By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Ah, the Fourth of July. A day where we celebrate what is truly important in this country.
Of course this day is probably most famous for the lighting of various fireworks by the illegal trunk load. Or if you live in Mt. Greenwood like I do, the entire week at 3am is.
Those who have put on their own pyrotechnics show for friends and family certainly know all too well that while few things beat the hearing of “ooohs” and “aaahs” at a loud, multicolored Chinese explosion in the sky to celebrate the U.S. of A., that feeling is oppositely matched by the emptiness of one failing to detonate… and the burning sensation after making the mistake of looking down the barrel of a supposed faulty Roman candle too soon.
Such is the first half of the year in sports. In the spirit of the highs and lows of Independence Day, here are the bangs and duds of the sports year up until now, both locally and abroad.
Bang: The first place White Sox. Few baseball minds foresaw new manager Robin Ventura leading his squad to the top of the AL Central as the All Star break approached. Two games ahead of the Cleveland Indians and four-and-a-half ahead of the Detroit Tigers isn’t a mile by any means, and I would bet the Tigers play much better second half ball (especially after acquiring a big name or two), but even the most pessimistic of Sox fans have to be pleasantly surprised right now.
Dud: The last place Cubs. As much as Ventura is succeeding in his first year, Cubs manager Dale Sveum is suffering through his. The Cubs were not expected to make much noise this season, but they weren’t expected to cut a loud, wet fart as they have so far in 2012. On pace to lose 100 games, the team may also flirt with the club record of 103 losses in a season.
Bang: Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs dismal 30-50 record includes winning five of their last seven games, all since the much ballyhooed call-up of “Chrizzo.” The long-awaited prospect has shown so far that big league pitching isn’t much harder to swallow than the Triple-A pitching he feasted on all year. He has two home runs already and an impressive .951 OPS so far.
Dud: Derrick Rose’s knee. I know, opening a wound. Sorry. Let’s move on.
Bang: Brandon Marshall. Yes, he hasn’t caught a single pass in a Bears uniform yet, but his acquisition by new GM Phil Emery instantly upgraded the much maligned receiving corps, and while Marshall might not be the same beast he was as a Denver Bronco, he’s still one of the top receivers in the game. He has personal issues that call for some worry, but so far he seems to be very happy and comfortable back with his buddy, Jay Cutler.
Dud: The Penn State scandal. It’s awful in so many ways, and it will go down in history as one of the worst episodes in not only sports history, but American history. What’s worse is that as more and more evidence comes to the surface showing how university officials abetted the monster that is Jerry Sandusky—including revered head coach-turned-shame-on-the-game Joe Paterno—this disgusting story is far from over.
Bang: The Los Angeles Kings. Watching an eight seed dominate the playoffs on its way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup was fun to watch. It was also great to see head coach Darryl Sutter, widely regarded as not just a good coach but a good guy, win his first Cup as well. Unlike the aftermath of the Blackhawks championship, the Kings plan on keeping their team largely intact, too.
Dud: The 2012 playoffs for the Blackhawks. First round losses suck. GM Stan Bowman, who has drawn the ire of fans of late, has some work to do if the team will contend next season.
Bang: Adam Dunn. The Donkey is back, folks. It’s a joy for a baseball fan to watch him hit when he’s in crush mode as he’s been all season.
Dud: Tom Thibodeau’s contract extension. Or lack there of, should I say. Thibs is a great coach, and everyone knows that. The Bulls need to get him new paper already.
Bang: The Miami Heat. Love them or hate them, winning the NBA Finals is no easy task, even if you believe the Heat took an easy route. No group has been more scrutinized and criticized in recent basketball vintage, and winning a title cannot be underestimated.
Dud: Ozzie Guillen. When the Mouth of the South Side moved on to South Beach, big things were expected for the Florida Marlins. Several big names were added to the roster along with a new stadium. So far, Guillen hasn’t walked his usual talk, as the Marlins are 38-42 and nine games out of first place.
Bang: A college football playoff system. Is it perfect? Hell no. But it sure beats the BCS. And it’s a start—it can be tweaked over the years to make it as good for fans, teams, and money-makers as possible.
Dud: Luol Deng’s wrist and his playing in the Olympics. It’s unfortunate that a man has to choose between representing his country and his high-paying job. Deng has chosen to risk furthering his wrist injury (or suffering a different one) by playing for Great Britain in London, as well as delaying possible surgery on his wrist. Either choice he made would have angered a large group—Bulls fans or the English.
Did I leave any bangs or duds off of the list? Apologies. Hopefully your get-togethers with friends and family today involve more of the former than latter. Happy Fourth of July, everyone.