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Wed, Feb. 2nd, 2005, 09:56 pm

This space was going to be about the Patriots drubbing of the Steelers in the AFC Championships, but I'm not really big on I-told-you-so's... so it's about those beloved Baltimore Orioles instead.

Sammy Sosa is going to the Orioles... for five players, the only one of which you may have heard of is Jerry Hairston, Jr. It's a little like the deal the A's made when they acquired Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews, and Blake Stein for Mark McGwire, the difference being that the A's knew they couldn't resign the former Bash Brother, and the Cubs are simply dealing Sosa because he doesn't want to be a Cub anymore.

So I'll say this much for the Orioles... at least they didn't have to give up too much to get him (and that includes a big chunk of his salary, which the Cubs are paying). But other than that, I don't understand this at all. Of course, there are already some folks who are touting the Orioles lineup as a potential Murderer's Row. Sorry, folks, but it ain't so.

2B Brian Roberts
3B Melvin Mora
SS Miguel Tejada
RF Sammy Sosa
1B Rafael Palmiero
C Javy Lopez
CF Luis Matos
DH Jay Gibbons
LF Larry Bigbie

That's sort of what it looks like. I'm going to give Melvin Mora credit... he somehow figured out how to hit all of a sudden, and did it two years in a row, so it's not a stretch to imagine him hitting .300/20/75. But he also hit .233 as recently as 2002, so there's reason to worry. Tejada's going to hit regardless of what else is going on. The rest of the lineup... I'm not that impressed.

Look, both Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmiero are headed to the Hall of Fame. I'm just not so sure they're playing like Hall of Famers at this point in their careers. Raffy hit a respectable 23 home runs last year, but that's only good for 27th in the American League (tied with, among others, teammate Javy Lopez, who's not coming near the 43 he hit in 2003 in Atlanta. Likewise, Sammy can still hit, but he's not the 60 home run guy he once was.

The Orioles will hit, and the Orioles will score runs, but their lineup still has to rank third in the division. And... oh yeah... this is a team that's looking at Bruce Chen to be their fifth starter. The Orioles seem to like doing this sort of thing... they trade for or sign aging sluggers and languish below .500. Let's see... Bobby Bonilla, Albert Belle, Will Clark... Sosa.

Mon, Nov. 1st, 2004, 02:58 pm
Commentary on Commentary

All too often, commentators decide beforehand what the stories will be for an upcoming game. But when those stories don't play out on the football field, they stick with them anyway. Such was the case with the New England / Pittsburgh game on Sunday.

The two stories? First, it was New England's 21 game win streak. Second, it was the play of rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger. The win streak is now kaputt, thanks to a 34-20 shellacking that wasn't as close as the score indicated. The Patriots got flat-out beat. As for Ben Roethlisberger... well, he wasn't really the story, but that didn't stop Phil Simms and company from making him the story anyway.

Ben, as he will hereon be referred to because it's a pain in the ass to type Roethlisberger, is clearly the best of the rookie quarterbacks this year, and is leading the suprising Pittsburgh Steelers towards the playoffs. That's all well and good. He's played well, which is to say he hasn't made the sort of rookie mistakes that can kill a team. And yesterday was no different... he was 18-of-24 for 196 yards, with 2 TD and 0 INTs.

That's a solid performance. But it's not a story. Those are Jay Fiedler numbers, or Trent Dilfer numbers. Those aren't "Let's talk about this guy for twenty minutes" numbers. As I've said before, though, Ben is "Next". So Simms and company doted on about the young man for quarters on end. Here's something that they apparently missed:

After Ty Law got hurt early on in the game, it meant that the Patriots two starting cornerbacks were out of the game. And while backup cornerbacks are still good enough to play in the NFL, they aren't good enough to cover wide receivers like Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward, and the backups to the backups certainly aren't going to cover Antwaan Randle El.

Aside from the two cornerbacks, though, the Patriots were relatively healthy. Except that running backs Corey Dillon and Patrick Pass were out, and Kevin Faulk played but wasn't 100%. And three offensive linemen (Adrian Klemm, Tom Ashworth, and Matt Light). WR Deion Branch missed the game, P.K. Sam hasn't been used but he's out for the season, and Troy Brown was banged up but out on the field probably because there wasn't anyone else. So take away seven starters, and add to that the Patriots turning over the ball at their own 27, 33, and 17, all three of which became touchdowns, and it's sort of clear what the game story is. Turnovers and the inability to overcome injuries.

You'd think this would be pretty obvious, and it's essentially what Tom Brady said in the postgame interview... that he stunk up the joint with his turnovers (two INTs and one fumble). Instead, you get asinine statements from "reputable" columnists on ESPN's Page2 (Note to self: Stop reading Page2... stop reading Page2) like Skip Bayless saying things like "Once Corey Dillon was lost to a practice-field injury late last week, Brady was in trouble." and "Brady was asked to do way more than this former sixth-round pick is capable of." I used to feel bad for Skip Bayless when Stephen A. Smith tore him a new asshole every week on SportsCenter. Now I know better. Brady has completed comebacks bigger than this in his career without running backs like Corey Dillon. So how exactly are Skip's comments relevant? I don't know.

This kid Roethlisberger is going to be OK. I just wonder what will happen when he doesn't have ten seconds to throw the ball to wide open receivers, or when he has to throw the ball more than 25 times for his team to have a chance to win. That's what people should be talking about, instead of calling him the next Dan Marino.

Mon, Sep. 13th, 2004, 09:22 pm
College Ball, Weeks 1 and 2

Part of writing about sports involves watching a whole bunch of events and then making comments about the obvious. Here goes.

Fresno State looks really good. When they whooped up on Washington in Washington, my first thought was that UW needed to pick a quarterback and find an offensive line. But after the Bulldogs decimated Kansas State, I think it might just be that Fresno is that good.

UW needs to pick a quarterback. Is it Casey Paus? Is it Isaiah Stanback? Make a decision. I realize Paus took the majority of the snaps, but you can't take a quarterback out for a series at a time and expect him to be effective when he comes back in. Although an offensive line that can block for more than three Mississippis might cut down on panic interceptions.

Everyone says that the West Coast Offense takes three years to learn. Notre Dame runs the West Coast Offense. Brady Quinn has been at Notre Dame for two years. Everyone is predicting a big year for Brady Quinn. How is this still valid logic?

"Because he's a Notre Dame quarterback," says my friend Erik. And he's right, of course. After all, someone once predicted that Ron Powlus would win three Heisman Trophies while at Notre Dame. Overhype, thy name is Fighting Irish Football.

What's the over/under for number of losses before the rumors of Bill Callahan's job security start flying? Nebraska has a definite Rick Pitinoesque "Larry Bird's not walking through that door" air about it. Tom Osborne ain't coming back, Husker fans, and the option won't work anymore. Get used to eight wins a year.

A big shout out to the obnoxious Penn State fans at Saturday night's B.C. game. It was such a tragedy to see four of your friends handcuffed and led away by Boston's finest. And it was sure nice of you to comment negatively about every facet of Boston College, from their turf, to the size of Alumni Stadium, to their strength of schedule, to the intensity of tailgating, to the comfort of the seats. And as the Eagles rolled to a 21-7 victory, it was sad to hear your traps fall slowly silent and offer only minimal protest when a B.C. fan referred to Joe Paterno as "Weekend At Bernie's".

Chris Rix... if it's any consolation to you, Brock Berlin won't be playing on Sundays either.

Speaking of Miami... the ACC commercial introducing the Hokies and Hurricans is comically bad. Remember "Crazy People" where Dudley Moore gets fed up with his job and makes a whole bunch of ridiculous ads that get run accidentally? I think the same thing happened here, except the ads were created by a six-year-old girl using iLife on her G4.

And more from the ACC. I've heard it said that Miami and Virginia Tech are going to find things much harder in the ACC. Personally, I don't see it. You can't convince me that Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Virginia are any better than Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, and Boston College.

Oregon State/LSU... I realize that the weather was bad and that one of the kicks was five yards further away than it should have been, but missing three unblocked extra points is inexcusable. In an 11 year span, Gary Anderson missed a total of three extra points. Let's just say that if this kid was playing in the NFL, he'd be looking for work. As it stands, odds are 60/40 you can find a flyer somewhere on the Oregon State campus announcing open kicker tryouts.

Which is worse, Oregon State missing three extra points in that near upset of #3 LSU, or John Carney missing the extra point last year against Jacksonville after that last-second, seventy-yard, six-lateral Road-Runner-boobytrap play?

Troy State. Damn.

I realize that's it Ball State and Syracuse, but Purdue outscoring them by a combined 110-7 has to send a message to the Big Ten. Then again, Indiana is 2-0 as well... so maybe not.

And, uh, that's about it. A guy can only watch so much college football.

Wed, Sep. 1st, 2004, 08:53 pm

There are three epidemics that pervade all televised sports. The first is refusal by the media to accept that the athletes of today are as good as the athletes of their childhood (here I'm thinking Barry Bonds, who is now just a steroid-induced freak, and Brett Favre, who didn't even get a single vote in ESPN's recent NFL all-time rankings). The second is the tendency to assume that certain things are impossible, and then overstate the magnitude of these things when they are accomplished, and opine about how no one ever expected it to happen (here I'm thinking the Patriots beating the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and just about every major college football upset that's in the last ten years). The third is by far the worst... it's the constant overhype of the Next Big Thing.

Maria Sharapova. Won Wimbledon this year, and was the lowest seed ever to do so. Beat up Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport to do it. No doubt impressive. But rather than make a big deal about what it was... a Grand Slam championship for a 17-year old, and the emergence of a new challenger on the tour, article after article touted her as the new dominant force in women's tennis. I read about the "changing of the guards" from the Williams sisters to Sharapova, and the virtual guarantee by some that this was just the first of many Grand Slam championships.

And at the same time, she was touted as the anti-Kournikova, because although they were both attractive Russian women, Sharapova actually cared about tennis. It didn't matter than at that point in time, Kournikova's highest ranking was higher than Sharapova, or that Kournikova had sixteen doubles titles (including two Grand Slams and a #1 doubles ranking), or that Kournikova's slide into tennis oblivion had less to do with a lack of commitment to tennis and more to do with repeated stress fractures and chronic back problems. It doesn't matter that at similar points in their careers, Kournikova's resume was far more impressive. Why doesn't it matter? In part because of the vitriol towards gifted athletes who are perceived as uncaring (see also: 2004 Men's Olympic Basketball), but mostly because Shaparova is Next.

Dante Hall. Referred to as the Human Joystick. Has a propensity for breaking returns for touchdowns. Dangerous any time he's got the ball in open space. He's on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine, and the subject of an ESPN.com article about multi-faceted players. The article spends four paragraphs poetically detailing a punt return for a touchdown Hall had against the Denver Broncos. It also fails to mention that the play should have been called back because of not one, but two blantant clips. Because that's not so poetic, especially if you're Next.

The article also makes mention of the fact that this season, Dante will be playing seven different positions for the Chiefs. They are, says the article, punt returner, kick returner, slot receiver, X-receiver, halfback, tailback, and fullback. Where I come from, that's three positions: return man, wide receiver, and running back. Putting a guy three feet to the left or the right in the backfield doesn't change his position. When a guy plays seven positions, they're quarterback, running back, tight end, placekicker, linebacker, cornerback, and guard. Not three sematically renamed positions. But this is what happens when you're Next. Everything you do will be magnified and glorified. It doesn't matter that on offense, Dante Hall has 882 yards and 4 touchdowns in his career, or 462 yards and 3 touchdowns fewer than Hart Lee Dykes. But that's doesn't matter. Because Dante is Next.

LeBron James. King James. Best high schooler in the nation. Guaranteed number one pick. Outstanding court vision. The savior of Cavaliers basketball. Has tremendous promise. But rather than focus on his strengths and weaknesses (one NBA scout reported that he was an "atrocious" defender and had a "barely adequate left hand" dribble) and talk about the contributions he could make to the team in his rookie season... they simply anointed him the next Michael Jordan and compared the Lebron-Carmelo to Magic-Larry. He was practically awarded the Rookie Of The Year before the season even started based on hype alone, beating out Carmelo in first place votes by a 2:1 margin, even though the case can be made that their seasons were equivalent.

Does it matter that Magic and Larry instantly turned their teams into title contenders, while the Nuggets limped into the playoffs and the Cavaliers missed them altogether? Does it matter than those previously anointed the next Michael Jordan (I'm looking in your general direction, Grant Hill, Vince Carter, and Kobe Bryant) have failed to become the next MJ, because there can't be a next MJ? No, it doesn't matter. Because LeBron is Next.

It's not always totally unwarranted. The fact that LeBron was the best player on the Olympic team lends some creedence to the hype. Folks went crazy for Ichiro when he came over from Japan, and all he did was break the rookie record for hits and show off a cannon of an arm in right field. And Randy Moss was everything that was advertised. But for every Moss and Ichiro, there's a Brien Taylor, and an Eric Lindros, and someone who refers to Mark Prior's arm injury as the temporary derailment of a Hall-Of-Fame career.

There's a reason that the NFL Draft takes up two full days of television time (not including the time devoted in the months prior to the draft and the analysis that follows it). Part of it is the interest that fans have in the new crop of talent that can help make their team better. But make no mistake... it's all about the promise of who's Next. Maybe your grass could be greener, maybe your girlfriend could be prettier, but as far as sports are concerned, there's always someone who, despite never having taken a shot or a snap or a swing, is certain to become the greatest thing we've ever seen in athletics... until of course, the Next one comes around... and the one after that.

So who's Next?

Sun, Jul. 11th, 2004, 01:00 pm
On Kobe

I don't understand it. I really don't. The Lakers kowtow to Kobe Bryant's every wish, letting a guy with an ego the size of Jupiter take control of the league's marquee franchise. Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson are run out of town because Kobe doesn't get along with O'Neal and Phil took Shaq's side. And somehow the Lakers think they're better off? How does anyone look at this series of events and think the Lakers came out positive?

OK, Phil Jackson leaves. I'm not sure that's such a big deal... nine titles notwithstanding, I always felt that he was a right-place, right-time type of coach. Plus, Rudy Tomjanovich takes over (although this wasn't a certainty when Phil left). But Shaquille O'Neal? Despite what folks say about the guy... he's got a poor work ethic... he can't hit free throws... he's on the downside of his career. Whatever. He's still the most dominant player in the NBA. He demands a double team every time he touches the ball, and whether that's because he's constantly commiting an offensive foul or not, that fact remains true. In addition to the 25 he racks up every night, he opens the floor for everyone else. Now the Lakers no longer have a big man underneath.

In the current NBA, there's only way you can win without a big man underneath. Look at the previous championships: L.A. had Shaq. San Antonio had Duncan (and Robinson). Houston had Hakeem. And the Bulls had... well, the Bulls had Michael, which is the way you win without a big man. And that's the problem. Because everyone, including Kobe, was convinced that he was the new Michael. And it's just not true.

Remember when Grant Hill came into the league... and everyone called him the next Michael Jordan? And then Vince Carter arrived and he was the new Michael Jordan. You hear whispers here and there about LeBron, but right now the new Michael Jordan is Kobe. You can see it when he's on the court... he's even developed the tongue-wag jump shot. It's pathetic.

I remember a time back when Kobe and Michael were playing in the All-Star Game. When M.J. was guarding Kobe, and M.J. just shut him down. Bryant had no chance. He managed to hit three wide open three pointers when M.J. was either screened or out of the game entirely. And yet as they went to the locker rooms, the broadcaster announced that the "story of the half" was Kobe Bryant's three three-pointers. Right.

As good as Kobe Bryant is, and he's very good, he's no Michael Jordan. He's a victim of overhype, which affects players on big market teams, like the Lakers or the New York Yankees. Would anyone argue that Allen Iverson is as good as Michael Jordan? I doubt it. And yet, you'd have a hard time convincing me that Bryant is better than Iverson.

            PPG   RPG   APG   STL   BPG   TPG
Bryant     21.8   5.0   4.3   1.7   0.6   2.6
Iverson    27.0   4.1   5.7   2.4   0.2   2.2

Those are the career numbers for Iverson and Bryant. You'd expect Bryant to lead in rebounding because he's taller and plays the 2 just as you'd expect Iverson to lead in assists because he plays the 1. But exactly how do you argue that Bryant is the next Jordan? You can't.

Spare me the anecdotal evidence about some 40 point game that Bryant had or some last second shot that won the game. The plural of anecdote is not fact.

Wed, May. 5th, 2004, 11:14 am
Doc Oc 1, MLB 0

This is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard: Major League Baseball is going to put spiderwebs on the bases, the mound, and the on-deck circles for one weekend in June to promote the upcoming film "Spider-Man 2". It gets better.

"In addition to promotional bases, pitching rubbers and on-deck circles, the Spider-Man deal includes stadium signage, movie trailers on scoreboards, Spider-Men climbing light towers and giveaways like masks and foam hands."

Baseball executives claim that this move is being made to attract a younger audience to the game. So the question is... how exactly do Spider-Man bases attract young fans?

This is the genius of baseball marketing at work.

It's already a well-known fact that in terms of marketing their sport, only the NHL is worse than Major League Baseball. This just proves their stupidity. You don't market your product by marketing somebody else's product. It would be one thing if they just came out and said they were selling out for advertising dollars, but instead they've tried to sell it as something else.

And why, exactly, does Sony needs to advertise this film so invasively? How likely is it that the bombardment of television, radio, and billboard ads for Spider-Man is going to be missed by any moviegoer? Are webs on the bases really going to convince anyone to see the film?

Bad idea. Bad idea all around.

Tue, Apr. 20th, 2004, 07:30 pm
The NHL - DOA in Boston

For a few brief shining moments, the NHL had returned to Boston. Callers to WEEI were talking about Thornton and Samsonov and the Razor. Fans were excited about the acquisition of Sergei Gonshar. Folks who don't even follow hockey were talking about the Bruins. Why?

Because this city, like every other, loves a winner. Despite what people say about a town being a "hockey town" or a "baseball town", the passion of a sports market is defined by which teams have done well recently. Don't let anyone tell you that Boston is a baseball town. Sure, the Red Sox are perennial contenders, and as such even their off-season moves get attention and the city gets a reputation as a baseball town, but while the Sox were laboring in 87, most of 88, and 89, it was the Celtics in the last gasp of the Big Three Era and the Finals-bound Bruins that had the city's attention.

But Bruins fans are cynical. They know they haven't been close to a Cup since Petr Kilma scored in the third overtime for Edmonton. They know that Jeremy Jacobs won't pay players to stick around (one could argue that the financial troubles of some other NHL clubs vindicate his thrift, but tell that to fans who watched Ray Bourque head to Colorado for a Cup). They know that since the team managed to work itself back into a playoff caliber club, they've been bounced early more than a few times.

This year was supposed to be different. Joe Thorton had emerged as one of the best players in league. Sergei Samsonov, when healthy, was a major scoring threat. Nick Boynton and Patrice Bergeron were young stars coming into their own. And Andrew Raycroft was the Calder and Vezina candidate in goal and the best goaltender anyone around here had seen since Lemelin and Moog split time between the pipes. The team struggled in the earlygoing, but finished strong with a 104 points and second place in the Eastern (nee Wales) Conference.

And then they collapsed. There's really no other word for it. Bruins had never lost a 3-1 lead. Canadiens had never come back from 3-1. But suddenly the Bruins couldn't score on the power play. And couldn't keep five guys on the ice. And apparently Thornton was playing with a rib injury so bad that it hurt to skate, but nobody told anyone about this. And as a result, this team lost every fan it had picked up over the last two months.

It's not as though this team was drawing well to begin with. Now with the impending league lockout, the dismal underachievment of this team, and the ridiculous ticket prices for a team that owns the stadium they play in... this team will be lucky to draw 9,000 a night next year (if there's a next year). If hell froze over and Jacobs decided to spend some money, the Bruins could sign a big name free agent, but there are no big name free agents in hockey. The XFL, Vince McMahon's failed football league, had higher ratings during the regular season than any Stanley Cup Playoffs has ever recorded. Think the average sports fan knows who Rick Nash is? Martin St. Louis? Ilya Kovalchuk?

The league sanitized itself by doing everything it could to get rid of fights. Now players clutch and hold and hook and cross-check without any fear of physical retribution... or penalty, since referees won't call any of it either. So you get guys that slash here and there when they get fed up, and you get guys like Todd Bertuzzi who snap because there's no other outlet. And the league hasn't figured out that everyone in the league is thirty pounds heavier and two steps faster than they were twenty years ago, so the two-line pass stays in effect and we're forced to watch sixty minutes of the neutral zone trap every night, which is the equivalent of watching someone fill a shaker by pushing salt through the holes. Give Freddy Adu a few years and soccer might become the fourth major, if you can even grant hockey that distinction anymore.

So you've got a quality Red Sox team, pushing to break a long World Series drought. You've got the Patriots, with two titles in three years and the best ownership in sports. And you've got the Celtics who, despite sucking horribly, at least have their mystique and a few players who, if not of national interest, are at least popular enough to endorse something other than Bernie & Phyl's Discount Furniture or the Big Dog Sports Saloon on Route 1 in Lynnfield.

How, exactly, are the Bruins planning to attract new fans?

Mon, Apr. 5th, 2004, 10:20 pm
Auction Draft 2004

This Saturday, my brother's fantasy baseball league had their annual auction draft. The rules are simple: you get $260 worth of fake money to play with, and you have to assemble a team of 23 players. You can carry over some players from year to year (there's a set of rules governing this), but basically most of the top talent is available. Oh yeah, it's American League only. This year one of the old managers quit, so there was a spot open in the league.

I inherited the last place team from the previous year, and summarily cleaned house. I dumped Colby Lewis, a guy with an ERA over seven who actually kept his starting job the entire season. Also gone was Johnny Damon... not a bad player, but not worth $33. I traded Bill Mueller for Paul Konerko in a classic buy-low-sell-high scenario. I held onto Carlos Guillen at 3B because there was almost no one available at that spot. I stuck with Matt Lawton as well, which may turn out to be a great move now that the Indians dumped Milton Bradley (yes, there is actually a guy with that name). I entered the draft with $170 to spend, with the remainder of my roster looking like this:

1B	Paul Konerko		28
2B	Adam Kennedy		18
3B	Carlos Guillen		 7
OF	Matt Lawton		15
P	Tim Wakefield		 7
P	Kelvim Escobar		15

The best part of the draft is the total busting that goes on... two guys overbidding because neither wants to back down... insults flung back and forth over which players suck and whose draft strategy sucks. There's also pizza involved. So here we go, live from the Hunt Gym in Concord, MA.

2:02 A-Rod's the first guy up for auction, grabbing $45. I don't even bother to put in a bid because I don't really want him, and I know he's going to command more money than he's worth.

2:16 The big money players start rolling off one by one. Magglio Ordonez goes for $38, Alfonso Soriano for $44. Vladi Guerrero goes to the House Of Pain for $42, and looking back, I should have bid more for him. Keith Foulke garners $39, and Mariano Rivera ties A-Rod when he's purchased for $45 in a bidding war between Seawick and a team named "Penis Envy". Seawick couldn't get a babysitter, so he's calling in via Pat's cell phone. The following conversation takes place regarding Rivera:

Pat: It'll be 41 if you want Rivera.... he says 41!
Envy: Hmmm.  42.
Pat: 42 back to you.  Seawick, you need a closer.... 43.
Envy: Shit.  I don't know.
Bystander: Come on!  You know he'll bid 45!  DO IT!
Envy: 44.
Pat: 44 to you.
Voice: Fuck.  I told myself I wasn't gonna bid more than 30 for this prick.
Pat: So I guess that's your answer.
Voice: 45.

Seawick is a guy who traded for Chone Figgins in the off-season (Which becomes a recurring joke). He is also prone to overbidding on Red Sox, and still thinks that Steve Grogan is the best quarterback ever.

2:31 I grab Curt Schilling in the first round for $42. I consider this a steal... he's the only guy available who strikes out more than ten per nine, and on top of that he doesn't walk anyone. I would have gone to 52. When it's my turn to throw out, I dump Johnny Damon's name. He's quickly bid up to $26. I didn't want him anyway. I pull the same stunt the next time around by tossing out Chicago's Mark Buerhle, who has gradually grown less and less effective. My plan is to get everyone else to spend money on players I don't want, leaving me with more flexibility to bid on the guys I do.

2:45 More big names are thrown around the table.... Garciaparra goes for 38, then Jeter for 31. Arguments are made about which was the better deal. Personally, I think it's ridiculous to even belabor the point. Whatever intangibles and leadership you might think brings Jeter closer to Nomar's talent level are completely irrelevant in fantasy baseball. You get paid for statistics, not intangibles. I offer $30 for Ichiro, but I'm outbid and he eventually goes for $37. I'm disappointed with this... I thought I could Ichiro on the cheap. Plus, about a dozen outfielders have gone so far, and I still have four spots to fill. I toss out Jose Cruz, hoping that the rumors I've heard of a possible 30/30 season are true. I get him for $20, but not without some serious thought.

3:22 Pat throws out Chan Ho Park for $3. No one bids, which prompts Pat to launch an short expletive-ridden tirade about how he should have only bid a dollar. Additional sarcasm is piled on as his pitching staff to this point consists of Park and Mike Maroth.

3:49 Billy Koch is thrown out, his name pronounced as "Cock" by everyone involved in the bidding. The standard cock jokes ensue ("Who wants cock?", "I'll pay $10 for cock!"). It's like seventh grade all over again.

4:00 It's now four o'clock. My original plan was to have completed most of my draft by this point, then hand a sheet of max bids to someone and exit stage right. I had a practice scheduled from five to seven with the team I coach, but luckily (or unluckily) the week's rain has cancelled it. This is good thing, because now I can focus on my draft. It's a bad thing, because I had plans to go to New York that I gave up because of the practice I was supposed to lead.

4:18 I grab Rich Aurilia for $16, more than I wanted to pay for him. Penis Envy assures me that this is a great pickup. There's always one guy at a draft who ogles everyone else's picks and pumps up the value of just about every guy with random comments. He's that guy. Jacque Jones goes for $23 and Stone Cold declares him the steal of the draft. This is the fourth player of about thirty or so that will be declared the steal of the draft.

4:48 I get Darin Erstad for $14, again more than I wanted to pay, but outfielders are getting even more scarce. We're more than halfway throught the alloted time for the draft, and I've picked three players.

4:53 Geoff Blum goes for nine dollars. Geoff Blum. Hello, my name is Geoff Blum. I play for the second worst team in the majors, and I don't even start. How much will you bid for me? Apparently, nine dollars. Good luck.

5:17 Stone Cold grabs Corey Koskie for $25 and announces that his "stacked lineup" should be enough to put him in first place. His lineup in indeed stacked, but his pitching is atrocious. He's got just one starter: the injured Jon Lieber. He's also got $10 left to spend on five pitchers. He'll be lucky to get the required 900 combined innings to even qualify for points.

5:28 Things are going much faster now that everyone's down to about $30 to play with. I'm up at $72 with a lot of breathing room and the ability to outbid everyone else on any player I want.

5:35 The outbidding begins. My brother, owner of the CheeseMonkeys franchise, throws out Adam Melhuse for a buck. I quickly go to 2. He bids 3, I counter with 4. He bids 5, I counter with 6. "For six bucks you can have the shitbum," he shouts, after being told by Bobby to "take off the dress". I'm predicting Melhuse cracks between 15 and 20 home runs this year.

5:50 It's bargain hunting time. I nab oft-injured Brian Jordan for $6 (.280/20/80 if healthy), Edgar Martinez for $8 (.300/20/80), and Craig Monroe (.240/20/75) for $5. These players get some token bids from people will a few dollars lying around, but I've got too much cash.

5:53 I throw out Scott Schoeneweis for $1. I've picked him up in other drafts, in part because he's a decent #5 starter, and in part because some folks in Chicago are calling him the secret weapon. The Schoeneweis auction proceeds as follows.

Me: All right, Scott Schoeneweis for a dollar.
Billy: Two.

... Several people pass on bids, prompting mass impatience ...

Bystander: Anyone want to bid $3 for Schoeneweis?
Billy: Wait, Schoeneweis?  Didn't you say Speizio?
Me: No.  Schoeneweis.
Billy: Aw, fuck.  You're not going to bid $3?
Me: Not anymore.

6:02 The aforementioned Scott Spiezio goes for $5 to the Spacemen. Penis Envy is visibly upset. "That's a $20 player right there!" Um, sure. In Bizarroworld. At this point, the draft is getting a bit irritating. Earlier in the draft, when the big name players were going, it was easier to gauge their value. The problem is that now that more unknown commodities are being bid on, half of the table is scrambling through glossy fantasy baseball magazines trying to see what the recommended value for these players are. They're checking season previews to see what position and where in the lineup these guys are. Bids are moving along really slow. I've got a small stack of paper in front of me listing all of the guys in the league and their stats from last year. I'm not about to pay money for someone else's opinion on how to pick my team.

6:25 Coco Crisp goes to the Stogiboys for $5.

Me: You overpaid.
Stogiboys: How do you figure?
Me: Cause you can get it at Star Market for like $3.79.

6:41 I pick up Eric Young (15 HR, 28 SB) last year for $4. I'm not sure why he dropped this low... I'm starting to wonder if everyone else knows something I don't.

7:00 It's now five hours in, and Chris Berman and Mel Kiper Jr. have been replaced by second tier commentators. The draft was supposed to have been done by now... the room we're in is going to serve as a coat room for the eighth grade dance that's going to start at 7:30. We promise we'll be out by 7:30.

7:05 Middle relievers, fifth starters, and utility infielders are going left and right. I grab Justin Duchscherer for $1 to complete my draft and start packing up.

7:19 Apparently, we're done. Since you can only bid on a player if you've got a empty position spot for him, the one guy who needs a corner infielder and the one guy who needs a catcher are just sort of adding players to their roster. Four or five players are drafted who are currently in the minors, which is technically illegal, but will be taken care of later.

And that's about it. I'm left with $19, which I'll use for a waiver claim on Ugueth Urbina once he's called up, and for Zack Greinke or Grady Sizemore after their midseason call ups. Here's my final roster:

C	Adam Melhuse		 6
C	Damian Miller		 4
1B	Paul Konerko		28
2B	Adam Kennedy		18
SS	Rich Aurilia		16
3B	Carlos Guillen		 7
CI	Eric Karros		 3
MI	Eric Young		 4
OF	Jose Cruz, Jr.		20
OF	Matt Lawton		15
OF	Darin Erstad		14
OF	Brian Jordan		 6
OF	Craig Monroe		 5
Util	Edgar Martinez		 8
P	Curt Schilling		42
P	Kelvim Escobar		15
P	Tim Wakefield		 7
P	Kurt Ainsworth		 6
P	Josh Towers		 4
P	Lance Carter		 4
P	Rafael Betancourt	 4
P	J.C. Romero		 4
P	Justin Duchscherer	 1

Obvious problems? My starting pitching is predicated on promise (Ainsworth and Towers have yet to pitch any meaningful innings), and I don't have a closer... just a bunch of guys who might close if the right things happen. Still, with Schilling as the anchor of the staff, I think I'll be OK. On offense, I have no superstars, so a lot of my players (Jordan, Cruz, Konerko) need to play back to form.

Considering this team finished dead last, I can hardly do any worse.

Wed, Mar. 17th, 2004, 10:16 pm

I'm ready for March Madness. I'm tired of reading who's I should expect to see in San Antonio; who is going to have trouble moving on; who's going to be upset, and who this year's Cinderella is.

NewsFlash: Your predictions are wrong.

How often do you see a columnist write about their predictions after the fact? Never. I'll talk about them right now: I've picked the tournament winner a grand total of once, back in 1993 when North Carolina won it all. Every year after that? It's been a miserable failure. I also predicted that Ryan Leaf would be a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. There's a slight 'oops' on my part, although so far I've been right in my prediction that Manning wouldn't win a damn thing in the NFL.

My point is this: people like Dan Shanoff (author of Page 2's 'Quickie' at ESPN.com) and Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis write opinions as fact with no accountability. You never see an "Oops, I was wrong" article from these guys. Has the infamous Dr. Z predicted a Super Bowl winner correctly in the past 15 years? So why doesn't he just stop? At what point does a columnist lose credibility? I suppose that short attention spans are the columnists best friend, because I guarantee you if neither Stanford or Gonzaga reaches the finals, Davis won't be writing about how he was wrong. He'll just be making more predictions.

My Elite Eight: Washington, Georgia Tech, St. Joes, Pitt, Duke, North Carolina, Stanford, Connecticut. I've got UNC over UConn and Pitt over Georgia Tech in the Final Four, and UNC over Pitt in the finals. Are these my predictions? No. It's just how I filled out the damned bracket. For all I know, Washington could get blown out in the first round. So let's just get it on.

Tue, Mar. 16th, 2004, 06:42 pm
Everybody's On Steroids!

I was willing to leave this whole issue alone, but with every passing hour, more and more stupidity gets piled on the issue. First there was speculation that Barry Bonds' 73 home runs in 2001 were a product of steroids, because, well, he'd never more than 49 in a season before. The speculation continued, as sportswriters began to look back at some of the more recent numbers put up by major league baseball's superstars. Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs in 2001, when he'd never hit more than 31 previously. At the time, it was attributed to Luis' development of an open stance that helped his hitting, and the favorable conditions at Bank One Ballpark. But now it's because of steroids.

Sunday, Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer added more verbal diarrhea to the debate, when he questioned how Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996 when his previous best was 21. Palmer also claimed that Anderson "hit 31 more on the road that year, so it's not like he took advantage of Camden Yards." Now, let's ignore for a moment the fact that in 1996, Camden Yards was a pitcher's park (and has been since). And let's ignore for a moment the fact that Brady Anderson admitted trying to hit a home run with every swing. And let's also ignore the fact that the Orioles replaced the light-hitting trio of Manny Alexander, Jeff Manto, and Kevin Bass with Roberto Alomar, B.J. Surhoff, and Bobby Bonilla, which just might have provided a more comfortable lineup for Brady to hit in. Ignore all that, and answer this question:

Why is it that every statistical anomaly can now be explained simply by saying, "Well, he was probably on steroids?" And here's an even better question: why isn't anyone looking back further into history?

Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961. Sixty-one! He shattered the record that Babe Ruth had held for thirty-four years! But here's an interesting statistic: Maris had never hit more than 39 homers in a season before 1961, and never hit more than 33 afterwards. How is that possible?

He was probably on steroids.

Didn't Roger Maris suffer major hair loss during that season? We'd always just attributed it to the stress of chasing the immortal Babe Ruth. But maybe it wasn't that at all. Maybe it was all the steroids he was taking.

Hall of Fame outfielder Hack Wilson hit 56 home runs in 1930. Prior to that season, the most he'd hit was 39. After that season? 23. What about George Foster, the only man to hit 50 home runs in a season during the 1970's? He hit 23 and 29 the two seasons before he hit 50. After that season, he tapered off from 50 to 40 to 30, and never hit more than 28 after that. Now George took a while to come down from the plateau, but how can all of this be explained?

They were probably on steroids.

No one is really going to accuse Maris and Wilson and Foster of using steroids. Because those guys, and their peers, come from an age where men were men and baseball was innocent. There is this aura around old-time baseball, as though the game and its players were untainted back then. Wilfredo Cordero allegedly hits his wife with a phone, and he's a bad, bad man. Ty Cobb, who climbed into the stands one day and physically assaulted a fan in a wheelchair, and who later admitted to killing a man? What a hitter!

It's almost seen as an insult when a player in this era approaches a cherished record or milestone, unless that player is a consummate professional like Cal Ripken, Jr., who plays the game like an old-timer. So now every two bit reporter and old-time ballplayer is coming out of the woodwork to point the finger at today's athletes without really having any evidence. Well, that's not true. They have plenty of hearsay and conjecture... and those are kinds of evidence.

Reggie Jackson came out recently and declared that today's players were absolutely and unequivocally using steroids, because, well, Hank Aaron never hit more than 50 home runs in a season, and now a couple of guys are doing it, and they can't possibly be better than Hank Aaron, so they must be cheating. Uh huh. Right, Reggie. It must be steroids, because there's no way today's athletes could be bigger and better and stronger and faster than players of old. Because nothing changed in the 25 years or so since Aaron hit his last home run in the way of nutrition, off-season training, advanced scouting, and videotape analysis that might give today's players the edge. Right, Reggie?

What puzzles me is that for the last ten or fifteen years, we've seen a whole host of reasons why home run totals have jumped, but no one wants to talk about them now. Four new teams have been added to the majors since 1992, which means that at any one time, there are about 40 pitchers on major league rosters that wouldn't have been there prior to expansion. With some minor exceptions, namely Comerica Park in Detroit and Safeco Field in Seattle, new ballparks have smaller dimensions and less foul territory. The existing ones have had fences moved in (Anaheim, Kansas City). And there's also that little place known as Coors Field, where eight-year-olds hit moonballs during the annual father-son game. As an added bonus, if you believe in conspiracy theories, the powers that be have also made the baseballs harder so that balls will fly out of the park, thus increasing attendance for a sport that is still feeling the sting from the 1994 players' strike.

But none of this is a good story, because it's not an analysis of game trends but steroids, regardless of how irresponsible and unfair that is, that sell papers and grab ratings. In a recent article in the Boston Herald, columnist Gerry Callahan referred to Barry Bonds as "Bonds *" throughout the article, and proposed attaching an asterisk to every record Bonds achieved because of the possibility that he used steroids. Apparently it doesn't matter that the Maris asterisk was removed long ago or that Bonds' alleged steroid use hasn't been proven yet. Some still see the need for a new asterisk.

I've got some asterisks of my own to hand out.

First up, Babe Ruth. He only has two career records left -- highest slugging percentage (.690) and highest career OPS (1.164) -- but I think we should put an asterisk next to all of the Babe's numbers. After all, he never once in his career faced any of the top black pitchers of his time. Sure, that's not his fault, baseball was segregated, but the Babe never did anything to change that, did he?

Next up, Ted Williams. Put a big Shift+8 next to his home run numbers. After all, the Red Sox moved in the fences to help the Splendid Splinter hit more home runs. It probably helped his average and on-base percentage, too, so let's throw some more asterisks around.

How about Bob Gibson? That 1.12 ERA in 1968? A year after he put up that number, Major League Baseball lowered the mound from fifteen inches to ten inches. Lo and behold, Gibson's ERA climbed more than a full point to 2.18, then to 3.12 the next year. Certainly sounds like the mound was more responsible for that miniscule number than Gibson was. I think we need another asterisk.

And while we're here, let's give a few to Rickey Henderson, just because Rickey is Rickey.

The fact is, that aside from someone coming out and admitting that they use steroids (like Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, albeit after the fact), or the drug test policy being changed so that offenders are named publicly, we're not going to know who is on steroids and who isn't regardless of what we might think and what circumstantial evidence we might have. So isn't it just better to say, "Yeah, some of these guys might be on the sauce," and leave it at that? Do you really think that the 239th time Gary Sheffield is asked if he uses steroids, he's suddenly going to have a change of heart and say, "Yeah, you know what, I did"? But it really doesn't matter how he answers, does it? The fact that he's accused, in our minds, means that he's guilty. Denying it just makes him a liar, and admitting it just proves our point. Because we're already preconditioned to believe athletes are guilty until proven innocent.

You can ask Michael Irvin about that.

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