Friday, July 06, 2007

Things I would like to see...

I would like to see more headlines about professional athletes doing the right thing rather than the ongoing sagas of the Michael Vicks and Pacman Joneses of the world.

I would like people to stop taking the fall for the Vicks, and for the other fans to get their heads out of their asses and stop making excuses for him and for Barry Bonds. Yes, we are in America where in a court of law, the concept is innocent before proven guilty.

However, just because he hasn't been convicted, doesn't mean that Bonds is innocent. Hell, he admitted before a grand jury that he did cheat the game. That's a fact.

Stop apologizing for him - we also live in a country where ignorance is not considered a legitimate defense in a court of law. He's a cheater and deserves no better than Pete Rose, and for my money, a lot worse.

I would like to see Drew Bledsoe make the Hall of Fame, but more, I would like to see what he would be like as a quarterbacks coach for some team in the NFL. After watching sideline film of that last season in New England, I am convinced that Tom Brady does not develop at the rate he did that year without Bledsoe's feedback.

I would like to know what, exactly, is keeping Jim Rice out of the Hall of Fame. Outside of Reggie Jackson, there was no slugger from 1975-1986 who was more dominant, and his numbers are comparable to quite players that are already enshrined.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in George Steinbrenner's war-room this year. Considering the sudden questions about the future ownership of the Yankees, it seems that the dysfunction started at the top and has worked its way down. I would love to hear the conversations as they approach the trade deadline.

I would like to see players shut the hell up and play when franchised, particularly since the major whine is, "I could go out there and get hurt on the first play of the season," and in the history of the tag, no player has lost a season while playing under the franchise tender. You're getting paid the average salary of the top five players at your position - get into camp and get on the field.

I would now like to see the Yankees go 86 years between championships. When you look at the way the Red Sox played in the 1920's after getting rid of Ruth, it certainly looks like the Yankees are heading in that sort of direction. They've slashed and burned their farm-system, and have effectively ended up with a lot of fat contracts on the old and injured. Even with their deep pockets, that has the potential to take a long time from which to recover.

Finally, I would like to see the Pats get two more rings this decade. It would be one helluva an accomplishment in this day of the salary cap.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Being Curt and other observations

The writing is on the wall.

Curt Schilling went on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder tendinitis after an MRI showed nothing. The move was made retroactive to June 19. That means Schill was elligible to come off the DL yesterday.

Yesterday the team announced the rotation through July 16. Schill is not part of it.

When the team comes back from the All-Star break, the rotation is likely to be Wakefield, Tavarez, Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Gabbard. While the Sox might expect Schilling back sometime in July, it looks to me like the Red Sox are trying to prepare for life without the hero of the 2004 World Series.

What this is saying to me is that the Red Sox are trying to look at the future now. With a ten game lead they have the option of taking a longer look at Kason Gabbard and Jacoby Ellsbury. They might be looking at either as trade bait, or to see if either merits consideration for tomorrow's team and whether or not they can help down the stretch.

One thing it definitively says to me is that Schilling and the Sox part ways at the end of this season.

I have been following whispers about the Women's United Soccer Association coming back under a different name. As a former beat writer covering the Philadelphia Charge back in 2001 and as the father of a five year-old girl, personally, I think this is pretty cool.

According to the Boston Herald, the Boston Breakers are soon to have try-outs for the new league sponsored by the Women's Soccer Initiative, Inc. The WSI has announced that the reincarnation of the WUSA will have eight teams which includes Washington (playing right down the street from me in Germantown, MD), New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, and according to some rumors, Philadelphia.

While I covered the league, I had the chance to talk to a number of the World Cup players like Kristine Lilly, Katie Sobrero, Lorrie Fair, and Heather Mitts. These women were superb athletes, I'm glad they and those who have followed in their cleat-steps will once again have an opportunity to make a living doing what they love.

Hideki Okajima has made the All-Star game, joining team-mates Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon. While I wouldn't have complained about most of the other candidates making it onto the roster, Okajima has been deserving of the honor.

The man has been virtually unhittable since coming across the Pacific as an afterthought in all the Matsuzaka hype.

With the limited space, it's a shame that Matsuzaka couldn't have made it as well as Kevin Youkilis who has been having a better year than Ortiz.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Halfway to the post-season

After 82 games the Boston Red Sox are 51-31 and on a pace for 102 wins this season. At the writing of this, the Angels (51-31) were losing to Texas and the Indians (50-32) were locked in a tie with Detroit. If the score remains the same in the Angels game and no matter the result of the Indians, then the Sox retake the mantle of having the best record in baseball.

The Sox owe this to two things, being in the top six in hitting in spite of carrying the light hitting Julio Lugo (.191), and players like JD Drew, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz hitting below their career averages. The other - their pitching. Currently they're tied for fourth in team ERA at a 3.71 (not including tonight's game). After tonight's win, Daisuke Matsuzaka is the team's second ten game winner, joining Josh Beckett (11-2), and the team has three pitchers with at least eight wins (Tim Wakefield at 8-8).

With their ten game cushion, and an injury to the recently surging Coco Crisp, the Sox have been able to audition prospect Jacoby Ellsbury at the major league level. With David Murphy available at Pawtucket, one has to question why Ellsbury was promoted.

Was it with the idea to increase his trade value in order to make a big splash before the trade deadline?

Was it to audition him for the majors in order to see how expendable Crisp is?

If it's the former, then the Sox can expect flak for that trade given the play he made on the passed ball against Texas. If it's the latter, then the Sox are acknowledging that the future is now in their quest for a second World Series title this decade.

Considering the way the offense has sputtered lately, the latter might not be a bad thing. Ellsbury may very well provide the Sox the spark they have been needing as well as the true lead-off hitter they have been missing. He may even succeed in taking the pressure on Lugo, which in turn might allow Lugo to get back on track.

NFL Questions: NFC East

Like I did with the AFC East, here I am taking a look at what is the major question facing each team in the NFC East. There are so many issues facing each of these teams, it was difficult to choose just one.

Dallas Cowboys - Oh, so many to choose here, and so many obvious ones...Tony Romo's development? T.O., AKA The Mouth That Roared? The Dallas O-line? New coaching staff? Ultimately, I think it all comes back to the offensive line. Can they do better than they did last year? If they can, they have a shot. If they can, then Romo has a chance to develop, Romo has a chance to get the ball to Terrell Owens and keep him happy, and Wade Phillips has a chance to see if his offense really works. Considering that the Cowboys' big off-season offensive acquisition was a left tackle that couldn't cut it on the offensive powerhouse that is the Arizona Cardinals, this might be a tall order.

New York Giants - Can Eli Manning become the player that the Giants need him to be? We could ask if Jeremy Shockey could ever become the player the Giants need him to be, but we already know he's not dedicated to the improvement of the team. But can Manning become consistent, can Manning become a leader, can Manning smack down the idiots when they open their mouths? It's unlikely that the Giants will see any improvement on last year if Manning can't be the guy that the players rally around. And if it's more of the same, expect Coach Coughlin to b e looking for a job come January.

Philadelphia Eagles - Can Donovan McNabb stay healthy for sixteen games? The only way that this happens is if Andy Reid learned his lesson last year when he called just about as many running plays as he did passing. In each of McNabb's injury plagued seasons, passing plays made up close to 70 percent of the calls for the Eagles offense. If Reid stays with what I call the McNabb ratio (70-30), Kevin Kolb needs to be ready for extended action. If Kolb is starting for the Eagles, they will struggle.

Washington Redskins - Did Dan Snyder finally get out of his own way? Lord only knows if that will even help. For the first time during his tenure as owner, Snyder has reigned in the need to win the Super Bowl during the off-season and avoided making the big splash. Last year he went out and signed Adam Archuletta, a hard hitting safety with mediocre cover skills, to play opposite of Sean Taylor...a hard hitting safety with mediocre coverage skills. Instead of complimentary pieces, the Redskins were concerned with getting the players with the biggest reputations that were available. Last season that resulted in a gaping hole in pass coverage in the middle of the field. Maybe, for the first time since Snyder took over, the team will show some growth due to the lower key effort.

NY Nuggets

In a season during which things seem to fall apart for the Yankees just when they seem like they might turn the corner, or at least get some sort of season highlight, it has happened again. On the night that Clemens gets his 350th career win, the Bombers' best offensive player injures himself and is likely headed to the disabled list.

For those out there that don't think Alex Rodriguez has been the best player at the plate for the Yanks this year, you're either blind or stupid. For the next two weeks, the Yankees are likely to be without the guy who has produced 80 of the team's 315 RBI's from the (current regular) starting nine. That's 25.4 percent of the team's RBI's. They lose the guy who hit 28 home runs of the starting nine's 68 homers, 41.18 percent. He has hit more than three times the number of home runs than the next most on the team (Posada, 9), and of the current line-up, to even come close to matching his home run production, it would take Posada, Matsui (8), Jeter (5), and Abreu (5) - in essence, half the line-up.

Call it a hunch, but this is going to be a long two weeks for the Yanks if A-Rod's hamstring is bad enough to be put on the DL. Add that to the fact that a hamstring injury makes A-Rod a less tradeable commodity if the Yanks wanted to try to replenish the farm system. Hamstrings are notoriously tricky and can have an adverse affect on a player's power numbers.

Yankees fans take note...
Yankees ownership feels that you are less important than the players. At least that is what the message seems to be when they allow Cynthia Rodriguez, A-Rod's wife, to wear a shirt that tells the fan base what it can do with itself.

Any fan would have been escorted to the gate, or at the very least, asked to cover the rude and inappropriate message on the shirt.

This is not going to help A-Rod endear himself to the New York fans.

Farnsworth on way out the door?
According to reports, after the blow-up between Joe Torre and pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, Farnsworth has been unavailable for the last two games due to what Torre told reporters was a sore or stiff back. When approached by reporters, Farnsworth said his back was fine and that he would have been able to pitch in either of the last two games if needed.

This sounds like someone who has seriously fallen out of favor with his manager, and might be suited to a change of scenery.

The hard truth...
The hard truth for Yankees fans is that their team through 79 games has won only 38. Sure, they're only about 8.5 games back in the wild card race, but the wild car leading Tigers are on pace to win 95 games. Seattle, Minnesota, Oakland, and Toronto are all between the Yankees and the Tigers and all are playing better baseball than the Yankees.

For the Yankees to get to that magic number of 95, the Yankees will have to go 57-26 for the remainder of the season.

It's time for New York to write off this season, trade some veterans for whatever they can get (and let's face it, Abreu isn't worth much, A-Rod is injured, decreasing their return on him, Giambi isn't worth anything to anyone, and a broken down Damon isn't going to draw much interest). But if they can get even three prospects that are even close to major league ready, that would be quite an accomplishment.

Let's look at one last hard truth. Brian Cashman isn't that great a general manager. He was not the architect of the World Series winners in the 1990's. Gene Michael and Bob Watson were. Watson and Michael built the farm system that produced Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, were smart enough to not trade away Jorge Posada, and generally had more power than what Cashman has been granted through the years.

Cashman has pretty much just had more that he could spend on the top free-agents than anyone else. This year he tried to put together a team on something of a budget and failed miserably.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K

For the last week or so the Mariners have been the best team in baseball. Yesterday, manager Mike Hargrove didn't just resign. When you read his words, as reported by the AP, it appears he has retired -

"I have never had to work at getting that level myself -- ever -- until recently. I've found that I've had to work harder in making that same commitment to my bosses, to my players and to my coaches. And that's not right," Hargrove said, turning away and choking back tears.

"They deserve better. They are good people. There is a good thing going on here. And it's time for me to leave."

Hargrove's voice often cracked. His eyes were moist and red, remnants of a meeting he called with stunned players moments earlier. He said he initially made his decision June 20, just after a six-game losing streak.

General manager Bill Bavasi said that on a scale of one to 10 on being caught off-guard, Hargrove's departure was "an 11." Hargrove agreed with Bavasi to delay leaving until the All-Star break, and Bavasi and McLaren tried to talk Hargrove into reversing his decision.

"We've won seven in a row and the feeling hasn't changed. I never thought it would end like this. And I am grateful that it has," he said, adding this is probably his last job.

The timing of the announcement is puzzling to say the least, but when you're heart's not into something anymore, success can seldom change that feeling.

Frustration mounts in the House that Ruth Built...
According to reports, the usually even tempered Joe Torre went nose to nose with Kyle Farnsworth, and players like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada are attacking the professionalism of their teammates.

Scouts have speculated that the lack of depth in the minors has allowed for a lack of urgency on the part of the team's veterans. People like Robinson Cano know that there is nobody threatening to take his place if he plays poorly. This has led to speculation that, for the first time in over a decade, the Yankees will be forced to be sellers before the trade deadline...most likely selling A-Rod.

The question is, after so many years at the top, can Boss Steinbrenner and the Yankees brain trust adjust the mentality that has allowed the Yankees to clear-cut their own farm system for the last seven seasons in the pursuit of championships that never manifested? Can they change gears to rebuilding, or will they be stuck in this self destructive loop?

More football sizzling on the grid-iron...
After the announcement of the United Football League coming soon, it appears that a new league, the All-American Football League will beat the UFL to the starting line. The league plans on using college rules and playing in the spring in college hotbed areas.

An interesting idea, but it's not the first time a league has tried the spring in order to avoid competition with the more established leagues. I'm not convinced playing up the college rules is a solution either, as I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of the collegiate game.

However, playing the games in areas that don't have professional teams may be the smartest decision involved - it's the same thing that allowed for the development and growth of the Arena Football League. It's only been over the last decade that the AFL really made in-roads into major markets like Philadelphia and New York.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Throwback - looking at the Patriots Snow Bowl from the 2001 playoffs

Recently ESPN or the NFL Network ran a show on the greatest bad weather games ever played. Amongst them was the game the Patriots played against the Raiders in the Nor'easter in Foxboro back in 2001. As is the formula with these shows, they talk to commentators, coaches, and former players.

One of the former players that they talked to for this game was a former Raider whose name escapes me, but he wasn't even involved in this game. This dude played in the 1970's and he cemented the perception in my head that the whining nature of Raiders fans starts with their former players.

This guy addressed the tuck rule, saying that the refs made a call that was never made before, nor since. Of course the call had been made several times before in the regular season, and has been made several times since. And for the Raiders fans that want to continue whining about this, consider the following - "NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2: When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble."

And this - immediately after the overturned call, Brady completed a pass to a completely uncovered David Patten for a first down. The Raiders defense stiffened, forcing the Vinatieri field goal with less than a minute left to tie the game. It was not an easy field goal in those conditions, the refs did nothing to help the ball along, and based on the percentages at that distance (even in decent conditions) Vinatieri was unlikely to make that kick.

The Raiders got the ball back with 27 seconds on the clock, and I believe one time-out. Gruden had his team take a knee and go to overtime. Ample time to run between three and four plays in an attempt to get into field goal range.

The Raiders lost the toss and never saw the ball again.

A few important facts about the Raiders defense in the overtime loss - on the second pass that Brady threw, JR Redmond caught the ball for a short gain when two Raiders defenders blew tackles on what should have been no more than a five yard pick-up. Redmond turned it into a 21-yard gain.

Six plays later the Raiders had the Patriots in a fourth and four situation and gave up the first down. All in all, after the tuck ruling, the Raiders defense had 17 plays to come up with either a turnover or the big stop and they couldn't get it done.

On a separate note...

For Sox and Patriots fans traveling to our nation's capital, this place will make you feel at home. The owner is from Boston, portions of the staff are from New England, and they have the packages to get all the Sox and Pats games.