King Kaufman's Sports Daily

In defense of ignoring the hockey World Cup and the U.S. Open. Plus: Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day.

By Salon Staff

Published September 14, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

The World Cup of Hockey has come and almost gone, and we've missed it! We've all been going about our business here in the U.S. of A., watching football, eating pork rinds, scratching our bellies, while the best hockey players in the world have been playing hard and well, sometimes right in St. Paul, Minn., an actual American city. Really! I just checked.

With the NHL expected to announce a lockout Wednesday, this is the last world-class hockey we're likely to see for a while, and do we care? Do we watch? Do we interrupt our routines for even one second to think about whether Finland will upset Canada in Tuesday's final in Toronto?

In a word: Burp!

Oh, and most of us missed the U.S. Open tennis tournament too. Roger Federer and Svetlana Kuznetsova were the champions. You may have missed the men's final Sunday because it was on opposite one of those Martha Quinn infomercials. Federer's win over Lleyton Hewitt got a 2.5 rating. That's a UPN number.

I've gotten hundreds of e-mails castigating me for ignoring these events. OK, not hundreds. OK, five. But they were all beautifully written.

I really thought I'd get into the World Cup of Hockey, really expected to be dazzled. These are the same players who knocked me out two years ago in the Winter Olympics and will do so again in 17 months. I tried. I tuned in. I was cold, shallow. It filled me with inertia.

I joined you in not bothering with the U.S. Open. I always do. I think it's the surface. There's no getting around the fact that the U.S. Open looks an awful lot like the Greater Indian Wells Kellogg's Corn Flakes Invitational. The Australian Open has the same problem. Wimbledon, with its grass, and the French Open, with its red clay, do not.

You tune in to those tournaments and you know you haven't just happened on another time-filler on ESPN27, one of those tournaments that's a major local story wherever it's happening, but gets relegated to one paragraph in the "Sports Roundup" column everywhere else.

Tennis, like golf, relies upon the generally agreed-upon fiction that the "majors" are somehow more important than the nonmajors, even though pretty much the same players play in all of them. Without the spectacular difference of a clay or grass surface, that fiction is difficult to maintain.

Sure, the top players care more about the majors, and they all show up if healthy, not just most of them, and they all bring their A games. But you have to already be paying attention to tennis to notice that, say, Amelie Mauresmo is really bringing it in Flushing Meadows in a way that she doesn't in Memphis or Budapest.

And who pays attention to tennis? Not very many people, relatively speaking. Why not? Same kids playing every week.

The World Cup of Hockey has the same problem. Americans simply didn't buy into the fiction that the tournament means anything, even though we'll be pretty interested in these same guys, in the same suits, playing in the Olympics a year from February. We buy that story: The Olympics are important.

A sporting event has no intrinsic meaning or value. The Super Bowl and Game 7 of the World Series are only meaningful because enough of us agree that they are. The same teams meet again in an exhibition game a few months later and nobody gives a flying doughnut about it.

Generally speaking, American sports fans don't buy into the fiction that international team tournaments are important, with the lukewarm exceptions of the Olympics and the soccer World Cup, which we care about only if we've got a shot to win. That's because we're busy buying into the fiction that NBA, NFL, major league baseball and NASCAR events have meaning.

Fans of events like the hockey World Cup, at least the ones who write to me, tend to see this as some sort of American moral shortcoming, further evidence that Americans are not as sophisticated and refined as, for example, the Europeans who really get into these things and who also, by the way, made David Hasselhoff a pop music superstar.

Nobody is a better or worse, smarter or dumber person because of the sports he or she likes. Sports fandom doesn't involve moral choice, animal-abuse sports like dog fighting excepted. There are evil idiots who like sophisticated, refined games and upstanding geniuses who like smashmouth blood sports.

The hockey World Cup simply failed to sell its story on these shores. It's likely to try again and fail again. As they say in the NASCAR pits: C'est la vie.

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Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day [PERMALINK]

Today's stat: Batting average.

What, you thought this was going to be esoteric foofaraw every day? Nope. Even looking at many traditional stats, Bonds blows everybody else out of the water.

Here are the batting averages, through Monday's games, of the five main National League MVP "candidates," with their standing in the league in parenthesis:

Barry Bonds, S.F., .375 (1st in the league)
Adrian Beltre, L.A., .338 (3rd)
Albert Pujols, St.L., .329 (6th)
Scott Rolen, St.L., .320 (8th)
Jim Edmonds, St.L., .319 (9th)

Mark Loretta of the Padres is second in the league in hitting at .346. Bonds leads Loretta by 29 points. A hitter 29 points below Loretta, at .317, would be 10th in the league, between Edmonds and Johnny Estrada of the Braves, who's hitting .315. So the distance from Bonds to second place is greater than the distance from second to ninth place. This is a common phenomenon when looking at Bonds' stats.

There should be some new term for "second place" when it's so far away from first.

Previous column: Introducing the Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day

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