Sunday, February 25, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted, Spring Training Preview Capsules: NL East

(Third in a six-part series, teams listed in order of predicted finish.)

Foul tips and other observations: Jimmy Rollins is right - the Phillies are the team to beat in the East . . . Reasons? Start with the right side of the infield. Reigning MVP Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley combined for 90 homers and 251 RBIs . . . And with the acquisition of Freddy Garcia, the starting rotation is deeper than the Mets', though the Phillies are counting on Brett Myers to finally pitch to the level of his stuff . . .Pat Burrell is a favorite target of the Philly jackals for his strikeouts and supposed lackadaisical attitude, but his numbers (29 homers, .890 OPS) suggest he's a very valuable offensive player . . . You know athletes live in a different world than we do when a mediocrity like Jon Lieber can roll into spring training in a $211,000 truck . . . Definition of a late bloomer: Jamie Moyer didn't win more than 13 games in a season until he was 34, yet he now has 216 career victories . . . Admit it: You had no idea Rollins hit 25 homers last year.

Breakthrough player: Cole Hamels. The cocky lefty already has one of the best changeups around.

Breakdown player: Flash Gordon. Actually, I'm still stunned his elbow survived Joe Torre.

Completely random Bill James stat: How's this for a balance of power? Howard led the NL in home runs on the road (29) and at home (29).

Foul tips and other observations: The lineup could hold its own in the American League, but the starting rotation is straight out of the Atlantic League . . . To put it another way: Both Chan Ho Park and Aaron Sele could begin the season in their rotation. Yikes . . . Tom Glavine should cruise to the 10 wins he needs for 300, but asking him to be the ace at age 41 is a little much . . . It'll be fascinating to see how Pedro Martinez adjusts and alters his style after shoulder surgery. His brother Ramon was never close to the same pitcher after his injury, but then he never had the command and guile that Pedro has. I'm guessing he'll still be effective, but I'm glad the Mets are paying the big bucks to find out and not the Red Sox . . How old is Julio Franco? He made his major-league debut more than a year before Jose Reyes was born . . . Reyes gets my vote as the most fun player to watch in the National League, and one can argue that he's already the best shortstop in New York. He's simply electrifying, especially when he's zipping around the bases and turning a routine double into a standup triple.

Breakthrough player: Mike Pelfrey. Either he or Philip Humber is going to have to deliver in the rotation, because Omar's Retreads won't get it done.

Breakdown player: El Duque. He's closer to Franco's age than he admits.

Completely random Bill James stat: Billy Wagner had the fastest average fastball among NL relievers (95.3 MPH).

Foul tips and other observations: Is John Smoltz a Hall of Famer? I say yes. He and the Eck are the only pitchers in history with 150 wins and 150 saves . . . GM John Schuerholz - who will make it to Cooperstown himself someday - did a hell of a job rebuilding the Braves' bullpen, getting Mike Gonzalez from the Pirates for the overrated Adam LaRoche, then absolutely stealing Rafael Soriano from the Mariners for Horacio Ramirez . . . I'm in the minority here, but I think Tim Hudson is going to bounce back big from last year's misery (13-12, 4.86). His stuff is too good and he's too much of a competitor the fade into mediocrity at age 31 . . . Anyone who thinks free-agent-to-be Andruw Jones would be a capable offensive replacement for Manny Ramirez next season isn't paying attention. Jones hits bushels of home runs (41 last year), but he's just a .267 career hitter . . . Joe Mauer gets all the pub for obvious reasons, but Brian McCann (.333-24-93) might just be the best young offensive catcher in baseball.

Breakthrough player: Kelly Johnson. Former outfielder with a .366 career on-base percentage in the minors takes over for Marcus Giles at second base and in the leadoff spot.

Breakdown player: Chipper Jones. He just got hurt reading this. Pulled eyelid, out four to six weeks.

Completely random Bill James stat: Chipper tied Miguel Cabrera for the highest OPS among NL third baseman (.988).

Foul tips and other observations: Fredi Gonzalez has a great reputation but a tough act to follow. Hanley Ramirez and the rest of the Marlins' kids responded well to Joe Girardi's tough love . . . It doesn't help that two of their better young pitchers, Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, are already dealing with varying degrees of arm problems . . . The most similar batter to Miguel Cabrera through age 23? Some dude named Aaron. Decent company . . . I'm a Josh Beckett believer, but even his most ardent fan finds it hard not to wish Ramirez were playing shortstop for the Sox. His rookie season (.292, 74 extra-base hits, 51 steals) was nothing less than sensational . . . I think Jason Stokes has been on the Marlins' 40-man roster longer than they've actually existed as a franchise. One of these years, maybe he'll get a big-league at-bat to show for it . . . There isn't a more genuinely likeable and charismatic player in baseball than Dontrelle Willis, which makes his offseason arrest all the more disappointing . . . Who's the closer here? Ricky Nolasco has the stuff and the temperament, but not the experience.

Breakthrough player: Jeremy Hermida. A rookie-of-the-year favorite a year ago, he never got going, but his ability is undeniable.

Breakdown player: Dan Uggla. Struggled mightily in the second half. Did pitchers solve the mystery as to why the D-Backs let him get away in the Rule 5 draft?

Completely random Bill James stat: Willis, who never gets cheated at the plate, had the second-highest OPS among pitchers (.565, trailing Carlos Zambrano's .589).

Foul tips and other observations: This team is horrible. Any other questions? . . . John Patterson is the ace in the loosest sense of the word: his single-season high in wins is 9, and he won exactly one game last year . . . But he's a sure thing compared to the rest of the rotation. Thirty-something pitchers are in camp vying for the other four rotation spots and bullpen duty, among them Jermaine Van Buren, Tim Redding, and Jerome Williams. What, no Pat Mahomes? . . . Frank Robinson escaped just in time . . . Brian Schneider (.256-4-55) is the catcher the Sox coveted before re-signing Jason Varitek two winters ago. It's fair to say they did the right thing . . . A closer of Chad Cordero's caliber is wasted on a team that won't have too many save opportunities. Here's hoping Theo Epstein is still reminding Jim Bowden of that on a regular basis . . . At least Ryan Zimmerman offers some hope for the future. He might be better than Scott Rolen at third already.

Breakthrough player: Ryan Church. He'll hit (10 homers in 196 at-bats a year ago) if given a fair shake.

Breakdown player: Nick Johnson. Actually, he's already hurt. But when isn't he?

Completely random Bill James stat: Johnson was second in the league in pitches seen per plate appearance (4.29), behind only the Phillies' Burrell (4.32).

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 24, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted, Spring Training Preview Capsules: NL Central

(Second in a six-part series, teams listed in predicted order of finish.)

Foul tips and other observations:
The insufferable Tony La Russa must think his mighty big brain is mightier and bigger than ever after winning the World Series with this mediocre crew . . . I've long thought Jim Edmonds is his generation's Fred Lynn - a five-tool talent who, through injury or indifference, often finds a way to do something to rub fans the wrong way . . . David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy, former partners in grittiness with the Angels, are reunited in the middle of the Cardinals infield. And the Scrappy White Guy Fetishists rejoice . . . You have to give La Russa and Dave Duncan the benefit of the doubt with the decision to move Adam Wainwright from the bullpen to the rotation, but man, he really was a revelation in relief during the postseason . . . Albert Pujols just turned 27. Whether or not you believe that is his actual age, one glance at his page tells you he is already entrenched among the all-time greats. Pretty amazing for a player heading into just his sixth season.

Breakthrough player: Anthony Reyes. Just 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA as a rookie, he's got the stuff to seize the No. 2 slot behind Chris Carpenter.

Breakdown player: Scott Rolen. Aging third basemen with a history of back, neck, and shoulder problems don't suddenly turn into Cal Ripken Jr.

Completely random Bill James stat: Pujols led the majors in win shares (37).

Foul tips and other observations:
Well, Roger, WE'RE WAITING . . . As is his annual tradition since "retiring" for the first time four years ago, Clemens holds Houston hostage as waits to see which midsummer contender will pay him the most cash for the least amount of work . . . If he does end up selling what's left of his soul back to the Yankees, the Astros are screwed . . . What, you think Jason Jennings and Woody Williams are suitable replacements for Clemens and Andy Pettitte? . . . At least the offense should be improved, with the ever-expanding but highly productive Carlos Lee joining forces with Lance Berkman in the heart of the order . . . Berkman doesn't get enough recognition for his offensive greatness - he hit 45 homers and drove in 136 runs a season ago, and yet you never hear his name mentioned among the best hitters in the game. His most similar player on Papi.

Breakthrough player: Luke Scott. Hit .336 with 10 homers in 214 at-bats last season, and should get every opportunity to establish himself as a reliable run producer batting behind Berkman and Lee.

Breakdown player: Mark Loretta. He's 36, and he was all but shedding body parts down the stretch for the Sox last season.

Completely random Bill James stat: Berkman led the NL in runs created per 27 outs (11.5).

Foul tips and other observations:
I bet even Bill Hall is stunned that Bill Hall hit 35 homers last season . . . Derrick Turnbow is the very definition of a heart-attack closer. He blew eight of 32 save opportunities, lost nine games, and posted a ridiculously brutal 6.87 ERA, yet whiffed 69 in 56.3 innings . . . Jeff Suppan and the Brewers are a perfect match, mediocrity meeting mediocrity . . . Didn't realize Tony Gwynn's kid got 70 at-bats with the big club last year. Tony Jr. weighs in at 185 pounds, which means he could fit into his old man's pouch . . . Prince Fielder, however, is listed at 260, so we can file this one under Like Father, Like Son. He's a better pure hitter than his old man ever was, however . . . Who is Kevin "Shrek" Mench to bitch about a possible platoon role? Guess he has a big head figuratively as well as literally.

Breakthrough player: Rickie Weeks: Has the skills to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases a year for the next decade.

Breakdown player: Ben Sheets. Have he and A.J. Burnett ever been seen in the same place?

Completely random Bill James stat: Fielder had the best at-bats-per-homer ratio of any NL player age 26 or younger (1 homer every 20.3 at-bats).

Foul tips and other observations:
So this is what $300 million buys you these days: Alfonso Soriano ($136 million, much more valuable in fantasy leagues than in real life), Aramis Ramirez ($75 million, a good hitter with a bad reputation), Ted Lilly ($40 million, 59-58 career record), Jason Marquis ($21 million, far and away the worst regular pitcher in the NL last season), Mark DeRosa ($13 million, coming off a career year at age 31), Henry Blanco ($5.255 million, 35-year-old .225 career hitter), Kerry Wood ($1.75 million, now that's actually a worthwhile gamble), Wade Miller ($1.5 million, ditto Wood), Daryle Ward ($1 million, a donut in human form), and Cliff Floyd ($3 million, held together at this point by athletic tape) . . . Ah, well, at least we know Lou Piniella will handle it well when it all falls apart . . . Positives? Carlos Zambrano might be the favorite to win the NL Cy Young award, and Mark Prior certainly has the ability to be a top-notch No. 2 starter, though one has to wonder how the injury-prone classic underachiever will respond to Not-So-Sweet Lou's style . . . Soriano-Derrek Lee-Ramirez is a rather formidable 3-4-5. Too bad they don't get to face Marquis, or they'd really put up some numbers.

Breakthrough player: Zambrano. Yes, he's already a legit ace, but this year he takes it to a truly elite level. He'll parlay 20-plus wins into fat free-agent contract from one of the New York clubs, and Cubs fans will wonder, in between soothing beverages, why Marquis and Lilly got paid and the home-grown hero didn't.

Breakdown player: Wood, Prior . . . take your pick. I hope I'm wrong about both, though. It's a bummer to watch great talent get eroded by injuries.

Completely random Bill James stat: Marquis led the NL in runs allowed, home runs allowed, and not coincidentally, losses.

Foul tips and other observations:
Glad to see Bronson Arroyo get a fat two-year extension from the Reds. He's earned everything that's come his way in the big leagues; it's easy to forget now, after the popularity he attained in Boston, but it wasn't that long ago that he was DFA'd by the Pirates . . . Can't get over what an excellent season the Aaron Harang had in '06. He tied for the NL lead in wins (16), and led in starts (35), complete games (6), and strikeouts (216). Interestingly, his most similar comp in baseball history is Arroyo . . . I find myself still hoping against hope that Ken Griffey Jr. has one more healthy, monster season in him. That's partially because he was a truly transcendant player at his peak, a genuine joy to watch, and yet was overshadowed by his artificially enhanced peers. Mostly, though, it's because he's a day younger than me, and as long he's not officially over the hill, dammit, neither am I . . . Rich Aurilia, now part of the geezer brigade in San Francisco, quietly had a beast of a season last year, hitting .300 with 23 homers and slugging a league-best .680 against lefties. Someone (Edwin Encarnacion?) will have to pick up the overall slack . . . Rheal Cormier had a 2.44 ERA last season, but whiffed just 19 in 48 innings. Man, being a crapballing lefty reliever sure is a nice gig if you can get it . . . Did I mention Mike Stanton is employed by this team too? No word if Tony Fossas is a non-roster invitee.

Breakthrough player: Homer Bailey. The consensus best pitching prospect in baseball, Philip Hughes included. (And somewhere, a Yankees fan rips off his mustache in violent protest.)

Breakdown player: Griffey. They're sending/The old man home . . .

Completely random Bill James stat: Arroyo led the NL in pitches below 80 MPH with 1,350, nearly 300 more than runner-up Livan Hernandez. So basically, Arroyo is the anti-Beckett.

Foul tips and other observations:
I like the Tony Armas signing - he has the arm and the ability, just not much in the way of results. His old man could probably bat fifth on this team, however . . . I'm pretty sure Jim Tracy couldn't tell you the difference between Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, and Paul Maholm. I sure as hell can't . . . Salomon Torres, the NL leader in appearances a year ago, is a baseball survivor - at one point, he retired to take a coaching job with the Gulf Coast League Expos. Seems so long ago that he was the goat of the memorable '93 NL West race . . . I bet the Pirates ultimately regret dealing Mike Gonzalez for Adam LaRoche. Gonzalez didn't blow a save last year, and LaRoche overachieved . . . How is it that Jason Bay was traded three times (once for the legendary Lou Collier) before establishing himself in the big leagues? Had the Expos held on to him and Grady Sizemore, they might still exist.

Breakthrough player: Shane Youman. No relation to Floyd Youmans. But it'd be cool if he was.

Breakdown player: Freddy Sanchez. We're not predicting an injury here, merely a 60-point decline in batting average. He can't be that good, can he?

Completely random Bill James stat: Um, maybe he can. Sanchez was third in the NL in batting with runners in scoring position (.386), trailing only a couple of guys named Bonds (.423) and Pujols (.397). Sanchez also led the league in batting against lefthanded pitchers (.442, and no, that's not a typo).

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

". . . underneath to DJ . . . "

NBA history seems to remember the steal as primarily a Larry Legend riff, with backing vocals by Johnny Most. But the thinking Celtics fan will tell you that Bird's interception and pass to Dennis Johnson was actually also the definitive DJ play, the embodiment of who he was as a player and as a Celtic: intelligent, poised, remarkably clutch, always there when you needed him the most.

Of course you (and Isiah Thomas) need no further identification of the particular play we are talking about, for the highlight, from Bird's lunge and pivot, to DJ's amazing presence of mind to actually cut, to the underrated degree of difficulty of DJ's Dumars-dodging backhanded layup, to the way the ball took a teasing half-rotation around the rim before dropping . . . well, it remains as clear as ever 20 years after the final buzzer. But with word of DJ's sudden passing from a heart attack today came the appropriate flood of testimonials from his peers and fans, welcome reminiscences of other highlights from his decorated and yet underappreciated 14-year NBA career, during which he was a five-time All-Star, a nine-time All-Defensive selection, and most importantly to him, a three-time champion.

We remembered him for taming the Boston Strangler, Andrew Toney, after arriving from Phoenix for Bird drinking buddy Rick Robey in one of the great heists in sports history. We remembered him for hassling and dogging and pestering Magic Johnson to distraction while willing the '84 Finals in the Celtics' direction. We remembered so much . . . the ballsy buzzer-beating jumper at the Forum in the '85 Finals . . . the no-look passes to Bird on the baseline that seemed to be drawn up telepathically . . . Larry's open admiration for his attributes as a teammate . . . the way he'd always take it and make it when the game hanged in the balance, even at the tail end of a 3 for 13 shooting night . . . the way he always seemed to know where the dead spots were on the Garden floor, and how he'd use that knowledge to pick his opponent's pocket at the most opportune time (ask Doc Rivers). . . the way he just plain won, for there were few greater winners in NBA history than Dennis Johnson.

And once again, we remembered that it's downright criminal he's not in the Hall of Fame.

I apologize if I seem all over the place here, more hackneyed than usual. It's just that this one is particularly hard to take. If DJ isn't in the starting five of my all-time favorite NBA players, he's one of the first guys off the bench; hell, I found myself getting melancholy listening to the Whiner Line tribute a few moments ago. When I first began to love the game, in third grade, DJ, then a lithe, leaping two-guard paired with Gus Williams in Seattle, was one of the first players I was enamored with, in part, I'm certain, because I'd never seen a brother with reddish hair and freckles before. I only hope ESPN Classic has the good sense to show a few of his best moments (including his redemptive MVP performance in the '79 Finals with the Sonics) instead of whatever Stump The Schwab marathon and three-month old college football games they have scheduled. He deserves that.

DJ's gone, at 52 and far too young. As if the green-and-white glory days didn't seem so long ago already.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TATB's Long-Awaited, Half-Assed, Red Sox-Slanted, Spring Training Preview Capsules: NL West

(First in a six-part series, teams listed in predicted order of finish.)

Foul tips and other observations:
Confession: I had no idea until recently that Derek Lowe tied for the NL lead in wins last season (16). Yes, I wish he was still in Boston, and so do most of the bars . . . The Juan Pierre signing was ignorant enough on its own merit, but the fact that it effectively blocks Matt Kemp (a Dave Winfield wannabe) from the big leagues makes it downright inexplicable . . . Andre Ethier? Eh, he's a JAG . . . I'm immediately docking them five victories due to the Grady Factor. The dope still can't manage a bullpen without an illustrated manual.

Breakthrough player: Jonathan Broxton. Sure, he looks like he swallowed Sidney Ponson whole, but with 97 strikeouts in 76 innings a season ago, he's reminiscent of a young Eric Gagne. No wonder the Sox insisted on including him in any trade discussions for Manny Ramirez. Come to think of it, last year was kind of his breakthrough, so let's just say the Dodgers have a number of other candidates who qualify here, most notably starter Chad Billingsley, third baseman Andy LaRoche, and first baseman James Loney.

Breakdown player: We're resisting the temptation to suggest Nomar. The longer he is gone from Boston, the more fondly we remember him, and we can't help but wish him good health. So let's go with Jeff (You're A Redneck If . . .) Kent, who at age 38 is coming off his least productive season since '96 and whose greasy fingerprints were all over those anonymous quotes critical of J.D. Drew. He was a lot more tolerable as clubhouse a foil for Barry Bonds.

Completely random Bill James stat: Brad Penny led the NL in pitches at or above 95 MPH with 817, and also had the fastest average fastball (93.9). I'm beginning to think he and Josh Beckett were separated at birth.

Foul tips and other observations:
Quick, who's managing this crew now? . . . If you said Bud Black, nice work, Gammons . . . Count me among those who don't think Marcus Giles of the Incredibly Shrinking Giles Brothers will rejuvenate his career in San Diego . . . Definition of underachieving: Jake Peavy, 11-14, 4.09. He should win 15 games on stuff alone . . . Has Kevin Towers figured out how he's going to pants Theo Epstein in a trade yet ? After the Mirabelli debacle, Theo would be wise to stop talking his mentor's calls . . . That said, Josh Bard won't come within 60 points of last season's batting average (.333) . . . God bless Todd Walker for his performance in the 2003 postseason, but at this point, his glove is nothing more than a prop.

Breakthrough player: Kevin Kouzmanoff. Scouts say he can swing it, but question whether he will be able to handle third base defensively. Given the lack of thumpers in the Padres' lineup and the price (Josh Barfield) the Padres paid to acquire him, he won't lack for chances. Hit .389 in Double A and .353 in Triple A before coming up to Cleveland late last season.

Breakdown player: David Wells. Boomer's long overdue for another bout with gout.

Completely random Bill James stat: Cla Meredith held opposing batters to a .170 average, best among NL relievers. And somewhere, Bob Lobel twitches with delight.

Foul tips and other observations:
I didn't get the Randy Johnson trade at first - why give up anything of substance when the Yankees so clearly wanted nothing to do with him anymore? - but given his popularity in Arizona and the fact that he could probably win 10 games just by showing up in the National League, I suppose it can be justified somewhat . . . I still can't forgive former Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes for letting the Yankees off the hook, however . . . Brandon Webb is nasty, but he has to be the most obscure NL Cy Young winner since John Denny in '83 . . . If you predicted during his .207-3-29 tank job with the 2002 Sox that Tony Clark would still be employed as a big-league baseball player five years later, I guess your crystal ball is superior to mine . . . Beanbag reliever Casey Daigle is married to softball icon Jennie Finch. Call me finicky, but I don't consider him quite as fortunate as others do.

Breakthrough player: Let's see . . . there's Stephen Drew . . . Carlos Quentin . . . Chris Young . . . Conor Jackson . . . geez, take your pick. The D-Backs are as loaded as any team in the game.

Breakdown player: Johnson. He's 41, stands a gawky 6-foot-10, has a chronically bad back and shot knees. Yeah, he'll hold up just fine.

Completely random Bill James stat: Johnson led the American League in run support last season (7.51).

Foul tips and other observations:
New slogan: Baseball Has Been Barry, Barry Good To Me! . . . All right, sorry for that. Hey, some people think Lenny Clarke is funny, so you never know what jokes will fly . . . There's no doubt the two Barrys are sharing the Bay Area spotlight, as Bonds tries to catch Aaron before the feds catch him, and Zito tries to pitch up to a contract that will pay him at least twice what he's worth . . . As fun as he his to watch, make no mistake, Zito has officially become a junkballer - he was second in the AL in pitches thrown below 80 MPH. A certain Boston knuckleballer was first . . . But what we said about the Big Unit applies here: In the NL, he should win double figures just by making 30-plus starts . . . If the Giants were better, I'd be tempted to throw a few bucks down on Matt Cain as the 2007 Cy Young winner. He's the real ace here . . . Dave Roberts: wonderful guy, hero for all ages, atrocious long-term signing.

Breakthrough player: Tim Lincecum: No, I haven't seen him pitch either, but just about every prospect guide says he's K-Rod's doppleganger in terms of delivery and stuff. That's good enough for me - and besides, just about everyone else on this team other than Cain qualifies for AARP.

Breakdown player: Bonds. Here's hoping Henry Aaron pulls a Gillooly on him before he can completely tarnish the record books. Hell, Bud Selig might beat him to it.

Completely random Bill James stat: Zito led the American League in pitches per start last season (107.8) and batters faced (945) . . . so at least he's durable, which is nice.

Foul tips and other observations:
The babbling owner can deny it all he wants, but I still say Todd Helton is an ex-Rocky before the ballclub breaks camp . . . Any chance the Yankees might pounce, preventing Theo from bringing the aging albatross to Boston? . . . Given how productive they are, I probably shouldn't admit that I wouldn't recognize Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday if they showed up as ringers on a rival softball team . . . You say Clint Barmes, I say Dustin Pedroia in a higher altitude . . . Lefty Jeff Francis has a chance to be the Rockies' first homegrown ace: at age 25, he was 13-11 with a 4.16 ERA . . . Remember when skipper Clint Hurdle was pegged as baseball's next surefire superstar as a kid with Kansas City? Man, I am getting old . . . The mummified remains of Javy Lopez are on the Rockies' active roster. Suddenly, Doug Mirabelli's continued employment makes slightly more sense.

Breakthrough player: Francis. Bet you didn't know he led the NL in shutouts last season (7).

Breakdown player: Is Vinny Castilla still around? No? The we'll cop out and go with Helton continuing his four-season decline, should he surprise us and stay.

Completely random Bill James stat: Holliday hit two of the five longest homers in the NL last season.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'll be back . . .

. . . hopefully in the next day or two, with the first of our six-part breakdown on each major-league division heading into spring training. In the meantime, here's the writing diversion that kept me from showing up around here the last few days. Check it out if you get the chance, and as always, thanks for checking in.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Space jam

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

1. The Celtics could finish this season with a 50-game losing streak - and if it would guarantee Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, hell, I'm all for it - and I'd still argue that the '96-'97 Celtics were the worse team. Sure, there were some serviceable NBA players on M.L. Carr's 15-67 disaster - Rick Fox, David Wesley, and a rookie named 'Toine, to name three - but they were counterbalanced by the likes of Steve Hamer, Nate Driggers and Brett Szabo. Those stiffs were fringe guys in the CBA, let alone the NBA. And for the record, I still say a roster that includes Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, Ryan Gomes, Delonte West and Gerald Green is pretty far from a lost cause, despite what the current standings say.

2. Feel free to tell me I'm as loony as that lovelorn, Depends-clad astronaut, but is it entirely out of the realm of possibility that the Sox will have some interest in Alex Rodriguez should he opt out of his Yankees contract after this season? They'll have an opening at third base since Mike Lowell will be a free agent (if he's not in Colorado by then), they could have an opening in the middle of the lineup since Manny will have one year left on his deal (if he's not back on Mars by then), and I can't help but remember how much the Sox fawned over A-Rod during the winter of '03. I realize much has happened since then - hell, his phony persona has made him immensely unpopular with both Red Sox and Yankees fans, which is quite a feat - but John Henry and the Sox were so gung-ho about making him the "face of the franchise" three years ago that I wonder if they might revisit making him a Red Sox if given the chance. (For the record, our take: Please, Mr. Henry, no.)

3. Wade Phillips? Really? This uninspiring, ex-Denver, ex-Buffalo retread is the best the high-profile Cowboys could do? What, was Bruce Coslet unavailable? Hmmm . . . something tells me Jerry Jones is more interesting in finding a yes-man than discovering the next great football coach.

4. Is it my disdain for all things Colts, or is Adam Vinatieri coming across as just a little too smug these days? Funny what a change in uniform will do to your perception.

5. Read between the lines on these two different perspectives on Paul Tagliabue's failure to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and then tell me you wouldn't have loved to be a fly on the wall as CNNSI's Dr. Z sliced and diced CNNSI's Peter King's presentation.

Dr. Z's take on the scene:
Blood was flowing at the Hall of Fame enshrinement meeting Saturday morning. I don't want to go too deeply into this thing because there were heavy repercussions. The Paul Tagliabue discussion set a record of 58 minutes. Two speakers began matters by endorsing him. I was the first of the anti voices. One of my points was that under his stewardship, and without his intervention, the rights of the press were eroded almost beyond recognition. Later I was told that I was a bit over the top. Maybe so. He didn't, as you know, reach level two, composed of 11 candidates.

And ol' Starbucks 'N' Softball's take:
I'm one of 40 electors, and I was asked to present Paul Tagliabue's case for election. I failed miserably. We are prohibited from discussing publicly what was said in the room about the candidates, so I can't tell you exactly what I said or what Tagliabue's detractors said. What I can tell you is how intense a period his debate was. It lasted 57 minutes, the longest in my 15 years on the panel.

To paraphrase Phil Hartman's Sinatra, Dr. Z has chunks of Peter King his his stool. I knew there was a reason (besides this annual gem of a column) why I still liked the old coot.

6. After watching Rex Grossman's spot-on Spergon Wynn imitation in the Super Bowl, I was left with but one conclusion: Brian Griese and Kyle Orton must really suck.

7. The more I hear, the more I believe Adalius Thomas, a Willie McGinest clone, should - and will - be the Patriots' No. 1 target in the offseason, Asante Samuel included.

8. "Moonlighting" jumped the shark when David and Maddie hooked up. "Cheers" regressed from brilliant romantic comedy to a weekly half-hour string of one-liners after Shelley Long bolted. So I understand why "The Office" writers are reluctant to let Pam and Jim live happily ever after so early in the show's run. But man . . . does it have to be so hard to swallow? (That's what she said!) Seriously, tonight's episode, with the Dwight/Jim Pavlovian opening foreshadowing Michael's and Pam's learned behavior, was about as clever as television gets, but to see Jim's face as Pam and Roy left hand in hand was to see heartbreak epitomized. Enough's enough. It's time for Pam to step up and tell Jim how she feels. C'mon, get out there, Beesley. Give the people what they want.

9. The only reason to watch the Pro Bowl - and this isn't much of a reason, to be sure - is to see if Bill Belichick figures out some way to fashion a cutoff hoodie out of a Hawaiian shirt. I'm not betting against him.

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

Glad to see Bronson Arroyo got the big bucks from the Reds today. He was one of the best bargains in baseball during his two-plus seasons with the Sox, and while I wasn't opposed to the trade that sent him to the Reds for Wily Mo Pena last spring, I wouldn't have blamed him for thinking the Sox shafted him by swapping him not long after he signed a below-market contract with the intent of staying in Boston long-term. Looks like it worked out for the best for Arroyo after all. As for the Sox? Given what starting pitchers are commanding these days, you have to wonder if Theo Epstein would like a do-over.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My three sons

Quick NFL thoughts before a Super Bowl I couldn't be more apathetic about . . .
I probably shouldn't admit this, but ESPN's feature this morning on the three Manning boys (including the eldest, Cooper, who had to give up football after high school due to a neck problem) was nothing less than endearing. It almost made me want to root for the big goof today. (Almost, I said.) The funniest part of the feature came when some old home movies showed Peyton, who must have been about 7, crying and whining that Cooper was hitting him too hard. It's like he was born to play for Bill Polian.

There's no doubt it's been the Year of the Gator. The University of Florida football and men's basketball teams are reigning national champions, David Eckstein - the grittiest, guttiest, Gator alumni of them all! - blooped and dinked his way to the World Series MVP award, and lest we forget, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson and Kelvin Kight gave the Patriots the greatest receiving quartet in league history. (Or maybe not.) Our point here? Rex Grossman is, as you probably know, a Gainesville grad, which is just about the most logical reason I can come up with for thinking the Bears have a chance today.

All right, I'll admit it: I'm looking forward to watching Prince at halftime, and not solely because I'm rooting for a wardrobe malfunction from one of his famously smokin' hot backup singers. (Hey, before you mock me or him, remember this is the guy who "mentored" Carmen Electra, Sheena Easton, Apollonia, and the legendary Vanity, who made Halle Berry look like Booger McFarland. Now that's a talented roster.) Oh, the little purple fella (wow, that doesn't read quite right) might be a freak who's purified himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka one too many times, but he's a ridiculously talented freak, and I'm guessing he'll remind the skeptics of that today.

Michael Irvin, a Hall of Famer? It's as obvious as one of his gaudy suits. Bruce Matthews? A mortal lock. Thurman Thomas? Well, of course the heart of the K-Gun Bills belongs in Canton, and I say Andre Reed should be there alongside him. Roger Wehrli? A five-time All-Pro and an All-Decade Team selection in the '70s certainly has a worthy resume, though I'd have voted for Derrick Thomas and Andre Tippett (an All-Decade pick in the '80s) over him. Charlie Sanders? Hell, he could start for the Lions today. And Gene Hickerson . . . uh . . . um . . . hmmm . . . (furiously searching Google) . . . oh, all right, I can't say I've ever heard of the guy. Why do I get the feeling Dr. Z was behind getting this old timer into the Hall 33 years after his career ended? Geezers unite!

I'm not saying there are ulterior motives in action here, but anyone who suggests Ted Johnson suffered all 30 of his concussions while playing for Bill Belichick is in dire need of a brain scan themselves.

As is their tradition on Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN2 has been running a marathon of the NFL Films highlight videos from each Super Bowl. (How many Polo shirts does Steve Sabol have, anyway? I think he owns more than Ralph Lauren himself.) Naturally, I had to watch the Pats-Rams "Tonight A Dynasty Is Born!" film from beginning to end, but to be honest, I didn't enjoy it as much as I normally would. I guess the joy of that game is tempered by the melancholy sense that the Patriots should be playing in this one, too; it served as a reminder of what was lost in the second half of the Indy game. Ah, well, I suppose we should get over it. Anyway, a couple of scattered thoughts from our latest viewing of XXXVI: Tom Brady was so much more animated then than he is now. He was jumping around like the spawn of Pete Carroll after every big play. Now, he's more like Belichick, all business . . . It never fails to astound me how little top-notch talent there was on that Patriots team. The likes of J.R. Redmond, Jermaine Wiggins, and Tebucky Jones played significant roles in that post season. It would be easy to argue that winning it all with that roster was the single-best one-season coaching job in league history . . . You want an unsung hero during this dynastic run? I offer you David Patten. Seems like he caught a touchdown pass in every big game . . . That idiot No. 33 on the Rams (a quick search tells me his name is Justin Watson) cracks me up every time: "I like our chances! I LIKE our chances!" Sure, pal . . . Seems like a long time ago that Kurt Warner was, you know, good . . . Man, Bob Kraft never goes for subtle understatement when a cheeseball line is handy: "Today, we are all Patriots!" I'm guessing Mike Martz probably disputed that sentiment . . . I never fail to smile at Antowain Smith's high-stepping sprint onto the field after Vinatieri's field goal. I think that's the fastest he ever ran . . . Man, I miss that Super Bowl feeling.

So how's it going to go? Ideally, Brian Urlacher will knock Peyton silly like mean old Cooper used to, and Jim Sorgi will get three-plus quarters to introduce himself to the world. Assuming that doesn't happen, I can't really come up with one logical scenario in which Chicago wins this game. Oh, I suppose Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson could run for a combined 175 yards, and Manning could remember it's his nature to gag in the biggest moments, and Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher and Urlacher could render Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark invisible, and Devin Hester could (and probably will) gash Indy's porous special teams, and Tank Johnson could shoot Bob Sanders during pregame warmups, and Rex Grossman could get through the entire game without doing all those stupid things Rex Grossman does. But I can't help but think Chicago needs just about all of those things to happen to have chance, and that's a whole helluva lot to ask against a team as talented as Indy. The heart says Chicago, 31-30, but the brain overrules: Peyton and the Ponies, 38-13.

If the Colts have to win this thing, I do hope it comes via Adam Vinatieri's right foot in the final seconds. Sure, it's just plain strange to see our ol' No. 4 so content wearing our rival's laundry, and I wish he wasn't so damn satisfied about being a Colt. But one more moment for the ages in a Super Bowl would make him a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame, and those crusty old fools who decide such things need all the evidence they can get. And besides, no matter the colors he's wearing now, history will always remember him as a Patriot.

As for today's Completely Random Football Cards:

If you didn't get a little verklempt watching Armen Keteyian's pregame piece on Walter Payton and Brian Piccolo, then you don't have a soul, my friend. Seven years after his death, the footage of a shockingly frail Payton at the press conference in which he revealed his illness still floods my eyes every time. I only hope my own son grows up to be the man Jarrett Payton seemed to be that day.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 02, 2007

Wiener roast

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free Coney Island hot dogs for you . . .

1. The more I see of Kevin (37 and 23) Durant, the more I pray that M.L. Rivers and the Celtics keep Paul Pierce locked up in a broom closet until this season is safely tanked. Since few free agents consider Boston a worthwhile destination, the only chance to break free from this cycle of mediocrity is to hit it big in the lottery. and with Texas freshman Durant, a breathtaking amalgam of Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady, and game-changing Ohio State big man Greg Oden likely available this spring, now is the time to win by losing.

2. What's happened to Ted Johnson is beyond tragic, and judging by his doctor's ominous words, this story is only going to get worse. But even as I sympathize with a man whose life has been shattered by the culture of football, I can't help but think that more of his plight is self-inflicted than he's willing or able to admit. After all, Johnson is blaming Bill Belichick for altering his career and his life by forcing him to practice with a concussion in 2002 . . . yet earlier this year, Johnson expressed frustration that the Patriots didn't sign him after Junior Seau was lost for the season.
I suppose we have to chalk up such contradictory illogic to the sad fact that his brain has been rattled beyond repair.

3. Mike Ditka and a few other notable former players have been on a media crusade this week, demanding drastic improvements in the pension program and the medical and financial benefits for the NFL's alumni. It's certainly a worthy cause, for there are many more Ted Johnsons out there whose lives have been devastated by the aftereffects of their violent occupation. But it must be noted that there is a certain amount of ironic hypocrisy in all of this. Had the NFL Players' Union shown any kind of unity during the strikes of '82 and '87, the players who crossed those picket lines and didn't consider the future would be living better lives today.

4. Speaking of Seau, it kind of felt like he was the Special Guest Star to this Patriots season - it was fun to add such a famous face to the cast, but we knew, given his age and injury history, that his stay was probably only temporary. I bring this up because I kind of forgot about him after his injury . . . yet, in rehashing the Pats/Colts game in my mind over the last week, it kind of dawned on me that his presence might have made a huge difference in the second half of that game. Not only did he outplay Tedy Bruschi against the run earlier this season, but he was far and away the teams best linebacker in pass coverage, particularly against tight ends in the seam. I can't help but think that had he not Theismanned his arm all those weeks ago, we'd never have heard of Bryan Fletcher.

5. Words to mark: Todd Helton will be batting second and playing first base for the Boston Red Sox on opening day. Pay no mind to that jabbering Rockies owner - the fact that Colorado was willing to pick up half of the $90 million remaining on his deal tells you all you need to know about the ball club's desperation to get a deal done. Kudos to the Sox for refusing to part with Manny Delcarmen or Craig Hansen. They'll get this thing done in the spring, on their terms.

6. Curt Schilling's Sign Me Now Or Lose Me Later antics are remarkably similar to the routine Pedro Martinez pulled three springs ago. I'm glad both Shaughnessy and Seth Mnookin called the disingenuous windbag out on it.

7. It's a good thing the Bruins are completely irrelevant, or someone with some clout might start noticing that the Joe Thornton trade will go down as one of the absolute worst in Boston sports history. Maybe once Brad Stuart is traded for a sack of pucks and a couple of fourth-liners, those who applauded this trade will come forth and admit their idiocy.

8. For the first time as far as I can tell, ESPN allowed comments on a Bill Simmons column yesterday . . . and man, it didn't take long for it to quickly escalate into a highly entertaining, Deadspin-fueled evisceration of all things World Wide Leader. I'm thinking ESPN is probably going to go back to the drawing board here. At any rate, it made me appreciate the handful of regular commenters here, who by and large piss me off only when they make my point more eloquently than I do.

9. All right, Officephiles, answer me this: What in the name of Mose Schrute was Pam up to last night? Those lunchroom conversations with Jim and Karen were just plain weird, and even after (obsessive nerd alert!) checking out a couple of Office fan sites last night, I'm still not quite sure what was happening there. Was she trying to flirt with Jim (and failing miserably) with that whole REM thing, of which there certainly were suggestive undertones? Why was she so distracted while Karen was pigeonholing her, and why did it seem she was trying to act that way? Is she just frustrated and lonely and on the verge of a breakdown . . . or worse, getting back together with Roy? And if she's trying to send Jim signals that she digs him, well, why doesn't she just come out and say it? Answers, people. I need 'em now. Next Thursday is too far away.

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

No relation to the horse.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,