Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas Present from Charlie Weis

Now I never have to hear that the Fighting Irish haven't won a bowl game since 1994 - when most of the current players were in preschool, as if this were somehow their fault - ever, evre again.

The answer is "yes"

Yes, Rod Marinelli wishes his daughter had married a better defensive coordinator, because if she had, Marinelli's odds of remaining employed would be much higher going into the offseason.

That being said, the whole flap over the "insulting personal question" a reporter asked is just so much smoke-blowing from a coach looking to divert attention from his team and/or his miserable record coaching it.

It was a joke. It was even a mildly funny joke. And for Marinelli to be crucifying the reporter who asked it, and potentially damaging the guy's career long-term, is not a terribly noble thing. It's not like the Lions' season can be salvaged; the best that can be hoped for is to go down with dignity, and there's none in evidence here.

Even With The Highest Paid First Baseman In the Game...

...not to mention the highest paid shortstop, 3B, catcher, starter, and reliever, they still don't have anyone in the outfield who can actually, you know, catch the ball.

Monday, December 22, 2008

News Flash From the Banks of the Monongahela

Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson says that the team needs better players.

Starting, one assumes, with a better shortstop.

Friday, December 19, 2008

God Bless Anonymous...

...for choosing today, of all days, to drop a flame in the comments section of a baseball notes post.

From 2007.

Seriously. If you want to bitch about what's being written here, at least keep the bitching current.

Whither Tex

The "Mark Teixeira will only go where he has a chance to win!" stories have gotten a bit silly. Yes, winning is probably more fun than losing. That being said, $20M+ per year buys a lot of off-the-diamond fun, especially if you're the biggest star on a losing team and can add endorsement money that's not likely to go to the Levale Speigners of the world instead.

If he goes to the Orioles, he'd be joining a nice young core that includes Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, catching prospect Matt Wieters and more, leaving open the possibility that the O's could win sooner rather than later. Throw in the fact that they have a lot of interesting vets that are on the market and which could bring back some useful arms, and the O's could climb past the disarmed Blue Jayes and into contention in a hurry. In that situation, Teixeira also gets credit for having put the Orioles over the top, possibly cementing a Hall of Fame candidacy while he's at it.

If he goes to the Nats, he's the face of the franchise, joining Ryan Zimmerman and a talented young outfield. Odds of winning here aren't quite as good, but it's not like the Phillies have been making great moves this off-season, the Marlins have been shedding salary, the Braves are still short pitching, and the Mets remain Heimlichian until proven otherwise.

And while folks are fond of pointing out that A-Rod's signing with a losing team didn't work out so well, Pudge Rodriguez' did. It started a renaissance in Detroit that led the team to respectability, encouraged other free agents to sign there, and stood as a symbol for the franchise.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Manufactured Controversy

Monday night's snoozefest was largely interesting for the way in which Tony Kornheiser relentlessy attempted to drive the "Is this McNabb's last year in Philly!" narrative in the absence of any actual evidence. Meanwhile, backup/heir apparent/Danny McBride lookalike Kevin Kolb came in for the fourth quarter and threw two passes. One was tipped, one was tipped, intercepted, and returned for the Browns' first TD since they were running Otto Graham and Ernest Byner out there in the same backfield. If the Eagles dump McNabb and put that out there next season, even if the Eagles' late-season playoff run falls short, the green-and-white lunkheads will in fact burn the city to the ground. There is no controversy, because there is no real option to replace McNabb, at least not yet. Maybe if Kolb actually shows something in the next couple of games there'll be one, though considering how tight they're likely to be, I doubt he'll see the field. But it mainly became a topic through repetition and nothing more, the same way the Schottenheimer-to-Cleveland rumor, roundly denounced as bullshit by all involved, kept on getting brought up. And this was despite the fact that the announcers themselves admitted to knowing there was nothing to it. But what the hell, it's a narrative, so let's run with it.

Because Kolb sure as hell can't pass with it.

Fire Bad!

The early returns are in on the Amaro Era in Philly, and they are not promising. Leaving aside the Jamie Moyer re-signing, which seemed unnecessarily complicated but which is, ultimately, a wash, we have:

  • The acquisition of a backup catcher in Ronny Paulino, which cost a cheaper backup catcher
  • Some minor, expensive bullpen moves
  • The signing of Raul Ibanez for 3 years at $30M to lumber around left field like he's a refugee from Jurassic Fight Club

It's the Ibanez deal that particularly irritates me. The sequence here has been mapped out elsewhere; the Phils didn't offer arbitration to Pat Burrell, thereby forefeiting draft picks when he signs with someone else, and then gave up draft picks to sign the 37-year old Ibanez to a 3 year deal.

Now, I've seen Raul Ibanez play. This May, my wife and I were lucky enough to catch a game at Safeco with the inimitable Derek Zumsteg and his wife, and there we got to see Mr. Ibanez lurching around left field like he had waffle irons on the ends of his arms and legs. One play in particular stood out: A grounder down the left-field line that Ibanez completely missed as he chugged after it. Instead, he face-planted into the wall. On a grounder. I'm not sure he actually blamed the mishap on losing the ball in the turf, or perhaps in the blinding glare of the foul line, but...yeah. Whapow, right into the architecture.

And this is the big-ticket item, an inferior, older, worse-fielding version of Pat Burrell. Nothing against Ibanez, who for all I know is a nice guy who gives loving homes to stray rabbits and donates kidneys on a regular basis, but there is no argument to be made for replacing a player with a worse, older version of the same ballplayer. There's absolutely no argument for giving him an extended contract. He's not going to get any better as he heads toward 40, and the stuff he's bad at already - like running and fielding - is in line to get quite a bit worse. Phillies fans are natural born pessimists, but it's moves like this that nurture that pessimism.

At least the walls at CBP are padded. That's going to be helpful. Trust me on this one.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter Meeting Thoughts

  • According to mlbtraderumors, "Jon Heyman says that Peavy is frustrated by the team's inability to trade him." Well, yes, that happens when you will only allow trades to a very few teams, who may not have the interest or payroll flexibility to take on a Jake Peavy.
  • Fox clearly won the online coverage wars of these winter meetings. ESPN's coverage updated intermittently, and contained generous helpings of Steve Philips randomly reporting that the Yankees were looking to trade Robinson Cano to Omicron Persei 8 in exchange for Lrrr and a generous supply of human horn. BP's coverage had depth, but not the constant presence that Ken Rosenthal provided for Fox.
  • Incidentally, was it just me or were these meetings fun to follow? Even without many big deals, there was an enjoyable sense of imminence and possibility, which is really what the Hot Stove League is all about. If all the players simply signed deals as soon as they could, what would we have to talk about all winter?
  • In their one move, the Phillies traded a AAA player (Jason Jaramillo) who projects as a backup catcher for an older, more expensive backup catcher who's essentially the same player (Ronny Paulino). Did Chris Coste run over Charlie Manuel's cat? TP Reuben Amaro's house? Put sand in the Phanatic's scooter's gas tank? There's really no other explanation for this deal.
  • I don't much like the K-Rod signing, but the Putz deal was inspired for the Mets. The biggest things they gave up were a 1B prospect who's light in the thunder department and a pitcher who may not haunt them for years; in exchange they got serious help for their pen. Repeat after me: Aaron Heilman is not that good, and if he'd been pitching anywhere but New York for the last few years, he'd be Tim Stauffer.
  • Apparently the Phillies are trying to unload Adam Eaton for a roll of Garden State Parkway tokens. This is not a surprise. They have found no takers. This is not a surprise, either.
  • Every time Scott Boras suggests that there's "another team involved" in the bidding for one of his clients, I automatically assume it's the Springfield Isotopes.
  • Have any of these teams supposedly avidly pursuing Raul Ibanez ever actually seen him in the field? He makes me sincerely appreciate Pat Burrell, and that's saying something.
  • I strongly suspect that Edwin Jackson will be the Tigers' closer by midseason at the latest.
  • Note to MLB.com - the key part of "draft tracker" software on a website is that it, you know, tracks the draft. Those few of us who pay attention to the Rule V draft care, you know...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

M-E-T-S! What's That Spell? MONEY!

Phillies fans are greeting the news that K-Rod has agreed to a 3-year, $37M deal with the Metropolitans with mixed emotions. After the initial "Oh, crap, they got their guy," those with more advanced math skills are noticing the following:

  • Rodriguez's velocity has been dropping steadily, and his motion has been red-flagged by scouty and stathead types alike for years as a Black Knight waiting to happen.
  • With the injured Billy Wags on board Mets have now sunk roughly $22M into their closer role for next year, and they still don't have any decent setup men. Also, I think we can be sure that Wagner's going to be his usual warm, friendly, giving self in welcoming the guy who's taking his job, leading to a summer of back-page drama a la Gossip Girl in Flushing.
  • 1 inning is about all you can ask Rodriguez to pitch. He's a closer, not a stopper, and even with that careful usage he still blew better than 10% of his chances last year.
  • The Mets still need a couple of starters minimum, along with a corner outfielder younger than John McCain and someone to provide some actual production at second base. This is the high-profile move, not the needed one.

Of course, with all that said, Phillies fans are still freaking out, largely because they're Phillies fans. But as a Philthy bastard, I'd rather see the Mutts sign K-Rod than Sabathia, Lowe, Burnett, Teixeira, Ibanez, or any of about a dozen other guys.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Quick Hits

  • There is a word for those members of the Veterans Committee who did not elect Ron Santo to the Hall of Fame. It may in fact be "jerks". It could be something stronger.
  • Who thought it was a good idea to play the ACC championship game in Tampa, right in the middle of SEC country? It makes me sound like a homer, but the geographic center of the conference is in North Carolina. Play the damn game there; ACC football is not such a draw that you're going to get ten zillion fans to travel to a neutral site for what's likely to be a rematch game anyway.
  • Greg Maddux was frequently obscene on the mound. He threw at batters, memorably Scott Rolen back before Mr. Rolen became J.D. Drew Jr. to the good people of Philadelphia. He benefitted from a few extra inches off the black because he was Greg Goddamned Maddux, and if he threw it, by God, it was a strike. That being said, he was one of the most remarkable pitchers and characters the game has seen in a while, and I'll miss him. Even if he did spend all those years pitching for the @#$@#ing Braves.
  • New Phillies GM Reuben Amaro Jr. is quoted in the latest issue of The Sporting News as saying that he's after athletes who will hopefully turn into baseball players. KHAAAAAAN!
  • Listening to sports talk radio hosts deride Wikipedia as a destination for get-a-lifers is possibly the most ironic thing I encountered today.
  • Reading statheads deride baseball teams' proprietary and undisclosed statistical measures for fielding because they haven't seen 'em in action, and prefer to trust what their eyes tell them about the existing defensive metrics (as noted in the comments in Will Carroll's Unfiltered piece on defense over at BP) is the height of irony I've seen in a while.
  • Congrats to Shysterball on the move over to The Hardball Times. Two great tastes that go great together, though I'm not quite sure which one's the chocolate and which one's the peanut butter.
  • So in their last two games, the dead-in-the-water Eagles have thoroughly outplayed the NFC West champ Cardinals and the NFC East (and Herkimer's Weapons Range of East Nyack, NY) champ Giants, sparking talk of a high-flying Eagle revival. Of their three games remaining, two are against division opponents, meaning that if they win out, they climb past the Cowboys in the Wild Card standings. All of which means, of course, that they're going to go lay an egg against Cleveland next time out. Ah, my Eagles. How you toy with your fans' affections.
  • Bowl season exists largely as a creative exercise in cameramen finding ways to avoid showing empty stands at games in places like Toronto, Shreveport, and Charlotte. There are 34 bowls this year, precisely one of which matters, and with the economy in its current state I'd expect that number to drop precipitously for next year. Which, I suppose, is a good thing; I'm not sure how many mid-December slugfests between 6-6 teams the world really needs.
  • The magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl? Seriously?
  • The Phillies could do a lot worse than the rumored Jason Donald-Delmon Young trade. If nothing else, it would free up enough cash that they could quit messing around and just resign Jamie Moyer already.
  • Dream free agent signing? C.C. Sabathia to the Giants, leading up a rotation that goes Sabathia/Lincecum/Cain/Sanchez....and forces Zito to the pen.

Monday, December 08, 2008

BCS Thought

Oklahoma and Florida may not be the 2 best teams in the country. However, they are the two teams everyone outside of Austin thinks are the best, which accomplishes what the BCS is after for another year.

Incidentally, can we get enough of this "SEC is the best conference in football ZOMGWTF" nonsense already? Yes, Florida and Alabama make a formidable 1-2. But beyond that, you have an underachieving Georgia, a mediocre South Carolina and LSU, and a bowl-eligible Vandy team that lost to Duke. Mississippi seems like the best bet, and they had to beat up on a Formerly Directional Louisiana School and Sanford to get there. Meanwhile the rest of the conference is, frankly, meh.

For my money, I'll go Big 12, at least this year. When a 9-4 Missouri is your fifth-best team, you've got something going on.

Fishstorm

It occurs to me that there are certain parallels between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Marlins. Both franchises were parachuted into their respective areas based on the notion that there was an untapped market of carpetbaggers waiting for that particular flavor of professional sport. Both have a boom-or-bust model of on-field success, alternating unexpected title runs with years of abject wretchedness.

And, of course, there's the big one. The Marlins have been associated with rumors of moving - OK, not it's not a rumor when one of your owners shows up in San Antonio wearing nothing but a raincoat and a smile - for years. The 'Canes have been a bit more stable, but in this week's Sporting News, the possibility of moving the team to Seattle was raised.

To my knowledge, the rumor hasn't registered down here yet. It may just be a writer floating something to see if anyone reacts. But having watched the embarrassing circus that is Marlins ownership from afar, I'm really hoping that's one parallel that the RTP area can avoid.

Friday, December 05, 2008

God Bless that Florida Education

More proof that when coach at Florida, Steve Spurrier actually reanimated the lifeless husks of the dead and plugged them in at quarterback, releasing them to wander the earth as mindless zombies after their eligibility expired.

Tonight's case in point? Jesse Palmer's work on the Rutgers-Lousiville broadcast. In discussing the disappointing Louisville team's offensive woes, he pointed to two elements: interceptions, and turnovers.

Yeah. I'll let that one sink in for a while.

Memo To Jim Rutherford:

The hiring of a coach is not an "either/or" proposition. There are options on the menu that are not Paul Maurice or Peter Laviolette. Heck, the Hurricanes remain one of only three teams never to employ Mike Keenan - why not give that a shot? Sure, he's coaching Calgary, but he'd probably be willing to take on both, just because he could.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's Hip To Be Square

The fine folks at Duke University have settled on a song to play under the sponsor listings for Duke basketball broadcasts on the local station. The piece in question: "I Want A New Drug", by Huey Lewis and the News.

Somehow, I can't help but think this says everything that needs be said about Duke. Not because it's a "drug" song. Rather, because it's Huey Lewis and the News.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oh, Plex....

There's a lot of idle chatter about how athletes think they're bulletproof. Thanks to Plaxico Burress, we have more definitive evidence that this isn't the case. We also have an interesting mess as relates to how sports and society intersect, and how much you'll be allowed to get away with - or be crucified for - if you're an athlete and commit a crime. If the fans love you, you can get away with, well, you can get away with a lot. On the other hand, once John Q. Public* turns against you, you're not going anywhere, as evidenced by the lengthy travails of Mr. Barry Lamar Bonds.

The real issue, of course, is that Burress violated New York City gun laws, and may have conspired to hide evidence of that fact. He accidentally shot himself with a gun he claimed he was carrying because, as he told the restaurant staff, he was carrying large amounts of cash. Of course, saying you're carrying a ton of cash is at best, stupidity and at worst, incitement; whatever Plex was thinking, it wasn't too bright.

That being said, at this point it doesn't matter what the Giants plan to do with him. It matters what the New York criminal justice system plans to do with him. Once the lady with the scales finishes up, then and only then should the Giants' plans and responses matter. In the meantime, he can't play football because, like a dumbass, he shot himself. And, to be blunt, one cannot help but think that the sports-watching public of the greater New York area wouldn't be quite so eager to see justice done if Plex had performed a little better this season.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Thought On Baseball Contracts...

The Mets, while widely rumored to be lusting after Orlando Hudson to fill their yawning chasm at second base, are also widely discounted from pursuing him, due to the fact that the have an expensive, if subpar, second baseman already under contract for the next few years. In tough economic times like these, when teams are laying off front office workers making literally tens of thousands of dollars a year, a team doesn't really want to be on the hook for two guys at the same position. Cast a wider net, and you see lots of teams passing on guys that they might want because they have solutions in place for a year or two, leaving them needy down the road at a time when the free agent and trade markets might provide less promising alternatives.

All of which has me thinking, why don't we see teams getting more creative with this sort of situation? Got a second baseman under contract for another year? Why not cut a deal with a second team to sign the guy you want to a heavily backloaded contract, and then have them flip him to you when the time is right?

Sure, it's collusion, but it's too sensible for someone not to have thought about it....

BCS

So the BCS standings have come out, and there is much yelling and hollering over the fact that Oklahoma has passed Texas in the computer rankings, thus earning the right to massacre Missouri in the Big 12 title game en route to the BCS championship hoedown. This switch is due largely to the fact that Oklahoma dismantled a top-tier team in Oklahoma State this weekend, while Texas destroyed a substandard Texas A&M squad, jiggering the strength of schedule numbers enough that the Sooners snuck past. Of course, numerous voters in the human polls were aware of this possibility and rigged their ballots to try to keep Texas afloat, leading to a hue and cry about the fact that the BCS voting system can be rigged.

In a word, duh.

It's a system that's fairly easy to do a crude reverse engineering job on, and such is susceptible to being gamed. Of course coaches are going to vote certain teams higher or lower than where they think they actually belong, based on how that's going to counterweight other coaches' votes. The only surprise is that it took so long for the media to notice this sort of thing was going on; after all, it's the same sort of cheesing the system that 12 year olds on XBox Live! master instantly. The only solution is to make all the ballots public, instead of the just the last one, and thus demand at least some accountability from the coaches.

But in the meanwhile, the shout goes up that, horror of horrors, the system can be gamed because Oklahoma jumped Texas, and Texas beat Oklahoma. Of course, if Texas had stayed ahead, then the Oklahoma supporters would be pointing out that OU beat Texas Tech, who beat Texas, and we'd have exactly the same debate, except in strawberry instead of chocolate. And Utah and Penn State, who both beat Oregon State, are both behind USC despite USC having lost to Oregon State, and...

...and in the end, it doesn't much matter. It's a broken system, easily gamed, and designed to provoke the arguments that keep college football on everyone's radar twelve months a year. To express surprise now that the system can by gamed is simply to admit that one has not been paying attention.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The David Cutcliffe Era Has Begun

Duke is a much improved football team this year. Under the leadership of offensive guru David Cutcliffe, also known as He Who Makes Mannings, they've actually won a few games, beaten multiple bowl-eligible teams, and not been, well, embarrassing.

That being said, it bears noting that in last week's shockingly winnable game with Virginia Tech, Duke completed two (2) forward passes for twenty (20) yards.

Total.

The first completion apparently didn't come until well into the second half.

Now, I know the Dolphins are experimenting with direct snaps and the single wing, but this is ridiculous. On the other hand, if Cutcliffe can keep Duke close with a monster program like VaTech without using half the offensive arsenal, perhaps that's an indication of what a truly impressive coaching job he's actually done.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ravens a lot, Eagles not so much


You can't see it from here, but that's Donovan McNabb the fork is sticking out of. Unfair, really - it's as if the entire team decided to collapse at once - but you can't tie Cincy, throw a raft of interceptions and admit to not knowing the rules, and expect to get away with it in the City of Brotherly Love.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Golson Gone

The Greg Golson era is over in Philly before it got started.

Former 1st round pick was the lightning rod for stathead criticism of the Phillies' system in recent years. He seemed like the second coming of Jeff Jackson, an incredible athlete who hadn't really figured out that whole "baseball" part of the "baseball player" equation. Even this last year, when it looked like he was putting it together, there were still lots of unbelievers. Quoth Keith Law:
Greg Golson can crush a high fastball, but his recognition of anything else is poor. He's such a good athlete that, given his limited feel for the game, he looks like he should be playing another sport professionally but showed up at the wrong stadium.
13 homers, yes. 23 steals, yes. Amazing speed and defense, fine. But 130 strikeouts...yikes.

And now it doesn't matter. He's gone to Texas for someone else's first round "meh", John Mayberry Jr. Mayberry's got less speed, but more power, and with Pat Burrell on his way out the door, there's a need for that. It feels like a reasonable trade, but it's always sad when a team gives up on a #1 pick. That's blowing out the candle on years of wishcasting, a tacit admission that they got it wrong, and that this kid whom we've been asked to get excited about for years will never make those hopes come true.

Of course, this isn't the end of the line for Golson. He's going to an organization in much more flux, in an insanely favorable hitting environment, and with a definite need for his skills. He may yet go all Josh Hamilton on the league, or he may simply learn enough to be a useful player, or he may end up doing not much of anything. That part of the story hasn't been written yet. But the first chapter is done, and by its very nature, is ever so slightly bittersweet to those of the fannish persuasion.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Utley Injured, Mets Not Yet Implicated

But they're probably happy about it...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In case you missed it...

...several All-Pro NFL players have tested positive for banned substances and are in New York this week to plead their cases to Commissioner Roger Goodell. The players, including Saints RB Deuce McAllister and a pair of Vikings defensive linemen, claimed they had no idea the supplements they were using contained the banned substances. Earlier this week, ESPN talking head Chris Mortenson was on the air with Tirico and Van Pelt talking about the possibility of leniency for these guys.

I, for one, am outraged that sportswriters across America are not in fact outraged by this. Come on, guys, where are the ringing denunciations? The high-minded moralizing about the sanctity of the game and the health risks the players are taking?

Oh. Wait. Right. It's football, and they don't talk about that sort of thing, especially when the Steelers get juked out of covering the spread.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Was it just me...

...or did Penn give Carolina more of a game than Kentucky did last night?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You Betcha *wink*

By all rights, the flubbed touchdown call at the end of the Steelers-Chargers game shouldn't matter. After all, the Steelers still won, and the odds that Pittsburgh is going to find itself in the point differential neighborhood of the tiebreakers this year are slim, at best. It's a mistake and maybe Troy Paulomalu's agent can get upset about it, but hey, the game came out the same, right?

Unfortunately, in a post-Donaghy world, you can't just assume something that swings the spread is an innocent mistake, not any more. Rightly or wrongly, it will get dissected. It will get analyzed. And the ugly truth that the rise of the NFL was built on gambling will peek out from behind the curtain once again.

And if you're an NFL purist and you're going to debate the point, ask yourself this? What drives NFL injury report rules? Gambling - the disclosure is done so gamblers have accurate information. Why are point spreads printed in newspapers in states that will never see legalized sports books? Again, gambling. Why does the mainstream media report breathlessly every year on the odds of each team winning the Super Bowl, as set in Vegas? It's because the hidden engine of the NFL is gambling. And in this instance, the NFL has done gambling wrong.

The repercussions should be interesting.

Tie, Redux

So Donovan McNabb didn't know you could tie in the NFL? Big deal. If there is any fault here, it's Andy Reid's, for not ensuring his quarterback was situationally aware.

Incidentally, lost in all the yammering about how NFL overtime sucks and the team that loses the coin flip is doomed is the fact that the fix, if one is needed, is very simple: make OT more like football. All of the proposed solutions - the knockoff college style, the "each team gets a shot" version, and so forth - make it less like football, less like the rules the rest of the game has been played under, and more like hockey, or soccer, or some other sport that beefy shirtless men who have painted themselves purple and orange so they can sit out in twelve degree weather and boo Jay Cutler wouldn't be caught dead watching.

You want OT to work? Make it like football. Instead of sudden death, make it a full quarter, regardless. And if there's a tie at the end of that quarter? Play another one. Hell, it worked for Miami and San Diego back in the day, and they're still talking about that game. Why not go to what worked? Why not keep the rules of your game consistent? Why not make football...more like football?

Just asking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just Wondering...

...if the leak of the information that the Red Sox were apparently about to suspend MannybeingManny when they traded him is just an attempt to depress his market price, and thus put a dull stick in Scott Boras' eye?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bengals Win, 13-13

Or, to put it another way, when you fail to pummel a Cincy team that's running out a quarterback from Harvard, it's time to give up on the season.

BCS Bid? Anybody? Anybody?

So a handful of ACC teams go into today's play ranked because, well, someone from the ACC has to be, and in short order, they all lose. Maryland, which has been about as predictable as a Wile E. Coyote blueprint this year, takes down #16 UNC. Boston College confuses Florida State with the numerous extraneous consonants of Coach J's name and takes out the #19 Seminoles. And NC State pulls their annual late-season upset of an ACC frontrunner, this time taking out #20 Wake Forest. There are a horde of teams bunched up at the tops of the respective divisions, but honestly, whoever ends up stumbling into the BCS bid - right now, my money is on Coastal Division-leading Miami, in that Maryland looks likely to take the Atlantic Division, the Turtles are roadkill in road games, and the ACC championship game isn't played at College Park. Regardless, it seems highly likely that whoever comes out of the ACC is going to get massacred in their BCS bowl of choice, unless, of course, they get lined up against the champion of the Big East in the "yeah, we have to play this one, too" Bowl.

Speaking of the Big East, at least one team - Cincinnati - seems interested in a late-season charge. This is, of course, the same Cincy team that's currently being run by its third string quarterback, which is always a recipe for BCS success. It's almost odd, though, how completely the league has collapsed this year, especially coming after last year's dominant bowl showing. But preseason faves South Florida and West Virginia (whose much-touted offense is fourth in the conference in points scored) have imploded, early season darling Connecticut has remembered that it is, in fact, Connecticut, and Rutgers started its run too late. One can only hope that neither the Big East nor the ACC champion gets matched against the second-place Big 12 or SEC team, either of whom is liable to be pissed off and able to blow Miami, Cincinnati, Maryland, or really an all-star team made up of any and all of these guys right off the field.

Sportclips

Great concept - let guys watch sports while getting haircuts.

Reasonable execution; could possibly be improved by offering beer and some variant on bratwurst as part of the barbershop experience.

One small problem: the haircut in question makes my head look like an angry bowling ball. I have no idea how the woman who cut my hair did it, but she did. Consider me resigned to looking like one of the less stable Caesars for the next four weeks.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Yanks bid way more than anyone else on Sabathia

In other news, water remains wet.

Part of me was actually hoping that the Evil Empire would live up to its name - you know, string everyone along, cruelly raise the hopes of fans in Milwaukee, and then at the last minute swoop in with the crushing Death Star-sized mega-offer. If nothing else, it would have livened up the off-season, and I can imagine Hank Steinbrenner shouting "Sweep the leg!" at Brian Cashman just before he puts the offer to paper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

After Long Silence

Sorry, folks.

Regular posting will resume shortly, now that I've wrapped up some work travel and I'm not glued to 538.com like Renfield with an entomology textbook in one hand and a cookbook in the other.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The worst argument yet for a neutral site World Series

It was either this outfit or my vintage Tigers jersey. Whaddaya think?


Add Buster Olney to the herd of ESPN personalities calling for a neutral-site World Series. What's his logic? Well, here's part of it:

In a place like Phoenix or San Diego, there could be daily charity golf tournaments, with fans being part of the scramble -- the John Smoltz Desert Classic on the first day, the Jeff Francoeur Invitational the second day, and so on.



Because what the World Series really should be about* is allowing sportswriters to go golfing between games.

*Of course, it is possible that he's saying "Look at all the neat side stuff MLB could do to make World Series Week-and-a-Half a mega-experience!" The problems with that take are A)it doesn't come across that way B)last time I checked, the World Series was supposed to be about baseball and C)the sorts of people who'd be attracted to the World Series by the possibility of going golfing with the players whose teams didn't make it are precisely not the sort of fans who will produce that rocking World Series atmosphere that adds so much to the games.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

28 Years



As I sit here, drinking a celebratory scotch out of my 1980 World Champion Phillies commemorative tumbler, I have but one thing to say:

WHY CAN'T US





Logical, coherent thought will return anon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Disgraceful

Look, I know it's not Yankees-Dodgers or Red Sox-Cubs, but the way in which this World Series has been treated has been disgraceful. From the lack of promotion to the shoddy umpiring to what felt like a desperate attempt by Fox to cram Game 5 in despite monsoon conditions in order to protect House's time slot, the whole thing has been given the poor relative treatment.

But regardless of what you think about the marketing angle, to have players out there in those conditions - 39 degrees and rain coming down so hard it was bouncing off Ryan Howard's shoulders - was idiotic. It risked injury to the players, it made the game look bad, and it made for lousy baseball.

It's the World Series, for God's sake. Treat it with some respect.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What This World Series Needs...

...is less cowbell. Way, way less cowbell. Either that, or more Tampa fans who can count to four on the beat.

W00t! for the Phillies, winning a game that was a real nail-biter. This one had pretty much everything that the Series was promised to include: dominant pitching by Cole Hamels, homers, stolen bases, bad defense by Ryan Howard, lots of bullpen tactical matchups from Joe Maddon, and so forth. The one element that was called out we didn't see was a Brad Lidge flameout, and for that, I'm just as grateful, rally.

Ryan Howard looks really, really lost out there right now. A lot of his strikes came on awkward checked swings, a sure sign he's second-guessing at the plate. Or, to put it another way, the Rays walked Chase Utley to get to the reigning HR and RBI champ. That says a lot about how Howard's going right now.

Ryan Madson does indeed seem to have found some extra giddyup on his fastball, which is good, because fastball-changeup is all he's got. The fact that Madson put it together this year after several...erratic ones is a fairly significant part of the Phillies' success story. Having someone who could step into the Flash Gordon shutdown setup role was crucial for a team that scores runs in streaks. Suddenly, I feel much better about the autographed Ryan Madson baseball I bought at a charity auction at a Bulls game a few years back. Much better.

Was it just me, or was Brad Lidge taking a long, long time between pitches?

Kudos to the Rays' pen, which absolutely manhandled the Phillies. Grant Balfour has clearly found the "On" switch again, and he made a lot of guys look silly.

0-for-the-night with runners in scoring position? If the Phillies don't fix that, they're toast. Small sample size applies, hitting with runners in scoring position is not a quantifiable skill, blah blah blah, but 0 for twelve (or some such) is just not the sort of stat you want to see attached to your guys.

Classy, great crowd in the Trop. Even with the damn cowbells.

I will give the Rays credit for using an Alan Parsons Project song that is not "Sirius" for the visiting team introductions, at least.

Top of the first. Utley hits a two run homer. McCarver: "That's a good start for the Phillies". Bottom of the first. Howard and Hamels have crossed signals and Iwamura beats both of them to the bag. "That's a bad start for the Phillies." Seriously, is he part goldfish? Does his memory actually reset every three seconds, or does it just seem that way?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The National Media's Guide to Philadelphia Sports Fans, Presented as a Public Service (Part 2)

4-The first, last, and only piece of music recorded about Philadelphia was the theme from Rocky
First of all, that's not true. Second of all, it's called "Gonna Fly Now". Third of all, the version they generally play is the Maynard Ferguson one, not the Bill Conti recording from the movie.

All that being said, the Rocky-related thing most Philadelphians like to do is watch tourists try to run up the art museum steps and get winded halfway. And, it should be noted, very few of them (tourists or observers) ever actually enter the museum.

5-It's called a Philly Cheese Steak
No, it isn't. It's a cheesesteak. Period. If the person you are buying it from feels the need to append the word "Philly" to it, it isn't one. As for those who put mayo on the bun, well, the less said about them, the better.

World Series Prediction

Because I am a Phillies fan, and thus by nature am incapable of being an optimist...

Because the Rays have the left-handed pitching to handcuff Utley and Howard, and because the Feliz-Ruiz-pitcher sequence is the soft underbelly of the Phillies' lineup...

And because the Phillies don't have anything in their bullpen equivalent to David Price...

Rays in six.

Not that it isn't going to break my heart anyway.

Ratings

Blah, blah, blah.

The games haven't even started yet and they've already decided that it's going to be the lowest-rated World Series ever. Way to devalue your own product, kids.

The logic apparently goes that it's going to be a ratings stinker because A) it's two East Coast teams (you know, like those Yankees-Red Sox games they're so fond of showing), B)it's two "small" market teams, and C)it's not some combo of Red Sox/Yankees/White Sox/Angels vs Dodgers/Mets/Cubs. Oh, and nobody's ever heard of the Rays, despite their drawing record ratings on TBS for their ALCS, and having been the story of the summer.

Funny, though. Last time I checked, Philadelphia was the #4 television market in the country. That's got to be worth some eyeballs, right? And then there's this tidbit, ganked from The Hollywood Reporter:

In the past 10 years, the highest-rated Fall Classic was the seven-game Florida Marlins-Cleveland Indians matchup, which averaged a 16.7 rating/29 share.

Let's try that again. The highest-ranked World Series of the last decade was Florida, which can't draw flies to its stadium, versus Cleveland, whose baseball tradition is best known to non-Clevelanders as the launching point for the movie career of Wesley "Wille Mays Hayes" Snipes. Notice there's no Boston there? No Yankees, no Dodgers, no Cubs, no team in the top 5 media markets (Cleveland's 8, Miami is 21).

Instead, you had compelling teams playing great baseball. So maybe, just maybe, what's needed for good ratings is good baseball.

And if they're feeling really crazy, they might even try promoting that instead.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Today's Bwahahahah Moment

One of the talking heads on ESPN radio discussing how Terrell Owens sat down at dinner with new teammate (and highly paid, ball-demanding wide receiver) Roy Williams, and that everything was going to be cool because of that.

It's a good thing the Eagles had a bye this week. Otherwise, half the team would have rendered themselves unfit to perform by laughing too hard.

One Shall Stand and One Shall Fall

Manny's being Manny being a golfer.
The ghosts of Fenway, and with them Bill Simmons' interest in anything that isn't shaped like the Celtics of Vince Vaughn, has evaporated.
Joe Torre's fall magic has evaporated under an artillery barrage of Philadelphia longballs.
And it's Phillies and Rays - much to the chagrin of Fox Sports execs, and sportswriters deprived of their pre-cooked "Red Sox vs Dodgers" stories - in the World Series.

Buckle up. This is going to be a good one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The National Media's Guide to Philadelphia Sports Fans, Presented as a Public Service (Part 1)

1-Dressing Like Santa Claus is a bad idea
All Philadelphia fans are born with an instinctive hatred of Santa, and will pelt anyone even vaguely dressed like him - this includes late-period John Kruk in his road uni, Rerun from What's Happening, and wall-mounted animation cels from the Fat Albert cartoon series - with snowballs on sight. Little-known fact: Phillies fans actually pay to import snow-making machines from the Poconos and keep them running all summer in the basement of Citizens' Bank Park so taht they can have ammunition in case Modell's Sports tries to run a "Christmas in July" sale.

2-On the throwing of batteries
Contrary to popular belief, Philadelphia sports fans do not in fact rain down nine-volts willy-nilly on members of the opposition outfield. In fact, it is only under one particular circumstance that a visitor to the outfield at CBP might be in peril of getting a battery upside the head, and that would be if they were playing right field and wearing an authentic, game-used J.D. Drew jersey.
And even in that instance, no one would through a nine volt.
They'd throw a car battery instead.

3-The only food that anyone in Philadelphia eats is cheesesteaks
Simply not true. They also eat Tastykakes. And scrapple. Usually, not together.
Usually.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This is Just Awesome...

...in a goofy, Philly kind of way.

(ganked from The 700 Level)

Also, I have ritually ordered a box of Tastykakes for World Series viewing. Now if I could only get me some Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak....

Suddenly, I'm Jonesing for Some Hoy Hing...


No word on whether having Ryan Howard land on him caused 434-year-old Jamie Moyer to break his hip, but hey, it's a party!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Because It's Just Not the Postseason Without Talking About the Yankees

And specifically, Cap'n Jetes.

Seriously.

Has anyone else noticed the really odd thing about the Jeter "G2" commercial? You know, the one where he strolls through New York while the world comes up baseball around him?

The one where he gets out of a cab and then starts walking?

*sigh* Logic, we have forsaken thee.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Also...




Go, go, Wonder Hamster!

Phillies-Dodgers, Game 4

Because Game 3, like The Godfather 3, never actually happened.

And...wow. It seriously looked like the Phillies were coming unglued when they botched covering the bunt, but...wow.

Hell of a game. Hell of a series.

And now, it's Cole Hamels on full rest for Game 5. Color me crazy, but it looks like Uncle Cholly knows what he's doing after all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rays-Sox, Game 2

Wow.

Definitely a game of inches - if Dioner Navarro gets his glove an inch higher on Wheeler's wild pitch or throws to the plate an inch to the left, the game never hits extra innings. If the Rays land any of those screamers down the line on the fair side of things, the game doesn't make it to the 11th. And in the end, Fernando Perez does exactly what they have him on the roster to do, which is run like hell at every opportunity, and zip home just ahead of a slightly off-target JD Drew throw.

Of course, being a Phillies fan, I'll take every opportunity to say the words "JD Drew" and "off-target" I can, but that's neither here nor there. A perfect throw might have nailed Perez, but damn, he can fly. I watched him all summer in Durham (Note: Mandatory mention of the fact that he's a Columbia grad here*) and while he's got the Juan Pierre slappy thing down cold, he's also got a bit of pop, and a better sense of when to run. I don't think he'll ever be a star, but he's certainly fun to watch.

Other thoughts:

Timlin? Done. Yeah, he got jobbed on one call, but that wasn't the only call that was missed all night, not by a long shot. Conversely, the first base umpiring was pretty damn good on some very tough plays.

Cowbells? Annoying. Hilda Chester did it better sixty years ago.

I'm mildly surprised that they don't play "Baby Got Back" when JP Howell goes into his windup. Pitchers generally don't display their badonkadonk quite so...prominently

I'd like to thank whoever stopped running the Frank Caliendo commercials. I have to confess, I don't even know who the guy is supposed to be impersonating half the time. I remember Rich Little, and you, Frank Caliendo, are no Rich Little.

The announcers came *this* close to calling out BJ Upton for jaking it on Coco Crisp's second double of the night, probably reserving the full-blown pronouncement for post-game analysis if the gaffe had cost Tampa Bay the game. It looked like Upton, who plays a very shallow center field, misjudged the ball's carry off the bat, and wound up a couple of steps short of catching it on the edge of the warning track. Now, I've seen Upton turn it off and on for years, but he was definitely "on" tonight. Chalk that one up to a bad read, not a lack of effort.

3 innings plus for Dan Wheeler? Wow. This says that either Wheeler's a lot more rubber-armed than most of us think, or that Joe Maddon is willing to use someone else to close in Game 3. Even with extra time off, that's a lot more than Wheeler's used to throwing at one shot, and I wouldn't bank on him being terribly effective for Game 3.

David Price looked sharp once he got over his first-batter jitters. This series may be his Joba-like introduction to the national stage.

And for the record, damn, that was a long game. 13 stranded runners for the Red Sox, 13 walks...you know, the Phillies and Dodgers didn't take nearly this long to have their slugfest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Memories of '93

In October of 1993, I was a graduate student, living in Jamaica Plain and studying (if that's the right word for it) at Boston College. The house I was living in belonged to my cousin, who was out of town doing a PhD in Nursing, but Jamaica Plain was on the far side of the city where the liberal arts majors dursn't go, and so I was pretty well isolated from the on-campus social life. This wasn't really a surprise; after all, I was the guy who brought a 900 page paperback with a skeleton on the cover to our initial MA meeting, and since then I'd been branded the weirdo, the heretic, the geek. It didn't help that I'd actually gotten academic publication accepted in an accredited, albeit weirdo-targeted journal, namely, Lovecraft Studies. But mostly, it was just me.

Besides, a lot of my friends from the undergraduate days at Wesleyan had moved up to Boston, chief among them a pair of fellow baseball fanatics who were as different as could be. James lived down in Brighton, much closer to my classmates than I did, and inhabited a basement-floor apartment that looked out on the tires and broken beer bottles of his neighbors. Well over six feet tall, bearded, and congenial in a "I'll buy you a beer until you fuck with me, and then I'll beat you to death with your own feet" sort of way, James looked like the result of Ian Anderson-Reggie White slash fic, and I mean that in the best and most manfully affectionate way. The dude was just big, but he had to be; while waiting on law school, he was working in a home for emotionally disturbed children, and on occasion they'd get a little...rambunctious. He was also ferociously intelligent, extremely well-read, and really, really good at handling a giant foam broadsword (don't ask).

The other member of our little cabal was Aaron, who was diametrically opposed to James in most ways. Like me, a Phillies fan, Aaron had graduated from our shared alma mater with a degree in economics, and he was working at a research firm before his eventual plunge into Princeton. He played centerfield in our pickup softball games, dug The Who like nobody's business, and was the analytical, cautious counterweight to James' relentless enthusiasm and my "What the hell?" curiosity. Aaron also had an apartment in the Brighton area, albeit a newer, nicer, more modern one on a higher floor. It was airy and roomy and well-laid-out, so naturally whenever we got together to watch a game, we'd do it at James'.

There were a couple of reasons for this. One, James got the best TV reception. Two, his place simply reeked of ineffable guy-ness. His vintage fridge was made for a door full of beer bottles and a stacked shelf of pizza boxes; his couch sagged appropriately, and he did indeed have an aging La-Z-Boy from which he could survey the room magisterially.

Also, he was right across the street from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant called Hoy Hing. Now, I have no idea if Hoy Hing is still in existence, and if it is whether it's still under the same management, but in 1993 it was the single greatest Chinese restaurant on the planet. Was it good? God only knows, but it was right, absolutely perfect for a bunch of guys pooling their meager cash to get a pile o' munchies to go with the beer and the game. The boneless ribs, in particular, were a heart attack in a carton, but they were good beyond compare, particularly when washed down with a Cider Jack or a Sam Adams.

And so that was our ritual. We'd get together, stroll across the street for Hoy Hing, then sit back and watch the game. Sometimes it was football, sometimes it was baseball. In the fall of 1993, it was the Phillies and the Braves in the NLCS. Screw grad school and coursework; before each game, we'd meet up, load up, and settle in.

Well, they would. I'd get banished to the next room, because I was, and I quote, "a jinx." Oh, they were very kind about it. I'd be set up with a beer, some Chinese food (though not the boneless ribs), and a comfy chair, and they'd turn up the volume on the television loud enough that I could hear it through the wall. And, after each pitch, either Aaron or James would stick his head in to let me know what happened. It ran something like this:

*whoosh*
*sound of cheering*
*Aaron leans into the doorway* "Aw, man, you should have seen that! Roger Mason just blew a 93 mph fastball right by Mark Lemke!"
*pause*
"Whoops, next pitch is coming. Gotta go."
*slam*

Repeat that for every pitch of the LCS, give or take. And so my memories of the last time the Phillies went to the LCS, of their epic struggle against the relentless Braves machine that overtook the desperately struggling Giants, of their last postseason series victory, consist of sitting in the next room and waiting for the updates on every pitch.

Willingly, of course, because I was a jinx, and if sitting in the next room was what it took for the Phillies to win, then, by God and Bake McBride's 'fro, then I was going to do it. For honor, for friendship, for the Phillies, and for the crazy idea that the three of us had that it would somehow help.

I wouldn't trade the memories for the world.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Phillies 3, Dodgers 2

It has been noted in numerous quarters that when the Phillies don't hit home runs, they don't score. And when they don't score, they don't win. The key, then, as demonstrated in both the last game against Milwaukee and tonight, is to hit a lot of homers, preferably in demoralizing bunches.

In other news, the use of Greg Maddux as a reliever would seem to indicate that it's going to be Kershaw in Game 4. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I think that's probably the best call for the Dodgers, and for Maddux as well. The way to beat this Phillies team is with heat, and that's not something Maddux has going for him these days. I'd hate for his last appearance to be the sort of merciless drubbing the Phils can inflict when they get cranking on all cylinders.

(Like I said, I'm getting ahead of myself here, but hey, it's an optimistic Phillies fan. Isn't the novelty value alone worth it?)

Of course, it all depends on which Brett Myers shows up for game 2. If he's got his mojo working and Uncle Cholly's plan for neutralizing Manny (fasbtalls up and in, lather rinse repeat) works, then LA could be in a deep hole, very quickly. At the very least, it'll be interesting...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Phillies-Dodgers

If the Phillies' lefthanded bats wake up - and the Dodgers have only two lefties on staff, both of them in the pen - then they stand a good shot of winning.

If those bats wake up and they keep Furcal off the bases, they stand a really good shot of winning.

If Joe Blanton remembers he's Joe Blanton, then all bets are off.

Gravity Check?

Still working.

And yet, Doug Gottlieb berated the Angels tonight for - wait for it - low OBP. And he called K-Rod *gasp* overrated.

Oh, Doug. Just when I think it's over between us, you do something sweet like this and remind me why I read that magazine profile of you - the one where you talk about trying prairie oysters - all those years ago.

The Magic Basketball Theory

And so, buried amidst the football news and the baseball playoffs, we get word that an intensive inquiry of the Donaghy crisis in the NBA reveals that he acted alone, and that he only fired one jump shot from the school book depository.

On a more serious note, investigator Lawrence Pedowitz' 133 page report concludes that Donaghy acted alone, and that the NBA did not fix games for TV rating, no matter what Ron Artest might say. Now, ordinarily one might greet this with just a wee bit of salt. An NBA investigation saying that the most damaging scandal of its history is contained to one rogue ref? No organized conspiracy? No league wrongdoing? Well, duh, what did you expect it to say? David Stern knows better than to ask any question he doesn't know the answer to. Of course the report commissioned by him on his league is going to say that everything's hunky-dory.

Except that it doesn't. It says that a large part of Donaghy's work was done through knowing refs' tendencies - which players they hated, which ones they liked, and so forth. That, while not as explosive as word of a Donaghy accomplice might have been, this doesn't make the NBA - or its refs - look particularly good, either. It's not the sort of thing you leave out there if you're doing a happy, shiny whitewash.

Of course, now that it's out there, it's not going to go away. The real test of this upcoming season is not whether they've cleaned up after Donaghy. It'll be whether they clean up what was already there when he got started.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Phillies Win, Advance to NLCS

They'll be facing the Los Angeles Red Sox, err. Dodgers. Somewhere, Gary Maddox is screaming* "Go get those SOBs!"

*in his usual classy, soft-spoken way.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Also...

...how long before the "C.C. Sabathia is a playoff choker" meme pops up?

Ridiculous. The guy pitches his guts out down the stretch to pretty much single-handedly haul the Brewers into the post-season, he wins every must-win they throw in front of him and does it on short rest, and now, because Brett Myers managed to channel Luke Appling for an at-bat, he'll be dismissed forever as a "choker".

Ratings

And now we come to the part of the baseball postseason where baseball writers opine about how certain matchups are less desirable because they'll theoretically bring bad ratings.

Call me crazy, but wouldn't it be nice if they focused on reporting the stories and drummed up interest in those cities that weren't directly involved?

Just checking.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Look Familiar?


Does this image remind you of anyone? I'm thinking Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, with henchman #1.

Memo to Brad Lidge

Brad Lidge? Not for you!


Nobody in Philadelphia actually likes Mitch Williams.

And only in Philly would the post-game focus after a thrilling game 1 win of a postseason series, the first since Darren Daulton was still married to a Hooters waitress, be how they nearly blew it.

Tastykake, anyone?

Congratulations, White Sox

If you ask me, a 1-0 game with the only run being scored on a homer and a future hall of famer saving the game with a bang-bang play at the plate is everything a one game playoff should be.

Fooey on ESPN radio's Mike Golic, incidentally, who suggested that head to head record "like in the NFL" should be the determining factor in ties, and that these playoff - or play-in - games are unnecessary. There was also some grumbling about how one game isn't a fair test for something this momentous...

...to which I say, well, yes, they've had a 162 game test. This stuff doesn't happen in a vaccum, folks. The game was necessary because neither the Twins nor the White Sox could get it done when it counted, the Sox when they had a lead on the Twins heading into the final series, and the Twins when they had a tasty meal of KC Royals in front of them for the season's final 3 games but still failed to seal the deal.

And so it gets settled where it should, on the field, with unlikely heroes (Nick Blackburn) and fading stars (Thome & Griffey, together for one more show!) playing their guts out for the chance to play some more.

And now the White Sox are off to the dome in Tampa Bay that they nearly inhabited, while the Twins are left to ponder "what if?" What if they'd brought up Francisco Lirano sooner? What if they'd dumped the nightmare that was Livan Hernandez before his disastrous last stretch of starts? What if they hadn't traded Johann Santana? What if they'd won just one more game against the Royals? What if, what if, what if. This is the stuff that Red Sox fans know well, and are happy to send Minny-wards with a nice big red ribbon on the box. But any way you slice it, there's going to be a lot of second-guessing over obvious moves and the timing thereof, and what they might have cost.

Flags, after all, fly forever.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lane Down the Law

With luck, Lane Kiffin has learned something useful from his time in Oakland: Never work for anyone more than twice as crazy as you are. By all accounts, this is going to be an expensive mistake for the Raiders, who made a very public point of how they're not going to pay any of the money left on Kiffin's contract. This comes amidst reports that the team (and by the team, I of course mean Al Davis) tried to falsify paper trails on personnel decisions, sent Kiffin resignation letters to sign, sandbagged staffing decisions, and tried to get Kiffin to wear one of those weird Boca-gone-biker tracksuits that Davis seems to favor. While we don't know everything, it seems like everyone from John Clayton on down is lining up behind Kiffin on this one, and the only question is how much legal pressure is going to get applied before Kiffin gets his money.

And even if he doesn't get all of it, Kiffin's going to come out of this smelling like a rose. He made the Raiders far more competitive than they had any right to be, especially considering some of the roster decisions (Javon Walker, anyone?) that were made for him. There won't be any shortage of jobs waiting for him in the NFL, and the fact that hiring him will be putting a dull stick in Al Knievel's eye won't hurt his employability, either.

Of course, the saddest thing in all this is why the whole thing started. According to ESPN, Davis became convinced that Kiffin was sniffing around the Arkansas job, and Big Al's got no use for that sort of disloyalty. Of course, this would be after Davis-instigated rumors that Kiffin was going to be fired, so assuming Kiffin did look into the job, it would only be self-preservation. But the really sad part is this: the Raiders job used to be the one that everyone aspired to. The fact that Al Davis, the most savage and battle-tested Raider of them all, seriously thought he'd lose his coach to the socially tectonic nightmare that is the Arkansas program - you know, the program where boosters subpoena the coach's cell phone records - is a signifier of how far the Raiders have fallen, even in their own estimation.

Wright's the Problem? Seriously?

ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the big thing the Mets need to work on next year is fixing David Wright.

Because the 33 HR, 124 RBI, .924 OPS guy not being clutchy is the problem. The exploding bullpen? The fact that Pedro Martinez had nothing in the tank during the second half? The injury-driven decimation of the outfield corners?

Naah. David Wright. He's the guy. Blame him.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mets Out, Brewers In, White Sox still working on it

Once again, the Mets "choke", though this year's edition wasn't nearly as legendary as last year's. And, to be blunt, this year they were facing better competition - the Phillies had improved themselves in the bullpen and with better CF/RF combo and bench (Healthy Victorino + Werth > Rowand + injured Victorino), and while the Brewers had their usual slate of incredibly talented young players who forgot how to play baseball (c.f. Hall, Bill; Weeks, Rickie, etc.), they did have a mostly healthy Ben Sheets and a ferociously determined Carsten Charles Sabathia. And while the Mets got plenty from their upgrade in the rotation, they got a lot less from their bullpen and from their outfield. Honestly, only the Phillies all-or-nothing results (and extended romances with Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton) kept this thing close. The Phils open at home against the Brewers on Wednesday, with Sabathia unavailable and the spectre of the Phils' 4-game sweep earlier in the month hanging in the air. The latter doesn't matter much, but the former does, especially with Ben Sheets and Yovanni Gallardo both health-related wild cards. Throw in a bullpen that includes Eric Gagne, and the Phillies, frighteningly, look like favorites.

Meanwhile, the Twins failed to take care of business, which means they get to sit and wait and see how seriously Detroit's going to take tomorrow's makeup game against the White Sox. If the Tigers roll over - and given that their manager doesn't smoke cigarettes, he eats them, this is unlikely - then the Sox should roll and force a one game playoff. But even if the Twins left it all on the field against the White Sox earlier last week, there's no excuse for not taking care of business with Kansas City. Not at a time like that, with so much on the line.

About that "NFC East is the Best" stuff...

The Eagles have no one to blame but themselves for tonight's loss. A couple of botched drives in the red zone, a missed field goal...they should have won this one going away.

Not having Brian Westbrook hurts, certainly. But 3 TD passes for Kyle Orton? C'mon. It's Kyle Orton.

And when you get the ball inside the opposition 5 twice, you need to come away with more than 3 total points.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Memo to the Twins


It helps if you win a game now and again, especially if you're playing Kansas City.

Interesting, isn't it, how the chokeriffic NL Wild Card contenders are thundering to the finish, while the media darlings - Ozzfest and the Clutchy Twins - look like the also-rans in the Upper Class Twit of the Year Competition.

I honestly don't expect much out of either the Brewers or the Mets, regardless of whoever makes it. Neither will be in a position to have their big gun go on full rest for Game 1, and with suspect pens and injury-ravaged rotations behind them, it could get ugly.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

If I'm Rashard Mendenhall...

...Right now, I'm thinking my good buddy Ray Rice is kind of a dick. Sharing a private text message with the large men who will be jumping up and down on Mendenhall's dangly bits thirty-plus times on Sunday is not the best way to ensure the longevity of that particular friendship.

And if I'm one of Mendenhall's Steelers teammates - the ones who can still walk after last week's brutal mugging in South Philly - I think my team's rookie running back is kind of a dick, too, for sending the message in the first place.

Ah, rookies. Gotta love 'em.

Sportswriting and Life

Once again, the Poz hits it out of the park.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Calling Out The Shyster


Earlier this week, Shysterball's Craig Calcaterra made a fateful pronouncement. Looking at the Phillies' 14-2 season record against the Braves, he described the Bravos as, and I quote, "Wookies."

Since then, the Phillies have seen their two best starters lose, and the Mets and Brewers rediscover this wacky game called "baseball". The Phils, up by 1 with 3 to go, have 3 left with the Nationals, who always play Philadelphia far tougher than they play anyone else. Meanwhile, the Mets take on a Florida team that'll be short Hanley Ramirez, and whose slow leak of a season finally just went flat. The Brewers get a Cubs team with nothing to play for.

The message is clear. Oppose the wrath of the wookies and pay a terrible price. It happened to the Empire, and now it's happening to the Phillies. Shyster, I blame you*.

*Or, in wookie, "Rwwaaaugugugaaaaahhgghaagghh."

Oops S.C.

Oregon State? Oregon freakin' State? The same Oregon State that wears uniforms that makes them look like the Home Depot's goon squad, and that got shellacked by Penn State?

So how many keggers just got rolling at SEC and Big XII schools? Lots, I suspect. Lots and lots.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Millen-nium's End

Well, thank God that's finally over. At last, there's a chance of two decent games on Thanksgiving, something that wasn't going to happen as long as Millen was in charge of the Lions, not unless the NFL let them schedule one of the directional Michigan schools out of the MAC.

The fan response has been unanimous: thank God. Millen was awful at his job and possessed uncanny staying power, the sort of bulletproof combination that one usually only sees in self-hating English professors with tenure and television shows starring Brad Garrett.

Among the chattering classes, the reaction is mixed. Why now? It means giving up on the season. Surely there's time to turn it around, particularly since the GM's work for the year is already mostly done? What effect could canning Millen now have that would make it worth it to give up on the entire year?

The answer, I think, is attention. As long as Millen was GM, he was the story on the Lions, and it was a bad one. The Ford family, sensibly, decided that it was past time to stop devaluing their investment by guaranteeing it another year's worth of bad pub and humiliation, and instead decided to give it another, positive talking point that the pundits and announcers could latch onto during any and all future shellackings. That's worth something - at the box office, in the seats, and in the perception of the fan base.

It's not like keeping Millen around for the rest of the season would have done much good, that's true. And it's not like there was that much more harm he could do, either. In fact, all of his damage was already done, making removing him pretty much a strict salary consideration. The product on the field, apart from minor tweaks, is what it is. And with that locked down and his latest blunder unfolding, Millen finally outlived his usefulness.

(Note - one of the side discussions coming out of the Millen firing was the ridiculous question of "Whether another ex-player will ever get another GM job". Of course one will. Just hopefully not one with no talent, no experience, and the staying power of an 18 year old who's double-fisted a bottle of Viagra.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Random ESPN Thoughts

Enjoy Peter Pascarelli's grumpy old man act on the Baseball Podcast while you can, because if anyone from management ever listens to it, he's going to be out the door and on the Merritt Parkway faster than you can say "Free Harold Reynolds". His obvious disdain for meaningless matchups, bad teams that aren't trying, ESPN's television scheduling practices and the ways in which he's forced to try to drum up artificial interest in certain matchups aren't even the least bit hidden any more. Pascarelli's analysis is sometimes straight off the Tracy Ringolsby shelf of the supermarket, but it's obvious he loves baseball deeply and cares about what he's putting out there. If they do can him, it will be a bigger loss than one might think.

***

Can Doug Gottlieb please stop talking about baseball? Please?

***

Have there been any actual episodes of "Tirico and Van Pelt" that featured both Tirico and Van Pelt at the same time? Michelle Tafoya is in there more than either of them.

Giant Steps Backwards

So the Giants have suspended Plaxico Burress for two weeks (one game, one bye) for missing a day of practice and not providing a sick note from Mom. This, of course, has set off the hooey detector of every journalist and blogger in the tri-state area. You don't suspend your number 1 receiver for two weeks over something like that; clearly there must be something else going on here. Throw in the lingering bad blood from Plex's contract squabbles over the summer, not to mention a lingering bad rap from his college days (one article I read back in the day quoted an unnamed Michigan State coach as having warned teams not to draft Burress) all add an irresistable undercurrent of "what really happened" to the story. Cris Carter didn't help when he suggested that if it had been him, the Vikings would have gotten him some help, thus implying that there was something medical or psychological going on here.

Whatever the story behind the suspension, this is a bit like college coaches suspending star players for the first two games of the season after they've been caught molesting underaged llamas in a gas station parking lot. What always gets forgotten in the approving articles talking about what stern discipline this shows is that those first two games are against Southwest Rhode Island Welding Institute and Our Lady Of the Sacred Heart's School For Girls-Monroe, and that the hyper-talented quadruped enthusiasts will be back in time for the games where their presence actually matters. This is in large part a PR move to show that Tom Coughlin by God does have control of this team, even as the team risks very little by sitting one of its best players.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yankee Stadium, RIP

It's over. The last baseball game in Yankee Stadium history is done, and now all that's left is the endless eulogizing. The game itself was fairly ho-hum, with the Yankees thumping the Orioles disinterestedly. No doubt tons will be written about how on the last night of the old Stadium, Alex Rodriguez wasn't clutch (0-2 with 2 walks), on the irony of Interchangeable Molina #2 hitting the last home run in Yankee Stadium history, and on how Mariano Rivera shut the door one last time. I suspect there will be rather less written about how Derek Jeter struck out with the bases loaded, failing to make a statement other than that for this year's team, it's over.

There's been a lot of ink spilled over why the schedule came out the way it did. Why the Orioles? Why not the Red Sox? Why not the last day of the season? The suspicious part of me that writes technothriller video games has a possible answer: MLB wanted the drama of Yankees-Red Sox for the last weekend of the season, not knowing that this was finally the year that the Yankees' habit of patching their rotation with duct tape, baling wire, and Aaron Small wouldn't pay off. MLB also wanted to make sure that the Yankees closed down their venerable home park with a win, with Rivera on the mound and "Enter Sandman" rocking the joint.

One more thing: they also saw that the Orioles were going to be bloody terrible. In other words, MLB did the equivalent of lining up Duke (or maybe Temple, or Louisiana-Monroe) for homecoming, doing the closest thing possible to guaranteeing the Yankees a win for that last, nostalgia-inducing game. How embarrassing would it have been for the last game at Yankee Stadium to have featured Dustin Pedroia getting revenge for Bucky @#$#ing Dent, a few Youkilis base knocks, and Papelbon slamming the door?

To quote Mike Shropshire, "We can't have that sort of thing." So far better the Orioles as victim, then. The Yankees win, the Sox close the season against the hated Yanks, Yankee Stadium goes out with a bang, and everyone's happy, even the Orioles, who get to say they were part of history.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stunning College Football Developments

I'm not sure which blows my mind more - the fact that Duke hung 41 on Navy, or that Auburn won a 3-2 pitchers' duel.

USC's thrashing of Ohio State? To be expected, considering that OSU was without its best weapon, and was heading into the game with no clear solution at quarterback. Oregon's comeback win at Purdue? Stirring, but the game never should have been close in the first place. East Carolina's close call with Tulane? Predictable as a letdown for the Pirates, considering their last two weeks. And BYU's unholy whupping of UCLA? Funny, the since-departed Mr. Dorrell doesn't look so bad now, does he?

And in the slow-motion "all time winningest coach" throwdown, Bobby Bowden stayed even with Joe Paterno as his FSU team pasted Championship Subdivision stalwart Chattanooga by 39 points. Penn State, meanwhile, whooped up on another overmatched opponent, the difference being that Syracuse is at least supposed to try to pretend to be a I-A program in its better moments. We are a long, long, long way from the days of Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Turnabout

So the Yankees - the fourth-place Yankees - get to watch the Angels celebrate clinching in front of them. One gets the feeling that George Steinbrenner is stirring uneasily in his sleep, much like unto a Lovecraftian abomination woken from aeons of deathless slumber to visit devastation on the world when suitably provoked by dire circumstance.

Seriously. Just add a few tentacles, maybe an apostrophe and some commas, and it's perfect. Perfect.

Monday Night Football

Memo to Oakland - tackling is still part of the game. The last time I saw that many slapdash arm tackles attempted, it was playing flag football at nerd camp the summer after ninth grade.

Correction - the nerds occasionally hit somebody.

For whatever it's worth, JaMarcus Russell looked pretty good for a guy stuck on the bilge deck of the Andrea Doria. Nice zip on his passes, good feet, a good sense of his receivers, and if Donald Curry had any sense of what to do with a football once it hits you in the hands, the final score might have been a lot closer.

That being said, the Raiders' defense went past "dire", took a sharp left at "nonexistent", and finally found itself a nice place to park at "abyssmal". If they don't figure out how to tackle - and what has the NFL come to when the Raiders can't tackle - it's going to be a really ugly year.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Billy Wags

As a rule, I don't like to wish injury on my fellow human beings, or to take pleasure in their physical pain. On the other hand, while Billy Wagner might not be the exception to the rule, he's close. For a guy who does an awful lot of barking about how his teammates aren't pulling their weight or stepping up in big games, Wagner has a fairly spectacular record of pitching with both hands around his throat when he's on the big stage. Phillies fans remember his double el foldo against Houston in 2005 with hatred and heartache; other baseball afficionados may be surprised to learn that the pride of Ferrum College has a lifetime line of 1-5, with an 8.71 ERA in 11 games. Even if you chalk it up to small sample size theater, that small sample is positively chunky with bad pitching.

So it gives me no small pleasure to think that last year, with the gritty, gamery Wagner, the Mets collapsed like a cheap subdivision in a Carl Hiaasen novel, and that this year, it looks like they'll take the division without him. That, as they say, has got to sting.

On the other hand...

...when you're throwing Johann Santana out there, you don't need a lot of bullpen help.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Through Seven...

...in the first game of the Philles-Mets day-night doubleheader, Pedro Martinez has given up six runs. The muich-malighed Mets' bullpen? Zero. Sometimes the storylines and the facts don't jibe.

More interesting is the fact that Mets manager Jerry Manuel seems intent on playing lefty-righty matchups, even with his team down six and another game to go today. With the insertion of Nelson Figueroa to start the 8th, that's 5 relievers used after the Mets dug themselves a 6-0 hole. Would it perhaps have made more sense to throw one guy out there to take one for the team, and save the pen for the nightcap? Even if the Mets somehow manage to steal this one, they're still going to be hurting for relievers in game 2.

Meanwhile, the ageless (mandatory adjective) Jamie Moyer has gone seven for the Phils, with a top pitch velocity of 14 MPH. All hail the pride of Souderton.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pedro, Part II

Let me state up front that the notion of athletes making "too much money" is, as Joe Sheehan noted, ridiculous. They get paid what the market suggests they get paid. "Too much" is a fiction invented by ownership, which would rather not see that lucre heading out the door, and one which finds a willing and sympathetic audience in the fan base that will never see even a fraction of the average first round pick's signing bonus in their annual take-home pay. What's left unspoken there is that if the player isn't getting that money, the owner is - the front office guys and other team staff sure as hell aren't - and with the possible exception of a full blown Steinbrenner or Cuban freakazoid, nobody comes to the game to see the owners. Furthermore, the owners aren't the ones with limited earning windows, aren't the ones risking career-ending injury out on the field, aren't the ones actually entertaining the fans who buy the tickets and jerseys and bobblehead dolls.

Now, if you ask whether it's fair that the very top tier of athletes get paid far more than people with more dangerous or "worthwhile" jobs, well, that's a whole other question. But the fact remains that me and thee are willing to fork out a couple of hundred bucks for a night at the ballpark, but we'd scream bloody murder if that same amount got tagged to our tax bill to pay firefighters, or cops, or teachers, or EMTs. It's not fair, but we're all complicit.

Which brings us to Pedro Alvarez, and the knee jerk "how dare his agent ask for more money when he hasn't proven anything!" Which is, again, hogwash. Boras has the right to ask for anything that he can get for his client. After all, he may never see a payday like this again; why shouldn't he shoot for the moon? Who among us would honestly do differently? Even the best and most durable players don't sign that many contracts during their careers. As such, it's only sense to try to maximize each contract, including the first one. And as for the notion that he hasn't proven anything, well, he's proven enough to get picked at the top of the draft. By the "he hasn't proven anything" logic, nobody's first job should pay them anything above the minimum. Real jobs don't do this of course, for various reasons - employee happiness, employee retention, attracting the best talent, and so forth. Why, then, shouldn't baseball teams use the same logic?

So, the "he doesn't deserve the money" logic gets demolished. What's still out there is whether Boras is playing by the rules, letter if not spirit. And that, well, that's something interesting. Near as I can tell, what happened is that Boras got cute in not negotiating until the last minute, the Pirates went around him, Boras lost face, and now he's trying to regain it as he and the Pirates trade threats. For Boras, what's at stake is not his chunk of the extra $200K or so he's trying to get for Alvarez; it's face. He wants to make the Pirates pay for going around him; he wants to be able to say he got his client the best deal. Imagine Tom Cruise in a fat suit dancing to Ludacris while reading any Boras pronouncement, and you've pretty much got it. Meanwhile, the Pirates may or may not have played fast and loose with the rules and may or may not lose their first round pick, Alvarez has now crossed both his agent and his employer, and really, there's no way this comes out well for anyone.

Did Boras have the right to try to get his client the most money possible? Absolutely. By the same token, Alvarez is his client, and if the client says "this is what I want," then it's Boras' job to get it done. It's not within his rights to jeopardize his client's career or happiness for his own ends, and odds are that future draft picks are watching this and going "Hmmm."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chris Coste Interview

Over at my regular blog, I run an irregular series of short interviews with various writers. The latest victim? Phillies catcher and author Chris Coste. Enjoy...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pedro, Part I

Last night's line for Pedro Martinez:
5 IP, 5 R, 5 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 8K, 2 HR

Last night's line for the Mets' much-maligned bullpen:
7.1 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 12 H, 4 BB (including 2 IBB), 8 K, 0 HR

The pen may have blown a 2 run lead. But Pedro's the one who let it get whittled down to 2 from 7. Or, to put it another way, the pen's ERA last night was 3.68. Pedro's was 9.00.

Then again, who cares when we've got media tropes to cling to.

Nein! Nein! Nine!

Can we please stop turning the New Haven little league mess into some kind of political referendum?

The kid was too good for his competition. Fine. Bump him up a league and there you go. Every issue of ESPN has some story or other about a famous pro athlete who was too good for his middle school/age group/junior varsity, wasn't allowed to play with kids his own age, and had to play with the big kids. It happens all the damn time with no fuss and bother.

Except, of course, that the kid's coach decided to defy the league mandate and pitch the kid anyway. It's not like they said he couldn't play; he was doing just fine at second base. But this wannabe Billy Martin decided that he was going to go all Buford Pusser on the little league - which, last time I checked, was about the kids - and when he broke the rules, the other team got pulled off the field.

So I don't particularly blame the league. I certainly don't blame the kid. I don't particularly blame the coaches of the other team, who, when confronted with an act showing calculated disdain toward the dictates of the volunteer group they were all working for. I do blame the coach, whose need to win appears to have reached such a pathological level that he decided his need to have this kid pitch for him was more important than the entire league.

And it's nothing more than that. So the talking heads who were doomsaying about how this was a result of "everyone gets a prize for participating" culture while waxing rhapsodic about how they all got taken out for ice cream after their games, win or lose, well, they can put a sock in it until they can find irony with something other than a magnet.

ZOMG Replay

So exactly how many disputed home run calls are there in a given game, anyway? A given week? Two? Three?

Yeah, that's going to slow down games a lot.

Sigh.

All Hail Uncle Cholly!

First things first: The Phillies had absolutely no business winning this one. Down 7-0? Forget it.

Except they clawed back into it, keyed by the suddenly rejuvenated Jimmy Rollins, and took it in deep extras, with Kyle Kendrick warming up in the pen. And the key? Charlie Manuel's willingness to go unconventional with his bullpen. Specifically, he didn't save closer Brad Lidge for the mythical lead the Phillies might never get. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but in extra innings, there are no save opportunities for the home team.) No, Uncle Cholly sent Lidge out there in the 9th, down by a run and desperately needing to keep the gap from getting any bigger, and Lidge delivered.

And Rollins? On fire. Three steals, five hits, a homer...that's a couple of mighty impressive games he's strung together.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your first-place Philadelphia Phillies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

God, No!

MLB Trade Rumors is speculating that the recently released Mike Lamb could be a good pickup for the Phillies, who recently ran ex-Expo Andy Tracy out there for his first major league AB since 2004.

To which all I can say is "things aren't that bad, are they?"

A Nod to the Big Guy

Generally, I find Hall of Fame debates to be silly. They're a great way to fill up column inches, but the guys doing the voting generally don't read those columns, and so they end up being a way to incite readers to frothing because their favorite players have been left out of the discussion. Never mind that those guys might be bobblehead-worthy at best; everyone's got rabid supporters who want to be heard RIGHT NOW. These are the folks who think that Omar Vizquel holds a candle to Ozzie Smith; who think Don Mattingly = Lou Gehrig, who are thumping that Jeff Reardon candidacy (and yes, they're out there) as hard as they can.

But tonight, I join them when I say Jim Thome is a Hall of Famer. 535 homers, no matter what era, matters. Say what you want about the time in which he played, you still don't see a lot of guys zooming past ol' double-X in the career homers rankings. Besides, there's never even been a whiff of performance enhancers associated with Thome; the dude's just big.

The arguments against him, near as I can tell, consist of A) He played at a time when lots of people hit home runs, B) he played lousy defense before he was a DH and C) he's not David Ortiz. The only answers to this are So, Yeah, and So what? The guy has hit 535 home runs, and he's not done yet. He has taken reasonable doubt and clubbed it into the fourteenth row of the left-center field bleachers. Based purely on the merits of his career, he should go in.

Of course, he won't be judged just on those merits. He'll be dinged for relatively few postseason appearances. He'll get nicked for relatively low batting averages and MVP election results. He was never flashy, but he always was good, and Dewey Evans and Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo can tell you that's no way to get into the Hall of Fame.

But he's hit 535 homers, and he's not slowing down much. It's a cold hard number that even the Bill Plaschkes of the world can understand (assuming it's presented in a one-sentence paragraph), and it's a number that says "I'm one of the best. Ever."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Notebook

So let me get this straight: A Cuban tae kwon do competitor was disqualified for taking too long after an injury, and reacted to his disqualification by attacking the judge (who, presumably, also knows tae kwon do, or he wouldn't be judging it)? Call me crazy, but if you're well enough to go berserk on the official, you're probably well enough to get back in there.

***

With statements by IOC President Jacques Rogge have made it very clear: the disappearance of baseball and softball from the Olympics after this year is nothing more than a power play. Rogge said baseball would be back as soon as MLB agreed to shut down its season and send those players to the games. In other words, our games are bigger than your games, so do what we tell you to and we'll give you the opportunity to help line our coffers.
To which, of course, MLB said a polite "Screw you, we've got our own international tournament, thanks" and that's where it sits (despite IABF president Harvey Schiller's apparent eagerness to sell out MLB). That's where it should sit, frankly, because it wouldn't just be a case of shutting down baseball season for two weeks during the Olympics. It would also mean shutting down games for qualifiers. It would mean disrupting the season at different points, often in the middle of the pennant races. It would mean inevitable injuries when some third-string situational lefty from the Netherlands decides to take his moment of Olympic glory and use it to put a fastball behind Chase Utley's ear. And most of all, it would mean kow-towing to the corrupt, mismanaged, tantrum-throwing blackmail machine that is the IOC, which has no qualms about using the hammer of patriotism to shame people into making its generally loathsome* executives very rich indeed.
And lost in all this is the irony. The Olympics are crying foul because MLB isn't sending its best professional athletes. How long ago was it that the US was brutalized in the world press for daring to send professional basketball players? How long ago were the Olympics held up as the ideal of the amateur athlete?
It all smells like hypocrisy. And greed. And money.

***

I'm very glad the Olympic basketball team did not act like dickweeds this time around. That being said, most people take that as a baseline for civilized human behavior. We've come a long way, but that doesn't mean we've followed the right road.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Magnets? Really?

So the Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Car Team (say that three times fast) got caught sticking magnets under the gas pedals of their cars to try to fudge their true horsepower whenNASCAR's testing staff checked out their cars.

In other words, they cheated, and to my eyes J.D. Gibbs didn't look the slightest bit repentant at his "shucks, someone done messed up" press conference. NASCAR has always embraced the SEC ethos of "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying", but these days it's getting ridiculous.

The reason, of course, is that the penalties NASCAR levies for anything up to and including attempted vehicular homicide are negligible. A few thousand dollars, a handful of driver points, maybe a few other slaps on the wrist. If someone did something really bad, a crew chief might get suspended for a race or two. Not the driver, of course. Not the guy the sponsors want out there. It's the crew chief, who no doubt can sit back in the trailer with a headset on and pretty much do his job just as well as if he were in Pit Row.

And if the penalties are a joke, then why not cheat? Even if you're caught, it's not going to cost you anything. But magnets under the gas pedal? That's a good one.

Playing in the NFL is Not a Privilege

I firmly believe that Andy Gresh was put on this earth to torment me for my sins. Gresh's "everyday joe" persona has long since crossed the border into "total and willful ignoramus", and it's now seeking political asylum there.

Tonight's bit of genius involved frothing at the mouth over the Bengals' decision to bring back wide receiver and cell block H favorite Chris Henry. On one hand, he's right - the Bengals' front office and brain trust take a tremendous credibility hit by bringing back the guy who singlehandedly exemplifies the Bengals' lawless tradition of recent years, and whom they'd publicly said they weren't interested in.

That being said, that's not what got Gresh going. No, what had him geysering all over the mike was the notion that Henry had abused the privilege of playing professional football in the NFL.

The privilege.

And about the ninth time I heard those words, I was ready to stop the car and tear down a medium-sized pine tree with my teeth and fingernails because of the sheer stupidity of that statement, and what it implies.

It is not a "privilege" to play in the NFL. If you are playing professional football, it is because one of the 32 pocket dictators called a "head coach" has decided that you can help him win games and sell tickets. That is it. It is not a privilege. It is a job. It is a business transaction between the player, who offers his services and health (long term and short term) in exchange for fame, fortune, and the perks of being a professional athlete in our society. The players inevitably lose t his transaction, because they are all ultimately replaceable, and because the currency they bring to the table is their own physical and mental well-being, at the end of the ride they are inevitably diminished in some way. It is not a privilege, it is a well-paying, hazardous, dangerous profession and considering the revenues that the players bring in by their athleticism and willingness to sacrifice themselves, they are entitled to as much of that pie as they can grab as their due. Nobody pays 50 yard line seat prices to watch Tom Benson, after all.

Do players get privileged treatment during their playing days? Of course. But that's confusing correlation with causation. They get privileged treatment, whether from the police or the media or the dewy-eyed young women at post-game watering holes because of their profession, not as part of it. The privilege falls away once you stop playing for all but the most transcendent few, and it becomes clear that particular sort of treatment is not about the player.

Instead, it's about the team, and not in the rah-rah way. As long as the player is viewed making a positive contribution - or at least more of a contribution than his replacement might - he's coddled regardless of pretty much anything he might do. Treated with kid gloves. Given second or third or ninth chances. Witness Steve Smith, who's injured two teammates in fistfights. Witness pharmaceutical fiend Bill Romanowski. Witness Leonard Little, who killed someone in a drunk driving incident and then was caught blotto behind the wheel again. Witness Terrell Owens and Nick Kaczur and Adam Jones and Odell Thurman and Todd Sauerbrun and more. The lesson is clear: if you can play, we want you, and everything else is details. That's not privilege. That's cold-eyed evaluation of an asset, and Chris Henry understands this better than Andy Gresh does. Henry knows that as long as he can play well, there will be someone in the league who will hire him, who will make excuses for him, who will say "it won't happen here." And it will keep happening as long as he has the skills and athletic prowess to justify his place on the field. The second he can't, then he'll be cut, cast out, moralized against, and forgotten, and it will start again with someone else.

But as long as he can play, and no matter what people like you or me or Andy Gresh think, then Chris Henry will continue to get hired. Not privileged. Hired.

Of course, Gresh's job hinges on portraying the act of playing football as something noble and unique and wonderful, so he's perhaps got a vested interest in perpetuating that particular myth. But it is a myth, and deep down, I suspect he knows it. If he doesn't, he can just ask Deltha O'Neal. Or Steve Foley. Or, for that matter, Steve Howe. Or Ryne Duren. Or Micheal Ray Richardson. Or Shawn Kemp.

They'd probably tell him.
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