Jam Shots – May 29th, 2011

I have been a college “graduate” for exactly three weeks now. But just yesterday I was finally able to sneak out of my full-time job to catch an Oakland A’s game with my family. My first ballgame of the summer was a success; a 6-2 victory for the A’s. My passion for sports has never waned, but going to the game rekindled in me a desire to couple that passion with writing, my other favorite thing to do. If I’m going to be a writer, might as well practice, right?

My Mom always suggests that if I want my blog to attract more followers, earn more money from advertisements, etc., then I need to stick to one topic and report on it in regular intervals. So even though I leave for a two-month voyage around the Mediterranean in less than three weeks, I’d like to take these next few Sundays to start doing just that. Look for Jamblin’ Man’s weekly sports report, posted every Sunday morning. Here’s the first edition, and I could not have asked for any more exciting, controversial topics to reflect on for my inaugural session of Jam Shots.

Jam Shots, Episode 1

*Basketball*

Scottie Pippen, former Ron to Michael Jordan’s Harry, said on ESPN Radio yesterday that LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time:

“Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game, but I may go as far as to say LeBron James is probably the greatest player to ever play the game.” – Pippen

Needless to say, his comments shocked the sports world and infuriated a certain analyst. After almost immediate backlash, Pippen did back off the original comments with a new Tweet, claiming he meant only that James could potentially be as good as MJ someday. Sure, but he will never measure up. The minute that LeBron decided to take his talents to South Beach, he assured he would have a tarnished legacy. Even if LeBron wins 6 or more championships, wins more MVP awards, scores more points than Jordan, whatever…he will have done it with two other super star teammates. That fact alone makes me believe that LeBron will never be considered a greater basketball player than MJ, let alone the greatest of all time. He’ll be mentioned among the greats, no doubt – but it’s going to take more than a few rings and a lot of hype to surpass MJ as the greatest player of all time.

For the record (and for all you LeBron haters – yeah, I’m looking at you Ian Laettner), James agrees with me:

“Michael is an unbelievable player,” James said Saturday. “I got a long way, a long way, to be mentioned as one of the all-time greats. Not even just Jordan. It’s a lot of great players that have played in this league — Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. All these guys with multiple rings. Bill Russell, all these guys that have pioneered this game for me and [ Dwyane Wade]. So I’m gracious, humbled by Scottie’s comments, especially with him being a teammate of [Jordan’s] and seeing Michael on a day-to-day basis. As far as me, I don’t know. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m better than Jordan or I’m not better.”

Speaking of LeBron’s hand-picked all-star team, the Miami Heat are back in the finals, with a rematch of the 2006 series against the Dallas Mavericks. I might get tarred and feathered for writing this, but I hope the Heat win. Sure, Dirk deserves a ring, but I’d like to see LeBron & Co. shut all the skeptics up once and for all. I actually think it’ll be a better series than most people expect, but I still don’t see how the Mavs can pull the upset. I’m not sure if Nowitzki can be stopped by anyone, but if he drops 40 points per game in the Finals, the 75 points James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are going to combine to average will render that stat pointless. Either way it will be an entertaining series, but just don’t be surprised when the Miami Heat are celebrating a championship (and probably the first of many) in a couple weeks.

One last note as far as basketball is concerned (I can’t help myself) – for all you people sippin’ that LeBron haterade, take a peek at this: In the final 2 minutes of the Heat’s clinching game 5 win in Chicago, James had 8 points (two huge 3-pointers), an assist on Wade’s 4-point play, a rebound and a block of Derrick Rose’s three-point attempt at the buzzer. Back in game 2, he scored nine of the Heat’s final 12 points in a win that evened the series at 1-1. And against the Celtics in games 4 and 5, he put them away when he scored 11 of the Heat’s final 13 points in game 4 and the final 10 points in the clinching game 5.

Still not clutch? Fine, one last stat – Only five players in NBA history have tallied 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in one season: John Havlicek and Michael Jordan each did it twice, Larry Bird did it three times, and Oscar Robertson has done it six times, tied for most all time with 26-year-old LeBron James. Yikes. Maybe Pippen is on to something…

*Baseball*

Before I get to the topic we all know I’m going to dissect to shreds, I just want to throw one general baseball complaint out there. I was watching the Dodgers get dominated by the Marlins tonight on MLBNetwork, and in the 3rd inning after Hiroki Kuroda walked to lead off and Rafael Furcal followed with a single, the Dodgers had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Here’s the situation – they were already down 2-0 and had Casey Blake, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp coming up (in other words, the 2-3-4 hitters). This seems like a no-brainer situation in which Blake should bunt and put the runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out and two of the most dangerous hitters in the league coming up. Instead, manager Don Mattingly let him swing away…and swing away he did, at three straight breaking balls. Unfortunately, he didn’t actually make contact on those swings. All the Dodgers ended up getting from the rally was an RBI double from Kemp.

My point is, this has been an annoying trend I’ve noticed in the last couple seasons. Major League Baseball players can’t bunt, and even if they can, the managers don’t call them. A few teams still play some great small ball, but it’s mostly all but disappeared. It’s very frustrating…I’ve always said if I was a manager, I’d make sure every single one of my hitters could bunt effectively. I’m not saying calling a bunt would have helped the Dodgers win, but their chances to score more runs in that inning and possibly swing the momentum would have been greatly increased.

Maybe Bud Selig should consider changing the official rules to say that any time there is a bunt situation, the batter must attempt it at least once. No, no. That would be almost as ridiculous as…

…the incredible debate and controversy that has ensued since Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins plowed over San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey for what proved to be the winning run in the 12th inning earlier this week. Posey’s leg and ankle were badly injured on the play and he may now miss the rest of the year; a huge blow to the defending world champions. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the link below (unless you don’t like human bones and ligaments twisting in awkward, uncomfortable directions…):

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15201655

The real story is not the young star’s injury. It is the dispute that has exploded since he went down. Almost immediately following the game, tons of people (Giants fans mostly, understandably) were up in arms about the path Cousins took to the plate, the way he “launched” himself at Posey and the general danger catchers are in when blocking the plate. Soon thereafter, those people were calling for a rule change that would protect catchers in collisions. I heard everything from outlawing that type of play completely, to setting guidelines for when and how the runner can slide into home. So let’s settle a few things here.

First of all, there is no reason to blame Cousins. It was not a dirty play or a cheap shot. He did not come in with the intent to injure Posey. He came in with the idea that if he scores, the Marlins take the lead in a game that pitted two playoff contenders. The guy immediately went to Posey when he realized he was hurt and made sure he was okay. His eyes moistened in an interview the next day when faced about questions involving Posey’s injury. Anyone who thinks that Cousins went in on a cheap shot in the collision is a moron. Buster Posey would have done the same thing if he was the runner; it’s how the game is played.

Second, why did it take an injury to a popular player to get the discussion on rule-changing rolling? Last year, Cleveland Indians’ catcher Carlos Santana was knocked out for the year on a play at the plate and nobody even blinked, despite Santana’s own star potential. Yesterday, the Astros’ Humberto Quintero was run into on a force play at home plate and is now on the DL with an ankle injury and not a word about the runner was mentioned. It’s because Posey is a household name. If Eli Whiteside, the Giants catcher-formerly-known-as-backup had been in the game instead of Posey, the fans shrug it off and move on.

Giants fans, I sympathize with you. Posey is the heart and soul of that team, and he’s a fantastic player. But please do not mistake bad fortune and disappointment for malice and an inept rulebook. It was very unfortunate that Posey fumbled the ball on that throw home, which led to his positioning in the collision. It is horribly unlucky that his foot stuck awkwardly when he was bowled over, causing the injury.

At the same time, he was blocking the plate on a game-breaking play and Cousins has all the right in the world to do anything he can to score that run. When the throw beats him by two full strides, he is going to do what any other hard-nosed ball player would and run into the catcher and try to knock the ball out of his glove. Regardless of whether or not he knows Posey has dropped the ball, if he tries to hook slide around him on the assumption that Posey missed the throw, and he is wrong? Then he’s easily tagged out with a backhand swipe, and the game is still tied, not to mention Cousins is scolded by his manager for not running over the catcher.

Now, I can totally understand people being upset that Posey is out, that the Giants lost the game, even at Cousins for being the one to run over Posey. But what I can’t understand is the sudden worldwide movement to change a rule that has been established in baseball since the beginning of time because of one injury. Part of the game is the collision at home plate. Otherwise, the runner has absolutely no chance if the throw beats him, to score a run that could literally change a game, which can change a season, which can change a franchise, which can change history!

Posey and Bruce Bochy both advocated for the rule to be “looked at.” They think there should be some sort of measure in place to protect a catcher (as if shin guards, a chest pad, a mask and helmet weren’t enough already…) on plays at the plate. I cannot respect those opinions, especially from two guys I thought were diehard baseballers. Sometimes middle infielders get injured by sliding base runners trying to break up a double play. Should we outlaw sliding? Or maybe allowing a team to turn two is excessive. A few times a year, a batter gets plunked in the head by a 90 mile-per-hour fastball. Is pitching too dangerous for the game? How about hitting? My advice: don’t overreact to this situation and just move on.

If we are being literal, Bruce and Buster, your guy was technically the one breaking the rules (rule 7.06) on that play. Neither guy is to blame, in my opinion. But everyone needs to move on and realize that home plate collisions always have been and always should be a part of the game of baseball. Maybe Posey should take his time on the DL to learn from future Hall-of-Famer Ivan Rodriguez, or even Whiteside, who made this play the day after Posey went down (and against a much, MUCH bigger base runner).

Bottom line, if Posey and Bochy’s cries get this rule changed, I will have lost all respect for them. You would never hear Pudge or Jason Kendall or any other badass backstop complain about a hustle play like that. That said, I hope Posey heals because he is fun to watch. But maybe the Giants should consider moving him to the outfield or first base. If you can’t stand the heat, get outta the kitchen, right?

*Other Sports*

Hockey – Are the San Jose Sharks the biggest choke artists in NHL history? Good thing I don’t care enough about the sport to…well, care.

Soccer – The UEFA Champions League Final was today, pitting two storied clubs against each other: Manchester United vs. Barcelona. Lionel Messi and David Villa scored second half goals to clinch the Cup for Barca, and watching that game made me realize how much I will always love the sport of soccer. If you can find them, check out the highlights of the goals by Messi and Villa (Wayne Rooney’s goal for Man U wasn’t too shabby either!). I never thought I’d see the day when SportsCenter led off their show with a soccer highlight!

Football – I hate the f***ing lockout.

That’s all for now. Check back next Sunday for more Jam Shots!

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