Monday, July 23, 2007

Losers

If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out. ~George Brett

Bent

All right, we've had our orgy of Beckham-mania, brought to you mostly by ESPN. Enough. David Beckham earned the first few thou of his multi-millions by playing 12 pathetic minutes in a game where Chelsea beat his Los Angeles Galaxy 1-nil, as they say across the pond.

Let's get something straight right off the bat: David Beckham is essentially over the hill. He looked like it in the World Cup and was such a non-factor for the English national team this year, they told him, "Thanks, but no thanks, old boy. We can muddle on without you." His other team, Real Madrid actually won a championship but fired their coach because he didn't do enough to try to keep Beckham.

Perhaps he realized there wasn't much point.

Understand this: I grew up a soccer fan. My father played the game as a high-schooler in Hungary and knew the game exceedingly well, thank you. My father also though that soccer as played in the various American leagues was pretty pathetic.

You have to realize that in the post-war era, many teams adopted the English style of play, which is very, very defensive. With the exception of the Germans, Argentines, and Brazilians, everyone seems to have adopted the style, which leads to an utterly dull game. I used to watch German soccer on PBS. Two things stood out. First, the German teams play aggressively; even a low scoring game would have a lot of scoring chances. Second, Europeans know how to televise the game, utilizing long shots most of the time so that you can see play developing.

In the good ol' US of A, of course, we are into closeups. Most of the time you can't see anything but the player with the ball. David Beckham can't do much about that, but he will be bringing that awesomely dull English game he's grown up playing to the MSL.

Oh, yeah, he also brought Posh Spice.

Of course, Beckham is in it for the money. If he can find a sucker to pony up $30 mil plus a couple of hundred mil for his endorsement packages, more power to him. But, he ought to at least make an attempt to rehab his ankle. So far, he hasn't even practiced with the team, other than in the Terrell Owens manner of sitting on the sidelines with a trainer. Perhaps a little less time spent taking skin pictures with his wife and a little more time getting some physiotherapy might have been in order.

American soccer leagues have tried bringing in big names past their prime (Pele and Beckenbauer come to mind). There was always a surge of interest, followed by the same old crowds made up of family, friends, and a few passersby. I'm not the only one who feels that this whole Beckham thing will do little or nothing to help the pathetic state of American professional soccer. Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times does a very nice job of summing it up:

"At least he'll have our attention until Lindsay Lohan's next rehab visit. After that, I'm making no promises."
 


Broken

There was a lot of todo about how the Philadelphia Phillies reached the 10,000 loss milestone last week. That is, the Phils have lost 10,000 major league baseball games since their inception in 1883. Now, a lot of sports types had a lot of fun with that, but I couldn't help thinking that their have been some teams that went for long periods without doing very well. The classic example to anyone my age would be the Washington Senators (who are now the Minnesota Twins; don't confuse them with the Senators that ended up as the Texas Rangers). The Senators were bad, really bad, for a really long time. A joke that has probably been around since Will Rogers used to go, "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

That, brother, is institutionalized losing.

Then there's the Cubs, the lovable losers. Or the Indians. Or the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles). I mean really now, how far ahead (or behind, depending on your point of view) could the Phillies be?

So, after a bit of searching, I located this lovely site (looks like a must for any baseball stat freak) that had, in a nice concise table the all-time records of all the major league teams. After a perusal of the records, I came to one inescapable conclusion.

The Phillies are that bad.

They have the worst win percentage of any of the long-time teams. Only the Rangers, Rockies, Padres, and Devil Rays are worse, but they haven't been around very long (and the Rangers were owned for a while by George W. Bush, so they had an unfair additional burden to carry).

As for my other candidates for mediocrity, only the Cubs are "close" to the Phillies--and they're 575 losses back! It would take them 5 years of losing 115 games a year to catch the Phils, and that's assuming that the Phils didn't lose any games.

The team closes to the Phillies was actually a surprise to me -- Atlanta. The Braves have lost 9686 games to the Phils 10003, a mere 317 games behind. I suppose the success of the last 10 or 15 years for the Braves has led me to forget that, prior to leaving Boston, they were pretty awful. But, then, the Phillies really haven't been that bad in my lifetime. I can remember Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn during the 50's and 60's. I can also remember the legendary 1964 collapse, which I reminisced about here. But to collapse to third place, you still had to win a bunch of games. Evidently, over time, they lost 'em in bundles.

It gets worse. When people think of World Series futility, the Cubs, once again, leap to mind. They haven't been there since 1945. So the Phils must have the edge in World Series appearances, right? Sorry, of the original sixteen, the Phils have the fewest appearances in the Fall Classic. Even the Indians, who I thought wouldn't be in the Series in my lifetime have been there one more time. In fact, the Mets, who started 79 years after the Phillies, have one more appearance in the Series than the hapless Philadelphia team.

No wonder those people boo Santa Claus.

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