Born on a mountain top in Tennessee
The greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so’s he knew ev’ry tree
Kilt him a b’ar when he was only three
Ted, Ted Bauer, king of the wild frontier
adapted from “The Ballad of Ted Bauer”, written for the Disney film A Price Above Bip Roberts.
Ted once again joins us to summarize what we learned (or should have learned) from the weekend’s sports action:
1. Maybe it pays to stay true to your roots.
Oscar De La Hoya, easily one of the best fighters of the past two decades in the rapidly declining sport of boxing, is typically criticized for one thing: the potential that he “sold out.” See, the homeboy from East LA is now personifying the notion of being a “business, man” as opposed to a “businessman.” In arguably boxing’s Last MegaFight for the next decade – unless someone can convince Bernard Hopkins and Mayweather to belly up to the bar – De La Hoya looked sharp for about four rounds, then shuffled off into the enterprise sunset against Mayweather himself. On the flip side of The Golden Boy, you can accuse Mayweather of a lot of things – being certifiably f’n insane, for example – but he knows where he came from (except for the fact that he lives in a house in Vegas stacked with money, but you get the point). The point here is probably that speed can beat power if a fight goes long, but I’d like to take a broader lesson from it.
2. George Steinbrenner’s Patience is a Good Thing
A week ago Sunday, the Yankees were in dead last in the AL East, and there was a feasible possibility that on their Monday off-day, Joe Girardi or Don Mattingly would suddenly become their first manager since 1996 without a brother named Rocco. A scant seven days later, the Pinstripes are second in the East, have only 1 loss in May, and are getting this guy Clemens – whom you may have heard of – back. None of that, especially the last part, would have been possible if Torre was suddenly axed.
3. Roger Clemens likes the value of the dollar in New York
In a move that probably further drives Houston into a state of despair – I mean, did Clemens have to announce this right after the Rockets choked away that Game 7 at home? – and makes their baseball team relevant only for the development of Hunter Pence, Roger Clemens decided to “come home” to the Yankees for this season, making a cool $4.5 million per month in the process. Here’s the thing you should remember: on August 5 of this summer, Roger will be closer to 50 than 40. He’s a bulldog, and he’ll probably get 10-12 wins, but here’s two things to consider: a) that doesn’t suddenly make Brian Bruney and company better out there in middle relief, and b) a dude encroaching on the neutral zone of the half-century mark can’t regularly strike out Manny and Ortiz. I’m just sayin’.
That’s pretty much what Don Nelson did this week. From the beginning of the Warriors vs. Mavericks series, he was so deep in Avery Johnson’s head, he was probably hearing the voices too. He knew exactly how to beat a team he had pretty much designed – hell, he did it all year – and while no one thought it could happen in the playoffs (someone literally laughed at me when I proposed Warriors in six), it did. Stephen Jackson started playing like a hybrid of John Starks in ’94 (the good version) and a deranged postal worker, and Baron Davis pulled a “less relevant, bicoastal Willis Reed” move, striking a blow for Bruins alums everywhere in the process. Mark Cuban and George Steinbrenner, since 2000, have a lot in common.
5. This might be the Summer of Bob Uecker.
The Milwaukee Brewers, everyone’s feel-good story right now, are 21-10 after Sunday. They’re 8-2 in their last 10, and winners of three straight. At Miller Park, they’re 13-5; on the road, they’re an above average 8-5. J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder have combined for 17 HR and 52 RBI, Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall are each getting on base over 33 percent of the time, and Jeff Suppan – acquired from the division rival Cardinals – is 5 and 2. The Crew is the best team in the NL by 2 games.
6. NHL Playoffs Irrelevant?
For those amongst us who don’t really have any inclination to care about the drop of the puck, consider this: the Eastern Conference Finals this year will pit Ottawa against Buffalo. These two teams genuinely hate each other. In addition to multiple brawls this season – including a 9 minute version where Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff attempted to climb OVER the boards, and the two goalies fought – Ruff also had a post-game press conference last season referring to the Senators as “jokes.” For all the talk of Yankees vs. Red Sox, OSU vs. Michigan, and Duke vs. UNC, this battle of two fringe cities in separate nations fighting for respectability and battling out of hate might be the best rivalry going in sports today. If this series goes 7 strong, Chris Drury might not make it out alive.
7. Tracy McGrady is less than clutch.
I’m not sure how exactly the Rockets were down 16 in Game 7, got up six, and managed to still lose. I imagine it has something to do with Yao Ming’s foul trouble, the inability of anyone else on their roster to step up, Carlos Boozer finally f’n another team over as hard as he did the Cavaliers a few years back, and Jeff Van Gundy apparently wanting hanging on Alonzo Mourning’s leg to be the most relevant moment of his professional existence. Still, because T-Mac took the burden before the series – “It’s on me,” he screamed into a TV camera – the brunt will fall on him. Maybe it should: he’s 0-6 in the first round now, and that doesn’t bode well for his greater cultural relevance. I’m honestly just hoping he doesn’t do an exclusive off-season interview with EJ confessing about how depressed he was during the playoffs.
Lee, who leads MLB as of Sunday night with 17 doubles, racked a two-baser in 4 of 5 games this week, and 8 of the past 9 overall. That’s fairly impressive, especially when you consider he’s a tall, relatively slow guy running to second on a team cursed like no other. You half expect him to get bird flu from a pigeon falling from the sky, hitting him as he rounds first. It would make perfect sense.
9. Unless you like Mexican food alongside rivers, it’s a bad time to live in Texas and be a sports fan.
Let’s consider: in Dallas, your NBA team – a virtual lock for a second straight Finals, right? – gets bounced in the first round. Your NFL team loses in their first postseason game because the golden boy quarterback can’t get his fingers around the snap, or out-run a linebacker who was on the other side of the damn field before the ball was hiked. Your NHL team? Gone in the first round. And your baseball team? Well, Sammy’s there, and that’s cool… but otherwise you haven’t been relevant since A-Rod left (if you ever were when he was there). Meanwhile, that golden boy QB? Now boinking Carrie Underwood, which is sure to be a distraction. And, oh, by the by – your new coach is Wade Phillips. Ha. In Houston, Clemens ain’t coming home, you got almost nothing behind Oswalt, T-Mac and Yao can’t win a first-round series, you don’t even have a hockey team, and the Texans abandoned the David Carr project at an absolutely horrible time – one year after Vince Young went ape for the Titans, thus proving the Texans could have taken him, and maybe that entire mess wouldn’t still be there. Schaub? Ha. He’ll probably be nailing Fantasia by September.
10. Rivalry Renewed, Indeed – But Nothing to Write Home About
The Pistons and Bulls, two teams that dominated the Eastern Conference in the late 1980s right after the Celtics stopped doing just that, are locking horns in an Eastern Semi match that many view as a de facto Eastern Finals (we’ll get to LeBron and his potential role in that equation next week, after we see what we learn this week). In the first game, the Pistons – on the verge of a fifth straight Eastern Finals, mind you – won by 26 points. The knighting of Ben Gordon and Luol Deng as Modern MJ Wanna Bes may have to wait a few more months.