Saturday, June 26, 2010


Who doesn't love Spanish soccer announcer Andres Cantor? No one, that's who.

Cantor for some reason was doing radio for the U.S.-Algeria game, but he was pretty psyched up by Landon Donovan's goal:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Remember way back in the 1960's, when the North American Soccer League was starting up in the United States and everyone was convinced that soccer was the sport of the future? (Note: the demographic of readers skews pretty old.)

And then remember in the 1970's, when the Cosmos were filling Giants Stadium with a team of world all-stars including Beckenbauer and Chinaglia, when soccer was the sport of the future?

Or was it when America finally got to host the World Cup in the 1990's?

We've been waiting for that one moment that might signal that all those kids who have been playing soccer for the past few decades might translate into some actual interest in watching the darn game.

That moment, or perhaps more specificially, game, might have come today.

Americans got a lesson in the dramatics in the sport today when Team USA took a 1-0 decision over its arch-rivals, Algeria. (OK, that sentence isn't completely accurate, but it sure was fun to type.)

Defensive games can be very exciting when the stakes are at their highest. Remember Game Seven of the 1991 World Series between the Twins and Braves, when Jack Morris just wouldn't let Atlanta score? Or some of the many hockey games at playoff time when a single shot could end or prolong a season for the two teams?

This was just like that. With America needing a win to advance to the Round of 16, it kept applying the pressure on thrust after thrust down the field. Certainly one of the attacks had to result in a goal, right?

Maybe not. You've seen baseball games in which one team leaves 18 men on base in a shutout loss. This seemed like it was headed for that fate ... until Landon Donovan, the face of American soccer, scored in the last two minutes to win the game, 1-0. Even I, someone who has trouble understanding the offside rule, can see what an elegant athlete Donovan is.

I've learned not to jump to conclusions when it comes to soccer. The women's World Cup of 1999, you might remember, was going to start some sort of boom for the game. We're still waiting for that.

Still, many Americans got a lesson that soccer doesn't have to be 90 minutes of keep-away. And maybe they'll learn some more lessons on Saturday against our arch-rivals from Ghana.

That's a fun one to type too.

They're back

Last month, you remember, I wrote about the people of the fundraising March of Dimes, who refused to take no for an answer when it came to helping their efforts in my neighborhood.

Apparently, they don't read this blog.

Yesterday, I was in a fine, deep sleep, when the phone rang. I squinted at the clock (remember, I'm legally blind without glasses) to see that it was 8:05 a.m. Or, as I call it, the middle of the night.


"Mr. Bailey, this is Carol from the March of Dimes. We're still haven't found someone in your neighborhood to collect for our..."

I hung up before hearing any more. Sadly, though, I couldn't go back to sleep. So I went up to the computer, checked out the number from caller ID, and left a complaint on an Internet site that does such things. I also sent the organization a note telling them to make sure to put me on a Do-Not-Call list, if they pay attention to such things.

If they ever call back when I'm actually awake, they are really going to hear it from me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Smoke gets in your eyes

I'm back from vacation. It's nice to be home, but getting paid not to work is a fine concept.

In this particular case, my wife and I visited Reno and Lake Tahoe. No, we didn't get a quicky divorce. We visited the site of the Donner Party camp, but didn't eat anything afterwards for a while in spite of the tales of cannibalism told at the visitors center at the state park near Truckee, Calif.

We also didn't do any gambling, even though casinos are everywhere in Nevada. Fill up the gas tank, hit the slot machine.

But there's a good reason why we weren't tempted, and I've never heard it discussed.


We walked through a casino in order to get to a Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, and we could have used gas masks. Granted, we're New Yorkers, who live in a state where smoking is banned in most bars and restaurants, so cigarette and cigar smoke don't enter our lungs too often. Still -- and this is speaking as someone who grew up with two parents who smoked -- it was pretty bad in there.

We asked one of the hostesses if there was a nonsmoking area anywhere, and we were told that only the poker tables were nonsmoking, and there was no barrier between that area and the rest of the casino. So even if you played poker, you were going to walk out with smelly clothes and a smelly body. At least the restaurant was smoke-free.

There must be some strong corrolation between gambling and smoking. I have all the respect in the world for the people who runs casinos, because they know what they are doing. So it must not be in their economic interest to set up separate, closed-off nonsmoking areas. Still, it is easy to wonder if such a place would attract some people who might not want to cough their way through a few dollars at the slot machines.

Besides, I would have to think that such places are begging for a class-action suit on behalf of casino workers, who are taking in more second-hand smoke in a night than I do in a year. It can't be a healthy work environment.

I know -- the rules are different in Nevada, where businesses and people don't want anyone telling them what to do. It's just easy to at least wonder if some of these places are leaving some chips on the table, so to speak.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Looking back

(I went back into the scrapbook and found the story I did on John Wooden when I was a senior in college in 1977. Syracuse was playing in Rupp Arena in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Wooden was a TV analyst. It's fun to read it now. Consider it a tribute to the best coach ever. And I hope the Daily Orange doesn't mind the reprint...)

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A casually dressed man in his late 60's strolled quietly into Rupp Arena last Wednesday afternoon. He saw a University of Detroit team busily practicing for the next night's game against arch-rival Michigan. Titan coach Dick Vitale apparently was oblivious to anything else in the 23,000-seat facility. A large group of sportswriters was milling on the sidelines.

But just by walking near the court, this man became the center of attention. He received more stares than "Charlie's Angels" do in a week. Vitale immediately halted practice and introduced the players to him, hoping some of the magic would rub off.

The man was John Wooden. The country gentleman from Indiana casts a large shadow.

John Wooden. Ten NCAA basketball championships in 12 years. Winning streaks of 88 and 47 games. The only man elected to the Hall of Fame as both player and coach.

Wooden coached the UCLA basketball team for 27 years, retiring two years ago. Many people believe his coaching record will never be matched -- except for Wooden himself.

"I think there could be another dynasty," Wooden said. "If you have the talent, it's not as difficult to win as it appears."

But Wooden believes that first national championship is very difficult to achieve.

"I think a lot of [my] teams in the early year could have won, but I wanted it too much. After that first year, I let the pressure off the players. Because of that, they more consistently played up to their abilities more than anyone else."

That consistency especially showed in the NCAA playoffs, as Wooden's teams won 44 of his last 45 games.

"Since the tournament is sudden death, it's crucial to get off to a good start. And it becomes more important with each round. The opposition is theoretically better in each succeeding round," said Wooden, apparently foreseeing Syracuse's game against North Carolina Charlotte.

The ex-coach finds a paradox, however, in the play of the finalists.

"You'll find that had teams in the championship game played that way in the regular season, they wouldn't be in the tournament. We've been miserable in national championship games, but so have our opponents," he said.

Part of UCLA's success in those championship games may have contributed to their later wins.

"A reputation of a team can have a great psychological effect on an opponent," Wooden said. "A number one ranking might be part of it. I place tremendous importance on subconscious aspects of the game. Basketball teams all have different personalities."

While others might be in awe of the wire service rankings, Wooden does not put much credence in the polls.

"I don't think the polls mean that much, even though there is more talk about national rankings today than a few years ago," he said. "The big difference between the football and basketball polls is that we end up with a champion. Football's is just what some personalities and coaches believe is the best team."

The best team in the 1964 basketball season was UCLA, Wooden's first national champion. He believes its style of play was responsible for that squad's explosive offense.

"In every game our '64 team played, we had a two and one-half minute period where they outscored the other team by 10 to 20 points. We played one game where we trailed by one with eight minutes left, and then scored the next 18 points in two minutes. But if we hadn't pressed for the first 32 minutes, it never would have happened."

One of Wooden's players was the target of a new rule before the 1968-69 season - the no-dunk law.

"The rule was put in before Lewis Alcindor's (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's) senior year. I told him then I doubted if he'd need to practice that shot to become a professional.

"By the way, I mean no disrespect when I say Lewis Alcindor. I knew and coached him under that name, and it is difficult for me to break the habit. But I certainly respect his wish to be called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."

Wooden has mixed emotions about the restoration of the dunk -- "The shot takes the team concept away from the game somewhat, but the dunk is great for the fans -- it generates tremendous excitement."

Some of those fans have packed Manley Field House many times to watch the Orangemen this year. Wooden was impressed with the current SU squad.

"I've only seen Syracuse play once this year," he said. "They have better depth than the team that competed in San Diego [in 1975]. Syracuse also has the big center this year.

"I am impressed with Eastern basketball. I have noticed that all of the teams seem to have similar styles," added Wooden, who gets to see them now that he works for NBC.

Despite his announcing role with the network, Wooden does not hesitate to criticize television.

"It's hurt the game with changing the starting time and time outs. But it's been partly responsible for the tremendous national growth of the game."

And Wooden says he could have predicted the sport's growth.

"This type of arena for basketball doesn't surprise me at all," he said, referring to the massive hall here. ""When I was playing back in Indiana, there was a 5,200-seat gym built just for a very small town's high school games. And the state championships were played in the 13,000-seat gym of Butler University. So I could see the potential growth of the sport."

Some of that growth has been due to Wooden and the great tradition of exciting teams he was associated with.

Friday, June 04, 2010


I was watching ESPN the other night when Armando Galarraga appeared to be headed for the record books. After a great catch to start the ninth by Austin Jackson -- the best play no one will ever remember - Galarraga got a second out and then appeared to get the third one on a bouncer to first.

Well, you know what happened next. Umpire Jim Joyce called the batter safe at first, even though replays showed him out by almost a half-step.

I let out a sigh, particularly when I saw the replay. You don't get many chances to see baseball history made, live when it happened.

The reaction, though, has been kind of interesting. Talk about your odd couples.

Here is the response of MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann on his blog. I'm surprised he didn't blame Glenn Beck, who gets blamed nightly for something or other, for the bad call.

And here's the response of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. I'm surprised it didn't blame President Obama, who gets blamed for everything else on that page, for the bad call.

My first thought was that it's a little difficult to pick and choose which decisions can be reviewed in hindsight. If the call was messed up in the fifth inning, then no one might have noticed. It's a little tough to retroactively decide the outcome of a game, even if it has happened a few times in history.

Then I thought of something which crystalized my thinking.

What if the reverse had happened? What if the umpire had called the batter out on a play in which he was clearly safe? Would there be the outcry to change history and take away the perfect game? Well, probably not, since the teams would have to go back on the field and finish the game from that point.

If you want to argue that replay makes such blown calls avoidable in some way, I'll go along with you. Otherwise, changing history after the fact doesn't work. And if it does, I'm going to go see if Bucky Dent stepped out of the batter's box in October 1978.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Spill baby spill

Like practically everyone else, I get a little more heart-broken every time I see a live television feed of oil coming out of a pipe a mile under water in the Gulf of Mexico. Or, when shots of the coastline are broadcast. It's almost too depressing to follow, and I'm 1,200 miles away.

It's all a reminder that this is a dangerous business, drilling out at sea. I know it's probably necessary to cut down on oil imports, and that there are 5,300 other wells in the Gulf which are not leaking.

Still, it's difficult not to be a little upset at the people who chanted "drill, baby, drill" at the Republican convention in 2008. It's almost like thinking back to someone who chanted "react, baby, react," when the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island developed serious problems.

The thought struck me that the Gulf spill has become a perfect way to harden the lines between the liberals and the conservatives in this country, just when you thought they couldn't get any harder.

It's like a game of Who Do You Trust? Or, Who Don't You Trust? The stereotype among conservatives is that the government can't do much right, and dropped the ball when it came to regulation ... plus didn't react fast enough when this started to happen. Columnist Peggy Noonan thinks the spill means Obama is decidedly out of touch and won't survive politically.

The stereotype among liberals is that big business can't be trusted with anything, and that it will lie when it suits its bottom line. Oh, and it would have been nice if the Bush Administration had better a little better when it had to make sure what needed to be done got done.

There's probably a little truth in all of this. We're not a patient people at times -- look at how many are angry that the unemployment rate has stayed so high in spite of the fact we're trying to recover from the worst economic crisis since the 1930's. And we're run out of patience about the spill. But in the tradition of "don't get upset over things we can't control," we're resigned to the fact that best minds in the private and public sector are stumped about what to do next.

The guess is that we'll be dealing with the environmental damage for years to come. We won't have to wait as long for the rhetorical level to heat up to new heights.