Monday, December 29, 2008

Nasty Rumors About Gruden

Some malicious gossip is flowing after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season ending collapse with four consecutive loses. The blame game starts with head coach, John Gruden, and the chit chat deserves a reality check; Gruden, for example, is being hauled over the coals for a variety of reasons ranging from a poorly assembled offense; dreadful draft picks; and an inability to sign key free agents. A reality check shows the Bucs offense has labored in the bottom half of the NFL since Gruden's arrival. The team, in fact, has scored fewer points than the "Back to Basics" approach employed by former coach, Tony Dungy. If the Bucs keep Gruden, he should be required to relinquish play calling responsibilities. A review of Gruden's draft choices reveal a litany of failures. Consider the players he personally swore by: Cadillac Williams, Michael Clayton, and finally Dexter Jackson. Throughout most of his career, Williams has been injured; however in the West Coast offense, he has struggled to be an effective receiver. Clayton, on the other hand, seems to have enormous potential, yet he rarely gets to show it. Jackson was a complete bust. Reality check: player personnel development is an inexact science, but one thing is abundantly clear, late round draft choices usually have a far greater impact on a team's success than early round picks. At best, the Bucs lack dept meaning they are not drafting well in any rounds. Now let's mull over free agent acquisitions: one of the most spiteful things being said about Gruden is other athletes do not want play for him. This is being spread by a Tampa Tribune columnist; the same con who made a fool out of himself by saying earlier that the Bucs had signed, Brett Favre. The reporter mentions Gruden's
falling out with receiver, Keyshaw Johnson, Keenan McCardell, also Mike Alstott. Reality check, all three players were nearing the end of their careers when the Bucs released them. McCardell claims he was made promises by Gruden that were not kept. Well, Keenan welcome to the NFL. Actually despite these rumors, the Bucs have done well in free agency. Center, Jeff Faine, for example, signed a long term deal. Highly sought after quarterback, Jeff Garcia, came here so did Pro Bowler, Cato June. Speaking on this point, the Glazer family has been criticized for not signing enough free agents during the off season. They don't talk much; but during these perilous times, no one can blame them for collecting interest on their money. Two of the most successful athletic associations, the NBA and NFL, are laying off people. The only question remaining is Gruden about to join them?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Smart Money Isn't on the Cowboys:

On this final week of the NFL regular season, take the Cowboys over the Eagles; handicappers should stick with the Cowboys until they meet the Giants in the NFC championship game. Take Carolina over New Orleans. I'm going out on a limb, meanwhile, by taking the Jets to beat the Dolphins in New York. In my heart, though, I'm rooting for ex-Jet quarterback, Chad Pennington, who was tossed out of the Big Apple in favor of Brett Favre. In San Diego, take Denver and the points. Of course, many handicappers are taking the Eagles over Dallas, but this should be the start of a nice run for the Cowboys who have the talent to win anywhere.

Super 5
New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys
Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee Titans
Carolina Panthers

Best of the Rest:
San Diego Super Chargers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots
New York J-E-T-S

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For Buccaneers, Glass is Half Empty, Half Full

In Jacksonville, fans are demanding coach, Jack Del Rio's head on a silver platter; in New Orleans, coach, Sean Payton, is no longer a whiz kid. In Dallas, coach, Wade Phillip's, is on the chopping block, and Philadelphia's, Andy Reid, is being run out of town. Last year, on the other hand, sympathizers were literally concerned about the safety of Panther's coach, John Fox; the Giant's, Tom Coughlin, meanwhile, was about to be fired before rallying the troops and winning the Super Bowl. Fans have short memories and blame usually falls on coaches, referees, but rarely the players. In Tampa Bay, Gruden, is feeling the media's fury for losing three consecutive games that will likely cost Tampa a playoff berth. In the well balanced National Football League, however, a coach's decision can be responsible for losing or winning one game. A blown official's call may be responsible for another; the rest, however, rest solely on the players. Looking back on the Bucs season, the key lost at Atlanta may have been Gruden's fault because a nimbler Luke McCown could have preserved some vital field position. The game was decided in overtime by a field goal. Sunday's game against the Chargers was lost by the players who were clearly out manned by superior athletes. In retrospect, this may be John Gruden's best coaching season. Most prognosticators figured the Buccaneers were no better than a break even team; yet, they could finish the season 10-6. A one game improvement over last year. Firing Gruden is probably out of the question; he must, though, do better in the draft to compete with surging Carolina as well as Atlanta. Two teams with significantly better player personnel and scouting departments. Gruden must also be more open minded to evaluating all his players: for example, a competitor like all pro punt returner, Clifton Smith, shouldn't be languishing in oblivion before proving his mettle. Deep teams like the Cowboys and Giants lose many veterans through attrition, yet their replacements are equally talented. As for Gruden, he will still be here next year, and in his mind, he did not choke: his players did. Now they'll have to answer...meaning some Buccaneers will have to seek employment elsewhere; and you what? They know that better than anyone else.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gruden: You've Got To Be Kidding?

Even by coach, John Gruden's, standards his quarrel was lame. He was last overheard whining about playing the Carolina Panthers on Monday night in Charlotte, NC. According to Gruden, "By virtue of winning the South division last year, the decisive divisional game should have been played in red neck Tampa." Excuse me, but what does that have to do with the price of foreclosures in China? Wasn't that the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants Sunday night playing on the road against the Dallas Cowboys...yet not a grumble out of Giants' coach, Tom Coughlin?
Why isn't Gruden more concerned about playing in the red zone where his team ranks next to last in touchdowns? Of course, Gruden supporters place all the blame on the club's lack of offensive play makers; yet, who's responsible for drafting the Dexter Jacksons' on this team?
Is it just a coincidence the best ability is on the defense where lame duck defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, resides? Is he the genius behind a club relying primarily on the defense, not only to score, but blank the opponent as well? Think about receiver, Antonio Bryant's cryptic criticism,
"Dammit! Why are we afraid to score?" He was lamenting the Bucs' refusal to challenge the Falcon's secondary Sunday when Tampa played for the tie before losing in overtime 13-10.
It appears coach, Gruden, doesn't get it. A capable, healthy, and resourceful quarterback, Luke McCown, sits because Gruden has a hunch old man Griese can win one for the gipper. Griese, however, admitted he's been less than fifty percent since injuring his arm eight weeks ago. Given that Gruden relies on instinct, my gut feeling is Monte Kiffin has had enough of this egomaniac getting all the credit. Kiffin would rather move on, rather than watching someone jeopardize an organization's playoff chances just to prove an impractical point. Since Kiffin is probably already daydreaming about lips smacking Bass in the Smokey Mountains, the San Diego Chargers should be able to hammer another nail into the Bucs casket. The club's been on a death watch since losing back to back games for the first time this season; and now that Kiffin is all but out the door, capable veteran, Derrick Brooks, can't be too far behind him. So there goes a great legacy of players and coaches who were able to win in spite of Gruden. Now let's see who he points the finger at?
Gamblers should stay away from the Carolina Panthers game against the New York Giants. The G-men need home field advantage more than the Panthers who believe they can win anywhere, anytime. The game is a crap shoot. Take the Cowboys, meanwhile, over the Ravens.
Super 5
Dallas Cowboys
Carolina Panthers
Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee Titans
New York Giants
*Best of the Rest
Pittsburgh Steelers
Atlanta Falcons
Philadelphia Eagles

Todd, we are praying for you, and your wonderful family.
God bless you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Take the Freight Train to Charlotte, NC

Last week, the Carolina Panthers used zone blocking to knock the Tampa Bay Buccaneers silly en route to a 38-23 triumph. Carolina imported the scheme last year when they hired former Bronco offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson. Although its taken the Panthers a year to get use to the system, everything came together Monday night. Facing the renown Tampa 2, the Panther tandem of Deangelo Hall and Jonathan Stewart, resembled a runaway freight train colliding into defenseless pedestrians. If this were a boxing match, the fight would have been stopped solely on the number of knockdowns. Only Buccaneer, Ronde Barber, admitted the Panthers were younger, stronger, and more than likely headed to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the Bucs, an encore is waiting in Atlanta. Although the Falcons do not employ zone blocking, they will still stampede past an aging yet stubborn, Derrick Brooks, and company. Bettors should take the Falcons to cover the three point spread. As for the Carolina Panthers, everyone is realizing this powerful club is young; yet they play down to the level of their competition. In games against, Chicago, Detroit, also Oakland, the Panthers struggled before putting away their adversaries. Carolina should beat Denver; they will, however, not cover the spread. The Dallas Cowboys will win outright against the Giants, and the Cowboys, not New York, will emerge as the lone team capable of derailing that freight train scorching out of Charlotte.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Obama, Title IX, and College Football

University Presidents are finally squirming over President, Barack Obama's, remarks about his preference for a college football playoff. Obama was calmly discussing the matter during a recent interview on "Sixty Minutes." In an effort to reward mediocrity, college leaders adamantly oppose a playoff'; they understand Obama is probably the only one who can eradicate the mythical BCS Bowl Championship: a complicated design whereby geographically pressured writers, coaches, and several computers select the finalist for the so called National Championship game. Unlike everyone else, the colleges are wise enough to realize Obama knows the Bowl Alliance violates prong 3 of Title IX. A clause in the revolutionary ruling mandating equal rights for women in athletics has been modified for men also. For example, one paragraph says universities must demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. Since males are virtually outnumbered two to one on most collegiate campuses, they are the minority. For the first time, women teams outnumber male squads. If the NCAA, therefore, offers women finals in soccer, equestrian events, golf, or any other sport, they are violating title IX by not offering the same opportunities for football players. College presidents have been skirting this element of Title IX for years and now they fear Obama will call them on it. If the Democratic elected President gets Congress to study the issue, public universities could lose millions of dollars in Federal loans by ignoring this new point in Title IX. For the good of the country, a silly tool used to crown a mythical champion could be replaced by a real playoff. In the meantime, the Texas Longhorns, USC Trojans, and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will sit by idly as two handpicked teams contend for a mythical national title. Let's hope for -Obama's sake- that this becomes a change we all can believe in.

My Picks for this key weekend of college football:
Take Bama and the points against Florida. The Tide's defense is vastly underrated, and Percy Harvin's injury will have major impact on this game.
In the NFL, I think the Dallas Cowboys are a lock to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, will avenge their earlier lost to the offensively ham-fisted Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Panthers played the first game minus center, Ryan Kalil as well as 6'6 320 lb, tackle, Jeff Otah. Wide receiver, Steve Smith, meanwhile, has returned to his all pro form. The Panthers will cover the spread.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Barack Obama

Perhaps Tina Davis said it best, "Who do you want, the stodgy old white guy, or the young smart black one." Nothing against old white guys; but Mrs. Davis is from Bristol Township, PA an area voting overwhelmingly for Senator, Hillary Clinton, during the Democratic Primary. It was also a small town that Barack Obama was making reference to when he said, "Working class Americans cling too much to their guns and religion." Obama was mystified why his message of an egalitarian society wasn't resonating with poor whites in the rural sectors of Pennsylvania plus Ohio. Just the fact they would vote against a candidate representing their economic interest was baffling to him. Obama, nevertheless, ignored the conscious-stricken history of a region where William Levitt built a series of small towns where he refused to sell homes to African Americans. Senator, John McCain, anticipated many of these townships would not vote for a black man; he was wrong. Obama's margin of victory in rural PA was 2-1. I've always believed America has never really received credit for it's racial tolerance. Fortunately growing up as African American, I realized capitalism couldn't afford to discriminate. If a person can get to work on time and remain drug free, it doesn't matter if she's black or white, that individual will more than likely be promoted. Of course there are exceptions to any generality, yet this is the only solid premise a young person can hope for. America now has moved on and in the future there will be female, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian presidents.For the meantime, Barack Obama has proved all things are possible.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Can Rays Win one for the GIpper?

In today's New York Times, columnist, George Vescey, compared Rays' manager, Joe Maddon, to one of baseball's most pitiful figures: The late Gene Mauch. With only a week remaining in the season, he was the un-lucky skipper of the Phillies who lost a division lead to the Cardinals. In 1986 against the Red Sox, Mauch came under more condemnation for changing pitchers when the Angels were only one out away from winning the pennant. Mauch went to his closer, Donnie Moore, who gave up a game tying home run to Dave Henderson. The Sox rallied to win the series in seven games. Meanwhile, Mauch's managerial history of injecting himself into games, rather than trusting his players was one of several reasons Mauch's talented clubs never won a World Series. In a bit of irony in 1986, Maddon was sitting in the stands at Anaheim Stadium when the Red Sox mounted their first of three historic rallies against 3-1 deficits. Maddon, furthermore, admits to emulating Mauch's debatable strategy of imposing his will on the players.For example in the costly game 6, he removed pitcher, Scott Kazmir, despite the fact he retired nine consecutive hitters. The move backfired and the Rays lost. The defeat proved critical considering Tampa Bay was only seven outs from winning the pennant. If fans are questioning Maddon's untimely moves, what are the Rays thinking? Conversely all these years, Maddon has had their backs. When the Rays were horrible, Maddon protected them by pointing out the positives, rather than negatives. Tonight, the Rays can save Maddon from being mentioned in the same breath as scattered brained Mauch. A win, and everything is forgotten. A lost, and Maddon goes down in infamy. Unfortunately for Maddon, forminable Boston Red Sox pitcher, Jon Lester, will write the final chapter to this suspenseful narrative.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gruden and Darth Vader?

Apparently the dark side has possessed Bucs' coach, John Gruden; I swear, his latest tantrum is so Darth Vader. One of my favorite scenes from the "The Empire Strikes Back" was played out in real life following the Bucs defeat in New Orleans. In the film, the captain of the Death Star reports to Lord Vader that young Luke Skywalker has escaped. Vader replies, "You have failed me." The skipper drops dead, and Vader counsels his startled Lieutenant not to make the same mistake. I don't know if veteran quarterback, Jeff Garcia, is a Star Wars junkie; but he certainly understands the feeling of being made the scapegoat for a disappointing lost. Granted, Garcia played poorly; however, he was no worse than Ronde Barber, Aquib Talib, or the invisible man: Gaines Adams.
Now, Brian Griese must assume the reins of a slothful offense lacking play makers, intelligent design, and swagger. If you watched week one of the NFL, it's hard to believe Tampa Bay is better than the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, or the Carolina Panthers: Four teams the Bucs will face during the next five weeks. If Tampa is lucky, they'll beat the Falcons Sunday; otherwise "All Hell is going to break loose." John Gruden, meanwhile, and his out of touch GM, Bruce Allen, must be held accountable for these "God Awful" draft picks. The latest disaster is this wimp, Dexter Jackson. His idea of returning a punt is falling down at the slightest hint of being tackled. After complaining about a lack of quality receivers, the Bucs by-passed Texas' Linus Sweed, plus Michigan's Mario Manningham. To make matters worse, we learn Tampa Bay actually scored more points under Coach, Tony Dungy, than Gruden. Now, I wonder if Dungy would have opted not to dress explosive running back, Michael Bennett, for the game against the Saints. The poor draft picks, keeping Michael Bennett on the bench, and changing quarterbacks after one game are just several crack head decisions made by Gruden. The coach better hope the Falcons aren't for real; otherwise to quote Darth Vader, "You've got some explaining to do, Captain."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rays: OPS!

Uh Oh; just when you thought it was safe to bury the Yankees, they show signs of life by winning two consecutive games against the Rays. Suddenly, the Bronx Bombers have been upgraded from critical to guarded condition. Once left for dead, the ageless Yanks could be alive and kicking if they sweep the series tomorrow. For the second night in a row, the Rays appear to be sweltering under the heat of a pennant race while the Yankees are looking cool as a cucumber. At one time during the game, the Rays had the bases loaded before hitting into a double play. Yet with two runners on base, they watched outfielder, Eric Hinski, meekly fly out to left field. The play seems to underscore why a veteran team like the Yankees can't be counted on to fold. New York entered this series trailing Tampa Bay by 12 games in the loss column. More than likely, they'll be leaving town only 9 down with 26 to play. In baseball, that's a lifetime. Do you believe the concentrated pressure of their inaugural race is wearing down the Rays? Out of the blue, a team built on speed plus defense looks lumbering and all thumbs. A club reveling in the image of David could be more vulnerable than Goliath. Even New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, a noted Yankee fan declared,"No lead is safe." Uh oh!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rays: If You Build It, They Won't Come.

In the classic film, "Field of Dreams," Shoeless Joe Jackson tells a farmer that if he builds it his late father will come. In retrospect, the Tampa Bay Rays have built an exciting ball club; yet hardly anyone comes. You can argue like President Clinton and say, "Its the economy, stupid;" or perhaps you like to watch baseball in the comfort of your home. If you subscribe to the latter, you're in the minority. You see, baseball is enjoying record attendance all over the country except in Tampa Bay and Miami. The lack of support here, however, is staggering. Against Toronto, reporter, Todd Kalas, described Tuesday's crowd as lite. From the looks of things, The Rays drew less than 16,000. The Little League World Series will draw that many for batting practice. The Rays, on the other hand, are a club in the midst of one of the most memorable seasons in major league history. A team with a paltry payroll of $44-million is leading the Yankees and Red Sox who routinely pay half that amount to one player. Despite the lack of fan support, the Rays hustle, never give up, and compete until their last at bat...and then some. Unfortunately, all those attributes may not be enough to hold off the well heeled Yankees and Red Sox. Believe me, both teams are charging fast. In fact, Boston will be here Sept 8th; and if you decide to wait until then, it may be too late for the Rays.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Two Women Outrank Phelps as Greatest Olympian?

Looking back on the phenomenal performance of swimmer, Michael Phelps, it's hard to believe he is not the greatest Olympian of all time, but if you listen to veteran Olympic historian, David Wallenchinsky, Phelps ranks sixth on the list of magnificent Olympians. In fact, two women are graded ahead of him. Phelps' eight gold medals, notwithstanding, are a remarkable accomplishment; however 18 swimming world records were broken during the games in Beijing. Of course, the enhanced swim wear and pool design played a large role in the record setting performances; but envision 18 world records being shattered in track and field, or weightlifting; two sports tremendously more demanding on the human body. According to Wallenchinsky, Phelps routinely competed in two events on the same day; imagined a runner having to double in the 800 also the mile within 24 hours...not happening. Wallenchinsky does not try to discredit the great Michael Phelps, instead he puts the prodigy in perspective. According to Wallenchinsky, the top Olympians above Phelps are: Olympian, Carl Lewis; runner, Paavo Nurmi; Gymnast, Larisa Latynina; Birgit Fischer-Schmidt, Germany, kayak; and Steven Redgrave, United Kingdom, rowing. Compare Lewis, for example, to Phelps. Lewis won Olympic Gold in the long jump in four Olympic games spanning 16-years of competition. That's not even considering the gold medals he won in the 100, 200, or the relays. Phelps acknowledges he will not compete beyond the 2012 London Games. From 1920 to 1932, Numri furthermore, won 9 gold medals in long distance track. He was so dominant the Olympic committee banned him from the games. As far back as 1980, Wallenchinsky notes Brigit Fischer won eight gold medals in rowing, and 24 years later as a 42-year old mother of 2, she won 5. Finally, the gymnast, Larisa Latynina, won 9 gold along with 18 total medals over three Olympic Games. Phelps, on the other hand, is an extraordinary athlete; however he gets a great assist from the streamlined Speedo dolphin outfit designed by NASA scientist. In contrast, Abebe Bikila, for crying out loud, won an Olympic Marathon barefoot. Of course when Phelps was asked if he considered himself to be better than Bikila and all the other greats, he replied, "That's for you to decide."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Anyone Believe the Village Idiot?

One of the primary reasons the Dallas Cowboys moved their training camp to Thousand Oaks, CA was to avoid an annual media feeding frenzy. In a mouth foaming football town, the Cowboys realize unscrupulous and desperate sportswriters would prey on the emotions of rabid fans. The Cowboys go to these extremes to prevent the Dallas press corps from disrupting team chemistry with reckless innuendo. Looking back on the local media coverage of quarterback, Brett Favre, vs Jeff Garcia, the Bucs' general manager also coach were called liars and truce breakers; in a half hearted defense of Allen and Gruden, players such as Manny Ramirez, Brett Favre, also Kobe Bryant are athletes transcending their generation; management, therefore, must inquire about their availability when they're open to negotiations. The Bucs, for example, would have been lambasted by these same reporters for not pursuing a player of Favre's caliber. In another sport, no one cared about Eric Henske's feelings when the Rays asked about Manny Ramirez. Why then is everyone concerned about Bucs' quarterback, Jeff Garcia? If you argue as writer, Rick Stroud, did that he saved Gruden and Allen jobs then Garcia was only doing what he's supposed to do: win. To imply the Bucs treat their players differently then other teams? Please explain why the Jets unceremoniously unloaded quarterback, Chad Pennington, who led the club to three playoffs victories. Garcia was slighted, but to infer, he will not play hard is absurd. Even with Garcia, nevertheless, the Bucs struggled offensively finishing in the bottom third in scoring with serious short comings in the red zone. It is silly to read more into this than Tampa simply trying to improve itself with a superior player. On the flip side, the Bucs chasing after Favre only confirms their unwillingness to be patient while building through the draft. Instead, they only look for short term solutions which partially explains why the team has short term success. In summation until Tampa Bay becomes something besides a football town, the team will always be dealing with nervous reporters looking for a scoop; and when they don't find one, they'll make up a story a la the Tampa Tribune. The Cowboys believe in shielding their players, wives, and children from this callous form of predation. Perhaps, the Buccaneers are assuming no one would be silly enough to believe the village idiot.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Packer Players Behind Rogers

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to repeat last year's success, it would help to have quarterback , Brett Favre; but it has to be last year's version rather than the interception prone signal caller of two years ago. The problems facing the Bucs this season are the resurgent Carolina Panthers plus the New Orleans Saints. With the recent acquisition of tight end, Jeremy Shockey, the Saints are the consensus favorite to win the South. Meanwhile, the Panthers' Julius Peppers, will be playing for a new contract; so there's no telling how much havoc he'll reek on the Bucs floundering offense. What also helps Carolina is the schedule. Unlike the Bucs, they don't play the Cowboys; moreover in November, the Panthers play three consecutive home games. With a healthy Jake Delhome, the Panthers could sleep walk and win ten games. The Bucs, on the other hand, are projected to finish 8-8 because they will be underdogs when they face the Cowboys in Dallas. If Favre, nevertheless, is comfortable in a John Gruden offense, he could be the difference in two games the Bucs figure to lose. One of those would be Sept, 28, against the Packers. Man for man, Green Bay is a better team; and even without Favre, they would probably squeak out a win; the Bucs, however, have an equal chance of prevailing if they have the cagy veteran. The following week, Tampa Bay travels to Denver; the Broncos would be favored to win, but Favre gives the Bucs an opportunity for an upset. Those two games are the difference between making the post season or finishing out of the running. According to insiders, the Packers players more than organization do not want Favre back. They have grown tired of his "I love you, I love you not" mind games; more importantly, they're ready to move on. This was apparent following their chilling lost to the Giants: the Packers began texting quarterback, Aaron Rogers that they are 100% behind him. So the players were ready to mutiny when Favre offered to come out of retirement. It is still doubtful the Packers would risk trading Favre to just any NFC team, but they might not have a choice. The only opening in the AFC is the Baltimore Ravens, however they have committed millions to first round draft pick, quarterback, Joe Flacco. That leaves Carolina and Tampa Bay. The Panthers still have to resign Peppers so there is no money to absorb Favre's 10-million...all the other NFC teams are set at the position. But regardless of the signal caller in John Gruden's vexing offense, this team suffers from a lack of big plays and systematic play calling. Favre's leadership as well as his willingness to stand in the pocket, could give this lifeless offense some punch. For a team like the Bucs, who live by their defense, Favre has the ability to inspire his teammates on both sides of the ball.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rays: Is this the Beginning of the End?

While ESPN baseball announcer, John Miller, was extolling the virtues of the Rays success, analyst, Joe Morgan, sat quietly. Silence is golden, and Morgan didn't have to say a word to prove he is not a believer. Judging by the comments of Boston slugger, David Ortiz, he isn't a disciple either. Ortiz forewarned, "The Rays will fold." Pennant races are strange especially for young teams: The ball gets heavy; umpires blow calls; opposing teams become desperate; and every manager decision is questioned. For the Rays, this is a creepy Catch 22. In every sense of the word, the Rays are babies taking their first steps toward a pennant, and like any toddler, you know they're going to stumble along the way. Unfortunately in the American League East, you can't even afford to trip. Any misstep will be perceived by (the powers that be) as the one causing this club to lose its way. For example, did Evan Longoria throw away a pennant when his errant throw allowed the Royals to avoid being swept. Was that the beginning of the end? Is the prize rookie going to be the one who finally realizes he's way in over his head. You say, "Well, you're not going to win every game," but when you're being outspent two to one, you sure better win that game. If the Rays are reeling, the Yankees are not going to be offering a helping hand when they tangle with Tampa next. With a tenuous four game lead over the Red Sox, the Yanks are the ones in the best position of turning Cinderella into Miss Piggy. Experience clubs like Boston, Detroit, New York, Chicago, also Minnesota realize the pennant race begins right now. The Rays are untested, unproven, plus they have a bad pedigree. No one expects them to be here, so the party won't start until they leave; and it looks like Joe Morgan would like nothing better than to show them the door.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Red Sox, This Can't be Serious, Can It?

Before a highly anticipated playoff game between the Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers, a sportswriter was crowing about the blazers to Magic Johnson: Magic replied, "We know they're here." Its a different sport, but the Tampa Bay Rays don't need anyone announcing the whereabouts of the defending world champion, Boston Red Sox. On Monday night, they'll be anxious to crack the Rays brittle pennant hopes with Manny's big black bat. For much of the season, the Rays have been Boston's pigheaded fatal attraction. Tampa refuses to go away, and now the homely looking Rays have a chance to rip the heart right out of the Red Sox. Tampa's success, meanwhile, has been a boost to small market teams building through the draft rather than free agency. The Sox, nevertheless, are deep, experience, also talented; yet one has to wonder about their recent implosion: consider this: following a blow up with first baseman, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez shoved long time Red Sox travel attendant, Jack McCormick, for not having enough tickets for Ramirez's family. The Bosox , furthermore, lost two out of three to the resurgent Astros. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, couldn't win Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their pitching staff was so maligned, they had to beat the Rays with a hurler just called up from triple A. If Tampa is for real, they'll have to prove it against arguably the best team in baseball; but don't count out the Rays, there's something special about a team winning consistently with pitching and defense. At the halfway mark, both teams are separated by percentage points, and they'll be throwing their best pitchers. The Rays, James Shields, tossed a two hit shut out when the Rays swept Boston, however he was shellacked 7-1 after the Red Sox returned the favor last month. If Tampa Bay is for real, this will be the series to prove it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Are the Rays Winning Ugly?

The big question circulating around the majors is when will the Rays fold? Major league baseball has almost reached the halfway mark, and Tampa Bay is still nipping at the heels of the defending world champion, Boston Red Sox. A near billion dollar franchise with a multi-million dollar payroll is being hunted by a team - that until this year - couldn't be sold at a yard sale. How have the Rays stayed in contention? Pitching also defense; but when will the roof cave in? It could be soon. In the American League East, the Bosox can be expected to play at a .600 clip for the rest of the season; the Yankees are warming up; meanwhile the pesky Orioles refuse to go away. The Rays, on the other hand, remind you of the words of former Texas manager, Doug Rader, who coined the phrase, "They winning ugly." That was Rader's way of discrediting the Chicago White Sox who won the division before being swept aside by the Baltimore Orioles. Considering Tampa's 43-wins, 7 have come during their last at bat. In one run games, they are 9-5. Only Baltimore, 10-2, Boston, 8-1, and Chicago 4-1 have a better winning percentage. The Rays, furthermore, have played fewer road games where they are four games under .500. Both the Red Sox and Yankees have played more games away than the Rays; the Yanks, however, are the only team with a winning road record. Away from Fenway, the Red Sox are one game under .500. When it comes to scoring runs, Tampa is in the middle of the pack; but their pitching, particularly the bullpen, is extremely stingy at home allowing a piddling 3.4 runs per game. When the Rays venture away from Tropicana Field, their young inexperience pitching staff surrenders a whopping 5.1 runs per game. So what's to be expected in the second half? At times, manager, Joe Maddon, looks like a genius by calling on his bullpen, but will they be overworked before the dog days of a pennant race? On the flip side, will Maddon's peculiar habit of resting his starters eventually catch up to him? Secondly in August, will the Rays' pallid bats fail when opposing pitchers ratchet up the heat? No one really knows how this team of juniors will respond to a grueling pennant race. In retrospect, the youthful Dodgers of Cey, Garvey, and Bill Russell, only needed to blow one division lead before vanquishing a combative Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds. The sprightly Oakland A's of Joe Rudi and swaggering Reggie Jackson surrendered one division title to the Minnesota Twins before maturing into a dynasty. The only difference between those clubs and Rays: no one said, "They winning ugly."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Raze the Trop?

After attending the Rays game last night, I finally decided to put in my own two cents on a new stadium in St. Petersburg, Fl. Like most people, I've seen my share of Rays games at the Trop, and the place didn't seem so bad; Yet, last night was different. I came away feeling the Houston Astrodome gave birth to a flop house.
I know baseball is a numbers game, but you would need a floor plan to figure out what happens when a ball hits the D-ring, an O-ring, a catwalk, a water heater, a furnace or whatever else that isn't tied down to the floor. I know the Trop supporters howl, "Well the place can't be all that bad: its air conditioned," and I reply, "So is an ice cream truck." For so long, I believed Tropicana Field looked like a good place to play baseball because the Rays were so bad; you couldn't imagine them playing in Childs Park, let alone a half way decent ball park. The Rays, nevertheless, have finally become a big league team, meanwhile its embarrassing to see them playing in what amounts to a dive. The roof, for example, resembles a hot air balloon; I've seen better carpets in hostels; and the luxury boxes, well lets just say we aint got nothing on the high school footballs stadiums in West Texas. The next time you go to Tropicana Field take a look at what they're calling a restaurant overlooking center field. Honestly, they would save us all a little shame if they just brought in a roach coach: catering truck for those of you who are not from California. When pitching sensation, David Price, arrives next year, the Rays could very easily win the American League pennant; but hosting the World Series at Tropicana Field would be akin to asking the Pope to preach in a storefront. Now, I'm sure the Holy Father would oblige, but I doubt he would come back.
With so many exciting players, it looks like the Rays have finally escaped the cellar; but to become true contenders, they'll have to raze that roof.

God bless you Tim Russert, you were God's gift to journalism: insightful, humble, honest, and full of integrity. Now that you're in heaven, I wonder who'll be your first guest on "Meet the Press."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Would You Vote For This Man?

Besides Barack Obama, another African American is running for a high profile public office; but this one made Magic Johnson look old, played Michael Jordan straight up, and ran circles around Isaiah Thomas. Back in the day, Kevin Johnson was doing all the things we see and rave about in New Orleans Hornets' guard, Chris Paul; but K.J. was quicker also better. Not only could he penetrate and dish, Johnson was also deadly from the perimeter. K.J, however, took his game to new heights by running for mayor of his hometown, Sacramento. In the beginning, the former All Star with a squeaky clean image was thought to be a shoe in until reporters started peering into his past. What they uncovered was nauseating. While in Phoenix, Johnson was accused of fondling a blossoming 16-year old girl. Of course an accusation by a female is something a high profile pro basketball player must live with. Beloved by the Phoenix community, however, K.J, denied the charge and the girl was dismissed as being unstable. Johnson, meanwhile, moved on by retiring in his hometown and establishing a charter school whereby seven of ten minority graduates attend college. Johnson continued his philanthropy by donating to homeless shelters, helping old ladies across the street, even assisting an occasional stranded motorist. Life was good until another young teenager alleged that Johnson was caressing her breast while embracing her. In Sacramento, Johnson's challenger incumbent Mayor, Heather Fargo, made sure these allegations were posted all over the blogosphere, newspapers, also radio. Sacramento police refused to press charges and Johnson said the girl's words were twisted by the teacher. The bad press has made K.J, the underdog in this month's election; yet, the confident unflappable 42-year old still knows how to get his shot don't be surprised if more young girls are looking up to K.J.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

O.J. Simpson: "Thanks Roger."

What do O.J. Simpson and Roger Clemens have common: well at least you can presume The Juice likes older women. Now I'm not an O.J. apologist: the man butchered two innocent people and got away with premeditated murder; but Clemens' actions border on the unthinkable. Inviting a then 15-year Melinda McCready to your hotel room. Shame, shame, shame, that ought not to be. In a paradox, Clemens filed a defamation lawsuit against ex trainer, Brian McNamee. Roger claims McNamee dragged Clemens' name into the mud by accusing him of taking steroids. After signing autographs, Clemens testified before a congressional delegation that his reputation as a family man had been ruined. Clemens' long time friend, Andy Pettitte, acknowledged his improper role in the affair while implicating Roger as well. Yet like his blinding fastball, Clemens tries to give everyone the slip. In my opinion, Roger Clemens has always been a bully. As a Yankee, he intentionally threw at the head of catcher, Mike Piazza. At 6'4, 220 lbs, Clemens was a menacing figure who dared anyone to charge the mound and back him down. In a highly publicized rematch, Piazza stepped into the batters' box, and Roger threw high and tight...cracking Piazza's bat. A spineless Piazza departed with Roger mocking him all the way to the dugout. This was a vintage image of a conceited man: Scoffing, and perhaps thinking that nothing can go wrong. Yet in a bit of irony the bible says, "What ever is done in the dark, will come to light, and a day to man is as a thousand years to God." Well Roger, it looks like some one's finally caught up to your fastball.

Friday, April 04, 2008

What Would Dr. King Say?

Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr assassinated in Memphis, TN by a belligerent racist, James Earl Ray. ESPN commentator, Steven A. Smith, spoke eloquently about some of today's black athletes who seem to have lost sight of Dr. King's legacy of equal rights. Smith made a stinging reference to Cincinnati wide receiver, Chris Henry, released recently following charges that he allegedly assaulted an 18-year girl. Since joining the Bengals as a third round pick from West Virginia University, Henry walked on a tight rope. Yet, sports has been the one pursuit whereby black men have eclipsed rivals. Ever since boxer, Jack Johnson, pounded the great white hope, Gentleman, Jim Corbett, African American men have marched confidently in a cocky theory of athletic superiority. Naturally, their convictions were taken for granted during the generations of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, also Evander Holyfield.
The National Basketball Association, meanwhile, became an almost exclusively black league. The Olympics, furthermore, saw African Americans like Carl Lewis, Valerie Briscoe- Hooks, Jackie Joyner-Kerse, and Michael Johnson turn the sprints into a Black Invitational meet. But oh what a difference a day makes. 40-years after the death of Dr. King, the reigning heavyweight champion of the world is white. Some of the best all round players in the NBA are of European ancestry, and African Americans are going the way of the Neanderthal in major league baseball. Football maintains a significant presence only because the NFL can rely on a feeder system of blacks from the economically stagnant South. If black men, nevertheless, are going to college for degrees, rather than recreation, that's intoxicating. For so many years, professional sports was one of the few narrow opportunities for black advancement in society. Now, nothing seems off limits...including the presidency. I've always believed America never received credit for its racial tolerance...especially from African Americans living in our dark past rather than our bright future. Two trends are apparent: more blacks are going to college; meanwhile, fewer are playing professional sports. It seems Dr. King would appreciate men and women defining themselves as professionals in all walks of life; and Stephen A. Smith, that's something Chris Henry will have to figure out for himself.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bruins Ready to claim their Destiny.

The economy may be in shambles; but life is slowly returning back to normal when UCLA is winning basketball championships while USC dominates college football. Both schools have won more national championships then the Southeastern Conference, Big East, and the Big Ten combined. The Bruins celebrated their 100th national title last year, and they would love to hang another banner in Pauley Pavilion this season. Stanford University, meanwhile, is second with 94, followed by USC with 84. The next closet competitor is Oklahoma State with 48. Three of the top four schools are in California. USC, furthermore, will have 8 potential first round draft picks in this year's NFL draft. Despite those losses, the Trojans are still the consensus number 1 pick in college football this season. Despite all this success,
laid back Southern Californians are not ones to boast. They assume the rest of nation realizes the best athletes thrive under the California Sun. Despite UCLA's athletic prowess, nevertheless, Xavier was laying it on thick about how they planned to shut down the Bruins' guard tandem of Darren Collison also Russell Westbrook. Yet all the X-Men did was shoot enough bricks to join the masonry union. UCLA blew out Xavier after sleep walking against Texas AM plus Western Kentucky. Now the second best player in the tournament, Kevin Love, will try and carry UCLA to their 12th National title. Only Kansas, North Carolina, and Memphis stand in the way of glory.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In East or West, Celtics Could Be Best.

With a league almost in eclipse, NBA commissioner, David Stern, cannot believe how fate is changing before his eyes. With television ratings dropping precipitously from years of small market dominance featuring the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, and Dallas Mavericks, the National Basketball Association is salivating over a possible renewal of one pro sports greatest rivalries: Celtics-Lakers. A conflict so brutal that maniacal Lakers fans couldn't stop giggling over the drug induced death of promising Boston rookie, Lyn Bias. When LA finally broke the Celtic curse in '85, Angelenos acted like Lincoln had free the slaves. Yet, those were the bad old days when Lakers fans were more likely to embrace the Taliban than the frenzied Celtics and cagey Larry Bird, Kevin Mchale, Robert Parrish, also Danny Ainge. Speaking of Ainge, he has done a fabulous job of remolding the Celtics into the working class image forged by the hard drinking grunts of South Boston. The same ones sitting court side at old Boston Gawden insulting Laker wives. The Celtics have already wrapped up their division; meanwhile, the Lakers are the toast of the West.
Just like the revival of the Red Sox -Yankees feud is fueling baseball's indifferent post season. The Celtics and Lakers would open up old wounds of East Coast vs West Coast superiority. Once again, its the team, Boston, versus a highly talented individual, Kobe Bryant. And once again, the NBA would be back in the high life again.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What's Super about Tyrell Pryor?

What's 6'7, 230 lbs, runs a 4.3 forty, and is only 17-years old? It's Tyrell Pryor, the phenomenal quarterback out of Pennsylvania who recently narrowed his choice of colleges to Penn State or Ohio State. Price's celebrity has already surpassed Cleveland's, Lebron James plus Kobe Bryant: two basketball stars who made the jump from college to the NBA. Price dabbles in hoops as well, but he's aiming to make his fortune in pro football. Whichever school Price chooses, they will be in the running for the National Championship his sophomore year; possibly sooner if the coach doesn't red shirt him.
After defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Post learned the Patriots took out a U.S. patent for 19-0, the New York Post followed by taking out a patent for 18-1. This Super Bowl, nevertheless, is really first rate with the Patriots needing a win over the up and coming New York Giants to secure perpetuality. New York gave the feisty Pats a run for their money on the final game of regular season before succumbing 38-35. Heavily maligned coach, Tom Coughlin, credited the team's turnaround to his decision to play his starters in a meaningless game against New England. According to Coughlin, his willingness to risk peril to the starters set the table for the reserves to gain confidence as well. This risky dynamic propelled the Giants to three consecutive victories on a daunting road trip; but Sunday's championship will be played in the desert on a neutral field. New York, meanwhile, will have to solve an offensive formation confounding the imagination of the best defensive minds in pro football. The Patriots Fab Five: Randy Moss, who demands double coverage, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabbar Gaffney, also Ben Wilson, forces formidable pass rushers like the Giants, Justin Tuck, off the field in favor of nickel and dime packages. This time, expect Brady's offensive line to neutralize the Giants pass rush; the Pats, meanwhile, will nickel and dime their way down the field in route to an impressive 28-14 win. The Giants will need more than a gimpy Plaxico Buress to keep up with Brady's scoring machine. That's my take. Enjoy the game.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

UCLA & Kansas Emerging As Tournament Nears.

Don't look now but early season prognosticators are tabbing UCLA also Kansas as the two teams most likely to meet in the NCAA basketball finals. A talented bunch, the Bruins are led by bruising center, Kevin Love, and forward, Josh Shipp. The transition game is sparked by versatile guard, Darren Collison, who impressed many scouts in last year's final four match up against Florida. UCLA comes from the deepest conference in the nation: the Pacific Ten; hence they'll be battle tested come tournament time. Kansas is also toned featuring outstanding potential pros like Darnell Jackson, Brandon Rush, also Mario Chalmers, but UCLA dismissed this same Jayhawk club in last year's elite eight showdown. This season's current poll sitter, North Carolina, is solid. The Tar Heels, however, lack depth; therefore it's odds on they'll run out gas just like they did last year. The other contenders are Georgetown, Memphis, also Texas AM but those squads will need a little luck to go the distance. Keep your eyes on UCLA and Kansas; the key will be if the NCAA selection committee puts them in the same regional, otherwise its very foreseeable those two could meet in the final. In the NFL, long time St. Louis Rams owner, Georgia Frontiere, passed away today at the age of 80. She became the first female owner of a professional football team. Frontiere became well known as the dragon lady for moving the Rams from Los Angeles to her hometown, St. Louis. She claims to have relocated the organization because of faltering attendance; Los Angeles based sportswriters however, maintain she couldn't resist the $20-million dollar enticement paid out by St. Louis. Known as Madame Ram, she inherited the club from her late husband, Caroll Rosenbloom, who died in a drowning incident off the coast of Florida. In a bit of irony, he became the second of Frontiere's consorts to expire accidentally. To this day, some of her detractors believe Rosenbloom was murdered. Frontiere, nevertheless, left the Rams with a value of $902-million dollars, and she bestowed her portion of the squad, 60%, to her son also daughter. In the NFC title game Sunday, the young Packers are on a roll and should prevail over the courageous Giants. In the AFC championship, the Chargers would be my pick if they were healthy: their secondary led by Quinton Jammar, is very capable of stymieing the Pats vaunted passing game, but the nagging knee injuries to quarterback, Phillip Rivers, is likely to catch up with the Chargers on Sunday. I like New England, but I don't think they'll cover the spread.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bucanneers lose their manhood

The Giants took a lot more from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than a playoff game, the G-men also snatched the Bucs' manhood. In fact, this contest resembled a botched circumcision; ouch! This was a New York team, mind you, that was playing without three starters. The center, Shaun O'hara, their corner back, Sam Madison, also tight end, Jeremy Shockey; yet, the Giants didn't miss a beat. In a season ending game against the New England Patriots, the Giants decided to throw all caution to the wind by playing their starters. The Bucs, meanwhile, rested several key players while losing their last three regular season contests. Gruden's decision to rest his stars cost journey man running back, Ernest Graham, a chance to gain 1, 000 yards while quarterback, Jeff Garcia, openly complained about being rusty going into the playoffs. In a contact sport , a coach who constantly carps about injuries could be unconsciously portraying his team as soft to a league full of virile men. For the Giants, this was no signature win. Beating Tampa is akin to besting second tier clubs like the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, or Cardinals. Think about it, would Tampa have been 7-9 or 9-7 with a healthy Jake Delhome in Carolina; how would the Atlanta Falcons have fared if Michael Vick were not in prison. Finally, what happens if the Saints don't try that crazy play in the waning moments of their game against the Buccaneers. All things considered, Tampa was lucky, and Gruden has brought some time for this coming season; but they will need to become smart players in free agency. A stronger receiving corps, along with a break away running back would help them make up some ground in the mediocre NFC. Meanwhile, take the Cowboys and points against the Giants Sunday.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Giants have a small margin for error.

Perhaps the most difficult contest in the NFL to handicap this weekend is the game featuring the New York Giants at Tampa Bay. Tampa is 6-2 at home while the G-men are 7-1 on the road. The Bucs rested some of their key starters for nearly two weeks; the Giants, meanwhile, went all out last Saturday against the Patriots. That being said, the Giants should have the mental edge Sunday in Tampa. Resting your players out fear of injury is a wimpy way to enter the playoffs...that point alone will not be lost on a very physical Giant football team that manhandled the Patriots. Secondly, New York probably has a smaller margin for error. Consider, the Bucs have a plus ratio of 9 meaning they rest on turnovers to inspire an anemic offense. On the surface, it seems all the Giants have to do is eliminate mistakes to win. Thirdly, Tampa Bay's offense struggles in the red zone; hence, their third down conversion rate is a feeble 30%. Consequently if they get a lead, its doubtful they can put their opponent in the refrigerator. Lastly, quarterback, Jeff Garcia, is 2-0 against New York beating them with the 49ers in 2002 and last year while subbing for Donovan McNabb. Even so, Garcia's mobility can create problems because it allows him to improvise out of the pocket; unlike the past however, the Giants speedy linebackers can nullify that aspect of his game. Although the G-men are 0-3 in wild card games, their past failures should give them plenty of motivation to finish this job. Looking at the schedules, the common opponents were the Detroit Lions also the Redskins. The Giants won in Motown and walloped the Skins twice. The Bucs were beaten soundly in Detroit and were handed the game by the Redskins. Washington committed six turnovers in the first half but still had a chance to win in the closing seconds. More importantly, Tampa Bay was being out muscled by the 49ers before Gruden removed some of his starters. Out of respect for John Gruden also Bruce Allen, they have done a remarkable job in turning around last year's 4-11 team, but asking for more than a crippled South division title is getting greedy with this squad. By the way, two noted experts, Chris Collingsworth also Chris Carter are picking the New York Giants. Yet, this game is still a tossup. The Giants have been a lackluster bunch all season playing down to the level of their opponents. Highly touted, Eli Manning, struggles - in part - can be traced to ruinous drop passes by some of his receivers; other boneheaded Giants, meanwhile, have committed costly penalties. In other words, the Giants are far from being a lock...but take them and the points. In Pittsburgh, I expect the Steelers to eke out a victory over the Jaguars. This game will be a hard hitting affair, but Heinz Field is a weird place to play due to chronic poor field conditions also unpredictable winds. The Steelers will need all the magic in world to overcome a big physical Jaguar football team. I like the Redskins to continue their masterful run in Seattle, so take the Skins and the points. Finally, take the Chargers to cover against the Titans.