Wednesday, April 30, 2008


FOUR quarter-finalists, three semi-finalists and, now, the two finalists. Proof, if it were needed, that the English Premier League rules supreme in Europe.

Manchester United and Chelsea will contest the first all-English Champions League final in Moscow on May 21.

United beat Barcelona 1-0 in the second leg at home on Tuesday (winning 1-0 on aggregate) thanks to a swerving 25-yard shot from long-serving midfielder Paul Scholes.

Chelsea defeated Liverpool 3-2 after extra time to complete a 4-3 aggregate victory. Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, their top scorer, netted twice with England international Frank Lampard converting a penalty.

Manchester United have won the competition – formerly known as the European Cup – twice. They beat Benfica of Portugal 4-1 after extra time in 1968 and Bayern Munich of Germany 2-1 in 1999 under current manager Sir Alex Ferguson (they trailed 1-0 going into injury time).

Scholes missed that game due to suspension. Now, nine years later, he will get a chance to claim a Champions League winners’ medal.

Chelsea are appearing in the final for the first time. The two clubs are also contesting the Premier League title. Chelsea drew level on points with the Red Devils by beating them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.

While Wembley Stadium would have been a more fitting venue for the final, Moscow was chosen before the start of the season.

Fans face long trek to Moscow

That means fans of the two teams will have to apply for visas before embarking by plane, boat and train across the Continent.

United owe much of their success to the management of Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been in charge at Old Trafford since 1986.

The second-longest serving manager in the club’s history after Sir Matt Busby, the 66-year-old Scotsman has won more trophies than any other coach in the history of English football.

Thanks to 38 goals from Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, there could be another two for the cabinet by the end of this month.

Chelsea’s emergence as a European super power has been made possible by the millions invested by Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich.

The London club, who for so long had to live in the shadows of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, are currently managed by the Israeli, Avram Grant.

Grant has succeeded where his predecessor, José Mourinho, failed and taken Chelsea all the way to the final.

There won’t be too many Englishman on the pitch in Moscow but there will certainly be plenty in the stands. The final should be well worth watching.


JOHAN SANTANA and Phil Hughes pitching on the same night in New York, but with very different results. No doubt the irony was not lost on Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner.

Word has it that Steinbrenner was in favor of giving in to the high demands of the Minnesota Twins and including Hughes as the cornerstone of a multi-player package for Santana last winter.

But, apparently, he was dissuaded from doing so by general manager Brian Cashman, who believed that by sending Hughes and Ian Kennedy to Minnesota, the Yankees would be trading away their future.

Santana has hardly been lights out so far for the Mets, giving up 29 hits and 15 runs, including seven homers, in 40.1 innings for an ERA of 3.12.

He has a 3-2 record, but that’s considerably better than Hughes, whose stats are rising higher than the price of eggs: 22 innings, 34 hits, 23 runs and an era of 9.0.

For so long the most prized possession in the Yankees’ farm system, the 21-year-old has been a bust. The alarm bells were ringing during spring training. Now it’s a real emergency.

Is this just a crisis of confidence, a kid being dazzled by the bright lights – and floodlights – of New York City, or is Hughes simply not as good as Yankees management thought? And how much longer can they wait to find out?

After allowing six runs in three and two-thirds innings in last night’s 6-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers, Hughes was subjected to the now customary boos from the less than patient fans at Yankee Stadium.

Surely the time has come when the best decision for both Hughes and the team is to send him down to the minors and allow him time to rediscover his form and confidence. At least he will be in good company with Kei Igawa, another major disappointment.

Hughes is hoping that isn’t going to happen, saying: “The mound is just as far away in Triple A as is here.” It is, but you’re not pitching to Manny Ramirez or Gary Sheffield.

Rasner deserves another chance in the Majors

Darrell Rasner, the man most likely to replace Hughes, will testify to that. Yet to make an impression on the big stage, he has a record of 4-0 with an ERA of 0.87 at Class AAA Scranton Wilkes this season.

Like the Steinbrenner family, Yankees fans pay big money to watch a winning team. Eight years is too long without a World Series Championship and playing second fiddle to the Boston Red Sox is simply unacceptable.

There’s no such thing as a transition year for the Yankees, a team with a payroll in excess of $200 million.

But a lot of Yankees fans, myself included, are facing up to the grim reality that this could well be the first time there is no October baseball in the Bronx since the strike year of 1994.

Lady Luck is hardly smiling on new manager Joe Girardi. First Derek Jeter, then Jorge Posada, now Alex Rodriguez. Injuries to key players will cripple any team.

More damaging, however, is having three players ¬– Cano, Giambi and Duncan – hitting under .200.

Add that to the fact that two-fifths or your starting rotation has yet to win a game and you can consider yourself fortunate to be 14-14.

The good news is the Yankees were 9-14 at the end of April last year and still made the play-offs. The bad news is that there aren’t too many reasons for optimism this time round.

A-Rod was on his way to having a career season, Posada was about to hit peak form and Roger Clemens was waiting to ride into town on his white charger.

Will anyone come to the Yankees’ rescue this year?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


CAN YOU name the world’s second most popular sport behind soccer? You might be surprised to learn that it’s not baseball, basketball or American Football. It is, in fact, cricket.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) recognizes more than 120 cricket-playing nations. In many countries, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies, cricket is the No. 1 sport.

Although not quite as popular throughout Europe as it is in Southern Asia, it’s a major sport in England and is also played widely in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

An international fixture, known as a Test Match, is played over five days, an idea most Americans find mind-boggling.

But cricket is undergoing a dramatic change. The advent of a format known as Twenty20 – a shorter, faster version of the game aimed at the younger spectator – has revitalized the sport.

Both teams have just one innings (yes, innings rather than inning) and bat for a maximum of 20 overs (120 balls). The game, which is subject to time restrictions, is completed in around three hours.

Such is the demand for Twenty20 from the TV companies and the general public that it is changing the world cricketing calendar.

Originally introduced in the United Kingdom in 2003, a match between Australia and India in Melbourne last year was an 84,000 sell-out. 

New league costs broadcasters $1 billion

A consortium consisting of India’s Sony Television network and the Singapore-based World Sport Group recently agreed to pay 1.026 billion US dollars to purchase the global broadcasting rights for the newly formed Indian Premier League (IPL).

The winning bidders for the eight franchises spent a total of US$723 million and the world’s best cricketers were then “auctioned off” for sums going as high as US$1.5 million.

It’s not all been smooth sailing. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has found itself in conflict with many of the sport’s governing bodies around the world as a result of the IPL.

They want their players available for international tours, and in the case of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the inaugural IPL season clashes with the start of the domestic season.

While the IPL has managed to attract 70 of the world’s top 80 ranked players, only one Englishman, Dimitri Mascarenhas, has signed up so far. And he’s not contracted to the ECB.

But it seems only a matter of time before the lure of the dollar will come before national pride. These cricketers are professionals and the IPL are prepared to pay plenty more than their current employers.

The $64,000 question, however, is whether cricket and Twenty20 will ever make it across the Atlantic to the USA.

Fastest-growing sport in Brooklyn

There are a number of clubs scattered around the New York area. You can find no fewer than 12 “pitches” at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx and, apparently, cricket is the fastest-growing sport in Brooklyn. 

With so many ex-pats, particularly from the Caribbean and Asia, it’s not surprising cricket has a cult following. But will it ever catch on with natural-born Americans, raised on a diet of baseball?

Well, I can tell you from personal experience that Twenty20 generates a lot more excitement than the average baseball game. If you favor hitting over pitching, then you’re in for treat, as the white ball is smashed to all parts of the field.

What cricket, the subject of the occasional article in The New York Times, really needs is exposure on ESPN or one of the major television networks.

The rules of cricket are even more complicated than baseball but the basics of Twenty20 are simple … hit the ball, and hit it hard.

As an Englishman brought up on three-day and five-day matches, sometimes watched by three men and a dog, I was not an immediate believer in Twenty20.

I enjoyed those sleepy afternoons in England’s green and pleasant land, supping a pint and nibbling on a Scotch egg. 

But I’ve become a convert to this all-action version because, in the words of 10cc, an English pop band from the seventies, I don’t like cricket. Oh no, I love it.
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Monday, April 21, 2008


ONE-EIGHTH of the season gone and the New York Yankees already trail the Boston Red Sox by three-and-a-half games in the American League East standings. The good news for Yanks fans is that it could be a lot worse.

One-third of the regular batting line-up would, on current form, have trouble hitting the backside of a cow with a banjo. Jason Giambi has a batting average of .109; Robby Cano (.169) and Johnny Damon (.215) are not faring much better.

Three of the five starting pitchers – Ian Kennedy (with an ERA of 9.64), Phil Hughes (8.82) and Mike Mussina (5.75) – are leaking runs faster than the Titanic shipped water.

Add relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins (9.64) into the equation and it’s remarkable that the Yankees have managed to go 10-10 in their first 20 games.

Slow starts have become the norm in recent seasons for the Bronx Bombers. The question is can they really give a team like the Red Sox a head start and expect to catch them?

Statistically, the Sox always have the upper hand on their east coast rivals in April. But for their rally from 11-9 down at the Stadium last week, the Yanks would have lost four of the first five meetings. They don’t play again until July.

Yanks escape sweeps against Royals and Orioles

Of greater concern is the fact that they have already lost series to the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles. And, in each case, they had to win the final game to avoid a 3-0 sweep.

Not the start new manager Joe Girardi was hoping for. Already, some of the optimism following his appointment is beginning to wane.

We’ve heard that Girardi is meticulous; that he leaves no stone unturned in his preparations. According to the players, spring training was much more demanding than in previous years.

The role the manager plays in baseball is overrated. He’s only as good as his players and, at the moment, some of them simply aren’t very good.

Would the Yankees be any better off under Joe Torre? Probably not. It’s worth noting that Torre’s new club, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are propping up the National League West Division with a record of 7-11.

My one criticism of Girardi’s leadership so far is his reluctance to bench his out-of-form senior players. With three lefties struggling for hits, I don’t understand why Shelley Duncan was sent down to the minors.

Injuries to Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and now A-Rod, haven’t helped. Neither has a schedule requiring that the Yankees play 18 out of 20 games on the road.

It’s both surprising and disappointing that a team with such strength and depth in their batting – at least, on paper – should have been shut out twice already. And that by such notable pitchers as Zack Greinke and Brian Burres.

I’m sure that when the summer really arrives, the Yanks will start hitting again with some consistency.

Hughes suffering from a crisis of confidence

I’ve also seen enough from Hughes to still believe that he has enough pitches to win games. At the moment, he’s just lacking in belief and confidence.

Kennedy and Mussina are another matter. They’re similar in style and, right now, similar in results. But while Kennedy has youth on his side, Mussina does not.

Significantly, his one good performance in four outings this season came against the Tampa Bay Rays. He no longer has enough tricks in his bag to fool the stronger batting line-ups that are now commonplace in the American League.

How long can Girardi afford to stick with Moose? Hank Steinbrenner believes Joba is wasted in his role as reliever and wants to see him switched to the starting rotation.

The only trouble is that leaves it up to Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney (who has been excellent so far) to hand a lead over to Mariano Rivera.

Unless Mussina, Kennedy and Hughes show marked improvement, Girardi’s decision (or is it Hank’s?) on Chamberlain will probably be made for him. Better to have a lead to protect than no lead at all.

Following a much-needed day-off, the Yanks start a three-games series against the Chicago White Sox tomorrow (Tuesday) and then play four against the Cleveland Indians – the team that ended their play-off hopes last year.

The Yanks swept the Indians in regular season games last season. Expectations will be a little lower this time around.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


AS MARK TWAIN once said: “There are three kind of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

The abject failure of Europe’s top golfers to sustain a serious challenge in this year’s Masters Tournament does not augur well for their Ryder Cup chances later this year.

But history – and statistics – suggest their performance will have little bearing on the biennial contest between Europe and the United States, which takes place at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, in September.

Time was when Europe dominated the Masters. Thanks to the efforts of Sandy Lyle (1988), Nick Faldo (89, 90 and 96), Ian Woosnam (91), Bernhard Langer (93) and Jose Maria Olazabal (94), they won it seven times in nine years.

However, Olazabal’s second victory – in 1999 – was the last time a European golfer donned the Green Jacket.

The emergence of Tiger Woods coincided with a decline in the fortunes of the Europeans. Colin Montgomerie, eight times a winner of the Order of Merit on the European Tour, has never managed to win a Major.

The young pretenders have come and gone. And, once again, the Europeans flattered to deceive at August National this year.

"Just me and Tiger" soon boasts Poulter

First-round leader Justin Rose bloomed briefly, before wilting faster than the azaleas. Ian Poulter talks a good game’ a good deal better than he plays. His boast that soon “it will be just me and Tiger” at the top of the leaderboard came back to bite him where it hurts as he slipped from five under to six over in the final two rounds. 

That left Paul Casey to fly the European flag on Sunday. But he couldn’t handle the pressure either, five successive bogeys contributing to a seven-over-par final round of 79.

The fact that Padraig Harrington, never in contention throughout the four days, ended up Europe’s top finisher, tied for fifth on -2, says it all.

Nick Faldo, the European Ryder Cup captain, had a bird’s-eye view of the carnage from his position in the commentary box for CBS. Should he be worried?

With Woods and Phil Mickelson leading the way, there’s no doubt that the United States will start favorites in September. They usually do.

However, current form and the world golf rankings seem to have little bearing when, for three days, golf becomes a team game.

1999 wasn’t just the last year a European won the Masters. It also happens to be the last time the USA won the Ryder Cup.

Europe, thanks largely to their camaraderie and bulldog spirit, have triumphed three times since then. So perhaps Mark Twain was right when he suggested that you can’t always believe the statistics.

Monday, April 14, 2008


EVERY successful sports franchise is built on solid foundations. Perhaps the suits now running the New York Yankees should be concentrating more on their own performance – and that of the team - than concerning themselves with excavating the concrete at the new stadium that contained David Ortiz’s No. 34 shirt.

Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, along with president Randy Levine, may believe they have reversed the curse. But their reaction to the revelation by the New York Post that a Red Sox jersey had been buried in the concrete says more about them than the construction worker who committed this dastardly deed.

A hex so strong that Ortiz is currently averaging .070 with just three hits in 43 at bats. Rather than threaten legal action, perhaps they should congratulate perpetrator Gino Castignoli and ask him if he wouldn’t mind burying a Manny Ramirez shirt too!

Levine was pomposity personified, describing the job of working on the construction site at the new Yankee Stadium as a “privilege.” Hal Steinbrenner, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that his co-workers should “kick the c**p” out of Castignoli.

Are these the type of people we really want running our club? The same people who didn’t have the guts to fire manager Joe Torre but gambled on him being sufficiently insulted by their offer of a one-year contract to walk away from the job.

Say what you like about long-time Yankees owner George Steinbrenner but at least he had a bit more class than his sons.

With 26 World Series championships to their name, the New York Yankees are one of the most celebrated organizations in sports. But the power, the pride and the pinstripes are currently being tarnished by the mindless media soundbites spouting from the mouths of these misguided men at the helm.

With Red Sox Nation currently holding sway over the Bronx Bombers, you might think they would have the good sense to keep a low profile.

It’s now eight years since the Yanks last ruled the roost in baseball and results so far this season hardly suggest that’s about to change.

Judged on the first few performances by starting pitchers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, it looks like management’s decision not to trade their “young guns” for ace Johan Santana in the winter is going to backfire.

With many of their aging “stars” coming to the end of their contracts, the new stadium is not the only rebuilding process the Yankees will be going through this year.

Are you confident that current leadership will make the right decisions on who should stay and who they should sign?

For a more than a century, the New York Yankees have been the biggest name in baseball. But nothing is set in stone. Not even David Ortiz’s jersey.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


THERE'S a fine dividing line in sports between experience and youth. The teams with the right balance are usually the ones that are successful.

According to Jason Giambi, the New York Yankees are currently playing “like a bunch of old men.”

Asked what was ailing the Yankees after they had been shut-out by the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, Giambi replied: “You look around and you’ve got young kids over there running around like maniacs, and we’re playing like a bunch of old men right now.”

A refreshingly frank assessment from the oldest man in the Yankees line-up … and a player who may well be at the root of the problem.

Giambi is 37 and in the final year of a seven-year, $120 million contract. He still has a good eye, but opposing pitchers have figured out he’s one-dimensional.

They block off the easy base hit to the right side of the field and expose his lack of speed around the bases. He has managed just one hit in 18 at bats so far and has an average of .056.

That the Yankees will start hitting before the summer’s out is as certain the price of oil rising again. 

But, on current form, predictions that they will score between 950 and 1,000 runs look well wide of the mark. They have managed just 25 runs in nine games and have yet to steal a base.

Too Many Thirty-Somethings

Could the problem be that they have too many thirty-somethings? Giambi (37), Posada (36), Abreu (34), Damon (34), Jeter (33), Matsui (33) and Rodriguez (32). 

Some will argue these are players in the prime of their careers. Others will say that the wear and tear of everyday baseball is catching up with them.

That certainly looks to be the case with Jorge Posada and, to a lesser extent, Derek Jeter. The idiots at MLB who slated the Yankees to start the season in dank, drizzly New York may well have contributed to Jeter’s thigh injury. However, there was a time when a broken bone wouldn’t keep the skipper out of the line-up.

Like most catchers, Posada has learned to live with aches and pains. But if his “dead arm” means he can’t throw the runner out at second, then he can’t play. And that’s a major blow to the Yanks’ run production.

Robinson Canó and Melky Cabrera make up the youth element among the Yankees batters, which makes manager Joe Girardi’s decision to send Shelley Duncan down to the minors to make room for shortstop Alberto Gonzáles a little surprising.

The one thing Duncan brings to the team is raw exuberance. And if ever the Yankees could do with that, it’s now.

As for the starting pitching, it’s too soon for definitive judgments. However, it’s fair to say that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have a lot of improving to do to justify the decision not to trade them to Minnesota for Johan Santana.

Hughes, the man fans hope will become a No. 1 one day, was alarmingly wayward against the Royals. You’re going to get inconsistency with young pitchers but they have to learn fast how to make adjustments.

Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera have looked great. But with the likes of Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins hemorrhaging runs, the Yankees need more than those three to stop the bleeding.

With 16 of the next 18 games on the road, it’s not hard to envisage them finding themselves in a similar hole to last season, which they spent playing catch-up.

With a new manager at the helm, I, for one, expected them to come out of the gate running. Instead, to bastardize Giambi’s quote, they’re plodding around like old carthorses.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


TIGER WOODS finally has a serious rival. Someone who has won the last two Majors and three of the first four tournaments so far this season – the latest by a five-shot margin.

A golfer with a scoring average of 68.3 and a conversion rate of 67% when taking a lead into the final round. The fastest player to pass the $11 million mark in prize money, this superb competitor is only one point away from the Hall of Fame.

His name? Well, actually, if you haven’t guessed already, it’s a her – Lorena Ochoa.

The first Mexican golfer – male or female – to be ranked number one in the world, Ochoa has taken over the mantle of No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings from Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam.

She had to wait a while to win her first Major. But after making the breakthrough last August in the Women’s British Open at the Old Course, St Andrews – the home of golf – she has never looked back.

Just as Tiger dominates men’s golf, so Lorena has become the player to beat each week on the LPGA Tour.

In the past, some people had questioned her ability to handle the pressure. Not now. She made five birdies and no bogeys to card a final-round 67 for an 11-under-par total of 277 in the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Rancho Mirage, California, on Sunday.

Tradition has it that the winner must leap, fully clothed, into Poppie’s Pond. That presented no problem for Ochoa. Right now, she could walk on water.

Second-longest driver on the LPGA Tour

The slightly framed 26-year-old from the industrial city of Guadalajara packs a surprisingly powerful punch. She stands just 5ft 6in tall, yet she's the second-longest driver of the ball on tour behind Laura Davies. Her approach play and putting has come on in leaps and bounds.

Ochoa took up golf at the age of five. She won her first state event at six and her first national event at seven.

That success continued as a student at the University of Arizona. In her sophomore year, she won eight of the ten events she entered.

Winner of the Nancy Lopez Award for the world’s best female amateur golfer in 2003, she gained eight top-10 finishes in her rookie year on the LPGA Tour.

Her maiden victory came the following year at the Franklin American Mortgage Championship – she was the first Mexican-born player to win on the Tour – and she followed that by capturing the Wachovia LPGA Classic.

The trophies have followed with remarkable regularity since then. Now she’s dominating the major tournaments too.

“It took me five years to get to the top and now I feel really comfortable with the position,” she says. “It’s been tough, probably tougher than I thought. But it’s been worth it. I’m going to enjoy my time at the top as much as I can, because it has really been a blessing.”

Not surprisingly, Ochoa has become a national hero in her native Mexico. One fan described her as “an inspiration to all of us.” “She’s a simple person with a talent from God,” he added.

Lorena certainly acts like a “people’s champion.” She spent last Wednesday morning having breakfast with the maintenance crew of the golf course.

They were so appreciative that on Thursday, they erected a banner stating: “Mission Hills Golf Course Staff Supports Lorena Ochoa.”

This was removed the following day. Perhaps Ochoa’s rivals were worried the water sprinklers would be turned on while they were putting?

Like Tiger, the talk is now about whether Ochoa can complete a career Grand Slam by winning the next two Majors.

Her rival, Sorenstam, is not ruling it out. She says: “Lorena is playing great golf. You obviously need to peak at a certain time and you need a little luck, but I certainly do think it’s possible.”

One man who will be following her progress with interest is Woods himself. Apparently, the two were introduced for the first time at an awards’ dinner last year and expressed their mutual admiration.

The ladies still have some way to go to attract the same global media coverage as the PGA Tour. But there’s no doubt that Lorena Ochoa is putting Mexico – and women’s golf – on the world map.

Monday, April 7, 2008


SO WEEK ONE of the new baseball season is behind us and things are pretty much as expected. Defending World Series champions the Boston Red Sox are bottom of the American League East, the Kansas City Royals share top spot in the Central and the vaunted Detroit Tigers have played six, lost six!

No team that has started the season 0-4 has gone on to win the World Series. Wily Tigers coach Jim Leyland won’t be pushing the panic button just yet. To use an old cliché, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But to say things haven’t gone according to plan for some of the more fancied teams is an understatement.

The Red Sox may be paying the price for their long-haul flight to Japan. That was followed by a trip to the West Coast to play Oakland, then a three-game series in Toronto.

The Blue Jays, beaten 2-1 by the New York Yankees despite their superior starting pitching, bounced back to sweep the Sox 3-0. Josh Beckett, making his first start of the season, gave up five runs, three hits and four walks in four and two thirds innings on Sunday.

The good news for Terry Francona and his jet-lagged players is that they return to Fenway Park this week to start a six-game home stand against … yes, you guessed it, the Tigers, then the Yankees.

“A lot of us are tired. We’re ready to go home,” admitted first baseman Kevin Youkilis. “All these different countries, different currencies. I’m sick of it.”

American League East a three-horse race?

Perhaps the biggest concern for both the Red Sox and the Yankees should be the Blue Jays’ form. The division could well turn into a three-horse race, which will probably eliminate two of the teams from wild-card contention.

Not only do the Jays have the best starting rotation but they expect to have closer B.J. Ryan and third baseman Scott Rolen back off the disabled list shortly.

So what of the 3-3 Yankees? If Chien-Ming Wang is starting, Joba Chamberlain pitching the eighth inning and Mariano Rivera closing, then they are pretty much unbeatable. But when it’s Mike Mussina, followed by LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth, no lead is big enough.

The encouragement provided by Phil Hughes’ first start was offset by the struggles of Ian Kennedy. Like Beckett, Andy Pettite was probably a little rusty following his injury lay-off. However, given the inconsistency of their pitching staff, the Yankees are unlikely to put together a long winning streak.

Some pundits are predicting they will score between 950 and 1,000 runs. They’ve got plenty of catching up to do, having scored only 17 in six games so far.

It’s hard to see the pedestrian Jason Giambi playing first base every day and with opponents putting the shift on him when he comes to the plate, he has to hit the ball out of the park to make a contribution.

Yankees rely on Melky Cabrera in outfield

Hideki Matsui, and to a lesser extent, Johnny Damon, are also a liability in the outfield. Just as well the Yanks didn’t trade Melky Cabrera.

While 55,000 fans packed Yankee Stadium on a chilly Sunday afternoon, the current division leaders, the Baltimore Orioles, are struggling to entice more than 10,000 into Camden Yards. Their attendance of 10,505 against Seattle was the lowest since the ballpark opened in 1992.

It’s amazing how quickly pre-season optimism can give way to post-traumatic pessimism. Just ask New York Mets’ fans.

A hamstring injury to Pedro Martinez, followed by an all-too-familiar series loss against the Atlanta Braves, suggests the Amazins may not be the “dead cert” to win the National League East that many people thought.

They certainly can’t afford to be losing games started by Johan Santana, who looks every inch the ace the Mets paid big bucks for.

The Mets begin a nine-game homestand against Philadephia tomorrow. With the whispers already starting about the job security of manager Willie Randolph, especially after last season’s September surrender, Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Delgado need to start hitting.

While Randolph and new Yankees coach Joe Girardi have been under the weather (for different reasons), Joe Torre is enjoying the sunshine out in Los Angeles. His Dodgers are 4-2. Only another 156 games to go!

Friday, April 4, 2008


DO US A FAVRE, BRETT: According to the Los Angeles Times, Green Bay giant Brett Favre could be considering a comeback – with another team. It’s fitting that this story should originate in LaLa Land. Please say it ain’t so Brett. I couldn’t face sitting through another retirement press conference and wasting another box of Kleenex. It’s like watching a rerun of a Lassie film.

GOLDEN BALLS’ FIRST GOAL: David Beckham scored his first goal in the MLS as the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0. Just as well after the Galaxy’s embarrassing opening-day defeat against Colorado. That 4-0 drubbing resulted in former Ipswich Town defender Frank Yallop being replaced as coach by Dutch Master Ruud Gullit.

A-WAD: So Alex Rodriguez earns more money a year than the entire Florida Marlins 33-man roster ($28 million v $22 million). No surprise there then. Neither were the groans at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night when he struck out with the bases loaded. Whatever A-Rod does, it will never be enough – even if and when he has World Series ring on his finger. That’s the price you pay for being baseball’s highest-paid player.

THE OTHER A-ROD: Andy Roddick recorded his first win in 12 attempts against world No. 1 Roger Federer. “I came in knowing that nobody has beaten me 12 times in a row,” said Roddick. Now that’s a record to be proud of!

WAS THAT ON THE RECORD, JAMES? Incoming New York Knicks president Donnie Walsh has promised a new era of openness with the media. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Try telling that to owner James Dolan following the disastrous appointments of Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas. “I think the team has to protect itself from doing harm to itself through the press,” said Dolan. Don’t the results speak for themselves?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


IT'S 42 YEARS since England won the World Cup. Even then, victory – 4-2 over West Germany after extra time – was achieved on home soil.

Since that sole success, masterminded by Sir Alf Ramsey, England have endured “40 years of hurt” under a succession of big-name coaches. Eleven, to be exact.

Joe Mercer, Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor, Terry Venables, Glen Hoddle and Kevin Keegan. They all failed to deliver a major trophy and were eventually hounded out of the job by Britain’s savage tabloid press.

So desperate to find a winning formula, the Football Association even committed treason in 2001 by going outside England for the first time, appointing the Swede, Sven-Göran Eriksson, to the post.

Eriksson, it seemed, “scored” more often than his strikers. Very much a ladies’ man, he achieved notoriety for his affairs with a weather girl-turned TV presenter, and an attractive secretary at the FA.

He stepped down after England’s exit from the 2006 World Cup. Not for the first time, they lost a penalty shootout, against Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Steve McClaren, the next man handed the “poisoned chalice”, couldn’t even manage to qualify for the European Championship finals, which will take place without England, in Austria and Switzerland this June.

McClaren was swiftly replaced by the Italian, Fabio Capello, who has won one and lost one of his two matches in charge.


England’s next fixture is against the USA at Wembley on May 28. No doubt the knives will be out for Capello should Bob Bradley’s team cause an upset.

So why does the England team struggle so much on the international stage when the Barclays Premier League is currently the best league in Europe, if not the world?

Perversely, that in itself is the biggest reason. Just take a look at the “Big Four”: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

These four clubs are well ahead of the rest in England – and probably Europe too. They have all reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Europe’s premier club competition.

United have Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand; Chelsea Joe Cole, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard; Arsenal Theo Walcott; Liverpool Steven Gerrard. But these England players are the exception to the rule.

Man U’s success this season has been built on 36 goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal winger who must surely win most votes for European Player of the Year.

Spanish striker Fernando Torres has kept Liverpool afloat with his 28 goals. Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast has netted 13 times for Chelsea while Arsenal’s top scorer with 23 is Emmanuel Adebayor of Nigeria.

Just take a look at Arsenal’s 32-man, first-team squad. It contains only two Englishmen: Walcott and Justin Hoyte.


Not only are the best English youth team players not getting the chance to play at the highest level but, it would seem, the English coaches are not regarded as skilled enough either.

Manchester United have been managed since 1986 by the redoubtable Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson. Israeli Avram Grant followed the self-proclaimed “Special One”, José Mourinho of Portugal, at Chelsea.

Frenchman Arsène Wenger has built a dynasty at Arsenal and although the Spaniard, Rafael Benítez, has not managed to lead Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League, he did make them champions of Europe in 2005.

All that domestic and European success … yet hardly an Englishman in sight.

The fans can’t get enough of it. More than 13 million paid to watch the 380 games played in the 2006-2007 season, producing an average attendance was 34,459.

Like baseball, the TV ratings have gone through the roof and players’ wage demands have risen proportionally.

Yet the fans’ joy at watching the best players in the world wear their club's colors is in stark contrast to their frustration with Team England’s continual failure.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t have the best of both worlds.

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, wants to see clubs limited to five foreign players in their starting XI to enable home-grown talent to flourish.

The top clubs, of course, are hardly likely to follow his advice. And in England, club comes before country.

Which is why supporters of the national team can expect at least another 40 years of hurt.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


So the new baseball season is underway … for most, that is. The New York Yankees will be hoping for better luck with the weather tonight when they host the Toronto Blue Jays in their home opener.

Monday’s rainout was a big disappointment for the fans, but every cloud has a silver lining.

It at least provided Clyde Haberman of The New York Times with the column inches to write an excellent article about the final season at Yankee Stadium and the state of baseball today.

Baseball may be a game of nostalgia, marked by deeds of derring-do, but let’s not kid ourselves; the average fan is being priced out of the market.

As Haberman reports, the best box seats at Yankee Stadium sell for $250 compared to $150 last season. The top seats at the new stadium will cost $2,500 apiece.

“The writing for the ordinary fans is on the wall,” he writes. “Both new ballparks [the Mets are moving too] will have fewer seats than the old ones, conspicuously Citi Field, which will have a capacity of about 45,000 compared with Shea’s 57,000.”

The message from the owners is clear. Baseball is no longer a sport of the people – the blue-collar workers – but an entertainment outlet for the city slickers willing to spend top dollar for their seats.

The Prawn Sandwich Brigade

It’s already happened in English soccer. Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane famously described the new fans at Old Trafford as “the prawn sandwich brigade.”

They don’t want to stand on the terraces. They want to be petted and pampered in their private boxes.

Perhaps it’s time to replace hot dogs with porterhouse steaks and the beer with Perrier water at ballparks.

It’s all about supply and demand … and the demand for baseball tickets has never been higher. It’s virtually impossible to buy them through the club, even if you’re prepared to sit in the bleachers.

That’s why sites like Ticketmaster and StubHub! are doing a roaring trade. You’ll have no problem finding seats there, just as long as you’re willing to pay the same price as you would for a one-week vacation in the Bahamas.

Haberman signs off by telling us that Fay Vincent, a former commissioner of baseball, has written a book containing anecdotes about the game in the 1950s and ’60s. Its title: “We Would Have Played For Nothing.”

No one does anything for nothing these days … as demonstrated by the recent refusal by the Red Sox to travel to Japan before their coaching staff were guaranteed sufficient remuneration.

That’s why, for the average fan like me, a trip to the ballpark is now a bit like Christmas. It only happens once a year.