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.


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