July 5, 2006
Sets new world record in Coney Island, scarfing down 53 3/4 hot dogs in 12 minutes, barely surviving his toughest challenge.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

It's Liriano Time!

Twins sensation Francisco Liriano is leading the AL "Final Vote" ballot, according to MLB, with a 6 p.m. ET Thursday voting deadline.

(No numbers released by MLB. What a cop-out: It would generate even MORE interest if MLB would release the vote counts. Ideally, they'd publicly update it by the hour.)

Liriano's lead is the loudest argument yet about the collective wisdom of the fans to make the optimal choices on behalf of the game.

As I argued Monday: I urge you to vote as often as you can for Liriano; he isn't just the best talent on the 5-player ballot -- he's the best pitcher in baseball this season.

(You can keep Tuesday's AL stars: 11-win Roy Halladay and Jose Contreras, who won his 17th decision in a row. I'll take Liriano as the starter for my All-Star team, and you can meet me at my home field for World Series Game 1.)

Meanwhile, the Indians are being aggressive on behalf of Travis Hafner, setting up 30 computers around Jacobs Field for fans to vote and printing "Vote Pronk!" paraphernalia (see the next item for my take on Hafner).

But the award for "Final Vote" marketing creativity, for the second straight year, goes to the White Sox. Last year, they were out front with a grassroots "Vote Scott" campaign that earned Podsednik the 2005 "Final Vote."

This season, they have the "Punch A.J." campaign, a clever play on the general fan antipathy toward Pierzynski.

(And the gimmick seems to be working: Despite being the least-worthy of the AL's five "Final Vote" contenders, Pierzynski is running 2nd to Liriano.)

It's a 24-hour sprint:
Vote for Liriano!

MLB ASG: Manny Out?
Francona says Manny won't play in the All-Star Game. So here's a chance for MLB to right a glaring error in the ASG selections:

Slot Vernon Wells in Manny's starting OF spot, then pluck Travis Hafner from "Final Vote" purgatory, deservedly putting him on the roster.

But wait! Ozzie Guillen reportedly said that if a spare roster spot opens up, he's going to use it on Magglio Ordonez!

What does it say when Ozzie would rather have a player he was most recently seen feuding with over the best overall hitter in the AL?

(It says he really hates Cleveland. So much for Monday's sensitivity counseling.)

MLB ASG: Dusty Out?
Is Dusty Baker done in Chicago? His future looks grim, if yesterday's comments from GM Jim Hendry are any indication.

Hendry said he'll use the All-Star Break as a chance to decide if any changes should be made. "I'm evaluating everything," Hendry said.

As the Cubs have lost 17 of their last 21 and are 23 games under .500 in a National League where a mere .500 puts you within 4 games of the wild card, "everything" will likely include Baker's ouster.

But wait, there's more! Rumors are heating up that Greg Maddux is on the trading block. You have to imagine he wouldn't mind going to a contender. The hot rumor is L.A.

Maddux should command a good return; in the wide-open NL, he could be the difference for a contender in the NL West (or for the wild card).

Canseco: "Nonsense?"
When "Juiced" first came out, it was easy to dismiss Jose Canseco's various allegations as the ranting of a look-at-me lunatic.

Joel Przybilla: 5Y/$32M to re-sign with new-look Blazers
Jesus Montero: Yanks give 16-y.o. Venezuelan C $2M to sign
Jose Lima: Recalled from Mets AAA Norfolk. It's Lima Time!
Matt Clement: Dead arm (again) after 1 IP in minors start
Alejandro Valverde: Another top rider crashes out of Tour
Greg Anderson: Bonds' buddy/trainer back to jail today?
But after what's happened over the last year, it's Canseco who has gained credibility, while MLB has seen its own cred eroded.

So when Canseco said Monday that MLB is playing favorites when it comes to drug testing and MLB responded Tuesday that it is "nonsense"...?

Well, you're forgiven if you find yourself in the awkward position of nodding your head toward Canseco, rather than automatically dismissing him.

(Don't say you yourself haven't given that theory some thought over the last year. He just said it out loud. MLB has no one to blame but itself.)

MLB Hit List
NL West logjam: The records aren't gaudy but the competitiveness is. With the Padres' loss yesterday, combined with wins by the Rockies and Dodgers, there's a three-way tie for first in the division (43-40).

Carl Everett Fireworks: Who had July 4 in the office pool for "Crazy Carl explodes on manager"? I think there's a leftover sparkler that can be used as an ironic prize.

Replay Now: The Pirates' 7-6 loss to the Mets on a controversial home-plate call is yet one more example of why MLB should consider an NFL-style replay system. Would one managerial challenge per game be so bad?

Beanbrawl Watch: After 4 Dodgers were hit by D-Backs pitchers Monday and L.A. returned the favor Tuesday, watch out for the rubber match tonight. As usual, expect the first team to throw at a batter to get away with it.

Crappy Birthday to you: The Yankees seemed intent on allowing a run for every one of Steinbrenner's 76 years. They got all the way to 19 in their 19-1 loss to the Indians on Tuesday.

All-Time World Series Team: Don't forget to vote in the All-Time World Series Bracket. On the AL side, it's the top-seeded '27 Yankees' bracket to lose. On the NL side, I see the 4th-seeded '86 Mets making a run.

Bulls Bag Ben
Landing Ben Wallace makes the Bulls the 2nd-best team in the East, behind the Heat. (The Pistons? 3rd. Been nice knowin' ya.)

Chicago won't beat Miami in the playoffs next year, but after that, chalk up the Bulls as the top team in the East for the rest of the decade.

(Don't forget, the Bulls get the Knicks' draft pick next year; it doesn't have to be Greg Oden -- not in a draft as deep as 2007 will be.)

Should Pistons fans worry? Well, the team quickly responded by signing Wallace's replacement: Nazr Mohammed. Uh, well, yikes.

Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade is ready to sign his max extension with Miami, with LeBron up net for the Cavs. (But I agree with those who wonder why LeBron is taking his sweet time publicly committing to the Cavs.)

Finally, all of a sudden the Hornets have gone from sentimental story to playoff powerhouse: First they sign Peja, now rumors they'll get Tyson Chandler; both can revitalize their careers playing with Chris Paul.

World Cup Semis
Italy has redeemed itself for me.

Previously defining their Cup run as floppers and whiners, the Azzurri took out the Germans in Germany with two nifty goals in the final throes of OT, saving fans from an unsatisfying shootout ending.

Today: France vs. Portugal. I'm torn: On the one hand, I'm all for adding a new team (Portugal) to the exclusive roster of World Cup champs. On the other, how can you not root for Les Bleus' "Over-the-Hill Gang"?

Pick: Portugal. I'm on the bandwagon for coach Luis Filipe "Big Phil" Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 title and hasn't lost a World Cup game in 12 matches.

Wimby Watch
Sharapova advances to semis, but the real action came when a streaker bolted onto the court, Frank-the-Tank-style.

As pasty as the dude was, perhaps it was his black shoes and socks (Wimbledon fashion violation) that got him corralled by cops.

After the match, Maria said, "I didn't really look at the guy, thank God. I didn't want to look at all the details."

Good call!

Meanwhile, what's more amusing: the streaker? Or reports that David Hasselhoff was thrown out of Wimbledon on Wednesday (which the All England Club denies, according to the BBC)? Fans have reportedly been shouting "I'm the Hoff!" in solidarity.

Phil on Meltdown
Quote of the Day: "Well, I'm not ever going to forget it, that's obvious. ... But what I'm not going to do is let it affect negatively my performance in upcoming majors. I've got two more. I'm playing too well, and I've got a system of preparation that has been helping me play some of my best golf."

Hot Dog Record
Tuesday's result was the best thing that could ever happen to the competitive eating scene:

Its top star, Kobayashi, given his toughest challenge ever at the sport's signature event -- by an American, no less.

Joey Chestnut was in it right up until the final minute; he was actually ahead of Kobayashi, the sport's Babe Ruth, through the first two-thirds of the competition. Chestnut finished with 52 dogs.

If the IFOCE were marketing savvy (and I've met the organizers), they would quickly set up a made-for-ESPN, one-on-one rematch between Kobayashi and Chestnut.

Benny the Bull:
While performing at Taste of Chicago, the mascot (Barry Anderson) was charged with misdemeanor battery after allegedly throwing a punch at an off-duty cop.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live
Page 2 Index
All-Time WS
All-Time Greatest AL World Series Teams (via SN/ESPN Classic)
'27 Yankees
Gotta love "Murderer's Row"
'39 Yankees
Hitters? Pitchers even BETTER
'53 Yankees
5th consecutive WS title
'98 Yankees
Who else is sick of Yankees?
'29 A's
.300 hitters, Grove/Earnshaw

NL "Final Vote": Obviously, Nomar's name recognition is helping him out. He's leading the vote, followed by Capuano, Abreu, Wagner, Young.

Juventus Watch: Coach resigns amid scandal, and prosecutors want to demote Juventus and other implicated top teams down from the top division.

Finally, some sense out of FIFA: Sepp Blatter suggested that the yellow-card rule could be amended to make it three yellows before a one-game ban.

More NBA Free Agency: With most decent big men off the board, the best player available is shoot-first PG Mike James. (Wolves interested?)

Former No. 1 overall MLB draft pick Josh Hamilton doubled and scored in his return to baseball after a 4-year hiatus due to a cocaine addiction.

Happy (future) retirement to Martina Navratilova, who turns 50 in October. Who said this will be her last year on the tour?

Coming tomorrow: NBA Summer League preview, but do you really need to hear any more than that Ron Artest is planning to play for the Kings?

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