Mikhail Youzhny's Bloody Pissed

tennisI've lost touch with many of the players on the tennis circuit. I used to know most of the names, but now I only know a few. Until today, I had never heard of Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

Youzhny, facing Spain's Nicolas Almagro at the Miami Masters, lost a point and got pissed. Look what he did to himself.

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The Problem With Baseball

baseballDon't get me wrong, I love baseball. I'm psyched about a new season of Blue Jays baseball and hopeful we can return to the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years. It's a fantastic game, but there's a problem with parity.

Take our AL East division as a good example. The New York Yankees have won the AL East pennant nine of the last ten seasons. The only time the Yankees didn't win the pennant, they won the wildcard and the Red Sox won the pennant. Over the past ten seasons, the wildcard team has come out of our AL East division six times, and it's always been the Red Sox or Yankees. That's an entire decade completely dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox.

Not coincidentally, the Yankees and Red Sox have the highest payrolls by a long shot. Last season, the Yankees payroll was $195,229,045, the Red Sox' payroll was $143,123,714 and the Blue Jays payroll was $79,925,600. No wonder we keep finishing third.

I just read that A-Rod makes more money than the entire Florida Marlins team. A-Rod will earn $28 million this season and the 33 players on the Marlins' opening-day roster and disabled list total $21.8 million.

It just doesn't seem fair, does it?

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mlb762 will be the answer to a common trivia question. That question, of course, is "what's the most home runs hit in a major league career?"

No team will touch Barry Bonds. He's been blacklisted as a steroid user and perjurer. Quite frankly, it looks good on him. He finished last season with 762 career dingers and that's where he'll stay.

I'll have no problem memorizing this number for future editions of Trivial Pursuit as it's the start of my childhood telephone number back in the days before we had to dial the area code for local calls.

Not that he deserves the exposure, but here's more Toronto Mike ramblings about Barry Bonds.

I miss the days when my heroes were disgraced for accepting money from boosters while in college. Those were far more innocent times.

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C-Webb's March Madness

webberChris Webber has retired from the NBA. This isn't just a sports story for me, this feels like something more.

In the fall of 1991 I was 17 years old. I caught an NCAA basketball game on television and the commentators were talking about these five freshmen who were all starting. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwon Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson played above the rim and I was smitten. After that, I caught every Michigan Wolverines basketball game I could, followed the team as closely as possible and sang their praises to my brothers. I loved that team.

I've got to dig up the Michigan leather jacket I bought that year. This thing was loud and proud but I wore it religiously and although I haven't worn it in well over a decade, I know I never threw it out. I couldn't.

In 1992 and 1993 my Wolverines played in the NCAA title game, losing both times. I'll never forget that second loss. Earlier in the day, I learnt my grandfather had passed away. With a heavy heart I sat down to watch Webber, Rose, Howard, King and Jackson and the game ended with the infamous time-out that wasn't. A mental gaffe by Chris Webber sealed their fate and that summer Webber announced his eligibility for the NBA draft.

Chris Webber has retired, without an NCAA title or an NBA title. Although he had a very good career, my lofty expectations for him went unfulfilled. When C-Webb, the best of the Fab Five, left Michigan, he took with him a great deal of my NCAA passion. I haven't enjoyed March Madness the same since.

As he goes, so goes a part of my youth. I guess you had to be there. I was.

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The SI Vault

vaultI just discovered The SI Vault. 54 years of Sports Illustrated history is online and free. A sports fan could spend a week there one night.

I actually searched for all articles that included the keyword 'toronto' and scanned the 586 headlines. Of course, who could stop at the headlines when there was this 1979 piece on Toronto Blue Jay Bob Bailor and this fantastic 1994 piece on Wendel Clark.

Aw heck, here's that Wendel Clark article in its entirety. If you love sports, you'll love the SI Vault.

Conn Smythe would have loved Wendel Clark. Smythe, one of the early patriarchs of the NHL and the fellow who built Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, was fond of saying, "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice."

Clark, the Maple Leaf captain, has a style suited for either venue. His eight goals through two playoff rounds include a pair he scored last Saturday night in Toronto's 4-2 Game 7 win over the San Jose Sharks at the Gardens, a victory that advanced the Leafs to the Western Conference finals against the Vancouver Canucks. And when Clark isn't illuminating the little red lamp, he's lighting up opponents.

Ask Chicago's Chris Chelios, who crawled to the bench after being freight-trained by Clark during Game 6 of the Maple Leafs' first-round series against the Blackhawks. Ask San Jose's Jeff Norton, who was bent into a horseshoe by Clark in front of the Shark bench in Game 4 of their series. So enthusiastically did Clark finish his check that Norton was left gazing up into his teammates' nostrils, then was helped off the ice, semiconscious.

Around the NHL, Clark is given wide berth even though he doesn't drop his gloves as often as he did when he first arrived in the league, nine years ago. "He can still fight like a bastard," says Toronto assistant general manager Bill Watters . "He's just more selective." Adds Leaf defenseman Todd Gill, "There's not a guy in the league that wants a piece of him. Wendel isn't swinging for show. He's swinging to hurt you."

He's also swinging to score. With a wonderfully soft touch in close, rare for a pugilist, and one of the most dangerous wrist shots in the game, Clark has learned that he can do more damage with his hands wrapped around the shaft of a stick. This year the left wing had a career-high 46 goals during the regular season. Says Gill, "Wendel's finally using his hands to score, not fight."

But for a man who causes so much mayhem on the ice, Clark is surprisingly unimposing off of it. The program says he is 5'11"?maybe he's 5'10"?and with his playoff beard and progressing baldness, he is an old-looking 27. He even sounded mature after the Leafs ' elimination of San Jose Saturday evening, philosophizing that "every player has his ups and downs. Life is a circle."

Clark is up now, as he was in 1985-86, when he had a team-high 34 goals and set a Toronto scoring record for rookies. With 37 goals the next season, he was beloved by Leaf fans and then-coach John Brophy, who had played in the minors with Clark's father, Les, now a wheat farmer on a 4,000-acre spread in Kelvington, Saskatchewan. Says Clark, "Dad always said, 'I don't care what you do, just do it as hard as you can.' "

Following that advice has probably shortened Clark's career. He ran everything that moved and fought everyone who looked at him the wrong way, and then his back went out in the summer of 1987. Over the next five seasons Clark averaged fewer than 40 games and got used to talk that he was malingering. His manhood was questioned again last winter when a Detroit Red Wing player said, "He's Wendel at home and Wendy on the road." That label resurfaced a month later during postseason play after Clark disappeared in the first two games of Toronto's opening-round series in Detroit. Trashed by the hometown media as well, Clark responded by playing huge the rest of the way, scoring 10 goals as the Leafs made it to within a game of the Stanley Cup finals.

He hasn't let up. He's now contending for the postseason's MVP award, a gaudy piece of hardware known as the Conn Smythe Trophy. Smythe's kind of guy all the way.

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Brett Favre Retires

nflI'm too busy right now to do this justice, but I'm disappointed Brett Favre is calling it quits after 17 seasons. He's going out on his terms, at the top of his game, but the fan in me wants one more year.

Brett Favre was my kind of player, the epitome of heart. The AP article I just read says "he dazzled fans with his grit, heart and rocket of an arm". Damn straight. I became a Favre fan in 1992 and when he led the Packers to a Super Bowl win in 1997, I celebrated like the home team had triumphed. With Favre gone, I couldn't tell you who my favourite player in the NFL is. This is the end of an era for me.

So you see, I wasn't ready for this ride to end. He's started 275 consecutive games, a guy can get used to that kind of dependability.

Here are a few entries I've written about Brett Favre over the past five years.

He retires with 5,377 career completions in 8,758 attempts for 61,655 yards and 442 touchdowns.

Brett Favre

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Manning to Tyree Play for the Ages

nflI turned on the television yesterday just in time to catch the national anthem. I then watched the entire Super Bowl, rooting for the Giants to pull off the upset.

If you were watching that fourth quarter, you already know how thrilling it was. New York had the lead, New England jumped in front late and then the Giants somehow marched 83 yards down the field to complete the upset. I'm hesitant to call it the best Super Bowl I've ever seen, because I have vivid memories of Super Bowl XXXIV when Kevin Dyson was tackled one yard short, but it's definitely right up there.

The winning touchdown was scored on an 83 yard drive that consisted of 12 plays, but none more crucial than the catch David Tyree made. Firstly, I couldn't believe Eli Manning broke free to make that pass. And even though I've seen the replay a dozen times now, I can't believe the catch Tyree made. That play at that time was absolutely thrilling and why I love sports. Anything can happen.

Here's the Manning-to-Tyree play I still can't believe.

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I Hate Perfection

nflI hear there's a pretty big football game today. I'll tune in at some point in the first half after I get home from seeing one of the films on my see list. I'm going to watch "Juno".

For a few reasons, I'll be rooting for the New York Giants. It's more like I'm rooting against the New England Patriots than rooting for the Giants, and there are two primary motivating factors.

I Hate Perfection
The idea of perfection turns me off. Other than those who live in New England, who would want to root for a perfect season? These guys have won enough, and they're clearly the best team in the NFL, and that's precisely why I hope there's an upset tonight. It's the Giants' imperfections that give them character.

I'm Sick Of Boston
The Red Sox won again last season, the Patriots have won enough and the Celtics are suddenly great again. I'm sick of Boston winning and it's simply unfair for one city to be home to both the reigning Super Bowl and World Series champions. If the Pats win, there's a chance they'll be home to the NBA champions as well, and that thought makes me nauseous.

In honour of Super Bowl Sunday, a day that used to mean a great deal more to me, here's my favourite Super Bowl ad of them all.

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23 Ways To Get To First Base

baseballThis article on the rules & quirks in the glorious sport of baseball says there are twenty-three ways to get a man (any man) on first base. At first I didn't believe it, but then I read the list.

Here are the 23 ways you can get to first base.

1. walk
2. intentional walk
3. hit by pitch
4. dropped 3rd strike
5. failure to deliver pitch in 20 seconds
6. catcher interference
7. fielder interference
8. spectator interference
9. fan obstruction
10. fair ball hits ump
11. fair ball hits runner
12. fielder obstructs runner
13. pinch-runner
14. fielder's choice
15. force out at another base
16. preceding runner put-out allows batter to reach first
17. sac bunt fails to advance runner
18. sacrifice fly dropped
19. runner called out on appeal
20. error
21. four illegal pitches
22. single
23. game suspended with runner on first, that player is traded prior to the makeup; new player is allowed to take his place

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Fooled Again

nhlThe older I get, the less I like the NHL all-star weekend. In recent years, I've skipped the entire thing, even the skills competition which I used to love.

This year, I got tricked into tuning in to the skills competition because they were holding a breakaway event that would give points for creativity. I envisioned something like the slam dunk competition during the NBA all-star weekend. It piqued my interest so I made sure I was in front of the tv at 9pm to watch the sparks fly.

As usual, it was disappointing. There were a few attempts to do something funky and different, but they failed. By the end, it was no more exciting than a regular shootout in a regular season game. If anything, the regular shootout is more exciting because the players actually care if they score.

Won't get fooled again.

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