Author Archives: Afrobutterfly

About Afrobutterfly

I'm a second year journalism grad student at the University of Florida, a freelance writer, and an aspiring famous person. I like Pearl Jam, tight jeans and hot weather.

Alex Rodriguez, PEDs and Baseball’s Rewritten Record Book

Celebration day.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has 599 career home runs at the time of writing.

Roughly 18 years ago on May 3, 1992, Mets slugger Eddie Murray launched his 400th career home run in a 7-0 victory over Atlanta. This was a big deal. I know because I was there.

Unfortunately, neither my father nor his dashingly hansom 5-year-old son actually witnessed Murray’s historic blast due to my typically weak (for a preschooler) 5-year-old bladder.

I had to pee. We missed his at-bat.

I only vaguely remember this day, but know its details intimately as its an anecdote my father occasionally uses to impress friends – the best thing the Hilson family has to a “Good Will Hunting” moment.

Like “You missed Pudge Fisk’s home run? For a girl? You’re kidding me,” only:

You missed Ed Murray? For a Big Gulp? You’re kidding me.

Or something like that. Anyway, fast forward some 12 years when my dad and I bump into an impeccably well-tanned Alex Rodriguez shanking golf balls a couple blocks up from our house.

It’s not every day that one encounters the “greatest living ballplayer” out in the wild (though, actually, this was the first of several run-ins – hell, the guy dropped in on my yearbook class). So my father approached this 6-foot-4-inch glowing mass of orange, said hi and dropped the Murray story in their few seconds of casual conversation.

Heroes of a young Robb Hilson/Members of 400-3000 Club

While I’m impressed with the symmetry of this story, young A-Rod was not impressed with Murray’s 400 homers. And why would he be? If you’re Alex Rodriguez, you’re interested in three things: tanning, aging pop divas and doubling the total of a number once thought to mean something.

Mr. 800, anyone?

I tell you these stories both to impress you via name-dropping and emphasize that 400 career home runs was a huge deal. And it was a huge deal in my lifetime. On that day in May ’92, Murray became the 24th player in Major League history and the second active player (Dave Winfield, 411) to reach the once-momentous milestone.

The last two-plus decades, of course, have so altered baseball’s dynamics as to render these historically hallowed yardsticks inconsequential. The era-defining transformations read like this: diluted talent pool, shrinking ballparks, juiced baseballs, thinning air and – you may have heard – bigger, faster, stronger, more acne-ridden players.

For perspective’s sake, know that a startling 22 players have joined the 400 Club since 1997. Of the 128 players that have reached 300 career homers, 21 are still active and another 36 made their Big League debuts after the 1984 season. Anomalies in this latter bunch include Steve Finley (304), Luis Gonzalez (354) and Greg Vaughn (355), along with household names Sosa, Bagwell, Canseco, Bonds and Green.

Shawn Green. 328.

Performance enhancing drugs have become such a pervasive part of baseball culture that googling any player produces a “name + steroids” search option. They’ve directly produced staggering single-season figures that inspire WTF? double-takes and have more or less turned the backs of baseball cards into incriminating documents the products of look-the-other-way policies.

The Steroid Era transformed the likes of Brady Anderson (50 HR in ’96), Javy Lopez (43 HR in 457 ’03 ABs) and Brett Boone (37, 131, .331 in ’00) into Ruthian sluggers; vaulted McGwire/Sosa into the realm of legend; raised the red flag on any and all contract years; and greased the skids for that damning 162-game freak show that was 2001.

Anderson, au naturale

Of all the laughably inane statistical aberrations of the last 20 or so years, my favorite by far is this: in 2001, Louis Gonzalez of eventual champion Arizona finished with 57 homers, 142 RBI, 128 runs, a .325 average, a godlike 1.117 OPS, 100 walks and 198 hits… and finished third in the NL MVP voting behind the following two he-men.

2. Sammy Sosa – 64 HR, 160 RBI, 146 R, .328 BA, 1.174 OPS, 116 BB, 189 H

1. Barry Bonds – 73 HR, 137 RBI, 129 R, .328 BA, 1.379 OPS, 177 BB, 156 H in… wait for it… 476 at-bats

That Rich Aurilia, Brian Giles and Phil Nevin all topped 36 homers and .940 OPS is notable in its own right.

Are you like me? Are you still dumbfounded by the above even though you recall these players and their superhuman feats all too vividly? Are you still shaking your head at the sportswriter-floated notion that the tinkered spacing on the ball’s seams inflated power output? Are you reminded by every 2010 no-hitter of this generation’s sans-chemicals offensive impotence?

Are you starting to talk yourself into Greg Maddux as the greatest of all-time? Are you starting to realize that he used a knife to kill men in a gunfight?

Or do you instead just look back on the golden years of your childhood and think, “Wow. Baseball was a total joke.”

Contrarians would argue that the Steroids Era is just part and parcel with baseball’s ever-evolving landscape – that the record books are no more or less valid now than they were when a bunch of fat, white guys took advantage of legalized racism.

You want to erase Barry Bonds? Fine. But replace him with Josh Gibson. Still others might counter that power statistics like RBI were never legit measures of success in the first place.

Ultimately the arguments stop and end here: Major League Baseball has forever sacrificed one of its most intrinsic appeals – the mythical lore of its records.

In short, baseball is no longer a numbers game. And it will never be again because many of its sacred touchstones have been blown out of the water and permanently put out of reach.

Nobody will ever surpass 73 home runs in a single season, much less in 476 at-bats. And if he does, he will have done so dishonestly.

L to R: A future home run champion, a cartoon.

Which brings me back to Alex Rodriguez, a confessed cheater who stands on the precipice of 600 home runs and, at a day short of his 35th birthday, within striking distance of several vulnerable all-time marks. Regardless of the surrounding fanfare or lack thereof, A-Rod’s next longball will be bittersweet in that it will remind us of the young man who, not long ago, was anointed our national pastime’s presumed savior.

Rodriguez was going to set the records straight – erase the taint of BALCO, Bonds, 762 and other ill-gotten gains. Instead, his 600 – as with his 700, 756 and 763 – will just re-emphasize the fact that the statistics mean nothing, and worse, that we’re still waiting for a historical restoration that will never come.

– Robbie

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“Pimps” and Other Agents of Saban: An SEC-Bashing Week in Review

Victim Nick Saban

This one goes out to all you $5 mill-a-year coaches out there.

The No. 1 question that’s been on all our minds’ this week:

Is Alabama coach Nick Saban the antichrist, or just plain ‘ol satan?

In case you missed it, Saban turned SEC Media Day into a public forum for pimp flogging. But first, he called out agents for preying on naive 21-year-olds – tempting the innocent with “mad bank”/”ice”/”bling”/”rimz for Caddies” and, as a result, compromising their amateur statuses (a phenomenon with which his star player may or may not be familiar).

Presumably these youngsters have yet to learn the difference between right and wrong, making themselves prime recipients of – hypothetically speaking – a $100k under-the-table cash advance from a Jerry Maguire wannabe trying to do his employer proud.

"SHOW ME THE MONEY!"

“The agents that do this – and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?” Satan said.

Saban said. Freudian slip.

In all seriousness, Nick – what the hell did pimps ever do to you?

Do tell.

Saban wasn’t the only exorbitantly-paid, super-conference ball coach calling out others for their “greed.” In fact, the Old Ball Coach and his long-term replacement Urban Meyer got in on the agent/pimp bashing as well.

Gamecocks quote machine Steve Spurrier of “Can’t spell ‘Citrus’ without UT” fame defended one of his players who allegedly attended a massive summer blowout on South Beach. I can neither confirm nor deny such an agent-funded party, but I can tell you that, since it’s going to rain tonight, I have to cancel my plans at The W with AJ Green.

Sorry, J. Hit me up tomorrow. Go Dawgs.

Spurrier said, rather benignly, that it’s hard to tell who’s an agent and who’s a runner these day. Yawn.

He added, “I think [arrests] are more common now because players are getting arrested for everything that in the old days they did not get arrested for. I can sort of remember back in our day, if you were out and something happened, they would say, ‘Can you get home? We’ll drive you home,’ to some of my teammates. They did not go into the tank that night.”

Ah yes, the tank.

Spurrier with non-criminal Tebow

Speaking of which, I’ve always been in the tank for former ‘Canes redeemer Butch Davis – the only head of a crappy, non-SEC team that made news this week. The North Carolina coach also has a pair of players allegedly involved with an agent, violations that resulted in an NCAA probe that he calls from “out of left field.”

After implicating UNC baseball’s left fielder, Davis went on to explain how rule changes that allow player/agent contact 18 months prior to pro eligibility have shaken the college football landscape.

Carolina is facing possible future sanctions.

On the bright side, Butch recruits like a maniac when he’s short on scholarships. I would know. Hope your track players can catch a football, Heels.

UM track scholar Santana Moss

And as mentioned, Florida’s own Urban Menace Meyer got in on the naughty-agent talk in a valiant, but unsuccessful attempt to deflect attention from the fact that he’s now dealing with a twenty-eighth rap sheet and a probable Sugar Bowl forfeiture.

Bottom line: NFL agents are taking college football down. These men are sharks, circling the young blood of the naive like…

… (*racking brain for appropriate analogy*) …

Well, think of them like big-time college football programs trying to recruit promising 16-year-old high school quarterbacks so they can feed their multi-million dollar amateur sports cash cow.

And with this I give you… The Week in Review. Enjoy.

_________

Saw “Inception,” Stephen Strasburg and Billy Corgan this week. Or as it’s known in the culinary world: Brilliance 3-Ways.

On Monday, former president Bill Clinton unveiled his “bucket list,” prompting the question: “There are things Bill Clinton hasn’t done?”

As you can imagine, Hillary was pissed.

Peace and love, dudes. Emphasis on "love."

Tour de France cyclist Andy Schleck vowed to take out race leader Alberto Contador after the latter took advantage of Schleck’s popped bike chain to capture the race lead.

The angered Luxembourg rider, who felt Contador should have stopped, vowed revenge, saying, “My stomach is full of anger.”

Actually, Andy, that probably has something to do with all the foie gras you ate RIGHT BEFORE STAGE 15.

On Tuesday, pitcher Jennie Finch announced her plans to retire next month, news that came as a huge surprise to casual sports fans.

You mean professional softball still exists?

Gratuitous Finch

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman blocked Ilya Kovalchuk’s record-breaking 17-year, $102 million deal with the New Jersey Devils this week. The league is citing salary cap violations in an attempt to conceal the fact that cyborgs will have long replaced left wingers by 2027.

In baseball news, Cubs manager “Sweet” Lou Piniella announced Tuesday that he will retire at season’s end to pursue a career in couples counseling.

Lou w/ bro Jim Joyce

CBS hinted Wednesday that former ‘Canes and Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, 67, will participate in the network’s reality show “Survivor: Nicaragua.” We knew that Coach wanted to shed a few pounds, but isn’t this a little drastic?

It’s still unclear whether Johnson will be allowed to bring ExtenZe to the island, as natural male performance enhancement would presumably give him a competitive advantage.

Also on Wednesday, ESPN’s SportsNation reported a poll in which Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods tied for America’s most popular athlete. On Thursday, a Mayan spokesperson reasserted “2012.”

On Thursday, disgruntled Hornets star Chris Paul informed his team he’d like to be traded to a contender. The only question now is: will he accept the veteran minimum?

Speaking of end of the world...

The McCourt divorce proceedings continued to worsen this week as Dodgers’ co-owners Frank and Jamie bitterly fought over who will get Manny’s bandana and who will take his lazy will.

And finally, Tiger Woods’ camp announced Wednesday that the star golfer lost a staggering $22 million in endorsements in light of his personal indiscretions.

Or, in glass-half-full terms, Woods – who hasn’t won a major in more than two years – kept about $90 million in endorsements in light of his personal indiscretions.

Keep up the great work, Beadle.

– Robbie

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Does Gator Football Deserve NCAA Sanctions?

Giving new meaning to "The Swamp"

The following is in no way meant to be inflammatory. Honest.

Go ‘Canes.

Somebody needs to address the $100,000 elephant in the room and it obviously won’t be Myles Brand because Myles is A) spineless and B) dead.

I think we can all agree that the NCAA – that bastion of… wait, what do they do again? – is by and large a farce; that, along with The Firm, German food and women’s sports, it looks great on paper, but really has no valid reason to exist beyond filling a Wikipedia page.

The guy from Zeppelin AND the guy from Bad Company AND the guy from Uriah Heep? In the SAME BAND? HOLY SH…!!!

Uh, not so much.

Given my cynic’s sarcasm, you can probably imagine my dumbfounded/slack-jawed/Carlos Dunlapian – i.e. face down on my steering wheel at 3 a.m. – reaction to the news that the NCAA’s 38-year probe into USC football and basketball (and tennis) resulted in actual punishments. And not just a spanking-spoon-type slap on the ass, but an honest to goodness hand-of-god smackdown.

Four years probation, 30 lost scholarships, fourteen voided victories, a pending national title forfeiture, a 2-year postseason ban, and one Lane Kiffin.

Like I said, smackdown.

A short-lived rivalry.

Unaware of the tenets of general decency (i.e. “rules”), Urban Meyer the guy who faked his death has taken it upon himself in his five years in Gainesville to turn the University of Florida football program into a dynastic cross between Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the 8th Street Gun & Pawn.

The Gators, beneficiaries of good karma upon my enrollment, have had… (*doing the math*)… (*using toes*)… (*damn, out of toes*)… twenty-eight players arrested on Urban Legend’s watch. That’s exactly:

  • 14 arrests per national title
  • 9.3 arrests per BCS victory
  • .97 arrests per NFL draftee
  • .0002 arrests per skanky Midtown girl

Of course, all these trivial infractions – garden variety weed, DUI, felony burglary, aggravated assault (read: “pummeling girlfriend”), battery, stolen police property, resisting arrest, violation of sexual restraining order, illicit use of semi-automatic weapons – took a back seat to this week’s technically non-illegal news that former center Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from an agent friend in the days leading up to the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

Allegedly.

When asked if he’d taken the money, the Steelers’ first-round pick said, “Straight cash, homie.”

No not really. Pouncey denied it and called the claims “absolutely ridiculous,” as in “[that’s] absolutely [possible. Don’t be] ridiculous.”

His twin brother Mike, a senior lineman at UF, also denied the accusations… from the passengers seat of a brand new Cadillac Escalade. In a case of impeccably poor timing, Maurkice dropped coin for his new ride and loads of jewelry right after the NFL Draft.

Pouncey Brothers, sans Escalade/ice

I say impeccably poor timing because, had he just waited to sign his pro contract, nobody would’ve questioned the young lad – or his brother back in Gainesville – for bouncing around in this chromed out Caddy. Now it’s just another piece of evidence (along with very Bond-esque spy pics of him w/ the agent’s runner and an anonymous tip-off letter from Canada) suggesting Maurkice might’ve indeed accepted this $100k advance in the name of “toppling dynasty.”

Pouncey says he used a deferred line of credit to make his purchases.

You’re thinking two things right now: 1) This blowhard has it out for the Gators and 2) This blowhard has it out for the Gators.

Guilty (like somebody else I know).

Look, Florida has been good to me in the five years I’ve attended the fine institution. Great school. Hot babes. Huge market for scalping student football tickets. I have no ill will toward it. But I’m a year away from finishing grad school, at which point I can go back to rooting for the ‘Canes without being showered with warm Budweiser.

The Black version of me.

I brought the school a couple of titles. I partied on University Avenue till the wee hours of the morning. I watched Tebow throw his first iconic jump pass… Enough is enough. The Gates left Miami in the rearview some time ago and show no signs of slowing down.

Five to three is too close for comfort, and I’m thinking four years probation is just enough time for The U to regain its footing, climb back to national prominence and break ground on the state-of-the-art LeBron Field (aka “The King Dome”).

So yeah, I’m not a Gators fan per se, but I am a fan of competitive balance… And fairness. The NCAA penalized Southern California when two star players forfeited amateur status by accepting gifts and money. USC claimed it was unaware of the infractions, a naivete that qualifies as “lack of institutional control.”

When asked about the Pouncey issue, Florida AD Jeremy Foley said, “At this time we have no information that has indicated that there are any compliance issues for the University of Florida.”

Hmmm.

I’m obviously not an objective party in this matter. As you may know, the NCAA railroaded the ‘Canes back in the mid-’90s for a host of indiscretions (/indiscreet hostesses), including but not limited to: covering up failed drug tests, funneling slush fund money to players, general unruliness (i.e. “on-campus brawls”), academic dishonesty and falsification of Pell Grants that constituted “perhaps the largest centralized fraud ever committed.”

(*takes bow*)

Plus, I was raised to hate the Gators, and if you’ve ever been down South, you know the insufferable SEC fans don’t help matters.

So tell me what you think. Do the program’s actions under Meyer constitute a “lack of institutional control”? Does Gator Football deserve the USC treatment? Does villainy directly relate to on-the-field success? Is Urban Meyer two seasons away from “pulling a Carroll”? Have you ever personally been attacked by a Gator? Am I just bitter cuz the ‘Canes suck? Are you a “straight cash homie”? Should “innocent until killing someone” be the law of the land? Does Jeremy Foley read my blog? Am I leaving anything out?

– Robbie

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The Smashing Pumpkins Live in Ft. Lauderdale: A Fanboy Review

L to R: Billy Corgan, Jeff Shroeder

The Smashing Pumpkins at Revolution Live; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; July 20

I have approximately one thing in common with Billy Corgan: I, too, tire of answering the same questions over and over again. Let me first, then, address the rhinoceros elephant in the room so that we can move on to the rock ‘n roll.

Yes, the Smashing Pumpkins are still around.

Sort of.

Corgan – the band’s founder, de facto leader, songwriter and visionary – is the only remaining member from the ’90s juggernaut that revolutionized alternative music/penned Rat In A Cage!!! Some would say that the Thin Bald Duke has always been and will always be the Smashing Pumpkins, that the other original members – James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky, Jimmy Chamberlin – were just cogs in the Corgan wheel.

Others would argue, rightfully, that James, D’Arcy and, particularly Jimmy – a force of god behind the drumkit and BC’s longtime creative foil – contributed to the band’s look, feel and presence, regardless of the musical contributions they brought to the table.

Discussions of are they/aren’t they (or rather, is he/isn’t he) worthy of the SP monikor are qualified – or offset altogether, depending on one’s perspective – by the simple fact that Billy Corgan continues to crank out typically worthwhile, occasionally brilliant pieces of music irrespective of his supporting cast.

And since I’ve never seen the Billy/Jimmy reincarnation, let alone the original lineup, I can safely attest without the baggage of preconception that this new bastardized ensemble

Absolutely f*cking rocks.

Perhaps the most striking aspects of Wednesday’s show were the evident dichotomy between new and old and the paradoxical notion of a humbled Billy Corgan. A worldbeater confined to the cramped confines of a tiny club in a city where music goes to die, the Pumpkins – and Corgan in particular – tore into their post-2000 material with a tempered ferocity that said something to the effect of, “We want you to know we’re too good for this. But we’ll shut up and let the music tell you.”

The Alpha Pumpkin

They opened with “Teargarden’s” Song for a Son, a mammoth cut that sounds much less of a classic rock cliche when stripped of its cheeseball piano intro and sterilized studio production. This version – delicate guitar interplay interspersed with freakout soloing – sounds much more a part with the SP canon than the one put to tape. It is vintage Corgan – big, bold, melodic and laced with heavy Fender tones, although wingman Jeff Schroeder (w/Gibson) took many of the leads, as he did all night.

Today was Today, which is to say it hit home with the oily muscle guys in the VIP lounge and the 30-somethings sporting Zero tees. The band played it – as they did with heyday classics Stand Inside Your Love, Tonight Tonight and Bullet With Butterfly Wings – by the numbers and with hands tied behind back.

Which only made the hellfire assault of As Rome Burns all the more deliriously thrilling. The song was the night’s easy highlight for me and probably something of a revelation for those unfamiliar with the band’s post-“Zeitgeist” material. Still unrecorded, Rome is a punishing, lighting-fast rocker in the Tales of Scorched Earth mold that showcases Corgan’s classical soloing and a steady diet of firing-squad fills via Karate Kid/drummer Mike Byrne.

Sorry, Rest of Band. I couldn't see you.

(Obligatory Byrne mini-bio: he’s 20, used to flip burgers at McDonald’s, caught Billy’s attention by internet audition (seriously), and works a kit like a manic octopus. He’s everywhere – super busy, always looking for a spot to cram another THWACK… Mike’s also a bandana enthusiast. Seems to me like an all-around great human being.)

As for this dichotomy… Corgan seemed to thrust himself into the newer tunes as if with something to prove. Though he ran through Today, SIYL, Hummer and Bullet like obligatory retreads, the band injected the pummeling likes of dirge-epics United States and encore Gossamer with a visceral energy and an unabashed grandiosity that screamed for something more than these cramped quarters. Likewise, the frantic dual-soloing in set closer Tarantula one-upped the virtuosity in nearly everything before it.

With a hits-loaded set, Corgan threw bone after bone to a crowd that didn’t need bones in the first place. The place was loud, appreciative, receptive and tightly packed (so much so that I lost bassist Nicole Fiorentino to obstructed view… sorry Nicole. You sounded great in Gossamer). They also responded really well to the shows only quiet moment – a duet of ’20s lullaby Love Is The Sweetest Thing between Billy and little niece Ava. Kudos to the audience for the (com)passionate reaction and special shoutout to the moshers on the floor, who… were being total douchebags.

Grunge kids/scenesters/fanboys/moshers

Other highlights included heavy, sexed-up renditions of electro-faves Eye and Ava Adore – the latter the beneficiary, along with fellow “Adore” cut Perfect, of a crunching rock makeover. New single Freak also stood out for its awkward-on-paper Sabbath riffing + “la la la” chorus. The song, like the rest of the “Teargarden” entries, trumped its studio counterpart in its distortion-laden live form.

Freak is a pop song. Here, it rocked.

“Zeitgeist’s” Bleeding The Orchid, as an out-of-tune variant to its album version … sucked, actually. Owata did no such thing. Another unreleased post-’07 gem, this one reminds me of 1979 in its effortless melodicism and lush propulsion. It recalls Zwan in its airy optimism, packs an impossibly catchy refrain and, in general, sounds like a future Pumpkins hit.

The Mighty SP was on its game Wednesday. They held a candle to their vaunted legacy. Succeeded on their own merits, too. And while it was great see BC and Co. in an 1,100-person dive, I got the overwhelming impression that this band – as it was from the very beginning – is built for something much bigger.

Robbie

Note: all videos and pics are SC exclusives. Enjoy.

Bullet With Butterfly Wings

Bleeding The Orchid

Cherub Rock

Love Is The Sweetest Thing


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Signs of the Apocalypse: 50 Reasons to Hate Sports

Poster child.

This post is dedicated to Louis Oosthuizen.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it is. Granted, it’s not Heat fans (should they exist). It’s not Spain. And it’s certainly not the immediate family of the funny looking dude who crushed everybody at the British Open.

To everybody else: sports in 2010 kind of sucks, no?

Now I’ve been kicking this (blasphemous?) thought around my subconscious since at least the end of 2007, when my beloved Miami Hurricanes pretty much blew off their own toes in a nationally televised game against football powerhouse Southern Calif the University of Virginia.

48-0. We bulldozed the Orange Bowl months later out of sheer humilation.

That was the first “things will never be the same again” epiphany for me, and maybe the inevitable moment in every man’s life when you realize that sports is primarily about money and ego (and doing everything in your power to destroy legacy/history/dynasty). The actual loss, though emasculating in every sense, wasn’t the impetus for such a flood of emotion. It was instead the fact that we’d let our once-proud program come to this – a whipping boy for mediocre competition, a team without a home, and worse, a casualty of disinterest.

The most startling thing about it all? It happened so damn fast.

National champions some five years prior.

I imagine the people of Baltimore had this same feeling when the moving vans left for Indy; or Beantown when Clemens fled north of the border; or Packers fans every time Ted Thompson opens his mouth.

Crushing blows happen. They’ve always happened. And it used to be that I’d let them soak in, bitch about them for a couple days, then collect my thoughts and convince myself that the worst was over.

This is as bad as it gets. This will not happen again – not to my team, not to my town, not to the guys I love.

As you, the jaded skeptic, already know, such a line of thinking is irrational and naive.

But that hasn’t stopped me from clinging to the things I know I can bank on. So when Tom Glavine won his 300th game with hated rival New York, when the Braves traded Kevin Millwood for Johnny Estrada, dumped childhood hero Andruw Jones and railroaded an aging John Smoltz, I let baseball go for a little while and shifted my focus to three immovable pillars: Tiger, LeBron, The U.

What now?

Again, maybe things have always been this bad or maybe it’s just my sports optimism coming back to bite me in the ass. But it seems to me that era-defining debacles are in fact multiplying and subdividing – that we’re headed face-first into an irreversible black hole of narcissism, cheating and straight cash homies.

Apathy, too. After all, letting go is much easier when there’s a giant snow shovel repeatedly wailing on your fingers.

Of course, it’s about this time every year that I’m reminded by ESPN’s resident tear-jerker Chris Connelly that there are at least five good things left in sports. And these good things make me think of other good things – Derek Jeter and Tim Duncan. But at this point, I wouldn’t be half surprised if the Spurs ship Timmy to Dallas and Selena Roberts exposes Jeter’s ’98 ‘roids bender with Greg Maddux.

Padres great Greg Maddux

I’m also aware that – had I the wherewithal and America Online – I could’ve written this post as a 9-year-old dumbstruck by the OJ murders.

I think Chuck Klosterman is on to something: sports atheism. Love the game, hate the players… or rather, just write them off altogether. And their teams, too.

Still not buying? Let me change your mind. Here are some of the things that I hate about sports as of July 19, 2010.

I hate…

1) That a guy I’ve never heard of blitzed the field at one of my favorite golf tournaments. Again.

2) That Tiger Woods is a scumbag, a scumbag I will always root for.

3) That the 2008 U.S. Open – the greatest individual sports achievement I’ve ever seen – is now guilty by association.

4) That our star NFL quarterbacks have turned to assaulting defenseless women, you know, instead of defenseless canines.

5) The Geriatric Who at the Super Bowl. Thanks, Janet Jackson Nipple.

6) LeBron’s hour-long Make Out Session With Himself.

7) That LeBron James referred to LeBron James in the third person multiple times during LeBron James’ Make Out Session With Himself.

8) That LeBron forfeited his G.O.A.T. legacy.

9) That maybe LeBron’s an okay dude and Delonte West’s getting off scot free.

10) That Floyd Landis even exists.

11) That vuvuzelas even exist.

12) The confluence of women, hotel rooms and star athletes. See: Bryant, Kobe; Roethlisberger, Ben; Irvin, Michael; Woods, Tiger; and

13) Dead McNair, Steve.

14) Baseball’s power outage, the tarnished record books, and the fact that the dramatic offensive decline just makes the last quarter century look like a bigger farce than it already is.

15) That head injuries will inexorably change the way tackle football is played.

16) The University of Southern California, Calipari’s tenure in Memphis, Meyer’s tenure in Florida, Lane Kiffin’s tenure on Earth.

17) The professionalization of prep sports and the idea that 18-year-old John Wall isn’t good enough for the NBA, but Wall + 6 months of college makes him a No. 1 pick.

18) That there’s a giant, lonely, inexplicably sad hole where the Orange Bowl used to be.

Once-sacred ground.

19) That these are the mental images – in order – I will take from seeing a rookie Stephen Strasburg in person.

20) That the best golfer in history is no longer good at golf.

21) Andre Agassi’s biography and the notion that “too much information” doesn’t apply to anything anymore.

22) That I’ve “forgiven” Tiger for something that is none of my business to begin with.

23) That I’ll never fully forgive LeBron, even though he’s only guilty of what I’m guilty of – pride.

24) That T.O.’s Ego hasn’t diminished along with T.O.’s Skillz.

25) That, at this point, Number Four’s just doing it to mess with us.

As Neil Young would say, "Old man, take a look at yourself. You're being a dick."

26) That a headbutt, a handball and a few bad calls are the only things I remember from the last decade of soccer.

27) That anybody, including Curt Schilling, can have their own blog.

28) That Manny Being Manny stopped being funny when we found a needle in his ass.

29) That we only blackballed Barry Bonds when he stopped hitting home runs.

30) Plaxico’s abject stupidity.

31) Peter Angelos’ abject stupidity.

32) The NBA’s vendetta against common sense.

33) Contract disputes.

34) Pending lockouts in most of the sports I still care about.

35) That Floyd Mayweather has big money and a big mouth, but won’t put one where the other is.

36) That Tiger, LeBron and Big Ben preempted a thousand heartwarming stories.

37) That I have egg on my face for defending the indefensible Milton Bradley.

38) The Tour De France. Enough already.

39) That Lawrence Taylor can’t find a better person to speak for him than Lawrence Taylor’s wife.

40) That I have zero good excuses for not caring about hockey.

41) That David Reutimanns are few and far between.

42) That there will never be another Tim Tebow.

43) That Junior can’t play forever.

43) That my alma mater’s “lack of institution control” no longer refers to the crappy parking situation.

44) That basketball’s biggest breath of fresh air plays for a stolen franchise.

Kevin Durant, Zombie Sonics

45) The rape and pillaging of small-market teams at the trade deadline.

46) The fact that, on top of everything else, sports is just indiscriminately cruel (RE: Tom Watson @ Turnberry).

47) Villifying an Olympic hero for a little weed.

48) That we’ll never hear from Armando Galarraga again.

49) That the sports gods will get me back for this.

50) That if something’s too good to be true…

It probably is.

– Robbie

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Inception: A Largely Moot Review

No spoilers… When you’re done, read SC favorite Kyle Rancourt’s review here. He manages NOT to sound like a blowhard movie critic crossed with a 10-year-old schoolgirl. Plus, clicking on the link will impress him with the sick traffic we get.

There are surprise endings, there are surprise endings, and then there’s Christopher Nolan’s brainbender “Inception,” which has one final twist, yes, but after 2 1/2 hours of finely orchestrated, backdoor dream-weaving, really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The whole damn movie is a twist. You should’ve expected nothing less.

“Inception” works with a premise that could’ve been boiled down to summer blockbuster cliches and belief-suspending sci-fi appeal. It’s essentially a one-last-job heist movie: break into the mind, plant an idea, get out alive.

If only it was that simple. Instead Nolan constructs a captivating labyrinth of plot and counter-reality in which characters play by an entirely original set of rules.”Going under” plunges one into the mind’s subconscious. Death in a dream either awakens the dreamer or sends him deeper into the dream state. Architectural models (the one’s you’d see in a university studio), once built in the “real world,” can then be replicated in the mind. And most importantly, the mind-hacker can enter deeper levels: dreams within dreams – or in the case of the epic finale – dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams.

The setup, then, goes something like this: Business kingpin Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of thought guerillas to break into the mind of a rival energy tycoon and plant an idea convincing him to break up his father’s monopoly. Success would give Saito a superpower of his own and Dom the freedom to get back to his children.

Waterworld.

There’s more, of course – physics-defying dream properties, counter-insurgent mind security, Dom’s own tortured psyche and a ghostly love interest hellbent on f*cking the whole thing up. The film is so intricately crafted that it’s at times hard to keep up. Yet everything is ultimately held together by one overarching line of questioning: what is real? what is dream? how do you know the difference?

In thrilling juxtaposition, Nolan manages to put the audience in the exact same dilemma as the characters themselves – namely, trying to distinguish where reality ends and imagination begins. Likewise, both Nolan and his characters push the boundaries of their dreamworld to the brink of collapse, so much so that you’re left awestruck by the simple fact that at it all holds together.

The final half hour, for instance, masterfully harmonizes four separate universes – all working in drastically different settings, all with different concepts of space-time, all to one deliriously exhilarating end. To belabor a point that needs belaboring: Nolan works like a Motzartian maestro, harnessing the notes of a million disparate instruments to create a perfectly in-synch concerto.

His deft accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the top-shelf performances you’d expect from such a cast. Though DiCaprio and confidant Ellen Page turn in nonchalant excellence, it is partners in crime Tom Hardy (as the searingly witty Eames) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (DiCaprio’s cucumber-cool wingman Arthur) who give the ensemble the juice it needs to keep pace with the plot. In a film short on comic relief, the duo delivers the kind of coyly slick and super-stylized banter you’d expect from Tarartino-lite. Dileep Rao (dream-inducing specialist Yusuf) also excels as the more jaded version of the bleeding-heart doctor he played in “Avatar” and Nolan cohort Cillian Murphy, though unspectacular, capably pulls off the crucial tear-soaked climax. The only week link for me – relatively speaking – was Tom Berenger’s Browning, who stood out on account of being Tom Berenger (minor distraction more than anything – his role as down-home family adviser required him to be nothing more).

I’m not sure how to describe Marion Cotillard other than to say that she damn near stole the entire film, managing to one-up love interest DiCaprio (a modern-day Romeo in his own right) in every moment of every scene. She’s nothing short of entrancing, not just in her old-Hollywood beauty, but in the way she simultaneously embodies both angelic elegance and gothic darkness. Cotillard is the girl that emo kids place on a pedestal – the girl for which they listen to The Cure and write poetry in blood. At one point, she asks, “Do you know what’s it’s like to be a lover? To be half of a whole?” and it’s like she burning those words on your soul. This may go without saying, but she is the class of her contemporaries.

Throwback Cotillard.

A review, as I said, is rendered largely moot by the facts that A) the film’s $60 million opening weekend suggests that most have already seen it B) everybody seems to agree that it’s something of a virtuosic landmark and C) trying to put “Inception” into words is a self-defeating endeavor. You simply have to see it for yourself.

Or twice, like I did.

The visual acrobatics will leave you genuinely slack jawed, as they are perhaps the most technically and stylishly accomplished of any film. Though I would’ve said something similar about the second and third “Matrix” installments, it’s hard to imagine anyone besting the realness or creativity evident in Nolan’s dreamscapes. They are gorgeous, wildly imaginative and wholly seamless.

The writer and director revels in the intricacies of a lost city. He creates brain-teasing structural paradoxes. He turns splashing bath water into something out of “Fantasia.” He deconstructs one world as five and, with Gordon-Levitt’s first gravity-defying fistfight, forever changes the way you’ll look at a hallway.

In short, he makes dreams come alive.

The only flaw in this brilliant tapestry is perhaps an over-reliance on explanation – one too many scenes where a character, usually Arthur, tells his partners exactly what’s going on and of the dream properties that make it all happen. For a film that loses many in its complexity anyway (I’m 0 for 2 seeing it with someone who “got” it), Nolan might as well have let the plot unfold without the occasionally stale layman’s interpretation. Those left behind be damned.

“Inception,” like the faux-world it erects, is grandiose, towering, aesthetically arresting. It is a big movie by which all other big movies will be measured, and it introduces the concept of the “kick” – that feeling of falling that awakens you from dreams. That feeling, once the lights go up, that you’ve just had the rug pulled out from under you.

– Robbie

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“Breakthrough?” and Other Google Trends: The Week in Review, Redux

Guess who I'm pulling for.

It’s Tiga Tiga Woods, ya’ll.

Does it speak to my cruel sensibilities that I get almost as much joy from watching Phil carry himself like a plus-sized Care Bear than I do from seeing Tiger’s name on the first page of the leaderboard at my favorite golf tournament?

Was that sentence too long to understand?

I appreciate the fact that Phillis has to keep things tight with Amy – allowing his wife to dress him without any regard for what his bros may think. But come on…

Like a puff pastry with hair.

Man up, Phil.

As you already know (because you woke up at 4 a.m.), three-time Open champion Tiger Woods shot an opening round 67 at personal whipping post St. Andrews. Tiger stands one behind cautionary tale John Daly, three behind a guy I’ve never heard of, and four behind personal inspiration Rory McIlroy (pictured below).

Time to reevaluate pink? Hmm... no.

On a side note, crazy kudos to Mike Tirico for saying he “wouldn’t be at all surprised” to see John Daly pop up on the leaderboard. That takes balls… and the wherewithal to know that nobody watches ESPN2 at 5:30 on a Wednesday.

Here are some random observations from the 15 or so minutes I’ve been awake with the TV on (timeline: Thursday, 9:30 a.m.) .

1) St. Andrews plays like your local hackers’ course when the weather cooperates. Does it hail in Scotland? If so, I’m hoping for a Friday hail storm.

2) It’s hard to tell whether ESPN’s on-course reporter Wendi Nix is genuinely hot, or whether she’s just benefitting from the British crowd.

3) My father and his snap hook are no doubt heartened by the news that “long and left” plays at the Open.

4) There’s a whale on the fi Mark Calcavecchia is on the fifth green.

5) (via last night) Props to ESPYs standout Erin Andrews for her classy hotness. If 98 percent of Gainesville was as classy-hot as Erin… we wouldn’t have a “Midtown.”

Erin at the ESPYs

6) Props to ESPYs standout Michelle Beadle for her classy hotness. If 98 percent of ESPN was as classy-hot as Michelle… we wouldn’t have a Jenn Brown… who’s just kind of skanky.

So hot all the other pics were burned.

7) Props to ESPYs standout Brooklyn Decker for… just everything, really.

Brooklyn: The Sixth and Seventh Boroughs

8) My pops asked me yesterday if I’d wear a LeBron jersey if his friend could land us opening night Heat tickets. I told him I’d wear a white headband and a crown, too. My motto: forgive, forget, join bandwagon.

9) I’m either going to see “Inception” or Stephen Strasburg Friday night. Either way, my head will explode.

10) The Dallas Mavericks’ Omar Samhan lauged (via Twitter) at one of our jokes last night. This is noteworthy because Shrek has never laughed at our jokes before.

Just kidding, Omar. Go Gaels.

11) Just realized Tiger was wearing pink, too – obviously to mock Phil. Obviously.

Pink, for the ladies.

12) “For us, he was like mannah from heaven.” ~ T-Wolves GM David Kahn on Darko Milicic. Seriously. Watch the rest of his transcendent interview with SC favorite Chris Webber right here.

(You didn’t click on the link, did you… I promise that the 4:53 mark will make your day immeasurably better. Click on the damn link.)

13) Robb Hilson – the aforementioned “pops” – is riding an unprecedented hot streak. His temporary stay in The 305 heralded the arrival of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and UM stud recruit Seantrel Henderson. He’s also factored prominently in Tiger’s hot start – “I was up at 3. Watched the whole round.”

14) I’ve just managed 14 observations in 15 minutes. This is some kind of record. Let’s finish the week up so I can pat myself on the back.

__________

On Monday, Arizona’s Chris Young, New York’s Nick Swisher and Milwaukee’s Corey Hart participated in the Home Run Derby. Capitalizing on this wave of momentum, I entered an ’87 Fiat at 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Yes, David Ortiz won the Derby and, no, that mysterious package marked “sharp objects enclosed” was not what you’re suggesting it was.

Smart ass.

Sticking with All-Stars, Boston third basemen Adrian Beltre announced that a tweaked hammy wouldn’t keep him out of the Midsummer Classic. In similarly relevant news, Publix held a 10% off sale on disposable Gillette razors.

On Tuesday, ex-Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas signed with the Miami Heat. Makes perfect sense to me – foreign refugees generally flee to South Florida to escape deceptive, egomaniacal leaders. Just one tiny hang-up…

In “no sh*t” headlines, RE: CNN – “Obese children at risk for acid reflux.”

Over the weekend, American cycling star Lance Armstrong suffered a hopes-dashing crash at the Tour de France.  In a possibly related turn of events, bike trails in Miami are seeing a drastic decline in grape smuggling.

You see where I'm going with this?

On Wednesday, the New York Red Bulls signed former French National star Thierry Henry to a multiyear contract. Though Henry will face lesser competition in the MLS, American rules will prevent him from using his hands.

Cheating: a staple of the international game.

Said Henry on the competitive fire that burns deep within his soul:

Also on Wednesday, aforementioned T-Wolves GM David Kahn traded 25-year-old stud power forward Al Jefferson to Utah for two heavily protected draft picks. Not to be outdone, Braves GM Frank Wren traded 27-year-old shortstop Yunel Escobar to Toronto for journeyman Alex Gonzalez and his career .294 OBP.

The winner in all of this? Wal-Mart, the former poster boy for “race to the bottom.”

On Friday, the U.S. swapped Russian spy Anna Chapman for Heat spy Dwyane Wade, cash considerations and a player to be named later.

Last Saturday, Cincinnati Reds rookie Travis Wood came within three outs of throwing 9 perfect innings in an eventual 1-0 loss in extras to the Phillies. On a day when New York’s Javier Vasquez and Baltimore’s Chris Tillman took no-hitters into the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, Wood’s efforts almost resulted in the third perfect game and fifth no-hitter of the season.

On Sunday, disgruntled fans filed a motion to reintroduce what made them love baseball in the first place.

Steroids.

In the span of two weeks, I will have watched an Atlanta Brave win an All-Star Game MVP and the ‘Canes land the top recruit in the country, received a Pearl Jam shirt as a gift from a friend, and attended a Smashing Pumpkins concert. In other words, I’m still living in 1994.

On Wednesday, fans of redemption set their alarms for 4:09 a.m. Fans of bra fat slept in.

Have a subpar weekend.

– Robbie

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