City, hundreds of people gathered on August 14, 2010, to mark the 65th anniversary of that iconic kiss. People old and young made a glorious effort to mimic the pair (represented in a statue that stands in the square), but alas, no matter how hard they tried, the clear winners are still the sailor and the nurse in the original photograph.

The nurse, Edith Shain, passed away in June at 91 years of age. She came forward to identify herself as the girl in the photo years ago; the sailor's identity remains a mystery. Perhaps, somewhere in New York he sits in an apartment, watching TV and remembering the girl who got away. Maybe he puts on his old white Navy hat, a tear shimmering in the corner of his eye, wishing he had asked her for her phone number. If he has passed on, I'll bet the sailor was waiting for Edith, and they recreated their kiss to the thundering applause of all those heavenly beings gathered in the central square on the other side.

For now, we remember a kiss that wasn't just a kiss: it was a rapturous symbol of an America we used to know and love. In Times Square yesterday that kiss was honored and, in some way or other, that fleeting moment captured on film caught the effervescence of that celebration of the end of war sixty-five years ago, and now it seems an era and an innocence that, while not forgotten, will be nevermore.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tricky Dickey Tosses 1-Hit Gem Against Phillies

Article first published as Tricky Dickey Tosses 1-Hit Gem Against Phillies on Blogcritics.

R. A. Dickey (8-5) beat the Phillies and gave the Mets their first back-to-back wins since June. In notching the one-hitter, Dickey accomplished what has been done twenty-five times previously by Mets pitchers. All who came before him -and now he - stood close to that brush with immortality, but the way things went last night, Dickey was more than happy to take the game the way it went.

Speaking on SNY after the game, Dickey was humble about the whole experience. When asked about the one hit of the game, a blooped single into right field by pitcher Cole Hamels (7-9), Dickey said, "And tonight, I am so thankful. It was a real gift. It was an outing where I didn't have a regret." He had thrown a knuckle ball to Hamels, but he hit it, and Dickey indicated that is the nature of things.

After that sixth inning single, Dickey got back to work retiring the Phillies hitters. This one-hitter is all the more satisfying because it comes against a lineup like the Phillies have, and in the minds of at least some of the players and the fans at Citi Field on Friday night, the Mets are still in the hunt in the National League East.

This second straight shutout (Johan Santana won 4-0 over the Rockies the day before) made it unnecessary to worry about the absence of Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets closer being suspended for two games for fighting with his girlfriend's father on Wednesday after the Mets dreadful 6-2 loss to the Rockies. Manager Jerry Manuel seemed happy to not have to think about who would have closed the game under different circumstances. He said of Santana and Dickey, "For those guys to take it upon themselves as starters to start and complete the game was huge for us."

It is undeniable that after the week of turmoil with Santana being accused of rape and K-Rod being arrested for assault, the Mets needed the peace that only winning can bring to the clubhouse. Those troubling things still exist in the periphery of their minds, but winning, especially over the Phillies, does heal things faster than anything else.

Now the Mets have to worry about the games yet to come, but for a brief moment on Friday night at Citi Field, there was a kind of hush over the crowd, a sensation that they were witnessing a great moment in Mets history. Even though it was not to be a no-hitter, it was an immeasurably significant win for a team that needed another win more than anything.

Will R.A. Dickey be the man to eventually get the Mets first no-hitter? Judging from last night's masterful performance, he may be just the guy to do it. Until then, the Mets and their fans finally have something to smile about.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flight Attendant Slater Reminiscent of Johnny from Airplane!

Article first published as Flight Attendant Slater Reminiscent of Johnny from Airplane! on Blogcritics.

If you have been watching as the press follows Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who went a little wacko on a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, you may have noticed his resemblance to the character Johnny in the film Airplane!. Maybe I'm crazy, but when he talks this Slater reminds me of the late actor Stephen Stucker, who had many memorably funny lines in that film.

In a movie with big stars who turned out to be surprisingly funny, including Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges, Stucker stood out in his scenes as an office worker at the airport who was more than a little wacky himself. If you want to refresh your memory, take a look at some of Johnny's best scenes.

If they ever make a new Airplane! movie, Slater (who seems particularly poised and ready for his fifteen minutes of infamy) would be an ideal new Johnny. Now, finding people to replace the other actors in this film will not be that difficult. Perhaps Jeff Bridges could play McCroskey, the role his father seemed born to play; Steve Carrell probably would be a good fit in Robert Stack's Rex Kramer part, and wouldn't John O'Hurley be an excellent guy to fill Peter Graves's role as Captain Oveur?

This is a tale of Steven and Stephen. One reminds me of the other. Oddly enough, both were involved with airplanes in an insanely strange way. Oh, and please stop calling me Shirley.

Santana Blanks Rockies; K-Rod Does the Pokey Hokey

Article first published as Santana Blanks Rockies; K-Rod Does the Pokey Hokey on Blogcritics.

Oh, the slings and arrows of outrageous Mets fortune. Johan Santana is being accused by a woman of sexual assault, and Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) was hauled off to jail for attacking his girlfriend's father. These two guys obviously have a lot on their minds and on their plates, but Thursday's game turned out to be a good one for the Mets (57-57) as they defeated the Colorado Rockies (59-55) 4-0.

Santana was pitching like a man with a mission out there. He said after the victory that he told manager Jerry Manuel that he felt like going out and pitching ten innings. With K-Rod cooling his heels in court, suffice it to say that the Mets bullpen definitely needed a rest. Santana (10-6) scattered four hits en route to his second complete game of the season.

When reporters asked Santana about the situation with the woman who is accusing him in a civil law suit, Santana answered in his trademark calm and collected style. He said it is a matter for the courts and that was that. Whether or not he's guilty, Santana is certainly conducting himself like a gentlemen in public. Privately, if he had consensual sex with the woman (he is married) as he claims, or if he did indeed force himself on her, he is something less than gentlemanly.

Of course, everything is different with the combustible closer Rodriguez. After the Mets crushing defeat on Tuesday night, Rodriguez was apparently on a rampage. The Mets were up by a score of 2-1 in the eighth inning, but with two out and bases loaded, Manuel elected to not bring in Rodriguez and instead inserted Manny Acosta, who gave up a grand slam to ex-Met Melvin Mora. While K-Rod was right to feel slighted by this (and it proves Manuel's managing skills are severely in doubt), he tore into the clubhouse and cursed at reporters before going into the player's family lounge where he attacked his girlfriend's father.

K-Rod was released without bail on Thursday after appearing in Queens court, while a few miles away Santana was blanking the Rockies. The closer has been suspended by the team for two games, and perhaps more sanctions and punishment await him (including, perhaps, an anger management course?). A restraining order has been filed and he may not go near the house he shares with his girlfriend and her parents. All in all, it was a good day for one Mets pitcher and a very bad day for another.

Still, a fog hangs over the Mets clubhouse now. The allegations against Santana were bad enough to cause ill will with fans, but this thing with K-Rod puts things over the top. No matter how much you love the Mets - and many of us still do after everything that has happened during this disappointing year - this is straining the even most loyal fans and pushing them to the limit.

Santana and K-Rod. Is this what the Mets wanted when they signed these two guys? I know fans thought they would help bring a pennant our way, but once again that's not happening this year. It looks like legal matters are going to hound them both until the end of the season, and things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better as far as these two guys are concerned. That's the lot of Mets fans these days, and across town A-Rod must be smiling from ear-to-ear because no one seems worried about his cheating on his wife or taking steroids for three years anymore.

As they say, folks, only in New York.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Revis and Butthead

This article first appeared as As Gang Green Turns: Revis and Butthead on Blogcritics.

As the drama continues in the la-la land known as Jets training camp, owner Woody Johnson was the one doing more talking than his coach Rex Ryan. It seems that negotiations between the team and super-talented cornerback Darrelle Revis are going nowhere fast, and Johnson is only to happy to talk about the situation on ESPN.

The problem is that it looks increasingly more likely that Revis will sit-out the entire season. When asked directly about Revis playing even one quarter this year, Johnson said, "My gut feeling is, I would say no." If that is the case, Woody, can we actually keep up the facade about the Jets being bound for Super Bowl? Can someone, anyone, get Rex Ryan to stop predicting this trajectory as he blathers on about it day after day?

Ryan has to know that the defense is going to suffer big time without Revis. He acknowledges Revis's absence in camp on a daily basis, but did say that if Revis comes walking through the door, "Somebody will kiss him on the lips probably." Did you hear that, Darrelle? Rex is carrying around his breath mints, so that alone might keep the guy away for good.

If we want to do a little finger pointing (and why not at this point?), should we blame Revis or Johnson for the stalemate that has taken place? Revis, no doubt taking a page from his uncle Sean Gilbert, who sat out the entire 1997 in a contract dipsute with the Washington Redskins, could be the one to blame. We could cite utter greed and total disregard for his teammates and the fans here. No one, especially someone who is struggling each day to get by, wants to hear another spoiled sports player complaining that his million dollar contract is not enough. For a million dollars, I'd put on a uniform and run around the grass all day. Who wouldn't?

But there is the other side of the story. Woody Johnson doesn't seem to care too much about the team or its fans either. Shouldn't Johnson want to field the best team possible? Isn't there something in that family vault that could be pulled out, dusted off, and spent to keep Revis happy and get him out there on the field, moving the team closer to Ryan's bold promise of a Vince Lombardi Trophy?

Forgive me, but as I think about this situation, images of the iconic MTV idiots Beavis and Butthead keep dancing in my head. In the end, I see this inability to come to terms in contract negotiations as the fault of both parties. Come on Revis, share your remote control, and Woody, don't be such a butthead. Sit down, watch a little ESPN together, have some popcorn, and then get the job done.

Contract with Devils Rejected: Ilya Kovalchuk Once Again a Free Agent

Article first published as Contract with Devils Rejected: Ilya Kovalchuk Once Again a Free Agent on Blogcritics.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch, after two days of hearings last week, sided with the NHL in its rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk's 17-year $102 million contract signed with the New Jersey Devils in July. Bloch ruled that the contract was designed to avoid the league's salary cap. The contract was seen to be "front-loaded," meaning that Kovalchuk would have received $98.5 million over the first eleven seasons, but then get a salary of less than one million dollars a year for the last six years of the deal.

The Russian left-winger had filed a grievance against the NHL when it rejected the contract, so obviously he wanted the deal. In the real world, who would not want it? Where could you sit down and get a contract for seventeen years of employment? Kovalchuk seemed to have no concerns about the structure of this deal, and the Devils seemed more than happy with it, but the league is more worried about its collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap issues.

As for now, Kovalchuk becomes an unrestricted free agent, which means he can talk to other teams besides the Devils, but as of last night team president Lou Lamoriello indicated that negotiations were underway to work out a new contract with talented player that "meets with the principles in arbitrator Bloch's award and the NHL's approval."

My only question is this: why would the Devils even attempt to create such a deal, knowing the NHL's rules and regulations would thwart their plans? I can understand why the league rejected it because of its ramifications for future deals with other teams and players, but it does seem strange that it ever got that far.

Now the Devils could be hit with a fine, and Kovalchuk might also be hit with one by the NHL. One has to wonder if this whole thing is detrimental to the sport since it is preventing two willing parties from sealing a deal they both apparently want. Hockey players are not an oppressed group suffering under despotic owners, and even if Kovalchuk (now 27) would be too old to play in those last years of the contract, is the necessarily such a bad thing?

It will be interesting to see if the Devils and Kovalchuk can work out a new deal and what it will entail. Wouldn't it be something if Kovalchuk took his hockey stick elsewhere? Maybe even back to Russia where apparently a deal has been offered? It would be fitting if in the end something more than money was the deciding factor.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mets Should Bench Beltran

This article first appeared as Mets Should Bench Beltran on Blogcritics.

Only two days ago the Mets released Alex Cora and benched Luis Castillo in favor of rookie Ruben Tejada. Both were good moves to help the team, but there is still a general malaise that seems to hover over the Mets, and I think a good deal of the problem is in center field. It is absolutely necessary for Manager Jerry Manuel to bench Carlos Beltran, and it needs to be done starting tomorrow in the game against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field.

There has been some talk about trading or releasing outfielder Jeff Francoeur, but I think that would be a tremendous mistake. While there have been times when Francoeur has struggled this season, there have been impressive moments too (like his homer off Cole Hamels in the Mets' 1-0 win against the Phillies on Saturday). There is also the undeniable fact that Francoeur adds a positive spark to the team's chemistry, something the seemingly lethargic Beltran has never done in his time with the Mets.

All season long people were talking about Beltran coming back from the disabled list. Everything would be better then, they thought. Well, since Beltran returned to the team the Mets are 7-16. Now, we cannot blame that all on the switch hitting center fielder, but I do believe the team was doing much better with Angel Pagan in center and Francoeur in right field.

Beltran is currently batting .197 with 1 homer and 7 runs batted in. Looking at Beltran's offensive numbers is only part of the story. He is not the fielder he once was, not fully recovered from his injury, and he is detrimental to the team when he is on the field. There are balls that should be caught that he can't get to, and this isn't changing anytime soon.

Beltran seems like a nice fellow, but he has never been the player the Mets expected him to be when they signed him. He is also not the leader he should be in the clubhouse. Jeff Francoeur's numbers are not stellar (.247 average with 11 homers and 47 RBIs), but he is an integral presence in the clubhouse, a spark plug on a team that needs a jolt to shake it out of its funk.

Frenchy, as his teammates call him, was supposed to platoon in left field with newly called up rookie Fernando Martinez until Jason Bay returns from the DL. Well, I have a better idea for Manuel and the Mets' brass. Send a message to the team that no one has a lock on an every day job (and that should include David Wright and Jose Reyes as well).

They should bench Beltran on Tuesday against the Rockies. Pagan should be in center, with Francoeur in right, and Martinez in left. Beltran should stay on the bench for a week, and then we can see if the team wins more games without Beltran than with him. The way things are going for the Mets, they have nothing to lose and maybe, just maybe, a few more games they can win.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Mets Kids Are Alright

This article first appeared as The Mets Kids Are Alright on Blogcritics.

If the painful truth about another lost season started to set in around August 1 for the Mets and their fans, it took the team until August 7 to do something about it. Things were not working with the team as it was, and since no trade was made by the July 31 deadline, something had to give. It did yesterday.

The Mets released infielder Alex Cora, an all-around nice guy, good presence in the clubhouse, but batting only .207. They optioned outfielder Jesus Feliciano to Buffalo, and recalled infielder Ruben Tejada and outfielder Fernando Martinez. It seems that Martinez will get to play left field in the absence of Jason Bay (on DL with a concussion), and this could give the talented but yet to be proven player a chance to get a permanent spot on the team.

Even more good news awaited Mets fans: Luis Castillo and his two bad feet were benched, and that meant Tejada got to start at second base. Though Tejada batted only .212 when previously playing for the Mets this season, he has a great attitude and is a major improvement on defense over Castillo. With Tejada at second and Martinez in left field, the "new" look of the team is younger and certainly brighter than it was yesterday.

Meanwhile, pitcher Johan Santana (9-6) pitched a brilliant game on Saturday, taking a no-hitter into the bottom of the sixth. After Raul Ibanez struck out but reached first base on a wild pitch, Placido Polanco stroked a single up the middle to end the continuing Mets dream of getting their first no-hitter in team history.

Santana pitched very well into the eighth inning, leaving with two on base and one out. Francisco Rodriguez was then called upon for a five-out save (gulp). Luckily for the Mets and their fans, K-Rod escaped the jam in the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 24th save.

Over all, it was a good day for the Mets in more ways than one. They won a tough game against their division rivals the Phillies, got some new blood on the field, and let it be known that they have heard the fans and are trying to do something to better the team. For this day at least, Mets fans had something to smile about for a change.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A-Rod Hits 600: Put It in the Books with an Asterisk

Article first published as A-Rod Hits 600: Put It in the Books with an Asterisk on Blogcritics.

"Damaged goods." That is what my friend and Yankee fan Frank (he prefers for me not to use his last name) said when I asked him what he thought about Alex Rodriguez's 600th home run against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium yesterday. I was glad that Frank qualified it this way. When pressed about the number 600, he said, "Put it in the books with an asterisk."

Rodriguez hit a ball to straight away center field, ending his pursuit with of number 600 against Toronto's Shaun Marcum. As A-Rod rounded the bases, getting cheered all the way, it was as if the fans and he believed that this moment was special. Later on he confessed to being glad it was all over, but for his team and their fans it is never over with A-Rod. Now he and they can set their sights on number 700, right?

Okay, I am a New York Mets fan, but I am also a fan of baseball. I had to check with Frank (with whom I have had lots of heated discussions in the past about our two teams) because he bleeds pinstripes as much as I bleed Mets orange and blue. I can appreciate great Yankees players like Derek Jeter, Thurman Munson, and Mickey Mantle for what they have meant to baseball. But the question invariably with A-Rod is what has he done to baseball?

I know there are those who don't care about steroids. They didn't care when Mark McGwire walked around like the Incredible Hulk and hit all those homeruns. Chalk that up for Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds too. They only cared about all the dingers and how it was good for baseball. Good for baseball? Saying these tainted players were or are good for baseball is like saying the Gulf oil spill was good for tourism. Give me a break.

The great sports columnist Mike Lupica, writing in today's issue of the New York Daily News, says that Bobby Bonds put a message to A-Rod on his website: "Welcome to the club." As Lupica notes, "Yeah. They're in the same club." As always Lupica hits the salient nail on the head: A-Rod is part of the Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa club, and not the Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth club. Pure and simple: A-Rod's accomplishment has the whiff of something foul to it.

Make no mistake, A-Rod is a great player. He has enormous natural talent, but the problem is that he sought to enhance that talent in ways that are not in keeping with the fundamental, natural beauty of the game. He is a bad influence on other players who see his success and think, "Why not me too?" Furthermore, he is a terrible role model for kids who aspire to be baseball players, who may think they need to do something even at a young age to enhance their natural abilities in order to perform better, to get noticed, and maybe make it to the big show.

So in the Bronx in New York City yesterday, A-Rod hit is 600th career home run. I kept thinking, "Thank God he is not a New York Met." I have always thought that was, as the legendary Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner used to say, "One of the best deals never made." I know a lot of Mets fans wanted A-Rod back then, but we can breathe easier because all his talent and all his problems are on the other side of town. Let Yankees fans try to sort out how they feel about his legacy and his place in Yankee history; we can be honest with ourselves that it's better this way.

What about A-Rod's legacy? As my friend Frank says, "Damaged goods." So let baseball put A-Rod and his 600 in the books with a big fat asterisk. Bonds said that A-Rod is part of the club now. I guess it depends on how you look at it, but I keep thinking about that great Groucho Marx line: "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." Damaged goods, indeed!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Jets and Revis May Eventually Part Ways

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets and Revis May Eventually Part Ways on Blogcritics.

If you like your NFL pre-season to be filled with soap opera stuff, and you are a Jets fan, well you have to admit 2010 is starting off with lots of excitement in the sports drama As Gang Green Turns. Talented cornerback Darrelle Revis is holding out for more money. Jets owner Woody Johnson says he's willing to talk, but that has gotten us to a stalemate with Revis rejecting two previous offers.

Jets coach Rex Ryan has lost lots of weight (if this was last year and Revis was missing, someone might have thought Ryan swallowed him). Ryan's new svelte image hasn't stopped him from doing a lot of talking, and he keeps talking about Revis. "He's part of our team. He's just not here." Uh, yeah, Rex, thanks for the clarification.

A report in the 8/4/10 edition NY Daily News indicates that Revis is not inventing this holdout on his own, but rather taking a page from the book his uncle Sean Gilbert wrote when the Redskins' player sat out the 1997 season because of a pay dispute. Revis is apparently very close to his uncle and Ryan believes Gilbert is "advising" him during the whole process.

My feelings about this as a fan are that this is just the same old tactic others have used, and every fan should feel cheated by this happening during training camp. It is just as bad as teachers striking during the first week back to school. Why couldn't Revis and Johnson negotiate this deal earlier this year? Why wait until pre-season?

Well, for Revis this is obviously the best time to make his stand, but I wonder if he will sit out an entire season like Gilbert did. Even if he hopes to be traded after the season (as Gilbert was in 1997), that's a whole year without statistics, and I can't imagine any player wanting to see that blank line on his career chart.

In more of the Jets' soap opera playing out, quarterback Eric Ainge has gone into rehab, which means he will miss training camp. Ryan did not elaborate on this matter, but team sources say that Ainge has "an undisclosed illness." If he is indeed in rehab, it would indicate that Ainge has had a relapse and the likelihood of his taking a snap any time this year is in doubt.

That turns the soap opera to its final scene of the day. QB Kellen Clemens, with Ainge out of the picture, will now be back in the hunt for the last quarterback spot. With the acquisition of Mark Brunell (obviously number two quarterback after Mark Sanchez), it will now be a competition between Kevin O'Connell and Clemens for the number three spot. In the world of Jets' soap opera, the music starts to play as the two square off and Ryan watches them, vegetarian shake in hand (hey, no one said dieting is easy).

Are the 2010 Jets heading for the Super Bowl? Stay tuned for the next episode of As Gang Green Turns.