Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Holy cow! Goodbye, 2007!

SEASONINGS: Pitchers and catchers report in 6 weeks or so! But even though I still want to hold on to football a little longer, a lot of the talk lately has been about baseball—the Mitchell Report, of course! What can we learn from the report? That steroids has pervaded the entire sport. That some great players used them to boost their stats out of this world. That some borderline players used them to make sure they stayed on the roster.

To me, Andy Pettitte was the biggest surprise on the list, especially since he comes off as an “Aw, shucks,” church-going choir boy who would never break a rule to save his own life. True, he said he only used human growth hormone one time, to help recover from an injury, but just being named in the Mitchell Report is enough to sow doubt, no matter what Pettitte claims.

Roger Clemens? No shock there. Even though the Rocket vehemently denies all the allegations, the proof seems to be in front of the public’s eye. How else to explain his superhuman ability long past the age when most players are finished? How else to explain his extra-beefy physique over the second half of his career? With the publication of the Mitchell Report, it seems obvious—suddenly, Clemens’s career arc mirrors that of Barry Bonds. It will be interesting to see how Clemens defends himself on national TV in the upcoming weeks.

And there really isn’t anyone else who is much of a surprise, although I was sad to see some other names, such as Miguel Tejada and Benito Santiago. They are a stain on the game if they are really guilty—and with the number of players named, how could at least some of them NOT be guilty?

I have to laugh when I hear people talk about taking away these guys’ numbers because they did the juice. The steroids era existed, and we all just have to deal with it. Taking away a player’s home runs changes a lot more than just the player’s own stats. It changes the scores of games, affects scoring statistics for the whole team, affects pitching statistics for the other team—and on and on. All we can do is hope that someone can come along and break some of these records cleanly. A-Rod comes to mind for the home run records, but Jose Canseco, whose credibility is pretty good right now, said he was surprised A-Rod wasn’t included in the Mitchell Report. What do we think about that?

Over in the NFL, the first five seeds are locked up in each conference, leaving the Titans and Browns on the edge in the AFC and the Saints, Redskins, and Vikings vying for the last spot in the NFC. How about the fact that the NFL caved in to the fans and the government and will show the Pats–Giants game on Saturday night? The game was only supposed to be on the NFL Network, but due to its significance, it will now be on both NBC and CBS, as well.

The big debate is over whether Tom Coughlin should try to rest his starters so that they’re fresh for the playoffs or seriously try to thwart the Patriots’ perfect season and risk injuring any of his best players. Coughlin says he’ll play the starters and try to win, but we’ll see. Once the Giants go down by three or four touchdowns, don’t be surprised if you see some of the second- and third-string players out on the field!

Happy 2008, everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Okay, sports fans, even though it goes against my better nature, I was going to write another piece excoriating James Dolan, Isiah Thomas, and anything to do with the New York Knicks’ part of Madison Square Garden. (Hey, the Rangers are only a point out of first place, so at least SOMEONE at MSG knows what they are doing!) I know it doesn’t do any good to rant and rail against Dolan—he doesn’t listen to anyone but Thomas anyway, so why waste the space?—but it’s somewhat cathartic, and basketball fans can sympathize. Let’s face it, whether you love the Knicks or hate them, you must realize that their position as league laughingstock does more harm than help to the NBA as a whole.

Just my luck, Mike Lupica wrote a piece in the New York Daily News today that sums up how I feel perfectly. For your edification, I thought I’d post it here. (By the way, I discovered this week that there are quite a few sports fans that dislike Lupica—can’t figure out why, since I think his sports opinions are usually dead on. If any Lupica-haters are reading this, it’d be great if you could weigh in on why you feel that way and enlighten me.)

Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season!

For Knicks followers, change is fantasy

by Mike Lupica

James Dolan and Isiah Thomas have finally become a bad remake of a bad television show out of the past, the one known as “Fantasy Island.”

It really is just the two of them now, their own “Fantasy Island” off 33rd St. Except this isn’t some made up television show. This is the real thing, Dolan’s Garden. And with these people in charge, there is no chance at the kind of happy ending you used to get on television, just another season when the Knicks try to grub their way to a win total between 30 and 40, try to grub their way to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Dolan and Thomas are the only two people left in town who believe Thomas knows what he is doing with the Knicks. We are only 20 games into this, and the biggest headline so far, other than blowout losses, is that Thomas can’t coach any better than he can general-manage.

Somehow this matters deeply to everybody at the Garden except Dolan. He doesn’t listen to his fans, he doesn’t listen to anybody, with the exception of Thomas, who constantly tells him things are just swell.

Dolan and Isiah lost again Monday night. Lost twice, in fact. The Knicks lost another basketball game, this one to the Mavericks. They got blown out for only a half this time, instead of for an entire game, which gave Thomas the chance to focus on a brief comeback at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, making it sound as if the Knicks actually had a chance to come all the way back and win.

Anybody who was there knows better, saw in the first half that the Mavericks could do whatever they wanted to the Knicks, whenever they wanted. It was fitting that when the Knicks did get the Mavs’ lead down to seven for the last time, they immediately committed a turnover without getting a shot to the iron, then saw Josh Howard drive right down the middle for a layup, even laying out Eddy Curry along the way.

So that was the second loss of the day, after it was game, set, match for Dolan and Thomas against Anucha Browne Sanders once and for all, the official and humiliating end of her sexual harassment case against the two of them. Browne Sanders had already beaten them out of $11.6 million. But Dolan and Thomas, together always, vowed to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if they had to. Monday that all went away and Dolan had to write her a check.

Even then neither he nor his basketball coach had any grace.

At the fantasy Garden, Dolan issued a statement that said he paid only because NBA commissioner David Stern made him. Said the whole thing was a miscarriage of justice. Thomas once again said he was innocent. Which means that Dolan’s statement really should have read this way:

The commissioner has no idea what’s he’s talking about, but I’m paying her, anyway.

Of course. At the fantasy Garden, Dolan and Thomas are always right, everybody else is wrong. At the fantasy Garden, a failed comeback is always more significant than falling behind by 20 points in the first place. At the fantasy Garden, the coach gets into it with some fans near the Knicks bench and when called on that afterward in the interview room, he can’t even tell the truth about that.

He says he was just trying to focus his players.

Thomas loses two straight games to the 76ers, who hadn’t won two straight games all year, and after the second one, a 28-point loss at the Garden, he says, “We need better ball movement.”

And you scream at your television set, “From whom?” Which big ball mover is he talking about? Eddy Curry? Zach Randolph? Jamal Crawford? Stephon Marbury?

As always, in the dreamy world in which he and Dolan exist, you know he wants you to believe that this dysfunctional team put itself together. But that is what you do when you have run out of coaches to throw under the team bus to save yourself.

Thomas’ first big move, the one that will ultimately sink him, was to bring Marbury and his huge contract here. As soon as he did, he talked about all the expiring contracts he would soon have. Now, in a rather amazing irony, Thomas hopes to stick around long enough for Marbury himself to become one of those expiring contracts. Isiah Thomas has come full circle. While the Knicks just keep going in circles.

At the fantasy Garden, Dolan confuses stubbornness with loyalty. At the fantasy Garden, he compares Isiah Thomas to Glen Sather, someone who actually won and won big as a front-office guy before he got to New York.

At the fantasy Garden, Thomas hears people calling for him to be fired, night after night, and hears “passion.” So he doesn’t know what he is seeing at the Garden or what he is hearing. Knick fans treat him the way the jury treated him in that trial, which means they know he is the opposite of innocent.

Tuesday Thomas said this:

“I fight till I die. It’s not about giving up or quitting. To me it’s win or die. And I literally mean death. I don’t mean walk away, I mean death.”

As always, his own little world. His and Dolan’s. No one knows exactly what he means by all that big death talk. Knick fans just know the guy’s killing them.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Tainted 11: The Mitchell Report Looms

The Mitchell Report, the findings of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's 20-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use that has tarnished some of the game's greatest stars and records is going to be released to the public next week.
What will it tell us? Whose baseball careers, if any, will be ruined? How will it change the American pastime? And maybe most importantly, what will MLB do in response to the report?
Early leaks tell us that the report will reveal the names of 11 current free agents who took steroids.
Critics of the report are already lining up, denouncing the report as being one-sided and outdated, but one thing is for sure – major league players from across the continent are more than just a little concerned about what the document contains.
"Well, it ain't Merry Christmas or Happy New Year for somebody," Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
One question that a lot of people are asking is -- who is George Mitchell? The 74-year-old former chairman of The Walt Disney Company was once offered a spot on the Supreme Court by President Clinton and famously challenged Lt. Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings. He is a political veteran with an impressive pedigree.
But, what’s his agenda? Every politician has one. Will the report be objective? Is this thing going to be honest and candid, or are we looking at another Warren Report?
One thing that may taint Mitchell’s background is the fact that he is also a director with the World Series champion Red Sox, a role players say makes him hopelessly conflicted and a pawn of Commissioner Bud Selig, who appointed him. Players also claim Mitchell refused to show those accused the evidence he had against them, denying them a chance to refute the allegations.
For now, Selig claims not to know what's inside the report. Suffice to say, midway between Boston wrapping up the Fall Classic and the start of spring training, there are plenty of jittery people around the majors.
"Obviously, it can't be really good," New York Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "If there's some really, really big names I'm sure it's going to be a real impact in some ways."
Outfielders Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons, linked in media reports to receiving human growth hormone, were suspended Thursday for the first 15 days of next season. The penalties are an indication how baseball might treat any players named by Mitchell.
Although some say Bonds' home run record -- and milestone ball -- should be marked with an asterisk, Mitchell noted the Hall of Fame vote in which Mark McGwire was picked on just 23.5 percent of ballots, nowhere near the 75 percent needed for induction.
That election in January was considered the first test on how history will view a period when bulked-up stars amassed bulked-up stats.
"If nothing else, the results of the Hall of Fame voting last week, and the reaction to it, offer fresh evidence that this issue will not just fade away," Mitchell said then. "Whether you think it fair or not, whether you think it justified or not, Major League Baseball has a cloud over its head, and that cloud will not just go away."
To some, the drumbeat of suspicion is falling on deaf ears. A lot of people no longer care about this subject.
"Now when it comes out, more people seem to be numb to it," said former Milwaukee manager Ned Yost: "I don't care one way or the other, to be honest with you."
Hired by Selig in March 2006, Mitchell and his staff spent millions of dollars interviewing people and collecting evidence. Their task: Provide a history of what happened off the diamond during a time when home run marks that had lasted for decades fell as suddenly strong sluggers changed the balance between pitchers and hitters.
Previously undisclosed names could be tied to steroids and HGH, thanks to the cooperation of former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. A national investigation led by the Albany, N.Y., district attorney's office also is believed to have provided evidence to Mitchell.
Active players largely have resisted cooperating -- the Yankees' Jason Giambi is the only one known to have spoken to the inquiry. Although this wasn't exactly Sing Along with Mitch, retired players have spoken with Mitchell, who did not have subpoena power.
Selig's decision to launch an official investigation followed the release of "Game of Shadows," in which San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams said Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs for at least five seasons beginning in 1998.
Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron's career home run record in August, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges he lied to federal investigators about using performance-enhancing drugs.
The home run king was arraigned in U.S. District Court on four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice stemming from a Nov. 15 indictment. If convicted, he could spend more than two years in prison.
Bonds, currently a free agent who hopes to play in 2008, has denied knowingly using illegal performance enhancers. He nonetheless became the face of steroid allegations while dozens of other major and minor leaguers tested positive.
"I think we're all eager to get this era behind us and to get steroids out of this game, growth hormone out of the game, get things that change the competitive balance other than hard work and a desire to be the best ballplayer you can be," Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
To former World Anti-Doping Agency leader Dick Pound, baseball is an outlaw sport, refusing to agree to WADA's standards for testing and discipline.
But athletes in U.S. team sports, protected by collective bargaining agreements and American labor laws, have no interest in international standards.
"I think if you look at attendance, if you look at the health of the game right now, that would suggest that fans have digested what information exists and perhaps assumed that the problem has been addressed, at least for the moment," San Diego Padres chief executive officer Sandy Alderson said.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

I wanted to thank Ed so much for weighing in on the best team in the NFC after my last post. As much as it pains me to write it again, this past week, by thumping Green Bay, the Cowboys proved it—they are the best in the conference. Where did Tony Romo come from? I want that guy on MY team! Romo (along with the likes of Tom Brady) goes to show us all what a completely inexact science the draft is—more confirmation that the people in sports don’t really know as much as they think they do (or as much as they want you to think they do).

But back to Dallas. This Cowboys team is so good that, unlike San Diego, they are able to overcome their creampuff of a coach, Wade Phillips, and still kick some butt. I admit to being very surprised by this. At the beginning of the season, I think I ragged on both the Cowboys and Chargers for their choices of new head coaches. Seems like I was only half right. Somehow, Phillips is enjoying a career year as a coach, and this previous T.O. Team Turmoil is running smoothly on all cylinders. Meanwhile, in the AFC, the Chargers are still on top of the West, but they are not nearly living up to their billing after going 14–2 last year under Marty Schottenheimer. This team possibly has more talent than the Cowboys, but they continue to struggle toward the end of the season as if they were wading in molasses and their esteemed coach, Norv Turner, has them headed for playoff oblivion.

Yeah, yeah, I know some of you might be thinking, “Ah, well, the Packers would’ve beat Dallas if Brett Favre hadn’t been injured in the second quarter.” I submit to you that this sentiment is just a bunch of hooey. What about the Packers’ defense? It seemed stymied by the Dallas offensive attack. And speaking of offensive, it’s amazing that the word can be used in this connotation rather than its more “offensive” meaning, as it is usually applied to Terrell Owens. Ever since Bill Parcells left the Cowboys, T.O. has had the biggest ego in the room. Since there is no other ego with which he might clash (his ego is plainly many times the size of Creampuff Phillips’s), he has subsequently kept his mouth shut and let his play do the talking for a change. Unprecedented!

Is Dallas good enough to get to the Super Bowl? Probably. Are the ’Boys good enough to win? Only if they get really, really lucky.…

SEASONINGS: Other notes from around the league:

A real shame about Sean Taylor. And a shame that the criminal element is once again being associated with the NFL, no matter how innocent (or not) the involved player may be. With the way the Redskins lost in the final seconds to Buffalo, you wonder if they’re done for the season after this emotionally draining time.

Watch those Vikings! After their second impressive win in a row (smoking Detroit a week after picking off Eli Manning four times and crushing the Giants), Minnesota is back in the playoff picture. With the return of RB Adrian Peterson and a remaining schedule featuring some reeling teams, the Vikes have a chance to go on a bit of a run for one of the wild cards.

I can’t believe the Giants beat the Bears when Eli Manning looked worse than Rex Grossman for most of the game. But when it counted, the Giants defense held the Bears to a minimum of points and “Too Easy” Eli had enough left to lead two touchdown drives in the last 7 minutes, saving Tom Coughlin’s job in the process.

After losing to the Jets, I think the Dolphins are going to go winless! I guess it’s a weird kind of symmetry to match their unbeaten season in 1972—something to take the wind out of the sails of anyone who wants to brag about 1972 today. Also, the 1972 record could be threatened this year anyway—by the Patriots—adding another layer of intrigue to the Dolphins’ struggles.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The BCS is B.S.!

This whole BCS thing is a big load B.S as far as I’m concerned. Why NCAA Div. I football won’t embrace the idea of a playoff system is beyond me and this season should be a prime example of why such a format is needed. The powers that be in college football should be ashamed of themselves – how long are you going to drag this sport down and hold fans throughout the country hostage? People want a clear-cut winner and it’s not rocket science to figure out how it should be done.
All of the lower-level divisions in college football have a playoff system. It works well and takes all of the guesswork out of the equation. You have one champion who got there by winning the tournament. You don’t need a computer to tell you who the best team is.
Besides, have you tried to figure out the method that this computer uses to determine who the two top teams are? Albert Einstein would have problems understanding it on his best day. It’s a mish mash of things like strength of schedule, opponents’ records – and a whole lot of other stuff that nerds at MIT would probably have difficulty grasping.
When the season started out, everybody was talking about USC. But, they lost to Stanford. Then it was LSU. Then THE Ohio State University. West Virginia got some recognition for a while there, as did Oregon and Arizona State. But, they all lost. After that, everybody got excited about Cinderella teams like Kansas and Missouri. All of them fell like dominos during the course of the season. But, in the end it will be Ohio State and LSU in the Finale – two teams that were in, out and now back in again.
And what about Hawaii? Why doesn't a legitimate star quarterback like Colt Brennan (see photo) deserve a chance to play on the big stage? Just like Boise State last year, Hawaii ran the table without losing a game, but don’t get to go to the Big Show because they play in what’s considered a weaker league and don’t merit a shot at the championship. That too, is B.S., in my opinion.
So, now that we have these big-wigs’ attention, how about a playoff system? I’ve heard all the objections to such a system and have a response for each.
Objection #1: The bowl games are traditional and sacred and cannot be jeopardized.
Response: A playoff system won’t hurt the bowl games. Use the bigger bowl games as playoff games and then create one Championship Game to be played in a different city each year, so that fans from all over the country can get a chance to see it.
Objection #2: The season will be too long if we have a playoff tournament at the end.
Response: You call yourself colleges? How hard is this to figure out? You shorten the season to nine games, eliminating the normally lopsided non-conference games that are stuck in there to fill out a schedule and are customarily blowouts (exception: Michigan vs. Appalachia State). A 16-team playoff would only add four more games to the schedule, with only two teams playing in the fourth and final one.
Objection #3: How would the playoff money be distributed?
Response: Well, now we’ve come to the real question. All along, it’s been all about the money. Every conference wants what they feel they deserve, and in the end – let’s admit it – they’re all greedy. So, what you do is take every conference in football – regardless of how many teams from each of them is in the playoffs – and you distribute it evenly. Sure the Pac 10 and the Big Ten will object. Who cares?
So, that’s my take on the concept. Select 16 teams and let them knock the crap out of each other. The last one standing wins. Let it be decided on the field and not by some passionless computer. This way, everybody wins.