During the most difficult time in the newspaper industry’s history, Philadelphia pitcher Cole Hamels is doing his part to help out. Launching what will surely be dozens of “choke”-related headlines throughout the summer, Hamels the other day told WFAN that the Mets were “choke artists.” There’s not much context to give you here; he said the Phillies never worried too much about the Mets because they would inevitably collapse. This sent the tabloids atwitter, with them calling Mets players for comment — “I couldn't care less what he or anybody else says,” mumbled Mike Pelfrey — and blasting out headlines like “CHOKE’S ON METS.”
It doesn’t matter that, the Mets having collapsed in the final week of the last two seasons, Hamels simply said something that everyone has known to be true. (Or that the quote was drummed up out of a jokey WFAN interview.) All that's important is that the Phillies-Mets “rivalry” has been “renewed.” Every time Hamels pitches against the Mets this year, the “controversial comments” will become the entire story line. Prepare yourself for “CHOKE ON THIS, COLE” or “COLE CHOKES METS” or even “COLE CHOKES.” It’s a shame, too, because after their trade with the Mariners, we really could have used some J.J. Putz headlines.
Of course, the crazy things said by current athletes, who are generally pretty guarded, are often nothing compared to the ones uttered by former jocks. (Well, usually.) Which leads us to perhaps the most surreal moment of the week, from Saturday’s episode of (the soon-to-be-off-the-air) Hockey Night Live on MSG. They showed a clip of the Canadiens’ Andrei Markov getting hit in the face with the puck, and as any of us probably would, throwing off his gloves to grab his bleeding face, then skating off the ice.
It was at this point that commentators Ron Duguay, Ken Daneyko, and Butch Goring — all former players — began mercilessly mocking Markov. Some of our favorites lines: “I thought Clint Eastwood in the rafters with a .45 magnum got him!”; “Suck it up!”; “Show us some real hockey, will you?”; and the simple, sarcastic “Nice pain threshold!” They were being serious, too: The somber phrase “I don’t like to see that,” is usually reserved for particularly heinous offenses in sports. We’re not sure if the fact that it can be used in hockey to refer to a guy who isn’t bleeding in a manly enough fashion makes the sport awesome or despicable.