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SportsMonday

Anybody out there watch the NBA All-Star game on Sunday?

How about the Daytona 500?

I didn't think so.

The former is abysmally bad basketball from start to finish. It is the worst game of the season. And yet, year after year it is apparently a very tough ticket. Nowhere in the world of sports is there a bigger disconnect between the actual amount of real sports entertainment generated by an event and the cost of a ticket to that event. And nowhere is there a better example of the triumph of spectacle over actual sport. I would rather watch a late-season Grizzlies-Timberwolves brickfest than the yearly "all-star" debacle where the only competition is to see who can throw the most ridiculous alley-oop.

Then there are the guys driving around in all those thrilling circles in Spring Breakville.

The set-up of the whole thing has always seemed fundamentally flawed - the biggest race of the year on the first day of the season? But stock car racing became increasingly more popular in the final 10 years of the last century and the first five of this one. Then the momentum flagged. And television ratings have gone down the last two years. Fortunately, NASCAR still has its primary selling point: The whiteness of its drivers.

I remember a conversation last year with a proud Caucasian who lives in my neighborhood and who has never tried very hard to disguise his disdain for other races. Initially, we were talking about Notre Dame football. He'd been hoping head coach Charlie Weis would step up and succeed where his darker-complected predecessor Tyrone Willingham had struggled. Weis has now officially failed to do that, posting a much worse record in his third year than Willingham did, but Weis is getting a longer opportunity (at least one additional year on the job). The guy I know is pinning his last little bit of hope to Weiss' seeming superiority as a recruiter.

After a little while the conversation turned to NASCAR and he became the first person I have ever known (in my relatively sheltered Chicago-centric life) to tell me about his stock car racing fantasy league. Enough said. As for those television ratings, maybe it's that people have figured out cars driving around in, let's get it right this time - ovals - just cannot be classified as compelling entertainment. Or maybe it's because recent safety innovations have made it much less likely that drivers are going to die out there.

Seems like a good time to move along to a little baseball, eh?

* There's been a lot of chatter about measuring the Mets for championship rings. Many have pronounced them the favorites in the National League on the heels of their trade for multi-Cy Young-Award-winning starting pitcher Johan Santana. Even normally mild-mannered outfielder Carlos Beltran got into the act over the weekend, pronouncing that his Mets are the team to beat. Excuse me? Just how many championships did Johan lead the Twins to during his otherwise seriously impressive run of success the last half-dozen years or so? The answer is, of course, none.

The favorites in the National League, based on last year's performance and on pitching, have to be the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team that already featured ace Brandon Webb, who made such quick work of the Cubs in the playoffs last fall, added Oakland ace Dan Haren via an off-season trade. And Randy Johnson is due back from injury for goodness sake.

OK, so the chances of the 40-something Johnson coming back 100 percent for even the majority of the season are tiny. But still, the Diamondbacks have it over the Mets in terms of pitching in particular. And playoff teams need a one-two pitching punch.

* Smarter scribes than I have said what needs to be said about Roger Clemens. OK, OK, I will say one thing: In the immortal words of Eddie Murphy at the end of Beverly Hills Cop, "You were lying your ass off."

* I love Kerry Wood pitching ninth innings for the 2008 Cubs. Carlos Marmol is too valuable putting out fires in the sixth or seventh innings and going one-plus or even two-plus innings when needed. I don't care how good he was as a closer during winter ball. Bobby Howry has proven he can pitch the eighth. Then Wood comes in to get those three last, brutal outs.

I'm sure Mr. Piniella will see things this way and I look forward to watching him put our master plan into effect in the coming campaign.

* And finally . . . the Blackhawks won another one on Sunday, their third victory in a row. But they still stand six points in back of the Vancouver Canucks in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Still, they opened it up and won big against divisional foes Columbus and Nashville earlier in the week, then played it close to the vest and edged the Avalanche on Sunday. And whoops there went another big ol' home sellout on Sunday. Here come the Hawks, the migh-ty Black-hawks. Take the attack, yeah, we'll back you Blackhawks.

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COMMENTS
From Eric Emery: I checked out the Daytona 500 yesterday too. I got a new TV, and I've been told that NASCAR is wonderful on HD. Here's where the experience went wrong:

* A friendly pre-race interview with some old drivers regarding a crash and subsequent fight they had. Here's a good idea: Let's glorify road rage. Here's another good idea: If you were truly mad back then for somebody putting your livelihood in danger, you should still be mad. Do you think Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington exchange Christmas cards?

* Pre-race entertainment :Chubby Checker. I'm implored to "Do the Twist" at every third-rate wedding with a DJ, so why should I do the twist on a lazy Sunday afternoon? Besides, who knew Chubby Checker was still alive? Based on CC's ability to lip sync, he's not too far off.

* Pre-race prayer. I get a prayer for our troops, but for our racers?

* Drivers like to complain about their cars. Maybe it's not the car's fault. Maybe you stink.

And Emery on Wood . . .
About Kerry Wood being the closer: If you enjoy watching a pitcher get two quick strikes, having the crowd rise as one, and then have the pitcher tighten up and throw four straight balls, Wood is your man.

Comments welcome.


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Posted on Nov 26, 2021