The biggest question at the All-Star Home Run Derby Monday night in Detroit was answered before the first batting-practice pitch was thrown, and the answer was "Yes."
The question was "Is Mike Piazza playing air guitar onstage with some generic alternaclone rock band a new low in baseball-related entertainment, lower even than 'Ed,' that movie with Matt LeBlanc and an animatronic chimp?"
The answer was yes.
Another, lesser question was "Is it possible to play air guitar badly?" Also yes.
The band was Alter Bridge, which is evidently Creed with a different singer, but every bit as dull. Chris Berman made sure to tell the crowd that Alter Bridge is a local band, from Detroit, everybody. And the crowd responded to his exhortations by greeting the end of Alter Bridge's seemingly endless song with pin-drop, cricket-chirp silence. Berman begged them one last time and they gave a halfhearted cheer.
Good people, those Detroiters.
Nobody asked me but if baseball wanted a Detroit band I'd have voted for the Twistin' Tarantulas.
"There's nothing better than a home run contest," Joe Morgan told Berman, indicating that Morgan needs to get out more. Berman said, "Back back back back back back back" or maybe invoked some other artifact from his tired, shoot-your-television shtick. It's hard to take notes when you're reloading.
Yet another question became apparent as Bobby Abreu carefully chose his pitches and hit 24 homers as the first contestant -- a new record for most home runs in a single round! I didn't see Babe Ruth hit 60 but I saw this! Wow!
The question was: Is there anything more boring than a home run contest?
And the answer was yes. Alter Bridge.
Eventually, three hours and two naps (for me) later, Abreu won the derby by beating hometown entry Ivan Rodriguez in the final round. The other entrants included David Ortiz, Andruw Jones and Frank "Home Run" Baker, who was still alive when the contest began.
On the night, Abreu hit 1,863,247 home runs on just 1,863,277 swings.
ESPN, indulging in a bout of wild optimism, slotted the three and a half hour event into a two-hour space, only missing by 75 percent, the equivalent of shooting a free throw over the backboard and into the third row. As the scheduled program ended, the first -- of three -- rounds was ending. A classic bait-and-switch.
Incredibly, there was a worse way to watch the Home Run Derby than on ESPN. People in Comerica Park had to listen to the running public-address commentary of Mike Tirico, the 21st century version of Chris Berman. You can shoot your TV, but no firearms allowed in the ballpark.
Stop presses: A good idea by BCS [PERMALINK]
College football's Bowl Championship Series, through which it crowns a national championship, is such a mess, such a failure at anything but its real, unstated purpose -- lining various major-conference and TV network pockets -- that there's no way to fix it.
But in the tweaking made necessary by the Associated Press pulling its poll out of the process, a good idea actually snuck in there, and it was even a BCS idea. The new poll that will replace the AP won't begin until Sept. 25, four weeks into the season.
The incredible unfairness of forcing some teams to overcome a preseason ranking based on nothing but speculation, rather than starting the season with everyone even like every other real sport, is jaw-droppingly obvious. But it's taken this long to get a poll that acknowledges that unfairness.
There will still be bias. USC and Oklahoma will be ranked higher after a 4-0 start than UCLA or Texas Tech, and that'll be based on expectations.
But a third of the season will have gone by. If it turns out that, say, Virginia Tech, No. 10 in the preseason AP poll, is better than the writers expected and the Nos. 4-7 teams, Utah, Texas, Louisville and Georgia, aren't quite as good, that could be apparent already, even though all four teams might be undefeated.
With the first poll coming out in late September, the Hokies shouldn't be stuck behind those other four just because "you shouldn't lose your ranking without losing," a common argument when it comes to these things. Having shown themselves to be weaker, it would be up to Utah et al. to prove themselves better than Tech.
The new poll, called the Harris Interactive poll, will be made up of former coaches, players and administrators, plus some media members. It's not a fix for the fatally flawed BCS, but it's a baby-step improvement.
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A good read: Terry Bowden [PERMALINK]
Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach who now works as an analyst, wrote a blistering column for Yahoo Sports two weeks ago about the NCAA's embarrassing record of hiring black football coaches. There are three African-Americans among the 117 Division I head coaches.
"Plainly and simply, folks, this is discrimination," he wrote.
"At least once a day, I get asked, 'When are you getting back into coaching?'" Bowden wrote. "Heck, schools don't need to hire me. They need to hire from the untapped talent that exists within the pool of black assistant coaches."
Pretty strong stuff for a white Southern former coach whose brother and father are among those 114 Division I Caucasians.
Bowden went on to lay out a program describing what the NCAA and college presidents, athletic directors and head coaches need to do to remedy the situation. It's a great read. One more choice quote:
"Many presidents won't hire black coaches because they are worried about how alumni and donors will react. When black basketball coaches were scarce 30 years ago, the same argument was used -- and it was wrong. Positive change only can occur when college presidents provide leadership, refusing to let boosters call the shots.
"There is too much of a rush to hire football coaches -- to quickly get the hottest name to help in recruiting. A program will not be made or broken in the first three weeks of December. We need to allow the process to take place, and for this to happen, college presidents must make diversity a priority."
Bowden's been writing for Yahoo Sports since late May. Some of his columns are the kind of amiable fluff you might expect from having seen his television studio work. His latest piece describes a vacation golf outing with his famous family members.
But he's also already turned in some good, hard-hitting stuff. Bowden doesn't always have something to say, but when he does, he's unafraid to ruffle feathers in the fraternity in which he's spent his whole life. He doesn't take the usual coach-to-analyst position that what's good for the guys with the clipboards is good for everyone.
He gave his coaching brethren what for last month in a column urging them to make their poll votes public.
Bowden writes twice a month. Worth a look.
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An Olympics joke, clarified [PERMALINK]
Last week, discussing the Olympics, I wrote, "The whole boycott era was the lowest point in Olympic history that didn't involve Adolf Hitler or a post-competition gymnastics exhibition."
Reader Kenneth Dintzer writes, "How's about dead wrestlers at the hands of a terrorist group, or an explosion in Atlanta's Olympic Park that killed/injured bystanders? Leave us not ignore evil for the sake of a good punch line."
Or even for a mediocre punch line. Good point. And the thing is, all I needed to do was add the word "terrorists" to make the line just as "good" without ignoring evil for the sake of it.
So I've gone back into the story and done that. I'm just telling you about it now so you won't think I was sneaking around in the archives.
Also, just so I don't have to clarify later: When I mentioned above that the movie "Ed" featured "Matt LeBlanc and an animatronic chimp," I was referring to two separate things.
This story has been corrected since it was originally published.
Previous column: Midseason baseball report
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