Silence of the lamb

A controversy has rocked the Maple Leafs on the eve of what should have been the most joyous of moments – returning to the playoffs after a nine-year wait.

All of a sudden, one of the team’s top snipers, Phil Kessel, went silent and dodged the media the day before the team was set to fly out to Boston for game one.

Kessel’s surprising change of pace will no doubt leave the Leafs reeling, and couldn’t have come at a worse time, as “top” centre Tyler Bozak struggles through an upper-body injury.

“His eloquent verbiage is, without question, one of his finest attributes,” said Dion Phaneuf, the second most well-spoken player on the team.

“For Phil to abandon such magnificent vocal leadership at our greatest time of need is a treason from which we may never recover,” he continued.

* * *

Hah. Okay, back to reality.

After the hockey writers in the Centre of the Universe descended on Phil Kessel for not speaking to the media following a practice, we’re left with one nagging question:

Why?

Just what exactly did they expect?

Was what Kessel did right… or a smart thing to do? No. He just made things worse for himself in the long run.

But do we really need to drag him over the coals for it? Also no.

I suppose Toronto media has shown a certain fondness for well-spoken athletes. Mats Sundin was quite well spoken, and quite well treated as a result. R.A. Dickey has stolen the hearts of local writers – he even wrote a book himself!

But just because a guy doesn’t feel like talking doesn’t mean he should given such a hard time, even if it is part of his job (we all conveniently fake a sick day once in a while, no?)

If we really want accountability we should focus our frustrations on something more practical.

For example, why aren’t referees forced to speak with the media after games?

Or better yet, when Gary Bettman hosted an XM radio show, why were all the callers pre-screened with nothing negative to say?

Those are the cones of silence we should question. Not why some shy, distant 25-year-old hockey player is trying to avoid giving boilerplate answers to a swarm of people he doesn’t like.

Kessel’s gonna Kessel. Just leave it at that and move on.

Safe, for the moment

 

As Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem shudders through your eardrums it’s easy to get swept up in the emotion.

It’s funny though. While the lyrics are very sad, the bouncy electronic beat does something to keep that sadness from completely overwhelming you.

I never got to see the group play live. In fact, I only really started to listen to with more than a passing interest after their break-up. The great thing about music though, is that even though the band no longer performs, their creative efforts will live on forever.

The song is by no means one about a baseball pitcher. It’s probably fair to say it’s open to interpretation, but it’s about something much heavier, and darker than baseball – that’s for sure. But lately when I listen to it I picture Roy Halladay – or more specifically his career and his struggles at the start of this season.

Few things have been as hard for me to watch in sport as Halladay’s struggles early on.  He seems to have gotten back (more or less) to his old self now, but carrying a 14.73 ERA through the first two starts was unsettling to say the least.

Halladay’s decline, for me, is one that really chews at your core and makes you contemplate the end of all great things. It’s the clear signal that things you once knew and made you comfortable will not last.

For years, tuning into a Halladay start was a given. You could sit down, crack a couple beers, and settle in for a lesson in pitching. A complete game was a likelihood, and maybe even a shutout.

Even when it came time for him to move on to the Phillies – a team the Jays beat for their second World Series title – it was hard not to just sit and stare at the things he could do with sheer joy. It only seemed to get better as he left. The perfect game. The playoff no-hitter. It was always sensational.

To tell the truth I saw it coming…

But nothing can prepare you for it,

Of course there was writing on the wall. He’s 35 now, and he’s thrown over 2,700 big league innings. His spring was dreadful, and he faltered at times last year. His walk rate went up and his HR/9 crept up over 1.00 for effectively the first time in his career (meaning: since 2001).

Greatness will come to pass, and when it’s gone there will be a void. Nothing lasts forever – and it was never meant to – and while it’s easy to focus on the end, celebrating the past is just as important.

Part of the problem though, is that watching Halladay pitch for so many years in Toronto did for me what The Wire did for other TV shows. It set a standard so high, and so perfect, everything after it seems pale in comparison. It jaded me to everything else.

With someone new I could have started,

Too late, for beginnings.

And I’ve tried to find solace. Game of Thrones is a fun show. I love watching Clayton Kershaw starts. But it’s never going to be the same. Halladay and The Wire weren’t like the others, because they never missed – at least not to me.

Of course if I hadn’t seen Halladay as a Blue Jay for so many years, would I have felt the same way? Doubtful.

I can appreciate that he maybe isn’t the best ever. Pedro Martinez could do unreal things with a baseball, and I’ve heard that Koufax guy was a bit of a pitcher in his day.

But they didn’t do it around me and their successes never shaped my fandom. Halladay was so good, and so consistent, you were surprised he was human, and that’s what makes the fall so hard to watch.

His decline may be coming more quickly these days than we’d like, and for fans like myself it’s important to accept that. But if we keep those memories close, it’ll be like he’s never gone.

 

Besides, he’s pitching just fine for now.

We’re safe, for the moment.

Saved,
For the moment.

Just drop it.

A chorus of stupidity cascaded across the golf world this weekend over a rules violation, and the whole situation couldn’t have been more perfectly ironic.

On Friday at Augusta Tiger Woods broke the rules when he took a drop not “as nearly as possible” to where he’d played his third shot on the 15th hole.

He broke the rule because he signed for a 71 instead of factoring in the drop penalty before signing. Tiger claims to have confused two rules, which lead to the mix-up.

The decision was initially cleared by the rules committee, but was later revisited, and overnight they changed their minds, and he was docked two shots as a penalty.

Everyone is up in arms over this because up until two years ago signing an incorrect scorecard would mean immediate disqualification. But a recent rule amendment (33-7) has allowed for flexibility in these cases. This has now easily become the precedent setting case.

What’s so perfect about the way this drama is unfolding is the high profile cast and setting. Tiger, Augusta, and old Nick Faldo making his case to be king of the crazies.

I like Nick Faldo. He was a great golfer in his hey day, and a well-spoken guy, but after watching him and David Feherty debate the ongoing debacle on CBS I think we can safely say he’s a guy not worth listening to.

Effectively, the Masters officials decided to employ this new rule that was designed exactly for this type of situation – where increased scrutiny lead to punishment.

Yet here was Faldo, railing against the new order of golf, frothing at the mouth over how the history of the game was being violated.

He said that Woods, like so many players before him who signed an incorrect card, should be held to account like they were, and disqualified from this year’s tournament, calling the situation “black and white” (an interesting turn of phrase).

Yet, Faldo seems oblivious to the grey areas. Back 20, 30, 40 years ago cameras didn’t hover behind players documenting their every move like today. Furthermore, the amount of scrutinizing eyes has grown as you can watch the Masters from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection now. Anyone can call in and report a violation.

Faldo’s opinion of the event immediately started losing credibility when he referred to “the world tweeting thing”. His whole episode showed a dated, out of touch viewpoint that is not good for golf.

Faldo just doesn’t get the whole “world tweeting thing”… I can’t say I blame him.

Faldo spoke of the need to be caretakers of the game, and passing along the traditions to the next generation, and it’s certainly admirable and well intentioned I’m sure. But such a staunch defense of the old guard is simply contributing to golf’s image as a staid, elitist, and inaccessible game.

That he was preaching this drivel from the confines of Butler Cabin made this all the more hilarious, and ironic.

Augusta National is one of the great bastions of conservatism. It’s a golf course that only started admitting women as members a year ago. It also once had a policy that all caddies be black. So that the rules committee at this course, of all places, chose to change their tack is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Some will argue this is a case of Tiger getting special treatment – but it doesn’t matter. The precedent is now set, whether Faldo likes it or not.

But what makes this so excruciatingly dumb is that all of this is being done above board. This is the proper way to interpret the rule, but just the first high-profile case, so a few cages were bound to be rattled.

To his credit though, later on Faldo seemed to have accepted that he was wrong and softened on his stance, which is a respectable (and difficult) thing to do.

But the whole episode showed that sentiments like his are still pervasive throughout the game, and there are no doubt others deriding this is as a violation.

I’m less inclined call it a violation, since it looks more like evolution. And watching golf evolve – in Georgia of all places – is a remarkable thing to see.