Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Remember when...

Welcome to my little nostalgic trip down memory lane in professional sports -

Remember when covering the courts was synonymous with covering basketball, not football?

When you didn't need a degree in chemistry to follow home-run chases?

Or have a degree in law to follow the NFL and NBA?

When hockey was relevant?

When NASCAR wasn't?

When the MLB All-Star Game was a good game because players had pride in the way they played - whether the game mattered or not?

When the Eastern European Olympic squads were vilified for their steroid use while American athletes were supposedly winning cleanly?

When athlete's hat and shoe sizes didn't mysteriously increase due to using "flax-seed oil?"

When basketball was still primarily a team sport?

When Al Davis still knew football?

When Matt Millen still had an untarnished legacy in football?

When Bill Belichick was the head coach that would ever only be a great defensive coordinator?

When 49ers-Giants was the NFL's marquee match-up?

When Pete Rose was a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer?

When you heard James Earl Jones deliver this line, "America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come," and some naive part of you actually still believed it?

when you could actually turn on ESPN expecting sports, MTV expecting music, and CNN expecting real and relevant news?

When the big scandal in sports usually involved Yankees pitchers swapping families?

When the Orioles were a contender?

When the term doubleheader meant that you were going to get to see two games on one ticket?

When going to the ballpark on the major league level cost less than $15.00 for bleacher seats a dog and a beer?

When it was hard to get into a Redskins game in DC?

When pitchers regularly started 35 to 40 games per season and it wasn't unusual to have between two and three starters with anywhere from 15 to 25 wins each?

When sportscasters didn't feel the need to turn every player's name into a nickname while showing highlights?

When George Michael was the man and The Sports Machine was the show to watch for the week's wrap-up of sports news?

Quick hits

Slim to none

Michael Vick's chances for an acquittal just went from Hell in a hand basket to...well, whatever could be worse than going to Hell in a hand basket. Maybe the best comparison is that his scrotum is about to get raked across hot coals by the feds.

With the news hitting that Vick's remaining two co-defendants in the dogfighting trial, Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace are copping guilty pleas, Vick's defense just took a major hit.With Phillips and Peace copping pleas months before trial, it's probable that these two have worked out deals in which they will be testifying against Vick. This now gives the feds at least seven people that will be testifying against Vick.

Sayonara Mikey, don't let the turnstile hit you in the ass on your way out of the league.

Knuckling down

To some people's chagrin, and I will never understand why that is, Tim Wakefield right now is Mr. Red Sox. With approximately eight starts left, Wake is now second on the team in wins at 14-10, is second on the team in innings pitched 150.1, and third in ERA (4.55) among starters.

This guy has been invaluable to the team in his time here. He has started, been middle relief, closed, and even was the emergency starter two games after his scheduled spot in the rotation a few years ago. The man has been an innings eater and an absolute horse and last night, after a series in which the bullpen blew two games the team had essentially won, Wakefield silenced the Devil Rays' bats through six full innings, and finished the game with three hits over eight innings.

That's veteran presence.

Interesting tidbit from Steve Phillips

Phillips noted that Eric "Gags" Gagne, since coming to the Red Sox is throwing fastballs on roughly 62 percent of his pitches. During his streak in Texas where he was pitching so well - only 52 percent of his pitches thrown were fastballs, and his punch-out pitch was typically a change-up.

I would like to think that Red Sox scouts would have noticed this.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A common complaint...

In recent years, I swear that one thing I hear announcers talk about when I watch football is how tackling is a lost art.

Players are more concerned with the kill-shot - the highlight reel shot that gets them their fifteen seconds of fame on ESPN. They drop their heads, lower their shoulders, and smack the crap out of the ball-carrier. Sometimes they knock the guy down, sometimes they don't. Either way, it almost always seems to make ESPN.

It seems like there's only a handful of teams left that have reputations as sound tacklers - where it tends to be unusual for a wide receiver or a running back to get extra yards after first contact, because the defender actually wraps the guy with the ball. During Friday's exhibition between Tampa Bay and New England, I saw Patriots corner Randall Gay make a text book tackle of one of the Buc's wide outs - helmet on hip, left arm around waist, right around leg. It was how coaches should be teaching kids on the Pop Warner level.

As for why you see less and less of this - well, it could be because players now are what "Concrete" Charlie Bednarick describes as, "pussycats." The last of the 60-minute men, the true two-way players, Bednarick put the emphasis on, "pussy," when he made that statement.

Or it could be because of the following, as reported today in Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback Column at Sports Illustrated -

Speaking of ESPN, a great note from Ed Werder before the Cowboys-Colts
preseason opener -- the first tackle Dallas made in the game would be their
first full-contact tackle of the summer, because Wade Phillips hadn't had the
team in any full-contact situations yet. Amazing in this day and age that
full-speed tackling is very rarely practiced in camps around the league. Even in
tradition-loving places like Pittsburgh (one practice), Buffalo (two practices)
and Chicago (two practices), I saw zero put-'em-on-the-ground tackling drills or
full-contact tackling.

It's a wonder that tackling isn't worse.

Monday morning riffin'

Stupid is as stupid does. And people paid $30.00 to watch that.

The current numbers on Eric Gagne in a Red Sox uniform - seven runs in four innings over five games. Incredibly, that means that Gagne managed to lower his ERA for his time in Boston from 16.20 to 15.75 yesterday.

The Yankees certainly got hot at the right time - getting healthy against the bottom feeders over the last month, and then having games against struggling Indians and Tigers clubs. Of course it helps that the Bommahs are currently facing off against the only division in the American League against whom they have a winning record.

Approximately eight weeks ago the Yanks trailed by 14.5 games. Today that lead is four games. Sox fans can thank the Central for that as against the East (21-23), and the West (12-13) combined the Yankees are three games below .500 - the Central (23-7) on the other hand is having trouble buying wins against the Yanks who have a gaudy .767 winning percentage against the home division of the reigning AL champs.

Note to Vince Young - you're supposed to be the team leader. Team leaders don't get suspended from exhibition games.

Props to former Cardinals pitcher and current Cards outfielder Rick Ankiel - four games played since rejoining the club. During that time - 16 AB, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 K's and an on base percentage of .417. While it's pretty much impossible that he could keep this pace up over an entire season, right now this is how that translates over 500 at bats - 94 HR, 188 HR, 188 K's. The man's on fire right now, but will cool off. I just thought it was appropriate to recognize the tear he's on since his call-up.

A few bright things from Friday's exhibition match between the Patriots and Buccaneers after noting that the defense - starting and back-up alike - struggled against the run. Hopefully that works itself out. As a whole, really, it's a chance to get a look at the young talent and begin guessing who has a shot at making the team and who doesn't.

In extended time the following looked good -

Mike Wright appears to be continuing his progression as a reliable back-up, finishing the night with four solo tackles and a sack for a seven yard loss.

Linebackers Justin Rogers and Oscar Lua were active and combined for 11 total tackles (four and five solo tackles respectively) and one sack (Rogers).

Willie Andrews continues to progress, and late round draft pick Mike Richardson went step for step with one of Tampa's wide outs, almost making a highlight reel interception on a jump ball put up along the left sideline by Bucs back-up QB Bruce Gradkowski.

Just a guess at this point - but I would say keep an eye on Rogers, Lua, and Richardson.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Best bullpen in baseball Gags again

Gag - verb (gagged, gagging) 1 put a gag on. 2 choke or retch.

From the Oxford English Dictionary.

From here on out - Gags is my nickname for Eric Gagne, the trade-deadline pitcher that was supposed to propel Boston to the World Series. And it ain't because he's a laugh riot or 'cause he's silencing anyone.

I'm already on record as saying I didn't like the trade. Like Paul over at Behind Enemy Lines, I'm an, "It ain't broke, don't fix it," sort of guy when it comes to sports. If there was anything broken on the Sox, it certainly wasn't their bullpen. Could they have used some better hitters coming off the bench - sure, what team couldn't. But the bullpen? Before they traded for Gagne they had the best bullpen in the league.

But Gagne? Gagne has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Behind Enemy Lines already commented on Friday's Gag, and I was willing to let it go since anyone can have a bad day - but in his brief career with the Red Sox (and I'm not positive, but I think these numbers don't completely include today's fiasco), batters are hitting a whopping .474 off of Gags to go along with an astronomical ERA of 16.20, he has blown two hold/save chances and has almost given up as many runs (6) in a Sox uniform as he had in his entire time with Texas (8).

Given my choice, I will say it again - I would have kept Gabbard.

Gabbard gave the Sox four wins. Gags has given the Sox two losses.

Gags brings back memories of the Human Angioplasty, Heathcliff Socumb - but without that occasional ability to be clutch.

Early returns - it's looking like Theo got taken to the cleaners by the Rangers. As for myself - I'd rather have a team with Wily Mo and Kason, than one with Gags.

So much for sabermetrics.