Thursday, July 31, 2008

You Damn Kids Get Offa Coach Fox's Lawn

Panthers QB Jake Delhomme, as quoted in The Sporting News:

"The one thing I don't get is that some of the young kids want to play video games at night. I mean late...The worst part is they're making noise above us and we're trying to get some sleep."
Also, they play that hippity-hop music, and grow their hair long, like goddamn hippies.

Not to go all FJM on you or anything...

...but tonight I heard Andy Gresh say that the best thing that the White Sox can do at the trade deadline is play well.

Brilliant.

I'll bet they never thought of that.

Throw in Doug Gottlieb digging up the old "A-Rod never hits in the post-season" road chestnut to explain why he doesn't like the Mark Teixeira deal, and it was an absolutely stellar day for ESPN non-baseball wonks trying to talk about that weird game with the funny white ball.

*For the record, Gottlieb said that since A-Rod became a Yankee, he put too much pressure on himself in the postseason, and thus performed poorly. Here's Rodriguez's post-season line in New York:

2004 - .320 BA/.414 OBP/.600 SLG/1.014 OPS
2005 - .133 BA/.435 OBP/.200 SLG/ .635 OPS
2006 - .071 BA/ .133 OBP/ .071 SLG/ .204 OPS
2007 - .267 BA/ .353 OPB/ .467 SLG/ .820 OPS

Just eyeballing it, that looks like one great year, two bad ones, and one good one. In other words, statistical noise.

Just for fun, here's Derek Jeter's track record over the same time

2004 - .245 BA/ .339 OBP/ .347 SLG/ .686 OPS
2005 - .333 BA/ .348 OBP/ .619 SLG/.967 OPS
2006 - .500 BA/ .529 OBP/ .938 SLG/ 1.467 OPS
2007 - .176 BA/ .176 OBP/ .176 SLG/ .352 OPS

Hmm. Looks like one great year, one really good one, and two bad ones. In other words...statisical noise that looks pretty similar to what A-Rod put up.

And in 2004 - the year both A-Rod and Cap'n Jetes put up the most post-season ABs, Rodriguez kicked Jeter's butt.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yankee Hoodoo

So what is this strange power the Yankees have to brainwash other teams into package dumping trades? A few years ago, it was Abreu + Lidle from the Phillies for a sack of moldy grapefruit, when either of those guys alone was set to fetch more than what the Phils got for both. This year, it's Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for four prospects of the semi-suspect variety (the bloom is way, way off the Tabata rose, and if Andy Gresh is saying "Russ Ohlendorf is the biggest prospect the Pirates are getting back", you know they're in trouble) when, according to Jayson Stark, the Pirates had been asking for way more for either of those guys separately.

It's magic, I tell you. Darkest magic.

Dodger Blues

So I had a friend who had a bottle of wine. It was a really good bottle of wine, and whenever we talked to him about drinking it, he'd say, no, I'm saving it for a special occasion. So he'd put the special bottle of wine back on the rack, and go out and overpay for a Fetzer chardonnay or something, and drink that, or he wouldn't drink it, but he'd buy it and have it and decide that since he had that and he'd already paid for it, he should open it and leave the bottle of good wine be for the moment.

Mind you, this anecdote is completely fictional, and I'm not sure how to end it: either he dies and never gets to drink the wine, or he finally does open it after years and years and it's turned into paint thinner. The choice there is really up to Frank McCourt - it depends whether he fires Ned Colletti before he breaks down and plays the kids full time, or lets him stick around while the Andy LaRoches of the world rot on the vine. The early returns - signing Pierre, signing Jones, not setting Garciaparra on fire, paying any attention at all to what Jeff Kent says, and now trading for Casey Blake - are not promising.

And the Blake trade may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Hidden under the guise of "Going For It", Colletti picked up a 35-year old corner guy having a career season and erected yet another roadblock in front of one of his most valuable assets. This is not new; he did the same to James Loney, to Andre Ethier, to Matt Kemp, to Chad Billingsley. All have seen their prospect status, and thus their value to the team, take at least temporary hits as a result.

Even in the eminently winnable NL West, it's time to sell off or sit the overpaid, underachieving vets and play the kids. You get no points for not trading the prospects if you never do anything with the prospects; the whole point is that you maximize their value one way or the other. If you've got a hole at third base and you have a good third base prospect, say, LaRoche, you play him to maximize his volume. If you're not going to play him because you've got an aging, fragile veteran you have an irrational attachment to, then you trade him while other teams still perceive him as having upside. You don't bench him, you don't yo-yo him, you don't make him look bad and thus less appealing to potential trade partners - you find a way to get the maximum for him. So I'd bench or dump the Nomars, the Andruws, the same-old same-olds, and see what the kids can do. You can have Pierre and Jones and Garciaparra and Kent; I'll take Ethier and Kemp and LaRoche and Hu and the over.

Because frankly, the kids are better. The kids are cheaper. The kids are more likely to win.

And if you don't do something with them now, they're not going to be worth anything to you when you need them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Another Thought On Favre

A lot of the argument against Brett Favre coming back is that he might somehow "taint his legacy" by doing so.

Bullcrap.

For all that sportswriters love to trot the same tired examples out, our enduring memory of Willie Mays involves Vic Wertz, not a Mets uniform. With Montana it has nothing to do with the Chiefs; with Steve Carlton nobody thinks of him as a Twin. "Legacy" is forged long before an athlete gets to try to "hang on too long", and it is cast and cooled in the minds and memories of fans. No matter how many past-their-prime games these guys play in, it is their primes that we will in fact remember, and cherish, and reminisce over.

The real issue is whether the Packers should hold their season hostage to a guy who, even now, can't say with 100% certainty that he wants to come back and play. And that's a business and professional decision, one that legacy does not and will not enter into.

Ever.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just to Pick On Billy Wagner Again...

...was anyone else surprised to hear that his shoulder injury was a muscle spasm? Normally he only has those from the neck up*.

*Cheap jokes about injuring himself by patting himself on the back will also be accepted.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

Bearing in mind that Joe Blanton was, depending on how you sliced it, the third-to-fifth best pitcher available on the trade market (behind Sabathia and a healthy Harden, in the mix with Bedard and Burnett, probably ahead of an aging Maddux and a Petco mirage Wolf), the trade the Phillies made to get him was a little disturbing from both sides.

From the Phillies' side, it's a "that's all?" deal. While Blanton's stock was high going into the season, he's pitched poorly this year in front of a great defense in a pitchers' park. As a replacement for the self-perforating Adam Eaton, he's an upgrade; as a response to the big pitching acquisitions in the NL Central, he's not cause to break out the schnapps and sauerbraten.

The A's, in return, got three prospects from the Phils, including the #s 2 and 4 guys in the system. (Billy Beane is apparently too smart to take Greg Golson, curse the luck.) Mind you, those guys (Cardenas and Outman) are characterized by Keith Law as a decent second baseman and a LOOGY, at best. That's not a huge haul, and it doesn't say much for the Phillies' system that these guys were near the top of it.

In the end, the trade makes some sense. Blanton will pitch better and longer than Eaton, saving the Phils' bullpen and hopefully not digging them early holes every game he starts. The A's got more prospects for a guy whose value had cratered, and who was easily replaceable with one of the armada of arms Beane had stockpiled in AAA. But at the same time, it's almost cringeworthy that this was all the A's* got for pre-season hot item Blanton, that it was the best the Phils could offer, and that it was an appropriate haul.

*There are a lot of folks questioning why Beane sold 40% of his rotation with his team still theoretically in contention. The answer is, of course, that they're not. Too many black holes in the lineup, too many games to make up on the Angels, and Beane recognized this and moved fast while his trading chits still had maximum value. I know you're not supposed to give up on the year while you're within shouting distance of a playoff spot, but at the same time, there's shouting distance and then there's fading into the distance, and that's what the A's were doing. Beane just recognized it faster than, say, your average Bavasi would.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Was in New England This WEEIkend...

...and spent some time listening to the legendary WEEI*.

  • Number of callers who couldn't pronounce Jonathan Papelbon's name, even after being repeatedly corrected by the host: 1
  • Number of callers who wanted to throw Jed Lowrie in the Harbor after he hit into a double play against the Angels: 15
  • Number of hosts still upset that Terry Francona didn't play John Olerud more in 2005: 1
  • Number of callers who wanted Terry Francona's head for leaving Josh Beckett in to pitch the 7th inning: 4
  • Number of times Chuck from Saugus said that Manny is a "winnah": 6
  • Number of times Don from the Cape said that Manny is a bum who needs to go: 6
  • Number of callers proposing the Sox trade Kevin Youkilis to Atlanta for Mark Teixeira, regardless of whether this makes any sense for the Braves: 3
  • Number of callers who insisted that Tampa's All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro (traded away in 2004 as the prize of the Randy Johnson deal) was, and I quote, "a guy the Yankees didn't want": 1
  • Number of times other hosts essentially called Glen Ordway an idiot: 9
*All estimates completely made up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It Is Somehow Fitting...

...that were it not for a late-inning meltdown by carpetbagging uber-mouth Billy Wagner, the NL would have won last night. In the unlikely event that the Phillies do make it to the World Series, one gets the feeling they will probably take up a team-wide collection to send a bunch of large men with cricket bats to visit Wagner at Shea.

Second stop, Dan Uggla's house. Brad Lidge, they can take care of on their own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All-Star Gamery

I'm not watching the game tonight - I'm crashing deadline on a novel, and have yet another road trip coming up in two days - but I did watch the pregame festivities whilst cooking and eating dinner. Now, I freely admit to being a sentimental gorp when it comes to baseball, but there were some moments there - Willie McCovey hoisting himself out of his chair to acknowledge the thunderous cheers of the fans, Kevin Youkilis grinning to himself at the mandatory booing he received as he ran out to his position, Manny Ramirez enthusiastically embracing Ryan Braun, the roars from the crowd for Reggie and Whitey Ford and Yogi as he grinned from radar-dish ear to radar-dish ear - that were magic.

And most of all, when the camera just sat there on Willie Mays, watching him drink it all in.

It put such a big goddamned smile on my face, I didn't even mind when Tim McCarver started talking about how the NL's big strength was in batting average, or how he conveniently forgot George Sherrill was an All-Star, or generally was Tim McCarver.

Tonight? Not the point. Let him enjoy the game in his own way.

Me, I got to see Robin Roberts, whom I didn't know was still alive. And Maz. And Ernie Banks telling the National Leaguers to get off their asses and win one, already.

And Willie.

Monday, July 14, 2008

With Apologies to Matt Forbeck...

When I was a kid, there was a commercial for Nestle's Tollhouse Cookies that featured a kid named Timmy (or Tommy, or Toby, or something like that) announcing very loudly that he was leaving home. "I'm leaving," he'd say, and go down a few stairs the knapsack on his back bulging with, well, I don't want to think about what that kid thought was appropriate running-away-from-home material. "I'm going." Walk a few more steps. You get the idea.

Mom, of course, was having none of it. Instead, she just baked delicious chocolate chip cookies, and little Teddy, or whatever his name was, announced that maybe he could stick around for a while before stuffing his piehole with delicious chocolate chip goodness.

He wasn't really running away, you see.

He just wanted to be told that he was loved.

Which brings me to Brett Favre, who recently stirred the collective soul of Cheesehead Nation like it was cheap fondue minus the kirsch by announcing that, no, he wasn't retiring after all, and if the Packers weren't going to let him come back, they should be gentlemen and release him so he could go play somewhere else that wanted him and loved him and would make him tollhouse cookies. Or something like that.

Now, I'm not usually on the ownership side when it comes to the NFL, and with good reason. They have the sweetest of sweetheart labor deals, they treat their workforce like Kleenex, they make obscene profits and yet cry poor to suck up untold millions of government money for publicly funded stadia, and they have the unutterable gall to have inflicted the "personal seat license" on the sports-viewing public. And yet, in this instance, I have to side with the Packers, 'cause as a sports fan, I really don't feel comfortable enabling Brett Favre's codependency issues.

It's not like he hasn't done this before. He's dragged out the old "I may retire, I may not" song and dance for each of the last few offseasons, and let's face it, some of those on-seasons were pretty off. Each time, he waited until the public outcry reached critical mass before going, aww, shucks, I guess I will play again if'n y'all want me to.

Once, it's charming. Twice, it's shtick. Three times, it's calculated theater. And this?

Well, he retired. Made a big deal out of retiring. And then in March, he let the Packers know that he wanted to un-retire. The Packers, by all accounts, bought into it enthusiastically. They told Aaron Rodgers that, once again, they'd rather be just friends. They prepped the announcement. They were ready to fly the top brass down to Mississippi to sign the deal.

And Favre backed out at the last minute. At which point, the Pack sensibly said "screw this noise" and set about constructing a roster suited to the talents of the quarterback they were sure would be there, Aaron Rodgers. They had to; they had no other choice if they wanted to field a competitive team this year. All the while, someone kept up a steady drumbeat of "Brett may want back in" rumors to the media. Someone kept the story alive, even after Favre himself had backed out when they offered him the team on a silver platter.

Which brings us to now. The team has moved on without him. Lambeau Field has not burned down, fallen over and sunk into the swamp in a goth-like stupor over missing Favre's manly presence. Wisconsin has not gone up in flames without him. The cheese industry has not collapsed, the foam cheese hat industry seems to be doing fine, and they're finding other things to protest in Madison.

In other words, no tollhouse cookies. Which, I think, is precisely why Favre let loose with this latest round, the guilt-trip demand to be released so he could find a new team - most likely the Bears or Vikings - to play with, and in the process no doubt incite something of a bidding war, a media frenzy, and, most importantly, a "we love Brett-fest".

To which the Packers, sensibly, said "Hooey." Why on earth would they want to do this? They've already bent over backwards - damaging their relationship with their putative quarterback and delaying their roster construction - to cater to Favre this year. They have absolutely no incentive to release him, potentially playing hob with their salary cap and strengthening a divisional rival. Indeed, as long as he remains a viable NFL quarterback, the best place for him to be is under there control...and at home.

Because no matter if he might be better than Rodgers this year, those curves are going to intersect irrevocably very soon, and the longer they riff on "Brett might come back", the more chance the Packers have of falling into post-Bonds Giantville. Because they don't do Favre any favors by playing this game - sooner or later, the body isn't going to be able to hack it any more, and the retirement will be forcible and real. The sooner #4 gets used to life beyond football, the healthier it's likely to be. And because it is absolutely and utterly unfair to the rest of the team to hold them and their fortunes hostage to whether or not Brett Favre is feeling sufficiently loved.

Favre has gotten a free pass on a lot of behavior that would have gotten him slammed were he anyone and anywhere else. The magic aura of Bringing A Title Back to Titletown makes the excuse for a multitude of sins - undercutting his coaches and GMs, careless ball handling, sandbagging his teammates when he didn't get the high-profile personnel adds he wanted, his gift-wrapping of the sacks record for Michael Strahan. He has undeniably been a great player, one of the greatest ever. But he's not that player any more, and the act has worn thin.

Enjoy retirement, #4. You're still loved. But from now on, it should only be from afar.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Playing Soccer in Brasil

I can now honestly say I have left a piece of myself in this country. It's on the floor in the left-hand corner over by the far goal.

Tonight was my last night in Brasil following EIRPG and the followup book signing in Rio. My host, the estimable co-founder of Devir and all-around gent, suggested that I might enjoy playing in his pickup indoor soccer game, a Wednesay night fixture. I said yes.

Now, the last time I played soccer regularly was in middle school. I was in training for the Elkins Park Middle School team after spending a year on the JV, but broke my foot playing tackle football with Larry Garcia and couldn't play that fall. That was it for my soccer career; I'd mostly played fullback because I couldn't outrun a constipated porcupine but had a definite knack for booting the ball downfield on those rare occasions when I made contact.

Best guess is that it must have been fifteen years since the last time I actually played soccer for more than three minutes at a shot. There was some intramural stuff at Wesleyan, and a few pickup games, and...well, that was a lot of scotch and road trips ago. These days I look like Moomintroll on my good days and Barbapappa on my bad ones, and I'm about as ready to take the field as John Kruk.

So what the hell am I doing stepping onto the (indoor) pitch with Brasilians. You know, the most soccer-crazy people on the planet? When I walked down Ipanema beach, I did not see scads of scantily clad bikini babes. I saw dozens of circles of guys all playing hacky sack with soccer balls.

Indoor soccer, incidentally, is a whole different animal. It's five on five, in a room about the size of an immature high school gym. The place we played was the Paulista FC, which sensibly had a snack bar where you could get beer and caipirinhas after the game. There was a balcony overlooking the play space, guarded by a net, where kids were kicking a ball back and worth while we played. Once the ball squirted out of the net and landed on the field, and hilarity ensued.

The game was a family and friends affair. Cousins, brothers in law, you get the idea - these guys have been playing together for ages and love doing it. They were very welcoming to the new guy, even if I'd completely lost my instinct for positioning, and very supportive on those rare occasions when I did something right. General consensus was that for a fat old American who hadn't played in forever, I did all right. For the record, though, my left foot is completely gone. As in my one left-footed shot on goal looked like a Tim Wakefield fastball.

The players ranged from early twenties to sixty or so. People swapped in and out when they felt like it. The game moved fast, but not at breakneck pace - at least, not often. Douglas, my host, turned out to be an astonishingly good keeper, making several Tony Meola-level saves while wearing a shirt that could only be described as "unusual." As the evening wore on, I got a bit of my sense of things back - OK, this guy is going to go curl in front of the net, mark that guy because he's going to head for the corner, try to control the ball without catching it in the face - and some of the instincts woke up. One guy jokingly dedicated a goal to me; I think they were amused when I made a play. Mind you, most of my plays were on defense. I'm much better at crashing into someone and separating them forcibly from the ball than any other aspect of the game, including "running", "kicking", "inbounds" or "falling over clutching my knee in pretend agony in hopes of drawing a yellow card for my opponent".

Afterwards, I got a few questions. Had I played before? Did I like it? (They thought I was lying when I said yes). Would I sign a contract (hastily scribbled on a napkin - they'll be paying me in beer. I signed.) And then farewells and out into the night, even as my calves started reminding me that I'm going to be on airplanes for sixteen hours tomorrow.

But still. I played soccer in Brasil.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Going Quiet For a Week

I'll be traveling to Sao Paulo to guest at EIRPG XVI this week, which means that the only sport I'm likely to be up on until my return is futbol. With that in mind, things may be post-light for a while.

Quick Thoughts...

Nice to see the Cincinnati Reds are continuing their proud tradition of charming, sociable ownership. Marge Schott's canine-themed insanity and Nazi fetish were one thing, though; Carl Lindner's funding of terrorist paramilitaries in violation of US law is entirely another. Yes, I understand that paying off the local strongman can be perceived as simply the price of doing business, but all things considered, it still doesn't exactly look good.

As loathsome as it is to see carpetbagging Clay Bennett and his deeply unpleasant cohorts write a check to avoid their legal obligations - and let's face it, that's what just happened - I can't help but think that the city probably got the better end of the deal. $45M straight up versus two lame-duck years of a franchise Bennett would have no interest in promoting or maintaining in Seattle; I'll take the check, please. Now the next step is making sure the city doesn't spend it on "stadium improvements" for the "right" to have someone pay the NBA $300M to plunk down a vat-grown Sonics replacement. At which point, of course, they will immediately start lobbying for a new arena.

Hmm. Baron Davis opts out on Monday, agrees to a complicated new deal on Tuesday. Clearly there was no tampering involved. Memo to David Stern: if you want to move your league's image away from the sort of hanky-panky represented by Tim Donaghy, this is not the way to go about it.

So Bill Simmons compared the feeling of having the C's and Red Sox be champions in the same year to a Lionel Richie song? Seriously? Can we stop even pretending this guy is anything other than what he is: a dork? And I say this as a man who actually owns a Lionel Richie album, on vinyl.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

ZOMG T3H RAYZ0RZ

Or, in other words, everyone's suddenly discovered the Tampa Bay Flatfish.

I'll give full credit to the folks like Jayson Stark who were on to the Rays before the season started, but even so, the sudden attention paid to them is a bit overwhelming. Look, these guys are good. They've been getting good for a while, and it doesn't take the fact that they're magically in first place to anoint them as Suddenly Very Interesting. Frankly, it's a wonder it took them this long to get good - you keep on drafting high, and unless your name is Bidwill or Sterling, your team is going to get better in a hurry - though former GM Chuck LaMar's no-trade clause may have had something to do with that.

Still, it's been coming for a while. Even with the setbacks - Baldelli's mitochondria, Gomes' shoulder, Jackson's wildness, Guzman's growth spurt - they've assembled a stunning collection of young talent that's been doing it for a while now. It's just that they finally added the last few pieces they needed - a back end of the bullpen, a good defense up the middle, a third starter who allowed them to move J.P. Howell to the bullpen - and voila, a good team.

Next up, all the yammering about how since they're so young, they can't hold up under pennant race pressure. Because, you know, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joba Chamberlain just completely folded last year.

*sigh*
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