Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Note From the Editor: Commence au festival!

En l'honneur de mardi gras cette phrase est en fran├žais : Les sports en mars sont merveilleux.

Translation: Let's get March started!

Big topics of March on the Back Seat Drivers will include: MLB preview, March Madness, NFL draft, NBA playoff push, implementation of the Basil II bank accord and Hart's expose on Wisconsin titled "Last Frontier or Actual State?".
Just a few notes for our loyal readers, customers, NSA eavesdroppers....

1) We will be doing our second annual March Madness Pick'em Challenge. Any and all are welcome but in starting March 12th, the editors will be sending out brackets. The winner get's the option of either 3/4 of Colonel's life savings or a hot corn beef sandwhich on rye (and yes it will have deli mustard on it).

2) The MLB preview/predictions are open as of March 1. After careful consultation with the executive board of our esteemed Buck O'Neil Institute for Baseball Excellence, we have named two Baseball Fellows for the 2006 season: MJ and Hitman. As part of their duties (and priviledges) they will be handling the first round of baseball previews. What this means is that MJ (for AL divisions) and Hitman (for NL divisions) will have first crack at division by division analysis. Once they post, the topic is open for postings/comments. Any other non-division analysis (dark horses, front runners, MVPs, Epstein's jail bait fetish,etc) is of course open to the floor at all times.

3) Speaking of baseball...I agree with Keith Olberman's post. Of all of baseball's dumb moves this year, this seems among the worst. As part of my own protest the Back Seat Driver's Baseball Institute was officially named for the great Negro League hero, who was unceremoniously and indefensiably ignored.

Monday, February 27, 2006

MVC Facts, Stats, and Attempted Analysis

Usually, there a number of mid-majors from different conferences that are worth following. As Mighty pointed out in his column last week, the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) is in line to get a whopping 5 bids to the dance this year. It seems unprecedented for a non-power conference (not the ACC, Big 10, Big East, Big 12, SEC, PAC-10) to get this many bids. But, as pointed out in an ESPN article last week, the Atlantic 10 Conference got 5 teams in back in the 1997 and 1998 Tournaments. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/columns/story?columnist=lunardi_joe&id=2337316

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at how those teams did. In 1997, St. Joe’s made the Sweet 16 (as a 4-seed), and 2 other teams won in the first round (as a 7 and a 10). St. Joe’s not only made the Sweet 16, but won the regular season and conference tournaments. In 1998, 4 of the teams lost in the first round and Rhode Island, went to the Final 8 (as an 8-seed, while a 6, a 7, and another 7 all lost). The two teams that made the finals of the A-10 Conference Tournament, in an extremely competive year, both got bounced in the first round of the tourney.

This limited amount of research demonstrates one thing – at least one of the MVC teams are going to reach the Sweet 16. Obviously, a large factor for determining which team makes it will depend on the matchups. Seeing as I know nothing about the MVC (and I’m guessing no one else does either), I thought it would be helpful if I gathered some random information (obviously, not an exhaustive look) on the 6 likely teams to receive consideration from the conference.

The Sagarin ratings come from the following link, which is updated each day, which I like to use more than the RPI rating. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/sagarin/bkc0506.htm . The Missouri Valley Conference completed their regular season on 2/25, and their tournament starts on 3/2. (I have no idea why they play so early, but they get a solid 10 days off before the tournament. They basically play their tournament when all of the real crappy conferences are playing).

Wichita State, Sagarin Rating #31, 1st in conference at 14-4,
Non-conference wins: Providence, Miami-OH;
Non-conference losses: Illinois, Mich. St., George Mason ;
3P% - 36.5%, Reb. Margin = +5.8 --
No real go-to player, but 2 starters each shoot over 42% from 3-point land.

Southern Illinois, Sag #52, 2nd in conference at 12-6,
Non-conference wins: Kent St.,
Non-conference losses: Monmouth, Alaska-Anchorage, Louisiana Tech;
3P% - 34.2%, Reb. Margin = +0.2 –
Strangely enough, they lost to some terrible teams out of the conference, yet performed well inside the conference. They seem to create a lot of steals, yet also turnover the ball just as much. Their 2nd half surge could be attributed to the fact that their nine-man rotation consists of SIX freshmen, and THREE sophomores. According to an SI article, they play man-to-man exclusively.

Missouri State, Sag #21, 3rd in conference at 12-6,
Non-conference wins: Wisc-Milwaukee;
Non-conference losses: Arkansas ;
3P% - 38.7%, Reb. Margin = +2.8 –
Relies on one man, named Blake Ahearn, who shoots almost 40% from 3-point land, and averages 18 ppg. Strangely enough, the next 6 scorers all average between 7 and 9 points.

Creighton, Sag #41, 4th in conference at 12-6,
Non-conference wins: George Mason, Xavier, Fresno St. ;
Non-conference losses: Depaul, Chatanooga;
3P% - 36.7%, Reb. Margin = -0.4 –
Not a lot of size. Plays more defense than most. Their best player was lost to injury for the season back in January.

Bradley, Sag #42, 5th in conference at 11-7,
Non-conference wins: Depaul ;
Non-conference losses: Loyola-Chicago, Butler, ;
3P% - 35.0%, Reb. Margin = +4.3 –
Swept Northern Iowa. I don’t know what that means anymore, considering the conference schedule ended up being a constant beating between these 6 teams. Has a 7 foot center who blocks a ton of shots.

Northern Iowa, Sag #34, 6th in conference at 11-7,
Non-conference wins: Iowa, LSU, Bucknell;
Non-conference losses: Iowa St;
3P% - 34.8%, Reb. Margin = +1.3 --
Ended up losing their last 4 conference games; was ranked for portions of the season, but it really doesn’t mean anything, as evidenced by all of the games they lost at the end of the season. Ben Jacobson’s stats really aren’t as great as I expected (14.3ppg, but a putrid 39% from the field, and only 33% from 3-point land). However, any team that can beat Iowa, LSU, and Bucknell must be considered dangerous.

Quick Thoughts:
Without being able to find any information via a Google search on what kinds of defenses the teams play, or how their PGs perform, it seems to me that Missouri State may be a team to watch, because they have a dominant player to rely on, and no one even seems to even talk about them. If Northern Iowa doesn’t get their act together in the conference tournament, it would be hard for me to pick them to go far considering that they are in such a large losing streak right now. Interestingly, Missouri St. will be playing Northern Iowa on Friday at 8:30PM. That is the game to watch! Southern Illinois’s out of conference losses are so terrible that I don’t feel comfortable at all picking them to do much, even if they get in.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Five Questions: At the Corners

1. Will Scott Rolen Be Ready?: Of the many talented third basemen in baseball today, perhaps none is as complete as Scott Rolen. His shortened 2005 campaign notwithstanding, this guy can flat out rake. Add in that he might be the best defensive 3B in the game. Simply, he has the potential to have a tremendous impact on St. Louis and, in turn, the entire National League - and that potential has not been more crucial since Rolen arrived there in 2002. The Cards lost Larry Walker to retirement, along with Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, Matt Morris, Ray King, and Julian Tavarez. Yes, they've added some talent to replace them, most notably Juan Encarnacion, and the team is probably still the favorite to win the NL. But they absolutely cannot do it without Rolen. Last week, it was reported that his recovery from shoulder surgery is on track. If that remains true, St. Louis is probably just too much for everyone else. If he slips...door's wide open for someone new to step through.

2. Remember Justin Morneau?: This young slugger burned my fantasy team last year by hitting only .239-22-79, when he was predicted to hit 30 and maybe even 40 homers. By all accounts, Morneau has tremendous power - and if he can harness it at the major league level, we're told that he's the next Jim Thome. Ok, so maybe there was a lot of pressure on the kid last season...but this year, even more, the Twinkies need him. They've lost team leader Jacque Jones, while the White Sox, fresh off the World Series win, went out and grabbed Thome himself. Cleveland's getting older and probably better - is the Twins' hold on the Central over for good? If Morneau doesn't step it up, Minnesota can get cozy in 3rd place for quite a while.

3. Will Peoria Be Proud Again?: Jim Thome, the Pride of Peoria, returns to the Land of Lincoln to play for the champion White Sox. What a great trade made by Sox GM Kenny Williams: yes, Aaron Rowand is a talented CF who can add value to any team with his fielding, speed, and bat. But Jim Thome is, well, JIM THOME!!! Before last year's injury-plagued season, Thome hit 40 homers in four straight seasons, including an eye-popping 52 in 2002. He's a lifetime .281 hitter with 430 career dongs and a .970 OPS. But he's 35 and has been the subject for years of rumors suggesting that his injuries will soon get the best of him. Keep in mind that last year was the first since 1998 in which he didn't play at least 146 games. If Thome stays healthy, the Sox will feature a 3-4-5 of Thome, Konerko and Jermaine Dye. Pitchers, go ahead and crap yourselves now.

4. O, Canada?: I wrote earlier about the importance of new pitchers AJ Burnett and BJ Ryan to the Jays. Now it's time to cover their new corner infielders, Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus. I've never been a big Glaus fan, mostly because he's a career .253 hitter whose .258 last year was his best since 2000; he's just a masher, and a fragile one at that. But he is considered dangerous, and .258 is ok if he can stay in the lineup and hit 30 homers. That's due in part to his new teammate, Overbay, who in two full seasons has emerged as the kind of guy you just love to have in the order. He'll get you at least .275-20-80, and play as durable and dependable a 1B as anyone else. Overbay is no superstar, but he can add a lot to Toronto if he keeps improving and showing what he's capable of. There's a reason why everyone's been excited about the Jays' 2006 chances: even in the Yanks' and Red Sox's neighborhood, a team with Wells, Overbay and Glaus hitting and Halladay and Burnett pitching may be good enough to play into October.

5. Who's On First? Who? Nomar?!?!: We've talked about here before, and I won't rehash my point too much; search this blog for my thoughts. I'll simply re-iterate two things: First, I think sticking Garciaparra at 1B is a bad idea. True, the position is not as complex as shortstop - but it's not like you can plug any old yokel there to keep a bat in the lineup. The footwork is tough, you've got to be able to stretch, you've got to move and dive and hustle in different ways. Second, if anyone can make the transition, it's a world-class athlete who's proven an ability to learn new things quickly. Nomar played a pretty solid 3B last season, willingly, happily. He seems excited to have his shot at 1B. Maybe he can do it? The Dodgers better hope so, because in maybe the weakest division in baseball, the difference between first and second could easily come down to one pair of stone hands.

Honorable Mention: If You're Really a Prince, I'll Marry You!: Prince Fielder. He's got the name, he's got the pedigree, he's got that big ol' bat that everyone's been talking about. He's why Overbay got shipped north and he's the biggest reason, no pun intended, why there's reason to be excited again in Dairyland.

Eve of Madness: Contenders

Time to peer into the crystal ball I have perched up on the desk and figure out who are the presumptive contenders for this year's NCAA Championship. Sure there are a lot of teams out there that can play spoiler (which is why we love the tournament and change our names to hide from bookies) but only a handful of teams have what it take to be the CHAMP. I have my favorites and the dark horses in this week's installment of know yo teams.

The Favorites:

UConn:
Strengths: Deepest team in the tournament (They go 8 deep). Experience galore (hasn't Josh Boone been there for like 7 years). They have size that would make Ron Jeremy blush (able to dominate interior).

Weakness: Streaky on outside shooting. Gay and Anderson have off days. Losses have come when team's outside shooting fails coupled with forgetting inside game.

Villanova:
Strengths: Incredible outside shooting (This year's Illinois). Quickness coupled with good coaching allows team to dictate pace of the game.

Weakness: The Wildcats are the first top 10 team to run a 4 guard offense. Yes, they have four starting guards. Matched against a punishing front court could spell trouble (see UConn)

Duke:
Strengths: JJ Redick is the best college player today. Nobody shoots as well as he does from the outside and Redick finally has developed the ability to create his own shot. Sheldon Williams is a poor man's Ben Wallace (controls the paint and plays great defense)

Weakness: Williams isn't strong enough to hold off truly great post men. Duke has a very weak bench. Consequently, Redick has logged a lot of minutes, if Redick falters so will Duke's attempt at a championship.

Texas:
Strengths: Best big man in the NCAA in Aldridge (he will be the number one pick in the NBA draft). Alongside Aldridge there are three other Texan's that average double digits points. Texas is as physical as they come. Finally Wubya has declared Texas must win a championship in all sports since you can't mess with Texas.

Weakness: Texas has lost three times this season by more than 20 points including a 30 point slaughter against Duke. When this team doesn't show up, it really doesn't up. Wubya's approval rating is hovering around 39% which means his decree might be ignored.

Dark Horses: For these teams have what it takes but for various reasons (inconsistent, play in a weak conference, haven't done as well in the tournament in recent years) they have a lot more question marks and will require a much easier path:Memphis, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Kansas, UNC and Tennessee.

Friday, February 24, 2006

J-Mac

I can think of no better way to kick off the weekend than to ask everyone who passes through this site to read this story. Stories like this remind us why we love sports.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

In Brief...

Two minor things to mention today...

1. I am not sure if anyone else saw the story about the trademark infringement suit regarding ownership rights to the name "Washington Nationals." Apparently, Bud Selig, genius that he is, forgot to sign the contract with the actual owner of the trademark to the name "Washington Nationals." Instead of signing the damn thing, Selig assumed that negotiations were finalized on a handshake and is now faced with the reality that unless a settlement can be reached, the team in Washington, D.C. will have to re-brand itself. Major League Baseball in general, and Selig in particular, have grossly mismanaged the franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos. What's worse is that knowing Selig, he'll settle for five times the price it would've taken to buy the trademark outright a few years ago and then pass along that cost to the future owner of the team. That is, if Selig ever gets around to selling this team and giving it a fair shot at surviving in our nation's capital.

Selig has proven himself to be one of the worst chief executives in the United States. That baseball is thriving is a testament to some of the individual owners who have overcome the stupidity of those working in MLB HQ. Even small market owners should be appalled at how Selig handles his affairs. A franchise like the Kansas City Royals, which enjoys none of the favored-team tactics that Selig employs, should think long and hard about continuing to support the commissioner's buffoonery.

2. With only a few more days to go before the World Baseball Classic, I'd like to post something akin to a prayer. I'm in no way religious so I guess prayer isn't the right word but whatever, that's not the point...I just hope that none of the MLB players get hurt in this hair-brained scheme of Selig's. I hope that all MLB players come back to their teams in perfect health so that every baseball fan around the country can enjoy their favorite players. If any player should go down, may that team's fanbase kick Selig in his gray, wrinkled nutsack.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sports Psychology

I always find it interesting when I come across athletes that have a distorted sense of their own abilities. Obviously even the “worst” professional athletes still have to believe in themselves and their competitive abilities in order to survive in the cutthroat world of pro sports. But beyond the most basic elements of self-motivation, a little reality and self-awareness at one’s own limitations isn’t a bad thing.

I bring this up because I just read a story about Tony Womack where he bashes the Yankees for how his one-year stint in New York turned out:

Tony Womack was supposed to be the Yankees’ second baseman last season but he ended up spending more time on the bench than anywhere else. Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit too well with Womack, who was replaced by Robinson Cano and traded to Cincinnati for two minor leaguers in December.

“I went through it because they put me through it,” he told MLB.com at Reds training camp in Sarasota, Fla. “It wasn’t like I did it to myself. I still like to play. It’s no fun knowing that you can still play and contribute to somebody when this team is holding you back. The Yankees held me back.”

When the Yanks struggled last season, GM Brian Cashman and Joe Torre tried to shake things up by moving Womack from second base to the outfield and calling up Cano; Womack didn’t last long as an everyday outfielder and ended up as a pinch-runner. He hit .249 while appearing in 108 games.

“The only thing that makes me mad is it messes up my baseball card,” Womack said. “I was consistent for a long time and then that comes up. It was a learning experience for me. I’m a stronger person. I had to be. I had to bite my tongue a lot. I had to keep myself going and make sure I got my work in.”

Womack is competing with Rich Aurilia and Ryan Freel for the Reds’ second base job.


Has Womack actually seen the back of his baseball card? Is he aware that he’s a career .273 hitter? Did his .249 average in 2005 really do THAT much damage to his baseball card* or has he already forgotten about the 2003 season, when he hit a combined .226 for three different teams (including an abysmal .190 in 21 games for the Colorado Rockies)?

I don’t know what is worse here. Is it that Womack is too concerned with his own stats to recognize that his replacement in New York, Robinson Cano, was a big reason for the Yanks’ turnaround last year? Or is it the fact that despite his 2004 season in St. Louis (fluke), Womack still has none of the perspective required to lead a normal, happy life. I mean, if he truly believes that the Yankees held him back, despite posting a .300 OBP as a regular starter in April and May, well…it’s going to be a long life for a guy that has no idea who he is.

Then again, competing with Rich Aurilia and Ryan Freel for a job should tell him all he needs to know. Joe Morgan he ain’t.

*Womack’s .249 average in 2005 lowered his career batting average by exactly one one-thousandth of a point, from .274 to .273.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NBA All-Star Saturday & Beyond

Editor’s Note: Gutsy’s column will be moving to Late Night Tuesdays in anticipation of March Madness

For those of you who needed some NBA All-Star game highlights, I’ve got a quick recap for you, and it doesn’t entail reading a very long article (though I would read Bill Simmons long article if you can, as it has some good humor, including a description of how Charles Oakley is so tough on the court, that Michael Jordan uses him as an enforcer off the court. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/060220)

Anyway, here are my quick thoughts on All-Star Saturday and other NBA News:
1) Great Dunks But at What Price?
Under the current format, dunkers can take as many attempts as they need. It used to be that you got 1, maybe 2 misses per round before you just had to do another dunk. But in the interest of spurring creativity, the NBA for some reason decided to allow contestants to take as many shots as needed. Nate Robinson, the winner of this year’s dunk contest, must have missed approximately 17 dunks. Nonetheless, the format does provide some amazing dunks. 5’9” Nate Robinson’s dunk “over” 5’7” Spud Webb looked amazing. I say “over” because it was more like doing the splits over Spud’s head, and grazing Spud’s shoulder with Nate’s foot. Granted, this was after Robinson had already missed like 8 dunks, and I was seriously concerned he was just going to barrell into Spud Webb 5 times before it worked. What made this dunk amazing, is that Robinson actually nailed it on the first try though! Andre Iguodala, of the 76ers, also had an amazing dunk which really didn’t seem possible. He somehow threw the ball off the back of the backboard, jumped from behind the hoop at a 45 degree angle, grazed his head on the backboard, and caught the ball and smashed it home.

2) Dunk Contest Judging is Pathetic
I know the Dunk Contest is not supposed to be about the judging, and it’s just supposed to be a fun event. However, the 5 celebrity judges who judge the dunks by holding up a number between 1 and 10, and even change their numbers based on what other judges are holding, just makes a mockery of the competition. Furthermore, the worst grade inflation in America is not in our beloved undergrad institutions, but in the dunk contest. I believe the worst score a judge will give is a 7! So it’s time they adopt a very simple proposal. All of the dunks occur in the opening round (2 per contestant). The judges simply rank these dunks from first to worst. This will alleviate the problem where some schmo gets a 48 for what really turns out to be an average dunk just 4 dunks later. In the final round, the judges can score from 1-10 if they want, but please, please, wait until after all of the dunks are finished!

3) Josh Smith Creates High Comedy with Masking Tape
I’m really surprised this didn’t get more press. Josh Smith, of the Atlanta Hawks, and the defending dunk champion, brought out some masking tape for his dunk. He then laid down a mark approximately halfway between the free throw-line and the 3-point line. Suddenly, the crowd got all excited (I did too), because it appeared that Josh Smith was going to attempt a dunk from just inside the 3-point line! The announcers were going crazy too! Was this even physically possible? Well, it may not be, because Josh Smith took a full running start from the other side of the court, and dunked it from WELL inside the tape (and inside the free throw line!) The weirdest thing was, Josh Smith seemed excited and was surprised by the sudden silence of the crowd. I guess in Josh Smith’s world, he thought that he could take 2 steps from the tape and no one would notice.

4) Darko Gets Traded
Darko got traded from the Pistons to the Orlando Magic last week (in case anyone didn’t see). His quote from Tuesday is awesome: ''In Detroit, it was horrible for me. A nightmare.'' As much as I make fun of Darko (and I still will), I hope he gets some playing time and a chance to develop.

5) Dirk Wins 3-Point Competition, Wade wins Skills Competition
Hats off to competitions that even the best in the NBA will enter. I still think you have a higher chance of injuring yourself in the skills competition when you dribble between cardboard silhouettes of basketball players than in the Dunk Contest.

6) Anderson Varejao Wig Night
Tuesday Night was a crazy night in Cleveland, as the Cavs gave away wigs resembling Anderson Varejao’s doo. For those not following the Cavs, Varejao is the backup PF, is from Brazil, and is a fan-favorite because he plays great defense, dives for balls, and has a hairdo resembling Sideshow Bob. Check out these great pics:

Monday, February 20, 2006

It's Begining to Look a lot like....

Tournament time. Yessir, March Madness is rapidly approaching. Less than one month from now the single greatest betting extravangza will be starting. This year opening weekend coincides with St. Patties which means that we could be seeing record amounts of drunkenness on college campuses. I will of course be patrolling the bars for the good of the blog collecting information and stories...much like Bill Simmons. Hopefully by the end of the experience I can answer such questions as "Does anyone living in an urban area have a similar mustache to Adam Morrison?", "Does anyone purporting to have a modicum of a soul like Duke?", "How many UConn players will be arrested during their opening game?", "Where's the bathroom? I shouldn't have had that last Irish Car bomb". Well that last one is less of a question and more of a prediction.

One of the brewing debates this year for college basketball is, how many bids to give to Missouri Valley Conference (MVC)? Currently they are slotted for 5 according to ESPN.Com's bracketology and Sportsline.Com's brackets. That's right a mid-major conference receiving more bids than the PAC-10, ACC, and Big 12 (each currently slotted to have 4). Pretty bold but the MVC is no longer the bastion of only the Fighting Souloukies (Southern Illinois) or even Creighton (Is that a real school? How do you come up with the name Creighton? Is some sort of bet involved there?). The MVC has been incredible this year. Currently they are the 6th rated conference according the RPI. With less than 2 weeks to go before conference tournaments start up, the question of the MVC and other bubble teams will be fun to watch.

Random Thoughts:
Why does ESPN have to cover every one of Bonds' utterances? Is it really news if he declares that he's retiring in 2012, maybe? Maybe if he'd challenge Lynn Swann in the PA. Governor’s race he doesn't hit 30 HRs in spring training but otherwise? Why do I remember the NBA all-star game itself being more fun? Maybe because in the old days players passed or showed off that they had some sort of fundamental skills. It's looking more and more likely that Chad Pennington's days are numbered in Jets-land which means three out of first four draft picks could well be quarterbacks. That of course paves the way for the Cleveland Browns to decide whether to draft the Burger King or Pepsi Machine.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ozzie Guillen Update

Not only did he come off as a homicidal maniac in the Quote of the Day (below), not only did he launch an unprovoked attack on Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra calling them, in effect, phony Latinos, but now this...

On REAL Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Guillen said, among other things, that Joe Torre and Phil Jackson are "garbage." I am curious to know how long it takes before his act gets tired in the Chicago clubhouse. How long before his players get tired of watching the Guillen ego soak up the credit for the 2005 World Series?

God, I hope this ends badly for Guillen. He deserves it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hot Stove Part XXIX / Jeff Weaver

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (due to a state court ruling last week, this name is now official and legally protected) signed free agent starter Jeff Weaver to a one-year contract worth $8.4M. After a very slow start to their offseason, the Angels have actually made some quiet moves that should result in them winning their third consecutive AL West division crown.

A quick rundown of their offseason includes: (i) the acquisitions of JC Romero and Esteban Yan adding to what was already baseball’s best bullpen, (ii) the jettisoning of catcher Bengie Molina in favor of clearing the way for future star Jeff Mathis (ranked as the Angels’ fourth-best organizational prospect), and (iii) the acquisition of Edgardo Alfonzo as an insurance policy for prospect Dallas McPherson.

The Angels should have one of the top rotations in baseball again this year with reigning Cy Young champ Bartolo Colon, the dependable and underrated John Lackey, emerging young pitcher Ervin Santana and now Jeff Weaver. Weaver may not be the ace that the Tigers and Yankees projected him to be a few seasons ago but he is a dependable workhorse who has averaged 34 starts and 222 IP the past two seasons. He does have the tendency to give up a few too many runs (4.11 ERA over the past two seasons as a member of the Dodgers) but as a fourth starter he should be viewed as a step up from Jarrod Washburn, last year’s pitcher in the same slot.

Also, in a separate, baseball-related thought…

Ozzie Guillen is running his mouth again. Obviously this guy has issues ranging from low self-esteem to a lack of anger management skills. What I find amusing is that in labeling people as phonies, making assumptions on what individuals may feel towards their own heritage or, more outlandishly, where individuals may or may not have vacationed, he is implicitly labeling himself as a living, breathing, walking and talking embodiment of the Latino stereotype.

If Ozzie Guillen is the ultimate arbiter of what it means to be Latino then he, in his own mind, assumes that he is the most authentic Latino of all. By such logic, Guillen then agrees with the stereotype that all Latinos must be outspoken, hot-headed, and volatile. Obviously this is an unflattering generalization of a very diverse and rich culture and one that I do not agree with. Someone may want to politely point out that he is making himself look bad. I say politely because, as we saw earlier this week, he’s not opposed to using F-16’s to kill people that dare question him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

NBA Midseason Report – “Gutsy Goldberg, Back Seat Drivers?”

To continue the mailbag format that Mighty started earlier in the week, and in honor of the character on 24 with the highest unintentional comedy score, Edgar Styles, I will be accepting questions from the fans this week.

FYI – Edgar Styles is this large, chubby, Info Technology guy on “24”. All last season, any time someone called CTU (it's like the FBI & CIA combined), the call ALWAYS went to Edgar’s desk. I think it went there for comedy purposes. And every time, Edgar would say “Edgar Styles, CTU” in a voice similar to the “Have you seen my baseball?” from Something About Mary. Only thing is, Edgar Styles is supposed to be a brilliant computer nerd, not mentally retarded. This season on 24, Edgar Styles tried to sound more normal, and said “Styles, CTU”. Regardless, here’s to you Edgar Styles, for inspiring my NBA Midseason Report!

Gutsy: "Gutsy Goldberg, Back Seat Drivers?”
Caller: "This is Mike D. in Golden State. Who do you think is the most surprising team of the first half of the NBA Season?"

Obviously, the top choice is the LA Clippers. Not since the days of Danny Manning, Ron Harper, and Mark Jackson have things been this exciting for LA’s OTHER team. Elton Brand and Sam Cassell have the Clippers playing amazingly. In fact, they’ve never even been 11 games over .500 until just now! It’s a real pathetic club history they have. Everything they do this season works out. They told Chris Kaman, who looks like an axe murderer, to wear his hair as ugly as possible (see picture below). Even that has been working, as it obviously scares the opponents. My only word of warning, is that they will have to hope that Shaun Livingston, their young PG, is ready to be healthy and play more often next season. Sam Cassell, the starting PG, has been on 5 other teams already, and he usually wears out his welcome at some point. Hell, the Timberwolves situation deterioated rapidly just last year! But for now, I only hope these guys kick some butt in the playoffs.

Gutsy: "Gutsy Goldberg, Back Seat Drivers?”
Caller: "This is David W. in New Orleans. Which team do you think has been most disappointing this season? Go Hornets."

There are a lot of contenders for this spot, the Knicks, Sonics, Kings, and Celtics have all arguably been much worse than envisioned. The Houston Rockets get the nod though for the dubious honor. Through a combination of injuries to Yao and T-Mac, plus a bench full of past-their-prime players (Juwan Howard, Derek Anderson, David Wesley, Dikembe Mutumbo), the Rockets are scoring the 2nd-least amount of points in the league (89 ppg). If it was only 1996, not 2006, that might prove to be more successful. If they get healthy, there’d be a chance they can make some noise, but I think the hole they dug in the 1st half is too big to get out of.

Gutsy: "Gutsy Goldberg, Back Seat Drivers?”
Caller: "Antonio M. here in Detroit, home of the Super Bowl XL. What has proven to be the best/worst acquisition from the offseason? And remember, Dick Cheney's decision to bring a buddy on his hunting trip doesn't count as an acquisition."

Well, at this point, the best/worst acquisition is actually in the same trade. The Timberwolves gave up Sam Cassell and a protected 1st-round pick for Marko Jaric. Who is Marko Jaric you say? He’s a guy who many teams coveted this off-season (including the Cavs) and was supposed to be the T-wolves answer at PG. Unfortunately for the T-wolves, they’ve already realized that Jaric is worthless, and he has hardly even gotten off the bench since the T-wolves acquired a PG from Boston (Banks). Meanwhile, the Clippers have definitely been enjoying Sam Cassell’s play!

Gutsy: "Gutsy Goldberg, Back Seat Drivers?”
Caller: "Charles B. from here in Atlanta. Who are some breakout players thus far in the season? And if you say Darko, I will kill you."

The most shocking thing is the Dallas Mavericks starting center, former Cavalier DeSagna Diop. Because the Mavs get enough offense from Dirk, Jason Terry, Stackhouse, and Josh Howard, the Mavs have the luxury of using Diop merely for his defensive presence. He doesn’t play many minutes (18 per game) but its been working for the Mavs.
Other breakout players include… every acquisition by the Phoenix Suns! Boris Diaw, a “throw-in” as part of the Joe Johnson trade to the Hawks, is actually incredible! The Suns management not only knows how to out-coach other teams, they do serious scouting. James Jones (acquired in exchange for a 2nd-round pick) and Raja Bell (a free agent) are also experiencing career seasons after never making even a blip on the radar. The coaches at Phoenix are amazing, they have a great offensive system, and the team hasn’t even gotten Amare Stoudemire back yet! Okay, no more exclamation marks the rest of the article.

Gutsy: "Gutsy Goldberg, Back Seat Drivers?”
Caller: "This is Mark P. calling from Cleveland. What’s your outlook for the Finals at this point? I can't think of any original questions to ask."

Well, it’s always tough to make original questions. Of course, my pre-season pick of Spurs over Pacers is very unlikely, because the Pacers are just a mess at this point. If I had to revise, it’s impossible to pick against the Spurs over the Pistons. Of course, the Spurs-Mavs unavoidable 2nd-round matchup should determine the NBA Champion. Just to rant yet again about this, thanks to the stupid seeding system of the NBA, division winners are guaranteed the top 3, so the 2nd best team of either the Spurs/Mavs will have to play the #1 seed, which will be the better of the Spurs/Mavs. I hate you David Stern. Anyway, that Spurs-Mavs matchup should be incredible.

Revisiting An Old Friend

When I was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, a good buddy of mine asked me what the deal was with my constant ripping of Dan Shanoff. My reply to him was that Shanoff is a moron and that reading his “Daily Quickie” was, if nothing else, a cheap and easy way to make myself feel smart. When a Harvard-educated individual is given the prestigious position of writing a daily sports column on the world’s most influential sports media website, there is an implicit expectation that this individual would actually have a mastery of their subject matter. This is not the case with Dan Shanoff.

In today’s “Daily Quickie” Shanoff writes the following about Darko Milicic:

It’s not Darko’s fault he’s an NBA punch line. In fact, riffing off the ESPN Classic show, here are “Five Reasons You Can’t Blame Darko”

(2) Larry Brown: Brown hates rookies. He hates rookies without college experience even more. Dumars underestimated how much playing for Brown could (and would) constrain Darko’s development.

(And if you want confirmation of Brown’s contribution to Darko’s problems, just take a look at the young Knicks this season, the NBA’s worst team.)

(4) Pistons starters: For Darko’s 3 seasons in the NBA, Detroit has been a 3-time NBA Finalist. Four of the starters are All-Stars, with the 5th making a strong case. No young player would have wedged their way in, least of all one with as little experience as Darko.

(Make no mistake: If Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony were drafted by Detroit, Brown would have parked them at the end of the bench, and they would have had as little chance to crack Detroit’s lineup as Darko.)


I’ve picked two of Shanoff’s five points that I’d like to argue against…

1. With respect to point (4) above, I would request that Dan Shanoff have himself checked out for Alzheimer’s. Dan, as a sports columnist, if you can’t remember that Milicic was drafted TWO years ago and that the Pistons have only been to the last TWO NBA Finals and not the last three, you might seriously consider hiring a fact-checker or getting out of the sports game altogether. There are just some things you have to know. Even fourth graders know this stuff…

2. With respect to point (2) above, I know it’s very fashionable to rip Larry Brown right now because he’s done a terrible job in New York. I’ve been ripping him left and right and I know first-hand how badly he’s mismanaging the Knicks’ roster, especially in the context of the inconsistent playing time being given to the young players on the roster. But what happened in other cities before Brown coached the Pistons and what’s happening right now in New York are completely beside the point. The point is that while in Detroit, Larry Brown had exactly ONE rookie on his roster in 2004 and that rookie was an unseasoned 18 year old player from Europe. In 2005, Brown had two rookies (Milicic and Carlos Delfino). Given the extreme veteran makeup of those two Pistons teams, and given the small sample size (1.5 rookies over two seasons) how could Milicic (or another rookie, for that matter) reasonably expect playing time on a team that was built to contend for the NBA Championship?

Furthermore, now that Flip Saunders is in charge, why isn’t Darko receiving more playing time? Why does Shanoff conveniently exclude this from his criticism of Larry Brown or from his apologist’s rant on behalf of Milicic? Are we to believe that Larry Brown “ruined” Milicic for Saunders? If that is the case then why would any team trade for Milicic if he’s been ruined?

Also, one last point about Larry Brown…

Irrespective of the crimes he is perpetrating on the Knicks rookies this season, I would like to mention that his track record does not indicate a bias against young players. In fact, as the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, several players with less than three full seasons of NBA experience played extremely prominent roles on his 50-win teams of the early 1990’s. The most notable among these young players, Vernon Maxwell, David Robinson, Sean Elliot and Rod Strickland, were all rookies or one-year veterans in Brown’s second season on the job (1990)

A similar example exists in Indiana in 1994 when, in his first year on the job, Larry Brown took the Pacers to the Conference Finals with rookie Antonio Davis, third-year veteran Dale Davis and other inexperienced players in the lineup. The same goes for rookie Tim Thomas who started every game for Brown in his first year in Philadelphia in 1998. Ditto on NBA Hall of Famer David Thompson when he was a rookie on the 1976 Larry Brown-led Denver Nuggets.

The point isn’t to prove that Larry Brown loves young players. It’s merely to point out that a lot of times in sports, fans parrot back “facts” based on what they have heard from “trusted” sports information sources such as ESPN without checking to see if those facts are correct.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Quote Of The Day

“I never take the first punch, never. Believe me, you throw me rocks, I’m gonna F-16 and just try to kill you. That’s my style.” – Ozzie Guillen

Is it any wonder why nobody likes the White Sox? Their manager is a raving lunatic.

Plus, I should point out, he can’t speak English worth a damn. “You throw me rocks” sounds like a harmless action to me. Why would that warrant Guillen killing anyone? And what the hell does “I’m gonna F-16 you” mean anyway?

Baseball's Innovation

Jayson Stark has a pretty thought provoking article up on the 25 Biggest Innovations in the Past 25 Years.

What's your guys thoughts on the most important change? The Best Change? The Biggest Blunder? The biggest non-change that should happen?

I'm actually in agreement with Starks in terms of the reorganization of baseball into 3 divisions and the introduction of the Wild Card as not only one of the most important but one of the best. Certainly without a Wild Card chase the end of year chase on average would not be as exciting. Certainly the playoffs are more exciting with an added round. I'm still mulling over the biggest blunder but one of the first things that pops into my mind due to the ease in which it could be changed is the awarding of the World Series home advantage to the winner of the All-Star game. It still makes no sense to me.

Anyway the floor is open to the experts and novices a like.....

Monday, February 13, 2006

Mighty's Mailbag: TV, NCAA, and More Ice

Well without football to anchor this columnist's attention I'll be taking The Cheney approach to answering question (i.e. shoot anything/anyone that moves). Here goes:

What's your take on the NFL TV announcers off-season?
Paul M. , unemployment line

Well Paul, it certainly has been an active free agent season for TV personalities. Disney substituted Mike Tirico/Joe Theisman team for the tried and true Al Michael/John Madden to head up Monday Night Football. They quickly moved to shore up the humor factor by calling in Tony Kornheiser of PTI fame. Finally to avoid over the cap fines, they traded Al Michaels to NBC for cash and a rabbit cartoon. I think it will be interesting to see if Sunday Night football with the big boys overshadows MNF. The other interesting question is Theisman and Kornheiser going to mesh? Kornheiser is the functional equivalent of sport's Woody Allen...funny, neurotic and self-admittedly temperamental. Theisman could barely stand rips from last year's Sunday Night crew so I assume by game 2 Theisman will strangle Kornheiser on air.


Which Conference might get two teams in the Final Four?
Jimmy the G, Vegas Baby

One of the big questions every year for the NCAA tournament is how does each conference stack up against one another. Good conferences can send ripples through THE TOURNAMENT (note read THE TOURNAMENT like one would say GINGIVITIS) by getting two to the Final Four. I have two conferences that could possibly do that this year: The Big East and The Big 10. Big East is the equivalent of the Borg. If you assimilate enough schools you’re bound to be strong. UConn, Villanova and West Virginia are the best of the best. They have experience, deep benches, prime time players and solid coaching staffs. Just below the big boys are Georgetown and Pittsburgh ...certainly either are capable of upsetting anybody as Georgetown demonstrated in its victory over Duke. This might be the deepest Big 10 since the turn of the century (yeah I know it wasn't that long ago). Iowa and Ohio State are two of the best 3 point shooting teams in the country. Nasty defense from Wisconsin and Illinois will keep them in most games. Tom Izzo's of Michigan State vial of Avian Bird Flu will enable them to make a tournament run. Would you mess with Izzo? He just has those crazy eyes. The ACC is down this year due to the massive draft migration. They will have to wait till next year before returning to the top of pile.

You said you liked the Winter Olympics, how is Team America doing?
-Dick C., undisclosed location

See the recent espn.com article by Jim Caple. It pretty much sums up a disappointing start by the Americans. If the Olympic hadn't added pot required snowboarding sports it would be pretty sad.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Five Questions: Pitchers and Catchers

Spring begins this week as pitchers and catchers report to major league baseball camps in Florida and Arizona. Before Back Seat Drivers provides its 2006 division-by-division analysis, coming in March, I'll post a short series on things to watch - position-by-position - in February.

1. Will Burnett and Ryan Be Enough?: Toronto was the loudest team since October, adding sluggers Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay, starter AJ Burnett, and closer BJ Ryan. Glaus and Overbay are good, veteran additions to a team that needs stable bats in the middle of the lineup. But Toronto can only send either NY or Boston home for the postseason if their pitching comes through. Everybody knew that Roy Halladay, as good as he is, wasn't enough, and young talent like Gustavo Chacin is promising but also not enough to overcome the Twin Towers of the AL East. But Burnett and Ryan can change everything in the division, especially because the Yanks and BoSox have obvious holes of their own. If Burnett pitches the way everyone thinks he can, and Ryan builds on his excellent 2005 season with the Orioles, we could see a changing of the guard, at least for one year, in what's been baseball's biggest foregone conclusion for years.

2. Will Kerry Wood Ever Be Healthy and Good?: There might not be any limb that can change the fortunes of so many teams more than Kerry Wood's right arm. When he's good - he's very, very good. The problem, though, as has been discussed here and all over the sports world, is that Wood just has not been healthy enough to sustain anything close to a full season of what he's capable of. If Wood's arm heals quickly, and he can start, the Cubs' top three of Zambrano, Prior and Wood is easily the best in baseball. A healthy Wood makes the Cubs the favorite in a NL Central weakened by St. Louis' inability and/or refusal to do anything important in the offseason, and maybe the Cubs streak deep into October if other things click into place. If Wood can't go, the Cubs probably can't overcome their other deficiencies, and the NL becomes even more of a toss-up.

3. Where's Roger?: The greatest pitcher in decades still doesn't have a home. We don't even know if Roger Clemens is going to play again. I'm betting against his retirement - but that doesn't really answer the most critical question. Clemens still has the ability to change everything; Houston doesn't sniff the Series in '05 without him. His agent said yesterday that Clemens is deciding between retirement, the Rangers, the Red Sox, the Yankees, and a return to the Astros (which can't come until May). Everything I said about the AL East above is different if Roger goes to Boston or New York. Everything I said about the NL Central is different if he goes back to Houston. Even Texas has a chance if he goes there. Clemens' 2006 plans are that important.

4. How Good, or Bad, is the Piazza Effect?: Most everyone agrees that the Padres were awfully dumb in dealing away All-Star second baseman Mark Loretta for backup backstop Doug Mirabelli. Then they got dumber - maybe - in signing future Hall-of-Famer Mike Piazza to a one-year, $2 million deal. Piazza is nothing close to the player he once was, and is not expected by the experts to show any kind of resurgence. But he's one of the big questions more because of his impact on San Diego - or, perhaps, the cost to the Padres in replacing one of the better second baseman and top-of-the-order hitters in Loretta with the aging Piazza. That this team might miss a chance to improve on their promising 2005 campaign as a result will stain both the front office and Piazza himself.

5. Is Paul Byrd The Answer?: Ok, the answer to that question is almost certainly "no." But the Indians desperately need Byrd to step it up and do his best to add the veteran presence in their rotation that was lost with Kevin Millwood's departure. Cleveland has a young, exciting, and extraordinarily talented team. The Tribe's biggest problem is that the World Series champions live in their division, and the White Sox might have gotten better. There's enough in Cleveland in Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, and C.C. Sabathia to give the team a real shot at a division title. If Byrd helps Indians fans forget Millwood, that could send Cleveland into the Series.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cheers and Jeers: Italian Ice Edition

Italian Ice Ingredients:

Cheers: To the Winter Olympics. Now you might say the Winter Olympics in Torino (pronounced toe-rei-no) isn’t that exciting but I beg to differ. I mean the skeleton alone is one of the coolest sports ever. How else can you describe an activity in which a person flings themselves headfirst at speeds that if everything does not go perfectly they will die? Plus unlike NASCAR they don’t have wimpy things like seat belts. I want to see if Bodi Miller can have the best athletic performance while drunk since the Mick. I want to see Norway actually win at something. I want to scream “USA” as the red, white, blue beats the hell of some former communist country that doesn’t even have electricity. Oh yes I will cheer for the Winter Olympics.

Jeers: To those still complaining about the Super Bowl. Seattle didn’t deserve to win. Ravens v. Giants was the all time least exciting game. Stop the whining. The only complaining about refs should focus on the ACC giving all the calls to Duke.

Jeers: To Dicky V’s slurping of Duke. Why does he do it? Nobody likes Duke. They’re soft. They don’t have a bench. I heard Coach K encourages his players to hunt hobos on days off. But on a nearly daily basis Vitale’s chin is being dusted for JJ Redick’s ball prints. Can anybody please explain his obsession?

Cheers: To the count down to Pitchers and Catchers

Jeers: To the SEC. I remember a day not so long ago when the SEC was considered a powerhouse in basketball. You know when Florida is your standard bearer you have issues. I mean porn stars working with Peter North don’t choke that much.

Cheers and Jeers: To a bitter sweet possible final episode of Arrested Development. Unfortunately FOX is axing one of the funniest shows on TV. If you haven’t seen it before, I give it the Mighty seal of approval, so you know it’s good.

Joke Of The Day

Wanna laugh? Read this:

“I took a lot less money to come over here for a reason, and that’s to win,” Molina said three days after agreeing to a $5 million, one-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

I have no doubt that the Blue Jays are a team with a legitimate chance to win in 2006. I just don’t think Bengie Molina turned down other offers and chose Toronto for that reason. I don’t know, just a hunch, but it might have something to do with the fact that he had no other offers at all after the Mets went with Paul Lo Duca and the Orioles went with Ramon Hernandez. Hell, even the Padres went with someone else. Anyway, thanks Bengie, I enjoyed that good belly laugh.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Damon Jones – Sidekick Comedian

I just wanted to enlighten everyone on how hilarious Damon Jones is. For those who aren’t familiar with Damon Jones, he’s a point guard who loves to jack up 3s, plays very poor defense, and has been on 10 NBA teams in 8 years. This year, he’s on the Cavs and still providing great comic relief. I just want to make clear with these quotes, he is joking most of the time.

1. Jones, describing then-teammate Michael Redd two years ago: "I call him [Redd] 'Bombs over Baghdad.' Sometimes he kills the enemy and sometimes he kills the civilians. And we --" he gestured around the Bucks locker room -- "are the civilians." - 12/07/2005 – Chris Ballard CNNsi

2. What is your favorite move on the court?--
Damon Jones: My favorite move is the three-point shot if you want to call that a move. When the ball goes through the net, I get to put up the three-sign. [2004 Milwaukee Bucks Website, Damon Jones answering mailbag question]

3. "I want to apologize to the media for taking a hard stance and not talking," Jones said. "I know from a business standpoint I did you writers a disservice for not talking because you were not able to get in my clever quotes and humorous statements in the paper."

4. InsideHoops.com: Damon Jones says that you [Donyell Marshall] are the 5th best 3-point shooter on the planet. Damon says he’s #1.
Donyell Marshall: Who's two, three and four?
Damon Jones: Me, in my younger days.
InsideHoops.com: So you're number one now, and two, three and four is you at various younger stages in your life?
Damon Jones: Yes… I’m also the best show in tennis shoes. http://www.insidehoops.com/damon-jones-interview-122805.shtml

5. Damon Jones, on his return to Miami with the Cavaliers said: "Whether I keep the place [in Miami] depends on my reception," he said. "If they boo, I'm selling. If they give me a warm cheer, I'm keeping it."

Bonus “Z’” quote: Cavs C Zydrunas Ilgauskas said the club's recent travel schedule has been odd. "You know you haven't been home a lot when your dog barks at you," said Ilgauskas, who has an 8-month-old Newfoundland named "Beckham" that weighs 115 pounds.

In Other Gloomy News...

It's been reported that Isiah Thomas is prepared to trade Channing Frye and Penny Hardaway's expiring contract for Kenyon Martin and Earl Watson.

I have absolutely no idea what that trade does for the Knicks besides putting them further over the salary cap, making them older, more brittle, more injury prone and more fan-unfriendly. There is no question that Isiah Thomas is an astute evaluator of talent. The problem is that he is a terrible executive. He lacks vision and foresight and the intestinal fortitude and conviction required to see an idea through to its completion. Instead, he makes decisions on the fly and runs his business willy-nilly. How else to explain the doing and undoing of the Knicks roster in the two-plus years that he's been in charge.

Isiah and Larry Brown need to be fired. James Dolan needs to be hung. The team needs a real owner and real executives if the Knicks are ever to be relevant again. Until these things happen, the Knicks will morph into the Clippers and Kings of the 1980's - bad teams with no hope for the future.

Angry Thoughts On A Wednesday

I must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Either that or the sleep deprivation from my trip to Las Vegas this past weekend has left me feeling hostile. Anyway, to quote that bloated bastard Peter King, here are some of the things I am thinking about today:

1. The Knicks 85-82 loss last night to the LA Clippers was a pathetic display on the part of my hometown team. It was also incredibly instructive. I learned that the Knicks, as a basketball team, are not as bad as their record would indicate. They have talented scorers at all five positions, they have a fairly deep bench, they have a desirable mix of youth and athleticism with just the right amount of veteran players sprinkled in to keep the team from running hog wild on the road. What they don’t have is a coach. Larry Brown is a Hall of Fame coach, the best teacher in the business and one hell of a devious bastard. I believe he is purposely putting his team in position to consistently fail. I believe he is silently sabotaging the team. What I can’t figure out is why.

There are two possible reasons that I’ve come up with. He’s either doing it to make the players look so bad that eventually he gets the type of control he’s looking for to trade players out and get his guys in or he’s doing it to sink the team so badly that management is forced to buy him out of his contract because the situation has deteriorated so rapidly. Now I know I’ve just made one hell of an accusation. But when I look at last night’s game, I am positive of my beliefs. Case in point, the Knicks were down 83-80 with roughly 37 seconds left in the game last night. Jalen Rose raced down the court, drove the lane and got fouled with 28 seconds left. After sinking both free throws to cut the Clippers lead to 83-82, a coach of Larry Brown’s pedigree would know that the right play is to either foul immediately on the inbounds pass or to foul after the other team clears the ball to half court, thus stopping the clock and ensuring that, at worst, the Knicks are down by three (after two made free throws) with at least 15 seconds left, if not a full shot-clock. What did the Knicks do upon Brown’s instructions? They chose to let the Clippers bring the ball up, dribble around for 23 seconds and then prayed that Elton Brand would miss a shot at the end of the possession. Fortunately he did and the Knicks got the rebound. But had he made the basket or, even worse, had a Clippers player gotten an offensive rebound, the Knicks would’ve lost without so much as a chance to get the ball back. Larry Brown put his team in a position where the best-case scenario was the least likely outcome.

Of course, SportsCenter has now shown that the Knicks lost after getting the rebound on Brand’s miss, calling a timeout and then failing to inbound the ball with 2.2 seconds left due to Rose’s five-second inbounds violation. This botched play was another of Larry Brown’s little games. By running Channing Frye and Jamal Crawford as the primary screeners for Eddy Curry, the Knicks were guaranteed to fail because it’s beyond difficult to expect an entry pass into the post from mid court.

All of this is a mere footnote to Brown’s irregular substitution patterns, his odd penchant for benching productive players like rookies David Lee and Channing Frye, and his distaste for creating continuity in the starting lineup. The final result is another Knicks loss, this time in a unique and silly way. Last night represents just another loss for a talented team that is being soundlessly murdered by a coach operating own agenda.

2. Murray Chass, the New York Times’ “esteemed” baseball columnist wrote a piece yesterday that would’ve made me laugh if I wasn’t too busy gagging on my own tongue. It boggles the mind how inconsistent the Times’ opinions are – one day they’re shilling the old-school, small-ball style of baseball and the next they’re buying KY Jelly for a date with their favorite Red Sox, of whom the New York Times owns 20%.

Yesterday’s piece by Chass was a total shredding of “Moneyball” based on stupendously faulty logic and a blind spot the size of Curt Schilling’s ego. The main premise of Chass’ argument was that “Moneyball” doesn’t work because the three main proponents of the system, Billy Beane, JP Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, have yet to attain true on-field success. Of course, Chass first needs to be reminded (by me, since his editors obviously won’t do their job) that “Moneyball” is the title of a book written in 2003 by Michael Lewis and not a baseball theory. In fact, those three general managers believe in something called “talent evaluation and roster-building through the use of statistical analysis and market efficiency analysis, among other methods” as their guiding philosophy. I can see why “Moneyball” sounds better but there’s just no such thing. Chass tries to prove that “Moneyball” doesn’t work because the main players described in the book, Kevin Youkilis, Jeremy Brown, and Scott Hatteberg, either haven’t achieved the level of success expected of them or, in the case of Hatteberg, because he was non-tendered and is no longer with the A’s ballclub. Uh, yeah, Murray, real strong case there. I’m now convinced that using statistics as one method to evaluate players doesn’t work because three players out of a sea of thousands aren’t Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Sure. Color me unimpressed with Chass’ intellect.

Chass takes special glee in ripping JP Ricciardi by using the following quote:

“You are spending too much money,” Ricciardi reportedly told Godfrey. “I can make you cheaper and better. It’ll take a couple of months to make you cheaper and a couple of years to make you better. But you’ll be a lot better.”

Godfrey liked what he heard, but four years later, the Blue Jays achieved the same 80-82 record they had the year before Ricciardi arrived, and that performance followed a far worse season (67-94).

As for cheaper, the Blue Jays’ payroll last season was $46 million, down from $65 million the year before Ricciardi took over. But this year, Ricciardi is operating on a budget $25 million higher, which means the Blue Jays won’t be cheaper than they were when he interviewed with Godfrey.

Wait, so because the Blue Jays payroll has increased this year back to the level they were spending at the time of Ricciardi’s hire, that’s indicative of something? I’ll tell you what it’s indicative of, Murray. The owner of the Blue Jays, Rogers Communications, just spent $25M to buy the SkyDome facility. By controlling their facility and all of the revenue streams derived from such control, the Blue Jays are better able to invest in their on-field product. It has NOTHING to do with Ricciardi blowing off “Moneyball” and EVERYTHING to do with the team emerging from financial crisis with a better, more solid base to do business.

Naturally, Chass saves his best for last, piling onto Paul DePodesta’s baseball grave like so many other scribes, all of whom give new meaning to the words “we mock what we don’t understand.” Chass fails to mention that firing DePodesta after two years in Los Angeles was one of a long line of unstable and self-defeating moves made by team owner Frank McCourt since his purchase of the team. Because it is nearly impossible to transform an entire baseball culture, let alone its development and evaluation systems after 24 months, I remain convinced that DePodesta’s tenure was incomplete and thus impossible to characterize as a failure. Try telling that to guys like Chass, however, and you’re more likely to convince a deaf dog to speak Swahili.

My advice to Murray Chass, if he chooses to pull his head out of Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein’s behinds, is to walk down the hall and talk to Richard Sandomir, his colleague and the Times’ sports business columnist. Such silly mistakes could’ve been easily avoided.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Duke the Gambler

I guess that having a gambling ring isn't a very good idea in this age of high technology. Even Wayne Gretzky's wife is guilty of it. I guess I will not be able to form my own bookie business and will stick with prognosticating horrible picks for the NFL on this blog. So goes my life of trying to become like Duke the Bookie from 90210. Here is the story.

Monday, February 06, 2006

MMBSD: Super Bowl XL

Well it was promoted as being an extra large Super Bowl and by in large an enjoyable game. I tuned in at around 5:45 by which point Chris Berman had been doing live Super Bowl coverage for about 72 hrs and on the verge of passing out. Meanwhile in the Casa de Cohen, I looked around at the cornucopia of unhealthy foods. Doritos, check. Pizza, check. Double Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Check. I was good to go.
I knew the NFL had gone all out when a night time image of Detroit was flashed on TV. Somehow through the magic of graphic design the NFL had made it seem like Detroit wasn't on fire. In fact it looked like some sort of futuristic city. Possibly the one from Blade Runner but that’s still a step up from the usual.
I checked my watch and after a pretty cool Motown show its getting close to kickoff. Time for some High Life because when you’re drinking the High Life your living the High Life. Also it was free High Life. The only catch is that I really can't leave the tv viewing area for fear I'll miss a good commercial. All in all higher quality commercials compared to last year. In no particular order I enjoyed the hidden Bud Light, office of Jackasses and Mcgyver. Of course the Sharpie commercial was the coolest if only because it had pirates and I knew the guy that helped make it.
Anyway back to game. I'll say this – the rotating fresh football really pisses me off. Each play the NFL trots a brand spanking new football. Of course new footballs are harder to throw than worn in ones which might have led to a few balls sailing. I guess it just sort of symbolizes that the NFL would rather serve its corporate masters than improve the level of play on the field.
The game itself was close. Seattle played better than Pittsburgh except for a few key plays. They were big plays though. Seattle's offensive line was the best I had seen since the Dallas Cowboys had won the Super Bowl. Their linebackers were just as fast as Pittsburgh vaunted quartet (hence Pittsburgh anemic first quarter showing). However Seattle just couldn't capitalize on their opportunities. They would march the ball up to Pittsburgh's 40 before stalling out. It was raining dropped balls. Couple that with a few missed field goals and the fact that their hurry up offense looked like it was hastily constructed on a bar napkin and the end result was Seattle left a ton points on the board.
Roethlisberger looked like a second year quarterback or a mountain man that had only recently been reintroduced into civilization after a four years of panning for gold. Pittsburgh converted the big plays. Parker dashed through Seattle for 76 yards and a score. In a play everyone in the stadium knew was coming Randl El heaved a perfect spiral into Ward's open arm for a 65 yard touchdown. Those plays were the difference. It’s hard to say Seattle deserved to win when they gave up those kinds of plays.

A few bones to pick:
Refing - Upon watching the game I flipped over to ESPN for some expert analysis. Instead I get Sean Salisbury bashing the refs and praising Hasselbeck as the true MVP. Did the refs make a mistake? Yes. The holding call in which Seattle converted a pass down to the 2 yard wasn't the right call. Can anyone tell me of another player/coach/field attendant/reporter that did not make one mistake the entire game? Refs are human. They will make a mistake. The other calls I thought were all close but reasonable. Yes they went the way of Pittsburgh. However what killed Seattle was Hasselbeck sailing a pass straight into the arms of a Pittsburgh Steeler. Maybe Salisbury you should focus on that.

Missing MVPs - By my count there were three missing Super Bowl MVPs last night: Montana, Bradshaw and someone else (if you can figure it out let me know). According to the San Francisco Chronicle Montana did not show because the NFL refused to pay him an appearance fee. I'm never one to jump all over something without having that person comment first but if true that's pretty low. How much money could Montana need?

Politics- For the record it’s my next prediction that Lynn Swann, due to his walking the MVP walk coupled with the Super Bowl win for Pittsburgh, will win the Pennsylvania governor's race.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl: Open Thread

I always wanted to have an open thread (open comments). Just to make sure we have the predictions saved for posterity

Gutsy: Pittsburgh 34 - 17
MJ: Pittsburgh by more than 4 and total more than 47.5
Colonel - Seattle 24 - 20
Mighty - Pittsburgh 24-20
Publius - Pitt
Laz - Pitt 27 -23
Josh Pho Minh - Pitt 24-20
SenorAllan - Pitt 27 - 20
Mighty's Dad - Pitt 21-17
Hart - Hines Ward Scores first touchdown and Dikta ending US reliance on Foreign Oil by the Third Quarter

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Super Bowl Preview: Sgt. Slaughter vs. Colonel Mustard






As everyone in America already knows, Steelers coach Bill Cowher is actually Sgt. Slaughter.
They both are very serious men, with serious jaws.

But the real question is, who is Mike Holmgren then? After asking people on the street and conducting a search of the FBI files, the answer became more clear than ever before. Mike Holmgren is none other than Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull) from the movie Clue. Seriously, look at these pictures.

Now that the characters are set, it’s time for the playoffs to have its conclusion. In January, 12 guests were invited by Paul Tagliabue to obtain the coveted Championship trophy. Slowly, the guests started to dwindle, as those with bad luck (Tony Dungy) and those with inexperience (Marin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Lovie Smith) were shown the door and only two of Paul’s guests remained: Sgt. Slaughter and Col. Mustard. But the problem remained in that only one of the two military men could bask in the glory of winning the championship.

Sgt. Slaughter has had his problems over the years. Hell, he trusted an insurance salesman, and a man named “Slash” to be his field commanders. Meanwhile, Col. Mustard has also had his problems over the years including trying to form some semblance of a defense, and ensuring that his mistress, Miss Scarlet, didn’t kill him with the candlestick in the film room.

The line says about 3 points in favor of Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though I despise the Steelers and Sgt. Slaughter with a passion, I have to be impartial when it comes to the Super Bowl. Basically, when it comes down to it, the AFC is the superior conference. The most telling statistic is that the Seahawks lost to Jacksonville (albeit back in week 1). The Seahawks did beat the hapless Titans and Texans, and beat a Colts team that was resting everyone. In comparison, Pittsburgh went 4-0 versus the NFC Norris division (mini-Ditkas, Sex Boat Vikings, the Favres, and the Motown Lions). Short of Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson breaking some huge plays, I don’t see how Seattle overcomes the defense of Pittsburgh. In the end though, Sgt. Slaughter’s use of a Homecoming Float (Jerome Bettis) and a Young Gun (Big Ben) will allow Sgt. Slaughter to outfox Col. Mustard. Honestly, Col. Mustard is in a whole different league than Sgt. Slaughter. Col. Mustard failed to give any memorable war stories from what I can remember in the movie Clue, and if that’s not a testament to how poorly the Seahawks will play this weekend, I’m not sure what is.

Final Score of Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh 34 , Seattle 17
Conference Championships: 0-2 (ouch!)
Playoffs: 7-3

Side Note
Finally, I’m still shocked out how no political party in America has begun a campaign to make the day after the Super Bowl a national holiday. Honestly, this has to be one of the least productive days of the year, as most people on the East Coast are either tired, hungover, or have indigestion and bowel problems. You could even just call this day “American New Year’s,” and then not change the year until after the Super Bowl. This would ensure that when someone says “the 2005 Super Bowl” they were referring to Seattle-Pittsburgh and not New England-Philadelphia. This would also reduce the amount of violence in America, because no longer would disagreements occur about which specific year belongs to which specific NFL season.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hot Stove Part XXVIII / Piazza; Crisp

I’ve been scratching my head on this one for days. Obviously, Mike Piazza had to land somewhere but I just don’t see why it’s with the Padres. Let’s examine the facts:

The Padres lost their starting catcher (Ramon Hernandez) to free agency (Baltimore Orioles; four years/$27.5M) so they obviously had to find a replacement The Padres “prepared” for Hernandez’s departure by trading their starting second baseman (Mark Loretta) to the Red Sox for Doug Mirabelli, a player who had spent the past four years as Jason Varitek’s backup. Throw in the fact that Mirabelli, at age 35, has never had more than 230 at-bats in a season (2000, as a member of the San Francisco Giants) and has averaged 57 games behind the plate over the past four years. What I’m building up to here is that the Padres traded a starter in the infield for Doug Mirabelli – a no-stick, part-time defensive catcher. Obviously the Padres realized that this move wouldn’t work out long-term and needed to grasp at the straw most available to them. Enter Mike Piazza.

Mike Piazza was, once upon a time, the best catcher in baseball. Those days are long gone. Now 37 years old, Piazza has gone from bad defensive catcher to truly horrendous. I won’t waste time talking about how he only threw out 10 out of a possible 82 baserunners last year because obviously the Padres signed Piazza for his bat. I mean, if Mirabelli is the designated backup catcher with an all-glove, no stick resume then isn’t Piazza the other half of that equation? His last two seasons in the AVG/OBP/SLG category tell us that he’s slipped badly at the plate (.266/.362/.444 in 2004; .251/.326/.452 in 2005) when compared with lifetime averages of .311/.382/.555. To make matters worse, the Padres have one of the most extreme pitchers parks in all of baseball. Do the math and you come out with what will probably be the Padres’ undoing in 2006 – a massive black hole in the lineup at the catcher position.

I can’t see how the Padres could justify the Piazza signing, even at a bargain price of $2M for the future Hall of Famer. If Piazza is to be counted on for 100 games behind the plate, when factoring in his negative defensive presence and his diminishing offensive output, I have no idea what the Padres were thinking when they decided that Piazza/Mirabelli was more valuable than Loretta/Catcher X.

One other note – the Indians and Red Sox finalized their trade, swapping Coco Crisp (and others) for Andy Marte (and others). I personally thought this was a ridiculous trade on the part of the Indians but the trade will ultimately be judged on what, if anything, Andy Marte turns into whenever his major league career begins (2006? 2007?). The thing that really confused me was all of the ancillary maneuvering. Why did the Indians trade away, in effect, Arthur Rhodes and David Riske for Jason Michaels and Guillermo Mota? If the Indians felt that their bullpen needed tweaking, how will Mota fill in for the shortfall caused by subtracting Rhodes, Riske and Bob Howry (who signed with the Cubs as a free agent)? I like Jason Michaels – I caught a batting practice homer off his bat at Citizen’s Bank Park on May 1st, 2004 – but he’s no Coco Crisp. Anyway, I guess the Indians just decided that last year’s run was as much fun as their fans were entitled to have for the next few seasons. If there’s one thing you can count on, its parsimonious ownership in the central time zone…