Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who gives a rats a...

They were a Hollywood couple living it up in Europe - the pop-star and the most famous athlete in his sport. A movie was named for him and she had been in a movie. Yesterday they arrived in America...Los Angeles to be specific, so that David Beckham could once again be the best player in his league...of course, playing in professional soccer in America is a few steps down from playing for REAL Madrid.

For the last couple of weeks, media outlets have been promoting the Beckhams like they're the second coming of the Beatles in the United States - at least one headline I saw invoked the term "British Invasion."

NBC is even airing...if it hasn't already aired, a reality show following Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham through the move to the "Colonies."

And the real question is...who cares?

The L.A. Galaxy are paying Beckham A-Rod type money - a $250 million contract - in the hopes of bringing more fans to a sport with marginal popularity in the United States (sorry Dave), but is king around the world. This smacks of the Yankees.

Beckham is, at best a re-tread. In January of this year, ESPN reported, "Beckham turned down a two-year contract extension from Spanish team Real Madrid, where his fading skills left him on the bench."

During an eight season run, largely as a regular starter with Manchester United, Beckham scored 61 goals - an average of 7.63 per season. In two seasons in Madrid he scored a total of seven, more than half a goal less than his annual average.

Maybe playing against the inferior talent in the United States he will experience a career renaissance. But once again, who cares?

The move smacks of desperation. It was tried once before and with Pele, a player that was much more marketable to the American people. Let's face it - yes, we are part of a culture that is fascinated with our celebrities, and with our celebrity athletes. But we like our athletes to be humble, to come from humble beginnings, to remain humble. Seldom do we like the "Rock Star" athletes.

Look at Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds - they polarize the public and part of the knock on them is the perception that they set themselves apart from their teams, that they are spoiled. Sure, we'll deal with the larger-than-life personas of the Deion Sanders of the world...they have a certain kitsch value. Beckham? With $250 million is just going to come off as a re-tread star who took advantage of an idiot American who was bidding against only himself for the services of a washed up once-great.

But then again...who cares?

Friday, July 13, 2007

In honor of Friday the 13th - 13 Thoughts...

1. Halfway house - The Yankees won last night to get to .500 with a 43-43 record. Right now, at ten games behind the Red Sox, they are halfway between first place and last. The Devil Rays are 20 games back.

With 76 games left the Yankees would have to go 47-29 just to get to 90 wins and 52-24 to get to the commonly acknowledged number of 95 for a legit shot at the post-season. That's a .618 winning percentage from now until the end of the season.

To put it a different way - on a team where the starting pitching has accounted for 30 of the team's 43 wins and 30 of the team's losses, the Yankees need their starting pitching to come up with quality starts in three out of every five starts, bare minimum, and enough offense to win those starts. Is there anyone who doesn't have pinstripes seared into their minds that believes the Yankees can do this?

2. Smells like...desperation - The Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez an ultimatum...promise not to opt out of your contract and we'll work out an extension with you. If you don't, we won't be part of the off-season A-Rod sweepstakes. Yeah, I wouldn't have accepted that either.

In essence, the Yankees have told one of the few bright spots in their otherwise moribund season to give up all negotiating leverage. The bottom line is that the Yankees were willing to pay more while Texas was picking up part of the tab and they're not so sure they want to spend gobs o cash on their third baseman.

Unfortunately, they're over a barrel. They have no one in the minors, and right now their other option would be to overpay for Mike Lowell if the Sox don't extend him. Who else will be on the market this winter that the Yanks would be interested in?

3. Fed up - I have been cycling since I was in high school. When I say cycling, I'm talking water bottles, Trek, Cannondale, Biancchi, spandex, and the Tour De France.

I have even followed le Tour with more than a passing interest in a number of years, but this year there's a bad taste in my mouth. That bad taste has to do with the Tour, and the last three American winners which make up, in toto, half the winners of the last 20 Tours - Greg LeMond (2 X's, three if you go back 21 years), Lance Armstrong (7 X's), Floyd Landis (once).

LeMond, who to this day, had one of the greatest single days in the history of sports when he came from almost two minutes down in the final time-trial in 1986 to beat Laurent Fignon of France seems to have his own agenda. Armstrong and Landis have both faced doping allegations - Armstrong from teammates that had nothing to gain by outing him, and Landis with a failed test during last year's Tour.

All might be guilty of something, and it's possible that none are guilty of anything. Let's face it, if the Tour really wanted to clean up the sport, they wouldn't rely on an incompetent lab, and they certainly wouldn't let the rag of a newspaper, L'Equipe, have access to "anonymous" test samples in order to discredit riders. And all this is just a tip of the disorganized iceberg that is the mess the Tour has going, and it makes it hard to take anything that the Tour officials claim as being the truth since the newspaper appears to have an agenda - and treating the riders fairly does not seem to be part of that agenda.

4. Depth Charges - Listening to ESPN Radio's Sports Bash on the way home yesterday, the host made an interesting...and accurate point about the Red Sox this year. Last year the team had a better record and the team had "better balance."

It's hard to argue that the line-up was better last year - Nixon was better last year than Drew has been this year, shortstop has been a down-grade, and both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz have been scuffling at the plate. However, Varitek is having a better season, as is Youkilis, Mike Lowell, and even Coco Crisp, not to mention Pedroia has been an upgrade at second.

The real key, however, has been that last season the team didn't weather injuries to the pitching particularly well, and other than Jonathan Papelbon, had a pretty mediocre bullpen. This season Okajima and DelCarmen have been spectacular on a Papelbon-like level, and others like Kyle Snyder and Brendan Donnelly have been solid. To top it off, the Sox have starters ready for the Pawtucket to Boston express a-la Kasson Gabbard for whenever the Curt Schillings of the world are done.

It's unlikely that the Sox will experience a late-season skid like last year when inning-eater Tim Wakefield went down with a rib injury.

5. The Boomer and Moss- David Wells recent suspension getting him in the news reminded me of what I thought when the Sox signed him. I realized that when I heard the Patriots had traded for Moss, that I emotionally had the same reaction...I really hate this guy, did my team really need him that badly?

6. Just a couple of weeks - While I am a Red Sox lifer, I have to admit, I am first and foremost a football fan. I was that guy watching NFL Europa. I am happy to remind everyone - pads get strapped on for two-a-days in just about two weeks.

7. Predictions - I don't generally like to do preseason predictions, except for in the NFL. However, I did some for and predicted that the Brewers would finish in first in the NL Central. While they have struggled of late, the team still holds a 4.5 game lead in the division after the All-Star break, and has a legitimate shot of winning what's a fairly weak division.

In all honesty, the Brew-crew was my dark-horse pick. I'm just as surprised as anybody else.

8. Of human Bond-age - Will some pitcher just bean this man already? Nobody outside of San Francisco or ESPN's Connecticut campus wants to see the non-stop Bonds coverage by ESPN.

And on that note, ESPN and their on-air personalities should be ashamed for taking Hank Aaron to task over his choice to not attend the grotesque charade that is Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's record. If anyone has earned the right to do something for his own reasons, it's Aaron, and who the Hell are we to question him? For that matter - why should Bud Selig be present? If the man thinks Bonds cheated, isn't that then just sending the message that he continues to condone the cheating in the sport.

Maybe it is a little disingenuous of him to turn his back on Bonds after years of turning a blind eye to the problem, but wouldn't it be worse if after committing to cleaning up the game he did something that could be construed as condoning one of the league's biggest cheaters?

9. Meet me in St. Louis - I've seen championship teams take a dive following their championship season, and heard all the questions that accompanied the fall, but this one is amusing to me. People are talking like St. Louis has had the precipitous fall from last year, but this team went 83-78 - the third worst record in the history of the sport for a play-off team.

What we had was a team that got hot for the post-season. Think long and hard about the fact that they got quality starts out of Jeff "Let's Throw Some Batting Practice Every Fifth Day" Weaver in the post-season, and then tell me whether or not they were the best team, or just the best at the right time.

This right now is no surprise to me.

10. Hey baby, what's your sign - Can anyone out there tell me what's going on with ESPN and the sexual harassment suits? Anyone?

Who wants to place bets on how long it will be before Isaiah Thomas works there?

11. 20,000 Leagues under the Seahawks - Anyone out there know what the over-under is that Vegas is putting on the two new professional football leagues that are supposed to start up over the next couple of years? With the United Football League already attracting investors such as Mark Cuban, and the fact that they are looking to play ball in the Fall, my money is on the UFL to be the one to show any sort of longevity.

You know...get into the second half.

12. Tennis anyone - Wimbledon has come and gone and the most I saw were some highlights of matches featuring the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, and Daniella Hantuchova. All told, I watched less than ten minutes of tennis.

Growing up I used to watch Wimbledon and Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Everett and Martina Navratilova. I even watched when it was Michael Chang, Ivan Lendl, and Boris Becker.

It occurred to me that I couldn't name a single men's player on the current tour without some sort of hint. Yup, I'm one of pro tennis' lost viewers. Oh well.

13. Better for some sports - Throughout the years, Hollywood has often looked to sports to provide storylines. There have been so many sports movies that they are sometimes considered their own genre. I have addressed the movies before, but what I have never asked here is why some sports seem to generate better movies than others?

For example, cycling has produced the classic Breaking Away and the well received Flying Scotsman, but it has also given us American Flyers and little else. Football has given us Remember the Titans, North Dallas 40, and the original Longest Yard but it has also given us Necessary Roughness and Little Giants.

I put it to you, my readers - other than baseball (Field of Dreams, The Natural, The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, A Soldier's Story, Bang the Drum Slowly, Major League, Eight Men Out, Fear Strikes Out, and Cobb off the top of my head), can anyone come up with a top ten of movies for any given sport? Football? Basketball? Hockey?

Or at least explain to me why sports like basketball end up with more films like Juwanna Mann and Air Bud, than like Hoosiers?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vick apologists go home and other QB issues

Andrew Perloff over at Sports Illustrated made a bold prediction about the Falcons this year. Less a prediction, really, than a statement that the Falcons "could go," 3-13 this season. This of course brought all the Vick apologists out of the wood work like little termites.

Vick's woes are everybody's fault but his own, including the fact that he has shown no progress in his development as a pro. One of my favorite statements on the forum responses to Perloff's blog regarding Vick was from some Falcons fan who claimed to have played QB in the CFL and AFL and stated that Vick only put the ball up 15-20 times per game.

Never mind the fact that his average attempts per game for his career is 23.4, and for the last two seasons around 25, according to this Falcons fan, Vick's completions per game, based on his completion percentage, would be between 8.07 and 10.76. Yeah, that's the guy I want under center. I'm not even going to get into his yardage numbers.

Hell, even at 23.4 per game, his completions still end up at a brutally low 12.6 per game.

On most teams that doesn't just get you benched. It gets you cut.

To put it in perspective - Tom Brady? 31.92 attempts per game and 61.9 percent completions, or 19.75 completions per game.

Ben Roethlisberger who is kept to a lower number of attempts, more comparable to Vick, because of the reliance on Pittsburgh's potent running attack? 25 AGP, 62.4 % completions, and 15.6 CPG.

How about Kurt Warner who was benched last season in spite of a completion percentage over 64? Who is in the twilight of his career in spite of two seasons where he averaged between 64.4 and 64.5 percent completions? Warner through his career has 31.75 APG, with a 65.6 % completions, with 20.8 CPG. And the prevailing belief is that he can't start in this league anymore.

So, I say it once again, until Vick shows me something...consistently, then just go home and be quiet, because Vick is the anti-A-Rod - a supremely talented athlete that puts up mediocre to poor numbers.

And before any of you use the argument about his rushing statistics last year, let me pose the question - just what did that 1000 yards Vick got on the ground get you? A playoff berth or a losing season?

Making a mountain out of a mole hill

Originally entitled by the NY Daily news, Manning Lobs Barb at Barber, the following was reported on under a slightly different title alluding to essentially the same idea...

Manning takes shot at Tiki
Posted: Thursday July 12, 2007 07:50AM ET
Eli Manning didn't hold back when asked about what he thought life would be like without newly retired running back Tiki Barber. "I don't think we're concerned," Manning said. "We're excited by the players that we have who wanted to return for this season, and who wanted to be a part of the Giants and play." When word of Barber's retirement leaked out during last season, many in the media questioned Barber's dedication to the team. Manning's parting shot, however, is the first time a teammate has openly criticized the Giants' all-time leading rusher.
Sure, this statement could be looked at a back-handed slap at the former Giants running-back, but it really looks to me like the press trying to create controversy where there isn't any. I'm not an Eli fan, but I really do feel this is reaching.

This strikes me as something along the lines of the following -
Spring 2006
Member of the press - "Hey David, what do you think the Sox chances are without Johnny Damon?"
Big Papi - "I don't think we're concerned. We're excited by the players that we have who wanted to return for this season, and who wanted to be a part of the Red Sox."

Is there anyone out there that would take that as a shot at Damon, or Ortiz just trying to build his new team-mates up? Anyone?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rumor mills and reactions

With the source credited as the New York Daily News, Yahoo reported the following rumor -

the Los Angeles Dogers, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox have the best chances of landing Alex Rodriguez in 2008. The cost? How about as much as $30 million per season?
Longer shots to sign A-Rod – this is all assuming he opts out of his contract after this season – are the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

The reactions to this have been fascinating, ranging from the simple, "we'll take him," or, "we don't want him," to the reasonably well thought out post of this person -

Quit all you who said "Hope he doesn't come here" He's the best player
of this generation and when he's done he'll be the best ever. No true fan
wouldn't want that added to their hometown team. Don't think I say this as an
A-Rod fan, I'm a Mariners fan and have more reason to hate him than any of you
but get serious. No one can stand him here but if he were re-signed he'd get a
standing ovation for everything he did. He's that good. Like him or hate him but
don't deny he's the best and any GM who had the chance would be an idiot to pass
on him. Sure, he's had a rough time in the playoffs for the Yankees but if he
isn't on that club they don't even make the playoffs a few of those years. He's
not the problem, the pitching staff having one starter younger than Yoda is the
problem..... GO MARINERS!!!!
Posted by ateabug1 on Tuesday, Jul 10, 2007
5:21 pm EDT

It's well though out, but it's not right.

A lot is made about him being the highest paid player in the game. If he can get that sort of contract, more power to him. But he needs to go into it with the understanding that when he doesn't produce as the highest paid player in the game, the fans will come at him hard like they have done in New York. If your team is giving you the highest paid player in the game, then that player damn well better produce as the best player in the game. A-Rod hasn't.

Statistically, A-Rod is a freak. If looked at based solely on his regular season numbers, not broken down by month, or what inning he's batting in, Rodriguez looks like the best player in the game. He might end up the all-time home-run leader, and he is likely to finish his career with numbers that will get him into the Hall-of-Fame on a near unanimous first ballot.

Hell, he's the best bat the Yankees have had this season.

Despite the numbers, as a Red Sox fan, the closest I want this man to my team is on the Yankees - particularly if he opts out of his current contract in the hopes of getting a bigger contract. Why?

He's about as good under pressure as a soft-boiled egg.

When it began unravelling for the Yankees in the 2004 post-season, A-Rod slapped at Bronson Arroyo's glove as the pitcher ran to cover first in a blatant display of interference and unsportsman-like conduct. This year he yelled as he ran from second to third, interfering with the shortstop's ability to field a ball in Toronto during a game the Yankees were winning. He has been dubbed by the New York media as Mr. April - not just a shot at his post-season woes, but a knock that is meant to evoke former Yankee Dave Winfield who was dubbed Mr. May by George Steinbrenner back in 1982. At least Winfield made it to May.

These are just the tidbits that pop to mind, never mind the rumblings that he sets himself apart from his team-mates, or that a $30 million annual salary, even for the Red Sox, would make it prohibitive to go out and sign other people who might help the team.

The Angels? Historically they haven't spent anywhere near that to sign free-agents. Dodgers? I would be surprised.

The Cubs, given their recent spending, might make a run, but realistically, I think the Yankees will pony up with the biggest offer, although I could see the Mets making a serious run.

I'd rather see the Sox go out and sign or trade for someone like Mark Teixeira and move Kevin Youkilis to third if they're not going to resign Mike Lowell. As for moving him back to short? I'm not interested enough in him to even consider the possibility, which is saying a lot considering the lack of production the Sox have from Julio Lugo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Asante and Strategy

Dave, the author of The Coffin Corner, and subject of a mild bit of jealous on my part for living on the edge of one of my favorite cities, recently made some great observations about the Asante Samuel situation in the Razor. As usual, Dave has taken his position on Samuel's contract demands and backed them up with solid arguments.

In the second to last paragraph he wrote on the subject, something he put on his blog caught my eye and made me think. Dave observed:

The deadline for a multi-year extension is next Monday at 4 pm. After that, Samuel can only play for the one-year deal and we'll likely see the same thing happen next year. My guess is that the Bly and Vasher contracts will give the Pats a clear example to present to Samuel's reps and that a deal will get done. It really doesn't benefit Samuel to do it any other way. If he holds out until week 10 he'll only make a little over one million this year. And if he shows up to camp to play out the one-year franchise tender, then why did he hold out?
This paragraph got me thinking about the hold-out as a negotiating tool, and I realized that it is only a truly effective ploy if the player is someone that a team can not do without...say, Peyton Manning for the Colts. Not Asante Samuel.

Last year Deion Branch was on the verge of a regular season hold-out with the Patriots when he was traded to Seattle. As much as the local and national sports media blasted the Patriots brain-trust for that move, in the end, it really didn't hurt them. They can say what they like about Reche Caldwell, but statistically, he adequately replaced Branch's numbers - which were never reflective of the money he was demanding. That Seattle gave that money to him is a whole separate issue.

But let's attack the hold-out strategy for Samuel.
  1. Samuel replaced an aging Ty Law who was set free due to a high cap-number. The team was blasted by the press for letting Law go while not having a replacement ready. The replacement turned out to be Samuel himself. Armed with this little nugget, and the knowledge that Ellis Hobbs is probably in a comparable place in his development after a similar amount of time in the pros, Samuel's camp should know that it's unlikely that the Patriots are going to blink in this little game of chicken.
  2. The common argument, used by Samuel himself, is, "I could go out there and hurt myself on the first play" of the season, and never see the [guaranteed bonus] money from a new contract. When analyzed, this argument is one of the most boneheaded you can come across. To wit - as the franchise designee, the so designated player will receive a one year salary equal to the average of the top five players at his position. In Samuel's case, this comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.3 million. That is guaranteed. If Samuel sits out until the tenth game, he will receive only a prorated amount of that. After the fines he incurs, it's likely to be less than $1.5 million. So he sits out in order to make maybe 25 percent of what he could make, and takes that exact same risk in week ten he whined about having to take in week one - never mind the fact that no franchised player has ever suffered the career ending injury they all cite as why they don't want to sign that tender.
  3. The strategy backs the player into a corner they can't get out of. If Samuel shows up, even at the beginning of the regular season in order to get the whole check, then he loses face. If he doesn't show up until week 10, who really thinks that he will see time as anything other than a nickel corner during those last four weeks - and I say four, because who really believes that he will get any playing time while he gets into, as Bill Belichick would put it, "game shape." He doesn't show up until week 10 and he might as well have lost a whole season in his prime.
The bottom line is that holding out is not just a desperate move, but a stupid move.

The only way it could possibly work for Samuel is if something went horribly wrong in the secondary - so much so that the Patriots would need to start Troy Brown at corner. Otherwise someone in his camp needs to tell him that he is nowhere near a position of power in his bargaining.