Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Roger Goodell and the NFL crave headlines, not justice

"Tom Brady destroyed his phone" is the latest salacious and headline hungry statement/leak that the NFL has disbursed in its efforts to make Brady look as guilty as possible, and to make Roger Goodell look like the punisher of the wicked. This was never about PSI, it was about perception: Goodell's perception as the strict disciplinarian, and the perception that some owners around the NFL have of the Patriots getting away with cheating.

Brady destroyed his phone. He destroyed his phone? He destroyed his phone! Why did he destroy his phone? Who destroys their phone? Why would an innocent man destroy his phone? The dramatic phrasing was intended to make headlines. The NFL didn't just break news, they wrote the first line of every story.

How many times did you hear the word "destroy" in the past 24 hours? The NFL could have said the phone was "replaced," or "disposed of." They could have said the memory card was destroyed, or erased, or swiped. Nope, the whole phone was destroyed. And if Brady had agreed to admit his guilt and accept a reduced suspension, the NFL would have kept his destroyed phone a secret.

Think about. This "damning" evidence, this so-called "smoking gun" was something the NFL was happy to keep under wraps, so long as Brady gave them the confession they wanted.

The NFL lacks evidence, so they deploy innuendo. Whatever facts there are behind Brady's phone being disposed of become irrelevant. How did he destroy it? Was it physically destroyed or just dismantled and the information erased? Was it smashed to bits or dropped in water or blown up or melted or hurled into space?

We don't know the details, and the NFL doesn't care to know them. Details are important when seeking justice. And their lack of importance in the DeflateGate maelstrom demonstrates how uninterested in truth and justice Goodell and the NFL have been since this whole thing started.

The investigation into DeflateGate was only secondarily about trying to find out if the Patriots deflated footballs, and if so, under whose authority and with whose knowledge. The primary goal of the Wells Report, and of every leak and NFL statement, has been to make Brady and the Patriots look as guilty as possible.

A referee claimed to use one gauge to test footballs, but his memory was refuted by the Wells Report, because it destroyed the NFL's case. His memory was deemed faulty based on the reliability of his own memory. I'm not making that up. You can't make that up. His recollection of the Colts' ball's pressures was used as the basis of the argument to refute his recollection of which pressure gauge he used. So his memory is unreliable, based on an argument that relied on his memory.

Remember the leak that broke this entire story? The Patriots were said to have been caught with 11 of 12 footballs 2+ pounds of pressure under the legal minimum. The footballs were indeed below the 12.5 minimum, but not by as much as the leak and the ensuing story claimed. They were, according to one gauge, deflated about as much as the Laws of Physics would predict. But that fact wasn't revealed for months. Even though the NFL knew the leak was inaccurate.

Information with incorrect details was leaked, reported, and then was used as a foundation for the biggest story of the 2014 NFL season. The NFL knew the leaked information was inaccurate, and did nothing to correct it.Why?

Why be so wary of details? Because details don't matter in a witch hunt. Details don't matter when the owners of the Colts and Ravens want to see the Patriots pay, and the Commissioner wants to appear to be a hardass. Sheriff Goodell needed to prove that he's a man of law and order. So with the backing of a group of frustrated owners, the witch hunt and trials by fire began.

This has been a smear campaign from its outset. Incorrect facts were leaked and went uncorrected for months. The Wells Report was based on faulty physics and convoluted logic. And now this bombshell about a phone, which was never going to be given as evidence anyway, being "destroyed," is the latest effort by the NFL to crucify Brady in public, while ignoring any truth or details which might reveal what actually happened.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tom Brady was stupid to destroy his phone, but I understand

The NFL for some reason needed a few weeks to come to the decision to do nothing about Tom Brady's suspension, and keep it at 4 games. This was announced literally on the eve of training camp, with Patriots players scheduled to report on Wednesday the 29th and Brady himself already in Foxborough. The bombshell with the announcement is the fact that Tom Brady evidently destroyed his cell phone during the investigation.

Frankly, the cell phone being destroyed is impossible to defend or explain. The NFL using the word "destroyed" is intentionally dramatic. It conjures an image of Tom Brady blowing his phone up with an M-80, or dropping it in a river in the wilderness. What actually happened to the phone is probably less theatrical. How many of us actually know what happens when we trade in or donate our phones?

Even if the phone was the smoking gun, you still don't destroy it. You just refuse to hand it over. You accidentally leave it next to a magnet, or drop it in the pool, or lose it while hiking, or let Gronk spike it into oblivion as an apparent joke.

It was not smart for Brady to have his phone "destroyed."

But I understand it. The witch hunt atmosphere created by the NFL's leaks and the media firestorm around this story would make it difficult to consistently make calculated and correct decisions. Brady couldn't simply admit guilt for this misdemeanor because it was being treated like a felony. Admitting guilt would tarnish your legacy and everything you've worked for your entire life, not to mention demoralize your teammates before the biggest game of their lives. Brady couldn't be honest so all he could do was shape, twist, and hide the truth as best as he could.

Some people are good at hiding the truth and deceiving people. You don't even notice them. Others aren't very good at it.

I'm not going to defend Tom Brady as innocent. I am going to point out how absurd this story has been from the beginning. This was a set-up. This was Brady getting caught stealing a candy bar and getting charged with grand theft auto, because some elements of the NFL want to see him pay.

Brady evidently broke a rule, got caught, and didn't come clean. He should be punished for violating the initial rule, which was an equipment violation. Should he be punished for obstructing "justice?" I'm not so sure. The NFL didn't seem to be seeking justice, it seemed to be seeking to destroy his reputation. That's vengeance, not justice.

Pedro Martinez is greatness beyond greatness

Pedro Martinez was by far the best thing going during the Great Boston Sports Depression between Larry Bird and Tom Brady. Before Boston teams won Super Bowls and World Series, all we fans could be proud of was a skinny, cocky, unbelievably dominant Dominican pitcher.

It can be difficult to remember the mindset we had in the late '90s and very early 2000s, before the Patriots won the Super Bowl, before the Curse was Reversed, before Boston teams claimed 9 titles in 14 years. And with the abundance of Boston sports heroes in this young century (Brady, Ortiz, Garnett, Thomas, and so on), we kind of forget how special Pedro Martinez actually was, and how for a few years he provided us with that feeling of joy and sense of superiority once every 5 days. So let's remind ourselves of his greatness beyond greatness.

From 1997 to 2000, he was perhaps the best pitcher of all-time
At the height of the most offensive era in MLB history, Pedro Martinez was by far the best pitcher. From '97 to 2000 he won 77 games (19.25 per season). He struck out 1,153 (288.25 per season) and had a 2.12 ERA. In those 4 homerun heavy seasons, he only allowed 68 balls to leave the park. He allowed an impossibly low 9 homeruns in 1999, only 0.34% of the total homeruns hit by AL batters.

He won 3 Cy Youngs in this stretch, and probably should have won an MVP. But we'll get to that later.

In 2000 he struck out almost 9 times as many batters (8.88) as he walked. In 1999 he allowed 0.4 HR per every 9 IP. In '97 the barely 170 pound Pedro threw 241.1 innings. In 2000 his WHIP of 0.737 set the record for the lowest of all time, 0.032 lower than Guy Hecker's WHIP in 1882. Yes, Pedro broke a 118-year-old record. And he did that in the steroid era, in a league with a DH.

While sluggers were smashing Roger Maris' single-season HR record, Pedro was challenging Bob Gibson's ERA record (which was set on a higher mound, and with pitchers batting). Pedro Martinez did more to limit offense in the steroid era than mandatory PED testing eventually did.

His playoff performances were legendary
In Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS against Cleveland, Pedro Martinez pitched 6 no-hit innings of relief in the deciding game of the series. Despite his arm being worn out and his fastball considerably slowed, he held an offense that had scored 1,000+ runs that season, to zero hits. Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, the Alomars, Kenny Lofton, all of them failed to get hits off Pedro. He entered the game when it was 8-8, the Sox won 12-8, and claimed their first playoff series since 1986.

Then in Game 3 of the '99 ALCS, Pedro beat the Yankees with 7 scoreless innings. He only allowed 2 hits and struck out 12. It was New York's only loss of the post-season.

He could have been the winner of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS if not for poor management. Had Grady Little gone to the bullpen to finish the game, few people in Boston would know who Aaron Boone was. Pedro was brilliant for 7 innings, then began to falter in the 8th. Had he been removed, the Red Sox probably would have gone to the World Series, and had a good chance against the Marlins.

He was a big part of the Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series
Since we tend to associate Pedro so much with the pre-2004 era of Red Sox history, we forget how vital he was to the Sox winning the World Series in '04. Not only with his pitching, but just with his presence. His presence on the team made the Sox a contender, and the new ownership parlayed that in their pursuit of players like Curt Schilling. Pedro was also part of that team's loose yet confident attitude.

He wasn't that great in the 2004 regular season. And in the ALCS against the Yankees, he struggled. However in Game 3 of the World Series he threw 7 scoreless innings, allowing only 3 hits. This was a great post-season start in the most important series in Red Sox history this side of 1920, and Pedro's pitching was a major contribution.

He should have won the MVP in 1999
Apart from Pedro and Nomar, the 1999 Red Sox weren't very good. Jose Offerman, Wilton Veras, Damon Buford, Darren Lewis, Reggie Jefferson, Ed Sprague. The #2 pitcher was Bret Saberhagen, when he was healthy. Then there was Mark Portugal, Pat Rapp, and Brian Rose. John "Way Back" Wasdin was still out in the bullpen. It wasn't a very good team. Yet they won 94 games. They were 25-5 (.833) when Pedro started, and 69-63 (.523) when he didn't. I'd say he was quite valuable to that team's success.

He had an ERA of 2.07, struck out 313 batters, had a WHIP of 0.923, was AL Pitcher of the Month 4 times, and led the AL in WAR. He only allowed 9 homeruns in 213.1 innings (1 per 23.7 innings). He came in 2nd in MVP voting, behind Ivan Rodriguez. Why? Because some people didn't think a pitcher should be eligible for the MVP because they're not "every day players." Pedro got one more 1st place vote than Rodriguez did. But some voters felt that the Cy Young was for pitchers, the MVP was for positional players, and left Pedro off their ballot. So I-Rod won.

He threw a perfect game, but not really, but really
In 1995, Pedro retired every batter he faced for 9 innings. However, after 9 innings the Expos and Padres were still tied 0-0. The Expos scored in the 10th, but Pedro allowed a double in the bottom of the inning and was relieved. So he didn't even get credit for a shutout, let alone a perfect game.

Nevertheless, he still pitched 9 perfect innings, still retired 27 straight batters from 1st to 9th. And a ball from the game is in Cooperstown with other balls from no-hitters.

Pedro was often on teams that didn't support him very much. We can only imagine how much higher his winning percentage would be if he had more help.

The abundance of absurd but true Pedro stories
Remember his performance in the '99 All-Star Game? He struck out Hall of Famer and 12 time All-Star Barry Larkin. Then Larry Walker, who was hitting .382 at the time. Pedro then punched out Sosa and McGwire, who had combined for 136 homeruns the year before and hit 128 in '99. After Matt Williams reached on an error, Pedro struck out Jeff Bagwell and I-Rod threw Williams out trying to steal second. The most impressive 2 innings pitched of all time.

2,222. That's how many homeruns were hit by guys Pedro struck out in the 1999 All-Star Game

Remember the 17 strikeout one-hitter against the Yankees?

Remember the no-hit bid against the Devil Rays after he hit Gerald Williams with a pitch?

Remember when the Red Sox played a 19 inning game in Seattle in 2000, then Pedro saved the bullpen the next day with an efficient complete game? It was one of his most impressive demonstrations as a pitcher. He only struck out 7 (he was averaging 11.8 K/9 that year), instead pitching to contact and inducing 14 groundballs (including 2 GIDP) to keep his pitch count low. He won the game, and saved the beleaguered bullpen.

His stuff was amazing. And when his fastball gradually lost its ferocity, his accuracy and pitching acumen allowed him to remain elite. He was an artist. He was one of the smartest players in the game and one of the goofiest. He had a small body but big balls. He dominated, he enraged, he impressed, he intimidated, the game revolved around him when he was pitching.

You absolutely had to watch his starts. You coveted tickets to see him pitch in person at Fenway. Each start had a realistic chance to be a no-hitter or a 20 strikeout game. You learned Spanish because of him. Pedro didn't just dominate the game, he dominated the lives of Boston sports fans.

Monday, July 27, 2015

No more Boston 2024 (thank God)

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh doesn't want to put taxpayers in the position to pay for cost overruns. That unwillingness to make Boston's citizens the insurance policy for Boston 2024 has resulted in Boston's bid being dropped completely. And thank fucking God for that.

The organizers of Boston 2024 were so sure of their budgeting estimates, that they were willing to put the people of Boston's money on the line to pay in case costs surpassed expectations. That's money that could go to schools, police, fire, public works, snow removal, pothole repair, instead going to pay for a velodrome. Which is a steeply banked bicycle race track. Which nobody has any use for, which is why we don't already have one.

The benefits of hosting the Olympics would have been shared among a select group of rich individuals and companies. It would be a bonanza for Suffolk Construction. Bob Kraft would get a cheap soccer specific stadium for the Revs. Everyone publicly pushing for the games to be here would have seen their wallets fatten, whether through business deals or just the paychecks they get working for the Boston 2024 organization. And if costs exceeded expectation, the people would have paid. While the beneficiaries still got paid the same.

After watching the Olympic debate on Fox 25 last week, my anti-Boston 2024 sentiment went from a small controlled fire to a raging inferno. Steve Pagliuca could not give straight answers to simple questions. Daniel Doctoroff was a smarmy jerk. Every question raised by the media or by people against Boston 2024 was dismissed as "hyperbole," or "inflammatory," or not answered at all.

And the T wouldn't benefit directly from the Olympics. There are no Boston 2024 funds allocated to improving it. The T needs to be fixed on its own, BEFORE 2024. The commuter rail and subway lack modern, functioning equipment. Routes and systems need to be updated. The amount of economic production lost due to public transportation issues is unacceptable for a major city. And we should focus on remedying these problems before taking on the challenge of catering to the Olympics.

The Boston 2024 plan was built by optimistic businessmen who stood to gain from Boston hosting. And if their optimistic cost and revenue estimates didn't come to fruition in reality, the people were going to pay. And that's wrong. You can't have one group of people enjoy the profit while another group takes the risk.

So bon voyage, Boston 2024. To translate intoto Bostonian: Go fuck yourselves.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

BBS Awards: New England Patriots win Team of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports calendar.

Back in January of 2008, I awarded Team of the Year to the Patriots. They were 16-0. This was before I realized that I should write these posts sometime after the Super Bowl.

I'm very happy to name the Patriots as the Team of the Year for 2014-15.

They won 15 games, including a very hard fought playoff battle against the Ravens, and of course the Super Bowl against Seattle. They were tough, they were imposing, they were difficult to match up against, they were clutch.

The stars were stellar. The role players rose to the occasion. They all did their job.

The season started poorly. At one point a reporter asked Belichick if he was considering replacing Brady (who was that idiot by the way?). The team believed in itself, even though the fans and the media didn't. The Patriots moved on to Cincinnati. Then to Buffalo, then the Jets, the Bears, the Broncos, the Colts, and so on. They scored 87 points in 2 games against the "AFC Finalist" Colts.

And the Super Bowl will probably be the Game of the Century for Boston Sports.

Belichick, Brady, Gronkowski, Revis, Edelman, Wilfork, Stork, Browner, McCourty, Blount, Gray, Vereen, Amendola, LaFell, Jones, Jones, Ninkovich, Casillas, Collins, Butler.

What a great team. What a great year.

I can't wait for the 2015 season to begin.

BBS Awards: Tom Brady wins Athlete of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

Without a doubt Tom Brady was the best athlete in all of sports in 2014.

He's better than Aaron Rodgers. He beat the Seahawks. Against the best defense in the NFL, he had the best and most clutch 4th quarter of any quarterback in Super Bowl history.

And not only did he lead his team to the top of the NFL in 2014, he's currently in a fight against the NFL and just might beat the League itself.

So much better than Aaron Rodgers.

BBS Awards: Bill Belichick wins Lifetime Achievement Award

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

By winning his fourth Super Bowl, Bill Belichick cemented his legacy as the greatest football coach of all-time. Among Boston coaches in all sports, he's second only to Red Auerbach. NFL coaches can only dream of achieving half of what Belichick has achieved.

Four Super Bowl wins as a head coach, 2 more as an assistant. He's been part of 8 Super Bowls spanning 4 decades. Named Coach of the Year 3 times by the AP. His defensive gameplan from Super Bowl 25 is in the Hall of Fame.

He's won 232 games including 22 playoff wins. His 211 regular season wins is 6th all-time, and with 12 more wins he'll pass Paul Brown for 5th.

One of Belichick's biggest strengths is his ability to move on from adversity. "We're on to Cincinnati" became a theme of the 2014 season, but moving on has been a key part of Belichick's career. He was a failure in Cleveland, but was able to learn from the experience and move on. When the Patriots lost Bledsoe in 2001, he and the team moved on. When they lost 31-0 to the Bills in 2003, they moved on. When the SpyGate story erupted, when Brady got hurt in 2008, when Aaron Hernandez murdered people, when the team was 2-2 last year and people were questioning if Tom Brady should be the quarterback, when DeflateGate broke. Belichick moves on.

No team excels in the face of adversity like Belichick's Patriots.

Few coaches have lost Super Bowls as heartbreaking as the two that Belichick lost against the Giants. And yet he still isn't afraid of risking defeat. He still has massive balls. He had the balls to reject the Jets and work for the Patriots (having learned from his Cleveland experience how important it was to work for owners who let you do your job). He had the balls to keep 4 quarterbacks on his roster, one of them was Tom Brady. He had the balls to let Brady try to win Super Bowl 36. He had the balls to let Lawyer Milloy go, to sign Corey Dillon, to bring in Randy Moss, to drop Randy Moss, to trade Logan Mankins, et cetera.

His aggression has sometimes been questioned, and it hasn't always worked out, but that aggression is why he and the Patriots are 4 time champions.

You could write a 200-page thesis paper on leadership by talking about Bill Belichick. So I'll stop myself here.

But Belichick has yet to stop. He's still doing his job.

BBS Awards: Bill Belichick wins Red Auerbach Award for Executive/Coach of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

Bill Belichick the GM had been the focus of criticism in this town for 7 or 8 years. Some of it deserved, much of it exaggerated, most of it emotionally overblown. Somehow as a GM, the 2007 team he assembled was inadequate. And the 2011 team, with an unhealthy Gronkowski in the Super Bowl, was insufficient in the talent department to win. He was even blamed for Gronkowski's injuries.

The Patriots' mantra in 2014 was "Do Your Job." The GM's job is to put together a team capable of winning. And that's what Belichick did. And all the critics of Belichick the GM can shut up, finally. From familiar faces like Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, to a 2nd round steal like Rob Gronkowski, to ring hungry Darrelle Revis, to a former Kent State quarterback turned receiver, to an oft-injured replacement for Wes Welker (who is himself now oft-injured), to an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama named Malcolm.

The team was built for toughness and versatility. It could beat you with offense and defense. And they were physical.

Belichick was also the coach of the year. He kept his team focused even when they were 2-2. He didn't allow DeflateGate to distract them in the Super Bowl. He and his staff prepared his team to make big plays, made the right adjustments during the game, and had the balls to let the clock run out in the 4th quarter.

Bill Belichick was the best coach and best GM in Boston sports last year.

BBS Awards: Super Bowl 49 wins Game of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

There are about 85 years left in the century. That's around 14,000 baseball games, over 7,000 hockey and 7,000 basketball games, and counting the playoffs, about 1,400 football games. Odds are, none of those games will be able to top Super Bowl 49 as the Boston Sports Game of the Century.

The game was great, but so was everything going on around it. The build up with DeflateGate. The story-lines of old dynasty vs. new dynasty, of attitude vs. adjustment, of Sherman vs. Revis, of Carroll vs. Belichick. The two most talented teams, the two toughest teams. A powerful running back, a powerful tight-end, formidable DBs on both sides of the ball. The anticipation was unreal.

The game itself surpassed expectations, featuring some of the best individual plays of the season. Great throws, great catches, great interceptions, from both teams. So many big plays. So many heroes. Brady, Gronk, Amendola, Edelman, Butler.

And it ended with the best quarterback of his era leading his team to victory. And the best coach of all-time seeing his adjustments, his pre-game preparation, and his audacity pay off.

The lasting impact of the game is another rarity. The Championship tore down the divide between the glory years of 2001-2004, and the "almost" years of 2005-2013. It launched Brady and Belichick into the "best ever" category.

It's very rare that a sporting event has such high expectations, then exceeds them, and then has a major impact in the history of the game. Super Bowl 49 did all of that.

And just imagine what enduring all those blizzards would have been like had the Patriots lost.

BBS Awards: Pete Frates wins Bloody Sock Award for Toughness

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

This award goes to players who have gone through serious injury, and sometimes serious illness. From Dustin Pedroia and Wes Welker, to Jon Lester and Mark Herzlich. This is probably the most prestigious award that this humble blogger gives each year.

Pete Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. He's not only fighting his own fight against this illness, he's fighting the entire disease. It can't be easy for him to make as many appearances as he does to raise awareness and funds. His level of toughness is off the scale, and has inspired a tremendous amount of good.

BBS Awards: Malcolm Butler wins Tom Brady Award for Coming Out of Nowhere

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

This Award goes to players who went from anonymity to superstars. For example, Koji Uehara won it for 2013, Danny Woodhead in 2010. This year's winner didn't have a great season, or even a great game.

It was one play. At least that's how we'll remember it. Malcolm Butler was the center of 4 big plays in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl 49. He broke up a few passes on key downs. He made a few important tackles. And of course, his interception.

Most of us didn't know who this guy was before that night. Now everyone knows. Take Tom Brady's entire 2001 season and condense it into an hour of football. That was the night Malcolm Butler had.

BBS Awards: Jon Lester wins Ted Williams Award for Red Sox Player of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

The 2014 Red Sox season seems like a long long time ago. It's hard to imagine that the Sox were once a team struggling to get out of last place and were failing even at the most basic and fundamental... wait.

Jon Lester won 10 games for the Sox in 2014 before he was traded. His ERA was 2.52 and he was earning the contract that the Red Sox refused to consider giving him. And also making the Sox look stupid for not negotiating with him before the season.

Speaking of the Sox looking like idiots, Lester was traded for Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes was then traded in the off-season for Rick Porcello. The Red Sox then extended Porcello's contract.

Great moves, Red Sox. Keep up the good work.

BBS Awards: Rob Gronkowski wins Drew Bledsoe Award for Patriots Player of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

Tom Brady is the heart of the Patriots. And Rob Gronkowski is the muscle. As Gronk got healthy, the Patriots got healthy. As Gronk started to dominate, the Patriots started to dominate. The Patriots were 10-0 when he caught for 60+ yards, 3-2 when he didn't.

Not only did he produce, the way he played gave the Patriots a ferocious edge that they haven't had (especially on offense) for a long time. This was not a finesse team. It was a brutal, hard-hitting game when Gronk was on the field.

He also caught a TD pass in each playoff game.

His 12 receiving TDs were tied for 4th in the NFL and tied for 1st among tight-ends. He led tight-ends in yards, 20+ yard catches, first downs (60 of them), and yards after the catch. And don't forget he's one of the fiercest blockers in the League.

BBS Awards: Isaiah Thomas wins Bill Russell Award for Celtics Player of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

Maybe the Celtics will regret their playoff berth, but it did give us a chance to see just how good Isaiah Thomas really is, and how hopefully he might one day play a role in this team's return to contention. Thomas led the C's in scoring and assists in the Cleveland series. His 19.0 points per game in the regular season would have also led the team.

It's going to be a long road back to contention for the C's. In the meantime, Thomas is a talented and exciting player to watch. And he's 10 times more likable than Rajon Rondo.

BBS Awards: Patrice Bergeron wins Bobby Orr Award for Bruins Player of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

It was a bad year for the Bruins. No playoff hockey. Cap issues on the horizon. One bright spot was Patrice Bergeron. Who is also one of the few bright spots going forward. He won the Selke (again) for the best defensive forward. He was second on the Bruins with 23 goals, and led the team with 55 points.

Surprisingly, this is only the second time Bergeron has won this award. The last was for 2006. Hopefully he wins more in the future, and hopefully some of his teammates play well enough to compete with him for the honor.

BBS Awards: Jack Eichel wins Agganis-Flutie Award for College Athlete of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

In years past, this was known the Doug Flutie Award. I think with BU freshman hockey player Jack Eichel winning it, it's a perfect time to add Harry Agganis' name to this honor. Agganis was an All-American quarterback at BU, and also played baseball and basketball. He was drafted by the Browns in 1952, but decided to play baseball for the Red Sox instead. He died tragically in 1955 at the age of 26.

BU's hockey arena is named after Harry Agganis, and that's where Jack Eichel dominated Hockey East opponents in the 2014-15 season. In 40 games he scored 26 goals and added 41 assists. He won the Hobey Baker (college hockey's Heisman), becoming only the second freshman to do so. He was also drafted 2nd overall in in the NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Not a bad freshman year. My freshman year was all about D.P. Dough calzones and playing Madden.

BBS Awards: Tuukka Rask wins Varitek Award for Most Overrated Athlete

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

When you call someone overrated, you're not criticizing the person, you're criticizing the people who have unduly lifted that person up beyond where they should be lifted. Jason Varitek was an integral part of the Red Sox winning their first World Series since 1918. But he was horribly overrated by us Boston fans. That's why this award is named after him.

Being overrated isn't a direct criticism, but I will directly criticize Tuukka Rask. The Bruins goalie followed up on his Vezina winning season with disappointment, and almost nobody pointed it out. Sure, the team around him sucked, so there were plenty of guys for B's fans to hate on, but Rask seemed immune.

He was 14th in GAA, 10th in save percentage, and 19th in shutouts.

Rask wasn't a reason the Bruins lost, but he didn't do much to help them win. And since he was not criticized sufficiently for his average play, he was the most overrated athlete in Boston sports last year.

BBS Awards: Pete Carroll wins A-Rod Award for Biggest Choker

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

Normally the A-Rod Award for choking goes to a Boston based athlete, or even an entire team. But nobody in sports last year choked more than Pete Carroll choked at the end of the Super Bowl, which allowed a Boston team to snag victory from the gum-chewing jaws of defeat.

It wasn't just the decision to pass on the goal-line. It was letting the clock wind down before passing. It was having a team so disorganized and undisciplined that they had to burn a timeout after Kearse's catch. Then the penalties committed after Malcolm Butler's interception which removed all doubt.

The impact of Carroll's choking goes beyond one game and one championship. Think of the impact it had on the legacies of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Think of how many New Englanders would have willingly buried themselves and drowned in feet of snow had the Seahawks won that game. Pete Carroll's idiocy as a coach and impotence as a disciplinarian solidified Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as arguably the best at their jobs.

Thank you, Pete.

BBS Awards: DeflateGate Coverage wins Shaughnessy Award for Worst Sports Media

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

The Dan Shaughnessy Award is typically given to a single sportswriter or sports radio personality. Past winners include Shaughnessy himself, Michael Felger, Ron Borges, John Dennis/Gerry Callahan. This year's winner is a little different.

The media didn't just cover DeflateGate, it became an active participant. A leaked report with incorrect details about air pressure started the DeflateGate circus. Sources within the NFL used the media to stoke the flames until the story became self-aware and spread into mainstream media. You had Good Morning America talking about inflated footballs. Scientists were canvassed for their expertise. Ex-players, lawyers, children.

Belichick was blamed. People wanted the Patriots banned from the Super Bowl. Some wanted Belichick banned from the game, Pete Rose style.

Whatever the most sensational and ridiculous interpretation of leaks from the NFL, that's what the media went with. Whatever the most absurd opinion or "take," and that's what the media went with.

Facts were obstacles that could only slow down the rapid firing DeflateGate media machine. As Gene Hackman's character in The Birdcage said: "People in this country aren't interested in details. They don't even trust details. The only thing they trust is headlines."

Actual journalism has been dead for many years, DeflateGate was simply the pressure gauge that proved that all the air, and with it all the standards and quality of the media, had leaked out and dissipated.

BBS Awards: Peter Chiarelli wins Harry Frazee Award for Goat of the Year

The Boston Blood Sox Awards (or Bloodies) are awarded for great success and/or pitiful failure in the 2014-15 sports year.

The Harry Frazee Award for Goat of the Year is given to the sports figure who was the most disliked, derided, even detested character in Boston sports. Basically the guy sports fans would be happiest to see leave the city. Past winners include Manny Ramirez (twice), J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Tyler Seguin, and Randy Moss. It is named after the owner of the Red Sox that sold Babe Ruth and a number of other great players to the Yankees.

Peter Chiarelli, former Bruins GM, wins the Goat of the Year Award.

Unfortunately, there were a number of other candidates for this award, most of them with front office jobs on Yawkey Way. Chiarelli, however, was completely in over his head as Bruins GM. The cap was mismanaged, the drafts were poor, deadline trades didn't get done, contracts were extended too early for too long. It was just a disaster.

He's gone to Edmonton, and good luck to him.

Monday, July 06, 2015

I like the US Women's Soccer team much more than the US Men's team

Team USA reclaimed the Women's World Cup on Sunday with an impressive 5-2 victory over Japan. The USWNT (US Women's National Team) was so dominant that they scored as many goals for Japan as the Japanese did. It was a perfect way to end the 4th of July weekend.

I like our women's team so much more than the men's team. And here's why:

The women win:
I don't expect the men's team to defeat the likes of Germany or Argentina and win the World Cup. But beat Ghana, please. I don't think that's asking too much. Beat teams that you're supposed to beat, and then don't act like it's a major achievement to beat them. It's embarrassing to be an American and be surprised that the US men's team barely beat Algeria.

The women won't settle for less than victory:
I hate when the men's team gets praised for losing a close game to Germany. Or ties Portugal, or loses to Belgium, and gets even more praise. There's no shame in losing to Germany, but it's not something to boast about either. After these World Cup games last year, American pundits lauded Team USA for not getting annihilated by the Germans, for scoring 2 whole goals against Portugal, and for taking Belgium to extra time. Why don't we just do what the Colts do and put up banners commemorating all of these glorious defeats? Since when do we celebrate losing in this country?

Unlike the men, the women's team won't get praise or glory unless they win. And that's the American way.

No Landon Donovan:
I hate Landon Donovan. Overrated, under-performing, and completely infatuated with himself. There's no doubt that he's the best American player of all-time. And he knows it. The thing is, being the best all-time for a country that didn't qualify for the World Cup for 4 decades isn't too amazing. It's like climbing the highest "mountain" in Kansas.

At the global level, Donovan simply wasn't that great. He's scored a couple of goals in World Cups, the biggest being against the mighty Algerians. Wow. For major European clubs he scored 2 goals in 28 games. Yet US Soccer people talk about him in reverence and awe. They worship Landon Donovan. Both Donovan and his fanatical supporters make the US men's team very annoying to watch.

In contrast, the USWNT had lots of star forwards in this tournament, but eventually went with a single forward lineup. Because teams win championships, not individuals. Good luck convincing Landon Donovan of that.

Less diving:
This probably also applies to all the other teams at the Women's World Cup, who seemed to dive less than all the teams in men's soccer. As well as all NBA teams. Maybe the women dive less because they feel more motivation to show their toughness and strength. Whatever the reason, it made watching the game more enjoyable.

They're hot:
This isn't sexist. Female sports fans get to cheer on their favorite male athletes while also getting turned on by them. How many women in New England get excited to see Gronkowski score a touchdown, then even more excited when he spikes the ball? Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, David Beckham, they've all been making female fans get flustered. So it's not sexist for me to enjoy seeing Alex Morgan score while also thinking about scoring with Alex Morgan.

In order to remain classy, I decided not to use one of the multitude of Tom Brady ball deflation jokes I came up with.

They're the best:
It's hard to be the best at something. Striving to be the best is what America is all about. We're a country that's simultaneously the fattest in the world AND wins the most Olympic medals. Everything we do, we want to be the best at it. And these women were clearly the best.

So congratulations to the USWNT for winning the World Cup. And thank you for being more likable than the men's team.

Photo Credit: Getty

Red Sox almost blow rubber game against Astros

The Red Sox took 2 of 3 from the Astros over the weekend. It could have been a sweep, but the Sox blew Friday night's game. And they almost blew the rubber game on Sunday.

Hanley Ramirez (who didn't know the count at one point during Friday's loss, and stood at home plate after taking ball 4 until the umpire told him he'd walked) hit a 2-run homer on Sunday that won the game. (seriously though, how does a hitter not know the count, especially since there are big green and red lights in left field telling you how many balls and strikes there are?)

Ramirez's homerun came after Alexi Ogando surrendered the lead by allowing 3 runs off a pair of homers in the 7th. For some reason John Farrell didn't take Ogando out, even though this year he has struggled when throwing 25+ pitches (12.1 IP, 12 H, 7 ER in outings of 25+ pitches). Junichi Tazawa was evidently available, as he came in to pitch the 8th. So I really don't know why Farrell left Ogando in, or didn't have someone warming up.

David Ortiz was on base when Hanley homered. He drew a walk. Apart from that his afternoon was quite horrible. He struck out with 2 on and no outs in the 3rd. In the 5th he grounded out with runners on the corners. He's hitting .155 with runners in scoring position this year and that's inexcusable.

Ortiz was playing first base, which thankfully meant Mike Napoli was not in the lineup. Shane Victorino did go 0 for 3 as a heartfelt tribute to Napoli.

Hanley Ramirez had the big hit, but the working class hero of the game was Ryan Hanigan, who hit 3 singles, knocked in 2 runs, and walked.

Eduardo Rodriguez was okay. He held the Astros to 1 run, but his rising pitch count limited him to 5 innings. He struck out 8.

The bullpen is an issue. When every other part of a team struggled, sometimes it's hard to notice a bad bullpen. Now that the bullpen has leads to protect, we're starting to see how vulnerable and shallow it truly is. On Friday night the Sox were tied 8-8 in the 10th inning and were forced to send Noe Ramirez to the mound to make his Major League debut. He gave up 4 runs. This was after Breslow struggled, which was after Masterson made a horrible start.

I'm not dwelling on the negative. The Sox are 6 games out in the AL East. They just took 2 of 3 from a good Houston team. It would be a shame if this last ditch effort to fight for a playoff spot were undermined by a shaky bullpen, a manager who makes bad decisions, hitters who forget what the count is, fielders who forget how many outs there are, and baserunners who don't know when to steal and when not to.

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/Associated Press

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rick Porcello is product of Red Sox Front Office arrogance

The Red Sox acquired Rick Porcello and then extended his contract because the 26-year old fit into the new philosophy recently developed by the Front Office. Instead of paying extra for pitchers over 30, and taking the risk of their performance falling off at the end of a contract, the Sox would target younger pitchers. These players wouldn't be as proven as the older pitchers, but that would actually make them a better investment, because that would make them less expensive. Furthermore, the potential upside for younger pitchers made them an opportunity, not a risk.

Compare this pitching philosophy with stock investments. Would you rather buy part of Facebook when it opened publicly, or when Mark Zuckerberg was still living in a Harvard dorm? Getting in early is less expensive, you get more for your money, and the sky is the limit for increased value.

John Henry and Larry Lucchino aren't "baseball people." They know their baseball intelligence isn't sufficient to beat the baseball people who run the 29 other teams. So they try to think outside of the diamond and gain an advantage using ideas like this investing strategy. Sometimes it works. These guys have built 3 World Series winners, after all. But with Rick Porcello, it hasn't worked.

Henry and Lucchino were drawn to Rick Porcello because of one number. Not his ERA or WHIP, not his WAR or K/9. It was his age. He was 26. He had 6 years of MLB experience. And he'd shown some signs that he could be a very good pitcher. So before he ever toed the rubber in a meaningful game with the Red Sox, his contract was extended for 4 years, paying him just a tick over $20M per year.

The deal would keep Porcello in Boston until he was 30. His prime years would be in a Red Sox uniform, but the Sox wouldn't have to worry about his performance falling off due to age.

The Sox dismissed doubts instead of considering them. Porcello had a career 4.30 ERA in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and in a division that didn't have many potent offenses. He only had one truly good season, and had shown inconsistency in his 6 Major League years. He had more seasons with an ERA over 4.50 (3) than with an ERA below 4.00 (2). His stuff wasn't amazing. And he pitched to contact, inducing groundballs, instead of amassing strikeouts.

These concerns probably didn't worry the Sox. If they had, they would have waited a few weeks before extending his contract. The issue of pitching to contact was likely dismissed as something that only outmoded and archaic "baseball people" would worry about, an antiquated notion of how the game should be played. And the statistical inconsistency was because Porcello was still a young man. He'd shown his potential in 2014 with 15 wins and a 3.43 ERA. The other seasons were part of his growth and development.

The Sox were so confident in Porcello's inevitable success, that they signed him as early as possible to avoid having to pay him more as his value increased. Henry and Lucchino probably imagined him having a 4-1 April, and then refusing to sign an extension. So they locked him up for 4 more years.

Unfortunately, the deal also made him untradeable. The Front Office didn't give themselves options if Porcello disappointed, or if he was good but the team disappointed, allowing him to be traded at the deadline. Investors should always give themselves options.

The assessment of Porcello wasn't the only mistake the Front Office made. The philosophy itself is flawed. Older pitchers cost more because their performance is proven. The risk with them is that their performance might fall off. You don't know how many good years you'll get. Younger pitchers also carry significant risk. There's a risk you might not get any good years at all.

The Sox paid a premium for Porcello's youth. Which is like paying someone extra for a product that hasn't been tested. They ignored obvious reasons to have second thoughts about extending his contract. They didn't try to find any reasons not to extend him. They built a philosophy based on their relative ignorance of baseball, then arrogantly assumed they were smarter than traditional baseball thinking.

It's okay to pay extra for something proven, especially something as rare and important as pitching. It's not okay to give someone who is killing your team a raise to $20M/year. But John Henry and Larry Lucchino thought they knew better than everyone else. Sometimes smart people do the dumbest things.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fate of the 2015 Red Sox to be decided in the next 4 weeks

In 4 weeks we'll know if the 2015 Red Sox season will be something to be ashamed of, or proud of. Will the 2015 Sox be an embarrassing failure or an inspiring success? Will they be potential buyers at the July 31st trade deadline, or sellers?

The Sox beat the Blue Jays 4-3 Tuesday night, ending June with a 3-game win streak and a 14-14 record for the month. It was only the third 3-game win streak of the season. They have yet to push any of those to 4 games. It's said that momentum is only as good as next day's starting pitcher. Unfortunately Wednesday's starter for the Sox is 4-8 Rick Porcello. So my hopes aren't too high that the Sox will extend their streak to 4.

Now is the time to get busy winning or get busy losing. It's July. The trade deadline looms at the end of the month. If the Sox can't win their way back into the hunt, they will be compelled to be sellers at the deadline. If out of contention at the end of the month, they can't afford to pass up the opportunity to rid themselves of dead weight and/or acquire promising talent for the near future.

A 6 game deficit in the division and for the wild cards doesn't seem like much. However, 4 teams stand in the Sox' way in the AL East, and 9 for the wild card spots. Some of those teams are bound to get hot, so closing the gap against them will not be easy.

The Sox play 16 of their next 18 against good teams. Ground must be gained during this stretch. They don't have to gain 3 or 4 games a week, but over the next 4 weeks they must steadily close the gap between them and a playoff spot. Treading water isn't good enough. It's time to swim.

The Sox can't afford more 3 game losing streaks (they had 5 of those in May). No more settling for split series, or taking 2 of 3 from one team then losing 2 of 3 to another. Playing .500 baseball won't be enough to bring the Sox closer to a playoff spot.

Porcello will likely make 5 starts in July. It's time for him to do his job, or at the very least stop sucking so terribly at it. Clay Buchholz needs to stay healthy and sharp. If the Sox get themselves in the race, he needs to handle the pressure of pitching in meaningful games again. And Eddie Rodriguez needs to stop tipping his pitches. Watching him on the mound is like watching an instructional video on poker tells.

Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP