Monday, November 29, 2010
Enter senior tri-captain Dan Mavraides, who promptly nailed a three and then got the ball with under 10 seconds to go. He made his way in front of the Tigers' bench, nailing another three with 0.8 seconds to go. That shot tied the game and sent it into overtime. To me (carrying on with the carpenter analogy), it put the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Siena pretty much relied on five good players, but they seemed spent. The Tigers outscored Siena 17-8 in the overtime, giving them a win over a good team and, importantly, another win in a close game after blowing a 20-point lead to James Madison earlier in the week and losing to Presbyterian by 1, also earlier in the week.
You can read about the game here.
Here are a few (relatively random) observations:
1. Princeton started out very slowly. Over the years, Coach Johnson's teams haven't always started their games crisply on offense, and there have been times when they pass the ball on the perimeter, the clock goes down to 10 or lower on the shot clock, and they force a shot. That happened a bunch early in the game, and it was a low-scoring affair after 10 minutes.
2. The thrust of Princeton's offense against a man-to-man defense appears to be to pound the ball inside to a big man (at least early on in the game). Basically, a big player (including southpaw sophomore forward Ian Hummer) flashes in the lane near a block, gets the ball, takes a few dribbles and tries to make a hook shot. When it works, it's beautiful, but if the Tigers were to have lost that game, they wouldn't have needed to point any further than their failure to finish many close-range shots, especially early in the game. That said, their play in this regard wasn't horrible, just inconsistent.
3. Kareem Maddox keeps on coming at you. 30 points and 10 rebounds says it all. He knows his range, is physical inside, and makes the most of his strength to get good looks at close range. For those who might offer that it's easy to score at close range, think again. Maddox worked for position, and he had some tough guys guarding him. I sat behind one of the baskets and saw him up close, and he presents a defensive challenge.
4. Some (relative) newcomers look like they're players. I'm talking about the third guard, frosh T.J. Bray, and the sophomore forward Mack Darrow. Bray is a physical guard with some size (about 6'3"), and he is aggressive out there. The same can be said for Darrow, who got some key minutes in crunch time. He has size, and he has a three-point shot. These two key bench players might be young, but they look like they have star potential.
5. Guard play remains key. Mavraides is a worker, and up close you can tell that he's the Tiger who in all likelihood spends the most time in the weight room. His three with less than a second to go was hard-earned. He worked for the shot, and it paid off. Douglas Davis still sets the tempo, and the junior guard is electric out there. Opponents won't be able to key on him; if they do, the Tigers have other weapons who can hurt you.
6. The competition for playing time on the front line must be fierce. It's a meritocracy for the Tigers. The starting center, Brendan Connelly, played only 10 minutes out of a possible 45. The five forwards who got the playing time are Hummer, Maddox, Darrow, Connelly and junior tri-captain Patrick Saunders. Hummer, Maddox and Connelly are inside bangers with some size, while Darrow and Saunders seem as comfortable on the perimeter as inside. This leaves soph forward Will Barrett, who got meaningful minutes as a freshman, on the outside looking for now. He also has very good size. The Tigers have a lot of depth in the frontcourt, and they put it to good use on Sunday.
7. The team needs to communicate better on defense, especially with help defense. Quick Siena guards and forwards went baseline too many times to count without another Tiger stepping in to block their path, and those drives led to some easy baskets. At one point, with a few minutes to go, a Siena guard blew by his defender, only to have no Tiger slide over. The player was fouled, and you could see two Tigers arguing about whose responsibility that player was once he penetrated. Before Mavraides' miracles, that snippet -- of the frustration over help defense against quicker players -- looked like the epitaph for the game. Thankfully for the Tigers, one of their captains helped pull out the game, which is what captains should do. The Tigers have an opportunity here -- to improve significantly in this area.
8. Overall prognosis. This team has a bounce in its step. It's big for the Ivies, it has depth, it has shooters, it has guys who don't hesitate to go inside, and it has leadership. This was a good confidence builder for a team from whom a lot is expected, but a lot should be. Coach Sydney Johnson has an able cast, and this team was fun to watch on Sunday.
(Also, for what it's worth, I thought that Siena's senior center, Ryan Rossiter, was the best player on the floor among many good players for both teams. He had 14 points, 21 rebounds and 3 assists. He set many screens, defended hard and showed good leadership for his team).
1. It's not good to sit in the fifth row if you're sitting right in front of the speakers.
2. The roadies don't get paid much. One couldn't afford suspenders (or underwear, for that matter), so we got a little bit more a view than we bargained for.
3. The lead singer in the opening act looked like Jessie Duke from Dukes of Hazard. (That's Jessie and not Bo, Luke or Daisy). Thankfully, he sang much better.
4. The table selling t-shirts and CD's was a far cry from what you see in the big arenas for the big draws. It just goes to show you that there's a pecking order in almost everything, and that includes rock music. These guys played for their enjoyment as much as the bucks, which couldn't have been that big, even for the big names that headlined each group. The lobby scene, at least around the t-shirt and CD table (which was about the size of three card tables), reminded me of the memorabilia/autograph show from The Wrestler. Yes, it's hard getting old.
5. Artists are interesting. They typically want to play their new stuff as opposed to playing their hits, the ones that everyone knows. I didn't expect that, but, as a result, the audience wasn't as pumped up as it could have been.
6. We saw a sign on the ride home that advertised "1/2 Keg Rolling Rock $62." I fake swerved the car toward the beer distributorship that touted the sign. It takes a pretty discerning mind to know whether this was a good deal, but, obviously, it's all in the eye of the beholder and the customers who must drive down this busy road (where there is competition). I got a chuckle, though, either because the owners know for a fact that this advertising works or whether they just think it does. Either way, it struck me as funny. I can see touting gasoline prices, but beer by the half keg?
Sunday, November 28, 2010
It's a good question, and those who study change and the history of it can offer many theories why many of the traditional powers are not on the scene this year. Texas has had a frightful year. Pac-10 teams were licking their chops at the chance to play USC, whose strategy of being a step ahead of the regulators finally failed. Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan aren't dominating the national conversation either and the first two haven't for quite some time. Oklahoma has been at the tail end of the BCS conversation, as have Ohio State and Nebraska, but all told those who have been in conversation regarding national championships (going back to possible splits between the UPI and AP polls) aren't dominating. Among those not dominating -- the U.
I haven't studied this carefully if at all, but will offer some suggestions based upon my reading of the sports pages and listening to the pundits:
1. The 85 Scholarship Limit Causes Parity. No longer can the big-time schools recruit outstanding players with as much as a motive to make sure rivals don't get them as to ensure their own excellence. True, having 100+ blue chips makes for a wicked type of meritocracy, ensuring that only the cream rises to the top. But with "only" 85 scholarships, it's tougher for the "name" schools to maintain their perches at the top (there are other reasons that I'll get to). Players don't pan out, they get hurt, they quit or transfer, and then you have to go the junior college route or transfer route to fill in gaps. Put differently, your team's core is smaller, and you have less room for error when recruiting.
2. Those Kids and Parents Today, They've Figured It Out. While there is some trafficking in human capital going on (translated: the SEC scandal within the past 10 years demonstrated that boosters have paid those with influence over a player to steer that player to the booster's school), many parents and kids get over the aura of the guy sitting in the living room and try to get a sense of the school's commitment to their kid. Does the school really want the kid, or are they settling, and, if they're settling, what does it mean in upcoming recruiting classes? What this means is that the kid who might normally say, "Wow, Nick Saban's in the house. . . my house," might also say, "Well, gee, he's also in the house of the remainder of the top 4 linebackers in the country, so I have to be careful." Now, Saban is Saban and almost in a league by himself as a recruiter, but that recruit with more frequency might say, "Hey, Gene Chizik has contacted me more personally than anyone else, and Auburn has a hot hand, they're not recruiting those other three guys, so maybe I ought to go there." Or Iowa, or Boise, or Missouri, somewhere. And the kids are making those decisions, too. Sure, there will be walk-ons whose dream is to play for the state school, but the difference makers are being more selective. This is an interesting change (and I'm speculating that it's taken place), because the kid in my hypothetical has a big ego, wants to play for the best, is a great player because he doesn't doubt himself, so it may be that he takes the bait and goes and excels, or he takes the bait and goes and then gets caught in a numbers game. It just strikes me that more and more players are looking past the coaches who recruit them to the demographics of the entire program. Those who have not done so might be well advised to do so. Still, in the end, some type of shift like this must have taken place to cause the rise of programs like Oregon, Boise State, TCU.
3. Other Schools Are Putting Big Bucks Into Their Programs. Again, Oregon has a huge benefactor in Nike founder Phil Knight, and oilman T. Boone Pickens threw huge bucks at Oklahoma State. The nicer the facilities and support, the more of a lure for great players, who already have a sense of entitlement and want the best of everything. And they can get it at places other than Texas, Oklahoma, the U, Michigan.
Is this all good for college football? Yes, across the board. Schools like Boise State and TCU don't have to be perennial fodder for the big-name schools (heck, they're big-name themselves right now). These schools also offer more opportunities for excellent players to shine, as opposed to be fourth-string in Norman, Austin, Tuscaloosa or Coral Gables. Whether the trend holds in the long-run remains to be seen, because it could be right at this moment that innovations are taking place at other schools that could push the Boises and TCUs out of the national conversation in the next five years.
Why tape the 49ers' practice?
I have a few theories:
4. You want to get inside the heads of all opponents, getting them thinking that you might know their schemes better than they do.
Slow news days, perhaps, for the NFL, which is usually pretty good about grabbing hold of the highlights for what takes place on the field (either good plays or discipline for bad ones).
Read the article and see what you think.
That said, if I'm one of the leaders of the players' association, I have to draw this conclusion about the owners -- they all have plenty of money, witness extra dollars to pay the guy to videotape the practice and witness all of the people standing around on the sidelines during a game. That suggests that they Lords of Football could leave more of the profits behind for the players, particularly to take care of those who don't make a ton during their careers and suffer life-altering injuries in their mid-twenties, all for the greater glory of the entertainment dollar.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Spectrum was the stage for many of my sports memories, a place where I went many times with my father, who has been dead for 25 years. We had tickets for a basketball doubleheader (yes, the NBA hosted those back in the day) at the Spectrum for the night the roof blew off it in the late 1960's. Two basketball games for the price of one. And the price of one was probably under $10. Sure, you had to deal with the smoke in the arena that would create a fog near the ceiling, but who cared? You were going to see Wilt, Luke Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer and Wali Jones. What could be so bad? And then perhaps Cincinnati was in with Oscar Robertson, the Lakers with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor (pre-Wilt), at a time when the league didn't have too many teams, the players weren't major celebrities and the post-season money mattered.
I saw Wilt Chamberlain play in that arena, went into the locker room after a game (most of us love our dads, and my father had some connections that made him seem like Santa Claus), met him. I attended NBA playoff games there, at a time when the All-Star game, while a big deal, didn't draw NBA players to that game the way it did to other teams' playoff games. Name an NBA great from that vintage, and I saw him -- Clyde, Earl the Pearl, Baylor, West, the Big O (okay, so all of the names that Kurtis Blow raps about in his wonderful rap, "Basketball"). Great players, great basketball. I sat in front of one-time Warriors owner and Negro Leagues promoter Eddie Gottlieb, who was usually there with his good friend Jules Trumper, who had played for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (the SPHAs of whom people my father's generation spoke of with great reference). Even as a septuagenarian, Trumper boasted about his foul-shooting ability. It was a great time for the NBA, with big names, few teams, and repeat performances. And, the thing of it was, those rivalries were intense. The players defined themselves much more by wins, losses and championships than salary and endorsements. It's not that those things don't matter today. It's just that, looking back, they seemed to matter more then.
We also endured the horrid 1972-1973 season, when the 76ers ownership found a little-known coach named Roy Rubin and had players who were mostly suited for reserve roles for other teams (save guard Fred "Mad Dog" Carter, who came to Philadelphia in a trade with Baltimore for the headband-wearing Archie Clark). Rubin soon went back to obscurity, and the curse of Wilt, minor in proportion to the Curse of the Bambino, lingered. It was hard to watch. I could only imagine what it must have been like to have been a player.
Then the 76ers' acquired George McGinnis as a free agent from the ABA, and while Bill Simmons is wont to point out McGinnis's flaws, he was a big name, and he began a turnaround in Philadelphia around 1975 or so, a year before the 76ers acquired a forward from the Nets named Irving. McGinnis was traded to Denver for a well-skilled big forward named Bobby Jones, and the 76ers were onto something. They had their trials in the late 1970's and early 1980's, but the 1982-1983 team had all the right pieces -- a dominant, willful center in Moses Malone, a star in small forward Dr. J, a lethal shooter in two guard Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney, a cool-as-a-cucumber point guard in Maurice Cheeks, and a do-it-all sixth man in Jones. They took on the era's dominant teams, the Celtics and Lakers -- and had one of the best seasons ever.
The times were different, then. You ran into people you knew, the world was smaller, and the refs more engaging. I recall one time I sat on the aisle in the second row behind the basket in friends' seats. The 76ers were playing the Celtics, whose center, Dave Cowens, was a fiery redhead who had a tendency to back in and throw an elbow or two. Earl Strom, a top referee, had a fun personality, and he was one of the two refs officiating the game. I kept shouting that Cowens was committing an offensive foul every time he backed in and turned his shoulder into an outmatched 76er. "C'mon Earl," I pleaded in my teenaged voice, "that's on offensive foul." (You see, some of us Philadelphia area natives are raised on basketball the way the English are raised on soccer). I shouted this several times in a row, as Cowens was having his way with my beloved team. Then, on the next play down, Cowens was whistled for a timeout on the floor. I'm talking with a friend when I hear, "Hey. Hey! What did you think of that?" I turned around, and saw Strom looking in my direction, standing near the baseline, probably not more than 15 feet from me. I pointed to myself, with a questioning look on my face, as if to say, "Me?" He nodded. "Yeah, you. What did you think of that call?" He asked with a smile. I smiled back, gave him the "thumbs up" sign, and said, "That's great. Thanks. Keep it up." He smiled back, bounced the ball a few times, and went back to the game.
Another time the 76ers were playing the Celtics in a playoff game, and the Celtics, true to their form, were pounding the 76ers. Tommy Heinsohn was coaching the Celtics, and the 76ers then rallied furiously to take the lead. A miffed Heinsohn called a timeout, and a weary Celtics' team walked back to its bench. The roar of the crowd was defeaning; it was hard to hear my father, who was standing next to me. Dave Zinkoff was the public address announcer, a legend, famous for his wit and his staccato voice. It was so loud that you couldn't hear him over the public address system, and Zinkoff had a sense of mischief to him. When it was time for the players to return to the floor, the crowd became quieter. Zinkoff then seized the moment, and said: "As I was tryiiiiiiiiiing to saaaaaaaaaaay, the Celtics call tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime." The second roar was even louder than the first, and it was as if the Zink was saying to Red Auerbach, Heinsohn and all the ghosts of Celtics past and present, "if I can help my (usually outmatched team, if not always by that much) help stick a dagger in you, I will." It was one of those "you had to be there" moments, but, if you were there, you couldn't help but feel your spine tingle. The Zink had great timing, and that was one of his best moments.
My Flyers' experience culminated in one big game, but if there was a big game for the Flyers' at the Spectrum, I was there, in the fifth row behind the home team's bench. We didn't go to the Flyers games much, if at all, and perhaps once or twice a friend took me with his parents' seats. Hockey wasn't big in my house, but for one day, it was.
The Flyers' franchise began in the 1966-1967 season, and 7 years later, the Broad Street Bullies (whose tactics today would cause half the team to get major suspensions) were in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge and Gerry Cheever. A friend of my father's couldn't go to Game 6, and he sold his two tickets to my dad for face value -- $24 total. That's right -- $24 (okay, so Peter Minuet bought Manhattan for that amount way back when, but for a 13 year-old boy, going to a final game was, at least in Philadelphia parlance, like purchasing Manhattan).
The Spectrum was electric. Here were the upstart Flyers playing against one of the original six teams -- Bobby Orr's and Phil Esposito's team, of all teams. And here they were, up 3 games to 2, with a chance to win the most beautiful trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup. The Flyers had Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent, their marquis names at center and goalie, and they also had stars in Rick MacLeish, Bill Barber, Barry Ashbee, among others. They had their bullies, too, whose skills with their fists got more attention than their teammates' hockey skills. The Flyers had a Fearsome Foursome of their own -- Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Bob "The Hound" Kelly, Don "Big Bird" Saleski and Andre "Moose" DuPont. They hit hard, and they weren't to be trifled with (at least until the Canadiens solved their riddle for good two seasons later).
Several minutes before game time, the Spectrum went dark. Could it be? Would it be? Yes, Kate Smith was coming out on a red carpet to sing "God Bless America." Years earlier, one of the P.R. guys had played a recording of Smith before a game, and the Flyers won. They kept on playing it, and the team won 90% of its games when they played the song. So here was Smith, and the place went nuts. She sang the song with great vigor, and, in a touch of class, Orr went up to her afterwards to greet her, and Esposito, ever the showman, kissed her hand.
The game turned out not to be slugfest, but a closely played chess match. The Flyers won, 1-0, and as the clock ticked down, the Spectrum roared. The Flyers -- the team that feared no one -- did it! I haven't been in many arenas when my team has won the title, but it's a special feeling. The place gets electric, and no Philadelphia venue has been more electric since than the Spectrum on that special day. (As a footnote, I grabbed a water bottle sitting on the bench near Saleski as the players headed for the ice).
I pulled out my collection of ticket stubs the other day to share with my ten year-old son. He thought it was cool that I had been at that game, and thought it equally amazing as to how inexpensive the tickets were. $12 for a seat that close? Cool. At that point, I could only think of my father, how excited he was to get those tickets, and, while he wasn't a hockey fan, he was happy to have done something nice for me, happy to see my excitement, excited to see the game through my eyes. He was great at getting good seats -- to that game, to the two Final Fours held in Philadelphia -- and a fun guy to go to a game with. I've tried to emulate that with my son, trying to get him good seats, loving his joy, all the while trying not to spoil him. By the age of 10, he's been to a lot of good stuff.
It's not without some emotion that I write this particular entry, because of all of the heart and soul we poured out for 76ers' teams that sometimes turned into Charlie Brown to the Celtics' Lucy Van Pelt, that just couldn't get up that final hill. I take some solace that their failure was not as much because of their shortcomings, but because they were running into one of the all-time dynasties in the Russell-, then Cowens-, then Bird-led Celtics. It's easy to get a complex as a disappointment when your competition is perhaps the best ever. More importantly, I had many great moments with my father, including at the two Final Fours I mentioned, both won by Bob Knight's Indiana teams.
The first Final Four -- in 1976 -- was memorable because it was John Wooden's final season at UCLA (his 28th, I believe), Rutgers, led by Phil Sellers, Eddie Jordan and James Bailey -- was undefeated, as was Indiana, led by Scott May, Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner. Michigan, led by Phil Hubbard and Ricky Green, was the "other" team in the tournament. In the semis, Indiana took care of UCLA (who had Richard Washington and Marques Johnson, and Philadelphia native Andre McCarter), while Michigan pasted Rutgers. In the final, Michigan led at the half, and then Indiana put on the afterburners. Bob Knight won his first national title. Five years later, Indiana beat North Carolina on the day that John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan, and a point guard from Chicago led the way. His name? Isiah Thomas. Final Fours are now played in cavernous indoor arenas more constructed for football than anything else, and in places that aren't basketball hotbeds. The tournament belongs in Philadelphia, which has six D-I college hoops teams, the Big Five, and a rich tradition. It also belongs in an intimate arena, where the tension remains and doesn't rise up to someone in a seat hundreds of feet away. That was the Spectrum -- a great venue for a Final Four.
And, so, it's time to say goodbye. I probably said goodbye years ago, and perhaps my last event there was a "Barney Live" concert over a decade ago as a reward to my then 2+ year-old daughter for being good right after my son was born. I don't think I've been back there since. The Wells Fargo Center, nee the CoreStates Center, later the First Union Center, then the Wachovia Center, has been home to more recent memories (and I'm grateful, as is many a 76er fan, that the Bank of Boston didn't take over CoreStates in the 90's, causing the place to be called -- horror of horrors in Philadelphia -- the Bank of Boston Center). But still, if there's finality to be had, nothing is more blunt than a wrecking ball to cause it. The wrecking ball reminds us that progress is inevitable, that these structures have useful lives, that the underlying real estate is worth more than preserving an out-of-date arena for the benefit of the memories of a shrinking group of people, and that, well, the structures don't matter all that much when compared to the people who played there and those who went there to watch.
But the beauty of the wrecking ball is what lies in what it does not, cannot, and must not represent. While the wrecking ball can be the gateway to progress, innovation and evolution, it's also a reminder that if we do it right -- as a society and group of fans -- it will not destroy the rich tapestry woven over the years of Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, Final Fours, concerts and all of the other wonderful things that took place inside. The value of that tapestry, and the wealth that it creates, resides not in a museum or Hall of Fame, but inside the strongest vaults known to man, the best theaters ever constructed -- our hearts and our minds. Our minds can forever replay the shared experiences that we had in those places, and our hearts remind us constantly of all sorts of emotions, wonderful, rich, complex emotions, of eras gone by, cherished competitors of yesterday, and of loved ones missed.
I will recall with great fondness the Spectrum and everything that it represented to a passionate city and to a little boy and young man for whom it displayed commitment, passion, excellence and wonder. Those are great things for a young man to witness, and warm items that help comprise the foundation of a middle-aged man with much to be thankful for, and much to look forward to.
The building may be going.
The memories will never die.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Roethlisberger has had his run-ins with the law, and has received much notoriety because of his treatment of young women. So. . .
Does it stand to reason that an angry father -- a man of means -- paid a bounty to the first NFL lineman who decked the Steelers' quarterback? Think about it, perhaps there's a subterranean network of bounty providers and sponsors that will pay a player more than the fine he's hit with for committing the personal foul. So, you might figure that the National Organization for Women, leading feminists and many others might have pooled their resources for something like this, say a cool $250,000 or more for whoever took a shot at Roethlisberger, kind of an underground version of "All Jacked Up." My guess is that there are lots of women whom Roethlisberger left in his wake who would have contributed to Seymour's mugging of Roethlisberger.
Okay, so it was just a thought.
He's now out for the year with an injury to a different cervical disc. He'll miss 6 games.
Perhaps this is something more than a coincidence.
Perhaps Ellis Hobbs should find something else to do, no matter how hard that is, no matter that he's played football for most of his life.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Fans old enough to remember "Holding, #64" are probably shuddering when they hear "Holding, #71." Is Jason Peters a modern-day Ed George for Eagles' fans?
Is Donovan McNabb watching the game? What does he think of all this? He's probably happy for Michael Vick, but feeling a bit abandoned by Eagles' fans.
Back to the game.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
I was there, among the 42 or so people sitting in the end zone, some of whom appeared to have mixed allegiances (one guy wore a Green hat that hat Big Green to the left of a white Dartmouth D on the front of his cap and "Tiger" in orange to the right), another was an alum who played for Princeton whose son played for Dartmouth within the past couple of years. There were the alums in sport coats, even an alum in a sport coat wearing L.L. Bean hunting shoes (the dark brown variety) and an orange-and-black Princeton tie. As Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote in Evita (okay, or at least to paraphrase), "the best show in town was the crowd. . .."
Truth be told, there were almost as many Big Green fans there as Tiger fans, and the former were louder than the latter (no surprise there, as their gridders gave them much more to cheer about than the Tiger gridders did). It was a beautiful day, sun, mid-fifties, wind only mildly gusting from time to time, but the Tigers were down to their third- and fourth-string quarterbacks, and they just couldn't run the offense the way injured starter Tommy Wornham could. The coaches called predictable run plays, and exacerbating the problem were too many balls thrown way ahead or behind of receivers. All in all, though, when you lose 31-0, everyone contributes. More striking, though, was the lack of overall quickness and strength of the Tiger defense, which, when they got there, sometimes were pushed away (and, at times, without great difficulty). I haven't followed the team all season, so I don't know if Princeton was missing a good number of starters owing to injury, but the defense had its troubles all year.
There is a silver lining in all of this, which is that the Tigers have nowhere to go but up. It's a competitive league, for sure, but the Ivies are a little bit like NASCAR. Every driver drives a similar car in NASCAR, and every Ivy team recruits, generally, from the same pool of players. True, all but Princeton take transfers, and a strategic transfer here and there can help fill a gaping hole, particularly at a skill position, and, true, some are bigger and have different ways to get kids in and schools to admit them to. All that said, there are many more similarities between the top and bottom of the Ivy League than probably the top and bottom of every other conference.
It was a fun afternoon to be outside, a great time to catch up with an old friend, fun to see my son and a friend sit near the bottom of the end zone and watch up close, and a time of thanks that I didn't need to wear the cold weather gear. The Dartmouth Big Green will enjoy a long bus ride back to Hanover, New Hampshire, the huge victory enough to fuel the bus and the people riding in it. The Tigers will limp back to their dormitories, lamenting a disappointing end to a frustrating season.
True, Ibanez rallied in the second half of last season.
True, Werth hit terribly with men on base for most of 2010 (until September).
True, both men were the only Phillies' regulars not to get hurt.
But. . .
Ibanez looked awful at the plate during much of the season (he seems to be raising up and then swinging down and pounding the ball into the ground). He also didn't hit well in the post-season. Yes, he is no Pat Burrell (who is now 1-26 in the World Series, but Burrell has two WS rings to Ibanez's none). He's also a lefty, and it's not as though the Phillies don't have enough of them.
Werth is a five-tool player. He can do it all and more, because he can play centerfield too. True, his numbers don't tell the whole story. For example, his superstar-like numbers don't make him a leader or a transcendant player (in the latter sense, like Manny Ramirez in his prime). So, the buyers have to beware as to whether they're getting the outfielder to end all outfielders or Carlos Beltran or Jason Bay, and, at a hefty price, to boot. Still, the numbers don't lie, and no one would take Ibanez, who is 39, over Werth, who is 31. For the Phillies to suggest anything close to parity is silly, especially because Werth is a righty, a great counterbalance to a lineup full of lefties and switch hitters.
It sounds like GM Ruben Amaro is trying to soften the blow. Deep down, while he's saying all the right things, the Phillies either cannot afford to re-sign Werth or don't want to. I think, as Amaro has said before, that they can, assuming that they'll permit a 1-season bulge in their payroll until they shed the eight-figure contracts of Brad Lidge and Ibanez after this season, but they might not want to, as Amaro is also on record as saying a) the team has to get younger and b) the team cannot afford a lineup where every starter makes an eight-figure salary. Atop that, they'll have to deal with arbitration-eligible players or expiring contracts over the next two seasons, both of which are sure to swell the payroll.
Werth is a terrific player, and he'll be a great missing piece for a team with good leadership who needs a stellar bat to hit 3, 4 or 5 in the lineup, and to complement another great player or two. I'm not sure that he can be the leader or put in the role of a team's "best player" and carry it off, as the spotlight hasn't been on him the way it's been on some of his better-known teammates. Still, he'll command more than the Phillies can pay for him, and instead of trying to draw favorable comparisons for guys who remain, the Phillies would be wise to move on, improve their outfield and bullpen, and, in the process, get a little younger and build a little more depth for the future. Losing Werth is the price that you have to pay for success, as your free agents will be in demand, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a Plan B other than trying to tell your (very knolwedgeable) fans that a 39 year-old holdover who has hit inconsistently in the past season and a half somehow becomes the palliative to cure all ills.
The fans won't buy it, so the Phillies shouldn't try to sell it.
Yes, he could really play, both on and off the field. He played in great pain, serving as an inspiration to his teammates and Yankee fans. He also didn't take great care of himself off it (if they kept records for off-the-field hijinx, his Hall of Fame numbers for that -- under any standard -- perhaps would be as impressive as his baseball numbers, which are impressive under any standard of measurement, whether the standards of the day or the "Baseball Prospectus"-like statistics of today).
But the dichotomy I suggest belies the light that shined on Mickey Mantle, the American hero, the idol for boys growing up all over the country, including the son of a record store owners in Manhattan (Billy Crystal), a boy who would start his media career as a radio announcer in St. Louis (Bob Costas), to a kid who played ball in the Bronx and then became a well-known singer of baseball ballads (Denny Minogue, better known as Terry Cashman). He was the "it" guy of all "it" guys, larger than life, playing on America's biggest stage. He was powerful, fast, raw, perhaps baseball's version of Locke's "man in nature," impressive when harnessed within the confines of a stadium and in need of guidance and mentoring off it.
Jane Leavey's book leaves no stone unturned. She talked with teammates, family members, people from Mantle's home town of Commerce, Oklahoma (once of the most toxic towns in the U.S. owing to the zinc and lead that was mined nearby), people who played with him at all levels and ordinary fans. You'll come away with a detailed impression of Mantle, a Mantle who never felt loved, didn't feel that he made many connections with people, and who didn't know what to do with himself when he wasn't hitting or catching a baseball, a man who could be crude, a man who could be generous, and, at heart, once and always, a boy, with all of the commendable and lamentable aspects of someone with great promise, but never fully formed.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
He's a future Hall of Famer -- first ballot.
He's the face of the franchise.
He's the leader, the guy who gets stuff done, the guy who sets the tone.
The fans love him. Check that, the fans adore him. And, at a time when there is so much negative news from around the world, the fans look to him as the personification of excellence, dignity and getting things done. There is no other.
So it would be a lock, in most businesses, to say open up the vaults for this guy, he's the guy who puts people in the seats, who gives the franchise its special allure, its cache, its international appeal. He's the guy who reinforces the brand, who's added to it, who enriches it, who makes it special.
Except. . .
The brand that we're talking about is the New York Yankees, the best brand in baseball, the team with more titles than the next two teams combined, the team that plays in the most expensive stadium in (arguably) the most exciting city in the world, the team that is an institution, that has had many icons come and go, among them some of the best ever to play the game -- Ruth, Gehring, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, a team whose brand is strong enough to survive the tumult of cantankerous managers, of grumpy players, of a capricious owner and of some spectacularly bad free-agent signings. So, while Derek Jeter is special, the team and the brand have been there and done that, have survived worse in the public relations arena (at least, conceivably) than they would suffer if they couldn't come to an agreement with the team and ended up playing for the cross-town New York Mets.
Atop the fact that the team is an institution, baseball can be a cold business that's exceedingly numbers driven. While recent championship teams have demonstrated that leadership in the clubhouse and chemistry among teammates is paramount, the statistical gurus out there (of whom there are many) will argue that the numbers don't lie, especially in baseball, that Jeter is on downward slope of what has been a spectacular career, that many shortstops cover more ground and are more productive at the plate, and, well, he's more worth $12 million a year for three years (even with the New York premium) than say $20 million a year for five or six. And that's where the sides are stumbling. Apparently, the team is willing to give Jeter a 3-year, $63 million deal, while Jeter wants a five- or six-year deal. Which isn't surprising, given all that he's meant to the franchise and given that Alex Rodriguez's contract will run until he's 42 (which is what a six-year deal would do for Jeter, who is older than A-Rod).
Now, before you say that these guys have plenty of money, that why is Jeter so concerned, he's set for life, remember that these players are great precisely because they want more than the rest of us. They want that extra strike to hit, they want to take that extra pitch to scratch out a walk to get something going, they'll crash into the catcher, make the great slide around a tag or the innovative backhanded flip play to give the catcher a chance to tag out a go-ahead runner at home. And they measure themselves through the currency of the realm -- the size and length of their deals. Jeter knows that he's older, and he knows that he isn't the player he was ten years ago, but he also knows that he's the face of the franchise, the leader, the guy who sets the tone and that there's no one like him and no one who can take his place, especially under the bright lights of New York (where the pressure is tremendous). Because of this, he wants to get paid not for his numbers, but for his unmeasurable contributions, something which even the brain trust at Baseball Prospectus cannot measure all that well (at least not yet).
Mike Francesa of WFAN once said that what distinguishes the Yankees is that they can sign someone to a big contract, overpay and have that player not be all that productive, and it won't affect them the way it would devastate the average team, because the Yankees are so well-funded that they can eat a mistake. He's right about that -- witness the ill-fated signing of Carl Pavano and what now looks to be the ill-advised contract of A.J. Burnett. All that said, if the Yankees have all that money, how big of a risk is Jeter? Imagine the attention he'll draw as he approaches 3,000 hits, imagine his leadership and his tone-setting. Derek Jeter is unique, and he's one of the main reasons why the Yankees are the paramount franchise in all of baseball.
And yet. . . the Yankees cannot continue to sign players to long contracts and not have production. Burnett's contract looks to be a risk, and who knows how good A-Rod will be when he's playing for big bucks at 38 through 42. And how will CC Sabathia fare if he cannot control his weight as he ages? All of these are good questions, and they underscore why it's important for all franchises to develop young players as opposed to relying upon signing expensive free agents. That said, the team that's been the best at managing these risks over the years has been the Yankees, who have outstanding results to show for it (and could have better results if, among other things, they were better at competing for the less expensive signings, such as back-of-the-rotation starters and bullpen help). So, what are the Yankees to do?
They cannot afford to lose Jeter, and they cannot afford a stalemate. They also cannot afford to let this negotiation get ugly (by having officials speak to the press anonymously). What they need to do is get into a room, look each other in the eye, and make a deal -- a deal that keeps Jeter in New York for the right price and the right length. There is a compromise to be had, here, that will help both sides get the right result, save face, and move on with the business of returning the Yankees to the World Series.
But they should act quickly and keep the discussions out of the media. This is a special situation, and it deserves special handling. Derek Jeter belongs in a Yankees' uniform -- for the rest of his career.
Fast forward to a few years ago, when the Blazers had the first pick in the draft and chose Greg Oden, a center from Ohio State about whom the writers and scouts gushed. He was the obvious first pick, and in selecting him the Blazers were preparing for a bright future. In chosing Oden, they passed over, among others, a 6'10" forward from Texas with great shooting ability. His name: Kevin Durrant (with whom Coach K fell in love while coaching the U.S. National team this summer). Well, Oden just learned he'll have season-ending surgery for the second time in three years. Durrant, meanwhile, is one of the best players in the game, and would get more coverage if a) he weren't playing in Oklahoma City (where he's very happy) and b) he weren't caught in the East Coast/West Coast crossfire as to which is a better team, the Lakers or the Heat and who is the better player, Kobe Bryan or LeBron James. Once again, it looks as though the Blazers picked the wrong guy (even if at the time there were good arguments to take both).
I feel badly for the Blazers and Oden in particular, as neither deserves this fate, and it's unfortunate to see the same form of bad luck befall a franchise twice within the same quarter century. It might turn out that Oden will get fully healthy and fulfill the large promise that attached to him resulting from his outstanding play at Ohio State, and that would benefit the Blazers and the NBA. But for the meantime, the parallels will be drawn, and every time Kevin Durrant draws another accolade, every Blazers follower will wince with the feeling of what might have been.
So why didn't Charlie win it? Probably because of a view of the voters that with all that talent, he was supposed to have a good team, and he did, and most of those writers didn't have the box seat to the Phillies that Phillies' fans did. Then again, Phillies' fans don't have a box seat to the journeys of the other teams the way professionals who cover the game do. As for the Padres, they were sailing along to the playoffs until a fateful series in August, when, of all teams, the Phillies came into town, fresh off being swept four straight at home by the Astros. The Phillies swept the Padres, who subsequently went on a tailspin that they struggled to come out of, and, ultimately failed. By that measure, the edge has to go to Charlie Manuel, but for the general sense that "well, his guys were supposed to do that." Sure, but they weren't fully healthy, and they didn't hit the way they did a few years ago, either.
Baker's team made the playoffs, and Bochy's won the World Series, and Manuel's had the most injuries in baseball. Bud Black did a great job, but both Bochy's work (because he got a position-player lineup full, for the most part, of castoffs) and Manuel's work (for the reasons stated above) were more worthy, all in a year where all five guys who got votes were worthy of a Manager of the Year Award.
Players and managers alike don't play for awards and find that when they do they struggle and miss. They do their best and then hope that if the kudos are meant to be, they'll pick up some of the hardware. Fair enough. But if you juxtapose the star-laden Mets of a few years back with the star-laden Phillies of the present -- at the times when both were beset by significant injuries (remember when the Mets lost Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado at the same time?) -- one team faded away, while the other remained robust. It wasn't that the Phillies had stars to step in for their injured regulars, it's just that others picked up the slack and the leadership was there, both at the player level and at the managerial level. Charlie Manuel is a players' manager, and he gets the players to play for him as well as anyone else does. That's what made the 2010 regular season very special for the Phillies and their fans. With all the injuries, they could have faded away and chalked it up to too much time for too many players on the disabled list. Instead, they used their setbacks as a rallying cry, all the while with their calm, upbeat skipper steering the ship. It was fun to watch, and it was worthy of a Manager of the Year award.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
While Halladay went into the season as a favorite, I'd argue that at mid-season, despite pitching well for a Phillies team that was surprisingly run-starved, he wasn't the favorite. That's because Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez was 15-1 around mid-season, only to finish 4-7 the rest of the way. Jimenez still should get lauded for excelling in Colorado, a notoriously difficult place for pitchers. He finished third in the voting, behind Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals.
Roy Halladay had a great season for the Phillies, who look for more great seasons to come. There are many outstanding starting pitchers in baseball, but right now, none stands taller -- figuratively for sure and save C.C. Sabathia, literally -- than Halladay.
Roy Halladay left Toronto because he wanted to have a better chance to win a World Series. Few would argue that the Jays either are better than the Phillies or would have a better chance to win their division. All would agree that Halladay did his best and helped push, pull and carry the Phillies as far as they went this year. Unfortunately for him, the hitters that he thought he joined were not the hitters of 2008 or 2009, and, atop that, the Phillies ran into one of the best collective post-season pitching performances in baseball history when they fell to the Giants. All that said, Halladay had a great year, and, with all the injuries, the Phillies had a very good one.
Next year, Halladay and the Phillies are hoping for a slightly better one.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
In the early 1980's, the Phillies wanted to get younger, so they traded their shortstop, Larry
Bowa, to the Cubs for Ivan DeJesus. But Cubs' GM Dallas Green, who managed the Phillies to their first World Series win in 1980, asked for a throw-in. Bowa was the bigger name, and Green knew from his days with the Phillies. He knew that they had an excellent minor-league third baseman whom the Phillies believed couldn't play any other infield position. The Phillies agreed to the throw-in, and you know the rest of the story. His name? Ryne Sandberg.
Green figured that Sandberg could play second base and put him there. What resulted was a Hall of Fame career. DeJesus played okay, but he was no Derek Jeter. Heck, he was no Omar Vizquel, either.
Fast forward to this year. Cubs' skipper Lou Piniella had enough, and he resigned in September. The Cubs appointed Mike Quade, once a Phillies' minor-league manager, as interim manager. Sandberg had several years under his belt managing in the Cubs' system, and he let it be known that he was interested in the top job. Sounded like a good match -- All-American guy, Hall of Famer comes home. Except for one thing -- the Cubs decided to hire Quade. Sandberg was left out in the cold.
That is, until the Phillies decided not to renew the contract of their AAA manager, Dave Huppert. That left an opening for Sandberg to return to the Phillies' organization, this time as the manager of the AAA Iron Pigs. He took it, and perhaps at some point down the road could succeed Charlie Manuel (who, last time I checked, took a page out of Joe Paterno's book and offered that he wanted to manage for a long time).
Don't know whether this is symmetry or irony or whether there's symmetry to the irony or irony in the symmetry. What I do know is that when he was with the Phillies' organization as a player, Ryne Sandberg had trouble emerging from AAA. Will he have the same trouble this time? And, if so, will he go on and have a great career as a manager elsewhere, or, if he does get the Phillies' job in the future and excels, will the Cubs regret it?
Or, does it really matter beyond the notion that this makes for an amusing story? Why? Because the last time any of us checked, it's the players who win (and lose) games much more than the managers. So, if you were to ask any Phillies' fan whether they'd rather have Sandberg the player or Sandberg the manager, they'd say the former in a heartbeat every time. Now, if you phrased the question would you rather have Sandberg the Hall of Famer or Sandberg the manager of world champion Phillies teams? They'd opt for the latter, and not because Sandberg was such a good manager, but because of the inference that Sandberg was blessed with sufficient talent to win championship and that he did win them. And that's what any fan is looking for.
The Phillies already have brought back Juan Samuel to coach third base (Sam Perlozzo will move to first base and run the Phillies' running game). They now have Ryne Sandberg, another former second baseman, managing at AAA. Does that mean that we can look for Manny Trillo to manage the AA Reading club anytime soon? And what about Ted Sizemore and Mickey Morandini? Can they be far behind?
If Donovan McNabb is Worth a $78 Million Extension, with $40 Million Guaranteed, Then Michael Vick. . .
a) worth at least that.
b) worth double that.
c) about to become as rich as Warren Buffett.
d) about to have Fort Knox deeded over to him.
e) about to set a record for being the highest paid quarterback. . . ever.
f) making one of the most amazing turnarounds in the history of sports.
g) going to give the Eagles a "hometown" discount when they re-sign him, so instead of giving his taking $100 million guaranteed, he'll take only $95 million guaranteed from the Birds.
h) going to have Lincoln Financial Field renamed Michael Vick Stadium, after he i) leads the Eagles to their first Super Bowl ever, ii) gets the richest contract for a QB ever and iii) as part of the deal, gets stadium naming rights.
Break open the checkbook, as the Eagles dismantled the Redskins, who, ironically, announced a big contract extension for Donovan McNabb on a night where the Redskins looked, well, like the Dallas Cowboys (at least before the way they played on Sunday against the Giants).
Sunday, November 14, 2010
And, as gravy for him, he's playing for the Golden State Warriors, the closest team to where he grew up (which was in Palo Alto). How many kids get to say that they made the roster of the closest NBA team to where they grew up? And then how many kids get to say that and that they graduated from Harvard?
Jeremy Lin is a guard, but he's in rarefied air right now.
Princeton is the favorite.
Harvard has the big-name recruits.
Perhaps predicted to finish as high as second or third, but that's about it, and people forget that the Quakers have suffered about as many injuries over the course of the past 2 seasons as the Phillies (who, admittedly, have a larger roster and enjoyed better managing and better results).
But the Quakers have a lot of talent (okay, so that's something that an observer can say almost every season about Penn), and it's healthy. PG Zack Rosen is as good a favorite for the Ivy League Player of the Year title as any, forward Tyler Bernardini is a sharpshooter, and frosh guard Miles Cartwright was one of the league's biggest recruits and popped in all of his 18 points in the second half to help propel the Quakers to victory. Penn also has a bunch of returning forwards with size, including Jack Eggleston, who had 11 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. (Among the injured, Bernardini, who missed almost all of last season, center Andreas Schreiber, who missed all of last season, and guard Darren Smith, who came in with much potential but missed most of the past two seasons with injuries).
You can read about Penn's opener here.
Suffice it to say that before people forget about Penn, any team that wants to win the Ivies and go to the NCAA tournament will face grueling challenges from the Quakers. Yes, Penn might have been down the past couple of years, but they have a great tradition there and enough returning veterans to make it very interesting -- for themselves and the rest of the league.
You don't remember that he was an outstanding flamethrowing lefty starter for some horrible Angels teams in his early twenties. Why? Perhaps because the big-name pitcher on his team then was some flamethrower named Ryan. Nolan Ryan.
You don't remember that for his career he was 240-236, that he had to adapt to being more of a crafty pitcher later in his career because of an arm injury. And, naturally, you wouldn't remember a great line by broadcaster Todd Kalas, Harry's son, about him near the end of his career -- "The guy who threw in the 90's in the 70's is now throwing in the 70's in the 90's." Great summation.
Why am I writing about Frank Tanana? Well, because there's been a lot of talk that with his recent season, Mariners' starting pitcher Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young Award for the American League despite being a .500 pitcher because despite traditional measurements, the Baseball Prospectus-like stats -- by which most front offices apparently swear -- demonstrate that Hernandez clearly is the best starting pitcher in the AL (or so the argument goes) and, therefore, he is worthy of the Cy Young Award. After all, it wasn't Hernandez's fault that the Mariners finished 61-101, perhaps making Hernandez the 2010 version of either the 1950 Ned Garver (who won 20 games and had 24 complete games for a St. Louis Browns team that won 58 of its 154 games that year) or the 1972 Steve Carlton (who won 27 games for a Phillies team that won 59 of its 156 games that year). Both Garver and Carlton toiled for terrible teams, and what made Carlton's performance so remarkable that despite the Phillies' futility, they rose to the occasion behind him, and he rose to the occasion almost at every turn (his performance that season was one of the best ever, to say the least, especially considering the team that he played for).
So that brings us back to Hernandez, who might be worthy despite "only" having gone 13-12 for a team that didn't do much. I have no quarrel with Hernandez's anointment, and acknowledge that he suffers from the fact that when it comes to media exposure, if you play for Seattle and aren't both outstanding and exotic (see, for example, Ichiro), you might as well be playing on the moon because people back East and in the Midwest just go to sleep too darn early for you to get recognized. If the standards have become such that a won-loss record shouldn't matter as much as the underlying numbers, so be it. Hernandez is a tremendous pitcher, and there have been examples where average to above average pitchers win 20 games because they're in the right place at the right time (read: they didn't come close before or after that feat) and outstanding pitchers labor because they're playing for bad teams.
That said, I circle back to Tanana, about whom I'm writing from memory and who I believe was underappreciated because he was so outstanding (and overused) very early in his career, playing for bad teams. How overused? He pitched 71 complete games by the time he was 24. Today, the future Hall of Fame pitcher might not have 23 complete games in his career (and that's the number that Tanana threw in 1976 at the ripe old age of 22 -- the year that whoever was managing determine to end what probably would have been a Hall of Fame career had Tanana not been so overworked by the time he was 25). At any rate, though, here are Tanana's numbers in 1975, 1976 and 1977 (when he was 22, 23 and 24 respectively):
16-9, 2.62 ERA, 16 complete games, 5 shutouts, 1.104 WHIP, 9.4 K's/9, 3.68 K's/BB.
19-10, 2.43 ERA, 23 complete games, 2 shutouts, 0.988 WHIP, 8.1 K's/9, 3.58 K's/BB.
15-9, 2.54 ERA, 20 complete games, 7 shutouts, 1.086 WHIP, 7.6 K's/9, 3.36 K's/BB.
The Angels finishes during those years?
1975 -- 72-99 (last in AL West)
1976 -- 76-86 (tied for fourth in AL West)
1977 -- 74-88 (fifth in AL West).
As for the Cy Young voting, Tanana came in tied (with Jim Kaat) for fourth in the AL in 1975 (behind Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers -- and boy, did Palmer have an awesome year, but those three played for great teams, far better than Tanana's Angels), third in 1976 (behind Palmer and one and a half year wonder Mark Fidrych), and (gasp) ninth in 1977, behind Sparky Lyle, Palmer, teammate Nolan Ryan, Dennis Leonard, Bill Campbell, Dave Goltz, Ron Guidry and Dave Rozema). Sure, he had some great competition -- and the number of complete games and shutouts those guys threw was staggering, but Tanana -- during his early years -- remains one of the most underappreciated and most forgotten pitchers of the past 40 years. But take it from someone who saw him on TV and followed him -- he was that good that young.
I heard a saying recently that it's not good to be a pioneer, because historically most of the pioneers (that is, the ones you haven't heard about) ended up face down in a stream with arrows in their back). Now, there will be debates, of course, about trying, about leadership and about courage, but the context I heard the comment in -- in fairness -- was about being bold and taking great leaps of faith where a more cautious approach would work just fine (and the context I'm talking about didn't involve taking a great stand for human rights or discovering electricity or the automobile, but one where the risks would far outstrip the rewards). Well, perhaps Frank Tanana was a pioneer, and I do allow for the doubting that he wasn't as recognized as perhaps he might have been because the competition at the time was just that good. Fair enough. But if Felix Hernandez wins the AL Cy Young Award, the writers will be tipping their caps to all of those pitchers who were unfortunate enough to pitch for mediocre to horrible teams at a time when one of the principal criteria was in order to qualify for the award, it didn't matter how good you were, you had to, at a minimum, either pitch for a division-winning team or just be much, much better than anyone else (such as Steve Carlton in 1972).
There are many pitchers out there -- and descendants of them -- who might be pulling for Felix Hernandez, if for no other reason than because he's just like their relative -- an outstanding pitcher for a bad team and, finally, the baseball world will be rewarding great pitching, regardless of the team's record.
I wonder if Frank Tanana is out there, somewhere, pulling for Felix Hernandez.
I've been re-reading the book occasionally, if only to look for funny analogies or observations, of which there are many. If I could do the very good writing justice, I'd compile a Top Ten list of the book's best lines. I happened upon one of them yesterday, about the journeyman centerfielder Alejandro de Aza, who got his start with the Florida Marlins.
de Aza appeared in the chapter on the Florida Marlins, even though he was destined not to return to their organization after last season, because it's customary for the editors to place a player with the team where he ended his season, and not where he will (or might) begin the following season. Fair enough, it's a consistent approach. After a few sentences about de Aza's historical performance, the book offered that de Aza would be in the mix for centerfield for the White Sox, which hadn't resolved their opening for that position since Judge Landis banned Happy Felsch. Okay, maybe I had too much free time, but the thought of well-read people drawing an analogy to a guy who hadn't played in 90 years and who was part of baseball's biggest scandal was pretty good. There are other, similar, gems, which is why I wholeheartedly recommend that -- if you're a big baseball fan -- you purchase this book when it comes out next year for the 2011 season.
And, if you're not a big baseball fan, you should buy the book anyway, if for only this reason -- it shows you how statistical analysis can change the way you look at anything, so that you can maximize performance where you didn't think it possible. Why do I say this? Because baseball is a sport all about numbers and data. There is plenty of it, it is measured daily, and the data has great integrity. Your business might have trouble collecting data (because it's growing fast and your company hasn't advanced the means to collect it as quickly as market forces are compelling your leadership to make key decisions), but it's imperative that it adapt and collect data, scrub it (to use a term of art) and ensure that it has integrity. Thereupon. . . hire smart quantitive people who can analyze it six ways to Sunday, compare the data to data from prior years and prior periods, look for trends, look for something, and, the bet here is that there are many ways for your company to improve. When you combine Moneyball with Baseball Prospectus and apply the principles from those books to your business, anything is possible.
Finding the resources and making the effort is difficult, especially in this economy, when it's hard enough to get more done with less, to multitask (which could have a secondary meaning, which is to mean doing many things simultaneously not so well) and to just keep the lights on and the motor running. From various business books, it's apparent that the businesses that thrive after a recession do so because of investments made during the recession. Investing in some sort of data initiative and an "out of the box" exercise to measure performance might be just the type of thing to keep your business relevant, to help it get ahead, and to help ensure that it doesn't become obsolete.
Food for thought.
They were elated at halftime, when the visiting team led their hosts, 14-3. Take that, Las Vegas, and take that, Ohio State.
But games aren't won at half time, of course, and the Buckeyes stormed back with 35 -- yes, that's not a misprint -- 35 unanswered points to topple their guest from Happy Valley, 38-14.
It took a while, but the handicappers were right. Ohio State was just that much better than Penn State.
There is some small measure of solace, though, for Penn State fans. At least they weren't Indiana fans, and at least their team didn't have to play Wisconsin, who beat the Hoosiers, 83-20. Yes, that's not a misprint, either, and no, this was not a game about which team could shoot better from behind the arc, either.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
We don't have much space to work with. The middle school where we hold practices has two courts next to each other, and we get a half court, so we emphasized the fundamentals and had a good first practice. Each player worked hard, and we actually (for the first time) have a big fellah who can handle the ball, who has a touch, and who is determined to score. One of our smaller players realized this in our two-on-one drill, where he was paired with the big man. He whispered something before they went in motion, and the result was an excellent pick and roll that resulted in a basket. I asked the smaller player what he said, and the reply was: "I told him that if we ran this play, I'd get him the ball and he'd score." Smart kid. He's the coach's son.
Pride aside, it's fun to get the kids out there and back in the swing of things. This year its the 5th and 6th grade league, and some of the kids are more ready (even with one practice a week) to learn a few basic plays and build upon what they've learned in previous years. I actually watched a DVD I've had for about a year. I purchased it from www.sysko.com, and it's Fundamental Drills for All Coaches," by Ed Schilling, a one-time Miami (Ohio) player, head coach at Wright State, assistant at Memphis and now head coach at a private school in Indianapolis (he also runs an elite b-ball skills academy nearby). The video, made four years ago, remains very relevant, and it's first-rate. That said, you'll have to pick and choose your drills, because Coach Schilling has the benefit of a full court, and some of us do not. Still, you'll get some great ideas, and it's worth purchasing. (Full disclosure: I have no affiliation with Sysko or Coach Schilling).
I'll post a practice plan or two in the upcoming weeks, but it's a great feeling to have basketball starting again.
Is this really all that novel? Didn't the SEC have a big scandal where Tennessee turned in Alabama because, allegedly, school boosters were paying high school coaches to steer players to their favorite schools? Isn't this possible a corollary to that? Or, does everyone operate under a NCAA-instilled illusion (delusion?) that every program is clean, that every college football player can do the work (Michael Lewis seemed to suggest otherwise in some short references in The Blind Side), that every player will progress to a meaningful degree so that he won't be parking cars or busing tables when his playing days are over?
Boosters with bags of cash.
Coaches shaking hands with their palms up.
Parents of kids of modest means who see big-time schools about to make huge bucks off of, among other things, the labors of their kids, seeking to get greased (especially when at times it's an open question whether the school really cares about the kid's education, despite the publicity to the contrary about scholar-athletes).
Look, no one operates under any illusion that big-time college sports are like extracurricular activities in middle school, where (presumably, or, at least where I live), kids aren't recruited, they just show up, and the best kids make the team and then the best among them get most of the playing time (there are a few asterisks here and there, such as the increasing pressure on kids to specialize on one and only one sport, but that warrants a discussion for another day). No, these schools go out and go after the best players. They want to win, they want to pack their stadiums, they want to sell merchandise and they want their football programs to fund the remainder of their athletic departments so that, among other things, they can comply with both the NCAA requirement that to have a DI program a school needs to field 8 DI teams and, also, Title IX, so that there are a commensurate number of women's teams. Lots of responsibilities, lots of pressure, and. . .
Lots of money changing hands.
So now Cam Newton is in the spotlight, he's the QB for an Auburn team that could win the national title. And, his father had his hand out.
It's not a good thing, but I doubt that it's unique.
The bigger question is, of the fathers and mothers who've had their hands out over the years, how many of them were obliged.
And by whom?
Buoyed by this victory, the Tigers now travel to Durham, North Carolina to take on the Duke Blue Devils. So, from the friendly (semi-) confines of Jadwin Gym to the intimacy of Cameron Indoor Stadium, all within the space of say 72 hours.
Meanwhile, the defending Ivy champion Tiger women, they of the 26-2 record and NCAA appearance last year, open their season later this afternoon.
This could be a very good year to be a Tiger hoops fan.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Other teams are getting in the way. But, if you believe that the Heat is the evil empire and you're happy to see them stumble, don't get giddy. And, if you're a Celtics' fan (or a Lakers' fan), don't get giddy, either. And, if you're a Heat fan, don't get depressed. It's a young season.
Patience seems to be one of the most rare commodities, especially in professional sports or even in the workplace, for that matter. But letting things play out, letting things grow, letting things, well, mature, is the art of the best managers. Sure, they have a sense of urgency, but everything cannot go from 0 to 60 in a heartbeat, and you cannot construct a high rise overnight. Similarly, you cannot expect the choreography of the Heat to be perfect given that none of those guys played together before early this fall. The meshing of the Heat will take some time.
Sure, the Celtics right now can act like the Old Masters with the young conductor (so mix a metaphor between oil paintings and symphonies), and, yes, the Lakers can be chomping at the bit waiting to defend their reputation, which they (rightfully) believe the media and others have dissed because of the assembly of the team to end all teams. The Celtics, though, will have to get their aging bodies up and down the floor 82 times during the regular season and countless times in the playoffs, and that pace could take its toll. Perhaps wine and scotch get better with age, but there are marginal returns for sports teams after they've aged too long. As for the Lakers, well, they're more intriguing, and, if the Heat were to mature into the team that everyone projected them to be, well, a Lakers-Heat NBA final could be one for the ages.
So, don't get too manic about the Celtics having one last day in the sun just yet. And don't get too giddy if you're a Heat hater that the Heat will be the biggest flop since the Titanic. And, yes, if you're a Heat fan, don't get too upset, because you're team has a chance to put it together, get into high gear and still lap most of the rest of the league. You can say that -- fans of about half the league's teams went into the season with little or no hope and will emerge from it the same way.
The season is young.
Patience is a virtue.
All NBA fans should remember that.
Especially in November.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Imagine This: A Possible Vote-Selling Scandal at FIFA (for Where to Locate the World Cup in 2018 and 2022)
So, the ethics chair is looking into allegations whether two of the voters offered to sell their votes. You would think that if this could possible happen, then could World Cup referees offer to sell their (no-) calls to the highest bidder, too, turning the World Cup into a more ballyhooed version of the Italian soccer leagues, where questionable calls have been legendary. Perhaps FIFA should take a different tact and just sell the darned decision to the highest bidder. You could imagine that a Russian oligarch could just buy the tournament for the year and put it on his private yacht, selling pay-per-view rights for a fortune and not have to worry about hosting the tournament in a location with high crime or, worse yet, bed bugs.
The possibilities, you see, are endless. It may be that this stuff has always gone on, but the scrutiny that it can get is magnified because of the internet, tweets and the like. And, of course, there are strict anti-bribery laws in many "western" countries, which scare the hell out of those in the west and perhaps put them at a disadvantage in competing against those where a bribery statute would be a luxury because, well, that's just the way business is done.
Sell a vote?
That just can't happen, shouldn't happen, must not happen.
As if. . .
So, the Commonwealth of Kentucky elected a Tea Party-endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate. Now, this is not a political blog, so I won't comment on that election. But I will comment on the following -- if the majority of Kentuckians elected a Tea Party candidate for the Senate, then it stands to reason that the political climate in Kentucky is such that one of the priorities the average Kentuckian wants out of government is to avoid big-ticket government spending. If that's the case, how do the good people of Kentucky rationalize the big contract of John Calipari -- a government employee, after all -- with their professed (and perhaps newly found) frugality?
Monday, November 08, 2010
So, the back judge threw a flag without having a good look at exactly what happened, which is what Eagles' fans saw and which is why Eagles' coach Andy Reid got so hot (even though he was a teammate of Austin Collie's father at BYU and, needless to say, concerned about the health of his opponent's wide receiver). The bottom line: there is no fine on Eagles' DB Kurt Coleman because the helmet-to-helmet hit on Collie resulted from safety Quintin Mikell's legal hit on Collie that drove Collie into the helmet of Coleman.
The explanation for the 15-yard penalty against the Birds for unnecessary roughness: officials are instructed to err on the side of calling the penalty. Which is precisely what happened.
And, in the fourth quarter, they erred even worse when DE Trent Cole touched Peyton Manning's helmet on a Fourth and The Length of Broad Street (by the way, it's the country's straightest street; translated, Fourth and 18) and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. That call led to a Colts' first down that led to a touchdown that led to, well, almost a last-second Colts' comeback. What should have happened: no flag and a turnover on downs, and then the Eagles would have been en route to an easier victory (and I might have gotten home on time to watch Boardwalk Empire).
At any rate, neither defensive players nor officials know what to do, and, right now, NFL stands for Not for Lucidity (which, for those who didn't take Latin, don't have a thesaurus, aren't studying for the SAT's or just do not care, means clarity).
All Eagles' fans wish Austin Collie the best, and no one wished him to get hurt. But the NFL has to figure out a way to balance a fine line between the hitting that it embraces and that sells tickets and protecting players from serious injury, all without making the game so rules-based and nuanced that the game will make little sense as currently played.
What Do Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, USC, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame and Penn State Have in Common?
For the current BCS top 10, click here.
When -- if ever -- was the last time that none of these teams was in the Top 10?
It's a good deal if you can get it, and it shows how much Jeter means to the Yankees, for whom $10 million is another team's $1 million. True, it's a unique situation, and many teams over the history of baseball have found themselves in a bind over what to do with aging superstars. If baseball were a pure meritocracy, compensation would be parabolic -- a player would make less money on his way up, the most at his peak, and then progressively less as his skills atrophy. But instead, the market that the players' union and the owners have created gives rise to many inefficiencies, among them overpaying for free agents and then wanting to dump them to any takers after the players turn into overpaid underproducers (see, for example, Barry Zito and Carlos Lee). As for Zito, years ago Mets' fans were disappointed that then-GM Omar Minaya failed to get the job done and sign Zito; had the signing happened, Omaya would have been fire much more quickly than he was.
That said. . . this isn't about inking a free agent to fill a glaring hole, it's about preserving an untarnished legacy and keeping an icon and a leader, for whom there is a premium, especially in New York. The thought of Derek Jeter spending his final seasons in a Mets', Angels' or Cubs' uniform frightens baseball purists to the core, or, at least, those who live in New York. For this and perhaps many other Yankee-centric reasons, the Yankees, the team who can afford a luxury of this nature the most, will overpay for three more years of Derek Jeter's services (and, the guess here is that by the time A-Rod turns forty, they'll be overpaying for him, too).
First, last Tuesday, former Tiger co-captain Bob Ehrlich '79 lost in his attempt to regain the Maryland governor's residence against the man who beat him in 2006, Martin O'Malley.
Second, former Tiger first-team all-Ivy punter Ken Buck '81 lost in his attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat in Colorado.
Third, nearby rival Penn crushed the Tigers, 52-10, in Franklin Field, the Ivy football equivalent of the Republicans' gaining 60 seats in the House of Representatives. Penn was up 28-0 after one quarter, and the Tigers had no answer. Princeton fans were hoping for a Browns-over-Patriots type of upset, but instead they got a Giants-over-Seattle type of shellacking. Sportswriters used to use the verb "shellack" more often say four decades ago, but while I wasn't there, the newspaper accounts told me enough to know that "shellacked," "throttled" and "trounced" would be apt descriptions.
Of course, Penn fans might seek to add insult to injury by offering that Ehrlich and Buck were the only Republicans (seemingly) to lose on Election Day, but Ehrlich faced an uphill battle in a highly Democratic state and Buck was battling an incumbent. The races that those former teammates faced weren't exactly of the Christine O'Donnell-Chris Coons variety.
But, back to the gridiron, well, it was a sad day in Tigertown and, fortunately for the Tigers, only about a 1-hour bus ride back to Old Nassau.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
1. Many fans must get to the parking lots really early, in RVs no less, making a day at the football game. Some of these vehicles are really decked out, reminding me of a line by Judge Smails in Caddyshack. There was this one scene where Judge Smails walked by a bunch of golfers who were playing cards in the men's grill after their round. These were the regulars, the men who were at the club a lot. As he was walking by them, he asked emphatically, "Don't you people have homes?" Touche.
2. The Eagles' fans are perhaps the most desperate lot I've seen at a ball game, perhaps ever. You can see the hope, anticipation and anxiety on their faces from the moment you get on the Broad Street subway to when you leave the stadium. Every play, it seems, is like watching your closer try to get a four-out save to clinch the World Series. There, you hang your emotions on every pitch. Here, they hang their emotions on every play.
3. Andy Reid is now 12-0 coming off a bye week and now 1-3 against the Colts, a team that he (obviously) hadn't beaten until today. Say this for Reid -- his team comes out of the bye week smoking, at least in the first quarter, but old habits die hard. He wasn't great at making adjustments all game (although his offense to eat up the clock at the end of the game -- which involved end arounds by DeSean Jackson -- was creative), and his time management still leaves a lot to be desired.
4. The officials were horrid today. True, the Eagles' offensive line moved more like statues on roller skates than bulldozers, but the call on the hit on Austin Collie was bad, and the call on Trent Cole near the end of the game was unforgivable. Brush Peyton Manning and you'll get sentence to the NFL's version of the gas chamber. Trent Cole didn't commit a personal foul, and instead of the Eagles' celebrating a big stop near the end of the game, the Colts got a first down. Then there was a missed facemask call on a tackle of LeSean McCoy, and the back judge, who had an awful day and will realize it when he reviews the tape, failed to call a mugging on Eagles' WR Riley Cooper in the first quarter on the drive after the Birds scored their first touchdown.
5. The Eagles' running game was not good, and the Eagles' pass defense was almost absent. As for the former, give the Colts' defense credit, and, as for the latter, give Peyton Manning credit. He's Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and Merlin all wrapped up in one. He threaded a pass over Stewart Bradley's hands into the mitts of tight end Jacob Tamme that was a thing of beauty, and he threw a beautiful ball to many a wide receiver running a slant pattern all game. The guy is awesome.
6. Michael Vick saved the Eagles today. He didn't get much pass protection, spun out of trouble a few times, and had some big runs for first downs that changed the tenor of the game.
7. Saw all sorts of jerseys today -- Randall Cunningham, Wes Hopkins, Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, Ron Jaworski, among others. No Chuck Bednarik, Norm Van Brocklin or Tommy MacDonald (so there's an idea for Mitchell & Ness to think about).
8. Walked by the old Spectrum today. Yesterday, for a small fee of $25, you could go in there and haul out a bunch of stuff they wanted to get rid of -- folding chairs, a popcorn machine, a goal net, and other such valuables that, no doubt, would cause the people you live with either to thank you for adorning your man cave of a basement or wonder if they should feature you on the TV show about hoarders. Saw many a great game there -- the 76ers-Celtics rivarly, Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals (where the Flyers clinched their first Stanley Cup), the 1976 and 1981 Final Fours, NCAA regionals, you name it. Still remember the great cadence of the public address announcer Dave Zinkoff and the cigar smoke rising to the rafters. Once more, another building that my father took me too will be torn down. Thankfully, good memories far outlast thes structures that helped create them.
9. A very grey Bill Bergey was signing autographs inside The Linc today and interacted wonderfully with my ten year-old. Big guy, big hitter, big personality, all for the good.
10. Being at the Linc made me wonder whether professional football is the (somewhat) socialized form of war or the human version of violent video games. Lots of bad language, especially for a ten year-old to hear. The harshest thing I yelled was to the back judge, where I suggested a) that he shouldn't quit his day job or b) that he and his crew mates were stealing money. All in the King's English, I might add. And yes, he was close enough that he could have heard something.
So, the Eagles and the Colts are both 5-3. The Colts had their moments, but overall the Eagles outplayed them. And yet, with 40 seconds to go they got the ball back, and for a moment, as a typical Philadelphia fan, I thought that Peyton Manning had yet another drive in him to get Adam Vinatieri close enough to kick another clutch field goal. But this time, the magic man didn't have that final spell to crush the spirits of the Eagles and their faithful. And a year or two from now most won't remember that it was close, that Austin Collie got hurt or that there were too many penalties. They'll remember just this -- the Eagles won.