Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Bowl Blackmail

The BCS always reminds me of the national healthcare crisis; everyone knows something's wrong, but no one has a plan everyone can agree on.

Which makes no sense. College basketball has a great playoff system, which not only provides an undisputed national champion, but also generates so much interest, it actually cuts into the nation's work productivity. And college football is way more popular than its little cousin, college basketball. Even college Divisions 1-AA, II and III have a playoff system. So what's the haps with big-time college football?

As usual, it starts and ends with money. Bowl games generate mondo money for the sponsors and the city sites. As Franz Beard wrote on Scout.com: "The bowls exist to sell hotel rooms, dinner at restaurants and tickets to tourist attractions in the cities where games are played. The payout to college football is miniscule in comparison to the amount of loot that college football fans spend in bowl cities. The economic impact of the bowls is a big deal for the power conferences but there isn't the shared revenue effect of the NCAA basketball tournament, which actually puts far more cold hard cash in the hands of the schools that need it than the bowls ever have or ever will. The revenue potential for a 16-game college football playoff over four weeks is far greater than that of the basketball tournament but as long as the bowls continue to ante up more blackmail money --- and let's face it, that's what it is --- the athletic directors and university presidents feel no need to give the fans that actually pay the freight for college football what they want."

Simply put, afraid of losing these cash cows, the playoff system everyone is begging for gets the kibosh.

Kirk Herbstreit was asked Wednesday on ESPN about a playoff system, and he put it ominously, but simply: "Never gonna happen."

Another problem is Big Southern School arrogance. Since the majority of these bowl games are played in the South, a team like Boston College which played well and deserves a major bowl bid gets screwed out of one in Atlanta or Tampa because the Bowl commissioners would rather have a close by team like Georgia Tech or Florida State—even if Boston College (or whichever northern team) beat them or had a better record. See, the Bowl commissioners know that fans from southern schools are closer, so are more likely to travel to the bowl, get hotel rooms, spend money in bars and restaurants, etc. The same goes for smaller schools—a Boise State. Since they haven't had a winning football program for as long as Georgia or USC—and as big a traveling fan base— they get penalized. Even if Boise State, or Marshall or Akron goes perfect for the entire season, it will never, ever have a shot at national championship because the Powers That Be in college football won't allow it.

And that's a shame. It proves that performance on the field matters less than cash in hand. And that doesn't only hurt the players and the schools—it hurts the game itself. Because while bowl games might be fun, the deck is stacked against truly iconic moments ever happening in college football. A Cinderella moment—a no 8th seeded Villanova running through the tournament and upsetting Georgetown—will never occur because of the bowl blackmail.

Dan Weitzel (of Yahoo Sports) recently wrote the umpteen thousandth article proposing a college football playoff system. The difference with his, is that his modest proposal actually was well thought out and well designed. Therefore, it'll never work. Let's take a look at it anyway.

Basically it's a 16 team round robin, where 16 plays 1, 2 plays 15 and so on for 4 rounds, until you have a national champion. The teams are selected as in college basketball with 11 automatic bids going to conference champions, and 5 at-large bids which would go to the highest ranked teams. What's great about this is that now smaller conferences get to play for something substantial: a chance to go to the dance and become the next George Mason, the next Valparasio. Potentially an Appalachian State now would have a Cinderella-like Bowl Series.

Also, while teams left out of the 16 would complain—there are always bubble teams who complain in college basketball—what this system does is ensure that an unbeaten team would never get left out of the hunt for the championship. (Auburn 2004 anyone?)

The next part of this plan would be controversial, but the idea has merit. The first three rounds of these games would be at the team with the higher seeds' home field—as is done in the NFL. You know, though, the owners of the bowls as they are right now would throw the Grandmother of all hissyfits once they hear of this plan. Not only is there a playoff system, but now the games aren't in New Orleans, or Tempe or Miami, but in Columbus, Eugene or Norman? Hissyfits aside, the plan has merit because it forces teams to play for the highest seed possible, even if they have their conference wrapped up—home field advantage is a good incentive to play hard the entire season.

But, as Wetzel writes, (and I have to admit, I thought of a while back when I was coming up with my own playoff system), bowl games could still exist. For the other 113 teams not in the playoffs, you could still have a bunch of bowl games whenever, and wherever you want. (And thank god, we salvaged the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.) And Pasadena, Miami, New Orleans, or wherever you wish, could still account for the neutral site championship game—call it the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, whichever.

But when money is involved, I have very little faith. Herbstreit said on ESPN, "Never gonna happen," and I can't say I disagree. As long as the people who decide are hostage to the people holding the money, the true champion-deciding playoffs the fans want and the players deserve will never happen. And you know what they call that:

They call that blackmail.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

B*nds Red*x


Since the first article I wrote about Barry Bonds, more articles have come out both criticizing him (too little, too late) and, amazingly, defending him.

The most defiant is Jemele Hill from ESPN. A black woman sportswriter, her article, "The Indictment of Bonds is Just Plain Wrong" begins as defiant as Bonds himself, stating that you would assume that she defends Bonds because she is black, and that we would be wrong. She later does, in fact, pull "the race card" to defend Bonds.

However, race isn't her biggest problem; it's logic. A quote: "For now, let's focus on something even bigger than race -- the unbelievably deep hypocrisy that has fueled the federal government's pursuit of Bonds for four years. The decision to indict Bonds on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, a charge I still don't understand, considering the government didn't need Bonds to topple BALCO -- isn't right, fair or just."

Ignoring the fact that she admits to not understanding why the government would give Bonds total immunity for his testimony, then indict him when he broke the agreement, the bigger question is, "why would it be hypocritical to go after Bonds?" Ms. Hill's claim is that Bonds wasn't the biggest criminal; there were bigger. Victor Conte, who ran BALCO, she claims isn't facing as stiff a punishment as Bonds. Well, maybe so. But Conte agreed to a plea deal and more important, didn't lie in his testimony. The charges Ms. Hill can't understand, the perjury and obstruction of justice, wouldn't exist if Bonds had simply told the truth.

More quotes: "Bonds -- who wasn't the first baseball player to take performance-enhancing drugs...who played against players taking the same drugs as him...-- is facing prison time and will be anointed the primary culprit of an era he didn't create."

The logic of this is truly freakish. Al Capone didn't create gangsterism, and surely competed against (and killed) other gangsters. Should he be free from prosecution because he didn't create the crime he committed? The point is moot, because to repeat, Bonds crime wasn't steroids; it's the perjury and obstruction of justice.

Ms. Hill continues to either willfully ignore the issues and obfuscate, or just plain doesn't understand them. She even bizarrely drags President Bush into the fray, implying that his interest in the steroid scandal is "intriguing" considering that when he co-owned the Texas Rangers, some of his players used steroids.

Then she plays the race card, claiming Bonds' biggest crime was not playing the grateful black man. She then brings out the worst example possible. "Gary Sheffield, while not the most eloquent speaker, alerted us to the obvious -- that MLB has a certain amount of economic control over Latino players because it plucks them from their home countries so they won't have to pay hefty signing bonuses in the draft."

Ignoring the fact that Gary Sheffield is a world-renowed malcontent and moron, I'll attack the financial facts of this argument. Two years ago, the Mets signed two Latin American prospects to the tune of 2 million in signing bonuses. They were both 16 years old.

Then last year, the Nationals signed a shortstop from Latin America to a reported 1.6 million signing bonus. The Yankees signed a catcher from Venezuela named Jesus Montero to a reported 2.2 million dollar signing bonus. He was 16 at the time. Seems to me they are paying hefty signing bonuses...to unproven 16-year-olds.

Exponentially increasing signing bonuses aside, didn't the Red Sox pay over 100 million dollars for Daisuke Matsuzaka? The point being: Major league ballclubs will pay top dollar for anyone who can help them win. Money isn't the issue, talent is.

Ms. Hill continues her race diatribe. "Why didn't the government pursue the past that Mark McGwire wasn't eager to talk about? Why does MLB seem to have only a passive interest in Paul Byrd?" To retort to Ms. Hill: Didn't the Feds invade the home of Jason Grimsely, a white pitcher? Didn't the Feds offer Bonds the exact same deal they offered Jason Giambi?

Perhaps the point could be better-made by another ESPN reporter. Howard Bryant, African-American himself, chastises the Bonds' defenders and the thought that race is a major part of the BALCO case.

"In the BALCO case, there were numerous defendants and many targets...but nobody associated with BALCO has escaped cleanly. Bonds is the last domino. He and his trainer, Greg Anderson, are the only ones still standing from BALCO who haven't either pleaded guilty, cooperated fully, or both; and that explains the treatment given Bonds."

He continues: "At one point in December 2003, Bonds and Jason Giambi were in the same position. But Bonds chose, in the eyes of the feds, to lie. Neither was to be charged with any crimes if they told the truth in a private setting, under oath."


Mr. Bryant's logic is as strong as Ms. Hill's is faulty. Ms Hill writes, "What-about-them arguments are normally despicable, but to ignore that Bonds was part of an ensemble cast is foolish and lacks perspective."

As Mr. Bryant wrote, Bond's indictment isn't about his being singled out. It's about his arrogance, his belief that he could bully prosecutors. Mr. Bryant writes persuasively: "It is a power game; and against individuals who possess such staggering degrees of wealth, only the federal government -- with its resources, subpoena authority and moral muscle -- has the power to make them accountable. That miscalculation, more than any racial bias, is the root of Bonds' downfall."

Amen. No matter how defenders of Bonds angle and obfuscate the argument, the undeniable truth is, he had a chance to avoid all this and struck out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Transactions...


No, seriously. Hockey season started?

Who knew?

Think the Browns want the No. 1 pick they traded away for Brady Quinn. So far, Derek Anderson has a QB rating of 90% and 22TDs. Also, he has good pocket awareness and knows when to get rid of the ball, as he's also only been sacked 10 times.

Meanwhile, Quinn is getting really good at sitting.

Probably gonna take a lot of flak for this, but if anyone can beat the Patriots this season—and I don't think anyone can—I think the Jaguars might be able to. Call it a hunch, but I think they might have the defense to get in Brady's face. And just enough offense with Maurice Drew and David Garrard to get the job done.

But I don't think it'll happen.

That said, kudos to Jack Del Rio for sticking to his guns and chucking El Tubbo— Byron Leftwich—this offseason. Byron, while a gamer (because he has no mobility and is constantly getting knocked onto the DL), and not a bad QB, made Drew Bledsoe look downright nimble in the pocket. After Del Rio inserted Garrard, Jacksonville is now an offense that, while not Dallas's or New England's, can help their stout defense. Garrard has command of their playbook—as evidenced by the 9 TD passes, no interceptions and 65% completion rating—and what's more, can actually shift in the pocket. The result is Jacksonville this year is the team I thought they would be last year; that is, the team the big boys (Indy, Pittsburg, N.E.) don't want to face.

It is more than a little excellent that "The U", that is the Miami Hurricanes football team, stink so bad. For years, the arrogance and downright thuggery that program exemplified was an embarrassment. Mugshot after mugshot; obnoxious NFL rookie after obnoxious NFL rookie. It's nice to see them eat a little humble pie with a absolute crapola season and no bowl trip.

Whatever nonsense is preventing most of the country from getting the NFL Network needs to stop now. One of the biggest games of the year is coming this Thursday with the Packers visiting the Cowboys and only like, 13% of the nation is going to be able to see it.

The ANDAPLAYERTOBENAMEDLATER Man of the Week Award. Lots of applicants this week. Andy Reid for designing a brilliant gameplan against the Patriots and got backup A.J. Feely to throw for 345 yards against the Pats. Patrick Kearney with 7 tackles and 3 sacks. Patrick Willis (the guy I wanted the Jets to draft) with 18 tackles (17 solo) and half a sack. and kept Edge in check. Devon Hester and his entire punt blocking team. But the award goes to Ryan Grant—who's come out of Wheres?-ville to give the Packers a needed running game. Ryan got over 100 yards against a very good Lion rush defense on only 15 carries. He also got 6 of Lord Farve's passes. Congratulations, Ryan.

Schmuck of the Week goes to Chad Johnson for celebrating a touchdown by playing with the camera in the endzone. Hey jerk, your team was picked by everyone to go to the playoffs, but is only 4-7. What the hell are you doing showboating at 4-7? Flip the damn ball to the ref and try to go on a two-game winning streak.

Starting to think the Yankees should go after Randy Wolf. A low-risk, potentially medium-range reward type guy. He's a lefty, only 31, and wasn't all that bad in the spring before the injury shut him down. A nice incentive-laden contract might be the way to go here. This is all assuming he gets a clean bill of health.

Ok, not to defend Eli Manning—because he had a stinkpoo game yesterday—but his receivers have to run the called routes. And then when the ball is thrown to them, they have to actually catch and hang onto the ball. Maybe then, all this "He's not Peyton" stuff would begin to go away.

And lastly, Vince Young. You're not allowed to do another commercial until you pass Kyle Boller on the QB rating chart.

And only one until you get past Joey Harrington.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Transactions.....


Was it me, or were there more Pittsburg fans at the Meadowlands last Sunday than Jets fans?

I'm glad the Yankees kept Kevin Long as their hitting coach. A bunch of the Pinstripers credit this guy to no end.

Seriously, has anyone told Stephen A. Smith on ESPN that he can't speak English? I mean, listen to the man. If you can.

I'm not really a big fan of their fans, but Clemson really does have one of the coolest logos in college sports.

There were of a bunch of men to choose from this week...but the coveted AND A PLAYER TO BE NAMED LATER Man of the Week award goes to....Antrel Rolle of the Cards. A bit of a disappointment since he was taken 8th in the 2005 draft, he went all loco this week, getting 3 interceptions, returning two to the house. Congratulations, Antrel.

G4s Ninja Warrior is what the Olympics should be....seriously, the best show on TV.

I really think Bryant Young on San Francisco is one of the most underated player in football. 3-4 or 4-3, end or tackle, he's done nothing but produce. This year, at 35, playing at the end postion in a 3-4 defense, (on a crap team) he has 6.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed (as a DE!) and a forced fumble. A man.

And congratulations to professional sportswriter Stewart Mandel of Cnnsi.com. Today, he picked Boston College to appear in the Champs Sports Bowl on December 28th seeded as the ACC number 4 seed. Only problem is since Boston College has earned its way to the ACC title game, the worst it could be seeded is 2nd. Way to go professional sportswriter Stew!!!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The D*fense of B*rry Bonds

The indictment of Barry Bonds this week brought along with it the usual hoopla and opinion-spouting from every "analyst" as well as from every halfway-knowledgeable sports fan. This blog is no different.

However, what hoopla is unusual is the loud defense of Barry. Coming from certain quarters—especially black reporters—the defense rings false. It smacks of defending Barry at all costs for reasons not true and having nothing to do with the integrity of the game.

The defense seems to follow two schools of thought. The first—the everybody's doing it—argument goes like this. "...(Barry is not the bad guy) The entirety of baseball is the bad guy" (Betting Fool Blog—SFGate.com). The second argument, the race argument, goes like this: "What about Mark McGuire?" (The semi-coherent Stephen A. Smith—ESPN).

Let's start with the first one—the Everybody's Doing It" defense. The gist of it seems to follow this thought; It's not that big a deal...The government is wasting their time...Everybody does it anyway.

The head-scratchingly obvious response to this is...the fact that others, (including, but not exclusive to, Raphael Palmiero and Jason Grimley) have committed a crime isn't absolution from a crime. You are still just as guilty.

Here are some quotes from a Barry defender. "By some estimates, 40 percent of MLB over the so-called "Steroid Years" were on something."

Again, even if the figure of 40% is true, it doesn't absolve anybody. The logic of "If enough people commit a crime, it ceases to be a crime" is not logic at all. At what percentage of people doing it does it cease to be a crime? 40%? 50%? Also, which crime is ok? If 40% of players were gambling on baseball as well as injecting steroids, should we ignore their behavior as well?

Another defense is: "Granted, the hundreds of other users didn't supposedly lie to the feds. But I bet many of them lied to teammates, their families. Ever lied on your tax returns?" (That's an actual line from the Betting Fool Blog)

Um, no. I don't cheat on my taxes. And I don't use steroids. Should I because "everybody" was doing it? Also, we're not condoning their behavior—lying to family or such—we're indicting a crime.

Even if the estimates (we wonder which reputable source afforded those numbers) are true and 40% of players did it, that still leaves 60% who didn't. Why should we let those who played the game the honest, true way get penalized for not cheating.

You don't pick and choose which lawbreakers you go after. If there is a law against doping and steroids. you enforce it. If you don't, what's the point of the law? And if a man knowingly breaks the law, then lies to a grand jury—after being warned not to, and doing it anyway—then you indict him.

Another quote: "But if he didn't tell the Feds the entire truth about the juice that fueled baseball's comeback, slap his wrists and put him on probation." Right?

No, because perjury and obstruction of justice are not slap on the wrist misdemeanors. They are, and should be, serious charges.

"The owners and snakes slithering around in Bud Selig's cave are hugely to blame. That's who the feds should arrest."

Why? What law did they break? What logic are you using to go after owners? Because they are rich?

Again, most of the players didn't use drugs. To not indict Bonds would be an insult to every honest, hard-working player, who played the game the right way. To not go after Bonds would reward every player who cheated and would be a slap in the face to every player who didn't—Henry Aaron included. Every home run Henry Aaron hit would be the home run of a fool, who didn't cheat.

You would be rewarding someone who knowingly broke the law. Multiple times.

That's why you go after Bonds.

The second point. The race card. The Why Barry and not Mark card.

Simply put, because the whole BALCO investigation wasn't started until after Mark left the game. In 2003, the government got an anonymous tip regarding the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. The investigation started then and there. Again, why? Because use of steroids did not violate baseball policy until a testing program for the performance-enhancing drugs became part of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2003. Also, when McGuire played before 2001, he didn't hide the fact he used androstenedione, an over-the-counter muscle enhancement product. Why? Because baseball didn't consider it illegal.

In December 2003 when Jason Giambi went in front of the grand jury, he admitted using the Cream and The Clear—at that time, impossible to find steroids. For his part, Barry said he got what he thought was flaxseed oil from his trainer, and not steroids. If you believe that, then you probably also believed John Gotti was a part-time electrician from Queens.

Frankly, there is no conclusive, or even mildly persuasive, evidence that the indictment of Bonds has anything to do with race. Jason Giambi—who to his tiny credit, went up and admitted using drugs—was the first ballplayer vilified (and rightly so) in the press. On August 1, 2005, Raphael Palmeiro, a Dominican, who had loudly and vehemently professed to never doing steroids was suspended for violating baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy. On June 6, 2006 the home of baseball player Jason Grimsley (a white player) was searched as part of the ongoing BALCO probe. Baseball and the press has gone after any any all races in their search for steroid users.

"...you know Mark McGuire shoulda been had and he's able to retire..." (Stephen A. Smith —ESPN). Again, using enhancements wasn't against baseball's collective bargaining agreement at that time, which, if Smith was a more diligent reporter, would know that. And if Smith paid any attention to details, Bonds indictment isn't for steroid use; it's for perjury and obstruction of justice. If Bonds had followed Jason Giambi's example and confessed to the grand jury in 2003, we wouldn't be here right now talking about this.

Charles Barkley (for some reason) was asked about his opinion on the Bonds indictment, and he says "I cannot believe that after four years this witch hunt came to a conclusion....I cannot believe this selective prosecution, witch hunt, came to this. We didn't have prosecution against Mark McGuire. We didn't have prosecution against Jason Giambi....It's about race..."

Witch hunt? How? The fact that Bonds has used steroids is beyond need of any more proof. Selective prosecution? Again, the charges he was indicted for are for lying and obstructing justice. Giambi confessed to using drugs. McGuire didn't have to. And another thing. Giambi and Bonds had been given immunity for the 2003 grand jury testimony, meaning they could be prosecuted for the information they gave only if they lied. That's why Bonds has now been indicted and that's why there is no case against Giambi.

This blog in no way condones or approves of the actions of McGuire, Giambi, Bonds or anyone else who cheated (including Sammy Sosa, he of the corked bat). But to say this has anything to do with race....there's just no evidence.

To conclude, this blog thinks that anyone—including Giambi—who has been caught, or admitted doing steroids while playing baseball during the time that it has been illegal to do so, should never play the game again, and all records they accumulated are null and void. And that goes for whatever race they are.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I-Rod

So now Alex Rodriguez wants to stay a Yankee.

For those keeping track, here's the timeline again. First he claimed to want to remain a Yankee. Open the new Stadium ... tradition ... pinstripes, blah blah blah. Then he wants to do what's best for his family, which apparently means announcing his free agency during Game 4 of the World Series. Also, he doesn't even invite his beloved Yankees to the table, which drives Hank "Steinbrenner Part Deux" to rightly state, "It's clear he didn't want to remain a Yankee."

Now he loves New York and wants to stay.

So while Boras is in Miami—the home city of A-Rod—"on business"...hmmmmm...Alex goes to the Yankees and says he'll take less to stay there.

There are moments in sports when the good guy does win and justice is done. (Just look to the Isiah-Marbury feud to see what I mean—there are two guys who ABSOLUTELY deserve all the fan derision and bad press they get.) One of those moments is here with the Boras/A-Rod cabal. For all their machinations, for all their "media savvy," for all their attempts at controlling the market, to have it blow up in their faces—with both an empty marketplace for Alex's expensive services and the media ridicule—is sweet, yummy justice.

“After spending time with (wife) Cynthia and my family over these last few weeks, it became clear to me that I needed to make an attempt to engage the Yankees regarding my future with the organization. . . . We know there are other opportunities for us, but Cynthia and I have a foundation with the club that has brought us comfort, stability and happiness. As a result, I reached out to the Yankees through mutual friends and conveyed that message. I also understand that I had to respond to certain Yankees concerns, and I was receptive and understanding of that situation."

In other words, for all his massive talent, for all his professing of baseball tradition and "doing things the right way," clubs had no use for a bloated ego superstar with no rings and an inflated sense of importance. No "I-Rod" please.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Relief...Only 163 Days Away


The good news is the Jets didn't lose last week. They were off.

The truly bad news is that they might not win for the rest of the year.

What the heck happened? Last year they went 10 and 6. They beat the Patriots once. They made the playoffs. The coach was "Mangenius." Life was good.

Well, a number of things happened. First off, they didn't get the easy schedule this time around. Next, the offensive line lost its glue. Guard Pete Kendell, neatly placed between rookies Mangold and Ferguson and who tutored them well, left to be replaced by an even greener castoff.

But mostly...the Jets aren't very talented.

Last year, they could mask that somewhat with smoke and mirrors and a weak schedule. This year, not so much.

Which is why I think this year's problems all started at the draft. Which is not to knock the guys we got. From every indication, the two guys we got up top are good. Revis should be a nice corner and Harris seems like every bit the inside linebacker a 3-4 defense needs.

The problem stems from the fact that we weren't two players away from contention. We are a whole lot of players away. To trade away picks when we needed a great many players was silly, if not stupid.

Another problem; the players on our defense were picked and built for an entirely different defense—the one-gap, attack 4-3 defense (similar to Indy's defense). Robertson is a one-gap attack DT; Vilma is a quick, flow-to-the-ball middle linebacker who needs two DT's to cover for him. So to run Mangini's 3-4 two-gap defense—not to mention retool the offensive line and get a new tight end—we needed to restaff most of the Jets team.

So in the draft, what did the Jets do? Did they get the big DT they needed? Did they trade Vilma or Robertson who are both obviously ill-suited to this style and try to get more draft picks for them? Did they trade down to get even more picks so they could retool their appropriately named offensive line? And maybe a nice TE?

No, they traded up.

When the Cowboys of the early 90's were terrible, coach (and draft guru) Jimmie Johnson set the blueprint for rebuilding teams. Do your research, set your draft board. And then trade down. Again and again and again. His volume of picks allowed him to build the Cowboy dynasty of the mid-90s.

In 1996 when Jimmie was with Miami then, he traded down to accumulate 3 picks in the fifth round. His haul: utility back Jerris McPhail, solid DT Shane Burton, and future hall-of-famer Zach Thomas.

Point being, whether it was hubris, ignorance or folly, the Jets were obviously much further away than the two picks they took from this draft.

On draft day, I conducted my own mock draft along with the real one. I made it as realistic as possible with trades being positive for both teams, finances included. In this draft, I traded Jon Vilma and Dewayne Robertson to the Redskins for the number 6 pick. Washington needed run support and they run an attack 4-3 defense; perfect for Vilma and Robertson. I then traded back to get run-stuffing ILB Patrick Willis (who's doing great in the 3-4 defense out in San Fran). For the rest of the draft, I followed Jimmie Johnson's philosophy and traded back, then took players who fit the Jet's new defense. The result was a 9-player draft with more picks for next year's draft as well. I took young offensive linemen, cornerbacks, a big 3-4 nose tackle, rush linebackers. But no TE. Nobody's perfect.

But since this never happened, what we have instead are the Jets of now. Vilma likely will be traded this off-season, one year too late—with his knee injury, his value will definitely take a hit. Robertson can't anchor the Jets' rush defense, as evidenced by the Jets giving up 296 yards rushing to the Redskins a couple of weeks ago. So far, the Jets have gotten 9 sacks all year; they have given up 23.

Their offense is 100% certified crap as well. They don't average 100 yards rushing per game because they allow too many holes on their offensive line. (Granted that might have something to do with defenses stacking up because Chad couldn't throw more than 15 yards downfield with taking a half hour to float one out there.) Their quarterbacks have passed for 11 TDs; this week's opposition, Ben Rothlisberger, has 22.

But it's not all face-in-the-mud for the Jets. I hated to see it, but Mangini made the right choice in going to Kellen Clemens—who has a nice early rapport with Cotchery. He will face some touch teams right away—Pittsburg, Dallas, New England—with absolutely nothing to lose. Which will be good experience for him. Revis and Harris, now starters both, will also gain experience and become anchors in the new defense for which they are suited.

And the best news of all...the 2008 draft is only 163 days away.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Transactions....


Wait, hockey season started?

Could the Giants, please...please, never wear those stupid red jerseys again. They look like they're gonna break out into the Monty Python "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK" song.

This Jimmie Johnson-Jeff Gordon NASCAR Cup points race sure is electrifying stuff, isn't it?

The Man of the Week award has to go to Mark Brunell of the St. Louis Rams. With most of his offensive line in intensive care, he goes out against the resurgent Saints and throws 27 for 33 and 302 yards. Though he still got sacked 4 times, he didn't throw one interception. He threw, instead, three touchdown passes. Man.

I wish McNabb would just keep his mouth closed. Just play football, dude.

OK, here's the super-duper mega-early 2008 prediction. Toronto Blue Jays. They scare the AL all year and make the playoffs.

Could the "Fantasy Football Guy" on ESPN be any more of a Pocket Protector dweeb?

I can't name one team more fun to watch right now in college football than the Kansas Jayhawks and any coach more cool than their Mark Mangino.

And Kudos to College Gameday for going to a Division III matchup, to cover student-athletes playing the game, not for a big contract, but because they love the game.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Case for Nothing


Last year, some truly average free agent pitchers hit Lotto. Almost every team desperate for starting pitching threw crazy money at them to sign these paragons of mediocrity. Some guy named Gil Meche with a career record of 55-44 and who only once had an E.R.A under 4.00 (when he went 4-4 in 2000) signed a 55 million dollar contract. Lefty Ted Lilly, who's lifetime E.R.A. was over 4.5 got himself a 40 million dollar contract.

A lesson to be taken from this could be, if you're gonna go get a pitcher in free agency, grow one from your farm system instead.

Which is what the Yankees seem to be doing. After Wang came up and turned himself into a perennial 19 game winner, the Yanks have grown themselves a starting rotation. If Petitte takes his ball and goes home to retire, the Yankees with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Wang could have 4 farm-groomed pitchers under the age of 28.

And that's fine with me.

The Yankees should NOT go after Santana. They should NOT sign Jennings to a huge multi-year contract. Those days are done (hopefully). If the Yankees do anything, they should add a complementary piece. A small signing.

The papers and talk radio would have us give up Melky, Kennedy and uber-prospect Jose Tabata for Santana. Or we should go after a top-tier free agent pitcher, Carlos Silva for instance (that is what passes for top tier these days).

Why not you say? Silva is a groundball pitcher who logged 200 innings last year for a 4.19 ERA. Not bad. But a few flags. First off, he gave up 229 hits in those 202 innings pitched. His lifetime BAA is .300. with lefties hitting a .472 slugging percentage off him. Also his ERA on grass is over a point higher than his ERA on turf. And lastly, and maybe most importantly, he's going to be expensive. The Twins have already tried to sign him for three years at 21 million and Silva laughed it off. Take last year's Meche/Lilly numbers and add a few zeros.

The Yanks should walk away from that as well as the Johan Santana drama. And from Livan Hernandez. And Jason Jennings. Face it—the Yanks track record on Big Money pitcher deals is G-O-D-awful with a list of tragedies from Andy Hawkins to Kei Igawa. Pitchers who were awesome suddenly implode when they touch Yankee Stadium grass (anyone remember Steve Trout?) Any free agent pitching signings should be of the low-risk variety.

And it's next to impossible to make a small move with even mediocrity getting Big Boy money. One small move might be fossil-reliever Todd Jones. A one-year deal for an experienced set-up man/"off day for Mariano" might be wise. Other than that, we should leave well enough alone. Walk away from the table.

To sum up, instead of signing a huge big bucks free agent and then crossing our fingers that it doesn't blow up in our faces, we should look for the guy to replace Petitte from where Petitte came from. Within.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Once again, I was right...

Before the season, I picked the Green Bay Packers to be the surprise team and the Kansas City Chiefs to be the biggest disappointment.

So far, I'm one for two. But I'm sticking with both. Here's why.

There's no doubt Green Bay wanted Marshawn Lynch or Adrian Peterson in the draft, but couldn't get either of the young backs. So the running game—to put it gently—isn't where it needs to be. But that's ok. Cause apparently, Brett Farve hooked up with Marty McFly and his time machine DeLorean in the offseason. The result is Farve is playing like it's 1999; he's second in the league in passing yards, and has his lowest interception rating since 1996.


On the other side of the ball, the Packers are more than solid. The D-Line—with Aaron Kampman, who's leading the league with 9 sacks, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila—rushes the pasher well and holds the ground vs. the run. The rest of the defense is young, fast and opportunistic. Nick Barnett is a great young player who has 84 tackles and is worthy of a trip to Hawaii next February. A.J. Hawk and Corey Williams are young guys who are getting better with more experience. And when the weather gets colder, teams are going to dread going to Green Bay.

One thing I was wrong about...I thought Farve was done. I was wrong. Frankly, he's played out of his mind. Without a consistent running game (dead last in rushing yards per game), Farve has passed the deep ball well (second in the league in yds/pass play) to his young WRs, Greg Jennigs and James Jones. The only question is...what happens when the Wisconsin winds get rougher? Will the deep ball work as well, or will defenses line take their chances knowing the Packers have no run game? The Packers need to build up a reliable running game for December and the playoffs.

Overall, at 7-1, the Packers are playing even better than I predicted. Once again, I was right....

Kansas City is another thing. They are an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, playing like a mediocre team. They are 4-4, thanks in part to a generous schedule. QB Damon Huard is playing average, a 79.1 rtg and the passing game as a whole is...average. The problem is the once-great offensive line. Through retirement and attrition, the KC offensive line now is a Maginot Line. Their running attack has been pathetic, and the KC QBs has been sacked 25 times and are constantly harried. And now, with Larry Johnson out indefinitly with a foot injury, the Chiefs are turning to the late, great Priest Holmes and "Who Dat?" rookie Kolby Smith. Teams will be teeing off on the KC passing game.


Right now, the Chiefs are averaging 15.5 points a game, 29th in the league and a lot of three-and-outs. All this has put a burden on the defense. So far, the defense has answered the bell. However, the '86 Bears they are not. With L.J. out and the average passing game only getting worse, can the defense step it up? I think not.

Of the defensive players, Jared Allen has been a man. The man. Already beating last year's sack totals, Jared is playing like a man possessed for a new contract. However, on the whole, the KC defense is...average. Word is however, Ty Law has finally acting his age, and is half a step slow in getting back on his defensive routes. Again, with the sad offense putting more of a burden on the defense, this will be more and more of a problem going forward.

All this adds up to....average. Even with a nice schedule, how the Chiefs are 4-4, I can't say. The Chiefs, however, are injured at exactly the wrong time. 3 of the next 4 game are against divisional foes, sandwiched around the Colts. The next four weeks will tell you a lot about the Chiefs. I have a feeling they will tell you...once again, I was right.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Uh oh.....


So, Andy decided to opt out.

That's great for Andy to have those choices, but for the Yankees this is nothing short of catastrophic.

Right now, the pitching rotation card for Joe Girardi reads as such: In big bold letters "Chien-Ming Wang," then 4 question marks right after.

Can rapidly aging Mike Mussina hang on for one more year? Can Joba adjust to the rotation? Are Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy for real? One feels good about them; Hughes was number 4 on Baseball America's 2007 Top Prospects, Kennedy was the Minor League Pitcher of the Year. But Girardi has to ask himself, "Would I be comfortable throwing out this rotation against the Red Sox?"

The smart money says the Yankee Brass isn't either. Which brings me to fear number two. The first fear is how are these kids gonna perform, which is a healthy fear. A good, reasonable fear. But the second, more troublesome fear is what if we go out and make the stupid trade; the Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield trade; the Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps trade.

With A-Rod gone and now Andy on the fence, you can smell the desperation from the Bronx. Which begs the question from every fan: do we try to rebuild from without or from within?

So far, the Yankee Brass has been saying all the right things. Hank "Mini-George" Steinbrenner was quoted just last week saying the P-word, which was never heard in Yankeeland before.

“We’re definitely going to have patience. The media and the fans need to be patient with the new manager.”

We'll believe it when we see it, Hank. Because frankly, too many times, and especially since 2000, we've gone into the Winter Meetings with the mindset of "Who are we gonna get? We've got to make a big splash." And the result has been Tony Womack, Sheffield, Damon, Pavano.

Which is not to say we shouldn't look around. On the contrary, we should most certainly look at what's out there. The plan for the 2008 Yanks should be to get a a solid, professional low-risk pitcher for the short-term. A Scott Brosius type. Sign him short-term for a middle-of-the-road contract, and let Girardi and Pena (two former catchers), along with Dave Eiland, groom the young pitchers.

Because, really, there's no one out there we could sign who would replace Petitte. In so many ways, Andy is inimitable. Not only for the solidity he gives the rotation, but for his mondo-clutch October starts, his "Been through this before" presence and his classy professionalism. No pitcher you're going to throw 80 million is going to replace him. (Kevin Brown? Jared Wright? Pavano? Igawa? Randy Johnson?)

Andy was Yankee Stadium born and bred. He was groomed under the big lights at Joe Torre and Don Zimmer's side. Money, no matter who it buys you, can't replace that.


THE THIRD BASE PROBLEM

3rd base is another problem.

A lot of talk has been going for Miguel Cabrera. Aside from the fact that it will be confusing to have to two M. Cabreras in the lineup, there have been questions about Miguel's attitude. Can Girardi get the best out of him? Or will he become a surly, contract-eating Danny Tartabull? Also, who do we give up to get him? Would you give up Joba and Cano for him?

And this nonsense about getting a disgruntled Scott Rolen makes no sense. A notoriously broken 3B on the wrong side of 33 (by next spring). Ummm, no thank you.

Or is Betemit the answer? No one's denying the talent is there. But he's been traded twice in the past 2 years, from organizations famous for grooming young talent. And his performance last fall, albeit brief, was underwhelming. Again you ask, can Girardi get the best out of him? One wonders if Larry Bowa could have gotten to Wilson.

And even the best options have their own problems. Joe Crede could be an option, but he just had back surgery. If healthy, he could be a nice option, but a back injury at age 29 raises a humongous red flag.

The same is said for Chad Tracy, whom the D-Backs would like to trade. He just had microfracture surgery on his knee and could be out up to 8 months.

Another option is Brandon Wood on the Angels. A top prospect, he had an awful major league debut last year. However, he'll be only 23 by Opening Day and is still considered an awesome talent. If the Angels get A-Rod, what happens to Wood?

And with all these guys, what would it take to get them? Cano, Hughes, Joba?

Cashman is going to have to do some serious soul-searching this off-season and some serious haggling. Would Atlanta take Damon and Farnsworth for 25 year old righty Yunel Escobar? Is he the answer?

With all these questions, it's tempting to look for certainty. So here is one thing that is certain—if Petitte is truly gone, the 2008 Yankees are going to have to dig deeper and the kids are going to have to grow up faster to make up for him.

Uh oh.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Transactions....


Hard to believe on a day when Drew Brees passes for 445 yards with 3 TDs and no interceptions that he doesn't get the Stud of the Day award. That of course, has to go to uber-rookie Adrian Peterson. 296 yards rushing from scrimmage—a new NFL record—gets you the award. Watching him in Oklahoma as a freshman, it looked like a Peterson was a man playing with boys. It's amazing, here in the NFL, it still looks like that.

Other Transactions:

Watching Chad hug Kellen Clemens before the game and cheer for him on the sideline goes to show you again, that Chad deserved better than what he got.

Let's here it for Larry Allen. At age 35 and at a very generously listed 325 pounds gets himself an interception, something most Jet corners can't do.

Anyone see Julius Peppers of late? If you have, let me know.

Seriously, 1.5 sacks (all against the Cardinals, too)? I know his team is imploding a little, but really, for a guy of his talent to have 26 tackles and under two sacks all season....

The first time I see Mattingly in Dodger Blue, I am going to shed a man-tear.

Carson Palmer...Poor Bastard.

I'm really glad Tony Romo got paid. By all accounts, Romo, who rose from deep, deep obscurity to quarterback America's Team, is a good guy who plays the right way, and deflects praise.

Why is cars turning left the number one most attended sports event in the country?

I think Kellen Clemens did some good things out there today. His ability to improvise was nice (a little bit like Tony Romo), but he did overthrow some passes. However, nothing I saw made me think he won't grow into a nice QB.

That said, I am starting to get worried about "Brick". Our left tackle had two penalties and isn't showing the dominance required of a no. 4 pick.

This offseason is going to be the most important one for the Jets for a generation.

I'm glad Tony Pena is staying with the Yanks. His coaching—with Posada in particular—is worth whatever he gets in pay.

And lastly, I have to admit...Katie Holmes running the marathon in 5 hours does impress me a little bit.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Young Love


ESPN loves them some Vince Young. Every personality, analyst and announcer on the channel sings his praises every single chance they get. And why wouldn't they? He's talented, successful and a very good quarterback.

Except one thing. He's not.

At least, not yet. 7 weeks into his second season, his QB rating is a dreadful 66%. He's thrown twice as many interceptions as he has TD passes. His yards per attempt is a pathetic 5.82 and even his rushing yards per attempt is an un-Vick-like 3.6.

Yet according to ESPN analysts, he's having a "so-so start." He's a "winner" which is their way of saying that he should thank his defense and running game for carrying him.

Another "winner," "gamer" and my favorite euphemism, "warrior," is Brett, "His Lordship," Favre. The past couple of years, (before his renaissance this year) Brett Favre was mediocre at best. And "mediocre" is being kind. Still, to John Madden and every football announcer near a microphone, he WAS football. "...rooting for Brett Favre is like rooting for America."

What?

Despite Favre's QB rating the last two years hovering near 71, and his having become the living embodiment of an interception, praise was endemic. This year with Lord Favre playing well, sports analysts are practically drooling when they talk about His Lordship. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Marriotti said this doozy: "The rebirth of Favre is bad news for Bears fans. But it's great news for football, sports and, when you think about it, life."

Favre Fan Club Member #1, John Madden, has another crush aside from Mr. Favre. In 2002, he said that if he had one player to take, to start a franchise, it'd be Randy Moss. "The best receiver," "most talented," "best hands"...blah, blah blah. The same year Madden said that, Colts receiver Marvin Harrison broke the record for most pass receptions for a season with 143. Truth be told, he didn't break it; he demolished it—the previous record...Herman Moore with 123 catches in 1995. He broke the record by 20 receptions!! That would be like someone breaking Bonds single season home run record of 73 with 93!! But you didn't see Harrison on the cover of Madden 2003. Or 2004 or 2005.

If you're a regular watcher of ESPN, you'd think Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson has that record. Or at least caught 100 receptions in a season. (He hasn't.) You'd think Terrell Owens had the record for most yards gained in a season, and not Jerry Rice. Or that Terrell had any record of significance. Or a ring.

What gives? Why is it that broadcasters and analysts fall in love with some guys and other guys can be the second coming of Jim Brown and yet be ignored? When did sports reporting and analysis become a high school-esque "It Club" where some athletes are consistently praised despite what they do on the field, and others are damned to cliche reporting. Or at best, indifference.

You know who is one of the most well-rounded defensive ends in the league, stout against the run and is second in the league with 8 sacks? Aaron Kampman.

Who?

Only serious followers of football would know that name (or if you happened to have season tickets to Packers games). Why? Why isn't he championed by CNNSI? Where are the reports on Sunday Morning Countdown, the replays of his tackles or sacks? Why are all the accolades on the Packer's resurgance this year heaped at Lord Favre's door, and none for the defense led by this Pro Bowl defensive end, named.....what's his name again?

Who has the most tackles in the league? Pssst. It's not Ray Lewis...who you'd think was paying ESPN for everything they say about him. It's Barrett Ruud. Who has more catches, Randy Moss or Wes Welker? Give you a hint, it's not Moss, despite however many One On One interviews he gets on the Sunday shows.

To remedy this, ANDAPLAYERTOBENAMEDLATER is going to offer two awards. The first is for the player overworshiped by the media, which we call the "FAVRE" (we almost called the "VICK," but since he decided to go to jail, we chose to name it after Brett). And the second will go to the player who quietly, and unsung, plays great, tough football. That we call the "MARVIN" after the great Marvin Harrison. (Fair to say, it could have easily been called the MARTIN, after former RB Curtis Martin, but since he's retired, we'll give it to MARVIN.)


There are many nominees for the "MARVIN." Wes Welker, who we mentioned, is the engine that drives the Patriots attack. Welker has 56 catches, most of them tough middle-of-the-field receptions. Elvis Dumervil, David Garrard and Jason Witten were all considerations. But the MARVIN is presented to....Jared Allen.

"And that is......?"

Defensive end Allen has 8 sacks so far, which is fantastic—on pace for 17 sacks for the year.

What's even more fantastic is that he missed the first two games of the season, so those 8 sacks have been gotten in 5 games. He also is leading defensive linemen on his team with 26 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. The first two games, when he was out, the Chiefs' record was 0-2; since he's been back, the Chiefs are 4-1.

Congratulations Jared on your MARVIN award!

Which leaves the nominees for the FAVRE. There are many. Ray Lewis, who we mentioned, isn't having a bad year, but not the year you'd assume from listening to commentators. Same for Chad Johnson. Reggie Bush was REALLY tempting, but in the end, there was really only one choice.

Congratulations, Vince Young!

Actually the award really goes to ESPN, the Sunday morning NFL shows and sports radio. The FAVRE isn't necessarily a knock on a player (most of all Brett himself. Brett is a good guy and a great player). It's a comment on the strange infatuation certain players seem to incite in commentators and analysts and the virtual anonymity other players have. And the man-crushes don't just occur in football, it goes for all sports. Jose Reyes could someday be a winner of the FAVRE while Placido Polanco is a strong candidate for the MARVIN.

One last thing. The FAVRE and MARVIN aren't annual, rather whenever this blog feels an award is due, we'll just give it out. So vote early and vote often.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

No. 23 and No. 10





Lost in the Who's It Gonna Be? Yankee managerial hoopla, the A-Rod "Me-stakes" and the Colts-Pats "Game of the Century of the Week" is the fact that two New York sports heroes have passed on.

Not "passed on" as in died. "Passed on" as in two sports dreams that started so well and with such promise, ended not the way they were supposed to.

The Jets have announced that starting this Sunday, James Chadwick "Chad" Pennington is no longer the starting quarterback, and that Kellen Clemens is taking over.

This was a move a long time coming. Never a power passer, Chad had enough arm to earn a 65.3 career completion percentage, 2nd all-time. That said, anyone who has watched Jets games knows that Chad's arm is done, injuries having turned his shoulder into Play-Doh. And more than fans knowing this, is that opposing defenses know this. If every 5-yard out pass from Chad is a threat to be jumped by a cornerback because the ball sails to the receiver like a half-dead balloon, you know that your QB is done.

But even though the Jets needed to bench Chad doesn't mean we have to be happy about this. Pennington was nothing but a team-first work-a-holic. This is a guy who took the Jets playbook on his honeymoon, and who came back from two shoulder surgeries to win Comeback Player of the Year. A Rhodes Scholar who applies his smarts to endless hours tape dissection, No. 10 did whatever coaches asked, and deflected praise to teammates. In today's self-promotional sports world fill of Chad Johnsons, Deangelo Halls and PacMan Jones, Chad was that rarest of things, a true sportsman.

If this talk sounds like Chad is gone, it's not meant to. It's just that, in every Jets fans' gut, the posterboy for the Jets is no more. Chad might start again; more likely, he'd back up Clemens and in true team fashion, tackle that role with class. Essentially, he's quarterback option 1A for the Jets. But he's the Franchise no more. The Injury Gods have taken care of that.

It was kryptonite of a different sort that took down another New York sports hero. Don Mattingly, dubbed "Donnie Baseball" by Kirby Puckett, was done in by a bad back that robbed him of his natural graceful swing, and what should have been a Hall Of Fame career.

For most of the 80's, Donnie Baseball was everything you wanted in a hero. Drafted unceremoniously in the 19th round of the draft, Mattingly used hard work and baseball smarts to make it to the big club. In 1984, he beat out superstar Dave Winfield on the last day of the year (going 4 for 5) to win the batting title. In 1985 he earned the MVP by hitting 48 doubles and 145 RBIs. In 1987 he tied a record by hitting a homer in 8 straight games. That year, he set the major league record for grand slams in a season with 6. And he was no slouch at 1st base either, with gold gloves from 1985 through 1994.

But towards the end of his career, The Injury Gods struck, and in the worst place for a sweet-hitting 1st-baseman, the back. And with the injury, came a tailing off of his numbers. Though never bad, instead of in the mid .300s, his batting average hovered around .290. instead of lacing doubles to the gap, now No. 23 was a second late, and out dribbled a weak grounder. After 1989, Donnie Baseball never touched 20 HRs again.

Aside from a balky back, Mattingly also had to endure the turmoil of Chez Steinbrenner—during the height of George's power in the 80s. From 1983 through 89 alone, No. 23 had to endure 8 managerial changes—stability not being Steinbrenner's focus. Along with the managerial changes, Mattingly also had to endure King George's weakness for signing overpriced, over-the-hill players who folded in NYC. Not exactly the 1927 Yankees, Mattingly's early 90s Yankees were, to put it politely, crap. (Danny Tartabull? Andy Hawkins?) Donnie Baseball took this all with his customary class and humility. In an Yankee era filled with egos and indifference, scandal and mediocrity, Mattingly was the sole light.

Retiring a year too soon in 1995, Mattingly watched the late 90's Yankees win World Series after World Series. The ring that most likely kept him out of the Hall of Fame so close but so far away. And when he came back in 2003, first as batting coach, and then as bench coach, a generation of Yankee fans had reason to feel that, like Superman, their hero, No. 23 could defeat his back and get that ring, once and for all.

Alas, it's not to be. This week, Don Mattingly, No. 23 has been rumored to take a job as bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The man who once said "The Pinstripes are in my blood," would be wearing Dodger Blue. And even if, God Willing, he gets his ring, it would not be in Pinstipes, with a tickertape trip through the Canyon of Heroes.

And while Chad, too, could get his own ring, the smart money says that No. 10 probably lost any realistic chance to hoist the Lombardi trophy in a bath of champagne.

Watching Pennington these past few weeks, playing gamely, but just a shadow of his former self, reminded me of watching Mattingly during the last third of his career. Occasionally you'd catch a glimpse of the talent, the brilliance, but mostly it was frustration and sadness. Now, No. 23 will be in a different uniform and No. 10 will be on the bench. You can't help but get the feeling, that this wasn't the way it was supposed to end.