Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kevin Garnett Staying with Celtics

It's being reported that Kevin Garnett and the Celtics agreed to a 3 year deal worth $34 million.

The decision for KG seemed to be between retirement or playing with the Celtics. I doubt he even considered playing for another team.

I think what the Celtics did in the draft might have been the final thing that convinced Garnett to stay. The Celtics selected guys that will help this team win right now. Sullinger and Melo not only compliment the Celtics, they compliment Garnett.

He wants to win again. We saw that hunger in the playoffs. And since he's coming back, the Celtics have a good chance of going far in next year's playoffs.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Cleveland Golf

Disclaimer: this is an advertisement.

Use the right tool to get the job done right. Golf clubs aren't just equipment, they're tools. And to get the job done right, you have to select the right clubs.

There's an old proverb: "If the axe is not sharp, it doesn't matter how hard the wood is." And in golf, if the club isn't right, it doesn't matter how good the player is, how difficult the course is, how nice the weather is, or anything else. The job won't get done right. With the wrong clubs, even Tiger Woods would have trouble.

Speaking of woods, Cleveland golf offers a wide selection of golf drivers. And once you get to the green, they have a number of golf putters available.

You wouldn't use a screwdriver to drive a nail into a wall. You wouldn't use a wrench to check your tire pressure. So why would you use the wrong tools when you golf?

New England Warrior Benefit

On July 3rd the Seaport World Trade Center will be hosting the New England Warrior Benefit to Support Families of Fallen and Wounded U.S. Special Operations Troops .

"The New England Warrior Benefit will bring together the nation's most celebrated military leaders and region's top influencers for a fundraising gala for five non-profit benevolent organizations that provide critical support and financial assistance to the children, spouses and parents of our elite service members, who routinely perform dangerous acts of valor to preserve and protect the American way of life. "

The five non-profit organizations are:
The Navy SEAL Foundation
The Wounded Warrior Project
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation
The Semper Fi Fund
No Greater Sacrifice

Senator Scott Brown and Mayor Menino will be in attendance, along with numerous esteemed guests as well as servicemen and women.

"The evening's fundraising celebration will be complemented by a one-of-a-kind online auction, featuring five hand-crafted, custom-branded DIRICO motorcycles, each themed to represent a different brand of the United States Military Special Operations Forces."

These are the bikes, which are each powered by a heartbeat Harley Davidson engine...

The No Greater Sacrifice bike

The US Marine Corps bike

Shawn Thornton on the Airborne Tribute bike

Detail of the Airborne bike

The very cool looking Navy SEAL bike

The US Air Force Combat Controllers bike

You can bid on these motorcycles by clicking here.

And to learn more about the event and/or to contribute, you can click here.

Italy 2, Germany 1

The Germans entered this game seemingly assuming they would win. Their lineup was presumptuous, and didn't take into consideration what Italy might do to slow down their prolific offense.

I've heard some say that the German team played better for most of the game. I disagree. Italy's back 4 made tremendous efforts to break up German scoring chances. And keeper Gianluigi Buffon was brilliant. Meanwhile, Germany's defense wasn't even there. The Germans might have been better served to play with no defenders at all.

And starting Bastian Schweinsteiger was a mistake. He was clearly feeling the effects of injury and couldn't keep pace with either the Italians or his teammates.

Even offensively, the Germans looked disorderly and confused, which is unheard of for a German team.

Give credit to teams like Italy and Spain. They've got the right formula to win tournaments. Teams like Germany might dominate early stages, might score 3 or 4 goals per match, but you can't squeeze out close ones against tough opponents without defense.

This was only the second game of the tournament that Italy won in regulation. And they're in the Finals.

Spain vs. Italy in the Finals on Sunday. And I don't care who wins. I'm just a sad German-American today.

Photo Credit:
AFP Photo/Christof Stache

Breakfast With Bobby Valentine, Doc Rivers, Jerry York, and Tommy Amaker

There's something about coaches. They're easy to spot, impossible to ignore (even if you dislike what they're saying), and always seem to have a unique way of seeing things.

Earlier this week I attended an event at Fenway Park's EMC Club. It featured a discussion panel of four very interesting coaches: Doc Rivers, Bobby Valentine, BC hockey coach Jerry York, and Harvard basketball coach Tommy Amaker. Four men, three different sports, two types of athletes to coach (professional and amateur), and four very different personalities. But all with the same basic job. To coach.

It was moderated by WEEI's Glen Ordway and Michael Holley. It was hosted by the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides workshops and training to coaches at the youth and high school level.

You couldn't ask for a more diverse group of coaches with a broader range of experiences. This "Coffee With the Coaches" breakfast was worth setting my alarm to 4:30 AM, and being so groggy that I forgot to wear a belt with my dress shirt and pants.

Before the discussion even started, the personable and ever friendly Jerry York was mingling with people in the crowd, carrying a plate of sausage and eggs, and as usual smiling. I don't think Coach York is physically or emotionally capable of scowling.

The coolness and honesty of Doc Rivers was evident from start to finish. When asked about learning from other coaches, he admitted that he stole a play from his son's grade school team and used it in the playoffs against Cleveland a few years ago. Paul Pierce scored a layup and the play has since been dubbed "Grade School."

He also talked about being a teammate with Patrick Ewing, who "guilted you into practicing," and how good of a teammate Kevin Garnett is. Whenever the Celtics acquire a rookie, Garnett takes them shopping and buys them two suits.

Michael Holley asked Doc about KG's returning to the Celtics. Rivers nonchalantly answered "Absolutely... I don’t know if Kevin is coming back but let’s just say yes." When Holley pointed out the small forest of media cameras at the back of the room, Rivers didn't seem to care.

Although earlier he joked sarcastically about the media and how much he and other coaches "really enjoy the interview in the 3rd quarter" of playoff games.

Tommy Amaker's directness was clear as a bell. He might be the only person in New England who could drive straight in a rotary. He told a story about when he first took over Harvard basketball in 2007. He assembled the parents of his players for a meeting in the locker room. And he told them what he expected their role to be with the team. He asked that they be supportive of their players, and positive during the game. If they couldn't be positive, they should be quiet. And if they wanted to be negative, they could wait until after the game, then they could speak to him and call him whatever they want.

Every answer he gave was direct and to the point. He quoted an AAU coach of his who frequently stated "We can use you or we don't need you."

He wasn't bland, though. He just didn't evade or sugar-coat his honest opinion.

Then there was Bobby Valentine, the loquacious philosopher. Maybe it was his own reflective nature, or maybe he was feeling the effects of a rain delayed game that had ended only a handful of hours before the event, but he was certainly the most abstract member of the panel.

He quoted the poetically phrased rules of Japanese baseball...

He referred to players on a team who understand what to do in order to win as "disciples" who have fully accepted and understood a figurative "scripture."

He alluded to advice from Casey Stengel, who said "The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds."

At such an early hour, his words seemed to wander, but there was no mistaking the fervency and passion behind each response. His words didn't wander because he was being vague or pompous. He was honestly excited about answering each question and giving his opinion.

You'd think with this foursome of different personalities, you might get contradictions. That wasn't the case.

They all agreed that for kids involved in sports, the role of the parent is to support the kid, and to let the coach coach the team. They all agreed that character is an important part of success.

They all talked about important coaches in their own athletic careers, from Doc Rivers' Marine Corps basketball coach to Bobby Valentine being coached by Tommy Lasorda. In fact, when Harvard made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1966, Tommy Amaker sent Mike Krzyzewski (Amaker played at Duke and was an assistant coach under Krzyzewski) a case of wine. That case arrived when Doc Rivers was in Coach K's office discussing his son Austin.

And they all talked about the role their parents played in their development as athletes. Bobby Valentine's father would try to keep him humble after a big performance by telling him that a "kid in California just scored 7 touchdowns," or that "a kid in upstate New York hit 4 homeruns today." I guess we can see why Valentine is so eager to prove himself.

Jerry York's father was a physician ("Back when physicians did everything from deliver babies to take out kidneys"), and York had 9 siblings, so it was difficult for his parents to be at every game, but they tried.

Doc Rivers' father was a cop and would watch his son play standing in a spot by the door, just under the basket. Years later, a referee confessed to Rivers that his father being armed and under the basket always intimidated him.

Finally there was a question about "losing players."

Bobby V on tactic for dealing with 'lost players'

Coaches are asked questions all the time. They're asked about players, about decisions past and future, about injuries, about why they took Beckett out in the 6th, about why they went for it on 4th down. They're asked about their team, their GM, their job status, their city, their opponent, other coaches.

This event was unique. Coaches were answering questions about coaching. It was a rare chance to learn about what goes on inside a coach's mind.

Definitely worth the 4:30 AM wake up, the drive into Boston, the Mountain Dew, and the breath mints to cover up the Mountain Dew breath.

Bruins and Rask Reach Deal

When I first heard about this deal, it didn't make any sense. The Bruins signed Tuukka Rask to a 1 year deal worth $3.5 million. The price was right for the B's, but why not sign him for a longer term?

The more I thought, though, the more it made sense.

The Bruins are carrying around $5 million in dead cap money thanks to Tim Thomas' departure. So they aren't able to pay Rask very much. And thanks to the dumb way the NHL cap is set up, they can't avoid this by deferring money to the back-end of the contract. The NHL cap takes total salary, divides by total years, and that's the cap number. Its simplicity only makes things more complicated and stupid.

So when Thomas' contract is off the books, the Bruins will be more able to sign Rask to a legitimate deal.

And this signing makes sense for Rask, too. Was he going to get more than $3.5 million on the open market? I don't think so. He's shown his talent, obviously, but he only started 22 games this past season. In many respects, he's just a step above a rookie.

And young, unproven goaltenders don't get long-term deals for big money in the NHL.

This way, Rask can start in 2012-13, try to play well, and earn a much larger, much longer contract. He's only 25, so he has time to wait for that big payday. And if he does well this year, he'll get it.

He may have gotten a little bit more than a $3.5 million, 1 year deal in the open market. But by playing a full season as a starter, he gives himself a chance to get much much more.

And for the Bruins, they're not overly burdened by his cap hit. And if Rask doesn't work out, he's a restricted free agent in a year and they can part ways.

Everybody wins.

King Felix Rules Over Red Sox

Felix Hernandez is a really good pitcher. I know we all know that, but without regularly seeing him, we sometimes forget how good he is. He's an Ace. And comparing him to the likes of Beckett and Lester fully demonstrates how much those two guys aren't Aces.

In 9 innings the Red Sox managed 5 singles. Hernandez didn't allow a walk, and he struck out 13.

The only chance the Sox had to win this game was to get Hernandez out of it. And that would have required more than 9 innings. Scott Atchsion allowed the winning run in the bottom of the 9th.

On the bright side, Franklin Morales continues to be sensational. He went 7 innings and only allowed 3 hits. All singles. He struck out 7 and walked 2. In his three starts he's only 1-0, but he's pitched 18 innings, allowed 4 earned runs (2.00 ERA), walked only 3 batters, and struck out 24 (12.00 K/9IP). He's striking out 8 for every batter he walks.

If every Red Sox starting pitcher were healthy right now, it would be difficult to justify removing Morales from the rotation.

There's no shame in being shut down by Felix Hernandez. The Sox can rebound tonight. Aaron Cook faces 2-9 Hector Noesi. Noesi has problems with walks and homeruns. So perhaps David Ortiz can get career homerun #400, or walk #998. That's right, he's 3 shy from 1,000 BBs in his career.

He's 1 for 2 in his career against Noesi. That hit was a homerun.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Celtics Make Sensible Selections

The Celtics aren't rebuilding, they're adding. They were a few plays shy of an NBA Finals appearance and they seem to think that they're only a few pieces away from going further than that in 2012-13.

Their picks reflect that optimism. They selected big men with their back-to-back first round picks. These are guys who can fit into a role while Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo lead the way.

With the 21st pick they took Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, who fell in the draft because of back issues. He's 6' 9" and 268 pounds. In two seasons at OSU, he's averaged over 17 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

The back is a potential worry, but how can you pass on this guy's talent and size with the 21st pick? It is kind of funny how the Celtics were partially undermined in the playoffs by injury issues so now they've added a young player with injury issues. However, if he stays healthy, he can completely change the shape of the game for the Celtics.

The C's are very streaky shooters. Having a big man that can rebound will help the offense get second chances, and help prevent opponents from going on runs by getting more defensive rebounds.

At 268, Sullinger is now the biggest player on the Celtics.

The new tallest member of the Celtics is Fab Melo out of Syracuse. The 7' and 255 pound center has a reputation for effort problems. Who knows how true those issues are and how much they'll translate to the NBA. He's in a good environment, with veteran teammates, and a coach that won't stand for less than 100%. And he needs the Celtics more than they need him.

He hauled in some rebounds this past season, which was his sophomore season at SU. 5.8 per game. He also blocked 2.9 shots. That may have been a product of Syracuse's zone system, which had Melo loiter under the hoop like Robin Williams in Jack.

Nevertheless, he can come off the bench and be tall when KG needs a breather. In the playoffs, especially against Miami, opponents drove right down the middle when Garnett was sitting. Put Melo out there, and they'll have a much more substantial obstacle in their path.

In the 2nd round, the Celtics took another Syracuse product, which means ESPN and all the SU Newhouse School of Communication grads at ESPN will probably love the C's this year.

Kris Joseph is a 6' 7" and 215 pound small forward. It seems like he peaked his junior year at Syracuse, as all his numbers went down slightly as a senior. He shot worse from the field, rebounded less, fewer points, fewer assists.

Whatever. In the first round the Celtics added 13 feet and 9 inches of height. They added 523 pounds of bulk. They got bigger. They got better.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spain 0, Portugal 0, Spain Wins 4-2 on PKs

I hope no potential soccer fans were watching this game. The blandness of it may have permanently pushed them away from a sport that's typically much more entertaining to watch at this high level of play.

Spain have now gone 11 straight games in major tournaments without losing (10 wins, 1 draw). But their margins have been tight. Six of those 10 wins had 1 goal margins. And now they have a win with a 0 goal margin.

Portugal's offense is Cristiano Ronaldo. That's the biggest and essentially threat they have. He had a few chances, and he's been good in this tournament, but he couldn't finish in regulation. Then in a perplexing move, he didn't take a penalty kick. He was slated to kick 5th for Portugal, who were kicking after Spain in each round, but the Spanish clinched victory before he had a chance to take his PK. It was a truly baffling decision.

Spain don't mesmerize like Brazil, or score goals in bunches like Germany. They grind teams down. They don't make mistakes, they possess the ball well, they have a great keeper, and they have a number of guys who can take advantage of mistakes and score opportunistic goals.

That's why they've won 16 of their last 18 major tournament games. That's why they won Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. That's why they're in the Finals of Euro 2012 on Sunday, waiting for the winner of the Germany/Italy match.

Photo Credit:
AFP Photo/Pierre-Philippe Marcou

David Ortiz and the 400 Homerun Club

David Ortiz is on the verge of history. He's 1 homerun shy of 400. He'll be the 49th player to reach that mark. And while that's intriguing and exciting, it's just not as impressive as it used to be. None of these homerun milestones are.

The term "milestone" is appropriate though. Consider 400 miles. To people in the 21st century that's not too far a distance to travel. It's a 6 hour drive. A flight from New York to Cleveland (about 400 miles) takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. 400 miles is not a long distance.

100 years ago, a 400 mile journey was immensely long. A 10 hour train trip. And on a flat road, it would be slightly shorter (but also slowed by countless fuel and repair stops) driving a Model T.

And 300 years ago, 400 miles was an unbelievably long distance. A horse journey would take over 4 days.

The point is, the milestone stays the same, the perception of it changes.

I remember growing up and there were 3 people in the 600 homerun club. Aaron, Ruth, and Mays. Now there are 8, including Jim Thome. Is Jim Thome one of the best sluggers of all time? No.

The 500 homerun club is equally devalued. Rafael Palmeiro has 569. Manny Ramirez has 555. Gary Sheffield has 509. It's not just the steroid-assisted guys either. Frank Thomas has 521, the same as Ted Williams and Willie McCovey. Williams' and McCovey's numbers are easy to remember, Thomas' will be easy to forget.

So if these feats don't mean anything anymore, what does 400 homeruns mean? Not much on its own. And even less if the player has a history with PEDs as Ortiz does.

Carlos Delgado has 473. Jose Canseco has 462. Chipper Jones has 460. Chipper Jones! Abert Pujols has 457 and steadily climbing. Vladimir Guerrero and Jeff Bagwell have 449. Jason Giambi has 429. Andruw Jones and Mike Piazza have 427.

Paul Konerko became the 48th member of the 400 Homerun Club on April 25th. Ortiz will hit his any day now. Adam Dunn (389 career HRs, 24 in 2012) is on pace to hit his 400th in early August.

Alfonso Soriano only needs 46 more to join. Mark Teixeira is 74 shy. Adrian Beltre needs 77. Carlos Beltran needs 78.

Miguel Cabrera is 108 away. But at 29 years old, he has plenty of time to get there. He could easily get there by 2015. Ryan Howard, if he can stay healthy, should get the 114 he needs to join. Prince Fielder needs 158, but he can get that in 4 or 5 years. Matt Holliday has a decent shot at it too. If Adrian Gonzalez remembers how to hit homeruns, he can hit the 199 he needs.

Big round numbers are always fun. We like our 10 Commandments, our Top 100 countdowns, our 300 Spartans, our Daytona 500s, our 1,000 Ways to Die, our 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the 100,000th mile on the odometer. It's exciting to anticipate big round numbers like 400 homeruns, then celebrate when it's finally hit.

But considering the caliber of players that have done it, 400 homeruns is a significantly less impressive part of a player's resume than it once was. It's not that meaningful anymore. And considering some of the things Ortiz has used that aided some of those homeruns, it's even less impressive.

I'm watching for it. I'm eagerly waiting. But I'm not amazed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Red Sox Finish Homestand the Right Way

At the outset of this homestand, I wrote a post about how the Red Sox were beginning a 16 game stretch against mediocre and less than mediocre opponents. I argued that despite injuries to starting pitchers, the Sox could and should take advantage of the schedule and win some games. They've done that so far. They finished their homestand 7-2 and now embark on a West Coast trip to play two of the worst teams in the American League.

Jon Lester wasn't great today. He allowed 7 hits in 7 innings, and didn't walk anyone. But a pair of those hits were homeruns. He gave the Sox an opportunity to win, which is nice, but I expect more then just "nice" from Lester. I don't expect him to be Ace-like every time out, but with Beckett and Buchholz down, he should be slightly better than he's been this year. He's 5-5 with a 4.53 ERA. And in June, he's 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA. Today he allowed 4 runs in 7 innings. Good. Not great. He's capable of doing better.

You can't ask much more from the lineup today. They jumped on Ricky Romero early and often. The game was over after the 1st inning when it was 6-1 Sox.

Since it was a blowout game, Adrian Gonzalez of course added to his RBI total. He had 3. Mike Aviles was 2 for 4 with a single and a double. He knocked in a pair. Gonzalez and Aviles are now tied at 43 RBI.

Cody Ross was 2 for 3 with 2 runs scored and a double. His 14th double of the season. His .578 slugging percentage is the second best on the team behind Ortiz.

Speaking of David Ortiz, I saved the best for last. In the 5th inning he hit his 399th career homerun. Unfortunately, he didn't get #400 in front of the Fenway crowd. Odds are he'll hit that milestone in Seattle or Oakland. The Mariners have allowed the 5th most homeruns in baseball despite playing in a pitcher-friendly park.

Ortiz and the Sox are in Seattle for 4 games. The series starts tomorrow night at 10 as Franklin Morales opposes Felix Hernandez. Ortiz has homered once off King Felix before.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Clay Buchholz Has Esophagitis

What is esophagitis? It's an inflammation of the esophagus. And Clay Buchholz has it.

It can have serious effects. Difficulty to swallow can lead to weight loss. Breathing problems can result. And in the case of Clay Buchholz, "an associated gastrointestinal bleed" can occur. This is drastic stuff. It's more than just an injury sidelining a ballplayer, this has potentially life-altering implications.

He was released from Mass. General late last night. Which is great news. There's no timetable on his return, but I'd expect him back just after the All-Star Break.

What causes esophagitis? Acid reflux can wear the tissue of the esophagus. Infections can also cause esophagitis. So can alcohol abuse.

Mr. Buchholz does enjoy a drink. So don't many of us. I'm in fact enjoying a Sam Summer as I write this post. Buchholz and I are the same age (27). Although he's 4 inches taller than I, and about 30 pounds lighter (in other words, he's significantly thinner). His body may be much better tuned to be a Major League pitcher, but my body is designed to handle a few drinks better than his is.

Buchholz has a reputation for drinking. He drank in the clubhouse last season. Starting pitchers have days off between starts and it's common practice for them to have a few after the games they're not involved in. And 99.9% of the time, nothing bad happens.

Maybe Clay's just unlucky. Maybe he's also a ridiculously skinny man drinking above his weight class. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. I'm just a drinker.

But this guy does seem to have recurring health issues. I'm not blaming him for this latest issue. It seems like something that could happen to anyone and be a complete shock. At the same time, this is a slender, gangly man. I'm not questioning his figurative guts, but his actual guts have let him down. I'm not questioning his figurative backbone, but that let him down last year. How long until he gets rotator cuff problems? How long until his delivery becomes too much of a stress for his shoulder?

He was pitching extraordinarily well this year when his belly started to bleed on the inside. He was doing well last year when he got a stress fracture in his back. He's only started more than 17 games in a season once in his career. As someone who's been in the Majors since 2008, even thrown a no-hitter, shouldn't he have more 20+ start seasons?

He seems like a guy that will always carry that "when healthy" disclaimer around with him. He's 27 years old and should be entering the prime of his career as a starting pitcher. Instead, he's being released from a hospital with gastrointestinal bleeding.

Something's not right here.

Patience Pays Off for Red Sox

It took the Red Sox lineup a while to wake up last night. They were utterly silenced by Aaron Laffey Taffy who was making his first starting appearance since 2010. Daisuke Matsuzaka and the bullpen were able to keep them very much in the game, and the Blue Jays bullpen eventually crumbled. The Red Sox are now back in sole possession of 4th place.

Daisuke doesn't seem like he's had Tommy John surgery at all. I'm not sure how good that news is, but considering the health of his fellow SPs, I'll take a 5.2 inning, 100 pitch Matsuzaka Special. And he only walked 1 batter. He's struggled at the beginning of his starts, then settles in and is nearly unhittable.

If he gets that 1st inning down, he can go deep into games and give the Sox an even better chance at winning.

Will Middlebrooks had another error. That's bad luck for him. I don't think this is a post-Youkilis trend manifesting itself. He's not a great fielder and I don't care. He can hit. He had an RBI sac-fly last night.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit his 14th homerun of the season. He and Middlebrooks each have 35 RBI. Adrian Gonzalez has 40. He got his 40th last night with an RBI double in the 8th.

The Sox can end their homestand 7-2 if they beat the Jays this afternoon. They need Jon Lester to pitch like Jon Lester. That's because they'll be facing 8-1 Ricky Romero. Romero's benefited from good run support. He has a 5.82 ERA in his last three starts. So if Lester can shut down the Jays, the Sox can get a few off Romero and win.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Daniel Bard: To Be or Not to Be a Reliever

I can't help myself... Compared to the tempest before and after the Kevin Youkilis trade, any discussion about Daniel Bard seems to be much ado about nothing. But it's actually been an interesting comedy of errors. It's been "decided" that Bard will return to his reliever role. I suppose all's well that ends well.

But the story doesn't end there with that paragraph full of Shakespeare references. He's still struggling just to pitch. And he's still struggling to throw strikes.

In 7 appearances for AAA Pawtucket, Bard has a 6.30 ERA. He's walked 5 in 10 innings and allowed 10 hits. He recently blew back-to-back save opportunities for the PawSox. And on Sunday, after retiring 5 batters with ease, he walked 3 in a row and was removed from the game.

His velocity isn't quite back where it was as a reliever. But while he's struggling to find his fastness, he's also trying to regain control. Trying to both throw harder and with more precision doesn't sound like two goals that naturally go together.

The decision to make Bard a reliever was essentially made once he was sent down to Pawtucket, it was just never announced. He had to pitch extremely well to regain his starting role. He didn't.

In my post about Youkilis being traded I mentioned the communication struggles of the confused Red Sox chain-of-command. Bard got a voicemail from Bobby Valentine last week about the decision to make him a reliever. Valentine was under the impression that GM Ben Cherington had already spoken to him. He hadn't. And Bard had decided a few days earlier that he intended to be a reliever.

So the Red Sox made a decision on Bard, but never said "alright, Ben, you tell him." Or "Bobby, he'll want to hear this from you."

Is there a functioning chain of command running the Red Sox? Are roles clearly defined?

And about Bard, I can't blame the Sox for trying to make him a starter. BUT, their motivation to do so was flawed.

The Sox didn't want to acquire another starting pitcher. So they turned to Bard to be a starter. In the past there was never an urge to convert Papelbon, for instance, because the Sox were all set for SPs. But instead of signing a mid-level Edwin Jackson type of guy, the Red Sox said "Bard could start." Their motivation was based on what they thought he COULD do, not what he SHOULD do.

Now, let's just hope he's able to return to form, and return to Boston.

Messy Night at Fenway

It was ugly last night. Ugly defense, ugly pitching, ugly weather. The Blue Jays hit a trio of 2 run homers (2 off Doubront, 1 off Albers), the Sox made mistakes in the field, and a battle between two pitchers having off-nights ended with the Jays on top 9-6.

This was one of the few times that Felix Doubront hasn't pitched well enough to give the Sox a good chance to win the game. He'd been averaging 8.51 runs of support per 9 innings, but he hadn't needed that to get his 8 wins. He's typically pitched decently enough for the Sox to win if they score 4 or more runs.

Not last night. He struggled to throw strikes at times. And when he did hit the strikezone, the Jays hit him. 51 of Doubront's pitches were strikes, 25 of those were hit in play. You can blame unfortunate bounces for some of Toronto's scoring, but when a pitcher allows a team to put the ball in play that often, bad things happen.

It's important for the Sox to rebound from this ugliness and not allow it to become a mini-streak. Daisuke is on the mound tonight. He faces Aaron Laffey. He's a lefty making his first start of the season.

Elsewhere, Kevin Youkilis made his White Sox debut and was 1 for 4. And I already dislike Brent Lillibridge. When asked about moving from team-to-team, he called baseball a "sorority." People are stupid sometimes.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, June 25, 2012

Euro 2012 Update*

The semifinals are set. Only four teams remain after the weekend's games...

Germany 4, Greece 2
The Germans dominated this game, although they struggled to finish their opportunities in the first half. This was a 1-0 game at the midpoint, and Greece tied it 1-1 in the 55th minute. But the Germans were relentless. Sami Khedira was finally in form and scored a goal. Miroslav Klose scored his bazillionth goal for Germany, and Marco Reus justified his spot in the starting lineup by scoring.

Greece scored on a late penalty. The German defense has looked vulnerable throughout this tournament, but their offense has been overwhelming. They scored 4 times and could have easily had 6 or 7.

They'll also enjoy nearly a full week off before their semifinal Thursday.

Spain 2, France 0
The French are always undermined by internal dissent, squabbling, bickering, whining, and general laziness. And the same goes for their soccer team. Florent Malouda was lazy, didn't cover Xabi Alonso at the start of a run, and Alonso scored. Alonso later added a goal after a penalty. It was his 100th game for Spain.

They'll play their neighbors Portugal in the semifinals Wednesday.

Italy 0, England 0, Italy wins 4-2 on penalty kicks
When English soccer commentators discuss penalty kicks, they always talk about pressure on the kicker. Even though the goalie has maybe a 10% chance of making a save. Because in England, missing PKs in big matches is a tradition. Usually they do it against the Germans. This time it was the Italians.

Italy will face Germany in the semifinals on Thursday.

There's no reason to expect the Spanish to lose. Unless Cristiano Ronaldo plays the game of his life for Portugal. Spain always seem to find a way to win close games, and I predict they'll do so again. They'll beat Portugal 1-0.

Germany might not have distributor Bastian Schweinsteiger on Thursday. But they'll be well-rested, especially compared to an Italian team that played extra time on Sunday. Germany wins 2-1.

And Germany wins the Final on Sunday, 3-2.

Bruins Draft Recap

Before I start, I want to thank for being such a comprehensive and easy to use resource for this post.

With all that happened this weekend in sports, you can be forgiven for overlooking the NHL Draft. And as a Bruins fan, even I was a bit disinterested. After back-to-back drafts with premium picks, the B's would be selecting a very ho hum 24th.

The Bruins, however, made an interesting selection with their uninteresting pick. They took Malcolm Subban, a 6' 1" 188 pound 18 year old currently playing for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Three things make this pick interesting.

#1, Malcolm Subban is a goalie. Which means we get to mention Tim Thomas. And he wears the number 30.

#2, Malcolm Subban has an older brother named PK Subban, an easy to hate defenseman on the Montreal Canadiens. This guy:

#3, He also has a younger brother named Jordan, so he is Malcom in the Middle. He's also Malcolm S. This guy is a blogger's dream come true.

Subban had a 2.50 GAA with Belleville in 39 games last season. He had a save percentage of .923. Considering his age, and how much time it will take him to learn the position, I seriously doubt Tim Thomas leaving the Bruins had anything to do with this selection. And just because the Bruins got him doesn't mean their long-term plans for Rask have changed.

You're not going to get an instantly impactful player with the 24th pick. This guy has talent, room to improve, and could one day be a good NHL goalie. He'll likely stay in the OHL, get some playoff and national team experience (he played 5 games for Canada in the 2011 Under-18 World Junior Championship, Canada finished 4th), and in a few years he'll contend for a spot on the Bruins' depth chart.

The Bruins also traded the rights to restricted free agent Benoit Pouliot to Tampa Bay in exchange for Michel Ouellet and a 5th round pick.

I was never a fan of Benoit Pouliot. He just didn't fit in. He scored 16 goals, had 16 assists, but he never really seemed like a Bruin. He wasn't particularly physical, he wasn't a talented scorer, and he made more mistakes with the puck than most of the other forwards. He was a restricted free agent and I'm not upset that he's gone.

Michel Ouellet isn't an improvement though. He's 30 years old and hasn't played in the NHL since 2008. In the last three years he's played in Virginia, Germany, and Switzerland. Don't expect to see him play in Boston.

In the 3rd round, the Bruins selected Matthew Grzelcyk, a native of Charlestown, MA. He turned 18 in January. He's a 170 pound 5' 9" defenseman. He'll be playing at BU next season, where Coach Jack Parker turns regular defensemen into puck movers and scorers.

In the 5th round, the B's took Seth Griffith, a 19 year old center out of the OHL. He's 5' 9" and 180 pounds and plays for the London Knights. He's a scorer. In 68 games for London last season, he scored 45 goals and added 40 assists. In 19 playoff games he had 10 goals and 13 assists. The word on him is that he doesn't amaze you with talent, but he gets results.

Later in the 5th round, the Bruins made their only European selection. And it was an English winger. Cody Payne is from London, England but plays Juniors in Plymouth of the OHL. He's 18 years old, 6' 2" and 200 pounds. And he does this (he's in white and red):

In the 6th round, the Bruins selected Matthew Benning of the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He's 18 years old, 6' 0", and 216 pounds. That's a good frame for a defenseman. He's also able to score once and awhile and accumulate penalty minutes. His father and uncle both had lengthy NHL careers.

With their final pick in the 7th round, the B's took Colton Hargrove (who I think needs to be called Colton Hargrove III with a name like that). He turned 20 yesterday, he's 6' 1" and 215 pounds. He's from Dallas and played left-wing for the Fargo Force of the USHL. He'll be playing for Western Michigan this upcoming season. He scored 16 goals in 54 games last year, and earned 140 penalty minutes. Impressive.

So that's the Bruins' draft. Not spectacular, but there's some potential future Bruins there. Subban could get to Providence in 2 years. Grzelcyk should develop well at BU, where some quality NHL talent has recently been produced. Griffith can score. Payne can fight. Benning can hit. Hargrove can sit in the penalty box.

I like it.

Jerry Sandusky Convicted on 45 Counts

Jerry Sandusky is on suicide watch after being convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. It only took the jury 20 hours to deliberate, less than 30 minutes per charge. They didn't seem to have any doubt that Sandusky was guilty.

And neither did any of us. From eye-witness testimony, to his adopted son accusing him of sexual abuse, to an endless stream of victims who came forward to tell the world what Sandusky did to them. The evidence was overwhelming.

Justice finally caught up with Jerry Sandusky, a monster who feasted on innocence. He preyed and fed on young boys for years, and at last the predator has been caged. It's a satisfying ending to an horrific story.

There is no way for those boys to recover what he stole from them. There can be no retribution or revenge. This ending is satisfactory, but a story such as this can never have a truly happy ending. The effects of Sandusky's crimes will go on for years after he dies in a prison cell, or perhaps more appropriately, a prison shower.

It could have ended sooner, though. Had Joe Paterno used his unparalleled clout to find out what his friend and assistant was truly doing, the story could have stopped there. JoePa didn't pursue the matter. It was presented to him and he dismissed it out of hand. It was potentially damaging to Penn State Football, and that was where Paterno's priorities laid.

Some might remember Paterno as a great coach. I'll remember him as the man who delayed Justice for the sake of a football team. He allowed boys to be raped because it wasn't in the best interest of the Nittany Lions.

There were many officials at Penn State who knew more than Paterno and did even less. They too delayed Justice, for the sake of their school's reputation.

Jerry Sandusky is a monster. But Joe Paterno and Penn State allowed the monster to hunt unimpeded. There's no defending that. There's no excusing that. And there's no forgetting that.

Jerry Sandusky feels no shame or guilt. But there are people involved in this story who should feel ashamed of themselves. There's the guidance counselor that dismissed one of the victim's allegations, citing Jerry Sandusky's "heart of gold." There's also Sandusky's ephebophile of an attorney: Joe Amendola, who once impregnated a 17 year old client. And there's attorney Karl Rominger, who was part of Amendola's team. Rominger proudly tweeted this after the verdict was announced:

After all that became public in this trial, some people still feel that Joe Paterno's legacy is more important than the safety and innocence of young boys. This media whore of an attorney also feels as though he won, even though his client will die in prison, and he was defending a serial rapist.

Thankfully, not all of us have our priorities so sadly out of order.

Thankfully Justice caught up with Jerry Sandusky, despite what Joe Paterno, Penn State officials, and his lawyers did to protect him.

Photo Credits:
AP Photo/Centre County Correctional Facility
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Kevin Youkilis Traded to White Sox

It finally happened. After countless rumors, what had to be done was finally done. The Red Sox parted ways with Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis' last day on the team was thoroughly pleasant, a sentimental end to an intriguing and unfortunate tale of miscommunication, internal strife within the Red Sox organization, and a very confused chain-of-command on Yawkey Way. Youkilis was given a start yesterday. He went 2 for 4 with an RBI triple. He received numerous ovations, both when he stepped to the plate and when he was replaced by pinch-runner Nick Punto.

After the game, it was announced that the Red Sox had traded him to the White Sox. The Red Sox will still be paying part of Youkilis' $12.25 million salary. In return, they received Zach Stewart, a 25 year old minor league pitcher. And Brent Lillibridge, a utility player with experience in the outfield and infield.

Yeah. That's it.

Zach Stewart was recently optioned by the White Sox to AAA Charlotte. He made 18 appearances for Chicago, 1 of them was a start. He's been a long-reliever type for them, and carries a 6.00 ERA. As a reliever, he has a 5.18 ERA. He made 11 starts last year between the White Sox and Blue Jays. He was 2-6 with a 5.88 ERA. He did manage a Complete Game Shutout.

He was drafted by the Reds, then traded to Toronto, then signed by Chicago, and now he's in Boston. He'll actually be sent to Pawtucket. At best, this guy could potentially be a decent mid-reliever.

Brent Lillibridge is versatile. He's played all infield and outfield positions. He has no bat. He's a career .215 hitter. He strikes out in 29.6% of his plate appearances. He doesn't walk.

He showed some potential in 2011, hitting 13 homeruns in 186 at-bats. And his average was a decent-for-a-utility-player .258. He's also had some occasional good numbers in AAA, but never with consistency.

He's fast. And he can play 7 positions. Considering the Red Sox' injury situation, he's not a bad guy to have on the roster just in case. But he doesn't do much to improve a healthy team.

I guess this was the best the Red Sox could do. Stewart at least has potential for growth into a reliever. And if more players go down, Lillibridge can play the field. It's not much for a guy who was once an MVP candidate and has a career OBP of .388.

The Sox were in a corner. Youkilis has been awful this year. Middlebrooks has been great. With Ortiz and Gonzalez, there was no place else for Youkilis. He's been repeatedly injured, and it will cost a team $1 million to buy-out his contract next year.

The alternatives to this motivated selling were to release him, get nothing, and still pay him. Or to keep him as a bench player. And after this trade, it doesn't look like that would have been a horrible thing. At least not in theory.

There were concerns about what a benched Youkilis might do for the chemistry of the team. He voiced displeasure at the Red Sox failing to communicate with him what their intentions were. At the same time, the media knew more about the Youkilis situation than Youkilis did. Fenway Park is a 100 year old structure but the most incessant leaks have been Youkilis rumors.

The Red Sox bungled this situation. Information and rumors were leaked to the media. The organization itself didn't seem to know what it was doing, yet was never afraid of making determined declarations. For instance in May you had Ben Cherington declaring Youkilis would keep his starting job, even though he was still injured and Middlebrooks was hitting .381 at the time.

And during all this, as rumors flowed, the Sox didn't communicate with Youkilis. And that might have made him more of a clubhouse concern than his lack of playing time. Weirdly, the trade rumors may have instigated the need to trade him. That and the Sox not knowing what they were going to do and then not keeping Youkilis in the loop about his future.

The Youkilis situation has finally been resolved, but the Chain of Command that runs the Red Sox is still a tangled mess of contradictions and confusion.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Red Sox Drive Braves Out of Boston... Again

The Red Sox finished interleague play with a 12-6 record. Of course it helps when you play the lowly Cubs 3 times and the mediocre Marlins 6 times. Though considering the health of the Red Sox' rotation, taking 2 of 3 from a solid Braves team is a nice little achievement.

Franklin Morales is the latest secondary player to play a primary role in the Sox winning. He's been very respectable filling in for Josh Beckett. He threw 6 innings Saturday night, striking out 8, and only allowing 2 earned runs. As a starter he's thrown 11 innings, only walked 1 batter, allowed 4 earned runs (3.27 ERA), and struck out 17. 17 strikeouts and only 1 walk. That's fantastic.

Guys like Morales, Prince Felix Doubront, and Cody Ross have kept the Sox afloat this year. They are The Other Guys.

Speaking of Cody Ross, he hit his 10th and 11th homeruns yesterday. In 6 games since coming off the DL, Ross is 7 for 22 (.318 average), with 3 doubles, and 3 homeruns (.864 slugging).

The Sox have endured injuries this season, especially in the rotation and the outfield. The secondary players have stepped up, especially in the rotation and the outfield. They're playing at their maximum potential. Now if only some of the stars would do that, this team could go on a serious run.

If these secondary guys continue to contribute, and guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Dustin Pedroia perform as they're capable of performing, this team is a contender.

But they need every player playing at that maximum level.

They host the 5th place Blue Jays. Prince Felix faces 22 year old righty Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez is 3-6 with a 4.30 ERA. He's not much more than an innings eater, and he's allowed most of his earned runs in his last 6 starts. Since May 20th, he's 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA. The Sox, in theory, should hit him.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, June 22, 2012

No Pity for Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling had been uncharacteristically quiet after the demise of 38 Studios, even taking a leave of absence from appearing on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. This morning, he decided to give his side of the story.

Of course, he did so with two people who are big admirers of his. I'd even go so far as to call WEEI's Dennis & Callahan shills for Curt Schilling.

I do have to give Dennis & Callahan credit. Their knees must be scraped, their jaws sore, and their tongues dry after washing Curt Schilling's balls for over an hour. They really worked their mouths off this morning.

And give credit to Curt Schilling for being willing to take on members of the media who would ask him tough questions such as "You didn't walk away with anything, did you?" or "How much of your own money did you lose?" or "Did the comment about solvency change the landscape?"

These weren't softball questions. It was tee-ball.

When asked why his video game company failed, Schilling blamed a "lack of capital." In other words, not enough people were investing in it. Schilling then blamed Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee for scaring off an investor that would have helped keep the company afloat with a $35 million investment.

But if the company wasn't making sufficient money on its own and was supported by a combination of private investments and public tax credits, then there was something already wrong with the company.

Imagine if a restaurant is struggling to pay its bills. It looks for investors, but nobody wants to buy into it. Then it shuts down. The cause of death isn't lack of capital, it's lack of sufficient profit. The capital could have staved off death, but a lack of it didn't cause death.

Schilling refused to admit this. And Dennis & Callahan refused to call him on it. They still love Curt in the Car.

Schilling claims he lost about $50 million investing in this company, and is now "tapped-out." I feel no sympathy for him. Only an idiot would risk everything he had on a business without putting a little bit away. He's made his bed.

Schilling accused Governor Chaffee of deliberately undermining the venture by making public remarks about the company's solvency and ability to pay bills. But the Governor spoke the truth. 38 Studios was dependent on tax credits and needed more capital just to survive.

And when you get involved with Government funds, you have to deal with the Government. That's the deal you make when you deal with the Government.

And that's why conservatives who have a brain don't like Government programs such as the one Schilling took advantage of. They don't help businesses that much, and any potentially successful business should be able to attract private investment based on its own merits. If a business needs Government money to survive, it's much less likely to be a successful one.

Schilling feels as though he fell prey to a politician's agenda. But he put himself in that position. The Government and the Mafia are the same (that's not a joke abour Rhode Island). You ask them for a favor, and then you're in their pocket.

Speaking of politics, Dennis & Callahan asked this hard-hitting question:

"Did you know that loan guarantees were just for liberals?"

Schilling responded with "I'm not sure where my stance and opinion in that we need a smaller government, I don't know how that correlates to this."

How does advocating for less Government spending correlate with taking advantage of Government spending? Does he really not see the connection?

Schilling argued that he just took advantage of an opportunity. And if he didn't take the tax credit offer, it would have just gone to waste. Nobody else had applied for it.

As an actual conservative, this logic pisses me off. I'd probably take some Government cash if it were offered to me, but if I were starting a business, I'd try to avoid getting involved with the Government. Especially if it were a high profile business. Government money is conditional money, and that money is controlled by politicians who are very conditional people.

Actual conservatives know this. But Schilling is just a loudmouth, opinionated collection of uneducated thoughts.

Schilling did say that he is mostly responsible for the failure of 38 Studios. But that statement was always qualified. As I mentioned earlier, he blamed Governor Chaffee for scaring an investor away. He blamed lack of capital for the company's downfall. He blamed people with an "agenda" for initiating that downfall.

Maybe it was just a poorly managed company. They sold a decent amount of their first game (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning), but EA got a sizable chunk of the money from that. And their business model seems antiquated, very cartridge-era for a gaming company. They sold copies of their game to people. Very basic. Too basic. So many games are available for free out there. Then companies make money off subscriptions, or sell stuff in the game that opens new levels or characters or weapons. And then that way the keep spending as they're playing.

And Schilling admittedly spent very freely. He created an impressive office, and paid his young employees $86,000 plus full benefits.

That's one thing true conservatives hate about Government funded companies. So long as the money is flowing, the company spends freely. It doesn't seem like Schilling ever asked "could I get a programmer 90% as good for 50% the pay?" It doesn't seem like he was worried with spending at all.

Baseball has no salary cap and neither did Schilling.

He tried very hard in the interview to sound like he knew what he was talking about. He injected business-speak jargon at every opportunity. "Senior position of debt," "Transient companies," "Payables," "A staff ramp," "A neutral burn," "domiciled."

He even said "things" when referring to Government programs, then corrected himself with the word "mechanisms."

He explained what this jargon meant as he went along. But the point of jargon is to be understood by fellow speakers of the language. If you have to explain it, you shouldn't use it.

Just say "First to get paid back" instead of "Senior position of debt." Say "located" instead of "domiciled."

Curt Schilling wanted to sound like he knows what he's talking about. But it seemed like he'd taken a 30 minute course on how to sound like a businessman, and that's it.

Throughout the interview, Schilling never apologized to the people of Rhode Island who paid for his failure. He frequently mentioned his own family's troubles, usually at the prodding of Dennis & Callahan.

A caller stated to him that she would never try to do business in Rhode Island because the politicians make it so difficult.

"That would have been good advice three years ago, hun," Schilling quipped. He then became serious and almost sincere "I also understand the anger. The anger, though... it's as much about... the misinformation that people believe to be true than about the actual facts that happened."

So there you have it. Curt Schilling is blameless for what he did. The anti-Government spending, so-called conservative who took advantage of government spending, is merely a victim of misinformation and political agendas. The spending on facilities, the high salaries, and the mediocre products weren't to blame for 38 Studios' downfall, it was a lack of investment and a politician scaring investors away.

With all this complaining, all this passing the buck, Schilling would fit in nicely with the 2011 Red Sox.

Portugal 1, Czech Republic 0*

Portugal hadn't won an elimination game in a major tournament since the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup. Part of the reason for that had been the disappointing play of star forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

But Ronaldo has caught fire. He scored twice against the Dutch to secure a spot for Portugal in the quarterfinals, and he scored in the 79th minute yesterday to send Portugal to the semifinals.

Portugal have never won a major tournament, but they're only two wins away.

They'll have to play the winner of the match between Spain and France. That winner will probably be Spain. And the Spaniards will not want to lose to their Iberian neighbor.

Germany faces Greece this afternoon. Germany has looked fast, although they've also had defensive lapses. Greece advanced to this stage dramatically and has the support of a struggling nation that probably took the day off from "work" to drink Ouzo, watch the game, and count the money that the Greek government pays them to be lazy.

Coping With LeBron Being a Champion

It's tough. For several years now, we've all been able to dismiss LeBron James as a choker, a failure, a joke. Not anymore.

It's very tough.

This isn't like A-Rod winning with the Yankees. This isn't an athlete we hated hitch-hiking his way to a title. LeBron led the Heat to this victory. And last night's triple-double was the icing on the cake of a very respectable postseason.

But just because the performance was respectable, doesn't mean the man is. We all hate LeBron for reasons other than his choking. The choking was just something funny to laugh at him about. He has a ring now, but he's still a douchebag.

Let's look at the facts. He couldn't carry Cleveland to a title. It wasn't until the Heat became a fantasy team that he made it all the way, and only after a few tries. And it's not as if the refs, and the way the NBA is structured didn't help him along the way. The NBA is designed for people like LeBron James to be successful, and it still took him 9 seasons to achieve success.

He won, though. Fair and square. You can give him that and still hate him. He's still a douchebag. And I doubt after this title that the value of his shares in the Douchebag Stock Exchange will go down. If anything, he'll be cockier now.

We've enjoyed some fun Schadenfreude moments thanks to LeBron. The Celtics only won 1 title in the 2000s, but every time LeBron was knocked out of the playoffs, it was almost as good.

But all good things come to an end. A-Rod has a World Series ring. Peyton Manning has a Super Bowl MVP. LeBron James has his ring. But you never know what will occur down the road to allow you to once again mock the athletes you hate. We discovered that A-Rod took roids. And now Peyton is inferior to Eli. It all works out. People never fail to find ways to mock those they hate.

ESPN will be insufferable for some time. But when is ESPN not insufferable?

And as Jason Segel's character points out in the video clip, Jordan has 6 rings. LeBron is on 1, and he got it just barely. Bird has 3. Kobe has 5. Bill Russell has 11.

LeBron might not be a choker or a loser anymore. But until winning becomes more persistent for him, he's not a true winner. Winners win more than just once in a lifetime. He's shed the loser label, but he's not among the NBA's winners. Not until winning becomes more regular.

Red Sox Complete Sweep of Marlins

If Daisuke Matsuzaka could pitch a simulated inning out on Yawkey Way, then come into the ballpark at the start of the real game, his stat lines would look a lot better. He once again struggled at the outset last night, but finished strong. And it's more promising for a starter returning from injury to have difficulty getting warmed up, then to fade away as the game progresses.

Although predictably, he did get that pitch-count up there. And he did allow a homerun in the 6th that gave Miami the lead.

Will Middlebrooks saved the day for Daisuke and the Sox. He had an RBI double in 4th. An RBI single in the 5th. And he tied the game with a 2 run homer in the 8th. He's 6th on the Sox with 31 RBI, but he's also about 30 games behind everyone else. His RBIs are coming at a slightly faster rate than David Ortiz's.

It's still too early to tell with Matsuzaka. He's not a complete mess, which is a good sign. And he's able to throw 100 pitches. As always, the problem is that he reaches 100 pitches very early. How do you gauge the recovery of a guy who was difficult to gauge even when healthy?

He pitched good enough for the Sox to have a chance, though. And thanks to Middlebrooks, the Sox took advantage of the opportunity.

Speaking of opportunities, I wrote a post a few days ago about the Sox playing 16 straight games against teams hovering around .500, and how much of an opportunity it was for them to win before the schedule toughened. So far, so good. 3-0 against the floundering Marlins.

The Sox host the Braves next. Jon Lester faces Jair Jurrjens. This guy is destined to wind up with the Sox one day so people can mispronounce his name. He's 0-2 in 4 starts with a 9.37 ERA. He's gone 5 innings in only 1 of those starts. No excuse to not knock this Netherlands Antilles kid around.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber Robbed of Norris Trophy

It's not easy to take something from someone who is 6' 4" and 234 pounds. It's even harder to take something from someone who is 6' 9" and 255 pounds. But that's what the Professional Hockey Writers' Association did last night to Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara. They stole the Norris Trophy from them and gave it to Erik Karlsson, a 175 pound Swede known more for his offense than his defense.

The Norris Trophy is given to the NHL's top "defense player [defenseman] who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." Frequently, however, it is given to the defenseman with the most points.

There's no denying Karlsson's offensive prowess. He led all defensemen with 78 points (25 more than 2nd place). He scored 19 goals, which tied with Weber for tops among defensemen. And he had 59 assists, 10 more than any other defenseman.

But if you were starting an NHL team, who would be the first defenseman you'd take? For me, I'd take Chara. Shea Weber would be my second choice. As talented as Karlsson is, I would rather have a defenseman that can play defense first, then contribute on offense. And maybe the 22 year old Karlsson will one day be that all-around player. But not today.

Karlsson was a +16, which isn't bad, but Chara was +33. Weber was +21. And to those who might argue that +/- is a team stat, so are assists. And assists are what gave Karlsson the offensive edge over Weber. They both scored 19 goals.

A good defenseman should be a good penalty-killer. After all, that's the most defensively minded part of the game. Weber averaged 2:16 of shorthanded time per game, and over 176 minutes total. Chara averaged 2:43 per game, and over 214 total. Karlsson averaged 0:33 per game, and totalled about 45 and a half minutes. That's the lowest among Ottawa defensemen. 166 NHL defensemen had more shorthanded ice-time than Karlsson. That's more than 27 teams worth of defensemen.

How does someone who doesn't kill penalties be deemed the best defenseman in the NHL?

Maybe Chara and Weber split the old school vote. Anyone who voted for Chara would probably pick Weber in a head-to-head contest against Karlsson. Weber lost to Karlsson by a slim margin. 1,069 to 1,057.

Maybe Karlsson's nationality helped. Swedes dominated the awards this year. Lundqvist won the Vezina, a Swede was the top rookie, Alfredsson won the King Clancy Trophy.

Maybe the voters wanted first-time winners. Chara was a distant 3rd in the voting, but I think he should have won. He won the Norris in 2009 and these awards seemed to be about new faces. Every other trophy was won by a first-timer.

I think the NHL needs an additional trophy. They need a reverse Selke, which is awarded to the best defensive forward. They need a trophy for the best offensive defenseman. Call it the Orr Trophy. Then guys like Karlsson can get recognition for their offensive contribution without siphoning accolades from all-around defensemen like Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara.

To Chara's credit, he had this to say about Karlsson:

"Well, he's obviously having a great year and very productive. He's got unbelievable skills so I would like to congratulate him."

And also said this about Bergeron winning the Selke:

"Tonight’s about Patrice. I'm happy, I'm extremely happy for him and, honestly, I almost screamed when he won. He deserves it, he's been such a great teammate and friend and I'm extremely happy for him."

Is it too late to nominate Chara for the 2013 Lady Byng?

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Patrice Bergeron Wins Selke Trophy

The NHL awards the Frank J. Selke Trophy to the "forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game." It's an unsung trophy for the unsung hero. It's given to guys who can kill penalties, who don't make mistakes with the puck, who disrupt the neutral zone, who do the "little things."

Patrice Bergeron was awarded the Selke Trophy last night, beating David Backes and Pavel Datsyuk (who's won the Selke three times) by a significant voting margin.

As Jack Edwards reminded you a million times this season, Bergeron is one of the best two-way players in the game. He was a +36 this season which led the NHL. He led Bruins forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game.

He's a team player. He's glue. He brings it all together. And up until last night, his big awards have been won by the teams he's been on. He has an Olympic gold medal and his name on the Stanley Cup. But now he has something that he's won as an individual: an award for how good of a team player he is.

Bergeron is only the second Bruin to win the Selke Trophy. Steve Kasper won it in 1982.

Centers have won the last 8 Selke Trophies. Twenty-five of the 34 recipients have been centers.

It's hard to believe that Bergeron will turn 27 in a month. He's been around forever. And his story is one of the few feel-good concussion recovery stories the NHL has seen recently.

He wasn't the only first-time trophy winner last night. Evgeni Malkin won both the Hart Trophy (league MVP) and Ted Lyndsay Award (players' MVP). Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina as the League's best goalie. Gabriel Landeskog of the Avalanche won the Calder Trophy as top rookie. Daniel Alfredsson won the King Clancy Trophy for leadership. Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship.

And Erik Karlsson won the Norris for best defenseman.  A post detailing my outrage at that decision is soon to come.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Red Sox Squish the Fish

The Sox scored 12 times in the first 4 innings, pummeling Ricky Nolasco (his name makes me think of Oreos) and the Marlins.

David Ortiz only had 1 hit, but it was a big one: a Grand Slam in the 4th that busted open a 7-4 game, turning it into an 11-4 blowout. It was his 10th Grand Slam in a Sox uniform, which is 2nd in team history. Ted Williams has the most with 17. Ted Williams was pretty good.

Ortiz is the only star on this team that seems like a different player than he was last year. He's in much better shape, and he's trying to be a leader. Last year he was chubby and passive. He's only 11 HR and 53 RBI away from matching his totals of last season.

There's no way to scientifically measure how well he's doing as a clubhouse leader, but as a leader on the field, the evidence is clear and overwhelming. He leads the Sox in Average, OBP, Hits, Homeruns, RBI, Runs, Total Bases, Walks, SLG, and OPS. That's leadership.

Mike Aviles hit a 3 run homer, Will Middlebrooks hit a 2 run shot, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a solo blast. He now has 13, which is 2nd most on the team, and 8 more than Adrian Gonzalez.

Daniel Nava was 4 for 5 and scored twice. Ryan Kalish was 2 for 5. Cody Ross was 1 for 4 with a bases loaded, 3 run double in the 3rd. Kevin Youkilis was 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.

Felix Doubront cruised to his 8th victory of the season behind the offensive onslaught. He allowed 4 runs in 6 innings. It wasn't his best start, but it was good enough.

He and Buchholz are tied with the team lead at 8 wins. While Buchholz has been the beneficiary of good fortune and ample run support, Doubront has truly earned his 8-3 record. By the way, 8 is the amount of wins that Lester and Beckett have combined.

The Sox go for the sweep tonight as Daisuke Matsuzaka faces Carlos Zambrano. The Venezuelan giant has failed to make it out of the 3rd inning in his last 2 starts. Walks have been a major issue for him so if the Sox can be patient, get on base, then get those RISP hits, they should continue to score runs in bunches.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Roger Clemens Was Not "Proven Innocent"

The U.S. Judicial System does not determine innocence. It determines guilt, or insufficient proof of guilt. That's why when people are acquitted, they're declared "not guilty" instead of "innocent." The court is essentially saying that it hasn't found you guilty, so you're free to go.

It does NOT declare people to be innocent, at least not until you get into the Appeals process.

Proving innocence is difficult because it's nearly impossible to prove a negative. Think how hard it would be to prove that you've never done something.

I've never eaten rhubarb. But proving that is difficult because it's a negative statement. I'd have to get witnesses from every meal I've ever consumed to say they've never seen me eat it, samples of my bowel movements to show it's never been in my system, and then I'd have to prove somehow that I never snacked on it by myself.

So when people say that Roger Clemens has been "proven innocent," then back that argument up by pointing out how high an authority the U.S. Judicial System is, I get a little pissed. Because it's the wrong word.

The court did not declare Clemens innocent. Being deemed "not guilty" is not proof of innocence. The prosecution failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a difference.

I think Clemens took PEDs. Jose Canseco says Clemens demonstrated an intricate knowledge of PEDs. Brian McNamee said he gave PEDs to Clemens. And Andy Pettitte testified that Clemens admitted to him that he took HGH.

Pettitte retracted his statements, but I don't think it's mere coincidence that he did so once the heat was off him. Andy Pettitte has repeatedly lied about his own HGH use, at first claiming only 2-4 doses and only during 2002, then later admitted to doing some in 2004.

When Pettitte was under pressure, he named Clemens. When the pressure eased off and Pettitte was no longer afraid of consequences, he recanted his Clemens story.

The story was Clemens told Pettitte about taking HGH. Clemens claimed that he told Pettitte about his wife taking HGH. But earlier in Clemens' testimony, Clemens claims his wife never took HGH. So, which is it?

Maybe Pettitte, under pressure to save his own skin, was compelled to name names, even if those people were innocent. But then why name one of his best friends?

In the end, it doesn't matter much. There is no absolute proof that Clemens' career was artificially extended by PEDs. That lack of proof was why he was acquitted.

But I know what my gut tells me. I see more than just smoke. I see scorched earth, burnt wood, an ashy haze, and a number of people saying "there was a fire here."

Clemens might get into the Hall of Fame. And I don't care. The Hall of Fame is already full of scumbags. Ty Cobb was a racist who probably killed a guy. Charles Comiskey was a cheap, money-grubbing bastard. Joe DiMaggio was a jerk. Babe Ruth was a glutton, an alcoholic, and a horrible father. What damage could be done by including Clemens?

I don't know why we get so emotional about who is in the baseball Hall of Fame and who isn't. Maybe it's because when we're kids, we learn about the great players. And the words "Hall of Famer" are the athletic equivalent of "Saint."

So put Clemens in the Hall. Give him a brass face on a plaque with some numbers and words on it. I know those final 4 Cy Youngs are meaningless. I know his final 150 wins were thanks to HGH. I know he's scum, he's a sociopath, he's not the best pitcher of his generation or any other generation. He's artificial.

But if you're going to put him in, don't say it's because he's been "proven innocent." I heard Peter Gammons say that on NESN yesterday and it's a complete misunderstanding of how our system works.

Roger Clemens hasn't been proven to be anything. So maybe voters should give him the benefit of the doubt and vote him in. As I said, I don't care.

And as much as these clowns repeat the wrong word, I for one know that he isn't innocent. I see no proof of innocence. Only a haze of guilt. You can't convict someone on a haze, but there is no way he's been "proven innocent."

The Heroic LeBron James

So LeBron James cramped up last night, and suddenly his performance is being equated to Michael Jordan's Flu Game in the '97 NBA Finals.

Ummm, no.

LeBron was carried off the court as if he'd been shot. Because he had a left thigh cramp. And so started the Hero Narrative. This was how Adrian Wojnarowski started his piece about LeBron hitting an actual shot despite his debilitating injury:

"LeBron James told himself: Get up and walk to the sideline. All around him, there were trainers and teammates to lift him up, but his muscles burned, his legs locked and his desperation to defy the pain was met with the body's resistance. He had been standing on his own in the biggest moments of these NBA Finals, rising above everyone else, and his inclination was natural in the closing minutes of Game 4: All these times he had gone down, all this pain and angst and LeBron James had wanted to get back to his feet and keep hurtling toward his championship destiny."

Wow. Do you have goosebumps? Because I do.

There was a great story this morning about hockey players mocking LeBron James on Twitter. My favorite were a pair of tweets by AHLer Scott Valentine:

"Oh my god guys, Lebron has a cramp, everyone get on their feet, standing O for somehow staying in the game."

"If Lebron somehow manages to pull off winning a ring after fighting through a thigh cramp.. it will be a story I tell my children’s children."

In all seriousness, cramps hurt, and LeBron is doing well in the Finals. But some people, like the above quoted Wojnarowski and the folks at ESPN are turning LeBron into something more heroic than he is.

It's just another Narrative of Hype from ESPN. ESPN no longer reports sports news, it exaggerates it.

To me, the story of the 2012 NBA Finals is that someone with talent is finally playing up to their potential. There's nothing gutsy or heroic or special or tough about LeBron's performance last night. He was in pain, but not nearly as much as he was showing. He was playing into it, wincing for the cameras. All basketball players do that. They're just below soccer players when it comes to embellishing pain.

LeBron James is one of the best basketball players in the world. Part of playing basketball is exaggerating pain. So it makes sense that LeBron is also one of the best at exaggerating.

Toxic Sox Beat Marlins

The Sox started their 9 game homestand with a 7-5 win over the Marlins. It was exactly how they needed to start this stretch of 16 games against mediocre teams.

Buchholz wasn't great, but he worked through some mistakes. He allowed 9 hits in 6 innings, and walked 1. The Marlins scored 5 times off him. A 2 run homer in the 1st and a 2 run double in the 5th were the big hits he allowed. It wasn't a pretty start, but it was enough.

The offense gave Buchholz plenty of support. David Ortiz hit a 2 run homer in the 1st, Kelly Shoppach hit a 2 run shot in the 2nd. Cody Ross returned to the lineup and hit a solo homer.

Adrian Gonzalez hit a sac-fly in the 6th to give the Sox a 6-5 lead. While that's not technically a clutch hit, it was a clutch out. Middlebrooks added an RBI double in the 6th.

The bullpen did a great job to hang on to the win for Buchholz. Albers, Miller, and Aceves were all perfect. Padilla allowed a basehit in his inning of work.

It was a solid win. This season we've seen the various parts of the Red Sox undermine the good performances of their teammates. The lineup might get 2 hits and waste a good start. Or the bullpen might blow a 2 run lead. But last night the starter struggled and was picked up by his teammates. The offense scored for Buchholz, and the bullpen finished the game for him.

By the way, how lucky has Buchholz been this season? He's pitched well lately but his 8-2 record is based mostly on run support.

After the "toxicity" talk, it was good for the Sox to just win. Winning and clubhouse chemistry are vicious cycles of each other. Chemistry can cause winning, and winning causes chemistry.

Unfortunately, Dustin Pedroia left the game after an at-bat in the 7th. He apparently re-aggravated his right thumb injury. He hasn't been hitting well since returning to the lineup, although he was 1 for 3 last night with a double. The Sox say that today they'll know much more about how severe the re-aggravation is.

The Sox need to build on this tonight. Doubront faces Ricky Nolasco. Doubront was great against the Marlins last week. And the Sox were able to score off Nolasco. Hopefully that repeats tonight.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Roger Clemens Acquitted

Roger Clemens was found not guilty in his perjury trial. And I don't care. I didn't need or want the Federal Government to punish Clemens. I didn't need or want the Government involved involved in the steroid issue at all. Although it did give Congress less time to screw up the country.

It would have been hilarious for Roger Clemens to go to jail. He did lie to Congress when he denied using PEDs. And that's inexcusable. As much as I disagree with Congress poking their noses into sports, that doesn't give Clemens the right to lie to them.

Clemens is a scumbag. And a fraud. That's his punishment for taking PEDs, and it's well deserved.

His rebirth in Toronto was due to his violating the rules. All the adulation, all the ESPN ball-washing he got from 1997 to 2007 was ill-gotten. He's paying for that now as his reputation is tarnished, his Cy Youngs are tainted, and his Hall of Fame credentials are questionable.

Clemens was great in the late 80's and early 90's. He won three Cy Young Awards with the Sox. He also won an MVP. But he started to slide, both on the mound and in terms of his physical shape. In 1993 he was 11-14 with a 4.46 ERA. In strike-shortened 1994, he was 9-7. He was 10-5 in '95, then 10-13 in '96. The Rocket seemed out of gas. Or maybe it was too heavy to take off.

Dan Duquette famously said Clemens was in "the twilight of his career."

He signed with the Blue Jays in 1996. He seemed motivated to make Duquette eat his words. We all thought that Clemens' much improved physical shape was a result of this motivation. Little did we know.

Clemens won the Cy Young twice in Toronto. He was traded to the Yankees. He won the World Series there in '99 and 2000. Then he won another Cy Young in 2001. He was 38 years old, and was in much better shape than he was at 28. We all thought it was due to his extreme training regimen.

He had another career rebirth in Houston. He won his 7th Cy Young with the Astros. He was 41. He pitched until he was 44.

Steroids and PEDs do more than just help players build raw muscle-mass. They help the body recover from injury. Which allows an athlete to train harder and spend less time recovering.

In some ways, steroids can help a pitcher more than a hitter. Throwing 100 pitches is a form of injury. And it typically takes 4 days to recover from it. A pitcher on steroids will be able to recover more quickly and more strongly than normal. Especially an older pitcher.

Steroids make exercise easy. I once had to take them for my eyes, and found myself on an exercise bike for 90 minutes at a time, close to 20 miles. And I wouldn't even feel tired. I'd have to tell myself to stop. It was a breeze.

I can't even imagine the effect of steroids and PEDs specifically designed to enhance athletic training.

It's probably a good thing Clemens didn't wind up in jail over this. As much as I dislike the bastard, I never wanted him in prison for cheating, even for lying about cheating. Maybe for having an affair with a 15 year old country music singer, but not for this.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

A Great Chance for the Sox to Win

There are 96 games left on the schedule. And if the Red Sox want to play more than 96 games, they need to win now.

Yes I know they they're enduring more than their share of injuries. They're missing an MVP candidate in the outfield, a starting pitcher who is capable of brilliance, a closer, more outfielders than there are outfield spots, and so on.

There's also been reports of strife and division within the clubhouse. There are coaches who weren't appointed by the manager, a manager who wasn't appointed by the GM, owners who use the media to manipulate popular opinion. There are trade rumors, there is fracturing between pitchers and hitters, between Francona supporters and those loyal to Bobby V.

And there are excuses. Umpires, the wind, the schedule.

The excuses and explanations must stop. This is a time for them to stop whining and start winning.

The Red Sox are starting a 16 game stretch against some of the weakest opposition in the Majors. Three against Miami (33-33 and 4th in the NL East), three against Atlanta (35-32, 3rd place), three against Toronto (34-32, 4th in AL East), four against Seattle (29-39, 4th in AL West), and three against Oakland (31-36, 3rd place).

They can and should win most of these games.

With Beckett out of the rotation, Lester and Buchholz need to pitch well every start. Buchholz has been doing that lately. Lester's been good but he needs to be great. The Sox need these two guys to be at their best.

Matsuzaka needs to continue what he did after the 2nd inning on Friday. And Doubront needs to be as solid as he's been.

Offensively, the stars of the lineup need to play like stars. I keep getting emails from the Red Sox urging their fans to vote for Pedroia to be in the All-Star Game. He's hitting .160 in June. The whole "relax" attitude he has shown is cute and funny, but he needs to hit. Now.

Youkilis also needs to hit. He's on a .128 clip this month.

And Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .232 in June. He only has 5 extra-base hits.

The stars on this team aren't playing like stars. The second-tier talent has carried them. And without those contributions from the second-tier talent, the Sox would be well below .500.

In the next 16 games, the Sox have an opportunity to do some damage. The injuries hurt, but what's killing them is their best players not playing like their best players.

After this stretch, the schedule gets tough. They face the Yankees, Rays, and White Sox. If they don't take advantage of the lesser opponents they have now, they might be out of the playoff race this time next month.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Huge Crash at Le Mans

I don't consider auto racing a sport. It's an extremely difficult, high-risk competition. These drivers have some serious stones. This was at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France on Saturday. The driver of the car/airplane (Anthony Davidson from Britain) was hospitalized with two fractured vertebrae. He then sent a few Tweets from his hospital bed.

Can Earnhardt Jr. Win the Sprint Cup Championship?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke a winless drought yesterday by cruising to the checkered flag at Michigan. It was his first victory in 143 races. As an Earnhardt Jr. fan, it was a great moment. And appropriately, he won the race on Father's Day, giving the late Dale Sr. a great gift.

In that 143 race drought, Earnhardt Jr. rarely showed frustration. Quite the opposite. He seems to have learned patience and consistency. Something which was lacking in the earlier stages of his career.

His average finish this season is 7.9. Last year it was 14.5. The year before it was 18.6. And before that it was 23.2. Four straight years of improvement. Earlier in his career he fluctuated up and down. He peaked in 2003 and 2004, finishing in the top 5 in points both years. But the occasional bad finish (or lack of finish) undermined his championship efforts.

In 2004, he won 6 races. Only Jimmie Johnson won more (8). But Junior wound up 5th in points. He won 2 races in the Chase, but also failed to finish 2 times.

This year, he's finished every race. He hasn't finished out of the top 20. He's had cars good enough to win, didn't get the win, but still secured a good finish. He's had cars not good enough to win, and has still managed to get a solid result. He's completed every lap this season.

So what are the chances of him winning the Cup? As good as any other contender. Maybe a bit better.

He sits 2nd in points, only 4 behind Matt Kenseth. He's grabbed that elusive win. The team isn't missing steps. Most importantly, there's no other driver or team that seems to have a better chance. There have been 11 winners in 15 races.

The door to the 2012 Sprint Cup Championship is wide open to a number of drivers. And one standing near the front of the line is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo