Archive for August, 2012

Single: Yankees Limping into the Playoffs

*I enlisted the help of the Editor-in-Chief to diagnose the growing worries of this NY Yankees franchise losing its comfortable lead in the AL East*

A Rod hurt. Tex hurt. CC was hurt. Ivan Nova hurt. Mariano Rivera hurt. My beloved New York Yankees are entering the one part of the schedule, I tell every one I care about: September.  Unfortunately, the Yankees, despite leading the AL East, are nothing to write home about right now. They are showing their age. I’m not ready to write them off as yet, but I never thought at this point, the Yankees would be relying on the bat of the 38-year old Captain, Derek Jeter. (They just lost a series to the Toronto Blue Jays.

What’s truly cause for concern is the pitching rotation. Other than Kuroda and Sabathia, the Yankees haven’t found a foursome they can rely on consistently. Despite Nova’s double digit win total, he sporting a sexy 4.92 ERA. Yankee fans have to be excited for their projected Game 3 starter right? Not only does he have an ERA near 5, he’s injured! Then there’s Phil Hughes. The guy Cashman keeps giving a chance. He’s a roulette wheel. Pitch by pitch, fans don’t know what they’re going to get. It’ll make for one heart-wrenching playoffs.

Luckily for the Yankees, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez are playing as well as they’ve played their entire careers. Who needs A-Rod and Tex (but seriously though).  I need Girardi to pull out that infamous notebook and work it out with this team. Although their ERA is 4th in the AL, that’s probably good enough to get the Yankees 4th in the AL which is not good enough. Their window is closing. The Captain isn’t going to be around much longer. Both A-Rod and Tex’s contracts are catching up with the Bronx Bombers and the boss ain’t walking through that door.

Double: Awards Previews – AL Cy Young Race

Grantland’s Shane Ryan inspired this idea.  The MLB season is full of awards story lines late in the year.  For the next month I hope to rank these compelling races but mainly discuss the best one of the season: the best pitcher in the American League.  This year’s selection combines all the controversial factors we have come to love in these races: win/loss record, pitching for a team headed to the playoffs, owning other statistics beyond win/loss record, and riding previous reputation.  As I see it there are five contenders: Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Jared Weaver.  Here is how I see it today:

1)      David Price

2)      King Felix

3)      Justin Verlander

4)      Jered Weaver

5)      Chris Sale

Sale is probably going to be dropped from this list given his poor start in Baltimore and the fact that his durability will take games away to amass glamor stats (strikeouts) and wins.  He probably does not to hit the 20 win plateau to be a real contender but it doesn’t diminish anything from his amazing performance thus far.  Jered Weaver is certainly the most disrespected player on this list but this is probably the 2012 case for wins not mattering.  Unlike Sale, Weaver will probably get the glamor stats of wins but his advanced stats (especially average innings pitched per start) will cost him compared to others.  Verlander at three is simply a matter of people not wanting to give him another award in two straight years.  Also was hammered earlier this week.  Felix Hernandez has the Verlander stats and finally has a record to appeal to the older generation.  5CG/5 shutouts.  It’s a powerful case and has been absolutely dominant with little run support against contending teams.  Price is one for me (leading to awkward “Price is Right headlines”) because external factors favor his case.  He is on a contender and one that will catch the Yankees in the final month of the season.  Plays in a tough offensive division.  Has the win totals and ERA to please the people and I think he will be a stable ace down the stretch as the schedule gets tougher.  The Rays exposure will also help his case over Felix Hernandez.  Obviously, these are subject to change but I love this race and you should too.  Much better than AL Rookie of the Year or MVP.

Triple: Red Sox/Dodgers Trade – An Analysis

The trade of the sports world happened in baseball last week with the Boston Red Sox trading Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and a cool $11 million for James Loney, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, and the rising star Allen Webster.  In this post trade deadline move, the Red Sox effectively dumped more than $250 million in salaries through the 2018 season – a Massachusetts sized mulligan for seemingly poor decisions involving ungodly amounts of money locked into a handful of players (namely Gonzalez and Crawford).  The Dodgers upgraded their team in the now to make a run at the NL West, at the very least showed their fans and baseball at large that new ownership is serious about winning, and effectively completed the power shift in baseball from the east to the west.  That’s just the tip of the ice berg on this one.  I’ve waited all week to write on it (namely because I was moving) but here are several other thoughts from the deal.

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers are spending unprecedented amounts of money and that should scare the hell out of everyone in baseball.  Including the New York Yankees.  Jonah Keri wrote a fantastically long piece analyzing this deal and proving backstory to the teams along with player analysis.  No team has ever traded for two players who each are owed over $100 million.  The deal speaks to the gradual revolution in sports franchise financing based on external broadcast revenue.  Originally popularized in college football with Notre Dame’s NBC contract and large deals throughout each major conference, baseball is slowing picking up the same approach which, by and large, separated the Yankees from the pack.  The YES Network in New York is an unprecedented marketing power that literally prints money when needed which is why the luxury tax system is a bunch of bologna.  The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California within the United States of America both signed fairly significant deals but with projections of a Dodgers deal at nearly $4 billion, any notion of upper thresholds are immediately put on hold.  Absurd.  That type of financial relief was unthinkable and I expect these types of all in gambles to be the norm of the upper management era.  Sure, teams will still maximize smart scouting and some “Moneyball” tendencies but as long as the Yankees, Phillies, and Rangers keep making it to the World Series, teams will seek out extra financial resources to keep up the chase.  Sorry small markets.

 

  • While the Dodgers’ upgrades look fantastic, the bigger winner in this deal (I guess) is the Boston Red Sox.  They rid themselves of major money to spend going forward though it is not absolutely clear that the new money will be spent wisely.  It’s the exact same issue I have when people demand that a coach be fired: Who is going to replace him/her?  Well, who is going to be running this team?  GM Ben Cherington, it has been alleged, hasn’t been given full control of personnel decisions since he came aboard.  MLB insiders suggest ownership (read: Larry Lucchino) insisted on signing big name free agents and hiring the bigger named manager Bobby Valentine.  With this blockbuster move, it appears that Cherington has earned more power as the big names are beginning to leave and the talent department earning major kudos with De La Rosa and top Dodgers pitching prospect Allen Webster.  Red Sox faithful should be satisfied with a return to “Theo-ball” with talent being the chief determinant of player value.

 

  • Oh and then there is Bobby V!  When I picked myself up off the floor, I immediately thought about the ramifications for Valentine, a man who is blamed for more stuff  that he cannot control than any other person in America.  Except Barack Obama.  It appears, to me, that the Red Sox decided to get rid of the players rather than the traditional move to keep the high paid players and fire (scapegoat) the manager.  On my radio show ALL Sports –before the deal- I said the Red Sox would probably keep Valentine as he is ownership’s pick for the job and rarely does the head man want to be viewed as wrong.  For the power ceded to Cherington, I feel even more confident that Valentine stays for at least the start of next season.  While Crawford’s injuries seem fluky, Gonzalez (text message to ownership) and Beckett (beer and chicken sponsored by Ludacris) were central pieces in the major controversies befalling the Red Sox during their losing run.  I hate advocating anyone to lose his or her job but it drives me nuts when management just brazenly fires coaches/managers as if they were responsible for injuries, the sudden ineptitude of starting pitching, or significant declines in offensive productivity.  Not sure how long Bobby V will last but the decision to shed the huge player deals should put Lackey (disaster), Lester (probably will bounce back in 2013), and Pedroia on notice.

 

  • Why do teams quickly sour on their deals to sign players to $75 million +, 4 year + deals?  The question begs to be asked as the Red Sox join an ever growing list of teams compelled to sign players to unworldly contracts and immediately feel bad about it.  This isn’t how the Angles will feel about Albert Pujols in three years or how the Yankees feel about Alex Rodriguez now.  This is how the Phillies feel about Ryan Howard after dropping major bank on him to struggle and be unhealthy.  The most reasonable answer was given by Keith Law on the Baseball Today podcast: you learn more about a player when he is in your organization and it darn well matters how he fits in your organization.  You move from “imperfect information to more perfect information on a player.” (Law, Aug 28, 2012)
  • Chika and I have been engaged in a huge battle over the Carl Crawford contract.  (By the way, many of you may not know who Chika is because he is usually not around to share his thoughts and opinions.  He is the third blogger on this blog and yes, he is still alive.)  Looking at the Crawford tenure, Chika contends that the deal is awful and the Red Sox should regret it.  In this argument and others, I always suggest that we cannot look exclusively on results (especially when there are more years left) and think about the circumstances a team was in with the free agent; I don’t believe the contract was a bad deal considering Crawford’s production to that point.  I also think it will be good when he is healthy and he can positively contribute to his team.  Still, the Red Sox didn’t see the type of production they (and other teams) will always OVERPAY for and they flipped out.  It’s the classic “baseball market sets the price” scenario but that does not mean giving in on initial unlucky (injury) or inconsistent (Gonzalez decline) performance.
  • The last point is whether there is a winner or a loser in this deal.  I can assure you that the Red Sox won this deal in the short and long term.  They rid themselves of tons of money to (hopefully) be spent wisely on future players and reset the clubhouse culture by eliminating lightning rod players.  With the race to get below the luxury tax now on, Boston puts themselves in position to rebuild competitively in the future.  The Dodgers are winners now but have not guaranteed themselves anything special as it pertains to catching and passing the Giants in the NL West.  In several years they will probably regret this move but if at any point they win World Series then the deal is a success.  That’s the ultimate point here: the goal is about winning a World Series and if it comes at the expense of hundreds of millions then so be it.  Cubs haven’t seen one in over 100 years; you break the bank to get it and cherish it forever.

Home Run: The End

No seriously, that’s it.  I had a long piece on Adrian Beltre’s power surge (including hitting for the cycle last week) but unlike the Dodgers there are limits on me and I’m about 1600 words beyond mine.  Sad.

I’ve seen this story before. Controversy surrounds and subsequently follows the great sports hero. Those who are closest to the hero claim that the hero is being “framed”, use words like “witch hunt” or “McCarthyism” in some rare cases to justify the defense of their hero.  It’s America, guilty before innocent, they say. We’re asked to wait until all the evidence comes out and then we can truly judge the hero fairly.

We saw this with Joe Paterno, who was immediately given a pass by the media when the news first broke that his former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was being accused of multiple accounts of child molestation. Outlets such as ESPN and the AP were quick to remind people that Paterno had no connection to the scandal and was not being investigated for the alleged crimes. Penn State fans took to the streets to defend Paterno, who at the time, couldn’t really fend for himself.

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpMdK2IcSzU&feature=related]

9 months later, the Freeh report was made public, chronicling all of the wrongdoings of the Penn State administration, including one Joe Paterno. Some cried foul play as they felt it was spitting on Joe Pa’s grave. Turns out heroes can still suffer public backlash after death. Jo Pa started with humble beginnings, elevated himself to divinity, died in worship and is remembered in death, shamefully.

Posthumous Joe Paterno garnered much less praise It took Penn State less than a week to remove statue and within a week or two the NCAA laid Penn State with harsh sanctions.

I’ve seen this before in San Francisco. Barry Bonds, a hero to anyone who ever rooted for the Giants. Arguably the greatest baseball player anyone has ever picked up a bat was accused of using steroids. Giant fans were absolutely in denial, despite all of the evidence that there was something suspicious about Bonds’ power resurgence at the end of his career.

Bonds could defend himself. Not only did he do that, he pointed fingers at the same people pointing at him. Defiant. Angry. Passionate. All the things that were always used as attributes that made him an amazing athlete, were on full display as the questions regarding BALCO and steroids came in.

Defiant:

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O3S7UFWIKc&feature=related]

Angry:

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuh9CDAdgCc]

At the end of the day, Barry Bonds has never tested positive for steroids. But most of us are reasonable people and given the evidence surrounding Bonds understand that his heroic talents are a result of something other than just natural skill. Right Bob?

I’ve seen this with Rafael Palmiero. And then there was this.

Mark McGwire was brought in to testify for Congress. But he seemed to not want to talk about the past. I wonder why? Sooner or later, we found out why. Mark McGwire was the media darling in the Home Run chase. He was worshipped in St. Louis and around the country. He saved baseball from the stain of the 1994 strike. Even he wasn’t immune.

Now we have Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and 7-time Tour de France winner. He has the All-American look, the sympathetic story and the comeback story of a lifetime. Not to be cliché, but you could not write a better movie script. So when we hear about accusations from his teammates and the Cycling association, we don our red, white and blue flag and defend Armstrong as passionately as possible. Lance isn’t just a hero to a city, a state, an organization, or a sport; he’s an American hero. That’s an important distinction. As much as American fans are known to build up their athletes to divinity, we don’t do it nearly as much as it seems. We’re much better at destroying them in a moment’s notice. But Lance, we protected. We tried to convince ourselves that he was one of the only clean cyclists, while also being the best (Only American iconic status can justify such an illogical equation). We convinced ourselves that he dominated the field despite being the only clean cyclist. We said Lance has got to be clean, because he’s never failed a test. We don’t want to believe he’s guilty.

When the USADA investigated things began to change. It was one of our own going after Lance. It was no longer us against them. Lance was just another alleged doper.  The accusations and evidence had mounted.  Instead of continuing his fight against these accusations, Lance has thrown his hands up and will no longer try to clear his name. He isn’t admitting guilt, but I guess those attorney fees have not been worth it as these USADA continues their push for the truth.

I’m not always sure what to make of Lance Armstrong; a hero for surviving cancer and dominating a sport wearing the flag, but a cheater… I find myself much more comfortable with the first two statements. Which is the problem to begin with. Heroes are flawed. Lance is flawed. If I’m to look at this story honestly, side by side with all the others like it, Lance is going down. As other stories have also shown, the heroes you fight, the harder they fall.

Lance, put your cape on and prepare for the worst.

Frank Schleck

Alessandro Petacchi

Alejandro Valverde

Tyler Hamilton

Tom Boonen

Floyd Landis

Alexandre Vinokourov

Ivan Basso

Alberto Contador

Jan Ullrich

These cyclists are a handful of the hundreds involved with major doping scandals in the perpetually corrupt world of international cycling.  What separates many of them from one Lance Armstrong is they tested positive for a banned substance, admitted usage of a banned substance, or did their best to be missing during testing time (up to four different tests).  Lance Armstrong has never –NEVER- (as in it has not happened) positively tested for a performance enhancing drug.  Two incidents stand out in the Lance Armstrong resume.  One occurred in 1999 where Armstrong’s urine test showed more than trace amounts of corticoids.  Armstrong said the results came from a cream used to treat saddle sores and gave the International Cycling Union (UCI) the cream to test.  He was cleared of any foul play.  The second incident was in 2005 when French newspapers accused Armstrong of cheating in 1999 and allegedly had tests to prove it.  UCI independent lawyer Emile Vrijman concluded that Armstrong should be cleared of all allegations as the lab used in the newspaper story used questionable procedures and lacked possession accountability.  Read the report for yourself here.  Point is there has never been a test saying Armstrong has doped.  So that’s the framework.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency declared it will strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France titles and ban him from cycling for life.  The ruling came after Armstrong decided to end his legal battle against the USADA, a decision that sports cynics and USADA leadership is taking as an admission of guilt.  Because…no evidence is good evidence.  Armstrong’s statement asserts he dropped his fight because the system was stacked against him from the beginning.  And he was sick and tired of fighting the same unfounded mess.  (Aside: It is natural to be suspicious of any one in cycling especially someone who won all the time amid a field of cheaters.  It’s founded in the same way that Derek Jeter maybe questioned in baseball.  It’s all a disaster)  Of course in typical USA fashion – after constantly being warned by the International Cycling Union to back off this investigation – there is a jurisdiction issue.  Thanks to Dan Wade for linking me to the article that addressed my immediate concern, the USADA does NOT have authority on this vacating of Tour de France titles.  That is the job of the International Cycling Union.  The same UCI that tried to prevent the USADA from pursuing the case due to the quid pro quo nature of the witnesses giving up Lance Armstrong to reduce their own suspensions.  You know the same UCI that blatantly stated that jurisdiction for international races belongs to the international body.  So USADA can suck it right now.

The bigger issue is the destruction (or attempted destruction) of another American sports legend and more broadly an American hero.  With more media more often, many outlets specifically seek out opportunities to tear down the greats.  This does not excuse the actions of the corrupted (re: Joe Paterno) but it does raise a question about if someone can be successful and everyone be OK with that person’s success.  Armstrong, by all accounts, is a jerk.  He fits the mold of all-time greats being absolutely insufferable.  But he has not yet to be associated with a positive test for a banned substance.  Not one time.  Of course his decision not to challenge this does raise questions.  He has fought all these years, why stop now?  All he has is his reputation and name and that should be something one always defends.  Legally, it seems, preventing a trip to arbitration means keeping the massive evidence compiled by the USADA under wraps which would be undoubtedly be bad for Armstrongs brand through we cannot validate the truth.  Anytime person A is only willing to come forward with information on person B is when person A is in trouble, I am always skeptical.  Add a reduction in the punishment?  Oh I am very unnerved.

Still, the testing has caught all nearly half of cycling.  All of the great cyclists.  Winners of previous stages in all the major cycling races and previous winners.  Years and years of testing and still not a single urine, blood, or hair sample can be identified.  We know that the French in particular tried their best to find any inkling of foul play as they resented the brash American’s dominance.  Overall, they found nothing.  And with every successful test speculation grew.  Lance is tired because he could only provide the truth and it didn’t change a thing positively.  It was all ignored while the cynics grew louder.  So now he loses because he knew the game was rigged in the first place.  Maybe this is the larger catch-22 beyond the USADA’s procedures to handle performance enhancers.  If you are successful, you get skepticism.  If you are not successful, you get nothing.  If you cheat and get caught, your legacy is sullied forever.  Lance Armstrong has no evidence connecting him to drug violations.  Just Tour de France titles and the spectre of being in the most drugged sport in the world.  That’s good enough for most but not me.  Since the beginning Lance someone I always believed and I will continue to believe him.  Maybe I am just naïve to one day look stunned after decades of denial (re: Pete Rose).  Until then, show me a positive test like everyone else has who has been banned from the sport.  Lance and I will be waiting because thus far he has not lost yet.

I’m just bein’ prolific, right now don’t need no Mrs./ I got a rack of Trojans, no ring, my Lane Kiffin. – Wale, “Barry Sanders”

Aside from being the best sports song in many years, this line about Lane Kiffin is hilarious.  Kiffin, entering his third season with the USC Trojans, has been embroiled with controversy this offseason, a near constant state of affairs for the boisterous young talent throughout his young career. Most recently Kiffin took heat for apparently lying about his voting habits (this is an election year) regarding the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.  When asked about Rich Rodriguez voting USC number one, Kiffin responded “I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that.”

At this point, the story gets murky depending on who you ask and how much you weigh history.  Not to break any major stories here, but Lane Kiffin is a jerk.  He likes to poke the bear and shoot off at the mouth.  Fans of his (translated to mean fans of the team he is coaching at the time) find it refreshing to see someone not kowtow to the greats and to speak his mind like…well…a fan.  Others describe it as youthful ignorance; understandably so as Kiffin (37 years old) was the youngest coach in NFL history and currently the youngest coach of any BCS team.  Remember when he was introduced at Tennessee after going 5-15 over 20 games with the Oakland Raiders?  People absolutely hated him taking a shot at Florida.  Everyone except Volunteers fans and people sick of the great Urban Meyer.  I loved it!  Can’t stand Florida, Tebow, and Meyer, so he was a welcomed relief.  The flipside is him leaving for University of Southern California kind of makes him look like an awful guy.  I’d argue not as awful as this guy, or this guy, or this guy, but still awful nonetheless.

Back to August 2012 and Lane Kiffin’s admission of what he would not do.  Well, the USA Today decided to publish Kiffin’s vote.  Usually, USA Today’s Coach’s Poll votes are kept confidential until the final vote of the season but Kiffin’s “volunteer[ing] false or misleading information” gave then the initiative to refute his statement.  To protect the poll’s integrity.  HAHAHAHA.  (Aside: The poll is a joke and will be forever because coaches dictate their own future…do better.)  By the way, Kiffin voted USC number one.  Which is fine because they have a good team but looks bad when you said you would not do it.

Kiffin explained that if he was in “RichRod’s” position, he would not vote USC number one due to their lack of scholarships compared to other programs.  Now, given that Lane Kiffin is shady and a jerk people immediately called into question his integrity.  If you look at his history, especially his propensity to take shots at others, I think he genuinely meant that if he was in another person’s shoes he would act differently.  The immediacy of the reaction is Exhibit A for your reputation staining what you do going forward.

Still, Kiffin is always the brunt of criticism.  While everyone excitedly waited to pursue Penn State recruits following NCAA sanctions, Kiffin landed the top prize only to be met with snide criticism from, everyone.  Cue up Deadspin and the New York Times to ridicule Kiffin’s poaching to talent.  Does one need to remind everyone that Kiffin was not the Head Coach or in a real meaningful position during the time USC violated rules?  Is he not supposed to improve his team if he could despite its past transgressions?

Ehhh, I like Lane Kiffin because he does bring a certain brashness that is reserved for “winners” despite not being a career “winner.”  He is the youth movement: arrogant, direct, and often times controversial.  I liked Kiffin before he coached my favorite team and love him even more now.  And he is winning which is an added bonus. (Who could win with the Raiders and Volunteers in the mid-late 2000s?  Exactly!)  All I ask is give the guy the same type of treatment reserved for others before defaulting to disliking him because he is a jerk.  Please and Thank You.

Rethinking G.O.A.T.

Maybe championships shouldn’t define the greatness of a player. I defy anyone to tell me that (performance enhanced or not) that Barry Bonds wasn’t the greatest player they have ever SEEN on a baseball field. Not many were around to see Willie Mays and almost no one was around to see Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron was impressive, but over the span of 20+ years. From 2001-2004 Barry Bonds had the greatest 3 season a hitter has ever had. No one was concerned that he didn’t have any bling to show for it, because we’ve somehow all agreed that baseball is a team sport. Due to steroids and other things, in baseball we become overly protective of Babe Ruth and his legacy. Probably because he was a Yankee and maybe because he was a man far ahead of his time. (see: Jim Brown). But we can never profess any baseball player to be better than Ruth. Sacrilege! Again, it’s very interesting given that no one of this era witnessed the Babe play.

On the other hand there’s no real GOAT in football. The only position where the GOAT isn’t debatable is Wide Receiver. The numbers don’t lie, it’s Jerry Rice.

Unless of course:

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKqlSr5-EQI]

For your money and my money the greatest Quarterback of all-time comes down to 2 players for vastly different reasons. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They don’t calculate Wins Added in football, but you would be hard pressed to find a player that accounts for more wins than P. Manning. A 4-time MVP, a Super bowl champion and will end up having the greatest stats of any QB in history. On the other hand we have Tom Brady. Brady, a 2-time MVP, 3-time SuperBowl winner, 5-time AFC Champion. He undoubtedly is the heart of the Patriot dynasty. The lone man left from their improbably 2001 Superbowl win. Brady’s 3-Superbowl wins puts him in a  class where he often overshadows his contemporary Manning. Manning gets the credit for being the better “Quarterback”, but not the better player. Brady gets the edge because of championships. Isn’t it our duty to rethink that simplistic logic.

 

“If Manning gets another… then we can have that discussion” is something we often hear. Manning gets the credit for having one ring. But when we look back, it’ll be very similar to the way Montana and Marino are remembered. Marino’s greatness is overshadowed by his ringless hands. So when we talk about the all-time greats his pushed behind Brady, Manning, Elway, Montana, Young and some of his other contemporaries. Does that make sense?

Now for the one I find most problematic. Michael Jordan is the most accomplished basketball player of all-time. I won’t argue otherwise. Given the era, his dominance, there was nobody who maximized his potential much like Jordan. However, the Jordan mystique would make it seem as though he had never lost a game. It’s become so bad that we remember Jordan passing the ball to Paxson.

[youtube:youtu.be/GnAr4I3-Z48?t=1m15s]

The Jordan lore would make it seem as though he never shot poorly format he field. Nor that he was never questioned as a choker or a greatest shooter, but a bad teammate.

When Jim Boeheim, Coach K and Scottie Pippen have suggested that LeBron could one day be better than Jordan ( and were ripped for it by many) the numbers don’t lie. In addition, Jordan’s accomplishments must be remembered in their proper context. How many top 15 players were around during Jordan’s era? How many all-time great teams could challenge the Bulls. Would we feel the same about Michael if he only had 5. Would we then claim Kareem with 6 was the better player?

Championships, especially in basketball relies heavily on your great players, but having a great team at the right time (see Spurs v. Cavaliers, 2007) often trumps even the greatest.

LeBron’s versatility and his uniqueness may make him one of the greatest of all-time already. But we for some need the proof of TEAM accomplishments to validate the player. In the Jordan v. LeBron argument most of the usual arguments and measurements you would use to compare players (defense, scoring, rebounding, passing, versatility etc.) would favor LeBron. But intangibles like “Heart” “Ruthlessness” go to Jordan [intangibles I might point out that are only used to justify the actions of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan]. In the end when people are down throwing the intangibles and superlatives out, they use championships. As if the championships are only a function of the player, not the surrounding team.

If we are to compare individuals, we should compare individuals. I’m still not too sure where championships fit into the GOAT debate.

 

By the way Jordan was REALLY REALLY GOOD

[youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGX_HXlTV-Q] [youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=med9nvhCkao] [youtube:www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLQl7UJOYUs]

Re-Cycle: In Relief

Posted: August 15, 2012 in Bunker

Set Up: Melky Cabrera 

Melky milked the PED cow. So much for the “post-steroids” era. Baseball is as much “post-steroids” as the USA is “post-racial”. It always seems that it’s the guys we don’t suspect are ones who test positive (see: Ryan Braun). While we suspect that some of the big boppers are juicing, they seem to never get caught. I can respect Melky for one thing: he owned up to it. He gave the equivalent to a “my bad”. He shrugs his shoulders, he moves on and takes his penalty. I didn’t care much about Melky Cabrera (especially upon leaving the New York Yankees) and I’ll think of him even less. The MLB is drowning as usual. Drowning as America’s third favorite sport (NFL, College Football and NBA). Another steroid story will do nothing more but confirm that we are headed for another long drawn out argument about what actually constitutes the “Steroid Era”. I’m not going to listen to any sports radio tomorrow until….

 

Closer: 

I am the ultimate C.C. Sabathia defender. When Verlander was clearly the MVP, Cy Young award winner and the best player in baseball, I stomped around screaming about the greatness of Carsten Charles. I know better now. Every time the King steps on the mound against a playoff caliber team, he shows why he can be considered one of the most dominant pitchers of the era. I watched as every Yankee hitter looked dazed and confused; swinging at air and staring a called third strikes. I sat there and said like the announcers, “he made that look too easy.” It reminded me of the Pedro Martinez one-hitter in 1999 ALCS. 

With shut outs against the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers, King Felix is the best pitcher in baseball. His last twelve starts, a 1.56 ERA. The only thing that keeps hope alive for me as a Yankee fan is that King Felix has never and will never play a meaningful game unless he is traded from the Mariners. No soon after Deadspin pointed that out, King Felix threw a no-hitter. Excuse me, he threw a perfect game. 1-0. That’s all you need when you have the league’s most dominant pitcher.

While watching the gold medal basketball game with friend and master chef Tony, we engaged in a very amusing argument over the best basketball celebration.  I think this began after seeing a highlight of Tyson Chandler blocking someone and doing something lame afterwards.  We both agreed that Dikembe Mutombo’s finger wag was awesome.  Top tier quality.  But that is for now number four behind the two options vying for second.

(If you are wondering what is first, then you need to look no further than Allen Iverson’s “Step Over” of Tyronn Lue.  First of all, it will never happen that often because people usually don’t fall in a place to be stepped over.  Second, AI hitting the shot stunned Lue long enough that AI could just step over him and do NOTHING about it.  Third, AI looked at him like he was the scum of the Earth.  Anytime you can walk over someone, it’s great.  Take my favorite Scottie Pippen highlight for instance.  You step over someone and you can walk around like a BOSS because, well, you are for that 15 second period.  Usually, though, it can be an issue.  AI doing it was just too good)

Tony believes the best celebration is Sam Cassell’s “big balls” routine after hitting a clutch basket.  Originally created by the movie Major League II, the big balls celebration represents everything people want from an over the top celebration.  It looks goofy.  You only do it at the end of games.  You will get fined from it.  Everyone knows what it is but the analysts can’t say what it is because it is somewhat crude.  Although I cannot find video of Sam Cassell actually doing this, I did find Kobe (dare I say) whipping it out against the Spurs.  It’s fantastic.  Eddie House doing it too.

Naturally I disagree with Tony and suggest that the only celebration worthy of the top spot should be Shawn Kemp’s finger pointing particularly after he crushed a dunk over Alton Lister.  It is as brash and in your face as you possibly could be without getting into a fight.  You just devastate someone with a dunk.  They are down and embarrassed and your face lights up while you emphatically point to the person on the ground, as if everyone isn’t looking at that person already.  It’s bold and hilarious.  And it can happen at any time you crush dunks on people.  It only helps that the camera guy sees Kemp pointing and immediately looks to the ground to see a shell-shocked Lister.  If I can point and yell at someone then I am all in.

You decide which is better: big balls or emphatic pointing in someone’s face?

With the baseball-less Olympics in the rear view mirror, I can return to some real athletic competition with four stories that caught my eye over the last week in baseball.  That’s “The Cycle.”

Single: Baseball Voted Out The Olympics and Is Not Coming Back In 2016 Either

Perhaps I am quite sensitive about Olympic events because tennis is also under fire as a sport that should be eliminated from the purist athletic competition in the world, but baseball’s absence is truly remarkable.  Consider that baseball was eliminated as an Olympic contest on a vote that took place in 2005, making it the first sport to be voted out since polo’s abrupt exit in 1936 (it began consistently as a Olympic sport in 1984 in Los Angeles – surprisingly, not).  Simply put: if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decides you are a sport (or more accurately termed an event), you stay an event.  Lest you are baseball.  So what did them in?  A 2008 interview with current IOC leader Jacques Rogge, who allegedly led the charge against removing baseball, softball, and the modern pentathlon, suggested baseball had work to do to return to the games: “You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met. When you have all that, you have to win hearts.”

This quote raises several noteworthy points that should be taken into context of an overwhelming reality that baseball and softball are quintessentially American sports.  Yes, baseball is incredibly popular in the Caribbean and Asia but at its core it screams American.  North American.  First, baseball does have a following but that following is not throughout Europe, where most of the IOC members represent.  This is something that cannot be pupu-ed and  is a genuine problem for the International Baseball Federation  to overcome.  Over 300 athletes could not compete from 16 different teams base on 2008 figures but the teams that routinely medal are Cuba, USA, Japan, and South Korea.  No European nations.  Big issue and one that isn’t going to be solved soon I imagine.  The reasonable counter argument is the nations that do play baseball bring massive audiences with North America and Asian nations representing a healthy part of the viewing audience.  Also, most of the current Olympic events don’t exactly attract huge audiences (fencing, trampoline, any shooting or rowing event, or synchronized anything to name a view).

Second, Rogge wants the best players in the world.  That means professionals.  That means MLB players and that’s a huge issue as the Olympics happens right in the middle of the MLB season.  Now this is quite the quandary since the NBA is attempting to scale back participation of huge stars in favor of under 23 year olds (like soccer where the Men didn’t qualify).  The Editor-in-Chief of this blog would be more amenable to supporting tennis as a sport if they had amateurs.  It seems hard for the IOC to be concerned when the multi-millionaires play against amateurs but want MLB players need to be involved to get a sport to return.  For what it’s worth, the MLB season can be shortened but an interruption every four years to compete for your country should be acceptable.  The dirty little secret in this mess is Bud Selig’s World Baseball Classic and under no circumstances does he believe playing for gold should compete with his questionably successful offseason tournament.  It’s exactly what David Stern wants to do with his World Cup of Basketball (which, for the record, would also be successful).  I doubt owners or MLB will get on board to get talent to the Olympics which will hurt the bid.  Counter: use amateurs in the spirit of the Olympics.  It was fine before and will be fine going forward.

Third is this crap about complying with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).  I don’t think anyone is moved by the WADA standards because they clearly are doing a great job preventing doping in sports.  How is that working in cycling?  Oh I hear its doing fantastic with track and field.  That’s a crock.

The only thing worse than that mess is the final point about winning the hearts.  I don’t know what the hell that means but since it came from the IOC, I imagine it means absolutely nothing than something sinister.  Don’t you dare tell me that the triple jump wins the hearts of people.  It sounds like forking over some extra money and proceeds to the IOC.  Not to be cynical but I rather hang with the integrity of Lane Kiffin, Alex Rodriguez, and Lance Armstrong than anyone with the IOC.

Oh for kicks, the IOC replaced the gulf created by baseball and softball with golf and rugby.  If anything, adding golf and rugby should deflate any argument for kicking out tennis.  Golf majors are more important than a gold.  Rugby has a widely popular World Cup  like soccer.  Baseball/softball’s next opportunity is in 2020 but there appears to be one spot left for a new sport.  The competition? Karate, wakeboarding, and wushu.  I’ve never heard of wushu.  But that’s what they are fighting against.  Sadly, it doesn’t look good.

Double: How Much More Evidence Do You Need Of League Bias On Stats?

Two case studies need to be examined to highlight for the billionth time that the league one performs in matters and that blind comparisons across leagues is ignorant.  First is former Yankees disappointment A.J. Burnett who recorded above 4 ERAs in all of his Yankees seasons including two of three seasons giving up over five runs a game.  Not good enough.  Doesn’t help that he pitched in a league with superior (SUPERIOR) offensive talent.  Rangers, Red Sox (ahhh, the Red Sox), White Sox, consistent hitting from the Blue Jays, Tigers, and Angels.  You need to bring it every night.  He couldn’t bring it in his demotion to AAA in 2012.  In his first season in Pittsburgh, Burnett is 14-4 with an 3.32 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.  Significantly lower and leading a team with a firm chance to reach the playoffs.  In the National League.  Pitching against a Votto-less Cincinnati, Houston, and Chicago Cubs will help any struggling pitcher get their confidence up.  Burnett, confidence brewing, went 2-0 against the Tigers this year during interleague play but also got the luxury to face the Royals and Indians.  Point being that his retreat back to the National League comes with some softer competition and increased statistical output.  No one should be second guessing themselves in New York.

Conversely, Ryan Dempster has been exposed as someone feasting on National League hitting despite pitching in a hitter friendly park.  Dempster’s no earned runs allowed from June 5 – July 14 buoyed him to the top of pitching prospect available at the trade deadline.  Unfortunately, the Texas Rangers jumped into the fold to pick him up and 1) moved him to another hitter friendly park inside the 2) American League.  In his three AL starts thus far, he surrendered eight earned runs twice (against the Angels and Yankees), and six hits over six inning against the Red Sox.  Defenders counter that he faced the top offenses of the American League and will not always be going against them to conclude the year.  Uhhh, that’s cute but the Rangers didn’t get Dempster to win meaningless games in September.  He was brought in to stabilize a starting rotation looking to go back to the World Series and he WILL be going against superior offenses in the playoffs.  Certainly the Yankees.  Probably the Tigers and/or Angels.  Good luck.

Lesson for the day: If you are not an all-time great pitcher who can perform in any league, then AL à NL = Stats Up and NL à AL = Stats Down.

Triple: Strasburg Being Shut Down Is Good…I Think…

It’s been around two years since Stephen Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery and the Washington Nationals don’t plan to deviate from its plan to protect their players by shutting them down regardless of the external pressure to win now.  Nationals management ended Jordan Zimmerman’s season in 2011 after 161 innings following his Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2009 season.  This year, Zimmerman 2.35 ERA makes him an anchor for a an elite pitching staff cruising to a NL East title and legitimately contending for a World Series berth.  It’s easy to shut down Zimmerman last season when your team is fighting for third place.  It’s a different question all together when your main ace on your historically good pitching staff is being protected without much sign of current injury.  The Nationals pitching staff is tops in baseball in win percentage, ERA (3.19), WHIP, and opponents OPS according to the fine folks at ESPN Stats and Info.  Clearly there is more to this team than Strasburg but no one can deny that losing him is disastrously bad.

The complicated part of this business comes in the differing positions between the medical community, anecdotal evidence by looking at comparable cases (re: Kerry Wood), and the athlete mentality to show up big when it matters the most.  I won’t pretend to be a MLB insider because that would be disingenuous and Fareed Zakaria is owning that right now.  I encourage everyone to check out Jayson Stark’s Commentary piece on Strasburg which covers all three storylines.  Of note is the strong support the Nationals are getting from the medical community despite no formalized evidence showing that shutting him down is the right move to make.  Stark accurately acknowledges that we can never know if shutting him down “worked” given that half of all pitchers end up on the disabled list and innings differ from each other.

I definitely support the idea of stretching out starts and providing tons of rest to prolong him reaching the innings ceiling but pitching later into the season.  At this point it seems a bit too late to begin that regimen without fear of negative consequences in attempts to get Strasburg’s arm back up to speed in time for a start spread out between 15 days.  Stark’s piece also addresses this and the good job the White Sox are doing with Chris Sale.  It’s certainly a tough decision.  Understandably, Nationals teammates are not happy with the decision to cap innings and it should be stated that this is GM Mike Rizzo’s decision alone.  It is his reputation on the line and he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t feel it was right.

A consequence of my baseball fandom was considering things in the long-term.  I am always a big proponent of looking at a large sample size and balancing the short term with plans for the future (oh, and I am not a fan of MY Dallas Mavericks excess cap space with no team upgrades).  Nothing is guaranteed with going to the playoffs, let alone having a historically great pitching staff allowing you to reach a Worlds Series.  With that in mind, sacrificing on the front end may yield more chances in the future and that is something I cannot pass up.  Yes, it will be awkward to see Stephen Strasburg on the bench carefully cheering on his team as to not rip any more ligaments but it may help the team win multiple pennants in the future.  Kudos for doing what is best for the player and team despite the skeptics.

Home Run: Boston Red Sox Crap

I was in the middle of outlining a defense of Lane Kiffin before I saw Jeff Passan’s Yahoo! Sports story on Red Sox players complaining and trying to get manager Bobby Valentine fired.  As you know, I am very cautious about ripping coaches and managers because most of their job comes during the hours outside of the primetime cameras.  Bobby Valentine was brought in because ownership believed Terry Francona lost the team with their epic collapse following the 2011 season.  They were probably right that Francona’s player friendly approach softened the clubhouse and didn’t help the lack of leadership evident through the season.  Valentine is not player friendly.  He is an enforcer of rules and often times too smart for his own good.  What he isn’t, however, is a scapegoat for this crap.  What got lost during the epic BoSox collapse was the hitting, while not up to their season figures, was still competent.  Their pitching staff stunk up the joint.  No one could stop the bleeding.  Everyone getting lit up.  That is the primary reason they did not make the playoffs last season.  Pitching.

Fast-forward to this season.  Over $170 million payroll.  Top flight offense – though riddled by injuries.  New leadership.  What do the Red Sox do?  Roll out there and stink it up all season long.  Eating the Yankees exhaust like it’s the late 90s again.  Hell, the Baltimore Orioles come into town and whip em like rented mules.  Pathetic.  What is true of last year is true this year.  While the Boston Red Sox offense is NOT producing like it should (Deadspin’s Jack Dickey points to Pedroia’s WAR going from 7.8 to 2.2 and Adrian Gonzalez’s WAR going from 6.7 to 2.6) they still remain in the top ten in many offensive categories including third in runs, sixth in batting average, and fourth in slugging percentage.  Pitching?  Abominable.  Bottom 10 in ERA, quality starts, and 17th in WHIP.  Beckett and Lester?  ERAs over five.  Pathetic.  Not good enough.

Managers need to manage rosters and oversee good decisions with the players on the roster.  If all the pitchers, it seems, cannot pitch then the manager is pretty screwed.  If the star hitters…can’t hit…there is not much you can do to solve that.  Of course it was Gonzalez and Pedroia leading this meeting about Valentine.  Happily, not all the Red Sox players participated in the traditional throwing the manager under the bus tour but that does not excuse the fact that Valentine’s quirks only feed into player’s unwillingness to look in the mirror.  More importantly, look at that pitching staff.  What in the hell are you spending over $170 million USD on?  Not to be a fluttering .500 team wacked by the Orioles, Mariners, and just about everyone else.  This entire team is corrupted and if the management changed in the clubhouse the next move is to change the players, particularly the inept pitching staff.  Most of this “Bobby V is the problem” ends when the winning begins but that will not happen if the Red Sox continue to grasp for pitching that is not coming through at all.  When will the BoSox learn…

Everyone knows I am a huge NASCAR fan but due to the higher ups at the blog, I usually get shot down from writing on the sport.  Yes, it is a sport.  By any and all definitions of sport.  Symptomatic of the Olympics, lots of people look at auto racing thinking “oh I can drive a car so they are just driving a car faster than everyone else…in a circle.  Not hard at all.”  Driving a car at the speeds they are going is as physically demanding as most any sport.  G-Forces on the body are crippling.  Technical skill is very high.  Teamwork with crew chiefs and pit members changing four tires plus two cans of fuel in 13 seconds.  Oh hell yes it is a sport.  The other misconception is that every now and then (twice a year in fact), the drivers of the Sprint Cup Series run on road courses with the results being very entertaining.

Sunday, I give you the closing lap at Watkins Glen International.  The scene: Watkins Glen is a seven turn road course in upstate New York.  The leader is Kyle Busch in the #18 M&Ms car.  He had a very good car all day but something is clearly amiss going into the final lap.  In second is Brad Kesolowski in the #2 Miller Light Dodge (aka “The Blue Deuce).  In third is NASCAR’s only Tasmanian driver and defending race winner from one year ago Marcos Ambrose in the #9 Stanley Steamer Ford sporting the black and yellow which probably makes him Wiz Khalifa’s favorite driver after Jeff Gordon.

The other piece of this clip that is important is some genius blew and an engine and leaked oil all throughout the track.  Oil on the track + tires with no treads  + time to win a race = a spectacular finish to an exciting race.  Hope you enjoy and appreciate the driving skill on display.

 

Cheeks, the Editor-in-Chief, and ALL II return to discuss the Olympics, Team USA, Dwight Howard’s move to the city of Angels, and the PGA Championship.