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!