Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jason Bay to Braves...Almost

The news from Atlanta on Trading Day is not nearly as exciting as the Cincinnati-Chicago or Boston-Los Angeles blockbusters. Braves news is the deal that almost was.

GM Frank Wren admitted that he thought the Braves had Pittsburgh's Jason Bay for four minor leaguers, including the light-hitting Brent Lillibridge and outfielder Brandon Jones.

Instead of Atlanta, Bay is off to Boston as part of the biggest trade of the day to try to replace Manny Ramirez. (I can't wait to hear Maximum Jack's thoughts on the deal that sent his dog's namesake to Joe Torre).

No doubt, Jason Bay is exactly the kind of player the Braves need. There might not be a team in the majors that gets less out of its left-fielder than Atlanta. Jason Bay would have been a big bat in the middle of the Atlanta order through next season. As miserable as this year has been in Georgia, the prospect of a Chipper-Bay-McCann middle of the order next year would have been a promising one.

Instead, Atlanta looks to be saving its pennies for a run at a primo free agent in the off-season. Who that will be...I don't feel like looking it up right now. Instead, I'm going to continue to wallow in my own "getting Bay would have been fun" funk for a few sentences longer. At the least, it would have taken the sting off today's Hudson needs Tommy John surgery news.

The silver lining - at least the Braves are not the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Adios, Tex

I turned off the Braves game tonight. It was just too sad to watch. The season that was supposed to be officially had the plug pulled on it as Mark Teixeira was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

After giving up double-digit runs in three straight games, GM Frank Wren finally conceded that the Braves could not compete in the mediocre National League. Between the laundry list of injuries and poor performances from key contributors, Atlanta made the correct move in becoming a seller in the MLB market. Expect Will Ohman to be the next to go.

I'm a little confused by the trade. Casey Kotchman, who seems like a nice enough player, is a free agent just like Teixeira. Steve Marek has mediocre minor league stats, though I can't find much about him otherwise.

Is this the best Atlanta could get? Maybe so, but I sure wish the Braves were getting more than a couple of months out of Kotchman. It is quite a letdown from the possibility of Conor Jackson, though the D-Backs seemed intent on not letting that happen. It seems that Arizona realizes that this might not be their year with Chicago and Milwaukee playing so well, so better to hold onto their young stud.

Back to Atlanta, the Braves haven't been this irrelevant since 1990 under Russ Nixon. Yes, Russ Nixon. It is not even August yet and Atlanta is out of it. It is a sad day for a spoiled Braves fan.

On the other hand, there is something fairly relieving about this awful season. It feels like I've been dumped by a girl I always knew wasn't right for me. 1991 broke my heart. 1996 kicked me in the groin and then broke my heart. Kyle Farnsworth broke my heart live at Minute Maid Park. The 2008 Braves? I'll be over them in a couple of stiff drinks.

When does the football season start?

Monday, July 28, 2008

2008-09 Tennessee Basketball Schedule


UT basketball schedule

Date Day Opponent Site

Nov. 3 Mon. Indianapolis (exhibition) Knoxville

Nov. 7 Fri. Tusculum (exhibition) Knoxville

Nov. 15 Sat. UT-Chattanooga Knoxville

Nov. 18 Tue. UT-Martin Knoxville

Nov. 21 Fri. at Middle Tennessee Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Nov. 27 Thur. 1-Old Spice Classic Orlando, Fla.

Nov. 28 Fri. 1-Old Spice Classic Orlando, Fla.

Nov. 30 Sun. 1-Old Spice Classic Orlando, Fla.

Dec. 3 Wed. UNC Asheville Knoxville

Dec. 13 Sat. at Temple Philadelphia, Pa.

Dec. 16 Tue. 2-Marquette Nashville, Tenn.

Dec. 20 Sat. Belmont Knoxville

Dec. 29 Mon. Louisiana-Lafayette Knoxville

Jan. 3 Sat. at Kansas Lawrence, Kan.

Jan. 7 Wed. Gonzaga Knoxville

Jan. 10 Sat. at Georgia* Athens, Ga.

Jan. 13 Tue. Kentucky* Knoxville

Jan. 17 Sat. South Carolina* Knoxville

Jan. 20 Tue. at Vanderbilt* Nashville, Tenn.

Jan. 24 Sat. Memphis Knoxville

Jan. 28 Wed. LSU* Knoxville

Jan. 31 Sat. Florida* Knoxville

Feb. 4 Wed. at Arkansas* Fayetteville, Ark.

Feb. 7 Sat. at Auburn* Auburn, Ala.

Feb. 11 Wed. Georgia* Knoxville

Feb. 14 Sat. Vanderbilt* Knoxville

Feb. 18 Wed. at Ole Miss* Oxford, Miss.

Feb. 21 Sat. at Kentucky* Lexington, Ky.

Feb. 25 Wed. Mississippi State* Knoxville

March 1 Sun. at Florida* Gainesville, Fla.

March 5 Thur. at South Carolina* Columbia, S.C.

March 8 Sun. Alabama* Knoxville

March 12-15 SEC Tournament Tampa, Fla. Raycom & CBS TBD

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To the Victorino Goes the Blame

I like Shane Victorino. He plays hard and plays the right way. He's fast, athletic and exciting.

But he did not need to run over Brian McCann today.

If you haven't seen the replays, you will. It is a brutal collision on a play at the plate. The relay throw and Victorino were racing to home. Brian McCann fielded the throw cleanly, moved to tag the Phillie runner and was then knocked silly as Victorino lowered his helmet into McCann's head.

Before you tell me this is part of the game, consider this: Brian McCann was not blocking home plate. He fielded the throw and then dove toward the plate to tag what he assumed was a sliding Victorino. The play was a race to the plate which did not necessitate a collision. Beyond that, Victorino led with his helmet rather than his shoulder or forearm. He used his head as a battering ram to jar the ball loose from McCann, only instead of hitting glove he hit McCann's noggin. The Braves catcher has a concussion as a result of the play.

Victorino was rightfully concerned about the play, but that doesn't excuse it. There was no reason to plow over the Braves All-Star catcher. There was no reason to give the guy a concussion; we have all learned from Troy Aikman to Chris Benoit how devastating concussions can be to the human body and brain.

It makes no sense to me that throwing a baseball near someone's head is brawl-worthy, but running over a defenseless catcher is good baseball. It isn't. It is unnecessary and unfair to the catcher.

Here is hoping that when the Phillies visit Atlanta in September, the play is not forgotten. That will be good baseball.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The (Sad) State of American Tennis

Non-Slam Tennis doesn’t get much coverage on SportsCenter, but in between the seven Favre stories on Thursday you may have noticed that Roger Federer was bounced early in this year’s Rogers (ironic?) Cup by Gilles Simon. Rest assured, the game’s greatest player is not finished. Yes, Nadal gave him a spanking earlier this year in the final of the French, and, yes, Rafa was able to do the unthinkable (at least to anyone who didn’t watch last year’s Wimbledon final) and dethrone the Fed Express at the All England Club. While it is no longer a forgone conclusion that Roger will break Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors, I do believe he’s not going to retire with merely the 12 Slams on his current resume. In fact, I’m making a bold prediction that Fed will win another Slam long before we see another American holding up a champion’s trophy from any of the Slams.

In the same tournament this week, the top two Americans, James Blake and Andy Roddick, were also tossed out early. They are both still hovering in the top 10 in the world, but neither is on his way up in the rankings. Sadly, there is no one else even close. Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish are the only other Americans in the Top 50, #38 and #41 respectively. Contrast that with Spain— nine men in the top 50—or France—seven—and you start to see a gloomy picture of American Tennis. The women’s game isn’t much better. I mean the biggest splash this year from an American woman not named Williams, is the Tri-State area’s own Ashley Harkleroad, (pictured) who graced the pages of the August issue of Playboy Magazine.

Usually you’ll see an article similar to this one around the first week of the French Open. Americans traditionally do not do well on the red dirt of Roland Garros, but this isn’t the European Clay Court Season. This is the American Hard Court Season. This is our time to shine. Guys like Simon should not be winning tournaments in Indianapolis. I’m not saying he isn’t a good player—you don’t crack the top 25 or beat the world number one without a fair amount of talent, but still . . .

So, why are Americans lagging behind in a sport they have dominated for most of my lifetime? Over the last year I have been teaching tennis, mainly to juniors, at a semi-private tennis club here in the Scenic City. I have come to the conclusion that the developmental system in place for tennis in this country is seriously flawed, catering only to those who are financially secure.

You may be saying to yourself, tennis has always been an elitist sport. What’s the big deal? Surely someone will come along soon and reclaim our tennis supremacy. I’m not convinced. Much of the world has already surpassed us, such as Western Europe and the old Eastern Bloc countries and there is a large chunk of the globe, namely Asia, which is nipping at our heels. I don’t believe we will be able to compete on an international level if tennis continues to exclude a large majority of its population here in the U.S.

When I was growing up in Chattanooga in the late seventies and early eighties, tennis was at the height of its popularity in this country. It was truly a golden era in the sport. No one can deny the impact guys like Connors and McEnroe (and Borg) made on tennis. Public courts sprang up all over the place, and it was odd to drive by on a sunny, weekend day and not see them filled up with players of all levels. My, how things have changed. When was the last time you saw all the courts across from Red Bank Middle School being used? The city has already torn down two, leaving just five rapidly decaying courts for the entire city of Red Bank. The Red Bank High School team doesn’t even play or practice there anymore. Instead, they head over to Rivermont and use the six free courts closest to the baseball fields. Those courts are actually in decent shape, but it still seems odd that a town the size of Red Bank doesn’t have a decent public facility.

Those of you familiar with the area might know about the beautiful tennis facility know as The Champions Club, which is actually in the same city park as the Rivermont courts I mentioned. These courts are super, and there are 26 of them. My only problem with the facility is that you have to pay to play. If I would have had to pay to play when I was growing up, I never would have learned the game. I mean we were cheapskates. We used to buy Tretorn pressureless tennis balls because they would last forever—they actually got harder with age! So having to pay for court time would have absolutely stopped us in our tracks, and we would have found something else to do, which is exactly what is happening today.

The state of high-school tennis in this area is in shambles. The private schools are in pretty good shape, but other than that, the level of competitiveness is laughable. The USTA has instituted a “No Cut” Rule, which sounds egalitarian, but it just turns into a great big mess. You end up having 30 or 40 kids trying to share one or (maybe) two coaches and six courts. Ridiculous.

Even the private schools have some problems. Baylor’s two-time State Champion, Bo Seal, was forced to leave the area after his sophomore year because there just wasn’t enough competition for him here. He opted to finish high school at a private tennis academy in Florida. Imagine if someone had told B.J. Coleman in his junior year he would have to leave McCallie if he wanted to become a better football player. Nonsense.

Patrick McEnroe recently took the job at the USTA as Director of Player Development. He has a hard task ahead of him. I’ve heard rumors about other, more exclusive tennis academies on the horizon. I guess the feeling is if we can get the cream of the crop better prepared, they will go on to reach great heights. That may be the case in the short run, but for the long haul if the USTA doesn’t do something about making tennis instruction and courts more accessible and affordable, we may be heading for an extremely dark age in American Tennis.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lerch's Guide to Fantasy Success

Let's face facts... Most of us play fantasy sports to experience the success and sense of achievement that eludes us in our pitiless daily lives.  A victory in one's fantasy league brings prestige, bragging rights, and sometimes even financial rewards.  When your fantasy team loses because Brian Westbrook fell to the ground on the one yard line to allow the Eagles to run out the clock against the Cowboys, the emotional effects can be devastating.

As the defending champion of the "The Only League that Matters" in football and the current leader with a consistent 25 point cushion of "Below the Mendoza Line" in baseball, I think I have become Carpenter's fantasy ringer.  He sets up these leagues for his friends and family to have some sporting competition, and this guy from Texas keeps dominating.  Therefore, I've decided to put down some of my keys to success in fantasy sports as an olive branch to my competitors that read this blog...

1) "Value of High Draft Picks - Consistency Counts" - The current fantasy trend is to load up on running backs because you can always find quality receivers and quarterbacks later on.  While this is true, the fact is that finding those guys is a bit of a crap shoot, and consider that starting running backs are dropping like flies with injuries in the current NFL.  So, do you really want to pass on Peyton Manning, who is guaranteed to throw for a trillion yards every year, for Rudi Johnson, who is "projected" to run for 1200 mythical yards, and take your chances with Jake Delhomme.  Really, think about that one for a second.  Franchise quarterbacks and receivers are hard to find - Grab them while you can.

2) "Quarterbacks - 2008 is 2003" - Any passer can have a fluke year, but statistical consistency in the NFL is difficult to find.  You want to find quarterbacks who have performed well over the long run.  Right now, there is Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and everyone else.  If you can't get one of those two guys, you have three options.  One, my current choice, grab what you think is the franchise quarterback of the future, and pray to God something terrible happens to Jessica Simpson. Two, find a consistent veteran who may not have the stats of a Brady, but will usually get the job done, like a Donovan McNabb.  Of course, the drawback here is most of these guys tend to be injury prone.  Third, draft a young quarterback who has all the scouts and press saying the right thing, and may have even gotten hot in the playoffs so everyone thinks he's better than he is, and convince yourself he's the franchise quarterback of the future.  I'm not going to say any names here, but it rhymes with "Eat my Fanning" and I will enjoy watching him throw 10 picks in his first three games this year.  I hope you draft him.

3) "Runningbacks - 2008 is NOT 2003" - We've all been playing fantasy football for a while, right.  Well, who remembers the big debate in 2001? Well, it was "Should I take Faulk, James, or Tomlinson?"  (For the record, the correct answer that year was Faulk, and I took him) Alright, two of those guys are still alive, 10,000 tackles later.  Have mercy on your soul if they are still on your fantasy team.  Running backs have a short shelf life, and the sooner you realize this, the better.  Subtract one round for every year a back is over the age of 25.  Fill up your bench with a stable of young backs, and, eventually, everyone in front of them will be injured. 

4) "Two Back Systems - Good for real teams, bad for fantasy teams" - As a football coach, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have two quality backs on a team.  You're really lucky if you have a big powerful runner and quick little guy so you can name them "Thunder and Lightning" and make t-shirts for everyone.  However, in fantasy, I avoid two back systems like the plague.  Because fantasy scoring is so biased towards scoring touchdowns, the chances of your guy being the one to carry the ball into the end zone are divided in half.  Even the so-called "goal line runners" who go in and just score touchdowns are unreliable because they gain 16 yards and no scores as often as they gain 32 yards and two scores.
- "The Maurice Jones-Drew Corollary" - The only exception to this rule is the running back who catches a ton of passes out of the backfield, doubling his opportunities to score points and thus negating the two back rule.  However, remember rule #1 here - It's not the Reggie Bush Corollary because he is way over valued.  Picking up Jones-Drew on waivers two years ago brought me a title.

5) "Two Receiver Systems - Good for real teams, good for fantasy teams" - NFL coverages tend to be focused on a single receiver.  Therefore, for a passing team, the second receiver becomes a great option for your fantasy team.  While Chad Johnson gets the press coverage, TJ Hooshmansomethingorother has been racking up incredible fantasy numbers.  We all saw what happened last year with Reggie Wayne's numbers.  Notice the emphasis is on "passing teams." The number ONE receiver on the Bears is a terrible option, let alone the second.

6) "Kickers suck in real life and fantasy" - No explanation needed on this one, right?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why Hasn't The Teixeira Deal Worked?

As Atlanta faces a decision about whether to deal away Mark Teixeira or lose him in the off-season to free agency, the question is no longer whether or not the Teixeira deal will work, but rather why it has not worked.

It started with such promise around this time last year as the deal looked to make the Braves front-runners in the National League. Atlanta had hung around all season long without any production from first base (Julio Franco?). The need was clear and Tex was the answer. He returned to Atlanta (a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket) hitting home runs and driving in runs, but the Braves floundered in August and September to fall out of the race.

Several experts picked the Braves to represent the National League in the World Series in 2008, but as of July 24th, they are 4th in their own division. It has been a nightmare season for the Braves who have essentially gotten nothing from the Teixeira deal.


(I'd be lying if I said the success of the C.C. Sabathia deal for the Brewers isn't irritating me and did not inspire this piece. I really thought the Tex deal would do the same thing for Atlanta).

There is no getting around the injuries that have plagued the Braves this year. Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton, Soriano, Moylan, Diaz, Chipper, Yunel, get the picture. Teixeira has been one of the few Braves to stay healthy. Perhaps if his teammates had been on the field rather than in the training room, the Teixeira deal would have worked.

For whatever reason, several Brave's offensive production has faltered since Tex's arrival in Atlanta. As the season wound down last year, the pop left Willie Harris's bat. This year, it left Matt Diaz's stick and then Jeff Francoeur's. I would add Corky Miller (currently hitting .106) to the list as well, but I don't think there was ever any pop in it. Teixeira cannot be blamed for the failures of his teammates. Baseball is not a sport where one guy makes everyone around him better. If it was, Tex would be Atlanta's own Stephon Marbury.

(On an NBA side note, how did the Hawks let Josh Childress Greece? The Hawks are a heart-breakingly bad franchise that has followed up the brilliant Boston series with zero acquisitions and now the loss of Childress).

The Braves' pitching has been surprisingly good this year after last year's misery. Remember, Atlanta was trying to make a playoff push last year with Buddy Carlyle and Chuck James in the rotation. The pitching cannot be blamed for this year's struggles, but it certainly doomed the Braves in 2007

What about Tex himself? Doesn't he get some blame? Maybe. When the Braves were dropping one-run game after one-run game to start this season, Teixeira was slumping. He hit just three home runs in May while Chipper Jones was hitting over .400 in front of him. While the Mets were imploding and the Phillies were struggling, the Braves were losing series to the Nationals and Pirates. If Tex was hitting in May, the Braves could easily have 7-10 more wins right now in games that were decided by one run.

The bottom line, however, is that it makes no sense why the deal has flopped. Teixeira has been as advertised - really good. Sadly, the Braves have been pretty bad. The deal was a good one, but the results have been tainted by injuries, slumps and one of the weirdest seasons in Braves' history.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why Greg Norman Will Win Tomorrow

#1 - Nothing to Lose:
If one thing seemed to haunt The Shark throughout his prime, it was his ego. He thought he was the best, told people he was the best and strutted, rather jetted, around the tour like he was the best. When it came time to show it, he often did so...for three rounds. Now, as he heads into another Sunday in the lead, there is no pressure to live up to his self-created hype. He is a 53-year old weekend golfer on the verge of winning the British Open. He has already succeeded - no pressure at this point.

#2 - Chris Evert:
You don't think she knows what to do the night before a championship round? (Get your heads out of the gutter - that is not what I'm talking about). She has won Majors in tennis; she knows what it takes to win them. I'll bet Norman's ex-wife (who sounds like a pain in the butt from what I've read of their divorce and $100 million settlement) gave him advice like, "Don't blow it, Gregory" or "Maybe you should think about a new grip tomorrow." Evert, er Evert-Norman, is going to have him mentally ready to win.

#3 - No Tiger Woods.

#4 - Too Good of a Storyline:
First Tiger the Gimp vs. Rocco the Rock Star, now the Shark Returns? How can he not win tomorrow? The PGA must be doing back flips about what is happening. If this was the NBA, I'd bet on some lousy calls against Harrington and Choi tomorrow. Since it is the PGA, I'm going to put my faith in destiny and a 53-year old man.

#5 - This isn't a fluke: Norman is clearly playing better than anybody else on the course right now. That might seem obvious from his lead, but he was a couple of putts and chips today that could have put him up four or five further ahead. While Choi, Furyk and Duval looked flustered and frustrated in the winds at Royal Birkdale, Norman is hitting fairways and greens. Did you see his drive on #17? After an obliterated tee shot, he was inches from a short eagle putt if the ball had held on the green. He is making shots. Nobody else is.

Racing to Ruin

Take your time as you read this article. If you try to speed-read this piece, you might miss the point or overlook a hidden gem of wordplay.

Or you might do something even worse.

Something struck me recently as I raced to an appointment for which I was running late. I was driving too fast while trying to get myself organized without proper concentration on the road or drivers around me. I was endangering myself and fellow motorists. Why?

Because I was racing.

You see, racing causes us all to do things we normally would not. I do not normally drive too fast or recklessly, but because I was racing to be on time I did. It was not so much my fault as it was racing's.

We can look to the world of sports to see racing's destructive effect on morality.

The evidence:

*Three racers have been kicked out of the Tour de France this year for doping, two years after winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his victory for the same thing.

* Runners are some of the most notorious cheaters, from Ben Johnson to Rosie Ruiz to former Vol Justin Gatlin. The BALCO scandal included a variety of runners as well, most notably Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.

* NASCAR cheating go hand-in-hand. It seems that each week someone gets caught trying to skirt the rules on fuel, restricter plates and other mechanical stuff I don't understand. In fact, the unofficial motto of the sport is unfortunately not "Rubbin' is racin'", but rather "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying."

* Horse-racing has been plagued by some of the most horrific, pathetic cheating scandals of any sport. Horses have been given a variety of drugs, including cocaine, so they run faster and there have also been accusations of horses being hurt by rivals to slow them down. One of the most memorable scandals of recent years involved people shoving sponges into the nostrils of opposing horses to cut off their breathing during a race.

* Swimming has a history of doping as well (Eastern German women with beards and pimples come to mind), but the latest accusations of foul play involve the swimmer's suits. The Speedo Lzr has been called "technological doping" by those unfortunate enough to have endorsement deals with other companies.

Not convinced that racing is to blame for all this foul play? How about baseball's infamous Steroid Era? The most notorious dopers - McGwire, Sosa, Bonds - were in involved in Home Run "Race".

The "Race" for the White House often degenerates into deplorable behavior, from bugging the Watergate Hotel to Willie Horton ads to Swift Boat Vets.

The "Rat Race" in our capitalistic society for more money and prestige has led to numerous crimes and conspiracies that have ruined companies, families and lives.

The idea of "race" has always brought out the worst in people throughout history. Slavery, lynchings, Ku Klu Klan, race riots, Rodney King, etc. - all race related.

What about sports without racing? The most scandal-free sport of our generation is golf - a game where players call penalties on themselves. Golfers are not racing at all. They take their time reading greens and preparing to play instead of rushing to do it quickly. See the connection? No racing - no cheating.

I'm afraid we must throw out the baby with the bath water. To get rid of cheating in athletics, we must get rid of racing. We all need to slow down, take our time and do things right.

(Please excuse any spelling errors or plagiarism in this piece - I'm in a hurry to finally get this done).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Best of Ideas, The Worst of Ideas

In the world of sports, there is only one All-Star contest that anybody cares about - the baseball All-Star game. The past two days showed why - a fantastic Home Run Derby performance from Josh Hamilton followed by a 15-inning battle for home field advantage that included plays at the plate, dramatic double-plays and about fifteen errors by Dan Uggla (can you say Chuck Knoblaugh?).

It was baseball at its best...and worst.

There are so many good things about baseball's All-Star Break. It is the only exhibition game that can truly be played the right way. The Pro Bowl is a pitiful excuse for football - even Hawaiians can't be troubled to fill the stadium to watch guys gently tackle each other and run out of bounds play after play. The NBA All-Star weekend is a little too And1-ish for most basketball fans as defense is token and repeated alley-oops lose their luster. The NHL All-Star game is, from what I hear (has anyone here ever watched it?), a check-less goal-a-thon. We all remember what happened to Apollo Creed (R.I.P.) when he fought Ivan Drago in a boxing exhibition match.

Last night's exhibition All-Star game featured strategy, stolen bases, collisions at home plate, hard slides, etc. At no point did anyone seem to be playing the game any differently than they would during the regular season. This gives baseball is All-Star superiority over its major sports rivals.

The Home Run Derby is the best skills competition as well. The Slam Dunk contest is a close second, but it has become more and more like a Carrot Top routine with all the props involved to bring something original to the floor. The NFL seems to have thrown in the towel on skills stuff after Robert Edwards snapped his leg playing in an ill-conceived beach flag football game. I think hockey does some speed skating or triple axle competition or something, but who knows? No, from the little kids colliding in the outfield after pop-ups to the mammoth taters in the upper deck, the Home Run Derby is a blast to watch.

Unfortunately, the festivities have some major flaws as well. The Home Run Derby formula needs obvious tweaking after Hamilton wore himself out putting on a terrific show in the opening round and lost in the anti-climatic finals. Justin Morneau may have won the contest, but everyone is talking about Hamilton's 28 home run first round.

Why don't those home runs carry over? By the time of the finals (where both sluggers start back at zero), Hamilton had nothing left to clear the fence and his poor pitcher (a 70+ year old man) looked like someone throwing the opening pitch rather than throwing real batting practice. There is no reason for a finals - combine the two rounds and declare a winner.

The game itself has the most flawed idea - the home-field advantage aspect. The condition does give the game some actual meaning, but does it really need actual meaning? It is an exhibition of baseball's greatest stars. Isn't that enough.

By playing for home-field advantage, the managers are forced to put other team's players in precarious positions. Take Brandon Webb of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks. He pitched Sunday in a real game, throwing over 100 pitches. He should not have pitched last night after that type of outing, but skipper Clint Hurdle was forced to put him out there in the 15-inning marathon.

What about the Braves' Brian McCann? Can you imagine the anger of my post had McCann's leg been injured as he tried to block Justin Morneau from the plate? What if Morneau pulled a Pete Rose and made McCann is own personal Ray Fosse? The game means something, so it would have been excusable, but that does not mean it is right.

Bud Selig overreacted to the anger over the All-Star game tie in 2002 with the nonsensical home-field advantage stakes. Last night it played out like a nightmare for the commissioner and a bunch of managers, players and fans who held their breath that nobody would get hurt during the extra innings. Let the game be fun, carefree and a true exhibition again.

Baseball has a monopoly on relevant All-Star games, but there is substantial room for improvement with some common sense ideas.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Worst Sports Weekend of the Year?

It was the perfect weekend to vege out and watch some sports on television. After flying all night Thursday, the Carpenters were in full recovery mode this weekend without plans or an agenda. All I needed was something to watch...

Right now, I'm glancing at the Colorado Rockies/New York Mets game that is already 4-0 for New York. The Rockies are terrible and this game fails to hold my attention for more than a few pitches.

What else?

The Braves blew out the Padres this afternoon, which is great for me as a Braves' fan but lousy in terms of entertaining me.

My other choices today were beach volleyball, the John Deere Classic (any tournament named after tractors is unwatchable), a minor league all-star game and nothing else.

I'm so desperate for competition, I'm watching the Miss Universe pageant. It is like I can't get a cup of coffee, so I'm sipping on a flat Diet Coke.

With Lime.

No Wimbledon. No British Open. No All-Star Game. No EUFA Cup. No Olympics. No cars or horse racing that I care about (sorry, but the Tour de Farce is boring and the most morally bankrupt sport on the planet).

It might be the most boring sports weekend of the year.

Seriously, every weekend of the year seems to offer something for us sports nuts. It is a pretty good gig we've got. There are always championships or titles on the line (I guess the heavyweight boxing title was defended this weekend, but boxing is dead).

My vacation from sports was weird because I knew good stuff was happening even if I wasn't watching. Now I'm watching, but nothing good is happening.

Do you know what I did on my perfect sports watching afternoon? I cleaned out our garage. The garage! No air-conditioning, bugs everywhere and not a single overpaid athlete in sight.

Fortunately, things are looking up. The MLB All-Star festivities at Yankee Stadium start tomorrow night, the British Open starts Thursday and the Arena Bowl is this weekend as well.

Okay, I don't actually care about the AFL, but a championship is a championship. And part of the fun of the Arena League is spotting guys I remember from college football or even the NFL (Darius Watts, anyone?). And doesn't Jon Bon Jovi own the Philadelphia team? That fact alone is more interesting than anything on this weekend.

I guess we need an occasional weekend off to clean our garages. If every weekend was sports special, none of them would be sports special, right?

Off to read some Ayn Rand.

Top 10 All-Time Atlanta Braves

Watching the game last night, I decided that Greg Maddux was the greatest Brave in the history of the franchise's stay in Atlanta.

The rest of my list:

1. Greg Maddux
2. Hank Aaron
3. Tom Glavine
4. Chipper Jones
5. John Smoltz
6. Dale Murphy
7. Andruw Jones
8. Phil Niekro
9. Fred McGriff
10. Dave Justice

Saturday, July 12, 2008

F*ck Favre

Are you kidding me?

I have no problem with a guy who has trouble hanging up his cleats (my hero, after all, is Muhammad Ali who fought about five too many fights). I have no problem with someone who walks away and then changes his mind.

But Brett Favre - I've got a problem with him.

There is something terribly self-absorbed about a player who annually holds his team hostage about his own future. Am I retiring? Am I coming back? Should you find a new quarterback or prepare for another season with me under center? Each season for what seems like half his career now, Favre has held the Green Bay Packers hostage while he mulled over whether to play.

Then, once on the field, Favre plays the game like a self-absorbed prima donna who cares more about the glory of a great highlight than throwing the ball into the stands to prevent a turnover. Remember that it was "The Gunslinger" who threw away the Packers' Super Bowl hopes with a miserable pass against the NY Giants that was picked off in overtime.

Like most football fans, however, I still liked and pulled for the guy. I was bummed out that the Packers were not going to the Super Bowl and bummed out that his last pass was such a devastatingly poor one.

Not anymore.

Reports from the always reliable Chris Mortenson are that Favre wants to come back.


That he wants to leave Green Bay.


That he wants an unconditional release so he can play for any team he wants.


Who does this guy think he is, Roger Clemens? An unconditional release? So he can sign with the Vikings or Bears - both in the Packers own division? So that the Packers lose a top caliber quarterback and get zilch in return?

Rhetorical questions aside, this report is one of the most baffling and angering things I can remember from an athlete. My sports cynicism is strong, but I sat up last night and sat stunned last night as I listened to the story.

The gist is that the Packers apparently were not entirely thrilled with Favre's return to the team next year. It sounds like Favre's ego was badly bruised by the lack of parade and immediate handing of the job as soon as his initial text message was received by Packers' management. So Favre's reaction is to screw them over.

Them - the Packers' management who let him dangle his "Will I or won't I?" nonsense each year, the Packers' teammates that rally around him each season despite his skipping of off-season duties and sometimes stupid play on the field, the Packers' fans who worship Favre like a deity.

Are you kidding me?

I try to avoid writing sports-radio rants in this blog, but if ever a story deserved one, this is it. I can't remember an athlete acting so douche-like in all my life. I can't remember an athlete revealing his true colors, ones he kept hidden from most for his entire career, so swiftly.

The story feels like a wrestling storyline where the tag team partner decides to punch his partner in the mouth rather than tag into the match. It is the ultimate sports swerve - a story we knew was coming (Favre's return) with an out-of-left-field twist (but I want out of Green Bay).

Just like in wrestling, I'm pulling for the wronged partner in the relationship to get revenge. I hope Green Bay uses the title for this post as its reply to their quarterback. I hope they refuse to release him. I hope they cancel his jersey retirement ceremony set for opening week. I hope that if they trade him, they send him to Atlanta or Arizona where he wallows in mediocrity. Better yet, trade him to New England or Indianapolis where he holds a clipboard all game long. I hope that if the Packers play Favre's new team, the crowd boos him the whole game and Packers intercept him repeatedly.

The goodwill is gone, Gunslinger. May you get what you deserve.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Francoeur's Frustrations

Two days in the minors he stayed
But Jeff Francoeur thinks he's been betrayed

Nevermind the mounting facts
That Frenchy's holding Atlanta back

He's one of few not in a cast or sling
So what explains his worthless swing?

He's in the line-up everyday
So how come RBIs don't come his way?

The guy is big and the guy is strong
But the guy can't hit, so something is wrong

Cox moved him down the Atlanta batting order
Trying to hide his offensive odor

But Frenchy's numbers only dropped even lower
His swings more wild and bat speed slower

The organization was patient and tried to wait
For their right-field slugger batting eighth

But when the Phillies came back to town
And swept the Braves for the second straight time

Atlanta's season was going to waste
Behind the Phils, Marlins and Mets in 4th place

Though not fair to assign him ALL the blame
The fault for failure includes Francoeur's unique name

Bench him? Trade him? Continue to let him play?
Or try to fix things down in Double A?

The kindest of options was chosen after carefully weighed
But Frenchy told the papers he still felt betrayed

Betrayed? Like Michael Corleone by his brother Fredo?
Betrayed? Like an aged swimmer by his high school speedo?

Sorry, Frenchy, but betrayed you are not
You were given half the season to figure things out

Baseball is a game that requires you to actually produce
Otherwise the team continues to lose

Reality check, Jeff - the real world in which the rest of us dwell
Gives out pink slips to employees who consistently fail

Betrayed? Mr. Francoeur - you must be kidding me
You spent nothing more than 48 hours in Mississippi

Welcome back after your two demoted days away
Now please shut your mouth and drive in some runs
You ain't been betrayed

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Life Without Sports - My Life on Vacation

I've been in California for over a week now, visiting with family and now attending a conference about journalism in high schools. I have had little/no time to watch or read about the sports world to which this blog is dedicated.

Here is what I've missed:

* Perhaps the greatest tennis match ever (or so I'm told and have read) between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

* The demotion and, as of today recall, of Braves' outfielder Jeff Francoeur. (Um, he sounds a little bitter...)

* Another Phillies sweep of the Braves

* Spain won some soccer tournament that had my attention BV (before vacation)

* Some 41-year old American mother breaking world records in the swimming pool

* NBA free agency opening up with Baron Davis leaving the Warriors

* The Brewers picking up C.C. Sabathia to become immediate contenders in the National League

* All-Star game rosters - snubs and surprises (Jason Varitek???)

And those are just the major stories. The sports world keeps revolving despite my inattention.

So what is life like without sports? I'm currently a cross between a heroine addict and a Buddhist. The addict in me is itching all over because I haven't gotten my fix. I need a score. Actually, I need scores. I need stats. I need acquisitions, transactions, injuries, controversies, firings. I need sports radio hosts screaming at me. I need to refresh every 10 minutes so I'll be the first to know something new. I need to also check out to see if ESPN missed something. I like Bubbles from The Wire after a day of sobriety - get me something involving a ball quickly!

But I'm also a Buddhist approaching enlightenment. You know, life isn't so bad without sports. I'm actually conversing with people instead of just listening to them and blogging about them. I'm actually playing sports (three rounds of golf, a few jogs and even a soccer game against my niece) instead of watching them. Instead of investing three hours in a meaningless, boring regular season contest, I get the quick 2-minute version on-line and spend time playing with Abby and Caroline. Perhaps the Fifth Noble Truth was that sports are neither necessary nor productive.

Wait, what am I talking about? I'm dying here. Who wants to converse with people? How long can I talk to people without talking about sports? Do I want to become one of those people who asks questions like, "Is Tony Gwynn still playing?" or "When did Shaq stop playing for the Lakers?"

No, I need sports. My wife and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon a few years ago and I quickly decided I wanted to live there. After a week, I realized I was wrong. The rainbows lost their luster. The mangos and coconut on everything got old. The cost of everything was cold water on my face. It was a fun vacation destination, but not a permanent home.

Same for this vacation from sports. I'm counting down the days until I can get back to ignoring my wife and kids and spending my time with Mike & Mike, Chipper Jones and Peter Gammons. I'm counting the days until I get my score(s).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Frenchy to the Minors

Jeff Francoeur to the minors? What has happened while I've been gone?

Actually, Frenchy's struggles have been season-long and this move did not shock me. The biggest disappointment is that this season offered Francouer a great opportunity to take a step forward into an All-Star caliber outfielder. Bobby Cox batted him 5th early in the year with Brian McCann protecting him against lefties. Chipper Jones and his .400 average gave Frenchy RBI chances every night. The Braves were seen as National League contenders partly because of the belief that Francouer would be a 25 HR, 110 RBI right fielder.

It did not happen. Frankly, Francoeur has escaped my blame for the Braves woes this season for no good reason. The biggest Braves bug-a-boo has been hitting with runners on base and Francoeur has been miserable in that spot. The guy looks like an RBI machine, but he's been hitting in the .220s with runners in scoring position all season.

Here is hoping the trip to Mississippi fixes Frenchy's flaws. I already miss his monster arm in right field, but can't say I miss his bat in the line-up.

What a weird, dramatic year this has been for the Braves.