Saturday, August 30, 2008


Does S.O.P. stand for...

a) Standing Operating Procedure

b) Same Old Pitt

c) it doesn't really matter, cause today, they seem like the same thing when you think about how Pitt has performed under high expectations.

Aye Carumba. More to come...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Final 53-man Roster Projection

Brief interruption from Pat: Steelers fans rule. Carry on.

Had to put this up tonight because I anticipate them making some cuts tomorrow. Comments are included where I deem them necessary. Feel free to add your 53 in the comments. Here we go:


QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon

Leftwich gets the nod over Charlie due to age. Dixon has proven his worth and at this point there is no chance he gets through waivers.

RB/FB (5): Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell, Carey Davis

WR (5): Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Nate Washington, Limas Sweed, Willie Reid

Reid has solidified his spot on the roster. He may be the #4 guy on gamedays. Baker and/or Rucker to the practice squad.

TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Dezmond Sherrod

Sherrod isn’t safe. I would not be surprised if our 3rd tight end comes via another team’s cuts.

OL (10): Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Kendall Simmons, Willie Colon, Max Starks, Trai Essex, Sean Mahan, Darnell Stapleton, Tony Hills


DL (7): Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason, Scott Paxson

Paxson, Roye, and Kirschke are battling for the final two spots.

LB (8): James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, Bruce Davis, Andre Frazier, Keyaron Fox

Arnold Harrison would have made this roster had he not shredded his ACL.

CB (5): Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend, Bryant McFadden, William Gay, Anthony Madison

S (4): Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Anthony Smith, Tyrone Carter

I would have swapped Mundy for Carter, but Mundy didn’t get a chance to play much this preseason. If released, hopefully he’ll land on our practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Jeff Reed, Mitch Berger, Greg Warren

Ernster’s shanks cost him the job. That leaves Berger, but like the #3 TE I would not be shocked if our punter comes from another team's cuts.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fool me once. Fool me twice? Fool me thrice?!?,

I picked them last year, I'll pick them again this year. You can also mark me down for next season, but as my favorite for Superbowl champs.

The Falcons are going to make the playoffs.

I'm not really going to sit here and tell you why I like this player and that player, how I think this guy is going to have a breakout year, how this guy is a sleeper.....quite frankly I am too tired for that hoop-la. I type and look at a computer all day. I will spare you the details and keep it simple.

Here is what I like: New RB...New QB...New Left Tackle. That's a face lift on offense if you ask me.

Then you have Roddy White and Michael Jenkins (The Ohio State University) who both had coming out years this past season. I also like Matt Ryan's chances of succeeding in his rookie season.

What QB has done that in their first year? Well Big Ben did.....

...and I bet you wanted to say no one has.

I like the fact that the Falcons can hand it off to Michael Turner & Jerious Norwood. I've always been a fan of running the ball and playing some defense...

(I wonder why)

By the way, Ohio State would have won the BCS Championship game last year if they would have ran more after their 10-0 lead against LSU. RUNNNNNNNN THE BALLLLLLLLLLL when you're ahead and you have a good defense!!!

Anyway, defense is exactly what Atlanta has. Jamaal Anderson (who needs start his own Dirty Bird) and John Abraham provide Atlanta with a great pass rush, Michael Boley and Keith Brooking provide strong tackling ability. The secondary...very questionable, but a good pass rush always solves that.

-IWTFTB (The Ohio State University)

Return of the Sleeper Picks: Pat takes Oakland

If you put your ear to the ground, you can hear it: Terrible Towels whipping through the autumn air, the doors of bars across Pittsburgh creaking open a little earlier on Sundays, the bitching and moaning that accompanies another failed parlay for the 'Stache...
The NFL season is upon us. Dave Wannstache is putting out his 53 man roster tonight. The picks table is making its return, as I try to defend the prize that I never even received. And as the title indicates, the Sleeper Picks are back too. To recap last year's picks, I took the Jaguars, Stache took the Lions, I Want to Fight Tom Brady took the Falcons, and Sam took the Raiders. It doesn't take much statistical analysis to figure out who ended up with the best team, though it wasn't without controversy. Last year's rules stated that the team had to go 8-8 or worse the year before in order to be a true sleeper. I readily admit that I made these rules, picked a team that wasn't really a sleeper, and ended up looking like a genius by the end of the season (ok, maybe not genius, but better than my co-writers). It also led to me joking after the Steelers' playoff loss that "atleast my sleeper team won", prompting the 'stache to threaten me with instant death.
New season, new rules. Your pick now has to have gone 5-11 or worse the season before in order to qualify, leaving the following teams: Ravens, Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Chiefs, Falcons, Rams, 49ers (ed. note: I would have made it 6-10, but no one went 6-10). Since I "won" last year, I have decided that I will pick first, even though that doesn't really make any sense if you think about it. The Jets appear to have made the best off-season acquisitions, but I refuse to write an article about you-know-who. I simply won't do it. Can't root for the Ravens either. The Rams intrigue me, but their o-line is worse than ours. The Chiefs and Falcons epitomize rebuilding, and even though I secretly like Chad for some reason, it is hard to imagine the Dolphins going from 1-15 one season and to the playoffs the next. Smart money says take an NFC team cause somebody has to win over there, but I hate Frank Gore.
Which leaves...

That's right, I'm sniping Sam's pick from last year and taking the Raiders. They absolutely over-spent in the off-season, and the Javon Walker signing is going to turn out to be a disaster. But nothing looks more attractive about this team than their first 12 games, where their opponents have a .395 winning percentage from last year. They're such a young team, and if they are 6-6 or so by December, imagine the type of confidence they'll have. Can't you just see it? McFadden and Jamarcus on the cover of SI surrounded by a bunch of drooling, leather-donning Raiders fans with some stupid tagline like "Scary Young, Scary Good"? Can't you?! Believe folks! Say it with me! Just win baby!
From a more analytical and less propaganda-infused perspective, this secondary is phenomenal. Nnamdi Asomugha is being talked about as the best corner in the league, and while I wouldn't necessarily want DeAngelo Hall on my team, he is going to be tough when paired with Asomugha. Gibril Wilson is going to be in the box causing chaos, allowing Michael Huff to return to free safety where he is more comfortable. These guys can cover, hit, blitz, anything.
And they are going to have to, because the run defense isn't great. But look at the quarterbacks in that division: Croyle, Cutler, and Rivers. The first one is horrible, and while the other two are supremely talented, they are young and somewhat inconsistent. If the corners can play man cover against the QBs they face, the safeties are going to be a huge lift to the run defense. For instance, imagine if the Steelers had terrific corners and Troy and Carter/Clark could just bust into the line more often without having to worry about Deshea or Ike getting burned like they do every now and again. Huff and Wilson are going to have that type of freedom, and the run defense will hopefully be improved because of it.
As for the offense, well, I'm trusting McFadden and Russell to have impressive years. Russell is going to struggle at times - that is a given. Hopefully 2nd year tight end Zach Miller, who caught 44 passes last year, will be a reliable option for him to dump off to.
As I said before, look at this schedule. Around the same time that the Steelers are battling through their Colts-Cowboys-Patriots-Chargers stretch, the Raiders get the Jets, Ravens, Falcons, Panthers, and Dolphins in consecutive weeks heading into some big divisional showdowns.
I was gonna say 9-7 for this team, but fortune favors the bold, or something like that. The Raiders will go 10-6 and be right in the hunt for the playoffs - not necessarily because they belong there, but because their schedule allows them to be in that position. Of course, if the young stars play better than expected, who knows what this team could do. I just hope that this year's sleeper doesn't knock the Steelers from the playoffs like my last one (what a self-congratulatory ending line - I can just see Sam fuming).
Ball is in your court, Sam, Stache, and Brady Fighter. Oh, and feel free to let us know your sleeper in the comments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Problems with Pedro

Here is the long and short of it: Pirates brass might want to hold off on that "best management team in all of sports" propaganda they were peddling earlier this month. At least until, oh, I don't know, the deal is actually done. Or Alvarez shows up to Pittsburgh. Or the team breaks the .500 barrier. Just a suggestion. Take it or leave it.

Preseason Game 3: Stock Up, Stock Down

Note: There will be no "Stock Up, Stock Down" for the final preseason game. Rather, I will post my final 53-man roster prediction late Thursday night after the game.

Stock Up:

Casey Hampton: Maybe he reads Doubt About It? Last week I questioned Hampton’s motivation and felt he was loafing. This week he looked like the Casey of old, pushing the pocket and congesting the running lanes up the middle. On one play he pushed Vikings center Matt Birk (that would be six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk) about 4 or 5 yards into the backfield.

Rest of the First-Team Defense: Defensive line in particular was great. Holding Adrian Peterson and a strong run-blocking Vikings O-line to 21 yards on 12 carries is quite a statement. And you know it’s a good day when Ike actually catches an INT.

Willie Reid: May have locked down the last receiver spot with a solid performance, with 5 grabs for 55 yards. His return skills have disappointed but I’ve always liked what I’ve seen from Reid in the passing game. Both I Want To Fight Tom Brady and I agreed that the best way to utilize Reid is with quick hitters like hitches and slants, and out in space on screens. Let him use his shiftiness. At this point, I would not be shocked at all if he’s the #4 WR on gameday and Sweed is inactive.

Tyrone Carter: Made a number of nice tackles in run support. But he’s still a liability in coverage. Not sure if it was enough to garner him a roster spot.

Stock Down:

First-Team Offense: For whatever reason they looked out of sync. Ben in particular threw multiple balls behind his receivers. Not worried about them at all, though. They’ll still put up plenty of points come regular season.

Willie Colon and Kendall Simmons: Just a terrible showing from these two. Collectively, they may form the worst right-side offensive line in the league. For Colon, it’s simple, and I’ve stated it time and time again: I feel like he’s playing out of position. He doesn’t have the quickness or arm length to handle outside rushers. Put him at guard and let him use his strength and nastiness against slower defensive tackles. For Simmons, it’s the same old song and dance routine. The guy has stunk, stinks now, and always will stink. At this point he’s stealing money from the Rooneys, and it’s laughable that he’s a starter. Here’s the best picture that sums up everything, from last year’s game against the Broncos:

Limas Sweed: As I previously said, I would not be shocked if Sweed was inactive on gamedays. It’s clear from the preseason that he’s not ready yet and still has a long way to go in becoming a polished receiver. That’s not an indictment on him; it’s just a reflection of how tough it is to make contributions right away as a rookie wide receiver. It’s the toughest position to learn and it takes time, and when people were clamoring for Sweed to inherit the #3 WR job from Nate Washington, I knew that likely wouldn’t be the case. Look at Santonio, he’s in year three and he’s only just now scratching the surface of his potential.

Rashard Mendenhall: Hold on to the ball, young fella!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Random Links

- Since the Phelps stuff generated some interest last week: an examination of how Phelps might not have touched the wall first in that uber-close Butterfly race. I'm thrilled Phelps won that race, but it certainly did look like he lost it when watching in real time. This article explains how the time sensors likely bought Phelps the extra time he needed to win the race because he came into the wall harder. Essentially, the sensors have to be hit with a certain amount of force, or else the ripples created in the pool by the swimmers would trigger them. The Serbian swimmer came into the wall a hair slower than Phelps (who exploded into the wall) which may have cost him the extra fraction of a second it takes to fully depress the sensor. So Phelps may have not touched the wall first, but still won by depressing the sensor first. Just thought it was an interesting article.

- Truehoop has been all over the Redeem Team beat (what form of basketball isnt't Henry Abbott all over?), so it is tough to link to one specific article. But he mentioned on numerous occasions how unique it was to see the game's best players display a different skillset, i.e. LeBron moving without the ball instead of having to create everything, or Chris Bosh playing inspired "glue-guy" type of play instead of being the go-to option in a stuttering Toronto offense. For some reason, I started thinking ahead to the 2010 Winter Olympics and realized the following: surrounded by Canadian All-Stars, Sidney Crosby is going to be DEE-s'gusting. Think of how many various assets Sid brings to the ice, and realize that by playing on a juggernaut team, he is going be able to showcase every last one of them. Along the same lines, if a lengthy, "can-do" type of player like Tayshaun Prince can contribute on the Redeem Team, what makes you think that Jordan Staal wouldn't make a perfect 4th line center who already knows how to play that role on a team? Joe Thornton isn't going out to defend in all three zones like Staal can.

- Watch the U.S. Open. Better yet, if you are in NYC as I just was, get some grounds passes and go check out the matches. Best ticket in sports, from a value standpoint. At a baseball/basketball/football game, you pay for a ticket and you get to watch one event. If it's a blowout, tough luck. But at the Open, there is ALWAYS a great match going on...many times even four and five. At the same time! It's madness. Go do it.

- Oh, and PSAMP talked with Smizik. Not kidding. Ballsy and well done.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Steelers, Farrior Agree to New 5-Year Deal

The Steelers and James Farrior agreed to a new 5-year, $18.25 million deal today. It includes a $5 million signing bonus.

I have mixed feelings about this deal. On one hand, I do not like the idea of giving out third contracts to players over 30 years old. This is how teams get into cap hell, because they will ultimately face the prospect of being hamstrung by an underperforming aging veteran with a bloated salary cap hit.

On the other hand, the money seems okay. It’s not a whole lot. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting that Farrior will have base salaries of $1.8 million, $2.975 million, and $2.825 million in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively. Add in the $1 million prorated signing bonus each year (5-year deal, $5 million bonus), and you get cap hits of $2.8 million, $3.975 million, and $3.825 million in the first three years. Those numbers are certainly manageable, and in this day and age of free agency Farrior probably would have gotten more money on the open market. The base salaries in his last two years are probably around $2.5-$3.5 million, so this is not some backloaded deal that will force the Steelers to release Potsie because of an inflated base salary.

With James being 33 years old, I highly doubt he plays out this entire contract. I think he probably has 3 good years left in him, so there’s probably a chance the Steelers release him in the offseasons of 2011 or 2012 and eat the $1 or $2 million cap hit. Those are palatable numbers that won’t kill the Steelers salary cap. But still, you always would like to avoid those “dead money” situations, and with the length of this contract I don’t think it’s avoidable.

All in all, this crosses off a need that the Steelers would have had to fill in the 2009 offseason. They can now focus on the offensive line, defensive line, and secondary. I wouldn’t mind seeing extensions given out to Kemoeatu and McFadden. It remains to be seen if those will come to fruition.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

About This Phelps Business...

Michael Phelps is amazing. A legend. A terrific, trascendant athlete. No one is disputing this.
But what some people are rightfully disputing is the completely irrational manner in which some people are trying to contextualize him.
I won't link to Jemele Hill's recent ESPN article about Phelps because I would feel bad doing so (feel bad for you all having to read it, that is). I know, I know. "Look at the grumpy blogger. He couldnt do better, so he should shut up!" Well aside from illustrating the grammatical errors in the article, this post, from Good Guy at Sports, provides a thoughtful take on Hill's insanely hyperbolic feelings on Phelps. Go ahead and read that. As you'll see, people like Hill are going a little overboard with this Phelps praise, and leaving all traces of rational thought, logic, and acceptable grammatical constructions behind.
Here is Hill's thesis: Phelps' Beijing Olympics represent the best athletic performance of all time, based on three criteria 1) endurance 2) diversity of achievment 3) record setting nature, and some other points, but these three seem most pertinent.
GGaS covers most everything in his wonderful back and forth post, but if I may offer three other points:
- is it really such a remarkable exhibit of endurance when Phelps only swam for probably an hour total all week? I mean, yes, I know that it is remarkable that he swam 17 races, but he didnt exactly bike several hours a day for two weeks like Lance Armstrong did. And considering that Hill's argument entails placing the accomplishments of Phelps over those of Armstrong, it seems like a pretty big omission to not note the fact that 17 races took under an hour of effort (insane effort, but still...)
- with regard to the notion of diversity of achievement: yes, Phelps won medals in different strokes. But Hill employs a kind of so-what philosophy about biking that makes it seem trivial when compared with swimming. Biking is just biking, but swimming is the BREAST STROKE! FREE STYLE! BUTTERFLY! A DIVERSE, COMPLICATED RANGE OF ATHLETIC ENDEAVOR! However, to me, the Tour de France is just as diverse too - mountain sections, flat sections, short sections and long ones. Similarly, Jordan is one of the game's msot famous dunkers, yet also possesses a signature turnaround jumpshot. Great athletes are great for lots of reasons. For Hill, this notion appears to only apply to Phelps.
- every freaking swimming race in Beijing appeared to break a record. New suits, etc etc.
And I'm not even a Lance Armstrong apologist - if you want one of those, I'm sure Dirkman is flying around in the comments section somewhere wearing a U.S. Postal jersey.
I loved watching Michael Phelps this past week. I do think he is one of the world's all-time great athletes. But can we all agree to use logic and definitions when trying to place this thing historically? You know, like defining what skill is, or what endurance consists of, and how they intertwine? Please? Please Jemele? Please?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Preseason Game 2: Stock Up, Stock Down


James Harrison: Flat out beast. Relentless. He was all over the place, and was the only one harassing Trent Edwards. His pissed off post-game quotes made me only like him even more. He is stepping up as a leader on this defense in more ways than one.

Santonio Holmes: Really, the only thing keeping Holmes from a 1,200 yard, 10-TD season is injury. If he stays healthy he is going to be a nightmare for defenses. Every week he impresses me more and more. It’s not only the fact that he has jets (which he displayed once again this week), but that he’s a superb route runner with great hands and a willing blocker as well.

Lawrence Timmons: I don’t see how the coaching staff can keep him off the field after this game. His closing speed is ridiculous. There was a huge hit in the 4th quarter on a random Bills scrub QB in which the linebacker absolutely exploded through a hole in the offensive line. I asked Sam and Pat, “Who the fuck was that?”—thinking that by this time we had all our 3rd and 4th stringers in. Nope, it was Timmons.


First-team defense (excluding Harrison): Looked flat and disinterested, which was confirmed by Harrison’s quotes after the game. They’ve played three drives this preseason and opposing offenses are 3-3 against them (field goal allowed against the Eagles, two TDs allowed against the Bills). They made Edwards look like Dan Marino. I’m hoping this is a by-product of vanilla defense and no gameplanning.

Casey Hampton: I wanted to see more effort from the big guy. On most plays he would just stand up out of his stance and titty-fight with the o-lineman he was going against. This is worrisome because I sensed a definite lack of motivation from Hampton when I read his quotes concerning his placement on the PUP list. This team needs a healthy AND motivated Hampton to be successful.

5th wide receiver(s): Those vying for the 5th wide receiver spot failed to impress. Dallas Baker was MIA until the final drive when the Bills were playing soft on defense. Willie Reid dropped a couple catchable balls. Micah Rucker did as well, including the hail mary attempt that hit him square in the hands.

Willie Colon: Was badly beaten by Chris Kelsay and added insult to injury by being flagged for holding. On another play he was completely bull-rushed back into Ben but luckily the pass had been thrown before any damage could be done. He just doesn’t have the looks of a tackle.

Larry Foote: Looked a step slow the entire game. Didn’t have the quickness to keep up with Royal on the out pattern that led to the Bills touchdown. If it’s Timmons he probably runs stride for stride with Royal. Foote also missed too many tackles in space for my liking. Timmons needs to be starting.

Special Teams: It’s nice to know not much has changed. I don't think anyone even laid a hand on McKelvin during his 95-yard TD jaunt. Nate Washington also had a chance to down a punt at the one-yard line but inexplicably failed to do so. Reed missed a 42-yard field goal, although I’m not sure if that had to do with him getting acclimated to a new holder.

Ryan McBean: Missed tackles, got pushed around. As a 4th round pick last season he was released and subsequently placed on the practice squad. He’s getting another chance to show his stuff this offseason, but the team just inked 35-year old former Steeler defensive lineman Orpheus Roye. So what does that tell you about McBean’s chances of making the roster?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Alvarez Signs

Considering the past 15+ years, there was absolutely no reason to trust the new Pirates' management. Based on the past few weeks, people should begin to reconsider. While there is ample to debate about the Bay and Nady/Marte trades, management is at least picking a direction and running with it.

The latest proof is the signing of Pedro Alvarez while not breaking the bank. Alvarez was signed for a $6M signing bonus and a minor league deal. It fits in well with the other top picks this year.

1.) Tim Beckham - $6.15M signing bonus, minor league deal
2.) Pedro Alvarez - $6M signing bonus, minor league deal
3.) Eric Hosmer - $6M signing bonus, minor league deal
4.) Brian Matusz - $3.2M signing bonus, major league deal
5.) Buster Posey - $6.2M signing bonus, minor league deal

While the Bay trade was impressive because the Pirates' didn't flinch, not making a deal would have probably placated more fans and kept more interest in the current season. Either way, they couldn't lose spectacularly.

If the Pirates didn't sign Alvarez there would have been similar fan outrage as last year with the Moskos disaster. Possibly more. The general feeling of good will from the Bay haul of prospects and Karstens' and Ohlendorf's strong starts would have evaporated. But they didn't give in. Maybe not a spectacular move, but definitely the right one. Another step.

Huntington et al. still has a lot to prove, but if the angry mob crashing servers as they anxiously wait on each missive from DK is any indication, there are people listening.

(By the way, the major components of Matt Wieters' deal with the Orioles last year were largely the same. I always thought Littlefield was full of it when he said he really did want Moskos over Wieters. Apparently I was wrong.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Preseason Game 1: Stock Up, Stock Down


First-team offensive line: Looked pretty good in the limited action they saw. No significant pressure on Ben, and they were generating some push against the Eagles first-team defensive line. Even Sean Mahan looked pretty good… which makes me think that the rumors of him being unable to keep his weight up as last season progressed were true. He wasn’t terrible the first few weeks last season, but as the year wore on he had more and more trouble handling the big nose tackles.

Santonio Holmes: This guy is poised to break-out in a big way. Absolutely just blew by Brian Dawkins en route to the end zone. Year three is the year that wide receivers typically begin putting it all together. And this is year three for Santonio.

Dennis Dixon: Didn’t look half bad when forced into action upon Batch’s injury. By no means is he a finished product, and he does have a really short throwing motion (almost as if he's throwing a dart). But he showed very nice poise avoiding pressure multiple times (most notably in his own end zone when rookie left tackle Tony Hills was thoroughly abused by Eagles defensive end Jerome McDougle).

Rashard Mendenhall: Nice debut by the rookie. Would have liked to have seen him run with a little more authority and less hesitation, but that’s probably to be expected for a rookie playing in his first game who’s trying to feel his way out.

Lawrence Timmons: One play was all I needed to see. The speed with which he closed on a pass by McNabb to the flat was scary. Can’t wait to see this guy take over Foote’s position at some point.

LaMarr Woodley: Gave Jon Runyan fits. Drew penalties. Harrison and Woodley could have close to 25 sacks among them this season.


Charlie Batch: Nothing really his fault, but his injury severely clouds his status on this team. Coming into the game he was assured of being the #2 QB… now he’s in danger of being released. I don’t see the Steelers carrying 4 QB’s, and I don’t see the Steelers attempting to place Dixon on their practice squad because some team would assuredly claim him on waivers. It’s too much of a risk. Therefore, it’s either Leftwich or Batch. If Leftwich impresses—and taking into account Charlie is 33 years old and in the final year of his contract—Batch’s tenure with the Steelers may be coming to an end sooner than we thought.

Chris Hoke: Hoke’s a fine backup, but Saturday night proved that this team needs an in-shape Casey Hampton starting. Philly center Jamaal Jackson was able to move Hoke with ease, allowing for ample running room up the middle.

Tony Hills: Was flat out embarrassed by McDougle and generally did not look like the mid-round draft choice he is. He’s in real jeopardy of not making this team.

Max Jean-Gilles: If you don’t recognize his name, he’s the Eagle who clobbered Ryan Mundy well after the whistle while Mundy’s ankle was pinned under a pile. Mundy now has a high ankle sprain. The late hit will cost Mundy at least the next two preseason games and possibly the opportunity to make the roster.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sports Book of the Month

Several programming notes before getting into the bulk of the post:

- Tiger Who? The drama between Harrington and Garcia (and Curtis! come on NBC, throw him a bone) down the stretch in the PGA has been every bit as intriguing as any Tiger-led tournament (the most recent U.S. Open excluded).

- Juan Martin Del Potro beat Andy Roddick today in the Finals at the L.A. Countrywide event. I beg you, yet again: buy into tennis now so that you can fully enjoy it when it blossoms again in two years. Juan Martin Del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Gael Monfils...all extremely young, all equipped with uniquely sublime skillsets, all primed to challenge the Nadal-Federer hierarchy. Buy in now.

- At some point we will cover this Michael Phelps business. And not just because he looks exactly like our writer Sam. (LATE UPDATE: holy crap. what a relay race. The Phelps Quest for 8 remains intact. wow.)

I was fortunate enough to have lunch two years ago with David Maraniss as he was promoting his new book on Roberto Clemente. For those of you unfamiliar with Maraniss' work, it is safe to say that it is a) impressive and b) addresses topics that are most likely of some interest to readers of this blog. His biography of Clemente may already rest on your bookshelf, and equally enlightening is his biography of Vince Lombardi. There is a certain flair and finality to the titles ("The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero", "When Pride Still Mattered") that some may perceive as a gray-haired coddling of long-forgotten times and people. But Maraniss' writing seems to always leave one eye gazing into the present and the future, insisting that we somehow make his stories relevant to our current situation. If political reading is more up your alley, then he not only claims authorship of the best biography of Bill Clinton, but counts the ex-President as one of his close friends.

Needless to say, he is an interesting man to chat with over lunch. In a completely polite and un-look-what-I-did! way, he recounted stories detailing both the harrowing endeavor of walking through old battlefields in Vietnam for "They Marched Into Sunlight" and fascinating task of hanging out with a younger, precocious Bill Clinton. When I asked him what he was working on next, he countered with a question of his own: what do you know about the 1960 Olympics?

Ummm...was that the black power fist salute one?

No. That was Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 in Mexico City.

Uhhh...was that the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes in Munich?

No. That was '72.

Oh. So what were the 1960 Olympics?

The most important sporting event of the modern era. I think. I'm not positive yet. We'll see how the research goes.

(Long pause...)...Oh.

After talking with him about his plan, it seems impossible that no one had ever thought of all this before. Consider: 1960. The Cold War is brewing. Tensions over civil rights in America are bubbling. Television is on the scene as a cultural force for the first time. Doping enters the modern lexicon. Wilma Rudolph asserts the power of the modern woman. A brash young man named Cassius Clay asserts that something big is coming our way. And then there is the story of Rafer Johnson, a man who who Maraniss contends could be the most underappreciated athlete of all time.

Drugs. Media. Communism. Race. Gender.

Oh, and sports, too. As a biographer first and foremost, Maraniss tells the story through the individuals who were present at the time of "the birth of the modern world". It's a book I have been waiting two years for, and it is a book that will likely resonate with any sports fan who either loves historical perspectives or would like to investigate the origins of the current ills plaguing the sports world.

So, in a new "Sports Book of the Month" series that may or may not only last one month, I'm giving August to Dave Maraniss' Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed The World. Go forth and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Snell Should be Taking Notes

Imagine our surprise when The 'Stache and I got off the golf course this afternoon (err...out of the office?) to find out that Jeff Karstens was pursuing a perfect game. With two hits off of Randy Johnson to boot. We wanted to call Vegas just to see if the "Greg Brown Heart Atack Odds" had officially been taken off the board.

Equally impressive as Karstens command of his pitches was the command of his emotions. This just did not seem like a big deal to him. I actually do admire the passion and competitive nature of Ian Snell, but maybe he should, I don't know, chill out a little bit? Karstens shrugs things off and must have said a million times after the games that he has always been taught to hide his emotions so that his opponents can't figure him out. Call it the Anti-Snell approach.

If there is one thing about the recent Pirates transactions that all the DAI writers agree on, it's that the infusion of young arms will create more competition if nothing else. Snell was near the end of the handshake line today and was observably thrilled with Karstens performance, smiling like he himself had just won the big game. Snell may still be a good teammate, but if he doesn't find his "stuff" or realize that a cool head like Karstens might be a more productive modus operandi, then "good teammate" might be the only positive on his resume for the forseeable future.

One more thing: I can't believe some bloggers had posts up about the perfect game while it was in progress. Is this the first baseball game you've ever watched? Honestly. I know that writing a blog post about a perfect game isnt that same as if Freddy Sanchez was to go up to Karstens in the dugout and strike up a conversation, but still...YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT PERFECT GAMES. It's probably one of the oldest unwritten rules in sports.

I won't name names, and livebloggers get the benefit of the doubt. I was particularly surprised by one prominent blog...rhymes with Blonde Obese Spouse. But oh well. A Pirates win is a Pirates win, and hopefully Karstens will bring more.

SI Could Use a Few Mulligans

I really do not care about the Brett Favre storyline. At. All. The only reason it is remotely interesting to me is because of how it is comical to see yet again how Sports Illustrated made an incredibly awful pick for their SI Sportsman of the Year. Just think about it: Brett Sportsman of the Year. Huh?! If anything, he is currently exhibiting everything that is wrong about the attitude of entitlement that plagues the modern athlete. Can't remember where I read it yesterday, but a post somewhere called Brett Favre "Everything That is Wrong With America". Sarcastic, yes. But it actually makes sense if you think about it long enough.

It's hard to tell which pick looked dumber the following year: the Favre pick or the Wade pick. Wade's team finished DFL (Dead F'in Last) and he ended up "getting hurt" and sitting out the season. Probably not more embarassing that this whole Favre business, but still not a ringing endorsement for the "award".
2005 was the year Tom Brady won, which, ok, whatever, he probably deserved it. The Red Sox won as a team in 2004 for breaking the curse, and again, sure, fine. They broke the curse. Yippee. Coincidence that Brady, Favre, and the Red Sox have become three of the most hated entities in all of sports? Perhaps a new Sports Illustrated curse? Maybe.
What is MOST disappointing about all of this is that Sports Illustrated wasted an oppurtunity to give the award to the man who probably deserved it each year: Roger Federer. If you have paid any attention to tennis this year, then you know that it is highly possible that Federer will never again reach that sustained level of greateness. Consider...
2004: 74-6 record, 11 titles
2005: 81-4 record, 11 titles
2006: 92-5 record, 12 titles (Wade? Really? Over 92 wins?)
2007: 68-9 record, 8 titles
Numbers like those will not be put up in tennis for a long time. It was as if SI kept waiting for Federer to win the Grand Slam to anoint him, instead of recognizing the remarkable level he was already playing at. A shame, but who knows: if he had won, maybe he would be as hated as some of the magazine's most recent winners.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hold That Thought...

Pirates fans - you have so much to live for. Yes, I know Xavier Nady had 6 RBIs today. I understand that you can't turn on SportsCenter without seeing a Fenway standing O for Jason Bay. I realize that the Pirates dropped the past two games to the Cubs.

BUT...the trades over the past week made by the Pirates show a fundamental difference between this Pirates front office and those that came before it: mainly, an understanding of the term "value".

Consider: when the Pirates traded Aramis Ramirez on July 23, 2003, he was coming off a season in which he batted .234 with 18 home runs (and also was suspended for throwing a batting helmet at Ben Sheets). At the time of the trade, his fielding percentage was an almost career low .924 and his slugging percentage was down almost 20 points from the year before (

Consider: Jason Schmidt won 10, 11, and 13 games in '97, '98, and '99 for the Pirates. In 2000, he was hurt, seeing his record finish at 2-5 and his ERA blimp from the 4 and change territory to 5.40. In 2001, Schmidt had a 6-6 record with a 4.61 ERA and the Pirates traded him. OK numbers considering the talent on those Pirates teams, but dropoffs compared to his earlier numbers ( again).

Now, the decisions to trade Schmidt and Ramirez are perhaps worth defending to some degree. While both had looked like potential key players for the future of the Buccos, their play had fallen off due to perceived laziness in one case and injury in another. If players aren't performing well, there are obviously plenty of other ones who would love a chance to play on any MLB team, even if it is the Pirates.

But considering the observable talent of Ramirez and Schmidt, it would have been wise for any other team to pluck them off the Pirates. Struggling in Pittsburgh? Everyone struggles there. Low risk move for us. I'm sure many GMs were quick to make such low risk moves with the Pirates during those years of ineptitude.

Flash forward to the future. Marte, Bay, and Nady are all enjoying career years, the two outfielders in particular. Their stock has never been (and may never again be) higher. When you are a struggling team small market team, what other choice do you have than to use the only leverage you have, in this case being the trade-ability of high performing players like Nady and Bay? You don't have any other choices. You bring back quantity and quality to the furthest extent you can.

Ramirez and Schmidt were sold low, Bay and Nady were sold high. The quantity of the return on the former was questionable, the quantity of the latter is diverse and large. I had grown to love and respect Jason Bay this year more than any other, but it is simple economics/mathematics/Brittle-Bonics: if your back has been against a wall for almost two decades, you sell high, spread your investments, and go from there. It's hard to concretely say that Neil Huntington has accomplished much in his new role as GM, but at the very least, he has shown some aptitude for assessing "value" within a ball club. And for that, there is reason to hold on and see what happens.