Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My final Cubs post of the year

First I'd like to point out that, while I may have said some things about Kosuke Fukudome on this blog in the past, I am now back on the Fuku-Train. Why? Well, because Wedge gave me a Fukudome jersey for Christmas! I'm his #1 fan now. Unfortunately, even if he starts off having a great year, I fear this will only increase his trade value and probability.

Also, I'd like to note that I finally watched the episode of Undercover Boss that featured Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Cubs. First I must point out that Ricketts himself was pretty terrible. I'm not great at a lot of things, but I think I could hose down a bathroom. Also, I'm pretty confident I could sell my last four hot dogs and not have to throw them away. It's a baseball game at Wrigley Field. How hard is it to sell hot dogs??

Still, it was a lot of fun to see some of the employees behind the scenes and to see what their lives are like. We all know so much goes into preparing these stadiums for games, so to see this taking place at Wrigley Field, my favorite sports facility, was great. I haven't been to Wrigley in over 20 years, and now I'm ready to get back. If you're a Cubs fan, or even just a baseball fan, try to check this episode out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Grab Bag Sports

Well, I have tons of things to do over the next 24 hours, but I wanted to get in one last post before Christmas. Everyone's been doing those stupid "elf yourself" videos, so I figured I'd make one for our site. Yet rather than subject you to elf versions of me, Wedge, and Speedgeek dancing, I chose a few of the pictures I had saved in my files from posting on this site over the past year.

Consequently, I am pleased to present to you: Chris Paul, Danica Patrick, and Lou Piniella. As dancing elves.

Happy Holidays to all. I'll be back in a few days with my review of the BCS book I'm reading and a post of some of my favorite fan fights!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cliff Lee and I are basically the same

So Cliff Lee left $30 million on the table. Big deal. This one time I had a job offer to be a P.E. coach. How awesome does it sound to be able to wear shorts to work and play kickball all day? I ended up taking a different job that I thought would be more challenging. I left wearing shorts to work on the table, Cliff Lee! We have so much in common.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There's no "I" in team, but there is one in Heisman!

I've never understood the big deal about the Heisman Trophy. It's so strange to me that an amateur team sport makes such a big deal about one player every year.

This is not an anti-Cam Newton post, either. (Although I loved it when he mentioned how his parents do a lot of things behind the scenes to help him!) Newton was definitely the best player I saw this year and even if the allegations prove to be true, I believe he should keep the award. Like Reggie Bush, Newton would have done nothing to improve his talent on the field.

That being said, we know all about the Heisman winners who quickly became NFL busts. The award really doesn't signify much, as far as I'm concerned. We're talking about a sport where you don't even play all of the teams in your own conference and then move on to a 1-game post-season. Are we really that positive that we can select the one best player to treat like a god at the end of the season?

So what's the deal? I'd love to hear from someone who loves the idea of the Heisman and wants to tell me how, just like the bowl season, it's all about tradition. But I wonder if those people still exist in 2010!

Friday, December 10, 2010

College Football - The Postseason is Here!

Yes! I cannot wait. My team, LSU, had a pretty good year. Even with the loss to Arkansas at the end, they were still 10-2, much better than we fans expected before the season started. If you translate that into a basketball record, it'd be like 25-5 and probably good for about a 3-seed in March Madness. So I like our chances in the football postseason. The SEC title was settled last weekend. So now let's get this postseason rolling. Where do we start? Who do we face first? When is our first postseason game??!!


That can't be right?! My team hasn't played since November 27th. Are you telling me I have to wait 41 days between games? And then the game doesn't even matter?! There is no hope of anything more than an 11th win or 3rd loss?

41 days? That's longer than the entire Justin Beiber fad, isn't it? The Beatles recorded their first album in 10 hours and I have to wait 41 days to watch a football game?

By January 7th, I'm ready for the NFL playoffs, NCAA basketball conference games, the NBA All-Star game, BLOGATHON, maybe the BCS title game if I care about either team. But some random, meaningless bowl game?

And speaking of the BCS and bowl games, my new favorite angry blogger, Sean O., must be so happy that his team (UConn) gets to play in a(n equally as meaningless) BCS game! I mean, it must feel great to know that you had a worse record in a much weaker conference than numerous other teams yet you still get to play an "important" game. And I'm guessing every game didn't really matter as much as Sean thinks it did, considering his team lost to Louisville 26-0. In fact, they could've won three of the four games they lost and still would've ended up where they are now!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Shy Champion: Phil Hill

As part of VivaF1's Blogger Swap Shop, I figured what better subject than the late Phil Hill - an intriguing figure and a World champion to boot.
Apologies if it's a bit long and sorry it's a little late.  Enjoy.

The F1 and Motorsports Archive.

When Wolfgang von Trips found himself involved in a horror crash on the second lap of the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, it once again hoisted Grand Prix motor racing into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A slight error from the German Count saw the red Ferrari bounce politely into Jim Clark's Lotus-Climax, before clouting the inside barrier and ricocheting violently across the circuit.
The out of control machine became airborne and plunged into the crowd, killing fifteen spectators. In the middle of this melee, von Trips himself was thrown clean of his car, landing fatally upon the Monza tarmac.
This was a black day - not just for Formula 1, but for all motorsport.

It was all the more galling for a Ferrari team on the verge of crowning a new World Champion – as the season drew to a close, von Trips was leading team mate Phil Hill and only needed a podium to claim the crown. In the end, death betrayed the German – with von Trips dead in the circuit’s medical unit and Sir Stirling Moss eleven points adrift; Hill became the first American World Champion with one race to spare.
It would be bittersweet - a distraught Hill was to be one of von Trip's pallbearer's.


Favourite Aunt's and Model-T Fords!!
An almost unlikely Champion, Philip Toll Hill Jr was born on April 20th, 1927. A deeply intelligent and introverted Florida native, he initially started out towards a path in music, quickly becoming prodigious as both a pianist and a horn player.
Music was not his only love. The young Hill became enamoured with motorcars, often delving into the magazines and the annuals of the day. All the while, he absorbed the dangers and the romance of competition – the very same perils that would later haunt him during his time behind the wheel.
Hill had already assumed control an Oldsmobile by the age of nine, often driving around the dirt fields of Santa Monica, aided by his Aunt’s chauffeur. These lessons would soon assume an extra depth and three years later, Hill was gifted a Model-T Ford. It would begin a process where he would dissemble the car and put it back together again – just to find out how it worked.

With the passing of his teenage years, a post-war Hill became more embossed in the automobile culture and soon settled into the California Sportscar Club, only to be interrupted by a two-year sojourn in the University of California to study Business Administration. This deed, done more to please his father rather than gain intellectual credits, simply bored Hill and soon the allure of speed pulled him back to his Sportscar roots, where he took to working as a mechanic for a local amateur racer.
Although tinkering with midget car entries soothed his interest temporarily, the 21-year-old was keen to get behind the wheel, soon picking up and MG-TC. Converting the machine to a single-seater, Hill settled into racing very quickly, winning on his racing début at Carrell Speedway.
It would be the beginning of a legacy that would eventually see Hill winning both his first and final races.

As the curtain drew upon the 1940’s, Hill left for England to work as a trainee for Jaguar – it would not be long before the American found himself behind the wheel in a number of sponsored drives. Instantly recognising his potential, Texan oil tycoon Allen Guiberson placed Hill in one of his Ferrari’s for several entries of the Carrera Panamericana – a popular Mexican road race that ran from the city of Ciudad Juárez towards Texas. The 22-year-old impressed immediately with a 6th place finish on his first outing and would be the beginning of an incredibly successful relationship with the famed Italian marquee.
It also was a time of distinct change for Hill. Having both passed away in 1951, Hill’s parents left him enough money to purchase his own 2.6-litre Ferrari and further success soon followed, where the American began to develop a fresh sense of self-depreciation over time; often crediting wins to his machinery rather than his own skill.

Anxiety, Horror and Success
Yet, constant anxieties about the dangers of motor racing lingered left Hill suffering from stomach ulcers and in great pain – so much so that he was sidelined for ten months and even then, tranquilisers were a necessity to drive. Such was the struggle to find a sensible balance between the pleasures and perils of racing; Hill became the cause of his own discomfort.
As he recovered gingerly, sportscars came back into view and with his Ferrari at the ready; Hill had every intention of hitting the track. Indeed, sportscars had become so popular, that in 1953 a World Championship was declared, with Hill contesting two-rounds – the first at Sebring and the next at the Carrera Panamericana.
For the famous Mexican event, drivers were allowed to take riding mechanics along and at Ciudad Juárez, Richie Ginther sat in with Hill. Whereas differential problems ended the Ferrari’s Sebring race early, his run at the Carrera Panamericana was halted by a violent accident, but despite initial reservations, neither Hill nor Ginther would not be deterred from further competition.

Where 1954 brought some further solid results for the American, it was 1955 that things really began to fall into place for Hill – a period that culminated in him being proclaimed as America’s best sportscar driver by Sports Illustrated as the year drew to a close, earning the canny racer a prized front cover appearance.
Yet while he took some of the acclaim with grace and honour, the truth is 1955 was another horror year in motorsport’s history – a horror best represented by the tragic events at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. Hill’s entry – a Ferrari 121LM with Umberto Maglioli – retired after only 76 laps. Just over two hours into the race, the Mercedes of Pierre Levegh ramped over Lee Mackin’s Austin-Healy and plunged into the main stand. It would claim more than 80 lives, including Levegh himself.
As sensitive to the dangers as Hill was, it almost seemed as if he was spurned on, yet remained apprehensive. For many others, each fatality was an invitation to an early retirement and a longer life. While motorsport remained under the microscope, Hill took the SCCA Championship – his first title.

An Italian Renaissance
Ferrari beckoned in 1956 and the Floridian moved to Modena, competing in the Nurburgring 1000kms and Le Mans. Partnering Peter Collins, Hill would have a quiet, but successful 1957, claiming a podium and a win at races in Sweden and Venezuela respectively.
However, whereas the previous two seasons saw Hill complete reasonable campaigns, 1958 would prove to be a year of change for the American. Wins at the Buenos Aires 1000km race and the Sebring 12 Hours set Hill up for his first Le Mans triumph with Olivier Gendebien. As he crossed the line, he became the first American to win the famed 24 Hour Race, eventually taking it three times – all the while partnered by Belgian sportscar legend, Olivier Gendebien.
Still, being with the bounds of Ferrari was not that easy. Frustrated by not being afforded the opportunity to race in Formula 1, gave Hill the impetus to hire Jo Bonnier’s private Maserati 250F for the French Grand Prix at Reims. The American, as always, drove a solid race and it was one that eventually changed his career – nine laps in saw Ferrari pilot Luigi Musso crash fatality at the tricky Muizone Curve. Suddenly a place opened up within the red team, but this was never how Hill intended to make his progression.

More disaster was to follow. While Hill made his début for the Prancing Horse at the Nordschleife in a Formula 2, Ferrari’s second driver Phil Collins would perish behind the wheel.
The lead Ferrari, driven by Mike Hawthorn would eventually take the title from Sir Stirling Moss by a single point, while Hill claimed two podiums in the final two events of the year at Monza and Casablanca.
Still in mourning following the deaths of Collins and Musso, the new Champion retired instantly from the sport, only for Hawthorn to be killed in a road accident several weeks later. Ferrari's tragic 1958 was complete. Four podiums followed in 1959 and 1960, before Hill comfortably won his first Grand Prix in 1960 at Monza in a field made up mainly of Formula 2 machinery.
However the fear was still all too apparent in approach. Before races, he would be very nervous; often spending time chain smoking, chewing gum or constantly cleaning his goggles - the pre-race nervousness became almost compulsive.

With a difficult 1960 out of the way, Ferrari went into the following year buoyant. The introduction of a new formula signalled the dawn of a new period of success for the red cars, as Carlo Chiti’s “sharknose” machines powered their way to six pole positions and five victories in the seven events they contested. Yet, as fast as the new Ferrari's may well have been fast, their handling was regularly derided its drivers.
Having secured both titles on that ill-fated afternoon in Monza, Ferrari never bothered to show up at the final race of the season – ironically, the United States Grand Prix.

The Falling Star
Sadly for Hill, as the curtains were pulled on 1961, his success flirted away too. The tail end of the year saw the great walkout at Ferrari as many the key personnel and engines left to form their own team and while the season began reasonably well (three podiums in the opening trio of races), it was fairly clear that Ferrari's advantage had disappeared. Thereafter, their season deteriorated and Ferrari found themselves routed by their British opponents – particularly BRM and Lotus.
Hill eventually finished 6th in the Championship following two retirements and a poor Italian Grand Prix; while Ferrari while Ferrari withdrew from the French, US and South African Grand Prix altogether!
Eventually Hill left Ferrari for ATS with teammate Giancarlo Baghetti, but by now the success of two years previous was a distant memory. Blighted by unreliability, Hill only managed to see the chequered flag once - ironically at Monza where he took 11th, while Baghetti only managed one 15th place finish, also at Monza.
ATS withdrew from several races during the 1963 season, compounding the frustration, prompting Hill to jump ship to Cooper in 1964. It would be his final season in Formula 1 and although Hill started to reach the chequered flag on a more consistent basis, he only scored a single point for his efforts.
As he crossed the line to finish 9th at the Mexican Grand Prix, Hill waved goodbye to Formula 1 forever.

Later Life
Once Hill left the top flight, he continued to race sporadically in sportscars for Chaparral and with Ford's GT programme, taking several more victories before hanging up his helmet, including a win at the BOAC 6 Hour Race at Brands Hatch - a victory that ensured Hill was a winner in both his first and last races. Thereafter, many offers poured in to tempt the former-World champion out of retirement, but a wary Hill always politely turned these temptations down.
After two years away from the Ferrari squad, Hill did step back into a single seater, but not to race. With John Frankenheimer direction, Hill stepped in as the driver of the camera car for the 1966 feature film, Grand Prix.
While other drivers of the day appeared as cameos, Hill took to a modified Formula 3 car, as he sped around Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza on practice days of race weekends. When viewing the film now, it is clear that a true professional is turning the screws of the speedy machine.
Later in life, Hill became a commentator on ABC World Wide of Motorsports, formed a classic car restoration company and also became a regular judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. He would also fill up his time by occasionally writing for Road & Track magazine.

Hill was often sensitive and suffered from an inner turmoil about the dangers motor racing. These feelings instilled a sense of care behind the wheel; while also allowing him to pull the maximum out the machines he had at his disposal.
For a man so pre-occupied by the perils of motorsport, Hill was never once injured during his career. Such was the ease of his driving style, the American rarely suffered accidents or offs and he always left his best for the monster circuits like Monza, Spa-Francorchamps or the Nordschleife, while finding great comfort in difficult conditions, such as heavy rain.

Having being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the turn of the century, Hill retired to a quiet life in Santa Monica, before passing away in August 2008 and the age of 81.
Phil Hill became America's first World Champion in 1961 and with the 50th anniversary approaching in nine months time, let's hope it is a anniversary suitably embraced.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Top 5 Sports Fights

Here in Nashville, all I've heard about for the past week is the big fight between Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan.

I don't really care about either team. I thought it was funny that Finnegan basically knew what to do to get Johnson kicked out of the game. It just didn't matter because the Titans had no offense anyway.

Either way, the fight wasn't very good and doesn't crack my Top 5 Sports Fights.

5. The Racing Dad Fight - This is for our Indy fans. I know this stuff goes on sometimes, but I like this one because you get parental involvement. Reminds me of little league baseball.

4. The Ninja Kick Opening - This a great way to start a baseball fight and ensure that you get at least one good shot on an opposing player.

3. The China/Brazil Basketball Fight - I like when #8 and #14 go at it around 1:25.

2. The Hockey Staredown - How long would they have done this? Like, if no one had broken it up, they could STILL be doing this!

1. The Bike Fight - This fall was my first semester of college and I remember a lot of it pretty well. People's Court, Love Connection, and a new discovery known as taco salads tried very hard to keep me from going to class. OJ Simpson went to court. Cal Ripken broke the record. And these two guys dropped their bikes and tried to fight in the street. Best sports fight ever.

Honorable Mention - While this is not really a "fight," I promise, any brawl in the history of brawls would be improved by the addition of this:

***I should note that MLB does not allow any of their fights to be on youtube, so we're missing some great ones here. Nolan Ryan/Robin Ventura is probably my favorite. Also, there are so many good high school and college fights out there. Stay tuned for more fight lists in the future!

Ron Santo

As (one of?) the resident Cubs fan(s) here, I feel I should say a few words.

OK, so I love baseball. I love the Chicago Cubs. And Ron Santo may have been my favorite human being that I have never met. With the advancement of the internet, I have been able to listen to him broadcast hundreds of games, making even the worst of major league teams seem entertaining to listen to. It was like watching Saints games with my grandfather or an uncle. Except this was baseball on the radio. Even if the Cubs were down 12-0 in the 8th, you had to listen.

I have two things to say about this.

1. The guys on the White Sox station (670 "The Score") have been ripping Santo a lot lately. The man had nothing to do with their team and they easily could have just ignored him and talked about the myriad other issues involving their own quite dysfunctional team. Yet this past summer, certain shows were dedicating entire hours to Santo insult time.

It was amazing to hear grown men go out of their way to attempt to humiliate someone who has never really done anyone any harm, a man who, at his worst, could be annoying to listen to if you don't like his team, I suppose. But that is easily solved with a power button or a channel switch, correct? At his best, putting baseball aside, this is a guy who raised tons of money and helped many with diabetes.

2. The Baseball Hall of Fame used to be the only Hall of Fame I really respected. For as long as I could remember, they always seemed to do things right. It was the absolute best of the best, a list of only the most legendary people to play the game. But now, I must say this: If Santo is now voted into the Hall of Fame, I will immediately lose all respect.

I don't know if Santo is good enough or not. I never saw him play baseball. But I know how much he wanted it. I know how much others said he deserved it, people who did see him play and whose opinions I do trust. It truly seems like there were some who were not voting for him simply because so many Cubs fans wanted him in. The same kind of people who openly insulted his broadcasting style and the way the fans adored him as an announcer.

Either way, to deny him the opportunity of reaching his final goal in life, only to go ahead and give in after his death, would be to lose all credibility as far as I'm concerned. It would make the voters seem power-hungry and petty to me. If he is good enough this year, then he was good enough last year and they should've done it then.