Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sometimes It's Better to Be Lucky, Fat and White

Okay, so it's time for a word on the suckfest that is Notre Dame football, and the ongoing debate about whether Charlie Weis should be fired.

The usual arguments in favor of firing Charlie Weis go something like this: His team sucks, shows no signs of getting better, and they fired Ty Willingham and Bob Davey for records that were the same at the same point in their tenures. Weis' winning seasons came with Ty Willingham's recruits.

The usual arguments against firing Charlie Weis go something like this: He's fat, and he's white.

All of that said, it makes perfect sense that Notre Dame is not going to fire him. I hate Notre Dame, I'm glad they're keeping Captain Fat because it will make them easier to beat, and even I don't think it's nuts. And while Notre Dame's athletics decisions often appear to be unfair and at least a bit racist, not firing Weis isn't.

For one, he got a ten-year extension. True, that was for the same success Willingham hadin his first year and change, and all Willingham got was fired. Maybe he should have been whiter. Davey, too, got fired after some success. Maybe he should have been fatter. Or maybe the AD at Notre Dame just jumped too quickly, made a poor decision, and offered a crappy contract. But either way, now that the contract is there, it costs a lot more to fire Weis than it did to fire the other guys. So there's a real reason.

Two, the reason ND fired Willingham was because they wanted Urban Meyer. That's not fair, you might say, and you might say it's at least politically incorrect, and you'd be right. I thought it was awful at the time to do that to a professional like Willingham, and I confess to thinking there might be racism involved. But it wasn't all about performance. The fact that they didn't get Meyer (who won a title at Florida) doesn't make the decision to can Willingham less calculated. There's no stud coach out there to pursue right now, and perhaps ND has learned from the Meyer debacle that they can't attract a stud coach now, anyway. Again, perhaps not fair, but at least a real reason.

Third, if it was bullshit to fire Willingham, as I believe it was, it's still bullshit to fire Weis for the same record. That's just logic. Does it make Notre Dame hypocritical, or even willing to treat a black coach differently? Sure, it could mean that. It could also mean that the powers that be have learned from their mistakes, and are treating this differently. Now, I don't think anyone there has learned anything, and I hope failure comes to all of them. But the point is, nothing about the decision has changed, except that it is now more expensive to fire the coach, and there's no great alternative now. So, from a logic standpoint, the decision to keep him makes sense.

In conclusion: I hate Notre Dame, and I think athletics there are a bunch of hypocritical jerks who need some sensitivity training. But, in spite of their innate incompetencies, they're probably getting this one right. Weis has done nothing to warrant better treatment, he's just gotten lucky. Because of his fame, the lack of great coaches on the market, and an idiot contract, Weis' suck ceiling is just higher than Davey's or Willingham's.

At least there's every reason to believe Weis will keep sucking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The War Room

We here at Free Tank Carter have made no secret of our love for Deadspin's love for The Dugout. But here's something we have kept secret: our love for theater. And it's in that spirit that we bring you a one-act play inspired by the HBO original series "Hard Knocks".
In "The War Room", playwright KillYourFace5000 tries to imagine a conversation in the Steelers' war room on Draft Day, 2008.

Kevin Colbert: Coach, Mendenhall was rated fifteen spots higher than Felix Jones by our scouts, and he's still on the board.



: Coach, we desperately need to take Kendall Langford here.


Dick LeBeau: ::icy cold stare::


: Make the ball GO!!!! RUN THE CLOCK OUT WITH DRAWS!!!!!!!

: You heard the man. We'd like to run more draws and control the game from a three-and-out standpoint.

: Bruce, let me tell you a little something about strategy. At home, I have a PlayStation 3. You know what I play? I play EA Sports NFL Head Coach 09. And you know who my left tackle is? IT'S MAX MOTHER F-ING STARKS AND HE HAS AN 88 RATING NOW BECAUSE I DEVELOPED HIM PROPERLY BECAUSE HE IS A SUPERIOR NATURAL TALENT AT LEFT TACKLE AND ALSO BECAUSE MARVEL SMITH CONTRACTED MRSA AND DIED DURING TEH PLAYOFFS. MAX STARKS!!!! THINK ABOUT IT, ASSHOLE!!!!
::walks out/slams door!::


: Is Martavius Prince available?

:Is that a real guy?

::Fast forward several minutes. The coaching staff sits around a table with a speakerphone -- a RINGING speakerphone::


Tiki Barber: Uh, Coach, this is Tiki.

: ::silence::

: Tiki. Barber. Tiki Barber.


: Actually, I really dislike contact. I'm really trying to be more a Matt Lauer type than a Jim Brown type, you know? That's why I'm calling you live from the studio here at the WORLDWIDE LEADER. Plus, I'm not in the draft pool this year. I was drafted in 1997.

: ...

: Uh, coach?


Tiki: Coach, we're on the air.

: ::grabs phone:: ::hangs up::

: rowr? purr.

Meanwhile, at a payphone outside the Steelers' facility, Kevin Colbert soldiers on.

: (on phone): Rashard Mendenhall! Time to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. Are you excited?

Rashard Mendenhall: ::fumbles::

: Rashard?

: ::fumbles, falls down::

: You there, buddy? We're going to use our pick to draft you.

: Coach, my interests outside of football include poetry and alligators. I could give up football at any time to pursue a career in poetry. Or alligators.

: Son, we love how well-rounded and intelligent a young man you are. Are you ready to be a Pittsburgh Steelers?

::breaks shoulder::


Thursday, October 16, 2008

October is the cruelest month

It's not enough when your baseball team is a national joke. It's not enough that, even in the best case scenario, your team is still at least two years away from being competitive. You haven't had enough hurting yet. It's not enough that the team whose record for consecutive losing seasons it just tied is on its way to the World Series for the first time in 15 years, or that the team they're likely going to play for the title didn't even exist the last time your squad finished over .500. Or that the best player on the latter team was someone your organization deliberately passed over to draft Bryan Bullington first overall.

It doesn't matter that you realize you've hit rock-bottom when you find yourself hoping that your team can come away from the winter meetings having signed a player like Brett Tomko. You don't hurt enough, says the universe, when you realize the the package of players acquired for your shortstop doesn't include anyone you'd have any reason to be excited about.

No, sir. The universe didn't think you had it too bad, what with the girl you loved leaving you for someone else just a week before you lose your job because the economy has gone straight to hell, so it decided to just do what it could to take you down a peg.

The new iPhone commercial shows how you can use your new iPhone to -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- watch video of Ryan Braun hitting a walk-off grand slam off of Zach Duke in Milwaukee. The hurting just never stops. It never stops.

So if in the next few days, you read about some deranged would-be blogger taking to the top of the Clemente Bridge with Zambelli fireworks strapped to his chest, muttering something about how we shouldn't trade Jason Schmidt, you'll know who that is.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Band together, men!

And I feel OK saying "men" because I have done no research on how the above-the-elbow fashion statement by female athletes.

NYTimes reports, athletes in the NBA, NCAA and NFL are not using wristbands to collect sweat. They are used to make a fashion statement.

At first read, I thought: "This is non-news, and when these multi-million dollar men want to sponsor the advancement of my education and enhance the quality of my life, I will try to care about their need for creative expression through fashion." Then I thought some more about it.

These athletes like the ones named, usually Black around my age and often only celebrated when they win or called out when they do something wrong (like we all haven't had our moments of drunkness when we think that transvestite underrage hooker is our aunt Pat needing a ride home and we really didn't know that our backseat passenger had killed 4 people in 2 states and had a purse full of narcotics. c'mon. and did we really know that our neighbors were cockfighting in our basements? we've ALL been there!)

And I thought of how much I love to celebrate and how stifled celebration is. We're allowed to critique our every misstep, but these athletes get punished for too much dancing, for too much self-acclaim. If they are the fastest, they have to be humble about it. If they hit the hardest, they have to reach out and help their opponent up. No time or space for a genuine and authentic ME moment. It's about the team, never the player. And I'm not against this mentality, but too much of it is just what leads to the negative behavior that makes Black athletes a walking target for trouble and danger.

How often do we think of athlete as artist? Hardly ever unless we're in the midst of a heated debate about who had the prettiest jump shot of all time.

So a guy wants to make a statement. He wants to stand out. He has something that makes him feel special. He doesn't put a wristband on his wrist. In the midst of Wall St. crashing, it may not really matter, but to that guy... it does, and to that guy, CONGRATULATIONS, YOU'RE A HUMAN! You want to matter and you should even if it's to no one else but yourself. You deserve that much. (And I really do think marrying me would be a good look for your career and the further development of civilized society. Help me help you.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Sports Terminology: Suck Ceiling

So my buddy Jim (with an assist from me) coined the term "Suck Ceiling" for players who will be given immense opportunity to perform badly. It originated in a baseball discussion about middle relievers, but has plenty of use across the sports universe. Ingredients for a high suck ceiling include:
  • Indifferent fan base/small media market/Pittsburgh!
  • Lousy GM or front office
  • "old school" manager who places value on vague, ethereal qualities like
  • "grittiness" or "gamer"-hood, usually in combination with being white
  • High draft pick status
  • Big contract based on career year
  • Early dominance or hot streak to start career, especially against rivals or in postseason
  • Championship rings
  • Left-handedness (especially for pitchers)
Current examples of high suck ceiling include:
  • Craig Hansen- He's got a huge arm, a small head, and now he's in Pittsburgh, where he could rack up historically bad numbers before anyone yanks him.
  • Johnny Cueto- Jesus-like start means that Dusty Baker will never, ever remove him from the starting rotation. If he's terrible, it could be years before anyone acts accordingly.
  • Brian Wilson (closer for SF, not Beach Boy)- Who's going to take his job?
Past examples include:
  • Shelly Duncan
  • Mike Williams (Pirates closer, highest ERA ever to make the All-Star team)
  • Kwame Brown (PF, Washington Wizards and LA Lakers)
  • Rob Johnson (QB, Buffalo Bills)
Suggestions and additions welcomed.

Eulogy for Jason Bay

Friends, thank you all very much for coming today.

::crowd mumbles::

Please open your programs to JeffKings, chapter 4, verse 38.

"And Carl Barger brought forth upon the Pirates a great blessing, and his name was Syd Thrift. And Syd Thrift begat Larry Doughty, and Larry Doughty begat Ted Simmons. And for many years, the disciples of Thrift grew and harvested the talent. And the people drank from the keg of glory. And it was good. But when the time came for Ted Simmons to step aside, a great shadow was cast across the land, and its name was Cam Bonifay. And Cam Bonifay pillaged the talent and stole from the people. And thus began sixteen years of darkness.

"But little did Cam Bonifay know he would inadvertently plant the seeds that would one day grow into a stunning flower -- a symbol of hope for a generation that had known only sorrow. And so it was, on March 30th, 1997 that Cam Bonifay signed left-handed specialist Ricardo Rincon away from the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League. And Ricardo Rincon was effective against left-handed hitters, which promptly punched his ticket out of our fair city. And so Rincon begat Giles. And so it was, with the passing of Bonifay and the coming of Littlefield, that no good player would go unpaid, and no paid player would go un-traded. And so Giles begat Bay and Perez and "Bar Fight" Cory Stewart. And Perez looked down upon hitters from the mountain top and said, "Bring the heat. Lotsa heat." And the hitters fanned. And Bay calmly stared down every mound opponent from the valley below. But he was not afraid, and worked the count. And through the darkness, the home runs soared."

Friends, we gather here today to close the book on Jason Bay. What can be said of Jason Bay?

::crowd mumbles::

Jason Bay...Jason Bay...was a baseball player.

Jason Bay was actually a very good baseball player. If you think about it, it's a little unusual.

He didn't hit for particularly high average, but his average was always respectable. He wasn't the most powerful player in the league, but he launched his share of homers and doubles to the alleys. He didn't have the strongest arm, but it certainly wasn't the weakest. He didn't steal the most bases, but he certainly wasn't slow. He wasn't the best defender in the league, but he always took good routes to fly balls, and made his share of spectacular catches. He didn't have the finest strike zone judgment, but he was a remarkably patient hitter, and his ability to get on base was the foundation of his game.

While there was no one aspect of his game that was particularly noteworthy, it was the sum of his tools that made Jason Bay a complete ballplayer.

Also, there was this -- and its importance can't be stressed enough: Bay was, by every account and indication, a fine, intelligent, level-headed human being. After years of Pirates players -- especially good ones -- bringing bad attitudes to work every day, Jason Bay was a breath of fresh air. He wasn't overly emotional or excitable, and he never had the "aw, shucks" air about him that has made Jack Wilson stick. But in an environment like an under-talented baseball clubhouse, where losing can foster the kind of negativity that spreads like kudzu, Jason Bay kept a level head. Whether he was playing well or playing poorly, he wasn't loud, he wasn't flashy, he never popped off or ran his mouth, never sat in the press room telling tales out of school. He didn't complain, and he was refreshingly and tactfully honest.

I'm a numbers man. I own a copy of "Moneyball", I read regularly, and I'll argue with you from now until next week that batting average is stupid. There's no question in my mind that in their respective primes, Brian Giles was a better player than Jason Bay. Slightly, but definitively. That said, I would take Jason Bay to as my left fielder any day of the week over Brian Giles. Bay is and will always be a guy I want on my team.

And while I'm certainly upset to see him go, there's something about the way they're doing business around here now that makes me think that this really is for the better, and that everything is going to be okay. If Jason Bay is the last great Pirate we eulogize before the franchise gets over the hump, I'll know that feeling was justified.

x-posted as comment on the PBC Blog.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Dejan reports:

The Pirates traded All-Star left fielder Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox as part of a three-team deal in their only move before Major League Baseball's 4 p.m. deadline.

Boston sent outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the deal. The Pirates will receive Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche and Avery Morris.

And then...

Nothing happened.

Nobody has any idea what is going on

Peter Gammons reported last night:

As midnight approached Wednesday night on the East Coast, officials from the Marlins and Red Sox said a deal involving Manny Ramirez was not done. Indications from Pittsburgh were that the Pirates were not satisfied with the players they were receiving in exchange for sending Jason Bay to Boston. And in California, Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, said he had been told nothing, which means nothing has been completed in terms of Ramirez's waiving his no-trade rights or in completing paperwork to send to the commissioner's office.

So, the complicated three-way deal might go down close to Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Ramirez wants out, and is willing to go to Florida. The Marlins want him -- and what he means to their pennant chances and pursuit of a new ballpark. The Red Sox clearly are willing to finance Ramirez's exit.

If this is true, it would appear that Neal Huntington is holding this thing up. The Pirates are holding the Marlins, Red Sox and Rays hostage right now to get the deal that they want. Even if the deal doesn't get done, how freaking encouraging is this? This could go down in history as the day that our organization grew a pair. Huntington doesn't need to trade Bay, and he knows it. But he's got two teams who want to get a deal done involved, and it seems to be at the point where they need the Pirates involved if the deal is going to get done. They NEED the Pirates. But the Pirates are going to get what they want, and they're not going to be pushed around. Brilliant.


Dejan's reports this morning seem to confirm that the Pirates are directing traffic on this deal. Same with Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Fox's Ken Rosenthal appears to have jumped on this bandwagon, too, but I'm not going to link you to his page because it just keeps crashing my web browser.

Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus reports that Marlins prospect Ryan Tucker is off the table, and that Manny has already waived his 10-5 rights.
In a related story, intrepid Trib reporter Rob Biertempfel is making excuses:

Trib policy precludes me from publishing rumors or scenarios attributed to anonymous sources, even if those sources work for the Pirates. So as the minutes tick away up to 4 p.m., we'll deal here with firm, confirmed reports.

Yeah, ever since you guys totally blew that Steelers head coaching hire and put Russ Grimm's ugly mug on A-1, you've been forced to cease practicing journalism. Also, "...firm, confirmed..."? This is all the work you have to do today besides reloading every few minutes. You couldn't write a better phrase than that? It's not even worth the thirty-two seconds of effort it would take to keep "firm" from appearing in back-to-back words?

Funny. You know who only reports confirmed information? Dejan Kovacevic. And he's got a crazy amount of content on the PBC Blog, because he's really good at his job.
This Baseball Prospectus profile of Bay seems to indicate that the Pirates might be trading him at just the right time, as a collapse could be on the horizon.
Tailgate Crashers runs down the 20 worst MLB trades of the last 15 years. You'll recognize some names.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pirates acquire Brett Favre, send Jason Bay to Red Sox in three-team deal

Okay, so not so much. Favre doesn't really fill a need for the Bucs, but that doesn't necessarily preclude them from trading for him.

The scuttlebutt now, according to various internet sources:

The Pirates are involved in working on a three-team deal that would send Jason Bay to Boston, Manny Ramirez to the Marlins and a heapin' mess of prospects right here to Pittsburgh. The Bucs could wind up with Jed Lowrie, Mike Stanton, maybe a pitcher. Right now, it appears the commissioner's office has been notified of the deal, but the prospects changing hands remain the lone aspect still to be determined. Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus breaks it down as follows:

    Marlins get Manny Ramirez, one prospect (Red Sox), and cash (likely covering Ramirez’s remaining salary)

    Pirates get Jeremy Hermida and three prospects (two Marlins, one Red Sox)

    Red Sox get Jason Bay and John Grabow

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Different takes on the Nady/Marte deal

There's still a lot of grumbling going on about the Pirates shipping Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

A lot of people who seemed to think that the Pirates got ripped off when the rumored transaction included injured minor league pitchers Phil Coke and George Kontos over Karstens and McCutchen flipped when the actual transaction was announced. But there seems to still be a decently-sized camp of naysayers, including Bill Mazeroski.

From Sunday's New York Daily News:
"I can't believe it!" Mazeroski said. "We just traded two of our best players for four guys I never heard of. How could we do this?"

Metric Bill Mazeroski uses to evaluate the talent and quality of baseball players:
1) Has he heard of this guy?
1a. If the answer is "yes", the players must be good.
1b. If the answer is "no", the players must be bad.

In addition to the obvious elements that went into the Pirates deciding to make this trade -- lack of organizational pitching depth, lack of superbly talented prospects, long-term control/contract status of the players they were trading versus that of the players they were getting, let's look at some of the criteria by which Pirates GM Neal Huntington evaluates the talent and quality of baseball players:

"We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating."

Any metrics noticeably absent from Neal's list? If you guessed HIHOTG (Have I Heard Of This Guy?), you're right. Give yourself a pat on the back.

But you know, Neal probably thinks he made a pretty good trade here, being the GM of the team and all. So he's biased. Let's see what someone whose job it is to write about baseball thinks. Joe Sheehan, I choose you!

Marte's return may actually put an end to an era in which the Yankees struggled to find effective lefty relievers...Since being dealt by the Yankees to Pittsburgh in 2001 -- for Enrique Wilson -- Marte has gone on to post a 3.05 ERA in 445 2/3 innings...It is possible to have a good bullpen with no left-hander -- the 2004 Angels won the AL West with two innings of left-handed relief all season -- but having a good lefty increases a club's tactical options. Marte is a good one, and a significant piece for the Yankees.

Nady, 29, is more famous but less important. He has established himself as a slightly above-average hitter, a .270 EqA guy who plays acceptable defense in the outfield corners. He's not the .380/.530 guy his current stat line shows; he's having a typical Xavier Nady season with 50 points of batting average randomly dropped in. Remember Gary Matthews Jr. in 2006? That's Nady this year. Even the established-value Nady, however, is an upgrade for a Yankees team that misses Hideki Matsui. Brett Gardner and Justin Christian have combined to bat .188/.267/.263, albeit with 8-for-9 on the bases and some pretty good defense. Nady is about a win better than that, maybe a little more, for the rest of the season. If you estimate Marte's value as about a win -- it's hard to pin down because his value is leverage-affected -- this is a two-win upgrade for the Yankees.

Two wins. Hey, two wins can be the difference when you're in the AL East. And now with Posada on the shelf for the rest of the season, the Yankees might be glad they made this trade when they did, because if they'd waited until Posada elected to have season-ending surgery, they'd have gone to the bargaining table a bit more desperate than they'd have liked.

This is the type of deal that Neal Huntington needed to make. Considering that he flipped an impending free agent (Marte) and a player having a career half, this is a very good deal for the Pirates' first-year general manager.

This is an indelicate comparison, but if you want the optimistic viewpoint, think about Hanley Ramirez, who put up a desultory 2005 season in Double-A, creating whispers similar to what we've heard about Tabata. Three years later, Ramirez is as close to untouchable as any player in the game. That's the kind of talent Huntington is trying to add to Pittsburgh's system, and if the name and the performance aren't thrilling to Pirates fans, the thought process and the approach should be.

Karstens, 25, is a fringe major leaguer who could help patch a decimated rotation. He's probably better than John Van Benschoten. Ohlendorf, who turns 26 next week, is a bit better than Karstens and may have a bit of development left. He could be a low-impact starter in the NL. McCutchen is very polished, and...he has "above-average command of an average-velocity fastball and outstanding curve." Like the other pitchers in this deal, McCutchen is older, at 25, and could upgrade the poor Pirates' staff pretty soon. Perhaps low on upside, but with a good chance of providing a dozen WARP for less than $2 million from now until 2011.

I don't know. It sounds to me like the Pirates got a pretty good deal. I don't necessarily think that anyone fleeced anyone else, which is fine. You don't have to rip another team off to get value in a trade. What do you think now, Maz?

"I can't believe it!"

For serious! It's been a while since the Pirates made a logical, even-handed trade like this to unload guys they weren't going to retain and pick up some bona fide young talent in return that will be able to help the club very soon.

Very encouraging. Very.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Soon there will be no more dances in the end zone...

So to make this interesting (and easy for me)... I'll just respond to this article by just inserting my commentary, so it's like you get to read my mind while I read the news. Sounds fun, right? Here goes...

NEW YORK (AP)—The NFL is stepping up its monitoring of on-field player activities to ensure that no one is flashing the hand signals of street gangs.

Are you serious? Gang signs to whom?

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the league had hired experts What? to look at game tapes and identify players or team officials who might be using suspected gang signals. Violators would be warned and disciplined if the episodes recurred.

League officials said Tuesday that avoiding gang-related activities has long been stressed. Apparently not enough...

They said the scrutiny was intensified after the shooting death of Denver cornerback Darrent Williams in 2007 after Williams was involved in a dispute with known gang members. Anti-gang information is included in orientation literature and stressed in the annual mandatory league meeting for rookies. In the same way scholastic aptitude is stressed when these players are in college or more like "Here's millions of dollars, new young athlete. Let me show how to invest and live off this money properly so when your career is over in the next decade or so you're not living in your mom's basement." is stressed in orientation?

The NFL took further notice after Paul Pierce of the NBA’s Boston Celtics was fined $25,000 in April for what the league said was a “menacing gesture” toward the Atlanta Hawks’ bench. “I 100 percent do not in any way promote gang violence or anything close to it.” Pierce said in a statement. “I am sorry if it was misinterpreted that way at Saturday’s game.” Clearly a misinterpretation. I wish Paul Pierce would be in a gang, and I wish in that scenario I was his wife, so I could make his life the living hell he would be apparently hoping for.

The Times said that was the precipitating incident for the NFL.

“We were always suspicious that might be happening,” WTF? it quoted Mike Pereira, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, as saying of gang-related signals. “But the Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light. When he was fined … that’s when we said we need to take a look at it and see if we need to be aware of it.” Oh to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting!

Most senior NFL officials were at a league outing Tuesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.

These people make too much money for this bullshit. For real. Between the steroids and tragically dangerous off-field/court behavior, I am just about falling out of love with supporting professional sports. It's so hard. Really. And it's not necessarily the athletes... sometimes it's the entire system. It just makes me think too much about what's really going on to enjoy the damn game!

Gang signs in the NFL? C'mon guys...

Friday, July 11, 2008

We all need to calm down

It's not like the Steelers are leaving town. They're really not.

But ever since news broke earlier this week that Dan Rooney and his son, team president Art II, have been involved in a two-year power struggle with the other Rooney brothers over control of the family's 80 percent stake in the team, everyone in the county has been going totally nuts because there's now a possibility that somebody besides the Rooneys will wind up owning the Steelers.

Brief recap:
Art Rooney, Sr. (henceforth referred to as "The Chief") owned 80 percent of the Steelers. Barney McGinley owned the other 20 percent.
The Chief died, leaving a 16 percent share of the team to each of his sons, and control of the franchise to eldest son Dan. Barney McGinley died, leaving his 20 percent stake to his family.
Dan and brother Art Jr.
Art Jr. helped engineer some absolutely ridiculous drafts and savvy personnel movement that led directly to the team winning four Super Bowls in the '70s.
Dan fired Art in 1987.

That's probably where the division begins. Now, the other Rooney brothers, who are in charge of the family's real estate, dog track, horse track and casino holdings need to divest themselves of their stake in the team to comply with NFL regulations surrounding gambling.

Dan has been trying to buy out his brothers' stakes in the team for going on two years now, and -- in a classic example of why it's bad to mix business with family -- the gradual falling out that began with Dan firing Art Jr. has led to the non-Dan brothers hiring Goldman Sachs to help place a value on the shares and begin lining up investors. Their other motivation for doing this -- and this is where it gets slightly complicated, is that should the non-active Rooney brothers (Art Jr., Tim, Patrick and John) elect for their children to inherit them, their kids would wind up paying about a 45 percent tax on the estimated value of the shares. The entire value of the franchise is estimated at between $900 million and $1.2 billion. So if you're a Rooney grandchild, getting 16% of the Steelers is certainly cooler than inheriting your grandfather's recliner, but you'd wind up having to sell most of it just to pay off the taxes anyway. And we're completely ignoring the whole "sense of entitlement" issue, but that's neither here nor there.

Point is, there's no way the Rooneys are keeping the Steelers a family-owned team, at least for very long. Even if Dan's brothers decide to give him something of a family discount, there's no way they're going to take less than market value for their stakes in the team, and nor should they. It's entirely possible that they could agree to some arrangement that would result in Dan buying part of their shares, and someone else buying another part.

But who?

Enter Stanley Druckenmiller. Stanley Druckenmiller is a billionaire hedge fund manager
who made his money working with George Soros, king of the billionaire hedge fund managers. Stanley Druckenmiller is a native Pittsburgher who, though he lives in New York, still comes back to watch the Steelers and play golf. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy who shelled out half a million bucks so that Oakmont could make the course improvements necessary to be awarded last year's U.S. Open. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy who reportedly paints his face black and gold during Steelers games. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy whose expressed interest in buying the Steelers goes back a full decade. Stanley Druckenmiller is a guy who, though he hasn't made a formal offer for the Rooneys' stake in the team, has already guaranteed that if he buys it -- and he's said he wants to buy all of it -- the team will stay in Pittsburgh, and that Dan Rooney can run it for as long as he wants.

Druckenmiller could wind up buying part of four brothers' stake, but it seems more likely that he'd wind up with about 64 percent -- all four brothers' shares -- and a controlling stake. This would be the easiest way to ease the Rooneys out after Dan either dies or is no longer involved with the team. (Art II could, in theory, hang on for a little while, and he'd probably take over Dan's ownership stake, but don't expect him to maintain control of the daily operations of the team for long after Dan is out of the picture. And nor should he.)

This is a uniformly good idea. Of the 6 billion or so people on the planet, there are very few who could pull off an operation like the one Druckenmiller is attempting. There are even fewer who give a rat's ass where the team plays, as long as it makes them money. Of those who fit the first two criteria, even fewer would let someone else -- someone they didn't hire -- to continue to run the team. The Steelers can't remain in the Rooney family for ever, and if there's to be anything resembling a smooth transition from their reign to the next generation of ownership, there does not appear to be a better option than this, likely because there isn't. This guy isn't Mark Cuban. He's not George Steinbrenner. He's not putting together an ownership group or out gathering up corporate investors. He's a local boy who loves the team and wants to buy it with a suitcase full of cash that he carries with him at all times.

The Steelers are not going anywhere. And assuming this deal gets done, which it should very soon, Steelers fans should consider themselves lucky to have the strong senses of community and tradition that breed respect the kind of respect for the franchise Druckenmiller seems to acknowledge -- respect that's especially helpful when acknowledged and felt by the very, very wealthy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Why I'm a moron, #347

The Hardball Times says so.

Not going to go into an in-depth analysis, but suffice to say, a book, aptly titled The Book, argues for the legitimacy of "the second leadoff hitter theory."

Quoth the HBT:
You gain more by having a good hitter bat directly before your top hitters than you lose by giving your pitcher a few more plate appearances each year. I'm not talking about Jason Marquis or Dontrelle Willis. I'm talking about your bad-hitting pitchers. Move them up a spot. In fact, this strategic guideline argues AGAINST moving Marquis and Willis up in the order.

A couple of extra runs doesn't sound like a lot, but if you follow theses guidelines, you could gain 10-15 runs over a full season. About a win a year.

I knew it was you, Marian. You broke my heart.

A quick list of things I know:
1) The Detroit Red Wings are a very good hockey team.
2) The Pittsburgh Penguins are also a very good hockey team.
3) The Red Wings and the Penguins were the two best teams in hockey last year.
4) The Red Wings will be awesome next year because pretty much all of their players remain under contract.
5) The Penguins are at risk of losing most of their roster to unrestricted free agency.
6) The Penguins realized weeks, if not months ago that they would not be able to keep both Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa.
7) The Penguins decided to try and keep Hossa.
8) The Penguins offered Marian Hossa a five-year contract worth about $7 million a year.
9) Marian Hossa decided to test the free agent market, which is perfectly reasonable. If someone wants to offer him totally insane sums of money, he should at least entertain those offers.
10) Marian Hossa could have made a lot of money and had a chance at a Stanley Cup by staying in Pittsburgh, which...
11) Would have afforded him the opportunity to remain on a line with the best center in the game, who probably deserves some credit for changing Hossa's reputation for disappearing in the playoffs.
12) Marian Hossa signed with Detroit today. One year, $7.4. That's just $400k more than the Penguins were offering, which, when you're making $7 million to start with, is completely negligible.
13) The Steelers are so, SO screwed at guard this year.

Here's what I don't get: If Hossa just wanted a short-term deal that would allow him to play for a contending team and maybe increase his free-market value for next year, why not re-up with Pittsburgh? I mean, maybe I'm just spewing sour grapes here, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And unless another team -- Boston, Edmonton, whatever -- was going to dig deep into pocket to pay this guy $8.5 a year, why the hell would he leave?

I guess the short answer is that the Wings are still the better team, and they have less on the line this off-season, whereas the Penguins, with or without him, could wind up in a temporary state of rebuilding.

Whatever. I'm completely flabbergasted by this. But Ray Shero, to his credit, managed to lock up Malkin and Dupuis, and even added another goon (goodbye, Georges?). If they can lock up Brooks Orpik, this thing won't be totally broken, but they'll be back to about where they were before the start of last season from a personnel standpoint.

Worth noting:

Joe Buck hates sports. Colin Cowherd loves Joe Buck.
Everyone with half a brain hates both Joe Buck and Colin Cowherd.

Sean Avery is a vile human being.
Non-Penguins fans tell me I'd hate Jarkko Ruutu if he didn't play for my team. I don't know if that's true, but even if he winds up going somewhere else, I'll never stop liking Jarkko Ruutu. He's a neat little player with some legitimate and entertaining hockey skills, and he roughs guys up. He's a thorn in a lot of sides, but he's our thorn. And even when he's giving the Penguins fits next year or in two or three years, I'll always love the guy. Same with guys like Darius Kasparitis. That said, Sean Avery is someone I would never ever want on my hockey team under any circumstances. Ever. He belongs in a Flyers uniform.

Pirates manager John Russell really likes the idea of hitting the pitcher in the No. 8 spot of the batting order!
If hitting his insistence at Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Luis Rivas, Nyjer Morgan, Tracy Morgan, J.P. Morgan, John Hunt Morgan, Harry Morgan and anyone but Nate McLouth in the leadoff spot wasn't enough, now Johnny LaRussella is working to find new ways to stifle his own offense, presumably with the hope that it will make the pitching look less awful by comparison. What the hell kind of game does he think this is? Does he know that pitchers aren't especially good hitters, and that in one league, pitchers don't even bat? Has anyone in the organization bothered to tell him that there's no remotely reasonable argument based in fact or logic to suggest that it's even close to a good idea? Does he think Tom Gorzelanny is Old Hoss Radbourn? Do you think anyone told him that Old Hoss Radbourn died 111 years ago, which is the last time, other than during Babe Ruth's career, that it made sense for any pitcher to hit higher in the order than ninth? I'm now convinced that the Pirates are as good as they are despite John Russell's attempts to cripple the offense like a corrupt hedge fund executive. Even if you're of the opinion that a manager has little to no impact on the performance of a team -- and most right-thinking baseball people are -- how can anyone with two-thirds of a brain and at least six weeks of a fourth-grade education not be totally infuriated by this?

Sorry. I got a little worked up there. I just need to take my medicine. Where is my medicine?

(Side note: Here is a photo of the 1886 Boston Beaneaters. See that guy, top row left, giving you the finger? That's Old Hoss Radbourn. And he's giving you the finger because you do really dumb shit like hitting the pitcher in the eighth slot of the batting order.)

Happy 145th anniversary to Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, who, on this day in 1863, executed an unorthodox and risky left-wing, right-wheel bayonet charge on Little Round Top at Gettysburg, preserving the left flank of the Union army. It was the decisive skirmish in the decisive battle of the war whose influence we feel even to this day.

On a side note, if the Battle of Gettysburg had been a regulation hockey game, the Three Stars would almost certainly look like this:
3) Brig. Gen. John Buford
2) Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren
1) Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I leave you with The Beardown, which today brings us pictures of hot girls who are also athletes. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Random Friday crap

We've missed a lot. Work has been kind of rough going lately. But again, we owe you nothing.

Just a few quick items...

John Russell has used five different hitters -- Nate McLouth (.375 OPB), Nyjer Morgan (.323), Freddy Sanchez (.262), Jack Wilson (.327) and Luis Rivas (.269) -- at the top of the lineup this season.

I understand, to an extent, the desire to have a stereotypical, by-the-book, scrappy, quick-footed leadoff guy, but how grossly can you ignore on-base percentage before it comes back to bite you? McLouth and Sanchez are the only ones from that group whose career OBP is anywhere near the acceptable .340, and Sanchez, apart from having an awful year to date, isn't a particularly patient hitter.

I fail to see the logic in Russell's strategies, and I'm starting to think that the offense is scoring runs despite him. Why does he insist on constructing the top of his lineup in this manner?

It would make more sense to have McLouth (4.00 pitches per plate appearance) and Bay (team-leading 4.18) hitting in the top two spots of the order, given their proven ability to get on base. How about...

Nate McLouth (L)
Jason Bay (R)
Ryan Doumit (S)
Xavier Nady (R)
Adam LaRoche (L)
Jack Wilson (R)
Doug Mientkiewicz (L)/Jose Bautista (R)
Freddy Sanchez (R)

There. What's wrong with that? How would that lineup not score 14 runs a game?


The Penguins are screwed, part one.

The Penguins are screwed, part two.

Here's what Ray Shero has to work with:

The NHL's salary-cap ceiling for the 2008-09 season will be $56.7 million.

Under terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement, teams will be compelled to have a payroll of at least $40.7 million.

The cap ceiling will come into play over the next few days, as teams make decisions about attempting to re-sign some of their own free agents before they go on the open market July 1, and prepare to pursue players from other clubs on that day.

Bob Smizik filled in for Jerry Micco in the PG sports chat this week. It's pretty bad, but here's a highlight:

Dwight_Schrute: Did you see Wannstedt behind the plate last night? I think the custodians at PNC Park are still cleaning up the peanut shells he left there..

Bob Smizik: Nothing wrong with enjoying peanuts.

I do not know why I think this is as hilarious as I do.

Finally, the P-G has a fitting tribute to one of the great Oakland characters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tyler Kennedy is a spaz

A few notes on the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals:
  • Every time I've ever live-blogged a game involving a team I actively root for, it ends in disaster. This goes back two or three years, when people were paying me to do this kind of thing, and Pitt football would get absolutely shellacked by powerhouses like Michigan State. In fact, looking back over my old site, I hadn't live blogged a game since last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Pens went down to Ottawa in five. This is going to stop immediately.
  • All Tyler Kennedy does is forecheck and shoot. I'm not sure anyone has told him there is anything more to hockey than forechecking and shooting. This is because he forechecks like a madman, and every time the puck comes within 24 inches of his stick, he shoots. Back home, Tyler Kennedy is what we like to call a "spaz." Also, and this is definitely worth noting, he looks like an inbred Sidney Crosby.
  • There are three Penguins who are honestly holding up their end of the bargain right now: Jordan Staal, Max Talbot and...yeah...Marc-Andre Fleury. Of the seven goals Fleury has allowed in the first two games, he's been straight up beat on three of them. The others have directly resulted from turnovers in front of the net, crappy defense, guys being way out of position, and one last night on a straight up prayer/miracle hybrid.
  • Last night, Ryan Malone played hockey like a dyslexic three-toed sloth.
  • Chris Osgood hasn't looked outstanding in net for Detroit, but the Pens haven't had a decent shot on net in two games. So it's hard to tell.
  • Geno has been absolutely abused to this point.
  • Michel Therrien should consider scratching Hal Gill and dressing Darryl Sydor to add some extra speed to the lineup. At this point, its certainly worth trying, and it's not like Hal Gill has contributed a whole heck of a lot to this point.
  • Detroit is a better hockey team than the Penguins.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Game 1 LIVE, Part 3

10:12: Penalty killed, but a Malkin turnover leads to Fleury getting beat off a rebound. I'm just going to focus on drinking from here on out.

10:41: Ah, jeez. Ah... Dammit.

Game 1 LIVE, Part 2

9:10: I have zero desire to see the new Adam Sandler movie.

9:18: Pens bring an awesome penalty kill to open the second. Great job.

9:20: CROSSBAR?! WHAT IS GOING ON!?!?!??!!!

Replay: Fleury, you lucky bum. You lucky, lucky bum.

9:20: The PK looks great. My buddy Geoff, tending bar here at Spice, is a Flyers fan. "When did Rob Scuderi start playing on the kill?"

"All season, man."

"I wouldn't know. Flyers never had a power play."

This is immediately followed by a group of about nine frat boys entering the bar. They get in, look around, laugh, and one of them says, "What? This isn't Jack's! Oh, my bad." Then they all left.
(For non-Pittsburghers, Jack's is a bar on the South Side -- several miles away -- that's frequented by jackass fratboy types who never went to college. Also, Ben Roethlisberger.)

9:27: Great chance for Dupuis, but Osgood is holding strong.

9:36: Wrap-around. Fleury was WAY out of position and nearly kicked the puck in himself. All that probably occurred beceause the Pens were so desperate for a line change. 1-0 Detroit.

9:48: The Pens don't really look bad, but they're getting forechecked into next week. The bar is starting to fill up with the usual Satruday night crowd. Less than two minutes left.

9:50: Thirty seconds and change left and Geno gets called for a trip. The Pens will enter the third killing again. End of two, 1-0 Wings.
Ceremonial first faceoff. The Joe Louis Arena PA announcer just called Sidney Crosby "Steven Crosby," apparently mistaking him for an amalgamation Stephen Stills and David Crosby. Also, there are octopuses all over the ice, and that's freaking disgusting.

First real faceoff goes to the Pens.

8:20: Georges Laraque and Darren McCarty are already jawing at each other. How good an idea is a fight in the first period of Game 1? I'm asking. I'm really not sure.

8:25: Letang gets two for interference, then Tomas Holmstrom gets a slashing call. Four-on- four leads to a nice looking possession for the Pens. Two good shots, one from Hossa. I missed the other because I was paying more attention to my burrito than necessary. The Spice Cafe burritos are really, really delicious.

8:27: First Bud Light commercial. The over under of these for the series is currently at 940.

8:30: Six-and-a-half minutes in, and Fleury looks amazing.

8:34: Jarkko Ruutu is jawing at someone. Lots of back and forth so far, and not too many good scoring chances. Something needs to happen soon.

8:36: Great scoring chance from the first like, Dupuis to Hossa, right in front of the net. No dice. Stoppage in play, followed by a shot of the crowd watching from inside Mellon Arena. Shaving cream commercial.

8:38: Commercial break check of reveals the Pirates are up 2-1 over Chicago in the 6th! Also, Nik Lidstrom to the box for hooking! Power play!

8:44: Pens basically had a 5-on-3 for a bit when one of Detroit's players lost a stick. Still couldn't get it in. Chris Osgood is looking like the the best goalie the Pens have had to face so far. The power play doesn't look bad, though. They're getting their shots off, they're cycling the puck beautifully, and they're controlling the play. Nothing outside Detroit's zone. So it's at least a little encouraging.

8:47: Nik Lidstrom puts a wrist shot right past Fleury. Shit. Shit shit shit.




The NHL must want the Pens to win this series. That's, what? Three, four goals against the Pens these playoffs that have been disallowed? Jesus.

8:50: Back on the PP, Malone beats 73-year-old Kris Draper for the puck off the faceoff.

8:52: Kronwall levels Malone, Malkin JUST misses.

8:54: Penalty killed.

8:56: I've switched from Hoegaarden to Blue Point Summer Ale, and another lonely Pens fan has entered the bar. My buddy Travis, who doesn't care at all about hockey, just got done telling me a story about seeing some guy he knows in a gay porn film and has now gone off to play the MegaTouch in the far corner of the bar. Under a minute left.

8:59: One period down, 0-0. You get the idea that these two teams are still just kinda sizing each other up. Looks like just as predicted by lots and lots of people, we're going to have a heavily defensive series that could be decided on power plays and breakaways. Not terribly exciting hockey so far, but decidedly good hockey.

Game 1 LIVE!

Pittsburgh's abuzz, and with good reason. For the first time in at least three weeks, the temperature climbed above 60 degrees, and we've had a strikingly beautiful day. Also, there's some kind of hockey game tonight.

I'll be watching Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight and making notes all along the way, posting them when it becomes convenient for me to do so -- hopefully at the end of each period. If scheduling, battery life and accessible Wi-Fi allow, I'd like to be able to do this for every game of the finals, and from a different location for each game. Tonight I'm at Spice Cafe in Oakland -- a dark and colorful basement bar in the shadow of the University of Pittsburgh. It's been a pretty solid and steady location for hockey-watching during these playoffs, and there are usually a fair number of Pens fans here, mixed with the college students who stay in town over the summer. Tonight, I'm one of four people in the joint. I don't know where everyone else is, but if I had to guess, they're split between the Mellon Arena and a variety of crappy chain bars Downtown and on the South Side. But I'm mainly here because my buddy is the bartender, and that works well for me.

Okay, Marc-Andre Fleury just fell down coming out of the tunnel, and I've got a beer and a burrito coming my way. More after the first period.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Get to know your future disabled list occupants

The June regular phase of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft is just two weeks away, and the Pirates sit comfortably at the No. 2 slot, ready to turn some young man's lifelong dreams of playing professional baseball into a painful, Pyrrhic realization.

The Bucs' new front office has said that it won't hesitate to take the best player available, regardless of expected cost or slotting, so there's an excellent chance we won't have a repeat of last year, when with his third-to-last gasp of fresh air, Dave Littlefield passed on Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters -- generally agreed to be the draft's best player -- to take Clemson reliever Daniel Moskos. In Moskos's defense, he hasn't bombed yet (3-1, 7 GS, 36.3 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 20/8 K:BB), but he wasn't anywhere close to being the best player on the board, and the Pirates were starving for a catcher with Ronny Paulino being Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit splitting time between catcher, first base, right field and the 15-day DL.

So for now, we're just telling ourselves that the apparently much more competent team of GM Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith will do the right thing and select the best player, and that it might be a sign of sound decisions yet to come. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but we can't worry about that now. All we can worry about now is which player our front office will make a trivia question out of, or which stud pitcher will put the Mets over the top in the NL East when the Pirates trade him there in July of 2015 for a 35-year-old Ryan Church and a bag of Garden Salsa Sun Chips.

Here, according to a generous amalgamation of sources, are some players the Pirates are considering selecting with the second overall pick in this year's June draft:

Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (Ga.)'s scouting report on Beckham is glowing:

Beckham has a good feel for the game, but he's got some mechanical flaws to his swing, most notably not turning on the ball the way he should right now. The ball does jump off his bat and he's got tremendous bat speed...power is more a projection right now, but he's got average to plus power potential...Athletically gifted, he also has a good sense of what to do on the basepaths...He's not a finished product, with some fundamental things to iron out...A bonafide five-tool player at a premium position, there's a reason why Beckham is at or near the top of draft lists everywhere. He's got tools galore, with some idea of how to use them. He'll need to iron out some things mechanically and fundamentally, but he's got the ability and potential to hit, hit for power, steal bases and stay at shortstop at the big-league level.

The Pirates could certainly use a shortstop, as they have almost zero depth at that position within the organization, and Jack Wilson is no spring chicken. You'd certainly like to think that some combination of a healthy Wilson and later Brian Bixler could hold down shortstop with the big club until Beckham would be big-league ready. That is, if Tampa Bay doesn't take him with the first overall pick. Regardless of whether Beckham goes first or second, he's going to command a signing bonus in the realm of $7 million. If he's there when the Pirates pick, he'd be a tough player to pass up, and the organization would do well to have him. But he wouldn't be ready to play for at least three or four years, and even that would require him to absolutely fly through the Pirates system without a setback. A more realistic estimate might be five years, which would make him the everyday shortstop in time for 2013.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt University
This guy might be the best player in the draft -- at least, the best player not named Tim Beckham. He doesn't appear to have the upside, the potential or the upside potential that Beckham does, but he looks to be the closest to major-league ready of all the position players in this year's crop. Again,
"As safe a bet as there is, Alvarez is a polished and poised hitter and should hit for average in the big leagues...He's got power now and should have at least average power in the future...Alvarez is a pretty big and strong left-handed hitting third baseman who plays with a bounce in his step..."

Difference here is that there are some red flags:

"He's got below-average speed...Base running is not really a key part of his game...He's got an average arm at third...He should be OK to stay at third. If needed, he'd probably make a pretty good first baseman...He has average range...A broken hamate bone forced him out of action for more than a month. The power has been slow to come back...Some lingering concern about him getting back to full strength following the injury."
Oh, and his agent is Scott Boras, who will be seeking between $8.5 and $9 million up front from the team that drafts him. Great. Unless that rookie contract includes club options at the veteran minimum until Pedro is eligible for an AARP membership, or exclusive rights to extract his DNA and clone unlimited Pedros, I'm not sure how sound a financial decision drafting this kid might be. Even if he's big-league ready in two years, there's a very real chance he winds up being a defensive liability at third. If he winds up playing first, you've paid out the ass for a guy who can hit, but becomes less valuable by virtue of playing a less difficult position. That he's a third baseman now is probably the only reason his draft stock is what it is. For a guy to project only average power and be mentioned as a potential top-five pick, he'd better be a catcher, a shortstop, a second baseman or a center fielder.

Just as good closers are often starters who never developed a workable third pitch, power-hitting first basemen often become power-hitting first basemen after being relieved of playing a position that requires them to be quick, limber and agile. Albert Pujols and Jim Thome started out playing third base. Todd Helton? Lance Berkman? Outfielders. Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado were catchers. CATCHERS! Point is, you've got a much better chance of turning a good hitter into a first baseman than you do of turning anyone at all into a third baseman, and $9 million is a lot to shell out up front for a 20-year-old kid with questionable power. That said, if Beckham is gone when the Pirates pick, I hope they take Alvarez. Their 2011 runs scored/runs against can be 921:1247, and they can finish 57-105.
Seriously, drafting Pedro -- who, it's worth noting, will never, ever, ever, ever be referred to by his last name, which will lead to a veritable blizzard of stale 'Napoleon Dynamite' references -- would be a great way for the Pirates organization to show its fans that it is interested in fielding a competitive product through developing elite talent.

Aaron Crow, RHP, University of Missouri
Of the eight pitchers the Pirates have taken in the first round over the last 12 years, six have undergone Tommy John surgery before logging three full years of Major League service time. The record is two seasons by Benson, and the only two of the eight who haven't had the surgery at all are Paul Maholm and last year's first-rounder, Daniel Moskos.

If Neal Huntington decides to test what I think should be called "The Curse of Anna Benson," a guy he might choose to do it with is Aaron Crow. I'm not going to break down Crow, because the fine scholars over at Saber-Scouting have made him the subject of as fine a mechanical analysis as you'll see of a ballplayer, but suffice it to say, there are some hitches in his motion. One thing they didn't mention, though, is that the mechanical flaw they do highlight might lead to Crow tipping his pitches if it's not corrected before he hits the majors. Look at how far back he brings the ball before he even begins to bring his arm toward the plate. You don't think some of the better and/or smarter hitters in the game are going to be able to pick up the lay of the seams and deduce what pitch they're getting before they get it? That's a concern, to be sure. Also the high-stress delivery could be a thing.

Buster Posey, C, Florida State
Ain't gonna happen. Sure, the Pirates would do well to have another catching prospect in the system, just to complement the zero legitimate catching prospects they currently have, and the 1.5 adequate catchers who exist somewhere in the universe of their 40-man roster/Disabled List. But when was the last time you heard of anyone with a name like Buster Posey being taken seriously in any facet of life? How could the opposing pitcher avoid laughing before throwing right at his head every time?

Consider that there have been ten players in the history of Major League baseball to go by the name "Buster," and that the last one, Washington Senators' pitcher Buster Narum (whose given name was Leslie Ferdinand Narum) retired in 1967 after a glorious five-year career. Of the 18 players in ML history who have gone by or have been nicknamed "Buster," 13 ended their careers before 1950, and 10 were out of baseball before World War II.

For whatever it's worth, he did play all nine positions in a single game earlier this month. Maybe that counts for something.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Linkey teim!!!!!!11

Sports are rigged. All of them. I'm okay with this, because occasionally, it means things like the Pens dropping Game 4 in Philly so that they can have the extra day off, Gary Roberts has time to get over pneumonia, and the team can close out the conference finals at home on network TV.

So with two days off and relatively little going on, here are amazing, enjoyable, time-killing links to things.

The only people it's easier to hate than the Flyers are Philly fans. The Penguins agree.

The goof ball roll on Manny Ramirez is 28 minutes long, says Karl Ravech. This is one of the most enjoyable segments BBTN has done in some time.

Madden 2009 is amazingly gorgeous.

Former Pirate Josh Fogg learned why it's never a good idea to spot Junior Griffey that $1500 bucks.

I haven't gotten sick of this yet, and I doubt I ever will.

More next week, when hopefully the firestorm of office duties subsides.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The FTC 2008 First-Round Mock Draft

We here at FTC love the NFL Draft. We have ever since we were but young, eager, ambitious student journalists. But this year, we've spent so much time planning the menu of beers, scotches and fine, grilled meats that will take our draft party to new heights of gluttonous excess, we totally forgot to put together a first-round mock. Well, here's our attempt at rectifying that as hastily as humanly possible. Lights please, Amerigo.

Thank you.

1. Miami Dolphins -- Jake Long, OT, Michigan
Our one guaranteed direct hit.

2. St. Louis Rams -- Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
Either the Rams will take Dorsey because Scott Linehan is crazy and doesn't realize they need a defensive end much more, or they'll trade this pick to a team that will use it to take Dorsey.

3. Atlanta Falcons -- Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
Dorsey is widely considered to be one of the best defensive prospects to come into the league this decade, and the Falcons need help on the line, as well as everywhere else. If the Rams take Dorsey, Atlanta is going to scramble to trade out of this slot, and if they can't, they'll probably just swallow it and take Matt Ryan. But drafting a quarterback in the first round -- especially in the top ten or fifteen -- requires committing to him for a great deal of money over a period of years like you don't have to commit to any other player at any other position. If he stinks up the joint, it can set your franchise back years, as opposed to virtually any other position, where a savvy late-round pick or free agent pickup can wind up saving your ass from mistakes like Jamain Stephens. Not that Matt Ryan necessarily sucks or anything, but if you're the Falcons, do you really want the next four or five years of your already disastrous team so heavily staked on an ACC quarterback panning out? Regardless, Dorsey is the pick here if the Rams can lay off him.

4. Oakland Raiders -- Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Running back doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the Raiders, but what about the Raiders' draft strategies has ever made a whole lot of sense? Do we even know who is in charge of making this pick? McFadden is unquestionably the highest-regarded talent in the draft, which will make his gradual and certain decline in black and silver side of the Bay Area that much more interesting to watch. In a related story, this guy is one post-draft party and nine months away from shattering Travis Henry's record for fathering children -- regardless of how his career pans out, he's a mortal lock to one day appear in a terrible Bill Simmons column as part of the inaugural class of inductees to the Shawn Kemp Hall of Fame. Chris Long is also an option here.

5. Kansas City Chiefs -- Chris Long, DE, Virginia
The Jared Allen trade would make a lot more sense if the Chiefs see themselves getting Long or Gholston here. Branden Albert is another possibility, as is a trade down.

6. New York Jets -- Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State
Gholston has "last-minute free-fall" written all over him. With several teams involved in last-minute scrambling in attempts to land certain players -- like Dorsey, Long or McFadden -- Gholston might get lost in the shuffle. If the Raiders pass on McFadden, he'll likely fall to the Jets, who will definitely take him. If Long falls to this spot and McFadden's gone, he becomes the likely pick. But with the order as-is, Vernon should go off the board about here.

7. New England Patroits -- Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC
Ellis is likely to go here whether the Pats decide to keep this pick or not, and there's even a good chance

8. Baltimore Ravens -- Branden Albert, OG, Virginia
Not sure Albert's numbers really qualify him as a workout warrior, but for some reason, this guy went from totally off the first-round radar six week ago to the consensus Steelers pick at No. 23 a month ago, and there's no way he's falling out of the top ten. If the Falcons wind up not selecting Matt Ryan -- which happens if they're able to land Glenn Dorsey -- Ryan will fall to the Ravens here, who would like to take him because they love drafting overrated quarterbacks.

9. Cincinnati Bengals -- Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
The Bengals need all kinds of defensive help, and there's no way in hell Sedrick Ellis falls this far. Odell Thurman was recently re-instated to active duty, lessening the need for a linebacker and making LB Keith Rivers a less-likely selection here. Rivers would be a better pick if the Bengals were actively trying to rehabilitate their image, but they don't really seem so concerned with that. Whatever.

10. New Orleans Saints -- Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
The Saints are a good bet to trade up from here, aiming at landing either Glenn Dorsey or Chris Long, which would require them to move up into No. 5 or No. 2. If they don't, McKelvin is a great option here, mainly because Jason David is so bad at football.

11. Buffalo Bills -- Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan St.
A reach, but when was the last time the Bills made a sound personnel decision

12. Denver Broncos -- Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
The Broncos thrive off a steady diet of o-linemen and running backs, and right now, they've got a glaring hole at left tackle with the retirement of Matt Lepsis. Ryan Clady is a possibility, but Williams is a much smarter player and figures to fit much better into Mike Shanahan's zone blocking scheme.

13. Carolina Panthers -- Ryan Clady, OT, Boise St.
Carolina needs a lot of help. Everywhere. Mike Rucker's retirement leaves a hole on the defensive line, and Dan Morgan, who's been concussed so many times he can no longer spell his own name, was released in February, leaving a fairly big hole in the linebacking corps. But the offensive line has several players slotted out of position, and can be rectified with the addition of a solid left tackle. Clady is a project, but a great value at this slot.

14. Chicago Bears -- Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt
Otah has all the makings of a dominant right tackle, and the Bears are going to need that if the two-headed monster of Cedric Benson and Adrian "The Other Adrian Peterson" Peterson are going to combine for 100 rushing yards a game. Otah should fill out their line nicely, but they're going to want to give some thought to drafting a quarterback soon, because Rex Grossman sucks at football.

15. Detroit Lions -- Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
With the end of the Kevin Jones Era, the Mendenhall Epoch begins. Jon Kitna has been praying for this no fewer than seven hours a day this offseason.

16. Arizona Cardinals -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee St.
With Mendenhall off the board, the Cards are likely to look for a corner here, then go after a running back in the second round, rather than reach. But Jonathan Stewart is also a possibility.

17. Kansas City Chiefs -- Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt
The Chiefs will want to go o-line here after drafting defense at the front of the round.

18. Houston Texans -- Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida
Jenkins is probably the most polished of the first-round corners, and Houston badly needs a d-back who is ready to contribute right away.

19. Philadelphia Eagles -- Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
Like everyone else, they probably just want an offensive lineman. And because the worthy first-round offensive linemen will all be gone by 17, and nobody really wants to draft Gosder Cherilus higher than 44th overall, the Eagles will take a corner so they can trade Lito Sheppard.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal
Possibly a bit of a reach, but a stellar fit for Gruden's offense. Tampa Bay really can't lose, regardless of what they do here. Unless they decide to burn a pick on someone who would normally go undrafted. That'd be a bad move.

21. Washington Redskins -- Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida
This guy is a perfect example of either a) what is wrong with this year's draft, or b) why doing your research well in advance is very important. Harvey is a talented athlete and very good at playing football, we're told. But he could be drafted anywhere from the seventh pick, right down to the bottom of the first round. Who the hell knows anymore? This doesn't seem any less plausible than anything Mel Kiper wrote this year -- in fact, it's more realistic. Mel's got Chris Long going No. 2, even though everyone and their mother knows that Glenn Dorsey is going at two, regardless of who ends up making the pick.

22. Dallas Cowboys -- Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas
They're not fooling anybody here.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
The one team whose off-season I've followed with a great deal of interest, and I still don't know what the hell they're looking to do, besides trade down. They'd love to get an offensive lineman, but you can't really be sold on Gosder Cherilus this early in the round. They need a defensive end, and Phillip Merling might be available, but there are no guarantees. The Steelers haven't selected a running back in the first round in 19 years, and the last time they did, it was a disaster. That said, taking Jonathan Stewart here wouldn't be a typical Steeler move, but it's ballsier than sitting back and drafting Cherilus in this spot. Stewart is the best option. Or Merling. Or a receiver. Or a trade down. Really, anything or anyone but Gosder Cherilus. But this is why we watch the draft with scotch on hand.

24. Tennessee Titans -- Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
Roydell Williams is not a viable fantasy option.

25. Seattle Seahawks -- Brandon Flowers, CB, Virginia Tech
Shaun Alexander sucks real bad. Because of this, he is out of a job. Seattle will draft a running back at some point, just not here.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina
In the interest of actually finishing this mock before the actual draft starts, I'm not even going to justify these last few. Just accept them as the unquestionable word of law that they are.

27. San Diego Chargers -- Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
28. Dallas Cowboys -- James Hardy, WR, Indiana
29. San Francisco 49ers -- Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee
30. Green Bay Packers -- Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware - Aaron Rogers sucks. Or, if someone wants to trade up to take Flacco, this would be a great place to do it.
31. New England Patroits -- Forfeited. Okay, two direct hits.
32. New York Giants -- Kenny Phillips, S, The U - The only player the Steelers should want less than Gosder Cherilus.