Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Headlines: Tuesday, Feb 27

Manny causes distraction by arriving in camp

Manny Ramirez showed up to Red Sox training camp yesterday a week earlier than expected, an act of characteristic selfishness which has left his teammates uneasy and the coaching staff baffled.

"He said he wouldn't be here til next week," said bench coach Brad Mills, "then he strolls in out of nowhere, ready to start getting in shape for the season. We don't have a locker ready for him, we're scrambling to fit him into the drills - it's just another case of Manny putting himself before the team."

Thrashers acquire Tkachuk for old, fat Cup run

The Atlanta Thrashers acquired veteran forward Keith Tkachuk from the St. Louis Blues for a prospect and two draft picks, giving GM Don Waddell what he called "the missing piece to our really old, overweight puzzle."

Waddell added, "The playoffs are a long and grueling endeavor, and players tend to lose massive amounts of water weight. Now that we've got Keith 'The Camel' on our side, I think we're ready to go the distance."

Bills looking to trade "irritatingly productive" McGahee

Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron publicly stated that the team would entertain offers for Willis McGahee, the frustratingly consistent runningback whose usefulness and relative health do not appear to fit into the Bills' plans for 2007.

"Our team is built for inconsistency, " Jauron said. "We want a whole team capable of getting shut out any given week - this way, we can lure teams into a false sense of security and catch them off guard the next week. Willis just hasn't really worked out as we envisioned, especially with him being constantly healthy, and I believe it's time for us to part ways."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Al Capone has no place in the NHL

Not to keep picking on my hometown Post-Gazette, but this latest column by Bob Smizik about why the Penguins don't need to trade for an enforcer got a little off track.

By 'off track,' I mean 'batshit crazy.'

On the topic of Georges Laraque's potential usefulness to an NHL team, Smizik writes:

The most famous enforcer in history never skated a shift in the NHL. Frank Nitti, known as "The Enforcer," helped Al Capone rule the street of a lawless Chicago some 70 years ago.

Um, alright. Cool. Maybe I'll Wikipedia Frank Nitti next time I'm bored at work. So how bout that hockey?

The police might not have been able to maintain order, but Nitti, legend has it, could. Nitti and men of his stripe were necessary in that era because the police often were bought off by the mob and subsequently had no power in controlling the criminal element.

Not only is this sentence way, way off topic from anything having to do with hockey, it also makes absolutely no sense. He's saying that because the police were bought off by the mob and had no power, Al Capone had to hire an enforcer to keep order? Is he saying Capone would have relied on the police to keep order in the mob world? Also, wasn't he the one buying off the police? Let's wait and see how this ties in to hockey.

Does the NHL really want the league compared to Capone's notorious Chicago? By suggesting their teams need enforcers, NHL coaches and general managers have made that a fair comparison.

As far as I'm aware, enforcers have more or less been a part of the NHL game throughout its entire modern existence, and I cannot imagine any human being with any shred of a rational ability to comprehend anything who would therefore compare the league to the Chicago mob scene of the 1920s, aside from the liquor bootlegging operation that Theo Fleury probably ran. Holy shit, NFL teams look for linebackers who hit hard?? That's exactly like the fucking Marines! By suggesting that teams need guys who hit hard, the NFL has made that a fair comparison.

The NHL is not Chicago.

Agreed. As far as I know, Chicago hasn't had an NHL team in more than a decade.

It has honest policemen. They're called referees and linesmen. It's their jobs to enforce the rules and they're good at it. They're not perfect, but they're good. Lawlessness does not reign in the NHL. Enforcers are not needed to make the participants abide by the law.

While I agree that the need for the traditional talentless enforcer has all but vanished from the NHL these past two seasons, surely there's not a GM or a hockey fan in the world who doesn't see the benefit to acquiring a notorious tough guy, especially when a Cup run consists of four best-of-seven series within which rivalries develop, vicious physical play occurs, and momentum is constantly thrown back and forth. Rather than concede some kind of rational acknowledgement towards this fact, Smizik spins off on this quarter-baked analogy to Al Capone, then ties it into the NHL by saying referees are honest policemen and therefore, somehow, that means teams don't need guys who can hit, fight, and retaliate.

If, say, Joey Porter and Troy Polamalu do not know how to skate, athletes of their ability easily could be taught. Once they can skate in a reasonable fashion, suit them up. If NHL players are going to blink at the thought of facing retaliation from Laraque, they'll be cowering at the prospect of Porter coming after them.


Now that's an analogy I can understand! Smizik is so right! Screw Laraque, let's fucking TEACH JOEY PORTER HOW TO SKATE!!! Why has no NHL team ever thought of that??? If Smizik just said this right at the top, I would have understood his point immediately, it could have been a three-sentence column!

It's too stupid to comprehend.

I could not agree more, Mr. Smizik. Could not agree more.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Butt Daredevils?

Really, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette? Of all the typos you could have made, you actually chose the one that resulted in the word 'Butt'?

Sounds like the online editor was none too happy about his beloved Xplosion losing. And no, the fact that the city in Montana is pretty much 90% of the way to being the word 'butt' anyway is no excuse.

EDIT: The typo has been corrected. Apparently, instead of re-reading their own submissions for mistakes, the Post-Gazette just reads Teapot Dome Scandal constantly figuring that I'll let them know when they have accidentally typed the word 'butt'.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jack Wilson & Mike Skinner: Goofy lookin' look-alikes

Ever notice how closely deformed Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson resembles British rapper Mike Skinner from The Streets? I know I have, and I imagine most fans of both the Pirates and superhyped British garagey rap (i.e., 80% of the US population) have thought this too. But the similarities are more than weirdly-mangled-skin deep. Consider:

1 - Both have become more popular in the past two years despite shoddier production.

2 - Both have bounced back strongly from public relationship issues; Skinner had a falling out with his fictional girlfriend on the "Grand Don't Come For Free" album, just as Wilson was constantly made fun of by Brian Giles and Jason Kendall.

3 - Both took pot-shots at fellow teammates; Wilson at second baseman Jose Castillo, Skinner at the American music press on the song "Two Nations."

4 - Both rarely ever take walks; Wilson drew just 33 walks last season in 580 plate appearances, only slightly higher than Mike Skinner's zero.

5 - I used to be big fans of both, but now if either one got traded to the Blue Jays, I wouldn't really feel so bad.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Headlines: Thursday, Feb 22

Pain Wayde - Dwayne Wade dislocated his shoulder in the Heat's 112-102 loss to Houston last night. Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy commented, "With Wade and Steve Nash down, we're just one Tim Duncan injury, one Dirk Nowitzki injury, and one Pistons team planecrash away from having a shot this year!"

Man oh Manny - After requesting time off from Red Sox spring training to attend to his mother after surgery, Manny Ramirez is now scheduled to appear at a New Jersey car auction to promote the selling of one of his cars. Apparently, he demanded that the car be sold last year, but took it off the market in the middle of the auction.

Peyton paid ton less - Peyton Manning restructured his deal with the Colts to save the Colts more than $3 million in salary cap room this upcoming season; the Colts, confused by the move, just handed the leftover money to Marvin Harrison.

More like Women-bleton - Wimbledon announced yesterday that equal prize money will be awarded for men's and women's tournament winners this year. Tim Phillips, chairman of the All-England club, stated, "This is just another positive after-effect of the incredibly, incredibly gradual shockwave from the 1973 Battle of the Sexes."

Good moon on the rise - In the bizarre story of the week, a USC goaltender, upset with officials, pulled down his pants and rode around on his sitck slapping his butt. A crowd member who managed to film the event remarked, "Awesome, now I just need Johnny Knoxville to do some close-ups and cut in some footage of Rip Torn, and I'm pretty much done with 'Happy Gilmore 2'!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Jeter lashes out!

Derek Jeter unleashed a verbal tirade at the media yesterday condemning Alex Rodriguez about everything from his effort on the field, their clubhouse relationship, and his general failure as a human being.

Jeter made his frustration with Rodriguez abundantly clear, saying, "This is our fourth year to be playing together. It's annoying.... Everyone...they know what our relationship is...they see us on the field....We're at opposite ends of the bench...it's a story[!]"

Jeter went on to bash Rodriguez's off-the-field demeanor and its negative impact on the Yankees, saying "What we do away from the field, how much time we spend together, really makes...difference when we're playing."

Jeter then proceeded to candidly attack Rodriguez, saying, in a noticably frustrated tone, "I don't see the relevance of [Alex]. [Alex] has no bearing on us playing baseball. From Day One I've said [sarcastically] I support Alex. I...think it's my job to tell fans to boo [Alex] or not to [boo Jason Giambi]."

He added, "[Also Alex can't ever hit in the clutch ever.]"

While the Yankees have yet to issue a formal comment on this latest escalation of the Jeter-Rodriguez Feud of the Century, sources believe that the team is describing this situation as "No [, this is a] big deal [!]"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Too Many Cooks?

All I have to say about this column from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is, man, that sure is the word 'Cook' a lot of times.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The 10 Biggest Questions entering Spring Training:

1. How surprised will the Cubs act when Mark Prior gets injured?

In past years, the Cubs franchise has gone into spring training giddy at the prospects of having a healthy Mark Prior anchoring their unstable rotation, and each year, Prior's inevitable injuries have deflated the Cubs' preseason enthusiasm. This year, the Cubs brought in Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Wade Miller so that when Prior gets hurt, they can act like they don't give a shit instead of crying over his infinitely receding return dates.

2. Can Jim Leyland string together enough soft-spoken mumbles to re-motivate the Tigers?

Leyland, the best motivator in the game, managed to muster enough barely audible, vaguely displeased sounding quips to fire up the young Tigers all the way into the World Series last year. Does he have any sentences with a random bleep in the middle where a swear word could not have possibly belonged left in him?

3. What will J.D. Drew do to merit having a battery whipped at him?

Drew's arrival in Boston should take some press heat off Manny Ramirez, but it is yet to be seen what specifically Drew will do to get deservedly bashed by Red Sox fans. The Boston Herald has begun compiling a list of potential pun headlines involving "Drew," "battery," and an assortment of offenses ranging from calling out his teammates to first degree manslaughter, but which headline they end up needing will be one of the hottest storylines of the spring.

4. Can the Mets successfully implement a "pitcherless offense?"

The Mets' plan to start nine position players in a game may be a departure from conventional wisdom, but in the long term, phasing out the contracts of Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine will give the Mets the flexibility to add Manny Ramirez and/or Miguel Tejada to the lineup to play Rover. Keep an eye on the position battle to see which Met will get to set the ball on the tee for the opposing team; manager Willie Randolph calls it "a wide open field... but it'll probably be like Endy Chavez or something."

5. Will Gil Meche win 8 games or 9?

The Royals signed Meche to a monstrous five year, $55 million deal this offseason, and while it's a given that his ERA is going to end up somewhere in the 5.10 - 5.30 range once he moves out of Safeco, it is yet to be determined if the Royals can muster enough luck and happenstance to have Meche end up with eight wins, or if they can get on a roll and make it nine. The entire Games Behind column of the AL Central hangs in the balance.

6. Who will win the Giants' "death pool"?

The San Francisco players have a pool going to see which one of the greying fogies on the team will be the first to die this season between Bonds, Rich Aurilia, Omar Vizquel, Mark Sweeney, and Ray Durham. It'll be interesting to see not only who dies, but how much the resulting pool victory improves the morale of the winning player.

7. Who are the Seattle Mariners?

Seriously, they're still a team, right? What've they been up to?

8. Can the Yankees convince A-Rod to stop playing baseball?

Last year, the Yankees managed to survive the burden of Alex Rodriguez's .290/35/121 performance during the regular season, but it finally got to them in the playoffs. Can they mend broken fences this offseason and convince A-Rod to get traded or to quit baseball altogether?

9. Can these young Braves get back to choking like the old Braves?

A rash of injuries over the Braves last season prevented them from achieving their annual first round playoff choke; this year, with a revamped bullpen and maturing talents all over the diamond, the Braves are poised to make a leap forward, but can these young players produce the mundane regular season consistency giving way to abrupt playoff exits like the Braves teams of old?

10. Can anyone beat the Cardinals?

Nope. They're pretty much invincible.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chargers GM realizes he only fired Schottenheimer in dream, fires Schottenheimer

San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith came to the shocking but fortunate realization yesterday that he only had a dream about firing coach Marty Schottenheimer after the Chargers' playoff elimination in January, but that the firing never actually occurred. After calling various San Diego area newspapers to confirm that he never actually fired Schottenheimer, Smith then gathered his wits and called Schottenheimer to fire him.

"I was watching something on Sportscenter about Wade Phillips going to the Cowboys," Smith said, "and they said something about 'can Marty keep this team together without his coordinators,' and I laughed, figuring they'd made a mistake. Then they showed this graphic with all the new coaches this year and had Cam Cameron coaching Miami, and I was like, wait, I definitely remember hiring him to replace Marty, what the hell's going on?"

Smith went on to describe the wave of terror that shot through him when it dawned on him that he never actually fired Schottenheimer, saying "I couldn't believe it. I was positive I fired the guy. Obviously I was going to, we were feuding all season, then he choked again in the playoffs like that - what was I gonna do, tell him 'nice try slugger' and give him an extension? How come no one said anything to me? Were they all trying to be nice?"

Smith, still shaken from the events of yesterday evening, then recalled the dream he had in which he fired Schottenheimer.

"It was so real," he said. "Right after the Patriots loss, I said 'Marty, office, now!' and he came in and I pretended to be all calm and accepting then I started choking him and was like 'how does it feel??? This is what you've done to every franchise you've ever worked for!!!' and he was crying and apologizing and then Cam Cameron - or I guess it was Cam Cameron, it was kind of this dude I knew in the dream but don't really know in real life, you know? - he stabbed Marty in the back and then we hung him from the rafters of my high school gym."

Smith paused.

"I really wish that had happened," he added. "The important thing is, he's fired now, and we can move on. Man, that would have been an awkward training camp."

Monday, February 12, 2007


I'd just like to point out that right now, ESPN and ESPN2 are both showing auto racing.

1. Since when does ESPN play the same sport on both stations at the same time, let alone goddamn NASCAR?

2. Why isn't PTI on?

3. Are there any possible circumstances that would lead someone to think to themselves, "Hmm, I guess I'll watch 'Play It to the Bone?'"

Headlines for Monday, Feb 12

The Barber of NBC-ville - Retired runningback Tiki Barber will work as an analyst for NBC next season; Barber has already started compiling his first field piece - an evaluation of the gaping void in the New York Giants' backfield.

Reid-ing into things - Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the team to attend to the recent incidents regarding his two sons. Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie released an official statement from the franchise, saying "I cannot go into specifics about how Andy will handle the situation, but my guess is that the kids will probably be passing more."

Since U Benson Gone - Orioles righty Kris Benson is likely out for the season after tearing his rotator cuff; when asked how the injury occurred if Benson wasn't pitching, he replied, "Sometimes it takes my wife a while to finish when there aren't news cameras in the bedroom. Oops, did I say that? Silly me. I mean, no comment."

Nag, Nag, Nagy - The Dallas Stars acquired winger Ladislav Nagy from the Coyotes for a prospect and a 1st round pick; said Nagy, "To be honest, Phoenix wasn't really much of a hockey town, so I'm looking forward to playing in Dallas."

Put down your Dukes - The Duke men's basketball team dropped out of the top 25 this week for the first time in ten years; Coach Mike Krzyzewski explained the situation, saying "we've tried going into the tournament as sleepers in the past and it didn't really work, so this year, we're gonna try being super-dooper-babooper Rip Van Winkle sleepers!"

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jones, Davis cross-franchise power struggle intensifies

The Cowboys' recent hiring of head coach Wade Phillips has drawn ire from the Raiders' notoriously controlling owner Al Davis, who is upset he was not allowed to have input in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' coaching search. Jones, also well-known for his organizational power struggles, reportedly still harbors resentment toward Davis for not consulting him before the Raiders hired Lane Kiffin from USC as their head coach in January.

Despite numerous on-record power struggles and a substantial backlog of coaches with short lifespans, Jones has downplayed the recent allegations that he is currently in a power struggle with Davis, saying "It's ludicrous... we're owners of two completely different teams, how could we be in a power struggle? All I'm saying is, you look at the Raiders the last few years, the guy could probably use my advice. It's not like I'm asking to call the plays or anything."

Davis' retort was not as diplomatic.

"The guy is nuts for hiring Wade Phillips," said Davis, "that fatass doesn't believe in basing your entire franchise on drafting defensivebacks in the first two rounds every year. And neither does Jerry Jones. They're both wrong, and I figured, as the owner of the Raiders, I have every right to make sure the Cowboys are headed in the direction that I see fit."

The Dallas Morning news is reporting that while Jones and Davis have always resented one another for trying to out-control each other, the personal rivalry between the two intensified after Bill Parcells' retirement, leaving Jones without a power struggle partner.

Neither owner has given any indication that the feud will end anytime soon.

Jones added, "If that puppet coach from USC doesn't coach the Raiders exactly how I want them to be coached, his job may be in jeopardy. Yes, I know he just got hired. Yes, I know I don't have the authority to fire the Raiders coach. Are there any more questions? No? I'm done."

Fellow owner Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins was unamused to learn of the Jones/Davis cross-team power struggle.

"I'm giving them thirty days to bury the hatchet," Snyder said. "When that's up, if they're still fighting, I'm buying both franchises and putting Norv Turner in charge of both."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Headlines for Thursday, Feb 8

Cowboys Wade into coaching pool - The Dallas Cowboys have named Wade Phillips their next head coach; owner Jerry Jones explained the hiring, saying "With Dick Jauron unavailable, Wade Phillips is the best guy to have us finish exactly 8-8 next year, which we're hoping will be good for an NFC playoff spot."

USC-ya in the BCS game! - USC landed the top three players in this year's college recruitment class, vaulting their preseason ranking to an unprecedented "negative one."

Red, Red (pitching) Wine - The Cincinnati Reds signed starter Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $25 million contract just two days after agreeing to a four-year, $36.5 million deal with righty Aaron Harang. In a related story, Aaron Harang is now on the trading block.

Sour sixteen - The Boston Celtics lost their 16th straight game last night, a new franchise record. Coach Doc Rivers wasn't fazed, saying "This is the NBA - All that matters is how you play in the playoffs."

Italian soccer fans get the boot - In a bizarre story, with only six Italian soccer stadiums meeting security requirements, games in all other stadiums will be required to be played with no spectators. MLS Commissioner Don Garber adressed the outraged Italians, saying "We play all of our games in empty stadiums, it's not so bad once you get used to it."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

ESPN's amazing hockey analysis

I'm not sure if the following conversation occurred verbatim or just 95% verbatim, but I'm positive it happened -

ESPN.com Boss: Three dudes in Winnipeg sent in complaints that our hockey coverage on the site was too barren. Let's toss in another columnist.

ESPN.com Employee: There's a multitude of highly respected, highly qualified hockey writers out there, I'm sure any of them would be glad to contribute to the #1 sports site on the web.

ESPN.com Boss: Nah, we're already pissing away $800 a year covering this sport that isn't on our network, and Buccigross' columns are already 300,000 words apiece, I can't expect him to write any more. A-ha! - Why don't we just have Linda Cohn write a column? I've heard her say the word 'hockey' before!

ESPN.com Employee: But she's a broadcaster, not a writer. What would people say if we had Trey Wingo or Mike Tirico writing NFL columns?

ESPN.com Boss: Just make it happen. If the three dudes in Winnipeg complain again, block their IP addresses.

ESPN.com Employee: [sigh] You're the boss.

Long story short, Linda Cohn is an ESPN NHL columnist. In her most recent column, she gives us five impact players who "lead by example" but "who won't make the headlines," or basically just five pretty good players and a bunch of random nonsense about why each one is special. There are a couple passages in this column that make me happy that ESPN is showering us with first-rate hockey insight:

Ray Whitney

What makes a good leader? A player who can make his teammates laugh. That's what Carolina's Ray Whitney did at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, which ended with the Hurricanes' improbable ride to the Stanley Cup.

OK - just prior to this paragraph, Cohn talks about Mike Grier's leadership qualities as reflected by his penalty killing, unselfishness to play multiple roles, and ability to play through injury. She then defines a good leader as "a player who can make his teammates laugh," going as far as to imply that Whitney's ability to do this was actually a major factor in the Hurricanes' Cup run last season. This means one of the following things:

1 - Teams that did not win the Cup last season lacked players who made teammates laugh.
2 - Other teams did have players who made teammates laugh, but Whitney did it better.
3 - Clinton Portis is the greatest leader in the history of sports.

Chris Drury

Sometimes a player is expected to be a leader because of where he's been and what he's accomplished, but not all who are given the "C" rise to those expectations. That is not the case for Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres. His leadership comes so naturally, you almost forget he's a co-captain.

I re-read this passage about six times and it makes less sense every time. I'm pretty sure it's a Babelfish translation.

One night last season, Drury was thinking about how there were no pictures of Lord Stanley in the Sabres' dressing room. How could the Sabres think about winning their first Stanley Cup if they didn't see it in front of them?

Remember last year when the Sabres made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, went to seven games against Carolina, then forgot what the Stanley Cup looked like??? Wow, that was embarrassing. Carolina was all like, "we know what the Cup looks like, Ray Whitney put a picture of it in our dressing room," then they scored four goals and Buffalo only scored two.

Edmonton stupidly had a picture of the Clarence Campbell Western Conference championship trophy in their locker room, so they didn't have a chance. Ottawa has had a picture of the Atlanta Braves hanging in their locker room for years now, though no one knows why.

Karlis Skrastins

When was the last time you knew a leader who went by the name of Skratch? With a "K"?!

You got me there, Linda, I can't name another one. Most leaders I can think of, there's at least one other leader out there with the same name as them. There's like four guys named "Stevie Y".

He is the Brett Favre and the Cal Ripken of the NHL. Barring injury, Skrastins on Tuesday will tie the record of 486 consecutive games played by a defenseman, set in the '60s by Tim Horton.

Brett Favre: 57,500 pass yards (2nd all-time), 414 pass TDs (2nd), 2 Superbowl appearances, 1 Superbowl victory, definite first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Cal Ripken: Most home runs as a shortstop (345), 2-time AL MVP (1983, 1991), World Series winner ('83), five-year peak VORP of 361, recently elected to the Hall of Fame.

Guy that Linda Cohn is talking about: 523 GP, 21 G, 65 A, -38, 1 PPG - One playoff appearance in seven NHL seasons, 11 playoff GP, 2 A. Granted, he's a defensive defenseman so stats aren't ideal for determining his worth (besides the fact that he's only had a positive +/- one time in his career), but I feel that it is not too ludicrous to suggest that comparing him to Brett Favre or Cal Ripken maybe isn't the most accurate comparison in the history of existence?

What's truly amazing about Skrastins' streak, the longest active streak in the NHL, is the fact he still has a streak!




I'm out of things to say.

What's truly amazing about Ryan Howard's 58 home runs last year, the most in the majors, is that fact that he kept hitting home runs!

And who uses exclamation points in their sports columns? She might as well just go the extra mile and start throwing in some Dr. Seuss words. I've had enough of this haldoozery!

Keep it coming, ESPN. You're already doing such a great job of perpetuating the NHL's growing public reputation as some kind of fake second-rate sports league by giving it the most half-assed Sportscenter coverage possible, so I'm very glad to see the same courtesy extended on the website. Better watch out for Versus.com!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Colts defeat rain, weather storm, manage to play football even when rain was falling onto the football field from the sky, now reign as champions of football and apparently weather

In case you didn't catch that Superbowl last night, the Colts won in a game that was filled with rain and you know what's funny I'll tell you what it is like they are reigning as champions huh??!

For more about the Colts' amazing triumph over weather, try Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports, or just read the amazing first line of John Clayton's wrapup.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Favre Dreams of One Last 9-7 Finish and First Round Exit

Brett Favre has officially announced that he will play again in '07.

In a statement to the media, Favre, confident as ever, proclaimed, "You play this game for one reason and one reason only: to finish marginally above .500 and get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs."

At 37, Favre is certainly not without his critics, but he's not fazed.

"For years, people have been expecting me to break down, telling me I should retire now, that it's hurting the franchise to keep coming back" Favre said. "That just fuels my desire to prove them wrong in just over half the games this upcoming season. I can't wait to show everyone I have exactly enough left in the tank for one final abrupt playoff exit."

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is confident that Favre will have the better-than-average enough supporting cast in Green Bay that he needs to end his career on a slightly high note.

"We sure miss Javon Walker, but if Donald Driver keeps piling up the garbage yards and Ahman Green stops by for a few games, we might be able to compete in our piddling division," McCarthy said. "I don't imagine we're going to go overboard and address our concerns in the secondary this offseason, though."

"It's like I'm already fired," McCarthy added.

When asked if he has an encore planned to top his four-interception playoff choke from the 2004 season, Favre restated, "You don't play this game for personal glory. I'm not gonna go out there and try to throw five interceptions or fumble on the goal line or re-injure Ahman Green, or whatever. Those things will take care of themselves. My job is to go out there and get beaten by some other imperfect team that'll lose in the next round, maybe Minnesota or the Rams or something. But it would really mean a lot for my final loss to come at Lambeau in front of my home fans whose sentimental, unwavering faith in me has allowed these chokes to continue to be increasingly gut-wrenching."

Favre added, "The bottom line is, we've got a great group of talented guys here who will settle for nothing less than the fifth or sixth NFC playoff seeds. The area just beneath the sky is the limit."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Jack Wilson: Goofy face of a franchise

In case you belong to that tiny group of sports fans who doesn't rigorously follow the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jack Wilson - Pirates shortstop, $6-million-a-year eater, and symbolic face of a weird-looking franchise - publicly called out teammate Jose Castillo, an underachieving young second baseman, calling for better production out of his co-infielder in the coming 2007 season. To my bafflement, the residents of Piratestowne (a small suburb inside Steeler Country) were almost unanimously supportive of Wilson's actions.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Columnist Ron Cook writes, in his article titled "Wilson's first great play is calling out Castillo":

Wilson's show of leadership might not be as impressive as Freddy Sanchez's batting title last season. But, one day, it could prove to be more critical to any success the Pirates have.

Cook goes on to talk about the Pirates' culture of losing, history of lacking leadership, etc, all in the effort to make an incredibly short-sighted point about Jack Wilson's so-called value to the Pirates. His statement is problematic for several reasons:

Reason one, since when is publicly a teammate calling out a teammate "leadership?" If Steve Smith had called out Jake Delhomme this past NFL season, how do you think the media would have reacted? The headline on Around the Horn would have been "OK with Smith's actions?" with Jay Mariotti and Woody Page railing against how the Panthers have more important problems than just Delhomme, how adding friction to the mix isn't necessary, and so on. Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic (with whom I rarely disagree) agrees with Cook, saying:

When Derek Jeter or Jason Giambi calls out A-Rod, he is hailed in New York as a hero. It shows that he cares, that he is thinking about the team first. When it happens in Pittsburgh, we check the back of the guy's bubble-gum card to see if he reached base often enough to open his mouth.

Well, Jeter is hailed as a hero for calling out A-Rod because Yankees fans are violently pack-minded morons, not because it's the right thing to do. And if you want to throw on-base-percentage into the mix, Jeter's career OBP is .388, Jack Wilson's is .306. Does this mean Wilson is automatically denied Jeter's right to assume a leadership role with his team? Of course not. It just means that Jack Wilson is not a very good baseball player, so if a franchise wants to build itself around his "leadership," they're going to get some pretty subpar offensive numbers to go along with it.

Reason two is more complicated. I freely admit that I propose this point knowing nothing firsthand about these individuals or their motives beyond what I read, but what if, just maybe, Jack Wilson is aware that he's not a great baseball player, and in order make himself essential to the franchise in some way, knows he has to gain a public reputation as a leader to justify being the highest paid Pirate and to bolster future contracts? Sort of like how Darrin Erstad and Brad Ausmus are seen as valuable leaders despite being nearly worthless at actually playing baseball, whereas fans freely admit they wouldn't want their teams to trade for A-Rod or Manny Ramirez?

Furthermore, any improvement in Castillo's game next season will generate further praise for Wilson, much as a faith healer works on a patient when their condition is at its worst, and if the condition improves, they appear to have done something. Cook is already lining up to credit Wilson should Castillo happen to improve, rather than praising Castillo himself; it's hard to say that the position Wilson has put Castillo in was intentionally self-serving, but regardless of the motives, Wilson has already deflected free praise to himself if Castillo has a decent season.

I just have trouble seeing Wilson's actions as anything more than a very calculated, very public attempt to pad his perceived value to a franchise that barely needs him anymore, and it appears to be working. Listen to this email from the PG's Pirates Mailbag from fan Doug "Yinz all wants some Primanti's?" Chrisner:

There are certain guys on our professional sports franchises that are just plain Pittsburgh guys. Hines Ward and Alan Faneca come to mind when thinking of the Steelers, and Jack Wilson clearly stands out when thinking of the Pirates. His leadership is crucial to the Pirates turning the corner, and his work ethic and tenure with the team give him every right to speak his mind and take control of the clubhouse.

The guy forgets to mention Raul Mondesi as another example, but we'll let that slide.

Seriously though, is this dude really comparing Jack Wilson to Hines Ward and Alan Faneca? Ward is the Steelers franchise's all-time leading receiver, and Faneca has been to like 50 Pro Bowls and might be bound for the Hall of Fame. Wilson had one decent year two years ago which he has followed up with OPS figures of .662 and .686 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Basically, he's Geoff Blum at the plate, though the offensive numbers do not take into account the leadership that Wilson's 18 errors (same number as Castillo) provided.

Bottom line, the Pirates would more or less have the same offensive production without Wilson, perhaps even more, with Jose Bautista starting at third, Castillo at short, and Freddy Sanchez at second. But, rather than drift into fan-negativity-World though lackluster production at his relatively high cost, Wilson has taken the initiative and publicly called out pretty much the only player on the team who had a worse season than he did. If this helps Wilson earn another contract in the $6 million range, then more power to 'em. But if the Pirates are unable to re-sign this shining bastion of leadership with a tremendously goofy face, then I wish them good luck finding someone who can clog up the two-hole half as well as Jack Wilson.