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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Friday, July 30, 2010

NFL Rookies and Their Money

This article in USA Today talks about how the NFL is trying to teach its rookies how to be careful with their money. The simple truth is that these are young men with a lot of money, and, as such, become targets of people who want it for all sorts of reasons -- many of them bad, even if well-intentioned. I had read somewhere (perhaps it was in the Sports Illustrated article last year) that someone -- and it might have been Torii Hunter, the centerfielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- invested about $80,000 in a company that was designing a floating sofa for people who lived in or near flood zones. Just because these players have come into a lot of money at a young age doesn't mean that they know what to do with it or, alternatively, that they are destined to do stupid things with it.

What's the answer? To those "elders" who try to give advice to a young player not to take his entourage to the local Louis Vuitton outlet and blow $60,000 on stuff that the consumers won't appreciate 10 minutes after buying it, my guess is that the player might answer, "well, it's a free country, and I owe these guys, they've had my back since first grade." What do you say to that? How can you make putting 80% of the signing bonus into a variety of no-load mutual funds at The Vanguard Group, to buy only one car (and not spend $100,000 on it), to rent, and to live modestly.

As the article says, "NFL" means "not for long", as most careers are very short. Most players will not make enough money to retire on, let alone to live for a year or two after their careers are over without a job.

Read the whole thing. It's instructive about how easy it is to throw away money and how many people there are out there who will help you do just that.

Let the players beware.

And, remember, if you're a player or someone close to one, this -- the word "no" is the biggest stress reliever.

Finding a Travel Softball Team for One's Daughter

Just wanted to see if anyone out there has had experience with this.

My daughter had a good year last year in her first year of travel ball. Local associations, though, tend to change from year to year, in terms of how many teams they'll sponsor at different age groups, who will coach them, who the association deems will be on them, who gets elevated because they played on a younger age group's team (whether they've improved or not) and what level the team will play at. I'm dealing with this now, am somewhat clueless as to the politics and how hard to make connections (as opposed to have my daughter simply show up at tryouts), and sincerely can say I have a coachable, earnest, even-keeled, competitive kid who knows what she needs to do to improve, has shown to be good at making contact, good defensively with a strong arm. Atop that, she has two low-maintenance parents, who accept that all competitive sports leagues are less than perfect, who support their daughter's efforts because their daughter truly loves the game, and who hope to have their daughter play in a situation where the kids are supportive, friendly and love the game.

Thoughts?

The Phillies, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt

Before this season, the Phillies traded Cliff Lee to the Mariners for three prospects. At the time, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. talked about the need for the team to adhere to a strict ceiling for payroll and to replenish its farm system given that it gave up prospects not only to get Lee for a half-season rental, but also to get Roy Halladay.

Before this season's trading deadline, the Phillies traded J.A. Happ (runner up for the N.L. Rookie of the Year award last year) and two low-A prospects to the Houston Astros for their #1 starter, Roy Oswalt, and $11 million dollars (to pay for half of what remains on Oswalt's contract). Naturally, this could be a concession from the budget-conscious at best and cheap at worst front office that the Lee trade to the Mariners was a mistake, they should have kept him all along. Now, what they're saying is, you should match up a) the prospects we got for Lee and b) the prospects we traded for Oswalt to determine how we did and whether, ostensibly, a half-season for Lee versus at least one and a half seasons for Oswalt trade was worth it (with a miserable half-season gap in between of enduring the disappointing Joe Blanton and the quadruple A Kyle Kendrick)?

Am I parsing that right, or am I making a mess of it? Right now, the prospects the Phillies got for Lee compare negatively to the ones traded for Oswalt. Happ could have a decent career as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and nice words have been written about the upside of the prospects the team traded to Houston. That said, nice things frequently get written about prospects.

Time, as usual, will tell. Jayson Stark wrote on ESPN.com today that at least one scout still favors the Braves in the NL East because the Braves' bullpen is better than the Phillies. That may be so. But I still think it's the case that the Phillies have the best record in baseball in September over the last 5 years. Then again, they still have to play August's schedule, they miss Chase Utley, and Oswalt of 2010 might not be the Oswalt of several seasons ago. Then again (again), a pitcher for a perennial losing team might just get rejuvenated playing before packed houses on a contender.

While Phillies' fans should be happy today with Oswalt, most of them are wondering why the team couldn't have made it easier on itself and just kept Cliff Lee.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stupid Pie Tricks

Sounds like a riddle from Carnac the Great:

Chris Coghlan, shaving-cream pie, disabled list.

Read the story for yourself.

The Phillies lost Chase Utley for a long time because of a thumb injury he incurred while sliding head first into second base. They lost Placido Polanco for a time because he got hit by a pitch on his elbow, and catcher Carlos Ruiz made his way to the disabled list with a concussion that resulted from getting hit by a bat.

But the Marlins, who were red hot, lose a key cog because of, well, a fun post-game prank. Or, a post-game prank that was supposed to be fun.

No one is laughing now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rebuilding France

Actually, the French national team.

New mentor Laurent Blanc wasted no time in trying to put his stamp on the national soccer team. He suspended all 23 members of the World Cup squad for the team's next international match versus Norway. This, of course, after the French team struck for a day during the World Cup and then woefully underperformed during the tournament, failing to make it out of the first round.

Let's see, though, how Blanc can restore order. You have the issue of entitled stars, a predecessor coach who clashed with players and religious and ethnic differences. It will be interesting to see if a) there are enough other players to challenge for berths to not compel Blanc to recruit those in disfavor back to the team and b) whether there is sufficient feeling among the stars for the country itself. It also isn't clear what the meaning of the suspension is. Is it a suspension or an expulsion, or will Blanc review each player's status on a case by case basis?

And then, of course, there's the LeBron factor. If Blanc views each player's status on a case-by-case basis, what's to stop some of the stars from banding together and saying, "Hey, listen, you can do what you want, but if you don't take all five of us in a package, none of us are coming?" That's where matters could get interesting, even if the court of public opinion in France tilts toward the country and Blanc on the particular issue of rebuilding the national team.

What a mess a once proud French team has become. Blanc seems to be taking the necessary steps to restore order, but only time will tell.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Phillies Fire Hitting Coach Milt Thompson

Does the Phillies' front office really think that the fans will buy that the team has failed miserably because of Thompson's coaching? Isn't this the same Milt Thompson who was the hitting coach when the team won the World Series in 2008 and returned there in 2009? Could he and his approach have changed that dramatically over the past season as to be the principal blame for the team's woes? And, if not, why did the Phillies do the obvious and can a good employee because some people in the front office thought this would be a genius move to draw attention away from the fact that the team has had its share of injuries and the front office itself has had a bad year.

This was a dumb move.

A transparently dumb move.

First, the Phillies have had a ton of injuries. The pitching staff has been riddled with them. Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz missed a ton of time with injuries. Chase Utley has been out for a while and might be out for the year. Hard to win when, at one time, the last four hitters in your lineup were Juan Castro, Wilson Valdez, Dane Sardinha and the pitcher. Heck, with that lineup, it would have been hard to win at AAA Lehigh Valley.

Second, is it Thompson's fault that Jayson Werth, in playing for a contract, stopped hitting well after the first six weeks of the season? Is it Thompson's fault that Shane Victorino has almost turned into Pedro Feliz, at least from the standpoint of on-base percentage, and seems to be swinging up and for the fences too much (when his size dictates that he should not be doing this)? Is it Thompson's fault that Raul Ibanez has turned into a lemon since after the first half of last season or that Utley hadn't hit as well before he got hurt than he had in years past? Or, that the Phillies' bench didn't scare anyone? Is all that Thompson's fault?

Third, is it Thompson's fault that the Phillies went into the season having let Cliff Lee to the Mariners for prospects who were designed to replenish the farm system but who might turn out to be placeholders and not much more? Is it Thompson's fault that the team signed Denys Baez to play a key role in the bullpen, when, instead, the veteran reliever right now is the pitching equivalent to bringing gasoline to the fire? Is it Thompson's fault that the three-year deals given Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez might well rival the deal given Adam Eaton four years ago in terms of futility, and that the three-year deal given Joe Blanton looks like it could well be on the same road? Is it Thompson's fault that the top end of the farm system is relatively bare, or tha the rotation had to rely upon the aging Jamie Moyer and the frustrating Kyle Kendrick? Is it Thompson's fault that J.A. Happ got hurt and hasn't been able to contribute much this year after almost winning the Rookie of the Year award last year?

The Phillies' front office tried to pull a parlor trick on its fans with its hitting coach as the foil this week. That's a pretty pathetic move from a front office that knows better and could have done better in this instance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Time for Phillies to Say Goodbye to Kyle Kendrick as a Starter for Good

Enough already. Stop teasing the fans, the team and Kyle Kendrick with his AAAA status (that's no typo) as a starting pitcher. He has 1 1/2 pitches, can win at Yankee Stadium (as he did a month ago) when he keeps the ball down against teams that don't see him that often, but boils over like an unwatched pot at unopportune times, like he did last night in the fifth inning in St. Louis.

The Phillies sent Kyle Kendrick to AAA Lehigh Valley today. He should not return to this organization -- again -- as a starting pitcher. Ever.

Because it's a sad tale. The Phillies have two choices with Kendrick outside releasing him. One is to convert him into a reliever, a role to which he's more suited because a) his lack of pitches and b) his inability to get through a lineup multiple times. The other is to trade him to someone who might see something in him and try to rehabilitate him. But under no circumstances can the Phillies let him fail for a third time. That would be a sign of nuttiness.

In 2008, Kendrick got off to a good start, won 11 or 12 games (I can't remember) and then faltered so badly in the second half that he was left off the post-season roster. Put differently, he morphed into the team's worst pitcher who was not named Adam Eaton. He started 2009 in the minors and pitched most of the year down on the farm. To his credit, when called up and upon late in the season, he pitched pretty well, including a three-inning relief effort down the stretch that helped seal a victory (this after he was called up mid-season, bombed in one game, and immediately was sent down). This season, he broke camp in the rotation because of injuries to both J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton. He remained in the rotation because Happ was hurt, and at times he pitched very well.

But he's also one of those guys that every time you think he turned the corner, he combusts. And that's okay, occasionally, for a young pitcher on an also-ran, but not for a starter on a World Series contender. Not if that team wants to be a World Series contender.

We've seen plenty of Kyle Kendrick. It's not that he's a bad guy or that he doesn't work hard. It's just that after multiple opportunities, the team should know what it has and should move on. Jamie Moyer is iffy because of his slow stuff and age (if he doesn't have pinpoint location he gets hit), and Joe Blanton has been downright awful. Add Kendrick to the mix, and the team does not have a good starting rotation. Not that the guy whom they called up to replace Kendrick -- Drew Carpenter -- comes with an advanced billing that borderlines on terrific. He's been here and done that -- as in "that's not so good" -- and might be the Phillies' best option absent a trade.

Regardless of how the team fares this year, next year they need to move on from Kendrick if they want to remain contenders.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jayson Werth Can Do Better Than This

This year, we have had umpires admit that they made mistakes, including one that cost a pitcher a perfect case. A few days ago, we had Phillies' rightfielder Jayson Werth sprint toward foul territory trying to catch a fly ball. He ran into a dad, who was also trying to catch the ball and who was trying to protect his ten year-old son. That happens a lot, I would think, and you don't read about it.

Except this time, Werth reacted and told the father to stay the bleep out of his way. Werth told the press that he feels bad about it, but he didn't apologize, basically chalking it up to "these things happen in the heat of the game." You can read Bob Brookover's article about the incident, the reaction, and Werth's take in the Philadelphia Inquirer here.

In essence, Werth feels badly about what happened but he didn't apologize. Look, the Phillies are playing relatively poorly compared to the past three seasons, Werth has had his struggles, he's playing for his big contract (he'll be a free agent after this season), and there have been trade rumors that would send him to a contender. Taken together, that can be unsettling for anyone, let alone someone who plies his trade before 45,000 nightly and has to read about his shortcomings (and successes) the next day in the papers. That's a lot of pressure.

But even so, does it justify Werth's cursing out a fan? Of course it doesn't.

Does it warrant an apology? Yes, Jayson, it does. You said it in the heat of the moment, you didn't mean it, similarly situated, you would have gone for the ball whether or not you were trying to protect your son, the fans help your popularity and, amidst a recession, are given your team great attendance, the fans crate the market and the demand for you, and all sorts of reasons. You owe it to the fan and his son to apologize, and it would do well for your image and career to do so too, because it says that you're human, you value the fans, you made a mistake, and you're big enough to admit it with a real apology.

And not an "I'm sorry if what I said upset you," but a real "I know what I did was wrong. I reacted and took my frustration out on you, when I should have been focusing more on the Braves or Reds or whomever. Those who know me know that this is out of character for me. I love the interactions that I have with the fans, and the fans have been very supportive of our team and me. I'm a competitive guy, I want to get every last ball, and, well, in the heat of the moment my emotions got the better of me. I want to make sure that every fan has a good experience at the ball park." Or something along those lines, and perhaps he could meet with the fan and his son before a game, give him an autographed ball and bat and perhaps a few other goodies and end it on a high note.

Because then, in addition, to contributing mightily to a World Champion in 2008, Jayson Werth once again would be acting like a champion.

By the way, many people react to situations the way Jayson Werth did, daily, in the workplace, in extracurricular activities, whatever. And many apologize. Jayson Werth is a human who happens to be a very good baseball player. Behavior like this happens from time to time, especially for people under great pressure and great scrutiny. The power of an apology -- a sincere apology -- helps distinguish the champions from the also rans. I hope that Jayson Werth recognizes this and does the best thing he can do here.

LeBron's "Welcome" Bash in Miami

It certainly wasn't for diabetics or those with a bad gag reflex, that's for sure.

Just when you thought that LeBron James couldn't have topped the ridiculousness charts after his "interview" with Jim Gray and his announcement of his decision to join the Miami Heat at a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut of all places (the irony is that it's one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States), he appeared as a wing man to Dwayne Wade at the Miami Heat's "welcome" party last night. I don't have a link to the video, but you have to try to find one, because he topped what he did two nights ago and gave his critics and haters even more ammunition which what could best be described as a self-indulgent, "aren't I and we great" love fest that was too gross to be believed. LeBron also joined Chris Bosh in playing wingman to Dwayne Wade, making him and Bosh "Pips" to Wade's Gladys Knight, or putting him as just another guy on the back line of the Temptations (to borrow a phrase from Simon Cowell). I'm sure at some point some Heat guy will thrust LeBron front and center in honor of the late Patrick Swayze's famous line in the big dance scene at the end of "Dirty Dancing", when he takes Jennifer Grey's character from her seat and says, "No one puts Baby in the corner." No one will put LeBron in the back line for long, either, and that will make all fans wonder who should be front and center -- Wade or James. And that's when things could get interesting.

In any event, it was another "over the top" affair, worse than the announcement itself, and just more cannon fodder for opponents in other cities who will make sure that they are up for the Heat every time they play them. Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joachim Noah and, of course, Kobe Bryant, who will be gunning for the Heat the way challenger Clubber Lang went after Rocky in Rocky III, with one exception.

Kobe is smart enough and determined enough not to suffer Clubber's fate after he dethroned Rocky. And besides, Kobe has more rings than the 3 Kings, as they're calling themselves, have combined.

The Heat are loaded beyond belief.

And that will make it all the more fun for their challengers to yell, "Timber."

Taxation Affects Behavior Department: LeBron James

The Wall Street Journal opined on its editorial page that while it wasn't there to bury or praise LeBron, it had to note that Florida has no state income tax, while Ohio has a 7% state income tax for earners like LeBron and that New York's and New Jersey's are even higher (you'll recall that those states are home to two of LeBron's suitors, the Knicks and the Nets). So, if LeBron makes say $40 million a year with salary and endorsements, he'll save a considerable amount over his five-year deal with the Heat by establishing Florida as his residence. Believe it or not, I'm sure that this figured into LeBron's decision, especially because he'll be getting less salary from the Heat than he could have in Cleveland. (Of course, this calls the question as to LeBron's endorsement value given the two spectacles that occured, the one in Connecticut where he announced his decision and the "welcome" party that was held in Miami last night). So, even if the endorsements don't make the fellow a world icon (and a host on WFAN in New York this morning said that he'll now play Scottie Pippen to Dwayne Wade's Michael Jordan in Miami), he'll still have over $10 million in tax savings by joining the Heat.

Memo to all professional sports teams seeking free agents -- it's best to be in a low- or no-tax state.

And LeBron is very financially savvy, too.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Sad Case of Mathew Saad Muhammad

The teenaged boy was approaching the second green of the 9-hole public golf course he played with his dad, usually on hot, summer weekend afternoons. The boy and his dad liked it that way, when the course was less crowded, even if the heat and humidity compelled most people to head indoors and drink a cold one, usually those bottles of Coca Cola that had the steam coming out of them when opened.

His dad was in the right rough, near the hedgerow that separated the golf course from the parking lot of the neighboring apartment complex and was situated near a department store and a combination shopping mall and office building. A well-built African-American man was jogging on the fringe rough, pushing himself hard. I remember that he looked determined, cut, that he was working hard.

The dad was looking for his ball, waved to the jogger, said "Hi, Champ." The jogger nodded in recognition of the greeting, mumbled hello, and kept on jogging. He would repeat a loop around the course, up and down its terrain, which included a big hill or two, for a while, perhaps an hour.

When they got to the green, the son was curious. His father was a friendly guy, the type who said hello to everyone, but he normally said only hello. He wasn't one of those guys who called everyone "champ" or "buddy" or "chief" or anything like that.

"Who was that?" the son asked. "Do you know him."

"Don't know him, but know of him. That guy," the father said, "is Matthew Saad Muhammad. He's the light heavyweight champion of the world."

The son looked at the jogger, still running hard, in the distance. It was pretty cool, seeing the light heavyweight champion of the world doing his running on this small, friendly golf course. Apparently, he lived nearby, and his was quite a story.

That teenaged boy was me, the dad my father, and the place was a small course in the Philadelphia suburbs that once had been a private country club. The champion once was named Matthew Franklin, was abandoned as a young boy, took up boxing after he got into trouble, and was one tough fighter, a "Rocky" type who could fall behind in a fight and battle his way out of it. Many of his fights were brutal, and he won many more than he lost.

He was young, he was tough, but he didn't know how to manage his money, and he paid for everyone and everything. He tried working different jobs, but, well, time and a lack of post-boxing skills has taken its tolls. Matthew Saad Muhammad, at 56, walked into a homeless shelter in Philadelphia the other day. Out of money, out of luck, out of places to go.

You can read his story here.

And a tough one it is. But the one thing that you cannot escape is that despite his reputation for being a fearsome fighter, at the core he's a nice man.

A nice man in need of a few breaks.

Someone who entertained and thrilled many, someone who gave his profession his all.

Here's to hoping that he can renew himself and combine his fearsomeness and fierceness as a fighter to rebuild his life and emerge from his current set of problems.

Deep down, he's still the champ, and no one can take that away from him.

Here's to hoping that he still has many, many rounds to go.

The LeBron James Show

What should have happened last night on ESPN was that LeBron James took the microphone, thanked every team for cooperating completely with him during his process, announced that he wanted to have fun playing with friends and winning titles and that Miami happened to be the place where Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are, and then thanked Cleveland profusely for all of the opportunities and all of the support, as graciously and humbly as possible given the fact that he was bound to disappoint his hometown. I didn't agree with LeBron's process or his (now total) self-absorption, but I would have done the same thing that he did -- go to Miami with great players and try to bring home titles.

Instead, he created a spectacle that was almost as bad as what Rocky put on during training for his first fight with Clubber Lang in Rocky III. All that was missing were celebrity spectators, long mink coats, cigars, a ring announcer and dancing girls. What was about as bad was the fawning that ESPN did, and the back-drop of the Boys & Girls' Club of Greenwich, where I hope that the kids there learned some positive message about character as opposed to a mixed one about stardom and spectacle.

A few other points:

1. New York, generally, are being sore losers about LeBron. I saw one headline (perhaps the Post that called him "LeBum," and another lead article saying that the best city in the world didn't really need him. The Knicks were classy, but the Knicks' organization has been a joke for over ten years, especially during the Isiah Thomas' reign, so the city and its fans should be careful about dissing LeBron when the prized franchise has run itself so poorly for a long time. I'm sure that the prospect of playing alongside Eddy Curry was really enticing. The Knicks did make a good run, and I'm sure that the ability to hobknob with monied people who could help enhance his brand would have excited LeBron. But, in the end, playing with Amare Stoudemire just wasn't enough, especially when you can play with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.

2. The Bulls still will be a good team, now that they just added Carlos Boozer to a strong rebounding team. Boozer. Rose. Noah. Not too bad.

3. What intrigued me all night was what Kobe Bryant must be thinking. I told my wife that he was probably storming around his house like an angry bull, not angry with Coach Phil or with any of his teammates, but angry that somehow LeBron and Wade were referred to as the two best players in the game and he wasn't mentioned. I'm sure he's thinking, I've won many more championships than those guys, and boy am I and my teammates going to show everyone next year that we'll repeat and repeat again, because I am the best player in the game. Kobe will use this as a motivator to stick it into the teeth of any team that tries to get in the Lakers' way. Don't count the Lakers out, not by a long shot.

So there you have it, the headline-stealing NBA in the middle of a steamy summer. The Heat now have the bullseye on their backs, not only in terms of what game every opponent will get up for, but for all of the free agents with limited skills who'll want to populate the roster and try to get a ring. They still will need a 1 and a 5, and they'll still need LeBron and D-Wade to demonstrate that they can play together. Remember, the analogies to the Celtics "Big Three" are not totally on point, because Messrs. Allen, Pierce and Garnett did prove that they could complement each other. It remains to be seen whether a regulation-size NBA court can accommodate both Dwayne Wade and LeBron James.

But it will be a lot of fun watching -- the show on the court, that is.

Time to Replace Brad Lidge

Last night, the Phillies were up 3-2 over the Reds in the top of the ninth. The Reds tied in on a two-out double by Miguel Cairo, a journeyman whom the Phillies picked up last year off the scrap heap and who is now a utility infielder for the Reds. The Phillies pitcher? Brad Lidge.

It looked like a no brainer in the middle of the 2008 season, after the Phillies acquired Lidge and Eric Bruntlett from Ed Wade's Astros for Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary. Lidge was so good that, by the middle of the magical 2008 season, the Phillies inked him to a three-year deal (for about $12 million per). Bruntlett fared well in '08 as a utility player, but he fizzled badly last year and has ventured to parts unknown. Geary, always a solid middle reliever, is hurt, and Bourn transformed himself from a fast player with OBP issues into an All-Star this year (take that, Shane Victorino!). Look, it was a good trade for the Phillies, as Lidge's excellence at the back end of the 'pen in 2008 assured a World Series victory.

Fast forward two years, and Lidge is in the second year of that three-year deal, and the deal is proving to be about as bad as Pat Gillick's biggest free-agent signing during his tenure with the Phillies -- yes, I'm invoking the name of Adam Eaton. Eaton was so bad that the Phillies released him with one year and $9 million left on his deal before last season (the last year on his contract). Lidge has proven to be just as bad -- if not worse -- and he has a year and a half left on his deal. During the contract, he has been plum awful. The only reason he continues to close is because either the Phillies are convinced they have no one else or, more likely, because they've invested so much in him that they will give him time to pitch out of his funk.

But at what cost?

Wins?

Fans?

The Phillies are vulnerable now. It's hard to win consistently when the last four hitters in your lineup are named Dobbs, Schneider, Valdez and your pitcher, especially when the first three are replacing guys named Polanco, Ruiz and Utley. It's also hard to win when your bullpen is iffy (compounding what now looks to be the Lidge blunder is the bad signing of Denys Baez, about whom Baseball Prospectus warned everyone). And lest anyone think that I'm piling on either Gillick or GM Ruben Amaro, remember that they offered Lidge the lucrative deal after 1 partial season in Philadelphia, which followed a roller coaster's worth of seasons in Houston. Put differently, it was a risky signing.

And it's risky putting him in there. On some nights, even the best closers don't have their best stuff. Their breaking balls don't bite, their fast ball is a foot short. But when you watch Lidge, you get amazed by how poor his command is -- he'll bounce balls in the dirt, throw them way too high, way too outside or way too over the plate. He groved one to Cairo, which just goes to show you that even a below-average Major League hitter can smoke on when a pitcher does everything other than put the ball on a tee for him.

If the Phillies are to contend, they need to put Lidge in a set-up role or a middle relief role, and turn the closer's role over to someone else. Scott Mathieson fared well in the closer's role at AAA Lehigh Valley, and now might be the time to give him a chance.

Before an over-reliance on "Lights Out" Lidge turns the lights out on the Phillies' season.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Cliff Lee Sweepstakes Are On!

So say reports from ESPN.com.

This is not unexpected. After all, the front office of the Mariners built the team on pitching and defense, and forgot that there aren't penalty shootouts, corner kicks and other set pieces in baseball. Translated, the Mariners just cannot hit, and they're sellers. Again.

So Cliff Lee didn't make the post-season roster for the Indians in 2007, was traded to the Phillies in the middle of 2009 for four prospects, was traded to the Mariners after the 2009 season for three prospects, and will be traded again before July 31 because his contract will expire after this season. In his early 30's, Lee will get a great deal as a free agent because he pitches great. Atop that, he's fun to watch, he works quickly, and he looks like the most relaxed pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball.

The Twins and Rangers appear to be the front runners, and wherever he goes, he'll make his team a serious contender to make the playoffs and to go far in them. He was money last year for the Phillies, and he'll be money again for a contender. The Rays also are in the hunt, and they have the type of prospects that the Mariners would want/command (they had about 11 of Baseball Prospectus's top 101 at the outset of the season, a statistically significant number).

If you're a fan of a team that is on the cusp, holler loud and clear for Cliff Lee.

You won't be sorry.

Live from Greenwich, Connecticut: It's LeBron James

So LeBron will go live from the Boys & Girls' club in one of the richest zip codes in the United States (by the way, there are people there who have greater annual incomes than he does and who have a higher net worth -- many, in fact). What does this tell us?

Perhaps nothing.

But, Greenwich is a suburb of New York City, which could mean that he could join defensively challenged Amare Stoudemire as a New York Knick.

Why?

Because LeBron wants himself to be an international brand perhaps the way no one -- not even Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali or Pele -- has been before. Sure, it's an ambitious dream, and one he'd start to accomplish by winning a championship or two. The Knicks have a putrid recent history and are looking for a savior, their glory days of the late 1960's and early 1970's so far behind them that few remember anymore (heck, many don't know of the significance of Jackie Robinson). New York remains the center of the world's finances, and, yes, in many ways it's a magical city.

Why not?

And whither the Bulls?

It looks as though the Bulls might be the odd team out here. They had a bunch of big-name college players over the past five years and couldn't get them to play together, so they cleared out cap space in order to sign two big-ticket free agents. But perhaps the legacy of Michael Jordan looms so large that those big names don't want the comparison. The legacy also is so recent that perhaps even one championship won't matter as much to Bulls' fans as it will, say, to Knick fans (imagine what it would mean, though, to Cavs' fans, but I digress). So Chicago might be left with a bunch of cap space, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose.

And, of course, whither Miami?

The gateway to Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world, a hip city, but a city that won a title recently and that is D-Wade's town. After all, he's played great there, and for now he's the man. I just can't imagine LeBron journeying to Miami and saying "it's Dwayne's team" the way free agent Moses Malone went to Philadelphia and swore to all who would listen that it was "Doc's team" even though Dr. J was at the end of his career and the team wouldn't have made a dent in the Celtics or Lakers without the tough big man. That's, perhaps, the rub, and perhaps why despite Tweets from both Wade and Chris Bosh that they'd love to play with James that he might not go there.

I liked the idea that Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated put forth a while back, that James makes so much money his NBA salary shouldn't matter as much, that he should go to L.A., take $1 million a year, play alongside Kobe, and string together a bunch of titles. So great would this accomplishment be, so the logic goes, that LeBron would earn huge bucks from endorsements, add to his legend and thus his brand, and achieve everything he wants.

There are two problems with this theory, though. One, star players do measure themselves by the coin that they bring home, and they are so competitive that the thought that Luke Walton might make more in salary than the best player in the game (or one of the top two, alongside Kobe) would gall any self-respecting superstar. Two, Kobe is there, and he can make a great argument that he's the premier player, the best in the league, and he has the rings to prove it. So LeBron would have injected himself into a situation where he would be playing young Kobe to Kobe's older Shaq, and he has a good enough sense of history to know that a) that doesn't work and b) people have no clue who played the #2 fiddle behind Charlie Daniels.

So that leaves us where?

The Nets?

The Clippers?

The Mavs (assuming that after paying his fines Mark Cuban has enough left over to pay the luxury tax)?

Nope, it's probably a three-horse race among the Knicks, Cavaliers and Heat.

The bet here is that LeBron James wants the Big Apple and all of the access that being there will get him.

Access, yes.

A title?

Perhaps not.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Restaurant Recommendation for St. Michael's, Maryland

Normally, I write about sports, but I also like good teamwork, so. . .

We just got back from a vacation to St. Michael's, Maryland, a small town on Maryland's eastern shore that is on the Chesapeake Bay. And we ate at one restaurant in particular that I thought was worthy of recommending (others also were good).

The restaurant in question, Bistro St. Michael's, draws props because of the teamwork that the people in the restaurant displayed. We enjoyed ourselves so much the first time we went there that we made a recommendation for the next night (by the way, I would recommend making reservations, as the place does fill up). The principal reason was our server the first night, who got me to try something I had always wanted to try -- softshell crabs (yes, you eat the shell, too, but it's soft). She was well-trained, believed in her chef and what she was selling, and offered an entree not on the menu -- instead of two softshell crabs, I could get one softshell and one crab cake. Sold! I wasn't disappointed; each was terrific. The kids who bused the tables also knew how to talk to patrons, the food was excellent and well presented, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

But what my wife and I kept on coming back to was the preparation, training and teamwork. The owner trained his staff well -- they knew when to show up (and at what intervals), knew how to talk to customers, and knew the menu well. That didn't happen by accident. The staff seemed to enjoy working in this type of atmosphere, and they ended up with two delighted customers. In addition to what I had, my wife had a roasted chicken dish the first night and a New York strip steak the second, both of which were excellent (the steak was one of the best I had ever tasted). The steamed mussels appetizer was also terrific.

As you can see, I need to polish up my work on recommending restaurants. I can't explain subleties, the variety of the wine list, types of cooking and seasoning very well, but to quote the character Red in the movie The Natural (Red was the coach played by the legendary Richard Farnsworth, and in the particular scene to which I'm referring he took Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, to dinner in a nice restaurant after Hobbs was called up to the big leagues), "You can't spell it, but it sure does eat good."

Amen.

And great teamwork, too.