Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Maybe I'll Get Over It; Maybe Not

For years, we Yankee fans were subjected to the ridiculous taunts of, "You bought yourselves a championship". The irony, of course, was that the true Yankee championship teams from 1996-2000 were actually a solid mix of home-grown stars (Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada) and savvy trades (Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch). The teams from that era didn't have many big-ticket free agents -- guys like Cone, Wells or even Jimmy Key were mid-tier guys, and none of them was around very long.

It was only with the signing of Jason Giambi after the 2001 season -- the official "Beginning of the End" -- that the Yanks started looking to "buy" their way to World Series wins. Of course, we all know how that has played out over the last eight years. Millions after millions, lavished on such "stars" as A-Rod, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield... well, you get the picture.

After this "big money" philosophy crashed and burned the Yankees made a push -- albeit, Yankee-style -- of semi-fiscal responsibility, emphasizing youth, their farm system and weaning themselves off multi-million, multi-year deals. That is, until this month. Until they overpaid for Sabathia for too many years. And then made a mockery of it all by signing Burnett days later. Or at least what I thought was a mockery, until today.

With the signing of Teixeira, the Yankees have now broken all records for conspicuous consumption. It's not enough that we're all in the midst of the worst financial crisis in decades; we're now treated to a spectacle of overpaid athletes chasing the very last dollar -- or million dollars, more exactly -- that their lusty suitors have to offer. "It's the Yankees' money to spend," you say. Meanwhile, the Yankees have the gall to ask the city for more help to pay for their new stadium. Whose money is that they're spending?

But it's not all bad, I'm reading. Jane Heller wrote an excellent piece about this Yankee fan guilt.

The fact that the Yankees do have money and aren’t afraid to lavish it on the people they care about isn’t so wrong, is it? It’s not as if they’ve roped us all into some giant Ponzi scheme and bled our retirement plans dry.

True, but for right now, I am embarrassed. I just hope I'll come around to her side by the time the Lear jets start lining up outside Legends Field for Spring Training.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They don't call me "Crank" for nothin'

I’m not sure why, but I always seem to seek out the negative aspects of a trade or signing. Case in point: the Mets’ three-year, $37 million deal for Francisco Rodriguez. Yes, you could argue K-Rod was the best closer in baseball. His major league record 62 saves certainly lends credence to that assertion. (Though we all know save totals are largely a function of team performance. And he still managed to blow seven saves on top of that.)

A further look into the numbers also raises a few eyebrows, if not quite red flags. Generally speaking, the lifespan of a closer is limited (Mariano, the decided exception, notwithstanding). Rodriguez is coming off a career-high 76 appearances – that's more like a middle reliever than a closer – though his innings pitched were about his career average. That said, his strikeout rate dipped alarmingly: from three-straight years of 90+ to only 77; a K/9 IP rate of 10.1, down from 12 over those previous three seasons. Probably not coincidentally, his WHIP was a career-high 1.29.

Of course, only a fool would say that a pitcher with a 10 K/9 IP ratio, a 1.29 WHIP, and the league record in saves isn’t a great pitcher. But those are some downward trends. And while I’m reluctant to even broach the “Gagne” word, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Gagne saved 55 games in 2003 and converted 84 consecutive save chances. Then he blew out his elbow and hasn't been the same since.

Even with all that, though, the Mets probably made a good deal. After all, even if K-Rod continues to slip he only has a 3-year deal. Barring a major injury, he’ll still be a productive closer by the time the deal is up. And even if he’s not super-human, he sure improves the Mets’ bullpen and will be more consistent than Wagner or his predecessors ever were.

Just don’t get me started on the Sabathia deal…

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fixin' a Hole

The Yankees took a surprising step to fortify their lineup by acquiring Nick Swisher in a five-player deal.

Choosing to address first base before concentrating on pitching when the free-agent market opens Friday, the Yankees obtained Swisher and right-hander Kaneoka Texeira for pitching prospect Jeff Marquez, infielder Wilson Betemit and minor league pitcher Jhonny Nunez.

I like it. For starters, it means that the Yankees will not be major players in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes. Sure, sure, the article says Swisher could also play right field if the Yanks get another first-baseman. But I'd like to think the Yanks are just keeping the possibility out there to drive up the price for whoever eventually does overpay for Big Tex. (And believe me, they will overpay and for far too many years.)

Swisher is no Mattingly around the bag, but he's a major step up from Jason Giambi and will also keep Jorge Posada from having to learn his way around first. As for his bat, I think he's closer to the player he was in 2006-07 (.865 / .836 OPS) than in 2008 (.219 BA / .742 OPS). And Swisher's lefty bat should benefit from that friendly porch in right. (I've heard the new stadium will retain the same dimensions as the current.)

But the best part of the deal is that it doesn't seem like the Yanks are giving up much in return. Marquez is the prize for the White Sox, but considering that he wasn't as highly valued as either Hughes or Kennedy, who would be surprised if he didn't amount to much?

All told, it's a nice first step out of the box for the Yanks. Is it too much to ask for that they be smart and not overspend (or spend at all) for C.C. Sabathia?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What time is it?

I know, it's hardly an original lament. We hear the same thing every year. But it doesn't make it any less true: Why are playoff baseball games played so late???

Now, I'll freely admit that I don't generally care about playoff baseball that doesn't involve the Yankees. And no, it's not because I'm bitter. It's just that if the Yanks aren't playing, I don't care. But for some reason, I've found myself tuning into the Rays-Red Sox series every now and then. (It's probably the Red Sox fan in my office -- I'm not rooting for Boston, here.) While I wasn't looking, the Red Sox tied up the series and forced a Game 7. And just a few minutes ago, I flipped on the game: Rays up 3-1, top of the 8th.

So what's the problem? It's nearly 11PM on the east coast and nobody is watching this game. Or, more to the point, as that familiar lament goes, "A whole generation of fans are sleeping through the playoffs." Why, on a Sunday, does a playoff baseball game not start until after 8:00? Last I checked, Tampa Bay and Boston were both on the east coast. So are the Phillies, whose fans (living in Philadelphia) have a vested interest in the outcome of this series.

Is it the NFL? This is a Game 7; Boston, America's sweethearts; Tampa Bay, the lovable underdogs from outta nowhere. If they can't generate more interest than a Colts-Packers game in October, then the problem is bigger than what time the game is played. But even if you want to avoid the NFL, why not start at 7PM? Or even earlier, figuring that all the NFL games will be over long before the baseball game got interesting?

I'm now sitting here, Tampa Bay one out from going to the World Series. It's 11:38 PM. Who's watching with me?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why Athletes Should Not Be Role Models

I can’t take credit for compiling this list, nor can I verify whether any of the following was said by any of the following individuals. But it’s still funny…

· New Orleans Saints RB George Rogers when asked about the upcoming season: "I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first."

· Upon hearing Joe Jacoby of the Redskins say, "I'd run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl,” Matt Millen of the Raiders said: "To win, I'd run over Joe's Mom, too."

· Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann in 1996: "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."

· Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: "I'm going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes."

· Bill Peterson, a Florida State football coach: "You guys line up alphabetically by height." And "You guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle."

· Boxing promoter Dan Duva on Mike Tyson again hooking up with promoter Don King: "Why would anyone expect him to come out smarter? He went to prison for three years, not Princeton."

· Stu Grimson, Chicago Blackhawks left wing, explaining why he keeps a color photo of himself above his locker: "That's so when I forget how to spell my name, I can still find my clothes."

· Shaquille O'Neal on whether he had visited the Parthenon during his visit to Greece: "I can't really remember the names of the clubs that we went to."

· Shaquille O'Neal, in 1994, on his lack of championships: "I've won at every level, except college and pro."

· Lou Duva, veteran boxing trainer, on the Spartan training regimen of heavyweight Andrew Golota: "He's a guy who gets up at six o'clock in the morning regardless of what time it is."

· Pat Williams, Orlando Magic general manager, on his team's 7-27 record in 1992: "We can't win at home. We can't win on the road. As general manager, I just can't figure out where else to play."

· Chuck Nevitt, North Carolina State basketball player, explaining to Coach Jim Valvano why he appeared nervous at practice: "My sister's expecting a baby, and I don't know if I'm going to be an uncle or an aunt."

· Steve Spurrier, Florida football coach, telling Gator fans that a fire at Auburn's football dorm had destroyed 20 books: "But the real tragedy was that 15 hadn't been colored in yet."

· Jim Finks, New Orleans Saints General Manager, when asked after a loss what he thought of the refs: "I'm not allowed to comment on lousy, no-good officiating."

· Alan Kulwicki, stock car racer, on racing Saturday nights as opposed to Sunday afternoons: "It's basically the same, only darker."

· Frank Layden, Utah Jazz president, on a former player: "I told him, 'Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?' He said, 'Coach, I don't know and I don't care."

· Torri Polk, University of Houston receiver, on his coach, John Jenkins: "He treats us like men. He lets us wear earrings."

· Shelby Metcalf, basketball coach at Texas A&M, recounting what he told a player who received four F's and one D: "Son, it looks to me like you're spending too much time on one subject."

· And the gem: then Houston Oiler coach Bum Phillips when asked by Bob Costas why he takes his wife on all road trips, Phillips responded: "Because she is too damn ugly to kiss good-bye."

Change is Good

What's going on in New York? The Knicks are making decisions that may positively impact the franchise!

John Gabriel, a former N.B.A. executive of the year with the Orlando Magic, has joined the Knicks’ revamped front office and will assume a major role in rebuilding the roster after seven straight losing seasons...
Gabriel’s primary duty will be evaluating current N.B.A. players, with an eye toward future trades and free-agent signings.

That fits nicely with the widely-held but merely speculated notion that the Knicks plan to wait out the next two seasons and become major players in the 2010 free agent market. And a guy like Gabriel knows all about turning over a roster:

Gabriel was named executive of the year in 1999-2000 after orchestrating 37 transactions that netted nine first-round draft picks and created the salary-cap space to sign Hill and McGrady.

Now I've seen some criticism of Gabriel's tenure in Orlando (mostly from disgruntled Magic fans). However, his eye for talent doesn't seem to be in question. That would be a refreshing change around MSG, considering the legacy that Isi... whoa, almost typed his name there... that the previous Knicks' administration left.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Better on paper?

The Yankees completed a bit of a head-scratching deal this afternoon, sending Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit in exchange for the Tigers' catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

While it's long been a dream of Yankee fans to get rid of the Goggled One, in this case his reputation precedes him. Farnsworth, for all his inconsistencies, had been pitching very well of late; in fact, since Joba Chamberlain made the transition to starter and Farnsworth inherited the 8th inning job, he's only given up runs in four appearances out of 20. He throws hard coming out of the pen -- nearly a strikeout per inning -- and has actually served as a solid set-up man for Mariano. And who inherits the 8th inning role now?

Rodriguez, on the other hand, is merely a shell of his former self. He hasn't hit for power since he stopped taking steroids. (Oh, right, allegedly. And I suppose it's just a coincidence that his body has been breaking down since.) And even his defense has suffered as years of work behind the plate have worn him down.

Regardless, I can see the rationale behind getting Pudge. Rodriguez is a step up defensively from
Jose Molina and even in decline is a better hitter than Molina will ever be. In the end, this will help both teams, though I can't help wondering if the affect on the Yankee bullpen may offset any gains made by having Rodriguez behind home plate.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Ugly, Horrible, Deflating Loss

The Mets have done a lot of good work lately in the area of collapses, but much of it was of the long-term variety. But for sheer, quick-hit terror, little compares to the Mets-Phillies game last night. What the hell happened? I’m only surprised Willie wasn’t lurking in the building somewhere.

I flip over to the game late, Mets on top and Johan Santana is grooving. Big spot in the 8th, Santana gets Howard to fly out, pumps the fist and walks off. Bottom of the inning, Santana is lifted for the pinch hitter and his night is over. Granted, hindsight is always 20/20, but here’s the big question: if Jerry Manuel KNEW that Billy Wagner was not available, might this not be a good time to let Santana go all the way?

Sure it sounds great after the fact, but it was a serious option at the time. In fact, the Mets announcers themselves were going on and on about how a nine-inning performance by Santana, against the Phillies no less, would be exactly what the Mets and Santana needed (Santana especially). He’d only thrown 105 pitches and would have been facing the 5-6-7 spots in the 9th. It was right there for the taking.

Some will say that Santana is no Roy Halladay -- true, Halladay has more complete games this season (7) than Santana has in his entire career (6). But Santana is no stranger to high pitch counts, either. He's thrown over 110 pitches six times this season and went at least 100 pitches in 13 of his 20 starts. Workhorses are meant to be ridden.

That said, if Sanchez does his job – or even a pale impersonation of his job – it’s probably not an issue today. But he didn’t, and it is. So instead of a season-defining win by their ace, a statement game against the NL's best, the Mets are suffering flashbacks to disasters past. In baseball, you’re only as good (or as bad) as your last game but the Mets haven’t exactly shown a lot of resiliency in this area recently. Assuming they get the game in tonight (the forecast calls for rain all day) I truly wonder how the Mets react.

Friday, July 4, 2008


No, THIS is why they hate us...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Things that go "bump" in the night

The worst-kept secret in baseball is finally out: Willie Randolph has been fired as manager of the New York Mets. And before we all get up-in-arms about the utterly classless fashion in which the news was delivered, can we all just leave the "Willie as a martyr" stuff alone? Bottom line: he's just not that good a manager, even by baseball standards. Actually, by baseball standards -- turn in your lineup cards, let the players play and don't make yourself the story -- Randolph was actually pretty lousy.

But that's not to say Willie didn't deserve better than having the world learn of his termination via a 3 AM news release. (The Wilpons must have studied at the Irsay School of Management.) No one deserves that. (Okay, Willie really does deserve it, but that's a story for another time.) But regardless of the tactics, firing Randolph was the right move. My question is, "What took you so long?" After all, some of us saw it coming quite some time ago, like, say, back in October:

Look, if you think Willie is a good manager who's only getting better, keep him. If, on the other hand, you're among the many who could go either way, who think that 2008 will tell the Willie Randolph story -- redemption or recrimination -- then why not cut bait now? Willie had arguably the National League's most talented roster and managed to grind them into the dirt. That's potential? When we're back here in October '08 reading all the post-mortems on Willie's managerial career, remember where you heard it first.

So that was me, just eight months ago, predicting Randolph's eventual demise. To be fair, even I didn't foresee this rapid a descent. But that underlies my point: Willie Randolph didn't show anything over his brief managerial career that would lead one to believe that he's any better than he'd shown over the past season-plus. If I might quote myself again:

I’ve heard time and again about all the experience Willie gained from his time as a Yankees coach. Let me tell you: sitting next to the guy driving the bus is not the same thing as driving the bus... Can the Mets really afford a manager who's learning on the job?

Question asked, question answered. But the nagging question that should be on the minds of all Mets' fans today is that if Willie could be so easily dismissed by the owners after a slow start, why couldn't this whole mess could have been avoided by letting Willie go last October? In the end, the Wilpons didn't save any money and they certainly didn't buy themselves any good will in the process.

So now that Step 1 of "Resuscitating a Sagging Franchise" is complete, we await Step 2. There are two ways this can go: the first, happy scenario sees Jerry Manuel energizing his team, leading them to the post-season and getting that "interim" tag removed. The second, decidedly less happy but probably more likely scenario goes like this: it becomes clear that Willie was not the cause for the Mets' decline, but rather the collection of "talent" on the field. With that, Omar Minaya becomes the next casualty. Check back in October to see how that one plays out.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bad Job, Baseball

If a home run record falls in the forest but nobody sees it, does it count?

I just read an interesting article about Ken Griffey's chase for 600 home runs. What? You hadn't heard?
This has to be the biggest story in baseball right now.

Or at least the biggest story in Cincinnati.

It's not. Jay Bruce is the guy Reds fans are pumped up about.
It's sad that a sport that did everything it could to play down Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's record would miss the opportunity to showcase one of their all-time greats, both on and off the field. I knew very well that Manny is chasing 500 -- ESPN's highlights of the Red Sox include all his at-bats -- but the fact that Ken Griffey was only two homers away from an even greater milestone eluded me until today. Sure, maybe I don't know everything that's going on, but isn't that the point?

Now I realize that Griffey's image took a bit of a tumble when he strong-armed his way to the Reds. Then that ever-present smile lost some luster during those years Griffey lost to near-constant injury. And unlike some "greats" who seemed to defy age *ahem* Griffey's exploits are not what they once were. But there was a time -- 1996 through 1999 to be exact -- when no one in baseball was bigger than "The Kid". (A lot bigger than Jay Bruce will likely ever be.) So shouldn't that be worth a few headlines today?

What better way to push aside the Steroid Era than by recognizing a player who made it to the top the old-fashioned way? To be fair, Griffey doesn't go yard all that often anymore, so who knows how long it will take to break the 600 barrier. But the All-Star game is only a month or so away. Perhaps the baseball mavens can take some time out of their bloated back-slapping festival to salute a true record-breaker. Then maybe the fans who know
only the "old" Griffey will get the chance to root for someone worth rooting for, one last time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brew Crew tries new tactic for the 9th

In an effort to shore up their beleaguered bullpen, the Milwaukee Brewers have signed "Knocked Up" star Seth Rogen to be their new closer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fitting Tex for Pinstripes?

Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman wrote an interesting article today about the sweepstakes that's shaping up this off-season for the services of Mark Teixeira. And naturally, along with any talk of a big free agent is the obligatory mention that the Yankees will be an interested party. In fact, Heyman handicaps the Yankees as the early favorite:

Yankees. No shot they bring back Giambi and his .150 batting average for $26 million next year. The $5-million buyout will be the best money they've ever spent. The Yankees are believed to be interested in Teixeira and also interested in keeping him away from the team that plays eight miles to the south, in Queens. Odds: 3-2.

I'll agree with everything he said there -- after all, no one has been more of a symbol of the Yankees decline from the pinnacle than the ever-declining Giambi. With Giambi, Mussina and Pavano all off the books next season, the Yankees will be flush with free agent cash.

Plus, who wouldn’t love to have Teixeira’s big bat and gold glove in the lineup every day, especially considering how much of a black hole 1st base has been for the Yanks of late? Besides his offense, having Teixeira out there makes the Yankees a better defensive team than they've been in years. That will save plenty of runs over the course of a season.

But before we get carried away, signing Teixeria is no slam dunk. Heyman raised the first red flags:

[S]omeone who follows the markets and [Teixeira's agent Scott] Boras predicts that the asking price could begin with "2's'' as in $20 million per year and $200 million total.

No offense to Big Tex, but who wants to pay another $200 million for a player, any player? While position players have been better investments than pitchers, a 10-year contract still makes it a very, very long time to be tethered to the same player. And top of that he's a Boras client -- never a good thing. (Besides, it’s not like the Yankees and Boras are on very good terms.)

Plus, when staring down an investment of that size, the ultimate scrutiny on career numbers comes down. Not that it's necessarily an indication of future performance -- after all, he won't be facing Yankee pitching in Yankee Stadium -- but playing in the Bronx has not been a haven for Teixeira. For his career, Teixeira has batted a respectable .308 in Yankee Stadium, but with an alarming lack of power.

In 91 career at-bats at the Stadium, Teixeira has only four home runs, for a rate of one home run every 22.8 at-bats. Compare that to his current home park, Turner Field, where Tex has homered once almost every 13 times to the plate (13 HR in 177 AB, 13.4). That rate is even better than his old home ballpark in Arlington, where he clubbed 84 homers in 1,316 at-bats, a rate of one homer every 15.6 times up. And that 22.8 mark comes even though he's hit home runs at a better rate left-handed (one every 16 AB) than right-handed (19 AB). Apparently, Yankee Stadium's friendly right-field porch hasn't done much for him.

So what does it all mean? Teixeira would look great in a Yankee uniform, and his presence would certainly help the team. But something tells me that the Boras-driven contract is ultimately going to be too steep. Even the Yankees have to have a limit.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Maybe it's been a while since we've had a fully-functional Steinbrenner in the Bronx, or maybe I'm just choosing to focus on the benevolent, turtlenecked, weepy Big Stein of the 90's, but I was genuinely taken aback by Hank Steinbrenner's latest outburst: Start Joba now!

"I want him as a starter and so does everyone else, including him, and that is what we are working toward and we need him there now."

Tell us what you really think, Hank.

"There is no question about it, you don’t have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a setup guy. You just don’t do that. You have to be an idiot to do that."

That was just a figure of speech, but thanks for that, Hank. Of course this begs the question: Just who is the 'idiot' here? Is it Brian Cashman, who assembled the current rotation and opted out of the Johan Santana sweepstakes? Is it Joe Girardi, the new skipper, whose job it is to orchestrate the current crop of Yankee pitchers, ultimately determining who starts and when? Or is Hank going "old school" on us and blaming the mythical "Tampa Brain Trust" (which doesn't actually exist anymore... much like George).

Anyway, there are just so many problems with Hank's bluster, er, statement, including, but not limited to:

(a) Moving in direct opposition to the Yankees' stated plans to leave Joba in the bullpen until mid-season
(b) Rushing Joba into the rotation without stretching out his innings
(c) Bailing on either Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, or both, during a critical time in their developments

Fortunately, as we are slowly learning, a "pronouncement" by Hank Steinbrenner is usually an off-the-cuff misstep, something to be heard, marveled at for its sheer outlandish nature, and then tucked away. Gone is the power that a Steinbrenner directive once had in Yankee Stadium, now that George has ceded the real control to Cashman. And for a change, Cashman was able to quell the Joba uproar, simply and succinctly, stating that the Yankee plans remain the same:

"We discussed this extensively this winter about how things would unravel or unfold. Right now, that can’t change. There’s no reason for that. Hank knows that."

Thanks for the clarification.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

That's one for the books!

Rangers take the Devils, 4 games to 1.
And now on to Round Two...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why, Donnie, Why?

When I first heard the news that Donnie Walsh had been hired to revive the Knicks, my initial reaction was, "Okay, it's an improvement, but so what?" But then I looked at his record -- in the draft, in free agency, on the court -- and decided that if anyone could imagine a way to fix the Knicks, perhaps it could be Donnie Walsh. But I couldn't escape the constant chatter that even though Walsh would overhaul the team, he hadn't quite made up his mind what to do with Isiah Thomas:

“He is a great basketball mind, and I’m not going to judge anything from afar,” Walsh said. “I’ve told him that we’re going to sit down and talk in the coming days, and then we’ll go from there.”

Okay, so you want to turn around the Knicks but you're not sure if doing away with the most reviled figure in the history of the franchise is the first step to take. Way to alienate the fan base on Day 1, Donnie. But maybe he's just trying to spare his old buddy Isiah a little more humiliation? (Though it's not like Isiah hasn't earned 100% of any further humiliation.)

But now the Knicks' season has ended (officially, according to the schedule; the actual Knicks' season ended shortly before Thanksgiving), it's time for Walsh to start working his magic. So what's he do? Fire Thomas as head coach but retain him as some sort-of "My Man Friday", super-secret advisor:

“I value Isiah’s knowledge of the game and his opinion,” said Walsh in a conference call Friday afternoon.

Really? Isiah has knowledge of the game? Then why didn't Isiah use any of that knowledge when he was in charge of the Knicks? How can they allow Isiah Thomas to remain anywhere near the Garden? They ought to file a restraining order.

Besides, if Donnie Walsh is so smart, what, exactly, is the mastermind of the disaster that is the current New York Knicks going to tell him? How to hit on staff members? (And even that Isiah couldn't do without screwing it up.) If Walsh values Isiah's opinion so much, give him a call every now and then. Maybe he'll tell you something of value. Or not. But at least he won't be walking around the building that really, really needs a clean break from the Thomas Era.

Maybe the public outcry will convince Walsh to change his mind. (I can't be the only one that finds this ludicrous.) C'mon, Donnie -- show New York some love.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rumble in the Bronx

It was inevitable. Phil Hughes makes two sub-par starts and suddenly they're coming out of the woodwork: "Why didn't the Yankees trade Hughes for Santana when they had the chance???" Now I'm not going to tell you that I was dead-set against the deal (though I did think the Yankees were making the right decision to pass). But I also recall that opinion was fairly divided in the two camps. To listen to the chatter now, it's as if everyone had volunteered to pack Phil's bags.

But while I find the current overreaction somewhat laughable (and utterly predictable) it should not take away from the fact that Phil Hughes is genuinely struggling. But, that, too, is less laughable but still fairly predictable. Coming into 2008, Hughes had made 13 starts in the major leagues, sandwiched around a lengthy stay on the DL. Anyone who thought his transition from minor-leaguer to #2 starter was going to take place without a hitch needs to readjust his expectations.

While there's no rule that every starting pitcher takes a year or two before he figures it all out -- C.C. Sabathia went 17-5 in his rookie year, with nearly a strikeout per inning -- it's more often the case. Just look at some the current "aces" around the league and you'll see a group that struggled in their first full seasons on the mound: Jake Peavy, 12-11, 4.11 ERA; Josh Beckett, 6-7, 4.10; John Lackey, 10-16, 4.63; Erik Bedard, 6-10, 4.59. Hughes may very well suffer the ups and downs of a young pitcher this season, but those struggles won't necessarily preempt a stellar career.

Yet in addition to resetting their sites on Phil Hughes, Yankee fans need to readjust their expectations for 2008, as well. Not only has Hughes struggled early on, but so has his young rotation-mate, Ian Kennedy. Add to that the inconsistent Mike Mussina, and the older, fragile Andy Pettitte and the Yankee pitching is riddled with question marks. Past its #1 hurler, Chien-Ming Wang, just how many quality starts can this group be expected to produce?

Fret not, though: the Yanks are on the right track. Mussina will be gone next season, along with a number of other dead-weight contracts. (Carl who?) With another year of experience under their belts, Hughes and Kennedy might be fighting Wang for the #1 slot in the rotation by 2009. Throw in Joba (starter or reliever), Cabrera, and Cano, and the Yankees have a solid, young nucleus with more farm-system talent on the way. So what if the Yankees miss the playoffs this year? The payoff will be that much better in the end.

* * * * * * * *

By the way, since last we spoke, the Tigers won a game! Unfortunately, that win did not herald a turnaround. Not only have they not played at that super-charged .700 level, they aren't even winning more than they lose. At 2-10, now 29th in hitting, dead-last in slugging and ERA, one could make the case that the Tigers are actually playing worse now than during their winless streak. More and more, it looks like it will be a long season in Tiger Town.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Break up the Orioles!

The 2008 baseball season is not even two weeks old and some teams' starts are raising eyebrows, especially the bad ones. The Mets, after an Opening Day loss at Shea to the Phillies, are now 2-4. At that pace, the Mets stand to lose 108 games this season! What? Six games isn't much of a sample? Forgive my over-eager extrapolation. I suppose they've got a chance to turn things around over the next 156 games.

But there's another contender off to an ever worse start and the next 150 games may not hold so much promise. The Detroit Tigers, picked by many as World Series hopefuls, are shockingly 0-7 to start the season. Sure, it's a long season, but 0-7 is still a legitimate hole.

Let's say the Tigers shake off the slump and start playing .700 ball, a pretty impressive clip. (Over a full season, a team that played .700 would win 113 games.) So at that rate, over the next two weeks, say 14 games, the Tigers would be 10-11. Ugh. But what if they could keep that torrid pace for over a month? The Tigers might make it to 21-16. Okay, that's certainly better, and .568 baseball leaves you with about 92 wins. But winning 21 out of 30 games after you've lost your first seven sounds like a tall order.

Now look, no one is going to confuse this Detroit team with the 1988 Orioles, a team that lost a record-setting 21 straight to open the season. But so far, the Tigers have earned those losses and the numbers aren't pretty:
  • a .234 team batting average (24th in MLB)
  • a .332 team slugging percentage (29th)
  • a staff ERA of 5.20 (27th)
Bad hitting + bad pitching = bad baseball. So far in 2008, that equation fits no team better than the Tigers.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Not So Cranky Today

It's hard to be cranky all the time, even for the Sports Crank. Baseball season is underway, the NCAA tournament is almost over, and the Rangers clinched a playoff berth last night by sweeping the ice with the Islanders.

And they get to do it again tonight at the Garden.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

March Malady

It's dirty little secret time: I can't stand the NCAA Tournament. Every year at this time, we are inundated with cries of "March Madness" and I couldn't care less. Sure, I'll fill out a bracket or two, but my methods usually consist of one of the following:
  1. Picking the higher seed in every matchup, eventually resulting in four #1 seeds in the Final Four. Sure, that's never happened, but you'd be surprised at how well it works until one of those teams gets knocked out.
  2. Finding some "expert" on one of the numerous sports sites out there and using his bracket as mine. Surprisingly, this method generally seems to fall short of method #1.

And in spite of the fact that every office in America has its own tourney pool, interest in the tournament itself is dwindling. I know -- ratings for anything on television are down these days. But still, the fact that the ratings for this year's NCAA tourney are down across the board means I'm not the only one who's tuning out. And if you use the ratings as your guide, there are fewer people actually watching the games than watched "Survivor" in the same time slot the week before.

Yes, there was a time when I had what could be called a "passing interest" in NCAA basketball. I hated Laettner & Co. at Duke. I got a kick out of the upstarts at UConn (beating Duke, natch). And of course there were the Fab Five at Michigan. But that was a long time ago (and an eternity in sports).

So for the next two weeks, as nearly every conversation with another guy begins with, "So you watchin' the games?" I'll continue to nod my head and mutter something about my Final Four picks still being alive. But when that championship game tips off in a couple of Monday nights, I'll have just one question: "Who's on 'Dancing with the Stars' tonight?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"I must have misremembered about that whole steroid thing..."

At this point, I'd say I felt sorry for Roger Clemens... except for the fact that any man as arrogant and off-putting as Clemens has been for the past 20 years deserves every bit of scorn directed his way. It's one thing to be branded a cheat; it's another thing entirely to be known as a cheat and a liar. And Roger Clemens is making a case to be the sports world's #1 representative of both.

While I agree that Brian McNamee is not exactly the poster boy for Truth, Justice and the American Way, he simply presents the more plausible case. With George Mitchell, the Federal Government, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, and the Nanny backing all or part of his assertions, McNamee makes the best case. Clemens? Apparently the only one to speak for him is that bastion of honor, Jose Canseco. I don’t know about you, but that’s an endorsement I could live without.

So while Clemens digs himself deeper and deeper into this hole, it's fair to think that he's now sunk lower than the original poster boy for steroid use in baseball, Barry Bonds. I'd make the case that Clemens is even worse than Bonds, since Bonds was still performing at an All-Star level when he supposedly started using. Clemens, though, was in the midst of a downhill slide. Who's to say when his career may have ended had he not started "supplementing" his workouts?

But as much as Clemens shares with Bonds, there's another notorious figure whose story parallels Clemens' even more eerily. It wasn't that long ago that another icon from the baseball world, confronted by a government report and mountains of evidence, chose to wage a never-ending campaign of denial:

Jim Gray: Pete, now let me ask you. It seems as though there is an opening, the American public is very forgiving. Are you willing to show contrition, admit that you bet on baseball and make some sort of apology to that effect?

Pete Rose: Not at all, Jim. I'm not going to admit to something that didn't happen. I know you're getting tired of hearing me say that. But I appreciate the ovation. I appreciate the American fans voting me on the All-Century Team. I'm just a small part of a big deal tonight.

JG: With the overwhelming evidence in that report, why not make that step...

PR: No. This is too much of a festive night to worry about that because I don't know what evidence you're talking about. I mean, show it to me...

JG: Pete, those who will hear this tonight will say you have been your own worst enemy and continue to be. How do you respond to that?

PR: In what way are you talking about?

JG: By not acknowledging what seems to be overwhelming evidence.

As we know, it took nearly 14 years but Rose eventually emerged from his cocoon of denial: first, to admit that he bet on baseball; then to admit that he'd bet on his own team, the Reds. Who doesn't foresee Clemens’ voyage along this same road? After today's hearings, only the most-blinded Clemens loyalists can't see past the angry bluster, empty rhetoric and ridiculous lies. The day will come when Clemens, like Rose, will be forced to admit what we already know.

Monday, February 4, 2008

You could have turned your sets off there...

We all know what happened, so I don't need to debase myself here by typing it out. Besides, I might just vomit on the keyboard. At this point, though, I'm not really sure what to do. I honestly never expected anything like this to happen so I have no back-up plans.

My first reaction was disbelief, so much so that I'm not even sure if it was real. But my next thought surprised me. Even for me, it came off as a tad melodramatic. Yet as I sit here writing, I don't see another alternative: I'm pretty sure I've watched my last NFL game.

What happened on Sunday night is the NFL equivalent of rain falling upwards, mice eating cats or the Earth orbiting the moon. There's no logic to explain how it played out. Not a single iota of sense to the end result. It's as if the NFL spun a big wheel and picked the winner at random.

So if a sport, on the whole, cannot be governed by logic, cannot ensure that over the course of time the reasonable outcome will occur, than how can I invest myself in it? I can't. I know what I know to be true, so that if the complete opposite comes to pass, then there's nothing left in it for me.

And that's the last time I'm going to comment on that. So give me fall Saturdays. Go Michigan. My TV won't be going on come Sunday.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Figures Lie and Liars Figure

The conventional wisdom is that you can manipulate statistics to bolster any argument. So the fact that Team Clemens claims their latest testimonial -- an endless accumulation of numbers, graphs and exposition -- explains away Clemens' remarkable longevity is no surprise. SI.com's Tom Verducci does a great job cutting through the clutter and coming to the conclusion that you can use 18,000 words and still have nothing to say.

But I think Verducci lets Clemens off the hook. In fact, using the very statistics that Verducci provides, one can argue the case against Clemens grows even stronger. Let's take a look at the numbers from Clemens' first season in Toronto, both before and after the time that Brian McNamee claims to have first injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone:

1998 GS W-L ERA K/9 OPS
Before 13 6-6 3.27 9.18 .592
After 20 14-0 2.29 11.11 .561

Combine his slow start in Toronto with four sub-par seasons in Boston -- twice under .500, no more than 11 wins, twice with an ERA over 4 -- and this is the portrait of a pitcher approaching the downside of his career. Then, like flipping a switch, Clemens becomes virtually unbeatable. But instead of the obvious, Clemens' camp instead serves up this implausible explanation:
By the mid 1990's, he had mastered the split-finger fastball, and the combination of Clemens' experience, his overpowering fastball, and his improved split-finger fastball led to two consecutive Cy Young Awards in what the record shows to be the best pitching of his career. -- Clemens Report
Really? In the 14th year of his major league career, after four-plus years on the decline, Roger Clemens had the best seasons of his life because he picked up the splitter? Really? Did I mention that was his 14th season?

But let's assume for the moment that we'll consider this ridiculous assertion, and that Clemens resurgence was due to his craftiness on the mound, rather than a slavish devotion to performance-enhancing drugs. What, then, do we make of Brian McNamee and his claims? Are we expected to believe that McNamee was so prescient that he'd broken down Clemens' exploits himself? Otherwise, how is it that he provided dates and doses that corresponded nearly exactly with the ups and downs of Clemens' post-Boston career? And that he was able to provide that information on demand, under oath, with a possible Federal indictment hanging over his head?

Clemens himself noted how hard it is "to prove a negative". It becomes even harder when your angry denials, backed by little more than an indignant attitude, stand in direct opposition to common sense. But hey, you can't blame Pete Rose... er, I mean, Roger Clemens, for trying.

Political Football

Okay, so this is kind of a stretch, having very little to do with sports, but it still irked me. And anything irksome is ripe for the 'Crank.

Now that Rudy Giuliani is on his way out the presidential campaign, the race between the remaining Republican candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, is heating up. And as is the case with any political campaign, the meaningless, empty quotations are spilling forth, as well. Check out this gem from Romney in today's New York Times:
Appearing on television Wednesday morning, Mr. Romney expressed confidence that he could close the gap with Mr. McCain in a narrowed field. Speaking on CNN, Mr. Romney said “In a two-person race, with myself and Senator McCain, I like my chances.”

Wow, Mitt, way to go out on a limb. In a competition with one other guy, you think you can win. That's quite a grasp of the obvious you've got there.

Now if Missouri Valley State tells me "We've got a shot in the Tourney" then I'm thinking, "OK. A 64-team draw. That's confidence." But this is like the Giants saying they've got a shot to win the Super Bowl. Well, by virtue of the fact that they're playing in the Super Bowl, I'd give them a shot at winning. Certainly more so than say, the Packers, who aren't actually playing in the game.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Canadian Philosophical Question

If an NHL All-Star game falls in the forest but nobody watches it, does it make a sound?

Though I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, an "NHL fanatic", I've seen my fair share of games. Sure, I more or less stopped watching after Messier left, Gretzky retired, and the Rangers franchise slid into an unwatchable funk. But over the past few years, the NHL has made the occasional blip on my radar screen.

So while I'm not NHL Fan #1, it was with some surprise that I learned last evening that the NHL was, in fact, holding their annual All-Star game. (Don't ask me where -- I never got that far.) It was about 8:00 when I clicked on SI.com and read the headline, "East Leads West 5-3". My first reaction was, "East who?" so I clicked on the link for the story.

Though I'm sure there were those who did know, the fact that a casual fan like me didn't know the game was this weekend speaks volumes about the problems the current NHL faces. Worse yet, was what happened next.

Eager to watch the third period of action in what was a close game, I turned on TV and tuned into NBC. I figured since NBC had partnered with the NHL on the New Year's Day game, they would be the logical outlet for the All-Star game. Nope. Okay, how about ABC? I recall they carried hockey at some point. Wrong again. What about FOX? Not since the glowing puck, apparently. No EPSN or ESPN2, and now I'm at a total loss. Buzz the program guide.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally located the game: on Versus, channel 146 on my cable system. And to sprinkle in a little more bad luck, it was smack dab in the middle of intermission, so instead of slap shots and glove saves, I was treated to the R&B stylings of Ne-Yo at center ice. (Because when you think hockey, you think Ne-Yo, don't yo'?) This, unfortunately, held zero interest for me so I turned the channel and never returned.

This whole situation perplexed me. How can a league so desperate for publicity, so desperate to recruit new fans to the game, leave the casual fan in the dark that an All-Star game was taking place? And at the same time compound the problem by relegating their most fan-friendly event to a second-tier outpost on the edge of space?

Yes, I know, the NHL has to practically pay to get its product on the air. So why not? NBC got great ratings (relatively speaking) for the Outdoor Classic on New Year's Day so the onus was on the NHL to make their case. The timing was perfect, with the NFL's off-weekend and continuing Writer's Strike rendering the broadcast landscape wide-open. Joe-Fan, looking for something to satiate his sporting appetite and bored with another Tiger runaway or a meaningless January NBA exercise, might stumble upon the most skilled players in the hockey world, plying their craft in an end-to-end, no-restrictions shoot-out, showcasing much of what the NHL has to offer in an easy-to-digest package. Instead, anyone lucky enough to find out about the game is reduced to a remote-controlled scavenger hunt.

Down the stretch, I'm sure I'll catch a few periods of Rangers' hockey as they make their push for the playoffs. And should they qualify, I'll probably tune in to see if they advance. But I just can't help but wonder how many other people like myself might be seeking out an NHL fix had they gotten a taste of what the NHL has to offer.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Defying the Odds... and Logic... and the Natural Order

There's an old saying that goes, "The cream always rises to the top." The theory being that over time, through agitation and tribulation, the best will set itself apart, be distilled by adversity, and ascend above all others. That although counted out or overlooked, in the end greatness will emerge and prevail. Picture the exact opposite and you have the 2007-08 Giants.

Whether through smoke and mirrors or the evil machinations of some meddlesome deity, the New York Giants have somehow stumbled their way into the Super Bowl. Don't ask me how or why: that a team so rarely tested in the regular season and that failed to beat even the most remotely competitive opponent, that came up short against each and every winning team it faced, and then barely survived battles against the league's weakest sisters, is now playing for a championship.

This blog is named "Sports Crank", and let me tell you, the crank is turned up 100% today. Not only has my otherwise unremarkable Monday morning been ruined, but for the next two weeks I'm going to have to shield myself from the unrelenting, unavoidable, mind-numbing hype machine that is the run up to the Super Bowl for a New York team. (Okay, for a Giants team, since the Jets haven't been to a Super Bowl since before it was the Super Bowl.) It's enough to make you want to move out of state. Or at the very least, curl up into a ball and hibernate until President's Day.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I hate those f***ing bastards in blue. The asshole coach. The soulless rube QB. The miscreant tight end. The defensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers, the linebackers, the trainers, the locker room attendants, the announcers, those ugly uniforms and especially those obnoxious, delusional, fairyland-dwelling fans who kept thinking this team was a contender in spite of all the obvious reasons to believe otherwise.

I'm not going to go into why the Cowboys, a superior team, played like some Juco squad all afternoon (and still should have won the game), or how the Packers managed to squander not only a devastating home field advantage but any good will Brett Favre had earned in his latest farewell tour. (If I may digress: Brett, hang it up. You'll never have a better situation than you had on Sunday yet you played like it was 2006 again when everyone was begging for you to retire. It's that time again.) But seriously, who was calling those plays yesterday? Did anyone see Rich Kotite on the Green Bay sidelines? Is this all some awful conspiracy to cause me misery?

Were it not for the fact that my beloved Patriots are playing, too, I'd simply avoid the Super Bowl altogether. Perhaps if nothing else, the Giants' immortalization at the losing end of NFL history will ultimately ease the pain. Then again, nothing about this post-season has made sense yet. Remind me not to hold my breath.