Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NFL Notes

Poor Brett…he doesn’t have a home any more and the big bad front office of the Packers is pushing him around…

Let me ask one question to any NFL fan, regardless of the fact that the Packers made it to the NFC Championship last year and can potentially be in the Super Bowl this year with a lackluster NFC; who would you rather have start for your team, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers? Dumb question. So why on Earth would the Packers treat Favre this way?

At least according to Favre. It makes no sense that after going to the NFC Championship that they would force Favre to retire when not only is he has been a (overrated) superstar, both for his talent and leadership on the field, and for putting butts in the seats as well.

Green Bay has an opportunity to do some serious damage in the Central for at least this year, if not next season as well. The Bears are going back to the doldrums in a hurry, and the Lions continue to do nothing (and draft picks seem to do nothing to help either). Only the Vikings have even the opportunity to move forward, listing Adrian Peterson and one of the best run defenses on their resume. This personnel move is one of the most stupid simple decisions. Ever.

However, you may ask why the front office is not even considering bringing Favre back. Favre has to stop this BS that he will carry a clipboard; he embraced Mc Carthy's West-Coast style, wrote the book on Green Bay’s offense, has the respect of the players and coaches, and the status of an idol in town. There is absolutely no way he will sit on the bench because when Rodgers goes through his growing pains as a starter, the second he has a rough series against the Vikings or God help them, the Bears, fans will be screaming for Favre to come in and do what he does best, even better than Rodgers. Player for player, the wisest lineup move would be to have Favre under center. So why not bring him back?

Favre is making himself look like a jackass and is tainting his otherwise fantastic career. He is a Hall-of-Famer to be; his one Super Bowl win and two appearances are only tips of the iceberg. Sorry, had to put a slam in there. I really don’t care about the NFL or the Bears/Packers rivalry, but I do care about someone clogging the airwaves with stupidity and sports programming wasting their time with one of the most overrated players ever. Ok, maybe overrated is too harsh, some of the greats only had a few postseason or Super Bowl appearances, but for the hype being created over a 39-year old player who decided to retire, a fan has to weigh the situation for what it is. Favre’s career stat line speaks for itself but the question remains the same; what is Favre really trying to do? Super Bowls are harder to win, more so than is apparent by the casual fan, so his championship pedigree is an arguable topic. It will not be considered for his induction save for the fact that he won one and appeared in two. Peyton Manning is going to Canton and he only has one Super Bowl victory and one appearance. Although I hate him, Tom Brady is a man among men in quarterback arguments.

Such is the plight of professional sports. There will be no more dynasties like the Yankees, the Celtics, the Lakers, or the Steelers or Cowboys. The talent is spread too thin over too many teams to continue winning championships. But about money, when marquee players are in each market and each team vies for playoff spots, the opportunity to bank a lot of cash becomes a machine. It is a good thing for everyone involved in pro sports, from the owners to the players to the companies paying for advertisement. Good players know when they are going to get paid not because of the value of their talent they will bring to win a championship, but their value to generate increased revenue for the team they will play for. Why else would Elton Brand sign with the 76ers? The only team worse to sign with would be the Bulls. I mean come on, what are they doing with their roster? Another topic, another column though.

Unfortunately I have to tell yet another pro athlete to quit whining and shut their mouth. If this were any other job, and someone tells the office that they quit, they would not be able to come back in and demand their job back, and then go and defame the managers for their acceptance of a resignation. But this is pro sports, which is entertainment, and obviously when a performer fulfills an entertainment and emotional need for the customer, they do have a lot of leverage. He is whining for money. Maybe he is getting a divorce? Who knows?

He had the opportunity over the years to win some more rings, and of course on any given Sunday anything can happen, but the Packers won their division handedly several times in the late 90s and early to mid-2000s. The NFL is not like baseball where a team has to be pretty good all year and then play extremely well in the playoffs and have some luck to win a championship. The NFL only requires a hot streak along with having a record just slightly better than 8-8. What does he want, another championship? He could have had the opportunity this year…without announcing his retirement. Players have gone in to the Hall without any championships.

It goes without saying that Favre’s consideration on playing in 2008 was the Packers’ number one personnel issue going in to the offseason and preparing for the draft. Unfortunately with salary caps, players are not that interchangeable unless they play for the Patriots. And all of this is coming down with less then two months until camps start for teams? The Packers wrote Favre off and began prepping Rodgers to take over. I don’t mean that they just turned their nose up at Favre coming back; Favre decidedly burned the Packers, and my guess is that he did not like the firing of Mike Sherman, although Mike McCarthy was with the team in the late 90s.

The big question is why did Favre decide to do this with his career? What was he thinking? Not just a rhetorical question, but what was he really thinking? This probably has very little to do with collective agreements. I’m just trying to rule out logical reasons, and I think I already did. Either way Brett, you are out of luck. You were a pro and you should have known better, whatever your reason for doing this. You have agents and press secretaries and image consultants. Demanding your release from a lucrative deal in an attempt to make the organization look stupid on ESPN just makes you look dumb. Come out with a real reason, not just your desire to play crap.

Where else would he go? Figure that, a Chicago guy defending the Packers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

MLB Notes

The use of instant replay in MLB will do even more damage to a game that already has serious problems. This is an attempt to create another avenue of interest for more fans be attracted to the entertainment of baseball. MLB posted record profits this past year, and the commissioner is deciding to bolster interest for this year that would be, with the exception of local interest from generally plugged-in fans, another storyline for casuals to follow. 2007 was the year of Barry and the Mitchell Report. 2008 was scheduled to be quiet, especially with the skeletons out of the closet. My beloved White Sox are still in first place. So are the Cubs...which is OK, I guess. It generates a lot of interests and arguments for the third biggest sports market that has been exceptionally bad save for 2005. Sorry, but for one moment, my bias does have to come out.

My opinion of Selig is already low, stemming from the home run record mark disaster last year. After weeks of going back and forth on whether or he would attend the game where the most hallowed and significant record in all of pro sports, he declined to go. If I were Hank Aaron, I would not have attended either, because what Barry Bonds did to get where he was, and we all know he did it, to achieve his success really didn't damage the game. It only made him look like a bigger piece of crap than he already was. The two main issues that come into play though, are the image of the game, and control executed by the team owners and league executives against the players.

In defense of Selig, the right thing to do was not to go, which is why his number two went and Aaron recorded the message delivered after the history-making hit. They were doing what they had to do to protect the image of the game without making a motion to legitimize what Bonds was.

My issue is mostly with Selig; players are going to do what they are going to do in order to gain the advantage in any competition. Stretching the rules and bending the rules are fundamental in any sport, especially baseball. If you doubt it, do a search on Cy Young and find out for yourself. Breaking balls were illegal, throwing overhand was illegal, and the mound was at 40 feet. Throwing your own test tube monsters under the bus for having a marketing angle, screw you. If I were in the same position, or a business man, I would do the same thing. As a generality, why were the 1919 White Sox banned on speculation, and a ban for Pete Rose issued? Different commissioners? No. Different time period? No. Getting killed by screwing up baseball when the icons were fading? Yes. Too much talent spread out too wide. But that makes the offeason much more fun to watch. If a team has a home run hitter, or a Cy Young candidate, or something for fans to hang their hopes on, a team has a product. Take a look at the Reds. They are the very ideal of the cause and effect. Johnny Bench and Pete Rose? Icons. The Big Red Machine and the Nasty Boys (gotta toss my boy Dibble some love)? Stories of lore. Griffey senior and junior? What baseball was all about. Now? Just like every other team, including the Yankees (ha ha). They don't have icons any more.

Selig is backpedaling to cover his own office. Nepotism for cheaters has to go. Too little room at the top and way too many more marketable feel-good stories for guys making it to the bigs to let that junk waste away what was a good thing. Market the players right, like the 85 Bears, and you have your marketing machine.

Instant replay is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, just a little glimpse at a big problem. To try an reestablish control over baseball is going to have to come from, sigh, the owners, which is a near impossibility without salary caps. Granted I like baseball a heck of a lot more than the NFL; football is solely ran for gambling purposes. I loved The Last Boy Scout, but that is a side note. Arguing the effectiveness of rulings in a baseball game is semantics. There are 10 times more games and hundreds more plays in baseball than football. Arguing fair or foul, whether a tag was made, or even balls and strikes causes a world of problems. It takes the inches out of the game of inches. It does not establish ball control, a mark, or even an overruling of an official's call. That stuff only adds to the entertainment factor of a football game, otherwise people would have nothing to talk about on Monday morning. Sixteen games, one played once a week is not enough to maintain the audience.

If umpires' ruling had to have come under this much scrutiny after two months of the season with so many close races, why didn't something like this get addressed last off season? Why is such a gigantic rule being forced in during a season? It could not wait until the end of the year? The Mitchell Report could have.

Unfortunately for baseball, the spectacle, the “magic,” is rarer to find because it scheduling is so spread out and so many dates are played. The rules will begin as only for fair or foul, home run or ball in play. If reviews cross over to openly evaluate umpires for balls and strikes, watch out. The idea behind baseball is the illusion of each pitched ball. Pitchers base their effectiveness and ultimately their legacy on their optical illusion of their pitches and the managers'/catchers' ability to generate the pitch sequence. Batter drill on this daily and have meetings and video sessions to gain the edge. Statisticians get paid to analyze this information and organizations make teams based on tendencies. Players play odds, and pitcher/batter/situational probabilities are analyzed by everyone, both in game situations and who they are going to put on the field. Umpires are already electronically evaluated for the accuracy behind the plate. Great idea, but the Umpire's Association and MLB must keep the results and training private. Managers get paid to put pitchers on the mound to figure out what the balls and strikes are.

How else would MLB capture a casual fan? Add superheroes and controversy. It's like a comic book.

My solution, as yawn-inducing as it may be, is to compare the stats of all games from the time the mound was lowered from 14 inches to 11 until the inception of the DH. Anything after that and we are talking about juiced players again. Compare the outcomes of all the games and separate the two into two categories: games that are easily decided, and games that came down to a questionable home run call or a controversial out. Compare that ratio to the average of games won by a division winner and a second place finisher, and you do get purer results with Selig's wild card, see if there is a probability of a difference in games won between the first and second place teams switching order in the standings. Think magic numbers and calculate the odds from there. If there is a relationship, calculate the probabilities of a controversial call deciding a game. If the relationship is more likely to change the outcome of a game, then you finally understand why a manager says “the breaks just didn't go our way; that's how the game goes. It's a game of inches.”

Honestly who really cares? It doesn't do anything to the game but take away the spectacle. Let the hitting do the hitting and the pitching do the pitching and over time, if you understand the makeup of the season, those odds average themselves out of the talent on the field. There is a specific reason why the Royals and Pirates have not been to the postseason in 15 years. What type of interest does a fan really want to have? Do they want their team to have players on the field that can do the job (cough, sorry Barry)? Or do they want to have everything broken down into stats that only matter to GMs and scouts?

The hot story of the year should be the sale of the Cubs. It is time for the owners to put their collective foot down and begin making moves to protect the interests of MLB, not just let owners put whatever garbage out on the field for stats. Guess what though? For the owners, it works the same way. The only way we as fans can have a say is to not buy tickets if our teams are running crap organizations. My belief is that this is the biggest issue on why Brian Roberts is still an Oriole and not trotting out to Van Halen at the Friendly Confines. They sure as heck can use a leadoff hitter now. For the most part, I give Hendry the credit. I just don't like ignorant fans. And my guess is you don't either. On both stops on the Red Line.

But I hate breaking down magic into science. Isn't that why we watch baseball in the first place? It sucked when I found out Santa was really just Dad putting toys under the tree and eating my cookies.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bears Notes

The release of Cedric Benson is the beginning of putting the plaster on the cracks of the Bears offense. This unit is brutal, plain and simple.

The idea of drafting Benson was at the time the right thing to do-if Jerry Angelo was going to make a move for a premier wide receiver or younger offensive linemen at the time. That was the only obvious problem as Angelo proved that he can build a defense even after the release of Rosey Colvin and the aging Ted Washington (who both went on to win titles with the Patriots). I admit, I thought Benson was going to be a standout back, but the problems, and the clock, began when Benson held out for a signing bonus. I don’t know why Angelo got forced into signing him for that much, but it set the organization back a long way on player negotiations. The Bears are going to have to start paying players until guys on this unit get released or retire. Urlacher will most definitely get a restructured deal to include another signing bonus, Tommie Harris the same, and Hester will get an extension. Locking up Nathan Vasher, Charles Tillman, and Lance Briggs helps to alleviate this situation. Good to see there are a couple of guys smart enough to figure out the business on the field handles the contracts.

It’s kind of funny that the Patriots and Colts keep dominating the AFC by using virtually the same strategy. True, they do have Tom Brady and Peyton Manning who proved themselves early at the pro level, but they maintain the same strategy. In the words of my good buddy Mark D; “the best defense is a damn good offense.” Signing Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd are slight improvements. I would use the term lateral move, but it is going to get overused. A lot. Muhsin Muhammad can pack his stuff up and get overpaid by Carolina again, and I though Bernard Berrian’s deal with the Vikings was downright hilarious. Can we say Marcus Robinson all over again? At least Robinson had an excuse; he got injured. Muhammad, contrary to all expectations, was a total flop. Angelo did the right thing when Muhammad took stabs at the front office through the media. Get out of Dodge buddy, but that makes the Urlacher and Harris situation all the more complicated. But it’s not like they are free agents; they both are under contract with Urlacher still having five years and Harris having two. I like Harris even though he was a Sooner. The money should have come out for Randy Moss. Oh that would put too much pressure on Angelo to make drastic moves to get Moss here? Isn’t that what we all want rather than trotting out that offense

Hopefully Matt Forte will get the right mix of reps and time so he can develop into a more complete back, but I maintain the same standard. This is the professional level, and a player has to be able to play. It is tough to jump from college to the pros in football, unlike the minors and MLB, but free agent signings are running wild in the NFL. Signing guys off the street rarely if ever works out, and that would have been the precise position Benson would have been in if he did not get signed after his initial draft. Of course he could have declared for the 2006 draft as well, but a year off would have reduced his status. How is it that the Patriots can Colts can scout talent and the Bears cannot? Ryan Grant and Kevin Faulk are excellent players and provide the extra threat than an offense needs.

The new face of the Players’ Association and the bargaining agreements are the culprit for the problems in the most visible sport in the US. The NFL kills baseball in merchandising and advertising and the players are looking to overstep their boundaries and really make a push at removing the salary cap. My opinion? The executives have to hold their ground, and they can get guys into the game that will help them both win and push for straightening out the game on and off of the field. Angelo inadvertently backed himself into a corner with Benson and I am frankly shocked to see that Lance Briggs signed for the money he did. Kudos to Briggs-only the Raiders, the Cowboys, and the Broncos would deal with that. But here we go…the very argument that the Players’ Association is making is the agreement that is going to be made: raise the cap or lift it altogether. I’m not against players getting paid. Advertising money pays their salaries. I’m saying reward players who go out and handle their business without the mouth. Peyton Manning is a great NFL example and Jim Thome is a great MLB example. MLB does not apply here. Their lack of a salary cap is foundational to the game going all the way back to the days of Ruth. It’s still funny to watch the Yankees shell out over a quarter-billion a year and still not get past the divisional round. Maybe Hank figured I out after all…

This whole thing stems from way too much power in the hands of Lovie Smith.

Jerry, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. It is still your job to lose.

Daunte Culpepper-still a bad idea see Kordell Stewart

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bulls Notes

Hiring Vinny Del Negro is a bleh move by GM John Paxson. I do like the idea of grabbing a coach that comes from a offensive-based team and focuses on guard play (which means look for Derrick Rose to be the #1 overall pick), but Steve Nash is a 3-time MVP and generally draws a double team opening up low-post options for Amare Stoudamire. Paxson has a lot of explaining to do and problems to fix. It’s time to wait and see…bringing in a guy from a winning program in the west generally is a good idea. My pick would have been Avery Johnson just because of what he accomplished without Steve Nash, and Flip Saunders would have been ok too. Not great, just OK. Mike D’Antoni would have been acceptable, but coaches know not to come here because of Paxson, and these are all really lateral moves because they only may jump the team up in playoff seatings, not get them to the level where they will dominate the East. Again, that is the responsibility of the GM.

Losing on a Kobe Bryant deal and holding on to Luol Deng looks really stupid, and it is, the firing of Skiles by recommendation of his players, and the legal and disciplinary troubles with rookie Joakim Noah have him on the hot seat big time. Jerry Reinsdorf usually likes to place a lot of trust in his GMs, and for what he can say about Jerry Krause, Krause put a winner on the floor. But it was probably a good idea to draft Michael Jordan when the Bulls had the chance. Krause put players out there to fill roles, not just be “tweeners” that might or might not mesh on a game-by-game basis. Undersized and over assigned, this current team is a house of cards waiting for a number one pick to let it all fall apart. Hey, there’s that role filling thing again. The Suns added a veteran, former dominant big man in Shaq for a title run this year, and look how that turned out. Strike two for Paxson…Ben Wallace was the biggest bust in Bulls history.

My opinion, skewed as it may be, is to hire a coach that can pull performances out of his players that exceed even his expectations. Have them play up, not play at. Form a unit. Pull the players up to a higher level, not push them up. Give them a level of expectation rather than be relaxed in their own skill sets. This is hard to do at the professional level, and the fundamental question is how to get a coach who will inspire and police a team. It is easy to do with high schoolers, but players getting paid to play is another story. Motivation is much different, and teams expect their players to play with that attitude, as they should. Isn’t that what Skiles was trying to do when for all intensive purposes, Ben Wallace got him fired? What I do not mean though, is have a guy that is 6’6” play center and have your best scorer be a role player who dumps when he starts.

Side note…the Bulls had a pic of Joakim Noah standing next to Wallace on their website and Noah towered over him. Unfortunately, although I am a UF fan, Noah is going to be a wasted pick unless he gets traded to New York for garbage like usual.

Paxson has a lot of self-imposed troubles; a bad roster, fires to put out with the ownership, and no coach. Which is why this draft and hire is the most important of his managerial career. That part is obvious, but what he will decide to do to satisfy ownership, to which the result will fix the rest of the organization, will be up to him. That is why Doug Collins got into the mix in the first place. If this does not get turned around this year, look for Paxson to be packing up his title rings, banners, and 3-peat shirts and being out of a job.

The one upside to all of this is that Reinsdorf, who I do respect the heck out of, will not allow his ownership groups to be embarrassed any further than this. His placement of Kenny Williams in the White Sox is still a great move because they choose not to deal with questionable players and have the organization run very well, save for the manager. But hey, I’m a Sox fan and love Guillen as compared with other managers in MLB. Who else is better? Bobby Cox is a good manger (and before you jump down my throat to say he is a great manager, ask yourself how many divisions did he win and how many World Series did the Braves win with those rotations and lineups?). They could have fired Ozzie and gotten the much-pursued Joe Girardi or Lou Piniella when they had the chance so they would not have to deal with Guillen’s mouth. The laundry list of juiced players precedes itself; Al Belle, Jose Canseco, James Baldwin, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, and Jose Valentin are gone. Now this is only speculation. I did not contribute to the Mitchell Report nor do I have insider information, but look what happened every time a player messed around with Ron Schueler and Williams. They all got a one-way ticket out of town. That is also probably why Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Miguel Cabrera, and many others did not come to Chicago. In my humble opinion, the players play, the coaches coach, and the executives execute. Period. Executives like players who take their job seriously and come to work every day. To the common person, someone who holds out on a lucrative contract may not understand the player is trying to position himself for a deal.

Look for Noah to be gone very soon. My best guess is a package deal with Heinrich to a team like the Hawks, who may be looking for some first round talent and a veteran to get them to the next level. What they get from them? Who cares…no one else will really even trade with the Bulls unless it is garbage for garbage.