Happy Labor Day to all. The plan for today in and around Curmudgeon Central is to attend a good ol’ All-American cook-out later in the day. However, before setting off for that event, I want to take a moment to review happenings in a sport that is far more important elsewhere in the world than in the US. That would be soccer – or futbol in some other locales.
I have no interest in starting an argument here about the greatest living soccer player, so let me assert that both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can be considered to be in the Top Five should that discussion begin anywhere on the planet. Both players are on new teams for this year for very different reasons.
I mentioned before that FC Barcelona somehow got themselves in a financial situation where they could not re-sign Lionel Messi based on the salary rules in place for La Liga. How they allowed themselves to get into that situation is certainly not clear to me. They had to have known what the rules were, and they surely knew years in advance when Messi’s contract would expire and be in need of renewal. No matter: Messi wound up being signed by a team in the French League, Paris-Saint Germain
Ronaldo was a different story from all reports. He had been playing for Juventus in Serie-A in Italy since 2018; after appearing in one game for Juventus this year, he reportedly told the coach/manager that he had no intention of staying with the club. Juventus reached a deal with Manchester United in the English Premier League and Ronaldo thus returned to the place where he began his rise in the world of international soccer back in 2003. The EPL season has just begun; Manchester United has won two of the first three games of the year.
Normally, I like looking at the bottoms of leagues to see how the downtrodden are doing. Unfortunately, in the early stages of this year’s EPL table, there is a minor discontinuity for me. I have a grandson who lives in Dublin, Ireland; I have previously referred to him here as The FOG – – the First and Only Grandson. His adopted English Premier League team is Arsenal and the Gunners – – as they are called – – are not doing well at all this year. Arsenal have played 3 games; they have yet to score a goal in any game; they have yielded 9 goals to opponents. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Arsenal has “stunk out the joint” so far in 2021. Not good for The Fog…
Switching gears… Three MLB teams have been eliminated from playoff participation with a month left in the season. You can look for lots of empty seats when the Orioles, Rangers and/or D-Backs play home games.
- The Orioles are 42 games out of first place in the AL East. They have the worst record in MLB (43-92) and happen to be in the same division with the team in possession of the best record in the AL – – the Tampa Bay Rays at 86-51. Against the other four teams in the AL East, the Orioles record is a miserable 15-44. They also have the worst run differential in MLB at minus-234.
- The D-Backs are similarly situated in the NL; they are 42.5 games out of first place in the NL West. They have the worst record in the NL (45-93) and happen to be in the same division with the team in possession of the best record in the MLB – – the SF Giants at 87-50.
It appears as if the folks who make programming decisions at ESPN have chosen the new direction for First Take and the show’s mainstay, Stephen A. Smith. Max Kellerman is out, and Smith will now “debate” a rotating cast of ESPN talking heads on the program. Two names stand out from what is a lackluster list:
- On Mondays, former Cowboys WR, Michael Irvin will join Stephen A. for debates about NFL football. Irvin will be there for the entire 2 hours of the program and according to ESPN hype, “He and Smith will debate the week’s key on-the-field moments and under-the-radar stories, while also providing fans with insider news and can’t-miss analysis heading into that week’s Monday Night Football matchup and week ahead.” If you are someone who has run low on hyperbole and/or someone who needs to hear even the most mundane point blasted at you at deafening decibels, these Monday programs are for you.
- On Fridays, Tim Tebow will join Stephen A. for debates about college football. If you told me to take a week and come up with a pair of “guest debaters” who are more different from one another as are Tebow and Irvin, I am not sure I could do so. Irvin is all bombast; he might start ventilating in the course of telling you what month of the year we are in. Tebow is generally low-key except when he is talking about or experiencing something exciting.
I doubt that I will be able to endure two solid hours of Smith and Irvin yelling at each other on Mondays. I shall try it out one of these weeks; I set the OVER/UNDER at 35 minutes before I move on to something else. At the other end of the spectrum, I am genuinely interested to see how Smith and Tebow work together. I may or may not be able to hang in there for an entire two-hour show, but I am intrigued by the possibilities there.
Some of the rotating guest debaters that ESPN would have you believe are all “A-List sports personalities” include:
- Paul Finebaum – He has forgotten more about college football than Stephan A. Smith ever knew.
- Keyshawn Johnson – Another bloviator from the Michael Irvin school of broadcasting.
- Mina Kimes – I have enjoyed seeing her on much lower-key programs on ESPN.
- Kimberley A. Martin – Meh…
- Monica McNutt – Meh…
- Jessica Mendoza – Between her and Stephen A. Smith, there is not even the possibility of “dead air”.
- Chiney Ogwumike – I like her on ESPN Radio
- Dan Orlovsky – Meh…
- Kendrick Perkins – Sometimes I think he is provocative for the sake of being provocative.
- Marcus Spears – I have liked him on various NFL studio shows.
- Brian Windhorst – I can take him or leave him.
- Damien Woody – I like him.
Finally, I’ll close with an observation by satirist Karl Kraus:
“Journalists write because they have nothing to say and have something to say because they write.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………