Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's all over for the Yankees

Those who don't learn from the past are bound to repeat it.

Fittingly, the days of Yankee Stadium are numbered, as is the era of dominance of the New York Yankees.

Yes, it is over. Finished. Done. Kaput.

Yes Gordon Gecko, greed is good. Sometimes too good. In the world of the New York Yankees, the team has finally fallen victim to its own greed.

To hear the Yankee brass, its owners and its fans speak, you’d think this team had won every World Series title in the last 20 years. I know, 26 World Series wins is an impressive number, but those days are in the past. What have you done for me lately, boys?

Truth is, for a team where anything less than a world championship is considered a failure, the Yankees haven’t won the big one since 2000 and aren’t going to win anything this year. The run of postseason appearances ends this season after 13 straight playoff appearances.

Why, you ask? I’m going to tell you.

Going back 30 years, the Yankees won the World Series in 1977 and ’78 under the direction of owner George Steinbrenner. Following a WS loss to the Dodgers in 1981, King George set out to bring the most expensive free agents to the Bronx each year.

What followed was a decade of mediocrity, which was best summed up by this exchange between Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza and the ficticious George Steinbrenner.

Costanza: “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?”

Steinbrenner: “My baseball people liked Ken Phelps’ bat. They said, we have to have Ken Phelps.”

You see, you CAN’T buy team chemistry. The highest payroll doesn’t always win. Superstars are nice, but you have to have good mix on the roster. You need lunch- pail type players who can move runners over, get their uniforms dirty, and play sound, fundamental baseball. The type of players who do the little things to effect games that don’t show up in the boxscore.

In hockey, you can have great goal scorers, but unless you have gritty players who will get back on defense and do the dirty work in the corners, you can’t win over a sustained period.

The Yankee dynasty that began in the mid-1990’s was born as the team cultivated a farm system rich in talent. It wasn’t an accident that the nucleus formed by names such as Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte, and Bernie Williams all came up through the farm system together.

Not coincidentally, George Steinbrenner was serving a Major League Baseball suspension during this time.

The Yankee teams that won four world titles from 1996 to 2000 were a team with a solid foundation and any gaps were filled in during in-season trades in July as the club tinkered with its roster before the playoff run.

After the 2001 WS loss to Arizona, Steinbrenner reverted to his old ways.

In came Mike Mussina, a hired gun to bolster the pitching staff. Next was Jason Giambi, a hard-driving, shaggy haired rebel from Oakland who turned in his tattoos for a razor and a haircut. Gone was his identity that made him a leader of the frat-style clubhouse in Oakland.

Following a World Series loss to Florida in ’03, in came Alex Rodriguez. Great stats are nice, but in New York, winning is the only thing. Rodriguez hadn’t ever been on a team that had ever won anything, and that fact remains today.

Stud free agents look good on paper, but not everyone can handle the limelight that goes with playing in New York. Not everyone is mentally tough enough for the pressure. For every David Wells who thrived on it, there were those who wilted under the bright lights, like Kevin Brown.

Joe Torre was run out of town following another playoff disappointment in 2007. Three straight first-round flameouts for Joe and it was time to go. Thanks for the memories, the Yankees told him, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Give the Yankee brass credit for 2008, GM Brian Cashman was determined to build behind young pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Bad luck resulted in injuries to Chamberlain and Hughes while Kennedy was horrible. Right idea, bad results. It'll probably cost Cashman his job.

What the Yankee are looking at for the next 10 years is probably best summarized by Hank Steinbrenner, now the big dog in Yankeeland.

When the season was going south, Hank Steinbrenner was the one who ordered Chamberlain from the bullpen and into the starting rotation. The smart move would have been to send him to the minors and build up his arm strength.

Smart move everywhere except New York. The Yanks tried to limit pitch counts and groom Joba into the rotation while in the bigs. An arm injury resulted as did a trip to the disabled list.
Grumblings out of the Bronx are already there that soon-to-be free agents CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira will be the cures to the Yankee ailments.

Two more potential band-aids to cover up a much larger problem and with Hank Steinbrenner now in charge, the team is going to get much worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Almost, But Not Good Enough

So, I’m watching Hillary Clinton yapping during the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, and I’m thinking to myself,

“Self, everyone thought she was going to win this thing. She had a huge lead early in the primary season. the name recognition, gobs of cash, the allure of being the first woman ever to win the Presidency. Add to that, a severe case of gross incompetence in the Oval Office for eight years that has this country aching for a change. Wow, she and her people really screwed this thing up for her not to win."

I’m wondering, who are the sports equivalents to Mrs. Clinton? I’m not talking pure losers here - well actually....., no, I won't make this personal– but more along the lines of those who got to the big moment, the big stage and with high expectations, and failed once the bright lights turned on.

Who in the world of sports has done less with more? Here is at least a partial list (feel free to comment if I’ve omitted anyone).

The Buffalo Bills – Yes, they have to be first on this list. Getting to the Super Bowl four times in four years is historic, but you have to WIN one of them.

The better team in Super Bowl XV got outcoached and outplayed long before Scott Norwood yakked what would have been the game-winning field goal against the Giants.

The train wreck continued the next year when Thurman Thomas missed the opening snap the next year against Washington in Super Bowl XVI is one of the most vivid memories of that game.

Throw in consecutive beatings by the Cowboys and the nightmare is complete.

Alex Rodriguez –The poster boy for the under achieving Yankees, “Mr. April” is great with his team up or down six runs, just don’t count on him in the clutch, whether it be the regular season or the playoffs.

Remember the Yanks dropping their $275-million man to eighth in the batting order for their elimination game against Detroit in 2006? I do.

In New York, as in most places, world championship rings mean more than MVP awards and padded stats. To date this season, A-Rod is hitting .245 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and is batting .100 with the bases loaded. The Yankees opened a series Tuesday at home against Boston, their season in the balance. The highest paid player in the game posted a nifty 0-5, with two strikeouts and seven, yes seven, men left on base. New York lost 7-3 and its playoff hopes dimmed even more.

His announcement that he was opting out of his contract last October was an attempt to take the spotlight off of the World Series and place it upon himself, thus placing himself above the game.

Whether it was orchestrated by Rodriguez or his agent Scott Boras is insignificant, it was a classless move and took the thunder away from John Lester, a cancer survivor who had just become the winning pitcher in the World Series clincher.

It was as close as A-Rod has come to making news in the World Series.

1970’s Minnesota Vikings – See the above reference for the Buffalo Bills. The Purple People Eaters were terrors throughout the decade, until it came time for the Super Bowl. Dominant in the regular season, soft and weak on the game’s grandest stage will get you on this list.

Karl Malone – NBA’s second all time leading scorer and considered the game’s greatest power forward. When the lights were at their brightest, nobody played smaller.

Yes, Michael Jordan was in his heyday, but Malone and the Jazz could’ve beaten the Bulls in either NBA Finals matchups had the Mailman delivered in the big moment.

In his final season, Malone tried to ride the coattails of Shaq and Kobe with the Lakers in 2004 and was a big part of LA’s five-game beatdown at the hands of the Pistons.

Chicago Cubs – 99 years of failure. Leading the NLCS 3 games to 1 in 1993 and enter Steve Bartman to immortality. ‘Nuff said. This could change in roughly 60 days or so. Stay posted

Jean Van de Velde – The frenchmen’s gaffe at the 1999 British Open tops Greg Norman’s collapse in the ’96 Masters and Phil Mickelson’s, “I’m such an idiot” performance at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Van de Velde, who merely needed a six on the par-4 18th hole in the final round at Carnoustie, Scotland, made triple bogey to wind up in a three-way playoff, which he lost. Be it the rough, the water, or the grandstand seating area, Van de Velde found it on the 18th hole.

2004 New York Yankees – Yeah, I know, 26 world championships. Good for you, but what have you done for me lately?
How about blowing a three games to none lead in the ALCS to bitter rival Boston in 2004. A historic collapse was the springboard for the Red Sox Nation to capture its first World Series title in 804 years.
Yankee announcers and fans will remind you thrice daily about the long history of this team. However, the recent history consists of three straight first round playoff losses and a good chance to miss the playoffs this season.

And it all began with the collapse against the Red Sox. Trust me, that hurts.

1990-2000's Atlanta Braves -Thirteen straight playoff appearances is nice, but you have to win more than one World Series. Maybe that is why the team was staring at a bunch of empty seats in October near the end of the run. The effort was nice but it wasn't good enough.

Coming Soon – THE Ohio State Buckeyes. A win at USC on September 13 sets the table for OSU to get drilled in the BCS title game for a third year in a row.

Like I said, if I’ve left anyone out, please leave a comment and we can let this list build.

Friday, August 22, 2008

College Football 2008

The only good thing about the end of summer is the sounds of shoulder pads popping and chin straps being buckled up.

Yes, wife of mine, it’s football season.

The college football season kicks off this week with the top storyline in place, can Ohio State make it to a 3rd straight national title game?

I hope not. I can't take anymore.

Watching the slow, overrated Buckeyes chasing SEC ball carriers up and down the field has gotten old. The Big Ten is never as good as the media makes it out to be. What you have is a collection of slow, deliberate teams duking it out each season to see who is going to get whipped in a BCS game.

Who will win the Heisman?

Who will play for, and win, the national title?

Time to tackle a few questions and add some observations as the season is slated to being:

1. Missouri’s Chase Daniel will win the Heisman Trophy. The Tigers are stocked with talent and will be the best team in the Big 12. Daniel wins the Heisman after leading Mizzou to the national title game. Of course, Heisman winners don’t win national titles, so……………

2. Southern California will claim the national title with a win over Missouri in the Orange Bowl. Be it Mark Sanchez or Mitch Mustain, the Trojans will have enough to beat Ohio State in September and be the best of the one-loss teams vying for the Orange Bowl. SC will stumble once in conference play, but they’ll be back in the national title game.

3. Ohio State will lose at USC on September 13. I can’t see how so many people are picking the Buckeyes to win this game. Yes, they are talented and return a lot of starters.
I feel better, thanks for letting me vent. Besides, take a look at USC’s record in non-conference games during the Pete Carroll era. They don’t lose. Look it up.
Also, add a loss to Wisconsin to the Buckeyes and we’ll see you in the Capital One Bowl, OSU fans.

4. Daniel will be joined in New York City for the Heisman presentation by Tim Tebow (Florida), Pat White (West Virginia), Noel Devine (West Virginia), and Graham Harrell (Texas Tech). Devine, a sophomore RB, is the sleeper of the group. With Steve Slaton in the NFL, Devine will emerge in a big way this season.

5. Preseason #1 Georgia will win the SEC and go to a BCS game but they won’t play for the national title. A gauntlet of a schedule will take its toll on Mark Richt’s club.

6. Oklahoma will win the Big 12 South, lose to Mizzou in the conference title game, and then get its doors blown off in a BCS game. Just another year.

7. Notre Dame will win more than in ’07, even if they aren’t any better. The heat is on Charlie Weis in South Bend. The schedule is easier, which will help. The Irish will go bowling.

8.Kansas will slip and Texas Tech will let down again. Everything broke right for Mark Mangino's cinderella Jayhawks last year. A tougher schedule and the national spotlight will derail thoughts of another miracle season in Lawrence. For Texas Tech, it’s now or never. Mike Leach’s boys will have some big moments this year but will come up short twice in big spots, like they always do.

9. Clemson will win the mediocre ACC and nobody will care.

10. Meeeeeechigan will struggle this season. The Wolverines are at least a year away as Rich Rodriguez comes over from West Virginia. Michigan will lose its season opener (remember Appalachian State?) to a veteran Utah team. The Utes, not BYU, will be the underdog team that rolls into the BCS.

And.....Bo Pelini will get Nebraska back to a bowl game. The Huskers aren't as talented on D as in the past but expect big-time effort and aggresiveness from the Blackshirt defense. QB Joe Ganz won't fly under the radar for very long. Ganz will emerge from the shadows cast by fellow Big 12 QB's Daniel, Todd Reesing (Kansas), and OU's Sam Bradford and team with RB Marlon Lucky to give Nebraska one of the top offenses in the country.

The Bill Callahan era in Lincoln is already forgotten. I'm sleeping better at night, thank you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Raider Legend Passes

Gene Upshaw 1945-2008

The Raider Nation is mourning the loss of one of its own today, as the great Gene Upshaw died at the age of 63, due to pancreatic cancer.

A member of the NFL Hall of Fame, Upshaw was the anchor of the Raider offensive line from 1967-81 and was a member of two Super Bowl championship teams. Upshaw teamed with fellow HOF’er Art Shell to form a dominant duo on the left side of the offensive line.
Joined on the line by notables Jim Otto, Dave Dalby, George Buehler, John Vella, Henry Lawrence, and others, the Raider offensive line was one of the most dominant units during the 1970’s.
The efforts of Upshaw, whether he was mowing down an opponent or pulling out on a sweep to bury an unsuspecting corner, led the way for such great Raider runners Hewritt Dixon, Marv Hubbard, Mark Van Eeghan, and Clarence Davis.
The memory that was captured by NFL Films of Upshaw walking off the field, holding the game ball aloft, in the Louisiana Superdome following Oakland’s 27-10 win in Super Bowl XV is one that will stay with me forever. The image of Upshaw, a true warrior in the football sense of the word, with his arms heavily taped and his helmet scratched and scarred from the daily battle in the trenches, is burned in my memory forever.
Well known as director of the NFL Players Association for many years, Gene Upshaw always has been, and always will be, a Raider.
Thanks for the memories.
Rest in Peace.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic Observations

I’ve been watching a decent amount of the Olympics and am actually enjoying the action.
With the exception of the epic women’s singles badminton clash between China and Germany while having my morning coffee last week, these Games have been very exciting. I’ll attribute much of that to the fact that most of what I’m watching is live.

While taking in these Games, a few thoughts have popped into my head:

  • If I am a general manager of a NFL club, I’d be tossing mucho dinero at Usain Bolt (left) of Jamiaca. Dude ran a sick 9.69 in the 100-meter final Sunday, despite showboating for the final 15 meters. Put a helmet on that man and line him up at tight end.

- Michael Phelps is truly amazing. His win by .01 of a second in the 100-m butterfly over the weekend was great TV. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

- Felt bad that Dara Torres lost the 50-meter freestyle by the same .01 of a second. Too bad the 41-year old didn’t grab gold, but she is the feel-good story of the Games.

- Beach volleyball has emerged as my favorite sport to watch so far. And no, not just for the scantily-clothed women. The men’s game isn’t bad either, perv. On the women’s side, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor look unstoppable. The top team from the USA, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are in the semi finals and have played some exciting matches.

- The USA men’s soccer team was excused from the tournament rather early. Not a surprise or a big deal, as roughly a handful of non-relatives in the country actually care.

- On a good note, the women’s soccer team will play for gold against Brazil.

- Finally, the sight most prominent in my memory. Someone in Beijing needs to do a better job at security into the Bird’s Nest.

So I’m watching the men’s 100-meter semi final heat over the weekend. Somehow, a guy wearing a Chinese uniform snuck his way on to the track, Lane 1. Dude was wearing the same eye glasses worn in high school shop classes all around the country. To complete his “I’m-way-out-of-my-league-and-looking-out-of-place look”, he lined up in the blocks wearing black socks.

He finished last.

Photo Credit - Richard Deutsch - USA Today

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A nice place to visit.....

****Qualifier – It is true that nobody on this planet will ever offer me $50 million for anything (maybe to stop writing, but that’d be my only shot) but, I created this website and I have opinion so I’m going to launch.****

Do you really think Kobe Bryant and/or LeBron James head to Europe for a $50 million payday to play basketball?

Let me sum up the possibility – No.

The rumor mill that has been swirling since Josh Childress and a few other less-than-marquee NBA’ers have begun to jump across the pond won’t ever get to the big boys of the league. There is too much at stake right here for the Kobe’s and LeBron’s of the world.

Namely…………………advertising revenue.

The cash cow known as marketing opps that currently exist will evaporate very quickly if someone of that value were to uproot and take their game to Europe.

Besides, these guys are already loaded. Yes, 50 mil is a big number, but these guys got to where they are not only because they are talented with the rock, but also because they are competitive. Winning a “B” league just isn’t the same as winning an NBA title.

Breaking news ----Dan Dickau has reportedly signed with Italian team Avellino. This will be his seventh team in seven seasons.

More breaking news – Nobody cares that Dan Dickau is going to Italy, except possibly for his family and maybe a few close friends who don’t like to fly.

The motivation for Kobe and LeBron to give talk like this some play is simple, try to force NBA czar David Stern to loosen the strings on the league’s salary cap and offer up more cash to the superstars. Sad part is, it’ll probably work.

But, what if it ever did happen and Kobe, for example, went to Italy?

His father, Joe, played professionally there and Bryant did acquire a 50% stake in Olimpia Milano of the Italian Professional Basketball League in 1999 so there are some roots.
Think of the possibilities, Bryant has no problem launching 30 shots a game now, how would it be if he owned the team? (I’ll spare the jokes that he runs the Lakers now, appearances aside).

I can see the headlines now……..

“Kobe wins Italian League championship………who cares?”
“Kobe finally wins title without Shaq.”

“Bryant averages 78 shots a game, team loses again.”

In short, be thankful for what you have here. If you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way outta here.

Photo credit - AP Photo, David Phillip

Monday, August 11, 2008

Remembering Jim McKay

" They're all gone."

The words used by the late Jim McKay, in describing the tragic conclusion of the Israeli hostage crisis during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, still resonate 36 years after the fact.

It was with those words, along with the manner in which he tirelessly reported the story as it developed, that McKay forever became the undisputed voice of the Olympic Games.

As a child, then a young adult and onward, Jim McKay was always a presence in my world of sports. Whether he was hosting another Olympics, or merely spanning the globe to bring me the constant variety of sports, McKay's class and eloquence were always welcomed. His distinctive voice and enthusiasm in whatever he did were without peer.

Jim McKay passed away on June 7, 2008.

The date will always be special to me as it was the day I was married to my beautiful wife. Upon hearing the sad news, I did pause for a solemn moment. I never met Jim McKay, but it felt as though he'd been in my living room all these many years, helping foster a passion for sports.

As I sit here, viewing the Beijing Games, I can't help but to think of McKay. I remember the time on ABC's Wide World of Sports hit a golf ball over the Great Wall of China. I guess that is the great things about memories, they can never be taken away.

Of course, as they did in Munich in 1972, the Games will continue as will life itself.

They just won't be the same without Jim McKay.
(Photo credit - ABC via Associated Press)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Winners & Losers in Brett Favre Soap Opera

Is it really over?

Yep, and the future Hall of Famer is on his way to Broadway.

Brett Favre has been traded to the New York Jets to end the summer long soap opera. Might as well have something to do to kill time from the pre-draft prep until the preseason.

The New York Jets - Hey, Gang Green was 4-12 last year and had invested heavily in veteran players in the offseason.

The question mark around the Jets was at quarterback. They knew that Chad Pennington didn't have the big-time arm to play QB and weren't sure what they had in Kellen Clemens.

GM Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini have to win NOW in order to ensure job security for the 2009 season. For a conditional third round pick - that could turn into more - this gamble was totally worth it for the Jets. There is no downside, especially considering that Favre is sure to have a chip on his shoulder heading into the season to prove the Packers wrong.

I don't want to hear about a plan for the future, and neither do Tannenbaum and Mangini. This is the NFL, win now or find another job.

Brett Favre - His biggest error was changing his mind on what he wanted to do. Retire, play, retire, can't get on him too harshly for that. If his words are accurate, and the Packers pressed him for an answer early in the offseason, his initial stance makes sense.

At the end of a long football season, the body is beaten up and the thought of going thru another year - at Favre's age - it is understandable why he wouldn't commit to another season.

Favre's legacy is cemented, no matter the disaster of the summer. He'll always be an icon in Green Bay and his NFL records cannot be taken away. A successful run in New York can only enhance his legacy.

Green Bay Packers - They've gone from a team one win away from the Super Bowl in a conference without a powerhouse club to a team relying on a QB who has never started an NFL game.

I don't want to hear that they were a team ready to move on or that they'd promised the job to Aaron Rodgers. That argument is just plain stupid.

As I said earlier, this is the NFL. Win now while you can. The window of opportunity can slam shut very quickly. Favre gave them a better chance to win that Rodgers, period.

Also, the PR disaster is one that won't go away quickly. The $20-25 million offer to stay retired? C'mon, that is insulting. GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have put their jobs on the line with this decision.

Bottom line is this, they wanted Favre out of Green Bay. Not sure why, but it doesn't matter.

The Green Bay Fans - The icon is gone and they are stuck with the above referenced management who's egos seemingly have gotten in the way of sound, logical thinking.

Aaron Rodgers - Don't blame Rodgers, who has patiently waited for his chance. Truthfully speaking, I'm sure Rodgers would have preferred to have won the job from Favre in camp than taking it this way.

Rodgers has said all the right things so far, he should be complimented for that. However, once a few of his passes fall short of the intended target, the boo-birds are going to come out in full force in Lambeau Field.

While he has done nothing to deserve the treatment that seems inevitable, Rodgers is going take the brunt of it. No matter what he does, he'll never be able to turn Lambeau Field into Mr. Rodger's neighborhood.

The frozen tundra belongs to Brett Favre and will for a long time.