Archive for June, 2008

Let’s make a deal

June 30, 2008

I remember a question my wife asked me once, so brilliant in its simplicity:

Why are there two different sets of rules in baseball? It would be like not having a long snapper in the AFC or moving back the three-point line in the Western Conference. Just plain silly.

The American league adopted the designated hitter rule on a trial basis in 1973, and ever since there have been a different set of rules for American and National Leagues.

The question is why?

I know that baseball traditionalists hate the rule. They think by having a guy who’s only job on a given day is to grab a maple bat and stride into the batter’s box hurts the purity of the game. They argue that the strategy involved with having the pitcher bunt, pulling a double switch or knowing when to lift your pitcher for a pinch hitter makes up for the fact that the pitcher – almost always – is an inferior hitter.

I used to see it that way.

Then, I realized that the purity in baseball, and perhaps all pro sports, died a long time ago.

Baseball sold its soul in 1994 when it decided not to stage a World Series, and then sold it again by turning a blind eye to performance enhancing drugs in the late 90s and the early part of this decade.

I’ve got no interest in watching Johan Santana wield a bat. I don’t care how smart Tony LaRussa is when he saunters out on the field and makes a double switch with his pitcher and rightfielder.

Keep the strategy. Give me some action.

I like the fact that baseball has room for guys like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz. I like the notion of there not being any easy outs in a major league lineup. It makes it all the more meaningful when Cliff Lee tosses a shutout when he has to navigate a lineup of nine professional hitters – rather than eight pros and a pitcher – to do it.

I’ve heard the argument that the DH is just a way for fat guys who can’t field to stay in the lineup. But in truth, only about half of the teams in the A.L. use the same guy as the DH all the time. More often, skippers use the slot as a way to give his players a mini-break during the 162-game schedule.

I just don’t see it. Interleague play has blurred the once obvious line between the American and National Leagues. The teams play each other all the time. The mystique of the Yankees and Mets playing each other by whatever house rules they happen to be playing with is dead. Has been for quite some time.

Bud Selig’s reign as commissioner of baseball has been a mixed bag. He brought us the wildcard, interleague play and relative labor peace. But he’s also overseen the steroid era, a freaking tie in an all-star game and, as a result, a really stupid rule giving home field advantage for the World Series to the league that wins that otherwise meaningless event.

He can go out on a high note by dragging the National League into baseball’s modern era.

The real All-Star teams

June 27, 2008

Few things in life annoy me more than the way Major League Baseball selects its All-Star teams.

Fans vote, either online or at the ballparks, for their favorite players as many as 25 times – creating a team full of Yankees and Red Sox in the American League and a bunch of Cubs over in the senior circuit.

I’m all about Democracy, but allowing three passionate groups of fans to rig the voting every year is just plain silly. Maybe that’s why baseball has that stupid rule about mandating that at least one player from every roster is represented.

Anyway, here are the current leading vote-getters:

National League
First Base
1. Lance Berkman, Astros 1,368,030
2. Derrick Lee, Cubs 976,204

Second Base
1. Chase Utley, Philles 1,743,548
2. Mark DeRosa, Cubs 782,485

Third base
1. Chipper Jones, Braves 1,499,185
2. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs 935,091

Shortstop
1. Miguel Tejada, Astros 894,797
2. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins 826,685

Catcher
1. Geovany Soto, Cubs 1,248,216
2. Brian McCann, Braves 742,689

Outfield
1. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs 1,444,153
2. Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs 1,188,459
3. Ken Griffey Jr., Reds 1,081,665
4. Ryan Braun, Brewers 885,932
5. Carlos Lee, Astros 709,797
6. Pat Burrell, Phillies 668,539

American League

First Base
1. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox 1,482,011
2. Justin Morneau, Twins 1,214,603

Second Base
1. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 1,286,962
2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers 1,120,439

Third base
1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees 1,940,827
2. Mike Lowell, Red Sox 981,648

Shortstop
1. Derek Jeter, Yankees 1,988,251
2. Michael Young, Rangers 1,140,258

Catcher
1. Joe Mauer, Twins 1,178,630
2. Jason Varitek, Red Sox 1,133,855

Designated hitter
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox 1,982,786
2. Hideki Matsui, Yankees 1,207,892

Outfield
1. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox 1,917,207
2. Josh Hamilton, Rangers 1,791,623
3. Ichiro, Mariners 1,120,279
4. Vlad Guerrero, Angels 933,191
5. Bobby Abreu, Yankees 908,935
6. Johnny Damon, Yankees 829,114

Gee, why not just let the Red Sox and Yankees form a team and play the Astros and Cubs for the all-star game?

Anyway, here’s how the team should look, if rational people like me had the final say:

National League

First base: Lance Berkman (.367, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 12 steals) – No problem with the choice here. He’s having a monster season

Second base: Chase Utley (.293, 22 HR, 63 RBI) – Just edges out Dan Uggla (.290, 23 HR, 58 RBI) for this honor. They’re close in the field, too, with Utley having one more error (7 to 6) in 37 more chances

Third base: Chipper Jones (.394, 16 HR, 46 RBI) – He’s not going to hit .400, but humming along in the .390s is nothing to sneeze at

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez (.294, 17 HR, 34 RBI, 19 steals) – The runaway choice at short in the N.L. Miguel Tejada (.288, 10 HR, 43 RBI) doesn’t measure up

Cathcer: Brian McCann (.301, 14 HR, 44 RBI) – Soto (.277, 12 HR, 46 RBI) is having a great rookie season, but McCann deserves the nod

Outfield: Nate McLouth (.289, 15 HR, 51 RBI, nine steals), Ryan Braun (.287, 20 HR, 57 RBI, eight steals) and Ryan Ludwick (.286, 16 HR, 56 RBI) – Soriano’s hurt and under-performing, Fukudome’s doing fine (.299, 6 HR, 33 RBI, .404 OBP) and Griffey can go hit in the home run contest with his numbers (.241, 9 HR, 34 RBI). I’ll take McLouth, Braun and Ludwick, who are in the midst of breakout seasons

American League

First base: Justin Morneau (.310, 12 HR, 62 RBI) – I love Kevin Youkilis (.303, 14 HR, 47 RBI), but Morneau is on his way to a 130-RBI season. Besides, Youk could play third

Second base: Ian Kinsler (.308, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 19 steals) – Dustin Pedroia (.289, 7 HR, 34 RBI) isn’t even close to matching the young Ranger’s stats. I just wish they’d bat him lower in the order instead of leadoff. You know, for the fantasy team

Third base: Aubrey Huff (.277, 14 HR, 44 RBI) – He’s got the best numbers of anyone on the ballot. I’d put Youkilis here, though, as he is capable of playing on the hot corner

Shortstop: Derek Jeter (.286, 4 HR, 33 RBI) – I’m tempted to take Michael Young (.274, 6 HR, 39 RBI) instead, but the Yankee captain’s glove work give him the edge

Catcher: Joe Mauer (.323, 2 HR, 31 RBI) – He may never hit for much power, but the former high school quarterback sure hits for a nice average

Outfield: Josh Hamilton (.310, 19 HR, 76 RBI), Carlos Quentin (.280, 17 HR, 57 RBI) and Ichiro (.285, 2 HR, 31 RBI, 33 steals) – Jacoby Ellsbury (.275, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 35 steals) is an honorable mention here as well

Impulse control

June 26, 2008

We’ve all been there.

You’re at work, you’re frustrated that you’re missing out on Euro 2008 (OK, maybe that’s just me) and you’re really not in the mood for your boss to come over and give you the business.

But he does anyway, nitpicking at your latest project, obsessing over the tiniest little details and just being a pain in the rear.

So you jump up, grab him by the neck and slam him to the ground.

No? Well, I guess you aren’t Astros’ pitcher Shawn Chacon.

The story is that Houston GM Ed Wade confronted Chacon in the dining room and things got a little heated.

It hasn’t been a great season for Chacon, whose 2-3 record and 5.41 ERA got him bumped from the rotation recently. Apparently, he had already requested a trade out of Houston, underachieving in the N.L. Central at 36-42, 13 games behind the Cubs.

I’m thinking he’s going to get out of Houston, but by release instead.

It’s funny sometimes to imagine what would happen if our lives were more like those of famous athletes. I like my bosses a lot, so I’ve never had the urge to get all WWE on them. But if I did, I’d get fired and probably wind up in jail for assault.

Chacon is suspended, and despite his subpar numbers, will have little trouble finding a new job.

His new employers would be wise to let him eat in peace…

From the mixer

June 24, 2008

Lots of stuff to react to today. Let’s get busy…

Dining in

Maybe you didn’t know, but in addition to being a Hall of Fame basketball player and a part-time deputy, Shaquille O’Neal is a rapper.

Seriously.

Anyway, his latest rhymes strike out at Kobe Bryant, blaming him for the break up of the Lakers’ title-winning club.

It’s a little too blue for typing in this space, but the funny line comes when the hulking center asks the L.A. shooting guard how his rear end tastes.

Colorful.

My take – Having been on the receiving end of freestyle raps during my high school days as a stock boy at the local grocery store, I know it’s almost always all in fun.

This has been way overblown by the media, particularly ESPN. It was a rap at a nightclub, not a presser.

It’s just too bad Bryant wasn’t there for his turn on the mic. They could have had it out, “8 Mile” style.

If a shoe falls…

Don Imus is apparently in hot water again for his 19th century views on blacks.

This time, the target for his barbs was Dallas cornerback, Adam “Pacman” Jones.

Basically, the premise according to Imus is that Jones is always in trouble because he’s black.

My take – Don Imus is a racist. He’s been that way for a very long time. This is not new information.

Frankly, because I’m a big believer in freedom of speech, the idiot can say whatever he wants about anything, because I’m not listening. Folks like him gain power when whatever they say is plastered up on the AP News wire.

Want to shut him up? Stop listening and change the channel.

And, for the record, Adam Jones is always in trouble because he’s an idiot. Stupidity is not bound by skin color. I like the idea of holding people responsible for their actions without the unnecessary step of viewing them as white, black, male or female.

As ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd pointed out this morning on his excellent show, there is a discussion that could be had about the social implications of young, black athletes dominating the news by getting in trouble off the field.

But Don Imus should not be the first choice for moderator.

Hall worthy?

June 23, 2008

Curt Schilling is going under the knife today for his balky shoulder, and by his own admission, it’s possible that his career is over.

So if he’s done, is there a place in Cooperstown for him?

The numbers place him smack in the middle of a gray area.

He’s 216-146 over his 20-year career with a 3.46 ERA and 3,116 strikeouts. But he never won a Cy Young Award, an ERA title or a strikeout crown.

But I think he’s got to be in. Here’s why:

1. Postseason glory – Usually, I think a player’s postseason exploits are overblown in terms of measuring his Hall of Fame credentials. But with Schilling, it makes his best case.

He’s 11-2 in his 19 career playoff starts, which is tied for fifth in all-time postseason wins. His 2.23 ERA in playoff games is nothing to sneeze at either.

He was a big-game pitcher who could win the games that really mattered.

2. Great in his era – This is my usual standard for measuring a player’s worth for Hall of Fame inclusion. Was he great compared to the guys he was playing with?

Schilling was.

His lifetime ERA may not seem that great, but compare it to the league average for his career, 4.41, and it’s nearly a run-per-nine lower.

He won at least 14 games in a season nine times and topped 20 wins three times. He’s often overlooked as a strikeout pitcher, but he’s 14th on the all-time list.

I don’t think he’s a first-ballot guy by any stretch, but I think he’ll eventually find his way to the podium.

Stop the spin

June 19, 2008

I haven’t commented much on the NBA Finals lately. I tend to limit these discussion to actual, non-scripted sports like soccer.

But in the wake of Boston’s win over the Lakers in this year’s title series the talking heads have decided to use Kobe Bryant’s inability to somehow will a roster full of tissue-soft Euros and career underachievers to a crown as proof positive that “The Black Mamba” isn’t as good as Michael Jordan.

Some of us already knew that.

But it got me thinking. Why not run through the list of the so-called best evers that you hear kicked about in the never-ending blender over on the four-letter:

Fiction

Kobe is as good as Jordan – No way, no how, not now, not ever. From any statistical measure you want to use (scoring average, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, rings), there’s no comparison.

Kobe’s career numbers are 25.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.5 spg and 0.6 bpg. Michael’s are 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.3 spg and 0.8 bpg. His playoff averages are better, 33.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 5.7 apg to 24.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 4.6 apg.

Not only would Kobe need to raise his game to reach MJ’s statistical dominance, but he’s fighting the mystique. Michael Jordan hasn’t missed a shot in nearly a decade. Kobe bricked 15 on Tuesday.

Kobe’s the best player in the league right now by a mile. But he’s no Jordan.

Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever – Yeah, he dates a supermodel. Sure he set an NFL record with 50 TD passes last year. And the man already has three rings, which is nothing to sneeze at.

But in the run-up to this year’s Super Bowl, I remember a debate about how winning the fourth ring would cement his status as one of the all-time greats. I think maybe I even agreed.

But upon further review…

Here are your active leaders for passing yards:

1. Peyton Manning 41,626
2. Kerry Collins 34,717
3. Steve McNair 31,304
4. Brad Johnson 28,627
5. Trent Green 27,950
6. Jon Kitna 26,535
7. Tom Brady 26,370

I could go on here, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Now, I’ll put him up there near the top as a playoff or “big-game” quarterback. But an all-time great? Nah, not yet.

Close, but not quite

Sidney Crosby is the next Wayne Gretzky – “The Kid” is great, but he’s only played three pro seasons. Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player who ever lived. He’s the NHL’s all-time leading point scorer and a man who put up video game numbers, like 92 goals in a season back in 1982, before video games were cool.

“The Great One” has high praise for Crosby, even perhaps hinting that he might one day be overshadowed by the young Penguin. But we’re three years in folks. Take it down a notch.

Tiger is the greatest ever – After his gutty performance at the U.S. Open, this one may be close to jumping over into the “fact” pile. But the fact remains that he still trails the Golden Bear by four majors and eight overall titles.

You could also argue that Nicklaus faced tougher competition in his era than Tiger does now. However you want to spin it, I don’t think we can annoit him just yet.

Fact

Barry Bonds is the best baseball player ever – It pains me to write this, but it’s a fact.

Yeah, I know he cheated. His head and feet have morphed over the past 10 years or so and he went from a Hall of Famer to the home run king.

But you’re kidding yourself if you think the playing field was unlevel. Pitchers were cheating, too. So until we decide to toss out everybody’s numbers from the steroid era, Bonds’ stats make a strong case for him as baseball’s all-time best.

He’s a .298 career hitter with 1996 RBI and 514 steals to go with his 762 homers. He’s a seven-time MVP, and three of those came before he discovered better living through chemistry. His career on-base percentage was .444, good for sixth all-time.

And although he spent his final years standing like a statue in the outfield, he also won eight straight gold gloves from 1990-1998.

Make piece with it. Until Alex Rodriguez plays long enough to overtake him, Bonds is the best there’s ever been.

Euro 2008 mulligan

June 18, 2008

Some idiot suggested in this space a couple of weeks ago that France would win this year’s European Championship.

In the words of Steve Czaban, how’s that working out?

France folded like a two-day-old crepe in Euro 2008. “Les Bleus” provided an uninspiring draw against Romania, got their butts handed to them by Holland in a 4-1 loss – their worst defeat in international play in 50 years – and went out with a whimper to Italy, 2-0, on Tuesday.

The good news here is that I hate France, so this is one of those rare times when it doesn’t really bother me that the team I picked to win the tournament didn’t survive the group phase.

I did, however, rightly predict that Italy would right the ship and thanks to a brilliant piece of control from Luca Toni that forced Eric Abidal into a red card-laced penalty, the Azzuris live on to face Spain in a tasty quarterfinal.

I talked it over with my friend and resident soccer expert Greg Phillips and he said it was OK if I pick a new team to win the final. I’ll do that tomorrow after the quarterfinals are set.

But I will try my hand at picking today’s winners:

Sweden needs a draw to advance to the knockout stage while Russia needs a win when the two clash today.

The Russians get back Andrei Arshavin from suspension in time for today’s do-or-die battle, but I get the feeling that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Swedes will squeeze out a goal and advance with a 1-0 win.

Spain may field its second team in a meaningless match with the lowly Greeks. How awful have the Greeks been in this tournament? They’ve managed to make the French look good.

Anyway, Spain’s second team will be way too much for a unconfident side that has nothing left to play for. Give me the Spainards, 2-0.

Paging Mr. Randolph…

June 17, 2008

The axe finally fell on Mets’ manager Willie Randolph Tuesday.

That’s no real surprise, as the Mets and their $140 million payroll are sitting at one game under .500 at 34-35, six-and-a-half games back of the Phillies in the National League East.

Frankly, I’m surprised he even started the season at the helm, having overseen the most epic collapse in history last season, losing a seven-game lead in the East over the Phillies with a 5-12 swoon.

So the fact that Randolph finds himself in the unemployment line isn’t a real shocker.

It’s the way it went down that’s a bit of a head scratcher.

The 54-year-old skipper coached the team Monday night in Anaheim as the Mets clipped the Angels, 8-6.

He then met with the media, fielded questions about the game and how, after watching his team win three of its last four, suggested that this momentum is something his squad could build on.

And that may be true, but Randolph will be watching on TV like the rest of us.

General manager Omar Minaya fired Randolph at the team’s hotel about two hours after the game, and the team issued a press release at 3:14 a.m. Eastern time.

Considering that the Mets just completed a six-game homestand, it sort of makes you wonder why Minaya and Mets’ chairman Jeff Wilpon waited until the team was 3,000 miles away to pull the trigger.

OK, maybe they didn’t want to can the guy on Father’s Day, but honestly, do you think this makes him feel any better?

New York City may be the city that never sleeps, but I’d wager that most Metropolitan fans were snoozing when their team whacked Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto.

Ever wonder why the first base coach always seems to go down with the manager? But that’s another story.

No, what happened Monday night was cruel to Randolph. Why make the guy sit there and face the media when you know you’re going to fire him two hours later?

It was also underhanded. Why fire a manager at 3:14 a.m.? To keep it out of the morning papers? They do have the Internet in the Big Apple, right?

It was also a act of an organization afraid of its own shadow.

Have some guts Omar Minaya. Get a spine Jeff Wilpon. Call a press conference. Answer the tough questions.

Tell your fans why you let Randolph answer questions about his job security for the last month when you were planning on firing him?

Bench coach Jerry Manuel will be the interim manager, charged with changing the tenor of a season that just went from sour to bizarre.

Hopefully, he’ll remember to look over his shoulder. Or at least sleep at a different hotel than his general manager.

A Sunday full of drama

June 16, 2008

It was a Father’s Day to remember.

Not because I got new socks or a new tie or anything, though I did pull down a membership to the United States Tennis Association (always wanted one).

Nope, Sunday was cool because I spent the better part of the night watching golf in bed with my lovely wife.

Now there’s something I never thought I’d type.

Apparently we weren’t alone, as the last 90 minutes of Sunday’s duel between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate drew a whopping TV rating.

We watched as Mediate posted his number, signed his scorecard and waited in the press tent to see if he was the oldest U.S. Open champion ever – or Tiger’s playing partner in an 18-hole playoff on Monday.

As Tiger’s 12 footer circled the hole and dropped in, my wife and I marveled at the shot making in such a pressure packed situation. And aside from that hideous peace sign belt that Mediate was wearing, I felt a little bit sorry for the guy.

I mean, he went to bed last night knowing that – after playing the best, most draining 72 holes of his life – his prize is what amounts to a match play with the greatest golfer of his (or perhaps any) era.

Game 5 between the Celtics and Lakers, while good in its own right, almost paled in comparison with the action at Torrey Pines.

So this morning, my wife greets me with, “I enjoyed watching golf with you last night.”

Not the words a husband dreams about, but a noteworthy occurance all the same.

Change is inevitable

June 14, 2008

It’s always interesting to share experiences with folks who have walked the same path you’re on professionally.

My good friend, Bryan Hanks, is resigning as sports editor of the Kinston Free Press. He’s “moving on up” in Jefferson’s lingo to become something called a “content/newsroom editor.”

That means boss to pretty much everybody in the Free Press newsroom, with the exception of the publisher, Patrick Holmes (another good dude).

Here’s his farewell on his blog.

It’s interesting because, in a way, I know what’s he’s going through.

Being a sports editor is all I ever wanted to be in this business. To work at a place where your “bosses” leave you alone and let you do what you want, no, have to do to put out a high-quality product. I had a job like that in Henderson. It was great.

But I eventually outgrew it. It happens more and more in this business these days. Newspapers are in a constant state of change as we try to keep up with the explosion of technology and the evolving tastes and preferences of people and how they want their news.

And while I regard Bryan as one of the finest sports editors around, he’s probably outgrown his position in Kinston.

This business needs innovative people at the controls. People who aren’t married to 1980s journalism, people who know how to get the job done with the right amount of guts and style and people who actually care about their employees and readers as much as they care about the bottom line.

Bryan is that guy. I believe that Kinston is a better place for having him around as its sports editor since 2002. And I can’t wait to see how the next six years will turn out.

And the idea of him in a shirt and tie everyday amuses me to no end.

Seriously, I wish Bryan the best of luck in his new position.