Saturday, March 31, 2007

If, If, If........

As I have stated in a previous post , I am a sports pessimist. Except when it comes in spring time with the Rangers. I am going to answer for Chris.

I know this is the year. This is the year that the Rangers break through, the A's break down, the Los Angeles Califonia Angels of Anaheim California collapse under the sheer stupidity of their name, and the Mariners are the same as always. In fact, there's no reason the Rangers can't go all the way. That's right! I said it. World Series for the Rangers in 2007!!!! At least win a playoff series. Is that too much to ask? Actually the crazy thing is that sane baseball people actually expect something out of the Rangers as well. Joe Sheehan of baseballprospectus actually has Texas in his top 10, best of the AL West and third in the AL behind the Yankees (bleah!) and the Indians.

Ok, so here's a list of best case scenarios and worst case scenarios that can happen to this team. Hopefully, more of the first, than the later.

BCS #1. The pitching is NOT a problem on this team. For the first time in years, the Rangers have four credible starters: Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, and Robinson Tejeda. John Koronka gave this team some pretty good innings last year and isn't even really on the radar for this year. That's good news.
WCS #1. Millwood throws a ton of innings, but also has about a 6 ERA. Vincente Padilla falls off the wagon, or worse, realizes that he's not in a contract year. Mac throws batting practice at the Ballpark. Tejeda walks the world. The combination of Wright, Loe, Chen, etc, can't start more than 10 starts apiece because they are flat out terrible.

BCS #2. The offense hits like the early aughts that the late aughts. The reputation of this team is all offense, no pitching. Not the case last year. But this year, with a healthy Brad Wilkerson, a focused Hank Blalock, a ready Nelson Cruz, and Sammy being Sammy of old the Rangers learn how to hit away from the Ballpark and starts to butcher a bunch of pitchers.
WCS #2. They can't hit a lefty to save their lives and Blalock slugs about .350. Wilkerson become Wifferson again. Cruz is sent down and Sosa cracks open a corked bat.

BCS #3. Buck Showalter is gone.
WCS #3. There is no worse case scenario in regards to Buck. In fact, that he is no longer here is enough karma to push the Rangers to World Series if history has anything to say about it.

Actually, as I read all this, I realize it all comes down to a bunch of ifs....
If McCarthy and Tejeda can solidify the third and forth spots in the rotation.
If Gagne is healthy and the bullpen falls into place.
If the Blalock can break out of his malaise.
If Cruz and Kinsler are as good as advertised.
If the offense can get it done.
If Sosa doesn't become too big of a distraction.

There are a number of others, but there are alot less "ifs" than there have been in past years. The Rangers are due some breaks. Right?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Take me out to the ballgame: The predictions

Opening Day is almost here, so it's about time for my baseball predictions for 2007. All the standard fare is here, including division winners, wild cards, MVPs and Cy Young winners, and of course, the World Series outcome. But anyone can give you that: here, you'll also get the dirt, the MLB gloss & glam, you know, the really interesting stuff.

The dull stuff:
American League
East: Boston Red Sox
Central: Minnesota Twins
West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Wild Card: New York Yankees

MVP: Vladimir Guerrero, LA Angels
Cy Young: Johan Santana, Minnesota
Rookie of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston
Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia, LA Angels

National League
East: New York Mets
Central: St Louis Cardinals
West: San Diego Padres
Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies

MVP: Albert Pujols, St Louis
Cy Young: Roy Oswalt, Houston
Rookie of the Year: Chris Young, Arizona
Manager of the Year: Willie Randolph, New York

World Series: Mets over Angels in seven

The interesting stuff:
Start with an easy one. A-Rod will say something (else) dumb to the media about his contract status and his relationship with Jeter.

The Pirates are forced to forfeit a game when the entire team, including the manager, refuse to take the field wearing their new red vests.

The San Francisco Giants will undergo yet another ballpark sponsorship change, this time choosing a business with more stability and staying power: after the All Star Game, they begin play at the newly renamed BALCO field.

The Devil Rays and Nationals both begin tanking games by June in a race for ping pong balls in the Oden/Durant lottery before remembering they don't compete in the NBA.

MLB celebrates Sunshine Kids Day in a belated response to the Biggio hat pin backlash, including placing Sunshine Kids logos on the bases. This instigates another fan backlash, a la the Spiderman 2 Controversy of 2004.

Roger Clemens re-signs with the Astros, with his contract stipulating that, in addition to preferential travel arrangements and generous time off, he will be carried to and from the mound by a batboy.

Texas Ranger Mark Teixeira wins the All Star Game MVP, becoming the third Rangers to do so in four years, handing home field advantage in the World Series to division rivals Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. However, their unstable name will be too much to overcome as they lose Game 7 at home.

Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron's career home run record, causing the biggest uncomfortable and bitter 'celebration' sports has ever seen.

Ken Griffey Jr.'s left arm will come detached during his follow through on a home run, landing him on the 60 day DL and effectively ending his season.

Pete Rose admits on ESPN's Budweiser Hot Seat to betting on his fantasy baseball team.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Baseball v Cricket

I love this time of year and what it brings to the senses: the crack of the bat, sunlight in your eyes, the smell of the grass.

Baseball? No, cricket. Opening day is almost here, but down in the Caribbean, sixteen countries are vying for the Cricket World Cup. These two games share a common origin, but each have developed a following in different parts of the world. Typically, baseball fans know little of cricket and think their game is superior, and vice versa. You can read Wikipedia's comparison between cricket and baseball for all the details, but we are here today to decide once and for all which game is better. There are ten categories worth ten points each, plus a bonus category worth up to five points. Play ball.

Best current player
You could easily substitute one of a handful of other players here, but Albert Pujols serves as a good representative. He has a career .332 batting average and has 250 home runs in six seasons. In his career, he has been named Rookie of the Year and MVP, and last year won the World Series with the St Louis Cardinals.
Ricky Ponting is currently the number one ranked batsman in the world, so this choice is a little easier to make. He has a 59.29 batting average (his average runs scored per batting appearance) and 58.95 strike rate (runs per 100 balls). If you look at just the past five years, his batting average jumps to 74. Putting it bluntly: he already ranks as the number three batsman of all time.

Best historical player
Most of Babe Ruth's records have fallen to various players over time, but none of them had the complete package the Babe did. He is known for his batting, but remember, he was a pretty good pitcher in his time with the Red Sox as well.
99.94. Any cricket fan in the world recognizes that number as Don Bradman's career batting average. Second place is a full twenty runs less; the rest of the pack tops out at 61. And these aren't just the Australians—we're talking worldwide, all-time players. Statistical analysis by Charles Davis in The Best of the Best reveals Bradman as the most dominant player in any major sport. He says by comparison, a baseball player would need a career .392 average to equal Sir Don's dominance.

Best rivalry
Yankees/Red Sox: Love 'em or hate 'em, this is the best rivalry in the game. This intense rivalry stems from proximity, civic pride, divisional competition and the Curse of the Bambino. Fairly lopsided in the Yankees favor, but intense nonetheless, and more competitive of late.
Australia/England: This rivalry dates to 1882, when Australia beat England on an English pitch for the first time, shocking the hosts and creating the legend of the ashes. It wouldn't be the last time. This rivalry is also rather lopsided, but both sides, and much of the cricket world, closely follow the Ashes Series.

Best venue
This is another one that is up for debate, but I'll go with Wrigley Field. It's got ivy, day games and tons of history.

Lords is considered the home of cricket. Many of cricket's greatest moments, particularly in the Ashes Series, took place here. It might be iconic, but I don't care for the look of the Media Centre.

Game length
Three hours is a fairly standard time for the completion of a game in most major sports, and baseball fits the bill.

There are variations of the game, but the most popular is test cricket, which lasts for five days. Even one day cricket lasts (surprise!) a day, or about six hours of playing time, plus lunch and tea breaks. Only the new (and often maligned) Twenty20 fits within the three hour window.

You win. Or you lose. Short of a rainout, that's it.

You win. Or you lose. Or, if you score the same number of runs, you could tie, although this is very unlikely. Or you could draw (which is different than a tie) if the game is not complete after the alloted time has expired. Yes, it is possible to play a game for five days and basically get no result.

Despite last year's World Baseball Classic, baseball is primarily limited to the US, the Caribbean, and parts of East Asia. And the WBC had to get a little creative to find sixteen teams—even Australia qualified.

Cricket's strongest players are mostly within England and the Commonwealth. According to the International Cricket Council, there are ten full members, 32 associate members (cricket firmly established) and 55 affiliate members (cricket is played). By the way, the US is an associate member, but did not qualify for the Cricket World Cup.

Baseball is notorious for the phrase 'if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying'. Corked bats, pine tar and of course steroids are all issues in the game today. Players and managers arguing with umps is also common, and a player would never correct a call to his own detriment. The redeeming factor is the unwritten code of respect that requires teams to stop stealing bases with a big lead or not show up a pitcher after a home run.
Cricket players often police themselves during a game and arguing calls is rare. About the worst you get is sledging, the cricket equivalent of 'we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher'.

World Series Trophy—My little league trophies were cooler than this.

The AshesNow this little urn tells a story, and you can read a little about it here.

Personally, I like the simplicity of the home whites/road grays. But I hate the softball team look of the alternate colored jerseys.

Test cricket looks great with the whites. One Day and Twenty20 looks ridiculous with the pajamas.

Bonus: Kooky Traditions
More than a few baseball players don't step on lines, always step on bases or some variation when running onto the field.

Cricket has the Nelson, representing a run score of 111. Named for Lord Horatio Nelson, supposedly for a missing eye, arm and leg, the score is thought to be unlucky. Umpires are often seen standing on one leg while a batter is on this score.

Well, the numbers don't lie: Cricket wins 83-78. Neither game is flawless, but you can't go wrong with either one. The good news is this: you don't have to choose. So enjoy the start of the baseball season, but make an effort to catch some of the Cricket World Cup action over the next few weeks, even if they are playing in their pajamas.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Baseball Finally Steps Up

After many years of problems, Major League Baseball has finally taken control over it's game. For too long baseball has allowed escalating salaries, greater and greater distance between the players and the fans, ever more rampant steroids, competitive imbalance, a moronic idea of tieing the All-Star game outcome to home field advantage in the World Series, a decline in interest among African- Americans, and any number of other issues to divert fan attention from a quality product on the field. But no longer! It takes a strong leader to step into those kinds of issues and show some real courage. Bud Selig and his band of brothers have finally stood their ground and taken a stand for the eternal betterment of baseball. There is no doubt in my mind that this commitment to excellence will cause baseball to reach greater and greater heights of quality and connection between the game and it's fans. A game as hallowed as baseball can have no other commitment!

Perhaps you haven't heard about this courageous stand against out of control player behavior. Well, it's about time you did because it's been happening for over 20 years. In fact, I was 13 when this travesty started and I think you would agree with me that the decline of baseball began about that time. Twenty years ago, one of the most deplorable players in MLB history, Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros, began wearing a yellow pin on his hat during spring training games promoting the Sunshine Kids, a non-profit group helping kids with cancer. This travesty has finally been put to a halt by the powers of MLB. And let me tell you, it's about time! I believe that this is what fans of baseball have been crying for over the last several years. Biggio cannot be allowed to flaunt his support of children stricken with cancer.

Bravo, I say. Bravo, Major League Baseball! Who cares about steroids or competitive imbalance? The real villain in baseball has finally been brought to justice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I wish I played golf like a girl

Yet again, comments have prompted a new post. Heather tried to get me to write about women in sports when I originally wrote the Sabathia post but I resisted because I don't see that as being the same issue. It gets its own mention here.

Sabathia was saying that African Americans are choosing not to play baseball for various reasons and that baseball would eventually suffer because of the shrinking talent pool. For the most part, this is not the problem faced by female athletes. Their issue is a glass ceiling.

There are few opportunities for excellence in women's athletics. Golf, tennis and the WNBA are the only major sporting venues available, and each of these are female-only competitions. Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with a woman attempting to compete on the men's tour. I had no problem with Annika Sörenstam playing Colonial in 2003 and would have no issue if she tried again. She may not have made the cut, but she didn't come in last, either—she finished as good as or better than fifteen men. Should those fifteen be banned from future PGA events? Annika has proven herself on the LPGA tour and deserved the chance. But Vijay Singh shot his mouth off and others with their 'maybe I should play a LPGA event' comments acted the fool, too. Quick reminder, Vijay et al, it's not the MPGA—the lady can play.

But past record and accomplishments is why I do have a minor issue with Michelle Wie playing men's events. I think she would be better served (and would have more credibility) if she proved herself a winner on the LPGA before attempting men's events.

Danica Patrick is another female athlete who has broken into an individual sport. While it is not hard to find references to the fact that she has never won an IRL race, it is not as often mentioned that she finished twelfth in the points standings her rookie year and improved on that her second year, finishing ninth. Not too shabby.

In team sports, however, is where the real problems arise because of a lack of legitimate leagues for women. If a female athlete wants to play, she has to break down that barrier. It's one thing for Sörenstam, Wie or Patrick to compete against men; it is quite another for a female to compete as a teammate.

There are levels of resistance to female athletes competing with men. The first is a gentle nudge. If a female, particularly a young girl, shows an interest in playing a 'boys' sport, they are encouraged to play softball instead, or join the cheerleading squad, or some other 'safe' viable alternative. The next step is resistance. Girls are told that locker room facilities aren't available, or that a proper uniform can't be ordered. Or even worse, they are put through a sham 'tryout' process to weed them out. The next step is outright denial: 'No you can't play. Go away.'

But if the athlete perseveres through all of that and actually make the team, there is one final step: harassment. They can be bullied by their coaches, their teammates, their opponents and their fans. Case in point: Katie Hnida, the Colorado kicker. Charges have never been filed, but allegations of sexual abuse and rape remain. Her former coach Gary Barnett made statements on the record that cannot be denied.

See, it doesn't begin at the pro level. Just as Sabathia implied with African Americans in baseball, it starts with the kids. A kid from the projects who never plays ball won't play ball in MLB. And a girl in the suburbs who is never allowed to play with the boys at the local park, on the playground or on a middle school team is effectively denied the chance to play as a professional.

Please don't misunderstand: I don't think women should be given a free pass to play football or any other sport in a traditionally mens league. But I do think these leagues should represent the best athletes in the game, regardless of gender, and that women deserve a fair opportunity to compete. If she can play, she's only going to make your team better. But this is a deeply rooted barrier in our society that is going to take time to overcome. It's going to take more than Wie making the cut and Patrick winning an IRL title. It's going to take more than Manon Rhéaume playing a couple preseason NHL games. It's going to take more than Billy Jean King beating Bobby Riggs in the 'Battle of the Sexes'. Throughout our history, various women have proved themselves capable of competing on the brightest stages. Hopefully one day, it won't be such a novelty act.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Funny Things My Wife Has Said About Sports #1

I wanted to start a new list (along the lines of "Thing I Love") called Funny Things My Wife Has Said About Sports. My wife is the greatest in the world, but she didn't doesn't really care about sports. In fact, at times, she'll say some things that are really funny.

In response to the Belmont (her alma mater) losing to Georgetown in NCAA tournament, she said, "Why do have to pick the one that's going to win? Why can't we pick the one that we like?"

There's more where this came from.

Belated Congrats for Modano

So, I didn't have a chance to write about this yet, but Mike Modano scored his 500th goal on Tuesday March 13th, becoming only the second US born player to reach that milestone. It also brings him within 3 goals (well, 2 goals now, but I'll get there) of the all-time US born player record (Some may be thinking that Brett Hull had more than 502 goals - and they'd be right, but he was actually born in Canada. He has dual-citizenship). I've watched Modano play for a long time and I always enjoy seeing what he will do with the puck. His goal to get 500 was typical Modano of being in the right place at the right time.

Watching Modano shift from a pure-scorer to a complete two-way player was what changed my mind about him from when he first arrived in Dallas. He was often the best player on the team before, but that usually only showed up in the score sheet. After his transition, there were nights that he was the best player even when held scoreless. Although that didn't happen often. Modano has fallen off of his career point-per-game average, but only slightly and unless he decides to retire before next season, he'll soon own the all time US born player record for goals (could come in the next few games) and points. (He's only seventeen away now).

Through a very lucky set of circumstances, I was able to go to the game against the Flames last night. Not only did they win, but Modano scores his 501st goal and grabs an assist too. He's not as speedy as he once was, but he's still incredibly quick and fun to watch. So, congrats to Modano and I'm sure I'll be writing another post in a few games to crown another of his accomplishments.

Racist kneejerks posted an article headlined 'Sabathia pitches for more African Americans in game' that has drawn a very strong response judging by the comments posted about it. Basically, Sabathia said that the number of African Americans is baseball is declining and that this is bad.

Unfortunately, about 90% of those commenting missed Sabathia’s point. The vast majority were quick to accuse Sabathia of reverse racism (whatever that means—something is either racist or it isn’t). Let’s detail Sabathia’s statements and the typical overractions to it.

The biggest issue centers around where the blame lies. Most were quick to accuse Sabathia of blaming baseball, which he does not. Quite the opposite, actually; he says that African Americans themselves have chosen to play other sports, notably football and basketball. He feels that MLB needs to find a way to build interest in baseball to attract some of these athletes that are slipping away to other sports.

A few recognized this—they ripped Sabathia for putting the responsibility of bridging the gap on MLB and said he should shut up and do something himself. If you read the article, Sabathia says that the programs MLB currently has in place are good but are still coming up short and that he sponsors a program that supports 175 kids in his community.

Some people argued that if African Americans choose to play basketball or football rather than baseball then so be it. That baseball is not obligated to let in some inferior players who happen to be black in order to boost the percentages. Again, Sabathia never proposed such a thing. What he suggested is that in the near future, the quality of the game will suffer because African Americans who had the potential to be star ballplayers would have never realized their talent—in other words, the talent pool is shrinking, and that's why MLB should be concerned.

And I can't tell you how many people regurgitated the 'there are no whites in the NBA' argument. While this may be true (although the numbers are not as bad as they would have you believe), it is not because of a lack of opportunity or exposure. Just a lack of talent.

And it didn't get any better when I moved onto other pages. While researching some of the figures and percentages quoted, I found out there is someone out there who plays 'Spot the Black' when they watch commercials on TV. Someone else plays a game he calls 'Bullshit' when he watches TV with his wife: they try to be the first to say 'bullshit' when they see three or more people of different races hanging out together in a commercial. Oh, but don't worry—they said they don't play it in front of the kids. (Somehow, I think they are still going to pick up on that attitude.) Their point is that people from different races don’t go to the movies, eat at restaurants or go bowling together. I'll be sure to mention that at dinner tonight, where, depending on who shows up, up to four races from six or seven countries will be represented.

When you read through the comments, a pattern emerges—there is a correlation between racist comments and spelling and grammar mistakes and cursing. It is a nearly flawless connection. This would seem to indicate, to no surprise, that the problem is a lack of education. People who are educated tend to be more tolerant of those who are different; those who are uneducated feel threatened. Some people were even threatened by the way Sabathia wears his hat. This reveals an irrational insecurity and deeply rooted fear of anyone or anything different. With education comes the knowledge that our differences should be embraced and celebrated, not covered up and forgotten. With education comes the knowledge that quality is improved when more people are in the talent pool. And with education comes the knowledge that sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone and lend others a hand. If the youth today, no matter their race, don't want to play baseball that is their choice. But they at least should have the opportunity to play before they make that decision.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865 and the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, but sadly we still have a long way to go.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

See, I told you!!!!

I had no intention of watching the Mavs/ Suns game last night for two reasons. First, I had just gotten back from a one day trip to Washington, D.C. for business and I was exhausted. Second, I didn't think my wife would let me after being away the night before. But because it was a late game and Jeanette went to bed, I got sucked in and watch the overtimes.

Before I rant and rave, let me say this. I know it's just the regular season and if they had won this game and lost in the playoffs, it would be a failed season. Only the playoffs matter. Blah Blah Blah.

I AM PISSED!!!!!! The Mavericks were outscored by 15 in the fourth!!!! At home!!!! Against that piss ant Steve Nash. Dirk choked down the stretch, missed a wide open pull up jumper, two free throws that would have iced the game, and two game winning shots, both barely drawing iron. They refused to play defense in the overtimes and spent more time crying about fouls. You could say the technical on Dirk cost them the game.

This game looked way too much like last years finals against the Heat. Missing free throws, crying about officiating, missing the big rebound, settling for jump shots, choking down the stretch of games. Hopefully, this is just a little blip on a dominating year when the Mavs dominated from start to finish and Mark Cuban ends up crying like a baby when he takes the Larry O'Brien trophy from a grimacing David Stern, but they can't play like that and expect it to happen.

By the way, I hate Steve Nash. My hatred of Steve Nash is reaching Derek Jeter like proportions. How was he so spare here (especially during the playoffs) and so great over there. How has he not been thrown into the third row on some of those out of control drives to the basket? He is probably going to win another MVP and, compared to Dirk last night, he deserves, I guess, because that lose lays at the feet of Dirk. No other way to put it.

Dancing Lessons

In just a few hours, Maryland and Davidson tip off in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. This is your last chance to make those corrections in your bracket, but you've got to move fast— I'd hate to say 'I told you so' in a few days.

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Florida, (4) Maryland, (6) Notre Dame, (10) Georgia Tech
First round upset: (10) Georgia Tech over (7) UNLV

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Kansas, (2) UCLA, (3) Pittsburgh, (4) Southern Illinois
First round upset: (10) Gonzaga over (7) Indiana

Sweet Sixteen: (1) North Carolina, (2) Georgetown, (4) Texas, (6) Vanderbilt
First round upset: (12) Arkansas over (5) USC

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Ohio State, (2) Memphis, (3) Texas A&M, (5) Tennessee
First round upset: (9) Xavier over (8) BYU

Final Four
UCLA over Florida
North Carolina over Texas A&M

UCLA beats North Carolina 74-68

A few things to point out. First of all, there is no George Mason this year. There isn't a dominant team, but there are a lot of really good teams, and a George Mason-type isn't getting by all of them this year.

Next, the Fear the MAC Rule. The MAC has made some noise the last few years, most noticably with Kent State and Central Michigan. Disregard this rule this year. (14) Miami (OH) isn't scaring anybody.

Now for the (12) Seed Rule. There is always at least one, and this year it will be Arkansas with a first round win over USC.

Finally, and this is personal, the Texas Rule. I always pick Texas exactly one round too far, and even though I know this, I still do it every year. This year is no exception. My heart says Texas gets to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to North Carolina. My head says to back up one round and pick them to lose to Arkansas. I know this happens every year, and I still can't do it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Breaking news: A-Rod lies (again)

It's been a few weeks, but A-Fraud opened his mouth again and to no one's surprise, lies spewed out, this time on a radio interview on WFAN in New York. A-Fraud was apparently asked if he would opt out of his contract after this season and replied, 'You want to be as honest as possible. You're asking me what my sincere feeling is. I want to 100 percent stay in New York. Period. That's it. I don't know how many ways I can say it.'

First of all, I understand this is really an unfair question. What is he supposed to say? 'Nah, after this season, I'm out of here.' Can't do that. He has to say he is staying.

But that doesn't mean that I feel sorry for him—he put himself in this situation. And he dares to bring up honesty and sincerity? Please. Things haven't gone as well in New York as the thought and he's going to opt out. Too many reasons not to: he can escape the Yankee pressure, he's hasn't been embraced by the Yankee fans, maybe even a move back to shortstop. Besides, he will probably make more money or at least get more years if he opts out—don't be surprised if it's a reunion with Lou Piniella in Chicago. Maybe there he can fit in with the loveable losers.

And I hope he does opt out. It would be an admission of failure. It would be humbling, no matter how he spins it in the media. But most of all because the Rangers wouldn't be sending him checks anymore.

But as for his lie today, what was the dead giveaway, other than his lips moving? He only wants 'to 100 percent stay in New York', not 110. And everyone knows that in sports in the 21st century, 100 percent just isn't enough.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A(nother) Black Eye For The NHL

So, another player in the NHL has taken it upon himself to try and make the NHL top the days' headlines. Chris Simon's best Zorro impression on Ryan Hollweg (I'll forgive you if you've never heard of either player) earned him a minimum of a 25 game suspension. It could go longer depending on how far the Islanders go in the playoffs. The maximum it could reach this year is 43 games, but that is unlikely being that the Islanders are currently a 7th seed. (That could change, but not directly because of Simon). So again, we are treated to a player taking a two-handed swing with their stick at another player. It makes me sick and I'm happy about the suspension, but in my mind, it's not enough.

There is way too much stick-work in the NHL today - some say because players seem to feel more indestructable with helmets with shields. But that argument doesn't hold water. Players are required to be in control of their sticks at all times. Even when the stick rises against another and hits another player unintentionally, it is still a penalty. This was deliberate decision to take a swing at another player and 25 games, while the longest suspension ever, doesn't begin to cover it. Were Simon a rookie, unused to the pressure of the NHL and playing at so high a level, you could give that as a flimsy excuse that still wouldn't be enough.

Simon is a 35-year-old veteran who has been in the roll of agitator/tough guy for his whole career. Hard checks happen. If you don't like it, you challenge the guy to fight and settle it that way. It's unfortunate that the last thing the general sports public will remember about the NHL before March Madness is that some moron took a swing at another player. And then the "went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out" jokes come back. This when the first player in years (and also one of the youngest) to have back-to-back 100 point season. No one remembers Crosby's accomplishment. It's sad.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Things I love

#234. Beating the Lakers by 36 in LA.

110 Percent Madness

The bracket is set and 110 Percent invites you to pick against the 'pros'. That's us. No, really.

Click on 110 Percent Madness Tournament Challenge to play.

Here are the details:
Group name: 110 Percent
Group ID# 64589
Password: teameffort

This is hosted by Yahoo!, so you will need a Yahoo! ID to play. Also, you can also make your bracket eligible for the Yahoo! Maddest Bracket contest--first prize is one million dollars.

Let the madness begin.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Mavs can't get no respect

Eric Neel recently had an article on called Mavs just can't win my love. He begins by confessing that the '07 Mavericks are a historically great team. But then he goes on to explain why they are not as compelling as the 1996 Bulls, the 1986 Celtics, the 1983 Sixers or the 1972 Lakers. He even argues they are not as inspiring as this year's Suns and Pistons.

Clearly, Mr. Neel is insane.

And he's driving me insane, too. For years, the Mavericks have not gotten national respect because they were soft and didn't play defense. Now Neel finds them efficiently boring? Please, people, you can't have it both ways.

He says part of the problem is Mark Cuban. I freely admit that Cuban can at times be obnoxious, but there is not a fan alive who doesn't wish he would buy their team--ask Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Penguins fans. Prior to the 1999-2000 season, I heard on the radio that Mavs games would be on a home shopping channel. Turns out the channel was changing it's format, but the point is that the Mavs were so bad, no one was particularly surprised that a home shopping channel was the best TV deal they could get. Three months later Cuban stepped in and turned the Mavericks into one of the most consistently dominant teams in the league. Cuban might be occasionally grating, but he takes care of the players, he takes care of the fans and he wins. Good enough for me.

Neel goes on to say that Nowitzki is boring. A seven footer who is good for 25 ppg and 10 rpg on .500 shooting from the field, .425 from behind the arc and .900 from the line is boring? Really? Neel condescendingly labels Dirk at 'proficient'; how are things going for the 'fierce' Garnett?

He also shows a lack of enthusiasm for the rest of the team, who he collectively labels as role players. As if it is commonplace to have an entire team buy into a system. Several players capable of starting willingly come off the bench and/or accept fewer minutes for the good of the team without complaint. Stack has brought an attitude, Harris and Buckner bring defense and George has the championship experience. Because of these contributions, the team can no longer be considered soft. Perhaps most importantly, no one from this team will turn up with a mugshot. Or maybe that's what makes them boring to Neel?

This team has been carefully designed to be versatile, a trait Neel shows disdain for. These 'boring' players possess a skill set that allows the Mavs to play up tempo or slow it down, whichever is required. They can play big or small, and they are effective with either style. No one else in the league has the options available to Dallas. This lack of dependence on one style of play is a bad thing? Funny, I thought it was brilliant.

He does admit at the end of his article that maybe he is just being selfish when he says wins are not enough. Personally, I think it's jealousy. Jealous of the owner, jealous of the superstar, jealous of the role players and jealous of the system. That's OK. In a couple months, I think he'll have the opportunity to be jealous of their rings.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Is anyone else nervous?

Hi. My name is Russell and I'm a sports pessimist. (Hi, Russell). I've always been a sports pessimist (except during Spring Training- The Rangers are going to win it all this year!!!!! If for no other reason than Buck Showalter left.) I just assume that bad things are going to happen. Is just coincidence the only playoff game the Rangers have won in their HISTORY was the one game that I didn't watch? (I was at a Star's pre-season game.) Or that whenever I turn a Star's game on it's always literally seconds before the other team scores a goal? Of that the Astros didn't win the Chris Burke game until I turned it off and had to go to church? I could go on and on. The heartbreak that I have felt is not the worst of any sports fan, but it ranks up there. As much as I want to say otherwise, I never believed that Texas would beat USC in that National Championship last year. (Remember the great ESPN commercial: "But they didn't have Vince Young.") Only the Cowboys have saved me from perpetual sports pain. I really think that this pessimism hinders my sports enjoyment. I continually expect for my teams to loose. Somehow, the refs will get screw us (2006 NBA finals) or the hard hit ball will be snagged by a great play by the third basemen (which seemed to happen every inning in the 2005 World Series) or the normally reliable holder will drop a prefect snap on a gimme field goal and he is just caught at the heals before he can redeem himself with a game winning touchdown (Cowboys v. Seahawks) or there will be years of mediocrity broken only by extreme wretchedness and only drops of success (the whole Rangers franchise). So all this to say this:

I am worried about the Mavericks. I worried that they are winning all their games now and won't have any wins in them when the playoffs come. They teased us last year before settling for jumpshots and crying about the refs. I mean seriously. Were there bad calls? Absolutely, but the Mavs didn't have what it took to win. The best team won. Quit whining. It's over. I want to believe that this will be different. That this team is hearing what Avery Johnson is preaching about team defense and toughness. That Dirk is going to carry this team to the championship the way an MVP is supposed to. That they will continue their amazing good luck in the injury area.

They can win 70. They seem to be playing hard every night. They don't take nights off, but beat teams they are supposed to beat and have won every game on the second night of back-to-backs. They play good defense and are a strong offensive team. They have the MVP (I mean, seriously, who else can someone conscionably vote, Steve Nash? Please. He already has two MVPs he doesn't deserve, how can they give him a third?), two legitimate All-Stars, and top notch role players. Their coach is driven and knows how to win. They are playing with a chip on their shoulders. They don't have any weaknesses.

Any yet, I'm nervous. Maybe I'm a moron.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Tourney play-in games are a joke

March Madness is just around the corner. The small conference tournaments are wrapping up and automatic bids are being claimed. Congratulations go out to my alma mater, the University of North Texas. The Mean Green are dancing for the first time since 1988.

Now this raises a question in my mind: What will UNT be seeded? They have had a good year, winning 23 games, but were only the five seed in the Sun Belt conference tournament. I would be shocked if they were seeded higher than fifteen in the Big Dance. I can only hope that they avoid the play-in game.

I hate the play-in. This is just another tool used so the major conferences can pretend they are throwing a bone to the small conferences, when in fact, the extra place in the tourney goes to another big conference also-ran. All the low seeds only got in by winning their conference tournament--number 65 isn't going to be the Sun Belt runner-up. Having the play-in game simply allows the seventh or eighth best team from, say, the SEC say they made the Big Dance. Who really cares? When the bracket is announced, look for the play-in teams. Chances are, they won't even be properly named, but instead called 'Play-in Winner'. It's second class citizen treatment.

You like the play-in because it gives one low seed the opportunity to win a tournament game? Garbage. They have an opportunity: it's called the 1-16 game. That's their chance. Anything else is an insult. No one considers the play-in a real tournament game and there is no real satisfaction in winning it. One day, a sixteen will beat a one seed and that will be a historic celebration. Just remember you heard it here first.

And if you like the play-in game, why is there only one? That makes no sense at all. If you have to have it, there should be four play-in games: one in each region. At least then it wouldn't be entirely stupid. Just logically stupid. Or somesuch.

But the best solution would be to lose the play-in. Of course, this will never happen. Major athletics, whether pro or collegiate, do not go small. NHL seasons won't get shorter, NBA rosters won't get smaller, NFL preseason games are here to stay, forget MLB contraction and the NCAA Tourney play-in won't go away, no matter how much sense it would make.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Law on Young's new deal

Keith Law of recently wrote an article questioning the wisdom of Young's new deal with the Texas Rangers. He cited various reasons why, which I will get into in a moment.

Keith Law's bio on the website says he spent four and a half years with the Toronto Blue Jays as a Special Assistant to the General Manager. I think his Young article proves why he is with the media now instead of a MLB team. If you have an ESPN Insider account, you can read his article here.

His first argument is that the Rangers jumped the gun and committed to Young too early. In the case of most other ball clubs, this would be correct. But what Law fails to understand is that the Rangers are in damage control mode. Management needs to extend some goodwill towards the players to show that things have changed since Hart and Showalter were in charge. If that means that you extend Young a little early, you do it. Relatively speaking, the guy has been working for peanuts for six years anyway. It also sends the message to the rest of the team (read: Teixeira) that the Rangers are serious about winning now.

Strike one to Law.

His second argument is that Young doesn't deserve the contract. Says he's not that good, although he admits Young is the 'heart and soul' of the team. Let's look at some of his accomplishments:

  • 2006 All Star Game MVP
  • 2005 AL batting champ
  • Three time consecutive All Star
  • Top ten in most batting statistics since 2003, including (but not limited to) batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases.

But he's not a player? Please, Keith, your East Coast Bias is showing. If Young played for the Yankees or the Sox, he might possibly be the biggest name in baseball other than Bonds. As for Law's claim that he'll begin to decline in the next two years, I just don't see it. He's thirty, in excellent health and he's not a power hitter. These types don't slow down by thirty-two. If anything, I would expect him to get more patient at the plate, maintaining his batting average while cutting down on Ks and increasing walks. And I haven't even mentioned yet that Young is the ultimate clubhouse leader, always plays, never takes plays off, sacrifices himself for the good of the team and never shows up in the police blotter. He is a parent's dream for an athlete role model for their children in a world with too many players like Pacman Jones, Barry Bonds and Ron Artest.

Law takes strike two looking.

For Law's third knock he gets a little vague. I guess he is trying to say that the Rangers should not give this kind of money to anyone on their roster because they all stink. He would rather see them rebuild the team through free agency. Well, see Keith, the Rangers tried that a few years ago and we got stuck with two guys named A-Rod and Chan Ho something or other. Didn't work. Actually, I think you might remember because you did mention we are still paying A-Fraud. That one chaps my hide, too, but given the choice, I'd still rather pay him $8 million to go away than $25 million and have to deal with his act every day. As for Teixeira, I don't like his choice for an agent, but Young's deal increases the Rangers chances of re-signing him, not decreases. If he does walk, he would have done it anyway. Then Law bags the rest of the position players as being 'complementary', but I'll take Kinsler, Blalock, Laird, Cruz and Cat with Lofton as a stopgap in center. This isn't the Yankees: we can't put All Stars at every position, not that it's helped them lately. The starting rotation might not be the AL's best, but it's better than it's been since, well, ever. And the bullpen could be a league leader.

I say the Rangers make Law look silly and win the West. Strike three, you're out!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Turning a Corner?

I grew up a big time Ranger fan. I remember going to a game in 1982 hoping Dave Hostetler would hit another home run. I remember listening to the radio when they announced that Don Zimmer had been fired as Ranger's manager. Former owner Eddie Chiles had these commercials where he said "I'm mad" all the time. I got Rick Honeycut's autograph at Golden Triangle mall and then I was really upset when he got traded for Dave Stewart. I couldn't understand why they would trade Scott Fletcher for Harold Baines. I listened to Nolan Ryan's 7th no-hitter on the radio. I watched him beat up Robin Ventura on TV.

I have suffered with the Rangers. I've been alive for 32 of the Rangers 34 years and I've had three playoff apperances and one playoff win. I wasn't even watching that game. I was at a Star's preseason game. Cubs and Red Sox fans (pre-2004) have got nothing on me. It really annoys me to hear about how terrible it's been to be a fan of those teams. At least the Cubs have won a playoff series. Each time the Rangers went to the playoffs they ran into the buzzsaw that was the *&$%^$% Yankees. (I hate them more than anything!!!!!)

Something happened yesterday that gives me hope (even more than the usual hope that comes with Spring Training). They signed Michael Young to a long term contract extension. Now Michael Young is the face of the organization. He may be the best face the team has ever had. This is my hope, and baseball is all about hope. My hope is that this represents a paradigm shift for the Rangers. They had a good thing going in the late 90s, but 2001-2002 was a disaster as they threw truckfuls of money at free agents like Alex Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park, Juan Gonzalez to various levels of success and failure. But where it mattered most it was a failure. A-Rod was a great player. I went to two games that he won on walk-off homeruns, but he was a mercenary who never really bought into the city and, in collusion with Buck Showalter, who didn't want anyone as powerful as he was, got himself traded to New York. (Don't even get me started on all that. There will be cussing and I assume we want to keep the relatively family friendly. I blame everyone on that.)

I think with the coming of Jon Daniels and Ron Washington (and the leaving of John Hart and Buck Showalter) I think the future is bright for the Rangers. I really like the aggressive moves of the off-season, trading for Brandon McCarthy, signing Vincente Padilla and Eric Gagne, a steady infusion of young talent in Nelson Cruz and Robinson Tejeda, and with others coming, like Eric Hurley and Thomas Diamond. The Rangers don't seem content to just throw money at a problem, but to work to steadly build a team that can content now and in the future. I'm glad that player like Michael Young is going to be at the center of all this. And hopefully Mark Texiera will be batting behind him for a long time as well. Hope springs eternal.