Friday, June 27, 2008

Mid-season thoughts

Before I get started on the Red Sox and other people in the American League East, I want to touch on 30-year old pitcher Shawn Chacon.

There have been a few comparisons of Chacon's attack on Ed Wade to the Latrell Sprewell/P.J. Carlesimo incident a little over a decade ago. There's a big difference here.

Sprewell continued to have a career after he tried to choke his coach because Sprew was a front-line starter. Chacon, on the other hand...well, take a look...

When his career numbers are looked at, Chacon, at best, is a team's number five starter. In eight seasons, Chacon is 45-61 with a 4.99 ERA (only by the grace of three seasons with an ERA below 5.00). He has only once won more than ten games (11 in 2003), and has had a winning record in only three seasons (11-8, 7-6, 5-4 respectively). This season he was carrying the fourth best ERA of his career at the time of his release with a rousing 5.04 to go with a 2-3 record. Three times his ERA was over 5.70 (5.73, 6.36, 7.11).

All but 14 games of that (a mid-season move to the Yankees) has been in Major League Baseball's hitters' B-League.

With numbers like that, Chacon reacted to a bullpen demotion by trying to choke his GM. With numbers like that and a reaction like that, he'll be lucky to get a gig with another major league team. On most teams those numbers are number 4/5 starter sort of numbers. A front-end guy can afford to be an asshole - Schilling, Clemens, what have you. Those guys can be critical of the front office, because the team needs them. The guy with the career .425 winning percentage...he needs to be the good soldier.

My guess, if Chacon wants to keep getting paid to play baseball, it's going to have to be for an independent league team...either that or he's going to have to get used to saying, "would you like fries with that?"

On Pace...

The Red Sox are one game off of last year's pace with a 49-32 record half-way through the season. Last year they had 50 wins after 81 games.

The big difference - this year's AL East is more the beast that it once was.

This time last year the Sox were dominating the East, 10.5 games ahead of the second place Yankees and Blue Jays, 14.5 ahead of Baltimore and 17 ahead of Tampa Bay. That's an average lead of a little over 13 games over the rest of the AL East.

This season, with 49 wins, the average lead over the rest of an improved AL East is only a little over 5.8 games - half a game over second place Tampa, 5.5 over a resurgent Yankees team, 7 over Baltimore, and 10.5 over the best last place divisional team in the majors, Toronto.

A few basic observations - The Sox are putting up comparable numbers against better competition, a testament to the progression and development of the team's youth movement...particularly in relation to the pitchers. It's been a big part of the difference between the success of the Sox and the arch-rival Yankees.

A few thoughts about the state of the East before I get into the Yanks.

Overall, the Blue Jays, who loaded up before last season, appear to be right where they were this time last year, and I don't see that changing.

the Orioles have made some improvements from last year to this, but are still looking to future years and are likely to begin making moves to bring highly regarded prospects back in exchange for established major league talent. Expect at least one, if not a couple of the players to be traded between now and the deadline.

The Rays appear to be the biggest threat to the Sox at the moment, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them hanging around at the end of the season, vying for a playoff spot. However, I think they're likely to fade in the dog-days of August like many developing teams. Next season, however, they could be truly dangerous.

Which brings me to the Yankees...

The Yankees are making a push, I just don't buy that they have the horses to keep it going. Mike Mussina has been better this year than he has been for a while, and Chien-Ming Wang and Pettitte have been solid, but none have been an ace.

Mussina has been the best of the three with a 3.93 ERA, with Wang and Pettitte coming in at 4.07 and 4.04 respectively. Not exactly dominant.

And then there's the 4/5 positions. The Yankees briefly got some solid starts from Darrell Rasner, but, as I previously predicted, Rasner has come back to Earth. After starting his stint in the rotation 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA through those first four starts, Rasner has gone 1-4 and seen his ERA rise to 4.50. Three times over that span Rasner has given up at least four earned and twice has given up at least six.

Given that Rasner has never, on the Major League level, pitched more than 24.2 innings before this year (52 already), it's likely that he's just going to deteriorate as the season drags on.

Then there's Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain might, one day, become an ace. He might not. But here's another one that will suffer the more innings he puts up. There will be issues for him as teams see him again, not to mention, as the innings he's not accustomed to pitching rack up.

The Yankees being the Yankees will make it interesting for a while, but in the end, they're going to come up short on pitching, and probably third in the East.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A day late and a dollar short...

I just wanted to acknowledge the recent passing of George Carlin. I know this happened a few days ago, thus the title of my post, but the following bit of Carlin's is why he was and always will be relevant to professional sports...

Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he's out; sometimes unintentionally, he's out.

Also: in football,basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.

In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you'd ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform,you'd know the reason for this custom.

Now, I've mentioned football. Baseball and football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.

Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!

Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.

In football you wear a helmet.

In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?

Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up?

In football you receive a penalty.

In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.

In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.

Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog...

In baseball, if it rains, we don't go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.

Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings.

Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness.

In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!
You gave us some great laughs. Rest in peace, dude.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Idiots on Parade

Don Imus has stuck his foot in it again.

From the AP report -

During a conversation Monday about the arrests of Jones, Imus asked, "What color is he?"

Told by a sports announcer that Jones is "African-American," Imus responded: "There you go. Now we know."

Imus' claim was that people misunderstood the "sarcastic" point he was trying to make. His explanation -
Imus said Tuesday: "What people should be outraged about is that they arrest blacks for no reason. I mean, there's no reason to arrest this kid six times."
Let me just say, having heard tape of the exchange, I would just like to note - Imus is full of shit.

It should be interesting to see how CBS Radio and show sponsors react. Sure, there's no disciplinary action now, but if sponsors threaten to pull, this could signal the end of Imus' radio career - at least on a nationally syndicated level.

Idiot Two -

Shaquille O'Neal is entitled to his opinion, but, considering he's never even made the finals without some serious talent at his side - and didn't even come close to putting Phoenix over the top - can he just shut up about how Kobe can't win without him?

Does he really think he could have been the difference against the Celtics? He made such a difference for the Suns who were bounced in five games in the first round of this year's playoffs. He averaged 30 minutes per game - fewest minutes of any of the team's five starters, was third in scoring, sixth on the team in field goal percentage (how does a guy that's just a big body in the paint underneath the basket miss 56 percent of his shots?), and tied for last on the team in the percentage of free throws made.

He may think he's the hard man in the middle that the Lakers missed, but let's face it - O'Neal is soft. Sure, he's a big body that pulls rebounds and has averaged well over 20 points per game for his career - mostly because he's bigger than everybody else, not because he's so much better. He's a big doughy body that can't stay on the court because he would rather freestyle at clubs than get himself into shape.

Need proof - Only once in the last seven seasons has he not missed at least 14 games due to injury, or just shut it down (like last season while still with the Heat) because his team was losing. Over his sixteen year career he has started more than 70 games only six times, but has missed at least 20 games seven times.

The man's a front-runner, and largely cooked and really, really needs to stop running his mouth.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Into the Woods

I would like to offer a little perspective on Tiger Woods latest accomplishment.

It's impressive - it really is.

But it really isn't everything the pundits are making it out to be. Maybe they're offering a bit of hyperbole, but they're talking about Tiger's latest win as though it's the most incredible accomplishment in professional sports - winning the US Open on a bad knee and a leg with stress fractures. While impressive, when you do some research, it doesn't even crack the top ten in overcoming injury.

For golf it's likely number one, but in the pantheon of sports accomplishments while's a little bit down the line.

Before I get into some of the accomplishments that are more impressive, let's remember one thing - people don't play hockey, football, or basketball, or ride a bicycle to relax, they do it to stay in shape. A lot of people golf to relax. Hell, you have professional golfers playing competitively long past the age that the vast majority of athletes retire in other sports. Can anyone out there picture John Daly excelling in any other sport? Even David Wells would beat him in a footrace. Or even Casey Martin, who would not be able to compete in any other sport.

Don't get me wrong - I respect what golfers are able to do...within the context of their sport, but let's stop anointing Tiger as one of the greatest athletes of his generation.

To put a little perspective on the whole situation -

Yes, Woods walked 91 holes with stress fractures and damaged ligaments. And yes, it was for a Major. However, he went into it knowing, he told an ESPN reporter, that he would be in no worse condition at the end of the tournament than he was at the beginning. He went into it not worrying about doing additional damage to a "walking" injury.

Here are eleven more impressive feats -

11. Pedro Martinez (1999 Divisional Series) - In game one against the Indians, Martinez strained his back - to the point that Dan Duquette, the Red Sox brain trust, and pretty much all of Red Sox Nation figured he was done. In the fifth and final game of the series Martinez entered the game in the third inning with the teams tied in an 8-8 slug-fest. Unable to throw his fastball and having difficulty throwing his change-up, Martinez threw six innings of no-hit ball in a Boston win, allowing the Sox to move onto the next round. It was, arguably, Martinez's finest moment.

10. Keri Strug (1996 Olympics) - Strug suffered a severe laterial ankle sprain with tendon damage. Due to the difficulties of teammate Dominique Moceanu, the injured Strug was the American Women's last hope at achieving the team gold. Strug sprinted down the vault approach on the damaged ankle, sticking the landing on one foot and posing for the judges before collapsing in pain. Strug was famously carried to the medal podium by coach Bela Karolyi.

9. Jack Youngblood - (1979, Los Angeles Rams) - Playing with a stress fracture in his left leg for two and a half post-season games, Youngblood remained a difference maker, propelling the Rams into the Super Bowl.

8. Kerry Jenkins (2002, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) - Left guard Kerry Jenkins cracked his fibula in September of 2002. When his back-up, Kenyatta Walker went down with an ankle sprain, Jenkins returned to the starting line-up. For the season, Jenkins ended up starting 15 (regular season) games for the eventual Super Bowl winners.

7. Reggie White (1995, Green Bay Packers) - With four games left in the regular season White tore his hamstring badly enough that the Packers announced that White was done and would be having surgery to repair the damaged muscle. White missed one game, and played in five subsequent games (including three playoff games), starting four of them, in which the Packers went 4-1 (losing only in the NFC Championship Game).

6. Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears) - Butkus played his final three seasons on a bad knee. With loose tendons, the Bears' feared middle linebacker had surgery to repair the loose tendons in his leg during a time-period when knee surgery tended to be a career ender. The surgery was considered botched, and the man continued to play at a high level, including a season in which he made 117 tackles and 68 assists, recovered three fumbles and intercepted four passes.

5. Sean Avery (2008, New York Rangers) - Avery suffered a lacerated spleen in the first period of a playoff game. He continued to play through the injury, notching a second period assist before being rushed to the hospital at the conclusion of the game and admitted to the ICU.

4. Drew Bledsoe (1998, New England Patriots) - Often questioned for his toughness (god knows why), Bledsoe played through a separated shoulder in 1995, and returned to the field during the infamous game against the Jets while hemorrhaging blood in his chest cavity. In neither of those cases did Bledsoe play at a high level, however, in 1998 Bledsoe shatter the tip of the index finger on his throwing hand on the helmet of a Miami defender while engineering a comeback. The index finger, integral to accurate passing, was held together by a screw that protruded from the end of his finger. Including the injury game, Bledsoe went 3-1. He still passed for almost 1200 yards in those four games and had only one game where his completion percentage was below 66.

3. Tyler Hamilton (2003, Tour de France) - Hamilton crashed during the first stage of the 2003 Tour de France, suffering two breaks to his clavicle. Hamilton completed the three-week race, supporting his weight on the broken collar-bone for 2081.58 miles, often along France's cobble-stone lined city streets. What's more, Hamilton didn't just complete the race, he won a stage.

2. Lawrence Taylor (1988, New York Giants) - With the Giants standing at 7-5, Taylor played in a game against the New Orleans Saints with a torn pectoral muscle (and in the subsequent games that season). In that game, Taylor recorded seven tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles, in spite of an injury that keeps most from even lifting items, let alone trying to move 275 pound linemen.

1. Curt Schilling (2004, Boston Red Sox) - With the Red Sox post-season hopes on the line, Schilling had radical experimental surgery to repair a ligament in his ankle. The surgery, which involved the use of the same ligament from a cadaver, allowed Schilling to turn in, arguably, the greatest post-season clutch performance in the history of Major League Baseball. With his surgically repaired ankle, Schill pitched 13 innings, giving up only one run in a dominant two-win performance.

A couple of honorable mentions - Ken Anderson and Dan Fouts playing through frostbite in the 1981 AFC Title game in Cincinnati, and of course the following who overcame obstacles both physical and of illness to get places they were never expected to, or were told they would not get to -

Jim Abbott - one armed pitcher who had a solid, if unspectacular ten-year major league career.

Rocky Bleier - told he would be lucky to walk, let alone run or play football after losing half his foot to a grenade in Vietnam.

Wilma Rudolph - when diagnosed with polio as a child, the Olympic multiple-gold medalist was told she would never run, and spent pretty much her entire childhood in bulky metal leg braces.

Lance Armstrong - After being, literally, at death's doorstep with cancer that had spread aggressively throughout his body, including his brain, Armstrong recovered to win the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times, and complete the Boston Marathon in two hours and fifty minutes.

Like I said, what Tiger did was impressive, and it might even make the top 25 in regards to performing with a bad injury - but there's no way he was putting the physical stress on his injury that any of the above did, nor was it overcoming what that last handful did. And most of this was identified with almost no research.

And before anyone blasts me for not having Willis Reed on the list - yes, his playing through the knee injury was impressive and inspirational to his team, but if you look at his stats, it wasn't actually a great performance overall, scoring only four points for the game. Sure, it's probably top 25 just for what he did for his teammates, but he himself didn't excel, as these others did.