1) One of the noteworthy aspects of the first week of baseball is how much people read into these early games. Gil Meche is apparently an all-star, Curt Schilling is in trouble, Arod's already being run out of New York and all of that with approximately 160 games to go. If it's bad analysis to read too much into the first week or so of any season in any sport, it's even more so in baseball. No sport as relentlessly humbles the not-so-good and rewards the patience of the good over the course of a season like America's pastime. Of course, sportswriters need story lines, so...
2) In the category of I-can't-resist: I can't resist noting an interesting fact about John Beilein, whom Michigan as just hired to be its new head basketball coach. (I am, as an aside, not happy about this move. It demonstrates to me that Athletic Director Bill Martin has Sweet Sixteen, not Final Four aspirations for his basketball program). Beilein is a good coach, who's turned around programs everywhere he's gone and is apparently very excited about doing the same in Ann Arbor. But, here's a noteworthy fact: according to the New York Times this morning, Beilein has never visited Ann Arbor, describing his decision to go as a "leap of faith." I eagerly await the many articles that will surely be written excoriating Beilein for his reckless and shady decision to jump at all the money UM is throwing at him without even visiting the school. After all, this one of OJ Mayo's crimes according to some of his many critics - that he didn't even visit USC before deciding to go there.
Full disclosure: I went to Michigan for undergrad, and I had never visited the campus before I enrolled. Beilein, Mayo, Weiler - all punks.
3) Bill Simmons has a nice dissection of Packer and Nantz' call of the National Championship game Monday night. When I wrote the other night about Marc Jones, the excellent ESPN announcer whom the World Wide Leader demoted to sideline reporter for the most highly anticipated game of the Women's NCAA tournament this year (UNC-Tennessee), I was thinking of Nantz and Packer. One thing that Jones does not do is pick a storyline at the outset and beat it to death for the next two and a half hours. Instead, he calls the game as it unfolds, following the story where it goes. Nantz and Packer, by contrast, are so intent on having an angle, that they often miss what's most significant about the game as it actually develops.
Here's Simmons on that point:
Their commentary revolved around the following things: how Oden needed to avoid foul trouble; how Florida had three big guys to rotate on Oden; how Oden and Noah looked tired; how Oden was avoiding foul trouble; how Oden and Noah looked tired; which guys were in foul trouble; how Oden looked tired; and how Oden looked tired. They completely underplayed the Florida/greatness angle; hell, if there was ever a subject in which Packer's opinion would have carried some weight (since he's announced every Final Four game since 1975), it was that one. They ignored any discussion of the 2007 draft because of CBS's policy of "let's only concentrate on the college game," ignoring the elephant in the room. They underplayed the fact that OSU killed itself by missing so many 3-pointers until the last few minutes, when the stats made this fact impossible to ignore. And when it became obvious that Florida would win, we got to hear Nantz's extended thoughts about the greatness of Mrs. Billy Donovan and Mrs. Thad Matta, followed by Nantz gently reminding Packer (legitimately in a pro-Oden frenzy by the game's end) that Oden couldn't win the "Most Outstanding Player" of the Final Four because Florida won the tournament.
4) The generally excellent Tom Verducci performs a service that I wish more sportswriters would: in giving his predictions for the coming baseball season, he reviews all of his predictions from the previous season. Like our political pundits, our sports pundits tend to make predictions (often really dumb ones) without ever being accountable for how wrong they were after the fact. Now, to be clear, being wrong is not in itself a crime. Sports is inherently unpredictable and good analysis can result in incorrent guesses. But, it'd be nice to see more commentators do what Verducci does - which is to give his readers a chance to assess his track record.
For the record, Verducci's got an Angels-Dodgers Freeway World Series this year, with the Angels winning.
5) Simmons pointed out in his column that Billy Packer used an anti-gay slur last Friday in a conversation with Charlie Rose and Jimmy Kimmel played the clip on his show Monday night. As I mentioned last Fall, in the aftermath of the Steve Lyons firing, I am not generally in favor of sportscasters being fired over episodes like this. And, Packer's comment, unlike Lyons' weird stream of consciousness, did not take place during a game broadcast, which I am sure would matter to CBS if they were thinking of taking any disciplinary action (though Jimmy the Greek was fired by CBS for racially-based comments he made off the air). But, given the conversation we've all been having about John Amaechi, Tim Hardaway and Tony Dungy in recent weeks, it will be interesting to see whether this gets any traction.
6) Speaking of Amaechi, Dave Zirin has a good profile of him in the Nation this week. One interesting point of discussion is Amaechi's perspective on homophobia in sports which, in many ways, he does not see as worse than in society at large:
Amaechi strives not only to condemn homophobia but to understand it. This view has given him perspective on former NBA star Tim Hardaway's infamous rant, when he said on the radio in reference to Amaechi's book, "I hate gay people."
"Hardaway said ignorant things," says Amaechi, savoring his Earl Grey. "He didn't just hurt gay people, he hurt black people too [Amaechi himself is black]. Because right now this homophobia issue is like a black issue, like 'it's just black people saying stupid stuff.' And yet, Ann Coulter did the same thing [calling John Edwards a "faggot"]. It actually makes me far more angry to hear someone in her position do that. Make no mistake, Tim Hardaway's voice is massive and booming. I've gotten letters and e-mails from children who have changed the way they behave, quit their schools, or fear for their safety because of how his words have emboldened people in their environment. So the collateral damage in terms of the fallout has been massive. But this woman does it for an audience of people who represent power. Real power."
ESPN's interest in Amaechi's story probably won't outlive the peak sales period for his autobiography, which they published. But, Amaechi appears likely to play a more public political role than most retired athletes.