Thursday, March 31, 2005

NFL DRAFT PREVIEW

Since this draft is so unsettled and the Patriots have the last pick of the first round again (not that I would ever complain about that), I thought I’d take a peek at the top of the draft, where even the experts are at a loss to predict who will be picked early.

#1 SAN FRANCISCO:

The question in the 2005 NFL Draft is not which player should be the number one pick, because then the obvious choice based on talent, immediate impact, and long-term impact would be wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan or Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. However, with this being the number one overall pick of the draft, and San Francisco having three seventh round draft picks who have done little to distinguish themselves in the NFL, everything points to a quarterback.

This choice is especially made for them already what with rumors of trying to bring aboard troubled but talented wide receiver David Boston, and the fact that they have shelled out huge bonus money to super-chump running back Kevan Barlow. How do they, in light of these choices they have already made, pick a running back or a wide receiver with the first pick?

There is a trade rumor I’ve heard that San Francisco has already tried to squash as untrue of the 49ers trading the number one overall pick to San Diego for their number one pick last season, quarterback Philip Rivers. This would be great for the Chargers, who would be able to draft Braylon Edwards to go make a big three (or four) with QB Drew Brees, RB LaDanian Tomlinson (and possibly Keenan McCardell as the four in the equation).

Since I don’t see the benefit for San Francisco unless they are really high on Rivers, they appear to have that draft day dilemma of which quarterback to choose: Aaron Rodgers of California or Alex Smith of Utah. Much like the Drew Bledsoe & Rick Mirer, Peyton Manning & Ryan Leaf, or Tim Couch & Donovan McNabb & Akili Smith & Daunte Culpepper, these choices can make or break a franchise.

For San Francisco, most reports list them as leaning for Aaron Rodgers over Alex Smith. Personally, I would be scared to death to draft Alex Smith in the top half of the draft. To me, Smith is a project. Projects get drafted at the end of the first round if they have superior talents or in the middle to late rounds. The one thing about Smith that makes me shudder is the fact that he is a shotgun quarterback who is not used to playing under center. Great, just what you want with your number one draft pick: a quarterback who does not know how to drop back in the pocket. Sorry, I know I would have no interest in teaching a top five pick basic quarterback skills when he is needed to step in and produce immediately.

#2 MIAMI:

Poor Nick Saban, I would bet that LSU is looking pretty good right now as he digs into the reconstruction of the Miami Dolphins. The biggest problem facing Saban is going to be fan expectations. This team is not ready to compete this year, or the year after. Nor were they in any position to compete last year, with or without Ricky Williams. Their defense is aging, they have salary cap issues, they have no impact running back, quarterback, or wide receiver (That is, unless you believe wide receiver Chris Chambers will someday magically become the impact player he has shown flashes of over the years. Personally, I see him as a better physically built Terry Glenn; inconsistency is his calling card.), and they had a blithering idiot at the helm with a mustache that was described in conjunction with his pained sideline expression in Maxim, or FHM, or one of those Lad Mags as the Lip-Hamster of Indecision. That just about sums up Dave Wannstedt perfectly.

So who does Miami choose? Most likely, it is down to quarterback or running back. If San Francisco takes Aaron Rodgers, does Miami take Alex Smith? Or is A.J. Feeley, really the answer for the Dolphins at the quarterback position long term? (Um, just a guess, but no!) I think Miami feels compelled to give Feeley every chance to win the position, as they did give up a second round pick to Philadelphia for him.

So it comes down to running back. Auburn has two backs that will likely be top five or top ten picks this year: Ronnie H2 Hummer Brown and Carnell Cadillac Williams. Also, Texas running back Cedric Benson, who has inexplicably fallen to the number three back in the draft for some bizarre reason (I know, he doesn’t run in a straight line for forty yards as fast as the other two; like that is a relevant reason for him to drop. I think his production in college against quality opponents should factor a bit more into the decision.), should still be a top five pick.

Brown has the potential to be a special back; he has a great attitude, a great work ethic, has power and speed, and has been compared to LaDanian Tomlinson, except Brown is a bit stronger. It is a no-brainer. Miami should get the premier running back in the draft at number two.

#3 Cleveland

Here is what Romeo Crennel wants out of this spot in the draft: he wants to find another Richard Seymour. Unfortunately, I do not see another defensive lineman who is strong enough to play inside against the run and still quick enough to play outside and pressure the quarterback in 3-4 defensive alignment. So where to turn for Cleveland?

Crennel must be trying to get this pick moved to pick up a couple more picks because Cleveland, as the result of horrible drafting and personnel decisions by the Butch Davis regime, is desperate at many positions on both sides of the ball. GM Phil Savage and Crennel have tried to fill some of the gaping holes via free agency, but they still need an infusion of youth and talent on offense and defense.

I see Cleveland, if forced to stay in the three hole taking the best available player (Braylon Edwards, wide receiver out of Michigan), or if they can trade down to the 7 through 15 spot and grab an extra pick in the second or third round, grabbing one of the many talented defensive ends available in that range.

* * *

WHITHER WILLIAM GREEN?

Since I’m on the subject of the Cleveland Browns, and since Patriots good-guy offensive guard Joe Andruzzi is there with former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, it seems appropriate to touch base on another Cleveland Brown with a Boston background. With Rueben Droughns arriving recently via a trade with Denver to be Mr. Inside and Lee Suggs as Mr. Outside in Cleveland, former Boston College running back William Green is looking like Mr. Released. After trying to sign restricted free agent Chester Taylor away from Baltimore only to have Baltimore match the offer, Cleveland has been trying to get anything in return for the talented but troubled tailback, Romeo Crennel is pretty close to the point where he will say enough is enough and dump the troubled young man into the wasteland of the pre-draft free agent market.

Could or would the Patriots consider signed the troubled local star? Um, no would be the likely answer. Drugs, alcohol, and spousal abuse issues are more than enough to keep the Kraft family from giving him another chance. Green’s best chance would be to latch onto a team desperate for a running back, which means waiting until after the draft to find that team that missed out on Cadillac Williams.

Being one failed alcohol or drug test from a mandatory one year suspension no doubt also weighs on any decision by NFL personnel men to pick up Green. I don’t blame Romeo Crennel for wanting to clear out the deadwood on the team. They need a fresh start top to bottom, just like the post-Pete Carroll Patriots needed when Bill Belichick took over. Of course, the Patriots had a bit more talent than the Browns do right now. Crennel has already been active in jettisoning the deadweight, and Green, despite being a first round pick in 2002, is just another negative on a team in need of positives.

* * *

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

RED SOX OUTFIELD PREVIEW

One area the Red Sox appear to be set at this season is the outfield. Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Trot Nixon give the World Champions a very balanced look across the outfield expanse. Ramirez is one of the best right-handed hitters in the game right now. Consistently batting over .300 with 35 to 45 home runs and 100 plus RBIs, he’s an annual MVP candidate. His defense in left field, though greatly improved, is still average. Fortunately, as a left fielder, his flaws are minimized and he has the advantage of 80 games and years of experience with the Green Monster.

Johnny Damon, when not partying, divorcing, remarrying, growing his hair and beard out, or writing books, actually plays baseball once in a while. A former speedster, Damon does not steal bases as he did in Kansas City, but in Oakland and then here in Boston, that part of his game has been minimized. Damon has decent power, but prides himself on his leadoff hitter ability. He has good patience at the plate and works pitchers deep in the count and draws walks. He is an excellent fit as a table-setter for David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Damon used to be an above average fielder back in Kansas City, but since his concussion in the 2003 playoffs, his fielding has been shaky at best. He has problems going back on balls over his head and plays deeper than he did in his earlier years, allowing more singles to drop in front of him. His arm strength has always been below average. Damon is entering the last year of his contract, and hopefully he will put aside the book tour long enough to play some ball.

Trot Nixon is one of the few home-grown Red Sox and, believe it or not, he actually pre-dates Dan Duquette as he was drafted by Lou Gorman. Nixon had a season to forget about last season, injuring his back on the drive to Florida and missing more time than Nomar. Nixon is a good defensive player who could fill-in at centerfield in a pinch. Nixon gives the Sox a solid, unspectacular player who will around .275 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs, which are good numbers considering he will likely hit in the two hole. As I stated in a previous blog entry, this is the ideal spot for Nixon and he should have been hitting there years ago. A healthy Trot Nixon is a big advantage for the Red Sox this year as Gabe Kapler, as well liked as he was in the clubhouse, and as huge as his Swartzerneggerian arms were, was the weak link in the line-up until Trot returned in September.

The bench is thin, with Jay Payton, a former starter the primary backup at all three outfield positions. Adam Hyzdu, who I thought would finally get a shot as reserve outfielder was dealt to San Diego where he will likely fill Payton’s role last season as reserve outfielder. Payton struggled to put up power numbers in Petco Park in San Diego just like every other hitter. Also, like every other hitter, his power numbers went through the roof in Colorado. Payton is a good defensive player with good athleticism, decent power, but all-in-all, nothing more than an adequate replacement for Gabe Kapler. David McCarty and Kevin Millar both have experience playing the outfield and could fill in if the Sox are in a tight spot.

The last name to throw around is Rule Five pickup from Atlanta, Adam Stern, who is likely to spend a majority of the season stashed on the disabled list. Stern has speed and gap power consistent with a young player. While he likely needs another year in the minors, the Red Sox will try to use him like Lenny DiNardo who came over in the Rule Five draft last season. DiNardo pitched sparingly and was always the first guy on the disabled list. This season, now that he does not have to spend the season on the twenty-five man roster or be offered back to his previous team, DiNardo will likely get a lot of work in Pawtucket. Expect Stern to follow the same path.

* * *

SWEET LOU:

Mentioning Lou Gorman got me thinking about how when he was general manager there were always these reports about him putting together mega-deals involving him trading Roger Clemens for a couple of players and a couple of prospects. Somehow, whether it was the other team getting cold feet or management over-ruling him, the deals never came about. Considering how in hindsight they never went anywhere with Clemens at the end of his Red Sox career and they got nothing back for him leaving, I’d love to find some old articles detailing these supposed blockbusters and see just who, with history behind us, the Red Sox would have received and if there were any potential deals for young future stars.

* * *

Tomorrow I intend to look at the top picks of the NFL draft and the uncertainty surrounding San Francisco, Miami, and Cleveland, who are no doubt desperately looking to find some poor sucker who wants to pick in the top three and will give up multiple picks in a draft that mirrors the Patriots: good depth, few stars.

* * *

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

MARCH MADNESS

March Madness for me means more than just watching the NCAA tournament; March Madness is the restless feeling of looking at dirty snow, brown grass, and muddy puddles and dreaming of the crew cut blades of vibrant green grass stretching across the outfield. The desire to smell leather comes from the thought of feeling the leather fielders glove fitting comfortably on my hand, and the feel of the rubber grip on a bat as I hold it in my hands and rotate my torso in a slow-motion swing, and the sun setting in my eyes as I stand in dusty infield.

March Madness is the overwhelming need to hold a small, spherical ball in my hand and lurch forward and hurl it in an entirely unnatural motion: overhand, three-quarters, and feeling the muscles in my arm protest as they stretch and extend into positions unknown for the past six months.

March Madness is holding the bat in my hands, alternately tightening and loosening my grip on it as I rock back and forth on my front and then back foot, finally settling on a weight distribution of 40-60 from front to back. The straining oblique and back muscles as the lower half of my body is at a ninety degree angle to the pitcher and my top half rotates toward the one holding the ball until I am staring directly forward with both eyes.

March Madness is why on the first day of spring, not the equinox, not the calendar day of spring, but, appropriately on Easter Sunday (a day of rebirth), the first day that the snow had melted enough to be able to be out on the grass, and warm enough to be outside without a jacket on, I was not inside on the couch watching a fantastic day of college basketball, but rather in the yard pitching waffle-ball batting practice to my son, daughter, and my nieces; floating my hanging curve over the middle of the plate and jumping and lurching for the ball like a monkey out of its cage for the first time after they hit it past me. Chasing the ball down from under cars, out of the road, and plucking it out of snow banks and mud puddles; pausing only for dessert and breaks to take the little ones to the potty, it was a day where you could look back at it and think: this is what life is all about.

Happy spring. Let’s play ball.

* * *

MARCH MADNESS, PART TWO

Two great pieces of news out of Fort Myers, FL, spring home of the world champion Boston Red Sox: One, Tim Wakefield’s latest line, six innings and one run. That is super news since without Shilling and Wade Miller for the first two weeks of the season, having Wakefield on the top of his game is a huge advantage for the Red Sox. Second, the health of Trot Nixon this spring is a huge lift to the team. Manager Terry Francona has already stated his line-up will have Trot hitting second and Edgar Renteria batting fifth or sixth.

This is a great idea.

Let me explain: Nixon, with Johnny Damon on base ahead of him, is going to get a lot more fastballs to see with the threat of Damon stealing second base. Renteria in the five or six gives him more RBI opportunities, but more importantly, rather that being on-base with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez coming up to bat, Renteria has a better chance to get the green light to use one of his many abilities to steal a couple of bases with Kevin Millar, Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller behind him rather than risking being thrown out and the bat being taken out of the hands of their two big hitters.

* * *

MARCH MADNESS, PART THREE:

What a weekend for college basketball. So much for the theory that the college game is diluted by having teenagers and underclassmen turning pro and leaving the college game bereft of talent. I did not catch all of the games, but those two on Saturday: Louisville storming back after coach Rick Pitino finally made some adjustments before the half on defense to keep West Virginia from firing off wide-open threes; and that Illinois comeback was simply incredible. I simply don’t know how the Final Four and championship games can top this past weekend.

* * *

THE DOLDRUMS

Ugh. What happened to the Green this weekend? Following up a mid-week clunker against the Knicks, the Celtics blew two shoulda-been-playoff-games this weekend against Chicago (likely first round opponent) and Detroit (team ahead of them in the standings). The Detroit game was especially galling due to Antoine Walker tossing up bricks from international waters like the old number eight. I also think Doc Rivers made a mistake not going to the bench early in the overtime period. Detroit basically lined up their starting five for the entire game. The Celtics bench is deep and young, and those young legs could have run Detroit into the ground in the first couple of minutes of overtime and given the starters a chance to rest a few minutes and then come out gunning. Maybe Doc Rivers doesn’t trust the kids in overtime against the defending champions, but I’d sure as heck given them a shot at a great learning and potentially confidence building experience.

* * *

Monday, March 28, 2005

RED SOX – BATS APLENTY

The Sox came into spring training with few question marks in the lineup and bullpen, and some serious questions about the starting pitching, which is why I spent a majority of the time looking at the Sox rotation. Let’s be proactive and take a quick preview of the Sox team before all the local papers and national publications do so next week. I’ll start with the infield today:

Catcher: Same as last season, we have Jason Varitek and super-sub Doug Mirabelli. Mirabelli is solid defensively with a plus throwing arm, but never gets to show much being the caddy for Tim Wakefield. Mirabelli has really come on offensively working with the Sox hitting coach, Papa Jack.

My one hope (and not just because V-tek is on my fantasy team) is that Francona lets Varitek catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield a few times this season. I still have recurring nightmares of all those passed balls by Varitek against the Yankees in the ALCS when he had to catch Wakey in extra innings. Varitek got his huge contract this winter and the C on his jersey as team captain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Varitek is the heart and soul of the team, the leader, and all that jazz. As a former catcher in my playing days so many years ago (softball doesn’t count, and no, they still have not got me back into the tools of ignorance), I understand the significance of a catcher who leads the pitching staff and has their full respect. Fortunately, there was no real market for Varitek (his value, really, exists only with the Red Sox. Other teams either could not afford him, or had the money but not the need at catcher); I was glad to see his psycho-agent, Scott Boras, was able to come down to numbers more agreeable to the Sox management.

In Pawtucket, Kelly Shoppach gets the luxury of another full season in triple-A.

First base: The Sox should again have plenty of options available. David Ortiz and Kevin Millar are equals defensively at first base, but Millar is apparently going to get more of the work there. Personally, I think Big Papi looks a little more fluid and graceful around the sack, but he certainly has performed well in the designated hitter role. One wonders if Millar would become too distracted on the bench all game without some time to himself on the field.

Millar won the battle against Doug Mientkiewicz which, really, was no contest. For an organization that has historically loved power at first base, Mientkiewicz stood no chance. Millar is a streaky hitter with some pop and is a good clutch hitter. He can certainly be infuriating when he gets cold, but when he’s hot he’s as dangerous as Papi and Manny.

David Ortiz, while not playing much first base, has become everything Mo Vaughn should have been in Boston. He is unfailingly positive in attitude, and absolutely devours pitching with his ability to hit with power to all fields. In addition to being the most clutch hitter ever in Red Sox history, he has improved against left-handed pitching as well. He is, like Manny, an MVP candidate every season. How did Minnesota let him walk for nothing again?

Dave McCarty will likely make the team as defensive replacement at first base, sixteenth inning outfield replacement, and blow-out mop-up pitcher. Kevin Youkilis also has gotten some work at first base and should play a few games over on the opposite corner should there be an injury or to give Millar a day off.

Second Base: Inexplicably to all the Todd Walker Fan Club members in Boston (I remember all the fuss about getting rid of Walker), this position belongs to Mark Bellhorn. Ramon Vazquez is the backup in the infield and also will backup at shortstop and possibly third base if back-to-back doubleheaders ever come up.

Going by past history, Bellhorn should flame out and be traded by the All-Star break after hitting .195 with 2 home runs and 115 strike outs; however, I’d like to think that he’s matured enough as a player to be a consistent power threat at the bottom of the order. I like Bellhorn, he’s not the most athletically gifted players, but he can hit with some pop, draws walks, works deep into the count, and I will remember his home run clanking off the right field foul pole in the playoffs for the rest of my days. Barring a catastrophe, Bellhorn will more than fill his role at second base for the Sox.

Short stop: The Nomar era is over. The O.C. is in O.C. All hail Edgar Renteria. Renteria, despite his 2003 season, is unlikely to hit thirty home runs, but he is the best all-around shortstop in the game that actually plays shortstop (as A-Rod inexplicably is still playing third base for the Yankees). He hits for average, power, drives in runs, scores runs, steals bases, wins gold gloves, is clutch, and has always been a winner no matter what team he has played for in the league. I was championing the cause that the Red Sox trade Nomar for Renteria since Garciaparra originally injured his wrist, so you can imagine how excited I am to see Edgar at shortstop.

Renteria will be backed up by Ramon Vazquez, who is a very good fielder who can hit a little and can step in for a day off or fill in for a fifteen game disabled list trip. Vazquez is never going to be confused with an all-star, but he is certainly no Spike Owen, either.

Third Base: Bill Mueller has retained his grasp on the position for what is likely his final year with the Red Sox. As much as I personally like Mueller, this position will belong to Kevin Youkilis in the near future.

Mueller has come back strong from knee surgery late in the winter and will likely play 120 to 130 games at third base this season. Mueller is simply a professional. He comes to the park, he fields everything, he hits everything off of everyone, and is liked by all players and fans. That attitude, along with his batting title and historic regular season home run off of Mariano Riviera in the famous A-Rod Eats Leather game secure him a spot in Red Sox history forever.

Kevin Youkilis is a player I expect to really break-out this season. Youkilis will never hit 30 home runs, but he has deceptive power. He is a good, but not great fielder. What he has is the uncanny patience and eye that led him to be called the Greek God of Walks in the fantastic book on Billy Beane and his front-office philosophy in Oakland, Moneyball. One day soon, Youkilis will be the batting champion on Landsdown Street.

* * *

CELTICS – CAN THEY REBOUND

The Celtics look to put their stinkfest Wednesday against the Knickerbockers behind them with a couple of games this weekend. Friday night against the Bulls stands as a potential first round match-up. It will be interesting to see if the Celtics come out prepared to play and make a positive statement. They’ve built up a lot of goodwill and interest in the NBA in Boston again; hopefully, they can keep the positive momentum going.

* * *

RED SOX – BATS APLENTY

The Sox came into spring training with few question marks in the lineup and bullpen, and some serious questions about the starting pitching, which is why I spent a majority of the time looking at the Sox rotation. Let’s be proactive and take a quick preview of the Sox team before all the local papers and national publications do so next week. I’ll start with the infield today:

Catcher: Same as last season, we have Jason Varitek and super-sub Doug Mirabelli. Mirabelli is solid defensively with a plus throwing arm, but never gets to show much being the caddy for Tim Wakefield. Mirabelli has really come on offensively working with the Sox hitting coach, Papa Jack.

My one hope (and not just because V-tek is on my fantasy team) is that Francona lets Varitek catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield a few times this season. I still have recurring nightmares of all those passed balls by Varitek against the Yankees in the ALCS when he had to catch Wakey in extra innings. Varitek got his huge contract this winter and the C on his jersey as team captain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Varitek is the heart and soul of the team, the leader, and all that jazz. As a former catcher in my playing days so many years ago (softball doesn’t count, and no, they still have not got me back into the tools of ignorance), I understand the significance of a catcher who leads the pitching staff and has their full respect. Fortunately, there was no real market for Varitek (his value, really, exists only with the Red Sox. Other teams either could not afford him, or had the money but not the need at catcher,); I was glad to see his psycho-agent, Scott Boras, was able to come down to numbers more agreeable to the Sox management.

In Pawtucket, Kelly Shoppach gets the luxury of another full season in triple-A.

First base: The Sox should again have plenty of options available. David Ortiz and Kevin Millar are equals defensively at first base, but Millar is apparently going to get more of the work there. Personally, I think Big Papi looks a little more fluid and graceful around the sack, but he certainly has performed well in the designated hitter role. One wonders if Millar would become too distracted on the bench all game without some time to himself on the field.

Millar won the battle against Doug Mientkiewicz which, really, was no contest. For an organization that has historically loved power at first base, Mientkiewicz stood no chance. Millar is a streaky hitter with some pop and is a good clutch hitter. He can certainly be infuriating when he gets cold, but when he’s hot he’s as dangerous as Papi and Manny.

David Ortiz, while not playing much first base, has become everything Mo Vaughn should have been in Boston. He is unfailingly positive in attitude, and absolutely devours pitching with his ability to hit with power to all fields. In addition to being the most clutch hitter ever in Red Sox history, he has improved against left-handed pitching as well. He is, like Manny, an MVP candidate every season. How did Minnesota let him walk for nothing again?

Dave McCarty will likely make the team as defensive replacement at first base, sixteenth inning outfield replacement, and blow-out mop-up pitcher. Kevin Youkilis also has gotten some work at first base and should play a few games over on the opposite corner should there be an injury or to give Millar a day off.

Second Base: Inexplicably to all the Todd Walker Fan Club members in Boston (I remember all the fuss about getting rid of Walker), this position belongs to Mark Bellhorn. Ramon Vazquez is the backup in the infield and also will backup at shortstop and possibly third base if back-to-back doubleheaders ever come up.

Going by past history, Bellhorn should flame out and be traded by the All-Star break after hitting .195 with 2 home runs and 115 strike outs; however, I’d like to think that he’s matured enough as a player to be a consistent power threat at the bottom of the order. I like Bellhorn, he’s not the most athletically gifted players, but he can hit with some pop, draws walks, works deep into the count, and I will remember his home run clanking off the right field foul pole in the playoffs for the rest of my days. Barring a catastrophe, Bellhorn will more than fill his role at second base for the Sox.

Short stop: The Nomar era is over. The O.C. is in O.C. All hail Edgar Renteria. Renteria, despite his 2003 season, is unlikely to hit thirty home runs, but he is the best all-around shortstop in the game that actually plays shortstop (as A-Rod inexplicably is still playing third base for the Yankees). He hits for average, power, drives in runs, scores runs, steals bases, wins gold gloves, is clutch, and has always been a winner no matter what team he has played for in the league. I was championing the cause that the Red Sox trade Nomar for Renteria since Garciaparra originally injured his wrist, so you can imagine how excited I am to see Edgar at shortstop.

Renteria will be backed up by Ramon Vazquez, who is a very good fielder who can hit a little and can step in for a day off or fill in for a fifteen game disabled list trip. Vazquez is never going to be confused with an all-star, but he is certainly no Spike Owen, either.

Third Base: Bill Mueller has retained his grasp on the position for what is likely his final year with the Red Sox. As much as I personally like Mueller, this position will belong to Kevin Youkilis in the near future.

Mueller has come back strong from knee surgery late in the winter and will likely play 120 to 130 games at third base this season. Mueller is simply a professional. He comes to the park, he fields everything, he hits everything off of everyone, and is liked by all players and fans. That attitude, along with his batting title and historic regular season home run off of Mariano Riviera in the famous A-Rod Eats Leather game secure him a spot in Red Sox history forever.

Kevin Youkilis is a player I expect to really break-out this season. Youkilis will never hit 30 home runs, but he has deceptive power. He is a good, but not great fielder. What he has is the uncanny patience and eye that led him to be called the Greek God of Walks in the fantastic book on Billy Beane and his front-office philosophy in Oakland, Moneyball. One day soon, Youkilis will be the batting champion on Landsdown Street.

* * *

CELTICS – CAN THEY REBOUND

The Celtics look to put their stinkfest Wednesday against the Knickerbockers behind them with a couple of games this weekend. Friday night against the Bulls stands as a potential first round match-up. It will be interesting to see if the Celtics come out prepared to play and make a positive statement. They’ve built up a lot of goodwill and interest in the NBA in Boston again; hopefully, they can keep the positive momentum going.

* * *

Friday, March 25, 2005

MARCH MADNESS REVISED

Sixty-four into one isn’t even going to be close for me…I was humiliated once again by the tourney and second round upsets. Brigstah, a.k.a. Knows Picks in the online pool, is again demonstrating the might of a canny, scientific mind and an unwavering faith in Villanova, so I guess I’ll take the difficult path and rather than call him up and ask his opinion, I’ll take a shot on turning sixteen into one:

CHICAGO:

Wisconsin-Milwaukee (12) vs. Illinois (1)

Yeah, everyone has to root for a twelve seed in the sweet sixteen, even if they are Cheeseheads, but I picked Illinois all the way and dammit that’s the way it will be.

Arizona (3) vs. Oklahoma State (2)
This is the second-best match-up of this round, and both teams are hot and evenly matched. When in doubt, bet on the Stoudamire (unless it is an NBA game), so I’m giving the edge to Salim Stoudamire and the Arizona Wildcats.

ALBUQUERQUE:

Louisville (4) vs. Washington (1)

Washington, who should have been a two or three seed according to the national pundits, has been playing angry with the perceived slight from the national press. Louisville is coached by Rick Pitino. Though I’ll never forgive Pitino for dumping Red Auerbach from the Celtics and destroying a proud dynasty, I have to give him the edge because he has his team ready to play in the tourney. How were they not a two seed?

West Virginia (7) vs. Texas Tech (6)

Bobby Knight and Texas Tech should beat West Virginia, but I’m riding the Big East train on this game. Knight knows how to lose in the tourney with the best of them, and since whoever wins is getting taken down by Illinois; I’m saying it will be West Virginia.

SYRACUSE:

Villanova (5) vs. North Carolina (1)

Nova in the elite eight? Could it happen? Well, sure it could happen, but will it happen? I’d feel a whole heck of a lot better if the Wildcats had Curtis Sumpter healthy, so I’ll go against my heart and go with my head that says NC just has too much for the plucky Wildcats who at least make it a game and weaken NC for their demise against instate rival NC State in the elite eight.

NC State (10) vs. Wisconsin (6)

Well, I guess I gave up this game in the previous paragraph. No problem, Julius Hodge is going to stay hot, the spirit of Jim Valvano will be in the building, and another Cheesehead team goes down.

AUSTIN

Michigan State (5) vs. Duke (1)

Duke has to lose sometime in this tournament, right? I can’t bear watching those smug, arrogant, Blue Devils and Coach K waltzing into the final four again. Again, the head overrules the heart and that annoying Daniel Ewing and equally annoying J.J. Redick survive at least one more round.

Utah (6) vs. Kentucky (2)

I’ll say it right now: I know nothing about Utah (the team, I know that the state gave us Mormons, a governor who is a travel agents dream, and John Stockton wearing short shorts and long socks like he was on a roller derby team) other than Andrew Bogut. I do know that even my Dad, who hardly follows college basketball, is all worked up about Andrew Bogut as well. I defer to the wisdom of my Dad and watch Bogut and the Mad Mormons take out Kentucky and then face the Dukies.

Whatever happens, I can’t do any worse than having picked Syracuse to be in the final game.

* * *

PATS DRAFT – ANOTHER SHOT:

After yesterday’s nugget on my thoughts on the Patriots actions in the upcoming draft, I thought I’d do a little research to try and find players who may be on the Patriots radar for the draft. Basically, I’m trying to guess who fits the Belichick/Pioli mix. Some guys who jump out as possible early round picks (that is, they will likely be available when the Patriots pick in the first, second or third round and seem to have that certain something that would make them fit the Patriots system) include the following:

1st round – DeMarcus Ware - Troy (Ala.) State - DE/LB
I know what I wrote about the Patriots not addressing linebacker early, but I’ve read that this guy is the second coming of Willie McGinest, and if he is available late in the first round he may be too enticing for Belichick to pass up - in fact, he could be someone they trade up in the draft to snag. According to the various draft analysts and websites out on the web (at least the reputable ones, I hope), Ware has played in two (LB) and three (DE) point stances in college and has acknowledged that the Willie McGinest/Mike Vrabel 3-4 OLB spot would be a great fit. Like McGinest, Ware is a sick combination of defensive lineman strength, linebacker speed, and NBA athleticism.

2nd/3rd round – Jason Campbell – Auburn – QB

Although some mock drafts have Campbell going late in the first round, most have him where you expect to find a project quarterback, the second or third round. Campbell is both big and strong, almost six foot five and weighing in at 230 pounds. He’s known as a high character person and has adapted well to a horrible situation of having four different offensive coordinators. The tools are there, but he needs coaching big time. One site referred to him as a boom or bust prospect. Somehow, sitting behind Brady and learning for a couple of years could be the perfect situation for the kid.

1st/2nd – David Baas – Michigan – G

If the Patriots pick a guard in the second round, Baas is the only one who projects to be worth the pick. He fits the Patriots mold as being very similar to Dan Koppen: he can play right away, is very smart, has good fundamentals, but needs to get bigger and is not an athletic lineman. Baas can also play center, and you know that Belichick/Pioli love that versatility. What I liked most of all is that he was described as being a hard worker and played with a mean streak.

2nd/3rd – Brandon Browner – Oregon State - CB

Another project, Browner is coming out of college early as a sophomore. Browner, by all accounts, should have stayed in school. Browner is perfect for the Patriots because they don’t need him to play right away and he can ease into the role. His physical gifts are lauded by all. The word that shows up everywhere near his name is potential. He’s giant for a cornerback (Six foot three and two-hundred and twenty pounds), athletic, and has great speed. Like Eugene Wilson, he could play corner or be a nickel safety (safety first and second down, and cover a wide receiver like a cornerback on third down. Just think of how good this kid could be with a couple of years of working with Eric Mangini.

1st/2nd round - Josh Bullocks – Nebraska - S

Never mind the bollocks, here’s Bullocks! Bullocks is a ballhawk safety. He is one of those guys that has the instincts to always be around the ball making a play. Seems like a perfect fit in the Belichick defense. I don’t care if he’s Big 12, Big East, or Division IV football, ten interceptions in a season makes you stand up and take notice. Another note that caught my eye on Bullocks is that he puts a lot of time into film study, another trait that should serve him well in the view of Belichick/Pioli, who are always looking for intelligent players.

That’s my best guess for the Patriots picks as of right now. It is still early, and these guys could move up or down or off the board with a month to go before the draft. But right now, they all look good to me.

* * *

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A DEEP PILE OF DOO-DOO

Can Barry Bonds be any more charming? Has any player so talented ever been so despised? Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and the rest of the players who first made the move from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues certainly had real oppression, racism, and animosity from the uneducated, ignorant rednecks and elitists of the time, but Barry Bonds can’t even get his teammates to support him as he takes a public relations beating on a daily basis.

What Bonds needs to realize is that his public persona is of his own making. Bonds was and is an arrogant, rich young man who grew up the son of an All-Star and never endeared himself to teammates (apparently he, like Carl Everett who played the role in Boston for a season, is one of those people born or bred without charm, likeability, or a personality). The difference of media popularity between Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t the difference in ability and background, but how that player was able to come across to the public and how they were marketed. Extremely similar backgrounds, extremely similar careers (until Griffey caught the injury bug and Bonds transformed into the large-headed, back-acned, shrunken testicle behemoth that science has made him), and yet Griffey was the video-game/cereal box/trading card/MLB promotions poster boy and Barry was the angry, petulant star whose abilities were respected but who was never liked by teammates, media, or the fans.

Personally, I hope Barry Bonds retires and stays stuck at 703 home runs. Any comparison to Babe Ruth remains ridiculous. Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher in the game; having set a World Series record for consecutive shutout innings that stood for over thirty years, out dueled Walter Johnson, and won twenty-three and twenty-four games in a season. After that impressive career he moved to the outfield and proceeded to completely shatter every power-hitting record by such a margin that it is incomprehensible to imagine by modern standards. Ruth hit 59 home runs one year—more than any other team in baseball that season. That would be the equivalent of Bonds hitting two-hundred and fifty or more home runs today. Bonds can break all of the records set by Ruth (like many who came after the Babe), but none of them could ever have the impact on the game or so outshine his peers like Ruth did in the early 1920s.

For that matter, I don’t want to see Bonds break the homerun record of Henry Aaron. I don’t want to see that smug jerk circling the bases on ESPN after he hits home run number 756 to pass Aaron. Aaron is a player I have held in high regard after reading a biography on him at the age of eight. Henry Aaron faced racism that Barry Bonds cannot even fathom. Bonds had everything handed to him in life and he still had to cheat to get ahead. Aaron was a superb hitter, amazingly consistent, and with deceptive power. The pressures, death threats, and racist anger directed at Aaron when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record are unfathomable to my generation, Barry Bonds included.

Bonds says he finally jumped off the bridge—let me give him one more little nudge.

* * *

MISCELLANEOUS:

COACH JIMMY IN HOT WATER IN PHILLY:

Jimmy O’Brien, the savior in Boston who rescued the Celtics after the Rick Pitino debacle (to put it politely), is suddenly in hot water in Philadelphia after two-thirds of a season as head coach? That, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with the NBA. How anyone can put a coach on the hot seat after he has coached less than a full season, had to deal with Allen Iverson on a daily basis, and, lucky him, gets handed Chris Webber at the trading deadline. Apparently the writers in Philadelphia have been savaging him in the papers and on nitwit talk radio, but give him a break. Sure, I thought his offensive style of play was revolting in Boston, but I thought the Pistons offense was revolting last season and they won the NBA Championship.

O’Brien is a good guy, a good coach, and certainly deserves three years to put his stamp on the team and give them a chance to compete. To hear this malarkey coming out of Philly makes me realize why criticism here in Boston doesn’t faze Terry Francona: he survived four years of this B.S. while in Philadelphia.

* * *

OTHER COACH KILLERS: KOBE & LEBRON:

How disappointing to see the Cleveland Cavaliers dumped former Boston Celtics player Paul Silas as coach the other day. What was the problem with the job Silas did? He took one of the youngest teams in the league and led them to a record of 35-30? The horrors! Hey, he didn’t trade Ricky Davis away for a bag of basketballs (aka three jokers who aren’t even on the team), nor did he give up a first round pick for poor Jiri Welsch who is shooting under 30% for Cleveland since he was dealt by Boston. Accountability needs to start higher up—like in the General Manager’s office, not on the court with a hard-working, intelligent coach.

I wonder where the Lakers would be with Shaq and Phil Jackson instead of Kobe Bryant. My guess, a whole heck of a lot better off than their current record of 32-35 and six game losing streak. The Lakers ownership and front office should be ashamed of themselves for letting Shaq go for pennies on the dollar and keeping that spoiled lout Kobe around (son of a pro player, privileged youth, horrible personality—Kobe’s the new Barry!).

* * *

START THE SEASON ALREADY FOR GOD’S SAKE:

Wells vs. Johnson—that is all I can think about. Bring on the Yankees! Of course, records in the first month of the season are probably the most useless in baseball. Most teams have not jelled, aren’t at full strength, and otherwise are not in full form. Of course, the games count the same. Personally, I’d like to see Bellhorn rap one off the foul pole again, just like in the ALCS—if only to give those arrogant Yankees fans a reminder of what was and what they face again: a Red Sox team that won’t be intimidated, bullied, or pushed around by the arrogant, overpaid, pinstriped Yankees.

* * *

TY LAW DOES NOT HAVE A FOOT TO STAND ON:

Rumor has it that Ty Law and his uber-agent Carl Posten have a standing offer from the Patriots. I’m sure it is of the if you can’t latch on anywhere else being an injured 30 year old at a position dominated by speed and athleticism don’t hesitate to give us a call. For the right price we have a place for you.

Maybe, just maybe, he and Brown will return after all. That would certainly be a tough pill for all those Belichick-hating Boston sportswriters to swallow.

* * *

ONE MONTH TO THE DRAFT – EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED:

Speaking of the Patriots (no, I’ll leave poor Tedy Bruschi alone—of course he’s not playing this year. The Patriots are not idiots, in case the media has missed out on that fact recently), Rick’s favorite holiday—NFL Draft Day—is rapidly approaching. The one thing to remember is to think like Belichick—not like a sportswriter.

So I expect that there will be no offensive line help drafted early (maybe in the 3rd round or later), no linebackers picked early (Tully Banta-Cain & Dan Klecko will pick-up the slack outside & inside this season), and I’d say we can expect to see development-type linebackers like Banta-Cain and Klecko picked later in the draft (around rounds 5-7).

Also, I expect more defensive line help to be drafted early (somehow I do not think that the Patriots can afford to keep Richard Seymour—but I hope I am wrong!), some more secondary help if there is a cornerback Belichick likes available in the second or third round, or possibly an offensive skill position (WR/RB/QB) in the first round if Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick see someone drop who is in their top ten (like Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork, who inexplicably fell into their laps on draft day the past two seasons like a giant-sized Christmas present).

* * *

FINAL NOTE:

Thanks to all who responded to me about the Wallflowers reference in yesterday’s blog—I appreciate the response! It’s good to know people are reading this and not just printing it out, shredding it, and using it in the cat box.

* * *

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

D-LOWE RETURNS

Other than Terry Francona getting off a good line about how no one is late now with Pedro being gone, there was very little excitement, enthusiasm, or controversy from the reunion with Derek Lowe. Granted, there was not exactly a large contingent of regulars headed out for a three hour bus drive to play against the Dodgers in Vero Beach where my boss is on vacation chowing down on Mama Pellegrino’s pasta.

The Dodgers, with their head-case and sore arm rotation, certainly present a quandary when it comes to a talented team constantly underperforming. Carried by pitching for the past three years, this year they tried to jump start the offense by letting Aramis Ramirez (he of the 48 home runs) leave and traded their only other offensive threat Shawn Green, as their stellar pitching finally fades. The rotation:
Derek Lowe – Total head case, no explanation necessary for Red Sox followers.
Odalis Perez – Seems to be more like former Braves pitcher and inaugural member of the “For God’s sake turn and run away from this guy” club, Pascual Perez. Great stuff + no mental toughness + strange behavior = twelve wins, low ERA, and a spot on my fantasy staff. I should have moved up Oliver Perez from Pittsburg. What was I thinking?
Brad Penny – From Florida, guess what, he’s hurt again.
Jeff Weaver – D-Lowe’s separated from birth fraternal twin. Could you find two pitchers as flakey and shaky as these two if you tried?
Scott Erickson – Injured, yet again.
Kaz Ishii – Traded to the Mets. They can team him with second baseman Kaz Matsui and have their own little overpaid Japanese underachievers named Kaz club.
Jose Lima – He pitched well, so they let him go. To quote Homer: Doh!
Wilson Alvarez – Didn’t he pitch at an all-star level, in, like, 1996? Yikes!
Darren Dreifort – Of course, he is the highest paid pitcher on the staff. Yet, due to various injuries over the past few years since he signed the mega-deal (outbidding the Sox—thank you baseball Gods!), he has barely pitched at all to earn that huge contract.

So Lowe gets his money, and no pressure in L.A. because, guess what, they don’t really care. A perfect fit. Good luck to him. But couldn’t he at least have referred to Larry Lucchino as the anti-Christ or something on his way out the door Monday after the game to liven things up in camp tranquility?

CELTICS ANTICIPATION

OK, the Celtics have little to no chance to knock off the Miami Heat or the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs. Heck, they would have their hands full with New Jersey if they stay hot and somehow sneak into the sixth seed. The important point, however, is that, as I have been saying all year long, they are at least entertaining to watch. That point cannot be underestimated. Too long we fans suffered under the boring and relentless wild three-point shooting contests waged nightly in what was loosely referred to as the offensive game plan under former coach Jimmy O’Brien. O’Brien, who is also known as the coach who made Walter McCarty a household name in New England, with a huge assist from Tommy Heinsohn—gee, thanks, I love watching power forwards launching three-point shots willy-nilly.

Another interesting week for the Celtics with games on the road at New York Wednesday night, at home Friday night for the athletic, young Chicago Bulls, and then the world champion Detroit Pistons at the Palace in the greater Detroit area on Saturday night. This would not be a good time to pull out a 0-3 or 1-2 week. A sweep may be too much to ask, but the Celtics should beat New York handily and take care of Chicago at home.

ROIDS:

Well, it certainly didn’t take long for the baseball steroid controversy to blow over. Congress turns its collective head to Terri Schiavo and the ever-widening right to life argument, and Bud Selig and Donald Fehr offer up a miniscule compromise on the testing (no fines, but minimal suspensions instead) and slink away into the night as the nation moves on.

Of course, in retrospect, what was accomplished by the Congressional hearings? A minimal change to the steroid policy, public awareness (yeah, right, Fenway bleacher-ites were chanting “Steroids” at Jose Canseco while he stood in the outfield back in the late eighties), humiliation of Barry Bonds (whoops, where was he again?), a chance for Rafael Palmiero and Sammy Sosa to try to clear their names, or was it all, as often stated, just grandstanding? Unfortunately, I’m forced to lean towards the grandstanding. Other than Mark McGwire costing himself a chance at the Hall of Fame—and what a travesty it would be to see him inducted, he’s as unworthy as Pete Rose as far as I’m concerned—there were no tangible results. Canseco, not wanting to hinder the possibility of giving away material for a second book, and for some bizarre reason not given immunity, didn’t add anything of value. Palmiero and Sosa both denied the charges, which did nothing to change my opinion of them both as steroid users. Schilling seemed, rightfully, just plain annoyed to be wasting time he could be rehabbing sitting in the congressional chambers.

All in all, a colossal waste of time.

* * *

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WALLFLOWERS?

It has nothing to do with sports, but I’m just throwing that one out there. Jacob Dylan provided the star power, tunes like 6th Avenue Heartache, One Headlight, The Difference, and Three Marlenas were some good old fashioned pop songs. They had four solid hits on a solid album, and then nothing? Did I miss them releasing another album? Did they break-up? Did Papa Bob tell Jacob he was an embarrassment to the family name? OK, I’m done venting.

* * *

Monday, March 21, 2005

CAMP TRANQUILITY ROCKED BY TURMOIL

Finally, the writers and talk show hosts have a conflict in spring training to froth over. Of course, the Herald broke the story—no doubt after digging for dirt since the end of February. Doug Mirabelli, back up catcher of the Gods, impugns the honor of Byung-Hyun Kim by calling him out as a loner. Stop the presses.

Seriously, that’s the best they can come up with? Yes, Kim is an introverted who uses the cultural and language barriers in place to shield himself (He’s been in the US since 1999 and he can’t speak English? What a joke!). Yes, flipping the bird to the boo-birds during pre-game introductions does not strengthen your relationship with the fans, but more than anything else, it has been his shoddy performances since August 2003 that have been the biggest problem anyone’s had with “BK” (As a side note, I refuse to refer to him as BK Kim—the Kim is the “K”—I’ll call him BH Kim, but not BK Kim.).

BK’s loss of mph on his fastball has doomed him more than any personality problems. A side-armer who throws 93 mph fastballs and a nasty slider at 88 mph is practically unhittable, as Kim was when he pitched for Arizona. At 86 mph and 80 mph he is nothing more than a AAA pitcher with a funky delivery. As Barry Bonds has proved, being unpopular on a personal level without your teammates does not necessarily preclude them from accepting you as a teammate. If they believe you give them a chance to win, most players will be happy to simply co-exist.

* * *

My brackets are in shambles. Adding injury to insult, the one team that really looked ripe for an upset Sunday night, the most-despised Duke Blue Devils, were on their heels with less than two minutes remaining against underdog #9 seed Mississippi State up by two and Miss State pushing the ball down court. So what happens? Miss State chokes big time, throwing the ball away, missing shots and basically sitting down, laying a giant egg, handing the game to Duke. Bleech—it left a bad taste in my mouth.

* * *

UConn, Syracuse, Pitt and BC all out and Villanova and West Virginia still alive in the Sweet Sixteen—I’m sorry, but NO ONE saw that coming!

* * *

Who would believe that come mid-March Boston would be addicted to the Celtics? I’m in withdrawal without any games until Wednesday. Another solid weekend for the green, as they went on the road and smacked around the Rockets and the Hornets. Sure Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce are back to the big 1-2 punch, but what the Celtics have that they missed during their 2002 run to the Eastern Conference finals was the balanced scoring to offset a bad night by Pierce or Walker. Ricky Davis is really part of the Big Three Lite, and LaFrentz can throw in twenty if the need is there. Also, all three point guards can shoot when points are needed. This team is looking good, but far from perfect. And that’s good—they want to peak in May, not march. There’s still time to improve.

* * *

There’s scant news coming from the NFL owner’s meetings in Hawaii this week. My only question is what rule is the Indianapolis Colts going to force through the committees to try to beat the Patriots next year? Will blitzers be forced to count to three-Mississippi? Do dome teams get a once-a-season right to switch an away game to a home game if the forecast calls for snow? Does Peyton Manning get to wear the red “no-contact” jersey during games instead of just at practices?

* * *

Friday, March 18, 2005

EVERYBODY LOVES ANTOINE

Antoine does it again. The Celtics somehow blew a sixteen point lead but pulled out the win when former Celtic Milt Palacio was fouled by Ricky Davis and Delonte West, but fortunately for the Celtics, there was no whistle and they won by one point.

The first half was erratic to say the least. In the third quarter Boston appeared to pull away from the overmatched Mapleleafs, I mean Raptors. The Blue Jays, dang it, the Raptors got hot in the fourth quarter and just kept draining hoops until the Celtics finally wrested the game away from the Argonauts, whoops, the Raptors, and held on (barely!).

Antoine again had a great game. Somehow Doc Rivers has got to figure out a way to get Antoine, Tony Allen, and Al Jefferson on the floor for an extended period of time in each game. Jefferson and especially Allen looked great again. Antoine only took two three-pointers (and hit them both) and both times he was so wide open even I could have got the shot off.

Antoine was doing the things I only imagined he could during his first go round in Boston. He was a low-post threat, he rebounded, and he even started a fast break rather than lazily dribbling up court without any real purpose or hurry.

Chris Bosh (at least until he got hurt) and Jalen Rose were unstoppable for some reason. It must be a frustrating loss for Toronto since they scored 109 and had a chance to win it in the last seconds, save for a bad non-call by the referees (some old time Boston Garden magic?).


* * *

ROIDS:
I’m sick of hearing about it. Yes, steroid use was rampant in MLB. So, apparently are amphetamines. So what? Just what is the federal government going to do about it? And more importantly, why is Curt Schilling there? Shouldn’t he be getting ready to pitch? The Sox triumvirate should have put pressure on Teddy K, not-quite-JFK, and this bozo representative Lynch who’s been all over the news blabbing about steroids in baseball to have the subpoena cancelled or revoked. What a bunch of jokers. Lower my taxes, cut the cost of gasoline, and cut waste in the federal government, then worry about steroids.

* * *

JOHNNY’S LUMPS:

Johnny Damon has contracted cellulitis? Sorry, but reading about lumps on Johnny Damon’s gonads isn’t what I like to read while I’m drinking my coffee in the morning. Also, was anyone else disturbed by seeing Damon in those pinstriped pants on the cover of the Herald after his fab five makeover? Johnny Damon--in his last year of a contract--with the Yankees in desperate need of a centerfielder/lead-off hitter next year? It is just not a good omen.


TOURNEY TIME:

My brackets are all $*(&#%@ed up by 3 pm on the first day of the tourney? I don’t want to talk about it.

* * *

Thursday, March 17, 2005

WHAT THE HECK IS IN THIS BRUSCHI?

Rumors, statements from anonymous family friends, no comment from the team, nurses calling in tips to the newspapers, rampant speculation, and ideas tossed in the air to see what sticks, guesses, and a lot of hot air out there over a story that has few facts and little substance. Something’s wrong with Tedy Bruschi. Or, something was wrong, but they just fixed it. Maybe what they told us last month was necessarily what transpired exactly. Maybe it is the truth and they just don’t want to release any information about it. What it comes down to is that there may possibly be a serious physical problem with Tedy Bruschi, but until the Patriots or Bruschi makes a statement addressing it, we’re sitting in the dark making guesses.

Well, that’s the big news in Boston sports.

Yeesh.

* * *

THREE OR FOUR

Much has been written this spring in regards to whether David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez should bat third or fourth in the batting order. As long as they’re both healthy and in the line-up, I could care less where they hit. It is simply thrilling news coming out of Fort Myers, folks.

I guess this beats Margo-gate, or Roger Clemens leaving the headphones on while rookie Manager Butch “Pass the Eight-ball” Hobson tries to talk to him, or John McNamara snoozing in the dugout, or Nomar pouting, or Dan Duquette bringing in wave after wave of Asian pitchers with “potential”, or Wade Boggs falling out of a moving vehicle at a restaurant parking lot, but I guess we can’t complain about camp tranquility. With the Sox popularity spiking in recent years, I guess there is more a need to report any news (“Schilling Farts During Warm-ups, Will This Affect His Availability for Opening Day?”) and being without any significant training camp controversy is probably a good thing.

Maybe they could bring Mike Greenwell in to stir up some trouble…


* * *

MISC:

With the NCAA tournament still a day away, the big news remains the streaking Celtics and their march towards the playoffs. Can they lock-up the three spot? (Barring a catastrophe, yes.) Will someone be kind enough to knock out Detroit or Miami for them? (Not bloody likely!) The Raptors are a must-beat team. Who the heck even plays for the Raptors nowadays in the post-T-Mac era? Jalen Rose, Chris Bosh, Donyell Marshall, and Matt Bonner I’ve at least heard of—the rest of these guys could be recent pick-ups from the Raynham Athletic Club League for all I know of them.

* * *

First round upset special prediction for the NCAA’s tomorrow: UAB over LSU. (Only because an eleven seed always beats a six seed every year. I guess I have a 25% chance of picking the right one).

You heard it here first.

* * *

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

EIGHT AND ONE

Well, it wasn’t pretty. But the Celtics are eight and one since the return of employee number eight. Antoine actually did alright—hit a big three, hit the boards, looked like the low-post player he should have been years ago. The Celtics let the Bobcats stay in the game way too long. They had them buried after one quarter and that second team that had been so instrumental in their win Sunday night came out and laid an egg and allowed the young Bobcats, led by should-have-been number one pick Emeka Okafor, back into the game. The final score was a bit deceiving since it was anyone’s game until the Celtics put it away in the last five minutes.

Great game for Ricky Davis. Davis is one of the huge differences in the Celtics of the previous Antoine era and today. With LaFrentz and Davis, the Celtics have other scorers who can take the heat off of Antoine and Paul Pierce when they have those off-nights. So rather than putting up a six for twenty-three shooting night, they can only put up nine or ten shots and let the hot shooter get a majority of the shots. Another example of the need for quality depth on a team. Unless you’re the Heat and have Shaq and Wade, you need more than two scorers on a team to win consistently.

* * *

MISC:

Apparently the only place to get New England Patriots news anymore is from MetroWest Daily News reporter, Mike Reiss. Always chock full of information, his Patriots news blog is on the Boston Herald site (they own the Daily News) at http://patriots.bostonherald.com/blogs/mikeReiss/ . Reiss used to work for the Patriots, for their Patriots Football Weekly magazine (I remember him on the weekly TV show they used to have on Fox Sports Net), and apparently has some good contacts to break team news ahead of just about everyone else.

* * *

Too bad we have to wait for June for the Queer Eye for the Red Sox episode. Kind of a strange coincidence that a bunch of articles about the Red Sox strong faith & Christianity in the clubhouse appears at the same time the Fab Five are hanging out in Fort Myers. Some writers trying to get a rise out of a right-wing nut on the team? Well, the team is diverse enough that I hope no redneck is all offended about the news that (gasp!) homosexuals are associating with the players. My gosh, next we may have those Asians, Dominicans and Negroes around the team and who knows what could happen! (Yes, that is satirical nonsense—just to cover my ass for any one who didn’t get the joking tone. The Sox not signing minorities due to their obviously prejudiced front-office is a long-standing sore point with me—that is the real curse the team faced, not this Bambino nonsense that has finally been put to rest!).

* * *

Celtics against the Raptors, another must-win in that they are so much better than Toronto that it would be a major letdown if they somehow blow the game (Bobcats, Raptors, these team names stink nowadays. Too many worries about marketing and political correctness. Like those bozos in Worcester all offended by team being called the Cyclones. Boo-hoo, your uncle died in a tornado fifty years ago—don’t go to the games if you don’t like it, don’t sit there bawling like an idiot on TV!).

* * *

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

BEASTS OF THE EAST

The last two NCAA Men’s Championship Teams have come from the Big East. With another strong group of teams in the tourney, it’d be no surprise to see one or two of them march to the Final Four. Here’s a hint, it’s not Boston College as they won’t get past Alabama if they can survive the Penn Quakers in the first round.

First, let’s get BC out of the way. They play Penn in the first round. I know nothing about Penn. I do know that BC sinks down to the level of their competition on a nightly basis. Their major flaw is that they peaked in January. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with that and it’s nobody’s fault. So if they get past Penn and somehow sneak past Alabama (which would likely mean that the Tide was upset by the University of Wisconsin—wait a beat—Milwaukee), they still end up facing the best team in the country, Illinois. Pray for the Sweet Sixteen BC fans.

Pitt, an eight seed who has looked good when I saw them play, has a tough road as they face #1 seed Washington in Boise, ID. Uggh. “Yeah, we made the tourney. We’re going to Idaho, baby!”

Villanova, a five seed, draws and easy win in the first round against New Mexico and then gets the Ohio and Florida winner (hint, its likely Florida). If they survive that game, it’s on to face North Carolina. Sweet Sixteen remains the goal of Villanova.

UConn is the two seed in the East bracket, or Syracuse bracket, or whatever the heck they call it now. They face Central Florida and the Charlotte/NC State winner. UConn (and Syracuse), unlike BC, are both peaking at the right time. Kansas is the three seed UConn would face in the Sweet Sixteen and then only North Carolina would stand in their way on the road to the Final Four (that is, unless Harold Pressley, Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, and Gary McLain suit up for ‘nova for another improbable run). Tough schedule, but then UConn should play well in the Tourney. Since I’ll be listening to my boss leaving broadcast voice-tels of him shouting out “GO HUSKIES!!!” throughout the tourney, I’ll say UConn will knock off North Carolina and make it to the Final Four.

Syracuse gets the distinct honor of knocking those annoying Duke pukes out of the tourney. Whoo-hoo. Syracuse faces Taylor Coppenrath and mighty Vermont in the first round. After demolishing them, they get a strong Michigan State team. Alas, Magic Johnson graduated, won some titles, kissed Isaiah Thomas way too much on TV, contracted HIV (from who exactly since his wife and kid were clean?), and then retired, so Michigan State will likely be bowled over again. Yes, I pick them to beat Duke, beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight and face UConn in the Final Four. I’ll take the Orangemen over the Huskies, but then they’ll lose to Illinois in the final.

* * *

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

I didn’t see the Celtics game Sunday night so I can only comment on the highlights and box score, but apparently I missed a heck of a game. By the time dinner was done, it was time for laundry, and I was ready to fire up the Simpsons and squeeze in a few minutes of play with the little monkeys.

It was good to see some positive results from the kids, as Tony Allen, Marcus Banks, and Al Jefferson all not only brought the team back into the game in the fourth quarter, but took over the game. Best of all, with another game tonight, it gave the starters some time to rest their legs.

* * *

WHO’S ON FIRST? NO, WHO’S IN CENTER?

I’ve decided to steel myself and accept that the head Idiot, the long-flocked author, Johnny Damon, is playing his last season in Boston. I like Johnny, the management likes Johnny, but I think his contract is what is going to be the problem. Hopefully, they can find an inexpensive replacement that can play some defense, get on-base, and steal some bases.

Is Rule 5 pickup Adam Stern Johnny Damon’s eventual replacement in centerfield? Should we have kept Dave Roberts and traded Johnny at the height of his value? When will top outfield prospects Brandon Moss and David Murphy be ready to patrol center field at Fenway? Can we move shortstop prospect Dustin Pedroia to centerfield? How about Hanley Ramirez?

I really believe the team needs to start developing and holding onto their young players. It is, as the Patriots have shown, the best way to build a team. Have a strong base of young pitchers and hitters who can play for cheap and supplement them with the free-agents. I like Johnny Damon, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want to be paying him $8 million a year when he’s 37. The Sox finally have some legitimate prospects in the lower-levels of the minors, and they need to keep them, not trade them, for once. This year, with five of the first fifty picks in the amateur draft, they should be able to supplement their promising youngsters with another crop of prospects.

* * *

Saturday, March 12, 2005

WELCOME BACK, WELCOME BACK, WELCOME BACK…

I don’t care if it’s only a rumor. I don’t care if it has no validity. If there’s any shred of evidence that it could happen, I want it to happen. Doug Flutie was released by the San Diego Chargers and the Patriots are looking for a veteran back-up quarterback. How can this match made in heaven not happen?

Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com throws this out: Flutie may look at the possible of going to the New England Patriots as a backup. Other possibilities include going into broadcasting or just simply retiring. Doug, let me be the first to say: WELCOME BACK.

Let’s take a look-see at the imaginary Patriots checklist for a veteran back-up to pair with untested Rohan Davy to back-up Tom Brady:
Cheap – Flutie will likely play for the veteran’s minimum.
Still has something left in the tank – Flutie is a modern healthy specimen of timeless physical proportions comparable to Julio Franco of the Atlanta Braves.
Smart – Well, he said Rob Johnson was a turd, so that was pretty insightful and intelligent.
Upstanding member of the community & locker room presence – Duh.
Content to be a back-up – Well, he sat behind Drew Brees before Brees became a competent QB.

For the PR, for the team, for Brady’s development: it all makes too much sense. Call him up, Scott Pioli. Welcome him home with open arms, Bill Belichick. Doug, we’re sorry about the whole Tony Eason/Raymond Berry fiasco of the late 1980’s—you were vindicated and they were humiliated. Come back to Boston in the springtime.

* * *

Rumor has it Ty Law is visiting the Pittsburg Steelers. As if I didn’t have reason enough to hate the Steelers.

* * *

I was reading about all these free agent signings and I can’t believe that the Patriots model of building a football team has been completely ignored by the other thirty-one teams. Being a Patriots fan right now feels like that smart feeling you get from being aligned with the smart kid in the class so you can be sure that an A is coming your way (see: being Brigham’s lab partner or at least sitting next to him or Greg in class).

Seriously, what is wrong with these teams? Mediocre players are getting paid huge signing bonuses. Fred Smoot, Ken Lucas and Anthony Henry are not all-star cornerbacks. But they’re getting these ridiculous $6 million signing bonuses and 6 year, $36 million dollar contracts. Chike Okeafor gets 5 years at $25 million? Chike Okeafor sounds like an Ent like Treebeard from Lord of the Rings. He’s good, but he’s fighting Rodney Bailey and Jarvis Green for playing time as a back-up if he were playing for the Patriots.

I get sick reading about these contracts. In Bill We Trust! (Belichick, not Chazer.)

* * *

The best story out of the NFL is the recent release of the PBP funding dollars, also known as the pay for play. This is money set aside in the last basic agreement from league revenues to reward players whose play exceeds their pay. For example Randall Gay of the Patriots, as an undrafted free agent playing for the rookie minimum, received a bonus check from the NFL for $145,000. Chump change to Ty Law, but that’s almost as much as he made last season, not counting play-off money which also probably doubled his salary. Dan Koppen also made the list with a bonus of $135,000 as a 5th round pick playing for close to league minimum. All leagues should copy this formula. These are the guys that deserve the money. They don’t get the big contracts, the big signing bonuses, and they’re lucky to be playing at all considering the tough road to the NFL for most of them.

* * *

Friday, March 11, 2005

STOP THE HAWKS

In a nutshell, it was ugly. But, for the Boston Celtics, it was an ugly win and that makes all the difference. Sure, you could say that they should never have been so far behind the lowly Atlanta Hawks like they were early on. You could say it was scary that Antoine Walker was the only player who could hit a three-point shot last night. You could say that they looked out-of-sync on offense and defense last night. But you can’t say that they lost.

Antoine, made the “jump up out of your chair and pump your fist” play of the game with the Celtics clinging to a small lead as he stole the ball from Al Harrington, pushed it up court, drove the lane, drew the defender, and then dished it to Ricky Davis for an uncontested lay-up. Two points: 1) Two years ago Antoine wouldn’t have made it down the court this late in the game with those extra 25 pounds he was carrying around, and 2) I was most impressed that he had the wherewithal to make the pass to Davis when I could just picture him taking it to the rim and getting called for the offensive foul.

I missed Paul Pierce’s first-quarter sulk fest, but I was glad to see him pick up his game in the fourth quarter. Ricky Davis looked good as well. I was hoping to see more of Delonte West, especially at the end of the game. Gary Payton may be the veteran point guard, but West is easily the most impressive and sure-handed player when he’s on the court.

The real test for the Celtics comes on Friday night against the defending world champion Detroit Pistons. Alas, I will likely miss most of the game due to the fact we’re taking the kids to see Robots. Imagine a month ago being concerned with missing a Celtics game? What is this crazy world? Who could have predicted the Celtics would someday outdraw celebrity poker?

* * *

BOO-HOO BC

It was another classic Boston College choke-job. Following up on the football team’s inexplicable melt-down versus Syracuse that cost the school over $12 million by not securing a BCS berth with a win over a .500 team, the men’s basketball team came out lethargic, fell behind by 22 at the half and fell short in the second-half comeback. Yes, I did predict this. No need for congratulatory notes, just click the links to the ads and support the sponsors, or at least click through and visit the site. It’s all good.

So now BC should be a three seed, and inevitably lose to a fourteen seed. Hooray. Way to go out on top when heading off to the ACC. In a way I feel bad for BC, because their coach, Al Skinner, is a class act and the players are likable guys who were passed over by bigger schools and are playing with a chip on their shoulder. Unfortunately, the magic ride has ended as the 20-0 start has now become 4-4 in their last 8 games.

* * *

MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS

Looks like Plexico Burress priced himself out of the New York Giants plans. Maybe if he does the same in Minnesota we will be able to grab him on the cheap, if only on a one year deal, later on in free agency if he lasts past the draft.

* * *

Wade Miller, according to reports is out for at least April. I say, GOOD! No need to rush him back and that goes double for Curt Schilling and David Wells. It’s easier to dig out of an uneven April than to have three pitchers out for the second half of the season because they were rushed in March. Let Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo, Tim Wakefield, and John Halama handle the load early on. Don’t rush anyone!

* * *

Thursday, March 10, 2005

THE SPORTS DOLDRUMS

We’ve reached the point of the sports calendar that is commonly referred to as the doldrums. We are, to use a term left over from junior high history class, the horse latitudes of the sports year. No football, no baseball, no hockey, pre-March Madness, and still in the middle of the NBA regular season grind.

* * *

The NFL Draft is fast approaching. I think I need to start my research for another mock draft of the first round. There’s a website, http://www.fftoolbox.com/nfl_draft/mockdrafts.cfm, which has collected over 80 mock drafts online. Most of them are chumps like me making guesses and whatnot. Heck, Mel Kiper Jr. is wrong every year and draft prep is all he does. He probably grades his hair every morning: “Performance was bad during styling, but the intangibles were off the board.” Picking last doesn’t entail much excitement for the Pats, but you never know about Belichick, he does have a history of wheeling and dealing on draft day.

* * *

Speaking of draft prep, I guess now is the time to turn to fantasy baseball. As much as I want to crush Chazer and end his unprecedented reign as champion, somehow I haven’t had as much time to prep as I’d like this year. Between work, writing the blog, playing educational computer games with the kids (yes, educational), trying to sneak in time on the Xbox (ok, definitely non-educational), and everything else that’s involved in life the prep time is slipping away. Wait, maybe that’s the best strategy to go with in the fantasy draft. I always lose anyway with my horrible job drafting despite all the prep work I did. I only get into the top half of the standing because I get lucky picking up slow starters in late April and May (like claiming Johan Santana off waivers last year. My arm was in a sling for a week after patting my back so much after that one.). I’m throwing darts this year. The less analytical thinking I do the better.

* * *

So have the Patriots highlighted Tim Dwight as the replacement for Troy Brown? It certainly looks that way. Though not much younger, and small in stature like Brown, Dwight is known around the NFL for his blazing speed, outstanding special teams play and kick/punt return abilities, and his ability to play as the 3rd or 4th receiver out of the slot. He certainly fits the bill as a hard-nosed, smart, over-achiever.

Nothing new in the news on free-agent receiver/special teams whiz Alex Bannister, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, who is supposedly one of the Patriots’ top free agent targets.

* * *

I thought of signing off the column with a witty reference to a band like sports columnists Bill Scheft at SI does or Dave Fleming at ESPN.com noting what cool band they listened to as they wrote it; however, I don’t think it enhances my credibility to end the column with nuggets such as “enjoy Jackyl” or “this article was written while listening to my 80’s hair bands mix.” I’m tragically unhip, I guess.

* * *

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

MANDATORY RETIREMENT

Nothing beats a Red Sox-Yankees match-up (even if it’s basically the Columbus Clippers versus the PawSox). But, let’s make a new mandatory rule for all Red Sox fans: it’s time to retire the banal, crude, and loser-tinged shout-out of YANKEES SUCK.

Let’s make one thing clear first and foremost: it was embarrassing, it is still embarrassing, and it will always be embarrassing. The Yankees do not suck. They won twenty-six World Series championships. Do I care for them or root for them? Of course not. But I respect them. I wish a lot of those guys were in the blue and red of Boston, but to say they suck is ridiculous. The Devil Rays, a traditionally inept team, they you could get away saying they suck. But I think inept fits them better.

YANKEES SUCK is the shout-out of loserdom. We are not losers. We were star-crossed, not like Romeo and Juliet done in by external forces outside their control, but more like Richard, done in by poor management at an executive level and not properly taking care of matters in-house. Every crushing Red Sox defeat can be traced back upstairs. This is not to excuse the players on the field, but didn’t we learn that the result installing the smartest management and solid owners for the Red Sox and Patriots seemed to lead directly to…championships?

The Red Sox of 1986 lost the World Series for a number of reasons beyond Johnny Mac’s sentimentality and leaving Bill Buckner in the game. It goes beyond his taking out Roger Clemens (whether or not he asked out will always be in dispute). Where was the pre-season signing or mid-season trade for a closer? That certainly was taken care of in 2004. Where was ability to manufacture a run when necessary in 1986? Think back to ninth inning of game four of the ALCS for most famous manufactured run in Red Sox history.

1975 was another case of bad management, with Darrell Johnson mismanaging the bullpen in game seven. 1978 was derailed due to injuries to key players and the front office sitting on their hands instead of making a move to acquire some help. 1967 was a team playing above their heads that was fortunate to make it to game seven of the World Series and just didn’t have the starting pitching to put someone out against the most dominating pitcher of the sixties, Bob Gibson (Gentleman Jim Longborg had to go on two days rest and got hit hard). Back and back through history it goes: the Red Sox were mismanaged, outmaneuvered in the front office, and didn’t bring in the best players due to reputed racist (they may have just been stupid…either way, it hurt the team) front office staff--they had Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and other negro league stars in hand and never signed them.

Management has to set the tone, lay out the plan, and execute it. Middle management takes the plan from the executives and implements it with the players who were brought in because they fit the plan. Loading up on right-handed hitters and not concentrating on pitching were the downfall of many Red Sox teams throughout history.

Back to the hideous YANKEES SUCK chant. I understand it was painful to lose to the Yankees. I felt that pain. But did anyone ever think about what they were saying? I don’t like the Yankees—never had and never will. But please respect them. Was there ever a greater display of sportsmanship than the Celtics fans in the old Garden in 1983 when the Philadelphia 76ers were taking down the team, winning the Eastern Conference championship at the sacred Garden? Did the fans chant SIXERS SUCK? No, they chanted BEAT L.A. in reference to the Celtics other rivals from the Western Conference who Philadelphia would face in the finals. Where, in the past twenty years, did those classy Boston fans go?

Now I know that Fenway is over-run with non-baseball fans nowadays—and that’s not particularly a bad thing. I still enjoy doing the wave, punching a beach ball, and singing along between innings, but spewing jealous hatred at a rival is neither sporting nor a sign of class, intelligence, or character. As I told my son after one of his Aunts had taught him the YANKEES SUCK chant: We don’t like the Yankees—but we don’t hate people. I respect them, but I root against them. We’re not vulgar. You can say the Yankees stink, they annoy you, you root against them, but don’t say they suck.

Sorry if I sound like an old prude, but let’s bring back the classy winners we used to be here in Boston.

* * *

OTHER NOTES:

Why is it every time I think the Patriots have a shot at a free-agent, the player gets signed to some ridiculous deal? Take Kendrell Bell off the market, and now Plexiglas all of a sudden has numerous teams lining up to bring him in.

* * *

The Celtics have a must-win game against the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Hawks stink, but if the Celtics are going to be a legitimate playoff team this season they need to go out and dominate the Hawks. Losing to the Hawks kills a lot of momentum going forward into the last twenty games of the regular season.

* * *

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

ANYONE WANNA BUY SOME PLEXIGLAS?

What was the deal with the rumors that the Patriots were going hard after wide receiver Derrick Mason? It seems so unlike Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick to being throwing mad dollars at a thirty-one year old undersized receiver. Of course, their thinking could be that they don’t see themselves in position to grab a game-breaker at wide receiver in the draft, and they may have undisclosed plans for wide receiver David Givens (would they trade him for a third round pick? How about for a second round pick?). Given how much money they offered to Mason, one has to pontificate about the possibility of the Patriots jumping into the Plaxico Burress sweepstakes.

The plusses for Burress include the so-far quiet market for his services which lowers his asking price; his size (long & lean is the usual description); his toughness (he has long been considered an excellent blocker); his production, when healthy, has been consistent; he’s younger than Mason; and the fact that signing him weakens a conference rival who the Patriots have faced in the AFC Championship game twice in the past four years.

Even some of the negatives are positives: His desire to break the bank in free-agency may have scared enough teams away to make him a viable possibility; his injuries last season may also be a contributing factor to driving down his price.

So is Plexiglas in the Patriots future? Well, you’ll never get that information out of Belichick and Pioli. Expect the unexpected with those two: like when they signed Roosevelt Colvin, it surprised even the “industry insiders” that the Patriots were negotiating with him.

Signing Burress may be the surprise free agency signing for the Patriots. Imagine Burress, Deion Branch, David Givens, and Bethel Johnson lined up in a four wide formation—how does a defense defend the size of Burress and Givens while also defending the speed and quickness of Branch and Johnson? Maybe Belichick is thinking of that right now and smiling.

* * *

Assuming the Patriots get some kind of wide receiver via free agency, be it Burress, bringing back Troy Brown, or signing someone else out there such (who the heck is left?), I don’t see them going out of their way to pick another receiver considering they still have fourth round pick P.K. Sam who was injured and invisible last season.

The search for a safety has the Patriots looking at former Green Bay Packer and Miami Dolphins safety Antuan Edwards. Edwards was a late number one pick in 1999 by the Pack, and would be a great complement to the defensive backfield, adding a young veteran to be a nickel safety (allowing Eugene Wilson to slide to nickelback and cover a receiver like a cornerback) and a solid insurance policy should injuries occur (which tend to only happen to the Patriots’ safeties in the second half of the Super Bowl).

I still think they need to add some depth at inside linebacker, but if Belichick was talking to the media he’d no doubt tell them that these players don’t grow on trees—especially inside linebacker’s (ILB) with 3-4 experience. One free agent out there who has played ILB very well, when healthy, and who, like Burress, has not experienced the free agent frenzy is fellow Steeler Kendrell Bell. Bell, when healthy, is an athletic, quarterback hungry, pass rusher who would look great playing next to Ted Johnson or Tedy Bruschi (should he return). Of course, like Burress, with Bell the question is the money and his health. But, for the right price, Bell would be an intriguing pickup.

* * *

The Celtics lost Sunday night. Was anyone on WEEI demanding a trade of Antoine? Or have they still not realized that there’s a pro basketball team in Boston? Just wondering.

* * *

So the final analysis is the trade turned out to be Antoine Walker for a protected number one pick, Googs, and Yogi Stewart. Not a bad trade by Mr. Ainge. Now let’s see a charge to the playoffs.

* * *

Sunday, March 06, 2005

WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND:

My God, it has come to this: The Celtics…no, no, sorry, YOUR Boston Celtics are the unprecedented weekend sports draw. Friday night versus the Bobcats—excuse me, the what? Charlotte couldn’t support the Hornets who headed to New Orleans where NOBODY there cares about them, and they’ll either linger or meander off to another locale for a few years. Why the Bobcats for the team name? Are bobcats indigenous to North Carolina? Does anyone in North Carolina care about pro basketball?

Well, no one really cares about the Bobcats up here, except for that they’re playing the Celtics tonight and everyone’s looking for the Walker Wiggle at the TD Banknorth Garden. Ok, I have no desire to ever see the Walker Wiggle ever again. Like watching Derek Jeter hugging Jorge Posada, there are things I’ve seen and never want to stomach seeing ever again. TD Banknorth Garden—aka a ton of money for naming rights down the tube. Fat guys with hairy back wearing Larry Bird jerseys are going to be walking around North Station this spring talking about “da Celts at da Gahden in da playoffs again”.

The other Celtics highlight is the return of Gary Payton. Didn’t they have to send a private jet out to Cali to pick this guy up for training camp? Hasn’t he expressed his desire to play on a contender on the west coast? Why is he back? The only thing I can think of is that with all the rookies and second-year guys on the roster (Justin Reed, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, Marcus Banks, and Kendrick Perkins) he must have them carrying his luggage, wiping the sweat off his forehead at practice, doing his laundry, ironing his clothes, driving him to practice, bringing him lattes…hey, this would be a great promo on FSN.

* * *

MISCELLANEOUS NUGGETS:

From what I saw of the first preseason game for the Sox last night, Hanley Ramierez looked good: smooth in the field, hustling on the bases, confident at the plate. Hopefully, he’ll spend some time in Pawtucket and we can get a good look at the guy before he takes over second base from Bellhorn in 2006.

So can we get odds on how many home runs Jason Giambi hits this year? If he stays healthy, I don’t see him putting up more than thirty. Of course, all these home runs from all these juiced-up players makes you appreciate the home runs Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Teddy Williams, Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, Mickey Mantle, Ralph Kiner, Roger Maris, Mike Schmidt, George Foster, Dale Murphy, and Jim Rice put up all those years ago before the supplements took over and illegitimized the home run, which is a shame for Ken Griffey Jr, because he OBVIOUSLY isn’t juiced, and he has that classic home run swing. For the good of baseball, let’s hope Griffey Jr is healthy again.

Get Fuzzy. Heh, heh, heh. Nuff said. (Sure, it’s sports-related. Bucky and Rob argue about the Sox and the Yankees, Satchel listens to Rob’s rants on rugby. Either way, it doesn’t matter—it’s hysterical.)

Patten, Andruzzi, Law, Brown, and Phifer: all in all, with Starks already in the fold, no huge defections. Patten was out of the picture by the end of the season; The Patriots treat offensive guards like interchangeable parts—heck, they won a super bowl with Russ Hochstein at guard; Brown may still yet be back, but his production had dropped off at wide receiver, and Phifer may yet return or be replaced by someone younger; and Law replaced by Starks and a healthy Ty Poole. Starks and Asante Samuel at starting CBs, Poole as the best nickel back in the league, and Randall Gay as your dime back—that’s a deep secondary right there. Wilson can stay at safety with Harrison. Dex Reid and Guss Scott are the primary backups. Secondary looks pretty darn good right now.

Have a great weekend, everyone. As always, THANKS FOR READING!!!

Friday, March 04, 2005

IT’S ALL CELTICS, ALL THE TIME:

Wow, other than those baby blue Laker uniforms and the fact that both teams are hovering near .500, you’d have thought that last night’s game was set in 1987 with all the build-up in the press. Three wins in three games in the Antoine era. Old employee number eight was back in the building and the crowd, if not at mid-eighties Boston Garden decibels, was at least at 2001 “Welcome to the Jungle” playoff levels. People excited about the Celtics…and to think that they called me crazy for caring back in November.

The most exciting part of the game continued to be the two-headed monster at point guard as both Marcus Banks and Delonte West continued to excel on the floor. I’d like to see West take charge with the ball a bit more as Ricky Davis was bringing it up court a bit too much for my tastes, but considering it’s been less than ten games back for West, he’s been impressive all the same.

Marcus Banks easily had the most impressive game I’ve ever seen for someone who scored zero points. He was aggressive on defense and handed out 8 assists. It was nice to see Banks showing some of the skills we heard so much about when he was coming out of UNLV. And we need Gary Payton back at point guard why exactly?

Some other random notes from the game:

Justin Reed: why has this kid been stashed on the injured list all year? He was out there covering Kobe, even blocking a shot, sticking a couple of jumpers, just looking good in his limited time on the court. Maybe this is a career peak for him, but since he’s reputed to be a defensive specialist ala Bruce Bowen, hitting those couple of shots seemed like a nice bonus.

From number 88 to number 8 for Antoine. I think doc Rivers was right, it’s a missed marketing opportunity. Now fans can pull the old number eight jerseys out rather than buying new ones. At least when Michael Jordan came back (for the first time) he wore number 45 long enough to sell a bunch of jerseys before switching back to 23. C’mon Antoine, you’re costing the ownership group some cash!

Can Antoine make a lay-up consistently? Just asking.

It was nice to see Al Jefferson in the game at the end with Mark Blount on the bench where he belongs. At least Rivers is smart enough to start Raef LaFrentz and keep Blount sitting.

Al Jefferson’s post-game interview on FSN last night included an instant classic line that reminds us all he’s only nineteen. When asked his thoughts on the game he said: “It was real crunk.”

* * *

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FREE AGENTS GONE?

Well, as usual the Patriots are standing back and watching the Redskins and others go after free agents in a mad feeding frenzy. I’m glad to see that despite winning for the 3rd time in four years they still approach the off-season with a plan and restraint. It’s hard to criticize the moves they’ve made and the moves they won’t make.

I like David Patten, don’t get me wrong, but there was no way the Patriots would pay him the ridiculous amount of money the Redskins threw at him. First off, no one is going to be paid more than Deion Branch unless they bring in someone like Plexico Burress; second, Patten wasn’t even on the field much after Branch came back, and Patten was invisible in the playoffs; finally, the Patriots still have young receivers who are due a shot, Bethel Johnson and P.K. Sam.
Patten should be a perfect fit with Washington, given Joe Gibbs history of undersized, but speedy, receivers. He was a class act who came from being undrafted and out of football, to catching on with an Arena Football League team, to working his way back to the NFL, and then winning three super bowls. He’s the kind of regular Joe who you like to root for and wish only the best. I’m glad he got his money; he’s one of the few who deserves.

Now as far as Joe Andruzzi’s value as a guard, I’m guessing it maxed out at about $1.25 to $1.5 million a year for two or three years. Much like Damien Woody last year, I think Belichick and Pioli probably told Andruzzi where they had him slotted salary-wise, and wished him well when he got so much more money that he couldn’t logically say no. His family needs to stay off the air-waves with this disrespect bologna. As I recall, the Patriots brought him when no one else wanted him, gave him a shot to play, paid him well, and he’s leaving with three super bowl rings. Sorry, but there’s no need for sour grapes when you hit the jackpot like he did in Cleveland.

The trade for Duane Starks looks like another great move, especially in light of the fact that they’re really giving up nothing. How? Well, the NFL does compensate teams that lose free agents. The Patriots are in line for an end of the third round pick as compensation for losing Damien Woody. So they trade a pick they’re already replacing and swap spots in the fifth round (which, with Arizona, is like moving up a round) for an all-pro caliber, ball-hawking, starting cornerback with experience in a defensive system (Baltimore) very similar to theirs. Granted, the deal is contingent on getting a contract worked out, but don’t you think Starks will, like Corey Dillon in Cincinnati, be motivated to get out of the losing atmosphere he’s currently stuck in?

* * *

FullPressCoverage.com: New England Patriots’ Top 2019 NFL Draft Picks Show Evolution on Both Sides of the Ball

The New England Patriots may have tipped their hand with their first two 2019 NFL Draft picks. Choosing a bigger, more aggressive outside-...