Friday, December 17, 2010

Bob Feller: One of the Greatest Pitchers of All Time

I remember being asked a few years ago if I could go back in time and watch one baseball player while he was in the prime of his career, who would it be. I suprised the individual I was chatting with when I named Bob Feller. I choose Feller because from what I had read of and old footage I've seen of him, I knew I would have enjoyed watching him.

Bob "Rapid Robert" Feller passed away this past Wednesday of pneumonia at the age of 92. When the conversation comes up about great pitchers, names such as Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens always seem to be on everyone's list of the greatest pitchers. But to leave Bob Feller off of any list that breaks down the best of the best pitchers in baseball history would be a dissevice.

Feller was a superstar during the period of time he played. He led the league in strikeouts seven times and won 20 plus games 6 times in his 18 seasons. In games that he started, he completed more games (279) than games he won (266). He threw 44 shutouts, three of them were No-Hitters. He pitched atleast 190 innings eleven times, including three seasons in which he threw more then 300 innings. He was truly a pitching machine.

Feller was known for more than just his gaudy statistics. He had an amazing fastball that has been calculated to be around 104 MPH (there were no speed guns to clock pitch speed in the 1930's and 40's). He would tour the country showing off how hard he could throw a baseball, making him one of the most visable and likeable players in baseball.

On top of all of this, Feller missed almost 4 baseball seasons due to him enlisting in the Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In addition to his five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars he received for his service in World War II, Feller also has the distinction as the only Chief Petty Officer in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

One can only wonder what career statistics he would have amassed if World War II didnt break out. But what one does not have to wonder about is his place in baseball history. He is arguably one of the top fifteen pitchers of All Time. After he retired, he was a big part of the Cleveland and Baseball communities and did an extensive amount of charity work.

So whether you remember him as a World War II Vet, a Hall of Fame Baseball Pitcher, or a geniune, good hearted man, Bob Feller was truly one of a kind. This legend will truly be missed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Red Sox build the Blue-Collar Gang for domination

Boston Red Sox's General Manager Theo Epstein is a man with a plan and that plan is looking great. The signing of outfielder Carl Crawford to a 7 year, 142 million dollar deal is just another sign of the type of team the Red Sox are building: a team of hard working, tough minded, good attitude ball players. The additions of Crawford last night along with the acquisition of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez shows a change in direction from the model most baseball teams use to build a dynasty.

Yes, I used the word dynasty because you are looking at a team with five all-star caliber on their roster under the age of 30. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Gonzalez, Crawford, and Pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are all excellent players who have not fully reached their full potential yet. And one would be mistaken to forget that Pitchers Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon along with third/first baseman Kevin Youkilis are in their early 30's. This team has so much talent from top to bottom yet Epstein still plans to add another pitcher and maybe a catcher as well.

The unique element that will make this team so successful is the element that all of the above players have in common, which is the hard working, professional attitude that each player brings to their craft. Being team oriented players who do not have lots of baggage or any real off field issues or drama to speak of is something any professional team would love to have. These guys want to win and will do whatever it takes to get there. They will put in the work to make themselves the cream of the crop in the American League as individuals and as a team.

This is all apart of Theo Epstein's vision for the team. While some teams will overspend for the big names and others want to develop talent through their farm system then trade some talent for big time stars, the Red Sox have assembled a specific type of talented players. You look at the Yankees, they have superstar players making rediculous amounts of money. The Phillies have built their core of superstar players through either their farm system or strategic transactons. Teams like the Rangers, Giants, Rockies, Cardinals, White Sox and Twins have rosters that are a mix of all star level talent with overachievers that other teams have unloaded.

But the Red Sox have assembled a roster with all star level players who have a blue collar work ethic. These guys work all year round to get better and do not let the grind of a 162 game season get to them. Also these players are not a bunch of inflated egos looking to be adulated. Epstein built the team of free spirit personalities for 2004 World Series run then a team of stars for the title in 2007. But there were side effects with each of those teams. Guys from the 2004 team like Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo, and Pedro Martinez left to cash in free agency. On the other hand, age caught up with players like Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Curt Schilling, and Jason Varitek from the 2007 team. Also, baseball fans cannot forget the drama that led to the Red Sox unloading Manny Ramierez.

This new strategy by Epstein is to get hard working, talented players as they are entering into the prime of their careers. Look around at other teams in the American League in comparison with the Red Sox. The Yankees' superstars aren't getting any younger. The Tampa Rays are loosing their young talent because they cannot afford to keep them. The Rangers' potential revolves around their need for top line starting pitching and bullpen help. The Twins seem to be unable to get over the hump and it appears luck is not on their side. Teams like the White Sox and Angels have talent but are lacking in some areas. The Red Sox have positioned themselves to become the head of the class in the American League with the well rounded roster they are compiling and Theo Epstein is still not done adding to the arsenal. It looks like the Red Sox are assembling another winner; not bad for a franchise that went 86 years without a Championship before Theo Epstein came along.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The BS of the BCS

Now that the College Football regular season is over and the final Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings have been revealed with all of the bowl game matchups, still everything is a mess.

While most people wouldn't dispute the National Title Game matchup between the two teams considered the best in Division I football, Oregon and Auburn, the rest of the matchups are bit head scratching.

Lets start with the Big East Conference Champion Connecticut facing Oklahoma (the Big 12 Champion) in the Fiesta Bowl. Some people may look at this as a "David versus Goliath" matchup, when in reality it more so resembles car race between a Minivan and a Corvette (Connecticut is the Minivan and Oklahoma being the Corvette). Connecticut won the Big East Championship because they won two close games against West Virgina and Pittsburgh, then finished the season with the best in-conference record. But they did not finish with the best overall record in the Big East (West Virgina finished the season at 9-3; Connecticut finished 8-4). West Virgina lost their three games by 6 or less points, one of those losses being to SEC powerhouse LSU. On the other hand, Connecticut lost three of their four games by 14 or more points, one of those losses being a 26-0 shutout against a Louisville team that finished the season 6-6.

There is no Big East Football Championship game, so the conference champion was awarded to Connecticut because they held the tie breaker over West Virgina since they beat them earlier in the season. As a result, Connecticut will face a Oklahoma team that is ranked 7th overall by the BCS college football rankings and has possibly four players on their offense that could be picked in the first round of the NFL draft. But because there is a rule that states that the Champion of the Big East gets an automatic berth in a major Bowl Game, Connecticut gets the opportunity to be overmatched against a very talented Oklahoma team.

Another conference that has thrown out a mess onto the college football landscape is the Big Ten. Three schools ended the season as co-Conference Champions: Wisconson, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Again, they have no conference championship game. All three schools finished with the same 11-1 overall record and the same 7-1 in-conference record. According to the BCS rules, the team that finished with the highest ranking in the final standings will get a trip to the Rose Bowl and the team with the second highest rank from the Big Ten can get an automatic berth into another major Bowl game. So Wisconson will play TCU in the Rose Bowl, Ohio State will play Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl and Michigan State gets left out of a major bowl, being selected to play Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

And why was Wisconson and Ohio State ranked ahead of Michigan State? Beware, this gets complicated: Since Wisconson beat Ohio State and Iowa they get the highest ranking, even though Michigan State beat Wisconson they lost badly to Iowa who was beaten by Ohio State and since Michigan State didnt play Ohio State, the Michigan State Spartans get left out of the top 2 rankings of schools from the Big Ten conference. Confussed yet?

Dont worry, it gets better. The Orange Bowl will matchup the ACC Champion, Virgina Tech, against a top ranked non-conference champion, which according to the BCS is Stanford. The reason why Stanford is ranked 4th by the BCS is because their only loss was to Oregon, one of the two undefeated teams playing for the national title. Atleast this matchup is between two talented, high powered offenses and their isn't any great disparagement in talent or level of play during the season.

All of this chaos only accentuates the point that college football needs a playoff instead of this mess of bowl games that are selected matchups according to the computer results of the BCS. The BCS is basically a system that enables the universities and their conferences to make lots of money. Its not about the best matchups or the best teams playing for the title. Its not about the student-athletes, the fans, or what is fair. Its all about money. Although I love watching college football, I know that in the end, the BCS is just a bunch of BS!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Johnson verson Finnegan: Upstanding Player beats down Dirty Player

For those who didn't get to see or may have seen and were confussed by the fighting that broke out in the middle of the Tennesse Titans-Houston Titans game yesterday, here is the basics of what happened: Titans Cornerback (CB) Cortland Finnegan was constantly in Texans Wide Receiver (WR) Andre Johnson's face during the game. Despite Johnson telling Finnegan to cut it out, the grabbing and the shoving continued. In the fourth quarter, Johnson had had enough. After easily removing Finnegan's helmet, Johnson proceeded to land a couple solid haymakers to Finnegan's scull. After the scuffle between both teams was quieted by the officiating crew, both players were ejected from the game. (See video below)

Finnegan is an antagonizer and was voted one of the dirtiest players in the NFL by other players. In fact, Finnegan said he "aspires to be the NFL's dirtiest player". Listed at 5'-10" and 185 lbs., Finnegan basically is a punk in an athletes body who uses his "dirty" tactics to get under the skin of other teams' best players.

On the other hand, Johnson is a well respected player around the NFL and is considered one of the top Wide Receivers in the game. Standing at 6'3" and weighing in at 225 lbs., Johnson is ALOT bigger and stronger then Finnegan.

This may be the first time a player from an opposing team actually went after Finnegan so agressively during a game. In fact, I say "Kudos" to Johnson for attempting to teach Finnegan a lesson. Everyone has their limits and even good guys can be pushed too far. Whether Finnegan wants to admit it or not, being punched a few times by someone who out weighs him by almost 40 lbs. has to hurt. Especially when the athlete is a guy like Johnson who is one of the strongest Wide Receivers in the NFL.

I know the league will probably fine Johnson and may choose to suspend him, but I think a suspention is too much. Johnson has appologizes for his actions and he has no history in the NFL of bad behavior. On the other hand, Finnegan has been fined on a few different occasions for his bad behavior on the field. Johnson was in a Catch-22: if he didn't go after Finnegan, who knows what would have happened to him if things escalated even more but going after Finnegan ment being thrown out of the game.

The situation is similar to the kid in High School who knows of a punk who has the reputation of agitating and picking on people. The kid tries to put up with the punk and not let him get to him, but one day the punk goes too fast and the kid says to himself "Enough is Enough" and puts the punk in his place. The kid gets a detention for doing what he did on school grounds while the antagonizing punk gets suspended for pushing the other kid too far and factoring in his history of bad behavior.

So congrats to Johnson for being a stand up guy after the game for appologizing after the game but I also say good for him for taking it to Finnegan. Maybe he should have been more controlled but in the momment Johnson did what he thought had to be done. It's fair to say that if Johnson wasn't in the NFL though he would be fighting one of the Klitschko Brothers for Boxing's Heavyweight Championship. Those punches definately were not sissy shots for sure!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fedor losses to Werdum: Aftermath

Last night something happened many Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fans believed was nearly impossible: Fedor Emelianenko lost a MMA match for the first time in ten years. He had fought 29 times since his first career loss in December 2000 and the only fight he did not win was ruled a "No Contest" because of an accidental Head Butt. Saturday night Fedor was caught in a Triangle Choke-Armbar by his opponent Fabricio Werdum. Werdum, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, was a heavy underdog coming into this fight.

This fight showed that even one of the best fighters ever can loose if he gets caught in a bad situation. For many years people had assumed that the only way to be Fedor was in a stand up war because of his background in Sambo and Judo. Sambo was considered the Martial Art that had the best defensive positioning to foil the submission moves of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. For a decade Fedor took on men of numerous fighting style backgrounds such as Kickboxing, Muay Tai, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and even Boxing; yet for 29 straight fights Fedor found a way to not loose.

This loss doesn't diminish Fedor's legacy as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, just like the bad last season of Babe Ruth's career or the last couple lackluster season's of Michael Jordan's career doesn’t diminish their legends. Whether one is a fan or not of Fedor, he is definitely a legend in Mixed Martial Arts.

So the man who was considered the best Heavyweight MMA fighter in the world has finally lost, now what?

*Well for starters this is a great day for Dana White and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The UFC is widely recognized as the premier MMA organization in the world. The UFC has positioned itself as the place where the best of the best fight in the same way the NFL has with football and the NBA has with basketball. Werdum is a fighter who use to fight in the UFC and had a 2-2 record before leaving the UFC. Dana White (who is the President and promotional front man of the UFC where he appears to be a combination between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Boxing Promoter Bob Arum) has said that Fedor was avoiding fighting the Best of the Best since he would not come to the UFC. Fedor has fought for every other recognizable MMA entity except the UFC. So now that Fedor's first loss in ten years was to a guy who won two out of four fights in the UFC gives credibility to White's claims of UFC superiority with MMA talent.
Also, the UFC can now promote their upcoming Heavyweight matchup as the fight to crown the next top Heavyweight fighter in MMA. UFC 116's main event matches current Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar and Interim Heavyweight Belt holder Shane Carwin. With Fedor losing to a former UFC fighter, White can say that whoever wins the fight between Lesnar and Carwin will take Fedor's place as top heavyweight in the world.

*One the other hand this is a major low point for M-1 Global, the official promoter for Fedor Emelianenko. The organization has held MMA competitions while acting as the agent for Fedor (who is a part owner of M-1). Fedor's invincibility was M-1's meal ticket. They positioned themselves in a way that they could drive a hard bargain for the top Heavyweight fighter in the world. But now that he has lost, that image that was portrayed of Fedor has been damaged and their ability to play hardball is gone. While Fedor said after the fight he has one more fight in America because of the contract he signed, M-1 cannot make any demands on who he will fight next.

*Interestingly enough, Strikeforce comes out of this with a positive. Strikeforce has been viewed as that "other" MMA organization where guys who do not like the UFC or may be UFC cast offs go. A simple analogy would be to say Strikeforce is to UFC what the USFL in the 1980's was to the NFL or what the ABA was to the NBA in the 1970's. Strikeforce made a hard push to get a deal signed with Fedor. The fact that Fedor lost to one of Strikeforce's own guys, Werdum, shows that Strikeforce has some high level MMA fighters in their organization. But the issue will continue to be that Strikeforce does not come close to the UFC in terms of talent depth or visibility. Strikeforce's best bet from here on out is to position themselves as either the alternate in MMA to the UFC or eventually be absorbed in the UFC just like the ABA was by the NBA.

*Fedor has a few options for the final fight of his contract. Strikeforce needs to take full financial advantage of its last opportunity to market Fedor since he might retire after this next fight. They cannot rationalize having Fedor fight their current Heavyweight Champ Alistair Overeem after a loss, so they could have Fedor fight Antonio Silva. Silva has one loss in his last eight fights and it was to the man who just beat Fedor, Fabricio Werdum.
Strikeforce could also try to set up a "super fight" with one of their other star fighters. Dan Henderson (who recently lost to current Strikeforce Middleweight Champ Jake Shields) is an option. Henderson (a former UFC fighter) use to fight as a light heavyweight and has had issues in the past cutting weight to fight at 185 lbs. Fedor is considered an average sized heavyweight fighter so Henderson would only have to give up a couple inches height wise in a fight with Fedor. Also the option of not having to cut weight for Henderson would be a definite appeal. Strikeforce could market the fight as "USA versus Russia" since Henderson represented the US in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics as a wrestler.
On the other hand Strikeforce could set up a "Super Fight" between Fedor and their current Light Heavyweight Champion Mohammed "King Mo" Lawal. Lawal dominated Gegard Mousasi for five round in his last fight in which he won the Light Heavyweight Strikeforce belt. Lawal does not have a clear cut opponent to defend his belt against in Strikeforce's light heavyweight division. A matchup with Fedor could be viewed as an informal passing of the MMA torch between legend and up-and-comer. In this fight both guys win no matter the result. If Fedor wins it would be pointed out he is one of the greatest MMA fighters ever and he went out on top while Lawal is young yet. If Lawal wins it would be rationalized that Lawal can now be labeled a real MMA Star in beating a legend while people can say that having over thirty fights in his career has worn down Fedor.

As a side note, I was never a big fan of Fedor Emelianenko. I was tired of him always winning and wanted to see someone beat him. In 2005 Fedor was set to fight Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. In my mind I thought if anyone was talented enough of a fighter to beat Fedor it was Crop Cop. But Fedor beat him by Unanimous Decision. Crop Cop was the last fighter who was able to go an entire fight without being finished by Fedor. After that Fedor rattled off 8 straight fights in which he finished his opponents. So it seems only fitting that a fighter who stopped 21 out of 29 opponents by either submission, Technical Knockout (TKO) or Knockout (KO) over the course of a decade would be beaten by a fighter who submitted him.

Ultimately it is the way that Fedor handled the loss is what gave me a new level of respect for him. He handled the loss graciously and professionally. He didn’t make excuses, he didn't complain, he wasn’t even mad. It was as if a burden was taken from him. He is allowed to be human again. I cannot imagine the pressure Fedor was under for so long because people viewed him as invincible.

No matter what happens from here on out, it should be recognized that Fedor was more than just a legend, he is a fighter who changed MMA. He didn't just beat six different champions of different MMA organizations, but it is how he defeated fighters is what made him unique. The old mantra is "styles make fights". Fedor never tried to exclusively use his skills as a Sambo and Judo fighter to his advantage over his opponents. Instead he won by beating his opponents at what they do best. If you were famous for knocking people out, Fedor was not afraid to exchange strikes with you and then he would knock you out. If you were known as a great wrestler or grappler, he would submit you. If you were known to be able to outlast your opponents and beat them by outscoring them, Fedor would beat you that same way. His style of fighting forced people to see that MMA was not suppose to be about brute force or being super skilled at a specific martial art discipline, but to win you must be all around skilled fighter who knows how to use your talents and martial art acumen to beat your opponent. And above all, how he handled himself and how he respected other fighters raised the bar for sportsmanship. Fedor changed MMA forever; he put the "Martial Arts" back in MMA.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Big 12 stays intact: Reaction

So after the drama of the last couple weeks, officially the Big 12 Athletic Conference will stay in existence. There were rumors that the top football schools who are members of the Big 12 (University of Texas, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech) would leave to join the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC-10).

So instead of rehash everything that has happened to the college sports landscape, I’ll do a quick overview and then my thoughts:

*University of Nebraska leaves the Big 12 and joins the Big Ten Conference

-Nebraska left the Big 12 because they wanted a better share of the TV revenue from the conference and they wanted more media exposure. I know some experts say this is a good move for them but I am still scratching my head about it. They leave because of money, yet they will not be a major player in their new conference. They were one of the top three football programs in the Big 12, while in the Big Ten they are maybe the 5th best football program. Since college football is the biggest money maker for college athletics I do not see how Nebraska benefits except that the Big Ten has their own TV Network so their school’s other athletic programs will have more exposure.

*University of Colorado leaves the Big 12 and joins the PAC-10

-The PAC-10 is well known for having high academic standards. The Universities of Washington, University of California, and UCLA are all well known research schools while Stanford University has some of the toughest academic standards among major universities in the nation. So the PAC-10 invited a university that has been cited four times by NCAA for multiple violations of collegiate athletics rules in the last thirty years. Some of these violations have involved academics. So how does Colorado fit in with the PAC-10? Colorado has a decent football program, weak men’s and women’s basketball programs, and their best sports historically are Cross Country and Skiing. The real reason Colorado is a part of the PAC-10 is for the exposure in the Denver media market.

*The Big 12 is staying intact, with ten teams.

-The Big 12 now has ten teams, the Big Ten has twelve teams, and the PAC-10 has eleven teams. My first reaction is why don’t these “smart” people who run these conferences come up with better names? Universities are places where students go to be educated and enlightened, obviously such education and enlightenment does not extend to those who come up with the names for such organizations. Furthermore, the Big 12 has been weakened in their athletics with the departure of Nebraska and Colorado. What the Big 12 should do is invite Texas Christian University (TCU) and the University of Houston so they can revitalize the conference. Both schools have good athletic programs. Then the Big 12 can have a north division consisting of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State and a south division with Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston and TCU. THAT would be interesting, but I’m just speaking as a sports fan.

*University of Utah is rumored to be going to the PAC-10

-So since the PAC-10 couldn’t get Texas, Oklahoma and half of the Big 12, many experts suspect that Utah will be invited into the PAC-10. I am unsure how they will divide up the conference with the inclusion of Colorado and Utah, but having Utah is a better prospect than Colorado for the PAC-10. Utah has good football, men’s basketball, and women’s gymnastics programs along with a good academic tradition. Utah is a good fit for the PAC-10.

*Notre Dame University Football is staying Independent

-I have had enough of Norte Dame demanding to be independent. The school has not won a major bowl game since 1994 (Cotton Bowl). Schools such as Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Miami, Nebraska and Ohio State have been football powerhouses for decades and they are not independent from an athletic conference. I cannot wait for the day that Notre Dame Football stops putting their nose into the air towards the college football world and they join an athletic conference.

Yes, they have won eight national championships in the National Poll era (since 1936), but their last championship was in 1988. Alabama has also won eight national championships and they have won two since Notre Dame’s last championship. University of Southern California (USC) and Oklahoma have won seven national championships while Ohio State and University of Miami have won five national championships. Also, since Notre Dame was national champion in 1988 Miami, Nebraska and Florida have won three championships while Alabama, Louisiana State University (LSU), Florida State and USC have won two championships. So Notre Dame needs to get with the times; the other great football schools have.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The case why JaMarcus Russell is NOT the biggest NFL Draft Bust

Ever since former Oakland Raiders Quarterback (QB) JaMarcus Russell was released (basically fired), there has been an obsession with him being the "number one draft bust in NFL history". Such a statement is made by people who seemingly forget history. And the fact I need to make a case explaining what players and QB’s where bigger busts (disappointments) then Russell in NFL history is pathetic.

The reason why Russell was drafted number 1 overall in 2007 wasn’t because he really was the best player in the draft that year, but because Al Davis, owner of the Raiders was infatuated with him. The 2007 NFL draft was not a very deep talent draft. The best players in the 2007 draft were Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, and Adrian Peterson. If Peterson was fully healthy, the Raiders might have drafted him while other teams would not have let him fall to the Vikings. The Raiders, because of their interest in Russell, created such hype around him that people assumed that there are high expectations for him.

While Russell may have been the biggest bust of the 2007 NFL Draft, he cannot be labeled the biggest "QB Bust”. Russell was not considered the top QB prospect in the 2007 draft. Russell was drafted number one overall because he was seen as a "special talent". Brady Quinn, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns, was seen as a better overall QB then Russell. But Oakland didn’t like the fact that Quinn was not a very mobile QB so they zoned in and picked Russell.

The biggest QB Bust of all time, in my opinion, is Ryan Leaf. When you look back at the 1998 NFL Draft, both of the top 2 picks where held by teams who needed great Quarterback to be the face of the franchise. The Colts were actually considering drafting Leaf over Peyton Manning. Looking back we see how nuts that idea would have been because Manning is now a superstar QB and is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. But some people in the Colts organization at the time liked Leaf's delivery and arm strength better then Manning's. Many people in the NFL in 1998 considered Peyton Manning the number one QB prospect but saw Leaf as a very close second. Peyton was not seen as a sure thing because some viewed him as a player who did not always perform under pressure.

Leaf didn’t just not live up to expectations, but he totally imploded. The man who was supposed to be the alternative to Peyton Manning had issues on and off the field. He blew up on reports, was moody, and did lousy on the field. On the other hand, Russell was seen as a guy who was very raw but could develop into "a real good player". Leaf was seen as a possible great QB. So, based purely on expectations, Leaf was a bigger bust then Russell.

Now let’s consider the biggest number 1 overall drafted NFL bust. That title could go to Ki-Jana Carter, drafter in 1995 by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was considered the next "great running back". You look at five of the next eight picks after him were all players who had solid NFL careers while Carter couldn’t stay healthy. The Bengals franchise suffered for the next several years because they invested so much in him. On the other hand, three years after the Raiders drafted Russell, they have a chance at making the playoffs.

So while the Oakland Raiders made a bad pick when they drafted Russell in 2007, it is unfair to say he is the biggest bust of all NFL picks. Russell’s career is still not over but it is obvious he will never be the player the Raiders envisioned he would become when they drafted him in 2007. Russell lacks the work ethic and genuine interest in football to become a great QB. Maybe when Russell sees he is running low on cash he will get himself into shape, impress a team and get signed to a contract and be given a shot at starting again. Until then, people need to realize he should not be labeled the worst of the NFL disappointments.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Del Negro gone in Chicago; where do the Bulls go from here?

Today ESPN reports the Chicago Bulls are going to announce tomorrow the firing of their Head Coach Vinny Del Negro. Back in December of 2009 there was rumors that the Bulls were going to fire Del Negro but then the team won 9 of their next eleven games and reached the playoffs for the second straight year. Then on March 30th there was a fierce argument between Del Negro and Bulls’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson. Paxson, who some consider the “de facto” man in charge of the team, has not been happy with Del Negro’s coaching for some time now, even though Del Negro has only been the Bulls Head Coach for two seasons.

Paxson and Del Negro are both former NBA players who played very passionately and that passion translates to their current jobs. Paxson has done a good job rebuilding this Bulls team, stocking it with talented and hard working players. When he hired Del Negro it was viewed as a controversial hire because some viewed Del Negro as too inexperienced to be made a Head Coach. But the problem had nothing to do with Del Negro’s ability to coach; the clashing between Del Negro and Paxson over basketball philosophy was the real issue. Even though some of what Del Negro has done has had good results, Paxson was still unhappy with the fact that he felt that Del Negro was not getting the best out of the players.

The Chicago Bulls have a lot of potential as a team. They have a Point Guard in Derrick Rose who has the ability to be a perennial All-Star, a Center in Joakim Noah who is a great leader, and a talented Forward in Luol Deng who, if motivated enough, can dominate on offense and defense. The problem for the Bulls is that it always seems like they are a player or two short of being a major contender for the NBA championship. They need another Power Forward/Center to play with Noah who can contribute consistently on offense and defense. They also need a player who can play Shooting Guard who can take the scoring burden off of the shoulders of Rose and Deng.

So now, to use a basketball term, the ball is in Paxson’s court. He first needs to hire a Head Coach who works well with young players and can motivate them to play hard. But it needs to be a Head Coach who is well respected and can be used as a draw to bring in free agents. I suggest either Jeff Van Gundy or Avery Johnson. Both men have experience dealing with a variety of players of different ages, skill levels, and personalities. Both also have shown that their teams play hard, solid defense, and they are respected by their players. The Bulls’ players need a coach who can help get them to play to the best of their abilities as a team and these two coaches have experience doing that.

Paxson also needs to take advantage of the free agent market this summer. The Bulls need another star type player to make an impact on this team. They need to sign a player to say to the core players on this team “We believe you guys can win a championship, here’s the final piece” while saying to the fans “We want to win a championship; just making the playoffs isn’t good enough”. If the Bulls could lure superstar Dwayne Wade from resigning with the Miami Heat to come to Chicago that would be huge. Wade, who grew up in Chicago, has been carrying teams by himself for too long and the players on the Bulls team compliment his style of play. Since winning an NBA Championship with the Miami Heat four years ago, Wade’s team has not gotten close to doing so again. Signing Wade would change the dynamics of how opposing teams have to play the Bulls, causing teams to have to focus so much on Wade it opens opportunities for other players to excel. If they cannot get Wade, I think the Bulls should try to sign either Power Forward Chris Bosh or Shooting Guard Joe Johnson. Both players fit in with the type of players the Bulls have built to be the centerpieces of this team while not disrupting chemistry.

Whatever happens in Chicago, Paxson needs to understand that if he wants to enable this team to have a good shot at winning an NBA Championship that he has the opportunity to make it happen now or he might be fired. Paxson has overseen the evolution of this franchise: from a place where reject type players migrate to play at, into a team that has a lot of potential and a superstar player away from being a major contender. But will Paxson pull the trigger to bring in a great coach and great player(s) to make this team a potential great team for the next five years or will he let this opportunity slip away?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jeff Ireland asks Dez Bryant what??

Let me ask you a question: if you went to a job interview and they asked you a question about your mother’s job history, wouldn’t you wonder what the relevance is? Now another question: if at a job interview you were asked if your mother use to be a prostitute, wouldn’t you be angry?

Well that is what happened to former Oklahoma State Wide Receiver Dez Bryant in a pre-NFL Draft interview. Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland has apologized to Bryant (now that the story has become public) for asking him before last week’s NFL Draft if his mother was a prostitute. Ireland said to the media that “My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I'm considering drafting. Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions.” So, since it is public knowledge that Bryant’s mother was arrested years ago for drug distribution, in Ireland’s mind this was a valid question to find out about Dez Bryant’s character.

This is disgraceful for any potential employer to ask someone such a question with no formal information that would make it relevant. In a recent interview Dez Bryant called Jeff Ireland an “A-list A-hole” for asking such a question. While some may say him saying that about Ireland was unnecessary you need to put yourself in his position for a moment. Bryant is a guy who has had people question his character and work ethic almost totally based on the fact that he was suspended by the NCAA because he had a get together with Deion Sanders to talk about Bryant’s potential in the NFL. The NCAA claimed Bryant did not fully disclose the details of his meeting with Sanders and cited a NCAA bylaw (which most college sports experts say was loosely interpreted).

Since this suspension Bryant has been overly scrutinized and this story coming to light is an example of how low some people in the NFL will go to pick apart potential employees. Whether its Tim Tebow or Dez Bryant, people who work for NFL Franchises seem to want to find things wrong with potential players then just see these athletes for what they are, positives AND negatives. It should be pointed out that this isn’t a recent issue with NFL executives. NFL Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Jack Lambert, Warren Moon, Deacon Jones, Johnny Unitas, and John Randle were all picked apart by the “geniuses” in the NFL.

But what Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland asked Bryant was more than just picking at him. To ask a man if his mother is a prostitute is unprofessional, disgraceful and disgusting. Just because someone has a parent with a history of bad behavior does not mean that reflects onto the child’s ability to do a job. I do not blame Dez Bryant for calling Ireland an “A-List A-hole”. In fact I have a new level of respect for Bryant because he sat there and said no instead of lashing out at Ireland. The fact he stayed under control during the interview shows me he is more professional and controlled then the man interviewing him, Jeff Ireland.

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cares about the conduct of those in the professional league he oversees he needs to discipline Ireland for his crass behavior toward a young man in his early 20’s. Goodell suspended Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 6 games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy for bad judgment and a history of making bad decisions off the field. Shouldn’t Goodell use the same standards in dealing with NFL team executives he uses with the players in the NFL? Ireland’s unprofessionalism is what has been revealed in the media happens behind closed doors in the NFL. It is slowly coming out about what else gets asked and said to potential NFL players in these interviews. This has gone beyond finding out about someone’s character, this is disgraceful. When former Stanford Running Back Toby Gerhardt is asked by an NFL executive if he feels “entitled to play” in the NFL because he is white then it’s safe to say that the people who really need to be scrutinized may not be the athletes as much as the executives in the suits.

Needless to say, Dez Bryant must be very happy he was not drafted by the Miami Dolphins. I certainly wouldn’t want to work for a company where one of my bosses asked me if my mom was a prostitute.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ryan Howard: the 2nd highest paid player in baseball?

Today the Philadelphia Phillies signed their All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard to a five year, 125 million dollar contract extension that makes him the second highest player in baseball. This move keeps Howard in a Phillies uniform through at least 2016 while allowing the Phillies the financial flexibility to sign their other key players to keep their best players.

This contract has me scratching my head because it seems like the Phillies overpaid to keep Ryan Howard in Philadelphia. First I view Howard as the second best player on the Phillies. Chase Utley is right now the best overall player on the roster and Jayson Werth is a very close third behind Howard. Howard has not made it clear that he really should be the second highest salary in baseball, especially when he isn’t that much better overall then Utley or Werth. Utley is a better overall hitter and Werth is a better all around player then Howard. So then when it comes time to re-sign Jayson Werth at the end of this season and Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (a top 5 talent at his position) at the end of next season, how much do you have to pay them to keep them in Philly? Will they be willing to take a “hometown discount” or will they during contract negotiations point to what Howard is making and say “Why cant I make close to what he is getting?” It’s a dicey situation the Phillies have put themselves in.

Secondly it should be considered the fact that Ryan Howard is considered by the so-called experts to be the fourth best 1st baseman in Major League Baseball (MLB). The top player at the 1st base position is Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals hands down; Pujols is the best overall hitter in baseball and is a very good fielder too. Pujols could end his career as one of the top three players in baseball history. So why is Howard being paid right now 6 million more dollars then Pujols? I wonder what the Phillies logic is paying him this much money.

As for the other players who are labeled as better then Howard is more so debatable. “Experts” claim that Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees and Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres are better overall 1st basemen then Ryan Howard. Well let’s look at the numbers because they don’t have any bias. Look at the averages for Howard, Teixeira, and Gonzalez over the last three seasons:

*Ryan Howard – HR: 46, RBI: 141, Batting average: .266, fielding percentage: .989
*Mark Teixeira – HR: 34, RBI: 117, Batting average: .302, fielding percentage: .996
*Adrian Gonzalez – HR: 35, RBI: 106, Batting average: .282, fielding percentage: .995

In the home runs and runs batted in categories Howard dominates the other two players. But the other two players are much better then Ryan Howard in batting average and fielding. But this discussion is suppose to be about the best overall player. Yes Howard strikes out much more than most players of his skill level, his production is top notch. Also most of his fielding errors are on throws while he does a great job receiving the ball at 1st base so having his fielding percentage is a bit relative. Yet Teixeira is making now 2 million dollars less then Howard.

But the player who I think might be better than Ryan Howard but doesn’t get much recognition is Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers. Just take a look at the three year average of the same statistics:

*Prince Fielder – HR: 43, RBI: 120, Batting average: .287, fielding percentage: .990

As you can see Fielder’s home run numbers are closer to Howard while his batting average and fielding percentage statistics are better. Also Fielder has better RBI and batting average numbers then Adrian Gonzalez. But Fielder is making only 2 million dollars more than Gonzalez while making 15 million dollars less then Howard.

So while Howard is one of the best power hitters and a top 5 1st baseman in MLB one should question if he really worth 25 million dollars when better overall 1st basemen like Pujols and Fielder are making much less money than him. I think the Phillies hit the panic button and overpaid to keep Howard happy. A Phillies fan has to be concerned if the team will cry “poor” when going to re-sign their other great players like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth. The Phillies said they couldn’t afford to resign Pitcher Cliff Lee then acquired Pitcher Roy Halladay and signed him to a 3 year, 60 million dollar contract extension. It seems like to me the Phillies are not being smart with their money. They can’t afford to be the New York Yankees, especially when they showed in last year’s World Series they don’t play better then them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

NFL Draft Round 1: Analysis

The first round of the NFL Draft last night was certainly interesting; it left some people excited, some indifferent and others angry, depending on what team you cheer for. I ‘m not going to be excessive and breakdown EVERY pick of the 1st round, instead I will go over the winners, head-scratching moves, and picks I refer to as “the jury is still out” from last night.


-Detroit Lions: After years of NFL mediocrity and being the laughing stock of most drafts, the Lions under new Coaching and Management have now had two straight years of solid picks. With the 2nd overall pick the Lions drafted University of Nebraska Defensive Tackle (DT) Ndamakong Suh, the man who I consider the top player in the draft. He can have an immediate impact on defense for this team and will be a force to be reckoned with. Then the Lions traded up for the 30th overall pick and took University of California Running Back (RB) Jahvid Best. Best is a dynamic player who has the potential to be a superstar and can fill a major need for Detroit on offense. The Lions need a RB who can carry and catch the ball, relieving pressure off of QB Matthew Stafford.

-Seattle Seahawks: New Head Coach Pete Carroll got lucky (for lack of a better term) when Oklahoma State University Offensive Tackle (OT) Russell Okung was still available. Many experts consider Okung the best offensive lineman in the draft. Okung has all the tools necessary to be a solid NFL caliber OT. Then the Seahawks got another fortunate break when the Philadelphia Eagles left University of Texas Safety Earl Thomas available for Seattle to draft at the 14th overall pick. Thomas is the best pass defense Safety in the draft and has great instincts. Seattle has everything going their way so far in this year’s draft.

-Arizona Cardinals: For whatever reason team after team let talented DT Dan Williams from the University of Tennessee stay available. When the 26th pick came around, the Cardinals had to be surprised one of the best defensive players in this year’s draft was still out there to be picked. The Cardinals get a solid all-around player who can make an immediate positive impact for them on defense. Williams is everything talent-wise a team could want in a Defensive Tackle.

-Dallas Cowboys: Owner Jerry Jones still regrets he did not draft future Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL Draft because of off the field issues. So when the Cowboys saw that Oklahoma State Wide Receiver (WR) Dez Bryant was passed over by four teams that need a WR for the same reason the Cowboys passed over Moss in 1998, they had to go get him. Dallas made a trade with the New England Patriots to get the 24th overall pick and grabbed Bryant. Dez Bryant’s off the field issues are subjective in nature and his abilities as a football player make him a steal for the Cowboys. As I explained to someone today: “Dez Bryant has Randy Moss’ leaping ability, Larry Fitzgerald’s hands, and Miles Austin’s agility”.


-Jacksonville Jaguars: Defensive Tackle Tyson Aluala from the University of California was a good college player. But is he really worthy of being drafted 10th overall? I’m not the only person who doesn’t think so. When you take a player most people don’t even know, you are doing your franchise and fans a real disservice. The Jaguars are a team that has had trouble with attendance in recent years and taking with your top pick a guy who may not make a real impact on your team this coming season really makes me wonder what they are thinking down in Jacksonville. Let’s also consider the fact that the Jaguars last several 1st round picks have not worked out: Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, and Derrick Harvey to name a few.

-Philadelphia Eagles: So the Eagles traded up to make a top talent pick to help their defense. They need a Safety with the ability to start now and also a lot of upside. So what do they do? They draft a player who played Linebacker in college to play Defensive End for them. Right, that makes so much sense (sarcasm). Brandon Graham played outside linebacker at the University of Michigan and was their best defensive player last season. But when one of the top defensive players in the draft is available (Safety Earl Thomas) and you pass on him for a player you could have waited a few more picks to try and grab is a questionable move. Now I think Brandon Graham can be a solid NFL player and is a hard worker who can make a good impact for the Eagles, but the Eagles seem to always pass on the players who are almost guaranteed to be successful in the NFL for guys who have raw talent and need a bit of development.

-New Orleans Saints: The reigning Super Bowl champions picked a player who plays a position they are very deep at right now. The Saints drafted Florida State Cornerback (CB) Patrick Robinson with the 32nd overall pick. The Saints already have four cornerbacks who could start on many NFL teams, so why draft Robinson? Robinson is a good CB but isn’t great at anything. Maybe this was just a safe pick for the Saints. They could have drafted a linebacker who could help them this year instead of a guy who will probably be buried on special teams for a few years.


-Buffalo Bills: This is a team that has a plethora of needs at positions such as Quarterback, Offensive lineman, Tight End, and Safety. So the Bills decide to draft at the 9th overall pick a player who they thought was the “Best overall player available”: Clemson University RB C.J. Spiller. Even though this team already has two RB’s on their roster who are talented enough to start, the Bills picked Spillers because of his great overall skills as a RB in comparison to the Running Backs the Bills currently have. Also, the Bills may have made this pick so they can trade RB Marshawn Lynch, who has had legal issues outside of football.

-San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers drafted two players last night that have good upside. Rutgers Offensive Tackle Anthony Davis and University of Idaho Offensive Guard Mike Iupati are good, safe picks for the 49ers. But it is surprising that a team whose Head Coach is Mike Singletary would not draft one of the many talented Linebackers, Cornerbacks or Defensive lineman that were still available at the 11th and 17th overall picks. Singletary is a defense-minded guy because of his background as the leader of the great Chicago Bear defenses of the 1980’s. But the 49ers choose instead two big, strong offensive linemen. Davis of Rutgers has had some question his character because he was suspended in college and others question his work ethic because he twice showed up to August Rutgers’ training camps overweight. On the other hand Iupati of Idaho is the best overall Offensive Guard in the draft and could start this coming season for San Francisco.

-Denver Broncos: Head Coach Josh McDaniels has become a polarizing force among Broncos fans. He traded away Pro Bowlers Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. He says he wants dedicated, character type players on his team. So the Broncos drafted Georgia Tech Wide Receiver Demaryius Thomas and University of Florida Quarterback Tim Tebow. These picks seem to be McDaniels way of saying he has a plan for the future of the Broncos, but will he be around to see the fruits of his master plan? No matter what your opinion is of Tim Tebow the reality is that he is a hard worker with many physical skills. Even if he doesn’t become an NFL star at QB he could become a solid contributor on offense whether as a QB or the man who runs the “Wildcat Offense” in Denver. Thomas is a guy who was never able to show all his abilities at Georgia Tech but he has all the skills needed to be a good NFL starting Wide Receiver. He has good hands, can block, and has great speed and agility. Only time will tell if Broncos fans and ownership will be patient enough with McDaniels through the growing pains of rebuilding this team into what he wants it to be.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Roethlisberger suspended: Analysis and what's next

The news was finally released today: the National Football League (NFL) will suspend Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback (QB) Ben Roethlisberger four to six games for “violating the NFL's personal conduct policy”. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a public letter to Roethlisberger, “In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.” According to the released NFL report, Roethlisberger has to go through behavior evaluation and counseling before being allowed back to play or practice.

This was a good move by the NFL. Roethlisberger has been accused by 3 different women of sexual assault, he got into a motorcycle crash four years (when it’s in his contract he isn’t allowed to ride a motorcycle!), and he had couple incidents in college that some people say that his university have tried to keep it quiet. He may be a nice guy and he has won 2 Super Bowls with the Steelers. But Commissioner Gödel has shown that no one is beyond reproach in the NFL. Roethlisberger has continuously put himself in bad situation. Even if he is innocent of all accusations, the fact that he has such an immense lack of judgment and puts himself into situations where he could be accused of any wrong doing shows he has issues that need to be dealt with.

So now as a result of Roethlisberger’s suspension, the Steelers are looking to trade him and they should. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the most respected organizations in NFL history. They have been disgraced off the field by Roethlisberger and former Wide Receiver (WR) Santonio Homes’ behavior. The fans and the organization of the Steelers have stood behind these two for long enough. Roethlisberger is suppose to be the face of the Steelers franchise and is one of the most well known players in the NFL. He is supposed to carry himself with more character and professionalism then he has.

Holmes was traded to the Jets for a 5th round draft pick. Now the Steelers are looking to trade Roethlisberger for a 1st round draft pick in this Thursday’s NFL Draft. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Steelers have contacted St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers about trading Roethlisberger for their 1st round pick.

According to reports the Rams and Bills have already said “no” to trading for Roethlisberger. Here’s a breakdown of those teams that are being offered Roethlisberger:

- The Rams, who own the top pick in the draft, are more likely to accept a trade to move down a few picks and draft another QB in the draft instead of taking on Roethlisberger and his baggage. The Rams have invested a lot of time scouting, working out, and interviewing QB prospects like Sam Bradford, Jimmy Claussen, and Colt McCoy. The Rams are considering a trade with the Browns to give them the 1st overall for the Browns pick at 7th overall and a couple of their other draft picks. The idea behind this trade is to allow the Browns to pick Sam Bradford with the top pick and the Rams can draft Jimmy Claussen with the 7th overall pick.

-The Browns General Manager Mike Holmgren likes Quarterbacks who can handle complex offenses like Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Jon Kitna, and Matt Hasselbeck. Roethlisberger is a good QB but has never played in a West Coast type offense before so he is unproven in that type of system. Also Holmgren and Head Coach Eric Mangini have a great deal of interest in Sam Bradford and would like to find a way to draft him; the afore mentioned trade with the Rams is still “on the table”.

-The Bills would not be too interested in Roethlisberger because their new Head Coach Chan Gailey wants to run an offense in Buffalo that Roethlisberger wouldn’t fit well. Gailey wants to run a spread offense that requires a mobile QB who can read coverages quickly and has good accuracy. Roethlisberger doesn’t fit Gailey’s criteria. Gailey would like to draft a QB like Colt McCoy, Tony Pike or Zak Robinson who is mobile athlete, an accurate passer and has experience in the spread offense.

-The Raiders wanted to acquire Donovan McNabb but the Philadelphia Eagles traded him to the Washington Redskins. The Raiders desperately need a good starting QB. They haven’t had a Pro Bowl caliber starting QB since Rich Gannon was the starting QB seven years ago. Roethlisberger would be perfect for a franchise that has a high level of tolerance for their players off the field activities. Oakland has become the home for teams to dump off their unwanted players at. Also, Oakland wouldn’t mind taking on Roethlisberger’s contract.

-The Jaguars don’t need a Public Relations mess that Roethlisberger would be for them in a city where they already have trouble selling tickets and convincing people to come out to games. They want to draft a player who is well known in Florida to sell tickets, like University of Florida hero Tim Tebow.
-The 49ers are a good QB away from winning the NFC West division this year. They had interest in McNabb but were unsure if they could resign McNabb. Roethlisberger signed an eight year contract in 2008 so the 49ers would not have to worry about resigning him. Also they have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft so if they traded one of those picks to the Steelers they would still be able to draft one of the players they really want. It would be a win-win for the 49ers to get a proven QB and still get to draft in the 1st round.

-The Seahawks’ QB situation is already in flux and to add Roethlisberger would cause serious confusion. Seattle already has a veteran QB in Matt Hasselbeck and a young QB in Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst was brought in by the Seahawks to be their future QB. Seattle also has two first round picks but there is a lot of expectation that new Head Coach Pete Carroll wants to rebuild this team through the draft. I would expect the Seahawks to keep both picks and draft (if available) Tennessee Safety Eric Berry at the 6th overall pick and Clemson Running Back C.J. Spillers at the 14th overall pick.

SIDE NOTE: If the Steelers follow through with trading Roethlisberger they are fine at the QB position. They right now have three other Quarterbacks on the roster who have played in Pittsburgh’s offense. Byron Leftwitch will probably be the starting QB since he played well in a few games when Roethlisberger was injured. Along with Leftwitch the Steelers have a young QB Dennis Dixon who the Steelers coaching staff wants to see if he can develop into a good NFL caliber QB. The Steelers have gotten by without Roethlisberger in the past and they can again without him.