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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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Then Again, It's the NFL with the Dementia Problem

According to one study, retired NFL players are 5 times more likely to suffer from dementia than the average, hypothetical non-football playing men of a similar age.



Read the whole thing and see what you think. It strikes me that the reporter caught NFL spokesman Greg Aiello offguard, but the findings are serious and not surprising. Football is a collision sport, and it's hard to imagine that retired players won't suffer from some sort of problem after having played the game since they were six, seven or eight years old.



You would think that not only would the NFL do research on the effects of the physicality of the game, but that they also would sponsor research as to much better equipment. For example, I could imagine within 10 years players dressing in full-length body suits made of a combination of UnderArmour, Kevlar and the materials used in airbags that are designed to absorb the shock of blows that other players deliver. Then again, given that so many seem so willing to sacrifice a lot, even for a cup of coffee in the NFL, perhaps career-lengthening or career-saving togs aren't worth the investment. Translated: there are plenty more players willing to take the place of fallen ones. Still, with all the money poured into the NFL, you would think that perhaps the league would show more initiative in this area.



This story just won't go away for the NFL.

Why You Shouldn't Trust Congress on Health Care

The average member of Congress gets much, much better health care than you ever will -- by paying $503 per year, with the taxpayers' absorbing all other costs. Read here and then wonder how the average members of the House or Senate can preach to anyone about what type of health care you and your family should or should not receive when s/he is far from experiencing the type of health care decisions that the average American has to make. That is, of course, if the average member of Congress were to venture and read any of the proposed bills.

Okay, I've ventured off topic for this blog, but isn't it hard to ask people to make sacrifices that you don't even begin to show a willingness to make?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Jokeland Raiders

The hits keep on coming for the Pirates of Penury. Read this about their rift with former QB Rich Gannon, and draw your own conclusions.

Regardless of whether they loved or hated Rich Gannon, now that he's a broadcaster they have to let him do his job. Even if he's leveled withering criticism at the Oakland organization.

First, he's far from the only one.

Second, the Oakland organization should listen to what people have said and allow for the doubting. Either they're geniuses and the rest of us just don't get it, or, alternatively, they've blundered mightily and for a while. I mean, how many GMs who seek to preserve their jobs would have chosen JaMarcus Russell, he of the million dollar arm and ten-cent head over savvy veteran Jeff Garcia? How many head coaches get into dust-ups that almost result in criminal charges with their assistant coaches? Is there something in the water?

Third, does it really pay to trash your alumni once they're gone? Many players will view such a public trashing this way -- that what's to prevent management from saying the same things about them once they're gone?

The Raiders created a tempest in a teapot, perhaps under the theory that even bad publicity is good publicity because without bad publicity most folks wouldn't pay much attention to the silver and black. This once proud franchise is now a shadow of its former self -- and it's been so for much too long.

Confidence

Which MLB team will go into the season on the biggest roll, the most confident that it can march through the playoffs and win the World Series? I'm not totally sure, but here's a recipe for that confidence:

1. Having at least two top-of-the-rotation starters who are pitching well going into the post-season.

2. Having a healthy and settled bullpen, strong in set-up men and the closer. The latter group needs to be pitching well going into the post-season.

3. Having a healthy everyday lineup that's produced consistently, especially in the last couple of months. Take away points if you have a middle-of-the-lineup star who is in a prolonged slump or a top-of-the-lineup player who's on-base percentage has dipped in the past 6 weeks.

4. Having some oomph on your bench, a guy who can hit the pinch-hit home run, steal the base or get the clutch hit. It's always nice to have a pinch hitter who scares a reliever just a bit.

5. Calmness and good decisionmaking from the bench. All managers make mistakes; you just don't want yours to make the big one in the middle of a pivotal game.

The winner? We'll see, but it doesn't necessarily end up being the team that had the best record during the regular season. Yes, you play who you play, but fattening up excessively on the Nationals, Pirates and Padres during the regular season could give the fan and his team a false sense of the art of the possible.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Sin of the No Apology Apology

We've all seen it before, the star athlete who does something stupid and then gives a faux apology because his team or his league required it. You all know the words, "if I offended someone, I apologize." Or, "I never intended to offend anyone," when your average third-grader knows by rote that the precise conduct in question is offensive out of the gate. It's almost as if when sports agents go to school they take a course of a "Mad Lib" nature where they get forms to fill in to cover the (sometimes prodigious) rear ends of their clients.

What I didn't figure is that this type of apology would happen in my community. I'm not going to go into the details, but as I blogged before in recent months there was a huge donneybrook in my community about the governance and leadership of an extracurricular organization. One of the leaders of one of the sides got particularly nasty during the dispute and wrote some pretty incendiary stuff in a series of emails (among his other transgressions). Reasonable minds can always differ, but localities should transcend the commonplace vindictiveness of many on both sides in the national political arena by mandating that such disputes are civil and orderly. Unfortunately, what transpired in this organization was (un)civil war -- a war of intrigue and words that resulted in an assault on decency, dignity and the truth. This particular guy was one of the aggressors -- emboldened by email.

All this happened in the May-early July time frame, and he decides that now -- after his side has prevailed (albeit at great cost, as the membership of this organization has shrunk to the point where it's in danger of operating at a deficit). Many of those who were displaced have moved on; the time for healing is at best in the danger zone. So anyway, this guy sends an email that he believes makes a strong case for burying the hatchet and moving on. He also believes it's his apology. It's reasonably written, but there's one word at issue, because in the text, after he wrote that the big blowup occurred, he offered "we all acted poorly." We. Not "I", but we. He wrote this to the people who were on the other end of his aggression, took a stance that differed from his, and said "we all acted poorly."

I ask you, is that any way to offer a sincere form of apology? Wouldn't he have done a better job had he written that he acted poorly, regretted it, and asked for forgiveness? Even if, perhaps, it's too late to repair the rift and restore the organization to what it was like before the dust up. What's the "we" all about? So none of this would have happened if it weren't also for the recipients' conduct? Is that it? Cannot this man, who seemingly wants to apologize, fully own up to the fact that he erred, that he transgressed, and that he is sincerely offering an apology. And can an apology be sincere if the offeror writes that while he's making his apology, hey, you and I were both equally wrong? Does that work?

Heck no. You can cloak your apology in all the words and eloquence you want, but you're not truly in the clear unless you say, "hey, this was a really bad situation, I'm not happy with the way I acted, I didn't treat you properly, I failed in upholding my standards, and I'm sorry." Isn't the clear path to growth and betterment when you can look people in the eye and say, "hey, that behavior was my fault?" What comes of "we all acted badly; I apologize?"

Not much good. Suppose Mike is acting goofy, Joe says that he thinks the American League is better than the National League, Mike roots for the Red Sox, and then Mike throws a baseball and hits Joe in the hand with it, breaking a finger. Mike owes Joe an apology, right? Isn't the best way to say, "Hey, Joe, I lost my cool, I'm sorry, I did a really dumb thing. I apologize, can you forgive me?" Or would you advise Mike to say, "Joe, we both acted badly, because you know I'm a big American League fan, but I think I need to apologize to you because I know I shouldn't have thrown that ball?" What would you say is the right way to respond?

Apologies must be from the heart, they must be sincere, they must be complete, and they shouldn't blame or implicate the recipient. In this particular situation, this incomplete and flawed apology might only service to stir up the embers of what had been only several months ago a spectacular combustion. The "victors", as it were, will argue that the recipients are being sore losers and not graceful in refusing the apology. The vanquished will counter that a clear reading of the apology reveals its shortcomings and the flaws of the group that won the contest through uncivil means. And then the whole dialogue can begin again.

And, meanwhile, the organization over which they fought will continue to see interest in it and its membership dwindle.

Because no one wants to join an organization that is an extracurricular version of a slaughterhouse, particular with a group of people who had a taste of participating in a rout that was an unfair fight and might have enjoyed it.

Apologies must be full and complete.

No ands, ifs or buts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming!

One of the Russian oligarchs is rumored to have bid $700 million to buy the New Jersey Nets.

U.S. hoops fans should take note that before the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought English Premiership soccer team Chelsea, Chelsea was a lesser performing boring team from one of London's tonier neighborhoods. Since that time, Chelsea has fared very well in the Premiership and accumulated a starting lineup of all-stars. They've done so to such a degree that most people in England root against them. Of course, the Premiership doesn't have a salary cap like the NBA does.

Still, Mikhail Prokhorov's entry into the NBA will turn a lot of heads. The question is whether he and his billions can transform the Nets.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When Everything Goes Right

For the Phillies right now, everything isn't going right. And, it didn't go right for much of the 2008 season, either. Starter Kyle Kendrick flamed out after mid-season. Starter Brett Myers flamed out early and went to the minors, only to return and redeem himself. All-Star second baseman Chase Utley played much of the year on a bad hip, shortsop Jimmy Rollins was benched twice, Pat Burrell didn't hit anything in August and September, and first baseman Ryan Howard suffered from the dreaded "I can't lay off the outside breaking ball" disease. The team didn't hit for 10 weeks in the summer, only to combust its engine in early September (by sweeping the Brewers and taking the lead in the wild-card race) and then finishing 24-6 (including the post-season).

Much went right, too. The bullpen excelled and stayed healthy all season. The bench made contributions. Jamie Moyer won 16 games and Cole Hamels emerged as a #1 starter. Closer Brad Lidge was "lights out" Lidge, saving every game he had a chance to. Howard had a torrid September. Shane Victorino proved himself to be a big-time catalyst. The team hit when it needed to (although overall 2008 wasn't as good a hitting year as 2007), the team pitched great, and they won the World Series.

Fast forward to today. The bullpen is on life support. Lidge's ERA is 7.11, J.C. Romero, one of the top lefty set-up men last season, was suspended for the first 50 games and has been on the disabled list for most of the rest. Scott Eyre, another good lefty, has battled injuries, long man Clay Condrey, who had a great season last year, might be out for the year, Chad Durbin hasn't pitched the way he did in 2008 and lefty Jack Taschner pitched poorly. Only Ryan Madson and veteran journeyman (and call up) Tyler Walker have pitched well, and Chan Ho Park has had his moments, particularly after the All-Star break. Collectively, though, this is not the 2008 bullpen. The most important part, Lidge, remains in limbo.

The team hits inconsistently, but they're dangerous the way the Willie Stargell/Dave Parker/Bill Madlock Pirates were dangerous -- live bats, with anyone able to deliver the kill blow on any given night. The problem for this team right now is that they're getting killer hits -- home runs -- but not hitting well with men on base. Raul Ibanez, who got off to a torrid start, has sunk into the throes of a Pat Burrell-like existence (except that he gets to more balls in left field). Pedro Feliz, who is about 35, is still good in the field but really doesn't hit for enough power or have a good enough on-base percentage (about .320) to start for a champion. He's a free agent after this season, and I'd be surprised if the Phillies didn't look for an upgrade, especially with some more money to spend after jettisoning some key contractual commitments (Adam Eaton, Jim Thome, Geoff Jenkins, among others). Rollins got off to a terrible start, jump-started his game after the All-Star break, but has slumped lately. The bench has been terrible.

Yet. . . the team is 6 games up on the Marlins and headed for the playoffs absent a Mets-like collapse a la 2007. They have good starting pitching, even if rookie-of-the-year candidate J.A. Happ is on the shelf with a strained oblique. Hamels has pitched better in his last several starts, perhaps sensing the post-season. Joe Blanton might not be having the years that Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are, but he's pitched great. Pedro Martinez looks very solid, and while Cliff Lee has had a bumpy road in last three starts, he's bound to rebound.

Also. . . the team usually plays well in September and October, and they shined under the brightest of lights in last year's post-season.

But. . . they are bumping along, showing their warts, and not putting it all together on the mound, in the field and at the plate. Then again, they could get red hot right now the way they did around the same time last year, and they could take the World Series again.

Or. . . they could manifest all their weaknesses in the NLDS and bow out there. Right now, it's hard to predict what will happen with this team.

Except. . . unlike 2008 from about this day on, everything is not going right for the Phillies right now.

And. . . to win the World Series, most things had better go right.

Shawne Merriman Vindicated

That whooshing sound you hear is a collective sign of relief from the Chargers' front office.

Still, you would think that Merriman has enough drama in his daily routine to avoid drama queens like Tequila, who are more famous for being famous than for substantive accomplishments. You would think that after all these years athletes with inclinations like Merriman's would have learned from experiences like Merriman's.

But they don't, and with the omnipresence of the media, we're going to hear more stories along the lines of this one as the seasons go on. Is the NFL so boring otherwise that we've come to think of less flashy players such as Dwight Freeney and Peyton Manning as nerds?

Richard Seymour to Venture to Irkutsk

The five-time All-Pro defensive lineman apparently is traveling to Oakland.

The reason: he's scheduled to make $3.4 million or so this year and will be a free agent in the possibly uncapped 2010. Oakland apparently hasn't made any promises to him, other than perhaps suggesting that he couldn't make as much trading derivatives on Wall Street for a TARP-constrained investment bank.

Sure, Seymour is a professional, and, yes, his union's collective bargaining agreement doesn't provide anything other than Seymour should report to Oakland. But still, going to play for the Raiders after having played for the Patriots (and at All-Pro status) is a huge letdown, even for the most professional of players.

Line of the Day

Scroll down to the subheading "Makin' Some Noise" in Kate Fagan's NL Notes column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

Good news for a Pittsburgh Pirates alum, but it results in a pretty funner one-liner at the expense of the Buccos.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Phillies Must Avoid Deja Vu from 1993

We all heard it.

Repeatedly.

From the unhealthy looking skipper with too deep of a permanent tan, the guy who wore the cold-weather jacket on the hottest and most humid of summer days.

Jim Fregosi.

C'mon, now, Phillies' fans, say it with me. Consider it Part II of an exorcism.

"Mitch pitches the ninth."

It wasn't that long ago when a Phillies' skipper of a team vying for a championship stood steadfastly by a closer nicknamed "Wild Thing," the kid with the mullet who more often resembled a wrecking ball broadsiding a large building than a Swiss watchmaker. He pitched the ninth come hell or high water, and he gave up a walk-off home run to Joe Carter in Game 6 of the 1993 Series -- a Series-ending walk-off home run.

Phillies fans still haven't forgiven Fregosi for his stubbornness, because Williams struggled mightily. The problem was, most of the bullpen struggled, and there really wasn't a closer in waiting. The best of the bunch at season's end, Roger Mason, didn't have a closer's stuff. Or so it didn't appear. Still, Phillies' fans were left wondering why a guy who brought a gas can to a brush fire was given opportunity after opportunity to close a game.

So frustrated were Phillies' fans that many help up signs after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series exclaiming, "Mitch We Forgive You." The number of the signs -- and their exclamation -- surprised me. I had forgiven Williams a long time ago. He was an immature kid presumably doing the best he could on a mostly unlikable team. That he failed was a fact of baseball life. That Fregosi didn't have any clue as to alternatives was much more unforgivable.

So, fast forward to 2008. Charlie Manuel was doing his best Jim Fregosi imitation by repeatedly saying that Brad Lidge, his pitcher-version of a Mendoza Line-like 7 plus era notwithstanding, was his closer. Some of us were frustrated that the Phillies didn't add a back-up closer by either the July 31 trade deadline or the August 31 waiver-wire deadline. Then our frustration continued when Manuel persisted in making public announcements backing his closer (of course, what the heck was he supposed to say?). The problem, of course, is that having Lidge at the back of the bullpen all but guarantees losing in the NLDS. The reason: the four teams that make the playoffs are good enough to magnify an opponent's weakness. Translated, they'll murder Lidge if he closes. (As an aside, I wonder whether the Phillies' hitters have been struggling because they've been trying to hard to hit home runs and whether that straining is a direct consequence of having a poorly performing closer, which subsconciously is causing the hitters to try to mash the ball in order to build as big a lead as possible. The problem is that if you try too hard, you can magnify your failures).

Well, apparently today Charlie Manuel decided that at the moment he doesn't want to follow precisely in Jim Fregosi's footsteps. Click here for an article on ESPN.com which reports that the Phillies' skipper has backed off his endorsement of the Phillies' MVP in 2008. If that's so, that's good news, insofar as the Phillies need to consider alternatives to Lidge. Ryan Madson, the set-up man, didn't fare well in his stint as the closer when Lidge was on the disabled list earlier in the season. The closer for most of 2007, Brett Myers, is back from spending most of the season on the DL, so the speculation mounts whether the team will shelve Lidge as closer and ask Myers to carry the load. Myers certainly loves the spotlight, but he'd fit in more with the 1993 team than the 2008 team when it comes to maturity and deportment. Still, if he can finish ballgames, he turns the Phillies into a different team.

Fans will most certainly give the Phillies a break if they don't repeat as world champions. It's hard to win a World Series, let alone to win two in a row. That said, if they get to the post-season and combust because Lidge continues to fail, Phillies' fans won't be shy in venting their disappointment. After all, they're still not over hearing "Mitch pitches the ninth," and they won't suffer whatever conjured logic suggests that "Lidge pitches the ninth," 7 plus ERA and all.

The good news for Phillies' fans is that it seems that the front office and Charlie Manuel appear to have one or two alternatives to Brad Lidge, who should go on the shelf and then try to get it all back next year. Given Lidge's track record in 2008, it's hard to believe that he'll be able to turn it around and turn into "Lights Out Lidge" in time for the post-season.

Unfortunately and sadly, the only tune that Charlie Manuel should be contemplating now for Lidge is "Turn out the lights, the party's over. . ." at least insofar as Lidge is the closer for the rest of 2008. It's a sad situation, to be sure, but Manuel must turn the problem into an opportunity for someone else.

Or else risk repeating what happened at the end of the 1993 season.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Who's the Next Matt Cassel?

I frequently wonder how many guys out there could play quarterback in the NFL and succeed. After all, many teams blunder greatly with their first-round selections, and late-round picks such as Tom Brady and Cassel have succeeded, the former into the conversation of "who is the best quarterback ever?" and the latter just by leading his team to an 11-5 season after the former went down with a season-ending injury. For some, it's a question of being in the right place at the right time and getting a shot (heck, Joe Montana, who some consider to be the best QB ever, wasn't even a first-round pick).

Thankfully, John Clayton of ESPN.com recently wrote this article. You probably would be surprised at his conclusion -- that the next hidden gem is the third-string quarterback of the Browns, who have a QB controversy going between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.

Shawne Merriman Accused of Choking Tila Tequila

Roger Goodell will have a field day with this one.

Just when he thought that he had been sending a message to NFL players about their conduct, this happens.

Perhaps when someone suggested that the Chargers' All-Pro lineman needed to take a swig of tequila, he took a swing at Tequila -- Tila Tequila, his girlfriend, that is.

Whew. The NFL doesn't lack for the wrong kinds of headlines, does it?

Reflecting on the Eagles and Brian Dawkins

You still hear every now and then commentary on Philadelphia talk radio that dings the Eagles' management for not re-signing safety Brian Dawkins. Yes, I liked Dawkins an awful lot, and, yes, I think he was a great player. But, truth be told, I also winced as some of Dawkins' play last season -- where he appeared to be a step or too short of making the play. (I also winced and would-be replacement Quentin Demps' play in last year's NFC Championship Game, too).

Here are a few points in defense of the Eagles:

1. Andy Reid has a pretty solid track record of success, even if he hasn't won a Super Bowl. (He and Marv Levy are probably the two best NFL coaches not to win a Super Bowl).

2. Andy Reid usually is right about when a player's time is up. Somehow, the Eagles goofed on DE Derrick Burgess (and some free-agent signings in the inbound lane), but for the most part they've known when to let go of key players -- such as Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Jeremiah Trotter (both times) and others.

3. Dawkins' play wasn't all that good last year. While I share concerns that the only way a team should let a player go is if they have a better replacement, it seemed that for the Eagles to continue at an elite level, they needed an upgrade at safety. Yes, I also share concerns that Dawkins' leadership will be hard to replace (but I still give him and Trotter, among others, demerits for not standing steadfastly by Donovan McNabb in his fractured relationship with Terrell Owens. Had leaders like Dawkins and Trotter taken Owens to the woodshed and told him that his antics would not be tolerated, the Eagles might not have lost that particular season and the horrible drama that ensued might not have). The latter point might or might not be a major one, but overall I'll remember Dawkins as a great player and a good leader. There is no doubt that he will be missed.

4. The Eagles have gone to 5 NFC title games in the past 10 seasons. That's a pretty amazing record. Sure, they haven't climbed the mountain totally yet, and it could be that Andy Reid's ways of handling personnel matters might prevent the team from getting to the summit. That said, Eagles' fans, because of his presence, have a better chance of seeing a Super Bowl victory from him than they would from most other coaches in the NFL.

Patriots Exile All-Pro Defensive Lineman to Siberia

The Patriots traded Richard Seymour, a five-time Pro Bowler, to the Oakland Raiders for the Raiders' first-round draft pick in 2011.

All Seymour really gets out of this is a nice quote from Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, about Seymour's being a pillar for the Patriots' franchise and a great player. Because other than that, he's now thrust into being a competitor into the one NFL team that is its own freak show, circus and vaudeville theater rapped up into one. Richard Seymour really doesn't deserve that fate, does he?

Meanwhile, the Patriots get younger, as is their wont (see the Eagles' roster for a demonstration of the grim reality that if a player ages too much, he doesn't get offered a new contract -- Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas and Brian Dawkins are prime examples of the Eagles' philosophy). They'll still be good, probably very good, even without Richard Seymour. Perhaps Belichick and company are taking a page out of Branch Rickey's book -- trading a player slightly past his prime for maximum value.

Whether the Pats will fare better without Seymour remains to be seen. The linked asked the same question of Pats' linebacker O.J. Mayo.

His response: "Ask me after the first game."

Will the Raiders be better with Seymour?

Of course, but, then again, how could they be any worse?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Navy Excelled Today

Benjamin Franklin once said that there is no such thing as a good war or a bad peace. My guess is that some coach once said that there is no such thing as a good loss or a bad win. However. . .

Navy took it to Ohio State today before falling 31-27 in Columbus. The Middies were down two scores with about 6:30 to go when they scored on a long pass and then on a 30+ yard run by their quarterback, who outplayed Ohio State's highly touted Terrelle Pryor.

It was an amazing fourth quarter performance from Navy, which botched a 2-point conversion after scoring the second of their two late scores. At that time, the score was 29-27, Ohio State, and a conversion would have tied the game. As fate would have it, an Ohio State defender intercepted the pass on the conversion and ran it back all the way for two points for the Buckeyes.

Compelling football. The Middies did not win the game, but like Rocky Balboa they won everyone's hearts with their grit today.

Would Charlie Manuel Call out Tony LaRussa?

There's a swirling controversy in European soccer surrounding Arsenal's recent 3-1 victory over perennial Scottish Premier League power Celtic. UEFA, the governing body, has suspended Arsenal's Eduardo for two games for "deceiving the referee" to earn an award of a penalty kick. Eduardo is appealing, and his coach, the well-respected Arsene Wenger, stands steadfastly behind his player.

And that, you'd figure, would be all that you'd hear from team officials (except perhaps some commentary from the Celtic management, which would be understandable). The press, of course, anywhere, would be a different story.

But what's interesting about this is that Manchester United's Alec Ferguson decided to speak to the subject -- taking the side of UEFA and, as a result, getting a strong dig in at his coaching rival, Wenger, and his team's Premiership rival, Arsenal. Click here and read the story for yourself.

And that, to an American, seems odd and, well, "just not done" in our sport.

Imagine a bench-clearing brawl in a baseball game between playoff contenders St. Louis and Los Angeles over brushback pitches. Suppose punches were thrown and even landed. Further assume that players were ejected and that one of the team's had a player with a reputation for throwing at hitters who was suspended for a second time -- for a long enough period that he have to miss one and perhaps two starts.

Yes, the commentators would have a field day, the video would be replayed, but would rivals' managers publicly comment or take a side? Would Charlie Manuel, if asked his opinion on it, say something like "the league did the right thing, that type of stuff has to stop, and the pitcher in question is a known headhunter who was going to get someone hurt." I don't think so. I think that Manuel would have said that he has enough to worry about with his own team that he didn't have any comment on business between two other teams. He certainly wouldn't say anything that would motivate one of those two teams to play harder to defeat the Phillies because he gave that team something to put on their bulletin board and stare it. There would be no upside at all.

I know that players' diving to get refs to call penalties is a problem in soccer, the same way that some teams want to protect hitters who get repeatedly thrown at. But wouldn't there have been a way for other teams to weigh in with UEFA other than publicly taken on a well-respected coach and a well-known rival? Shouldn't Alec Ferguson simply have declined comment or not gone out of his way to jump into a controversy that didn't involve his team?

Arsenal's nickname is "The Gunners", and, most certainly, they'll be gunning for Manchester United (not that they need any extra special motivation) when Man U next visits Emirates Stadium. And lest you would worry, my guess is that the falls that Man U players take in that game won't need to be dives -- the play will be as contentious as usual.

When in Doubt, Fire Your Offensive Coordinator in a Hurry

There could be two schools of thought on the pre-season firings of Chan Gailey, Jeff Jagodozinski and Turk Schonert, the offensive coordinators of the Chiefs, Bucs and Bills, respectively.

The first is that their head coaches are decisive men; they see that they've made mistakes, and they worked quickly to correct them by firing their offensive coordinators and showing a willingness to go into a grueling season with an understaffed (and perhaps under-experienced) group of coaches to run the offense.

The second is that they're not all that secure or patient, that they're not good at judging who their assistant coaches should be, so they are gambling, took a stab, tried to do something, perhaps if only to mask the fact that they blundered badly in picking the particular coach in the first place. By doing so, they might be misreading how bad their coordinators really were and could be compounding the initial blunder by leaving a gap in their organization bigger than the problem that the now-fired coordinator created.

Of course, we're not close enough to the situation to know whether these three coordinators failed miserably, don't fit in with the head coach, or whether the head coach is shifting blame from himself to a key coordinator. But it's curious that there have been three such firings in a league where more time is spent on personnel decisions than perhaps any other and where more goof-ups seemingly get made than in any other too (you can read an academic study of the NFL draft which demonstrated last year how badly teams have erred using the early picks in the first round of the NFL draft). You would have thought that the head coaches would have picked their coordinators carefully and would have made their changes before the first organized team activity took place after the season ended, as opposed to within a few weeks (in the case of Gailey) or days (in the case of Jagodozinski and Schonert) of the final cutdown day (which is today).

Management faces tough decisions when key people at the top are struggling. On the one hand, you don't want to let a bad situation fester. After all, the person in the position could do more damage by remaining, and morale could sink if the top leaders fail to address a bad situation in the ranks. On the other hand, you should have a solid pyramid of performers underneath your top deputies so that if a top deputy were to depart or falter, you'll have someone to replace him. All of this holds true, of course, if the problem really was with the coordinator and not the head coach. The lateness of the firings seems to suggest -- at least in two instances -- that rookie head coaches made poor decisions early on (at least as to compatability) and to a degree are either being very decisive or are panicking. Few are that close to the situation to tell. The Buffalo situation is more puzzling because Dick Jauron has been a head coach for a while.

It's hard to believe that the Chiefs, Bucs or Bills will have good seasons with all of the turmoil. Major changes like this should occur after the regular season, so that there is plenty of time to plan a new offense, and not right before the season and after much or all of training camp has concluded. Even if these head coaches thought they had little choice, the decisions they found themselves making don't bode well for this season -- for their teams or themselves.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How Good are the Phillies?

Or not.

A sign of a good team is that when they're not in high gear they still win. So, you have to admit that taking 2 of 3 from the Giants (who arguably have the best pitching in baseball) while only scoring 3 runs over three games is pretty impressive. That means that the Phillies can pitch, too, and that they know how to win, especially against good teams. That's good.

But. . . the bottom of their lineup doesn't scare anyone, does it? We've heard a lot in the past couple of days about how the AL teams have tougher lineups, as evidenced by how well John Smoltz and Brad Penny have fared since getting exiled from Boston and landing in St. Louis and San Francisco, respectively. Well, Pedro Feliz is pushing 35 and still doesn't really know the strike zone (I wonder whether the Phillies will re-sign him after this season), Carlos Ruiz is having a decent year (with about a .340 on-base percentage) but won't hit more than .250, and, well, the pitchers can't hit. Also, the Phillies' bench is languishing, with the exception of Ben Francisco. Matt Stairs is about 0-28 since July, Greg Dobbs is having a bad year and on the DL, Eric Bruntlett, unassisted walk-off triple play and all, is still 50 basis points or so from reaching the Mendoza line, and back-up catcher Paul Bako isn't on the Major League roster because of his bat. Are these fatal flaws?

Perhaps not. The biggest question is the bullpen. From what I gather, J.C. Romero won't be able to help in the post-season, leaving the Phillies with one bona fide lefty option in the bullpen (Scott Eyre), unless you count Jack Taschner, who will be eligible for the post-season because the team called him up on August 31 (and who fared poorly in Philadelphia during a longer stint at the beginning of the season) and Jamie Moyer (who, because he now looks to be the 6th starter on a team that only will need four, might not even make the post-season roster). Middle reliever Chad Durbin has struggled, long reliever Clay Condrey is rebounding from an injury and closer Brad Lidge is about as reliable as a bank that remains on the critical list even after having received TARP money. The pluses -- righty set-up man Ryan Madson is very good, Lidge has pitched reasonably well in the past three games, and Brett Myers came off the disabled list today and will be available for late-game action (he also served well in the closer's role in 2007).

Another question is the timeliness of the team's hitting. They rely upon the home run more than any other team, and, they don't hit well with runners in scoring position. Yet, they are among the NL leaders in runs scored and can score runs. In droves. So, another question is whether any team wilts under the light of a bright microscope, or do all of these concerns combine to present flaws big enough to prevent another World Series victory?

The answer: that's why they play the games. The Phillies still have to seal up the NL East in September and try to get the best record in the NL so as to seal up home-field advantage for all playoff games. If they do that and go into the post-season strong, they have a solid chance to return to the World Series and, yes, repeat.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Jerome Allen Returns to Penn as Assistant Coach

Too bad that the former Ivy Player of the Year and one of the best to play in the Ivies in the past two decades can't suit 'em up for the Quakers.

Just joking (especially to you, Penn fans). The Quakers are usually formidable, but last season under Coach Glen Miller was anything but crisp. Which means, of course, that there will be increasing pressure on Miller to win the Ivy title, which should be no easy task against the likes of Cornell and rapidly improving Harvard and Princeton.

By all accounts, Allen's a terrific guy, and Penn should be thrilled to have him back.

Should Miller falter, I doubt that right now Allen would be the guy that they would tap to replace him (if only because he lacks the experience that first-time head coaches have before they get tapped for the job). Instead, the Quakers probably would look no further than to North Broad Street, where Penn alum and current Temple assistant Matt Langel looks like a head coach in waiting

The Agony of Defeat?

A Phillies' executive left his 2008 World Series ring, worth about $10,500, in a rest room at Citizens Bank Park yesterday.

So far, it hasn't turned up.

Ouch.

Here's to hoping that this executive and his ring are reunited. . . soon.

Betting Your Career on the Decisons of 18 Year-Olds

The first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio, has decided to remain in Spain for two more seasons.

You have to believe the Minnesota's front office erred when they thought that they could get Rubio to come to the U.S. right away to join the team. Now, they won't get him until the fall of 2011. Somehow, at #5, there were many other players who could have helped the T-Wolves immediately.

Oops.

Memo to the file: Draft kids with no options other than the NBA, with relatives who are willing to move across the ocean to join a European teenager, or kids who have solidly committed (whatever the heck that means) to leaving their European teams and joining your NBA team. Failing that advice, take note of where your local burn unit is. You'll need it.