Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Three Headlines From This Week

Most of you probably know that I have been busy with the NBA playoffs, which is why I have been posting less frequently here. Three non-NBA stories caught my eye recently but I have not had a chance to write about them until now:

1) Tiger Woods has knee surgery right after finishing second in the Masters.

As Christine Brennan pointed out in her USA Today column, Woods did an impeccable job of not using his knee injury as an excuse for his performance and of making sure that the timing of the announcement about his surgery did not overshadow or diminish the attention that Trevor Immelman received for winning his first major. The Cleveland Cavaliers pride themselves on being a "no excuses" team and that is an attitude that all champions (and aspiring champions) should take. Woods clearly understands this.

2) Toronto Blue Jays waive slugger Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas finished fourth in the AL MVP voting in 2006 as an Oakland A and last year as Toronto Blue Jay he hit .277 with 26 home runs and 81 RBI. Thomas, who often is a slow starter, hit just .167 in the first 16 games of this season, though he did slug three home runs and 11 RBI. Thomas did not react well when word came out of Toronto that the Blue Jays planned to bench him in favor of some younger players and then all of a sudden the team announced that it had reached a "mutual" agreement with Thomas to release him. ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the A's may sign Thomas soon. Thomas has been one of the most remarkably consistent and disciplined sluggers in MLB history, a great home run hitter (516 and counting) who also hit for average (.302 lifetime, including a .347 average in 1997 that earned him the batting title). For five straight seasons in the 1990s Thomas produced at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored and 100 walks. Neither his physique nor his numbers changed during baseball's "steroids era" and he has always been at the forefront in calling for more drug testing and harsher punishment of drug cheaters. He is not popular with some members of the media, which leads to him being portrayed poorly at times, but overall Thomas has not only been a great player but a class act. Here's hoping that his career ends on a positive note.

3) Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to win a major open-wheel auto racing event

Danica Patrick took the checkered flag in the Japan Indy 300 last weekend, holding off two-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves to become the first woman to win a major open-wheel auto race. Some people are comparing Patrick's triumph to Billie Jean King's famous victory over Bobby Riggs but Patrick's is much more significant from a competitive standpoint even if it does not have as much impact culturally and socially. Riggs was an over the hill (55 years old at the time) tennis hustler who may very well have even bet against himself when he played King; he had previously claimed an easy 6-1, 6-2 victory over Margaret Court, the top ranked female tennis player in the world at that time. Patrick's win came in serious competition against some of the very best drivers in the world. Success in the auto racing world is heavily dependent on having the right team backing you with the best equipment but the driver still has to have the skills to get the job done. Some people were beginning to compare Patrick to tennis player Anna Kournikova, which is actually unfair to both athletes. Kournikova has been wrongly characterized as simply a stunningly beautiful woman who never won anything but the latter charge is not true. Although she never won a singles title, she was ranked as highly as eighth in the world at one time; also, she won 13 career doubles titles--including two Grand Slams--and achieved the number one ranking in the world in that discipline. Whether or not Kournikova fully maximized her potential is a separate issue but she achieved more in the world of tennis than 99% of her critics ever achieved in anything. Patrick is a young racer who had already enjoyed some success even before her win in Japan, so it was very premature for anyone to assume that she would never win a race.

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