Saturday, March 29, 2014

30 Teams, 30 Haiku: My 2014 Baseball Preview

The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, and the neat assembling of 17 syllables to describe each MLB team's 2014 forecast. Yes ladies and germs, for the fourth year in a row please enjoy some baseball haiku. Granted, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played their first game over a week ago, but for 28 other clubs Day One is still ahead. Feel free to disagree with poetic license in the comments section below:

(asterisks note wild cards)

1. Red Sox. This Lazarus act/has a tough act to follow/can't slump at Fenway.
2. Yankees*. Big spenders again/strong, but nowhere near elite/as old legs buckle.
3. Rays. If the Price is right/these overachievers will/sting the East again.
4. Orioles. This deep division/the margin of error here/is close to zero.
5. Blue Jays. Any improvements?/not the pitching, though the bats/have power to spare.

1. Tigers. Heavily favored/despite no chemistry; they're/tops in a weak bunch.
2. Royals*. Three decades without/glory; the schneid ends if the/pitching can hold up.
3. Indians. Santana to third/seems like a logical move/but who's the shortstop?
4. Twins. Minor improvements/does not a contender make/the youth must grow up.
5. White Sox. Jose Abreu/blue-chip Cuban sandwiched in/a full youth movement.

1. Athletics. Gray weather forecast/A's fans expect Sonny skies/and playoff glory.
2. Rangers. The one Washington/that gets anything done is/now on the hot seat.
3. Angels. Underacheivers/hardly anyone earns their/paychecks except Trout.
4. Mariners. So they have Cano/and a switch-hitter surplus/they're not legit yet.
5. Astros. Worst is over, but/when Scott Feldman is your ace/dim expectations.

1. Nationals. First by happenstance/after '12 hangover, Nats/get pesky again.
2. Braves*. Mourn the rotation/if you want; their bats will give/Atlanta some hope.
3. Phillies. Pretend contenders/a team without direction/overhaul, A-SAP!
4. Mets. Some optimism/in Queens; the question is, do/they have the Wright stuff?
5. Marlins. Room for improvement/these raw youngsters might surprise/but they're years away.

1. Cardinals. A strange dilemma/they have too many good arms/and too little time.
2. Pirates*. Feisty, resurgent/Roger is jolly again/Wild Card beckons.
3. Reds. Billy Hamilton/thief extrodinaire, young gun/high expectations.
4. Brewers. Ryan had fake brawn/Hebrew Hammer, nailed again/blemishes young squad.
5. Cubs. "Wait until next year"/always applies to Wrigley/sleeper in '15?

1. Dodgers. Already quite good/but if HanRam is healthy/they're unstoppable.
2. Giants. Health is crucial here/if San Fran wants to contend/in the wild West.
3. D-Backs. Many injuries/Corbin, B-Mac, Arroyo/so don't expect much.
4. Padres. With a stealth infield/Friars won't need miracles/to chase .500.
5. Rockies. No Chacin, no arms/plus burly offense equals/high scoring train wrecks.

NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Reds
AL Rookie of the Year: Nick Castellanos, Tigers
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
First Manager Fired: Mike Scioscia, Angels
2014 World Series: Los Angeles over Boston in 7

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Non-Illinoisan's Guide to the 2014 Illinois Primary (Written by an Illinoisan)

This Tuesday is the Illinois primary, that biennial exercise of democracy --er, vote-- that reminds us of the sorry state of gubernatorial politics in the Land of Lincoln. Here's a quick breakdown:

Governor: To the disappointment of some state Democrats, Pat Quinn should cruise through his party's nomination --his fourth straight on the gubernatorial ticket-- aspiring for a second full term as Illinois' top official. What was expected to be a wide-open race for this vulnerable incumbent was all but settled by last September. Attorney General Lisa Madigan was forced to bow out because of a potential scandal involving her father, State Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley (son of Richard J, brother of Richard M) made a halfhearted sprint before quitting for personal reasons. Anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, Quinn's sole remaining competitor, was never a factor in the race.

The GOP race is not as crowded as 2010's logjam --seven candidates in the running, with Bill Brady winning by less than 200 votes-- but there's a few familiar faces. The brash, polarizing Brady is running a second time against Bruce Rauner (a millionaire political novice), Kirk Dillard (a state senator and perennial bridesmaid), and state treasurer Dan Rutherford. Also unlike 2010, where a cluster of candidates from the same geographical area cancelled each other out, the four GOP hopefuls represent disparate parts of the state: Rauner is a Chicago native, Brady from Bloomington-Normal, Dillard from the west suburbs of Chicago, and Rutherford from small-town Pontiac. Recent polls suggest that Rauner will edge out Dillard to face the doddering Quinn.

U.S. Senate: Three-term incumbent and DC power-broker Dick Durbin is not facing any serious competition for the Democratic nomination. For the first time, however reelection is no sure thing; growing dissatisfaction by moderates and centrists toward the Obama administration will result in a tight race, regardless of who wins the GOP nomination.

On the Republican side, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis is by far the most recognizable name on the ballot. Also known as a politically active investment manager, Oberweis had lost five state elections at various levels before finally winning a Illinois Senate seat in 2012. Polls suggest that the fractured Illinois GOP will likely tilt toward Oberweis, as rival Doug Truax is in third place behind "undecided." In spite of endorsements from former Rep. Newt Gingrich and the Chicago Tribune, Truax's first run for public office will likely falter to Oberweis' deep coffers.

Congress: All 18 of Illinois' seats in the House of Representatives are on the ballot (duh) and though there are a few close races here and there, the state in general is likely to keep leaning Democrat. In the 13th District, GOP incumbent Rodney Davis is facing little opposition from challenger Erika Harold, though he might face a close race against Democratic frontrunner Ann Callis. The recently rearranged 17th District pits incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos against her predecessor and 2012 opponent, Republican Bobby Schilling. Even if the House as a whole keeps leaning toward the right, the Land of Lincoln will help buffer a potential GOP blowout.

In spite of my cynical words, I encourage anyone reading this to please vote in your local primary this year, and most crucially in the midterm election this November. Even when the White House isn't at stake, there's a lot of issues on the docket and the future of American democracy is constantly shifting. Don't wait until the next presidential election to make your voice heard.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Kobe Beef

This week, ESPN magazine published "The Conspiracy Issue," the latest themed issue they've rolled out since the cable network's publishing branch overhauled their format three years ago. It's one of my favorite magazines to read --I hardly bother with Sports Illustrated anymore-- and the theme issues can be quite fascinating. I read ESPN mag cover to cover, and while I was mostly enlightened by stories about frozen envelopes and point shaving I felt that the editors made one glaring omission.

I am absolutely, positively convinced that Kobe Bryant is a rapist. Everything about the case reeks of conspiracy; there was plenty of evidence to convict the NBA star, then the alleged assault victim changed her tune. With respect to the accuser, we still don't know the identity of Bryant's victim. Unlike Samantha Gailey, the 8th grader whose rape forced movie director Roman Polanski to flee the US, there was never a big reveal or a follow-up by the media. Just a counter-accusation of schizophrenia, than she disappeared into the ether. It's one thing to acknowledge and respect the privacy of a woman who was sexually assaulted, but another if this young woman lied. Regardless of age, that would be perjury.

It was almost as if the NBA wanted to silence her. Keep in mind where David Stern's league was in 2003: attendance was down, major market teams in Chicago and New York were also-rans, Michael Jordan had finally retired for good, "next" players like Vince Carter and Allen Iverson were already starting to fade, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade hasn't played a minute of pro ball yet.  Kobe was the best thing happening in the NBA at the time, and to see Stern's meal ticket go to prison for 8 to 10 years would have devastated the league. Somehow, Stern got his way.

Basketball has always been my #4 sport; I follow baseball, football, and hockey with a tad more ardor. The Kobe Bryant rape case essentially bound the NBA to fourth on my mental priority list. People can hate on Lebron or Derrick Rose all they want, but I can't bring myself to ever support or root for Kobe. Let the NBA and the mainstream media sweep it all under the rug, but nearly 11 years later the stench of conspiracy still lingers.