YOLO of the Week: Columbus Blue Jackets’ Draft Day Meltdown

Some 440s and 216s scoffed when the Browns moved up one spot to ensure Trent Richardson landed in the Dawg Pound. They sunk their teeth into Holmgren and Heckert, even though the franchise had an abundance of picks and only sacrificed low-value selections that would have been forced to battle for a roster spot.

If people cared about the Blue Jackets anywhere near as much as the Brownies, Jackets GM Scott Howson might have formed Triple H on the chopping block.

As GM, Howson’s pedigree includes continuous speculation on star winger Rick Nash’s seemingly imminent departure (Nash was denied his trade request in February) and a botched deadline deal that sent floundering center Jeff Carter to the LA Kings, where he improved his output and now gets to slurp cereal from Lord Stanley’s cup.

Locals were too busy watching (and swag-rating) the Buckeyes to support the hometown Terrible-On-Ice crew in their freefall to the NHL cellar. After dealing Carter for a pick, Howson did everything he could not to label the trade with the loathsome R word, but it made it in the sentence.

“I think I said it was the beginning of the reshaping of the team, which doesn’t necessarily mean rebuilding. I expect to be very busy here, very active.”

In spite of a woeful season that convincingly cemented themselves at the bottom of the league, the Jackets missed out on the first pick, losing out on surefire stud Nail Yakupov in favor of the #2 choice. Parallels to the Charlotte Bobcats abound, but the Bobcats are ran by a former MLB minor leaguer who moonlighted as the greatest professional basketball player in history, Michael Jordan, while the Jackets are managed by a man more famous for his stint on the Toledo Goaldiggers* than his 18 games on NHL ice.

I’d like to stop here and point out that the Toledo Goaldiggers are by far the best-named defunct minor league hockey team of all time. In what sounds like a Sandler plot, 1980 Miracle on Ice captain Mike Eruzione played on the Goaldiggers for two years before headscratchingly advancing from the minor leagues to leader of the US Olympic squad. 

With the second choice, Howson played it safe, drafting coveted defenseman Ryan Murray. No complaints about the pick; Murray is genreally considered the best of the 7 denfensemen selected in the top 10. It’s what Howson didn’t do that is so head-scratching, mind numbing, and jaw-droppingly brazen.

Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline’s report makes both Howson and Islanders GM Garth Snow seem of unstable mind:

How highly did the Blue Jackets value defenseman Ryan Murray before taking him with the No. 2 overall pick in Friday’s first round of the NHL Draft? Enough to turn down an eye-opening offer from the New York Islanders, who, according to numerous NHL sources, offered all of their picks — one in each round — for the right to move up from No. 4 to No. 2 for Murray.

That’s right, for the Jackets’ No. 2 pick, the Islanders offered pick Nos. 4, 34, 65, 103, 125, 155 and 185. The bounty would have given the Jackets the following picks: 4, 31, 34, 62, 65, 95, 103, 125, 152, 155, 182 and 185. And if that weren’t enough, the Jackets could have had the Kings’ No. 30 if they wanted it.

Or maybe it isn’t brazen at all. Perhaps cold feet froze Howson, or the fear of messing up, or past trade failures. But for a mere two spots, in a franchise where talent flees town like a fugitive, Howson shot down an entire additional draft.

The Philistines would trade Goliath if they were getting all of the Jewish forces. The only comparison in the history of humanity is when Mike Ditka, best known for playing Will Ferrell’s dad’s coffee praising neighbor in Kicking and Screaming, traded a whole draft and two picks the next season to move up and draft Ricky Williams. Though it might seem like a bad move, seeing Ditka in dreads might have made it all worthwhile.

I promise you, in no way was this photo altered

And at least Ditka moved up 7 picks; Snow’s attempt to mortgage the future was a mere two spot climb. Sitting at 4, Columbus could have had their choice of any of the 6 defensemen drafted in the top 10 along with Murray. Howson and Snow’s increasingly poor choices makes it seem like they were competing to see who had the smaller brain, a backwards affair that crowned Howson champion of cerebral deficiency. Maybe he’s one of those guys who is comedically bad under duress?

If there’s a silver lining (albeit, ripped, tarnished, and threadbare), it’s that Howson fired most of the Blue Jackets’ scouts immediately after the draft. See, guys, it’s not that Howson is an irrational GM, it’s just that his faith in his scouts is 100% agnostic.

How can Jackets fans feel good about their squad when the GM just demonstrated that he thinks his scouts are worthless? Prospects of future success rest on “prospects” recommended by people who apparently had no clue how to properly evaluate players. But at the end of the day, Howson had the final call. The scouts are the goats for not accepting the offer; Howson is basically saying that thanks to terrible intel, they would have just wasted all of the extra picks anyway.

As for Ryan Murray, he laces up his skates with the expectations of two full drafts planted on his shoulders, the encumbering weight of a terrible decision.

It boils down to a fascinating dichotomy: either Scott Howson is YOLO, or he needs to listen to teenagers parrot Drizzy more often. His fortitude (or lack thereof) on draft night will determine the future of not only the franchise, but his own employment. Howson, and the Jackets, are skating on thin ice.


Super Mario, Striker: The Game I Love and the Polarizing Persona Defining the Euros

I. Why I Can’t Write About Soccer

I’m slowly dying. Since June 8th, ESPN has been showing about 6 hours of soccer games and footy-related coverage every day. As a red-blooded American, instinct tells me to despise this development, decrying the snail’s pace and Charmin UltraSoft players, flopping on the ground like a particularly resolute bass. Lamenting the surnames that trip up my tongue like my palette is a pogo stick, and deriding the result that stands against America’s beloved cutthroat Ricky Bobby capitalism, the dreaded draw. I know people who would rather attend a Creed concert than watch a scoreless tie.

But some sort of mutation in my genetic code has kept me glued to the Worldwide Leader in Sports like a 1st-grade art project. I’ve been religiously following international tournaments since 2004, but became devoted to the cult of European football at the start of this decade. I’ve played the computer game Football Manager 2011, in which you don’t even get to control players but rather devote your time to the most mundane financial negotiations and tactical modifications, for 458 hours. That’s nearly 20 days. Hello, my name is Matt, and I’m an addict.

Since the first day of my summer, I have been wielding a double-edged longsword, barbed and poisonous. While others toil their lives away with a summer job or internship, I have enjoyed a pressure-free summer of watching the beautiful game. While others make bank or improve their resume with a summer job or internship, I have wasted a productivity-free summer of watching an inherently boring game.

I seriously do need a support group, because I have no acquaintances as passionate about the sport as I am. And none of my readers can relate (except maybe the three hits I got the other day from Guam…do they like soccer in Guam?). So instead of covering the tournament, I just want to sow the seeds of interest and evangelize from the pulpit of the soccer indoctrinated.

 II. Super Mario Smash Goals

Awesome goals in soccer are tailor-made for the top 10 generation, as the game features some of the coolest feats of scoring in any sport. Deft, contorting, poetic finishes that make it worth the wait for viewers. Just from Euro 2012 to date, 6’5” Zlatan Ibrahimovic twists into a mesmerizing volley finish , England wunderkind Danny Welbeck spins away from a cross and taps in a no look backheel, and Ghana-born Italian-raised striker Mario Balotelli boxes out a defender and finishes a bicycle kick.

Balotelli might be the character of the tournament, known to pass out money to the poor like a self-looting Robin Hood, a soccer player who claims he is allergic to grass, he who burnt down his house by lighting off fireworks in the bathroom, before later changing course and becoming a proponent of firework safety. The man is a walking TV show, a blond Mohawk-clad Dennis Rodman of the reality age and on an international platform. Possibly the single most polarizing person in professional sports, and many Americans are too set in their ways to appreciate him. We love us some Jersey Shore, a show about fit, peacocking Italians getting into mischief, so why not the Italian footballer sharing the nickname of Super Mario with one of our most beloved animated characters?

Balotelli showcasing his work ethic

And Balotelli’s hairpiece might not even be the worst one in the tournament. France defender Philip Mexes is a white man sporting  grimy dreadlocks, a cardinal sin for those with fashion sense, as well as those with the sense of sight.

In America, minor leagues and college sports filter out much of the young and exciting talent, forcing them to wait longer for the big leagues even when some might be ready. Not so in Europe, where youth is on display. Welbeck is only 21 (like our pal Mario), but seems like he plays bingo and uses words like whippersnapper when compared to his teammate Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, who started England’s first game at a fledgling 18 years old. If the country who invented the modern game can showcase a teenager among their best, of course blooming players can feature for other nations. Group B featured Jethro Willems, an iron-lunged fullback with a 1994 birth date who starts for Holland, and Christian Eriksen, the pride of Denmark at a tender 19. The youth often brings more creativity and risk to the matches, as opposed to the wily, calculated approach of veterans, while casual fans reap the benefit of extra entertainment.

Americans love their brackets; I chortle smugly come March of every year, when countless college basketball bracket challenges and office pools are entered by people who have watched a handful of games at most, people who confidently predict upsets in games where their only knowledge comes from a brief Yahoo blurb. People find information easier to consume when it is ranked, and are predisposed to prefer articles composed in list form (Note- Make sure you change the title to “The Five Reasons you Should be Watching the Euros” before posting). The obsession with brackets has leaked into mass culture, with MTV trying to decide the best music acts, and Grantland hosting a Souperbowl to crown the champion of boiled broth. Teams in the Euros are seeded based on a world ranking (the only system that might be worse than the BCS,) then play through a group stage to be placed in a bracket. The format is practically begging for controversy and debate, the tenets of the watercooler chat that have launched thousands of Skip Bayless-es.

And the teams bring so much drama, Deadspin’s head would explode. Every player on most teams is scrutinized on the same level as LeBron James. British tabloids live for embarrassing events within England’s national team. Perhaps in an ode to the Gloria James/Delonte West rumors, former captain John Terry had an affair with a teammate’s wife, forcing the teammate to quit the national squad. Wayne Rooney has been caught with prostitutes a number of times, which is technically legal- though Rooney’s wife couldn’t have been happy about it. Italy’s team is caught up in a major match-fixing scandal that forced one defender off the squad and has many others in professional limbo, possibly facing legal sanctions. Enigmatic Balotelli applies again, this time because his teammate had to cover his mouth after a goal . The kicker- Bonucci doesn’t speak English, he just saw Balotelli yelling and figured it was controversial.

Welcome to the wacky, wonderful world of European football. The circus of the absurd, the canvas of the beautiful, and the home of future celebrity Mario Balotelli. There’s going to be fireworks, I can promise you that.

UCONN Jack (and Jeremy and Andre)

Jeremy Lamb is often silent.

The August 6, 2011 rap battle that pitted him against then-teammate Alex Oriakhi illustrates this law of nature.  It is plausible (likely, even) that the verbal fracas had a relatively innocuous origin – perhaps the teammates had tied in a game of one-on-one and felt that a war of words would better determine a winner than the standard overtime period.  Nevertheless, you can feel the venom as Oriakhi asks, “How’s this kid tough? / He’s light skinned,” and just know that Jeremy won’t have a good answer.  After expressing doubt about Lamb’s weight, a sentiment now shared by NBA draft analysts and league executives, Oriakhi eulogizes his opponent: “I just killed this fool/ R.I.P. J-Lamb.”  In a follow up interview conducted today via Twitter, @aoriakhi42 (now a member of the Missouri Tigers) confirmed the victory.

ESPN’s Chad Ford worries about Lamb’s tendency to “be passive at times on offense.”  A recent article in the Hartford Courant headlined “Lamb Fighting Laid-Back Reputation” seemed to include more acquiescing than fighting from Lamb.  “I have to find ways to keep my energy up…But at times, it looks like I’m not trying,” the shooting guard conceded.  Even President Obama has acknowledged Lamb’s sheepish demeanor.  Fans – not to mention teammates, coaches, and the media – want players to wear their heart on their shooting sleeve, and interpret Lamb’s aloofness as indifference.  During the final seconds of Iowa State’s 77-64 slaughtering of UCONN, a defeat that sent the defending champion Huskies home without winning an NCAA Tournament game, Lamb tragically whiffed on an attempted windmill dunk so gratuitous and ill-advised that it became emblematic of the entire season, arguably the most tumultuous in UCONN’s history.

The concerns about Lamb, however, pale in comparison to the uncertainty surrounding Andre Drummond, the enigmatic big man.  While Ford and others gush about his potential, the only consensus on the former UCONN Husky is that there isn’t one.  Every article that mentions Drummond’s name is obligated to include his measly free throw percentage, so here goes: Andre Drummond shot 29.5% from the line in 2011-2012.  The thought of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich licking his chops to deploy the Hack-a-Shaq defense on Drummond makes me giggle, but is probably accurate.  Drummond is considered a “raw” prospect, the implication being that an untapped reservoir of talent exists somewhere inside of him, but, like an uncooked carrot, is not ready to join the dinner table/starting rotation of a good team just yet; moreover, there is no guarantee he ever will be.  Many teams, wary of risking a high draft pick on such rawness, may prefer the refined game of Tyler Zeller or Thomas Robinson, players comfortable with their bodies and more acutely aware of its limitations (steamed carrots in the vegetable metaphor).  Not surprisingly, Zeller (22) and Robinson (21) are older than Drummond (18).

Drummond’s “motor” is his other glaring question mark.  He spent the second half of his high school career at Connecticut hoops powerhouse St. Thomas More, and, in a promotional video for the school, inadvertently validates criticism of his work ethic.  When asked to describe a typical day at St. Thomas More, Drummond takes it upon himself to differentiate between a “good” day (beginning with a 6:00 a.m. workout) and a “lazy” day (beginning at 8:00 a.m., no workout).  His detractors claim that there are more of the latter.

The only thing that can be said with conviction about Drummond is this: Andre Drummond has firmly established himself within the pantheon of perplexing Dres, alongside the likes of WTAM’s Andre Knott and USC offensive tackle/a cappella enthusiast Aundrey “Rozay” Walker.

Together, Lamb and Drummond form the most tantalizing duo to enter the draft since Kentucky’s John Wall and DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins.  (There have even been murmurs about the Kings selecting Drummond at no. 5; if it happens, Drummond, Boogie, and Jimmer Fredette need to buy a one-bedroom apartment and begin filming a reality show immediately.)  I would be content if either/both of them became a Cavalier, not only for their potential, but because I don’t totally buy into the recurring non-basketball criticisms (i.e. cavalier attitude, lack of a “motor”) that plague their their scouting report.  There is Internet evidence that Lamb can be genuinely happy – look at the unbridled glee on his face as he teaches UCONN President Herbst his trademark dance, the Lamb Shake.  I really want to Lamb Shake now, and I bet you do, too!  Drummond has the chance to become an elite center, which can’t be said for Zeller, Meyers Leonard, or anyone else in this draft class.  He comes across as engaging and pleasant in interviews, unlike the petulant Andrew Bynum, a previous boom-or-bust big man frequently compared to Drummond.

While I’m defending Lamb and Drummond, one last thing to consider: It must’ve been pretty bad to play major college basketball on a campus that’s known for its women’s team.

YOLO of the Week: “Pure Rage” Perez Punctuates Production with Projectile

Chris Perez has guts. This weekend, he emptied them.

The Cleveland Indians closer recorded his league-leading 20thsave of the season Sunday against his old organization, the St. Louis Cardinals, and has now converted on every save opportunity since opening day. Despite opponents hitting below the Mendoza line, rock-and-roll buff Perez has an appetite for disruption, oft getting twisted into a bind before creating order from chaos. Perez lost command at times, drawing jeers when runners reached base and sarcastic applause when he wiggled out of jams. His control was spotty enough that Indians brass may have wondered if they needed to dust off the skull frames. Perez called out the Indians fans for their lack of support for himself and their MLB-low attendance.

Perez’s awful choice of maize and blue golf attire may have prevented Indians fans from wanting to Hail to the Pitcher

Tribe fans rallied around Perez’s public criticism, cheering him to continued success. But this Sunday, Perez fell victim to that dastardly gastrointestinal terror, warm water, and hurled a bit more than just balls and strikes.

0:01 The beginning of the clip features commentary of Perez’s grooming habits, pre-Pure Rage era, which certainly takes precedence over something like calling the actual game.

0:11 After accepting catcher Carlos Santana’s 5-finger plaudits, Perez’s head starts to thrash around like he’s in the pit at a metal concert, in hindsight the first indication of what is about to transpire.

0:12 The geyser at Yellowstone. The first burst of a volcanic eruption. The expensive mist sprayers at Cedar Point. Santana must have quipped something hilarious, because Pure Rage looks like he was mid-gulp of Diet Sunkist and laughter forced it to evacuate.

0:14 Doubled over, Perez’s initial reaction is my favorite part of this melodrama. He wryly turns to Santana and apologizes for making his battery mate abruptly clear the blast radius with a simple “My bad.”

0:16 The TV producers, put on the spot because their focal point has just violated the eyes of America, switch to Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis embracing. Kipnis appears to notice the scene, and looks on stoically, unmoved by Perez’s projectile bursts, begging the question: Does this happen often? Is Perez notorious for vomiting? Do they have Fear Factor-esque challenges in the bullpen? “Yeah, I knew Chris was in trouble when he had to chug the atomic wing sauce from Masterson’s sock in the 7th.” The Bullpen Mafia could be doing Man vs. Food competitions, but I’m pretty sure that we only started that because of a clause in Bob Wickman’s contract.

0:25 Apparently they thought Perez was done, but an ill-fated cut back reveals evidence to the contrary. My theory is that they believed Perez was going to Tebow, and every telecast in America is legally obligated to capture tributes to Timmy as they occur. Instead, Perez unpleasantly surprises viewers with a relapse.

0:27 Perez obliges the fans who yell for him to “leave it all on the field,” finishing with a grand finale.

0:30 Changed my mind, my new favorite part of the clip is Shelley Duncan (a player whose interview escapades could launch a thousand blog posts) tenderly rubbing Perez’s shoulders, comforting his ill teammate in a brilliant overture of camaraderie sure to boost team chemistry. Duncan braves the landing zone as the rest of the Wahoos from a stunned semicircle. Perez battles to his feet and the Tribe head to the locker room in solidarity.

After the game, skipper Manny Acta said “As long as he gets the win, we’re okay with it.”

Perez embodies YOLO, from his Miami Hurricanes roots (the U tradition is profiled in this earlier post) to his explanation, blaming lukewarm water for his post-outing ails. “I took a couple drinks of warm water and it didn’t really sit well…when the game was over I just let it out. Nothing serious, I’m fine.” Perez is actually a repeat offender, yacking against the Cubs in March of 2011 in an aborted save attempt. You might only live once, but with Acta’s consent, Perez can hurl as much as he pleases.