Friday, July 25, 2014

Fumble, Goodell

A lot has been said since Roger Goodell announced yesterday that Ravens running back Ray Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the season.  The reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.  While I don't want to jump on the commissioner-bashing bandwagon (I do that plenty for plenty of other reasons), I've gotta admit I agree with the critics.  Goodell dropped the ball on this one.  Two games was way too lenient.

To recap, Rice was arrested in February after a physical altercation with his fiancĂ©e at an Atlantic City casino.  There's even video of the incident.  He knocked her unconscious and dragged her out of an elevator!

This was clearly grounds for Rice to be suspended under Goodell's favorite thing in the world, the personal conduct policy.  The personal conduct policy gives Goodell the power to suspend players even if they haven't been charged or convicted of a crime (keep in mind, Rice was charged here).  And evidently domestic violence is only serious enough to warrant a two-game ban.

From the start, the arguments against the personal conduct policy have been Goodell's selective enforcement of it and the arbitrariness of the suspensions.  Case in point, Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in the summer of 2010.  Despite the fact that criminal charges were never pressed, Roethlisberger was suspended for six games, reduced to four on appeal.  So, to recap, Ben Roethlisberger is accused of sexual assault and gets six games.  Ray Rice is charged with domestic violence and only gets two games.  In other words, the one who actually committed a crime was suspended for four fewer games.  Something doesn't add up here.

Sure, Richie Incognito was suspended for the rest of the season when the stuff about him and Jonathan Martin came out last year, but it was the Dolphins that suspended Incognito, not Goodell.  And have we heard a thing about possible discipline for Colts owner Jim Irsay?  Irsay is facing charges for DUI, possession and a myriad of other things stemming from his arrest in March.  He's facing four FELONY counts, yet the Commissioner hasn't said "Boo" about that situation.  Why is this man technically around to be around the NFL right now?

Maybe Goodell is hesitant to drop the hammer after he went overboard on Bountygate, but that shouldn't be an excuse.  Back when the personal conduct policy was first introduced, it seemed like Goodell was suspending guys for arbitrary amounts of time based on whim.  That shouldn't have been the case then, and it shouldn't be the case now.  Because it sends the wrong message.  Especially when the NFL is making such an effort to appeal to women.  (Even going beyond that, how many women work in the NFL or other NFL-related professions?  What message are you sending them by handing out slap on the wrist punishments?)

Sadly, this suspension simply falls in line with the NFL's recent reaction (or lack thereof) to domestic violence issues across the league.  Rice is the most high-profile player to be involved in one of these cases, the number of which is simply staggering.  Yet the NFL does nothing about what is quickly becoming the league's most serious off-field issue.  What's it going to take for Goodell to finally take a stand?  Does it need to be somebody who isn't on Goodell's fantasy team?

The biggest joke of this entire situation is that the NFL acts like it does care about domestic violence issues.  It's one of the topics discussed at the rookie symposium, where they go over the personal conduct policy.  There are also plenty of former players who talk about their experiences on the subject, and there are education events and fundraisers at which players and coaches participate.  Educate all you want.  Does it actually make a difference when the league office is turning a collective blind eye when these issues happen in real life?

It's even gotten to the point where college teams are becoming stricter than the NFL.  How many guys has the University of Texas kicked off the team since the new coach took over?  Obviously there are individual team rules that come into play with college programs, but it still says something that college teams are becoming more no-nonsense than the NFL.

Perhaps there's an obvious solution here.  When a player violates the NFL's substance abuse policy, he gets an automatic four-game suspension.  No questions asked, no appeals.  Everyone is fine with that.  Maybe it should be the same for violating the personal conduct policy.  Four games, with the option to make it more for more serious offenses.  Don't leave it up to some vague interpretation of the rules determined only by Goodell.  If the personal conduct policy was more clear cut and less arbitrary, there would be less wiggle-room for Goodell and there would be less argument from all sides when suspensions were announced.

Something needs to be done.  Because the NFL has a problem on its hands with these domestic violence issues.  A message needs to be sent that this type of behavior towards women is unacceptable.  And, unfortunately, suspending Ray Rice for two games didn't send that message.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Raiders' Best Move? Back to LA

Marcus Allen made some noise today when he said that the answer to the Raiders' ongoing stadium saga might be a return to Los Angeles.  While the Davis family has made no mention of it and, as far as anyone knows, this is simply an idea that Allen is floating around, it makes a lot of sense.  After all, they've already left Oakland for LA once.  And the NFL desperately wants a team in the second-largest media market in the U.S., so you'd figure the league office would be much more on board than they were in 1982.

One of the primary reasons the Raiders went back to the Bay Area after their 14-year sojourn south is because Al Davis wanted to build a new stadium in LA and the NFL wouldn't let him.  So, he convinced officials in the City of Oakland to renovate the Coliseum (and turn it into the crappiest venue in two leagues) with the promise of returning the Raiders to Oakland.  But now, the Oakland Coliseum is an even bigger hole (and not the "Black" kind) than it was 20 years ago.

The Oakland Coliseum is the only stadium shared by an NFL and an MLB team.  Except both the A's and the Raiders aren't happy, and they're both looking to leave.  The A's repeatedly tried to get approval for a new stadium in San Jose before they finally gave up and agreed to a 10-year lease to stay at the Coliseum.  So with the A's locked in, it looks like the Oakland Coliseum isn't going anywhere.  And that's bad news for the Raiders.  Because Mark Davis, Al's son and the current owner's, grand idea was for the Raiders to be the anchor tenant in a new stadium built on the Coliseum grounds (which would've been feasible if the Giants hadn't prevented the A's from getting their new stadium in San Jose).  With that plan out the window, the Raiders are back to the same problem: they're stuck in a crappy stadium and looking for a way out.

Roger Goodell offered one solution.  He suggested that the Raiders share the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium, much like the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium.  But the Raiders have no interest in that plan.  The Raiders hate the 49ers, and Mark Davis refuses to be their tenants.  In Al Davis's eyes, there were the Raiders and there was everybody else.  And Al Davis would be rolling over in his grave to see his Raiders sharing their stadium with another football team, let alone the 49ers!

So, outside of moving across the Bay to San Francisco (which will never happen) or to one of the Oakland suburbs, there's only one logical place for the Raiders to move and get their stadium.  Los Angeles.  And this time, there wouldn't be any resistance to such a move.

It's no secret that the NFL wants to return to Los Angeles.  There used to be two teams there.  There hasn't been any since 1995.  When the Texans came into the league seven years later, LA was actually the first choice for the expansion franchise, but they couldn't come up with an acceptable stadium deal and picked Houston instead.  Ever since then, the talk has been about how to get back in LA.  An expansion franchise wouldn't make sense, nor is it on the NFL's agenda, so the only way for LA to get a new team would be for someone to move.  And the only team that would be acceptable in that area is the Raiders.  It's a win-win scenario.

As for the stadium, that wouldn't be a problem.  In fact, there are at least two proposed stadiums ready to be built.  They just need a team to play there, then the construction can start.  During their time in Southern California, the Raiders played at the LA Coliseum.  That's probably not a long-term option now.  But is it conceivable that the Raiders could return to the LA Coliseum for a year or two before Farmers Field (or another hypothetical stadium) is completed?  Absolutely!

Moving the Raiders back would give the NFL the LA team it so badly wants.  It would also help if that team were the Raiders.  Because they owned the town during the 1980s, and this time they'd be the only show in town (well, them and USC, which has been LA's de facto NFL team for 20 years).  Plus, they've already got the fan base from their previous stay in the area (if there are any worries about fans coming back, they can ask the Winnipeg Jets).  Then there's the potential financial windfall and plethora of sponsorship opportunities that would come with playing the nation's second-largest city!  (And you know NBC would love the celebrity sightings at Sunday night games!)

From a football perspective, a change of scenery might be exactly what the Raiders need, too.  What used to be one of the NFL's most consistently successful franchises has turned itself into a laughingstock.  The Raiders haven't been relevant since they made the Super Bowl 15 years ago, and it doesn't look like they're going to be competitive in the AFC West again this season. 

But a move back to LA would get people talking about them for a good reason once again.  And who knows, maybe it would galvanize a once-proud team that has been languishing for way too long.  After all, it worked once before.  The Raiders moved to LA in 1982 and won the Super Bowl in 1983. 

Whether that can/will happen again remains to be seen, but just think of the possibilities of a revived Los Angeles Raiders.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Olympic TV Network

After years of the idea being floated around, it looks like an Olympic TV network is going to happen.  It's one of the big priorities of IOC President Thomas Bach, and he appears to have enough support within the Olympic community to get it done.  The TV network is just one of a number of reforms Bach would like to see, all of which are for the good of the Games.

One of the primary reasons the IOC wants to create an Olympic TV channel would be to promote Olympic sports in the years between Games.  And this is the No. 1 reason why this channel is a good idea.  How many sports do people only care about during the Olympics?  Let me rephrase that, how many Olympic sports do people watch other than during the Olympics?  (It's like how people only watch soccer during the World Cup.)  With a few exceptions, Olympic sports receive very little exposure outside of the Games themselves. 

Things have gotten better with the growth of 24-hour all-sports channels, but even with the existence of these channels, there are the sports that are seen on TV very infrequently, if at all.  Perhaps an Olympic TV channel would show World Championships, Olympic qualifying tournaments and other major events in some of these sports.  They also want to engage young people, and maybe by increasing the exposure of these non-marquee sports, it might encourage them to take up a sport they otherwise might not have.

I'm intrigued by the possibility of an Olympic channel for other reasons, though.  There's obviously plenty of Olympic history.  They could show documentaries and highlights, as well as news and magazine shows about all things Olympic.  Maybe even they'd rebroadcast old Olympic coverage!  Those interested would even get a chance to watch things like bid presentations and host city announcements live on TV instead of just online.  And the Youth Olympics could finally have a home after struggling to find broadcast partners in a number of countries.  There are so many possibilities it's intriguing, and they wouldn't be hard-pressed for programming, which is the problem most start-up TV networks run into.

While there would obviously be a lot of kinks to work out, Bach envisions an Olympic network as a sort of collaboration between National Olympic Committees, sports federations, broadcasters and sponsors.  He even cited the National Geographic Channel as an example, where the IOC would basically serve as a moderator and be the developer of online content.  (Although you can't help but wonder what role the various broadcasters might be willing to have, especially with the amount they pay for Olympic rights, and what an Olympic channel might show during the Games themselves, when these rights-holders would undoubtedly want their exclusivity to continue, and rightfully so.)

The ultimate goal of an Olympic TV channel is to expand the Olympic brand, which is one of Bach's top priorities.  And while I'm not sure about the possibilities of this channel in the U.S., it's definitely something that's worth a shot.  Besides, this would be a worldwide Olympic channel, and that's the reason why I think it would ultimately work.  But they've got to find the right model, which could be somewhat of a challenge.  Because Olympic fans in the U.S. and Olympic fans in Europe are very different from Olympic fans in China.

Another item on the docket for Olympic Agenda 2020 (the name for Bach's reform program) concerns the sports program.  More specifically, adding flexibility to the sports program.  Under previous President Jacques Rogge, the IOC capped the number of competitors (10,500) and sports (28) at the Summer Games.  Since that maximum number of sports had already been reached, the only way for a new sport to get into the Olympics would be at the expense of another.  That's why wresting was dropped and reinstated last year.

Bach isn't sure limiting the number of sports on the Olympic program is the answer.  He thinks there's a way to add sports to the program while maintaining the 10,500-athlete limit, which is important towards controlling costs for the host cities.  His proposal is to look at each sport and reexamine the events within each that are currently in the Olympics.  By eliminating certain disciplines within existing sports (for example, do we need 200-meter and 1000-meter races in flatwater canoe/kayak?) or reducing the number of entries in certain events (fewer weight classes in the combat sports?), that opens up the possibility of adding new sports, even if it brings the total over 28, keeping the program fresh and relevant without dramatically increasing the cost to host cities.

Speaking of controlling costs for host cities, Bach is very troubled by the lack of bids for the 2022 Winter Games.  Cities were scared off by Sochi's $51 million price tag, as well as how much it costs just to put together a bid.  It costs millions just to try and get the Olympics, then millions more if you win.  Cities and countries understandably don't want to shell out that amount of money when there's potentially no reward.

They haven't been too detailed on what kind of changes to the bid process might be in store, perhaps because they haven't figured out what they would be yet themselves.  But I have no doubt the Olympic bid process is going to change.  Starting with the 2024 cycle, the bid process is going to be much more streamlined and much more cost-effective.  The hope is that will make hosting the Olympics attractive once again.  There are plenty of long-term benefits to hosting the Olympics, but those can definitely be tough to see 10 years out.

It hasn't even been a year yet, and Thomas Bach has already left his mark on the Olympic Movement during his Presidency.  These proposals will be voted on by the full IOC membership after the Executive Board meets in October, but I already like everything I'm hearing about each one.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Second Half Baseball Predictions

It was an eventful, and surprising, first half of the baseball season.  I don't think anybody expected Oakland to be THIS good, and most predictions had the Brewers at the bottom of the NL Central, not the top.  Then there's the Royals, the Mariners, the Orioles and the Blue Jays, four teams in the thick of the American League playoff race that very few thought would be.  (I'm also not sure many people expected the Rangers to be this bad.)

With so many teams that are still "in the race," or at least think they are, the second half is certainly going to be fun.  Some of these races will go right down to the wire, while somebody's going to get hot and make a run.  The trade deadline is also going to be a big factor.  Who's going to make the right moves that get them into the postseason?

AL East: The Orioles are in first place, which is a little surprising because of Baltimore's pitching and the fact that they haven't had Matt Wieters for most of the season.  The Blue Jays were leading the way for most of the year until hitting a bump in the road over the past couple weeks, but I still like Toronto's talent.  They need to weather these DL stints by Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, and they need to find other ways to score besides the home run (which is the reason for their problems), but I fully expect the Blue Jays to be involved in this thing for the duration.  Then there's the Yankees.  Inconsistent to say the least, but only five games out in what's turned out to be a weak division this year.  They obviously need to address the starting pitching situation and need to actually score in more than one inning per game to stay in it.  The AL East is very winnable this year, though, and you know the Yankees are going to be one of the more aggressive teams at the deadline.  They're not out of it by any means.  This will probably be a three-team race going forward.

AL Central: This is usually the point in the season where the Tigers begin to assert themselves.  Everyone knows that Detroit's the best team in this division, and they already have a 6.5-game lead over the surprising Royals.  The Tigers are simply too good and too deep for anyone else to legitimately think about anything other than a wild card.  It'll take a pretty major collapse or a historic stretch for somebody to catch them.  The Royals and Indians will have to fight each other for second place, because at least one wild card is coming out of the West.  Kansas City's a little better in my opinion, but the Royals haven't been in this position before, so I'm not sure they'll be able to sustain it.  They might be like last year's Pirates, though, so clueless about what's going on that it'll actually be a good thing.  Cleveland's not as good as they were last year.  I don't see the Indians keeping pace.

AL West: When Oakland traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, they did it with October in mind.  They won't admit it, but they were thinking about the Tigers and those back-to-back five-game Division Series losses.  Well, the good news for the A's is that they probably won't play Detroit in the Division Series this year.  However, if they finish with the best record, which I think they will, that means they get the winner of the Wild Card Game.  And that could easily be the rival Angels.  Anaheim's the best team in the wild card mix, so I fully expect them to host the Wild Card Game.  In fact, they might be the second-best team in the American League, which exposes the only flaw of the current playoff system.  Barring anything unforeseen, the Angels will be in the playoffs.  Seattle, though, I'm not sure about.  The Mariners are finally good for the first time in Felix Hernandez's career.  Can they keep it going?  Seattle's the most interesting team in this race.  Because I think they can, but I'm not sure they will.  And if we do see all three AL West teams in the playoffs, that'll make things even more interesting...because they're probably the only ones that can beat each other.

NL East: As most expected, this is shaping up to be a two-team race between the Braves and the Nationals.  They're tied for first and the second wild card right now, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say we might see both of them in October.  As for which one will win the division, though, I like the Nationals.  The differences between these two teams are very minimal.  I just think the Washington rotation and starting eight are just a tick better.  The Braves will miss Evan Gattis, and their starting staff simply isn't as deep as Washington's.  The one advantage Atlanta has is that superior bullpen.  Much like the AL West, the bottom teams in the NL East are nowhere near as good as the top two.  However, the Mets, Marlins and Phillies might have a say in who wins the division.  One of them is going to beat one or the other enough to influence the race.  The question is: will it also cost Atlanta or Washington a shot at a wild card?

NL Central: Without a doubt, the Brewers were the most surprising team of the first half.  Milwaukee's been in first place pretty much all season, but can they hold off the three teams that made the playoffs last season?  My pick in the NL Central is still the Cardinals.  They're annoyingly good.  No matter what, they seem to end up in the playoffs every year.  And they've probably already started their run.  St. Louis is only a game back...with Cincinnati only a half-game behind them.  And the Pirates are still involved, too, just 3.5 behind Milwaukee.  Pittsburgh finally got over the .500 hump last season, and they might again this year, but I don't think they'll get back to the playoffs.  They'll need to overtake at least two teams in the division, as well as somebody from another, to earn a wild card, and I just don't see it happening.  I'm not sure I see Cincinnati making the postseason for a third straight year, either.  The Reds will be in the thick of things and might even pass the Brewers, but they're not going to pass the Cardinals, and with the Giants/Dodgers loser all but guaranteed to host the Wild Card Game, there's only one wild card available.  Then again, the Brewers have surprised me all year, so I half expect them to end up holding off St. Louis and winning the division after all.

NL West: Everybody's preseason pick to win the National League pennant, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is once again playing like the team to beat.  The Dodgers have unfinished business after losing the NLCS last season, and they've been looking towards October for a while.  There aren't three teams better than the Dodgers that can knock them out of the playoffs.  Except winning the division isn't a total guarantee yet.  That's because the Giants have been nearly as good, if not just as good, all season.  And I don't see that changing.  The Dodgers are better, so they should win the division by a game or two, but San Francisco's not going anywhere.  The Giants are going to join them in October (after all, it's San Francisco's turn in the cycle to represent the NL in the World Series).  What I'm anxious to see possibly happen would be these two meeting in the Division Series, which can happen if the Giants win the Wild Card Game and the Dodgers have the best record.  With that pitching, San Francisco could easily knock off their archrivals in the postseason.

Playoff Teams:
AL-Athletics (West), Tigers (Central), Blue Jays (East), Angels (Wild Card 1), Orioles (Wild Card 2)
NL-Dodgers (West), Nationals (East), Cardinals (Central), Giants (Wild Card 1), Braves (Wild Card 2)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

MLB Midseason Awards

Now that we've moved past the All-Star Game, it's time to start thinking about the second half of the baseball season.  Thanks to the second wild card, so many teams are still in contention, which is going to make the trade deadline very interesting.  And those pennant/playoff races are probably going to go a long way in determining who ends up winning the major awards in November.  But who'd win those awards if they were given out right now?  As usual, there are plenty of options.

AL Manager: Bob Melvin, Athletics-The A's are good.  Everybody knows that.  Generally when a team that's good is doing well, it doesn't surprise anybody and the manager doesn't really get that much credit.  But I doubt anyone thought Oakland would be THIS good.  Yet Bob Melvin has taken his band of misfits and guided them to the best record in Baseball.  They had six All-Stars (seven if you count Samardzija), but don't have any superstars.  Yet they're the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series.  He won this award two years ago, and if the second half of the season goes the same way as the first half, he'll win it again.

NL Manager: Ron Roenicke, Brewers-Who thought the Brewers were going to end up fighting the Cubs for last place this year?  Probably a whole lot more than thought they'd be in first place all season.  They haven't just been in first place pretty much all year, they've had the best record in the National League for a good majority of the year, as well.  While the Brewers are going to need a second half nearly as ridiculous as their first half to hold off the Cardinals and Reds, if they do, Ron Roenicke will be an easy choice for NL Manager of the Year.

AL Rookie: Jose Abreu, White Sox-This went from tough to really easy, back to tough, back to really easy.  Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka both took the Majors by storm when they came on the scene in April.  Then Abreu got hurt and Tanaka continued dominating the American League.  Abreu came back, Tanaka proved that he's like us mere mortals, and suddenly it became a toss-up again.  But now that Tanaka is out for six weeks (and hopefully no longer), Abreu gets the edge in the AL Rookie of the Year race.  The fact that he leads the Majors in homers and ranks third in the AL in RBIs helps, too.

NL Rookie: Billy Hamilton, Reds-While the decision in the AL is tough because Abreu and Tanaka have been simply dominant, the choice in the NL is hard because there are so few candidates.  But the clear frontrunner is the Reds' dynamic center fielder, Billy Hamilton.  We've heard about him for a couple years, and he's certainly living up to the hype.  He's blowing away the NL rookie field in virtually every category, and his 38 stolen bases are third-most in the Majors.  Throw in six triples, 19 doubles and 38 RBIs and it's not even close.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners-Up until two weeks ago, Tanaka was looking at a potential Rookie of the Year/Cy Young double, which would've been unprecedented.  But the two rough starts in his last two games before he went on the DL knocked Tanaka out of the running (and the fact that he's out until September means he'll stay out of the running).  And just like the All-Star start then passed on to Felix Hernandez, so does the midseason Cy Young.  King Felix is putting up his typical awesome numbers.  In fact, he might even be better than normal this year.  Of course, there's one big difference, too.  The Mariners don't suck this year.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers-Just like there wasn't a wrong choice between Kershaw and Adam Wainwright as the All-Star starter, there isn't really much that separates them in the Cy Young race, either.  Wainwright leads the league in ERA...because Kershaw is 0.2 innings shy of qualifying.  Wainwright's got 12 wins.  Kershaw has 11 in five fewer starts.  But there are a couple other reasons why I'd give the nod to Kershaw, and not just because he's the best pitcher in the game.  The near-perfect no-hitter, the ridiculous scoreless inning streak, the 126 strikeouts, the .191 batting average against, the 0.83 WHIP.  And, most importantly, the Dodgers are in first place (with the best record in the National League).

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels-After back-to-back runner-up finishes to Miguel Cabrera, this might finally be the year Trout wins his first MVP.  There isn't really a need to spew out stats saying why Mike Trout is awesome, but I'll give it a shot anyway.  Second in the AL in slugging, second in on-base percentage, seventh in batting average, tied for third in RBIs, fourth in homers, tied for fourth in doubles, fifth in triples, second in runs scored, ninth in hits.  Yeah, he's pretty good.  And the Angels are actually playing the way the talent on their roster implies they should, so we might see Trout in October for the first time!  If he has a Trout-like second half, he'll have an AL MVP plaque to go with his All-Star MVP award.

NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies-I've seen a lot of different choices for NL midseason MVP, but mine is Troy Tulowitzki.  He's without a doubt the best player in the National League, and the team he plays for isn't very good, which has to make putting up the numbers he's put up that much harder.  Some of the non-Tulo people like to point to his Coors/non-Coors splits, but I ask, how much more bad would the Rockies be without him?  Yes, he's doing it in Colorado, but a .345 average (as well as league-leading on-base and slugging percentages) can't be overlooked.  Neither can 21 homers or 52 RBIs by a shortstop who has very little else around him.  Tulo wears No. 2 because of Derek Jeter.  In Jeter's final season, Tulo might get something Jeter never MVP.

As it turns out, making these choices wasn't really that tough.  Some are open to debate, but I feel very comfortable that these eight have stood out the most in the first half of the season.  Of course, things, as always, are subject to change in the second half.  And with 17 teams within 3.5 games of a playoff berth, the second half is going to be mighty entertaining.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Top Goals of the World Cup

What a World Cup!  I'm sad it's over, and even sadder that we have to wait four years until the next one in Russia.  And congratulations to Germany, a most deserving champion.  While I was pulling for Brazil and/or Argentina to keep up that South American magic on this side of the Atlantic, the best team definitely won.  Kudos do also go out to Brazil, though.  Despite all the doomsday predictions, they did a tremendous job as hosts and only made people that much more excited to come back to Rio in two years for the Olympics.

This was definitely the most exciting World Cup that I can remember, maybe the best ever (although I still hold great esteem for the World Cup hosted by the U.S. 20 years ago).  It also tied France 1998 as the highest-scoring World Cup in history.  While the goals became harder and harder to come by as the tournament went on, there were still 171 over the course of the 64 matches.  That gives us plenty to choose from for a Top 10 list (special thanks to Steve Misevic, my soccer guru, for his assistance in compiling the list)...

10. David Luiz (Brazil) vs. Colombia
No. 10 was a tough call, but back before Brazil was a national embarrassment, they were the favorites, and they played like it for a couple rounds.  Neymar had a brilliant goal against Cameroon in the final group game, but Brazil's best goal of the tournament?  That was by David Luiz on a brilliant free kick against Colombia in the quarterfinals.  David Luiz also got bonus points because he has awesome hair.

9. Lionel Messi (Argentina) vs. Iran
Messi's the best player in the world and he got his team to the final.  Even if his MVP was a little questionable (I would've voted for Thomas Mueller), he did show flashes of his greatness, most notably his game-winner in stoppage time against Iran.

8. David Villa (Spain) vs. Australia
Defending champion Spain famously fizzled out after two games.  But in their third game, the Spaniards showed why they had won the last three major tournaments before this one.  Take this goal by New York City FC's own David Villa.

7. Clint Dempsey (USA) vs. Ghana
It came 30 seconds into Team USA's World Cup journey, and it was magnificent.  It wasn't a game-winner or even a game-tying goal, but it did set the tone for the US coming out of the "Group of Death," along with champion Germany.

6. Haris Seferovic (Switzerland) vs. Ecuador
While not the prettiest goal of the tournament, this one makes the list because of its significance.  A game-winner in the 93rd minute of the first group play game between Switzerland and Ecuador, setting the stage for the number of comebacks and late goals to come.

5. Silvestre Varela (Portugal) vs. USA
The U.S. was seconds away from upsetting Portugal deep in the Amazon rainforest, holding Cristiano Ronaldo in check for 95 minutes.  Then this happened.

4. Mario Goetze (Germany) vs. Argentina
It wasn't the best goal of the tournament.  It could be argued that it wasn't even the best GERMAN goal of the tournament.  But this is the one that won the World Cup.  That alone is enough to earn a place in the top five.

3. James Rodriguez (Colombia) vs. Uruguay
World soccer's newest star has arrived.  James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer, and rightfully so.  Without question, his most spectacular goal came in Colombia's round of 16 win over Uruguay.  During the game broadcast, the ESPN announcers were debating whether it was the best goal of the tournament, but I've got it at No. 3.  Regardless, it was brilliant.

2. Robin Van Persie (Netherlands) vs. Spain
We got our first surprise of the tournament on Day Two, when the Netherlands crushed Spain 5-1 in that 2010 final rematch that happened way too early.  It was also the sign of things to come for both the Dutch, who finished third, and the Spanish, who flamed out spectacularly.  Speaking of spectacular, there was this amazing diving header by Robin Van Persie that was nominated for an ESPY.

1. Tim Cahill (Australia) vs. Netherlands
Believe it or not, those amazing goals by James and Van Persie don't take the cake as "Best Goal of the World Cup."  Our winner here is one of the most spectacular soccer goals I've ever seen.  And that was by Australia's (and the MetroStars') Tim Cahill.  In fact, some experts are calling it the best World Cup goal ever.  Fun fact, Australia has a total of 11 goals in its World Cup history.  Cahill has scored five of them.

That's my list.  Feel free to disagree.  I think that, without question, my top three were the three best goals of the tournament, but the order for the others is much more open to debate.  What all of these goals have in common, though, is that the goalkeepers had little to no chance of stopping them.  Ten sensational goals from a sensational World Cup.  See you in Russia in 2018.  Good luck trying to top Brazil.

Friday, July 11, 2014

All-Star Double Standard

While watching tonight's Yankees-Orioles game, I couldn't help but think about Nelson Cruz, who'll be starting at DH for the American League in the All-Star Game.  More specifically, I couldn't help but compare Nelson Cruz and other guys like him (Melky Cabrera, Ryan Braun) to Alex Rodriguez.  All of these guys were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs, yet A-Rod is labeled a "cheater" while the other three all collect millions of All-Star votes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying A-Rod is a saint.  God knows he's not.  But there's a double standard here.  And I don't think that's right.  They were all suspended for doing the exact same thing.  Cabrera and Braun even lied about it, too, just like A-Rod.  So why are they forgiven and A-Rod continues to be vilified?

I get it.  A-Rod is obviously very unlikable.  So is Barry Bonds.  And they're both superstars who were paid very handsomely to play baseball.  That's why A-Rod has been placed in that same category as Bonds and, to a lesser extent, Roger Clemens.  But are they any more guilty than the others?  No.

That's what irks me so much about this year's All-Star voting.  Melky Cabrera, obviously boosted by that ridiculous surge every Blue Jays player gets from the entire country of Canada, came very close to starting this year's All-Star Game.  Do people forget that two years ago, after winning MVP of said game, Cabrera failed a drug test, tried to get away with it by creating a fake website, was suspended for 50 games and was kept off San Francisco's World Series roster?  That was 2012.  It's now 2014.  What exactly has he done over the past two years to work his way back into the public's good graces?  And it's not the numbers he's been putting up.

Then there's Ryan Braun.  What Braun did was worse than what Cabrera did.  He failed a test, lied about it, appealed (and won), getting the arbitrator fired in the process.  Then last year, all the Biogenesis crap hits the fan, Braun admits he lied and accepts a 65-game ban.  Yet apparently none of that had any impact on his popularity in Milwaukee.  Because Ryan Braun was right up there among National League outfielders in fan voting for most of the balloting.  Why?  I figured that Ryan Braun especially would lose his "Golden Boy" status after the Biogenesis scandal.  Evidently I was wrong.

Some people even suggested that Braun should make the National League team as a reserve.  I guess that's part of the reason why he was still getting votes.  He's putting up numbers similar to what he did in the past, and it's without any sort of "enchancement" this time (at least you would hope). 

Same thing with Nelson Cruz, whose 50-game suspension last season ended just in time for him to play in the AL Wild Card Game.  It's probably because of Biogenesis that he couldn't find a team in the offseason before eventually getting a one-year deal with Baltimore.  Well, that deal's starting to look like a bargain.  Because Cruz leads the American League in home runs and RBIs.  While I personally couldn't bring myself to vote for someone that served a PED suspension last year, Cruz at least deserves to be an All-Star.  Even though his selection came as a surprise, that one I can at least make my peace with (especially because somebody other than David Ortiz is the AL DH).

And that brings me back to A-Rod.  After making several consecutive All-Star starts, he's been the Most Hated Player in baseball for several years now.  It all comes back to his history of steroid use and his general attitude towards it.  A-Rod rubs people the wrong way, and a lot of those who've labeled him a cheater refuse to ever view him any differently again.  But what makes Alex Rodriguez any different?  Why is he Public Enemy No. 1 when Melky Cabrera is out there collecting millions of All-Star votes?

Say what you want about Alex Rodriguez, but I don't think that's right.  While I'm all for second chances, they shouldn't be so arbitrary.  Everyone gets a second chance except for Alex Rodriguez?  Obviously there's much more to the A-Rod story, but it still seems wrong that he gets nothing but derision from fans while it's forgive and forget with so many others.

I'm not saying A-Rod deserves forgiveness.  I understand why so many people feel the way they do about him.  What I am saying, though, is that Melky Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and all the others deserve similar treatment, especially when it comes to All-Star voting.  Because, more than anything else, the support these players receive makes fans look like hypocrites.  If you're as disgusted with PEDs as you claim to be, don't turn around and vote for those guys for the All-Star team!  Otherwise, you're in no position to play judge and jury for the others.