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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The YouTube-ization of Sports

By Luke Winn, SI.com

The subject of the most-viewed YouTube sports clip of all-time, in a rather boring revelation, is the world's most-popular sport. The video is entitled Comedy Football. It's a montage of soccer bloopers set to Malcolm Arnold's The River Kwai March, and it has been watched 16.8 million times since it was posted on March 5, 2007. The most highly played sports clip that originated in the U.S. checks in at a respectable 9.1 million viewers; it's footage of an All-Star Weekend dance-off between Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

If you're looking for signs that YouTube -- which has grown into an 83.4 million-video giant in just its third year of existence -- has changed the sporting world, these are not it. Both are exactly the kind of light fodder that might have appeared on stadium scoreboards during downtime in the 1980s or '90s. Our favorite sports clips, for some reason, are the ones that make us laugh, and our next-favorite sports clips, on YouTube's most-viewed list, are highlight reels, including the ball-skills of Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho and the dunks of the NBA's Vince Carter. On a macro level, sports fans' viewing mediums may have changed, but our viewing preferences have not.

The real impact of YouTube on the sporting world lies in its ability to distribute a breadth of content to a massive audience. It's estimated that the bandwidth on YouTube in 2007 exceeded that of the whole Internet in 2000, and not only are sports fans there being wowed by highlights of international soccer stars, they're also raving over pixelated tape of a high-school freshman on a football field in Florida. Not only are they watching NBA All-Stars clown around in Las Vegas, they're also being exposed to the comedic stylings of a D-Leaguer in Bismarck, N.D. They're not only being served commentary from pundits on ESPN and Clear Channel; they're also getting opinions from a basement in Bluegrass Country. Programming is less likely to be digitally encoded by major networks than it is by dedicated bloggers. And video of a wild controversy can go viral not just when it's from the World Series, but also a prep state-title game on local-access cable in Georgia. In each of these lesser-known instances, the individuals involved are impacted by the power of Internet video. For better or worse, YouTube changed their lives.

The YouTube Recruiting Sensation (the story of Noel Devine)

For the past seven years, Derek Williams has run Sunshine Preps, an online service out of St. Leo, Fla., that offers footage of Florida's high-school prospects to an audience of college coaches. Williams has no real interest in viral video, but he is also the producer of the most-watched high-school football highlight tape of all-time: that of the boy wonder of the Internet Recruiting Era, Noel Devine.

In the spring of 2004, Williams was poring over game tapes of North Fort Myers High's '03 season when he saw a blazing-fast player -- whose number wasn't on the roster sheet Williams had -- make a series of stunning cutbacks, 360s, and breakaway runs. "I asked the coach [James Iandoli], 'Who the hell is this No. 7?

"Is he a senior?'" Williams asked.

"[Iandoli] said, 'No, that kid is a freshman.' And at that point I was really blown away."

Williams posted a compilation of the then 15-year-old Devine's freshman-year highlights, plus photos of him bench-pressing 315 pounds on SunshinePreps' site. It spread like wildfire on message boards. At one point it crashed SunshinePreps' server. Then it hit YouTube. That video, combined with subsequent montages from Devine's sophomore, junior and senior seasons, have been viewed nearly four million times. On the most popular clip, from Devine's junior year, the uploader offers the comment, "This guy is too insane, (sic) either he's playing against retards or he is the next LaDanian Tomlinson or Reggie Bush."

Williams is less crude with his assessment. "Noel Devine," he says, "set the standard for the high-school highlight tape."


Devine, who's now a sophomore at West Virginia, reached household-name status at a very early stage in the football world. His legend transcended the world of recruitniks and reached regular fans; as a result, the circumstances of his personal life -- both of his parents died of AIDS while he was young, and he has fathered two children -- were made public. That, in the end, was Williams' regret. Devine, though, never had any problem with the videos. He says sometimes he'll go onto YouTube from his computer at college, and look at those high-school clips, "just to reminisce. Sometimes I can't believe some of the stuff I did."

As a freshman in 2007, Devine was stuck behind Steve Slaton on the depth chart, and ran for 627 yards on 73 carries, for an astounding 8.3 yards per rush. Devine is considered a dark horse for the Heisman this year. "I'm just trying to keep moving forward," he says. "I want to get farther than being a legend on YouTube."

If Devine does go from second-string to Heisman in a year's time, no one will be able to say he came out of nowhere. It'll merely be the second phase of the sensation.

Encoding For A Living: The Online Sports Video King (the story of Brian Powell)

The first significant traffic surge on Brian Powell's blog was for a YouTube of a wedgie. No ordinary wedgie, mind you -- it was the wardrobe malfunction of a USC Song Girl, who did a posterior-revealing twirl during the Rose Bowl in January 2007. Deadspin linked to Powell's Awful Announcing site, and that, said Powell, "is one of the biggest things I've had on my site, even to this day." It was early proof of what would become Powell's blogging maxim: that "showing people something is better than just writing about it," regardless of whether the content is lowbrow, highbrow or anywhere in between.

Powell, a 29-year-old former marketing employee of the WUSA's Philadelphia Charge and the NBA's Washington Wizards, started Awful Announcing in 2006 as a way to vent his frustrations with broadcasters, hence its title. He still does his share of written media criticism, but frequently augments it with video -- from ESPN and elsewhere -- that he's encoded and posted on the Web. In the span of two years, Powell has become arguably the most successful video-centric sports blogger, growing from a mere linker of found clips into a high-volume generator of video content.

Learning to encode videos was "insanely easy," according to Powell: "Basically, I just walked into Best Buy and asked a kid there, 'Hey, I've got a computer and a TiVo. How do I get the the video on the computer?'" With an antenna that cost $60, and free, downloadable software, Powell was off and running. Now it takes him roughly 20 minutes between the time he sees something blog-worthy on TV -- like the latest discussion of Erin Andrews' wardrobe controversy on ESPN this week -- and gets it up on his site.

After having YouTube shut down the bulk of his accounts for posting some off-limits NBA or MLB video, Powell now uses the site Daily Motion to host most of his files. The 137 videos he's uploaded to dailymotion.com in the past two months have been collectively viewed more than 674,199 times.

Online video -- and blogging -- has changed Powell's life to the extent that he now runs Awful Announcing as a full-time job out of his home. His lifestyle, however, has remained the same. "What I do every day -- watching sports -- is nothing different that what I did before [the blog began]," Powell says. "I've had the same TiVo since 2000, and it's old and it sounds like it's running on fumes. But to pull all those videos, you need to be watching."

Avoiding Anonymity In The D-League, But At A Cost? (the story of Rod Benson)

Rod Benson's Q Rating in the basketball world has two major factors working against it: He went undrafted out of Cal in 2006, and he spent the past season and a half in the Siberian outpost of Bismarck, N.D., playing for the NBDL's Dakota Wizards. And yet Benson has his own custom shoe (from Pony) and a catch phrase ("Boom Tho!") well-known enough that it was being yelled at him during NBA Summer League games last month in Las Vegas. Behold the power of the Internet, where Benson may be both the wittiest and most tech-savvy pro hoopster. Before there was Chris Bosh groveling for All-Star votes as a faux used-car salesman on YouTube, there was Benson, producer of his own YouTube clips and blogger of life outside the basketball mainstream. Because of the following the 6-10 forward has built, he is perhaps the NBDL player fans are most rooting for to get a free-agent contract in the NBA.

The first YouTube video Benson starred in was not meant to go public. He and a friend at Cal jokingly made a Valentine's Day video for their girlfriends in 2006, but it ended up on the Web, and, said Benson, "I had to shut that operation down." Benson spreads his new videos intentionally, the first being a song he performed with friend Jason Gant before leaving for an NBDL stint with the Austin Toros in 2006. It was low-budget -- recorded with the iSight camera on Benson's Macbook -- but it launched what he calls the "Boom Tho! Movement," in honor of the catch phrase/exclamation his Web site defines as "an occurrence of an uncommonly good thing."


Benson put his blog URL (toomuchrodbenson.com) at the start of the video, "and when it came out," he said, "my site got so overtrafficked that they shut it down." He was using Apple's iWeb to host the blog, and had to pony up up $200 for a maximum-bandwidth plan that would keep the site alive. More Boom Tho! videos followed, including cameos from NBDL players such as Luke Jackson and B.J. Elder. Benson also shot a fantastic, Rock Band video-game version of a Rockumentary with teammates in Bismarck. All things seemed to flourish for Benson in North Dakota: He led the D-League in rebounding with 12.1 per game in '07-08; he advanced his video-production skills to include HD equipment and green-screening; and his writing earned him a regular blogging gig with Yahoo! Sports, where he still posts regularly.

As successful as Benson has been with his creative endeavors, the possibility exists that they could have a negative impact -- that the stigma of being a blogger could actually keep a talented 6-10 athlete out of the NBA. Says Benson's agent, Bill Neff, "One GM told me that [the blog] was a red flag, and he wasn't the first. There's an insecurity, from NBA guys, about the blog that shouldn't exist, because Rod is just hysterical. People may end up looking at him less seriously, even though he averages more rebounds per minute than any pro other than Dwight Howard. Instead of thinking of that, [GMs] may be saying, 'Do we want this guy writing about us?'

"I've told Rod that I get comments about the blog," says Neff. "But I've told him to be himself, too. I don't want to discourage him, because for all we know, he may end up having more success as a comedy writer than a basketball player. So far be it for me to tell him to stop."

A few fellow players, too, have asked Benson why he has so much time on his hands to YouTube and blog -- a notion, Benson says, that's crazy, "because as pro athletes, we have more time on our hands than anybody." He just happens to use his more productively -- while still finding time to work hard enough on the court that he was named a D-League All-Star. But will Benson's NBA dream be realized next season?

He made an exhaustive tour of NBA free-agent camps this summer, but hit some bad luck in Las Vegas, where he suffered an MCL sprain that kept him out of all but a few minutes of Summer League action. Because of that his chance of catching on to an NBA roster may be slim. He has already decided to move on from the D-League for '08-09, and for now, he and Neff are weighing options in Europe, while holding out hope for the U.S., waiting to see where the Boom Tho! movement will spread next.

Defined By A Pitch, And Its Aftermath (the story of Matthew Hill)

Matthew Hill will begin his freshman year at Middle Georgia College later this month, as a regular student who has some interest in playing intramural softball. Baseball -- the sport he excelled at as a catcher at Stephens County (Ga.) High, and could be playing in college, if he desired -- is on hold for now. "I wouldn't want a pitcher to get bad calls because I'm the catcher," he says. "If I was behind the plate, and the ump had heard about me, I think that's what would pretty much happen. I wouldn't want to put other players in that position. I wouldn't want to give the school a bad name."

Why would a catcher whose dream it once was to play college baseball say such a thing? If you don't know the answer, then you haven't seen the pitch, a single delivery from the Georgia AAA state championship game that's now so infamous it's written in capitals, as in, The Pitch. Stephens County right-hander Cody Martin, throwing from the stretch in the bottom of the fourth, uncorks a ball veering up and in toward the grill of the home-plate ump. The context of the moment is important: Stephens County was trailing, 8-1, and its last nine batters had all been strikeout victims, the ninth being Martin's brother, Ethan, a first-round pick of the Dodgers who exchanged words with the ump after taking a called strike three in the top of the inning. The Cartersville batter, Taylor Hightower, had already hit two homers in the game.

As the ball sailed up and in, dangerously in the path of the front of Hightower's helmet and the face of ump Jeff Scott, Hill's glove was nowhere to be found. He had dropped to his knees and ducked, exaggeratedly, as if to block a curve in the dirt. The ball hit Scott square in the mask. Neither Martin nor Hill were ejected, but it did not look good. It looked intentional.

Had this occurred 10 years ago, the controversy might have never spread beyond the world of Georgia high-school sports; most likely it would have been debated locally in Toccoa, Ga., perhaps landed on a few local newscasts, and then died. Within three days after this game, however, footage of The Pitch, taken from a local-access cable feed, hit YouTube. And it went viral. The cumulative view total on different copies of it is currently around 1 million. It hit CNN, ESPN, even Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. Says Stephens County principal David Friend, "The story became much bigger than anyone here could have ever imagined."


None of the parties involved -- or their parents -- conducted interviews as coverage of the The Pitch raged, and the space that might have been filled by their explanations was used to pass down the harshest of judgments upon Hill and Martin. Some were justified, some were too harsh for high-schoolers who seemed to have made a terrible decision in the heat of the biggest baseball game of their lives. Stephens County was fined $1,000 by the Georgia High School Athletics Commission; commenters on message boards called for mass firings from the coaching staff; the players' names were run through the mud, and one columnist suggested that the umpire should file suit against Hill's parents. The ump, through a lawyer, said last week that legal action was still an option. And perhaps out of necessity, Hill remains in a state of apologetic non-admission.

"If I just been a person who went online and watched it, I would say that it looked pretty intentional," Hill says in his first interview since the incident. "But I couldn't know that for sure. I wouldn't know what had been happening in the game. I didn't expect [Martin] to throw the batter anything to hit, because of the homers, and thought it would either be four behind him, or in the dirt. And I was expecting a curveball in the dirt."

Viewers of the video online -- including Travis McClanahan, the coach at Gordon College, a Georgia juco where Hill had committed to play -- made their own interpretations. Hill had been planning to make another visit to Gordon, with his father and a friend who was trying out for the team, on the Wednesday following the The Pitch. The night before, at 10:30, he received a phone call from McClanahan. The message: "We don't want a kid like you in our program."

Hill's mother, a teacher at Stephens County, saw him listening into the phone, a fist in his mouth, tears welling in his eyes. That night he told his parents, who had, over the years, paid for new mitts, catching instructors and strength and agility training, that "he was sorry for wasting all of their money." Hill had once been known in Stephens County as the catcher who always prayed, at home plate, before his first inning behind the dish. He had the sinking feeling that from then on, he would be known only as the catcher behind "The Pitch." And he was devastated.

Hill said his family stayed off the Internet in the aftermath of the incident, because reading about the controversy only made things worse. He laid low, avoiding regular spots in town, and apologized to his teammates for bringing any negative light upon them. Friend voluntarily called Gordon College to vouch for Hill's character, but it was to no avail. Eventually a few offers came in from other jucos, including a few out-of-state. A catcher who could reel in 95 mile-per-hour fastballs -- like what Ethan Martin threw to Hill all season -- was still in demand.

But Hill began to feel that, for at least one year, he was not meant to play baseball. The YouTube clip will live on for eternity, but the controversy, over time, may fade enough to ease his concerns. "I still love baseball," he says. "It's not like since this happened, I hate the game. The thing that I hate is that one clip can make or break you. People out there are getting a view of me that I never wanted for myself. And it's all based off of the four seconds of that pitch."

The Face Of YouTube Sports (the story of Kige Ramsey)

If ESPN's SportsCenter studio in Bristol, Conn., represents one end of the sports-media spectrum, then the opposite is a basement in Russellville, Ky., where a man serves up succinct commentary in front of a small digital-video camera, at a card table, with a wood-paneled backdrop. This is Kige Ramsey, the one and only reporter for YouTube Sports. Ramsey thinks there's often "too much jibber-jabber" on ESPN and is here to offer the antidote. He is not actually employed by YouTube, he just signs off that way -- and then gets up to shut off his camera. But folks at YouTube are well aware of his existence.

Said Andrew Bangs, a community marketing director for the site, "[Ramsey] is one of YouTube's most beloved sports vloggers. He's like the voice of the fan. ... He's honest, he's earnest, he's direct. Compared to the more flashy, high-production-value sports shows, he's refreshing."

Ramsey, a 21-year-old commuter student at Western Kentucky who is considering taking the next semester off, has gained an unlikely cult following, much of it from having his videos embedded on Deadspin. His set -- which includes large Tennessee Titans and University of Kentucky logos taped to the wall -- has the feel of a real-life Wayne's World, although the comedy here is unintentional. He is serving up serious opinions and says "viewers can interpret them however they want to." Whatever the motivation, people are watching: Ramsey's video channel on YouTube has had 113,131 viewers (with 1,294 subscribers), he does a number of regular sports radio spots, and there was a failed attempt to auction off a charity dinner with him for $4,000 on eBay. He has also been name-dropping Web sites -- presumably as paid advertisements -- in recent videos. Asked whether he's making money out of those deals, Ramsey says, "no comment."

Ramsey got his start by commenting on the NFL in 2007, but has branched out into other avenues, including, in May of that year, the debate over celebrity Nicole Ritchie's weight. (Kige's now-famous take: "I think she does need to go back to rehab, cause it would help her get over her anorexic (sic).") He gets to the point quickly; most of his videos clock in at less than one minute. Deadspin, a fan of what it calls Ramsey's "homespun wisdom," nominated him for its 2007 Sports Human of the Year award. Ramsey, who campaigned for votes on YouTube, was the award's runner-up, behind Isiah Thomas.


Despite all of his online fame, Ramsey says his ultimate goal is not to be hired by YouTube sports, but rather to have a nationally syndicated sports-radio show out of Kentucky. He promises, though, that if the radio-show deal materializes, his contract would be drafted in a way that allows him to keep making Internet videos. One must never forget one's roots.

Original here

Georgia says may pull out of Beijing Games

By Sean Maguire

BEIJING (Reuters) - Georgia may pull its 35-strong Olympic team out of the Beijing Games because of Russian military attacks on its territory, the country's National Olympic Committee told Reuters on Saturday.

"We're talking about it now. It will be the decision of the president of the country (Mikheil Saakashvili)," spokesman Giorgi Tchanishvili said in the Chinese capital.

The Georgia conflict has knocked the Olympics down page, dimming some of China's glory. The vast Asian nation's hopes for a trouble-free games were dashed on Saturday by the daylight murder of the U.S. volleyball coach's father-in-law.

Chinese hopes of quick wins were partly met as competition got under way in earnest. A woman's weightlifting gold and men's shooting gold came their way, though they lost the first medal to be awarded after the Chinese favorite buckled under pressure.

Calls by the International Olympic Committee for a traditional Games truce to be honored have gone unheard, in a reminder of the limits of sport's ability to bring nations into harmony.

Russian forces have widened an offensive against Georgia to force Tbilisi's troops out of the breakaway Caucasus region of South Ossetia, whose inhabitants are loyal to Moscow.

Russian armor and troops have poured across the border and its planes have hit bombed targets far from the combat zone in what U.S. President George W. Bush called a dangerous escalation.

Georgia's parliament has declared a state of war, leaving the country's athletes anxious and uncertain. Its Olympic team urged the international community to help end the violence.

Bush, in Beijing to cheer on U.S. athletes, broke away from spectating to call on Russia to end its bombing of Georgia.

CLOUDED BACKDROP

The U.S. volleyball team was hit by tragedy when the father-in-law of coach Hugh McCutcheon was murdered.

A 47-year-old Chinese man stabbed the parents of the coach's wife and a Chinese tour guide at a popular tourist site, killing American Todd Bachman and seriously injuring Bachman's wife, also a U.S. citizen.

The assailant, Tang Yongming, then jumped to his death from high up the Drum Tower, a 700-year-old 45-metre (yard) high monument once used to sound time for the Chinese capital's residents. Police said Tang's motive was unknown.

Attacks on foreigners in Beijing are rare. Olympic organizers have deployed a 100,000-strong security force to protect the 10,500 athletes and thousands of spectators, citing the threat of terrorism but sparking criticism they were blocking protests.

On the opening day of competition, Katerina Emmons won the first gold, in the women's 10-metre air rifle, for the Czech Republic. Pre-Games favorite Du Li of China finished fifth and left in tears.

"There was pressure for all of us but for her it was even harder," Emmons said of her rival. "I'm sorry, but the Chinese press is putting a lot of pressure on Chinese athletes."

Pang Wei restored home pride in the shooting with victory in the men's 10-metre air pistol, the second gold for China after Chen Xiexia won, as expected, in the women's 48kg weightlifting.

U.S. swimming sensation Michael Phelps set off on his quest for a record eight gold medals, diving into the pool at the bubble-wrap Water Cube building to win his heat in the 400 meters individual medley in an Olympic record.

Phelps first gold could come on Sunday, when the mighty U.S. swim team is well-placed to triumph in three of the four finals being staged.

ENDURANCE TEST

In the first event to test athletes' ability to withstand the heat and smog of a Beijing summer, Spain's Samuel Sanchez won the men's cycling road race along a grueling 245-km route from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the Great Wall.

More than a third of contestants dropped out, including favorites like German Stefan Schumacher who said the humidity and smog made a hard course even tougher.

"I have a very, very strong headache," said Schumacher, after abandoning the race. "I suppose it's the pollution."

Sanchez's Spanish team mates said they had decided to work together to support whichever of them had the best chance to win.

"In the end it turned out that Samuel felt the best and so we played his card," said Spain's Carlos Sastre, this year's Tour de France winner. The women's cycling road race is along the same route on Sunday when it is forecast to be wet and cooler.

Tennis officials said they may allow heat breaks during matches to help players cope with stifling humidity and heat in the high 90s Fahrenheit (above 35 Celsius). Competitors have said the conditions are among the toughest say they have faced.

Warnings smog would hinder performance have persisted despite an $18 billion campaign to clean the air around the city by shutting down smokestack industry and forcing cars off the roads.

Original here

Censors not able to keep up with NBC's online Olympics coverage

Posted by Chris Matyszczyk

I am sure that you were fearing censorship at these Beijing Olympics.

No, not censorship by the Chinese.

Censorship by those folks at NBC who would prefer you to watch what they want you to watch and, most specifically, when they want you to watch it.

Well, here I am live on a Friday night, freely watching NBCOlympics.com, and witnessing the quite glorious sight of a Chinese cyclist trying to mend his bike.

It looks to me as if his back wheel has suffered a case of the bends.

Looking beneath the screen, I see that his name is Zhang and he is in 135th place. Who knew there would be that many riders in this, um, race over some sort of distance along misty roads that resemble London at six o'clock in the morning (except that there are no drunks visible)?

Here's what is strange about NBC's online coverage: I have no idea what I am watching. Yes, I have clicked on the commentary, which takes the form of a live blog stream--except that the writer is endearingly honest about his predicament.

This is how he has just spoken to me in writing: "The first time up the major climb of the finish circuit has substantially damaged the peloton, but we are still waiting on names and time gaps."

So this commentator is telling me he has no idea who is winning, no idea who is second, no idea who is third, and no idea of the time differences between the riders.

The Beijing Olympic mascots. One from the right, The Tibetan antelope. Really.

(Credit: CC Tama Leaver)

If this commentary had appeared on NBC TV, the commentator in question would have been removed from his post quicker than persons of color and Mongolians have been asked to be removed from the bars of Beijing by the authorities. This commentator would have been sent to televisual Siberia.

There is a wonderfully eerie quality to the live online footage of this Olympic Some Sort of Cycle Race Along Roads.

The picture quality is quite spectacular. The mist is so real it could not possibly have been photoshopped in there by the Chinese authorities to provide some extra menacing ambience. This makes YouTube seem like student video. (Which I know some would contend it is.)

Meanwhile, the NBC livestream commentary is now telling me this: "Apologies for the data stream in the play-by-play window. We are trying to remedy the situation."

They cannot get a handle on the data. They are out of control. We have a situation here, people.

The riders, however, ride on. To the muted shouts of spectators who bang thunder sticks against the roadside barriers, as if they were praying for Kobe Bryant to miss another free throw.

Ah, NBC has heard my pleas and an overlay has appeared to tell me that we are watching a men's road race. The overlay, however, only stays on for a few seconds. Then it disappears again. So now I must rely on the official NBC Olympic online commentary. Here is the latest:

"The leading pursuit has shed some riders as they press towards the finish line 4'11" down on Patricio Almonacid."

No, I don't think they are four feet, eleven inches down. I think those are minutes and seconds. But all I can hear is the silence of a few rubber tires passing through a tunnel.

No voice is there to lead me through my bewilderment. No words of wisdom help to create excitement. Just the vague whistle of a spoke in the wildnerness. This is the live NBC Olympics.com experience.

Wait, wait.

The scrolling commentary has political news: "Iran, USA detente at the head of the main peloton as Iran's climber Hussein Askari takes a flyer and is joined by (we think) USA's Jason McCartney."

We think? We think? This might be a U.S. assault on Iran. And all they can say is "We think"?

I continue to ponder these words, watch the struggling bottom of the Iranian cyclist, and listen to the echoing nothingness that accompanies these besottingly shiver-making live images. It is as if NBC has hired John Carpenter to direct their online Olympic coverage.

And I can barely wait to see what he will do with the Romania versus Kazakhstan women's handball game.

I am tired, however. This has been live, uncensored (by NBCTV) online footage from the Olympics. I am comforted to know that I will slide beneath my comforter still a free man.

Free from the tyranny of NBC TV and happy in the otherworldly bosom of NBCOlympics.com.

Original here

Opening statement: Phelps grabs gold, WR in 400 IM

BEIJING -- Michael Phelps powered to the wall and whipped around to get his time, so eager to see another amazing set of numbers that he bumped his head on the end of the pool.

Michael Phelps

Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Big Splash: Michael Phelps opened his epic quest for a record eight gold medals in dominating fashion by smashing his own world record in the 400-meter IM.

Not that he felt any pain.

With President Bush cheering him on, Phelps dominated his first event of the Beijing Olympics on Sunday morning, crushing his own world record and all hopes of his challengers with a mark of 4 minutes, 3.84 seconds in the 400-meter individual medley.

One down, seven to go in Phelps' quest to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals.

"I'm not downplaying this race by any means, but I have to put that race behind me," Phelps said. "I have to act like it never happened because I have so many tough races ahead of me."

This was supposed to be one of the toughest, especially after fellow American and good friend Ryan Lochte matched Phelps stroke for stroke at the U.S. Olympic trials just over a month ago. Both went under the previous world record in the 400 IM then, with Phelps touching first in 4:05.25.

But Phelps beat Lochte when it really mattered. Laszlo Cseh of Hungary took the silver in 4:06.16, while Lochte faded to third in 4:08.09 -- more than 4 seconds behind.

"Going into the last 50 and looking to my right and seeing that I was ahead of Ryan and Laszlo, I sort of started smiling," Phelps said.

He didn't even know he bumped his head.

"If I did, I didn't feel it," he said.

After spotting his time, Phelps pumped both arms in the air, and quickly spotted his mother and two sisters in the massive stands at the Water Cube. He then looked the other way, where Bush was waving his American flag, accompanied by the first lady, their daughter Barbara and his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

I saw [Ryan] Lochte was going [slower] and I tried to do everything to go better than Phelps, but I don't have enough power for that.

--Silver medalist Laszlo Cseh

Phelps smiled, pointed and gave a thumbs-up.

"I looked up and he waved the flag and nodded his head," Phelps said. "That was a pretty cool feeling to have the president say congratulations and have him in the crowd."

On Sunday, Phelps advanced out of the 200-meter freestyle preliminaries, qualifying fourth-fastest about nine hours after winning the 400 IM.

"Tonight was just a race to get into tomorrow," he said. "I just try to conserve everything and make it into the semifinal. I try to bank as much rest as I can tonight -- recover and sleep and try to warm down and get out of here as fast as I can, so I'm not getting so run down."

Phelps never led in his heat and touched in 1 minute, 46.48 seconds, well off his world record set at last year's world championships.

Dominik Meichtry of Switzerland led the way in 1:45.80. Jean Basson of South Africa was second-quickest in 1:46.31, followed by Canadian Brent Hayden.

American Peter Vanderkaay also moved on to Monday's semifinals.

Phelps said this might be his last 400 IM. He's eager to try some new events and ditch a grueling race that combines all four strokes, though coach Bob Bowman may have something to say about that.

"We had a deal. I told Bob that I wanted this to be my last 400 IM. He said I have to end on a record," Phelps said.

"In my opinion, that was my last one."

If so, what a way to go out.

The top three traded the lead over the butterfly and backstroke legs. Cseh got off to a quick start, touching the first wall just ahead of Phelps, and Lochte claimed the lead midway through the back.

Phelps had a slight lead at the 200 mark, and it began turning into a blowout from there.

"Looking and seeing all three of us together pretty much at the 200, I wasn't really comfortable with having that close of a race," Phelps said. "I usually have more of a gap, but it made my breaststroke a lot stronger."

No one was catching Phelps in the freestyle. He stretched his lead and powered to the wall with nearly his entire body in front of the world-record line -- a green marker superimposed on the video screen to show the pace of the previous record.

"The freestyle is just downhill," Phelps said. "The freestyle is all adrenaline."

Added Cseh, "I saw Lochte was going [slower] and I tried to do everything to go better than Phelps, but I don't have enough power for that."

No one does.

On the medal stand, Phelps' eyes watered as the U.S. flag was raised to the rafters. The only glitch came during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner," which cut off a few seconds before the end, cracking up Phelps.

Lochte, who thought he could give Phelps a run for the gold, was blown out by the world's greatest swimmer.

"I did everything I could, so that's all I can ask for," Lochte said. "That was amazing. Setting another world record, you can't ask for anything else. That was a great way to start off the meet for USA."

Phelps wasn't the only swimmer to dazzle on what figures to be another assault on the record book over the nine-day meet.

In the men's 400 freestyle, Park Tae-hwan of South Korea won the gold medal, snapping Australia's dominance of the event at the Olympics.

Park, the current world champion, touched in 3:41.86. Zhang Lin of China earned his country's first swimming medal of the games, claiming silver in 3:42.78. American Larsen Jensen took the bronze in 3:42.78, his second U.S. record in as many days.

Favored Aussie Grant Hackett, who was in the lead off the blocks, struggled home in sixth. He was second four years ago to countryman Ian Thorpe, who won the second of two straight golds in the event. Hackett will get a chance to make up for it in his best event, the 1,500 free.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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The Truth About Table Tennis

Guoliang Liu: Atlanta, 30 July 1996, Games of the XXVI Olympiad. Table tennis, men's doubles: Guoliang Liu of China serves during the doubles final. Photo by IOC; Getty Images/Doug Pensinger

Every four years, we watch. We marvel at badminton, wonder about the modern decathlon and proudly pause for synchronized swimming. With more than 300 gold medals awarded across 37 disciplines, the next two weeks of our lives should be impressively unproductive. To aid in your immersion, we introduce the first installment of “know your Olympic sport.” It’s part reminder that people actually get medals for this stuff (see: trampoline gymnastics) and part introduction to the science behind the sports.

As a tribute to the recently lit flame in Beijing, our first installment focuses on the pride of China: Table Tennis (a.k.a. Ping Pong). Inside you’ll find a 30-year old performance enhancer in its final days, a training method built for Forrest Gump and all (perhaps even more than) you'll ever need to know about Ping Pong balls.

Speed Glue

A notorious performance enhancer used just hours before competition to get that extra zip on the ball. Sounds nasty. But, this glue isn’t sniffed, injected or swallowed; it’s the stuff that holds paddles together. Think, Elmer’s on 'roids. For 30 years, any player worth his pong would sit down before his match and crack open a bottle. But, once the gold is awarded in Beijing, the Speed Glue Era in table tennis is officially over.

Legend has it that a Yugoslavian player in the 70’s came across speed glue by accident. He arrived for a tournament and forgot his traditional glue. Pro paddles consist of wooden blades followed by an inner sponge material which is attached to an outer rubber. Unlike the paddles in your garage, pro players glue the sponge/rubber to the paddle themselves. With a bike shop nearby, the pong player bought some adhesive normally used to plug a hole in a tire. By the time he got through P-I-N-G in his first match, it was clear that something had changed.

The mystery of speed glue comes down to its effect on the inner sponge material. When applied between the wood and the sponge, the glue expands and softens the sponge putting the outer rubber in tension. The result is a longer contact on the paddle, providing more spin and more speed (though less control). The effect only lasts a few hours forcing players to perform the ritual just before battle. So just how prevalent is this corking of ping pong paddles?

Speed Glue: Photo by ITTF
“They all do it,” said Marius Widmer, Media Coordinator for the International Table Tennis Federation.

At least for now. Ends up that speed glue truly is some nasty stuff. The glues contain known toxic substances referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that are rumored to cause everything from minor irritations to cancer (hexane, octane, ciclohexane, etc.). The prolonged exposure during the gluing process, over decades of playing, could be placing players at risk (a Japanese player had an allergic reaction last year). As a result the ITTF banned speed glue from junior competition earlier this year and will do the same at the pro level after Beijing. And, the ITTF is serious about enforcement.

“They’ll have a sort of doping control for the racket,” said Widmer. “There is a device that you put the racket in to measure whether there are compounds in the air.”

The detection box, Enez, has been used to detect volatile vapors in junior events since January. The battery powered box, developed in conjunction with the ITTF, provides results in 60 seconds and at 240 euros should be cheap enough for widespread usage. Rackets are tested before a match and players are required to use the same paddle throughout a match. If umpires suspect a juiced paddle based on the sound, they can require the paddle be retested. No players have been caught paddle doping to date but Widmer knows it’ll happen. Response from the industry has been mixed.

“The players want to continue with the glue because they know it works,” said Widmer. “The industry is not sleeping and they’re trying to develop alternative methods (different rubbers, sponges, glues). It’s really a science what they’re trying to do, but the level of play might sink a bit for a short time.”

So set your Tivo for the competition in Beijing. It’s not often one can witness the end of an era.

Robot Trainers

Forrest Gump, eat your heart out. While Gump famously practiced against himself, Olympic bound players today have a more imposing, less predictable, training partner: robots. The Paddle Palace 980-e can fire balls to 11 different locations at up to 111 mph at a frequency as high as 95 balls per minute. How’s that for practice makes perfect? The two wheel design allows spin and speed to be controlled separately. Players can design sequences of up to 50 shots and save the patterns for future sessions or let the machine fire at random. The robot can be yours for the bargain price of $1,399. But, hey, that includes free shipping, 10 free balls and a 30 day money back guarantee.

Build a Better Ball

Clocked close to 70 mph, these little celluloid suckers can move. The seemingly simple ping pong ball is subject to quite a bit of poking and prodding before it’s sanctioned for tournament usage (more than 60 approved currently). The basic specs are that balls should be 40 mm in diameter and weigh 2.7 grams. The diameter was increased earlier this decade from 38 mm to 40 mm to slow the game down for audiences (complaints of neck spasms we assume). Only white and orange balls are allowed and construction must be completed with a single seam.

Prior to testing, balls are kept in a room at 23 degrees Celsius and 50 percent relative humidity for at least three days. Bounce is tested by mechanically releasing a ball from 305 mm onto a steel plate and measuring the rebound using a digital camera (240 mm – 260 mm acceptable, figure the COR out yourself). Balls are rolled down a 100 mm long incline at 14 degrees to quantify the ‘veer’. The hardness of the ball is measured using a Zwick tester that pushes a 20 mm pin into the ball. Why so meticulous? Well, as any college kid with a ping pong table and pile of red Solo cups can tell you: not all balls are created equal.

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Remember Dan and Dave?

Advertisers take huge risks when they tie their products to Olympic athletes. Not only is it possible that the face of your shoe, soft drink or credit card will experience the agony of defeat on a international stage, but in some cases there's no guarantee that the athlete or athletes will even make it to the competition.

Below are our picks for the eight biggest marketing blunders in modern Olympic history. These blunders fall into two categories: events that embarrassed a specific company or product and things that hurt the image of the Olympics as a whole.

After composing our list, we interviewed bloggers from three fields — advertising (Steve Hall of Adrants.com), sports (Chris Richardson of IntentionalFoul.com) and popular culture (Mark La Monica of Pet Rock: The Pop Culture Blog at Newsday.com) — to add their thoughts.

8. What is that thing? (Atlanta 1996)
The blunder: The official mascot for the 1996 summer games was named Izzy — short for Whatizit. Even by the generally low standards of sports mascots, this ugly blue thing with Ronald McDonald shoes and a slightly maniacal grin was horrendous. Izzy was ridiculed by everyone from Bob Costas to "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening.

Mitigating circumstances: He was still a lot less creepy and annoying than Barney.

Chris Richardson adds: "Izzy was horrible. If that's the best you could do, then don't even try. There's got to be something that says 'Olympics' better than a blue blob."

7. The fans stay home (Athens 2004)
The blunder: The huge sentimental impact of the Summer Olympics returning to Athens in 2004 didn't prevent both the Greeks and potential tourists from electing to watch the competition from their living rooms. For many smaller events and even some of the bigger ones, the stands looked more like a Montreal Expos game than a competition between the world's most elite athletes. Rows and rows of empty bleachers became a common sight — and a running joke for those watching the Games.

Mitigating circumstances: Critics predicted a much bigger debacle, suggesting that Greece wouldn't finish construction in time for the games. The seats may have been empty, but at least the paint was dry.

Mark La Monica adds: "I remember seeing those empty stadiums and thinking, 'Eesh. That's not good.'"

6. The dream is over (Athens 2004)
The blunder:
After a decade of almost comical dominance on the world stage, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and the rest of the U.S. men's national basketball team were outshot and outhustled by a bunch of guys named Sconochini, Galanda and Basile. The highest-profile athletes to attend the 2004 Summer Olympics acted like prima donnas, didn't play like a team and ended up with the bronze medal, barely beating Lithuania in the third-place game.

Mitigating circumstances: While the United States and the NBA were humiliated, the citizens of Argentina (gold) and Italy (silver) certainly don't consider this a marketing blunder.

Chris Richardson adds: "I think it was just a wake-up call. It was an eye-opening moment and it made United States take things seriously. At first it was a shock, but it made us put better basketball players on the floor."

5. Bode Miller's meltdown (Torino 2006)
The blunder: Bode Miller was arguably the most hyped U.S. athlete for the 2006 Winter Games, scoring huge advertising deals with Nike and Visa, among others. Then he engaged in a torrent of bad behavior, admitting to drinking booze while skiing and then downplaying the importance of Olympic competition. Some of these comments might have been forgotten or forgiven if Miller had won a single medal.

Mitigating circumstances: Skiing fans will note that the athlete has always been laid-back, and his comments were not out of character.

Steve Hall adds: "The biggest danger is aligning yourself with an Olympic athlete: You have no idea what's going to happen. They're going to lose, they're not even going to go to the Olympics or they're not going to qualify early on."

4. The Suzy Hamilton slasher ad (Sydney 2000)
The blunder: Nike unveiled an advertisement that showed U.S. Olympic middle-distance track darling Suzy Favor Hamilton running through the woods, using her speed and shoes to escape a masked slasher film caricature who was trying to cut her up with a chainsaw. Critics said the ad encouraged violence against women, and the ad was taken off the air.

Mitigating circumstances: The advertisement was technically better than the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake that came out a few years later.

Chris Richardson adds: "I thought it was a cool ad, but I can also see how people could think it's not good for everyone to watch. It's the kind of ad I'd expect to see on SportsCenter at 11 at night, not on the prime-time hours during the Olympics."

3. Ben Johnson loses medal (Seoul 1988)
AFP/Getty Images
Was Ben Johnson signaling to his dealer?

The blunder: The year before the Games Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was the Associated Press Athelete of the Year and had parlayed his fame into endorsements his coach reportedly valued at $480,000 a month. But by the end of the games he was the highest-profile athlete to test positive for banned drugs in Olympic history. He set the world record in the men's 100 meter sprint, and then had to give up his gold medal to second-place finisher Carl Lewis. Johnson wasn't the first athlete to use banned drugs, but his scandal did more to stoke suspicion in the average Olympics fan, and it tarnished the Games.

Mitigating circumstances: Johnson would have fit right in if he played professional baseball or another major league sport, which in 1988 didn't seem to care about banned drugs.

Chris Richardson adds: "I remember watching the qualifying events, and he wasn't blowing people away. Then he wins big, and loses the medal. I was 17 and still felt an innocence about sports. And I thought, 'Oh my God, there really are cheaters out there."

2. The logo debacle (Barcelona 1992)
The blunder: Reebok had exclusive rights to produce warm-up outfits and other apparel for American athletes at the 1992 Summer Games. Michael Jordan and other members of the USA basketball team had contracts with Nike and refused to bare the Reebok logos when they accepted their gold medals.

Mitigating circumstances: Jordan covered the Reebok logo by draping himself in the red, white and blue of the American flag. (It would have been much, much worse if he used the old Soviet hammer and sickle.)

Steve Hall adds: "What could be worse for a brand than have their logo covered up when 100 million or so people are going to see it?"

1. Dan and Dave disappoint (Barcelona 1992)
The blunder: Reebok spent millions of dollars on advertising that promoted the prospects of Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson, two American decathletes who were expected to perform well at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. O'Brien, who held the world record in the sport, failed spectacularly when he was unable to clear the pole vault. He scored zero points for the event and failed to qualify for Barcelona.

Mitigating circumstances: Despite the huge disappointment (which could have been avoided if he had set his pole vault height at a lower level), O'Brien appeared in commercials rooting on Dave, who won a bronze medal. O'Brien won the gold four years later in Atlanta.

Mark La Monica adds: "Reebok hyped it up, and Dan didn't make it. I don't think anyone will ever forget that. Actually I wonder if Reebok might have benefited? If Dan and Dave had won I doubt we would be talking about it now."

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Tattoos And Boner Pills = Olympic Gold

Apparently there's a new method of taking performance-enhancing drugs so that pesky IOC testers will be none the wiser: By tattoo. Inserting the drugs through tattoo needles means that smaller doses pack a bigger punch, evidently, and athletes can "fly under the radar" in doping tests. And if you put the tattoo in the right place, no one will ever see it. Of course the men's basketball team can't do it, because most of them have no more space.

And then there's this:

The author of 'Blood Sports: The inside dope on drugs in sport' said cheating athletes are also combining the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra with doses of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. Both drugs increase the flow of oxygen in the blood stream and therefore boost sporting performance.

If I'm an Olympic athlete, that's exactly how I want to approach the 300 intermediate hurdles: Laughing uncontrollably with a giant erection.

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Brett Favre Demands Trade To 1996 Packers

GREEN BAY—Three-time MVP and undisputed future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, disappointed with the Packers' refusal to aggressively pursue receiver Randy Moss and frustrated with his team's apparent indifference to making immediate improvements on offense, is demanding a trade to the team he feels will give him the best shot at winning a last Super Bowl ring before his retirement: the 1996 Green Bay Packers.

Enlarge Image Brett Favre

"I just don't think this Packer team, and GM Ted Thompson especially, is thinking in terms of winning with me," said Favre, speaking to reporters at his charity golf tournament in Mississippi Sunday. "On the other hand, 1996 Packers GM Ron Wolf is committed to building the team completely around me. I don't think it's out of the question to say that with me behind center, the 1996 Packers are looking at going all the way to the Super Bowl."

Early reports had indicated that Favre was so upset that his team failed to close a draft-day deal for Randy Moss with the Oakland Raiders that his agent called Packers GM Ted Thompson and requested a trade to a team with capable receivers.

"Nothing against Donald [Driver] and Greg [Jennings], but if I can't throw it to Randy Moss, then I want to throw it to Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks, and Don Beebe," Favre said. "I bet with them, I'd have more of a chance of throwing for, say, 3,899 yards and 39 touchdowns, with maybe as few as 13 interceptions. Who knows? That kind of production could even get me another MVP award, although of course that's much less important than leading the '96 Pack to another Super Bowl victory."

Favre also noted that, unlike the young and unproven 2007 Packers, the 1996 Packers boasted seasoned veterans on both sides of the ball.

"It sure would be great to play alongside Reggie White again—I get chills just thinking about seeing him in the locker room," Favre said. "That whole '96 defense is great, too. Santana Dotson is a force in the middle. That LeRoy Butler, I tell you, he's one of the most underrated safeties in the game. Desmond Howard isn't a bad kick returner, either. And unlike the Packer backfield I got now, the '96 Packers still feature William Henderson at fullback."

"Mark Chmura, though, I don't know," Favre admitted. "Decent tight end, but something about him isn't quite right."

In addition to the more elite personnel, Favre praised the aggressive attitude of the coaching squad and front office of the Packers of 1996, saying he was a fan of head coach Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense and Wolf's aggressive recruiting strategies.

"I think Holmgren and I would make an interesting team," Favre said. "He could teach me a lot. We could learn from each other. And I know Ron Wolf would have my back. If, say, our number-one receiver gets knocked out for the season in Week 7, I believe Wolf would go right after a great veteran free agent, like maybe Andre Rison, to give us an edge in the playoffs. I can almost guarantee that."

"It would really be something," Favre said. "We'd be one of the all-time great teams, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, you know? I'm going to have my agent look into it right away."

Although the Packers had no immediate comment, head coach Mike McCarthy said the team would be "heartbroken" to part with its greatest player, although in deference to Favre's long service, and for the good of the current team, they would be willing to consider a trade package including a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft and the 1996 Brett Favre.

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Insane Surfer Hitches a Ride on Monster Shark


SurferGirl

Image by: Casch

Surfing and sharks don’t mix. If you’ve ever seen the underbelly of a surfer lying on their board they make fantastic fish fodder but if a surfer gets bitten there’s a massive furore and a witch hunt for the toothy perpetrator.

But some surfers know that the odds of getting mistaken for a tasty treat come with the territory. If you choose to spend hours in the ocean – home to all things sharky – chances are you might come face to face, or rather leg to jaw, with one of the finned creatures.

So, what exactly was this guy thinking?


Brave man, that, or mental.

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Cuban pitches locals in bid for Cubs

By: Ann Saphir



Mark Cuban is trying to woo deep-pocketed Chicagoans to help bolster his bid for the Cubs.

The billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner used intermediaries to approach at least three local execs about partnering with him on his $1.3-billion bid, according to a source. The three turned down the offer.

Mr. Cuban, a Pittsburgh native who lives in Texas, is reportedly the highest bidder for the Cubs but lacks local connections. Having Chicagoans as partners would strengthen his standing with Major League Baseball, which must approve any new ball club. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has repeatedly expressed a preference for local ownership.

"If he has equity investors who also have Chicago ties, you could kill two birds with one stone," says Frank Murtha, a sports consultant in Northfield who teaches sports law at Northwestern University. "That would certainly meet the objections to him as an out-of-town person."

Mr. Cuban's odds of winning the Cubs increased last month after Tribune Co. deemed a competing bid from a group led by Madison Dearborn Partners Chairman John Canning too low. Mr. Canning, an investor in the Milwaukee Brewers and a friend of Mr. Selig's, was considered a front-runner. His group is a who's who of Chicago's business elite and includes former Aon Corp. Chairman Patrick Ryan, McDonald's Corp. Chairman Andrew McKenna and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. Chairman Richard Melman. Mr. Canning hasn't decided whether he'll rebid.

STRIKES

Mr. Cuban is among five bidders who advanced last month to a second round that's expected to last into the fall. It's unclear whether any Chicagoans are entertaining a joint bid with Mr. Cuban, who was in Chicago for a Cubs-related charity event last week. He declines to comment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cuban's penchant for courtside antics and critical blog entries — which earned him more than $1 million in fines from the National Basketball Assn. since he bought the Mavs in 2000 — were long seen to be his biggest obstacles to winning the 75% approval he would need from other MLB owners.

But a public endorsement in late July from NBA Commissioner David Stern may have helped allay concerns on that front. MLB owners "should welcome him," Mr. Stern told Bloomberg News.

Now, Mr. Cuban is making a push to address his remaining stumbling blocks — shoring up his finances and establishing local ties. He's also seeking investors outside of Chicago, sources say.

At least two competing bidders are ahead of him on having Chicago connections. Tom Ricketts heads a Chicago bond-trading firm and Hersh Klaff is a Chicago real estate executive.

Other bidders include Michael Tokarz, chairman of Purchase, N.Y.-based MVC Capital, who graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a group that includes New York-based Clarion Capital Partners LLC managing partner Marc Utay and media investor Leo Hindery.

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11 Baseball Legends Who Were Legendary Assholes

By Chris Morgan

Baseball is as synonymous with America as mom, apple pie, and morbid obesity, which probably goes hand in hand with the apple pie. We've all heard the names Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron, these are the legends of the game who inspire us with awe and wonder.

However, with any group there's sure to be a certain number of assholes, and baseball is no different. Maybe a little worse, in fact.

#11.
Jose Canseco:

First known as one of the great power hitters of the 80s and 90s, there are some who now call Jose Canseco the "Woodward and Bernstein" of the Steroids Scandal because of his tell-all book Juiced. While he did shed some light on an important issue, there is one distinct difference: Woody and the B-Dog wrote their book because they wanted to bring a corrupt President to justice because they were great journalists. Canseco wanted to make some money ratting out his old buddies because he's a douche.

If, for even a moment, you held on to a shred of possibility it wasn't all about the money, that was blown out of the water when he decided to write a second book which "had stuff" on the likes of A-Rod and Junior Griffey, two players who have never shown up in any steroids investigation. This means one of two things: Canseco was making shit up because he's a dick, or he willingly held out the most surprising allegations from his first book in favor of turning his best friends in first, which makes him an even bigger dick.


"Raise your hand if you're a dick."

It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who once saved a woman and all her appliances from a burning building. Sure, that was an episode of The Simpsons, but it's about the only good thing Canseco has ever done in his life. Canseco's penchant for douchery extends beyond the realms of using steroids to cheat at baseball, connecting other people to steroids so they too could cheat, then turning them all in for a fat paycheck.

Both of his wives have cited him for domestic violence, and both later divorced him. His second marriage was the classic American love story; boy meets girl working at Hooters, boy marries girl, boy hits girl, boy is arrested and put on probation, girl divorces boy, girl poses in Playboy using his last name. If those kids couldn't make it work, what chance do the rest of us have?

There's more to the story, like when he tried to blackmail Magglio Ordonez into giving him money to keep his name out of his second book. We emailed Bob Woodward to see if he ever tried blackmailing Gerald Ford, but he didn't get back to us. The Canseco saga does have a happy ending though. Jose recently lost a "celebrity" boxing match to former NFL player Vai Sikahema in which Canseco was knocked out in the first round. Now if there was only some way we could make that happen seven or eight hundred more times we'd be good.


"Waaaahhhh."

#10.
Charles Comiskey:

Comiskey is best known for being the former owner of the Chicago White Sox, and for their field which was named after him, before it was changed to U.S. Cellular Field in honor of Ulysses Stanton Cellular.

However, back in the day, he was best known for being a miserably cheap bastard. It stands to reason that if you own a professional sports team, you have a shitload of money, and if you spend that money to buy a sports team, something that is utterly frivolous, it stands to reason that to cheap out on running that team makes you quite the douchebag. It's just logic.

Charlie Comiskey was one such douchebag, paying his players substandard wages in a time before free agency, when they had no choice but to accept them. He promised one of his pitchers a $10,000 dollar bonus if he won thirty games in a season, but benched him right before he could reach that mark, preferring to save the money at the risk of losing some games. Also he wouldn't pay for his player's laundry. To reiterate, he bought a professional sports team, built them a stadium, then decided he'd rather they look like hobos than pay for laundry.

Of course, his stinginess ended up leading to the Black Sox Scandal, in which his team threw the World Series for cash. Cash, that one can presume went toward not smelling like shit.

#9.
John McGraw:

John McGraw was a decent player, but as a manager he was a well-known innovator and is credited with inventing the hit and run. He also is credited with being a mean-spirited prick.

Gentlemanly conduct was a foreign concept to McGraw, who as a third baseman was known for his aggressive and undeniably immature ways of stifling opposing runners. Have you ever played with a drunk friend at a softball game who thought it'd be funny to trip people when they were running the bases and tug on people's shirts to keep them from leaving the base? Well that was McGraw, all the time, and there's a very real possibility he wasn't even drunk when he did it.


It's unfortunate that the only available pictures of McGraw show him shaking hands.

As a manager he was just as big of a douche, constantly picking fights with anybody he could, including the fans, who would in turn throw rocks and bottles at the players. The players had to get pelted with dangerous objects just because they played for this guy.

He seemed to embrace being a manager purely because it gave him a chance to wage psychological warfare on the players under him (one coach on the Giants said McGraw "...eats gunpowder every morning for breakfast and washes it down with warm blood.")


See? That doesn't make him look like a dick at all. Clever, McGraw.

McGraw actually held one major league record that stood for 75 years: the most times getting kicked out of a game. Between his time as a player and a manager, an incredible 131 times umpires decided McGraw was just acting like too much of an ass to stay on the field.

John McGraw: great at managing, even better at being a dick.

#8.
Roger Clemens:

Remember when Roger Clemens was known for being a great pitcher, perhaps one of the best of all time, and the worst thing anybody had to say against him was that one time he threw a piece of a bat at Mike Piazza? We bet Roger longs for those days.

Some think Clemens' legacy has been tainted by steroids even moreso than Barry Bonds'. First came the adamant denials about steroid use, including such delicious bon mots along the lines of "If I had been using steroids I'd be pulling tractors with my teeth and have a third ear growing out of my forehead" a statement that, while asinine and condescending, also blew our fucking minds with it's utter lack of logic.

Clemens then threw one of his best friends (and steroid supplier) Brian MacNamee under the bus, even taping a conversation with him to save his own ass (it didn't). Oh, also there were all the affairs he's had including one with the wife of professional golfer/beer drinker John Daly and one with country singer Mindy McCready that started when she was fifteen.

We do think Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame, if there is in fact a Hall of Fame for douchebags somewhere.

#7.
Tom Yawkey:

Yawkey owned the Boston Red Sox from 1933-1976 and the street which Fenway Park resides on is named in his honor, a tribute to a man of fortitude and conviction. Unfortunately, one of those convictions was blind, fervent racism.

Yawkey has the distinction of being the last owner to integrate his ball club, when he reluctantly let Pumpsie Green put on the Red Sox uniform and stroll out onto the field in 1959, which, to be fair to Yawkey, was a mere 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. That's just a smidge over a decade, right?


"Look, Honey, a Negro. Gross, right?"

That's what earns Yawkey the title of one of the biggest assholes in the Baseball Hall of Fame: determination. Ridiculous, sad, racism-fueled determination. For you see, while other teams were integrating and providing themselves with the best collection of athletes possible, Yawkey stuck with the same old white guys that had worked so well at not winning him a single World Series all those years.

They had been at the very least a contender in the salad days of segregation. Once other teams started to incorporate black players in their line up, the Red Sox started a precipitous fall down the standings board. Lesser racists would have seen the writing on the wall, or perhaps mustered up some simple human decency and accepted the fact that these black players were just as good as their white counterparts.

However, good ol' Tommy rose above all that and proceeded to keep his team the way it was, and the Red Sox proceeded to finish 10+ games out of first place from 1950 until 1966. For sticking to his racist guns at the cost of his team's success, truly Tom Yawkey is worthy of the the title "Douchebaggiest Owner in Baseball History".

#6.
Keith Hernandez:

Today, mustache aficionado Keith Hernandez is probably best known now as a hair dye spokesperson and for the two-part Seinfeld where he almost banged Elaine. However, before that he was a five time all star, 1979 NL co-MVP, and perhaps the best fielding first basemen of all time. Also he loved him some nose candy.

Yes, Mr. Hernandez was known for his use of the cocaine which led to his involvement in the famed Pittsburgh drug trials. Of course his own substance abuse doesn't make him an asshole, but his destructive influence on young Mets teammates Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry sure does. You may remember Gooden and Strawberry as the talented young stars whose bright careers were derailed by drug and alcohol abuse. You know what probably contributed to that? Hernandez telling Strawberry the best way to break out of a slump is to go out and get shitfaced.

Hernandez didn't stop being a dick when his career ended though. In 2006 he was calling a game between the Mets and Padres when he happened to spy Padres team massage therapist Kelly Calabrese in the dugout. Keith's response? "I won't say women belong in the kitchen, but they don't belong in the dugout." It's true Keith doesn't think women belong in the kitchen. He thinks they belong in his bedroom, feeding him slices of papaya, when not servicing him sexually of course.

Needless to say, Hernandez's comment caused a bit of an uproar, but to be fair he apologized. Apologized by saying "You know I am only teasing. I love you gals out there, always have." You stay classy, Keith.

#5.
Ugueth Urbina:

While probably the least well-known person on this list to the casual baseball fan, Urbina was still a solid player, racking up 234 career saves, winning a World Series in 2003, then retiring to his native Venezuela where he sat on a rocking chair on his patio, drinking sweet tea, and committing attempted murder. Yes, attempted murder.

For you see, one day Ugueth had a bit of a scuffle with five farm workers on his property, and well things got a little bit heated. So what was Urbina to do? Why, grab a machete and start chopping some motherfuckers, that's what. While the machete approach proved unfruitful, Urbina was a determined man and he remembered the old adage: If at first you don't succeed (to brutally murder people with a machete) try, try again (by means of attempting to set them on fire).

That's right, the big U (as we imagined he would like to be called) decided to bust out some gasoline and started dousing his enemies. His fleeing, terrified enemies. However, Urbina proved to be better at closing baseball games than murdering people, and the men got away.


"My only regret is that I didn't kill those farm workers."

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending as Urbina is currently serving a 14 year prison sentence, which he clearly deserves.

#4.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis:

You would think a man who had Mountain for a middle name would be pretty badass, but you'd be wrong. Oh, he was ornery for sure, but badass, no dice. Unless you just drank a shot of paint thinner, you'll remember the Charlie Comiskey entry. Well, the man who is responsible for the lifetime ban of every member of the 1919 Chicago White Sox? Commissioner Landis, of course. Even when it became obvious that some of the members were innocent of any wrongdoing, Landis refused to reinstate them. And if you thought that was the worst thing he ever did, you haven't heard his motto: Tough on gambling, tougher on black people.

Landis is probably the main reason the color line stayed in baseball for as long as it did. He was baseball's first commissioner, serving from 1920-1944, and he picked up right where he left off as a judge, when he got black boxer Jack Johnson banned from boxing for life for transferring a white woman over state lines.

Many times people petitioned Landis to allow black players in the major leagues, and every time Landis voted it down, then presumably leaned back in his throne of skulls and drank the blood of kittens. Mercifully, his tyrannical reign came to an end in 1944 the way all tyrant reigns end; with his death.

Less than three years later, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and Landis has been spinning in his (hopefully urine-soaked from angry black people pissing all over it) grave ever since. It seems a tragedy for a man with a name so awesome to be such an enormous asshole, but such are the ironies of life.

#3.
Marge Schott:

Schott will live on in baseball infamy because of one phrase, her little pet name for her black players: Million Dollar "N-words". Of course, she didn't have the tact or simple human decency to censor the phrase as such.

Other than on the field however, no black people were allowed to be hired by the organization. Not one. Her racism wasn't saved for just black people, however. She also had it out for the Jews, and she even admitted to owning a Nazi armband, and didn't see a problem with it, and also said she didn't see why the racist slur "Jap" is offensive.

Quick posthumous tip for you, Margie: Want to know why the phrase is offensive? Because Japanese people are offended by it, you horrible, horrible bitch.

Enough offenses for you? No? OK, howsabout this; she wouldn't let her players wear earrings because "only fruits wear earrings." Probably the least egregious thing she ever did in her life was let her St. Bernard, Schotzie, run around on the field all it damn well pleased, which of course led to big steaming piles of dog shit being left on the field.

Seriously, Reds players often complained about having to avoid stepping in dog shit while playing in professional baseball games. When one of the nicer things you ever did in your life was make your players play on a dog shit-laden field, you truly deserve the title of one of the biggest assholes in baseball history.

#2.
Barry Bonds:

You knew he'd show up here eventually.

The breaking of an all-time record is usually a joyous thing. It makes grown men cry, women swoon, and dogs hump trees like there is no tomorrow. So what happened when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, perhaps the most hollowed record in ALL of sports, not just baseball? A lot of people got pissed. That's how much Barry Bonds is hated.

There are two universal truths people know about Barry Bonds; One, he is the face of the steroids era and two, he is a huge dick to pretty much everybody. Barry is known to be one of the worst teammates possible and openly hostile with the media. In college, he feuded with teammates and his manager. In Pittsburgh, he feuded with teammates and his manager. In San Francisco he was given essentially half the locker room to himself and big comfy recliner chairs out of the hope he wouldn't bitch.

When Bonds is not enjoying being a totally arrogant dick to teammates and reporters, he likes to spend his down time with his family. Or his mistress, Kimberly Bell, whom he had an affair with from 1994 until 2003, which means it started about the time he divorced his first wife, left him undeterred from getting married in 1998, and kept on keeping on. In Barry's defense though, at least he was nice enough to buy her a house in Arizona. So he had a place to bang her.

Now, you may be asking, "Well this is all fine and dandy, but do you have any crazy anecdotes that make Bonds seem incredibly immature to the point of pyschosis?" To which we retort, do we ever!

In the 2001 off season, Gary Sheffield decided to take up Barry on an offer to work out with him, particularly because Barry told Sheffield he had a regimen that would help save him from injuries. Hard work and vitamins? No you silly goose, he was talking about steroids, giving cute little nick names like "the cream", "the clear", and "red beans".

However, the fun was just beginning. Apparently, Bonds insisted Gary not bring his own car. Then, after he arrived, Bonds would intentionally leave Sheffield stranded at the house. No big deal, right? Probably just a misunderstanding. Gary just rented a car.

Bonds was furious. Why? Don't ask us, we're not fucking crazy. But for whatever reason, Sheffield having gained a means of transportation caused Bonds to flip out, and he locked Sheffield out of the house. We're not completely sure what Bonds was planning for their stay together, but the apparent plot to imprison an all-star baseball player in his home makes us picture something from the movie Misery.

#1.
Ty Cobb:

What's there about this man that wasn't detestable? During his career he stole a lot of bases, which is impressive. Of course, the fact that he sharpened his metal cleats and was not shy about gouging them into a man's leg if they got in his way of stealing a base probably helped out a tad on that front.

Then of course, there was the racism, which to be fair was no more virulent than your average southern folk back in the day, and certainly we have let the repulsively racist actions of those in the past slide in favor of other attributes on the occasion in the country (see Jefferson, Thomas). Plus, there is a distinct chance he fixed a game or two in his day.

But what makes this racist douchebag stand out amongst the rest of the racist douchebags who used to plague the sport? How many of them can claim they once violently beat up a man with no hands? None of them, we imagine. That's right, you read that correctly and we'll say it again for emphasis: Ty Cobb once beat up a man with no hands.


Above: The eyes of a madman.

Said man, named Claude Lueker who had lost one hand and three fingers of his other in an industrial accident was giving Cobb a hard time from the stands. If you've ever been to a professional sports event, you have heard some drunk moron yelling things so heinous you begin to wonder if you are even the same species. However, to the players' credit, they manage to keep their cool. Mr. Lueker then accused Mama Cobb of being *gasp* half-black. This was enough to send Cobb into the stands ready to kick some severely handicapped ass.

As onlookers begged him to stop pummeling a man with no hands, Cobb retorted, "I don't care if he has no feet" which proved Cobb had a quick wit to go along with a soul as black as coal. Needless to say, Cobb was suspended by baseball. Inexplicably, his teammates refused to play another game until Cobb was reinstated. We guess it's not too unreasonable. Sure, he was a miserable, racist bastard who had beaten up a man with no hands, but he was their miserable, racist bastard who had beaten up a man with no hands.

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