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, December 30, 2009

Jayson Stark: Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer

I agree, totally.

Great player, an "uber" shortstop before the era of Garciaparra, A-Rod and Jeter. Great numbers, much better than his peers, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my book.

He didn't get the hype, and neither did other shortstops. He didn't toot his own horn, take steroids or hang out with stars or starlets. He also didn't play in New York or Boston, and the Reds for much of his career weren't exactly an elite team. But he played hard and well every day, and his numbers don't lie.

I hope that those who can vote for the Hall of Fame will agree with Stark.

Temple Owls Stand Tall, Fade at the Finish

The Temple Owls' football team figured it would have a big advantage yesterday in the EagleBank Bowl against UCLA. No, it wasn't the presence of Temple alum Bill Cosby, but the cold mid-Atlantic weather that saw a 4:30 game played in frigid weather.

That advantage worked for a half. The Owls came out of the gate hot, led by 21-10 at the half and were playing well enough on both sides of the ball to win the game.

They just couldn't finish what they started. Their wunderkind running back Bernard Pierce got hurt and missed the second half, and their starting QB, Vaughn Charlton, made too many of the type of mistake that caused head coach Al Golden to sit him down for the last four regular season games. Atop that, the Owls' defense looked a bit light (as in light enough to get pushed out of the way frequently enough to lose), and in the last 6 minutes the chariot that people thought Temple football was this season (and I still do) turned into a pumpkin. 31-20, UCLA.

I watched the entire game and enjoyed almost all of it. As readers of this blog know, my father played a little for the Owls a long time ago, and I spent much of my youth watching the Owls play on Saturdays, watching quarterbacks like John Waller, Tommy DeFelice, Marty Ginestra and Steve Joachim, to name a few. Yes, I saw Wayne Coleman play linebacker, Chris Fletcher play defensive back, Jim Cooper play offensive line, Randy Grossman play tight end and Joe Klecko play defensive line. Among many others. More importantly, I went with my dad, who was a very busy guy, and it was something that we did together.

My father's been dead for over two decades. While I haven't followed Temple football as closely as I did when he was alive, I always check the box scores and read the write-ups, hoping against all hope that the Owls could have a winning season (and, perhaps at some point, find their Holy Grail by beating Penn State, an event which would rival the parting of the Red Sea). This year, they had their winning season and made their first bowl appearance in 3 decades (they beat Cal in the Garden State Bowl in 1979 -- and we were there -- on a day about as cold as yesterday's match-up against UCLA). Sure, they still have to beat Penn State, but I am patient enough to take one piece of good news at a time.

Nothing can bring my father back, but yesterday's appearance by the Owls in a bowl game brought back vivid memories of good times that I shared with him. It was too bad that the Owls couldn't win the game, but getting there for a team with as bad a recent history as that of the Owls was quite the accomplishment. Al Golden is building a tough program in Philadelphia, and next year I look forward to more success on the gridiron.

And to recall more fond memories.

The Mets Roar Back

Come Opening Day, four of the top five slots in their lineup will be populated with Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and now Jason Bay. How many teams in the majors have four guys whose offense is better than that of this quartet?

Not many. Even in baseball's version of the Grand Canyon, Citi Field, the Mets' offense will scare a lot of teams. This looks to be a good move by the Mets, even though in recent years on the pitching side they've made questionable signings (giving too many years to Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner and well as signing Oliver Perez to what looks to be a disastrous three-year deal last year, and, they have to be worried, at least privately, about the durability of Johan Santana).

Few expected the Mets to stay put. They need to keep pace with the Phillies and the Braves, and they have to knock the Yankees out of the headlines every now and then. With the Bay signing, they did just that.

Before last season, Baseball Prospectus and others posited that the Mets were in a good position to win the World Series. I'm not sure whether their pitching will be strong enough to make that deep a run, but make no mistake about it, the race to win the NL East just got a lot more interesting.

Ruben Amaro -- it's your move.

Study Confirms the Obvious: Recruited Athletes Are Much More Likely to Get Into College than the Average Applicant

Someone actually studied this to confirm what most of us have known for and discussed for years.

What would be more interesting would be to get data on the money that schools spend on recruiting -- whether donated by boosters or put up by the universities themselves -- and, also, the monies spent on those student-athletes while they're on campus and how those students fare academically on campus (including whether they specialize in "joke" majors). All of this data would demonstrate which schools really care about their student-athletes and which ones don't.

Some policy wonks out there would argue that this money is especially wasted given a) that America's high school students match up poorly against the rest of the developed world's and b) that given the limit on H1-B visas, the best talent from China and India is not going to come to America any more and help us continue to lead the way in the world's economic development. At the same time, they'll also make sure that they get to homecoming and cheer when their team beat's Yale's. Or North Carolina's.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Northwestern Makes It Into Top 25 for First Time in Over 40 Years

See for yourself here.

English Premiership Team of the Decade

From Soccernet.

Lots of good players to choose from, and it's hard to argue all that much with these choices, especially if you're operating under the theory that "they had to pick someone."

I read recently in the book "Made to Stick" that people are better able to make choices if you offer them fewer alternatives. Put differently, "paralysis by analysis" could set in if the menu is too vast. That said, the selectors did a fine job when you consider how many players they had to choose from. Read the linked article and then decide for yourself what changes, if any, you would have made to this list.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The First Iranian Hoopster in Division I

Arslan Hazemi plays for Rice. His coach, Ben Braun, is Jewish. Despite all of Iran's anti-Israeli (and sometimes correspondingly anti-Semitic) rhetoric, the cocktail of the coach's religion and the player's ethnicity doesn't seem to be an issue. Apparently, Braun's record with international players -- including an Israeli or two while at Cal -- helped Kazemi select Rice. Click here for Luke Winn's fascinating article at SI.com on Hazemi and his journey to play college basketball in the United States.

As Yogi Berra once said, "Only in America."

Mark Titus, Blogger

Titus, who was recruited to hoop for Harvard, rides the bench as a walk-on for Ohio State. He also blogs here, and both this article and the blog are pretty amusing.

The guy who coached basketball at my high school said that it would be nice to coach smart players. Well, Thad Matta agrees, obviously, but to a point. A team full of players like Mark Titus is more likely to make him the former coach of Ohio State, but having one around adds to the team's spirit, flavor, levity and cumulative grade point average.

There are players on rosters all over the country who had feelers from the Ivies or were actively recruited by them. There are virtually no players on Ivy hoop rosters who turned down scholarships to big-time hoops schools. Perhaps that happened three decades ago, but it doesn't seem to happen now.

Urban Meyer Pulls a Billy Donovan (Of Sorts)

He's baaaaack.

Un-resigned, is what he did, but he will take a leave of absence.

Again, of sorts.

Read the whole thing.

Urban Meyer to Resign; Stirs Memories of Another Famous Resignation -- About 45 Years Ago

You might never have heard of John Wooden had this guy not resigned. Unless you're over 55, a basketball lover or insider, Bob Knight or knowledgeable about Knight, you probably haven't heard of the guy. But he was a heckuva coach, as this book (which I recommend), will tell you. So good that his teams contended for national titles and to the best of my recollection won at least one and perhaps two. So good that when his teams went head to head with John Wooden's from 1960-1964 -- twice a year -- they won all them.

So good that you have to remember that Wooden got to UCLA in 1949 but didn't win his first national title until 1965 -- the year after this guy retired. After that, Wooden's teams won national title after national title, cementing Wooden's legend as a great coach. (And this is not to dispute Wooden's legacy or his greatness as a coach; I'm a big Wooden fan and have read many of his books and learned much from them). But it does make you wonder what the national college basketball landscape would have looked like had Pete Newell not retired atop his game in the early 1960's.

As the linked book will tell you, he did so because his doctor told him that he was a walking heart attack, smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too much coffee. So he quit -- cold turkey. Basketball, that is. He went on to found his big man's basketball camp, for which he was well known in basketball circles, and he remained in the spotlight because of that and because of his relationship with Bob Knight, who revered him as a mentor. Make no mistake, though -- Newell retired because of the toll his job was taking on him.

Urban Meyer announced that he's leaving his head coaching position at Florida after coaching in the Sugar Bowl. His reasons are similar to the ones that Newell gave -- the job just was taking too much out of him, to the point where he couldn't remain healthy enough to achieve a proper balance in life. Meyer is leaving the Gators atop his game. Okay, so they're not playing for a national title this year, but he's accomplished a great deal in his career at both Utah and Florida, and, in his mid-40's, he's leaving the game -- as a head coach -- way too young.

Head coaching in college football is one of the ultimate exercises of survival of the fittest. You begin your career as a volunteer or lowly paid assistant on the fringes of a coaching staff, and your goal is to move up to positions of greater responsibility in higher-profile programs, ultimately trying to attach yourself to some of the biggest names, where you can learn a lot and brand yourself better for the next big job. You go from being a graduate assistant breaking down films to a quality-control assistant to an assistant position coach to a position coach to a coordinator to a head coach, or something like that. Along the way you spend a year here, two years there, never putting down roots. The money does get better, but the hours do not. You're always on -- recruiting, working with your current players, working on offensive or defensive schemes (depending on which side of the ball you're on), very much absorbed in your work. My guess is that the average 50 year-old head football coach has put enough time in the office and on the road to fill up the career of three guys working 40 hours a week in jobs where that's all that's required of them.

You probably don't get the 8 hours of sleep a night that doctors recommend. You're probably not eating meals regularly or in a balanced fashion, and you don't always get the time to exercise that you need. You sit a lot, you don't get much down time to simply watch movies on cable for two or three days or spend a week on vacation with the family on the phone. No, you're twittering for your recruiting class five minutes before you walk on the field for your're homecoming game, calling a recruit from the sidelines of a bowl game to show him how loud your fan base is, you're traveling to recruits' homes, visiting other coaches to see how their innovative defense works, appearing before alumni groups -- heck, you're the head football coach at Florida, but your schedule sounds like you're running for President of the United States.

It takes its toll, as do most jobs where you put your heart and soul into it. Urban Meyer is a great coach, but now he must get off the fast-paced head coaching treadmill to live life a little bit -- at least the aspects of life that justify how hard we work to provide for the ones that we love - -his family. He'll come back -- rested and refreshed -- in some important capacity, but he'll have to avoid the temptation of going full throttle right away or returning to a pace where all he knows is to push the throttles as far forward and as hard as he can. That will be difficult, but he'll do it.

Pete Newell found a good existence for himself after stepping down from one of the best basketball jobs in the country. Urban Meyer should be able to do the same thing.

It won't be easy, but it's well worth the effort -- and the same could have been said to him or about him as he tried to ascend to the highest levels of the coaching ranks in college football.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Mets Make a Move

They signed former starter Kelvim Escobar, who's missed most of the past 2 seasons, to a 1-year deal to set up K-Rod.

This move isn't as crazy as it seems. There's a theory out there -- attributed to, among others, the Phillies' front office -- that signing relievers (other than closers) is somewhat of a crapshoot. The problem -- sign a guy with a three-year track record to a big deal (say 3 years, $10 million or so), and he could be so used up from 70 games a season (plus all the times he was warmed up) that he might blow out his arm and have nothing left. So, the theory goes, sign a guy who has a good arm who's coming off a year where he was underused or where he was injured, give him an incentive-laden, one-year deal with a club option, and, voila, you could have instant set-up man. That's what the Mets did here. And, so it seems, that's what other clubs are looking to do, too. What's puzzling is that some good relievers with track records are out there, probably demanding more money than Escobar did. It could well be that teams just don't want to spend the money on anyone in their bullpen other than their closer and perhaps one other guy.

The Mets remain in limbo, apparently, on Jason Bay and Bengie Molina and might be looking at other options. Bay apparently is getting cold feet about playing in a park that favors pitchers as much as Citi Field does. The linked article doesn't say what the hold up with Molina might be. So far, the Mets haven't given those two players deadlines, and the guess here is that the club's front office believes that with about 6 weeks to spring training, there is still plenty of time to make a few more moves. That the Mets will do more is a given, as the Phillies and Braves have already taken significant steps to fortify their rosters for the 2010 season.

Robbery in Birmingham Today

That's Birmingham, England, site of today's Premiership match between Chelsea and host Birmingham. Chelsea is the very well-financed frontrunner in the Premiership (England's top league for the uninitiated), while Birmingham, in the middle of England (again, the Midlands to those in the know) is having a good year and right now is in the top 10.

It's true that for much of the first half Chelsea was on the attack, but there was a moment when Birmingham striker Chucho Benitez got in the midst of a tangle Chelsea defense and scored a goal. Or so it appeared, but the assistant referee called Birmingham off-side. Replays showed that this wasn't the case, and the announcers on ESPN2 said as much. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.

Premiership officials shouldn't permit results like this to happen. Given how few goals are scored in soccer matches, they should adopt an instant replay process where goals are disallowed (or allowed if there is a controversy) to ensure that the referee and the assistant referees get the result right. The assistant referee blew the call, the goal was disallowed, and Birmingham didn't get the points in the standings alloted for a victory.

Birmingham fans should be livid, especially since the game ended in a draw. That goal would have been the difference maker, and it was taken away. That's especially frustrating to see in the elite leagues. Referees are human and make mistakes, too, so why not have a quality-control system to prevent mistakes from determining a game's outcome? That system would make the results above reproach.

Birmingham fans -- you were robbed. Unfortunately, most cities put up traffic lights or stop signs after an accident has taken place. The Premiership should do the same -- so that accidents like this do not recur.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Invictus

Not as good as The Blind Side, but this seemingly hastily put together movie (by Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, among others) is worth going to see. It's the story about Nelson Mandela's ascendancy to the presidency of South Africa and his support of the Springboks, the rugby team that to all non-whites was a symbol of apartheid prior to the fall of the white minority government. Morgan Freeman excels as Nelson Mandela, and the story is worth witnessing.

Baseball America's Top 20 Prospects

Are listed right here.

Good news for Phillies fans -- the guy whom you refused to give up is #13.

Other news for Phillies fans -- the guy you gave up for Roy Halladay is #16, and two guys you probably tried to pry away from the Mariners in the Lee trade are #s 3 and 19. Additionally, the Indians' #1 catching prospect is #11, which means that the catcher you traded to Cleveland in the first Lee deal is a placeholder in 2010 until this guy arrives. For what it's worth.

Good reading. If you're a Giants' fan, a Mariners' fan or a Rangers' fan you should be happy. Each team has 2 prospects in this Top 20.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Princeton Names Bob Surace Its New Head Football Coach

Princeton wanted to act quickly, and it did, taking only about a month to name an alum and current Bengals' assistant, Bob Surace, as its new head coach. You can read the university's release here.

Early returns on the hiring won't come in until after the New Year, because that's what typically happens when you announce anything on the eve of Christmas Eve -- people just aren't paying attention to anything much other than preparation for the holiday.

Whither the Mets?

The Phillies have upgraded their bench.

The Phillies have wheeled and dealed to be in two World Series in a row and to ink one of baseball's best pitchers for the next 4 plus years.

The Nationals have signed a starting pitcher who should bolster their rotation.

The Braves have been on the move, too.

But what about the Mets? We heard hot-stove talk about both Jason Bay and Bengie Molina, but so far nothing has materialized with either player. Last year, they got hit with a tsunami's worth of injuries, an amount so great that no team in the Majors could have suffered equivalents and remained competitive. They should be better if Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran can remain healthy for an entire season. But they still need David Wright's swing to return and Johan Santana to return to form. They need bullpen help before K-Rod, they need starting pitching and a first baseman.

And, so far?

Nothing.

Is it because talks with Bay and Molina have bogged down? Or is it because someday soon we'll finally learn how much money the Wilpons lost because they trusted their old friend Bernie Madoff? It's hard to say.

Right now, I view the Mets as sleeping giants who are not likely to stand pat. I would look for a few big signings and a trade, all of which should improve the team but still leave some holes in their starting rotation. That said, we're about 6 weeks away from spring training, and the clock is ticking.

Enough Already

And I supported the Eagles' decision to sign Michael Vick.

Today the Eagles announced that Vick won their Ed Block Courage Award, which is given to the player who shows commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

The decision was the right move. I'm not in the clubhouse, so I have no idea of telling whether Vick deserves this award or not. That said, as an observer of the Eagles, and particularly the public statements of owner Jeffrey Lurie and coach Andy Reid, they're a little to, well, close-to-the-vest about many things, self-righteous about some others. Should they now give him an award for supporting these principles? Sure, if the award is for recent converts or born-agains, as oppposed to those who have walked the talk for much longer periods.

Such as wide receiver Jason Avant, whose life story is compelling and who, along with his wife, is raising a teenaged cousin even though Avant himself is in his mid-20's.

Notoriety is one thing. Carrying life's lunch pail day to day and doing much more than the right thing is another. Michael Vick still has a way to go to rehabilitate both his image and himself. The Eagles, today, put the former before the latter, and, in so doing, overlooked a hero in their midst -- and a pretty good possession receiver, while we're at it.

So, enough already, Philadelphia Eagles. You did a good deed by giving Michael Vick a chance. Don't use your public relations machine to overdo the situation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bob Knight Throws John Calipari Under the Bus

CBS's Seth Davis, responding to Knight, criticized the former Indiana mentor, in essence saying that he's one to talk, given some of his behavioral issues. In doing so, however, Davis looks a bit foolish, because it's almost as if he deliberately missed the issue. Sure, it's hard to argue that Knight's eruptions of the years are worth emulating. That said, Knight held his program to the highest ethical standards in terms of recruiting and graduating his players. That's not in dispute. Davis apparently equates ethics with temper, and that's his right, but I would argue that I'd rather have a coach who erupts (and don't most of them, even if not as publicly and frequently as Knight did) than one who leaves program under a cloud (which Calipari has done now twice). That Davis missed this point is a) troubling and b) calls into question why he said what he said. Did he say what he said because he thinks it to be true, did he say what he said because CBS expects Kentucky to have a high profile and wants that profile without taint (which means that Davis was flacking for Calipari, Kentucky and CBS) or does Calipari provide Davis with great access, so much so that Davis thought at the time Calipari needed a friend in the media? The second and third alternatives are not acceptable, and having watched Davis over the years I conclude -- at least for now -- that he legitimately believes what he said. I just think that he's wrong.

I've offered my views of Calipari before (here and here), and I tend to agree with Coach Knight (whom I've also criticized before for his temper and interactions with school officials and Indiana). By the way, if you link on my first linked post about Calipari, you'll find that John Feinstein, who spent a season with Knight and is far from a Knight apologist, previously took the same view as Knight.

Basketball is very important at Kentucky, which paid a king's ransom for Calipari.

The question is -- what's the true cost?

Whatever that cost is, Bob Knight, for one, thinks it's too high to pay.

Calling Out Newsweek

Perhaps it's on life-support, but I erred greatly when I re-upped a while back for two more years. I wish I could get a refund and stop my subscription.

There are a few reasons for this. First, it's very thin on coverage of any type. Second, it offers as many opinions as news articles, or so it seems. Third, most of those opinion writers are defenders of, or apologists for, the Democratic Party. So, not only do you not get much reporting, you don't get a balanced look at life in the U.S. And that's not right.

I'll bet that the owners of Newsweek and Newsweek's editors wouldn't agree with me. They'll swear on the governing documents of the finest journalism schools in the land that they're offering balanced coverage. They'll also say that there are many reasons for the magazine's decline, among them the immediacy of news on the internet and the fact that such quickly available media is free. Deep down, they'll lament that the public has turned into a group of almost ungovernable Neandarthals with a mob mentality that doesn't appreciate good journalism or fine writing. Accordingly, they'll offer that the number of available customers has shrunk, and that instead of writing for the average American they're writing to an ever-shrinking elite of people who appreciate the stringing of two good sentences together. Or something like that.

But what they fail to realize is that instead of staying relevant, they permitted market forces to overtake them. The country needs solid journalism more than ever -- journalism that is fair, journalism that doesn't take sides (which, through slanted reporting, it all too frequently does) and journalism that appeals not to the next sound byte but to a greater sense of the country and its possibilities. Instead, Newsweek is as into playing games of "Gotcha!" and "Class Envy" as any other publication.

The thin size of the magazine is akin to an older person withering with age. At this point, the excessive weight loss might be irreversible. I can get opinions anywhere, and my local, county newspaper does a better job of offering all points of view than Newsweek does. And that speaks volumes about what Newsweek has become.

For what it's worth, I'm rather apolitical, a centrist at heart, and someone who would rather see the private sector create jobs than the public sector. So, I really like to see the balance. At one time, I thought that providing balance was what journalism was all about.

Monday, December 21, 2009

For Phillies Fans Who Don't Like the Trade

Please read Baseball Prospectus.

Yes, Cliff Lee had a great post-season for the Phillies. Terrific. Clutch. Cool.

Yes, he pitched well since he was acquired (although there was a three- or four-game stretch when his ERA for that stretch was over 7, and perhaps as high as 9).

It's hard to say anything bad about Cliff Lee at all. Which is rare for a Philadelphia fan, because the average Philadelphia-area fan isn't known for being positive.

That said, Roy Halladay is a better pitcher. His career numbers bear that out. He's done a great job in the AL East for a team that pretty much has no chance of making the playoffs, and he's pitched well against the Yankees and Red Sox. He's won almost twice as many games as he's lost. Review the numbers, read last year's entry in Baseball Prospectus's annual guide, and then tell yourself it's okay to both like Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.

Of course, the "recency" factor can cloud someone's view of anyone. And recency suggests that Cliff Lee is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball not named Tim Lincecum. But that recency isn't right, and if you review both Lee's and Halladay's bodies of work, with all due respect to a guy who showed up very big, Halladay's the better of the two. By how much? Only their future performance will tell us. It's okay to miss Cliff Lee -- he did a great job. He's a terrific pitcher.

But the Phillies got a great one in Roy Halladay.

And for 4 or 5 more years, too.

Which you weren't going to get out of Cliff Lee, because he's determined to get a C.C. Sabathia-like contract when he tests free agency after the 2010 season.

Give Ruben Amaro some credit, and give Roy Halladay a chance.

Both are terrific.

Memo to File

Unless you live in the snow belt, you shouldn't schedule a game there past, say, December 1. Yesterday's game in Orono, Maine between visiting Princeton and the host Black Bears was postponed because of inclement weather. You would have figured that the Princeton guys had enough SAT points to figure out that basic tenet of scheduling.

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

I heard this Jimmy Ruffin classic on the radio the other day.

One possible answer: they become Philadelphia Eagles' fans.

Ouch. The Eagles just clinched a playoff berth by beating a 49ers team whose QB all but gift-wrapped the victory with mistake after mistake. It's interesting how, on any given day (to adopt the cliche), the best teams can make the also-rans look like a high school team on its first day of summer practice.

So now the question becomes: how far can the Eagles go? Are they, as Andy Reid said in the press conference announcing his contract extension, the "best organization in football" (a statement appropriately questioned by Angelo Cataldi on WIP, who rightly pointed out the lack of a Super Bowl win in Philadelphia, a point echoed by venerated football writer Ray Didinger)? Or, will they win a game or two in the post-season and fall short because of a time management issue, Donovan McNabb's throwing the ball behind a receiver or into the ground, or an aging linebacker's being on the field on a passing down, unable to cover the opposing team's second-string tight end?

Look, I'm a big Eagles fan, and I think that Reid is an excellent coach and McNabb a championship-caliber quarterback. The problem for all Eagles' fans is that the misses have been many, and, as a result, we tend to put the team under a microscope to analyze it. No team is "due" in my book, but this duo is worthy of a title. Unfortunately, there are many duos worthy of titles who never get one.

Eagles' fans are hoping that won't be the case for Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Agent: Barry Bonds' Career Appears to be Over

Ya think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Early Halladay Season for Philadelphia

It's hard to move the Eagles off the front of the sports pages in Philadelphia in December, but the Phillies did.



By agreeing to trade prospects for Roy Halladay and receive prospects for Cliff Lee, the Phillies engineered the first-ever trade involving two Cy Young Award winners. They also made a smart deal, even if it doesn't give them a huge advantage over what they had on their roster before the trade (then again, most GMs don't make lopsided deals).



The deal is smart because the Phillies were facing the following predicament:



2010 Starting Pitchers



Cliff Lee

Cole Hamels

Joe Blanton

J.A. Happ

Jamie Moyer.



That's a pretty good staff, but, contractually, you have an ace who has said he'll test the free-agent market after the 2010 season, a former ace who you're hoping will return to form, a #3 starter who is arbitration eligible and could get very expensive in a hurry, and a #5 starter who is recovering from both surgery and a post-operative infection. Put differently, you don't think the #5 can last the season, the #3 might not be here after this season (especially if he has a good year and could vault himself to close to eight figures in next year's arbitration; this year he's expected to come in close to $7 million), and the #1 won't be here after this season because you're not going to give him the C.C. Sabathia-like contract he seeks. So, if you're GM Ruben Amaro, you're looking to win not just now, but next year and the year after because your nucleus of position players is strong (although you'll have challenges with staying within budget, particularly for the 2011 season -- after that, both Raul Ibanez's and Brad Lidge's contracts expire).



So, you hear that the Blue Jays are peddling Halladay, and you hear that he wants to come to Philadelphia (and possibly take less) because he likes the Phillies and his home is 5 minutes away from the training complex in Clearwater (note to file: the closest training complex to the Phillies' is the Blue Jays', which is about 20 minutes away in Dunedin). You also hear that he might take a shorter contract than he otherwise might command on the free-agent market. He's also better than Lee, despite Lee's great start with the Phillies mid-summer and his awesome post-season performance. And he's a righty, which gives you a great counterweight to Cole Hamels should Hamels return to 2008 form.



So now your rotation looks like this:



Roy Halladay (signed through 2013)

Cole Hamels

Joe Blanton

J.A. Happ

Jamie Moyer.



Sure, the issues with the next four still exist. Can Hamels return to form? How expensive will Blanton be? How good can Happ be? How effective will Moyer be? The key fact -- you have a preeminent pitcher for 4 more years instead of 1. The downside -- without your best pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek, you aren't sure who will step in should a starter get hurt or falter. You don't have a Happ to step in for an injured Brett Myers or an ineffective Chan Ho Park. Yes, there are plenty of Rodrigo Lopez's out there, but they're risky. There's also no guarantee, though, that Drabek is a sure thing. He certainly looks like one, but remember the trio of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson? The Mets had 3 sure things, three potential #1 starters, only to have Isringhausen emerge as an outstanding pitcher -- as a reliever. Here's to wishing Drabek well, though.



So, it appears that the Phillies' starting pitching staff is better off this season and for the next several. Did they deplete their minor-league system by trading Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp, Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis D'Arnaud to get Lee and then Halladay (yes, they're getting 3 prospects in return, and while one is a future closer and all three have a good chance to get to the Majors, none is Taylor or Drabek)? To an extent, yes, but they still have their top OF prospect, Domonic Brown, they still have OF Anthony Gose (another exciting prospect whom the Blue Jays wanted last summer when they tried to trade Halladay to the Phillies), they have the three prospects they're getting from Seattle and a few others. Is it weaker? Yes. Can they pull off another "big" trade for a special player down the stretch in 2010 the way they acquired Lee in 2009? Probably not.



It's not easy keeping an outstanding team together. Most Phillies' fans thought it would be because they were taking $30 million off a $130 million payroll when Brett Myers' contract expired ($10 million), when they no longer had to pay Adam Eaton ($9 million) or Geoff Jenkins ($6 million) and when they no longer had to contribute to Jim Thome's salary ($4 million). But, other players get raises and 3 key ones -- Shane Victorino, Blanton and Carlos Ruiz -- are eligible for arbitration. They paid $18 million over 3 years for Placido Polanco, Jayson Werth gets a big raise pursuant to his contract, and you now have 2 $20 million players in Halladay and Ryan Howard and 3 $12 million ones in Ibanez, Lidge and Chase Utley. About 60% of the players command 85% of the payroll. Which means there isn't a whole lot left for three or four open slots in the bullpen.



Success does that to you -- your players become more valuable, and either you have the revenue to support the raises that the market suggests they should get or you build contingency plans. So, if the Phillies are committed to a $140 million payroll, they'll continue to have hard choices to make.



But, all in all, the Halladay trade is a wise move for the Phillies. The Mets will add some good players, but their pitching staff needs a lot of help and Johan Santana might not be the same guy he was when he signed his big contract a few years ago. David Wright has to figure out how to hit for power again, Jose Reyes needs to show he is healthy, and the team needs a catcher (perhaps Bengie Molina) and a first baseman. The Braves are active, and the Marlins are always tough. Nothing the Phillies have done diminishes their chances to win the NL East, and the unheralded moves to fortify the bench give them a stronger reserve corps.



The hot stove right now is very hot.



All typos are mine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Miss the Penn-Princeton Men's Basketball Rivalry

So, I suppose if I were to have a bunch of sports-related wishes granted by Santa, I'd ask that he re-kindle this rivalry to the fever pitch that it enjoyed from the mid-1970's say through 2000 or so. After all, Cornell and Harvard are interlopers, hockey schools, for God's sake.

It is a bit ironic that two former basketball greats -- Steve Bilsky at Penn and Gary Walters at Princeton, are their school's Athletic Directors and struggling with restoring their programs to glory. In Bilsky's case, he's only been dealing with a two-year negative trend, as Fran Dunphy didn't leave that long ago. Walters is still trying to help Princeton recover from more than half a decade of relative misery. The Tigers have shown signs of improving, but they're not where they once were -- at the top of the standings.

So, here's to hoping that the next decade is better for this rivalry.

The Phillies Have a Great Farm System Now, But. . .

Three years ago they traded Gavin Floyd away in the ill-fated Freddy Garcia deal.

Two years ago they traded Josh Outman and Adrian Cardenas (who projects to be a good-hitting every-day Major League position player) for Joe Blanton.

Last year, to rent Cliff Lee (now apparently for half a season), they traded Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp. At one time, Marson, Donald and Carrasco were the organization's top catching, infield and pitching prospects. Their stars had fallen, but all four of these guys should see time in the Majors, some significantly.

And now, it looks like the team is going to send its top remaining catching prospect, Travis D'Arnaud, one of its two top outfield prospects (Michael Taylor) and either J.A. Happ or top pitching prospect (and perhaps the top pitching prospect in all of baseball) Kyle Drabek to the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay deal. That means they'd be keeping they're top position-playing prospect, OF Domonic Brown, but still, this deal means they'd have traded a significant portion of their twenty top prospects over the course of the past 3 years.

I'm less familiar with the team's younger prospects, but if they trade Drabek, they are living the cupboard of pitching prospects rather bare for now. And then the question remains -- what happens at the #5 starter spot if Jamie Moyer doesn't recover from his surgery or falters? What's the back-up plan?

Because most teams need back-up plans for their rotations, as starters tend to miss starts or go down during a season. Especially 47 year-old ones, however many there ever have been.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wow Factor: Penn Fires Men's B-Ball Coach Glen Miller

The Quakers are 0-7, having just lost at Monmouth.

Former Penn star and first-year assistant Jerome Allen is the acting head coach.

Phew! This is really hard to believe. This is one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball, even if the Ivies can't compete with teams from other conferences the way they used to as recently as 10-15 years ago. Penn's home court, the Palestra, is one of the meccas of college basketball, a great place to watch a game in or play one in. And now, about 25% of the way into the season, they have decided to part company with Miller, with whom they never seemed to be comfortable and who didn't seem all that comfortable at Penn.

But then again, is it easy to replace a legend like Fran Dunphy? Alabama tried hard during the 25 years after Bear Bryant's death to replace him, hired some popular names, but for some reason none of those coaches -- including some good ones who played for Coach Bryant -- succeeded. With Nick Saban, the Tide's fans can safely say that they have replaced Coach Bryant, one of the coaching legends of college football.

Dunphy doesn't rise to that status, but he's one of the best coaches in Penn's history, in Big Five history and in Ivy history. And, from all accounts, he's a great guy. That's a hard act to follow, even for a successful coach like Miller, who excelled at Division III Connecticut College and at Brown University. But now he's gone, Penn is struggling, and a rookie coach is going to try to pick up the pieces.

Among my early favorites to succeed Miller on a full-time basis -- former Penn player Matt Langel, a long-time Dunphy assistant, now at Temple. Allen might also get a serious look if the team improves on his watch during the remainder of the season.

This is a sad day for Penn basketball, for a whole host of reasons.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tiger Woods

The days are short. The sun rises later, sets earlier. Unemployment holds at 10%. New jobs aren't getting created despite massive attempts to have you buy replacement doors, windos and insulated siding. People aren't earning what they used to -- if you own a restaurant, your patronage is off, if you sell on commission, you're not selling as much, if you're compensation depends on a bonus, it's not as great, and if you've been granted stock options over the years, chances are they're all under water. There's no imminent sign of improvement. Politics are dirty and negative, our leaders aren't really leading as much as they are trying to manipulate the media into making you think the opposition's positions are hazardous to your health and will rob you of your freedom and first born. Community activities become more heated because there are more people with more free time who are, at times, taking out their frustrations through their involvement. Negative stimuli are everywhere.

In the midst of all the negativity, we look for beacons of excellence and hope where we can find them. We enjoy a well-crafted book, take some pride in seeing our kids execute a fast-break in their little-league basketball games, seeing a colleague take her performance to the next level, admire solid products, kind acts and unselfish behavior. That type of behavior doesn't abound, but we know it when we see it.

And we thought we saw it on an international stage in Tiger Woods, a transcendental, post-racial, champion. A master craftsman, excellent in preparation, a great ambassador for the game of golf, a Stanford alumnus, en route to breaking Jack Nicklaus's record for titles in golf's "Majors", with a beautiful wife and two children, a boy and a girl. A true master of the universe.

We admired him for it. Oh, I heard all of the talk radio banter that Phil Mickelson appealed more to fans because of his relative lack of physical fitness (making him more like the weekend hacker), his propensity to take a goofy shot in the midst of a chase for a title, and his friendlier approach to fans and the media. Perhaps, and I'll allow for the doubting. But Tiger quickly became the benchmark against which all other golfers were measured. Tiger was the gold standard -- on and off the golf course.

He was a given, the way you knew a high school English teacher would insist upon excellence and nothing less, the way you knew your local bank would take care of your money or your pediatrician would have a cure for what ailed you (and, if you go way back, would visit your house). Made in America, an American original, the best in the world. Awesome.

Until a few weeks ago. I can think of many adages when I think about Tiger Woods, and I can explain his behavior if not excuse it. One of those adages would be "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Another one would be that it can take a lifetime to build up a good name and only a moment to tarnish it. But what makes me sad is that another institution in America -- one we thought we all could rely upon for all of the values that we hold dear -- has crashed and burned.

Just like an investment bank on Wall Street. Just like a bank in your community. Just like a local clergyman who it turns out had a nefarious extracurricular activity (or a couple of dozen). Or like a politician who took a bribe, or judges who did the same. People who were considered pillars of a community -- part of the foundation on which a functional democratic society is based. To quote another adage, "just like money in the bank."

That's how highly many held Tiger Woods. An American institution, someone for which we could be very proud. Someone to whom we could look in times of trouble and say, "Wow, he's still out there, he's playing excellent golf, he's a champion." Someone to inspire, and, yes, a role model.

But all of that is gone now.

And that's depressing.

Because if that admiration, that view that all things Tiger Woods were 100% in control, prioritized and ethical, is gone, then what, precisely, is sacred?

We're in social gatherings all the time. We don't wonder for a moment whether the guy we just shook hands with is hanging out at bars with undergrads where he worked, trying trying to get one into a hotel that advertises hourly rates down the highway, or whether he doesn't disclose all his income on his tax returns or snorts cocaine. We look to him as a member of a zoning board, a school board, a coach of a youth team or a deacon at a church. We don't know what he does at conventions or sales meetings, or what his wife might be doing during the day when he's at work. We're not, by nature, that suspicious or cynical people. The omnipresence of the media has changed that a bit, because we get news of a kid who goes missing 2,500 miles away in real time -- right when it happens. We can check out neighbors on Google if we so choose. We can know more -- and more is available by the day. So now we figure, if Tiger Woods can become so tempted, what about the woman who cuts my hair, my pharmacist, the secretary at my religious institution or the people who sit near my cube. What about them?

Or not. Perhaps it's because Tiger is so great at what he does that we're so shocked, or because of the image about him that he and his advisors have helped create. After all, the woman sitting two cubes away doesn't usually hold herself out to be anything other than a competent and helpful colleague. She's not pretending to be perfect, and, truth be told, we don't know all that much about anyone when you get down to it, do we? What they're thinking, what they're saying or doing behind closed doors or their own walls, or in their own cars? We don't know who just bounced a check (or wrote a bad one), who smiled at you and shook your hand and then whispered to his spouse about what a jerk you are (for reasons you might now understand anyway), who just hit a child or bought a gun for personal protection.

Because we don't know all that much, are good-natured, believe in our friends and neighbors and hope for the best, when we're confronted with stories like Tiger's we get shocked. In this sad tale, we all should remember a few things:

1) don't say that you want someone else's life, because you have no idea what that life really entails;
2) don't idolize people from afar (or, if you do, don't meet them, because they cannot possible be all things that you think they are);
3) continue to do the best you can, do well and do good; and
4) don't get cynical or too skeptical, despite all of the stimuli that might tempt you to do just that.

I'm sad because an institution whom I thought was totally in control is a mess. I'm sad because he's done bad things, and I'm sad because obviously he had some deeply seated problems that compelled him -- for whatever reason -- to act the way he did. I'm sad because in the contemporary world there seem to be so few beacons out there, and one of our brightest lights just got put out for the moment. I realize, though, that our beacons are who we decide they are, and if we cannot find those people in Congress, the media or in sports, we have to look a little harder -- and perhaps they live next door, down the street or where we group up. Perhaps they're not famous at all, just terrific because of one thing they do -- no matter how small -- that helps put a smile on someone's face, even if just for a moment.

So, there are many lessons to be learned. Including to have some sympathy for Tiger Woods and his family. There's an awful mess there, one no one should take any joy in. Remember that he's very human, and that so are people all around you. Look for excellence and greatness in the every day, find a place in your heart to forgive Tiger, and pray that he can repair his life and the damage that he's done to his family and to himself.

Yes, an institution has collapsed. But there's greatness in many places. Currently, we all may just have to look a little harder and dig a little deeper.

And be happy when we find that excellence right before our eyes, in our own neighborhoods and communities.

Because that's the type of excellence that affects us the most every day.

Reflections on the Heisman

Mark Ingram was a worthy winner. It's hard to believe that Alabama hasn't had a Heisman winner until now.

The Heisman show was a bit indulgent and long-winded. I'm sure that many of us were interested in the announcement and only the announcement (ESPN's documentary on "The U," which followed the Heisman show, was much more compelling).

While I am happy for Ingram and fine with his victory, I would have voted for Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh, who has had an awesome year for Nebraska playing defensive tackle. It's impressive as all get out that Suh was one of the top 5 (he actually finished fourth, inexplicably behind Texas's Colt McCoy, who didn't have as good a year this year as he did last and whom Suh treated as his personal rag doll during the Big 12 title game). That says that a non-offensive player can contend for the trophy. What would make the trophy even more meaningful, though, would be if a defensive player can win it.

And Suh was just the worthy guy to do it. Had about 25% of the McCoy voters (presumably from Big 12 country) not put Texas football and a career achievement sentiment first and voted for Suh, Suh would have been awarded the trophy.

That would have been a great result, a better result, and terrific for a sport that has a significant credibility issue because of the BCS formula. How ironic is it that the most physical game of them all -- a game where the other NCAA divisions have playoffs in football -- doesn't let its championship get decided purely on the field.

Suh's winning the award would have been a creative and innovative result. It's too bad for NCAA Division I-A football that it didn't happen. That said, all five finalists are outstanding players, and three in particular -- Ingram, Suh and Stanford's Toby Gerhart -- were worthy of the award.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 2010 Phillies Roster

So far, here's what we know:

SP -- Cliff Lee
SP -- Cole Hamels
SP -- Joe Blanton
SP -- J.A. Happ
SP -- Jamie Moyer
RP -- Brad Lidge
RP -- Ryan Madson
RP -- J.C. Romero

C -- Carlos Ruiz (due for a big raise in arbitration)
C -- Brian Schneider

1B -- Ryan Howard
2B -- Chase Utley
3B -- Placido Polanco
SS -- Jimmy Rollins
Reserve -- Greg Dobbs
Reserve -- Juan Cruz
Reserve -- Ross Gload

OF -- Raul Ibanez
OF -- Shane Victorino (also due for a big raise in arbitration)
OF -- Jayson Werth
OF -- Ben Francisco.

I heard Jayson Stark on ESPN Radio the other day, and he offered that the Phillies upgraded their position-player portion of the roster significantly making the moves that they did. The big question among the upgrades is whether Polanco can play a decent third base.

The bigger questions involve pitching. The Phillies have lost out on at least one big-name reliever (Brandon Lyon) because Ed Wade's Astros gave him $15 million over 3 years (this signing suggests that good relievers are especially at a premium). The Phillies already had told Brett Myers that he was done in Philadelphia, but there is speculation that while the Astros might be interested the Phillies still might have some level of interest. The biggest questions for the Phillies involve Clay Condrey (who had trouble staying healthy last season), Scott Eyre (ditto, and he had indicated that he was going to retire) and Chan Ho Park (who is arbitration eligible, represented by Scott Boras and perhaps still interested in being a starting pitcher). Right now, there are four new names on the roster -- could there be as many as 8? And, if there are eight, four of them will be pitchers, and given how relievers are considered risky propositions, how good will they be? Interesting times in a bad economy that somehow makes relievers a hot item for the Phillies.

Rumors abound about Roy Halladay and how the Phillies might pay for him if they a) trade for him and b) opt to sign him to a long-term deal. The presumption is that while the Phillies gave up four prospects for 1.5 years (and 2 pennant races) of Cliff Lee, that they won't give up better prospects to rent Halladay for a season. They might do so if they can ink the possibly future Hall of Famer to a five-year deal. One rumor is that they'll include J.A. Happ in a deal. Another is that they'll trade Happ and trade Joe Blanton (thereby making the rotation Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Moyer and Kyle Kendrick -- a super-strong front end, a comeback story in the middle, and weak at the back). Finally, there's a rumor that they'll trade Lee to get Halladay if they can ink Halladay to the long-term deal. Note: Lee has said all along that he wants to test the free-agent market after the 2010 season. Stark also said that he spoke with a friend of Halladay's -- someone who's been friendly with the Jays' ace since he was a rookie. That friend said that he had asked Halladay that if he had the choice of any team to play for, what would team would that be, and that Halladay had said, without hesitation, "the Phillies."

So, where does this leave everyone? In limbo so far. I think that if Halladay is aggressive in allowing trades and negotiating for a long-term deal, he can be the winner ahead of John Lackey, Cliff Lee and the other players who will become free agents after the 2010 season. I don't recall precisely the roster of who those players are, but there might be as many as 6-8 top-drawer free agents (Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer) on the market. If that's the case, Halladay will achieve certainty, get an excellent deal, and then not subject himself a) to risking have a bad year or getting hurt before he signs the long-term deal and b) to having the economy stay flat or worsen, thereby putting the number of potential free-agent suitors at risk.

Look, it will be tough enough for the roster of 6-8 top-drawer free agents if that's the number because how many teams realistically can bid for them -- the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox (perhaps), Mets (although if they spend big this year, perhaps not in 2010), Phillies (perhaps), Cardinals (if they were to lose Pujols) and Dodgers (perhaps). It's hard to see at least half the teams in the majors bidding for elite free agents. So, if Halladay gets a deal done with the Phillies, he'll get an excellent contract and get to play for a contending team. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, might end up getting traded to a team like the Cubs in a multi-team deal, and team that usually finds a way not to win a division. Further, the roster of elite free agents also could find bidding not to be aggressive, meaning that they won't realize the huge dollars that they might have during a boom time. Joe Mauer and Pujols would be exceptions because the former is a rare item and the latter is the best hitter in the game, but others might not get the Santana-, Sabathia-like contracts, or even a Teixeira-like one for a position player. Bottom line -- get the big deal done now.

Back to the Phillies -- the best move would be to get Halladay, sign him to a long-term deal, and then sign a bunch of relievers, perhaps stretching their spend just a little bit. They're built to win now, and they have a bunch of players in the 29-32-year range. They won't be able to keep all of them, but they have a window to go far in the next 2-4 years. If Lee were to leave after this season, Kyle Drabek should be ready. But they shouldn't go into the season with a) an iffy, patchwork bullpen and b) a starting pitching staff that has Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick in it.

Building a major-league team isn't easy. Ruben Amaro did a nice job with the Phillies for 2009, and I suspect that he will do so again in 2010. Still, he has a lot of work to do to build the 2010 Phillies -- and to build a team that can win the World Series.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Princeton Football Head Coach Search -- Update

Rumors abound.

Among the names mentioned, former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie.

Lots of money gets spent on this sport, lots of attention is given to it. Let's see who the Tigers end up hiring. Sounds like there isn't a front-runner -- at least one who has surfaced to the press.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Shouldn't Flozell Adams Be Suspended for the Year?

He gave out two cheap shots early in the season and got fined.

He started a brawl on Sunday against the Giants. If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is walking the talk about fair play, he'll suspend Cowboys' tackle Flozell Adams for the year.

Won't he?

It makes sense, even in the face of a chorus of doubts from current and former players about rules that make it all but impossible (in their minds) to tackle a quarterback. Still, how does the league hold a player accountable if it doesn't give Adams a long suspension? And, if it doesn't, could teams make this type of a cheap shot part of their game plan? Hit the quarterback late, we'll pay you the $50,000 fine back under the table, but if you knock the opposing team's QB out of the game, it will have been worth it.

So, what will the commissioner do?

And the 76ers Said It Was a Basketball Decision

The circus showed up in town last night in Philadelphia. Allen Iverson got a dramatic introduction, and, yes, he kissed the floor upon being introduced. The 76ers ordered and probably sold a bunch of Iverson jerseys, and they almost sold out the Wachovia Center. Oh, yeah, they lost to the Denver Nuggets, but everyone in the organization seemed all smiles.

Because even though the team has played terribly, they played to an almost packed house, they got some good ink on the sports pages (for a moment they were second to the Eagles and ahead of the Flyers and Phillies, and the latter have been getting good ink given that their season ended about a month ago), and as Mike Missanelli said on ESPN Radio, the 76ers are relevant again.

And, as Archie Bunker would have said on All in the Family, "a whoop tee doo."

And as one of my mentors would have said, "So?"

It's interesting that on his 60 Minutes interview disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy offered that basketball is entertainment, not a sports competition anymore. As I've written from time to time, sometimes people we don't like say things that make sense, and sometimes people we respect don't. Donaghy makes a decent point, and the 76ers' actions over the course of the past week bring it home.

Because last night was all about entertainment. It wasn't really about winning a basketball game.

That would have been icing on the cake.

And, given the atmosphere at the Wacky Wach, with the scantily clad dancing girls designed to distract the fans away from the grim reality of contemporary professional basketball, perhaps icing on the cheesecake.

Let the ticket buyers beware!

Peter Gammons to Leave ESPN

Interesting, given that much of what you hear and read is that ESPN dominates all sports coverage.

So, where is Gammons going?

This article doesn't say.

Having watched the first round of the playoffs on TBS, I think I can say, safely, that he'd be a huge improvement over their team. If not TBS, then perhaps Fox? MLB Network?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Article on Urban Meyer in SI

Thankfully, Sports Illustrated doesn't praise to the high heavens everyone it covers. In the current issue ("Sportsman of the Year"), there's a good, balanced piece on Florida's Urban Meyer. It's worthy of a read, because the article points out how Meyer got to where he is, how he's evolved as a coach, and what he's like.

And it's not all sweetness and light.

But then again, some who are very accomplished don't always win the Rotarian of the Year Award. That doesn't make the Rotarians of the Year nice pushovers who can't make a living, and it doesn't make the very accomplished evildoers without a life. But life is a series of choices and compromises, and Urban Meyer is revealed to be as human as everyone else.

And the SI jinx reared its head again, with Alabama's beating Meyer's Florida Gators handily to win the SEC Championship last night.

The New York Times Spends About 3,000 Words on a 5'9" Future DIII Guard

As only the New York Times can do.

Skim the article and ask "why was this story written?" The kid seems nice, and, yes, he did transfer from a very academic private school to one that has a much better basketball program. He lives on the Upper West Side, has 2 siblings and lives in an apartment large enough that the extra bedroom has a ping-pong table in it. Okay, so he's a son of privilege.

But where is the story?

With the Jets struggling to make the playoffs, the Giants faltering, the Knicks and Nets awful and few caring about ice hockey, there are plenty of pages to fill in the NYT. So not compelling was this story, by the way, that it didn't appear in the sports section.

C'mon, NYT, you guys think that you cover stories that others miss and operate at a higher level than everyone else. No disrespect to a kid who seems to be nice, hard-working and earnest, but there's not much to the story.

One Point from Chaos

And in this case, chaos would have been a good thing.

Texas, whose clock management skills left something to be desired last night, eked out a 1-point victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. That win all but guarantees the Longhorns a spot in the national title game against Alabama, which thrashed Florida, in January.

Meanwhile, TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati all finished with undefeated seasons. So, assume for a moment that a) Texas lost to Nebraska or tied the Cornhuskers or, alternatively, b) that those who vote in polls that the BCS takes into account decide that Texas's body of work over the past month or so hasn't been good enough to keep the Longhorns ahead of the three schools I just mentioned.

Then what?

I have nothing against Texas, but the whole outlook of the BCS perplexes at best and infuriates at worst. It would have been fun, as a fan, to see the powers that be in college football deal with a Texas defeat. It would be easy to imagine infuriating everyone -- including the United States Congress (which surprisingly cares, even as the national debt mounts). I have not researched the situation in great detail, but after watching "Sports Center" this morning, it seems that Cincinnati can make a great argument that it's had as good a year as Texas has enjoyed.

Let the arguments begin!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Penn Basketball is 0-5

Yikes. Whatever happened to the intense Penn-Princeton basketball rivalry? When will be the next time these two schools play games that have meaning for the Ivy title?

Yankees to Cut Payroll to $185 Million

That's down from the $208 million they spent in 2009.

The last time I checked, that means they'll still be spend more in 2010 than any other team in the majors.

I know that there are big free agents out there in John Lackey and Jason Bay. Right at the end of the season, the talk was that the marquis names would get the big money and that no one else will. But if the Yankees are cutting their payroll, the Dodgers are in the throes of a divorce, the Cubs have had their issues and the Phillies are focusing on relievers, who is left to pursue these free agents?

Boston? The Mets? The Angels?

The Yankees still look pretty tough to me.

Spain Wins the Davis Cup

Does anyone know what this is?

Does anyone care any more?

No, this isn't the cup that the cars could win in the movie Cars. It's also not the name of the cup that drivers win in NASCAR.

Here's the story line, for those who are interested.

The sport that participates in the Davis Cup has become less and less relevant as the years have passed. It's interesting how the omnipresence of the media and the internet have affected the availability of various pastimes and their popularity. In the abstract, you would have thought that both phenomena would have helped every sport become more popular because each sport would garner more publicity, and, therefore, be able to put more people in the seats, sell more ads, draw more TV ratings, and sell more merchandise.

Instead, these two factors have made the competition between sports more daunting. There isn't room in people's wallets for enough sports dollars to feed all of these sports. We all only have so much to spend. So instead of enhancing the allure of each and every sport, the media that are available has created a continuum with which fans can compare the sports they might be interested in. Some sports have benefited greatly from these factors; others, by comparison, have suffered.

Right now, the NBA and NHL seem to be hurting. Arena Football closed down (a good approach with the media helped it generate its own momentum, but ultimately fans saw Arena Football really for what it is -- a gimmick -- and stopped caring enough to help it through the recession). The indoor soccer league folded before the recession hit. The LPGA has been reeling.

And tennis?

It's very hard to fathom.

But few, if any, care about the Davis Cup any more. Outside the major tournaments, few care about tennis much anymore either.

NASCAR, the NFL and international soccer have benefited greatly. Major League Baseball, pardon the pun, is holding serve.

Tennis once was very exciting, in the age of Navratilova and Evert, McEnroe, Connors and Borg.

Today?

It seems to be something that fills up the ESPN slots in the wee hours.

And that's not good for tennis.

Phillies Should Pass on Pedro Martinez

For the simple reason that you don't know whether the guy who wowed in the NLCS against the Dodgers or several weeks' rest or the guy who looked well past his prime against the Yankees in the World Series will show up. For that reason, the Phillies should pass.

A .500 team with a chance to break through who's willing to take a risk might opt for Pedro.

But the Phillies need someone more predictable.

And better.

And it hurts to say that because of all of Pedro Martinez's accomplishments and because he's a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Pedro recently said he'd like to return to Philadelphia.

The Phillies should say thank you.

And then no thank you.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Search for Princeton's Football Coach is On

And seemingly moving fast, according to this article in The Daily Princetonian.

Among the candidates:

Jason Garrett, Class of '89, the offensive coordinator for the Cowboys (longshot)

Bob Surace, Class of '90, an assistant coach with the Bengals for the past 8 years (somewhat of a long shot)

Mike Bajakian, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Central Michigan, who's a '96 graduate of Williams College and a New Jersey native (interesting candidate; medium shot)

Joe Susan, Rutgers' tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, who once coached Davidson to an undefeated season and who was offensive coordinator at Princeton in most of the 1990's (leader in the clubhouse so far).

Stay tuned -- it will be interesting to see who AD Gary Walters hires for this position.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Then What's Desperation the Parent Of?

The 76ers seem desperate. They are serious about signing Allen Iverson, and word from ESPN Radio and the Philadelphia papers is that the Answer will be in uniform for the team on Monday. Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer unloaded both barrels on the team this morning, a must read for those who are confounded by the latest of front-office moves. I've blogged about the signing here and here and remain unconvinced at best and totally turned off at worst. And, yes, all the while I'll take a shot at Comcast for promoting a circus when they don't own Ringling Brothers. This is ridiculous.

Cigar bars. Dancing girls. Blue light-like specials for tickets, food, drink and photo ops. Now the return of Allen Iverson.

What else will they think of?

Will Phillies' Fans Boo Chris Coste Now That He Signed with the Mets?

Figured that the question was worth asking.

I would hope that they wouldn't. Coste's story is a terrific one, and he contributed well to the Phillies' efforts in 2007 and 2008. Phillies' fans should recall a visit to St. Louis at the beginning of the 2008 season, when Cardinals' fans gave a standing ovation to Phillies' back-up outfielder (how soon they forget) So Taguchi, who had played a reserve role for the Cardinals for several years. That was classy, and Phillies' fans would be wise to emulate Cardinals' fans.