Monday, July 30, 2007

The Big Ticket

"You know I laughed when you left

But now I know I've only hurt myself."

What's the haps? So much to talk about, so let's get right to it.

Bill Walsh lost his battle with leukemia today after being diagnosed with it over a year ago. As a huge football fan, I can't even begin to describe the impact Walsh has had on the game. From the west coast offense, to the leader of one of the best dynasties in the history, to the astounding amount of former and current head coaches who served under him at one point in time, Walsh revolutionized the game forever. This is truly a sad day in the world of sports. Walsh was one of the most beloved figures of both the NFL and college football. He was 75.

Sorry to start on such a downer, but Bill Walsh was the man, so I had to give him a shout. On to the next big story of the day: Kevin Garnett, yes, Kevin Garnett, the guy who said he wouldn't even consider going to a team not in playoff contention, is heading to Boston for basically the entire young nucleus of the Celtics, including Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and two future first round picks. I have been sitting here for about an hour trying to think of some kind of way to put my take on this. Honestly, I'm just in a state of shock. First, obviously, the Celtics have now vaulted themselves into one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference with this move, but at the same time, shipped all of their young stars to Minnesota, including the three guys I was hoping would stay with the Celts for the rest of their collective careers. This is tricky to try and judge right now. It certainly wasn't like the Ray Allen trade, when I was immediately in favor of it, and still am despite all the hating going on (hate hate hate). In Garnett, you either have the best, or at least one of the best players who have played the game in the last decade. Seriously, besides Kobe, who else could even come close? So now the talk will rage on about this. Obviously, I hope this works out for the green. Garnett is a phenomenal player. However, I was a little turned off after he said he would opt out of hid contract if he was sent to Boston, meaning that we would be trading the franchise for a guy who would play one year. The hope is that Danny Ainge somehow changed Garnett's mind. I just would not understand if the C's pulled this trade off without signing Garnett to some kind of extension to go along with it. I think it is absolutely imperative to give some kind of future consideration to KG before executing a deal. If Garnett stays for one year, you are, in all accounts, screwed. The team would have no youth, and no draft picks to get younger. All of the C's franchise players will be 30 or older at the start of the '07 season. Pierce is entering his 9th year, Allen his 11th, and Garnett his 12th. Therefore, getting a commitment from KG is a must. With all that being said, here is the projected lineup the C's will be trotting out this year:

PG Rajon Rondo
SG Ray Allen
SF Paul Pierce
PF Kendrick Perkins/Glen Davis
C Kevin Garnett

What cannot be denied about this trade is that the Celtics, for the first time since the Bird era, are now relevant in the world of sports, something that fans of this team have been dying for. With this trade, there is going to be a ticket bonanza in Boston. Ray Allen made this team a contender, but when you throw in Garnett, Boston immediately jumps into the hierarchy of the East. Remember that this team always needed that third guy to get the ball rolling. First, there was Russell/Cousy/Heinsohn, then Havlicek/Cowens/Jo Jo White, then Bird/McHale/Parish, and the last with 'Toine/Pierce/Kenny Anderson (he was actually legit). With a third star, this team has gone from cellar dwellars to contenders to make the NBA Finals, a place neither Pierce, Allen, or Garnett have gone to (in terms of the guys who have scored the most points without winning a championship, all three are in the top eight all-time). Of course you have to understand that all of this totally coincides with the fact that Ainge was likely out the door if Boston didn't make some kind of impact this year. He has made a bunch of horrendous moves. The going-coming-going of Walker, the Wally Szczerbiak deal (thank God I don't have to spell that name too much anymore), and the coup de gras of them all, the Sebastian Telfair deal last year. Now, all of a sudden, Ainge started to lean on the panic button, which is probably good considering the most historic team in the history of basketball had 24 wins last year. So while a lot of great guys are leaving town, if it brings us closer to a 17th banner, it will be worth it.

Trading deadline is tomorrow people, and already, some noise has been made. Atlanta picked up Teixeira for that really good Atlanta catching prospect (please don't make me spell any more hard names)...ok fine, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (I wish I had the last five minutes of my life back). Now comes the real question...what are the Sox going to do. Ok, so this Jermaine Dye situation has peeked my interest. If the price is right, this would be dynamite. Not only getting Dye, but possibly bouncing J.D. Drew out of town. Dye is two years older than Drew, and is also a free agent at the end of the year...but come on. Dye vs. Drew is an absolute joke at this point. Yes, Dye is only hitting .235 this year, but considering he has 19 homers so far, hit 44 last year, won the silver slugger, and finished 5th in the MVP vote, I'm thinking he's going to be ok. Plus, he's playing in a big market now, and has faced AL pitching for the last ten years, something that Drew has not, and may never adjust to. Also, Dye has a gold glove from 2000. Simply put, this would be a huge upgrade for this offense. They will actually get a guy who is a legit #5 hitter, and what maybe even more important, Dye is a gamer. He has played under 130 games just once in his last eight seasons. I never supported the move to get Drew, but once he was on the team, I tried to pull for him, but it just never worked for me. Dye is just a better all-around player, and with him on the team, he will provide instant offense. Would there be a more physically intimidating 3-4-5 than Papi, Manny, and Dye? Anyway, the price is believed to be Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson. This may be a little too much to ask of the (Red) Sox, especially when you consider that Wake, Schill, and Timlin are all 40 and older, so the staff is going to have some holes pretty soon. Also, even though Manny got lit up against the Rays, he's still a hell of a pitcher. Every pitcher has their bad games, so I hope that doesn't have any influence on the Sox' willingness to part with him. They are going to need Delcarmen in October as their 7th inning guy, especially if they don't get some of the other names that have been swirling around (Dotel, Gagne, Chad Cordero). The back end is solid, but you need that bridge to get to Okie and Pap. I think that most of the Sox' prospects, contrary to prior belief, may be up for discussion. Of course, two names that would absolutely floor me if they were moved would be Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Other than that, it stands to reason that the Sox could be willing to part with some of its minor league constituants. It's great to have a ton of talent in the minors, which the Sox suddenly do, but realize that this team has the second highest payroll in the majors, and a fan base that is three years removed from a World Series title, meaning that the "win now" attitude is in full swing. It's unrealistic to keep everyone they currently have. This isn't a Tampa or KC situation where players have time to develop. This is a team that has the resources to get guys who are ready to go now. The deadline is tomorrow, and so far, nothing has come down yet, but the one move I know that is going down before 4:00 will be that I will be glued to ESPN and hitting the 'net hardcore for all the rumors and deals being made. This is one of the best times of the year (I think I wrote about that awhile ago). Good stuff.

Well, now I have to study for my Medicare/Long-Term Care test tomorrow. Also, I can't get the Family Feud theme song out of my head. This could be a problem when trying to remember Medicare A, or B, or C...maybe even D. Fast times at insurance school for sure. The good news is that I made a power hour CD when I get home. Again, I do very few things well in this I love beer. Ok, anyway, here's my final thought. I still can't find a nights & weekends job...and I'm actually really...Home Depot does not return calls, or I have unconsciously been a felon...I'm sure it's nothing too big, maybe a couple B&E's and tresspassing, you know, stuff like that. Anyway, here's the idea: A college game every Saturday for tailgaiting and to check out the different scenes. I just came back from a nice little road trip this week, UNC Wilmington, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, and NC State. So now, I'm inspired. What else have I missed? Life is too short to have regrets, so I figure this is the perfect time for this. So, I'm trying to put together a tentative schedule. Here's what I have right now:

9/1: Louisana-Lafayette vs. USC/Columbia, SC/102mi
9/8: Nebraska vs. Wake Forest/Winston-Salem, NC/90mi
9/15: Boston College vs. Georgia Tech/Atlanta, GA/256mi
9/22: Clemson vs. North Carolina St./Raleigh, NC/181mi
9/29: North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech/Blacksburg, VA/186mi
10/6: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson/Clemson, SC/150mi
10/13: USC vs. North Carolina/Chapel Hill, NC/151mi
10/20: Georgia Southern vs. Appalachian St./Boone, NC/113mi
10/27: USC vs. Tennessee/Knoxville, TN/255mi
11/3: Wake Forest vs. Virginia/Charlottesville, VA/280mi
11/10: Auburn vs. Georgia/Athens, GA/211mi

So hopefully I can pull this off, because I think it would be pretty groovy. Meet some folks, talk some trash...ok a lot of trash, especially if we go the way Spurrier thinks we will (that would be to the SEC Championship game if you were not aware...we're kind of a big deal now). So, that will be something to look forward to, and it's only a month away! Sweet action. Alright kids, be good. You'll be hearing from me. Peace.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gettin' It Together

"But I'm near the end and I just ain't got the time
And I'm wasted and I, can't find my way home."

So I've been away from this for awhile, and I'm going to try and put something together for you guys here, because I know how much you've enjoyed my stuff from the past. Here's what I can tell you: Frankly, I'm worn out. And I know you're wondering how someone who hasn't worked since they got out of college be tired. Well, it is more than a physical exhaustion. I've been doing a lot of searching for myself, and I've been trying to sort out my life. Everything right now just seems to be off its course. It all just doesn't seem to be right. Now this could change in a couple weeks, or tomorrow, or even by the time I'm done writing this column, but I've just needed time to think about everything, and honestly, not too much has come of it. I just really don't know anymore. For awhile, I thought that I was on easy street to a job, wife, kids, all of that. Now I'm two months removed from my last class in college. I'm starting a job that I don't even know if I'll make any money in, and I've basically been secluded in my apartment for the entire summer because I have to figure out who I am before I can go out and try and make this whole family thing happen. Well, I've tried to sum up what's taken me so long to put another entry on here. I hope you guys understand, and just know that there won't be too many hiatuses like the one that just took place.

So the whole Tim Donaghy story is dominating ESPN and every sports site, and although the issue has been poked at from every conceivable angle, here's my two cents: What Donaghy did was disgraceful, but something like this was bound to happen. Organized crime has always been involved in sports. You don't have to go further than an episode of "The Sopranos" to know that. I think the one real surprise about all of this is that it took this long for someone to get caught. I guarantee this has been going on since the merge with the ABA back in the mid-70s. Referees are fairly low on the salary food chain in terms of the amount of money they make compared to the work and time away from their families they endure in a season. So, someone perhaps suggested a form of "supplemental income," a la Ernie McCracken in "Kingpin," to some of these guys, and I have to believe a couple of them along the way took the bait. Not to say that this doesn't happen in any other sport, but basketball is probably the easiest sport to get away with this kind of thing. Having worked as an intramural ref for basketball, I know that games can be easily manipulated due to the variable nature of foul-calling. Personally, I let a lot go because it's intramural basketball, and some of these kids haven't played the game in either a long time, or ever for that matter. So, I was leniant based on the skill level involved. However, when you're talking about professional basketball and the NBA, that is the highest level of basketball there is in the world. Therefore, you need a referee who will call the game to the best that it can possibly be judged. With that said, there is still a lot of leeway that a ref has in calling fouls. There are so many unwritten rules that basically any "bad call" can fall under some kind of category, whether it be a superstar going to the line after driving to the rim (Paul Pierce has become the pied piper of this movement), or the non-existance of calling traveling on less than obvious situaitons. So, the fact that this happened doesn't surprise me in the least bit, especially in basketball.

I love how people have come out and said "well, why focus on the referees; the players are the ones who control the outcome of the game." Yeah, like NBA players, who were making an average of over $5 million last year (5.215), are going to risk that and future money that is due to them to bet on some games? The only guys who would even consider doing that would be the 11th player on these teams, but they wouldn't be able to have any impact anyway, so the fact remains, it would seem foolish and incomprehensible if a regular starter would do that. Also, it would be much tougher for a player in the NBA to pull off any kind of "fixing" because they are the best in the world, as previously mentioned, so their actions are under much scrutiny. If attempted, it would stand to reason that it would be a lot easier to spot a player fixing a game than it would be, say, in the college game. Also, the motivation is infinite times greater than it would be in the NBA. Think about it: You have a bunch of college kids who are not getting any money for their services. The temptation would be pretty high to take someone up on that offer. Last year, there were 336 Division I teams compared to 30 NBA teams, so there are a lot more games being played each day, making the probability of anyone catching on to a scandal much more difficult. The point is that NBA players are above all of this (at least I hope they are), and to try and take blame off of the referee involved, as well as shift blame from referees to players is proposterous.

Now, here's the last two columns I wrote for the "Daily Gamecock." The first deals with how there is way too much put on the All-Star Game for it to really be called an "exhibition," and the second is about Goodell backing himself into a situation where he may have to suspend one of the NFL's most popular players, Michael Vick (at least he used to be the positive way; he's still pretty popular now though), for some length of time based on what he did earlier in his regime.
Just Another All-Star Game? Not Any More
With home-field advantage on the line, the game itself has been taken to extreme, and possibly unnecessary lengths to determine a winner.
Last week, baseball had its annual All-Star Game, with this year’s version taking place at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The tribute to Willie Mays before the game was fantastic, the game itself turned out to be well-played by both teams, and included the first ever inside-the-park home run in an All-Star Game by Ichiro. However, the stakes of the game are simply too high, especially considering this is an “exhibition” game and all.

When the American League won the game 5-4, not only did they tighten the all-time series, which is currently 40-36-2 in favor of the N.L., but they also captured home-field advantage for the World Series, a clause that was added to the game after the 2002 edition ended in a tie. This was Bud Selig’s response to the overwhelming criticism he received when the game was halted due to an insufficient amount of players for each team. What made matters worse was that the game was being held in Miller Park in Milwaukee, and Selig once had a minority stake in the Brewers, so the commish got a tongue-lashing from the hometown faithful.

With all of that said, why did it have to come to this? Just because the teams ran out of players after 11 innings, home-field advantage for the series that determines who will be World Champions now has to be on the line. The game is an exhibition. It is meant to be a gathering of the game’s best players to partake in a game that has no meaning. Not to say that it’s a backyard wiffle ball game, but the reason the All-Star Game is played is for the fans of baseball. They are able to vote in the players they want, and then get to watch all of their favorites on the same field. That’s what the game is about.

Sure, right now, it can be said that the American League has the “better” teams, with Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, and the L.A. Angels often brought up as the best teams in baseball before any N.L. team even gets mentioned. However, if the National League was able to complete its comeback in the ninth inning, as they almost did, they would get home-field advantage. In other words, if a team from the A.L. were to win over 100 games, and the N.L.’s representative barely got to 90, it would have absolutely no relevance as far as who gets to play the majority of the home games in the World Series. Where is the reward in that? Records are just thrown out? There isn’t much logic in that.

If the game is for home-field, why even let the fans vote who gets to go to the game? If you are a player on the Red Sox or the Indians, wouldn’t you want the absolute best players you could possibly get? Usually the fans get it right, but down the line, it’s inevitable that a fan-favorite will get voted in because the game is a popularity contest. This will likely cause a situation where a player who is deserving of making the team ends up getting “snubbed.” Then you’re putting out a team that is not as good as it could be, which puts that team at a distinct advantage.
The fans are the reason that this game is played, but they never asked for it to be taken so seriously. No other sport’s annual gathering of its stars has any impact on the rest of the season. Imagine if hockey went to this system. Instead of a game featuring skills and finesse, it would turn into a scene from “Slapshot.” The game is played for almost 75 years with no complaints, and then, all of a sudden, for just the second time in history, the game ends in a tie, and everything gets changed? Not saying that players won’t take the game seriously, but there is a reason why it’s called the “All-Star break.” These guys play 162 games a year, and to some, a loss could spell the end of their season. So let’s give these guys a bit of a breather from the chaos of the regular season and keep the game as an exhibition for the fans.

Remember Me?
Pacman is crying foul on how the commissioner handled the Michael Vick situation as well as two other disciplinary matters, and who can blame him?
There have been a lot of times when being the commissioner of the NFL seemed like a dream job to football fans. Now, the man who actually is in charge is living a nightmare.

Roger Goodell is entering his first season as commissioner, and so far, he has fallen on some tough times. He has had to handle multiple disciplinary cases so far, and levied three major suspensions to some of the game’s most polarizing figures. Wide receiver Chris Henry from Cincinnati has been convicted of numerous crimes ranging from drug possession to buying alcohol for minors. Defensive tackle Tank Johnson from Chicago was arrested for having six firearms in his house while on probation, and also during his probation, threatened an officer and had to be maced. Both were given eight game suspensions for the upcoming year.
Then, there’s the matter of Adam “Pacman” Jones.

He may not be the most well-liked player in the league, and has never been confused for being the smartest guy in football, but without being convicted of anything, Goodell suspended Jones for the entire season without pay, a move that sent shock waves throughout the league. Jones has been arrested five times since being drafted, and has been questioned in numerous other matters, but never served any kind of jail time.

Jones’ suspension marks the first time in the Super Bowl era that a player was suspended for an entire season without it having to do with any substance abuse infractions. So, it appeared like even if a player was never convicted of anything, but simply was connected to bad behavior, then punishment was on the way. At least that was before the latest bombshell over the league.
Michael Vick has been all over the front pages and the headlines over the past month due to allegations of his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. Authorities have found evidence at a property owned by Vick that shows there had been numerous dog fights that took place on the premises. Also, participants have come forward and said that Vick, as well as other pro athletes, were “heavily” involved in these practices.

So, with evidence in hand, and three other players serving as precedence to what could possibly happen to Vick, the commissioner has yet to do anything in terms of a fine or a suspension. Goodell has now found himself between a rock and a hard place. By suspending Jones for the season, Goodell effectively chose a “reaction-first” method instead of waiting out what the courts decided.
The thing about Michael Vick is that for almost a decade, he has been considered the most athletic quarterback to have ever played the game. Appearing on hundreds of magazine and video game covers, making appearances for the league, and having one of the highest selling jerseys year after year, Vick is the face of the new generation of football. With all that being said, it stands to reason that Goodell could be accused of playing favorites in this situation.
Vick was also detained at Miami International Airport for suspicion of drug possession. Between that and these recent allegations, it would seem as though Vick has enough against him to garner some kind of action from the league offices, but the league seems to be sitting on its collective hands waiting for Vick’s indictment hearings to begin in Richmond. Jones and his lawyer have since made public statements expressing their outrage over the superstar getting a paid leave of absence to attend to his affairs, and Jones getting a year-long suspension without getting a dime.
Although it is admirable to see that the commissioner is attempting to correct the overall morale of the league by imposing heavy penalties against some of the league’s most controversial figures, but because of the harsh actions taken against those players, Goodell now finds himself at a career crossroads before his first regular season begins. By taking no action against Michael Vick, are superstars being judged on a different scale than other troubled players, something Goodell now has to answer to.

Right on...

So apparently the Sox' bats were "dried up," at least that's what you would have believed if you listened to the local media and the critics up until the series with the White Sox. Now, they're saying that the offense "is back." It's too easy to come out, say something one week when things are bad, then jump back on the bandwagon the next, claiming that everything has returned to normal because of one series. Pick a side, and stick with it. I admit that sometimes, I have been way off about things, but at least in the end, I can say I picked a side, and I stuck with it. I said all along that this team would struggle with their offense at times, and that the pitching would be the reason this team would be successful. This doesn't mean they're terrible, and it doesn't make them great, but it just means they are going to go through rough patches, even to a team like Kansas City, and there's not going to be a lot they can do to help it. This was the offense they constructed for the season, and it could have been better, but this is who we are going with this year. Papi has been hurt for a long time, and saw his power numbers dip because of it. However, he has been given some rest, and despite the fact that he is destined for offseason surgery, never discount the kind of impact he has on this team. Mike Lowell has been outstanding, and all of a sudden is making their decision of re-signing him next year much more difficult. This team right now is constructed to get on base any way possible, but the problem has been that once they are on, they have been unable to get them home. The Sox are going to be forced into more small ball than they have ever done, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You have an interesting combination of guys who can get on (Pedroia, Youk), guys with power (Manny, Papi, Lowell), and guys who can blaze (Lugo and Coco). So the Sox need to take advantage of the strengths of the guy at the plate, and not have an overall philosophy of "grip it and rip it."

Speaking of which, I think Coco's sudden turnaround has everything to do with Jacoby Ellsbury. I know I've said this before, but I think it became clear to him that Ellsbury can flat out play, and he has Sox fans, like myself, already wanting more. I can't wait until they expand the rosters in September, because it will almost surely mean Jacoby will be with the big-league team for the final games, and hopefully, the postseason (don't want to jinx anything). Therefore, Crisp knows that he is not in the upper echelon of centerfielders and, thus, is replacable. I continue to say that the extension the Sox gave him while he was on the DL last year was given way too early on in his Red Sox tenure. Why are we giving a guy financial stability after he only played six games for us, then got hurt? Not saying that Coco didn't deserve an extension, but don't you want to have a guy force the team to give them an extension before they become a free agent? Look at Mike Lowell. It was almost a foregone conclusion that Lowell would be out after this year, but after the numbers he has put up this year, the Sox now are going to have to consider sinking more money on their third baseman, because there really aren't a whole lot better options out there right now. Coco may somehow be able to keep this pace going, but the Sox need to hold on to Ellsbury, because you never know how long he can keep this up, and you want to be able to have the competition on hand in case Coco ever forgets that his place on the Sox is not set in stone.

As far as the trading deadline (which is a week away if you're scoring at home), I really don't expect the Sox to make any major moves for two reasons:

1. The Sox don't need anything major (lefty reliever, bat off the bench)
2. They are completely unwilling to part with any big prospects that would land a big name

Why think about trading Mike Lowell to get Mark Teixeira? Lowell has been one of the few bright spots in the offense this year, and it's tough to find someone who is reliable not only from an offensive standpoint, but from a defensive one as well. Sure, they could transfer Youk back over to third to make room for Texieira, but why mess with the chemistry of this team this late into the season? Also, the Sox should receive about a $2 million discount to retain Lowell, so why not take a gamble on the guy? All he's done is been outstanding for the two years he has played in Boston, so you might as well give him an extension. The Sox need a guy who can come off the bench and have relative success getting on base. They have Eric Hinske, who has actually done pretty well in the limited time we've seen him, but now, they need someone to take the place of Wily Mo in terms of a righty power guy. I love Wily Mo, I love his potential, but he doesn't have the kind of discipline at the plate to be effective. The Sox felt Wily Mo was too raw to become the everyday right fielder, which led to the signing of Drew, meaning that Pena's reps continued to get cut. It has to be tough going from 500 ABs a year, which is what he was getting in Cincinnati, and turn into a once every five games guy and still be the same hitter. Now the question is who could be potentially available. Eric Byrnes' name has been tossed around, but if the Sox get Byrnes, he shouldn't be on the bench. He should be the starting right fielder. Right now, Byrnes is much better than J.D. Drew in every facet of the game. Plus, he is an incredibly charismatic guy who would be great in Boston. Josh Byrnes, who used to work for Theo Epstein in the front office in Boston, is now the GM of the Diamondbacks, and perhaps would part with Byrnes, who will be a free agent at the end of the year, without getting back one of the prospects the Sox are so dead set against trading.

One of those prospects was Jed Lowrie, the promising shortstop who is currently at AA Portland. Lowrie's availability depends entirely on the availability of Julio Lugo and if the team believes Lugo is a guy who will play out his entire contract. Now I've said all along that Lugo would end up being a casuality, like Renteria, and the Sox would end up having to trade him and possibly eat some of his contract. However, given Lugo's current run, the Sox could have some new-found confidence in him, and perhaps would be willing to talk about Lowrie. The long-term solution is already carved out at second with Dustin, which is Jed's other position. Lowrie could become an expendable commodity, and considering he is ranked in the top 10 in the Sox' farm system, he should get a fair share of interest from teams in need of a middle infielder.

Back to guys the Sox may be after. Here are some guys I think the Sox should consider. Now I don't know their availability, or what the asking price might be (of course I can ballpark it), but here you go:

1. Dmitri Young, 1B/DH, Washington
2. Joey Gathright, OF, Kansas City
3. Scott Thorman 1B/OF, Atlanta
4. Jeremy Hermida, OF, Florida
5. Ryan Doumit, C/1B/OF, Pittsburgh

1. Damaso Marte, LHP, Pittsburgh
2. Jimmy Gobble, LHP, Kansas City
3. Jon Coutlangus, LHP, Cincinnati
4. Steve Kline, LHP, San Francisco
5. C.J. Wilson, LHP, Texas

While you may not have heard of any of these guys, adding one could mean the difference between the Sox getting to the World Series or watching it on TV. Remember Dave Roberts.

Alright, so hopefully I will be able to put more columns up in the coming days. Hey, the sports world is actually giving me some ammo to write on, so thanks for that. Take care everyone. Peace.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Brandon Wallace Article

"So slide over here, and give me a moment."

So here's something for just about everyone. Brandon Wallace has been a standout this summer for the C's, and because he just happened to go to the University of South Carolina, I figured this would be a great thing to write about. The article will likely run in the Daily Gamecock next week, but here's a little bit of a preview...actually it's the entire thing, so it's more like ruining a surprise. Also, be sure to go to Patriots Insider. They put my Laurence Maroney article on the front page and made it very spiffy and, dare I say, professional, so I'm so pumped about that. Anyway, hope you enjoy the latest:

Gamecock Making A Splash In The NBA Summer League
Wallace Looks To Make Celtics’ Roster After Scorching Start

The 2007 NBA Draft was one of the most anticipated drafts of the last twenty or so years, so who could have predicted the type of impact Brandon Wallace, an undrafted free agent from USC, would have so far in his professional career? When talking about guys who are standing out so far this summer, it is not Oden or Durant who are garnering the accolades, but it has been Wallace who has surprised everyone, even USC fans, with his play so far.

Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, saw the lanky, 6’9 Wallace and attempted to put him at power forward. Wallace played center for most of his career at USC, but simply is not big enough to be a big man in the pros. So logically, the next step down is playing the power position. However, Wallace again struggled acclimating to the physicality that goes along with defending guys who have a 25-30 pound advantage on him.

Then, the move was made to try Wallace at small forward, a move that has paid instant dividends to both the Celtics and Wallace’s career. By keeping him outside of the paint, Wallace can rely more on his biggest strength, his athleticism, to make plays instead of trying to bang bodies in the paint.

What has impressed Rivers and the rest of the Celtic coaching staff is Wallace’s knack for making sound defensive decisions on the court, which comes as no surprise to those who followed Wallace while he played with the Gamecocks. In his four years, Wallace entered into USC’s top-10 in terms of career rebounds (775, 6th all-time), career blocks per game (1.84/game, 5th all-time), and is the career leader in blocks with 249, which ranks 9th in SEC history.

Wallace is continuing a recent trend that is starting to put USC basketball back on the map for the first time since it was in the Metro Conference. Last year, two players, Renaldo Balkman and Tarence Kinsey, made huge statements in their rookie seasons. Balkman was considered the surprise of the first round last year when he was picked 20th overall by the Knicks. He quickly showed why he was picked so early, and brought a brand of scrappy and intensified basketball that made him a fan favorite in Columbia.

Kinsey went undrafted, but was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies in summer camp, much like Wallace. Kinsey’s impact on the Grizzlies was delayed until the closing games of the NBA season. Due to a massive amount of injuries, Kinsey was thrust into a starting role, and in 12 starts, averaged 18.8 points per game replacing Mike Miller as the team’s shooting guard.

It is too early to tell if Wallace will make the kind of impact that his former teammates made last year, and furthermore, Wallace may not even make the Celtics’ final roster. However, his performance this summer further emphasizes the kind of athletes Carolina Basketball produces. Despite the lack of success USC had last season, if they can continue to recruit guys like Wallace, Balkman, and Kinsey, the Gamecocks should find greener pastures ahead of them.

One last note unrelated to the article: Insurance school, while effectively getting me out of my house, is not one of the top things you would want to do in the summer. Also, when the girl that sits next to you says "mm-hmm" after everything the teacher says, it basically turns into a "jamming a ice pick into my forehead" affair. Advice to the youth: Get into sprinkler systems. First of all, the work is not so bad as long as you have the right equipment, and on those hot days, you can run through the sprinklers, and not only not feel like an ass, but get paid to do so. Those were good times. Alright everyone, thanks for reading. Take it easy. Peace.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

J.D. Drew For Five More Years?...Yessah!

"So you're in a relationship with a woman you don't like, and you're having an affair with a woman who won't have sex with you."
"This isn't going well."


Julio Lugo's average? No, he's at .197, but close. This is J.D. Drew's average with two outs and runners in scoring position. That's great for the #5 batter on the best team in the major leagues . In fact, let's look at the #5 hitters from the top-10 teams record-wise:

Boston J.D. Drew .204
Detroit Carlos Guillen .341
LA Angels Gary Matthews .238
Cleveland Jhonny Peralta .317
Seattle Jose Guillen .289
San Diego Milton Bradley .263
Milwaukee Johnny Estrada .282
NY Mets Carlos Delgado .205
LA Dodgers Nomar Garciaparra .400
Atlanta Brian McCann .282

Good stuff. Had it not have been for Carlos Delgado, Drew would have been alone as the laughing stock of this group. I just get so frustrated when talking about this guy, and the reason is because myself, and the vast majority of Red Sox Nation, saw this coming. We knew that this was going to be a guy who would not be reliable at all in terms of production and in even being able to play a full season, yet, we were hoping that he would prove all us cynics wrong and come through with a season worthy of his insane contract, but instead, he's lived up to our expectations of being a gigantic disappointment. Another thing: I've had enough about the "adjustment" to be playing in Fenway. You're a major leaguer! When you come into Boston, for the most part, the new players are given the benefit of the doubt, and the fans rally behind them. Even in J.D. Drew's case, the fans laid off of him for his first two or three weeks, and once it was clear that he couldn't hack it, they eventually got all over him like I have been doing for the last seven months. The media is no excuse either. Hey, if you don't want to hear or read about any negativity, don't read the papers, don't watch the local sports report, and don't listen to WEEI. How hard is that to do? You know those reporters that show up after the game? Guess what? You don't have to talk to them! Jim Rice didn't talk to them, and sure, it's probably kept him out of the Hall of Fame, but it didn't stop him from leading the AL in homers three times, winning the MVP in '78, and becoming one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history. The reason why everyone is on this guy's back is because you know he can produce better than this. The stats from prior years don't lie, but the fact is that Drew has basically been an anti-Red Sox guy his entire career. First, it started when he refused to sign with the Phillies after he was picked second overall in the '97 Draft because he refused to sign for less than $10 million guaranteed. From '98-'03 while playing with the Cardinals, he eventually wound up on the DL in each of those six seasons. Finally, he opted out of his contract with the Dodgers, took a ton of money from the Sox, and decided that an easy way to stay healthy was to become completely unaggressive in his approach to playing, which in turn has led to Drew sucking it up completely this year. This is almost like when Jason Alexander came out with the show "Bob Patterson." You knew that it was going to be a train wreck, but yet, when you saw him on the TV, it was like "I remember this guy being great at one point, and even though this show will likely bust (which it did in five episodes), I'm going to root for it to be a hit." Maybe even like the Vin Baker signing. You know it's going to be bad, yet you hope that you're wrong, only to see your first instincts to become reality. Who is going to take this guy now? That is the real question we have to ask ourselves now. I mean Drew at least is hitting around .250, so people will at least listen to a trade offer for him. Julio Lugo?...forget it. We're stuck with that guy and that's it. Here's what I have so far for a potential trade this off-season:

From Boston to Chicago (AL):
  • J.D. Drew
  • Michael Bowden
  • $2 million/year
From Chicago to Boston
  • Jon Garland
Ok, let's think about this for a second: The White Sox are going to be in need of a right fielder once Jermaine Dye signs a mega-deal somewhere else. Now Drew has a mega-deal, but, in this trade, the Sox would relieve the White Sox of $2 million each year for the next four years, a la Edgar Renteria. Plus, they would be getting one of the best prospects from the Sox farm team in Bowden. Garland is due $12 million in 2008, and then he becomes a free agent. The Sox will have the ability to lock him up for three or four years at that point. Garland will be 28 at the beginning of the '08 season, so he still has plenty of juice left in his arm. Also, when you consider two of the Sox five starters are likely to be off the team in the next year or two (Schill and Wake), the Sox will be in the market for a front-of-the-line starting pitcher. While Bowden may eventually pan out, the Sox need help right now, and Garland will be a very nice option at #3. This is almost like the Beckett-Lowell/Ramirez trade last year. The Sox needed that young pitcher they could rely on, and they felt like even though Hanley would be a good pro (turns out he's been excellent), the help Beckett would provide would be more "worthwhile" than Ramirez. In conclusion, that's a hypothetical trade, but right now, I would do anything to get Drew off this team. When he leaves, there would obviously be a void in right, but I think if they sign Ichiro, he would be able to fill that void very nicely...actually, I don't even care if they don't have a replacement in mind, just get this guy off the team, I'm begging you.

Earlier this week, Magglio Ordonez and Vladimir Guerrero decided to enter the Home Run Derby scheduled for Monday night. Now, call me crazy, but given the track record for guys who enter this competition, why would two guys who are leading the AL MVP race enter this? This event isn't nearly close to what it used to be. In fact, this is almost a parallel to the Slam Dunk contest in that, back in the day, anyone who was anyone, Jordan, Dominique, guys who were the best in the game, participated. Remember the '99 Home Run Derby at Fenway? McGwire, Sosa, Griffey, they were all there. Now, the "best" are starting to shy away from it because of what has happened to guys like Giambi and Berkman in the second half after they put on record performances in the derby. Bonds dropped out, and the same goes with Griffey. Although the field is very good this year (Pujols, Fielder, Rios, Ordonez, Morneau, Guerrero, and defending champion Ryan Howard), expect the same kind of thing to happen in baseball as it did in the NBA. More pure hitters like Guerrero and Pujols will not participate because the contest will throw off their game for the stretch run. The derby will end up being a place for pure power hitters and not the all-around type. I think there will be a lot fewer guys like Pujols and Ordonez and more guys like Carlos Pena and Adam Dunn. Anyway, my official prediction is that Ryan Howard will repeat as champion because of three things: 1.) He's a genetic freak of nature, meaning he has the stamina to keep a good pace for the entire contest, just like he did last year. Speaking of which, 2.) He's been in the contest before. Only two others, Guerrero in '00 and Pujols in '03, have been in these before, and finally, 3.) Howard is on a home run tear right now, and it looks like he's found his stroke just in time to defend his crown. As far as the All-Star game itself, shockingly, I'm going to say the NL will finally break the AL's dominance stemming back ten years (there was a tie in '02...still, 9-0-1 is a good run). To me, I just feel like the NL has more coming off the bench this year than the AL. I mean Albert Pujols, the game's best pure hitter, is a reserve! I think the pitchers will keep the scoring down to under double-digits for both teams. Also, the NL players have a lot more experience at AT&T Park, where the dimensions and the climate are...well, a little screwy.

So I'm thinking about doing some NFL previews shortly, and along with that, the fantasy preview will be up. I hope everyone out there is doing great, and that all are in good spirits. Have a good one. Peace.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

"If I can't be my own
I'd feel better dead."

Maybe it's the heat, or maybe it's just that there really hasn't been too much to write about in the world of sports, but lately, I have a big dose of writer's block here. Seriously...what is going on? The Sox swept the D-Rays...oh wow. Yeah, there's tons of stuff there. I will say that Jacoby Ellsbury was fantastic and showed why he was a first-rounder. There's fast, and there's Jacoby Ellsbury fast. The Sox haven't had this kind of speed since Otis Nixon...except Otis was like 40, and still, he was the fastest guy in baseball. When I heard he got called up, I immediately ran (walked in a slightly quicker-than-normal pace) down to the bar to check it out. His first at-bat was very forgetful, but after that, Ellsbury made the most of his brief stay in Boston, with his most memorable moment being when he legged out a wild pitch and scored from second. How often does a guy go from second to home on a wild pitch? That was outstanding. He was sent down to Pawtucket before tonight's game, but he was able to make his mark in just three games. In addition to helping his stock out, Ellsbury seems to have lit a fire under Coco, because now, he actually seems like he's playing for his job, which he should have been doing all along. Clearly, the Sox were less than thrilled with Coco for the year and two months he played out in center for them. So playing with a bit of a spark, Coco's hit .330 since June 1st, bumping his average from .229 to .265. Still, even with the great defense he's played, and his hot hitting, I still think this team will be looking to dump Coco over the off-season and go after one of the trio of All-Star center fielders that will hit the market (Torri Hunter, Andruw Jones, Ichiro). Think about it: In terms of the long-run, when has defense mattered to this regime? Sure, in 2004, they went out and got the OC and Minky, but where are they now? Minky is doing...something for the Yankees, and Cabrera is currently the biggest All-Star snub in baseball. See, when the geeks get together to talk about potential guys to come in on this team, defense is a distant second in the equation. So despite Coco making great plays in center, it likely won't be enough for him to be wearing a Sox uniform next year. Anyway, that's about all there is to report from the Sox. They're still in first by a lot, but they are playing the Tigers this weekend in Detroit, which likely will not be a lot of fun.

Of course, I couldn't go too much longer without mentioning Denny Hamlin finally getting his first victory, and of all places, it happened in New England at Loudon in the Lenox Industrial Tools 500. What was even better was the way he won it. His crew actually helped him in a year where all they've been doing is making mistakes and costing him victories. His two-tire stop gave him the race lead, and was just enough to beat out Jeff Gordon in the final lap. Unfortunately, Gordon did finish second, meaning Denny did not gain too much ground in terms of the standings. Still, it was good to see him finally get over the hump after so many close calls this season. Going into Daytona and the Pepsi 400 this weekend, Denny sits 156 points behind Gordon, and has run the most laps of anyone on the circuit (surprisingly, Kevin Harvick is second...who knew?), and with his spot in "The Chase" secure, Hamlin and his crew will continue to gamble in an attempt to get to victory lane. I love when a driver just comes out and says "hey, we got all the points we need, now let's get some wins." That was such a breath of fresh air considering how concerned everyone is with the standings and racing conservatively to maintain their position. Anyway, it was a great feeling when that FedEx car crossed the line in New Hampshire on top...actually, it was more of a relief than anything. See, I just saw all those races where something happened down on pit road, or another driver did something to cost Denny the race, but last Sunday, he broke through, and no one can say that he doesn't have enough to take the checkered flag. Denny will be starting 2nd in the 400 due to a storm that washed out qualifying, so look for him to be very aggressive in his attempt to win back-to-back races...sophomore slump this!

In summer league games, I guess anything goes. The Celts played Portland tonight in Greg Oden's professional debut, and there was no way Oden was coming out of the know, even if he had ten fouls! Seriously, at any level of competition, how can you get ten fouls in one game? Sure, this was Oden's first time playing against guys in the NBA, but is it that much different than college to the point where he has to hack everyone that goes down the middle? Now I think Oden will have a good rookie year, but honestly, I don't remember a professional debut like that happening in a long time. In terms of what I saw from the C's, it was basically everything I expected. Gerald Green was the slasher and had some nice dunks, Glen Davis was good down low despite going up against Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge, two guys that have about four inches on him. What I found interesting was Rajon Rondo's absolute unwillingness to shoot the ball. I realize that Rondo's goal is to distribute the ball, but that doesn't mean he can't take an occasional shot here and there. His numbers were not great last year (41.8% FG, 20.7% 3-PT FG), but at some point, someone had to start working with him in the off-season to improve his shot, meaning that it is unlikely he'll be shooting 20% from least I hope he won't. The hope here is that Rondo is able to sure up his all-around game, because now that he's the man in Boston, he's going to have to bring more to the table than just being able to pass the ball off. They have scorers, but Rondo needs to help out as well.

Again, not too much going on. Hopefully it stays that way for the Sox. It's nice to wake up in the morning and say "the Sox still have a double-digit lead...yawn." Take care everyone, and thanks again for reading. Peace.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Laurence Maroney Article

"Threw away all those crazy dreams, I put them all behind."

Hey everyone. Sorry for the lack of entries in the last week. Things have been a little crazy down here in the Queen City. Putting together a futon turned into a never-ending ordeal. I feel bad for my unborn child(ren). If they ever want a bike, or a swing-set, they may have to wait until their pre-teen years for me to finish. To my defense, the instructions were a little vague. Still that doesn't really hide the fact that I'm a complete moron. Also, I finally got a job with Penn Life Insurance, but I don't get to start until I get licensed, which involves a week-long course that runs ten hours each day. School starts Monday, so the vacation is officially coming to a that rivals "The Summer of George" in terms of inactivity. In addition, I landed a gig working for the Panthers in the "Guest Relations" department on game days. Basically, I'm a glorified usher. It's not much, but it is free football...actually I'm getting paid, so that's not so bad. The only drawback is that I have to get Sunday Ticket and record the Pats games, but I was probably going to do that anyway, so it's all good, and the other thing is that I won't be able to tailgate for the Pats preseason game, which sucks, but I will get to see the game, which is likely to include an entire half of the first team offense and defense...good times. In any event, this is an article I just submitted to Patriots Insider. I hope you enjoy, and again, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to check up on the site. I will always appreciate your support.

Feeling Lucky?: Pats Put All Their Chips In The Middle With Maroney

“You are merely a general. I must be a king.” ~Lawrence of Arabia

After years of having anything but a good ground attack, the Patriots have enjoyed a good amount of success in the last few years. Antowain Smith turned out to be a pleasant surprise in his short tenure with the Pats, and Corey Dillon had a career year in 2004 before injuries and a lightened workload cut into his production. Now, after being heralded as the pre-season Super Bowl favorites by many experts, the Patriots will turn to Laurence Maroney to carry the running attack by himself in 2007.

This will be Maroney’s second year in the league, and already, he has shown signs of brilliance and potential to become a star in this league. It’s no surprise that Maroney was able to make an impact on the team, but the extent of his impact in just his rookie year sent shock waves around New England. With one stiff arm in Cincinnati, Laurence Maroney was no longer looked at as just another rookie, but as the future of the franchise.

When the Pats took Maroney in the first round of the ’06 Draft, it clearly sent a message to the team and the fans that Corey Dillon was not going to be the long-term solution at running back for this team. With defensive studs still on the board, including Manny Lawson and DeMeco Ryans, who would have helped an aging linebacking core, they instead decided to draft a runner, which made a good amount of sense considering the Pats ranked 24th in overall rushing, and 30th in yards per carry.

With the combination of Dillon and Maroney in the backfield, the Pats were able to make an instant improvement in their running attack. New England gained 1969 yards, 457 more yards than their amount in 2005, which was good enough for 12th in the league. In addition, their yards per carry went from 3.45 to almost four yards, which was the fifth best improvement from the two years (Atlanta, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Tennessee).

However, this year, a member of the two-headed backfield giant has been let go, and now, the pressure falls squarely on Maroney to try and duplicate what he and Dillon accomplished last year. Of course it would be asking too much of him to do anything close to what Dillon did in 2004, so what kind of expectations should Patriot fans have for Maroney in 2007?

First, Maroney’s health issues will have to clear up to really be able to even project any kind of number for him. However, knowing the way Bill Belichick hides the severity of injuries, Maroney’s health for the season opener at Giants Stadium will likely be unknown. Belichick has stated that he expects Maroney to be ready for training camp, he hasn’t been exposed to contact since his off-season shoulder surgery, so his effectiveness is unknown. Maroney was able to play through a nagging back injury last year, so he’s used to playing in pain. This will be a different scenario however, as Maroney will likely get 250-300 carries this season, which is a big jump from the 175 attempts he had last year.

The good news for Maroney is that, unlike San Francisco, Kansas City, and other run-heavy teams, Maroney will not be the focal point of the offense. With the additions to the passing game, and one of the better quarterbacks of this generation at the helm, Maroney will not be under nearly as much pressure as a guy like Frank Gore, who plays with a relative newcomer to the league in Alex Smith, and a below-average receiving core, meaning Gore has to be “Mr. Everything” for the Niners.

The bad news about Dillon leaving is that, for the first time, Maroney will not have someone of equal talent to split carries with him. While Maroney was playing at Minnesota, he played with Marion Barber III, who had over 200 carries in both years he played with Maroney, and Gary Russell his junior year, who rushed for over 1,000 yards.

The depth at running back for the Pats is anything but solid. New England went out and signed Sammy Morris to back up Maroney, but he’s only had 100 attempts once in seven seasons, so Morris will only get about five or six carries a game. Kevin Faulk is third on the chart, but outside of third down plays, you will rarely see Faulk line up in the backfield, as he is used much more in the passing game. Speaking of which, look for the Pats to use Maroney more as a receiving threat, as he averaged 8.8 yards a catch on 22 receptions.

While health issues and a lack of experience being the number one guy could alter how effective he will be, the fact remains that from his college days and the small sample of time he’s spent in the NFL, Laurence Maroney has the potential to be a featured back in this league. If he is able to overcome those obstacles, you’re looking at a guy with 1,500 yard potential. While he may not get the amount of carries to hit that mark, Maroney can be thankful to be in a system where he does not have to worry about carrying the offense, and can be eased into the role of featured back with the improvements made to the passing game, and an experienced signal-caller lined up behind center.

Have a good weekend everyone. Peace.