July 7, 2006
Phil Mickelson:
Shaken by U.S. Open ending? Hardly. He's one back at the Western Open after a 1st-round 4-under. (Tiger, however, still struggling; starts with 1-over.)
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
PUNCH.  SOMEONE.

Well, I reached a psychological breaking point Thursday night:

"Punch A.J."? I wanted to punch myself for each of those many votes I entered for Francisco Liriano that went for naught.

In this space, I have been a consistent and passionate advocate for the legitimacy of the "fan vote."

Yet how can I reconcile that with the embarrassing results from MLB's "Final Vote," where Liriano, arguably the top pitcher in the AL, was rejected for Pierzynski, the 5th-best guy on a 5-player ballot?

How can I believe in empowering fans with a vote that "counts" if fans are willing to dis baseball's most scintillating talent, suckered by a clever marketing gimmick?

I will never give up on my advocacy for the collective wisdom of fans being greater than opaque, condescending cabals of "experts."

But this result unquestionably becomes a leading case study for the "Fans Are Idiots" cranks who persistently argue to eliminate "enfanchisement."

All that said, I have to commend the White Sox marketing team for their ingenious "Punch A.J." campaign, playing off the fact that, well, no one really likes the guy.

For the second straight year, the Sox figured out how to leverage online and off-field PR to deliver their result. They took A.J.'s unlikability and flipped it to become his greatest asset.

Pierzynski didn't deserve to be an All-Star; the clever all-star White Sox marketing department manipulated him (and us fans) into turning him into one.

Finally: Whither Liriano? I can only hope that MLB remembers the 2003 Dontrelle Willis Precedent and gets him on the AL team as a late sub.

(Would it be too crazy to give him Manny's spot? Of course, that snubs Travis Hafner, who might have the best offensive résumé ever to not be an All-Star. He's leading the AL in OPS by 60 points, for crying out loud!)

Coincidentally, Liriano is scheduled to pitch tonight. The day the All-Star rosters were announced, he had a career-high 12 K's.

Let's hope a motivated Liriano channels this second snub into an even more dominant performance that makes fans realize the mistake they made.

All-Stars, Cont'd
More "Final Vote" snubs: Nomar ran away with the NL "Final Vote" balloting, but Milwaukee's Chris Capuano showed fans what they missed, earning his 10th win with a 6-hit shutout vs. Chicago.

With Pedro on the DL (hip) and not playing in the All-Star Game, Cappy deserves his spot as a sub. He's 2nd in W's; 5th in K's; 10th in ERA; and 2nd in K/BB ratio among pitchers with at least 100 IP.

Want another good reason to bring Capuano in? All-Stars Carpenter, Glavine, Arroyo and Schmidt are all scheduled to pitch Sunday, which would make their participation Tuesday spotty, at best.

(Hey, as long as the AL doesn't want Liriano, maybe the NL should ask the phenom if he wants to pitch for its team. How awesome would that be?)

HR Derby Update: Lance Berkman is in, joining David Wright, Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Troy Glaus and Jermaine Dye. But A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Jim Thome and Andruw Jones have declined to participate.

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Frank Thomas: Walk-off! A's reclamation hits 19th HR of '06
Adam Morrison: 'Stache earns his cash, signs with Bobcats
Cappie Pondexter: Sets WNBA rookie record with 35 pts in W
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Brian Shackelford: Reds P is arrested for sexual assault
Greg Maddux: Only 2nd time since '91 reaches ASB sub-.500
Eric Gagne: What elbow? Dodgers RP might need back surgery
 
That leaves one spot open on each league's side. If the AL won't put Hafner on the roster, at least they could ask him to be in the Derby. In the NL, breakout All-Star Matt Holliday is rumored to be a top option.

MLB Hit List
Redman: "Take that, haters!" KC's Mark Redman has borne the brunt of All-Star selection backlash this week, but he won his 6th in his last 7 starts and the Royals won their 12th game in their last 17. He's still not as worthy as Liriano, but he has earned new respect.

Anything you can do...: Jim Thome hit 2 HRs (including a grand slam) to tie his single-game career-high with 6 RBI and is now tied for the AL lead in HRs (29).

...I can do better: David Ortiz hit 2 HRs (including a grand slam) for 6 HRs in his last 6 games -- and is tied for the AL lead in HRs (29).

When talking NL Rookie of the Midseason (Quickie awards coming next week), Nats 3B Ryan Zimmerman is the only player in the argument who might challenge Marlins All-Star 2B Dan Uggla.

Zim had his 3rd game-winning hit in 3 weeks (2nd in 3 days) Thursday night and leads all NL rookies in hits, doubles and RBI. He's batting .285 with 12 HRs and 58 RBI (team-high .321 BA with RISP).

Dusty Baker Watch: Will this be Baker's final weekend in the dugout as the Cubs' manager? It's not all his fault, but someone needs to take the blame (and GM Jim Hendry ain't about to fire himself).

World Cup Final!
It took me a month, but I finally figured it out:

Making predictions for the World Cup is silly; matching the worldwide passion for the event, it's all about declarations of rooting interest: Who do you want to see win rather than who you think will win.

That said, I'm still torn between rooting for France to complete its unlikely run by a bunch of old dudes on their last legs and rooting for Italy, so I can apply the ol' transitive property to boost the U.S.

(And, of course, speaking of "last legs," given the massive match-fixing scandal in the Italian soccer league, this might be as good as it gets for Italy for a while.)

A championship for Italy's "blue wall" (which hasn't allowed a goal yet, except for that own goal vs. the U.S.) would be a fitting end for a tournament that needs only two 0-0 games this weekend to be the lowest-scoring Cup ever.

Can I just root for there to be a really cool U2 serenade in a "One Shining Moment"-style TV montage after the final is over?

Coming Monday: Resume your soccer apathy!

NBA Summer League
If one game in a summer league populated with rookies and journeymen can be used (laughably) as a proxy for regular-season success, I've got my early leader for NBA Rookie of the Year:

Randy Foye.

The combo guard from Villanova, who the Timberwolves acquired on draft night, made the biggest splash in Vegas: 23 points on 9-17 FG shooting.

What about Andrea Bargnani? The NBA draft's No. 1 overall pick had an impressive debut, scoring 20 on 7-11 FG in a Raptors win over the Wizards.

Northwestern
After Friday's tragic news of the death of Northwestern football coach Randy Walker, fans were left asking "What next?"

Bruce Feldman surveyed the choices and landed on promoting top assistant Jerry Brown. I don't question his analysis. But as a fan, I'd be deflated. Brown's tenure running the D was laughable.

My choice? 31-y.o. LB coach Pat Fitzgerald, a rising star who doubles as the greatest hero in NU football history. (Too young? Theo Epstein.)

(Update: )

ESPYS: Last Chance!
Speaking of fan vote, have you voted for the ESPYS yet? The deadline is midnight on July 9. Click here to vote.

I'll reveal my votes in the intriguing "cross-sport" categories early next week, but here are my picks in various individual-sport categories:

Best MLB: Pujols
Best NFL: Alexander
Best NBA: LeBron
Best NHL: Cam Ward
Best College (M): V. Young
Best College (F): C. Osterman
Best Golfer: Phil
Best Driver: Melanie Troxel
Best X (M): Shaun White
Best X (F): Hannah Teter

By far, the toughest pick was between Vince Young and Reggie Bush for Best Male College Athlete. Despite the fact that Bush is the most exciting player ever in college football, VY still has me dazzled from the Rose Bowl.

(That's foreshadowing for next week's analysis: Let's just say that if Young was in a category, I picked him to win it. I predict he'll rule the night as if they moved LA's Kodak Theater across town to Pasadena.)

Todd Sauerbrun:
Broncos punter reportedly tests positive for ephedra and will be suspended for 4 games, according to the Denver Post. A PUNTER needs enhancement?
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live
Page 2 Index
World Cup
 
World Cup "Golden Boot" Contenders
Gianluigi Buffon
Italy GK: 1 goal allowed
 
Zinedine Zidane
Unretirement good to Zizou
 
Thierry Henry
3 goals in France W's
 
Francesco Totti
Italy MF leads WC in assists
 
Miroslav Klose
But no cigar for WC top scorer
 

Wimby Watch: Amelie Mauresmo bounces Maria Sharapova in semis to face Justine Henin-Hardenne in the finals (and a rematch of Aussie Open final, when JHH had to retire).

More Wimbledon: Is it too much to ask to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battle in the men's final (in a rematch of this year's French final)? Rafa will learn that grass ain't clay.

OJ Mayo Update: On Day 1 of the ABCD summer camp, Mayo reportedly puts USC first on his list, but adds K-State and Florida. No commitment yet.

More World Cup: Sunday's ref for the finals will be Horacio Elizondo, who is not afraid to flash a red card; he has sent off England's Wayne Rooney.

Isiah: "My goal is to get to the playoffs." If that's his one-year U-turn expectation, he'll be collecting unemployment this time next year.

Pay for play: The average NFL player salary jumped 5 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to the annual salary database produced by USA Today.

In ESPN.com's "Ultimate NFL Depth Chart" voting, the Panthers crushed the Pats in the "Super Bowl" round. Foreshadowing for the season?



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