Elmhurst Pub Roundtable

Where the beer is cold and the conversation loud...

Friday, March 31, 2006

NL Preview

With the AL Preview complete, here's my look at the NL:

NL East

Seems to mirror the AL East, two really good teams, one average team, and a couple bottom feeders. The Braves, regardless of what anyone says, will find a way to compete. They still have the pitching with Smoltz and Hudson at the front of the rotation. The bullpen is shaky at the end and will rely on a lot of rookies to get the job done. The closer job right now is in the hands of Chris Reitsma. Not the guy you really want to bet the house on, but adequate anyway. Offensively, Jones, Jones, Francouer and company will be fine. Giles at second has been solid for several years now. The team added Renteria, who despite 30 errors last season still hit .270 with 8 homeruns and 70 rbi. The Mets spent money like it was going out of style...again. They have a giant offensive hole at second with Kaz Matsui, but the rest of the infield are all-star caliber (Reyes, Delgado, Wright). Adding LoDuca behind the plate can't be worse than Piazza and they added one of the premier closers. The Phillies are screwed. Abreu, Utley, and Howard are nice, but their ace is Jon Lieber and Gordon is the closer. I like Florida. Young, but have talent. Losing Burnett and Beckett will KILL them this season, but they'll be in fine position over the next couple. The problem for them is outside of Willis, they have no starting pitching. Outside of Cabrera, they have no offense. Washington is an interesting case. Last year, they spent most of the season in the Wild Card hunt. I don't think they necessarily improved, the players they traded for Soriano were better than what they got with him. And Bowden is the GM. All this guy does is make trades. I like the pitching and the closer, which in the end wins the games. Prediction: Braves, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Marlins.

NL Central

Weird division. If Prior and Wood are healthy, the Cubs should run away with this division. Zambrano and Maddux are great, and when you can call Maddux your number 4 guy in the playoffs that says a lot. Add to that, they have multiple 5 spot candidates with Williams and Rusch. Great rotation top to bottom. The bullpen is good. Dempster still makes you nervous as a closer, but they have some good set up guys. The offense will be fine with Lee and Ramirez at the corners, the addition of Jacque Jones, and the emergence of Matt Murton this season. But if Wood and Prior get injured....Then you look at St. Louis who seemed to do nothing to improve. Trusting Bennett and Molina behind the plate could be fatal. They added Aruban Knight Sidney Ponson as the huge acquisition. Their rotation is still top heavy with Carpenter and Mulder then a bunch of beatable pitchers. Izzy is fantastic at the end of the pen and they have good middle relief. Rolen needs to stay healthy for them this season though. Edmonds is getting older. Still tough outs. Houston will need Clemens in order to contend. Still love the offense with Berkman and Ensberg as the anchors, but Pettitte hasn't been the same since he left NY. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh suck - Moving on. Then their is the most interesting team in the division, the Brewers. Pitching they have - Sheets, Capuano, Davis all could win 18 games. Bullpen they have, with a 40 save guy in Turnbow and a setup guy with Kolb. Offense, they're young. Fielder and Weeks will be in their first true full seasons, but have incredible potential. Lee and Clark in the outfield give some solid power and they have a Chone Figgins guy with Bill Hall...or a third basemen for when Koskie gets hurt. Prediction: St. Louis, Milwaukee, Houston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh.

NL West

Weak division, probably the worst in baseball again. Colorado will not contend, so let's skip them. The Dodgers have a great bullpen that could shorten games to 6 innings. Carter, Baez, Brazelbon, and Gagne (if healthy) are lights out at the end of the pen. The rotation is ok - Lowe could be good, Seo is alright, Penny is oft injured, and Perez has had Cy Young type years. Offense is ok - Furcal, Mueller, and Garciaparra are great additions. The outfield has some power too. They have the tools to win it, but they have Grady Little on the bench. San Diego I don't think has the pitching outside of Peavy. Park, Estes, Williams, and Young don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of men. Barfield could be rookie of the year at second base, and they have good power with Gonzalez, Greene, and Blum. Good at the top of the order too, with Roberts leading off. The Giants are old. They play 30 day games after night games and that could take a toll on them. Especially if the strongest stuff they can use is advil. Good starting pitching though with Schmidt, Lowry, and Cain. Bullpen is alright, without Benitez (if injured), they will struggle closing out games. But check this out - 41, 41, 39, 38, 36, 34, and 35. The ages of Bonds, Finley, Alou, Vizquel, Vizcaino, Sweeney, Durham, and Matheny. Winn is still young, but their backups aren't exactly 24-28 year old guys either. The Diamondbacks have talent, I like the pitching staff and this kid Conor Jackson who WILL be the starting first basemen by the All-Star break. Losing Glaus hurt, but he'll soften the blow. Prediction: Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies

NL East: Braves
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Padres
Wildcard: Brewers
NL Champion: Cardinals

MVP: Pujols
Cy Young: Ben Sheets
Rookie of the Year: Josh Barfield
Manager of the Year: Ned Yost

World Series: Oakland over St. Louis

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NCAA Tournament

Without a doubt, this year's NCAA tournament has show us how much parody there is in college basketball today. There have been some great games, and, for the most party, reffing that has gone unnoticed. That brings me to my first point. The UCLA-Memphis game should have been a high scoring, fast-paced, 88-86 game. Instead we watched these two teams combine for 95 total points. It was a pitiful game to watch in many respects. The reffing in the game was awful. We all got to see our favorite ref (Tim Higgins) continue to make out of position calls and control the pace of the game. The refs never let a real flow develop. Every touch outside was a foul, but then they let the guys bang underneath. The shooting percentages were terrible, but it is hard to get into a rhythm when the teams were never in action for more than 30 seconds at a time. I was very disappointed because it was a game that I was excited to watch. I wanted to see some great guards go at it. I feel that the nation was deprived of a great game because the referees controlled the pace. They didn't let the players decide that game.

My other point is free-throw shooting. From now on, every D-1 basketball player should not be allowed to step on the court unless they can shoot 70% from the foul line. UCLA as a team in the game against memphis was a pitiful 20-39 from the line (51.3%). That game should never have been close if they hit their free-throws. It's a 15-foot open shot. Most of these guys can almost reach the rim from there. There is no excuse for guys at the level of basketball to not hit free throws. GMU let UConn back into that game because they couldn't hit their free throws but couldn't miss from behind the arc. This is just something that a college basketball player should be able to do, and it made me sick watching all of these guys throw up brick after brick from 15-feet away.

As a whole, these games have been great. I would rather watch the NCAA tournament than any other major sporting event. You cannot replace the intensity and the pride. We ended up with no number 1 seeds in the final four. That basically sums up how this tournament has gone. Obviously I am disappointed in the UConn loss (just has happy with the BC loss). However, GMU deserved that game. They outplayed UConn as a team. If you look at the teams left, they all have played fantastic team basketball, not just looking for one or two players (which is why JJ and Adam are at home right now). I can't wait to see how it finishes. Go George Mason.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Driving Age

I was all set to post my National League preview today, then something happened in Hopkinton over the weekend. There was a car accident in town where the 17 year old driver and her 10 year old brother. This has stirred up all the controversy over the current driving age again and that it should be raised. Since I have nowhere else to put these thoughts, I'm going to have to put them here and get crap for posting something too serious on this blog again. But to me this is something that continually irritates me - the way we try and legislate everything within the state and country.

That said, raising the driving age wouldn't have prevented this accident. When we all were learning to drive, you took the courses, we did the driving time and that was how it worked. For most of us it was around 16 and a half. Nothing wrong with that, nothing good about that really. But we all learned to drive after these lessons were over. The first time you go to change the station on the radio and slowly watch the car drift over to the side of the road. The first time the cell phone rings and we try and answer it. First time you try and pass a car on 495. That's when real driving and real learning occurred. Raising the driving age only makes you older. It doesn't give the necessary maturity being claimed by those in the legislature. In fact, raising the driving age to 17 and a half is more than a little odd. What's next then? Will you not be allowed to drive your friends till 18? It only escalates. In fact, parents want it both ways. Recently, a 17 year old was pulled over around 5am on his way to hockey practice because of the restrictions for junior operators. So they want exceptions made for this situation. The parents don't want to get up that early to do the driving, so make that exception. But don't allow the child to drive to the store, go out to a movie, or whatever else may be the case.

Even more than this, it seems more and more like our parents' generation is trying to restrict the rights of those growing up. It increasingly becomes apparent that these government, social, and other leaders are trying to wrap teenagers in bubble wrap to protect them from everything. That generation fought for so many rights and wanted so many privileges and now don't feel that the current generation can be afforded the same. It's all about driving more ridiculous claims. Put kids in school longer, test them more, keep them safer. While some of these changes are for the betterment of everyone, more often than not it seems they are to protect these leaders from themselves. It's really a shame and I hope that they legislature thinks long and hard before they raise the driving age in this state yet again.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Final Four

At the beginning of the tournament, experts sat and predicted that this could be the first year that all four #1 seeds made the Final Four. Today, we all sat and watched as not a single top seed will make the trip to Indiannapolis for college basketball's biggest dance. Some observations on what has gone down the last week or two:

--There was some really poor basketball played. The GMU-UConn game was great today, but that was because UConn hasn't played a complete game of basketball since the regular season ended. The other regional finals were all pretty poorly played. Memphis looked BAD, shooting only 36% from the field. UCLA looked just as horrible.
--The most complete team all tournament has been LSU. Big Baby (who Jared played against in AAU nationals) is nasty, they're athletic, and are going to give UCLA fits.
--UConn played this tournament like they did most of the season - disinterested. You'd have thought that Albany game was going to wake them up, then that nearly blowing the UK game would have. And for certain you would have thought that the game with Washington would have done it. Instead of coming out with a desire to blow GMU off the court, they let them hang around. It actually seemed to me that Calhoun was overmatched in every sense. This team struggles offensively partly because Calhoun doesn't let the players stay out on the floor long enough to get any sort of rhythm. The players are constantly looking over their shoulders waiting to be pulled at the first mistake. You can't play like that. They played defense through shot blocking reliance all year, and it showed. Perimeter defense was lazy at best.
--Another note, Marcus Williams is the best point guard in the country. Brandon Roy is the best all around player in the country. Watching Adam Morrison play regularly would make my head explode. JJ looked tired.
--The Big 10 had the worst road record of any conference and it showed. Every team was gone by the end of the first weekend. 8 Big East teams, 0 in the final four. The top conferences in the RPI ranking had average showings at best.
--Every tournament has some fantastic finishes and this one was no exception. It's the best part of any of these games, outside of seeing players and teams that are only seen in certain Geographies. Best games - WVU vs. Texas, UCLA vs. Gonzaga, GMU vs. UConn, GW vs. UNCW, Iowa vs. NW State, and Nova vs. BC.
--For all the Friar Fans out there, root for George Mason, coached by former PC star Jim Larranaga. It's a connection anyway...

Final Four thoughts: The safe bet is to say Florida is going to take down GMU, but I like that matchup for the Patriots. I think LSU is too athletic for UCLA. Give me LSU and GMU in the title game and an LSU national title. MOP of the Final Four - Tyrus Thomas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

AL Preview

So I've been working on this bit by bit for about a week and here's my breakdown as of this second in the American League:

AL East

In order of finish, I'd go Yankees, Boston, Toronto, Tampa, Baltimore. Regardless as to what is going on right now, the Yankees have the best lineup baseball has ever seen. Now having the ability to move Jeter from leadoff to a more suited 2-hole in the lineup will only make them that much more powerful. Where is the weak spot? Second base is all you could possibly suggest from an offensive perspective. Cano is a second year player who needs better plate discipline. Even with him there, this team will destroy bad pitching. Defensively, still weak. Damon covers tremendous ground but his arm is worse than Williams'. Matsui is average at best in Left, though those on the Pancake Breakfast tend to disagree with me a bit here. But that's about it. Pitching leaves question maks - Can Pavano recover, will Wright have the year he had in Atlanta 2 years ago, is Wang that good, will Chacon and Small have years close to what they did last year, and how old are Johnson and Mussina? But they have the best closer in baseball and can afford to give up 5-7 runs a game when you'll score 7-10.

Boston has question marks in a lot of "ifs": If Foulke returns to '04 form, If Schilling is healthy, If Beckett can stay off the DL, If Lowell isn't D-U-N, If Crisp can compare to Damon. Sure, should these come true, this Boston team is dangerous. If they sign Clemens, even more so. But they seem to be building for '07, '08, and '09 with some of the recent moves (Pena, Crisp). Not saying they're throwing away this season, because defensively this team is much better now than they were last year at any point, but I don't think they're pushing for a title in '06. Offensively, they still have Manny and Papi, and in a lot of cases that's enough. I like this team's makeup because I think these starters will come through in one sense or another. My concern is at the end of the bullpen. Should Foulke falter in Texas opening weekend, he will be booed opening day in Boston, deserved or not. He might not be able to recover from that.

Toronto is interesting, but they were 15 games behind Boston and NY last year. Making that up in one off season isn't entirely likely. Are they closer? Certainly. Burnett has one of the best arms in the game, Halladay is healthy, and Ryan was a solid acquisition at closer. I don't like some of the offensive moves. Troy Glaus makes me nervous if I'm a Jays fan. Expecially if they bet the farm and trade away a guy like Hillenbrand. Lyle Overbay is good, but his stats aren't hugely superior to what they would have had there anyway. He'll hit more homers than most, but a .300-25-85 year is probably more likely than .320-35-100. Tampa will get out of the basement because they have more young talent than Baltimore and the pitching is better. They'll give some teams fits this year. Baltimore is in trouble. They're best offseason acquisition was Leo Mazzone...and he can't help Kris Benson.


The question of a ChiSox repeat should be answered early. This looks like the second best team in the division at this point. They added Thome, who will more than make up for what was lost in Everett and the pitching additions are fantastic. I like Cleveland to finish first in this division, given they nearly did that last year but faltered in the last week or so. The young offensive talent this team currently has now knows what playing meaningful games down the stretch is like and the pitching should be about equal to last seasons as well, despite the loss of Milwood. Minnesota has the talent to contend, but not the offense. Without another power hitter in the middle of the lineup, this team is destined to finish a distant third. Jim Leyland will take over and finish the turnaround Alan Trammel started. Look for the Tigers to be the surprise of the season and finish at .500 for the first time in years. Kansas City....well, I apologize.


Probably going to be the most balanced division in baseball this year. Oakland has put together another great team and looks to me to be the division favorite. Deep starting rotation, play great defense and will get a healthy Bobby Crosby back to start the season. Add Huston Street to that mix and to me that's your division winner. No other team talent wise can stack up out West. Anaheim made no real moves this offseason. They have a great farm system and a couple prospects on the horizon, but relying on rookies in the second half of this year won't win a division flag or set up for a post-season run. Morales, Kendrick, and Mathis will be good, but not this year. Anderson is getting older, and Vlad is due for an extended DL stint this year. They just didn't make enough moves. Seattle's biggest problem will be pitching. Beltre and Sexson are still stalwarts in the middle of the order and Johijma seems to be adjusting well to the American game. Jeremy Reed was coveted by a lot of teams this offseason and will rebound from the career .300 OBP guy he currently is and Ichiro is Ichiro. Felix Hernandez looks good and will continue to dominate as he moves along. But relying on Everyday Eddie and Jamie Moyer too heavily will require this team to make another move. Bring in another #2/3 kind of guy and I take Seattle more seriously. Texas is another team I like. Milwood and Eaton at the top of the rotation make them much more beilevable. Looks like they realized that pitching wins. They already had great, young, offensive talent and that won't change with Teixeira, Young, Mench, Blalock, etc. I say they finish second to Oakland this year and make a run at the wildcard.


So how does it go down?
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Cleveland
AL West: Oakland
Wild Card: Chicago
AL Champion: Oakland

MVP: Eric Chavez
Cy Young: Roy Halladay
Rookie of the Year: Francisco Liriano (I'd say Papelbon, but I don't think his role will be definied enough)
Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bracket Talk

Tomorrow begins the most wonderful weekend of the basketball year. Sure, the whole tournament is fantastic and all, but when basketball starts at noon and goes till midnight for 4 straight days, there's something to be said for that level of excitement. Even more so, this is the weekend where upsets happen, Cinderellas are born, and favorites fall. The games played now prove the theory that on any given day, any team can beat another. We may not see a team like Southern (at 7 sextillion to 1 odds of winning the title) upset Duke, but there will be something that very few people expect. That's what makes the tournament the greatest of any post-season event in any sport. I'll take this weekend over the NFL Playoffs, MLB Playoffs, or whatever else you want to put out there. Sure, this opinion changes slightly as we move closer to the Final Four itself, but that's expected.

Add to all this, everyone fills out a bracket somewhere. How can you not? People get caught up in this excitement and it's the only event that can create this kind of buzz. As a result, you see people cheering for teams they know nothing about, rooting for players they've never heard of, all for the sake of "pride" (loosely translated, pride means money). These early round games are where pools are won and lost. Most people get the later games right because talent usually prevails in the end. But where do you look for these upsets? Here are my thoughts. Note: didn't pick all of these, but this is where I'd look for them to happen.

In the Minneapolis Bracket:
--South Alabama over Florida. Why? Florida blows it in the tourney every year. Why would this be any different? Add to that, they failed in crunch time regularly this year. If the Jaguars keep it close, the Gators fall.
--Montana over Nevada - The classic 12 over 5. And because I know nothing about Nevada outside that one foreign kid with the name I can't spell.
--UW-Milwaukee to the Sweet 16 - They did it last year, why not this year?

In the Washington D.C. Bracket:
--Winthrop over Tennessee. Tennessee is a week 2 seed at best and Winthrop has played and beaten big time competition.
--Murray St. over UNC. A stretch, but Murray St. plays a 40 minutes of hell style of hoop that could give Carolina fits.

In the Oakland Bracket:
--San Diego St. over Indiana and then to the Sweet 16. Indiana has the lame duck coach and stumbled down the stretch. SDSU has an experienced coach and 2 senior starters. As for beating Gonzaga in round 2, look at Gonzaga's recent tourney history. That said...
--Xavier over Gonzaga. But Adam Morrison won't let them lose.
--Oral Roberts over Memphis. No one has Memphis getting out of the Elite 8 for the most part, so why not take a chance here? Win-Win situation. You look like a genius if you're right, but won't screw up your bracket too bad if you aren't. A 16 has never beaten a 1, but Memphis is a weak #1 from a weaker conference. There's a chance...

In the Atlanta Bracket:
--Texas A&M over Cuse. 12 over 5 theory at work again, but A&M didn't play the competition in league that Syracuse did and no team is hotter.
--Northwestern St. over Iowa. Steve Alford tends to fall asleep at the wheel in the tourney and a game like this is just that chance. Northwestern St. gave Oklahoma fits on the road this year, so they know the level to play at.
--Southern Illinois over West Virginia. When WVU isn't hitting threes, they lose. They're best chance to stumble is when a team has time to prepare. But the Salukis won't sneak up on anyone this year, not after the Sweet 16 run they made.

Enjoy the games and work on the excuses for not coming in tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Always Look on the Bright Side of Death...

Sure, the Providence College men's hockey team fell in two games to UNH up at the Whittenmore Center, the second in double overtime fashion. But to recognize this season as anything but a success wouldn't do Tim Army and his squad justice. Army took a team pegged to finish no higher than 7th and had them within one win of home ice advantage. He did a lot of good work here. The team no doubt faltered down the stretch, losing important games to Northeastern, UNH, and Merrimack. The goaltending got shaky and the offense fell stagnant. Why was this? Well, first, Army ran Tyler Sims into the ground with the amount of games the guy had to play. Offensively they got tired and that led to a lack of production.

This is a team that last year only played 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 style games. Those were dull, boring, and lifeless events to attend. This year, there was skating. The players carried the puck through the neutral zone, cycled the puck on the power play, and regularly were able to breakout for odd-man rushes. Final scores were much higher, as the team increased scoring by a goal a game. Considering Army recruited none of these players, you can see the talent level that was actually present on the roster. There is certainly a light at the end of the tunnel for this team and two years from now, they could certainly be a force in the conference.

Unlike our basketball team, you can see the coaching mind on the bench, the talent on the ice, the buzz returning to the arena. It wasn't an easy way to end the season, but I'll be happy when I check off that box to renew my tickets for next year, knowing that I'll see some great hockey played by a team that is only going to get better. Kudos to Tim Army and bon voyage to some great seniors, the last true class of guys I drank heavily with - Torry Gajda, Matt Manina, James Pemberton, and Nate Meyers. Best of luck guys, thanks for the memories.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mismanagement - It's Called Bruins!

Yesterday's trade of Sergei Samsonov showed the complete and utter lack of direction the organization is currently facing. When it comes to the trading deadline, you have to either be a buyer or a seller. Trading Samsonov is a sign that the Bruins were neither. Someone like Glen Murray, who has both a high cap number and high potential return value, is still on the Bruins. According to Mike O'Connell, people called about Hal Gill, PJ Axelsson, Murray, Brian Leetch, and a host of others. Why not come out and have the sale of the century? The team is at the max cap number, 9 points out of 8th place, and for intents and purposes ended their season last night with a pathetic 3-0 showing against Montreal.

What have the Bruins done since 1972? Nothing. Flaming out early or late, paring payroll or adding it, the management hasn't had a clue in 20 years...minimum. Most recently, they made a host of bad decisions and have shown a distinct inability to build a championship team. O'Connell said on the day of the Thornton trade that, "If this doesn't work, I should be fired." Well, Mike, looks like you might get your wish! Jacobs has stood by him and given him the checkbook. For not stepping in sooner, Jacobs should go. BUT, I think I could be satisfied with just O'Connell going if I knew that Jacobs would allow them to keep the piggy bank open.

As far as the Samsonov trade, what has this left Boston with? Certainly a team that can't compete. Another 3rd or 4th line center that can't stay healthy, and an aging lineup that all we can say about next year is that they will be a year older. This is now a team without a face - the two cornerstones of the draft having been shipped out. Samsonov could have been traded for Brad Stuart straight up back before Thornton was dealt. I think that probably would have put the Bruins in enough of a better position. But who knows anymore. The team has gone from being loved, to being hated, to being ignored. Apathy is the worst thing for a sports team. They've just fallen off the radar. And it will take a front office and roster overhaul (again) to steer this ship in any sort of winning direction.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thoughts on Spamalot

Plain and simple, if you can find a ticket for this thing, go see it. The little lady and I went last night and found everything about it hilarious. The performance rarely leaves a dull moment. I was curious as to what I would get out of this thing, given that it was an admitted rip off of the Holy Grail movie, of which I'm a tremendous fan. Needless to say, the writers and cast did not disappoint here. Whether or not you enjoy the theatre, you'll like this a lot. And you score brownie points, so how can you go wrong?

The sets are fun and the banter amongst the chracters is great. The songs are hilarious. My personal favorites were "You'll Never Succeed on Broadway" and "This is the Song that Goes Like This." Both incredibly well done and had the audience roaring with laughter. Easy to see how this play won a Tony award for its musical numbers. There is plenty there to keep avid Monty Python fans entertained, but you'll enjoy it just as much if you've never seen any of the movies at all. Even the Knights Who Say "Ni" make an appearance! Listen carefully or you'll miss some quick one-liners. Since the actors are all British, not paying attention could cost you a joke or two. Both of us remarked that seeing this on Broadway with the cast they had in place there must have been fantastic.

The Colonial Theatre is the perfect venue for this production. Slightly more intimate than the Wang, it gives you enough room to move yet provide the quiet setting this production needs. Not a seat was to be found vacant anywhere in the theatre. We were able to make a night of it, hitting up the Rock Bottom Brewery on Tremont St. prior to the play and heading over to Teatro for dessert afterwards. Both highly recommended stops on the magical mystery tour of Boston. I won't give away much of the plot since Rob is heading to see this in a couple weeks, but I'll be curious to hear his assessment afterwards.

Anyway, I recommend to Python and non-Python fans alike. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Barry Bonds...again

I was giving everyone some time to respond to this, but since I'm on my lunch break here I thought since no one else has taken the reigns that I'd say something. Everyone here understands my undying love for the game of baseball. I read box scores with the same intensity others read mystery novels. If there's a game on, I'll watch it. There is nothing about baseball that I don't find utterly enthralling. Most people see the slow pace, I sit and enjoy the strategy of the game - from positioning of infielders, to whether or not to bunt, to the individual pitches called. While other fans don't necessarily care about the effect of steroids and amphetamines on the integrity and the history of the game, it is something that bothers me to no end. Each record broken by a modern player needs to be called in to question, which is not something any sport should be proud of. Every towering home run hit, even now, has to be met with a certain level of skepticism. Players have shown up for training camps over the past two years smaller and smaller, claiming to have cut fatty foods from their diets. Passing the eyeball test for some of these guys wasn't even possible.

And now we have the revelations coming from the book entitled Game of Shadows by columnists at the San Francisco Chronicle detailing, to nearly daily remedies, how Barry Bonds took steroids and gained this massive amount of muscle. The authors use unsealed court documents, affidavits from BALCO employees, interviews with witnesses, and multiple other sources to compile what basically is a timeline of usage beginning back in 1998. It's hard to believe that all of this is untrue, given the excruciating detail with which they go over the exact regimen Bonds was taking, the cycles, the calendars, and the conversations. And the reason: apparent jealousy over the McGwire coverage and the home run chase. The book even details the way Bonds was avoiding paying taxes on memorabilia sales and autographed merchandise. At best, he's been evading taxes. At worst, he's done that, perjured himself in court, and destroyed any reputation he had left while ruining the sanctity of the game of baseball. The excerpts alone hurt to read (they can be found on cnnsi.com). If you look at the pictures from the time Bonds broke into the majors in 1986 to now, the change is astounding. You can add 20-30 pounds of muscle when you're in your twenties, not in your mid to late thirties, which is what Bonds did. The injuries Bonds piled up from 1998-2005 also lead down the trail to question his honesty about illegal supplements. Add all this together as well as the integrity of the data compiled in the book and you have guilt...at least in the court of public opinion.

All this comes on the heels of last year's New York Times article detailing the regimen Mark McGwire was taking down to the exact amounts. All coming from an FBI source. Call me crazy, but that's credible enough for me. Problem is, we don't know the time frame involved here and when McGwire started. This is a guy, after all, that hit 49 homers as a rookie with Oakland. What's worse, some people at ESPN STILL say they would be willing to vote for Bonds and the Hall of Fame!! What more proof do these people need??

But what do you do with all of this? How should the commissioner react and how should baseball move forward? It's not as black and white as expunging his statistics from the record books, or McGwire's for that matter. Bonds, contrary to belied, was not a Hall of Famer prior to 1998. He was ON HIS WAY to becoming one. His stats through those 12 years, outside of stolen bases, compare favorably with a guy who actually isn't in the Hall of Fame, one Jim Rice. You can make the case that steroids made him a Hall of Famer. May not be entirely accurate, but it's an arguable point. What I say you do with anyone found guilty of having used illegal performance enhancing drugs, especially to this length, is banned from baseball in the way Pete Rose was. Leave the stats there, because that era leaves open the debate for who actually was or wasn't using. But put an asterisk next to them with a note, "Guilty of Using Performance Enhancing Drugs." Now, you can argue that there were others who weren't caught and you're right. But I can't do anything with people who I can't prove are guilty. I wish I could, because guys like Pudge Rodriguez certainly are on my list. So, for me, McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, and anyone else who tests positive for substances like this don't deserve to grace a baseball diamond ever again. I don't care if you're a minor leaguer or a star like this, you have no right to be considered a Hall of Fame player. Some might say this is harsh. It probably is, but anabolic steroids and amphetamines, these true performance enhancers need to be removed from all sports, not just baseball. As for the other major player, Sammy Sosa, well he's never been caught. That's about all you can say and his career should be judged as such.

That said, these three players should kiss the Hall of Fame good bye. Just as Rose destroyed the integrity of the game through his gambling (as a manager), these players destroyed the on-field reputation of the game of baseball and should be banned for life. They would never get my vote.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Vaya con Dios, Kirby Puckett

This is an interesting post for me to write. I was never a big Puckett fan, always thought his career was slightly (okay, drastically) overrated. But today baseball lost a true ambassador of the game, and a real on-field gentleman. Puckett passed away today after complications resulting from a stroke suffered Sunday.

I could rehash his career statistics, and they are quite meaningful. In addition to over 2,000 career hits and 10 all star appearances, Puckett won 2 titles in a twelve year career in the Twin Cities. His career was tragically cut short as a result of glaucoma developed in his right eye. But the fact is, his career was more than that. Puckett and Kent Hrbek were the cornerstones of a Twins franchise that thrived during the late 80's and early 90's. His heroics during the World Series in 1991 propelled his career into the national spotlight. I have vivid memories of watching Puckett patrol centerfield at the Metrodome making tremendous leaping catches up against the hockey style glass that graced the top of the wall. Few who watched him will forget the pudgy, shorter man that played the game the way it should be - with hustle, heart, and desire. He respected the game and made the most of what were admittedly limited abilities. I'll be the first to admit I have a soft spot for those 1987 Twins and Puckett himself, as he was the centerfielder for the first game I attended at Fenway Park.

Dave Winfield said it best, "The best that I can say about him...was that he's the most positive person I ever played with. He did something for every teammate." Ultimately he was elected to the Hall of Fame based on the potential his career still had when he was forced to retire. The highlight reels were kind to you, Kirby. I'm betting there's a spot for you in centerfield for that team in the sky.

March Madness!

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

I can't say enough how much I look forward to these weeks in March. This weekend saw the first few dance cards punched in several mid-major conferences, bubbles bursting, and teams getting ready for the major conference tournaments. Any college basketball fan can tell you that between now and March 19th are the most exciting weeks of basketball around. That gets you through all your conference tournaments and the first two rounds of the NCAA. The games come one after another and the action is amazing. The smaller conferences know that they will see only one bid, so every conference tournament game is a matter of life or death to these kids. And it's compelling. I may never have watched Coastal Carolina play basketball, but the way they played against Wintrop, with three pointers raining down, made you feel horrible when they fell just short. Last year saw a fantastic slate of games that had everything from overtimes to buzzer-beater finishes. One that still sticks out in my mind is the UK-MSU game, Patrick Sparks rained a last second three, using every part of the rim, to send the game to the first of two overtimes.

I almost want to ask what we can expect these next few weeks, but the answers are both obvious and vague. We can certainly expect a giant (or three) to fall in the NCAA tourney....but to who and when? One can also know that there will be at least four tremendous conference tournament finishes. SportsCenter is required viewing for the college hoop nut, because you can't catch everything. It's a time of year where you start to watch teams you've never heard of because of the magic of the month and the feeling of the moment. You find yourself pulled in to games with teams like UNC-Wilmington, Davidson, Belmont, Fairleigh Dickinson, etc. Everyone will have Cinderella Dreams and hopes of hearing "One Shining Moment" at the end of it all. Add to that, office pools, brackets with friends and family, all lead to 90% of America having some sort of rooting interest. Let's add to that the first two rounds being played over St. Patrick's Day. It's a set of circumstances that makes you feel good all over...or something like that.

So sit back, through on Championship week on the nine different ESPN networks, get to knwo your mid-majors, and watch some great stories unfold. Sure, the big conferences usually dominate, but watching a team with everything to lose creates more drama than these big conference tournaments where teams that lose still will dance. If you're looking for me, I'll be on the couch...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Anti-Catholic Sentiments

I picked up the Boston Globe today and on the cover was a story about how 7 members on the Board for the Catholic Charities of Bostn have resigned after Archbishop Sean O'Malley stated he did not want to allow for gay parents to adopt from Catholic organizations. First, I don't know why I continue to get the Globe. The paper has gone so liberal in its news coverage that it makes my stomach turn. I'm not a rabid conservative, but as a Catholic, I have my principles and certainly believe in more of the tenets of the religion than I disagree with. The story in itself then should not have surprised me. For the most part, it was actually presented in an unbiased manner, stating facts and not really offering an opinion. A difficult task for this paper, let me assure you. In that sense, it was interesting to read. Governor Romney has stated he believes there may need to be legislation that protects Catholic agencies (as well as other religions) from state anti-discrimination laws under the grounds of religious freedom. A member of the judiciary committee stated there would be no such appetite for that on the Hill. Romeny stopped short of opposing gay adoption by saying that he feels the best environment is that with a mother and father. So those are the basic facts. Check out Boston.com for the full text.

But why does this bother me? Simple. The anti-Catholic sentiment in the media is at unheard of levels. Members of print, television, and radio outlets continue to bash the stance taken by the Church on any issue that does not currently agree with liberal thoughts. Catholics view homosexual relationships as wrong, so they get blasted for it. But there are many religions that feel this way. We just don't hear about them for one reason or another. The Episcopal Church recently had a gay bishop installed (maybe last spring/summer). They are hailed for being progressive, despite the fact his appointment basically divided the church. And let's also not discuss the tight reigns in which he has been placed so as not to upset the apple cart. He's there, that's all that matters apparently. Catholic doctrine, which has been re-written over the years for certain but never re-interpreted, is clear on how the faith views family in every sense. Instructions are explicit on what a family is in the eyes of the Church. If it's what you believe, you don't like seeing it taken to task every night on the 6 o'clock news. And this has become a regular issue in Boston.

Starting with a scandal that, admittedly, Cardinal Law handled miserably, the Catholic Church has taken beating after beating. Even following it, when the Church was finding a way to pay victims, it was blasted for closing parishes. Seriously, we can't have this both ways. There are scandals in other religions that are never talked about. There are other churches that oppose abortion, gay marriages, the death penalty, pick a topic. We hear about the Catholics because our leaders are more prominent, from the Pope to archdiocese bishops, to our own parish priests. With some of this comes a degree of public image and all that comes with it. But, let's look back here. I know this part sounds like a soapbox but it remains true: People came to this country, in part, for freedom of religious expression. It is not for anyone in any walk of life to criticize or chastise the beliefs of any other. Hell, George Carlin gave up Catholicism to worship Joe Pesci. That's his prerogative. It's time the media let religions have their beliefs without constantly questioning their political correctness. It can be said that people come out of such instances stronger. I think that will be true of the Church in the end.