August 2009


Heeeeeeees BAAAAAAAACK!!! Could it be the beginning of a new era for the Eagles?

Heeeeeeee's BAAAAAAAACK!!! Could it be the beginning of a new era for the Eagles?

Earlier tonight, ex-convict Michael Vick returned to the field for the first time since December 31, 2006, ironically playing for the team the had last played against in the Philadelphia Eagles.  Andy Reid and the rest of the Eagles’ brain trust predictably played it safe, limiting Vick to mainly shorter

passes in a night where both Vick and the franchise began a new chapter. All seems good in the City of Brotherly Love for now, but things could get very interesting if the “E-A-G-L-E-S” Eagles fail to meet the demands of their rabid, at times criminal fanbase, many of which are thinking that this could be their year to finally make it to the top and win their first Super Bowl.  In fact, it’s not THAT far of a stretch to think that the 2010 NFL offseason could bring both a quarterback change and a head coaching change to Philadelphia.

Let’s look a year into the future and assume that the Eagles once again make the playoffs, but fail to go all the way.  Eagles fans have long been bitterly divided over the play of Donovan McNabb.  McNabb, once again proving

Eagles fans are known for their, well, um, slightly over-the-top

Eagles fans are known for their, well, um, slightly over-the-top antics in the stands...

that he couldn’t quite lead the team to the Promised Land, is once again berated with insults and calls for his trade or release by the fans, as per usual every year Philly falls short.  However, unlike past years where this was basically impossible because the Eagles would then have to turn to the likes of A.J. Feeley, Kevin Kolb, or a completely unproven rookie QB, they now have Mike Vick who can take the reins of the offense and has had a whole season to learn the Eagles schemes and play calls.  The front office shops the aging career Eagle QB to the highest bidder, and there will be bidders on McNabb.  They end up sending him to offensively-challenged Oakland, a literal black hole for quarterbacks, where he ends up in a QB battle with his old backup, Jeff Garcia and JaMarcus Russell, who is looking more and more like a bust with every pound he gains, thus paving the way for the newest Philadelphia Eagle.

Obviously, it goes without saying that the easiest person to blame for a team’s lack of success falls solely on the Head Coach.  Andy Reid has been feeling the heat for his sometimes questionable personnel and play-calling abilities, especially after last year’s stunning defeat in the NFC Championship Game to the Arizona Cardinals.  Another year like that could very well be the end of Andy Reid’s days in Philly.  Who would replace him, though? Two

Andy Reid: Eagles Head Coach/Future Mall Santa Claus

Andy Reid: Eagles Head Coach/Future Mall Santa Claus

words: Tony Dungy.  Again, this isn’t that far of a stretch when you look at the chain of events that led to the Vick sigining in Philadelphia.  Dungy was Vick’s “advisor,” which allowed him to prove to Eagles brass that he could not only work well with Mike Vick, but also with the front office within the organization.  In addition, this would allow Dungy to implement an offensive scheme in Philadelphia that is more like the Colts’ offense, which thrives on big pass plays downfield, the area where most people would agree the team has improved in the most over the last two drafts with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.  So Dungy might fit the needs of the personnel package in Philadelphia better than Reid does at this point.

So you see now that the Eagles really aren’t that far away from being a very different looking team this time next year. The pieces are all in place, it’s really just a matter of whether or not the stars will align for the Eagles on the night of Super Bowl XLIV.

Advertisements
Can this man save a franchise?

Can this man save a franchise?

At 11:58 and 43 seconds, according to Washington Nationals team president Stan Kasten, baseball’s worst team this season and highly-touted, Scott Boras-managed pitcher Stephen Strasburg were finally able to reach a deal for a record $15.1 million signing bonus.  There is no doubt that the signing of Strasburg was an absolute must for the struggling D.C. franchise, but now both the Nats and their young phenom with the alleged 102 m.p.h. fastball have to succeed. 

There are two very ominous precedents for a deal like this one that immediately come to mind. In 1991, the New York Yankees drafted Brien Taylor with the #1 overall pick in the draft and signed him to a then-record $1.55 million signing bonus.  Taylor was a can’t-miss prospect with electric, future ace stuff and his advisor Scott Boras made a deal that turned out to be one of the worst investments in Yankee history.  After posting a 2.57 ERA at Single-A Fort Lauderdale, Taylor suffered a torn labrum in a fight while trying to defend his brother, and was never the same. He floundered in the Yankee farm system until he was released in 1998.  Taylor would become the second #1 pick to never make it to the Majors.

Less unfortunate, a little more bizzarre, and an equally big bust was Kris Benson as the top pick in

Heres to hoping that Kris Benson makes it back to the Majors soon

Here's to hoping that Kris Benson makes it back to the Majors soon

1996 by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Unlike Taylor, Benson made it to the Majors and looked promising, but somewhere around the time when he married his wife, Anna, he seemed to have lost his edge.  It got to the point where Anna, his outlandish and over-the-top wife, garnered far more attention than Kris and his now back-of-the-rotation talent.  Most recently, you can find Benson in Oklahoma City, playing for the AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

More importantly than the impact that Strasburg’s signing could have on how draft picks are compensated is the potential impact of what could happen to the Washington Nationals as a franchise if Strasburg fails.  At the outset of the 2009 season, Washington was expected to finish dead last in the NL East, and was left to pick up the pieces of the scandal that cost former GM Jim Bowden his job. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read about it here.

Youppi! was a casualty when the Expos left Montreal. Will the same happen to Teddy???

Youppi! was a casualty when the Expos left Montreal. Will the same happen to Teddy???

Since the beginning of the season, the Nats have looked like a AAA team playing in the Majors, limping to an abysmal 43-76 record, and have looked as incompetent on the field as they are in the front office.  This, as it does for any team that’s just not competitive, has driven away fans, and caused most season ticket holders to become bigger watchers of Stubhub and Ebay than the team.  The almost brand-new $600 million Nationals Park looks like a ghost town most nights and the red ink on their balance sheets might be a brighter red than the color of their caps. If a team ever needed a savior, this is the one that could use it, and Kasten, acting GM Mike Rizzo, and many more are hoping that Stephen Strasburg is the answer.

If Strasburg fails in the Majors, though, it could spell the end of baseball in Washington.  An even greater number of disgruntled fans would turn away and make Nationals Park look like this.  It would be the second time in the history of Major League Baseball that a team failed in our nation’s capital, and it would fall on the head of Strasburg, who would, without a doubt, go down as the biggest bust in MLB Draft history.

That being said, things are already looking up for the Nats, as they are sure to have a full house on hand for when Strasburg makes his much-anticipated debut. Now we all just have to hold our breath and see if the kid from San Diego State has what it takes.

 

MLB: At least we dont have Michael Vick!!!

MLB: "At least we don't have Michael Vick!!!"

Since the advent of the wild card berths into the Major League Baseball playoffs in 1995, many baseball fans have had reason to cry foul as their team was denied the wild card while a team with a worse record got into the playoffs by virtue of playing in a weaker division.  Most would argue that this is a sign of parity in the league and that these teams are few and far between.  However, if the season were to end today, both the Texas Rangers and the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays would finish with better records than the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, quite conceivably as a result of having to play teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mariners more often than the Tigers.  There is a simple solution to this: Eliminate one division from each league and have 2 wild card teams, that would be determined by best overall record, regardless of what place a team finished in their respective division.  

The basic setup for the 4 division system is simple enough, in fact, this is what it would probably look like:

AL East: New York, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit

AL West: Los Angeles, Texas, Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota, Kansas City, Milwaukee (Note: The Brewers would be moved back to the American League in order to have 15 teams in each league, which is the way it should be anyway, but that’s another topic entirely)

NL East: New York, Philadelphia, Florida, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

NL West: Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Francisco, Arizona, San Diego

See? That wasn’t that hard.  Now obviously we run into 3 key issues under this system. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to all of these problems.

Problem #1: The West divisions are spread out a LOT more than the East.  Is that fair?
Solution: No, it’s not. That’s why MLB will redraft its schedule and create a balanced schedule where every team in both leagues play each other 11-12 times every year and interleague play, which has really lost its novelty anyway, will be eliminated from the schedule, because how many extra fans really were going to that Nationals-Royals series in the middle of a week, anyway?

Yeah, you better be listening! Now if only anyone could find you...

Yeah, you better be listening! Now if only anyone could find you...

Problem #2: Two of the divisions have 8 teams, but the other two divisions only have 7, what gives?!?
Solution: This isn’t a new problem, just look at the standings today, where you have a four-team AL West and a six-team NL Central.  This creates a unique opportunity for Major League Baseball to expand to 32 teams, though.  I would suggest Charlotte or Nashville for one team and Las Vegas or Portland for the other.  These are all cities that have showed interest in having pro sports in a greater capacity.  Also, by adding the two Western teams to the league, you can shift a team (I would suggest the Brewers since they played in the AL East before division realignment) back into a division that would be less difficult on them with respect to travel.

Problem #3: The balanced schedule is economically unfair to small-market teams who will have to place more money into travel costs that could otherwise be used on acquiring players. Isn’t this just a way for the bigger clubs to push the smaller ones around?
Solution: Yes, this is why two things would need to be put in place in order to preserve the competitive balance of the game. First would be an increase in the amount of revenue sharing between clubs, so as to offset the slight increase in travel expenses.  Second would be the institution of a salary cap system that operates like the NFL’s, one that increases on a yearly basis and has probably been one of the major reason that the NFL is by far the most balanced league out of the major American sports.  This will put teams in position to be more competitive and will lead to increased attendance for teams that are struggling, thus creating record revenues for MLB.  (Note: Of course, I say this without doing any true research, but fundamental economics would suggest #2 and #3 as true. This is also one of the first times I have actually applied my major to something, so now I can’t say I’ll never use that economics degree.)

So there you have it, in a nutshell.  Of course I say this all while assuming that baseball will not kill itself via syringes and tainted records, but until that happens, MLB and its commissioner-in-hiding Bud Selig should seriously consider division realignment, lest we run into another 2006, where a team that played about .500 all year wins the World Series and gives great merit to the argument that the the MLB regular season doesn’t matter.

 

Its a good thing baseball dont know how to fight otherwise both teams would have no players left

It's a good thing baseball players don't know how to fight otherwise both teams would have no players left

Friday night at about 11:30 p.m. I was on my way home from my job in Manhattan. All along the way I could see fans in Red Sox and Yankees gear, but neither side was really looking overly happy.  I was a little confused by this, I mean it was Yankees-Red Sox in the Bronx in the middle of a crucial four-game set and yet, it looked like the game had to be over. There were about 100 fans from the game on the 4 train with me at the 161st Street/Yankee stadium stop.  Then I took a look behind me to peek into the new Yankee Stadium, and saw a still packed house and the game still going on.  I go to the Yankee fan sitting next to me and ask “Hey buddy, the game still going?” He replied, “Yeah, 0-0 in the 13th, where the (expletive) have you been?” At this point, I thought I was having an aneurysm on the train, my heart starting beating faster and I actually got up and started pacing around the train like a madman.

I turned my phone on to get score updates and I was immediately bombarded with texts about the game, many of which came from a Red Sox friend via Twitter (gotta love technology!). I got home at about 12:10 a.m. and immediately turned the TV on and proceeded to go into war mode, yelling orders at the TV, delusionally thinking the players would hear me.  Finally, at 12:35 a.m, Alex Rodriguez hit the game-winning two-run home run and I went into a frenzy.  But when I think about it, if it was any team other than Boston, I don’t know if it would have mattered half as much, and I don’t think I’m the only Yankee partisan who looks at it the same way.

For whatever reason, Yankees-Red Sox has the ability to transcend the ballparks the teams play in.  The rivalry has built and destroyed relationships, led to numerous fights on the field, in the stands, and on the trains to and from the parks, and has even been a cause for murder, yes, I said murder.  But why is it like this? Why the insanity, the fanfare, the hate, joy, heartbreak?  It’s because to New Yorkers and Beantown natives these teams are everything, and there’s good evidence to support that claim.  

In 2001, after the 9/11 tragedy, the Yankees found themselves in their 4th consecutive World Series, and the City of New York was caught up in Yankee fever in a time of despair.  I was fortunate enough to be at Game 4 of the Series and to this day can only remember the raw emotion as Ronan Tynan sang “God Bless America” and the tears that followed it, just as they did after Game 3 the previous night.  I also remember the solace turning into absolute pandemonium when Tino Martinez tied the game with a two-run home run and again when Derek Jeter hit the game winning homer in the 10th, which gave him the “Mr. November” moniker. It was at that moment that I realized that I was witnessing something much larger than a game. This was important. The Yankees are as big a part of New York as the Empire State Building or Times Square.  It was THAT big.

Just 3 years later, I was witness to something that most people previously thought was impossible.  Facing a 3-0 deficit to my Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, the Boston Red Sox mounted the greatest comeback in playoff history, winning four straight to stun the baseball world en route to the Sox first World Series win in 86 years.  Much like New York in ’01, Boston in ’04 was a city united by its baseball team, as it always has been.  I would go on to meet Red Sox fans who, when asked about how winning that first title felt, would still break down into tears…two years after it happened. Red Sox fans’ passion for their team is unmatched by any other fanbase in the league.  Baseball is a New Englander’s religion, and they are taught early and often that the Sox are their team, the people’s team.  Much like I said about the ’01 Series for Yankees fans, the ’04 Series for Sox fans was THAT big, maybe even bigger.

So when you look at it that way, it’s simple to see what makes this rivalry exactly what it is. Two groups of people brought up to be passionate about two opposing sides that meet so regularly in important games.  The results of the games breed the contempt that the two groups have for each other in the heat of battle and beyond.  Winning isn’t a want, it’s a need for the fans, and that desire to win the games translates directly into the moments on the field, which were just added to by another classic moment early Saturday morning. Fans can only hope for more of the same in the next 2 months as these teams seem destined to meet each other again in make-or-break games for both teams.

Even Pirates fans have seen enough of the losing ways of their team

Even Pirates fans have seen enough of the losing ways of their team

Once again the MLB trade deadline has come and gone, and it was not without its share of big moves including Cliff Lee to the Phillies, Victor Martinez to the Red Sox, and Jake Peavy to the White Sox (finally!).  Most analysts at this point will explain what this does for the immediate success of your team for the rest of the season.  However, what they shy away from is the impact that it has on the team that gives up the big name player to a contender.

 

Enter the Pittsburgh Pirates.  A team with a fairly storied history, playing in the first World Series in 1903 (They lost to the Boston Americans, now the Red Sox) and the home of Hall of Famers including Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.  In recent baseball times, however, the Pirates have been nothing more than a doormat for National League teams and a stopping place for young and talented players who go onto bigger and better things, leaving the Pirates fans bewildered as to why that player was ever traded. The 2009 season looked like it could be a turning point for the downtrodden Pirates, though.   Playing in a less-than-stellar NL Central, Pittsburgh was managing to hang around in the race through the end of May, which came as a surprise to most.  The young talent the Pirates ownership had promised for the last decade was starting to look like it was developing and the Pirates were looking like dark-horse contenders.

On June 4th, Pittsburgh found itself at 25-28, 5.5 games out of 1st place, but playing fairly well.  By June 5th, the Pirates season was basically put to an end.  GM Neal Huntington accepted a trade from the Braves for All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth, which was the beginning of the selling off of 10 players from Pittsburgh’s opening day roster for prospects or less in some cases.  Since June 4th, the Pirates have gone 19-30, fallen to 11 games out, and hold a record that is only better than the Padres and Nationals in the NL.

The question is why? The Pirates basically replicated what they did from the previous year when they traded Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees.  It gets to the point where it’s an assumed that the Pirates won’t even try to win in a season, instead hiding behind the mask of being a “small-market” team.  If we learned anything from the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, it’s that it is hugely important to hold onto those top level prospects when they hit the Major League level and not be tempted to trade them away for anybody. Hopefully someday the Pirates will look at what the Rays did and right their ship because their players, fans, and the city of Pittsburgh deserve far better.

 

After the McLouth trade, even Pirates players had seen enough.  Jack Wilson was vocal in his criticism of the organization and he and Freddy Sanchez’s subsequent refusals to sign extensions led to their own trades.  What more will it have to take to make the Pirates front office understand that firesales turn away new players, fans, and ultimately winning baseball from their team?

Here’s a look at some of the names that current Pirates GM Neal Huntington and former  GM Dave Littlefield traded away this decade, starting with this year:

2009 – John Grabow (CHC), Tom Gorzelanny (CHC), Freddy Sanchez (SF), Jack Wilson (SEA), Ian Snell (SEA), Adam LaRoche(BOS, now ATL), Nyjer Morgan (WSH), Sean Burnett (WSH), Eric Hinske (NYY), Nate McLouth (ATL)

2008 – Jason Bay, Damaso Marte, Xavier Nady, Salomon Torres

2007 – Rajai Davis, Mike Gonzalez

2006 – Craig Wilson, Oliver Perez, Kip Wells, Sean Casey

2005 – Rob Mackowiak, Dave Williams, Mark Redman, Matt Lawton, David Ross, 

2004 – Leo Nunez, Arthur Rhodes, Jason Kendall, Kris Benson, Jeff Keppinger

2003 – Brian Giles, Randall Simon, Jeff Suppan, Brandon Lyon, Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Mike Gonzalez (again), Mike Williams, John Wasdin

2002 – Chris Young, Mike Fetters, Damaso Marte (again)

2001 – Gary Matthews Jr., Jose Silva, Todd Ritchie, Mike Williams (again), Terry Mulholland, Jason Schmidt, John Vander Wal