Meet Your (Sports) Blogger II, The Schaumberg Edition
Whether by accident or design, the oilogosphere has failed to tag me with Andy’s five questions. Alex takes the quiz as a sign we’ve jumped the shark, and he has a point. Others would take the near-miss as a merciful omission and go on their merry way. Not me. Here, although no one has asked, are my answers.
1) How many fantasy sports leagues were you in over the past year? How well did you do?
- An annual hockey league that, because I missed draft day due to work, saw my team auto-drafted. Like a chick kept away from its parent's heartbeat, I failed to bond with most of the team and abandoned them after my young star Erik Cole was crippled by Brooks Orpik. With both Stahl and Cole on my team, however, I was excited about the Hurricanes’ chances before most in the western conference. I did not, however, predict the terrible consequences.
- A points-based head-to-head baseball league (NL+AL, keeper league, 14 teams) that is now in its 6th year. My record year-to-date (24-47) is deplorable, and indicates a rebuilding phase that hasn’t quite gone according to plan. The records for earlier seasons were much more encouraging, but indicate a Beanesque ability to win in the regular season and lose in the playoffs:
- 2005: 54-36, fifth overall, lost in quarterfinal 336-326;
- 2004: 50-36-1, first in division, second overall, lost in final 352-349;
- 2003: 60-26-1, first in division, second overall, lost in semi-final 354-315.
- The Alberta Baseball Confederacy (NL+AL, keeper league, 12 teams, head-to-head points), in its first of hopefully many seasons, where my club, the Northern Miners sits precariously on top of its division with a half-game lead.
2) What was the first jersey/sports clothing item you ever owned?
The first, and still the best, is a now greatly shrunken wool Montreal Canadiens jersey, circa 1977.
Honourable mention goes to a second item, a Vancouver Whitecaps white rally towel. While not an item of clothing, it dates from the ‘Caps 1979 NASL win.
My recollection jibes with the wikipedia entry for the ‘Caps: “It was during this short period that soccer interest peaked in Vancouver. The Whitecaps attendance at Empire Stadium. grew to regular sellouts, at 32,000. The team also recorded two tracks, with "White is the Colour" becoming a hit on local radio during the run-up to their championship win.”
The adoption of the white towel by Canucks fans, following Roger Neilson’s famous rebellion of 1982, was actually the second time in Vancouver history that fans hauled out their bleached linens to show support for the home team.
3) Name your top five favorite sports books (fiction or non-fiction).
- Lions in Winter. Chrys Goyens’s and Allan Turowetz’s 1986 volume remains the definitive account of Les Habitants.
- Moneyball. Michael Lewis didn’t write a sports book at all, he wrote a great business book, not unlike his Liar’s Poker. But it's a great read, and a great story.
- Ball Four (Jim Bouton, Len Shecter) and Hustle (Michael Sokolove). The antidote to all those who seek to sanitize professional sports or hold athletes out as role models to youth. Sokolove’s book, as much as the Dowd report, will ensure Rose is, justifiably, kept out of the Hall.
- According to Hoyle (Richard L. Frey). Since Matt has introduced poker coverage to the site, this selection seems entirely justified. It’s also sentimental: my grandmother taught me to play poker during summer break in elementary school, and gave me this book. While my attempts to introduce poker in school failed, the game taught me the rudiments of probability. The first manifestation of this knowledge: a hand-crafted pachinko-style machine via which I obtained school-yard dominance.
- Baseball Prospectus. The current year’s guide is probably the most read sports-book in the house, referenced throughout the year as I ponder trades, acquisitions and free agents in my baseball leagues.
4) Name your ten favorite athletes of all time.
1. Barry Bonds: As any regular reader knows, I’m of the view that Bonds is one of the three most productive ballplayers of all time, and I have no interest in criticisms of his personality or dealings with the media, or selective advocacy of otherwise neglected moral and legal codes. It helps that he was the first player I drafted in my first baseball keeper league, in 2001, when other owners thought he was too old to bother with, and I was immediately rewarded with 73 homeruns and 177 walks. As regulars probably also know, I view 2004 as his greatest season ever, thanks to the 232 walks. Bonds greatest achievement is not the homeruns, it’s the walks and the minimal strikeouts. One of the greats, and we’re lucky to have seen him.
2. Bjorn Borg: the memories of his fifth straight Wimbledon win, against John McEnroe, are as vivid today as they were, gulp, 26 years ago. The match included one of the great tie-breakers of all time, a 34 point session to close out the fourth set. McEnroe prevailed, but could not repeat the trick, as Borg won the final set 8-6. (Check out the web-link to his fashion label for some unusual animated dancing underwear models, reminiscent of the Athens opening ceremonies.)
3. Martina Navratilova: Tennis fans in the late 70s/early 80s had a simple choice: you rooted for either Chris Evert (who I still call Evert-Lloyd) or Martina Navratilova. Given the choice between the all-American sweetheart and the sometimes diffident Czech expatriate who came-out in 1981, my allegiance came down firmly on the side of Navratilova. She did not disappoint, gaining a complete upper-hand over Evert-Lloyd in the early ‘80s, and holding off the grunting Stefi Graff in 1987. Her late-career resurgence as a Grand Slam winner at age 46 make her a role-model for conditioning and intelligence in any sport.
4 - 7. Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and Ken Dryden: My attachments to hockey were born in the late-70s. Never one to root for the underdog, and lacking a locally-popular team to root for (I was raised in northern B.C., where the Canucks and the city they came from were about as popular as Toronto; more importantly, the Canucks compiled a dismal 158-228 record from ’75-’80), I was naturally attracted to one of the greatest teams of all-time, the late-70s Canadiens.
Although their scoring records were eclipsed by the Oilers’ transformation of the NHL in the 1980s, the Canadiens remain models for NHL success. Their ’76-’77 season is, to my mind, the greatest ever played: the Habs lost only 8 times in 80 games, and led the league in goals for and against. The team conceded just 171 goals and scored 387, at a time when the league average was 265. By comparison, the ’83-’84 Oilers conceded 314 goals while scoring 446, but the league average had risen to 315 (putting their offence at 142% of league average, compared to the Habs’ 146%, and their defence at league average – 100% – compared to the Habs’ 135%).
8. Pedro Martinez: Where to begin? Pedro is one of the greatest right-handed pitchers in history, and an obvious first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. His ‘career years’ are too numerous to mention, but include four seasons (’97, ’99, ’00, ’03) where his *ERA+ topped 200. He holds the all-time record for adjusted ERA over a career (at 166, Martinez is comfortably ahead of his closest rival, Lefty Grove, whose career adjusted ERA is 148); his 2000 season set an all-time record for lowest WHIP in a single season; and his career WHIP is the third-lowest in history, behind two dead-ball era pitchers. Yes, Pedro is the dead-ball era brought back to life.
9. Alex Baumann: Winner of the 400 and 200-metre medleys at the 1984 summer Olympics, Baumann was Canada’s hero that summer. His swims set two new world records, and led to him, not Gretzky, being named Male Athlete of the Year in 1984. Canadian swimmers have yet to equal his performance, which was aided by the boycott of most Iron Curtain countries.
10. Alexandre Despatie: A prodigy, the 21-year-old Quebec diver won his first international medal at the age of 13, scoring perfect 10s. Like many Canadian athletes, Despatie has dominated at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships, and set new scoring records for the sport, but run into trouble at the Olympics. Given his youth and experience, Despatie will get to try again at Beijing 2010 and possibly London 2012. Regardless of the medals, Despatie remains god’s gift to the Speedo.
Honourable mentions: Joe Montana (I haven’t watched football since), teen star Nadia Comaneci (but not Tracy Austin), Bob Lenarduzzi (see the Whitecaps reference above), Ian Thorpe, Greg Maddux, and the entire 1992 and ’93 rosters of the Toronto Blue Jays, especially Roberto Alomar, Pat Borders and Joe Carter.
My list focused on athletes whose performance made a personal impression on me; an historical list would inevitably include Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson.
BELATED UPDATE DESTINED TO BE UNREAD: Matt's list has reminded me of a startling omission. I was spending so much time revelling in childhood joys at numbers 4 - 7 above, I forgot the great Patrick Roy. He's deserving of more than a spot on the list -- he merits his own column.
5) Name three athletes you secretly like but are ashamed to admit to for fear of ridicule (current or all-time).
There is only one, and he’s worth any other three put together: Diego Maradona.
Although I played soccer as a youth (what Canadian boy didn’t?), the Mexico ’86 World Cup was the first one I watched, while visiting the Expo in Vancouver. The ethics of Maradona’s first goal against England are deplorable (Alex Rodriguez’s slap-heard-round-the-world is cut from the same cloth), and given his later decline, his actions have taken on a literary-quality. But there is no denying the majesty of the second goal, now dubbed the Goal of the Century, or that he was the best player of his generation.
The ’86 Cup also firmly entrenched one of sports great motifs in my mind: the futility of rooting for England.