Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Sports

08/11/2014

Young driver dies in sprint car accident

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The 20-year-old is run over by NASCAR veteran Tony Stewart after getting out of his car during the race

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — The collision was as common as any in racing. Kevin Ward Jr.’s car spun twice like a top, wheels hugging the wall, before it plopped backward on the dimly lit dirt track.

In a sport steeped with bravado, what happened next was another familiar, but treacherous, move: Wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, the 20-year-old Ward unbuckled himself, climbed out of the winged car into the night and defiantly walked onto the track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

He gestured, making his disgust evident with the driver who triggered the wreck with a bump: three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.

Ward, a relative unknown compared with NASCAR’s noted swashbuckler, was nearly hit by another passing car as he pointed with his right arm in Stewart’s direction. As he confronted Stewart in his passing car, disaster struck.

Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him. According to video and witness accounts, Ward’s body was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.

Ward was killed. Stewart, considered one of the most proficient drivers in racing, dropped out of Sunday’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, hours after Saturday’s crash. And the sport was left reeling from a tragedy that could have ripple effects from the biggest stock car series down to weeknight dirt track racing.

“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” Stewart said in a statement.

Authorities questioned the 43-year-old Stewart once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. They described him as “visibly shaken” after the crash and said he was cooperative.

On Sunday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators also don’t have any evidence at this point in the investigation to support criminal intent. But he also said that criminal charges have not been ruled out.

The crash raised several questions: Will Ward’s death cause drivers to think twice about on-track confrontations? Did Stewart try to send his own message by buzzing Ward, the young driver, only to have his risky move turn fatal? Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesuit on a dark track?

The only one who may have that answer is...


Death Highlights History of Confrontation for Racing, and for Tony Stewart

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Kevin Ward Jr. died Saturday after he was hit by the fishtailing car of the Nascar driver Tony Stewart during a sprint car race in upstate New York.

Nobody will ever know exactly what led the young Kevin Ward Jr. to think it was fine to climb out of his crashed car and, in the middle of his dirt racetrack on Saturday, to try to confront Tony Stewart as Stewart continued to circle the track.

We do know, because it was captured on video, that Ward seemed to be looking to settle the score. On that local track in upstate New York, he walked toward Stewart’s car, which fishtailed, the right tire hitting Ward and dragging him under the car before throwing him several feet up the track. Ward, 20, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

What made Ward consider it O.K. to walk away from relative safety and chase down another driver, who was in a moving car? To the public, it might seem a crazy decision. It might seem even crazier than driving a racecar in the first place.

But in racing, a sport founded by tough guys who often liked to settle their disputes with their fists, it has been part of the sport for generations. And it has nearly been Stewart’s calling card. For almost a decade, even now, at 43, Stewart has been Nascar’s resident hothead.

Like many other drivers over the years — both at the top level of auto racing, and on dirt tracks like the one Saturday that was the site of the fatal confrontation — Stewart has gotten out of his crashed racecars and has wagged his finger at other drivers, warning them that a flogging could come for causing him to wreck. Verbal and physical altercations also have unfolded in the garages or on pit road.

In 2012, during a Sprint Cup race in Bristol, Tenn., Stewart squeezed out of his crashed car to track down Matt Kenseth on foot, only to throw his helmet at Kenseth’s windshield as Kenseth’s car was zipping along. Maybe then Kenseth would think twice about going anywhere near Stewart’s bumpers during a race. Sure, that will teach him.

So where did Ward get the idea that going after a driver in a car was a good idea? It’s no longer so hard to see where. Maybe Ward never looked up to Stewart or took cues from his aggressive behavior. But professional athletes, like it or not, are role models, and Ward was 4 years old when he started racing go-carts, just when Stewart’s career was taking off.

In 1998, Stewart raced in the Busch Series, which was one level below what is now the Sprint Cup, and he was the defending champion in the Indy Racing League.

When Ward was 5, years before he would be named...



07/22/2014

Numbers indicate Lee can still be effective

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Velocity, movement not far off from where they were before injury

Cliff Lee returned to the mound for the Phillies on Monday, just in time for the club to showcase him to potential suitors with the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching. He was not sharp.

The left-hander, who battled a strained left elbow since mid-May, struggled with command throughout, lasting only 5 2/3 innings in an eventual 7-4 loss to the Giants. San Francisco touched Lee for six runs on 12 hits and a walk. Ten of the 12 hits were singles.

The ineffectiveness might best be chalked up to rust or a lack of execution, and with one start to go before the July 31 Deadline -- Saturday night against the D-backs, if the Phillies rotation keeps the same order -- there is time for Lee to shake off whatever plagued him Monday. Some of the underlying numbers suggest he isn't necessarily that far off.

Lee's most common pitch, his two-seamer, was again that on Monday. Before Lee got hurt, it averaged 89.8 mph according to FanGraphs -- already a slight decrease over its velocity from past years -- and on Monday it was sitting 89-90. During the sixth inning, however, only two of nine fastballs reached 90. This could have been due to Lee's climbing pitch count. After all, he had not seen a Major League game or this type of workload in more than two months.

Lee's changeup featured about the same movement as it typically does, and he threw it at about the same rate he did in April and May, when opposing batters hit .146 when it was the final pitch of the at-bat. Likewise, Lee used his cutter no more than he did pre-injury.

While Lee threw 65.6 percent of his pitches for strikes (59 of 90), right in line with his season and career averages, he struggled more when it came to starting batters off. Lee managed first-pitch strikes to just under half of the Giants he faced (13 of 28), whereas he typically finds the zone with his first pitch two-thirds of the time.

The Giants made him pay for it. In the three innings San Francisco scored, Lee issued first-pitch strikes to just seven of 16 batters. Additionally, and anecdotally, Lee fell behind 1-0 before a fastball down the pipe resulted in Adam Duvall's two-run homer, as well as before Hunter Pence's RBI single to left ended Lee's night.

It's also worth considering Lee's final line. It's easy to look at six earned in 5 2/3 and think he was terribly off. But if, say, his pitch count was a bit higher and he never came out for the sixth, he would have finished with three...


Cliff Lee we just saw is not going anywhere

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ALL ACROSS the country this morning, major league general managers will sit down at their desks, pick up the reports that their scouts filed on Cliff Lee last night, and start considering other options for their rotations in advance of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

The Phillies' veteran lefthander isn't going anywhere.

That is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw after watching his return to the mound after a 2-month absence. His stuff did not have its usual life. His command was spotty. He allowed six runs and 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings. In short, he looked nothing like a pitcher who would motivate a GM to take on $40 million in salary and part with a package of prospects. And if a GM is unwilling to do both of those things, then the sensible move for the Phillies is to make no move, with the hope that Lee will be able to use the final couple of months of this ugly season to recoup some of the value he had at this time last year.

This is not an indictment of Lee the competitor, or an obituary for his career. He had not pitched in a major league game in 2 months, and he looked the part. By all accounts, including his own, he made it through the night with his flexor tendon intact, which means he will get a chance to do it all again in 5 days. But the trade deadline is 9 days away, and that simply is not enough time for him to eliminate the doubts that still linger about his ability to be an impact pitcher for the stretch run and the postseason. The odds of his doing so were long even before last night. Teams are loath to trade away talented, young players even when the prospective return is a healthy veteran. Even if Lee's flexor tendon proves to be fully healed, it can't be proved so right now. Not after a night on which he threw first-pitch balls to 15 of the 28 batters he faced. Not after he had to wait until his 65th pitch to throw his first first-pitch called strike. Not after his fastball sat at 88 to 89 mph, a couple of ticks below usual, and his cutter lacked its usual bite.

Not to the point at which Ruben Amaro Jr. and another general manager can even begin to navigate the complexities of a deal involving a player with a 20-team no-trade clause, $40 million remaining on his contract, and a potential vesting option for 2016.

"I wasn't locating that well," Lee said. "I was behind in the count more than I would like to be. I think I spiked four fastballs in the first inning, and I don't think...



07/14/2014

James returns for the right reasons

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It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.

As a sports fan, you learn that nothing is forever. Your favorite teams rise and fall. Your favorite players come and go.

But, even though I knew it was time on so many levels, I find myself horribly distressed by Luis Suarez leaving my beloved Liverpool Football Club to go to Barcelona. I don’t care who Suarez bit, or insulted. Hot-blooded, check it and see. Suarez made Liverpool win, and was so much fun to watch. He always gave 110 percent for the cause. Suarez was flawed, but he was ours.

Which brings me to LeBron James’ return to Cleveland.

I’ve examined it from every angle. I can’t see James’ move back home as anything but sincere.

It wasn’t for the cash. Money earned by actually playing his sport is a lesser concern for James than perhaps any other athlete. He makes over $50 million per year from endorsements.

It wasn’t to win. If the Cavaliers do win, it will be mostly because they have James. The Cavaliers have a first-year GM and a first-year coach. They are not ready-made champions.

It wasn’t for the hype. Cleveland isn’t a giant media market. It’s not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. It ranks No. 17 nationally. Anyway, hype follows James. Location doesn’t matter. He’s a global phenomenon.

If there’s a con, a spin or an angle, I can’t see it. So perhaps there isn’t.

James went back to Cleveland for all the right reasons. A sports superstar was returned to its rightful owner after a four-year rental.

It’s a victimless situation. Miami isn’t a sports town. It’s a beach. It’s soulless. Florida is good for baseball spring training and not much else. Miami got two championships out of James. That’s Miami’s fair share.

Cleveland is die-hard. It’s a real sports town. Just with crap teams. No championships since 1964.

As a Pittsburgher, I’m supposed to hate Cleveland. But Cleveland deserves this.

So does Johnny Manziel. Second-best, at best. This isn’t Johnny Football’s party. Not anymore.

James loves Cleveland. But he’s a businessman first. The NBA’s TV contract expires after the 2015-16 season. A more lucrative deal means an increase in the salary cap, and James signed a two-year deal to take advantage. James can also opt out after just one season. The Cavaliers had better do things his way.

Like I said, the Cavaliers have a first-year GM...


LeBron James Is A Self-Centered, Backstabbing Liar

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LeBron James is annoying. He’s a self-centered backstabbing liar, hidden in an NBA superstar’s body. While he is the best player in basketball, his off-season actions in 2010 and 2014 speak volumes about what James represents.

After making the entire world wait for yet another decision, Friday SI.com published a letter from James, announcing he’ll return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014-15. This appears to be the turning point in a biopic movie  made for the big screen. With the deluge of admiration and praise thrown his way across the country, it is safe to say a lot of people feel that way, especially the people of Cleveland — the same people who deemed him Public Enemy No. 1 in 2010.

The smoke screen for “The Decision” in 2010 was the charitable gesture towards the Boys and Girls Clubs. Yet, it was an asinine way to let Cleveland know he was leaving. He admitted he would do things differently if he had the chance.

This announcement to return back to Cleveland is buttered up by a “heartfelt” letter basically to that same fan base.

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” James wrote. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart”

That’s just an example of the nauseating apology James confesses. When reading closely, it’s clearly all about self-centered LeBron. The letter is filled with a lot of “I, me, my” and everything in between.

James said he left to win championships, something Miami  previously experienced. Now, he wants to end Cleveland’s half century championship drought with “one trophy”, while raising his family at home. He said Cleveland is the only place he’d leave Miami for because it makes him happy. James also revealed him and Dan Gilbert have made amends. The letter closed with the “realistic” belief a championship will not come to Cleveland next season, but he’s looking forward to the challenge of building towards that.

Never in the history of sports has any player made such an over dramatic publicity stunt when deciding where to play. Don’t be fooled by the initially charming yet disingenuous smile he poses on the top of this “essay.” Notice the piece of jewelry on his right ring finger...



07/04/2014

Bouchard hopes to wrap up business in Wimbledon finals

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Meets former champion Petra Kvitova in the finals on Saturday

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard is not quite fully satisfied after reaching the Wimbledon final, with the 20-year-old, who will crack the top 10, taking aim at going one step further when she faces 2011 winner Petra Kvitova on Saturday.

Bouchard would become the first Canadian woman to lift a trophy at a major as the next generation starts to knock on the door in the sport.

The optimistic and confident Bouchard, an identical twin, makes no secret of her wish to claim the top honour at the All England club where she won junior Wimbledon just two years ago.

“I’m happy to get to my first Grand Slam final. It’s very exciting. It’s what I’ve worked so long for. I’m just proud of myself for today’s effort,” she said, after beating French Open finalist Simona Halep of Romania in straight sets.

“It’s not like a surprise to me, I expect good results like this. It’s a step in the right direction. I get to play in the final. I still have another match, so it’s not a full celebration yet.”

A flawless run

Bouchard has become the hottest topic in the women’s game after reaching her first grand slam semi-final last January in Australia and duplicating that showing in Paris a month ago. Her Wimbledon run has been flawless, reaching the final without the loss of a set. But the job is not quite over for the admittedly driven young woman. “I’m going to stay focused and enjoy it (success) after (the final). I didn’t set a specific goal of reaching a certain round of this tournament, but I’ve been feeling good these whole two weeks. After doing well in the past few slams, I’ve been believing since the beginning of the tournament that I can do really well. I’m just trying to take it one match at a time. It’s really important not to get ahead of ourselves…”

Toughest match yet

Bouchard played her only match against Czech Kvitova last summer in Toronto, taking a loss. But that was a tennis lifetime ago for the 13th seed. “I think it will be my toughest match yet. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” she said of the final, which could be played under a closed Centre Court roof due to a forecast of possible rain.

While the tall blonde gets the inevitable comparisons to Maria Sharapova, the Wimbledon winner a decade ago at age 17, Bouchard shrugs off the compliments. “I’m also I’m my own person. I don’t...


Wimbledon 2014: Eugenie Bouchard to be downed by Petra Kvitova's power in final

Sports2

But Canadian can lead female tennis into new era, says Barry Cowan

There appears something a little different about Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon 2014.

She looks like the Kvitova of three years ago, the one that beat Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova en route to winning the title, and I make her favourite to defeat Eugenie Bouchard in Saturday’s final

I am slightly worried about her reactions when she wins points as she is clenching her fists and stamping her feet like a naughty schoolgirl and emotionally that could be taking a lot out of her.

Petra Kvitova admitted the weight of expectation can be tough to deal with, after defeating Lucie Safarova in straight sets in the semi-final at Wimbledon.

But she is a better player than Bouchard on grass and has the ability to hit big, reel off multiple games in succession and take the racket out of her opponent’s hand.

In the quarter-final, against another left-hander, Angelique Kerber, Bouchard took the ball so early, with 98 per cent of her returns coming from inside the baseline, but she will find it hard to replicate that against the powerful Kvitova.

Petra also has a tremendous boldness in that, like Sharapova, she can make five unforced errors in a row yet still hit the next shot with real clout, and that no-fear attitude is her biggest asset and one of the main reasons she is in her second Wimbledon final.

There is no baggage with Kvitova, whereas other players when they are playing big points in big matches think: ‘Oh, I’d better not hit this ball because I missed it three weeks ago’.

Whether it’s 0-1 in the first set or 5-4 in the third, Kvitova will give the ball a whack.

Clever

Eugenie Bouchard has become the first Canadian to reach a grand slam final, after beating Simona Halep in straight sets.

Bouchard is better mentally, though – she is ice cool and gives you no indication of how she is feeling – and the longer the match goes, the more I would favour her, which is an odd thing to say about someone in their first Grand Slam final.

She doesn’t have the greatest serve in the world or the raw power, but she is a cunning, clever player and learns quickly from any mistakes she does make, so we must not write her off in this match.

Whatever happens – and I certainly don’t see a repeat of last year when Sabine Lisicki was overawed by her maiden Slam final – Bouchard will take it in her stride and go from strength to strength.

We can’t say this is the start for her, but there is no doubt in my...



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