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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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kris Humphries Can Afford to Quit His Day Job

Kim Kardashian grossed $18 million on their wedding, netted $8 million after expenses.

Humphries isn't a household name; Kardashian is. Humphries isn't an NBA star, and while Kardashian isn't a star per se, she's perhaps the most famous for making herself famous. Sounds a bit like Yogi Berra, doesn't it?

There's a famous line in accounts about Joe DiMaggio when his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe, recounted to him a trip she took overseas. She told her husband, "Oh, you've never heard cheering like that." To which the Yankee Clipper responded, "But I have."

Don't know if Humphries has heard much cheering since his abbreviated college career (where one could argue that the biggest yelping going on in Minnesota was when he chose Minnesota as his college), and I also don't know if Kardashian has heard such cheers, either. But it's certainly the case that she draws a crowd almost anywhere she goes, while Humphries might draw fans because tall people usually draw the question, "did you play basketball?"

It will be interesting to see how he'll fare playing Mr. Kim Kardashian, as it would be interesting to see his financial statements to determine how much of his net worth he spent on her engagement ring.

The TV special on the wedding airs in October, which is good timing because the NBA season might not start at all. Kris Humphries will get more exposure for this than for his hoops career. But the NBA will get plenty of exposure because he's a hoopster, regardless of whether there's a lockout or not. Sounds like a good deal for everyone.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Crunch Time for Phillies' Farm System

Part of the Phillies' great run from 2007 on has been the strength of their farm system and their ability to replenish it with solid prospects. Otherwise, it's hard to explain how they've been able to pry good players from other teams to fortify their roster.

But it could be that the Phils' magic is running out. Right now, their top two draft picks -- Larry Greene and Roman Quinn -- are unsigned, and they have until Tuesday to sign them.

Having traded top prospects Jared Cosart and Jonathan Singleton to the Astros for Hunter Pence, the Phillies drew upon their deep well of talent to get a good bat for the #5 slot in their lineup. That said, it's not as though any farm system abounds in talent endlessly. And while one scout offered that the Phils' farm system probably dropped back to the middle of the pack after that trade (which is a pretty good thing given the number of prospects they've traded over the past five years), they still need to replenish it. Greene and Quinn -- according to the experts -- would help, and you don't have to be an expert to realize that a team's top two draft picks should help. The question is whether the front office can get the job done.

This story won't be a headline grabber in all likelihood, but it's an important one for a top team looking to remain elite for the next couple of years before Father Time catches up with it.

Much Adu About. . .

Okay, so I couldn't resist, but I didn't finish the headline because Freddy Adu is only 22 years old and still have some of his best soccer left in him. Unfortunately, when he was 14, he entered the soccer world as a Premiership All-Star and, right now, is coming out as a hand-me-down for a second-tier league. He just signed with MLS's Philadelphia Union a few days ago.

Eight years ago this would have been a huge story. Today, it's a bit of "where are they now," and I'm sure Philadelphia Union fans are thrilled to have him in tow (he's no Thierry Henry, but he's a headliner and MLS desperately needs those). MLS has succeeded in grabbing headlines, especially in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have baseball's best record and the Eagles' average pre-season signing makes Adu look like the back-up goalie for your local soccer association's "B" 14 and under travel team.

As for soccer in the U.S. itself, that's probably better discussed on another day and in another blog. If MLS's short-term goal was to grab a headline, they succeeded. If it's to put a world class product on the field, well, they have a ways to go.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"There Goes The Best Hitter That Ever Was"

That's what Ted Williams wanted everyone to say about him. Problem was, Williams was one of those guys who became more appreciated after his career ended. During his career, he ran into all sorts of problems with the media, some self-inflicted, others unfair. Clearly, he wasn't as bad a guy as some of the "knights of the keyboard" (his sarcastic moniker for Boston sportswriters) made him out to be.

Today, there's a AA player in the Nats' farm system about whom much has been written, Bryce Harper. Problem is, the negative reports that we hear about Harper aren't nearly as subjective as the ones that the fans heard about Williams back in the day. The reason -- streaming video, YouTube, and the internet. Harper might be a transcending talent, but he also has a transcending temper and ego. Together, they are a toxic combination, sure to turn opponents and umpires against him. Take a look at this video clip from YouTube about a recent (with the past few days) ejection of Harper to see what I am talking about.

Right now, Harper is both a super talent and his own worst enemy. Part of the issue is that he's only 18 years old, and part of it is that he's been so hyped that he believes a lot of it (of course, if you can deliver, the saying goes, "it ain't bragging."). The world has to be patient with Bryce Harper, for sure, but the Nats need to figure out a way to reach him, coach him better, and turn him into a more solid professional. If they succeed, they could have an achiever for the ages. If they fail, they'll have a head case who becomes more trouble than he is worth.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Real Madrid Signs 7 Year-Old Prospect

I'm sure that this is something that Jerry Jones or the late George Steinbrenner wished he could have thought of.

Read the wire story here.

This is nuts, isn't it? Is there any other way to put it other than to let kids be kids, let them play in various leagues, get more structure as they get older, and then make their way into the professional ranks. Can't they let him grow up outside an incubator? Can't they let him grow up and be "normal" for as long as possible?

Either it's a slow news day and Real Madrid wanted to get back in the headlines in a big way or something is really wrong. Is there anyone who can stop this?

Leave the kids alone.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Are Baseball Players Like Flood Water?

Flood water will go everywhere you don't want it to go unless you put up barriers. Before Robert E. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, he was a colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and spent a significant amount of time helping design and build the flood wall that protects St. Louis from the potential ravages of the Mississippi River. At one point, there was a statue in St. Louis honoring Lee for his accomplishments as an engineer. (I do not know whether that statue still stands today).

Try as it can through testing, MLB simply cannot find enough ways to ban performance-enhancing substances. As Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four, if you told a pitcher that a pill existed that would guarantee him 20 wins in a season, he'd take it, even if it would take five years off his life. The French, you recall, wanted to prevent a second world war, so what did they do? They built the Maginot Line near the border with Germany. So what did the Germans do? They took a page out of a football playbook, made an end run around the Maginot Line and went into France via Belgium.

So what are MLB players doing since they get tested for steroids? Apparently, there's a spray made from deer antlers that has properties to induce the building/regeneration/replenishment/healing of muscles. And, of course, MLB doesn't test its players for deer antler spray. I mean, they don't test players for ingesting hippotamus urine or lyophilized hyena toenails, so why think of testing for deer antler spray?

But that's how tenuous a hold many Major Leaguers have a hold on their jobs, or at least think they do. For every Chase Utley there are handfuls of the Michael Martinezes, Wilson Valdezes and Ben Franciscos, each of which doesn't get that much of an opportunity to distinguish himself before the brass when he gets a shot. The player with sporadic playing time -- and those who get more playing time but who are perpetually fearful (as they should be) of losing their jobs -- need to find an edge. The reason that I say that they should be fearful for losing their jobs is rooted in my reading of the 2009 Baseball Prospectus and counting in my head the number of players still with a team or its organization today from that list. My count is roughly 30-35%. In digging deeper on the team I'm most familiar with, the Phillies, I noted that the core from back then remains intact, but the periphery has changed dramatically. Most of the jobs in the bullpen have turned over, as have a few spots in the rotation and many spots on the bench. That's how tenuous a hold most players have on a roster spot.

Enter Jim Bouton's premise and the advent of deer antler spray. I don't know what the answer is or how to solve the problem, but to point out that it's pretty sad that players will resort to snake oil if they believe that they can make more money and spend more time playing baseball. After all, there are only so many boundaries that MLB can put up to catch bad behavior.

So, if you hear that many more players are going deer hunting in late November and early December, now you'll know why. And if players' stats increase, venison will be on the post-game spread menu in each clubhouse.

Punk Move by Giants' Catcher Eli Whiteside in SF Tonight

Eli Whiteside might have thought that he was going to star in the first coming of Jackass, the Baseball Game tonight in San Francisco. The Giants' journeyman catcher (and that's not a compliment) could have hurt someone tonight -- and badly -- because he acted wrongly, dangerously and stupidly after his pitcher, Ramon Ramirez, started a bench-clearing brawl by hitting Phils' CF Shane Victorino in the back with two on and two out in the top of the sixth with the Phillies leading 8-2.

Ramirez was clearly headhunting -- the pitch was that bad. So what did Whiteside do after Victorino gestured toward Ramirez and took a few steps toward him? He moved in front of the plate -- which would have been okay had he wanted to simply stop something from escalating. But then he started jumping up and down, as if he wanted to start something and as if he wanted to start a fight. You'll see the replays and agree with me on this -- Whiteside was an escalator, not a peacemaker, and then the benches emptied and things got ugly -- lots of pushing and shoving, a few people falling, and someone could have gotten seriously hurt. As it was, Ramirez, Whiteside and Victorino were ejected, and the Phillies lead 8-2 in the top of the seventh. Now 9-2, as Hunter Pence just jacked one to left.

But what was Eli Whiteside thinking? There are ways to fire up your team, and there are ways to get your (very much sliding) team pumped up -- but picking a fight after your team made a dirty play is not one of them. And the Phillies have a lot of big guys on their roster, and they're not going to back down against anyone, especially a team that had their number in the post-season last year and with whom there's been bad blood. Thankfully, no one got hurt.

I am sure that there will be suspensions. My guess is that Whiteside will get the biggest one for his pro wrestling-like hijinx, Perhaps his manager, Bruce Bochy, likes his moxie, but Whiteside has guaranteed one thing -- the next time he comes to Philly, he'll join the roster of players who will get loudly booed -- alongside the Brothers Drew, umpire Joe West and Scott Rolen.

And with good reason.

These organizations are better than this. They should stick to playing baseball and leave the fighting to those who get paid to do it for a living. If the umpiring crew does it's job, it will ensure that the tensions simmer over the course of this and the next two games.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Can You Drink Your Way to Health?

Need a good laugh?

Read this piece in today's Wall Street Journal. Jim Sollisch talks about the healing effects of drinking large quantities of different beverages -- in the same day -- all of which could combine to give you all sorts of health benefits.

It's a short piece that underscores the absurdity of health studies when you elect not to read them in a vacuum but instead try to fuse them all together.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Durant Scores 66 at Rucker Park

Saw that headline and a related article on ESPN.com, and it took me back to a day where you heard the old-timers talk about the legends who played on playgrounds in New York and Philadelphia. Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond, Herman "Helicopter" Knowles, and, of course, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, elegized in a Spike Lee Joint He Got Game as the "Jesus" of North Philadelphia.

The Herman Rucker League in New York, the Charles Baker League in Philadelphia, summer leagues where the pros used to play wearing shirts promoting a furniture store (Nate Ben's Reliable), a tap room (Jimmy Bates B-Bar) and a haberdashery (Ducky's Dashery), and where once Monroe, dressed in somewhat ratty attire for him, parked his Rolls in the middle of North Broad Street near Temple University's McGonigle Hall and, as legend has it, racked up 60 points.

In the second half.

It's hard to play pick-up tackle football at a high level, and it's almost impossible to play pick-up baseball anywhere. But it's easy to play pick-up basketball, and pick-up basketball is at the core of the lore and allure of all basketball anywhere. The stories just abound, and some, like a good single-malt, age better as the years progress. Kevin Durant played here. Wilt scored 100 points in Hershey, as memorialized by pioneer rapper Kurtis Blow in Basketball ("Tell me were you in the joint, the night Wilt score one hundred points. . .."), Kobe stopped by at the Rucker, someone else played at the West 4th Street playground, the Belfield Recreation Center in Philadelphia or the Duckrey playground there at 15th and Diamond. And the old timers, the Sonny Hills and the John Chaneys, well, they can tell you stories -- great stories -- all day long.

So, as the NBA and the players' union engage in a Star Wars-like light sabre battle to see which side can push the other closer to the edge and therefore threaten -- temporarily -- the existence of the highest level of pro ball on the planet, certain players, through where they are showing up, are reminding us what a simply eloquent game basketball is.

Kevin Durant racks up 66 at the Rucker.

Larry Brown showed up at Princeton and then at a high school in Cape May, New Jersey talking to kids during the last strike (when Brown was coaching the 76ers).

There will be other sightings.

And basketball, as a whole, will be better off for it.

Because it's a wonderful game.

And there's not a thing, really, that the suits with the big bankrolls and the stars with the big cars can do to ruin it.

Because there always will be someone like a Kevin Durant to score 66 at the Rucker.