Friday, February 24, 2006

Frequently asked questions

Playing Nine Innings while offering our semi-educated answers to questions facing the Sox this spring . .

.1. The Yankees, with their "Murderer's Row 2K6" offense, are the consensus favorite in the AL East. The remodeled Blue Jays, with A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and Troy Glaus, are the trendy pick. So where does that leave the Red Sox? Overlooked and underrated, that's where. In all the tumult surrounding Theo's departure and subsequent return and Johnny Damon's traitorous defection to New York, a lot of people who get paid to notice such things haven't realized that the Red Sox made significant improvements in crucial areas. Josh Beckett becomes the young No. 1-caliber starter they so desperately lacked against the White Sox in the ALDS. Julian Tavarez, David Riske, Rudy Seanez, and a rotation refugee - either Bronson Arroyo or Jonathan Papelbon - will significantly strengthen the bullpen. J.T. Snow, Alex Gonzalez, and Mike Lowell tighten up the leaky infield defense. (We don't have to watch Edgar Renteria hobble around the infield like Fred Sanford anymore, thank goodness.) And with the arrival of Beckett and 26-year-old Coco Crisp, not to mention promising prospects such as Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester, they've quickly accumulated a core of young talent to carry them into the next decade. Finally, while it is often suggested that the Sox offense won't be the 900-run behemoth it has been in recent seasons, I think there's actually room for improvement. By the end of last season, the offense consisted of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and seven guys who looked ready for a nap. If Manny and Papi do their thing, and Crisp, Jason Varitek, and a healthy Trot Nixon do theirs, this could be a phenomenal offensive ballclub again. Bottom line: Go ahead. Pick the Yankees or the Blue Jays. But beware. As it stands now, during these sunny days of spring training, the Sox sure look built to match up with both of them come September.

2. But is Beckett, whose career high in wins is just 15, truly capable of being the staff ace? Undoubtedly. In fact, I'm not sure casual Sox fans know what a precious gem they've got here. Josh Beckett is a 25-year old pitcher with - and this is not hyperbole - as much ability and confidence as any young pitcher in the game. I'm sure you recall his complete-game, World Series-clinching shutout on three days' rest at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 in 2003. It's a signature, career-defining performance, something that many great pitchers have waited in vain for their entire careers. (Hello there, Roger.) But what you may not realize is that he is yet to achieve that level of dominance during a full season due only to strange circumstances (recurring blisters on his pitching hand) and the brashness of youth (he describes himself as a reformed hothead). Beckett, who is mere months older than Jonathan Papelbon, is fully capable of dominating an entire league just as he dominated the hopeless Yankees that night in the Bronx. Oh, of course there are injury concerns - an MRI revealed his shoulder to look like something akin to ground beef, though that supposedly can be said of most any pitcher - but even that is a blessing, for his pesky blisters and the Marlins' caution helped him escape the abuse that befalls so many gifted young pitchers. (Hello there, Steve Avery). The reality is this: Beckett is the right player at the right time for the Red Sox. He will win a Cy Young award with the Red Sox, he might win more than one, and he damn well might win one this year.

3. So what's up with Manny? Let me get back to you on March 1, because this story is yet to reveal its final chapter. I think I've made my feelings clear regarding Manny - I love watching the guy hit, and while the antics that most 13-year olds wouldn't try to pull do get tiresome, it will be a sad day in the TATB household when he's no longer a member of the Red Sox. And, yes, I'm suspicious that the Sox might be trying to trade him for 75 cents on the dollar as you read this. I also wonder what the repercussions are if he's a no-show on his Theo-approved reporting date, something that I fear is still a distinct possibility considering all the rumors and innuendo regarding why he had to get out of Boston. How I hope his buddy Enrique Wilson is right, that Manny still wants to play for the Sox and will show up to camp a week from now with that big goofy grin on his face, acting like nothing ever happened. But until I see him out there on the Ft. Myers field in his red jersey, hitting moonshots, bear-hugging Papi, and claiming Boston is where he wants to be, excuse me while I keep my fingers crossed. C'mon, Manny. Dammit, show up this time.

4. After Manny's state of mind, what's the biggest concern? The usual suspects and ailments: Schilling's ankle, Foulke's physical and mental health, Mike Lowell's bat. Should that seem like a lot of "ifs" on top of the Manny/Beckett concerns, try looking at them this way: In each instance, the best-case scenario has a reasonable chance of occurring. In 2004, Schilling won 21 games, Foulke had an ERA below 3.00 for the sixth straight season, Lowell slugged 27 homers, and they'd all been consistent, high-level performers in previous seasons. Even a pessimist has to figure that one or two of them - if not all three - will prove that their collectively miserable 2005 season was an aberration. And if just two of the three return to something resembling their previous form, it's all but assured that the Red Sox will make a fourth consecutive postseason appearance.

5. Larry Lucchino refused to take the bait when asked for a reaction to George Steinbrenner's proclamation that the Yankees would win the World Series this year. How should Lucchino have replied? "If I spent close to $1,000,000,000.00 on salary the last five years and didn't have anything to show for it - well, except for the biggest choke in sports history - I'd probably be babbling and delusional too. Next question."

6. Is Coco Crisp up to the task of replacing Johnny Damon? To continue our theme of relentless optimism . . . yes, in every single way. Crisp has the name and the game to replace Damon not only on the field, but in fans' hearts. He's articulate and engaging - his Sports Final interview with Ch. 4's Dan Roche was one of the most insightful I've seen in some time - and his on-field style is remarkably similar to his predecessor's: he plays with tireless hustle and absolutely no fear, features fleet feet and surprising pop, and like Damon when he arrived in Boston, is coming to town just in time for his prime. He may not sell as many pink t-shirts or fake beards as Damon, but Crisp will be every bit his equal between the lines. I can't wait for Fenway to fall for him.

7. What will happen with David Wells? Terry Francona will continue to quarantine him and his potentially poisonous attitude from his impressionable kid pitchers. Theo will continue to try to trade him for something resembling equal value. In the next 10 days or so, the Sox will settle for a marginal prospect or two, Wells will head to a team on the West Coast, and ever so appreciative that the Sox granted his wish, he'll rip Boston with his usual grace and class. In an ideal world, I'd love to see Wells remain here - a lefty who can win 15 games is a precious commodity, even one of Wells's age (43) and shape (round). But if he doesn't want to be here, you don't want him to be here, if you know what that means.

8. And finally, something I promised to touch on but never got around to. Roger Clemens's potential homecoming: Fairy tale-come-true, or unrealistic fiction/fantasy? The latter, thank heavens. As the hype built - Rogah's comin' back to the Sawx! - I refused to buy it, believing that the alleged possibility of the Rocket's return was little more than a Red Sox marketing ploy, a made-for-talk radio/wishful thinking scenario cooked up by the Sox public relations savants. I'm glad to say it looks like my instincts were correct. Listen, no doubt it would be a hell of a compelling story if Clemens returned to Boston, where he spent the first 13 years of perhaps the finest career any righthanded pitcher has ever had. But sentiment aside - and frankly, I don't have much sentiment for that soulless mercenary at this point - it's neither a realistic idea nor a particularly well-considered one. Clemens has a sweet situation in Houston - his son is in the organization, he gets to hang out with his pal Andy Pettitte, and he comes and goes as he pleases, with no requirement that he show up at the ballpark on days other than when he is pitching. All these years after he griped about having to carry his own bags, he still demands star treatment, and considering how frustrated Sox management has been with the diva-ish behavior of Pedro and Manny in recent years, that's something Theo and Co. must be reluctant to permit. It would be hypocritical and counterproductive to let Clemens have his own set of rules, and conversely, he's certainly not going to abandon a situation where he does as he pleases just to right an old wrong in Boston. That's not his style. And while he seems intent on proving otherwise, Clemens simply has to get old one of these years. Remember, he had recurring leg problems at the end of last season, injuries similar to the ones that abruptly ended Nolan Ryan's career after he cruised into his mid-40s. It's going to be very expensive to some team when Father Time finally does catch up to his fastball. I'd just as soon that team not be the Red Sox. Besides, wouldn't it be just like him to come back here, 10 years after Dan Duquette premature declared his career to be on the decline, and then finally stumble into the twilight of his career?

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

I'm not sure what's harder to comprehend: That Sosa, who not so long ago stood alongside Jordan and Payton in the pantheon of Chicago sports heroes, fell from grace so rapidly that the apparent end of his career barely registered more than a line in the Sports Log. Or that he actually went out in public with such a ridiculous haircut.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And don't forget Dave Rozema

No time to write tonight - but there's always time for Random Lists of Five . . .

Five Best Quarterbacks I've Ever Seen:
1. Joe Montana
2. John Elway
3. Tom Brady (and climbin' . . . )
4. Dan Marino
5. Steve Young

Five Worst Quarterbacks I've Ever Seen:
1. Craig Whelihan (Not that he looked out of place, but I'm pretty sure he was required to wear the helmet off the field, too)
2. Spergon Wynn (drafted ahead of Brady)
3. Ryan Leaf (A no-brainer . . . kinda like him)
4. Tony Eason when a pass rusher was within 10 feet ("He should be wearing a dress back there." - John Hannah)
5. Giovanni Carmazzi (drafted ahead of Brady)

Five Greatest Patriots Receivers:
1. Stanley Morgan (He and Harold Jackson took turns running under Grogan's bombs in the late '70s)
2. Troy Brown (as if you have to ask why)
3. Deion Branch (no one else on this list has been a Super Bowl MVP)
3. Gino Cappelletti (tempted to slot Irving Fryar here, but Gino is Mr. Patriot)
5. Terry Glenn (the most talented of the lot, but it's hard to forgive him for trying to sabotage the 2001 season)

Five Prettiest Jump Shots, 1980s NBA:
1. Larry (duh)
2. Dale Ellis (a thing of beauty - no wasted motion, just a flick of the wrist. And no, I have no idea what's going on in that poster.)
3. Jeff Malone
4. Chris Mullin (gotta have a lefty here somewhere)
5. Byron Scott (one of few players who actually shot a classic jumper - as the picture above shows, he was a good two to three feet off the floor at his release point.)

Five Country Songs That Don't Make My Ears Bleed:
1. "Friends in Low Places," Garth Brooks (every time I hear it, I flash back to getting bleepfaced on $1.50 pitchers of Schaefer at Geddy's in Orono, Me. And yes, that is a happy, albeit hazy, memory)
2. "She's From Boston," Kenny Chesney (She wears a Red Sox hat/To hide her baby dreds . . . ")
3. "There Goes My Life," Chesney (Gets me every time. If you have a little girl, you understand.)
4. "Rainbow Connection," Willie Nelson. (Though Kermit's version blows Willie's away, of course.)
5. "I Love This Bar," Toby Keith

Five Best Patriot Drafts:
1. 1995: Ty Law, Ted Johnson, Curtis Martin, Dave Wohlabaugh (could be two Hall of Famers, though Martin didn't stick around long)
2. 2000: Brady, sixth round, pick 199. Who cares if the rest was roster fodder?
3. 1977: Raymond Clayborn, Stanley Morgan, Horace Ivory (and '76 is very similar with Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox, though all were first rounders)
4. 1996: Terry Glenn, Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi . . . and a certain clutch kicker came aboard as a free agent.
5. 1973: John Hannah, Sam Cunningham, Darryl Stingley (narrowly edging out Bobby Grier's 1997 Canty-Shaw-Denson masterpiece)

Five Sports Broadcasters/Media Personalities I Hope Get A Permanent Case of Laryngitis:
1. John Dennis (as clueless as he is pompous)
2. Stuart Scott (is it wrong to hope someone smothers him with the other side of the pillow?)
3. Michael Kay (the epitome of everything we hate about Yankees fans)
4. Neil Everett (the smarmiest of the "SportsCenter" anchors, which is a hell of an accomplishment)
5. Jerry Trupiano (the season hasn't even begun, and already I'm angry at him for all the botched home run calls to come)

Five 2005 AL Leaders In OPS, Age 25 Or Under:
1. Mark Teixeira, .954
2. Jhonny Peralta, 885
3. Grady Sizemore, .832
4. Coco Crisp, .810 (admit it - you had no idea the Sox's effervescent new center fielder would be on this list)
5. Jorge Cantu, .808

Five 1997 Washington Bullets:
1. Ben Wallace (I thought Rasheed was on this team too, but I was off by a year)
2. Georghe Muresan
3. Chris Webber
4. Tim Legler
5. Gaylon Nickerson (nope, never heard of him either)

Five Outstanding Players Who Debuted With The 1977 Detroit Tigers:
1. Jack Morris (belongs in the Hall of Fame)
2. Alan Trammell (ditto)
3. Lou Whitaker (well, if you put Trammell in . . . )
4. Lance Parrish
5. Steve Kemp (excellent hitter - posted .318-26-105 numbers in '79 - whose career was shortened by injury)

Five Washed-Up 1982-'83 Yankees Who Were Stars In 1977:
1. John Mayberry
2. Lee Mazzilli
3. Butch Wynegar
4. Butch Hobson (The Yankees? Why, Butch? Why?)
5. Steve Kemp

Five MLBers Who Definitely Are Not Ready For Their Closeup:
2. Randy Johnson (MY EYES!!! THEY'RE BURNING!!!)
3. That poor Astacio kid for the Astros with the volcano thingies on his face. Yeah, him. (And if it turns out he has a health problem beyond really bad acne, I'm going to feel terrible.)
4. Willie McGee (for old times' sake)
5. Joe Torre (either the Fox cameras always catch him at the wrong time, or he spends the first seven innings of the game "digging for treasure," so to speak)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mail bonding

Digging into the email bag for your Lists of 5, insults to my manhood, and other correspondence . . .

FROM PATS37: I can't really argue with your list of the five best Pats of all time, but personally I'd put Stanley Morgan on there ahead of Ty Law.

And I can't really argue with that suggestion. While Law's contributions to two Super Bowl victories earned him my nod - he's truly a Clutch Cornerback, if there is such a thing, and I think Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning would both say there is - it certainly bothers me that Morgan's place in history isn't more appreciated. A few years ago, I wrote a column for the Monitor regarding the most overlooked athletes in modern Boston history. Morgan, who played 13 seasons (1977-'89) in New England and caught 557 passes for 10,716 yards (a 19.2 average) and 76 touchdowns, was my choice from the Patriots. Turns out that sometimes I overlook him, too. - CF

FROM BEN S. Great call on "Prophet of the Sandlots." I actually contacted the author, Mark Winegardner, last year to ask what else he'd written and why his book was never made into a movie. He no longer writes non-fiction and is actually one of the country's leading fiction writers (he was chosen to write the last "Godfather" book) . . . The book moved me. I read it in 1992 and still think about it.

I know where you're coming from. I've probably read Prophet five times myself, so I guess I could say it moved me, too. It doesn't hurt that a couple of players who played for my beloved Maine Guides are fairly prominent in the book, including longtime major leaguer Scott Service, whose call-up to the big leagues is documented on a rainy day during the Guides/Phillies final season in Maine. FYI, Winegardner contributed to one other outstanding baseball book, too - he assisted fellow Bryan, Ohio native and baseball journeyman Steve Fireovid in writing "The 26th Man," an engaging account of his less-than-glamorous life as a pitcher who never could quite stick in the big leagues.

FROM BEN F. I know you get a ton of emails contesting some of your lists, but regarding Best Books, I'm not sure if you've ever read "Friday Night Lights" by Buzz Bissinger, but to me that was the most outstanding sports book I've ever read (the movie was less than mediocre by comparison). I'm not saying you're doing society a disservice by leaving it off, but not having it on there makes me wonder if you've had the chance to read it yet. If not, I highly recommend it, and a high recommendation coming from a complete stranger is right up there with being blessed by the pope. You heard it here first.

Read it, and it truly was a phenomenal accomplishment of writing and reporting. A simple oversight on my part. I'm not a smart man.

FROM MT: You should do a list of your "5 Favorite Manny Moments" . . . actually this may turn into like a Top 100 thing if you think hard enough. I know five from 2004 alone:

1) His infamous "I believe you make your own destination" comment after the World Series in 2004 when he was getting his WS MVP trophy. Where did that come from? Suddenly he's a philosopher?
2) The Olympia Sports ad from 2004 . . . or if I just had to pick one single moment, the face he made at the end which made me burst out in laughter at 3 a.m.
3) His catch at Yankee Stadium, robbing Miguel Cairo of a HR, and his whole "double pointing" to him after he realized he was out. That was great
4) The Spring Training impromptu press conference where Kevin Millar served as "translator."
5) Manny giving his extra Game 4 of the WS tickets to some waitress at a Denny's. I forgot where I read that, but I don't doubt it for a minute.

We could do an entire Manny edition of Lists of Five. His biggest gaffes, most awe-inspiring homers, best/worst hairdos, biggest blunders, five favorite clubhouse babysitters, biggest clutch hits, etc. Man, I do love that goofy doofus/savant. Now, like the rest of New England (excluding you nitwits who think the Sox would better off with nine Trot Nixons), I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping he reports. When Gammons makes cracks about Manny retiring to live in the Brazilian rain forest, I worry that it's not meant as tongue-in-cheek as I read it. With Manny, anything's possible. Which reminds me . . .

FROM CHRIS K.: I see Gammons linked to your site on his Reading List off his new blog on ESPN. Congrats, dude. All your pathetic sucking up and name-dropping paid off!"

Um . . . thanks? (Now brace yourself for more sucking up and name-dropping, smart guy.) Getting an unsolicited plug from Gammons is about the coolest thing that can happen to a relatively obscure sportswriter/blogger/chimp with a keyboard. It's not quite the equivalent of, say, Bono showing up at the farewell party for a music writer. But's it's damn close from this perspective.

FROM HANS S., my friend and former colleague at the Monitor: i know you haven't forgotten that kevin romine hit the walkoff home run that began morgan magic, one of the most pleasurable times ever to have been a sox fan. couldn't some other fourth-rate outfielder have been first on your list?

Uh . . . actually . . . ahem . . I did forget. (Bowing my head in shame.) For some reason, I thought it was the immortal Todd Benzinger who hit that homer, but I was confusing it with a game-winning homer Benzinger hit later on during the Sox's incredible 24-game home winning streak that propelled them to the '88 AL East title. All right, I'll lay off Romine. Let's put Steve "Psycho" Lyons on the list instead. The Eric Byrnes of his time - decent tools, no instincts, lots of false hustle - played for the Sox four times. Or about three times too many.

FROM MIKE L., a heck of a clever writer and a TATB-approved practitioner of the sincerest form of flattery: Love the lists of five. Agree with most of your choices, too, though,I would buy the new Jack Johnson CD (Curious George sdtrk) and then see if one of those tunes makes the list.

Actually, my wife beat me to the punch, and while we were waiting for it to arrive from Amazon, I couldn't help but download the relentlessly catchy first single, Upside Down, from iTunes. Definitely has top five potential. My daughter already loves it, requesting it as the "monkey song." Why, yes, she is adorable, isn't she?

FROM JOE IN NYC: I don't get the fascination with Jenna Fischer. I love The Office and Pam's a well-drawn character like you said, but "ridiculously hot?" She doesn't look too great to these eyes.

Sincerely, Stevie Wonder.

FROM CHRIS B. "Dancing Queen"? You like "Dancing Queen"? Who are you really, Johnny Weir?

For the record, my daughter likes "Dancing Queen." I'm more of a "Chiquiquita" guy, with a little "Take A Chance On Me" mixed in to keep it fresh. And no, I'm not Johnny Weir, and I don't wear sequined skin-tight cougar-print shirts and call myself "princessy," at least not when my wife is home. I'm actually Dick Button. (Now let's see if "Dick Button" slips past the Blogger censors . . . )

FROM BRIAN M.: Stick to sports, Finn. Don't get all pop-cultury and turn into Bill Simmons, 'kay?

Funny you should say that. I was talking to my buddy C-Rab today on the phone while watching my "Just One of the Guys" VHS with my pals Jimmy and Adam, and C-Rab was saying he thinks of me as a combination of Pat Morita in "The Karate Kid" and Michael J. Fox in "Teen Wolf," with the columnist's inspiration obviously coming from Garbrielle Carteris in "90210." So, see, I'm nothing like Bill Simmons at all. (Oh. Right. Crap.) In all seriousness, we've been getting this comparison more and more as the site's readership grows, and while I accept the comparison reluctantly - I'd like to think my work stands on its own, since I've been a practicing columnist/blogger for almost 10 years - I generally take it as a compliment because, well, generally it's meant that way. I've enjoyed Simmons's writing dating back to his Digital Cities days, and I'm not one of those people who begrudges him his success or yelps that he mails it in nowadays; he created a niche, was ahead of the game in terms of utilizing the word-of-mouth power of the Internet, has a truly unique and entertaining writing style, worked his butt off, and he deserves every penny and plaudit that comes to him. On the other hand, I like to think I have considerably more respect for the journalism profession than he does, I'm not a fan of people who burn bridges for petty reasons, and I'm not quite sure what to make of the fact that he comes across as remarkably self-congratulatory and even arrogant every time I read a profile of him. A little graciousness is never a bad thing, no matter how successful you are or how many people tried to hold you down. So that's where I stand on that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll now go light myself on fire. (What? That catchphrase is taken? Simmons? Really? Damn it all.)

FROM MIKE B: Five Red Sox related articles:

1) "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" by Updike (New Yorker 1961)

2) "Day of Light and Shadow" by Jonathan Schwartz (SI 1979),

3) Gammons' game account in the Globe after Game 6 in '75

4) Roger Angell's New Yorker columns after '67, '75 & '78. ( Angell revealed in the '78 one that he was rooting for the Sox. When asked what he thought Yankee fans might say to him about that he replied "Yankee fans don't read." I always loved that line.)

5) Thomas Boswell's Washington Post columns in October, 2004 on the baseball playoffs and World Series.

GREAT list. The Gammons and Updike stories are legendary, and you can still find them in various places, including The Red Sox Reader. I'm not familiar with Schwartz's SI piece, but I will be. Angell is Angell, baseball's preeminent essayist, and his fastball was unhittable in the '70s. And I'm really glad you mentioned Boswell - his stuff in '03 and '04 was far and away the best among any national writer not based in Boston, a joy to read not only for his way with words, but his clear-headed perspective of what happened. He just plain gets the Red Sox and their fans, and I wasn't surprised to learn he graduated from Amherst and spent some quality time at Fenway. Boswell is not one to deal in tired cliches, and I can't recommend his compilations of baseball columns and features (including the currently appropriate "Why Time Begins On Opening Day") highly enough.

FROM SHAUN K: "Top Five Fan Rooting Sections:"

The Gallery Gods
Conig's Corner
The Bird's Nest
Mosi's Mooses
Pedro's K Korner

What, no love for Ricky Davis's Get Buckets brigade? Or Derek Lowe's Lower Box O' One-Night Stands? Geez, no respect.

FROM SCOTT S. You should have your iPod repossessed. Your daughter has better taste in music than you.

Andy Gibb here begs to differ. Wait . . . Andy Gibb would beg to differ, if soulless monsters like you, Victoria Principal and his 327 cocaine dealers hadn't ruined him. You killed the music, my friend. You.

And finally, FROM STEVE R., smoothly segueing us into baseball season : Here are 5 things to look for once camp opens this weekend:

1. Someone (probably Schilling) will be described in the papers as being "in the best shape of his life". It never fails that someone is described this way.

2. Someone will also be described as having "added 10 or 15 pounds of muscle". This has often been used to describe various players over the years (Fred Lynn, Derek Lowe, Pedro). After reading Gordon Edes's piece I think it is safe to say that Kevin Youkilis will not be the one who added the muscle. He not only shares his predecessors first name and stat projections, but body type as well. Count me among those who is not a fan of Youkilis. I think he's a stopgap for this year, maybe even the first half of the season only. If he was never mentioned in that Billy Beane 'Moneyball' book he would be viewed as nothing more than a fringe MLB player, at best.

3. The first time Wakefield gets shelled the nitwits on WEEI will go into one of their patented close-minded witch hunts and claim that not having Doug Mirabelli was the cause and not having him around will be a problem for Wakefield. Please. Wakefield is your typical hot-cold pitcher. He can be a world beater for a couple of starts and then he serves up more gopher balls than a Juggs machine in three or four following starts.

4. It will be headline news when Manny reports. As if he's never reported on time? Leave the guy alone and watch him go .300-40-135.

5. There will be endless talk of the Red Sox pitching depth. I seem to recall last year that we were raving about their pitching depth. That depth included and implied the likes of John Halama and Wade Miller and they were both gone by July. You can never have enough quality pitching so I would do whatever it took to convince Wells to hang around because someone - Beckett, Schilling, Wakefield, Clement, Arroyo - will go through a period of either injury or ineffectiveness. I have more confidence in Papelbon than any of them.

Agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed and agreed (though I think Beckett could win 20+ games). And I can't wait to find out if we're right or wrong. This winter is one Shelly Duval appearance from turning me into Nicholson in "The Shining." Something tells me the first time I hear "Play ball," or better, the beautifully raspy three-pack-a-day tones of Jerry Remy, all will be well again.

Thanks for checking in, remember to click to Google ads, and keep the mailbag full. Should have a new Nine Innings column posted Sunday/Monday.

Out like A-Rod in the clutch,


Update, 1:23 a.m. Tuesday: Sorry, no post tonight. I'd like to claim I was pounding wine coolers at the Houston Four Seasons while ogling MJ and Charles Oakley, but the boring truth is I had to paint my office and my daughter's room tonight and the fumes have made me higher than Ricky Williams. I'll try and crank something out this afternoon or late, late tonight. Now excuse me while I do my yoga.

Friday, February 17, 2006

And don't forget Rogelio Moret

Back by popular demand - not to mention my inability to formulate a complete sentence on two hours' sleep - it's the Random Lists of Five . . .

Five Basketballers I Wish I Could See Play Again:
1) Larry (duh)
2) Magic (so Larry can beat him)
3) Bernard King (the single greatest midrange scorer I've ever seen, and he was damn tough even after he blew out his knee)
4) David Thompson (brought down by cocaine and the staircase at Studio 54, but in his youth he had every ounce of Michael Jordan's ability)
5) George Gervin (there will never be another quite like the Iceman)

Five Current Basketballers I Can Do Without (a.k.a. Don't Hate The Game, Hate The Playa):
1) Kobe Bryant (he clearly prefers heaving up fadeaways for a mediocre team to playing a starring but occasionally secondary role for a champion; that's about all you need to know about his character)
2) Stephon Marbury . . .
3) . . . and Steve Francis (if Isiah Thomas fulfills the rumor and unites these two overrated, selfish blockheads in the Knicks' backcourt, I'll be convinced that he's either A) had another lobotomy or B) is trying to get Larry Brown to quit so he can coach the team himself.
4) Chris Webber (few shrivel so predictably when the game is on the line)
5) Brian Scalabrine (34 minutes, 2 points against the Cavs Wednesday. Gah.)

Five Red Sox From The '90s Who You Don't Remember Playing For The Red Sox In The '90s:
1) Jim Byrd
2) Gar Finnvold
3) Jim Pankovits
4) Peter Hoy
5) Brian Bark

Five Best David Gray Songs:
1) Sail Away
2) This Year's Love
3) The One I Love
4) Say Hello Wave Goodbye
5) Please Forgive Me

Five Who Would Make My Laminated List:
1) Jennifer Aniston circa 1997
2) Kathy Ireland circa 1987
3) Jenna Fischer circa now
4) Beyonce
5) Courtney Love (just seeing if you were still paying attention there)

Five 1977 Texas Rangers:
1) Bump Wills (Maury's kid looked like a future star, and then like that he was gone)
2) Adrian Devine (sounds like a stripper)
3) Mike (The Human Rain Delay) Hargrove
4) Claudell (Why The Long Face?) Washington
5) Dock Ellis

Five Best Damn Patriots, Period:
1) John Hannah
2) Tom Brady (Hannah was the best ever at his position. Brady isn't, but . . . )
3) Mike Haynes
4) Andre Tippett
5) Ty Law

Five Best Hockey Players I Saw/Covered In College:
1) Paul Kariya, Maine (100 points as a freakin' freshman)
2) Brian Rolston, Lake Superior State (a fine NHL player, sure, but back in the day I'd have bet Janet Gretzky that he'd be a mortal-lock superstar)
3) Brendan Morrison, Michigan
4) Jamie Ram, Michigan Tech (only got a cup of Tim Horton's in the NHL, but he was consistently sensational for a lousy college team)
5) Anson Carter, Michigan State

Five Who Snorted Away Their Talent:
1) Gooden and Strawberry (basically the same sordid tale)
2) Don Rogers (hard-hitting Browns safety - think Lawyer Milloy - died of a cocaine overdose in 1986)
3) Steve Howe (off-field stuff overshadowed that he was a truly dominating lefty reliever)
4) Boston's ultimate What-Might-Have-Been, Len Bias . . .
5) . . . and about a half-dozen of his classmates from the 1986 NBA Draft.

Five Songs That Make My 2-Year-Old Daughter Dance (And By Dance I Mean Run 500 High-Speed, Sugar-Fueled Laps Around The Dining Room Table):
1) "I Want To Hold Your Hand," The Beatles (or as she calls them, "the Beables")
2) "She Loves You," The Beables (I never realized it until I heard the Fab Four through her ears, but their early stuff really could pass for kids' music.)
3) "Heart of Glass," Blondie (Because nothing says "children's music" like a coked-up Debbie Harry fluttering around in a see-through dress. I miss the '70s.)
4) "Suds In the Bucket," Sara Evans (Little ponytailed girl/Grows up to be a woman/Now she's gone in the blink of an eye.) Hmmm, I think the kid is already sending her old man a message.
5) "Dancing Queen," ABBA (And Daddy likes it too . . . SHUT UP, I SAID!!!)

Five Timeless Sports Books You've Probably Read:
1) "Ball Four," Jim Bouton
2) "The Breaks of the Game," David Halberstam
3) "Beyond the Sixth Game," Peter Gammons
4) "North Dallas Forty," Peter Gent
5) "A Season On The Brink," John Feinstein

Five Timeless Sports Books You May Not Have Read But Should:
1) "The Prophet of the Sandlots," Mark Winegardner
2) "Stolen Season," David Lamb
3) "Road Swing," Steve Rushin
4) "The Curse of Rocky Colavito," Terry Pluto
5) "A Season Inside" John Feinstein

Five Proven Pitchers I Wouldn't Touch This Year In Fantasy Baseball With Bea Arthur's . . .
1) Randy Johnson (looking forward to watching him bicker with Jorge Posada)
2) Carl Pavano (His back hurts? Already? Can you say "Ed Whitson"?)
3) Dontrelle Willis (he's a joy and I root for him, but he could hit cleanup in that feeble lineup)
4) Pedro Martinez (no truth to the rumor he hurt his troublesome toe stubbing it on a mango tree)
5) Roger Clemens (he'll pitch, but he's got to get old one of these years . . . doesn't he?)

Five Best Boston Broadcasting Teams (courtesy of correspondent Shaun Kelly):
1) Ned Martin and Jim Woods
2) Fred Cusick and Johnny Pierson
3) Gil Santos and Bob Cousy
4) Johnny Most and Jim Pansulo
5) John Carlson and Jon Morris

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mailing lists

Dear TATB peeps,

My apologies for the empty promise regarding a column Monday. It seems the four hours I spent putting a coat of noxious primer on our upstairs walls combined with the withdrawal I'm suffering from trying to cut back on "Daddy's Juice" (my little girl's too-appropriate name for my daily Dunkin' Donuts large iced coffee) have given me a headache that would undoubtedly kill a man with a less thick skull. As it is, I've taken to wearing a batting helmet at all times. You know, just in case.

For what it's worth, I'd intended to write about the WEEI-driven hysteria regarding the slim-to-none chance of Roger Clemens returning to the Red Sox, and I probably will still get into it in a Nine Innings column in the next day or two. For now, though, let's just say I thought Gordon Edes hit the bull's-eye (as usual) with this take in his Sunday Baseball Notes column:

"From here, it seems unfathomable that Clemens would give up an ideal situation in Houston -- he lives just minutes from the ballpark, can track his kids' athletic exploits, is excused from being at the park except when he pitches, plays with his best buddy, Andy Pettitte, and has become as beloved in his hometown as Nolan Ryan and Earl Campbell, turning a football town into a baseball hothouse -- for a few more dollars and the chance to relive some misty water-colored memories of the way he was, in the place where it all began."

Bingo. I'm sure the thought of returning to Boston appeals to Clemens on some level. But Sox fans, of all people, should know the man is a mercenary first and foremost - c'mon, he didn't really jump to Toronto because he thought it neighbored Texas - and while sentiment counts for something, it ranks somewhere distantly behind cash and convenience in the Rocket's world.

* * *

One more thing before I down 43 Advils and five Shipyards and let Calgon take me away: Judging by the overwhelmingly positive reaction, I'd say the Lists of Five will definitely play a recurring role on TATB. I received roughly 75 emails the last three days, with pretty much every one of them telling me one of these two things:

• 1) Love the lists, keep cranking 'em out, dude!
• 2) Hey, Finn, on your list of the 5 Worst (Blanks) In (Blank) History, how could you forget (blank), you stupid (blank)?

While my massive ego certainly enjoyed reading the former emails more than the latter, I have to admit you guys came up with some phenomenal suggestions. On my list of Five White Stiffs, Celtics Edition, for instance, there is no excuse for me leaving off Frankenstein In Hightops, better known as Eric Montross. And how could I forget Vitaly Potapenko, who, as ready Bob F. points out, was once drafted ahead of Kobe Bryant?

Brad Lohaus's name also came up at least a half-dozen times, with reader Kevin J. calling him "Raef LaFrentz's illegitimate step-dad." I have no idea what that means, but I like it.

No-field, no-hit Donnie Sadler was a popular (unpopular?) choice as a Lousy Red Sox Infielder, Dan Duquette Era, as was Juan Bell, who apparently was so lousy that I blacked out all recollection of him playing for the Sox. And a couple of readers with the kind of sick sense of humor I can appreciate noted that a list of Five Patriots Running Back Who Lost Their Legs In A Hurry is not complete without Robert Edwards and the knee he left on the beach in Hawaii.

A couple of correspondents wondered how I could be so disrespectful of Kevin Romine on the Five Crappy Red Sox Outfielders, Lou Gorman Era list. I replied the only way I knew how: Thanks for the note, Mrs. Romine.

Oh, and some cat named Gammons, who pops in from time to time and seems to know his stuff, offered this suggestion for one of our various lists of Red Sox prospects who never panned out:

"What about Dave (Buckethead) Schmidt, who hit two homers for the Sox and is now a Hollywood producer? (The movie) Racing Stripes was his."

Frankly, we're not sure what stuns us more - that Gammons, who still could probably rattle off the starting lineups from every early '80s Boston farm team, mentioned only one of the Sox's numerous hot-shot washouts from that era. Or that there was another Buckethead besides TATB's very own Rodney (Yo, Don't Call Me Buckethead Unless You Want A Cap Popped In Your $*#) Craig. My head hurts worse just pondering the enormity of it all.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback and the contributions, though we must admit the stunning extent of your reaction led us to an unwelcome conclusion: You'd rather I sit here and make freakin' lists up off the top of my head then slave over a well-considered (okay, rambling) 1,000-word column for three or four hours. Not only do I hereby rescind my earlier apology for blowing you off, but I guess I have no choice but to put my thoughts regarding that hurtful little revelation in a format you illiterate simpleton dummies can apparently understand:

5 Reasons TATB Readers Can Kiss My White . . .

I keed, I keed. Keep the email comin' and the Suggestion Box full.

Uh, hold on there . . . not so fast, Mrs. Romine.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I just want to be your everything

New column coming Sunday night - with actual sentences and paragraphs and everything! In the meantime, let's play a few more rounds of Random Lists of Five.

(Your feedback, overwhelmingly positive regarding yesterday's debut effort, is much appreciated. I'll imagine I'll use this format as a recurring feature, at least on days where I don't have a chance to write anything substantial.)

Five College Basketball Players I Loved Watching:
1. Danny Manning, Kansas (I've never seen one player carry a team like he carried the unranked Jayhawks to the '88 title)
2. Chris Jackson, LSU
3. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse (one year does make a career)
4. Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymount
5. Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech (better as a freshman in college than he ever was as a Celtic)

Five Coulda-Been-Greats Who Passed Away Far Too Soon:
1. Reggie Lewis (can you believe he'd be 40 this year?)
2. Lyman Bostock
3. Len Bias
4. Pelle Lindbergh
5. Joe Delaney (Chiefs' star running back in early '80s drowned trying to rescue three children.)

Five Patriots Running Back Who Lost Their Legs In A Hurry:
1. John Stephens
2. Leonard Russell (getting stabbed didn't help)
3. Marion Butts (ran like he ate Jerome Bettis)
4. Craig James
5. Corey Dillon (????)

Five Movies The Remote Always Seems To Stall On:
1. Boogie Nights
2. Swingers
3. Dazed and Confused ("I'm here to drink some beer and kick some ass. Look like we're about out of beer.")
4. Office Space ("Why should I change my name? He's the one who sucks.")
5. Almost Famous (for the Tiny Dancer scene and Billy Crudup's underrated performance)

Five White Stiffs, Celtics Edition:
1. Greg Kite
2. Eric Fernsten
3. Brett Szabo (an M.L. Carr favorite during the ill-fated Tanking It For Tim Duncan campaign, he probably wasn't good enough for the CBA)
4. Steve Kuberski
5. Veal Scalabrine

Five Songs On The TATB iPod That Will Convince You I Don't Deserve To Have Eardrums:
1. "I Just Want To Be Your Everything," Andy Gibb (He died of a broken heart, you know. Bleepin' Victoria Principal, you she-devil. Oh, and I guess the "Scarface"-sized piles of coke he inhaled did him in too. I know way too much about Andy Gibb, don't I? See, it's admissions such as this that make me glad the site's "comments" section is disabled.)
2. "Dancing Queen," Abba (SHUT UP!!!)
3. "Celebrity Skin," Hole (Song is catchy as hell, but I hate liking anything that makes money for that evil shrew Courtney Love.)
4. "Semi-Charmed Life," Third-Eye Blind (I'm not sure what Stephan Jenkins's greatest accomplishment was; that he had temporarily huge career as a frontman despite a singing voice that suggests he's clinically tone deaf, or that he bagged Charlize Theron. Too close to call.)
5. "Vacation," The Go-Gos. (Before you mock them for being '80s bubblegum, do a little research. You won't have to peck around Google for long to find out that being one of their groupies was a rewarding experience.)

Five Buffett Tunes That Will Help Me Get Through This Alleged Nor'easter:
1. Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season
2. A Pirate Looks At 40 (". . . Made enough money to buy Miami/But I pissed it away so fast . . .")
3. Banana Republics
4. Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit
5. One Particular Harbor

Five Talent-Free Red Sox Outfielders, Lou Gorman Era:
1. Kevin Romine
2. Randy Kutcher (popular with the fans, but it's a crime they traded Hendu for him)
3. Bob Zupcic (might have been the worst corner outfielder ever to get over 300 at-bats in a season)
4. Wayne Housie
5. Herm Winningham (more like Losingham. HAHAHAHAHAHAH!)

Five Talent-Free Red Sox Infielders, Dan Duquette Era:
1. Jeff Manto
2. Esteban Beltre
3. Andy Sheets (a poor man's Mike Benjamin)
4. Ed Sprague
5. Arquimedez Pozo

Five Best Cornerbacks I've Seen Play For The Patriots, In Order Of Rank:
1. Mike Haynes
2. Ty Law
3. Raymond Clayborn
4. Maurice Hurst (a fine player sentenced to play for some awful teams)
5. Ronnie Lippett (slim pickings; Ellis Hobbs could make this list soon)

Five Names Roger Clemens Suggested (And Debbie Clemens Shot Down) For Their Goofy "K" Kids:
1. Kielbasa
2. KlamKake
3. KrispyKreme
4. Krabrangoon
5. Steve

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Random Lists of Five 02.10.06

Why five? Because four is never enough, and six is obviously self-indulgent, you dummy.

Why lists? Because Chad Finn is tired, and when Chad Finn is tired he starts talking in the third person, throwing around even more profanity than usual, and struggling to form coherent sentences. In conclusion, if you don't like lists, Chad Finn says you can go *$*#((@(*#**@**@****#*&@&& sand.

So there. Oh. yeah, if we have enough fun with this, we'll make it a recurring feature. Consider this the test drive. Here goes:

Five Sox Phenoms Who Proved To Be Flashes In The Pan:
1. Ted Cox
2. Phil Plantier
3. Kevin Morton
4. Sam Horn (sorry, big fella)
5. Rey Quinones

Five Hotshot Red Sox Prospects Who Never Saw The Inside Of Fenway Without A Ticket:
1. Juan Bustabad
2. Jeff Ledbetter
3. Otis Foster
4. Andy Yount
5. John Curtice

Five Who Did, But Sure As Hell Shouldn't Have:
1. Bobby Sprowl
2. Marc Sullivan
3. Greg Blosser
4. Mike Brown
5. Jeff Sellers

Five Players Sox Management Let Get Away Too Soon (Rocket, Pudge and the Babe Excluded):
1. Cecil Cooper
2. Ellis Burks
3. The kid third baseman Lou Gorman traded for Larry Andersen and three hoagies
4. Bruce Hurst
5. Ben Oglivie

Five Outstanding Patriot Linebackers Who Don't Get Their Due:1. Clayton Weishuhn
2. Don Blackmon
3. Johnny Rembert
4. Lawrence McGrew
5. Rod Shoate

Five Sox Players TATB Admired For Reasons We Can't Logically Explain:
1. Butch Hobson
2. Chico Walker
3. LaSchelle Tarver
4. Pat Dodson
5. Sam Bowen

Five Well-Known Players Whom You Probably Forgot Played For The Sox:
1. Willie McGee
2. Tim McCarver
3. Juan Marichal
4. Dan Petry
5. Kevin Mitchell

Five Celtics Guards Who Still Have Nightmares About Andrew Toney:
1. Quinn Buckner
2. Gerald Henderson
3. Ray Williams
4. Chris Ford
5. Danny Ainge

Five Most Despicable ESPN Personalities:
1. Stuart Scott, SportsCenter anchor
2. Stuart Scott, NFL Countdown host
3. Stuart Scott, would-be "slam" poet
4. Stuart Scott, Dream Job host
5. Stuart Scott, butt-kisser to the stars

Five Reasons 'The Office' Is The Best Show On Television And, No, I Don't Want To Hear About The British Version Because This Stands On Its Own, Dammit:
1. Jenna Fischer (Pam), perfectly cast as the beautifully plain Girl Next Door/Office Crush who can't quite muster up enough self-esteem to leave her hapless fiance and admit she has feelings for Jim. As you can tell by this picture, they do a nice job of hiding the fact that she's ridiculously hot in real life.
2. John Krasinski (Jim), who effortlessly pulls off the pivotal role of the affable slacker pining for Pam. He's the heart of the show, and me and Mrs. Gretzky are both betting that he soon emerges as the next bankable male romantic comedy movie star now that John Cusack is so damn bloated and creepy.
3. Steve Carell (Michael), who's over-the-top and hammy where the rest of the cast is layered and subtle, yet he brings the right dose of sentiment to his scenery-chewing role as the painfully inept boss.
4. Rainn Wilson (Dwight), a dead-on amalgam of every annoying, condescendingly nerdy, slightly berserk colleague you've ever been forced to share workspace with.
5. A supporting cast of hilarious, vivid, well-drawn characters, many of whom are portrayed by members of the show's writing team. Seriously, even if you loved the British version, this is great in its own right. Give it a chance, wankers.

Five Best Jack Johnson Tunes:
1. Never Know
2. Flake
3. Wastin' Time
4. Symbol In My Driveway
5. Taylor

Five Anti-Bradys:
1. Tony Eason
2. Matt Cavanaugh
3. Marc Wilson
4. Scott Secules
5. Michael Bishop

Five Ways Our Very Own "Buckethead" Is Linked To The Greatest Players Of All-Time (aka Six Degrees of Rodney Craig):
1. Rod Craig played with Mario Mendoza for the 1979 Seattle Mariners; Mario Mendoza played with Willie Stargell for the 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates; Willie Stargell played with Vern Law for the 1967 Pittsburgh Pirates; Vern Law played with Ray Mueller for the 1950 Pittsburgh Pirates; Ray Mueller played with Babe Ruth for the 1935 Boston Braves
2. Rod Craig played with Steve Carlton for the 1986 Chicago White Sox; Steve Carlton played with Tracy Stallard for the 1966 St. Louis Cardinals; Tracy Stallard played with Ted Williams for the 1960 Boston Red Sox
3. Rod Craig played with Larry Milbourne for the 1980 Seattle Mariners; Larry Milbourne played with Jim Colborn for the 1978 Seattle Mariners; Jim Colborn played with Hank Aaron for the 1975 Milwaukee Brewers
4. Rod Craig played with Neal Heaton for the 1982 Cleveland Indians; Neal Heaton played with Barry Bonds for the 1989 Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Rod Craig played with Ted Cox for the 1980 Seattle Mariners

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dollars to donuts

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free half-formed rants for you . . .

1) A sappy, sentimental video? C'mon, that's the best the Sox' crack staff of PR honchos can do? If the Red Sox really want to win Roger Clemens's black little heart, they should start by sending him a year's supply of Krispy Kremes and a Brinks truck loaded with unmarked bills.

2) After watching the club-footed hijinks of shankmasters such as the Colts' Drunken Idiot Mike Vanderjagt and Seattle's Josh Brown in the playoffs, is it out of the realm of possibility that some team will give restricted free-agent Adam Vinatieri an offer he can't refuse? I know the Cowboys consider kickers to be disposable parts, but the Tuna did bring Vinatieri into the league, and we know how fond he is of His Guys. (Yup, I'm paranoid.)

3) I get a kick out of the Bruins semi-fans and 'EEI mouthbreathers who are proclaiming Tim Thomas the goalie of the future. Sure, Thomas has been the team's saving grace since his recall from Providence, and his rise from obscurity is a cool story. But this is no kid we're talking about. He's a journeyman who's making the most of his first legit chance, but he's a journeyman for a reason. It's foolish to think he's suddenly turned into Ken Dryden. To put it another way: I wrote a magazine feature about him when he was at UVermont and I was at UMaine. I'm 36.

4) My crystal ball - which, strangely enough, is held together by red seams - tells me that Mike Lowell will bounce back big-time. So will Curt Schilling. As for Keith Foulke? Sad to say, but he'll be on the Ramiro Mendoza Memorial Ongoing Rehab Stint For Pitchers Gone Bad for much of the summer. To paraphrase Beck: Baby, he's a lost cause.

5) Was it just me, or were you infinitely more bummed about the ending to the Patriots' season after the Super Bowl than you were in the immediate aftermath of that disastrous night in Denver? It's arrogant to say, but we've become so accustomed to watching our Patriots rejoice and celebrate and hoist the Lombardi Trophy and do the "I'm going to Disney World" routine that it was bizarre and a little bit jarring to watch the Steelers revel in their championship moment. I admit, I felt a twinge of jealousy. If we as fans feel this way, imagine how the Pats players must feel.

6) How predictable was it that Vegas would make A-Rod Manning and the Colts the early favorite to win the 2007 Super Bowl? This predictable: Janet Jones-Gretzky has already dropped $500K on Indy. (Rimshot! And if you think this was an excuse to run a picture of the lovely Mrs. Great One . . . well, y'all know me too well, peeps.)

7) Perhaps my optimism is buoyed by the knowledge that spring training is on the horizon. But the more consideration I give it, the more I believe that with a few reasonable breaks, the Red Sox could be scary good this season. (And if you want more insight than that, you're just going to have to buy the book. How's that for a teaser?)

8) Maybe Marcus Banks truly was so lazy and undisciplined that he was beyond help; the Celtics certainly portrayed him as such before and after The Trade. But the kid's talent is undeniable. If he learns to subjugate his own game and figures out the whole selfless point guard thing in Minnesota - big "if" to be sure, yet a reasonable one - I'd consider that nothing less than a damning indictment of Doc Rivers. If there's one thing he should be able to teach, it's point guard play, particularly considering Doc had to overcome a shoot-first mentality at the position himself after coming to the NBA out of Marquette.

9) If Danny Ainge had done the prudent thing (and we say that with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight) and kept Darius Songaila, we likely never would have become acquainted with Brian "Veal" Scalabrine. I, for one, could live comfortably with that arrangement.

10) As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

As several readers pointed out after my Pro Football Hall of Fame post the other day, ol' Gino is one more ex-Patriot who never got his appropriate due from the voters. Please explain, Dr. Z.

Monday, February 06, 2006

First and 10: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

1) You know this was killing them. Tom Brady, on hand for the pregame festivities, and Bill Belichick, doing the Football Genius thing for ESPN, both had a front-row seat yesterday for the confirmation of something they probably already knew: The New England Patriots are a superior football team to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. Oh, we're not saying they deserved to be in Detroit yesterday - they shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in Denver, the inferior Broncos couldn't help but take advantage, and that's that. Nor do we mean to diminish what the Steelers accomplished, though it probably reads that way - after winning at Cincy, at Indy and at Denver, they ran a hell of a gauntlet. For that alone, they are deserving champions. But . . . these teams just aren't that good. The scattershot quarterback play of Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Hasselbeck had to leave Brady shaking his head and wondering why they were out there playing while he's stuck flipping a freakin' coin. And Belichick must have been rolling his eyes while watching Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren repeatedly one-up each other with stupid decisions. Yesterday's hideous display of alleged football simply had to leave the Patriots with one more kick-in-the-gut reminder of the opportunity they fumbled away in Denver, one thought that will linger until the new season comes around: Dammit, that should have been us.

2) Joe Jurevicius, the Seahawks outstanding possession receiver, revealed he was poised to sign with the Pats prior to the '02 season, but Scott Pioli and the gang instead settled on . . . (drumroll please) . . . Donald Hayes. Yikes. It's a tribute to Pioli that one remembers his bad decisions in large part because they are so few and far between. On the other hand, I'd go so far as to say if the Pats had made two personnel decisions differently in the last four years - signing Jurevicius when they had the chance and, two years later, being willing to gamble that John Lynch, who wanted to be a Patriot, could overcome his neck problem - there'd absolutely be another parade in Boston this week.

3) Now that he's no longer burdened by the professional athlete's duty to remain in tip-top shape, six months and 10,000 Snickers bars from now, Bettis is going to look like Aretha Franklin's stunt double.

4) You hate to see an accomplished loudmouth like Joey Porter vindicated - can someone shoot him in the ass again this offseason, puh-leeze? - but it turns out he had Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens pegged all along. What a fraud: I can't think of an athlete who choked so repeatedly - he dropped four passes - in a big game. You'd almost feel bad for the guy if he didn't have a reputation as a world-class jerk dating back to his college days. Remember, Pats traded up to get Daniel Graham in the first round of the '02 draft in part because Stevens was the other highly-rated tight end on the board, and Belichick wanted nothing to do with the kid.

5) Last word on ol' Stonehands Stevens: Check out K.C. Star columnist Jason Whitlock's suggestion that he might have been up to something more sinister. It's been a few years since I took Mass Media Law and Ethics, but my first reaction to reading this paragraph was that it was borderline slanderous:

The Seahawks did what they could to help the Steelers, too. Jerramy Stevens, called out by Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter during pregame hype, dropped enough Matt Hasselbeck passes that FBI investigators would be negligent for failing to interrogate Stevens today. His third-quarter TD catch has to be considered a smokescreen, clutched with two hands to fool people suspicious of a point-shaving scandal.

6) Hey, has anyone made the thank-god-Mick-Jagger-didn't-have-a-wardrobe-malfunction joke yet? Someone has? Everyone has? Well, okay, never mind then.

7) Seattle's loss must be devastating for Franco Harris - you know, with him being a long-time and legendary Seahawk and all.

8) Got an email from one reader this morning who said, by his count, the refs made eight blantantly incorrect calls, every single one of which cost the Seahawks points, yardage or ball possession. I didn't watch the game closely enough to confirm whether or not this is entirely accurate, but this much was obvious: The men with the whistles were, as was their habit this postseason, brutal. (Somewhere, Asante Samuel nods in agreement.) Where's Guns Hochuli to restore order and set things right when you need him? I know this much: this never would have happened if Paul Tagliabue were alive.

9) Go ahead, Steelers. Enjoy the moment and the glory. You earned it. But make no mistake: That Lombardi Trophy you're cuddling? It's a loaner. You're borrowing it. Mr. Brady and Mr. Belichick will be back one year from now to return it to its rightful place. Understood?

10) As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

"Yo, Matt, throw it! I'm open!"
"Hey, Baldy, look, throw it here!"
"Aw, I'll catch the next one, promise! I was a Rookie Stallion once, you know!"
"One more! C'mon. Gimme one more!"
"Aw, *$&&$, forget it."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

As if we needed another reason to hate Duke

Seven random thoughts regarding the $252 Million Cameron Crazy:

• Little-known fact: A-Rod's preferred shade of lipstick is called "Blue Devil."

• Jeter must be a North Carolina fan.

• He's gunning for the title of Dukie SuperFan No. 1, currently held by Dick Vitale.

• "Chop! Chop! Hey, this is easy! Why, it's just like the move I pulled on Brandon Arroyo!"

• For the first time in his four-year Duke career, J.J. Redick wasn't the most annoying athlete in the building.

• A-Rod loves an underdog, which is why, along with being a Duke diehard, he also is a lifelong fan of the Montreal Canadiens, the Detroit Red Wings, the UConn men's hoop team, the UConn women's hoop team, the Tennessee women's hoop team, the Celtics and the Lakers (and the Spurs and Pistons also), the 2005 Chicago White Sox, Eric Heiden, Mark Spitz, and whoever wins the Super Bowl today.

• Dammit, where's Varitek when you need him?

Select few

I believe Art Monk, the magnet-mitted Redskin, should have taken his rightful place in Canton many Sundays ago.

Ray Guy, the Raiders' graceful punter? Drew Pearson, the Cowboys' graceful receiver? They're long overdue, too.

Cliff Harris, the helmet-cracking, chrome-domed safety from the days when Dallas really was America's Team? Give him that mustard-colored jacket and a toupee to match.
And why Andre Tippett - the second-best pash rushing linebacker of his era, a destructive force cursed to toil on some self-destructive teams - doesn't get within a long pass of the Pro Football Hall of Fame remains a mystery.

One suspects it's yet another strike against the 39 media members who have the priviledge of a vote; they unfailingly come across as cliquish, defensive, and drunk on clout when it comes time to defend their overly exclusionary decision-making.

So we football junkies have to be satisfied by victories when we can get them, and its a pleasure to say we had a few today. The 39 media members got it right this year, chosing six new enshrinees, the maximum number permitted in one class. The sparkling careers of Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Reggie White, Harry Carson, John Madden and Rayfield Wright - forever known as the Class of '06 - became a little more legendary today.

I was curious if Aikman would get in on his first try. While he is one of the greatest winners the league has known, having deftly quarterbacked the Cowboys' dynasty to three Super Bowls in the early '90s, his statistics were always fairly pedestrian. His career-high for touchdown passes in a season was a mere 23, and he finished his 12-year career with only 165 TD passes against 141 interceptions.

Even the most rabidly irrational Cowboy fans - and I'm including the true TurboDorks, such as someone who, oh, I don't know, would actually collect nerdy little team-photo plaques from all of Dallas' Super Bowl teams - will concede Emmitt Smith and the monstrous offensive line did much of the dirty work, and toward the end of his career Aikman wasn't always at his best when his team was shorthanded. (The little birdies circling his oft-concussed coconut probably didn't help.)

But much like a certain current Patriots passer, he was someone whom you trusted entirely in the most crucial moments, and that's the absolute best compliment you can pay a quarterback. It shouldn't be held against him that he was blessed with perfect timing. That his career converged with Emmitt Smith's and Michael Irvin's was a fortuitous twists of fate, sure, but Dallas wouldn't have been three-time champions without all three men.

(I do admit that I took certain glee in watching Aikman get in while Irvin - his favorite target and the statistically superior player of the two - got left out for the second year in a row. Irvin's time will come, but for now I like to think his exclusion is based on karma: Aikman's a class act and a joy to listen to in the broadcast booth. Irvin . . . well, he is neither of those things, to put it nicely. It's probably too much to ask to hope that the temporary slight humbles him.)

Yes, Aikman was a Hall of Fame performer in his own right. The same goes for his fellow quarterback Moon, though for entirely different reasons. Moon never won a Super Bowl - in fact, he was the losing QB in the biggest gag job in NFL history.

But he racked up 51,061 yards of total offense and 313 touchdowns in the NFL, and there's no telling what else he would have accomplished had he not been forced to begin his career in Canada because, for reasons inexplicable or perhaps more sinister. Can you believe not a single NFL team would give him a shot after a record-setting career at the University of Washington? Only after he won five Grey Cups in six seasons did the NFL give him a look. He signed with Houston as a free agent in '84, and became an immediate star. Moon, the first black quarterback in Canton, deserves to be a Hall of Famer not only for what he accomplished, but for what he endured.

White? He was merely the most dominant (198 sacks in 15 seasons) defensive lineman of his time, if not all time. (Somewhere, Max Lane is weeping, sipping from his flask and nodding in agreement.) If his selection was not unanimous, then I'm assuming George King somehow weaseled his way into getting a Hall of Fame vote. White's as automatic as automatic can be, and it's terribly tragic that he did not live to see the day. Something tells me he would have come up with a memorable speech.

Carson was the best-tackling inside linebacker of his era (with apologies to Steve Nelson), and later on was the brain to LT's brawn on those dominant Giants defenses of the mid-'80s. And Madden belongs for a wide range of accomplishments - Super Bowl-winning coach, immensely popular broadcaster, inventor of the turducken, and, in amping up his coolness quotient with the current generation, lending his name to the greatest sports video game since Bo Jackson was ruling TecmoBowl.

While a nitpicker might suggest that either of the Thomases - the Bills' Thurman or the Chiefs' late, great Derrick - were more deserving than Wright, our credibility would be compromised if we didn't admit that we were too young to have seen the former Cowboys tackle in his mid-'70s prime. (Though his football card suggests he shared a barber with Don King, which is cool by us.)

Anyway, it's always a good policy to avoid judging what you do not know, so let's put it this way: If Wright's good enough to gain approval of the too-finicky Hall voters, we figure he would have won our admiration years ago.

Just like so many others still waiting for the Hall to call.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Imperfect 10

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free random thoughts for you . . .

1) I'm not sure what was more surprising: watching that oblivious moron Mark Blount skip up and down the court like he actually gave a damn, or the fact that the oaf did it without tripping over his own two feet. Sure, he played well against his old team - because for the first time in about two years, he was actually trying. He's all yours, Minnesota. Enjoy. I haven't been this happy to see a Boston athlete get the hell out of town since Dan Duquette finally cut his losses on Carl Everett.

2) Call it Traitor's Remorse: After hearing a surprisingly wistful Johnny Damon on David Lee Roth's radio show the other day (which is execrable, by the way), and then hearing that he was booed recently when his picture was shown on the JumboTron at a Rangers game, I have come to this conclusion: He'd better get off to a fast start in New York, or those nagging second thoughts he's having about leaving Boston are going to become full-blown regret.

3) I can't say the news that Tom Brady played much of the season with an injury comes as a surprise. He threw more blantantly errant passes in the final month of the season than he has in the past two years. All along we thought it was just superstition or the Patriots' way of tweaking the NFL, but maybe he really did need to be on the injury report all those weeks after all.

4) Alex Gonzalez hits like Pokey Reese, albeit with more power, fields well but not quite as stylishly, and is known to have a moody personality that is the polar opposite of Pokey's sunny selflessness. I'm not saying the suddenly popular comparison of the Sox's present shortstop to one from the recent past is entirely invalid, but I am saying Gonzalez's popularity at Fenway will not come within a T stop of Pokey's once we get to know this guy.

5) If you want a feel-good story from this Super Bowl that doesn't involve Jerome Bettis and the rest of his overexposed, well-fed family, keep in mind that Steelers linebacker/braying fool Joey Porter survived being shot in the rear end during a bar altercation a few years ago. It is nothing less than an act of God that he didn't suffer brain damage.

6) You read it here first: Jonathan Papelbon will be the Red Sox' closer by June.

7) Dammit, Scott Pioli, I told you you should have drafted Lofa Tatupu. Next time, pay attention, and maybe you'll win a thing or two in this league. Cripes.

8) The 'EEI banshees have spewed a lot of their patented faux angst this week while lamenting that Andy (We Hardly Knew Ye) Marte could become "the next Ramirez." The weird thing is, I happen to agree with the nitwits for once. Marte sounds to me exactly like the second coming of Aramis Ramirez.

9) Ted Sarandis's relentless badgering of Boston sports fans regarding his beloved B.C. basketball team actually led me to doing the unthinkable last night: I rooted for Duke. I know . . . I feel so preppy. I think I need a shower.

10) As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Well, Matt, they do say the bald-as-cue-ball gene comes from the mother's side.