Sunday, September 27, 2009

No Naming Below the Belt

Vitali Klitschko (left) retained his WBC Heavyweight title last night with a 10th-round TKO of Chris "Nightmare" Arreola in Los Angeles.

Klitschko.

Arreola.

Professional boxing—especially the heavyweight division—is at a low ebb, thanks to the ascent of mixed martial arts and a dearth of charismatic fighters capable of rekindling interest after the pathetic end to the Mike Tyson era. But has the sport sunk so low that it now relies on cheap sexual references to garner popularity? Boxing is the manliest of sports...and one in which sex should not be involved. It's about anger and violence—not innuendo and titillation. Boxing doesn't need Klitschko and Arreola turning its heavyweight bouts into episodes of Real Housewives of Orange County, lest the glorious memories of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey be usurped by such inevitable contenders as Esteban de la Labia, Sugar Walls Wellington, Tommy St. Taint, and Joe "The Chicago Cameltoe" Wyzniewsky.

Let's leave the Klitschkos and Arreolas to the ring card girls...


(Photo of Klitschko-Arreola bout copyright Associated Press.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We'll Always Have Parisian Bob

Pedro Martinez lost his first game as a Philadelphia Phillie tonight, dropping his record to 5-1. Tonight's loss also marks the 100th defeat of his career—a dubious milestone remarkably long in coming, considering that Martinez entered a regular rotation in 1993 and has started 475 games in his amazing career. He has reached double figures in losses only twice—each time with the minimum of 10—which, against 219 wins, makes his career winning percentage a dizzying .687.

With his loss tonight, Martinez falls out of very select company. Since registering his 200th win during the 2006 season, Martinez had accompanied long-forgotten 19th-century great Bob Caruthers as the only pitchers in Major League Baseball history with at least 200 wins and fewer than 100 losses. Now Caruthers once again stands alone in that club.*

*Albert Spalding, the man who co-founded the famous sporting-goods company and the great-great-grandfather of the obnoxious twerp from Caddyshack, registered an off-the-scale career pitching record of 253-65; however, the vast majority of his hurling occurred in the National Association, an embryonic 1870s league recognized neither by Major League Baseball nor the Baseball Hall of Fame as a true major league because of the primitive state of play and rules (e.g., players often played in overalls and workboots, a strikeout was a triple, base-stealing frequently resulted in a hanging, etc). Ironically, Spalding was inducted into the Hall of Fame as an executive/pioneer, both for his paramount role in organizing and promoting baseball to new heights of popularity, as well as inventing the position of first-base coach, which provided slews of washed-up ballplayers with high-paying jobs that required no effort beyond standing.

"Parisian Bob," as Caruthers was known (ostensibly because he once conducted contract negotiations via telegram from Paris, but more likely because of his collection of rare French medals of bravery—so rare, in fact, that he never actually found any), racked up a 218-99 career record in which he twice won 40 games in a season and led the American Association three times in winning percentage. Although he possesses the fourth-highest official winning percentage in history (.688), Caruthers is not a member of the Hall of Fame; this may result from confusion over the current rule that, to be eligible, a player must play at least parts of 10 seasons—Caruthers only pitched for nine, from 1884 to 1892; however, he did play 14 games as an outfielder in 1893, which makes him an eligible candidate. Even so, some Veterans Committee members refuse to vote for Caruthers because they believe that he's been snubbing Major League Baseball since his death in 1911 ("The guy doesn't respect the game!" one Veterans Committee member huffed in 2005 after a letter to Caruthers' last known address went unanswered).

As dominant a hurler as was Caruthers, he actually played more games as a position player. Caruthers twice hit well over .300, and he led the American Association in on-base percentage and OPS in 1886, a year in which he propelled his St. Louis Browns to the "world" championship.† Browns owner Chris von der Ahe called Caruthers "my club's best player...and the only one of those stockinged reprobates who pronounces my name correctly!"

†Interestingly, "Parisian Bob" received his nickname the same year that France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States, and many St. Louisans, jealous of haughty New York and giddy from their Browns' recent championship victory over the Chicago White Stockings, proclaimed the popular Parisian Bob as their gift from France, forcing Caruthers to stand on the banks of the Mississippi, holding a torch, on the very day that the Statue of Liberty was being dedicated in New York Harbor. A mere 5-foot-seven, the diminutive Caruthers could offer a better life to no one, as not even the tired, the poor, or anyone part of a huddle mass wanted the refuge offered by a pipsqueak, and after four hours with no takers, Caruthers threw off his robe and crown in disgust. When he was sold a year later to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Caruthers visited the real Statue of Liberty and kicked it.

After four successful years in Brooklyn, Caruthers returned to the Browns. Sadly, not only was his arm gone, but so was his wallet, which Caruthers had left at a Coney Island hot-dog stand and was, at that very moment, being picked clean by local hoodlums who were about to stuff their bellies on his dime with more frankfurters than Joey Chestnut would 120 years later. Caruthers hung on in the minors for several years, before becoming an umpire in the early days of the American League.‡ He died at age 47, never having replaced his wallet.

‡Notably, Caruthers was the first umpire to toss himself out of a game, when an extra-inning contest between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Beaneaters threatened to make him late for the very first Ford Model A 0.01% APR factory-incentive blowout.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sleek Shall Inherit the Turf

Football head coaches are strict disciplinarians. It’s their task to ready 50-plus players to smash the opponent each weekend, and they do it by getting their players to adhere to their rules, conduct, and strategies. Head coaches often look upon themselves as father figures, trying to instill their boys with the desire and discipline needed for success.

Yet how many of football’s head coaches are undisciplined messes? Sidelines throughout the country are prowled very slowly by head coaches who clearly have no self-discipline when it comes to food. What kind of example is being set by such butterballs as Andy Reid, Rex Ryan, Tom Cable, Eric Mangini, Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, and Kansas University's Mark Mangino?

Wade Phillips may be a nice guy, but his Dallas Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game under his chunky command and have instead acquired the reputation as an undisciplined bunch that crumbles like cornbread at crunch time. Well, it’s Wade Phillips’ crunch time that’s the problem. Hearing him wolf down a rack of babybacks in his office can’t be imbuing his players with respect for him. I wouldn’t be listening too closely to a guy with a Michelin Man midsection who’s yelling at me about dedication and discipline. The fact is that, in seven years as a head coach, none of Phillips’ teams have ever won a playoff game.

Contrast the fortunes of "America's Team" under trim Tom Landry: The spartan Landry and his 195-lb frame earned the respect of every one of his players by putting his money, rather than food, where his mouth is. In not being mistaken for the blimp sent to cover every game, Landry led by example and guided the Cowboys to five Super Bowls, winning two of them.

Sure, portly head coaches occasionally steer their teams to the championship: turducken connoisseur John Madden won a Super Bowl, as did roly-poly Hank Stram. Even the great Vince Lombardi won NFL titles between meals. But as the chart below clearly demonstrates, the scales of success tip strongly in favor of the lighter-weighted. Paul Brown—slim, slender, and seven (AAFC and NFL) championships. Fit even into old age, Curly Lambeau won six NFL titles. Guy Chamberlin, 6-foot-two and 196 lb, collected four NFL crowns. Trim Bill Walsh took the 49ers to a trio of Super Bowl titles, and his successor, the even leaner George Seifert, followed with a pair. Rock-solid Chuck Noll—four Super Bowl trophies. And the all-time leader in coaching victories, svelte Don Shula—a record six trips to the Super Bowl, winning two, before he grew doughier with age and the Dolphins fell out of regular contention.

“What about the pudgy Bill Belichick,” you say? “He’s the greatest head coach of his generation, forging a dynasty in the era of the salary cap while pacing the gridiron with a jelly belly.” Yes, but Belichick is smart enough to wear loose-fitting sweatshirts and track pants. He knows better than to let his players see the spare tire he’s gained from clam chowdah, lest they lose respect and tune him out. Forget X’s and O’s—baggy clothing may be the secret of Belichick’s genius.

But most football coaches don't possess such smarts. Really, what Notre Dame player is going to be inspired by Charlie Weis? His utter lack of physical discipline can't help but negatively influence his players. It was under Weis's corpulent helm that the Fighting Irish suffered its worst season in school history—the first of two consecutive unranked seasons during Weis's tenure. Previously, Notre Dame had lost consective Fiesta and Sugar Bowl appearances under the blubbery head coach. (Sure, Weis led Notre Dame to victory in the 2008 Hawai’i Bowl...but that's really the Pity Bowl and nothing for the Fighting Irish to hang its buckled hat on.)

Former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren provides the perfect empirical model: He began his head-coaching career with the Packers in excellent shape. Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 1996. He put on enough weight over the ensuing off-season that the Packers couldn’t repeat, and then grew to full rotundity as head coach of the Seahawks, who were unable to win a championship during his ten hefty seasons in Seattle.

While the Jerry Glanvilles and Rich Kotites wheeze and gasp their way to mediocrity, championships are seized by head coaches whose hunger for victory runs deeper than their hunger for Big Macs and cookie dough. Joe Gibbs, Mike Shanahan, Tom Flores, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin, Dick Vermeil, Brian Billick, Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden—all well within their recommended weight range. All respected for practicing what they preach. All Super Bowl winners.

Monday, September 7, 2009

For the Stick, It Should've Been Automatic

We ate dinner last night at a Red Lobster in Long Branch, NJ. I had parked the car in the only available space in the main lot: at the end of a row, where stood some large bushes on the adjacent curb. Several of the bushes' branches protruded to within about a foot of the car. Upon returning to the car after our meal, I discovered a four-inch-long stick insect perched motionless on the driver's-side window.

Over aeons, stick insects have, of course, evolved as masters of camouflage. Most species' primary defense is to look so much like a twig that hungry predators never detect them. Obviously, it's worked well for millions of years.

Needless to say, I was surprised to find a stick insect on the car window—a surface that offers no visual protection and fully exposes such a large insect to both predator and perturbed human. Now, I have respect for life and gently shooed the creature off the window. But many people—especially after the adrenalin rush of cracking open a crustacean—would have reacted harshly and swatted, slammed, or squashed the stick insect to death. Frankly, the stick insect's behavior belied its reputation for cleverness, and it was lucky to have survived such a stupid decision.

In all fairness, a stick insect possesses a brain of, maybe, half a nanogram—but such foolish behavior should be an instinctual no-no. Like opening an umbrella stand in the middle of the Sahara...it's something you just don't do. So even though they have carved out a highly successful ecological niche across the ages, it's no wonder that stick insects have failed to evolve beyond their twiggy exoskeleton: they're simply not that bright. According to fossil records, stick insects have been around for at least 23 million years, so you'd figure that, following the normal pattern of evolution, they would have made something of themselves and, by now, at least resemble trees...or have even progressed toward something of higher intelligence—I daresay, perhaps even a bipedal form. I'm no genetic entomologist, but a simple change of diet from leaves to meat would have—as in early humans—enlarged their microscopic brain and put stick insects on a much more rewarding evolutionary course. Even noshing on a katydid once in a while could have made all the difference. Is biophysiological improvement so unpalatable? Instead of being stuck as the pansies of the bug world—playing dead or remaining perfectly still whenever a predator enters the neighborhood—stick insects perhaps could now be our evolutionary counterpart:Although this theory* has met with criticism ranging from "That's impossible" to "Stop calling, you idiot!" we've all seen what a switch to a protein-rich meat diet did for Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. You don't get the Oscar for Best Actor by eating privet leaves.

*For a detailed analysis of this theory, see Why the Steak at Red Lobster Is Pretty Good and Other Thoughts: A Text Message to the Corporate Office (personal communication; September 6, 2009).

But that's not all for the animal kingdom.

I further posit that the llama—long believed South American in origin—in fact migrated to South America from Wales. My proof? Did you ever look at a map of Wales? The double-l—so characteristic of the llama—is found all over the Welsh nation: Llandrindod Wells, Llangollen, Llandovery, Llangefni, and at least 267 other towns and villages. True, the digraph ll as the first two letters of a word or place-name is also charateristic of Spanish and several of Spain's regional dialects, and a multitude of villages beginning with Ll are found throughout South America, but Spanish and related dialects have only been spoken in South America since the arrival of the Conquistadors, whereas the llama has been roaming South America for several million years.












So how did the llama migrate from Wales to South America? Similar to Beringia, a land bridge between Wales and the east coast of South America may have existed during ice ages, when sea levels dropped dramatically. Admittedly, my calculations show that for the extreme distance between Wales and South America to have been exposed, the Atlantic Ocean would have had to dissipate to the volume of a half-gallon container of Deer Park, but I may just be remembering the tables of measures incorrectly.

Further supporting this claim is the not-insignificant fact that Episode 9 of Monty Python's Flying Circus begins with "The Llama Sketch," in which John Cleese sings (in Spanish) about the virtues of the llama, backed by Eric Idle and Terry Jones. Terry Jones (on right) is from Colwyn Bay, Wales. That the three Pythons are singing in Spanish about the llama may be irony far over the heads of anyone not in the know.

And if that weren't enough evidence, the final twenty seconds of the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which were completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute) are replete with llama references. The Holy Grail was directed by the Welshman Terry Jones, and since he had final say in the content of those llama-laden credits, I can only surmise that Jones has a strong affinity for the animal that is ostensibly native to his land.

In phase II of these studies, empirical data will be collected from my couch with the aid of a six of Buckleys Best Bitter.

Future anthropological topics on Mount Drinkmore may include the cantaloupe's evolution to the antelope as well as a review of back pain in invertebrates.

(Second photo of stick insect copyright National Geographic Society; photo of llama copyright National Picture Library; photo of "The Llama Sketch" copyright Python (Monty) Pictures.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Not Gonna Let Bruntlett Take the Brunt of Anti-fans' Wrath

On August 23, Philadelphia Phillies reserve 2nd-baseman Eric Bruntlett executed an unassisted triple play. The fifteenth unassisted triple play in Major League history, this was only the second such defensive lightning bolt to end a game (the other instance occurring in 1927). With the Phils leading the New York Mets 9-6 in the bottom of the 9th, Angel Pagan and Luis Castillo both reached base on errors (including one by Bruntlett, himself, whose miscue cut Philadelphia's lead to 9-7). Then an infield single by Daniel Murphy put runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. With the winning run at the plate, Jeff Francouer ripped a line drive up the middle. But with both runners going on the pitch, Bruntlett, who was dashing to cover 2nd base, found himself in perfect position to snare the sure hit. He quickly stepped on 2nd to double off Castillo, then lunged at the backpedaling Murphy to end the game, leaving a raucous New York crowd in stunned silence.

Two days ago, Mount Drinkmore's Pat directed me to an "Eric Bruntlett Sucks" anti-fan forum that he stumbled upon (http://www.talk-sports.net/mlb/sucks.aspx/Eric_Bruntlett). Although all of the posts predate Bruntlett's unassisted triple play, some are particularly cruel and leave no doubt as to how low these anti-fans regard him.

Sure, in seven seasons as a utility player, Bruntlett has hit a paltry .231. Sure, his fielding percentages at the middle-infield positions are below league norms. Sure, he's barely cracked .200 in two seasons as a Phillie, and fans—rabid for another World Series run—have no tolerance for a player who literally can't hit his weight this year.

Yet the fact remains, Eric Bruntlett anti-fans: Eric Bruntlett is now only one unassisted triple play away from becoming the all-time leader in unassisted triple plays.

Don't you think he's earned a name-change to the "Eric Bruntlett Doesn't Suck That Much" forum?

(Photo of triple play copyright Associated Press.)

Morning Redwood

This photograph was recently e-mailed to me. Not only is it a fine example of reproductive phenology, but it proves the common myth about sequoias.

I've been trying to determine where this photo was taken. I figure either Sequoia National Park...or on the set of the porn film, Lord of the Cock Rings, since this shapely lass appears to have been a fluff girl for the Ents.