When Girls get Boxing

September 14, 2009

By Michael Seff…

Driving down Carlaw Avenue in a blue-collar part of Toronto’s downtown core, the building is easy to miss. Once you have made your way inside its rustic walls, you start to feel a bit like a lab rat in a maze. More mystifying, the concrete walls prevent any sound from emanating until you have almost reached your destination.

Approaching the double doors, you finally begin to hear the activity going on inside. Big thuds, contact undoubtedly being made. Wind whipping, followed by heavy breathing, cardiac at its peak.

“Minute to go!” yells a voice following the piercing sound of some sort of timing device. “Circle right, overhand right!” Another thud, more huffing and puffing, and then finally the same voice declares, “Break! Nice.”

The sounds would appear to be telling enough of the hard work and energy being put forth to the ear, but the eye has not met its match yet. It isn’t until you have crossed the threshold of the room you fully begin to understand what you are witnessing.

It appears to be nothing more than an ordinary gym. The setting is unimpressive. Worn down. Hollow. Equipped with the bare necessities and little more.

As is true with any gymnasium, there is a place of business. Instead of an office with glass windows and leather swivel chairs, there’s a cubicle, complete with an old wooden desk, an equally bland chair and just barely enough space to stretch your legs.

There is a changing area with showers, but it is not a locker room. It is another cubicle-walled area adjacent to the office, leaving its members little privacy.

The gym lays claim to a space out back, but one step onto the battered concrete and you’ll find it is even less endearing than the interior. It is not a back yard, nor is it a even a miniature courtyard. The best terminology to associate it with is back alley, perhaps fitting given the fighting that goes on indoors.

Crane your neck all the way upwards past more concrete to street level to locate the source of the loud rumbling overhead. Cars driving by and freight trains passing through, along with local streetcars and the usual hustle-and-bustle from pedestrians. At least some grass on the ground, even if it is scarce.

There is something that makes this place unique, and it undoubtedly has nothing to do with the unit itself. Start looking at the people that breathe life into this place. To your left, black hair down to their shoulders. Straight ahead, a soft yet shrill voice resonates. Something is indeed a little unusual about this sweaty home to boxers and trainers.

They are all women.

The ringleader, so to speak, is Savoy Howe. This is her baby. And it’s not a million-dollar baby, either. Called Newsgirls, it represents more than just women boxing. As you quickly learn from its patrons, it’s not the jabs and cross-hooks that matter so much as the camaraderie.

Once an afterthought, the club is now getting more recognition with the recent announcement that women’s boxing will become an Olympic sport in 2012.

It is no small feat, either. Women have not been allowed to box in the Olympics since a demonstration event at the St. Louis Games over 100 years ago. Considering the challenge of just opening a women-only gym, the historic event is not lost on Howe.

“Now that [achieving Olympic status] has been accomplished, we’ve definitely got a clear goal, and three years to pull it off,” she says, adding that she has presently has about 20 registered fighters with dreams of participating in the 2012 games, though some of those will miss the cutoff age.

Howe, 43, is a native of a small New Brunswick town, one she left because her lifestyle had her feeling vulnerable to the harsh realities of prejudice. She made the move to Canada’s biggest city to come out of the closet and live her life the way she felt it was meant to be lived.

“In 1991, I moved to Toronto from a small town and I basically left New Brunswick to come to the big city to come out, because it wasn’t safe where I was,” Howe recalls. “While I was here, I realized it’s a big scary world for a female all on your own. Especially as a young queer, always feeling like you’re going to get a brick in the back of the head.”

Needing to find a place to call home fast, Howe walked into the famous Toronto Newsboys boxing club. She loved it from the start, and when things on the business side of Newsboys went south back in 2006, Howe seized the opportunity to turn the club into something more than just a regular gym, and in November of that year Newsgirls moved into its current location.

Because of the variety of reasons women frequent the club, Howe’s role isn’t simply confined to that of boxing instructor.

Noting her primary post as the owner and head coach of Newsgirls, Howe believes that “sometimes you’re a bit of a social worker. A lot of gals need to talk to you sometimes and I make myself very available for that.”

She also alludes to the strong community pull that the club holds.

“If they need help with housing, or they’re looking for work, Newsgirls is such a huge network now that I can usually fire off one email and say, ‘Listen, we’ve got a gal, she needs to move out of her house on Saturday to get away from her abusive partner. There’s only a two-hour time slot. I need 10 women to show up and move her out like that. And within two hours I’ve got 10 women.”

The ages of the women who frequent the gym tend to vary. Younger members likely won’t be there to do anything other than to work out and socialize, but there are a large number of them that aspire to fight on a more serious level.

Brassa Purdy is a high-school senior who is relatively new to the club. For her, Newsgirls simply serves as a recreational activity.

“[I go] just to improve myself, get more fit, have a good time. Meet new people and stuff,” says Purdy, who is well aware of the positive influence that Howe has on those around her.

“She’s very enthusiastic,” Purdy says of Howe. “She always pushes you for the highest goal possible.”

Given the diversity of the club, those goals depend on the individual.

Like Purdy, Jen Plyler’s early introduction to Newsgirls was a more casual one. Once or twice a week at first. However, Plyler, 29, soon developed a goal to have at least one amateur fight. She has fought in nine, and has set a new goal of trying to fight provincially.

She and Howe have joined forces in the Shape Your Life program, a non-profit boxing venture for women and trans survivors of violence. It is affiliated with the Newsgirls and aims to help violence survivors box in a recreational setting to alleviate the pain they are dealing with and get them to express their anger in a more healthy way.

As for her own relationship with Howe, Plyler says the coach’s tireless work ethic and uncanny sense of humor are her two most notable traits.

“I actually spend more time with Savoy than anyone else in my life,” Plyler says with a laugh. “She’s so committed to what she does and wants to be here every day. There’s been times I’ve tried to talk her into taking a weekend off, but she just loves it here too much, can’t do it.”

Plyler also lauds Howe’s coaching style.

“I think what’s really unique about [it] over any other coach that I’ve seen is she’s never punitive. She doesn’t motivate her boxers by telling them they’re slow or lazy or you’re not going to make it if you don’t work out. She always frames everything in the positive, which really works for me, and I think works for a lot of the other boxers in that we seek that praise and like when she notices that we’ve been working hard.”

Rennelle Minott, more affectionately known around the ring as “Trigger,” says for her, it’s the sense of community Howe has built that sets the Newsgirls club apart.

“I think Savoy’s an awesome person,” Minott says. “The first thing I’d say about her is she’s really good at building community. If you come in here you’re going to see black, white, blue, green, straight, gay, bi, whatever.”

But alas, as Plyler (who, for the record, is nicknamed “Scrapper” by her peers at Newsgirls) notes, the real treat is Howe’s ability to bring laughter to those around her.

“Probably it’s her humor more than anything that really hooks people in because she’s just funny all the time regardless of what’s she describing or explaining to us. She always has the classes cracking up. She used to be a stand-up comedian before she was a boxing coach.”

One thing that Howe and the Newsgirls can’t run from, however, is the stereotyping that can come from being a female boxer – especially when you are, in fact, openly gay. There is often an association of lesbianism, and women’s boxing is no different. But the sport’s lack of recognition up until the IOC’s recent decision has been problematic and in the minds of some, more so than the labels that may be put on those who engage in it.

Howe has a blunt viewpoint of the tags that women in athletics get.

“I imagine in a lot of sports, if you’re not the kind of gal to dress up for the boys, the boys will label you a ‘dyke’ pretty quickly,” Howe says.

“In my opinion when a woman walks into a gym, the guys label you either ‘f—able’ or ‘not f—able’. If you’re not f—able chances are they’re thinking you’re a dyke. And if you are f—able, then God help you, they won’t leave you alone. Usually the ones that are not are the ones that have the short hair, that don’t dress to please the boys.”

Others feel that in the broader picture, the sport of boxing is affected by other issues. Sue “Tiger Lilly” Fox, who fought professionally from 1976 to 1979, believes that the while stereotyping is prominent, it isn’t necessarily at the forefront of boxing’s problems.

“There is stereotyping in women’s boxing,” she concedes. “[But] what impacts the sport are much greater problems like poor matchmaking and bogus title bouts.”

Consider this little tidbit of information in the age of technology. Go on Google and type in “the best women’s boxers” as a search, and the search engine responds with, “Did you mean: the best men’s boxers?”

To be fair, the names on the men’s side are almost endless. Ali, Joe Frazier, Jack Dempsey – those of past generations can recall watching those fighters on tiny black-and-white television screens on Friday nights. The women of the sport have no such notoriety.

Most would agree that Laila Ali, daughter of the great Muhammad Ali, is the only name that comes to mind when you mention women’s boxing. Ali is undefeated in 24 career fights, with 21 of those coming by knockout. Impressive numbers, to say the least. But ask the more casual sports fan and they’ll tell you they are more aware of her husband’s achievements than hers. (Ali, for the record, is married to former NFL wide receiver Curtis Conway).

Nevertheless, she is a household name, even if it is simply because of her surname. Ali has had a sponsorship deal with Subway, been featured on the front of Kellogg’s cereal boxes, and participated in the ever-popular “Dancing With the Stars” program on ABC.

Count Howe among those that believe a big-name female boxer’s marketability would be virtually non-existent were she gay.

“Say [a well-known female fighter] were gay,” Howe says. “She would be convinced to hide it well and look like a girl with long hair and ponytails. I bet you she gets more sponsorships. Especially in the States. There are a lot of homophobic states down there, and they would pull the funding.”

Names like Fox’s, Theresa “Princess Red Star” Kibby, and Gwen Gemini get lost in the shuffle despite their importance in the sport’s history. Kibby ranked second in the World Welterweight in the Women’s Boxing Federation in 1977, while Gemini is also thought of as a pioneer of women’s boxing and defeated Kibby in a unanimous decision as one of her career highlights.

More recently, Ann Wolfe, who was rumored to be fighting Ali in a 2006 bout that never materialized, also owns 24 career wins against just one defeat. Wolfe also holds eight world titles, including four different weight classes simultaneously.

Historians often value statistics, but they are very scarce in women’s boxing. Internet research returns very little pertinent numerical information. However, one website, www.boxrec.com, is an online encyclopedia of sorts for male and female boxing stats. Users can search for boxers by name, as well as upcoming fights by weight class, location, and even television network. But most other statistical information is generally just available by a boxer’s website or perhaps Wikipedia.

Also, Fox created WBAN, the Women Boxing Archive Network, found at www.womenboxing.com, chronicling not only her career and life but some of the important events in women’s boxing and biographies of significant names.

Fox mentions in her biography that her reasons for leaving the sport of boxing were due to the fact that it was “starting to die out”. She was hired to work as a police officer in 1990, a position she held until 2008.

Ed Brophy, the executive director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, believes that the popularity of women’s boxing has escalated greatly since the early-to-mid 90’s, but the fact of the matter remains that the Hall is almost entirely one-sided when it comes to gender.

“Presently, 100 per cent of the displays and exhibits are on professional boxing and male boxing, although we do have one female who was elected into the Hall of Fame who was a boxing promoter,” Brophy says.

Still, Aileen Eaton, a Los Angeles promoter from 1942-1980, is categorized on the Hall’s inductee list as a “non-participant”, meaning no female fighters have been inducted.

But Brophy says that one name that has sparked a rise in popularity from the female side is Christy Martin, a fighter who was promoted by the legendary Don King. Martin is nicknamed “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” and fought many cards with Mike Tyson, which Brophy says helped her gain recognition.

“[Martin] was a fine fighter and put on some really good matches on those Pay-Per-Views that Mike Tyson was fighting on. It generated a lot of media attention. The media attention [got] even more females to box and even more managers to focus on the females in the gym,” Brophy says.

“Female boxing has become more popular in the last 15 years because of the awareness of TV networks such as Showtime and promoters such as Don King that brought the attention to Christy Martin.”

There are those that follow the sport who believe that the sport still suffers from a lack of exposure. Chris Iorfida, a senior writer for CBC Sports who covers boxing, says that in addition to the female side having very few recognizable names and a general lack of numbers, the lack of quality matchups makes it very difficult for the sport to thrive.

“It was one of those instances where the best women didn’t really face other at their peaks, Iorfida says.

“Ali did end up fighting Christy Martin eventually, but Martin was quite old and there was a big weight difference. If you’ve got two dynamic women but it’s only a pretty small group overall, you’re going to want to see those women fight each other, but they might not be able to. Whereas with [male] boxing, you have enough people doing it that there are enough divisions and matchups to be made to keep people interested in the sport.”

Iorfida adds that from his own personal experience, there is a sense of despair locally for women hoping to make something of their passion for boxing. He recalls talking to some women locally several years back and learning of the scarcity of opportunities for women in boxing.

“There’s just a certain feeling they had that there’s not much else they can do with it,” Iorfida says.

In Canada, Iorfida concedes that boxing does not thrive as much because of its socioeconomic nature.

“We’re a pretty well-off country,” he says. “We don’t have as many of those sort of core areas, those ghettos, where boxing typically thrives. That pertains to women as well as men, in addition to the stereotype of women shouldn’t hit each other.

While alluding to the popularity of sports like UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Iorfida notes that the status of women’s boxing is nearly at the opposite end of the spectrum.

“I’m sure that women are still enjoying this on sort of a grass roots level,” Iorfida says.

With the announcement of women’s boxing becoming an Olympic sport in 2012, the stage will be set in London, England. For the Newsgirls, getting to London, Ontario has proven enough of a challenge.

“Money is one of the things that keeps us from getting to Windsor or Sudbury. But maybe now that the Olympics has been announced, it will be easier to get corporate sponsorship,” Howe says, adding that she plans to get her advisory board together to try and figure out a plan along those lines.

What once seemed like a pipe dream is now reality for Howe. Yet for all the satisfaction the Olympics will bring, the journey to get there has been a taxing one.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Howe says. “Someone asked me, ‘Savoy, you’ve been boxing for 17 years, how do you feel?’ And I said, ‘Tired.’”

Zaun back where it all started

March 13, 2009

by Michael Seff… Gregg Zaun is back in Baltimore, almost 14 years after making his Major League Debut with the Orioles. In between, the journeyman catcher has made six other stops along the way, most recently a five-year stint with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Zaun describes his return to Baltimore as “very comfortable,” adding, “It’s the people that work in and around the ballpark that make [Camden Yards] such a homey place.” But the veteran backstop, drafted by the O’s back in 1989, also looks back fondly on his time in Toronto.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” he says of his experience in Toronto. “It’s sad for me to realize that my Blue Jay days were over. I enjoyed the city tremendously, loved the ballpark, loved my teammates. It’s a very comfortable place to play.”

The Glendale, California native is grateful to those in the Blue Jays organization for giving him what he describes as his first opportunity to play as a regular. But he also understands that at 37 years old, his role on the Orioles is to be more of a mentor, especially considering that Baltimore is grooming one of the top catching prospects in the game in young Matt Wieters.

“When [Wieters] gets here and I have to take a step back, it’s something that I’ll enjoy because he’s a good young player and a good person, and I would love nothing more than to see him fulfill every expectation that the organization has of him,” Zaun says.

Said manager Dave Trembley: “He’s a veteran in this division and brings a lot to us as far as leadership, knowledge of how to pitch to hitters… He takes pride in calling the game, his preparation skills are very good, and he’s here to mentor Wieters and help with the young pitchers.”

Though he will likely start the 2009 season as the starting catcher, stepping aside for Wieters does not figure to bother Zaun too much, considering his desire to teach. Having previously worked for Rogers Sportsnet, Zaun has a potential career in broadcasting when his playing days are done, but his real desire is to coach at the Major League level.

“I really enjoy working with young players and seeing that light bulb come on in their head when they figure something out,” Zaun says. I take a lot of pride in helping those guys out but if I can’t do it at the big league level, then I’ll just go into the TV booth and start working there.”

check out Michaels blog www.pitchingideas.net

Message to 31 teams: Don’t mortgage the farm for Cassel

February 28, 2009

by Michael Seff… It almost might work out in what looked like the worst of circumstances for the resident cheaters of the NFL. Sacrificing one year of making the playoffs may let them earn some depth and security for years to come. Why? Because their so-called “system”, the one whose legitimacy has still yet to be verified, allowed a mediocre quarterback to look like an elite one. Matt Cassel is just that, mediocre. But he will be making the most money in a one-year tender for a franchise player in league history next year, because the Patriots used their franchise tag on him. That means that if some team is foolish enough to try and snag him, they will owe the Patriots two first-round draft picks. Meanwhile, it’s not like the Patriots won’t be in good hands at quarterback without him.

So if a team like, say, the Minnesota Vikings finally wakes up and realizes Tarvaris Jackson can’t cut it at this level and decides to sell out for Cassel, they will be handing the Patriots two first-round draft picks for a player who shouldn’t even command one seventh-rounder. It will also save the Patriots plenty of salary cap money, rather than keep them financially constrained. The money freed up by Cassel’s possible departure could allow them to land a malcontent like Julius Peppers and turn him into the second coming of Corey Dillon.

So to those other 31 teams, even those with dicey quarterback situations, please, please don’t fork over more than $14 million for the product of a strong offensive system whose receivers push off and whose line cut-blocks as if it was going out of style. Save the money and the draft picks and keep Cassel where he belongs, on the New England bench chewing up valuable cap space.

More from Mike: Pitching Ideas

Warner warrants Hall of Fame consideration!

January 30, 2009

by Michael Seff… The Arizona Cardinals are partying like it’s 1999. That’s because Kurt Warner has dipped into the fountain of youth and rediscovered his old touch. Warner will become just the second quarterback to start a Super Bowl for two different teams when his Cards meet the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 1 in Tampa. In a renaissance year for lucky number 13, it’s time to start thinking of Warner as one of the game’s elite.

One of the key arguments against Warner going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that his career has been essentially defined by five seasons in two stints separated by roughly six years. From 1999-2001, Warner was the toast of the NFL, winning two league MVP awards, two NFC titles, and leading the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. He had eye-popping statistics for a team dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf”. Here in 2008, Warner is lighting up the league once again leading Arizona to its first-ever Super Bowl. But what happened in between?

An injury-riddled 2002 season in which Warner didn’t win a game was the beginning of the end of his time in the Midwest. He started one game in 2003 an was gone after that. He helped pave the way for Eli Manning in New York in 2004, then fell back into obscurity in the desert. It has also been pointed out that only three times has Warner started an entire NFL season.

But 2008 should serve as a reminder that although there were some less-than-flattering years, Warner has been a steady, if not outstanding, signal-caller in his storybook career. The former Arena League standout has thrown 182 touchdown passes to just 114 interceptions, good for a career quarterback rating of 93.8. In the last two seasons, Warner has thrown for exactly 8,000 yards along with 57 touchdown passes. Twice in St. Louis he amassed 4,000 yards. And his postseason record is a stellar 8-2.

One can say that Warner has fallen on hard times occasionally throughout his 10-year career, but there is no denying that Warner’s good years have been spectacular. Kurt’s best should be enough to get him a leg up in Hall of Fame voting.

Warner warrants Hall of Fame consideration

January 26, 2009

by Michael Seff… The Arizona Cardinals are partying like it’s 1999. That’s because Kurt Warner has dipped into the fountain of youth and rediscovered his old touch. Warner will become just the second quarterback to start a Super Bowl for two different teams when his Cards meet the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 1 in Tampa. In a renaissance year for lucky number 13, it’s time to start thinking of Warner as one of the game’s elite.

One of the key arguments against Warner going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that his career has been essentially defined by five seasons in two stints separated by roughly six years. From 1999-2001, Warner was the toast of the NFL, winning two league MVP awards, two NFC titles, and leading the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. He had eye-popping statistics for a team dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf”. Here in 2008, Warner is lighting up the league once again leading Arizona to its first-ever Super Bowl. But what happened in between?

An injury-riddled 2002 season in which Warner didn’t win a game was the beginning of the end of his time in the Midwest. He started one game in 2003 an was gone after that. He helped pave the way for Eli Manning in New York in 2004, then fell back into obscurity in the desert. It has also been pointed out that only three times has Warner started an entire NFL season.

But 2008 should serve as a reminder that although there were some less-than-flattering years, Warner has been a steady, if not outstanding, signal-caller in his storybook career. The former Arena League standout has thrown 182 touchdown passes to just 114 interceptions, good for a career quarterback rating of 93.8. In the last two seasons, Warner has thrown for exactly 8,000 yards along with 57 touchdown passes. Twice in St. Louis he amassed 4,000 yards. And his postseason record is a stellar 8-2.

One can say that Warner has fallen on hard times occasionally throughout his 10-year career, but there is no denying that Warner’s good years have been spectacular. Kurt’s best should be enough to get him a leg up in Hall of Fame voting.

The 5 Most Enraging Moments Of Boston’s Sports Decade

November 27, 2008

by Michael Seff… Throughout the enduring pain of Boston’s sports gods smiling down on them this decade, there have been many moments that stand out for the frustration and anger they created. For every lucky break or inexplicable comeback they had, the sports world suffered just a little bit more. Take, for example, the infamous Tuck Rule. Now at the time, Boston sports had not gotten on their karmic run, so who knew then that the Notorious Raiders’ misfortune would become the Patriots’ everlasting treasure. Looking back on it, Oakland was cheated and the Patriots actually cheated. That unfortunate event, as well as Drew Bledsoe’s untimely injury in Week 2 of that season, changed everything for the worse. A look back (and hopefully, not forward from this point on) at the 5 most grueling and despised moments in Boston’s recent run in sports, in no particular order:

Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS. The end does not justify the means here. The Rays may have won the series in 7 games, but lest we forget that Game 5 may have emotionally and psychologically drained them for the World Series, in which they came out flat against an inferior but rested foe in Philadelphia. The 7-0 meltdown suffered by Tampa Bay was one of the most painful things I’ve ever watched. It figured Boston was back at their old cheap tricks, coming back from a deficit in a series to prove their place in baseball lore. The Rays (and the fans) had to gut out such a gruesome thought until Matt Garza finally turned out the lights on Boston’s 2008 season in Game 7. But the days between Games 5 and 7 were terrifying, to say the least.

Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals. As if the Red Sox and Patriots’ successes weren’t enough, the Lakers got to experience what many past victims of those aforementioned clubs had in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last season. A complete and utter choke job only explainable by means of divine intervention ensued, as the Celtics erased a 24-point deficit to rally for a command 3-1 series lead. They went on to win in 6 games to make it a grisly trifecta in sports titles in the present decade. Perhaps the worst part about the Celtics’ title run was that very few people saw it coming. Alas, that’s how it always seems to be, doesn’t it?

Super Bowl XXXVIII. So many little things that could’ve changed the game but didn’t. Either it was the two failed, ill-advised two-point conversion attempts by Carolina, or it was their kicker, John Kasay, kicking the kickoff following the game-tying TD out of bounds, setting up a short field for Tom Brady to claim to be a hero by leading a truly-defining, 47-yard drive to set up a field goal. When Carolina took a short-lived, 22-21 lead in the fourth quarter, it was the first time we had the pleasure of even seeing the Patriots trail in a game in over two months to that point. The Panthers gave up a touchdown and never led again. Adam Vinatieri, who gets props at least for bolting to the rival Colts after the ‘05 season, got to experience deja vu and hammer the final nail in the Panthers’ coffin.

Marlon McCree’s fumbled interception, 2006 Divisional Playoffs. This is the one that killed me to almost no end. Even though it paved the way for Peyton Manning’s heroics the following week in the championship game, the annual Patriots charade should never have gotten that far. Tom Brady was picked off for the third time in the game, but McCree carried the return like a loaf of bread, only to be stripped by prehistoric receiver Troy Brown. IT gave the announcers and media a chance to laud a “truly selfless” effort by the overrated Brown, when really the focus should have been on McCree’s utter stupidity, as well as Marty Schottenheimer’s constant postseason failures. Mercifully, Schottenheimer’s career ended after this debacle, but the Patriots luck did not. Predictably, the botched interception set up the tying touchdown and ultimately the 24-21 victory, which the classless Patriots followed up by mocking the Chargers at midfield after the final seconds ticked off.

May 13, 2007. This was possibly the worst of them all because it involved my beloved Orioles being victimized by the Boston terrorism. The Orioles were well on the verge of taking two out of three at Fenway Park, leading 5-0 in the bottom of the 9th. Jeremy Guthrie had pitched lights-out to that point, and got the first out of the inning before catcher Ramon Hernandez mishandled an infield pop-up that ignited a brutal 6-run rally by the Red Sox. The horrendous nightmare culminated with Julio Lugo hitting a ground ball to the right side of the infield. Former Sox hero Kevin Millar made an errant flip to pitcher Chris Ray at first, allowing the winning runs to score. I immediately wen to the gym and took out my frustrations on the punching bag.

Champagne still on ice for ’72 Dolphins

November 5, 2008

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/media/photo/2008-01/34821522.jpgby Michael Seff… They didn’t have many people convinced at 6-0, but last Monday night’s 31-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts made a great deal of believers in the Tennessee Titans. Kerry Collins helped overcome some defensive shortcomings and the Titans rallied for 25 unanswered points to remain as the NFL’s lone unbeaten team. The Titans then knocked off the Packers in overtime Sunday to make it 8-for-8.

So, are the Titans ready to run the table? Not quite. Considering that the Patriots couldn’t even cheat their way all the way through, it’s hard to fathom this year’s Titans squad can go 19-for-19. The 1972 Dolphins remain the only member of Perfectville, population still one. While New England became just the second team to go through the regular season unbeaten, their 2-1 postseason record denied them the ultimate piece of NFL history.

The upcoming schedule is relatively soft for Jeff Fisher’s bunch. Visits to Chicago and Jacksonville will provide tests, but home dates against the Jets and Browns sandwiched around a Thanksgiving game in Detroit will help the Titans pad their record.

My prediction is that the Jaguars, they of providing the Bengals their first win, will turn the tables and hand the Titans their first loss in Week 10. At that point, the 1972 Miami squad can rejoice once again, knowing that they are still the only inhabitants of Perfectville.

Boston’s existence is more than just charmed

October 19, 2008

by Michael Seff…                 I am writing this article during Game 6, completely disregarding the outcome of tonight’s and possibly tomorrow’s game. The Red Sox figure to win the ALCS at this point; if they don’t, we should all be shocked and amazed.

Count me as one very sick and disgusted fan watching the Rays’ meltdown on Thursday. After everything that the Patriots have done to terrorize the NFL this decade, and watching Kevin Garnett suddenly turn the Celtics from cellar-dwellers into champions, a Red Sox repeat would just be the icing on a very bitter cake.

There is no real logic for what happened in Game 5. Argue that the Red Sox are the better team all you want, but it’s tough to make that argument after they’ve just lost games 4 and 5 at home by a combined score of 22-5. The Rays must’ve known in their heads that the baseball gods would shine on the Red Sox before it was all said and done. One of the top bullpens in baseball during the regular season suddenly turned the magical ’08 Rays into the old Devil Rays.

Naturally, it will just be another chapter in Boston sports lore. All the media outlets were talking about it the day after, even non-sports-related ones. Boston has turned into a ridiculous fad with its string of good fortune, and even if the Rays end up pulling the ALCS out, the fact that they had to endure what they did is a crying shame. We have seen this awful movie countless times before, with the same gut wrenching ending.

No reason to think it will change now. All we can do is just hope and pray.

It’ll be Soxs vs The Dogers

October 10, 2008

by Michael Seff…

After somewhat whiffing, time to make amends in the LCS

With apologies for starting these predictions a day into the NLCS, I believe I can still atone for picking the Cubs to emerge as 2008 World Champions. With the curse still in full force, it’s down to the Phillies, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rays in the hunt for ultimate supremacy. So without further ado, here is a breakdown of the two series with predictions.

NLCS (Phillies lead series, 1-0)

Okay, so the magic wore off a little for the Dodgers last night in their 3-2 loss. But I still see a more complete team in Joe Torre’s bunch than in Charlie Manuel’s squad. The Dodgers have the stronger pitching staff even if their lineup isn’t quite as deep as the Phillies’. The experience and hot hand goes to L.A. here, as Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton are emerging young stars on the hill for the Dodgers. Keeping Ryan Howard in check will be a theme for the series. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Manuel keeps opting to pitch the Manny Ramirez. Odds are he will. Bad move. Prediction: Dodgers in 6.

ALCS

This was a competitive series in the regular season, won by the pesky Rays, 10-8. But the postseason has a way of changing things. The pitching dominance of Boston’s starters is undeniable, and it will likely be too much for the Rays’ mediocre lineup to handle. Tampa Bay has a home field edge in their raucous dome, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Fenway Park. If the Rays drop a game in the first set at the Trop, they will be in big trouble heading back to Boston. Unfortunately, that is a rather likely scenario. (Disclaimer: this is all very painful stuff for me to say, giving respect to Boston. Thus, me being wrong here would be a welcome surprise.) Prediction: Red Sox in 6.

Baseball playoff preview article

September 30, 2008

by Michael Seff… You know that ridiculous new slogan, “There’s only one October?” Yeah, I hated those commercials too. Actually, just slightly less this year now that unfunny so-called comic Dane Cook, the pride of Boston Massachusetts, isn’t doing them anymore. I suppose whatever you do, don’t get caught muttering that phrase around Queens, where the Mets are once again licking their wounds from a disastrous late-season meltdown.

So as for the nine teams (yes, that’s right, the Central still hasn’t been decided) in the hunt for the grand prize this fall, here is a breakdown of the three Division Series matchups that have been set thus far:

American League

Boston (95-67) at Los Angeles Angels (100-62) – The two deepest and most experienced teams in baseball square off for the third time in five Octobers, with the Red Sox sweeping the past two series en route to World Series titles. The Angels are much better equipped to handle the Red Sox this year, having upgraded their offense with Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter. Hitting was problematic in last year’s playoff series for them, to say the least. They scored a measly four runs in three games. Even though Los Angeles has the home field edge, the mental aspect could be too great to overcome. They know Boston’s top three starters may simply be too dominant for their own strong bullpen to be a significant factor. As little sense as it makes, Boston has seemed to live a charmed life even when some of their top guns are down this year. Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew are all ailing, but that won’t be a determining factor one way or another. Prediction: As much as it pains me to say it, Boston in 4.

National League

Milwaukee (90-72) at Philadelphia (92-70) – Two cities starving for baseball success finally got their wish this year. The Phillies, albeit division champs last year, maintained that level of success in 2008, while the Brewers ended a 26-year playoff drought with a wild card berth. The Brewers have major health concerns and major bullpen concerns heading into this series. Ben Sheets is no lock to start, and C.C. Sabathia continues to be pressed into action on short rest. Both of these teams can really hit, but the Brewers have had problems all year holding leads. The Phillies have had no such problem, as Brad Lidge, their closer, did not blow a save all year. That will prove to be the difference maker. Prediction: Phillies in 4.

Los Angeles (84-78) at Chicago (97-64) – Manny-mania will not be the headline in this series. Instead, it will be on the Cubs and their quest to end 100 years of championship futility. They have the edge over the Dodgers in virtually every possible category, even with the brilliance of Ramirez in the Dodgers’ second-half push. The starting pitching matchups are mismatches, and even 100 Billy goats couldn’t curse the Cubs enough to lose this series. Prediction: Cubs in 3.

The rest of the way:

(Assuming the Rays handle their ALDS opponent)

ALCS: Red Sox over Rays

NLCS: Cubs over Phillies

WS: Cubs over Red Sox (the curse is really over?)

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