Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Remebering Reggie

Reggie White is dead. He died in his sleep of an apparent lung problem on Sunday December 26, 2004. White will be remembered for a lot of things. In Philly he became “The Minister of Defense,” known as much for his spirituality as his ability to crush quarterbacks. In Green Bay he was The Savior, the first mega free agent to show that the frozen tundra was a great place to play. White, as much as Brett Favre, was responsible for returning a title to title-town. I’ll always remember White because he was a pen’s length away from signing with SF and giving us an even greater dynasty. With White on the edge we may well have beaten the Cowboys in ’93. In my mind’s eye I can see Troy Aikman getting pummeled just as he releases what in real life was a 70-yard catch and run by Alvin Harper that all but ended that game. I’ll always remember the year White injured his shoulder and continued to play with his arm strapped to his chest. Playing this way for several games, I remember watching him pick up a Carolina OT and throw him aside with one arm en route to a sack. When White retired he did so as the NFL’s all-time sack leader*. Most of the coverage of White’s death lauds his actions on the field. ESPN and others have trotted out writers, broadcasters and former players to talk about how great Reggie was as a man, and as a leader in his community. I, however, will always remember White for something else. For something that has remained as buried in the days after White’s death as ketchup-as-a-vegetable and “trickle down economics” were after Regan kicked.

To me, and for many of my friends White will be remembered most for remarks he made to the Wisconsin state legislature on March 25, 1998. These remarks, though shocking, were mostly laughed off because Reggie seemed like a Zealot, a caricature of the Southern Minister. Here are Excerpts of White’s comments that day.

“We always should look at the situation and ask ourselves a question. Why did god create us differently? Why did god make me black and you white? Why did god make the next guy Korean and the next guy Asian and the other guy Hispanic? Why did god create the Indians?

Well, it's interesting to me to know why now. When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to black churches, you see people jumping up and down, because they really get into it.

White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people do around the world.

Hispanics are gifted in family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home. They were gifted in the family structure.

When you look at the Asians, the Asian is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They're very creative. And you look at the Indians, they have been very gifted in the spirituality.

When you put all of that together, guess what it makes. It forms a complete image of god. God made us different because he was trying to create himself. He was trying to form himself, and then we got kind of knuckleheaded and kind of pushed everything aside.

As America has permitted homosexuality to establish itself as an alternate lifestyle, it is also reeling from the frightening spread of sexually transmitted disease. Sin begets its own consequence, both on individuals and nations.

Let me explain something when I'm talking about sin, and I'm talking about all sin. One of the biggest ones that has been talked about that has really become a debate in America is homosexuality.

Now, I believe that one of the reasons that Jesus was accused of being a homosexual is because he spent time with homosexuals. I've often had people ask me, would you allow a homosexual to be your friend. Yes, I will. And the reason I will is because I know that that person has problems, and if I can minister to those problems, I will.

But the Bible strictly speaks against it, and because the Bible speaks against it, we allow rampant sin including homosexuality and lying, and to me lying is just as bad as homosexuality, we've allowed this sin to run rampant in our nation, and because it has run rampant in our nation, our nation is in the condition it is today.

Sometimes when people talk about this sin they've been accused of being racist. I'm offended that homosexuals will say that homosexuals deserve rights. Any man in America deserves rights, but homosexuals are trying to compare their plight with the plight of black men or black people. In the process of history, homosexuals have never been castrated, millions of them never died. Homosexuality is a decision. It's not a race. And when you look at it, people from all different ethnic backgrounds are living this lifestyle, but people from all different ethnic backgrounds are also liars and cheaters and malicious and backstabbers.”

White also appeared, in uniform, in several anti-homosexual ads put out by a coalition of Christian groups.

So far I have seen only one article that mentions White’s anti-everyone remarks, and even that one seeks to forgive him by pointing out that he apologized. The article, by Ray Ratto, for ESPN.com, also notes that White gave up a lot of money and a possible job as an analyst when he made those comments. The article does not mention that White only apologized when he was pressured to do so in the face of losing his endorsements**.

“As controversial as his speech was, the aftermath has become, perhaps, even more controversial. After the speech, White said that if people found his comments offensive, "that was their problem." But soon a call was made for companies that sponsor White to release him from contract. These companies include Nike, Campbell Soup, and Johnson & Son, Inc. (Edge Shaving Cream).

In his apology, White said, "I made a point that our society is fortunate to be comprised of different races and cultures. I must admit that my examples may have been somewhat clumsy and inappropriate on how the races differ, but my intent was not to demean anyone. If I did, I humbly ask for your forgiveness." White's apology was not as inclusive of homosexuals. "I do not apologize for standing on God's word when it comes to sin in my life and others."

While some sponsors (Chunky Soup for one) did not renew White’s endorsements, Nike welcomed him back with open arms.

“We welcome Reggie White back as a Nike athlete to another season of exciting NFL football. With regard to his recent remarks before the Wisconsin Assembly, Mr. White has issued an apology to those who may have been offended. Therefore, we are prepared to continue support of his commitment to excellence on the field and his established record of community service throughout the country."

While I acknowledge that White did apologize I am skeptical as to why he did so. I feel that it is clear that he believed these things when he said them, and continued to believe them after he apologized. White’s wife was more direct on the issue of CBS deciding not to hire White as an analyst saying, “that CBS was "too scared of the Sodomite community," and added, "I feel sorry for them because they can't stand the truth." These remarks, along with White’s “that’s their problem,” along with the fact that neither he, nor his wife, nor Nike, made any attempt to include homosexuals in the apology makes the entire act insignificant. White apologized, not because he felt remorse that he had hurt people and contributed to the world’s overall total of ignorance and intolerance, but because he was hoping to hold on to some money.

At the time many people tried to make this a free speech issue. It is not. I have yet to read anything related to the issue that says that Reggie White should not have been allowed to say what he said. No one that I’ve read has suggested that he should have been punished for his beliefs, or his expression of those beliefs. From what I read at the time, and the discussions I’ve had on the matter since then the consensus seems to be that Reggie White was a jerk. And that is what’s being glossed over in the wake of his death. One thing I’ve noticed about people who scream about free speech are actually arguing, not for freedom of expression, but for freedom from consequences. Remember Rush Limbaugh on NFL Countdown? The issue is not that people cannot, or should not express certain beliefs, the issue is whether or not we have to love them for it, or whether a company should continue to carry such a person as an endorser. In the case of Rush, or Kobe, or Reggie White certain entities decided to distance themselves from what they thought was a negative image. Really, in these situations it becomes the company endorsing the athlete rather than the athlete endorsing the company, and just like you don’t see a lot of athletes endorsing Zips or Pro Keds, you don’t see a lot of companies endorsing rapists, or racists, or open homophobes.

Sure Reggie White did good things for the community, but he also did harm. How many homosexuals in his parish were stung by his remarks, even as they applauded his other charity work. These beliefs do not negate the good there may have been in Reggie White, but the good he did cannot override or sweep away the harm he may have done. When someone dies their whole story should be told. Here is the voice of true dissent, to me Reggie will always be The Minister of the Indefensible.

* Deacon Jones, who actually coined the term “sack” is probably the real all-time sack leader, however, sacks were not recorded as a statistic for most of Jones’ career.

** Apology related quotes from, the June 1998 issue of Allied Rainbows. Allied Rainbows serves as a medium for Vermont's Gay/Straight Alliances to share ideas and resources that will help them to function at the highest possible level. For more information, email Palmer Legare at ZekTAllen@aol.com

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Farewell to Arms (Part One)

And so baseball economics hits home again. The A’s have traded Tim Hudson and yet another era comes to a close. Hudson was the cornerstone of the A’s return to respectability. Hudson came up mid-year in 1999 and posted an 11-2 record in 21 starts. I’ll never forget his debut against the San Diego Padres. At the time I was living in a small one-bedroom apartment in South Berkeley. Because the A’s had been terrible for 7 years the game was only being broadcast over the radio. I remember Ken Korauch and Bill King talking about how excited the A’s were about Hudson. In his first ML game, in his first ML at bat, just as Ken was saying that Huddy had been an outfielder and a DH in collage, and had led the NCAA in slugging his senior year, Huddy smacked a ringing double off the wall that missed being a home run by about two feet. Hudson only pitched five innings, giving up seven hits, four walks, and three runs, getting a no decision, but he struck out 11. The next year Huddy won 20 and led the A’s back to the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

Hudson has been the rock upon which Billy Beane has built his franchise. For long time A’s fans he represented the A’s resurgence more than any other player. Now Eric Chavez is the only player left from that 1999 season in which the A’s missed the Wild Card by 4 games. The A’s have lost many a marquee player over the past six years, (if want a full rundown read through the archives at the bottom of the page), but this is a unique case for two reasons. First, this is the first time the A’s have traded a star player rather than try to win now and allow him to leave as a free agent. Second, this is the first time a player hasn’t blasted the team, the city and the fans on his way out of town. Kenny Rogers, Johnny Damon, and Miguel Tejada all made disparaging remarks about Oakland when they left. The grand-daddy of them all of course was Jason Giambi who held a news conference insulting the team, the management and the fans, then went on Letterman and blasted the town. Hudson is a different story. Discussing the trade he said this to mlb.com,

"More than anything, it was sad," Hudson told MLB.com. "I mean, it's not like it was unexpected, what with all the talk the last couple weeks. But hearing it come out of Billy's mouth, making it real, that's when it really just hits you in the face.

"You just kind of realize, 'Man, it's really over.' All the relationships I've built with teammates, with the fans, with people in the organization -- it's hard to think that it's never going to be the same. I'll still be friends with all those people, but knowin' that they're not going to be a part of your everyday life the way they've been for so long, it's definitely sad.

"The fans in Oakland have been so good to me and my family," Hudson said. "All the support they've shown to me over the years, all the nice things they've said to me and the cheers and all that, I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. That's one of the hardest parts about leavin', because I'd have liked to help win them a championship.

"But I understand why Billy traded me. I know he has to do what he thinks is best for the team in the long run, and obviously he's doing it. But I'm really going to miss being there.

"I just want everyone to know how much I loved it in Oakland," he said. "In a perfect world, I'd have been able to play there forever, and me and Mark and Barry [Zito] would always be the Big Three. But it ain't a perfect world, and I know that. It's a business.

"So I'll be pulling for those guys no matter where I am, and who knows? Maybe we'll all meet up again in the World Series or something. Wouldn't that be something?"

Class. Much better than Ben Grieve’s “I won’t miss the fans and I won’t miss the city.” And far better than Giambi’s “Have you ever been to Oakland?” crack-back.

In return for one of the best pitchers in the last ten years the A’s got three prospects, one promising outfielder and two pitchers. Both pitchers project as relievers, though Peter Gammons seems to think that Juan Cruz will take the number four slot in the rotation (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/gammons/story?id=1947932). If Charles Thomas is as good defensively as Gammons says the A’s may be able to move the ever promising, but so far disappointing, Bobby Kielty for more pitching, or maybe a backup middle infielder now that Mark McLemore is gone.

But all that is beside the point. Even if this trade ends up making sense in terms of on field production and payroll flexibility the point is that it’s sad to see Huddy go. As the man said, it’s a business. As Seinfeld said, we root for laundry rather than players. It seems that the day is long gone where you’ll ever see a player stay with one team his entire career. So long Huddy, thank you for bringing us back from the dead, and thank you for not dragging us through another protracted contract battle.

PS As I was preparing to post this I logged on to espn.com and saw that the A’s had traded Mark Mulder to St. Louis. Needless to say I’m in shock and my faith in Billy Beane is badly shaken. On top of that I hear that one of my other favorites, Eric Byrnes, a true sparkplug and one of the last true grit, fan friendly, everyman type players may also be on the block. I don’t know what to say. More on this in the days to come.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Long Time No Rant

Ah the end of the year is nigh and I realize that though I have had many thoughts in the last month I have yet to commit anything to paper; or in this case, bytes. Though there have been many Rant worthy events in the last few weeks I just haven’t had the time or the motivation to add my thoughts to the mass jumble of opinion out there. So now I present to you a Rantdumb sampling of disjointed opinions on a variety of topics.

I did some volunteer work the other day collecting canned goods for Latrell Sprewell’s family. Like Eddie George said in Jerry McGuire, “People don’t understand what kind of problems $54 million comes with.” Latrell must be getting negotiating advice from Patrick Ewing. At least now when he chokes we’ll know the reason.

DC has baseball! Now they don’t. Now they do. No, wrong, they don’t. This sucks, I want a local team and since I’m not moving before this summer it has to be in DC. Sure, I think stadiums should be built with private money. Stadium funds should come from people who choose to support baseball, like advertisers, ticket buyers and the like. The reality is that MLB has a monopoly and they hold all the cards. No stadium, no team. I can’t stand the people who get all outraged that a stadium would cost $600M and think that the money should go to schools instead. Hey morons, the money would come from a new tax on businesses most likely to profit from bringing a team to DC. The taxes would be on hotels, tickets, rental cars, concessions and rent that the team pays to use the venue. This means that most of it would be paid for by baseball fans and people from out of town. Fans should be paying for it and who gives a fuck about out of towners? If I can get some Okie to subsidize my baseball team so much the better. Besides, Baseball only takes up 81 days per year, the rest of the time the city could rent it out for other events. You can’t do these things in order to raise money for schools! You can’t tax Okies and bars for school money. School money comes from taxing income on private citizens, if you taxed businesses also you’d be taxing the same people twice for the same thing and it would be a disincentive to go into business in DC. On the other hand you can tax business by something that will help business. What they screechers don’t understand, or choose to ignore, is that the increased taxes will not be levied against individuals. The stadium isn’t draining any money from the schools, or diverting money that currently exists and could go to schools, it’s a new revenue source, one that exists for a stadium. No stadium, no new tax, no new revenue, no net impact on the schools whether there’s a stadium or not. Finally, DC spends more money per student than any state in the union. The DC school problem is one of mismanagement, not funding. But hey, it’s easy for me to say, I moved to Maryland.

The other angle is that Linda Cropp may be the Grinch who steals my Christmas. (Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know what you’re getting for Christmas skip to the next paragraph.) Last week I went online and ordered Washington Nationals gear for all the male members of my family and a few friends. I thought it would be nice for them to be the first folks on their blocks to get some Nats gear to show off. Yesterday the team suspended all promotional activities. The nice folks at MLB Shop.com couldn’t really give me a direct answer about the things I’d ordered. It seems like they’re waiting for a definite answer before they ship anything, which means they may never ship, which means I may be giving my little brother a picture of the shirt that might be coming to him eventually, maybe. My guess is that MLB’s pride would cause them to cancel my order if the team doesn’t go to DC rather than allow me the fun of giving my folks gear for team that only ever existed on paper, and in the hopes of DC baseball fans. “You’re a mean one, Linda Cropp! You really are a fiend…”

The Kerry camp is supporting a recount in Ohio, though they also concede that it won’t change the outcome of the election. What if the recount shows Kerry winning by 10,000 votes? Will they still concede? If Kerry wins will he be suddenly scarred by acid?

So Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi ARE on steroids. Or were, at some point. So Giambi’s weight loss wasn’t totally due to the tumor, or the bacteria, or VD. So hitting 258 homeruns after the age of 35 (~51/yr) after hitting only 445 in the previous 13 years (~34/yr) isn’t just due to a new workout routine. SHOCKING!!!! Every one of Barry’s stats should carry a *, as should Giambi’s and anyone else proven to be on roids. The players involved should be suspended indefinitely. It doesn’t matter if the evidence is culled from illegally obtained testimony. As commissioner Landis said after the Black Sox Scandal, "Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball." In this case the references to gambling can be replaced with doping and apply just as well today as it did in 1921. Of course Shoeless Joe didn’t have Don Fehr on his side. The fact is that there will likely be no reprisals against any of the MLB players connected to the BALCO scandal because MLB is too weak and too afraid of the union to do anything bold.

All right folks, that’s it for now. I’ll be back in the Bay starting Dec. 22nd so hit me up. Happy holidays.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

From a No-Longer Long Suffering Sox Fan By KJ

Gentle readers, your gracious (and I use that word generously) host, SR has requested that I put down some thoughts about the recent Red Sox victory. What follows is an assortment of thoughts, feelings, and general rants about the improbable season of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and what lies ahead for us and Theo Epstein, our numbers-crunching, boy-wonder GM....

On Wednesday, October 27, 2004, the Boston Red Sox pulled off what I consider to be the greatest sports victory I have ever witnessed in my young 29 years of life on this earth. With a simple throw from Foulke to Mientkiewicz (my hands hurt writing this last name), 86 years of pain was wiped away. Generations of Red Sox fans have lived and died, without ever seeing this day, yet I was able to see it. How I wished I was in Boston, reveling with the throngs of fans that crowded Yawkey Way, crying, laughing, hugging each other, and screaming at the tops of our lungs. Such is the power of Red Sox Nation (RSN), and while I was unable to be in Boston, here's a brief run-down of my life starting when we were down 3-0 to the MFY (use your imagination and figure out what this acronym stands for) to that final out to finish our sweep against the Cards.

Game 3 of the ALCS was particularly painful to watch, given the fact that we were playing within the confines of that hollowed ground known as Fenway Park. Not only did we lose, we got our butts handed to us, and our only hope was Derek Lowe, a starter who had been demoted to the bullpen, and really had not made much of an appearance for us in the playoffs. Lowe and behold, he came through for us, and Big Papi (David Ortiz) absolutely crushed the ball in the 12th. The minute that ball sailed into the bleachers, RSN's collective emotions soared high again, as we had Pedro "I want to be like Rick James" Martinez and Curt "What the hell, just suture my tendon and let me pitch while soaking my sock with blood" Schilling slated to appear in Games 5 and 6. If only we could get to Game 7, perhaps we had a chance.... Certainly history was not on our side, yet with every victory, one could feel the momentum shifting, and the Yankees breaking apart like Kevin Brown's hand. Those marathon games sucked the life out of the Yankees bit by bit, yet you could see the bitchiness rise in them, especially starting with A-Fraud's pansy-ass, bitch-slap incident. The whole "What Did I Do Wrong?!?!?" look on his face, when the world clearly saw the incident was the epitome of the New York Yankees. A team that was crafted to win a world series was now acting like a spoiled child who just found out that he wasn't getting jack squat for Christmas. Do I consider the 2004 ACLS the World Series of 2004? Simply put, yes. Without disrespecting the Cards, the juggernaut that arose from Papi's blast in Game 4 was just too strong. I don't care which team the NL put up against the Sox, I'm convinced that the same fate would have occurred to them, but of course, this is speaking after the fact. Getting back to the fact....

Game 4 of the World Series was a gut-wrenching experience for me. Memories of Bucky "Bleeping" Dent, Bill Buckner, and a whole plethora of Red Sox collapses swam through my head the entire game. Frequent imbibing of Budweiser was certainly not helping my mood, despite the fact that we held a lead going into the 9th inning. Predictably, my mood became darker and darker, to the point where I was absolutely convinced that The Satan of Swat was going to raise his head anytime now and just give us all the shaft. My only consoling fact was the simple thought that if we lost, we'd have another 3 games left to at least try to win, or continue to get shafted which would be par for the course. Fast forward to three outs left, Foulke (by the way, thank you Oakland for letting him go last year) on the mound, runner on second, two outs....

It all happened in slow motion:

The weak dribbler by Rentiera straight to Foulke (oh, shit, he's going to bobble it.... he doesn't!), the throw to first (jeez, he's going to throw it somewhere other than to Mientkiewicz.... he doesn't!), the catch (oh, Lord, just let the mother@#$er catch it, I swear I'll do anything you ask of me... HE CATCHES IT!)

I just stood there in silence, with a small smile on my face, and my immediate thought was of my father. He was somewhere in Los Angeles with my family celebrating like he had never celebrated before. For a brief insight on the meaning of the Red Sox to their fans and to me, check out the Sons of Sam Horn thread at http://p086.ezboard.com/fsonsofsamhornsoshboneyard.showMessageRange?topicID=83.topic&start=701&stop=720 and scroll down to "lurker BoSoxFaninDC" I had always said that more than anything, I wanted just one World Series victory for my dad during his lifetime. Once I realized that this wish had been granted, I quite frankly started tearing up, while receiving congratulations from my friends who were watching the game with me. Suffice to say, it truly felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and the beer really started to flow like never before. Hell had indeed frozen over, and every member of the Nation could sleep well that night.

Now, it's almost two weeks later, and questions have to be answered by management and the Nation with regards to the 2005 season. Certainly, one of the things that drove the Nation was The Curse, and now that it has been lifted, what does RSN have to keep us together? In all honesty, the thing that keeps fans together as a team is simply the fact that any fan base has something in common. What the Nation had in common was not just the Curse, but the fact that we were Boston Red Sox fans. We still hate the MFY, and we still will crowd Yawkey Way before and after every home game. Dads will still bring their kids to Fenway for that glorious experience, and the crack of the bat will still resonate among the chants of "LETS GO RED SOX". Screw the curse, the Nation isn't going anywhere as long as the Red Sox are still around.

On a much more complicated matter, what do we do with our free agents? Certainly, some would argue that we owe it try and bring back the whole team for another go at the World Series. Unfortunately, the feel-good reasons do not outweigh the practical reasons, and baseball is certainly a business. In short order, we need to do the following:

· Re-sign Varitek, there is no question that he's the leader of the clubhouse (think back to him clocking A-Fraud), and he works very well with the pitchers
· Make a reasonable offer to Pedro, and by reasonable, I mean he's going to have to take some kind of pay cut. He is not the same pitcher he used to be, and I don't think he'll last another 5 years. He wants a long term contract, but the Red Sox shouldn't give it to him. A two year contract, with an option for the third year looks good to me.
· -D-Lowe will probably get a huge contract offer from a team considering his recent playoff performance. Should we match it? Nope. He's been very inconsistent, and while he certainly came through big for us, he could have also imploded in a huge way. Sometimes it's best to say good-bye, this is one player whose time has arrived.
· Trade Trot Nixon for pitching. Trot has been a valuable member, but he's expendable. Getting a Carl Pavano type pitcher, while losing Trot would not hurt us at all.
· -Let Orlando Cabrera go. We have Hanley Ramirez, one of the top prospects at shortstop in the minors. He's not ready to come up yet, but predictions are that he'll be ready to go in 2006. If we can get Barry Larkin for cheap, it'll be a good deal in our favor.
· -The bullpen is fine, but we need to shore up our starting pitching. Clearly, if anything is to be learned from the 2004 playoffs, it's that good pitching will almost always beat good hitting. Rumors have it that the A's are dangling their Big Three, I'd take a close look at all three of them and would probably take either Zito or Hudson.

I'd certainly like to see a repeat of 2004 next year, and the year after that, and so on and so forth. However, I DO NOT want to see us become like the MFY, and just throw money all over the place for old, overpriced free agents. We need to cultivate our home-grown talent, and make smart, well thought out moves which address the team's needs, not the needs of a meddlesome owner. Let the Boy-Wonder do his work, he hasn't fucked up yet, and I doubt he'll make any really bad moves. The Sox will be major players for years to come; it's how we do it that will dictate the rest of MLB's perspective of us.

In closing, a few items must be addressed.... First of all, now that Johnny Damon has won, what will he do?!?!?! All indications point toward him getting married, and patrolling centerfield again for us next year. I have absolutely no complaints with that. Secondly, does my lovely fiance' get a reprieve, or will she have to endure year after year of my ranting and raving? Unfortunately, as the future wife of a devout Red Sox fan, she'll have to put up with my antics for as long as I live and breathe. However, I suppose I could tone it down for the next year, but after that, anything goes. If SR allows me to continue to contribute to this website, I'll keep you posted on this. Thirdly, if you look to SR's rant dated 9/7/04, you'll note that he says that: "I believe that Fenway Park is the most beautiful building I have ever seen." Yes, it was I who brought SR to Fenway and introduced him to the joys of going to a Sox game in Boston. Could it be a mere coincidence that SR's first time at Fenway also leads to the Sox winning it all??? Let's just say that I hope to go back there with him next summer, and if we win it all again, then he's got no choice, but to keep going every year. Let all Fenway Franks be forewarned!

Lastly, screw all these chants of "1918", I can't wait to walk into Yankee Stadium next year, with all my Red Sox gear on, and scream "2000" at them. This year belonged to RSN, and to its legions of fans. I'm damn proud to be one of those fans.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

What Now?

Depressed, demoralized, despondent. This is not how I felt four years ago. Four years ago I could handle it. After all, it was a fluke, a mistake, an anomaly. Four years ago the people had spoken and their message was that, despite our electoral system, they wanted to continue the prosperity and relative sanity that we had enjoyed as a nation over the previous eight years. Four years ago I believed I could handle the next four years with relative ease. After all, there I was, ready to take on the world. Ready to graduate from college, ready to get out into the world and succeed. Four years ago was very different than today.

I remember watching the results come in on that November night. Three of the most important people in my world were with me and we were sure that our guy would win. We were having cocktails and making jokes about the coke-head who had run for president. Then Peter Jennings called Florida for Bush. Then for Gore. Then for Bush. Then it was too close to call, and it was one am on the west coast and we all had to work in the morning. I remember my girlfriend at the time crying, leaning against the counter in a dark corner of the kitchen and weeping quietly. “So many people are going to die,” she said, and as I tried to console her I wondered if she was right. We all knew things would change. We knew the country would quickly become a much more conservative place. We all knew this asshole was itching for a war, all but promising one during his campaign, but I dismissed her words as fear and emotion. I thought that everything would be all right; after all, what’s four years in the grand scheme of things? How much damage could really be done in just four years? And it would only be four years, the guy was elected, not by the people, but by a loophole.

The next nine months went much as I predicted. Bush decided to tie some foreign aid to a promise by countries not to council abortion in planned-parenthood clinics. I looked forward to watching Will Ferrell open SNL by lampooning our dumb-ass in the white house each and every week. I surfed web sites that kept tallies and archives all the ways the dumb ass butchered the English language. Then, just two weeks after I had made a trip out to NY and DC to look at grad schools, “it” happened. The phone rang at almost the same time the alarm clock went off. I turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit. And just like that we had our war.

Like every other male age 18-26 the thing I thought of most in the following weeks was the draft. Like many, I believed that this would be a protracted conflict. Also, the uncertainty regarding North Korea and the country’s collective blood lust led me into fears of World War III. Not the devastating nuclear war of so many bad 80’s movies, but a real multi nation, two front war, that would drain our nations resources and man power. As time has shown our worst fears were never realized. There have been no more major terrorist attacks on US soil. The war in Afghanistan did not become a war against a united Arab world. The North Korean front never materialized. Bully for us.

As 2000 became 2001 and then 2002 I became desensitized to it all. After all, everything was happening to someone else. Someone else was at Guantanamo Bay, someone else was fighting in Iraq, someone else was getting a tax rebate. Me? I was trying to get through Grad school. I didn’t have the time or the energy to be outraged. I left that up to someone else. I was in denial, in my own little dream-and waiting for the day President Snowman would be ousted. I had faith. Sure, I still remembered the girl who worked at the Subway sandwich shop on the campus of my undergraduate university. She was nice enough, smart enough to attend a state school, and pleasant in that ignorant Midwestern way, the type of person you’d see on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” She said she had voted for Bush because of the tax cuts and the rebate she was sure was in the mail that very day. She had no idea that because of her job as a minimum wage sandwich jockey she wouldn’t be getting anything. She simply did not make enough money to qualify.

Still, the fact remained that this dumb ass hadn’t really been elected the first time. And after a war and an occupation that was still claiming the lives of US service people (I am SO PC), after so many people received no rebate and no tax cut, after watching the man invent SO MANY WORDS, I was sure he would be gone. Maybe not in a landslide, maybe not run out on a rail, but gone, which was good enough. After all, raise your hand if, like me, you actually feel less safe than you did last year, and the year before that. (OK now put your hand down, you look silly and people will begin to talk.) I had faith in the people. I had faith that the country would look back at the sexy Clinton years with all of its economic promise, cigar blow jobs, and complete lack of fear of being turned in as a terrorist by your neighbors, and say “I want that. I’ve had enough recession, enough blood for oil, enough being the butt of every world political joke.” I had taken my third drive across country. I had seen the people, met them, talked to them, and they were good, they would do the right thing.

Now this. This time there is no excuse. Bush won. The lawyers were there. The election reforms were there. So far I haven’t heard of any “voting irregularities.” Voter turnout was high. We did it to ourselves this time. So here I sit, the very picture of dejection. Dreading the next four years. Feeling for all the world as if the Clinton years were but a brief respite from the ultimate direction of the country. After all, the axis of evil has been in power for most of my life, and I don’t even remember my three years under Carter. I’ve lost faith. I’m back to being a cynic. I’m back to believing that the only real civilization to be found in this country is on the coasts, the rest of the country simply exists to provide me with food, cheap manufacturing, and girls with sultry southern accents. I don’t know if I can face the next four years. I don’t have the intellectual cocoon of grad school to retreat to. I no longer have the activist in my life who provided balance for my narcissism. I don’t know what the next term will bring. The specter of the draft still looms and I don’t see our military actions decreasing. By the end of this term my brother will be 18, what will happen to him if these wars continue? How can you ever reach a resolution to a war on something as elusive as “terrorism?” The real terror for me is that there’ another Bush out there. He’s said he won’t run, but what if he does? What if he gets his eight years? By that time I’m sure there will be another, young Bush just reaching the age where he’s eligible to run. We may be headed for the world’s first popularly elected monarchy. Of course, depending on what happens in the next few years we may get four years of The Presinator as a change of pace.

So there it is my few but loyal readers. I have no words of solace. I love this country. I always have. This is the land that gave us baseball, and blue jeans, and a free public education. No matter what I’ve though of the government I’ve always loved the people of this country. I stand up during the national anthem because even though it represents everything I hate about our government it represents all the people I love as well. I keep an American flag, not because I support our foreign policy, but because it’s my flag, and when I see it I think of my grandmother, and my brother, and my uncles who fought for that flag even though their parents and siblings were locked up in concentration camps back home, the uncles who fought in order to prove that they were just as much a part of the fabric of this country as anyone else. But now my faith is shaken. The anthem is just a song; the flag is just a collection of colors. We live in a country dominated by rubes and morons, people ready to believe whatever they are told by whoever has the best advertising. As I get older, I am slowly becoming a religious man, because I feel as though it’s all there is left. I’ve lost my faith in everything else.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

What Happend? Who Do I Blame?

OK, Rant fans I promised a post mortem on the season and here it is. Even though I tried to be optimistic the sad fact is that the season turned out much as I predicted it would; the A's missed the playoffs. But why? Here's a brief look back on what I said then, and what happened in the end.

After the season was a week old I had this to say:

"Scoot has shown something during this first week...he reminds me a lot of Mark Ellis' first few games at second in 2002. So, I looked at Ellis' first five games after he took over the starting job (his first five consecutive games) and compared them to Scoot's first five games. Here's what I found:

Ellis 5 games: .400/0/5/.500/.450/..950
Scutaro 5 games: .313/0/3/.353/.500/.853

Ellis' numbers are better, which we would expect, still Scoot's numbers are very respectable. Ellis ended the year at .273/6/35/.359/.394/.753, never hit a major slump and never lost the starting job."

So what happened?

Here's the final numbers on Scoot who, unlike Ellis did slump at times though mostly when he was moved around in the lineup. In fact he was, at one time, the most productive #9 hitter in baseball. His production from that slot was far superior to his production at any other slot. He platooned with Mark McLemore quite a bit which I'm fine with since McLemore had a decent year. Here's Scoot's numbers compared with Ellis' rookie stats.

-Scoot: .273/7/43/.297/.393/.690 (345)
-Ellis: .272/6/35/.359/.394/.753 (455)

Like I said at the start of the year Scoot's year compare favorably to Ellis' rookie season. He had slightly better raw offensive numbers even though he had 110 fewer at bats. Still, Ellis' season ranks higher because of his better OBP and OPS. Scoot was not as flashy as Ellis in the field, but by measurable standards his .983 fielding percentage was better than Ellis' .968. The bottom line is that the loss of Ellis for the year was not a primary cause for their failure to make the playoffs this year.


This was a huge issue coming into the season. Would Dye rebound? Would Kotsay rebound? Would Byrnes rebound? Would Kielty deliver on the promise he showed in Minnesota? With all this rebounding going on, is this really a baseball team? Where's Shaq? Here's what I said this spring:

"-Kotsay needs to do better than last year, and better than his career averages of .281/12/63/.338/.756(582AB). Still, he's better than T-Long on both offense and defense."

Here's what happened:

-Kotsay .314/15/63/.370/.459/.829 (606)
-Long .295/03/28/.355/.420/.756 (288)

Kotsay ended up with better numbers across the board as Long proved that he was what Macha told him he was last year, a part time player who was lucky to be in a situation that afforded him an opportunity to play almost everyday. Once Long got to San Diego where they had better outfielders he became the role player he was destined to be. As I wrote in mid season, "Long thinks he'd be a great 5 hole hitter, the Padres seem to think he makes a good pinch hitter." Long's 288 ABs were his fewest since becoming a regular player.

I also said:

"-Dye clearly needs to bounce back. His numbers have dropped every year he's been in Oakland. If Dye can stay healthy and get back to the numbers he had in 2000-2001 the A's will be very dangerous. Dye could be the X factor for the A's this year."

Here's what happened:

-Dye .265/23/80/.329/.464/.793

Dye did rebound, but he was not the X factor I'd hoped he'd be. While his numbers were better than they'd been the past couple years they still did not approach the production he'd had when the A's traded for him in 2001.

Finally, I said:

"Byrnes will get some good PT and will likely be a late inning defensive replacement. He brings great energy to the team and a badly needed infusion of speed. If he could just remember to touch home plate he'd be invaluable. So far the talk I've heard says that Bobby Kielty's fast start will keep Eric Byrnes from getting much PT. However Macha is trying to find spots for him (Byrnesie's only AB so far was his PH double that won the game against Texas on opening day). "

Final numbers for Byrnes and Kielty look thuslike:

-Byrnes .283/20/73/.347/.467/.814 (569)
-Kielty .214/07/31/.321/.370/.691 (238)

Kielty couldn't keep up his early season pace and ended up with only 238 ABs. Depending on his contract status he'll either be traded, allowed to leave, or end up as a backup to Nick Swisher who I predict will end up a starter and ROY candidate next year. I think Kielty has value because he's a switch hitter and he has a big arm in the outfield.

To summarize, the outfielders are not the reason the A's missed the playoffs.

The Rookie:

"Bobby Crosby will be the starting short stop at some point next season."

Yeah, like on opening day. So what did Sir Rantalot predict for the youngster?

"Crosby did better at AAA: .308/22/90 (compared with .000/0/0 in his call up last season). He should be OK this year but his true impact will likely be felt in the years to come. It took Tejada three years before he really blossomed. There's a ton more pressure on Crosby than there was on Tejada back in '97. Hopefully he can handle it better than Carlos Pena did."

Crosby ended up having a decent year. Sure, it was nothing like Tejada's, but it didn't hurt too bad. He was OK at the plate and better than expected in the field. How good was his rookie season? Let's look at Crosby compared to a couple other touted A's rookies. Tejada and Ben Grieve both came up to the show to stay in 1997, here's alook at the rookie seasons for the three players:

-Grieve .288/18/89/.386/.458/.844

-Crosby .239/22/64/.319/.426/.744

-Tejada .233/11/45/.298/.384/.682

So here we see Crosby sandwiched between the two. As you may recall Grieve won the ROY that year and was projected for greatness while Tejada was considered a raw prospect who may or may not develop into a productive major leaguer. Hmmm...So, what can we deduce from Crosby's stats? Nothing. For every Chipper Jones there's a Todd Hollandsworth. Crosby won't be the AL ROY this year (Lew Ford leads all rookies in most offensive categories). We won't know what Crosby will be until a few years from now when he becomes it. What we do know is that overall Crosby didn't hurt the team by not being Tejada. In fact, he probably helped a lot just by being Bobby Crosby, knowing his role and not pressing too much. Sure, it would have been nice to have Tejada's .311/34/150, but the bottom line is that Crosby is not the reason the A's missed the playoffs.


"News Flash! Damian Miller is not Ramon Hernandez!"

I meant this in terms of offense, and it continued to be true throughout the year. Here's the season totals for each player:

-Miller: .272/09/58/.339/.403/.742 (397)
-Hernandez: .276/18/63/.341/.477/.818 (384)

I also said this:

"I'm sure someone knows how many runs Miller has saved behind the plate, but that person ain't me."

So, was there a defensive difference between the two?

Miller .999 9 46 35 .435 4.24 963
Hernandez .992 7 53 21 .284 4.03 925

*FPCT = Fielding Percentage PB = Passed Balls SBA = Stolen Bases Allowed CS = Caught Stealing CS% = Percentage of Runners Caught Stealing CERA = Catcher's ERA (Team ERA with this catcher behind the plate) INN = Innings Caught

In raw numbers Miller was better than Hernandez in almost every defensive category save two. Among the two only one is really important, but it's really important. First the less important one, Miller had two more PB than Hernandez. I know what yer thinking, he also caught 38 more innings. Still, Miller allowed a PB every 107 INN (or 1 every 12 games) while Hernandez only allowed one PB every 132 INN (or 1 every 14 games). That's a difference of .00178 PB/INN, statistically startling, if yer building a bridge, fairly insignificant in real life. The big difference between Miller and Hernandez is the CERA, Hernandez allowed fewer runs than Miller did which is significant (more on this later).

Again, I know what yer thinking, it's not fair to compare CERA numbers between two guys who were working with different staffs. Yer right. So let's look at something else I said this spring,

"Since the playoffs I've become a big Adam Melhuse fan. Despite his choke in game 5 he showed ability to hit in the clutch. Who knows what he'd do over a full year, but his numbers .299/5/14/.372/.957(77AB) look good. Macha says that players write the lineup and I'm hoping Melhuse takes the job from Miller who is a big drop from Hernandez."

So, let's compare Melhuse and Miller:


-Melhuse : .257/11/31/.309/.463/.771 (214)
-Miller: .272/9/58/.339/.403/.742 (397)

The raw numbers show that Melhuse hit for a higher average and for more power thought he had a lower OBP. Miller's RBI numbers are actually close to Melhuse's when you adjust for the disparity in ABs with Miller getting an RBI every 6.8 ABs and Melhuse getting an RBI every 6.9 ABs.


-Melhuse .995 5 27 13 .325 4.05 504
- Miller .999 9 46 35 .435 4.24 963

Like with Hernandez Miller leads in every category except two, the same two. We know Miller passed a ball every 12 games. Melhuse was a little better allowing a PB every 101 INN (or 1 every 11 games). The difference there is only .00057 PB/INN. The major difference between the two is that Melhuse had a lower CERA than Miller working with primarily the same pitchers.

The upshot of all this is that Melhuse was better than Miller. Miller got more playing time based on the reputation that he is a wiz at handling pitchers, a reputation that is not born out by the numbers. Despite this, the catching rotation is not the reason the A's missed the playoffs, but we're getting closer, Especially with the whole CERA thing.

The Smoking Gun:

As you may have noticed, I have eliminated almost all of the position players as reasons for the A's missing the playoffs. I didn't discuss the bench, but to make a long story slightly less long, the bench ain't to blame. Overall, the offense was not to blame. Here's the team's offensive totals for this year (no playoffs) and last year playoffs!).

2003 Team: .254/176/742/.327/.417/.743
2004 Team:.270/189/752/.343/.433/.776

As you can see, this year's team was better in every offensive category. The offense was good enough to get the job done.

I've mentioned that I think Miller was part of the problem, so who does that leave?

That's right Rant fans, the blame falls squarely on...Curt Young. That's right, #41 in your program, but #1 in your bile duct, it's A's pitching coach Curt Young. I guess you could also blame whoever (rhymes with Jilly Jeane) allowed Rick Peterson to leave the organization. The bottom line for the season is this; the pitching staff, across the board, was not as good as it was in 2003. Here's what I said in October:

"The A's may allow pitching coach Rick Peterson to move to the Mets without compensation. That's right, the A's may lose one of the best coaches in the game in return for absolutely nothing. If you have any doubts about Peterson's value to the team just look at the staff. Sure, the big three are very good pitchers with a ton of ability, but look at what Peterson did with some more marginal talent. Losing Peterson would be as huge a loss for Oakland as losing Tejada. Letting Peterson go would be a huge mistake. Peterson's value to the team is second only to Billy Beane's. Peterson makes the A's staff go. He is a mechanics guru and is a big part of the reason that the big three have stayed as healthy as they have. He can find the positives in almost anyone and turn shaky pitchers into solid contributors. If he does go to the Mets expect two things, a rise in Oakland's team ERA along with a sharp decline in wins, and at least 15 wins from Steve Trachsel.

So what happened? The numbers speak for themselves:

Team Pitching:

2003: 96-66 3.63 ERA
2004: 91-71 4.17 ERA

Yes, this represents a decline of only five wins. But that's misleading, especially if you look at the jump in offense. As I predicted, the loss of Peterson led to a decline in the A's pitching.

Blown Saves:

The A's had 26 blown saves this year. Read that again, TWENTY-SIX BLOWN SAVES!!! They lost the division by one game. For the math impaired this means that if they had blown just two fewer saves they would have made the playoffs. It means that if they had blown just 20% fewer saves they would have won the division long before the ALWS began.

The Big Three saw their ERAs jump this year.

2003 2004 Diff.
Barry Zito 3.30 4.48 1.18
Tim Hudson 2.70 3.53 0.83
Mark Mulder 3.13 4.43 1.30

Also, Hudson was injured for an extended stretch for the first time in his career, Zito saw a continued decline in his confidence (23-5 in '02, 14-12 in '03 and 11-11 this year.), and Mulder won like one game after the all-star break.


I like using Trachsel as my prototypical mediocre pitcher, just good enough to stick around, not good enough to be good. Unfortunately for my theory, Trachsel was Trachsel again this year. His .480 win % this year was only slightly better than his career win % of.474. Still, over all the Mets pitching staff saw their ERA decline form 4.48 in 2003 to 4.09 in 2004, with roughly the same staff.

So the bottom-line: the pitching coach let us down, and the front office let us down by continuing to allow the talent ebb out of Oakland (let us note that two recent A's, Damon and Foulke, just won it all). Looking ahead to next season I see...another column at another time. Suffice it to say that I don't like some of what I've been hearing, like that the A's may let Byrnes walk because he's due a raise. As I said last year, chip, chip, chip, how long before we become the KC Royals? Unless something changes I give it two more years.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Told You So.

Read the previous post, in retrospect I was right.

Or read:


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Best Series Ever

I know I promised an end of season wrap on the A's, and it's coming, but the numbers are taking more time than I thought, and the whole thing is so depressing that every time I sit down to write it I end up crying a eating a pint of Chubby Hubby.

Anyway, I had to weigh in on this Sox/ Yanks series as we sit here on the cusp of a game seven that simply should not be happening. So here's my thoughts, unedited, unformatted and totally stream of consciousness.


The 2001 World Series was hailed as one of the best ever played. The Yanks, playing for all of New York, and indeed the country, representing the city after 9/11. The Diamondbacks, representing everyone who hates the Yanks. The best performance by two pitchers since Koufax and Drysdale. The 2001 series had everything including a last chance rally against the most sure thing closer in the game. If you don't believe me, if your memory has faded, run out and buy Buster Olney's "Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," a must read for all sports fans, especially those who hate the Yanks.

Next came last year's ALCS. After another stunning collapse by the A's, the Sox and Yanks went down to the wire in a series that rivaled the 2001 WS. ESPN Classic has already done an hour-long documentary on that series and there is a book, "One Night at Fenway," about the game, the team, and the history of the Sox as played out that night. I haven't read it yet, but I will soon. The point is, that series was going to go down in history as one of the greatest ever, the epitome of the rivalry, untoppable.

Until this year. Just as it took only one night for these teams to surpass their own record for the longest playoff game ever played, it took only one year for them to supplant their own great series. This is “The Natural,” this is “Hoosiers,” this is every sports movie ever made. People write this stuff; this never happens in real life. A team left for dead after a record-setting loss rising up to force a decisive game 7. This is the absolute best story in sports. This is “Miracle;” this is Charlie Brown and that little red haired girl; this is what we fans hope for. This is “Angels in the Outfield of Dreams.”

No team has ever gone down love-3 and forced a game seven. This team has. No team has ever won a best of seven series after trailing 0-3. This team could. Why not?

Admit it, even the most die-hard Sox fan knew this series was over after game three. Then, as we sat down to snooze through game four, all of a sudden, it wasn't over. Still, game five is a no-brainer, the Sox are done, it's only a matter of time. I even felt bad for the Sox fans, I thought it would have been easier for them to get swept and get on with their lives rather than win one measly game just before elimination, their ultimate pain delayed only a few more hours. But then, they beat Rivera in game four, and again in game five.

All week Andrew Siciliano of Fox Sports Radio has been saying that the Sox would find new and interesting ways to lose this series. It happened in game one when Mussina had a perfect game going into the 7th, only to see the Sox come back to within one when Papi's triple missed being a homer by 3 inches of blue wall. They still lost. It happened in game 3 when they gave up 19 runs. It was the curse. It was Schilling's big mouth and torn tendon. It was a disaster.

And when it looked like the curse might rear its ugly head again, the umpires made the right calls. When Bellhorn's homer was almost just a double (“It's Jeffer Maier!" I yelled), the umpires, who had been for shit all series, stepped up and got it right. When A-Rod put the stiff arm on Arroyo it looked like the game would end based on momentum. Watching that play, I didn’t see A-Rod's move; all I saw was the ball rolling into right field as I thought "How very Red Sock of them, a new and interesting way to lose." It seemed as though the Yanks would get all the breaks again. But for a second improbable time, the umps huddled up and got it right. The stars were aligned!

Perhaps there was divine intervention. Perhaps God is sick of hearing the Sox fans complain to high heaven. There's no doubt that ultimately the Sox benefited most from Friday's rain out. It allowed Pedro to come back on full rest in game five. It gave Schilling one more day. It gave everyone on that staff one more day.

And Schilling. My God, Schilling! The Yankee killer. He started three games of that 2001 WS. He looked terrible in game one. But once he knew what was wrong he pulled out one of the gutsiest sports performances of all time, again rivaling Koufax for the ability to pitch through what should have been a debilitating injury. If the Sox go on to win this series, Schilling's performance will go down as one of the greatest sports achievements ever. This dwarfs Willis Reed by a long shot.

No matter how this ends, it is the best story in sports, maybe ever. I'm calling it: no matter who wins, this is the greatest playoff series ever. The story lines, the passion, the comebacks, everything. I have never been so excited about a game seven before in my life, and I'm not even a Sox fan. This game is all I've thought about since Foulke got the last out last night.

You may remember last October, I wrote a column stating that I was done with being a fan as I had been. I would no longer live and die with my team. I would no longer get so geeked up for a game, or a series. Well, at least for tonight, that's out the window. I can't wait for the game. If you are even a casual sports fan YOU MUST WATCH THIS GAME!!!! This is David and Goliath, and there's one pebble left. Sure the Sox have some high profile free-agent stars, but look at some of their other regulars:

-David Ortiz: released by Minnesota
-Kevin Millar: released by Florida
-Bill Mueller: released by SF
-Mark Bellhorn: released by Colorado
-Pokey Reese: released by Pittsburgh
-Ellis Burkes: released by Cleveland

OK, I'm done. I can't overemphasize the greatness of tonight's event. This is everything a sports fan has ever wanted. This is what baseball, what all sports is all about. You may never see anything like this again in your life! (Until next year.)



Friday, October 1, 2004

Mmmmmm, plaaaaayoffffsssss....

So this is it, the final weekend of the season, for some teams everything they’ve done for the past six months comes down to what they can do in the next three days. I’m writing this from the back seat of the Rantalot mobile command center and I don’t have access to my usual research tools, but as DMJ says, “never let the facts get in the way of a good Rant.”

First, the teams that are in. The Cards look like crap. Their rotation is shaky in way that reminds me of the Yankees. In fact the Cards are the NL answer to the Evil Empire, not in payroll or evil quotient, but in make up: big sticks, poor starting staff, great closer (Izzy has the worlds quietest 30+ saves). The Braves also have issues and I have to believe they’ve done it with smoke, mirrors, and the mistakes of the rest of the division as much as brilliant management. The Yanks, as mentioned have a ton of questions. Sure they can hit, but do they have enough pitching even with a resurgent Moose? K-Brown and Vazquez haven’t shown they can pitch under pressure in NY, El Dookie has a “tired shoulder,” the pen has thrown about a million innings, and Rivera’s thrown about 500,000 of them. That leaves us with the Sux. The Sux, sadly, look like the best team in baseball right now (you’re welcome Kevin). While they have their own issues, (Pete says the Yanks are his “daddy?”) they have the scariest combo of pitching and hitting of the teams that are in right now. The Sux need to worry about Pete’s head, Lowe’s arm, and Wakfield’s age. Aside from Schilling their best pitcher has been Bronson Arroyo, but will Francona go with him in game two? Or will he cave and set up a Pete, Schill, TBD rotation. I wouldn’t start Pete in game one, but if you don’t and he feels dissed will he go into the tank?

Now the fun stuff, and I’ll save the AL West for last. First, the NL wild card, I say blame the curse of the Bartman. After all, if he hadn’t touched that foul ball in game five or whatever the Cubs wouldn’t have tanked in the last week losing 2-3 to the Mets and then getting mashed on by the Reds. SF is still alive for the both the division and the wild card and I’m hoping they get the old WC leaving the division to the Dodgers. This means I’m hoping LA can clinch today, then lose the next two (sorry Daniel), while the Astros lose three and the Cubs play like the Cubs. This is in the hopes that we see a classic and long awaited LA-SF NLCS and I can finally prove my Dodger allegiance to DMJ. That brings us to the Astros. Where the hell did they come from? A month ago they were dead. They were double-digit games out of everything and Pettite went under the knife. All of a sudden they have a share of that wild card pie.

Which brings us to this question: Is anyone still upset about baseball adding the wild card? Back in ’95 purists denounced the wild card. “After all,” they said, “why should we reward second place?” Indeed. The wild card came under fire again when baseball went to the unbalanced schedule. This time the complaint was that the now the wild card would be easier to attain for teams like the Red Sox who played in a division with Tampa Bay and Baltimore, while teams in the AL West would have a tougher road. All of these doubts should be put to bed by now. The fact is that the wild card keeps baseball exciting into the final weekend. Without the wild card there would be little drama in the NL since the Cubs and Astros are a world behind the Cards and SF needs a sweep in order to forge a tie with LA. Sure the Sux got the AL wild card again, as they have seven out of the ten possible wild card years, but at least one of the best teams in baseball is playing meaningful games in September and October rather than suffering simply because they can’t out spend the Yankees. And make no mistake; the wild card is hardly ever a slouch team. In fact , wild card teams have averaged about 90 wins/ year. As for the unbalanced schedule, well, it hasn’t helped the Cubs who just blew their shot against a weak division foe. Right now playoff hopes are alive in five cities. Last week Texas, and San Diego and Florida were alive as well. The wild card is good for baseball. It keeps more people in more places interested for a longer period of time.

Which brings us too…

A very special one time event…


That’s right folks, the most exciting series of the weekend is the ALWS, or the American League West Series, a very special early addition to the regular baseball playoffs. Not since 1980 have two teams ended up going head-to-head in the final weekend in a flat footed tie for first. Among the many intriguing series this weekend only the tilt between the A’s and Angels will directly and independently determine who moves on, and who goes home. This is a three game series to see who gets to go the next five game series. Also, as if this match up needed any more subplots there is the fact that the Angels, A’s and Twins all have the same record, so a dominant performance by any of the three will determine who gets the Sux at home, and who has to travel to the Bronx.

So how’s it look for the home nine? That depends, can we get Hudson from 2000, Zito from ’02 and Mulder from before the all star break? Sure, the A’s have the Big Three going in the series, but the Big Three have been a big bust this month. Mulder pitches tonight against Bartolo the Colon. Colon has been going well recently while Mulder is 0 for September with an ERA over 8. Zito, pitching tomorrow, has been in a steady slide since the final day of the regular season back in ’02. In fact, the best A’s pitcher this month has been Rich Harden, who may be available out of the pen on short rest especially if the A’s lose tonight, or fall behind tomorrow. I’d say tonight is a must win for Oakland since, though they’ve been hitting well, don’t want to face one game winner takes all situation against a determined Angels club that has a good line up, and most importantly, a good pen.

And therein lies the crux of the situation. As bad as the rotation has been for Oakland this month, the bullpen has been abysmal all year. The A’s lead the majors in blown saves. If they had converted even a fourth of the saves they’ve blown they would have clinched the division yesterday at the latest. That said, the weakness of the pen puts even more pressure on the Big Three than in previous years because they know they have to go deep into games and leave with big leads if Oakland has a reasonable chance at winning. Gone are the days when Oakland could take in reclamation project relievers and turn them into highly coveted free agents for other teams. Gone are the days when the Big Three could win two out of any three games against any team any time. Gone is Rick Peterson. Check the archives Rant fans. I said the when RP left the A’s pitchers would start to decline. Coincidence? I think not.

So the final analysis? Either team can win this series, it’s almost a toss up, but I’d give a slight edge to the Angels based on momentum. They’ve been chasing Oakland for some time now and they feel like they have our boys in their sights. There’s always more pressure being on the side that’s trying not to crumble than on the side trying to build. Right now the A’s are trying to stave off a disastrous month and get into the playoffs once again. Check back Next week for a playoff preview, or a bitter post mortem.
6:05 pm edt

Friday, September 17, 2004

Fuck You!

The FCC is cracking down on cursing. In the wake of Janet and Justin’s wardrobe malfunction the FCC has been handing out fines and tightening their previous rulings on curse words. One recent example is the FCC’s ruling regarding Bono’s call of “Fucking brilliant!” at a recent awards show. The FCC’s position is that cursing is not only offensive in that it “invariably conjures up a graphic sexual image” but that exposing children to cursing is morally detrimental. The radio program “This American Life” recently did a story on cursing in which they interviewed a psychologist who has been studying the effects of cursing on children, and a lawyer for the FCC. The psychologist concluded that cursing on TV or radio does not have a detrimental effect on children, and that most children know and repeat curse words at a very early age (as young as two) even if they do not grasp the full meaning. During my own research into idioms and the use of figurative and idiomatic language I came across studies that showed that when people encounter figurative language they usually produce the connotative meaning first and may not ever think of the denotative meaning at all. That is, when people hear the words “kick the bucket” they rarely think of a foot striking a pail. Applied to cursing, this theory is borne out during the “This American Life” story when the interviewer asks several children of various ages what they think of when they hear the phrase “Fucking brilliant” in context. Invariably the children failed to mention sex of any kind, let alone graphic sexual imagery as the FCC suggests.

All this got me thinking about the role of cursing in my own life. The curse word and I have had a long and bountiful relationship that has evolved over time. By the time I was six years old I could curse like a long shore man. I’m fairly certain that I picked up my four-letter vocabulary from peers and family rather than the media. I think I picked up on swearing because it had such a great effect, it truly expressed how I felt as a child who was by no means as smart as I thought I was, but far smarter than I felt anyone gave me credit for. I quickly learned that I could get a stronger reaction by swearing at adults than by being “good.” Telling your second grade teacher “That makes me unhappy, I don’t think that’s fair” gets a kid fairly well ignored, after all, life isn’t fair and kids don’t get what they want etc. However, telling the same teacher that, “This is some fucking bullshit and if you don’t change it I’ll sue yer sorry ass you bitch” gets a much different reaction. And, though I still didn’t always get what I wanted, at least it opened up a dialogue.

As time went on my sense of when to swear evolved, though I still gave a good fuck about where I was when I decided to let one fly. To me it was always about emphasis, if I felt that a four-letter blast best expressed my point I let fly. It was proud day for me when my friend Ben, himself an accomplished master of the four-letter tirade, said that I uttered the best “Fuck you” he had ever heard, “Dude, when you say it, people know you really mean it.” But a funny thing happened when I got to college. I started to care. I tried not to curse in front of my grandmother, or my brother’s friends, or girls I liked. It was weird, the first time I realized I was holding back, searching for a different word.

There were a few things that went into the transformation. First, my major was populated by religious types, and despite my caring fuck all about they’re perception of God, I didn’t want to offend or alienate them. This became particularly important when I ran for a small student government post representing my major. Second, as time went on I realized the benefits of appearing educated, which often meant cutting back on the casual swearing. Conjoined with this is the fact that actually being educated often results in having people be less inclined to dismiss you out of hand. As I progressed through school I no longer had to shock people in order to open up a dialogue, all I had to do was talk.

And thus I have developed a new theory, a radical new para-dig-em: children need cursing far more than adults do. By the time we reach adulthood most of us have a myriad of ways to express ourselves. Not that we need to, or should abandon “adult” vocabulary, but the fact is that if we need to curse in order to be recognized or stand out then we have far deeper problems and should probably just be ignored. (Case in point, when the reins of TV, radio, or a script are strapped on, Jay Mohr is a funny man. Left to his own devices he loses his wit to a deluge of anal sex jokes.) But kids, kids need to curse just to avoid being ignored. This is not unlike Dogbert’s strategy of corporate yelling, if you are loud and belligerent enough people will be shocked and give you whatever you want. Don’t just be the squeaky wheel; be the wheel that says, “You better grease me or I won’t just squeak, I’ll wait ‘til yer doing 90 on the interstate, then I’ll jump off, roll away, and cause you to crash into that bus full of nuns and invalids.” I say we should teach our kids how to curse strategically in order to move ahead in the world. I know I will.

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Dot Freaking Dot

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Well, I never thought I’d have to write a lame ass “dot dot dot” column but too much has happened in the month or so since computer went down for me to cover it all. Some things are long past resolved, others I just don’t care enough about to go back and really hash them out. Anyway, here goes, in no particular order.

The NCAA vs. money-grubbing kids:

Yeah, I’m old enough now that I call people who are still in college “kids.” Here’s the deal, mike Williams declared for the draft and took money from an agent even though the NCAA and the NFL told him that if they won their appeal he would not regain his eligibility. Now everyone seems shocked that he’s not being allowed to play. Yes, he paid back the money. Yes, he disassociated himself from the agent. Yes, he went summer school so he could be academically eligible. It doesn’t matter. Now talk show hosts and columnists are bitching about how the NCAA is abusing this kid and ruining his life. Bullshit. Mike Williams still has more opportunity in his life right now than most people in the world. Boohoo, he can’t play for USC, so let’s look at what he can do…he can play in the CFL…he can play in the AL or A2…he can play for a JC…he can get a job as an analyst or sideline reporter…he can go to school and work towards his degree…he can get an agent to give him a loan, buy an Escalade and do cameos in Snoop Dogg videos…(“My name is Willie, Willie Beeeaman”). Don’t cry for Mike Williams, he’ll be fine, and next April he’ll make more money than all of us combined.

Which brings us to Jeremy Bloom. Bloom is…was…a WR for the University of Colorado. He’s also an Olympic skier. He wanted to take endorsement money to pay for his ski training, which is against NCAA rules. NCAA rules state that you can take a salary in another sport and still play football, but you cannot take endorsement money. That’s why guys like Ricky Williams and Chris Wienke could play in the minors and then come back and play football. Bloom took the money, then lost his appeal for reinstatement for football. Again, the anti-NCAA media has been crowing about how unfair that is. Again, they’re wrong. Bloom made a choice, the options were: be an Olympic skier, or be a college football player. He wanted both, he got skiing. He chose to take the money. Fuck him. Again, there is no law or amendment, commandment that says you get to have everything you want just because you’re good at stuff.

The 49ers will not be the worst team in football this year; no matter what ESPN says…TO will rip Philly up, can they even make the playoffs?…Dorsey Levens again benefits from another guy’s injury…As much as I hate to say it, Barry’s the MVP…Didn’t The Governator learn from the last time he used the “girly man” line?…How bad were the Bush twins at the RNC? The blonde one’s cute though right? Like a poor man’s Kirsten Dunst…I don’t know if he did it or not, my guess is the truth lies somewhere in between, still Kobe’s case does bring up issues about the rights of the accused…just for fun, Misty May, Amanda Bush, Kerry Walsh, and Jenny Finch…Why is it always us and South Korea having controversy in the Olympics?…I am not a rube. I have heard the church bells at Notre Dame. I have climbed the towers of the Sagrada Familia. I believe that Fenway Park is the most beautiful building I have ever seen….Fenway also has the best hot dogs, perhaps the best food, in all of baseball. My friends were shocked when I threw down three Fenway Franks in four innings…The last four sentences include the word “Fenway”…

Saturday, September 4, 2004

It's an Outrage!

Wrap your mind around this foolishness:
http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/preview04/news/story?id=1868175# (SR sez: Those who can, do. Those who could, but can’t anymore make lists about those who did it better than them.)

If you ever wanted proof that NFL analysts are almost all blowhards, this is it. Who the fuck cares what Sean Salsibury has to say about Jerry Rice when he ranked Rice 6th?

If Jim Brown is so great for having compiled huge numbers for so short a career, why isn't Jerry Rice acknowledged as better for having shattered all meaningful records for receiving in a career that has lasted twice as long? Why is career longevity penalized, but walking away from the game at an early age is rewarded? Why is it assumed that Brown would have automatically had better stats if he had continued his career? Let's face it, if you come down on Jim's side of the debate, you should admit to yourself that it's at least partially based on the assumption that Brown's numbers would have been even gaudier if he had a longer career. If that's possible, what's stopping me from using Ricky Williams' college career stats to claim that he was capable of a career comeback that would have catapulted him past Brown if he hadn't retired? (SR sez: Ricky could come back. Right? Please say yes.)

If Jim Brown is so great, why did Barry Sanders get only 5 points, collectively, from these knuckleheads? I'm not saying that Sanders should have been voted #1 over Brown, but if we're accepting the "what a career he could have had if he hadn't walked away" argument is fair game, why the disparity between the two? Let's see--Barry had 3,000 more career yards, was All-NFL all 10 years of his career, missed leading the league in rushing his rookie year by only 10 yards, led it two other times, and gained 2,058 yards in the 1997 season. And again, before you bring your tired generational arguments, let's remember that Barry played in the era of 350-pound defensive tackles who could run a sub-5 second 40 and bench press 450 pounds.

I'm tired of hearing arguments about older players playing in a 12-game season. As far as I'm concerned, the shortening of the average players' productive years caused by the wear and tear of four extra weeks of play, coupled with the huge gap in athleticism between the "old" game and today's, are more than enough to make up for the career difference in stats.

(SR sez: Not only that, but no one seems to factor injuries or bad teams into the equation. A lot is made of the fact that Brown never missed game. Brown played for nine years at a time when a season lasted 12 games. That’s 108 games without getting hurt. Yahoo. Rice didn’t miss a game until 1997 at a time when the season was expanded to 16 games. Rice was drafted in 1985, which means he played 209 games without missing one. Rice beat Brown in that regard by 101 games. This may seem to hurt my argument but here’s the point, Rice got hurt, twice. He missed time, it could happen to anyone at any time (ask Gayle Sayers). Brown may have come back the next year and tore an ACL, which was a career ending injury back then. If that had happened would he still be surrounded by the same aura? I doubt it. Also, what if the Browns had started to suck like the post Young pre mature-Garcia 49ers did? How many more catches would Rice have had if he didn’t go through the Garcia-learning-on-the-job years? Brown was a great player, but the fact that he quit on his own has inflated his legend. Jerry beats Brown across the board in terms of career achievement.)

Joe Theismann's ballot should have been thrown out--he didn't even vote for LT, fer chrissake. Joe--in addition to totally redefining his position and being the best ever at it, he KNOCKED YOUR ASS OUT OF THE GAME FOREVER! You don't have to like it, you pussy, but you have to respect it!

Mark Schlereth made Elway #1 and didn't include Montana! Uh--Montana led 3 different groups of men to 4 Super Bowls and won them all, taking two MVPs in the process, whereas Elway, after a career of getting close but never there, rode Terrell Davis all the way to the Big Game (and an MVP trophy that will always look to me like a sympathy vote) and got his vibrating musical lollipop and heartburn medication ad deals. (SR sez: I’m also sick of hearing about Unitas. How many titles did he win? Was he really better than Jim Otto or Sammy Baugh? Yeah? Prove it! Well he has more passing yards than yer mom too!)

That is all.


Sunday, July 18, 2004

Holy Prosperous Pairings!

Dynamic duos, pairings of people who, together, accomplish more than they could as individuals. But it's more than that. Dynamic duos often accomplish more together than many more people could accomplish. Abbot and Costello, Bausch and Lomb, And of course, the original dynamic duo, Batman and Robin, have become cultural icons, recognizable to anyone who has they're contacts in. But what happens when these duos split up? How much success can one member have without the other?

Before meeting up and establishing a peroxide empire Bausch was a failed chemist best known for developing an unpopular brand of edible silly putty, while Lomb was trying to sell people on the idea of cleaning they're glasses with steel wool. Most people would rather forget the films that Abbott and Costello released as individuals, after they're messy break up in which Abbott said he didn't appreciate Costello coming in to each scheduled shooting fat and out of shape, unable to fulfill the rigorous duties required of slapstick comedy, while Costello claimed that Abbott was a "gag hog." Occasionally, one partner goes on to continued success while the other fades away to less embellished glory. Thus was the case of Batman and the original Robin, Dick Grayson. Grayson, for reasons of his own decided to leave Wayne Manner for a crime fighting life of his own, first as Robin, and later as Nightwing. After his own comic book venture failed he was forced to join the moderately successful New Teen Titans, once again forced into an ensemble role. Meanwhile Batman enjoyed continued success, proving that he had in fact been the main draw and the pillar behind the dynamic duo's longevity. Of course this success was not without its difficulties. Batman went through three more Robins and became a darker and darker Knight as time went on.

With all of these examples close at hand it is surprising that the lessons they teach us are so often ignored by professional basketball players. Recent NBA history is full of examples of successful dynamic duos and the results of they're parting. Yet, as the break up of the Lakers shows, players are still more concerned with proving that they are The Man, than with putting themselves in position to win championships. Shaq didn't like "the direction the team was headed" and "didn't want to be a part of it." Meanwhile, common opinion holds that Doc Buss fired Phil and traded The Diesel in order to appease Kobe. All of this a result of two star players wanting to be acknowledged as The Man, rather than admit how much of they're success depended on each other. By doing so they ignored recent history that shows how a team with two superstars can dominate the league, while a team with one is usually bounced early in the playoffs.

Exhibit One: Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury.

Teammates from 1996 to 1999 (3 seasons) Garnett and Starbury were being hailed as the duo that could make the T-Wolves a force in the West. This was before Kobe blossomed and while the Lakers were going through Del Harris, Magic and Kurt Rambis on the bench. While together Garnett averaged 18.8 PPG while Star averaged 17.0 PPG and 8.6 APG. Star left because he didn't feel that he and Garnett could coexist, saying that he had to be able to score more and have the offense run not just through him, but to him. Since then Star has improved his scoring average by about 3.5 PPG but has never again met the career high 9.3 APG he had his last year in Minnesota. Garnett has also raised his PPG by about 3.5. Neither player has been to the finals, '04 was the first time Garnett had been passed the first round, and Star has been traded twice. Garnett's recent success didn't come until the emergence of Wally Sczerbiak, another good young scorer with whom Garnett has had a rocky relationship.

Exhibit Two: Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady

Two more guys who couldn't agree on who was The Man. T-Mac and VC were in Toronto together from 98-00 (2 seasons) and were on they're way to challenging the Knicks and Heat for dominance in the East. Again, McGrady left because he couldn't share the spotlight with VC, he wanted go out and be the guy who got the credit. Of course at the time T-Mac was a guy who averaged 7.0 PPG as rookie before VC arrived, and then 9.3, and 15.4 PPG while VC came in as a rookie and hit for 18.3, and then 25.7 PPG. T-Mac felt like he was being overshadowed so he left for Orlando where his PPG average shot up more than 11 points. During that same stretch VC's PPG average dropped as knee injuries and media controversies robbed him of his explosiveness and sunny demeanor. As with the Garnett and Marbury neither player has been to the finals and T-Mac's Magic were dismal last season.

It should be noted that T-Mac thought he was going south to pair up with Grant Hill, and at a time when The Magic felt like they were on the verge of signing Tim Duncan. Things didn't work out as Duncan stayed in San Antonio (where he won another title as part of the "Twin Towers" dynamic duo) and Hill never played more than a few unproductive games per year due to an ankle injury similar to the one suffered by Garrison Hearst.

Exhibit Three: MJ and Pippen

No one needs to mention what these two accomplished together. Also, there was never any doubt about who was The Man on this team. Mike was the boss. Always. But the fact remains that Mike never won without Scotty and Scotty never won without Mike. Not even when Scotty went to Houston with Hakeem, Sir Charles, and The Glide.

Here, the circumstances of their parting was due to more than just ego or a failure to coexist. The first time they split it was because Mike thought he could play baseball. The second time it was because the Jerries thought they could win without anyone ("organizations win championships").

Which brings us to Shaq and Kobe. When the Diesel went to LA as a free agent it was on the heels of first losing to Houston in the finals and then watching MJ return to begin a second run at the top of the heap. Shaq was coming out of a dynamic duo situation in Orlando where he was teamed with a rising star in Penny Hardaway. The year they went to the finals Shaq averaged 29.3 PPG and 11.5 RPG, Penny averaged 20.9 PPG and a career high 7.2 APG. The year before Shaq left his PPG slid to 26.6, while Hardaway's rose to 21.7 with his APG fell to 7.1. The difference was enough to send The Daddy to Los Angeles.

Shaq’s first year So-Cal the Lakers drafted a high school kid from Philly named Kobe Bryant who averaged 7.1 PPG and did nothing to threaten Shaq's standing as The Man. This was the case, by and large, through the first championship year of 99-00. That year Shaq hit a career high 29.7 PPG while Kobe contributed a then career high 22.5PPG to with 4.9 APG. That off season things began to go down hill. The rift between Kobe and Shaq, and Kobe and Phil, and Kobe and the rest of the team, came light and began to take over as The Story surrounding the Lakers. The rumors flew, Kobe for J-Kidd and Shawn Marion, Kobe staying, Shaq wanting out etc. Shaq complained about Kobe being selfish, Kobe complained about Shaq being fat. Shaq responding with is famous "If you don't feed the big dog, the big dog won't guard the yard." Yet through it all they managed to win two more titles while Kobe's APG actually rose each year until this recent season.

This recent season, the one that ended it all. The Lakers brought in two aging former stars who were supposed to return the Lakers to their perch atop the NBA world. It didn't happen. Instead The Glove looked old and confused, the Mailman got hurt, and the Shaq/ Kobe/ Phil feud blew up. Now, the Lakers are back to square one and I don't see a title in the near future for either Shaq or Kobe. I've seen analysis that says the Heat got a great deal, that they become the favorites in the East, that the Lakers could end up as a lottery team, that Kobe made a mistake by alienating Shaq and Phil, that the basketball world is now up for grabs.

So, will Shaq/ Kobe be another Abbott and Costello? Or will one be Batman while the other goes on as a moderately successful Nightwing?

A lot of folks seem to think that the Heat will run away with the East based on the idea that Shaq will be angry and motivated to come to Miami in shape, that Pat Riley will be able to get out of Shaq what he got out of Kareem, and that, as the only truly big center in the conference, that The Daddy will be able to dominate the paint as he had in the past. I disagree.

First off the people who say that the Heat are now the favorites in the East seem to be forgetting how the smaller but quicker and more motivated Wallace and Wallace held Shaq in check during the finals, how Shaq has been slower and less dominate in each season since 99-00 when he went 29.7 PPG, 13.7 RPG, and 3.0 BPG. Shaq's numbers since 99-00:

PPG: 28.7, 27.2, 27.5, 21.5
RPG: 12.7, 10.7, 11.1, 11.5
BPG: 2.8, 2.0, 2.4, 2.5

Shaq has also hinted at retiring to become either a cop or a fireman, and got off his "company time" line when asked why he waited until training camp to have surgery. Also, while Dwayne Wade is a nice player, he's no Kobe. Time will tell whether he and Shaq will become a dynamic duo. One thing's for sure, Shaq and Eddie Jones couldn't do it in 96 and they won't do it alone now. Also, people seem to be banking on the idea that a healthy motivated Shaq is the same as 28 year old Shaq. It's not. Shaq, at 32 is beat up more than he was five years ago when the Lakers began their run. While Shaq may get the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals, and possibly the NBA Finals, I can't see them beating the Rockets, Mavs, Kings, or T-wolves in a seven game series.

As for Kobe, well, now is the time to make good on all the MJ comparisons. The one thing that MJ had, which Kobe has yet to show, is an ability to be a respected leader. Everyone fell in line with MJ because they knew he made them better. They knew that even though the plays at the end of the game were drawn up for MJ, even though MJ carried the team, he trusted his teammates (Steve Kerr, John Paxon etc.) enough to go to them and help them succeed. Look at all the big contracts signed by former Bulls after the team was blown up (Luc Longley, _____) simply because Mike made these guys play better than they actually were. Kobe has shown brief flashes of that (hitting Big Shot Rob in the corner to beat the Blazers) but not enough. Also, Kobe has yet to win the respect of his teammates in a way that allows him to be a leader because people want to follow him.

One positive for Kobe, and another MJ comparison, is that the current wisdom that you need a dominant center in order to win, is belied by the fact that MJ never played with a dominant big man. MJ had a great second banana in SF Pippen, and Kobe has a good second option in SF Lamar Odom. MJ had a good PF in Horace Grant, Kobe could have something similar if Malone returns. (Of course if Malone comes back why not join Shaq in Miami?) If Payton can be as good as BJ Armstrong (not a lofty goal, but questionable based on GP's performance last year), and Slava, or Divac can be as good as Bill Wennington then the blueprint is set provided that Kobe can be as good as MJ. All long shots, but the precedent is set for a team to win with a great 2 guard and no center to speak of.

That said, I don't think Kobe will lead the Lakers to the finals any time soon. Of course it depends on how Rudy T can bring along guys like Luke Walton and Kareem Rush. The rest of the West was already catching up with LA and I don't see the current team beating Minnesota, Sacramento, San Antonio, Dallas or Houston in a seven game series. Also, Houston has a potential dynamic duo in T-Mac and Yao, and another in Minnesota with the afore mentioned Garnett and Sczerbiak.

What should have happened? If I were Mitch Kupchak, or Doc Buss I would have traded Shaq for T-Mac straight up, let Kobe walk and go after a center next year. After all, if you're going to blow it up, blow the roof off and get rid of all the residual bad karma. T-Mac would have had a fresh start on a big stage, which might have energized him and the franchise. The Lakers could have had a fresh start and some cap room to go after a big man later on, after all if they make the playoffs this year it'll be a miracle.

So there it is. T-Mac and Yao should see this before McGrady goes into free agency next year. Rasheed Wallace should see this before deciding to leave Detroit. But if we diverge from NBA logic and decide to use history as our guide, we shouldn't expect them to. Instead players will keep chasing money and cred rather than rings.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Dem Bums

Pessimism. It's a disease, an affliction of the soul. It rears it's ugly head for countless people, in countless places across the country, many of them in Boston between the months of April and October. Sports pessimism was large part of my later childhood. My stepfather is the ultimate sports pessimist. During tight games he would mime throwing heavy objects at the television, every once in a while he would launch a baby toy or a balled up sock. Though I will not discount his influence on me, by the time I was 18 I had surpassed him in both rabid fandom and sports knowledge on every aspect of the game save whether to take the Knicks and the over parlayed to Tampa Bay-Baltimore with teased to the final goals against average between Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, I did become a sports pessimist, primarily on my own. Ever since the Niners refused to resign Ricky Watters and Eric Davis, ever since Don Bebee jumped up and ran for a score on a muddy Candlestick Monday, ever since I saw Big Mac traded for Blake Stein and TJ Matthews, I have been a sports pessimist.

It used to kill my friend, the estimable DMJ, who was, at the time, the ultimate sports optimist. I tried to teach sports optimism in my brother, hoping that if I taught him well my own dogma would rub off on me. "Never leave before the final out. Especially in baseball, because you never know when you'll see something amazing." I told my brother this many times. Then, one night, we went to see the A's play the Giants in Oakland. Down two runs, with two on and one out, Tony Phillips was thrown out on the back end of a 6-5-3 double play. As Phillips got up to argue we started packing up. The scoreboard showed three outs in the ninth inning, game over. We paused and watched Phillips argue with the ump when the he got the thumb, PA announcer, "Tony Phillips has been ejected from the ballgame." "That's odd," I said, "why eject a guy when the game's over?" We were standing on the BART platform when we heard a cheer rise from the stadium. Then the station agent made the following announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, Olmedo Saenz has just hit a three run homer to win the ball game." And we missed it. All because I lost track of what inning it was (and the scoreboard operator changed the inning graphic before the outs graphic). The point being, I've never left a game early since. You never know when Cleveland will come back from 20 some runs down to win in the ninth, when Buckner will let one slip through, when Kirk Freaking Gibson will hobble off the trainers table with no knees and one elbow to hit a game winning jack off the Eck. You never give up, you never leave early, especially in baseball where there is no clock, but even in football, because Garcia to Streets became the second biggest comeback in playoff history and I've met people who left in the third quarter.

Things have changed somewhat in the past couple years. DMJ has now become a sports pessimist while I have renewed faith. It started with "The Redemption Reception" (ridiculous name), and was bolstered by the "Botched snap, pass interference that wasn't." It was rooted in "90-O," and sprang eternal when Olmedo Saenz sent a Clemens slider deep into the Bronx October night.

Still, I will say that in May of 2002 I called for the A's to "trade everyone." The shake up that came in June did turn the team around. Strangely enough, the most optimistic sports fan I know is from Boston. I get to hear all about it when his Bo-Sux beat my beloved A-mazing-'s. Boston's sux-sess in the recent series against Oakland has not been at all tempered by the fact that his team is 6 games out of first. Still, despite the sweep, despite the fact that the A's are behind Boston for the wild card, despite Barry Zito's 4-6 record and 4+ ERA, despite Chavey's injury, despite the low OBP being masked by a higher-than-recent-years team BA, despite all this, I believe the A's can make the playoffs. I do not believe Texas can do it for an whole year (see KC 2003), I do not believe the collection of mercenaries in Anaheim can come close to the magic of 2002. I believe the West is there for us to win. Sure, Hudson, Chavez, and Harden have to get healthy. Mulder has to stay healthy. Zito needs more scented candles or pink pillowcases or teddy bears or whatever it takes to get him going again. Scoot needs to stay in the nine-hole, Karros needs to figure out what's wrong, Rhodes needs to dominate as a set up man as he has in the past. But I still believe the A's can make the playoffs. I say this despite the fact that I predicted early on that this would be the A's team to finally not make the playoffs after four consecutive trips.

Sure, my new found optimism has taken some hits. Jeter's shovel pass to nail a (still, no matter how many times I watch the replay) not sliding Jeremy Giambi, the inability of a pinch hitter to swing the bat, bottom nine, down one, with the bases loaded, the 49ers constant cap woes, the hiring of Dennis Erickson, all of these have dampened my enthusiasm at times. But I still have Josh Beckett in 2003*, Ramon Hernandez's surprise bunt, Billy Beane's constant genius. I still have the knowledge that there's 80 some odd games left, that the Sux will eventually Buckner their way out of the hunt, and the knowledge that there's always, always, next year.

* See the archives, I predicted Beckett would be the MVP of that series and that the Marlins would win in seven. I was close, they won in six.