Monday, October 30, 2006

Gary, Meet Jake

Back in the day, the Phillies employed an eminently forgettable outfielder by the unforgettable name of Sixto Lezcano. He could field pretty well, had a little pop, and was occasionally a pretty decent hitter, but the really interesting thing about him was his nickname - "Jake". "Jake", of course, is a baseball term meaning "to not try your hardest", and Sixto somehow acquired a rep of, well, jaking it every so often. He always played hard when I was watching, but I wasn't exactly a discriminating view in those days, and the nickname stuck with me as the enduring memory of this guy down the years.

Which brings us, inevitably, to Gary Sheffield. Rewind to last spring training, and you'd be treated to the sight of Sheffield trying, clumsily, to pressure Yankees GM Brian Cashman into picking up his $13M option for the 2007 (Sheffield's, not Cashman's, just in case you were wondering) through tactics that could only really be interpreted as threats. Now, one mostly-injured season later, Sheffield smells the free agent dough and is upset that the Yankees did pick up his option - exactly the thing he was adamant about back in March.

The shift in logic, if not entirely admirable, is simple. With his option picked up, Sheffield has no control over where he plays next year. Wherever the Yankees decide to trade him is where he'll have to play. Even worse, if he stays in New York he's caught up in the Matsui/Abreu/Giambi/everybody and their brother logjam for playing time, exactly what an aging slugger who needs to make numbers to guarantee the next payday doesn't want to see. So the reaction is simple - threaten to be a "problem" for whatever team he's traded to, hope to poison the well, and force the Yankees to release him so he can pick his final destination.

This is not new behavior for Mr. Sheffield. He's made threats about how unpleasant he'll be before, and publicly admitted to jaking it in order to get out of Milwaukee, the city where he started his career. He's not the only player who might have done it - Randy Johnson's mysterious swoon just before he was traded from Seattle to Houston, and magical recovery afterwards certainly raised a few eyebrows among cynics - but he may be the only one to have boasted of having deliberately played poorly.

In an odd way, I almost find that attitude more of a crime against baseball (whatever that means) than steroid use. Yes, the needle brigade is gunning for unfair advantage, but that advantage is at least partially directed towards the winning of ballgames. Nobody takes steroids to lose; they take them to perform better, hopefully racking up better stats and winning more on their way to better job security and a bigger payday.

Sheffield, on the other hand, has tried to lose, or at least not tried to win, and he's threatening to demolish whatever team he ends up with. As a fan, which sort of player would you rather be stuck with - a cheater, or someone trying to sandbag your team? Neither option is appealing, but there's something less nakedly venal about the guy who's trying to win over the guy who's trying to be so bad as to force a trade.

Then again, Sheffield is another one of those "accidental" steroid users, so the question is moot. But what is curious is why the whole situation is being treated with a chuckle by the press, a case of Gary being Gary without any of the attendant hysteria that came of Manny Ramirez' situation this past year. It's unpleasant to watch, and part of me hopes that the Yankees let Sheffield rot on the bench for his $13M, keeping him someplace he can't do any damage. You can't blame a man for wanting to make as much money as he can, and for wanting the widest control over his choice of workplace as possible. That being said, there is a subtle contract between players and audience, one in which the audience agrees to support outrageous salaries in exchange for the players giving effort and making the attempt to win. Everything else in sports fandom is secondary to that arrangement - our love (and money) for your effort (and skill). Sheffield's maneuver calls that compact into question, which, long-term, isn't good for Mr. Sheffield or anyone else. If fans can't trust that the players are trying, they'll cease to be fans, and nobody's going to get paid - least of all $13M in an option year.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

R.I.P.

Joe Niekro and Red Auerbach. Joe was a rarity, a pitcher who had a knuckleball instead of a knuckleballer who occasionally threw something else up there and prayed that the batter would be paralyzed by shock. As for Red, well, I feel the same way about the Celtics that I do about the Yankees, Cowboys, and Seleucid Greeks, but you have to admire the man's achievements in both the win column and life. When the Red Sox were trotting out Pumpsie Green as proof they had joined the 20th century, Red was effecting real social change with roster composition that was colorblind.

Besides, he drove Phil Jackson nuts, and you just can't argue with that.

Rest in peace, gentlemen, and thank you for the memories.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

All Magic Tricks...

...have three parts.

The first is the Pledge.

The second is the Turn.

And the third is the Prestige.

Congratulations, Cardinals. In the end, they played better defense, didn't hack religiously at the first pitch, and finally got some offense from the top of their order. The Tigers made enough errors to generate 8 unearned runs over the five games, and were hacking like mad from the second they stepped in. That's pretty much your Series in a nutshell, right there.

Incidentally, was it just me or did the underdog win literally every series of this postseason? San Diego was favored over the Cardinals, the Twins and Santana over the A's, the Yankees over Detroit (and everyone else), and the Dodgers were the trendy pick to take out the pitcher-less Mets. Get to the next round, and everyone's calling for Oakland and the Mets. And finally, Keith Law and company were unanimous in giving the Series to the Tigers.

Maybe that's worth a little media attention, instead of the TV ratings. And, honestly, seeing as how sports television viewing in this country has turned into such a communal event - does anyone watch a game, particularly a big one, alone anymore? - does anyone honestly believe those ratings are any kind of an accurate barometer of attention?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

War Is Over, If You Want It

So Selig and Fehr have signed a labor deal that prevents not only another work stoppage, but also an endless stream of reportage on how horrible baseball's labor situation is. The deal runs an unprecedented five years, was negotiated quietly and out of the media spotlight, and seems almost to be a disappointment to those who wanted to see two old guys re-enact Frankie Goes To Hollywood's video for Two Tribes.


















Are we living in a land where sex and horror are
the new gods...or just Pittsburgh's bullpen?



Among the more interesting developments is the fact that free agent compensation will be reduced, not eliminated. There were a few factors that seemed to hint at its elimination. For one thing, dissociating draft picks from the rights to major league players (read: players' union members) would have allowed for trading of draft picks. And, with MLB torturously trying to raise the profile of the draft - I was amazed how many casual fans I knew could actually name Lincecum and Miller and Hochevar this year - allowing for trades would have really spiced things up. It also would have juiced the in-season trade market, which has been relatively moribund the last few years. For another, getting draft picks out from under the union aegis would potentially hamstring agents' exorbitant salary demands, instead freeing that money up for guys already on the roster.

On the other hand, there does seem to be one stab directly at Scott Boras and company, an intricate system of replacement picks. Your high-level pick doesn't sign, you get a replacement pick next year. It's a year of development, sure, but it helps reduce the temperature of the fire that teams' feet get held to. Or, to put it another way, it's a hell of a lot better than the system that turned J.D. Drew into a year of horse hockey in the papers, Pat Burrell, and a new round of stories about how it was raining batteries at the Vet.

On the whole, it looks like a good deal, and it runs two years past when Selig will most likely be stepping down - plenty of time for a new commissioner to settle in without stepping right into a crisis.

Our First Official Link!

Many thanks to the mighty Balls, Sticks & Stuff for our first official link-to!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Capital One Mascot Bowl Matchup of the Week? Yeah, Screw That...

The dynamic duo at EDSBS, in their infinite wisdom and taste, hereby direct your attention to the knock-down drag-out no-holds-barred battle-royal throw-down currently in the works at the Athlon Sideline Spirit Contest, which from the looks of it, is designed to do nothing more than get yours truly into deep, wide, and permanent trouble with the fie-annce, as Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona would put it. Although it does beat tracking the regional voting percentages of an overgrown shag rug with eyeballs...














Yeah, we won't be sleeping on the couch because of him...her...that thing from WKU...

So do your duty and vote, people. While the dynamic duo are understandably boosting for the hometown Florida girl currently in the running (although we all know what a mess it becomes when you put "Florida" and "voting" together), we here at Sportsthodoxy urge you to vote your conscience. Which should be leading you toward the Pac-10's entrant, frankly...














Weak conference, my eye...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Smeargate

In the wake of all of the nonsense swirling around the schmutz on Kenny Rogers' hand, one can only assume it's a matter of time before Dan Patrick accuses his rosin bag of using steroids. This is manufactured outrage. Throughout baseball history, there has always been a wink at the doctorer of baseballs, with disapproval reserved for those who were incompetent enough to get caught. It's the sort of low-grade gamesmanship that a sharp-eyed batter has a chance of spotting and stopping, not a chemical enhancement that works on the molecular level, and as such has always been considered part of the game. We canonize Gaylord Perry and castigate Rick Honeycutt, not because of what they did to the ball, but because of how they succeeded or failed with it.

If Cameratosser Kenny was using gunk obvious enough for the TV to spot it, it's up to the Cardinals to say something and alleviate that advantage. They certainly had access to the information. The distraught hand-wringing in the media is a tempest in a teapot, false controversy designed either to stir up ratings or do that self-hating thing baseball writers do and focus solely on the bad.

Incidentally, did anyone calling for Barry Bonds' head notice that Chargers LB Shawne Merriman, the subject of recent hagiographic profiles in ESPN and The Sporting News, got nailed for steroids? But at least he didn't use pine tar.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

And this is why we watch...

...though whenever possible, we don't listen to Tim McCarver.

Astonishing how a Game Seven like that can allow us to forgive the sins of games 1-6, utterly pedestrian though they were.

Just once, I'd love to see football reporters dump on the Super Bowl the way baseball writers seem intent on dumping on this postseason. No matter how you get there, bases loaded, two out in the ninth with Carlos Beltran up is great baseball and great drama. The World Series will invovle at least two all-time greats (Pujols and Pudge), a couple of other guys who've at least had the Hall of Fame mentioned in connection with them (Rolen, Edmonds), some guys who can really pick it, guys who can throw 103, the resurrection of Kenny Rogers, the young phenoms Verlander and Wainwright, a Cy Young winner who may be sitting on a repeat, and two teams that honestly seem to take real joy in playing baseball in cities that support them. Who gives a damn if neither one is from New York. Stop pissing and moaning, and try to find something good to say for a change.

I'd written Endy Chavez off after his dire 2005 with the Phillies. This spring he found the fountain of swat playing in the WBC; this fall he did something immortal. I still wouldn't want him as more than a fourth outfielder, but making like Eel O'Brien and devouring Scott Rolen's Kirk Gibson moment was magic.

And Yadier Molina said "I'm just going to have to hit it a little bit further."

Good to see that the Billy Wagner verbal floodgates are already creaking open. As much admiration as I have for his ability to throw really hard, the man does seem quick to point out the faults of others while not compiling a sterling track record of his own in the spotlight. I was amused to see that John Kruk berated Willie Randolph on Baseball Tonight for not bringing in Wagner for the 9th, the same show where Jeff "Mr. Excitement" Brantley insisted that bringing in a closer in any non-save situation was the equivalent of throwing open the sonic oscillator and throwing open the reactor power three more triangles. For my part, I'm a firm believer in putting your best pitchers in when you need them most, and explaining to them that this is indeed a defined role. If necessary, I'd come up with a "team save" stat that recalcitrant pitchers could use to salve their statty egos (and haul out at arbitration time). But to hear Brantley say it, these guys simultaneously are the baddest of the bad and yet need perfect conditions to perform - two postulates that would seem to be antithetical, and not conducive to effective running of a baseball team.

In the wake of Ken Macha's firing, what's the over-under on the number of writers who claim or imply that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball? Besides too damn many, that is. Then again, Beane got pilloried after the Art Howe firing, and that seemed to work out better for Billy than it did for Art's next employers.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

And there will be a game seven













"What do you mean "They cut the power"? How could they cut the power, man? They're animals!"


You get the feeling that anyone listening inside Braden Looper's head during that fatal inning would get an endless loop of Hudson from Aliens?

Either Scott Rolen is hurting worse than he's letting on, or he's already checked out on The Boy Genius. Sources have been hinting for a while that Rolen and LaRussa don't get along, though the former future Mike Schmidt picked a bad year to be looking for an exit strategy. The market is going to be positively awash in third basemen, and one with a bum shoulder who couldn't beat out a double-clutched slow roller in a playoff game isn't going to be the most attractive commodity.

Is it just me, or does Tim McCarver manage to suck all of the excitement out of whatever situation he's describing just by virtue of his Karo-syrup voice and moderately confused delivery? I'd love to see Fox reshuffle its booth with an eye toward a broadcast team that engendered more excitement. McCarver's soothing approach is exactly what baseball doesn't need in the postseason.

Joe Sheehan nailed it over at BP - the home plate umpiring this series has been abominable. No wonder we're seeing so many top-flight pitching performances. Batters feel they have to take a whack at everything that isn't actually burrowing underneath home plate for fear that it just might be called a strike. This series was already dependent on the massive offensive firepower on both sides to be worth watching. Why cripple Pujols, Edmonds, Delgado, et alia with strike zones that look like gerrymandered congressional districts? Nobody's tuning in to watch Jeff Suppan, and, if the home plate umps were doing their jobs, nobody would be.

If I remember correctly, pre-series wisdom indicated that the only chance that St. Louis had involved Chris Carpenter nailing down both his starts. So much for that plan, though Suppan vs. Pitcher Randomly Named Oliver looks to be a tossup.

Did Tony LaRussa actually say during his in-game interview that they were going to get a point? Runs, Tony. They're called "runs".

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fox Sports Execs on the Ledge

As the Cardinals go up 3 games to 2, Fox is staring down the barrel of a no-New York, all-Midwest World Series. Which, of course, means lower ratings, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria. Ratings are already down, due to, in no particular order, the relatively drama-free first round, the stunning efficiency of the Tigers in dispatching their opponents, the multiple rain-outs, and the fact that the self-hating baseball media has spent far too much time bemoaning how this postseason couldn't possibly be competitive (Tom Verducci, I'm talking to you).

Here's a random thought - maybe if you spent more time building up teams other than the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Dodgers during the regular season, more folks would be inclined to watch playoff games with teams other than their own involved. Somehow, the NFL manages to get people excited about Cincinnati vs. Tampa Bay. Maybe, just maybe, it's because they don't bash their own product pre-emptively and instead try to get people interested in it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We Called It

No wonder Pujols looked like he was hurt - he is.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tom Glavine, Rainmaker

  • Tom Glavine on short rest? Not so good.
  • Tom Glavine on regular rest during these playoffs? Pretty good.
  • Albert Pujols facing a rested Tom Glavine? Sizing up that 86-mph fastball two inches off the outside corner and licking his chops.
  • Lou Piniella managing the Cubs? Interesting. One assumes he's gotten some promises out of the Tribune folks as to dollars being spent so that the lineup outside of the 3-4-5 spots doesn't look as barren as Tatooine during a dry spell, otherwise he wouldn't have taken the job. And, if Rich Hill is finally for real, a pitching staff with a healthy Zambrano, Prior, and Hill starting the rotation and a rejuvenated Kerry Wood at the back of the bullpen might not be bad. That being said, I still don't like the odds.
  • Joe Girardi? Hoping Bruce Bochy jumps.
  • Bruce Bochy? Being prodded toward the ledge by his agent.
  • Charlie Manuel? Getting that itchy feeling between his shoulder blades again, twice as hard.







Now batting for the Cubs, Ronny Cedeno. There, behind the moisture farm.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saturday baseball thoughts

Two moments that sum up all that is good about watching baseball...

Magglio Ordonez' perfect swing with two out in the bottom of the ninth to send the Tigers to the World Series...

The sheer, unrestrained joy of Placido Polanco as he literally skipped around the bases following Ordonez' blast.

As for the NLCS Game 3:

It looks a great deal as if Scott Rolen was playing tonight with a chip on his fatigued shoulder. One got the definite impression that if he could have rifled the ball past Pujols and straight at Tony LaRussa on a few of those highlight-reel grabs, he would have.

If the Mets lose this series, it will come down literally to inches - the few inches by which Green missed two balls of the bat of Spiezio and Endy Chavez' near-miss at the wall. Truth be told, for all of Chavez' superior defensive reputation (and metrics), it looked like Green was making more effort, albeit without more results. Then again, he's now at 2 dives, two Pony-Eater triples, so maybe he'd be better off playing it on the bounce next time.

Lost in the noise - Darren Oliver single-handedly rescued the New York bullpen tonight. By going out there and sucking up the rest of Traschel's start, he bought a night of recovery for the thouroughly trashed front-liners in the Mets' pen. The game was pretty much a lost cause by the time he entered, but by keeping the Cards in check the rest of the way, he rendered Bradford, Wagner, Mota and Heilman back into usable weapons for Game 4 and beyond, and, with Oliver Perez and the T-1000 going in the next two games for New York, that may prove to be huge.

Right now Jeff Suppan has provided more NLCS offense than Jose Valentin. That should be frightening to Mets fans, on several levels.

For all of the Cardinals' fine defensive work during the game, they had to be thankful that Pony-Eater Scott Spiezio didn't exactly get a lot of balls hit to him in left. His approach to fly balls is about two-third Benny Hill video, though with Chris Duncan's continued struggles at the plate, we may well see him out there again. Incidentally, whoever at Fox thought it was cute to compare Duncan's rookie year with Ryan Howard's (with the implication that Duncan was better) clearly has been starting early with the Budweiser. Howard pretty much mashed wherever he went, and was called up late primarily because he was blocked by an All-Star with a huge contract. Duncan was, before this year, the epitome of the coach's kid, a grinder with mediocre stats whose place in the organization seemed to be a product of heredity, not on-field skill. If he matches this year's production next year, I'll be surprised. If he matches Howard's second-year production, I'll be looking for pork in the skies.

Albert Pujols is not running well at all. I'm just sayin'.

In the "Truer Words" department...

Ganked from The Hardball Times:

Can we stop it with the postseason triples? It's one thing when the offender is Curtis Granderson or Dave Roberts. But Russell Branyan? Spiezio? Triples are exciting, no doubt, but is it alright to object to something that so clearly defies the laws of nature?

Thoughts on Cards-Mets, Game 2













Joe Buck (left) in his current form...











...and his ultimate destiny

Teams that swing at the first pitch in the postseason tend to lose, and lose quickly. The Cards only started scoring runs in this one when they stopped hacking at the first pitch and made the Mets throw strikes.

Why Guillermo Mota threw Scott Spiezio, who seemed constitutionally incapable of doing anything but sitting dead red, a fastball will remain one of the season's great baseball mysteries.

Albert Pujols seemed to be running a bit gingerly even before making the turn on his slump-busting single. Knowing supergenius Tony LaRussa's low tolerance for injured players being, well, injured, could it be possible that Pujols is playing hurt? It would explain his slow start, and slower trot.

Is it just me, or does it look like the aforementioned Spiezio's eerie chin hair is best explained by the notion that he swallowed a My Little Pony? My guess is the customized Red Butterscotch pony. but I could be wrong here.










Did Scott Spiezio eat this pony?

After watching Billy Wagner's 9th inning meltdown, Mets fans are learning what Phillies fans knew last year - that Wagner will inevitably pick the biggest stage and worst moment possible to melt down. So Taguchi may in fact be the only guy on the Cardinals roster whom Wagner could take in a fair fight (rumor has it that Eckstein is a master of the eye gouge), a slap-hitting defensive replacement type, and yet he still managed to get around on a Wagner pitch and pull it into the stands.

It appears clear that Carlos Delgado clearly has worked out whatever issues he and Jobu were having, as his home runs tonight could only be described as "swatted".

Chris Carpenter spent most of the night pitching with a look on his face like he'd just been sent to the principal's office. He didn't get his breaking stuff working until his last couple of innings, and his fastball seemed curiously straight. Cards fans can only hope that he'll have enough rest to pitch more like himself before his next start in this series, and rest assured, he will make another start.

Ronnie Belliard is what would happen if someone took Manny Ramirez' hair and put it on an OompaLoompa. That being said, his glove-hand toss to David Eckstein on a play where Eckstein got absolutely leveled may have been the defensive highlight of the series.

On the other hand, there was Shawn Green's microscopically mistimed leap on Spiezio's game-tying triple. That ball could have been caught, and I have no doubt that Joe Sheehan's going to be all over Green over at BP tomorrow for the defensive lapse.

Let me say it again - So Taguchi pulled a Billy Wagner pitch. Think about it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Good reading material

The uncommonly sensible Jim Caple has a nice, satiric take on the "It's all A-Rod's fault!" mania in New York, and offers a solution at ESPN.com. As always, there's a lot of fact underneath the zaniness, the sort of thing that drives talk-radio-crazies, well, crazy.

Adrian Wojnarowski offers a slightly different, but well-written take on same, courtesy of Chad Finn's Touching All the Bases.

And Joe Posnanski waxes rhapsodic on the horror show that is the Arizona Cardinals. Despite the fact that Posnanski is trapped writing about the Royals on a semi-regular basis, he still manages to provide absolutely excellent commentary on damn near anything that crosses his path.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Padres - Cardinals Observations

Two quick notes from the Cardinals' demolition of the Padres:

One, someone ought to remind the Padres that getting hits with men on base is generally a good idea. The final tally was something like 2 -for-33 with men in scoring position, which generally leads to the sort of scoring percentage you normally associate with an Anthony Michael Hall character in a John Hughes movie. And no, that bit at the end of Sixteen Candles where there's some hypothetical canoodlery doesn't count. They had plenty of opportunities against a Cardinals staff that's really a one-man band, and utterly failed to take advantage. Some teams simply have the air of being doomed about them - see Phillies, comma, Philadelphia and Card, comma, Wild - and this year's Padres were one of them. Watching the last game, I was literally counting down pitches until Piazza's inevitable double play ball in the eighth.


Two, all that being said, the Cardinals aren't going to last very long at the Mets if they keep swinging at the first pitch. A team that gives Woody Williams single-digit pitch count innings is doing him a favor, and the Mets' thin pitching staff will take all the favors it can get. If the Cardinals don't exercise patience against what looks to be a very beatable Mets rotation, they're simply going to give away outs and get bludgeoned in short order.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Yankees Lose! Theeee Yaaannnkeees Lose!

Seriously, is John Sterling's victory call the most annoying sound in sports radio (other than "Welcome to the Herd")? But I digress.

File me in with the several million other pundits who got the Detroit-New York series completely wrong. The Tigers dug deep, pitched their brains out, and chewed up a surprisingly mediocre Yankees pitching staff long before Mariano Rivera could become a factor. Those who noted similarities to the 2002 Angels were perhaps not off base - the Tigers forced the Yankees to make plays in the field, and Giambi, Sheffield and company were simply not up to the task. Then again, if $198M buys you Jaret Wright as your Game 4 starter, you may need to look into re-allocating some of those funds. My guess is that Cashman comes back and so does Torre for one last hurrah, but A-Rod is gone for whatever the Yankees can get for him. If they don't pick up Sheffield's option - and with Abreu on board, there's no good reason to - that's a little financial flexibility, at least by Yankee standards, which could make things interesting next year.

Memo to Jim Tracy - Marlon Anderson is not now, nor has he ever been, a left fielder. You could chalk up roughly half the Mets' offense tonight to Marlon treating left field like it was his personal snooker table and he was a ball. And for whatever it's worth, I'm inclined to discount those fuzzy-warm stories about Andre Ethier and how his arrival was a triumph for Old School Baseballery if the kid loses his job to Marlon at the drop of a Nationals hat. I mean, we are talking a middle infielder who washed out of Philadelphia here, not the second coming of Dale Murphy.

Memo to Bill Plaschke - Ned Colletti is looking up at Paul DePodesta in the playoff win category, 1 to nothing. Five bucks says Plaschke tries to blame this on the Paul LoDuca trade, conveniently forgetting that without Brad Penny (i.e. "the crap the Dodgers got back"), the Dodgers would have finished somewhere behind the Diamondbacks.

Has Chris Young become the anti-Clemens? Maybe the Pads should only pitch him on the road. If they stop pitching to Pujols, the Padres might have a chance - a game 5 at Petco looks pretty even to me. Then again, hanging your hat on Woody Williams isn't exactly a cause for optimism.

Noted by the wife when Jonathan Broxton came in to pitch: "That man eats pie!"

Memo to the folks bemoaning the fact that Francisco Liriano's injury forced the Twins to rely on a rookie starting pitcher - Liriano was a rookie, too. Oh, and the Mets and Tigers might note that the rookie thing - sometimes, it works out.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Buck O'Neil. RIP

Former Negro League star and ambassador for the game Buck O'Neil has passed away at the age of 94. ESPN.com has the story here and an appreciation here.

And if you have not yet heard O'Neil's story of why Satchel Paige always called him "Nancy", you've missed something special.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Let the Scapegoating Commence


It's clear that hockey fandom has settled in for good in the RTP area. Two games into their Stanley Cup defense, the Carolina Hurricanes faithful have already found someone to blame for the team's slow start - prodigal defenseman David Tanabe. While it's undeniable that "Knobs" hasn't fully regained the speed he had before having his knee ligaments pop like Slash's guitar strings, he's just the fifth defenseman, and one can probably assume that someone else, somewhere, has screwed up, too.

On the other hand, there may be a more sinister reason for the booing and talk radio yammer. According to Cryptomundo:

"Perhaps there is no more famous Sasquatch clone in North Carolina than "Knobby." In 1979, people around Carpenter’s Knob, near Toluca, Cleveland County, North Carolina, reported seeing the creature. Where it was seen is reflective of the same types of locations as the Mitchell River Monster. Knobby "roams the back roads and branch banks" of the area, we were told."

Knobs...Knobby...could there be a connection? Will well-meaning amateur cryptozoologists take plaster casts of Tanabe's skates if he continues to perform poorly? Is there a Travel Channel documentary in his future? And if he really is a semi-human, fear-inspiring creature of the forest, is it too much to ask that he forecheck once in a while?

There Is No Truth to the Rumor that the Victim's Face Sailed Wide Left


It's Friday, and slow, and for the seven or so people not actually related to us by blood who care to read this blog, there's no better time to traffic in wild, unsubstantiated rumor. From the redoubtable Eagle in Atlanta, the following tidbit:

"This is what we know: Ryan Ohliger has been suspended indefinitely from the team.
"This is pure rumor: he supposedly got heckled at a local bar and sparked a fight which ended with him kicking a BC student in the face. Now the full details will never get out, but it looks like one fan finally forced TOB to do what thousands of fans have been calling for – putting Ohliger on the bench."



In the face? Shocking that he got that kind of height on the follow-through. The college game in general hardly overflows with good-bordering-on-automatic kickers (you wouldn't see the entire Grammatica family, pets included, holding down NFL jobs if it were), but one would at least expect one's kicker to be more or less reliable on PATs, which have been the albatross around Ohliger's neck this season. His performance in the Clemson/BYU/NC State triathlon these past weeks seems to indicate increasingly diminishing returns.

Topping out at medium range in the field goal department is one thing (as is being a contributing factor in crucial losses); this is simply unacceptable. The coaching staff's lack of perception in diagnosing the problem (and no, a sports psychologist is not going to help in any meaningful way, unless he can put it through the uprights from 40-plus), sadly, is not confined to Ohliger. The UNC loss-we-had-no-business-losing is another example; O'Brien's inability or unwillingness to yank an ineffective and possibly gun-shy Porter until the fourth quarter is just another in the growing file of too little, too late from the coach.

Face facts, the ACC is nothing near a power conference this year. While that might have initially improved BC's preseason chances of cake-walking through the schedule and getting a bid to a bowl not named after something found in your garage (car part, lawn implement, old couch, etc.), it was folly, in hindsight, to think that the annual Loss That Should Never Have Been would be absent this year.

Ultimately, Ohliger only bears responsiblity for those things he can control...namely, PATs. The staff, however, bears more than that. There is nothing to be said for continuing to use a machine with a broken part to it, as sooner or later it will cause the machine to fail at the most inappropriate moment. The best course of action is to find the replacement, and go about the business of the season. Sure, it may not be pretty at first, or even at last. But it is, at least, an acknowledgement of the problem.


Now, can any of you kick?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Quote File

"I didn't get it."
-Terrell Owens, discussing the text message of support and general bonhomie sent to him by Donovan McNabb. Truer words were never spoken...

"Temple couldn't score a touchdown on tall grass."
-Former East Carolina football coach and radio short-timer Steve Logan, analyzing Temple's then-current #4 national ranking in time of possession. In response, Temple football coach Al Golden recruited three weed-whackers and a riding mower for the O-line, but lost out on a pair of macrobiotic weed-chomping goats who are, I believe, headed to Rutgers.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Charlie Manuel Votes Others Off Island

He may not know how to handle a bullpen, but Charlie Manuel does seem to do well at watching his own back. After telling us for years that coaches Gary Varsho, Marc Bombard, and Phillies lifer Bill Dancy were serious manager material, the Phillies dumped all three but retained their boss. One could argue that after two consecutive near-misses on the wild card, the Phils needed to shake things up. One could also argue that Manuel ascribes strongly to the theory that the best way for Caesar to cross the forum is to make sure that there's nobody named Brutus within twenty miles.

Random Notes

  • About that policy of not intentionally walking Frank Thomas...
  • At this point, the Twins' postseason hopes potentially rest on a man named Boof. Losing any game started by Johan Santana changes the equation drastically for Minnesota, and not in a good way.
  • So, if Corell Buckhalter hangs onto the football, Monday night's game is over about five minutes into the second quarter. It was "close at the half" in the same way that the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he takes up professional wrestling is "close" - Bugs climbs all over The Crusher, who eventually yawns, wakes up, and then demolishes the rabbit-eared Masked Terror. For purposes of metaphor, we'll ignore the rest of that cartoon.
  • The sequence seems to go like this: Packers player makes a goof. Packers D gives up points. Brett Favre decides that he's going to make up the deficit single-handedly by throwing the first 18-point touchdown in the history of the league, under the assumption that he'll get a triple word score multiplier for grittiness, clutchness, and threading the theoretical needle. Ball gets picked. Packers D gives up another score. John Madden says nice things about Favre.
  • I hear Terry Glenn is coming to Philadelphia this week. Surely the Eagles will game plan for Dallas' most dangerous receiver.
  • So El Duque may be out with a muscle pull, leaving the Pedro-less Mets even more short-handed in the rotation. Clearly, it's all part of a diabolical plot to ensure that New York finally, finally gives Aaron Heilman a start, if only because there's nobody else left.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Capitol One Mascot Bowl - Week 4 Headline Matchup

Buzz (Georgia Tech) vs. The Bird (Air Force Academy)

Buzz - Scouting Report

Buzz is, not to put too fine a point on it, a giant wasp; clocking in at 5'8" and 140 pounds, this particular specimen of Vespula vulgaris is found roaming the sidelines and anthropomorphizing the collective school spirit of Tech fans, although it would not be out of place to find him in your typical late-night sci-fi B-flick, as the title character in something like The Thing That Stung Cleveland to Death. Buzz may well be the result of a horribly awry-gone DoD experiment from the Eisenhower era, although he sports only four legs instead of the usual six. True entomology fans feel this ruins the overall wasplike effect, and they are right. Of course, entomologists have an unhealthy fixation for bugs, so who cares what they think. However you slice it, though, there is no truth to the rumor that a six-appendaged Buzz costume exists, and is only waiting for the GT Athletic Department to locate an undergraduate who wandered a bit too close to the GTRR's decommission site to wear it.

While little is known of his family life -- and, considering that the male/female dynamics of the typical wasp nest approach levels of screwed-uppitousness usually found only on a Showtime cable series, that's probably for the best -- Buzz is nonetheless beloved by the Tech student body, frequently appearing at all Tech sporting events and even venturing off campus to such celebrations at Georgia Tech Six Flags Night.

Buzz's preferred method of attack is the Buzz Flip, a front-flip maneuver which results in his outsized, and, one might assume, extremely deadly stinger pointed chest-high at an onrushing opponent. This line of attack does tend to limit Buzz's range, but anyone who's ever witnessed a Chan Gailey-coached pass rush would see an eerie parallel.

Lingering Questions:

  • Whose brilliant idea was it to let a near-six-foot bee-like entity wander loose at the local Six Flags, where the possibility of him bearing down, possibly drunk, on a gaggle of soon-to-be traumatized toddlers is the only logical outcome?
  • Georgia Tech's other "mascot" (and you thought they only made do with a gigantic insect, didn't you?) is the Ramblin' Wreck, a 1920s-era jalopy that seems to be held together with spit and bailing wire, considering its shaky entrance onto the field during Tech home games. Is the Wreck aerodynamic enough to create a sufficient slipstream that shoots Buzz safely over the top of the vehicle, and not splatter him against the windshield like so many unfortunate members of the wasp family?


The Bird - Scouting Report

What you see is what you get with The Bird, a 5'9", 180-pound blue bird, probably a falcon, as the Falcons are the team name of Air Force -- although probably, sadly, not the sort of blue falcon who comes bringing expensive silk scarves for everyone. Which is as it should be, as the last thing The Bird really needs is to tangle the dangling end of any expensive silk undermentionables in the turbines of the nearest F-14 and get sucked right in, thus rendering him into nothing so much as a fine polyester blue mist. (Hardly the picture of toughness, that.)

True to his avian roots, The Bird lists his skydiving as among his favorite hobbies, which he employs to great effect in his patented entrance into Falcon Stadium, via parachute. Couple this with The Bird's signature move, The Bird Call -- rumored to put even the most stalwart opponent into a state of auditory distress -- and The Bird is a formidable opponent.

The skydiving does raise questions about his purported flying abilities -- he's a damn bird, after all -- and encourages speculation as to whether The Bird's flightlessness (Clipped wings? Onset of vertigo? Recessive dodo gene in family tree?) will hamper him in the upcoming bout. Recent evidence of his new training regimen, however, may put such fears to rest among the bookmaking set.

Lingering Questions:

  • What is it with you Americans and your..."logic?"
  • Did you get that thing I sentcha?


Prediction:

The aerophilic nature of both contenders promises to make this matchup a real WWI-era dogfight...erm, make that bird-wasp-fight, and result in mid-air acrobatics of the kind Ang Lee would kill for in his next weird medieval Chinese kung-fu flick. Although the size and venomousness of Buzz's stinger will prove hard to avoid, The Bird's razor-sharp talons and greater altitude will ultimately give him the advantage, and ultimate victory. Failing that, he can always call in a Hellfire missile strike from the boys in the 407th Tactical Crowd Encouragement Wing and reduce the bug to nothing but a pile of ash and a pair of Converse sneakers.

Quick Baseball Playoff Preview

AL

Twins vs A's

On one hand, as an inveterate Yankees hater, I'm pulling for the Twins because I honestly believe their pitching is the only thing that stands between the Yankees and another World Series title. On the other hand, I'm desperately hoping that Oakland wins, in large part so it will finally shut the legions of Moneyball misquoters up. (OK, I'm not thrilled with the idea of anything that rewards Carl Pohlad for doing anything, but that's a whole other issue.)
Prediction: Twins. Frank Thomas sets a record for most intentional walks received in a playoff series by a guy whose middle name isn't Lamar, and Santana and the Twins' bullpen dominate.

Yankees vs Tigers

The Tigers are a combination of mostly young pitchers (Bonderman,
Zumaya, Verlander, etc.) with mostly old hitters (Pudge, Magglio Ordonez, Polanco, Casey), which is how you get a team that gasps to the finish line like Mike Patterson with a Frank Gore fumble. The Yankees, on the other hand, have old, expensive hitters with other old, expensive hitters backing them up, which is how you get the GNP of Venezuela on the field for the sixth inning. Oh, and they've got old pitchers, too.
Prediction: Yankees, and it ain't going to be pretty. Their lineup is going to chew through the Tigers' rotation and into the soft underbelly (and no, I'm not talking about Todd Jones' abdomen) of the the bullpen. Expect at least one 11-2 blowout.

NL

Cardinals vs Padres

In a short series where Cris Carpenter is going twice, anything can happen. On the other hand, this is a short series where Jim Edmonds is still recovering from a concussion, the Cardinals are relying on Braden Looper to be someone other than Braden Looper, and Chris Duncan's magic has to wear out sometime. Meanwhile, San Diego very quietly has assembled a mighty pitching staff, and just enough bats to be mildly unsettling.
Prediction: San Diego. Pujols + Rolen in a down year + Duncan = not enough offense. Even if Cla Meredith has given back the Captain Universe powers that he possessed earlier in the year, the Padres just have too many arms.

Dodgers vs Mets

In a year when the gritty, clutchy performance of veteran players like Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, and J.D. Drew provided the difference...oh, wait, those guys got picked up by DePodesta? Sorry, my bad. Anyway, we have two teams of highly priced veteran hitters with banged-up pitching staffs going at it. The difference? One team loves their rookies, the other hates them. Incidentally, why is no one searching Endy Chavez' oatmeal for steroids? He's slugging 60 points over her career average, for crying out loud.
Prediction: Mets, barely. In a year when Chavez and Valentin catch fire, there's clearly something karmically weird driving this team. Having Delgado, Wright, Beltran and Reyes at the top of the lineup doesn't hurt, either.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Big Grimsley Boy

So the Cardinals back in, the Dodgers win out, the Tigers run out of time to complete their collapse, and all anyone can talk about is steroids. The name on the Grimsley list that most interests me is Roger Clemens, whose symptomology seems to mirror Barry Bonds' closely, but who gets a free pass because, well, I'm not quite sure why he gets a free pass, except that he used to play for the Yankees. Either that, or most sportswriters are afraid he'll throw a jagged bat-end at them. But consider:

  • Huge noggin
  • Comes across as a surly, unlikeable jerk who makes strange use of his kids at press conferences
  • Unprecedented performance past the age of 40, and a massive late-career kick
  • Manages to find a way to miss a large chunk of the regular season, potentially long enough for all sorts of gunk to rinse out of his system
  • Suddenly prone to leg trouble

Now, I am certainly not saying that Roger Clemens is on any sort of performance enhancing substance. What I am saying is that, considering the eerie parallels between their track records and behaviors, there's no logical reason for Bonds to have been pummeled relentlessly while Clements got nary a whisper, and that it will be interesting to see if that changes - if the wolves come out of the woodwork - now that somebody's named the Rocket's name.

My guess, of course, is that America has decided that Bonds is the villain of the piece, and that anyone else will get handwaved as the dogged pursuit of Aaron's pursuer continues. But if that scent finally grows cold, the Grimsley boys might suddenly have to answer some questions. And that will be something new.
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