Monday, August 31, 2009

Transactions....

Gotta love the fact that, with Oliver Perez (nice signing, Minaya) out, that puts the Mets with 100 million dollars of talent on the injury list. Put it this way; that's about 3 times what the Florida Marlins pay their entire team, who lead them by about 11 games.


I know it's ridiculously early, and that preseason doesn't mean a thing, but I have a gut feeling, just a sinking gut feeling, that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be bad. Very, very bad.


Gotta give a "My Bad" shout out to the San Francisco Giants. Back in March, I picked them to be bad—and just went off on Barry Zito. Ooops. Not only did the Giants sweep everybody's favorite resurgent team, the Rockies, but they pulled into a virtual tie with the Rockies for the last playoff spot. And Mr. Zito—he of the galactically huge contract, has dropped his ERA south of 4.00. Well done, Barry!!! Now, a lot of the things I said in March are still true—their starting outfield has 18 HRs, or 23 less than Albert Pujols, and I still don't like the Rentaria signing—but their pitching, starting and relieving has done so much of the heavy lifting, that they no have a puncher's chance to take the wild card.


Do you think Eric Mangini might actually wait until the Browns are walking out of the tunnel on Opening Day, and then lean over to Brady Quinn and say "You're starting." Or will he text him right before the kickoff? Everyone knows it's Quinn's job already, Coach. Just name him.


Nice to see Girardi getting some love from the national MSM. He deserves it, considering all the crap he has to put up with locally.


And another guy who deserves some love: Brian Cashman. How nice has the Jerry Hairston trade for the Yankees. The guys is batting .316 with a 151 OPS+. But more importantly, you can plug him in anywhere, and the Yankees have; having played LF, RF, 3B, SS and CF, for the Yankees since August 1st—aside from the normal PH and PR. And all this for a kid who was batting .260 in A ball? Way to go with the mad trade skills, Cashman!


Time to call 2007 first round pick, Jarvis Moss a Mega-Bust. Word is, the new regime in Denver wants a clean start with their team and have no qualms about cutting the first-rounder. Taken in front of players like Michael Griffith, Jon Beason, Aaron Ross & Eric Weddle, Moss might break land speed record for being a first round pick to out of the NFL.


Can someone please explain to me what the heck happened to the Cubs? 134 million spent for a roster with guys like Derrick Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano, and a pitching staff with Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, & Ted Lilly—and all they get is 2 games over .500. OK, I get Geovany Soto fell off a cliff, Soriano has seemingly forgot what a good pitch to swing at looks like and that Sean Marshall isn't as good as he has been in the past either. That said, Fukudome is showing signs of getting it, Ted Lilly is having a career year, and Randy Wells has been a Godsend. Bottom line, with all that talent, there is no way on Earth the Cubs should be trailing by 10 games in that division. Playing the Pirates, Reds & Astros alone should make the Cubs 15 games over .500. Makes no sense.


Here's a sick fact: Philip Rivers has the same QB rating as Tom Brady 92.9. And hell, considering that Brady has had Moss to throw to 2007 and complied an absolutely stupid 117.2 passer rating, it's all the more impressive that Rivers has the same rating as Brady. Of course, we'll see how Rivers does in the long run but so far, nice start.


And finally, Coach McDaniels is making waves again in Denver. No, not for alienating his best plaers again, but for.....sporting a Bill Belichek type grey hoodies. As of this report he has not hacked off the sleeves, drunk-child style, as Bill often does. But did McDaniels take fashion tips from Coach Belichek during his time in New England as well as football tips? Bill Belichek was asked that question.

"Yeah, we spent a lot of time on that. Next question."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Five

Here are the five questions you gotta answer:

1. Do you think the Yankees can ever "fix" the New Stadium, or is it doomed to be a Coors Field East?

2. Which would you rather go to: a MC-Duke basketball game or an Ohio State-Michigan football game?

3. Do you think Michael Vick will ever fully realize his potential?

4. Who takes the U.S. Open: Federer? Nadal? Someone else?

5. If Brett Farve and a cat were in a burning building, who would you save?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Joba Can't Pitch

Joba Chamberlain is a Gifted-From-God, remarkably talented baseball player. His slider absolutely submarines down and away from flailing righties. His fastball, when clocked at 94, seems to burst out of his hand and be 4 mph faster. And his 12-6 hard curveball freezes batters in their socks.

Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to pitch yet.

Throwing and pitching are two different things. And Joba still doesn't do the little things to get batters out—the “pitcher” things he needs to do win.

Like throwing first pitch strikes.

Or staying focused and finishing innings, especially when he already has two outs.

Last night Joba struggled to finish four innings in 96 pitches. Of the 22 batters he faced in those four innings, he threw a first pitch strike to 13 of them, meaning in almost half the batters he faced, he pitched from behind. He walked three batters and gave up 9 hits in those 4 innings.

Of all the runs Joba gave up—and he gave up 7—all were scored with two outs on the scoreboard. Of the 12 men Joba put on base, 6 of them got on base with 2 strikes on them.

It's not that Joba doesn't have good stuff. He has 3 plus pitches with his slider being a plus, plus pitch. His fastball is electric and his breaking and offspeed stuff is improving. So if he has all this electric stuff, why is he pitching so poorly?

Simple, he doesn't know how to pitch yet. He doesn’t utilize his talents to put batters, and innings away. He loses focus. All the typical signs of a young pitcher.

Joba Chamberlain doesn't turn 24 until September 23rd. And being young and prodigiously talented, he is quite understandably erratic. And its interesting to note, that Chamberlain's numbers up this point in his career, are actually equal to, or better, than the man he is almost always compared to, Josh Beckett. His numbers are also better than Pedro Martinez who didn’t begin to dominate until he was 25. And Chamberlain completely blows away Sandy Koufax, who didn’t turn it on until he was 26.

The wild inconsistency you see from Chamberlain, (as you did from Hughes earlier this season when he was in the rotation and who turned 23 a mere 2 months ago), is just them being young—a lack of focus, consistency and erratic mechanics on pitches. When asked to pitch only one inning—and to "let it fly"—both Hughes and Chamberlain are magnificent. Asked, however, to maintain it for 7 innings, and to pitch to the same guys 3 times, and the outcomes is erratic to say the least.

Patience is the only prophecy I have here. That Chamberlain is hugely talented is obvious—just watch the kid and see some of his pitches. What is equally obvious is that he's not in control of his pitching just yet. And Yankee fans have to be a little more patient and let Chamberlain grow into his role as eventual ace.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Transactions....

Doesn't it sound sometimes like new Jets coach Rex Ryan belongs on a creaking stool in a dank old man bar, spouting off his nuttiness to anyone who'll listen?


Collegefootballnews.com poses the question: Which team is closer to reliving their glory days: Miami or Florida State. Good question. With the amount of talent they amass in those two schools you'd think that they would amass more than just one ACC crown collectively in the past 5 years. Really, those programs had better produce this season—and I get the feeling they will both be better—or the true glory days of these programs might just be in the past.


Ken Rosenthal writes on FoxSports.com that if Omar Minaya gets a blanket pat on the back from Mets management and will keep his job, he should at the very least explain his plan for fixing the team. The Mets are 2nd in the league in salary and while yes, incurred a massive amount of injuries, still underperformed. As Rosenthal writes it: "... this club was not exactly a portrait of grit and determination even before most of its core players got hurt."
Ultimately, this is Minaya's team. He brought these guys him. And he's the one that needs to fix it. he should start by telling us his plan.


One more note on that. Word out of Chicago is that the Cubs are thinking of giving Rich Harden a 4-year 60 million dollar deal. Yes, Harden is good and yes, there's not much out there in the free agent pitching market. But guys, you know Harden will spend a lot of the next 4 years on the DL. The most innings he's ever pitched in a season was 189.2 and that was in 2004. Last year he pitched 148 innings and he's on pace to match that. If 15 million a year for 150 innings is ok with the Cubs, then great. Go for it. But just know what you're getting guys. He's never gonna be a hoss that takes the ball every five days for you. Never.


Not that Kyle Orton played like Joe Montana in Denver's last preseason game, but you have to believe that by just playing halfway decent, Josh McDaniel is breathing a little easier. If Orton had laid an egg two weeks in a row, Bronco fans would have had him personally apologize to Jay Cutler and beg forgiveness.


Vernon Gholston had 1 tackle last night, bringing his preseason total to 3 tackles. No sacks, no forced fumbles, no interceptions. Think the Jets are wishing they had last year's draft pick back?


OK, I meant to get to this earlier, but I forgot. In the August 3 issue of SI they asked 380 MLB players "Which Young Player Will End Up In The Hall Of Fame?" And Albert Pujols only got 9 percent of the vote while Evan Longoria got 35%. What the hell? How does Albert Pujols only get 9% of the vote. he should be voted in as of this minute. Nothing against ongoria, but no one is in Albert's league. No one.


And finally, last Friday, in the World's Most Dangerous Newspaper, the New York Post, came the story that Shaquille O'Neal's new TV show, Shaq VS. doesn't belong to him. That in fact, he stole the idea from Steve Nash. The story goes, that in 2008, When Shaq first came to the Phoenix Suns, Nash told him he was thinking of doing a reality show where he would compete against professional athletes in their own sports. Apparently, Nash had no idea that his idea had been pilfered until Shaq announced that he was starring in his own reality show on the team bus.
Nash had to hire an entertainment lawyer, and now appears in the credits for Shaq's show as an "Executive Producer."
Wow, Shaq. What a chump move. Did you really need the money from this show so bad, you had to steal it from Nash? Just a no-class move by guy I'd come to expect better of.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Role Reversal

Before the 2008 season, this blog wrote that the season was going to be a "correction year." Which basically was a nice way of saying it's the last year of contracts given to aging, broken-down stars and the Yankees will be slow, creaky and have no depth or defensive range.

Now, that distinction belongs to the Red Sox.

Heading into this weekend series, it seems remarkable how the Red Sox and Yankees' roles seemed to have flip-flopped rather quickly. When the Yankees swept the Red Sox earlier this month, the word commentors calling the game kept using to describe the Red Sox was "old," something the Yankees were called often last year. And whereas last year, the Red Sox starters were for the most part (ignoring Tim Wakefield), were young and aggressive, this year, during the recent series, with Wakefield injured, Dice-K injured, John Smoltz—well, now cut—but looking a shell of himself, and Brad Penny pitching like Brad Penney, the Red Sox looked exactly like the Yankees did last season when they tried to patch together a staff using Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner and Dan Giese.

To be sure, the similarities go a little deeper than that. Both teams, the 2008 Yankees and the 2009 Red Sox have some good pitchers, but have serious depth issues due to injury and age. Both have some younger players who are talented at CF and 2B, who aren't doing as well as anticipated. And both have aging power hitters who have finally broken down from steroid use and have lost bat speed and defensive ability.

Tell me the aging of Jason Varitek and David Ortiz doesn't bring to mind Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu? And Jed Lowrie's slumping remind you of maybe Melky's and Cano's issues last year?

This offseason, the Yankees focused on getting younger and more versatile. Mark Teixiera, in for Jason Giambi, adds bat speed at the plate as well as range and a sticky glove at first base. And instead of Kyle Fanrsworth and LaTroy Hawkins in the pen, young, hard-throwers Phil Coke and Phil Hughes are now setting up the 7th and 8th for the Yankees. The Red Sox on the other hand, aside from Penney and trading for Ramon Ramirez , didn't make many other major moves. And it shows. For the most part, the team is a year older. Mike Lowell, not playing poorly, looks a tic slow at times. Varitek and Ortiz, look positively Jurassic. And has anyone ever seen J.D. Drew look young?

All of this is not to say that the Red Sox are done. By no means; they are still a very good, very dangerous team—on pace to win about 89 games. Same as the Yankees did last year.

Friday Five

OK, pop quiz hot shots: Here we go.

1. What's the coolest name in sports ever?

2. The best rivalry in sports?

3. The best blooper you ever saw?

4. Name the one athlete/celebrity you'd eliminate from existence if you could.

5. Who's the better tennis player, Serena or Venus. Who's hotter?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Love Song For Eric Mangini

Read an article this offseason about the New York Jets and I can pretty much guarantee the word "fun" will be in there. As in, "Rex Ryan has brought the "fun" back to the Jets," or "Unlike taskmaster Mangini, who had rules for everything, the Jets players are having fun during offseason camps."

Yesterday, The LA Times, in an interview with Jets right tackle Damien Woody quoted Woody as saying:

....Ryan “treats us like men,” with the implication that the rigid Mangini didn’t.

Without naming Mangini, specifically, guard Damien Woody said not being afforded that respect “is almost degrading.”

“Here I am 31 years old, I’ve got my own kids, and I’m married, and here’s someone that’s not that much older than me — or whatever the case may be — telling me what I can and can’t do,” Woody said. “It’s so regimented where the game is just not a game anymore. It’s not fun. Even when you win it’s not fun.”


Here's what bothers me: Who the heck said work must be fun?

Don't get me wrong. The fact that Rex Ryan is a shoot-from-the-hip, trash talker is lots of fun to watch. For me, the fan. Who doesn't like a little swagger in their football team? But does any of this have any impact on the field? Remains to be seen.

Mention Mangini to football fans in New York and you'd think the man was Death made Flesh. Martinet. Joyless, etc, etc, etc. But remember, when Mangini came in, the Jets needed a break from Camp Edwards and the "player's coach" mentality that Herm Edwards brought to the team—which led to mistakes, injuries and sloppy play. And let the record show that Mangini, with all his rules and his "joyless" demeanor, had a winning record in 2 of the 3 years he was Jets head coach. And that was with a team devoid of impact players and a revolving door at quarterback.

Bill Parcells, Bill Belichek, Tom Coughlin. Not fun guys. Guys who made their players hate them. But guys who won won. Each made whatever team they were coaching better than they were than when they got there. The same is true for Mangini. The team Rex Ryan inherits is a far better team, with more talent and more depth than the team Eric Mangini inherited—with its Jurassic offensive line, Justin McCareins and Doug Jolley as starting receivers and a starting secondary with Donnie Abraham, David Barret, Jon McGraw and Eric Coleman.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at players Mangini brought in his 3 years here. Nick Mangold, Leon Washington. Darrelle Revis. David Harris. Thomas Jones. Kris Jenkins. Calvin Pace. D'Brickashaw Fergeson. Dustin Keller. Alan Faneca. Chansi Stuckey. Oh, and that same Damien Woody whose career was teetering in Detroit when the Jets came in and relieved him of that heckhole.

Add to that fact that Mangini never wanted Farve, and was handed him late in training camp. And no matter what Mangini or any of the coaches did, they couldn't get Farve to stop thinking he was still 26, had a cannon for an arm and could get away with throwing into triple coverage. There was no benching Farve, no matter how poorly he played or how many interceptions he threw. Basically, Mangini was stuck with Farve no matter what he did. And he took the blame when Farve revealed himself in December to be old and broken.

Now, this is not to say that Mangini was blameless. He made mistakes, and he absolutely played too cautiously down the stretch last year. (He's not alone; Belichek went 36-44 in his first head coaching job, Parcells went 3-8 as a head coach of Air Force and 3-12-1 in his first year with the Giants.) That said, Mangini took a took an undertalented team that went 4-12 the year before he got there and turned them around to go 10-6. Then after his offensive line completely disintegrated in 2007 and no one short of God could have completed a pass or run behind them, he took a team—with an aging, self-obsessed QB with a failing shoulder— to within a game of the playoffs.

Once upon a time, Tom Coughlin was about to be fired as Head Coach of the New York Giants. The star running back, the star defensive end—and a bunch of anonymous players—complained publicly about him. The media hated him, and couldn't wait to write his epitaph. Then a funny thing happened. Tom Coughlin won the Super Bowl. Boy, how times change! Nowadays, you don't hear a whole lot of "Tom Coughlin isn't fun" speeches; You don't read too many "Coughlin is too strict" articles.

Maybe those rules all the players complain about have a reason. Football players aren't exactly the self-disciplined bunch; and sometimes they forget that the reason they make such ludicrous amounts of money is because they have a job. And they have to work at it, and keep mistakes and failures to a minimum. Not because it is fun. You get paid to work hard.

Now who knows if Eric Mangini will lead the Cleveland Browns—who've won exactly diddily + squat in decades—to the promised land. The point is, is that he deserves a chance to do things his way. Having fun is not the point. Winning ball games is. And if Mangini proves that he—unlike his mentor, Bill Belichick (it helps to have Tom Brady fall into your lap, doesn't it) can win some football games in Cleveland——then the fun will take care of itself.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Transactions....

So, Tiger Woods lost this weekend. Hmmm, I guess I'll file that under "O" for "Oh My God, Who Frickin' Cares. It's Only Golf, Not A Real Sport."


Really interesting thought from the guys over at PFT. Last week, they posited the thought that Andy Reid, coach of the Eagles was perhaps more inclined to give Michael Vick a second chance due to the fact that both his sons have had legal problems stemming from drugs. Interesting theory, and one that Reid eventually corroborated. And while I don't think much of Vick as a quarterback, I do believe he deserves a second chance. So best of luck to you, Mike. Pay back Andy's faith in you.


Remember when Notre Dame took pride in its rough schedules? Well, what the heck happened? Nevada? Washington and Washington State? The only truly tough game is USC at home. I mean, my gosh, 8 games against teams ranked lower than 50th in the country? What happened to the Irish playing meaningful games?


The more I see J.A. Happ, the more I think the Phillies did the wise move in refusing to include him in their Halladay offer.


Peyton Manning played a total of six plays in the Colt's first preseason game. In those 6 plays, he was sacked 3 times. you think maybe Peyton brought that up in the next team meeting?


Oh my God, are the new UFL uniforms ugly.


That whole Tavaris Jackson thing doesn't seem to be working out, Mr. Childress.


I know it's only in shorts and real football is miles away, but I'm liking more and more about what i hear about free agent pickup, Jamaal Westerman. He's knocking people around and making plays all over the field.


Nice to see that the Yankees signed their draft picks this year. Only cost them about 5 times what the slot recommended they should pay, but at least they are signed.


How big would Ricky Rubio be if he came to New York. Joe Willie big. He could own this town for a while. And if the hype is true, and he plays well and brings the Knicks back to relevance, he would own this city like Derek Jeter owns it.

And finally....well I usually hate the human interest touchy-feely sports stories that ESPN runs when its a slow news day, but this one is actually pretty cool. A bunch of kids who are deathly allergic to the sun—no joke, 1 minute in the sun would kill them—got to go to Yankee Stadium at 3:00 AM in the morning and play some baseball with the Yankees. And not just end of the roster players—Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett, Alfredo Aceves and a bunch other showed up to hang out with the kids. Go read the article, it's actually a good piece that didn't get any news play, and should have.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nathan's Famous

Maybe its because of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer—the both young, both J & M initialed, both extremely talented duo playing in Minnesota. Or maybe it was because Johan Santana—one of the best starting pitchers of his generation pitched in the same city and who became synonymous with the Twins organization while he was there. Or maybe it was because of of the fantastically ugly stadium he pitched. Who knows? But for whatever reason, Joe Nathan, one of the best relievers in the game over the past 10 years, never gets noticed. Seemingly at all.

In one of the worst trades in recent baseball history—which itself gets overlooked—the San Francisco Giants, after the 2003 season, traded Nathan, along with Francisco Liriano for A.J. Pierzynski. Perfectly abrasive A.J., then played with the Giants all of one season in San Francisco, wore out his welcome and was not resigned. Since that trade, all Nathan has done is throw up a 1.80 ERA in 393 innings. Amazing numbers that no one seems to notice.

Put it this way. Compare those above numbers with some more famous relievers. Since 2004, Francisco Rodriguez has a 2.01 ERA in 411 innings. Bobby Jenks has a 3.20 ERA in 275.2 innings. Brian Fuentes has a 3.51 ERA in 346.2 innings. Huston Street has a 2.91 ERA in 315.2 innings. Trevor Hoffman has a 2.68 ERA in 312 innings. The best of the bunch, Jonathon Papelbon, has a 1.90 ERA in 279.2 innings. (All of these numbers are regular season.)

To keep going with the stats, Nathan since 2004, has 25 blown saves in 509 games, which comes to a blown save every 20.36 appearances. Francisco Rodriguez, in that time, has 38 blown saves in 459 games, which comes out to an average of a blown save every 12.07 appearances. Trevor Hoffman blew 25 games in 324 appearances which averaged 1 every 12.96 appearances. For Papelbon, starting in 2006, when he became a fulltime reliever, his numbers show that in 234 appearances, he's blown 17 games, which add up to a blown save every 13.76 appearances.

Down the stats, Nathan bests almost every big-name (and usually better-paid) reliever out there. But if Nathan is going to stand up to the real scrutiny, he has to face the Big Cheese; Mr. Sandman; Mariano Rivera. And his numbers do stand up. To Nathan's 1.80 ERA in 393 innings since 2004, Rivera has a 2.10 ERA in 423 innings pitched (regular season). Hmmm, interesting. Going further; comparing their ERA+ since 2004:
  • Nathan's ERA+ annual since 2004 is: 292/165/283/230/305/251.
  • Rivera's ERA+ annual since 2004 is: 231/307/251/142/317/220.
Nathan's ERA+ bests Rivera's 4 out of the 6 years. And overall, Nathan's 254 bests Rivera's 245. In fact, take away Nathan's time as a Giant, when he had no set role and was sorely misused, and Nathan's ERA+ might be up among the all-time leaders.

Granted, Rivera's paycheck is earned in the postseason, while Nathan barely has a record in that arena. And Rivera has 17 blown saves since 2004 and averages a blown save every 22.76 appearances (again, not including the postseason), which betters Nathan. And it could be argued that saving a game in Yankee Stadium is a little more pressure-intense than saving one in the Metrodome. But still, Nathan's numbers are better than almost every other big-time reliever, and hold up to the best reliever ever to pitch. So why is he so underrated?

Maybe its because he doesn't pump his fist or freak out after every strikeout. Or that he doesn't point his finger to the heavens as if God actually helped him with his slider in that last K. No, Nathan doesn't do those egregious things. And its well documented that T.O got more play on ESPN than Marvin Harrison did.—and in the sports world, acting like a showman-idiot will get you ESPN-play and national attention.

So if Joe Nathan just threw a tantrum, or flexed his muscle after a strikeout, then maybe the world would notice that he's one of the best pitchers we have right now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Five

OK, pop quiz hotshots. Here we go.

1. With college football coming, which team in CFB has the best unis?

2. Does Gary Sheffield belong in the HOF?

3. What is the best sporting event you've ever been to?

4. Best facial hair on a football player

5. Hottest women's tennis player. And for the ladies....hottest mens.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Might Have Been Redux

Josh Hamilton admitted this week, that he fell off the wagon this winter. Scary. Now that we see what he is capable of, and promises more, it's very scary to think he could throw that all away. As a result, I'd like to reprint something I wrote when he just started his journey back to baseball.

What Might Have Been

When I was a kid, I had a baseball card that I absolutely loved. On it was Ron Guidry and J.R. Richard—E.R.A. leaders. I didn't really care about Richard, I was only interested in Louisiana Lightning. He was a Yankee, went 25-3, so that was all I needed to know. Years later, I found out that Richard had a dominating fastball which got him about a strikeout an inning, and that he averaged a sick 281 innings a season between 1976 and 1979. But at 10 years old, that meant nothing to me. J.R. Richard wasn't a Yankee, so I didn't care.

Two years later, Richard suffered a stroke playing catch before a game and never pitched in the majors again.

A few years after that, I was riding a bus home from high school. Finals were over, it was turning summer out, and I was reading a paper about how the hated Celtics, who had just won the championship, had taken a super-talented forward to pair with McHale and Bird. Mike Krzyzewski said of this forward that he and Michael Jordan were the two most talented players to ever play in the ACC. His name was Len Bias. Two days after the Celtics selected him first in the draft, he was dead from a cocaine overdose. The Celtics haven't won another championship since then.

Potential Lost
It is always upsetting when we see budding talent lost or squandered—when possibilities seem endless and the promise of amazing deeds await us—but it might even be worse when it is a young athlete. When someone is capable of true grace on a field of play, and then that talent is lost, it seems like a crime.

Go watch Grant Hill before ankle injuries robbed him of his talent. Go watch him and tell me he wasn't put on this earth to play the game of basketball, and that injuries robbed us of one of the best all-around players to ever play the game.

Go check out Doc Gooden, circa 1985, when he was just 21. Check out his absolutely sick high fastball and his leg-buckling sweeping curve. Check him out that year when he won the National League triple crown for pitchers, with 24 wins, 268 K's, and a 1.53 E.R.A. Then try to figure out how he won only 194 games. How he never won 20 games again. Try not to feel sad about it.

In sports, unfortunately, this happens all too often. Because of injuries, drugs, or any other numbers of reasons, guys who seem like the next Michael Jordan, Dick Butkus, or Mickey Mantle lose the battle with fate. It happens all too often, yet I am still just as saddened each and every time it happens.

Take Rocco Baldelli of the Tampa Bay Rays. Debuting in 2003, when he was just 21, Rocco seemed like the centerfielder of the future for the Rays. Athletic, someone "who mans centerfield like a young Joe DiMaggio" with a sweet stroke and with the potential to grow into a decent home-run hitter, Rays fans saw him teaming with Carl Crawford as a young duo to build around. Unfortunately, Baldelli must have walked under a ladder behind a black cat, while breaking a mirror. After the 2004 season, Baldelli tore an ACL and missed the beginning of the 2005 season. Then he injured his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, and he missed the entire 2005 season and missed a big chunk of the 2006 season, though he looked great in the action he did see, hitting 16 HRs in just 92 games. The 2007 season was a wash as well, as hamstring injuries lingered all season and kept him from making any real contribution. It has since turned out that Baldelli has been suffering from a mitochondrial disorder that has kept him in a constant state of fatigue. His baseball career is in serious jeopardy and it's unknown if he can ever play again.

There's also Mark Prior who won 18 games in 2003 when he was 23, and has won just 20 games since due to injuries. Or how about Monica Seles, who won the French Open when she was 16, for two years absolutely dominated women's tennis—with a 55-1 win-loss record in Grand Slam tournaments—until some psycho stabbed her in the back and forced her into semi-retirement and has never been the same since. Of course, there is Michael Vick, who, while overrated as a quarterback, was nonetheless a brilliant athlete and a mega talent. That is, until he decided to hang some dogs and flush his talent down the toilet.


When It Had Been Effortless
Speaking as someone who can never glide to the basket like Grant Hill, or throw a 75-yard bomb like Vick, or glide through centerfield to catch a deep drive like Baldelli—and who has always blunted his sadness that he can't do these things by idolizing those who can do them with ease and grace—it saddens me when people who can do these things lose the ability to do them.

Ernest Hemingway, in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, wrote about F. Scott Fitzgerald in a passage I'll never forget, both for its beauty and for its horror.

"His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless."

In 1991, picking first in the amateur baseball draft, the Yankees took Brien Taylor, a nineteen-year-old lefty who threw lightning bolts and who swaggered on the mound because he knew he was the real deal. Scott Boras, agent to hundreds of athletes, says of him, "Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I've seen in my life." In his senior season at high school, Taylor struck out 213 guys in 88 innings with a fastball that touched 99 mph. At Class A Fort Lauderdale, he struck out 187 in 161 innings and posted a 2.57 ERA. The next year, as a 21-year-old at Double-A Albany-Colonie, Taylor went 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA and struck out almost a hitter an inning. Baseball America had named him the game's best prospect. After his second year in the minors, Taylor went home for the winter. Getting into a fistfight with his cousin, a known felon and loser, Taylor throws a punch with his thunderbolt-throwing left arm and misses. Taylor suffered a torn capsule and torn labrum and had his arm examined by famed surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe. Jobe later calls it one of the worst injuries he has ever seen. After the surgery, Taylor's fastball topped out at 91. He never had an ERA below 6.00 again. He currently does odd jobs and lives with his parents in his hometown.


"Out There Was What I Was Born To Do..."
The reason I've been thinking of J.R. Richard, Brien Taylor and Len Bias was because of Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was the Rays' first (and number-one) draft pick for the franchise in the 1999 draft. He was picked right ahead of Josh Beckett. An absolute can't-miss phenom, Hamilton didn't drink, didn't smoke, and was called by scouts, "the best pure athlete they've ever seen."

Three years later, Hamilton was out of baseball due to cocaine and crack. He says that he spent most of his time out of baseball walking the streets of Raleigh looking for dealers who could give him some crack. He says he would sometimes wake up surrounded by other junkies whom he didn't know. "The best pure athlete" was a crack junkie who didn't change his clothes, lost 60 pounds off his athlete's physique, and was nowhere near the game he was born to play.

But then the impossible happened. Hamilton stopped doing drugs. He got himself a job at a baseball facility scrubbing toilets and raking the field, so that he could use the facilities at night. At night he slept on an air mattress in an office overlooking the field. "It was hard to look out at that field," he says. "Out there was what I was born to do, but because of decisions I made, I couldn't do it."

But he did do it. In 2007, after three years of suspensions, and four years since he stepped onto a field, Hamilton was reinstated to play baseball. Picked up by the Reds, Hamilton batted .292 with 19 HRs in under 300 ABs. This year, he's batting .300 and has a slugging percentage of .562. It was as if Hamilton had never left the game.

The story of Hamilton is amazing. Nobody comes back from crack addiction. Eddie Guardado, a former teammate of Hamilton, said this: "I don't think people understand the sort of odds Josh overcame to make it. My brother was a heroine addict who died from drugs...So for Josh to return from all those years of not playing baseball—having barely picked up a bat—and perform at that level, well, it tells you what kind of player he is."

There's a poem I like by John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was a Quaker and a fierce abolitionist, but he was also a poet. The poem is entitled Maud Miller, and is quite long, but the lines I like are these:

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o'er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, "It might have been."

Alas for maiden, alas for judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both ! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

What might have been for Taylor, Richard and Bias. Sad isn't a big enough word when you think what they could have accomplished, what joy they could have had and given. Because frankly, for me, not an athlete, but a fan, there is nothing like watching the grace and beauty of someone doing what they were put on this earth to do.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Transactions....

Meant to write about this earlier, but it seems that NJ Transit is starting service to the Meadowlands (the big stadium in the middle of Nowhere, New Jersey, where the Giants and Jets play). Considering the stadium opened in the mid 70s, that's only a 35 year wait for fans. Well done NJ Transit!!!!


Have we seen the end of Franken-first baseman? The A's cut Jason Giambi after he batted a robust .193, or 50 points lower than his weight. That is probably the end of the road for Franken-first basemen, and we here at AAPTBNL say "Toodles."


Speaking of fat, here's a remarkable story coming out of the Chiefs camp. 1st round disappointment, Glenn Dorsey—who gets a clean slate this season with an entirely new coaching staff—came into camp and was "deemed too fat to practice." After riding the bike while everyone else practiced, Dorsey finally got on the playing field, but was then jumped over on the first team by 2009 3rd round pick, Alex Magee.


By the way, the CBS Sportsline Rapid Report ticker is the best thing in the world. Ever.


More on the Chiefs, all early reports indicate that Matt Cassell is impressing. Teammates speak of a command in the huddle—surely learned by watching Tom Brady perform for years. However, as Bill Parcells would say: "Good in shorts is one thing. Good in pads is another."


So, what do you all think about the ump in the Phillies-Marlins game ejecting centerfielder Shane Victorino? Never saw anything like it, myself. My take, I think the ump overreacted a little bit. Though that said, Shane, how can you complain about balls and strikes from 300 feet away, dude?


And in the AFC South, which should shape up to be one of the most interesting conferences in the NFL this season, word is that David Garrard is not having a good camp. Which doesn't bode well for head coach Jack Del Rio. It's no understatement to say Del Rio hitched his wagon to Garrard; one more disappointing season and they both might be looking for work come next February.


Congrats to my Yankees—now, officially the best team in baseball—for embarrassing the hated BoSox this weekend. OK, well done guys, but don't start resting on your laurels. There are still a lot of questions heading into the home stretch—the 5th starter, Joba's innings count to name 2—so you should try to build a healthy lead against the Sox and Rays, so you can rest some people late in September.


How's this for a stat: Carl Pavano, who was cut by the Indians and picked up by the Twins, started his 22nd game of the season on Saturday. He started a total of 26 for the entirety of his 4 year stay with the Yankees.


And lastly, let me just say: Love Luis Tiant. Heart his huge mustache and his wacky windup. And I'm glad that ESPN is doing a special on his return to Cuba and his life. But as anybody watching the Red Soc-Yankee game last night on ESPN could tell you; having Tiant in the booth talking for an inning and a half—and not understanding a word he said due to his impossibly thick accent—while trying to watch the actual 0-0 ball game, was just bad TV. Like I said, love the Tiant, and if you want to hear him, listen to the podcast, but putting him in the middle of an important, exciting ballgame and not having anyone actually watching or talking about the game—bad move.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Apology For A.J.

When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett signed this winter, this blog, along with a whole slew of writer/pundits called it a bonehead signing. A panic move. A blunder. I was so against the signing, I wrote "Sounds like the Bronx missed Carl Pavano so much they signed his replacement."

The famous blog, WasWatching.com wrote back when the Yankees signed Burnett: "Yeah, that Brian Cashman, he’s the Yankees savior! It takes a keen baseball mind to throw $80 million dollars at A.J. Burnett to solve your pitching problems. Then again, compared to throwing $140+ million at a 290-pound pitcher, this might actually only be slightly crazy. But, it’s still crazy…nonetheless."

The Pinstriped Bible wrote back in December: "Indeed, little old New York was the only place where a pitcher with Burnett's history of injury and inconsistency would have netted a guaranteed five-year contract....In his most recent season, his ERA was above average but unimpressive at 4.07, a figure which breaks down to a 4.96 ERA in the first half of the season and 2.86 in the second half. Thus, the Yankees have agreed to pony up $82.5 million based in large part on the last 94.1 innings of Burnett's career."

NJ.com wrote this earlier this year: "Given his near-perennial struggles to stay healthy and the fact that he hasn't been as good as people seem to think he's been when he has pitched, an expensive 5-year deal seems really misguided."

Even the esteemed Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest wrote that "With all things being equal, two years for Sheets is far better than five years for Burnett," and that "A.J. is going down and Cashman will look like a fool."

And it wasn't just the blogosphere that sounded dubious on the Burnett signing—the mainstream media thought it was just the spend-drunk Yankees being the Yankees. Rob Neyer of ESPN wrote this last December 15th: "He's not reliable, and the Yankees have pretty obviously overpaid. Too many dollars, too many years."

Cliff Corocan of Sports Illustrated was less kind: "The Yankees emerged from the winter meetings as the big winners having landed CC Sabathia, the biggest fish (literally and figuratively) in the free-agent pond. Just a day later, they've spoiled the broth by signing A.J. Burnett to a ludicrous contract completely out of synch with his past performance or future projection. While signing Sabathia was a no-brainer for a team that can afford his record-breaking contract, signing Burnett was unnecessary and betrays a worrisome lack of self-awareness on the part of the Yankees....they got carried away and gave Burnett a contract they're almost sure to regret, possibly as soon as the All-Star break (Carl Pavano didn't make it that far in 2005)."

Even the hometown newspapers gained up on Burnett. "Over the course of the next five years, the Yankees will pay upwards of $80 million to A.J. Burnett—that's more than $16 million a year for a guy who's never had an ERA under 3.44 and who has made more than 30 starts only twice. The fact is, there were better options on the market than five years and such steep salary (non-issue for the Yankees though that may be) for Burnett....The real measure of dealing with pressure, if there is one, is in legitimate big games—the type of which Burnett has only seen as a spectator. He was hurt in April 2003 and missed the Marlins' championship run, and has never pitched a game for a contending team that had to have a win or else."

Well, for myself, and for all the above people, I would like to humbly say this: "A.J. I'm sorry. Really, really sorry."

Because you see, right now, A.J. Burnett is the Yankee's ace. Yeah, Sabathia is pitching well, but A.J. is the ace.

And no one, myself included, thought he'd be this good—either because he was too susceptible to injury, or too much of an emotional headcase.

Even his former Blue Jay manager John Gibbons wondered to the press if the ofttimes emotional Burnett could survive in the media-drenched Big Apple.

Well, Burnett is not only surviving, he's thriving. Like David Cone, once upon a time, Burnett seems to thrive in Yankee Stadium. So much so, he's pitching much better in the home run a-palooza that is the New Yankee Stadium (3.30 ERA) than when he's away (4.09 ERA). When the pressure is on—2 outs, RISP—Burnett is pitching a .190 BAA. Both of those stats are better than Sabathia's.

Since June 9th, when he had a bad outing against the Red Sox and decided to be more aggressive, Burnett has had 9 quality starts out of ten. He has a 2.31 ERA in those 10 starts—including 7 innings of 1-hit ball against the Red Sox this Friday, and 7 innings of 2-hit ball against the Rays on July 27th.

Unlike what everyone said last winter, Burnett seems to be thriving where so many others—Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, etc—wilted: In the big, hot spotlight of Yankee Stadium. He has been attacking the zone with his fastball and knocking them out with his breaking pitch. in short, everything we could have asked for.

So once again, I say, "Sorry, A.J." Seriously. And that whole calling you "Carl Pavano" thing...well that was just uncalled for. Really.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Five

1. What's the most ridiculous contract in sports?

2. Who's the most underrated player in baseball right now?

3. In football?

4. Who's more obnoxious on the mound, Joba or Papelbon?

5. Do you hate ESPN's Fan Fest diner series as much as I do? And I hate them a lot.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Pickle

The Yankees are in quite a pickle, aren't they?

With Wang out, Chamberlain quickly coming up on the 150-160 innings "limit" the Yankees imposed on him, Sergio Mitre anything but a surefire innings-eater, what the heck do the Yankees do?

OK, Petitte is mercurial—sometimes an ace, sometimes a dud. Sabathia has been ok, but not the dominator the Yankees dreamed about all winter. Burnett has been right about his career averages, 3.8 ERA, on pace for 200 Ks. OK, But if Joba has to shorten his starts—or even miss starts—to save his arm for the playoffs, who pitches those extra innings? Phil Hughes has already been told he's staying in the bullpen. Sergio Mitre is the definition of a "Hail Mary"—a lifetime WHIP of 1.563 and the Yankees are hoping he can pitch in the AL East pennant race? Lotsa luck with that.

There's been a lot of talk about the "waiver wire", as if that could bring the Yankees their fall savior. Counting on the waiver wire to bolster our staff is like counting on Lotto as your retirement plan. Who would the Yankees pick up, Kerry Wood? Doug Brocail? Dan Giese? (As this was written, the Yankees signed Russ Ortiz—5.57 ERA in 85.2 innings as a starter. Good Lord.)

OK, here's where it gets really scary. Brain Cashman has announced that the next pitchers to be called up if Mitre fails...are you ready—Kei Igawa, Anthony Claggett, in his only major league appearance earlier this year, against the powerhouse Cleveland Indians, gave up 9 hits, 8 runs in 1.2 innings. Ivan "Chevy" Nova, a recent call-up from AA to Scranton is 22 and has an ERA in AAA of a tick under 5.00. His last 4 starts total this: 20.2 innings, 25 hits, 13 walks, 19 runs. Igawa, well you know all about him.

Joe Giradi put the situation sagely and succinctly: "I'm not sure that we have a lot of options at this point." And really—that's the plain truth. With Joba—one way or another—pitching less, and no fifth starter to speak of, somebody has to eat those innings. Your guess is as good as Brian Cashman's at this point. Let's hope he has a plan to get out of this pickle. It's a dilly.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Transactions....

First off, line of the week goes to Cowboy TE Martellus Bennett on team chemistry. "We don’t have a lot of scientists on the team so I don’t think there's anybody doing chemistry in the locker room. Most of these guys left school early, and I don’t think chemistry is anyone’s best subject."


Congratulations Melky Cabrera. At this point last year, you were batting .242 and looked like you were on your way to flaming out. Now you join Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer as another Yankee CF who has hit for the cycle. Great comeback, Melk.


After Cliff Lee throw 5 -1/3 innings of no-hit ball in his first outing as a Phillie, you gotta think that the Phils right now have overtaken the front-runner position to be the NL representative in the World Series. Hamels (who you know will eventually get back on track), Lee and Happ. In a short series, that's a tough rotation for any team to face.


Nice timing, Cleveland. The Indians scheduled this past Saturday as Victor Martinez Bobblehead Night—a day after they traded him. Why don't the Red Sox have Babe Ruth Appreciation Night while we're at it.


How's you like to be Jerome Phillips or Brad Cottam. Respectively those are the guys replacing Derrick Brooks and Tony Gonzalez. Which would you rather be? Phillips is replacing a Hall-of-Famer who's be the leader of the Bucs defense since seemingly the Carter Administration. While Cottam only has to take over for the best pass-catching TE of all time. Good luck to you both, fellas.


While we're at it, why don't the Bucs trade one of the 14 TEs they have on roster? New OC Jeff Jagodzinski is not the hugest proponent of TEs anyway, so why not trade Kellen Winslow or Jerome Stevens and get something in return.


Gotta like Pirates GM responding to all the critics saying he's making too many trades: We don't feel like we've broken up the 1927 Yankees." True that. I mean, there was no chance at all with the guys they had, and their farm system was rated as one of the worst. you may as well try to rebuild your system and get something you can look forward to.


And finally, you just gotta give props to is Michael Phelps. Last week, his arch-rival, Milorad Cavic basically bee-atch slapped Michael Phelps before their big showdown on Saturday. See Cavic, and most everybody else, is using a high-tech Arena X-Glide swim suits that boosts your time almost exponentially—43 records were broke in 8 days. Phelps does not. So Cavic—in a moment of lunacy— decided to rank on Phelps, saying he would buy Phelps an Arena suit, so that there would be no excuses when Phelps lost.

So you can guess what happened. Cavic broke a world record, breaking the 50 second mark with a 49.95 time in the 100-meter butterfly—the second swimmer ever to do that.

Unfortunately for Cavic, Michael Phelps was the first.

Phelps had a time of 49.82 beating Cavic, a time to which Cavic could only smile and shrug his shoulders. "He's the Man," Cavic said.

No doubt about that.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Guys We Should Hear More About

Born and raised in Brooklyn, and watching ESPN and reading USA TODAY SportsWeekly, you sometimes get the impression that Major league Baseball has about 7 team. Yanks, Mets, Red Sox, Phillies, Cubs and Dodgers. most of the other teams, you know maybe one player, and hear about them only sporadically. Heck, the only time you ever hear of Pittsburgh around the trade deadline.

And that's unfair. There are a lot of really good players out there who deserve the monthly mention on ESPN in some sort of snide joke. Here's my salute to a few of them.

Ryan Franklin:
Am I the last guy on this? How does a reliever have a 1.41 ERA and a WHIP or just over 0.9 and I don't hear about it more? After flaming out as a gopher-ball starter for the Mariners, Franklin, like so many pitchers, resurrected his career in St. Louis under the tutelage of Dave Duncan. The numbers jump off the page. His ERA+ of 296, the SO/BB of 3.75. Yes he made the All-Star squad, but we should be hearing his name more.

David Aardsma:
From one journeyman pitcher to another. Like Franklin, Aardsma bounced around the league. Lucky for him, the Mariners had no closer this year and anybody with a heartbeat had a chance. Well, he found his role. Last year in Boston, Aardsma had a 5.55 ERA. This year in Seattle, he has a 1.64 ERA. A flyball pitcher, Seattles' good defensive outfield. Even still, his WHIP dropping from 1.72 to 1.11 is just because of Safeco Field or a good outfield. The fact he wasn't on the All-Star team and Wakefield was) is just silly.

Aaron Hill
As of Sunday, Hill was 5th in the AL with 24 HRS, tied for 2nd in hits, 2nd in total bases with 213 and 5th in RBI with 67. The names around him on these lists? Jeter, Ichiro, Morneau, Texiera. How come no mentions at least mentions him when talking about MVP or the AL's best players? Well, probably because Toronto averages about the same attendance as the Nationals. Which is too bad. Because the pees up in Canada are missing a good player.

John Lannan
This kid probably is the best player in baseball no one knows anything at all about. A tall lefty with the ideal pitching frame, Lanna is all about control. More Greg Maddux than Randy Johnson, Lannon doesn't hit 90 MPH often, or many bats. However, his control keeps batters off balance—his BAbip (batting average of balls in play) is consistenly well below league average. in other words he gets batters to hit it badly. And despite his team's general ineptitude, Lannan has been getting better. Since breaking into the bigs in 2007 with a 4.15 ERA, he has dropped that to 3.91 last year and so far, a 3.25 this year. In his last 17 IP, he has a 0.53 ERA. Despite him being on a terrible franchise, more attention should be paid to this kid.

Joey Votto
Ok, so this kid has gotten a little bit of talk. But not enough. Not enough bats to yet qualify—he's not far off though—if he could, he'd be 2nd in the NL in average at .343. He'd also be 2nd with an OPS of 1.015, and 3rd in Slugging percentage with .597. Playing in small market Cincinnati, the league hasn't mentioned that he's equllay adept against lefties as well as righties, and that in "late & close" situations, Votto is batting .452 and is slugging a mind-spanking .774! A Mark Teixiera in diapers, Votto should be mentioned more on ESPN.

So pay attention to these guys. And if you feel there are other guys who deserve some attention, write it on in and let me know.