Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What was learned on Opening Day


The Giants gave Zito a contract as disproportionate as Mr. Mets' head. San Francisco spent $126 million on Zito, a cost that does not include how long he will set back franchise recovery. The Giants will be one of the worst teams in baseball this season, and Zito will be a leading reason why.
After leaving the American League for the 300-thread-count soft National League West, Zito figured to benefit. He has not.
His bloated ERA last season was 4.53, the highest of his career. He also pitched less than 200 innings for the first time since becoming a full member of a rotation.
Zito will be 30 in a month, and anyone who can trade him on name recognition alone would be wise to do so.


Three hits, including a home run, on opening night for Guillen. He drove in 100 runs last season, and stole 13 bases for good measure.
When Curtis Granderson returns to the Detroit lineup, Guillen will benefit. He won't move up in the lineup, but he will have Granderson at the top and Edgar Renteria behind him. Guillen is in a perfect spot hitting sixth for Detroit. He has Miguel Cabrera in front of him, and may benefit the most from that offseason acquisition.
One hundred runs and 100 RBIs are reasonable goals for Guillen.


Who? The guy at the top of the Minnesota order, that's who.
Gomez was a big piece of the Johan Santana deal with the Mets, and the reason was his speed. He told Sports Illustrated he often beat Jose Reyes in a 60-yard dash.
Gomez put his ability on display opening night. He reached base three times, stole two bases, and scored two runs.
Gomez will benefit from the Metrodome's fast track. The 22-year-old needs to cut down on his strike outs, but only needs to hit around .280 in order to have fantasy owners benefit from his wheels.


The Diamondbacks hit Jackson in the cleanup spot opening night. Coming out of spring training, he was slated to hit third, but now is in an even better position. His power is in question, but a substantial improvement in walk/strikeout ratio last season means his pitch selection is getting better, allowing him to hit his pitch more often, and, as a result, see a rise in power.
Jackson, a first baseman like Guillen, could allow the movement of a more prominent name at first base to fix a bad spot on your roster. Jackson went undrafted in many large team mixed leagues. He may be the waiver grab of the season.


The Tigers vs. Kansas City's Brian Bannister. Last season Bannister was 2-1 against Detroit with a 2.55 ERA in three starts. Those numbers are misleading.
The Tigers hit .307 against Bannister, who threw 17 2/3 innings against them, allowing 23 hits. That is a precarious line. Sit Bannister, start any Tigers.


To the Chicago Tribune:

"It was a good ballgame. It was well-played, tough conditions. But somebody had to win, somebody had to lose, and they won the ballgame."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kobe speaks up about Darfur

The news broke last Tuesday. Folks using Miracle Ear powered by a nuclear reactor probably didn't hear.

Anyway, there was Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA's rock stars, not talking about his new shoe, but using words like murdered and mutilated. He was wearing a black sweatshirt, talking about changing the world.

Bryant recorded a public service announcement for Aid Still Required, a non-profit group attempting to raise awareness about Darfur, and, ultimately, a peaceful resuscitation of the country.

Joining Bryant are Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Baron Davis and a dozen other NBA players. Each recorded a PSA for the group.

Taking a political stance is rare territory for professional athletes these days, though there has been a recent uptick in their societal participation.

Former Cleveland Cavalier Ira Newble was the first to lend his name in an effort to better the situation in Darfur. Last season he wrote a letter to the President of China, Hu Jintao, asking the Chinese to influence the situation in Darfur. China has been accused of supplying weapons in exchange for Darfur's oil, which it denies.

Twelve of Newble's teammates signed the letter. The notable of three exceptions is LeBron James. James said at the time he needed more information. Apparently his Internet connection is still down.

But James' choice not to participate isn't a surprise. He's the face in the middle of Nike's dollar bills. As Nike and the NBA push to expand in China, speaking out against government activities is a tricky situation for him.

Equally unsurprising is the lack of media coverage. No mention on SportsCenter. No mention on the nightly news. Kobe dropped 52 on Dallas Sunday, and we all heard about that. He went ballistic against Sacramento two days later, and we heard about that, too.

Nothing about the PSA.

Interesting this happened in the NBA. You know that league, the one supposedly full of thugs, gangsters and all those (gasp!) tattoos.

The league mandates certain charitable and community works by its players. Some of it is contrived, causing consternation among those who think professional athletes are spoiled rich kids (which, at times, is the case).

Often, there are good deeds gone unpublicized, though not unnoticed.

Regardless, we always want more from our athletic heroes. More points. More rebounds. More wins. More action.

Speak up. Take a stand. Use your celebrity to endorse a cause instead of well-packaged beverages.

It's questionable if that's fair. Are all the fans changing things for the better at a comparable level? If your voice can reach five people, are you using it?

Many athletes are less educated than the average citizen. Many are not. Yet we feel they are beholden to the public trust because of their unfathomable financial status.

Maybe they should be. Maybe that money and fame makes them more responsible for others' well-being.

Maybe they shouldn't be. Bank account size is the basis for human responsibility? Responsibility level is parallel with global reach?

James does charity work, required and otherwise, though he is dropping the ball here. Nike will still love him. His ultimate financial status will not be challenged were he to join up with the Darfur cause. As the co-dominator of NBA headlines, he could make a push.

Regardless, Bryant is in. Nash is in. McGrady, who actually traveled to Chad refugee camps last summer, is in. Luol Deng is in. Derek Fisher is in. Grant Hill, Emeka Okafor, Andrew Bynum, all in.

It's time everyone was.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Kobey conundrum

If he is traded, let's hope you're not stuck behind Kobe Bryant at the airport baggage check. He's going to be a while.

Fortunately, it's very unlikely Bryant will be traded. It's even more unlikely he would be flying coach.

The petulant Bryant spent the summer flip-flopping. It began at the end of May when he spouted a trade demand.

"I would like to be traded, yeah," Bryant said in a radio interview.

The same day, the Lakers star used a spin move.

"I don't want to go anywhere else," Bryant told ESPN Radio later in the day. "I want to be here the rest of my career."

He repeated the back-and-forth through the summer. It continues even now, a week before the regular season begins.

Bryant said the core of his desire to be traded stems from mistrust. This moves him from flip-flopping to hypocrisy. Any player who publicly demands a trade has breached trust built with the organization, his teammates and fans.

Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss said in early October that he would listen to offers for Bryant. Using simple logic, this comment can be interpreted, as, well, logical. Of course the owner would consider offers for even his most touted piece after hearing the summer-long shenanigans. Not to mention Buss had to be a bit insulted by Bryant's sulking after standing by him during his rape trial (in which the charges were dropped).

But Bryant was bothered.

"We just wanted to keep things quiet, go about our business," Bryant said in a television interview. "It's my job to play basketball, it's not my job to worry about what management is doing."

This statement is absurd.

Keep things quiet like he did all summer? Not worry about what management is doing though he constantly criticizes the roster? Going about his business?

The problem with all of this is Bryant's skill level. It's unsurpassed. This makes any consideration of trading him seem ludicrous.

Sorry LeBron, sorry healthy Dwyane Wade, sorry Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan. No one has the all-around ability of Bryant.

His shooting range, defense, and, most of all, his enveloping arrogance make him the best since Michael Jordan. Last year he led the league in scoring, and was the only player in the league to be on the All-NBA first team and NBA all-defensive first team.

Which, again, leads to a problem associated with his ability. Finding anything near equal value in a trade for Bryant would be difficult enough. But Bryant's no-trade clause, coupled with his trade demand and limited teams of preference, leave Buss on the teeter-totter facing an elephant. All of his leverage is gone.

No contending team is going to move their top piece for Bryant. Dallas is not going to deal Dirk Nowitzki, though that one-for-one deal would be an improvement for the Mavs.

Chicago is not going to give up four young players for Bryant, who already is in his 12th season. Plus, the Lakers won't be misguided enough to take numerous bad contracts and players on the downsides of their careers from the Knicks.

Bryant, 29, has four years and $88.6 million left on his contract. He can opt in two years, which more and more seems to be the winning scenario.

AS for now, with a week until the season starts, Bryant won't be going anywhere prior to a Dick Clark television event.

Come January though, the Lakers will take a look at what they have. Everyone else in the league will run an equal assessment. Then legitimate consideration of moving Bryant will bubble up.

Until then, Bryant will be in between. In between defenders. In between with his comments. In between with his teammates.

At least he'll be using a private plane.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Patriots can go undefeated

It's too early for this conversation.

We're only seven weeks into the season. It's like heading to the jeweler after the third date.

But the dominance shown by the New England Patriots thus far is enough to prod the moderately sane to consider it.

The Patriots can go undefeated.

There. That didn't taste so bad.

It seems premature. After all, the television shouters, who love nothing more than exaggeration proliferation, aren't on board yet.

There's also a week 9 road trip that looms as the strongest reason not to believe such blasphemy. The Pats head to the midwest. Down to Indianapolis where the defending champs reside. The team that took out the Patriots in last year's AFC title game.

But this is an enhanced Patriots team. Reasons to believe abound.

Not the least of which, of course, is Tom Brady. When he says it's about wins, not touchdown passes, it's believable. Which, in a way, is unbelievable these days. But the results prop up his statements.

Then there's Randy Moss. Always draped in talent, Moss has transformed the Patriots' passing attack. He's a role player. A term viewed as derogatory when applied to someone with Moss' skill, is the highest compliment in this instance.

Moss' role is simple. Inspire marvel.

Force opposing coaches in midweek film sessions to have the "but if we do that, then ..." conversation while trying to figure out how to plug three holes with two fingers.

Shaking his head at last week's postgame press conference, Dallas coach Wade Phillips still hadn't found an answer.

"There an outstanding team with tremendous matchup problems for any defense," Phillips said.

The Cowboys tried man-to-man. Zone. Zone blitzes. Blitzes out of man coverage. None of it worked.

Of course, additions Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth have helped as well. The balance they provide, never more on display than last Sunday night against Dallas, is invaluable. The mixture is particularly potent with the smartest, most accurate quarterback in the league allowed time not just to throw, but to decide.

They're even doing this with the third-string running back.

The defense is yet to allow an 100-yard rusher or a quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards. It shares philosophy with the offense. Cut off Sampson's hair, and see if something else can harm you.

The final reason a perfect season is possible is Patriots coach Bill Belichick. His ability to position the proper players in the proper place at the proper time is becoming astounding. He's reached a point that he could enter the international Rubik's Cube competition, win it, then top that by finding dates for all the contestants.

The jaunt to Indianapolis in three weeks and a visit from Pittsburgh in week 14 are the clear challenges remaining. The Patriots will be on a short week when they host Pittsburgh, having to play at Baltimore on Monday night of the previous week.

In addition, three games remain against division opponents. The three other teams joining New England in the AFC East have combined for three wins through seven weeks of play.

It's been 35 years since the Dolphins put together the NFL's only undefeated season. Several teams reached double-figure wins before going down. Though they all seemed to have an identifiable leak.

That's not the case here.

History is in the making.

Drew finds his swing, Red Sox fans find him

Type J.D. Drew's name into the Google search box and the first suggestion to finish your query is "J.D. Drew sucks." Click on it, and the results aren't surprising.

The second suggestion is "J.D. Drew stats." Click here to learn that Drew hit .270 during the regular season. It was the second-worse average of his career, trumped only by a .252 season in 2002 with St. Louis. Drew, who signed a 5-year, $70-million contract with the Red Sox in the offseason, produced 11 home runs and 70 RBIs this season.

The third suggestion is "J.D. Drew son." Prominent because of Drew's 19-month-old son, Jack.

Jack had been walking strangely, then fell and broke his collarbone at the end of July. He was brought to an orthopedist, who discovered the youngster had developmental displacement of his hips. This happens to one in every 1,000 children. Surgery was required.

Luckily for the Drews, the team was in Boston at the time. The superior medical help strewn throughout the city was at their disposal. Discovering the issue prior to 18 months of life enormously beneficial.

Surgery took six hours. An additional 45 minutes were necessary to fit Jack in a cast that ran from his chest to his ankles.

The talk about Drew's son has been quiet, much like his dad. Drew is an introverted sort, his stoicism aiding in making him a target for vitriol.

The detracting began when Drew was drafted with the second overall pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997. With Scott Boras as his agent, The duo demanded at least $10 million from any team that drafted Drew. Philadelphia said it wouldn't pay it, yet selected Drew. They didn't pay, so he didn't play, instead heading to the independent Northern League.

Drew's (or Boras') initial demand, coupled with his calm demeanor, made him a pinata in front of people with no blindfolds. The three times he's changed teams, the yeah-but story about his potential versus his results was written. Often being injured did not help his cause.

Then he comes to the most critical fan base and media in baseball. He doesn't play well, his results far away from the expectations brought by the financial details of his contract. Drew evolving into another What if?

But there was turnabout Saturday night.

Drew's fist inning grand slam jolted an already intense Fenway Park. After rounding first, a slight fist pump represented an internal celebration for Drew. More telling was a Fox camera catching him in the dugout leaning back, exhaling, then looking up.

He was even forced out of the dugout for a curtain call by the ravenous crowd. Five RBIs and three hits in an ALCS elimination game bring that adulation.

"J.D. Drew is a special player. I'm sure he's not real proud of the year he had ... but he is the definition of 'even keel,' " Curt Schilling said to the Associated Press. "I mean, he doesn't snap. He doesn't get too high, too low. He just goes up and he plays the game. And tonight, that wins the game."

Drew was stoic in his on-field postgame interview. Not a surprise.

In the press conference he was equally sedate, presenting the ammo-supplying traits that have rankled passionate fans at each of his stops.

"It has been a tough year, my expectations are high," Drew told the Associated Press. "I didn't have the year I would like to have, but I feel like I had a good September and started getting things turned around. Just wanted to go into the playoffs and have good at-bats."

Fans see the swing, running ability, strong arm. But they wonder why the chunk of heart they display isn't readily visible from Drew. For the public, this will always keep Drew from full embrace.

His teammates as well as other players see the gifts and wonder. That was never more apparent than when Drew finished second in a poll of Major Leaguers conducted by Sports Illustrated. The question put to them: Who gets the least out of the most talent?

But now, more importantly, Drew represents a crossroads between the millionaire athlete and the human beyond the field.

His seemingly robotic personality, early demand for money many won't earn over a lifetime, and lack of outward passion for winning leave a bad taste with most.

His first-born being rearranged by a doctor and contained by a cast well before his second birthday, all the while his wife pregnant with a second child due in November, makes you wonder about the greed of sports fans.

A single swing Saturday night provided Drew a break in one world. Early detection may provide him one in another.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

If Torre's out, who's in?

Lube up the trap door, it appears Joe Torre is out as Yankees manager.

Owner George Steinbrenner vowed to dismiss Joe Cool if the Yankees didn't come back and beat Cleveland. They didn't. After 12 years of success and stability, the Yankees are in for an offseason of tumult. Even more than usual.

They have roster questions. What will Alex Rodriguez do? What happens to Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon?

Will general manager Brian Cashman officially, and fittingly, change his last name to two words?

Beyond that, it appears they will need a new manager as well. A look at the possibilities, in order of likelihood:

Joe Girardi

He played four years in the Bronx, winning three World Series titles. He's the reigning Manager of the Year in the National League until this season's sashes are handed out. His work with the Florida Marlins in 2006 earned him that title. Prior to schooling the fish, Girardi was Torre's bench coach for a season.

Cashman's take when Florida initially asked to talk with Girardi:

"He's a huge asset for us as a bench coach, and obviously he's a great baseball man. He's been running the game for years behind the plate and now obviously sitting next to Joe on the bench. So I'm not surprised I got a call about him."

The ringer? Girardi got into it with Florida's owner in very public fashion. They Yanks couldn't have a more perfect candidate.

Tony La Russa

He's tinkered from the dugout for almost 4,500 games. His teams have won two World Series and three pennants. Though still officially the manager in St. Louis, La Russa is as likely to leave that position as Torre is to leave his.

One snag may be La Russa and former Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty are thought of as a package. Unless Steinbrenner's finger gets stuck on the button, it's unlikely Cashman is leaving, and the new Yankees manager would have to work with him.

La Russa has large entertainment value as well, considering his odd lineups. Constant tweaking of his bullpen would be plenty to irritate the Yankee fans.

Don Mattingly

The Yankees current bench coach will be in the mix. He's dealt with Steinbrenner for over 20 years and is familiar with the current roster. He spent the previous three seasons as the hitting coach, before being moved next to Torre this year. A quiet approach, a place in Yankees lore, and ability to challenge John Oates for best (worst?) mustache gives him a resume for consideration.

Bobby Valentine

The former Mets manager is sure to come up, likely thrusting himself into the talks. Currently managing in Japan, Valentine comes across as someone who'd prefer three spotlights if there were only two directed at him. No stranger to Steinbrenner, New York or controversy (speaking of mustaches), his credentials get him brief consideration.

Tony Pena

Talk about inspiration. If a political candidate would like advice on how to rally support, turning the undermanned and disinterested into contenders, call Pena. In 2003 he was Manager of the Year, leading the Kansas City Royals to a winning record. Pigs flew around the stadium. It was beautiful. Though hiring Pena as the head man would move him from a crucial position in the organization, catching instructor. The time to determine how to replace Jorge Posada (36 years old) isn't too far off.

Larry Bowa

The combustible Bowa is also a former manager. His experience will get him brief consideration.

Ozzie Guillen

Well, one can hope, right?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday's musings

Sonics head coach P.J. Carlesimo said flagpole Kevin Durant will likely start at shooting guard. The 6-10 Durant will be a matchup quandary no matter what position he plays, but I wonder if making him guard smaller, quicker players coupled with his rookie status is a mix that will lead to constant foul trouble.

Ted Lilly's glove slam on the mound Thursday makes it appear he may not have the mental toughness to execute when the stakes are high for the Chicago Cubs.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel must share speech writers with George W. Bush.

There's something to be said for the Yankees mental strength. Yes, the payroll is enormous, as is the talent level. But the sometimes annoying fact that they play four-hour games almost every time out is a testament to their approach and focus. Making pitchers work and subsequently skewing the odds of baseball success into your favor is a difficult process. No matter the salary, keeping focus and forcing other players to bend to your will is unmeasurable variable that has been at the core of the Yankees ongoing success. That's why they're never out of it in May or June, no matter how disjointed they appear. Their ability to wear down and grind opponents over a month, series or single inning is a result of calm acuity obtained from their leaders, Derek Jeter and Joe Torre. If the Yankees don't win the World Series this year, other teams can only hope Torre is removed.

It's becoming clear that steroids were not just for home run hitters. Mets reliever Scott Schoeneweis is the latest middle-of-the-road pitcher to be accused of receiving steroids. The regenerative abilities of human growth hormone appear to be as important as the power increasing benefits. Everyone's skill set reaches a cap, and desperation to physically maintain that level boosts steroids appeal.

In other steroid news, former track star Marion Jones will admit to using steroids in 1999, prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympic games at which she won a track and field record five medals, three of which were gold. Washingtonpost.com first broke the news. Curious what the second-place finishers in the 100- and 200-meter races, both won by Jones, think now. Maybe they're celebrating. Maybe they're just shaking their heads and wondering if this is ever going to stop in their sport.

Poker. Still not a sport. Get it off the supposed sports channels.

Hockey season has started. Really, it has. Once again the NHL has done an outstanding job of keeping that fact under wraps.