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."
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