Kicking things around….

I’ve decided that I don’t just have to wait for big, lengthy things to pop into, then out of, my head in order to post here. This way I can post more frequently and hopefully still keep things interesting.

I’ve had a lot of little things flow through my brain during the early pool play stage of the World Cup, which I’ve watched a lot more of than I thought I would before it began. Here are a few….

  • First of all, the referees. There have been some terrible calls so far in the tournament, one of the most recent being Kaka’s second yellow card that earned him a suspension from Brazil’s final pool play game against Portugal on Friday. It seems like many of the complaints recently (ask the Swiss about losing Valon Behrami in the 31st minute to a suspect red card) have surrounded foul calls and cards, but as far as I’m concerned the soccer world has brought this on itself. Many players go out of their way to draw cards with what can honestly best be described as histrionics of an appalling degree. As long as such ridiculous behavior isn’t more discouraged in some way, such calls will be made.
  • Speaking of bad calls, the fact that FIFA acted so quickly in saying that Mali official Koman Coulibaly would be investigated only to come out later and say they’re satisfied with the performance of their officials should make fans and others only more incensed about the United States’ lost game-winning goal by Maurice Edu — and the three points that went with it. The fact that officials don’t have to explain such game-changing calls, even after such controversy, is even worse. They could use a little more Jim Joyce culpability. I wonder if getting “coulbalied” will work its way into the lexicon because of this. If it does, it might actually be a good sign for soccer.
  • I didn’t realize until I saw the story that Monday morning’s Portugal-North Korea match was aired live in North Korea in a rare display of openness by the government. In the past, the fans there have mostly only gotten extremely edited highlights. And what do fans get for the ability to watch their beloved team play on the biggest stage in the world for the first time since 1966? They got to see Portugal score six second-half goals for the biggest blowout so far this tournament and knock out North Korea … just as it did back in 1966. The AP story noted that as the match ended, the broadcast was quickly ended with “The Portuguese won the game and now have four points. We are ending our live broadcast now.” Gee, you think this might have an adverse effect on future attempts at “openness”?
  • If the Washington Redskins players can see how stupid it is for Albert Haynesworth to whine about the defensive scheme the team uses and demand a trade just after getting a truckload of money, why can the French players not see how incredibly stupid it was to “strike” Sunday and not practice for a match that could still get them to the knockout stage of the Cup to protest a player being sent home after screaming obscenities at the coach? Is it worth one player to potentially ruin what was presumably four years of preparation? Apparently so. Even better is that supposedly team captain Patrice Evra initiated the walkout. If I were South Africa, I would be drooling over the chance to face such an obviously disorganized squad in front of my home fans, even if it’s unlikely a win would lead to advancement barring an epic blowout. I have a feeling the vuvuzelas will be especially loud this morning.
  • Can the U.S. ever win enough to win over American fans and make the sport more viable in this country? It’s hard to say. I thought with all the kids playing thanks to their “soccer moms” that it was inevitable, but it seems that a fair number of those kids don’t necessarily stay with the sport or even know what they’re doing enough to follow a game on TV or in person — or have the desire to. I think it’s mainly because the soccer team has never been competitive on a level with other such world events like the Olympics. Until they are consistently (and will they ever be?), my guess is it likely won’t happen.
  • I’m not a fan of the final pool play games being played simultaneously, though I can understand it prevents teams from seeing they’re already through and they can rest up for the Round of 16 with another team’s loss earlier in the day. At least the games are on neighboring channels (on my cable system, anyway).
  • I don’t think there’s anything I want to see more than New Zealand stun Paraguay Thursday. What the All Whites have done so far has been amazing to watch, and I just have to root for that kind of an underdog to get out of pool play.

Well, I’d better wrap this up, it being so late. This is set to automatically post in the morning, so that I can concentrate on getting up to watch more soccer. Wow, did I just type that? Crazy.

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Vote early, vote often

So Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is upset that Hanley Ramirez is the only one of his players among the top votegetters for the 2010 Major League All-Star Game? He probably should be, with Dan Uggla among the National League leaders in home runs and Jorge Cantu near the top in RBIs in the league.

But should the Marlins be taking the extreme step of offering incentives to fans for stuffing the ballot box with Florida players? And should they be allowed to?

Fill out 200 ballots by the sixth inning of a game with all eight Marlins listed, and get two free tickets to a game. Smaller prizes are available for fewer ballots, and there’s even the opportunity to take ballots home and send them in full of Floridians and receive bigger prizes. The person to fill out the most Marlin-friendly ballots gets access to a suite.

Florida is near the bottom of the National League in attendance, and that fact that dimmed the hopes of players like Uggla or Cantu to be voted in as a starter. Philadelphia leads the league in that category, and have players either first or second at every position in the latest voting tallies. But fans are allowed to vote up to 25 times each online at mlb.com.

I don’t mind the Marlins trying to get their fans to vote for deserving players, but let’s take a look at what voting Marlins across the board means.

FIRST BASE: Gaby Sanchez is hitting .266 with 13 doubles, four homers and 21 RBIs in his first full season with the Marlins. How nice. Does he deserve a nod over, say, Albert Pujols (.316, 13 2B, 12 HR, 39 RBIs) or Joey Votto (.312, 10 HR, 31 RBIs)? Of course not.

CATCHER: John Baker (.218, 0 HR, 6 RBIs) doesn’t even have the most at-bats among Marlins catchers, having not played in nearly three weeks due to an elbow injury. And while I know Yadier Molina (.258, 2 HR, 28 RBIs) is a fine backstop, the most deserving candidates — the Mets’ Rod Barajas (.270, 10 HR, 28 RBIs) and Miguel Olivo (.308, 8 HR, 25 RBIs) — aren’t in the top five in voting either, just like Baker.

OUTFIELD: So to score some free tickets to a Marlins game (plenty of good seats still available!), they have to take Cameron Maybin (.230, 5 HR, 18 RBIs) and sophomore slumper Chris Coghlan (.227, 2 HR, 14 RBIs)? Ugh. But hey, tickets are tickets, right? Better that than help players like Ryan Braun (.318, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 11 steals), Andre Ethier (.392, 11 HR, 38 RBI) or rookie sensation Jason Heyward (.292, 10 HR, 38 RBIs), just to name three. You could also pick Jayson Werth (.295, 22 2B, 9 HR, 33 RBIs), Matt Kemp (.276, 10 HR, 29 RBIs) or even Josh Willingham (.282, 10 HR, 35 RBIs) with a clear conscience. Luckily most people have.

The good thing is that it’s unlikely this push will have a huge effect on the final totals. Ramirez won the starting job last year with a similar campaign, but neither Uggla nor Cantu are currently in the top five and the players ahead of them will still continue to receive votes in the real world. And Ramirez is certainly more deserving a candidate at short than the current leader in votes, oft-injured Phillie Jimmy Rollins.

Maybe the more disturbing part of this is that the Marlins’ VP of marketing was named in multiple stories as saying that Major League Baseball gave the promotion a thumbs up.

Uh, what?

So MLB approved what can easily be termed voter fraud? But it’s just an exhibition game, I hear someone say. Yes, an exhibition game that determines the home team for the World Series. You know, that thing that was supposed to make the All-Star Game more relevant again?

But once again Major League Baseball decides it wants to have things every way it can think of, no matter how much the contradictions stick out like white baseball caps on Memorial Day. The powers that be seem intent upon finding ways to make what was once the crown jewel of pro sports all-star games into a more irrelevant, more annoying exercise.