Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who Needs Brady's MVPs When You Have Cassel's Pretty, Pretty Numbers

One day, I was driving with a friend when someone cut us off and nearly missed his front right bumper. My usually volatile friend must have been in a good mood because he calmly said the following, "You know what my biggest problem is, other people's stupidity. I have no control over it."

As Americans and sports fans, we are reminded of the profound, simple wisdom of my buddy's words.

No, I'm not talking about Sarah Palin being a viable Vice Presidential candidate.

I'm not even talking about Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan night club.

I'm talking about a story I saw on the National Football League Network's pregame show. A story about the New England Patriot fans. You know, that paradigm of intelligent and sophisticated fanhood in the Northeast. The same fanbase that switches a Pats' parka in the winter for a Red Sox cap in the summer. The more obnoxious of which spend most of their sports-related time instructing others as to what it means to be a real fan.

If the story is true, they are beginning to rumble about franchising Matt Cassel in order to trade Tom Brady.

Let me say that again, there is a movement taking shape to trade Tom Brady.

I'm hoping the story was ridiculous and a fabrication. Just another attempt by the media to start a tempest in a teapot where none exists. If it's not, there is simply no way for that region to ever recover its credibility. At least with regard to football.

First, let's dispel with these ridiculous comparisons between the Matt Cassel-Tom Brady situation and the Steve Young-Joe Montana one that confronted the San Francisco 49ers. Regardless of what you think about the talent/potential of the players involved, Joe Montana was 37 by the time he started his first game for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Tom Brady is 31. Six years is a long time in the real world. In the NFL, it is a lifetime.

Second, let's really consider the hysterical dementia that's closing its fist around New England according to the NFL Network. Matt Cassel may be an elite quarterback. He seems to have gotten better with every start. He's putting up great numbers and has the Patriots on the brink of the postseason in what many thought would be a lost campaign. Cassel's currently sitting on back-to-back 400+ yard passing games, an achievement the media gleefully trumpets because Brady has yet to do so.

And yet, this lunacy can be dismissed as easily as three-time Super Bowl Champion.

Debate over.

Of course, there's no need to stop the list of Brady's accolades at that. He's been the regular season Most Valuable Player, the Super Bowl MVP twice, and a four-time Pro Bowler. He owns the single-season record for passing touchdowns, a record he set in his first and only year to date with Randy Moss.

There simply is no comparison.

Against all Tom Brady has done for that franchise, Matt Cassel's strongest resume point is the 400 yard passing games. That's it. The problem is the Pats lost one of those games. At home to a division rival and a bitter one at that. The other problem is that Brady had games of 399 yards, 388 yards, and 380 yards last year. He also threw for 410 yards in 2002 without the luxury of Randy Moss.

The bigger problem is that it could all be a smoke screen.

Who has New England beaten? They have seven wins against the Chiefs, New York Jets, Niners, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins. There aren't too many impressive wins there except of the Jets, which was on the road. But that loses some luster because the win came early in the season before Brett Favre had really acclimated to the system.

It loses considerably more luster because a synchronized Favre and Jets team was the bitter rival that withstood Cassel's first 400-yard game in Foxborough.

Look at the four losses: on the road against a struggling San Diego Chargers, on the road against the formidable Indianapolis Colts, at home against the Miami Dolphins/Wildcats, and the aforementioned Jets game.

I don't really see a win that should surprise anyone on that list. And maybe there aren't any losses that should surprise anyone. SD is still playing well at home, there's never any shame in losing to Indy, and the other two are both divisional rivals.

But that still means that Matt Cassel is simply beating teams he should beat and losing to teams that pose challenges. That becomes a bigger issue when you consider he has no college resume of which to speak. That makes him an even bigger unknown.

I said before he could be an elite QB in the NFL. He could just as easily be a one-year, right-system wonder.

Yet, if the NFL Network is to be believed, the loyal in the New England area have seen enough.

Forget the Super Bowls, MVPs, records, and all-time greatness of Tom Brady.

Who needs that when you've got a guy throwing 400 yards every game?

Of course, Tom Brady's a Bay Area guy. He's in his prime and the Niners currently trot Shaun Hill out to take snaps. What am I complaining about?

You know what? New England's right.

Matt Cassel is definitely a better option for the future of the franchise.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Plaxico Burress Might Be the Dumbest Player in the History of the NFL

"Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein

There is a broken and developing story about the New York Giants' problematic receiver, Plaxico Burress. The story, as I'm sure you've heard/read, is that the man accidentally shot himself in the leg with, presumably, a handgun. Shot himself in the thigh and spent the night in the hospital.

I am staggered by the indescribable stupidity required for such an act.

Until shortly before my eighth birthday, my family lived in St. Louis, MO. While there, we'd spend summers in the more rural parts of the State. If you've never lived in the Midwest, there's a good chance you have no idea what "rural" means. This was a place where you could spend weeks, ranging far and wide on foot or by river, without ever encountering another human-being.

These are the places where six-year-olds learn to shoot a .22 rifle.

For the last two decades, my family has lived in the suburbs of San Francisco. Suffice it to say the attitude towards outdoor riflery is not the same. Nor is it really feasible. Instead, my dad and I shoot most weeks in an indoor range. We've also graduated to handguns, three .45s to be exact.

A 1911 Gold Cup, a Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special, and a Wilson Combat Tactical Supergrade.

I have been around guns all my life. You can debate the merit/intelligence of this all you want, but you cannot debate what I am about to say: anyone who could accidentally shoot himself without a truly spectacular freak occurrence is terrifyingly reckless. And that makes him dumb, exceedingly so.

You either have or have not been around a gun.

If you have not been around one, the very idea should and does inspire the utmost caution if you are even semi-reasonable. If you have been around a gun and operate a functional central cortex, the power of a loaded gun terrifies you into exercising even more caution than that. Plaxico falls into one of the above categories by definition.

And yet he accidentally shot himself. In the thigh, not a toe or a finger or some other outer extremity. The thigh.

Maybe there is some totally reasonable explanation. I gotta say though, I struggle to conceive of one. The problem with a ricochet theory is that it's almost impossible to get one if you exercise reasonable caution. Step one of reasonable caution is finding a place where such ricochets are almost impossible.

Like a gun range.

If it wasn't a ricochet, that means he was carrying around a loaded, chambered, and cocked firearm. There are just no words to describe how insanely moronic that is. Your average retard might leave a gun laying around with ammunition in the clip/cylinder. That's dumb enough. To actually be carrying around a chambered round is ludicrous.

Unless you're a cop or some such occupation where it's part of the job.

But a weapon that's ready to fire? Subject to the above exceptions, you just don't do that. Ever.

Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it wasn't a handgun. Maybe it was a rifle or a shotgun. Maybe it was some totally reasonable, totally freak accident. Maybe it wasn't even an accident. Except for the freak accident, would any of those scenarios make this better?

If it wasn't an accident and this is his cover story, what the hell was the real one?

As for the freak accident, does anyone really believe that's likely? Remember, I'm not even sure one exists that could explain it. And if it wasn't a handgun, the probability of a reasonable accident shrinks to almost zero.

Most of the stupidity in the National Football League only results in catastrophe when mixed with equal parts lack of self-control. Here, catastrophe was only averted through luck. A gunshot wound is never a laughing matter, but one in the thigh (where a major artery runs) is especially dangerous.

Had catastrophe struck, it would have been one of the more serious tragedies in recent memory. Even by the NFL's unfortunate standard. And it would have been the product of sheer stupidity. That alone.

Only luck saved Plaxico Burress from himself. And this time, the penalty could have been infinitely more costly than a suspension.

Consider how happy he must be to be in a hospital, done for the year, and stuck watching his team defend their Super Bowl Title. Something that looks at least probable at this point.

The Dumbest Player in the History of the NFL is a lofty title and one for which there are many worthy candidates.

But Plax gets mine.

Friday, November 28, 2008

#*&% the Detroit Lions!

I'm sick and tired of the Detroit Lions ruining an otherwise fantastic part of Thanksgiving.

For the 187th year in a row, the Lions have rolled over like good little lambs being led to the slaughter. It was less noticeable yesterday since all three games were abominations and the Lions faced one of the best teams in the National Football League. A Tennessee Titans team coming off its first loss of the year. However, Detroit (as usual) set the tone for the day with such an astoundingly bad performance, it bordered on surreal.

It was like watching a scene from a sports movie that sets up the ultimate redemption. Think the montage scene in "Major League" before the Tribe started to turn it around. The one where all three outfielders collide going after a ball that drops, then see another ball drop after all three stand around expecting the other one to grab it.

It defies reason and logic that the Detroit Lions can convince anyone to come watch their games.

Every person associated with that organization should be mortified to show his/her face in public. The ownership should be forced to sell the team for pennies on the dollar as penance for what it has done to Motor City. The management isn't fit to run a lemonade stand in the suburbs of Detroit. The coaches should be run out of football and find themselves trying to make sense out of some Pop Warner team next year. Most of the players should be turned loose to find greener pastures or take up golf.

And I'm not even a Lions' fan.

I couldn't care less about the team. Well, that's not true. I'm actually rooting for them to go winless. But I'm not that vested in it; if they win, it'll barely register on my radar. Still, my blood boils for the fans and players (the ones still trying that is). It's one thing to go winless because you're not very good and your schedule is tough.

It is another thing altogether to go winless because you are embarrassingly putrid in every facet of the game, every facet of the organization. And have a tough schedule.

One half was all I could take; I had to find something more pleasant with which to occupy myself once halftime rolled around. I chose scrubbing and shucking oysters.

But one half was enough. One quarter was enough. I won't even bother with second stanza.

There's absolutely no need. It would be like challenging a borderline reception made by the losing team during the fourth quarter of a thorough destruction - unnecessary, malicious, classless, petty, and flat wrong.

In the first half alone, we had a fumble on the second play from scrimmage. We had an almost 30-yard end around on the next play. We had Chris Johnson scoring on a six-yard jaunt through a defense so absent, one of his blockers had no one to hit. We had Johnson running almost 70 yards to pay dirt through the middle of the line without ever being touched. We had Johnson racking up, what, 1000 yards on six carries?

We had Duante Culpepper throwing an interception directly to a defensive lineman inside his own 20. An interception that was returned for six points.

We had BOTH Titans' running backs scoring two touchdowns.

We had a delay of game penalty following a time-out on a series that culminated in a 13-yard punt.

We had a score of 38-10. It was 38-3 until a last minute touchdown courtesy of a Tennessee gift.

But don't worry Detroit, Rod Marinelli has great confidence in his abilities despite the record. And why wouldn't he?

Apparently, Detroit's ownership and management share Dr. Marinelli's diagnosis. And why wouldn't they?

The guy's only had 44 games and three season to get acclimated, find an approach/philosophy that works, and start to improve. Making a knee-jerk reaction based on such a small sample size would be foolishly rash. I mean, it's not like on-field performance is an accurate barometer of a talented coach, anyway.

Ownership, management, and the coaching staff have proven themselves utterly incompetent. For damn near a decade, the Detroit Lions have been awful. Their judgment has been awful. Their decisions have been awful. Their performance has been awful. Why would anyone employed by the franchise see any need to change now?

I say again, it absolutely defies reason and logic that a single person sits in those stands.

I wouldn't go if the tickets were free. And neither should a Lions' fans.

They deserve much better.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What's the Hardest Defensive Position in Baseball? Hint: It's Shortstop

OK, so the title may be a little misleading. I'm sure a lot of you saw it and came rushing on here to see how I can put shortstop above catcher. Others did so to destroy me for merely making the suggestion. Rightly so. I would have to be insane for doing so.

Obviously, catcher is more difficult. Far more so.

Nothing saps your strength, produces more sustainable injuries, and/or shortens a player's career like donning the tools of ignorance. No defensive position requires more concentration and wears a player down mentally like the backstop.

There are two possible outcomes to every pitch: a take or an offer. The former involves the catcher every time. On an offer, there are two outcomes: a miss or contact. The former involves the catcher every time. If the batter makes contact, the catcher may or may not be directly involved depending on the quality of contact.

That's a lot of physical and mental responsibility.

But it's of a different kind. Like taking the mound, it's a wear and tear that you see coming. Both pitcher and catcher KNOW when they will be involved. Most times, they know how and to what extent. Even more importantly, they know any error will be quickly erased via their involvement on the next play. And the next. And the next.

Massaging a pitcher through the strikeout of a dangerous hitter might not seem to make up for a throwing error that turns a steal of second into a runner on third. You'd be surprised how quickly action - even trivial action - makes you forget.

The other guys on the field don't have that luxury.

Not only do they have to prepare for every pitch as if it might come to them, knowing all the while that the odds are against it unless one of the very best control pitchers is on the mound. They have to execute in a vacuum of opportunity, where each error could be the last chance they see for the day. Where mistakes usually cost outs rather than extra bases.

It is unpleasant. A different kind of stress - both physical and psychological - that deserves a separate comparison.

Plus, the question isn't interesting if you include the catching position.

So, having removed it (and pitcher since that position isn't difficult because of defense), we can toss out all the outfield positions. Center is obviously the most demanding and could arguably be more difficult than second base, but it's still not in the discussion.

The pure and simple fact is, all other things being equal, catching a baseball in flight is easier than fielding one cleanly that is hit on the ground. There is no debate.

It comes down to SS and the bases.

First and second are a notch below third and short.

They are on the right side of the infield, which is most batters' opposite field. That means they see fewer chances and, usually, easier ones. They see more jam shots or poor attempts to go the opposite way.

That's not to suggest either is easy. Nothing at the Major League level is.

They see their fair share of screamers pulled off the bat of lefties or driven the other way with authority by righties. This is the Show after all, where a lot of hitters can go to right well and lefties are more common. Not only that, both have sophisticated responsibilities for their bags.

But they are still easier than their counterparts on the left side of the diamond.

I'd argue first is harder than second just because of handling short-hops and other wayward throws. But that also weighs in second's favor as the more difficult since first typically gets to see more action. And turning a double-play, even from second, is no picnic.

Luckily for me, that's not the question.

The question is whether shortstop is more difficult than third.

Both see a good amount of action. Both see grass-cutters on a regular basis. Both are expected to cover a serious amount of ground to be elite. Both have complicated rotational duties on specialty plays. Both must have cannons hanging from the right shoulder. Both must have velvety hands and nimble footwork.

It comes down to a matter of degree.

The shortstop sees a little more action. Third probably sees a higher number of vicious "chances" and the most dangerous ones. But short must cover more ground, rotate to cover both second and third routinely, have better arms, have better hands, and have better feet. The difference is not extreme in any instance, but there is a difference.

And it can be seen, not in the best players at the positions, but in the average ones.

Your average shortstop could move to third. Your average third-sacker could certainly NOT move to short. They would either be too slow or to awkward or too, uh, mentally-limited.

That is why most pro infielders (with the exception of the huge first basemen) were shortstops at some point in their careers. They started off as the best athlete and were put at SS. At a certain level, their defense became average for the spot so they were moved to another position.

Check it out, even some catchers and pitchers used to be shortstops.

Undoubtedly, this column will anger some of the fantasy-geeks and/or sabermatricians. It doesn't use any of the new, Star-Trek-sounding stats that are so in vogue amongst those communities. It doesn't use stats of any kind. And it's not because I dismiss those things.

They serve their purpose and the defensive ones are getting better.

But they still have a ways to go before they can approximate value and proficiency as well as the offensive versions. And even the offensive versions can be juked and/or fail to capture some intangible aspect of a hitter's value. So I stick with experience playing and watching the game.

I stick with what I see at the highest level combined with what I know from the lower levels.

And I'll stand behind that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

5 TV Ad Campaigns Forged by Satan and Perfected by His Minions

"It is to erase the fixed smiles of sleeping couples that Satan trained roosters to crow a five in the morning." - Tom Robbins, "Jitterbug Perfume"

No, I'm not a morning person. Nor am I a fan of commercials. If Satan trained roosters, he did the same for advertising executives. Because television ads are to sports fans what roosters are to the slumbering masses.

They are the harsh crow of reality that pulls us from our waking dreams.

As a junior in college, I stumbled across an infomercial for Tivo. It was three in the morning and I was, shall we say, not of sound mind. But my hatred for commercials pulled me through, sat me down at the computer, did a quick search to see if the company was publicly traded, and placed an auto-order for several hundred shares after finding out it had IPO'd a couple weeks ago.

Maybe it was a couple months. Like I said, I hadn't been out studying for an exam.

Anyway, it was one of my more brilliant drunken decisions. Did I say one of? I meant only. And I think my distaste for ads snapped me into coherence so it probably doesn't really qualify. There wasn't a doubt in my addled mind that the technology would be successful.

I'm also aware it is one of the better examples of irony you can find.

For that economic windfall and as an exercise in catharsis, I'd like to thank the following five commercial campaigns. They are, in my opinion, the worst offenders in a cluttered field and the inspiration for many a Tivo purchase:

5. Kay Jewelers' "Every Kiss Begins with Kay" campaign.

This campaign had issues before the growing awareness of how expensive diamonds are in the currency of human blood. Now, more people question the idea of showing her how much you really care with a stone that arguably perpetuates new levels of human brutality in Africa.

But even before that, you'd have to find the idea offensive. The commercials more or less equate the purchase of a diamond for Valentine's Day or Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever with proof of real love.

That's bad news if you can't afford what is essentially a shiny rock that costs thousands of dollars every time an annual occasion comes 'round.

Of course, it's good news if you happen to be Kobe Bryant.

I mean, we might all legitimately question whether the man really loves his wife. You know, because she was home in Los Angeles with their newborn baby girl while Kobe was banging some 19-year-old snowbunny in Colorado.

Thankfully, we have $5 million worth of proof to dispel such a preposterous notion.

4. The latest spate of eco-friendly campaigns from Big Oil.

These are phenomenal exercises in propaganda. Seriously, the most abhorrent dictators in history would be proud. Lest anyone accuse me of being a tree-hugger or even a firm environmentalist, let me say I'm not. Despite spending most of my life in Northern California, I see the confrontation between pursuit of livelihood and that of the environmental protection as a grayer area than most in this part of the State.

But environmental awareness and preservation as two of Big Oil's primary concerns?

Riiight. And I've got some lovely oceanfront property for you in Utah. It comes with a liquor license and it's own brothel.

That's a tough sell considering the corporations typically fight tooth and nail for every dollar they are forced to spend during clean-up efforts. They frequently and happily go to the mattresses in an effort to whittle away every cent of liability possible after some drunken, waste of oxygen rams a behemoth tanker into something so perilous as a bridge support.

Seriously, how can they be blamed? Those things really jump out at you.

3. The bronze medal goes to the current Miller Lite "Commissioner of Taste" campaign.

Any ad that drags an actor I like into the gutter is a serious offender. In this case, the actor in question is John C. McGinley. If you've gotten too seduced by his role on "Scrubs," take another run at "Platoon," "Office Space," or "Wild Hogs (an inexplicably entertaining movie)." His characters all have a general similarity, but I've got no problem with playing to your strengths.

However, the real reason it ranks so high (or so low) is that Miller beer is awful.

MGD is the worst, but Miller Lite is right there at its heels. The only Miller beer I'll drink is the High Life and that's more about the cool bottle/slogan ("It's the champagne of beers") than taste. Nor am I in the minority - I used to work in a bar during law school and almost no one orders Miller Lite.

Personally, I don't know anyone who prefers a Miller beer to its Bud or Coors equivalent.

And the campaign is based on TASTE! Ridiculous.

It doesn't help that the ads are generally irritating and mind-numbingly stupid.

2. The silver medal goes to any McDonald's ad - currently, the asinine McNugget campaign.

There are just so many soft spots, it's tough to know where to start. There are the shots of the restaurants, which are always clean and bright and cheerful. Where are these places? I'm not a huge fastfood guy, but I've NEVER been in a McDonald's that looked even vaguely reminiscent of these commercial palaces.

Or what about the food? If the burgers, shakes, fries, etc. really looked like that, those lines would be a lot longer.

Or how about the patrons? I never knew so many svelte, supermodel-types (both men and women) were such loyal and enthusiastic customers. And I guess these must be secret, invite-only restaurants because I have yet to run across one. Sadly though, I am not a supermodel-type.

Or what about just the general ideas? A McNugget party? Really? That's the best you can do? Whoa.

Let's not forget the "I'm lovin' it," "McGriddle's," and ethnocentric campaigns of yore. Lots of aneurysm-inducing potential there.

1. But the gold medal goes to the Lexus "December to Remember" sales event campaign that returns like a plague of locusts every holiday season. And it's not close.

These are by far the worst because they come out like clockwork every year and seem to be placed in extra-heavy circulation during football games. What football fan doesn't know the image of a Lexus SUV with a big, red bow on it? Or the wife confronted with the sedan and same bow in a snowy driveway?

And now it seems Audi is following Lexus' lead. Wonderful.

But let's really examine the idea of giving someone a luxury automobile - or any new car, for that matter - on Christmas or, presumably, Hanukkah. I can't really speak to the Jewish holiday because I am not Jewish. However, I grew up with a lot of Jews (doesn't that sound derogatory?) and have been to my share of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.

One of my closest and my oldest friend is Jewish. We have Thanksgiving with his family every year.

I think it's pretty safe to say that a car is rarely the payoff for a night of Hanukkah. I could be wrong, but I remember a lot of complaints about books, sweaters, educational video games, etc. A car doesn't really seem consistent.

The idea of a Lexus or Audi for Christmas is only slightly less ridiculous.

I grew up in Tiburon, which is part of Marin County in California. Marin is just north of San Francisco, right across the Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of the most affluent areas in California, probably the country. My two sisters and I have run up the following educational tabs: three undergrads, two private and one public; nursing school; law school; and medical school. We have done so without any concept of a student-loan or any other kind. Not only that, my family's wealth is modest compared to the typical measure in Southern Marin.

I'm not saying this to brag. I'm pointing out that my family is extremely fortunate. More so that probably 95 percent of the country. Our neighbors are even luckier.

And I have never, ever, EVER heard of someone getting ANY kind of car for Christmas. Who are these people? Where are these people? Is it the ad equivalent of a subprime mortgage? Convince someone to buy a car of an occasion that he/she can't ultimately afford?

Or is it an ad campaign targeting the upper tenth of a percent of the population?

The really shocker though, is that, according to some studies, almost 10 percent of Lexus models are sold as gifts during the season. In other words, the campaign works.

I simply cannot believe that. I choose not to because it would shake my faith in a benevolent God.

Those are the most egregious offenders in my opinion. The list is by no means exhaustive or definitive. I'm sure I've left of some truly horrendous campaigns. I might have even left off the real gold medal winner. The field is simply too cluttered to shoot for perfection.

In the end, I am but one man. And a mere mortal at that.

Such a monumental task would require infinintely more mental capacity than I possess.

So I'll leave it the greater wisdom of the Bleacher Report community.

I've vented and feel much better. Now, it's your turn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys Have Talked All Year, the Time to Walk Has Arrived

"Are you gonna bark all day little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?" - Mr. Blonde "Reservoir Dogs"

Time is up for the Dallas Cowboys. They can't mess around anymore if they really are what they say they are - a playoff team. Despite sitting at 7-4 in the National Football Conference, they are still looking at an uphill climb.

And some pundits are starting to lose sight of that fact.

It's a perfect example of Long John Silver's fantastic article about David Beckham and how the media created a hype Frankenstein from his spare parts.

Some of the experts (or at least Trent Dilfer and ESPN) are beginning to talk about how Dallas has righted the ship and is poised to make the playoff run everyone has been promising. Everyone who proudly reps the Star that is.

And so the first stitch in the monster is complete.

Just last week, those same experts were correctly pointing out that Dallas had a battle on its hands. That the 8-4 record they were sure to have after entering the National Football League's version of Betty Ford - games versus the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks - would be deceiving. That everyone should be careful to remember that and temper accordingly.

This week though, after all the pretty numbers Terrell Owens and the 'pokes put up, you're already seeing that qualification drop. You're already seeing the thousand-mile stare when the pundits talk of the offensive explosion. That look of glittering and blissful delusion you find in people who only see what they believe, but what they believe is not reality.

To a degree, it's warranted because the Cowboys were an irresistible force on Sunday.

But it was against the Niners. And it wasn't the whole game. Not even the majority. Not even close. As Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (two notorious Cowboy-haters) pointed out, Dallas couldn't put lowly SF away and flubbed an easy chance to rest their most valuable starters (read: Tony Romo and his broken pinkie) heading into a short week.

And it's not like San Fran played one of its better games.

This was not a case of a bad team playing up to a superior side's level. For most of the game, it was quite the opposite. Dallas matched 'frisco face-plant for face-plant. But some in the media are already trying to make the public ignore this. Odd considering the almost universal stance only a week ago.

It's about to get worse.

After the certain majesty of Dallas' offense against the lifeless Seahawks, the playoff party should be in full swing. That massacre should be Igor to the media's Dr. Frankenstein, flipping the switch to complete the process. To ensure that, by ignoring its own advice, the media will succeed in forcing the public to do the same.

Reality, though, is that the true test doesn't start until the Cowboys put the final nail in Seattle's coffin.

Dallas will be in a better spot at 8-4, but it will still need more. I would be shocked if a team with less than 10 wins made the postseason in either conference. I don't think I would be alone. So the Cowboys will need at least another two wins in their final four games.

Sounds simple enough. Finishing at a .500 clip for a quarter of the season isn't too much to ask of a playoff team.

Except Dallas gets a long week to prepare for a trip into Pittsburgh and a date with the first-place, 8-3 Steelers. Then the first-place, 10-1 New York Giants come marauding into Dallas for a game that should have the stench of last year's playoff game on it. If they win either of those games, they're a playoff team and it's mulligans all around for the guilty members of the media.

But those are two brutal assignments.

The 'pokes catch a slight break when they face the second-place, 7-4 Baltimore Ravens at home. But that's still a vicious defense and a young, dynamic quarterback. A QB who is improving with every game and will have three more under his belt by that time. That's another tough task before Dallas can finish with a lay-up against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 5-6 team (sorry, a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals is a loss in my book) and a house in disarray.

Even the lay-up isn't exactly that because it's still a division foe, the game is in Philly, and the Eagles have the talent to vastly improve over the next four games.

For Dallas, finishing 10-6 wouldn't be a Herculean effort, but it would impressive. And possibly not enough.

As it stands right now, the Cowboys have to jump the 7-4 Washington Redskins. The 'skins also have the Giants coming to town and must go to Baltimore. But they have the Bungals, the Niners, and Philly at home. Additionally, since they have it now based on NBC's playoff picture, I'm assuming they would still hold the tie-breaker over Dallas at the end of the year.

If that is indeed the case, Dallas is in big trouble because the NFC South will almost certainly ride off with the other Wild Card spot.

The Carolina Panthers are 8-3 with three probable wins on the schedule (New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 8-3 with three probable wins on the schedule (San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Saints). The Atlanta Falcons are 7-4 with three probable wins on the schedule (Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams) AND seem to hold the tie-breaker over Dallas. Meanwhile, the Saints are a dangerous 6-5 team with a possible Most Valuable Player at QB in Drew Brees.

If either the Panthers or the Bucs stumble, it will probably be against New Orleans.

Chances are the second-place team in the NFC South will have either 11 wins or 10 wins and the tie-breaker over Dallas.

Obviously, this is all speculation and probabilities. There are four games left in the season, which is plenty of time for landscape-altering injuries. Furthermore, anything can happen in the NFL. The meek could rear up and torpedo everyone sitting on top of Dallas without people looking to the skies for the Four Horsemen. And Lord knows what the various wins/losses will do to tie-breaking scenarios?

But it is not wild speculation. It is very likely that Dallas will need 11 wins to control its own postseason fate.

That means beating either Pittsburgh on the road or the Giants at home.

We've heard Tony Romo say Dallas will make the playoffs. We've heard Terrell Owens say Dallas will make the playoffs. We've heard Jerry Jones say Dallas will make the playoffs.

That's a lot of barking.

After one more tune-up against Seattle and the ghosts of a snap gone awry, the Dallas Cowboys will have to show they can bite.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oddly, Chris Simms Gets the Final Word on the 2006 NFL Draft

"The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they're going to be when you kill them." - William Clayton

Somewhere in the catacombs of the National Football League Network, Charley Casserly must be thinking just that because of Chris Simms. Sounds crazy, right? But, on Sunday morning, someone on one of the pregame shows (probably all of them) said that the Tennessee Titans are interested in signing Kerry Collins to a new contract.

No big surprise there.

The real shocker is that they plan to pursue Chris Simms as his primary back-up.

Not really the vote of confidence Vince Young needed.

I'm not part of the growing tide that has written VY off. In fact, I think Kristin Hamlin did a fine job of imagining what must be going through his mind at moments such as these. I very much believe that a leader and winner of his caliber will always be a leader and winner. Obviously not every minute of every day of his life, but he will pick himself off the ground.

Vince Young will ride again.

Just not in Houston.

And that means he was a waste of the number three pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Young came out of the gates fast, but that is not the reason you draft a player third overall. You draft that player and pay him the necessary money because he is supposed to be the cornerstone. The block that locks the organization together and gives it strength for posterity (or at least that player's prime years).

You do not draft him for two years of excellence and a cloud of dust.

Shift focus to Reggie Bush.

He has been good, but not great. And the injury bug bit him this year. As I understand it, that was one of his primary detractions - his slighter size made some appraisers question whether he would be durable enough to survive the leviathans who troll the NFL waters.

In other words, the New Orleans Saints might need a little divine intervention to get Reggie back on the field and keep him there.

Even if this injury is not a sign of unfortunate things to come for Bush, he has proven to be mediocre out of the backfield while averaging about 3.5 yards per carry for his career. His true and considerable value seems to be as a receiving back a la a more one-dimensional yet more elusive Marshall Faulk. In that role, Reggie gets the ball with a little more open space in which to razzle and dazzle.

And he may eventually turn into a formidable weapon via the hand-off.

But, once again, that is not why you spend the number two pick and the number two money on a kid out of college.

You're not searching for formidable weapons or a two-year sugar rush. You are searching for That Guy who will turn your franchise around almost immediately. Not necessarily turn it into a contender, but certainly lead a change in direction. You are looking for that special talent because your franchise must usually be in sorry shape to have such a high pick. And there are usually two or three of them in each draft-class.

Admittedly, I don't know enough about the intricacies of football to recognize these players unless they're on offense. So I don't know if Mario Williams is this kind of player.

I do know that 14.5 sacks is pretty good.

I do know that the Texans have gotten better. Granted, there weren't too many other options.

I also know that, while both the Saints and Titans have improved exponentially by comparison, it was neither Reggie Bush nor Vince Young who led the way. And it doesn't seem likely that either player will be doing so for the organization that drafted him.

And that makes them disappointments because of the high expectations that accompany the second and third overall picks, respectively.

Most importantly though, I know how much heat Casserly and the Texans took for drafting Mario Williams over the obvious jackpots represented by Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

I mean, Young played for the University of Texas!

There seems to be a consensus that Bill Simmons even used it as an excuse to create a default column topic for those days when he couldn't find an excuse to write about Boston. Said it proved professional franchises need a Vice President of Common Sense and periodically writes as if he is that person.

Because Casserly and the Texans so blatantly blew the easy money.

And Simmons was by no means alone in his condemnation. Nor was his group in the minority. Had I been more delusional in my knowledge of football, I might have been right there in the firing line.

Charley argued the Texans were not passing on a sure thing, let alone two. They were taking the player who could best help them, immediately and for years to come. The best professional talent they saw in the draft.

And Chris Simms proves - once, emphatically, and for all - that Casserly was right and we were wrong.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gather Up Your Flock, Here Comes BCS Armageddon

"I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven." - Gary Oldman, "The Professional"

All I can say is, UH OH.

The Oklahoma Sooners are currently pasting the Red Raiders out of Texas Tech. Seriously, this game is over and the second quarter just started.

So that means only the Alabama Crimson Tide stands as the persevering unbeaten from a Bowl Championship Series conference. And they still have the Florida Gators looming on the horizon. A Gator team that just put up 70 points.

Granted, it was against the Citadel.

But two things can be taken from this game: what in the hell is Florida doing playing the Citadel in November and 70 points is an impressive output against anyone who can run and see. It is also totally unnecessary and, honestly, a little obscene.

But I'd be at least a little more concerned if I were a member of the Crimson Tide faithful or team.

It's almost inevitable that college football will be staring at a host of one-loss teams from the power conferences plus at least one undefeated team from a "lesser" conference. Possibly two or three. Look at the potential logjam if things play out perfectly, which also happens to be according to expectation:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide - would finish 12-1 if they beat the Auburn Tigers and lose to the Gators. Their signature wins would be over the LSU Tigers (7-3) and Georgia Bulldogs (9-2). Their loss would be to the Gators (10-1) at a neutral site.

2. Texas Tech Red Raiders - would finish 11-1 if they beat the Baylor Bears. Their signature wins would be over the Texas Longhorns (10-1) and the Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-2). Lost to Oklahoma (10-1) on the road.

3. Texas Longhorns - would finish 11-1 if they beat the Texas A&M Aggies. Their signature wins would be over the Oklahoma Sooners (10-1) and the Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-2). Lost to Texas Tech (10-1) on the road.

4. Florida Gators - would finish 12-1 if they beat the Florida State Seminoles and Alabama. Their signature wins would be over the Seminoles (7-3), the Tide (11-0), Georgia (9-2), and LSU (7-3). Lost to the Mississippi Rebels (7-4) at home.

5. Oklahoma Sooners - would finish 11-1 if they beat Oklahoma State. Their signature wins would be over Texas Tech (10-1) and Oklahoma State (9-2). Lost to Texas (10-1) at home.

6. USC Trojans - would finish 11-1 if they beat the Notre Dame Fightin' Irish and the UCLA Bruins. Their signature wins would be over the Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2) and the Oregon Ducks (8-3). Lost to the Oregon State Beavers (8-3) on the road.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions - finished 11-1. Their signature wins are over the Michigan State Spartans (9-3), Ohio State (10-2), and Oregon State (8-3). Lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) on the road.

And then you have the Utah Utes, who finished undefeated, but list either Oregon State or the BYU Cougars as their best win. The cases are even weaker for the likely-to-finish-undefeated Boise State Broncos (at Oregon) and the Ball State Cardinals (crickets).

How do you sift through that clutter? Seven teams from four BCS conferences.

The three Big 12 teams are a mess because they've all beaten and lost to each other (complicating matters - today's game doesn't look like it's going to even be close as it's now halftime and the score's a 117-6). Not only that, but the only other signature win is against Oklahoma State for all three teams.

USC and Penn State pose problems because their best wins are over good teams from watered-down conferences. And yet, each school's only lost came to a pretty good divisional foe on the road.

Alabama would pose a problem because how can you bounce Alabama after spending the entire year at the top and losing in the conference title game (which neither USC nor Penn State must face)? To a scorching Florida squad?

Florida would pose a problem because, if you can't bump Alabama, how can you bump the team that just beat them? And what if Florida destroys the Crimson Tide? Plus, the Gators have beaten more strong teams than the other contenders while suffering the worst defeat.

And what of Utah, Boise State, and Ball State?

They beat everyone they could convince to play them, but get penalized because no big boys will take that risk. So we don't even get to consider what the destined-for-greatness arm of Nate Davis could do for one night. One game. Four quarters.

If Doug Flutie did it, why can't Nate? After all, if he's not the first quarterback taken in next year's draft, there's something seriously amiss with the player-rating system.

Of course, a lot of this could be avoided if teams stumble in the next couple of weeks. Especially if Alabama can turn back the tide of conventional wisdom and catch Florida in its own death-roll.

But c'mon, who's rooting for that outside of Alabama and the halls of the BCS?

To borrow from another great lyricist, I'm rooting for meteor showers and tidal waves. For fault lines that cannot sit still.

I'm rooting for the End of Days, BCS-style. And I'm not alone.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Winning Argument Behind MLB's Most Valuable Players

Let's put it out there right up front - I disagree that Dustin Pedroia was the American League's Most Valuable Player. I think there were worthier candidates, namely Carlos Quentin and Justin Morneau. But I have no problem with Pedroia winning the award.

His case was as flawed as the others so it's just a matter of personal taste making the slight difference between winner and losers.

I wrote as much recently.

Except for the one moron at the bottom, the response was muted. I usually take that to mean people either agreed, were ambivalent, or disagreed too mildly to post a response. That's a win as far as I'm concerned. But it was champ's response that got me thinking about how ridiculous the school of thought really is that argues for handing the MVP award to a player from a non-contender.

Here is a guy who believes so blindly in the power of statistics to prove true value that he calls me lazy for not including such insane candidates as Grady Sizemore, Milton Bradley, and (presumably) Josh Hamilton. He just assumes that, if I didn't include them, it's because I was too lazy to consider them.

He is so convinced that players from non-contenders are serious options that he tries to personally insult me for my presumed oversight.

And he is so, so, so very wrong.

However, the truly disturbing part is not that one random blogger believes this, it's that the mental midget in question represents a much larger group. One that seems to actually be taken seriously. A group that will condescendingly accuse you of not doing enough research into the idea if you dismiss the notion. Of grossly misunderstanding what real value in baseball means.

Bingo! That's the pinnacle of hilarity for this topic.

Because look at each MVP winner from both the American and National Leagues compared to his team's success since Major League Baseball expanded to three divisions and wild cards (if the MVP reps a division winner, I made no notation for readability's sake):

1995 - Mo Vaughn for Boston and Barry Larkin for Cincinnati
1996 - Juan Gonzalez for Texas and Ken Caminiti for San Diego
1997 - Ken Griffey, Jr. for Seattle and Larry Walker for Colorado (finished third)
1998 - Gonzalez for Texas and Sammy Sosa for Chicago (won NL wild card)
1999 - Ivan Rodriguez for Texas and Chipper Jones for Atlanta
2000 - Jason Giambi for Oakland and Jeff Kent for San Francisco
2001 - Ichiro Suzuki for Seattle and Barry Bonds for SF (finished second)
2002 - Miguel Tejada for Oakland and Bonds for SF (won NL wild card)
2003 - Alex Rodriguez for Texas (finished last) and Bonds for SF
2004 - Vladimir Guerrero for Anaheim and Bonds for SF (finished second)
2005 - A-Rod for New York and Albert Pujols for St. Louis
2006 - Justin Morneau for Minnesota and Ryan Howard for Philadelphia (finished second)
2007 - A-Rod for NY (won AL wild card) and Jimmy Rollins for Philly
2008 - Dustin Pedroia for Boston (won AL wild card) and Pujols for the STL (finished fourth)

In the 14 years since MLB switched to its current format, there have been 28 MVP winners. Eighteen were on division winners (64%), four were on wild card winners (14%), and another four were on teams that finished no more than four games out of the playoffs (14%). Those 26 athletes from contenders account for 93 percent of the winners.

It gets better.

The two guys who won the MVP despite playing for non-contenders were A-Rod in 2003 and Walker in 1997.

In 2003, there weren't any great candidates from contenders and Rodriguez had an insane year. He led the league in runs scored with 124 and homeruns with 47. He finished second in RBIs with 118 and hit .298. From shortstop. That's a pretty strong case, but there's a reason I led off with the lack of solid candidates from the contenders. If that statement weren't true, I'm not sure A-Rod wins despite the incredible year.

In 1997, Walker almost won the Triple Crown. He led the league in homers with 49, came in third with 130 RBI (trailed winner by 15), and finished second to Tony Gwynn with a .366 average. Gwynn won with a .372 mark. Not too shabby.

And it's not like Walker's team was awful; the Rockies finished that year seven games out of the postseason.

Lest you think this is a modern trend, take a look at the days of only two divisions in each league. The form holds; there's a reason the older fans all remember when the Hawk, Andre Dawson, won the NL MVP while playing for the woeful Cubbies.

It was rare. Really, really rare.

As if there were a need for another nail in the coffin of this ridiculous argument, I offer the Hank Aaron Award. The award for Hammerin' Hank was introduced in 1999 to be awarded to the best hitter in each league. There would be no need for the award if the MVP was meant to go to the best hitter without reference to his team's success.

The bottom line is that value in sports is measured by contribution to winning. If a team doesn't win very often, even the best players aren't as valuable. That's not to say they have no value. It's to say that they have less value than players on a winning team because losers have failed at baseball's ultimate goal.

They have failed to deliver the most valuable prize in the sport.

The rarity with which MVPs come from non-contenders and the tacit endorsement of the idea by MLB as proven by the creation of the Hank Aaron Award doesn't convince you, nothing will.

You might not agree with the principle, but denying that team success is a crucial part of an MVP's candidacy is just willful ignorance.

History and Major League Baseball are screaming it right in your face.

San Francisco Giants Continue to Play Musical Chairs, Now It's O-Dog's Turn

The front page story on noted the San Francisco Giants' interest in Orlando Hudson has gone from casual to serious. All I can say is, thank heavens.

If I were a religious man, I'd get on my knees and thank whichever flavor of God I preferred.

But I'm not, my family moved to the suburbs of San Francisco when I was eight. Those are some long odds for church, temple, or whatever the collective term for mosques is.

But back to Hudson. I'd be ecstatic if the Giants signed him. Consider it great news.

And not necessarily because Orlando Hudson is that great. Based on his numbers since the move from the American League, he'd contribute an on-base percentage north of .350, give you over 150 hits, max out between 10 and 15 homeruns, and flash elite leather at second base. Those aren't Hall of Fame credentials, but it's certainly an upgrade from what we've seen recently.

Obviously, there's no guarantee his performance continues on that arc. But it's not totally unreasonable to bet it will.

If you consider management was paying Ray Durham $7.5 million for less value unless it was a contract year, Hudson looks even better. That money is about what you'd expect to give O-Dog (it'd represent a modest raise from his 2008 salary) and he's only 31. The Gents might even be wise to go a little higher than $7.5 mil depending on what else they have in the works.

So, SF would be getting a very good player for decent money in Major League Baseball terms.

But I'd be far more excited about what it would hopefully represent - no Manny Ramirez, no C.C. Sabathia, no Adam Dunn, no Pat Burrell, no Bobby Abreu, no Ben Sheets, and no other crazy-expensive moves.

Admittedly, I'm being paranoid. None of those guys is rumored to be on SF's radar except for Sabathia. But who knows what can happen once the market begins to move? That moment should be rapidly approaching so the sooner the Giants spend themselves out of the running, the better. I think it would be a catastrophe if management panicked and pulled the trigger on one of the above players.

Just look at the price tags attached to those names and then look at the ages.

Those are all some big numbers and, with the exception of Sabathia's, Father Time ain't in their corner. The kind of money they all will demand and probably receive is pretty risky to hand to someone who's closer to retirement than high school.

Particularly ominous is the rumored interest the Giants have expressed in C.C. Sabathia.

I've got nothing against the guy, but c'mon. The contract required to sign him would be expensive and long. Do we really want SF locked into two pitchers for the next decade to the tune of over $35 million?

What the hell does Brian Sabean and ownership do when Tim Lincecum's contract comes up?

Let him walk? Sign him to an equally humongous contract? And then how can you possibly put any offensive talent on the field if you have so much money locked up in the rotation? And what about Matt Cain?

Sabathia's obviously a supreme talent, but he's a supreme talent who can demand full value for it on the open market. Considering the Giants' many frailties, that's just not a price they should pay. Especially considering that C.C. doesn't fill a glaring need (to be brutally honest, he doesn't fill any need).

Furthermore, he's a young horse and a total stud. But he is not invulnerable.

The guy is 6'7" and listed at 290 pounds. That's probably generous, which means he's carrying around even more excess weight. Additionally, he's thrown almost 500 innings in the last two years. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks there is a standard workload for a pro pitcher. Each guy is different - his mechanics, his genealogy, his injury history, etc.

But that's a lot of innings. For anyone. And a lot of them on the back-end were under the duress of short rest. That's a whole field of red flags, right there.

I would actually bet on C.C. to continue to be an almost super-human workforce. To prove all the doubters wrong.

I'm just not so confident that I want to watch him do it in orange and black. That contract will break any team except the biggest spenders if Sabathia goes down. It would be exponentially more debilitating to the Giants since the organization already has the Zito/Boras noose around its neck.

Signing and then losing Sabathia to injury would open the trap door.

Thankfully, if this latest rumor about the Giants and Orlando Hudson is true, it looks like we in the battered fanbase will be spared that fate.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dustin Pedroia Is Weak...And a Totally Reasonable 2008 AL MVP

The parrot is like the pheasant to those who have nothing. - Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

That is exactly what Dustin Pedroia is - a parrot turned pheasant amongst the comparable nothingness of the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player race. Consider the statistics of the four top candidates:

Justin Morneau 163 623 97 187 47 23 129 76 85 0.374 0.499 0.300
Kevin Youklis 145 538 91 168 43 29 115 62 108 0.390 0.569 0.312
Carlos Quentin 130 480 96 138 26 36 100 66 80 0.394 0.571 0.288
Dustin Pedroia 157 653 118 213 54 17 83 50 52 0.376 0.493 0.326

Pedroia is woefully behind in the power numbers while actually having a lower on-base percentage than both Youklis and Quentin. Yes, he blew the others away as far as runs scored, but that's because he sat atop the Boston Red Sox lineup and was on-base a lot. The problem is that Quentin and Youklis reached base at a higher rate and Morneau only trailed by .002.

In other words, put any of those players in Pedroia's spot and they're gonna score those runs. Maybe not exactly since Pedroia's faster than the others, but it would be close.

So it comes down to Dustin's average, stolen bases (he had 20 while the others were led by Quentin's seven), doubles, and dearth of strikeouts. For the stat-heads out there, those four categories have to make up for his considerable deficiencies in runs batted in, homeruns, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.

They don't. Pedroia's four strengths are simply not as valuable as the strengths of the other candidates.

But I'm not a pure stat guy, so let's look at Dustin Pedroia's qualitative argument for AL MVP.

People will tell you he was the engine that made the Red Sox go. That may be true, but they are the Boston Red Sox. They had Youklis. They had Jason Varitek (remember this is qualitative not quantitative). They had David Ortiz. Jacoby Ellsbury. Josh Beckett. Daisuke Matsuzaka. Jonathan Papelbon. J.D. Drew. Mike Lowell.

They had Manny Ramirez for almost 70 percent of the season and Jason Bay for the rest.

Do you see what I'm driving at?

The voters just handed the MVP to a guy on a team with a payroll in excess of $133 million. That kind of paper affords a lot of engines. Yet the voters felt the Most Valuable Player was somewhere amongst all that horsepower. Despite Boston's inability to turn it into even a division crown. Despite being vanquished by a squad with almost $100 million less under the hood.

They just handed the MVP to a guy who wasn't even clearly the most valuable player on a team that grossly underachieved.

And don't give me that injury tripe.

So what Ortiz was hurt. So what Becket was hurt. So what Curt Schilling never took the field. What about Carl Crawford? What about Troy Percival? What about Evan Longoria?

As for his defense, Pedroia's a second baseman. He's not a shortstop or a catcher or a third basemen. Shoot, a centerfielder might arguably be more important than a second-sacker in the pro game. The truth is, 2B is the easiest position in the infield. It's the shortest throw, there's not the same imperative/pressure to field balls cleanly because of your proximity to first base, and you usually get easier/fewer chances since the majority of pro hitters are right-handed i.e. 2B is less frequently the pull-side.

Granted, it's still more valuable than most corner outfielders and maybe more important than a centerfielder just because it's marginally more difficult.

But it is definitely no more important than a first or third baseman. Just look at Little League.

Where does the best player go? Shortstop. Then they radiate out depending on more specific strengths and weaknesses. The first tier goes in the infield because it's harder to field a bouncing ball than a flying one and the infield sees more action: slow but good arm = catcher; less range but can field = 3B; can catch and left-handed or a big target = 1B; and the kid who's left standing when the music stops lands at second.

Then you put your fastest kid who can catch in centerfield, hope you have one more who can catch to stick in left, and then put a live body in right.

Since the athletes are elite at the Major League level, the distinctions become blurred yet the basic principles remain (although the live body switches to left since you need a good arm in right).

With that in mind, Morneau is (from what little I've seen) a very good first baseman and Youklis was particularly valuable on defense because he could switch between third or first without losing much leather. So maybe Pedroia can use defense to make up some ground between him and Carlos, but not the other two.

No, in my opinion, Dustin Pedroia was obviously the weakest of the four candidates.

Except that the above is a hatchet job. I emphasized and explored his major flaws while glossing over his strengths. I could written the same thing with any of the others (off the top of my head):

Morneau - the Twinkies faltered badly down the stretch and he had Joe Mauer for support
Quentin - totally missed the stretch run with a self-inflicted injury
Youklis - essentially the above argument against Pedroia except emphasize different stats

And that's why I don't understand all the articles I've seen vehemently attacking Pedroia's victory.

Look, I would hate the Boston Red Sox if I could. Unfortunately, I only allow myself to hate one sports team and I have currently bestowed that honor upon Notre Dame football. Consequently, I can only intensely dislike the Red Sox.

If there's ever a legitimate reason to skewer the organization or its players, I'll be the first in line. This just isn't one of them.

Sure, Pedroia's candidacy was seriously flawed. They all were.

I think Quentin should have won because the White Sox flailed without him and only made the playoffs because Minnesota flailed a bit worse. But one of the few explicit criteria for the award is games played and Carlos trailed significantly in that category.

How can I really be outraged that he lost? And the same can be said for all the candidates.

So maybe the voters chose Dustin Pedroia because they felt he was the most valuable player. Or maybe because he was very good and plays the game the right way. Or maybe they picked the little guy because most sportswriters were picked last for kickball in gym class and found themselves in a position to exact some measure of metaphorical revenge.

Or maybe because the media sees dollar signs instead of Red Sox.

The point is, without an obvious winner, does it really matter?

There has only been one real miscarriage of justice during MVP voting that I can remember and that was in 2000. Jeff Kent won the award that year because the media hated Barry Bonds. That would have been fine if the race were close, but it wasn't. Kent's value was predicated upon Bonds' i.e. take Bonds away and Kent's value would have plummeted, take Kent away and Bonds' value wouldn't have changed much.

That was obvious to anyone who watched that team. It was criminal that the voters chose to ignore that fact because it showed that, what looked like a close race, was actually a landslide in Bonds' favor.

But the subtle differences in this case don't have that profound effect.

So let Dustin Pedroia and the voters have their moment. Or tell you kids to start throwing their next generation a pity pick in gym.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just How Good Do We Think Notre Dame Football Really Is?

That might seem like an odd question to ask a bunch of professional football fans, but I say it has relevance. And I say we need to seriously consider the answer. Because, as I see it, the Golden Dome's reputation is the only explanation for Brady Quinn's ascension to the Cleveland Browns' quarterback throne.

Either that or it's because he's pretty. I won't sit here and tell you Quinn's not that.

If you've read some of my other columns, you know I make no effort to hide my animosity for ND football. Consequently, I have no love for Brady Quinn. To complicate matters, I find it insane that the kid was handed endorsement deals and commercials before he'd taken snap one in a real game.

I find it equally insane that he was handed the reins to the Browns' offense just because the team's defense was an abomination.

Of course, such swag is handed to others with less talent than Brady and a thinner resume. If I'm being totally objective, it's no great sin. Furthermore, the sin isn't Quinn's; it's not like I'd turn down a lucrative endorsement contract if my phone rang tomorrow. Ditto the keys to an NFL offense - can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue from that cataclysm?

And Brady Quinn's obviously done more to deserve his fruits.

That said, I've seen both of his starts in the NFL and I have yet to see what all the fuss is about. I'm not saying he's bad or even destined for mediocrity - he's quite obviously better than average and any signal-caller with his tools could become great with a little confidence/luck. But the media - notably on Monday night, Tony Kornheiser - sells Quinn like he's the LeBron James of the NFL (that could be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

For instance, Kornhesier spent much of his mic-time Monday night frothing at the mouth over Quinn. I believe he said at one point that Quinn looked like he was born for this. Generally, I'm a big Kornheiser fan. But he was nauseatingly and inexplicably undignified in his praise during the Browns-Buffalo Bills game.

To be honest, I really didn't see too much difference between Trent Edwards and Quinn for the last three quarters.

Before people race an aneurysm to their keyboards, let me finish.

The Browns won that game by virtue of a missed field goal. That means they won a game by less than three points in which the opposing team's QB spent the entire first quarter throwing to your defense almost as often as he threw to his own receivers.

It's true, some of the responsibility for the game being so close goes on the defense's shoulders. But Edwards essentially handed Cleveland's offense the ball three times in the first quarter and it managed six points.

Trent's most hideous interception gave Cleveland the ball on the Bills' 12 yard line. The Browns went three and out, took a digger face-first into three points.

Throw in another fumble lost by the Bills, zero turnovers by the Browns, and only two penalties for a total of 15 yards.

That means Cleveland got four turnovers, did next-to-nothing to hurt itself, and still only won by two points. On a missed field goal that probably should have been made.

So the results on the field back up the assertion that Quinn and Edwards were not too different after that sparkling first 15 minutes.

Now for the eyeball test.

Brady Quinn was clearly better than Trent Edwards. He threw a tighter spiral, more accurate deep ball, and navigated the pocket with more confident finesse. He didn't turn the ball over and efficiently marshaled his side. But what is that really saying? It is, after all, Trent Edwards and not one of his better games.

And it's not as if Quinn blew him off the field.

I saw Brady frequently miss his receivers. I saw him make some really bad decisions where luck saved him from interceptions. What I didn't see were any throws that made me sit up and take notice of their whoa-ness.

There was that one nice touch pass to Jerome Harrison. Again, though, there was a pretty large window over a linebacker. It's not exactly expecting the world of an average pro QB to be able to make that throw. Still, it was nice.

And Quinn obviously has a good feel for the pocket. He deftly side-stepped the rush several times and got off a couple more of those jump-throws with huge slabs of meat bearing down on him.

So, again, I'm not trying to dog Brady Quinn. He was clearly better than Trent Edwards and he very well could be an upgrade over Derek Anderson.

But what I don't see are the throws that I see from Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers. In other words, I see the reason for all the hullabaloo when I watch those other young guns play.

I'm not saying they're all destined for greatness.

What I am saying is, when you watch them operate for four quarters, they mix in several throws that are unusual for their excellence. Either deep balls that hit a receiver perfectly in stride or shorter throws that anticipate small windows before they appear. Lasers that still only sneak through because of speed, brotha.

And, if you pull a palace coup on a Pro Bowl quarterback who is fresh off a lucrative new contract, that's what I would expect to see. But I don't.

I see a talented, young athlete whose best plays are more reminiscent of Jeff Garcia than Brett Favre.

Granted, it's only been two games and Brady Quinn is 1-1 as a starter. But this isn't about how good Quinn could become. It's about why there was such a push to insert him now.

The push came from the fans, but that's only natural when everyone with a column or mic is hyping Quinn like he's the Savior in cleats and shoulder pads. If I were a Browns fan, I'd probably want him in there too.

Still, Derek Anderson led the Browns to an annihilation of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Heretofore, the only blemish on the defending champ's record.

Quinn "led" them to a nail-biter over the very mediocre Buffalo Bills.

Their stats are virtually identical except that Anderson has more interceptions and losses. He also has four times the number of starts.

So I return to the initial question.

If Quinn doesn't look especially great and his stats aren't especially great. If he isn't night and day compared to the guy he replaced. If said guy went to the Pro Bowl last year and sports a hefty price tag. If the results on the field aren't an immediate and obvious improvement. If the success of the team rises and falls with a porous defense.

Why was the quarterback change made?

Maybe there has been progress with Quinn behind center rather than Anderson. I won't pretend to have seen any Cleveland games except the last two in which Brady started. Even so, it's inconsequential as long as the defense remains putrid.

So why the urgency?

Surely it can't be Brady Quinn's alma mater any more than it could be his looks.

The very notion is laughable.

Unfortunately, a laughable explanation can still be the best if it's the only one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The San Francisco Giants Sign Jeremy Affeldt and the City Is Speechless

San Francisco fans can rejoice. The hometown Giants have solved all their woes by bringing in...drum roll please...Jeremy Affeldt!

***crickets chirping***

In all seriousness, I like the move because it was cheap. Getting a left-handed reliever for two years at an average of $4 million per year isn't too shabby. If Affeldt works out, great. If he doesn't $4 mil ain't gonna break the bank.

Additionally, my biggest truck with relievers is that they are so inconsistent.

Yet Affeldt has largely bucked that bugaboo for the last two years in the National League. He's turned in an earned run average around 3.50 and sported a stellar walk to strikeout ratio. In my opinion, the most important statistic for a middle reliever is K:BB so there is reason to be optimistic since that's been one of Jeremy's strongest stats his whole career.

Most importantly though, the move would indicate that the Orange and Black will not be going through a major overhaul nor will management be throwing insane and foolish money after the likes of Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn. The former was never likely, but the latter was a distinct possibility.

Both would have been mistakes.

Instead, it looks like Brian Sabean will be taking the approach for which most Giants' fans were rooting i.e. make a couple tweaks to the bullpen and corner positions, then roll the dice behind a strong youth movement.

That's good news.

As for shoring up the bullpen, I got curious as to how big of an issue it really was. I went back and looked at all the box scores for SF this past year. If the bullpen took over a lead or a game where the boys were trailing by less than four runs, I deemed its performance relevant to the topic. If the 'pen blew the lead or let the deficit balloon beyond that which was entrusted to it, I counted it as a failure. I did so even if the Gents ultimately retook the lead.

Lastly, I excluded Brian Wilson's performance. That is to say, if he blew it or was a problem, I did not count it as a bullpen failure since management is focusing on upgrading the middle relief.

Obviously, this isn't a perfect stat. It doesn't capture games in which the relievers let a big lead get trimmed, but never slip away. It doesn't capture losses where they entered trailing by four or more and let the lead get bigger. It doesn't capture games in which the middle relievers turned a romp into a save situation that Wilson ultimately blew.

And there are probably other scenarios I'm forgetting.

However, it does give a pretty good though rough idea of how many times the bullpen failed to do its primary job: enter winnable ballgames and hold the line by either protecting the lead or keeping the deficit from growing.

Like I said, it's not perfect in that regard. But it's as close as I'm gonna get until I get paid for this.

In San Francisco's 90 losses in 2008, the Giants bullpen failed its primary responsibility 50 times. The bullpen entered the game with a lead or less than a four run deficit FIFTY TIMES and either surrendered it or let the game get out of hand.

In San Francisco's 72 wins, the bullpen surrendered the lead three times only to have the Giants recover in time to win the game.

So, in 2008, the San Francisco Giants bullpen was a relevant vulnerability in 53 of 158 games (the starters threw four complete games). Ugh. That's a pretty gnarly problem.

In those 53 implosions, Jack Taschner and/or Alex Hinshaw figured in the demise a total of 17 times (including two of the three games that the 'pen blew, but SF ultimately won). That means the resident lefties had a hand in almost a third of the failures. Double ugh.

When viewed through that lens, the possible significance of another fine season from Affeldt could be actually quite profound. Such a presence would presumably improve the Giants' ability to compete in its division.

But a good season from Affeldt would have value even if the Giants fail to stay above water. Regardless of the team's overall success, a more reliable 'pen would help the youngsters develop. The extra confidence in the firemen would allow the young guns to relax and explore the margins of pitching more thoroughly. Neither the pitcher nor the young position players would have to face the psyche-crushing frustration of a blown lead, a missed opportunity for that elusive W.

No, Jeremy Affeldt isn't going to turn any team into a championship favorite overnight with the stroke of his left arm.

But that criticism is irrelevant if such is not your goal. And the World Series isn't San Fransisco's goal. The Giants' sights are considerably more conservatively set on getting better.

And Jeremy Affeldt should help them do just that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Only in the NFL Can the Lions Be Thrown To the Lions

About a week or so ago, I ran across a headline about how Roy Williams (the wide receiver one) thought the Detroit Lions wouldn't win a game all year. Eagerly, I clicked on the story because I love finding legitimate reasons to shred anything related to the Dallas Cowboys.

Sue me.

I'm a San Francisco 49ers fan and the 'pokes ended the Niners' season routinely in the 1990s. My intense dislike is part of the price Dallas and their fans paid for the Super Bowls. I'm pretty sure they're happy with the exchange.

Back to Williams.

One problem with my sinister plan was that his whole quote really didn't sound bitter or malicious. In fact, he said he hoped Detroit wins a game and his reasoning made perfect sense, considering the state of the current National Football League wide receiver. I sincerely believe Roy may be such an egomaniac that he really doesn't want any team he was a part of to finish winless because of how it reflects on him.

Even though he played less than half a season for them.

However, the larger problem was that Roy Williams is definitely right.

The Lions enter their bye week 0-10 and the rest of the schedule is daunting to say the least. Still on the docket are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the undefeated Tennessee Titans, the Minnesota Vikings, the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints, and the Green Bay Packers. Those teams all sit at .500 or better and are legitimately in the playoff picture.

Not only that, but the above is the order in which Detroit plays the teams.

That means the Lions don't get an advantage out of the bye against Tampa Bay because the Bucs will be coming off one as well. It means they don't get the luxury of playing the Titans after Tennessee has clinched anything. It means they end the year with the Saints and Packers. Both teams are better than the Lions and will either be playing for the playoffs on the line or with angry pride after having been eliminated despite playoff expectations.

Those aren't winnable games. If Detroit managed any win, let alone its first one, against such odds, it would be a colossal upset.

As I see it, Detroit's best shot at a win is against the Vikings, who are 5-5 and part of the three-way-tie for first place in the Lions' division. Minnesota is obviously better and will likely still be alive in the playoff race. So the already diminished likelihood of overlooking a division opponent will be further reduced. However, considering the other teams on the docket, Minnesota is the weakest foe left and that game is in Detroit.

Even so, it would be a pretty surprising upset so the prospect of an 0-for-2008 in Detroit is pretty freakin' likely. But that probable humiliation shouldn't be totally on the Lions.

No, I'm not talking Barry Sanders' early retirement. Get over it.

I'm talking scheduling.

To be completely fair, you can't really blame the NFL. It's just a matter of the perfect storm: a really bad football team and a really unlucky schedule.

Check it out.

The Lions play the National Football Conference South, the American Football Conference South, two games each against the NFC North (their own division). That right there is 14 games set in stone, which means - even if the NFL were in the habit of massaging the schedule after it's released - there would only be two games of wiggle room.

And those two game were against my Niners - who are objectively hideous - and the Washington Redskins - a team that has overachieved to this point by most people's expectations.

You really can't get any easier than SF and Washington isn't exactly the New England Patriots. I guess you could have picked the Oakland Raiders instead of the 'skins. But that's only one game.

Furthermore, I imagine the other divisions against which each division must play rotate on an annual basis. Even if that's not the case, nobody saw the NFC South coming.

The Atlanta Falcons have to be considered one of the biggest surprises of the year, probably the biggest. The Carolina Panthers are quietly building a case for a trip to the Super Bowl. The Bucs were good last year, but I'm not sure anyone expected them to be sitting at 7-3. The Saints, who many expected to be the class of the division, actually got off to a slow start and sit in last place. But they are still awesome compared to the Lions at 5-5.

Sure, the AFC South is brutal when you're the Detroit Lions, but that goes hand-in-hand with the NFC South. Bottom line - you can't accuse the League of setting Detroit up for failure.

Especially when the Lions have lost to the easiest teams on the schedule.

They got stomped out by SF, the worst team they will play all year. Add to that losses against Washington, the Houston Texans, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Chicago Bears twice. Even if there were a legitimate gripe about the intent behind the scheduling, you don't generate much sympathy with that kind of resume.

Of course, the Detroit Lions already have my sympathy. I really do believe it's not a matter of historic futility, just a really bad team with a really tough schedule. That's stinks.

They just don't have my support. I'm rooting for history.

I'd feel bad about it if I had much of a conscience, but I'm rooting for a donut in the win column.

Like I said, I'm a Niner fan. It's sad, but I have to root for anything that will hide that smell.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

San Francisco Giants: Please No Boras For Us

In an unrelated article, I mentioned that there are three approaches the San Francisco Giants could take this offseason (you'll notice it sounds like I wasn't interested in writing the forthcoming piece; what can I say, I can't resist the Giants' siren song).

1. Use the extra cash to overhaul the team and acquire anything other than pitching and catching.

I really hope they don't take this option and I see no reason nor indication they will. It doesn't make sense, they don't have enough cash and/or the willing to spend it to do this successfully, and there aren't really the players for it on the open market. Everyone's either too old or too over-priced. And the young players are too good and too inexperienced to discard.

The Giants' management, though it has its faults, is not stupid. This isn't really an option.

2. Use the extra cash and make modest value-adds to upgrade either first base, third base, second base, and/or the bullpen.

This is the best option as far as I see it except SF has to be careful. The best options are likely to be the players who represent the highest risk of overpaying. The viable options as I see it are Orlando Hudson, Richie Sexon, Jason Giambi, Sean Casey, Doug Mientkiewicz, Joe Crede, and/or Juan Uribe.

All of these guys have high upside, but may be destined to never realize it or already too far on the decline. They also have one or two very good seasons in the past so they might try to command a bloated price.

If that happens, the Giants should walk because none of the above makes sense if you have can't get a steep discount because of age, injury, recent failure, etc.

My favorites are Casey or Mientkiewicz. They fill a need (although I do like Travis Ishikawa) figure to be the cheapest, don't strike out a ton, and play excellent defense so they will at least bring that to the table if their offense continues to slide.

Crede's interesting depending on the price, which could be ridiculous because he's still comparably young.

As for the bullpen, middle relievers are so unpredictable that the reliable ones are way too expensive for my tastes (much like closers). I'd prefer the Gents to wait until next year to see if some of the young guys (Alex Hinshaw, Jack Taschner, Billy Sadler, Merkin Valdez, etc.) can mature into the role.

Or wait until some guy starts next year off well and then grab him if the boys stay in contention for the first several months.

Of course, I just read that management is going to make on opening bid for Juan Cruz. Oh well.

3. Throw caution to the wind and sign Mark Teixeira away from the Los Angeles Angels.

At first, I thought this sounded like a close second option, maybe even a 1B.

The guy is a splendid hitter, a sparkling defender, reasonably young at 29 (soon after Opening Day 2009), and a good clubhouse guy from what I can tell. That right there is a pretty good candidate to build around for years to come and he plays a position where the Giants are unsettled.

Sure, it would take a ton of money to get him away from the free-spending Halos and their damned Antichrist (Rally Monkey). But San Francisco plays in a big enough market to do that, considering management did it for years with Barry Bonds.

Even with the raises due some players, the Gents have trimmed considerable payroll from their measly expenditure (by Major League Baseball standards) of $77 million last year. They could probably add close to $20 mil and still come in south of the $100 million mark.

Considering 11 teams spent over that mark last year, I don't think that's an outrageous suggestion.

Of course, I totally forgot about Scott Boras.

First, his greedy shadow means the contract will probably be an albatross of which I would want no part.

Second and most importantly, why invite that cancer even deeper into the foundation of your franchise (he's already Barry Zito's agent)?

Here is a parasitic piece of garbage who not only flatly rejected a two-year, $45 million contract for Manny Ramirez, but had the nerve to disparage it. That would be $22.5 million per year for a 36-year-old outfielder who is a disaster in leftfield, dogged his way off a perennial contender that let him act the daily fool, and is just a general ticking time-bomb.

I know Manny tore up the league after the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired him, but a one-dimensional player isn't worth $22.5 million per year unless his name is Barry Lamar Bonds.

And Boras disparaged the offer. Said he intended to field more serious offers.

This is the kind of repugnant attitude that is destroying professional sports: drive those salaries as high as possible with the right sales pitch and leverage because the public can always be suckered into paying for them.

It will eventually destroy the games because fans have already been pushed to our breaking point. If the agents and owners push us harder, the effect won't just be a decline in ticket sales. It will be an abandonment of fanhood, and that kind of bitterness will be difficult to reverse.

And I didn't even get into the Alex Rodriquez fiasco during 2007's World Series, the Andruw Jones contract, Zito's contract, or that nonsense he pulled with Pedro Alvarez after the 2008 draft.

Scott Boras is a repellent abomination driven by greed and conceit.

I sincerely hope none of those "serious" offers he expects to field this offseason are from the Orange and Black.

For Mark Teixeira or any of Boras' stable.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ode to the Lovely Ladies of Bleacher Report

As a newly anointed community co-leader for the San Francisco Giants and with the start of the free agency season upon us, the idea of writing a wish-list for the club has been floated. It's a good idea, but - for SF - it's a short article.

Either you believe the Giants should use their cash for a major overhaul, in which case they need everything except pitching and catching. Or you believe (as I do) they should be patient with their young guys, in which case they could upgrade third and/or first to be more competitive.

Of course, Mark Teixeira is youngish, fills a need at first base, has good leather and ash (or maple), and seems like a good clubhouse guy. Depending on his price tag, that might be an interesting idea.

But a better one occurred to me.

There's been some talk on B/R surrounding certain female writers. I'm not going to mention names because you probably know who I'm talking about and, if you don't, well now you have to go digging through articles to find out.

Look at that, my promotion's already paying off in extra traffic.

Anyway, the controversy is that these ladies, who are easy on the eyes, allegedly get extra attention and praise for their articles from misguided male readers. Readers who think that somehow the online flattery will translate into a real-world relationship. The bottom-line being that these ladies' writings receive accolades as proxies for their looks.

And if you read some of the comments compared to the writing, you have to admit the idea has some merit. There is certainly a cadre of men lavishing good yet flawed articles with such adjectives as "masterpiece," "perfect," and other transparent superlatives.

That said, I won't pretend to know these gentlemen's motives except that, as a man myself, I can't say the accusation is unreasonable.

Nor is the idea.

I mean, who says it won't work? Tell me you don't know a couple with a crazier hook-up story than that. And if it doesn't, what have they lost except a little respect from a bunch of strangers.

It's not something I would advise or try myself. As has been pointed out, you could find yourself meeting up with some dude at a coffee house after months of online courtship. Additionally, these girls are scattered across the world so it's just an irrational proposition. Most importantly, some of them are young; too young considering I just turned 30.

Picking women up online is already a little creepy and sniffs of desperation. Doing it as a 30-year-old targeting girls who could still be in college makes it more than a little perverse.

But I digress.

Much of the consternation stems from several of these ladies routinely winning the coveted Pick of the Day slot on the front page or placing highly on the writer rankings. The Opposition feels there are better pieces on those days and better writers on this site. Writers who are being ignored in favor of sexual allure rather than superior craft.

I can't say I blame the Opposition. This is a sports journalism site and it's only fair that the best writers get rewarded.

But there are several problems with the criticism:

1. There are no explicit parameters for Pick of the Day or the writer rankings.

To my knowledge, both systems reward writers who are popular with readers. And writers can be popular with readers for many reasons. Who's to say which are the "right" ones? Sure, it would be nice if popularity were driven by writing excellence alone since that is the goal. But I don't think you can ever say someone's preconditions are wrong for something as ephemeral as popularity.

2. Even if there are explicit criteria, impotence of order is the natural and predictable state of the Web.

Few consequences mean few rules. It is beautiful anarchy; the Wild West of our generation (how pathetic is that?). Anything goes because it's too hard to control the freedom that comes with anonymity.

Some people might vote based on looks, others might just throw a pick at everything they read, and others might be impossibly stingy. For instance, I've probably given out four or five picks during the entire two months I've been on here. People might say that's as ridiculous as voting based on looks.

You might not like it, but such anarchy is the necessary prerequisite for and limitation on the Internet's brilliance.

3. Physical attraction is just another advantage, an asset to be utilized like any other.

Men have the distinct advantage of playing incarnations of these sports that are closer to the professional levels. Women can play a sport that shares the name, but their version is not the same.

I don't mean to disparage women athletes here. My little sister played soccer for Berkeley so I've seen more women's soccer than men's and I almost prefer watching it. Almost. Furthermore, lots of elite female athletes could wipe their chosen playing surfaces with whatever part of me they chose.

However, the fact is that male athletes just move faster, jump higher, have better quicks, and bring more strength to bear than their female counterparts i.e. a high school male compared to a female or two college athletes or two professional athletes and so on.

Women tend to play a purer version of the sport, but it doesn't possess the same physical dynamic.

However, the great equalizer (as always) is the fact that men are controlled to a terrifying degree by our genitals.

You might say that physical attraction is not the same as the male advantage i.e. it doesn't give you a better insight into sports. I beg to differ - men just aren't that bright, especially when it comes to being manipulated by the prospect of sex.

Our advantage may give us more insight into how the game is played via experience, but women may be able to leverage their physical attraction to extract better insight from the actual pros (through beauty, flirtation, or whatever - I'm not suggesting by actually engaging in a sexual tit-for-tat). If it's reasonable to accuse men on B/R of gushing out of misguided hope for a date, the same can absolutely be said about professional athletes.

Infinitely more so because the pay-off is far more realistic plus pro athletes are notorious for a slavish and improbable devotion to their libidos.

You're telling me post-pubescent males are going to be as eager to disclose sensitive information to some Ken Rosenthal wannabe as they are to Erin Andrews?

4. Most importantly, these ladies are very good at what they do.

C'mon. If these articles were bad or even average, the website would go apesh*t. It would be painfully obvious that something was rotten in Denmark and people would FREAK OUT.

That simply isn't the case here.

Maybe you or I don't feel that the writing in question was the best that day or doesn't deserve to be as highly ranked, but to say such a thing is no great condemnation. Especially when there are as many competitors for the honor as there are on B/R.

The fact is the writing must be very good just to get in the discussion, just to create the controversy.

So what if these ladies' looks put them over the top? First, it's unprovable even if the circumstances indicate it. Second, such a phenomenon would be consistent with the spirit of sport.

Ultimately, sports aren't really about loving the best. They're about loving your favorite and our favorites are not always the best.

Our favorites are usually very good, but what puts them over the top is something that we find personally attractive.

I adore guys like Will Clark, Matt Williams, Omar Vizquel, Royce Clayton, Andy Van Slyke, Willie McGee, Robby Thompson, etc. because they were good to great players with little ego and an old-school approach.

Barry Lamar Bonds is the best and most valuable player I have ever seen. By a very wide margin. But I would never say I adore him because his personality and approach were distasteful.

My favorite shortstop of all-time is Ozzie Smith. Today's average power hitter launches more taters a year than the Wizard of Oz did his whole career (28). So what, I still say he's the best and I'll take him to war.

You can have your Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Junior, or Ernie Banks (OK, I might take Mr. Cub).

And that's the point.

Once the competitors surpass a certain level, we're dissecting shades of excellence. Some will choose a writer they know, others will choose a writer they find attractive, and others will choose based on the subject of the writing. And that's just fine.

Because there has to be a winner, there has to be losers, and there has to be a way to differentiate between them. When the competition is so close, the difference rarely seems fair to the losers.

That is the beauty and tragedy of the sports world.