Thursday, September 20, 2007

Notes on a scandal

Leftovers from one of the most bizarre Boston sports weeks I can recall:

The notion that the Patriots were loading up for one last run this season before Bill Belichick departed was little more than a talk-radio fantasy driven by people longing for the day when he is no longer the grand poo-bah here and information flows freely from the locker room again. Think about it: If they Patriots truly stacking the deck for one last hurrah this season, they'd never have rolled over that No. 1 pick to next year, and they likely would have given Asante Samuel every dime he wanted right away. What they're doing is loading up for now and the future, and given that Belichick is apparently under contract through 2013 - and wasn't the timing of that announcement the most telling statement Bob Kraft could have made about how he feels about his coach? - it looks like we can hold off on creating fictional rumors about his departure for another five years or so.

I always respected Jimmy Johnson as a football coach and personnel evaluator (I'm not sure his Dallas teams get their just due in terms of how stacked with top-shelf talent they were), but I never realized he was such a stand-up guy until he said this on the Fox pregame show during Videogate:

"Bill Belichick was wrong because he videotaped signals after a memo was sent out to all of the teams saying not to do it. But what irritates me is hearing some reactions from players and coaches. These players don't know what their coaches are doing. And some of the coaches have selective amnesia because I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. That's why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesn't make him right, but a lot of teams are doing this."

I think that's the closest thing to the straight truth to come out of this whole overblown saga. I can understand other coaches not wanting to implicate themselves when it comes to similar antics (though Jon Gruden came pretty close), but the holier-than-thou tone of best-selling author Tony Dungy and the rampant excuse-making by the incompetent likes of Jack Del Rio certainly gave you some insight into their true character. Oh, and in a semi-related note, Chris Mortensen still hasn't gotten anything right.

So, yeah, about the (gag) Red (gasp) Sox (gack). Let's see, think of something positive here . . . okay, how about this: At least they're not the Mets. Seriously, this willing and apparently inevitable ceding of the American League East to the Yankees has me majorly conflicted. On one hand, I appreciate that Terry Francona and the front office are doing all they can to ensure postseason success, by shutting down the crucial but exhausted Hideki Okajima, by setting up the starting pitching so that Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling can get some needed rest, by finding out once and for all if Eric Gagne is capable anything other than devouring the postgame buffet, by letting Coco Crisp, Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez heal rather than running them out there injured in hopes of securing an essentially meaningless division title . . . and yet, on the other hand, it isn't entirely meaningless, now is it? For one thing, should it come down to a Sox-Yankees ALCS, it would be nice to have the home-field advantage for once, particularly since the Sox are a much better-hitting ballclub at Fenway. Also, it would be reassuring to enter the playoffs with some momentum, and while this is hardly important, there's no denying there would be some embarrassment in punting away what was once a 14.5-game lead over the Yankees, even as the wild card makes any comparison to '78 an exercise in melodramatics. The best course of action is a happy medium - rest the regulars while continuing to win games - but I'm not sure a lineup that includes Eric Hinske in a prominent role is capable of holding up its end of the bargain.

I'm an accomplished Manny apologist, and there may not be one player in my 20-something years as a fan that I've enjoyed watching more. But I must admit it: I just don't understand how he can put on awe-inspiring performances in batting practice a few days in a row, yet not be ready for five at-bats in a game. And as much as he runs his team with a "what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse" philosophy, I'm beginning to think Francona is having as hard a time hiding his exasperation with this as the rest of us.

I hate to say it, but I think the Sox are better off going with J.D. Drew over Jacoby Ellsbury in the postseason. The book is starting to get around on Ellsbury - can't lay off the low inside fastball, expands the strike zone when he's behind in the count - and I fear that when he's facing the top-notch pitchers he'll see in the postseason, he'll look more like the raw kid with fewer than 100 big-league at-bats than the future star who has given Sox fans of a certain age joyful flashbacks to Fred Lynn's 1974 cameo. Plus, he could be a huge asset off the bench with his speed and defensive aptitude. Of course, the alternative is J.D. Drew, so if you want to argue that the Red Sox should take their chances and see if Ellsbury can handle it, I could probably be swayed.

In case you missed it, you simply must check out the comments section on the previous post; let's just say that when it comes to things Yankees fans' dislikes, I apparently now fall somewhere between Curt Schilling and deodorant. Of course, the irony of them blathering about the Yankees' class while using the coarsest language ever to appear on this site is undoubtedly lost on their underutilized skulls. The Yankees are the best team in baseball right now, and heck, yes, I fear their humble, elegant fans will get the last word this year. But I take comfort in the fact that there's roughly a 100 percent chance they will spell that last word wrong.

My apologizes for not pulling together a First-and-10 column on the Pats-Chargers game. You'll recall that was the night they played at 8:15 and the Sox-Yanks started at 8:05, so it was all hands on deck at work, and I forgot to set the DVR. I know, of all the games to miss. (Cue Chris Farley: I'm such an IDIOT!) But from what I did see, this is what left the biggest impression: The off-the-charts chemistry between Tom Brady and Randy Moss. Moss tails his new QB like a puppy dog on the sideline (I'm doubting he did the same to Aaron Brooks), while Brady, who you'd think might own a veteran's I've-seen-it-all attitude at this point in his career, is carrying himself like a kid at Christmas - he gets downright giddy when he talks about Moss. You get the sense that they are having as much fun playing together as we are watching them. Man, how I hope it stays like this.

As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

All I'm saying is that he should grow back the 'stache and white-guy 'fro.

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