Friday, June 22, 2012

When stories write themselves......

Over the last three weeks, the best sports stories out there have essentially written themselves.

We previously documented Mets pitcher Johan Santana hurling the first no-hitter in franchise history on June 1, but a week later, after getting two extra days rest because of a high pitch count that night, Santana was bombarded by the Yankees, and it took him two more starts to get back into form, as he beat Baltimore on Tuesday after shutting out Tampa Bay a week earlier. With the Subway Series resuming tonight at Citi Field, Santana will not pitch in this series, but the Yankees, even if they continue to dominate as they have this season against National League pitching, will have to deal with the sudden success story that is knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, who has hurled consecutive 1-hit complete games, also vs. Tampa Bay & Baltimore, and will pitch Sunday night vs. the Yankees' CC Sabathia. Fittingly, the game is ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball game of the week. Dickey is more of a lock to make the All-Star team than had been considered when the season began, and the pundits will tell you it'd be a crime if he didn't make the team.

On the same night that Santana was torched by the Yankees, Kentucky Derby & Preakness winner I'll Have Another was withdrawn from the Belmont Stakes, this after the predictable over-hyping of the race due to the prospect of the 34 year Triple Crown draught coming to an end. It's now 35 years and counting since Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, and, understandably, with the racing business in the condition it's in now, they needed something to bring the fans back. I'll Have Another was the story du jour, but the decision of trainer Doug O'Neill to not only scratch his horse, but retire him immediately due to tendonitis in his left fore leg, broke the hearts of those hoping for a Triple Crown miracle. Wait 'til next year, then, and see if there's another chance.

While the Mets are celebrating their 50th anniversary, the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League are marking 45 years. In what could be a bit of a harbinger, the Kings won their first Stanley Cup on June 11, defeating New Jersey in 6 games. As has been the case in recent years, the Kings rode a red-hot goaltender, in this case, a relative unknown named Jonathan Quick, to the championship. For all the great players the Kings have had since they entered the NHL in 1967, from Rogie Vachon to Wayne Gretzky,  they never had the chance to sip from the Cup. That all changed 11 days ago, and now, the next challenge is the hardest one. Repeating. The quest begins at home vs. the NY Rangers in October.

That same challenge now is brought before the Miami Heat. On Thursday, the third time was finally the charm for LeBron James, who earned MVP honors in leading Miami to their 2nd NBA title, defeating Oklahoma City in 5 games. There will be the detractors who won't give James his due, the hardcores who will complain about the usual star system when it comes to officiating, and Yahoo! had a blog up the other day implying that the boys in the striped shirts were favoring Miami in games 2 & 3.

Look, I am not as much of a basketball fan as I used to be because of the preferential treatment given to certain players, and that is a by-product of how the game is marketed. It's supposed to be a team game, but, since the 80's, it has increasingly been packaged such that the fans are conditioned to believe the bigger stars, such as James, Kobe Bryant, et al, will get the calls in their favor, but the refs will hold their whistles if those same golden boys commit fouls themselves at crunch time. This has also affected the college game, because of the way certain players are promoted by the media, and, of course, the parasites encouraging some kids to play college ball for just 1 year. In that regard, education becomes secondary, and it shouldn't be. Some kids can bypass college, like a Bryant or James, and succeed right away. Others think they can, and struggle.

What does that tell us? To paraphrase a well known slogan, education is fundamental, regardless of what anyone tells you.

Now that he & Chris Bosh have earned their rings (Dwyane Wade won his 2nd), James now must be asked to prove himself again by backing up his boasts from two years ago that he'd bring multiple titles to Miami. That alone makes the quest to repeat that much harder for Miami, because of the greater scrutiny involved.

On the other hand, now that the Heat's so-called dream team won their title, what about the other franchises that have tried copying them? The NFL's Philadelphia Eagles let quarterback Vince Young walk (now in Buffalo) after he'd given them the dream team label last year, only to have the Eagles fail to make the playoffs despite the lofty expectations. Back in South Beach, the Marlins are on the brink of falling back into the basement of the National League East after getting swept by Boston, proving once again that sometimes, you have to learn to walk before you can run. Right now, Miami, along with Philadelphia, needs a second half burst to make the playoffs, or, at best, have the Washington Nationals collapse. The Phillies are a proven second half team and will make a move. After all, they will get their injured stars back around the All-Star break or soon after. Miami? At the rate they're going, it might be time to tell them to wait until next year, even if LeBron and friends try to help with a little motivation. And, sometimes, that isn't quite enough.

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