Monday, August 18, 2014

Abundance of penalties poses health hazard to NFL refs

Friday night's Patriots pre-season game against the Eagles saw 28 flags. To put that in perspective, if officials threw state flags instead of yellow ones, starting with Alabama and throwing the flags in alphabetical order, they would have gotten to Nevada. Speaking of Nevada, how long until there is an over/under Vegas line on flags thrown in games?

The big question is, will the regular season be officiated so tightly? And a follow up to that is, what health risks will NFL officials face if they call penalties as frequently as they have in the pre-season?

Arm fatigue and rotator cuff injuries
Obviously the act of throwing flags will cause significant wear and tear on officials' arms. And don't forget all the gestures and signals officials make with their hands and arms. The illegal contact motion could cause severe strain on the triceps.

Don't be surprised if several NFL officials require Tommy John surgery before the season is over.

Carpal tunnel syndrome
Especially for the head referee, who has to switch his microphone on and off to explain penalties. All that repetitive clicking with the thumb and forefinger will take its toll.

Laryngitis
The refs making announcements are most vulnerable to this, especially the ones who explain calls in detail. Ed Hochuli's arms might be strong enough to endure throwing all those flags, but will his pipes be able to endure explaining all of them? By November and December, refs will be hoarse, and some will have to refrain from talking as their voice boxes deteriorate.

Lower back pain
Flags thrown need to be picked up. That requires bending over. Lift from the knees, refs.

Eardrum damage
Thousands of fans booing coupled with at least one irate coach on the sideline screaming into the ear of some poor line judge. That's going to do some serious damage to the eardrum.

Mental and nervous breakdowns
I can imagine an NFL official on his day off at home watching his kids play, then one kid slightly nudges another, and when the ref reaches for a yellow flag in his belt and finds nothing there, PANIC. Refs will grow so accustomed to throwing flags at the slightest hint of contact between two other human beings, that when they're at home or at their Monday-Friday jobs, they'll have no idea what to do without that flag.

And how many times can you say "illegal contact, hands to the face," until the words lose all meaning? And then you wonder if any words had any meaning? And if words don't have meaning, do thoughts? And if thoughts have no meaning, do people? Then you fall into a catatonic state and they commit you.

At least one official will be committed to a mental institution before week 10.

All joking aside, the penalties are too much. The games are already too long, too riddled with stoppages. I'll still watch every Patriots game, of course. I think my watching of neutral games will go down. Especially the usually mediocre Thursday Night Football matchups.

My watching of NFL RedZone will go up, my watching of non-Patriots games on CBS and Fox will go down.

Maybe NFL Network could start a YellowZone. Every flag from every game. #QuadBox.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Red Sox fans should hate Roger Clemens for not taking steroids in Boston

I really don't care that Roger Clemens took PEDs. It shouldn't exclude him from Cooperstown eligibility. And I'm glad the Red Sox don't care about that issue with their own Hall of Fame (perhaps the Sox are thinking down the road when they want to induct David Ortiz into their HOF). Cheating was accepted by writers, owners, fans, and players when Clemens pitched. It's hypocritical and unethical for that same cheating to now be judged by the same people who let it go unchecked for years.

Roger Clemens is one of the best Red Sox pitchers of all-time. That's not saying too much. From 1920 to 1997, the Red Sox didn't have many all-time great pitchers. Jim Longborg won the Cy Young in 1966, and until Clemens came along, he was the only Red Sox pitcher to win the award. Luis Tiant had a few great years. Lefty Grove was an all-time great. Other than that, Clemens was the first HOF caliber pitcher the Sox had in decades.

But let's not forget that Clemens was a lot like Josh Beckett before Beckett was out of high school. Roger let himself go. He showed up to Spring Training out of shape. He'd get hurt. He was 10-5 on a 1995 team that won the AL East. He was 10-13 the next year. His years as an Ace seemed behind him. After all, at 34 years old, how could anyone expect him to get better?

Yet he did.

The miracle of PEDs turned Clemens' career around. At 35 he won 21 games with a 2.05 ERA and pitched 264 innings. A year later, at 36, he went 20-6 with a 2.65 ERA and 234.2 innings. He turned 39 and was in the best shape of his life when he won his next Cy Young with the Yankees, winning 20 games and throwing 220.1 innings. He won another Cy Young in Houston at 42, throwing 211.1 innings.

If you look at the dip in his performance and fitness from 1993 to 1996, when he's entering his 30s, and then compare it to his resurgence from 1997 to 2006 when he's in his late 30s and early 40s, it's pretty obvious something dramatic changed about his physical fitness regimen.

Why didn't he make that change in Boston, though? Why did he wait until he was with Toronto to start juicing?

Imagine what the 1998 Red Sox could have done with Pedro Martinez and a roided up Roger Clemens?

I will always hate Roger Clemens because he didn't try here. He got lazy, got sloppy, and he didn't give 100% until he left here.

So he's a Red Sox Hall of Famer, he should be a Baseball Hall of Famer. I don't care that he cheated, I do care that he didn't cheat here. WTF, Roger?

Photo Credit: Rich Pilling/MLB/Getty Images

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The saddest thing about Robin Williams' death is that he was so sad

Robin Williams gave us so much enjoyment, and what's truly tragic about his death is that he wasn't able to enjoy being Robin Williams.

From Mork and Mindy to Aladdin to Mrs. Doubtfire to Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams added much more than laughter to our lives. It's a tragedy that he felt his own life was so empty.

The first television show I can remember watching was Mork and Mindy on reruns. As a little boy I laughed at how zany and silly Robin Williams' alien character was. I remember trying/pretending to drink juice with my fingers like Mork did.

The first R-rated movie I saw was Good Morning Vietnam, which is what I'd call a heavy comedy, because it makes you laugh, but also tells a serious, emotion evoking story. Robin Williams was perfect for that film. Both he and his character understood that laughter and silliness are seriously important.

His best role might have been in Good Will Hunting, which should have won the Oscar for Best Picture, but Titanic's special effects and star-crossed romance blinded the Academy. Not to take anything away from Titanic, but Good Will Hunting didn't need stunning special effects to be a stunning work.

Williams won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon as Will Hunting may have been the main character of the film, but Robin Williams' character, psychiatrist Sean Maguire, was the protagonist. Maguire drives the action, encouraging Will, helping Will, pushing Will forward. Everything Will Hunting does in the movie is an effect of Robin Williams' character. Williams is so true in the role, so believable as a caring man who wants to help, that he's able to get Will Hunting to turn his life around. Maguire challenges Will. He drives the story forward.

Williams also improvised the line "Son of a bitch. He stole my line," at the end. One of countless improvisations Williams made in his work.

Considering how much inner pain Williams was feeling, it's a sad coincidence that his best acting work might have been when he played a psychiatrist.

I don't know what it was that convinced Robin Williams to end his life. He strangled himself with a belt. A death so gruesome, filled with such self-hatred, it's impossible to make sense of it.

The thing about depression is that those experiencing it are living in their own, isolated worlds. Their perception of reality is skewed so uniquely negatively. They could find something depressing about winning the lottery, or getting a promotion at work, or falling in love, or having children. They twist good things into bad, and dwell on bad things until they're worse. They might make a movie that gives laughter to millions of people, and then convince themselves that all they're good for is to make other people laugh.

Only Robin Williams knew what kind of pain Robin Williams was in.

In the 63 years he spent on this Earth, I hope he experienced stretches of time when he enjoyed being Robin Williams. We all got to enjoy him for years, we'll get to enjoy him for years to come. It would be sadistically unfair and cruel of the universe to have deprived the man himself of at least a few glimpses of how special he truly was.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tony Stewart used his car as a weapon

If I wave a loaded handgun in someone's face, in an attempt to scare them, and the gun goes off and kills them, I've essentially done what Tony Stewart appears to have done to Kevin Ward Jr.

Tony Stewart used his car as a weapon. He probably didn't want to hit Ward, but wanted only to scare him. Video of the killing (let's stop calling it an "incident" or an "accident," someone was killed, so it was a killing) shows the rear end of Stewart's car kick out, which happens when the gas pedal of a sprint car is pressed hard.

Stewart was essentially playing a game of chicken with Ward. Except Ward showed up with just a helmet and fire-suit, Stewart showed up with 1,400 pounds of steel and tires moving at near highway speed.

Some say that Ward was an idiot for getting so close to the cars as they passed. I won't disagree with that. But, while driving my own car I've come across people acting like morons, drunks, and cyclists stray in front of my car. I avoid them. I move my car away from them.

What did Stewart do to avoid Ward? Nothing.

Some collisions are unavoidable. Can Tony Stewart honestly claim that he did everything he could to avoid this?

He demosntrated no care or concern for the safety of another driver. A man without such basic respect for human life does not deserve to drive a car on the public roads, let alone a racecar.

I'm not a legal expert. I don't know what crimes Tony Stewart might have committed, let alone how provable it is that he committed them. His actions seemed reckless, and dangerously negligent. Seeming isn't enough for convicting. So I won't venture into any of the legal speculation.

NASCAR, however, needs to take a hard look at Tony Stewart and decide whether he should be allowed to drive for the time being. NASCAR must also consider the safety and well-being of all their other drivers, along with people who work on the track and in pit-lane, and all the fans at their races.

Is a NASCAR event safer with Tony Stewart on the track, or with him far away from it?

I think a lot of small-town dirt tracks will consider banning Stewart from racing at their facilities. NASCAR should be able to do what small-town dirt tracks are capable of, right?

Photo Credit: Empire Super Sprints, Inc./AP

Friday, August 08, 2014

Thank God there's a pre-season, so the Patriots can work on their flaws

I haven’t seen all of the Patriots’ pre-season opener against Washington as I had to work at a One Direction show Thursday night. Thank God for noise-cancelling headsets and ibuprofen. Having seen what I've seen in the Pats game so far, I’m also thankful for pre-season football, as it gives the team a chance to work on some flaws that must be improved upon before the games count.

The tackling was awful. Washington could run the ball at will and pick up significant chunks on the ground.

The offensive line didn't give Mallett much time to throw. They frequently got beat inside.

The pass coverage wasn't good. The Pats may have been without Revis, but the Redskins were playing without DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Apart from Malcolm Butler making a few plays in coverage, the passing defense was either beat straight-up, or penalized.

In general I don’t mind Brandon Browner and the Pats taking penalties in the passing game, but it depends on the situation. If it’s 3rd and 10, and Browner bumps his receiver 6 yards downfield and his guy wasn't even the target on the play or Browner could cover him well without the bump, and the penalty gives the opponent an automatic first down, then it’s a dumb penalty. If it's 20 yards downfield and you'll get burned for a big play if you don't bump, then a 5-yard flag is a good thing.

Situational penalties.

And as long as they're called both ways, and Edelman and Amendola are drawing penalties when someone breathes on them, then it is what it is. The Pats will get flags, the opponent will get flags. The NFL wants to redefine flag football.

Ryan Mallett isn't a starting QB in the NFL. He has an amazing arm. He's very tall. He has all the required physical qualities of a quarterback. But haven't we learned from watching Mr. Brady, that decision making and reading defenses and finding the open receiver is what separates the talented QBs from the great QBs?

These pre-season games are meant to give Mallett a chance to show he's a starter, which could potentially increase his trade value. I don't think he's shown that.

These games do not give Mallett a chance to show what he can do as a backup, as the guy who's called in when Brady gets banged up, and needs to keep the team afloat for a series, or a quarter, or a game. The backup the Pats want should be able to manage a game, make smart decisions, find the easy plays that are there, NEVER turn the ball over (which we've seen Mallett do in the past as a backup playing in a blowout game, which forced the Pats to but Brady back in).

Ryan Mallett hasn't passed the audition as an NFL starter. But we can't see in pre-season games like this, if he has the mental makeup to be a solid backup.

Jimmy Garappolo is not yet ready to be a #2 QB. He's still learning how to take snaps under center.

I'm not concerned about the tackling, or the defensive backs. I do have some worries about the offensive line protecting Brady because they struggled with it last year and Dante Scarnecchia is gone. And can we stop with the Ryan Mallett trade talk? I don't think the Pats would get much for him. He's not a starter, at least he hasn't shown that he is.

Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Monday, August 04, 2014

Packers should change their mind about retiring Brett Favre's number, then announce they'll retire it, then not retire it

The Green Bay Packers will retire #4 in honor of overrated dick-pic sender Brett Favre. The QB who helped Desmond Howard win a Super Bowl and was praised throughout his career as if he had won multiple rings, will be honored by the team that he jerked around for years.

Brett Favre has the distinction of throwing more bad passes than any other player in NFL history.

He's still a Hall of Famer, though. In part because the Football HOF inducts about 33 guys a year. So I get the number retiring. Number retiring is difficult in football for some positions. Quarterback isn't one of them. You have 19 digits to choose from and only 3 guys need them. And no other player would dare wear #4 in Green Bay again, unless they wanted to take a serious run at all of Favre's records. Only an even more gun-slingin', river-boat-gamblin' risk taker could dare hope to throw as many picks as Favre.

The Packers should use Favre's number retirement as a chance to exact some revenge. Announce that #4 will be retired. Then a few weeks prior to the ceremony announce that it won't be retired. Wait another year, with other numbers waiting in the wings to step up and be honored, then announce retirement again. Then announce that it won't be retired.

I just want to see Brett Favre throw a hissy fit. Because that's one throw of his that probably won't be intercepted.

And years from now, how hard is John Madden going to try to pass away on the 4th of the month, or in April, just so the #4 is on his tombstone?

Clay Buchholz doesn't belong in the Majors

He's painfully slow. He doesn't throw enough strikes. When he does, they're meatballs right down the middle. He has no confidence. He's injury prone. He's fragile both physically and mentally. He'll cost $12 million in 2015. He turns 30 in a few days. There's no reason to want to see Clay Buchholz in a Red Sox uniform next spring.

Sunday night was another patented Buchholz turd burger. Twice he was given a 3 run lead. Twice he blew that lead. He walked 5, his third straight start with 4+ walks. Only 53.5% of his pitches were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 14 batters, and first-pitch balls to 13.

The Red Sox are 6-11 (.353) in Buchholz starts this year, and 43-51 (.457) in other games. If the Sox were in a playoff race, Buchholz would be the biggest reason they wouldn't win it.

He sucks.

And if he pitches like this in April 2015, he doesn't deserve to wear a Boston Red Sox uniform. He can be diagnosed with another phantom injury running to 1st base and be sent to Pawtucket to rehab for a few weeks. Or be traded. Or designated for assignment. Whatever the case, if he continues to pitch like this, he simply is not a Major League starter.

Maybe a move to the bullpen is in his future. I don't know how he'd respond to the different type of strain relievers go through. But as a reliever, he'd only need two effective pitches, not three.

There is a point at which you give up on Buchholz. And it's on the horizon. The next few weeks are meaningless in terms of wins and losses, so the Sox can let him inflate his WHIP and ERA with every start. The 30 seconds between pitches probably extend alcohol shutdown at Fenway a few minutes, increasing beer sales.

But he is essentially pitching to keep his job. If these struggles extend into next year, when I'm told the Red Sox will attempt to be competitive, then he must go.

Photo Credit: Matt Stone - Boston Herald

Friday, August 01, 2014

John Lackey wanted to leave the Red Sox

Two years ago could you have imagined that John Lackey would be the one dumping the Red Sox, and not vice versa?

Lackey made it clear that if the Red Sox tried to exercise their $500,000 option on him for 2015, there was a strong likelihood that he'd retire. But that option nevertheless increased his trade value. At the very least the option gave leverage to the Sox or any other team negotiating a contract extension. They could offer less than market value to Lackey, whose choices would be to accept a few million to pitch or retire once the $500k option was exercised.

Immediately after Lackey was traded to St. Louis, Ken Rosenthal announced that Lackey informed the Cardinals he would honor the $500,000 option, and not retire. Had Lackey told the Red Sox that he'd be willing to play for $500,000 in 2015, there's no way the Sox would have traded him. In essence, Lackey engineered this trade.

Remember when all of us wanted Lackey to be included with Beckett and Crawford in the Great Purge of 2012? Then last year we became Lackey fans as he helped the team win a World Series. And now he is the one who orchestrated his departure.

The Cards and Lackey might come to terms on a new contract extension anyway. But isn't it odd that this option was a point of contention for Lackey here in Boston, then he gets traded and it's no longer an issue? He did not want to stay here.

Lackey had enough of the Red Sox. The way the non-negotiations went between Jon Lester and the front office probably had a lot to do with that. Once the Sox started shopping Lester, Lackey wanted out. He gave the Red Sox an incentive to trade him, with the threat of future uncertainty if they didn't. He also kept his trade value up with his performance on the field, and by never threatening to retire if a team besides the Red Sox wanted to exercise his $500k option.

If the Red Sox were the Titanic, sinking slowly into the North Atlantic, John Lackey got himself a spot on a lifeboat by threatening to blow up half the ship if he wasn't allowed off.

And here's the kicker. The Sox included that $500,000 option when they signed him as a way to mitigate the risk of his elbow issues. The idea was that he might miss a long time due to injury (which he did), costing the team lots of money (which he did), but that the team would recoup the loss with a year of almost free service.

But it's the Cardinals who look to benefit from that nearly free year that the Red Sox paid for. The Sox bought the the insurance policy and made all the payments, the Cardinals are cashing it in. And that's because Lackey wanted to leave.

Photo Credit: Barry Chin/Boston Globe

If Stephen Drew is worth a utility infielder, why didn't the Red Sox just sign a utility infielder in the first place?

With Stephen Drew's departure in exchange for Kelly Johnson, it's time to look at how the Red Sox managed and mismanaged the short-stop situation in 2014.

The Sox should have anticipated defensive difficulties at short. Signing a defensive backup would have been a perfectly normal and prudent thing to do. That backup could have been used in the late innings of close games, especially games the Sox were leading.

I didn't mind when the Red Sox removed Xander Bogaerts from short-stop. He couldn't field his position, and you can't afford to have poor defense at short, especially when the offense is struggling to score runs. I don't care what the move might have done to Bogaerts' development or self-esteem. The Major League level is not the place to nurture prospects and worry about their confidence. It's the place to win games or lose them. Bogaerts' defense was not helping them win.

However, when Bogaerts' defense compelled the Sox to act, signing Drew was a completely wrong decision, utterly incorrect in every single way. Moving Bogaerts to third was also unwise. But he was hitting well when few other Sox batters were, and the Sox had no third baseman. In other words, because the rest of the team was sucking at the plate, and another young infielder (Middlebrooks) was having difficulties, Bogaerts stayed in Boston. But was moved to third. Drew was signed to play short.

If the Sox felt that Bogaerts' defensive issues were so critical that they were worth $10 million to address, they should have sent Bogaerts to Pawtucket to work on it, not sign an overpaid replacement and shift Bogaerts to an unfamiliar position he'd have to learn on the fly at the Major League level.

The Sox tried to play it both ways, removing Bogaerts' glove from short-stop, but keeping his bat in the Major League lineup. If only they could have sent his glove to Pawtucket and kept his bat in Boston.

It didn't work. Why would anyone think it would?

What the Sox truly needed at that time was flexibility in their infield. Again, a Kelly Johnson type of utility infielder could have been acquired as a defensive replacement for Bogaerts, and perhaps to play in Boston for a few weeks while Bogaerts focused on defense in Pawtucket. The solution was something cheap and flexible, like I like my women.

However, Stephen Drew did not bring flexibility, he brought abject inflexibility. Because he was going to play at short-stop. Period. And he was going to play every day because you don't spend $10 million on backups. Period. Drew even seemed to have a negotiated limit for how long he'd stay in Pawtucket getting ready to play in Boston.

And of course, Drew's bat was nonexistent, and Bogaerts' hitting went down the tubes as he shifted to third. Bogaerts' defense was still bad over there. The fiasco cost millions, defense at short improved but defense at third was degraded, and offensive production decreased.

Now Drew is gone. Again. Notice the increased flexibility in his departure. The Sox can make choices with what they want to do in the infield. Bogaerts will be back at short again. However I don't think this experience has helped his development. It certainly hasn't helped the Red Sox win games in 2014.

Stephen Drew is evidently worth a utility infielder on the trade market, who will make $3 million in 2014, instead of the prorated portion of $14 million that Drew was signed for. So why didn't the Sox sign a utility guy to begin with? Why didn't they pick up a defensive specialist at short? Why didn't they either keep Bogaerts where he was, or send him to Pawtucket to work on his problems without it hurting the team in Boston?

Stephen Drew wore a 7 on his jersey here. I think that should have been modified slightly to be a giant question mark.

Photo Credit: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe

The Red Sox didn't even try to keep Jon Lester here

I'd rather have Yoenis Cespedes now than next to nothing when Jon Lester walks as a free agent. That's not why I'm disappointed/enraged at the Red Sox today. I'm mad because I'd much much much MUCH rather have Jon Lester over Yoenis Cespedes. There's essentially nobody the Sox could have gotten in exchange for Lester that would have left me content. Unfortunately the Sox made no legitimate effort to keep Lester here. The fact that he's gone, and that we'll never know how much of a hometown discount he would have accepted to stay, leaves me shaking my head.

How could the Red Sox do this to themselves?

The Sox traded a guy who had recently become a bona fide Ace, and who had also grown into a leader, for a Homerun Derby winner. That's like trading Kevin Durant for the winner of the slam dunk contest. And this happened because the Sox hardly tried to keep their Ace. That lack of effort is the most irritating aspect of what unfolded at the trade deadline.

The $70 million offer for 4 years offer was an insult, not a starting point. You can't negotiate with insults. Watch Shark Tank and see how the potential investors react when someone makes an absurd demand. Or go to a car dealership and offer to buy a brand new Mercedes for half the sticker price. The dealer won't make a counter offer, they'll just move on, because it's clear you're not serious.

I've heard some people question Lester's camp for not making a counter-offer, but how do you counter a joke? How can you negotiate with someone who thinks that you're worth slightly more money a year than Clay Buchholz was? How can you negotiate with someone who is clearly terrified of long-term commitment, which I'm sure is something Lester wants? Lester has been underpaid by the Sox for years, this is his chance to cash in, and the Sox were too cheap.

Or were they? Were they cheap or did they want to make a token offer they knew would get rejected? They've done similar things before.

These cloak and dagger, deceptive, disingenuous tactics are what we've come to expect from the Red Sox front office. And don't exclude Ben Cherington from these mind games. He's King John's pawn, he's Lord Lucchino's foot soldier. He's happy to be their puppet, or to stay out of baseball decisions when his masters get involved.

The Red Sox have no clue what it will cost to sign Lester in the off-season. They don't even know what his hometown discount rate might have been. That's the proof that their "negotiations" with him were not negotiations. If you don't at least come away with knowing what the other party wants, then you haven't negotiated.

If Lester signs a massive deal somewhere else, let's say $200 million for 7 years, I won't praise the Red Sox for knowing the price would be too high. They don't know anything. They made a crap offer that pissed off their Ace, then failed to immediately make a legit offer, then traded their best player from the 2013 World Series run. They sent a pitcher with 110 career wins, a 3-0 record in the World Series, and 2 rings to Oakland in exchange for a guy with 66 career homeruns and 2 HR Derby trophies.

If this had been the end of a hard fought negotiation, then it would be easier to accept. It's not, though.

5 years and $100 million, perhaps with a vesting option for a 6th year. Maybe 5 years at $110 million. That might have been enough to keep Lester. We simply do not know, though. We'll never know. Which is why this whole situation pisses me off so much.

Photo Credit: Barry Chin/Boston Globe