Friday, May 11, 2007

Sometimes the juvenile in me just takes control...

The best headline I have seen in weeks came from the associated press...

"Yankees' Wang hit hard, Red Sox rough up Halladay"

Just take the first half of that on it's own for a minute...

Yankees' Wang hit hard

Think about it.

Yeah, there you go. So, what was that editor thinking? That could only have been made worse by "hit hard," being replaced by the term, "pounded."

Guess it might just be that kind of year for the Yanks.

Quick hits...

Pacman Jones gets his appeal today. Of course it has come out that the night before his last meeting with Roger Goodell Jones was at a New York strip club.

He's appealing the suspension based on the idea that the punishment is unprecedented. His lawyers need to look a little deeper into league history. In 1963 Detroit Lions Paul Hornung and Alex Karras both served season long suspensions for gambling on the game.

Spitting the bit...
The Yankees had an opportunity to move above .500 for the first time in I don't know how long this season (...maybe since the first week?). Everything appeared to fall in their favor. They were playing a mediocre Texas squad in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Chien-Ming Wang, last year's ace, was on the mound against a pitcher who's ERA was somewhere north of 6.00.

What did the Bombers do? They bombed. Wang gave up seven runs in less than seven innings, and then the bullpen gave up another seven leading to a 14-2 loss in the Bronx. Currently they are half a game below .500 and a season high seven games behind the Red Sox.

Sure, the cavalry is on its way, but will it arrive in time?

USADA is losing cred...
According to an AP report:

Floyd Landis claims the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's lead attorney approached his lawyer offering "the shortest suspension they'd ever given an athlete" if Landis provided information that implicated Lance Armstrong for doping.
This calls into question why USADA's rep failed to show for the test of the B sample recently (Landis' reps could only be present at the World Anti-Doping Agency's test of the reserve sample if USADA's reps were present).

If the doping agencies are collaborating to go after Armstrong, whom WADA president Dick Pound views as his own personal white whale, it just makes this whole thing smell like a set-up in order to get Armstrong's one time domestique to offer up...well, anything that might implicate the seven-time Tour-du-France champ. USADA officials have implied that the allegation is ridiculous, however, it would appear that the offer came through Landis' lawyer, and I have a hard time buying that Landis' lawyer would risk his license in a gambit that could potentially have him in front of legal ethics boards with his license at stake.

It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Random thoughts from a random mind...

Who let the dog out...
Even with plausible deniability involved, it seems that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is seriously considering suspending Michael Vick anyway. According to a report from Don Banks at Sports Illustrated, Goodell essentially told Vick, "your house, your responsibility."

Personally, I have to admit, in my opinion - and let me stress that last word - Vick is guilty as sin in this, but will manage to avoid legal culpability. The suspension, given the fact that he has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, I think looms as a very real possibility.

A suspension would certainly be a wake-up call for Vick. The question is, would it work?

Interesting conversation...
In light of Amanda Beard's decision to pose for Playboy, my wife and I had an interesting conversation...particularly in regards to gratuitous nudity and roll models. I won't go into the heavy details, but it lead me to an article regarding the marketability of athletes and women's athletics.

According to a poll of 65 businesses around America by Street & Smith released earlier this year, only Maria Sharapova breaks the top 10 (ninth). Other women to make the list, or be determined marketable:
Michelle Kwan (skating - retired)
Mia Hamm (soccer - retired)
Anna Kournikova (tennis - retired)
Chris Everett (tennis - retired)
Michelle Wie (golf)
Swin Cash (WNBA)
Heather Mitts (soccer)

In recent years others have made the list, such as Venus and Serena Williams, and Gabi Reece, but why such a short list? Is it tied to the lack of popularity of women's sports? Is it tied to something else?

The saying that everyone hears in regards to advertising is "sex sells," yet efforts of the WNBA to make attractive players such as Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson the faces of their franchises don't seem to help draw in the larger fan base that the WNBA has hoped to attract. Is it due to a long standing misperception that the women's locker-room is merely the jock "closet," a haven packed solely with athletic-minded lesbians and a homo-phobic United States stays away?

Is it that women's sports hasn't tried hard enough to market to a lesbian fan base that does indeed exist?

All of these are plausible explanations. But I have one other - it's the markets that women's team sports feel they need to be in. These Joanie-come-lately leagues insist on trying to compete with already established men's teams for the same dollar.

Look where the WNBA has situated their teams - New York, Seattle, Detroit, Houston, etc. Many of those teams are in markets where they are competing with Major League Baseball's longer established Yankees, Mets, Mariners, Tigers, Astros, etc, for the fan dollar. That's not a winning proposition. The reason - the NBA, the WNBA's parent corporation, wanted to be in the biggest television markets.

It might have been wiser, however, to move into the secondary markets. Pensacola, which is a top 45 television market, but has precious little in the way of professional sports, is the home town to the women's football team Pensacola Power. It is one of the few venues for that sport that regularly attracts over 4,000 in attendance for its games. By way of contrast, in their second seasons Pensacola regularly attracted several thousand fans and was covered by the local newspaper, Philadelphia, competing against the Sixers and Flyers (when the two made the playoffs), as well as the Phillies, were lucky to attract 1000.

Yes, the female athletes you see hawking products tend to be the prettiest - lord knows that Kournokova had moments, but was never at the top of the game, never won a major tournament and never ranked higher than eighth, but was at the time the most marketable face in tennis. Not just women's tennis - but tennis as a whole. Even sitting on the sidelines she continues to make millions.

Are there exceptions? Sure - Mia Hamm wasn't the prettiest of the pro-soccer players, but she's not unattractive and she was the best at what she did.

The question all this leads to is - what's the answer? How can women's sports be more marketable and draw bigger crowds? If I could answer that, I'd have a whole lot more money than I do now.

What is Clemens real impact?
Assuming Kei Igawa was still getting used to a new leagues, batters, umpires, etc., it's probably safe to project him for somewhere between eight and eleven wins over the course of the season and about a 5.00 ERA. With a maximum potential of about 23 starts and a move to a tougher league than he pitched in last season, chances are Clemens will produce between ten and fourteen wins with around a 4.00 ERA.

For an additional $26 million (figuring for luxury tax), that's really not much additional bang for the Yankee buck, if all the assumptions above are really true. Also, they can not figure that a 45 year-old pitcher who averaged six innings per game in the weaker National League is going to do the same in the American League...and isn't part of their problem right now their overtaxed bullpen?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Those little things that get into your head and rattle around...


Olympic swimmer and occasional model Amanda Beard evidently will be appearing sans swimsuit in the July issue of Playboy. There is, from our puritanical countrymen and our militaristic feminists, something of an outcry about this.

Dr. Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, told the New York Daily News, “It used to be that female athletes were portrayed as wholesome, All-American girls. Now you get female athletes in GQ, Playboy and the Swimsuit issue. The result of it is coverage that is very damaging—that trivializes and marginalizes women athletes because it does not give them the respect they deserve as competent athletes.”

So it's okay for an athlete to be wholesome, but not sexy? I understand that Dr. Kane wants these athletes to be taken seriously based on their merits as athletes, but no one should get bashed because that person is comfortable in his or her own skin.

Also, it's not like this is the first female athlete to do so - Australian WNBA star Lauren Jackson, Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff, Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt, and world cup soccer player Brandi Chastain have all been photographed sans clothes (to paraphrase Chastain - she worked really hard for her body, is proud of it, and wanted it recorded). This phenomenon is not limited to female athletes - Olympic diver Greg Louganis posed for Playgirl in 1987. NBA star Alan Houston and baseball player Carlos Delgado have also posed nude, but I don't believe that anyone thinks that has detracted from their athletic accomplishments.

Let's face it, we're not talking about Tonya Harding and the homemade porn tape here.

Personally, I think Playboy should be commended when they actually portray a woman with a strong, healthy, athletic body achieved through hard work and sweat rather than surgery.

Coming up sevens...

Let's just say that Josh Beckett is not the same pitcher this year as he was last year. Right now he's 7-0 with a 2.51 ERA and has given up two home runs. Last year? Thirty-three starts, 36 homers.

What a difference a year makes.

People who are worried about how the Dice-man adjusts from Japan to the American majors should take a look at Beckett who struggled last year. All of you who are worried about Matsuzaka - remember the following...he is still getting used to new umpires, new batters, a new strike-zone, and a new ball size. He'll come around, just don't expect him to dominate this year - but do expect to see flashes.

Not much of a fan but...

I'm not much of a basketball fan, as I'm sure regular readers have figured. I don't watch much, I'm not particularly enamored of any team and...since the early 1990's, I just find that the game has evolved into something I just don't care about. I haven't watched a minute of even the playoffs this year, and I'll usually catch a game or two...this year it's just not catching my interest.

There has been speculation in recent years that it has to do with the fact that there are more black players (roughly 75%) there than in any other league (football is roughly 65%) and the fact that they are more visible and easier to see the "thug life" connection in the blatantly displayed tattoos. I can't help but think if this were true, than hockey would rein supreme.

I think it's a different issue.

I think Michael Jordan initiated the advent of a new business model in how to build a team - find one or two superstars and surround those guys with JAGs (just another guys). Who did Allen Iverson ever have playing with him in Philadelphia that was a superstar (at the time he was with Iverson)? Paul Pierce in Boston? Even the Utah Jazz really only had Karl Malone and John Stockton for years.

I'm not even a basketball fan and I can tell you that the Lakers and the Celtics of the early to mid 80's went much deeper than that. Sure the Celtics had their big three in Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, and Kevin McHale, but they also had Dennis Cowens, Danny Ainge, ML Carr, Bill Walton, and Dennis Johnson - several of which were Hall-of-Famers themselves. The Lakers themselves had the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott, and Kurt Rambis.

Personally I think the problem is that they are trying to sell the game as a team sport and so few of the franchises really play as a team, not to mention the fact that there has been a deterioration in certain important skills such as defense (which is as much a reason why Team America hasn't been able to come home with the gold as anything else).

As for the last point - a lot has been made of the other teams around the world playing day in and day out together. It's interesting how that never affected our dream teams until the most recent generations of players.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The weekend round-up...

Ready for launch...
So the Rocket Man has ended up in pin-stripes...big whoop. The Yankees biggest problem right now is getting quality starts out of the front five in the rotation, so they go out and sign 45-year old Roger Clemens to a deal to shore up the starting rotation.

Clemens was good last year, averaging 6 innings per start and a 2.30 ERA in the National League. Clemens will be starting about five starts earlier this year than last, so he could feasibly have 25 starts on the year (although I'm guessing the number will be closer to 20). He's unlikely to have that ERA or last six innings per start in the American League where line-ups tend to be deeper.

Yankees fans who think this is going to be your savior, take note - when Clemens left the AL to pitch with the Astros, his ERA dropped nearly a whole run per nine innings (3.91 to 2.98) and he lost five fewer games. During his stint with the Yankees he averaged a 4.01 ERA and was only as low as 3.51 once. Is he really going to relieve the pressure on the bullpen? Maybe, but I have my doubts.

For that, they need to hope that Mike Mussina can come back and stay off the DL, Andy Pettite doesn't break down from being another year older (and the Yankees needing more out of him and Clemens than the Astros did), and rookie Philip Hughes can fulfill some of the promise he showed before the hamstring injury, they might have a shot at the post-season. And all of that assumes that the stop-gap solutions they currently have in place are able to alleviate some of the bull-pen's current work-load before Clemens is even ready to pitch in the majors, otherwise injuries will begin occurring there. They have already pitched 112+ innings this season to Boston's 75. To put it another way - they've pitched four extra games.

If this pace keeps up, the Yankees bullpen will have pitched 21.6 more games than the Sox pen. That is not a winning formula.

From the "sucks to be him" department...
On Saturday Julian Tavarez had his best game of the year, giving up only two runs to the Twins. Unfortunately he was going against Twins' ace Johann Santana who only gave up one run.

To compound issues, rumors have begun to surface that the Sox are shopping Tavarez to make room for the rehabbing cancer survivor, John Lester, in the hopes of bringing Lester back to the majors by early June.

All of this kind of makes Schilling a cautionary tale. I'm not comparing Schilling to Tavarez. Even at this age, Schilling is a more talented pitcher than Tavarez. What I'm talking about is that you have an older, veteran pitcher on staff, but waiting in the wings are a number of prospects that the Sox have been unwilling to part with. All of those younger prospects have more of that magic term "upside" attached to them than either Schilling or Tavarez, and it's only a matter of time until each are replaced.

I'm not saying that it will happen this year for Schilling...but with three major pitching prospects simmering on the back-burner in Pawtucket, taking his contract negotiations public might not have been his wisest move in recent years.

Taking a couple for the team...
This year's Aussie Rules season got under way with a friendly match against North Carolina in Raleigh. If that was friendly, I'd hate to see how they play teams with whom they were unfriendly. Of course it didn't help that I drove the five hours there and five hours back on the same day.

In all honesty it was one of the more physical games of footy I have been involved in since I started playing back in 1999.

On the plus side...we won by 2, we beat a division one team, we were playing with a bench of three for the first half and an injury reduced that to a bench of two against a team that was sporting about a dozen reserves. The final was 68-66. Still, there was a lot of room for improvement.

On June 9 we will face them on our home turf in a game that will actually count towards the standings in the Eastern Australian Football League (Us, Philly, NC, NY, and Boston).

Anyone who is local, come on down we can always use the support (for directions, click on the Baltimore/Washington Eagles link on the right).