Exit Sandman

In the days and weeks leading up to the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the narrative presented by sports media in Boston and around the country was that of a once great event, that has plummeted in TV ratings and is no longer something sports fans get excited about. They said making the outcome of the game determine home field advantage in the World Series. They said baseball had fallen out of the national discussion and would never catch the NFL or NBA again. They said kids these days don’t have the attention span for a sports without a time limit. In the eight inning on Tuesday night, the great Mariano Rivera reminded us why we used to love the Midsummer Classic.

Mo Rivera is a living legend. He is the greatest closer in the game has ever seen. He is a five team World Series champion who has played his entire major league career for the New York Yankees. He is the last player to wear the number 42, after MLB stopped issuing it in 1997 to honor Jackie Robinson. He is easily the best baseball player his homeland of Panama has ever produced.  As a lifelong Red Sox fan, he was always a player I was afraid to see come into the game because I knew what he was capable of–a very different kind of fear than what I get whenever the Red Sox’ closer of the day takes the mound. Mo is a model of consistency, and a true professional in every sense of the word. He, along with Derek Jeter, was always yearned  to see in a Red Sox uniform, and as America rolled on like an army of steamrollers, with Rivera marking the time (enough with the baseball cliches already!) he became impossible for even the most passionate Sox fan to hate. It seemed like he would pitch forever, which is why it was such a shock when he announced this spring that this season would be his last.

Credit needs to be given to American League (and Detroit Tigers) manager Jim Leyland for deciding ahead of time that Mo would pitch the eighth inning no matter what. With the National League being the home team, there was a chance that the game could end before the bottom of the ninth, and Rivera might not have gotten this last hurrah. In the bottom of the eighth, Mo’s entrance song “Enter Sandman” began playing and Rivera was the lone player to take the field. Players from both leagues stayed in the dugouts to give him a standing ovation. Yankees fans and Mets fans alike were on their feet to salute one of the all time greats and genuine class acts the National Pastime has ever seen. Though an international superstar and an icon in North America’s largest city, Rivera never let his fame get to him. He tipped his hat to the crowd, appreciating them as much as they appreciated him. He recorded a perfect inning and ended his All-Star career with an unforgettable moment. That’s baseball. That’s what it’s all about.

The reason we still have an All-Star Game is for moments like this. With cable TV and the Internet, you could watch and follow any team from anywhere in the country if you wanted to, so it’s no longer the once chance to see the stars from the other league. It is, however, a chance for legends to be appreciated with the whole world watching. My favorite All-Star moments as a kid were when Ted Williams threw out the first pitch at Fenway in 1999, when Pedro Martinez struck out five of the six juiced up batters he faced that same year, and when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run in his All-Star swan song in 2001. Rivera’s final All-Star Game ranks right up there. The game also does a great job of showcasing the next generation of superstars. Rivera, Jeter, and David Ortiz will not be around forever, but there is a lot for baseball fans to be excited about with guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado taking their places.

Thanks for the memories, Mo. The game is losing a true great, and I’m sad to see you go. Then again, I never tried to hit your cutter, so I’m sure most of the hitters in the American League don’t feel the way I do.

Lincecum’s No-No

Last night San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim “The Freak” Lincecum threw the first no hitter of his already impressive career against the lowly San Diego Padres. Lincecum is a two time National League Cy Young Award winner as well as a two time World Series Champion who has spent his entire big league career in San Fran. Although he has not been the same dominant force that he was earlier in his career, this no-no is a strong statement that he’s not done yet and can still fire bullets.

The easy comparison to Lincecum in baseball history is Pedro Martinez. Pedro and Timmy were both little skinny guys who could really throw heat. Both of them made baseball more exciting every time they took the mound. Pedro, was for a five or six year period, the most dominant pitcher in baseball. What was perhaps most impressive about him was that the little guy did his best work in the height of the Steroid Era where the home run balls were flying like a flock of pigeons getting chased by a dog or a small child. Pedro couldn’t pitch at that level forever as his electric delivery really did a number on his throwing shoulder. Since winning the Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher in 2008 and 2009, and winning the World Series in 2010, I figured it would only be a matter of time before The Freak’s body started to break down. In 2012, when the Giants won their second World Series since moving to San Francisco, Lincecum had struggled as a starter in the regular season and was limited to pitching out of the bullpen during the playoffs. While he helped bolster the Giants as a whole, and made their relief squad the best bullpen in all of baseball, it sent up a red flag to any team who might be interested in signing him as a free agent in 2013.

In the no-hitter, Lincecum threw a career high 148 pitches and struck out nine batters. His 5-9 record and 4.26 earned run average have been less than stellar this season, but he is also sixth in the National League in strikeouts, so his record could be attributed to the Giants’ poor performance as a whole during the first half of the season. This could be the game that revitalizes Lincecum’s career, as well as the Giants’ season.

The defending champs are currently seven games below .500, but have won three straight. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, and the combination of the winning streak, the no hitter and the upcoming All Star break, where Bruce Bochy will be managing the National League squad, this could be the spark that the Giants need to go on a run. Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint, and these Giants have certainly been there before. There are more holdovers from last year’s Wold Series team than any defending champions in since free agency began in Major League Baseball. It’s still way to early to count Frisco’s comeback kids out just yet.

Casting Crow’s Eye

Warning: The following contains spoilers from the first three seasons of the HBO series Game of Thrones as well as spoilers and speculation regarding George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series that it is based on.

Congratulations to the makers of Game of Thrones for creating a Sunday ritual as obsessive and addicting as the National Football League, but with an even longer offseason. Winter is here, and the offseason is dark and full of terrors. Season Three wrapped up over a month ago but there’s still nine months or so of anticipation and speculation before we get to see Westeros once again.

There are two kinds of Game of Thrones fans: those who have read the books, and those who have not. The two communities have trouble coexisting because one knows more than the other, and yet, like Jon Snow, they both know nothing. We the book readers, still don’t know how it will end, who Jon’s parents are, or even what the name of the series is supposed to mean. As we patiently wait for George R.R. Martin to feed us more knowledge, we also try and figure out who we would like to see playing characters from the later books.

With the recent announcement of Pedro Pascal being cast as Prince Oberyn Martell, also known as The Red Viper of Dorne, we now turn our attention to Euron Greyjoy. Euron, who is often referred to as “Crow’s Eye” is the mysterious uncle of Theon and Asha (renamed Yara on the show) Greyjoy, and younger brother of King Balon Greyjoy, the king of Salt and Rock and Lord of the Iron Islands. He is handsome, clever, brutal, and despised by everyone in his family. It is unclear when he will appear on the show, since the Ironborn timeline on the show has deviated from the books, but it’s never too early to start picking favorites to play the role.

While Theon is being tortured at the Dreadfort, his father Balon is still trying way to hard to be relevant in Westrosi politics. Balon was a distant fifth in the War of Five Kings, but has moved up to third place by virtue of still being alive. I expect in the fourth or fifth season that we will get to see more of the Iron Islands and learn more about their interesting, brain damaged viking religious rituals.

After some thought, the only actor I can see in the role of the Crow’s Eye is Dominic West. I was really bummed out when he said he turned down a Game of Thrones role that was shooting in Iceland last season. Iceland is where they shoot North of the Wall, so most people on the Internet believed he was considered to play Mance Rayder before they cast Ciaran Hinds to play the King Beyond the Wall. West is no stranger to HBO, having brilliantly played the closest thing The Wire had to a protagonist during his five seasons as Baltimore homicide detective Jimmy McNulty. McNulty was one of the great anti-heroes in the history of television, too smart for his own good, a nightmare to supervise, a drunk and a bad father, but also shrewd and charming when he wanted to be. I’ve talked myself into this one. I would love to see Bushy Top trying to rule the Ironborn and get some dragons of his own and whatever else he may have up his sleeve. Why does it take so long for this show to come back!?! I can’t wait.

Papi to Cooperstown?

With Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz setting a new record for career hits as a designated hitter, thoughts of Big Papi one day being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame have danced in the heads of Sox fans everywhere. Ortiz has been a fixture in the BoSox lineup for a decade and his frequent and timely hitting throughout his tenure in Boston, most notably in the 2004 playoffs when he helped the Red Sox win their first championship since 1918, has made him a fan favorite. In this decade of dominance that the Boston sports teams have enjoyed, David Ortiz has been arguably the most popular individual athlete in the city, with the possible exception of some guy named Tom Brady. Normally with a guy like this, I would be a lot more comfortable saying that he is a definite Hall of Famer, but baseball is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

The biggest thing preventing Ortiz from getting to Cooperstown is the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). They are the voting body that determines who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the MVP, Cy Young Award, and Rookie of the Year. The BBWAA has yet to vote a full time DH into the Hall, despite compelling cases for Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines. They, as a whole, seem to think that the DH position is not an important enough because it didn’t exist before 1973, and still doesn’t exist in the National League. To me, the designated hitter issue is the same as the Ray Guy argument with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ray Guy is the best punter in the history of the NFL, but people think the punter position isn’t important enough to the game of football to let the best player of the position into the Hall.

The other issue the BBWAA has with Ortiz and players of his generation is the whole steroid thing. This is the issue that really bothers me with the baseball writers. To be a Hall of Fame voter, you need to cover the major leagues as a beat reporter for at least ten years. These reporters were as oblivious as the rest of us in the late 90s, and since then, they’ve overreacted by keeping some of the best players the game has ever seen on the grounds of morality.

Admit it. The Steroid Era was a lot of fun.

Really? Steroids in baseball needs to be a moral issue? Come on. I first got into baseball with the 1998 season. The Red Sox made the playoffs on the back of Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, and Tom “Flash” Gordon. Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. decided to take a day off that summer, ending a streak of 2,632 consecutive games played–502 more than Lou Gehrig. In the National League, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and passed the single season home run record of 61 dingers held by Roger Maris since 1961. Sosa finished the season with 66 and McGwire hit 70. All of this was four years removed from the World Series getting cancelled when the players went on strike in 1994. Heading into 1995, interest in the National Pastime was at an all time low. Baseball players, owners, and writers alike needed a season like 1998 or the could lose an entire generation of young fans. Steroids saved baseball for a time. It made the game fun again after decades of labor unrest. While regulating steroids now is a good idea, punishing the players that used what was available to them to be better at their jobs isn’t the right way of going about it either. Sure, everyone was juiced up, but it was a fun ride and you’re lying to yourself if you think it ruined baseball.

There have been far worse stains on baseball than performance enhancing drugs. Baseball had rampant gambling problems throughout its history. The 1919 World Series was fixed by the soft-spoken New York kingpin from Boardwalk Empire. When Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, he did so without ever facing a black or Hispanic pitcher. When Cy Young won 511 games, he did so without ever facing a black or Hispanic hitter. Josh Gibson should have been in the discussion with Ruth, Young, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson as one of the best players in Major League Baseball’s early history, but he isn’t because he was never allowed to play in the National or American League because of the color of his skin. Gambling, racism, and segregation are much greater black eyes on baseball’s history than guys bulking up and hitting home runs for a few years.

Now the BBWAA is picking and choosing the guys they think did or did not use steroids. It should be based on who the best players were, regardless of the era they played in. Any Hall of Fame that admits Craig Biggio before they let Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz is a joke. Hopefully, they will see the error of their ways before it alienates baseball fans.

Obligatory Doctor Who Casting Speculation Post

The eleven incarnations of the Doctor that have appeared on the show so far.

With the announcement a little while ago that Matt Smith would be relinquishing the leading role on the long running BBC series Doctor Who, the Internet has exploded with speculation and suggestions over who should be the next actor to play the Doctor. During that time, I was getting into the swing of things with a new job, and the blogging time in my schedule was occupied by my beloved Boston Bruins making a deep playoff run, then one thing led to another and it’s been over a month and I still haven’t written about Doctor Who. While it’s fun to speculate who will play such an important role on a TV show with an international following, sometimes it’s for the best that fans don’t get to make these decisions. Seriously, football fans in Atlanta wanted to originally name the Falcons the Atlanta Peaches, and fans in Cincinnati (the hardest city in America to remember how to spell) wanted to name the Bengals the Buckeyes before it was vetoed by team owner, president and former Ohio State head coach Paul Brown, but I digress. Here are some thoughts about some of the names I have heard and I’ll add some of my own to the list as well.

Who I would like to see:

Idris Elba has been awesome in every role of his that I have seen. Whether it’s Baltimore drug kingpin Stringer Bell on The Wire or unconventional lawman John Luther on BBC’s Luther, Elba is usually the most compelling performer on the screen in any scene he is in. Elba has expressed an interest in becoming the first black James Bond, and that would be amazing, but he might also be the best candidate to be the first black Doctor. Also it would be amazing if Idris Elba was the Doctor and they cast Dominic West as the Master for a little reunion of the two nemeses from David Simon’s streets of Baltimore who were played quite convincingly by British actors. You disappoint me, Doctor. I had such hopes for us!

Patrick Stewart. I’m hoping the next Doctor is older than Matt Smith. If he gets any younger, the companions won’t want to hang out with him because he’ll be just some annoying kid who talks about the universe a lot.Patrick Stewart has been brilliant as Professor X in the X-Men movies and as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’s a Shakespearean actor who would be excellent at portraying the old man of the universe while also making him someone younger people can relate to.

Dermot Crowley on BBC’s Luther.

Dermot Crowley is my top sleeper candidate to play the Doctor. He currently co-stars with Idris Elba on Luther where he brilliantly plays the strict older policeman with a steel trap mind. He was also in Return of the Jedi back in the day and auditioned for the role of the 7th Doctor in the 80s before they ultimately cast Sylvester McCoy. Since he is not already a household name, he might actully be the best candidate for the role. If you cast Patrick Stewart, people will want to see Captain Picard. If you cast Benedict Cumberbatch, people will want to see Sherlock Holmes. If you cast Dermot Crowley, you will get the Doctor.

Maggie Smith. Someday there may very well be a female Doctor. Why not today? And why not Maggie Smith? She was perfectly cast as Professor Minerva McGonagall in eight Harry Potter movies, she holds a lot of wisdom, and i would just be awesome. Of course she is very recognizable, and she probably keeps a busy schedule so this one is a pipe dream more than anything else.

Who I wouldn’t like to see:

Benedict Cumberbatch would be way too much like Matt Smith! Why is everyone on the Internet saying they want him as the Doctor? I don’t get it. Yeah, he’s great and quirky as Sherlock Holmes, but I don’t want to see him play the same character again except this time with a police box shaped spaceship.

Johnny Depp. Seriously, people. He’s not British, he’s too busy and too famous, and he’s not even that good anymore. I’m tired of seeing so many movies with promising premises turn into “The Johnny Depp Show” after he gets cast. Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland from a few years ago gave the Mad Hatter way too much screen time because Mr. Burton is obsessed with Mr. Depp.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Richard Maddon, or any actor under 30. They’re too young. I don’t want to see a Ron Weasley Doctor just yet. That would be more annoying than anything else.

The Hurt Doctor.

The other interesting thing to look out for:

John Hurt was briefly introduced as a past incarnation of the Doctor. There are a lot of theories on the matter, and I’m not going to get into that, but it will be interesting to see what’s up with that in the 50th Anniversary special this November. Every fan has their own ideas on who they would like to see on the show, but I have faith that Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat will choose the next Doctor based on the direction he wants the character to go in and not just who the most famous or most popular available actor is. The great thing about the show is that the main character has evolved and grown over 50 years, but it is still the same character just played by different actors. It allows for the show to outlast any one person, maintain freshness, and continue with its own traditions all at the same time.

All we can do is speculate, but it will certainly give some extra incentive to tune into the show this winter.

Iginla to Boston… For Real This Time

Jarome Iginla has signed a one year, six million dollar contract to play for the Boston Bruins. This is the second time since March that Bruins fans went to bed believing Iggy would be joining their team, but this time it was still true when they woke up.

Iginla has been one of my favorite players in the NHL for a long time. The guy plays the right way, and is as good at dropping the gloves as he is at finding the back of the net. I was thrilled when it was first reported he was being traded to the Bruins, and then livid the following morning when he called off the deal and went to Pittsburgh because he thought they had a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

While fans were initially demoralized after yet another player Peter Chiarelli wanted ended up being traded to a rival (former Bruin Michael Ryder was dealt to the Canadiens, and Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow also chose Pittsburgh over Boston before Iginla), but it was used as motivation for the team. Whether they ever publicly admit it or not, it had to get the guys in the Bruins’ dressing room angry that these guys didn’t want to play with them. When the B’s played Pittsburgh in their final regular season meeting, Nathan Horton fought Jarome Iginla and separated his shoulder. These details made it that much sweeter when the Bruins swept the Penguins out of the playoffs in their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Talk about karma.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That’s in the past now. Nathan Horton decided last week that he’d rather not play in a hockey obsessed market like Boston despite being a stellar playoff performer during his time here. Horty signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, perhaps so that he and Marian Gaborik could go to Ohio State football games together (or he just likes money, who knows?). In addition, Tyler Seguin was dealt to Dallas and Jaromir Jagr is really old, so the Bruins have some serious holes to fill at right wing if they want to remain competitive for championships. This is something the Bruins are more than willing to forgive because it’s a new season and all parties involved want to win.

Perhaps the saddest salary cap casualty this summer for the B’s was veteran defenseman and alternate captain Andrew Ference. Ference embodied the heart and soul of the Bruins and was proud to call Boston his adopted home. According to Joe Haggerty, Ference’s last act for the Bruins was help convince his former teammate and captain in Calgary to sign with Boston. Besides Ference, the only other Bruins players who have played with Iggy are Zdeno Chara in the All Star Game and Patrice Bergeron for Team Canada in the Olympics. While Ference is returning home to play in Edmonton, Bruins fans will never forget what a great guy he was and how he helped us win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

There are still plenty of moves the Bruins might make, but the roster is starting to look pretty good. Hockey season can’t come soon enough!

Seguin Out, Eriksson In

Just like that, the Tyler Seguin Era in Boston Bruins history is over. Seguin, along with Rich “High Glass” Peverley, was traded to the Dallas Stars for 27 year old Swedish forward Loui Eriksson and a handful of prospects including defenseman Joe Morrow.

Seguin was supposed to be the next great thing in Boston after being drafted 2nd overall in 2010, but he hadn’t been able to make the leap and play up to his potential. He’s only 21 and has a lot of hockey left in him, but his lack of discipline frustrated the Bruins coaching staff, front office, and fans during the playoff run this spring. Seguin was a non-factor for most of the playoffs and the team was frustrated with the amount of partying he was doing. After Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli publicly criticized Seguin at the NHL Draft last weekend, I’m not surprised that they shipped him out of town. If I were the one running the Bruins, I might have given him another year to prove himself, but Chiarelli liked the offer he got from Dallas and decided to make the move. That’s why he’s an NHL GM and I’m just a guy to types his thoughts about sports and pop culture to his ten readers on a semi-regular basis.

In Eriksson, the Bruins get a good two-way player. He handles the puck well and plays good defense. He should be able to help fellow Swede Carl Soderberg adjust to life in the NHL next season. It’s not a bad haul for a guy who didn’t produce in the playoffs and is getting a pay raise this upcoming season.

After a couple years of mostly standing pat and keeping the roster together, Chiarelli and the Bruins are wheeling and dealing this summer and I love it. They weren’t good enough to beat Chicago as they were currently constructed and they’re doing what they can to improve while staying under the salary cap. I also love that the Bruins are being linked to the biggest names available on the free agent market this summer. They weren’t able to land Vincent Lecavelier who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, but there is talk of them trying to sign Danny Briere, Jarome “Pick ‘Em” Iginla, and Daniel Alfredsson. I would be happy to see any of those guys come to Boston to try and win a Cup or two, even if Iginla had his chance in March and chose Pittsburgh. The offseason isn’t even two weeks old and there’s all kinds of buzz around this team. It’s great to know the season will be starting on time, and when it does, the Bruins roster will be retooled and ready to go.