Monday, October 29, 2007


Look At Me!!!!

I’ve never had much of a problem with Alex Rodriguez. I suppose if he was choking on all of my team’s post season chances I might think he’s overrated but you can’t lay a post season egg if you don’t get to the playoffs and A-Rod has been an integral part of that equation for the Yankees.

I also don’t really have much of a problem with his bush league antics. Slapping the ball out of a wayward glove and calling off a fielder with an “I got it” is low but hardly a disgrace to baseball. It’s more childish than cheating.

There’s no question that A-Rod is vastly overpaid. In the minds of most fans athletes are all overpaid but when you consider the revenue they generate quite a few professional athletes are actually underpaid. LeBron James and Tiger Woods come to mind as two guys who should get paid just for breathing. Both are single handedly responsible for generating at least ten times the revenue they are paid. Tiger’s mere presence at a PGA event doubles patronage and LeBron has increased the overall value of the Cavaliers by nearly 200 million dollars.

Even by those standards A-Rod is overpaid. Because of salary cap provisions A-Rod can push a team over the limit and incur a luxury tax. That makes the real cost of signing A-Rod a lot higher than his total contract value. Teams with the assets to afford this financial impact have to win a championship to avoid losing money on the year. Even the endlessly wealthy New York Yankees struggled to stay in the black while shouldering just a portion of A-Rod’s deal. People sometimes forget that part of A-Rod’s contract was being paid by the Rangers. Another caveat in that contract was a player option. That’s where A-Rod proved what a jerk he is.

He doesn’t owe the Yankees a damned thing. Opting out of that contract doesn’t make A-Rod an A-hole. He’s got every right to pursue a better deal with a team that will appreciate him more. The Yankees are a calculating organization and Yankee fans are myopic brats who lack any semblance of class. Screw them. A-Rod is a better defensive shortstop than Derek Jeter but the Yankees refused to slide Jeter over to the hot corner for fear of offending him. If Jeter was half the leader everybody makes him out to be he would have volunteered to move over but Jeter’s ego is almost as oppressive as A-Rod’s. A big part of the reason A-Rod never really seemed to fit in with the Yankees is because Jeter happily fostered the idea that A-Rod wasn’t a “real” Yankee. So be it. It’s also worth pointing out that Jeter’s heroic post season performances are ancient history and his lackluster play in the ALDS was even more atrocious than A-Rod’s. Jeter’s a loser too.

But A-Rod trumped everybody. He could have waited until a few days after the World Series to announce he was terminating his contract. It wouldn’t have made him any more or less valuable on the open market to declare his intentions next week. But A-Rod couldn’t do that. He waited until the deciding game was well under way to tell the world that he was pursuing free agency. Of course the sports outlets started reporting it immediately and it became a topic of conversation throughout the game.

A-Rod’s move was a calculated attempt to steal the spotlight. It reveals a lack of respect for the game and its fans. It should weigh heavily on the minds of his future employers but it won’t. People will talk about his timing and his selfishness but over the coming months the bidding will begin and A-Rod will ink a 300 million dollar contract. He’ll put up great stats, break records and eventually land himself in the hall of fame because nobody will stop to investigate the story behind the numbers.

And that’s where baseball goes bad. Pick a sports hall of fame and you can name at least a dozen players who have been inexplicably snubbed but baseball sets the standards for unworthy honorees. Baseball writers are notorious for hiding behind the numbers and avoiding making and decisions about a player’s personality, leadership and overall character. A-Rod might prove to be so outstanding that his numbers will transcend the intangibles but the fact that they won’t even be discussed is why baseball is such a joke. We know A-Rod’s a jerk, but nobody will dare hold him accountable.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Another BCS blunder

The Ohio State Buckeyes have looked impressive so far this year. Granted, they didn’t exactly obliterate Youngstown State and they struggled to get their offense on track when Akron came to town but they convincingly beat Washington on the road and laid the wood to their early conference foes. Ohio State looks like a strong contender of the national championship.

But looks can be deceiving. Ohio State hasn’t really played anybody of consequence just yet. They boast a perfect record, have put up impressive stats and have a considerable average margin of victory but they haven’t beaten a top 20 team. By the time the season finally wraps up Ohio State might find themselves unbeaten, untied and untested. Does that make them worthy of a title shot?

South Florida stumbled into the number two spot and a lot of people are second guessing them but the Bulls have impressive victories on their resume. Early in the season South Florida shocked a highly ranked Auburn team with a gritty overtime win. A few weeks later West Virginia found themselves unable to move the ball effectively against a quick South Florida defense. At the time WVU was ranked number four in the country.

Ohio State’s highest ranked foe so far is Purdue which had just cracked the top 25 before getting worked over by the Buckeyes. Purdue might have reclaimed a top 25 ranking if it hadn’t fallen to Michigan a week later. People joked about Ohio State starting its season with a YAWN (Youngstown State, Akron, Washington, and Northwestern) but now the Big 10 schedule looks weak with Ohio State facing only one more ranked opponent when it plays Michigan in November. If Michigan continues to win the Wolverines could prove to be a formidable foe but right now nobody sees Michigan as a force to be reckoned with.

The odds are in Ohio State’s favor and if they run the table in a big conference there’s no question that the Buckeyes would be worthy of a shot at the BCS title but the current ranking is premature. Ohio State has not proven that it’s the best team. A perfect record can be impressive but only if the teams on the schedule were competitive. Right now the poll-makers are saying that Ohio State is better than everybody else but if we matched Ohio State up against Kentucky would the Buckeye defense hold? Is that Ohio State offense good enough to get vertical against that LSU defense? Florida humiliated Ohio State by putting Tim Tebow in to pick up tough yards, has Jim Tressel come up with a plan for Superman?

Nobody can answer these questions. That’s why they play the games. USC had too many weapons and Texas only had Vince Young but somehow the Longhorns walked away with a BCS Title in 2005. Last year the BCS Championship was played a month and a half early when unbeaten Ohio State outlasted unbeaten Michigan in a barnburner. Then Florida hung 41 points on the Buckeyes during a rout of the greatest college team ever assembled. Play the game.

Ohio State should not be rewarded for playing a soft schedule. There are those who would say that its unfair to punish the Buckeyes since the schedules are filled years in advance but it’s not as if Akron, Washington and Kent State were top-ranked teams four or five years ago. Nobody forced the Buckeyes to play Youngstown State. The Buckeyes can’t control how competitive their conference is year to year but they certainly have control over the number of in-state patsies they book.

The easy solution is playoffs. The BCS system is a beauty contest that rewards perfection. The polls are supposed to be subjective because the people voting in the polls are supposed to consider each team on its own merits, not just run down the schedule and see who has the most wins. LSU would be ranked ahead of Ohio State if not for one loss; a hard fought overtime heartbreaker to a very tough Kentucky team. While LSU was fighting a tough opponent to the bitter end, Ohio State was enjoying a leisurely stroll to the end zone over a Kent State team so outmatched that the Kent State coach admitted he would be resting his starters. Cal moved up in the polls two weeks ago for no other reason than having a bye week when other teams lost.

Dumping the BCS in favor of playoffs would not make the regular season mean less it would make quality opposition mean more. Coaches wouldn’t want to enter the playoffs having cakewalked through a soft schedule only to get massacred in December. Tough non-conference opponents would be the best way to prepare a team for a championship run through a playoff field.

The best part about playoffs is that post season match ups would no longer be determined by selection committees. For once the NCAA Division 1-A championship would be determined on the field not in some conference room.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Something's Bugging Yankee Fans


After watching the Yankees fall three games to one in the ALDS people can’t help but wonder what might have been. The Yankees seemed poised to steal home field advantage from the Indians in game 2, regrouping from a 12-3 beat down in game 1, only to have their efforts derailed by a swarm of flying insects known as midges. Refer to your local entomologist for more details.

The bugs were thick and players on both sides were struggling to cope with the waterborne pests but the Indians prevailed. Fausto Carmona had just as many midges crawling around on his face as Joba Chamberlain but it was the pampered reliever who struggled with the infestation. Fausto tuned out every distraction and threw 9 innings of lock down baseball while Joba fell apart. At least he didn’t make excuses for it after the game.

That hasn’t stopped others from throwing a tizzy. Roger Clemens whined about the bugs and said that the umpires should have delayed the game. George Steinbrenner took a break from threatening Joe Torre long enough to call Bud Selig and cry foul. Everybody seems to think that the bugs cost the Yankees the game and now that New York has lost another divisional series you can bet the innocent midges will take the heat for that. Never mind the fact that A-Rod sucked out loud yet again, or that Derek "God" Jeter played poorly in every aspect of the game.
Forget about Rocket laying an egg in game three and forcing Torre to exhaust his bullpen early. Thanks, pops. Now about that 18 million...I didn't see any insects forcing Wang to post an ERA so inflated it can only be quantified with exponents. And can we think about blaming Steinbrenner for applying undue pressure? By putting Joe Torre’s future on the line, Steinbrenner made it impossible for the players to relax and play naturally. Every mistake was another nail in Torre’s coffin. Maybe the Yankees lost on purpose just so they could get a break from Big Stein. Sometimes the owner needs to shut up and let the players play.

By the way, the umpires did delay the game. Everybody got to soak themselves in copious amounts of OFF. Unfortunately the unseasonably warm temperatures triggered a massive hatch and the bright lights of Jacobs field attracted millions of the harmless bugs. The lush grass drew the bugs to field level and the sweaty players rendered the repellant moot. Umpires aren’t supposed to stop play unless safety becomes an issue and the bugs, though annoying, did not pose any threat. Delaying the game for an extended period of time probably would have made matters worse as more midges became active throughout the night. Were they supposed to throw the entire post season into disarray because a couple of Yankees had got a case of the heebie jeebies?

The reason the umpires didn’t see any risk to the players was because only a few players seemed adversely affected. Doug Mientkiewicz acted as though he was going to die after inadvertently eating one and Joba tried to pitch with his eyes closed. They probably drowned their sorrows in Cosmopolitans after the series and they might take their mind off the loss with a day at the spa. Pedicures for everybody! Most of the players seemed capable of tuning the bugs out when it was time to play. Even her royal highness A-Rod and Dame Derek Jeter sucked it up when it counted. If Fausto Carmona had gone wild as well a delay might have been in order but the call on the field was that the bugs were a distraction that the players simply had to overcome. The conditions were fair and safe. Get over it.

New York fans can bitterly crack jokes about Cleveland but the Yankees will spend another off season trying to figure out where they went wrong. Steinbrenner will bluster, Torre will get the boot and A-Rod will opt out of his contract…he’ll probably end up winning a World Series in a classier city with better fans. Meanwhile Cleveland, swarms of midges notwithstanding, is reveling in a hard fought win. Even if they fall short against the Red Sox the team seems back on track and will remain in contention for a number of years. The Yankees are in trouble. The Boss might not be able to buy them out of the hole they’re in right now so they’ll whine about what might have been if those pesky midges hadn’t made an appearance in game 2. In all honesty, they would have lost anyway. The Yankees have no leadership and no heart.

The bottom line is that the Indians were the better team. They wanted to win more than the Yankees did. The bugs didn’t discriminate in game 2; they bothered everybody. The difference was that the Indians weren’t looking for an excuse. The Yankees came unglued because they aren't a real team. That’s one thing money can’t buy. New York is a collection of gutless prima donnas who don’t know what toughness is. The midges made it easy to give up.

Friday, October 05, 2007

LeBron Demonstrates Youthful Stupidity

It was bound to happen. LeBron's too young not to screw up once in a while and we all know he would do something foolish before long. What would it be... Dog fighting? Dope? Seven kids by way of 10 different women? As it turns out LeBron's first faux pas was a wardrobe malfunction.

I don’t have a problem with LeBron James wearing a Yankees cap. LeBron’s 22 which means he was 12 years old the last time the Indians got to the World Series and what do they do? Choke. Then the Indians unloaded the stars from that team and embarked on several rebuilding attempts. I was so disgusted I took a baseball sabbatical. Yes, I’m back on the Tribe bandwagon but I’m 15 years older than LeBron which means my Indians were the hapless losers of the 1980s who inspired somebody to write the script for Major League. It was a great movie but the fact that I had tears in my eyes at the end speaks volumes. It’s not easy being a Cleveland fan but if you made it through the 70s and 80s you don’t have much of a choice.

I should be a Yankees fan. Everybody from Cleveland should. Blowhard Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is a Cleveland boy who made good so we have a way to connect with the winningest team in baseball history. More than a handful of promising Cleveland prospects have earned championship rings in New York. It’s easy. Why waste time with a team that hasn’t won a championship since 1948?

Still, LeBron didn’t need to sit in Jacobs’ Field during the American League Divisional Playoffs wearing that Yankees hat. It was just cruel. Cleveland is a city that has taken some hard knocks over the years and not just in sports. The Cuyahoga River caught on fire. The city is cold, wet and dirty. Jobs are hard to come by and low paying anyway. The rich side of Cleveland looks like the poor side of everywhere else. Dennis Kucinich.

Sports are important to Cleveland. They are more than a diversion. People get to distract themselves from the drudgery of everyday existence by following their hometown teams but they also draw their self esteem from sports. It hasn’t been good. The Browns have never been to a Super Bowl, last winning a championship in 1964 but the worst was when Art Modell stabbed the city in the back and deprived Cleveland of the Browns for three years. The city fought tooth and nail with Modell and the NFL to retain the rights to a lousy team and since 1999 the new incarnation of the Browns has been terrible.

The Indians were awful for decades. After blowing the 1954 World Series the Tribe devoted itself to embarrassing the city and making a mockery of baseball every year until 1994 when a strong showing by the Indians was crushed by a labor dispute. There was no World Series in 1994 and the Indians might have been in the mix to win it. After winning 100 games in 1995, the Indians handed Atlanta its first World Championship and then relinquished the 1997 title to the upstart expansion Florida Marlins. Rumor has it that the Cavaliers have been a professional basketball team all along but most people can’t recall anything of the sort until LeBron arrived. All of that misery but yet the fans still show up. Nobody needs to rub salt in the wounds.

LeBron is the Chosen 1. He tattooed that sentiment on his back so he has clearly accepted the challenge. Clevelanders are terrified that LeBron will soon leave Cleveland for the fame and fortune of a much larger city. Rumor has it that the NBA is conspiring to put James in a Knicks’ jersey in the near future. So that Yankees hat plays on those fears. If LeBron loves the Yankees he might love New York and that makes it possible that Cleveland’s hero will soon be breaking their hearts. It’s hard to take. We always get screwed.

Of course that’s silly. LeBron might love the idea of building his own dynasty right there in Cleveland the way Jordan did in Chicago. If LeBron jumps ship and heads for a big market franchise with a storied past he’ll be one of many great players but in Cleveland he will be the greatest. Any former Cleveland player who left on good terms will tell you that Cleveland fans never forget. 20 years after hanging it up mediocre players can still get free drinks. Hey, Brook Jacoby! Let me buy you a beer. The money will be there regardless but the glory is greater when it is earned the hard way. LeBron wearing a New York hat has nothing to do with his NBA career.

Nevertheless, it’s in poor taste. He’s a shining star in Cleveland and has committed himself to being a force for positive change in what is essentially his home town. That means he should show support for the Indians, especially during the post season. If he wants to root for the Yankees privately that’s fine but as a high profile figure in Cleveland he needs show solidarity with the Indians.

It goes deeper than psychology. If LeBron shows up in the postseason cheering for the hometown team, the Indians will reciprocate. It’s good for the players from both teams to demonstrate camaraderie on and off the field. LeBron was disrespectful of his baseball counterparts.

Late in the game the Yankees were getting spanked and LeBron sat brooding in his NY cap. The entire city of Cleveland was thrilled to see its Tribe dominating the reviled Yankees for the first time all year and the most recognizable Clevelander was sulking like a petulant child. For the first time in his life LeBron seemed immature. He’s entitled to make mistakes and in the grand scheme of things this one is pretty minor but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth calling him out. The real problem is that LeBron drew considerable attention to himself when it was the Indians’ time to shine. He made himself the center of attention and looked a bit like a jerk in doing so.

Fans will forgive him. As long as LeBron shows up at the Q in a Cavaliers uniform, LeBron will continue to be the King. It’s just unfortunate that the King did have the good sense to be magnanimous.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Somebody get Grandpa his meds

Every October old school baseball fans finally put in their dentures so they can denounce the wild card. They wax philosophically about “the long haul” and how the wild card "rewards mediocrity". Then they get sleepy and take a nap. If they could keep their eyes open and actually watch the playoffs it might open their minds to the fact that this is good baseball.

Look, Pops, the wild card is the best thing to happen to the game since Jackie Robinson. It’s given teams the opportunity to overcome injuries and inexperience during the course of a season and still have a chance to win it all late. It has also put the pressure on the early divisional leaders to stay fresh and find an edge down the stretch. That means better baseball late in the season and the best team having a chance to win it all. Instead of deciding the championship based on record alone, we throw the best eight teams into the post season and see who wins on the field. That means the hottest team in baseball can upset the winningest team. If it upsets you that the playoffs are open to too many teams, do away with the pretense of playoffs altogether and just hand the championship to the team with the best record.

Look at the way things shaped up this year. The Yankees were dead and buried back in May but they fought through their struggles and now they get to face a team they owned all season long. If the Indians get past the Yankees we’ll know they’re for real but if the Yankees continue to dominate the Tribe it will prove that the AL Central was a joke. In the NL the Phillies set their sites on the Wild Card and managed to pass the free falling Mets in the process. As it turns out, the NL wild card could feature the scorching hot Rockies who will face the Padres for a one game play-in today. If the Rockies get in they will be the hottest team in baseball and a real threat to get to the World Series based on momentum; are you telling me that’s a bad thing?

Before the wild card format was created, the old timers complained about the short series. The old timers always have something to complain about. They complained when the league opted to keep the balls clean and again when the league banned the spitball. Old football fans screamed bloody murder when the NFL replaced leather helmets with plastic and again when the face mask was added.

Apparently the World Series used to be a 900 game affair with triple headers finishing up well into the wee hours. Pitchers threw 400 pitches per game and were required to bat…blindfolded. Bats weighed 40 pounds and gloves were no bigger than an oven mitt. Maybe it wasn’t that strenuous but I still remember listening to my grandfather complain about the “short” seven game series back in the 70s. How dare they?

It happens in every sport. My dad will sit there with a straight face and tell you that Otto Graham would make Peyton Manning look like a cheerleader if he played today. The reality is that Otto Graham wouldn’t be able to wrap his mind around a typical two minute package. Joe Montana would have a stroke if he tried to process the information today’s QBs internalize. Times change, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s for the worse.

My dad is also of the opinion that baseball was better when he was a kid; today the “pitching is diluted”. He doesn’t seem to believe that the fact baseball is now a global game and that the pool of talent is deeper than ever. He doesn’t think that training and nutrition make for a better baseball player. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and never lifted a weight in his life. Warren Spahn didn’t have a resistance machine in his clubhouse. He sees the numbers and assumes that the pitching is weaker. People will cite the statistics amassed by legendary players like Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Babe Ruth and dare you to find a modern player close to those numbers. Case closed. Numbers don’t lie, right?

Of course they do…because numbers never tell the whole story. And the old timers know it. They use that when the stats are stacked against them. Jim Brown played fewer games, Peyton Manning plays in an era where the rules favor offense. 50 Home runs means less now because seasons are longer and parks are smaller. But then they’ll talk about Chief Wilson hitting 30 triples and fail to mention how that was back in the day when some fields went on forever. It’s funny how nobody seems to mention that the worst player in any professional sports league is thousands of times better than the worst player just 25 years ago. The gap between the best and the rest is smaller than ever because the also rans have closed it. Today’s mediocre player is better than yesterday’s mediocre player. That’s why we need wild cards. Boston’s roster isn’t that much better than New York’s and the separation between contenders in the NL is nonexistent. We need the wild card to ensure that the best teams are playing.

The problem is that people get nostalgic as they get older. They have trouble accepting change because it makes them feel less significant. The past becomes less relevant so they do to. It’s what one might call hateration. Instead of enjoying the game, whatever game it might be, for what it is and embracing the changes the old farts focus on the negatives and raise a ruckus whenever they’re reminded of that change.

And I’m not some 20-something punk taking cheap shots at the old guys. I’m 37. I’ve seen the games I enjoy change tremendously. I still get nostalgic but not at the expense of dissing today. I roll with the punches and if I don’t like something new I’ll voice my displeasure but not at the expense of saying well in my day…I don’t ever want to be that guy, shaking my fist and yelling, “You kids get out of my yard.”

What these old fogies have to wrap their minds around is the fact that nobody cares. Every good sports fan is cognizant of sports history but they recognize it as just that: History. As in over. Bob Gibson WAS good; CC Sabathia IS good. Reggie Jackson WAS Mr. October but he isn’t going to see one pitch this month. It might make for an interesting discussion but no matter how hard you try there’s no going back in time, so just shut up and enjoy the game, whether there’s a wild card team playing or not. If you choose to live in the past you also choose to be irrelevant. Whining about the good old days isn’t going to bring them back and it won’t get you invited to any World Series parties.

Get over yourself, have a beer and enjoy the frigging game.

Or we’ll call the nurse.