Friday, March 30, 2007

Penguins lead the Atlantic, their owner gets sued

The Pens won last night in commanding fashion, despite no Gary Roberts, and Evgeni Malkin playing time on the fourth line because he pissed off Mike Therrien. That puts them in the lead and hoping the Devils lose tonight.

And their owner, Ron Burkle, is being sued (along with his buddies the Clintons and the NY Daily News) by a gossip reporter who lost his job after Burkle accused him of extortion. Burkle just brokered a deal to keep the Pens in Pittsburgh for the next 30 years, and he's part of the main bidding conglomerate for Chicago Tribune and LA Times. He also looks tough as shit in that picture, doesn't he? Would you fuck with that man?

Peace out, Dan Kolb

The Pirates cut Dan Kolb, saving themselves $1.25 Million, which is about enough to buy a section of people a Yuengling each at PNC Park. That is just one of the infinite things the Pirates can better spend that money on. So the bullpen spots belong to Wasdin and Bayliss, though apparently Juan Perez has been pitching really well (!) and may keep Grabow (who's injured) out of it long-term if he continues to play like this.

The real battle left now is for bench spots. Brad Eldred drew his 11th walk of the preseason yesterday (tying him for seventh in the, but there is still a chance he'll get cut. Still, the Pirates have shown uncharacteristic innovation in letting him play OF, and now they cut Kolb. So I'm still just hoping that they'll keep him and whatever crappy-hitting backup catcher they see fit.

Please. Just do it, Bucs. Keep Brad.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

David Schoenfield: Stat Geek Wannabe

A quick addendum to Amerigo's post on the pain/suffering rankings:

As a Pirates fan, I think these rankings are complete bullshit.The Pirates are ranked 17th (7 Derek Bells for a 3.52 pain/suffering rating). Seventeenth for the team with the longest current string of losing seasons in all of American professional sports. Just a few of the teams ahead of the Pirates:

Utah Jazz (5): 20 playoff appearances in 26 seasons

Portland Trail Blazers (6): 25 playoff appearances and 23 winning seasons in 29 years.
Houston Astros (7): 23 winning seasons and nine playoff appearances in 44 years, but it's incredibly difficult to make the playoffs in baseball, and these guys played in the Fall Classic two seasons ago. They've also got an assload of money to spend every year, and an owner who cares about winning. They've also finished lower than second in their division just twice since 1993.

Boston Bruins (8): 30 winning seasons in in the last 33 years, and 29 playoff runs. Oh, and five appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Those are just a few. You know the formula for determining "suffering" is flawed when the first 16 teams on the list have at least been good enough to make it to the championship round of their respective sports at least once since a) the franchise's last title, or b) since the franchise has come into existence.

Here's what David Schoenfield thinks is a great way to calculate the amount of suffering we endure as fans (supposedly, because it's crucial for us to know just who has suffered more, perhaps for the purpose of establishing bragging rights):

[(Seasons in playoffs * 4) + (losing seasons) + (non-playoff seasons) + (finals losses * 3) + (finals losses in past 25 years * 15) + (Soul-sucking moments * 25) + (seasons without a title)] - [(winning seasons) + (playoff seasons * 2)]
seasons without a title

This formula seems to put more weight on losing in the playoffs than not making the playoffs. And just what is a "soul-sucking moment"? How can you go in search for objective knowledge of something using a formula that incorporates something totally subjective? I die a little on the inside every time Jose Castillo muffs an easy ground ball.

Is it absurd to think that if a team makes the playoffs enough, eventually it's going to win something? Absolutely not. But there's even less -- dare I say, almost no chance -- of winning a title if a team can't make the playoffs.

No mathematical formula can calculate the amount of self-loathing that I -- or any of the other 14 people like me -- have endured as a direct result of rooting for the Pirates.

Go give yourself herpes, David Schoenfield.

I'm so honored

My team, the Buffalo Bills, finished first in ESPN's rankings of teams that have caused the most pain and suffering to their fans. This is actually a list where I agreed with just about every criteria and reason they gave for the rankings.

Spike This, Bitch!

This is all the competition committee can do?

The only notable rule that was adopted or changed at the annual NFL meetings created an additional penalty. Players who spike the ball in the field of play will be penalized 5 yards.

Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, was disappointed that a proposal to move opening kickoffs for overtime from the 30 to the 35 had to be tabled for a lack of support.

"We'll keep working the issue, but I'm not exactly confident we'll get 24 votes" needed to pass it.

Tampa Bay withdrew its proposal to expand replay to include reviewing penalties, and the idea to increase game-day rosters from 45 was killed.

So, to review: We still have phantom interference calls that can decide a game, still have a moronic sudden-death overtime that all good coaches hate, and still have rules like the injured reserve keeping good players off the field for no solid reason.

And Rich McKay is trying to move the kickoff forward five yards. In overtime.

But at least those naughty, naughty players have to run off the field of play to spike the ball.

Mr. McKay: You are a tool. Please go and become the chairman of the competition committee of the WNBA. Love, Free Tank Carter.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

NFL's Next Top Thug

We've got updated standings, courtesy of ESPN.

[Pacman] Jones has talked to police in 10 separate incidents since being drafted in April 2005 and has been arrested five times. On Monday, Las Vegas police recommended prosecutors file a felony charge of coercion and misdemeanor charges of battery and threat against Jones, stemming from a Feb. 19 strip club fight and shooting.

[Chris] Henry is among nine Bengals players arrested in less than a year. He had four arrests in 14 months, including marijuana possession, a weapon charge and a drunken-driving count that resulted in a guilty plea to reckless operation of a vehicle.

If you're scoring at home -- or, in my case, at work -- here's the updated playoff picture in the race to name the new disciplinary code:

Pacman Jones: 5 arrests in 2 years (.208 arrests/month), 1 (likely 2) felony charges, 2 (likely 3) misdemeanors
Chris Henry: 4 arrests in 14 months (.286 a/m), 2 felonies, 5 misdemeanors 90 days in jail (88 suspended)

How's my math? There needs to be a comprehensive database of this stuff, as it's very hard to keep track and get an accurate count.

You Can't Fire Joe Theismann, You Can Only Hope to Contain Him!

ESPN fired Joe Theismann from Monday Night Football, but that doesn't stop him from being wrong in other venues.

Take this 50-word article, on the best organizations in the NFL:

1. New England Patriots: The Patriots are an outstanding organization and that's because everything starts at the top. The quality of the players and the coaching staff and the professionalism of all the people in the organization are a result of what owner Robert Kraft does and how he handles the organization.

2. Denver Broncos: Another strong, smart owner and again the result is a strong franchise.

3. Dallas Cowboys: Even though he has taken some chances that I might not take as an owner, Jerry Jones does a great job. He wants his team to be the greatest every year and he'll do what he thinks it takes to make that happen.

4. Indianapolis Colts: This isn't just about winning this past Super Bowl. This is about sticking with a great coach when a lot of other organizations would have gone in a different direction.

5. Baltimore Ravens: Brian Billick has been here for a while and has a lot of control over his team's decisions, and his partnership with general manager Ozzie Newsome has produced a pretty consistent playoff contender.

Look, I know the Steelers had a down year last year, and that I like the Steelers more than most teams. But, really, how the hell do you leave that organization off your moron list, Mr. Theismann?

Five (5) Super Bowl titles (including one two years ago), a track record of building through the draft, more consistently good than the Ravens, a rabid fan base in a tiny tiny market, an iconic owner who has completely reshaped diversity in the coach hirings, and unprecedented loyalty to coaches.

But no, instead we have the Ravens for being "pretty consistent playoff contenders," even though they've hitched their cart to Kyle Boller for three years when everyone in America saw he was terrible.

Instead, we have the Broncos, who have a megalomaniacal coach who drafts Maurice Clarett, signs Jake Plummer and has won exactly nothing without John Elway. But they have a "strong smart owner." Since Theismann didn't tell you his name, it's Pat Bowlen, and he's currently in a fight with a former owner about buying shares of the team.

And instead, we have the Indianapolis Colts, because they kept their coach. Who, exactly, would have "gone in a different direction" after Tony Dungy after almost went undefeated and then lost his son?

If this is really an evaluation of organizational skill over the long term (which is the only way I can think of to measure that ability), then you need the Steelers and the Niners. If he means organizations in the NFL right now, then I grant Indy, but you still need Pittsburgh. And then Dallas should probably win a playoff game or something before they make the list.

Inmate No. 41

Former major league relief pitcher Ugueth Urbina received a 14-year jail sentence for attempting to murder five people employed on his family's ranch in his native Venezuela.

I'm not really sure there's a joke here. Anyone who followed Urbina's major league career is aware that falls somwhere between "a little disturbed" and "batshit insane", but about two years ago, he had some problems that brought to light the downside of being a wealthy, Venezuelan export. A group of Venezuelan street toughs kidnapped Urbina's mother and held her hostage for five months, demanding a $6 million ransom. She was eventually rescued unharmed. Point is, big league players are wealthy, and in Venezuela, they're big-time targets for gold diggers.

Thing is, we don't know that anyone has anything to gain by having Urbina put away for 14 years; I'm not sure how effective the country's civil court system is. I guess it stands to reason that if you could just sue the pants off of someone there like you could here, nobody would have kidnapped Urbina's mother or shot Richard Hidalgo. It's really hard to say if this conviction has any validity. Everything we ever hear about the goings on in Venezuela has an over-arching theme of sketchiness.

Bold Prediction: On the next edition of Baseball Tonight, Steve Phillips will boldly predict during the Bold Prediction segment that with the Yankees in need of bullpen help by early June, George Steinbrenner will produce a brown paper bag full of unsequenced, unmarked, green evidence to the Venezuelan government that proves Urbina's innocence. Ugie will be released from prison, sign with the Yankees and carry them all the way to the World Series, while simultaneously patching up the A-Rod-Jeter friendship.

Two Pittsburgh Legends: Mr. Hampton, Meet Mr. Belvedere

Pictured above is what I can only assume is a normal, say, Tuesday afternoon for Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton.

I think the first question this raises is: How many bottles of Belvedere does it take to get a 325-lb nose tackle drunk enough that he'd dance on a bar shirtless and allow another man to caress his bare skin from behind?

And who is that culprit with the wandering touch? None other than Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad member Raymond Burgess, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Let me be the first to call out this Burgess guy as the locker room poison that he is. This guy needs to not be a part of the Steelers organization.

Will They or Won't They?

I know what you're all wondering... will the Pirates cut Dan Kolb, or give him $1.25 million to suck as a reliever?

From Today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Kolb was coming off two shaky outings -- which cast some doubt with management -- before retiring the only two batters he faced in the ninth inning of a 3-2 edging of the Boston Red Sox yesterday at City of Palms Park. And he did so in customary style, by getting grounders.

There is nothing customary about Dan Kolb getting outs

"Dan Kolb did a fine job," manager Jim Tracy said.

Well now I'm sold.

The Pirates must decide by tomorrow about Kolb. That is when he can execute the opt-out clause in his one-year, $1.25 million contract that allows him to declare free agency if he is not added to the 25-man roster, a right he surely will exercise. The other pitchers would remain Pirates property regardless.

Yeah, he'll be a hot commodity. Seriously, we might give this guy more than a million bucks rather than give his innings to Jonah Bayliss, who I think gets paid minimum wage, or either of the other reasonably good middle relievers (John Wasdin and Marty McLeary) who are part of a work-study exchange program that allows them to be paid in food stamps and cans of Alpo.

...The Pirates still have not decided whether to carry three catchers or two. If the backup is Humberto Cota, Ryan Doumit will be free to play some right field and first base. If not, Doumit will be the backup. Whichever way that goes determines whether there are four or five bench openings.

Hey sports fans, let's ask you: You can have either 1) two backup catchers who can't hit or 2) one backup who can't hit and the most powerful hitter in minor league history (Brad Eldred) on the bench.

Those bidding for the outfield are Nate McLouth, Luis Matos, Brad Eldred and maybe Doumit. Those bidding for the infield -- assuming Freddy Sanchez is out and Jose Castillo replaces him -- are Jose Hernandez and Don Kelly.

That is the most depressing thing I've ever read. I'm going to go kill myself now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cincinnati police to open precinct in Chris Henry's guest bathroom

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said this week that a tougher player conduct policy should be in place before the April 28-29 draft.

Chris Henry, relatively quiet of late, was cited for three traffic violations on March 21st, and had his car impounded. If you put the citations into a logical order, you can more or less deduce how this one played out. I like to think that in the normally excruciating period of time while the cops were running his license, he was sending taunting text messages to Pacman Jones.

Goodell, it was announced today, will meet with Pacman next week to discuss the latter's ongoing legal issues.

Since Goodell wants a new discipline policy in place by time the draft rolls around, we're short on time. Between Pacman and Henry, whomever ends up having gotten into more trouble by the time the new policy is adopted should have the policy named after him, i.e., the "Chris Henry rule".

I guess Tank Johnson should be included in this because:
1) being in jail doesn't preclude one from doing bad shit
2) his name is Tank.

If we had to look at this race, I'd say that Chris Henry has lead the charge for most of the last year-and-a-half, withstanding a surge up the standings by Johnson and an impressive post-draft, pre-season rap sheet from Santonio Holmes. Jones' weekend in Vegas alone might put him neck-and-neck with Henry, but there's still time. This isn't over.

Why Are We Here?

To write about sports.

Tim Kurkjian: Arbiter of Importance

Tim Kurkjian explains for you intrepid readers why baseball statistics are more important than other statistics.

His first couple reasons, that baseball is old and that milestone baseball stats are round (500, 300, 3,000, 60) are so are more iconic, I can get on board with. Even though 2,000 yards in a season is pretty easy to remember.

Then he goes crazy.

Baseball is the ultimate skill sport rather than an athletic sport such as basketball and football.

What? Even assuming you buy this odd statement, by that rationale, shouldn't hockey numbers be even more memorable, since you don't have to skate to play baseball?

The biggest, strongest and fastest guy doesn't always win in baseball (but it sure helps), which hasn't been affected as much as other sports by the growth and evolution of players.

Yeah, I can't think of a way that growth has affected baseball. Especially muscle growth aided by technology and science. Good thing the strongest, fastest moron with no skills always wins in football and basketball; just look at the hall-of-fame careers of Raghib Ismail and Greg Ostertag.

What happened in baseball in 1920, if not before, is relevant today because the game is played -- the bases are still 90 feet apart, the mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate -- in much the same way that it was 80-90 years ago.

1. So is basketball and football. Oh, right, the three-point line came in, so no one cares about Pete Maravich or Oscar Robertson. And instant replay challenges completely obsoletized Joe Montana's accomplishments.
2. Uhm, except for the fact that MLB lets black people play now.

The greatest of the great players of the early 1900s -- Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig -- would be great players in 2007 given all the advantages of today. That cannot be said of football and basketball. Offensive linemen in football 70 years ago weighed around 175 pounds; they couldn't compete with the 350-pound linemen of today. In the early years of basketball, some of the centers weren't as big as some of today's NBA point guards.

Well, there's still the whole white-people-only thing. And I don't know that they'd be great. I mean, Ty Cobb would be Scott Podsednik today. And he'd be in jail because he would have tried to assault the first black pitcher he faced. Also, Bill Russell was pretty tall. That Wilt guy was tall, too. They even nicknamed him "Stilt."

Consequently, numbers in those sports don't translate as well as they do in baseball.

Quick, name Cy Young's win total! If you can't, that's because it's over 500 and no one can possibly catch it, because it was in the Dead Ball Era.

Bob Cousy was a fabulous player who undoubtedly could play in today's NBA. But he never shot 40 percent from the field in any season of his Hall of Fame career. John Stockton, whose game was similar to Cousy's, shot over 50 percent for his career.

Joe DiMaggio struck out like 369 times in his 13 seasons. Alex Rodriguez, who is right near him on the HOF Monitor, has struck out more than 1,400. Clearly, they don't even play the same sport.

Baseball milestones and numbers play a big part in where we place a player in history, including whether he's a Hall of Famer.

Right, other sports don't care about numbers. Canton let Michael Irvin in because they like his fashion sense.

It's not the same in football where Art Monk retired as the leading receiver in history, and still isn't in the Hall of Fame.

Right, baseball would never not let in, say, the all-time hits leader. Also, Art Monk should be in the Hall of Fame.

There can be -- and we're not suggesting this is fair -- a big difference between 500 home runs and 493, as Fred McGriff might find out in a few years.

1. Kurkjian is now using the Royal We.
2. Might have something to do with players getting bigger, so the bar moves. Oh, right, baseball hasn't been affected by physical changes to people. So Rafael Palmeiro will definitely get in, with his 500/3,000, he's first ballot! And Mark McGwire rolled in easily this year.

Bert Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame, but you wonder if he already would be in Cooperstown had he finished with 300 wins instead of 287. Others want Maris in the Hall on the strength of one number: 61.

1. Kurkjian is now speaking in the second person.
2. So one guy, who isn't in, should be, despite not having a magic number, and another guy who's not in maybe should be because he has a magic number? What?

What is football's one number? Does it have one?

It's 12. I asked football. That slut.

Casual football fans can miscalculate Marino's passing yards by 10,000; casual baseball fans likely wouldn't miss the baseball equivalent by nearly that much.

I'm a decent-sized fan of both sports, and if a baseball player had 10,000 of anything to miscount by, that would be quite a record. But I can't get Nolan Ryan's K record within a few hundred without checking, and that's probably the same. I'm having trouble refuting this claim because there's not really much of a claim to refute.

Football numbers, it seems, don't have the same meaning as baseball numbers. Can anyone not working in the game explain in simple terms the Quarterback Rating? In basketball, what precisely is a steal (does the guy who tipped the pass, or the guy who recovered the errant pass, get the steal?), and how can that statistic be considered legitimate if it wasn't kept until after Jerry West retired?

We didn't keep track of WHIP in the 1920s. And no one even cared about home runs until Babe Ruth. How can any stats be considered legitimate? Stuff changes, Tim! Stats aren't perfect, they're just what we have!

And how can blocked shots be called a real statistic when they weren't kept until after Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell retired?

How can saves be a real statistic when no one used relievers for 80 years? Somehow, we manage.

Baseball's tracking of statistics always has been more thorough than the other sports. In press boxes across America, there is a person who tracks every foul ball, every time a pitcher throws over to first base to check the runner, every pitchout, etc.

There are scorekeepers in other sports, too. They keep score of meaningless statistics like "blocks" and "steals" and "sacks."

"Who says there's an unemployment problem in this country?'' Andy Van Slyke, then a Pirates outfielder, said years ago. "Just take the five percent unemployed and give them a statistic to follow.''

Tim Kurkjian just quoted Andy Van Slyke as support! Awesome!

Shut up, Tim.

Fortunately, he does for a while, and Steve Hirdt, VP of Elias, gives a very sound rationale behind Tim's claim:

"Offensive statistics in baseball are more legitimate for a player because they are more his own than someone in another sport, which are more team dependent. In baseball, everything is visible, it is easy to recognize. The confrontation between a batter and a pitcher is in plain sight without extraneous factors involved compared to other sports where someone has to get the ball to you, or runs interference for you in football, or sets a pick for you in basketball. Baseball is more an individual battle between a pitcher and batter. It makes individual stats more personal. And those statistics are less likely to fluctuate when you go to another team. In baseball, it's your turn to hit. Michael Jordan usually took the last shot, but other sports really don't have turns...

"In the socialization process in this country, when you open your first package of baseball cards, you are at first enthralled by the picture, then you turn the card over and say, 'Whoa, what's this on the back?' It opens a whole new world to kids of a young age. It makes a difference. They begin to develop an interest in baseball through statistics.''

Hmm, actually plausible. Cool. But then Tim says more things.

An interest in baseball statistics has become, for some, an obsession. A colleague from ESPN recently asked me to name the 10 guys who have hit .370 or better, starting with the 1980 season. Using a couple of hours that I didn't have, I couldn't rest until I'd made my 10 guesses.

Actually, I've changed my mind. If it keeps Tim Kurkjian from writing for a few hours, I'm behind it all the way.