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, October 31, 2009

Is Princeton Women's Basketball Team Ready to Challenge for the Ivy Title?

The Trenton Times thinks so.

The team finished third in the Ivies last year and has perhaps its most talented core of players in some time. Last year's team was exciting, and you could see from watching it near season's end that it has significant upside. This program has had its fits and starts over the years, but it could well be that third-year coach Courtney Banghart is on the cusp of establishing the program as a perennial contender in the Ivies.

For those who live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania or central New Jersey, check out Princeton sports for some good, earnest entertainment. As an event-oriented society we might get more stoked by going to a professional event, but these kids play for the love of the game -- and it shows.

How Much Will the Recession Affect Ticket Sales in the NBA and NHL?

Was it me, but when I saw the highlights on television, there appeared to be many good seats open?

Or, was there a Halloween giveaway, and did 10,000 people opt to go to the game dressed as empty seats?

I was wondering about the effect on the recession on hockey and pro basketball, particularly because ticketholders already had committed in 2008 before the recession hit. I do wonder how serious a drop these sports will suffer. Baseball, which you have to believe is more popular, suffered a 6% drop over last season. Given that baseball tickets generally are a better bargain, you'd have to believe that the NHL and NBA will suffer more considerably (as most certainly the NBA did last season).

The Dynamics of the StubHub Market for World Series Tickets in Philadelphia

Sounds like the title for an article in an academic journal, doesn't it?

StubHub fascinates me. Yes, they get their poundage out of every sale, but they also have created a very efficient (and safe) marketplace. I've used StubHub to buy and sell tickets, and I've found the site to be very easy to deal with. My great curiosity is how StubHub and the leagues with whom they have affiliations will use the data that they're accumulating to price tickets/make them available in the future. Especially the outstanding teams with the most demand.

I've noticed one thing about StubHub, which is that if you have tickets to a "hot" game or event, if you have four (instead of two), you're more likely to draw a higher price per ticket for the group. The reason is fairly simple -- many people are looking for four seats together if they can find them, but most people seemingly only have two tickets to sell. It stands to reason that more people purchase season- or partial season-ticket plans for two tickets and not four. As a result, groups of four are more scarce and, therefore, in the right circumstances, more valuable. Of course, if the team isn't a stalwart or the game isn't a "hot" one, the owner of four tickets always can sell his block of four tickets in two-ticket increments.

Now, if you're looking for an odd number of tickets, good luck (although I once bought three to a Phillies game a few years ago). So, if you're a family of four, you're in decent shape, but if you're a family of three or five, well, the dynamics are more challenging.

This article discusses the prices for tickets at Citizens Bank Park for Games 3, 4 and 5 and how the average asking price has dropped over the past day or so. Here's my thinking as to why: the number of available tickets this close to the time of the game (approximately 4,500 or so) is not a "scarce enough" number. That is to day, about 10% of the tickets are available for sale. Why? Because as die-hard as any team's fans can be, the economy isn't great, and many are thinking that if they can take a ticket that cost them $150 and parlay it into, say $1,000 twice over, they'll take the profit, watch from the comfort of their family rooms, not have to deal with traffic should public transportation go on strike (which it might) and run. After all, many of these same fans witnessed Series bliss last season (albeit on rainy nights) and the novelty has worn off -- they won't be missing the experience, in a sense, because they've been there and done that. Okay, so speculating about the reasons for the relatively large number of tickets available this close to game time might not be that accurate, but were the number of available tickets to be, say, 1,500, the average price per ticket, it stands to reason, would be higher (unless the remaining available ticket population is comprised mostly of standing room only tickets).

See what someone who likes stats and data can get totally intrigued by a site like StubHub? You see an efficient marketplace unfold before your eyes. Right now, that marketplace says that the profiteers will have to adjust their expectations accordingly in order to make a deal.

A friend at work came to me on Wednesday. He's a Yankee fan, he had a chance to buy a ticket at Citizens Bank Park, to go with a friend who is a rabid Phillies' fan. He asked me what I'd pay for a ticket, to get into the park. He knows I'm a huge Phillies' fan, but he also knows that I wouldn't pay a king's ransome for a ticket. So, I said "$500." After all, it is the World Series, he hasn't been, and, perhaps, every now and then you have to splurge (Phillies' fans know this well; they hadn't been to the Series for 15 years before 1998, it was 15 years before then, and who knows when this group of stars starts to show their age when they'll get back to the Series). His friend got the tickets through a connection , they're in the nosebleed section (but still a decent place to watch the game), and he paid $350. Good deal, I think.

Another colleague said that her son, who is in his mid-20's, bought a ticket for about $600 -- standing room only. Clearly, the Generation Whatever group wants to be at the game for the baseball but also for the party-like experience. That's a lot of money for that young man, because his income isn't what my collegue's is.

Then, another friend from work relayed a story about someone ponying up what seemed to be a huge amount for four tickets in the Diamond Club right behind home plate -- enough money to pay for a substantial portion of next year's season tickets. Those are good seats, but paying a couple thousand apiece seemed to be a bit much. So, the secondary market differs all over the stadium -- depending on who you know, where you want to sit, and whether friends have a connection.

So check out StubHub -- if for nothing other than the dynamics of markets for tickets to championship games.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Congress, the NFL, Head Injuries and the Antitrust Exemption

All of these came up at a Congressional hearing, with one lawmaker threatening to have the NFL's antitrust exemption revoked.

You just cannot make up some of this stuff.

Look, the issue of head injuries is serious. The Players' Association's leadership would be failing its membership if it didn't advocate for more resources and attention to this issue. You're not only talking about players' livelihoods, you're also talking about life after football -- which begins for many in the mid-20's and shouldn't render some former players disabled or with serious brain damage. I get all that.

What I don't get is where certain members of Congress get off using their positions to bully and threaten. What they should do -- assuming the expenditure of time on this particular issue is warranted given all of th other problems the country has -- is to work to get all of the facts out and then press for a solution. Most assuredly, there is a public health aspect to all of this, as many young boys start playing the game as early as 6 -- we need all players to be as safe as possible. But let's not make threats on a grand scale.

I also get that the NFL's and NFLPA's track record on this issue isn't perfect. The league -- with all its money -- is a day late and many dollars short. The union doesn't seem to be focused on anything more than the here and now given how short players' careers are. Let's hope that something good can happen from a public spotlight -- that the league and union come together with a solution before an unfortunate one gets legislated for them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Series Prediction: Phillies in 6

Here's the reasoning:

1. The Phillies are defending champions. That means something.
2. The Yankees are an excellent team, but so are the Phillies.
3. Yes, I'd rather have Mariano Rivera over Brad Lidge, but a) I'm not so sure about the rest of the Yankees' bullpen and b) Lidge has looked better of late. In other words, I don't think that the difference between bullpens is as pronounced as some say.
4. Could this be a "last hurrah" for the Yankees' core of Posada, Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte? All are outstanding, at least two are Hall of Famers? Jeter, at 35, is the youngest of the four. This intangible bodes well for the Yankees.
5. There's just something about the Phillies that has them keep on coming back. They have the best record in baseball from September 1 on of any team in the majors. In the past two seasons, they keep on finding an extra gear. They, too, have an excellent nucleus.
6. It will take a great effort from either team to beat the other. Each is the best in its league.
7. Am I making a predictable pick in that I'm a Phillies' fan and that it's easy to say "don't bet against the defending champions?" Perhaps, but the Yankees have a lot of talent and are worthy of considerable respect.
8. In other words, my reasoning is pretty thin, perhaps based on a hunch that the lineup still has enough hits left in its bats and that the bullpen has enough resilience, with Brett Myers now back, and with Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ available. Somehow, I think that the Phillies' bullpen has enough left in it to get the job done. And, because of that, I think that they'll win the Series.
9. But not without many anxious moments.
10. Here's to hoping for a memorable Series.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

World Series Is Hell for Mets' Fans -- Here's the Case for Supporting the Phillies

At least that's what you might infer from A.G. Sulzberger's piece in the New York Times.

It basically boils down to this -- root for the Yankees, and you're rooting for the team whose fans look down upon your team, whose team tries to buy a pennant all the time, whose fans are Cinderella's wicked stepsisters. You'd be selling out, giving in, succumbing, even if you're going to take the side of the other team from your area. Or, root for the Phillies, and you're rooting for your bitter rival in the National League East, the team that helped cause the Mets' disastrous slides at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and for a team whose fans you hold in utter contempt and whose city you view as a wannabe, the pesty kid who always wants in, is insecure, and, in your mind, is nothing more than a glorified outpost. You'd be lowering your standards, giving credence to a town and its fans whom you abhor, if only because you dislike your step-siblings more than your rivals.

Heckuva choice.

So here's the sales pitch for Philadelphia:

1. Many New Yorkers go to college there, particularly Villanova and Penn. Have the ardent Yankee fans who are Penn alums so forgetful of their time in University City that they cannot muster up some affinity for the City of Brotherly Love?

Big 5 Basketball.

Chubby Checker.

Bobby Rydell.

Boyz II Men.

Patti LaBelle.

Ed Rendell.

2. Cheese steaks. Whether it's Pat's, Geno's, John's Roast Pork, Steve's Prince of Steaks, Jim's, Tony Luke's, they're all good. Perhaps you could even strike a deal -- a frequent eater deal with the first sandwich free -- if you'd switch your allegiance -- however temporarily -- to the Phillies.

3. Rocky. It was a great movie, it took place in Philadelphia, and even New Yorkers deep down like to root for the underdog. Given how much money the Yankees have spent for their players, perhaps you can see the Phillies in that role and root for them. Again, temporarily. Different stadiums play different music to charge up their teams, but the theme from Rocky in the late innings along with exhortations on the scoreboard from the likes of Mick do stir up the crowd. Be a part of it -- temporarily.

4. Football as a Metaphor. Sure, the Eagles and the Giants are a strong rivalry, but did you get a load of the Cowboys this weekend? Their defensive backs were primping more after big hits than the Pussycat Dolls after an encore. Sure, both teams have their hardcore fans, but neither has that over-the-top new building, the Hollywood quarterback who blows a gasket in the clutch and the prepossessing owner who is as annoying as can be. So, if you can unite in the dislike of Dallas, perhaps in a moment of transferance you can unite with Phillies' fans and root against the Yankees.

5. We Grow Our Own. Mostly, and especially when compared to the Yankees. In this age of organics and "green", the nucleus of the Phillies -- Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley -- came up through the farm system. The team hasn't spend big on free agents, rebuilt its farm system after disastrous yields in the late 1980's and most of the 1990's, traded some of the yield for important players (traded Michael Bourn for Brad Lidge in a trade that involved other players) and recycled others not thought to be Major League material (nabbing Shane Victorino in the Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers, signing Jayson Werth as a free agent, ditto for Pedro Martinez). When you compare that type of game plan to that of the Yankees, well, the Phillies win out clearly. And. . .

6. One of Our Megastars Wasn't Implicated with either Steroids or Madonna. We're getting to the part where we almost have to invoke the "mercy rule". How can you possibly tilt toward the Yankees now?

7. We Also Play Exciting Baseball. You have to give the Phillies that. They come from behind, they made it to the World Series despite a bullpen that at times resembled that of the Nationals, and the players are pretty much likable (okay, you cannot stand Jimmy Rollins, but he's irked his own fans at times too).

8. We Have a Good Uncle Managing the Club. And, in times like these, we all need a good uncle who believes in us. He's warm and welcoming, is Charlie Manuel.

So. . . the choice appears to be clear. Don't worry, both the Yankees and Phillies have plenty of fans -- but the Phillies would more than welcome all Mets' fans to support their NL East 'mates and defeat the "varsity", as Mike Francesa once called his beloved Yankees. Don't you want to contribute to the defeat of the "varsity" too?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Young Man Who Brought Bill Bradley to Tears

Meet Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle, the one-time Florida State defensive back who passed up entry into the NFL last year to accept his Rhodes scholarship and a two-year stint in Oxford (England, that is, for those SEC fans whose thinking doesn't appear to run north of Lexington, Kentucky), is featured in this New York Times article. Rolle apparently brought former U.S. Senator, New York Knick and Princeton Tiger Bill Bradley to tears when he told Bradley that Bradley helped inspire him to want to become a Rhodes Scholar.

Read the whole article, as it touches upon not only Rolle's broad view of the world and his potential role in it but also his preparations for the upcoming NFL draft. Good piece.

The Quarterback Maker

Steve Clarkson, one-time starting quarterback for San Jose State in the early 1980's, is one of the premier quarterback tutors in the country. He coaches kids as early as the seventh grade, and he picks who he coaches. His client list is impressive; his fees, prodigious.

First Take on Phillies-Yankees World Series

It seems like many of the pundits are favoring the Yankees. There appear to be three main reasons for this: 1) the Yankees pitching is better than the Phillies from top to bottom; 2) the Yankees' hitting is formidable; and 3) the Yankees are very hot at home and have the home field advantage. All are good reasons.

That said, the Phillies played well on the road this year and in Yankee Stadium. Their hitting is formidable too, and they have a knack for being resilient and coming from behind. Their pitching, on paper, isn't as strong as that of the Yankees, but, then again, they don't have Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Ryan Franklin, either, not to mention the dynamic combination of Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday. Yes, Cole Hamels is a question mark, yes, three good post-season appearances doesn't sell many that Brad Lidge is the same as he was in 2008, and, no Phillies' fan can say with great certainty whether Pedro Martinez the future Hall of Famer will show up in Game 2 or whether either Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ will pitch better in this series than they did in either the NLDS or NLCS.

So, if you live in Central New Jersey or north, the Phillies shouldn't have a chance. The AL is the superior league, A-Rod is showing up in the post-season, Jeter and Posada have been their before, Andy Pettitte is clutch, Mark Teixeira is awesome and who has a better #1 starter than C.C. Sabathia? All good points.

But, the Phillies are the defending national champions. Their lineup resembles that of an American League team. Rollins more than holds his own against Jeter, Carlos Ruiz is a good field general and clutch hitter, Cliff Lee has been good in the post-season, Ryan Howard has far out-hit Teixeira in the post-season, and the Phillies' outfield is (much) better than the Yankees'. Also, the much-criticized bullpen has bent but not broken, Brad Lidge seems more relaxed, and somehow they find a way to win -- they keep coming at you. That will be the view espoused from northern Delaware through south Jersey, Philadelphia and the four counties surrounding it.

This ought to be a great series. This year the best team in each league is representing its league in the World Series. Both have great players, both have great fan bases, and both represent large cities. It's a match-up of the defending world champs against the most-heralded franchise in baseball. What more could a fan ask for?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Next Big-Time College Football Coach Hire

Temple is now 5-2, having won 5 straight in the MAC. This is great news for the football program, but perhaps bittersweet as well. You have to believe that if the Owls keep up their roll, that head coach Al Golden will be in line for a bigger gig, perhaps in a BCS conference. If that were to be the case, here's to hoping that the Owls will be able to promote his defensive coordinator, Mark D'Onofrio, to head coach.

And, yes, for those who were wondering, in honor of my father's memory, I'd consider buying Temple gear and making the trip to wherever they're playing in a bowl game.

Go Owls!

Is Darren Sharper a Hall of Famer?

The vote here is yes.

He's in the top 10 on the all-time interceptions list and #2 (behind Rod Woodson) all time for the number of interceptions returned for a touchdown.

Perhaps he hasn't had the ink during his career that others have had, but he's worthy of consideration, to say the least.

Report: Mark McGwire to Become Hitting Coach of the Cardinals

This is reminiscent of the reports on December 7, 1941, when wire transmissions from Pearl Harbor said "Air Raid, Pearl Harbor, this is no joke."

What's next? Will Jose Canseco be named the Athletics' hitting coach? Will Rafael Palmeiro do the same for the Cubs?

How can Major League Baseball continue to ban Pete Rose and permit an uncontrite McGwire to return? He and Sammy Sosa made a mockery of the game when they had their chase to break Babe Ruth's record.

This is ridiculous, and I'll tell you one thing, if Roger Goodell were the Commissioner of Baseball, he wouldn't permit it for a moment.

This is an outrage.

Indians Made a Great Choice

I like Manny Acta. He didn't have much talent in Washington, but his teams played hard. If GM Mark Shapiro can get Acta enough talent, the Indians should be able to challenge in the AL Central. Given what I've seen in the AL Central, any team that makes the investment should be able to challenge for the title. From what I've read, the Royals are a dark horse to contend for that division's title next year.

Look, not every manager does well in his first gig. Terry Francona skippered an undermanned Phillies' team before Larry Bowa replaced him, and he learned enough to morph into a manager of world champions. Okay, so the BoSox provided him with sufficient talent, but he managed well enough to win two World Series. Acta is a good manager -- Indians' fans will be happy with the choice.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: "Fading Echoes" by Mike Sielski

Mike Sielski is a young sports columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times (I'd suggest that the trio of Reuben Frank, Randall Miller and Sielski are as good if not better than any trio the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News have to offer.) He's also very good and insightful, and a major example of his ability is in the book Fading Echoes, about two former high school football stars, Bryan Buckley of Central Bucks West and Colby Umbrell of Central Bucks East. Both were outstanding players and captains of their teams in 1998, both played college football, and both went into the military.

They went to the same middle school in the Central Bucks School District, one of the ten largest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The school district is in the Philadelphia suburbs; about half a century ago I think it would have been fair to categorize the area as mostly farm country (the population boom meant the construction of many developments in the four-county area surrounding Philadelphia, Bucks among those counties). At the time they were in middle school, they had a choice of which high school they could attend -- East (which is in Buckingham, Pennsylvania) or West (which, unlike East, has its own football stadium; East played its home games at West's stadium).

For certain aspiring football players, the choice would have been a no-brainer. At the time, West was perhaps the premier high school football program in the state and found itself nationally ranked in USA Today's polls. Mike Pettine, Sr. was the head coach, and he would retire with multiple state championships and a career record that was mind-boggling -- well over 300 wins and less than 50 losses. (For the cognoscenti, Pettine is the father of Mike Pettine, the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets). East, on the other hand, lacked the same football tradition. But Colby Umbrell decided easily to follow a tradition -- he went to East because his father, Mark, had played there. Bryan Buckley headed to West.

The book would have been easier and more Hollywood-like to write had Buckley and Umbrell been buddies since kindergarten and then decided to go in different directions after middle school, like twins separated at birth. They knew each other in middle school but were in different groups. Both turned out to be outstanding high school football players -- "program kids", not necessarily the superstars, but the leaders, those who enforced discipline among their own ranks, and those who led by their determination and level of effort.

Buckley's West team won state championships his junior and senior year (and, for good measure, the year after he graduated from West). He went to prep school in Massachusetts for a post-graduate year, hated it (in part because he believed that the coach who recruited him had misled him and his father into believing that he'd get enough carries as a running back to impress college coaches; instead, he found himself in an offense that threw the ball 90% of the time). He ended up at UMass under heralded coach Mark Whipple, had his moments in the football program (first as a linebacker and then as a fullback), but all the while was thinking about what challenges he wanted out of life. After 9/11, he solidified his thinking. He wanted to join the military. (To do so, he ended up transferring to Villanova University to enroll in their Naval ROTC program and didn't play football again).

Umbrell's East team didn't come close to West's success. With future Penn Stater and NFL defensive back Bryan Scott, East got off to a good start in Umbrell's and Scott's senior season (Scott was perhaps the premier running back in the state). But then Umbrell tore his anterior cruciate ligament, thereby putting the two-way lineman on the bench (Buckley was also a linebacker and a ferocious hitter at that; he was in a rotation of running backs but saw his playing time at running back diminish as the season went on). It's hard to say that East would have made it to the state playoffs had Umbrell not gotten hurt, but without him and then with him playing injured, they didn't have a chance.

Buckley wasn't the best student, but neither was Umbrell, although the latter had more natural ability as evidenced by his test scores. Umbrell has hoped to play football for West Point, but once he hurt his knee his chances to draw the attention of college scouts and scholarship money diminished. So he, too, went off to prep school, to Wyoming Seminary in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he could show college scouts that he could play and get more serious about tapping into his potential as a student. After his post-graduate year at "Sem", he ended up going to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, an elite academic school whose claim to fame in NCAA athletics is its top drawer Division I men's lacrosse team (he passed on Division I-AA Lehigh).

Umbrell's career was shortened by a combination of injuries and the fact that Hopkins was enjoying one of its best football teams at the time he was there (and the defensive tackles ahead of him were good). That combination meant very little playing time by the time he was a junior, and he left the team somewhere around that time, also to focus on life after college. During that time, he, too, decided he wanted to join the military.

Both became officers, and both looked for the hardest challenges that they could attempt en route to leading platoons in Iraq. Buckley became a Marine; Umbrell was in the Army, an Army Ranger. Their personalities were different -- Buckley the more serious type, Umbrell more the prankster, but both excelled in preparing themselves and their men for whatever the insurgents and al-Qaeda had to offer.

One came home; the other did not.

Sielski does a great job in telling the story of how two leaders on their high school football teams in towns with strong values and outstanding parental support made their way to helping lead other young men in combat. Regardless of whether you supported the war or not (and Sielski does reference Quaker protesters of the war in nearby Doylestown in the book), this book gives you a glimpse into America's backbone and soul, as to how the lights on weekend nights illuminate a stage for even greater roles and opportunities for boys like Bryan Buckley and Colby Umbrell, how coaches like Larry Greene and Mike Pettine, Sr. play a role in shaping these young men, and how many others encourage and coach our boys into trying to achieve something more.

Buy this book.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free Carlos Ruiz!

I've had four comments already to my post about the absence of Carlos Ruiz t-shirts and Carlos Ruiz jerseys from any Philadelphia-area sporting good stores or at Citizens Bank Park.

Write your congressman, write your local newspaper, write the Phillies! Let them know that they need to remedy this injustice. There are plenty of wannabe Chase Utleys, Ryan Howards, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lees out there. And there are even some J.A. Happs, Shane Victorinos, Jayson Werths, Jamie Moyers, Brad Lidges and someone even spotted an Antonio Bastardo of all people.

But where is Carlos Ruiz?

C'mon, Phillies, we all want to know! Free up Carlos Ruiz shirts and jerseys! Urge people to take the "Chooch" train to the World Series, but, gosh darn it, produce Ruiz t-shirts and now!

An admiring public wants to wear them.

The Silly Sports Story of the Day

At least in my local newspaper was that Rutgers' freshman QB Tom Savage could set a school record by being the first freshman to win on the road were Rutgers to beat Army in West Point tonight.

Now, that's really digging.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Scene at Modell's

At lunchtime I went to this sporting goods chain to buy a pair of locker room t-shirts commemorating the Phillies' victory in the National League Championship series. Modell's advertised in the morning paper "Open Now", which I read at 6:50 a.m., and that implied that perhaps they were open all night after the Phillies beat the Dodgers 10-4 last night. Which means that they were probably open at midnight in the Philadelphia area.

Modell's and the Phillies are printing money right now (which isn't all that unusual in the United States at this point in our history, as the government probably will be printing a bunch of money to satisfy the country's staggering amount of debt). At least the retailer and the ball club are printing their money on merit. Okay, so I've digressed, but there was tons of championship wear -- toddler shirts, youth shirts, women's shirts, grown-ups shirts, the standard shirts with a player's name and number on the back and "Phillies" on the front, a shirt that referenced the back-to-back titles, a shirt that said "He's Werth It" and a shirt that said "UnbeLeeavble" or something like that. Still no tips of the cap, so to speak, to Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz, but there should be Ruiz wear at some point soon.

There were magnets, pennants, flags, hats, sweatshirts, uniform jerseys, you name it, they were flying off the shelves. People can lose a sense of rationality when they go into a smorgasbord, and the Phillies were happy to enable the provision of a cornucopia of championship togs and trinkets.

So, if you're looking for that special shirt, go to Modell's. They do a great job of providing what you need -- and more.

Chase Utley and Boog Powell

The former is the slick-haired, hard-working second baseman for the Phillies. The latter was and is a friendly man -- he played first base for the Orioles during their glory days in the 1960's and early 1970's and runs "Boog's Barbecue" at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

So what do they have in common?

Last night Utley tied Powell for the record for getting on base in the most post-season games. They now share the record at 25 games, and Utley can set it in Game 1 of the World Series.

Who Will Met Fans Root for in a Phillies-Yankees World Series?

My early returns say the Phillies.

I know that may seem hard to believe, but many Met fans feel that they get treated like second-class citizens in New York, that they're reduced to "cupboard under the stairs" status when compared to the caviar and single malt types who support the Yankees. They have a chip on their shoulder about it, and they keep grudges.

True, they do not like the Phillies. They probably unite with Yankee fans in their disrespect if not dislike for Philadelphia, which many in the Big Apple to be consider a violent, backwoods town whose sports citizenry cannot resist yielding to primal urges. Truth be told, they dislike the Philadelphia sports scene because what they see 90 miles to the south strongly resembles what they enjoy in their neck of the woods, with one exception -- their teams overall have been much more successful in the past 25 years than teams in Philadelphia.

Yet, they dislike the Yankees more (a few of my Met fans friends even have acknowledged that they admire the way the Phillies play, even if they finish the comment with "I still don't like Philadelphia teams."). Perhaps much more. It's as though the rivalry between the Met and Yankee fans resembles an old, long-lasting Pashtun vendetta that has lasted for centuries because of something one's ancestor allegedly did to another's in the Stone Age. And the think of it is, there's no one reason, there are many, and they all hit raw nerves.

I ask that Met fans weigh in on this musing, as talking to three people who happen to be Met fans is by no means a way to achieve a statistical sampling. So, who would you root for -- or would you sit it out and go follow the Giants or the Jets?

The Phillies Have Done It Again!

Last year, the pre-post-season talk was all about Manny Ramirez's amazing dash through National League pitching (hitting almost .400), C.C. Sabathia's carrying the Brewers on his back, and the 100-year drought of the Cubs, who had the best record in the National League. Somehow, the Phillies were just another team, there, but with no special mojo according to the cognoscenti. In the post-season, much of the talk focused on the Tampa Bay Rays, with their great farm system and their exciting young lineup. Funny how the team that got the least attention going into the post-season ending up getting the most.

Because they did their talking on the field and didn't have to reply upon know-it-alls in the booth, on the internet or in the print media play the games for them.

This post-season took a similar path, although to be honest the Phillies deserved less attention going into the post-season this year. The reason -- they didn't hit well with men on base, their bullpen was beset with injuries, and their closer had a record more worthy of an about-to-be-released rookie-league baller than that of the team's most valuable player from the previous season. In comparison, the Cardinals had the one-two punch in their lineup of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and two of the best three starters in the National League in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. The Dodgers boasted a strong lineup and one of the best bullpens in baseball, along with the best record (by a hair) in the National League. And the Colorado Rockies played at a clip of 35 games over .500 after mid-June.

And that was just in the National League. In the American League, the Yankees were bashing everyone, the Angels once again were a perennial stalwart, the Red Sox boast great pitching and the Twins were the comeback story, winning their division after being down 3 with 4 to play (the only comeback of that type ever to happen in Major League Baseball history).

But that's the beauty of the post-season -- those who go in as favorites can and frequently do emerge as also-rans. You'll read about the Phillies' triumph last night elsewhere. All I'll say on the subject is that those who are quick to anoint the New York Yankees as World Champions must understand that the Yankees locomotive must run through tough tracks in the Cradle of Liberty.

And recent history says that the Phillies don't believe a word of what people say or write about them.

Yes, Derek Jeter is an icon and future Hall of Famer, Alex Rodriguez is a great hitter, Jorge Posada has had a great career, Mark Teixeira is an awesome first baseman, C.C. Sabathia is a dominant pitcher and Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time. I and all Phillies fans get all that. The Yankees are a great team, worthy of great respect. They have had a great season and deserve to be on the cusp of returning to the World Series for the first time in 8 years.

But the Phillies have a most formidable lineup. The names Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez scare everyone, and, if they don't, they should. Pedro Feliz led the team in the category of batting average with runners in scoring position, and Carlos Ruiz is one of the most dangerous .250 hitters in all of baseball. Their defense is outstanding, and in Cliff Lee they, too, have an ace. True, their bullpen has been beaten up and a question mark, and, yes, doubts remain about Brad Lidge despite his good post-season to date and his looking more relaxed now than any time all year. Cole Hamels has had a disappointing year, and Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ haven't pitched great in the post-season. In contrast, Pedro Martinez wowed everyone with his effort against the Dodgers.

On paper, the Yankees might just rate a slight edge -- at least according to the pundits that cover baseball 365 days a year. But at this time of the year "on paper" doesn't mean very much. The Phillies have taken the past two plus weeks to show that 100% of baseball life is all about showing up -- under the bright lights, on the big stage -- and playing the game to the very end. The team has a lot of pluck, a lot of patience, and a lot of fight in it. It will take a great team to beat them.

Sure, I'm a partisan, and, yes, I'm picking the Phillies. But my reasoning is quite simple: they're the defending champions, and, by definition, because they've returned, they are the team to beat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Humble Pie: The Eagles were the Jokers this Weekend

I've bashed on the Raiders long enough -- about JaMarcus Russell, about Al Davis, about, well, almost anything. And I honestly thought that the Raiders would fall to the Eagles by three touchdowns.

Boy, was I wrong.

First, the Raiders came to play. Their defense dazzled the Eagles' overmatched offensive line all day, with Donovan McNabb getting hit more than your average pinata on Cinco de Mayo. To be fair, the Eagles' offensive line is 4/5 depleted from what was to be their opening-day roster. Still, every team in the NFL has injury problems, and the Eagles looked inept across the offensive line.

Second, the Eagles' defense didn't do all that badly, but the experiment with Jeremiah Trotter has to end soon. Coach Andy Reid cannot be the sentimental type, for if he were he wouldn't have jettisoned FS Brian Dawkins (who is on the 6-0 Denver Broncos) and many other veterans from recent years past. If that's the case, he's letting his heart lead his head, and Trotter simply cannot cover the pass. Holding the Raiders to 13 points should have been good enough -- the biggest struggles were on offense.

The irony is that for years the Eagles worked hard to solidify their offensive line, had McNabb and Brian Westbrook, but were deficient at wide receiver. This season, they abound in very good to potentially great wide receivers, their tight end is good, but Westbrook is aging, McNabb is recovering from an injury and the offensive line hasn't been together that long and looks unsynchronized. Going into the season, some pundits had them going to the Super Bowl. With this offensive line, it's hard to see them making the playoffs.

The Giants didn't help the Eagles, either. True, any NFL team would want to come back smoking after getting blown out the week before and the Giants smoked the Raiders in New Jersey the week before. But the Giants also said it was like a scrimmage, thereby offending Oakland's pride and dignity. To the Raiders' credit, they played smart, and they beat a heavily favored team.

It's still somewhat amazing that despite all the Phillies' success the sports talk shows were flush with people ventilating about the Eagles. I was at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday night, very happy that the Phillies were shellacking the Dodgers. After all, the fan base was somewhat glum and hostile because of the Raiders game, and they needed something to channel their energy positively. The Phillies were an antidote to the frustration, scoring more runs (11) than the Birds did points (9). Who would have predicted for that to happen?

So the Eagles are now home in Philadelphia licking their wounds and preparing for the Redskins, who, during the first weeks of the season, have played a winless team in each and every week. Perhaps they'll rise to the occasion against the Eagles, perhaps they'll lose by four touchdowns, or, more than likely, they'll fall in a war of attrition, something like 10-6.

Suddenly, the NFL East doesn't look to be all that formidable, at least for right now.

Is Chase Utley Playing Hurt?

Former Phillies' closer and MLB Network broadcaster Mitch Williams thinks so.

Utley played hurt for most of last year, had surgery on a torn labrum in his hip right after the season, rehabbed in record time, and then battled a foot injury late in the season after fouling a ball off it. Utley's insistence on suffering in silence frustrated skipper Charlie Manuel, who at the time had said he wished Utley had fessed up so that he could have given the second baseman some rest. Utley, for the uninitiated, prepares more intensely on a daily basis than probably any player in the game. When you consider the nicks that baseball players suffer, that Utley gets hit by pitches an average of about 24 times a year, that he prepares hard, that he was coming off major surgery and that he plays almost every game, no wonder the second baseman might have some health and fatigue issues.

Late in the season Manuel addressed the issue by expressing his hope that the front office would sign a utility infielder who can play a bunch of games as a regular without the team's giving up a whole lot offensively or defensively, so that he can give Utley and Jimmy Rollins some more time off. One name that surfaced was that of University of Pennsylvania product Mark DeRosa, who has played well in many stops, most recently for the St. Louis Cardinals. Getting DeRosa would enable Utley to rest about 15 games a year at second, provide outfield depth and give DeRosa a chance to contribute at third base. Third baseman Pedro Feliz is going to be 35 and a free agent, and while he's generally excellent defensively and had the best average with runners in scoring position for the team this year, he has an awful on-base percentage (and always has). Adding DeRosa would help fortify the bench at a minimum (although it wouldn't answer the question about finding an above-average shortstop to spell Rollins for about 15 games a year).

Utley is a gamer and an All-Star, beloved in Philadelphia. Objectively, he hasn't been the same player since the beginning of 2008, when he got off to a torrid start, hitting about .340 early on and cementing himself in the early lead for the MVP award. Getting him fully healthy and an able backup will help him and the Phillies maximize his contributions, making him more like Ryne Sandberg (a Hall of Famer) than Pete Reiser (a would-be Hall of Famer with the Dodgers who kept on suffering injuries). That, perhaps, is not a perfect analogy, but Utley is too valuable to the team to not have some more meaningful support from the bench.

Ron Darling Didn't Do His Homework

And you'd think he would, since he went to Yale.

He praised the Phillies' bench last night as being excellent. Phillies' fans know that the bench has been a weakness all year.

He praised Matt Stairs as being a good power hitter off the bench and Greg Dobbs as being a good average hitter. Actually, both had bad years.

Was it me, or was the TBS team just not very good. They didn't seem to know the Phillies all that well, and there was miscue after miscue. Buck Martinez gets a passing grade, but Darling seemed unprepared and Chip Caray didn't seem quite ready for the prime time.

While historically I haven't been the biggest fan of the Fox pairing of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, I thought they did a good job in last year's World Series, and those guys do their homework.

Ryan Howard and Lou Gehrig

The Phillies' first baseman tied the Yankee Hall of Famer's record for knocking in runs in nine straight post-season games.

Howard is inked through 2011. If he keeps hitting at this pace, there will be quite the bidding war for his services. Given their lack of a big-name hitter (which they'll need to rectify before 2011), you can imagine that the Red Sox will be among the bidders for what could be an astronomical contract. Great temperament, heats up when the going is the toughest, improved vastly at first base.

When the clock strikes September, this guy finds an extra gear.

Winston Churchill and the Philadelphia Phillies

"We shall fight them in the streets. . . we shall fight them in the hills. . . we shall never surrender."

They don't call them the "Fightin' Phillies" for nothing.

Two outs, bottom of the ninth, and Jimmy Rollins was up, patient, cool, collected.

Only the third game-ending hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in NL post-season history. The others: Kirk Gibson and Cookie Lavagetto.

Great drama in South Philadelphia last night.

The Phillies Should Start Selling Carlos Ruiz Jerseys and T-Shirts

The Phillies' catcher is a great field general, steadier of pitchers, good game-caller and clutch hitter. His on-base percentage is good, and he's a core part of the Phillies' success.

But right now at Citizens Bank Park, while you can purchase jerseys or t-shirts with the names and numbers of the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez, as well as Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge and Cliff Lee (and, I think, Jamie Moyer), you can't get anything with Ruiz's name on it.

The Phillies should change this -- soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Headline: Washington Redskins Sue Season Ticket Holders

Shouldn't it be the other way around? Read this article from the Washington Post for more details.

The team is playing so badly that they just stripped the head coach of the responsibility of calling plays. Fair enough, but the guy they replaced him with only two weeks ago was calling bingo games and delivering meals to senior citizens. True, he has NFL bona fides, but how desperate are the Redskins?

As for the lawsuits, well, people did make long-term commitments, and, to a large degree, a deal's a deal. But, then again, there's the old Chinese proverb that says that you don't always win by being right all the time. In the case of the bankrupt 72 year-old real estate agent, perhaps the Redskins could have picked their spots a bit better as to how to make up their revenue shortfall, especially since they play in the largest (and perhaps hardest to get to) stadium in the NFL.

While the Giants, despite their loss to the Saints yesterday, are formidable, the Eagles are struggling (owing, in some part, to injuries on the offensive line and to their starting middle linebacker), and the Cowboys don't seem poised to make a deep run in the playoffs with a) Tony Romo as their starting quarterback and b) a lack of weapons on offense. So, you would have thought that with his big bucks owner Daniel Snyder could help get the Redskins into a position to contend in the NFC East. Instead, they're having all sorts of problems all over the place.

How do things get this bad? Especially, seemingly, with all the money in the world.

All sports owners should remember that fans do vote with their feet, either because of a bad team, a bad economy, or both.

Even in the NFL.

Phillies 11 Dodgers 0 (Notes from Citizens Bank Park)

I sat upstairs in rightfield (on the foul territory side of the foul pole last night) for the Phillies-Dodgers game. To paraphrase Keith Jackson, "It was a wonderful autumn evening for football, I mean, baseball." As I said to a ticket taker as my son and I walked into the stadium, "This is the baseball life we chose, living in the Mid-Atlantic region."

Most of the day we thought about what we would wear, and we had sufficient layers on. My son wore his cold weather Under Armour under his Ryan Howard jersey, and atop that combo he wore a Phillies' sweatshirt. Atop that he wore his winter jacket, had a wool cap underneath his Phillies' hat and wore gloves. He also wore a red-and-white scarf, and by the middle of the game, when the temperatures dropped a few degrees, he had a Phillies' fleece blanket over him (we also put the outdoorsman's toe warmers in his sneakers). Needless to say, this was the coldest outdoor event he's attended. Dad dressed similar, but without the wool hat beneath the Phillies' cap and without the fleece blanket. I wore L.L. Bean hunting shoes with wool socks (9 year olds don't usually have wool socks available for purchase, so perhaps my feet were a little wawrmer). Oh, and one more thing, we sat on old Barron's newspapers, which are thick enough to provide some decent insulation against the cold from the plastic seat. In addition to the scarves, fleece blanket, warmers, woold hats and newspapers, our backpack also held two portable umbrellas and some rain gear (thankfully, we didn't need to deploy that stuff).

Preparation, of course, is much of the effort, and last night the Phillies came into the game very well prepared, so much so that they came out of the starting gate smoking. Starting pitcher Cliff Lee showed why he's a #1 starter, mowing down Dodger after Dodger, going eight strong innings, striking out ten, walking none, and dazzling the Dodgers. On the other hand, the Dodgers' pitching wasn't strong, and after a triple from Ryan Howard and a two-run home run from Jayson Werth, the Phillies led 4-0. They added two in the second, and unless Cliff Lee was going to combust, the ball game seemed all but over after two innings. As a Philadelphia sports fan, rare is the occasion when you can go on autopilot so early in a game, but somehow last night was as much the Phillies' night as yesterday afternoon was not the Eagles'. (As an aside, it would have been hard to predict that the Phillies would have scored more runs last night against a formidable Dodger team than the Eagles scored against an undistinguished Oakland team, but that's precisely what happened).

It was a very fun night, high-fiving people you don't know, eating peanuts (as always), cheering loudly and booing on occasion, happy to see Jamie Moyer get a rousing ovation when introduced, waving the white towels and getting caught up in the moment.

But that's just one game, even if, as with every game in a post-season, an important one. Tonight the Phillies have a great opportunity to close the vise on the Dodgers even tighter, with Joe Blanton on the mound against former Phil (and lefty) Randy Wolf. Win tonight, and the Dodgers will be fighting for their post-season lives on Wednesday. Win tonight, and winning on Wednesday means that clinching the NLCS in L.A. is not a possibility -- you'll get to win it at home. Joe the Pitcher has a great World Series effort to draw on, and he's been the consummate team player in the post-season despite being relegated to the bullpen even after having been -- perhaps outside J.A. Happ -- the Phillies' most consistent starting pitcher for much of the 2009 season.

Wolf is a cagey lefty, formidable, pitching against a team that is not as good against lefties (particularly Ryan Howard) as it is against righties. Yet, Wolf is a bit like Jamie Moyer, as he must paint the lines well in order to have a chance against a good-hitting lineup. If Wolf fails to do that, falls behind and locates as well as Kuroda did on Sunday night, he, too, will have an early exit. Something tells me, though, that he'll have a good effort in store for his former team, and that his teammates will be especially charged up after their poor outing.

But something also tells me that the Phillies will be ready. And that's why they play the games -- anything can -- and in baseball, usually does -- happen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Mess Up in Binghamton

Read here for a headline. And read here for more details. And if you want more detail, click on some of the linked articles that appear next to the articles that I highlighted.

It's all hard to figure, to a degree. After all, a few years back Binghamton hired Kevin Broadus, formerly an assistant to John Thompson III at Georgetown, to become its head basketball coach. Now you've all read probably more than you wished about the Princeton coaching family, from Pete Carril to Gary Walters, the late Bob Dukiet, Armond Hill, Bill Carmody, Joe Scott, Chris Mooney and, of course, Thompson, about Carril's insistence on integrity and excellence, honesty with one's self and doing things the right way. And this is a pretty outstanding group of guys, not perfect, but very good. So, it stood to reason for Binghamton that Broadus, as a distant relative of that family tree, would bring the same principles to bear in Binghamton.

Except things didn't turn out that way. Last year, there was controversy in Binghamton's league, when rival coaches refused to vote for guard D.J. Rivera as player of the year because they didn't like Binghamton's recruiting practices. And then, as the second linked article points out, Binghamton recently dismissed a bunch of basketball players from the team. So, as the investigation will determine, either a bunch of kids with questionable histories somehow passed through the filters of the admissions office, Broadus had some dumb luck, there was awful communication between Broadus and the admissions office, Broadus deliberately pushed the admissions envelope to win, or a combination of the above.

The whole thing is a mess, and one that you traditionally wouldn't expect to see at a school like Binghamton or from a coach like Broadus, given who his most recent mentor was (Thompson III). It's a story that's hard to believe, and now former John Chaney favorite Mark Macon is the acting head coach in an most unenviable situation.

The Temple Owls are 4-2 and Have Their First 4-Game Winning Streak Since the Beginning of Ronald Reagan's Second Term

Read all about it here.

You have to believe that if the Owls have a winning season and even go to a bowl game that head coach Al Golden will get more feelers than he did last year, when he was a serious candidate for the UCLA job. He's working wonders on North Broad Street, and those wonders will get him noticed.

From a personal standpoint, it's great to see the revival of Temple football. My father played there generations ago, and I spent a good part of weekend Saturdays going to games at the old Temple Stadium, Vet Stadium and even Franklin Field. It's been hard for the Owls to find a following. Philadelphia is an Eagles' town, and since Penn joined the Ivies in the mid-1950's Philadelphia hasn't had big-time college football (which it did with Penn before that). Because of its size, the quality of its program and its huge alumni base, Penn State overshadows Temple, Villanova and Penn combined in Philadelphia. With all that, Al Golden has excelled, and Temple football is much healthier than it's been for a long time.

What Will MLB Subject Phillies' Fans To Tonight?

Last year, there was a two-hour rain delay for Game 3 of the World Series followed by the debacle that was the two-part Game 5. Today, the forecast for Philadelphia is a high of 41, a low of 36, and intermittent rain. The last thing that anyone wants to do is to sit in a rainstorm for 3+ hours watching baseball. So. . .

I am headed out to local sporting goods stores today to look for the following: rain pants, warmers (the packets that heat up when exposed to air) and panchos to put over our warm weather gear. It's not quite cold enough to wear thermal gear, but with winds gusting from 10-20 miles per hour, it's darn close. Sounds like I'm preparing more to sit for hours in a deer blind than I am to watch baseball.

The sad reality is that Fox drives this as much as Major League Baseball, which means that there is some likelihood that we'll get dragged down to South Philadelphia only to a) have the game postponed, which means we'll already have paid for parking and perhaps some concessions or b) we'll get there, they'll play 4 1/2 innings, and then they'll postpone the game, meaning that we'll have to readjust our schedules for Monday to go back down to Citizens Bank Park to watch Part II (and deal with traffic for the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Spectrum as well).

So, c'mon Phillies, Major League Baseball and Fox -- do something sensible before people have to leave the warmth of their own homes to venture out into the could soup that is a Nor'Easter.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Phillies-Dodgers Last Night

Observations:

1. The broadcast crew pulled out every cliche and wasn't always accurate (or, they were about as good on the facts as umpire Randy Marsh was with the strike zone last night). For example, in the first inning, Ron Darling said that Ryan Howard gets overshadowed by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, his "flashier" teammates. Anyone who has watched the Phillies know that Chase Utley isn't flashy in the least; he lets his play do the talking. If Jimmy Rollins is flashy, it's because he's the vocal team leader and talks more than Utley and Howard. And, by the way, Howard's numbers and size combine to prevent him from being overshadowed.

2. I question whether Charlie Manuel teed up the right rotation. Look, Cole Hamels had a great year in 2008, but he pitched more innings that year by far than he had previously. He had some injury problems earlier this season, and hasn't been the same pitcher he was last year. He also has had a habit of throwing about 5 good innnings before the other team figures him out and puts up some good numbers. Either Charlie left him in too long last night or he shouldn't have had him as the #1 starter for the series. I realize that because of when the NLDS ended Cliff Lee couldn't have gone first, but I would have considered going with the following in order of preference: Lee, J.A. Happ (forgiving his iffy outing in the Colorado cold), Joe Blanton (the forgotten man) and Cole Hamels. Sure, Hamels had an outstanding post-season in 2008, but he's just not the same guy this year.

3. Carlos Ruiz is an unsung hero for the Phillies. I know that Baseball Prospectus has questioned his bat, but he hit over .250 in 322 at bats with 9 homers and over 40 RBI's. He's a tough out, he has the confidence of the pitchers (and more than any other catcher I've seen, he takes charge out there), and he's a power threat. And last night, the #8 hitter came up big in the clutch. That's how teams win series.

4. There's an eerie and good parallel to 2008 for the Phillies. Last season, the pundits all talked about how dominant the Cubs were, how good the Dodgers were with Manny Ramirez and how well C.C. Sabathia had pitched for the Brewers. The Phillies weren't the story. In this post-season the story has been the dominant hitting of the Yankees, the 1-2 combination of Wainwright and Carpenter for the Cardinals, how the Dodgers are a year older, have lots of come-from-behind wins and have a great bullpen, and how hot the Rockies were coming into the season. The big Phillies story? How beat up their bullpen has been and how bad a year Brad Lidge had. Could it be that despite being defending World Champions they'll fly under the radar screen and get to the World Series again? After all, the oddsmakers give the Phillies the worst chance to win the Series of the remaining teams (at least they did going into last night's game).

5. Did Joe Torre leave Clayton Kershaw in too long last night? Perhaps, but managers tend to leave their starters in for longer periods when they're struggling than they do relievers. Look, had the Phillies lost, I would have expected the Philadelphia media to have questioned why Manuel didn't relieve Hamels earlier than he did. It does seem at times that managers let their starters remain in the game for a couple of batters more than they should.

6. How clutch was Manny Ramirez's home run? The guy will hit .270 when he's 80. He looks smaller and not as robust as in past years, but he can still swing the bat. He's not my favorite player (especially because of the way he quit on the Red Sox last year), but he can flat out hit.

7. Is Brad Lidge back? I'm not as giddy as Lidge or some of the Phillies' faithful. It's not as though he's looking like Mariano Rivera out there.

At any rate, this should be one tough series. The Dodgers are a gritty team and a formidable opponent. The question is whether they have enough starting pitching to win four games. As for the Phillies, the question is whether they'll have enough pitching, period, to do the same.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Live Blogging: Good Show on ESPN on the Baltimore Colts' Band

Having family in Baltimore, I understand the reverence for the Colts. This show is worth watching.

Does Anyone Take Keith Olbermann Seriously?

Why is he so angry at just about everything?

The nastiness he displays on MSNBC can't help his trademark on the pretentiously named "Football Night in America."

Also, note to NBC: it's one thing if you want to permit Olbermann to display his opinions -- unvarnished and frequently impolite -- on MSNBC. But do you think it's a good idea to let such an idealogue be your front man on "Football Night in America"?

Dick Enberg or Ray Scott he is not.

Most of us look to the sporting world for relief from the troubles of our daily lives, and not for a constant reminder.

Jettison Olbermann.

Give us someone in the mold of Jim McKay, Jack Whitaker and the like.

Didn't His Family Shaft Baltimore in the Middle of the Night?

Colts' owner Jim Irsay said that he will vote against any sale of the Rams that includes Rush Limbaugh as an owner.

He did say something about Limbaugh's divisive commentary.

So what do you call taking a beloved team out of an amazing football town in the middle of the night? Unifying? Uplifting? Righteous? Innovative? Thoughtful?

Hardly. That act of the Irsays was one of the most ignominious in the history of professional football, compounded by the fact that the league wasn't bright enough to keep the Colts' name and records in Baltimore.

So now, Jimmy Irsay (the son of the man who wreaked that horror on Baltimore) is now an arbiter of what's good and just after he's benefited from his father's benificence toward Baltimore. What's next, Al Davis will try to take some moral high ground and opposed Limbaugh's ownership too?

Since when have the term "character" and the term "sports team owner" been a perfect match?

I'm closing ranks here with my adopted Baltimoreans, as I have relatives who live there.

I'm not sure how I feel about Limbaugh's owning part of an NFL team (or all of one), but the opposition had better rally the most righteous of owners to lead their group. Also, as an aside, the NFL Players Association had better be careful here. It's interesting that despite failing to seriously address the issues of post-career dementia, concussions and benefits for needy former players (whose numbers grow by the day, apparently, at least according to an article in Sports Illustrated that appeared within the past six months that indicated that 75% of NFL players are broke, divorced or jobless within 5 years after leaving the game). Instead, though, they find time to express their opinion on who should be an owner.

Okay, fair enough, they're entitled, they represent the players, and the First Amendment guarantees their right to speak their minds. I get that. And Jim Irsay is saying what he thinks is right.

But would Rush Limbaugh be the NFL's biggest problem?

Not by a longshot.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eagles-Bucs at Lincoln Financial Field

Today marked my first time ever visiting Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Eagles play. Here are some observations:

1. NFL Fans Have Created a Tribal Culture All to Themselves. I asked a bunch of people how early I'd have to leave the house to get decent parking near the Linc, and each said to drive into Center City (that's downtown Philadelphia for the uninitiated), park there, and take the Broad Street Subway to the stadium complex. That was wise, because the parking lots are full of tailgaters. From what I gather, some get there by 9 a.m., even when game time is 4 p.m. They set up, eat breakfast and then lunch, then head to the game and repair to their setups for a post-game libation. All of this on asphalt, with the whirr of traffic on I-95 in the close background (thankfully, the odors of the sewage treatment plant, while in Southwest Philadelphia and close to the airport, don't travel far enough to affect the football faithful).

2. Jerseys. All sorts, among them: many McNabbs and Westbrooks, and I spotted a Sav Rocca, which made me wonder why anyone would buy a jersey of the punter. There were white jerseys, green jerseys, black jerseys, vintage jerseys (replicas, of light blue and yellow, of what the team wore 75 years ago). I saw several Randall Cunninghams and a Kevin Kolb, and that also made me wonder why someone would buy the jersey of the back-up quarterback. Takeo Spikes was in the house, as were Steve Van Buren, Michael Lewis, Jeremiah Trotter (more on him later), L.J. Smith, many DeSean Jacksons, a few David Akers (as if the kicker is the most important guy on the team) and so forth. Name a former player, and the odds were that someone was wearing a replica jersey with his name on it.

3. You Get Ripped Off on Parking in Center City Philadelphia. Sure, it's great to park in Center City and take the subway to the game, because you avoid huge traffic jams getting out of the stadium area after the game. The agony of the experience is paying $20 plus for parking in Center City. My wife and I haven't gone into the city for years for dinner, and we like good food and are willing to pay for a great experience. Our protest is that you can get gauged on parking. Sorry, fans and apologists for the city, but all city parents need to figure out a better way to get suburbanites to want to come back into the city instead of getting clipped for parking.

4. The People Who Work at The Linc are Very Nice. They are warm and welcoming and give you a warm goodbye when you leave. A greeter insisted that I take my son to guest services to get a certificate that he attended his first Eagles game. He was so nice about it that we could hardly refuse his good cheer.

5. It's a Great Stadium to Watch a Game In. We sat at about the 30 yard-line on the home side of the field, not far from Mayor Michael Nutter's box. The sight lines are great, and if you yell hello to the mayor, he'll wave back to you.

6. It's Pretty Impressive When 60,000 Fans Sing "Fly Eagle, Fly." They do this after each Eagle touchdown, and the song concludes with the chant "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!" So loud is the demonstration that even the most jingoistic English soccer fan would be impressed.

7. Michael Vick Looks to be a Distraction. He doesn't appear to have any meaningful role in the offense.

8. The Fans are Friendly. Okay, so they weren't that nice to the guy in the Tampa Bay jersey with Ruud's name on the back, but he invited the banter because he bragged about the Bucs' Super Bowl victory and asked how many the Eagles had. At which point the fans around him and I asked him where his cow bell is. No fisticuffs from anyone, no profanity, no, well, anything. And he disappeared after halftime, presumably to wonder about that Super Bowl team, because this year's model isn't very good.

9. Josh Johnson Will be a Good NFL Quarterback. Mel Kiper and others loved him a couple of years ago coming out of San Diego State, and you can see why. He can run out of trouble, he can hit the short passes and thread deeper ones, he has a good arm and he stayed composed despite all sorts of blitz packages being thrown at him. Yes, he threw 3 picks and his QB rating for the day was about 58.3, but he did a lot of good things out there today. If you don't believe me, find a podcast of Andy Reid's post-game comments and listen to what he said.

10. Jeremy Maclin Had His Coming-Out Party Today. Bucs CB Aqib Talib might have kept DeSean Jackson quiet, but Tampa Bay had no answer for the Eagles' first-round pick. Maclin got open all day and scored 2 touchdowns.

11. I am Not Sure That the Eagles are a Playoff Team. Look, they backed into the playoffs last season after 3 dreams came true on the final day of the season, one of which was an upset win by Oakland. They had 11 penalties today for about 110 yards, and if you do that against the Giants you'll probably lose by 3 touchdowns. The defense looked bad against the pass. Tampa Bay ran many screen plays and did so effectively, and the better teams will run those plays even more. In fairness, not all QBs can move like Johnson, but the young QB impressed the fans in the stands by his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. Also, the offensive line hasn't run-blocked well yet.

12. Donovan McNabb Looked Healthy Today. He ran out of trouble, threw the ball pretty well and had a good game.

All in all, a great experience, the parking cost notwithstanding. I was outside in great fall weather with my son, watching the hometown football team win by 19. And, yes, we did eat the Crab Fries from Chickie's and Pete's. That's becoming something of a tribal ritual too.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Not Every Ivy Leaguer Makes It

Read this and see what I mean.

CWCIC: Princeton Basketball News Blog.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Read and Subscribe to the Princeton Basketball News Blog

Great blog, especially if you want all the news on Princeton's team, Princeton's recruiting, Princeton's basketball alumni and Princeton basketball's diaspora (read: Georgetown, Oregon State, Richmond, Denver, Northwestern, Mercer County Community College).

Jon Solomon does an excellent job, and if you're a Princeton fan, you'd be well-served to subscribe.

Jeff Garcia Further Compels the View that Oakland is Jokeland

Read here and see what I mean.

Garcia was critical of the atmosphere in Oakland, but he didn't throw starting QB JaMarcus Russell, he of the 39 or so QB rating, under the bus.

That was left for Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who offered in a short blurb that he thinks tha Russell could be the next Ryan Leaf.

Which, of course, points out a major flaw in the scouting systems of NFL teams -- how could so many people be so wrong -- including Mel Kiper, Jr. -- in their rating of players. All had Russell very highly rated. And all blundered.

There has to be a very smart team of people out there who can create tests for those eligible for the draft and get a sense from their answers as to whether they'll perform well in the NFL or not. Just because someone can throw the ball 85 yards on his pro day doesn't mean that he can throw an eight-yard slant accurately when behind by four points with 1:17 to go, the ball on his own 35 yard-line and the other team's very fast defensive end flying in his face.

Oakland would have been better off with Jeff Garcia as its starting QB.

Blue Jays' GM Fired; Failure to Trade Roy Halladay Had to be a Reason

J.P. Ricciardi is out as the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He had worked in Toronto for 8 years, but was unable to get the Jays to prevail over the Yankees or the Red Sox. As the linked article points out, most of Ricciardi's major moves did not work, including his heavy-handed attempts to trade ace Roy Halladay before the trading deadline this past July. Halladay blundered mightily, figuring that there would be plenty of buyers and, as a result, he could get the Philadelphia Phillies into a "we gotta have 'em or bust" mentality that would have compelled Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro to trade the elite set of players that Ricciardi demanded in his first counter to the Phillies and wouldn't budge from.

Most negotiators know that you don't start with where you want to settle. As a result, Ricciardi became stubbornly entrenched, and two (bad) things happened. First, the other potential suitors for Halladay never materialized (and it seemed that the Phillies sensed this) and, second, the Phillies actually found their own competitive bidder for their prospects -- Cleveland -- which had an ace to peddle in Cliff Lee. So, in essence, Amaro turned the tables on Ricciardi, who never figured that out, and, as a result, failed to lower his offer in an effort to trade his ace to the one team that had plenty of good prospects to package -- Philadelphia. In the end, Amaro came away with an ace for a much better price than Ricciardi demanded for Halladay. Sure, you can argue that Halladay would have commanded a higher price than Lee, but there were no other bidders out there offering sufficient packages for aces (with the possible exception of Boston, which apparently considered a late bid for Halladay).

The result for Toronto: another bad season and they're left with an ace who has less value now than he did at mid-season. After all, the team that acquired Halladay in July would have had him for two pennant races. Now, the team that acquires him in the off-season only will have him available for one, and he'll be a free agent after this season.

That failure, and the admission that the signing of Alex Rios to a long-term deal was such a bust that the Jays gave him to the White Sox, had to have sealed Ricciardi's fate.

Of course, the Jays have a tougher question to answer -- how the heck will they ever return to prominence, given the muscle of the Yankees and the Red Sox, the talent pool of Tampa Bay and the core of good young players that Baltimore has. Even the best GM in the league will have trouble climbing that mountain.