Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Golden State Road Warriors? Only with Monte Ellis

With the National Basketball Association heading into its All-Star Game, it's about time for me to start picking up the scent of the season's developing storylines. The 2008-2009 campaign has several very interesting ones going—will the Boston Celtics repeat, will LeBron James essentially deliver the Cleveland Cavaliers to the promise land single-handedly, will Kobe Bryant finally get his ring-sans-Shaq, are the Orlando Magic for real, and many others.

I'm gonna focus on one closer to home: what might have been if the Golden State Warriors had Monte Ellis for all 82 games?

That might seem like an odd question to ask after one of Monte's less-than-stellar games. During last night's win over the New Orleans Hornets in the Big Easy, Ellis put up the following: 6-12 for 15 points, five fouls, four turnovers, three rebounds, two steals, two assists, and a block in a pear tree. That doesn't tell the whole story, though, because he also played pretty nice defense on Peja Stojakovic.

Not a bad game and we shouldn't dismiss D'ing up Peja even though he's getting older so he's lost a step that he probably didn't have to begin with. But it's not great for a Monte Ellis who's hitting on all cylinders (obviously, Monte isn't yet).

Except I'm not a stat guy.

The most significant thing I see is a 15-32 Warrior squad who just went into New Orleans and hung a loss on a 28-15 team that currently sits comfortably in the playoffs with home court in its first round. A team that would be leading the NBA's Northwest Division and features one of the brightest young stars in the game (Chris Paul). I know, Tyson Chandler was in street clothes.

So what? Golden State didn't have Marco Belinelli.

Nah, just kidding. Chandler is a good player and much more important to the Hornets' chemistry set than Belinelli is to the Warriors'. However, it's not like the guy is an unstoppable force of nature who is known for putting the squad on his shoulders and carrying it to victory.

He's still just Tyson Chandler—maybe he would've helped on Andris Biedrins, but maybe not. Maybe the presence of a big name guy would have spurred Andris on to even greater numbers (6-7, 12 points, nine rebounds). Andris might've been even more engaged. If you don't know about Biedrins, you better learn because the 22-year-old kid is going to be a monster. Kinda already is.

But back to Monte.

I saw his mere presence (even showing considerable rust) open the floor for the other weapons on the team. Guys like Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford, Corey Maggette, C.J. Watson, and Biedrins had plenty of room to operate/shoot because of Monte's ability to slice and dice a single defender. That said, I saw the miss a lot.

I saw the Warriors defeat a very good team at home by shooting poorly, playing solid defense, and hitting big shots down the stretch. Hmmmm.

And don't forget, the victory in New Orleans was just Monte's fourth game back and second on the road.

In Ellis' season debut, the Warriors were a LeBron buzzer-beater away from taking down one of the NBA's best teams in Oakland. In his second game, the Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Oak-town. In his third (and first road game of the year), Golden State got trounced by the Dallas Mavericks (a playoff team at the moment).

In those four games, Golden State has shown more life than in any of the previous games I've seen this year (admittedly, not a lot to date). They've given arguably one of the three best teams in the entire league a run for its money, taken care of business against a bottom-feeder, suffered humiliation at the hands of good-but-not-great Mavs five, and taken down one of the best teams in the Western Conference in its own building.

That ain't too shabby especially when you consider where the Warriors have been. And where they've been is listlessly lingering around the depths of the NBA's nether regions.

It all makes me wonder what could've been had Monte not suffered a stupid, selfish, yet serious injury in the offseason. Where would the Golden State Warriors be right now had they started from the jump with Monte alongside Jacks, Biedrins, and Maggette before adding Crawford via trade?

Because the Warriors' season has a fork in it that only a miracle would remove.

Golden State sits in 11th place, which doesn't sound too bad considering the top eight make it. Of course, the Warriors trail the eighth place Phoenix Suns by 11.5 games with less than 40 to play. They also sit 11 games behind the ninth place Utah Jazz and must hop the 10th place Minnesota Timberwolves to boot.

That's not impossible nor is it even remotely probable.

It would take a celestial finish by Golden State and—not one—but two awful finishes by teams who haven't exactly shown terrible weakness to date. In fact, you could argue both are only as low as they are by virtue of injuries and acclimation to new moving parts.

That makes the prospect of Phoenix and Utah going limp in the second half considerably more unlikely—the worst-case scenario might just be both teams treading water.

Too bad because these Golden State Warriors are really fun to watch. And they're dangerous, too. Watching them in the postseason would be a treat.

Unfortunately, it looks like the return to form will be too little, too late.

Let's just hope our guys have learned from Monte Ellis unfortunate example. Let's hope they can resist that intoxicatingly-sexy siren song of the moped.

The 2010 NBA Playoffs may just ride on it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Performance-Enhancers: Every Sport's Dirty Little Secret EXCEPT Baseball

There are certain things you have to be honest about if you consider yourself objective. One of those is the subject of your own failings. Conveniently, since I don't claim to be perfectly objective, I don't have to be perfectly honest about my flaws.

Ah, life is full of those happy little coincidences, isn't it?

That said, I will perfectly admit to occasionally getting stuck on a subject. I thought this might be one of those times because I set out to write a third article about the Last Emperor (one and two). This time, I was gonna address the notion that Fedor dominated a watered-down Pride FC Heavyweight Division while there were bigger fish to fry in the UFC.

A couple of funny things happened though while I was researching.

First, I discovered the idea wasn't even worth an article. Emelianenko Fedor (why was the Japanese announcement of his name so much scarier?) made his Pride debut on June 23, 2002. Starting with UFC 37.5—the day before Fedor's debut—and ending with UFC 67—the card where the Pride guys started entering the UFC in force—here are the colossi on the premier UFC cards fighting between 205 and 265 pounds:

Tank Abbot, Gilbert Aldana, Sean Alvarez, Andrei Arlovski, Mike van Arsdale, Paul Buentello, Dan Christison, Wesley Correira, Randy Couture, Marcio Cruz, Alexandre Dantas, Justin Eilers, Ian Freeman, Sean Gannon (whose primary qualification was beating Kimbo Slice), Gabriel Gonzaga, Antoni Hardonk, Brandon Lee Hinkle, James Irvin, Kevin Jordan, Cheick Kongo, Keigo Kunihara, Mike Kyle, Icho Larenas, Kimo Leopoldo, Gan McGee, Carmelo Marrero, John Marsh, Vladimir Matyushenko, Frank Mir, Jeff Monson, Tom Murphy, Mario Neto, Jake O'Brien, Sherman Pendergarst, Anthony Perosh, Pedro Rizzo, Ricco Rodriguez, Eddie Sanchez, Fabiano Scherner, Josh Schockman, Ken Shamrock (remember, this is post-2002), Wade Shipp, Assuerio Silva, Wes Sims, Tim Sylvia, Tra Telligan, Brandon Vera, Christian Wellisch, Vernon White, Jonathan Wiezorek, and Travis Wiuff.

It's a long paragraph that's incredibly short on elite talent. Outside of Couture and Mir, you could argue there's zero elite MMA talent there.

There's just no need to run through the guys Fedor Emelianenko was facing while these punching bags and/or one-dimensional fighters were 'battling" it out in the UFC. Once Pride really crumbled?

Hey, you'll get no argument from me that the Last Emperor has been fighting peasants.

The second thing that I noticed was an annoying little phrase kept popping up: after the bout, fighter X tested positive for anabolic steroids. So I did a quick search for mixed martial artists who had tested positive for some sort of performance-enhancer. This list is shorter, but far more significant:

Tim "The Maine-iac (on steroids)" Sylvia—6'8", 263 lbs.
Antonio "Big Foot (on steroids)" Silva—6'4", 300 lbs.
Stephan "The American Psycho (on steroids)" Bonnar—6'4", 205 lbs.
Josh "The Baby-Faced Assassin (on steroids)" Barnett—6'3", 250 lbs.
Kimo Leopoldo (on steroids...and a cross ironically)—6'3", 235 lbs.
Royce Gracie (on steroids)—6'1", 176 lbs.
Vitor "The Phenom (on steroids)" Belfort—6'0", 205 lbs.
Chris "The Crippler (on steroids)" Leben—5'11", 185 lbs.
Kevin "The Monster (on steroids)" Randleman—5'10", 205 lbs.
Phil "The New York Bad-Ass (on steroids)" Baroni—5'9", 170 lbs.
Sean "The Muscle Shark (on steroids)" Sherk—a Napoleonic 5'6", 155 lbs.

I listed the height and weight just to show that the guys caught with their hands in the juice jar can be found across the weight classes.

In fairness, some of these guys deny they were knowingly using and some have legit excuses (particularly Randleman). Unfortunately, this is an era in professional athletics when even the "clean" performers are highly suspect by association.

Many feel the superstars are guilty by association. So the ones who actually piss hot? Done and done.

And I gotta believe there're more coming and others who'll never be caught.

For example, who believes that Brock Lesnar never hit the sauce? The guy spent several years in professional wrestling where guys are dropping left and right from their years of steroid abuse. It kinda defies logic (and the naked eye) to argue that Lesnar didn't use for at least a little while.

Yet, how much and how often do you hear about steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance-enhancers outside of baseball?

There's the occasional story about Lance Armstrong and a momentary blip when some National Football League contributor gets busted. Maybe a story here or there when somebody dies from 'roid rage or other abuse-related complications.

But in baseball, it's all steroids and all the time: preseason, regular season, postseason, offseason.

Barry Lamar Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire (and now his brother whose name I thankfully can't remember), Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Grimsley, George Mitchell, Jose Canseco, ad nauseam.

Well, here's my last list and it's incomplete:

American football
Canadian football
Australian-rules football
Field hockey
Ice Hockey
Ten-pin bowling
Volleyball (although she was East German)
Track and field
Race-walking (I'm not kidding)
Water polo
Gymnastics (including rhythmic)
Shooting (and, it's sisters sport, rapping)

That's a list of athletic-related activities that've had participants test positive for performance-enhancers ONLY i.e. individuals pinched for marijuana, cocaine, and other recreational drugs are absent (unless a couple who tested positive for narcotic metabolites got through).

I'll close with two observations.

1. My title is a little misleading. OK, it's flat out wrong because the National Basketball Association is nowhere to be found on that list. Run one of athletes who tested positive for marijuana and the NBA would be all over the place. I guess weed ain't a gateway to steroids.

2. I've always assumed it's the steroid abuse that is dangerous, not the abuse in combination with a particular activity. So what makes baseball so special?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fedor Emelianenko: The Last Emperor, Possibly the Last of His Kind

As long as I can remember, I've never been that enamored of statistics as they relate to sports. My guess is that I fell in love with athletics before I was old (and/or smart) enough to really correlate the numbers in the paper to what I saw watching the professionals and experienced playing with my friends. Once I made the correlation, I quickly realized that most of the athletes who put up big numbers in the fancy categories are overrated.

The full explanation is a story for a different day, but that's enough of an introduction to explain my love of mixed martial arts.

Technically, there are stats in MMA. Stuff like wins, losses, height, weight, reach, strikes thrown, strikes landed, knock-outs, submissions, etc. are all very much statistics that either measure success and/or factor into an attempt to predict it. The difference, however, is that they rarely drive the debate about a fighter.

It's all about who you fought and if you won. Doesn't matter how you won—with some notable exceptions—because all the other stuff is out the window. It's a fight, pure and simple.

Yes, it's on television. Yes, lots of money is often at stake. And yes, the winners get a shot at celebrity. I doubt that matters when you're staring the prospect of an ass-beating in the face. In front of millions of people.

At that point, I very much doubt any fighter is worried about looking pretty, posturing, style-points, padding his punch stats, or any of the other frailties of ego that plague my favorite sports.

That's not to say the data is irrelevant or that nobody pays attention to it—if you haven't guess by now, I'm not exactly an expert on MMA. The fact that my sphere of exposure doesn't heavily rely upon MMA statistics should be taken with a rather large rock of salt.

My point is just that the eye-test is much more sacred in the fight world.

Which is why I'm a little stunned at some of the reaction to a recent piece I wrote following Fedor's stone-cold dismissal of Andrei Arlovski. It's why I'm even more perplexed by the plethora of articles surfacing that dare to call out the Last Emperor.

Several have been authored by some of Bleacher Report's most enthusiastic and respected (at least by me) fight fans.

Again, I'll emphasize that I am a novice in the sense that I've never trained for a martial art. Forget about a mix of them.

That said, I have been watching the UFC since its earliest days. Back when there were almost no rules, no gloves, and pretty much anything went. When the identities of the fighters were irrelevant because each guy was an elite fighter, but only in one thing. The focus was on skill versus skill until Royce Gracie changed all that (by beating Dan Severn at UFC 4, in my opinion).

My college buddies and I started watching circa 1997. In addition, we rented all the older cards on VHS to get caught up and see the days of no weight classes.

Incidentally, I was hooked forever by UFC 1 when a kickboxer annihilated some sumo blimp. Sumo came barreling forward and took a digger, but couldn't get up. Kickboxer measured a soccer kick to Sumo's grill and delivered it without remorse.

I'm almost positive I saw teeth go into the crowd.

Back to Fedor—I've been watching since before he arrived. I saw his legend rise in Pride. So I'm utterly at a loss when it comes to understanding how any knowledgeable fan of MMA could doubt this monster. And (like I said) some do.

One problem people seem to have with the elder Emelianenko is that he hasn't proven himself worthy of the hype.

To some extent, I understand this gripe because Fedor hasn't been fighting in the UFC since it became the premium fight organization. On the other hand, he hasn't lost to anyone outside it and has been dispatching its former (and seriously flawed) heavyweight champions with relative ease. Furthermore, most of his fights are available on YouTube so you can see for yourself what the fuss is all about. You can get a glimpse of why—those of us who have Fedor love—have it so bad.

Plus, you can check his body of carnage on Sherdog.

Please show me an elite heavyweight mixed martial artist whom Fedor has not faced and defeated since he exploded onto the scene in 2000.

To me, there are three you can legitimately put in that group: Brock Lesnar, who just arrived and is locked out due to his contract with the UFC; Frank Mir, who is basically in the same boat with Lesnar due to his horrific injury and participation in the UFC since he arrived in 2001; and Randy Couture, who has spent almost his entire career in the UFC.

I can't see a reasonable argument for holding those three absences against Emelianenko.

You might wonder where Josh Barnett is. First, he's had numerous chances to fight Fedor and some people seem to think he's dodging the Last Emperor (we'll see because he's got no excuse not to fight him now). More importantly, he's lost to several guys Fedor defeated rather handily. Sorry, I'm skeptical.

But forget about the guys Fedor Emelianenko hasn't fought. Look at who he has fought.

Opinions will differ, but I say his most impressive bullet point is the trio of fights against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira without a loss (one was a No Contest).

Make no mistake about it—Minotauro in his prime was a terrifying force in his own right with which to reckon. This was a brute who had never been finished in his career (including by a truck when he was a 10-year old in Brazil, which I assume means he got excellent medical care). Mir changed that by putting him to sleep, but that was a different Minotauro.

Indeed, many astute observers feel the Mir fight might have officially announced that Big Nog's finally succumbed to the cumulative punishment dished out by a long pro career. One that's seen almost 40 fights against the sport's heaviest hitters.

If that's indeed the case, Nogueira's tandem demolitions at the hands of the Last Emperor deserve a lot of the blame. I just checked; these fights are on YouTube. Hit 'em up and you'll see that neither was an arguable unanimous decision—one came when Minotauro was the reigning Pride Heavyweight Champion with the belt on the line. Both came when Big Nog was in his prime.

If you not a Minotauro fan, how about Fedor's unanimous decision pulverization of Mirko Filipovic? That one's also on YouTube so you can see for yourself that it wasn't close.

Not impressed by Cro Cop?

How about Fedor's submission of Mark Hunt? Ditto Mark Coleman (actually ditto, ditto since Fedor tapped Coleman out twice). Or you can see him survive a suplex from Kevin Randleman that would've probably broken most individuals in half, only to submit the Monster moments later.

Again, they're all on YouTube—you don't have to take my word for it.

As are his brutalizations of Heath Herring, Gary Goodridge, Tim Sylvia (watch that one), Matt Lindland, Hong Man Choi, Zulu, and Kazuyuki Fujita.

Those YouTube clips should also dispel the notion that the Last Emperor's power is a vulnerability. It's true that his ground game is his greatest strength, but he's got plenty of striking prowess and dynamite in those hands.

In fact, he often finishes his opponents on the ground because they quail at the thought of continuing to stand with him (ask the Maine-iac).

Yet, the icing on Fedor Emelianenko is the man himself.

This is an individual who is becoming the personification of his sport.

The Last Emperor is becoming to MMA what Tiger Woods is to golf (absent the considerable racial component). He is dominating the opposition like Michael Jordan and Barry Bonds. He is showing an ability to save his best for when he really needs it, like Joe Montana. He is amassing highlights like Barry Sanders.

He is redefining MMA like Bo Jackson redefined athleticism the minute he left his mother's womb.

Yet the Last Emperor is quiet. He's unassuming. He's humbly confident without ever seeming arrogant or aloof. He's probably not doing any sort of performance enhancer unless he's found one that leaves you looking a little soft around the edges. He has the utmost respect for his opponent as I have yet to see him show one up.

Emelianenko almost seems apologetic when he decimates someone.

When he's not in a fight ring, Fedor is the most average looking superhero I've ever seen. He's the most normally-behaved other-worldly talent I've come across.

No, I cannot conceive of one, single reason to doubt or dislike him.

In a landscape dominated by team sports that feature increasingly-egocentric antagonists, Fedor Emelianenko is dominating an individual sport with an old-school attitude. That should be reason enough to love him.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's the most dangerous man on planet at the moment without a weapon in his hand. Doubt him if you will, but I'd do it quietly.

The Last Emperor might hear you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

San Francisco Giants' Offseason Continues to Thrill: Will Clark Is Back

Man, the San Francisco Giants' offseason just keeps getting rosier and rosier. This time, it's not a player acquisition that has me amped. In fact, the most recent player acquisitions have been by rival National League West squads and they aren't exactly insignificant.

Of course, they aren't particularly earth-shattering either.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have apparently signed Jon Garland and that doesn't bother me too much. Garland's a good pitcher and he joins an already-loaded staff of Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis, and Yusmeiro Petit/Max Scherzer (I'd wager on Scherzer). However, he features a sinker ball and that means he's like a poor man's Webb—whose arsenal includes arguably the best sinker in Major League Baseball.

That could be a significant problem when Garland tosses in the same series as Webb. Jon'll either be a nice little warm-up for the real thing if he throws before the ace. Or he'll be a sight for sore eyes (or lumber) after Brandon's put the opposing eight through the grinder.

Even if Garland throws to expectations (or slightly above), he still doesn't turn the Snakes into a terrifying specter that looms over the NL West.

Nah, that doesn't worry me too much.

Even less irksome is the developing story down in La La Land.

The increasingly kitten-like Los Angeles Dodgers have been throwing significant parts left and right, but the latest murmurings seem to have them going after Randy Wolf. That doesn't bother me in the slightest little bit. Not that Wolf isn't a perfectly good pitcher, it's just that he scares me about as much as I'm sure Randy Johnson scares Bum fans (man, I can't wait for the dog days of summer and trips down to LA).

However, the real news out here in the NL West is—once again—the San Francisco Giants. There's a sliiiight chance my bias is showing through here.

My beloved Giants have brought back one of my most beloved players in the history of baseball. That would be William Nuschler Clark, Jr.

That's right, we can all stand up and shout "hum baby" because the Thrill is back in San Fran!

So maybe it's not quite the same thing since the Thrill won't be a player. In fact, he won't even be a hitting instructor. He'll be a special assistant and that seems to mean he'll spend the majority of his time doing community relations. But, according to the story, about one-third of his time will be spent trying to impart bits of his substantial hitting prowess to the younger guys (and any older ones who are secure/wise enough to sit at Clark's elbow).

No, Will Clark won't be going into the Hall of Fame.

Not even I, one of his most ardent supporters, would argue he has what it takes to break down the gates of Cooperstown. But check the career numbers—1976 games played, 7173 at-bats, 1186 runs scored, 2176 hits, 440 doubles, 284 homeruns, 1205 runs batted in, a .303 average, a .384 on-base percentage, and a .497 slugging percentage.

That breaks down out to an average 162-game campaign of 588 at-bats, 97 runs scored, 178 hits, 36 doubles, 23 HRs, 99 RBI, and the same averages.

To round out the resume, the Thrill tallied five top-15 finishes in Most Valuable Player voting, six All-Star appearances, and two Silver Slugger awards. Again, not a rap sheet that will get him into the Hall. But it should get Will Clark the ear of any young ballplayer with a functioning central nervous system and a desire to make it in the Show.

Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow (who played actually played with Clark in the Bigs) have always said that the Thrill was destined to be a teacher of baseball when ever the subject arose.

I am one of many who are smiling tonight at the thought of that grimace back in the Orange and Black. Hopefully, Will Clark can help make the San Francisco Giants better in 2009. That's not really the point.

Because, either way, the Thrill is back.

Larry Fitzgerald: The Arizona Treat?

I'm about to do something I never thought I would do. As a San Francisco 49er fan during the franchise's heydays of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the idea that another National Football League wide receiver could even get a peak at Jerry Rice's place on the pedestal is unthinkable. It's a suggestion that wouldn't be worth rebutting since merely acknowledging such heresy would be giving it too much validity.

But, like the song says, never say never.

Because, as is the case with all transcendent athletes, new ones come along. It's the nature of the beast.

Michael Jordan replaced somebody and somebody will replace His Airness (cough, LeBron James). I'm of the opinion Barry Lamar Bonds replaced Willie Mays—chemicals and all—and that someone will replace him. Perhaps Alex Rodriguez will if he can ever resist the instinct to wrap his own hands around his neck and squeeze whenever the calendar flips to autumn—he certainly has the talent.

And the blond highlights.

In the NFL, you've really got to separate the finest athletes at each position since they each do such unique and discrete things. At the Big Three, you've got Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice. Obviously those are my opinions and open to debate.

Still, this is my party and I'll use them if I want to.

Nobody looks particularly close to Sanders' myth and, due to the increasingly punishing style of the NFL, I'm not so sure any back ever will.

On the other hand, Tom Brady's already sniffin' Montana's belt and...give me a seems we have a challenger building momentum for a run at Jerry's, too.

Hey, football gods, kiss my rosy red derriere.

Isn't it enough that our Niners have been atrocious for almost a decade and are only now starting to show a pulse? Do you really have to start picking off our heroes?

The developing heir to Jerry's thrown is, of course, Terrell Owens.

Ha, ha, just kidding. Larry Fitzgerald, it's Larry Fitzgerald.

Leapin' Larry's on-field exploits have been heralded time and again. By me and others, especially now that we're only three days away from Super Bowl Sunday. That means a full 10 days have elapsed since the last snap in an NFL game.

More than enough time to identify, dissect, reconstruct, re-dissect, re-reconstruct, and beat to death every last iota of relevant information about the game's main protagonists. Fitzgerald is quite obviously one of these so the "identification" period didn't really exist for him.

I won't bore you with another recitation.

Suffice it to say that, numerically, Fitzgerald's still quite a bit behind the San Francisco Treat and probably always will be. Rice's regular season and cumulative postseason statistics are insane, maybe untouchable. However, I'm fond of saying that numbers don't necessarily tell the whole story or even the important part of it in sports. Especially in the NFL.

And Leapin' Larry has begun to rival Jerry's best single postseason. That right there is saying something.

More importantly for my comparison of the two, though, is everything else. I'm talking their maximization of talent, their attention to detail, their importance to their respective teams, their recognition of that importance, and their respect for it as well as the team concept.

Jerry was as integral (though probably not more so) than either Joe Cool or Steve Young. He knew it, relished it, but didn't hold the rest of the offense or franchise hostage with that fact. It was enough for Rice that it was true. Additionally, he knew that he needed the cooperation and determination of all those around him to become a legend.

If you doubt Larry Fitzgerald understands this exact same concept, you probably haven't heard this.

I'm not gonna draw a deviating parallel between Anquan Boldin and Fitzgerald's offer to "tweak" his contract to keep the apparently disgruntled Boldin in an Arizona Cardinal uniform. I'm not gonna do it (except that I may have just done it) because I've already killed him for his antics after the National Football Conference Championship game and—with even a tiny bit of distance—I think it's probably a forgivable offense.

Especially since the dude did come back from that grisly hit pretty damn quickly (notice Number 11 is the first guy to Anquan). Can't really accuse the guy of not doing what is important for the team to win based on that one incident.

But what I have no problem pointing out (possibly redundantly) is the obvious parallel between Rice and Fitzgerald.

Larry Fitzgerald has proven the ability to rise to the biggest occasions and deliver monster performances when his team has needed it most, like Rice. He isn't the most physically-gifted guy on the field, like Rice. But he has pillow-vises for hands, like Rice. And, like Rice, Fitzgerald does have at least one exceptional physical ability—to go up for the ball in a crowd and come down with it (Rice could get enough separation on just about any play with any coverage).

Perhaps the numbers will come. That's really irrelevant in my mind.

Because Larry Fitzgerald has already proven that he has the same foundation Jerry Rice had.

Now all he needs is to stay healthy in body and mind in a League bent on the destruction of both.

Good luck, Leapin' Larry. I love Jerry Rice, but I'll still be rootin' for ya.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hey PETA: Keep Your Politics Away from Our Super Bowl

"I'm a level five vegan—I don't eat anything that casts a shadow."Jesse Grass, The Simpsons

Man, you gotta love the week of media gluttony leading up to the Super Bowl. It's the press's last chance of the season to gorge itself at the National Football League banquet. I don't mean to discount the Pro Bowl because it's obviously must-watch fare, but it's tough to follow up what has become America's most-beloved single day in its favorite sport.

What makes this last week even better is that everything that could possibly be relevant to the game has already been covered in the previous week of inactivity.

That means the really ridiculous, turn-you-stomach stuff that makes you a little ashamed to be an avid sports fan comes out this week. The Xs and Os have been hashed to death. The on-field exploits of the participants have been introduced, repeated, and beaten into the ground. So all that's left is the seedy underbelly of political crossover, scandal, and pop-culture hybridization.

Oh man, someone pass the Pepto 'cause I'm feelin' queasy.

My favorite so far has been this stellar little bit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It's kind of the political equivalent to shooting yourself in the thigh while dancing the night away at a club in Manhattan. That lovable crusader for animal rights apparently had an ad pulled that promoted vegetarianism as another avenue to better sex. If NBC's (the station that will air the Super Bowl and refused to use the ad) description is to be believed, the clip showed scantily clad lingerie models vaguely simulating autoeroticism.

Look, I've lived in San Francisco for pretty much my entire adult life. I spent a year in Austin, Texas and the rest either inside the City proper or in the immediate Bay Area.

That means I've had more than my share of first-hand experiences with two things relevant to this tempest in a teapot:

1. Vegetarians, vegans, and fructarians (I'm not kidding, these people won't eat food that requires harming a plant for its production) as well as any other PETA-types.

2. Public display and discourse of sexuality.

This doesn't make me enlightened or better than those of you in the middle of the country—I'm not one of those who is thoroughly convinced reason in America has been pulled to its coasts. I'm just saying it to give some pertinent context.

Because I loathe PETA and organizations like it (not everyone who subscribes to them, just the political entities).

I hate any group that so arrogantly believes the lifestyle it condones is the only appropriate lifestyle because the truth is that NOBODY knows what the appropriate lifestyle is. Those groups just think they have the straight dope on what is what and they are really, really loud about sharing their opinions.

But trust me—all the volume in the world doesn't make opinion fact.

The reality is those people don't know any better than you or I. Not the Republicans and their blindly devout evangelicals. Not the Democrats and their rabid environmentalists. Not the NRA. Not the ACLU. And definitely not PETA.

Before those PETA-sympathisers out there deny that's what the ORGANIZATION advocates, look at its jackass spokesperson's quote on the subject of its ad being pulled:

"PETA's veggie ads are locked out, while ads for fried chicken and burgers are allowed, even though these foods make Americans fat, sick and boring in bed."

Hmmm. Does it sound like this moron leaves any room for debate on the subject? Think this dude would engage in a reasoned debate on the merits of the alternative lifestyles?

Furthermore, how is that little byte gonna help advance your cause?

I'm a reasonable person; it's almost impossible to offend me and I'd willingly enter my thick skin in any contest to find the thickest out there. So, even as a meat-eater and lover of fried chicken, this kind of nonsense doesn't bother me. But it sure doesn't make me the slightest bit sympathetic to PETA.

And if I'm extreme in my tolerance for insult, how about all those carnivores below me on the tolerance totem pole? Think they're gonna be sending in their PETA contributions any time soon? After all, according to Mr. Einstein-Public-Relations-Man, we're all sick and boring our mates when the lights go off and/or the handcuffs go on.

I get his point. I get that fast food is currently a greater danger to our country than sexual abandon. I get that other products use sexual innuendo far blunter than that (apparently) used by PETA. I get the frustration.

I don't get the arrogance and delusion about subjects as nebulous as diet and lifestyle. I don't get the incredible condescension slathered on those with differing opinions regarding topics of eternal interest.

And I really don't like the timing.

Sports and politics necessarily mix and I think that can often be a very good thing.

But this is the Super Bowl. This is the pay-off for a season of loyalty, disappointment, and redemption.

Keep your damn dirty hands off.

Hey Kids, It's Big Gay Al and the Terrible O Show

By now, Terrell Owens new reality show that apparently will air on VH1 is old news. I'm sure everyone has heard about it and formed his/her opinion already. Of course, that's not gonna stop me from weighing in. In case you haven't heard, the cameras will follow TO around with his two best gal pals as they try to find someone even less stable than Owens for the man-child to date.

Hmmm, I can just picture the lucky girl out there. She's all atwitter at the thought of finding true love with the mercurial wide receiver, just itching to get the straight jacket off.

As always seems to be the case with Terrell—where to begin, where to begin, oh, where to begin?

First, I love that this show is being billed as a way to give his fans a glimpse into his life away from football. That's a fantastic bit of salesmanship. Raise your hand if you think anyone—even his fans—need to know more about Owens' off-field antics. With the exception of the National Football League player-du-jour who finds himself in some sort of legal (or otherwise) scandal, Terrell Owens is the most over-exposed athlete in the League (not commercially, cough, Peyton Manning).

On-field and off-field. Regular season and off-season.

Second, am I the only one who thinks it's odd that TO's best friends are two females and he's broadcasting this fact? To me, that sounds like the crazy-but-hot chick everyone knows who has ZERO girlfriends because she's either too attractive or too insane for any other girl to deal with. Consequently, all her best friends are guys except they all are hanging around her in hopes of finding their way out of the friend-zone.

I always feel oddly sad when I see those girls and, yet, Terrell is advertising that he's a dude in this situation. Do you know how nuts a guy has to be before no other men want to associate with him? Whoa.

Third (and most importantly), what the &*$! are the Dallas Cowboys thinking?

Here is a team that almost every observer of the NFL agrees was one of the most talented—if not the most talented—squads in the League in 2008. Likewise, almost all observers agree that their locker room chemistry and lack of on-field focus combined to submarine the Cowpokes' campaign. There has been hew and cry about all the soap opera bullsh*t that follows the franchise like that stink could followed Pigpen in the old Peanuts cartoons.

So what do they do? Jerry Jones signs of on that Michael Irvin show where the winner will get a shot at making the Dallas roster. Then, Owens goes off and inks this Hindenburg of a deal.

I don't even like the Cowboys, and I still think ignoring Troy Aikman is a bad idea.

He put it perfectly when addressing Tony Romo's failures (thus far): "You better worry about perception, because it's a big part of making it through some very difficult times."

That's infinitely more true when you play under the microscope of huge media markets like Dallas (for football), New York, Boston, and the kind. It's not to say that you should be beholden to what people say and write about you. But it is to say that, when the rough times come a-callin' as they do for every player in every sport, it's an enormous asset to be able to fall back on the confidence that you have done everything possible to prepare and perfect your talent.

That confidence is a lot easier to maintain (for most everyone) when it isn't being called into question over and over. And over. And over.

So, think of the 2009 NFL regular season. Imagine we're getting down to the end, the public scrutiny is zeroing in on the contending teams, Dallas faces a couple staunch opponents in late November/early December (games that they shouldn't necessarily win), and the Cowboys lose one or two.

Maybe they were in one, even had the lead, and let it slip away.

What do you think the media's gonna do? What do you think the public response will be? How do you think Dallas will react?

Sure, it could all work out. These are professional athletes and adults after all. It shouldn't be impossible for them to shake off the distraction and vultures circling the organization as it starts to lose blood. It isn't impossible because we've seen teams do it before.

But we haven't seen Dallas do it recently. And the franchise has had a bunch of chances.

Thanks to Jerry Jones and Terrible Owens, the Dallas Cowboys seem destined for another.

Monday, January 26, 2009

SF Roundtable 2

Question One:

Which youngster will have the biggest impact this upcoming season? This can be anybody who came up in the last year or so. Fred Lewis is eligible considering he barely played until last season.

Hmmm. I see three options here plus a dark horse: Fast Freddie, Pablo Sandoval, and Jonathan Sanchez (I know, he's kind of cheating, but he's in the same boat as Freddie). But I'm going with the dark horse.

Fab Five Freddie's too easy.

First, a man with so man cool nicknames is too obvious a pick. Second, he's 28 and played in 133 games last year—that's kind of a stretch for youth in terms of years or experience. Third, Lewis tallied the following totals: 81 runs, 25 doubles, 11 triples, 9 homeruns, a .359 on-base percentage, and a .286 average in 468 at-bats.

That's already some substantial impact so his margin for improvement just isn't that big.

Sanchez is also too easy.

He's younger than Freddie (26), but has a full season starting under his belt as well as 90 other innings in the pros. Since experience counts for more than age, I say he's an even bigger stretch than Fast Freddie. Furthermore, he needs to get a handle on consistency and that's too unpredictable for my prognosticatory tastes.

Little Money is a closer call.

He's the biggest baby of the group—by age (22) or experience. With only 145 Major League ABs, Sandoval's resume is the thinnest and yet it still works against him. The buzz over his volcanic start—10 doubles, three HRs, a .357 OBP, and a .345 average—has me a little worried.

Worried enough that the hype (not to mention new position/positional uncertainty) will wear on him and possibly slow him down a bit.

So I'm going with the dark horse: Emmanuel Burriss.

He just turned 24 and has only 240 ABs in the Show. Obviously, his numbers weren't quite as gaudy as Little Moneys, but check 'em: 37 runs, 13 steals, a .357 OBP, and a .283 average. That's not too shabby considering how quietly he put them up and how little you hear his name.

That won't hurt him. Nor will the move from shortstop to second base (which, even if unfamiliar, should be easier than short). Nor will his reputation as a diligent worker.

I like the kid and I say we see big things from him. Of course, I'm always seeing big things in athletic middle infielders in San Francisco Giant uniforms.

Question Two:

If you didn't know, Brian Sabean is again in a contract year. The question here: Do you think the Giants should retain Sabean after 2009? Do you think he is doing a good job of building around kids while trying to win at the same time? Feel free to go explain yourself in any way you want.

That's a tough call.

I actually like Brian Sabean and give him more leash than most. Even his most infamous trade—Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser for AJ Pierzynski plus cash (with cash being the far more productive baseball player for SF in 2004)—I think gets too much grief. Contrarily, he's made some fantastic trades and perhaps deserves more credit for really springing the Giants on the National League (due to Matt Williams for Jeff Kent and parts).

Sabean also brought in guys like Rob Nen, Jason Schmidt, Kenny Lofton, Andres Galarraga, and Ellis Burks. Those guys made some significant contributions and really didn't cost the Orange and Black much.

Furthermore, he made good faith and logical moves that failed to bear fruit—grabbing youngster Damien Moss from the pitching-savvy Atlanta Braves and an effective Sidney Ponson from the Baltimore Orioles, who subsequently went tits up (semi-literally) despite moving to the less offensively-rugged NL West.

I can't hold those against him, especially since they (again) didn't cost SF much.

Unfortunately, that's the good and a lot of it's stale.

The bad is much fresher, but it's not as extreme.

Sabean's free agent signings have been poor, he's been overly-enamored of older players, he's been stubbornly reluctant to invest in youngsters via the draft, and the boys have been struggling in a weak division for several years now.

Ultimately though, I shake down on the side of consistency in an inconsistent business being an advantage. It would be one thing if Sabean were a total abomination and/or he was showing no signs of righting the ship. But neither of those is the case.

Brian Sabean's most recent offseason (the one we're still technically in) has given me hope that he's back on track. He's brought in some older veterans, like usual, but they weren't the priciest ones on the market. In fact, both Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson have considerable potential to be steals while not subjecting SF to much risk.

Additionally, Sabean has shown that most of his focus remains on building around the young core without mortgaging future transactional flexibility.

I say keep him around for another several years as long as this year continues to move in the direction the offseason has been heading: forward.

The Power of Christ Compels Win By 100 Points

Normally, I have no problem with running up the score.

At the professional level, there is no such thing—if you're getting paid to play and you can't muster an effective counterattack, you deserve to get your head kicked in. If management hasn't assembled the talent necessary to compete, too bad.

In the pros, it's a job and one that's compensated very nicely. There ain't a violin small enough.

In the college ranks, the bar for sportsmanship gets raised a bit because the kids aren't getting paid (directly, anyway). But there are still acceptable ways to rout your opponent. If your third string happens to be infinitely better than the opponent's starters, I say let the massacre begin.

First, it would be insanely unfair and counterproductive to put your scrubs in and then tell them to dog it. These are the ones who toil in obscurity for the majority of the season, helping the team by being the practice punching bags. They are the dark matter necessary for the team to form around its stars and they are either in need of experience for growth or as a reward for years of unappreciated effort.

No way a coach should tell those kids to dial it back in their (possibly only) moment for glory.

Second, let's be honest about this—there are millions upon millions of dollars trading hands because of these "amateur" athletic events; they are pseudo-professional sports. As such, the Citadel cannot sign up for the huge payday against Florida and then cry foul when the Gator walk-ons run them out of the arena. Not unless the school was forced into the game...and financial windfall.

If you want to dance, you gotta pay the piper.

Once you get down below college though, it's a whole different story. Especially at the high school level, these are real amateur athletes. This is the level where the VAST majority of participants are playing for some reason other than money—to learn life lessons, for exercise, for love of the game, to stay out of trouble, whatever. And they are all young kids, not a single one matured beyond his/her teen years.

So when I stumble across a story like this, I hit the red almost instantaneously and without remorse.

For those of you not into clicking links, a quick recap: some truly exceptional piece of humanity named Micah Grimes allowed his Covenant School of Dallas high school girls varsity basketball team to beat Dallas Academy 100-0. Not only that, after being rightly fired, he sent an email to a newspaper reiterating that he did nothing wrong and refusing to apologize for the wide margin because his "girls played with honor and integrity."

Let me repeat: high school girls varsity basketball, 100-0.

But Grimes wasn't through: "We played the game as it was meant to be played. My values and my beliefs WOULD NOT ALLOW ME TO RUN UP THE SCORE ON ANY OPPONENT, and it will not allow me to apologize for a wide-margin victory."

What a stand-up fella.

I guess his values and beliefs don't prevent him from lying like a flea-ridden, stinking mutt. According to spectators, Covenant's girls were still launching three-pointers in the fourth quarter of a game it led 59-0 at HALFTIME. Since they managed to score 100 points, I'm betting some were going in.

The kicker?

Dallas Academy's varsity squad has eight—EIGHT—girls and the entire school only has 20. They haven't won a game in four years. See, Dallas Academy caters towards high-income families who have children with special learning needs (I'm guessing about the high-income part).

So this priceless "man" and molder of young attitudes allowed his team to score 100 points on a school that probably doesn't have enough interested bodies to field a softball team. He had his girls preserve a shutout for four quarters against a bunch of kids who already suffer from social stigmatization due to a learning disability (sad, but true since kids are cruel).

And, to top it all off, he refuses to admit his error and has the audacity to try to shift the focus onto his girls.

I have no doubt that those Covenant girls played with honor and integrity. Unfortunately, that means they were listening to Micah Grimes because that's what good kids do—they listen to their coaches.

Clearly, this disgusting individual was NOT telling his girls to ease up. He was NOT telling them to play "ole" defense. He was NOT teaching them greater life lessons about sportsmanship and humility.

In the words of Covenant's administration, Grimes was not reflecting a "Christlike and honorable approach to competition."

I'm not religious and haven't been to church except for weddings and funerals since my family moved to the Bay Area in 1987. Nor am I a biblical scholar so I'm no expert on Jesus Christ. But, from what I've heard about the guy, I don't think he would've been rooting for mental-midget Micah.

In fact, I think he'd've been throwing down some pretty hellacious D for Dallas Academy.

Covenant's powers-that-be called the dung beetle's stunt "shameful and an embarrassment." I say it was downright stupid.

I've been to Dallas and I've seen how seriously Texans take their sports. Even the good Christians.

Grimes is lucky some irate parent didn't beat him senseless (a logical impossibility since Micah clearly already lacks any sense). Lord knows I would've been tempted if one of my little nieces had been out there getting shellacked like that and soldiering on.

If it had been my own daughter (of which I have none so I'm imagining here) and she was already self-conscious/sensitive because of dyslexia or dysgraphia? Whoo boy, there better be some able bodied sailors in between me and Grimes or I'm gonna need me a good criminal attorney.

And it'd be worth every cent.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Have You Ever Heard of Fedor Emelianenko?

Fedor Emelianenko is a son of a b*tch. He's the best damn fighter in the world. Oh yeah, he's a big guy—6'7", 350. I once saw him scissor kick Angela Landsbury. He wears a live rattle snake as a condom. I heard Fedor grew a third arm and keeps it in a vault. He showers in vodka.

To Fedor Emelianenko! A big fella, goes about 7'8", 530. Anyway, he once got his wife pregnant and she gave birth to a delicious 16-ounce steak. The afterbirth was sauteed mushrooms. Fedor's ranked 18th in the AP college football poll. He taught his son to drive by entering him into the Indy 500.

I have no doubt Fedor would be the last man standing in a three-man free-for-all involving the Last Emperor, Bill Brasky (or here), and Chuck Norris.

The man personifies terror if you are an elite mixed martial artist in the heavyweight division. Fedor looks physically soft, is quiet, and shows no emotion whatsoever. He isn't amazingly big in reality and he isn't amazingly fast. He isn't incredibly precise or technically sound.

Of course, none of that matters because another thing he doesn't seem to be is human.

Emelianenko is a machine to which the laws of our universe do not apply.

I've watched almost every fight he's ever had. Yet, the Last Emperor in my mind's eye is about 6'8" and 300 pounds of cut muscle. Despite having seen the real thing on numerous occasions, the truth simply doesn't compute with logic and my brain makes up the difference.

The way he dominates the most talented men in his sports' most colossal weight class demands that he be more to the naked eye. But he's not.

So it's always a shock to see him being towered over by an opponent like Andrei Arlovski. It's always a shock to see him being outstruck by more technical strikers or caught off-guard by tremendous wrestlers (Kevin Randleman anyone?). It's always a shock to find myself thinking how small and vulnerable Fedor looks.

And damn if it isn't always a shock when the Last Emperor finally has had enough and ends the fight.

It took the Last Emperor three Pride fights to become its heavyweight king (and he did it without being propelled by pro wrestling hype). From there, the legend has only grown.

Randleman drove him headfirst into the mat with a crushing suplex, and Fedor didn't even seem to notice. Submitted the Monster about 15 seconds later.

Marko Filopovic landed several kicks that would have killed most mortals. Fedor walked right through them for a unanimous decision over Cro Cop.

In his most recent bout against Arlovski, Fedor was pretty much dominated and had just suffered the most damaging blow yet from the Pitbull (a solid kick to the body that drove Emelianenko several steps backwards). A split-second later and Andrei was out cold, face first on the mat.

His critics will tell you that Fedor was lucky, that the Pitbull's jaw is notoriously weak. The latter may be true, but that right hand would have put anyone down. ANYONE.

Doubt him if you will. But I've learned my lesson.

Next fight, I'll know it's coming. I'll keep telling myself that Fedor is always the smaller man and the more dominant. I'll keep telling myself that, what I think are signs of trouble, seem to be signs the Fedor is right where he wants to be. I'll keep telling myself that's really bad news for his prey.

To Fedor Emelianenko! A 10-foot-tall, two-ton son of a b*tch who could eat a hammer and take a shotgun blast standing!

To the Last Emperor, forever may he reign.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jeff Kent and the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame: Not a Question of If But When

"I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave."—John Travolta, Face/Off

Let's be clear here: I'm not saying Jeff Kent has a nice caboose. That may very well be true, but I don't happen to swing that way—I've got no beef if you do, just not my thing (sorry, it's the San Franciscan in me that feels the need to qualify these things). Anyway, back to, I mean.

Whoo boy, just a minefield of Freudian slips and puns. Let's just move on.

I'm referring to the love/hate relationship that even Kent's most loyal fans developed with him and I count myself in that group due to his exceptional service for my beloved San Francisco Giants.

The fact that the man left the Orange and Black to eventually enlist with those Bums in Los Angeles is the perfect metaphor for Jeff Kent. He is the essence of enjoying your greatest and most prolonged success with one team, then signing with its archrival in one of the most acrimonious tete-a-tetes in Major League Baseball.

Kent would deliver clutch hit after clutch hit, and then bark at some fan favorite for a seemingly inconsequential flub. This is a man who was so ill-tempered (at times) towards teammates that he once moved one Barry Lamar Bonds to physical confrontation in defense of David Bell.

So, when Jeff Kent announced his retirement, Travolta's line jumped to mind.

As Chris Haft pointed out, Kent will always have a special place in the heart of true Giant. But he was Anakin gone to the Dark Side. He had been a Dodger for several years and had delivered his share of crushing blows while in that vomitous Blue (OK, so it's gorgeous—it's still the ugliest pretty color I've seen).

Of course, while I was fighting myself on the issue, the baseball-watching world apparently lost its freakin' mind. Is Jeff Kent a Hall-of-Famer? IS JEFF KENT A HALL-OF-FAMER?

Can this be serious?

I can see asking the question as a perfunctory way of praising Kent's fabulous career, but that's not the case. This question has inspired sincere (although misguided) debate and some participants have actually come out in the negative.

That's right, some observers decided Jeff Kent didn't deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Wow. A quick perusal of three areas will show just how unfortunate that decision is:

1. Raw data

Kent played in 2298 games, had 8498 at-bats, scored 1320 runs, registered 2461 hits, knocked 560 doubles, launched 377 HRs, drove in 1518 runs, hit to a .290 average, reached base at a .356 clip, and finished his career slugging .500.

He is the all-time leader in homeruns for second basemen and is 21st on the all-time doubles leaderboard. He also makes the list of top 100 MLB players in history for career RBI (47th), homeruns (tied for 62nd), hits (96th), and slugging percentage (tied for 98th). Jeff is a five-time All-Star, won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 2000, and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three other times (despite sharing his team with perennial winner Bonds).

2. His defense at second base

No, Jeff Kent was not a Gold Glove second sacker; he wasn't particularly close. But he was not a trainwreck, contrary to growing popular opinion. I can honestly say that I saw the vast majority of games Kent played while he was with the Giants and I never once thought Kent was particularly bad.

I never thought he was particularly good either. But you could never convince me Jeff Kent was anything short of above-average defensively—to argue such would be an exercise in lunacy. The guy just wasn't that bad. His range wasn't great and his hands were always a work in progress.

But his footwork was good and he turned a slick doubleplay. Plus, his courage at the pivot was unparalleled.

However, you don't have to take my word for it—just look at the Gents during Kent's tenure. Any juggernaut third basemen jump out at you? Or any other position for that matter? If Kent's defense were so awful, San Francisco could have easily moved him to the hot corner and gone with defense at second.

Except the Giants didn't.

SF kept Kent at second because his defense was never a problem and his offense from a traditionally weak spot on the field gave the franchise the potential for an additional big bat in the lineup from a more traditional power position.

That it never found one can't be put on Kent.

3. Lack of individual accolades

This one really makes me laugh. I've actually read some people saying that Kent doesn't deserve to go to Cooperstown on MLB's buck because he only won a single MVP and made an All-Star trip five times.

Well, he only won a single MVP because his career coincided with that of Mr. Bonds' and they toiled in the same league. Indeed, they toiled on the same team for Kent's peak years. How many other players were able to wrest the award from Barry's death grip during his reign?

I think we can all agree that Albert Pujols (barring injury or scandal) is destined for the Hall-of-Fame, possibly first ballot. Yet he had quite a time beating out Barry.

That Kent received MVP votes so regularly despite playing alongside Bonds and even managed the one win speaks volume as to how special he was.

The All-Star thing can be dismissed with even more ease.

Forget that the game is at midseason so it's hardly a good barometer of season-long success.

Consider that Jeff Kent was an All-Star in 1999-2001, 2004, and 2005. If he made the All-Star team in 1997, 1998, and 2002, then he would have made the team in eight of nine years.

In 1997, the All-Star second basemen were Craig Biggio (a fellow Hall-of-Famer so no shame there) and Tony Womack (the Pittsburgh Pirates' lone representative). Jeff Kent finished 1997 with 29 HRs (Womack six), 90 runs (Womack 85), 121 RBI (Womack 50), 38 doubles (Womack 26), a .316 OBP (Womack .326), and a .250 average (Womack .278). So who was the better player?

In 1998, the All-Star second basemen were Biggio, Bret Boone (the Cincinnati Reds' lone rep), and Fernando Vina (the Milwaukee Brewers' lone rep). Jeff Kent finished 1998 with 31 HRs (Boone 24, Vina seven), 94 runs (Boone 76, Vina 101), 128 RBI (Boone 95, Vina 45), 37 doubles (Boone 38, Vina 39), a .359 OBP (Boone .324, Vina .386), and a .297 average (Boone .286, Vina .311). So who was the best player?

In 2002, it was really ridiculous. The All-Star second basemen were Jose Vidro (VOTED in by the fans of Montreal), Junior Spivey (one of several questionable Arizona Diamondbacks to be chosen for the team by Diamondback manager Bob Brenly), and Luis Castillo (one of two Florida Marlins inexplicably on the team). Jeff Kent finished 2002 with 37 HRs (Vidro 19, Spivey 16, Castillo two), 102 runs (Vidro 103, Spivey 103, Castillo 86), 108 RBI (Vidro 96, Spivey 78, Castillo 39), 42 doubles (Vidro 43, Spivey 34, Castillo 18), a .368 OBP (Vidro .378, Spivey .389, Castillo .364), and a .313 average (Vidro .315, Spivey .301, Castillo .305). So who was the best player?

Still think that All-Star argument should be held against Kent?

Having addressed these three pressure points and shown how strong Jeff Kent really is where his critics think him most vulnerable, there's one last thing that needs attention: the name Barry Lamar Bonds pops up with regularity whenever discussing Kent.

His critics say he wouldn't have been half the player he was without Barry.

To which I say, so what?

That's probably true, but he did have Barry and it still took quite a bit of work and ability on his part. Many men played with Barry Bonds and many hit in front of him. Few produced the career Jeff Kent did.

A Hall-of-Fame career. Without a doubt.
(as for the argument that Kent wouldn't have been the player without

Dallas Roundtable

I don't know if y'all want an intro or anything (assume Robert's handling that) so I'm just hitting the questions....

1. Bob Hayes is the lone Dallas Cowboy of this year's 17 Hall of Fame finalists. Do you believe that he belongs in the Hall, and if so, should he be inducted this year?

Yes and yes. Remember, I'm no fan of the Dallas Cowboys. They are—without a doubt—my least favorite team in the National Football League. But Bullet Bob deserves the NFL's highest honor and it seems looooong overdue.

As with any hall of fame, the selection criteria are vague—a bunch of stuff that usually amounts to an outstanding contribution to whatever sport. The wording may be different, but the bottom-line is that the player must have been very good and in a unique or spectacular way.

So let's see....

Bullet Bob entered the 1964 NFL Draft fresh off Olympic gold in the '64 Games (incidentally, I'd vote for him because of this clip alone). The 'pokes took a flier on him in the seventh round and he proceeded to become the first Dallas player to ever surpass 1000 receiving yards. Hayes did it in his rookie year.

In his 11-year career, the man amassed 371 receptions for 7414 yards and 71 touchdowns. That's no typo, Hayes averaged 20.0 yards per catch for his career. He wasn't a bad return man either—23 kickoff returns for 581 yards and 104 punts for 1158 yards (and three TDs). In 1968, he was actually the best punt returner in the NFL with a 20.8 yard per return average and two touchdowns, including a 90-yarder.

Bullet Bob enjoyed great individual and team success. He garnered three Pro Bowls (something I don't put much stock in) and four All-Pro team inclusions (something I put a great deal of stock in). His Dallas teams won five National Football Conference East titles, two NFC crowns, and the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Still not unique and/or spectacular enough for you?

OK, how about this: many respected historians of the game credit Bob Hayes with the invention of the zone defense.

The Bullet was so fast that defenses were forced to abandon the traditional man coverage because no single individual could keep up with him. He revolutionized the game and, in the process, opened the field for the rest of his teammates. As the defense was perfected on the fly, teams (focused on Hayes' every move) were vulnerable to the other receivers and rushing attack.

Bob Hayes is the only NFL player to have a Super Bowl ring and Olympic gold. He put up dazzling numbers until the entire League adapted to stop him (and future echos of him) and still finished with some impressive totals. Hayes made his teams better and helped them reach great heights.

His list of personal accolades is long and should get one longer with enshrinement this year.

2. The Cowboys enter the offseason after finishing one of the most, if not the most, disappointing seasons in franchise history. It would probably be naive to think that there is one sole reason for their failures this past season, but if you had to identify the Cowboys' biggest problem-area, what would you say that is?

Easy, it's the locker-room.

There's no way there's anything wrong with the talent or effort. I don't believe either of those can get much better. Sure, the offensive line under-performed and there were other frailties that came to light on the field. But I just don't buy that it was a problem with the talent side of personnel.

Maybe I'm naive, but I truly believe that talent—even supreme talent—cannot get the job done in a team sport when brought to bear in an individual way i.e. because it's your job and you want to do it well for your own pride.

Since football is the ultimate team sport, it stands to reason that this statement is truest in football.

And I think there was so much nonsense going on that the only way guys could show up for work was to put their heads down and just do their jobs. That's fine except your opposition is coming to work as if it's showing up for battle—all for one and one for all (or at least much closer to that than Dallas).

I'm not advocating the removal of Terrell Owens from the picture (as much as I'd like to). What I am advocating is the removal of all the cheaper imitations of Owens i.e. Pacman Jones (check), Tank Johnson (check), and Jerry Jones (just kidding). I'm also suggesting that Tony Romo needs to take Troy Aikman's suprisingly profound words to heart.

I'm paraphrasing, but he said that perception doesn't matter except when you need to rely on it to get through the hard times that are sure to come in Dallas. That was amazingly concise and eloquent for a guy who made a career out of blunt force head trauma.

The Cabo trip was a perfect example—of course it wasn't the reason Dallas lost the subsequent game, but it did lose and Romo was in Mexico with his sexpot. That's a rough time and Tony couldn't rely on the perception that he did everything he needed to to.

With only Owens as a distraction and Romo playing the good general, the Cowboys are just fine.

3. What are your thoughts on the Cowboys draft? What is their biggest need, and will they need a first round pick in order to get it? If so, what should they be willing to give up for the first round pick?

Since baseball is my area of expertise (in my opinion), I'll go there for this one. The Dallas Cowboys are like the New York Yankees: the draft is really just a bonus since they can go out an buy whatever they want anyway.

With that in mind, I'd say Dallas should always be drafting for highest immediate upside regardless of how slim it is or more offensive linemen since those are like pitchers—you can never have too many good ones because they always go down to injury.

Of course, I have a non-sexual-male-crush on Brad Davis from Ball State. If I were Dallas (depending on who were available when my pick came), I'd snag Davis as a two-year project in case Romo's case of big-game jitters doesn't clear up (as I expect it to).

My ultimate answer—the best offensive lineman available, then the best athlete available, and I'd take Brad Davis a little early (within reason).

4. In the early weeks of the Cowboys' offseason, we have seen both Bruce Reed and Brian Stewart collect their pink-slips. Many experts and fans alike still maintain that the Cowboys will not get any better until Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett, or even both are shown the door. What are your thoughts on the Cowboys' coaching staff?

This goes back to the locker-room being the biggest problem. Personally, I don't see how Garret goes from illuminati one year to a moron the next. I put the offensive problems on the players so this question boils down to Wade Phillips, should he stay or should he go?

I say he's gotta go unless you can bring in a player (a la Ray Lewis) would can take over the team and move it in a positive direction (i.e. the anti-TO). I don't see Lewis coming to Dallas and I don't see Romo becoming that guy so I say Phillips must walk the plank.

Too bad since he seems like a good dude, but a tiger's not gonna change his stripes this late in the day.

5. The Cowboys have made the news again this week. It has been announced that the Cowboys will have their own reality show similar to American Idol, hosted by none other than ex-Cowboy, Michael Irvin. In this show, six defensive backs and six wide receivers will compete for a roster spot in the Cowboys' training camp this summer. Does this move help or hurt the Cowboys?

This is ridiculous. Absolutely freakin' ridiculous.

And it makes me thing that the core problem in Dallas is Jerry Jones and his ego. I'm honestly beginning to think the man lusts after attention and publicity more so that victory (which he's already had).

Seriously, the consensus around the NFL is that your team had more talent than just about anyone else and yet you missed the playoffs because of all the off-field bullsh*t. So what do you do? Pledge not to change coaches, cut a little of the distraction, and then sign up for what could turn into an even bigger one than Dallas ever saw in 2008.

You'll have a reality show where the winner actually gets to try-out for Dallas. Hmmm. Think that'll drum up interest in Dallas Cowboy training camp? Think that's gonna make it feel like getting down to basics or an episode of whatever that tripe on HBO is called?

Bring in the clowns and prop up the tent. Jerry Jones is bringing the circus back to town. Idiot.

6. Plain and simple: How will the Cowboys do next year?

Why bother? This is the most unpredictable team in the entire League. I was convinced they would make the playoffs until the very last day. I thought the talent would finally get the wakeup call in time to face the Philadelphia Eagles. Guess not.

I'd say they'll compete for the NFC East crown since they figure to at least run in place while the other East teams are taking on water. That puts them in the playoffs and, from there, I'd figure the talent has to show up. I say they finally win their first playoff game next year with an inspired Tony Romo putting the kibosh on Owens' attempt to dereail yet another Super Bowl contender.

No Super Bowl title though; I say they bow out in the NFC Championship game. Gotta walk before you run.

Of course, I wouldn't mind seeing them miss the postseason again ;-)

7. Super Bowl Prediction?

Hmmm, my head says Pittsburgh Steelers and that defense finally puts the clamps on the Arizona Cardinals. But I'm going with my heart and gut, which lie in the NFC. I say Kurt Warner gets another shot of divine insiration and keeps throwing it up to Larry Fitzgerald, who nobody can stop.

If a secondary were going to blanket Leapin' Larry, it would've been Philly's.

Arizona Cardinals 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Modern Wide Receiver AKA The Most Dangerous Men in (and to) the NFL

Many (perhaps most) Americans list football as their sport of choice. In particular, the National Football League reclines in the seat of honor at the table of professional sports. Major League Baseball spent almost the entirety of our Nation's history in that hallowed chair, but—like so many things on this Inauguration Day—its reign is over.

Football is our sport and the NFL is its foremost ambassador.

However, my heart still lies with baseball and it always will. As a boy and then a teenager, I can remember two first loves more vividly than all the rest: that of baseball and that of a girl. It has been many years since the girl moved on and forced me to do the same. Fortunately, baseball will never knife me like that (or maybe it will).

Regardless, my enduring love for the game gives me an advantage when discussing the NFL. Since it does not rule my little sports universe, I don't see the League in soft focus. I see it in high-def, warts and all.

That comes in handy at a moment like this because, f you look closely, you can see the seeds of its demise taking root. Even now, as it summits the mountain of sports popularity, the League's future death rattle can be seen at one position.

Frailty, thy name is Wide Receiver.

Check out this list of offenders that spans the gamut; I can't even say with certainty it's complete:
  1. Michael Irvin—in 1996, pled no contest to cocaine possession after being busted during a snowy party celebrating his 30th birthday; in 1998, allegedly left a two-inch gash in a teammate's neck while giving haircuts; generally brash and arrogant (arrived to his '96 court appearance in a full-length white mink coat).
  2. Rae Carruth—in 1999, had his pregnant girlfriend gunned down near his home; participated in the shooting by blocking her car from escaping and then driving off without calling for help; woman was found to be carrying twins, but she and one twin died as a result of the shooting; the other was born prematurely and in distress, resulting in cerebral palsy; Carruth posted bail and then tried to flee, but was caught hiding in the trunk of a car.
  3. Randy Moss—in 1999, squirted a ref with a water bottle after a perceived blown-call; in 2002, bumped a meter-maid with his car and a small amount of marijuana was recovered in the subsequent arrest; in 2004, walked off the field before the game was over because he felt the game was decided; in 2005, got traded to the Oakland Raiders and proceeded to dog his was out of town; plagued by complaints of lack of effort due to dissatisfaction (though these've largely disappeared since taking his talents to the New England Patriots).
  4. Chris Henry—the offense's version of Pacman Jones; in 2005, arrested for marijuana possession, driving without a license, and driving without insurance after being pulled over for speeding; in January of 2006, arrested on multiple gun charges including concealment and aggravated assault with a firearm while wearing his own Cincinnati Bengals' jersey; in June of '06, arrested for drunk driving; in January of 2007, pled guilty to charges of providing alcohol to minors; in 2008, allegedly punched an 18-year old kid and threw a bottle through the window of the kid's car in a case of mistaken identity (Henry apparently thought this an appropriate method of reclaiming a debt owed him by another man).
  5. Terrell Owens—originated the theory that you could destroy a team without actually getting arrested and then put it into practice; blew up the San Francisco 49ers back when they were perennial playoff contenders; blew up the Philadelphia Eagles after almost delivering on all his bluster; now threatening to derail the Dallas Cowboys with the sheer momentum of his reputation; generally behaves as if he's a proven winner despite the ample evidence to the contrary.
  6. Chad Ocho Sinko—in truth, deserves to get co-authorship credit for Owens' theory since they both were developing it in concert; everyone's well aware of all the onfield nonsense and me-me-me antics; changed his name in a pathetically transparent attempt to drum up attention; threatened to sit out the entire 2008 season because of hurt feelings; publicly (though implicitly) campaigned for trades at various points during the season.
  7. Matt Jones—arrested at gunpoint and charged with felony cocaine possession; avoided felony charges by submitting to drug court.
  8. Steve Smith—in 2002, got in a fist-fight with a teammate that left said mate in the hospital for a couple days due to a broken nose; in 2008, virtually the exact same thing happened except the teammate avoided the hospital.
  9. Marvin Harrison—currently under investigation for his role in a shooting that left a man wounded near one of Harrison's businesses; police have confirmed it was his gun, but have yet to say who pulled the trigger.
  10. Plaxico Burress—this one happened in New York City so there's no need to do an extensive recap; shot himself in the leg while at a crowded nightclub in Manhattan; effectively torpedoed the New York Giants' season.
And that's just a list off the top of my head of the most egregious offenders (obviously I then researched the specific instances of misconduct).

Lesser idiots don't even come close to making the cut. Idiots like Freddie Mitchell, who tried to give himself a nickname harder than he ever worked on the field. Idiots like Limas Sweed, who dropped an easy touchdown on Sunday that could've put the game away, but later had no problem celebrating a comparatively meaningless first down like he just won the Super Bowl.

Of course, there's one guy I've saved until now because he's the most recent offender and he deserves his own section. I'm looking at you, Anquan Boldin.

Yeah, Anquan Boldin.

I know, I know. He showed great courage taking that brutal, knock-out hit and then returning to make virtually the same sort of catches. Wonderful. I gave him all the respect in the world for that sort of mental and intestinal fortitude.

And now I take it all back.

Though I didn't see it at the time, apparently Boldin was throwing a temper tantrum on the sidelines during the National Football Conference Championship game on Sunday. No big deal, except it was IN THE FOURTH QUARTER!


Is that a joke? I've got to assume this happened because that's the sort of false accusation that ends a reporter's career.

I don't care if it was competitive juices as Ken Whisenhunt tries to explain. There is simply no excuse for a player on any team to pull that kind of weak stunt at such a critical juncture in such a big game.

And this is the Arizona Cardinals we're talking about.

They've barely won a playoff game. Forget about going to the Super Bowl. The sports world has had several days to get accustomed to the idea and we still don't believe it.

I guess that sort of momentous possibility for a team, franchise, and city wasn't quite enough to quell Boldin's inner infant.

Not only that, Anquan was so ecstatic about the trip to Tampa with his teammates that he couldn't even take the excitement. That's right. He didn't participate in the onfield celebration.

Anquan Boldin rejoiced in the Cardinals' (and his) first trip to football's grandest stage by leaving the locker room early. So much for that warm, cuddly feeling of camaraderie after the biggest win in your organization's history. And many of those players' careers.

Here is a guy who started the year by demanding a trade, showed up to play, had a great season going, got annihilated, came back to play with his jaw wired shut without missing a beat, continued to play through the pain of a hurt hamstring, and then blew the whole thing up.

And that's the bigger problem. Guys like Ocho Sinko and TO hurt the NFL, but it's the escapades of dudes like Harrison and Boldin that are truly terrifying.

Because, if it can happen to seemingly stellar guys like Harrison and Boldin, that raises a strong presumption that it can happen to anyone. Left unchecked, anyone could easily become everyone.

And even the NFL couldn't survive that.