Monthly Archives: July 2010

Athletes Are People Too

Confidence. Such a fickle thing it is.

It’s there one minute, and totally gone the next. Only the truly elite, the truly great experience pure and supreme confidence.

Artificial confidence does more to undo people than just about anything else. We undo ourselves, and we undo innocent people who don’t know any better.

Athletes need to be told how good they are. I know, it sounds crazy, but lets not forget they are people too.

We all like to be rewarded, we all like to be told the job we are doing is a good job. Why are athletse any different. So what, if being told they are “doing their job” requires million dollar paychecks, it is the same thing.

They want to feel wanted, needed, and appreciated. So if someone who does their job at a level below the level that they themselves can achieve, and yet recieve more money, of COURSE they are going to want to be compensated appropriately. Everyone in the world does. You want to be paid market price for a service you can provide.

If you can provide a service few others can, then your price skyrockets, period.

I speak on this because I know. An artificial confidence that one builds for themselves only lasts so long. At some point the weakness in the armor is exposed.

People need to not only think that they ARE doing good, they need to KNOW that others thinks they are doing good too.

Artificial confidence, or swagger, or arrogance, or whatever you want to call it, runs rampant. The problem is deciding when it’s warranted arrogance, and when it is put on.

Myself, I struggle with that constantly. Even when I feel confident, I wonder if Im really feeling confident, or if I have just convinced myself to be confident for the day.

Everyone wants to be accepted, to be loved, to be adored, to be appreciated, and to be wanted, and the moment that starts to slip away, we’ll grasp at anything that halts the process. Why do we think athletes should be different?

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Chiefs A Threat For A Turnaround?

When asked off the top of my head to name my biggest turnaround team, with no time to really mull it over, the Chiefs are who I came up with.

Aside from a talent aspect, most good teams start up top, and let’s face it, I think the Chiefs are in good shape there with Pioli running things.

The coaching staff Todd Haley has assembled is almost a who’s who. Two pretty big architects as assistants in some Super Bowl teams, though not nearly as successful in their head coaching endeavors, will be part of the Chiefs staff with Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennell. If I’m not mistaken, Gary Gibbs, Maurice Carthon and Emmett Thomas are all also apart of this staff. Not a bad assembly of coaching talent, and in this league, that can be a huge difference.

The Chiefs biggest weakness, to me, is going to be up front on defense. If Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson can be what they were supposed to be when drafted, or just come relatively close, I think it changes the entire outlook of this team. I think Eric Berry becomes a difference maker in the secondary, and the linebacking corps, while not great, I think is solid. I think it was hurt by an under-performing defensive front a year ago. I also think that contributed to some problems in the secondary.

Offensively the line gelled once Jamaal Charles became THE guy. Now they have Thomas Jones to spell him, a proven back, who should reap the benefits of that improved line play. Charles is explosive, and I see him having another big year.

The receivers have some questions, but this is where Dexter McCluster, in my opinion, makes the biggest difference. He might have been listed as a running back, but I think he’ll line up everywhere, and they are going to just find ways to put the ball in his hands, and when that happens, big things will happen. This should ease some of the pressure of Dwayne Bowe, who has the potential to be a really good receiver.

Quarterback is still a quandary. Matt Cassell is the third highest paid quarterback in the league this year, so they will give him every chance to prove it, or earn some of it. He, in the right situation, can thrive. I think the pieces surrounding him this year are better suited to provide that situation, especially the coaching staff, and that new toy in in McCluster. Adding Ryan Lilja to the offensive line doesn’t do anything to hurt matters either.

Their return game could be deadly, as Javier Arenas, McCluster, and Berry will all vie for the honors of making game-breaking special teams plays.

I just think that with Oakland being Oakland, Denver not sure where exactly they are going, at least in my view, and San Diego losing a lot of talent and having the potential loss of Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson, not to mention Norv Turner still being in charge, there is a potential window for the Chiefs to slip thru this year, and if not this season, certainly in 2011.

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Those Bitter Philadelphians

“The only NL East team truly capable of keeping the Phils out of the postseason isn’t found in an opposing dugout but in the mirrors of their own clubhouse.” Those are the words of Bob Ford, sports writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and well, a very uninformed baseball man.

The Atlanta Braves are six games ahead of the Phillies simply because they are a better team. Ford does his very best to belittle the accomplishments of the Braves and to make them appear as just a mediocre team lucky to be in first place, but it is either because he’s only paid attention to the Braves when they are playing his beloved Phillies, or it’s because he’s a typical Philadelphia fan who is completely blind to the sports world outside of his wonderful city full of peace, love, and harmony.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We know Philadelphia natives would much rather bash, and bemoan their own players than dare give credit to an opponent. They would much rather boo their players and coaches and trash their management officials than acknowledge that someone else just might be better.

For example, when discussing Brian McCann and Troy Glaus, Ford states that they, “have decent power numbers, but they are also easy outs.” Excuse me? He is aware that Ryan Howard makes outs at a more frequent rate than his first base counterpart Troy Glaus, correct? Perhaps not.

I guess he’s also completely unaware of the fact that Brian McCann boasts an on base percentage of .382. That’s all of one measly point behind Chase Utley, the current leader for Philadelphia among players with enough at-bats to qualify.

Furthermore on the Atlanta catcher, McCann’s production has spiked significantly as of late, and that’s not a coincidence that it has coincided with what seems to be a better solution for the vision troubles that plagued him early in the season. If Mr. Ford would actually pay attention to the teams he chooses to write about and dissect, he would have known this. Alas, this must not be the case.

Yeah, easy outs, right?

Maybe Ford has also chosen to ignore the little issue of the Braves having five players with over 200 plate appearances sitting with an OPS of over .800. Philadelphia’s apparently superior squad only has three such players.

Ford likes to cite the injuries and inconsistencies with Chipper Jones.. Okay, fair enough. However, last I checked, Chase Utley is currently hurt himself, and Jimmy Rollins spent quite a bit of time on the DL as well. So injuries to key cogs aren’t a problem for Philadelphia, just Atlanta?

In regards to Chipper Jones, Ford fails to recognize the surge in Jones’ power numbers since talk of retirement came up, as well as his still impressive .376 on base percentage. Ford’s ignorance doesn’t just end with the offense though, oh no, he’s an equal opportunity uninformed sports columnist.

While Ford does acknowledge that the Braves bullpen has been better, the credibility gained from at least admitting this is quickly lost with the next statement he makes. “The real question, though is whether, with one game to save, you would feel any more comfortable with (Billy) Wagner than you do with Brad Lidge. By the end of the season, the difference could be minuscule.”

Are you serious? One pitcher has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.9, 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings, a WHIP of 0.821, and ERA of 1.15. The other pitcher’s line reads of a 2.75 strikeout to walk ratio, 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a WHIP of 1.380 and an ERA of 4.32. Yeah, obviously this is an exceptionally close call. Of course, coming from the same man who called Troy Glaus an easy out while his own first basemen has proven to be an easier out this year, this should come as no surprise.

He rightfully refers to Tim Hudson as a staff ace, but, predictably picks apart the rest of the Braves rotation.

Derek Lowe’s high ERA is cited, which is fair enough, many Braves fans themselves have had issues with Lowe, though it should be noted that over his last seven starts Lowe’s ERA has been 3.27, including starts against the Twins, White Sox, and *ahem*, the Phillies where he went at least 7 innings while allowing 2 earned runs or less. Just thought that should be pointed out.

Ford’s questioning of Medlen’s ability to hold up down the stretch is a valid concern, as it will be interesting to see what happens to the youngster with a much heavier work load being heaped on him. However, this is simply Ford’s way to discount what has been a very, very impressive first half for Medlen, and of course, no Philadelphia person ever wants to recognize the strengths of any opponent if they can help it.

It is true that Tommy Hanson does indeed have a 4.19 ERA. However, let’s not get crazy here, 4.19 is not THAT bad. After all, the Phillies team ERA is an amazingly low 4.09. Oh wait, it’s not that low after all, is it? Keep in mind that in Hanson’s last 10 outings, he’s allowed two runs or less in seven of them. Some really, really, horrendous outings have marred Hanson’s season, and there is no question the pitcher who has barely been in the big leagues for over a year needs to be more consistent. However, more often than not, he’s been a very effective starter. Again, if Mr. Ford would look at the big picture and not just one simple stat, this might become apparent.

The more interesting case though is his dismissal of Jair Jurrjens as a front line starter. His description of Jurrjens reminds us that he’s, “just back from the disabled list and carrying around a 4.75 ERA.”

Indeed, Jurrjens is fresh off the disabled list, all the more reason to further discount that abnormally high of his. Since his return, Jurrjens has pitched just like his usual, ace of the staff type self. He’s 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA and the league has an OBP of .300 in those three outings.

Once again, Ford simply looks at the ERA and uses that to discount how good Jurrjen is, and really, has been, this season. There was that nightmare of a start against San Diego in April where he was rocked for eight runs. However, aside from that dismal outing, he hasn’t given up more than three runs in any other start all season (granted, one of those was when he allowed three in the opening frame, coincidentally, the game he injured himself and went on the DL).

Mr. Ford can look at a few numbers here and there, and nothing else, and convince himself the Braves aren’t for real all he wants. He can convince himself the Phillies just have to play to their potential and they’ll return to their rightful place atop the National League East. If he were to look for the rest of the story, he’d clearly see otherwise. Not that he’d admit it though.

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New Jersey Gets Their Marquee Star (sorta)

No, the New Jersey Nets did not somehow swing a deal to land LeBron James. No, they didn’t lure Chris Bosh. No, Chris Paul isn’t coming to play for the Nets either. However, they are keeping one of their own. Well, kinda. The Nets aren’t, but New Jersey is.

Ilya Kovalchuk must be a savior. He must be Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin rolled into one. He must be the player who’s going to make people think of Wayne Gretzky as just a great player.

If there’s anything this summer should have taught us, it’s that the way sports fans and management officials judge greatness and value has changed.

How else to explain what we’ve seen with NBA free agency, and now this absurd contract handed to Ilya Kovalchuk.

Ilya Kovalchuk is an elite talent. Is he an elite player? That’s debatable. He’s clearly a superior goal scorer, but what else is he?

You need more than elite goal scorers to win at the top level of any given sport, ask Argentina’s national soccer team.

Ilya Kovalchuk is 27 years old, and has spent 8 years in the NHL. In those 8 years he’s lost 8 playoff games and won a total of one. Yes, one. No, he hasn’t just been a part of one playoff series victory, but one individual playoff GAME victory.

And this is a guy who’s worth 100 million dollars? A guy you want to tie yourself to for seventeen seasons?

Can Ilya Kovalchuk be an explosive goal scorer and difference maker on a championship team? Well, at present he can. Can he be the “man” and carry a team to the finals and help his squad skate off with Lord Stanely’s tropy? There’s not been any evidence yet to support that.

His supporting casts with the Thrashers weren’t the best in the game. However, they were good enough to do more than fight for their playoff lives at the end of the season only to find themselves on the outside looking in at the conclusion of all but one of Kovalchuk’s seasons (though it is arguable that with Kovalchuk the Thrashers may have been able to sneak into the playoffs last spring).

The Thrashers lost 40 games or more in each of the last two of his full seasons with the club. Back to back seasons of a mere 76 points and 4th place finishes followed up a 2007 division championship.

About those 2007 Thrashers that won their division. That was a roster that was certainly talented enough to make a run in the playoffs. Marian Hossa, Bobby Holik and Scott Melanby, if you recall, were part of that squad. That team lost 11 overtime games. That’s an awful high number for a team with a sniper like Kovalchuk.

Oh yeah, that team also got swept quickly out of the playoffs by the Rangers in an embarrassing manner.

So, again, Kovalchuk is who you want to get yourself in bed with for the next 20 years? That’s who you want to hitch your wagon to?

There are going to be goals in the regular season, some exciting moments, and fun play to watch. But how many wins will their be? How many deep playoff runs?

Not to mention, Kovalchuk can offer that explosive scoring ability at this point in his career, but for how much longer can he provide such goal scoring ability? Remember, he’s already played 8 full seasons, and he’s 27.

So by the time this deal runs out, Kovalchuk will be in year 25 of his career, and be 44 years old.

This isn’t golf. This is the NHL. You know, the sport that ends in June, and starts up again in September. There is no offseason, the regular season is a grueling 82 games. The style of play is rough, and physically taxing. Furthermore, Kovalchuk is a target. He’s an elite goal scorer, and a player other teams gameplan to be physical with, to take him away from his finesse game. At what point does the beating he takes night in and night out start to show up in his athletic ability, and ability to do what he does best on the ice?

Seems like quite a big gamble to me.

But it’s not just the New Jersey Devils taking a huge risk here, Kovalchuk is putting himself out there too. He’s just agreed to spend the next two decades of his life in Newark, New Jersey, playing for a franchise that has fallen from it’s perch as the model NHL franchise. It no longer enters every year as a serious threat to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Since the lockout, the franchise has gone from contender, to playoff field filler. And Kovalchuk wants to spend 17 more years there?

I wonder if the Devils and Kovalchuk both know just what they are actually getting into bed with. I also wonder who will be the first to start feeling regret, and what, if anything, can be done about it.

If Kovalchuk and the Devils don’t bring home multiple Stanley Cup titles, and Kovalchuk isn’t consistently among the league’s leaders in goals scored and points, and his name isn’t in MVP discussions, this is a deal that, simply enough, becomes a failure.

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All Star Games, Really?

The Major League Baseball All-Star game is upon us, and?

Yawn.

That’s the noise you hear from the collective sports viewing public. The All-Star game is no longer fashionable, it’s an over-hyped, inconvenient, charade of people who don’t want to be in a place they are forced to be, doing something they don’t really want to do, for approximately 37 people who actually care.

The All-Star game was cool, and hip, and relevant up through the 80s. No longer does it hold such meaning.

Blame it on interleague play, blame it on the fall of baseball as the nation’s most popular sport, or blame it on the massive media coverage at everyone’s disposal. Blame it on Bud Selig for cheapening it with his ill-conceived plan to have “This one count”.

Regardless of where the blame gets placed, the All-Star game has been rendered an afterthought in the American sports culture.

The All-Star game used to be a chance for fans of the National League to see the stars of the American League take the field, and vice versa. Thanks to interleague play, the expanded post-season, the difference in the haves and have-nots of baseball, and free agency, that’s not such a novelty anymore.

Whereas once upon a time, the only time you ever really saw anyone from another team playing baseball, or had much coverage paid to them, was when they were playing against your home team. American League teams didn’t play National League teams aside from the World Series. In turn, stars from opposing leagues might as well have been foreign stars playing across the ocean. Interleague play brought those players to everyone’s city.

The dearth of free agency and player movement also contributed to the excitement around the All-Star game. As mentioned, players from the American League and National League rarely crossed paths. The All-Star game was the only way to see some of these superstars take the field.

With player movement at such an all-time high, (see Cliff Lee, arguably the best pitcher in baseball now pitching for his 4th team in two years), players are constantly crossing over leagues. An American Leaguer one day, a Chicago Cub the next. It happens all the time.

The player movement also contributed to taking away from one of the other great allures of the All-Star game. The love affair between fan and player is no longer what it once was. Players change teams constantly, owners and players alike seem to have lost a sense of loyalty. As a result, fans aren’t so enamored with their particular players, as they recognize that as soon as the end of that month, that player could be wearing a different uniform.

Where once fans took great pride in watching the All-Star game to see “their guy” play, to see him on a field with other stars. In today’s climate, that pride is non-existent, and for good reason.

Do you really think Royals and Pirates fans are overly excited about seeing their guy for his couple at-bats, or their pitcher pitch one inning? It’s imply a reminder that he’s pretty much the only good player their miserable franchise has at its disposal. Worse, they are fully aware that that particular player will more than likely be traded away within the next couple of weeks, or in the very least, the coming off-season. So, yeah, that pride in your players thing, eh, not so much.

There was once a time the All-Star game was the only game outside of World Series games that really seemed to matter. There were no LCS, there were no wildcard series. Baseball came down to two things, the Mid-Summer Classic, and the Fall Classic. That was it. You didn’t miss either.

Now the post-season lasts an entire month. Not coincidentally, the vast majority of players who comprise the All-Star teams will also be those still playing baseball in October. So what’s special about seeing them all on the field now? You can see them all together for an entire month in October.

The biggest contributor however to the lack of interest in the All-Star game is the endless coverage afforded to baseball fans 24/7. All the reasons mentioned previously refer to the same basic concept, that the stars from the “other” league were like hidden secrets that only got exposed on a very infrequent basis.

No longer is that the case. Fans can watch any player take every single at-bat of their season if they so wish. There’s nothing secretive, or alluring for a Dodgers fan to watch Derek Jeter bat. They can watch every single inning of every single game that Jeter participates in. So what now is so special of watching him take two meaningless at-bats in an All-Star me.

The fact that this game actually counts for something, and determines home field advantage in the World Series is nothing more than a joke, and all that joke does is take even further away from what once was a spectacle of superstars.

Now it’s a collection of baseball players who wished they had three days off instead of trotting around for a nation that doesn’t really care anymore.

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Lee To The Yankees? Please Say It’s So

Normally I am completely, and 100 % whole heartedly opposed to the New York Yankees obtaining star players. They have enough, they get enough, you get the picture. The Yankee haters reasons for hating the Yankees are known, and it’s a dead horse not worth beating anymore.

This time though it’s different. The Seattle Mariners are actively shopping Cliff Lee, arguably the game’s best pitcher and a guy who is absolute money in the post-season. Of course, pitching in Seattle, post-season prowess is rather irrelevant.

Six teams have been linked as the most likely destination for Lee, with those six being the Rangers, Twins, Rays, Yankees, Phillies and Mets. The Reds name has been brandished about as well, but they seem the least likely of the bunch to pull the trigger.

There are two names in particular that stand out of that bunch, the Phillies and the Mets. The Mets likely don’t have the pieces to make an offer strong enough to entice Seattle to send Lee to play for the Mets.

The Philadelphia Phillies however do.

It’s been pretty well documented that Jayson Werth is a potential trading piece from the Phils as they try and tinker away at their roster, as well as protect themselves from Werth’s pending free agency. This is important because the Mariners have made it clear they want a big bat in exchange for Lee, in addition to some young prospects (or an elite prospect with a big bat, as well as some other pieces). The Mariners also have the capability to get an extension done with Werth, or re-sign him if they so choose, making him an attractive player to them in their attempt to shop Lee.

While the Mets technically enter this final weekend of games before the All-Star break as the Atlanta Braves closest competition in the National League East, most fans and experts alike believe that the biggest threat to Atlanta sending Bobby Cox out with another division title comes from Philadelphia.

That being the case, Cliff Lee going back to the Phillies could very well tip the scales in the favor of the Phillies, and in the very least set them up to take the wild card route to the playoffs.

Once in the playoffs, a tandem of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee would be downright close to unbeatable. It would be very akin to the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling duo from Arizona nearly a decade ago.

In other words, the Braves do not want Cliff Lee pitching for Philadelphia, at all.

If the best way to prevent that is for him to join the Evil Empire, fine.

Now the argument could be made that it would be just as fine if Lee went to the Twins, Rangers, or Rays, all American League teams, and all not named the Philadelphia Phillies.

The one problem with that would be the re-signing of Lee. It’s very unlikely he would be anything but a rental (and how ridiculous is it that under that scenario, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball would have played for 5 different teams in less than 18 months) should he be dealt to any of those clubs.

This becomes an issue for Atlanta because at this point Lee then would hit the open market, and now, the Mets are in play for his services. No longer having to try and come up with the necessary bartering chips in a trade, they can just throw good old hard cash at Lee to try and lure him to the Big Apple. Now the Braves would have the prospect of having a still very dangerous Phillies team, a young and talented Marlins team, an up and coming Nationals squad, and a Mets team with Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and Cliff Lee in its rotation. Not exactly a gauntlet I’d be stoked about navigating every year. It’s absolutely not a Mets squad I’d want to deal with next year.

However, if Lee goes to the Yankees, it’s very likely that he would then re-sign with the Yankees, and thus, not be a detriment to the Braves hopes of winning any National League pennants.

It’s doubtful the Yankees would be willing to tp with top prospects, especially catcher Jose Montero, if they didn’t feel they had a good opportunity to re-sign Lee, or in the very least, if they weren’t going to make every effort to.

Now, once the Evil Empire obtains Lee for the long term, then I may not be so happy with the notion. Then again, Jorge Posada isn’t getting younger, and Montero was slated to be his success, so the Yankees will be weakened at an important position. That’s however neither here, nor there at the moment.

Back to the topic at hand. Lee with the Yankees long term doesn’t excite me. However, Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox won’t be Braves for the long term, so getting the most out of them means keeping Cliff Lee out of the National League East.

If Lee beats the Braves in the World Series, I can live with that. But I’d hate to have him send Cox packing in the NLCS.

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Joe Johnson Told Us What Was Coming

There’s a reason Joe Johnson took the deal with the Hawks when he took it. He already knew what lie ahead. He knew full well that LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh were going to join forces. He knew he’d have no place to go, as he would not be joining them. Joe’s early decision should have told us something, shame on those of us, which is the vast majority, who were waiting this whole thing out like it wasn’t all pre-determined and just a bunch of scripted drama. But props to those guys for making the most of the market that’s been created for them, and milking it for all it is worth.

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