Monday, December 22, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

It sure has been a busy holiday season! Hope everyone out there is having good holidays!

So here we are right before the last week of the NFL regular season. Before their stunning overtime win against Carolina yesterday, the Giants had dropped two straight games to division rivals, and both offense and defense looked punchless against the Eagles and Cowboys. Yes, the whole Plaxico Burress situation brought Big Blue’s confidence and offensive ability down a notch, but I think too many people discount the injuries to the team that have held them in check a little for the last couple of games. Regarding the defensive line—yes, Matthias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck are great pass rushers, but in my opinion, the two defensive tackles, Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield do not get their due, and when Robbins was out two of the last three games with a shoulder injury, the defense definitely suffered.

But the injury that might have cost the Giants the most (and kept their attitude in check) was running back Brandon Jacobs. Without Jacobs or Burress against Dallas, the Cowboys defense took it to the Giants. This week, Jacobs’s return paved the way for 301 rushing yards—the most in 49 years for the Jints—215 by Derrick Ward. The fact is that in order for the Giants’ rushing attack to be at its best, they need the use of all three members of the “Earth, Wind, and Fire” backfield. Though Jacobs had only 80 yards compared to Ward, it is his presence that softens up the defense and lets Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw do their damage.

Now the Giants have the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, and the Cowboys are barely clinging to playoff life after losing to Baltimore on Saturday. Even though the ’Boys have a chance, is there really anyone who thinks they can win the Super Bowl? After giving up two touchdown runs of 77 or more yards in the final 3:50 of the game against the Ravens? I think not! Even though Dallas beat the Giants last week, I’d bet the Jints could handle them easily in the cold at Giants Stadium if the two teams actually met up in the postseason.

The G-men just need to stick to the ground game in the cold weather and let Eli Manning carry them when he has to, and they should be ready to make another run. Also, the defeat of Carolina may play on the Panthers’ minds if they meet the Giants in the playoffs. Of course, anything can happen on any given Sunday (or Saturday), so you never know what could happen, but I feel pretty confident that the Giants will be right there in the conference game, challenging to make their second straight appearance in the Big Dance.

SEASONINGS: I just have to comment on the Mets’ hot-stove league signings of J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. After all the Mets’ meltdowns in the late innings last year, these two guys could go a long way toward finishing games for the bullpen. But I read that K-Rod is actually looking forward to the boos that might find him at Citi Field if he falters, and he plans on using them for any needed motivation. Yeah, right! I’ve seen better men than K-Rod felled by the fans’ antagonism at Shea—it will be no different at the new park. And while I hate the fact that Mets fans boo their own players during tough times, I can’t see that playing in a new park will keep fans quiet if the Mets stumble. Good luck, J.J. and Frankie!

Something else I just have to mention—does anyone remember how I bashed the Chargers for signing Norv Turner as coach and the Cowboys for signing Wade Phillips in the same capacity? These two teams are coming up far short of expectations this year, and both coaches are rumored to have the ax hanging overhead. No surprise! Turner has taken his very talented team nowhere—he does not have the strength of personality to ever succeed as anything more than an offensive coordinator—and no way can Cream-Puff Phillips handle all the massive egos the Cowboys have gathered together and called a team. Could anyone have seen it coming? “Yo, Meathead!”

Lastly, in response to Ed’s Super Bowl prediction, below, what else can I say after singing the Giants’ praises all season? Even though I am always reluctant to make predictions, Ed, ya talked me into it! I think it will be Giants–Steelers, and of course, Big Blue will win!

My Super Bowl Predictions

In this year's Super Bowl, I like Carolina in the NFC and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC. I know they both lost this past weekend, but I just feel like they are the two teams that stand out to me right now. The NY Giants, the Patriots and the Titans will all be tough, but in the end, I believe it will be a Panther-Steelers Super Bowl!

What do you think, Meat?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Holy guacamole! Is there a bigger jerk in the NFL right now than Plaxico Burress? From Super Bowl to Super Bust!

Good ol’ Plax found a way to get me off writing article after article praising the New York Giants. Now I can rip him up.

I mean, what was this guy thinking? It’s pretty hard to fall so low from heights so high after catching the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl last year. How stupid do you have to be, not only to break New York gun laws by bringing a loaded but unregistered firearm into a crowded nightclub, but then to shoot yourself in the leg with the gun? Even if the weapon was registered, Burress has shown the world that he’s way too dumb to own a gun. Why wasn’t the weapon’s safety on? He could be considered a worse ass than Terrell Owens or Chad Ocho Cinco (Johnson), because at least those two prima donnas never brought guns into their selfish little worlds (that we know of).

Now Burress has possibly cost himself as much as $27 million, which he could lose out on if the Giants franchise decides it’s had enough. While General Manager Jerry Reese left the door slightly open on a Plaxico redux, my guess here is that Burress will not play another down in a Giants uniform, even if he avoids jail time. The Giants were probably just covering themselves in case the players’ union starts crying that the team terminated him unfairly, or without due process, or whatever sad excuse they can come up with. But this franchise has a history of class, and I’d bet that this new generation of Giants owners will do the right thing, just like their dads. Sayonara, Plax! Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out!

I’ve seen a lot of sportswriters this past week say the Giants are toast, and with all the distractions, including linebacker Antonio Pierce’s involvement the night of the shooting, there’s no way they can repeat as champions. I say, let’s see what happens against the Eagles on Sunday. If the Giants can win decisively, or even come back from a deficit in the final minutes (and clinch the NFC East and a playoff spot in the process), I’d say the team is going to be fine, and they will be just as dangerous come the playoffs. If the Giants falter this week, then anything goes—they could still win it all, or another team (Dallas, Pittsburgh, Tennessee) could find a way to halt the juggernaut. Let’s face it—Big Blue has never made the playoffs the year after a Super Bowl appearance, so just doing that would be a victory of a sort for the franchise. But I doubt highly that staff, players, and fans would be too satisfied with a one-and done-performance, or even a loss in the NFC Championship Game. With an 11–1 record at this point, I think anything less than a Super Bowl appearance would be considered something of a flop.

As for Burress, the question now is whether or not he goes to prison, and if so, will it end a promising career far short of where it could have gone? Is Plaxico Burress done in the NFL, or will he get another shot—this year, or some other time, down the line?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

So baseball has been over for a few weeks, and the NFL is starting to rev up toward its inevitable regular-season conclusion six weeks from now. The races are starting to come clearer. As of this moment, in the AFC, only Pittsburgh and Tennessee seem like locks to make the playoffs. The Jets are doing great, but the rest of the AFC East is no more than 2 games back and there are enough teams close in the conference that maybe even a wild card is no sure thing. (Who’d have ever guessed after 10 games this season that the Dolphins would be tied with the Patriots at 6–4 and only a game out of first place?)

In the NFC, things seem a little plainer--the Giants, Cardinals, Panthers, and Bucs all figure to make the playoffs this year. I make no predictions on the NFC North--the Packers, Bears, and Vikings are all tied for first at 5–5, with the Lions dead last at 0–10. Pretty miserable division! Seems like Brett Favre’s departure for New York left a power vacuum that no one else wants to fill.

I am looking forward to seeing how the stretch run plays out, if for no other reason than to see if the Giants can finish strong and head into the playoffs on a high note like they did last year. They have to play Arizona this afternoon, and they still have three division games left against tough opponents. Still, the Giants and the Titans seem like they are playing at another level than the rest of the NFL this year--still think the Giants’ Super Bowl win last year was a fluke?--and if this ends up being the matchup in this season’s Big Dance, it would be a title bout for the ages. The Titans might be the only team the Giants could meet and still claim that they are the underdogs--their “us against the world” mentality is what propelled them to their great upset victory against the Patriots last season.

I know, I know, my fans (?) might be getting tired of what they could see as many puff pieces on the Giants, but what can I say? The Mets let me down hard. The A’s were out of it by the All-Star break last year. The Knicks still stink, and until they find a way to dump Stephon Marbury, they won’t ever be able to wash the reek of carrion from their franchise. And while the Dolphins look pretty good, they can’t hold a candle to the bulldozer that is Big Blue, so my attention remains riveted on the Meadowlands. Sorry, folks! But unless the baseball offseason gets a little more interesting (yeah, I know, the A’s got Matt Holliday) or the Knicks find a way to make me take even the slightest interest in hoops again, I’ll be plastering these pages with more praise of Eli and Co. in the weeks to come!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nate Knows Baseball

I have interviewed almost 50 retired major league baseball players throughout the years and few have made me feel as comfortable as Nate Oliver. A soft-spoken and extremely articulate man, I have talked to him on several occasions after meeting with him initially in early 2005. His stories of his years as a player and a coach are both fascinating and candid.

Nate is the son of Jim Oliver Sr., who had played in the Negro Leagues. James Oliver Field in St. Petersburg, named after Nate's father, was the first field to be refurbished under the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Field Renovation Programs. Nate's brother, Jim, also played professional baseball.
Nate was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959. He hit just .224 for the Green Bay Blue Jays and Fox Cities Foxes that year. In 1960, he hit .329 for the Great Falls Electrics and appeared ever so briefly for the St. Paul Saints. He played in the minors for the Spokane Indians in 1961-65 and in 1967, topping .300 in '62-'63. He came up to the majors for the first time in 1963, a year the Dodgers won the World Series. He appeared in 65 games, playing primarily second base, and hitting .239. He did not play in the World Series that year.
The next year, in 1964 at age 23, Nate had his most at-bats in the major leagues, getting 321 at-bats in 99 games. He hit .243 with 9 doubles and stole 7 bases.
In 1965 he appeared in only 8 games with the Dodgers, but in 1966 he played in 80 games with a .193 average. He appeared in game 4 of the World Series as a pinch-runner.
In 1967, his batting average improved to .237 in 77 games. In the off-season, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants in the deal involving Ron Hunt and Tom Haller. He appeared in only 36 games in 1968, hitting .178/.189/.205.
In the off-season before 1969, he was traded to the Yankees, and played one game with them before they traded him to the Cubs, where he finished out his career in 44 games hitting .159.In 1989, Oliver managed the Arizona League Angels, and in 1990-91 he was at the helm of the Palm Springs Angels. In 1998, Oliver managed the Arizona League Cubs and in 1999 managed the Daytona Cubs, and in 2000 was a roving infield instructor in the Cubs organization. In 2003, he took over the managerial reins of the Saskatoon Legends of the Canadian Baseball League in mid-season from Ron LeFlore.
In 2006-07 Nate was the bunting instructor for the Chicago White Sox organization.
On former Cubs teammate Ron Santo: “I cannot believe this man is not in the Hall of Fame. If you look at what Ronnie has done-he won 8 Gold Gloves, he was in 6 or 8 all-star games, he has 378 home runs, he might still have the best fielding percentage of any third baseman, I think he still holds that record. He was no average Joe. He was an outstanding player. He was our team captain. I don’t know what else they want the guy to do.”
On the Cubs fans: “Oh, Jesus. Everybody always talks about the Cardinals fans, the Yankees fans, the Red Sox fans, but the Chicago Cubs fans to me were the very best. They were the greatest. Until this year (2004) I had never heard them boo one of their own players, but this year I did hear them boo Sammy (Sosa) which was sad. I thought I heard them boo Sammy this last season. But, as a rule, they never booed their own players. They were just unbelievably supportive. But, I don’t need to tell you that, because wherever you go, you see Cubs fans. It’s like it was with the Red Sox fans. You’d see them everywhere-praying, dreaming, hoping. And now that the Red Sox have won it all, people are starting to say that it must be the Cubs’ time. If they don’t win it within the next six years, it will be a century of no championships for the Cubs.”
On the Dodgers in the ‘60s: “The Dodgers were known around the league as a very arrogant team at that time. People said they were very conceited, but it wasn’t that at all. They were just really confident and people misinterpreted that as arrogance. It was instilled in them from the first day with the organization and the people who played there respected the tradition and fostered it. Every year, there was only goal and that was to get to the World Series. Everything else was second best.”
The famous Roseboro, Marichal fight: “We had Johnny Roseboro, probably the most respected guy on that team, because he was such a tremendous student of the game and when he spoke, regardless of who was in the room, everybody listened, because everything he said was profound. Marichal and Roseboro were probably two of the most respected men in baseball. They were also the two most competitive people in sports, period. They were also two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet, in terms of being human beings and in terms of being gentlemen. If you recall or have heard the story, because of that fight and the fact than Juan hit Johnny with the bat, Marichal was having some initial problems getting into the Hall of Fame. And it was Roseboro who made the phone call to the powers-that-be and said ‘are you kidding, this is one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen.’ That was an isolated incident between two clubs who did not like each other and it was part of that rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers.”

The self-managed Dodgers of 1963: “Junior Gilliam was essentially the manager on the field. He had no problem taking on that role. If a pitcher was in trouble out there and something was going awry, Gilliam would step up immediately and act as the manager. Our pitching coach Red Adams would only come running out if he saw something mechanically wrong with the pitcher. Because if a pitcher fell behind; if he was wild or his concentration level wasn’t there, it would be Gilliam that would call time and walk over to the mound. All our manager Walter Alston had to do was sit there and push buttons, because we had so many guys like Gilliam, Maury Wills, Jim Lefebvre and Roseboro who were such tremendous students of the game of baseball.”

On teammate Maury Wills: “He was so valuable to that Dodgers team, because when he got on base, everybody knew he was going to steal. You can’t imagine how exciting it was to hear 55,000 people at Dodger stadium yelling ‘Go! Go!’. If 55,000 people knows he’s going to go, then you know the opposing team certainly knows it. But, it didn’t matter, because they couldn’t stop him. He was going to go within the first three pitches; they just didn’t know when. What Wills did was create havoc for the other team. He got more fastballs for me and anyone else who batted behind him in the lineup. He also drew the infielders in because of his speed. And he kept the defense on edge at all times, which basically means that they were distracted and out of position. As a result, ground balls that would normally have been routine infield outs are now going through as base hits, because they’re defending Wills and not defending the hitter. He did so many things just by being so aggressive and by being the greatest base stealer I ever saw.”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Wow, the first week of November! Did everyone have a Happy Halloween? We sure did at our house!

I can’t say how unhappy I am that the Phillies won the World Series, but I guess they earned it—by the end of it all, they were clearly the best team in baseball. Of course, it galls me greatly to have to say that about a Philadelphia team.… Too bad the only thing I have to hide myself behind in the New York–Philadelphia rivalry is the Giants’ last Super Bowl win, since the Eagles went to the Big Dance only once out of four appearances in the NFC Championship Game from 2002 to 2005 and lost that game to the Patriots.

It will be a grueling season for the Mets next year, having to hear all about the Phillies’ big win—but then, the Mets haven’t done much to endear themselves to the rest of the NL East with their celebratory antics the last couple of years. Their division rivals all feel extra-motivated to beat them due to their immature posturing. Maybe seeing the Phillies with some championship bling will finally make the Mets more serious about winning and less concerned with antagonizing the other teams in the league.

So—now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s go on to the more pleasant (at least, for me) subject of football! Even as I write, the early slate of games is playing itself out, but the game I’m looking forward to this afternoon is Dallas–New York—another notch in the long history of games between these two rivals (even though the Cowboys have bested the Giants in their overall regular-season series, it’s always fun to point out now that the only time the teams met in the playoffs—last year—the Giants won). I am hoping the Giants can turn on the dominance and once and for all put to rest all those early predictions that said the Cowboys were the team to beat in the NFC and had the best shot of going to the Super Bowl. Even before this upcoming game, who would you be more likely to pick as a really good team, the 6–1 Giants or the 5–3 Cowboys?

I understand the Cowboys have injuries (and a suspension) to deal with—everyone does at this point of the season—which is why depth also matters. Maybe Jerry Jones should hire himself a general manager and take a step back for a change. He’s getting more like Al Davis every day, and look where the Raiders are right now!

After their terrific showing on defense last week in defeating a hard-as-nails Pittsburgh team (possible Super Bowl preview, anybody?), more strong defensive play from the Giants and home-field advantage, as well as Tony Romo’s broken hand, should tip this one in favor of Big Blue. With a 7–1 record at the halfway point of their season, it will be tough for anyone to question that the G-men are the tops in the NFC, and perhaps in the NFL, Tennessee’s undefeated record notwithstanding.

SEASONINGS: Anyone know the last time the Giants—or any team—had a safety in two consecutive games? That’s some defense!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Talking Frankly with Herman Franks

A left-handed hitter who threw right-handed, Herman Franks broke into baseball with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1932, but he was soon acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals and joined their large farm system. All you really need to know about his playing career was that he played primarily as a backup and finished with a batting average of .199 with three home runs in 188 games over parts of six seasons. In 1949 Franks landed his first coaching assignment, as an aide to Leo Durocher with the New York Giants. He was a member of two National League championship clubs (1951, 1954) and one World Series (1954) title team through 1955. According to author Joshua Prager in his 2006 book The Echoing Green, Franks played a critical role in the Giants' Bobby Thomson's famous pennant-winning home run in the 1951 NL playoffs -- Baseball's Shot Heard Round The World. According to Prager, Franks was stationed in the Giants' centerfield clubhouse at the Polo Grounds, their home field, stealing the opposing catcher's signs through a telescope and relaying them through second-string catcher Sal Yvars (who was stationed in the bullpen) to the Giants' coaches and hitters. When asked where he was when Thomson hit his home run, Franks said, in 1996, that he was "doing something for Durocher" at the time.
Whatever his role may have been on that day, Franks was known as a devotee of Durocher-style, win-at-any-cost baseball, including intimidation through flying spikes and brush back pitching. Author Roger Kahn quoted Dodger outfielder Carl Furillo that Franks would poke his head into the Brooklyn clubhouse to taunt Furillo that Giant pitchers would throw at his head during that day's game. Furillo, whose hatred for Durocher was so intense that he would engage Durocher in a fistfight in the Giant dugout filled with enemy players, said of the Giants, in Peter Golenbock's book Bums, "They were dirty ballplayers ... They all wanted to be like Durocher, to copy Durocher. That Herman Franks, he was another one."
Franks' four seasons (1965-68) as manager of the San Francisco Giants, and produced four frustrating second-place finishes in the National League. The club won 95, 93, 91 and 88 games and finished 2, 1½, 10½ and 9 games behind the league champions. He then coached nd managed off and on for the Chicago Cubs over an 11-year period. Although Franks compiled a poor record as a player, he notched a winning record as a manager - 605-521, .537.
On his role in the Thomson home run: “They say that I stole Brooklyn’s signs that day and I’ve never admitted to anything. And I never will. There’s been a lot of talk about it since ’51. People don’t ever get tired of talking about it. I must have talked to this writer Prager more than 50 times. He even flew out here to Salt Lake City to interview me. Prager researched the hell out of that story, let me tell you. I read things in there I didn’t know. Sal Ivars has blabbed all over the place, but no one else has talked. Alvin Dark didn’t talk; I didn’t talk; Whitey Lockman wouldn’t say nothing about it. But, there are a lot of them still alive who did a lot of talking. When Bobby hit that ball it was one of the highlights of my baseball career.”
His relationship with the Brooklyn Dodgers’Carl Furillo: “Carl Furillo died a broken man; mad at the world. He got blackballed and was angry at the world. He couldn’t get another job in baseball and he blamed it on everybody but himself. He said a lot of bullshit about me. In those days, we all jawed back and forth. The Dodgers had some tough pitchers in those days, Don Newcombe especially, and everyone threw at each other and knocked each other down all the time. You protected yourself. They were fiercely competitive in those days, Brooklyn and the Giants. Those two teams hated each other. In those days, there was a league rule—if you talked to the other teams’ players out on the field, you got fined. It’s not like today where the players chum around with each other; not at all. Now they go out to dinner with each other after the game; they’re all buddy-buddy.’ It’s just different now.”

About steroids and managing the game today: “I am so sick of them talking about steroids. Barry Bonds is one of the best damn hitters I ever saw. He can flat ass hit. And he set all those records when there was no law against them, right? A lot of this bullshit wouldn’t go on if I was still managing. Maybe I couldn’t manage today’s game the way it is, I don’t know. I think the players are managing the managers today—agents telling the managers when they can pitch their pitchers, and all that kind of bullshit. That wouldn’t go with me. And the money—the most I made as a manager was $125,000, with the Cubs, which at the time made me one of the highest paid managers at the time. Now they get millions”
Bench jockeying: “Durocher was a helluva bench jockey, that’s well known. But, in those days you could holler from the bench. ‘Stick it in his ear,” stuff like that. ‘Knock him down!’ You don’t dare say that today. Hell, I seen Leo walk up to the plate and get knocked down four straight times. He never complained. Everybody hollered at each other!”
The 1965 Giants: “The best team I ever managed, except I didn’t have a shortstop or a second baseman. We couldn’t make a double play. If I had had that I would have won the pennant all four years. We tried out a bunch of shortstops and second basemen, but we couldn’t find anyone to fill the holes there. We had five hall of famers on that team—Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. I taught Gaylord Perry how to throw that spitball; that’s what made him. We won 90 games three times during those four seasons and finished second each time. Today you win 90 games and you’re in the playoffs.”
(Parts of this article are from Wikipedia and

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

So it seems as if after five weeks and four games, the NFL pundits are finally willing to cede some respect to the New York Giants. After starting the season anywhere from 4 to 10 in the experts’ power rankings even after winning last year’s Super Bowl (only one site I saw, a personal sports site, had the Giants ranked at the top at the beginning of the season), let’s see where the champs sit now. On—the Giants are #1. On Sports Illustrated’s web page—#1. CBS Sportsline—#1. Fox Sports—#1. NBC Sports? They have three columns of rankings, for their NFL TV team’s picks, the NBC Sports overall picks, and fan picks—and the Giants are #1 across the board.

Now, I don’t want to get too cocky—it’s true that Big Blue has had a pretty easy schedule so far. Some will argue that the Redskins were the only real challenge, and since it was the first game of the season, no one had any idea that the ’Skins had it in them to be good this year, for a change. Others will say that the Giants almost lost to the still-winless Bengals. Also true, but that game was in week 3, and the 0–2 Bengals were desperate for a win to salvage any hopes of making the playoffs this year. (Now that they have no hope, they also don’t have much fight.)

The Jints’ other games? The Rams? Hah! Also winless. The Seahawks? Well, no one knew how the ’Hawks would be this year. They started out with a bevy of injuries, but they supposedly had almost their full complement, including both starting wideouts, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, when they played the Giants last Sunday. Meanwhile, the G-men were without their number-one receiver, Plaxico Burress, who went and got himself suspended for violating team rules, and, lest we forget, they are without the services of one of their best defensive linemen, Osi Umenyiora, for the season. The result? A 44–6 whupping of Seattle that gave the Giants’ their biggest point differential in a win since 1972 and their most yardage since 1964!

(As a side note, we invited some of our neighbors, Seahawks fans, over to watch the game. While I had a blast, the game wasn’t too much fun for them. Nevertheless, they had a good time—I hope!—with our hospitality, and especially with my wife’s velvet crumb cake!)

This week, on Monday night, the Giants play Cleveland, and next week, it’s San Francisco. I realize anything can happen in any game, but there’s a decent chance that New York will head into its first big challenge of the season, against the Cowboys, at 6–0. While the ’Boys look good, it’s hard to say they’re on the same level as the Giants, considering all the holes in the Dallas defense, and the Giants offense just looks great. I’m not predicting an unbeaten regular season, as the Patriots had last year, but barring injuries, I can see 13–3 or 12–4 for New York. After Dallas, the Giants will still have four more division games to play, including rematches with the Redskins and Cowboys, and though the Eagles are 2–3, they always play the Giants tough. As I stated in this column before, to the know-it-alls who gave the Giants no respect, don’t be surprised if they make another run at a title, as long as everyone stays healthy. After years of suffering through Dave Brown and Danny Kanell, it is satisfying to have a quarterback who looks as confident as Eli Manning, as well as a dazzling array of weapons on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I’ll say it again—defensive end Justin Tuck is a monster!

SEASONINGS: By the way, I can’t say enough about how fantastic it is to have Joe Torre in the NLCS with the Dodgers after the Yankees shafted him last year. In case you didn’t notice, the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs this season, even with their astronomical payroll, while the Dodgers played great under Torre. I’m hoping they can make some progress against the Phillies, who currently lead the series 1–0, and make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Although I feel bad for the Cubs, I just want someone—anyone!—to eliminate those darn Phillies! Good luck to Ed, who will have to suffer through another awful Rams season once the Dodgers are done, and could really use a Dodgers World Series title to salve the wounds of this year in football for him.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Can L.A. Dodge the SI Cover Curse?

I am so excited about the Dodgers being in the National League Championship Series that I can’t even tell you. I have waited 20 years for this to happen and tomorrow it is finally here. I was very hopeful of their chances against the Phillies until I went down to collect the mail this afternoon. When I saw Manny Ramirez on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I nearly lost control of my bowels.
Nothing will kill a team worse that the SI cover curse. You think the Chicago Cubs are cursed? Steve Bartman is their guardian angel and the legendary goat is a blessing compared to the Sports Illustrated cover curse. It has ruined careers, caused teams to fold like omelets and wreaked havoc on sports stars and their teams for well over 5 decades.
My only hope is that none of the Dodger players will see the SI cover. But, what are the chances of that? Joe Torre needs to hold a meeting and address the situation immediately. Why couldn’t they have put the Bosox or the Rays on their cover! This is the worst thing that could ever possibly happen.
This is an interesting article that appeared yesterday on the Sports Network:
An old rivalry will be renewed when the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers square off on Thursday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park.
These teams have met in this round on three other occasions, but this will be their first playoff meeting since the Wheeze Kids Phils defeated the Dodgers, 3-1, to advance to the 1983 World Series.
Los Angeles, though, defeated the Phillies the first two times these teams squared off in NLCS play.
Unfortunately, the winner of the past three LCS matchups between these two has gone on to lose the World Series.
These teams split their eight meetings in the regular season, with each squad capturing a four-game sweep at home.
As an introduction to this NLCS matchup, let's take a look at the keys to winning the series for both clubs:
As has been the case since he arrived in Los Angeles, as goes Manny Ramirez, so go the Dodgers. Ramirez continued his strong play down the stretch into the NLDS, where he hit .500 in the sweep of the Cubs, belting two home runs with three RBI.
The Dodgers hope Ramirez can duplicate his numbers from last year's ALCS, when he hit .409 with a pair of home runs and 10 RBI for the Red Sox in their seven-game win over Cleveland. He is a lifetime .319 hitter in LCS play with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in 39 games.
If Joe Torre has his way he is going to pitch Derek Lowe three times this series. There were few pitchers hotter down the stretch than Lowe, who won six of his last seven decisions. He carried that strong finish into his Game 1 effort against the Cubs, who managed just two runs in six innings.
The lefty- heavy Phillies lineup has traditionally battered right-handed pitching. However, despite Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell all boasting averages better than .300 against Lowe, none of them has taken him deep.
Now if these two still aren't hitting this might not be much of a problem, but either way, who on the Dodgers' staff is going to face them late in a game? How about 20-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw?
Kershaw has electric stuff and won his final three decisions of the year, but was not used in the NLDS. Torre could use Kershaw in a Game 4 start, but depending on the situation he may opt to use Lowe on short rest in that spot.
If the Philadelphia Phillies have one question heading into this series, it is what the heck is going on with Utley and Ryan Howard?
After going 2-for-11 in last year's sweep at the hands of the Rockies, Utley has again seen his bat go silent, managing just two hits in 15 at-bats against the Brewers. However, he had perhaps the biggest hit of Game 1, a two-run double that probably should have been caught by center fielder Mike Cameron.
The Dodgers could be the perfect team for Utley to break out against. He batted .355 with two homers against the Dodgers this year and is .339 lifetime against them for his career.
Howard, meanwhile, had another MVP campaign, basically strapping the Phils to his back in September. But, once again he is struggling here in October. Howard managed just two hits in 11 at-bats. Unlike Utley, though, he rarely got a pitch to hit and walked five times against the Brewers
Facing Lowe won't be an easy task for Howard, who is just 2-for-16 lifetime against him.
As much as Utley and Howard struggled in the NLDS, Rollins and Shane Victorino thrived. Rollins batted .375 with two runs scored, while Victorino hit .357 with a grand slam in Game 2.
If those two continue to get on base and Utley and Howard come around, this could be a short series.
Brad Lidge has made things interesting lately for Philadelphia. Rarely does he get a 1-2-3 inning, but he still hasn't blown a save and is a perfect 43- for-43 in save opportunities this season.
However, a lot of people still remember that mammoth home run Albert Pujols hit off of him in the 2005 NLCS. Could we have another moment like that should he have to get Ramirez out in a big spot?
Lidge has been bending an awful lot as of late, but until he breaks you can't complain.
10/08 10:53:52 ET

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tommy Lasorda Gets No Love from San Francisco's Italians

We've seen some pretty amusing pieces of legislation out of the Board of Supervisors, but this one beats them all: Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier wants organizers of the San Francisco Italian American parade to boot Tommy Lasorda as grand marshal. And my initial question is: Doesn’t she have any more important things to do? Her district suffers from bad roads, bad drunks and a sagging economy (like everywhere else). Is Tommy Lasorda at the Italian American parade really reside at the top of her list or priorities?
For those of you who don’t know or care, Lasorda is the former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who've had "an intense rivalry" with our hometown Giants for years and "nobody embodies that more than Tommy Lasorda," states the resolution.
The Giants aren't doing so great, it continues, and "Dodger fans are boastful and smug." Furthermore, there are "many other distinguished local Italian American athletes" like Giants pitcher Barry Zito "or even Joe Montana" who could do the important job of waving from a convertible. (I can see Montana, but Zito? He made a ton of cash from the Giants this season and played consistently bad baseball.
The parade is scheduled for Oct. 12, so Alioto-Pier is trying to get the legislation passed at the board's next meeting, Oct. 7.
But is this really how the supervisors should be spending their time?
"We can't have Tommy Lasorda come to San Francisco for the Italian American parade!" Alioto-Pier said. "He's like enemy No. 1 right now. If you don't think this is important, you should move to L.A."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

So it looks like I was dead wrong. Despite all the things going for them, the Mets found a way to blow it and miss the playoffs—the same way their bullpen found a way to blow all those games in which they were handed the lead. I don’t have the stats on hand right now, but I know they are pathetic—as of mid-September, the bullpen had 16 blown saves since the All-Star break, 11 in the ninth inning. While the Mets’ fall was not as precipitous as last year, in some ways, it is even more disappointing, since the players and fans have the specter of 2007 sitting on their shoulders. It was also sad that the team didn’t have enough resolve or firepower to find a way to win in the final game at Shea Stadium.

There is no question that Jerry Manuel should be retained as manager, finally having the “interim” removed from his title. But I am a little bit shocked that General Manager Omar Minaya has been handed a four-year extension, essentially laying the blame for last year, and indeed, the horribly poor start to this year—which has to be considered with the final numbers—at Willie Randolph’s feet. Randolph couldn’t make his players hit or field last year, and he surely did not assemble one of the most miserable bullpens in all of baseball this year. I think Mets personnel management should be handed over to someone else, and Minaya should be relegated to the dustbin. What happens next year, if the Mets fail to make the postseason for a third straight year? Will Minaya be fired then, too late to save all that money he’s being given, and walk off like a Wall Street CEO with a golden parachute?

Honestly, once the Mets started their current poor streak, losing 10 of their last 17, I started to tune out. At first, I’d have the game on, but as soon as they would give up their first lead, off would go the TV in my confidence that the team didn’t have the heart to come back. I was right almost every time. By the end, I couldn’t even get myself to watch the start of the game, and I’m sad that as a result, I missed Johan Santana’s pitching gem to preserve the season on the second-to-last day. But in the end, it didn’t matter, and like all Mets fans, I’m faced with the prospect of a bitter offseason.

Congrats to Ed’s Dodgers for making the playoffs. In the NL, there’s no dearth of teams I could root for: Dodgers, Cubs, Brewers—anyone but the Phillies, who have only added to Met misery over the last two years. In the AL, my favorite will be the upstart Rays, and I have to say it makes it at least a little easier that the Yankees are out for the first time in years and years.

It also makes it easier since the football Giants are still undefeated and currently the tops in the toughest division in the NFL. Now that everyone’s favorite, glamorous Super Bowl pick, the Cowboys, have finally lost to a team they were predicted to defeat (where was the vaunted defense against the Redskins?) maybe the Jints will finally get their due and be recognized as one of the best teams in the league. I’m definitely looking forward to the Dallas–New York game the first week of November. Oh, yes, and my thanks to the Bears for taking out the Eagles last night and adding to the Giants’ supremacy in the division.

I know, I know, the game can humble you, and the Giants could be another injury or bad game away from a fall. But as of now, they are still the reigning champs, and they look darned good so far, so I might as well smile while I can and forget the lousy baseball season (my favorite AL team, the A’s, didn’t even contend) until next year.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rudy II

If you have ever seen the film Rudy, then you know that it’s about a kid who wills his way onto the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team against incredible odds. Rudy is a 1993 film directed by David Anspaugh. It is an account of the life of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite significant obstacles. It was the first movie the Notre Dame administration allowed to be shot on campus since Knute Rockne, All American in 1940. In 2005 Rudy was named one of the best 25 sports movies of the previous 25 years in two polls by ESPN (#24 by a panel of sports experts, and #4 by users).
In the movie, the main character Rudy Ruettiger defies all odds to make the team. He doesn’t have the grades, so he goes to another college to get them, and he doesn’t have the money, but he works his tail off to get to the necessary funds. Rudy wasn’t a very good football player—he was slow and undersized—but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and eventually made the team at Notre Dame. He gets in for one play late in a meaningless game and his teammates pull for him, because the one thing he has cannot be denied—and it’s called “desire.”
This movie is significant to me because I happen to know a real-life Rudy. His name is Christopher Gurries, and he is the son of my best friend from high school. Chris walked-on at Notre Dame and miraculously made the team. A star at Bishop Manogue High School in Reno, he was a very good football player. Since no major Division I colleges recruited him, he decided to not play football and attend Notre Dame.
During his freshman year, Gurries walked on and although he didn’t make the team that time, he didn’t give up, either. This off-season, he worked hard and trained like crazy. Well, it all paid off; because Gurries made the team as one of the few walk-ons to successfully make the varsity.
Whether he gets significant playing time is another question entirely. But, it doesn’t matter—because he made the team and will be able to tell his kids and grandchildren that along with Knute Rockne, Joe Montana and the Gipper, he played for the Fighting Irish and made the squad.
Congratulations to Christopher Gurries. You’re our Rudy and we admire your passion. Look for him this year if you ever get the chance to watch a Notre Dame game. He’s number 38, a 5’10” 180 lb. long snapper and wide receiver with a heart bigger than South Bend.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

I was planning on posting after the first week of NFL games were finished, but our puppy just got spayed, and one of her medications gave her severe diarrhea for a few days. Yuck! Believe me, I’d rather be posting than cleaning up messes like that!

I’ve been keeping my eye on the Mets lately. I hope they don’t have another late-season collapse like they did last year, humiliating the franchise and their fans as Philadelphia came from 7 games back with 17 to play to win the NL East and knock the Amazin’s out of the playoff chase on the last day of the 2007 season. Is there the same kind of potential swoon in the 2008 version of the team? I don’t think so, and here’s why:

First, Jerry Manuel is the manager. Now I’ve said many times how I like and respect Willie Randolph, but the plain fact was that he didn’t get it done. The players were just not playing for him earlier this year, and maybe it was due to his lack of fire as they fell apart last season. Willie is old school and expects his players to play without coddling or cajoling—but in this day and age, all those spoiled multimillionaires need something more. Manuel, who replaced Randolph, seems to have his finger on the pulse of the team, and he knows how to speak to his players on their own levels. Though Manuel shows that he has fire in the belly, he also hasn’t panicked as he’s lost one of his starters (John Maine), another (Pedro Martinez) has had a big drop-off from his Hall of Fame numbers of previous years, and his closer (Billy Wagner) needs surgery that will prevent him from pitching this year and next year.

Second, the Mets are finding ways to win instead of ways to lose. True, they lost two of three to the Phils over the weekend, but they could have been swept. Carlos Delgado is possibly on the best hot streak of his long and storied career, and where he leads, the other Mets are willing to follow. He had two homers in the last game against Philadelphia, and then two more yesterday to lead the Mets to a 10–8 victory over the Nationals. It’s only the Nats, you might say, but those pesky Nats seem to get better the less they have to lose, and until the late innings yesterday, they found a way to answer every time the Mets scored. Carlos Beltran and Delgado had back-to-back homers to give the Mets the lead for good, and the new bullpen tandem of Brian Stokes and Luis Ayala finished off the game.

On the other team in the NL East race, Jimmy Rollins isn’t coming close to duplicating his MVP season from last year, and the Phillies have shown a penchant for blowing the big game as much as any team. Those MVP chants you hear now at Shea are for Delgado, and if the Mets stay hot and win the East, Delgado must be considered as a serious candidate, despite his lousy start to the season.

So—no guarantees here, but we’ll see how the rest of the month plays out. I won’t be shocked if the Mets storm into the playoffs while Philly has to watch from the sidelines: a little payback from the 2007 season.

SEASONINGS: So the Giants are still the second football team in their own town, despite winning the Super Bowl, and despite showing a still-ferocious defense in their 16–7 defeat of the Redskins last Thursday. Brett Favre led the Jets to a win over a bad-but-rebuilding Dolphins team Sunday, and now everyone has Gang Green going to the Big Dance this year (where they will undoubtedly face the Cowboys, who have been picked to represent the NFC by everyone, including the newest member of the sports media, none other than ex-Giant Michael Strahan). Now that Tom Brady is out for the season, the Jets fans are in a feeding frenzy, and they have all but guaranteed winning the AFC East. But I say, watch out, Jets fans! Even without Brady, it pains me to say that the Pats will remain competitive, and Buffalo also seems to be much improved this year, though it’s hard to say after only one game. There’s a long road ahead, and as we saw last week, injuries can happen to anyone and change the complexion of the season in an instant.

By the way, Curt Schilling opened his mouth yesterday, blasting New York fans for being happy that Brady went down and saying it’s only because they are so bitter that the Yankees are bad this year. Well, I’ve got news for you, Curt. I’m also happy that Brady is gone—not that I’m glad he was injured—and I root for the Mets! I’m an out-and-out Yankee hater, so how does he justify my glee? Plain and simple, I’m sick of the Pats and many of the in-your-face Boston fans, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them all get taken down a notch for a change. And as a Giants fan, I’ll be glad that the G-men won’t have to face Brady if they actually make it to the Super Bowl again, even though their defense drilled him into the turf plenty of times on their way to victory last season (don’t be surprised if the Giants make another run this year). Have a speedy recovery, Tom, but don’t rush back on my account!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

So contrary to popular belief, Ed and I do still write this blog….

Never thought I’d see the day, but the main focus of today’s piece is the Olympics.

I never really got into the Olympics before—I usually stick to baseball and football (I used to watch basketball before the NBA players grew so out of touch with their fans, and as for college hoops, I really only watch the March tournament). However, my wife is a fan of the Olympics, so we watched.

I have to say that it’s been fun—to a certain extent. The other side of the coin is that watching the Olympics has stoked my cynicism for sporting events yet again.

Let’s start with the opening ceremony. What better way for China to proclaim itself as an up and coming power than to put on an unmatched display of overkill. “Look, world,” the blatant show of excess seemed to say. “We can waste as many resources on frivolity as the Americans do!” What about using some of the money that was spent on this ceremony to feed a few of the millions of poor people in China, or to help find cures for the diseases that run rampant through the poor villages that have no electricity or running water? What about using it to clean up the polluted Chinese rivers from which the rural villagers must drink and wash, exposing them to cancers and other results of toxic chemicals?

Besides that, everyone has heard of the little Chinese girl who was not allowed to sing on camera because she wasn’t cute enough. Instead, her voice was used with another little girl who lip-synched her way through the song. Gross!

Then there are the games themselves. The displays of athleticism were surely amazing, and most of the athletes deserve only the highest amount of credit for performing at the top of their game while the world watched. But…

The scoring for some of the events that require subjective judging sure seemed fishy. I’m still unsatisfied by the explanation of the tie-breaker that led to He Kexin of China’s gold medal over American Nastia Liukin in the uneven bars. And I can’t believe the scoring for the women’s vault—China’s Cheng Fei actually stumbled and fell on her landing, and North Korea’s Hong Un Jong took a big step on hers, but both got higher scores than Alicia Sacramone of the United States, receiving medals for their performances, while Sacramone finished fourth. How does Cheng even stay in the competition when she fell?

Of course, the entire Chinese women’s gymnastics team is under suspicion since at least three of the members are thought to be underage, including He. Thank goodness the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) is currently investigating such claims. The Chinese are calling the claims sour grapes by the Americans, but if the Chinese have nothing to hide, why did web pages with the girls’ ages as 14 suddenly disappear after they were first noted? (Gymnasts must turn 16 in the Olympic year to qualify.) And doesn’t it seem a bit dodgy that the passports for all three girls who are thought to be underage were issued within the past 6 months? If the Chinese have nothing to hide, why don’t they just produce the documents that FIG is requesting and remove any chance of suspicion? Cheating in sports is still cheating, no matter how you do it or what sport it is. The Chinese might as well be taking steroids if they’re going to cheat. (He Kexin, meet Barry Bonds….)

There are many other things going on that make the Olympics a trash heap of scandal: The 56 “ethnic” children that were supposed to represent China’s 56 ethnic groups in the opening ceremony were really all from the dominant Han majority. The Cuban taekwondo expert kicked a judge in the face after his disqualification, resulting in a possible lifetime ban from the sport. The Ukraine women’s heptathlete was disqualified for doping. The German equestrian favorite was disqualified for doping his horse. The list goes on; feel free to add others in the comments section if you can think of any I missed.

It’s enough for any American to say, “Thank goodness for Michael Phelps!” Of course, the way the media fawned all over Phelps was just as revolting as all the scandal.

Just another day of sports in the 21st century….

SEASONINGS: I want everyone to know that I took my mother-in-law to the Mariners–A’s game last night. Anyone else ever do something like that? It was actually a lot of fun! Thanks, Bev!

Also, Ed, can you please tell your Dodgers to try harder against the Phillies this weekend? I’d love for the Mets to have a little more breathing room at the top of the NL East, even though they’ve won 10 of their last 11!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Nomar Hurt Again?

While Dodger fans are obviously psyched about getting Manny Ramirez, the fact remains that this team is still not ready to make a run at postseason play. There are still way too many questions marks, one of which has to do with the physical condition of Nomar Garciaparra.
For the past few seasons, Nomar has been unable to stay off of the disabled list. This seems to happen to many players in his age group. Once the injury bug hits, it becomes an ongoing thing. Nomar has had a long list of ailments and every time it seems as though he’ll be able to play on a regular basis, something comes up.

Questions about Nomar’s health abound-is it poor conditioning? Has he simply lost his ability to perform as he did in the past? Or is it just bad luck? Only time will tell.
Regardless, Garciaparra is back on the disabled list once again-for the third time this season. It’s got to be frustrating for a competitive, top-tier player like Nomar. And the fans can’t be happy. The man has to feel guilty as well—pulling down a big salary to sit on the bench or languish at home. In the meantime, the Dodgers are three games out of first place and could be fading fast, Manny Ramirez or not.
If you’re a Dodger supporter like me, this is a time of hope. But, I fear it’s a false hope. The team will not be able to catch the Diamondbacks if they continue to lose players to injury and underachieve.
This appeared on today:
The Dodgers made room for Manny Ramirez on the active roster Friday by placing infielder Nomar Garciaparra on the 15-day disabled list because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Garciaparra, who had been starting at shortstop, was injured Sunday making a tag while covering third base against the Washington Nationals. Garciaparra was placed on the DL retroactive to Monday, and will be eligible to come off Aug. 12 when the Dodgers play Philadelphia in the second game of a four-game series.
This is Garciaparra's third trip to the disabled list this season. He missed the first 14 games while recovering from a fractured bone in his right hand, and was sidelined for 62 games from April 26 to July 3 with a strained left calf. He is hitting .279 with five homers and 19 RBI in 27 games.
"He's been working at it and he's getting better, but he's still a long way from being that shortstop that can go to his left and to his right," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Basically, we talked to him about this yesterday and he was resistant to it based on the fact that he was getting better and he felt that he could help the ballclub.
"Even though he may be able to play in 12 days instead of 15, I think we can take this luxury now that we have Manny and we've got a little more bench strength. He's just taking one for the team, basically."
Ramirez, acquired from the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, made his debut for the Dodgers on Friday night against Arizona, playing left field and batting cleanup.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My 2008 NFL Fantasy Team: Am I Dreaming?

Last week I did my 16th annual NFL Fantasy Draft on my annual Houseboat Lowlife Weekend. I won the first year (1992) and again in 1998, but I have not won since. I seem to have lost my touch.
Last season I was in first place but then dropped my last six games (Ouch!)
The main reason for my demise was the fact that my first two picks got hurt.
(I'm referring to RB Larry Johnson and WR Marvin Harrison)
In last week's draft, I chose 7th and was surprised when Brian Westbrook (pictured) was still available.
With my second pick, I selected Terrell Owens. (If he doesn't get suspended for over celebrating or tries to committ suicide, I think he'll have a great year.)
I went with a RB with my third pick and took Lawrence Maroney (I think New England will run more in '08 and that he will get most of the carries)
I then had to go for a QB, so I took Derek Anderson from the Browns (I think Cleveland makes the playoffs this season)
Some of my other risky picks:
Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo
Frank Taylor, RB, Jaguars
Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals
Donte Stallworth, WR, Browns
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (do you think he'll get to start?)
Hines Ward, WR, Steelers
NY Giants Defense
Any fantasy gurus out there? Let me know what you think of this team.

Yo, Meathead!

Darn, I know it’s been a while between posts. There’s a lot happening in the sports world—especially my personal sports world! This sure has been a funny baseball season, hasn’t it? And even though it seems like I was blogging about the Giants’ Super Bowl win yesterday, here we are on the verge of another NFL training camp, and the 2008 season awaits. I’m looking forward to this one! As mentioned in previous posts, my awesome wife gave me a huge flatscreen HD television—as well as the NFL package—as gifts when we moved to Washington, so even though I may not have too many people to watch with this year (will miss ya, Ed and Ed!), I will be able to see my Super Bowl champ Giants every week without leaving the comfort of my own living room—the first time that’s happened since I left the East Coast in 1998.

But first, a little baseball chatter. I want to say a little bit about the Willie Randolph firing. As everyone knows, it was handled very poorly and with no class. Willie is a classy guy and deserved better, no question. I think that maybe if he hadn’t brought race into it and the team started winning, Willie could have kept his job. But by adding fuel to the fire, Willie sort of created this media specter that hung over the team, analyzing every little thing so that the pressure became unbearable. At that point, even though Willie may have been a good manager, he had to go so that the team could focus on playing baseball again.

In hindsight, it’s easy to say that it was a good move. Jerry Manuel has the team winning in ways they weren’t under Willie: a 10-game win streak; come-from-behind victories; a win after a devastating loss the night before instead of a prolonged losing streak. Heads are up, chins high in the clubhouse. Some players are really surging, such as Carlos Delgado, who seems to have dropped 10 years off his life and his swing. The Mets, who were 7 games out a month ago, are tied for first in the NL East as of right now with one more game against the Phillies that’s being played while I write (they split the first two). It ain’t over yet, but at least the Amazin’s are staring to play more to their potential, and a postseason berth is not out of the question anymore.

Now to the gridiron. Obviously, it is a big loss for the Giants on the defensive line with Michael Strahan now officially retired. And trading a disgruntled Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans costs the Giants one of their big playmakers. And I know the Giants lost a couple of linebackers to free agency.

But—despite these losses in personnel, I am blown away by how many preseason power rankings pick the Patriots first and the Giants anywhere from fourth to tenth! Only one set of rankings had the Giants where they belong, at Number One. In case everybody missed it, they won the Super Bowl last year! Do I think that automatically makes them champions of 2008? Of course not, but how about at least a little respect? The Giants defense was absolutely dominant—not just in the Super Bowl, but throughout last year’s playoffs! They crushed Tom Brady—one of my favorite parts of my Super Bowl video is the montage that is shown in the fourth quarter of all the times the Giants planted Brady in the turf. Not only that, but Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense out-Bradied Brady, topping his touchdown with less than three minutes left with one of their own—a drive of which the stuff of legends is made.

So Strahan is gone! I know! Anyone happen to notice that Osi Umenyiora has made the Pro Bowl two of the last three years? That he had six sacks in one game last season? Anyone see what a monster Justin Tuck is? I know he’s not Strahan, but in Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s attacking defense, Tuck, Umenyiora, and the rest of the D-line will be as disruptive as ever and will even be able to make up for any minor flaws in the linebacking corps this year. On offense, the Jints have already proved that they can win without Shockey—his receptions will go to Steve Smith, the third receiver, and Kevin Boss will be able to fill in just fine at Shockey’s old tight end spot.

The lack of respect is a line the Giants can use to help them stay hungry. Coach Tom Coughlin was great at keeping the Giants’ “us-against-the-world” mentality going all year long in 2007, and he’ll look to do so again with the 2008 crew.

Only five weeks until kickoff!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who are the REAL MLB All-Stars?

I am always torn by the selection process that is used to pick the MLB All-Star teams. Since the game is in the middle of the season, a lot of times it obviously comes down to who is having the better first half. Why not take the second half of the prior season into account as well? To me, a sizzling first half does not an all-star make.
Then, you figure in the fan factor and it gets even more confusing. The fans end up picking the name players, even though they may not be having that great a year. So, between the two, you end up getting a lot of players on both squads that probably don’t deserve to be there.
One of the problems is due to the fact that there is such a glut of talent in the American League. For every superstar in the NL, there are two or more in the AL.
Another problem comes from the disparity in interest between big-market and small-market teams, illustrated by how many Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox are on this year’s rosters. Deserving players on small market teams don’t get the nod because people (including the managers who pick the players) don’t see them enough. Plus, the media would rather write about Alex Rodriguez and Madonna, as opposed to what a great year Jorge Cantu or Aubrey Huff is having, so people just don’t hear about these rising stars as much.
And finally, there is the “one player per team” rule where every MLB team has to be represented by at least one player. I think that’s dumb, because there are several teams out there right now who aren’t worthy. Thus, a guy who should be there (like Yunel Escobar from the Braves or Ryan Doumit from the Pirates) doesn’t get in.
Here are starting picks for the All-Star game, to be held Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium:

American League
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins
First Base: Kevin Youklis, Red Sox
Shortstop: Michael Young, Rangers
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Third Base: Mike Lowell, Red Sox
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Outfield: Grady Sizemore, Indians
Outfield: Carlos Quentin, White Sox
Starting Pitcher: Justin Duchscherer, A’s
Relief Picher: Francisco Rodriguez, Angels

National League
Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves
First Base: Lance Berkman, Astros
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies
Third Base: Chipper Jones, Braves
Outfield: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Outfield: Xavier Nady, Pirates
Outfield: Matt Holliday, Rockies
Starting Pitcher: Edinson Volquez, Reds
Relief Picher: Kerry Wood, Cubs

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Hope everyone had a happy July 4! Sounds as if the real fireworks were in Colorado that night, when the Rockies came back from a 13–4 deficit to win 18–17 against Florida. My sister was at the game with her family, and she said she’d never seen a game like that and probably never would again. She also said that if it hadn’t been fireworks night, she would have left by the time the God Squad was 9 runs down! Of course, being a Mets fan and seeing the Marlins lose this one didn’t make me too sad, either.

Hard to imagine the All-Star break is upon us. The baseball season isn’t really going the way anyone predicted, so it will be real interesting to see how it all shakes out in September. Let’s have a look at the standings at the halfway point.

No one can say that the AL East doesn’t look different this year! While there were many that thought the Tampa Bay Rays’ hot start was just a fluke, here they are 4 games ahead of the Red Sox and 8.5 ahead of the Yankees for first in the division. As Harvey Araton of the New York Times points out, the Rays are winning with a total payroll more or less equivalent to the 2008 salaries of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez combined. While the Yanks are 5 games over .500, it’s not nearly enough to compete with the Rays’ 55–33 record as of today. Lucky for the Bronx Bombers, A-Rod’s divorce troubles and alleged affair with Madonna don’t seem to be hurting his production any, allowing the team to at least stay in the playoff chase. Meanwhile, even though this was supposed to be a different year for Toronto, the Blue Jays are mired in last, 13.5 games behind Tampa Bay, and though they are a game over .500, the always-hapless Orioles are only 3 games better than the Jays.

In the Central, the White Sox rule, but not by much, as Minnesota is only 1.5 games back. Detroit, which has been labeled the AL’s biggest disappointment of the first half, has battled its way to a .500 record but is 7 games back--and if the playoffs began today, the Tigers would be in seventh place for the wild card, also 7 games back. Not good. Which can also be said about perennial small-market loser Kansas City, as well as Cleveland, 12 and 14 games behind respectively.

The West has the Angels solidly in front of Oakland by 6 games, but the A’s are only 3.5 back in the wild-card chase. Somehow, Billy Beane has again jettisoned stars and created a winning team. Granted, Oakland has a ways to go before it can compete for real against L.A., but the A’s have often been stellar in the second half of the season in recent years (not counting last year!), so we’ll see what kind of baseball they’ll play. Ron Washington has Texas 2 games over .500, but the Rangers are in the same boat as Detroit and Baltimore in terms of the wild card--there are too many better teams at the tops of the divisions. I almost want to just issue a “No comment” on the Mariners, my current hometown team and one of the two very worst in baseball this year. I can see the smoke rising from Safeco from my porch on sunny days.

Over on the Senior Circuit, the Phils are on top of the East, but the Fish are only 1.5 games back, and the Mets are only 2.5 back. The Mets, the NL’s biggest disappointment of the first half, are lucky their less-than-impressive start only cost them their manager’s job, not too many games in the standings, as the Marlins and Phillies fumbled hot starts to keep the three-way race close. The Amazin’s took 3 of 4 from Philly in the City of Brotherly Love over the weekend, and have gained back ground under Jerry Manuel’s stewardship so far. Atlanta lags 6 games back, and Washington is done, at 14 behind.

It was nice in the past few years to see both the Red and White Sox win it all after long, long championship droughts, so if this is indeed the Cubs’ year, as everyone keeps saying, then who am I to argue, once the Mets have dropped out? The Baby Bruins lead the Central, 3.5 ahead of St. Louis and 4 ahead of Milwaukee, which just acquired C.C. Sabathia to make a playoff push. The rest of the division is a mess, with Cinci, Pittsburgh, and Houston 10.5, 11.5, and 12.5 games back in that order--ouch!

Out West, the D-backs and Dodgers are tied for first at a game under .500--double ouch! This whole division smells, but San Fran is only 5 games off the pace, and Colorado is 6 back. The worst team in baseball as of today, the Padres, are only 9.5 games in back of the division leaders. Ugh! In this division, any win is deserving of celebration!

So baseball fans, I’m looking forward to the second half! Hope you are, too!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Don't Count Out the Dodgers Just Yet!

As of this morning the LA Dodgers are just 2.5 games behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the underachieving National League West. It is amazing when you think about all the troubles the team has gone through this season. With injuries to brittle old veterans and mistakes made by unseasoned youngsters, the Bums have had multiple problems with pitching and scoring runs.
But, don’t count out the Dodgers just yet. Last night they didn’t get a single hit and still beat the Angels, 1-0. It is only the fifth time in modern baseball history that something like this has happened.
Believe it or not, this team could be coming together at just the right time. Up-and-coming stars like James Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Andre Ethier have displayed moments of brilliance. Injured former stars like Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Brad Penny and Andruw Jones will be returning to the team soon. If they are healthy and can contribute at all, it could get interesting.
Maybe I’m dreaming, but who knows? Stranger things have happened, last night’s game being a prime example.
This account of the game appeared on
Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined to no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night -- and it still wasn't good enough for the Los Angeles Angels.
The Dodgers became the fifth team in modern major league history to win a game in which they didn't get a hit, defeating the Angels 1-0. Weaver's error on a slow roller led to an unearned run by the Dodgers in the fifth.
Weaver downplayed the fact the Angels lost without giving up a hit.
"Any loss, no matter what, is tough," he said. "I'm sure you guys are going to eat this up a lot more than I am. I don't call it a no-hitter for me. I only went six innings."
The Dodgers' Joe Torre thought it might've been his weirdest win as a manager.
"I'd really have to reach down, and I don't really remember too much, but that's about as bizarre as you can get," he said.
With the Angels trailing in the interleague game at Dodger Stadium, Weaver was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning after throwing 97 pitches. Arredondo pitched the next two innings.
Because the Dodgers didn't have to bat in the ninth, the game doesn't qualify as a no-hitter. It was only the fifth such game since 1900, and first since Boston's Matt Young in 1992, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Angels' Torii Hunter said he has never been involved in such a strange game.
"Never," he said, "not even in Little League."
The Dodgers' Chad Billingsley (7-7) scattered three hits over seven innings, then Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito shut out the Angels for the next two innings.
Weaver (7-8) was victimized by his own fielding error with one out in the fifth inning that allowed Matt Kemp to reach first.
Kemp's spinning squibber rolled to the right of the mound and Weaver rushed toward first base to grab the ball, but bobbled it. The ruling on whether it was a hit or an error was a close one, since Weaver would have had to field the ball cleanly -- and first baseman Casey Kotchman was off the bag. Official scorer Don Hartack ruled it an error.
"I believe if he just picked it up with his bare hand and flipped it, he gets him by a good step and a half," Hartack said. "So my thinking was, it really wasn't a bang-bang play. I looked at the replay once and it looked like Kemp was a good seven steps away, so my thinking was Weaver had plenty of time to make the out."
Kemp completely agreed with the scoring.
"I hit it off the end of the bat and it had a little funky English on it," he said. "He could have made the play, but he just dropped the ball. It was an error. I mean, if they'd have given me a hit, I'd have been happy. But it was an error by far."
Kemp stole second and continued to third on catcher Jeff Mathis' throwing error, then scored on Blake DeWitt's sacrifice fly.
Weaver struck out six, walked three and hit a batter in his six innings. Chone Figgins pinch-hit for him in the seventh with two outs and a runner on second, but grounded out.
Baseball's other no-hit losers were Andy Hawkins of the Yankees in 1990, Steve Barber and Stu Miller of Baltimore in 1967, and Ken Johnson of Houston in 1964.
Billingsley struck out seven and walked three.
The Angels, shut out for the second consecutive night, had six hits but didn't get a runner as far as third base. They had runners on first and second against Saito with two out in the ninth, but he struck out pinch-hitter Reggie Willits to earn his 12th save.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

I know, I know, Willie got fired, Strahan retired—it’s all too much for me to process at the moment. So in the meantime, did anyone see this? A little on the lighter side—what an amazing pitcher! From today’s New York Times:

Double-Barreled Pitcher Provides Shot of Confusion

by Vincent M. Mallozzi
June 21, 2008

It was a lefty-righty matchup for the ages.

Make that a righty-lefty matchup for the ages.

Pat Venditte, an ambidextrous pitcher for the Staten Island Yankees, eventually got the matchup he wanted: right-hander vs. right-hander, which resulted in a game-ending strikeout after a long and bizarre pitcher-batter sequence—make that batter-pitcher sequence.

On Thursday night at KeySpan Park in Coney Island, the Yankees led the Brooklyn Cyclones, 7-2, when the 22-year-old Venditte, making his professional debut, strolled to the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning and took part in his own version of the double switch.

Venditte, a switch-pitcher from Creighton who can reach 90 miles an hour from the right side and the high 70s from the left, retired the first two batters he faced while pitching right-handed.

Still pitching right-handed, Venditte allowed a single by Nicholas Giarraputo. Up next was designated hitter Ralph Henriquez, and he and Venditte engaged in a routine more vaudeville than Mudville.

As Henriquez walked to the plate, Venditte, assuming Henriquez would bat left-handed, stood behind the pitching rubber with his glove on his right hand and the ball in his left. Henriquez, looking out at Venditte, then stepped across the batter’s box, determined to hit right-handed and gain a righty-lefty advantage. Seeing this, Venditte quickly switched his custom-made glove to his left hand and put the ball in his right, hoping to gain a righty-on-righty advantage.

Henriquez stepped out and began asking the home-plate umpire, Shaylor Smith, to lay out his options, then summoned his third-base coach. With the matter unresolved, Henriquez again stepped across the batter’s box in an attempt to bat left-handed. Again, Venditte switched glove and ball. The cat-and-mouse game reached full comedic gear when Henriquez again strolled across the batter’s box to hit right-handed, and Venditte responded by with the old switcheroo, setting up as a righty.

“My interpretation of the rule is that we each get to switch once,” Venditte said before Friday night’s Yankees game against Hudson Valley at Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island. “After that, I thought I had the final decision.”

Pat McMahon, the Staten Island manager, and Edgar Alfonzo, the Brooklyn manager, trotted onto the field for a discussion with Smith, setting off a series of separate discussions by confused members of the teams, which are Class A affiliates of the Yankees and the Mets.

In the midst of those discussions, Venditte tossed warm-up pitches—with both arms.

“I don’t think the umpires really knew how to handle it,” Venditte said. “It’s not something you see every day.”

After a seven-minute delay, Smith ordered Henriquez to step into the box as a right-handed batter, and Venditte, now pitching right-handed, proceeded to strike him out, swinging.

When asked before Friday’s game if he had ever seen anything like it before, McMahon paused before uttering softly, “Uh, no.”

But Venditte, drafted this month by the Yankees in the 20th round, said he was involved in a similar situation during his sophomore year against Nebraska. In that game, umpires ruled that Venditte had to declare which arm he would use before throwing his first pitch and could not switch until the at-bat ended. Venditte decided to pitch left-handed, and a right-handed batter “hit a laser,” he recalled, “but fortunately, it was caught.”

McMahon, who said Friday that he was waiting for an official ruling from higher baseball authorities on the subject of switch-pitching to switch-hitters, said that the way he understood it, “the rule dictates that the hitter establish the box and the pitcher establish the throw, and then each team can make one move, and then it’s play ball.”

“That’s the rule that we got from the rule book of minor league baseball,” he said.

McMahon, who said he shared that interpretation with Smith before Friday night’s game and would go over it with umpires as part of ground-rules discussions before every game, tipped his cap to Venditte.

“I thought Pat handled it very well,” he said. “Here you had a switch-hitter facing a young man who throws with both arms. It’s a unique experience and one that players and umpires will probably take a little time to get used to.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

So Close, Yet...My interview with Stefan Wever

Stefan Wever is a guy I know who owns a bar in San Francisco I frequent now and then. For the longest time, I bought drinks from the man, knowing him only as a big guy who knows a lot about sports and is fun to talk to. I saw him around town, at SF Giants games and in North Beach and he was always pleasant. I didn’t know his story until a buddy of mine told me the details.
I find his tale fascinating, because he came so close to baseball stardom at the highest level, only to have it come crashing down with one pitch. And yet, he’s completely okay with the entire experience. Stefan is a really smart, very honest and extremely likable individual.

When I sat down to talk to him about his brief career in the major leagues, Wever was candid and sincere. At the end of the interview, I asked him to tell me some of his funniest baseball stories. He winced and declined, saying that all of his really funny stories were X-rated. “Maybe one day,” he told me. He also said that if I hang around enough, he might also show me the tape of his one and only major league appearance.

Here’s a little background on Stefan, compliments of Wikipedia:

Wever graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1976. After dominating the San Francisco section in high school, Wever lettered at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he garnered interest from numerous professional scouts. At 6’8”, 240 lbs., Wever was an imposing, fire baller with a great fastball, curve and changeup. When he was on his game, he was virtually unhittable.

After finishing his career at UCSB, Wever was drafted into the New York Yankees organization. In 1982, after winning the Southern League(AA) Pitcher of the Year award, accomplishing the rare Pitcher's Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts) he made the rare jump from AA to the major leagues.

Wever’s first and only major league appearance came against the Milwaukee Brewers on September 17, 1982. He pitched for 2⅔ innings, but tore his rotator cuff in the process, ending his career. He is one of the few pitchers to face two future Hall of Famers as his first two batters—Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.

Wever continued his education during the off-season while rapidly climbing through the Yankee system at the University of California at Berkeley from where he received a BA in English Literature.

Now retired from the game of baseball, Wever owns the Horseshoe Tavern, a popular and legendary San Francisco bar, is an accomplished pianist, voracious reader, doting father to his 15 year old daughter, and coaches teenage boys in the science and art of baseball.

On his injury: “What if Pavarotti ruined his voice on his first night singing as a tenor? That’s how I felt when I hurt my rotator cuff. It might be an egotistical way of looking at it, but that’s how I feel. I keep myself going by knowing in my heart that I was one of the very best there was when I was 100%. I could have had a great career, but it didn’t happen. I can’t dwell on it, although when it first happened, I must admit that I was shocked and bitter.”

On his call up to the Yankees: “We had just won the Double-A championship for Nashville and I won 18 games that season for them. I figured the season was over and I was headed back to San Francisco. But, my manager at the time, (the late Johnny Oates) called me into his office. My pitching coach was Hoyt Wilhelm, the great knuckleball pitcher, and he was there too. When I saw them sitting there, I figured I was going up to the Yankees’ Triple-A club in Columbus. But they told me, ‘You’re going to New York.’

On his arrival in the Big Apple: “The taxi pulled up to Yankee stadium and I couldn’t believe how awesome the place looked. As I walked through the players’ entrance, a bunch of fans were waiting around, and they yelled out my name and some of my stats in Double-A. I was surprised that they could be that knowledgeable about a player who had never played in the Bigs. Then when I entered the locker room, it was pretty surreal. The first person I met was Pete Sheehy, the legendary Yankees clubhouse guy. I figured, I’m some kid from Double-A, I’ll probably get some locker in the corner with number 99 or something. But my locker was in the middle of the room and they gave me number 25, which was Tommy John’s old number. I looked to my right and there was Dave Winfield. I looked to my left and there was Goose Gossage. What more could a rookie ask for? The guys were great and really made me feel at home. Ron Guidry came up to me and said, ‘Welcome to the New York Yankees.’ Dave Winfield took me aside and started telling me about all of the high-end men’s clothing stores in the big cities in the American League.

On a poker game that first night: “The team went on the road that next day so we flew to Baltimore. When we got to the hotel, they gave me a really nice, big suite. Rookies never get rooms like that, but a catcher for the Yanks, a guy named Barry Foote, had left the team for personal reasons; so they gave me his room. Pretty soon, the word got out—‘the rook got the suite.’ I ended up hosting a poker game that night and it didn’t finish up until 6 am. I thought, wow—this is fun. I like it up here in the majors.”

On his one and only MLB start: “It was my sixth day in the majors and we were in Milwaukee playing the Brewers. They called them ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’ back then, because Harvey Kuenn was their manager and they had a great lineup. They were on their way to the World Series that season. It had rained during the day and the mound at County Stadium was muddy. The first two guys I faced that day are now in the Hall of Fame—Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. I don’t know if that’s a record or not. Well, Molitor hit a six-hopper through the right side for a single and Yount hit a double, scoring Molitor. The next batter was Cecil Cooper and I threw him a really good changeup, but he hit it to centerfield, where Jerry Mumphrey misplayed it. That should have been the first out. Ted Simmons was up next and he hit a ground ball through our shortstop’s (Andre Robertson) legs. That should have been the second out. The next batter was Gorman Thomas and he hit it a mile—a 3-run homer. That’s when I felt a twinge in my shoulder. But, hell if I was coming out. I kept pitching and they kept hitting, and by the time they took me out I had pitched 2 2/3 innings, gave up six hits, nine runs (eight earned), walked three, struck out two, gave up one HR and threw three wild pitches. We lost, 14-0. It just wasn’t a good game for us. But I had no idea it was my last game.”

On the aftermath of his injury: “I didn’t pitch again in 1982 and I began to feel pain the first time I picked up a ball over the winter. The Yankees told me to take it easy, which I did. When I went to spring training in ’83, Billy Martin was the new Yanks’ manager. He told me that I was going to be his #5 starter. Billy liked big, hard throwing guys and that’s what I was. Or had at least been at one time. What we didn’t know until a little later was that my arm was done. I used to throw 95 and now I was maxing out at 85. I went to see an expert and in two minutes he knew that my rotator cuff was fully torn. I tried to make a comeback at AAA, but I was simply delaying the inevitable. My baseball career was over.”

On his recurring dream: “ I still have this dream all the time, and sometimes it’s really vivid. I’m on a field, but it’s more like a cow pasture. Don Mattingly’s there. Buck Showalter’s also there. All my teammates are there. And I’m there, trying to get back into the major leagues. But, I never quite make it to the field.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Why can’t Willie Randolph manage? What has happened to him?

Randolph is a name perennially associated with winning. Not only that, but he is associated with winning “the right way,” with class, dignity, and sportsmanship.

So what is going on with Willie’s Mets this year? Why can’t Randolph, one of baseball’s great winners in his years as a player and coach with the Yankees, get this team to play—as expected—like winners?

The team is deeply loaded with talent. Even taking into consideration the aging starters and oft-injured veterans who might be past their primes, there’s no reason why the players should be performing so far below their capabilities. The owner of the team, Fred Wilpon, and his COO son Jeff, both have said they have certain expectations for the team this year—especially after last year’s historic collapse to miss the postseason.

Drama already surrounds the team. There have been team meetings and front-office meetings and closed-door meetings. Randolph’s job came into question during one particularly bad stretch, and he had the poor sense to introduce race into the conversation. I’m not saying that race is not a factor in how Willie is viewed, and he is welcome to his opinion—what I question is the timing of bringing up such a sensitive subject, creating a distraction when the team really needed to focus.

Still, just when you thought Randolph was only keeping his job on a game-by-game basis, the Mets went on a little tear and won seven of nine, including series victories over division-rival Florida, the Dodgers, and the Giants. Fans were finally starting to think the team was on a bit of a streak.

Then they got swept in a four-game series by a pretty rotten San Diego club. The panic began anew. And the sword above Randolph’s head was poised to fall.

Through a lifetime of Yankee-hating, I’ve always liked Willie. He was a great ballplayer and a class act. I always thought he had the skills to manage and that he could manage under the spotlights of New York. I agree with his approach: Treat your players like men—if they need their manager to spark them to try to earn their salaries, then they are poor teammates and should be on another team. It is astounding to think that the players on the Mets don’t have enough to motivate them on a daily basis to try as hard as they can every time they go out on the field. If nothing else they should be motivated to silence the merciless boos that rain down on them whenever they play at home—a great final season at Shea, indeed. But the boos only appear to fluster these great stars who are making so much money—nary a clutch hitter or fielder among them, it seems.

In today’s paper, New York Times writer Ben Shpigel outlines key differences between the Mets and the division-leading Phillies, who seem to truly be the team to beat in the NL East. He writes, “Consider what happened in Philadelphia last Thursday afternoon, when Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel yanked Rollins from the game for not running hard on a pop-up that was eventually dropped. Rollins said he was wrong and openly backed Manuel’s decision to take him out of the game. When Randolph removed Reyes from a game in Houston last season for not running hard on a ground ball, Reyes sulked and spiraled into a two-month slump.”

At what point do the players have to shoulder some of the blame? Why should Willie have to change his managerial style to prod a bunch of overpaid spoiled brats to play to win? Just because he hasn’t won a World Series doesn’t mean he has no idea what he is doing. And when does some of the blame start falling on GM Omar Minaya, who assembled this fragile team (both mentally and physically) in the first place?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Got No Beef with Kobe! Lakers in 7!!

Tonight the NBA Championship Series begins. The Lakers and the Celtics, old foes who have not been on top recently, are ready to do battle before the entire world. It’s a story with all of the right characters—from the sage coach (Phil Jackson) to the cagey veteran (Kevin Garnett) to the most talented player since Michael Jordan displaying his incredible skills (Kobe, of course!)

When Los Angeles defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the West finals, Lakers fans were heard chanting: “Bring on the Celtics!” Boston knocked off the Detroit Pistons in six games to make all those wishes come true.

In the end, after a very tough and physical series, I believe that the Lakers will win it in 7. Both teams will be victorious on the road through the first six games, but then the Lakers will do it twice to capture the crown.

Both Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics fans have been anticipating a final showdown between their two teams. The NBA and the media are just as excited. It’s big-name marquee basketball and it’s creating electricity throughout the country.

According to their regular season records, and head to head match-ups, the Celtics are favored to win the series. Boston was the best team in basketball this year and no one will argue that. But, they limped through the playoffs and showed that they can be beaten.

If we are talking about the Lakers, it is a no-brainer that they win the battle at shooting guard. Kobe Bryant is the best there is in the NBA. The comparisons with Michael Jordan are beginning to reach new heights. He simply is the best closer in the game right now. A deadly weapon that was able to single handedly elevate the Lakers from a 20 and a 17 point deficit in the conference finals.

On the other side you have Ray Allen. When his shot is on, he is so hard to stop. He has an incredibly quick release on his shot that it is hard to alter it, let alone block it. The key for the Celtics will to get Ray going early, as that would make Bryant use more energy on the defensive end. Still, that would merely slow Kobe a little bit, but no one can stop him.

The balance of power shifts at the small forward spot. Lamar Odom is a crafty player. Probably the best third option in the league right now. Alas, he is no match for Paul Pierce. Pierce could match Bryant point for point in a game, he is that good. Unfortunately his low-post game (or lack thereof) can be exploited, and Odom is the right man for the job.

Coach Doc Rivers had better devise a plan of what to do when the Lakers make Odom go to the post to abuse Pierce with some low-post plays. One viable solution would be to make Pierce guard Vladimir Radmanovic, and allow Garnett to go up against Lamar.

Speaking of which, the straight up power forward battle will be weighed by KG and Radmanovic. This one, of course is a no contest. Radmanovic has provided some steady defense at times, but his lack of aggressiveness will not allow him to cause too much trouble for Garnett.
KG simply is the best all around big man in the league. He also gives 100% effort every time. Too bad he has been settling for his jumper too often in this post-season. For the Celtics to win this, he is going to have to take his game into the post more often (much like he did against the Lakers in both of their meetings in the regular season).

The center spot is tough to judge. Pau Gasol definitely has the edge, but every now and then Kendrick Perkins puts in a performance that even Hall of Fame greats would be proud of. He is a young talented big man who can lock down the middle when his game is on. His offense is mostly limited to dunks and put backs, but he is a streaky scorer, and if he can get a few shots to fall, the increase in his confidence definitely improves his game.

Gasol is another proven winner within the Lakers. The leader of the world champion Spanish national team has a different role with his NBA squad, where he is merely the second option. Of course this bodes well for him, as his basketball IQ is high, and he can pass and score with the best of them.

The battle of the benches will be critical. It’s basically Los Angeles’ bench mob vs. the retirement center of the Celtics. The Lakers bring in young guys who can up the tempo of the game, and create crucial runs. The Celtics? They have opted for the veteran savvy of guys like Sam Cassell, James Posey, PJ Brown. These guys will definitely not crumble against pressure, but can they keep up with the pace of the Lakers offense? At this moment I am not too sold on this idea.

The coaching battle is probably the most one sided affair. Doc Rivers has yet to prove he belongs with the top coaches in this league. His decision making in the play-offs has been questionable at best. Yet he has managed to guide the Celtics this far, and a finals victory might just be the proof of his coaching acumen. Phil Jackson has more rings than any other active coach. He is considered to be the best currently at his job, and he probably has some extra motivation from losing his last final.

In all, this will be a closely fought finals that is hard to predict. It will all come down to whether the Lakers can win one of the first two games in Boston. If they can do so, I don’t see the Celtics fighting back. It should go a full seven games, with the Lakers taking Game #7.

(Portions of this article were taken from and