Monday, February 26, 2007

Early Thoughts on Red Sox' Spring Training

It's going to be awful tough to accurately read this Red Sox team this year. They might have the best rotation in baseball, or they might have an overpriced, over-the-hill rotation that could collapse at any moment. I don't know about any of you guys, but I've got a real hard time putting complete faith in a rotation that consists of some five man combination of the following:

- A 40-year old starter carping about his upcoming contract situation...

- A 26-year old starter in his second year in the AL East, after a year when he had 16 wins, but a 5+ ERA...

- A 26-year old starter in his first season in this country, jumping to the most pressure filled city, in the toughest division in the Major Leagues...

- A 26-year old starter moving from closer to the rotation in order to help his sore pitching shoulder (yipes!)...

- A 40-year old starter who relies on the most uncontrollable pitch in baseball...

- A 32-year old starter that has been a complete bust so far, and is recovering from shoulder surgery after the orthopedic surgeon said his shoulder "looked like a bomb exploded" after doing an arthroscopy...

- And a 23-year old starter recovering from cancer.

Sorry - nothing about the above situation instills the utmost confidence in me, and I am almost always on the sunny side of the Red Sox situation.

Now, I know this may surprise some of you, but this year, Manny Ramirez & Curt Schilling have been generating the most (US) headlines. It certainly came as a surprise to me that the most enigmatic MLB superstar (Manny) and the most, um, media-friendly pitcher of his generation would be the ones getting the most press, or at least the most press in this country, but somehow they managed to do it.

Of course, the new star in town, Daisuke Matsuzaka, has been generating about five times as many headlines back in his native Japan. When the guy sneezes, the front page of the Japan Times reports the snot's size, color, texture and which garbage bin it got tossed into (hopefully, there's no information on the taste...). Matsuzaka will be under a microscope for the next five years, and never more than in the next three to six months. His transition to the big league in the US will be front page news in most newspapers in Japan, and probably a few major papers and webpages back in this country.

The other big pitching storyline coming out of the beginning of Spring Training is the most obvious question surrounding the team - who's closing games? Jonathon Papelbon was a revelation at the end of games, and an unbelievable weapon for Terry Francona to have at his disposal. Papelbon's presence basically shortened every game where the Red Sox had a lead to a seven or eight inning affair - opposing teams just weren't going to score on him.

But now, Papelbon's back in the rotation because his shoulder couldn't handle the strain of pitching every day or two, or at least being asked to warm up in the bullpen. Ironic - last year, 2/3 of the yahoo Red Sox fans on the radio were clamoring for the team to take Papelbon out of the bullpen to provide rotation help, but now that he's being turned back into a starter, those same fans are screaming that he needs to be the closer. This is why it's tough to be a Major League GM - you can never win.

The most obvious choice to take over the closers' role (for now) is either Mike Timlin or Craig Hansen, both of whom have closing experience, both of whom have the stuff to close out games. Problem is, Timlin almost has a mental block about coming in to a game with runners on base, and Hansen hasn't proven that he can handle big time situations since coming to the Major Leagues. That leaves a pu-pu platter of possible closers or, ugh, closers by committee. Suddenly, those yahoo fans are starting to make some sense.

On the offensive side, the two biggest questions involve both corner outfielders - can J.D. Drew hack it in Boston (and earn his ridiculous 5 yr/$70M contract), and how long will Manny last before shooting his way out of town?

There was a report about a week ago that the Red Sox might actually consider picking up one or both or Manny's $20M options for '09 and '10, considering the price of high-production outfielders this off-season (Vernon Wells - 7yr/$126M, Alfonso Soriano - 8yr/$136M, Carlos Lee 6yr/$100M... and we won't even talk about Drew, Gary Matthews or Juan Pierre). Financially, picking up the options makes perfect sense. Manny is still a better hitter than any of the six guys just listed, and only Wells could truly be called a better all around player. So two more years of Manny, guaranteed, at $20M per season suddenly seems like a reasonable number. The question then becomes - where will he be playing for those two seasons?

I like Manny. I'm OK with most of his antics (see my two posts on the situation: Post 1, Post 2) although his blatant quitting on the team last season was completely inexcusable. But even I am starting to think that he's finally worn out his welcome in Boston. He clearly doesn't want to be here (although he did grace the team with his presence this morning, three days ahead of his personal scheduled arrival date of March 1st). So why not move him? His contract numbers are at least palatable, if not wonderful. He's a Hall-of-Fame hitter who just needs to play somewhere less crushing. There's a lot of rumblings about a Manny for Todd Helton swap with the Rockies, but that's been tossed around for the past three seasons, with nothing coming out of it yet.

Given the choice, I'd like to see Manny end his career in Boston. Obviously. But I just don't see it happening. He wants out, the management seems to be done with him, and even the fans have finally shifted to a majority on the "ship him" side of the fence. It's time.

As for J.D. Drew... There is nothing I can say here. You will never convince me that he is worth $14 Million a season (by contrast... David Ortiz makes $12.5M this season. Curt Schilling makes $13M). The Red Sox were, by all accounts, bidding against themselves for Drew. His opt-out from the 3yr/$33M remaining on his Dodgers contract shocked the entire baseball world, mostly because everyone thought he was already overpaid. Then the Red Sox went out and gave him $70 Million. Amazing.

So that's the early breakdown of the Red Sox, at least from me. I'll be back with the full team-by-team breakdown sooner or later, and will probably be back next week with some NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament breakdowns.


Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why are we even surprised anymore?

I’m smack dab in the middle of a moral conundrum. I believe very strongly in the First Amendment, in the Freedom of Speech it provides to every American citizen, regardless of the vitriolic, hatemongering things they may have to say to us.

I do not agree with what Tim Hardaway had to say. But I would fight to the death to protect his right to say it. There's a reason that this country is still considered to be at the forefront of the personal rights debate, and why a Democracy is thought (by most) to be the most advanced form of government the human race has ever conjured up. There's a reason that the creationists in the great state of Kansas are the laughingstock of the scientific community, and there's a reason that they just don't care. So excuse me if I take a few minutes and use one idiot’s personal image suicide to climb up on my soap box and preach.

Personally, I am unbelievably sick of the moral arbiters in this country telling me what I am and am not allowed to say. If I decide that I am against a certain topic, be it White People, Black People, Asian People, Native Americans, the Inuits, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, Homosexuals, Heterosexuals, Kids, Middle Aged People, the Elderly, or all of the above, I have the right to say so. You might not like it, and if so, then stop listening. Very simple. What I actually believe, though unimportant to this argument, is that everyone lives their lives the way they feel is right. Period. I may not like it, it may not be the way I live my life, but I have no problem with what you do. I’ll go my way, you go yours, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

That’s the problem we have run into with this particular example – Hardaway made a very public statement, and rather than report it and then ignore it as just complete ignorance, the mainstream media (and bloggers like me) have picked up the story and run with it. Within hours of the “news” breaking, there were fifty different opinions on the web, on the radio, on the TV, and on their way into newsprint for the early editions.

Why can’t we just let this die? Just let Hardaway ride off into the career ending sunset alongside John Rocker, Nick the Greek, and Fuzzy Zoeller. Everyone under the sun has already heard the rant, formed an opinion, and come down on the side of “He’s right” or “He’s wrong”. No one stopped to think about the other side: “Who the hell cares?”

Most people in America tend to lean towards the median on political arguments. On all but a few issues, the majority of us tend to take a “wait and see” approach – in fact, maybe the better term is “lean towards apathy”. I know that if a particular issue does not affect me directly, I tend to lose interest rather quickly.

So again, I ask – Who really cares what Tim Hardaway thinks about gay people and the state of gay rights in America? Is Tim Hardaway running for a political office? Is he about to have a hand in the shaping of the laws that govern our country? Is there any chance in hell that somewhere, some Congressman or Congresswoman is listening to the Dan LeBetard show, thinking to themselves “Ya know, this Hardaway guy is right. I’ve had it backwards all along! I should do everything possible to limit the ‘gay influence’ on the country. I’m going right back to DC and voting against every gay rights bill that comes across my desk.”

Perhaps the most important question here is this: Why are we surprised? Why are we all standing here, mouths agape, wondering how a – gasp! – professional athlete could possibly put his foot so far down his own throat? I mean, we all look up to pro athletes – they’re supposed to be so much better than us in every possible way – how could one ever harbor such politically incorrect views?

At this point, we should just expect pro athletes to open mouth, insert foot at least once in their short time in the limelight. These people are coached (poor choice of words, sorry) from infancy until adulthood, and then beyond, to believe that they are the apex of humanity. That they are the best at what they do, they are infallible. That nothing they could say or do could ever be wrong – everyone they interact with has always agreed with them in everything they have done, why would the public be any different?

Then one of them opens their mouth on air, and suddenly the entire American population is subjected to a few weeks of “sensitivity training”.

I give up. Everyone just say what comes to mind. Say what you feel. Just remember – you have complete Freedom of Speech in America

…As long as nothing you have to say offends anyone else, anywhere, anytime.


Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Things on my mind...

Things on my mind while waiting for the Season Premiere of “LOST”…

Yeah, I’m a “LOST” freak. And I’m proud of it. I really do love the show – got hooked after Episode 1 and never looked back. So tonight, when the show returns after far too long off for the “winter break”, (their last episode, new or rerun, aired November 11th, 2006. Four months is just a little bit too long for a show to take off – just look at “The Sopranos”…) I’ll be glued to my TV, thoroughly enjoying the return of one of my favorite TV Shows.

As for the rest of the things on my mind today…

n Got a lot of feedback from my little rant about the Las Vegas Gray Line Shuttle and their lack of customer service. Of course, by “a lot of feedback”, I mean about ten e-mails/phone calls, and a comment on the post itself.

n As for the other topic of that post – you know, Super Bowl XLI… yeah, so my reasoning was sound, but the argument itself was flawed. I completely forgot to account for the fact that A) Rex Grossman is the Bears’ starting quarterback, B) Rex Grossman is absolutely horrible, and C) Rex Grossman has a history of not focusing on big games if he has other things to do Suppose I should have known better.

n Although, it seems that I’m not the only person to have made that argument. In fact, I’d like to direct you to the reasons listed for the pick on that page, especially numbers 5 & 6. I’ll explain more later…

n There’s less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, and I really can’t wait. The basketball and hockey teams I follow are both awful this season, with the Celtics having a legitimate shot to be historically awful. As of 9PM tonight, the C’s had lost 15 straight games. The record is 24, set by the Cleveland Cavs fifteen years ago. Not exactly a team I can get behind right now. I’m just waiting to hear those sweet little words: “With the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics select…”

n So, back to baseball. I’m just now catching up on some transactions that happened back in January, when my mind was elsewhere. I’m actually looking forward to this season for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I think the Red Sox have done a hell of a job rebuilding their team (lack of a closer not withstanding). There are a lot of different plots to follow in the Major Leagues this year. I’ll save that analysis for a different day.

n Finally, the Pro Bowl on Sunday… yeah, never mind.

So about the Super Bowl pick and the ESPN page I linked to above… I hope it’s nothing more than a coincidence, and if so, then it’s a surprising one (and one that has happened multiple times in the past few years).

I like Bill Simmons’ writing on I have been reading him since the old BostonSportsGuy days. I respect his work, and I enjoy reading most of it. As with most writers, some days he’s great, some days he’s off.

And apparently, we both have the same train of thought. Many times. This past week was the third time I can remember that I posted something on my page, and within 24 hours there was a post on his page that contained either extremely similar wording, or an obscure analogy that I had already made, whatever.

For example – read my Super Bowl pick again – skip all the Gray Line ranting. Now, like I said above, read Reasons 5 & 6 from Simmons’ pick (bottom of the page). Not exactly the same, but awful close.

Or this post from my Wild Card Round picks – focus on the Eagles/Giants game. And here was Simmons’ own post, with his picks, up on not even 24 hours later.

There have been other examples, but I honestly can’t remember them anymore. I just remember that when they happened, I had a lot of friends accusing me of ripping off his columns even though I had posted mine at least a day earlier.

The point is this – I don’t know if I’m being copied. I honestly hope not. I take great pride in this little blog (even more pride in the fact that it is something I’ve stuck with for almost three and a half years now), and I don’t appreciate the fact that my ideas might be being poached to fill space in a nationally (or is it internationally now?) known columnists weekly page.

If it’s a coincidence, then it’s just weird. Maybe great minds just think alike. If it’s anything else, it needs to stop, or I need to be offered a position writing for ESPN.

Either one works for me.

Use the comment space below or the e-mail link above to let me know if I’ve got a legitimate gripe or if I’m just a little paranoid. I’ve already enlisted the help of a few well respected writers and bloggers alike, but I’d like to hear from the rest of you as well.

I’ll be back soon – LOST starts in a couple minutes, so this needs to be done now – though I don’t know how many times I’ll post before my annual MLB Preview goes up. Usually late February and early March are the slowest times of year for me to post, and this year I may be doing some traveling for work. So I’ll get back here as soon as I can.


Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 01, 2007

2006 NFL Playoff Picks - Super Bowl XLI

Alright, I freely admit that I have completely slacked off since leaving Las Vegas last weekend. And, by “last weekend”, I obviously mean “ten days ago”. Sorry ‘bout that. Between catching up at work and dealing with feeling like crap for two weeks – not to mention the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Pipe Bombs yesterday – it’s been a little hectic. Again, sorry.

I’ve got a couple things to rant about here, before making the all important Super Bowl pick (I’m 5-5 for the playoffs right now, so it all comes down to this game). I also have taken these ten days to calm myself down from watching a complete and utter Patriots meltdown in the AFC Title Game, and that is something I never thought I would type about any team coached by Bill Belichick and/or quarterbacked by Tom Brady.

Anyway, follow along with me through some sports rants, some non-sports rants, and some random libelous/slanderous screaming…

(The beginning of this rant is slightly tedious, and really just my way of publicizing the horrible service with the Las Vegas Gray Line Shuttle, and the stupidity of and America West Airlines. Luckily, there is one redeeming part of the story – it’s at the end, naturally)

I am appalled at the level of customer service in place today in many major companies, and even more so in many minor companies. Just as an example of both, take my return flight from Las Vegas to Boston on the 22nd of January:

I booked my flight through Orbitz. I have used their service in the past, and have never had a major problem. The only issue I’ve ever had is that they have called my cell phone in the past to give me erroneous flight information – like last January when I got a recorded call telling me that my flight from Honolulu to Tokyo was on time and departing from Gate 13A. Unfortunately, I was flying from San Diego to Las Vegas, and I wasn’t even flying for another 37 hours. So I chalked it up to an “oops”.

This year, I got another recorded call about 6 hours before I was scheduled to leave Vegas telling me that my flight from McCarran to Phoenix airport had a gate change, and would be delayed approximately 8 minutes, but would leave by 7:35PM PST. I was scheduled to fly direct from Vegas to Boston at 11PM, so I ignored the call and figured it was another “oops”.

Three hours later, I got a call telling me that my flight from Phoenix to Boston was on time and scheduled to leave at 10:32PM. Now I was legitimately terrified, especially because the flight to Phoenix had already left McCarran. Although, if there’s one place in this country to be stranded because of an airline screw-up, I suppose Vegas is about as good as I could have hoped for.

I left the Harrah’s poker room, where I had been watching the aforementioned shitshow known as the AFC Title game, and headed for the luggage check area to get my bags and get to the shuttle pick-up spot. I got to the Gray Line Shuttle pick-up at 7:45PM for a scheduled 8:05 pickup.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited… At 8:15, a Grey Line Shuttle drove past, but didn’t allow for any pickups. “Drop-Off only” the driver yelled as he sped away.

Twenty minutes later, another Shuttle came past and dropped off its only passenger. I tried to board, but the driver yelled “No Pick Up!” I blocked her from closing the door so I could ask her to call the dispatcher. The dispatcher told me that my shuttle had indeed already come for the pick-up (huh?!?) and that I was not, in fact, at the spot. I tried to have the driver tell the dispatcher that no shuttle ever showed up, but since the driver spoke about six words of English, there was something lost in translation.

I walked to the house phone to call Grey Line directly. And this is where things went horribly wrong.

The Grey Line Dispatch “Manager”, decided to essentially give me a big “F-You”, told me that I was absolutely lying about the shuttle never showing, and that I was extremely rude to his second driver (the woman who spoke no English), and that I had threatened her. Wha?!? Believe me, if I ever threatened someone, they would certainly know about it.

After the Manager refused to give me his name and hung up on me – TWICE! – I finally just took a cab to the airport. All I wanted was to board my six hour overnight flight and go to sleep.

Not happening.

There were about 150 people in line at the America West/US Airways line at McCarran, but luckily, there was a nice lady at the front of the line sorting people into separate areas depending on destination.

“Where to?”


“Line A, to the left”

Line A had about twenty five people in it. I had a full suitcase and a full golf travel bag, about 95 pounds total. Whatever. I got in line and crossed my fingers.

And it was in Line A that I finally had a small bit of good luck. Getting into line just behind me were three beautiful girls from Philly (oxymoron, I know) returning from a long weekend in Vegas. Saints be praised! Something to look at to take my mind off the goddamned Shuttle.

Of course, that would require me figuring out a way to look behind me while walking forward and not seeming too creepy. And then, I got my “in”:

“I can’t believe it never showed up! How much do I owe you for the cab?”

Holy crap. You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve got a reason to converse with these attractive women for the next twenty minutes? Damnit – why am I not flying to Philly?

I took a shot in the dark:

“Excuse me, but I have to ask. It sounds like you had a shuttle that didn’t show up at your hotel. Am I right?”

“Um, yeah” (kinda scared that I figured that out from one statement)

“Let me guess… Grey Line Shuttle? Where were you staying, if you don’t mind me asking?” (Yes, I know… I would have been creeped out too)

“Yeah, it was. We were at Circus Circus. It was supposed to pick us up at 7:45. How’d you know?” (Probably wondering if I’d been stalking them all weekend leading up to one “chance” meeting…)

“They stiffed me too. Supposed to pick me up at Harrah’s at 8:05 – never showed. Guess we had the same bus. Maybe the driver decided to skip his whole run.”

Jackpot. Not only did I now have a corroborating story for my upcoming angry rant to the president of the company, but I also had a reason to talk with three gorgeous girls for the next twenty minutes. And I took full advantage, though sadly, it did not lead to anything more than a conversation and the obligatory “have a nice flight” when we separated in line. Sigh.

Finally, it was my turn to speak to the lady behind the counter, the America West employee who held my fate in her hands, the only one who could make sure I wasn’t bumped off my fligh… hey – what the hell? Why am I in the US Airways line? I’m not on US Airways…

I almost exploded, literally and figuratively. I’d had just about enough, and I was in no mood to argue with another person who was bound to call me a liar and ignore me. Luckily, the woman working for US Airways (God I wish I could remember her name, just so I could make sure to praise her for all her help…) was able to find out what had happened.

Apparently, America West reserves the right to cancel a flight at any time, without notifying their passengers. My flight to Boston was not only cancelled, but they no longer even offer that flight. I got bumped to a flight through Phoenix (that had left Vegas four hours earlier), but no one told me. I found out later that Orbitz had e-mailed me, though they did so only about four hours before my new flight was set to leave. Never bothered to call to tell me that I’d been bumped – only to tell me that a flight to Phoenix was slightly delayed. Unreal.

The nice lady got me on a US Air flight direct to Boston, I got on board, and was asleep before we took off.

So, I guess the entire purpose of this little diatribe (sorry if your eyes glazed over ten minutes ago) was simply to slam Gray Line Shuttles and America West Airlines, to praise the cute girls in line and the lady who helped me from US Air, and to have something to refer to whenever I need to explain why I will only take cabs in Vegas and never fly America West again…

That’s it, I’m spent. Let’s get to the pick and the analysis…

Super Bowl XLI – Colts (-7) @ BEARS (As if home team matters in this game…): Listen, as a Patriots fan, I’m 100% conflicted over this game. I would hate to see Peyton Manning finally win a Super Bowl – it will remove about 98% of the “ghosts” he has remaining from a lifetime of coming up short. But I also believe that if the team that eliminates your favorite team – which for me would be the Colts this year – is the team to win it all, then it lessens the blow just a little bit. At least I can say that my team lost to the best. So I’m trying to make this pick without letting personal feelings interfere, something I did far too little during the regular season.

I’m basing pick this on a couple of things. First, the “Happy to be there” factor. The Bears are ecstatic to be in the Super Bowl, but they were supposed to make it this year. There was no real competition in the NFC once the Eagles were dispatched, and as good as the Saints were, I mean, they were playing with house money all year long.

Indy, on the other hand, just dispatched with their biggest rival, in the most improbable way, to reach their first Super Bowl since the days of Johnny U. Their quarterback supposedly exorcised his demons by beating his nemesis on the biggest stage possible, and since no one expected them to make it this far as recently as two weeks ago, they are currently playing with house money (sorry to use the same cliché twice, but this is my first post since getting back from Vegas, so give me a little slack).

I equate it like this – remember back in 2003, when the Yankees made it to the World Series on the back of Aaron Boone? Well, I may have blacked that memory out of my subconscious, but I still remember the outcome – the Yankees were so wiped out, physically and mentally, after defeating their biggest rivals, that by the time the important games were played, they had nothing left to give.

Can’t you just see the same thing happening here, with the Colts having nothing left to give, but the Bears having absolutely nothing to lose? I mean, nobody is picking Chicagonobody – shouldn’t that tell you something? This could be the first team to play the “nobody believed in us but the guys on our sidelines” card without having to invent the disrespect on their own.

And let’s not forget – Chicago has been a pretty good team all year long. Sure, their quarterback looked like he was more likely to piss himself at midfield than have a QB rating over 30 in some games, but the team just kept winning. They were 13-3 for a reason, and the reason is not only that the NFC was ridiculously mediocre this season.

Even with a middle-of-the-road quarterback like Rex Grossman, the Bears have the team to pull this off. Look at it this way – what wins football games? Running game and defense. Chicago has a far better defense than Indy, and with Indy’s relative inability to stop the run, Chicago’s running game could come up big. And the “X-Factor” in all big games – the special teams – gives a decided edge to the Bears (aside from The Most Clutch Kicker In NFL History).

If you listen to the “experts” around the country, there’s no reason to believe that the Colts won’t win this game, and win it easily. The NFC was awful all year. Grossman isn’t a Super Bowl Caliber quarterback. Manning is too hungry for the win. The storylines are all there.

But the relative quality of the NFC has nothing to do with this game. Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and maybe even Ben Roethlisberger don’t look like Super Bowl Caliber quarterbacks, in retrospect. And Manning’s hunger, while undeniable, might just not be enough to take over this game.

I said in my Recap from McCarran Airport in Vegas that there was no way I could see myself picking the Colts to win this game, or at least not to cover. I still stand by that.

The Pick: BEARS 27, Colts 23

There. I did it. I went against convention, I picked the big underdog, and I have a clear conscience about it.

For the record, I’ll be sitting at home with a bunch of friends, enjoying the game on my TV, crossing my fingers that I’m right. I just don’t think I could deal with the words “Peyton Manning – Super Bowl Champion”.

And before I sign off, two programming notes.

First, since the NFL season is ending, and the NBA / NHL seasons both A) Suck B) Are Never-Ending C) All of the Above, I don’t know when I’ll next post. I’ll try not to make it two weeks – I might even live blog the NBA All Star Game (I mean, it’s in Vegas. It’s a requirement for me, no?) Otherwise, everything is going to lead up to this year’s MLB Season Preview. I’m not planning to cop out like I did on the NFL preview and just write a paragraph or two for each division. I’m planning another epic, 35,000 word, multi-section preview. So stay tuned.

Second, Blogger now allows me to use tags on every post for easier searching. Now, as much as I would like to make all of your lives easier, I don’t plan on going back through three and a half years of blogging to tag all of my old posts. I will, however, begin tagging all future posts as necessary. So, you’re welcome.

That’s it. 2,469 words are enough.


Labels: , , ,