Okay, so I'm not really surprised that Brian Burwell's most recent column is bad. But I am surprised that it's this bad. So bad, in fact, as to deserve the Fire Joe Morgan treatment. But since those guys are all in purgatory (we miss you Ken Tremendous! dak! Junior!), and since reading this made my mind reel and a "Fuck the Heck?!?" had escaped my lips before I knew what had hit me, and since I'm home alone watching Home Alone on Christmas Eve, I decided to try to parse this sucker.
This column should have been titled "Why I Hate Sports, St. Louis, and My Job". Instead, it's called "Looking Back: The Decade in Sports":
Looking back on the decade in sports, it's time to admit that we lost something precious during this decade.
I think I know what's coming next.
We lost the veil of believability.
I definitely know what's coming next.
Say hello to the Steroid Era.
Brian Burwell was not born yesterday. However he seems to have been born on March 17, 2005, the day the Congressional hearings into steroid use in baseball commenced. The rest of the known world knew well before the dawn of the decade -- at least since Steve Wilstein's piece on McGwire's use of andro on August 21, 1998 -- that players were ingesting more than hot dogs before games. Many other sports had already had their steroid controversies, so the "veil of believability" only existed for the willfully blind.
Really, what Burwell should be writing is "Say goodbye to the Steriod Era," since it is pretty evident at this point that baseball was cleaner in the Naughties than in any previous decade in the sport's history. At least in the second half of the decade. Burwell should be celebrating the cleaning up of the sport, and the subsequent gain of the "veil of believability". But he's too bitter for that.
For all the tremendous moments that I can cling to (and I have them among my most memorable moments of the first 10 years of the 21st century), the ones that will never leave me are those events that lifted the veil of believability off so many great sporting events.
Nevermind for now that the parenthetical doesn't make sense (he remembers the memorable moments? Moments that are tremendous are also memorable?), Burwell has now set himself up to recount the most memorable sporting moments of the 2000s that are now forever tainted by steroids:
Not a sporting event. Not even an event, really. More like a "thing" or an "entity" or a "company". Which was opened in 1984, and operated throughout the 1980s and 1990s as well as part of this decade.
“I am not here to talk about the past.”
“He must have misremembered.”
Also not a sporting event. And not uncommon when it comes to Congressional testimony. Remember Alberto Gonzales? At least Gonzales was (not) testifying about things that happened this decade. McGwire wasn't. But it still makes very good sense to not open your mouth in front of Congress, lest you perjure yourself (a la Palmeiro, Clemens, Sosa) or admit to crimes you haven't yet been accused of. It makes for a bad soundbyte, but it's also the only prudent course of action when you get subpoenaed by a Congress that is operating on the fringes of its authority.
From Barry Bonds to Mark McGwire to Roger Clemens, from Marion Jones to Tim Montgomery and all the others who found themselves caught in the swirl of embarrassment over performance-enhancing drug revelations, we sort of stumbled through the decade of the 2000's no longer sure what to believe whenever we saw what appeared to be a record-breaking or potentially great athletic event.
This is simply not true. How about Michael Phelps? 14 Olympic gold medals, 37 world records, and tested before and after every competition. Lance Armstrong? 6 of his 7 consecutive Tour de France wins came this decade, and he may be the most drug-tested athlete of all time. Roger Federer? 15 Grand Slam titles this decade, never once linked to PEDs. Tiger Woods? Extra-curricular activities aside, no link to steroids but 12 Grand Slam wins and $1bn earned. Kobe Bryant? 4 NBA titles this decade. Peyton Manning? One of the greatest decades of performance by any player in team sports history, and he's been tested the whole time (ditto Brady/Belichek). How about Albert Pujols, fer chrissake? He's won 3 MVPs, all after drug testing came into the league, and Brian Burwell gets to watch him every single day. How about the freak-of-nature Tim Lincecum, who has made SanFran forget about Barry Bonds sooner than we'd thought possible?
Meanwhile, the worst of the steroids use in sports was during previous decades. But Burwell clearly prefers to talk about the more recent past.
What I remember the most about sitting in the press box during baseball games or at the Olympics was observing everything with a cautionary warning label:
Let's wait until after the drug test to give it credence.
Okay. Fair enough. So why aren't you talking about Phelps, Woods, Armstrong, Pujols, Manning, Bryant, Federer, and the all the other athletes who have had amazing (tremendous and memorable, even) moments this decade who were all tested and none found wanting? Hell, Phelps took Performance Retarding Drugs (PRDs) and still won every damn event he entered. That's impressive.
Scandals pocked this decade in sports at almost every turn. And now the decade is ending with this perfect symbol of what we can look forward to in the future:
Harvey Levin, the creator of the scandal-driven tabloid website and TV show TMZ, is planning to launch a new website in 2010:
It would sure be terrible if athletes were subject to scrutiny into their personal lives, like who they're banging or what they're ingesting. Because the traditional MSM would never give up their dignity by stooping to that level.
So that's where we're headed, and if I were a professional athlete, I might want to add a new item to my New Year's resolution checklist. Tiger Woods was the first – but certainly not the last – celebrity athlete to have his private life outed and turned into a TMZ and tabloid goldmine.
TMZSports.com is so powerful and pervasive that it was able to break the news of Tiger Woods' many affairs before it even existed.
The funniest part, of course, is that Burwell is speculating into the lives and achievements of every single athlete in the world, presuming them guilty until they can prove their innocence, and then complaining that some "tabloid" might speculate about athlete's personal lives. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. But hold on... it looks like Burwell might finally be getting to his point:
But it wasn't all bad. I was able to find more than a few good and believable moments from the decade that appear to be free of any artificial crud. They're not all good memories, but at least they're things I could believe in.
I'm not sure what "more than a few" means in Burwell-world, but he came up with four. Four "tremendous and memorable moments" in ten years of sporting events. Don't try too hard, Brian.
1. PUJOLS HOMER IN MINUTE MAID PARK:
This was a really good one. One of my favorites. Probably not #1, if only because it didn't win a series (like A.D.A.M.'s freezing of Beltran did, or Jimmy Ballgame's smash-and-grab in the 2004 NLCS) or a Series, but still it was a wonderful moment. Watch Burwell ruin it forever:
It was a cool Monday night in Minute Maid Park in Game 5 of the 2005 NL championship series, and the retractable roof of the ballpark was sealed shut as the Houston Astros held a 3-1 series lead over the Cardinals.
Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. While not technically fiction, it is clearly to be read as drama, so I think it's deserving of the award.
It felt like the Cards' season was on the brink, trialing 4-2 in the ninth inning as Albert Pujols came to the plate.
The Cards' season was on the brink, feelings or no. They were trailing by two runs with two outs in the 9th in an elimination game, facing Lights-Out Lidge. It doesn't get any more on the brink than that.
What I remember was how noisy the ballpark was seconds before IT happened. It rumbled like the noise from a jet engine, as the hometown crowd knew they were on their way to the World Series if their all-star closer Brad Lidge could get Pujols out.
See that? See how he distinguished between "IT" and "It". "IT" with a capital-I capital-T refers to Pujols' home run; "It" with just a capital-I refers to the ballpark, which somehow rumbled despite possessing no agency. That's why he gets paid to write and we mere mortals don't. He could have said "they" since the noise came from the people inside the ballpark rather than the ballpark itself.
But then Pujols hit the ball. Oh how he hit the ball. It thundered off his bat, rocketed 450 feet away into center field and smashed off the glass window wall.
Seriously, is this open mic night? What the hell is he writing?
And just like that, the Cards had a 5-4 lead, Minute Maid became quiet as a tomb, and one of the most dramatic moments I've ever witnessed occurred.
Sort of anticlimactic, but at least he's done with the flowery look-at-me stuff. But what's interesting is why this moment is so memorable: he didn't want it to happen, and got pissed off when it did!
What I remember most about the moment was the reaction in the press box, where so many writers were busy writing deadline stories that basically put to bed the Cardinals season. The moment the ball cracked off Pujols' bat, you hear about 100 sports writers curse in unison.
We were all angry that our stories had just been rendered useless.
Way to endear yourself to the StL faithful, Brian! First you discount the entire decade, except for four tremendous and memorable moments that you could "believe in". Then you wish that one of them -- one of the most beloved occurrences of ALL OF HISTORY in the Lou -- hadn't happened at all! Are you freaking trying to get fired?
But in the next breath, we all repeated the same vulgar word with a different inflection. We suddenly realized what we had just witnessed, and the same curse word came out again and this time it was with awe.
And then we rewrote our columns to start with "It was a cool and tremendous and memorable night in Houston..." and we all got fired for writing like 12 year olds.
2. RAMS WIN SUPER BOWL:
Wait a second. Okay, Super Bowl XXXIV was technically in the Naughts, but it represented the championship of the 1999 season. Whatever, it's Christmas, I'm feeling charitable.
I was not working for the Post-Dispatch during the Rams run to their Super Bowl XXXIV victory in the Georgia Dome. But I was there covering the game for HBO's Inside the NFL show, and I was in the endzone tunnel moments before the Rams players were about to race out on the field. Most people will remember The Tackle or the Kurt Warner-to-Isaac Bruce touchdown pass as the most memorable moment of the game.
Yep. Because they are. Easily. The Tackle is one of the most memorable moments of any Super Bowl game, in any decade, period. Great moment. Glad you brought it up.
But for me, it was standing behind those players, particularly linebacker London Fletcher, who bounced around in that tunnel like a boxer about to walk out into the arena for a heavyweight championship fight.
Okay... you're losing me. Watching London Fletcher not playing in the game is more memorable than watching Mike Jones secure the victory that Warner, Bruce, and Faulk had earned? Whatever. I mean, everybody's entitled to their own opinion.
As he bounced around, Fletcher began singing the lyrics to the Phil Collins song “In the Air Tonight”:
“Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, OH Lord... I've been waiting for this moment.... all my life.... Ohhhh Lord.”
It was one of those poignant behind-the-scenes moment that you hoped would lead to a Rams victory.
WTF?? I mean, I guess so. There's a singular/plural problem in there, and the sentiment is trite, and I don't see how Brian Burwell witnessing London Fletcher sing Phil Collins songs could help lead to a Rams Super Bowl victory, but I guess we -- St. Louis sports fans -- could always hope for that.
What a shame to have that moment wasted on a loss.
WTFF????!!!!! This entry is titled "Rams Win Super Bowl". Then you mentioned how certain plays that led to the Rams winning said Super Bowl were not, in fact, as memorable as watching London Fletcher sing Phil Collins songs. THEN you said the Rams lost?!? You want to strip away the only Super Bowl victory in the Rams tenure in St. Louis (which may soon be coming to a close)?
The Rams, of course, would lose Super Bowl XXXVI, which is a completely different (but still memorable, if not tremendous) sporting event that occurred two years later (just switch one of those Roman numerals). No word on if London Fletcher danced and sang Phil Collins songs before that one. Probably not, since they lost.
By the way, both of those Rams teams featured Leonard Little, a player who inarguably did something worse than ingest PEDs. Funny how Burwell leaves that one out.
3.THE FALL OF THE “GREATEST SHOW” EMPIRE:
This is a tremendous and memorable moment? All the Rams fans I know have been trying to forget about for years, even going to such lengths as to stop attending Rams games.
There was no singular defining moment to cling to.
Ah, I see. One of Burwell's four tremendous and memorable moment is not a moment at all. Three out of four might not be bad, if Burwell didn't have a whole decade's worth of other actual moments to pick from.
It all just seemed to blend together into one massively toxic mess, unraveling slowly one crazy event at a time. Egos and bad decisions, injuries and old age, bad drafts and turbulent soap operas all turned the fall of the Greatest Show on Turf into an episode of equal, but entirely different entertainment value to the rise of the Show.
Wrong. The decline of the Show is/was not equal-but-different in entertainment value to the Show itself. Which is why no one is going to watch it. And why it is not called the Greatest Show on Turf anymore.
4. HOOP DREAMS:
Following Illinois to the Final Four in 2005 and the Missouri team to the Elite Eight in 2009 was plenty of fun, not only because of the exciting style of play both teams exhibited, but also because the players and coaches were such good people. Bruce Weber's Illini were not a surprise, but they did everything they were supposed to do and a whole lot more. We discovered very early that despite Dee Brown getting all the headlines that Deron Williams was the heart and soul of this team and a future NBA star. In 2009, it was Mizzou's turn and the Tigers were the biggest surprise of the season, bouncing back from a decisive loss in the Braggin' Rights Game to win a Big 12 tournament title, win a school record 31 games and reach the Elite Eight.
The Illini's run was fun to watch, even though they lost. And the Tigers' run was also fun to watch, even though they lost too. Come to think of it, all four of Burwell's preferred moments ended with the Good Guys losing (except for Super Bowl XXXIV, which Burwell inexplicably thinks they lost). There were other good runs too, like SIU's Sweet 16 appearances in 2002 and 2007 (without the first of which Weber is not even the coach of U of I). I could quibble -- Deron Williams was not some no-name: he was a second-team All-American that year, and was first-team All-Big Ten -- but overall I'm fine with picking those runs as tremendous and memorable moments.
But that's all? Equally impressive was the resurgence of the Missouri and Illinois football programs. As was the death, burial, and resurrection of Rick Ankiel. And Kid Reyes' Game 1 show. And any number of Jimmy Ballgame's moments, esp. the aforementioned smash-and-grab in the 2004 playoffs. And Rolen's home run off of Clemens in Game 7. And A.D.A.M. going all Mo in the 2006 playoffs. And the 2006 playoffs! And the way the Cards united themselves and the city after the deaths of Buck and Kile in 2002. And the death, burial, and resurrection of the Blues. And Marshall Faulk. And the death, burial, and resurrection of Kurt Warner. And the Al MacInnis/Chris Pronger tandem. And local-boy-made-good Tyler Hansbrough, one of the most decorated college players of all time (and perhaps the last of a dying breed: the four-year college superstar). And Matt Holliday taking one off his gonads. And Torry Holt being the most underrated player in the NFL for the whole damn decade. And Albert freaking Pujols, winner of 3 MVPs, two NL championships, and a World Series. And Chris freaking Carpenter, who came out of nowhere to dominate baseball in between having his arm rebuilt. And So Taguchi, crushing one off of Kyle Farnsworth and another off of Billy Wagner. And the agony of Endy freaking Chavez robbing Scott Rolen followed by the ecstasy of Molina hitting one that Chavez couldn't reach. And ten more years of Cubs' futility. And Chris Duncan humping everything in sight (at least as memorable as London Fletcher singing Phil Collins). And Geiger. And getting 10 more opening-day appearances by Stan Musial at Busch Stadium. And getting a new Busch Stadium.
AND THE 2006 WORLD SERIES!!!!!
Of course, those are just ones you'd have to choose from if you limited yourself to StL events, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some.
Instead, Brian Burwell picked as his most memorable moments four instances of failure (really three, but he thinks all four were failures). He clearly hates St. Louis. And given that he spent most of his column decrying how terrible sports are, and not being able to conjure up four memorable moments in a very memorable decade (remember, one of his four isn't a moment, another is a player singing Phil Collins, and a third he was pissed off about because he had to rewrite part of his column), he clearly hates sports too. Finally, given his absolutely atrocious prose, Burwell clearly hates writing the most of all.
Fortunately there is a very simple solution: Fire Brian Burwell. Fire him now.
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody. The greatest holiday movie of all time -- Die Hard -- is on now, so I've gotta jet.