Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sam I am

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .

1. Two quick thoughts about the Celtics while I worry that someone (Denver? Dallas>) will ruin the master plan by snatching up Sam Cassell on waivers:

• Call it the luck of the Irish, I suppose, but how fortunate are the Celtics that the two pieces they most need to pursue a championship - a veteran big man who can rebound and play D, and a veteran guard to run the offense and knock down a big jumper or two - are both available as free agents with 25 or so games remaining in the season?

• I'm actually more excited about getting Brown than Cassell, if only because Kendrick Perkins has been extra sluggish lately (one rebound against Cleveland the other night). If Perk isn't rebounding and hustling on defense, there's really no reason for him to be on the floor. Truth be told, I'd rather see undersized but remarkably efficient Leon Powe out there over him in most situations.

2. By the way, remind me to cross Marty Burns of off my reading list. Here's what he wrote recently about the possibility of Antoine Walker getting bought out by the Timberwolves:

If Minnesota did buy out Walker, and he cleared waivers, he would be free to sign with any team (he must be waived by March 1 to be eligible to play for another team in the postseason). The Celtics, Rockets, Warriors and Nuggets are among the clubs that might be interested in his services.

Now, I'm not questioning Mr. Burns's credentials or credibility, and he did couch his suggestion with the word "might," but let's put it this way: There's a better chance Danny Ainge names himself and Doc Rivers the starting backcourt than there is of him even considering adding Hurricane 'Toine to this team.

3. Sure, you mock Tony La Russa and his mighty big brain right now after hearing about his latest look-how-smart-I-am scheme, but let's hear what you have to say when Matt Clement and Joel Pineiro combine to bat .320 with 102 RBIs from the No. 8 hole this season.

4. Can't help but have kind of a what-might-have-been vibe to Rosevelt Colvin's departure from the Pats. He ended up being a steady and dependable player during his five seasons here - don't tell me you haven't wondered if he might have made a difference against the Giants - but it's fair to say he was never again the dynamic speed rusher he was in Chicago after suffering that devastating hip injury in Week 2 of the '03 season. It's to his credit that he somewhat reinvented himself after that injury, becoming a better all-around defender. He was a fine player and seemed like a class act, and I wish him well.

5. Really curious what motivated Jose Canseco, baseball's Typhoid Mary of steroids, to testify under oath that Roger Clemens wasn't at his infamous pool party. It's possible that Canseco's chicken nugget of a brain doesn't have enough storage space left to retain 10-year-old memories. But given that Canseco reportedly is hard up for cash (ask Magglio Ordonez), one can't help but wonder if there's some sort of devious deal at play here. I wouldn't put such a thing past either one of them.

6. I get the sense Joe Maddon wants the Rays to take a chance on Barry Bonds, and why not? Provided he's still taking the right mix of vitamins, the swollen tick of a slugger still has enough left to anchor a Tampa Bay lineup that has a chance to be one of the best in the AL. Besides, after dealing with the clinically insane Elijah Dukes and raging jerk Delmon Young last season, Maddon is well-equipped to deal with Bonds's unique brand of narcissism.

7. Maybe Eagles superfan Arlen Spector can explain it to me, but I don't quite understand why Philadelphia thinks Asante Samuel is a huge upgrade over Lito Sheppard, especially when you factor in the ridiculously fat contract Samuel is going to command. I like Samuel a lot and appreciate that he's been a key to the Patriots defense the past few seasons, but he's not a quote-unquote "shutdown corner." He's smart, reads quarterbacks well, gambles a lot, has excellent hands (with one $(%*#$ exception), and makes more big plays than he allows. But all things considered, he's not that much better than Sheppard, a two-time Pro Bowler, and if the Patriots somehow end up with him as Samuel's replacement, I'll consider it a very shrewd tradeoff by Patriots management.

8. It always make me feel a little older when a player I've enjoyed and appreciated for so many years calls it a career, so in that sense I'm glad Tedy Bruschi is returning to the Patriots; it really wouldn't be quite the same without ol' No. 54 around. That said, here's hoping his role is reduced next season - greatly. Bruschi has obviously lost a step or two the past few seasons - to be honest, it looked to me like Junior Seau has more gas left in the tank - and it is imperative that some how, some way, the Patriots get younger at linebacker next season. I'm glad Bruschi is still here. I just hope they're not heavily relying on him.

9. We know all about Manny's eight-digit salary, but who knew he has a pair of six-digit feet?

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

Nope, no relation to Manny.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Center of attention

Catching up on the news from Camp Tranquility (better known to much of the media as Camp Ohhowwewishformelodrama) . . .

Coco Crisp says he'd rather start elsewhere than be a backup in Boston: Can't say I blame him, can you? He's in the heart of what should be his prime at 28, he's coming off the best defensive season a Red Sox center fielder has had in who knows how long, and has proven he can be a valuable contributor to a winning ball club even when he struggles at the plate. He is completely justified in wanting to play, and the suspicion is that he will be accommodated before the Sox head north . . . er, make that to the Far East. And I think that is a mistake. Crisp will not be divisive force here (let's stop the comparison to the reprehensible Jay Payton now), he's one injury to Manny or J.D. Drew from playing just about every day, and the argument can be made that he's still the best center field option on the roster, at least at the moment.

In praising Crisp, the intent is not to make a case against Ellsbury, to suggest he's some combination of Ted Cox and Dave Stapleton, a rookie tease destined to fail. The job will be his soon enough, and it may still be his a decade from now. I happen to believe Ellsbury will become a borderline star, play in an All-Star game or two, ultimately enjoy a Brett Butler-type career. But his star turn in October has already made him an idol here, particularly among the Pink Hats and Men's Vogue readers, and while the Bill James Handbook (somewhat more credible on baseball matters than Vogue) projects him to hit .320 with an .810 OPS and 42 steals, I'm not quite convinced he's ready for center stage. His minor league slugging percentage (.425) is only slightly higher than Crisp's as a big leaguer (.409), and it appeared to these untrained eyes that the book was out on Ellsbury last September: get two strikes on him and he'll hack at anything. The Rockies evidently didn't have a copy of said book, but it's cause for at least mild concern. The kid still has some adjustments to make.

Again, my point here is that it's not necessary for this to be an either/or deal. I like both players a lot, and the Sox are a better team with both players. And until Ellsbury proves beyond a doubt that he can lay off a low, inside breaking ball and make the center field job his own - or at least until the Sox get a more than fair offer for Crisp - the status quo is the way to go.

Terry Francona signs a three-year contract extension with club options through the 2013 season: I think we've made it clear how we here at TATB feel about Tito: He's far and away the best manager the Red Sox have had in the 30 years we've been watching, and there's no current manager we'd rather have running this team. He's the right man at the right moment with the right team, and we were incredibly . . . well, relieved to realize that the Red Sox front office appreciates him as much as we do. Francona is the rare manager who is adept at both game management and people management. Part of what makes him so effective in relating to the personalities in his remarkably diverse clubhouse is that he has seen baseball from so many perspectives: he's been a phenom (he and some Ripken kid were the hot shot rookies of '82), a journeyman (after injuries sapped his talent), a minor-league manager, a big-league coach, and front office assistant (for Mark Shapiro in Cleveland). It's almost as if everything in his career - including his failed managerial stint in Philadelphia - was preparation for his present job, and he makes the absolute most out of all the knowledge he has gathered along the way. The Red Sox are fortunate to have him.

Former AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon agrees to a minor-league contract: As long as they're not paying him in Ring Dings and (delicious) Yodels, I can't see a downside to this. Colon, who at age 34 (he turns 35 in May) is just three years removed from a 21-8, 3.48 season, is exactly the kind of low-risk, high-reward chance the Red Sox can - and should - take. Sure, he's got a lot of miles on his surgically repaired right shoulder, and there's a chance he arrives at camp looking like he swallowed Curt Schilling in two bites. But there's also a decent chance he gives the Sox the 120-150 innings they were expecting Schilling to eat (ahem) at the back of the rotation. Better yet, his arrival means he's reunited with two of his best buddies from his baseball youth in Cleveland, Manny Ramirez and Julian Tavarez, and the potential for comedy there is endless. Come to think of it, NESN really ought to give those three goofy amigos their own show.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Mike Greenwell, Mo Vaughn, and Bill Lee in the same year? The Red Sox Hall of Fame banquet just got a whole lot more fun . . . and the after-party should really be something.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And don't forget George Foster

Back by, well, almost no demand, it's Random Lists of Five . . .

Five alleged contenders that won't win the NBA title this season:
1. Dallas. Kidd has slipped, especially defensively. They'll regret giving up Devin Harris for him in the long run.
2. Phoenix. I hope the Shaq gamble works, and he looks like he's in decent shape, but I just don't believe he can make a difference as a rebounder and defender after so many years of indifference.
3. San Antonio. They remind me of the Patriots team that lost to Indy a year ago. Still smart and proud, but just not quick enough anymore.
4. Cleveland. Though I do not want the Celtics to have to face Team LeBron.
5. Detroit. The Flip Saunders factor.

Five name players I wouldn't touch In fantasy baseball this season with Bea Arthur's ----:
1. Albert Pujols. Tough to hit with one decent elbow. Anyone who takes him in the first round will have a season's worth of regret.
2. Andy Pettitte. If his elbow acts up again, it's fair to assume the elixir this time won't be HGH.
3. Derek Jeter. He'll be 34 in June. Our long national nightmare is almost over.
4. Scott Rolen. He's as physically cooked as Trot Nixon.
5. Miguel Tejada. Think the dolts in the Astros' front office have heard about the Mitchell Report yet?

Five recent players you forgot played for the Celtics:
1. Jamel Thomas. Sebastin Telfair's half-brother, played three games for the '99-'00 squad.
2. Bruno Sundov. A poor man's Stojko Vrankovic.
3. Bryant Stith. A smaller version of Ryan Gomes, I always liked him, though the end was near by the time he arrived in Boston.
4. Chris Carr.
5. Ruben Wolkowyski. Yeah, I have no recollection, either.

Five receivers who caught a pass for the Super Bowl XXXVI champs (and we don't mean the Rams, William Gary, whoever the hell you are):
1. Charles Johnson
2. Fast Freddie Coleman, scourge of the Jets.
3. Torrance Small
4. Bert Emanuel
5. Curtis Jackson. (Not to be confused with him.)

Five primary personnel needs for the Patriots this offseason:
1. One or two young inside linebackers. I suppose 34-year-old Zach Thomas qualifies by current standards
2. One or two cornerbacks, minimum, depending upon whether they resign Asante Samuel or Randall Gay. Count me in for a Ty Law sequel.
3. A quality backup QB, just in case the unthinkable happens. They've pushed their luck with Matt Cassel long enough.
4. Defensive speed, anywhere. Perhaps another young safety to go with Stonehands Meriweather.
5. Some kicking competition for Gostkowski. Belichick seems to have lost faith in him.

Five 1985 New York Mets:
1. Billy Beane
2. Calvin Schiraldi
3. Clint Hurdle
4. Joe Sambito
5. Larry Bowa

Last five songs to pop up on the iPod as I write this:
1. Elevation, U2. Nothing wrong there.
2. Sick of Myself, Matthew Sweet. Underrated '90s alt rocker.
3. Come Monday, Jimmy Buffett. Even those who loathe Parrotheads have to respect this song, Buffett's first hit.
4. Mama Said Knock You Out, L.L. Cool J. And to think I snickered at Simmons for his ridiculous Mt. Rapmore earlier this week. Of course, the Choate Sports Guy pontificating on hip-hop makes about as much sense as Tupac returning from the dead to tell us about his favorite elitist New England prep schools.
5. High Enough, Damn Yankees. Well, almost made it through without humiliating myself.

Five baseball players I wish I'd seen play:
1a. Jackie Robinson
1b. Roberto Clemente
3. Ted Williams
4. Satchel Paige
5. Lyman Bostock

And five for football:
1. Gale Sayers. The NFL Films footage of his best kick returns is mesmerizing.
2. Jim Brown. I'm not sure if his friendship with Belichick is a good thing or a bad thing in terms of the coach's image.
3. Dick Butkus. Rumor is the Pats are bringing him in for a look-see early next week.
4. Lance Alworth. Can you imagine any football player tolerating a nickname like Bambi today?
5. Darryl Stingley. His tragic injury happened in the preseason the year I became a fan.

Five hottest women on television according to a semi-neutered, couch-bound, 38-year-old father of two: (Subtitle: Yep, another weak excuse to run a picture of the Official Muse of TATB, Non-Wife Division):
1. Sweet Jenna. I miss The Office almost as much as I wish Peter King would stop mentioning The Office.
2. Connie Britton, Tammy on "Friday Night Lights," the best show on television no one's watching.
3. The babe in the Mercury commercials.
4. Tyra on "Friday Night Lights" (Though the consensus seems to be that the brunette is hotter.)
5. Cheryl Ladd. I'm talking "Charlie's Angels" reruns, not the insipid "Las Vegas," though she still looks great.

Five sports media-types I hope get hit with a meteor:
1. Merril Hoge. A moron's moron.
2. Peter King-Favre. Keeps saying we need to know the truth about SpyGate, but won't get off his creme horn-filled --- to search it out himself.
3. Gregg Easterbrook. Despises the Pats with an odd irrationality. Doesn't even try to hide it anymore.
4. The WEEI morning show. A 3-for-1 deal. And send a few extra asteroids Meterparel's way.
5. Merril Hoge again, just in case the first meteor gave him only a concussion.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nine innings: 02.18.08

Playing nine innings while waiting for Derek Jeter to have his Gold Gloves revoked . . .

1. I believed this before reading Gordon Edes's outstanding front-page feature the other day, but now I'm convinced more than ever: Jon Lester is going to make a significant breakthrough this season. I'm thinking 15 wins and an ERA right around 4.00, and I'm trying to be cautious. It's not easy, though. John Farrell adores him, which counts for a lot in my eyes, and the most recent picture I have of Lester in my mind was his spot-on imitation of a vintage Bruce Hurst in the World Series clincher. I honestly don't think I'm going overboard here when I say he day will come - and soon - when we're glad the Sox refused to part with him for Johan Santana.

2. Jorge Posada's defense of Roger Clemens, at the expense of a current teammate's testimony and in the face of all common sense, automatically makes me suspicious of just what methods the Yankees catcher used to post a career-best OPS+ of 154 last season in contract year at age 36. It's probably not fair and even a little irresponsible, I know, but I just can't comprehend why he'd take Clemens's worthless word over Pettitte's unless perhaps his misplaced sympathy was born from having something to hide himself.

3. Trivia question I plucked out of an AP story at work last night: In the last six seasons, Roy Oswalt leads the majors with 98 wins, and Roy Halladay is second with 93. Who's third, with 92? Hint: You've booed him, cheered him, and maybe even had a beer with him. Also, his name is not Roy. Click the link for his ID.

4. I applaud the Red Sox' caution with Clay Buchholz, especially considering that the No-Hit Kid's 2007 season was abbreviated in part due to a tired shoulder. But they're taking it too far if they send him down to Pawtucket while a proven mediocrity such as Julian Tavarez or Kyle Snyder occupies the fifth spot in the rotation. Buchholz has a chance to be an impact pitcher immediately - with his uncommon command of his excellent secondary pitches, I would not be completely shocked if he was the Sox' No. 2 starter by the end of the summer. I don't fault them for babying their prized prospect, and limiting the skinny righty to 180 innings or so this season makes perfect sense. What doesn't make sense: having him pitch anywhere but where he belongs.

5. I wasn't sure whether to pity Debbie Clemens for being another victim of her lying oaf of a husband's runaway ego, or to dismiss her as a vapid, delusional enabler, a Stepford baseball wife. I'm leaning toward the latter, however, after hearing the story about her and Mrs. Canseco comparing, um, assets at the now-infamous barbecue. Turns out Roger wasn't the only boob to make an appearance that day.

6. The Sox really have no choice but to sign Jason Varitek to a contract extension, and I don't mean to suggest that's a bad thing. Compared to other catchers, the 36-year-old captain was very productive last season, batting .255 with 17 homers and 103 OPS+, and we're all aware of his value when it comes to leadership, preparation, and all the small but significant things. (Yes, I refused to use the word "intangibles" there. Jeter owns the copyright, I believe.) It's just that, at his age, durability has to become an increasing concern, and the safest bet for the Sox would be to sign him to something like a two-year, $24 million extension. But with Posada, a superior hitter but inferior to Varitek at just about everything else, signing a four-year, $56.2 million deal in the offseason that will keep him in pinstripes through his 40th birthday, you have to figure Varitek and his agent, Scott Boras, will be looking for something in that pricey neighborhood. And the Sox, with no legitimate catching prospects on the immediate horizon (sorry, Dusty Brown), might just have to pay it.

7. Three quick Pats thoughts, because dammit, I just can't quit them: 1) I'm glad Belichick and Pioli are finally counter-punching regarding Spygate. It ought to prevent other Patriot haters from jumping on the pile after the likes of William Gary, Arlen Spector, and Matt Walsh. But I have to admit, my first impression as I read Mike Reiss's story Sunday night was that the Patriots' portrayal of Walsh as some sort of serial taper sure would be a very convenient way to distance themselves from him if he does happen to possess any damning video. And my hunch - and that's all it is - is that they are fairly certain he does, which would mean, unfortunately, that this ridiculously overblown story is not going away any day soon. 2) I like Zach Thomas as a player, at least until those little birdies started circling his head, but I'm just not sure where he'd fit with the Pats. Hasn't he spent his whole career in a 4-3, hiding behind fat defensive tackles and running to the ball? Doesn't seem like his style and the Pats' defense are compatible. Of course, I said the same thing about Junior Seau two years ago, and now I'm crossing my fingers that he puts off graduation for another year. 3) Ty Law, coming back home? Yes, please, though you have to figure the 33-year-old corner (doesn't it seem like he should be older?) will again choose cold, hard cash over sentiment.

8. I guarantee you the following is the best ending to a column you'll ever see on this blog:

I can't believe he won't come walking out of a clearing, bent over and holding his back and complaining that the swim was bad for his sciatica. If you see someone answering that description, throw him a bad pitch down around the ankles outside and, if he hits it screaming down the right-field line, it can only be Clemente, and you'll know reports of his condition have been grossly exaggerated once again.

I suppose I'm doing the writer a disservice here by repeating his column's masterful ending without fully explaining the circumstances, but I'm going to assume you quickly solved the topic and the circumstances. It's the conclusion to a column written by the legendary Jim Murray that appeared in the L.A. Times on January 3, 1973, three days after a plane carrying Pittsburgh Pirates superstar Roberto Clemente crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico while attempting to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The body of Clemente, who Murray lovingly eulogizes in the piece as an endearing grump and somewhat of a hypochondriac, was never found, of course, which makes the piece all the more poignant.

I've long been fascinated by Clemente - he and Jackie Robinson are the two players before my time who I wish I'd seen in person - but I'd never read Murray's column about his disappearance until I recently picked up an old anthology of his best work, appropriately titled "The Great Ones." Let's just say I now consider it the best $1.99 I've ever spent.

If you're familiar with Murray's work - and perhaps you are, since he was syndicated for decades (I read him in the Portland Press Herald as a kid) and is widely considered the finest sports columnist ever - it won't be a revelation when I say his columns are elegantly simple, expertly crafted, and unfailingly hilarious. Among current sportswriters, only Joe Posnanski owns the same attributes, and reading both of them often leaves me both inspired and disheartened. It sucks to know that my best column will never be in the same ballpark as Murray's or Posnanski's worst, yet reading them enhances my desire to write, because they remind me just how fulfilling and great something as silly as sportswriting can be. I think that's the best compliment I can pay.

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

Josh Booty was once the highest-rated prep quarterback in Louisiana, ahead of a certain future ubiquitous pitchman. And I'll tell anyone who will listen that, having seen him often during his two seasons with the Portland Sea Dogs, he unequivocally has the best throwing arm I have ever seen in person, and that's no exaggeration. For all of his athletic potential, however, he's now apparently just a severely tasered version of Drew Henson, a ballyhooed prep star who wasn't quite good enough at two sports.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Questions we'd have asked the Texas Con Man while he was under oath

Do you realize that everyone with a shred of common sense in these chambers realizes you are completely full of b.s., to the point that even the comatose rodent nesting atop Rusty Hardin's head is rolling its eyes?

Is "K" the only letter in the alphabet you can identify?

Whenever you joined a team as a free agent, it was never because "the guys" begged you relentlessly, or because you respected Mr. Torre, or because you didn't want to disappoint Mr. Steinbrenner, or because you desired to win a championship, or because you had a fondness for a particular city, or because you wanted to be closer to your family, but because that particular team happened to be the one throwing the biggest stinkin' piles of loot your way, was it not?

You really did think Toronto borders Texas, didn't ya, you big dummy?

Back when you were Best Friends Forever, did you or Mr. Pettitte ever utter the phrase, "Why can't I quit you?"

Do you have to suppress a guffaw when you hear the phrase "injected Debbie in the buttocks in the bedroom"?

Do you like gladiator movies?

C'mon, even you must admit the "I thought it was the ball," excuse after raging at Piazza was lame, even for a dim-witted hillbilly like you . . . agreed?

Does Debbie cry herself to sleep at night listening to "Stand By Your Man"?

Do you realize that if Debbie really did load up on HGH, there's a decent chance she is seriously going to kick your bloated #*# when you get home?

So, whatcha getting Debbie for Valentine's Day? Perhaps Whitman's offers an injectable sampler?

Do you realize this man will probably be whupping you at shuffleboard when you're both 80 years old?

At what point will you plan on breaking out your tried-and-true escape plan from pressure situations and attempt to limp of here with a "tweaked" hamstring?

Are you terrified that your future fellow prisoners will someday chant, "Where is ROG-AH?! In the SHOW-AH!!"?

Has it dawned on you how much Dan Duquette must be enjoying this?

Who wrote your opening statement, Miss Teen South Carolina? (Hat tip: The Big Lead. Dammit, they beat me to it.)

Do you think the Post will go with the "Oaf Under Oath!" headline tomorrow, or will it be the Daily News?

Does it make you feel better that prisons and your beloved University of Texas essentially have the same uniform colors?

Do you consider Suzyn Waldman another satisfied customer?

Do you really expect us to believe Mr. Pettitte, Mr. McNamee, Mr. Knoblauch, and indirectly, the honorable former senator Mitchell, are being dishonest here, while you, a man with a long history of being a compulsive and transparent liar, is telling the truth?

Do you really believe all these geezers in Congress were born yesterday?

And just one more, Mr. Clemens. While we're here, why not come clean on your longest-running lie: You asked out, didn't you?

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

I don't know about you, but Pettitte gets a standing ovation from me the next time he pitches at Fenway. He's my new favorite Yankee.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

In prison, you have to carry your own bags

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free throwaway lines for you . . .

1. Oh, you know I can't get enough of the Clemens trainwreck. It's like every blatant lie he has gotten away with and every indulgent ego trip he has taken in his unaccountable life was setting up this moment of grand comeuppance. I just hope the reports are true and Andy Pettitte, who we've always been told was a decent, God-fearing man, told the full truth as he knows it about his former teammate and training partner. Should make for some must-see TV tomorrow morning, that's for sure. I'm sure Clemens will be as articulate and believable as ever, even as he sweats like his last name is Giambi. For your entertainment, here are two excellent takes on the subject: Jon Heyman's comprehensive analysis of the situation on, and this biting piece by the Herald's Gerry Callahan, who remains a hell of a compelling columnist, something I tend to forget since his radio persona seems to be an amalgam of every characteristic I despise in a human being.

2. Heard recently that Rajon Rondo - now officially TATB's second-favorite Celtic to watch, after KG - ended up attending Kentucky only after the Louisville native and lifelong Cardinals fan got the runaround from Rick Pitino, who was putting the full-court press on a more touted prep point guard and considered Rondo his fallback option. That other player? Sebastian Telfair, who of course skipped college altogether and went straight to the NBA, leaving Pitino with neither future Celtic. Funny how those things work out.

3. I can't remember where I read this theory - if one of you sent it along, shoot me a note and I'll pay appropriate credit - but I'm beginning to wonder, in the puzzling absence of a long overdue contract extension for Terry Francona, if there's some credence to it: Is it possible that the bright and coveted John Farrell turned down jobs elsewhere this offseason because he's the heir apparent here and knows his day in the manager's chair will come sooner than anyone outside of the Red Sox front office realizes? Given Francona's worrisome history of health problems and the fact that there are few logical explanations as to why baseball's best manager doesn't yet have the contract he deserves, it's fair to at least wonder if he already has his escape route planned. (Edit: The always enjoyable Fragile Freddy first came up with this thought. I knew I'd seen it somewhere.)

4. While I suppose there's a chance he could be J.T. Snow redux, I really like the Sox' signing of Sean Casey. He's a relatively productive, if powerless, offensive player, a slick glove a first base, and as you may have heard from the already smitten media, one of baseball's good guys. Casey's a true pro, and you can never have too many of those on the bench.

5. Yes, I know his goody-two-shoes radio persona sometimes makes Ned Flanders sound like Sam Kinison by comparison, and I realize it's probably not good for my remaining shred of Boston media street cred, but I'll admit it anyway: I like Dale Arnold and am glad he landed the fill-in radio gig for the Sox. Granted, my appreciation for him dates back to fifth grade, when Arnold, then the radio voice for the late, great Maine Mariners, showed up at my church for some charity event with a couple of players (Yves Preston and Rick St. Croix, if I recall correctly, and you know I do) and couldn't have been nicer to a certain shy, sports-obsessed 10-year-old. Celebrity didn't get much bigger in Bath, Maine in 1980. So yeah, I've always rooted for him to do well, and I think he'll be just fine in this role - unobtrusive, informed, square as a box, and deferential to Uncle Joe. What, you would have preferred Meterparel?

6. Might Dan Morgan, the talented if multi-concussed linebacker who was cut by the Panthers Monday, be a good fit as a situational player with the Pats? I wouldn't mind them taking a flier if he'd agree to a Ted Johnson/Brian Cox-type role. (Yes, there's a cruel Ted Johnson/concussion joke here somewhere, but I'm not looking for it.)

7. Rusty Hardin, Clemens's Evil Matlock of a lawyer, has the worst rug since Morrie in "Goodfellas." I can't stop staring at it. It's mesmerizing, like a little boy's regular crossed with a bus-flattened squirrel. I will give him credit for this - it takes a man of great confidence to wear that nest in public.

8. There's nothing that gets me more fired up for the new season than the thought of Manny Ramirez gearing up for a salary drive by working out like a madman all winter. I realize the likes of Rob Neyer can offer reams of numbers showing that power hitters generally don't bounce back big from a down year at age 36, but I have a hunch Manny will be the exception, in part because he finally looked like himself last October.

9. If Danny Ainge wins the NBA Executive of the Year award, and you have to figure he's a McCain-like frontrunner at this point, it will mainly be because of franchise-resuscitating, headline-stealing trades for Kevin Garnett, and to a much lesser extent, Ray Allen. But Ainge's greatest accomplishment this offseason might be piecing together such a deep and diverse bench, especially when the general consensus was that the talent level on the roster fell off a cliff after the three stars. Leon Powe, James Posey, Glen Davis, and Eddie House are all doing a fine job earning their keep in their various roles, and even Tony Allen has limited his patented Headless Chicken routine lately and begun letting the game come to him. It's a versatile, cohesive group, one that complements the starters effectively, and it may be the most encouraging sign yet that Ainge really knows what he's doing when it comes to building a team.

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

Showtime in less than 24 hours, Rog. What say we go do us some perjurin'!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sleep through the static

I know, it's hardly practical to attempt a media blackout when you work in the sports department of a newspaper. But trust me when I say I did my damnedest. Save for Dave D'Onofrio's thoughtful postgame autopsy and the clear-eyed dispatches of Mike Reiss and Chris Gasper, pretty much everything I read in the past week I read only because I was being paid to.

My clicker never settled on ESPN, not for one shouted, hyperbolic, ill-informed word. No "Sports Illustrated championship pack" commercials for me, or, I suspect, you. No Peter King-Favre, and definitely no Kissing Suzy Kolber. No WEEI or WFAN (my usual late-night choice on the trip home from Boston). Just the new Jack Johnson CD, my own mental NFL Films reel, and ever so gradually, some peace of mind regarding the agonizing way it all played out. Yes, I may need to make a habit of tuning out.

So . . . eight days later, here we are, slowly moving on, trying to make sense of the fact that the quest for perfection was derailed by the likes of Eli Manning and David Freakin' Tyree. Not that we'd ever begrudge the Giants their epic victory; they were clutch, smart, well-prepared, aggressive, resourceful, and damn lucky, a formula that should be familiar to and appreciated by any Patriots fan with a shred of self-awareness.

But I don't think it's bad form to admit the Giants deserved to win while also bemoaning that fact that they Patriots had, what, four or five chances on the final drive to clinch the victory for themselves? It just goes to show that football, not baseball, is the ultimate game of inches. If Samuel holds on to the pick . . . if someone in that sea of hands hauls down Manning . . . if Harrison can just pull Tyree's hand free . . .

If, if, if.

Bleeping if.

Hey, like I said, we're returning from the underground slowly. It ain't easy. The hardest part to accept, other than the actual outcome itself, is this: the Patriots needed one play to secure a legacy as the greatest team in history of the NFL, and players who have consistently delivered those big plays in big moments had their chances . . . and shockingly, they let them slip through their hands, literally so in Samuel's case. And because of this out-of-character failure to make the one play they need, their legacy is not one of greatness or immortalily or dominance, but one of almost . . . I don't know, mockery or pity or as a cautionary tale or something. They seem to be regarded now like the marathoner on a record pace who tripped and fell right on his face before the finish line, except on a grander scale, because no one gives a *%&$ about marathoning. They're laughing at us, not with us, and I fear, with good reason, that 18-1 is the new 1918. I hate this feeling.

Odd how the pendulum swings. One play gets made, one play, and this team's relegates the '72 Dolphins to the obscurity they deserve. But one play didn't get made, and now we're left to wonder if the loss was an all-too-appropriate bookend to the Super Bowl victory over the Rams, the completion of the circle. Removing emotion from the equation, I honestly don't believe that we saw an era's conclusion last Sunday; a smart, talent-rich team with Bill Belichick on its sideline and Tom Brady as its quarterback is not going to fade from perennial championship contention because of one soul-crushing loss. We must concede, however, that the coach and the QB no longer have the air of invincibility in the postseason that they once did. This is three seasons without a championship, and the last two season-ending losses have come, excruciatingly, in the game's final moments. The Super Bowl victory over the Eagles is starting to feel like a long time ago.

In a sense, I wish next season would begin tomorrow, just to dull the memory of their last play. As much as I love baseball, this is not a wound that can be healed by another sport, and it's downright silly to suggest the arrival of pitchers and catchers, while a traditional sign that brighter days are coming, can do anything to ease the disappointment of what happened in Arizona.

Further, anyone who suggests this loss was less significant because the indignity was suffered by the Pats instead of the Sox is simply allowing personal opinion to overwhelm logic. Boston is not solely a Baseball Town, not now, and maybe never again; it is a Pro Sports Town now, as evidenced by the current swirling moods: the genuine grief of the Patriots' demise and the giddiness surrounding the Celtics' resurgence. Hell, I'm convinced that if Jeremy Jacobs ever spent some of his beer-and-wiener loot on his neglected hockey team, the marginalized Bruins could again become as beloved as they were in the Neely/Bourque years, if not the golden days of the Gallery Gods in the '70s. It's easy to forget now, but Boston was once a Hockey Town above all else.

We New Englanders are, however, the only ones who have any affection this Patriots team. Everyone besides you and me - to borrow a word from Tom Jackson - hates them, and you bet I believe the whispers that the press box erupted in cheers when the football settled gently into Plaxico Burress's hands.

While some - okay, a lot - of the public disdain is self-inflicted, and I think it would be hugely beneficial if Belichick would permit himself to always be as charming as he was during Super Bowl week, all the ancillary white noise shouldn't sap the fun out of being a fan. Yet it did; turns out it sucks being Goliath.

You'd think the journey to 18-0 would have been joyful, but between SpyGate, RunningUpTheScoreGate, ConsensualHorseplayGate, BradyInABootOnTMZGate, and all the other saturation b.s. "coverage" on ESPN and elsewhere, it turned out that the only fun in following this team came during the actual games . . . that is, until the last game.

Right now, I find myself looking forward to the day the Patriots are treated like just another very good football team again. If that's even possible.

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As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Yeah? Something tells me He loves you more, pal.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The news of the day

I'm guess I'm with the consensus on the Shaq deal: It's a desperate and somewhat sad act by the Suns, who, by trading versatile Shawn Marion and the shell casing of Marcus Banks to the Heat for the Big Decrepit, are basically admitting that their fun and appealing run-run-run style of play won't cut it when a championship is the mission. At this point, Shaq is the anti-Sun - his lift is gone, he can't rebound, he's a lumbering hacker on defense, and running the floor wasn't exactly a priority when he was in his prime. I do understand Phoenix feels like they need a big guy to deal with Tim Duncan in the postseason, and this is probably in part a reactionary move to a recent loss to the Spurs as well as the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol. But it's such a wrong move, and unless Marion, who is perpetually unhappy with his contract, had become too much of nuisance behind the scenes, I just can't see Mike D'Antoni signing off on this. In '07 Seconds or Less, Jack McCallum's season inside with the '05-'06 Suns, D'Antoni, a playing and coaching legend in the free-flowing Italian League, he's almost defiant in his belief that a fast-break, offensive-oriented, aesthetically pleasing system can win a championship in today's grind-it-out NBA. And now he brings in the ultimate half-court player in Shaq? It just doesn't make sense.

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Upon hearing the news that Brian McNamee turned over needles, syringes, used gauzed pads, and heaven knows what else to Congress as proof that he injected Roger Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs, my first reaction was this: He kept that stuff? For eight years? Disgusting. But then I got to thinking about it, and I realized the obvious: Either McNamee held on to it because he has his own bizarro Hall of Fame exhibit, or he suspected that if it ever came out that the Rocket was fueled by 'roids, Clemens would lie his needle-marked a-- off about it, even if it meant destroying McNamee's life in the process. Hey, you can't say he didn't know his client. I doubt even the actual physical proof will convince Clemens, a serial b.s. artist, to come clean about his usage - he'll still probably claim he thought it was B-12, duh-huh, duh-huh, even if his own fingerprints are still on one of the vials. At the rate he's going, he's going to keep lying until he's sharing a 15x18 cell with a frisky Hell's Angel named Bubba, which brings me to one more point about McNamee: It's very curious that he waited until after Clemens answered questions under oath before he provided the smoking gun, or in this case, syringe. If I were the cynical sort, I'd almost wonder if McNamee wants Clemens to go to jail. Either way, it's apparent this intriguing mess of a story couldn't happen to two better guys.

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If I put together a list of Our Favorite Things here at TATB, the American version of "The Office" and the Fire Joe Morgan blog might come in 1-2, barely edging out raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. So we found it pretty cool when the revelation came today that the pseudonymed mastermind behind the funniest and most well-written baseball blog around is none other than Michael Schur, better known to fans of "The Office" as world-class beet farmer Cousin Mose Schrute. Schur, a Harvard grad and Sox fan who writes under the name "Ken Tremendous" for the FJM, is also one of the main writers for "The Office" - which means he's pretty much living my dream life, other than the fact that Regis Philbin is his father-in-law. Seriously, I often find myself wishing I could write as well as "Tremendous" when I read FJM, so it's kind of nice to find out that he's an accomplished pro, someone I admired already, and not just a random desk jockey for Fremulon Insurance.

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As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:

With all of this talk about Shaq's startling physical regression, I couldn't help but be reminded of Artis Gilmore, whom you might recall was tagged "Rigor Artis" by the Globe's Peter May during his one fossilized season in Boston. It's either one of the funniest or meanest nicknames of all time, depending upon your sense of humor. I think you know where I stand.

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No, we haven't forgetten about the Pats, unfortunately. We're slowly coming to grips with what happened, though I have to admit I still haven't watched ESPN or seen a single highlight from the game. We'll be back with the autopsy in the next day or two. Friggin' Tyree . . .

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Monday, February 04, 2008

The loneliest number

Never would have thought before this season that 18-1 could feel so empty.

Almost perfect? C'mon, that counts for absolutely nothing at this hour. There is no solace to be found. So much more than a single football game was lost tonight. The Patriots were 60 well-played minutes from sporting immortality. They would have stood alone as the greatest team in the history of the sport.

Now? Now they will now be lumped with the '68 Colts, the '90 Bills, the '01 Rams as pumped-up favorites who did not live up to their billing. Those who prematurely reveled in their superiority will be left eating a heaping helping of our own words. (Hello there.) The '72 Dolphins will raise their glasses. The ESPN airbags will smirk. Your Patriots be called chokers. New Yawkers will gloat, loudly, for the first time since Oct, '04. We will have no choice but to endure it all.

I'm in no mood to compare and contrast my favorite teams' most devastating defeats, but I'll admit, the pain of this one won't equal the spirit-crushing sadness I felt after the 2003 ALCS loss; I guess baseball just owns a bigger piece of my heart. But it does leave me aching, and a little bit shellshocked. We've been so blessed as New England sports fans in recent seasons that you'd think disappointment wouldn't hit us so hard anymore. It does. The more you think about what happened tonight, the more depressing it gets. It almost doesn't seem real.

So we're left to search for an explanation for What Went Wrong, and we can't resist the temptation to distribute the blame. Scapegoats can be found without much of a search. The offensive line was a five-man homage to Max Lane; they helped make Justin Tuck a star tonight. Ellis Hobbs, a weak link exposed, still has no idea where the hell Plaxico Burress went. Benjamin Watson (one penalty, one false start, zero catches) would have helped the cause more by remaining behind in Foxboro. And that's just the starter list.

Even the two men who always gave us the confidence - sure, arrogance - to believe the Patriots would coast to their fourth championship in seven seasons were not their usual infallible selves tonight. Belichick's decision to go for a fourth and 13 in the first half rather than have Stephen Gostkowski attempt a 49-yard field goal was curious at the time, and in hindsight it looks like a strategic blunder that will linger. Worse, he now has something in common with Mike Martz. He was outcoached on the biggest stage, and those right there are words I never thought I'd write.

As for the quarterback, I imagine he never thought Plaxico Namath's 23-17 prediction would actually be generous to the Pats' offense. It's fair to say Brady was underwhelming for the second straight playoff game, playing sluggishly until the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. Brady, like his coach, no longer owns that invincible aura in the postseason - that happens when you lose to a Manning in the final minute two straight seasons. I would not be surprised to learn the infamous ankle was injured more than anyone outside of the Patriots' locker room knew; he did not step into his deep throws all night, and he was unusually scattershot on numerous passes longer than a dozen or so yards. The New York pass rush battered him like he was an honorary Bledsoe. The only way his day could have been more disappointing is if Gisele went home with Eli Manning.

While the Patriots contributed to their own demise, let's be clear. They didn't lose the game; the Giants went out and won the damn thing, and while that is absolutely no consolation whatsoever, it's a fact. Manning out-Bradyed Brady, throwing a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes and emerging confidently from big brother Peyton's enormous shadow, and it must have been easy for anyone without a New England allegiance to root for him tonight. I'm not sure I've seen a career-defining moment take place for two teammates on the same play, but Manning's escape-and-heave to David Tyree for the one-handed catch against his helmet . . . well, Steve Sabol IV will be showing that one on NFL Films reels decades from now. It will endure as The Play from this game, a Montana-to-Clark for this generation. I'd just as soon never see it again.

The cruelest twist, of coure, is that the Giants beat the Patriots with what was once their signature style - fierce and unrelenting defense, an opportunistic, efficient offense, and just the right amount of pure friggin' luck. (Tell me again how Pierre Woods failed to come up with that loose ball in the second quarter.) Watching the Giants play so admirably, you can't help but wonder if, during this high-flying, record-setting season, the Patriots have somehow lost their way, the essence of what they once were and what they should be. I do not need to remind you that his makes three straight years the Patriots have had to walk off the field with their heads bowed. While they remain the sport's model organization and surely will be in the postseason mix again a season from now, the dynasty talk for now belongs in the past tense.

We can't help but recall what Brady said often in the days leading up to the game. We will remember this game all our lives. Sadly, now it will be for all the wrong reasons. The coronation turned into a funeral. Those damn Giants, they were right all along.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008


During the hypnotizing hype (as the great Joe Posnanski calls it) of this ridiculous two-week hiatus between football games, I've passed some time attempting to temper my surging arrogance about a certain dynasty's immediate destiny.

I reminded myself that this is exactly how St. Louis Rams fans felt six seasons ago. I paid proper respect to the strengths of this admirable if mouthy Giants football team - the thunder 'n' lightning running duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the fierce Strahan/Umenyiora-led pass rush that surely will test Tom Brady's re-booted ankle, the height advantage talented Plaxico Burress holds over the Patriots' shrimpy cornerbacks. I even wondered if my desperation to witness the completion of a flawless season is blurring the line between what I hope happens and what is likely to happen.

I considered, pondered, even worried a little . . . I tried, honestly I did. But in the end, my forced attempts at humble concern were as bleepin' hopeless as the underdog's chances tonight.

The New England Patriots are going to pulverize the New York Giants this evening. Think Steve Young vs. Stan Humphries. Fetal Tony Eason vs. the 46 Defense. The How 'Bout Them Cowboys vs. the hapless Bills. A mismatch for the ages.

It's been a redemptive run through the postseason for Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, and the Giants, a team that has legitimately suffered more skeptics and doubters than the Patriots could ever imagine. (And admittedly, a lot of the Patriots' are imagined.) But all logic suggests their bandwagon will go careening off the road today, and football fans everywhere will be left rubbernecking at the wreckage.

We'll keep this simple. To stay with the Patriots today, the Giants will need every positive event from their 38-35 loss in Week 17 - four red-zone TD passes from Manning, a kick return for a TD, a stalled Patriots running game - to reoccur. And the will need to eliminate every mistake they made in the previous meeting while containing, if not entirely shutting down, a Patriots passing attack that is sure to be rejuvenated in the Arizona sun.

To stay with the Patriots, they are the ones who will have to be perfect. And the chances of that happening are roughly the same as the chances of Brady ditching Gisele to go back to Tara Reid.

This is how it's going to go, people. The Patriots will pull ahead early, Brady finding Randy Moss deep once or twice against the Giants' spotty defensive backfield, and suddenly Manning will find himself playing from behind against a Patriots defense that will undoubtedly reveal wrinkles and complexities he did not see in the previous meeting. For a quarterback who considered a disappointment if not an out-and-out bust six weeks ago, it's a recipe for embarrassment. When it's all over, Archie Manning will remember why Peyton was always his favorite.

Yes, today will bring the culmination and the coronation. Nineteen wins, zero losses, a legacy that will endure for all time. Do you really think a team led by Bill Belichick and Brady, a team populated by savvy veterans, a team that knows its way around a Super Bowl or four, will let football immortality slip from their grasp?

Not a chance, which in part explains why Belichick was in such an unusually jolly mood this week. He knows his team is ready for its closeup, and nothing - not Eagles fanboy Arlen Spector's curiously timed grandstanding, not Matt Walsh's vague insinuations, not even the look-at-me pleas for attention by the likes of Merril Hoge and Gregg Easterbrook - can bring them down. In fact, that's the irony that is somehow lost on their haters and skeptics. Their doubts feed the beast. I've never seen another professional sports team that so effectively converts sleights - both real and imagined - into fuel come game time.

Which is why, at roughly 10 p.m. this evening, we'll bear delightful witness to one final act of vengeance. The confetti will rain, the Patriots will reign . . . and Roger Goodell, a fake plastic smile creasing his face, will have to hand over the Lombardi Trophy to Bill Belichick.

If that isn't the perfect final scene to a perfect season, well, just you tell me what is.

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As for today's Completely Random Hall of Famer:

A long overdue honor for 'ol No. 56, and a rather fine way to kick off the Patriots-centric weekend as well.

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