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Friday, June 16, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: June 15, 2006

The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

The "Axis of All-Stars" continues to have a stranglehold on the AL All-Star voting, based on the latest balloting.

Seven of eight positions are held by either the Yankees or Red Sox. Some might be worthy; some are obviously there because of the logo on their caps.

We've reached a critical point: With All-Star balloting closing on June 29, the time is now for fans to do something to break the Axis. It's your patriotic duty as baseball fans.

I present my "AL-ternatives": Seven players from other teams who you can feel good about voting for, ahead of the Axis:

C Current: Jason Varitek
Yes, with that mighty .257 BA

AL-ternative: Joe Mauer
Leads all of MLB in batting
(More: R. Hernandez, I-Rod)

1B Current: David Ortiz
Behind Thome in HR, R, BA...

AL-ternative: Jim Thome
Best pickup of the offseason
(More: P. Konerko, T. Hafner)

2B Current: Robinson Cano
Classic "he's a Yankee" pick

AL-ternative: Jose Lopez
Leads all AL 2Bs in HR, RBI
(More: T. Iguchi, M. Grudz.)

SS Current: Derek Jeter
(OK, maybe he's deserving...)

AL-ternative: Miguel Tejada
Same tools, more bang (16 HRs)
(More: C. Guillen, M. Young)

3B Current: Alex Rodriguez
Does anyone really want this?

AL-ternative: Troy Glaus
Canadian power import (19 HRs)
(More: H. Blalock, T. Wigg'n)

CF Current: Johnny Damon
170 OPS points behind Wells

AL-ternative: Vernon Wells
And he eats up the Red Sox
(More: Sizemore, Granderson)

LF Current: Manny Ramirez
Hot recently, but slow start

AL-ternative: Nick Swisher
Surprise! More HR and RBI
(More: I. Suzuki, A. Rios)

By the way, the lone position player not from the Yankees or Red Sox is Vlad Guerrero. He offers hope: He is only 6,000 votes from leading all AL players in total votes. Keep voting for Vlad! Break the Northeast hegemony!

Now, before it's out of hand: Get out there and vote for the AL-ternatives. Use mine, use yours, use anyone, as long as they're not from New York or Boston. Please: For the good of the game!

NBA Finals G4
Which version of Game 3 do you buy into, as it relates to tonight's Game 4?

Version 1: Advantage Mavs.

Everything broke right for the Heat: Home-court advantage, Wade scoring, Shaq hitting free throws, Payton hitting anything, Dirk missing that free throw at the end, the perception of friendly officiating. Still, the Heat barely won. The Mavs know they can win tonight.

Version 2: Advantage Heat.

Everything might have broken right, but you can't fake a 22-7 run to end the game, just as you can't fake the chokery that happens when you blow a 13-point lead in the final 6 minutes. The Mavs have been psychologically wounded, with effects that will last at least through Game 4.

Unfortunately for the Heat, there's a hybrid version: That despite Dwyane Wade's 42, his sore knee from a Game 3 collision with Shaq will prove too difficult to overcome. Without Wade's effectiveness, "Version 2" will be hard to replicate.

Wade insists he plans to start, and maybe his noticeably achy walk yesterday was a ruse, but the more realistic outlook is that his abilities will be minimized by the injury and Miami is in trouble.

(And don't point to the Eastern Conference Game 6 close-out to bolster the argument that Wade is a gamer: The knee ain't the flu.)

U.S. Open Begins
Tiger, Phil or the Field? That's what golf has been reduced to at the start of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York. (The "Big Four?" A stale notion, if it ever existed.)

Tiger is the sentimental favorite, given his return from mourning his father's death/racing midget cars in Australia. Don't let the "Win on Father's Day!" story line fool you; I bet he's a little rusty.

Phil is the crowd favorite; he always is in New York, ever since his failed Open at Bethpage Black in 2002. He emerged as the most popular player in the game, even though his "loveable loser" tag is long gone.

The Field is the smart bet: Defending champ Michael Campbell has the right attitude: "Let Tiger and Vijay and Phil have all the attention, and I can just do what I did last year. Fantastic, bring it on."

But in the end, if it isn't Tiger or Phil in the hunt on Sunday, does it really matter anyway? Casual fans will simply drop their interest. That's a scary prospect for the sport.

MLB Hit List
Unit ejected: If Randy Johnson may have lost some effectiveness this season, he apparently hasn't lost his attitude.

He was tossed for throwing inside at Eduardo Perez, both in apparent retaliation for Jason Johnson's tight pitching and probably because Perez owns Unit (.310 lifetime, including 4 HR in 29 AB.)

Braves: Things get worse. If you're looking for even more reason this (finally) isn't the Braves' year, last night's 10th-inning loss to the Marlins by a walk-off throwing error should do the trick.

300/300 Club grows: In the past week, two players have joined the 300 HR/300 Steal club. First was Reggie Sanders and yesterday, Steve Finley (300/316) joined the select group, which includes Bonds, Mays and Dawson.

Bonds Watch: 717. Speaking of Bonds, he shook of the rust of Tuesday's hitless return after sitting out 5 games (abs) with his 717th HR. As with every HR since, oh, 714, no one really cares.

Meanwhile, Bonds said that because of his abs strain, he has to wear a girdle. (I'm going to stop typing there so you can enjoy laughing at your desk without further comment.)

Hit of the Night: Red Sox ballboy Nate Reese, who clocked an idiot fan who decided it would be fun to run onto the field and slide into home in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's Sox-Twins game (the Twins won 8-1). Reese played college rugby and wrestled in high school. Nice work! (via Boston Globe)

Guillen: Vigilante?
Ozzie the Vigilante? Did Guillen send rookie RP Sean Tracey into the game last night specifically to plunk Hank Blalock in retaliation for the Rangers plunking A.J. Pierzynski ... twice?

Guillen won't admit it, but there were telltale signs: Scenes of him screaming in the dugout after Tracey merely threw one pitch inside to Blalock, then got him out conventionally. Tracey was promptly yanked, driven nearly to tears in the dugout.

The first rule of MLB plunking is that you don't talk about MLB plunking. But with Tracey weepy (and reportedly being sent back to AAA), it looks like the most aggressive payback of the game was Guillen on his rookie reliever.

Big Ben Update
Ben Roethlisberger's jaw was not wired shut, meaning he should be able to eat a "soft" diet, but at least it's not a liquid diet. It also makes it easier for him to apologize profusely to his teammates and fans for being an idiot for riding his motorcycle without a helmet.

Meanwhile: So much for the start of his Chunky career; Campbell's filmed its latest ad without him. The ad was to star Ben and his stepmother, Brenda, but instead featured the Steelers' linemen. (via Pittsburgh Tribune Review)

Chunky Soup officially replaces Madden as hot NFL jinx.

Mark Cuban Watch
Did you catch Cuban on Letterman last night? The Mavs owner was wearing... Ugh!

A Ben Roethlisberger jersey?!

Now, I'm all for rooting for a full recovery for Big Ben, but can't Cuban show his solidarity by donating some money to educating motorcycle riders about the importance of wearing a helmet (and riding with a license?)

Cuban also managed to take a funny potshot at Steve Nash:

"You know Steve's a great guy and I love him to death, but why couldn't he play like an MVP for us? Jason Terry took his place, and hey, look where we are, and he's home watching."

U.S. Soccer ... Rules?
Forget the shoddy result: U.S. Soccer is a bona fide TV event and the World Cup is an online sensation.

Monday's game vs. the Czechs was ESPN2's highest-rated show of the year -- and its highest-rated soccer game ever (and that was for an afternoon game).

Meanwhile, Monday was's 8th-highest traffic day ever, not surprising since the game was during the work day. (Call it the "First Thursday Effect" you see on the first day of the NCAA Tournament.)

Critics and cynics can continue to rip the World Cup, but fans in the U.S. obviously have caught the bug.

(However, it remains to be seen whether Monday's flop will affect how many people are paying attention to the U.S. game vs. Italy on Saturday.)

World Cup Today
Rooting against Cinderella Trinidad and Tobago in favor of imperialistic England is a lot like rooting against George Mason in favor of Florida in the Final Four.

So I should be in great shape when I join Page 2 World Cup blogger Michael Davies today to watch the Three Lions take on the Soca Warriors in an overwhelmingly pro-England tavern.

My rooting interest?
Soca Warriors!
Let's see Wayne Rooney play!