What the Hell did Willie Get Done?

Willie Anderson hasn't practiced (from what I can tell) for the entirety of training camp. This was not alarming because he's a grizzled (grrr) veteran and a mountain of a man that doesn't need to put more beating on his body than necessary. However, recently Big Willie disappeared for a week and showed back up with a protective boot on his right leg. Not encouraging, but certainly no cause for alarm, that is, until he started talking about his "procedure":
Anderson said the procedure involved electro-shock treatment to damage the area around the injury. The hope, he said, is to stimulate healing in the injured area.
What? Electro-shock treatment. What the hell? Are we going to learn that he's been using leeches and taking a magical tonic he bought from a traveling salesman? Now, I'm concerned.

Of course, Marvin is doing his best Belichick impression. According to Mark Curnutte's blog: Coach Marvin Lewis said Anderson "was doing fine." Sure sounds like it.


Thank Allah For Football (The Bengals Will Not Go 16-0)...

...Because without it, I don't know that I could handle the end of summertime. Not that you would ever imagine it would be cooling down anytime soon, considering the heat wave here in the Midwest. This is not good news for the Bengals, with training out in the heat every day, but I keep reading quotes from players saying how it's "not that bad." How that is possible, I have know idea. I have condensation dripping off my dude-parts after the 30 second walk to my car after work every day. Of course I'm not a finely tuned athlete (just close). The good news though, is that tonight's first pre-season game is taking place in the climate-controlled confines of Ford Field in Detroit.

Personally, I'm excited for the game tonight, just because it's football and at least these players I've never heard of will be wearing Bengals uniforms. Of course, it's hard not to be excited (or at least optimistic) with the journalism at this stage in the season. Every veteran had a renewed motivation. Every rookie is mature beyond his years. Every injury will be totally healed. These things all set my heart atwitter, but after I snapped out of my daydream, I got to thinking: what didn't go so well this off season? Surely there are some things to worry about. And, as a matter of fact I came up with a few.

The Perpetual Lack of Tight Ends. How can you have one position that is so woefully thin, and not address it, ever? Not that it's easy to find a serviceable TE, but one would think the management would at least go looking. I mean, doesn't a TE have to start the game and play at least three quarters of the offensive snaps? At this point I'm beginning to believe that the Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown are in denial that the position even exists. By the way, since you didn't ask, here's the last few tight ends drafted by the Bengals: Tony McGee (1993, Michigan. Always supposed to be a Tony Gonzalez type player, until everybody realized he was, well, not.), Marco Battaglia (1996, Rutgers. I can't believe they wasted a second round pick on this stiff. Mel Kipers' hair must have been incensed.), Sean Brewer (San Jose State, 2001. I can honestly say I have no recollection of this dude.), and Matt Schobel (TCU, 2002. A pretty good left tackle, for a tight end.)

The Depleted Offensive Line. At this point, I don't expect Willie Anderson to do much before week one, I really don't. But, he's getting old and has been hampered by injuries in the past. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion this Levi Jones ankle injury is going to cause him to miss at least some time this season. Plus, with the exit of Eric Steinbach to Cleveland (I knew it was you, Fredo.) the O-Line seems tenuously balanced between "strength" and "abomination." I might just start crossing my fingers.

A Buttload of Linebacker Questions. I don't really know where I come down on the whole 'backer situation. Landon Johnson is a dependable veteran now and has snagged the WLB spot. He's not physically imposing, but he's smart (Purdue educated, obviously) and everybody seems to have confidence in his having a big season. The other recurring story is that of Ahmad Brooks who the Bengals nabbed in the supplemental draft last season. They're saying he's staked himself to the MLB position, which is great, but he has yet to prove his mettle or show any consistency during an actual NFL season. Then, there's the SLB position where it appears to be (CFL veteran) Rashad Jeanty's job to lose. Jeanty had a fine season last year, but something tells me I'd be much more confident if David Pollack (possible career ending neck injury) and Odell Thurman (severe case of being a fucking idiot) were in the lineup.

So, there's what I'm worried about. What did I leave out? Now, don't start railing on me for being a pessimist and all that, because I'm pumped, fucking pumped, to see the season get started. I'm just tired of happy fun rainbow journalism.

(By the way: Woohoo! Football is back!)


MLB Deadline: Anatomy of a Trade

I've been laid up for a couple of days with Strep Throat (I thought I was dying with a 102 fever) which gave me some time to think. Sadly, I didn't come up with anything terribly profound, but rather devoted my life to FIFA 2007. I won the UEFA Cup with Rangers yesterday, so that's something.

Anyway, it took me until last night to think of something worth writing about and it's all thanks to that genius of the Fox Sports Ohio booth, Chris Welsch. He got to talking about the trade deadline and insisted that we would see some action out of Wayne Krivsky and the Reds. Well, that got me thinking okay, but who would they move? Which got me thinking okay, but what would actually be a good trade deadline move?

It seems to me that the the primary premise behind making a move at the deadline involves how teams value players. Basically, in the off-season a player has a certain value; but, as the deadline approaches that changes. Teams in contention suddenly overvalue players who can come in and strengthen a weakness right away. This gives a value advantage to the teams building for the future. So, he's what I see as defining a reasonable (note: I'm not even saying good) trade deadline move:

- Has to be a trade that at least one team would not have made before the season started. Otherwise, it should have already been done, right?

- One team has to fill an obvious void in their team.

- The other team has to get at least one young player with a whole bunch of upside.

- At least one team has to improve their future financial situation. A team who trades away their superstar with an expiring contract doesn't make their fans happy, but that's the way the league works. The truth though, is a "hired gun" can be a short term bulge in payroll, but at the end of the season leaves some financial room to play with, giving some flexibility to the buyer as well.

That said, looking back, "the trade" last year between the Reds and Nationals (Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns for Royce Clayton, Bill Bray and Gary Majewski) didn't really make sense for the Nationals because Lopez and Kearns had pretty much reached their ceilings talent-wise. The Reds made their major mistake in what is pretty much the standard mistake every year; they far overvalued the players they were receiving. Good God did they overvalue Royce Clayton.

Now, I don't have the energy to figure out who's out there for the Reds to go get, but I think I could make a fairly comprehensive list of who might be desirable to contending teams. Here's my list: Griffey, Dunn, Hatteberg, Conine, Phillips, Harang, Arroyo, and Weathers. The last two might seem questionable given the poor year Bronson is having and the fact that Weathers is no spring chicken, but I've heard Arroyo's name thrown around and Weathers is actually having a decent season amidst the worst bullpen in the history of time.

Harang and Phillips aren't going anywhere. These guys are the face of the franchise going forward and you have to have some foundation to build on. I could see some Weathers/Hatteberg package for prospects. And, of course there's the Dunn options. I just hope the Reds take the time to make strategic trades and not hasty ones.

I guess my whole point here is that the problem with these trades is that there's no definitive, quantitative way to assess value (and how it changes). The only way to really feel good about a trade is if your team dumps a bunch of untenable payroll or completely bilks some desperate GM out of young talent. Either way, it's always entertaining.


Because I Am the Andrew Jackson of Sports Blogging,

a man of the people, I decided, per Tittle500's request, to weigh in on the Tim Donaghy/NBA officiating train wreck, albeit in concise fashion. To wit:

1. The NBA has never really interested me since Jordan left. I'm one of those folks that finds college basketball infinitely more entertaining for a variety of reasons--defense, passing, a team game, and... officiating that doesn't reward superstars recklessly driving the lane (I agree, Tittle, Simmons' column was on point in pretty much everything he said--refreshing to read a column not laden with J-Bug and Vegas references, too). Hence, I'm neither too upset nor too surprised that this is going down.

2. That video on Deadspin and other sites of Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series last year is pretty damning. But it makes me wonder if more refs than just Donaghy were involved. Why is no one raising this possibility? Sure, Donaghy made some questionable calls, but so did the other two guys in that game. Are you telling me that they just suck and not that Donaghy said to them, "Hey, call a few more fouls on the Suns and I'll give you a $5 grand cut of my payoff"? The latter possibility seems more than just a little likely to me.

3. The Crazy touched on this in a post a few days back, but which is a bigger black eye for the respective sports: the officiating scandal in basketball or the steroid scandal in baseball? For my money, the officiating scandal trumps even steroids in terms of severity. Why? Because officials in the NBA have the most power of any of the major sports (hockey is no longer 'major' in my mind--it forfeited its status when its playoffs went to Vs.).

NFL officials are, to an extent, held in check/bailed out by instant replay and MLB umps are relatively limited in the ways they can affect the outcomes of games (including, but not limited to, messing with the strike zone, botching check swing calls, and missing stolen base/play at the plate calls). Even then, players are much more substantially in control of outcomes in baseball (they can extend their strike zones, etc). NBA officials, on the other hand, can drastically impact the face of a game--to the point of removing players from the game through fouling out.

Steroids are their own mess, but at least it was the players on the field and not the supposed arbiters of the game that were cheating. Additionally, the connection between steroid use and the direct outcome of games is a little more dubious than point shaving. Bonds and McGwire and Sosa may have hit so many more homers than they would have otherwise, but remember how many of those Sosa homers came in late-inning, irrelevant, Cubs down 6 situation? That, and as any number of (misguided?) athletes will tell you, steroids might help you hit the ball further, but they won't help you hit it in the first place.


Instant Replay in Baseball

Isn't it about freaking time they instituted this? I don't want any silly challenge rules like the NFL or anything like that. All I want is replay on big plays, more like the way the NCAA operates their replay system for basketball.

In the bottom of the first inning of the White Sox @ Red Sox game tonight, JD Drew hit what was clearly, upon replay, a 3-run homer to left. It bounced on top of the Monster, though, and came back into the field of play, allowing Rob Mackowiak to relay a throw home and nail Manny Ramirez at the plate for the third out. Manny wasn't even running hard because--I'm assuming--he thought it was a homer (I mean, he could've just been dogging it, but whatever). The point is that, after conferencing, the umps still got the call wrong and effectively shortchanged the Red Sox at least 2 runs. Sure, the Red Sox ended up pounding the White Sox anyway, but as we all know, the biggest free agent bust of the season (you know he's bad when he's essentially the statistical equivalent of Coco Crisp) needs all the help he can get.

I honestly can't think of any reason why, in a situation where umpires have to get together on a call because there's some question as to a call's accuracy, they can't get together around a TV monitor and make the call based on a replay. Granted, it's no guarantee that you'll get the call right based on a replay--the phantom dropped third strike on AJ Pierzynski against the Angels in the 2005 ALCS (I was there!) comes to mind. After watching it on replay several times, I still wasn't sure what actually happened there. But I'd be willing to bet you'd get the call right a hell of a lot more often than just relying on umps conferring. More importantly, there'd be a sense of legitimacy and fairness to the whole thing.

I don't want to hear any of this crap about not wanting to extend the length of games, either. Are you telling me Bud Selig is arguing with a straight face that he'd rather incorrectly alter the outcome of games--"human error" is part of the game, after all!--instead of taking five minutes to get a call right? That can't possibly be right! Oh wait, he is.

White Sox Play Spoilers at Fenway

Well, last night was my second and probably last visit to Fenway this season (after a random free ticket to a Rangers-Sox game), and the best I can say for it is that it was a White Sox winner. Pretty satisfying to experience the life getting sucked out of a crowd so pumped up to see Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch and seeing him with absolutely no control in the 2 innings where it mattered. The White Sox scored 3 runs on 2 hits and, more importantly, 5 walks in those innings.

But before that happened, it rained. And Laura and I got this glazed-over look:

Luckily, a $5 bag of peanuts snapped us out of our reverie. But partially because so many of the peanuts sucked. All shriveled and old. Screw you, Fenway peanuts.

And then, before we knew it, they were gone. And we realized we didn't know just how good we had had it.

Both Laura and I were a bit thirsty after the peanuts, but we resisted the temptation to "Get Jesus." Instead, we got a bottle of Coke for $4. The Jesus was more expensive.

The Coke couldn't make up for hearing the opening riff to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" approximately a dozen times in the space of an hour, though. It was part of an ingenious Red Sox documentary playing on the jumbotron that somehow linked the "magical" (get it, "Magical Mystery Tour"!?!?) 1967 season to the 2004 World Championship and set it all to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. (released in 1967, get it?!?!?). It culminated with the 2004 Sox going down 3-0 to the Yankees coinciding with the long dystopian chord in "Day in the Life" and then ended with, naturally, the Sox winning the Series and Joe Buck's uninspired "World Champions" call to finish the song. Obviously, Red Sox fans are morons. Laura registered her disgust thusly:

.... and then... the tarp was off! Hooray! I was not the only idiot taking pictures of the tarp coming off. It rivaled Daisuke's every freaking move for sheer number of flashbulbs (which is exhibit B that Red Sox fans are morons).

Oh yeah, and then there was baseball. Big Papi did not please the crowd. In fact, he looked pretty lost at the plate, and hung his head dejectedly after making out after out. This was before he struck out one time:

Matsuzaka was unimpressive. I had predicted he'd strike out 11 (Laura went with 9 and got closer to Dice-K's 6, but still lost according to Price Is Right rules), but instead his most notable stat line was walking 6. He obviously didn't get the memo about throwing the ball in the zone and letting White Sox hitters make outs for you. The crowd thought he was getting squeezed by the umps, but, as we've already established, Red Sox fans are morons. I think he actually just had no control. This is Dice-K on his way to walking the bases loaded in the 6th (all with no out):

Francona knew he was in trouble, but let Matsuzaka hang himself anyway. This is Fenway being rather displeased at a called ball to AJ Pierzynski with the bases loaded. The next pitch put the White Sox up 3-2 on a little dribbler between 1st and 2nd:

After that, Fenway was deflated--partially by a long rain delay, but mostly by disappointment in Matsuzaka (who still, weirdly, got a standing O as he left the mound), and a sense of impending doom (the Yanks are only 7 back! Oh no!). Vazquez wasn't impressive, but he wasn't bad either, wiggling out of some jams (and really, if he had some better defense behind him, he probably wouldn't have even given up the 2 runs that he did, as the Sox failed to turn a double play twice and let a runner beat out a throw to first on another play--all in one inning). With all the folks clearing out, we decided to head for seats in the outfield for a different vantage point:

But midnight was quickly approaching and the stupid T shuts down at 12:30, so we left right before Konerko's solo shot onto the Monster in the 8th. Bah. But I did see it at the Cask n' Flagon as we walked by. By the time we made it back to Harvard Square, Bobby Jenks was actually not blowing a save. Pretty good night. Red Sox Nation, you've got every reason to be nervous. Your team looked flat. Absolutely flat.

Woohoo! Not The Worst Anymore!

                W       L        PCT    GB      Streak  L10
Kansas City 41 53 .436 16.5 Won 2 5-5
Texas 41 54 .432 17 Lost 2 5-5
Cincinnati 41 55 .427 17.5 Won 4 7-3
Pittsburgh 40 54 .426 17.5 Lost 6 3-7
Washington 40 55 .421 18 Won 2 6-4
Houston 40 55 .421 18 Lost 1 3-7
San Francisco 39 54 .419 18 Lost 2 3-7
Tampa Bay 37 57 .394 20.5 Lost 1 4-6
There's your bottom eight of the current overall MLB standings this morning. Thanks to a wonderfully predictable 8th inning meltdown by Armando "Seriously, He's Still Pitching?" Benitez, the Reds were able to run their win streak to a modest four games. Finally, they are no longer the worst team in baseball, and are even third worst in their own division. Break out the ticker tape! Admittedly, they haven't exactly lived up to my lofty prediction but I'm not complaining. Who knows if it's all attributed to mah man P-Mack; or if the team was just due to pull their collective heads out of the sand and start playing some decent baseball. Oh, by the way, Benitez gave up the eventual winning runs on a home run to Ryan Freel of all people. If there ever was a sign that it's time to retire, that has to be it.

Elsewhere, I managed to catch the 30 seconds of Reds baseball per week that the bozos filling in for Mike & Mike (I swear those guys miss at least two days a week) were talking this morning while they had Peter Gammons on the show. Gammons seemed to believe that there was a very real possibility of both Tony La Russa and GM Walt Jocketty coming to Cincinnati next season. Surely this could never happen, right? Both a manager and a GM moving to a division rival? I don't even know how I would feel about having a drunk driving, vegetarian, puppy lover as a manager.


Just So You Know I'm Not Dead...

... or that I'm still sort-of paying attention to sports, I thought I'd check in with a scatterbrained post. Let the fun begin.

1. BTC thinks the NFL should let Vick squirm, but if I was Vick, I'd either a) be a hell of a lot more worried about the feds than playing time this upcoming year, or b) too dumb, douche-baggy, or cocky to squirm all that much about Goodell's hammer about to drop. Given the Pacman Jones line, Goodell just needs to (and will soon, I imagine) suspend Vick indefinitely and get it over with. Michael Vick = the next Lawrence Phillips x 100. In other news, Kige is taking the Joe Morgan "I can't make a call on whether or not Joe Torre is a racist because I wasn't there" tack (go visit Fire Joe Morgan and you'll see that, really, this is Joe's stance on everything--he can't comment because he wasn't there--read:anywhere--personally) and is withholding judgment. Sage man.

1b. In the poor joke department, what do you think Vick's ratings will be in Madden '08? I gotta think his awareness and agility will suffer considering his inability to escape the feds. If his toughness isn't above 80, the Falcons should just soak him in water and electrocute him. Ba-dum ching. That was me crossing that ever-tricky "good taste" line. To make up for it, I'll say that Vick's treatment of dogs is (was?) despicable, disgusting, and pretty unimaginable. I'd encourage everyone to sign on to the Humane Society's condemnation of Vick.

2. The Cubs are the hottest team in baseball. I agree with this. And so does Kige. What's a Cubs-hating blog to do? Lose interest, I guess. On the plus side, as Carlos Zambrano goes, so does my fantasy team. And he has been dominating lately.

3. Ichiro's new deal pays him at least through 2032. Quick math tells me that's 25 years from now. If Ichiro won the lottery, I guess he probably wouldn't take the lump sum payment. Kige agrees that Ichiru Sazaki signed with the Mariners as well. Big week for the M's.

4. Jermaine Dye is on fire. Who wants him? Surely someone. Work your magic, Kenny. Contreras, pull your head out of your ass so that someone wants you. I'm ready for 2008.

5. It's comical that the Sox are still talking like they have a chance. Absolutely comical. This is not a team built to win. That, and they've got six teams to jump for the wildcard. Six. And they have the same record as Baltimore. Baltimore.

6. Tomorrow is my first chance to see the Sox in person all year. At Fenway, the game features Dice-K (Dice-K!) vs. Vazquez. Here's hoping the Japanese wonder gets battered by Thome, Konerko, and Dye, proving my skepticism about his performance this year correct. More likely, though, he'll strike out 11 on his way to a shutout. We shall see. And you really will, too, because I think I'll take my camera.


Surprise! I Have a Gripe With ESPN

Now, we all know the day after the MLB All-Star game is the slowest sports day of the entire year. It's always on a Wednesday, there's no games until Thursday and no other major sporting events are ever taking place. Except this year. The Under 20 World Cup is taking place in Canada right now and the USA team has played two consecutive Tony the Tiger Grrrreat games, the second being a huge upset over tournament favorites Brazil. It's really been fun to watch.

So, how does the WWL factor into the whole deal? Well, they have the rights to the whole tournament and have been showing it on ESPNU, a channel I just recently discovered is included in my over-extended cable package. But, on Friday, the overlords decided to bump the Brazil game to the flagship station. Apparently, Brazil is a big name they can put on the marquee. Nice move. Now, the USA is in the knockout (single elimination) stages of the tournament and plays Uruguay (7:30 pm, ESPNU) on the leanest sports night of the year. And what is ESPN showing? A replay of the Home Run Derby and the AAA All-Star game. Come on fellas, at least let people without 800 channels watch some live sports on a Wednesday night. And maybe get a little publicity for some US soccer (and your MLS Thursday night games). Gah.


You May Be Strong, But You're No Ted Kluszewski

It's one of those days that you really don't know if you dread or look forward to as a baseball fan. The Home Run Derby? It's fun, I guess; but I really think it peaked (for me, at least) the year the game was in Boston and Big Mac was dropping bombs out onto the street all night. Tonight, they just barely filled out the 8-man field and with a player who might, possibly, maybe hit 30 homers this year. If only we could have talked Griffey into giving us a throwback hat backwards performance and drop a few into the cove, the whole thing could have been worth it. Alas, the whole thing led to this conversation last night:
trout: Who's your pick for the HR Derby?
me: Ummm... I don't know. Who's in it?
trout: I don't know.
me: Well that makes things difficult.
trout: I'm going to go with Ryan Howard.
me: Yeah, me too.
Hold onto your seats.

Elsewhere, it's time to pick the first half MVPs. This is because people have shit else to talk about. Anyway, Jason Stark picked Magglio and Holliday. He always has to be difficult, doesn't he? I get that the Tigers are in first and Maggs is hitting 50 points better than A-Rod and all that, but come on. Rodriguez is 60 points higher in slugging and is on pace for a potential 60 homer season. As for Holliday, if you want the emotional and statistical leader of a winning team, how do you not go with Prince Fielder? Also, if you're not paying attention (which I haven't been) Chipper Jones has an OPS over 1.000, and happens to be the only player in the NL with less than 90 BBs who can claim that. So there's my mini-rant.

Anyway, I'll leave you with this fun drinking game I came up with for watching the Home Run Derby. It goes like this: take a drink any time you say to yourself "holy shit another fucking commercial break!?" or "holy shit how many fucking times do I have to see this same commercial?!" Just don't complain to me about your hangover tomorrow.


Hooray! Buehrle's a White Sock for Another Four Years

Obviously, all it took was an incredulous post featuring an elementary equation at FTG for Kenny Williams to pull his head out of his ass. The Sox got themselves one sweet-ass deal, speaking in terms of the pitching market. Whether Buehrle proves to actually be worth it for the length of the contract is another matter entirely, but hey, it's no Barry Zito albatross. Whatever happens, it's good business in terms of the fans. Buehrle and Konerko will be--and should be--the face of the franchise going forward.

Now Kenny should get busy and deal Contreras to the Mets, who are apparently still interested in the ancient wonder. Depending on the return, I'd consider trading either Vazquez (he's old and inconsistent--and yet pitching very well lately, increasing the probable return) or Garland (younger, but susceptible to getting absolutely shelled) too. It'd be nice if Dye had a good couple weeks coming out of the All-Star break to inflate his value a little, too. It's still a lost season, but with Buehrle on board for the future, I feel a lot better about looking to next year and beyond.

Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

So I haven't been blogging lately because I've been enjoying the summer outside, but I felt compelled to check in just to say that this whole Mark Buehrle contract mess is, as South Side Sox says, freaking unbelievable. As if a completely botched season wasn't enough to sour me on the White Sox, Kenny Williams (and Jerry Reinsdorf, I'm assuming) feel compelled to drive Mark Buehrle away over a measly year and a half of no trade clause or a fifth year at $17 million. Here's a simple inequality equation for you, Kenny, since you seem to be especially thick skulled right now. What's being measured is some abstract form of "goodness" or "value":

Mark Buehrle, fan favorite, for the next 4 years at well below market value (a deal any team would be lucky to get from its star player), irregardless of no-trade clauses >> middling prospects in return for half a year of Buehrle.

Dumbass. Kiss your World Series-bumped attendance numbers goodbye. What a shitty organization. I'd rather be a Reds fan right now.


Pete Mackanin Will Now Fix The Reds

As everyone already knows, the axe finally fell on Jerry Narron this week and he was replaced with the team's advance scout (the obvious next man in the line of succession) Pete Mackanin. And let me be one of the minions saying THANK GOD for this move. Any serious Reds fan can tell you that Jerry Narron was personally responsible for every single loss this season. It's his fault there's not a single reliever who can pitch the eighth inning. It's his fault Bronson Arroyo has apparently signed his contract extension and stopped trying. And it's most definitely his fault that there haven't been enough morale-boosting dugout brawls.

Of course, Mackanin (henceforth known as P-Mack) came in and won his first game Tuesday night. Obviously this job is just that easy. Yes, there was a slight hiccup on Wednesday but I'll just chalk that up to Independence Day jitters. So, what I'm saying here is that it's going to be a great second half now that the Reds have officially fixed all their problems. Current record: 32-52. Final record: 110-52. Here's a little taste of how July will go down:

Arizona - Talk about easy. P-Mack will be described as "using Randy Johnson's height against him." It will revolutionize the entire sport.

NY Mets - The city that never sleeps? How about the manager that never sleeps? Our new manager doesn't sleep, but he does spend three hours a night hanging upside down by his ankles in a hypnotic trance. He emerges every morning with strategies and helpful hints for the players such as "Stop throwing 78 mph fastballs, pussy."

Atlanta - P-Mack will calmly explain to Chipper Jones that a grown man going by a nickname too effeminate for even a stripper is nothing to be proud of. This conversation will be followed by a press release declaring the third baseman be referred to as "Larry" from now on. Apparently Larry is not as good as Chipper and goes 0/15 in the series.

Florida - They'll be riding the D-Train all the way to the broom store to celebrate yet another Reds' sweep. Booyah.

Milwaukee - The surprise team of the first half will be surprised to learn that they're really not as good as they think. P-Mack will calmly point this out over a platter of various wieners that will not be racing. Prince Fielder will immediately devour the entire platter. Because he's chubby.

Chicago - P-Mack will grab a saddle, mount Carlos Zambrano and tame him like a wild stallion. Zambrano will take P-Mack's advice and pursue a new career as entertainment at young girls' birthday parties.

Washington - The manager will invite Ken Griffey Jr. into his office to "discuss the mysteries of the universe." Griffey will emerge at peace and proceed to hit 12 home runs in this series. That will be a record.

Enjoy the games folks. And just wait until August when P-Mack really gets settled in.


The Next Generation in Grinder Lore

Yes, David Eckstein is short. Short = grindy. Yes, Darin Erstad was a punter at Nebraska. Punter = grindy. But short and punter doesn't cut it anymore. You know what cuts it? LIVING in a freaking batting cage. Your move, Eckstein. You're living in a fantasy world if you think short, white, and grindy is enough to get a World Series MVP anymore.


Just When I Thought It Was Safe...

I hadn't been hating Chicago as much lately. Really. But, I guess that could only mean it was time for something new to come along and piss me off. Mission accomplished. Welcome to Douchebagville, population 2,833,321. You officially suck again.


That's SO Random! With Gage

I need a good title for random thoughts posts. "That's SO Random!" made me laugh to myself today, so that's what you get. Any suggestions? Anyway...

- I have virtually nothing to write about with the Reds anymore. It becomes a little redundant talking about the team with the worst record in baseball sucking. I feel sorry for the beat writers. The whole Griffey returns to Seattle angle must have felt like Christmas. Hell, I'll probably be writing a "Can the Reds Finish Out of Last Place" post in August. Well, at least they don't have the fourth highest payroll in all of baseball and still suck.

- At the risk of making every post this summer about soccer, I've really become obsessed with the game. One of my very favorite daily bookmarks is the BBC's daily Gossip & Transfers column. Basically they've managed to take the rumor page of your favorite American paper and turn it into a Soccer version of Us Weekly. This what happens when you stop having to verify sources.

- Elsewhere in soccer, USA starts play in Copa America tomorrow vs. Argentina who should absolutely destroy us if all goes according to plan. I don't get the channel broadcasting the game, so I will be watching the Spanish language version at a friend's house with his Honduran fiance's non-English-speaking family. I can't wait.

- Very little Bengals news lately. Is that odd for June? I can never remember. I guess, at this point, no news is good news with this team. I sense an interesting dynamic though among fans. Nobody wants to get overly optimistic going into this season (at least not yet). After an 11-5 record in 2005-06 everybody had their blinders on, looking to the postseason. And, frankly 8-8 was a huge letdown. I guess nobody is holding their breath this year. At least until the first "Caleb Miller is Absolutely Crushing People" report comes out of training camp.

- One final note: Griffey to the Cubs, never going to happen. However, it did stir up some interesting reactions out of me. For all the struggles he's had in Cincy he's still the face of the franchise and the biggest fan favorite. I'd hate to see him go, but I have to admit my immediate second reaction was "wow, I wonder what they could get for him?" And, to close with your terrible joke of the day: maybe they could get Carlos Zambrano and a temper tantrum to be named later.

Where's my rim shot?


U-S-A! U-S-A!

Wow, that game was awesome. Down 1-0 to the Mexicans at half time, I talked to my friend Dan (who happened to be at the game) and made the statement that despite the score, this was a really good game. And, lo and behold the second half kicked it up to a whole new level with the Red, White and Blue scoring two dramatic goals and holding off their biggest rivals in a game both desperately wanted to win. This was one of the highest caliber games I've ever watched the MNT play. It was a joy to watch. I want a copy of it on DVD so that I can use it as an example for all those Americans who refuse to embrace the game.

The best moment of the day was of course Benny Feilhaber's volley goal from just outside the box. I doubt he could make more than two or three out of ten attempts at the same shot in practice, but regardless it was a world class strike. My other favorite moments included the almost flawless refereeing (a decided change from every other Gold Cup match) and GoochOnyewu tearing off his jersey and receiving his championship medal while wearing an American flag as a cape (see picture). The only low moments for me were the vicious head-to-head collision between Spector and Guardado from the Mexican side which left them both rattled and took Spector out of the game. I haven't seen yet, but hopefully neither player sustained any serious injuries. Oh yeah, and I have no idea why Frankie Hejduyk was bare-chested, he sat out the whole game after two yellows.

All-in-all, a great day for US soccer of the present and the future. Now bring on Copa America!


A Look Back and a Look Forward: on Blowing up the 2007 White Sox

Rumor on the street is that Mark Buehrle may be headed to Boston soon. If he's got to be traded, he might as well be traded to a team I get to watch all the time, right? I'd be excited to see him pitch in Fenway, and I'd be excited for my White Sox to get some top talent in return (or what I guess is top talent--I am completely ignorant about prospects). Whether or not this is a bright idea for the Red Sox, I have no idea. I'll leave that to Mark over at the Crazy.

In any case, it appears as though Kenny is looking at blowing up the 2007 White Sox sooner rather than later. In a way, I think it's better this way. I'd rather them completely tank and restructure than have to suffer through a mediocre season, miss the playoffs, and quietly lose Buehrle and Dye and others to free agency. So it goes.

On a slightly different note, since I pretty much watch any baseball game that's on TV, I've become a hell of a lot more familiar with the Red Sox and, to a lesser extent, the Braves this year. And you know what I noticed? Willie Harris is having himself a hell of a May and June since getting called up by the Braves. Playing mostly left field, he's hitting .379 with a .438 OBP and 10 steals in 44 games.

I was always sort of a Willie Harris fan when he was with the White Sox, so it was kinda sad to see him ushered out the door following the World Series run in 2005. He had a rough go with the Red Sox last year, playing mostly in the minors and playing pretty poorly with the big club in sporadic action. Now that he's seeing regular playing time with his home-state team (he was born in Cairo, Georgia), he's playing better than either Juan Uribe or Tadahito Iguchi (Willie mostly played middle infield rather than outfield for the White Sox) and making me wish the ChiSox had held onto him.

Willie's resurgence--career year, really (or one-third of a year)--got me to thinking about more exciting days in White Sox history than the present day. Looking back to 2002, Willie's first year with the Sox, I was struck by the amount--and quality--of major league talent on that roster that's still around today. Hell, with some finessing, you'd be fielding a better, albeit much older, starting 9 (you wouldn't have a pitching staff, but whatever) than the crap Ozzie and Kenny are putting out there today.

So with the 2007 team on the brink of being blown up into unrecognizability (it's a word because I say it's a word), let's take a look at what the lineup would look like populated with 2002 cast-offs, with some key 2007 stats that put the White Sox's current offense to shame.

1. CF-Kenny Lofton (Rangers--.289 BA, 16 SBs)
2. SS-Willie Harris (Braves--aforementioned greatness)
3. RF-Magglio Ordonez (Tigers--MVP numbers: .381 BA, 1.110 OPS, 13 HR, 68 RBI)
4. LF-Carlos Lee (Astros--12 HR, 59 RBI)
5. 1B-Frank Thomas (Blue Jays--12 HR, 34 RBI)
6. DH-Aaron Rowand (Phillies--.395 OBP, 10 HR, 39 RBI)
7. 3B-Jose Valentin (Mets...ummm, injury shortened. And I hate him)
8. 2B-Ray Durham (Giants... well, Ray's not having a go
od year. But then again, that's status quo for the Giants)
9. C-Miguel Olivo (Marlins--also not impressive, but hey, he's starting for the Marlins)

Coming off the bench would be Joe Borchard, Tony Graffanino, and Royce Clayton with Jon Rauch and Bob Howry in the pen.

So, maybe not as impressive as I first thought it was, but whatever. How many teams could populate a viable lineup of guys with the team 5 years ago, since traded or let go... and actually be pretty faithful to their actual positions? Just for comparison's sake, doing the same thing for the Reds turns up guys like Jose Guillen, Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, Juan Encarnacion, Brady Clark, Sean Casey, and Aaron Boone. Maybe the White Sox situation is not so unique... but I think it's safe to say they'd kick the reconstituted 2002 Reds cast-off team at least.

A couple more weeks and guys like Buehrle and maybe even Garland--two of only four players still remaining from the 2002 team (Konerko and Crede are the others)--may find themselves in different uniforms, making the White Sox cast-off team all the more better than the real thing.

Congratulations, Nate Schierholtz

You just accomplished something perhaps more noteworthy than getting hit by a Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch. I'll have to check with Kenny Albert, though. Hit by pitch may still outrank walk-off game winning hit on the "remember to tell the grandkids 40 years from now" scale.


What's the Story on the Rockies?

A sidebar post over at the Crazy rightly notes that ESPN and everyone else should wake up from their East Coast-induced haze of Yankee/Red Sox/Mets/(even Braves) adoration and realize that the Rockies are making something of themselves out in the NL West. Interleague has given them the opportunity to beat the BoSox 2 of 3 and sweep the again-struggling Yanks, keeping Roger Clemens from getting his 350th win (gasp!). Although they're still 4th in the division, they're only 3.5 back, 4 games over .500, and more telling, in my mind, they've won (or split--for that one stupid 4 game series they played) every series for the past month. That's what winning teams do.

So who the hell are the Rockies and why are they doing so well? The guys over at Fire Joe Morgan would point out that Joe Morgan would have no freaking idea who any Rockies are, save maybe Todd Helton. Those among us that are more knowledgeable could probably name Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Brian Fuentes, and maybe somebody would remember that they traded for Willy Taveras from Houston. Bonus points for knowing that Met castoff Kaz Matsui is their starting second baseman.

But none of those guys are starting pitchers. None. In fact, there's really no "name" on the pitching staff outside of Fuentes. Even that's debatable considering most of us would have no idea who the hell he was if we didn't play fantasy baseball and follow the saves category as if it actually meant something in real life.

Don't you have to have an "ace" to succeed in baseball? A guy who can stop losing streaks? A guy you can rely on for 7 innings when your bullpen is shot from picking up the slack from your AAAA 5th starter? Isn't pitching kind of important, especially in Colorado, where it takes some talent to keep the ball in the ballpark? Isn't that supposedly why Colorado has failed to have any success since the Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla years? Isn't that why they (stupidly) signed Mike Hampton to an outrageous contract? At least one Colorado writer thinks the Rockies need to acquire a starting pitching "name"--Mark Buehrle--to put their team over the top.

I've been kind of fascinated with conventional wisdom in baseball after reading Moneyball (so, you know, all of 5 days now), and I'm beginning wonder if the Rockies' performance thus far this year is working to disprove the kind of wisdom about starting pitching we all take for granted. Perhaps it's just a freak exception to the rule. Or perhaps it's just an illusory success and the Rockies will come crashing back down to Earth in the second half. But I think it's worth taking a look at and pondering. So without further ado, here is the Rockies starting rotation:

Jeff Francis-7-5, 3.44 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.16 Ks/9
Aaron Cook-4-4, 4.65 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.01 Ks/9
Jason Hirsh-3-6, 4.78 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.17 Ks/9
Josh Fogg-3-5, 4.58 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.60 Ks/9
Rodrigo Lopez (only 8 starts)-4-0, 2.93 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 4.89 Ks/9

Certainly nobody dominating, unless you count Lopez. And while he may indeed be resurrecting a once fairly promising career (2002 and 2004), the sample size is exceedingly small and his ERA figures to regress more closely to his career 4.74 mark. Francis is the team "ace" if you have to pick one, but his numbers aren't overly inspiring and his face makes him more like 17 than the 26 he supposedly is (truly a drawback when you consider "ace" material, no?). Hirsh is having a fairly impressive rookie campaign (he also came over from the Astros in the Taveras trade), but judging by his numbers, Fogg is lucky to have an ERA of only 4.58. So what gives?

The bullpen, apparently. Or, rather, the bullpen doesn't give. Simply put, they don't give up leads once they have them. Even though some guy named Rob Veno seems to think little of the Rockies bullpen, I don't see how you can argue with results. Sight unseen, it seems the Rockies have been riding the same three guys all season, and all of them have ERAs under 3: Jeremy Affeldt, Manny Corpas, and the aforementioned Fuentes. Since coming over in mid-May, Jorge Julio has posted a sub-2.00 ERA.

Looking at the White Sox and Reds this year, it's painfully apparent how integral a bullpen can be to a team's success. Neither of those teams can hold a lead to save their lives. The Sox were offensively challenged to the extreme in 2005, but were able to win close games because Politte, Cotts, and Jenks shut teams down in late innings. Apparently, the Rockies have the same kind of thing going for them this year. Enough offense to make up for somewhat mediocre starting pitching, but a lights out bullpen to hold leads once you get them. But bullpens are fickle, cruel mistresses, Colorado. Will Affeldt, Corpas, Julio, and Fuentes have the magic touch the rest of the way?

Who the hell knows. The more I think about baseball, the more I'm convinced that half of the game is 90 percent luck (not mental, sorry, Yogi).

Quick Hits On The Gold Cup (Because you know you want it.)

  • USA 2-1 Canada, that's what really matters.
  • On the other hand, Canada deserved that second goal in second half stoppage time
  • On the other, other hand, USA had plenty of other chances to score that they just biffed on
  • DeRosario and DeGuzman were held in check for most of the game, particularly DeGuzman. That was nice work by the defense.
  • Landon Donovan gets a yellow card for diving? What the fuck? Christiano Ronaldo goes the whole World Cup without a card and now they're giving one to Donovan? Right. Further proof that the entire Latin American world of soccer hates him.
  • Keller got kind of beat up, but I wasn't really excited to see him cry about it. (Speaking of Keller, he looks really old whenever I see him wearing his glasses)
  • That tackle by Michael Bradley that got him the straight red card was vicious, and not in the good way. More like in the "you're going to injure somebody and hurt the team at the same time, fucktard" sort of way. What a stupid play. Now he has to miss the final after what was really an excellent tournament for the 19 year old.
  • On a similar note, Bocanegra probably could have gotten a straight red for his second half tackle that sent (if memory serves) DeGuzman doing a full flip through the air. There was no ball on that one either.
  • Kind of like Cardillo over at That's On Point, I was decidedly pessimistic about this game before it started, albeit for different reasons. I just don't feel like the US team is peaking at the right time. I felt better after they came out and got some early chances, but wouldn't it be nice, just once, if they converted?
  • This was the same script as the Panama game: generate lots of chances early in the game with no goals to show for it, score a couple in the late first/early second half, get lazy and surrender a late goal and pray to god that you don't give up another.
  • Hey Clint, we get it. You're a big shot, you have good footwork and ball control, you play in the Premiership. Now just put the fucking ball in the back of the fucking net, goddamnit, and quit dancing around trying to be Ronaldinhio.
  • I feel sorry for Eddie Johnson. I don't know what it is but he can't seem to get the job done on the international level. No way does he start in the final.
  • Frankie Hejduk converted me. I kept wishing they would start Spector or Simek all tournament, but Frankie was everywhere in every game he started and even scored the opening goal last night. Consider me impressed, old man.
  • Now, it's too bad that Hejduk has to sit out of the final after his second yellow of the tournament. I'm giving the nod to Spector but definitely pulling him after no more than 75 minutes for Simek, if I'm the coach (fyi, I'm not). Spector looked exhausted at the end of the last game he started.
  • Speaking of tired players, why didn't Bob Bradley take out his son sooner when he had been running the entire game and was obviously pooped? Regrettable.
  • If you're keeping track, Sunday's final should be really fucking fun. The Mexican fans at Soldier Field are going to be out of their minds. Let's just hope a few Americans show up.
  • And finally, keep your eyes on the center backs for the USA. I'm about 75% sure that we're going to see some head to head collission involving Gooch Onyewu and one of his own players a la the Three Stooges due to his always being out of position. Remember I called it first.


NBA Thugs and Baseball Gentlemen

The Big Lead posted a thought-provoking piece today about the way fighting in the NBA is perceived versus the way fighting in Major League Baseball is perceived. I think to have a legitimate discussion about this, you have to throw in the other major sports, too: the NFL, where I can't remember any real fight on the field ever occurring (I'm sure I'm just overlooking them, but whatever); and the NHL (and hockey in general), a sport (not necessarily a league) that connotes fighting more than sporting to a lot of people (see the tired "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out" joke, for instance).

A lot of the commenters on The Big Lead already addressed a lot of very good possible reasons why fighting is spun differently in the NBA and in baseball: race, the proximity of fans to the playing field, the relative strength of commissioners and player unions, "tradition," etcetera, etcetera. Whatever. I got tired of reading after about 5 comments (as an aside--who are these people that have the time and/or desire to read upwards of 100 comments on a blog post? Who gives a shit what some random asshole thinks about a random sports topic? I say all this completely aware of the irony in a blogger with commenters wondering these things. But still...) OK, back to the fisticuffs.

While I think race (baseball=white, basketball=black), fan proximity to the playing/fighting field (baseball=far, basketball=close), and commissioners and player unions (Selig=gutless moronic wussy, Stern=iron-fisted dictator) all play into the way fighting is spun in the different sports, I'm inclined to think tradition--whatever the hell that means--is perhaps the biggest factor in the way these things are handled.

Especially after reading Moneyball, where it becomes clear that damn near everything in baseball is done a certain way because that's the way it was always done, it seems to me that maybe the rich historic tradition of the whole "code of honor" bullshit/beanball wars in baseball contributes to a tendency to write off such bench-clearing brawls as simply a part of the game. I'm next to completely ignorant about hockey, but it seems like the same could be the case over there. Guys beat the shit out of each other on the ice because that's just an accepted part of the game. In basketball and football, however, melees have never really been a part of things for whatever reason. Double standard, to be sure.

But the double standard that applies within baseball, between pitchers and position players, is something that I still can't wrap my head around. In the latest round of fisticuffs, this time between San Diego pitcher Chris Young and Cubbies first baseman Derrek Lee, both pitcher and position player were suspended 5 games (and are appealing those suspensions) for taking swings at each other. They each had a roughly equal role in the fighting (Young threw the beanball, Lee took the first swing) so supposedly "equal" suspensions of 5 games were dealt out. That means, of course, that Chris Young misses one start and Derrek Lee misses five starts, which doesn't seem equal at all.

I'm not proposing Young be suspended for 25 games here, but I also don't believe the suspensions in this case are equal in severity. How do you deal with pitchers versus position players in a situation like this? I don't have any satisfying answers, but it's pretty clear that Bud Selig will never, ever, ever, ever have an even mildly satisfying solution either.


Moneyball: an astonishing read

Well, "astonishing" isn't how I'd describe Moneyball, but if Michael Lewis was describing my reaction to the book, he might use "astonishing" because damn near everything is worthy of being deemed "astonishing." The low cost of on-base percentage? Astonishing. Billy Beane admitting a mid-season shake-up was unnecessary? Astonishing. Bill James' Baseball Abstract? Astonishing. Greg Maddux's reaction to giving up cheap hits? Astonishment. Chad Bradford's AAA stats? Astonishing. And on. And on. And on.

OK, so railing on the author's penchant for astonishment is pretty nitpicky. But it did seem strangely out of step with a narrative that's all about removing a certain level of astonishment, mysticism, and stupidity from the game and replacing it with rationality, logic, and "science"--however loosely that last term may be employed. And it was freaking annoying.

Anyway, I realize I'm years behind the curve here, but I'm gonna jot down a few thoughts about the book anyway. New to me, new to FTG. So it goes.

Overall, I did find Moneyball a really enjoyable, light read... and fairly well-written, as sports writing goes (my field of judgment as far as books is about as limited as it gets here--I remember reading Andre Dawson's (auto)biography... along with the Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann SportsCenter book way back in the day). In any case, it was a nice read after being liberated from the shackles of 19th century literature.

It illustrated exceedingly well the institutional and individual inertia built around received knowledge, evident in so many walks of life, can be completely and utterly illogical and destructive. And it showed how difficult rationality and logic is to adhere to sometimes, no matter how much you're committed to your system (there are many exceptions to the rules Billy Beane sets up for himself).

As much as I've come to trust Kenny Williams (despite his adherence to "small ball" and his strange affinity for guys like Darin Erstad and Scott Podsednik), do I wish Billy Beane was the White Sox's GM? Undoubtedly yes. But those things aside, I think reading Moneyball was one of those cases of having a book built up so much--by friends, media, whomever--that I couldn't help but be disappointed.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of the book was its intention to disprove the idea that economic disparity in baseball is a serious problem. I don't care that however many different teams have won the World Series in however many years, creating more winning diversity than other professional sports leagues--as Billy Beane says, winning in the playoffs is something of a crapshoot. Just look at the Cardinals last year.

It can be incredibly demoralizing to a fan base to continually lose superstars, developed in the farm system, to free agency because your team can't afford to pay them. It's even more demoralizing to fail to be competitive year after year after year. Yes, Billy Beane has been able to make the Oakland A's successful despite a low payroll. Yes, he has done it by being smarter than a bunch of dumb GMs. But that does not logically mean that baseball doesn't have a huge problem in payroll disparity.

Here's why: if Billy Beane had the money that Brian Cashman had, he'd mop the floor with the league, year after year, instead of having to scrap and claw his way to the top. In other words, money doesn't automatically make winners, but it makes winning a hell of a lot easier. To argue that because the Oakland A's of the world exist we don't need some sort of salary cap or more drastic revenue sharing is akin to arguing that, because some families are capable of living a happy life below the poverty line we don't need to address the growing disparity of wealth in this country. It's absurd.

For all the awareness of problems surrounding small sample sizes Michael Lewis seems to show throughout the book, he ignores the fact that the time encompassed in Moneyball is an exceedingly small sample size--a sample that worked particularly well to illustrate the supposed "genius" of the way Billy Beane and JP Ricciardi ran the A's. From 2000-2003, the A's made the playoffs every single year. The next 2 years, while they were certainly competitive, they missed the playoffs. Does that mean Billy Beane was any less genius those years? No, I don't think so. But what happens when the richer teams get smarter?

Theo Epstein, who makes a cameo appearance at the end of Moneyball, is held up as an example of the type of GM that employs the same strategies as Billy Beane. The thing is, Theo has roughly two to three times as much money to play with as Billy--which means he can hang onto and buy guys like Manny, Big Papi, Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, etc., etc. These are the kind of guys--guys like Tejada, Giambi, and others--that Beane has continually been forced to let go. The Red Sox won the championship in 2004 and, despite suffering a third place finish due to a rash of injuries last year, have set themselves up to succeed far into the future. It's something that's a lot easier to do when you've got that much money to play with.

And don't think the Yankees aren't taking notice--Brian Cashman is running his team with more and more sense, which is kinda scary. Of course, money combined with supposedly Moneyball-type roots won't guarantee that you're competitive. The Blue Jays and JP Ricciardi have made and been burned by some questionable investments the past couple years--AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan, Frank Thomas, to name the most prominent. So there are no guarantees no matter how you run your team.

But still (and I realize I've got no hard evidence to back this up), I don't see how you can debate my core point: money makes it easier to win. Who do I blame for this? Bud Selig, naturally. I hate you Bud.