Friday, July 31, 2009

The Future of Baseball? Robots

A video from Reuters shows a lab in Japan that is developing robots that can pitch and hit. We thought bio-engineering was the future of sport. Instead, it appears the machines will duke it out.

Upon further reflection, robo-pitchers may be an improvement over Roger Clemens.

Send a memo to Bud Selig.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bodybuilders Run When Tester Arrives: Maybe Cyclists Should Do the Same

Back in May, AP reported that at the Belgian bodybuilding championships, when a drug tester arrived, all the participants fled. Perhaps cyclists could reclaim their privacy by doing the same....

On a serious note, though, the fact that cycling has such a public reputation for doping may in part be because professional cyclists are tested very often and held to rigorous criteria. If bodybuilders or baseball players were tested as often and for as many things, would public perception change?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Doping v. Bribery: The Biggest Cheat?

I have been told that I should not do any more posts on cycling until I throw in something on another sport. Thankfully, Bob stepped in with the nice Booing Beckham post (two words: "Manny! Manny!") so I can return to cycling....

Some of you know that I am currently researching cheating in many forms and in several sports, including cycling. Nicolas Roche, the current road champion from Ireland, has been writing about the Tour and last week described the stage ending in Besançon. He was in an early break but because his teammate had the yellow jersey he was under instructions not to help with the pace-setting.

Italy's Daniel Bennati of Liquigas and his Belgian teammate Frederik Willems gave me tons of abuse, as did the Italian, Daniele Righi of Lampre. They gave me so much abuse it was unbelievable. They called me every name under the sun because I didn't work in the break. The other 10 guys, though, knew they would be doing the same in my position and just got on with it.

Of course, by sitting in the back of the group, Roche would be fresh to make a break for it in the last kilometers and try to win the stage. Roche continues:

With 50 kms to go, Bennati came up to me and said: "You're going to have to pay me a lot of money if you want to win this stage or you will never win, because I will chase you down. There's no way you're going anywhere without me."

There is a long history of cyclists cutting deals and exchanging cash in order to win races. Willy Voet describes it in some detail in his book Breaking the Chain. But I thought in today's sport scene, and particularly in the Tour (given all the media focus), buying a race was simply not done.

It strikes me that buying and selling a stage victory may be more detrimental to the sport than doping in terms of undermining public trust. And yet the focus on doping continues (see today's article by Greg Lemond questioning Contador's accomplishments). Buying and selling victories nearly ruined baseball a century ago and cost Pete Rose a chance at the Hall of Fame. Yet it goes on in cycling on a regular basis and is simply accepted as par for the course. Granted, this may be in part because for breaks to form there has to be a strategic complicity on the part of the teams behind and riders will sometimes graciously allow a rival to win, but from there to asking for money to "allow" someone to win?

Which is worse: doping or buying a victory?

Thanks to Scott for the link to Lemond's article.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Booing Becks and Cheering Manny? A priority check in L.A.

Feeling little need to either reiterate my stance on steroids and PEDs in baseball (and other sports) or profess my often blinding passion for L.A. sports, I was troubled by the public display of certain fans at the LA Galaxy/AC Milan friendly on Sunday. What should have been a positive for the MLS and US Soccer, inviting an elite European team to the States, was tarnished by the homemade banners and chants of certain fans towards superstar David Beckham. Booing as the PA announcer read his name and every time he touched the ball, calling the English phenom a “fraud,” claiming to be there “despite 23” and even bidding him to “Repent” (no joke), fans were ruthless, even when Becks angled a vintage Beckham corner kick towards the net leading to an equalizing goal against his other team AC Milan, leading to a 2-2 draw. So out-of-hand were the LA hecklers that the generally even-mannered Beckham jumped a barricade to confront a few fans and even extended a rejected handshake to one particularly belligerent party. Rather than responding with a rude gesture as he did in the Euro 2000, Beckham took the higher road, shrugged his shoulders and said: "It's to be expected. Sometimes it goes beyond it. The majority of the fans have been great.''

Still, I introduce the Beckham story with a mention of PEDs because when beloved Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez, who was banned for 50 games for violation of the MLB drug policy, returned to the line-up earlier this month, he did so to a lustily cheering crowd. However, when another L.A. sports superstar returns to the team after what amounts to prolonged business negotiations, he’s received as a traitor. As one who was pleased to have both players back, two major contributors and offensive catalysts to help both squads who are in a playoffs push, I suggest that the boo-boys check their priorities. While neither suggesting that we condemn Manny nor that we simply ignore the angst caused by Beckham’s contract negotiations, I do say that we should cheer for L.A., the MLS, international friendlies, and a hard-fought draw against a Serie A powerhouse—and that we recognize Beckham as an integral part of recent success.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Other Tour de France: Anti-Bobos Unite!

A recent article in Le Figaro took stock of a bicycle public transport program in Paris. "Velib" lets users check out a bike in one part of town and return it to another for a minimal fee. The problem is that vandalism rates have been much higher in Paris than in other French cities where they have launched similar programs. Bikes end up in the River, hanging from street signs, painted, trashed, etc. etc. Some have even made it a point to do tricks on the fairly heavy Velib bikes and post it on youtube:

I see this as a way for people to stick it to the state and to the city; to take this imposition of state-sponsored exercise and transportation outside of the box. Are they bending the rules to make art? or just bending the rules? Are they making a political statement about the relative wealth of the high-minded socialists and greens who tend to use Velib? or are they merely putting on a show, organizing a teen-age prank?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Let "Le Soap Opera" Begin: The Tour de France and the Team Astana Rivalry

If you have been watching the Tour de France this year, you know that the story surrounding the race is as good as the race itself. Lance Armstrong has recently jumped ahead of "team leader" Alberto Contador and now sits less than a second from the yellow jersey. When asked about his situation he said (approximately), "I don't want to get into the controversy about who is the team leader, but... I've won the Tour seven times, I think I deserve some respect." When asked why Contador was not in the front of the peloton when it split (a split that enabled Armstrong to overtake his "team leader") he responded, "Team Columbia was obviously going to try to break the peloton up. It didn't take a genius to figure out that when they went into that turn, they would try and create a split." In other words, Contador is no cycling genius.

I sometimes wonder if one reason doping scandals have not driven more fans away is because they represent just one more iteration of the entertaining dramas that have taken place in the margins of the Tour every year since its inception in 1903? The race is fun; but the speculation, the backstabbing rivalries, the metphoric nails on the road make the Tour one of the most compelling shows in sport.