Thursday, March 23, 2006

This, that and the other thing

Ten free minutes for me, 10 free semi-coherent thoughts for you . . .

1. It's my mission to get into Adam Vinatieri's departure with a full-length column to be posted Friday morning, so at the moment all I will say is this: Bill Belichick (and to a point, Bill James) convinced me long ago that cold, calculating logic is far more conducive to building a powerhouse sports franchise than is sentimentality or emotion. But right now, I'm having a very hard time finding any logic in this decision. I hate to be one of those nitwit fans who demand that the Patriots explain every move they make . . . but man, if ever a move needed justifying, it's letting your iconic Super Bowl hero kicker bolt for your main competition over the matter of roughly the amount of money you paid Duane Starks last season. Maybe they think he's slipped. Maybe his back pain is chronic. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Right now, if only for reassurance, I wish the Patriots would give us some answers.

As for the Patriots' two other notable recent departures, Willie McGinest and David Givens, I'll miss them both, for they were probably my two favorite players on the current team. (And putting a good bargain ahead of any shred of journalistic integrity I might still have, I just picked up a McGinest jersey on for $25.) But at least in each case the logic can be comprehended. Givens is a wonderful No. 2 receiver, tough and determined and clutch . . . but he's not fast or elusive enough to be a No. 1, he's not worth the bucks he's making, and if the Titans are expecting him to become the second coming of Jerry Rice, they're going to be terribly disappointed. As for McGinest, he's one of the most admirable Patriots I can recall, a big-game player who is deserving of his own NFL Films special some day just for the interesting evolution of his career: dominant, Boselli-whuppin' force on the '96 Pats, injury-prone, expensive disappointment during the Pumped And Jacked Pete Carroll years, then, just when it looked like he was going to go the way of Chris Slade, he got healthy and morphed into a clutch, intelligent elder statesman during the dynasty. It's fair to say his skills eroded last year - he was the Invisible Man when Richard Seymour was injured - and in all of his football wisdom, he's probably of more value to Romeo Crennel's fledgling Browns than he would be to the Patriots. But he sure did have a hell of a run here, and I hope the Patriots have the good sense to keep jersey No. 55 in mothballs from now on. I don't imagine anyone else could do it justice at the moment.

3. Rock on, Bronson Arroyo. Maybe your hairstyles (cornrows?) and musical choices (the Goo Goo Dolls?) left something to be desired, but you pitched your best in the biggest moments (whiffing A-Rod and Sheffield in a key situation in the '04 ALCS), never seemed to get rattled, were willing to pitch in any role if it benefited the team, and best of all, exposed slappy A-Rod as a fool on a national stage. Hell, you appreciated being a member of the Boston Red Sox to the point that you made a foolish financial sacrifice that ultimately undermined your chances of remaining here. But look at it this way: as One of the 25, you'll be a member of the Red Sox long after your playing days are done.

4. As for Wily Mo Pena, he sounds to me like a destitute man's Manny Ramirez: Awesome power (according to Bill James Handbook, he walloped the two longest homers in the NL last season), occasionally indifferent baserunning, defense that could gently be be described as "adventurous." All that considered, yeah, I like the deal. Trot Nixon has required a platoon partner for some time now, and Pena mashes lefties. He should be fun. Can't wait to hear him say, "It's just Wily Mo being Wily Mo, man."

5. My concerns about the Red Sox, from most worrisome to least: 1) Mike Lowell (everyone says his bat is slow). 2) Keith Foulke (any time you are getting something that sounds like motor oil injected into your knees, it can't bode well for your long-term health. 3) Curt Schilling (even if he's lost a few MPH off the ol' heater, he's shrewd enough, good health willing, to remain a top-notch starter).

6. Adam Morrison is a blast to watch, and he gets bonus points for looking like he just stepped out of the 1974-75 St. Louis Spirits highlight reel, but I'm skeptical of his ability to justify a high lottery pick in the NBA draft. Sure, he's got a Bird-like shot, right down to the high release point, but his passing is only average, he's a subpar rebounder, and defense is merely a rest period between offensive possessions. His sweet shot will secure him a long-term spot in the league, but I'm afraid he'll never be a bigger star than he is at this moment. (But the kid sure has good taste in baseball hats, no?)

7. As far as the pro future Morrison's main competition for the Wooden Award and all the other player of the year prizes is concerned, I think J.J. Redick is going to be a better NBA player than most experts outside of the rumpswab Vitale/Packer specie believe. He won't be a star, but his shot is so accurate and his release so quick that it seems to me he's perfectly suited to be a terrific complementary player on a good team. Think John Paxson with the Jordan Bulls, or to put it another way: how much would you like to see a shooter of his skill coming off the Celtics' bench right now?

8. So let me get this straight: T.O. has a rap song out two days after he signs with the Cowboys, and a tell-all book is on the way? Yeah, he really learned his lessons last year, didn't he? This is not going to end well for the Dallas Cowboys, just as it did not end well for the 49ers or the Eagles. T.O. cannot be redeemed, because in his tiny pea of a mind, he doesn't think he did anything wrong. Which leads to this question? Why is Dallas doing this? Is Parcells really that desperate to win immediately, or is this all Jerry (Plastic Man) Jones's ego trip? No matter - by midseason, they're both going to want to pull a George Teague on the clown. But the person I feel bad for in all of this is our old friend Mr. Bledsoe. T.O. has accused his past QBs of being gay (Jeff Garcia) and cowardly (Donovan McNabb), and Bledsoe might be a less effective quarterback now than Garcia and McNabb were when they played with T.O. His pat-pat-sack routine is going to drive T.O. nuts, and T.O. is going to let everyone know about it. Bledsoe deserves better.

9. . . . and while we are on the subject of loudmouth wide receivers, let me say this: I do hope the Patriots sign Keyshawn Johnson. Yeah, he doesn't know when to zip it, either, but he'd be the perfect short-term replacement for David Givens, and there's a major difference between him and T.O.: Keyshawn is a good soldier when he respects the coach (Parcells, Belichick); T.O. respects no one except for the reflection in the mirror.

10. How long has Adam Vinatieri been the Patriots' kicker? His immediate predecessor, Mr. Bahr, is going to be 50 in July.

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One final plea/request/pathetic grovel: It'd be much appreciated at the TATB headquarters if you clicked this here link and gave us some love in the Best Independent Sports Website category. I'm not sure what first prize is for winning, but rumor has it that it's a toaster, and you know how Buckethead loves his yeast. Thanks much, and I promise to post more often now that our computer's hard drive issues are resolved. (Please don't let my wife look in the cache file . . . please don't let my wife look in the cache file . . . )