Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tribal Loyalties

I was struck by something profound (no, nothing thrown at me by my wife) while flipping between the Sox-Yankees, the Rocket innings on ESPN2, and the replay of the Champions League final where AC Milan defeated Liverpool 2-1: How obsessive has Boston sports become from the point of view of a fan betraying loyalty to the team?

This all came about while the watching the soccer match and we all chuckled about AC Milan star Kaka and his name being oh-so-funny to my 3 and 5 year olds. My son then asked: Which team do we like, Dad? It hit me right there. I am so used to telling the kids: We like the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, the Bruins, the Revs, the PawSox, etc that we really watch sports for the enjoyment of the games. We watch to root our team to victory, nothing more.

Now, I watch a lot of baseball. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much baseball. But my non-Sox watching usually occurs long after the kids are in bed and I can enjoy watching the Los Angeles Ex-Sox, the Padres (both teams in my fantasy leagues are stuffed with Padres), or whatever game strikes my fancy (I enjoy keeping up with the AL East rivals, and young exciting National League teams like Milwaukee, Arizona, and Colorado).

But what am I teaching the kids? The obsessive and all-consuming Boston sports fan mentality of the 21st century? As a kid, I bled for the Sox and Pats, but I had my other teams as well. The Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals were just simply the most exciting team in sports. I loved the Joe Gibbs (pre-race car/Dan Snyder model) Washington Redskins with Joe Theisman, John Riggins, Mark Mosely, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Darrell Green and the Hogs. Of course, the Patriots and Red Sox stunk in those days, so maybe it was my rationalizing to find a winner in a time of Ralph Houk and Ron Meyer leading the locals.

Fortunately, my son (as usual) restored my faith in humanity by, after I explained I was rooting for Liverpool because they were from the EPL, stating: Dad, I think I want to root for the team with the Kaka guy. Way to go, my boy: make your own decisions and do not limit yourself to regional allegiances that keep you from enjoying a good match or game. Tribal loyalty, while the end-all be-all right now in Boston sports, need not be divisive. I have tried to teach understanding of the poor misguided souls who root for the Yankees, especially since there are family members in New England conspiring against the Sox! Do not hate the person or team, but simply root for your favorites to win.

Of course, now I only have to worry about him going to pre-school and telling the teachers and kids that he was watching Kaka on television last night. Sigh, I hope I can let the wife handle that phone call from his teacher.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

you're motoring - what's your price for flight?

Nothing like starting the day with a little Night Ranger, maybe I should dig out my old Damn Yankees cassette tapes as well (yes, they had two albums!).

The Red Sox are definately motoring. After dropping the first game in the series with New York, the Sox looked primed for a rough patch as the pumped-up Yankees were desperate to make-up some ground in the standings. The first game featured the Red Sox offense once again letting a starting pitcher off the hook early in the game. This has been a common theme so far this season, as baserunners are stranded at an appalling rate.

The good news was that in game two, they struck early and got out to a lead. Julian Tavarez pitched extremely well, getting some big outs when he needed them. Javier Lopez came in and pitched a solid inning plus. Hideki Okajima gave up a run for the first time since his first appearance, but despite a couple of walks, he worked out of the jam well. By then, the Sox bats had chased Mussina and put the game effectively out of reach.

I figured the Yankees would take the first two games and I was hoping Schilling would stop the bleeding Wednesday night. Now, with Schilling in line to give the Sox the rubber-game of the series, it could be a huge step backwards for New York. The Yankees got some innings out of Wang and Mussina, but neither looked dominant. Mussina had trouble ramping up the fastball over 88-89, which could be signs of a physical malady affecting him. Not a good sign for a New York rotation struggling to take pressure off an overworked and overmatched bullpen.

The Yankees needed a sweep. Now, they are in danger of losing even more ground to the Red Sox. The Sox will have to make Pettite throw strikes and lay off junk out of the zone. Manny knocking another dinger instead of staring at third strikes would be nice, as would a vintage Schilling performance. With the Yankees back in Boston next week, this series is not the season on the line for New York, but it definately was an unfulfilled chance to pick up games in the standings.

Frankie says relax

OK, maybe Frankie Goes to Hollywood references are not the best lead-inwhen the Celtics hopes and dreams for the next ten years takes a nosedive eerily similar to the 1997 Rick Pitino draft fiasco.

First the bad news: NO ONE wants the number five pick. I repeat, the damned thing is untradeable. That said, there are really only two options available for the Celtics with the pick: best available big guy, or pocket-rocket point guard take 27.

Ian Thomsen over at SI.com beat the snoozing Boston basketball media (someone wake up Peter May to write another Ainge-bashing column please) about the folly of trading basically rookie-of-the-year Brandon Roy for Sebastian Telfair. Then, with the lottery placement that should have belonged to Boston with a ROY on the team instead of a third-string point guard, the Blazer jump into a top spot. My stomach hurt just reading it.

So the Celtics look at Brandon Wright (will be gone by pick 4), Al Horford (is he a fit in Boston?), Roy Hibbard (another version of Kendrick Perkins), and Yi Jianlian, a Chinese tall and skinny guy who can sit on the bench behind Big Al (this is who Thomsen thinks the Celts will grab). Oh joy. As far as point guards (still an area of need), Mike Conley and Acie Law are the only two expected to go in the top 15, so hopefully Ainge will grab one to go along with Rondo and give the Celtics a semblance of an offense other than the standard "hand the ball to Pierce and stand around waiting for him to shoot".

There is no way to spin this, though the media and the Celtics will try. It sucks. The Celtics were screwed over and lost the chance for one of the two impact players availabe, and there is no Dwayne Wade dropping to them this year. Steel yourselves for another year of mediocrity.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

sometimes....

Terry Cashman, the baseball-themed folk singer much-maligned by Red Sox Nation for some weird reason due to an unpopular reception to a tune he penned for the team, is best known for his song Willie Micky and the Duke, but I always remember another song he had from that same time period that went: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you're rained out.

Well, the Sox learned that last night. But, all-in-all, I doubt there are too many complaints. This is an extra day for J.D. Drew to rest his back he smacked against the right field wall on Tuesday night. With the double-header, it ensures Wily Mo Pena, Alex Cora, and Eric Hinske a chance to play in a game they may have been relegated to the bench.

Of course, the talk of the town is about how the Red Sox will overcome their first taste of adversity, namely the skin aversion on the middle finger of Josh Beckett. Really, one starter missing one or two starts is not too big a deal. In the short term, the team has to be over-cautious because running him out before he is ready can lead to alterations of his delivery, arm-angle, etc and that leads to extended disabled list trips. The Sox can afford to think long-term right now with an eight game lead in the A.L. East.

What I am most encouraged about is the pending return of Jon Lester. To tell the truth, not many teams can look at their starting rotation and see a 22 year old lefty who throws 95 ready to jump into the rotation. I expect that Lester is the ace-in-the-hole to counter the move of the Yankees getting Roger Rocket (who I all but guarantee has at least one 15-day DL trip left in his achy legs). With Lester in the rotation, Tavarez can move to the bullpen and give the front of the pen the boost it so desperately needs. Definately, at the worst it is addition by subtraction. Hopefully Kason Gabbard pitches well enough to boot Tavarez back to the pen sooner rather than later.

No team can stay healthy all 160+ games, but taking advantage of it while they are healthy is the sign of a good team. The Sox have done that so far, and, like the White Sox in 05 and the Tigers in 06, need to just continue to ride the starting pitching as far as it takes them.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The Next Big Thing

Dan Shaughnessey and Bob Ryan both have published PICKING UP THE PIECES columns within a couple of days, so apparently this is the next big thing to do this week as far as columns go. So, without further ado, here comes yet another boring piece in that same vein:

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A-Rod is on pace for 270, err 198, umm 150, uhh 125, I mean 98, that is 78, I guess its 65 home runs this season. All I can say is remember Chris Shelton in April for Detroit last year. A-Rod is a great player (I have to start sucking up now since he is likely the starting third-baseman for the Red Sox in 2008), but I point to the wisdom of Rob Neyer at ESPN.com who wrote on April 26 (no link as it is an ESPN Insider article):

I don't watch every Yankees game, nor have I spoken to Mr. Rodriguez this season (or for that matter, ever). I certainly would acknowledge the possibilities that he has made some technical adjustment, and that he does have a different attitude this spring, and that one or both of these changes have contributed to his amazing start.
But I would like to suggest another possibility. Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players we've ever seen. Great players, purely as a function of basic probability, occasionally will put together phenomenal three- and four-week stretches. In 2002, from Aug. 11 through Sept. 8, Rodriguez hit 16 homers and drove in 33 runs. In 2005, from July 5 through Aug. 5, Rodriguez hit 16 homers and drove in 30 runs. Of course, his current run -- 14 homers and 39 RBI in 19 games -- must dwarf anything he's done before. But we're not talking about Neifi Perez here. Great players will sometimes do things that seem amazing, even by their own lofty standards

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Jason Marquis, is 5-1 for the Cubbies with a sub-2.00 ERA. Saw him pitch the other night and was amazed at the way he mowed down the opposition. OK, the opposition was the Pittsburg Pirates, but even so, he was bearing down in a 1-0 game and looked the best free agent signing of the season.

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I refuse to kick the Yankees when they are down. Polite? Heck, no! As Johnny Lennon once said: Instant Karma is Gonna Get Ya. The Yankees fans should stay positive: they still have the inside track at the wild card with the Blue Jays and the Twins imploding this season.

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ESPN is running their ranking of the 50 Greatest Boxers of all time. Now, I know a bit of boxing history, but there are a lot of pugilists on the list I have only heard stories about and have not seen enough in action. Personally, I blame ESPNClassic for running fights from the late nineties under the heading of Classic Boxing. Seriously, I wonder how George Foreman snuck into the top 20 with Larry Holmes at 38. Yes, Mike Tyson deserves a spot snuck in at 50, but no Lennox Lewis? Also, Roberto Duran ahead of Sugar Ray Leonard? Heck, how do you put him ahead of Hearns and Hagler?

Although it smacks of the almost daily lists from the Best Damn Sports Show Period over on FSN, it should generate debate. Instead, it seems the debate has been muted. Not enough screaming Teddy Atlas or Jerry Punch on the airwaves for my tastes. Once again, boxing shows how far it has fallen as part of the American sports landscape.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Rocket Re-Entry

In a way the only surprise was the timing of the announcement that Roger Clemens, arguably one of the top-three starting pitchers in Boston Red Sox history, was joining the New York Yankees this season at the ripe old age of 45 for the princely sum of a pro-rated $28 million for the season. The sum is really about $26 million owed by the Yankees once the luxury tax is included. Someone should go tell the Florida Marlins owners and David Glass out in Kansas City to stop doing cartwheels as the small-market teams get quite a substantial boost in cold hard cash now that the Yankees have started their annual spending spree early.

Of course, this will also end all that nonsense about the lean, mean, cash-conscious Yankees hoohah that has been spreading through the media since last winter when the Yankees unloaded an unhappy Big Unit and a surly Gary Sheffield. As I said at the time, the Unit was a colossal failure, and the Sheffield deal was a salary dump to any team not named the Red Sox because the prospects received back from Detroit were hardly top quality. Now, it is clear that the Yankees were clearing out anyone who could fall into an anti-Roger camp, that is, anyone with some veteran cache and the canastas to speak up against the way the front-office and Regular Joe Torre would give the Rocket preferential treatment.

So Roger Clemens goes to New York, cementing himself as a villain in Boston after a three-year thaw that saw him opening the door for future love, praise, and adoration heaped upon him. In other words, Larry Lucchino is telling the marketing interns to scrap the preliminary planning for the 2008 Roger Clemens day at Fenway. All the goodwill the new ownership team had for the Rocket, all the warm fuzzies he could have generated, now disappear as he rumbles out as the next David Cone: a gun for hire.

And what really is the significance of the Rocket to the Yankees rotation? How many oft-injured senior citizens can you cram into a rotation? What is the value of the $46 million dollar panic move of signing Kei Igawa after missing out on Matsuzaka if Brian Cashman then has to send him to the minor leagues in May?

As usual, Joe Sheehan over at Baseball Prospectus fights through the opinion to give some common sense and solid statistical analysis of the Clemens signing (I will highlight some key points he made below):

What can’t be debated is this: the impact of any starting pitcher, over two-thirds of a season, is limited by opportunity. The Yankees haven’t signed vintage Roger Clemens, or even the version that won a Cy Young Award in 2001 while pitching them to the World Series. This version will only make 21-23 starts. It will most likely average six innings a start, perhaps less. It relies more on command and keeping the ball in the park—Clemens’ translated walk and home-run rates as as Astro were his lowest since his Blue Jay years—than on whiffing batters, as his translated strikeout rates while in Houston were career lows…

the impact of Clemens is smaller than is perceived, because of three factors:
The limited number of innings he will pitch.
Clemens, while still effective, is nonetheless a 44-year-old with declining power moving into a tough division.
Igawa likely not being as bad as the first month of his career would indicate…
Here’s the best argument for the Yankees spending $26 million on Clemens: he was probably going to the Red Sox if they didn’t. So if you’re the Yankees, you haven’t just made a two-win, maybe three-win, improvement; you’ve prevented the Red Sox from doing about the same, given Clemens’ edge over Julian Tavarez or a rehabbing Jon Lester.
Taking that into consideration, and the signing is worth four to six wins, which makes it both economically sensible and gives it a greater potential to impact what should be a very good race in the AL East.
So I have to agree with the analysis. Signing Clemens is better for the Yankees than letting him go to Boston; but at the same time, unless they continue bringing in a future hall-of-famer every month to add to the bullpen or rotation, this seriously flawed $200+ million team is not going to be able to overtake the Red Sox.

If Clemens insists on playing the villain in Boston, what better way to have his career end by watching the Red Sox hold-off his favored Yankees all season long.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

DRAFT? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING DRAFT!

On Saturday and Sunday the New England Patriots once again showed that whatever you anticipate them doing, they will toss a curveball into the mix and confound the analysts. The first surprise was the drafting of Brandon Merriweather on Saturday, which is not too much of a surprise considering he fell to the Patriots at number 24 in numerous mock drafts. Merriweather is a hard-hitter from Miami in the mold of Eugene Wilson: he can run, hit, wrap-up and cover a receiver in the slot. What fired-up the local yahoos was the fact that he had a few incidents on his record.

First, while leaving his off-campus apartment, his roommate was shot in the rump by an unknown assailant (likely looking for the sweet electronics found in the rooms of college kids). With the licensed handgun he was carrying, Merriweather shot three times at the assailant. People cleared his as he acted in self-defense and the weapon was registered. Umm, what is the issue? Sounds to me like he watches the back of those close to him. Loyalty, the kind of trait the Patriots look for, no? Second, the reprehensible brawl last year between the U and Florida International. I have no defense for Merriweather here. It was stupid. But to hold the brawl against him is to hold it against the entire football team at the U, and considering the pipeline of talent in Miami, a coach or GM would be ignorant to cross off a whole school with that kind of talent.

The second move was the trade on Sunday of their fourth round pick to Oakland for Randy Moss. Now, I have never been a fan of Moss. I cannot stand players who waste their God-given talents by being immature, sullen, and non-productive on purpose. But when a player gives back $7 million dollars to come to play in New England, it is a damn good sign that just maybe this jawhead is growing-up a little. One thing I would say is in the Patriots favor is that it will not cost much to unload Moss if he is a mistake. Bill Belichick may be many things, but he does not tolerate fools well. Jonathan Sullivan did not fit, and he was gone. Ditto for FOM (friend of Moss) Doug Gabriel last season. The Patriots need impact at wide receiver. They need home run threats. More importantly, the need that ONE player who WANTS the ball. Moss has been accused of much, and has been guilty of a number of transgressions on the football field, but he has never complained about getting too many passes thrown his way. If Randy Moss can shut-up and put-up, and is one-half the player he was in Minnesota, the Patriot s got a steal. If not, no big loss.

Randy Moss always wants the ball, and so does Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker to a lesser extent. The Patriots needed that undisputed number one receiver who absolutely has to have the ball in the clutch. That was a main reason they lost to the Colts last year in the AFC Championship. Do not misinterpret this as a knock at Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney who played over their heads in the playoffs, but the Patriots needed that one receiver who could always get separation and pick up that first down or touchdown. Why was Brady throwing to Troy Brown on fourth down? Because there was no one else he could trust in that situation: there was no number one receiver who could go up and get it no matter what (and no, Deion Branch and David Givens were never really that guy).

That said, Merriweather and Moss make a decent first day of the draft. To be brutally honest, the Patriots do not need ten or twelve draft picks, they only really need four or five guys brought in to inject some youth and push at a few positions. I am convinced the Patriots will continue bringing in veteran linebackers and receivers. It would be a rare talent to go early to New England at either of those positions. So far, though, this has to be the most impressive off-season for the stock-piling of talent by the Patriots. They should be done, but I expect the post June 1 waiver wire will bring in a veteran linebacker to play inside (if not the return of Junior Seau).

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