Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Devil's Advocate: Alex Rodriguez

In this week's edition of the "Devil's Advocate" we stand up for free agent third baseman and the poster boy for money-grubbing athletes everywhere, Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez.

It's easy to hate on A-Rod right now, there's no question about that. Us normal human beings can't wrap our brains around the thought of opting out of a contract with $72 million in guaranteed money tied to it, but when you're the best baseball player on the planet, backed by arguably the most powerful man in baseball, you can do that.

Sure it was cheezy for him to basically quit over voicemail and the timing of the announcement left something to be desired with the World Series going on, but consider that on the same day the Minnesota Twins announced they were picking up the option on closer Joe Nathan and no one bashed the timing of that.

It's a bit of an apples and oranges argument I know, but is it A-Rod's fault that he is who he is and that somewhere along the way someone decided to make him the highest paid player in he game? Last I checked no one stood over Texas Rangers' management with a loaded pistol when they first signed A-Rod to the 10-year $252 million deal.

Is the money out of control in professional sports? The answer is a resounding yes. However the numbers aren't going to come down any time soon and I can't bring myself to criticize a person for getting as much out of their personal situation as they can. I'm guessing if someone plunked down $25 million per year in front of you, you'd take it and run with no thought of whether you were worth it or not.

Which brings me to my next point on A-Rod which is the fact that he is the only player in the game today you could argue is worth that kind of money. Take away all the excess stuff that comes along with being A-Rod and what you have left is one hell of a baseball player.

Over his 14 year career A-Rod is averaging 44 homeruns, 128 RBIs and a .967 OPS. Those are numbers that place him among the five or ten best players in the history of the game. The best player of my generation, Barry Bonds, has averaged 41 HRs, 108 RBIs and a .742 OPS in his glorious career.

Ask yourself how differently you would view A-Rod if instead of being traded to the Yankees in 2004, he ended up with the Boston Red Sox and helped lead them to their first World Series since 1918. Don't forget that a deal for A-Rod to join the Red Sox was all but done until it fell through at the last minute.

Would you hate him so much if he wasn't the richest player playing for the richest team? Will you hate him as much now that he's destined for a team not nicknamed the "Evil Empire"?

I seem to remember A-Rod being little more than an afterthought as he toiled away in Texas. Sure his contract was big news, but the harsh glare of the New York spotlight seemed to add a certain venom to most people's opinions of the talented superstar.

So stop hating on A-Rod America, he's just a guy trying to make an honest living after all, and you can't knock a guy for that.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How to Lose a Season in 15 Days

Supporters call them the Cubs of college football, so I guess it's appropriate that the California Golden Bears share a species with the lovable losers from the Windy City. And while I'm not so sure how lovable they are, the one thing I know them to be is frustrating.

Sure Cal has only recently reversed its fortunes to become one of the more talented teams in the country and maybe we should have seen this coming with the Pac-10 quickly becoming the SEC of the west. But that doesn't change the fact that a little more than two weeks ago this team was one freshman mistake away from being the #1 team in all the land.

That fact, combined with the fact that no team in the Pac-10 has gone more years since an appearance in a Rose Bowl than Cal (since 1959 to be exact) and you have one of the most frustrating and annoying seasons this Cal fan has had to endure in a while.

When they were bad, they were bad, and we could all live with that. It wasn't any fun getting beaten up by the likes of Stanford and UCLA, among others, but no one had any delusions that this team was any good.

In 2001 they were 1-10 and things looked worse than ever. Then came current head coach Jeff Tedford and everything changed. The offense got more dynamic, recruiting picked up and in the not-so-distant future there will be a shiny new Stadium that will help put Cal on par facility-wise with the Oregon's of the world.

However with all the recent success has come a feeling among the faithful that this team could make some real noise on the national stage. And up until a couple of weeks ago that feeling was being confirmed by a team who had already notched wins over Tennessee and Oregon and were sitting pretty as the #2 team in the country.

Then came that night in Berkeley against an Oregon State squad that most thought would get run off the field by the more talented Bears. Sure redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley was forced to start due to an injury to starter Nate Longshore, but with so many weapons and momentum on their side it was supposed to be easy.

Of course no one told that to the Beavers who put up a great fight in the first half, and were benefited greatly when the Pac-10 officiating crew deemed a play in which Beavers QB Sean Canfield crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing an incomplete pass, inconsequential.

Nothing could have been further from the truth of course, as the Beavers took advantage of the extra down and set up kicker Alexis Serna for a field goal which made it a one point game going into halftime.

I'll admit, at the time I thought little of it, but as the game wore on the impending feeling of doom got stronger and stronger. Meanwhile Riley played well, overcoming a fumble by freshman Jahvid Best that allowed OSU to go up by 10 late in the game, and leading a stunning 79-yard touchdown drive in only 55 seconds to pull Cal within three points.

Three points, that's all they needed, three measly points. And then it happened.

12 seconds to play, Cal down by three inside the Beavers 15 yard-line, Riley looking for all the world like Joe Montana in fourth quarter comeback mode. But instead of Joe Cool, he turned into Rex Grossman in the matter of a few seconds. Forgetting to throw the ball away, Riley scrambled into the middle of the field and was taken down with no timeouts remaining.

Tick, tick, tick, ballgame. Goodbye #1 ranking.

OK fine, freshman mistake, it happened and it's over with. There's still a shot at the Pac-10 title and trip to the Rose Bowl, especially with games against highly ranked teams like USC and Arizona State coming up.

Again, someone forgot to tell Cal's next opponent, the UCLA Bruins, about the team's Rose Bowl plans. In a game that can only be described as "aaarrrggghhhh", Longshore returned only to show the country why he might be the most overrated signal caller in the country.

Another 14-13 lead heading into halftime made the whole thing seem a bit too eerie for yours truly, but again I figured Cal had the weapons and experience to pull it out and beat an inferior team. Wrong again.

Needing only a field goal to win, Best atoned for his mistake in the Oregon State game and set up the Bears with great field position on the UCLA 35 after a 53-yard kick return. Everything seemed to be OK, that was until Longshore stared down DeSean Jackson on a third down pass which was promptly picked off and returned for a touchdown.

Thanks Nate. Final score UCLA 30 Cal 21.

Another stunning loss to an unranked team and still there was hope. With the rest of the Pac-10 eating itself alive, the early November showdown between Cal and USC could still decide who goes to the Rose Bowl.

As the seconds ticked off of a second loss by USC, this time to Oregon, I suppose I should have known something terrible was about to happen later that night as Cal traveled to the Valley of the Sun to take on the fourth-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils.

20 first half points and a six point lead belied the fact that the game wasn't that close, with Cal dominating the opening 30 minutes but allowing ASU to hang around thanks to spotty quarterback play and a lack of offensive aggressiveness.

The second half saw Longshore up to his old tricks, missing open receivers, throwing interceptions and generally disappearing from sight as the high-powered Cal offense was shut out over the final 30 minutes, losing 31-20.

If it sounds like I'm piling on Longshore, I am. I'll admit that some of the blame has to fall on Tedford's shoulders for allowing his injured signal caller to take the field, but at some point a guy has to know when he's no longer helping his football team.

Against ASU Longshore threw two of the worst interceptions I've seen in a while, both of which could be directly related to his injured ankle. The first was a badly under thrown ball to a wide open Jackson, the second a stick throw in the middle of the field, both of which lacked the necessary velocity due to Longshore's inability to push off with his right foot.

Over the span of the three losses there were other problems as well. The offense taking its collective foot off the pedal after leading in the first half of each game. The defense refusing to keep the pressure on three sub-par quarterbacks who they held to 566 passing yards and only two touchdowns in the three games combined.

I guess the most frustrating part is that it never had to be like this. Ask anyone who knows what they're talking about and they will tell you that Cal is a better team than any of the three they lost their season to, but obviously that's not what counts.

In the meantime a team that was a handful of plays away from being the top dog will ultimately have to claw and scratch just to make another Holiday Bowl appearance. Go Bears!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh God, Where Art Thou?

Just read a very interesting piece from ESPN the Magazine about Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna and the religious beliefs that guide his life, and in his opinion allow him to perform on Sunday afternoons.

What strikes me about Kitna is his unblinking devotion to the almighty and it got me to thinking, does God really have any impact on athletes and the sports they play?

Now I have to preface this by saying I am about the most non-religious person you're going to talk to. At this point in my life I can't say that I really believe in any sort of higher power and I certainly have had my issues with organized religion as a whole.

I also have to make it clear that whatever you believe is OK with me. It's not my or anyone else's place to tell people what they should and should not believe. That's where I stand, take it or leave it.

Which brings me back to Kitna and the issue of praising God after every win and every big play, while sometimes giving all the credit to a higher power. I suppose I don't necessarily have a problem with guys who choose to do this, but I do think some guys have taken it too far.

Kitna, for example, called his ability to play in the fourth quarter of a win over the Vikings after suffering a concussion a "miracle". Lots of guys have returned to game action after suffering all sorts of injuries before, how exactly does Kitna's situation differ from that of say Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals?

Are we to believe that Kitna's powers of recovery are somehow divine in nature? That's not to say that Kitna shouldn't believe whatever he wants to about how he got back in the game, but by not keeping that kind of statement to himself he unintentionally waters down his faith in the eyes of the skeptical.

To his credit however, what I learned about Kitna from the ESPN article was that while he is open and forthright about his faith, he does not force it on his teammates or anyone else. For that I admire the man, even if he does frequently wear hats and t-shirts adorned with a cross, because apparently the one around his neck just isn't enough.

But for every Kitna who seems truly sincere about his devotion to God, there are so many more in my opinion who have managed to turn their devotion into little more than a cliche.

Maybe the most annoying show of so-called personal faith is the constant pointing to the sky. Get a base hit, point. Get drafted by an NFL team, point. Run out onto the court during pre-game introductions, pound the chest, point.

Honestly, no one is going to think any more or less of you whether you point to the sky or not, so all you're really doing is drawing attention to yourself in a not-so-subtle way. Sure some guys do it to remember someone important to them that's passed on, but is it really necessary to do it at every turn?

No one seems to want to take credit any more for their own athletic prowess as athletes in every sport seem to feel it's necessary to defer to God in their moments of triumph. If so much of the credit for good performances goes to the man/woman upstairs, my question is why aren't guys blaming God for their defeats?

On that note, here is a list of things you won't hear after a tough loss:

  • "I thought we played well today, but apparently God didn't have our backs tonight."
  • "I have to blame God for my 0-for-5 tonight, he just didn't bless me with the ability to get the job done."
  • "God lost this one for us tonight, plain and simple."
I could go on an on with this list, but you get the idea.

Another major question I have is with so much going on in the world from genocide to wildfires, is it really necessary to bring God into games which are basically insignificant in the grand scheme of things?

What I see in the world of sports and entertainment that bothers me most about this trend is that it has become just that, a trend. It's almost the "cool" thing to do to praise God in every interview which in my opinion is more than a little disingenuous.

All that to say, I do think there is a time and place for athletes to call upon their faith in a constructive and genuine manner. When Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett laid motionless on the field several weeks ago with a life-threatening injury, it was more than appropriate for players on both teams to gather in prayer for their fallen comrade.

Many teams and stadiums full of fans observe moments of silence on a regular basis whenever a tragedy of some sort occurs, giving people a moment to quietly commune with their personal god, whatever that may be.

In both instances real life situations of a serious nature certainly allow for shows of religious faith on and off the field of play.

Ultimately I suppose it just seems to me that calling on ones faith should be saved for those moments which are more important than touchdowns and home runs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The More Things Change...

Years from now when we look back on the 2007 season in college football we will no doubt remember it for the absolute carnage that started in the season's first week when Appalachian State ripped the heart from the chests of Michigan fans everywhere.

What we may forget however is how certain the experts were prior to the season that the two best teams without a shadow of a doubt were USC and LSU. Certainly each had it's challenges to overcome along the way, but few thought anything would come between those two powerhouse programs and a trip to the BCS Championship Game.

Yet here we are in late October and both LSU and USC have suffered losses and find themselves on the outside looking in at Ohio State and Boston College who are currently #1 and #2 respectively in the BCS standings.

If there's one thing this season has taught us it's that anything can happen and everyone can be beaten. With that knowledge in hand I can come to only one conclusion; USC and LSU will play for the National Championship come January.

Nonsense you say? Never fear, I'll explain.

As it stands right now, LSU is third in the BCS standings which puts them in prime position to move into the top two should either Boston College or Ohio State slip. With BC on the road this Thursday night in Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech, LSU's ascension to #2 could happen as early as this week.

Not to mention the fact that even if BC gets past the Hokies they have to play several dangerous teams down the stretch like Clemson, Florida State and Miami, I just can't see them staying among the undefeated much longer.

LSU's remaining schedule includes one more tough test at Alabama this weekend, but gets much easier after that with games against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Arkansas before the SEC Championship game. My guess is that they're more focused than ever on the fact that they are still in the hunt and the Tigers will not be denied the rest of the way.

So that takes care of LSU's part of the national championship picture. As for USC, well suffice it to say they're going to need a little more help. Help that I think they're going to get.

Yes, the 24-23 loss to the lowly Stanford Cardinal hurt the Trojans' chances greatly at getting back in the title game, but it did not kill them altogether. Should USC win out, as I think they will, they will have beaten three teams in the BCS top-25 (Cal, Oregon and Arizona State) as well as as tough UCLA team.

Those wins should be enough to propel the Trojans up the BCS standings, but that won't be enough on its own. There are several teams in the way of Pete Carroll's bunch, but all of them have it tough down the stretch and I think they will all lose.

West Virginia has games left against Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati and UConn and I can't see them getting through unscathed which would give them two losses and drop them from contention.

Oklahoma is a popular pick to be among the teams left standing, but despite a soft schedule the rest of the way, they have the Big 12 Championship to play in early December, a game I believe they will lose to a Missouri team looking for revenge.

The aforementioned Virginia Tech Hokies currently sit at #8 in the BCS, but games against Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and Virginia will prove too much for true freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies to overcome. Welcome to the two-loss club Blacksburg, see you next year.

Kansas has been a great story all year, but the ride will come to an end in the season finale against a very tough Missouri squad who will have eyes on the Big 12 Championship with a win over the Jayhawks. Kansas finishes with just one loss, but they're weak overall schedule will hurt them too much to reach the title game with one loss.

The season's other great story is of course South Florida and their run at a possible Big East Championship. However after a deflating loss to Rutgers last Thursday night I think they are in line to lose one more time with games against UConn, Louisville and Cincinnati left.

The defending champion Florida Gators reside one spot ahead of the Trojans in the BCS, but that won't last. Not only do the Gators already have two losses under their belts, they've got several difficult tests ahead of them against teams like Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State. Even if they win out in the regular season their reward will be an SEC Championship Game meeting with LSU.

All of that brings us to The Ohio State University and their current status as the number one team in the country. So far the Buckeyes have beaten pretty much nobody, but the real tests start this week as they travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State.

I believe they'll take care of business against Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions and go on to beat their next two opponents, Wisconsin and Illinois. Should they win those games it'll mean a young and relatively inexperienced Ohio State team will have to travel to Ann Arbor and beat their bitter rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, in order to play for all the marbles.

With their season destroyed almost before it even began, you know the Wolverines and their trio of senior stars have had this game circled as their last chance at glory. I can't see Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Jake Long allowing the resurgent Wolverines to lose on their home field to their most hated rival, so I'll call it right now:

Michigan 27 Ohio State 23

The outcome of that game, combined with the fact that I believe USC will have risen to the #3 spot in the BCS by then will inexplicably return the college football world right back to where it all started, with USC and LSU battling for the ultimate prize.

It seems outlandish, improbable and downright confusing I know, but what would be a better finish to one of the greatest seasons in college football history? They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. And in a season of ultimate change no truer words have ever been spoken.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Way To Go Joe

It's now been seven years since the Evil Empire lifted the World Series trophy as the undisputed kings of the baseball world, a fact that was not lost on Yankees ownership who all but guaranteed that manager Joe Torre would be the scapegoat of another post-season loss.

That Torre seemed on his way out of New York was not overly surprising given the fact that anything short of a World Series win is considered a failure by the Yankees. What was surprising was the manner in which a man who has led his team to the playoffs every year since being hired and won four titles along the way was treated.

Ask anyone who has spent any time around Torre and they'll most likely gush over his class and dignity as a man and as the leader of a team. In fact in the 12 years since Torre has been the man for the Yanks, I don't think I've ever heard a negative word uttered in his general direction.

That is of course except for the jabbing of Yankees brass and the constant threats to fire a man who has done nothing short of define an entire generation of Yankees baseball.

Shouldn't he be above all this? I'll tell you right now that if Torre had managed the San Francisco Giants for the last 12 years and did as much winning as he's done, they would have erected a statue of the man right next to the one of Giants legend Willie Mays.

That's why it brought a giant smile to my face when the news came down on Thursday that Torre had turned down the one-year offer from the team to return for a 13th season. No longer will Torre be jerked around by his unappreciative bosses, and I say good for him.

The bottom line is that the Yankees, whether they know it or not, need Torre a lot more than he needs them and I applaud the man for finally saying enough is enough.

What's interesting is that the Yankees seem poised to enter another period in their history where they will be led by younger, up-and-coming players, much like they were when Torre took over in 1996.

Back then it was the likes of a Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez who carried the Yanks to four World Series wins in five years led by the steady hand of Torre.

Now with the Yankees focusing more on building from within as they did in the mid-90's it'll have to be guys like Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain who lead the Bronx Bombers back to the top of the heap. Only this time they'll have to do it without arguably the best manager in the game.

The Yankees, as usual, brought this on themselves as instead of building teams in the image of their leader they went the mercenary route in what can only be described as a blind rage over losing in the 2001 and 2003 World Series to two expansion teams (D-Backs and Marlins respectively).

Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, the list goes on and on of guys brought in with the express purpose of delivering a championship and yet it was the scrappy, defense and pitching first teams of Torre's first few years that brought home all the hardware. Funny that.

So the question now is what's next for the veteran skipper? He could be great on television either as an in-game or studio analyst, but something tells me a man with his type of competitive nature will find it hard to stay away from the game he's given his entire life to.

My suggestion would be for him to go the TV route for a year or so and then take over for Joe Maddon as the manager of none other than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Sounds crazy I know, but bear with me.

This past year Baseball America ranked the Rays as the top overall organization in terms of talent in the minor leagues. That after four straight years of being in the top ten of those rankings.

Like the Yankees in 1996, the Rays in say 2009 will have a plethora of young talent with major league experience at their disposal and what better guy to hand the reigns to than Torre whose opening day roster could look something like this:

C - Dioner Navarro - Interestingly a former Yankee top prospect, didn't have the best year but is only 23 and is loaded with talent.
1B - Carlos Pena - Swatted a career-high 46 home runs in 2007 at 29 years old.
2B - B.J. Upton - Hit .300 with 24 HRs as a 22-year-old in 2007. Played centerfield in 2007, and could move back there if Rocco Baldelli can't get healthy.
3B - Evan Longoria - One of the game's top 10 overall prospects who could be the Rays opening day third baseman in 2008 at age 22.
SS - Reid Brignac - Another of Tampa's big time prospects who has been compared to Jeter because of his skills, leadership and makeup. Look for him in 2009.
LF - Carl Crawford - Will be 27 come 2009 and the team has club options on his contract for both 2009 and 2010.
CF - Rocco Baldelli - Will also be 27 in 2009 and if he can overcome a string of injuries could return to his form of 2004 when he hit 16 HRs and stole 17 bases as a 22-year-old.
RF - Delmon Young - All Young did as a 21-year-old in 2007 was play in 162 games while hitting .288 with 93 RBIs. One of the game's brightest young talents.
DH - Akinori Iwamura - The Japanese import hit .285 this year with a .770 OPS and could fill in at three of the four infield spots and left field if someone needs a day off.

SP - Scott Kazmir - At 23 Kazmir has established himself as one of the top lefty starters in baseball. If they can re-sign him he could be Torre's new Pettitte.
SP - James Shields - 25-year-old Shields is the perfect compliment to Kazmir, would form a killer short-series duo for Torre. All he did was post a 184/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2007.

I don't know about you, but if I was a manager with a proven track record of success with young players and a bit of a bone to pick with a divisional rival I would be begging for the Tampa Bay job.

Not to mention the fact that signing a guy like Torre would probably accelerate plans to get the Rays out of the dump that is Tropicana Field as well as attract a few top flight free agents to sure up the bullpen and provide depth to an already talent-laden roster.

Who knows what the future holds, but for my money Torre is one of my all-time favorite coaches right alongside guys like Bill Walsh, Tyrone Willingham and Mike Krzyzewski.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Can you name the only member of the Minnesota Vikings who averaged over five yards per carry, over 10 yards per reception and over 10 yards per punt return in 2006?

The answer is of course running back/receiver/return specialist Mewelde Moore who has played the role of the forgotten man this year for the Purple and Gold.

He's not injured (for once) and yet Moore has found himself inactive three times already in 2007 for a team struggling for the most part to find explosive plays on offense. Sure Adrian Peterson has been great, but eventually teams will make someone else beat them and when that happens I just can't see Troy Williamson answering the call more often than not.

In Moore, the Vikings have a guy who has proven he can catch the ball as well as contribute in a big way as a kick/punt returner and yet they seem unwilling to give him a chance to contribute. They must think he's valuable however, as they recently balked at trade requests from several teams involving Moore.

For a team so desperate for points, it boggles the mind why Brad Childress hasn't found a way to get Moore into the "kick-ass" offense which has mustered all of three passing touchdowns in five games.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Childress work with a guy named Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia who himself is an undersized jack of all trades? That's not to insinuate that Moore is quite the player Westbrook is, but the similarities are there.

In his second season as a pro (2003) Westbrook gained 613 yards rushing, 332 yards receiving and 306 yards as a punt returner. In Moore's second season (2005) he gained 662 yards rushing, 339 yards receiving and 245 yards as a punt returner.

For the record, that's 1,251 yards for Westbrook and 1,246 yards for Moore.

Before the season Childress promised to get Peterson and Chester Taylor on the field together; a situation that has yet to become a real part of the offense. But what about getting Moore out there alongside Peterson or Taylor to really give teams something to think about defensively?

At the very least can't we see Moore returning punts? Apparently not as Childress seems OK with the fact that Bobby Wade is only averaging 5.8 yards per return with a long of 13 yards. Numbers that aren't helping an offense that could benefit from a short field from time to time to take the pressure off their young quarterback.

Having spent time around him I know that Mewelde feels slighted by not having been given the opportunity to be the feature back after the 2005 season. And while he does pout from time to time about that very thing, that doesn't change the fact that he could be a very useful weapon.

For a guy who was raised in the West Coast Offense it seems very odd to me that Childress has been unable to get production out of a pass catching tailback with the ability to take it to the house at any time. It smacks of his total misuse of the tight end spot in 2006.

So while the Vikings continue to try and find points from someone not named Peterson or Longwell, Moore will apparently continue to waste away on the bench despite his considerable skills.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quick Hitters

Just a few random thoughts I'd like to share on this chilly Friday night:

  • It's OK Minnesota fans, I also think it's freaking weird to see Kevin Garnett in Celtic Green.
  • What exactly did Patriots' receiver Wes Welker mean when he said that if you look at teammate Randy Moss you might not think he's smart, but he is? I'd love to hear an explanation there.
  • I don't think I've ever been more disappointed in an athlete I loved more than I am with Marion Jones.
  • Just thinking about the fact that the California Golden Bears were a Florida goal line stand away from being the #1 team in the country last week gives me goose bumps. That said, Oregon State scares the heck out of yours truly.
  • Why is it when T.O. is just being T.O. it bothers people, but when it's just Manny being Manny it's funny?

  • Wasn't it just a couple of years ago people were calling the NL West the worst division in baseball?
  • Some advice for Joe Torre. Joe, you're a great and dignified man who doesn't need the Yankees as much as they need you. Don't let them jerk you around any more and just walk away, you deserve a little down time.
  • I miss Tiger already.
  • Anyone else watch the Wake Forest/Florida State game last night and wonder, who the hell gave those guys whistles and striped shirts?
  • Say what you will about Michael Vick the criminal, the man made a huge difference on the football field. By the way, how's Joey Harrington working out in Atlanta?
  • Will someone please just make a deal for Kobe already?
  • Big one in Big D this weekend. Too bad no matter who wins both teams will make it to the playoffs. Betcha USC wishes they were an NFL team right about now.
  • ARod, look at me, they will love you in San Francisco. That's what we do, we love our stars no matter what and the more people on the outside hate you it'll just makes us love you more. Oh, and I'm sick of Pedro Feliz and his sub-.300 on-base percentage.
  • Speaking of Mr. Feliz, say hello to your new third baseman Twins fans. Admit it, he's just the kind of guy that team loves. Great glove+streaky bat = perfect fit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Devil's Advocate: Travis Johnson

OK, so I've been known to side with the unpopular side of many sports related arguments, which of course leads me to many heated "discussions" with those on the other side of the fence. Barry Bonds for instance (heh).

This week I'm introducing a new weekly feature here on the site that I like to call "Devil's Advocate". Each week I'll defend the actions of someone or something that I feel needs defending. Agree with me? Great, let me know. Disagree? Even better. Either way I want to know what you think, because really what good is an argument without others to argue with?

For the first installment of "Devil's Advocate" we'll go to the NFL and the unfortunate incident that dominated the Dolphins/Texans game last Sunday.

If you missed it, Dolphins quarterback Trent Green threw a low (and legal) block on Texans defensive lineman Travis Johnson which resulted in a grade-three concussion of Green after his head collided with Johnson's knee.

The concussion is the second in as many years for Green, and the severity of this one could potentially end Green's career. The controversial part of this story however was Johnson's reaction to Green as he laid unconscious on the field.

After the play was over, Johnson proceeded to stand over the injured quarterback and yell at him, seemingly taunting Green for what he deemed to be a dirty play on the part of the Dolphins signal caller.

Johnson's tirade cost his team a 15-yard penalty and drew the ire of Dolphins players and media members around the country. Interestingly, the NFL decided on Tuesday not to fine Johnson for his actions.

Since Sunday I've heard most people side with Green, defending the legality of the low block and the toughness it took for him to try and spring the ball carrier on the play. What I haven't heard much of is people going after Green for what I look at as a bit of a cheap shot.

While I'm not going to sit here and attack a guy who may never play again, I am going to say that I feel Johnson was well within his right to be angry at Green for going after his knees and nearly ending his career.

Johnson was the 16th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, picked by a Texans out of Florida State. Of course if you're wondering why you haven't heard much from the former first-round draft choice, there's a perfectly good reason.

That reason is injuries. The downfall of many first-rounders over the years, Johnson as been limited in his career due to an assortment of ailments, including a torn calf muscle that sent him to the injured reserve in 2006.

To me it's easy to see why a guy who has struggled with leg injuries through his short career would take major exception with a quarterback basically trying to take him out at the knees. And I find it curious that some people think Johnson should have sucked it up and moved on.

We're talking about a man's livelihood here and I'm never going to fault a player who gets emotional over something like this. It's a violent game and the rule on those type of blocks should be seriously looked at by the NFL. But Johnson, who is listed as questionable for this week's game, should not be vilified for his actions on Sunday.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Have You Seen Me Lately?

It's no secret that I love college football for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the sheer number of unbelievable playmakers who dot the college football landscape.

But unless you're one super-cool guy and have multiple monitors hooked up to ESPN's College Gameplan service, chances are you've missed some of the more exciting and explosive players from all over the country.

Sometimes it can be difficult to decide which games to watch on a Saturday afternoon, so here now is a list of five must-see talents to help you ease the strain of the carpal tunnel syndrome you've no doubt developed from all the channel surfing.

The Quarterback: Everyone knows the big names like Brian Brohm, Andre Woodson and Tim Tebow. But perhaps you noticed the severe beating the Missouri Tigers handed the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday night.

The architect of that beat-down was Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel who racked up a career-high 401 yards passing and tossed in 72 yards rushing for good measure. Of course gaudy offensive numbers are nothing new for the 6-foot junior from Southlake, Texas.

Now in his second year as the starting quarterback for the Tigers, Daniel is building on an outstanding 2006 campaign in which he finished with over 3,900 total yards and 32 touchdowns after taking over for uber-athlete Brad Smith.

All Daniel's done this year is complete nearly 67% of his passes including 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He's also second on the team with 188 rushing yards and tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three.

The guy can flat do it all for an offense that demands nothing less from their signal caller. He gets another huge test next weekend as he leads the undefeated Tigers into Norman to face the Oklahoma Sooners in what could be a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game.

The Track Star: It seems nearly impossible that a guy listed at 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds could make it in the roughest conference in the nation, but not all 5-foot-5 160 pound guys can run a 10.02 in the 100 meters.

That's exactly what LSU tailback Trindon Holliday can do however and perhaps no player strikes more fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators than Holliday, who is easily the smallest guy on the field at all times.

His stats aren't big, but it's a rare talent to make 80,000 people collectively hold their breath every time you touch the football. Whether it's on a hand off, a catch or a kick return LSU's head coach Les Miles knows his guy is faster than all of your guys and he's not afraid to let him loose.

In fact Holliday was nearly overlooked completely as he received only three official offers to play college football. LSU, Southern Mississippi and Southern University were the only players in the race for Holliday's services and the diminutive speedster could not turn down the opportunity to play football and run track in the SEC.

As the ultimate x-factor for the nation's best team Holliday has turned into a star in Baton Rouge despite only touching the ball 30 times all year on offense. At his size Holliday may never get a chance to play on Sunday, but as only a sophomore college football fans will get to enjoy the nation's most explosive player for at least another year or two.

The country gets another chance to check out Holliday as he and the top-ranked LSU Tigers take on SEC upstart Kentucky on CBS.

The Go-To Guy: Let me guess, you don't have the Big Ten network either. Of course this year we're not missing much, but one thing we are missing is the brilliant play of Purdue wide receiver Dorien Bryant.

To say Purdue likes to throw the ball around is an understatement, and that's just fine with Bryant who has made a habit of making big plays to the tune of over 3,000 receiving yards since arriving on campus.

Well on his way to a third consecutive 80+ catch season, Bryant already ranks third on Purdue's all-time receptions list. At 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds Bryant is not the biggest guy around, but if you like circus-quality catches then Bryant is your guy.

Watch out for Bryant at the next level as he'd be a perfect fit for a team in need of a sure-handed target with the ability to run after the catch (ahem, Vikings, ahem).

The Freshman: Florida Atlantic University is the last place you'd expect to find big time playmakers, but at 3-3 the Owls are no pushover. So for a team on the rise it's no surprise that it's a redshirt freshman who is helping to lead the way.

That freshman is Tavious Polo who leads the nation with seven interceptions through the team's first six games. Minnesota fans got an up-close look at the talented Polo as he victimized the Gophers for three INTs, including the game-clincher, in a 42-39 win.

Polo spurned the opportunity to go to Lousiville and instead stayed closer to home at FAU. Another undersized guy, Polo's instincts and ability to find the football are tremendous and he should only get better along with the rest of his Owl teammates.

The Hawk: C'mon now, you didn't really think I was going to get through a list like this without including a California Golden Bear did you?

While everyone knows about Heisman Trophy candidate DeSean Jackson, I think most people would be surprised to know it's actually senior wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins who leads the potent Bears offense with 342 receiving yards.

Cal may have the nation's best trio of receivers, and while Jackson gets the headlines for his highlight reel exploits, it's Hawkins who has become the team's most consistent performer in the passing game.

"The Hawk" as they call him, is on pace to have his best season in Berkeley and has helped lead Cal to their current ranking of #2 in the country. Hawkins originally signed with LSU out of high school, but transferred back to the West Coast where he grew up.

The Bears are happy to have him and you can check him out next Saturday as Cal takes on Oregon State on the VS. Network.

Friday, October 5, 2007

How Bad are the Minnesota Vikings???

There's always hope, or at least it seems that way.

For the Minnesota Vikings and their fans there has been plenty of hope the last two years that this team was on the right track. However one season and four games into the Brad Childress era that hope seems to be turning to despair rather quickly.

The hope started before the 2006 season when the Vikings announced the hiring of Childress, who was a long-time assistant and Andy Reid understudy. He was going to shape things up in a Minnesota locker room that had been painted an ugly shade of purple following the now infamous boat party.

He was also going to bring the vaunted West Coast offense into the fold which promised to take advantage of veteran quarterback Brad Johnson's skill set. Don't forget it was Johnson who guided the Vikings to seven wins in their final nine games and a second place finish in the NFC North in 2005.

Things were looking up.

And then came the free agents. Chester Taylor, Steve Hutchinson, Dwight Smith, Tank Williams and Ben Leber all signed on for what was going to be one of the most improved teams in the NFL.

Then, as if a sign from above, Koren Robinson was arrested in a high-speed chase through a few sleepy Minnesota towns during training camp. Childress and the team took the hard-line approach with the troubled receiver and jettisoned him, but it was clear that the first year head coach did not have the noose-tight control over his players that he wanted.

As if the Robinson episode weren't enough, the team's top draft pick, linebacker Chad Greenway, would blow out his knee covering kicks in the very first quarter of the very first pre-season game.

Training camp that year would also feature the first glimpse at Childress' trademark paranoia as he refused to even comment on the number of wide receivers they might carry. Of course we all know what a huge tactical advantage that might give the opposition.

Through all that however there was still hope.

And early on it seemed the hope had been justified as the team jumped out to a 4-2 start that included a 31-13 thrashing of the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. That start was followed by four straight losses and the season of hope was effectively over.

Down the stretch the veteran quarterback would get benched, Marcus Robinson would be placed on the inactive list several times for no apparently good reason, and former top pick Troy Williamson would suffer from bouts of blindness and tourette syndrome when passes came his way.

Meanwhile the locker room would divide itself between an inept offense which was incapable of scoring points and a stifling defense which only gave up 24 touchdowns all year. On one side would also stand a head coach who commanded little respect among the veterans and a defensive coordinator who was universally beloved, but I digress.

Which leads us to 2007 and the re-birth hope.

The prevailing thought was that it couldn't get any worse. The team had drafted arguably the best player in the draft in running back Adrian Peterson, they were returning that stingy defense and the coach had a year of mistakes under his belt to learn from. No one expected a Super Bowl run, but things were going to be better.

The first week went pretty well too, as the Vikings executed their blueprint for wins. Solid running game, controlled passing attack and defensive domination in the 24-3 win over the Vick-less Atlanta Falcons.

Hope, hope, hope.

Three weeks later and what has really changed? The defense is still solid, giving up gobs of passing yards but doing a good job of keeping teams out of the end zone and creating turnovers. Meanwhile the offense has somehow found a way to one-up its previous level of awfulness, only scoring one more touchdown than the defense through four games.

Peterson has been a bright spot without question, but Childress seems intent on limiting him with Taylor also pining for carries. And inexplicably Childress sees it as a good idea to run the organization's only ticket-selling asset out to return kicks. I seem to remember everyone being very concerned about a certain collarbone during the pre-season, but again, I digress.

They've got three quarterbacks, none of which can even be considered NFL-average. They've got a set of receivers whose top target (Bobby Wade) is the proud owner of exactly two career touchdown catches. They also spent more money than they had to on an overrated tight end with a cool name.

They've got an offensive coordinator whose coaching claim to fame is that he once was employed by Brett Favre's Packers and has never called his own plays. Of course Childress never did that either before last year, and that worked out well.

The worst part of all is that there seems to be no discernible direction with the current coaching staff and the organization as a whole. The team has drafted quite well the past two years, but that's about all that has gone really right.

Still, this is the NFL we're talking about. The league where it only takes from one year to the next for a team to get good - just ask the Lions - so I suppose there is still hope. Lets just say I'm glad I'm not a Vikings fan.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Big Game Beckett

Some guys just have it. Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Roger Federer, those guys just know how to rise above the fray in the biggest moments and bring home the proverbial bacon. Well you can go ahead and add another name to that ultra-clutch list, and his name is Josh Beckett.

Wednesday night Beckett spun another post-season web, shutting down and shutting out an Angels team that ranked in the top-5 in hits, runs, batting average and on-base percentage in the AL this season.

The shutout was the third of Beckett's career in what now is his fourth post-season series. In the history of the Red Sox there have only been six playoff shutouts, and Beckett now owns one of them.

The one series he didn't record a shut out in? The 2003 NLDS against my beloved Giants where he gave up all of one earned run and actually lost his only start.

That happened to be his first ever post-season start, so I'm willing to forgive him. Since then Beckett has pitched in six more playoff games, giving up more than two earned runs exactly once and recording those three shutouts.

What's even more impressive than just the numbers is the circumstances under which Beckett seems to be able to call upon his best stuff. In 2003, with the Marlins trailing the Cubs 3-1 in the NLCS, it was Beckett who tossed a two-hit shutout that included 11 strikeouts and just one walk.

That performance (and a little help from some guy named Bartman) catapulted the Marlins to a 4-3 series win. And just for good measure Beckett came back on two days rest and recorded a hold in game seven.

His next gem would come in the 2003 World Series where he famously stymied the big bad Yankees, twirling a five-hit shutout and giving the Marlins their second World Series title.

So fast-forward to Wednesday night and should we really be surprised that an older, wiser and healthier Josh Beckett absolutely dominated a very talented Angels club? I think not.

The real treat for a guy like me who loves pitching is that Beckett should get a lot more opportunities to show just how great he is with a winning team like the Red Sox. The Boston faithful gave Roger Clemens the nickname "The Rocket". Let me be the first to anoint Beckett as simply "Big Game".