SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Don't Say "Never", Gene Upshaw

Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight once said that there are two words that you shouldn't use, always and never. We'll, in this link, you'll read that NFL players' union head Gene Upshaw said that his union will never agree to a rookie salary cap because football is a short-career sport.

My response: "sure you would, Gene, under the right circumstances."

And, yes, I have some to suggest. First, most agree that the structure of payments to highly drafted rookies is absurd, especially given the well-documented studies that show that draft status hardly predicts results. Translated, the studies imply that it's foolish to pay huge bucks to high draft picks because there's no correlation between the payments and future performance. Which means that if many rookies are overpaid, there are many veterans who are underpaid. So, if the union is representing all players, it stands to reason that it might want to consider shifting certain income streams around to get more money to proven veterans and have less paid to, especially, the first ten guys drafted in the draft.

Okay, so Upshaw would respond that he's not going to agree to take money away from the top-drafted rookies so as to relieve certain teams of mistakes they made in drafting. But by saying that it's clear he misses the point. First, no one is saying that the top ten draft picks don't deserve some reward for their pre-draft excellence, but should the top pick get $30 million guaranteed when one of the top backs in the league, Brian Westbrook, is relatively underpaid given his production? A good chunk of the money going to the top draft picks could be redistributed to veterans who suffer precisely because the top picks are overpaid. Why shouldn't that happen?

Also, were Upshaw to reject that line of thinking, he should re-consider in light of the fact that if the owners do away with the salary cap, he'll start to care about the overpaying of monies at the top of the draft. The simple reason is that while elite teams will spend like drunken sailors in Bangkok during fleet week, many will not be able to eat their mistakes. So, those draft-day mistakes will get magnified, and deserving players on lesser teams will make even less precisely because of guarantees of (over)payments on draft day. And that means that everyone will lose -- except the offensive tackle that a team hoped would be the next Anthony Munoz but who turned out to be the next Tony Mandarich.

So before you say never to the idea, Mr. Upshaw, think of those in your membership whom high guarantees on draft day penalize -- the unsigned free agent who becomes a five-year starter, the sixth-round pick who makes the Pro Bowl, and the seventh-rounder who plays on his team for ten years. Who, really, then, is looking out for them and making sure that they get the best dollars possible?

Are you always doing that?

Or never?

Better to Get Drafted in a Late Round or Not to Get Drafted at All?

Read this article and then see what you think.

My guess is that it's better to not get drafted in the seventh round if

a) the team that was going to draft you has too many players at your position already and
b) if there's a flurry of interest for you as an undrafted free agent, so much so that your signing bonus might equal if not slightly exceed the (low) bonus you would get as a seventh-rounder.

It's probably better to get drafted in the seventh round if

a) you're drafted by a team that's particularly vain about metrics as to how it did drafting in prior years and is more compelled than the average team to have its draft picks (no matter how low) make the team;

b) you're building your resume, so that it might be chic on Wall Street or in a sales position for a brokerage house or insurance company to say that you were drafted by an NFL team; and

c) you punt or kick for a living, because very few of you get drafted in any round. (Okay, Ray Guy, Russell Erxleben, Steve Little and Sebastian Janikowski are among the very few first-round exceptions).

What's scarier, do you think, getting drafted in the seventh round when you know you haven't peaked yet, you just finished growing or that you've finally overcome injuries and can really show what you can do?

Or. . .

Getting drafted in the first round, when you know that each year many first-round picks don't pan out and are labeled as busts.

Where is the pressure greater? Probably with the guy drafted in the first round, because he chances to excel (and fail, for a reason I'll explain in the next sentence) are much greater. The chances to fail and become a bust are greater because that first-round pick most certainly will get a chance to show that he cannot get the job done. In contrast, the seventh-round pick or unsigned free agent might never get the chance to get the job done, except cleaning up late in one of many seemingly endless pre-season games.

And remember this: the better you do at anything you choose in life, the more chances you'll have. Translated, that means that those drafted in the highest rounds have excelled to some degree, and success at one level should, to a certain extent, beget success at the next level. That said, those who have excelled at their level but who, for some reason, don't get drafted higher because of size or competition issues still have a chance to excel.

That's what makes the NFL and its player personnel decisions such compelling theater.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The $126 Million Reliever

ESPN.com reports that the Giants have relegated Barry Zito to the bullpen.

The Giants are bad enough as it is, but unless you're the Yankees you cannot afford to make a bad 9-figure investment.

As the mid-day guys on WFAN in New York were saying today, the best thing that Mets' GM Omar Minaya didn't do a few years back was to sign Zito. The Mets were in the hunt, but in the end they let Zito go.

The Giants are now wishing they had done the same thing.

Teaching Hitting

I agree that the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. The question is, is there a good way to teach hitting? I'm an assistant coach on my eight year-old's team, and some of the kids swing the bat better than others. Is there a good, somewhat easy way to teach hitting? If there is, please post and share it with me.

Book Review: "The 33-Year-Old-Rookie"

A few years ago, a journeyman utilityman hit almost .500 in spring training for the Philadelphia Phillies. He could play catcher, third and first, and he could flat out hit the baseball. He had never made a major league club, rising as high as AAA with several organizations, and he had played winters in Mexico and Venezuela, among other places. In all likelihood, he was tagged as a career minor-leaguer, a guy who would fill out a roster at Triple A so as to enable prospects on the way up to get seasoning.

The player didn't make the team, even if all of his teammates thought that he had the team made. The reason? Well, the team had a couple of catchers, it needed a fifth outfielder, and it traded for David Dellucci of the Texas Rangers, who had hit 28 homers the prior season. The real reason -- as the author of the book points out, the front office probably had figured there was a reason why this guy had played independent league ball and in the minors for the 11 years since he finished up at Concordia College. So, the logical thing to do was send him down.

Many players would have sulked, but once again Chris Coste had to shrug off disappointment, as he had to do mostly every year in the minors after he had left the independent league. Why? He was a good catcher, but they didn't always let him catch. He could throw runners out -- even from his knees -- but somehow it didn't register in front offices. He also could hit, but there were other prospects in his way. Did he give it up after these disappointments? No, he just resolved to work harder.

To show how irrational front offices can be, Coste got sent down to the Phillies' AAA club and promptly hit .177 in the first month or so, as he had gone into the worst slump of his career. Then, the Phillies' catchers got hurt and a utilityman retired, and a place opened up on the big-club roster. That's right, he hit about .462 in the spring and didn't make the club, and then he was hitting .177 early in the season and gets called up.

And all he does is hit .328 in 198 at-bats, with 7 homers and becomes the personal catcher for veteran Jamie Moyer and young sensation Cole Hamels.

So what happens after that season? You'd figure he'd have the team made, right? Wrong! The Phillies signed veteran Rod Barajas to share catching duties with rookie Carlos Ruiz (this duo was replacing Mike Lieberthal and Sal Fasano from the year before), causing Coste to get sent down to the Phillies' AAA squad once again. Once again, though, injuries and poor performances got him called up, and again he didn't disappointed. I had the privilege of being at a Pirates-Phils game last summer. In the midst of a 6-run inning, Coste hit a 3-run homer, the resulting ovation was so loud it morphed into a curtain call -- Coste's first ever curtain call in the majors. And it couldn't have happened to a better competitor or a more deserving Major Leaguer.

The "33 Year-Old Rookie" isn't a wild a tale, say, as Jim Morris's "The Oldest Rookie" (the book that gave rise to the Disney movie "The Rookie"), if only because there was a considerable gap between when Morris thought his Major League dreams had ended and when they were resurrected. That difference, though, does not make Coste's book any less compelling. Born to a 16 year-old single mother, living in a housing project but surrounded by love and people who cared, Coste willed himself into becoming an outstanding baseball player. His baseball life was, has been and is a journey -- to junior college, college and then independent leagues before moving from one organization to another in the minors. All the while, he kept his faith in himself and his work ethic, and he never quit. His is a tale of determination, and instead of letting every disappointment define him, he used it to motivate him. Time and tim again.

Coste wrote the book himself, and it's a very good read. Read it yourself, give it to a high-school kid, have that kid read it and discuss it with you. There's a good lesson in Chris Coste's journey, which is this: "there's no telling how far you can go if you believe in yourself, work hard, learn from your disappointments and use them to motivate you."

There's a good reason why this guy is a fan favorite in Philadelphia, even among stars like Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

He's Rocky Balboa in a Phillies uniform.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Great Point from "For Love and Honor" -- Are Ivy League Athletics Hypocritical?

I posted yesterday on this wonderful documentary about Ivy League football, but I neglected to mention one interesting feature of the film, the presence of former Princeton President Bill Bowen. Bowen, as you may recall, published a study regarding Ivy athletics and was very critical of the Ivies' overall approach to athletics. Put simply, Bowen doesn't think a lot of Ivy sports and views recruited athletes as inferior students to those Ivy students who don't play sports. His data proves his hypothesis. Naturally, many who played Ivy sports have howled about Bowen's study, but it's out there, and the producers of the documentary (despite some significant funding from Ivy football alums) were wise (and brave) to feature Bowen and his opinions.

And those opinions raise some tough questions that the Ivies themselves haven't addressed and that might haunt the Ivies for a while. I blogged the other days that I thought the Ivies were hypocritical regarding not permitting their football champion to compete in the Division I-AA playoffs. The reason? Because all other varsity sports get to compete in NCAA tournaments.

Fine. But is it more hypocritical the way the Ivies approach athletics? After all, they're elite universities, it's virtually impossible for your kid to get in there (unless, as Bowen points out, they excel in a sport for which there's a need), and they compete for the best and brightest faculty in the world. Yet, despite their spending on faculty and bricks and mortar, and their lofty fund drives, they insist upon letting in a body of kids who wouldn't get into the place if they didn't play sports, presumably because non-athletes have to have better grades and scores to get into these schools? Is that right? Is it smart? Or could they fare okay if they were to be consistent on the admissions point and consider athletes the same way they consider creative writers and cellists and hold all to the same precise standards? Sure that might mean that they play DIII sports and not Division I-A, but shouldn't that be all right? Or is there something more to the athletic experience that the rest of the eggheads out there are missing?

I joke with friends about how Princeont deploys the statement of one-time Princeton (and U.S.) president Woodrow Wilson, "Princeton in the Nation's Service." I tell my friends that there should be an elliptical asterisk, the footnote to which reads, "Well, it's all well and good for many of you to go into public service, but we need about 5% of each class to pursue as much financial gain as possible -- on Wall Street, in the Silicon Valley, and elsewhere -- so that we can keep the Annual Giving coffers full and continue to raise significant sums for our endowment." Many who help fortify those coffers and endowments enjoyed, the way they tell it, wonderful athletic experiences while on their Ivy campuses, feel grateful for their teammates and the lessons learned while competing at their sports and, as a result, give generously to their alma maters. The irony, of course, is that they may be supporting various programs that have professors who lead them who are disdainful of the Ivy athlete generally and their institution's (over-) emphasis on athletics in particular.

So what should the Ivies do? Should they take Bowen's criticisms to heart and change the way they view athletics? Should they continue business as usual? Or, should they even go the other way and go full-bore into Division I-A in football and basketball, offering scholarships in both revenue sports and re-living the glory days? The latter, of course, is unlikely to happen, and the future is not all that clear. What is clear, today, is that the Ivies are trying to have it both ways with respect to their academic reputations and the way they compete with each other on the playing field. Personally, I'd rather go to a school with a better academic reputation and have a good experience there than if my school wins more games and matches in the Ivies than another. The question is whether most Ivy alums share that view and would continue giving to their schools would the Ivies de-emphasize athletics and make more sense of their admissions policies.

The answer, from my vantage point, is that Ivy presidents and trustees would be surprised, and that a majority of alums (i.e., those who didn't play varsity sports) wouldn't care that much. Those alums, however, may not be as vocal as those who played at the varsity level, and therein lies the conflict. Which means, I guess, that nothing will happen on this point, at least for a while.

NFL Draft Issues

I've re-read, at least in part, Mel Kiper's NFL draft guide, and what strikes me is how many teams draft on hope versus experience on the one hand and then experience versus combine results on the other -- in the same draft. The Eagles, for example, took two offensive linemen who aren't regarded necessarily as potential starters in the NFL, yet the Kiper-esque write-up on them is that they make the plays and did so consistently this past season. On the other hand, they took another player who was criticized for concentration lapses and whose draft stock fell precipitously this past season. Finally, they took a guy whose stock fell markedly because of an injury this past season.

My take? The draft is something of a crap shoot, isn't it? Perhaps the scouts overanalyze, because the knock on one offensive lineman was that he has short arms and the knock on the other is that his legs aren't necessarily that powerful. Yet, both made the plays all season long, and you have to figure that they're good enough football players that they can figure out how to get it done during the regular season. The other player, the kid with concentration problems, probably won't get any better, will he? Why is anyone to think that he'll fare better in (much) more complicated NFL systems than he did in his major conference? To me, the Birds drafted that guy based upon raw talent, but there are plenty of guys with raw talent who fail to make teams because their work habits are bad.

So, as to your team, look at the guys they drafted and whether they excelled. Did they make the plays? Did they score in the red zone, did they hold onto the football, did they make the plays? Could the defensive backs cover? Can they hit, can they tackle? Were they first-team all-conference? How did they actually do?

Yes, of course, some guys burn out, some guys don't get better, and some guys have yet to peak. But there has to be a better system to identify how players will project in the big-league uniform. Jimmy Johnson had one, Bill Polian has one, but most teams do not.

As for the Eagles, well, according to the article in ESPN the Magazine that I linked to within the past week, they were smart to trade down, and the pundits on ESPN said frequently that the middle of the draft was deep even if the top of the draft was not. Whether this draft harvests enough depth to get the team to another Super Bowl remains to be seen.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stanford Hires a Logical Choice

But is it a wise one?

Yes, the Cardinal, as rumored, hired Duke's top assistant, Johnny Dawkins, to head their men's basketball program. You can read all about it here.

The choice is logical because both Duke and Stanford are top-notch academic institutions. Time will tell whether it's a wise choice, because save Mike Brey, Coach Mike Krzyzewki's former assistants have not fared well as Division I head coaches. Dawkins had been at Duke for well over 10 years, and sometimes, at least in the business world, doing the same job for too long a time is not a good thing. I won't elaborate on the reasons here, as this isn't a business blog, but for a while I had been thinking that Dawkins was happy to be Coach K's Bill Guthridge.

It's clear, though, that he's not. He sought the Georgetown job (that went to John Thompson III several years back) and now has landed the Stanford post. He'll be emerging from Coach K's big shadow in a tough league (and right after the departure of the Lopez twins). He'll have his work cut out for him.

World Premiere: For Love and Honor

I was privileged to have been invited to the world premier screening of this documentary, which was shown to a distinguished group of Ivy football alums on Thursday night at the Yale Club in New York City. It was a great night, so much so that even with laptop briefcase slung over my shoulder, I walked from Penn Station to 50 Vanderbilt Avenue, right near Grand Central Station.

Several hundred people were in attendance, and they watched a wonderful documentary that is worthy of showing on public television, ESPN and HBO. Erik Greenberg Anjou and Mark Bernstein made this film, and it features, among others, Calvin Hill (Yale), Dan Jiggetts (Harvard), Charles Ravenel (Harvard), Chuck Bednarik (Penn), Stas Maliszewski (Princeton) and GE's CEO, Jeff Immelt (who played line for Dartmouth). Their stories and observations are compelling, and, across the board, this is a first-rate documentary.

Among my observations:

1. Chuck Bednarik, perhaps the best player in Ivy history and the last two-way player in the NFL, was hilarious with his feisty comments about his approach on the field. Remember, Bednarik is in his early eighties today, but he still looks like if he flew across the field and hit you he could hurt you.

2. Jiggetts's story about his background is great, and his comment about Ivy rivalries and Harvard's being number one was hilarious.

3. Maliszewski's observation about the difference between taking exams at Princeton versus playing football is perhaps the best in the film. The difference -- in your exam, if you're prepared, no one is grabbing your pencil or trying to tear up your exam book. On the field, your opponent is also trying to do his best, and he's trying to disrupt what you're trying to do. To Maliszewski, who emigrated to the United States as a boy from Belarus and who turned down a scholarship from Notre Dame, this is what made football more like real life.

4. Harvard alum Charles Ravenel, Class of 1961, was generally a hoot.

5. Brian Dennehy, who captained Columbia's team in 1960, narrates the film.

6. One of the most impressive appearances came from Matt Sodl, who captained Columbia and who never played in a winning game while at Columbia. Sodl had 19 tackles in his last game, which Columbia lost in the last seconds because they missed a field goal. His intensity during that time (which we see because a CBS film crew followed Columbia for a time during its losing streak) was amazing, and his reflections about 20 years later made for great documentary viewing.

7. Calvin Hill still looks like he wants to get out there and play Harvard in an overtime session to finally decide the 1968 29-29 tie (Harvard scored 16 points in the final two minutes to tie the game) that had the Harvard Crimson proclaim the next morning -- Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.

8. All current Ivy coaches save Columbia's Norries Wilson, who for some reason didn't want to appear in the film, impress in the film. Your sons would be in good hands with any of them.

All in all, a triumph in the documentary film world. Kudos to Eric Greenberg Anjou and Mark Bernstein for their outstanding work.

Ivy League Hypocrisy

The league gets chills when its men's hoops champion gets the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Princeton's men's hockey team made it to the NCAA tournament this season. Over ten years ago, Princeton's women's softball team made the College World Series two years in a row (the coach of that team, Cindy Cohen, has to be one of the most unheralded great coaches in Ivy history). Princeton's men's lacrosse team has won six national titles in the past 16 years, and every Ivy League champ in any sport gets to go to the NCAA tournament.

Except football.

Why?

There is no rational, logical explanation. It's sheer hypocrisy, and the kids who play so hard in those games should be able, if their squad wins the title, to go to the NCAA 1-AA post-season tournament.

Case closed.

There is no compelling counter-argument.

For a league that's supposed to school smart people, this is a very dumb rule.

Free Ivy football champions -- let them go to the NCAA tournament.

Are the Philadelphia Eagles Arrogant?

After all, this is the second year in a row that they've traded down and out of the first round.

Or, were they smart today? After all, they got Carolina's second and fourth round selections this year and Carolina's first round pick next year. On the face of it, this sounds like a good deal.

Then again, with their first second-round pick this year, they drafted an undersized DT from the most disappointing team in college football last year (Notre Dame). Is Andy Reid a good drafter, or has it been a while (6 years) since he's had a good draft?

Time will tell. But still, it's hard to say given their draft-day activities of recent years whether the Birds are fully committed to doing the smart thing and winning.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Larry Brown to Stanford?

The peripatetic coach is interested in the job, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

While the article suggests that Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor is the front-runner, Brown has one thing going for him -- he has enough money to afford a pretty nice house in the Stanford area. You might think that I'm joking, but Stanford's known not to pay too much for its coaches, and housing prices are about as high in Palo Alto as they are anywhere in the country. As a result, luring Brown under these circumstances wouldn't be an issue, whereas it probably would for many other candidates.

Brown has won titles at Kansas and in Detroit, and he coached at UCLA many moons ago and took the Bruins to the title game. He'd probably have fun coaching "smart" kids, but would he really be that interested in the grind that can be coaching hoops coaching, especially when it comes to recruiting?

The man can coach, even with the disaster that was his experience in New York. Brown's an intriguing match-up for the Cardinal, but it strikes me that he won't leave the East, as his family likes living in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Former Princeton and NFL Gridder Ross Tucker Has a Column on SI.Com

Click here to read Tucker's insights on the NFL draft.

Eagles' Draft Possibilities -- the Indiana Connection

For what it's worth. . .

I think that there could be a serious Indiana connnection in the first two rounds of the Eagles' draft. Somehow, I think that the Birds will trade down in the first round and still take James Hardy, a big WR from Indiana. True, he's not the first WR on the board, but he's up there, and he's 6'5" tall and better than Hank Baskett. Need a WR to cause match-up problems for the defense? Hardy is your guy.

What they'll get for the trade down and Lito Sheppard (if traded) is anyone's guess. That could pull in an extra second-round pick, but I also think that with their current second-round pick the Birds will take Tracy Porter, a CB from Indiana who also is -- yes -- a gifted kick returner. Put him in a competition with J.R. Reed, and you'll have depth and quality, two things you haven't had for quite some time.

In the third round, the Birds can focus on the offensive or defensive lines, as is typically their wont.

I do think the Eagles know they need to upgrade at WR (hence the off-season interest in both Randy Moss and Chad Johnson) and at kick-returning (despite Andy Reed's professed confidence in Reno Mahe at the return game). You never have enough good cover guys, and you win in the trenches. The Birds seem pretty much set at linebacker and wouldn't appear to draft an RB or QB with even a mid-round pick (given that they took Kevin Kolb and Tony Hunt last year). So, look for draft picks at WR, OL and DL, primarily, on Saturday.

And look out for two guys from Indiana, particularly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sorry, Geno, But You're Wrong

Pat Summitt was right to cancel Tennessee's women's hoops series versus Connecticut. Geno Auriemma pops off in this article about Tennessee's complaining about ESPN's giving Connecticut player a private tour when UConn recruited her, about Tennessee's canceling its series with UConn and, of all things, about ESPN's reporting on the UConn violation that ESPN was complicit in.

Auriemma is wrong on all counts here. First, Tennessee has a right to complain about recruiting violations, major or minor. Assuming that the Lady Vols play by the rules and have nothing to hide, they have every right to be ticked when an archrival breaks the recruiting rules, which UConn did (to UConn's credit, it self-reported the violation, even though it's unclear whether the Lady Huskies did so before or after Tennessee had complained about the breach). That the violation was actual more than justifies Tennessee's stand. Why? Because would you really want to continue playing someone who did something unethical that might have (helped) cost you a big recruit? I recall reading an article about the SEC and the men's teams, where now-retired South Carolina was quoted relaying that another coach (not in the SEC) told him that they'd only schedule South Carolina and three other SEC programs because the others weren't clean. Bob Knight took a standing on recruit ethics as well. So Auriemma shouldn't try to deflect the blame here -- his program made a dumb mistake, and he's only compounding it by blasting Summitt.

As for ESPN, well, he should hold his tongue there too. His program put ESPN is a bad spot, and now he's criticizing the network for doing their job. Geno, here's a word of advice -- do yours better and don't get drunk on all of your success and publicity. Danger befalls those who achieve excellence (and you have) if they don't remain humble and (start to, at least) forget that all rules apply to them. You have worked hard to build an excellent program and good reputation -- remember that and, at times like these, be contrite and hold your tongue.

Because nothing good will come out of the situation if you speak.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Headline: "Report: Isiah Banned from Talking to Knicks Players"

Makes one wonder how (much better) the Knicks might have fared had this happened at the season's outset. Click here for the link.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NFL Draft Day Busts

Comcast ran some photos of draft-day busts, and, yes, there were many of them. No, they didn't offer a photo of Notre Dame alum Walt Patulski, the first pick of the '74 draft, but they did take us down a memory lane featuring Tony Mandarich, Ryan Leaf, Lawrence Phillips, Akili Smith, Heath Shuler and Brian Bosworth. Yes, every draft day you can be sure that two things happen. One is that some team will psyche themself up thinking that a young lifetime of bad work habits and bad assocations will change once the young man falls into guaranteed, big money and the player will mature and be a star. The other is that for some reason panic will spread about a second-degree contusion on a running back's thigh that will take him out of the first round. Or, there will be what proves to be a minor character issue that causes a player to slide.

Truth be told, few teams want one of the top five picks because of the structure of the NFL draft. The higher you go, the more you've won the lottery, because it would appear to me that you're guaranteed more money by virtue of where you're drafted than (at least) the worst paid Pro Bowlers will make over a five-year span. Perhaps I'm overexaggerating, but there has to be a better way, doesn't there?

Joe Morgan on Chase Utley Last Night

Morgan was doing the color commentary on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball." At one point in the midddle of the game, he said, "he will be the best hitting second baseman in history when he's done."

Wow! That's some praise from one of the best-hitting second basemen in history. Does that mean that Utley will be better than Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Jeff Kent?

One thing is clear -- Utley is very, very good.

Now, for the Phillies, if Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino can get healthy and if Ryan Howard can start hitting. . .

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stop Whining, Willie and Billy

This link (you need to scroll down a bit) suggests that the Phillies' fans were cheering when Jose Reyes collided with Chase Utley's knee in the third inning of Friday night's game. Apparently, Willie Randolph and Billy Wagner were upset at the cheering they thought they heard when Reyes lay prone on second base.

I was at the game, and I was pretty close to the field. Was there cheering? If there was, it was by a vast minority of fans. But to claim that the fans in general were cheering is a gross overexaggeration. The sources? A thin-skinned Randolph -- and this makes you wonder what type of heat he can actually stand in his personal hot seat as Mets' skipper -- and Wagner, a gadfly who often says things that border on the outrageous.

Did the Phillies' fans boo when Reyes seemingly lay prone on the basepath forever? Yes, some did. Why? Because many thought that the Mets were milking the situation to get Phillies' pitcher Cole Hamels out of his rhythm. At some point, plate ump Brian Runge should have prompted the Mets into action more quickly -- either Reyes gets up and plays, or he gets replaced. To me (and I didn't cheer or boo -- I was hoping that Reyes would pop up quickly), the whole injury scene did take too long. Did the Mets milk it a bit? Who knows? Like Randolph, I would have taken as much time as given to ensure that my superstar was healthy and ready to play. Was there some game playing regarding letting Hamels get cold? Possibly, but it was a backstory to Reyes' getting hurt on his head-first slide. Still, those who booed the time it took to permit the Mets to make a decision were not out of line -- I've heard worse in most major cities.

But were the Phillies' fans generally happy that Reyes got hurt? Of course not. Few want to see another player get hurt. Why? Because we're good sports, generally, and we don't want our players to get hurt, either. And, like New York fans and Boston fans, we can be tougher on our own than our opponents. Willie Randolph and Billy Wagner should stay focused on what's going on during the game, and by large measure they have been, as the Mets have taken two straight from the Phils and Wagner has gotten two saves.

But these overexaggerations were wrong.

Anxiety in Happy Valley

Chess players know that a stalemate exists when one player cannot make a move without being checkmated.

Penn State hasn't offered 81 year-old head football coach Joe Paterno a new contract, and, according to university president Graham Spanier's statement, Coach Paterno hasn't asked for one. This article reports that contract talks between Penn State and Paterno have been tabled until after the 2008 season.

It's hard to discern what's been discussed, but this situation has been untenable for a while and remains that way. Paterno doesn't own the job, and, yes, Penn State doesn't owe him the job. Yes, Paterno has done great things in State College, but he's been well-compensated and well-recognized for his achievements. The last time I checked, it's Penn State University and not Joe Paterno university, which means that at the end of the day it's Graham Spanier and the Penn State trustees who have the upper hand.

Should they treat Joe fairly and with dignity? Of course. Should Joe have a (big) say in who his successor is? Most likely, yes. Is Joe bigger than the institution? No. Can he stay as long as he likes? No.

What should happen here (and what should have happened years ago) is an outstanding handoff. While John Chaney wasn't the legend at Temple that Joe Paterno is at Penn State, he knew when it was time to retire. Temple hired a fantastic coach in Fran Dunphy (Penn State-ites should be familiar with Dunphy for two reasons -- one, he coaches in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where many diehard Penn State alums live, and, two, he turned down the Penn State men's hoops job after Jerry Dunn was fired over five years ago). Dunphy has proven to be a very worthy successor to Chaney, and Chaney was thrilled when Temple hired Dunphy. It has been a great transition.

No, it won't be easy to replace Joe Paterno, but replaced he must be. And, it seems like he must be told it's time to step down and hand over the reigns, because he hasn't been willing to do so. Great coaching minds/tough guys John Chaney and Pete Carril knew when it was time to hang 'em up, and Joe Paterno should realize the same thing. If he doesn't, it's past time for the Penn State decisionmakers to tell him -- as kindly, well-mannered and dignified as possible -- that's it's time for a successor to take over.

Penn State should stop dancing around this issue. It should confer with Coach Paterno intensely about choosing a successor and then making it happen. If it's not a member of his existing staff, then the Spanier and his A.D. must make plans to conduct a nationwide search after this season and bring in the right guy.

Stalemates are never good, fun or pretty. It's time for the Penn State leadership to make some tough decisions and bring Penn State football well into the twenty-first century.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reflections on Mets-Phillies on Friday Night and Moundball

A good friend took me to his company's Diamond Dugout seats on Friday night, a real treat if you ever get to Citizens Bank Park. We sat in the second row behind home plate and took turns in the "TV seat," i.e., the seat that is part of every shot from the center field cameras of the pitcher throwing to the plate.

You enter the stadium through a designated entrance, get a wristband and then descend the stairs to the private dining room. I had a shrimp and steak stir fry dinner (a far cry from the hot dogs I normally have). My friends dined similarly (the food is part of the ticket price), and then we took our seats behind home plate (my son, who was at the game to celebrate a good friend's/Met fan's birthday, had a cheesesteak from Tony Luke's and enjoyed the dining experience immensely).

When we sat down, we started a game of "Mound Ball". Do you know it? Basically, it works like this. First, you get an empty cup. Second, you and your buddies (there were four of us) put in a buck per every half inning. You pass the cup after each at bat, and you want to be holding the cup when the inning ends. Why? Because, if you're holding the cup you have a chance to win the money in the cup. How do you do that? Well, when the half inning ends, you watch the player with the ball. If he rolls it toward the mound and it stays on the mound, you keep the money. If he rolls it toward and the mound and it doesn't stay on the mound, the holder doesn't win, and the money rolls over to the next half inning. Now, if the player keeps the ball, you watch the home plate umpire, and, yes, if the rolls the ball toward the mound and it stays on, well, by now you know the drill. We have a good time with Moundball, and I more than made expenses last night thanks to a good roll by home plate umpire Paul Runge in the middle of the game.

Now that that's done with, I have the following observations:

1. Johan Santana is awesome. Okay, so that's no great revelation, but, I saw him up close. His ball moves, he locates well, he changes speeds well and he gets ahead of the hitters. He was a joy to watch.

2. Ryan Howard had better get a move on (and he was 0-5 with 3 K's in today's game). If he wants a $20 million per year contract, he needs to channel his inner Manny Ramirez and not his inner Dave Kingman. He also was a butcher in the field last night. I don't expect him to be a Gold Glover, but he made two plays that costs the Phillies at least one run and possibly two. I am bullish on Howard, but he needs to be less streaky.

3. Neither bullpen shined. The Phillies was worse, because Brad Lidge couldn't keep the Mets' lead to one run. Aaron Heilman, who was great with my son's friends before the game and tossed them baseballs, looked shaky. But the ageless wonder, Billy Wagner, who's still throwing 97, finished the job nicely for the Mets.

4. The Phillies have a fan confidence problem. I spoke with several fans today who said that the profanity in the stands is getting out of hand, particularly in the more remote sections of the stadium. Two parents told me that they move their families out of their seats recently because of bad behavior and foul language. That's inexcusable, and the Phillies must act on this fact. I have a few suggestions:

a. Stop selling beer at the ballpark. This is draconian, will cost the team a bunch of money, and is unlikely to happen. But if it did, the ballpark probably would be a more pleasant place.

b. Limit the number of beers people can have to 2 (32 ounces of suds in a 3-hour period isn't unreasonable) by giving them wristbands when they come into the ballpark. No wristband, no beer, and the sellers must punch a hole in the wristband then they sell a beer. That could create logistical problems for beer vendors who sell beers to people in their seats, someone in operations could come up with a solution.

c. Stop selling beer after the fifth inning instead of the seventh inning. Again, this would prevent the chuckleheads from acting too stupidly.

No, I'm not a huge temperance guy, per se, but the ballpark should not cater to the lowest common denominator. Philadelphia fans don't have a great reputation, true, but it's usually the case that a few bad apples spoil the barrel. Still, given the complaints that I've heard, there are too many bad apples bopping around Citizens Bank Park. People don't like to go to cesspools, and the Phillies should do their best to keep the park sane and well-mannered.

5. Pitching was the worry at the season's outset, but the hitting hasn't been good at all. The causes: Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are on the disabled list, and Ryan Howard isn't hitting. As for the pitching, the starters have given a bunch of quality efforts lately. It's just time for the hitters to step it up.

6. Another great night at the ballpark, even if the hometown team lost. Why? It was a warm April night, the company was great, the food was good, and, well, it's hard to have a bad time at the ballpark, isn't it?

Especially when you're sitting in the second row behind home plate.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bucknell's Pat Flannery Retires

Pat Flannery, the head men's hoops coach at Bucknell, announced his retirement today. He will become a fundraiser for Bucknell, which is his alma mater. Flannery had a fine record as the head coach at Bucknell. While he had health problems this year, he said that he based his decision on wanting to spend more time with his family.

The Bucknell job is an excellent job and is sure to draw a lot of interest. Among the people I'd like to see considered are the following assistants: Loyola (MD)'s Brian Blaney, Temple's Matt Langel and American's Mike Brennan.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mel Kiper, Jr's Draft Guide

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm a draftnik. What fascinates me is how organizations make personnel decisions and how they project people to perform. The most transparent organizations are professional sports teams, because everything is public -- performance metrics, rosters and sometimes even compensation. What further fascinated me was an article in a recent edition of ESPN the Magazine, which suggests that first-round picks aren't what they seem, that it's better to trade down, that Jimmy Johnson had it all figured out and that Green Bay's GM Ted Thompson has been successful at finding value in the draft in recent years.

And then I took the plunge. Actually, I did so in March, when I placed an order for Mel Kiper, Jr's draft guide. It came in the mail yesterday, about the size of the average Vanity Fair magazine, and it's loaded with Mel's write-ups and his prediction as to how the draft will play out. Which is interesting because Mel's mock first-round in the book differs from what he says in the current edition of, yes, ESPN the Magazine. As a customer of Mel's, I certainly hope I've gotten the better thinking for having spent my $27 or so for his book.

Here's what I liked:

1. The profiles of the players are compelling and in depth. Mel is good at predicting who gets taken where.

2. The "old-school" presentation. If anything, this book could use more glitz, while ESPN the Magazine could use less. The presentation kind of reminds me of Penn State's uniforms.

3. Kiper talks about future classes, not in detail, although the lists where he ranks players in the classes of '09 and '10 are long.

Here's what I'd like to see:

1. A different book that compares Mel's prior predicted draft orders with how the players turned out actually, say, five years down the road (including an analysis of which undrafted free agents did well).

2. Some "celebrity" evaluations. For example, over the years I've listened to Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio, and Mike Golic has identified people he thought would be pretty good. The year that Dwight Freeney was drafted, Golic was so high on Freeney that I believe he singlehandedly upped Freeney's status from a late first-round pick to a top 10 pick. That, in turn, made Freeney a whole lot of money, so I hope he sends Golic the big gift basket from Harry & David every holiday season. Seriously, some of these guys are insightful, and it would be neat to highlight their views (assuming, of course, that their contractual commitments would permit them to comment in this forum).

3. The first page shouldn't reference possible picks after the seventh round anymore. Mel, there hasn't been a twelfth round in how many years? Yet, on the first page, some of the identified metrics talk about players drafted after the seventh round. Get yourself some more editors.

All in all, it's a fun book, especially if you're an NFL fan. There are plenty of factoids to keep you interested, such as the rating scale that's used to predict the type of pro a college player will be be, the assessment of the NFL teams' needs, etc. Enjoy!

Must See TV -- "Deadliest Catch"

If you haven't checked out Discovery's "Deadliest Catch", you should. It's a captivating reality show about crab fishing boats in rough seas off Alaska. The photography is outstanding, the narration first-rate, and the ship captains particularly are intriguing men.

So, if you need a break from sports, check out this show. Crab fishing may not be a sport, but those who do it are in pretty good physical shape.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Major League Umpires Adrian Johnson and Bill Welke Were Bozos Today

Phillies lost, 6-5, to the Cubs in 10 innings. Yes, they had several miscues, but the game wouldn't have gotten to extra innings if 3B umpire Johnson hadn't blow a call on a long fly by Mark DeRosa that was foul by a few feet in the middle of the game. See, Johnson called it a homer, prompting LF Pat Burrell to dash in to protest, prompting Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to rush out to protect his player and appeal to home plate umpire Bill Welke, who must have been napping, because Welke and his crew declined to change Johnson's call of the long fly as a homer. That further angered Manuel, who got tossed.

The replay clearly showed that the ball was fouled by two feet. When this crew looks at the replays tonight, they will realize that they blew it and cost the Phillies a sweep of the Cubs. Given how close the NL East was last year, this blown call could loom large this year. What a disgrace.

Is it too hard to expect umps, who make sizable six-figure salaries, to get calls like this right?

Is it too hard to ask Major League Baseball to have instant replay reviews on dead-ball plays, which home runs ultimately prove to be? Mark DeRosa would have been sent back to hit on this occasion.

Is it also too much to ask Phillies' broadcaster Chris Wheeler not to be a shill/apologist for all things Major League Baseball. For Charlie Manuel's sake, "Wheels", Adrian Johnson and Bill Welke blew it, and your (and Tom McCarthy's) explanation/apology for why the umps missed it just didn't fly. Wheeler said that the ball was hit pretty high (geez, aren't most home runs hit pretty high) and also that the day was cloudly. Well, fine, but, again, that's why these umps are supposed to be elite and get paid the big bucks. Sure, we don't want you to be out-and-out homers, but call 'em like they were -- the umps were wrong.

Okay, so the Phillies had plenty of changes to put this game away. Jayson Werth failed to sacrifice a runner in the bottom of the ninth, Rudy Seanez pitched poorly in the top of the tenth and Chase Utley's throwing error in the top of the tenth is credited with giving the Cubs' the game. But I would submit -- in true partisan fashion, yes -- that the game wouldn't have gotten to this point if umpire Johnson didn't miss the call (and then exacerbate the situation by running Manuel from the game) and if umpire Welke didn't also miss it.

Sorry to be so harsh, but the umps cost the Phillies a win today.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

MLB is Singing "Kumbaya" on the Steroids Issue

If you somehow need to induce vomiting in your household and don't have ipecac handy, read this article and wonder aloud whether Michael Clayton had a role in this, whether MLB's investigators have Congressmen Henry Waxman and Tom Davis on film patronizing The Emperor's Club, whether Barry Bonds will emerge from his performance-enhancing drugs force field of a jail and whether those named in the Mitchell Report were lucky because they get amnesty. Of course, the deal that the Lords of Baseball struck with the players' union provides that there won't be another Mitchell Report ever again.

Okay, so the baseball industry wanted to finish the job, get past the steroids mess, agree to "stricter" drug testing and end the talk and speculation of the alleged bad stuff that went on in the past. I guess, deep down, that it's all well and good in the eyes of many, and that something like this settlement was inevitable given the awful circus that the baseball industry (and included in that are the teams, the players, the alleged journalists who cover the game) helped create for us from 1994 (the year that a strike served to cancel the season) to the present.

Perhaps.

Because it appears that the settlement doesn't close the window -- at all -- on the players' opportunities to use HGH because the accord doesn't provide for blood testing for HGH. And the players' conduct would appear to be like that of flood water -- if you don't put up sandbags and adjust your grading on your property to thwart it and send it off your property and away from your house -- it will go precisely where you do not want it to go.

No matter what Bud Selig and the owners wish for.

The players' union has outnegotiated them again, in what could be one of their biggest victories ever. Why? Because the public and the owners' had the players in an awful place -- those with the power to make laws and the fans were solidly on the owners' side. And the owners let them escape. Okay, so amnesty in some form might have been part of any agreement. But not to test for HGH?

It's like signing a settlement agreement in the world of DVD's and Blue Rays saying that you're only going to try to sell Betamax. And if you're too young to have heard of something which was thought to be the next best thing (after the 8-track), you'll still get my point. Did the owners really agree to test for anything substantive -- or just for things that are no longer relevant? The article isn't clear, and the owners and players, it seems, did agree to a significant amount of confidentiality, which is understandable (especially if you're a part of either side).

So, in the end, it's hard to say what exactly they will be testing for. The lack of transparency suggests that it's not enough. But the leading Democrat and Republican who held the hearing on Roger Clemens are satisfied.

So we got that going for us.

Which is nice.

Right?

Must Read: Paul Shirley's Diary About Trying to Hook Up With an NBA Team

If you're a real basketball fan, college or pro, you must read this outstanding book by Paul Shirley, who played power forward for Iowa State (when they had Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer and suffered the ignominy of being one of the only #2 seeds in history to lose to a #15 seed, Hampton, about 8 years ago) and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Shirley, who writes very well (and who loves basketball while being dismissive of many who play it for their inability to do anything other than, well, play basketball), talks of his life trying to hook on with an NBA team. He plays in Europe, in Russia (and where he played technically wasn't part of Europe because it was west of the Ural Mountains and almost in the midst of Siberia), in the now defunct (and awful) American Basketball Associaton and a pre-college season touring team for EA Sports (playing against college teams to give them a tuneup for the regular season).

It's been clear to me that you have to be a great hoopster just to become the twelfth (or fifteenth, given that there's an official/unoffical "reserve" squad of up to three today) man on an NBA roster. The lives of the guys at the end of the bench have fascinated me. These aren't the guys with the max contracts and personal assistants, but the guys who have played in the NBDL, the CBA, in Europe, who've signed more 10-day contracts than the number of pairs of shoes a megastar buys at Freedman in Atlanta on his team's only visit to that city during a single season.

Do they have agents? (Yes, and dedicated and caring ones too). Do they have homes and a lot of stuff? (Yes and no)? Do they enjoy themselves? (Hard to tell). Is Shirley handicapped because he's smart, was a good student and has something to fall back on (so that his aversion to failure might be less than some of the guys with the max contracts)? (It's always been a question that's intrigued me about the difference between success and failure, but you'll have to read the book and then comment here). Can they play? (Absolutely).

At the end of the day, this is a very frank look at some of the workings of the NBA. Shirley honors the time-honed premise that to be successful as a writer you have to be brutally honest and not care whom you offend. He's hilarious at times, a bit controversial at others, and very open about his experiences. He clearly wrote this book not caring if he ever got another chance in "the league" again -- in any capacity.

But he might still be trying. Shirley is 30 now, and he played in Spain this past season. From the looks of his photo (which well could have been taken after his having taken an 11-hour night flight from Chicago on a day's notice to get there), he's looking every bit his age. Perhaps he's settled into a nice life in European hoops (as one of the two Americans allotted to a Spanish league roster, making good money, and better than most people make in their corporate jobs), or perhaps he's still looking for that one last shot to sit at the end of the bench, play hard in practice and be told by another NBA coach looking for a good "character" guy to fill out the roster, only to fall victim to the hard, cold fact that the team has 14 guaranteed contracts, "I can't believe that you aren't on someone's roster already."

You also can check him out here, on his page on myspace.com (and, believe it or not, this is the first time I've seen a myspace.com page).

The book is excellent and a very worthy expenditure of your book-buying dollars.

My Love, Admiration and Respect for Medicine Balls

I only skimmed this article in ESPN the Magazine, but its premise underscores my utilization of medicine balls in my daily workouts. I use eight- and twelve-pound medicine balls for a variety of core exercises, and the results are great. Unfortunately, my work schedule (combined with the travel work requires) doesn't permit me to maintain six-pack abs (although I think that those who do either are paid to do or do nothing other but contemplate their navels and abs during their daily work), but usually I can fit in about five one-hour workouts a week and stay in decent shape.

Medicine balls are a good part of the reason. It's not hard to get into a routine. I got mine at Omni Fitness, along with a nifty little booklet that has represented the best $8.95 or so I've spend on my fitness. Get some aerobic exercise, buy some stretching bands to stay stretched out, and get a medicine ball or two, along with some instructions for use. You won't be sorry.

Go to a ballpark, a mall, the movies (and even spend time in a foreign country for contrast), and you'll see how out of shape Americans are and how big they are. Then tell yourself that you're going to get up 45-minutes earlier each day, watch what you eat (it's not your fault that there is most of an aisle full of ice cream at your local supermarket, but it is your fault if you eat a pint a night and don't take care of yourself). Start out slowly, build up to a solid routine, and you'll feel a lot better about yourself.

Among other things, medicine balls are a good place to start.

You have a choice in life about the type of shape you want to be in and how well and gracefully you'll age. Do something about it -- starting with this weekend. You'll be glad you did.

Observations on Phillies-Cubs Last Night

Took the kids and a friend of the older child to Citizens Bank Park last night, where the Phillies beat the Cubs 5-3.

Here are a few observations:

1. Wow, is this a great place to watch a game (okay, I already knew that).

2. Pat Burrell is playing well in his contract year. Look for him to hit .275, have an on-base percentage of about .385, hit 33 homers, knock in 107 runs and figure mightily into off-season free-agent conversations among many teams. He'll parlay the hitter-friendly confines of CBP into a lucrative four-year deal -- and probably will take his act elsewhere. Then again, potential buyers will watch Aaron Rowand's performance in San Francisco closely to ascertain the "park effect" on Rowand's performance, as Rowand had what might prove to be a career year in CBP last year before signing an inexplicable 5-year, $60 million deal with the woeful Giants.

3. Brett Myers should be permitted to start games in the second inning. He threw only 3 bad pitches all night, and Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano hit homers off them. Otherwise, Myers pitched very well against a good-hitting team, out-pitching Carlos Zambrano.

4. The ushers at CBP in our section were terrific, very warm and welcoming and enjoying their jobs. One of them gave my daughter and her friend small plastic models of the Phillie Phanatic, and he gave my son baseball cards. That was very kind, and the kids appreciated the attention very much.

5. Jamie Moyer is a class act to end all class acts. He comes out of the dugout 30-40 minutes before the game on nights he's not pitching. Not only does he sign autographs, he chats it up with the fans. How many Major Leaguers do that on a nightly basis? My answer: not too many, but the players' union should encourage their members to spread good will in a time of doubt about the integrity of players' ingestion of medicines and have them become at least a little more fan friendly.

6. They sell a lot of beer at CBP. In fact, the only things the vendors were selling were cold drinks (the beer vendors also sell soda and water), peanuts (and those are pretty good) and cotton candy. But beer seemed, by far, to be the biggest seller. So much so that I am surprised that the leading DUI lawyers in the Philadelphia area don't sponsor billboards on the major expressways (yes, that's what we call some of these roads in the Delaware Valley).

7. How bad is Jimmy Rollins ankle? He missed his third game in a row. The Phillies are playing it smart by being patient. There's no need to rush him.

8. How fortunate are the Mets? Do they really think they'll get wins from Nelson Figueroa in the heat of the summer? (I know, that's not a direct observation of what happened last night at CBP, but it came to mind, so I thought I'd mention it).

9. What is going on with some of who we thought were premier pitchers in the majors -- Barry Zito (okay, so he's been down significantly, but could so many teams have been so wrong about him two off-seasons ago to pony up obscene sums to see him throw in three slow gears), Roy Oswalt and C.C. Sabathia?

10. The Phillies tested Cubs' rookie catcher Geovanny Soto in the bottom of the first. They had men on first and third and didn't score. With two strikes on Chase Utley, Greg Dobbs on first and Shane Victorino on third, Zambrano whiffed Utley and Soto threw a perfect bullet to Ryan Theriot to nail Dobbs, whose speed won't be confused with that of Victorino or Utley, but who had a pretty good lead. My guess is that most teams will make Soto throw the ball a bit before he establishes his reputation for throwing out runners.

11. According to the current edition of ESPN the Magazine, Phils' back-up catcher Chris Coste's book about being a 33 year-old rookie is ninth on the ESPN-Borders list of sports books sold within the past week or so. That's a nice back story to a good story.

Go to your local ballpark! It's a great tonic for whatever might be bugging you (including the fact that it's tax time).

Confirming My (Very Positive) Thoughts About Rasheed Wallace

The recent issue of ESPN the Magazine has this article about the on-court genius of Rasheed Wallace. Read the whole thing, especially if you're a doubter about his court savvy, his technique, his overall outstanding play and, yes, his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

Put simply, the guy can do it all -- defend the tough 4s and 5s, rebound, pass, shoot the three, set the good pick and do whatever it takes to win. Why the denizens who determine who is on the U.S. Olympic team have tapped this outstanding player is beyond me, especially because he's one American who obviously fits the prototype of the type of player that could help Team USA reestablish its preeminence on the world hoops scene.

Yes, he has baggage, and, of course, his legacy will, to some degree, be defined by his lack of restraint when it came to addressing referees (or, put differently, he has a terrible on-court temper that will tarnish his legacy to some significant degree). Still, there's more to him that the technical fouls, and the fact that the Pistons are an outstanding team is because not only can their first eight play very well together, but because they have a transcendant talent in Rasheed Wallace.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Trent Johnson Leaves Stanford for LSU and. . .

Does Mike Montgomery's new contract with Cal have an inexpensive "out" clause in it that will let him return to Stanford? Remember, Montgomery brought Stanford to great heights when he was the head coach there, and then he cashed in his chips and went to the Golden State Warriors, where he must have questioned his sanity. He recently was announced as the head coach at Cal, replacing Ben Braun. Meanwhile Johnson, his former assistant, decided to bolt The Farm for perhaps a better chance to win a national title in Baton Rouge.

Which means, of course, that the Stanford job is open, and Montgomery hasn't established roots in Berkeley yet. So, could Stanford call him up and recall him, so to speak, before too long? Or is Montgomery's decision to go to Cal regarded as so mercenary in Palo Alto that his name is not to be mentioned and he's the veritable Lord Voldemort on the Cardinal campus? On the other hand, would forgiveness come easily?

My guess is that the Montgomery chapter is closed for good at Stanford, and it would be way too messy for Montgomery to go back to Stanford at this point (Billy Donovan's waltz with the Orlando Magic after last season notwithstanding, the stakes are different and potentially uglier here).

So, if Johnson is gone, who is the next men's b-ball coach at Stanford?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Gonzaga's Mark Few. The guy's a flat-out winner and could elevate the Cardinal's game even further. That's who I'd go after. (After Mark Few, I am naming people as they come to mind, and not in any particular order).

2. St. Joseph's Phil Martelli. Probably too rooted in the Philadelphia b-ball culture to move, but he blends aggressive basketball and good academics and has succeeded on Belmont Avenue.

3. Davidson's Bob McKillop. Similar to Martelli, an institution at an excellent institution with a good hoops tradition. Still, for both Martelli and McKillop, Stanford is a (big) step up.

4. ESPN's Bob Knight. He probably can coach smart kids better than anyone else, but is his old-school, unapologetic mentality likely to be a fit in a very liberal part of the country. The matchup would be intriguing, but I doubt it will happen.

5. Boston College's Al Skinner. Excellent coach, has a good job at, again, a school that excels at blending academics and athletics. Doubt he'd move at this point in his career, because he's already in a top league, but his chances of fending for a title in the Pac-10 at Stanford might be greater than contending for one in the ACC at BC.

6. Notre Dame's Mike Brey. Another good fit for Stanford, and, yes, I think that Stanford would be a step up for Brey, because the Cardinal is now (much) more of a basketball school than a football one (even if Jim Harbaugh has elevated the football culture at Stanford). Notre Dame will always be a football school first, despite its present problems. I think that Brey would be a safer and perhaps less exciting pick than some of the others, but his record speaks for itself.

Those are six that immediately came to mind, and I'm sure that there are some Big Sky, WAC, other WCAC coaches and Big West coaches that might draw attention, plus some top assistants at the likes of Duke (Steve Wojo. and Chris Collins), North Carolina, etc.

The Stanford job is an excellent one. Who do you think is a prime candidate?

What are the Top 10 Head Coaching Jobs in Men's College Hoops?

In no particular order, here are my top 10:

1. North Carolina
2. Duke
3. UCLA
4. Kentucky
5. Kansas
6. Indiana
7. Georgetown
8. Syracuse
9. Michigan State
10. Louisville
11. Florida (but, beware, it's still a football school first)
12. Maryland
13. Connecticut
14. Arizona
15. Texas

Let the (very) fierce arguments begin -- okay, and I gave you 15.

There are many others, of course, worthy of consideration, including several schools in the top 6 conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC), as well as Gonzaga, Davidson and many others. I didn't include Memphis and Tennessee because while Coaches Calipari and Pearl have excelled there, those programs aren't as storied as some of the others (although it's debatable how "storied" Texas' program is, and Kentucky and Indiana have had downturns). I tried, wherever possible, to balance tradition with current excellence in coming up with the list.

So, for example, not all of the top 15 schools in all-time wins are present, which means that Pennsylvania, Temple, St. Joseph's, Villanova, Princeton and St. John's are absent, and the latter two have fallen on some tough times. The jobs there, though, are still excellent. Similarly, Davidson and Gonzaga are hot programs now (and, with Gonzaga) for the past 10 years, but I'd submit that Mark Few is more valuable to Gonzaga and could win on the moon than Gonzaga is a top-10 job.

Sure, if you're a fan of Oklahoma State, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Marquette, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, you might not agree, but that doesn't mean that some of those jobs are not in the Top 30.

It's just that they're not in the top 10.

Okay, now, pour it on. What do you think?

No Way This Would Have Happened, Really

Would Bill Self really have left Kansas, one of the biggest-time programs in NCAA history, for his alma mater, Oklahoma State? I submit that the opening of the OSU job was fortuitous for Self, who was able to parlay a hint of going to Stillwater into the lucrative contract he might have deserved (it's all relative, isn't it, as do college coaches really deserve millions a year to coach a kid's game) anyway. I would submit that Kansas's tradition is much better than that of OK State (and, yes, I know that the legendary Hank Iba coached there when it was Oklahoma A&M, but that was a long, long time ago, and readers who remember that are in their 70's today). Self would have been nuts to leave Kansas (and happily, I think, took a page out of Les Miles' book and stayed at his current job).

So, Jayhawks' fans get their sigh of relief, Self gets a new contract, and OK State continues to search for a new coach. To me, the story was really a non-event.

Panicky Fantasy Baseball Moves

The kids and I have a team in an ESPN league. It's a 10-team league, the draft was auto-pick (but we did change around ESPN's suggested order a bit to avoid taking big-name pitchers such as Barry Zito and Dontrelle Willis, neither of whom, to us, ranks in the top 50 starters in the Majors), and we ended up with a really good team. We also just added Aramis Ramirez and Robinson Cano, both of whom have gotten off to slow starts and were jettisoned by their impatient owners. I was out of the country this week, or else we might have added Russell Martin, who fell victim to the same fate after an 3-24 start.

We had a strong hitting lineup to begin with, but we're stronger with the addition of those two, who should improve as the season progresses. So, if you're a fantasy owner, if might be one thing to be impatient with a closer on a team where there are one or two "closers in waiting," but to shed a perenially good player before mid-May (unless he's injured and out for the year) doesn't seem wise.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

There Are So Many Good NCAA Men's Hoops Coaches. . .

And I ask this question with reverence and not razzing -- who are among the best coaches who haven't won an NCAA title but who you'd like to see get one/are worthy of one/are the next best coaches not to have won? I'm going to name 10 -- I'm out of the country and don't have time to link to their bios, but I'd like your input as to who you think some of these guys are. Here are 10 (in no particular order):

1. UCLA's Ben Howland. He's been there three times in a row, and he's no bridesmaid (or Guy Lewis, for that matter, although Lewis had to be a pretty darned good coach to get his Houston Cougars to several Final Fours).

2. Memphis's John Calipari. He's been to the Final Four twice, and in any other year his Memphis team would have won it all.

3. Gonzaga's Mark Few. How many people can perenially field a Top 25 team in the midst of a mountain range? Not many. Might be hard to win it all at Gonzaga, but Few is an outstanding coach who could well win in the right venue.

4. Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings. He competes in a league where his school's recruiting standards are substantially higher than those of his competition and yet his team excels (as the guy who coached at my high school said, "there's an advantage to coaching smart kids"). He's a very good coach, but he might not get the chance at a Final Four at Vandy.

5. Georgetown's John Thompson III. It's only a matter of time before JTIII gets a national title. He can recruit, he can coach, and he is at a great school.

6. Temple's Fran Dunphy. He was a wizard at Pennsylvania, and he's turned Temple around in two years. He's an excellent coach and a better guy. Though some (including Coach K) think he could win a title at Temple (and it's within reason), it might not be as easy as it sounds. Still, there aren't many more worthy than Fran Dunphy.

7. Texas's Rick Barnes. His teams are up there every year, so he must be doing something right.

8. Stanford's Trent Johnson. He's won at Nevada and down at The Farm, and he's another solid combination of a recruiter and a coach. Look for an outstanding rivalry to re-form between his Cardinal and his one-time boss Mike Montgomery's Cal Bears.

9. Michigan's John Bellein. Great job at Richmond, great job at West Virginia. Would be fun to see him in a Final Four.

10. Sean Miller, Xavier. Former uber-dribbling PG has things going well at a relatively small private school in Cincinnati. Makes it look easy. It isn't.

Others worthy of mention, consideration: Davidson's Bob McKillop, St. Joe's Phil Martelli, Oregon's Ernie Kent, Arizona State's Herb Sendek, Indiana's Tom Crean, Miami's Frank Haith, Drake's Keno Davis and, I am sure, many others.

Who did I miss? Please let me know.

Outstanding Choice for Oregon State

Little did Craig Robinson know that he'd come back to Corvallis, Oregon, to live and coach.

In the spring of 1983, Robinson co-captained the Princeton Tigers, who appeared in Corvallis as part of the NCAA western regional. Robinson's Tiger team was to face Big 8 champion Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Also featured in that region were Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels, the favorite to come out of the weekend in Corvallis and Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack). The Princeton game featured a unique confluence -- two Division 1 schools' whose colors are orange and black playing against one another on the floor of a host school (Oregon State) whose colors are orange and black. And Princeton won the game in an upset!

The Tigers played Boston College (featuring, among others, Jay Murphy) in the second round and hung in there for about 35 minutes despite a terrible shooting performance in the second half (the Tigers were within a bucket at the half, I believe). And so they went home. N.C. State upset UNLV, came out of that part of the bracket and, yes, that was the year that Lorenzo Charles dunked Derek Wittenberg's airball, Jim Valvano ran around with no one to hug and the Wolfpack upset the heavily favored Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars to win the national title.

And Craig Robinson is back to wearing orange and black and carrying on in the tradition of the legendary Ralph Miller (remember, OSU was a power about 30 years ago) after interludes wearing purple and brown. In case you missed the news, Oregon State named him its head coach the other day. Robinson was a two-time Ivy League player of the year, assisted Bill Carmody at Northwestern and distinguished himself in his two years at Brown. One loyal SportsProf reader, a Penn alum and partisan, advises that Craig Robinson did the best coaching job against Penn two years ago, when Penn won the Ivies, and did a great job this past season. He's a great guy, and I wish him the best in the ever-competitive Pac-10.

OSU fans -- you might fret initially because your school didn't hire a "big-name" coach. But the thing about "big-name" coaches is that sometimes you get them after they've hit their peak, when they prove again F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that "there are no second acts in American life." Craig Robinson got to coaching a little late in his work life, so at 47 he's not a youngster age-wise in coaching. But he's young in terms of his coaching experience, and his best is yet to come. Your team hired a winner.

And, remember this: the most successful NCAA coach of all time, a guy by the name of John Wooden, was at UCLA for about 16 years before he won his first national title (of the ten he ultimately would win), and he was, yes, fifty-five, when he won that title. My point: Craig Robinson's coaching career has a lot of upside to it -- he's a very sound technical coach, and I'm sure he'll be able to recruit well enough to bring back the glory to a basketball program with a lot of tradition.

Good luck, Craig Robinson!

Go Beavers!

Good Choice for Rice

What went somewhat unnoticed was that Rice recently hired recently deposed Cal coach Ben Braun as its head coach. This is a great choice for Rice, as Braun is an innovative coach who should elevate the Owls' program. Willis Wilson, the coach Braun replaces, is a very good guy, but he had trouble advancing the program and getting the Owls to the post-season. Needless to say, a) Rice is a tough job because of the academic standards, small enrollment and tough competition and b) Braun got canned from Berkeley because of his recent lack of post-season appearances. So, while facially it does seem a bit counterintuitive to hire Braun in Houston, it's actually a good move. (For example, hiring a Bob Huggins clone or Huggins wannabe just wouldn't square with the Rice culture).

Good luck to Ben Braun in his new gig.

Good luck to Willis Wilson in his next one.

Taking One for the Team

Chase Utley took four for the team yesterday to help the Phillies beat the Mets, 5-2. Utley was hit by a pitch three times and hit by a throw late in the game (and that Mets' miscue helped keep a key rally alive).

MVP candidate?

You better believe it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Still Smokin'

Joe Frazier may have some tax and back problems, but he's still alive and well and actually doing fine. Read this piece and see for yourself.

The article reports that EA Sports recently signed Smokin' Joe for a video game. In some games, the controllers vibrate when you're trying to kick a field goal or convert a penalty shot late in the game. In this one, will the controller nail you with the equivalent of a right cross when you're in the 15th round of a title fight in the Felt Forum? Look forward to this game, especially if it's on the Wii.

Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest of all-time (Louis and Marciano fans, among others, will debate endlessly whether he was actually "The Greatest"), with Frazier atop the next tier. But remember this, it took a series of great fighters, led by the very tough Joe Frazier, to help cement Ali's legend as a master pugilist. After all, Larry Holmes was a most capable champion, but he didn't have the opponents that Ali did during his time (and therefore doesn't get all that much respect (in fairness to Holmes, you fought who was available, so it's not his fault that he didn't have the legendary opponents to defeat that Ali did, and Holmes did make it look pretty easy). Despite all of Ali's histrionics (which were cloaked in nastiness) toward Frazier (who hardly deserved them), it took the excellence of Joe Frazier (and three amazing fights) to help galvanize the Ali legend.

Joe Frazier was one helluva fighter.

And he's still out there, battling.

Hawk Attacks Student At Fenway Park

And it wasn't Ken Harrelson doing the attacking.

And -- get this -- the victim's name is Alexa Rodriguez (no relation to A-Rod).

Read about the bizarre incident here.

I mean, I know that the BoSox have a well-oiled machine for a front office, but training birds of prey to go after anything or anyone remotely connected with the Yankees -- including a name similar to that of their superstar -- is, of course, far-fetched (and didn't happen).

And, no, this whole bit is not a belated April Fools' day joke, just a random act of ornithological violence.

Tim Thomas Revisited?

Tyreke Evans is one of the best HS basketball players in the country, and he's also the top unsigned one in the Class of 2008. Many top-flight hoops programs are in the running for his matriculation, although nearby Villanova seems to be at the top of the list.

Evans visited Villanova yesterday, said that he really likes "Jay" (wonder if Bob Knight would appreciate a recruit's calling him Bob) and this article indicates that Villanova is the heavy favorite to land Evans, who visited 'Nova yesterday with an assistant HS coach, three older brothers and another relative in tow (Evans goes to a private HS within a half hour of the 'Nova campus). The article underscores the view that Evans is a top talent and one who, in all likelihood, would only want to spend a year at 'Nova until he's eligible for the NBA draft.

This concept, of course, raises a bunch of questions:

1. Do you really want a player who is "one and done"?
2. Does 'Nova remember what happened with Tim Thomas? (Thomas joined a very good team, seemingly disrupted the chemistry, that team underperformed in the NCAA tournament, Thomas left, and the program had to regroup).
3. Do you build long-term success with players who leave early?
4. Is it good for Evans to go to school so close to home? How much will friends and family be a distraction? How much will family and friends try to put suggestions into Evans' ear about his playing style and his NBA future that might interfere with what Coach Wright wants to do?

It's clear that Evans is a great HS player. It's pretty clear that he'll help make Villanova a better team. The big question is whether this is a case of "be careful what you wish for" or if Jay Wright and the 'Nova staff really know how to handle a situation involving a great talent who might only stay for a year.

Who really benefits? The player? The school? Both?

Both parties know what they're getting into, but there's a chance that in the end neither will get what they bargain for.

Interesting Comments from Mike Greenberg on Billy Packer

Mike Greenberg rightfully criticized Billy Packer on ESPN Radio this morning for the Old Hoops Grouch's comments that the coaches in the Final Four are the best coaches (as a foursome) ever to coach in the Final Four. Greenberg then went on to prove that Packer is wrong, because his intern sourced the head coaching lists from prior Final Fours, and many of those foursomes had more national championships to their credit collectively than the current foursome of Howland, Calipari, Williams and Self (who have one among them). Greenberg also pointed out that had Dick Vitale made this statement on ESPN, Packer would have been quick to criticize college hoops best cheerleader in USA Today.

Greenberg is as right as Packer is annoying. Both are very knowledgeable, but Packer is an acquired taste to say the least. I don't know about you, but I actually don't like the overly saccharine style of Jim Nantz or the "lead with the vinegar" style of Packer. I thought that Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas excelled covering their region, and I'd take Bilas and Clark Kellogg over Packer as my top analyst. (Bob Knight has been hilarious, but his is a temporary gig).

Can You Really Work for Both Cal and Stanford in a Sports Career?

Former Stanford and Golden State Warriors coach Mike Montgomery apparently has agreed to replace Ben Braun as the head coach of Cal's men's basketball team.

Naturally, Montgomery's decision will turn some heads and have some Cardinal faithful calling him all sorts of bad names and have some old Golden Bears wondering why on earth Cal couldn't find someone else to coach their basketball team. Remember, too, that this is different from, say, Leo Durocher's going to manage the Giants after having managed the Dodgers (because the Dodgers fired him). But, of course, I'm far from calling Montgomery a traitor or arguing that Cal is surrendering to Stanford.

Bottom line is a) Montgomery is an excellent coach with a proven track record and b) Cal needs to replace Braun with a better coach (and Braun was a pretty good coach who ran a good program). The choices are finding an up-and-comer who has the chance to become another Coach K or hire a proven winner out there. Montgomery is a proven winner, and he should excel at Cal.

Good choice for Cal and Montgomery, but the public commentary from the partisans should be amusing to say the least.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Livin' the Life: Lenny Dykstra

No, this is not a new VH1 or MTV reality show, but a New Yorker article about Lenny Dykstra and what he's up to, which apparently is a lot. Read here and see what "the dude" is up to and whether you think he's actually a successful investor and businessman or not. As with Dykstra when he played, the coverage certainly is entertaining.

Perhaps we should have a contest to see who's a better trader -- Dykstra or one of the lacrosse players features in the Wall Street Journal article that I blogged about earlier today.

The Dangers of Having Your Coach Act as G.M.

Andy Reid (still) believes that the Eagles have enough playmakers to win a Super Bowl.

Did Eagles President Joe Banner leave the NFL's spring meetings because of that statement (Banner had left because he was ill) or because the press corps wore him out challenging that statement?

Sorry, Andy, but you're wrong here, and some of the talking heads on the radio (who know who they are) who defend you are wrong too. Can you really win a Super Bowl with a) the receiving corps you have, b) the return game you have and c) the low amount of turnovers the defense forced last year? You might have upgraded the defense with Chris Clemons and Asante Samuel, but Reno Mahe as a very solid kick returner? A receiving corps of Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant and Hank Baskett, not to mention L.J. Smith as your (enigmatic) tight end?

Eagles fans who read this, please reconsider your knocks on Donovan McNabb. The one (real) year he had a top-notch wide receiver, the team made and almost won the Super Bowl (the subsequent year's implosion resulted from the poor choices of the wide receiver and a terrible failure of the team's other leaders to take that receiver to the woodshed; instead, Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter, among others, stood there and opted not to take sides). During the course of McNabb's career (and I'll admit, he's been stiff-legged at times in his mechanics and has made mistakes), he should be praised for accomplishing what he has with the supporting case of skill players he's had (other than Brian Westbrook). McNabb, when healthy, is an excellent quarterback who is championship-caliber.

Too bad that his coach/G.M. has a blindspot the size of Lincoln Financial Field when it comes to making personnel decisions (and, for that matter, save about 1 year, drafting players). Because that blind spot persists, the Eagles will not contend for a Super Bowl.

They might make the playoffs, but until they get Donovan McNabb more support, they will not win a title (or even get to the title game).

The Tragedies of the the 1985 Memphis Final Four Team

This excellent piece from today's USA Today underscores the saying, "you should not covet someone else's life, because you don't know what that life really entails." Things didn't turn out so rosy for the coach and many members of that team.

And it was a good team, a team that excelled on the court.

For more than a few, it was living life that became the problem.

Lacrosse and Wall Street

Interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal regarding the influence of college lacrosse alumni on Wall Street and how a college lacrosse experience might help one on Wall Street (both the competition part and the networking with influential alumni part). Read the whole thing and let me know your thoughts on the article.

Most certainly, the article will reinforce the views of those who believe that lacrosse is an elitist sport (although the growing influence of the sport around the country would suggest otherwise). Perhaps the ticket to Wall Street is not so much a degree from an Ivy League college or a prestigious New England liberal arts college, but some measure of success at those schools or others in lacrosse (with "success" for these purposes, at least at some of the major lacrosse schools, being loosely defined as having made them team and, therefore, having a ticket to an influential alumni network).

For example, who has the best odds of getting the initial good job and then succeeding on Wall Street:

a) the math genius from Bronx High School of Science who majored in mathematics at Princeton and whose closest connection to the pretty significant athletic influence at Princeton is i) participation in his residential college's annual March Madness pool and ii) freshman year a soccer player lived next door to him;

b) the economics major at Dartmouth who played club lacrosse (not to be confused with varsity lacrosse), had a 3.65 GPA in economics and whose father heads up a big department at an investment bank;

c) a second-team all-Ivy lacrosse player at Cornell who had a 2.3 GPA in agricultural economics in Cornell's Agriculture School (despite coming from a congested part of Long Island which, last we checked, no longer has a significant farming presence);

d) the star midfielder (and first-team all-American) at Maryland, who grew up playing lacrosse at a private school in Baltimore and who had a 3.0 GP in his kinesiology major; or

e) the captain of the division III championship women's basketball team who had a 3.9 GPA in applied mathematics, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and hails from that great hoops state (not) of Maine?

And, I guess, in the end, how much should we care?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Curious About Pat Summitt Ad on ESPN?

I am.

Yes, ESPN has these cute commercials featuring star athletes and coaches. They've run them for years, and some are better than others.

I have no objection to the Summitt ad, but I'm curious as to the timing. You'll recall that UConn's women's basketball hoops team came under scrutiny earlier this year regarding the recruitment of this year's sensation Maya Moore. Why? Because the UConn women's hoops front office arranged for Moore to get a private tour of ESPN.

That was a no-no according to the NCAA, because ESPN doesn't offer such tours to the general public. As a result of this publicity and problem with the NCAA, ESPN now prohibits offering such tours.

But clearly ESPN must have felt guilty about the advantage it gave to its home-state women's hoops program. The bet here is that had Moore not gone to UConn, Tennessee couldn't have been that far down her list.

So how to make amends? Give Summitt tons of free publicity in this advertisement. Yes, she's getting a lot of it, although the commercial is rather silly and Kenny Mayne looks foolish in it.

Is the current commercial a coincidence or a peace offering to the best coach in women's hoops history?