Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Pigeonhole: Race and Roles in American Sports

Comparisons
Those of you who have been reading this blog know that I am an NFL draftnik. I am one of those guys who spend hours making mock drafts months before the real NFL draft, knowing full-well that nothing I put down has a chance of being close to the truth. What can I say, I just like it.

I also buy expensive draft magazines. $7.99 each (or higher). Inside are hundreds of scouting reports on college players; their strengths and weaknesses, and who they compare to in the NFL. Here are a few of the comparisons of Offensive Tackles from Lindy’s 2009 NFL Draft Magazine:

* Eugene Monroe: NFL Comparison: Levi Brown, Cardinals
* Andre Smith: NFL Comparison: Jason Peters, Bills
* Jason Smith: NFL Comparison: Tony Ugoh, Colts
* Michael Oher: NFL Comparison: Chris Samuels, Redskins
* Eben Britton: NFL Comparison: Jon Runyon, Eagles


Notice anything? No? Let’s try the comparisons in the Tight End category.

* Brandon Pettigrew: NFL Comparison: Bubba Franks, Jets
* Chase Coffman: NFL Comparison: Todd Heap, Ravens


Still, no? Let’s try Quarterbacks:

* Matthew Stafford: NFL Comparison: Jay Cutler, Bears
* Mark Sanchez: NFL Comparison: Brady Quinn, Browns
* Josh Freeman: NFL Comparison: Daunte Culpepper, Lions


Get the picture? Do all black offensive lineup pass block the same? Do white tight ends make the same head-fake before running a seam route?

To be fair, there are a couple of sporadic places where they compare white players to black ones, and vice versa; but the overwhelming majority of the magazine compares black athletes to other black athletes and white athletes to other white athletes. Even when Michael Oher could easily be compared to Joe Thomas, and Brandon Pettigrew matches up very nicely to Heath Miller.

OK, a controversial statement: In 2003, when Rush Limbaugh made his controversial statements about Donovan McNabb, he wasn’t entirely wrong.

Now let me retract a little bit. I never have listened to Rush Limbaugh. I am not a fan, my views do not coincide with his, and this is not a defense of him. However, to be clear, here is what Limbaugh said:

“The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,’’ Limbaugh said. “There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

He didn’t say Donovan McNabb wasn’t a good quarterback. He didn’t say black quarterbacks were bad. He said the media wants a black quarterback to do well. Well, I have no idea what the media as an entity wants. But, let’s check the stats from 2003, the year he commented on Donovan McNabb.

In 2003, McNabb ran the 20th-ranked passing offense in the league. He had a 57 percent completion rating, 16 TDs to 11 interceptions, and a 79.6 QB rating. That 79.6 QB rating placed McNabb 16th in the league behind journeymen like Brad Johnson and Jon Kitna. His 57.5 completion rating placed him 19th in the league behind Jake Plummer and Jake Delhomme. He made the Pro Bowl that year. Johnson, Delhomme, Kitna and Plummer did not.

And what’s worse, those mediocre stats were from before McNabb began to play better. After the 3rd game of the season, when Limbaugh made his statements, McNabb was 55 for 111, with 2 interceptions and just 1 TD pass. Those are Ryan Leaf type numbers.

Now this is not to knock Donovan McNabb in any way. McNabb is a great quarterback, no doubt at all. McNabb had been a very good quarterback in before then and had a down year in 2003, but bounced back splendidly in 2004, taking his team to the Super Bowl with the highest QB rating of his career. That said, checking out McNabb’s stats that year, and noticing that their defense was rated 7th in the league—right behind the Baltimore Ravens—it’s certainly fair to say that Limbaugh’s point that McNabb was overrated that year and didn’t deserve a trip to the Pro Bowl might not be entirely wrong. So, more food for thought—why weren’t more people criticizing McNabb’s performance that year?


The Running Back’s Glaring Whiteness
Here’s a question: If I told you that a high school running back who won the Gatorade New Jersey State player of the year—an honor previously given to guys like Eugene Monroe and Greg Olsen—a kid who came from the high school football factory of Don Bosco Prep—which puts countless kids into high Division 1 football programs all over the country and is currently the 4th ranked high school football team in the country—a kid who is a prototypical-sized running back at 5’11”, 200 pounds and runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.25 short shuttle, a kid who has a 3.6 grade point average; if I told you all this, and then further, that this kid did not get one scholarship offer to a Division 1 school, you’d tell me something was wrong.

What if I also told you that this kid, Dillon Romain, is white?

Never mind the Miamis or Penn States or Michigans of the world, Romain didn’t get an offer from Middle Tennessee, Central Michigan or Ball State. The previous 10 New Jersey Gatorade Players of the Year all went on to BCS-conference teams. And it wasn’t because Romain didn’t put up impressive stats. He had 26 TDs in 12 games and average 7 yards a carry. Heck, on the ultra-competitive Don Bosco football team, Romain was in the starting lineup as a sophomore—an incredibly rare distinction given to an underclassman in a football factory school. Plus, Don Bosco coach Greg Toal said, “He had all the qualities you want. . . . He can block. He can run. He can catch. There’s nothing he can’t do well.”

So what’s with the lack of Division I offers? What gives?

Chris Melvin, a New Jersey-based high school talent evaluator from Elite Recruits, said this: “He just got overlooked for whatever reason. But I’m telling you: Dillon Romain is going to be a special back at the next level.”

While there were a variety of excuses for why Romain wasn’t given a scholarship (“He didn’t play defense at Don Bosco;” “He was a product of the talent around him”), Melvin and Toal think a contributing factor could be that Romain is white and plays running back.

“Being a white running back is not the easiest thing,” Toal said. “There’s stereotypes out there in this day and age.” “To this day, I know he has Division 1 talent,” Melvin said. “It’s just a matter of these coaches realizing that.”

The story was the same for Danny Woodhead. As a high school senior at North Platte High in Nebraska, Woodhead was the Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year, offensive captain of the Omaha World-Herald’s and Lincoln Journal Star’s all-class, all-state teams and HuskerlandPrep Report’s Player of the Year. The World-Herald and Journal Star also selected him as their 2003-04 High School Male Athlete of the Year. Both newspapers accorded him the State College Male Athlete of the Year this spring. Yet, Woodhead received not one scholarship to a division 1 school anywhere. Instead he went to Division II Chadron State, where he set a plethora of records, including being the first collegiate anywhere to record 17 200-yard rushing games. He also led all divisions with 3,158 all-purpose yards. However, despite all that, Woodhead did not get drafted in last year’s NFL draft. Last year’s Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year, Tyrone Sellers—a black athlete—received several division 1 scholarship offers and is going to BCS-football school, The University of Kansas.


The Media: Blinded By The White
The point of all this is not to discredit black athletes and champion white athletes. It is to talk about perception.

Over the many years of watching sports on television—be it in basketball, football or whatever—how many times have you heard a commentator describe a white athlete as “intelligent” or “crafty.” Conversely, how often have you heard that a particular black athlete was “explosive” and “athletic”—even if said black athlete wasn’t outstandingly athletic, or the white athlete particularly clever.

(A personal favorite, NBA commentator/buffoon Bill Walton, ignoring the fact that Steve Nash, a three-sport star growing up, and comes from a family of athletes, who was blowing past opposing point guards with ease, said that Steve Nash was the least athletic point guard in the NBA. Nash, who won 2 MVP awards, led the NBA in assists for 3 years and was shooting over 50% at the time—miraculous for a point guard. Not athletic.)

The pre judgements of athletes is insulting to both races. Are Chris Cooley, Mike Vrabel or Jared Allen not athletic? Do they only manage to play Pro Bowl level professional football only by their wits? Did Jacoby Ellsbury lead the majors with 70 stolen bases because he’s really, really crafty?

Likewise, does Ray Lewis just get lucky when he sacks a QB or blows up a RB behind the line of scrimmage? Did he just happen to pick the right lane to rush by accident? Or maybe he, as a smart football player figured it out beforehand? Does Darren Sharpen not bait quarterbacks? What about Jerry Rice—did he catch 90 passes when he was 40 years old—beating kids almost half his age—only because he was still “explosive?” Or maybe he had a good sense of the game, possibly maybe?

Some time ago, the accepted wisdom was that blacks could not play quarterback. The position was too cerebral for them—they were athletes, not thinkers. Leave the cerebral positions to white guys and let the black guys man the speed positions—wide receiver, cornerback and running back.

Slowly, and thankfully, time eroded that perception in the form of Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham, Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb. At least somewhat. The perception, however, that white athletes shouldn’t play “speed” positions such as cornerback or wide receiver still exists. The last white cornerback in the NFL, Jason Sehorn, played the position almost a decade ago. Since then there have been a handful of white wide receivers, one or two white running backs who had a cup of coffee in the NFL before being cut. And not one cornerback.

And it starts even earlier than the NFL. You don’t see a white cornerback in a NCAA BCS school anywhere. Is it because white athletes are just physically incapable of manning those positions? Or could there be some other explanation.

A Form of Prejudice
Mark Kreigel, who interviewed Jason Sehorn a few years back for an article on this subject of white cornerbacks, wrote this: “Sehorn doesn’t doubt that a form of prejudice, however benign, results in some white high school kids being steered away from positions like cornerback.” Why does he believe that? Because it happened to him.

At every level of his football playing career, coaches tried to steer Sehorn away from cornerback—from high school, through college, and even until his NFL career. He was consistently ‘encouraged’ to play safety rather than cornerback—this despite Sehorn being 6’2”, running a 4.45-40 yard dash and having extremely quick reflexes—ideal qualities for a cornerback. He resisted. And thrived in the NFL, before a devastating injury to his leg sapped him of his speed and reflexes. In two seasons as starting right cornerback for the Giants before the injury, Sehorn had 11 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles.

Question. Which wide receiver has the most receptions in the past 2 seasons. Hint; it probably isn’t your first guess. No, not Larry Fitzgerald, Chad “OchoCinco” or Andre Johnson. No, it’s a shortish, very quick white guy named Wes Welker. Welker’s story is similar to Romaine’s and Woodhead’s: In high school he was named USA Today Player of the Year for the state of Oklahoma, where he excelled at wide receiver, running back, cornerback and kicker. Despite all that, Welker only received one scholarship offer—and it was a fluke. Only when a recruit backed out of a scholarship did Welker get an offer to play for Texas Tech.

At Texas Tech, he had 259 receptions and scored 21 TDs. He also had 79 rushes for 456 yards and returned an amazing 8 punts for touchdowns—which tied an NCAA record. However, none of that impressed anybody and Welker went undrafted.

Luckily for the Dolphins, Welker was signed as a free agent and began to earn his way into some regular playing time. He was traded to the Patriots for a 2nd and 7th round draft pick, and there he has made a name for himself.

Welker, aside from having the most receptions in the past two years combined (112 and 111, which is also 1st and 2nd in the Patriots all-time list for receptions in a season), also tied a record for catches in a Super Bowl with 11. He’s 13th in the league with 13.5 yds per touch ahead of guys like Larry Fitzgerald. He was all but ignored at every level, yet proved he had all the athletic talent necessary to play—and play well—and to overcome the prejudices of others.

Yet listen to any announcer and all you hear when they describe Welker is that he’s “a short yardage guy” and “smart.” Smart? What’s going on? Is there a physicist out there constantly beating coverage?

The Pigeonhole
Years ago, black runners were told from the time they were in school that there were sprinters, and running cross country was a white man’s sport. That was until Ted Wheeler, at the University of Iowa decided to run cross-country instead of sprints—as all blacks were supposed to do.

“As soon as they decided that I couldn’t do it, that blacks couldn’t do it, that’s when I decided I was going to,” he says. “It was a thrill, an honor to be at the Olympics, because four years before I had been told, ‘You can’t do this.’”

Those same types of perceptions still exist—just a bit differently. Eric Decker, the extremely prolific, and white, wide receiver on the Minnesota Golden Gophers faces them right now. Despite opposing teams focusing on stopping Decker due to a lack of talent on the Gophers besides him (he was 60% of the Gophers aerial attack before an injury), and despite playing on a gimpy ankle all year—Decker is 8th in the NCAA with 758 receiving yards. And its not just short, possession-type receptions and dump-offs. Decker averages a lengthy 15.16 yds/catch. Yet he is considered, like Jordan Shipley—another white receiver playing at the University of Texas—a “possession” receiver. Shipley, who runs a 4.45, is the only athlete in University of Texas football history to score TDs by reception, kickoff and punt return in the same season. And despite his 4.45 40-yard, Shipley is described by scouts as “…not overly fast...a work horse…could be a solid possession receiver in the NFL” and is ranked by scouts behind Danario Alexander from Missouri who ran a 4.58 40-yard but who scouts believe “has all the NFL skills.”

Again, this is not to say that white athletes are better or black athletes are better. This is about perceptions. Namely, the perception that there are positions that white athletes can’t or shouldn’t play as once was believed about blacks. Why, despite all his achievements, did not one Division 1 college give Dillon Romaine a chance? Why was Steve Young considered a “savvy” quarterback whereas Michael Vick was considered athletic? Why was Austin Collie considered “not real fast” and with “questionable speed” before the draft and slipped to the 4th round, yet Kenny Britt, who ran a 4.56 was “surprisingly quick” and Hakeem Nicks who ran a 4.63 has “good athleticism” and “has enough top-end speed”? Why is Barret Ruud, an annual tackle leader, considered intelligent and savvy (“While he’s not fast, he anticipates well enough to make plays.”) and D’Qwell Jackson, who actually has a slightly slower 40-yard dash, considered speedy (“D’Qwell Jackson has good speed and closes the gap quickly against the ground game.”)?

This type of pigeonholing athletes of different races to specific positions is as old as sports in America. Marlin Briscoe, the first black quarterback who played in 1968, said that since he first played football in Pop Warner leagues straight through until he played for the Broncos, coaches tried to get him to switch positions. But, like Sehorn and Wheeler, he held fast to the idea that he could play quarterback, regardless of his race. And he wanted to prove it. And he did, running a 80-yard TD drive on his second series. “For black people, it was a test to dispel a myth that had been prevalent in society—that a black man couldn’t think, lead or execute.” Similar to Sehorn and Wheeler, his race, and not his athletic ability, was the impetus for coaches to try to change his position.

And what was racial politics back in 1951 is still practiced today.

It would seem, even in the age of Obama, we are still not past the age of stereotyping people due to their skin. Today, when the world’s most dominant golfer is a mixed-race man of color; where a white man named Jeremy Wariner is the gold medal Olympic winner at the 400m dash, why would stereotypes still prevail?

Perhaps we’re more comfortable that way? Perhaps it’s easier to assume people’s attributes by the color of their skin. “Since many black people are good at this, all should be.” “White boys don’t have the reflexes for running back.” It’s simple. It’s safe.

Ever the statesman, Billy Martin famously once said “If I had Benito Mussolini and Hitler and Hirohito on my team, and they could execute the double steal and hit sacrifice fly balls, they’d be in my lineup.” While obviously overstating it, Martin’s point is salient. Anyone, white or black, Asian or Arab or Hispanic—anyone—who can help you win, should play. In short; the ability is what matters, not the melanin.

And you think we would have learned that by now.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Five

1. If you were a manger in the World Series, and you had a player like Nick Swisher, who has produced, but is in a long slump, would you, let him play through it, or bench him? Explain your reasons.

2. Now that the NFL is retro-uniform crazy, which team's uniforms do you wish could back to the old ones.

3. Have you watched any of the opening week's NBA games? If so, which one?

4. What was the best World Series performance you've ever seen?

5. Which player's odd twitches drove you nuts?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Most Important Game

Blogniks and the more hyperbolic writers out there have been writing since roughly about 6½ seconds after the Yankees won the AL pennant, that the Yankees Must Win Game 1! It’s the most important game!!! A Must Win!!

I disagree. I believe the most important game has already been played. It was pitched by Andy Pettitte on Sunday night.

Pettitte’s win allowed the Yankees the ability to not only start their ace, CC Sabathia, for game 1. But it allowed them to use him 3 times if necessary.

Much as the Diamondbacks rode their ace Curt Schilling in 2001 for 3 starts—Schilling pitched 21.1 innings that series, giving up 4 runs—and Randy Johnson, the Yankees should ride the hot hand they have, namely Sabathia, for 3 starts if necessary.

Had Pettitte lost, and Sabathia been forced to pitch game 7 of the ALCS, the Yankees would have been forced to perform rain dances all over Yankee Stadium and praying to Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain (sans the child sacrifices, of course). That’s because, without any rain outs, the earliest Sabathia could have pitched would have been game 3 on Saturday. He then could have pitched game 6, assuming there was a game 6. And that’s about it.

Nothing against A.J. Burnett—and by that I mean the Good A.J., not Bad A.J. Problem is you just never know which one is going to show up: the guy who, in his first two postseason games threw 12 innings of 3 run ball, with 10 Ks, or the guy who coughed up 6 earned runs in 6 innings his last time out—4 of those earned runs before he recorded an out.

Andy Pettitte, who has a reputation as a big game pitcher—think game 5 of the 1996 World Series—but who has occasionally been shelled when it mattered in the postseason—Game 6 of the 2001 World Series—is definitely an above average big-game pitcher. He’s been there, done that, and has generally performed with quality starts. But I would stop short of calling him a dominator and an ace on par with Sabathia or Schilling circa 2001.

No, for the Yankees to really match up against the Phillies, they needed Sabathia to take the mound against Cliff Lee tonight. Then if the Yankees are down in the series1-2 or 0-3, Sabathia can come back on short rest for game 4. If the Yankees are up 3-0, its possible Girardi could go to Chad Gaudin for 5 innings or so (he threw a simulated game yesterday at Yankee Stadium), giving Sabathia his normal rest. But that would be a luxury—and as it turns out, maybe not even that. See, Chad Gaudin is not nearly as strong against lefties as he is against righties. And guess which side of the plate the strength of the Phillies lineup saddles up to? That’s right; Gaudin would have to face lefties, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and co. in a hostile environment of Philadelphia. Feel a little scared? I do. If we see Chad Gaudin at any point except as a luxury game 4 starter, the Yankees are in trouble.

In any case, the worst hasn’t happened. Thanks to Andy Pettitte, Sabathia is available for 3 games. And with Sabathia on the mound, the Yankees are in a good position. The prediction: Yanks in 7.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Transactions....


Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: The Saints are for real.


Losing Leon Washington and Kris Jenkins....only the two most important people on the Jets. Why does God hate the Jets?


Should Iowa be higher than Texas? Nothing against Texas, but 5 out of the 6 BCS computers have Iowa at number 1. And with good wins at Wisconsin and 12th ranked Penn State, plus home wins against Michigan and 20th ranked Arizona. As of this writing, none of the teams Texas has beaten is ranked. So, why are they ranked ahead of Iowa?


I'm totally stoked that Alicia keys will be performing at the World Series. And by totally stoked, I mean, who cares?

So, Michael Crabtree had 5 catches in his rookie debut. Darrius Heyward-Bey, whom the Raiders, ignoring all common sense, picked over Crabtree, has 4 in 7 games. Nice pick, Al.


Gotta tell ya. So far, Tim Tebow is looking more and more like a 3rd round pick. Or lower.


I'm sorry. I love CollegefootballNews, but there is no way that Notre Dame should be ranked 17th. I might squeeze them into the top 25, but their secondary is awful. Against a overmatched Boston College team with a quarterback who was playing minor league baseball six months ago (no joke. He is 25 and hasn't played football since high school), Notre Dame squeezed the win out. Heck I'd have put Pitt, West Virginia and Boise State at least ahead of the Irish right now.


Brett Farve really tried to stop the Steelers on both those runbacks, huh. Really gave it his all.


Gotta tip my hat to Carson Palmer. Couple weeks ago, I wrote that he didn't look like the palmer of old. He was missing open receivers and generally didn't look at ease back there. Well that's over. 20 for 24 with 5—that's right, I said, 5—TD passes. Good enough for AAPTBNL Man of the Week.


Oh, is Brett Farve returning to Lambeau Field this weekend? Really? Hadn't heard.


So, Rolling Stone magazine now is taking shots at Eric Mangini. The latest issue has them comparing him to Augustus Gloop, the fictional overeater in Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and calling his short coaching tenure in Cleveland "a sort of Hurricane Andrew of football mismanagement." Umm, Rolling Stone; when exactly was the last time you were relevant? 1972?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Five

OK, here is the quiz.

1. Should Sam Bradford go to the NFL, even if he would rather play at Oklahoma another year?

2. Who should coach the Redskins next year?

3. If you were a top college football recruit and could go to any school in the nation, which one would you go to?

4. Who's your MLB Player of the Year?

5. Are you reading all about the behind-the-scenes who's doinking who at ESPN? If so, why? Explain.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not The Only Star

Some athletes love to be “The Guy”; the guy who takes the big shot, throws the big pass, at bat in the bottom of the 9th. They were born for the spotlight, the pressure. Instead of shaking and sweating, they seem serene and in the zone. They were born for it.

Other guys are Scottie Pippen—very good players, vital to the team’s success, but just to the left of the spotlight. They perform, some nights, just as well as the main guy, but psychologically, they let the Jordans of the world be the brightest star on which to focus. They are the Beta, not the Alpha dog.

In early August, I called A.J. Burnett the ace of the Yankee staff. And at the time, he was. Sorta. Since an early June drubbing by the Red Sox, Burnett had pitched 8 quality starts out of 9, and had just paid the Sox back by throwing a 7.2 inning, 0-run gem. In that time, Burnett had lowered his ERA from over 5 to 3.67, a smidge lower than Sabathia’s. He was on a roll.

Since I wrote that, Burnett has not fared as well. Though he hasn’t pitched badly, he did have a patch of rough starts that raised his ERA and caused some concerns. He has since come back to pitch well in his first 2 post-season games of his career. And I will admit, I made a mistake in calling Burnett the Yankee ace—he surely isn’t. Though he is something almost as important.

Question. When CC Sabathia signed with the Yankees, what happened less than two days later? Answer; A.J. Burnett signed.

Burnett was never the ace; it was always Sabathia, no matter how well he pitched. The reason, I believe, that Burnett has pitched well for the Yankees when so many people called him a “mistake signing” and “Pavano, Part II” is that when he signed, he knew exactly what he was. Not the ace. And not asked to be.

That’s because being an “Ace” or the “Man” in New York, isn’t just about the numbers you put up. It’s about the guy who gets the credit when you win and the blame when you lose. He’s the lightening rod, for better or worse. So no matter what Burnett did on the mound, the lightening rod was always going to be Sabathia. He was the big name, The Ace.

So, Burnett, knowing the pressure was off him to be The Ace, the guy every person in YankeeLand was pinning their hopes to, signed nearly immediately. He knew he’d be the number 2. A star in his own right, but not The Guy.

“It seems like every night he throws I give him a hug and say, ‘Man, you just inspired me to go tomorrow.’ And it seems that every night he does that. That’s who he is. He’s a horse. ... He sets the tone.”

That was Burnett, talking about Sabathia. Burnett is an emotional guy. And by placing himself behind Sabathia, Burnett has let himself off the emotional hook in setting the tone for the Yankees. All that pressure, the stress. It’s all diluted for Burnett now. And all he has to do is pitch.

And in the role of the no. 2 guy, Burnett, has done well.

Alex Rodriguez, since he became a Yankee in 2004 has been incredible. He won 2 MVP awards, was 1st in slugging percentage for 3 years and won the Silver Slugger 3 years in a row. To put it this way, in 2006—a self-described off-year—Rodriguez hit 35 HRs, had 121 RBIs and slugged .523. When healthy, Rodriguez has plain just dominated.

Except in the playoffs.

Come the postseason, Alex Rodriguez folded. Since 2004, in the playoffs, Rodriguez has batted a sickly .245 and has hit just 4 HRs—only 1 after 2004. He has had 25 Ks in those series.

A-Rod, self-admittedly, was the anti-Reggie. When his team needed him most, he came up small. In the role as The Man, A-Rod wasn’t.

And it did not go unnoticed that the last time the Yankees reached the World Series was the year before A-Rod came to NYC.

But then two funny things happened. The Yankees got a bunch of other players and A-Rod got busted for steroids.

And my guess is, that amidst all the steroid hoopla and press conferences and interviews, Rodriguez must have realized something. And this is what I think he realized: “The worst has happened. Nothing anyone says or does can hurt me any more than what I’ve done to myself. If this is the worst it can be, I can take it.”

In short, he has nothing to lose. He has been a caught cheating; he has played terribly in the biggest spotlight in America and he has come out the other side. Now, instead of playing the game for the adulation, for the attention and for everyone else, he is playing for himself.

“I think going back to spring training, I knew I couldn’t change all the 0-for-4’s and 0-for-5’s and all the guys I left on base. I knew I couldn’t change that, so, you know, I’m content right now, both on and off the field. And I also knew that I was 34, not 44, and I have an opportunity to do things right both on and off the field.’’

And with Sabathia, Teixeira, Swisher, not to mention Jeter and Rivera on the same team, A-Rod seems content not to be the focus anymore. He deflects praise to guys like David Robertson or Brett Gardner. As Reggie Jackson said recently, “A-Rod is content to let the magic work around him. He can be a big star of the show, but not the only star. I think he’s enjoying that role.”

And truth be told, Burnett or A-Rod have the numbers to be the Man—and could be. But being the Man is a role you take on, a psychological burden you endure as the Alpha dog on a team. Yes, you get all the attention—and the commercials and other stuff that comes with it, but you get all the blame. Some guys can do it, and some can’t.

Now none of this is to denigrate A-Rod or Burnett. To the contrary, they are vital to the success of the Yankees. Heck, Michael Jordan, scoring 37 pts a night, couldn’t, and didn’t, win anything until Pippen came along. And let’s face it: being the Man in New York is different than being the Man in Kansas City. Its harder here than anywhere else.

To paraphrase the aforementioned Mr. October, maybe Burnett and Rodriguez aren’t the straw that stirs the drink, but maybe they could be the ice that chills the drink out.

And that ain’t so bad, is it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Your Mark

It is estimated that the Yankees saved roughly 40 runs in 2009, just by switching from Jason Giambi playing first base to Mark Teixeira.

According to Bill James Fielding Bible, from 2006 to 2008, Jason Giambi rated a -30 (meaning he made 30 less plays than the average 1st baseman), while Mark Teixeira was a +22.

All these facts and figures were on full display. As the New York Times’ George Vescey wrote this morning:

In the eighth inning, Bobby Abreu raced to second on his drive up the gap. Teixeira then did what first basemen are supposed to do — follow the play to second because there is nothing left to do at first. But how often do first basemen just gape at the proceedings down the baseline?

“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it doesn’t work,” Teixeira said, noting that he made an out at second last season. This time he made the 90-foot run, and when Abreu slammed on the brakes 30 feet past second, a quick relay via Derek Jeter right to Teixeira’s outstretched first baseman’s glove.

One out later, Teixeira hauled in a wayward throw by Alex Rodriguez and made a perilous tag on Vladimir Guerrero thundering down the line.

In the 10th, Teixeira snatched two grounders down the line for outs. In between, he threw home for a force play to keep the game alive.

Amazing stuff, especially considering that for most of the 2000s, the Yankees penciled in “V. Frankenstein” at first base. In a tight, intensely played game, Teixeira made the kind of play that Jeter usually makes in those situations: smart and clutch.

That said, the man has got to start hitting.

After batting .467 in last year’s ALDS (with a .550 OBP), Teixeira can’t seem to buy a hit this postseason. And frankly, there is no reason he shouldn’t be hitting. With Alex Rodriguez en fuego behind him—batting .348 this postseason and slugging .870—Teixeira should be feasting on pitches around the plate. He hasn’t.

And so far, the media hasn’t done an “A-Rod” on him, writing how “…Teixeira is not earning his gargantuan contract…” etc, etc. Maybe because its only been 6 games. Maybe because the Yankees have been winning. Maybe because they like him better than Alex. Who knows? The only thing that matters is that a .120 BA with 6 Ks in PA is not going to cut it.

Not if you’re the number 3 hitter in the Yankee lineup. No, 6 total bases in the postseason is not going to cut it.

Neither is stranding 7 runners in scoring position while only producing 1 RBI.

The good news is that against Scott Kazmir, in 18 PA, Teixeira is batting .636 with 4 doubles, including going 2 for 6 this season. So he has a chance to break out of it.

He’d better.

Before this season, Alex Rodriguez batted .245 in the postseason for the Yankees.

And New York gave him hell for it.

So shape up, Mark, and hit some doubles. Because if you don’t show up in the ALCS and New York misses the World Series—all those fancy plays at first base aren’t going to matter one bit.

It’s time to get going.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Transactions....

I guess I don't have to worry about any Noles reading my blog and getting upset with me.


Don't think he's a scrub by any means, but I'm starting to think that Alan Faneca has lost it a little bit. He got beat a couple of times yesterday by guys who shouldn't be beating an All-Pro.


I think in Brian Cushing, the Texans might have found themselves a keeper. 2 forced fumbles, an interception. In just a handful of games in the NFL, he has already shown that he can do anything; rush the passer, tail tight ends and running backs, stop the run, pursue. And the boy can hit. I think he might be defensive rookie of the year. He's got my vote.


When all is said and done, the most important move this entire season, might be the Phillies getting Cliff Lee. He single-handedly saved there season and could be the reason they get a second championship.


The Jets are trying out small school phenom Danny Woodhead out at wide receiver. His small stature and his quicks (seen here) make him perfect for the slot. I think he could be a baby Wes Welker is given the reps.


I think Tim Hudson and the Braves should agree on to a deal. Hudson, after taking a little while to settle in to the NL, became a great addition to the staff, with ERA+ of 128 and 134 in 2007 and 2008. With Hudson resigned, the Braves could use him to act solidify the staff, as well as act as a mentor to Hanson, Jurrjens, and any other young pitchers they have coming up.


And the firesale for the Titans begins...wait for it....now. Kevin Mawae, Keith Bullock and anybody short of Michael Roos, David Stewart, Chris Johnson and maybe a couple of others are going cheap!!! Everything must go! Including maybe, Vince Young.


Don't know about people outside of New York, but the 5-hour plus Yankee-Angel game was awesome sports watching. Seems like there were people on base every inning and the pitchers were trying to pitch out of jams. Great stuff.


I'd love to give the AAPTBNL Man of the week to both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for tee-ing off on the Bucs so-called defense to the tune of 252 yards. They both had TD runs of over 20 yards and kept Jake Delhomme from doing any self-inflicted damage. But you have to give it to Drew Brees for absolutely shredding one of the best defenses in the NFL today. Brees put on a clinic; 4 TD passes to 4 different receivers. Also, a tip of the hat to his offensive line, who gave up only 1 sack to the vaunted Giant d-line. Good work.


And finally, hate to admit, the first thing I thought of when I read this was Happy Gilmore.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Five

Sorry I got this up late. Anyway, here we go.


1. You've got one QB—of all time—to go 80 yards in two minutes. Who's your guy?

2. Which player on your favorite team frustrates you the most? And why.

3. Which hairdo is the best in any sport. Either gender.

4. Do you care about the Rush Limbaugh—St. Louis Ram fiasco? Explain.

5. Do you have any Bobbleheads. If so, of who?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Yankee Gameplan

For once, the breathless hyperbole, the “Series of the Century of the Week” might actually fit. The Angels vs. the Yankees—the two best teams in the league fighting it out—might actually be a true classic.

But before the Yankees gear up, if they want to make the World Series for the first time since 2003, they should have a game plan,. Let’s take a look at the match-up and see what the Yankees should do.

Despite everyone’s talk of the Big Bats in the Yankee lineup, a very pedestrian Twin rotation basically kept them in check—keeping the Yankees to a paltry .225 in the ALDS. On the contrary, what everyone was most concerned with—the rotation—was what won the series for the Yankees.

On the other side, the Angels hit fairly decently in the ALDS, especially considering who they faced, namely Lester, Beckett and Buchholz. Except for Chone Figgins, Kendry Morales and Torri Hunter, the Angels hit very well. Abreu batted .556, Guerrero hit .400 (the two of them combined for 6 walks), Aybar hit .364, Mathis batted .333 and Rivera chipped in with a .273 BA with a stolen base.

While the Angels can’t compete with the Yankees power-wise—they had 173 HRs to the Yankees 244, they did have the best batting average in the majors. They also had the third most stolen bases in baseball. In short, they follow the hornet swarm mentality—no one big blow; rather, death by a myriad of little bites. A base hit, a stolen base, a walk, a sac fly. Etc.

The Angels batted .315 against the Yankees this year and had 17 stolen bases —more than they stole against any other team. They produced runs—2nd only to the Yankees in baseball. As Jose Molina, speaking yesterday, said, “They’re ready to run. They want to run. They’re going to go first to third. They’re going to put pressure (on), so you better be ready.”

So, we know how the Angels are going to play. What should the Yankees do to combat this?

Well, considering the make-up of the Angels, as well as the weather—a nor’easter is threatening the New York area this weekend, thus potentially forcing the playoffs to be played on back-to-back days—the Yankees should bring more pitchers than maybe they would in other circumstances.

Joe Girardi has stated that he is considering a 3-man rotation for this series. He must know that CC Sabathia is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA in four career regular-season starts on three days’ rest, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning. So pitching games 1, 4 and 7 shouldn’t be a big issue, especially going into game 1 on 8 days rest. Also, game 7, weather permitting, would be on full rest. Also, a three-man rotation would allow the Yankees to start 3 lefties at Yankee Stadium (Sabathia in 1 and 7, Pettitte in 6), helping to reduce the threat of the short porch in right.

The problem comes if there is a rainout and the Yankees lose an off day. Then Chad Gaudin and/or Joba Chamberlain would most likely pitch the 4th game. The problem isn’t just that both of those guys are question marks. It’s also, that, not knowing if the weather is going to be a factor, Girardi would have to hold those guys in reserve, working with a short bullpen. It would seem that having some more arms out there, would proably behoove him.

Girardi brought a third catcher, Francisco Cervelli in the last round. Why? Girardi should instead bring Brian Bruney who was left off the ALDS roster. Bruney, who in his last 10 appearances had a 2.17 ERA, would be a great addition to the late inning bullpen relief, especially if Hughes melts down again like he did against the Twins.

Girardi still has Brett Gardner and Jerry Hairston (and maybe Freddie Guzman) to pinch run. Still has two catchers—and can pinch-hit Posada for Molina in the games which Burnett pitches.

Put it this way, the Yankees used 5, 8, and 4 pitchers, respectively, in the 3 games against the Twins. Why? Because they could. They had a day off in between and brought 11 pitchers. And it worked out well. Girardi could mix pitchers to batters as he wanted—bring in Chamberlain or Coke for one batter, then bring in Aceves or Marte or Robertson or whomever for the next guy. The flexibility the Yankees had in their bullpen was a strength that was needed against the Twins. Especially in game two.

As for the Yankees hitters, well, they just have to hit better than they did against the Twins. The Angels have better starters and are just a plain old better team than the Twins. The Yankees have to hit a lot better than .225, simple as that.

However, given that the Angels have a better rotation, it is odd that Mike Scioscia gave the guy who has the best career stats against the Yankees, Scott Kazmir, only 1 start. Kazmir, in 15 games against the Yankees, has a 2.67 ERA. None of the other Angels starters come close. In 5 games Saunders has a 6.28 ERA; in 16 games, Lackey has a 4.66 ERA; and in 7 games Weaver has a 5.88 ERA.

So what’s the outcome?

Since 1996 and the Yankees championship run, the Angels are the only team in baseball to have a winning record against the Yankees. The only one. At 73-63, the Angels have definitely handled the Yankees while they were at their best.

However, this is a different Yankee team. They have one of the game’s best aces, have improved their defense to where they are ahead of the Angels in defensive efficiency, and have one of the most dominant bullpens in the game. And they hit a boatload of home runs.

They also have a number of players who have been here before and know how to win, who won’t panic when the other teams score. In short, the Yankees have a confidence they lacked in the last few years. As the Twins said after the ALDS:
“You look up at the scoreboard, and every single player on that team has 175 at-bats in the postseason,” first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. “I think that’s one reason they don’t panic. They’re all 10-, 15-year veterans that know how to play the game. They believe in themselves and they’re good.” “Every time we put up a run or two or we scored, they don’t panic,” outfielder Denard Span said. “They seemed like they just took a deep breath. It’s almost like they relaxed even more and answered back. They always answer back.”

The prediction: Yanks in 6.


Enjoy the series.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The 2010 Surprise Team

By now, we've all heard the story of Billy Beane. The Wunderkind using a laptop and statistics instead of scouts. The Sabremetrics Guru. A movie based on the book Moneyball being made starring Brad Pitt.

Only thing is, the posterboy's team flopped this year.

But next year. That's a whole different story.

Let's chew on a few facts here. After going 19-29 in April and May, the Oakland A's improved almost every month to finish the year 17-10 in September, the best in the American League West.

How bout this: Despite the fact that of the 6 starters the A's used prominently this season, none of them were over 25. Yet, the A's had the 4th best ERA in the AL (4.29) and closed the season in Sept/Oct with a team wide 3.70 ERA. They have two pitchers (Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, ranked 7th and 11th in Baseball America's 2009 Top 100 prospects) who are 21 years old and have double digit victories. They have a rookie 25-year old closer who had a 1.84 ERA and a 0.876 WHIP. They have two other pitchers (Dallas Braden, Josh Outman, aged 25 and 24) who had ERA's of 3.89 and 3.48 respectively, in 34 games started.

Add to that, the A's get Joey Devine back next year. Devine, you recall, had a 0.59 ERA in 45-2/3 innings in 2008. Devine joins a bullpen that was American-League best in 2009, with a 3.54 ERA.

The potential the A's have with their staff is limitless—possibly better than Mulder, Hudson, Zito & Foulke in the early 2000s.

Where the A's lagged this year, was in hitting, and especially in slugging. The A's were decidedly middle of the pack with a .262 team BA, and were downright bad with a .397 slugging percentage. However there is hope. And with Beane, it comes in the form of young talent acquired by judicious drafting and from trades for A's veterans.

Daric Barton, still only 23 years old, seemed to arrive in the fall. In his last 21 games the first baseman slugged .500. Ryan Sweeney—acquired in the Nick Swisher trade—in the last month of the season, batted .364 with 7 doubles. 22-year-old outfielder and 2007 first round draft pick, Sean Doolittle while dinged up this year in AAA, showed power potential in 2008 with 22 home runs in AA. 22-year-old Brett Wallace (acquired in the Matt Holliday trade) slugged .505 in 44 games in AAA ball. OF Matt Carson, a greybeard at 27, had 25 HRs and 29 doubles at AAA. 25-year old Aaron Cunningham—number 55 on Baseball America's 2009 Top 100 Prospects, batted .302 in AAA this year and seems ready to contend for a job in spring training.

Possibly the most talented of the many A's prospects is Chris Carter. 22-year-old Chris Carter hit 39 HRs in 2008 and between AA and AAA this year, hit 28 HRs. He also batted .337 in the Texas league and won the MVP before being prompted to AAA at the end of the year. Billy Beane went on record saying that he would like Carter to start in AAA, but have him come up to the big club some time during the season.

Again, even with all this young talent, the A's just went 75-87 this year. However, there is a big difference between going 75-87 with aging expensive veterans, disgruntled and mouthing off to the press, and going 75-87 with young talented kids, taking their lumps and improving throughout the season. The A's on a self-imposed "five-year rebuilding plan" —beginning with the trade of Dan Haren in 2007—are content right now to lose, if it means learning lessons and winning down the road. Which, it seems, is exactly what is occurring.

Now this isn't to say that the A's are on a rocket ship to the World Series in 2009; however, with the embarrassment of young talented pitchers and a horde of young talented position players beating at the door, don't be surprised if the Oakland A's next year pull a Texas Ranger's and contend for a playoff spot.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Transactions....

Let me just say—without any overstating or hyperbole—Jamarcus Russell is the biggest bust in NFL Draft history. Including Tony Mandarich and Ryan Leaf.


Seriously, why would any free agent go to Oakland, if you had any choice. You know they are dysfunctional and mismanaged. You know you're going to lose, and lose badly. Shoot, I'd rather play in one of those nasty uniforms the UFL has.


Ken Rosenthal wrote a good piece on Foxsports about the Twins using the bad call by the umpire as an excuse for losing Friday night.

You can't assume that if Joe Mauer was standing on second base, Jason Kubel would have produced the same single to right field and driven him in with the go-ahead run....It wasn't Cuzzi's fault that the Twins failed to score after they loaded the bases with none out.

Exactly right. You can't assume that Kubel would have scored Mauer...especially when the inning before, the Twins blew a bases-loaded nobody-out situation.


How does Wes Welker consistently get open on third down? Wouldn't the opposing coach say something like this: "OK, it's 3 and 7. You, cornerback, Glue yourself to that guy." I mean, you know Brady will look for him. How does the defense not keep a guy or two on him?


OK, announcer guy for the Bengals. We know the Bengals have a penchant this year for late game heroics. But stop calling them the 'Cardiac Cats." Just stop it.


And another thing. Enough with the throwback uniforms. We get it. They were campy. They were ugly. LOL. OK? Enough.


Yeah. Building a outdoor baseball stadium in Minneapolis is a great idea. Yesterday's Yankee game would have been played in the 30s with a chance of snow.Guys, seriously. you do know you're building an outdoor stadium. In Minneapolis. That's like building a submarine with screen doors.


I know Carson Palmer has clutch and has been leading his team to late comebacks and heroics and all that. But he still doesn't look sharp. I don't remember him missing his receivers as much before his injury as he has this year.


Same with Tom Brady.


Wasn't Jevan Snead supposed to be a Heisman candidate entering this season? Dude...the guy hasn't even completed 50% of his passes. And that includes games against Memphis, Vanderbilt and SE Louisiana.


This is embarrassing.


Wait. So golf....golf is an Olympic sport. And baseball isn't. Yeah, this world makes sense.


And for AAPTBNL Man of the Week. Gotta go with Kyle Orton. Not only did he throw for 330 yards and two touchdowns, all on 35 for 48 passing, he did it against Bill Belichek. And you know that Belichek wanted to teach his young pup a lesson. I have to apologize to Josh McDaniels for not believing in his trade for Kyle Orton. you were right. Orton is perfect for that offense.


And finally, some guys found footage of the Babe playing. And, if you're like me, it's the coolest thing I've ever seen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Friday Five

OK, time for the 5 quiz questions.


1. Who's the best young pitcher in the game? Splain why.

2. Which baseball team has the best cap logo?

3. Which retired athlete went to pot the worst. Pictures if you have them.

4. You have one coach to give a inspiring speech to pump his team up. Who's the guy?

5. Of all the guys who were supposed to be the "Next Michael Jordan", who was your favorite & why?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

D Vs. G

About 4 1/2 seconds after the Twins defeated the Tigers (in a amazing, thrilling game, btw), every sportswriter in America decided that his next column on the upcoming series between the Twins and Yankees should be called David Vs. Goliath.

And with some credence. The Yankees are the big-market team with all the money (though that often doesn't count for much—ask the Cubs). The shiny new stadium, the shiny new pitching staff, and the big-ticket hitters. The Twins on the other hand are the 24th-out-of-30 in spending, small market team. Scrappy. Plucky. Can-do.

However, in a short series, the big names, the big pitchers, the big money, might not mean anything. Sure the Yankees are the favorite. And they should be. However, one thing might count heavily in favor for the Twins heading into a short series.

Momentum.

In a short series, a dangerous team is the one carrying the momentum into the series. Again, this is not to say that the Twins will defeat the Yankees. This is just to say that the Twins, without Justin Morneau, have already caught, and defeated, a better team on paper in the Tigers. And they believe, really believe that they have a great shot against the Yankees.

Were the 2007 Colorado Rockies really the best team in the National League? They had a middle of the road 97 OPS+ and a ok 4.67 ERA. On the whole, they were a decent team, but certainly not great.

What they did have was momentum—they won 11 games in a row in September—and came from 8 games back to make the playoffs on the last day of the year; which, like the Twins, was a one-game playoff series they won against the Padres. In extra innings. Sound familiar?

The Rockies then went on to sweep the Phillies, then sweep the Diamondbacks before losing to the Red Sox in the World Series. Point is; were the Rockies the best team in the National League—probably not. Were they the hottest team—mos definitely.

The Twins are batting .309 in the last 7 days—about 30 points higher than their season average—and getting higher. The Twins are also pitching a full run lower on their team ERA in the last 7 days. Batters in the month of September are batting .265 or about 10 points lower than they have the rest of the year against Twin pitching. The Twins have gone 21-11 in the month of September and Ocotber.

And they've done this without their best player, Justin Morneau.

If feet are put to the fire, I would choose the Yankees over the Twins. Simply put, on paper they are the better team. However, if the Twins were to give them a very tough, scary series—or even pull an upset—I would not be shocked.

Surprised, maybe. But not shocked.

David did win after all that one time.

Edwards to New York

Well, it happened about 6 months later than everyone said it would, but the Jets finally got Braylon Edwards from the Browns. And again, the Jets make a trade with Cleveland where they give up practically nothing to get the man they want—a couple of lower picks, a backup LB and Chansi Stuckey, who's had all of 11 receptions this year.

The Jets have yet to extend his contract which is not a good thing—considering that LeBron may be in New York come next year.

The real concern with Edwards is how serious he takes the game. He has the talent—he was picked 4th in the draft—but he has problems with his concentration (how many drops has he had?). If the Jets can get him to be more focused, he might be a steal. Let's hope Rex can get the best out of him.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Actually Happened

While His Lordship, The Farve, basks in the adulation the Farve Channel—formally known as ESPN—gives him in buckets for beating his former team and "showing them he can still play," let's try to remember how we all got here and what actually happened.

Allegedly, Farve is upset at Green Bay because they rejected him and felt he couldn’t play anymore. If memory serves—and it does, backed up by actual hard news—Green Bay wanted The Farve back.

This is Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, speaking to the Washington Post on March 4th, 2008:
"I thought he was going to play," McCarthy said. "Last week was the first time, of all the conversations we've ever had, that the word retirement was ever spoken. He was consistent throughout. It was a personal decision. He was clearly wanted back. How could you not want Brett Favre's career to continue?"

And this is the Packers GM, Ted Thompson, in the same conversation:
"I think we're all a little bit disappointed," Thompson. "But at the same time, we respect Brett's decision, and this was his decision.... All of a sudden it kind of hits you. It's like, Brett Favre is not going to be our quarterback any more."
You see, the Packers wanted Brett Farve back. They spoke to him and tried to convince him to play another season. When Farve insisted he was retired, they moved on. When asked repeatedly by the press in Wisconsin, “Did the Packers try to convince Farve to stay?” here's what Thompson said.
"He wants to know a couple of things: 'Do you still want me and can I still play?'" Thompson said. "Obviously both Mike and I were very positive in that regard and said definitely we do.... I just think it's a decision that he has constantly wrestled with in terms of trying to make the right decision and leave at the right time. And I believe he thinks this is the right time for him."

Here's Brett Farve speaking at his retirement press conference in 2008:
I'd like to thank Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson... And it's hard to leave. You think you're prepared for it. I know there's been comments and issues in the press lately about why I'm leaving, whether or not the Packers did enough, whether or not Ted and Mike tried to convince me to stay. None of those things have anything to do with me retiring, and that's from the heart.

It’s reasonable to conclude from all this, Farve was not pushed out, no? The Packers did not anoint Aaron Rodgers to be their QB until Farve was well out the door. Again, the Packers wanted him back, but Farve insisted he was gone. Retired. Riding a lawn mower in Mississippi. Here's Farve again at his retirement party 2008:
“I think last year and the year before I was tired and it took awhile but I came back. Something told me this time not to come back. It took awhile once again. Once again, I wondered if it was the right decision. But I think in my situation, and I had this conversation with Mike and Ted, that it's a unique situation in that at 17 years I had one of the better years in my career, the team had a great year, everything seems to be going great, the team wants me back, I still can play, for the most part everyone would think I would be back, would want me back.... You can't just show up and play for three hours on Sunday. If you could, there'd be a lot more people doing it and they'd be doing it for a lot longer. I have way too much pride, I expect a lot out of myself, and if I cannot do those things 100 percent, then I can't play.”

Once again, these are Farve’s words. “The team wants me back.” “None of those things have anything to do with me retiring.” It sounds like this is a grown man making his own decision.
So, everyone knows what happened next. The Packers move on, prepare and train with Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback. They draft 2 other quarterbacks to compete with Rodgers. They have two off-season mini-training camps with Rodgers leading the team. Rumors float around that Farve is itching to come back. Farve and his agent vehemently deny it.
Then, on the eve of training camp, Farve tells them he wants to play, and he expects to start. The Packers say, Sorry, you swore you were retired. We have a team in place, we’ve moved on. Farve throws a hissy fit, tells Greta Van Sustern that the Packers “rushed him into retirement,” and later admits to ESPN that he wants to "get back" at Thompson. He wants to play for the Vikings so he can beat the Packers.

ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski—well-known Farve shill—wrote this morning, "This one was for Ted Thompson. For Mark Murphy. For Mike McCarthy and the rest of the Green Bay Rubicons.... The Packers didn't want him anymore." This past Sunday, ESPN’s Keyshawn Johnson had a long video piece about how revenge will serve Farve well—just like it did for him—and that Farve should play with revenge in his heart. Greg Doyle of CBS Sportsline wrote that "Farve proved critics wrong" and claims that the Packers "set this whole thing in motion when (in 2005) they invested in the franchise's future" and not the present.

Actually, the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 because Farve was already at that time making noise about retiring. On February 1, 2005, Donald Driver was quoted as saying:
"From friend to friend that I think he will retire. That's my opinion. My opinion is that I think he will. If he doesn't, he knows I want to play with him the rest of my career. It's up to him. He still makes the final decision. I think every guy in that locker room may think, 'Well, Brett may hang it up this year.' No one knows. The only one who knows is Brett Favre and once he makes that decision, he'll make it," Driver said.

After much speculation, Farve finally announced his decision to return on March 10, 2005, for one more year. In fact, "The Brett Farve Will He-Won't He Retirement Parade" began a couple of years before, with Farve hemming and hawing each spring about whether he would play or not. But by 2005, the Packers felt that Farve had given enough signals that taking a QB in the first round was a prudent thing to do.

And that seemed to be the beginning of the Farve resentment towards Green Bay management. Farve ignored Rodgers completely, neither tutoring him, nor even addressing him. He resented the fact that Rodgers was even there, a reminder that his role, his time as Lord Farve would eventually be over. Farve wanted it both ways; to retire, or at least threaten to, then to come back—and be accepted, no questions asked. The Prodigal Farve.

Remember, no one ever said he couldn't still play; Thompson and McCarthy tried to convince him NOT to retire in 2008. They wanted him back; he said no. And yet, for some reason, after all the contradictions and outright lies Brett Farve has delivered—on record—the media still treat him like royalty. And celebrate last night as some sort of vindication.

So, at the end of the day, what was the Packers’ huge crime that Farve—and many a sports journalist and broadcaster—felt he had to get revenge for? For believing Farve was retired? For moving on as an organization? For finally accepting that he was gone after years of being held hostage and teased. For not rolling out a giant red carpet, shoving Rodgers out of the way—even though he'd been practicing for months—and supplicating themselves in front of Lord Farve, thanking his Blessed Munificence that he had deigned to play for them again?

Apparently so. And for remembering what actually took place, Farve had to take his revenge.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Transactions....

JaMarcus Russell.....wow.


Dude, for all the bling and fur coat and baggy pants, you have a 39.8 completion rating. You have exactly 1 TD and 4 INTs and 42.4% QB rating. You just know, somewhere, Lane Kiffin is looking at the stats for Russell and Heyward-Bey (2 receptions in 4 games) and smiling.


No one, and I mean no one, outside of the Twins locker room thought they would be in this position, especially after they lost Justin Morneau and Carl freakin' Pavano became the rock of their rotation.


Look, I appreciate the fact that going 5-0 is tough, no matter who you beat to get there, but how is Cincinnati ranked 8th in the country, when they've beat exactly nobody? And Iowa is 12th in the nation and have beaten a ranked opponent.


So Joba threw one inning of relief and looked like his old flame-throwing self. Not saying he shouldn't be a starter—he may develop into a great one—but the man would be a awesome reliever.


So it's time for the annual "Eddy Curry is working out hard and is gonna apply himself this year article."


After admitting he did steroids, it's nice to see Chuck Knoublauch keeping his good name intact.


You had to have seen this coming. Firing Kevin Towers ,on the other hand, well not saying its a dumb move, but it kinda doesn't make sense. Towers was in charge when the Padres won the AL West twice in 2005 & 2006, and were in the World Series in 1998. Not great, but not bad for a small market team. And as for this year, God knows they were in hard-core rebuilding mode, so you had to accept that they were getting rid of older stars (Peavy, Hoffman) and setting the stage for younger players. It's not the dumbest move, firing Towers, but it's not like he was egregiously at fault either.


I'll say this again as you watch the Colts highlights: Watch Manning look off defenders. Look at the ball placement to his receivers. Look at him buy time in the pocket allowing his receivers to gain a little bit of separation—his eyes never leaving downfield. Look at all that and tell me he's not the best ever at his position. Touch pass, bullet, end route, post, screen. He is the best.


For a team that keeps saying its a Super Bowl contender, the Cowboys sure draft pretty badly. Here's a list of past no. 1 draft picks. OK, Felix Jones is a great home-run type, change-of-pace back. Mike Jenkins is meh. Anthony Spencer is a bust so far. Bobby Carpenter—nothing. Demarcus Ware is a home run. Marcus Spears is just some guy. Terrence Newman got undressed, spanked and sent to his room yesterday by Brandon Marshall. Ebeneezer Ekuban, Shante Carver. David Lafleur. Not exactly a franchise who's good at turning out talent that will help them win consistently.


Sticking with the Cowboy theme, the AAPTBNL award goes to...Elvis is in the building...Elvis Dumervil. Told he was to short and not picked until the 4th round despite a productive collegiate career, (he broke Dwight Freeney's Big East sack record and broke the NCAA record for sacks in a game—6), all Elvis has done is live in opposing team's backfield. including last night. Making Tony Romo's life extremely uncomfortable, Elvis had 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, and 2 tackles for loss. Elvis, with 8 sacks on the season, is on pace for a ridiculous 32 sacks.Congrats on proving everybody wrong Elvis.


In the history of the NFL, there have been three guys named Pierre. They all play right now; Pierre Woods, LB for NE, Pierre Garcon WR for Indy and Pierre Thomas, RB for the Saints. Don't know what this means, just interesting.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Adieu Sweet Lou

Once upon a time, Lou Piniella was a good manager.

He took some pretty talent-threadbare Yankee teams (with guys like Butch Wynegar and Wayne Tolleneson as starters) to good records. He won a World Series with the Reds. And over a 10-year span, he managed the Mariners to 129 games over .500, including a 116-win season in 2001.

But then something happened along the way in Piniella’s 22-year managerial career. No, I’m not saying Piniella is a bad manager—he’s still a very decent manager. It's just that somewhere along the way, Piniella lost......it.

Maybe it was the fact that he couldn't get his hometown team, the Rays, to improve, or in fact do anything. After 3 bad years, Piniella quit when he said management wouldn't give him the money he needed to get the players to win. After he quit, Joe Maddon then went and took the Rays to the World Series—with the second lowest payroll in baseball. That same year, 2008, Piniella, with a roster that cost 80 million dollars more than the Rays, got swept in the first round of the playoffs.

Yes, Piniella went to the Cubs because they promised him the payroll and the players he wanted. And they delivered. But for 2 years in a row, Piniella’s Cubs gets swept in the first round of the playoffs. So Piniella, amongst a sea of other excuses, complained the loudest that the Cubs lost because they lacked a left-handed bat. So the Cubs go out and sign Mr. Personality, switch-hitting Milton Bradley to give Piniella the bat he said he lacked. And entering 2009, the Cubs had the 3rd highest payroll in the game and were picked by almost everybody to represent the NL in the World Series. They had power, speed and potential Cy Youngs—all in all, the most complete roster in the NL.

What happened?

A variety of things: sure they had injuries—like every team—but a lot of what went wrong could be attributed to Piniella's stubbornness. And when the stubbornness doesn't work, excuses.

For instance, Piniella left Alfonso Soriano at leadoff for most of the season, despite the fact that...well, Soriano doesn't get on base—which is not good when he’s your leadoff hitter. This year, Soriano had a pathetic .303 OBP, struck out 188 times in 117 games, and stole a grand total of 9 bases. Yet Piniella kept him in the one-spot for most of the season, not trying anyone else in the leadoff spot until the season was all but over.

Same thing for Milton Bradley. For far too long, Piniella left Milton Bradley in the 5-spot, even though he was batting .217 and had a harmless .311 slugging percentage. Finally Piniella shifted him around and landed him in the number 2 spot, and voila! Bradley bats .317 and bumps his slugging up .222 points. Again, though, too late in the season to be a factor.

And then there's Kevin Gregg. With Kerry Wood gone, Gregg was given the closer role. Once he had it though, he starting blowing ballgames like he was a machine-driven Pez dispenser. Overall, he had 6 losses and 6 blown saves, and when he wasn’t blowing games, he was making things far too “interesting” for Cubs fans, walking batters at a rate of about 4.0/9IP. Yet he was the Cubs closer until August, when finally Piniella switched the closer role to Carlos Marmol. Why Piniella left Gregg out there in the 9th inning when everyone knew that Gregg was a time bomb is anybody's guess. Stubbornness?

Maybe Pinella's stubbornness was once a asset. Maybe it was how he was able to succeed in the MLB in a body that wasn't exactly Olympic material. It was probably that stubbornness that allowed him to succeed in high-pressured New York and will lesser teams to success.

But that was then and this is now. And now, Sweet Lou's stubbornness has turned into intractability and excuses. Instead of managing, Piniella now just chooses one course and sticks with past all reason. If a manager refuses to actually “manage” the game—and just do the same failing course of action over and over—then what good is he doing? And if a manager refuses to try and put the team in the best position to win the game and just follows the same course now matter the situation or repeated outcomes, then what choice do the players have, but to decide that they are leaderless, rudderless, and on their own?

And if a player hears his manager say after a terrible loss to the Nationals is "Its just one game," how would the players feel? How would they react to Piniella’s comments that their losing games in San Diego and Arizona was because their parks were too big. Or that it’s too cold. Or the Cubs don’t have a good minor league system. Would they feel that there was no accountability? At all?

Here’s another excuse, Lou. It could be the manager.

It could be that the manager isn't managing. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is to “do the same thing over and over and expect different results.” Well, what would you call running the same failing players out there every day and hoping for the best.

The old saying "The game has passed him by," is a tired cliché and often silly. However, by definition, as a cliché, it is sometimes right. And in the case with Lou Piniella, it is.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Five

OK, here are this week's five questions.

1. What was the best hit you ever saw in the NFL?

2. Who is your favorite announcer of all time? Football, basbeall and any other.

3. Who is the worst announcer? You can pick more than one, just explain why.

4. Do you want a National College Football playoff. If so, how many teams make it in and how does it work?

5. Worst item you ever got on a free item day at a baseball game?