Sunday, July 24, 2005

What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?

Between the various terrorist bombings, the cavalcade of good old-fashioned domestic stupidity that has amazed me lately and my other half's birthday, I've neglected to address another vital, significant topic which requires periodic treatment on these pages. That topic, of course, is the multi-headed, multi-threaded beast otherwise known as the world of professional sports.

A ephemeral but necessary run-through should start with Lance Armstrong's attempt at winning another consecutive Tour de France victory. This makes twenty-four straight Tour de France wins for Mr. Subaru (actually it's seven). But while it's nice an American manages to win the Tour de France every year (the proverbial finger-flip to the frogs, er, French living in France and all over the world), it makes me wonder how Armstrong, a cancer survivor and a guy who's dating the flat-chested post-modern hippie herself, Sheryl Crow, could (and would) actually be bothered doing so much while perched on a bicycle. It's very telling, incidentally, that with the recent proliferation of doping (another word for athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs -- no, not viagra) that my first thought of Mr. Armstrong's incredible achievement is that he's got to be taking some sort of enhancement to be able to win a grueling race like the Tour de France so many times in a row.

In either case, I'd wish him luck, but after the way his foundation jerked me in connection with those little yellow rubber-band bracelets (and the fact that, barring someone pulling a Nancy Kerrigan on him), he's going to win his seventh consecutive (and final) Tour and then become yet another unemployed Texan (albeit one who sells Subaru and Gatorade).

So...what's next on the HoB glimpse into the world of pro sports today?

Gotta be the NHL.

Without going into Lockout-related specifics in these pages yet again, the 2004-05 NHL season was officially cancelled because the League's finances were too low (their TV revenue was almost one tenth of the three major US sports -- football, baseball and basketball) and their players were making way too much money. So after more than a season was lost, and a lot of bickering, finger-pointing and bullshit ensued, the NHL and the NHL Players Association finally agreed on a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). The new CBA was ratified by the owners on Friday, leaving the myriad questions surrounding the financial aspects of the game in a soon-to-be extinct limbo. The main components of the new CBA, in a nutshell, are a revenue-anchored salary cap (not merely a salary cap for each team but one which shifts according to annual league revenue) and a variety of new rule changes (like decreasing the size of goalie equipment) which are designed to create more open space on the ice and therefore more opportunities to increase the most exciting part of the game -- scoring). As always, the next-to-hardest part for the "new NHL" will be for all 30 teams to get their respective houses in order financially so that each roster is within the confines of the salary cap and ready to proceed once the League starts up again. The hardest part will be to combat the collective, post-Lockout yawn this nation expresses every time the NHL is mentioned, let alone televised.

I've received e-mail from people who have asked me why I haven't addressed the NHL returning to "active duty" sooner, and I think, despite the fact that I am a die-hard hockey fan and player, the key is that the NHL's melt-down (pardon the pun) is sad and disappointing. Just as my conscience sadly questions Lance Armstrong's mettle vs. his pre-ride chemical preparation, watching the NHL flush an entire season down the toilet -- for really no good reason that I can think of -- really disappointed me on a number of levels. Yes, the recently-implemented changes (not merely the financial ones) needed to be made, and I rationally understand why the lockout was necessary (sort of). But they lost an entire season. This sport is sadly lacking in its fan base, unless you're talking to people in Canada. It's not a hot ticket to go see the New York Rangers lose a lackluster, boring game of hockey. And yet it costs $400 for a pair of tickets behind the Ranger bench. How many people in their right mind will drop that kind of money to go watch a hockey game? And now that people have ably replaced hockey in their day-to-day lives (a lot of hockey fans, apparently, took up knitting and crocheting during the lockout, I'm told) I wonder how many of those MIA fans will, now that their sport has returned, happily return and pay the reduced ticket prices to watch the sport they grew to live without.

Keep in mind, baseball and football also have logged lots of days waging CBA Civil War as well; the fans returned to both of those sports and everything worked out. The problem is there are relatively very few hockey fans, and many of those cannot afford to drop $600 to take their family of hour to see the Canadiens vs. the Penguins on a Wednesday night. Aside from the fact that the Canadian dollar is worth so little, hockey went from being a blue-collar sport to being glitzed up and depicted as a white-collar luxury. It's not. Unless the Rangers are perennial contenders like the Yankees, people in New York are largely disinterested in watching the on-ice entertainment, unless it's Barney and Friends doing the skating. So my concern these days is what the NHL will do to survive its first few post-Lockout months, and I genuinely wonder -- despite the millions of dollars at stake -- if it can legitimately escape the proverbial, self-inflicted death sentence of a lost season.

The last time I addressed the status of the New York Yankees, I was, amazedly, expressing satisfaction over the fact that this $200-million team managed to eke into first place in the American League Eastern Division. Since then, the Yankees have taken a sorta-kinda nosedive and have dropped three consecutive games, which has not only doused their first-place status but has reminded me that this team won't be doing much come playoff time. I live and die with the Yankees, so perhaps I'm over-dramatizing their plight; clearly, it seems to me that they're, as Billy Joel wrote, simply "running on ice." Rationally, I understand that this season's ups and downs (mostly downs) are simply a result of an aging, overpaid, ineffective, inconsistent starting pitching staff, and a collection of carpetbaggers in the bullpen, combined with a variety of mediocre, overpaid position players, topped off by an owner and an administration (GM Brian Cashman and Yankee President Randy Levine) who really don't know how to assemble a winning team. But it still pisses me off that a $200 million team can't string together a series of wins and actually play as well as a team being paid one eighth of their annual salary. There remains lots of baseball, but if the Yankees don't do something quick (despite another week remaining before the expiration of the MLB Trading Deadline, they publicly suggest there's not much going on in the world of possible trades), they're going to be flushed down the toilet. And while I can accept them losing to a better team, it makes me sad to watch the Yankees themselves doing the flushing.

In brief, I have been watching the ongoing saga of Danica Patrick, the 24-year-old female from Phoenix, AZ, who is gaining significance in the world of auto racing. Patrick is apparently a very talented driver (insert women drivers joke here), and I am glad to see the ol' boy network slowly but surely crumbling around us. However, it's ironic that a sport in which its participants are, largely speaking, covered head to toe for the majority of the contest(s) is gaining in popularity since Ms. Patrick, who has posed in very little clothing in the pages of Maxim Magazine, began her notable, impressive rise to the top. I'm not suggesting Ms. Patrick is unattractive: to the contrary, I think she's quite tasty. But I wonder how much the world of racing has really gained as a result of Ms. Patrick's abilities as opposed to her boobs. Men, like the nation in general, are a fickle bunch; what's hot today is tomorrow's has-been. And I seem to perceive a slow but steady shift for the world of racing, one that was on the cusp of front-page notoriety, slowly but surely returning to the back pages of the sports section once again.

And I wonder how much the sport would have grown if Ms. Patrick had accepted the rumored Playboy offer and actually posed nude.

That's all the time I have for today, and I see the checkered flag waving up ahead. I've got to attend to my other half's day-after-birthday needs, some work and some apartment cleaning, and if I have any time and/or energy remaining, I will watch the Yankees play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They might have lost three straight, but the one constant in an otherwise ever-changing universe is the fact that, every night, I can vicariously compete along with the Yankees and stand with them, win or lose.

If they lose again, I won't be too happy. But then again, you already knew that.

1 comment:

LisaB said...

Hey, no picking on "Unemployed Texans!"

We are all one ;-)