Wednesday, December 20, 2006

AROUND THE WEB

Here is the headline that REALLY scared me: Yankees discussing deals involving Cabrera. After a torrent of profanities, I read the article at SI.com and found out the Yankees were looking to move their young outfielder, Melky Cabrera. Now, I was not happy to see that it would involve lefty reliever and former Sox farmhand, Mike Gonzalez, but my initial reaction was that it involved Marlins wonder-kid and all-around superstar-in-the-making, Miguel Cabrera. The reason I am not too concerned about the deal actually taking place is that it is a three-way deal with the Pirates, Braves and Yankees and the Braves are expected to give up future star Adam LaRoche for Melky Cabrera? Sorry, I do not see that happening.

* * *

New York know-it-all Mike Lupica checks in to offer some New York perspective in the Daily News and claim that Theo Epstein is jealous of power that Brian Cashman now has in his piece Theo's solo gig ends. Lupica contends that all Theo has done is idiotically sign J.D. Drew, screw-up the Matsuzaka deal, and that Larry Lucchino was the hero who rode in on his white horse to save the day for the Red Sox. First off, I think Brian Cashman is about five seconds from losing control of his power in charge of the Yankees: a sub-.500 record anytime after April 30 and he will be calling Tampa for permission to use the bathroom at Yankee Stadium. Finally, somehow I think that Theo has done a good job of rebuilding the Red Sox. Despite the statement by Lupica that

A lot has changed since the Red Sox came back from 0-3 down on the Yankees two
years ago. Most of the change has occurred in Boston, where they have spent a
lot of time trying to ruin a good thing.
Ahh, yes. The Red Sox should have re-signed Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez (because that looks like such a good idea), not traded Bronson Arroyo, kept Orlando Cabrera at shortstop (despite the rumors he was a problem in the clubhouse), not let the now-retired Bill Mueller at third-base, keep the original dirt-dog (Mark Bellhorn), and kept that killer combo of Doug Mientkiewicz and Kevin Millar at first base. Keep Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon in the outfield at all costs, and erect a statue for Alan Embree while we are at it. Look, the 2004 Red Sox were the right team at the right time, in the right place. This was no team to keep together for all-time.

* * *

Buster Olney checks in on a subject that has me (and Theo and Tito) up at night mulling multiple possibilities: the closer situation in Boston. He responds to a question from a reader:
What is the best solution to the Red Sox closer issue? The starting rotation
looks strong, but the lack of a reliable closer could be haunting.
-- Mike,
East Bethel Road, Vt.
Mike: I think they should go into spring training with
Mike Timlin penciled in as the closer and assume that something more palatable
will come along, through competition, through injury, through trade. I think
Timlin could be OK -- not great, but decent enough -- so long as Terry Francona
uses him the way Bruce Bochy used Trevor Hoffman in San Diego, limiting only to
save situations, and for only one inning at a time. Put it this way: I'd bet
that whoever is the Red Sox closer on April 1 will not be the closer on Sept.
30. It will be a developing situation.

Someone will come along and jump into the role. Closer is the most over-rated position in baseball. Teams change these guys like we change our socks. There is no magic formula. You need a good pitcher who throws strikes, has a little success, gains a little confidence, and VOILA!

* * *

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Any clod can have the facts, but having opinions is an art - Charles McCabe

The (formerly Boston) Sports Guy, Hollywood Bill Simmons over at ESPN.com busted out with his turn-back-the-clock piece. His pre-2004 Red Sox whining about J.D. Drew based on e-mails from sour grapes Los Angeles Dodgers fans seems comical if it were not so sad. Here is a lovely sample of his response:


I haven't been this horrified by a big move from a Boston team since the Celtics
traded for Vin Baker four summers ago. The Sox just signed someone who, by all
accounts, plays without any semblance of passion or intensity. He's the exact
type of player that Boston fans have always hated. We have a century-long track
record of proving this point. That's the part I don't get. It's not like Theo is
from France -- he's from freaking Brookline. He should have known. Arrrrrrrrrgh.
Of course, compare J.D. Drew to an overweight alcoholic who used to help carry the kegs to Chez Chazer Dorm at U-Hartford. Neither humorous nor relevant. Apparently, Simmons believes Red Sox fans prefer players with intangibles: hustle, grit, dirty uniforms. Oh, you mean like Old Trot-Trot Nixon. Nixon got dirty diving for balls he could not catch, made Manny look like Captain Intangibles of the Pinstripers on the basepaths (seriously, how many times did Trot Nixon screw up in the field, on the bases, at the plate and yet ALWAYS walked around with a get-out-of-jail free card? He was a poor fielder, a horrible clutch hitter, always hit into a double-play at the worst possible time, or else struck out, had no power, had no speed, had numerous metal gaffes on the basepaths, and yet he is treated like he was some mythical Red Sox hero like Dwight Evans. I saw Dwight Evans play right field for the Red Sox, and Trot Nixon, you are no Dwight Evans!)

Anyway, now that I can smile and think about if I would perversely enjoy it more if Trot Nixon ended up in Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay this off-season, the HSG (Hollywood Sports Guy: all Clippers, all the time) postulates that Theo, being from Brookline, must be a moron because he goes out to get players who contribute to victories like J.D. Drew instead of another Lou Merloni who is loved by the locals for some inexplicable reason. Memo to HSG: NICE GUYS FINISH LAST! I will side with Theo and go with VORP over dirty uniforms.

My editor (aka Sexy Wife) is always on me not to bad-mouth the HSG, but I cannot help it. Having been addicted to his early work in the pre-Internet-monolith era, I KNOW what he is capable of doing, and it kills me to see him shoveling crud out at ESPN.com that he himself would have been first in line to mock.

So, I will end it on a high note for my fallen hero, the HSG, because he came up with two Patriots-related gems buried in his column:

The Patriots are going to end up with the best win-loss record of any team
undergoing a rebuilding season in NFL history.

and

Joey Harrington drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty by tripping over Vince
Wilfork's body may have been the most ridiculous moment of a ridiculous season.
I grew up with guys like Kenny Stabler, Roger Staubach and Steve Grogan taking
superhuman cheap shots from fearsome, 275-pound linemen and bouncing up every
time … now guys named "Joey" can accidentally trip over a prone nose tackle and
draw a 15-yard whistle. We're about 10 years away from QBs diving like soccer
players to draw penalties. Fantastic. Thanks for ruining my favorite sport, NFL
Rules Committee.

CLOSER-BY-COMMITTEE

Yes! The Closer-By-Committee is back in Boston. Long ridiculed by the casual fan and WEEIdiot, long argued for by the Legion of Bill James Fanatics, is this the year the Red Sox turn the league on its ear with its Five Closers bullpen? I certainly hope so.

The last time that I checked, the American League champion Detroit Tigers made it to the World Series with a variation of the idea. To be fair, Jim Leyland was bringing his closer in the game in the seventh and eighth inning. Jones was the mop-up guy. Joel Zumaya was the closer. He closed them down when it was needed the most and Jones just vultured a bunch of saves, further diluting an already useless statistic.

The Sox took another step in that direction by scooping up set-up man extraordinaire Brendan Donnelly from the Angels for a 27 year-old prospect. Phil Seibel? Here is what the AP release said about Seibel:
Seibel went 6-3 with a 1.24 ERA for three Boston farm clubs last season. He didn't pitch in 2005 after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow following the 2004 season.
Wow, they must be partying down in Anaheim now. Of course, there was one negative to dealing Seibel:

Before turning professional, Seibel pitched three seasons for the University of
Texas.
HOOK ‘EM HORNS! YEE-HAW!

* * *

Friday, December 15, 2006

SIXTEEN CANDLES

Do I have 16 cogent thoughts in my head? Will four posts be dedicated to my favorite Family Guy quotes that most inappropriately came out of the mouth of my three or five year old? Do they still play hockey in Boston? Read on, gentle reader, for all the answers in this thrilling segment of Sixteen Candles:

1. Daisuke Deadline:
My gut tells me that Daisuke is a misguided and unwilling pawn in the Scott Boras Empire bent on world baseball domination. Boras is exactly the type of agent, heck, he is the ONLY one, who would sit a 26 year international star on the sidelines, showered in disgrace in his home country, for his own selfish purposes. Boras wants the posting agreement with the Japanese Leagues null and void. Well, duh, of course it is ludicrous. But, can he do this without damaging the Red Sox World Series chances in 2007? I firmly believe that ALL players, US or International (Japan, Korea, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Antarctica, etc) should be subject to the amateur draft. Back to the point, however, I can see in my mind so clearly Epstein the Triumvirate facing the press back in Boston, empty-handed, while Daisuke stares in shock as his translator tells him how Scott Boras just screwed over his chance to pitch in the US in 2007 (and probably 2008). I can hear the WEEIdiots screaming and shouting for the head of Theo already. Sigh.

2. Gonzo:
I really like the idea of the Sox swinging a trade with Pittsburgh and re-obtaining Mike Gonzalez from the Pirates. A hard-throwing lefty in the back of the bullpen sounds good to me. I refuse to over-value the closer role, as I think most relief pitchers are eminently capable of rotating the closer duties: i.e. three back of the game pitchers who can pitch the eighth and ninth innings in save situations (yes, the dreaded-in-Boston closer-by-committee). Closers are over-valued. A team with three set-up men pitching two or three innings at the end of the game every few days would be the strongest. I believe the Sox had the right idea in 2003, just the wrong manager and wrong relief pitchers to make it work. Back to the point yet again, Gonzalez, if obtained cheap enough (as in: no pitching prospects sent to Pittsburgh) would be a great pick-up and hold things over until the Craig Hansen/Edgar Martinez/Manny Delcarmen closer-by-committee kicks-in in 2008.

3. Green Green:
Great win by the Celtics the other night. Of course, all luster is lost when you realize they beat the Knicks. For a while, it looked like the Celtics would get an all too rare laugher and be allowed to showcase Leon Powe. Unfortunately, the Knicks stormed back and the Celtics had to show some backbone and hang-on for the win. Here is what stood out for me:
a. WHERE WAS GERALD GREEN???
b. WHERE THE $#^@)! WAS GERALD GREEN???
c. SERIOUSLY, DOC, WHERE THE $#^@)! WAS GERALD GREEN???

4. Celtics Conspiracy Theory:
Besides the fact that Danny Ainge is desperate to get into the lottery and get at least the chance of a snowball in hell in the Greg Oden sweepstakes, the Celtics must be showcasing their spare parts. What other reason is there that Gerald Green, fresh off his best games as a pro, sits for over 40 minutes and watches Tony Allen stand around with his finger in his ear? Allen must be on the Celtics Showcase, along with Delonte West (seriously, who in their right mind would sit Rajon Rondo for a 2-guard playing out of position at the point who cannot stick a jumper to save his hide?) Hopefully, West and Allen are on their way out (packaged with Scalabrini, Wally and a couple of number one picks?) for an impact power forward (Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett, etc). THAT would be the deal to put the Celtics over the top.

5. Projected Celtics Starting Five/Eight Man Rotation:
PG: Rondo/Bassy Telfair platoon
SG: Gerald Green
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Mystery Acquisition
C: Big Al/Big Perk platoon
Sixth Man: Ryan Gomes
Banner #17 in 2007-08!

6. If he is the Answer, what was the Question?
Please let the Allen Iverson rumors be just that. The thought of giving up Al Jefferson along with the kitchen sink to a division rival for the right to watch Iverson fight with Pierce on the court is hardly a pleasant one. Big Al should be an untouchable, along with Gerald Green and Rondo. Allen Iverson is not going to bring a banner to Boston, only a 20-10 (OK, maybe 17-8 or 15-7) big man can do that.

7. Free Willy will have his Revenge on Us All:
Once again, the Patriots continue to befuddle and confound. Not to give too much credit to the Dolphins defense, but the Patriots offense was horrible. Maybe the Dolphins picked-up the Patriots blocking scheme, and maybe they varied their blitz packages, but Brady pulled out another stinker against a very good defense. In his defense, the Patriots are the big game on EVERY team schedule. Forget that the Steelers won the Super Bowl last year and San Diego looks so good that one can hardly consider them to do anything but waltz into the Super Bowl, the Colts and Patriots are the teams in the NFL who all other teams use as their measuring stick.

8. Spending Spree:
Since John Henry has decided that the Red Sox are going to go all out and screw financial conservatively (why not, since the team is making money hand-over-fist), I was thinking about Big Brigs all-time favorite fantasy baseball player, Marcus Giles. The question regarding the 28 year-old second-baseman is simply: was his 2003 season an aberration? If so, is he worth signing since his numbers have steadily declined since 2003? I went to the geek gurus at baseballprospectus.com where it was pretty obvious that what you see is what you get in regards to Giles. He is, in essence, Mark Loretta with a bit more pop in Fenway. 15 home runs, 40+ doubles, decent defense, and a solid individual. Of course, if the Mets, as expected, turn this into a bidding war, what is wrong with Boston bringing back Mark Loretta? I would rather bring David Eckstein Junior, I mean Dustin Pedroia, up a year later than a year too soon. If the brass determines another year of seasoning is needed, then by all means, Get Back Loretta!

9. Spending Spree 2:
Speaking of spending money on ex-Red Sox, why not bring in a couple more? How about Dan Duquette era Sox farmhands Tony Armas Jr. and Chris Reitsma? Reitsma, who was injured most of last year (I know, I was counting on 30 saves from him last year in one fantasy baseball league), has closing experience and would be a great option for late in the game. Armas Jr., who is only 28, has had injury problems, but with his sinker the Sox could bring him in and turn him into some kind of ersatz Derek Lowe coming in and getting ground-outs in the late innings. The Sox need to get creative in the bullpen. Armas Jr. could be the answer. Oh yeah, speaking of relief pitchers, how about a great lefty set-up man still sitting around in free-agency? Ron Villone, come on down!

10. Buh-bye Biceps:
A sad day for my sister-in-law Shannon as Gabe Kapler and his bulging biceps have left Fenway Park. Kapler, only 31, is taking over as manager of the Greensboro Class A affiliate. It is great to see the enthusiasm that Kapler has for the game being funneled productively. Kapler is well liked in Boston, seems intelligent and articulate, and rather than sit on the bench or bounce-around, he has taken the next step. Kudos for Kapler.

11. Back-up Outfielder-Corner Infielder/Bat on the Bench:
I thought the Sox front-office was obsessed with Aubrey Huff? There he is! Go get him! Huff has good power, good ability to get on-base, and is not yet 30. Why is he sitting around waiting for the phone to ring? His salary demands are not excessive, and I am sure there are plenty of at-bats available for him. His versatility is only yet another plus for him.

12. Prayers:
Phil Kessel? Jon Lester? Both having cancer-related issues? Let us hope this only further heightens the need for more and more ongoing research into how and why the human body creates ways to destroy itself. I do not think there is a person I know who is not affected in some way, shape, or form by this disease, and I know my prayers are going towards all people affected, not just the person fighting cancer, but all those around them giving them strength and suffering from the fear, anxiety, and helplessness they no doubt feel.

13. Yankee-ing My Chain:
Checking in on the Evil Empire in the Bronx, and as much as I hate to say it, kudos to General Manager Brian Cashman. He got Mike Mussina to take a paycut and stay in New York when unproven starting pitchers like Gil Meche and Ted Lilly get in excess of $10 million per season; Andy Pettite re-joined the staff to give the Yankers the lefty starter who shows up once in a while (yeah, that is to mean that the Big Eunich is still around and continuing to be bailed out by the line-up). Trading Gary Sheffield could turn around and bite them, since I doubt Melky Cabrera is really a prime-time player (and Sheffield was easily the MOST FEARED hitter in that dream line-up by far), but the Yanks desperately needed an infusion of young pitching. Much as I hate to admit it, it was a great off-season by Brian Cashman.

14. Making My Wife Happy:
Sorry, guys, this is no FHM/Lad Mag special words of wisdom section, but just a note that a favorite of my beautiful wife Kathy, Doug Mirabelli, is back in the fold as back-up catcher and all-around most popular bench-warmer. Considering how good Cla Meredith would look in the bullpen right now (and to say nothing of the performance of Josh Bard last season in San Diego), the Sox had best get their moneys worth out of Dougie.

15. More Reasons to Like the Idea of J.D. Drew in Boston:
With thanks to Dan Agonistes (check him out at http://danagonistes.blogspot.com or at the Baseball Prospectus website) and his BIPChart, I found yet another reason to see why J.D Drew is such a good fit in Fenway Park: 2003: 43.6%; 2004: 39.1%; 2005: 43.8%; and 2006: 47.8%. Those numbers represent the percentage of fly balls hit to left field by J.D. Drew. I have long contended that David Ortiz benefits by hitting fly balls to left field in Fenway Park (in 2006 Ortiz his 40% of his fly balls to left field, an amazing number considering 75% of the ground balls he hit were to center/left side of the infield. Drew, one could say, has a stroke built for Fenway. Get excited, people!

16. Final Rip:
Could have been a great advice column by Dan Shaughnessy in the Globe on Thursday 12/14/06. The supposed purpose of the column is to give advice to Daisuke Matsusaka about what to do and not to do playing in Boston. Of course, Shaughnessy leaps at the opportunity to bad-mouth all those who oppose the great and wonderful Shank. I would link to it, but I do not want to give anyone the idea that it bears reading. It is altogether a good idea with not a very good editing job, I guess. Unlike some in the blogosphere, I do not hate or belittle Shaughnessy. He is actually an excellent writer. I just feel that sometimes he should be writing about the Red Sox and not about how Dan Shaughnessy feels about the Red Sox. His belittling of his known enemies, Curt Schilling and Bill Belichick, should have been cut out of the column. Petty and personal grievances have no place in august publication such as the Boston Globe.

On Schilling he wrote: Be wary of a large teammate with a blond mullet wearing No. 38. He will explain that he is a spokesman for all of the other players and instruct you on everything from tipping the clubhouse kids to throwing the splitter. He will show you his copious notes on all major league umpires. He will tell you which media members to trust and which ones are snakes. He will also urge you to vote Republican.

On Belichick: If you don't want to learn English, we understand. In fact, it might not be a bad strategy. All you really need is one stock answer. Try "It is what it is." You will be amazed how well that works.

Otherwise, there was only one thing that made absolutely no sense: Tell J.D. Drew he's got to buy you dinner at least once every road trip. There's a chance he's only here because the Sox wanted to soften up your agent for your negotiations.

The Fred Smerlas line was great, as was the Lugo and Youkilis bits. Shaughnessy has done some great writing in the past, and I hope he can get around to forgetting about who dissed who and get back to doing what he does best.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

OPTIONS AND OPINIONS

Well, at least someone other than me likes the Red Sox signing of J.D. Drew. Going by the numbers (which convinced me, see my blog posted yesterday for details), this deal looks good to Joe Sheehan, the big brain over at Baseball Prospectus. Ripped and second-guessed by every talking-head and writer in the greater Boston area before the deal even went down (we coulda had Johnny Damon for less last year!), Sheehan offers a breath of fresh air and detachment desperately needed to be seen. Sorry, the page is subscription only, so I will not waste time with a link, but here is the gist of it:

December 6, 2006 - Prospectus Today: Dominoes Start to Fall. by Joe Sheehan
A very quiet trip to Orlando got loud Tuesday, as the Red Sox landed the last remaining impact hitter, and did so for a price that makes him perhaps the best signing of the offseason.


Hal B: Repeat after me: BEST SIGNING OF THE OFFSEASON!!!
J.D. Drew agreed to a five-year, $70-million contract with the Sox, effectively making his decision to opt out of his Dodger contract worth an additional $37 million to him.

HB: Drew, rather than spend the next couple of years watching Nomar
tongue-wrestle another man, I mean Mia Hamm, in the Los Angeles clubhouse while Grady Little waxes poetic about frog rear-ends, decided to test the waters of the greatest free-agent off-season feeding frenzy in the history of Major League Baseball.
Despite Drew’s package of OBP, power and defense, he didn’t inspire the feverish bidding that players such as Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano did this offseason.
HB: Let me say, first, that Soriano and Lee are flawed players who fell
into a right-place/right-time scenario. Lee will eat himself out of
Houston and Soriano strikes out way too much, does not walk enough resulting in a low OBP and has enough defensive liabilities that I expect ESPN will be looping non-stop by August Soriano tangled in the vine at Wrigley. Other than that, feel free to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at these two.
Drew carries a number of labels, the most damning two being "apathetic" and "fragile." The data supports the latter to an extent; Drew's 146 games last year were a personal single-season career high, and he’s alternated seasons of fewer than 110 and and greater than 130 games played since 1999. There's no one reason; he was platooned some early in his career (notably in 1999), and he's suffered two traumatic injuries, one in 2001, the other in 2005, each the result of being hit by a pitch. Focus on that last part for a second.
HB: Seriously, focus on that last part: the result of being hit by a pitch. What, is it his fault bones break when a 90+ MPH force impacts them?
Drew's raw games played totals are unimpressive, but in only one of the last six seasons can he be said to have been injury-prone in the sense of plagued by multiple problems. On July 3, 2005, Drew was plunked on the left wrist by Brad Halsey, suffering a break that cost him most of the second half. The injury was an eerie reminder of what happened in 2001, when a pitch by David Wells broke Drew's right hand. That fracture cost him six weeks of playing time, and also shelved an MVP-caliber performance.
HB: So when you listen to Glenn Ordway or some other buffoon mouth-off about J.D. Drew and his injury history without knowing what they are yelling about, remember that the Sox also have the option to let Drew take a day off and DH. Barring bad luck, he should play close to 150 games.
This is not to say that Drew is Miguel Tejada less a break or two.

HB: You know, Ol' Miggy Tejada, the only guy with any kind of extremely remote outside chance to even come close to joining Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin in the 2k consecutive games club.

In the years he doesn't put his hands in front of a pitched ball, he deals with enough leg injuries and shoulder owies to make him a 140-game player. But much of his reputation stems from the raw games totals, and a closer examination shows that his missed time is as much a produce of ill fortune as inherent fragility.

HB: Everyone in Red Sox Nation merely need knock-on-wood in regards to J.D. Drew this season and the roll of the dice will go in his favor this
year.
Now, PECOTA doesn't see this, and projects Drew poorly, but I think he can be expected to play in 135-145 games, perhaps more with the DH as an option.
HB: I have no desire to get into PECOTA for the next twenty minutes, so
just know that it is a way of projecting future performance based on a bazillion variables.

If he plays that often, he’ll be a seven-win player and this contract will be a very, very good one for the Sox.

HB: Being a seven win player means that his value over the MLB average
player at his position equals seven extra wins. Let me see, Trot Nixon was a bit below average last year, and how many games behind the Yankees did the Sox finish? Hmm.
Neither Lee nor Soriano are as good a bet to perform at a star level, and both players required longer commitments for a higher average annual value.

HB: Theo is still smarter. IN THEO WE TRUST!

If signing Drew is a clear win for the Sox, it's less clear what the outlay of cash for his services may mean for the other situations facing the team. With Drew, Coco Crisp, and Wily Mo Pena, does Manny Ramirez look more tradable? Keep in mind that Crisp and Pena have extensive injury histories of their own, although like Drew, the ones they've endured have been traumatic rather than chronic. Is it unrealistic to expect the Sox to keep Pena in an extra-outfielder role, even though these four players may only be available simultaneously in a quarter of the scheduled games? Can Pena play some first base to alleviate the logjam? Or does this signing herald the end of Manny Ramirez’s time in Boston? As someone who has long insisted that Ramirez would stay with the Sox, I have to admit the Drew pickup makes me consider the alternative for the first time.

HB: Nahh, the Sox will have a great outfield/DH/1B combo with Wily Mo filling in as some kind of super-sub at all three outfield spots and 1B/DH. Having the option to give guys the day off once in a while is a good thing. Remember, Terry Francona likes to play around with the line-up and keep everyone fresh all season long.

Anyway, the article goes on, but that is the really relevant stuff as long as we Red Sox fans are concerned. Like I said, considering all the negative junk written and spoken about the deal before it even went down, it is nice to see a non-biased view in support of what I believe is a good deal for the Red Sox.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

SIXTEEN CANDLES

No, there is no Molly Ringwald or Anthony Michael Hall fan club meeting going on in my living room right now (it is held in the kitchen, so there!), but I have sixteen thoughts, so I figured if the plain-looking red-head can get the (and I quote from the fabulous eighties here) bohunk, why the heck can I not steal my title from the movie that, if nothing else, brought us eternal humor from Long Duk Dong, aka the Donger.

1. The longer that the Sox hold onto Manny, the more I feel he has a better chance to stay. Waitaminute, that was probably the stupidest thing ever written. If they trade him, I will know he has no chance to stay. Much like the Doonesbury depiction of President Clinton, I am waffling here on Manny: On one hand, he is closing in on a big decline, he is defensively-challenged, and he quit on the team; On the other hand, look at the on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, runs created, and protection he provides for Big Papi in the line-up. Manny at DH, Coco in left, Wily Mo in center, J.D. Drew (more on that later) in right, and Big Papi at 1B looks pretty good to me. There is so much conflicting information out there about Manny going or staying, I will make a quick list of my yeah or nay:
a. Dodgers: YES. They have the prospects the Sox want. I want RHP Jonathan Broxton, OF Matt Kemp, and RHP Chad Billingsley for him. All are under 23 and are top-tier prospects.
b. Giants: NO. They have no prospects, and no one on the roster who could start in Boston.
c. Padres: MAYBE. Only if Jake Peavey is part of the deal.
d. Yankees: Straight up for A-Rod. I mean, GOD NO!!!
e. Orioles: NO. For who? And also, do you want to face Manny 19 times a year for the foreseeable future?
f. Cubs: MAYBE. Hmm. Intriguing. Mark Prior, Matt Murton, and a prospect or two might work out well for both sides. Oh wait, Lou Pineilla is managing there? Forget it, he run out to left field and strangle Manny with his bare hands after yet another gentle trot in the general direction of a flyball yields yet another triple. Change that to a big, fat NO.
g. Mets: NO. That boat has sailed. Besides, Manny and Carlos Delgado in the same clubhouse? That has BAD IDEA written all over it.

2. Doug Gabriel, what in the world did you do to Bill Belichick? Sure, guys get into a doghouse, but Doug Gabriel is in some kind of Ed Whitson-Billy Martin doghouse. Of course, all Ed Whitson did is throw a punch at his manager in a bar-room brawl, what could Gabriel have done to warrant such action? Since neither he nor the Patriots powers that be are talking, it must have been something pretty significant since he had been their most consistent receiver.

3. The Patriots Running Game. Has anyone seen it lately? Suddenly, the Patriots cannot run the ball anymore. What happened to the draw out of the shotgun? Did Charlie Weis copyright that play? What happened to keeping pressure off Brady by running the ball effectively? Where have you gone, Antoine Smith?

4. Eight turnovers in their last two games. Sure, the Bears were a ball-hawking unit, blah-blah-blah. But the Lions defense kicking the Pats around for 3 quarters? I expected the Lions to score points (this was, after all, the Super Bowl for Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz), but what was wrong with Brady and the offense in quarters 1, 2, and 3? That was disconcerting.

5. Reason number 174 why David Ortiz deserved the MVP: When the rest of the team (especially you, Manny) quit on the season, Big Papi, despite NO PROTECTION in the line-up kept bopping away throughout September (and lest ye of little memory forget, for a couple of weeks we were not sure if Big Papi was even coming back from the heart palpitations scare).

6. Everyone mentions Jeremy Giambi when this subject comes up in conversation, but it was the trade of Shea Hillenbrand for Byung-Hyun Kim that opened the door to everyday play for Big Papi in Boston. Giambi was already on his way out of town, but with Hillenbrand and Kevin Millar (who incidently just re-upped with Baltimore for 2007) ahead of him, the Sox Slugger Extraordinaire of today may have received his trade request and we would been been left holding some loser AA prospect in return for the greatest left-handed hitter of the twenty-first century (sit your ass down, San Francisco. Steroid-boy Bonds spent most of this century on the disabled list!).

7. I just re-read Moneyball for about the fiftieth time (or about fifty times more than Joe Morgan of Cincinnati Reds/ESPN fame). It amazes me that there are general managers and executives (and loopy ESPN announcers) who do not look at Billy Beane and all he has done in Oakland and say: MY GOD, THAT MAKES TOO DAMN MUCH SENSE TO IGNORE! By the way, be sure to visit the greatest Joe Morgan (Not Walpole Joe of Red Sox Lore) bashing site at http://www.firejoemorgan.com/

8. The best right-fielder in the National League in 2006 (as rated by VORP: Value Over Replacement Player) is none other than the much-maligned J.D. Drew, the new right-fielder (or maybe center-fielder) for the Boston Red Sox. Now, VORP does not include defensive statistics, or his rating would be higher. Poohbah, you say. Right-field is a barren wasteland in the National League. Fine, we will include left-fielders in the equation (who are not known for their defense), and Drew ranks fifth, behind some guys named Barry Bonds, Alfonso Soriano, Jason Bay, and Matt Thank You God for Putting Me in Colorado Holliday. OK, let us look at EqA (Equivalent Average. A measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. EQA considers batting as well as baserunning, but not the value of a position player's defense. And yes, just like in Trig class, I refuse to show the math.) Number one out of NL right-fielders, the original $14 million dollar man that Red Sox fans spent the fall lamenting the fact he ended up with the Yankees: Bobby Abreau. .004 points behind him (aka negligible amount): J.D. Drew. Add in the left-fielders and you include Barry Bonds. Thank you, Baseball Prospectus, NOW I understand why the Sox value J.D. Drew.

9. While I am geeking on stats, here is colossal failure of the Red Sox’ lineup translated into my two favorite stats: EqA and VORP:

Manny Ramirez
0.352
66.1

David Ortiz
0.344
76.8

Kevin Youkilis
0.29
19.6

Mike Lowell
0.28
20.7

Trot Nixon
0.277
8

Coco Crisp
0.255
7.5

Jason Varitek
0.255
2.8

Mark Loretta
0.255
12.3

Alex Gonzalez
0.246
3.2

Let me see: Manny & Big Papi are worth their weight in gold. Youk and Lowell are good. Trot Nixon comes in as comparable to Bernie Williams, which would have been fine in 1999, but definitely not in 2006. Coco, I hope, is healthy in 2007, as his numbers were so far down from projections of 2006. The same goes for Varitek. Loretta was about where expected, and, wow, as much as I love A-Gon as a defensive player, his offense is historically horrible. Wily Mo Pena, by the way, projects as hitting 30+ homers, driving in close to 90 RBIs, and a OPS of .950 in the near future (PECOTA projections), which explains part of the reason the Sox are so high on him.

10. Although I do notice any buzz about them, which is funny since NESN is still hyping Bruins Buzz with Hazel Mae in a tight shirt, but the Bruins are actually looking like a classic scrappy team that could finish second in the division, win a first round series, and maybe stretch a series to six or seven games against a good team. Which, considering how bad they looked in the first weeks of the season, is a whole heck of a lot better than I thought they could ever be this season.

11. What to make of the Celtics? So much youth, so much energy, so much potential. With Paul Pierce and Wally dinged up, is it so hard to throw Gerald Green out on the floor for forty minutes and see what he does?

12. In the Premiership, the Bent Boys have pulled Charlton out of last place at last. My Toffees have remained in the hunt despite injuries. That said, Manchester United is so strong this season, that even the historically mighty Chelsea is looking up to them.

13. Amazing how so much can change in the NFL in two weeks. The Jets still believe they have a chance to make the playoffs, sportswriters all over the country have forgotten that Marty Schottenheimer coaches the San Diego Chargers, and Indianapolis is no longer as invincible as they looked October. Meanwhile, Martin Gramatica, who looked so good in the Patriots training camp, has been elected into the Cowboys Ring of Honor after one game. Denver, the Lords of September, have tumbled so badly that they are tooth and nail with the J-E-T-S Jet Jets JETS for the final playoff spot. Baltimore is the most puzzling team in the AFC, as they somehow seem capable of winning a few games with their defense, but their offense is still terrible with Steve McNair at the helm. Heck, I thought they were better on offense at the end of 2005 when Kyle Too Little Too Late Boller finally starting acting like an NFL quarterback. So, of course, Brian Billick relegates him to the bench.

14. I am sorry, I am trying to stay calm about the insane amounts of money going to crappy ballplayers this winter, but I cannot hold it in anymore: GARY MATTHEWS JR??? FIVE YEARS AT FIFTY MILLION??? WHAT THE #&$&@(^# WAS ANAHEIM THINKING???

15. Sorry, I have to go on the record about these salaries one more time: If Ted Lilly gets four years at forty million, Matt Clement all of a sudden becomes affordable and tradable and therefore a decent chip to get a young arm or bat during spring training or at the trading deadline.

16. Let the final candle be the birthday cake for my Mother. An amazing, giving, loving person who spent everyday doing everything in her power for us. She gets all the credit for my son being left-handed (increasing his value to major league teams), and she is so wonderful with my little monkeys it is no wonder that whenever we give them an option to go do whatever they want on a weekend, they always immediately pass up the zoo, Chuck E. Cheese, or anywhere else to go visit Barbie and Grandpa. I think back to all the batting practice balls she tracked down (and is now tracking down for the grandkids), all the football games she had to sit through (well, still has to sit through), and her love of Yaz (sorry, no Polish superstars coming up through Boston anymore). Thank you, Mim, happy birthday, and we all love you so much.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

OFF-SEASON JITTERS

Manny, Manny, Manny: Wherefore art thou, Manny? Is this the end of the days of Manny stumbling in the shadow of the Green Monster? Who is out there willing to trade prospects for Manny? What is his value these days? How can the Sox fill his void in the line-up?

On one hand, I completely understand the stance of the front-office. Manny complains. A lot. He takes at-bats, innings, games, weeks off, regardless of opponent or time of season. He is not known as the best teammate and Terry Francona has probably lost years off his life worrying about and dealing with Manny.

On the other hand, he is second-best right-handed hitter in baseball (Albert Pujols is about a mile ahead of everyone else in the game right now). There is no one short of A-Rod, Pujols, or Barry Bonds who the Sox could get who would provide the level of protection Manny affords Big Papi in the line-up. David Ortiz is looking at 200 walks in 2007 if Manny is anywhere else.

So, Theo, what do you do? Does Manny depart for prospects? Do J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo join the line-up? I think so. Let me say: letting Alex Gonzalez go was just plain stupid. The Orioles won a lot of games with Mark Belanger at shortstop in the seventies. Maybe that has something to do with how they turned Dennis and Tippy Martinez into All-Star pitchers. I like Lugo, but for second-base, not shortstop. I like J.D. Drew as well, but at one year for $6 million. Nothing more.

Here is how I see the Sox right now:

* Trade Manny for closer-prospect, infield prospect and starting pitcher prospect.
* Sign Julio Lugo.
* Sign J.D. Drew.
* Put Wily Mo Pena in centerfield and Coco Crisp in left-field to take advantage of Pena being a better fielder when he has a better view of the hitter and to hide the weak arm of Coco. Crisp, Pena, & Drew in the outfield will turn a lot of doubles in the gap into outs for the pitching staff.

Line-up:

LF: Coco Crisp
SS: Julio Lugo
1B/DH: David Ortiz
RF: J.D. Drew
3B: Mike Lowell
CF: Wily Mo Pena
DH/IB: Kevin Youkilis
C: Jason Varitek
2B: Dustin Pedroia

Is it a better line-up without Manny? Hell, no. Is it a more-balanced/Billy Beane Moneyball line-up? Hell, yeah. Why not keep modeling the team on the old Moneyball Genius? Oakland has yet to fall to earth anytime and keeps chugging along winning 90 or so games every year.

DICE-K

Repeat after me: Dice-Kay. Not Die-Soo-kee. Not Dae-suk. Dice-Kay Mat-soo-zah-kah. Daisuke Matsuzaka. No D-Mat; No fancy nicknames, please. He has one already: The Monster. Sorry, Wally, sorry Dick Raditz, the Sox have a new Monster in town.

Remember that energy when Pedro Martinez first arrived in Boston with that 97MPH fastball, the change-up, the Flash Gordon curveball, and that nasty slider he threw before his shoulder went? Yeah, those were surreal days. A game being pitched by Pedro of his Prime was not to be missed because you never knew if he would pitch a perfect game or strike out 25 batters. The possibility existed in the late 90s/early 00s that you would see a pitching performance like one you had never seen before: history was being made on the mound everytime the ball was in his hands.

Well, it is going to be back in 2007.

Daisuke the Monster Matsuzaka will, eventually, be in a Red Sox uniform making the original Nomomania; Irabu-irritability; Ichiro-media-madness; and Matsui-mania look like small potatoes. This could be Fernandomania! This kid is the real deal.

I wanted to hold back on this until the Sox signed him, but since I cannot wait another two weeks, I am writing it now. Besides, having been on vacation, I am overdue to post something somewhat relevant (Celtics get blown out by the Knicks? Slit my wrists for me now, please!). As to why the Monster signing is not going to be official until right up until the deadline? Two words: Scott Boras. Boras will wring every penny from the Sox Triumvirate, but in an off-season where Alfonso Soriano gets $136 million over 8 years, whatever the Sox pay Matsuzaka will be a deal. $51.1 million posting fee and $45 million over 5 years? A bargain.

Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield. That starting five could/would/should rack-up close to 1,000 strikeouts over the course of a season. Heck, while I am still giddy with joy, howzabout the Sox bring in Roger Clemens for the stretch run?

* * *

Thursday, November 16, 2006

V-V-V-Vinny and the… PATS?????

We all know Bill Belichick loves the biggest bust named Vinny this side of Vin Baker, aka the pride of UHartford (Go Chazer and your Fighting Sousaphones or whatever the heck they are called). Conspiracy theories abound (Tom Brady/Matt Cassell have serious arm injuries, Belichick has gone crazy and is bringing back Touchdown Tommy Vardell to play fullback, or that Belichick is paying back Vinny for his silence about certain indiscretions from the past). In all seriousness, Vinny is here to replace the trifecta of back-up QBs who have bounced around New England since the exiling of Drew Bledsoe. Nothing more. Nothing less. Belichick likes to have a veteran QB on the bench. Too bad it is not more exciting.

Just to divert away for a second:

Here a very personal note regarding Vinny Testaverde. I was in Junior High (7th grade) when he won the Heisman while playing for the U aka Miami University of Florida (not Ohio). I remember watching his choke job on TV while sleeping over a friends house (Tom McManus). Not too long afterwards, I drifted away from Tom, eventually ending up with my friends who I am still friends with today who were much more involved in sports and more involved in the geek realm I populated, and Tom ended up as one of those kids in high school that were way too into drugs, partying, and just acting out for the sake of acting out. Do not get me wrong, he was a good kid, definitely not stupid, funny as all hell, but just not in a position in his life to put it together. I was not close to him, but he was one of those people I always said hi to in high school and would chat with, just because we had been better friends in our youth. Not too long after high school he crashed his motorcycle into a tree. Dead as a doornail. Other than his picture in the local paper for his memorial service, I never saw him again after high school. But when I hear the name Vinny Testaverde, I think of Tom and what a waste his death was and think about what he could have done and who he could have been been had he been in a different place.

DAMNGINI

Waitasec, the Pats lost to the Jets? The J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets? What a horrid state of affairs. Once again, the Patriots offensive play calling needs to come into question, as they team could not figure out for the second week in a row if they were a running team or a team that should spread the field and let Tom Brady pick apart the secondary and poor saps trying to cover Ben Watson. Instead, the team kind of muddled around in between. Running somewhat effectively but not consistently. The passing game was not consistent or in rhythm the entire game.

I had the pleasure of watching the game at the Charlie Horse in West Bridge sitting directly in front of the 8 screens showing all the early games with the Pats on the big screen. Information Overload! Suffice to say, I cannot imagine how thoroughly annoying I would be with the Sunday Ticket as I switched from game to game. Suffice to say, after watching the game, I was more than ready to let the kids loose in the arcade and take out my frustrations on the kiddie games.

Where did the Pats go wrong? First and foremost, the defense let the team down in the fourth quarter when they could not stop the immortal Kevin Barlow and get the offense back in the mud. While I detest going away from natural grass, at this point I think the FinessePats are better off on turf. Third down stops were few and far between, as the Jets spent a lot of time eating the clock.

Also, at this point, it is ludicrous to keep bringing up David Givens and Deion Branch as reasons for the offensive slump the team has been in. Jabbar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Doug Gabriel (despite his fumble and benching), and Troy Brown are a solid group. I have no doubt that Jackson will emerge as a number one receiver next year, but the group now is still very good. Lest anyone forget, Caldwell is doing well, Gaffney caught 55 passes the other year, Gabriel looks better than Randy Moss, and Jackson is slowly coming into his own. Troy Brown is, well, Troy Brown. Last time I checked, David Givens went 8 receptions for 104 yards: FOR THE SEASON! He is down and out for the year. Branch, on the other hand, was a guy who held out while still under contract. Know what happens to slobs like us who do that? We get shown the door. I have nothing but a big hell yeah for the Pats for showing him the door. Who the hell is Deion Branch? A number two receiver for a mediocre Seattle team right now.

* * *

WEEK 10 PICKS RECAP

Baltimore at Tennessee
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Yawn. A crappy QB who never lived up to his billing returns to the play against the crappy team he once took up space for. Hooray for Baltimore. Ever inching closer to a first round loss in the playoffs.

Buffalo at Indianapolis
WINNER: INDIANAPOLIS

I wanted to pick Buffalo (and I did have them covering the spread). One freaking missed field goal.

Chicago at NY Giants
WINNER: NY GIANTS

Just when you think you have a team pegged, the Giants go out and lay an egg as they stand around and watch Devin Hester return a missed field goal 108 yards. Yeesh.

Cleveland at Atlanta
WINNER: ATLANTA

I was glad to see the Michael Vick Experience derailed as they float towards another 7-9 or 8-8 season, but I wish I had had the guts to pick Cleveland to win, instead of just covering the spread on the road.

Green Bay at Minnesota
WINNER: MINNESOTA

OK, that Pats win over Minnesota officially no longer looks impressive. I hope someone goes berserker on Favre next week (Seau? Bruschi?) and knocks his ass out and lets the Aaron Rodgers era get underway.

Houston at Jacksonville
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Jacksonville loses? Even with David Garrard? I am lost. So lost. My faith is shaken.

Kansas City at Miami
WINNER: KANSAS CITY

I guess the Damon Huard experiment has come to an end. I sure hope I did not release Trent Green in fantasy football.

New Orleans at Pittsburgh
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

I hate Pittsburgh. Not really. Actually I respect them: they are smart, opportunistic, and well coached. I really thought this would be the nail in their coffin for the season if the Saints could take them down. Kudos to the Steelers for staying alive.

NY Jets at New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

Aaarghhhhhhhhh!

San Diego at Cincinnati
WINNER: SAN DIEGO

I thought this one was lost in the first quarter. Of course, despite four touchdowns for LDT, I still lost this week in fantasy football. Once again, the only loser with more than 100 points. Everyone brings their A-Game against the Bentster.

San Francisco at Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

Did this game really take place? Did anyone watch? How do we really know that San Francisco won?

Washington at Philadelphia
WINNER: PHILADELPHIA

When I pick against my Skins, you know all is lost. Joe Gibbs Racing gets their namesake back next year.

Denver at Oakland
WINNER: DENVER

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Dallas at Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

If anyone has not gone to see TonyHomo.com, what the heck are you waiting for? It is hilarious! (Written like it is the diary of a jealous Bledshmoe).

St Louis at Seattle
WINNER: ST LOUIS

Yeah, that was a heavyweight battle. These NFC West rivalries really suck. Bring back Jim Zorn!!! Put the Cardinals back in St. Louis and the Rams back to L.A. and someone put Eric Dickerson back in uniform and put on those goofy Chuck Muncie goggles.

Tampa Bay at Carolina
WINNER: CAROLINA

I hand it off the ComicBookGuy from the Simpsons for this analysis: Worst Monday Night Game ever!

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK: 6-10

6-10? What the $%&@# was I doing last week? Drinking too much IPA and not reading enough Len Pasquarelli at ESPN.com is what.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

COLD NOVEMBER

On an unseasonably balmy fall Friday in Boston, I was greeted with such pleasant news on my way out the door to start the weekend. In fact, a double-whammy of good news (and some more good news for the unfaithful faithful):

1. The Yankees most dangerous hitter is gone. Yes, the Yankees unloaded mercurial slugger Gary Sheffield on the AL Champion Tigers for a trifecta of young arms (a mid-level starting prospect with elbow problems and two single-A closers). I am ecstatic. The killer of all things baseball is out of the division. Do not get me wrong: I do not like Gary Sheffield. Never. Unlike Rickles, I do not have the Sheffield-1990s Florida Marlins shrine going on, but I do respect him as a hitter. There was no one (let me repeat that: NO ONE) more dangerous in that Bronx line-up. And the fact that the Yankees mis-handled his option and did not get a major league level prospect (which he should have brought, at the minimum) is music to a Sox fans ears.

2. Buster Olney at ESPN.com is the Red Sox may have the top bid for Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. I have repeatedly pleaded ignorance about his skills having only seen him pitch during the World Baseball Classic (and even then, I was barely conscious), but top-end starters are few and far between. Bully for Theo Epstein for making an aggressive move and bully to ownership for floating the moolah. Schilling, Papelbon, Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield looks like a championship rotation at this point.

3. The only bad news is that, to the surprise of no one, Keith Foulke is on his way out of Boston having declined his player option after the Sox did not pick up the team option. Foulke is desperately in need of a fresh start. Foulkie should be revered for his work in 2004: he was the true MVP that season.

Nice to see there is plenty of Red Sox news for Hazel Mae on NESN to chat about after she crams herself into another one of those skin-tight shirts for the Red Sox week in review.

MONDAY NIGHT MELTDOWN

It was a punch in the gut Monday night. The Colts came into Foxboro for the second straight year and, not so much Peyton Manning, but the Colts much-maligned defense, smacked around Tom Brady. Maybe that is why it has been so difficult to write about this game: the Patriots, and especially Tom Brady, have come up short in the big games.

The evidence is there: Denver only scored 17pts. The Pats defense, after a horrid first quarter and the loss or Rodney Harrison, held Indy down most of the game (or at least slowed them down a little. But last year, the Patriots should have beat Denver in the playoffs, and then would have trampled the Steelers at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro/CMGI/Gillette Stadium. Also, the Manning Exorcism last year was a big game. When the going has gotten tough, the Pats have folded.

That said, I still do not see anyone to keep the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl. The Colts defense beat Tom Brady on Monday night. The Patriots did not beat themselves. Peyton Manning did not will the Colts to victory. This was a Colts defense that finally got around to stuffing the box to stop the run in the second half and then played very well against the passing game and was very opportunistic.

The important thing is that the Pats are 6-2 and if they beat the Jets they pretty much wrap up the AFC East and start thinking about playing for a bye in January. The Bengals, Broncos, Vikings and Colts were the four of the five tough match-ups on the schedule (the Bears still await), but this team should do no worse than 12-4 barring a catastrophic rash of injuries (knock on wood).

What the Belichick/Pioli regime has done is churn out a team that is going to be amazingly consistent. They are good to win 10+ games every year for the foreseeable future. They may not have all the pieces fall into place to win the Super Bowl every single season, but they should in contention every year.

It is tough adapting after getting used to a team being consistently great. The decline of the Celtics of the late 1980s was so painful and unbelievable to the Boston Sports Psyche that some of are still recovering. The Patriots have unbelievably reached that level reserved for the Celtics of that era. The change is so bizarre: I remember as a kid that I would be so excited when the Patriots actually won a game (if it was on TV and not blacked-out. When was the last black-out of a Patriots game?) I was jumping around with Scott Zolak and Dick McPherson (only I was in the living room, they were on the carpet). The joy a simple victory brought!

Sure, it kinda sucks the Pats lost, but the team is still gelling. Belichick may yet have another trick up his sleeve, and the cause is not yet lost. Look on the bright side: you could have bought into the hype and picked the Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East, or worse, make it to the Super Bowl.

WEEK 10 PICKS

Baltimore at Tennessee
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Buffalo at Indianapolis
WINNER: INDIANAPOLIS

Chicago at NY Giants
WINNER: NY GIANTS

Cleveland at Atlanta
WINNER: ATLANTA

Green Bay at Minnesota
WINNER: MINNESOTA

Houston at Jacksonville
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Kansas City at Miami
WINNER: KANSAS CITY

New Orleans at Pittsburgh
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

NY Jets at New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

San Diego at Cincinnati
WINNER: SAN DIEGO

San Francisco at Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

Washington at Philadelphia
WINNER: PHILADELPHIA

Denver at Oakland
WINNER: DENVER

Dallas at Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

St Louis at Seattle
WINNER: ST LOUIS

Tampa Bay at Carolina
WINNER: CAROLINA

WEEK NINE PICKS RECAP

Atlanta at Detroit
WINNER: ATLANTA

What the heck is wrong with Atlanta? How do you get blown out by the Lions?

Cincinnati at Baltimore
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Someone tell again why character does not matter? The Cincinnati Criminals seem not to have the strength to finish a game anymore.

Dallas at Washington
WINNER: WASHINGTON

I cannot say I saw it end the way it did, with the football follies of three game-winning field goal attempts in the final minute.

Green Bay at Buffalo
WINNER: GREEN BAY

I will never pick a Favre led team ever again. EVER!

Houston at NY Giants
WINNER: NY GIANTS

Gee, that was a tough pick, but why was the game so close?

Kansas City at St Louis
WINNER: ST LOUIS

St Louis is a good team, but they are getting close to getting back to a playoff squad.

Miami at Chicago
WINNER: CHICAGO

Yeah, tell me you know ANYONE that picked Miami!

New Orleans at Tampa Bay
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

I saw New Orleans play the Patriots last year, and let me tell you, I knew then that they were a better team than anyone thought. Then add Reggie Bush.

Tennessee at Jacksonville
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

As I said before, I will pick Jacksonville anytime when Leftwich is on the bench.

Minnesota at San Francisco
WINNER: MINNESOTA

This was pitiful. I thought Minnesota was supposed to be a good team.

Cleveland at San Diego
WINNER: SAN DIEGO

Somehow, I think Romeo Crennel is jealous beyond belief of Charlie Weis right now.

Denver at Pittsburgh
WINNER: DENVER

Roethlisberger has shown his true colors. Cue the Cyndi Lauper.

Indianapolis at New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

I do not want to talk about it!

Oakland at Seattle
WINNER: SEATTLE

Zzzzz. Oh, did anyone watch the joke that the Raiders have become?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

HIGHWAY ROBBERY

I try to be fair. I really, really do. But this is beyond ridiculous. Derek Freaking Jeter winning another undeserved Gold Glove? What kind of dunderhead votes for this glorified left fielder as the best fielding shortstop in the American League? Yes, I know I am the one constantly pointing out that Captain Intangibles is the most overrated player in baseball history since Joe DiMaggio, but give me a break! Gold Glove? Gee, at least Eric Dirty Chavez of Oakland was a legitimate contender and had a case for getting it ahead of Mike Lowell, but Jeter? Jeter is not even the best shortstop on his team (I put him fourth behind A-Rod, Cano, and the guy who dances around during the seventh inning stretch raking the infield). I mean, did any of these voting players or coaches watch Alex Gonzalez? Heck, The best fielding shortstop really is in Seattle, but I am a little partial to A-Gon. Jeter? What a disgrace.

Since I am ranting about the Great DiMaggio (that is the old Cuban fisherman from the Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway calling him that, not me!), I may as well rehash my vitriol about Mr. Coffee himself: The man was not very nice to Ms. Norma Jean Baker-Dougherty (aka Marilyn Monroe). Number one, when you shack up with the sexiest woman born before World War Two, petty jealousy and smacking her around are not really how one wants to waste their time; Also, the joker sold out to pitch coffee makers. Yaz at least hawked bread and kielbasa (Polish Power!). My generation knows DiMaggio only as Mr. Coffee. Teddy Ballgame is at least known as the old guy who got screwed over by his son and stuck in a freezer. Inglorious, yes, but sadly true; Finally, Joltin Joe used to take long, luxurious baths with Phil Rizzuto after games and talk longingly about hand creams, massages by immigrant man-servants, and the Kaiser. OK, I made that up. But, dammit, DiMaggio hit .408 in 1941 over the 56 games of his record batting streak. Teddy Ballgame hit .406 for the season. I repeat: FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON! That is right, Teddy was the man. He flew combat missions while Joe D. drank whiskey and hit on German women at American Air Bases during World War Two. Why do Red Sox fans have these complexes? Hmmm.

* * *

WEEK NINE PICKS:

No time for comments, but here are the winning picks, so get your calls into your bookie (great, I read that out loud and my son says: Call your Wookie? Bwah-hah-ha!)

Atlanta at Detroit
WINNER: ATLANTA

Cincinnati at Baltimore
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Dallas at Washington
WINNER: WASHINGTON

Green Bay at Buffalo
WINNER: GREEN BAY

Houston at NY Giants
WINNER: NY GIANTS

Kansas City at St Louis
WINNER: ST LOUIS

Miami at Chicago
WINNER: CHICAGO

New Orleans at Tampa Bay
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

Tennessee at Jacksonville
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Minnesota at San Francisco
WINNER: MINNESOTA

Cleveland at San Diego
WINNER: SAN DIEGO

Denver at Pittsburgh
WINNER: DENVER

Indianapolis at New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

Oakland at Seattle
WINNER: SEATTLE

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I READ THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY

Did everyone catch Peter King of SI.com standing behind the Krafts in the photo of a scene from the moving THE GAME PLAN filming at Gillette Stadium in the Boston Globe Thursday, November 02, 2006? It is on page C12 in the Style section in the Names column by Carol Beggy and Mark Shanahan. He is standing directly behind the shiny dome of Jonathan Kraft, and King is looking off-camera with a forlorn look that seems to be crying out: where did that young lady go who promised to get me a venti latte at Starbucks? I just hope it makes it into the MMQB column next week. Shame on the Globe for not identifying the most entertaining football writer in the country.

OK, maybe you can twist my arm and say Gregg Easterbrooks of ESPN.com and Dr. Z at SI.com are as entertaining, but King is a prime reporter who breaks many stories and has the greatest NFL Rolodex next to Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com, media maven (pre-and-post-game shows, Inside the NFL on HBO), and just an excellent writer.

* * *

Staying on the newspapers theme, why was Kerry Healy grabbing her breasts on the cover of the Boston Herald on Thursday, November 02, 2006? Maybe because the Herald referred to her on the cover as red-hot? Wow, that joke was so bad, people are going to start referring to me as John Kerry (ba-dum-dum. I will be here all week, folks. Try the chicken).

* * *

RANDOMNESS:

Is it ok to say RG Billy Yates, the highest paid practice squad player in NFL history, was the MVP of the Vikings game Monday night?

*

Belichick needs to blitz Rodney Harrison early in the game against the Colts. Just so he can say hello to Peyton.

*

Easy prediction for Sunday night. If the Patriots get pressure on Manning with four rushers and run the ball down the Colts throats they win. If not, they lose.

*

Great stat I read the other day (I would say where, but I do not remember): The Colts essentially paid fat and injured Corey Simon a million dollars a game to stink the joint out for them. So what do they do to replace him? Grab another wide-load on the down slope (and give up a second round pick for him!): Booger McFarlane. What, the Raiders would not give up Warren Sapp?

* * *

TIP-OFF

With a heavy heart (RIP Red), the Boston Celtics tipped off last night against the Oklahoma City-New Orleans-formerly Charlotte Hornets.

Let me once again whip out the Starting Five:

1. OK, start with the starting five: Delonte West, Bassy Telfair, Paul P, Wally & Big Perk? Where was Big Al? Where was Ryan Gomes? Heck, Tony Allen would make more sense than Delonte West at 2, Wally at 3, and Paul Pierce at 4. Ugh. Why not Telfair and Rondo at 1 and 2 if the team is going that small? Great moves, Doc. No wonder the season started out so cold.

2. On to the offense: it was, in a word, offensive. Pierce and Szczerbiak put up half of the shots for the Green. Where was Telfair and Rondo? Does anyone know that Ryan Gomes can shoot? Yes, Big Perk should not have the ball too much, but everyone was deferring to lobbing it over to Pierce or Wally and letting them fire bombs. That is not the way this team will win games.

3. Running/Transition Game? What running/transition game? The Celtics did not push the ball. For a team with apparently no half-court sets, they spent the whole game in the half-court standing around like they had no clue what to do in that situation. Maybe Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy (formerly known as the Boston Sports Guy) at ESPN.com is right about Doc Rivers not having a clue. He sure looked dead-on last night.

4. No Kandi so soon after Halloween: Nope, no Kandi-man in the middle to provide a defensive stop when they really, really needed one. He has never played a regular season game for the Green, and I already miss Theo Ratliff.

5. Leave 15 freebies unmade, lose by 4 points: You miss 15 free throws, you deserve to lose. I have not shot a basketball in about a year, and I could hit free throws at a better percentage than the highly paid professionals in Green did last night.

All is not lost, however. The Celtics were horrible, and still they almost won the game. That is as good a sign as anyone can get from a stinker like last night. They are better, they will be better, and I still say they come out with 45-50 wins.

* * *

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

RED SOX REDUX

Free agency is here. Mike Timlin, who Buster Olney is promoting as a Trevor Hoffman-esque closer for the Sox in 07, and Tim Wakefield are already re-upped for next year. There were no exits in Gorilla suits reported on Yawkey Way on Halloween. The previously mentioned Buster Olney has already called-out Derek Jeter for not supporting A-Rod. Buster, you are the MAN! One word of support was all that was needed and the Captain, the MVP, the Lord of Intangibles (or as he is referred to in my house: the most over-rated player in baseball history since Joe DiMaggio) could not do a small act for the betterment of his team. I still say the Yankees trade A-Rod, get pennies on the dollar, and buy some new choker who cannot handle the pressure at the hot-corner (Joe Crede?, Aramis Ramirez?) and have fans waxing philosophic for A-Rod by July. But who cares about the Yankees dysfunctional issues in November? It is time to spend the hard-earned cash of John Henry as Red Sox GM for a day:

Quick analysis: the Sox need a #5 hitter to protect Manny & Papi, another starting pitcher or two, a back-up catcher, some power to add to the infield, and help in the bullpen. Here we go:

Bullpen: Mike Timlin goes to six and seventh inning duty. Craig Hansen, Keith Foulke, and Manny Delcarmen fill the seventh and eighth. The Sox then go out and sign four relief pitchers: Justin Speier (Who? Go ask Buster Olney.), Kerry Wood, Eric Gagne, and Dustin Hermanson. Roll them out there in the spring, and one will take over as closer (well, Speier is a set-up guy only).

Catcher: Sure, we could bring back Doug Mirabelli to have my wife drool all over of him, but for purely team purposes, it is time to go get the eventual replacement for Jason Varitek. Trade with Atlanta and snag Salty: 21 year-old top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, buried all year in AA.

Outfield: I wanted him three years ago: Carlos Lee. Boom. Power in the five-hole. Trot Nixon replaced in right field.

Starting Rotation: Daisuke Matsuzaka: I have no idea if he is any good or not. But hey, it is not MY money! Dontrelle Willis: why not? If he is available, go get him. Then, go after the old-timers: Tom Glavine (aka the pride of Billerica) and the Rocket.

Infield: Sure, Aramis Ramirez may not handle the pressure, but he brings power back to the corner infield (even though I love Mike Lowell, I fear that both he and Mark Loretta will be gone in 07). Then, grab Julio Lugo to play 2b.

There, that is about the best best-case scenario I can come up with. Realistically, one or two of these moves would have me dancing in the streets like Mick Jagger and David Bowie (umm, on second thought, scratch that). What can I say, all I want for Christmas is a closer.

Friday, October 27, 2006

KIBBLES AND BITS

As I have a tendency to do, I often harass the Boston Globe sportswriters, I mean email them to find out a little more behind the stories in the papers. On Wednesday, the polished, polite, and professional Mike Reiss responded to a follow-up I had after reading his piece on Asante Samuel. Samuel, along with Daniel Graham, are both free-agents at the end of the season that I would like to think the Patriots would be more than anxious to keep. Having talked to the agent of Samuel, I bothered Mike about whether he thought this agent was as Scott Boras type playing hardball to get Asante to the open market, or if he was sensible and seemed amenable to working something out and getting some long-term security in a comfortable location for his client. I was relieved to hear that his agent is more along the lines of the latter (aka not a Scott Boras type). Though I feel guilty picking up scraps from legitimate writers who pass on information to shlubs like myself out of the kindness of their hearts, I would feel even worse not sharing it with my two or three semi-loyal readers.

* * *

In return for his kindness, I want to plug that Mike Reiss also appears on The Boston Globe SportsPlus on NESN Friday night at 5:30 and 11:30PM and replayed over the weekend. The program is hosted by Neumy (Bob Neumeier, late of WEEI and before that one of the local news channels, and only the best horse racing analyst in the country) along with my favorite New England Patriot when I was a kid, Tim Fox. It is very informative and interesting, especially compared to the three Big Show WEEI tubs of lard on FSN Thursday nights: the Big O, Fred Smerlas, and Steve DeOssie. Wide-angle lens are not optional. Heck, this past weeks program included the three musketeers wearing Halloween costumes, making it the first time the three tele-genic personalities looked good on TV (yes, masks were on). So check out Mike Reiss, drive up the ratings, make him more money. If he takes time out of his day to answer my idiotic ramblings, you know he has to be a prince of a guy.

* * *

Great article by KC Joyner at ESPN.com (subscriber only, sorry!) details an NFL team winning games with a very strong defense, good special teams, winning the turnover battle, a very good running game, and multiple questions with their wide receivers. Nope, not the New England Patriots, but rather the Denver Broncos. Joyner details how the Broncos are basically a one-dimensional passing team (all Javon Walker, all the time) and that just maybe the problem is not Jake the Snake at QB. It makes sense to me, but still I would take a rookie over Plummer in a playoff game any day.

* * *

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

THE CELTICS ARE COMING

I hate to say it, but it is autumn: the Patriots have a strangle-hold on the AFC East, the Bruins already have a strangle-hold on last place, Theo Epstein is planning Thanksgiving at the Lugo residence, and the Celtics are, believe it or not, finishing up the exhibition season. Here are the the Starting Five (Five Pertinent Questions Regarding the Celtics):

* * *

1. Who is running this spa?

Paul Pierce is out with an infected finger? From a paper-cut? Delonte West was out with an infected toe earlier in the pre-season. Did Paul Pierce get the infection passed to him? Is he running a pedicure business in the locker room? Red Sox manager Terry Francona has an infected foot as well, which is keeping him from managing the touring MLB team in Japan. That should teach him to go to the 3P (Paul Pierce Pedicures) Foot Shack.

* * *

2. Is THIS the year for Big Al?

What is great about this year is that Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have dialed down the expectations for Big Al. In fact, Big Perk looks like the future star right now. Tentatively, Big Al is coming off the bench to spell Big Perk or Theo Ratliff at center when the Celtics play small-ball, or to relieve Ryan Gomes at power forward and give the Celtics two big guys down low when they need to bang some bodies. Jefferson can concentrate on his role instead of saving the franchise. Al can pull down rebounds and outlet to Rajon Rondo or Sebastian Telfair to lead the break, block some shots, and be a low-post scoring option.

* * *

3. Do the Celtics have a real live point guard this season?

YES, but with an asterisk. As good as Telfair and Rondo have looked, both are barely old enough to buy alcohol, let alone take the burden of running an NBA team. Having two real point guards at least gives Doc the option of going with the hot hand. At times, both have looked great. At times, both have looked lost. With Delonte West coming off the bench and giving some life and energy out of the two guard spot, the Celtics depth gets a serious boost.

* * *

4. Will Paul Pierce ever get a title?

Sure, but not in 2006-7. This team has incredible young depth. It will take time to sort through it, but let me ask you this: how good would this team be if Pitino never traded Chauncey Billops and the front court was Ron Mercer at SG, Billops at PG, and Pierce and a couple of big guys? Good enough to win 40+ games, which puts them ahead of the Celtics teams of the past few teams. My point (yes, I actually have one) is that these players need time to learn. Sorry, but polished players coming out of college is just not part of the equation anymore. A Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, etc come every couple of years, there are not seven or eight coming out every year. The patience will pay off: just be patient!

* * *

5. How many games will this team win?

I think this is a 40 to 50 win team. If Rondo and Telfair are above average, Theo Ratliff still has some hop left, and Wally Szczerbiak stays healthy, closer to 50. Any major injuries, and closer to 40. Good enough to make the playoffs and out a scare into a top seed in the first round, that is for sure.

* * *

SOMETIMES YOU GUESS RIGHT

Here is a random nugget of wisdom I stumbled across. Check out what I wrote in August:
When did Daunte Culpepper ever do anything without Randy Moss lining up at wide
receiver? Did the Dolphins trade for Moss and I somehow missed it? Daunte will
find it quite daunting to throw off his surgically repaired knee to the
maddeningly inconsistent pair of Chris Chambers (I know how maddening his
production is, I have been drafting him in fantasy football for years!) and
Farty Marty Booker (yikes!). I respect Nick Saban as a coach, but Culpepper and
Joey Harrington are neither THE answer the Dolphins were looking for nor are
they capable of leading a team with an aging defense and barely adequate
offensive line to the playoffs.
Miami going to the Super Bowl? Hah! That is right, read here for the best prognostications available on the web (just ignore the NFL picks from last week. I was, uhh, drunk or something. Yeah, that is it. Too much Buttershots. Yeah, that is what it was. Watching Shannon Sharpe and Sterling Sharpe rotted my brain. Yeah, that is what it was).

* * *

Making this a theme: Check out this prescient thought from the middle of August:

For the Yankees, it is if Mussina bounces back, Johnson can be consistent, and
Cory Lidle keeps forgetting he is Cory Lidle. Watching Jared Wright is for
Yankees fans like watching Byung-Hyun Kim pitch for the Red Sox in the
not-so-distant past: game-to-game you have no ideas if he is going to give you
five solid innings (and pray they pull him before he falls apart) or if he gives
up eight runs in the first inning. Forget the Yankees fantasy line-up, the
biggest fear for the Pinstripes in August and September is if Chien-Ming Wang
falters, the season is basically over for New York. Wang is the Yankees number
one starter. As odd as that seems, he is the key down the stretch.

Sure, the Wanger held up, but I was dead-on about that crappy starting rotation holding back the Pinstriped Demons.

* * *

Of course, anyone who knows me knows that I am an idiot. But it is nice to be right twice in my life!

* * *

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

BIG D QB CONTROVERSY

With former New England Patriots franchise savior Drew Bledsoe looking like Brett Favre against the Giants in the first half of the Monday Night Football game on ESPN (and no, that was not a compliment), Bill Parcells reached for the old panic button. Realistically, if Tony Romo was going to be the choice, the old curmudgeon in the Big D (and co-New England Patriots franchise savior) should have went with Romo all along. Of course, Romo went on to save my fantasy football season by throwing three more picks, including one brought all the way back to give me the six points I needed and squeak out a win by less than three points.

Back to the big mess with the ex-Pats. Parcells is toast. He is done. This team will never win anything in Dallas. I would be surprised if he made it to the end of the season. The dream is over. Running game stinks, there is no QB, Terry Glenn is the mentally stable wide receiver on the field, and the defense cannot stop anyone. The problem is not Bledsoe. It is the entire offense. Dallas has two running backs that need to be morphed into one; two head-case wide receivers; and a leaky offensive line. The defense, a strength a few years ago, is obviously in transition and in need of a purpose.

Time for the Tuna to hang it up.

* * *

MONDAY REWIND

Ho-hum. Another impressive performance from the lunch-pail gang in Foxboro. A solid, near-mistake-free game in which the Patriots dominated from the opening drive until the end of the game. Nothing sexy. Just the Bill Belichick bend-but-do-not-break defense holding the hapless Bills to two field goals.

Seriously, the offense, defense, and special teams were excellent. Minnesota, Indy, and Chicago. Three tough teams standing between the Pats going 11-5 and 14-2. As good as they looked on Sunday, how could anyone not think that it is going to be Denver, New England, Indianapolis, and beating up on whoever gets in their way in January (that is presuming Denver dumps Jake the Snake for Jay Cutler).

OFFENSE:

Corey Dillon rushed for some tough yards.
Doug Gabriel looks like a solid receiver who can make a lot of plays for the Patriots. The Raiders gave this guy up and kept Jerry Porter and Randy Moss?
Tom Brady seemed not to have many body language issues.
The offensive line settled down nicely and protected Brady form the mid-second quarter on.
We have a Chad Jackson sighting! We have a Chad Jackson sighting! We have a Chad Jackson sighting!

DEFENSE:

I know what Asante Samuel is thinking (ala Mo Vaughn): Every day the price goes up! Seriously, the Pats need to get this guy locked up.
Junior Seau quietly had his best game yet as a Patriot.
Chad Scott! SMACKDOWN! Best hit of the year for the Pats (I would have said the double-team on Lick My Cotchery of the Jets, but he never went down and scored a cheap TD.
Willis McGahee is a good running back, and he looked very ordinary against the Patriots front seven.
Jarvis Green or no Jarvis Green, I am still holding my breath regarding Richard Seymour.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Kicker? Is there some issue with the kicker?
Is this the best anyone has ever seen Josh Miller punt?
Laurence Maroney stealing the ball from Kevin Faulk and rumbling seventy yards was unbelievable. I was standing and pumping my fist. I have not been that excited about a kickoff return since Stephan Starring was running them back for the Patriots in the mid-eighties.

* * *

Highlight of the game? Check out the PET PICK OF THE WEEK over at ProFootballTalk.com. Big Vince Wilfork digging out a little second-half snack. Ughh.

* * *

Go Pats

Funny how much a bye week will throw you off. Suddenly, it is Friday afternoon and I wake up from the fog of a busy week to realize that the Patriots have a 1pm game on Sunday against Buffalo. Ohmygawd, ohmygawd, ohmygawd.

Can the Pats special teams keep the Bills dangerous returners out of the end-zone?
Can anyone keep Schobel & Kelsay off of Tom Brady?
Are Jabbar Gaffney and Chad Jackson ready to contribute in the passing game yet?
Is Corey Dillon healthy?
Should the Patriots bring in Mike Vrabel on offense and split-out Heath Evans to go with the first 5 tight end set?
Will Patrick Pass be taken off the PUP list?
Will he have a job when he is healthy?
Is Tom Brady in tune with Doug Gabriel and Reche Caldwell?

Probably.
I think the O-line is up to the task.
I am excited to find out.
Apparently.
No.
Not this week.
I am not sure.
Very likely so.

See, I have all the answers.

Seriously, the Bills are the type of team the Patriots should beat-up on. If they can get a lead and create some turnovers early, the Bills are likely to implode and give the Patriots the type of blow-out win seldom seen in these parts. On the other hand, if the Bills can run the ball effectively and Losman can hook-up deep with Lee Evans, the game could be a lot closer and not the blow-out everyone is assuming will take place. Dick Jauron is an excellent close. Remember, week one was a close game.

I take heart with the fact that as I sit on the train home on a rainy Friday afternoon, the graffiti on the seat ahead of me reads: Go Pats. That has got to be good karma.

* * *

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MONDAY, MONDAY:

First, a quick HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my older sister, Emilie. Yes, there is a reason my daughter shares the name (though we spell it Emmalee). My sister may not have understood why I wasted so much time on baseball and the like, but she held her own and then some in Little League, and she is quite simply the most loving, caring and most generous person I have ever known in my life. With more like her, the world would be a much better place. Happy birthday, older sis. I love you.

* * *

Peter King, as always, is a wealth of information about the NFL, but also some great Patriots-related thoughts and opinions shine through this week in his Monday Morning Quarterback column at SI.com:

First, a little bit of what makes a winning team:

I think I hate to do this. I really do. We're in Week 6 of the football season, but I have to give some advice to Joe Torre and Brian Cashman right now, because they are decent men, even if they do work for the Evil Empire. Get in a car sometime this month, and drive 3½ hours up I-95 to Foxboro. Visit the Patriots. Or if you're inclined to go a place where you might be more invisible, fly to Chicago, rent a car and drive north to Lake Forest, where the Bears are headquartered. Learn how to build a winning team and how to navigate through the noise that disrupts every big-market team today.
Football isn't baseball, you'll argue. Football is the ultimate team game, and baseball is more of a stars' game. But the one thing all good baseball teams have is the one thing all good football teams have -- role players. Guys who don't need the credit and who don't earn the big money. In baseball, David Eckstein is a winning player, much the same as Mike Vrabel is. It wasn't so long ago that both of them were on the street. The best team in football right now is the Chicago Bears. Look at their roster. Ever hear of Bernard Berrian, RashiedDavis, Mark Anderson, Tank Johnson, Alfonso Boone or Jason McKie? Don't feel bad. Not many football fans have, either.
Those are six of the 25 or 30 most important players on the team rampaging its way through the NFL right now. I'm guessing their combined salaries equal one month of AlexRodriguez's. This is what Bears GM Jerry Angelo told me the other day: "One of the things I learned from the Patriots and Steelers in the last few years is they lost more than they gained in free agency, and they never were worried about it. They drafted rank-and-file players, developed them, were patient with them, knew the exact roles they wanted them to play and put them in those roles. Dan Graham, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson ... are any of them stars? No. Are they Patriots players? Yes. And that's all they care about.''
Before this season, Angelo was assailed for not getting a big-name receiver in free agency. He was in the game for Antwaan Randle El but didn't think he was worth $6 million a year, and lost him to Washington. "I got hammered by the local media for not getting a good receiver,'' he said, "but I said, 'Guys, we've got good receivers here. They fit the profile of what we want in a receiver.' But because we'd done a poor job of stabilizing the quarterback position, you couldn't tell what we had at receiver. We'd gone for five years playing three or four quarterbacks almost every year. How do you know if your receivers are any good? They never work with the same quarterback. Now that we've had Rex for an offseason and he's been healthy for the regular season, now we can judge the receivers. And what we have is pretty good.'' To say the least. It's a lesson for all other franchises, regardless of the sport.

* * *

I could not agree with Peter King, whom I am eternally grateful (taste-buds)/full of rage (expanding waist-line) with for introducing me to the Starbucks holiday themed nectar of the gods: the eggnog latte, which will be back soon. The Patriots, Steelers, and (soon) the Bears have become model franchises. They, like the Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins in baseball, are doing it right. There is no magic formula for competing year-in and year-out: it takes intelligence, discipline, and confidence. Intelligence: to be one step ahead of the competition and create an intelligent plan. Discipline: to follow that plan to its logical conclusion and not jump ship at a moments notice. Confidence: the ability to believe in yourself and trust the team (front-office and players) you have put together to follow-out the plan and win.

* * *

Next, this little shot that I have taken repeatedly over the past few weeks on display on a national stage:

Anybody out there seen David Givens? Remember him? He signed a $25 million contract before the season in Tennessee.

* * *

Sometime, at the end of the season, some idiot on TV or radio (or print) will admit they were wrong and the Patriots did the right thing not signing Givens. I said it from day one, but what do I know? I am not TV or radio (or in print, really) like the professionals. Just once I would like to hear the Kerry Healey Campaign Headquarters, I mean Dennis & Callahan, admit they are unprepared idiots who are talking out their @$$.

* * *

Finally, this little nugget about old friend Lawyer Milloy:

Lawyer Milloy is playing the run better than he has since his Patriot days. I was wrong about him.

* * *

Good for the old boy. He cannot cover the slowest tight end or fullback anymore, but I always thought he could put a hit on. Playing the run was never a problem. I hope he at least comes back to Foxboro for one last day with Ty Law. They were a huge part of that first Super Bowl run in 2001.

* * *

Last note this afternoon (this one is more for Gallagher, who would appreciate it most): how great would it be to have the Schaefer/Foxboro/CMGI/Gillette Stadium PA play Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin after the Patriots create a turnover or force a punt. Just the part where Robert Plant croons: We are your Overlords.

It would be beautiful, I know it. (Kathy is looking at me like I am insane and shaking her head. I know what she is thinking. Bad enough I have the kids hooked on the Beatles and Aerosmith, and that Emma was singing the Fabulous Thunderbirds classic: Wrap it Up the other day in the car, but she will draw the classic rock line in the sand at Plant & Page. Not that I can really blame her!)

Friday, October 13, 2006

A CELEBRATION

Since I have this site to serve as my public forum to toot my horn and shout my opinions, today, October 12th 2006, I am taking a moment to celebrate. Today marks the 74th birthday of my Dad. Growing up, my Dad had many serious health problems, ranging from heart attacks of all varieties and severity, to multiple bypasses, to back, shoulder, knee, feet, etc woes. Somehow, someway, he always had the strength to pitch batting practice, hit ground-balls, catch, and spend the precious free-time he had when not at work with me.

I knew at the age of nine that I was never going to play professional baseball. Looking back, I have to believe that my Dad came to that same conclusion around that time as well (I am still deluded enough to believe that Hal the fourth will be a great situational lefty for the Sox in about 18 years coming out of the bullpen). Still, he never hesitated to get up at 6AM in the summer to drive us to the local practice field before the day got too hot and others took over the field for practices. Hitting grounders and pop-ups and pitching BP until his back went out was how he showed how much he cared and loved us all. How some people cannot see that for what it was (a labor of love) is beyond me.

It was not just baseball, although that remains our bond, football, basketball, soccer, floor hockey, karate, and anything else he could think-up to better us was a sacrifice he made. As I got older, I got into cross-country running to go with basketball and baseball, and every night after work he go home, eat dinner, and then go pick me up at the high school after I goofed around all afternoon with my friends, I mean had an exhilarating run through the woods of beautiful downtown Middleboro.

No matter what it is in the world of sports, I still call my Dad immediately to discuss and analyze what happened, how the Red Sox are going to blow it, how we still cannot believe that the Patriots are the 1980s San Francisco 49ers, and how the Celtics are never going to be what they were from the late fifties to the early nineties.

Most of all, I just want to celebrate that my Dad is still here to chase baseballs and pitch batting practice to my son, and to listen to him tell his grandfather about Big Papi, Manny, Youk, Paul Pierce, Tom Brady, and how the Jets and Yankees stink. And while I am here and on the subject, thank you again for everything you did for me Dad. My only aspiration is to be half the father to my kids as you were to me. Thank you again for everything. I love you, Dad.

* * *

A LOSS

I really do not have a lot to add to the Cory Lidle plane crash. Maybe sportscasters and writers will spend a little more time on the good guys who gutted their way to the big leagues and worked their tails off just to survive like Lidle did for nine years in the majors instead of wasting paper and breath on idiots like T.O. and his ilk of media-hungry malcontents. Of course, as the news had shifted from Lidle back to T.O. on ESPN in less than 5 hours, I really do not see this happening.

All I can do is think of his poor wife and child, and about the family of the flight instructor who perished with him in the crash. What a tragedy. And this is a real tragedy. The football team losing because their kicker slipped in the dirt is no tragedy. The Sox missing the playoffs is no tragedy. Cory Lidle, Thurman Munson in 1979, and Roberto Clemente on New Years Eve in 1972: those are tragedies. Sports are merely an escape from reality. When reality butts in like with Cory Lidle crashing his plane into a New York City high-rise, it takes everyone a while to get their bearings back.

Sad. So sad.

* * *

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

RED SOX FANS WATCH IN GLEE

It warms the cockles of my heart just read about the fallout in New York (which promises to get worse, with more acrimony, finger-pointing, backstabbing, and all the other fun issues associated with a team in upheaval). A sampling of the blame game is below:


It is no news bulletin that A-Rod wants to be liked, accepted, loved, however
you want to say it, by his teammates, especially Jeter. And the captain hasn't
budged on the matter, to the point where an ex-teammate, who wouldn't use his
name for fear of crossing Jeter, said yesterday it creates a certain tension at
times.
He won't let Alex in, the former Yankee said of Jeter. Everyone in
there knows it, and it bothers Alex and impacts the clubhouse. John Harper:
New York Daily News 10-9-06
Some MVP! Jeter is the divider, not the uniter. Hmmm. Harper goes on to compare how Jeter threw A-Rod under the bus while with Jason st eroid abuser Giambi, he bent over backwards to throw his support to the cheating, shrunken-testicle abuser.

* * *
For the Yankees to have any chance of getting back to the World Series, they
must address their starting pitching, which sabotaged Torre as much as his
hitters against the Tigers. In that regard, their own Philip Hughes has the
stuff to be a dominant starter but has been held back by Yankees minor
league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras, who had him on gradually
receding pitch counts all summer, then shut him down at 146 innings.
Scouts who saw Hughes at Trenton this summer agreed he's ready for the
big leagues now and even Yankee officials on the major league level, Gene
Michael for one, were dismayed that Hughes wasn't allowed to finish the
season at Triple-A. Now, as one scout told me: "This kid is a stud, but what
good is he going to do them if he's been programmed to pitch five innings?
They're turning him into Jaret Wright." Bill Madden:
New York Daily News 10-9-
06

Nice to see that the blame and dysfunction extends all the way down to the minor league pitching coordinator. So now the Yankees are ruining their only pitching prospect? Beautiful!

Amazingly, I feel like the only person in America who remembered that teams do not slug their way to the World Series, they pitch their way there (Marlins in 03; Red Sox in 04; White Sox in 05. None of those teams were what you would call an offensive juggernaut, although the 04 Sox could score runs, they won due to Keith Foulke in the pen, and Curt Schilling anchoring a staff with Pedro and a rejuvenated Derek Lowe.). This Yankees squad won by scoring runs. Torre burnt out his bullpen by August, Mussina and the Big Eunich did their usual fade job, and then in the worst managerial move of the past ten years, Torre threw out Jaret Wright instead of his only good starting pitcher, the Wanger.

* * *


We were worrying about all of that stuff, and we still had a game to play. If
I'm on the other side, and all of a sudden they're putting Rodriguez eighth and
putting me or Jason on the bench, you wonder what's going on. Those guys [the
Tigers] were asking me about it. I think it boosted their morale. It gave them
confidence they didn't have, Sheffield told the USA Today. ESPN 10-9-06
Of course, the player on his way out the door lobbing bombs at his former manager and team. To think, Johnny Damon thought he was going to a calm, collected, less rambunctious situation.

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Dysfunction in the Bronx:

Truly this is the surest sign that the time of Regular Joe leading the Yankees has come to a bitter end. They had a great run in the late nineties, but it is clear that the Dynasty has been dead for a number of years. I think that if Brian Cashman can take control of the team, he will make sure that the organization blows the team up and he can get back to building a team built around pitching, defense, and hitters dedicated to wearing out opposing pitchers. Cashman is smart enough to want a team of over-achievers instead of a collection of superstars. Of course, I doubt he is powerful enough to get his way and the Yankees will continue to meander on, content with 90 win regular seasons and post-season collapses.

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