By John Rolfe
May 27, 2009

These are surely metaphysical times in the wonderful world of sports, and the chattering of many frightened teeth concerns whether Sidney Crosby has consigned the Pittsburgh Penguins to certain defeat in the Stanley Cup Final. Crosby, you see, was brassy -- or dumb -- enough to actually touch the Prince of Wales Trophy after the Pens won the Eastern Conference title on Tuesday night.

Being the ultra-superstitious lot that they are, hockey players usually believe that handling such hardware prior to actually winning the Cup will bring nothing but ill fortune. But in a reverse-the-curse move, Crosby figured he'd grab the evil totem since avoiding it last year did nothing to help the Penguins against the Detroit Red Wings, who plucked them in six games. He was also made more brazen by the knowledge that former Penguins great Mario Lemieux handled the accursed object in 1991 and 1992 and still came home with Lord Stanley's coveted old shaving mug each time.

Meanwhile, over in the Major Leagues of baseball, where cool rationality prevails, four members of the Florida Marlins were reportedly spooked out of their rooms at Milwaukee's Pfister Hotel. It seems the Pfister has a rather haunting reputation not unlike the Overlook of Shining fame -- when he was with the Dodgers, Adrian Beltre supposedly slept with a bat (the wooden kind, not the old kind or the kind with wings) for protection from the paranormal -- as does The Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Our national pastime is ripe and oozing with chilling lore (according to Haunted Baseball by Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon, the ghost of a suicide victim supposedly stalks Dodger Stadium), horror tales (the prices at the new Yankee Stadium) and curses of the kind that supposedly still bedevil the Cubs. Perhaps those who feel unduly threatened by such things should do what pitcher Jim Deshaies did way back in 1988 after his Astros lost their 11th game in a row: conduct a curse-breaking ceremony that involves burning twigs and chanting. Apparently, it worked as the 'Stros won that night.

It's a wonder all pro sports teams don't have witch doctors on their staffs.

Speaking of spirits, it seems that Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley was channeling Ralph Kiner the other day. Kiner, for those of you who've never had the pleasure of listening to him during his halcyon days (daze?) behind the mic for the New York Mets (1962 to 2004, though he still makes periodic appearances) was masterful when it came to mangling names. Among others, Dan Driessen was Diane Driessen, Gary Carter was Gary Cooper, Tim McCarver was Tim MacArthur, and Andres Galaragga came out in the neighborhood of Andres Gaglaragala. Kiner even referred to himself as Ralph Korner, perhaps confusing himself with his postgame show, Kiner's Korner. Eckersely's twist on Justin Masterson belongs in that pantheon, although with an R rating.

Call it karmic payback, but you have to suspect that more than a few folks, including one Alex Rodriguez, rather enjoyed the sight of Jose getting his caboose handed to him by South Korea's super-heavyweight Hong Man Choi during all one minute and 17 seconds of their MMA bout in Yokohama last weekend. Having also been knocked from now to now by the ferocious Vai Sikahema last year, Canseco is forging the kind of rich fistic career enjoyed by Mark Gastineau (15-2 including a loss to Alonzo Highsmith and allegations that many opponents had taken dives) and Tonya Harding -- two other notable rogues who tried earning a living with their hands after taking leave from their primary sport. After seeing Canseco's mortal remains helped out of the ring by main squeeze Heidi Northcott, one imagines that possible opponents are stampeding each other for a shot at him -- most of them people he outed or trashed in his literary masterworks Juiced and Vindicated.

If you've ever contemplated a career in sports photography, you might consider enlisting in the military instead. Last Saturday, New York Post photographer Anthony Causi became the latest in a line of lensmen to qualify for combat pay when an enraged Jonathan Papelbonhurled an obscenity and a towel at him. Causi had the audacity to snap Papelbon's photo after the Red Sox closer blew a save against the Mets at Fenway Park. Fortunately, the photog escaped grievous bodily harm when the towel missed, although surgeons needed an hour to remove the obscenity.

Causi joined such other combat veterans as SI's Tony Tomsic, who caught a little horsehide from truculent slugger Albert Belle in 1996; Target Center house photographer Eugene Amos, who was stomped byDennis Rodman during a Bulls-Timberwolves game in 1997; Indianapolis Star freelancer Gary Mook, who was on the business end of Tony Stewart's wrath at the 2002 Brickyard 400; and WCBS-TV's Vinny Everett, who had a little run-in with crusty Yankees hurler Randy Johnson on the sidewalks of New York in 2005. The tomb of the unknown photographer surely includes the Japanese camermen from 1998 who ran afoul of George Steinbrenner favorite Hideki "Fat Toad" Irabu who ripped open their cameras to expose their film and stomped on their videotape.

This space couldn't help but notice that Mr. T added a new patch to the colorful tapestry of his career by attracting much notice, attention and acclaim for his singing and hurling (as in throwing, not throwing up) at Wrigley Field on Memorial Day.

It's quite hard to decide in which pursuit T excelled the most, but he surely belongs as the ace among the five ceremonial first-pitchers this space believes could make up a truly unhittable rotation -- for obvious reasons.

The rest -- click on their names for footage of them in action -- include Baba Booey, Cincinnati's Mayor Mark Mallory, songstress Mariah Carey and whoever this chap happens to be. If you insist on having a closer, we nominate this flamethrower. (Now, that's chin music!).

In other recreational news, it appears that on June 4 a group of jailbirds will cycle 1,400 miles around France -- from Lille to Paris -- under the watchful eyes of prison guards with shootin' irons. This little O Brother, Where Art Thou? endeavor is meant to foster teamwork and feels like something the NFL could have dreamed up. As one inmate so aptly put it -- while inadvertantly tipping the secret plan: "It's a kind of escape for us, a chance to break away from the daily reality of prison."

Think commissioner David Stern isn't tossing and turning at night, chewing his pillow in sweaty, existential dread of an NBA Final without LeBron James? According to our otherwise reliable sorceress, Stern has resorted to voodoo and will be sticking pins in likenesses of Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard and the rest of the evil Magic during Game 5 on Thursday night in Cleveland. So if you see Van Gundy constantly slapping his neck and Howard suddenly hobbling while the commish mutters feverishly like Severus Snape on the sideline, you know what's up. Would we steer you wrong?

All good things must come to an end, and as soon as we locate something good, we'll let you know. In the meantime, if you have some time to kill and would like to donate a piece of your mind to charity, stick it...hah hah just kidding ... place it in the handy space-time portal on your right and click Send.

All gray matter received will be accorded the utmost respect and you or someone who looks somewhat like you will receive a handsome sheepskin acknowledgement with the sheep still attached. That's a $19.99 value for only the cost of the electricity it takes to send your thoughts across the cosmos to our smooth operators. So don't delay. Empty that skull today. (We'd go first, but ours is already empty, as you can tell from the above literary event.)

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