Posts Tagged ‘toby wachter’

Now at UpperDeckBlog.com!

April 24, 2009

We’re now back and running at UpperDeckBlog.com! All the old content is there, plus some new posts.

All future content will be posted to UpperDeckBlog.com as well, so update your bookmarks, and we’ll see you there.

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UFC 97: Boring Main Event, Are Changes Needed?

April 20, 2009

Unless you’ve been living under a rock during the past decade, any sports fan knows that Mixed Martial Arts has shifted from a fringe interest unfairly perceived as “human cockfighting” in the 90s, to an industry giant with tons of television exposure, and huge Pay Per View buyrates.

The UFC has done a great job of shifting their product into something adaptable to the mainstream, thanks in part to smart marketing, but also to changing the rules (timed rounds, weight classes, etc.) to make the sport more professional. And while I’m sure the hardcore MMA forum dwellers might disagree, from my vantage point, UFC President Dana White does a good job of signing fighters who will put on a good show.

Which brings us to UFC 97. The event took place this past Saturday, with a main event featuring dominant middleweight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva looking to defend his title for a record ninth time against Thales Leites. Silva has a solid all-around game but is known best for his striking, while Leites’ strength is his Jiu-Jitsu. These kinds of “striker vs. submission specialist” matches have generally sparked some level of interest among fans and have been entertaining, but that was not the case on Saturday.

UFC 97 Mixed Martial Arts

If MMA is like a game of chess, then Silva and Leites reached a strategic stalemate, one that was boring and understandably frustrating for those in attendance, and those who paid for the Pay Per View. Leites had no desire to take on Silva in a striking match, and frequently went to the ground to avoid getting hit. Understandably, Silva wanted no part of following Leites to the floor (which would have resulted in a Jiu-Jitsu contest), and thus the main event had very little action to write home about. Leites didn’t try very hard to engage Silva, who won via unanimous decision as the crowd booed. The fans at home showed the same level of discontent, complaining about the fight on MMA message boards.

UFC 97 Mixed Martial Arts

To his credit, UFC President Dana White came out, and admitted it was a poor main event. “I can honestly tell you that I’ve never put on an event that I was embarrassed to be at until tonight. I want to publicly apologize to all the fans. I apologize. I personally apologize for what happened tonight. You guys know, this isn’t what the UFC was built on and this isn’t the way the fights usually go. Listen, any night you can have an off-night. When a guy is that talented and can literally end a fight whenever he wants to, wow. We’ve got to do something. Watching that was hard. That was tough to take. It was embarrassing, honestly. It was really and truly embarrassing.”

Before you can start to wonder how to prevent this sort of boring main event in the future, the first question needs to be asked: is MMA entertainment or competition? Obviously it’s a mix of the two, but finding a balance can be difficult. On a strategic level, Silva didn’t necessarily do anything “wrong”. He realized Leites wanted no part of engaging him, so he adapted his gameplan appropriately to ensure a win. Critics, reasonably, will say that we paid good money to see a fight, and we didn’t get it. But if Silva’s job is to win, and defend his title, it’s difficult to fault him for not risking that goal and his career in order to make the fans happier.

UFC 97 Mixed Martial Arts

Generally, the result of this kind of fight is that the guilty party doesn’t get another high profile match for a while. One would think that when Dana White said, “We’ve got to do something”, he meant that Leites was given the biggest fight of his life, and didn’t “challenge” much at all as the challenger. So it would be easy enough to remedy the problem by pushing Leites down the card as punishment, until he puts together decisive wins and makes amends with the fans.

That being said, I think it would serve the UFC well to look at the inherent goals of the athletes in these fights, how they conflict with the entertainment aspect of the sport, and figure out a way to better punish inactivity. For example, UFC’s Japanese counterpart Pride FC (since purchased by UFC and discontinued) had a warning card system. If a fighter showed a lack of activity, it was at the referee’s discretion to pull out a card (much like in soccer), which would deduct 10% of the fighter’s purse for the night. Multiple cards could be pulled, and three would result in a disqualification.

I can’t think of a better way to give the fighters incentive to, well, fight. If fans are paying big money for their ticket, and those at home are paying money for the Pay Per View, why not give the athletes a financial stake in making it exciting too? Granted, this concept may not go over as well in America compared to Japan, where we have different perspectives on competition, honor, money and so on.

If you were in charge of the UFC, what would you do to “fix it”? Is there something beyond penalty cards that can ensure fans get their money’s worth? Or is it simply the responsibility of the promoter to put together the most entertaining fights possible? Should we even be bothering with trying to make MMA more “entertaining”, or does that mentality do a disservice to the competitive aspect of the sport? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Reflections on Jackie Robinson Day

April 15, 2009

Upper Deck Blog has only been running for about a week now, but as soon as we launched, I made sure to mentally circle April 15th. I doubt I can do this day justice, but I’ll try my best.

Today marks the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson taking his spot at first base at Ebbets Field on April 15th, 1947, shattering baseball’s color barrier. Sixteen years before Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Jackie pushed the sport and our country forward, far ahead of his time.

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Looking at Mr. Robinson’s history, it’s amazing that someone could achieve so much good in so little time. We only had him with us for 53 years, but he accomplished a great deal in so many aspects of his life (most removed from the baseball diamond). His most famous quote, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” is inspirational, and at least from my perspective, slightly intimidating. The concept of your life having no meaning unless you influence other people for the better is a hard one to wrap your brain around, for sure.

It’s easy to almost dismiss outright, but then you remember that the man who said it:

  • Grew up in a poor family.
  • Was the first athlete in UCLA history to letter in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track.
  • Entered the military only to be court marshaled for refusing to move to the back of an Army bus.
  • Broke the color barrier in baseball, on a deal with Branch Rickey that for the first three years, he would have to absorb all insults and threats thrown his way, without reacting angrily.
  • Absorbed insults from players and fans alike, along with death threats. Despite this, he managed to still perform on the field at the highest level, while keeping his cool and not retaliating.
  • Became the first black commentator on ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week.
  • Became the first black player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Became the first black person to be Vice President of a major American corporation.
  • Founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for families with low incomes.

Once you look at all these accomplishments and the impact they had on others,  Mr. Robinson’s famous quote suddenly carries more meaning. “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” serves as both a proverb and a challenge, with Jackie’s example leading the way for inspiration. My personal favorite Jackie Robinson moment is Game 2 of the 1972 World Series, where he was honored for the 25th Anniversary of breaking the color barrier. Rather than take the moment to bask in his own glory, Mr. Robinson expressed his wish to see a black manager in Major League Baseball. He would die but ten days later, but his wish would come true in 1975, when Frank Robinson became the manager of the Cleveland Indians.

Before this starts to sound too much like a middle school history report, I’ll point out that Jackie Robinson was good at baseball. Damn good. It’s often overlooked, given his other social accomplishments, but the guy could play. Stories of how he could control the pace of a game just by his presence on the basepaths are legendary; the pitcher would get distracted, Jackie would steal second, third, even home with equal parts precision and raw athletic ability.

Mr. Robinson won a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award, was a six-time All Star, and won a World Series with the beloved 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. He had a lifetime batting average of .311, with an on base percentage of .409, both phenomenal stats for his career.  Consider that he only came to the majors at age 28, and you can only wonder what else he would have accomplished had he been let in earlier. Then again, it was his impact that allowed others to follow in his footsteps, having full, complete careers thanks to his efforts. It was too late for the likes of Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige (who did get to finally play in the majors at age 42, sadly we missed many prime years of his talent), but Jackie ensured future players would have that opportunity.

Fast forward to the modern era, and Jackie Robinson’s #42 is retired across all of Major League Baseball. Every park you go to, from Dodger Stadium to CitiField (and everywhere in between), players cannot wear his number, in tribute (Mariano Rivera is the one active exception, as his 42 was grandfathered in).

Today, all players will wear 42 to celebrate Jackie’s memory. A lot has been said about this issue, as players, sportswriters and fans alike wonder if having everyone wear it cheapens the significance. From my own personal point of view, I can say that despite being a huge Jackie Robinson fan (in case you couldn’t tell), I won’t wear a replica Dodgers 42 jersey. Can’t do it. I feel the weight and significance of what that symbolizes is too much to bear, and that it takes a special person who has “earned” the right to don that number. On a personal level, it feels like something sacred.

jackie_robinson_jersey

If it was up to me, I’d ask each team to pick one player or coach who they feel has earned the right to have the honor of wearing Jackie’s number on this day. That being said, I don’t think it’s something to get too hung up on. Today means far more than the numbers being worn by the players, and if a kid asks, “Why are all the players wearing 42 today?”, it serves a great reminder that leads to nothing but good and inspiration for the next generation.

jackiepersistence

On the subject of carrying on Mr. Robinson’s legacy, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda was dedicated at the new CitiField today. Jackie’s widow Rachel Robinson, Governor Paterson, and Senator Schumer were among those in attendance.  The Rotunda will be the first part of the stadium you walk through before getting to the field itself, and is a fantastic tribute to Jackie and his life. I think of how important that “first baseball game” memory is for any child in America, and now for millions of kids, it’ll be, “I walked through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and learned about who he was, and what he did.” I don’t mind telling you, I can’t get enough of the picture above, showing this unfolding before our eyes. On a personal level, I know it’ll be a reminder of the more important things in life, before and after each game I attend back home.

rotunda3

jackierobinsonrotunda2

Brag Photo of the Week: United Center Floor

April 14, 2009

Welcome to the debut of our new weekly feature here at Upper Deck Blog: the Brag Photo of the Week. Nice, clean and simple, we’ll post a new photo every week of something cool in the building that is intended to make you very jealous.

Following up from my post last week about how Michael Jordan ruined my childhood, I just had to see this floor for myself before it got packed out. Down to the warehouse I went, with nothing more than a camera, a ladder and the memories of Jordan absolutely destroying the Knicks on this very floor.

bullsfloor1

bullsfloor2

The United Center floor is in one piece here, but these are currently being shipped out to be divided up for our Upper Deck Authenticated Michael Jordan game used floor product. For more details, click on the images above. Aside from providing a little piece of history to collectors, a portion of the proceeds will go to CharitaBulls as well.

Tomorrow: a very significant day for sports, and America as a whole.

Why I Hate the Yankees: A Met Fan’s Manifesto

April 12, 2009

We have some VERY cool things lined up for the blog starting on Monday, so before they get rolling, I wanted to tie up a bit of a loose end in regards to my Sabathia post from earlier in the week. Being a Mets fan who dislikes the Yankees, inevitably, I’m always asked to explain this attitude by my fellow Gothamites. Red Sox/Yankees hatred is easy enough to comprehend, but why would fellow New Yorkers cheer against a team that’s so iconic of our city and its history? Is it jealousy? That’s always the first assumption, but it runs a bit deeper than that.

monument_park_popup

This is the new Monument Park (and even I have to admit, they did a great job bringing it over to the new stadium). Do me a favor: click on the photo, and look at all those legendary players. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Maris, Donny Baseball, and so on. There’s something interesting about that list of sixteen great players though (the great Mr. Robinson removed, as his number is retired across the league). Take a moment, and see if you can figure it out. I’ll still be here.

Give up? Here’s a hint: go back, and count the number of legendary Yankee pitchers. Two. In the most storied franchise’s most storied history, only two pitchers were significant enough to be granted that honor. I should also point out that Guidry was recently added in 2003, so Whitey Ford was all alone out there for a very long time.

On the surface, this seems relatively insignificant. After all, the Yankees are known for their great hitters: guys like Ruth and Mantle whose moonshots were legendary. Which, ultimately, is my point. Since Ruth, the Yankees always have been, and always will be the Broadway feature with the marquee names. Come see the stars, watch a few go over the fence, let’s hear Sinatra sing while we make our way home.

Even the most educated, intelligent Yankee fan (my fiance is a good example of this rare creature)  has to admit that there are many fans of the team who don’t pay attention to the intricacies of the game (like pitching and defense), and pay money for the biggest ticket in baseball to watch sluggers hit. Period. Big lights, big city, and everyone can understand and cheer for a home run. That’s the attraction. The stadium feels more like a mausoleum than a comfortable, warm home.

By comparison, would you like to know who our most iconic figure is? Seaver is wonderful, we all love Straw, Keith and Doc, but at the end of the day, we’re a goofy team in a big city with a history of futility. And to a man, we all love this guy:

A True Icon

A True Icon

Oddly enough, Colin Cowherd went on a rant regarding this very subject a few years back, on his ESPN Radio show:

Here’s what Mr. Cowherd doesn’t get, along with the majority of Yankee fans: we don’t take our team seriously, but we do take baseball seriously. Honestly, you guys are generally the opposite. Victory and adding to the championship rings is priority #1, and the rest is entirely secondary.

And to us, that’s a joyless existence when it comes to being a baseball fan. In the video above, Cowherd talks about how serious and historic the Yankees and their broadcasts are, the pomp and grandeur of it all, and how we need to be more like them. That’s kind of the point: to us, there’s no FUN in cheering for a team that has that sort of air about them. When your expectations are that high, and anything less than a World Series Championship is regarded as a failure (go ahead, ask Mr, Torre his feelings on that one), we’ll gladly take our team in Flushing, warts and all.

Admittedly, there is a generous amount of pretension in this attitude, but it comes from the right place. We moan and complain about the Seaver trade, the years of futility in the late 70s and early 80s, the wasted opportunities for what should have been more championships following 1986, Mo Vaughn and Robbie Alomar, Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, Adam Wainwright throwing the perfect curveball that will haunt me in my nightmares forever as Beltran could do nothing but watch it fall for a strike and the pennant, and two of the most heartbreaking, soul crushing losses to end a season in sports history, in back-to-back years for extra sting. And we embrace having the worst season in baseball history back in 1962 (seriously, we were all very concerned when the Tigers got close to that 120 loss mark in 2003). We take all this punishment, and we keep coming back for more. Want to know why? Because deep down inside, we feel it makes us better than Yankees fans. We’ll roll with the punches, embrace our futility, and still support our team. No matter what.

By comparison, whenever anything goes wrong with the Yankees, you sense their fans are ready to jump off the bandwagon at any given moment. You should have seen the comments Yankee friends of mine back home were making on Facebook after the 0-2 start to the season. You’d swear the season was over, and you could tell they wanted nothing to do with baseball until the team started winning. To us, there’s no fun in that. I say it often, and I’ll repeat it here: if the Mets only win one more World Series in my lifetime and the Yankees win ten, that will be just fine with me. Because I’ll get more joy out of that one championship than the average Yankee fan would out of those ten combined. I’ll feel like we earned it. Yes, our payroll is gigantic too, but there’s no accounting for the emotional toll of our team’s failure and incompetence, historically speaking.

That’s what drives us: in the end, the suffering makes the success that much more meaningful. And it’s something Yankees fans will never experience, much less understand.

Next week: Thoughts on Tiger at the Masters, reflections on Jackie Robinson Day, and a sneak peek inside the Upper Deck building.

Yes, in case you were wondering, we have lots of cool stuff. I’m going to do my best to make you feel jealous.