Monday, April 30, 2007

Clutching At Straws

My fannish despair over the Eagles' draft this past weekend is mitigated by two things:

One, this looks eerily reminiscent of the famous 3-DB draft, when despite having the best secondary in the league, the Eagles drafted Michael Lewis, Lito Sheppard et alia to prepare for the inevitable departures down the road. That one turned out all right.

Two, I've never even heard of most of the guys the Eagles (or anyone else) picked, so really, I wouldn't even know where to start complaining about them. (Note: One of the Eagles' picks, CB Rashad Barksdale of Albany, is so obscure that ESPN didn't even have anything on him. Me, I just had no idea they even played football at Albany, but ESPN listed 5 possible draft prospects out of the school. Barksdale, for the record, did not make that list.)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The NFL Draft Exists So That:

  1. Straight men can call another man "tight in the hips" and "lacking in explosiveness" without feeling the slightest bit self-conscious.
  2. Mel Kiper Jr., the world's only Oompa-Loompa Elvis impersonator, can steal another piece of all of our souls. Every year we watch; every year he takes a little more. It's directly proportional to the height of the hair.
  3. People can finally rationalize having watched Central Michigan's bowl game ("But that Dan Bazuin was a prospect!")
  4. Untold millions of man-hours that might otherwise have been devoted to the betterment of the planet and the species can instead be diverted to the vital question of which incipient millionaire who doesn't give a rat's ass about the draft-watching fans is going to be made insanely rich a little quicker than the other one.
  5. ESPN can focus on the draft prospects of the long snapper at Brown. Because, you know, ever since Buddy Cianci went down, they'll do anything to get out of Providence.
  6. The fact that a bunch of teenagers tried for a little extra credit in smokable botany can become a national story, except that the national story was that it shouldn't be a national story because they admitted smoking the wacky tobaccy, which somehow makes the fact that they were smoking weed all right in a year when it's supposedly all about character issues, except that, oh, never mind.
  7. We can confirm for ourselves that you'd love to have Al Davis in your fantasy football league.
  8. Some 21 year old kid can be utterly humiliated on national television for being "the last one in the green room." Last I checked, even the tenth pick in the draft makes a lot more money than any of the reporters or commentators so eager to report on "falling draft status", so I suspect the kid will come out of things just fine. Mel Kiper's hair, however, will no doubt be severely disciplined by its alien overlords on the planet Zarnoth for failing to wring the last drop of precious pathos out of the situation.
  9. Everyone can do enough fake drafts that they can legitimately claim they got most of the picks right. Which is true, if you consider that most of them have done upwards of 200 mock drafts. This week, The Sporting News ran 5 mock drafts, no two of which were even remotely alike. This will, however, not stop TSN from picking and choosing from among those it printed and claiming it has an unmatched record for prognostication. As for Kiper, at this point he's predicted everyone going first except for Ronald McDonald's pal Grimace, whom he has going in the late 3rd round as an offensive lineman for the Saints.
  10. Those of us who spend our lives sitting at desks and occasionally scribbling notes on small pieces of paper can pretend that a televised corporate recruitment seminar wherein people sit at desks and scribble notes on small pieces of paper can be an EVENT.
  11. Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair can kill and eat Sean Salisbury. Well, maybe not, but we can hope. We can hope.

Friday, April 27, 2007


My piece on writing and baseball is up over at Storytellers Unplugged.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ten Things You Don’t Want To Hear Yourself Saying In A Fantasy Baseball League

Levale Speigner: Not At All Asleep

  1. “With that pitchers’ park, there’s going to be a lot of sleepers on the Nationals’ staff.”
  2. “We’ve added fielding stats this year, so I’m glad I got Derek Jeter. He’s a Gold Glover, you know.”
  3. Pittsburgh’s not playing, so there goes the stat line for half my team.”
  4. “I’m sure Houston will settle into a predictable outfield rotation soon.”
  5. “If I can just hold on until Roger Clemens comes out of retirement, I’ll be fine.”
  6. “He’s really the power in Seattle’s lineup.”
  7. “I’m glad I got Jorge Julio. I needed another closer.”
  8. “Prior, Harden, and Sheets have got to be healthy this year. They’re due.”
  9. “Sure, he’s 43, but he’s a young 43.”
  10. Kansas City is a hitter’s park. I’m sure he’ll come around soon.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In Memoriam: David Halberstam

Reporter and author David Halberstam was killed in an automobile accident yesterday. Halberstam was 73 years of age.

And yes, he really was that good.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Congratulations Are Due

This man did not perform the ceremony

Folks, please join me in offering hearty congratulations to my co-author Mark Cenczyk, who this weekend took the headfirst plunge into matrimony. Mark and his lovely bride Anastasia (who, incidentally, probably knows more about sports than both of us put together) were married Saturday. Here's wishing them many, many years of wuv, twoo wuv, and much happiness together.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Moment of Grace

One of the things I love about baseball is the fact that over the course of a season, there are so many chances for those perfect, crystalline moments. No other sport allows for this in the way that baseball does, with its intricate series of individual confrontations and actions woven into the larger tapestry of the team effort. And because the season is so long, because everyone gets in the batter's box or on the mound sooner or later, there's a chance for a near-endless cast to do something spectacular, and produce a moment of pure joy.

Take tonight's no-hitter by Mark Buerhle. Buerhle's a guy who's taken the first few slippery steps onto the downside of his career, a guy whose walk and hit rates are going up every year, and a guy whose first start of the year ended less than two innings in after he took a liner off his pitching arm. While he's not quite Bobo Holloman, he's up there on the list of semi-unlikely no-hitter candidates, particularly pitching in a bandbox against the homeriffic Texas Rangers. And yet, it was 27 up, 27 down, and his clearly gleeful teammates dosing him with beer in celebration as he did a post-game interview.

The White Sox probably aren't going to win their division, regardless of whether you believe in PECOTA or not. Mark Buerhle's probably not going to be on the mound in another World Series. But tonight, at least, he seized the chance to make magic. Tomorrow, it will no doubt be someone else - every pitcher's failure means a batter's success, every stolen base hit means a fielder's moment of glory - and that, is in large part, why I love the game.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Charlie Manuel Don't Surf

One of these two torments Superman, the other appears on Smallville.

Having grown up in Philadelphia (and met Howard Eskin), I can't entirely blame Charlie Manuel for losing it all over Eskin during (and after) a press conference. The Phillies are playing awful baseball, with Charlie's derrierre firmly in the crosshairs as a result, and Eskin fancies himself the Socratic gadfly of the Philly sports scene. (Hint: He's really more of the Thrasymichus.) While Manuel's profanity-laced tirade and offer to introduce Eskin to the clubhouse concrete aren't exactly what you'd call desirable employee behavior, they do sound like the acts of a guy realizing the axe is about to come down and figuring "what do I have to lose?" And if this actually lights some kind of a fire under the Phillies - doubtful, considering tonight's performance, but youneverknow - then maybe it will be considered managerial genius.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What's the Over/Under...

...on sportswriters who use the fact that games were rained out on Jackie Robinson Day in baseball as a metaphor for the state of the game?

That aside, I grew up as the child of two Brooklyn Dodger fans. My folks still had all of the old yearbooks and it was those that I snuck into my father's closet to read, not the mythical dirty magazines that every teenaged boy expects to find. I learned about Jackie Robinson, and Roy Campanella and Newk and Junior Gilliam and all the rest from those old, tattered yearbooks. I remember one picture of Gilliam, a switch-hitter, holding a bat with handles at both ends. Perfect for a switch-hitter, I suppose, but the image, and the notion of those Dodgers as being everyone's team - the team of the immigrants and the neighborhoods while the Yankees were the team of high-rises and Central Park West - has always stayed with me. And through the Dodgers, America - for Jews (like Cal Abrams), for African-Americans, for Italian-Americans (c.f. Al Gionfriddo), for Polish-Americans (God bless George "Shotgun" Shuba"), and for Everyone Else who wasn't a Yankee.

They lost that when they moved to LA, I think, and they never got it back. But I'm glad they had it in 1947. Thank you, Brooklyn Dodgers. Thank you, Jackie Robinson.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Random Thoughts on the Braves-Nationals Game

Watching Jason Bergmann survive the Braves in the first few innings was like watching Courtney Love on live television. You knew the catastrophe was coming; it was just a question of when and in what form. Every reaction shot of the pitcher when something didn't go his way - a hit, a borderline call going against him - was the same: cheeks puffed out, eyes rolled at the sky, shoulders rolled in a "how-am-I-gonna-get-out-of-this-one" slouch. Somehow, he got out of it, and as the game went on, you could see him visibly gaining in confidence, trusting his stuff more and more. By the time he was taken out, it was less "thank God they got him out in time" and more "he could have gone another inning, easy".

It's an odd thing to watch against the Braves. They're the Terminators of the NL - the comeback is inevitable, no matter how deep the deficit. It's as foreordained as a lousy start for the Phillies, pointless August drama for the Red Sox, or someone complaining mid-July about the necessity of interleague games between the Royals and the Pirates. They may get down, but you know that some how, some way, they'll find a way to win every damn time (at least until the postseason). It's not superior talent - this is a team that's won running Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser and Otis Nixon and Alejandro Pena and Mike Mordecai and Walt Weiss and pretty much any other alliteratively named shortstop you can think of out there. But they always did it, and after a while it got to be self-fulfilling prophecy. You watched the guys on the field start to tense up, wondering where the dagger was coming from when the Braves came to bat.

Tonight, that seemed to change. Ronnie Belliard made the miracle plays, not Kelly Johnson. Ryan Church made the on-the-run catches in deep center, not Andruw Jones. And despite every opportunity to give the game away, Chad Cordero - previously noted for his generosity to the Braves - muscled up and made Scott Thorman look silly with the bases loaded and two outs. The Atlanta announcers had been positively gleeful about Cordero coming in, considering how thoroughly he'd belly-flopped against them in the past. You could see what they were talking about - the bounced slider, the one out single, the walks to load the bases - but this time, somebody wrote a different ending. The game wasn't handed over to the Braves as their due.

And that will make it very interesting the next time these two teams meet, and every time thereafter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The News From DBAP - The Wormkiller General Lives!

That's a mighty fine biscuit...

That's Durham Bulls Athletic Park, at least for the moment. Tonight was the first game of the season I was able to get to, with the Bulls taking on the Pawtucket Red Sox in the first game of a four game set.

Most of the Bulls' offensive talent (B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes) has graduated to Tampa Bay, meaning that the focus of this year's team will be on the lights-out pitching staff that kicked out the veritable jams for Montgomery last year. In other words, don't expect a lot of hitting, but Scott Kazmir might be getting some company sooner than later.

Tonight's starter was Mitch Talbot, part of the loot acquired in the Aubrey Huff trade. Henceforth, I'll be referring to him as "Wormkiller General", as he got 11 of his 18 outs on ground balls. He racked up 4 more on strikeouts in six hitless innings on a night that could best be described as "goddamned cold", and even from his warmups you could see that he was keeping the ball down, downer, and downest. His velocity was up to around 91-92 and his control was good, all of which bodes well for the future. They took him out after he'd proved all he had to against a PawSox lineup that honestly didn't look like it could touch him.

Chad Orvella, on the other hand, didn't seem quite right. Yes, he got three quick outs in the ninth, two on strikeouts. Yes, he was dialing it up to 93 by the time he got the last batter. But the old pop you used to hear when his fastball exploded into the mitt just wasn't there, and most of his pitches were around 88-89. He still generates a lot of fouls straight back, however, and in what was the game's most amusing moment, he accused his bullpen warmup catcher of lobbing spitballs back to him. The catcher's defense? "No, man, I don't do that to you."

Pawtucket's Abe Alvarez looks to be on the Pete Walker career path. He gave up 5 runs on 2 homers, and would have given up more if most of the Bulls hadn't decided to swing themselves up to the Show in a single at-bat. Craig Hansen, on the other hand, looked good in his inning of relief work.

He may not be a shortstop any more, but Joel Guzman at least looks like a hitter when he's at the plate. Good swings most of the night, and good hustle. Jorge Velandia, on the other hand, looked like a man being attacked by swarms of locusts every time he came up to bat.

Jorge Cantu was at first for the Bulls tonight, leading to some interesting speculation. If he's over his foot injury and can get his stroke back, he's a lot more interesting as a long-term solution for the big club than Ty Wiggington. I'd love to see Johnny Gomes get a shot at it myself, but he still has to dig out from under the wreckage of his injury-impaired 2006.

You could visibly see batters getting closer and closer to Steven Andrade's stuff. The first couple, he tied into knots, working up and down in the zone while changing speeds from about 76 to 84. One pitch clocked at 94; they had to be pointing the radar gun at someone zipping by on the Durham Freeway for that one. By the end of his second inning of work, however, he'd given up a hit and you could see the wheels starting to fall off. I'd be surprised if he A)got many multiple-inning stints from here on in and B)had a lot of success the second time around the International League.

Lots of bad throws from Pawtucket, including one that actually allowed catcher Raul Casanova (who does indeed run like a Molina) to reach first on an infield dribbler.

The fan of the night had to be the gravelly-voiced older gentleman sitting to our right, who swore that Dustan Mohr had no shot at a big league career because he had a "prep school name". After Mohr (who's spent part or all of 6 years in the bigs, including part of last year with the Red Sox) cranked a solo shot that went out in a hurry, the cracks stopped coming. He also noted that he was in Boston for the miracle season of '69, Tony Conigliaro's rookie year. This would have been fascinating to eavesdrop on, except that the miracle season was '67, and Conigliaro's rookie year was 1964. Ah, well, at least everyone not named Abe Alvarez had a good time.

And all hail the Wormkiller General

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In Case You're Wondering...

...the guy's last name is pronounced "Coward".

His show is unlistenable in any case, the same sort of lad-yakkery that is barely tolerable from a drunk buddy in a bar, but urging his listeners to shut down for no apparent reason is beyond the pale. I have a mental image of a nine-year-old giggling after flushing a lit M-80 down the school toilet.

One hopes that ESPN's new person of ombudsness is less of a pushover than her predecessor, whose primary function seemed to be shaking his head sadly over how much coverage was devoted to Terrell Owens. So far, all we've gotten has been a statement of disapproval. Considering that the blabbermouth in question was previously caught lifting material from the blogs he claims to despise, it would seem that doing more than giving him a stern look would be in order.

Ten Things We Think We Know About The 2007 Baseball Season

  1. No matter what Alex Rodriguez does, he's going to get booed as soon as he screws up. And by "screws up", I mean "takes a called strike in the eighth inning of a 12-4 blowout where they've already let two outfielders pitch". Walk-off grand slams are nice and win games, but let's face it, it's more fun to boo.
  2. Ryan Madson is not a setup man. Unfortunately, he's also not a starter, as he proved last year. That leaves "long reliever", "hot dog vendor", and "next contestant on The Bachelor" as options, none of which are good for a Phillies bullpen that was looking Callista Flockhart-thin already.
  3. Pitchers who look like they've put it together: Felix Rodridguez, Rich Hill, Zack Greinke. Speaking of which, there were almost as many "Zack Greinke was overlooked in the Dice-K game" stories as there were Dice-K game stories.
  4. For all the joking about Matsuzaka still needing to make a start against a major league team, the Royals are looking unsettlingly improved. Once Alex Gordon shakes off his rookie jitters (remember, he's already doing better than Robin Ventura), the Royals could have a pretty formidable lineup with him, Mark Teahen, Ryan Shealy, and David DeJesus swinging away. Figure that both Reggie Sanders and Emil Brown are gone by mid-season for prospects and Billy Butler gets the call, and this team could get very interesting.
  5. Jorge Julio's time as the Marlins' closer is limited. As in "minor villain in an episode of 24" limited. Personally, I'm rooting for Taylor Tankersley to take his place, simply because I can't imagine the sort of bullpen entrance music a guy named "Taylor" would have. Hanson, maybe?
  6. Arizona is going to win a lot of games. They're already beating the hell out of the ball, and they'll be getting reinforcements like Carlos Quentin and Randy Johnson sooner rather than later. As for Johnson, Arizona's ballpark may be a lot more hitter friendly than Yankee Stadium, but he's going to have a lot better defense behind him this year, not to mention facing pitchers instead of DHs. If he's healthy, he's going to cause a lot of angry phone calls to Mike & the Mad Dog.
  7. Assuming he stays healthy - and he looks healthy - Barry Bonds is going to hit a lot of home runs. Unfortunately, nobody else on the Giants will.
  8. Yes, David Eckstein is the World Series MVP. That was last year. The Cards still don't have an offense past Scott Rolen and Albert Hooblehoff. When a Molina besides Alfred is batting fifth, you know there are problems. If the Cubs can stay healthy, they just might run away with this thing.
  9. Nobody else gets pounded like David Bush gets pounded. Only he can have a start where he averages roughly the same number of baserunners and runs allowed. He'll have about four of those this year, too, or so the Brewers hope. Any more than that, and they're in trouble.
  10. Bud Black is the new manager most likely to get relentlessly dissected in the media, if for no other reason than he's a former pitcher. It's already started, as he's being Gradyed for leaving Maddux in too long against the Rockies, never mind that the genuine article is doing odd things just up the coast. And it's only going to get worse as the season goes along.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Humble Dissenting Opinion on Tom Coughlin

Now that everyone's gone suitably self-righteous over Tom Coughlin's joke about how online, he's hated almost as much as Hitler, I'd like to offer a humble proposal for an alternate analysis.

While it's all well and good to read what Coughlin said as some kind of catastrophe, ("Does he think he's Hitler? Is he joking about how much he's hated? Is he that thin-skinned? Is he asking for sympathy? Aaaaaghhh!"), but I'd suggest two things. One, Tom Coughlin can't tell a joke to save his life. He's like the outtakes from the Lorne Greene Comedy Hour - the bad ones. And make no mistake, he was trying to tell a joke.

Two, he was not comparing himself to Hitler. He was not considering himself a martyr. He was not doing anything other than attempting to make a wry comment on how absolutely berserk the online commentary about Giants football (consider, for example, this image over at Off Season On Smash) can get.

Besides, anyone who spends any time online knows that as soon as you mention Hitler in an argument, it's automatically pointless from that point on. Would that the talking heads of sports radio could learn the same.

If They Really Want to Make an Effective Anti-Steroids Commercial..

...all they need to do is have someone stand in front of the camera and say, "Look, if you take steroids, your balls will shrink, your boobs will grow, and you won't be able to get it up."

Disintegrating Athenian statuary is all very well and good, but if you really want to catch a teenager's attention, threaten his nads.