Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Giant Void, A Giant Step Forward

Heading down to spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona this spring, the San Francisco Giants are in a unique situation, and I’m not talking about the monster presence of free agent acquisition Aaron Rowand. There is a certain presence that, for the first time in 15 years, will be missing from the Giants camp, a presence that will leave a void in the organization for the entire season, the Giants 50th by the bay.

There will be no Pedro Gomez this year, no swarms of reporters, both local and national, fighting desperately for any bit of information, even if the Willie Mays statue in front of AT&T Park has just as much to say. There will be no talk of records, or of history, and even if there is talk of steroids, the focus will be on baseball as a whole, not the suspicions regarding one man. Aaron Rowand will play left field. Benji Molina will bat cleanup. There will be no #25. There will be no Barry Bonds.

On the surface, this appears to be a loss for the Giants, and on a short term basis, it is difficult to look at it any other way. In his controversial but illustrious 22 year career, Barry Bonds has been called a lot of things. He has been called a liar, a cheater, selfish and a jerk. One thing that he was never accused of (reasonably, at any rate) was being a detriment to a baseball team.

As I have wrote before, on the field this argument is remarkably easy to make. Anyone with internet access could sight the awards; Bonds is a 7 time MVP, 14 time All-Star, 12 time Silver Slugger, he even has 8 gold gloves. They could list the statistics, a .298 career average, 2935 hits, 514 stolen bases; he also hit a few home runs. You could even make the case by listing only his records and be able to go on for a few minutes. He is the all time leader in home runs (career and single season), walks (career and single season), and he is the only player ever to go 500/500. Suffice to say that even in his 40s, Bonds was an adequate left fielder, a good middle of the order hitter and someone who, even when in a slump, created runs for the Giants by almost constantly getting on base (he lead the majors with a .480 obp last season at 42 years old). Some debate this with his diminishing abilities, but Barry’s contributions far outweigh any off-field distractions he may cause.

As his records, awards and stats show, any team would benefit from having Barry Bonds in their lineup. In the clubhouse Barry was becoming more of a leader for younger players like Barry Zito or Kevin Frandsen. The Barry Bonds of 2007 was much matured from the ego-inflated clubhouse disturbance that feuded with Jeff Kent during his San Francisco days and Andy Van Slyke in the Pittsburgh.

But for the Giants, Bonds’ contribution went beyond the playing field, well beyond the clubhouse. Barry Bonds has been the face of a franchise for fifteen years. He is, in all likelihood, the reason that the Giants still play in San Francisco. In short, the Giants were struggling to attract any attention, playing in dismal Candlestick Park and unable to garner interest from the city to build a new ballpark before Barry came along. Prior to bringing in the Bonds, the Giants were on the verge of a move to Tampa Bay (this and other elements of Bonds’ extremely intriguing life are masterfully chronicled in Jeff Pearlman’s “Love Me Hate Me; Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero”). If Yankee Stadium is the “House that Ruth Built,” than AT&T Park is certainly “The House that Barry Built.” Now that Barry is gone, the Giants, lead by GM Brian Sabean, have a massive problem.

Rowand is a good player, in the prime of his career, and he will almost certainly match the production that the Giants saw from the left field position last year, if only because he will play more games than Bonds, but he will never replace what Bonds brought to the city and to the organization. This is in no way Rowand’s fault, the only free agent who could have even come close to representing the Giants as totally as Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, turned out not to be interested in leaving the city in which he can do no right.

The 2008 San Francisco Giants are, by and large, boring. Not only are they boring, they are old, the average age on the San Francisco roster is 33. While in his last few years with the Giants, with a dismal supporting cast, Bonds may not have helped the Giants win very often, he certainly served a purpose.

In 2007, the Giants ranked third in the majors in filling their ballpark. That number will in almost certainly plummet in 2008, and not because of a large alienated fan base for departed third baseman Pedro Feliz. It is impossible to imagine the Giants sinking to the verge of re-location as they were before signing Bonds. The Giants are as entrenched in San Francisco as The Fillmore, The Presidio or Golden Gate Park, but attracting the casual fan will be much more difficult, and forget about the scores of out-of-towners that came to see Barry over the past few years. The 2007 San Francisco Giants may have been largely a sideshow, but the 2008 version is in danger of becoming something much worse, irrelevant.

At this point, one could be excused for thinking that ties should never have been cut with Bonds. One may ask themselves why the Giants don’t simply bring Barry back. After all, Bonds is still a free agent who is looking to sign on with a major league team. While Bonds (through his agent) has expressed that he would prefer to sign as a designated hitter with an American League team, it is inconceivable that Barry would not return to the only town that has fully embraced him, and that he has made his home (especially if the price is right. It must be tempting for GM Brian Sabean, and as long as Bonds remains unsigned, there is a possibility that they could bring him in midseason should this team somehow find a way into the NL playoff race. In the end, though, through all of the reasons and temptations to the contrary, it is time for the Giants to part ways with Barry Bonds.

There are many reasons why the Giants need to start the post-Barry era, and the first is pretty simple. Even with Barry, hell, even with a 36 year old Barry, the 2008 Giants wouldn’t be a contender. Is it inconceivable that with a little bit of health and a little bit of luck, the Giants could sniff .500? No, but having lost two of their most productive hitters from a team that won just 71 games in 2007 (Pedro Feliz, who was second on the team with 20 HRs left for Philadelphia), being an average team is their absolute ceiling. Bonds may have been able to help this team reach that ceiling, but at this point in his career he is not about to push them over the ledge that would make them a contender.

And gone are the days when an average team could sneak through a weak NL West into the playoffs. Last year the D-Backs were a young team with a lot of talent. This year they are a year older and more experienced, meaning players like Young, Drew and Upton will be that much more effective. The addition of Danny Haran to Brandon Webb gives them the best 1-2 punch in baseball and makes them a legitimate World Series contender.

In Colorado, the Rockies stood pat on a team that was good enough to get annihilated by the Red Sox in the World Series. Joe Torre came west to the Dodgers, bringing Andruw Jones to a team with one of the strongest staffs in the league (Jason Schmidt could end up as their 4th starter). The Padres would need steroid-era style resurgances from the likes of Jim Edmonds, Mark Prior and Trevor Hoffman and major production from players like Khalil Green and Kevin Kouzmanoff to have any chance, two things that they are unlikely to get, but overall they are probably a more complete team than San Francisco.

That means that going into the season, the highest that you could reasonably rank the Giants in the west is 4th. So why spend $10 Million and turn your team into a tourist attraction to win 75 games instead of 65 (especially when to say that Bonds’ production will equal 10 wins is farfetched)?

The second reason is the most obvious, certainly the most publicized. With perjury charges hanging over his head, it is debatable whether Bonds will even be able to contribute in 2008. Bonds has played through distractions before, and well. These issues has been debated to death in all imaginable forums, but suffice to say that if signing Bonds is a risk, signing Bonds while he faces perjury charges is an extraordinary risk, say nothing of the distraction it could cause.

The third reason is simultaneously the hardest to accept and the most important. The Giants aren’t going anywhere with Barry, the franchise has centered around him, which has prevented its development. The attraction of having Bonds in the lineup has to end sooner or later. The bottom line is that it is time to move on for the Giants, and it is better to do it sooner rather than later.

So where does that leave the Giants? It is time to enter those two words that fans dread: rebuilding phase. Normally that is a process that is tedious, dragged out and unproductive. Ask any Royals, Rangers or Rays fan (if you can find one), rebuilding often means owners skimping on players and disregarding winning. But it doesn’t need to, especially not for a team with resources like the Giants.

Believe it or not, there is a core in place on this team. It is in their starting pitching. Barry Zito may not prove to be worth the $126 million the Giants gave him last year, but the other Barry still has ace potential, and he is only 29 years old. Much was made of his poor start last year, but less was said when he recovered to have a strong second half. Sure, 11-13 wasn’t exactly what the Giants were looking for, but much of that was due to poor run support.

Behind Zito, the Giants have three more young arms that are capable of keeping the Giants in a pennant race a few years down the line. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Noah Lowry all project as number 1 or 2 starters and are just 23, 23 and 27, respectively. The first priority for the Giants’ front office should be to lock these three up long term. This may not make them a contender this year, or even next year, but it will ensure that they have one of the stronger rotations in the NL for the next 10 years if they can hold on to these three that long.

That should be the easy part for the Giants, fixing their problems in the field will be a little bit harder. The first step is obvious though, the Giants need to get younger. Guys like Dave Roberts (35), Ray Durham (36), Omar Visquel (40), Rich Aurilia (36) and Benji Molina (33, but a catcher with a much shorter “lifespan”) have been the fabric of this team for the last few years, and all of them have at least one more year in them, but they aren’t going to be a part of the Giants long term plans, and as with Barry, it is better to move on sooner rather than later.

It won’t be easy, especially with guys like Visquel, a possible hall of famer and Durham, who has been a part of the organization for a long time, but ties must be cut with these guys, because only through youth can the Giants rebuild.

2008 is going to be a year of transition, but 2009 should see the dawn of the new Giants. They can turn things over to young talent within the organization, but also build from the outside. Guys like Dan Ortmeier, Rajai Davis (who was actually the first piece in the rebuilding puzzle when he was acquired for Matt Morris at the deadline last year) and Kevin Frandsen will take over for Visquel, Roberts and Aurilia. Seventeen year old Angel Miguel Vilalona should make his MLB debut in the next few years, something the Giants are clearly excited about, having given him the largest amateur signing bonus in history.

Once they have figured out what they have in the system, it will be time to build. The A’s will almost certainly be shopping Rich Harden at deadline time, a guy that could give the Giants the best rotation in the league heading into ’09. As far as next winter goes, the Giants will need to sign at least one infielder that can come in and contribute right away. Keeping with the youth movement and finding a free agent will be tough, but Mark Ellis, Orlando Hudson and Cesar Izturis are three 2009 free agents to be that could be a good fit. The one thing that is certain is that the Giants will need to, at some point, be willing to pony up and attract at least one impact free agent (and I don’t mean the guys above). If that means trading Zito’s contract, so be it. This shouldn’t be a priority, though, unless it is critical for attracting free agents.

So what about 2008? The Giants will play their spring training schedule in Arizona, before heading up to San Francisco to take on the NL, just like any other year. But it won’t be like any other year, at least not any of the last 15 by the bay. Even with Rowand or Roberts out there, left field will seem empty. The cleanup spot will (with all do respect to Molina) seem anti-climactic. The beautiful ballpark by the bay may even at times seem empty, with a team that has no clear attraction for casual fans. 2008 will be a tough year for the Giants without Barry Bonds. But it will get better, and besides, it is time to move on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Making Sense of the NHL Trade Deadline

The trade deadline having passed a few hours ago, 45 players have changed zip codes, and 23 draft picks have changed hands over the course of 25 trades. Maybe not quite what some were hoping for, (especially if you live in North America and English is not your first language), but still quite a bit of activity. To put it all in perspective, I have gone through each move, given each team a grade and tried to make sense of what each move means. Granted I don’t know the full story with most of these trades, but these are just my knee jerk reactions to each one. Here goes...

Penguins: A
Marian Hossa, F
Pascal Dupuis, F

Thrashers: B+
Erik Christensen, F
Colby Armstrong, F
Angelo Esposito, C
2008 first-round pick

The Thrashers did what they had to do here. Hossa wasn’t going to re-sign, and it seems pretty clear that they don’t quite have it this year in Atlanta (they don’t have the depth for a playoff run). At first glance it appears that they did a great job. Sure they lost a star, but they picked up two good young proven NHLers, a blue chipper and a first rounder. Not bad, so why not an “A”? The Thrashers were sellers in a market flooded with buyers. Christensen and Armstrong are good players, but Thrashers’ GM Don Wadell had said that he wanted help right now for Hossa. It is hard to believe that that is as good as he could have done if he actually thinks they can make a run this year.

From the Penguins perspective, this is a great move. There is no question, they gave up a lot. Adding Hossa to Crosby and Malkin gives the Pens three top ten forwards. Once Crosby returns (any day now, according to reports), the lineup that the Penguins will have up front will be downright scary. Hossa was the prize of the trade market, and the Penguins have to feel great about landing him. This once again makes them a favorite in the east.

Rangers: D
David LeNeveu, G
Fredrik Sjostrom, F
Josh Gratton, F
Conditional draft pick

Coyotes: B+
Al Montoya, G
Marcel Hossa, F

The D for the Rangers is not so much for this particular deal, but for their extraordinarily underwhelming performance at the deadline. The Rangers not only should have been a major buyer, they needed to be. Right now they are a talented team, but they have a few major pieces missing (particularly on the back end), and some dead weight that could have attracted interest from teams looking to unload (rhymes with blogger). This ended up being the biggest deal that the Blueshirts pulled off today. It isn’t enough to make them a true contender, which I don’t believe they are as is.

In a vacuum, this trade may not be great, but it certainly isn’t crippling. Montoya is a talented young goaltender, but his value won’t get any higher playing in the AHL or sitting behind Lundqvist, and he isn’t about to take over the starting role. Sjostrom in particular is a good young player, a first rounder who hasn’t quite worked out yet but has potential, and although LeNeveu will likely simply replace Montoya in Hartford, he isn’t a bad throw in for the Rangers. Gratton should provide some toughness if he gets in the lineup, but with Avery and Orr already available (both guys who bring more skill wise) that is unlikely. Overall it is about a “C” for the Rangers.

For the Desert Dogs, this is a good move. Hossa should be able to contribute as soon as he returns to the lineup, and Montoya will be a starting goaltender in a few years if not sooner in Glendale.

Panthers: C
Chad Kilger, LW

Leafs: C+
2008 third-round pick

It is difficult to find a whole lot to say about this one. Kilger is a decent player, a big guy who should probably be a third or a fourth liner, so not an awful pickup for the Panthers. The interesting thing about this is that these are two teams that are going nowhere. They are tied 6 points out of the playoffs, but neither has near enough talent to make a run, so the pickup of Kilger seems trivial. So even though Kilger’s value is probably a little bit higher than a third rounder, because of the timing and situation of this trade, I’m giving the Leafs a higher grade on this one.

Caps: C
Alexandre Giroux, LW

Thrashers: C
Joe Motzko, RW

Both are young, but not that young (Motzko is 28, Giroux 26), and neither has played regularly in the NHL. Both will likely be in and out of the lineup in their new home. It is hard to find a whole lot to say about this deal, it almost seems like two of the busier teams today making a trade for the sake of making a trade.

Preds: B
Brandon Bochenski, F

Ducks: C
Future considerations

It is hard to grade this one, because future considerations are tough to judge. In this case they shouldn’t be a whole lot. I will give the Ducks a C, only because they didn’t lose anything they will miss, but we don’t know what they got yet, so we will hold off judgment for now. As far as the Predators are concerned, they came away pretty well. Bochenski will be a solid checker (he will see more ice in Nashville which is why he is a solid pickup even though you can’t fault the Ducks for being willing to part with him), and although we don’t know what they are giving up, it is hard to imagine that it will be much.

Preds: B
Jan Hlavac, F

Lightning: B
2008 seventh-round pick

It is hard to call getting Jan Hlavac and Brandon Bochenski gearing up for a run, but the Preds, who have the 8 slot right now in the west, certainly made themselves a little bit better today. They acquired two solid NHLers and didn’t give anything of consequence up. As for the Lightning, it is time to enter re-building mode (they did today) so it is difficult to criticize getting rid of anyone in a contract year, or acquiring any draft picks.

Ducks: C
Jean-Sebastien Aubin, G

Kings: C
2008 seventh-round pick

I feel like draft picks (especially late rounders) had more value than they should have today. All I really have to say about this one is that Aubin is a solid backup, and probably should have gotten a 4th or 5th rounder. He really has limited value for either team, this trade seems pretty trivial.

Wings: A
Brad Stuart, D

Kings: A-
2008 second-round pick
2009 fourth-round pick

This is a great move on both sides. Stuart is a very good defenseman. The Wings haven’t had any trouble scoring this year, but Stuart should still help in that regard, he is great rushing the puck and in the offensive zone. The Wings have been a bit lethargic of late, so this should help them find the form they had for most of the season.

As for the Kings, I love this almost as much. Stuart was gone after this year, and the Kings are 16 points out of a playoff spot. It would have been nice to get a first rounder, but there were enough top tier defensemen available that two picks with one being a second rounder is pretty good value for Stuart.

Ducks: C-
Jay Leach, D

Lightning: C+
Brandon Segal, RW
2008 seventh-round pick

I don’t know why the Ducks even bothered with this one. Leach has no chance of cracking the NHL in Aniheim. Segal is a longshot to be a regular in Tampa, but he is at least young, something that the 29 year old Leach is not for a player with 4 career NHL games played. The draft pick may be the most valuable part of this trade, and I stand by my statement that late rounders have been over-valued.

Ducks: B+
Marc-Andre Bergeron, D

Isles: C
2008 third-round pick

Although they made four deals today, this was the only one of any significance for the Ducks. I actually really like it. Bergeron is a tough defenseman as a number 2 or 3, which he won’t have to be for the Ducks, and he has plenty of playoff experience. This deal gives coach Bombay’s crew unbelievable depth on the blue line.

For the Islanders, this deal should have been pretty good, in the market established today a third rounder isn’t bad for MAB. The problem that I have with this move is that the Islanders, 2 points out of a playoff spot should have been either a decided buyer trying to make a run, or a seller. They ended up staying on the fence here. They signed Comrie, but only to a one year deal, an indication that they like their team and want to make a run. Same with the Davison pickup, so why deal one of your best defensemen for a mid-rounder? That combination makes no sense to me.

Pens: F-
Hal Gill, D

Leafs: A
2008 second-round pick
2009 fifth-round pick

NO SKILL HAL GILL! Seems like a lot for a guy that can’t skate... Then again he has been bouncing around the league for so long that it isn’t even worth criticizing teams for taking him anymore. If I was 6-7 250 I could be so rich right now... (if you still need convincing that this trade makes no sense, I just used two ampersands [...], just think of those as me sitting at my computer shaking my head wordlessly. Can I give Pittsburg a G?)

Wild: B+
Chris Simon, F

Isles: A
2008 sixth-round pick

This trade makes sense on a lot of levels. Ted Nolan was probably one of the best coaches to help Simon by all accounts, but at a certain point there are just too many skeletons hanging around for someone to be successful for an organization. Anything that the Isles got back for him is gravy, so to speak. For the Wild they got a player who can still be a power forward and an enforcer in the NHL, and they got him for practically nothing. Sure, Simon is a longshot to have another successful NHL season after all of the discipline issues, but it isn’t like the Wild gave much up to take this gamble.

Rangers: C
Christian Backman, D

Blues: B
2008 fourth-round pick

The Rangers are an expensive, hyped and supremely talented squad up front that need major help along the blue line (and with third and fourth line depth, but that is another issue), and your answer is a career – with twice as many PIMs as points? Backman isn’t an aweful player, but he certainly isn’t enough for the Rangers, as I said above. Who let Isaiah Thomas and James Dolan sit in for Glen Sather today?

For the Blues, they are still a couple of years from contention, it is hard to criticize them giving up almost anyone on their roster to get picks and build around Johnson. This is a small step, but in the right direction for St. Louis.

Caps: B
Matt Cooke, LW

Canucks: C
Matt Pettinger, LW

Cooke is an interesting player. He doesn’t score a lot of points, but he always seems to be involved. Anyone who has watched the Canucks play over the last few years on any sort of regular basis can attest to his impact. Pettinger’s scoring hasn’t shown up this year, but he is liked by scouts in the league. All in all I would say this is a pretty even deal, and definitely one of the more intriguing ones (by two teams that should be in the playoffs) not involving a star.

Caps: B+
Sergei Fedorov, C

Jackets: B-
Theo Ruth, D

Am I the only one who can see Fedorov being rejuvenated by playing alongside countrymen Alexander Ovechkin? Probably not (Caps GM George McPhee for one would probably agree). Ruth is a freshman at Notre Dame right now, a USNTDP product who may help the Blue Jackets down the road (he is also 4 months older than me and just got traded for a 3 time MVP, which is depressing), but he is a small price for the Caps to pay for the potential secondary scoring Fedorov is still capable of, even if he hasn’t shown it lately.

Aves: C
Adam Foote, D

Jackets: A
2008 or 2009 conditional first-round pick
2009 conditional fourth-round pick

Assume that the Jackets get both picks, and this is a great move by them. Even if they come away with a first rounder, dumping Foote while they are going no where this season and Foote isn’t getting any younger is a great move. Foote could help (as could recent signee Peter Foresburg) but someone should remind the Aves that it is not 2001. Apperently this is a team that believes they can compete for a cup this year, odd considering that they are 4 points out of a playoff spot. Granted they have at least set themselves up for a run to get in with their moves in the last 48 hours.

Stars: A
Brad Richards, F
Johan Holmqvist, G

Lightning: A
Jeff Halpern, C
Jussi Jokinen, F
Mike Smith, G
2009 fourth-round pick

All the reactions after this trade have lauded the Stars and focused on Richards. Rightfully so, Richards is a top 30 forward, and probably the second best player moved today (behind Hossa), but make no mistake, they gave up quite a bit to get him. Jokinen and Halpern were both key components for the Stars who will be able to help the Lightning as the re-build around Lecavalier and St. Louis. Adding Richards was a great move for the Stars who have both the Sharks and the Ducks breathing down their neck in the Pacific.

One weird thing about this deal, why throw in the backup goaltenders? How did that go down? Dallas- “So it is agreed, Richards for Jokinen, Halpern and a pick?” TB- “Sure, but only if we can throw in Smith for Holmqvist.” Dallas- Why, they are practically the same player.” TB- “yeah but it makes it look like we are doing more.” Dallas- “Good point, call league offices.”...

For the record I know Holmqvist was a starter, but he never should have been. The Lightning haven’t had a legitimate #1 goaltender since Khabibulen (nailed that spelling) left. Maybe they should have considered this with 5 valuable players and about 20 teams looking to get better at the deadline. With that one sentence I put more thought into the Tampa goaltending situation than their front office has in 3 years. What was I talking about again? Oh right, trade deadline, moving on.

Capitols: A+
Cristobal Huet, G

Canadians: B-
Second-round pick

Our first A+ of the day! Wow, I’m turning into Mr. Wood (note: I’m not turning into Mr. Wood). The Caps had a great day, and this was easily the highlight of their moves. The Caps got a bona fide #1 goaltender, and all they gave up was a draft pick. This move alone made them the clear cut favorite in the southeast. Kolzig shouldn’t be a starting goaltender in the NHL at this point in his career and even though it will be weird watching someone else in net night in night out, Huet is a giant upgrade at this point in time.

For the Canadians, there isn’t a whole lot to be said about this trade. Huet wasn’t indispensible, but it is a certainly a huge risk to turn it over to a 20 year old in net with a month left in the season in fifth place. Again, this isn’t a horrible move, just a big risk.

The real story in French Canada has to be disappointment. The day started with rumors of cleaning rooms for press conferences and near certainty Hossa was going to don the CH sweater. A major letdown for the passionate Habs fans that the only deal of the day involved giving up their starting goaltender, and that all they came away with was a draft pick.

Aves: C
Ruslan Salei, D

Panthers: C+
Karlis Skrastins, D
2008 third-round pick

My main impression of Salei is still his despicable cheap shot on Mike Modano that could easily have ended Modano’s career, so it is hard to handicap this one. Looking at the two players, the edge goes to Salei, but not by that much, the pick pretty much makes this one a scratch. Again, not a deal that should have much of an impact.

Sharks: A
Brian Campbell, D
2008 seventh-round pick

Sabers: A-
Steve Bernier, F
2008 first-round pick

For anyone who doesn’t know, there is no way I could possibly be objective on this one, but I’ll do my best. Campbell is, simply put a stud. I can’t wait to see him don teal. Seventh in the league in scoring among D, and good on the PP, Campbell is a number one defenseman, something the Sharks have lacked for a long time, and exactly what they need. Interesting throw in, the seventh rounder, I guess Dougie just wanted his money’s worth.

As for Bernier, I like this deal for the Sabers. Bernie has underachieved somewhat of late for the Sharks, but has shown flashes of brilliance. A change of scenery should do him well. Also, with so many top tier defensemen rumored to move, this is pretty good value (an established second liner and a first rounder) for the Sabers.

That wasn’t so bad was it?

Blues: B-
Cam Janssen, F

Devils: B-
Bryce Salvador, D

Interesting, definitely a move towards the future, for the Blues. St. Louis native Janssen hasn’t played a game this year, but he is only 23. As for Salvador, he should be a good pickup to give the Devils a little bit of added depth on the blueline, which will come in handy come playoff time. A solid deal on both sides, certainly not earth-shattering though.

Blackhawks: B
Andrew Ladd, F

Canes: B
Tuomo Ruutu, F

A fresh start for the underachieving Ruutu could be exactly what he needs. Ladd is a guy who is capable of helping right away in Chicago, but that isn’t what they need. I would have liked to see the Hawks a little bit more active today, with so many potential impact players available it would have been good to see them go after a Brad Richards or a Martin St. Louis to go along Havlat, Toews and Kane.

Panthers: D
Wade Belak, F

Leafs: B+
2008 fifth-round pick

I’m wearing down here as we are past the 3000 word mark, so I’m going to keep this one short. I hate this trade for Florida. Why in God’s name are they trading draft picks when they are well out of a playoff spot and clearly don’t have the talent to contend in the next couple of years? As far as the Leafs go, they don’t really miss Belak, but they didn’t get much in return either.

Senators: A
Martin Lapointe, F

Hawks: C
2008 sixth-round pick

Lapointe is a good player on the ice who will provide veteran leadership off of the ice. This is a great move for the Senators. As far as the Hawks go, Lapointe is too old to be in their long term plans, and those are the only plans that they can worry about at this point. Unfortunately, a sixth rounder is not nearly enough to make this a move that will help them significantly long term.

Isles: A
Rob Davison, D

Sharks: C-
2008 seventh-round pick

To be honest, I really wanted to give the Sharks a lower grade for this one. Davison is a versatile player who brings a lot to the table. He is only average as far as skill level, but he is an energy guy who can play forward or defense. A seventh round pick for him is an absolute steal. The only thing that keeps the Sharks from a D or an F on this deal is that they simply don’t have room for him. Davison can play forward, but not well enough to crack the Sharks top 12, and with the addition of Campbell, it would be tough for Davison to get into half of the remaining games.

Well, there it is, 5 hours and 3,400 words later, there is your trade deadline wrap. Should be fun to see how some of these play out.

OV Sports 2008 Way-To Short MLB Preview

Sure, you could pour over rosters, stats and scouting reports to get ready for the 2008 MLB Season. Sure, you could look for previews with previews with fancy extremities like “graphics,” “player profiles” and “actual research,” but it probably won’t get you any more prepared for the 2008 season than my makeshift 2008 season preview. Or maybe not. Either way, here it is, featuring all of the insight and analysis that I can think of off of the top of my head while sitting in class.


1. Los(T) Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California

The Angels helped themselves out this offseason by picking up Torii Hunter as a free agent. They overpaid for him, but Hunter was a blue chipper in this off-season’s shallow free-agent pool (he is a good hitter, but not a great one who has one of the best gloves in the game). Besides, there are no real consequences to overpaying Hunter. Moreno has plenty of money, what is it going to cripple their cap room? Only other interesting note out of So-Cal (AL) is that the Angels are going with a shortstop by committee. Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar are each expected to play about 80 games to replace Orlando Cabrera. I know that isn’t that interesting, but there really isn’t that much to say about this team (hence the lame city joke).

2. Seattle Mariners

Ichiro and co. probably have the best squad to be trotted out in the Pacific Northwest since the 2002 team that reeled off 116 wins. The Mariners gave themselves one of the stronger tops of the rotation in the AL by adding Erick Bedard to Felix Hernandez. The back end remains a question mark, however. An unchanged batting order will look to build on the success that they had last year. If they are able to, with one of the strongest bullpens in the league, the Mariners should be able to contend once again out west.

3. Texas Rangers

I’m projecting the Rangers to move up in the standings (albeit from last to third) not because of their getting better, but because of the fire sale in Oakland. There still isn’t a whole lot to like about this team, but there are a few bright spots. Michael Young is capable of winning the AL batting title, he should be the best hitter in their lineup this year. Jared Saltalamacchia (props to myself for only missing that spelling by one letter without looking it up, I had “Saltalamachia”) is a good young catcher who should continue to develop into the .280/30/100 range. Also, Arlington area police should be on notice, as the Rangers have put together an outfield with the most criminal potential since Albert Bell retired by combining Josh Hamilton with Milton Bradley. It is to bad that Minnesota beat them to Delmon Young, he would have been a perfect fit.

4. Oakland A’s

Over the years the Athletics organization has shown a lot of confidence in their minor league system. They have avoided going after top tier free agents, or even resigning players the felt were asking for too much. The A’s have always been content to bring home grown players up to replace them, and for the most part they have had success. Billy Bean is bringing that confidence to a whole new level this year by letting a AAA team play the entire big league schedule. Eric Chavez can be excused for not recognizing most of his teammates, only Chavez, SS Bobby Crosby and 2B Mark Ellis remain from the batting order the A’s finished 2006 with. Clearly Bean didn’t think the 2007 A’s had a chance to contend if kept together. He traded them out of contention for the west this year by dumping Kotsay, Haren and Swisher, getting only one major leaguer in return (reliever Joey Devine who has pitched just 19.2 innings in his career). It is hard to imagine that Billy Bean doesn’t have a plan for this team with all of the prospects he has brought in, but 2008 is going to be a rough year in the 510.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

OV Sports 2008 Way-To Short MLB Preview

Sure, you could pour over rosters, stats and scouting reports to get ready for the 2008 MLB Season. Sure, you could look for previews with previews with fancy extremities like “graphics,” “player profiles” and “actual research,” but it probably won’t get you any more prepared for the 2008 season than my makeshift 2008 season preview. Or maybe not. Either way, here it is, featuring all of the insight and analysis that I can think of off of the top of my head while sitting in class.

PART II- AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers

Cabrera, Renteria, Jones, and Willis. Add that to Ordonez, Sheffield, Polanco, Rodriguez, Granderson, Guillen, Inger, Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson and Rodgers, and you have your 2008 preseason favorite. The Tigers added three former all-stars and a career .280 hitter who has averaged 21 HRs a year for his career (Jones, who will likely bat in the 8 hole) to a team that won 88 games a year ago. Andrew Miller should be a top 2 pitcher in the Marlins rotation in a few years, but shipping him to Florida for Oakland's pride and Cabrera (he has 138 career homers, 2 silver sluggers and is a 4 time all star AND HE IS TWENTY FOUR YEARS OLD!!! I'll be lucky to be out of school by the time I'm 24! This isn't the NBA, either, he is 6 months older than the rookie of the year last year!) and I’m not saying that Indians fans should be sending the Marlins hate mail. But I understand if they are. 119 losses seems like a lot more than four seasons ago.

2. Cleveland Indians

6 of the 8 playoff teams from a year ago were ultimately content (or forced) to stand pat on their lineups from 2007. For no team is this more true than the Indians, who’s major acquisition this hot-stove season was...well...they really didn’t have any acquisitions. I guess the good news is that they didn’t lose any components from a playoff team. They probably won’t be able to hang with Detroit, but the Indians should compete for a wild card birth. Even if they do join the pennant race, the biggest story on the shores of Eerie this year will likely be the Indians struggle to re-sign ace CC Sabathia.

3. Chicago White Sox

Following a dismal season, the White Sox should be able to bounce back at least a little bit in ’08. Nick Swisher was an excellent pick up, Swisher is a great player and the White Sox got him for practically nothing. Frankly I’m shocked that it went as quietly as it did. Kudos to the White Sox front office for taking advantage of the A’s “EVERYTHING MUST GO!!!!” sale. Having said that, I feel like they could have done more (maybe make a run at Brandon Inge, who will see limited time with the acquisition of Cabrera by Detroit). They will need to if they want to become a contender once again.

4. Minnesota Twins

As recently as two years ago, the AL Central had four teams that could contend for the division title. This year, heading into spring training it looks to be a two horse race. Delmon Young is a good long term acquisition for the Twins, and Morneau and Mauer will still be anchoring the lineup, but the Twins lack secondary offensive production. The loss of Tori Hunter will hurt their run production. Unlike previous years, they don’t have the pitching to make up for any offensive shortcomings. They get Francisco Liriano back, but losing Matt Garza and Johan Santana will be more than the Twins can overcome. This team has 70 wins written all over them.

5. Kansas City Royals

This team is a long way from even sniffing .500. Rebuilding year number 24 is under way in Western Missouri. They don’t have pitching, and can really only expect to get production from two spots in their lineup, maybe not even that. The front office of this team either isn’t interested in winning or else just doesn’t get it. It is extremely difficult to find something nice to say about this team. The one positive is that they have two good young players in Mark Teahen and Alex Gordon. It is hard to get excited about this though. Both have yet to show production at the Major League level. Even if they do, they won’t be able to carry the Royals into contention alone, and it is impossible to imagine that this organization will be able to surround them with enough talent to be competitive. The Royals are the laughing stock of MLB, and there is no end in sight.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

OV Sports 2008 Way-to-Short MLB Preview

Sure, you could pour over rosters, stats and scouting reports to get ready for the 2008 MLB Season. Sure, you could look for previews with previews with fancy extremities like “graphics,” “player profiles” and “actual research,” but it probably won’t get you any more prepared for the 2008 season than my makeshift 2008 season preview. Or maybe not. Either way, here it is, featuring all of the insight and analysis that I can think of off of the top of my head while sitting in class.


1. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are coming off of their first division title in 11 years, and there is no reason to believe that they can’t do it again, maybe even take a third championship in 5 years. You know, other than 110 years of history. They didn’t pull the trigger on any major deals, but the Red Sox kept their core together. Plus they added Sean Casey, who may not help the Red Sox much on the field, but the notorious nice guy will give Manny someone to go to soup kitchens with, although Casey will probably go to work.

2. New York Yankees

What a splash! The Yankees signed the biggest free agent of the offseason. Adding A-Rod to this lineup will make them an instant contender. Plus you have to consider shedding one of the most successful managers in baseball addition by subtraction. I guess 9 consecutive division titles just don’t get it done anymore. In other Yankee news, the Yankees are going to have Jaba Chamberlain start the season in the bullpen, but will look to move him to the rotation, because clearly it doesn’t make sense to keep him in one role for the entire season.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

In all seriousness, this team has built up an arsenal of prospects over the years. I think that this will be the year that they finally make the jump to contender. There is way too much talent on this roster for them not to become a winning team in the next few years. Although giving up Delmon Young may have been difficult (or maybe not considering his unpopularity and discipline issues), but adding Matt Garza to Jamie Shields and Scott Kazmir gives the Rays something they have never had before, a solid pitching staff. In any other division, the Rays have the talent to contend for the division title. More importantly, as Barry Bonds has shown us by pointing to the sky after HRs, God cares deeply about baseball. The Rays dropped the “Devil” from their names and renounced their satanic allegiance. Look for the omnipotent creator of the universe to reward the Rays with solid middle relief and consistent two out hitting.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

I refuse to recognize the Troy Glaus- Scott Rolen trade on the grounds that they are the exact same player. My question for JP Ricciardi is this; why bother? (Apparently it was to remind people that there is still a baseball team in Canada.) BJ Ryan is hoping to be ready in time for opening day. This is great news for the blue birds. Ryan will be great for their bullpen until he goes back on the DL in mid-June.

5. Baltimore Orioles

Any time you have the opportunity to trade a genuine ace, a legitimate Cy Young candidate who could lead the league in Ks for an unproven outfield prospect with a career .230 major league batting average, that’s a move that you have to make. Kudos though to the Orioles front office for dumping Miguel Tejada on the Astros the day before the Mitchell Report.

....Tomorrow, the AL Central

Friday, February 8, 2008

Prediction? Superbad.

Ironically, the timing was perfect. Sitting on 18-0, the Patriots were about to be the first undefeated team in three decades, just the second in the Super Bowl era. I’m not a Pats fan, but I couldn’t help being excited. Not only would it be exciting to see history, but an undefeated team would make for the easiest column ever!

Sure, they still had to knock off the Giants, but as anyone who talked to me before the game knew, that seemed like a forgone conclusion. Sure, the Patriots weren’t running up the score on teams like they had at the beginning of the year anymore, but by beating New York, Baltimore and Indy in close games, they showed that they could win the close games, not just the blowouts.

As for the Giants, the Patriots seemed to match up well. The pass rush was New York’s strength, but the Pats had the strongest line in the league. Even if they could get to Brady, Laurence Maroney was coming off of 4 100-plus yard performances in 5 games, leading a rejuvenated New England ground game. Giants’ fans sighted the week seventeen matchup when the Giants stayed with the Pats for much of the game, eventually falling by three in the fourth quarter. This just solidified my perspective. I felt like the G-Men had played a perfect game (at home, no less) and still came up short. So as the teams took the field, I wasn’t only ready to see perfection, I was sure I would. I didn’t even think it would be close.

Then the game started, and it all went downhill. The Patriots came out flat, but managed to take a 7-3 lead into the half, but the Giants controlled the tempo, and were a couple of bounces from having a lead. Going into Tom Petty’s performance, the Pats didn’t look like the 18-0 team they had been all year (I wanted to make a free falling joke here, but’s Bill Simmons beat me to it). The Patriots were outplayed in the first half, but still I went into the second half waiting for them to take over. It had happened in every Patriots game this year, in the blowouts, obviously, but also in the close games. The third quarter passed, and I was still waiting. It wasn’t until there were about 5 minutes left in the game that it hit me. Maybe they don’t have it tonight, maybe the Giants can close this out without giving up a TD pass.

Naturally, I was dead wrong, and the Patriots came roaring back to take a 14-10 lead. It appeared that this one was going to end with the Pats taking control and finding a way to win. Just like they did against the Colts. And the Eagles. And the Ravens. And the Giants, but then Eli took over, escaping Vincent Wilfork, Adalius Thomas and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, avoiding the sack and war in Iran, throwing downfield to David Tyree who secured the ball and the economy against his helmet, making the catch and avoiding recession (admission: I still don’t understand the whole “sports as a metaphor for life” thing). The rest is history, the “one of the greatest upsets ever” kind, not the “19-0” kind.

So I guess that there was still a column in there (surprise), but there is a problem. The Giants are (arguably) the most popular team at Kent. They just won the super bowl, and in I just used the only space that talks about professional sports in this paper talking about the Patriots. Once again, I don’t get this team, I didn’t think that they should have beaten the Patriots (or the Packers or Cowboys for that matter), but because my arrangement for a token Giants fan to contribute fell through, here are my 5 thoughts on the 2008 Super Bowl Champions:

  1. Obviously the Giants pass rush was outstanding, and has received much well-deserved acclaim (no team came close to Brady as often as the G-Men knocked him down), but their secondary was also outstanding. Brady had decent numbers, but they didn’t allow any big plays, keeping New York in the game. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolu will certainly be an NFL head coach in the near future if he chooses to be (maybe even before this even prints with the Washington Redskins).
  2. You can’t talk about this Giants team without mentioning the transformation of Eli Manning, but it is difficult to find anything that hasn’t already been said and repeated. Suffice to say he should have gone the entire post-season without throwing an interception (the pick in the first half should have been caught by Steve Smith), amazing considering that most Giants fans probably wished they held on to Phillip Rivers as recently as a month ago. (note to USC admissions department: The pick was Manning's fault, the ball was uncatchable; repeat, not Smith's fault)
  3. Again, Manning was great, but David Tyree should have joined the Larry Brown All-Stars for obscure Super Bowl MVPs.
  4. In a game, Tiki Barber went from talented TV host who had enjoyed an excellent NFL career to punch-line. I, for one, am pleased with this development. Michael Strahan, on the other hand, has to be relieved to have come back to the Giants, rather than joining Tiki on the links.
  5. Congratulations to all the Giants fans, at Kent School and elsewhere. This championship should keep you satisfied during the offseason, when the only football comes in the form of the Pro Bowl, NFL Combine, Arena League, The NFL Draft, free Agency and the possible return of NFL Europe (wait, they call that an offseason!?).

Insert Glowing Reflection Here

January 18, 2008- With the second to last season of our Kent careers in full swing, a lot of seniors are probably looking back on their times competing for Kent and trying to figure out what it has meant to them to don the blue and gray. Okay, maybe there are more pressing things that seniors are thinking about, like when that acceptance letter will finally come if you aren’t into college, or exactly how little work you can do without failing out if you are already in, but when I was asked to write a column about Kent sports, I started thinking about it. Surprisingly enough, even after playing on twelve different teams in four and a half years at Kent, I found it difficult to articulate my experience. Since I don’t want my classmates to have the same problem I had (and because I would like to think that I was able to contribute something to the class of ’08), I came up with this. So if anyone ever asks you what you think about Kent sports (or asks you to write a column about them), you can just pick the options that apply to you.

My Time at Kent

By Senior O’Eight

Wow, I can’t believe that it is almost over. (One, Two, Three, Four, Five) years just (flew, dragged) by. I (tried, didn’t try) a lot of new things while I was at Kent, but one thing really stuck out. I will never forget my time as a part of the (football, soccer, crew, hockey, lacrosse, baseball, basketball) program. That team really (came together, couldn’t stand each other, could have used a couple of PGs). We (won, lost, showed up late for) a lot of games, but we always (found ways we could improve, worked hard, got to go to McDonalds after away games). The most memorable part had to be that game against (TP, Hotchkiss, Loomis, Kent Center School), when we (won, lost) and I (played the game of my life, saw my teammates at their best, realized I needed to find a new sport). Then there was that coach I will never forget, (Mr./Mrs.) (insert name). What a (great mentor, jerk)! Deep down I always (loved, hated) the game, but they brought it out of me. That one time that they (sent me in, took me out) I truly believed that (I could succeed, any moron who had ever watched a game on TV could do a better job than them). I think the smartest thing that they said that year was “(to know yourself is to play without fear, the only ones who can beat us are ourselves, I don’t care if win, I still get paid). Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. There was that one team I was cut from. I wasn’t that upset though, I knew that (Varsity Hockey, First Boat, Father Vorhees’s Club Soccer team) is very competitive. It actually was a blessing in disguise, because after I got cut I (was even more motivated and became a better player, had fun playing where I was, quit and used the extra time I had to beat Knights of Cydonia on Expert)

(Go, Go to hell) Kent!

Shenanigans Gimmicks and Tomfoolery

note: this column appears in the January 2008 Kent News

January 7, 2008- There is an old saying: Gimmicks are for people who need gimmicks. I suppose that this time honored philosophy is fairly simple. If you are the best at what you do, you don’t need to use shenanigans to get to the top. You will never find a Beatles Christmas album or a Family Guy season where they trot out celebrities in an attempt to attract viewers. Gimmicks are fun in sports, but they only get you so far, presumably this is why it has been 80 years since the St. Louis Browns sent a 3’7” batter to the plate, or why the NHL has yet to experiment with a 600 pound goalie. So even thoughThe Beatles' Christmas Album” was released in 1970, Family Guy season 6 is advertised on iTunes with the line “The upcoming sixth season will feature guest voice appearances by Paris Hilton, Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, among others” and I made up that “adage” about 10 minutes ago, I guess it is still true in sports.

This concept of the best not needing to stray from the norm ranges from the obvious to the obscure, both on and off of the field. For instance, you will rarely find a Red Sox game where they are giving away free souvenirs, whereas you can hardly walk through the gate at McAfee Coliseum (home of the Oakland A’s) without being pelted with free crap. On a similar note, I wouldn’t expect a giant Coke bottle or slide for the mascot in new Yankee Stadium (à la San Francisco’s AT&T Park or Milwaukee’s Miller Park). All of those can be fun, but organizations that don’t need to go out of their way to fill the seats, like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or almost any NFL team, will be content to let the fan pay for his or her ticket, and let the game be the attraction.

Same thing goes for the games them selves. I am as big a Boise State Football fan as you will ever meet. I have three Bronco hats and a Jared Zabransky jersey hanging over my desk right now. Having said that, it doesn’t take Pete Carroll or Les Miles to tell you that you will never see USC or LSU run a hook and ladder, statue of liberty and halfback pass in the same season, let alone the same game (and I didn’t even mention blue turf). In fairness, the 2006 Broncos were a hard nosed team that relied on a great offensive line and one of the best running backs in the nation up until the last five minutes of their season, but they were a mid-major running with the big dogs and, at least for a while, they needed trickery to keep up. It was unbelievable to watch, but it also serves as a reminder that they aren’t quite up to speed with the Ohio States of the world.

There is indeed a fine line between creativity and gimmicks. In junior hockey, prodigy Sidney Crosby took heat for lifting the puck onto his stick and stuffing it into the net like a lacrosse player. Likewise a Brazilian soccer player was targeted and injured after running through defenders while bouncing the ball on his head like a seal, but these are talented athletes pushing the limits of their skills, not inferior players trying to keep up.

There are definitely exceptions. From time to time you will see Dice-K “noise makers” at Fenway or the Patriots running a throwback pass, but by and large, the best teams win by being faster and stronger, not by finding ways to fool you. While this leaves plenty of ideas you might like to see on the shelf (NBA Winter Classic anyone?), if teams don’t need gimmicks to win, and owners don’t need them to make money, they will continue to leave them alone. It is too bad.

Defending the Indefensible

November 16, 2007- (Sigh) goes....I’m going to do the unthinkable, the impossible. I’m going to try to defend Barry Bonds. (Staring at a blank screen) Well...(the blinking curser is mocking me) this might be it. I have defended Barry for 10 years since the knock on him was that he wasn’t a nice guy, through steroids, BALCO and 756, but I don’t know anymore. After all this time, I may not be able to defend the home run king.

As a ballplayer it is easy. Steroids or not, Barry was the greatest talent, in any sport, that I have seen play in my lifetime. Bonds tops a list that includes greats like Gretzky, Jordan and Farve, the best of the best. On the field it is easy to defend him. I can use the same argument I always have. Even if he took steroids, Barry Lamar Bonds was able to hit more balls squarely than anyone I have ever seen. The man was simply a freak (and a force) of nature when it came to hitting a baseball. He could have hit a fraction of the homeruns that he did, and still have been a hall of famer.

It was more than that though; Barry could do whatever he wanted on a baseball field. Early in his career, Barry was criticized as a poor defensive player, all he did was improve his game and win eight gold gloves. People said he couldn’t come through when it matters, then he put the 2002 Giants on his back and carried them within a few outs of a championship. Barry Bonds should have gone down as the greatest player in any sport never to win a championship. But he won’t.

The end is not near for Barry. It is here. This is the last straw for number 25, and it isn’t right. It just is. I don’t know enough about the indictment (or the law in general) to tell you what it means. To myself (and I believe to most people), Barry is no more or less likely to have cheated or lied today as he was before this indictment. All I know is that the man I grew up watching swat baseballs into McCovey Cove faces thirty years in prison, and because of that, he has played his last baseball game. If there is a small upside it is that Barry’s last game was as a Giant. It wouldn’t have felt right watching Barry make a couple of last trips around the league as a DH for the A’s, Angles or, god forbid, Yankees. But this is a small consolation. Deep down, I think that any true baseball fan has to be disappointed by this. Nothing will change the fact that Barry Bonds is the all-time homerun leader, Barry has never been suspended, and never will be, for taking steroids. In the eyes of Major League Baseball, Barry will remain innocent, and yet even if he gets off, proven innocent, he will never be remembered that way.

On Thursday, November 15th, 2007, Barry Bonds’ legacy lost a long fight and died. At this point, the best that Barry can hope for is to be remembered not as innocent, but as having “gotten off.” Speculation and mistrust have shrouded Bonds for too long for an innocent verdict to clear this anti-hero’s name. Then there is the other possibility. Conviction. As a Bonds fan, it is unimaginable, the home run king spending thirty years behind bars. This is not Ali evading Vietnam, or even Tyson being convicted in his prime, this is much bigger. While Ali and Tyson (or more recently Vick) found trouble away from the field, what Barry stands trial for is, in the eyes of the public at the very least, linked directly to baseball. While the official charges stem from obstructing justice by lying under oath, the significance of this accusation lies in steroids.

To the federal court system, Barry Bonds stands accused of lying to a grand jury, but to the American public, particularly baseball fans, he has been accused of something much worse, cheating. Few would openly admit it, but as far as his legacy is concerned, this is the worst crime an athlete can commit. Morally we would like to believe that this bothers us less than OJ’s murder case of Tyson’s rape case, or even Vick’s dogfighting case, and if you aren’t a fan, it probably does. But not if you have followed baseball for the last decade. While dog fighting rape and murder are horrible things that no one wishes to happen, knowing that these people participated in them doesn’t change what they have done on the field. That is not the case with steroids. Fans feel as though they are the victim. Our memories of what we have seen on the field are attacked. It is personal. I am not saying that shooting anabolic steroids is worse than rape or murder, or even that they are in the same ballpark, but no one can pretend that rape and murder don’t happen. Sports fans are often naive enough to think that the games we love are innocent. The surprise is what hurts. With few exceptions, we don’t know the athletes we root for off of the playing field, so knocks against their character are much less personal for us than something that tarnishes what we have seen. Again, none of this is right, it just is.

As a fan, I want to see Barry ruled innocent, I want to believe in 73 and 762. I want to remember standing for every Bonds at bat this summer, hoping to see 755, not caring about anything that the man at the plate had done outside of the walls of AT&T Park. The romantic in me feels differently though. Bonds is, if nothing else, a tragic figure. The man with all the talent in the world, but that rarely even seemed happy. The man that went through what may have been the most impressive baseball career ever, essentially alone. Barry will never ride off into the sunset, innocent. Maybe it is the most fitting end for such a sad story, Barry, alone, in a cell, unable to enjoy his accomplishments. I don’t want to see this. Deep down I am still a Barry Bonds fan and I will keep rooting for him. But I can’t defend him.

Finding Clutch; Reflections of a 2007 Boston Red Sox Fan

note: this column appears in the November 2007 Kent News
October 31, 2007- In April, reading over rosters, off season moves and predictions in Sports Illustrated and, I wasn’t sure what to make of the 2007 version of my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Six months and a World Series Championship later, I’m still not sure what to think. I saw a good team that could step up and be great or crumble and be mediocre, and it turns out that Red Sox Nation would see both of those in 2007. So what should we call this team? Simultaneously this team was exciting and frustrating. An emotional roller coaster all season, one thing was definite about this team; when it mattered the 2007 Boston Red Sox got the job done.

There are some things in sports that will never be explained. Certain aspects are simply destined to be beyond the realm of our understanding. I’m not talking about your standard questions like “why is Gary Bettman allowed to remain commissioner of the NHL when no one familiar with his work would hire him to run a Dairy Queen” or “why did baseball decide to make the World Series between the AL champion and a glorified AAA team.” I’m talking about those questions that make up the philosophy of competition, like what separates a good team from a great one or why do some players crumble in pressure situations while others bring their game to another level.

The second question has long been debated. What exactly is clutch? Stat heads like SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) or Baseball Prospectus will site statistic after statistic contending that there is no such thing. They will contend that “clutch performers” are just another instance of fans being fooled by what they see, remembering instances that contribute to correlation and disregarding non-events that contradict your theory. This seems to be less than satisfying, contending that “clutch” doesn’t exist simply because we cannot quantify it, akin to someone contending that there is no god simply because they cannot account directly for God’s presence. Clutch works in mysterious ways.

Reggie Jackson was a career .262 hitter who only hit .300 once in his career, and yet in 5 World Series appearances, he hit .357. Josh Beckett has 2 shutouts in 166 regular season starts; he has 3 shutouts in just 10 postseason starts. Even these stats are just numbers however. To most fans, clutch will always be something beyond statistical analysis, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz have had had similar batting stats over the last few years, yet Sox fans relish Papi’s late game at bats while Yankee fans often wish that they had Jeter or even Abreu up in the biggest spots. I can’t tell you exactly what clutch is, but I do know one thing. Whatever it takes to come up big when it matters, the 2007 Boston Red Sox had it.

In October (the only October, because as we all now know, there is only one October, thanks Dane), everything came together. Manny Ramirez woke up from a year long daze after being criticized for watching a long home run, youngsters like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellesbury stepped up and even underachieving off-season acquisitions Julio Lugo and JD Drew came through, Drew swinging the ALCS with a grand slam and Lugo hitting .385 in the World Series.

On the other side of the ball Schilling was solid, giving the Red Sox a chance to win every time he took the ball, Dice-K shook off a bad outing (game three of the ALCS) and allowed just four runs in his next two starts, and the bullpen was dominant throughout the playoffs, highlighted by three shutout innings to preserve a 2-1 lead in game two of the World Series. Oh yeah, Josh Beckett also established himself as the most dominant big game pitcher of his generation, starting off the playoffs with a complete game shutout and the World Series with four strike outs to begin game one. Both of these performances were statements by Beckett showing that a good team and a great pitcher were taking their games to another level.

Even now that the World Series has ended, the Red Sox are champions and I’m chastising Yankee fans with questions like “when is game 5? Who do we play next?” and “4-0, is that good? Did we win?” I’m not sure exactly what to make of the 2007 Boston Red Sox. Were they a great team, definitely not, great teams don’t let fans think that they don’t have what it takes with two weeks left in the season, but the Red Sox were two things above all else.

First of all they were clutch whatever that means. Even down three one, this team knew that it had what it takes (even if we didn’t always know) and knew that it would come through when it mattered.

Most importantly, they were a testament to the job done by general manager Theo Epstein. Epstein was criticized for spending too much on Dice-K and JD Drew, but both of them came up big when it mattered. People said he gave up too much to get Beckett, but even with Hanley Ramirez, a great young shortstop, there is no way the Red Sox win it all without Beckett and supposed “throw in” Mike Lowell (who no longer has to answer to “Beckett trade throw in Mike Lowell” and can now go by “World Series MVP Mike Lowell”) and no one noticed when Epstein drafted well and developed players like Ellesbury, Papelbon and Pedroia or found diamonds in the rough like Bobby Kielty or Hideki Okajima.

People could still criticize him by saying that any GM could win with that large a payroll or pointing out that Matt Clement made $9 million and didn’t throw a pitch in 2007. You could still say this, but like Patrick Roy, Theo can’t hear you. His World Series rings are blocking his ears.

The View From the Top

October 25, 2007- As I write this, I feel like an eight year old on Christmas Eve. I have cleared my schedule for seven of the next nine nights from 8:00 to midnight (or else would have if I wasn’t at Kent where this is basically impossible). I get ultimate treat, vindication for the hundreds of hours spent reading, and Sports Illustrated, for watching SportsCenter and listening to ESPN Radio. These things never seemed like chores, but now they are just that more worth it. My team, in this case the Red Sox, has made it to the championship.

For a lot of players, making it to the championship is just another step towards a championship, but for a fan it can mean more than that. The goal is the same, and like it does for fans of the 28 teams who’s seasons’ have ended, 2007 will seem incomplete if the Rockies beat the Sox. For a fan though, just making the finals has a lot of advantages. For 28 of the thirty teams, the season ends early. This means that fourteen in fifteen fan bases have to go through an abyss period, where the playoffs are going on but with your team out it is difficult to care about what happens (just ask any Yankee fan who has had to walk into the student center with the Red Sox on TV for the past two weeks). Not all abyss periods are created equal. The playoffs have surely been much more painful for a Mets fan to watch after their team’s historic collapse than they have been for, say, a Devil Rays fan who’s team was essentially eliminated a few days after players reported to spring training (that is if the Devil Rays actually had fans).

The next advantage is simple; I get at least four more Sox games this year. That means at least four more nights of studying with one eye on, at least four more nights of rushing to the SC around 9:20 wearing my Beckett jersey to watch the game, at least four more pitching match-ups to judge (Beckett-Francis? Win. Schill-Jimenez? Win. Matsuzaka-Fogg? Depends on which Dice-K shows up.) four more nights of pointless rituals grasping for any bit of karma I can get for the Sox (like it is going to swing the series if I wear my Red Sox flip-flops to the library), and at least four more nights when from 8:00 to about midnight, I can forget about my own problems and focus on the team that I have been following since March. After all, isn’t that what being a fan is about in the first pace?

There is a funny thing about championships; the games themselves are usually anti-climactic. For every game seven, you will get two or three one sided four or five game series. For every game winning Vinatieri field goal, there are three Super Bowl blowouts. For every Joe Carter there is a Bill Buckner. Over the course of a six to eight month season, every team will have to peak, and it is rarely in the championship. In 2004 the Red Sox’ four game sweep of the Cardinals was overshadowed by the 3-0 comeback in the ALCS. Likewise, it will be extremely difficult for anything that happens in the next 10 days to overshadow the Rockies needing every one of their fourteen wins in fifteen games just to make the playoffs, or J.D. Drew erasing a season of under-achievement and animosity from fans with one perfect swing, a series changing grand slam to dead center. But who knows, maybe something will, and that, my friend, is why they play the game.