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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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Penn Should be Patient with Coach Glen Miller

Yes, the Penn Quakers aren't having a good year.

Yes, the Penn Quakers will not win the Ivy League for the second year in a row.

Yes, Coach Glen Miller will "only" have won one title in his three years at Penn, and then only with a great group of seniors that his predecessor, Fran Dunphy, left behind.

Yes, Coach Miller had 19 players on the pre-season roster.

Yes, Coach Miller has had a couple of good recruiting classes.

But. . .

First, he was counting on three players to bring it home for Penn this year -- senior Tommy McMahon and juniors Darren Smith and Andreas Schreiber, none of whom have played a minute this season. Remember how touted McMahon and Smith were, and that Smith was supposed to be the heir apparent to Ibby Jaaber (who was one of the best players in the Ivies in a long while).

Second, he is relying on a bunch of young players -- sophomores and freshmen, mostly, to get it done this year (he isn't getting much from the remaining upperclassmen).

Third, Cornell was really patient with Steve Donahue, who had won only a third of his games at Cornell in about 7 seasons until last season, and it looks like Donahue will reward the Big Red's patience with a second straight Ivy title.

Fourth, would you have wanted to have replaced someone as beloved and successful as Fran Dunphy?

As to points three and four, let me elaborate. Yes, you'll be right if you argue that the Donahue and Miller situations are different, that Donahue had to go into a situation that didn't have much of a history and build from scratch while Miller inherited something special in a unique program and shouldn't have had the difficulty that Donahue did. Still, Miller is different from Dunphy, and adjustments take time, and, no, he is not Joe Scott (in that he's not a transplant who just doesn't fit). I know some fans think of Miller as their version of former Princeton coach Joe Scott, but is that really fair?

As to point four, compare Dunphy's departure a few years back to Pete Carril's departure from Princeton in 1996. Princeton anointed long-time top assistant Bill Carmody, who was a natural successor and who got out of the gate quickly. Carmody excelled at Princeton and was the logical choice. Penn, on the other hand, didn't have a logical successor to Dunphy other than his former top aides Steve Donahuse (who opted to remain at Cornell) and Fran O'Hanlon (the Lafayette coach, whom the Quakers somehow couldn't lure the Palestra from Easton, Pennsylvania). After those two, the Quakers didn't have logical choices and settled on Miller, a former Jim Calhoun assistant more known for being an offensive coach. There was no great logic to that move other than Miller was reasonably successful at Brown.

But that's not fair to Coach Miller, is it? He did a good job at Brown, and he won a title at Penn in his first year. He's in the process of bringing in his third recruiting class, and knowing Penn it should be a pretty good one. Yes, Princeton is improving, as are Harvard and Dartmouth, and Cornell is pretty good, but it doesn't seem to make sense to axe Miller because he has a young team and isn't Fran Dunphy.

That's my reasoning, but, Penn fans, what's yours? What's the scuttlebutt around the Palestra? How happy or unhappy is A.D. Steve Bilsky with Miller? How happy are you with him? What do you hear about recruiting? What do you think?

All typos are mine.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Musings on NFL Free Agency

First, the Philadelphia Eagles, who would be foolish to go into the season with two aging tackles, Jon Runyan and William "Tra" Thomas. Word on the street was that the Birds were going to sign one of them before the free agency period began, but the Eagles couldn't reach an agreement with Thomas. They had to demure on Runyan, who is recovering from a microfracture of a knee and probably couldn't pass a physical. Runyan was interviewed on local radio yesterday and sounded like he would be happy if anyone called him.

Second, they have signed Stacy Andrews, the free-agent tackle from the Bengals, a good player in his own right, to join his brother, Shawn. Good move all around, as the Birds get a good tackle and someone to keep his troubled brother company. Not a huge name by any means, but a good signing.

Third, John Clayton reported on ESPN that eight teams called Eagles' free-agent safety Sean Considine after midnight, and that he was headed to Jacksonville hoping for a deal. It's hard to speculate on the amount of interest, because Considine has proven to be no better than an above-average backup who can help on special teams. Jags' fans shouldn't get giddy if Considine ends up starting.

Fourth, it looks like Eagles' running back Correll Buckhalter signed with Denver. The Eagles clearly need to develop depth behind Brian Dawkins. Buckhalter is able, missed two seasons because of injury, but proved late in the season that he still has something left in the tank. Not a huge loss, but any loss to a thin backfield is significant.

Fifth, it looks like the Broncos also have signed, yes, Brian Dawkins, the (aging) heart and soul of the Eagles' defense. The boards on philly.com contain mixed reactions. Some people call the Eagles cheap and soul-less, while others offer that Dawkins has faded and that even great players have expiration dates. If true, we'll miss #20 in Dawkins (and I'll have to buy my son a new Birds' jersey), but perhaps the Eagles' can turn Dawkins' departure into an opportunity.

Sixth, I don't care if the Redskins have signed Albert Haynesworth and D'Angelo Hall to long-term contracts, they'll still find a way not to win the Super Bowl and perhaps not even to make the playoffs. There's something about that team that suggests that the front office confuses the owners' largesse with free-agent funds with a good prescription for winning.

Seventh, the Jets' inking of Ravens' LB Bart Scott is a good signing. Scott is outstanding and should be a big addition to a pretty good defense.

Somehow, I expect the Eagles to have more signings up their sleeve. The question is whether whatever combination of players they sign will help the team get back to the NFC championship game.

Is the NBA in Trouble?

Read this and see what you think.

According to reports, the league is borrowing an additional $175 million to make available to 15 teams (meaning that each team eligible can tap into as much as $11.6 million). A source for the Orlando Magic indicated that his team has lost between $15 and $20 million a year for the past 6 years.

So what gives?

I've blogged before on this topic many times, and have the following observations:

1. That the league has teams in financial trouble is not a surprise. When you sell luxury goods, you'll take a hit in the recession.

2. That the league has teams in financial trouble also is not a surprise when you consider a) that there are too many teams, b) they play too many games and c) the quality of the product is not compelling.

3. You know that your team is in trouble when it advertises for all sorts of gimmicky packages -- cigars, dinner, meet the dancing girls (some of whom look like they belong dancing on a pole, thereby making the game NOT family entertainment), gift cards to retailers, etc. A better solution might be to lower ticket prices, but, then again, people probably have been conditioned away from the NBA because they think they can't afford it. And, if that's the case and they're soured on pro hoops, they probably won't go even if tickets are offered at lower prices.

4. You also wonder what the economic climate will do to the collective bargaining agreement, which seems to be a disaster. Teams get saddled with long-term deals and then can't shake the contracts, teams can't hire free agents meaningfully, and, unlike the NBA, it's not as though you can go from bad to good in a few years. You could stay in the 35-45 win category forever. What's the fun in being a fan of something like that?

The NBA probably will tell itself that "it's the economy, stupid" and that but for the bad economy, they'd be doing just fine. If they do that, they could become extinct. I think that spending habits will change for a long time following this recession, so much so that people will question why they might have agreed to pay $100+ dollars a ticket per game for this product. Put differently, they might migrate for a while if not forever. If the league is smart, they'll use this crisis as an opportunity to reevaluate their business model, their collective bargaining agreement and their product.

It's sad to say, but while college players want to make big money turning professionally, pro basketball lacks the excitement that college basketball offers, and there's no comparison. In contrast, while college football is exciting, pro football -- across the board -- is even more exciting. The NBA should think about that comparison when examining their product and then do something about it.

Or else we'll be left with endless speculation about where LeBron James will go in 2010 and, also, too many stories about whether n'eer do well Stephon Marbury will reform himself in Boston.

That's sad, because people should be talking about the games.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Phillies Whom You Wouldn't Want to Marry Your Daughter

Must have been a slow news day for Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin, who put together his team of troubled no-stars in today's paper. You can read the column by clicking here.

Interesting, Darren Daulton doesn't make the list at either catcher or first base. Neither does Lenny Dykstra, so you really should read the article to see who would make or would have made worse candidates for sons in law than Dutch and the Dude.

Conlin's team even includes someone who played on the "Whiz Kids," as well as a bunch of people with sociability issues (although not sociopathic issues). Well, then again. . .

Yes, members of the 1993 team appear on the list. That team was interesting in that it had some of the all-time jerks on the team as well as a great guy in Jim Eisenreich. Steve Carlton, who refused to talk to the media, succeeded in avoiding the list, as did Mike Schmidt, who, while a very cool customer, did nothing to warrant joining this particular list.

It's actually an insightful and, at times, amusing column. Conlin is nothing if not creative and precise with his words (sometimes to a fault), so happy reading.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thoughts on Jim Calhoun's Post-Game Rant

You can read about it here, the tirade that Connecticut men's hoops coach Jim Calhoun embarked upon recently. A make-believe journalist (a community activist) asked Calhoun questions about his salary (which exceeds $1 million) in light of the State of Connecticut's almost $1 billion budget deficit. Calhoun didn't take kindly to the questioning, and he told the questioner to shut up, among other things. That outburst, in turn, has drawn criticism from Connecticut's governor, who said she believes that Calhoun regretted the incident. I have a few (and probably conflicting) observations about the entire affair.

1. The questioner has the right to ask the questions about the details of Calhoun's salary. The questioner took a swipe at the sports reporters on hand, saying that he was asking his questions because the beat reporters weren't. That comment drew razzes from the beat reporters, probably because they know it's true. Sports reporters generally want to cover the games and only the games, and nothing surrounding them (if you don't believe me, then why did the entire baseball writers' corps miss the whole steroids era -- until after it happened). Calhoun's compensation is fair game, even if it's probably not the best idea to ask those questions right after a game.

2. I am conflicted about Calhoun's overall compensation. On the one hand, if he helps bring in a significant amount of revenue, then he's a salesman for the school the way salesman drum up orders for all sorts of products. He has developed a good brand, he has won two national titles, and he brings in a lot of revenue. We have a tendency, especially in our current economic and political culture, to knock success or to question how someone got there. Clearly, the economy is in trouble and has been for a while, and many have been hurt, some by their own greed, others by their own ignorance or stupidity, and others because, well, they invested in the markets with everyone else and acted prudently but got hurt because everyone got hurt. The political campaign was marred by class warfare, the media has gotten into the act, and so has Congress. So, it's easy to throw brickbats at Calhoun or anyone who is successful, because, well, many people are hurting and here's a guy making over a $1 million a year coaching a kids' game.

On the one hand, I feel strongly that we should honor and pay for excellence. I encourage the kids that I coach to play tough defense and convert steals quickly in the transition game because I want them to win, I want them to learn team play, and I want them to see the cause and effect -- that effort causes positive results and excellence. I won't apologize for that, I won't back down from that, and, no, I'm not a screamer or a schemer, but an encourager and someone who prepares and sticks to the fundamentals as a coach. Even if our leagues are about giving everyone a trophy for showing up, life isn't usually that way. No, I don't get off on humiliating people or making them feel bad if they lose, but we should seek excellence and achievement at every opportunity, and we should reward it. Calhoun, under that paradigm, deserves his rewards.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the high pay of college coaches because, well, they coach kids' games, and I am concerned that we overemphasize intercollegiate athletics at the expense of the education of the average kid and that we might even be exploiting some of the players, who won't graduate and probably will emerge from college unprepared for a life outside their games. So, when I see a guy like Calhoun get that much money, I have a cause for pause. Not because I think that Calhoun is dishonest or corrupt, but because I think that the priorities aren't right. There's a difference, and many will disagree with me. Still, we need to be careful about slamming Calhoun because of his success. We need people to be successful in all walks of life in many ways, despite political rhetoric to the contrary.

3. Calhoun had a bad day. He's usually pretty engaging and candid, and the whole thing should be permitted to blow over. Yes, the State of Connecticut, like most governments, has tough choices to make, and, yes, the question is fair. But let's cut Jim Calhoun a break and forgive him for his outburst. At the same time, let's get the questions answered and ensure that there is transparency as to how much these programs cost and how much revenue they generate.

So that's my take on the Calhoun affair. What's yours?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More on Coaching Third and Fourth Grade Basketball

Our season is almost over, and it's been a good one. The kids are having fun, they are improving every week, and they have gotten plenty of chances to show their abilities. Here are some more observations, for parents and coaches:

1. Try to assess every kid and figure out how to pull the best out of them. Every kid is different. Some are good listeners, some aren't, but take the time to pull them aside individually to talk with them. Be positive, lay out challenges, pat them on the back, and send them on their way. The conversations need to be short (kids at this age don't respond well to lectures), you need to be encouraging, and I promise you you'll see results. Also, take time to chat up the parents about what their kids are doing well and what they need to focus on.

I have one player who is a good dribbler but not a confident shooter. Up until yesterday, he had difficulty finishing layups. He would throw the ball high up off the backboard, above the rim, and he missed more shots than he should have. So, at our last practice, we re-emphasized our "shooting off the backboard" drill. We have two lines, and simultaneously we encourage kids to take a short shot off the backboard. We ran this drill for about 5 minutes. The result: this weekend, this kid had his best game. He created opportunities for himself off the dribble and converted numerous layups -- off the backboard. The smile on his face was all we needed to see. He was the best player on the floor, and he's probably the third- or fourth-best player on our team.

We have another player who has energy but isn't good at paying attention. All during the season, we've run pick-and-roll drills, but more often than not we have to remind the kids to set screens in the game. Two weeks ago, we played an aggressive team, and, of his own accord, this player set screen after screen, mostly using proper technique, and he opened up some huge lanes for his teammates. It was fun to watch him display his increased knowledge of the game. He's far from our best player, but he plays with a smile on his face and works hard out there.

2. Drill, drill and drill. We run all sorts of drills in practice, and I've written about them before. These drills emphasize moving one's feet on defense, rebounding, throwing crisp passes that have a purpose, dribbling and screening. We emphasize these drills for at least 2/3 of our practice (as, at this age, scrimmages result in players going out of control or with our defense taking over), and we can see the results after several months. Players are dribbling with their heads up, setting screens, sliding well on defense, keeping their hands up and converting baskets better. They are only 9 and 10 years old, so naturally they have their good weeks and bad weeks on an individual basis, but they play much better together now than they did earlier in the season.

3. Teach good defense. I know that everyone likes to score, but emphasizing defense is very important. First, our defense has created numerous opportunities on offense. Our kids move their feet pretty well, they keep their hands up, they deflect the ball and they create opportunities to score in transition. We have some fast kids, and it's easier to score on transition than when the other team's defense gets set. We played a team a couple of weeks ago that had a good offensive player, a nice, happy kid who can dribble with both hands and score. We defended him well (he scored a few baskets), but he played no defense. We had heard that his parents were upset that he didn't make the travel team, but my co-coach and I, based on what we saw, didn't think he should have. He didn't guard anyone, and he didn't help his team out at all on the defensive end.

Believe it or not, our kids like to play defense. They want to steal the ball every time and create opportunities, and that skill will help them improve as players when they advance through our league. And, no, we don't yell at them or fire them up unnecessarily. We just tell them that if they defend well good things will happen, and they've been able to see the results for themselves.

4. Try as much as possible to give every kid a chance. It's hard to do, but after 1/3 of the season each kid on our team had scored, and by now each kid has scored at least 2 baskets during the season. We have separated our team into 2 units of 5 kids -- the younger kids play the first and third quarters together, and the older kids play the second and fourth quarters together. We don't have assigned positions; we try to have different kids bring up the ball. What's been interesting is that the younger kids play better together than the older kids -- they screen and pass much better than the fourth graders. The fourth graders are more talented and have most of our scorers, but they tend to go one-on-one more (not all of them, but a few of them). Still, most kids get opportunities to take shots; some are much better than others at converting their opportunities. Put differently, unless you knew my co-coach and me well, you wouldn't be able to tell from watching our team who are kids are.

That said, we played a team whose coaches are two fathers who run plays for their sons and no one else. One father in our community had a kid on that team, and he was very frustrated by this selfishness. His son is a gifted athlete who stars in another sport, and this boy is a good player (his siblings play on travel teams). Yet, on this team, the dads only ran plays for their sons. This boy quit the team because all he was told to do -- and apparently pretty directly -- was to set screens for the coaches' sons. I would have loved to have this boy on our team, as I would have liked to have the tallest kid on that team. All those coaches told that kid to do was to set screens for their sons (he had permission to shoot off rebounds). That was a shame, too, because that boy has the ability to score 5 baskets per game, and, on our team, somehow I think he would have had the chance. Make no mistake -- that team is a good team -- but the coaches have not created good experiences for everyone on it.

If you're a coach, be fair. Your kid might be the best, but the others won't have fun if it's all about your kid. Make sure that the ball gets spread around. In the process, your kid will learn about passing, screening and making his teammates better. If your kid isn't that good, be fair, too. Don't set up the team around him or give him a better position than better players. The other kids will see through that too, and that bias might affect how well your team does and whether your players enjoy their season. And you're not doing your kid a service by giving him more opportunities than his ability and performance warrants.

5. Coach Your Kids to Play Hard and Do Their Best. Yes, I'll say it, you want your kids to work hard and do the best they can. You want them to play better than their opponents, to steal the ball, get the rebound and the loose ball, set the screen, make the pass and enjoy themselves all the while. There's no shame in getting the best out of your players, because if they are going to devote a few hours a week to your coaching they might as well make the most of it. Be organized in practice, have clear messages, and then encourage them to do their best. If that means you outscore your opponents regularly, so be it, but it also will mean that they improve and that they are enjoying themselves in the process. We've had a fun season because we've drilled well, practiced with enthusiasm, put the fundamentals to work in games and played well as a team. The kids are competitive enough, and they appreciate the opportunity to do well in a structure environment.

Just remember that they're kids, basketball is a kids' game, their spending time with you is a hobby, and that it's supposed to be fun. And when you can couple fun with teaching, coaching and improved performance, you've had a good year.

Princeton-Dartmouth

I attended the Princeton-Dartmouth game at Jadwin Gym last night. The highlight of the evening was the dedication of the basketball court in honor of legendary coach Pete Carril. Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn't hold a double-digit first-half lead and lost by a point to the visiting Big Green. Someone apparently forgot to tell the varsity that you're supposed to win the game on a night you make a dedication.

Coach Carril was gracious in his remarks, apologizing (sort of) for the brutality he inflicted upon his players, and being gracious, thoughtful and humorous (if at times inaudible) about his time at Princeton. There are now two large decals on the floor that say "Carril Court", as well as two felt banners that hang about the south stands, one commemorating Carril's accomplishments, the other a likeness of Coach Carril. Remarking on the floor decals and the banners, Carril noted that on the night they honored him, "I can be stepped on. . . and I've been hung." I'm not capturing the remarks totally correctly, but Coach Carril's timing was perfect, as was the humor.

Dozens of former players were in attendance, including Bill Bradley and Brian Taylor, and from all reports there was a fun post-game celebration honoring Coach Carril at Princeton's boat house.

As for the game, the Tigers didn't defend well and didn't execute well on offense. On the defensive side, Dartmouth scored too many easy, inside baskets, and looked more athletic and quicker than the Tigers in the process. On the offensive side, Princeton couldn't get any rhythm going. They scored many easy inside baskets early and then persisted in trying to work a pick and roll that Dartmouth figured out and defended well by dropping a man down to cover the screener (usually Princeton's center). In any event, on way too many occasions the Tigers passed the ball on the perimeter only to come up with an ill-crafted shot with time winding down on the shot clock. Dartmouth fought valiantly, played tougher down the stretch, and prevailed by a point. It was a well-fought contest, but Princeton will need a few more athletes to get to the top of the Ivies.

All in all, a fun night with respect to the dedication, but a disappointing night on the hardwood for the varsity.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fond Reminiscences of Pete Carril

Tonight I'll take my son to Jadwin Gym at Princeton for the Princeton-Dartmouth game and for the half-time dedication of the basketball court, to be called Carril Court after Pete Carril, who coached at Princeton for 29 years and who made numerous contributions to Princeton and to college basketball.

I have many memories of Coach Carril, although I didn't know him well. I covered the team as a broadcaster during my time at Princeton, road on some buses with the team to games, got to know some players, and figured now would be a good time to share some favorite memories of him.

I read a good article once about Twyla Tharp, the legendary dancer and dance company founder, who said that she had many mentors in her life, although she had met none of them. Her mentors inspired her from afar -- she read biographies, read articles and saw interviews, and she gleaned wisdom from those articles to help develop the artistic inspiration and leadership skills she needed to develop and fulfill her vision. I thought that article (it might have been in the Harvard Business Review, but I confess that I don't usually read such lofty stuff) was insightful and helpful, and it got me to thinking about the people whose wisdom -- even from afar -- has helped me over the years. Among them was Pete Carril, whose sayings were many, and who's motto "play to win," inspires in its own right. Regardless of your circumstances, you're to do your best in every way, every day and, well, play hard and to win. It sounds simple, but it's not always so easy.

At any rate, I don't want to wax too philosophical in this post about the philosophies and sayings of Coach Carril (there will be plenty of other articles and posts about him in many publications). I would rather like to share a few stories about him from my personal experience.

The first happened late in 1981. The Tigers, whose junior-laden team included first brother-in-law Craig Robinson, a terrific forward, were playing Seton Hall at their old bandbox of a gym, Walsh Auditorium, one of the true pits for an opposing team. Walsh Auditorium seated about 3,000 people, all of whom seemed to be atop the teams' benches. At the time, Hoddy Mahon coached the Pirates. Mahon succeeded the popular and quotable Bill Raftery, who went on to a broadcasting career. He had a team of academic problems (three players were suspended after the Princeton game) and a star combo guard named Danny Calandrillo, who was averaging about 25 poins per game.

The good news for the Tigers was that they got out to a 42-24 lead by the half (or something close to that). Everything was going the Tigers' way, except that two different referees hit Coach Carril with technical fouls. One more and he would be history.

Seton Hall battled back, got some good calls, and beat the Tigers by one on a buzzer beater by Calandrillo, who had about 28 for the night. Needless to say, the mood of the players after the game was glum, and a frustrated Coach Carril entered the bus and sat in the row in front of me.

He turned to me and said, "What did you think of the game?"

I shrugged. What could you say other than the "bad way to lose a game," or something like that.

Coach Carril shrugged back and said, "You know, I spent the entire second half trying to get that third sonofabitch to give me a technical, and he just wouldn't do it." I smiled, so did he, and then he turned back to debrief the game with his top assistant, Tony Relvas.

My second story is about the game at Bucknell that same season. The Tigers traveled to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in the middle of the state, to face the Bisons around December 1, which happened to be the first day of deer hunting season in Pennsylvania. For those who are unfamiliar, Pennsylvania might have more hunters than any other state, and many school districts have off on the first day of deer hunting season. En route to Lewisburg (which also is home to a Federal penitentiary and is the birthplace of Hall of Famer and Bucknell alum Christy Mathewson), we saw deer carcasses splayed on the trunks of cars and in the backs of pickup trucks. No one on that bus had seen that type of display before, and the kids from the big cities were agape.

Bucknell also had a small gym, the fans were close to the action, and the Bisons had a bunch of big guys who didn't play with much finesse. The game was a bumping and grinding affair, the Tigers didn't find their rhythm for most of the night, and the place was loud. I was broadcasting the game courtside (a rare treat), and my broadcast partner and I were sitting right next to the Princeton bench, and, as a result, right next to Pete Carril.

At one point in the middle of the second half, when the game was in balance, Coach Carril called a time out. As the players were walking back to the bench, he turned to me and asked: "Are you telling them how bad this game is?"

Clearly, Coach was frustrated. His team wasn't in sync, and he knew that with their talent they could do much better. I gave a knowing nod (you're not supposed to do anything more and certainly not supposed to say anything) and went back to broadcasting. Thankfully, the Tigers pulled the game out, and that made for an okay bus ride back to Princeton. We concluded our broadcast that night by saying that despite the physical play of the hosts and the fact that there were thousands of Pennsylvanians in the area toting high-powered rifles, the Tigers came out of the game alive. I thought it was somewhat amusing that despite his intensity, he had the unpredictable ability to interact spontaneously. There was a lot more to him than being an intense basketball coach.

The third story involves his talking to the Princeton Club of Philadelphia over 20 years ago. He talked about this player on his team, a starter, and the challenges that a newer generation of players presented to him.

"So, I go to his house, and I sit down to talk with him. First, he tells me that his favorite shot is the dunk. Then he goes on to tell me that he doesn't like Larry Bird, doesn't think he his any good. And then I'm sitting there, a long way away from home, thinking to myself, 'Why am I recruiting this asshole?'"

Roars from the audience (and the player, while good, didn't win an Ivy title while at Princeton).

At the same luncheon, a well-heeled alum (you could tell the preps of all ages from the rest of us at this luncheon) asked him about the prospects of a freshman on the team, the son of a CEO of a multinational corporation.

Coach Carril responded: "Well, when I went to the house, the maid answered the door."

Coach Carril paused and let the comment set in. Some of us laughed, some of the audience didn't get it. (The kid didn't last too long in the program). He said nothing further and moved to the next topic.

There are many other stories, some second-hand, others perhaps apocryphal, but I'll remember the excitement of even routine contests, the energy Coach Carril brought to his work, his thinking outside the box, his honesty, seeing him on the course at Springdale Golf Club (he was in great humor there, and I have one particularly amusing memory of a friend of mine, an offensive lineman, who hit a hard perpendicular drive that Coach Carril leapfrogged to avoid getting hit while walking down an adjacent fairway), his achievements and, yes, evidence at times of his irascibility (he threw a good right cross that almost decked Columbia coach Buddy Mahar about a quarter century ago, and he could be very rough on certain players). I didn't know him well, I had only a few conversations, but all interactions were favorable, the playoff games in the early 1980's memorable, the games against Penn about as intense as anything I ever witnessed, and his body of work most impressive.

He was a 5'6" guard out of Lafayette who excelled against much bigger players, and he was reported to show people, on occasion, the box score of a Lafayette-LaSalle game from the early 1950's. LaSalle had the nation's best player, a 6'5" forward named Tom Gola, a two- or three-time first-team all-American. I don't recall who won that contest, but the box score reflected that Pete Carril had a triple double, something like 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Somehow, that effort sums up Coach Carril's life's work -- doing the best with what God gave him and excelling. In essence, he scored the equivalent of that triple double with his life's work. I'm grateful for the exposure I had to him and the lessons I learned from him -- if not up close, then certainly from afar.

So tonight many former players, many fans, many alums and townspeople will gather at Jadwin Gym to honor this American original from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It should be a good time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Baseball Prospectus Was Mailed Yesterday

It's en route, it's worth it, and if you're a serious baseball fan, go purchase it at your local book store. I got mine on Amazon for a good pre-publication discount, so it probably will show up in book stores soon if it's not already there. There's great stuff in this book, GMs read it, and you'll get all sorts of valuable insight from it.

Oh, to be a Lefty Reliever

I had always thought that I would want my kids to grow up to be lefty relievers. Jesse Orosco, who pitched until he was 46, inspired that thinking. I mean, your kid could get heavily compensated for about 20 years, pitch about 60 innings per year, and then have significant freedom to do what he wanted with the rest of his life. Along the way, he could play on good teams, you would hope, and perhaps earn a World Series ring.

Pretty good theory, right? Nice wish for the kids, right?

Lefty relievers have done pretty well over the years, that's true, and a few (as this linked article reports) remain unsigned. The two most prominent names are Will Ohman and Joe Beimel, both of whom are at their primes. Both posted lights-out numbers for the Braves and Dodgers, respectively, and Beimel has only given up 1 home run in his last 154 appearances.

Both are unsigned because they didn't lock up deals early, and pitchers and catchers already have reported. Both want more than what's been offered. Ohman has three offers, none for a good team (and he has said he wants to sign with a contender), while Beimel says that the offers haven't been good enough (so he's working out with the UCLA team). Ohman also had indicated that he'd take a one-year deal to pitch for a contender.

I'm curious why the Phillies aren't in the mix, given the 50-game suspension of J.C. Romero and the fact that absent Romero the only lefty reliever they have is Scott Eyre, who pitched great for the Phillies after being put on the Cubs' scrap heap mid-season. But Eyre is in his late 30's, and the Phillies don't really have a replacement for Romero (even if uber-closer Brad Lidge has marveled at the Phillies' depth in the bullpen). Either Ohman or Beimel would make sense for one year, unless, of course, the Phillies a) have spent what they're going to spend for 2009 (which few fans should quarrel with, given that they've increased their payroll by over 30%), b) don't think that either is a good fit for their team's chemistry or c) don't want to carry 3 lefties once Romero returns and honestly believe that Joe Bisenius or J.A. Happ can fill the role until Romero returns. Any explanation is plausible.

Yet, good situational relievers are by no means a commodity -- they are a must have for a contender. Yes, the economy has changed significantly, but contenders looking to fortify their relief corps should examine these quality lefties closely.

And I suspect that they will remain well paid.

Sign of the Times for Baseball

Being a workhorse starter, an innings eater, isn't what it used to be. Gone are the days where an innings eater, such as a Steve Trachsel, could show up and ink a multi-year deal at millions per year. If you're not convinced, check out this post on espn.com about Nationals' starter Odalis Perez.

Prior to the 2008 season, Perez inked a one-year deal for $850,000, contingent upon making the club. Perez made the Nats, was their opening day starter, and posted decent numbers for a bad team. The club's GM, Stan Kasten, recently said that Perez did a great job for the team.

But not so much so that the Nats upped the ante. In fact, they got Perez to agree to the same deal that they offered him before the 2008 season. And now, as the article points out, Perez has regrets. He's late for camp and wants to renegotiate.

In social circles, there are jokes that 50 is the new 40, that 40 is the new 30, and, I suppose, that a similar parlance is hitting baseball circles. For example, in the case of Bobby Abreu, a one-year, $5 million deal is now the same as a 3-year, $24 million deal that Abreu might have gotten before the economy tanked. Such are the times in Major League Baseball. The superstars will continue to get the big money, but 90% of the remainder of the player population might find out that the new paradigm will hit their wallets significantly.

As it already has hit Odalis Perez.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Princeton Men's Hoops: The Chariot Turned Back into a Pumpkin This Weekend

Princeton's men's basketball team proved this weekend that their still a work in progress, as the Tigers lost badly at both Yale and Brown this weekend, falling to 4-2 in the Ivies. A loyal reader e-mailed me with "Ouch!", and that just about said it all. The PBN blog has all the (gory -- thankfully not Adam Gore-y) details from the weekend. Suffice it to say that this young Tigers' club has to figure out how to string together victories, especially road victories. All Tiger fans are still happy with the 4-2 start for the program in league play, as we realized that it was a long shot to expect the team to go from 6-23 to an Ivy championship in a single season. That said, this weekend's results were disappointing in the size of the margins of defeat and the fact that Brown won only its first league game when they beat the Tigers last night. Meanwhile, Penn won both of its games on the road to improve to 3-3 in the Ivies, while Columbia now stands at 5-3 and Cornell, twice victorious, stands at 7-1.

Sure, the Ivies aren't heralded as that tough a conference when compared to the majors, but the Ivy schedule -- of many weekends of back-to-back games in small gyms -- is as grueling as any league's. Other conferences have Friday/Sunday or Thursday/Saturday schedules, but the Ivies play on back-to-back nights to avoid disrupting class schedules for players. Penn's two victories at Yale and Brown are impressive in their own right, especially because the Quakers are missing several key players because of injuries and hadn't played all that well up until this weekend.

Tuesday night's game in Jadwin Gym will pit two teams who had opposite performances this weekend. Penn will go into the game fresh off two wins that should renew their confidence, while Princeton will show up wondering which team they are -- the team that took it to Cornell and Columbia at home or the team that faltered on the road. Penn certainly goes into Jadwin as the more confident team, but both teams go into the game with much at stake and still a lot to prove -- to themselves and to the rest of the league. Penn can't afford to suffer its fourth league loss and fall 3 games behind Cornell, while Princeton needs to stop its slide and stay within 2 games of Cornell. It should be quite a battle, as Penn-Princeton games should be for the good of the league.

The NBA's Pre- All-Star Game Bash Bombed Last Night

I rewarded my 9 year-old for a good report card by letting him stay up to 11 to watch the broadcast of the Shooting Stars, the three-point shooting contest, the skills competition and the slam-dunk competition. While my son enjoyed the broadcast generally (I actually think he was more excited that we let him stay up that late), he and I agreed that the broadcast overall was rather lame.

First, there was too much broadcasting. Kevin Harlan was out of place, as it's hard to do play-by-play of these events. There was way too much commentary -- Kenny Smith was downright obnoxious (who appointed him a guardian of the game of basketball?), Reggie Miller was bland and his sister, Cheryl, bombed. She tried to generate enthusiasm from a relatively comatose Phoenix crowd, and she was awkward in dealing with the participants. Overall grade: C.

Second, the shooting stars was an okay competition, if for no other reason than Detroit's Big Three (Katie Smith, Bill Laimbeer and Aaron Afflalo) upset defending champs San Antonio and broadcasters' favorites Phoenix to win the title. You had a combination of stars trying to make six shots from all over the floor as fast as possible. This was a good blend of the old and the new, men and women, but I'd question why anyone would include David Robinson (who played pretty close to the basket, but, who, in fairness, helped his team to a win last year) and Michael Cooper (mainly known for his defense) in a shooting competition. There was some drama, in that the Phoenix team scorched in the final round, looking like sure victors, but they couldn't make a shot from halfcourt to seal the win. Grade: A-.

Third, the three-point shooting competition was a dud. No one got particularly hot, the participants are relative unknowns, and, yes, Dequan Cook of the Heat won it. It was a bland affair, the commentary was worse, and when you had Cheryl Miller interview a monosyllabic Cook, you had the low point of the night. Grade: F.

Fourth, the guards' skills competitions had bigger names, but the demands were rather low and the requirements for the guards crowded the court and didn't let them show their stuff all that much. Plus, at least in the first round, few went all out. Yes, Derrick Rose was part of the competition, as was Tony Parker, but this event failed to generate much excitement, and the players weren't tested that much. Grade: C-.

Fifth, the crowning event, the Slam Dunk competition. First, what was Rudy Fernandez of the Trail Blazers doing in the contest? Second, Kenny Smith's dissing of Spain was downright stupid, even if Fernandez didn't belong in the contest and Pau Gasol failed to throw a good pass to Fernandez to get him going on one of his dunks. Third, J.R. Smith didn't add any flavor, which led you to both Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson, who won the event. Howard should have sat out this year, because there was no way he could have topped last year's performance (and he didn't). Robinson put on a show, both because of the color of his sneakers and his final leap over Howard, which sealed his victory. Robinson deserved to win and gets an A for his performance, but the broadcasters were over the top in their goofy comments, the crowd didn't get that into the competition and Howard disappointed. Grade: C.

Overall grade: C- (and I'm in a generous mood this morning).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Great article on Princeton Basketball

Credit where credit is due: The Princeton Basketball News blog.

Click here and read the whole thing.

The article appears in the Newark Star Ledger and focuses on the change in command from Joe Scott to Sydney Johnson. As Jon Solomon wrote in the PBN blog, the quotes from Coach Scott are compelling reading.

No, they are not sensationalistic, and, no, they are not controversial. They are thoughtful and introspective and worth a good read.

"Thoughtful and introspective" also describe Coach Johnson, who is quoted in the article as well. The quotes from him demonstrate why he's the right man in the right place at the right time for the Princeton Tigers.

The Tigers have a big weekend this weekend, playing at Yale and at Brown. How they fare tonight and tomorrow night will give us more of an indication whether they got off to a hot start in the league or are a serious contender for the top spot.

Economics and the Phillies

After Ruly Carpenter sold the Phillies, Bill Giles headed up the team. Giles was a career baseball man, well-liked in his upper class Main Line community, but a man prone to major public-relations gaffes. For the longest time he referred to the Phillies as a "small market" team, trying to justify the team's failure to spend significant dollars to field a winner. Giles either forgot or didn't know that Philadelphia is one of the five or six largest media markets in the country, and, as a result, became the object of disappointment, scorn or derision, depending on one's fervence as a fan or a writer. The Phillies weren't a small-market team, they were just being small-minded.

As the team grew closer to building Citizens Bank Park, they grasped what many of us knew -- Philadelphia fans will go to a cow pasture to see a winner, but they won't go to a palace to see a loser (case in point: when Veterans Stadium opened, attendance wasn't overwhelming because the team was terrible). So, as the opening of CBP approached, the team signed a big-name free agent, Jim Thome, both to signify its committment to upgrading the team and to put people in the seats.

Fast forward to today, and I find the following irony: the team has increased its payroll by about 30% over last year's, with the payroll coming it at about $130 million. So, the team that refused to spend money during boom times all of a sudden opens its pocketbook during the deepest recession in at least a quarter of a century. That's impressive, and the Phillies have done a good job of signing its stars to reasonable contracts (okay, most of them are reasonable; Ryan Howard's is stratospheric).

I heard on ESPN radio today that Phillies' president Dave Montgomery indicated that the fans are part of the reason for the team's ability to spend more. Even in this economy, the team has sold 3,500 more season tickets since last year. So, if you do some math and multiply 3,500 by 81 (the number of home games) by say $27.50 (the average price per ticket -- and that's a guestimate), the Phillies' ticket revenues will be up by $8,000,000 over last year's. Suppose, further, that each person sitting in those seats spends $15 at the park on food and other concessions, and that's an extra $4,250,00 (again, a guestimate). And, then, suppose that fans bought an extra $5,000,000 of merchandise because of the World Series win (another guess) Finally, suppose that the team will make an extra $5,000,000 on advertising revenue, even in this economy (precisely because advertisers will focus spending their money in the places most likely to get the best -- and happiest -- audiences). Lo and behold, you have an extra $22,250,000 to spend.

And, you don't have the exposure to the Bernie Madoff scandal, like the Mets' ownership does.

Next year, the Phillies won't have the following obligations:

1. $3 million on Jim Thome's contract (which they're paying this year).
2. $6.375 million to Geoff Jenkins;
3. $9 million to Adam Eaton;
4. $3.75 million to Pedro Feliz.
5. Whatever they're paying to Matt Stairs.

They will have some more money to spend; however, Brett Myers' contract expires after this season, and Jimmy Rollins' contract expires after the 2010 season. Plus, if they were to let Jenkins and Stairs go, they'd need a lefty bat off the bench, and if they were to let Feliz go, they'd need a third baseman. Finally, Shane Victorino will be eligible for arbitration once again after next season, as will Joe Blanton.

Put differently, it would appear that the Phillies' payroll, now at about $130 million, will be at least that much next season as well.

All typos are mine.

Hey, Bud: It Happened on Your Watch

Bud Selig has said that Alex Rodriguez has shamed baseball.

Bud Selig should know, because despite the $18 million or so he made this past season alone the steroids affair happened on his watch. And he and the owners for whom he fronts laughed all the way to the bank, what with cartoonish home run figures posted by many guys who were once stick figures (as were most baseball players about 25 years ago). They needed something to jump start the game after the horror that was the strike of 1994 that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. Funny, that the players grew substantially larger and that home run numbers inflated and that there were whispers of illegal drug usage all didn't make Bud's radar screen. So shameful was this miss that the family crest of the MLB home office should contain an ostrich with its head buried deep into the sand.

Where's that shame -- the shame of the owners who missed it, the commissioner who missed it and even the writers, who were so caught up in being glorified fans that they missed it?

Odd, isn't it, that in an era of inflated home run statistics the entire baseball community whiffed.

Sorry, Bud, but the shame is widespread, just like the manure most of the cognoscenti have spread around in lieu of heartfelt apologies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Phillies' Latest Hot Prospect

is Jason Donald, who played great at shortstop for AA Reading last year, played outstanding ball on the Olympic team and drew rave reviews in the Arizona Fall League.

Phillies' personnel also have been working Donald out at second and third, for two disparate reasons. While Donald will be a non-roster invitee to spring training, he'd be among the possibilities if Chase Utley isn't ready when the season begins. The article doesn't say, but my guess is that the team is working him out at third because Pedro Feliz will be a free agent after this season and while he's a good defensive player, he's streaky on offensive and has among the worst on-base percentages in baseball for a starting player. Translated: Donald might be an upgrade.

Before you can say "Ryne Sandberg" (who played SS in the minors, was blocked by Larry Bowa and then was traded to the Cubs because the Phils' brass didn't think he could play second base), it seems like the Phillies will be reluctant to peddle this top prospect. After all, top position player prospects don't come around all that often. And, before you can say "the next Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins", remember that not all can't miss prospects make it. When the Phillies were golden from 1976 through 1983, many fans got very happy when they saw the next generation of position players, named CF Jeff Stone and 2B Juan Samuel. Stone had a great half-season after being called up but then faded badly. Samuel looked like a Hall of Famer in his first three seasons before falling prey to his weakness of being unable to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone. He enjoyed a long career, most of it as a utility player.

The article also says that scouts describe Donald as an overachiever. The last overachiever I saw in person in the minors was a AA second baseman for the Trenton Thunder over 10 years ago, a short, blonde kid who had a Shane Victorino-like engine, hit about .340 with 50 steals and yet somehow didn't make his club's list of top 10 prospects in Baseball America. The player came in at #13, which was a mystery because I saw some of those listed ahead of him (most of whom didn't make the majors) and wasn't impressed. A few of those guys were recruited for football by big-time programs, and this guy, well, was short.

He turned out to be David Eckstein, who has won World Series rings with the Angels and Cardinals. Put simply, David Eckstein usually puts you in a position to win a baseball game.

Jason Donald is different from David Eckstein in that he can hit for much more power. The fact that he has a great engine and his teammates love him bodes well, as do the numbers he's put up so far. Phillies' fans, though, should exercise caution in their giddiness, because not everyone who fares well in the minors excels in the majors. (Just ask Dodgers' fans, who for years saw prospects put up huge numbers at AAA Albuquerque, only to have them fail in the majors, or Brewers' fans, who for years saw players put up huge numbers at AA El Paso, only to have them fizzle; thankfully, Donald hasn't grown up in similar launching pads).

Now that I have asked fans to show caution, Jason Donald's development (and Lou Marson's) is an exciting story for the Phillies. Let's see how Donald fares in spring training and where he lands once the season starts.

Monday, February 09, 2009

All-Staroids: Who's Next?

Alex Rodriguez admitted today that he took steroids from 2001 through 2003. A-Rod gave a public confession and apology after a report leaked that he was one of over a hundred players who tested positive during MLB's random testing of players many years ago (and before there were penalties for steroid usage).

So, where does baseball go with this?

Many thought that MLB had put the steroid era to bed with the issuance of the Mitchell Report. They thought wrong.

Because now debates will rage again. Will A-Rod, more toward the pariah end of baseball players than, say, the Chase Utley end of the continuum, get further vilified in the press and by fans for his bad deeds? Or, will he get credit for coming clean and admitting his mistakes?

Given the treatment transgressors have received, it's tough to predict what treatment A-Rod will get. True, he's not a denier the way Rafael Palmeiro or Barry Bonds were, or an avoider the way Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were. And he's not temperamental the way Roger Clemens is. There's a big difference: A-Rod admitted it.

Mostly. One of the problems with the confession is that it came after years of denials that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod went so far as to say that he was such a good performer he didn't need any of that stuff. So, when he had a chance to come clean, he didn't. Why? Because no one had to come clean, baseball's players' union flakked for the players something fierce, and there was no benefit to confessing. Because that was the case, there was no compelling reason for A-Rod to confess -- in his mind and from a business standpoint. I mean, why put a scarlet letter on your jersey when no one else was doing so and after many had done the same thing you did but were denying? Why single yourself out?

It's understandable what A-Rod did, really, the same way it's understandable that Barry Bonds started taking steroids after Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who, to Bonds, were obviously juiced, started stealing his thunder when he (Bonds) had been accorded the status of the best player in the game. Ever competitive, and without any possible consequences, Bonds took the juice. A-Rod might not have felt that others were usurping his credit, but he did say that he needed to keep his competitive edge. Which he obviously did.

But that doesn't make what A-Rod did right. He, like the others, was wrong, and, yes, despite some nasty comments from some of you about "what's the big deal" or "get over it", it's pretty dangerous to take medicine without a doctor's prescription and without having clinical trials on the drugs targeted to the purpose you were using it for. Moreover, this type of usage is illegal. It doesn't matter that many others was doing it -- that just makes the problem worse and creates a target-rich environment for critics and prosecutors.

So what happens now? A-Rod should get some credit for admitting that he used steroids and that it was wrong to do so. He should fare better than the others for coming out and admitting it. But, then again, he's been called the best player in the game and, well, he's A-Rod (which is not quite as bad as "Manny being Manny"), so he'll have to endure a large compliment of body blows from the pundits. The larger question is how fans will view him as a gate attraction, especially when he approaches Barry Bonds' home run records (and, remember, Bonds' ascent to this records went over like a lead balloon). If he approaches the home run record and perhaps Pete Rose's record for hits in a career, will draw attention the way Hank Aaron did, the way Pete Rose did?

Moreover, the press and the fans now have a taste for more news on who took steroids. They'll want to turn over every rock, and they'll want access to the union's records, which were supposed to be confidential (it isn't clear whether they were turned over in the BALCO case and whether the results leaked because of the discovery in that case). They'll want to reopen the story as to who used what when, because that's the way the American public is.

Once again, the mess re-surfaces. Once again, MLB looks bad on this point. Once again, A-Rod is at the center of a controversy. Only a month ago people we wondering whether it was fair for Joe Torre to write that A-Rod's teammates called him A-Fraud. Today we're wondering not whether it's fair to call A-Rod A-Roid, but for how long.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Princeton Basketball, 4-0 in the Ivies!

It shouldn't be news to you that the Tigers swept league favorite Cornell and Columbia this weekend at home. You can read the headlines and the accounts on-line (the Princeton Basketball News Blog remains an excellent source). What's more startling is that the Tigers dismantled Cornell, 61-41 and held off a Cornell comeback in the second half, and, also, that the Tigers soundly beat Columbia, 63-35. These scores resemble the scores from the Kit Mueller era and then the Steve Goodrich era at Princeton.

Few expected this team to do much in the Ivies this year (among others, Blue Ribbon picked the Tigers to finish last in the Ivies). As a diehard Tiger fan, I was hoping for Coach Sydney Johnson's team to turn the program slightly around from last year's 6-23 finish and would have considered the year a major success (and still would) if the Tigers were to finish in the first division of the Ivies, a solid fourth.

Believe me, the Ivy season, as with any conference's season, is a grueling one. Not only do you play teams that are familiar with your style and your personnel, you play teams on back to back nights with the same goal as you and other mid- and low-major teams -- to secure what in all likelihood will be your conference's only bid to the NCAA tournament. Try playing six straight weeks of Friday and Saturday night games with two against your travel partner -- in this case, the storied University of Pennsylvania program -- mixed in. It's not easy.

After last weekend's games (road victories at Dartmouth and Harvard), Tiger fans had cause for some optimism, especially given a) last year's finish and b) all of the publicity surrounding Coach Tommy Amaker and the Harvard program (such as, "best recruiting year in the Ivies in a long time"). The Tigers took care of business on the road, but I'm sure that most fans would have settled for a 1-1 split this past weekend, with the lone victory over Columbia on Saturday night (especially after the way Cornell trashed Brown and Yale last weekend). After this weekend's victories, the Tigers' fans still will remain cautiously optimistic. The Tigers go on the road to play Yale and Brown, and follow that game with a Tuesday night contest against Penn.

The possibilities are exciting, but the truth is that no Ivy opponent will take Princeton lightly after this past weekend. Yale and Brown are tough in their small gyms, and Penn is Penn. Yes, the Quakers are 1-3 in the Ivies and, yes, to many Coach Miller is struggling with his lineups, but the Quakers get up for Princeton like few others. Besides, the Quakers are desperate -- they cannot afford any more losses in league play.

So am I excited about the Tigers' possibilities? Most certainly. Do I think that they have a good shot at winning the Ivies? Well, we're way too far away from that to even get started. I'm only focused on Brown and Yale, and then ask me on March 10 (the last game of the season, against Penn in the Palestra) whether I think they can win the Ivies. The Tigers have been a very pleasant surprise so far, and, as I've blogged before, Coach Johnson is definitely onto something in Tigertown. Regardless of whether you think that the 4-0 start is a trend, a fluke, or a harbinger for a championship, you have to admit that things are looking up for Princeton men's basketball.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Mets and Citi -- Sign of the Times

Why should this be on the table? Why would Citi, which had announced it was cutting 50,000 jobs, still going to ante up $400 million for the naming rights of the Mets' home field. The only logical explanation is that it's a rock-solid contractual commitment with strict penalties if terminated. Absent that, what on earth is Citi thinking?

Sure, they want to support the team of many of their customers, but what about their employees and the taxpayers? Banks have been grossly mismanaged, loaned money poorly and are now sopping up our tax dollars to fortify their balance sheets. In exchange, we expect that they do their best to honor the taxpayers who are bailing them out (not to mention their employees and their shareholders). So, what's with ponying $400 million to put your name on the field? (Then again, if Bernie Madoff made off with a big bolus of the Wilpons' money, perhaps the Mets really need the Citi infusion to bolster the franchise).

At any rate, the whole sponsorship looks silly. AIG ended its sponsorship of Manchester United, so now its name won't appear on the jerseys of the most famous soccer team in the world. Citi should strongly consider doing the same.

It's a sign of the times that the sign on the ball field should say something else.

Is Manny Ramirez a Flirt?

My dad once remarked that "you can be the prettiest girl on the block, but you can only go to the dance with one guy." I came to think of that remark when thinking about Manny Ramirez, who just turned down a 1-year, $25 million offer from the Dodgers. (ESPN's Jayson Stark reports that Ramirez and his agent, Scott Boras, are still looking for a 4-year, $100 million package).

Manny is a great hitter, one of the best ever. Yet, the Mets and Angels, among many others, have said they won't pursue him. The Giants don't look like they'll be able to afford him, so who is out there who will offer him a better deal?

Yes, the market for free agents is bad because the economy is bad. Teams are looking hard at their payrolls, and with the exception of the free-spending Yankees most teams have tried to be prudent in handing out long-term deals. Manny's a risk for a long-term deal because of the stunts he pulled in Boston, including some ignominious ones during his final days there. Boras has been very successful as an agent, but is Manny listening to his advice? Is there a potential taker out there for the deal they hope to achieve, and, if so, who?

Because if Manny Ramirez isn't signed by the start of spring training, he'll end up like the prettiest girl on the block who was always looking for a better suitor.

Only to find that the dance started and finished without her.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Princeton Basketball, 2-0 in the Ivies!

I've been to two games this season, and from each I sensed a turnaround in Princeton's men's basketball program. I've blogged about the team earlier this season, and, no, I'm not now predicting that this team will win the Ivies and get the league's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament (Cornell obliterated its opponents this weekend and remains the favorite, and Penn, Harvard and Columbia, among others, remain most formidable). With that background out of the way, the Tigers are 2-0 in the Ivies, picking up impressive road wins at Dartmouth and Harvard on consecutive nights.

There are plenty of recaps to link to, including the Princeton Basketball News blog, which is the first place you should go for all talk about Princeton Tiger basketball.

Coach Sydney Johnson is onto something in Tigertown, and the Tiger faithful have some cause to hope that this is the beginning of a turnaround of the program and a restoration of the brand that Butch van Breda Kolff, Pete Carril, Bill Carmody and John Thompson III helped carefully construct over the past half century.

Or, as Dick Vitale would say, "Stock up, Princeton Tigers, baby. That Sydney Johnson, what an outstanding young coach, what a job he is doing in central New Jersey. My old friend Petey Carril captured the nation's imagination with a great style of play, and Coach Johnson is getting Tiger basketball back to its rightful perch. Watch out for those Tigers!" Of course, Vitale has said nothing of the sort (yet), and I can't properly account for Dickie V's inflection in a blog post. And, let's not get too giddy, two games are just that, two games, and the season is grueling. Every home team gets up for you, every home gym is a snake pit, and you have 12 league games left to play. A lot can happen between now and then.

True, and for the first time in a few years, Tiger faithful are thinking that a lot of good can happen, too.

The Sidd Finch of World Soccer

Some pranksters put one over on the entire soccer world, including the Times of London. Talk had spread on the internet that there was a Moldovan soccer prodigy named Masal Bugduv, in whom, among others, Arsenal was interested. The hype got so pronounced that the Times had listed the Moldovan prodigy as one of the top prospects in the world. Read here for a recap as to how the hoax unfolded.

So, the world's still the same, isn't it? People fall for Ponzi schemes, schemes deriving from the days after Sir Francis Drake passed away (you might get an occasional e-mail from places like Ghana or Nigeria telling a tale of woe and, if only you would help front some money to help get access to a bigger pot of money, you'll share in extraordinary riches), for investment markets built on foundations of Silly Putty and quicksand, and, yes, for the next "new" prospect who's guaranteed to be a savior in some league, somewhere. Many are looking to discover the next transcendant talent or, worse, get a piece of him.

Delightful.

Whatever happened to enjoying the everyday, to watching your high school team beat a rival through good execution, to watching your youth team actually pass the ball to one another instead of act like an amorphous swarm of kids who hadn't seen recess for three weeks? Whatever happened to taking satisfaction in enjoying the here and now?

Put different, how could a hoax get so much traction and fool the venerable Times, which, to my recollection, used to have some standards when it came to fact-checking and reporting? Masal Bugduv? Pretty hilarous, when you think about it, because given the instant access to facts the internet provides, we're all quick to assume that if someone's from a place the internet doesn't report on as much, such as Moldova (or Tajikistan), something like this seems plausible and gets a pass precisely because you're not going to send anyone to the blessed place to report on a phenom. It's just not cost-effective, and you let your standards down because, well, you don't want to come across like a socioeconomically and perhaps racially insensitive lout by suggesting that without further proof, the guy doesn't exist. Why? Because perhaps you don't want to be accused of thinking that Moldova of all places could source the next soccer wunderkind.

And that's where reporters and readers get trapped. And, of course, investors, too.

Thankfully, those who got the Bugduv bug only suffered minor ignominy in that pranksters fooled them. But that same susceptibility could hurt those believers in other areas, so they should reactivate their skepticism and ask legitimate questions about the Masal Bugduvs of the world. And the experts, well, they should be held to the minimal standard of just doing their standard homework.

Which, clearly, they did not do in this case.