Thursday, July 30, 2009

Andre Dawson and Jim Rice

Yesterday I mentioned this blog to a longtime professional colleague who'd never seen it before. He emailed me last night and, after shrewdly stroking my ego by calling the blog terrific (I want whatever he's smoking), suggested that I explain Jim Rice's induction into the Hall of Fame in light of Andre Dawson's ongoing exclusion.

I'm not in the habit of taking requests, not because I'm above that sort of thing, but because people so rarely make them. Like my friend Trax and I used to observe in law school, it's easy to say you're not selling out when no one's bidding.

So thanks for checking out the blog, new reader. Here's my answer off the top of my head, just one person's opinion.

Jim Rice was a marginal case with one big pro, his plate work. As a, if not the, leading hitter of his era, he was as feared by pitchers as any batsman for eight or ten years.

Now for the cons. His career totals (.298, 382 HR, eight-time All-Star, one MVP), while impressive, were not overwhelming. He was not particularly fleet of foot and his defense was lightly regarded although he did have respectable career fielding statistics. He never won a Gold Glove, nor are there many Jim Rice catches or putouts on baseball highlight reels.

Rice was aloof and moody, rarely coöperating with the very baseball reporters who vote for the Hall. Plus, since he spent his entire sixteen-year career with the Boston Red Sox in the 1970s and 80s, he never won a title, though he came close in seven-game World Series in 1975 and 1986.

It's easy to make a Hall of Fame case for a five-tool player (hits for power, hits for average, runs, catches, throws) with big career numbers. Reaching a rare benchmark like 3000 hits, 500 homers or 300 wins is generally a ticket to the Hall, or was in the pre-steroid era. The baseball writers will look for a reason to vote for a popular player with solid numbers and a World Series ring or two, say a Kirby Puckett. It also helps to be a team leader who gives back to the community, a Roberto Clemente type (he was a Hall of Famer anyway), or have a singular distinction like Cal Ripken Jr.'s playing streak (I think he's overrated but I digress).

Jim Rice, however, was a surly guy who hit the cover off the ball on a bunch of teams that never won anything. His case for the Hall was less than overpowering and many of the baseball writers he alienated didn't care to reward him with a trip to Cooperstown.

He was mildly reminiscent of Ted Williams, an even better hitter who also patrolled the outfield in Fenway Park and had a difficult relationship with the press. His disdain for reporters, and their resulting disdain for him, cost him the 1947 MVP award. Williams won the American League Triple Crown that year, but one reporter left Williams off his ballot altogether and the MVP went to Joe DiMaggio by a single point. Even being named ninth on that ballot would have gotten Williams the honor, and tenth place would have tied DiMag.

It took Jim Rice all fifteen years of eligibility to get voted into the Hall of Fame. He came to look better over time, as have other pre-steroid stars, and his cause was probably helped as a wave of younger voters who'd grown up idolizing him gradually supplanted the older voters he'd snubbed for a postgame quote.

On a related note, the other day I wondered here why a handful of reporters didn't vote for Hall of Fame shoo-in Rickey Henderson in his first year on the ballot. Rickey broke Ty Cobb's all-time record for runs scored and Babe Ruth's record for career walks. He's not only the all-time stolen base king, he has 50% more steals than the guy in second place, Lou Brock. You could make a reasonable argument that he is among the five best players of all time.

As for his Hall vote, my query was facetious. The only explanation for leaving Rickey Henderson off a Hall of Fame ballot is that he was a showboat, seen by some as arrogant and self-centered. Players like that lose votes they deserve when emotion trumps common sense. "I'll show him," think some voters. Maybe they figure he'll get in anyway but they'll keep it from being unanimous. Or they might snub him for a year to put him in his place, then vote for him the next year if he doesn't get in the first time.

Moving on to Andre Dawson. Like Rice, he was an eight-time All-Star whose career numbers, though solid, are lukewarm by Hall standards (.279, 2774 hits, 438 HR, 1591 RBI). But his numbers look better in light of the fact that his knees were ruined by the artificial turf in his early years in Montreal.

As does his defense. "The Hawk" could run down balls with the best of them and gun down baserunners from three hundred feet away. Dawson won eight Gold Gloves and his cannon arm was widely respected around the league.

So was his bat. I still remember the day he was intentionally walked five times in one game. Yes, I just said Andre Dawson was intentionally walked five times in one game. That sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.

Dawson won the MVP for the 1987 Cubs, the first time a player on a last-place club won a Most Valuable Player award. He'd have gotten more attention had he not won the Rookie of the Year award and torn up the National League for eleven years in the baseball backwater of Montreal. (People talk about Don Mattingly as a Hall of Famer? Whatever. He was a good player on the Yankees. Andre Dawson was an exceptional player not on the Yankees.)

Like Rice, he never won a ring, but come on, the guy played for the Cubs, Expos, Red Sox and expansion-era Marlins. You wouldn't have either.

Off the field, Dawson was deeply admired as a serious-minded star who quietly led by example. He was a clubhouse leader and hard worker who did it the right way, a credit to the game.

To me, Andre Dawson is a Hall of Famer. If Jim Rice is one, even more so. Dawson was as elite a hitter in his time as Rice was, and unlike Rice, as excellent in the field as he was at the plate. Also unlike Rice, he combined speed and power. Dawson is one of only three players with 400 HR and 300 stolen bases. The other two are Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. Sound like a Hall of Famer yet?

Andre Dawson played hurt throughout his career with nary a peep of complaint or self-pity. He was a five-tool guy who hit the tar out of the ball and could beat you a bunch of different ways. Any team owner would want that guy. Put him in Cooperstown.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The other day was all about Mark Buehrle's perfect game, but today the grand slam takes center stage.

Last night, Josh Willingham of the Washington Nationals hit two grand slams in one game, becoming just the 13th major league player to pull off that remarkable feat. As rare as a perfect game is, Buehrle was the 18th man to throw one, so the Slam-Slam Club is even more exclusive.

These exceedingly rare baseball moments (rare? twice in one week is rare?) are inevitably surrounded by cool trivia. For example, of the thirteen players who've hit two grand slams in a game, only Bill Mueller hit one from each side of the plate. Fernando Tatis, meanwhile, pulled off something even more stunning: two grand slams in the same inning.

Willingham's two 4-RBI HRs came on a big day for grand slams, and home runs in general. Alfonso Soriano hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 13th inning to win the Cubs game. Fernando "just reminding you of my two grand slams in one inning" Tatis had a pinch-hit grand slam for the Mets.

Elsewhere around the league (since I'm regurgitating facts at such length now, I must acknowledge ESPN Stats and Information as my source), it was also a homer-happy day. The Angels hit back-to-back-to-back home runs. The Yankees went back-to-back. So did the Indians. Both Lees, Carlos and Derrek, homered in the Cubs-Astros game. As if in tribute to Sunday's Hall of Fame enshrinement of Rickey Henderson, Curtis Granderson went deep to lead off the Tigers game. In fact, the Giants-Pirates contest was the only game without a home run.

If you like home run trivia, as I do, check out this paean I wrote to historic homers.

p.s. Speaking of Buehrle, today was his first start since his perfect game last Thursday. It was shades of Johnny Vander Meer, the "Dutch Master" who threw two consecutive no-hitters in 1938. Buehrle was perfect through 5 2/3 innings tonight at Minnesota before missing the strike zone on a 3-2 pitch to Alexi Casilla. The base on balls ended Buehrle's bid for a second straight perfect game, whereupon the classy Metrodome crowd stood and cheered. The next batter, Denard Span, singled to break up the no-hitter.

Entering the game, Buehrle's teammate Bobby Jenks shared the all-time major league record for consecutive batters retired, with 41 (San Francisco's Jim Barr also retired 41 straight in 1972). Buehrle got his last batter out in a July 18 win before the perfect game, so he had 28 straight this morning, then sat down the first 17 Twins he faced tonight to set a new all-time record with 45 straight batters retired. My word, that is a lot of consecutive professional hitters to prevent from reaching first base.

Jenks watched with a smile on his face as Buehrle gradually tied his record, then eclipsed it when their former teammate Joe Crede grounded out for the second out in the fifth inning. From there, Buehrle set a new major league record with every batter he dispatched. He managed three more after Crede before walking Casilla to end the streak. Adding insult to injury, Buehrle was roughed up for four runs in the seventh and took the loss in a 5-3 defeat.

I, meanwhile, ate some Reese's Pieces, watched some World Series of Poker on ESPN, and blogged about grand slams and perfect games, so I'm also pretty amazing.

Memo to Howard Stern

Thanks for that Mary Jo Buttafuoco interview today. What, Donna Rice wasn't available?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Memo to Hollywood

Two interchangeable Hulk movies a few years apart, why exactly?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rickey being Rickey

Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice headline the Class of 2009 at today's induction ceremonies at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Rickey was a first-ballot shoo-in; Rice got the nod in his fifteenth and final year of eligibility.

Henderson got 94.7% of the vote. Excuse me? Who didn't vote for Rickey? That's like not voting for jelly in the "what else should I put in my peanut butter sandwich?" vote.

For more on the greatest leadoff man of all time, check this out. And this.

How fast are you?

Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds [NYT]

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Congratulations to Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox, who on Thursday became just the 18th player in major league history to throw a perfect game.

Buehrle also threw a no-hitter two years ago, so by retiring all 27 Tampa Bay Rays batters, he joined Hall of Famers Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Joss Aldie, Jim Bunning and, it's safe to say, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson on the even shorter list of players with a perfecto and a no-no (three no-hitters in Koufax's case). Interestingly, the home plate umpire was Eric Cooper for both of Buehrle's no-hitters.

Most no-hit artists do it with overwhelming power. Take Nolan Ryan, who hurled a record seven no-hitters, plus 12 one-hitters. The hard-throwing Texan blew people away with good old country hardball for twenty-odd years, retiring as the all-time strikeout leader with 5714. Ryan sent so many batters back to the bench on strikes that it stands to reason he threw so many no-hitters. (He also signed a baseball for me when I was a kid; I still have it.)

Buehrle is a more interesting case. He's not a strikeout artist, with neither blazing speed nor a huge breaking ball. He only threw six strikeouts in his perfect game. Buehrle throws a lot of balls over the plate (about two-thirds of his pitches Thursday were strikes), lets the batters put the ball in play and relies on his fielders to make plays. Unlike many of his no-hitter brethren, the Randy Johnson types, he invites batters to make contact.

Buehrle wins games with his mind, keeping batters guessing by changing speeds and locations. Crucial to his success is an excellent changeup, which looks like a fastball as he delivers it but comes in more slowly. Thus, batters can't be sure when to swing. Buehrle's fastball isn't particularly fast at around 86mph, but since he mixes in the change so effectively, it's fast enough. Throw in a decent curveball and they're usually puzzled. Plus Buehrle gets a lot of first-pitch strikes so he's often ahead in the count, making batters swing at questionable pitches to protect the plate.

The other thing I like about Buehrle is that he works fast. As soon as the catcher throws him the ball, he's ready to throw another pitch. He's frequently waiting for the batter to get ready. His perfect game took just two hours and two minutes, with Buehrle on the mound for just 32 minutes total. I've seen half-innings longer than 32 minutes. (Of course, in this case it helped that he faced the minimum 27.)

Between his deceptive ability to get batters out, his lack of overwhelming stuff, and the quick games he throws, Buehrle reminds me of Greg Maddux. That is a good player to be like.

It usually takes a little luck to get a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game. Buehrle got his share Thursday as two slashing line drives landed just foul of the third-base line, one of them nearly disemboweling umpire Laz Diaz, and rookie sensation Gordon Beckham made two strong plays on hard ground balls at third base.

But the play of the game came in the ninth inning. With the White Sox staked to a 5-0 lead thanks to Josh Fields' grand slam (the only one ever hit in a perfect game), manager Ozzie Guillen defied superstition and put little-known DeWayne Wise into center field as a defensive replacement.

What a move that was. The next batter, Gabe Kapler, crushed a ball to deep left center. Wise tracked it off the bat, smoothly went back, timed his leap off the barrier and made a circus catch over the wall, robbing Kapler of a home run. The ball wasn't firmly in his glove and he nearly dropped it as he brought it back into fair territory, but he used his other hand to complete the catch and keep the ball from touching the turf as he rolled to the ground. It was not only the best catch in recent memory but also, given that his pitcher was 24 outs into a perfect game, instantly one of the most dramatic and satisfying plays of all time.

Happily, with that massive reprieve under his belt, Buehrle finished the job, inducing a strikeout and a groundout to complete the perfect game. Against a defending pennant winner, no less.

You had to feel happy for Mark Buehrle, a likeable all-American guy from small town Missouri who has made no secret of his desire someday to pitch for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals. He got to do the next best thing at the All-Star Game in St. Louis a few weeks ago, pitching a perfect inning in what turns out to have been foreshadowing. After his perfect game he got a congratulatory call from the other guy who wore White Sox attire on the field at the All-Star Game, President Barack Obama.

Sure, his teammates loved it, but even his fellow players on rival teams were excited for him. Video replays showed the Philadelphia Phillies whooping it up like a bunch of little kids as they watched Buehrle's perfect game live in their clubhouse before their Thursday night game. And Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera reportedly shouted across the field "Good job! Way to go!" and and gave Buehrle a thumbs-up on the day after the perfect game.

Video of Wise's amazing catch is here. The box score and more video are here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Funny people

It's not just the title of a promising new movie, there are actual funny people doing their thing around town. Two examples:

1. Last night I attended the opening performance of the Second City e.t.c.'s 33rd revue, Studs Terkel's Not Working. Enjoyable sketch comedy from a talented cast. My Flavorpill preview is forthcoming.

2. Tomorrow night at ComedySportz Theatre is an offbeat comedy show called DrekFest, the final round of a national search for America's worst play. (To be clear, it's talented playwrights trying to fail hilariously at their craft.) My Flavorpill preview is here.

Get out there, buy some tickets, support live theater, prop up our teetering economy, and have a good laugh.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another puzzle

The other day I wrote about a puzzle I created for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. Today I have another puzzle for you.

I keep up on my favorite TV shows with a TiVo digital video recorder. Among TiVo's many features is a Program Details section providing information about every show.

I was recently reading about an episode of NBC's The Office. After the credits, TiVo offered a list of similar programming that fans of The Office might enjoy (see below).

Glancing down the list, I noticed something unusual, in addition to the fact that TiVo included The Office among programs that are similar to The Office.

Today's puzzle is, which of the following does not belong? I am not making this up:

Similar Programs
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • My Name Is Earl
  • Office Space
  • Seinfeld
  • Saturday Night Live
  • The Simpsons
  • Scrubs
  • The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
  • Old School
  • Family Guy
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • Arrested Development
  • The Colbert Report
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Swingers
  • South Park
  • Chappelle's Show
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • Mega-Carrier: The Construction of the USS George H.W. Bush
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Sunday, July 12, 2009


"Listener Ben Bass of Chicago" here.

That's how you might have heard me described on the radio this morning during the weekly puzzle segment of Weekend Edition Sunday on National Public Radio, when New York Times puzzle editor and NPR puzzlemaster Will Shortz was kind enough to use a brain-teaser I submitted as this week's listener challenge.

Every Sunday morning, Mr. Shortz presents a puzzle and invites listeners to submit the answer. One lucky person is chosen at random from among each week's correct respondents and invited to solve a series of stumpers on the air. Then at the end of the segment he presents a new listener challenge and the cycle continues.

I've been tuning in to the NPR puzzle segment for many years, going back to the Mesozoic days when listeners would send their answers on postcards. I think it was due to the post-9/11 anthrax scare that they shifted to email, and for the last few years submissions have been via the NPR website.

Getting chosen at random to play on the air is nearly impossible. In an easy week, maybe 2500 people submit the correct answer, and even when it's a toughie, 200 or more people will solve it. I've submitted hundreds of correct answers to easy and hard puzzles alike and never gotten the call. (Meanwhile, countless first-timers have.) Sometimes I don't even bother sending in the answer, figuring it's too easy and I'll never get chosen. Other times I forget to submit it. Neither of these helps my chances much.

In my personal experience, it's actually way harder to be selected to play the puzzle on NPR than it is to get on Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy!. If you can pass the screening tests for those shows, your chances of getting on are pretty good. In each case I was lucky enough to make the cut and the next thing I knew I was in a TV studio. On the radio, though, it's a lower bar, hence a bigger pool, plus they only use about fifty people a year.

Last winter I attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn, which Will Shortz founded back in 1978. On Saturday evening, "Game Show Night" in the packed hotel ballroom, I managed to win a trivia contest hosted by Newsday crossword editor Stanley Newman. Mr. Shortz generously presented me with a prize, a signed book of Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles. Plus I was sitting with a bunch of NYT puzzle constructors at the time, some of whom had puzzles in the book, so they passed it around and autographed it too.

Even though it wasn't on the radio, it was still pretty sweet. In fact, it felt like more of an achievement than getting picked to play on the air. Winning a general knowledge contest in a room filled with the world's crossword puzzle elite, some of the brightest and best-informed people on the planet? Then getting a completely unnecessary prize for it from a guy I so enjoy and admire, Will Shortz? It was thrilling, humbling and more than excitement enough for me. After over a decade of sending in correct answers and not getting on the radio, I figured that was my Will Shortz moment.

But even if you can't get your name picked out of a hat, there's another way to get some puzzle props on NPR's air. Although Mr. Shortz writes a lot of the listener challenges himself, he also uses quizzes written by his friends in the puzzle community -- math gurus, crossword constructors and the like -- and by regular listeners like you and me.

Some years ago, I submitted a few NPR puzzles to Mr. Shortz for his consideration. Several of them seemed just right for the radio and I was optimistic that he might use them, but for whatever reason he never did. Maybe it was because I sent them via snail-mail to the New York Times; for all I knew he never even received them. The only way I would have known for sure was if one of them ended up on the air.

Then I competed in a Chicago crossword tournament last spring and wrote about it. This led to my being put in email contact with Will Shortz, which in turn rekindled my interest in suggesting NPR puzzles. Just as submitting a Talk of the Town article to the New Yorker led to my starting this blog, so did my hijinks in the crossword world inspire me to create more puzzles. Plus, now armed with Will's email address, at least I knew that he'd see my submissions. (Now that we've reached the point in the tale where Will and I became email correspondents, I'll dispense with calling him Mr. Shortz.)

From time to time, Will gives a listener challenge on the radio that someone else in turn uses as a jumping-off point to create a new challenge. It was this type of evolution that led to my radio puzzle.

There was a recent puzzle whose answer was the actor Kevin Kline. Crossword constructor Henry Hook then weighed in three weeks ago with a related puzzle. He observed that the name KEVIN KLINE in all capital letters is spelled with two five-letter words, each consisting of 13 straight line segments and no curves, then challenged listeners to find the name of another celebrity in two five-letter words, each spelled with 14 line segments and no curves. The answer was my onetime TV acquaintance VANNA WHITE.

In solving the Vanna White puzzle, I happened to notice that there was a genre of music, also in two five-letter words, also spelled using only straight-line letters. I counted its line segments, noticed it was 15 and 15, and quickly realized that I had stumbled upon another NPR puzzle. Not my most elegant one, but viable enough and a nifty extension of the precedent.

I emailed it in to Will Shortz, who responded enthusiastically that he liked it and might use it on the air. He said he'd let me know if he were going to. But he didn't use it the following week, then I went overseas for a week at Wimbledon. I was preoccupied with my trip, missed the next puzzle while I was away (also not mine) and never heard back from Will. By the time I returned I'd forgotten about the whole thing.

So imagine my surprise to hear my name coming out of my radio. I was as startled as if I'd been chosen to play on the air. As it happened, two people posted congratulations on my Facebook before the puzzle segment hit the airwaves in Chicago, but I was groggy early in the morning after being up late and didn't understand what they were talking about.

Both guys were puzzle pals of mine (which you tend to collect when you make a standing offer on your blog to email puzzle hints to those in need) but even that didn't tip me off. I couldn't put two and two together, having forgotten about my own puzzle. And I'm glad I was that dumb because I was completely surprised an hour later as I listened to the broadcast.

As it happened, my puzzle aired on a special edition of the show celebrating host Liane Hansen's twenty years at the helm of Weekend Edition Sunday. To mark the occasion, they played live before a studio audience at NPR's Washington, D.C. headquarters that included such radio grandees as Daniel Schorr, Susan Stamberg and Scott Simon. Will usually tapes the puzzle segment from his New York area home, but this week he was in Baltimore running the National Puzzlers League convention and he drove down the road to host the special event in person. The listener who played on the air was excellent. And then this week's challenge was presented by actor Stacy Keach, who's in Washington playing King Lear. My puzzle and my name sounded great in his mellifluous intonation. He's got the pipes.

It feels good all the way around. If I can't get picked to play on the air, getting my own original puzzle on the air is a hell of a consolation prize. Being a part of the special 20th anniversary show was cool. And even the timing worked out well. Last week I was overseas, and most Sunday mornings this summer during puzzle time I'm on court playing doubles for my tennis team, so I usually miss the broadcast. This week, though, I'm back from my trip and my team has a bye, so I got to hear my name on the radio.

An audio file of the entire live in-studio Washington puzzle segment appears on the NPR website here. There are also condensed video highlights, which provide a rare glimpse of the people whose voices we hear as we drive around. A lot of the radio segment (including yours truly) got edited out of the video, but it's still worth checking out.

Thanks to Will Shortz for providing another fun chapter in my puzzling life. And hey, maybe you'll have better luck than I have in getting picked to play on the air. Solve my puzzle and submit your answer here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tardy and cursory Wimbledon wrapup

Federer won.

Oh, you want more? I'm on borrowed time (literally - there are 10 minutes clicking away on my prepaid hotel Internet access) so I'll make this quick.

We attended the matches Thu-Fri-Sat, choosing to see two men's semis rather than the final, plus the women's semis and finals. It was a great experience all the way around. I've been lucky enough to attend the Australian Open and a number of U.S. Opens, but I'd never visited the hallowed grounds of the All England Club.

Like Sampras and Lendl, then, I now have three of the four Grand Slams. Of course, they won, I merely attended, but why split hairs? My parents, meanwhile, completed the career attendance Slam like that other married couple, Steffi and Andre, did by winning.

The tennis was generally good and the experience of attending it great. We were fortunate to attend. Not to be overlooked was the Wimbledon museum, an outstanding retrospective of the over a century of tennis history at the Big W. A highlight was the spectral hologram of John McEnroe narrating his personal tennis history at SW 19.

We saw the men's final in our hotel bar, which was nice as I was able to take a little nap in my room during the epic final. Pete Sampras said it best about Roger Federer: he's a stud. (Pete had a lot of other nice things to say but that one sums it up pretty well.) After Federer's historic coup, we caught the doubles final at Audley's Pub in Mayfair over a traditional pub dinner.

Last night I gave the neighborhood chaps a free (or should I say expensive) poker lesson at a local casino, then we took a day trip today to Cambridge. It was scenic and historic, much like Oxford, which I visited in '03. Loved them both.

Back to Chicago shortly. I used my digital camera so much that it completely died, and I didn't bring a charger along, so I'll post pictures in a few days. No time to edit this right now, so please forgive my incompleteness and typos. Cheerio!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Richard Williams wants Oreos

That's what I learned on the practice courts at Wimbledon yesterday. His daughter Venus was on a practice court warming up for her singles semifinal against world #1 Dinara Safina as I entered the hallowed grounds. Sister Serena was up first on Centre Court against Beijing Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva, so Venus was having a little hit before her match.

Venus' practice session was a family affair, with mom Oracene Price, dad Richard and his new young wife all on court as Venus coolly clocked serve after serve into the same square inch past David Witt, her blond surfer-dude-looking hitting partner. (See above photo, with Venus serving, Dad supervising and Centre Court looming in the background.) It was apparent that Venus would only be in danger if Good Safina showed up, not Emotionally Fragile, Ball-Spraying Safina. Apparently it was the latter because Venus won easily in a laugher. I didn't pick up a racket and Safina only won one more game than I did.

As for the Oreos, Mr. Williams apparently hadn't had much to eat because he was asking the family in front of me whether they had any more Oreos. No they didn't. But with a couple hundred million pounds to the family name, I'm sure he was able to manage a bite. Actually I felt bad for the guy because he was hobbling around so badly.

Anyway, his daughters both won, Serena despite hitting a net cord en route to winning a match point against, and Venus cruising. The tennis has been great here. I actually spent significant time on Courts 1 and 2 seeing some of my favorite doubles players: Leander Paes, the Bryan brothers (identical twins from California and world #1 team), and the clown prince of tennis, Iranian Mansour Bahrami.

Time to catch a bus. Cheers mates!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Beauty and the B

We were just walking through our London hotel lobby en route to breakfast when we encountered a group of identically dressed, radiantly beautiful, heavily made-up young women. I thought they looked like a high school cheerleading team.

Close, but actually they were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders, here to promote a game between the Bucs and the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in October. I couldn't believe they were pro cheerleaders because they were all so young-looking, not to mention short. (They were all about 5'1".) Apparently there are tall women on the full squad, but the advance team has a strict height requirement.

They're on a whirlwind tour of the U.K. Having just gotten off a plane from Florida, they're taking a nap, then heading to Scotland, then working their way back here for the weekend, furiously promoting all the while. They told us all about the game, then we wished them good luck and said goodbye. Five minutes later they were seated next to us at breakfast.

Despite their busy schedule, they insisted upon taking this photo so they could be immortalized on my blog. And now they are:

Background: Hyde Park, London
Foreground: Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders
Midground: some guy