Matt Matros does himself no favors at the poker table with his bowl haircut
and bookish demeanor, but there’s nobody in New York City better at separating you from your money
in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Yeah, we know about Brooklyn’s Robert Varkonyi, who won the World Series
of Poker in 2002. We’re familiar with Adam Schoenfeld, who has made a World Poker Tour final table
and, perhaps more notably, dated über-hot poker goddess Evelyn Ng. And we’re quite impressed
by Roland Israel, who finished 37th out of nearly 6,000 players at this year’s World Series of Poker,
and whom we know from marathon sessions at a 14th St. club that the cops recently shut down.
But trust us on this: Matros can crush them all. His mix of aggressiveness
and preternatural mathematical prowess is hard to combat, as he’s proven to be a consistent winner
at poker’s highest levels. Matros won $700,000 by finishing third at the 2004 World Poker Tour Championship,
and he’s recently been on an online tear, finishing third and eighth in huge PartyPoker.com tournaments
on back-to-back Sundays, good for paydays of $25,000 and $40,000. And how did you spend your
Best Baseball Gibberish
Braden Looper, closer for the Mets
We hope young ballplayers with major league aspirations all had their AM
radio dials tuned to Ed Coleman’s “Clubhouse Report “on the night of May 17, 2005. Coleman’s guest
was reliever Braden Looper, who had just stranded two runners in the top of the ninth to preserve
a 2-1 Mets victory over the Reds.
Looper dispensed of the Reds on 12 pitches, but just as impressive as
his performance on the mound was the dazzling array of ready-made phrases he served up in answering
Coleman’s questions. Like all great players, the Mets pitcher made it look easy, but no one attains
this level of utterance without a lot of hard work and just plain desire.
Below are just a few of the gems that fell from Looper’s lips that night.
Future big leaguers would do well to study them. As Crash Davis explained to Nuke Laloosh about clichés,
“They’re your friends.” Here, then, are Looper’s friends:
“I want the ball. I want to be out there when the game’s on the line.”
“I’ve got a job to do.”
“You gotta come back out there and get ‘em the next day.”
“I’m excited about our team.”
“This is a game of inches…. Sometimes you get the close pitches and
sometimes you don’t.”
“You’re not going to get every call.”
“I got the job done.”
“It’s a big win for us.”
“We all hear the boos.”
“I think at the beginning of the year I was trying to be a little too fine.”
BEST POOL HALL
1814 Coney Island Ave (betw. Ave. N & Ave. O)
For close to 30 years Brooklyn Billiards on Coney Island Avenue was Playboy
Billiards—until the assholes at Playboy decided all of a sudden that there was a
trademark issue and forced the name change. With one table for billiards, about 20 for pool and two
ping-pong tables in the back, the place isn’t very big. But it houses a lot of talent. The tables are
all in good shape with new felt that’s properly tended. There are some broomsticks among the house
cues, but it doesn’t take long to find a straight one with a good tip.
On any given day during working hours one can find between three and ten
of the 20 or so guys who call the place home. Out of this cast of regulars there’s a handful that can
really play pool, but it’s the billiards players who are some of the city’s best. Nighttime and weekends
belong to the local teenagers, mostly Russians, Russian Jews, Orthodox Jews, Italians and Pakistanis.
Anybody looking for a real game is advised to visit during off-hours when it caters to pool players,
As in most pool rooms, the first table is the action table. With tight
pockets and good rails it’s mostly reserved for 9-ball, but you’ll occasionally see straight pool
or a bunch of guys bored enough to get a group game going. There used to be this one Orthodox kid who
played, we think his name was Steve, who was one of the best amateur players we’ve ever seen. Now he’s
got a wife and kid and not much time for running tables.
Best Thing the Dolans Ever Had and Lost
The Dolans have pretty much driven the Knicks and the Rangers into the ground
by ridiculously overspending, consistently under-delivering and, on top of it all, shamelessly
overcharging the rank-and-file. But despite the gaudy blundering of these piggish interlopers
from Long Island, there was still something about watching a Knicks game—the distinct physical
structure of Madison Square Garden; the retired jerseys hanging from the rafters; the glitterati
who attended the games, and even the Knick City Dancers—that was intrinsically New York.
That is, until the Dolans forced the departure of Marv Albert.
Say it out loud—Marv Albert, who’s been calling Knicks
games (and Rangers games) for over 30 years, including their only two mythic championships. Marv
Albert—whose signature “Yes!” call is as much a part of New York City’s aural experience
as the 1-800 M A T T R E S commercial. Marv Albert—a kid from Brooklyn who continues
to be a sought-after national talent.
The Dolans pushed out Marv Albert because he called the Knicks play-by-play
as it was, which was a nightly exhibition of bad basketball.
Look, if Marv wants to take a bite out of some hooker’s back and put himself
on the DL that’s one thing. But for the Dolans to put any blame on Marv Albert for the Katrina-size
cesspool known as the New York Knickerbockers that they have created is unspeakably arrogant.
You may be able to buy and sell the Knicks and a hundred Larry Browns but all the money in the world can’t
duplicate the original New York sports treasure that is Marv Albert.
Marv has taken his “Yes!” to the YES Network. He’ll be all right. As for
the Dolans, you dumb fucks just kicked Rosa Parks off the bus.
Best Sports Bargain in New York
The Mets had a few series this year where a grandstand section ticket cost
all of five dollars. Some of the series were dogs, but we caught an Astros series and a Nationals game
for that price. And it was such a bargain because the Mets were in the hunt until September—in
itself a minor miracle.
Yes, the train derailed and we are back in the cellar, but we had some nice
cheap-ass nights in the balmy upper reaches of Shea this summer. And given this horrible September
collapse, one can only hope they will keep the $5 ducats for another season.
Best Middle Infielder
In forty years you’re going to bore your grandchildren just this side of murder
by telling them about Derek Jeter: the clutch hitting, the consistency, the inside-out swing,
the throws from deep in the hole, the models and pop tarts he bedded. That said, familiarity has bred
Intelligence and perfect fundamentals are wonderful, but for our dollar,
give us Jose Reyes. Yes, the Mets’ shortstop struggles to get his on-base percentage within 20 points
of Jeter’s career batting average. Yes, he’s prone to throwing to the wrong base, swinging at pitches
several feet outside and ranging into centerfield to catch fly balls other players have already
called. Forget all that.
When have you seen a player with so much enthusiasm and style? Whether
beating out a grounder to the pitcher for a base hit, moving from first to second on flies to shallow
center, stealing home or throwing 90-mph ropes from unlikely angles to peg runners at first, Reyes
routinely does things no one else can do and reminds us of how exciting baseball can be when it isn’t
played by muscled-up bruisers high on horse steroids. You take Jeter’s textbook play—we’ll
take the most exciting player this town has seen since Lenny Dykstra.
Best Dysfunctional Broadcast Team
Fran Healy and Keith Hernandez, New York Mets
Years ago, Mets broadcaster Tim McCarver recalled on-air that “Will Rogers
said he never met a man he didn’t like.” His partner in the booth, Ralph Kiner, quipped, “Well, then
he never met Fran Healy.”
Now that he’s the Mets announcer, it seems Fran Healy has never seen a
play by a Met he doesn’t like. With his nauseating, sometimes syrupy and always simple-minded see-no-evil
observations, Healy has surpassed such all-time all-brown nosing homers as the Yankees’ John
Sterling and Michael Kay.
A career bullpen catcher who was Reggie Jackson’s personal kiss-ass
when nobody else on the 1977 Yankees could stand the conceited slugger, Healy has perfected his
suck-up skills in the booth, often making the final out of a Mets 6-1 loss sound like the most important
victory in franchise history. His slurring-drunkard vocal style adds a grating absurdity to his
pathetic head-cheerleader act.
In delicious contrast, Keith Hernandez couldn’t care less. The 11-time
Gold Glover and (relatively untarnished) symbol of the Mets last world championship rarely knows
the names of the opposing players, makes no apologies for what appears to be a complete lack of pre-game
preparation and scoffs openly when he sees a “terrible, terrible play.” Sounding personally offended
when witnessing a Mets mistake, Hernandez’s bitchy demeanor only sharpens his merciless criticism.
At times, he sounds truly put upon to analyze today’s inferior breed of ballplayer. While Healy
labors awkwardly to make Mets lemons into lemonade, a glib Hernandez offers curt analysis: “Well,
Fran, that’s just bad baseball.” Like family, these two are at times excruciating, at times lovable
and inescapably all we have.
Best Delusion of Grandeur
Stephon Marbury, New York Knicks
Insulated by sycophants and friends in need, we doubt that Knicks point guard
and Coney Island native Stephon Marbury hears too many honest appraisals of his on-court performance.
Perhaps that’s why Marbury declared himself “the best point guard in the NBA.”
While being left off last year’s All-Star team, leading the Knicks nowhere
and serving as the butt of derisive jokes from snarky “SportsCenter” anchors should have been a
reality check, the scowling bling brat employed some revisionist history in the face of off-season
trade rumors: “They want me to get traded now because things are getting good. Same things that happened
at every other team I was on. As soon as everybody started being players, then I get the boot.”
No, Stephon, you got the boot and then things got good. Exhibit A: Marbury
leaves New Jersey in 2001, Jason Kidd leads the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. Exhibit B:
Marbury leaves Phoenix in 2004, Steve Nash engineers the 2005 Suns’ 32-game turnaround, leads
the team to the best record in the NBA and takes home MVP honors.
The axiomatic measure of a point guard is whether he improves teammates’
play. Marbury does the opposite.
Best Winter Basketball
Riverbank State Park
W. 145th St. (Riverside Dr.)
Harlem’s Riverbank State Park has a bit of a contentious history. Built on
top of a gigantic new sewage treatment plant, we questioned when it was being constructed whether
it was worth the price or whether, in the old New York tradition, Harlem had been shat on yet again.
Still, we’ve come to consider the park a worthy offering. In addition
to a 400-meter track, an Olympic-size pool, an ice rink and about 500 different fields, Riverbank
hosts the city’s only (as far as we know) free-to-the-public indoor basketball. With three full
courts open twice a week, Riverbank is a godsend to broke b-ballers who are shit out of luck come November
when Chelsea Piers charges $20 an hour for their subway-crowded courts.
Best 24-Hour Bowling Alley and Karaoke
30-05 Whitestone Expwy, Queens
They used to have a French fry vending machine, but don’t let its absence discourage
you from making the trek to Flushing at least once to try out this bowling alley. Astonishingly,
the place is always packed- even during the strangest of hours. Who bowls at 3:30 in the morning?
Apparently a bunch of Korean teenagers do. On Tuesday nights from 9 pm till 1 am they have karaoke
in their sports bar cleverly named The Strike Zone. Now, I’m not a karaoke expert, but this is one
of the most entertaining sing-a-long hot spots I’ve been to. The evening is hosted by two suit-wearing
wiseguy types named Lucky Lou and Singing Sal and I have seen at least one of them perform Ricky Martin’s
“Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Words cannot fully describe the joy experienced from watching this. Have
a few White Russians, you might still be able to sneak a smoke, and play a lovely round of bowling at
$4 a person during off peak hours. If it’s not too late and you’re hungry, walk over to Amore Pizzeria
in the nearby strip mall and enjoy one of the yummiest slices of pizza Queens offers.
Best Display of Two-Wheeled Ultra-Violence Without Death
Black Label Bike Kills
We don’t advocate urinating on a mattress and then launching gooey, rotten
tomatoes at bikers riding double-decker contraptions over said mattress, but we make exceptions
for the Black Label Bike Kills. They’re two-wheeled ultra-violence as orchestrated by Black Label,
rabblerousing riders that live to create Frankenstein bikes and get fucked up—not necessarily
in that order. These two activities come to a health-threatening head at the Bike Kills.
Think of them as Mad Max’s Apocalyptic Olympics. The setting is sparse—say,
a blockaded street in Bed-Stuy—with monstrous bikes (including the aptly named “steamroller,”
which crushes toes and beer cans alike) strewn across the block, free to ride. We prefer pedaling
the battering-ram bike, before savoring the concussion-causing contests, where bikers ride
a gauntlet of tires and 2×4 while trying not to crack heads like fresh eggs. Or the bike toss, wherein
burly boys and fierce girls vie to launch a stripped-down 10-speed the furthest. But our love is
saved for the aforementioned Dirty Mattress. Kinder souls may cringe at hurling celery at some
other soul’s skull, but luckily for us, our hearts are cold and black.