Saturday, June 30, 2007

And This is Why They Are the Rockies

After getting some sidebar love here at the Crazy and an actual post over at the Goat, the Colorado Rockies have shown why no one in the national media takes their winning streaks seriously - after sweeping the Yankees they've lost 8 games in a row.

Coinciding with Brian's post, ironically. Or not ironically. You decide.

So what's happened to our beloved Rockies? It's never one thing with losing streaks approaching double-digits, but as it always seems to be with Colorado, it's all about pitching. The starters are struggling and a bullpen implosion hasn't helped. Closer Brian Fuentes has taken the loss in 4 of the 8 games. The Rock have lost twice 8-9 and once 9-10 (all Fuentes losses).

The Rockies' offense is doing its part, averaging over 5.5 runs a game during the losing streak. They were only shutout once.

Sorry about the love, Colorado. If it makes you feel any better, the hottest team in baseball right now (riding a 7-game winning streak) is the Cubs, and they've only got one more win than you do right now. That doesn't make you feel better? Yeah, I guess it wouldn't.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ray Allen is Not a Useless Piece of Meat

I like the Ray Allen deal.

I admit that when the deal went down last night (after an hour or more of it being listed as "proposed" on the screen) I wasn't expecting that statement to put me in the woefully outnumbered minority of Celtics fans. I thought there'd be a 50-50 reaction to the deal and not the 90% negative reaction that it seems to have garnered. Listening to the WEEI post-draft show last night (and thank heavens for streaming internet feeds), you'd have thought Danny Ainge had just traded the 7th pick in the draft for Sebastian Telfair for the second time.

Look, Ray Allen may be 32 next month and he may have $51 million left on his current contract and he may be coming off an injury-shortened season, but Danny Ainge did not make a horrible move in acquiring Ray Allen. Allen is not, as Dan Shaughnessy spouts in typically negatively idiotic fashion this morning, "a fossil." Nor can't it be seen "as anything but a desperation move by a front office and coaching staff trying to hang onto their jobs," as Yahoo's Dan Wetzel claims.

I think a lot of the anger that's come blaring out of fans and media is left over from sitting through a junked season last year and the failure of ping pong balls to bounce the Cs way at the Draft Lottery. I could understand being indifferent about this deal but the anger being hurled at Danny Ainge this morning surely can't be because people really think Ray Allen is some washed up, good for nothing jump shooter, can it?

Just look at the deal for what it is: the Celtics gave up Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiack, and Jeff Green for Ray Allen, which means they really gave up Jeff Green. I understand people in the fanbase have an affinity for West, but you have to look at what he is - a back-up guard. Versatile, yes. Vital to any team's success, no. Better than Allen? Not a chance. Will anyone miss Wally? (Insert sounds of crickets chirping.) And Jeff Green will have a solid ten-year NBA career but he doesn't make this team a whole lot better. Green is finely suited to a team looking to add a final piece - put him on Dallas or Phoenix or San Antonio and he'd turn into Josh Howard - an intelligent young player with a tightly defined role who fits in seamlessly with a veteran core. Put him on Boston or Philadelphia where he'd be forced to contribute in a much broader, significant manner and he loses value.

What, exactly, did the Celtics give up that's worth crying over? The chance at Yi Jianlian? A shot at Corey Brewer? Is that worth the bile being hoisted upon Ainge and the Celtics this morning?

I think not, unless you're making the argument that they should have taken the pick and moved Pierce for more youngsters. And yeah, I would have preferred the Celtics did just that and drafted Corey Brewer or Yi Jianlian, but I fail to see this as a tragic move by an incompetent general manager looking to simply save his job. They acquired an All-Star without giving up any of their core youngsters. Acquiring Allen makes this a playoff team. Nobody available at the #5 spot last night did that.

I understand that people see this move and say, "This doesn't make the Celtics a Championship team." It doesn't. Even in the Easy East this makes the Celtics, at absolute best, the fourth best team in the conference, and for the NBA's most historically successful franchise it's still Banner or nothing. But you can't build a successful team solely with youth, especially when all that youth is still college-aged without being college-tested. Young guys need to learn how to win, both in the regular season and in the post-season and Ainge has now given the Cs young players a realistic shot at playoff experience.

If there are no further blockbuster moves, what this deal tells you is that Ainge has identified Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, and Gerald Green as the young guys to build around. Pierce and Allen will be used to get these three players experience with winning. They should become playoff hardened by having Allen around, and three years from now they should be in place to be the core of a team that makes a run at the Eastern Conference Championship. Note what I said - I didn't say the Celtics would be a championship contender, but that the core of a championship contender is there. More moves have to be made because more moves always have to be made when you're a team struggling to get back in the trophy hunt.

Pierce and Allen have more NBA time behind them than in front of them but both still have 3-5 highly productive years left. If Ray Allen was nothing more than a washed out jump shooter then explain to me how his offensive numbers were up across the board last season? This is a guy who averaged 26 points per game in 2006-07. He's a risk (everyone is a risk) but he's not a leap.

While Yahoo, the Boston Globe, and ESPN are largely bashing the heck out of this move (I'm glad I watched the draft from the cozy confines of B-Dubs where I didn't have to listen to Stephen A, Jackson, Bilas, and Scott) Sports Illustrated is taking a more positive approach. Jack McCallum writes:

"I absolutely love the deal from the Celtics' standpoint. I think this move makes them a playoff team. Anytime you can get an All-Star player like Ray Allen, he's worth what you give up. All along the Celtics were trying to change the team without giving up Al Jefferson. That was goal No. 1, and they accomplished it -- and they got a terrific player. I just think his talents were getting lost in the West. He comes to the East and becomes one of the best players in the conference. Allen had never demanded a trade from Seattle, but sometimes he looked a little disinterested. He's going to be very motivated in Boston."

Chris Mannix argues that Allen is far from the washed up fossil the naysayers seem to think he is:
"In Allen, Ainge picks up arguably the league's best perimeter shooter whose presence alone will open up huge driving lanes for Pierce. Despite playing in just 55 games for the floundering Sonics last season, Allen averaged 26.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting. Granted Allen is owed nearly $52 million over the next three seasons; but at 31 (he will turn 32 next month), the UConn product is still capable of averaging 22-25 points per night in the Boston offense, where he will benefit from playing with a slashing scorer (Pierce) and a legitimate low-post presence (Jefferson)."

I don't know if the trade is the "stroke of genius" Mannix makes it out to be, but I think it's an incredibly solid move. The Celtics gave up next to nothing and got back an All-Star who fits well into their offense.

It doesn't bring Banner 17 to the rafters all by itself but it does lay the groundwork for turning Jefferson, Rondo, and Green into the core of a championship contending club three years from now, which is the best anyone could have hoped for from whomever the Celtics drafted last night.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Last Post About the Draft Before the Draft

About 90 minutes from now, the Celtics will likely be on the clock for tonight's NBA Draft. The latest trade rumor is a deal I would do in a heartbeat. According to Si.com's Ian Thomsen, the Sonics and Celtics are working on a deal involving Ray Allen:

The proposal being negotiated by Seattle and Boston would send Allen to the Celtics for a package including the No. 5 pick, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. The last I heard was that Seattle was having second thoughts about the deal: The sticking point was that the Sonics wanted second-year point guard Rajon Rondo instead of West, which led Boston VP Danny Ainge to demand that Seattle also include center Robert Swift in the trade.

I would not give up Rondo in the deal because as long-time readers of the Crazy (and the dearly departed Planet Killer) now, I have something of a man-crush on Rondo's potential. Delonte West I could give a crap about - decent back-up at the 1 or 2 spot, but not a difference maker like Rondo will be in the near future.

West, Szczerbiak (and his 2-year, $26.6 million contract), and the #5 for Ray Allen works. Yes, Ray Allen is 32, but his numbers last year were up from previous years across the board. He can't play defense but he's still a stone-cold scorer. I'm not crazy about Smith, but he is a young center (out all of last season, IIRC) and the Cs need that but I'd hold out for the West, Wally, and #5 for Allen deal.

Adding Ray Allen for a back-up, a big contract, and the #5 pick is worth doing. It would make the Celtics better right now and give the Shamrocks a powerful offensive troika of Pierce, Allen, and Jefferson. Gerald Green could remain a back-up and tutor under Pierce and Allen and when Allen is ready to move on, Green will be ready to step in.

The other rumor that will not die involves Kevin Garnett. According to multiple reports, the Celtics still have the best offer on the table for KG (Jefferson and the 5th), but I wouldn't do that deal. I would get in on the Amare Stoudemire sweepstakes if the Suns are actually going to move him. KG to Suns, Stoudemire to Celtics, Jefferson and the 5th pick to Minnesota would be a blockbuster and should make all three teams happy (since Minny GM Kevin McHale has apparently identified Jefferson as the player he most wants back for KG). That's a better offer than the Suns, 'Sota, Atlanta deal floating around.

If the Celtics keep the pick, I'd still select Corey Brewer, but if they take Yi Jianlian I would not be disappointed.

Should be a fun night. At the very least, Danny can't trade for Sebastian Telfair again. But if he does I'll drown my sorrows in buckets of B-Dub's wings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Manny Does Not Need Your Votes

I'm on the Red Sox mailing list, so I get emails from them all the time offering news or special offers or whatever they feel like sending me. Tonight, I received an email from them that said the following:

Ramirez needs your votes
David Ortiz looks like a lock to make the AL All-Star team as the starting first baseman. But, in the past week, Mariners and Tigers fans have voted Ichiro Suzuki and Magglio Ordonez, respectively, past Manny Ramirez in a tight race for the final two outfield spots. Red Sox fans - Are you ready to respond in kind?

Nope. I'm not. Know why?

Because Manny doesn't want my vote.

Manny has made it clear over the years that he'd rather do anything but go to the All-Star Game and Festivities. He'd rather just take the 3 days off and do whatever it is that Manny does when he's being Manny outside of the public eye. And, really, he could do anything; you could tell me he spends his days disproving string theory or organizing his My Little Pony collection and my reaction would still be the same. My not voting for Manny is a vote for Manny not having to come up with a silly reason why he can't go.

If he's not voted onto the roster he probably won't get invited. His stats don't justify his inclusion. As of Monday night, he's batting .296, with 11 HR, 42 RBI, and 39 Runs. Torri Hunter, by comparison, has put up more deserving numbers: .206, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 45 Runs, 11 SB. Gary Sheffield? Try .291, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 66 Runs, 8 SB.

All of which is fine with Manny and makes me wonder why the Red Sox would try to get the Nation to vote him in, when we all know the ASG is the last place he wants to be that night.

So Nation, do you want to do what the owners wants, or what Manny wants? I say try being Manny for a few minutes - head to MLB.com and vote on the All-Star Game ... for Magglio Ordonez and Ichiro.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not. Gonna. Happen.

I get a little tired of trade rumors. They make for good talk-radio bits, but it's so high school to hear all of the rumors coming out of the mouths of media. The latest big whisper coming out of the NBA is a four-team trade involving the Lakers, Timberwolves, Pacers, and Celtics, which would send Kevin Garnett to the Lakers, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum to the Pacers, Al Jefferson and the #5 pick to the Wolves, and Jermaine O'Neal to the Celtics.

I can't see why the Celtics would make that deal. I can't see the Cs trading Jefferson for O'Neal straight-up, let alone as some complicated four-team maneuver where they'd likely have to give up Theo Ratliff's expiring contract, as well.

For what? Jermaine O'Neal? Forget it. Jefferson is a younger, cheaper version of O'Neal, and if he's not already better than O'Neal he will be by the end of the year. There's no need to make this deal and no need to talk about it as currently constructed. The Cs either need to get back a lot more, or give up a lot less for this deal to happen.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mark Burly Would Be the Best #4 Pitcher in the History of Baseball

Or at least in the history of this blog.

The Goat Feeders called my attention to rumors of a possible trade between the Soxes White and Red centering on Mark Buehrle. (And yes, I know I spelled it wrong it the headline, but since so many in the Boston media couldn't handle writing "Daisuke Matsuzaka," replacing the dude's actual name with "Dice-K," I'm sure they'll just start referring to Buehrle as "Burly" and I want to preemptively mock the jackasses.)

Anyway, according to Ian Browne, "the White Sox have reportedly targeted Red Sox prospects Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie." Which is probably why the deal won't happen. It doesn't take Peter Gammons to tell us that the Sox will not trade Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, or Michael Bowden (pictured at right) for anyone, but he was nice enough to do it anyway, because that's how he rolls.

Buchholz and Bowden are the two best pitching prospects the Sox have. (Lester's already established himself as a major league starter.) Both are at Portland right now and expected to be available for major league duty sometime next season or 2009. Soxprospects.com lists Buchholz and Bowden as the #1 and #3 top-rated prospects in the organization, and cites their MLB-counterparts as Chris Carpenter and Ben Sheets, respectively. Kenny Williams is right to target them but the Sox won't move either of them for a possible/probable rent-a-player.

That leaves Ellsbury (rated as the #2 prospect by Soxprospects.com) and Lowrie (rated #8), the former an OF prospect and the latter an IF prospect. (That's Lowrie in the picture to the right.) According to the Sons of Sam Horn Wiki (I'm not even going to pretend I know anything about them), Ellsbury is a Johnny Damon-type, but with a better swing and less power. Lowrie is a switch-hitting middle-infielder with "a strong arm and above average range."

My feeling about the minor league system is that its purpose is to develop pitchers for the big-league club and position players for trade bait. That's a benefit of being an Empire Class Organization. You only need one or two organizational prospects to contribute to the MLB club in any given season, barring a run of injuries.

Mark Buehrle would make a great addition to the Sox rotation but I wouldn't give up either Buchholz or Bowden to acquire him given his contract. If Williams will take a position-prospect, then yeah, it's worth the risk. As tough as it is to see Freddie Sanchez excelling in Pittsburgh when all we got back was less than a half-season of Jeff "Right, this is why we got rid of him the first time" Suppan, it was worth the risk and the Sox have not been hampered by Sanchez's absence. If the team had kept him he'd be playing 2B right now and Dustin Pedroia would've been moved for last year's version of Jeff Suppan.

If Williams will take either Ellsbury or Lowrie as the centerpiece of the deal, I'd do it. Sure, Ellsbury is the #2 prospect and that's a steep price for a half-year pitcher, but if the Sox are convinced Buehrle is woth a Barry Zito-esque contract, you make the deal and get the extension. I'm sure Theo is already dreaming of a Beckett, Buehrle, Matsuzaka, Lester, Schilling/Buchholz/Bowden 2008-09 rotation, but he doesn't need to gut the system to make it happen.

If Williams insists on Buchholz or Bowden, I'd pass. Having Buehrle in the rotation would clearly give the Red Sox the best rotation in baseball since they've already got one of the top two or three. I'm not going to say the Sox couldn't use him, but they don't have the need that the Phillies and Mets (to name two other Buehrle suitors) have, which means they're less likely to overwhelm Williams with an offer.

You gotta wonder, too, if one of the ramifications of Buehrle trading his Sox colors would be to trigger fire sales in Toronto and the Bronx.

Jon Lester Rates an Explanation for Not Getting Schill-In Start

Schill-In? Get it? Fun with words. Proves my cleverness. Or boredom. Yeah, boredom. Hey, this is what happens when the bastards take televised sports programming away from me.

MLB.com is reporting that the Red Sox have chosen to call up Kason Gabbard to start Tuesday night in Curt Schilling's DL-vacated slot in the rotation and not Jon Lester.

Lester is recovering from lymphoma and the Sox have purposely brought him along slowly. What's interesting to me about the Gabbard call-up isn't so much that they chose Gabbard, whose having a great season for the Tucket (7-2, 3.24 ERA), but that Theo, Francona, pitching coach John Farrell, and PawSox manager Ron Johnson all got on a conference call to explain to Lester why they were making this decision.

Maybe teams do this all the time, but I can't see the four of them getting together to call Gabbard if the big club had chosen to bring up Lester.

Then again, maybe Gabbard wouldn't get a call because he can be hostile when confronted by a camera.

The decision apparently revolves around the idea that the Sox don't know how long Schilling is going to be out and thus, how many starts they'll need to fill. Since it's an unknown, they'd rather keep Lester in Rhode Island until they can recover under known conditions instead of risking treating him like a yo-yo between leagues.

It's a good move - the Sox are way up in the standings (11 games up over second-place Toronto) and Lester's not ready to take over for Julian Tavarez, yet, so they might as well leave him where he is for the time being. Maybe the Sox get lucky, too, and Gabbard strings a few really impressive starts together and makes himself appealing to other clubs looking to deal.

AK47 to Beantown?

Another day, another Celtics draft/trade rumor.

Actually, this one isn't so much a rumor because Peter May is just speculating in print. He's trying to figure out what he'd do with the Cs 5th pick in the draft. May thinks the Celtics should trade the pick and he knows the Celtics are not going to be able to acquire either Keven Garnett or Shawn Marion, which is fine with him and me.

What's scary is that his deal makes a heck of a lot more sense for the Celtics than any rumor coming out of Danny Ainge's office.

Here's May's proposed deal between the Celtics and Utah Jazz:

"You'd have to think the Jazz would at least entertain a proposal in which Boston surrendered the fifth pick, Theo Ratliff and his wonderful, expiring contract, and a couple young-uns. Boston might have to take back a bad contract (Matt Harpring or Derek Fisher) to make it balance, but not necessarily. If the Celtics sent Gerald Green, West, the fifth pick, and Ratliff for Kirilenko and the 25th pick, it'd work."

I would do that deal.

Yeah, Kirilenko is most known for two things that don't help you: his wife lets him cheat on her once a year and he cried during a playoff interview session. Neither of those facts exactly scream, "Andrei Kirilenko can handle Boston," but this isn't the Sox or Pats - this is the barely relevant Celtics.

Kirilenko is a former All-Star and 3-time member of the All-NBA Defensive team (1 first team, 2 second teams). The Celtics desperately need defense and a new start might help Kirilenko rediscover his game. The risk is that he's signed for four more years at $15 million per season, but as Many points out, with Ratliff going in the other direction and Szczerbiak coming off the books next year, it's not a major financial risk.

Giving up Green would be tough to swallow, but you've got to give up someone to get someone and I'd rather move Green (who still needs a few years before he's ready to be a starter) than Al Jefferson, who's already a starter. I'm not a big Delonte West fan; I think he's a competent back-up but he's far too injury prone to trust as a starter. If I had to give up West, though, I'd ask for Derek Fisher back, too. Fisher would give the Celtics a veteran PG to ease the burden on Rajon Rondo. Rondo and Fisher would complement each other well - when the team wants to run, play Rondo; when they need to run sets, play Fisher.

Would Utah do that deal? Chances are they would. According to Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson, the Jazz might have had enough of AK's attitude:

Larry Miller told me and my radio co-host Kevin Graham on 1280 The Zone on Thursday that he agreed Kirilenko has vast maturing to do: "He hasn't just flat laid down on us. But you used the word[s] - and I'm being tough on him probably, if he doesn't like it, I'm sorry, I'll put my arm around him and tell him I still love him. But he needs to grow up . . . I just hope he will." If he doesn't, Kirilenko could be gone via a trade, depending on another ominous if - if any other team would take him, given his huge salary, reduced productivity and emotional instability.

Danny Ainge would take him. Or, at least, he should strongly consider calling and seeing what it would take. If the Jazz would rather part ways with their frustrating forward, get in on it. AK has problems with Jerry Sloan's toughness? He won't have that problem with Doc. AK wants to shoot more? He'll have that opportunity in Boston.

I still say the best thing for Boston to do is stay at #5 and draft Corey Brewer. Then talk to the Jazz. See if they'll take next year's first round pick, Green West, and Ratliff for Kirilenko and Fisher. Kirilenko is only 26; the chance to get a guy with his track record and ready to enter his prime is worth the risk.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Is Daisuke an All-Star?

Maybe.

A month ago I would've said No, but after last night's paradoxical 2-1 win over Greg Maddux and the NL West leading Padres the question is worth asking. The final score says Matsuzaka was dominant but the box score says he wasn't. Matsuzaka went six innings, striking out nine but walking five, allowing ten men to reach base, but only one to score. He walked the first three batters of the game (throwing in a wild pitch just for fun), then only let one of them score. Does the process matter if the end result is what you were looking for?

Forget for a minute that Buddy Selig surely wants Matsuzaka in the All-Star Game in order to entice a few more TV sets in Japan to tune in. Forget, too, that the AL squad will be managed by Jim Leyland, who tried to pop a verbal hole in the Daisuke Balloon earlier this season right before Matsuzaka went out and threw a complete game, 7-1 smackdown of the Tigers. Position players get a chance to go to the All-Star game because they're popular, but pitchers have to make it on merit. (Though that merit sometimes comes from being the least suckiest suckbag on a sucky team.)

Is Matsuzka deserving of an All-Star spot?

He now has nine wins, second most in the American League. That sounds impressive but the top of the AL win charts is a crowded place. Josh Beckett, CC Sabathia, and John Lackey all have ten wins, and Matsuzaka is tied with Dan Haren at nine wins, while five more starters have eight. Wins alone aren't going to get him to San Francisco.

Matsuzaka is third in the AL is strikeouts with 102, but that's the last of his two really impressive rankings. Where Matsuzaka is hurt most is in ERA. He's down to 4.01 after last night's win, but only Jeremy Bonderman (4.01) and Roy Halladay (4.08) have ERAs equal to, or higher than, Matsuzaka's among the top ten (by wins) starting pitchers in the AL. He also has the highest WHIP rating (1.30) of anyone in the top 10, given up the most walks and earned runs, second most runs, and the fourth most hits.

There's nothing about those stats that cries to either be an automatic in or out. So does he make the All-Star team or doesn't he?

He's certainly still in the running, but right now he's not on the team. Right now, Lackey, Sabathia, Beckett, Haren, and Bonderman look to be locks (though what sets Bonderman apart from the pack is that Leyland is his manager; you know if it's close Leyland is taking him). That's already five starters. Matsuzaka is in the next batch of guys up for consideration but right now likely on th outside looking in; this group includes: Kelvim Escobar, Fausto Carmona, Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Johan Santana, and Joe Blanton.

There's nothing about Matsuzaka's season to this point that sets him apart from that second-tier, and you figure Leyland might get the benefit of the doubt to his own guy (Verlander) and guys in his division (Carmona, Santana).

Daisuke is moving in the right direction, however. While only going 2-2 in June, so far, Matsuzaka's ERA for the month is 1.73, dropping his season ERA from 4.83 to 4.01 in just four starts. He's averaging 8.5 strikeouts, as well, though the 3.5 BBs/start doesn't help.

For now though, no, Matsuzaka is not an All-Star and there's a better chance that he won't be on the team than on, but he's a lot closer to making the squad now than he was even as little as four weeks ago. With Schilling being put on the 15-day DL, Matsuzaka automatically elevates to the team's #2 pitcher and he's got to continue to pitch like one during Schill's absence.

What Is Jim Leyland Smoking?

Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa named their bench coaches for the All-Star team on Thursday and while I've got no real problems with LaRussa's selections, I don't understand what Jim Leyland is thinking.

LaRussa invited Willie Randolph (Mets) and Bruce Bochy (Giants) to serve as his coaches. Bochy's Giants are in last, but San Francisco is hosting the All-Star Game so he's an automatic invite. And while I'd rather see Randolph's spot go to Ned Yost (Milwaukee), Grady Little (Dodgers), or Bud Black (Padres), I can't find too much fault with Randolph. At least the Mets are leading the NL East and were in the NLCS against the Cardinals last season.

But Leyland? He's invited Ron Gardenhire (Twins) and Ron Washington (Rangers) to be his bench coaches.

Um, what?

Gardenhire's Twins are in third in the AL Central, currently 6.5 game back of Detroit and Washington's Rangers are in LAST PLACE in the AL West, 17.5 games behind the Angels. And he gets invited? To the All-Star Game? Of Major League Baseball? If it wasn't for Kansas City, the Rangers would clearly be the worst team in the American League. Right now both teams have only 29 wins, but the Royals have one more loss so they are percentage points behind of Texas (.397 to .392).

Boston and the Angels are the only two teams in baseball above .600, but Terry Francona and Mike Scioscia don't rate an invite? What about Cleveland Eric Wedge, whose Smiling Racists are only 1 game behind Detroit?

It's not going to ruin my day that Leyland treats naming bench coaches as a joke - heck, I'd rather see Francona get a three-day vacation to unwind, to be honest, but I wish Leyland invited managers a bit more deserving than Gardenhire and Washington.

Or, if you're going to treat it like a joke, invite Sam Perlozzo. I hear he's free that week.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Henry to Barcelona

The news rumored about for a few weeks now is apparently true, according to the AP. Thierry Henry has left Arsenal and signed with Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona.

Henry has grown increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of Arsenal over the past year or two, so it's not a surprise, but it does still sting. Henry is Arsenal's all-time leading scorer with 226 goals.

It's not the first time Barca's been on Henry's mind; he almost signed with the club last year, before signing his current 4-year deal with Arsenal. Barca will reportedly pay Arsenal a $32 million transfer fee, which gives Arsene Wenger some cash to splash around as he tries to rebuild his club.

As depressed as I am about his leaving, I've got to be honest. I feel like I did when the Red Sox traded Nomar away (though not to the same degree) - it's not what I would've wanted to happen, but maybe it's for the best for both team and player. Unfortunately, both Nomar and Henry moved to clubs I can't stand. Before the Sox dealt Nomar I said that if they did move him I would instantly buy his new jersey, unless he went to either NY club or the Cubbies.

At least I saved some money ... (I snagged a Nomar Red Sox BP jersey down in Pawtucket for 60% off.)

Same with Henry. I can't stand Barcelona and now my favorite player is playing for them, leaving me to root for Henry to succeed individually but Barca to fail as a club.

It'll be interesting to see how Wenger reacts now that Henry is gone. There have been reports he's thinking of leaving, as well, but if he stays does he make a splash with a big name or try to swipe a rising star from someone? I'm all for adding a few young pieces to the already talented roster, even if that means a rebuilding year or two before the Gunners are ready to seriously contend for any of Europe's major trophies.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kevin Garnett Saves Danny Ainge From Himself

According to Marc Stein over at the Worldwide Leader Dot Com, Kevin Garnett's agent has informed the Timberwolves and Celtics that KG is not interested in playing in Boston. Since KG can opt out of his contract after next season, this should end Danny Ainge's attempt to pull off this deal.

(Yes!)

Of course, Danny could make the deal anyway and hope that Garnett grows to love it so much in Boston he signs an extension (like the Cardinals did with Mark McGwire), or on the hopes that he can flip KG to someone else for more than he gave up (like the Marlins did with Mike Piazza), but both options are longshots that are not worth pursuing.

(But he probably will. Boo Over-Agressive, Desperate, Short-Sighted GM.)

Garnett's announcement that he wants no part of Beantown should save Ainge from making either a blunder or a massive blunder, depending on what trade rumor you believe. (And, really, they're trade rumors, so you probably shouldn't believe any of them.)

Deal #1 comes courtesy of Stein, who reports that:

"The latest incarnation of the deal, according to sources, would have required the Celtics to send blossoming forward Al Jefferson, its No. 5 overall pick, Theo Ratliff, Wally Szczerbiak and Sebastian Telfair in exchange for Garnett and Wolves guard Troy Hudson."

That would be the blunder. Let's remember that KG is 31 and while that's not old he's certainly got more great years behind him than in front of him. He needs to go to a team that can win a championship over the next few years and that ain't Boston. To get him in the Stein deal, the Celtics would have to give up too much in Jefferson and the #5 pick for KG. (All the other parts of the deal are inconsequential.) Is Garnett worth Al Jefferson and Brandan Wright/Corey Brewer/Joakim Noah? If you're a team looking to jump from a playoff team to a championship contender, then yes, it is.

If you're Boston, it's not.

Garnett's arrival would make the Celtics better but, at best, they get to the 2nd round of the playoffs. I can't see them beating any of the Eastern Conference's What-Passes-For-Big 3: Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago, and they'd likely have to beat two of them to make it to the Finals. So why make the move?

Deal #2 is from The Boston Globe, and has the Cs willing to part with:

"Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and the No. 5 pick in this year's draft (one of the potential deals being floated for Garnett) for one year of Garnett's services."

That's the big blunder, or, as I like to call it when I'm feeling frisky, pure fucking insanity. Even if you got KG for a couple years, giving up Jefferson, Green, and the #5 pick is too much for a 31-year old power forward who disappears in the 4th quarter and is almost incapable of taking anything close to resembling a big shot.

It's such a ridiculous offer that not only don't I believe Danny Ainge would make that deal, I don't even believe Rick Pitino would make the deal.

Look, I understand the frustration Danny Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck must be feeling at having a team that continues to be irrelevant, but making a big move for KG is a mistake born of desperation. It's sacrificing the long for the short and if that short gives you a realistic shot at Banner 17, take it, but this deal doesn't. They'd be condemning this team to more mediocrity when KG bolts in a year or two and Pierce finally demands to be traded. Having KG and Pierce sells tickets, but it doesn't win enough games.

The Celtics are what they are, and that's a slightly improving team in a bad conference. Garnett makes them relevant but it doesn't make them great. Keep Pierce, Jefferson, Green, Ryan Gomes, and Rajon Rondo. Draft Corey Brewer. (Please, just trust me on this, Danny. Please.) If they feel they absolutely need a big, then take Georgetown's Jeff Green. Then fire Doc, bring in a coach who wants to get up and down the floor (I thought that was the plan, so why didn't they hire Marc Iavaroni?) and can teach a little defense and have at it.

But do not trade for Kevin Garnett, even if he decides he really, really, really wants to play for you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Seiscientos!*

Sammy Sosa has joined the 600 HR Club.

Of all the inflated Steroid Era numbers, none may be more effected by steroids than Sosa's numbers. Through 1997 (Sosa's first nine seasons), he never hit more than 40 HRs a season, which he did once, in 1996. That season was sandwiched by two 36 HR seasons. Prior to 1995, Sosa only had two seasons over 25 HRs.

Starting in 1998, however, So-So Sosa turned into Slammin' Sammy, hitting (in consecutive years): 66, 63, 50, 64, 49, and 40 in 2003. That's an amazing run - 332 HR in six seasons. For some perspective, that six-year span would rank tied for 88th on the All-Time Home Run List. (Comically, that would tie Sosa with ... Bobby Bonds, who played for 14 seasons.) Here's where those 332 HRs stand up on the all-time list:

87. Darryl Strawberry - 335
88(t). Bobby Bonds - 332
--. Sammy Sosa (1998-2003) - 332
89. Hank Greenberg - 331
90. Mo Vaughn - 328

FWIW, Sosa's 11 1/3-year, non-Big Years total is 268, which would tie him at 148th all-time, tied with Troy Glaus, Joe Morgan, Brooks Robinson, and Gorman Thomas. Doing some quick, rough math, that's 24 (23.7 to be exact) HRs a year against the 55 HRs a season he hit from 199-2003. That's crazy. If we give Sosa 24 HRs a year for his entire 17 1/3 year career, that rounds out to 415 HRs. That's a still impressive 41st all-time, in between Carlos Delgado (418) and Darrell Evans (414), but it's a hell of climb from 415 to 600. If Sosa's Big Years just so happen to be Needle Years, then steroids are largely responsible for turning Sammy Sosa from Darrell Evans to Frank Robinson.

I don't think anyone benefited more from (allegedly) taking steroids than Sosa, so I think it's fitting his 600 HR accomplishment is being overshadowed by Barry Bonds' pursuit of Henry Aaron's all-time record of 755. Whatever Bonds has done, he was likely headed for the Hall of Fame anyway. Sosa wasn't, and it might be safe to argue that he's still got a better chance to go to the Hall of Fame now, despite being disgraced, than he would have if he'd stayed clean and hit 415 career HRs.

Steroids were (allegedly) very, very good to Sammy Sosa, and will continue to be so if he eventually gets in the Hall.

At which point, the * key will get a lot of ink around the country.

Ainge:Athleticism::Hefner:Blondes

Here's the frustrating thing about being a Celtic fan in 2007. OK, besides Doc Rivers coaching the team, Danny Ainge running the team, Wyc Grousbeck owning the team, Larry Bird not walking through that door, and no conference championships since 1987. (But hey, we've got dancing girls now, so who needs victories?)

The Celtics are in position to do about 100 different things between now and the start of the season, and while they are not at the epicenter of league activity by any stretch, they could do any of the following:

1. Trade a superstar (Paul Pierce), 2. Move up from position #5 in the NBA Draft, 3. Move down from 5-spot, 4. Trade a gaggle (yes, a gaggle) of young potentials of varying degrees (Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Rajon Rondo, Ryan Gomes, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, Sebastian Telfair, and Tony Allen), 5. Trade big-salaried veteran contracts (Raf Lafrentz, Theo Ratliff, Wally Szczerbiak), 6. Trade directly with one other team, 7. Get involved in complicated three- or even four-team trades, or 8. Stay put, do nothing, and take the #5 pick.

What makes that frustrating beyond reason is that I have no faith in the people in charge of doing something with all of those possibilities.

Doc is not a high-quality NBA coach. Wyc Grousbeck is not a high quality owner. Danny Ainge is not a high quality Executive Director of Basketball Operations. Danny has done a good job acquiring young talent but he acquires athletes the way Hef acquires blondes - he just wants as many as he can get and as young as he can get them. He's got no sense of selection. Put two, five, ten athletes in front of Ainge and blondes in front of Hef and ask them which one they want and they will both reply, "Yes."

The Celtics are not that bad. Are they bad? Yes, but they are not the second-worst team in the league as their record indicated. For one, Paul Pierce was out for a huge part of the season. For two, they were tanking games in a foolish Grail Quest for Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.

There is room to get better quickly in the pathetic Eastern Conference. I'm not remotely kidding when I say they could be (and should be) a playoff team next year. The Atlantic Division is the worst of the worst and if the Nets implode their roster that leaves only the Raptors as a legit team. Somebody between the Celtics, Knicks, and Sixers can make a move into playoff contention and there's no reason that can't be the Celtics.

What, then, should the Celtics plan of attack entail? The Goat has a post about Michael Lewis' Moneyball up right now, and one of the bits I remember about Oakland GM Billy Beane from that book was how he'd just insert himself into trades involving other teams. He'd hear about a deal involving, IIRC, the Expos and Red Sox and call up Expos' GM Omar Minaya and try to get himself involved: "Ask Boston to give you Player A and then we'll give you Player B for him." The Celtics are in position to do just this, but do you trust Ainge to pull such a move off?

Me neither.

Which is a shame because the Cs have so many pieces they can help facilitate moves by other clubs and improve themselves. Of course, the guy who'd have to do that is the same guy who last year gave away the #7 pick in the draft for Sebastian Telfiar. After a couple of draft day swaps, that #7 pick ended up being Brandon Roy, who was named Rookie of the Year. Telfair, on the other hand, was arrested and charged with felony possession of a handgun.

Faaaaaaaantastic.

So what should the Celtics do? There's all kinds of rumors out there involving the Celtics, but it's the NBA's Silly Rumor Season, where newspapers print anything they hear - whether it's told to them from a GM, agent, player, or homeless guy mumbling incoherently on the street.

Honestly, I think the least likely way for the Celtics to screw any of this up is to simply stay put and draft Corey Brewer at #5 and add him to the mix. He is exactly the kind of athletic potential that Ainge covets and he's as NBA ready as anyone after the top two picks. The Cs need a guy who can contribute and Brewer gives him that. Sometimes you've got to do what you do, and for Ainge that's getting an athletic swing man which gives you the option of moving one of your two most valuable pieces - Pierce and Green - down the road and protects you from having to move Al Jefferson.

If, for some odd reason, Al Horford falls to #5, then I take him as he provides size inside (he's 6'10"), but he'll be gone, and probably at #3. Joakim Noah would not be a bad pick because he's a "Marcus Camby-type," but Brandan Wright need time to develop and the Celtics have enough of those guys. Taking Noah would not be the worst pick if the Cs want to run a traditional 5-man rotation, but if the Shamrocks have visions of being Phoenix East then the pick is Brewer.

It's time to make a move. Not with the roster, but in the standings and Brewer gives the Celtics the best shot to get better doing the least amount of work.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Spectacle Comes to Indy

Thanks to tommbert's generosity, we spent the day taking in the traveling automotive circus that is Formula 1 at the United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis on Sunday.

It was an uneventful race but an amazing experience.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso dominated the field in their shimmering McLaren-Mercedes and from our seats on the front stretch we witnessed the pair steadily and easily pulling away from the rest of the field. There's generally not a lot of passing in F1, but even less at a track like Indianapolis. The actual race is only part of the overall experience, however. If you're going to a sporting event as much for the experience (your once a year visit to Fenway, your fist visit to Wrigley, etc.) as the result then a less-than-dramatic race doesn't kill the day.

Indy is full of contradictions. The race draws over 100,000 spectators, but since the track holds 275,000 people you can feel either insanely jammed in or alone depending on where you sit. We had the $60 General Admission tickets (which includes not only the race, but entrance on Friday and Saturday for practice and qualifying) and so we sat in a sparse crowd with a row pretty much to ourselves all day. The higher priced designated seating areas offer better views but more fellow fans, especially on the first and final corners of the track.

F1 tosses out a fair amount of cheesy sexiness with their costumed grid girls, who parade around looking like a cross between the St. Pauli Girl and Wonder Woman. They're not unattractive, but the real show is at the Merchandising Tents, of all places. I swear the teams or F1 must bring these girls with them and they are absolutely stunning. Nothing against the fine ladies of Indiana, but there's no way all of these merch girls are locals - their Euro accents give them away if their overall appearance hasn't already done this for you. Unlike the grid girls, with their wannabe model looks, plastic smiles and fetish suits, the best of the merch girls are just naturally beautiful.

I'm not throwing out empty hype here, either. The girl Tom bought his McLaren-Mercedes hat from would drop your jaw no matter the context, and they're all through the merch tents.

There's a great mix of fans, too, as the Indiana NASCAR crowd mingles quite easily with the European and Asian travelers. It gives the whole day a vibrant energy that's part rooting interest and part celebration.

F1 cars, too, are a bit of a contradiction. Massively expensive, they represent the most technologically advanced brand of racing in the world. Yet they are highly temperamental. Unlike NASCAR where teams are always trying to get even severely damaged cars back on the track, F1 cars are retired very quickly. In part, this is due to the difference in both organizations point structure. In NASCAR points are awarded for every spot in the field, meaning it makes a real difference whether you finish in 43rd (last) or 33rd, while F1 gives points only to the top 8 finishers. There's no difference in the championship standings whether you finish 9th or last, so teams would rather just park a car than send it out to turn meaningless laps.

Lewis Hamilton won the race, his second in a row, and he's been on the podium (top 3 finish) for every single race of his F1 career. The kid's 22 and while he might be in the best machine on the track this season (Ferrari just doesn't have a car that can rival McLaren right now), so is his teammate, the two-time defending World Champion. It's not a fluke, in other words. Hamilton is just that good.

Our sequel-driven culture is always looking to brand someone "the next" someone and Hamilton has already been tagged as "the next Tiger Woods." He's worthy of Tiger's name and the role Hamilton is on right now is as grand as any stretch of Tiger's career. What Hamilton is doing right now has never been done in F1 history. He's got a comfortable lead in the Championship race, too, and it's completely justified to start wondering if a rookie could actually win the F1 championship.

After the cycle of pit stops, the race evolved into the McLarens far out front, followed by a big gap back to the dueling Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen (and by "dueling" I mean that Raikkonen followed Massa around, never really challenging the position), then an equally large as gap back to the rest of the top ten.

Other than the double 1-2 by McLaren and then by Ferrari, there wasn't much to report in the rest of the field. The only American in the field, Scott Speed, finished in 13th, which is a good finish for him. Williams-Toyota's Nico Rosberg's engine caught on fire towards the end of the race, so we had a nice view of an engine slowly burning as it moved before us.

Red Bull-Renault's Mark Webber finally finished in the points as the new RBR chassis continues to improve. You have to wonder if RBR isn't regretting switching from Ferrari engines to Renault engines this off-season. Last year Renault had the superior car for much of the season, but they've fallen off this year, in part, no doubt, to Alonso not being around anymore. RBR has to be hurt, too, by its drivers. Webber and David Coulthard are solid professionals, but DC's championship days are likely long gone and Webber is more suited to be a team's #2 guy than team leader. Red Bull is willing to spend like mad on technology, and at some point they've got to go after a big driver.

The track's first corner - one of the most dangerous on the entire F1 circuit being a sharp corner at the end of the series' longest straightaway - did what it almost does and took some cars out on the first lap. Last year's wreck was much worse as cars went bouncing through the sand, but for Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello, and Ralf Schumacher the result was just as dramatic - no second lap.

The contract between Formula 1 and the Indy Speedway is now completed and there's a real question whether the Spectacle will return next season. And not just to Indy, there's talk of not coming back to the United States next year at all, which would be a shame. If F1 doesn't come back to Indy but wants a US date, they will likely head to Las Vegas to race on the streets, which would be a solid choice (and a fun trip). Despite the massive popularity of NASCAR, all of those ovals being built don't mean a thing to F1, which doesn't race on them.

I hope F1 is back in Indy next season - if not I'll do my best to be in Vegas or Montreal to take it all in again.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Adventures of Barry & Manny

Remember back in the Summer of Delusional Home Run Love when Mark McGwire was acting all constipated about chasing down Gehrig's single-season HR record? He was miserable until a particular midsummer Cubs v. Cardinals series when McGrumpy came face-to-face with Smilin' Sammy, who was having a laugh with the whole chase and loving being in the spotlight every day. The two went on to star in a Midwestern Road Show and the part of the nation that watched baseball ate it all up.

I bring this up in light of this weekend's Red Sox sweep over the Giants. I only had the opportunity to watch Saturday's 1-0 Sox win, but what struck me in looking over the game stories and photos from the weekend was the large number of images that showed a smiling Barry Bonds.

When I think of Bonds I always imagine him with this perpetual scowl on his face, looking like he's about ready to eat a bag of rusty nails (yes, I really think like this) and he ain't happy about it, but if there's a goddamn bag of rusty nails to be eaten, Barry Bonds will goddamn do it.

In other words, he is the living, breathing antithesis of Manny Ramirez.

I can't think of two baseball players who go about things more differently than Bonds and Manny, who seem united only by their ability to fuck up baseballs. Sure, they would both rather have nothing to do with the media, and they both seem to exist in their own private universes at times, but Barry and Manny exist as each other's personal Bizarro.

Bonds is vilified (correctly) by fans everywhere he goes despite being one of the greatest players of all-time and Manny gets forgiven for not giving a turd because he occasionally leaves the field to take a piss inside the Monstah. If but for the lunacy of Tom Hicks giving A-Rod a quarter of a billion dollars, Manny Ramirez would be the poster boy for salary excess and then people might not find his idiosyncrasies quite so amusing.

Manny gets to be colorfully absent-minded while Bonds and A-Rod can do little right in the minds of most fans. The reason, I think, is that they have really ceased to exist as baseball players and have transcended to Symbol status. Ironically or not, both draw the ire of fans for artificial inflation - Bonds with his body and A-Rod with his stats.

There are some fans who won't be happy unless A-Rod's Cooperstown plaque contains statements like: "Hit 800 Home Runs, All of Them Completely Meaningless," and "MLB Record Holder for Home Runs Hit in Games with a 10-2 Score." (And, of course,"Lover of She-Male, Muscular Types" but that's something else entirely ...) It's tied into this whole "A-Rod isn't a real Yankee" nonsense because he hasn't won a World Series. Of course, if A-Rod thinks winning a World Series is going to be enough to win his critics over then he's a $250 Million Moron.

Ask Peyton Manning. For years all we heard about Peyton (and justifiably so, it's worth noting) was that he couldn't win the big game; that while at Tennessee he was 0-32 against Steve Spurrier and in the NFL he spent Sunday afternoons being Bill Belichick's Gimp. Hell, I said these things myself, but now that he's actually won two big games (the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl) those criticisms are no longer valid. That won't stop many fans from continuing to use them, though. They'll just start saying things like: "He's only won one big game" or "Big deal, Tom Brady has three rings, a hotter baby's mama, and Giselle." And if Peyton ever equals Brady, those who are determined to hate Manning will say, "Well, maybe he did win three Super Bowls, but he should've won seven."

A-Rod's rep will be hard for him to overcomes and, fair or not, one World Series ain't going to make it all rosy. He's got to win multiple titles to be embraced and that's a heavy charge for anyone to meet.

Bonds has no chance to win fandom to his side except for the faint hope that time will work its magic of erosion on fan animosity. During FOX's telecast yesterday, Ken Rosenthal argued that if steroid use is found to be widespread than maybe the fans will back off Barry.

Unlikely.

Bonds is THE symbol of the Steroid Era. It shouldn't be this way - the real poster boy should be McGwire, but he's gone Yeti on us, hiding away from the eyes of the public. Since the public has no chance to boo him, they take it out on who they can. Enter Bonds, who just so happens to be chasing the one MLB record (All-time HRs) that's more sacred than the one (Single Season HRs) that McGwire broke.

If Manny was going through what Bonds is going through, he wouldn't show anyone it bothered him. He'd show up, smile, have his agent issue some fan-pleasing statement and keep on rolling.

Anyway, all of this was prelude to the fact that I'd pay to see a reality show with Barry and Manny just hanging out. Hell, have them live together and watch the ratings roll in ...

They'd be TV's best odd couple since Alfonso Ribeiro and Will Smith.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Rare SOX on FOX Treat

I hadn't had cable (or internet) for three days and then when it came back yesterday my wonderful new landlords explained to me that until I upgraded my cable service I could no longer receive ESPN, Fox Sports Net, or WGN, which means I'm stuck with plain old FOX and TBS as my only chance to watch baseball. Unless I want to give them an extra $30-$40 a month for the privilege. And since FOX only has one game a week and TBS only plays one Braves games for every 8,935 episodes of Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Seinfeld they televise, I'm pretty much hosed.

I have, in fact, lost every last sporting channel on the dial and every single non-local news station except for CNN, which is unwatchable. (Really, they can't do better than Lou Dobbs, Wolf Blitzer, Paula Zahn, Larry King, and Anderson Cooper? Really? Are they trying not to try?) And my cable internet is currently running slower than a dial-up, but at least I'm only paying $70 a month for these two services.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the FOX affiliate kindly beamed today's Giants v. Red Sox game into my set. I mean, they didn't think I wanted to watch Yankees v. Red Sox, two teams that actually do have a national fanbase, but they could not pass up the chance to show greater Indianapolis a last place team from San Francisco?

Yeah, complete fucking sense.

Since it's the probably last meaningful baseball game I'll see until I decide getting hosed for cable is acceptable, I was glad for the chance to watch the Sox, especially since Daisuke Matsuzaka was pitching and I haven't seen him for a bit. My impression was that it was a very casual 7-inning shutout performance that never seemed dominant and teetered on falling apart several times. It didn't, but I can better understand complaints from back home about an uneasiness about Matsuzaka. He's dazzling more than he is dominant and not once in the game did I get the feeling that I was watching a #1 starter.

I was more impressed by San Francisco's Matt Cain, to be honest, who would've matched Matsuzaka's blanking if not for Manny Being Manny driving a pitch above the Monstah. Some of this is surely due to stature and pitching style but Matsuzaka flirts on the edge too much to be comfortable with him. Often when goes 0-2 or 1-2 on a batter you know he's going to waste a pitch, which is fine, except when he wastes a pitch it's often something that's not even close to the strike zone.

Part of the problem, too, was that the fans were completely into an extensive moment of silence that lasted until the 6th inning. I don't know why the fans were so silent but there was more noise coming from the book I was reading than my television, and that book was about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I don't know if it was an off-day for Sox fans or if the Sox have raised their ticket prices so high that there's just too many rich assholes who don't know shit sitting in the seats, more concerned with getting their spoiled, snotty kids ice cream than explaining to them the pros and cons of the hit and run.

FOX sent Kenny Albert and Tim McCarver to the game and Kenny Albert was amazing. He's the first broadcaster I have ever listened to that makes me want Timmy Mac to keep talking. After Matsuzaka hit Nate Schierholtz with a pitch, Kenny Dumb-Dumb said something like, "Whatever else he does, Nate Schierholtz will be able to tell his grandkids he got hit by a pitch thrown by Daisuke Matsuzaka."

I would hope Schierholtz does something that will impress his grandkids more than getting hit by a pitch. Like maybe he, I don't know, has a really good bowl of ice cream tonight.

After Kenny's comment, McCarver is quiet for a second and I'm worried that Kenny Albert's dipshitedness has caused the last fuse in McCarver's head to blow. Which would suck for us, because FOX is never going to replace him. Ever. But no, McCarver recovered nicely, noting that Schierholtz was only 23, so grandkids were a ways off. Why is broadcasting baseball games so hard for the modern television announcer? It's not that so many of them have disagreeable calling styles, but that a good number of them actually sound stupid.

You Call This Progress?

FoxSports.com is doing a "119 teams in 119 days" college football preview, and the Syracuse Orange(men) come in at a breathtakingly high ranking of 79.

Woo-hoo! I thought SU would be lucky to get about 84, but to be as high as #79, yeah, it's no surprise at the overwhelmingly positive buzz resonating around the Dome. (And you thought that was a bumble-bee infestation. Wrong!)

Actually, for being ranked 79th, the overview isn't all that negative. There's a lot of "the pieces are now in place" type of talk, but make no mistake - Greg Robinson has got to prove, this year, that this team is not only headed in the right direction but making progress down that path, or he should be looking for work elsewhere. It won't be easy - SU opens the season with the following four-game stretch: Washington, at Iowa, Illinois, at Louisville. They could easily be 0-4 out of the gate. If they manage to go 2-2 that would have to be considered a huge success, since the team went 3-1 last year.

The writer credits Robinson for playing lots of young players next year, but Robinson failed to get significant playing time for the most important young player on the team: new starting QB Andrew Robinson (no relation). And RB Delone Carter, projected to be one of the keys to the ground attack, dislocated his hip and might be out not only for the season, but all permanent like.

SU keeps preaching "We're making progress" and keeps telling fans to "Be patient," but the Mighty G-Rob is 5-18 over his first two seasons, and that's not going to cut it. At Syracuse you don't have to go 10-1 and be in a BCS Bowl every year to keep the fans happy, but a BCS Bowl once every four years with a consistent position in the Top 25, and lower bowl appearances on the off years shouldn't be too much to ask. Everybody has an off-year now and then, but the non-bowl appearance years have got to be the exception, not the rule as they have been.

I can't stomach too many more pathetic seasons. I'm optimistic SU is pointed in the right direction, but I'm not making any bowl plans.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Amanda Beard Takes Off Her Shirt

"Amanda Beard thinks that posing nude in Playboy is about celebrating her healthy body. I'm really glad she cleared that up. Here I thought it was about prostituting herself." - Carol Slezak, Chicago Sun-Times.

Carol Slezak does not like that Amanda Beard wants to show you her breasts.

It's good to know that in a time of war, oil addiction, global warming, and the bullshit series finale of the Sopranos there's still room in America to get riled up about someone taking their shirt off.

Which is, in all honestly, the root of the problem - the removal of one piece of clothing. Beard has done sexy photoshoots before, most notably for FHM, and caused barely a ripple of public outrage, but show a nipple or two and suddenly people want to tell her how irresponsible she's being. It's ridiculous. This is Playboy we're talking about - Beard's swimsuit photos for FHM are racier and less classy than the relatively tame Playboy pics. Playboy actually has some allusions of being artistic while FHM is all about the cheesecake, yet it is in Playboy we see her nipples.

One wonders how the country continues to function.

I don't really see how the FHM shoot and the Playboy shoot are any different - if anything, the FHM pics do more potential damage to the fragile little minds of America's kiddies because FHM is so much more readily available to them than Playboy is. Not that finding Playboy is impossible, but a twelve-year old kid can't walk into a reputable bookstore and pull Playboy off the shelf and start flipping through it, while they can with FHM and Stuff and Maxim.

Legislating morality is, of course, as old as people. I'm sure if we dig far enough into our past, say to when we were learning how to walk upright, there was some caveman grunting to anyone who would listen how Ug-Ug's decision to use the wheel to bring his mammoth back to the cave was committing some great sin against caveman societal morality. "There goes Ug-Ug," he probably grunted, "using that damn wheel. The kids look up to him, you know. Now they'll all want to be using a wheel to make dragging their kills back here all easy and stuff. Damn lazy kids."

I find it all so very tiring. I'm not going to equate Beard's taking her clothes off with the right of women to have an abortion or cosmetic surgery or smoke or get a tattoo or eat meat, but what connects all of those ideas is that the individual should have the right to choose to do with their own body. Period.

Slezak goes on: "[Beard] said posing nude was a business decision. Which brings me back to the subject of prostitution. I realize that getting paid for naked photos that sell the idea of sex is not the same as getting paid for sex. But it's not all that different, either."

Stop.

There's a world of difference between selling the physical act and selling nekkid pictures.

And it always comes back to Beard's body, Beard's choice, for me. But of course, it's not really her body at all to people like Slezak because Beard's an athlete, which means she not only has to train to be a world-class athlete but everything she does has to be for the benefit of teaching lessons to children. Because, you know, American kids are all fucking stupid and they need a swimmer to set them on the straight and narrow.

Kids are never given enough credit, and people like Slezak see everything they don't like or agree with as "harmful to kids." Come on. I mean, sure, I've spent my whole life dropping anvils on people's hands and wondering why the people don't just stick their thumb in their mouth and blow really hard to get their hand back to normal like happens all the time in Bugs Bunny cartoons, but that's just me. I'm easily led astray. Most kids who watched those cartoons understood dropping an anvil on someone will seriously mess up their day, just like most will understand that Beard's decision to pose topless is her decision and not the new road they themselves must travel.

I'm not arguing that what happens in the mass media has no effect on people. Of course it has an effect, but Amanda Beard is an adult woman posing in an adult magazine. It's not like she's posing nude for Highlights Magazine. It's not up to Beard to raise your children. It's up to you to raise your children, and if you're too incompetent to do it correctly it's not some Olympian's job to do it for you. Suck it up and be a better parent.

"The message," Slezak continues, that "Beard is sending all the little girls who look up to her and her healthy body is this: Work really hard, become a world-class athlete, and you, too, can sell your naked body to the highest bidder." Right, because eight pictures of Beard's boobs negate all of her previous accomplishments. The truth is columnists like Slezak do more to spread the word of Beard's nudity to little girls as some kind of futuristic goal than Beard herself is doing. Slezak could have, for instance, wrote a column about former ice-skating Olympian Debi Thomas who is now a doctor in California. The truth, as everyone is well aware, is that there are many, many more female Olympians who don't go on to pose nude as opposed to the ones who do, and yet those athletes don't get the recognition in the media that Beard is getting because people like Slezak want to focus on a perceived negative instead of a perceived positive.

I say perceived because I don't particularly see anything wrong with an adult posing nude. I don't have a problem with the adult human body, either clothed or naked. If some adult - female or male - wants to get naked in front of a camera and then disseminate those photos I'm all for their right to do it. I'll make the decision if I want to look at the photos. And if I ever have kids I'll do my best to keep that material away from them, or properly contextualize it if they see it. What I won't do is tell some athlete she needs to raise my kid for me.

Neither does Slezak spend her column instructing little girls as to why doing what Beard did is bad - instead, Slezak is only interested in slamming Beard for making a choice that she wouldn't have made, which gets back to my earlier point about the obsession of some people in this country to dictate to others what they can or cannot do with their bodies. Instead of using Beard's Playboy pics as a "teaching moment," Slezak just bitches that Beard isn't setting a good example. It's a "burn 'em at the stake" solution instead of an educational solution.

"Women have made a lot of progress, but equality is still a long way off," Slezak argues. "And every time an athlete decides to trade on her sex appeal, she sets everyone back."

No, she doesn't. Until titles are awarded by an athlete's "hotness" or "ability to strip nude," an athlete trading on her sex appeal is just another person trading on her sex appeal. That's one of the great things about sports - no matter how many calendars or magazines Anna Kournikova sold it didn't give her any additional points when she stepped on the tennis court. The playing field is the great equalizer.

The idea that Beard has set every other female athlete back is nonsense. What Beard has done is show her breasts. Beard's willingness to do the Playboy shoot won't get her on the next Olympic team and it won't keep her off the Olympic team - her time in the pool is going to do that, just like everyone else's individual times. If the USOC mandated that because of Beard's pictorial that every female athlete who wanted to be an Olympian had to appear nude then yeah, you could make the case she's setting "the movement" back. But that's not happening.

Conversely, neither do I believe that Beard's posing is some great victory for womankind. It's still just a woman taking her top off. She's in a position to do it and she did it. That makes her neither worthy of my condemnation nor my praise.

It just means she got naked.

And it should be noted, too, that the original Olympic athletes competed in the nude. So if Slezak is right when she says Beard is setting women back, then Beard is setting them back to a time when morality mongers weren't telling people a body was something to be hidden away.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Open Wheel Superiority

The Indy Racing League might be slightly less irrelevant than the NHL but what has become blatantly obvious the past few weeks is that the IRL produces better races than NASCAR almost every single weekend.

No one cares, of course, because Tony George has almost single-handedly killed interest in open wheel racing in the United States at the exact moment NASCAR's popularity went through the proverbial roof, but Saturday night's Bombardier Learjet 500k (um ... Learjets? Really? Who's your target audience, NASCAR drivers?) provided better racing than you'll see from 95% of NASCAR races this season.

In all likelihood the only IRL driver anyone can name is Danica Patrick, but there's a handful of quality drivers in the series now: Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves, and last night's winner, Sam Hornish, Jr.

Good drivers all, but what makes the IRL so much more enjoyable to watch than NASCAR is the relative equality of both driver talent and car performance, which provides a greater opportunity for better racing. The IRL is finally taking advantage, thanks in some part to Honda's new IRL engine program.

None of this is to suggest that the IRL will surpass NASCAR or, for that matter, even put a dent in stock car superiority, but the IRL is hardly the WNBA. There are still too few teams (only 20 cars took the green flag, while 43 will start at Pocono this afternoon) but the teams that are there - especially the cars owned by Penske, AGR, and Ganassi - put on a great show.

For nearly 200 laps Saturday night a pack of 7 lead cars whizzed around the Texas Motor Speedway together, dancing with open wheels at nearly 213 MPH. It was breathtaking to watch.

Even the coverage has gotten better - last year every race was the Danica Show, but this year ESPN has evened out the focus of their broadcasting to a larger degree. Danica still gets her fair share, but then, she's the sports biggest star. Fair or not, she's the only driver in an American series right now who would make the network news with a win. When she wins (and she will), Danica will be the lead on SportsCenter and the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The IRL has a long way to go to get back in the hearts and minds of American racing fandom, but for all their faults they still put a better show on the track than NASCAR does most weeks.