The Blog Squad

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Hall of Fame calls for the Moose

Mike Mussina threw one last knuckle curve when he officially announced his retirement Thursday. The pitch surprised many, especially after the “Moose” won 20 games last year for the first time in his career.

But the former right-hand pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees had known about retirement since January when he summed up his current career of mounting injuries, modest records and an expiring contract. All those factors pointed to leaving the game after 18 years.

“I lied to all of you,” Mussina said at a press conference Thursday. “I knew that that was going to be my last year since the first day of spring training.”

Despite the secret, Mussina did not coast in his final season. He made 34 starts, pitched 200 innings and had a 3.37 ERA. Mussina became the Yankees ace after Chien-Ming Wang went down with an injury after 15 starts.

It was like the last year of high school,” Mussina said. “You know it’s going to end and you just enjoy the ride.”

Mussina beat Tampa Bay on Sept. 2 to improve his record to 17-7. He still had five more starts to accomplish something he had never done before. In his career, he recorded 18 wins five times and 19 victories twice. But he never reached the magical 20 mark.

Sportswriters and those who vote or have an opinion on the Baseball Hall of Fame questioned whether a pitcher who had never won a World Series or a Cy Young Award or 20 games in a season was deserving of enshrinement.

Mussina left more doubt as he lost his next two starts and pitched horrible in the process. He gave up 15 hits and nine earned runs in 11 innings.

But with the end so near and the Yankees out of postseason contention, Mussina rallied and allowed just one earned run in his final three starts. He went six innings and allowed three hits and no runs to beat Boston in his final appearance.

Mussina had finally reached 20 wins.

Now there should be no doubt about whether the man belongs in Cooperstown.
Here is some evidence.

* Mussina won 270 games in his career and only 32 pitchers in the history of baseball have won more.

* Mussina’s career record is 270-153 and only 20 other pitchers have finished 100 or more games over .500. Of those 20, there are 16 in the Hall of Fame with the other four, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine likely to be voted in as well.

* He never won a Cy Young Award, but neither did Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro or Don Sutton, all in the Hall of Fame.

*Mussina’s .638 career winning percentage is higher than these likely Hall of Fame candidates: Maddux, Glavine, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.

The biggest question is whether Mussina will enter as an Oriole or Yankee. Only Mussina can answer that. But here are some stats to consider.

*He played 10 of his 18 seasons in Baltimore.

*He won 147 of his 270 victories with the Orioles.

*He recorded 1,535 of his 2,813 strikeouts wearing the orange and black.

*He made five all-star appearances as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
Mussina remains popular among Oriole fans who can never forget his gutsy performance in the 1997 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. In Game 3, Mussina struck out 15 but the Orioles lost 2-1 in 12 innings. He came back to shut out the Indians in Game 6, but Baltimore failed to score as well and lost 1-0 in 11 innings. The defeat sent the birds home from the playoffs.

OUT AT HOME: I’m coaching middle school girls’ basketball and was asked by one of the players if I had seen High School Musical 3. I told her that I don’t want High School Musical, but I had seen Grease. Her reply was “Grease is gross. They smoke, dance funny and talk about summer loving.” Her answer got me wondering. If High School Musical isn’t about doing bad things in high school, then what’s the point?

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This is incredible.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Never Too Old to Play

I’ve often thought about the future, when my salt and pepper hair turns permanently silver, what will I be doing?

I dream of waking up, ambling to the back patio and leaning against the deck railing to watch wave after wave crash onto the shore. I’ve thought of eyeing a 150-yard seven-iron shot into the wind and sticking it 5 feet from the pin. I’ve wished for a golden age of driving the country, seeing up close the many wonders I’ve glimpsed on the Discover Channel.

But never, ever would I consider doing what Ken Mink does in his 73rd year on Earth.

It was just last year when Mink was hitting jumper after jumper in his driveway that he thought he could still play.

Yeah, by play he means college ball, like he did in 1956 at Lees (Ky.) Junior College, which abruptly ended when he was dismissed for allegedly soaping the coach’s office with shaving cream.

So after telling his wife, he wrote to several colleges.

Roane State Community College (Harriman, Tenn.) coach Randy Nesbit invited him to play.

“I’m not very good at saying no,” said Nesbit, 50, to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It’s a gesture of good will to help a fine man find closure. Why not?”

Ever since that acceptance letter, Mink has spent his time, seven to eight hours a week, getting in shape for the upcoming season.

He ran. He played pickup ball. He joined the senior Olympic team (3-on-3, halfcourt) and finished second in tournaments in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. He even won the Tennessee state free-throw championship by hitting 19 of 20 shots.

His goal is to have enough stamina to play full speed for 10- to 15-minute stretches, though that’s being optimistic. He’s likely to receive a third of that time on the court.

Last month, he visited the school’s doctor, who cleared him to play. Now he’s practicing with his fellow Raiders.

“The team makes allowances for Ken at practice when they need to, and they all encourage him,” Nesbit said in the New Sentinel. “We look to be fairly strong, so hopefully we’ll have some games decided early. I’m sure he’ll have the opportunity to play.

“Our weakness last year was experience; I think I’ve taken care of that.”

Mink commutes 35 miles to the community college and is taking 12 hours of credits.

“I'm in class with a bunch of kids with their hats turned on backwards, but they are all amazed when I tell them what I’m doing,” Mink said in the News Sentinel. “The kids say their grandfathers are my age, and they can't get out of bed. Actually, I am older than the teachers and the school president.”

And he’s nearly twice the age of the school, which was established in 1971.

Mink has ties to the News Sentinel, where he worked as Sunday editor and entertainment editor from 1972-85. He also was city editor of the Kingsport Times (1985-88) and managing editor of the Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News Record (1988-1998).

He’s the author of So You Want Your Kid to Be a Sports Superstar and plans to write a book about his Roane State experience titled Season From the Past.

Go get'em Mr. Mink. I’m rooting for you.

OUT AT HOME: I’ve had a Facebook page for about a year now. But I’ve never really done anything with it until recently because I thought it was for college kids. But friends from way back, as far as elementary school have found me. It’s fun to catch up with people you used to play straw football with at lunchtime. Facebook does have a purpose.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The best pregame warmup I’ve ever seen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The NBA’s Rare Air

I can’t watch the NBA anymore. Not because the product is entirely bad. It’s because I’m so disgusted by the attitudes of players like Stephon Marbury that I can’t invest my time or money anymore.

The guy is due to make $21.9 million this season. That’s a lifetime of money for you, me and a couple dozen of our friends. The problem is, he hasn’t played yet for the New York Knicks and has been deactivated indefinitely.

Does he care? He doesn’t show it.

It’s the same Stephon Marbury who has destroyed every team he’s been on. It’s the same guy who quit on the Knicks a few times last year and pouts when he doesn’t get his way. When he was starting at the point, Marbury led the Knicks to a pair of all-time worse records and then shrugged his shoulders.

Now New York is unsure what to do with him. Nobody will trade for a veteran point guard who has lost a step and a few inches on his vertical, especially one who is guaranteed $21.9 million. So a trade is out of the question. The Knicks hope they can convince him that a buyout of his contract will be best for all involved. It will allow Marbury freedom to play for another team while New York saves a few bucks and rids itself of this pariah.

My guess is that Marbury will not do that and try to collect all $21.9 million while not playing a single minute of the season.

How can I relate to that?

To be fair, the NBA is not entirely filled with players like Marbury, but there are quite a few and enough that I’m turned off by the air up there. Unlike the NFL, NBA players sign guaranteed contracts.

I feel fortunate that I can earn a competitive salary at a job I truly love. That sense of good luck pushes me to work harder and improve to become a better professional. I could never get away with Marbury’s attitude.

There’s a lot to admire about some NBA players. They are truly some of the most gifted athletes on the planet. They simply take my breath away with what they can do to defy gravity, and for a moment, I join them in space. But when they return to Earth and jolt me back to reality, I am reminded that we have nothing in common.

At 38, I might be too old for the NBA. And I might not be hip-hop enough, although I still enjoy old-school rap.

Every time I want to give the NBA another chance, I remember Latrell Sprewell, who was insulted after being offered a 3-year, $21 million contract extension at age 34. He famously said, “I have a family to feed.” He declined the extension and had the worse season of his career. He never signed another contract and has since experienced financial ruin.

The NBA? No thanks. I don’t have time. I need to work for a living. I need to feed my family.

OUT AT HOME: Whoever becomes our next president, I hope that person can truly bring the changes we desperately need.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This is funny. Beware of mascots.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Double Switch

To use a baseball term, Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner has pulled off the double switch.

Penner wrote an inspirational column 18 months ago about how he was going on vacation as Mike and returning as Christine Daniels.

“I am a transsexual sportswriter,” he revealed. “It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them.”

Indeed, many were surprised, and intrigued. His revelation became one of the most read LA Times pieces in 2007. He found support from his editors and the staff as he bravely embarked on his new life. Though not publicly stated, Penner must have received some level of understanding from his wife, fellow sportswriter Lisa Dillman.

“This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” Penner wrote.

For the past 18 months, Daniels has written a blog “Woman in Progress” at Then inexplicably, the site was removed on Oct. 21.

LA Observed broke the news and quoted Sports Editor Randy Harvey: “We’re looking forward to Mike’s byline appearing in the paper and on the website with increased frequency. He continues to be a valued member of our sports staff.”

Not to state the obvious, but Harvey used “Mike” and “he” to describe his sportswriter. Not “Christine” and “she.” This leads one to wonder, what happened to change this woman’s mind?

Penner has yet to divulge, and the feeling is there might never be an explanation. He was so forthcoming when he came out, yet this switch, if it’s permanent, seems much different. Much more personal. Much more painful.

Is coming out of the closet easier than going back in?

I would love to hear from those who have experienced and wrestled with similar feelings. Is there a sense of failure? Is there a trust issue with the awareness of one’s self? Is there embarrassment? Did he encounter more hate and pressure with his transition than he expected? All of the above and more?

OUT AT HOME: The daughter is developing an imagination. She told me the other day that she was holding a pretend snowball. I guess because it’s getting cold outside. I asked her what color. “Yellow!” she said. Yikes. I told her she never wants to hold a yellow snowball. “Brown!” Um, no. I told her she never wants to hold a brown snowball either. “Blue!” I told her it was fine to hold blue snowballs.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: A student kicks a field goal during halftime and wins free rent for a year. The coach takes notice and invites him to join the team. Now the student may be the kicker for the No. 6 team in the nation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Crash Course on Bollywood

In our November magazine — The Global Issue — WRIR radio show host DJ Carlito is featured for his monthly Bollywood dance nights at Cous Cous in the heart of VCU’s campus. To get a better understanding of the Indian entertainment form that has consumed him and that he shares with Richmonders, we asked DJ Carlito, aka Carl Hamm, to give us a quick video tour of the foreign-film genre. Here, we turn it over to our guest DJ for a quick tour of Bollywood via YouTube. —The editors.

From DJ Carlito:

This is probably the best primer course on Bollywood that I could put together at the drop of a hat — and this is only a sampler of songs, scenes and trailers of India’s very prolific film industry.

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is a hugely popular newer movie.

Where's the Party Tonight is a good example of modern Bollywood dance music.

, Punjabi MC and Dalher Mehndi are just a few awesome Punjabi artists.

A good example of a newer Indian hit is Kismat Connection.

Another film, Dus, was also quite popular recently, in the past few years.

Some remakes have brought back classic Bollywood films such as Don (find its original below), starring Sharukh Khan, and Karz (also below but now called Om Shanti Om, also starring Sharukh).

Other new hits include Boys, a recent Tamil movie.

One thing about India’s movies: Bollywood cranks out more films than Hollywood, so it’s near-impossible for me to keep up with the most recent movies.

But to have a frame of reference here are some of the all-time classics that I would recommend people watch first — the ones that got me hooked. (And the older movies show more traditional Indian culture and less of the more modern urban vibe.)

A list:

Pakeezah, a poetic, heartbreaking romantic epic tragedy. It was Meena Kumari's last movie.

Baiju Bawra (an earlier Meena Kumari film — she was truly the best and her life was a tragic story too.)

Here is my favorite classic Indian song from 1955's Seema.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram is beautiful, very spiritual and utterly poetic. This song was covered by Thievery Corporation on their latest album, The Cosmic Game.

For all-time classic action movies, I suggest Sholay (also here) , and Don (also here).

And check out Bollywood’s assimilation of the disco era: Karz (above as Om Shanti Om); Hum Kissise Kum Naheen and Disco Dancer (this song was covered by M.I.A.).

To see the East-meets-West ‘60s vibe, check these out:
Yaadon Ki Baarat (also here) and Purab aur Paachim.

My all-time favorite actress is Smita Patel because she portrayed women in a new light. Unfortunately, she died in her 30s after childbirth. Along with another actress, Shaban Azmi, Patel was known for being a more political actress in her early career, playing in "art films" as they were classified in India. Here's Mirch Masala where she fights her pursuers with hot pepper powder.

Thanks for letting me share my appreciation of Bollywood and the Indian culture —DJ Carlito

Friday, October 17, 2008

Things That Better Not Happen

1. The Boston Red Sox better not beat the Tampa Bay Rays after being down 3-1 in the series. I’m still hopeful that the Rays will prevail after returning to Florida and the home crowd. They will have their ace, James Shields, on the mound for Game 6. Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton have proven to be two rising superstars on a team that could have field Josh Hamilton as well. Carl Crawford is already an established star as well as pitchers Matt Garza and possible future ace David Price. This young team will be good for a few years, but I don’t want to see the Red Sox or any other Boston team win another championship.

2. The Redskins better not go 1-2 or 0-3 in the softest part of their schedule after completing the hardest section at 4-1. Up next are the Browns, who defeated the Super Bowl champs Giants easily last Monday night. Washington should win, but I’m worried that the Redskins will take a conservative approach rather than trying to bury this team early. Just like they did against the Rams.

3. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo better not play well despite a broken pinky and newly acquired Roy Williams makes an impact. Though Dallas gave up a lot for Williams when nobody really wanted him, the guy is a playmaker and could balance out the field. Owens should see less over the top help as Williams is capable of stretching the field as well. At least the Cowboys lost their punter for the year.

4. The Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas better not miss the entire season after sitting out all but 13 games last year. Arenas recently signed a huge contract and needs to be on the court if Washington hopes to make a run at the Eastern Conference title.

5. Kimbo Slice better not headline another EliteXC card. The Slice man was diced by Seth Petruzelli on Oct. 4 on national television. Petruzelli took the fight on one-hour notice and pounded Slice out in 14 seconds.

6. AROD and Madonna better not hook up now that they will soon be legally allowed to do so. I have Alex Rodriguez on my keeper fantasy baseball team and I’m afraid his career will sink much like Guy Ritchie’s after he married the Material Girl. Ritchie made “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” as well as “Snatch” pre-Madonna. What has he done since? You tell me.

7. This better not be the truth about Joe Paterno, but sadly I’m afraid it is. Sportscaster Brent Musburger said on the radio recently that he knows why his good friend Paterno keeps coaching. “This is a tough one for me because I have to say up front that JoePa is a dear friend of mine…I’ll tell your listeners the truth as to why he still does it. He is fearful—and he looks back at Bear Bryant (legendary Alabama coach) as the example—he is fearful that he would not be with us if he stepped away. He is a man that doesn’t fish, doesn’t play golf…he has no other interest other than his family and football. And he’s just afraid what would happen with the rest of his life if he walks away from it.” Bear Bryant died just 28 days after announcing his retirement from Alabama.

8. David from Mount Pleasant better be joking. He is, right?

OUT AT HOME: Took the daughter to see WALL-E last night at the Byrd Theater. It was the first time I’d been to the Byrd since I returned to Richmond in 2005. I love that place. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see the littering ad still playing. “SICK!”

This makes me laugh. But they are good sports. Love seeing Cal and Eck belting out some notes.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Spat

It’s Dallas Week for Redskins fans, but the real drama for the past few days did not include any players.

Typically, fans would expect a little smack being talked between the players and maybe even the coaches, but oh, how times have changed. Instead, a big spat erupted between the Redskins executive vice president of football operations and the Washington Post’s beat reporter.

If you don’t know the history of Vinny Cerrato and Jason La Canfora, then let me briefly catch you up — the reporter believes he’s entitled to information when he wants it and since the VP won’t give him any, the former has been very negative in his coverage of the team.

Some have said La Canfora is doing his job since Cerrato and his boss, owner Daniel Synder, have not produced a consistent winner. However, others have suggested that La Canfora has gone out of his way to find negative information and won’t stop until Cerrato (and even Snyder) is gone from Washington.

It’s sort of a “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

This latest donnybrook started when it was announced that Cerrato would host a radio show on ESPN 980, which is owned by Snyder. Cerrato would host the Washington-area show, called “Inside the Red Zone,” for four hours per week.

Well, this bit of news didn’t sit well with La Canfora, and he let his feelings be known. The reporter/columnist suggested in the piece that no other NFL executive was doing such a thing. But that bit of information is misleading. Bill Polian, the Indianapolis Colts president, hosts his own show. Granted, Polian’s program is one hour a week in the evening, but Cerrato isn’t the only executive with a microphone.

This is the kind of slanted writing has many people wondering how La Canfora has a job.

But never mind that for a second. La Canfora made a more dire suggestion a few days later. He decided to call the league office after Cerrato spoke to NFL Network’s Adam Schefter about the possible firing of Lane Kiffin of the Oakland Raiders.

La Canfora asked the NFL if what Cerrato was doing could constitute as “tampering” because he was speaking about another coach while that coach was still employed. Obviously, it wasn’t, and even casual fans could answer that question.

So why did La Canfora call the NFL?

Cerrato responded Monday on the radio.

Well, fan reaction was a bit skewed. Many were very angry at La Canfora. Fans wanted him taken off the beat immediately. And those were the gentler responses.

What happened next?

The Washington Post sports editor, either receiving some bad advice or itching to become part of the drama, issued his own statement. It’s very noble to try and protect your reporter, but this was one time the sports editor or any editor needed to keep his mouth shut. Let the situation blow over. After all, it is Dallas Week. Fans will forget.

Instead, the sports editor made his reporter look at worse lazy, and at best, vindictive.

Consider this part: Here’s what NFL spokesman Michael Signora had to say: “Jason LaCanfora (sic) called our office and said that Vinny Cerrato was talking in specifics on his radio show about the Raiders’ coaching position. Jason wanted to know if that could possibly be a tampering issue. Jason has been told that there is no general prohibition against publicly talking about another team’s players or staff. It routinely occurs throughout the league.”

(By the way, did you notice how the sports editor spelled his own reporter’s name? This is the Washington Post. The standard should be the highest in journalism. This mistake is inexcusable.)

So the NFL says this routinely occurs throughout the league. Duh. Almost every day. All a person has to do is read stories about an NFL coach or executive on the hot seat and there are people connected to teams, named and unnamed, who are quoted about the given situation.
Why doesn’t La Canfora know this?

Could it be he wanted to get the Redskins in trouble through this feeble attempt and masked it with an explanation of ignorance? Okay, I’ll play dumb. If he was indeed ignorant about the tampering rules, why didn’t he check the rulebook that should be handy in the newsroom instead of bothering the league office? Or better yet, why didn’t he read his own paper’s story about tampering written just six months ago?

At least one other media person tended to agree with outraged fans. La Canfora answered this media member’s e-mail and showed a tremendous amount of class.

Then mixed in with this ugly situation is a rant by the team’s play-by-play man Larry Michael, who showed an equal amount of graciousness during an episode of Redskins Nation.

So that’s where it ends, for now.

My take on it is “wow,” this is better than Dallas Week and more like Dallas, the old-school TV soap. I read everything I could on the drama. And that, my friend, is exactly why this is all going on. La Canfora knows that the more he hates on the Redskins, the more hits the Washington Post Web site gets. That makes his bosses very happy.

I’d be interested to know what the hit count was for the episodes. I would guess they would be in the top 5 ever at

OUT AT HOME: This is with my head and not my heart. Redskins 27, Cowboys 21.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Here’s another recent case of an NFL executive and a newspaper writer going at it. I laughed when the columnist said something like “I would very much like to own a piece of the Raiders” after he was threatened.