Friday, March 30, 2007

Insights, Irony and Ignominy: Short Takes on Long Issues

  • Last year, I got a lot of interesting feedback on my story regarding Keith Hernandez’ remarks about the presence of a female masseuse in the San Diego Padres’ dugout. Now comes the latest encroachment on the male baseball domain: umpire Ria Cortesio, who recently worked a MLB exhibition game in Arizona, thus becoming the first female umpire to do so since Pam Postema in 1989. I also got some sterner mail on that previous story, readers claiming that I was behind the times, this sort of thing is inevitable, I was exaggerating the effect on the game when females intrude, etc.

    Female trainers, female umpires. We’re getting closer, boys and girls. In just a few years, I can hear the announcement at the All Star Game: “... and managing the American League All Star squad...from the World Champion New York Yankees...Sarajane Lipshitz.”

    It might be interesting sociology, but this whole female thing is bad for baseball. Why don’t they start their own league, and do their own trainer-ing and their own umpiring and their own managing? Why do they have to make trouble and ruin it for us guys?

    Cortesio could get a crack at major league exposure by 2009. She’s supposed to inspire admiration. I wish she’d go away.

    No less than Lou Piniella, now Cubs manager and a notorious verbal abuser when it comes to umpires, was recently quoted as saying, "I think it's good. I really do. I think there is a place for women in the umpiring ranks—they're certainly as qualified as anybody else. I'm sure if they get the same opportunities, the same schooling that their male counterparts do, they'll do a really nice job."

    Piniella also pledged not to get into an argument with Cortesio while she worked a recent game involving his team.

    Great. Now Lou Piniella is a sissy.

    You know, we can pretend it doesn’t matter, and we can pretend to be openminded and all, or we can make it clear to females that we don’t like it, and that they are not welcome. Go start your own league, with your own locker rooms, your own chewing tobacco, your own jockstraps, your own whatever. Shape it any way you like. Do your own thing. Just like the WNBA.

    Keep the women off the men's field and out of the men's dugout.

  • A recent reader email brings this spoofy bit of lyricism, based on the famous 1968 song “Abraham, Martin and John,” written by Richard (Dick) Holler and recorded by Dion DiMucci (aka Dion) in honor of fallen political martyrs Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.

    Here’s a YouTube link to the original song. Here’s a link to the original lyrics.

    If you’re hip to recent sports and show-biz stories involving African American males and their forthright opinions on topics normally handled with utmost white-bread political correctness, then you’ll get what this parody is all about. We’ve gotten so PC that now even a black man can’t speak his mind.

    “Washington, Hardaway and Dungy”
    (With apologies to Richard Holler and Dion DiMucci)

    Anybody here seen my old friend Isaiah?
    Can you tell me where he's gone?
    He said the word faggot and ABC sent him to rehab
    I just looked around and he's gone.

    Anybody here seen my old friend Tim?
    Can you tell me where he's gone?
    He doesn't like to hang around gay guys
    So the NBA dropped him
    I just looked around and he's gone.

    Anybody here seen my old friend Tony?
    Can you tell me where he's gone?
    He's not comfortable
    With a redefinition of marriage
    I just looked around and he's gone.

    Didn't you like the things that they stood for?
    Didn't they speak out against PC oppression?
    And didn't they say
    What 75% of us
    Are thinking anyway?

    Anybody here seen my old friend Micheal Ray Richardson?
    Can you tell me where he's gone?
    He applauded Jewish sports management
    But got vilified anyway
    Just like Hardaway, Dungy and Washington.

  • “When we get our marching orders, we all have to be good soldiers,” said Ron Jaworski this week on ESPN’s “Dan Patrick Radio Show.” Jaworksi had just been announced as the replacement for Joe Theismann on Monday Night Football, and he was doing his best imitation of a humble guy.

    I’m no apologist for Theismann. He can be rather annoying, though he’s not the absolute worst. The idea that “Jaws” got the job because he’s an incisive analyzer of strategy just seems, well, hard to swallow.

    "I'm an Xs-and-Os guy,” Jaworski was quoted as saying on “I love breaking down the game. I love the strategy of the game. That's the beauty of what I will bring to the table is that insight of Xs and Os.”

    Uh, is there something new in that, Jaws?

    Norby Williamson, ESPN executive VP, claimed that the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Theismann and Tony Kornheiser was not the reason for the change.

    "I thought Joe and Tony got along very well,” Williamson told “I thought the dialogue was good and was conversational. I think we're going to build on last year. We had a fantastic first year. I was happy with the booth and I think we're in a position now of continuing to move it forward and to build on it."

    Uh, well, if it was “fantastic,” why is Theismann out? Why not Kornheiser, who was simply useless on that broadcast. Kornheiser brings no statistical or historical knowledge to that job. He has no apparent enthusiasm for the game. He’s a jaded, arrogant sop, and he’s strictly no fun in the booth. Last year’s broadcasts were often rather static. When there weren’t moments of pregnant silence, we had Theismann and Kornheiser talking over or around each other and speaking at times that cut off play-by-play man Mike Tirico. The timing was usually uniformly bad, but it’s not clear that it was Theismann’s doing any more than Kornheiser’s or, in fact, Tirico’s. Tirico needed to take more control in the booth, but he sometimes seemed intimidated or simply out of synch because of his unpredictable teammates.

    So now we get company man Jaworski with his bombastic style, which is fine in small doses, but for three hours might be tough to take. Add in Kornheiser’s dour face and lack of elan, Tirico’s bland presence (better suited for golf, I might add), and the dynamic dumbass duo of Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya with their stupid sideline reportage, and what have you got?

    TV remotes set to “Mute” all over the country.

    According to Jaworski, he and Kornheiser have been friends for years. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine Tony being friends with anyone. "I think...people will see how well we do get along," Jaws told

    At least we can still watch the pretty pictures.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Against the Grain: The Only Way to Enjoy Bracketology Is to Take Some Risks

Rather than bore you, dear reader, with a full-blown NCAA bracket, let's go about the Big Dance with quick hits and thematic force. You'll still get the predictions that count.

Here's the opening salvo: Former NBA great Reggie Miller, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon and ESPN's Dan Patrick have all got Georgetown winning the whole thing. But this weird John Thompson II and III/Patrick Ewing I and II thing—as reported recently in USA Today's March Madness pullout-section—is unnerving. The Georgetown coach known as JT III has his imperious legendary father sitting in the stands for every game, hollering at the young Hoyas, including among them, Patrick Ewing Jr., who transferred to his own legendary father's alma mater after beginning his college career at Indiana.

So, the prospect of Texas Tech's Bob Knight coaching against JT III in Round 2 is as juicy as it gets. If the Red Raiders can get past Boston College, we'll have that matchup, played on a nice neutral court in Winston-Salem.

Miller, by the way, has UCLA getting taken down by Gonzaga in Round 2. That's interesting, Miller going against his alma mater. As for me, I have tried and tried to see Gonzaga advance. They are a scary #10, for sure, but they won their early quality games with big man Josh Heytvelt on the roster (15.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg). He's gone now, and while the Zags (AKA Bulldogs) did well in the run-up to the NCAAs, they did it all against the West Coast Conference, which is not an impressive group. In choosing Indiana to beat the Zags, I'm banking on the Hoosiers being better than I really know, with the vet coach Kelvin Sampson an interesting presence that might help them get over the hump.

Here are other key rationales:

1. South Bracket: I refuse to believe in Ohio State's invincibility.

2. East Bracket: I think the Hansbrough kid with North Carolina is potentially wounded psychologically after getting decked and bloodied in the ACC tourney. Tom Izzo's Michigan St. team is sitting there, a quiet #9, ready to play smash-mouth against the Tar Heels. Plus, the Spartans have a star in Drew Neitzel (he scores; hits free throws and treys). Here's a stat on Izzo: four Final Fours in the last eight years. That's huge.

3. West Bracket: Deadly. UCLA, Kansas, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, and then an incredible array of powerhouses in "down" years: Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Indiana, Gonzaga. (Why is Southern Illinois #4? I don't know, but they're sitting there also.) And so, I've gotten fond of Pitt: They're a #3 seed and a Big East team that is not Georgetown. They start three seniors, with the aircraft carrier Aaron Gray in the middle, a big man who actually scores and rebounds. I'm looking for a surprise to come out of this bracket, especially since we shouldn't forget that Kansas has tanked recently in the tourney. Remember Bucknell?

4. Midwest Bracket: Also full of pitfalls. But I like Georgia Tech here for a while. They're an overlooked ACC team, who, besides grabbing Q-wins versus Memphis, Duke, North Carolina and Boston College, also played a strong out-of-conference schedule that included Purdue, UCLA and Vanderbilt. I have Tech making it to the Elite 8, and then they face Florida, presuming the Gators can get past Arizona and Maryland (by no means a certainty). But I still like Florida. They are strong and balanced, and they have already gone through their "down" period, when they lost a few games but to good teams like Tennessee and Vandy.

My Final Four:

Florida (#1), Pitt (#3), Texas (#4), and Texas A&M (#3). That's an SEC, a Big East and two Big 12s.

No ACC and no PAC 10 and no Big 10 here, which is going against the grain for sure. How many brackets have North Carolina versus UCLA in the Final? Or Ohio State versus Oregon? Probably quite a few. But it's all about potential paths and somebody getting hot. So we shall see.

And the winner is... They're awfully young—starting four frosh and one soph—but why not? Texas is hugely talented. They take it all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Conference Tournaments: The Big Stumbling Block to Fairness at the Big Dance

Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim (seen left, pleading for an answer) was all over the radio and TV Monday. He thinks his Orangemen got jobbed being left out of the NCAA basketball tournament. He marshaled all his reasons why his team did “everything they had to do” to get a tourney invite. He made some good points. Unfortunately, an equal number of counter-points could be made against him. But I’m sure he’s particularly steamed because Villanova got a bid, when Syracuse had the better record in the Big East Conference regular season.

Boeheim’s probably also wondering why Kentucky, a perennial power in a down year (much like the Orangemen) made the tourney while he’s taking his team to the NIT. There are other anomalies along these lines. For example, Stanford is 18-12 and has lost four of its last five games, six of its last nine, and their selection goes directly against what the selectors supposedly tell us they look for at this time of year: teams that are hot. (Stanford is not.) Illinois is another team that hasn’t clearly earned the right to be here. Their only quality wins are over Michigan State and Indiana. Hard to know what they did to get a nod over Syracuse.

This wholly imperfect system is probably negotiated as best as possible by the Tournament Selection Committee. There were 104 teams achieving 20-win seasons this year. At some point, there are too many interpretable variables to make of it a true science. Even statistical-based methodologies like the RPI and the Sagarin Ratings go the way of any statistical measure: at some point, you can start to massage them any which way to make a point. Strength-of-schedule factors and out-of-conference road victories also become dizzying to compute with absolute fairness when there are 336 teams in the total mix. Plus, you can’t fight the fact that every major conference gets to send somebody to the Big Dance, regardless of how good they are. At-large openings get hard to come by as the days dwindle down to Selection Sunday.

Which brings us to the following six tourney participants: Wright State, Arkansas, New Mexico State, George Washington, UNLV and Miami (Ohio). If Boeheim is looking for a way in which March Madness can get closer to March Sanity, he might start lobbying for the cancellation of conference tournaments. If not for conference tourneys, the above-named do not necessarily get invited to the Dance. Let’s look at each situation:

1. Wright State—Does the podunk Horizon League deserve two teams in the tourney? Butler was the league’s regular season champ, and the only reason Wright St. is in is because they beat Butler in the conference tournament and grabbed the automatic bid. But Butler had no incentive to care if they win that game. They know that, based on their superior resume, they’re in anyway as an at-large no matter what they do. Makes you wonder.

2. Arkansas—They shouldn’t be here. They were 7-9 in the SEC, underachieved all year, with their best wins coming versus Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt and Alabama. Then they win a few games in the SEC tourney and snag a bid. They didn’t even win their conference tournament, losing to Florida. Maybe if they beat the Gators, we could see it. But they didn’t. They got their asses kicked. Bad selection.

3. New Mexico State—Kind of a feel-good story here, with former NBA star Reggie Theus emerging as a successful college coach. The Aggies were 6-24 two seasons ago. At 25-8, they snagged the Western Athletic Conference crown by winning their conference tourney. But the real, regular-season WAC champ was Nevada, who, again, lost their conference tournament, but with a 28-4 record were already assured of the Dance. They end up with an at-large bid, and once again a conference tourney opens up a slot for another team that maybe shouldn’t be here. NMSU’s quality wins? Nevada and Utah State.

4. George Washington—Same situation. Xavier was the big team in the Atlantic 10, winning the regular-season crown with a 13-3 record. GW was 11-5 regular season, but they won the A-10 tourney, and now they’re in. Xavier tanks in the league tourney, but they were headed into the NCAAs anyway based on solid factors. If Xavier had won the league tourney, would GW have made it in as an at-large? The answer is no. GW quality wins: Rhode Island, Virginia Tech.

5. UNLV—More of the same: Brigham Young won the Mountain West regular season and got an at-large bid. UNLV won the conference tournament, and gets crowned “champs” and accepts the automatic bid.

6. Miami (Ohio)—If I were Akron or Toledo, I‘d be pissed. Clearly the two best teams in the Mid-American Conference this year, based on the regular season, both lose out in the season-ending MAC tourney, with Akron dropping the championship to 18-14 Miami on a buzzer beater. Miami’s big quality wins? That game, Rutgers and Indiana State. Some quality. This team should not be in the Dance. They can only walk. But they got lucky.

What is the point of having regular-season conference standings, if the conference tournament will decide a “champ”? I don’t get it. Well, yeah, I do. It’s all about money. If you didn’t have to have a season-ending conference tourney, why else would you bother to have one? So you can make money, of course, from ticket sales and concessions and TV and radio revenue.

If Boeheim is looking for the culprit that prevents more fairness in NCAA selection policy, the season-ending conference tournament is it. It’s bad enough we’ve got teams like Belmont and Central Connecticut State taking up space in the brackets, but at least we understand that they are the lone representatives of their small-time conferences.

Until the NCAA field gets expanded—Boeheim is apparently all for it—then maybe the season-ending tourneys should be given no weight at all. Let them exist as money-making showcases for teams and their fans. Or, better yet, get rid of ‘em altogether.

One less Miami of Ohio and one more Syracuse elevates the caliber of play. Isn’t that what the tourney is all about?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Titans Show Restraint Amid Free-Agency Madness

Drew Bennett. Travis Henry. Bobby Wade. Erron Kinney. Zach Piller.

All are gone from the Tennessee Titans—either via free agency or outright release. That’s essentially your leading runner, your two leading wide receivers and one-third of your offensive line.

Now don’t get too excited, but the Titans have re-signed Kerry Collins, Justin Geisinger and Rien Long.

Underwhelming, you say?

Meanwhile, the NFL is going crazy signing free-agent running backs and quarterbacks and linebackers and defensive backs. The wide receivers are getting ready to break out too, and Bennett led the way with a $30 million contract with the Rams. Jeff Garcia’s in Tampa now. Ahman Green in Houston. Thomas Jones went to New York. Napoleon Harris went to Kansas City.

No less a team than the New England Patriots has dipped big-time into the free agency pool. They’ve come up with Adalius Thomas and Wes Welker, both playmakers with huge upsides and youth.

So should we worry that new Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt hasn’t inked some big-name free agent? Or hasn’t held on to Titans he might’ve signed?

I’d have to say no.

First, let’s consider the losses:

1. Bennett—The truth is that he is not a marquee wide receiver. He’s perfect for St. Louis, where they already have legit burners. He’s ideal for that offense as an add-on. I for one have no problem with his going, presuming the Titans have it in mind to get a speedy WR somewhere, either through the draft or free agency. Hmmmm... Randy Moss might be had in a trade. Has he grown up yet?

2. Wade—Loveable, cute Bobby Wade went to Minnesota. No sweat. An earnest ballplayer who always gave 100%. Too bad his speed is only average, and his size negligible. For a wide receiver, the Titans can do better. For a kickoff return man, the Titans can also do better. Bye bye, Bobby.

3. Henry—More problematic, to be sure. Henry’s a gutsy ballplayer. No doubt he’ll do very well in Denver. I can’t say I’m happy he’s gone, but at 28 how many top years does he have left? He’s a very good back, but is he a franchise back? I don’t think so. So we roll the dice with LenDale White, and hope the bosses find a complement to him in free agency, and maybe also another young turk in the draft. (Chris Brown may be gone very soon also from the Titans roster. He once looked like a great back. There may still be potential there, but maybe they’ll have to find that out in Detroit, which is one place he’s been peddling his wares.)

4. Kinney—Injuries and age threaten his career. Who knows? Maybe they’ll re-sign him at some point. A decent all-purpose tight end, with good blocking ability. But the Titans have others at the position, including Ben Troupe, whom they’re still hoping will become an All-Pro.

5. Piller—A solid blocker his entire Titans career. He got banged up last year. He’s not old, but he’s not young either, and the line’s been undergoing a gradual, if subtle, youthful transition. This could be it for Zach.

The signings of Collins, Geisinger, and Long seem pretty superfluous. They are bodies with value but not critical components to the team, unless Long finally fulfills his promise coming off the PUP list. I guess as far as backup QBs go, you could do worse than Collins, and maybe it’s good to have an aging vet there behind Vince Young.

So are the Titans dragging their feet on free agency while the competition snaps up all the talent? I think not.

I mean, did YOU want Ahman Green? He’s 30 years old, injury-prone, and worse, fumble-prone. Why the Texans signed him, I’ll never know. Thomas Jones? Yeah, he’s a tough runner, but gaining 1,300 yards these days isn’t that uncommon. Guess it all depends on how much you want to pay for that kind of yardage.

Then there’s the 49ers, who besides roping in DB Nate Clements for $80 million, also shelled out money for Tully Banta-Cain. Who? Precisely.

This one tops ‘em all: The Atlanta Falcons signed Ovie Mughelli to a six-year, $18 million contract, which, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, made him the highest paid fullback in NFL history. Ovie Mughelli??

Let’s put this in perspective. Ovie Mughelli will be 26 years old in June. He has been on the Ravens’ roster for four seasons, since being drafted in 2003 out of Wake Forest. In his stellar career—no offense, Ovie, just saying—he has rushed the ball 12 times and has gained 50 yards. Wait, okay, he has also caught 24 passes for 195 yards. But aren’t those the kinds of numbers that used to get a guy his walking papers? What, was Ovie this tremendous talent that Brian Billick just capriciously allowed to sit on the bench for four years?

Anyway, if the Titans are going to take their time, and really zero in on specific, high-quality free agents that will fulfill specific needs, then I’m all for that. Plus, they’ve got a full complement of draft choices, and presumably they have plans there. If they’re sticking to their long-held philosophy of building from within, then going nuts with free agents doesn’t make sense.

So don’t panic.

Instead, for now anyway, imagine the Titans beating up on Ahman Green when the Texans come to town. Fumbles = Turnovers = Victory.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Titans’ Free-Agency Options Limited, But a Few Key Bargain Hires Appear to Be in Order

The NFL race to sign unrestricted free agents (UFAs) has commenced, and the Buffalo Bills took the hardest early hits, as defensive back Nate Clements is off to San Francisco and linebacker London Fletcher off to Washington. But the Bills also signed some key offensive linemen in their own foray into the UFA pool. It’s a tit-for-tat routine that’s sure to change the face of many a team.

As for the Tennessee Titans, they have needs all over, and there’s no guarantee they’ll get them all addressed in the college draft. Following is a list, by position, of the better or better-known UFAs still available (excluding the Titans’ own). Many of these guys will end up getting re-signed by their present teams. Some look a little long in the tooth, but there might be some useful fill-ins and/or one-year quick-fixes here that could improve the Titans’ overall strength.

Here’s a position-by-position assessment of the current Titans, followed by a list of potential UFA signees that could help in 2007. (Specialist positions are excluded.)

QB—Set with Vince Young. But is Kerry Collins worth keeping around as the back-up? (He's a UFA himself.)
UFAs: Anthony Wright, Marques Tuiasosopo, Todd Bouman, Jeff Garcia, Tim Rattay

RB—Chris Brown could leave. So might Travis Henry. That leaves LenDale White, the team’s #2 pick in last year’s draft. The team could use some help here.
UFAs: Marcel Shipp, Ahman Green, Correll Buckhalter, Tony Fisher, Josh Scobey, T. J. Duckett, Musa Smith, Anthony Thomas, Kenny Watson, Ron Dayne, Dominic Rhodes, LaBrandon Toefield, Patrick Pass, Derrick Blaylock

OL—Still in transition. Zach Piller recently released. Clearly the line is trying to get younger, yet C Kevin Mawae is on the other side of 35. Might be nice to pick up a bargain here.
UFAs: Mike Gandy, Ephraim Salaam, Toniu Fonoti, Kendyl Jacox, Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Jon Stinchcomb, Shaun O’Hara, Grey Ruegamer, Todd Steussie, Jeremy Newberry, Robbie Tobeck, Floyd Womack, Kris Dielman

TE—Ben Troupe is still young and still has a future. Not a dire situation, and not too much easily available in the open market.
UFAs: Doug Jolley, Jerramy Stevens, Will Heller, Eric Johnson, Mark Bruener, Kyle Brady

WR—The Titans’ own Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade are UFAs themselves. The Titans have a dismal record dipping into free agency at this position. (Remember Yancey Thigpen? Carl Pickens? David Givens?) Yet they definitely need help, and quality guys are available that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
UFAs: Alvis Whitted, Troy Brown, Terrence Wilkins, Dennis Northcutt, Kelley Washington, Ashley Lelie, Corey Bradford, Bethel Johnson, Travis Taylor, Dante Stallworth, Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Bobby Engram

DL—The Titans have a lot of young talent on their defensive line, yet not everyone is achieving as hoped. Not yet anyway. Might be a good idea to pick up a veteran who could supplement the kids, or maybe even start ahead of them as necessary.
UFAs: Jason Fisk, Ian Scott, Patrick Kerney, Kenny Peterson, Dan Klecko, Marcellus Wiley, Keith Traylor, Jeff Zgonina

LB—With Keith Bulluck and David Thornton, the Titans are two-thirds of the way to a high-quality linebacking corps. They might be losing Peter Sirmon to free-agency, anyway, but even if he stays, they could bring in some serious competition from this group.
UFAs: Donnie Edwards, Randall Godfrey, Chad Brown, Larry Izzo, Barry Gardner, Rob Morris, Cato June, Napoleon Harris, Tommy Polley, Brandon Short, Shawn Barber, D. D. Lewis, Warrick Holdman

DB—Even setting aside the Pacman Jones situation, the Titans need help here. Another safety and another cornerback are must add-ons. It couldn’t hurt to add one of these veterans if they’ve still got spring in their steps. Presumably it won’t be Schulters, who already had his chance in Music City.
UFAs: Omar Stoutmire, Tony Parrish, Shaun Williams, Lance Schulters, Robert Griffith, Tory James, Kevin Kaesviharn, Dexter McCleon, Mike Doss, Nick Harper, Ray Mickens