Sunday, November 29, 2009

Go See "The Blind Side"

The movie is based on Michael Lewis's book, which alternatively discusses the evolution of the left tackle position in the NFL and the curious case of Michael Oher, a homeless young man in Memphis whom a friend of Lewis from high school's family adopted. Oher, from an awful background, ended up as the ward of Sean and LeAnn Tuohy, enrolled in a Christian School, tried out for the football team, and had the size and coordination to get noticed by every school in the SEC. The evolution of the left tackle position came about because of the ability of fast right defensive ends (such as Lawrence Taylor) to dash around the left tackle and hit the quarterback on his blind side. The evolution of Oher is somewhat more remarkable.

The movie doesn't focus nearly as much on Lewis's observations about the evolution of the left tackle position. Lewis, who is as good a social commentator as there is, likes to point out trends and peel back many layers of the onion to analyze them (and, yes, that analogy is used in the movie). Instead, this movie focuses almost exclusively on Oher's compelling story, the gentle giant from a place called Hurt Village who grew up among some characters who would make Fagin from Oliver! look like Mother Theresa. We all know the result -- he went to Ole Miss, excelled, was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens and, at mid-season, playing right tackle, was named by no less an authority than Peter King of Sports Illustrated at the best at his position.

It's a warm movie and a great story. We all need to hear more inspirational stories, especially at a time where unemployment is very high and shows little signs of dropping and somehow the news that the recession has ended hasn't hit most businesses. People are testy, people are antsy, people are afraid. So, if you're any of those things, go see "The Blind Side." It's a good story with lessons in it for many.

Chris Ballard's Brilliant Idea

Ballard writes for Sports Illustrated, and in this week's inside back column he writes of LeBron James and the legacy that he's going to try to create for himself. It's not secret that many NBA teams are saving up salary cap money to pry James from the hoops backwoods of Cleveland to the likes of New York City, where James somehow will sprinkle his magic dust over a cast of also-rans and turn them into a world champion. The Knicks are one example of an NBA team that is making pagan sacrifices to get undefined Gods to steer the uber-talented James to their team.

Ballard, though, makes a great point that otherwise would drive James' fellow players, his union and perhaps NBA Commissioner David Stern wild. Ballard notes that James earns about $30 million a year on endorsements and really doesn't need the money (relatively speaking, as ultra-competitive NBA players want to make more salary than everyone else -- it's the nature of the competitive player). So, following that logic, Ballard suggests that to win titles and cement his legacy as one of the all-time best, James should sign with a team that has a chance for a title for the NBA minimum, for at least a year and perhaps as many as three. By doing so, he can play with Kobe Bryan in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard in Orlando or, say, Dwayne Wade in Miami (and, if he were to do this, the Heat could also ink hot free agent Chris Bosh, to create an amazing trio of stars). Were James to go this route, he could win several titles, perhaps a title a year for five years in a row.

And what could be more valuable to LeBron than winning titles -- he'll become more valuable to sponsors, and his legacy will not only be one of transcendant talent, but also one of being one of the top team players ever. All because he opted to take less salary.

It's a great thought, and one that LeBron and his advisors should explore, at least for the short term. After all, while the bright lights of New York City might be enticing, I'm not sure that the prospect of playing for a sub-.500 team for a while is all that attractive. Were James to go this route, he'd shake up the NBA -- for the better -- for the near future.

I Coached Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad

The Nets fired Lawrence Frank, he of the 0-16 record.

It's hard to imagine Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach faring better with the roster that the Nets have, but when you're 0-16, it's the coach who gets fired. Assistant Tom Barrise takes over for now, but it's hard to imagine that any of the host of former NBA head coaches out there can do much better than the hard-working Frank.

The Nets are a symptom of a greater problem that the NBA has -- too many teams, not enough good players, a sagging product that over time will not sustain the high expectations (and resultant weight) that the NBA's hyperactive and overachieiving marketing machine has placed upon the league. In English soccer, they'd be relegated to the next league down. In the NBA, they'll continue to languish without much hope for improvement for quite a while.

Let the Speculation About Al Golden Begin

Virginia fired its head football coach, Al Groh, after a 3-9 season.

Temple coach Al Groh is enjoying a 9-3 season thus far, has turned around what was a miserable program in 3 years, was a prime target of UCLA after last season, and is one of the hottest young coaches out there.

He also had been UVA's defensive coordinator before moving to Temple. Unless UVA is primed to hire either a) a big-name coach (and hope he has a successful second act) or b) a coordinator at a big-name program, Golden makes all the sense in the world for UVA. He's been nothing short of masterful since going to Temple.

Let the speculation begin.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oregon State's Unique Recruiting Tool: Meet the President

Most recruits want to be on Craig's list. That is, the list of Craig Robinson, the head men's basketball coach at Oregon State University. As most know, Robinson is the brother-in-law of President Obama.

The other day the OSU team visited the White House. President Obama greeted them, posed for photos and talked with each member of the team.

Pretty neat stuff. Oregon State has a great hoops history and was in the national hoops conversation more than 25 years ago under legendary coach Ralph Miller. Now, Craig Robinson has put the Beavers back on the map. He's a pretty good basketball coach in his own right, and if you're a parent you'd want your kid to play for him. It also doesn't hurt that if your child goes to Oregon State, he might get the chance to meet the President. As powerful recruiters as Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and John Calipari are, none of them can promise a White House visit or a photo op with President Obama (wags might suggest that Calipari and his staff would try to promise something like that, but realistically even the Kentucky coach cannot deliver on something like that).

And here's the thing of it -- sure, the Obama connection gets Craig Robinson a lot of press, and that has to help him with recruiting. But, no fan or writer should short change Robinson -- the guy can teach and coach. He's a very good man, and players improve under him, and he'll make sure that they get their degrees. All of the other stuff is a bonus.

When the Cigar Bars and Dancing Girls Won't Do: The 76ers are Contemplating Signing Allen Iverson

That's what is reporting.

Young PG Lou Williams is out two months with a broken jaw. Two years ago now-starting PG Jrue Holliday was in high school. Holliday was viewed as a solid developmental project when the 76ers took him in the draft; they didn't envision playing him 35 minutes a game about 5 weeks into his rookie season.

Which means that the 76ers have a vacuum at point guard. And reports are that they're going to try to fill it with Allen Iverson. But isn't this 34 year-old the same guy who the 76ers conceded under the coaching administration of Larry Brown was really a two guard, despite his small size? So now is the guy once called the "Answer" really the answer, not only as a starting PG (where the job description for successful PGs has passing as a priority before shooting) but as a mentor to young and impressionable point guards?

(It's also amusing to note that Brown is touting the virtues of Iverson, or at least saying nice things. Those who lived through the tumult during Brown's coaching of Iverson recall "owner" Pat Croce's getting involved to mediate between the star player and the coach and, also, Iverson's now infamous "practice" rant. Iverson frustrated Brown greatly. Brown's positive comments derive more from his training at the University of North Carolina, where loyalty to the basketball family runs pretty deep and where the 11th commandment is "though shall praise and network for former players and family members and never speak ill.").

This is a desperate move for a team that is playing to a half-empty building and that has quickly forgotten the wake that Iverson left as a legacy before he was traded to Denver. Yes, Iverson has played hard throughout his career, but he hasn't played smart all that much, has taken a lot of shots, has a tendency to go one-on-three, and has not shown leadership skills during his career. As the headline states, the 76ers have resorted to gimmickry to get young fans in the building -- cigar bars, photo opps with scantily clad dancers and the like -- and most fans, particularly serious basketball fans have seen through those tactics for what they are -- carnival-like attractions. But now the front office is one-upping itself if it brings Allen Iverson back. Big time.

Sure, they can talk about reconciliation, about the prodigal son's returning home and try to make the signing worthy of a Billy Wilder or Cecil B. DeMille movie, with GM Eddie Stefanski splitting the Schuylkill River to enable Iverson to walk across it (as with his advanced NBA age presumably he can no longer walk on it) and return to the Wachovia Center. For a day or so, everyone will say the right things, the usual fluff about how exciting the possibility to have AI again, with AI's saying that his career has come full circle and he's excited to end it where it began. Yes, they might even push the Eagles off the sports page for a day or two, and perhaps they'll sell some more tickets for a few games.

But they won't win, they're not building for the long term, and they're inking a guy who will do nothing to bring their franchise forward. Better to sign a PG from the developmental league to split time with Holliday, take their lumps, perhaps fall into the lottery, and then get a player who can help them get to the next level. Because with AI yes, they might win a few more games, but at what price?

Dignity? Hypocrisy? Good basketball? Teamwork? A good practice work ethic?

Sounds like the NBA's version of a circus is about to come back to town.

And it's not a lot of fun to watch old acrobats try one more time to show their stuff on the high wire.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why Won't The Cardinals Introduce Mark McGwire at a News Conference?

The team is tight-lipped about when they'll produce McGwire, who has been named the Cardinals' hitting coach.

The Cardinals' brass hasn't given a reason for its failure to produce McGwire, but perhaps here are a few reasons:

1. The former first baseman is completing an associates' degree at a St. Louis-area community college on pharmacology.

2. He's boning up on how to answer questions at the press conference with one of the best defense attorneys in the St. Louis area.

3. He's trying to get Sammy Sosa to show up with him, so that they can reminisce about their epic chase of Roger Maris's record.

4. He's lining up his endorsements with GNS, CVS and the folks who advertise products in bodybuilding magazines.

5. Major League Baseball is looking for late on a Friday afternoon (as the lowest number of readers reads the papers on Saturdays) after a terrorist attack has occurred.

McGwire can run, but he cannot hide. Let's see if the local St. Louis sports media -- who will have to live with him and a grouchy Tony LaRussa every day -- will press McGwire on his past one-man clinical trial testing of whatever substance(s) he used. Or, will the national media (Messrs. Gammons, Olney, Stark, Verducci and Kurkjian) pound him on the topic? Or, will all writers try to adopt the mode that MLB seemingly hopes they will -- fuggetaboutit. My guess is that he'll field a few questions about his escapades and otherwise escape a grilling.

Except on an annual basis, when Hall of Fame voters express some public agony about their votes, only to vote "no" each and every year.

Pirates' Ohlendorf Interning in D.C.

No, he's not part of the Nationals' roster.

The Princeton grad is interning with the Department of Agriculture.

No, the operations research major isn't working on a way for small-market teams -- including his own -- to grow better prospects. Ohlendorf is a Texan, and he and his father have raised longhorns. Agriculture intrigues him and he likes to learn, so the ace of the Pirates' staff is spending his off-season in D.C. before heading to spring training.

Good off-season story for the Pirates, who still need to figure out a way to play .500 ball and draw people to that beautiful ballpark of theirs.

Will the 76ers Sign Allen Iverson?

Here are two reasons why they might:

1. Starting point guard Lou Williams broke his jaw the other night against the Wizards and is out 2 months. Rookie Jrue Holliday, who was a freshman at UCLA last season, is now the starting point guard. Willie Green, much more of a 2 guard (sound familiar?) is the back-up.

2. The team is last in the NBA in attendance. Apparently, the dance team doesn't bring in men in the 22-40 age group as much as the front office thought it would.

Here are two reasons why they shouldn't:

1. Iverson is a distinct part of the 76ers' past, and the team should stay in the "moved on" mode.
2. He doesn't fit in with what coach Eddie Jordan is trying to do.

Basketball purity left the NBA a long time ago. The league has morphed much more into an "entertainment" mode than the rest of the three major leagues combined. Finances do matter, especially when unemployment exceeds 10% and most people don't feel like the recession has ended even if the experts claim it has. Translated: people just aren't coming out, so the question for the front office is whether the return of Allen Iverson would bring in a few more thousand people a night.

The answer: no. He's not the same guy he was ten years ago. Besides, some would continue to stay away were he to be brought back. The verdict: tempting, but not practical.

If Allen Iverson is to un-retire, he'll have to do so somewhere else.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Allen Iverson to Retire?

So says reports on

This report raises a lot of questions, such as:

1) what will he be remembered most for;
2) what will he retire to; and
3) is he a Hall of Famer?

As for the third question, it's both rhetorical and actual. My guess is that he'll be voted into the Hall because of the ratio of his individual effort to his size, as opposed to his shooting percentage, his unselfishness and his ability to make his teammates better. He has the numbers for the Hall, and he'll get in. Whether or not he's a Hall of Famer existentially is a different question. His backers will stress his effort, especially for his size, his MVP season and contend that he carried the 76ers without a bona fide lead supporting player, in that the Philadelphia team never got him a Scottie Pippen for their (poor man's) version of Michael Jordan and that playing with the George Lynches of the world failed to enable him to shine.

Interesting point, but he couldn't play with Jerry Stackhouse, who, when he was young, was teed up to be a star in the NBA (his prep and college bona fides suggested he would be). And, if he had someone better than a young Stackhouse, an established NBA star, would Iverson have known how to play with him? Or, would Iverson have insisted upon the limelight, tried to do it on his own during crunch time (and how many times did 76er fans see shots taken in 1 on 3 situations), and frozen out the star? It's hard to argue that Iverson would have shown his true greatness playing alongside a Pippen-like player. To the contrary, that situation would have underscored, even more, 76ers' fans and basketball purists' frustrations with him.

As did his stint in Denver, where he couldn't mesh with a more talented team than Philadelphia's and so frustrated were the Nuggets that they peddled him to Detroit for a perhaps less talented but much more team oriented and, as a result, valued player (at the time) in Chauncey Billups. And then Iverson failed to mesh in Detroit because he didn't like being a sixth man, even though, at age 31, that was perhaps the role that he was best-suited for. What made Iverson fearless and, at times, brilliant, also brought him down -- his unwillingness to compromise under any circumstances.

So, is Iverson a "Hall of Famer" in a different sense -- one that considers teamwork ahead of numbers? The answer is no. Sure, it's unfair to judge any player by a lack of championship rings. Sometimes so-so players earn rings because they're in the right place at the right time. Not to knock them, but many players could have played the eight-man in the rotation role (or beyond) on the Michael Jordan Bulls -- but only a handful did, and they have multiple rings. By the same token, Iverson seemed to frustrate those he coached, had that infamous "practice" rant, seemed to be a source of friction for the 76ers when Larry Brown coached them, and didn't seem to make his teammates better and, better yet, to lead.

Michael Jordan led. A player would join the Bulls, and he would say (as he did to Steve Kerr), "Hey, we've got to get you a ring." Jordan would practice the hardest, and he'd get into teammates' faces if he didn't believe they were working hard enough. (A friend who was in the Celtics' training camp decades ago recalled how Larry Bird always had to be the last player out of the gym; he spent hours shooting the ball). Iverson? To be fair, he played very hard in games, but he didn't appear to do any of that. And if the player to whom the others were required to defer doesn't do that stuff, then the team seems more about him and the show that he can put on that it is about winning.

It's hard to imagine Allen Iverson retired. Perhaps he needs a year to replenish a battered body, as he's a smallish guy who has taken a pounding over the years and given many a courageous personal effort. Perhaps he'll use that year to rehabilitate his image and take a shot at a comeback next season, as it's just hard to believe at such a young age he'll be happy sitting in the elementary school carpool line or riding a hybrid bike on bikepaths after spending half the morning at the breakfast table doing the crossword puzzle.

The bet here is that he'll be back.

And he'll accept a role off the bench.

Unless. . .

he opts for huge bucks as a drawing card somewhere overseas.

But in some of those towns, fans take their hoops really seriously.

And they care if you go to practice.

And might stone you if you don't.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thoughts: Princeton Fires Head Football Coach Roger Hughes

I saw the story in my morning paper and wasn't surprised. The Tigers were 47-52 under Hughes during his ten-year tenure, had 3 winning seasons and 1 shared Ivy title during that time. I've met Coach Hughes on occasion; he seems to be a nice, good guy, and I wish him well.

It's easy to pile onto Coach Hughes and say "numbers don't lie" or "with a record like that, they should have fired him a few years ago" and things like that. After all, in sports and sales, the numbers don't lie. But before Princeton alums pump their chests, say this is a great job, and say that they need someone who is a "winner", consider at least one fact that hurts the Tigers.

Princeton is the only school in the Ivies that doesn't accept transfer students.

And, if it did, like any other Ivy, it would not only accept athletes, but bassoonists, classicists, creative writers and fencers. Which means that you wouldn't see a pipeline of gridders coming through Old Nassau every year.

But, according to someone very familiar with Princeton football, the aggregate numbers aren't the issue. This person told me several years ago that one transfer -- even every other year -- could make a huge difference. Several years ago, the star Harvard running back transferred from Northwestern and the star Yale running back from Air Force. Yale's QB this year transferred from Nebraska, and over the years Penn's had transfers from Duke and North Carolina play quarterback. Presumably, these are upper echelon talents for the Ivies who can really make a difference.

Again, the number of transfers that Princeton takes for any activity -- zero.

So, imagine if you're another Ivy, and you have a need for a specific position. The Ivies have prestige, they recruit lots of kids, including some kids the Ivies reach for. Kids who the Ivies would be thrilled to get but who opt for scholarships elsewhere (as opposed to need-based financial aid) or better football opportunities. Those kids fall behind others on the depth chart, still want to play, and look to the schools that initially recruited them and then transfer. Or, they simply look to transfer. And any other Ivy with a need can match up its need(s) with who is available. So, if Cornell needs a defensive tackle and a kid from Stanford wants out, they can get him. If Dartmouth needs a running back and a kid from Duke is unhappy in Durham, presto, Dartmouth has a starting running back.

Now, one player doesn't a roster make, but one skill-position player who is a difference maker can help a good team be great or an average team contend in the Ivies. The transfer rule by no means excuses the overall record of the Princeton Tigers during Roger Hughes' tenure, but Princeton's decision not to admit transfers might put it at a competitive disadvantage in football. The hypothesis is more anecdotal than empirical right now, but stories abound in Ivy circles as to how transfers help Ivy football programs.

There's also some conjecture that Hughes didn't have as easy a time with the admissions office as other Ivy coaches do, but show me an Ivy coach, and I'll show you someone with a beef about the admissions office -- other schools let the prospects know more quickly that a recruit is likely to get in, the admissions office doesn't like football, the basketball team is the favorite and so forth. Again, anecdotal stuff.

At any rate, from afar the Hughes teams didn't perform as crisply on average as Al Bagnoli's Penn teams. Perhaps an occasional transfer might have helped, but Princeton A.D. Gary Walters now has the opportunity to hire a head football coach who can improve the won-loss record. Let's see what he can do.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Al Golden -- The Hottest Name in College Football Coaches

The Temple Owls have won their ninth straight, pasting Kent State 47-13 in Philadelphia today. They are now 9-2 and travel to Ohio Friday to play the 8-3 Bobcats.

If your Division 1-A school will be looking for a head coach after this season, expect Al Golden, who brought back a comatose program from close to elimination and who has worked miracles on North Broad Street, to be at the top of the list.

Luck of the Irish: FIFA and the Blues See Green

FIFA has said no replay.

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, has been silent.

France just said no to a replay.

Thierry "Hands" Henry, captain of Les Bleus, belatedly said that there should be a replay. Perhaps his agent told him that his legacy (and obituary) would be that in a key game to save his national team from humiliation, he guided a ball with his hand in extra time to steer a World Cup berth to France.

The French press has been all over the French team.

The French gym teachers' union apparently is appalled at France's lack of owning up to the fiasco that the referee (a Swede) created when he didn't call an obvious hand ball (he should be relegated for at least a short time to a beer league in Beirut for missing that call).

About 6 years ago FIFA lauded a national team coach for sportsmanship when he elected not to demand a replay after an obvious blown call. That's interesting, isn't it? Sure, that coach elected not to complain mightily (thereby not giving FIFA a major headache), but those who truly merit the attention are when they take a stand that is against their own interest for the sake of integrity -- which is what the French national team and manager Raymond Domenech would be doing if they mandated to all governing bodies that there be a replay.

Instead, the French berth and FIFA itself are tainted.

As will be the 2010 World Cup.

And conspiracy theories will abound.

Those theories will say that FIFA will do anything to get team from about 7 countries -- England, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil -- into the World Cup at all costs (apparently when the results of the play-in rounds revealed that France and Portugal would be in danger of not making the World Cup, the fief heads of FIFA changed the play-in match-ups to avoid a France-Portugal play-in series, thus avoiding having one of those two traditional powers not make the World Cup).

So, if FIFA wants those 7 countries in the World Cup every year, then FIFA should just say so and save the rest of us the drama and the hypocrisy. France has 64 million people and many more consumers than Ireland, which has a population of 4 million. But if that's the case, then China, India, Russia and the United States should make it in automatically every year too.

It may be that rules are rules and that FIFA needs to follow them at all costs. That would be to say that if the referee failed to call the hand ball, there's nothing that FIFA can do about it. But given all of the doubts and the fact that few, if any, could imagine a World Cup without France, it's hard to dispel notions that the hand of someone muted the whistle of the referee. And while there's no evidence to suggest that -- the guy might have had an awful day and been daydreaming about his plans for after the match -- 4 million Irishmen, many Frenchmen, and many others will wonder for a while what happened on that play that prevented the referee from making the obvious call.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

France-Ireland -- World Cup Qualifier Travesty

Lest you might have thought that anything to do with the Olympics and planning for it was among the most questionable, if not corrupt, activities in the world, now we have last night's World Cup qualifier between France and Ireland, played in France. I'm in France now, and I've had the benefit of hearing the French reaction to the "Hand of Henry" goal that propelled France to a tie in the match and a berth in the 2010 World Cup.

Irish star Robbie Keane scored in the thirty-third minute, and for a good part of the game the Irish really took it to France. In extra time (for Americans, that means time added to a half to allow for the time that the clock ran but play did not continue because of an injury), the ball made its way toward the goal Ireland was defending. French captain, former Arsenal and current Barcelona striker Thierry Henry guided it with his hand toward another player. The referee should have stopped play and called it a "hand ball." Sometimes, if the touching is viewed as obvious and deliberate, a player can get a yellow card (the equivalent to a technical foul in basketball; get two yellow cards and you get a red card, an automatic ejection and a suspension from the next game). Play would have stopped, and Ireland would have had a free kick.

Instead, the Irish are crying foul in their beer. Apparently the French media are not being kind to their own Les Bleus, as a colleague told me that commentators on the air and in print are saying that France won because it cheated. Naturally, there's speculation that since no one involved with the World Cup could imagine one without France. . . well, you fill in the blank. That's a tough allegation, and, as American baseball fans learned, in the post-season this past season otherwise well-regarded umpires missed some obvious calls (including two in a row in a World Series game by umpire Brian Gorman, who called a double play that wasn't against the Yankees and then called Chase Utley out at first when he clearly was safe).

This is a pretty awful spectacle, and if you can find a replay you'll see how obvious a missed call this was and confirm that it was at the worst time of the game. Which leads to a suggestion. . .

Why don't they have instant replay on all goals in games like this? That doesn't mean I'm suggesting that they do so in every league match everywhere, but in championship matches, tournament matches, deciding World Cup qualifiers, why don't the powers that be take some pressure off the officials and guarantee some more quality in the officiating. Akin to a "booth review" in the last 2 minutes of a National Football League game, a review of any goal should be automatic. If this were the case, the referee would head to a booth on the field and converse with officials up in the press box. They would review a replay of the goal, and the referee clearly would have seen the hand ball. And then he would have made the right call.

Instead, at best human error cost the Irish a World Cup berth (my guess is that there are several World Cup officials who would contend that had the Irish played better throughout the qualifying, their fate wouldn't have come down to this goal in this game, so that they shouldn't make such a big deal about this goal). The Irish fans are angry and frustrated, and the French fans are sighing a sigh of relief.

But both Les Bleus and the French fans know that the French didn't deserve that goal, that tie or a berth in the World Cup.

As does the rest of the soccer world.

The accident has happened, so now it's time for the World Cup officials to put up better traffic signs in the form of instant replay. The reason is clear -- the integrity of the game is at stake.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Great Baseball Hot Stove Talk from SI's Jon Heyman

Good stuff on

a) who might get Roy Halladay;

b) whether and when Mark McGwire might come clean; and

c) which teams are looking to trade players.

I have a hard time believing that the Phillies would seriously consider trading for Brandon Inge, who is only a few years younger than Pedro Feliz and has a bad on-base percentage (according to, a career .305). The Phillies need someone who can hit consistently, field the position reasonably well and have an OBP closer to .350 than .300. Placido Polanco would seem to fit the bill, but he's a Type A free agent who would cost the Phillies their first-round draft pick. And given the Phils' sudden and unprecedented run of success with first-round picks, it's hard to believe that they'd be willing to part with one for Polanco.

Keep on following Jon Heyman on He's worth the time.

Should the NFL Go to an 18-Game Schedule?

Sports's Ross Tucker, a former NFL and Ivy League player, thinks so.

The article doesn't say whether Tucker had any concussions during his career or, if so, how many? While I generally like Tucker's writing, some of the reasons he cites for the proposition actually might be strong arguments against it. The main one -- he believes that injuries create intrigue and opportunity. My view -- injuries seriously dilute teams, turn the season into a war of attrition where the healthiest and not the best team can win it all, and few fans want to see a gridiron match-up where King Hill and Joe Pisarcik are quarterbacking pre-season Super Bowl contenders for the last five games of the season. (Presumably, were the NFL to move to an 18-game season, the league also will adopt a two-hand touch rule with respect to contact with quarterbacks).

Read the whole thing and see what you think.

Elena Delle Donne is Back

She was the top recruit in the nation several years ago, chose UConn over Tennessee (and many others) and then quit the team after one day. Initially, "burnout" was cited, but the fact was that Delle Donne wanted to move back home to Delaware to be near an older sister with whom she is very close and who has significant disabilities. Delle Donne enrolled at the University of Delaware, played volleyball, and then couldn't resist the urge to return to basketball.

UConn apparently was very good about her leaving. This is one kid who seemingly has her head on straight.

Here's the story of her debut.

All of a sudden, Delaware women's basketball is on the map.

Isiah Thomas Isn't Running the Knicks Anymore, Is He? reports that the Knicks might be interested in Allen Iverson.

The team must have a short memory about having had to deal with Stephon Marbury.

Can't blame all the woes on their former GM, can they?

Will the Phillies Sign Mark DeRosa? thinks so.

That the Phillies want him and that he'd be interested in the Phillies are the easy part. What the article doesn't ask or answer is "in what role?"

The Phillies have been looking for a supersub who can play many positions and not cause a dropoff in production. They would love not to have their regulars play 155 games a year and give them more meaningful rest. That would mean finding someone who could spell Raul Ibanez for 20 games, Jayson Werth for 15 (presumably, Werth or Ben Francisco could play center when Shane Victorino rests), Ryan Howard for 10 (against tough lefties), Chase Utley for 12. That's someone who can start for approximately 60 games and get about 300 plate appearances guaranteed.

The Phillies also are looking for a third baseman. If that person is DeRosa, then they're still looking for a supersub and might be even more in need of one because DeRosa will be coming off wrist surgery. If they can sign an Adrian Beltre or Placido Polanco too, they'll both have strengthened their bench and their starting lineup. And, with Beltre, I don't believe there would be a significant dropoff in the field from Pedro Feliz.

With DeRosa, the Phillies' offense will get tougher. With DeRosa, a starting third baseman and one more potent lefty bat off the bench, the offense could be as tough as it's ever been.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Major League Baseball Might Need a Salary Cap

It should take a look at the English Premiership, where most teams (of the 20 in the league) are happy to be there and have absolutely no chance of winning the title. The ones who win the title are perennial contenders Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea (a relative newcomer) and Liverpool. Yes, Manchester City has a lot of money now, but they're not usually in the conversation. Others in the Premiership -- such as Aston Villa, Bolton, Everton, Fulham, Tottenham -- have little chance in winning it all. Check out the odds that the bookmakers put out at the beginning of a season, and there are more teams at 1,000 to 1 or higher than there are fewer. Or at least it's very close.

If the wealthy teams in Major League Baseball continue their spending ways, the stats have shown over the years that while excellence cannot be bought (translated: the Yankees don't win it every year despite spending the most money, it must be paid for (translated: you cannot contend for the World Series for the most part unless you're in the top 10 in payroll). So, many of the teams have little or no chance of winning a division let alone a World Series. And that means that at some point it might not be economically feasible for teams in places like Kansas City and Pittsburgh to exist, let alone play .500 baseball (17 straight losing seasons and counting in Pittsburgh) or contend.

Is that what Major League Baseball wants to be? Look, I know that the players' union wants to maximize the money that players make, but does it want to do so at the expense of most players' having a chance to play for a contender? Because that seems to be the path that Major League Baseball is on, that is, so long as fans of the teams with no chance continue to show up in reasonable enough numbers for the also-rans to sustain themselves. But if they continue to sustain themselves, then they're probably merely providing entertainment, as the home fans will get to say that they saw the stars for the visiting teams. And that trend has started -- this season, both the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates advertised in Philadelphia to induce Philadelphia fans to travel to their ballparks. A friend did just that for a Pirates' game and said that it seemed more like a home game for the Phillies, because Phillies' fans predominated.

Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Angels, Cardinals and perhaps a few more. Without a salary cap and with an economy that has its aches and pains right now, how healthy is Major League Baseball for the long run?

Scouting Them Young

Much has been made in the U.S. of the basketball recruiting gurus who scout elementary school and middle school kids, all with an eye to predict who will be the next big thing. The problem, of course, is that early perception seldom meets up with reality. Sure, Tyson Chandler and Sebastian Telfair are in the NBA, but we had heard about them for so long that it would have been impossible for them to become the next, say, Wilt Chamberlain and Earl Monroe. And they're not even close anyway.

I'm overseas, and I was talking with a colleague who lives in Ireland about his 11 year-old nephew, who made his town's team. He's a starter, and in the finals of a big tournament, scouts from English Premiership teams were there. The goal of many an Irish kid is to play for Manchester United, and Man U was represented, as were Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, among others.

So, looking at the (very) youngsters is not only the franchise of self-appointed recruiting gurus in the United States. It's a very big business in Europe.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who Do Cal Fans Root for When Stanford Plays USC?

Just askin'.

A Cal alum friend said she rooted for USC because she went to graduate school there. She didn't respond when I asked what she would have done had she not. Is it a tough choice, or does USC win because a Cal alum simply cannnot root for its arch-rival Stanford in anything?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Princeton 71 Central Michigan 68

Last year, the Princeton Tigers hosted Central Michigan in the season opener at Jadwin Gym and lost a close one. Yet, for Tiger fans, that game gave them hope that Coach Sydney Johnson had the team playing with a vigor that it hadn't for several seasons. While the Tigers didn't win the Ivy League or get a post-season berth, they enjoyed a winning season and finished second in the Ivies.

This year, the Tigers traveled to Central Michigan, had the lead late, lost it, and then rallied to prevail. You can read about the game here and check out the box score. Okay, so it's not as a remarkable an accomplishment as Princeton's neighbor to the south, Rider, enjoyed this week, as the Broncos upset #18 Mississippi State in Starkville, or the win that Ivy rival and favorite Cornell had, beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Nonetheless, the Tigers beat a decent opponent on the road, showing that the nucleus of players that meshed last season is trying to step up their game this year. And for close Tiger watchers, it looks like two freshmen -- Ian Hummer and Will Barrett, both touted recruits, are in the rotation.

As always, for the best coverage of Princeton basketball, go to the Princeton Basketball blog. Great stuff there from Jon Solomon, so please check it out.

Rocky Wins the Title For Real: Stanford Football

Stanford beat USC yesterday.

In football.



That is not a misprint.

Somewhere, the collective fandom of the Pac-10 is rejoicing. Okay, maybe not Cal fans (who have their own celebrating to do, as their Bears beat #17 Arizona yesterday 24-17), but everyone else. Having lived in California for a time, I recall seeing bumper stickers saying "My favorite team is ______ [the alma mater of the owner of the car] and whoever is playing USC."

Stanford football had fallen on hard times before Jim Harbaugh arrived in Palo Alto. Now, Stanford is a formidable force in the Pac-10. RB Toby Gerhart is a bona fide Heisman candidate, and if he doesn't get serious consideration it's because a) he plays in the wrong time zone or b) Big 12 and SEC beat writers, among others, don't look west of Nebraska most of the time for their football news (heck, they probably don't look much further north of Knoxville or Columbus these days, either). So successful is Stanford (as The Sporting News predicted it would be), that The Sporting News predicted in its pre-season football guide that the Pac-10 coach most likely not to keep his job would be none other than Harbaugh. Most of the time this prediction is predicated on a team's playing poorly enough and its coach's going into the season on the hot seat. This predication, of course, was predicated on the editors' optimism that Jim Harbaugh would continue to demonstrate what an outstanding coach he is.

Which means, of course, that NFL teams and "bigger time" teams (whoever they are, wherever they are, and whatever their (lesser) academic standards are) might come a-calling. Now, the conventional wisdom these days is that college coaches cannot make the transition to the NFL. Dennis Erickson was one of the latest examples of a coach who just didn't get it done. But Harbaugh played in the NFL, is the son of a college coach, the brother of an NFL head coach and has achieved mightily -- think Sisyphus actually getting the rock to the top of the hill. He'll certainly be on the "A" list.

But let's not detract from Stanford's accomplishments and its right to celebrate an all-time victory. They'll be talking about this trouncing of the mighty Trojan empire for decades to come -- both in Palo Alto and in Los Angeles.

Stanford football is the best story of the 2009 college football season.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Princeton 24 Yale 17

The SportsProf family tailgated at a nicely appointed tailgate party on a field near Princeton Stadium. Put it this way -- the spread was much more intricate than a variety of grilled, shredded meats. Hoagies, crudite, salsa, guacamole dip, great corn chips, crab dip, wine, beer, Philadelphia soft pretzels and cookies constituted the spread. The food was great, the company better, and then we bought our $7 dollar seats and sat in the end zone, as over the years most of our friends have.

The questionable weather -- overcast, making noon look like 5 p.m. -- the proximity to Thanksgiving (meaning that many would-be attendees perhaps passed because of the travel they'll end up doing in 1 1/2 weeks) and the Tigers' overall record (bad) probably kept many of the orange-and-black faithful away. They missed a good game.

The game started out awkwardly for both teams. The Princeton kicker sent the opening kickoff out of bounds, and then a Yale special teamer made a dirty hit away from the ball on a Princeton player. The result -- Yale had the ball, and a sophomore special teamer was ejected and sent to the locker room. Yale's sophomore QB Patrick Witt -- a Nebraska transfer whose bio indicates that many big-time scholarship schools offered him full rides -- then tried to go to work. Witt's a good passer who will give the rest of the Ivies fits in the next two years, but this day would belong to the Tigers.

Witt threw a few picks, the Tigers coughed up the ball on several occasions, including once at the Yale 6, the Tigers failed to sense a Yale onside kick after the Elis made it 21-10 and then failed to guess that on fourth and short inside Princeton territory Yale would fake a punt and get a first down. Still, the Tigers bent but did not break, and they beat Yale for the first time in 3 years, 24-17.

So much for what I had speculated. I told my group before the game that given the way Penn pasted Princeton last week, I expected Yale to win by a few touchdowns. Okay, I was wrong -- Princeton showed that it could play well -- so to speak -- for more than a half and they beat their longstanding Ivy rival.

As with Ivy football, there were many parts of brilliance. The Princeton play calling was for the most part innovative, although they might need three back-up quarterbacks because they expose their QB when he runs the option. The running game was deceptive, but the passing plays were not all that creative. The offensive coordinator kept on calling for flanker screens, overloading the receivers on one side of the field and then throwing the ball quickly to the furthest receiver, who then would try to pick up blockers. On occasion, the play worked, but on other occasions, it didn't. On one play, a Yale defender blasted a Princeton receiver so hard after catch that the ball went backwards to the Tiger 7 from about the 17, but fortunately for the Tigers a running back fell on the ball. Princeton needs more vertical and crossing patterns to complement the flanker screens and occasional slants in order to deceive opposing defenses more.

On defense, the Tigers defensive tackles had their moments but on many occasions were moved out of the way on running plays. One Tiger defensive end excelled in pursuit, in blocking a pass and in making a menace of himself. The linebackers were good, but why is it that on many if not most occasions the Tiger defensive backs don't go for the ball. They were content to fall in behind Yale receivers and tackle them after they made catches. As I said to a friend, in the NFL, the defensive backs are hungrier and are draped all over the receivers. In this particular Ivy game, the cushion was too big, as though the defensive backs would sacrifice on each play a contained gain rather than to anticipate, step up and make the big play.

All in all, though, the Tigers came out organized and more driven than Yale, and led 14 to 3 at the half. It should have been 17-3 or 21-3, but a fumble deep in Yale territory late in the first half negated what could have been a bigger advantage. Yale woke up in the second half and played more aggressively on defense and offense, but in the end it was too little to late. With less than 2 minutes to go the Tiger defense rose to the occasion and obliterated any chance of a 2-minute drive for the Bulldogs.

It was a nice win for Princeton in an otherwise disappointing season, with losses to Penn on the road (42-7) and Columbia at home (38-0).

Free Agency: Charlie Finley's Suggestion May Take Root

Do you remember Charlie Finley? Charles O. Finley, the insurance magnate who owned the Oakland A's. Do you remember the Oakland A's of the early 1970's? They wore mustaches, garish combinations of green and gold, and they won three straight World Series, from 1972-1974. Among the players on the A's were Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Those teams defended well, pitched awesome, hit solidly, and generally beat the stuffing out the their opponents when they weren't picking on each other.

This, of course, was the same Finley who tried to sell his stars to the Yankees and the Red Sox a few seasons later, only to have Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn void the transactions under the "best interests of baseball clause." Kuhn's moves prompted Finley to dub Kuhn "the village idiot."

When Marvin Miller became head of the players' union, he helped transform the players' bargaining power and the sport. Put simply, the Major League Baseball Players Association is the most successful union in the history of organized labor. I won't go into the details here, but the average player's salary has gone up dramatically over the past three decades.

One of the things that players battled for (among them, Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith) was free agency. They hated the "reserve clause", which, until free agency came about, meant that once a player was in a team's organization the team had the right to keep that player forever. Put differently, the team had all of the leverage over a player who's contract was up -- it was either sign or hold out and then try to work something out; the player couldn't offer his services to another team. Miller and the players changed all that.

Naturally, most owners were horrified at the concept of free agency. I don't know whether any predicted that without a salary cap the wealthiest teams would end up signing the best free agents, but to a degree today that's what's happened, and the numbers show that it's hard to make the playoffs unless your team is in the top third of payroll. In any event, Finley had a much different take on free agency. It didn't scare him at all. In fact, he was ready to give in -- totally.

Said Finley: "Let Them All Become Free Agents." What Finley proposed was that after each season every player would become a free agent, free to sign with whatever team wanted his services.

Think about that. Talk about a dynamic market reflective of a player's previous performance. Talk about "pay for performance." Talk about not crippling your payroll with a long-term contract for a player who would be likely not to perform well at the end of the contract (the Mets suffered three such fates with four-year deals for Pedro Martinez, Tommy Glavine and Billy Wagner) or who just wouldn't perform well (Exhibit A: Barry Zito). Talk about giving a good raise, though, to the 22 year-old rookie who hit .325 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs (here Pablo Sandoval would be making about $5 million now instead of the hundreds of thousands he'll earn because of his youth and lack of Major League service). So, year to year, players would get what the market will bear.

The possibilities are mind-boggling. How much would Cliff Lee earn after his wonderful performance with the Philadelphia Phillies? Certainly more than the $9 million he's scheduled to earn; Lee would probably be making about $17 million this season. In stark contrast, Jamie Moyer, who is scheduled to earn about $8 million this season because of incentives he achieved in his 2009 contract, but who after mid-season struggled mightily, might only be making $750,000.

It's hard to say how competitiveness would be affected, but my guess is that the competitive landscape wouldn't be a lot different -- the teams with the money would still excel, and it could be the case that the teams without money would get worse. The smaller-market and poorer teams would lose the right to keep a young player through his first year of eligibility for free agency; they probably would lose him after his first good season. Finley probably didn't care -- he probably worked on commissions, and how well he and his businesses did had to depend on how well they performed and not necessarily locking in long-term deals for themselves.

Why is Finley relevant now? Because for baseball players what might well be an unintended consequence of their very successful efforts at collective bargaining will take roost by December 12. Click on this link for a list of players who are arbitration eligible. It's a long list, and if teams don't offer their players arbitration they will become free agents. The bet here is that most of these players won't be offered arbitration, which means that there will be a glut of free agents on the market.

And that's bad for baseball players.

Here's why. Attendance was down 7% this past season. Many teams are not doing well. Unemployment lingers at 10.2%, so fans who might have stretched to hold onto their tickets for 2009 might not be able to afford the luxury in 2010. But much more important than that, arbitration has served as a way to get more money for players year after year. Arbitration meant that there was a floor under whatever the player was making, and if a team opted not to sign him to a long-term deal and keep him in arbitration-eligible mode the likelihood is that he would continue to get raises (usually double-digit) until he became eligible for free agency (where, assuming good performance, he could get a much bigger increase and a longer-term deal). Most people get 0-3% raises; baseball players, because of their unique talent and their collective bargaining agreement, get much higher ones on average.

But without arbitration, the player who made $1.5 million in 2009 (Chad Durbin) and had a decent year but is in his early 30's and was on the DL in 2009 might find himself in a cattle call of other middle relievers. Some baseball observers believe that betting on middle relievers for consistent long-term performance is an iffy proposition because if they're overused in a season they might not be able to perform at the same level the next season. At any rate, the bet here is that no one will offer Durbin a multi-year deal and that he and others like him will take significant pay cuts. The bet here is that if Durbin returns to the Phillies or signs elsewhere, it's perhaps for $1 million with a club option for the following season.

Back to Charlie Finley. This "let them all become free agents" mentality will not take over baseball but will find a test lab in the subset of arbitration-eligible players. And, rather than help equalize the potential of all Major League teams, the best-financed ones will be able to find bargains to populate slots #17-#25 on their Major League rosters, making them even tougher to beat. Why? Because the best will get caught up in small bidding wars that will get them what they want, and the good ones, even if they take less, will still get more from a New York, Boston or Philadelphia than they will from a Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

And then the rub continues -- the elite teams will remain as popular as ever, while the worst ones will continue to wilt. And then all of baseball -- owners and players alike -- will have to ask themselves this question: will baseball be able to continue without a salary cap if the marginal teams have little chance of winning a World Series and, as a result, continue to see their attendance and merchandise sales dwindle? How many teams will be able to remain if only 8-12 of them will be able to contend meaningfully for the World Series year after year?

Temple Wins Its Eighth in a Row!

Temple's football team trounced Akron in Akron last night to win its eighth straight game, the first time the Owls have won eight straight since 1973 (and I think I was at every home game that season). This is a great story -- an amazing turnaround, so much so that head coach Al Golden had a feature written about him in this week's Sports Illustrated.

Whether or not the Owls' 8 wins will garner them enough respect to earn a bowl invitation remains to be seen. After all, this outstanding achievement only got the 11th priority headline in the on-line version of the sports section of the Philadelphia Daily News, behind stories about the woeful 76ers and LeBron James' suggestion that all teams should retire Michael Jordan's #23. Sure, the combined record of the teams the Owls have beaten is below .500, but as players are wont to say, "you play who you play," you have no control over that, and the Owls are 6-0 in their division within the Mid-American Conference. This is a great story.

Temple has two games left -- it would be hard to see the Owls not getting a bowl bid if they finish the regular season 10-2.

How Battered is Your Favorite NFL Team?

The Philadelphia Eagles are beaten up, and their roster has taken some big hits.

For example:

Going into the season, here is what their offensive line was projected to look like:

RT Stacy Andrews
RG Shawn Andrews
C Jamal Jackson
LG Todd Herremans
LT Jason Peters.

But Stacy Andrews, a somewhat big free-agent signing, hasn't materialized. Shawn Andrews went on injured reserve with a bad back, and some surmised that he wasn't fully recovered from the bout he had with depression last season. Herremans missed about 5-6 games recovering from foot surgery, and Peters has been banged up here and there.

RB Brian Westbrook hasn't fully recovered from his bad ankle, and he's missed a few games because of a concussion. MLB Stewart Bradley had a bad knee going into training camp and then blew it out in a pre-season practice at Lincoln Financial Field. Starting LB Chris Gocong missed last game with leg injuries. The injuries at LB were bad enough, but then neither Joe Mays nor Omar Gaither established himself in the middle, and then Gaither suffered a Lisfranc sprain to his foot (a very painful injury that requires surgery), so he's on the injured reserved list and out for the season. The team then traded for career outside linebacker Will Witherspoon, who's a bit undersized for the middle, to play the middle (this after former MLB Jeremiah Trotter, out of football for 2 years, came back and proved that he's a few steps too slow to play regularly). So, with Gocong hurt, you saw backups Tracy White and Mose Fokou get more playing time. Fokou had two huge penalties against Dallas last week -- one on an interception return and one on a kickoff (the latter negated a TD runback by Ellis Hobbs).

So now we get to the secondary, where Joselio Hanson is on the shelf for four games for taking a diuretic that's on a banned list as a steroid. That's bad enough, but Hobbs just went onto the injured reserve list, as he'll need neck surgery. Those two develops prompted the signing of a free-agent cornerback and the elevation of a cornerback from the practice squad.

And, of course, QB Donovan McNabb got hurt in the first game of the season and then missed the next two games. WR Kevin Curtis has missed the entire season with injuries (fortunately for the Eagles, rookie Jeremy Maclin has made the team all but forget Curtis).

All of the above, of course, are only the publicized injuries. You can only imagine what "smaller" injuries -- contusions, bone bruises, sprains, lacerations -- that each player is dealing with to some degree.

Got all that?

And the team has only played half of its games. When the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 2004, I recall that only two players went on the injured reserve and that the team was very healthy for the entire season. A season or two later, 11 players ended up on the I.R.

So, as you watch the NFL during the second half of the season, look for a correlation between a team's health and happiness. The healthier the team, the happier it's players and fans will be with its results.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rafael Palmeiro to Become the Rangers' Hitting Coach


Just wanted to get your attention.

How is it that Mark McGwire can come back to Major League Baseball and Pete Rose cannot become eligible for the Hall of Fame? Why is there no pushback from the Commissioner's office on McGwire? Why should he be allowed back?

The simple answer is that while he all but lied during his Congressional testimony he wasn't found guilty of anything, wasn't (really) the subject of MLB's investigation and most certainly wasn't suspended by Major League Baseball. In contrast, Rose committed a host of transgressions for which he wasn't fully remorseful or apologetic, at least for a long while.

McGwire benefits, in part, from the "everyone else did it" defense, one which, under most circumstances, prosecutors would have their mouths watering. The reason? Because if everyone did it, there are more people to prosecute. Instead, baseball prefers to want to have its performance-enhancing-drugs era vanish as quickly as it can, almost as though the Commissioner's office wishes it could place a Harry Potter-like memory charm on the entire population of baseball fans to make them forget -- forever -- that some of the stats and results were as pumped full of crap as the players themselves were. So, the logic must be, pay attention to McGwire and make a stink out of his hiring, and then baseball (whose attendance was down about 7% this season) opens up the entire can of worms again -- steroids, HGH, who are among the 204 or so players who tested positive but weren't named -- and all of that.

At a time when attenance is down, baseball thinks it's cleared that mess, and that there are lingering concerns that without a salary cap teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City are forever doomed to be at the bottom looking up. While there is a saying that any publicity -- good or bad -- is good publicity, naturally the Lords of Baseball do not think so.

But the amusing part of this is that the writers -- who themselves whiffed on the story for years -- won't forgive McGwire and won't vote him into the Hall of Fame. Or so many say. So, on the one hand, they won't anoint him, but, on the other hand, they're not pressing MLB for the reason why it's giving McGwire a pass.

Gambling, we all should surmise, is worse than performance-enhancing drugs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Early Halladay Season in Philadelphia?

There's a report in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer that the Phillies are going to pursue Roy Halladay. Halladay, you'll recall, was the most sought after prize at last year's trade deadline. The Phillies,though, opted to spend less, trading a prospect of good but less-valued prospects to the Indians for Cliff Lee. That deal worked out pretty well for them.

Now the report is that the Phillies want to "win now", which presumably is a good thing, inasmuch as most teams are supposed to want to win in the present day. After all, perhaps I'm silly, but most fans purchase their tickets hoping to see victories. Dispensing with that slam at trite comments, the Phillies are faced with offering Joe Blanton arbitration. It would appear that if the Phillies can land Halladay quickly and before they have to decide on whether to offer Blanton arbitration, that they'd part with Blanton (who stands to get a big raise) and get Halladay.

So, here's what the rotation would look like on opening day:

Cliff Lee
Roy Halladay
Cole Hamels
J.A. Happ
Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez or Kyle Kendrick

Untouchable prospect Kyle Drabek is ticketed for AAA for at least half a season.

Yes, that means they'd have an iffy fifth starter situation (not to mention a reconstituted bullpen with perhaps as many as 3 newcomers). That also would mean that they'd have two starting pitchers -- Lee and Halladay -- eligible to become free agents after the 2010 season. It would stand to reason that the Phillies also would want to ink one of those two pitchers to a longer-term deal at the time of the Halladay trade (if they were to give Halladay an extension) or before it (in the case of Lee). Otherwise, they're putting all of their eggs -- pitching-wise -- into the 2010 season. That said, apparently the crop of free-agent starters after the 2010 is bountiful, which is good for the wealthy teams but perhaps not as good for the free agents, as the more they're are the more options teams might have, thereby driving down the price of the incremental individual free-agent pitcher.

Watch the Phillies' payroll -- and their commitment to expanding it -- closely. Yes, only Chase Utley is signed beyond the 2011 season. Yes, they'll have to give raises to Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz, and they'd be wise to sign both to three-year deals. The bigger questions -- long-term -- are Jayson Werth (signed through 2010), Ryan Howard (signed through 2011) and Jimmy Rollins (signed, I believe, through 2010, although I am unsure of option status after that). In other words, the Phillies need to do some good work to stagger the expiration dates of the contracts of key players so as to avoid a mass exodus or a significantly depleted roster of position players after next season or, if not that, the 2011 season.

But, for right now, if the team can a) sign a third baseman who can achieve an OBP of .350, b) improve the bullpen, c) upgrade the bench and d) wow, sign Roy Halladay, they'll be the solid frontrunners in the National League and return to the post-season better fortified against the Yankees.

Monday, November 09, 2009

NFL Prognosticators are Wrong So Far

If it were so easy, the teams wouldn't have to play any games. Suffice it to say that few expected the Saints, Bengals and Broncos to be this good, and few expecte the giants, Packers, Panthers and Titans to be this disappointing. They play the games for a reason, and it's not good enough to be good on paper. So, go back and review your favorite publication and see how it's doing against its predictions.

The Phillies Say Goodbye (for now) to Pedro Feliz

This was pretty predictable. The guy is a great fielder, but he'll be 35, didn't hit for power in Citizens Bank Park, didn't hit all that well against lefties (and he's righthanded; the other guys in the lineup have a better excuse -- most of them are lefthanded), and had a terrible on-base percentage. A .306 OBP just can't continue to cut it for a team that expects to contend again for the World Series.

The Phillies made a similar move last year with Pat Burrell. Burrell cannot run, his range is limited, and he hit woefully last August and September and then in the post-season (in contrast, after the All-Star break in '07, he had a great OBP -- one of the best in the NL -- until mid-September, when his numbers plummeted). Burrell was only 32, but his best days were behind him, and the Phillies released him despite some significant fan sentiment not to do so. Feliz doesn't enjoy similar fan sentiment (he didn't do anything wrong, but it says something when he was the only starter not to have a "jersey t-shirt" with his name and number on it available for sale). Feliz knocked in the winning run in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, but he hit woefully this post-season. In order for the Phillies to beat the Yankees (or anyone else, for that matter) in the 2010 World Series, they'll need an upgrade at third.

Now, that doesn't mean that Feliz won't be back. It just means that the Phillies declined to exercise a $5 million option for him to return. Right now, they'll explore the likes of Chone Figgins, Troy Glaus, Placido Polanco, Adrian Beltre and Mark DeRosa, and in the papers this morning GM Ruben Amaro said that other teams had approached the Phillies about trading their third baseman to them. I'd be interested in seeing who the other teams are.

At any rate, thus far the Phillies are making sensible moves. The big question is what they've determined their payroll to be for the 2010 season.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Golden Opportunity for the Eagles Tonight

The Chargers stunned the Giants in the Meadowlands, giving the Giants their fourth straight loss. The Eagles are coming off a big win over the Giants last week, and now they host the Cowboys tonight. For the Cowboys, this is a revenge game -- the Eagles crushed them, 44-6, on the last day of the season, helping pave the way for the Eagles to make the playoffs (two other teams who were between the Eagles and a playoff berth lost, one inexplicably). Both teams see that a victory tonight will show the rest of the NFC that the winner is the top dog in the conference.

Stanford Beats #7 Oregon

This a week after Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio offered that he thought that the Ducks were one of the best teams in the country. The truth of the matter is that Stanford's head coach Jim Harbaugh (whose brother, John, coaches the Baltimore Ravens) is one of the best college coaches in the country. The Sporting News predicted at the outset of the season that he's the Pac-10 coach most likely not to return -- because an NFL team might scoop him up.

For all those teams intersted in Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden, remember this -- there are almost no second acts in the NFL (with the exception of Don Shula). Even the much-lauded Bill Parcells couldn't win the Super Bowl anywhere else after leaving the New York Giants. George Seifert bombed in Carolina. Joe Gibbs couldn't re-kindle the magic after his return to the Redskins. Jimmy Johnson didn't win the Super Bowl in Miami. And so forth.

Look, Duke didn't know it was hiring one of the best college coaches of all time when it hired Coach K in 1980. After all, in 7 seasons at Army he had won only one more game than he had lost. If an NFL team were to apply similar logic, it might look to the next great one before hiring for someone looking to win a Super Bowl with a second team. It just hasn't happened much, and I think that a team with an opening would be wise to look at Jim Harbaugh.

Watch Navy Football!

Great game yesterday against Notre Dame in South Bend, with the Middies wining 23-21 and becoming bowl eligible in the process. Navy plays great football -- watch them.

Is Allen Iverson's Career Over?

It looks like it is in the NBA.

The guy who disdained practice and doesn't like the bench has left the Memphis Grizzlies.

Could Olympiakos come calling?

Because it sounds like no NBA team is interested in him.

Questions Regarding Social Networking Websites

What am I missing?

I hear colleagues at work talking about their Facebook pages (no one "Tweets" yet), and my wife has mentioned that friends in our community are on Facebook. Last night I was at a function and ran into a friend from high school who told me that there are facebook groups both for my high school and my junior high school.

"Really?" was all I could muster in response. "Why?"

He responded with the typical, "well, it's always good to see how people are doing." I thought at the moment that too many people use the words "always" and "never" too frequently. He saw that I looked skeptical.

"Look," I said, "I lived with those people for years in school. I keep up with a few. I figure that if anyone really wanted to find me, they could Google me and figure out where I am." (I also figure that having gone to school 12 years straight with some of those people, I had plenty of time way back when to determine for how long I'd stay in touch). Besides, I wanted to add, I like living in the present, interacting with colleagues, friends and neighbors. I try not to look back too much except to draw fondly on positive experiences and recall not-so-positive ones so as not to repeat them. Spencer Johnson would be proud of me.

He shrugged. "It's fun," was all he could muster.

I'll allow for that. Perhaps his high school and junior high school days were the best times of his life. I doubt that; he has a lovely wife and two nice sons and a nice life.

"Okay," I responded.

"Besides," he offered, "you can check out your old girlfriends."

The conversation left me curious -- what compels people to spend a lot of time on these sites?

I don't need to know with whom Joe had dinner, with whom Morris went to the Eagles' game and where Jamie had her mani/pedi and with whom. I don't necessarily want to hear one-dimensional opinions on sensitive subjects in my community; somehow, discussions are the best way to vette problems. At least that's what I've learned.

Please advise me what I'm missing. Does online social networking fill a meaningful void in people's lives, or is it another form of distraction (okay, like blogging) that keeps people away from reading a good book, exercising, planning for retirement, planning a party or great meal, visiting with a friend, etc.?

The friend I saw last night seemed to appreciate Facebook for its ability to enable him to connect with people he hasn't seen for decades. Other friends seem to appreciate Facebook for their ability to keep up with friends in real time. As for the former, we call can differ on how necessary, desirable or interesting that activity is. As for the latter, how meaningful are the interactions? Or, do they have to be?

At any rate, call me a Luddite (or worse) for challenging the utility and desirability of social networking. Let my friends think I'm boring (which they might already) because I refuse to engage in one of the newest trends (then again, has social networking been around for long enough that it's no longer a trend?). But register your opinions and convince me that social networking websites are not a waste of time.

Thank you.

More on the Phillies

Two excellent writers from the Bucks County Courier Times offer their take on what the Phillies need to do to stay on top. You should read the columns of Mike Sielski and Randy Miller to get a sense of how the Phillies may struggle to remain a dominant team after the 2011 season. Sielski's prescriptions seem more within the realm of the possible; Miller calls for significant increased spending for the Phillies to ensure an era of predominance. It's a novel thought, and one which, if the Phillies embark upon it, could have them keep their relatively young nucleus (especially when compared to the Yankees) intact well into when players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are in their mid-30's. (I tried to find links to the columns, but, alas, they're not posted on the paper's website today).

Also, for what it's worth, The Sporting News' power poll for the 2010 season has the Yankees first and the Phillies second. The worst team? Cleveland.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Former Trail Blazer and Yale Bulldog Chris Dudley to Run for Governor of Oregon

Here's the AP story.

While the incumbent Democrat is favored to win reelection and with Oregon having trended blue more recently, the Republican frontrunner faces an uphill battle. But local observers say that the 44 year-old investment manager would put a new face on Republican politics in Oregon and give the Republicans a good chance.

Given what happened Tuesday in the bluest of the blue states, New Jersey, and, also, in Virginia, where independents returned in large numbers to the GOP, I don't think that many Democrats will now think their seats are as safe as they were in November of 2008. As a result, Dudley probably will have more than a puncher's chance.

On a different note, former UNLV point guard Danny Tarkanian is priming for a challenge to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. As a lightning rod for national politics, Reid is seen as vulnerable to a challenge. Tarkanian is the son of former Fresno State, UNLV and Long Beach State coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Update on Princeton Alums Playing Professional Baseball

Pretty impressive list for a school that doesn't give athletic scholarships and doesn't have the weather that schools in Texas, Florida and California have.

Phillies Update -- New Developments

Here goes:

1. Brett Myers will not be back with the team. According to this report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the never-dull righty will not be offered a contract. There could be many reasons for this -- that the Phillies have doubts about his health, his maturity, clubhouse chemistry, or his ability to pitch consistently. This would have been more of a surprise had Myers not had a dust up with Cole Hamels after Game 3.

2. The Daily News' Rich Hoffman Wants the Phillies to Trade for Roy Halladay. It's not as far-fetched as it seems, but Hoffman seems to think that the Phillies could do so and end up with a rotation of Lee, Halladay, Hamels, Blanton and Happ. A friend ran by a scenario the other day where the Phillies would peddle the somewhat damaged (at least in the clubhouse) Hamels to Toronto in a trade for Halladay. The odds of this happening would appear to be small.

3. The Phillies Might Have Trouble Signing the "Super-Sub" Back-Up. According to this report in the Daily News, GM Ruben Amaro ran into a problem trying to upgrade his bench after last season because that type of free agent wants more playing time. So, the Jays' Mario Scutaro might want to go where he can play more, as would the Cards' Mark DeRosa. DeRosa poses something of a risk because he just underwent wrist surgery.

4. It's Unclear How Much the Phillies Will Spend for the 2010 Roster. According to the prior linked article, they already have about $94 million allocated to 11 players. The 2009 payroll was about $130 million, with $20 million allocated to players who weren't on the team -- Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins and, yes, Jim Thome. They also free up $10 million, because that's what Brett Myers made in 2009. They'll end up giving raises to Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino, both of whom are arbitration eligible. Where it gets interesting is that Eric Bruntlett, Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Jack Taschner and Tyler Walker all are arbitration eligible. Given how many clubs might not offer arbitration to middle-of-the-roster players, it would stand to reason that the Phillies might decline to arbitrate with this five-some and upgrade at each position through a glut of good free agents. While Condrey pitched well two years ago, Durbin has been solid if not spectacular and Walker filled in well this year, the Phillies might be better off by getting better and younger arms to supplement the top four of Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson and now Chan Ho Park.

5. The Phillies' Hot Stove. Great stuff from the High Cheese Blog of the Daily News about all things Phillies. Yes, the Phillies exercised their $9 million option for Cliff Lee for 2010. Could Chone Figgins or Mark DeRosa be the next third baseman of the Phillies? Will the Phillies offer arbitration to Joe Blanton, who might get an award of as high as $7 million? What was the actual 2009 payroll? And much more.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Should Michael Jordan's Son Be Bigger Than the University of Central Florida Athletic Program?

Apparently he thinks so.

But adidas has the last word.

I get the fact that Marcus Jordan has an affinity for Nike sneakers because of his father's affiliation with the shoe company. But, by the same token, Marcus opted to join a college basketball program that had adidas as a sponsor. The last time I (perhaps naively) checked, no player should be bigger than a school or its contractual commitment. It's a shame that young Jordan couldn't see fit to honor his school's commitment and wear adidas, which has cancelled its sponsorship.

Who does he think he is, his father? Sure, he's a DI player, but UCF isn't Carolina and he isn't an all-American. So why should he get to act differently?

UCF should have stopped this before it became a national story. And while it would appear that Marcus Jordan thinks he took a stand, he looks to the outside world as an entitled young man who doesn't think that the rules apply to him.

And let's see if they do -- when he takes off from the foul line in a game, will the officials call traveling?

Doesn't Allen Iverson Realize He's Now Living Off the Fat of the League?

Poor Lionel Hollins. He has a well past his prime short shooting guard who doesn't really understand the purpose of passing or practice, and the guy is complaining about not starting.

His name: Allen Iverson.

If I were the Grizzlies, I'd trade him to the Iranian League.

Yes, AI plays hard, plays with passion, gives his all, but. . . and we all know the buts. He doesn't make his teammates better, his shooting percentage is low, he's not a good defender, and now he's in the twilight of his NBA career. He should be happy he's on a team where he can contribute, and while docile people don't make good soldiers, he should realize that he's more of a role player now than ever before. In other words, he should embrace his role and relish it.

But that's not AI. What made him great at times is that he didn't listen to naysayers. But the same thing makes him frustrating to coaches -- that he doesn't listen, because it would appear that he knows better and that coaches who don't see his brilliance have prevented and will prevent his teams from winning.

Enough already. The Grizzlies will either rectify this situation or let Allen Iverson go. And then AI might be left wondering when no team expresses an interest in his services any more.

I can hear the protests now. "Sixth man. There aren't any good players who play the role of sixth man."

Questions for the Phillies Next Year

Here goes:

1. Did Cole Hamels Lose The Clubhouse with His Remarks in the World Series? Don't know how big an issue this is. Despite Charlie Manuel's closing of the ranks, I'm sure that Hamels did damage with his "I can't wait for this to be over" line. Baseball players are among the most competitive people on the planet, and I can't believe that guys who push themselves hard for a long haul can be happy with Hamels diva-like behavior. Then again, he's only a young kid, kids make mistakes, and most 25 year-olds can't hold up to that type of pressure. Prediction: things will be okay by the middle of spring training.

2. Who Will Be the Phillies' Starting Pitchers Next Year? Tougher question. Cliff Lee, for starters. He's the ace. Hamels, presumably, although a friend suggested that they package him and his attitudes to Toronto for a year of Roy Halladay (and then try to sign either Lee or Halladay to a long-term deal). That's intriguing, but unlikely. After Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, although I think that Charlie Manuel has some patching up to do. Blanton got relegated to also-ran status at the expense of Pedro Martinez, who fizzled out like outdated fireworks on the Fourth of July. Happ pitched poorly in relief in the post-season, and despite a probable win for N.L. Rookie of the Year, his confidence may be a little down and he may be a little miffed at his manager. Both of these perceived slights are small beer -- it happens when you make a deep post-season run, but Manuel will be sensitive to the feelings of these players. So that leaves one spot for, among others, Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez, with Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers long shots. I'd have the first two retire, have Kendrick in long relief and try to rehab Myers as a starting pitcher. Presumably, phenom Kyle Drabek needs half a season at AAA before being ready for the big leagues.

3. Who Will be in the Bullpen? I think that you'd need a PhD dissertation for this one. Brad Lidge is on a precipice, J.C. Romero was a non-factor, Ryan Madson was gassed, Scott Eyre will retire and iffy-winged Clay Condrey will be 34. Jack Taschner will vanish, and Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona are question marks. Chan Ho Park should be back, Tyler Walker could be back, and you would think that Chad Durbin will be back. The lefty side needs fortification; look for the Phils to go after a premiere lefty reliever this off-season.

4. Who Will be on the Phillies' Bench? Matt Stairs is probably gone. So is Eric Bruntlett. So is Paul Bako. Greg Dobbs has a year left on his contract, and Ben Francisco probably is back as the fourth or fifth outfielder. The Phillies can use a better utility infielder who can spell Rollins and Utley on occasion (it's not Miguel Cairo; the Cards' Mark DeRosa has been mentioned, but he can't play SS). Because of the earlier post about non-tendered players, I would bet that the Phillies can upgrade their bench significantly for next season.

5. How Many Phillies Won't Be Back Next Season? Eyre (retiring), Stairs (probably retiring), Bruntlett (didn't hit), Bako (no compelling reason to keep him). I would bet that the pitching staff will have one or two other new faces. The big question is 3B, where Pedro Feliz fields like Brooks Robinson but has bad plate discipline and has one of the worst on-base percentages of starting players in the Majors. It's hard to see who's available right now, but Feliz will be 35, and if the Phillies can upgrade and get slighly younger, they'll do so.

6. How Much Money Will the Phillies Spend on Payroll for 2010? They have a unique nucleus that they won't be able to keep together for more than a few more seasons. They won't be contributing to Jim Thome's salary anymore, and they won't be paying either Geoff Jenkins' or Adam Eaton's salary in 2010. That's a total of about $20 million. They also won't be paying Brett Myers $10 million, but I believe that Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton are arbitration eligible. Also, Jayson Werth, Cliff Lee and (I think) Jimmy Rollins only have a year left on their deals. So, the front office will be busy again, but they should strongly consider stretching their budgets given how popular the team is and given that Ryan Howard, Rollins, Utley and Lee won't be around together forever (read: when Howard is a free agent in two years, the Phillies will have a big decision to make).

None of these are particularly troubling or awful decisions. The front office appears to be in good shape, and with the right tweaking and trading, the Phillies should be primed to win the NL East again and make a deep playoff run. But they won't win the World Series unless a) they get more pitching or b) the Yankees' suffer serious injuries to their pitching staff. So, fortifying their pitching is a must.

Can't wait for next year.

So Baseball Prospectus Isn't Always Right

Read the 2009 edition and see what they had to say about the Yankees and Phillies. It wasn't exactly death by a thousand cuts, but it wasn't an elegy as to what they were doing right. The overall summaries suggested that neither would win the World Series -- that the Phillies somewhat were in the right place at the right time last season and that the Yankees wouldn't have enough offense and defense to win it all. Read the incremental player blurbs, and you would have sworn that Derek Jeter is a glue horse who is almost through.

I know I'm being a bit critical, as I am a big fan of the stats and the writing generally (even though it can be kind of snarky and harsh at times). Still, it just goes to show you that despite all of the statistical analyses and data available, it's still hard to measure what a player has left in him or what a team can do collectively.

Buster Olney on Future Separation of Baseball Teams

Apparently the haves are going to have some more bounty to plunder -- and soon.

According to Buster Olney this morning on ESPN Radio, many big-league clubs are going to non-tender players who are arbitration eligible and let them become free agents. The reason -- the economy and their own economics. Smaller market teams probably won't be patient for a potential star to emerge and might cut him loose rather than take risks that through escalating salaries through arbitration the player might not turn out to be that good and then they're stuck with him for a season. Apparently, the Rockies might not tender 3B Garrett Atkins (who could reunite with his college buddy Chase Utley in Philadelphia if the Phillies were to let Pedro Feliz go), and the Marlins might not tender Jeremy Hermida. According to Olney, this means that the gap between the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies -- on the one hand -- and possibly most other teams -- could widen (the Dodgers might be included in the former group, but the potential divorce of the McCourts suggests that they won't be that active in adding players or salaries).

An acquaintance who belongs to an ownership group in the NHL suggested to me a month ago that MLB needs a salary cap, that it's worked for the NHL and the NFL, and that to maximize fan interest all fans need to know that their team has a reasonable chance to win a title. In Major League Baseball, is it realistic to think that Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or Washington or Baltimore can win a title any time soon?

At any rate, look out for the non-tendering of arbitration eligible players -- and a swooping in of the big-market teams to further fortify their rosters. All of this should take place, according to Buster Olney, in the next 37 days.

Congratulations to the New York Yankees

The Yankees proved that they were the best team in baseball last night. They hit well enough to win a World Series, and their pitching made the difference. Last season, their starting pitching let them down, and they went out and solved their problem by signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett as free agents. Their middle relief was strong enough, and they have the best closer in history in Mariano Rivera. Their nucleus of players provided great leadership and timely hitting. They are to be congratulated for a job well done.

The Phillies likewise had a great season. It's hard to repeat, and they returned to the World Series despite some limitations that I discussed in the previous post and won't repeat here. Suffice it to say that to get to Game 6 of the World Series with the bullpen they had this year was a great accomplishment. Last year, the bullpen -- and the season -- were perfect. This year, the bullpen was flawed, at times significantly so -- and they overcame those flaws to push a better team to Game 6.

Only about 4 months now to spring training!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

If You Would Have Told Me Before the Season . . (Phillies Musings)

that. . .

Brad Lidge would blow about 30% of his saves and have an ERA over 7.00; and

Brett Myers would miss most of the season; and

Jamie Moyer would lose his effectiveness; and

J.C. Romero would get suspended and contribute almost nothing to the team; and

All members of the bullpen save Ryan Madson would spend time on the disabled list; and

Carlos Ruiz would only get 322 at-bats; and

Raul Ibanez would get hurt mid-year and not be nearly as effective as he was before the injury; and

the Phillies bench would produce very little; and

Eric Bruntlett would hit so far below the Mendoza Line as to require a search party of miners to look for his batting average; and

Matt Stairs would have a huge oh-fer as a pinch hitter during the season and hit for very little power; and

the Phillies would make it to (at least) Game 6 of the World Series. . .

I would have signed up for that result in a heartbeat.

So now the Phillies find themselves about 2 1/2 hours away from Game 6, in a classic match-up between Andy Pettitte, the leader in all-time post-season wins and Pedro Martinez, a future Hall of Famer. The Phillies and Yankees are both known for their comebacks. The Phillies were baseball's best road team; the Yankees baseball's best home team.

Anything can happen. Let's hope that both teams provide great theater tonight.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Short Rest

According to Mike Golic this morning on ESPN Radio (quoting from the Elias Sports Bureau), since 1999 pitchers throwing on short rest in the post-season are 9-28. Since 2004, they are 0-7.

Joe Girardi went to Northwestern and majored in engineering. He's a better math guy than I am.

And Yankees fans are certainly hoping that he knows more than they do.

The Beirut Browns

You just can't make up some of this stuff.

Does this mean that the Raiders should move to Baghdad?

And the Redskins to Tikrit?


When the wheels fall off the bus, they really create quite the mess.

Phillies 8 Yankees 6


1. So now the Series goes back to New York, with the Yankees leading 8-6. Unless Joe Girardi summons Chad Gaudin to the mound, the Yankees' starters both will be working on short rest. Since the 2004 NLDS (when Roy Oswalt beat Jaret Wright), starters in the post-season working on short rest are 0 and 7. The record for starters working on short rest since 1999 is 9-28. The edge on this stat goes to the Phillies, although it's not as though they'll be trotting out Cy Young and Lefty Grove to defeat the Yankees. This is probably the big story now.

2. The Phillies' bullpen doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Ryan Madson didn't look all that steady out there, and I wondered why Charlie Manuel didn't leave Chan Ho Park in the game. He pitched well, and he, as well as Matt Stairs, could have grounded into a double play in the bottom of the eighth. Seriously, the choice to pinch-hit Stairs in that situation was almost as curious as the choice to replace Shane Victorino with Ben Francisco in the field. As to the former, well, the Phillies really don't have anyone else. As to the latter, both Raul Ibanez's frightful attempt on a fly ball and Francisco's lame throw home on a short fly to center field underscored most Phillies' fans frustration with this defensive substitution.

3. Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, Paul Bako, Eric Bruntlett, Ben Francisco. Only the latter is a lock to be back on the Phillies' bench next season. Dobbs has a year left on his contract, so it's possible he'll return. The Phillies need some more mojo off their bench. Not a fatal flaw, per se, but the bench isn't helping them this year the way it did last season.

4. Okay, so if the Phillies win Game 6 behind Pedro Martinez, who gets the nod in Game 7? My vote is for J.A. Happ. Why? He won in Yankee Stadium earlier this season, he pitched well for most of the year, he's more confident than Cole Hamels (so is your average Babe Ruth League high schooler at the moment), and you don't need him to go 7 -- a good 5 gets you to Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Tug McGraw, Al Holland, Jim Konstanty and anyone else the Phillies want to throw at the Yankees in Game 7.

5. The two-game Series has perhaps the best road team in baseball going against the best team at home. That should make for good theater.

6. Bobby Valentine is very blunt in his analysis, but he's right -- the Yankees shouldn't pitch to Chase Utley anymore. They should let Ryan Howard try to beat them. As a Phillies fan, you take the bad with the good with Howard. For every torrid run there can be a terrible drought. What you hope for -- as we did with Mike Schmidt decades ago -- is that other players pick the team up when he is down. Utley is doing just that, and Raul Ibanez's blast gives the Phillies' faithful hope that some other big hitter is getting hot at the right time. One of the reasons, I think, that the team let Pat Burrell go is that Burrell likewise was a streaky hitter, and the team, if it wanted to evolve, couldn't continue to endure big droughts from its four and five hitters at the same time (Burrell also was becoming injury prone).

7. Chase Utley's post-season performance belies a plum-awful September where he couldn't hit (with men on base or otherwise). Utley's average for September was below .200. Now, he's being compared to Reggie Jackson. Less electric, but much lower maintenance.

8. The Yankees continued to show grit last night and fought back hard. That bodes well for Game 6. They'll be up for the challenge and wanting to end it quickly. The big issue is how much Andy Pettitte has left in the tank. I say he could well have enough -- he's a big-game pitcher and excels on a big stage.

9. It should be a good show on Wednesday night. These are the two best teams in baseball, and they're battling hard.

Monday, November 02, 2009

At Citizens Bank Park Last Night -- Phillies/Yankees

1. The Yankees deserve a lot of credit for what they did in the off-season. They knew that they had to upgrade their starting pitching, and by doing so they put themselves in a position to win it all. CC Sabathia did a great job on short rest -- he's a war horse.

2. Once again, a team's weakness gets magnified in the post-season. Phillies' fans would have been devastated had Brad Lidge performed last year in the World Series the way he did last night. Last night, Phillies' fans were simply resigned after the game -- after all, Lidge has pitched that way for much of the season.

3. Wily old foxes can kill you in the post-season. Johnny Damon's at-bat in the top of the ninth and his baserunning were terrific -- guys like that -- even past their prime -- are great to have in the post-season.

4. If you had told me that after four games A-Rod and Mark Teixeira were going to be hitting a combined .100 after four games, I would have told you that the Phillies would be tied at 2 or up 3-1. Instead, a good team has other players step up, and the Yankees had plenty on offense to mask overall poor performances of the guys who helped get them there all year (and, yes, A-Rod did have a huge hit in the top of the ninth).

5. I don't think that Carlos Ruiz should have made the throw on Damon's steal of second. Lidge has no pickoff move, so to speak, and there's a risk that the ball goes into center field. Instead, the Phillies' "Teixeira shift" left third base uncovered, and Damon made a heads up play.

6. For Yankees' fans who are asking "what's with Ryan Howard", the Phillies' titanic slugger goes through periods of drought. Unfortunately for the Phillies, he's in one now.

7. At one point last night Phillies' fans could feel the tide of the Series turning -- right after Pedro Feliz's home run off Joba Chamberlain. We were thinking, "Okay, if Lidge can hold in the top of the ninth, we can win in extra innings and have Cliff Lee beat A.J. Burnett on short rest to go back to New York up 3-2." I'm sure that Yankees' fans were fearing the same thing. That's how close a World Series can be.

8. The Phillies have had trouble in this Series honoring their good offensive efforts. Against the Dodgers, they followed good offensive innings with shutdown innings from their pitching and defense. They had taken away the Yankees' mojo with Feliz's home run, only to have Lidge give it back.

9. Phillies' fans aren't shocked, though. Cole Hamels has pitched in the post-season the way he's pitched all year, and Lidge pitched last night the way he did for most of the year. To beat a team like the Yankees, they need a better effort from both.

10. I look for Cliff Lee to beat Burnett today. Burnett's a righty on short rest against a lefty lineup. Lee has been on fire in the post-season. If the Phillies can come through, they'll head to New York with a crafty Pedro Martinez on full rest against Andy Pettitte on short rest. The odds for winning it all are very long, but the Phillies can make a Series out of it if these two pitchers can come through.

11. Raul Ibanez continues to look bad at the plate. He's a far cry from the guy who crushed the ball in the first two months of the season. He seems to be rising up on his toes and then trying to chop down on the ball hard, as opposed to turning more evenly through the strike zone. The result -- he's making a lot of outs.

12. Last night's crowd at CBP didn't get off to a good start, and the Yankees helped take them out of the game by getting two off Joe Blanton in the first. Blanton pitched okay if not great. It wasn't that the Yankees hit the ball hard off him (the way they did off Lidge) by any stretch, but the Yankees placed the ball well and made their own breaks. Blanton did enough to keep the Phillies in the game.

13. Parking near CBP was interesting because of the post-game hangover of the Eagles' crowd (which was giddy at the Birds' trashing of the Giants). You walked thrown garbage-strewn lots with RVs blasting loud music and people partying to get to CBP. Thankfully, after such a disappointing ending, there were so many open exit gates that you could leave the lots quickly and get home as soon as possible (which most of us needed to do). The traffic experience was fine; the post-game exit very silent.

14. Going into the post-season, I thought that with their pitching the Phillies would win one Series; they've won two, but the road could end today at CBP. The Yankees' pitching has been better, and their hitting has been good enough to prevail. For the Phillies to come back, two of Rollins, Victorino, Ibanez and Howard have to get hot -- and in a hurry. That's a tall order.