Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year... You've Been Waived!

Happy New Year Marc Denis! You are going to get to ring in 2008 in a new city. Will it be in Springfield as a member of the Lightning’s AFL affiliate Falcons or for another NHL city that’s desperate for a goaltender (Los Angeles or Atlanta, maybe?)

This has become the first major trade to blow up in Jay Feaster’s face. Back in June of 2006 the GM pulled off his first important post Stanley Cup deal when he dealt a pair of Fredriks (popular winder Fredrik Modin and young goaltender Fredrik Norrena) to Columbus for Denis.

At the time the Bolts were desperate for a true number one goalie. Nik Khabibulin had left Tampa for Chicago and big money. The John Grahme experiment was a disaster and the organization was weary of trusting any of the young netminders such as Norrena or Gerald Coleman that they had in their system. Denis was young, just 28 at the time, but had several seasons of NHL experience under his belt including 3 years as the starter for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He had 3 seasons in a row with a save percentage over .900 for a Columbus team that wasn’t very good. Tampa was willing to believe that his best days were in front of him and with a better cast of teammates in front of him he could realize the potential that had made him a number one pick and Patrick Roy’s heir apparent for Colorado when they drafted him in 1995.

Now, not even a season and a half later, Denis and his 3 year $8.5 Million contract are sitting on waivers waiting to see if any team is willing to take a chance on him. Meanwhile the team, still desperate for a true number one, turns its attention to 21 year old Karri Ramo.

With 43 games left in the season and a record that has them tied for last place in the Southeast Division the Bolts are hoping the young Finn can spark them on a playoff run that turns around what has become a disastrous season. The confident young goalie has been better than advertised as he’s posted a .929 save percentage and a respectable 2.54 Goals Against in the four games he’s played since his recall. The stellar play has vaulted him past Johan Holmqvist and into the starting role, but hasn’t translated into wins thanks to the suddenly anemic Tampa offense.

Getting back to Denis he has reached a critical stage in his career. Three teams have now decided that he’s not their answer and at 30 he’s getting past the stage where teams are willing to risk that he can improve. Before he stopped a puck on Tampa ice he was the poster child of the organization. Literally. Few fans will forget the 30 foot poster of Denis that greeted them as they entered the Ice Palace in the beginning of 2006. A year later he joins an illustrious group of players to call themselves ex-Lightning goalies. What a list of names that is from Corey Schwab to Derek Wilkinson to Zac Beirk many have strapped on the pads only to fade into obscurity.

There could be an argument made that he never had a chance. Trading away fan favorite Modin clouded a lot of fans opinions on Denis. He scored 22 goals for Columbus last season, 22 goals that could have helped out the Bolts. In addition to his offense his willingness to play a defensive role made him invaluable to a team with free spirits like Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St Louis.

Meanwhile in two seasons Norrena is showing himself to be a capable netminders. He posted 24 wins last season and despite being supplanted by the monster that is Pascal Leclaire has 4 more wins in the season than Denis (5 to 1).

This turned out to be one of the few deals that has not worked out for the Lightning. Has it set back the franchise? Possibly, but it’s also opened the door for Ramo. For the first time since Vincent and Brad Richards were coming up the Lightning have a young player who’s ready to make an impact on the team.

Paul Ranger is a nice story, but as a defenseman he doesn’t garner the same attraction as a stud goaltender or a flashy scorer. It’s nice to see a young player like Ramo perform on the professional level when given the chance.

If he can’t keep up the strong play and fades into a Denis-esque slump where he looks lost on the ice it could spell the doom for the vaunted Big Three. One of the big guns would have to be moved either for a top-shelf goaltender or to free up money to make a run at a free agent in the off-season (Henrik Lundqvist anyone?) There was some chatter about the Bolts moving St Louis to Dallas for Marty Turco earlier in the season and a Canadian paper mentioned that they had also expressed interest in bringing Khabibulin back.

All of those rumors make for good internet and idle chat room gossip. The only the only thing that is known is that when the calendar turns to 2008 Marc Denis, once the hope of the organization, will be wearing a new uniform.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The End of the World? Nahh just more fodder for the interwebs....

We are less than 15 hours away from baseball’s Armageddon or 15 hours away from a furious sounding that ultimately means nothing. At 2.00pm on Thursday December 13th, 2007 George Mitchell will release his long awaited report on the use of steroids in Major League baseball. The inquiry (or witch hunt depending on what side you’re on) has taken 20 months. Mitchell and his band of merry investigators have conducted countless interviews often meeting a less than shocking lack of cooperation from players.

What information is going to be released tomorrow? Reports on state that Mitchell places blame on the owners and the players association. They also state that he is going to recommend several changes including adopting state of the art testing procedures and educating players on performance-enhancing drugs.

Nobody cares about that information. Everyone wants to hear the names!

The common fan already knows that owners turned a blind eye towards the growing problem in the late 80’s and 90’s. They continued to sign the big checks as the players transformed themselves into linebackers. Could the players association have stopped it early on? Of course they could have, but why should they? There were no penalties and the free agent contracts kept growing at a staggering rate.

That’s all in the past and like Mark McGwire we’re not here to talk about the past. Let the rest of the media gnash their teeth and lament the loss of innocence in America’s Pastime. Will anything about the game change?

Ultimately no. The names will be released and there will be outrage in the media and sheepish excuses issued by the players. Some will say it’s a misunderstanding and others will issue carefully worded apologies through their agents. Then slowly it will fade to the background. Baseball won’t banish anyone and no one will stand up and admit, “Yes I took steroids, HGH, performance enhancing drugs, etc. so that I would be a better player and make more money”.

Will we be shocked by the names on the list? Only if Jason Tyner Ben Zorbist are on there. In this day in age should any professional athlete be above suspicion? No. Every GM should be losing sleep tonight thinking about how to spin the news if their top players are named. Imagine Andrew Freidman having to step up to the podium to answer questions about Rocco Baldelli receiving shipments of HGH and Stanozolol while he was rehabbing his various injuries over the past two seasons. Admit it, it’s not that hard to picture.

That wasn’t meant to drag Rocco through the mud. The popular outfielder fits the profile of players who’ve already been named. Rick Ankeil, Jason Grimsley and Jay Gibbons were all players who allegedly purchased the substances to help recover from major injuries. The point is that this is a very real case scenario that at least one team will be going through tomorrow. It’s going to be a public relations nightmare.

The release of the names will make good copy for a few days, especially now during a slow sports period. Experts will appear on your TV and scream about the sanctity of the game and the tarnishing of records. Then playoff football will roll around and baseball will take a back burner. The College Bowl Season, Super Bowl and College Basketball will draw more attention away and by spring training the Mitchell Report will be nothing more than a footnote. After all aren’t we still supposed to be outraged at Michael Vick and Don Imus?

So far this off-season it doesn’t appear that teams are shying away from players that have been linked with illicit drugs. Jose Guillen signed a 3 year $36 Million contract on the same day Major League Baseball announced he was going to be suspended for receiving $20,000 worth of steroids and HGH in 2003-05. On Wednesday The Houston Astros traded their entire AAA roster for Miguel Tejada whose name has been associated with steroids more than once. (ed note – the trade was for Luke Scott and 4 prospects).

There are also reports that Major League Baseball won’t punish any of the players named in the report. So the athletes can mumble their explanations about tainted vitamins or doctors’ prescriptions and talk about moving forward while they line up their next multimillion dollar contract.

In the end, batting averages and ERA’s will replace horse tranquilizers and estrogen injections on the front page. The airwaves will be filled with complaints about the Rays bullpen instead of cries to purge the records of the steroid abusers.

The demise of baseball has been predicted before. As always baseball will survive this. Just like it has survived the Dead Ball era, gambling scandals, drug scandals, work stoppages and Dane Cook promos. Like Terrance Mann said, “This field, this game: it’s a part of our past…It reminds us of all that was once good and it could be again.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trade Winds are a Blowin'

Let’s see:

1. 2nd Annual Carl Crawford to the White Sox trade rumor – check
2. Random Scott Kazmir to New York rumor – check
3. Tons of chatter on message boards on other teams fleecing the Rays for their players – check

That means one thing – the Hot Stove League is in full swing. Baseball’s annual swap meet is humming right along at a fever pitch even though there haven’t been any big deals yet. The biggest news has been players resigning such as Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees and Mike Lowell with the Red Sox. The names rumored to be on the block are huge. Johan Santana, dubbed by some as the best pitcher in the game, is on the move to New York (Mets and Yankees), Red Sox, Angels or whoever else meets whatever outrageous price Minnesota is looking for. Miguel Cabreara has been mentioned in as many stories as Santana often for the same players that are in the Santana rumors.

While nothing solid looks to be eminent it does keep fans busy coming up with their own unsubstantiated and all out crazy trade rumors. As usual Joe Commenter thinks they are smarter than the 30 GM’s in Major League Baseball. Apparently if GM’s read more blogs and message boards they’d be a lot better at their job.

That makes today’s rumor so interesting. A proposed “mega deal” between the Rays and the Twins has spread through the internet community like a California wildfire. La Velle E. Neal III (great name by the way) reports on that the two clubs are “close to finalizing a multi-player deal” that would send Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie to Minnesota for stud pitching prospect Matt Garza, reliever Juan Rincon and shortstop Jason Bartlett.

Reaction from the masses has been mixed. Opinions have ranged from it being a horrible deal for the Rays to being a horrible deal for the Twins to it being a great trade for both clubs. This is an extension of fans having a tendency to over value their own prospects. Delmon Young could be the next great right-handed hitter a la Albert Pujols. Or he could be a one year wonder (paging Kevin Maas). Matt Garza could be a dominating starter or he could blow his arm out skipping rocks on a river somewhere.

The point is, well one of the points is, that you have to surrender talent to receive talent. With all of the scouting and information on players available the chances of one team robbing another in a trade are greatly reduced. There won’t be too many Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano deals anytime soon, especially in the off-season.

Many fans would like to see Young in a Rays uniform for many years to come. These same fans acknowledge that the Rays can use another starter in the rotation. Well they can’t have it both ways. Teams aren’t going to deal a number 3 or above starter to the Rays for an oft-injured Rocco Baldelli or malcontent such as Elijah Dukes.

So it comes to dealing key players. The two biggest chips in the Rays arsenal are Delmon Young and Carl Crawford. Right now Young may have more upside to his career, but Crawford is more important to the organization. CC is still young enough to just be entering his prime, but also has enough experience that you know what you’re getting out of him year in and year out – 50 steals, over .300, 15-20 home runs and slightly above average defense in left.

Young has one year and despite the fact that it was arguably a Rookie of the Year caliber season there are still a lot of question marks for his career. Will he hit for power (only 13 homeruns in 645 at bats)? Will he curb his strikeouts (127 last season)? Those are realistic concerns.

If this deal goes down it will be the first major deal for the new ownership; deadline deals not withstanding. It will give the Rays a strong rotation (Kazmir, James Shields, Garza, Andy “The Chosen One” Sonnanstine, Ed Jackson) for next year. With Jeff Niemann and David Price around the bend Tampa Bay could have a dominating staff for years to come.

The outfield of the future from a few seasons ago (Carl Crawford, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young) never materialized and has morphed into Crawford, BJ Upton and as yet to be named right fielder if Young is moved. Next season will probably see a platoon of Jon Gomes, Justin Ruggiano or a yet to be signed journeyman in right. While losing Delmon would be a blow to the lineup the Rays could hope that the addition of Evan Longoria would offset any loss of offense.

As usual all of this could be for naught if the deal doesn’t happen. The important point (see there is more than one) is that fans shouldn’t reject a deal out of the gate just because it involves a player that has been billed as a can’t miss prospect. He is still just a prospect. There’s a 50/50 chance he could turn into a bust. Then you only can say – “Gee if only we had dealt him back when he was good”.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm back

So what did I miss while I was enjoying beer and anti-Nazi riots ? Let’s see:

The Lightning were on a hot streak!
The USF Bulls are making a push for a bowl game not located in Birmingham.
Aubrey Huff said something dumb in Tampa about Baltimore. It’s like he never left!
New uniforms and a possible new stadium for the Rays.

The first three are nice stories and we’ll look at them in due time. For now lets focus on the Rays. It’s official they are now the Tampa Bay Rays and as expected they unveiled the worst kept secret in the TBA.

The uniforms will be comprised of a blue, white and yellow color scheme. The focus is moving away from the animal and more into Rays as in sunlight. The fate of the cow nose rays in the centerfield “Rays Tank” has yet to be determined.

The news was met with a muted response. Any hope of suspense or excitement was removed when the details were leaked online during the summer. Luckily the Rays had another bullet in the chamber.

Reports surfaced and were confirmed that the Rays are in negotiation with the city of St. Petersburg to build a new stadium at the waterfront property currently occupied by Al Lang Field.

The public’s reaction has been less than positive. According to a special report by the St. Petersburg Times 57% of registered voters surveyed approval of the plans to build the stadium (yea more than half!), but 69% of those same voters don’t want taxpayer money to pay for it. The sample size was 616 voters and has a 4% margin of error.

Wow how about those numbers? This town loves its Rays don’t they? Instead of embracing the fact that the team is making a commitment to stay in town and improve the atmosphere for its fans the public is worried about paying for it.

It’s a tough time in Florida for sure. The housing market is down, taxes are creeping up and the threat of a hurricane wiping out everything is always right around the corner. That’s understandable, but if you want to call yourself a true sports town there are sacrifices that have to made. You concede that you’re going to pay more for tickets every year, you understand that the price of a beer inside the stadium is going to be more than a six pack outside of the stadium and once in your lifetime you and everyone else are asked to pony up for a stadium.

It’s not the Rays fault that the City of St Pete convinced voters and taxpayers to build a stadium as a way to entice Major League Baseball into giving the area a team. Tropicana Field was outdated before Wilson Alvarez threw a pitch inside it. Aren’t you embarrassed as a fan to have explain the catwalk rules to fans from out of town?

The days of owners paying for stadiums out of their own pockets have come and gone. I was surprised that the ball club has already said that they’re willing to kick in any money at all. Think back 10 years and ask yourself how much money the Glazers kicked in for Raymond James. Were the Bucs any better than the Rays are now? Fans can’t have it both ways. They can’t complain about the park the team currently plays in and then shoot down the idea of a new park before there’s even a concept in place.

This is a good thing. This needs to be done. Whining about the “secret” negotiations or the lack of parking or the burden it’s going to place on downtown isn’t going to endear the owners to the town. If this goes to a public referendum and gets shot down don’t be surprised to hear serious talk about the team moving. A cynical person may say that Stu Sternberg is floating this out there knowing it’s going to fail just so he has an excuse to move the franchise.

Don’t take this as a blanket endorsement for the current ownership. There are hundreds of details that need to be ironed out. The parking concerns are valid as is the minor problem of finding $450 Million + to pay for the stadium. The point is that it is not time to focus on the negative. What the team is looking for is excitement. Let’s talk about the virtues of an open stadium or a retractable roof. Should there be a version of McCovey Cove and what should it be called (Canseco’s Cove? Huff’s Harbor? Boggs Bay?)

2012 is the estimated completion date for the stadium. By then the organization should know what the product on the field is going to be like. Will Scott Kazmir and James Shields fulfill their potential? They’ll know if BJ Upton is an All-Star centerfielder and if Delmon Young is the player they hope him to be.

Imagine a team that has been able to compete in the toughest division in the MLB. Imagine a truly competitive team stepping out under a sunny April sky instead of the dull florescent lights of the Trop. Imagine ESPN and Fox gushing about seeing sailboats in the distance. Imagine an All-Star game in St Pete.

Those are things that team should be hearing about right now. There is plenty of time left for the details. For now imagine the possibilities.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Always Late and Never Right... The World Series Preview

I know it’s late, but you probably weren’t expecting me to write anything anyway. Well here it is – CB’s World Series Preview/Review. Let’s skip ahead to the prediction. I say, with sorrow in my heart, the Red Sox win in six games. I used to like the Red Sox, they were harmless. No matter how well they were playing you could count on them blowing it at some point. No matter how cocky their fans would get all you would have to say is “Bucky Dent” or “Bill Buckner” and they would be brought back to reality. Unfortunately 2004 changed all that.

At first I was happy for them. A long suffering and loyal fan base had finally been rewarded for their years of suffering. That lasted for about 2 weeks. I was familiar with the term Masshole. In the small Florida college I attended I had encountered several of them. For some reason our school recruited heavily from that region and so for four years I listened and smirked at their harsh accent and rolled my eyes when they called mommy and daddy for more money.

Since the World Series victory in 2004 the so-called Red Sox Nation became infested with Massholes. No longer was the face of the typical Sox fan a middle aged bearded fellow with despair written across his face. Now it’s Dane Cook. They invade other stadiums with foul language still screaming NOOOOOOOMMMARRR for no particular reason. They bully and mock home town fans. It reminds me a lot of another group of fans that harassed fans in the late 90’s and early 00’s – Yankee fans.

On the field the transition was much the same. Back in ’04 the Boston club was charming. Kevin Millar was cowboying it up and Pedro was pulling one last year of magic out of his arm. Curt Schilling was the savior who decided to sign with the club after talking to fans on an internet message board. He was heralded as the Savior with a capital “S” when he pitched with blood leaking out of his ankle.

Now J.D. Drew patrols right field. Julio Lugo plays average short stop – at $9 million a year. Schilling makes the news more for running his mouth then his actions on the mound. David Ortiz hobbles around the field like a 90 year old man. Trot Nixon is gone, Johnny Damon is gone, Millar and Derrick Lowe are gone.

Manny Ramirez is still around, but there is a 75% chance he thinks he’s still playing for Cleveland. The talking heads like to glorify GM Theo Epstein’s decision not to trade Ramirez. It’s not like he didn’t try. He just couldn’t work a deal.

A team that couldn’t “afford” Damon paid $101 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka who is at best their number three starter. An argument could be made that despite their overpaid talent if it wasn’t for the emergence of some of their young players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroria then they might not be playing tonight.

If you just read that and thought it sounded like 7 paragraphs of sour grapes, well it was. I don’t really care. I’m sick of the Red Sox. The day after they vanquished the Indians to advance to the World Series headline story referred to them as “Destiny’s Darlings”. A few days before that plopped a Red Sox fan’s plaintive comment of “haven’t we suffered enough?” on it’s front page.

Really? You’ve suffered so much in the 3 seasons since you won a title? Go talk to some Seattle or Texas or Cubs fans about suffering. Heck even Rays fans are suffering more than Sox fans these days.

So far the media coverage has been decidedly pro Boston. The Rockies have been cast aside as a neat little story that will be crushed under the tidal wave of Red Sox love. Aren’t Tim McCarver and Joe Buck supposed to be impartial announcers. The amount of man love that they’ve spewed over the Sox so far has been indecent. Thank you Fox for the cheesy Chariots of Fire music as Schilling walked off the mound and into the dugout. Maybe you can petition Cooperstown to wave the five year waiting period and have him inducted into the Hall of Fame following this game.

People can’t seem to get used to the fact that they are in the playoffs and they won 21 of 22 because they are a good fundamental team. They keep it simple, hit the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball. Down the stretch they did it better than any other team.

Of course the long lay off between series hurt them in game one. Anyone arguing that it wouldn’t wasn’t thinking straight. Timing played an important role in their streak. Timely hitting, timely pitching and even timely roster moves were all integral in their success. Nothing disrupts timing like a long delay. It showed Wednesday night in Boston. The bats cooled off and the pitchers looked rusty. They will catch back up.

The series will change once it reaches the mile high air of Denver. While I don’t think it will be enough to overcome the Red Sox I don’t see them getting swept. The Boston fans were unbearable after winning their first title in 86 years I fear living in a world where they win two in four seasons.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

If you lose...will they still come?

Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend I was lucky enough to attend the USF vs. West Virginia game in September. Along with Link and Big Mike we watched as a young program burst onto the national scene with a rousing 21-13 victory over the Mountaineers.

One of things that stood out to me was a fan sitting in front of me. It was a gentleman in his mid 40’s who was sporting a brand new USF visor to go along with his brand new USF T-Shirt and always classic camouflage shorts. As he and his drunken fans leered at the college girls walking by I noticed that he sported a cell phone holder on his belt. What kind of cell phone holder? Why a Florida Gator one of course.

That is the crux of the problem that now faces Bulls. What becomes of the fans that made their way to the front of the bandwagon while USF was crashing the party at the top of the BCS polls? Do they stay or do they go back to their Gators or ‘Noles or, God forbid, their ‘Canes? For the better part of two months even the Buccaneers and their decent start to the NFL season took a back seat to the wunderkinds of the Big East.

A reported 67,012 fans showed up for that match-up against West Virginia on September 28. It was a Friday night, but for once the fans were actually in their seats at kickoff. Maybe the fact that many of them had been tailgating since 10.00AM helped them show up on time, but still for a town that rivals Los Angeles for its game time tardiness it was an impressive feat.

However, now that the buzz around town has worn off what will become of the crowds? Thursday’s uninspired 30-27 loss to Rutgers destroyed any chance the Bulls had at winning the national title. It allows the smug commentators the satisfaction of knowing that the upstarts from Tampa won’t ruin their prestigious end of the season party. Will it affect the crowds?

The Bulls have the honor of playing in a large stadium. Whereas it doesn’t rival the seating capacity of Penn State or Michigan (both of whom can boost attendance over 100,000) it is still a fairly large stadium. More importantly when the stadium is full it is a very loud arena.

However, when it’s not full it has a dreary feeling to it. All of the empty red seats clash with the scattered green shirts in the near empty stadium. The student section is rowdy as always, but in other sections the atmosphere resembles a Saturday afternoon youth soccer game more than a major college football match. That is why fans outside of the TBA ridicule USF on message boards and leading analysts decry their tradition, or lack thereof.

In the future questions should be focused on how the team is playing, not where the school is located. More wins on the field and more support from the town will render the question of “Why is the University of South Florida located in the middle of the state?” moot. Win on the field and the taunts about geography will seem childish coming from fans of other teams.

USF, whose football team is only 11 seasons old, has to earn respect. Jim Leavitt’s leadership is slowly allowing them to do it on the field where early season upsets of Auburn and West Virginia shot the team up the BCS rankings. To earn respect off the field the fans need to continue to show up even if the ESPN cameras aren’t going to be there.

The Bulls are still in the hunt for the Big East championship and with that a bid to a major bowl. They need the fans to shrug off the loss to Rutgers and move on. The big test comes on November 3rd when the team plays at Raymond James once again. Will there be over 60,000 screaming fans there or 25,000 semi-inspired, glad to be outside on a Saturday afternoon quasi fans?

The answer to that question will show how far along this program has truly come along over the last few years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crappy Lightning Post

Three games into the season and the Lightning are one of the 5 teams that still have a big fat shiny “0” in the loss column. Even more impressive is the way they’ve been winning, with solid defense. Wednesday nights 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers marked the first time in 31 games that the Bolts won a game while scoring less than 3 goals. Last season they were 0-30-1 when not hitting the 3 goal mark. While that might not rank up there in impressive streaks like Cal Ripken or Brett Farrve’s consecutive game streak it is still impressive in a “hmmm I didn’t know that way” kind of like the Bucs never returning a touchdown or the Mets never throwing a no-hitter.

The key to the solid defense starts in net. Johan Holmqvist, who broke camp as the unspoken number one goaltender, has performed up to the potential that Coach Tortorella and the Lightning faithful had been hoping would come to fruition since he first donned the mask. After a strong camp he has posted 3 wins and a sparkling .945 save percentage in those 3 wins. With games scattered out over the next two weeks and Tort’s perchance for riding the hot hand it could be a while before Marc Denis finds some playing time.

Goaltending isn’t the only strength of the defense so far this season. Much like during the cup run of 2004 the entire time is buying into the program. Tuesday night’s effort saw 13 blocked shots by Bolt players. Those types of numbers are usually reserved for playoff match ups not weekday games in October.

The offense is on track with Vincent Lecavalier (who Martin Brodeur called “the best player in the league”) has 3 goals and Marty St Louis has 5 assists. It’s still two early to see how balanced the team will be, but it was nice to see Chris Gratton chip in a couple of goals.

It’s a long season and there are many games left to play, but one week in it looks like this years version of the Tampa Bay Lightning is exceedingly more well rounded than the last two seasons.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lightning News

I wish it was better, but is reporting that Dan Boyle will miss "several weeks" after slicing a tendon in his wrist hanging up his skates after the game on Saturday. Add that one to the list of odd sports injuries (Glenallen Hill, Mike Matheny and Tom Barrasso among others).

This isn't good for the team or for Boyle. The Bolts were thin at the blueline going into camp and now the situation is worse. Look for a young player like Matt Smaby or Bryce Lampman to step up. By missing the first few weeks of the season Boyle misses valuable ice time going into his free agent year.

Other bad news has Vincent Lecavalier leaving the game with an undisclosed "upper body injury". Erik Erlendsson is reporting on his Tampa Tribune blog that Vinny's injury "isn't serious" and that he shouldn't miss any time. That's nice to hear, but it makes me wonder why they aren't releasing any information about the injury. I understand the trickery and shenanigans come play off time, but this is preseason.

So far since the Boys in Black donned the new jerseys they've been swarmed with a rash of injuries. Chris Gratton, Andre Roy, Michelle Ouellett, Boyle and Lecavalier all have been bitten by the injury bug. Let's hope we're not looking at a new curse - The Reebok Jersey Curse....shudder.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

BorASS.... get it... it's clever isn't it?

Man. With the way the Rays have been playing lately I thought I would be able to break the drought with a positive article. After all I did think they were going to pull off the 75 wins this year, that’s pretty optimistic. Instead, I have to write about the one man that 99% of the sporting world hates.

As the Rays season draws to a close there are few bright spots to look back on. There is B.J. Upton’s emergence as an elegant and gifted center fielder. The pitching staff’s anchors of James Shields and Scott Kazmir both gave glimpses of a 20 win future. The Chosen One – Andy Sonnenstine – shook off some rough outings to earn a spot in the rotation next season. Over all , there was one slugger who shined above them all – Carlos Pena.

Yet one person decided to rain on the parade. That person is Scott Boras. Yes that Scott Boras. He’s super agent to the athletic stars and despised by 99% of the sporting world. The 1% that doesn’t hate him just happen to be his clients. One of those clients is the aforementioned Pena.

Picked up off the large pile of former number one draft pick busts in the off season he joined the Rays as a non roster invitee. As the season progressed Pena developed into the power threat that has been lacking in Rays history. He has set a franchise record in home runs and is nearing Jorge Cantu’s RBI record of 117. His slick fielding at first often goes unnoticed, but has helped steady an infield comprised totally of players playing full time for the first time in the careers.

Without Pena’s prodigious blasts off and past the catwalks it would be hard to imagine how bad Tampa’s record would be this season. It’s hard to measure how much pressure he has taken off of young hitters like Upton and Delmon Young (who should be looking at serious Rookie of the Year consideration, but that’s a story for a later column).

Right now the young Dominican, hard to think he’s only 29, is surely a lock for comeback player of the year. Last season he bounced between the minors and the Boston Red Sox finding only 33 at bats in the majors. It looked like he was destined to become another prospect whose ability never matched his potential.

A less than stellar spring training made him one of the final cuts and he was only spared starting the season in Durham by a late injury to Greg Norton. He then slowly earned playing time and unseated Ty Wigginton as the every day first baseman. 40 home runs and 112 RBI later he is the heart of the lineup.

The best part is that the Rays control his rights for two more years. This is where Boras slithers into the picture. Even before the feel good story of the year can complete a season he has to open his mouth and put a damper on the celebration.

“Carlos Pena is the greatest player to ever put on a Devil Ray uniform,” Agent Evil spouted off before Monday’s game in LA. I understand that his job is to promote his clients, especially ones who are arbitration eligible, but to make an absurd comment like that is reprehensible. I’m sure former Rays Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs wouldn’t mind comparing careers with the young Mr. Pena. Even current Rays Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir may take umbrage at Boras’ presumption.

A less abrasive way to phrase it might have been to say that Pena has had the best season of any Ray ever. That is a much stronger point to make. To declare the southpaw slugger the “greatest ever” forces one to overlook the fact that Pena has a lifetime average of .251 and only averaged 12 home runs heading into the season. Which I’m sure Boras wouldn’t mind one overlooking.

If Boras had kept his mouth shut after that comment I would have been fine, a little irritated but mostly fine. Of course he’s not capable of keeping his mouth shut. He insinuated that the Rays got one of the best deals ever by “getting a player who had a $15 million season for about $1.2 Million”.

That’s where I have a problem. Boras has now set the bar for negotiating and arbitration. The magic number is out there - $15 million. It is an absurd number for a player who has had one very strong year. There is no way the Rays can play in that ball field. Nor should they. In fact they should laugh in Boras’ face and hang up on him the next time he calls.

Agents in general and Boras in particular are very good at throwing numbers out to the press. Ted Lilly is a $40 million pitcher of Al Soriano is a $100 outfielder. Where do those numbers come from – their agents. They’re definitely not generated on past performance merely future potential. Barry Zito’s agent (Scott Boras shocking I know!) didn’t get the pitcher a $126 Million deal because of the 102 wins he had with Oakland, but because Boras convinced the Giants Zito would win that many games in the future.

Now, if the Rays do the smart thing they can’t win. Boras will crow about how tight fisted they are and how he just wants a “fair deal”. A fair deal is 3 years at $15 Million. Make Pena prove it’s not an aberration. If the Rays sink more than $5 Million a year into Pena and he ends up a bust then they damage all progress made over the last few years.

If they do throw $10 Million at Pena how are they going to keep Crawford happy knowing that he worked his way through the team and is getting half of what Pena makes? That’s not good. Wouldn’t that money be spent better on locking up Kazmir or Shields? I think it would.

This is not a knock on Pena. He has said all the right things and done all the right things. I honestly believe he would like to stay, but his test will come in the off-season. If he really does want to stay he has to reign Boras in. All of the good will and good feeling can be erased in one nasty arbitration hearing. Make no mistake if this goes to arbitration it will get ugly. The Rays management will have no problem finding faults with their first baseman and despite what players say that type of feud has lasting consequences.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Better Late Than Never...

There is no better time of year for living in the TBA than football season. The dawn of another Buccaneer season brings out the fans like nothing else. Couple that with the fact that my Sirius has been out of commission for the better part of two weeks and that means I’ve been listening to a lot more local radio than ever. I will say that most of the callers are highly optimistic, it’s kind of cute. So for them I present my first annual Tampa Bay Buccaneer Season Preview.

Lets start with the overall record. Last season Tampa Bay struggled to a 4-12 record. While it led to radio gold I did feel bad for some of my co-workers who wiped their tears away with the sleeves of their brand new Chris Simms jerseys. Even with another off-season upgrade I don’t see the Bucs breaking the 6 win barrier. So for fun lets call it 5-11.

What’s going to lead to this one win improvement? Well lets break it down by some key positions:


At one point the Pewter Pirates had 7 quarterbacks on the roster. Wisely they trimmed it down to 4 to start the season. That’s right they’re keeping 4 quarterbacks on the roster. Oddly enough it’s not a bad idea. The last few seasons have not been kind to the position. That’s on the offensive line.

The first victim starter will be Jeff Garcia. At 37 he’s not the young kid that terrorized defenses with his feet and then burning them with his arm. He does give Coach Jon Gruden a veteran play caller who can buy time with his mobility and make the wise throws. Compared to the statuesque (and spleenless) Chris Simms or the overmatched Bruce Gradkowski Garcia is definitely an upgrade from last season.

Running Back:

Carnell Williams comes into his third season as the starter. It’s been a roller coaster career for him so far. Rookie of the Year his first season followed up by a miserable sophomore season which saw him rush for only 1 touchdown and 798 yards.

The big question for Williams is going to be his health. If he can play 16 effective games then the Bucs could have a decent season. Of course as I write this Williams is being led to the locker room after taking a vicious hit to the ribs. It looks like it’s time for Mike Pittman and “Mr. August” Ernest Graham.

For the first time in the Pewter and Red days the A-Train whistles will be silent at Raymond James Stadium. Crowd favorite Mike Alstott announced that he will not play this year due to aggravating a neck injury in camp. Speculation is that he will retire at the end of the season so the days of watching number 40 pound his way to a 3 yard game are over.

If you live outside the area you have no idea how seriously this affects the TBA. No player that has suited up for Tampa had been more revered for doing so little as Alstott. His jersey dots the stands with greater regularity than Brooks, Williams or Galloway. Actually come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Galloway jersey.

Right now it’s a push, if Williams injury is serious we can call it a downgrade.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Other than Jeremy Stevens there were no real new players brought in. Much of the off-season debate revolved around the Bucs’ decision to not trade up in the draft to take sure fire sensation Calvin Johnson. So Joey Galloway starts as the primary threat backed up by possession receiver Ike Hilliard and the incredibly disappearing Mike Clayton. David Boston had a strong camp, but his status is undetermined due to a bizarre DUI stop.
On the tight end side Jeremy Stevens has his own legal issues as a jury convicted him on charges of a DUI so he could be spending time in jail instead of a huddle. Alex Smith, no the other Alex Smith returns and hopes to improve his reception totals over the last two seasons. If Stevens is out look for former Jet Anthony Becht to pick up some playing time. Overall this is a push as well.

Offensive Line:

If you’ve watched the Bucs for the last few years you know the story. The line is bad, but at least this year they’re young and bad. So by 2010 they could be a solid squad. Let’s give this a push as well.


I like what they did in the off-season. Drafting Gaines Adams allowed them to cut perennial malcontent Simeon Rice. While Adams looks a little lost out there, he should progress throughout the year and turn into a pretty good young player. The weight of the offensive line should fall on the shoulders of Greg Spires and Chris Hovan.

The linebackers and the secondary should improve with the addition of Cato June and the return of Brian Kelly. The addition by subtraction factor plays a role with Anquan Bolden not being on the roster. Not many people were torched on a football field as often as Mr. Bolden was last season.

Speaking of Mr’s – Mr. Derrick Brooks returns for another season. The 13 year veteran returns to anchor the defense and although there are whispers that he’s not the player he used to be he should turn in another Pro Bowl caliber performance.

The 2007 defense ranks as an upgrade over last years.


Monte Kiffen will scheme and scheme and find a way to pull the defense together.

Jon Gruden is on the hot seat. Frankly it’s his own fault. He had never adapted his style to the talent available to him. He preferred to bring a rotating cast of veterans hoping that they would pick up his system and make a difference. They haven’t. This season is more of the same with Jeff Garcia and offensive lineman Luke Petitgout

Another push for this category.

So overall there is some improvement in the quarterback department and on the defense. Enough improvement to pick up a win or two, but not enough to make a difference even in the sub-par NFC.

In the time it took me to write this post not only has Carnell Williams suffered bruised ribs, but Jeff Garcia was knocked woozy by a vicious hit a well. After three seasons Buc fans finally get to experience the greatness that is Luke McCown. I look forward to some highly entertaining radio tomorrow.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Apparently it wasn't one big happy family after all

Apparently Coach Tortorella doesn't share my view about the soon to be former ownership group headed by Bill Davidson. Yesterday's Ice Fest celebration included a question and answer session with the fiery head coach of the Lightning. I didn't catch the session since I was stuck in line waiting for an autograph from Vinny Prospal and his sporting pink shirt.

I'm always intrigued by the behind the scene scuffles that aren't reported by the players so it king of makes me wonder what the head coach was referring to in his following comment. According to the St Pete Times when Coach was asked about the departing group he fired off with the following response:

"The guy who I'm glad is the hell out of here is Tom Wilson because he's the one who has put obstacle after obstacle in front of us. Who knows? This deal might not go through, and they'd still be here. I really don't care."

Now I like Tortorella. His intensity and combative nature is a welcome relief from all of the player pandering coaches and mangers currently working in professional sports. He does, however, have a tendency to run his mouth a bit too much.

I have a feeling that the new owners won't be quite so willing to have a coach willing to speak his mind so freely. In an article also on the St Pete times website beat writer Damian Cristodero describes new owner Doug MacLean as one who "gets in the first word, always wants the last, and gives you a few choice ones in between". Sounds a lot like Mr. Tortorella.

As someone who follows the club it could lead to some interesting times, but I have a feeling this will end badly, very badly. Coach Tortorella had a very long leash with the old owners. Not many groups would have allowed him to bench the supposed saviour of the franchise as he has done more than once with Vincent Lecavalier.

There is a new regime in town and based on what I've read about Mr. MacLean it's a whole lot different than the one that just waltzed out of the arena. Tortorella doesn't change his style for anyone and I have a feeling it may cost him his job.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Feeling festive... Ice Festive!

Forty days to go. No Rays’ fans that is not how much longer you have to suffer through the rest of the season. Rather it is how long the TBA has to wait for the return of professional hockey. On Thursday October 4th the puck will drop on the 15th season of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey. Take heart Rays fans your miseries will be over by then. Their season ends on September 30th.

So what has changed since the bolts were bounced in the first round by the New Jersey Devils ? Off the ice a lot changed, however the product on the ice will remain quite the same. The off-ice action was headlined by the quietest sale of a franchise ever. The only heads up I heard was from my buddy Big Mike who was a weak early with his report of sale. Even the omniscient Big Dog was caught unawares. Apparently none of his drinking buddies sources knew anything about it.

While the move hasn’t been officially completed yet I have no doubt that the sale will go through without any of the problems that plagued the Nashville and Pittsburgh franchises. It would be a shame if the TBA didn’t extend a heartfelt thank you to the Davidson group. They brought professionalism, dignity and a championship to an organization that was a laughing stock in all of sports.

While there were some bumps along the way (complaining about tax breaks, Ron Campbell’s DUI, etc) for the most part Bill Davidson was the type of owner a fan should want. He signed the checks and stayed out of the way. He allowed his hockey people to build and sustain a winning franchise. Since I’m sure he’s reading this – Thank You Mr. Davidson.

Now the questions start popping up for the new owners, Absolute Hockey Enterprises. Should John Tortorella and Jay Feaster start packing their bags or are their jobs safe? Do they keep the Big Three together or trade one of them to fill a glaring weakness on the team? Most importantly do they keep the franchise in Tampa?

The new ownership has to quickly forge an identity for this team. There would be nothing wrong with keeping the one that the Davidson group built. A fast, exciting team and a well run professional organization. There are some questions being posted about the role that Doug MacLean is going to play in the organization. The sentiment coming from Miami and Columbus (two of his previous stops) seems to be “he’s your problem now”. That’s not a good sign.

Think of how the Tampa Bay professional football team has evolved since Tony Dungy and Rich McKay left. No longer are they a young, eager well run program. Instead it’s become a revolving door for quarterbacks and past their prime offensive “weapons”. The defense has deteriorated into a pale imitation of its former dominant self. Could that happen on the ice?

Only time will tell how it will all play out, but the good news is that it should play out in Tampa. The fear some have about the new group moving the team should be assuaged by the fact that the group is also buying the Saint Pete Times Forum and about 5 and ½ acres of property in the Channelside area. So don’t count on the team bolting for Las Vegas and the new arena being built by Harrah’s anytime soon.

The team also released their new logo today. It’s ummm well it’s kind of new. The changes weren’t dramatic, more of a retooling of the current design.

It definitely wasn’t the drastic change that the Bucs pulled off a few years ago or that the Rays are expected to do next year. The dark jerseys look good, but the white jerseys will take some getting used to because there is a lot white. Feel free to go to to preview the changes.

That pretty much takes care of the main off the ice issues so how about on the ice? Well, not much changed. Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist will battle to be the number one goalie. That will be up to you to decide if it’s a good thing or not.The offense will have to come from the Big Three once again. A couple of former Lightning players return as Chris Gratton and Brad Lukowich resign with the team. The one signing that could prove to be a steal could be Michelle Ouellette. As my buddy Link would say – “He’s got a girl’s name, but plays a man’s game”.

Training camp starts in a few weeks and the weeding out process will begin. The goaltender battle will highlight training camp, but keep an eye out on the defensive battle. The top five should be locked up with Filip Kuba, Dan Boyle, Shane O’Brien, Paul Ranger and Lukowich beginning the camp as starters. The sixth spot should be an open battle between youngsters Andy Rogers, Matt Smaby and veteran (and Wasteland favorite) Doug Janik.

Another big question going into the season will involve Vincent Lecavalier. The face of the franchise is coming off of the best season of his career. It was a season that begin with a challenge from Tortorella and Feaster to improve his game and ended with 52 goals and 108 points. Will his evolution into an elite NHL player continue or will he experience a setback. The coach has been able to push all of the right buttons so far with the enigmatic center-man and it will be interesting to see if he can find the right motivation for 27 year old former first round pick.

Going into training camp the team looks better on paper than it did last year, but only time will tell if they will be able to compete in a strong Eastern Conference.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Brave New World

After a turbulent night of sleep I awoke in a world where Barry Bonds is major league baseball’s all time home run king. I felt…pretty much the same. I did see the record setting blast before going to bed so I wasn’t surprised, in fact it was inevitable that he was going to break the record some time this year. Yet I wondered if anything would be different and it wasn’t.

I turned on the TV and saw the usual talking heads telling us that the sky was falling. Yet they’ve been doing that for 3 or 4 seasons. Not one of the of radio hosts, TV hosts or baseball analysts added anything new to the conversation. In their view Bonds cheated, the record is tarnished and it’s baseball’s fault. The most interesting comment came from everyone’s favorite diminutive sports commentator Bob Costas when he mused on about viewing Bonds as an almost “tragic figure”.

It was an interesting and possible accurate description of the slugger. If someone was writing a novel they may create a character so consumed by his quest for immortality that he is willing to use any means necessary to etch his name in the history books. So focused is he on achieving greatness that he doesn’t realize that he has alienated everyone in the game and in his life. In the story he would die an old, lonely broken man (think of Michael Corleone in Godfather III).

I expect the wailing and gnashing of teeth to last for about another week and then the attention deprived media will look for something else to focus on. I’m sure there will be a scandal or two to emerge shortly that will provide enough fodder to fill the airwaves.

As I was lying in bed last night trying to sleep I thought about how life would change now that Henry Aaron no longer held most prestigious record in American sports. I thought about who came out best in the situation. Three actors played major roles in the drama – Aaron the classy record holder, Bonds the petulant would-be record breaker and Bud Selig keeper of the game.

Without a doubt Aaron emerges on top. Throughout the last year he presented himself with class and dignity. A new generation of fans was enlightened to his struggles in eclipsing Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. He stated early in the year that he would not follow Bonds around the country as the Giant leftfielder stood on the doorstep of the record and the former Brave stood by his word. His congratulatory message to Bonds was short, concise and honest. He did everything right and it’s incredulous that the talking heads would imply that Aaron’s legacy was tarnished by Bonds chase.

For the chronically disgruntled Bonds nothing has changed. He won over no new fans nor did he lose any. For once I didn’t begrudge him as he stood at home plate admiring his blast. When you’ve done something no one else in the major leagues has done you’re allowed a little showmanship.

It was genuine happiness that he displayed as he thanked everyone during the brief ceremony that followed his home run. Perhaps if he had showed that type of emotion during his career he wouldn’t be facing the harshness from the critics. Of course then it wouldn’t be Bonds. Like the book says, love him or hate him.

It appears that he will share the legacy of predecessors like Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Rose is the all time hits leader, but he bet on baseball. Cobb was the greatest player of his time, but he was a racist troubled man. Bonds is the all time home run king, but probably used steroids to get there.

The biggest loser in all of this drama is without a doubt Bud Selig. The chase exposed his fatal flaw, indecisiveness. If there was ever a statue built in his honor it would depict him as he was at the 2002 All Star game – frustrated with his arms raised in a helpless shrug.

As commissioner of the league it was his duty to represent the game. If the event was “noteworthy and remarkable” as his own statement attests he should have attended the games. In this day and age of instant communication there is no reason he could not have continued conducting the day to day business of a commissioner while in San Francisco.

Even his decision to attend the games leading up to Bonds tying the record showed the reason why he isn’t regarded highly by the fans and the media. His constant waffling on if he would attend and his bizarre “Herculean effort” statement provided more ammunition for his critics. The demeanor he displayed when Bonds tied the record, hands shoved in his pockets scowling like a school boy assigned to detention, was reprehensible. More damning it was unprofessional.

He is the titular head of the league and needs to act like it. Despite what his personal feelings should be he has to represent the game no matter what happens. Sitting in his personal luxury box and clapping politely as the record tying blast soared in the night would not have tarnished his image any more than his sullen teenage act. His desire to please everyone (the anti-Bonds media and the apathetic regular fan) has led to ineffectiveness.

So we move on now and wait for the next savior to come. Will it be Alex Rodriguez? The embattled Yankee has his share of detractors, but in a few years might some of those critics cheer him on because they hate Bonds more? Or it will be a younger slugger like Ryan Howard?

These days it’s easy to focus on the negative. How about if we give that a rest? Instead of thinking about Bonds and Giambi or Elijah Dukes think about Ichiro slicing a ball into left field or Delmon Young unleashing a laser to cut down a base runner. Picture Greg Maddux striking out yet another hitter looking with a well placed fast ball. Just remember that baseball will survive. It always does. A gambling crisis in the World Series couldn’t stop it, two world wars couldn’t stop it, Barry Bonds won’t stop it.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hall of Fame Weekend

Last weekend I made the way to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. There was no way I was missing Cal Ripken Jr’s induction into baseball’s most hallowed halls. I lucked out in that I had a family reunion the same weekend about 2 hours away. Of course the actual reunion party was the same day as the ceremony so I missed hanging out with my family, well missed might not be the right word, but I was able to stay at my uncle’s place and save money on a hotel room.

At 7.00am Sunday morning Chris, my brother-in-law, and I set out from the small town of Mexico, New York for the two hour drive to Cooperstown. We were meeting up with Sam and Tony, two friends from Baltimore who had spent the night in Albany. Neither Chris or I were 100% sure where we were going, but we had Mapquest directions and fresh Starbucks so we were sure it would work out.

After riding through some pretty nice scenery we made it into town. We actually hit downtown Cooperstown before we realized it – the large crowd milling in the streets and the blocked off streets kind of clued us in. We lucked out and found a parking spot in a lumberyard that only set us back $30 and was in walking distance of Main Street. Well more like hobbling distance. On Saturday the two of us had walked/ran/stumbled through a 5K race in downtown Oswego New York. The muscles were quite sore as we wandered around what might be the most perfect town in the US.

It’s really hard to describe what the town is like. It has a very quaint (I’m sure the locals hate that word) look to it. Brick buildings and neatly manicured lawns make you feel like you’re on a movie set. If I had a chance to talk to a local or two they probably could have filled me in on the drawbacks of living there, but for 7 hours on a warm summer Sunday it was absolutely perfect. Even being one of 75,000 people crammed onto one street only 7 or 8 blocks long wasn’t a problem.

Everyone that we ran into seemed generally happy to be there even the four or five Padre fans that came to see Tony Gwynn’s induction. Walking down the street it was fun to see the various Hall of Famers on the side of the street signing autographs. Hey look it’s Frank Robinson! Hey it’s some other guy! Hey it’s George Will!

Needless to say a good time was had by all. The crowd ranged from the very young to the very old. There did seem to be a lot of fathers and sons there taking in the ambiance. So even now in a time when baseball is supposedly dying the love of the game and of the history of the game was being passed along to future generations.

However, I was bothered by something all weekend long. My allegiance to which team is “my team” had been wavering all weekend. On one hand the Rays are easier to follow after all they are in my home town. The more I thought about it the more I realized it as an intellectual attachment. I have no problem being patient, reasoning their trades (or lack of them), watching as they fail knowing that there is a larger plan.

On the other hand the O’s are the team of my childhood. When I was young kid just back from Germany they were there for me. Heck they won the World Series the first season I could follow them, how great is that? They represent my emotional attachment to sports. I want them to win and I really don’t care how they do it. I want to be able to walk through JFK airport wearing an O’s hat and not be subjected to snickers from New Yorkers.

I’ll continue writing about the Rays because I think they’re fun to follow. They have a great young nucleus and as long as they don’t do anything stupid (like trading Carl Crawford) they will contend soon. The Orioles will still have a place in my heart. I am announcing right here and now that I will be a sports bigamist, and a bigamist of the worst kind. I will root for two teams in the same division.

I also felt that Ripken’s induction was the closing of a chapter in my life. He was the one star that I grew up with as a kid. He was there when I was in elementary school and high school. Even during my self imposed exile from baseball in college I sat in my dorm room in college to watch Cal run that emotional lap around Camden Yards the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s record.

Other stars have come and gone from McGwire to Mattingly and Ryan to Clemans – oh wait he’s still around. Ripken was different. No matter how bad things were going he was there. Going on vacation was hard because this was before the internet and 24 hour coverage. Leaving Baltimore pretty much meant losing touch with the team. The closest thing to the internet was This Week in Baseball and I watched religiously hoping there would be a feature on Ripken. In my adolescent mind I felt that was the only medium available to let people know how good he was.

I wonder if his career would be different if he played now. Would there be trade rumors every July when the O’s fell out of contention? Would he have an agent that demanded he rest 10 games a year to prolong his career? Would blogs and a much more cynical media have made the Streak to arduous for him to endure?

In some ways I would like to think he would have been the same. I still picture a tall (some say too tall to play short) figure squinting into the sunlight ready to snag the next ground ball his way. He would still endorse the right things (Coke, Chevy and milk) and rise above any criticism. If there are any modern day athletes to compare him to it would probably be Tiger Woods or Roger Federer. They have their critics, but seem to have the class to rise above the negativity.

Now he’s in the Hall of Fame and his accomplishments are complete. I’m not callous enough to think there are no “good guys” left in the game. Nor do I think they’re aren’t any “loyal” players left. One of the recurring themes I read over the weekend was that Cal and Tony were the last two players who would spend a long career with only one team. That’s leaving out a couple of good players (despite the fact they’re Yankees) in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Trevor Hoffman is a hall of famer who’s spending his whole career in San Diego. It’s still early to tell, but I have a feeling that Ichiro isn’t leaving Seattle.

Hopefully there are kids running around the TBA wearing number 13 Crawford jerseys. Hopefully they have the same chance I did to watch an entire Hall of Fame career develop. Maybe, 10-15 years from now I can go back as a grey-haired elderly gentleman and watch him get inducted and see a sea of green (or blue and yellow) on those rolling fields of Cooperstown. Everyone should have that experience.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Flying Home

Flying back from New York this afternoon and will post more later on the Hall of Fame Induction and the moves made by the Rays over the weekend. Intial impression- not bad. They picked some relievers without sacrificing too much. Wigginton to Houston was a bit of a surprise, but at least they keep him out of the division.

More later...

Monday, July 23, 2007


Wow. That was brutal. I think the Rays made the Yankees mad and the result wasn’t pretty. After beating New York 14-4 on Friday night the Rays from Tampa Bay proceeded to lose the next 3 games in spectacular fashion. During the long, looooong weekend they gave up 45 runs on 53 hits and turned Shelly Duncan into the second coming of Kevin Maas. Even their ace, James Shields, couldn’t escape the shelling as he gave up 10 runs in 3 innings on Sunday.

Adding to the misery were injuries to Jay Witasick and Carl Crawford. Witasick pitched with a bad elbow that swelled to the size of a golf ball by the end of the game. Today he was placed on the 15 day disabled list that could mean he’s spent his last days with the Rays. Crawford’s injury was described as a sprained left ankle and he isn’t expected to miss any significant time. Then again his wrist injury a few years ago wasn’t supposed to be a big deal either.

Several changes to the bullpen were made throughout the weekend. The latest were Witasick going on the DL and being replaced by Jason Hammel (who started the weekend on the major league roster and than was demoted Sunday before being recalled on Monday). Juan Salas was activated as well replacing JP Howell who’s brief return saw him surrender 7 runs in 5 innings in the second game of Saturday’s double header.

Also, making his return to the roster was Jae Kuk Ryu. The South Korean is set to work out of the bullpen during his second stint on the Rays roster. It will be interesting to see if he gets more work this time around. Also joining him is Scott Dohmann. Dohmann was effective in Durham holding hitters to a .211 average. If he is able to continue that in the major’s he could be a huge boost to the leagues worst bullpen.

These may not be the final changes to the Rays pitching staff. Several published reports (including the New York Post) have the Rays moving Ty Wigginton to the Yankees for relievers Scott Proctor or Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth could step in as a closer if Al Reyes is moved. Armed with a dominating (but ruler straight fastball) the former Yankee, Cub, Brave and Tiger has tantalized fans since 1999, but never lived up to his hype.

Proctor would be used as a set up man and should prove more reliable than the current cast of characters. The 30 year-old right-hander enjoyed his best season in 2006 when he appeared in 83 games and pitched to an ERA of 3.52.

The local beat writers have already begun lamenting trading Wigginton. John Romero fired the first shot in his column today stating that it is time to “pay more attention to the box score than the bottom line”. He mentions that Ty is one of the few players with a “fire in [his] belly” and that he wants to stay around.

That’s all well and good, but keeping him would severely tie the Rays hands as early as next season. The power hitting infielder already is a player without a true position. He’s not a natural 2nd baseman, or first baseman and has no shot of moving Aki Iwamura from 3rd. With the likelihood that super prospect Evan Longoria will be knocking on the doors in the majors next season there is even less room for Wigginton. His value is at an all time high.

It will be an interesting week leading up to the deadline. In looking at the current roster the Rays have several players that could fill the needs of certain teams.

Most Likely To Move

Ty Wigginton – Minnesota, New York (AL and NL), California and Los Angeles could all use more power in their line up.

Al Reyes – Every team in contention could use bullpen help with Cleveland and Boston leading the charge. If Octavio Dotel is garnering interest it shouldn’t be hard to move Reyes.

Might Move

Brendan Harris / Josh Wilson – a team like the Mets may be willing to drop a second tier prospect to add some infield depth to their roster.

Casey Fossum / Gary Glover – A long shot, but a team desperate for an arm might be willing to take a shot.

Won’t Move, well maybe….

Jon Gomes – Another player without a spot on the roster. His performance since being recalled may have intrigued some teams looking for power. His limited defensive skills may restrict him to the AL, but don’t count the Dodgers out. As we learned from last year the two organizations aren’t afraid to swap players.

Aki Iwamura – Before you think I’ve lost it, think for a minute. Aki proved he can hit major league pitching and he has shown Gold Glove ability in the field. As mentioned before super prospect Longoria may only be a season away. If Aki stays than one of them has to move. If the right deal comes a long (first tier prospect and a major league ready arm) the Rays may need to move him.

The Rays spend the rest of this week in Baltimore and their performance against their fellow AL East whipping boys will show what kind of team Joe Maddon has on his hands. Will they fold and slink on to another 100 loss year or will they rebound and keep fighting?

Friday, July 13, 2007


At least since the All Star break. Nice win to keep the Yankees reeling. I must say I didn't see much thanks to a post work extravaganza put on by the vendors whose products we sell at the No Limits Fun Factory.

A limo scavanger hunt.... that's the way we roll. Luckily along the way I was able to poke my head into a couple of bars to see the score. Looks like like the Rays led the whole way. Good for them!

That's all..... I'm going to go pass out now....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Second Half.... Same as the First?

Thanks to the generosity of one of our vendors I spend Thursday night at the ol ball yard. The first game of the unofficial second half, the Yankees in town, James (Don’t call me Jamie!) Shields on the hill – what could go wrong. Well apparently a lot.

The Rays looked as flat as the beer I was drinking. A pop falls in, a dropped ball on a sacrifice bunt, some questionable baserunning all added up to a 7-3 loss at the hands of the Yankees. In order to make any kind of run to save the season they are going to have to go back to fundamentals. It seems like they keep waiting for the big hit to keep them in the game. Right now it’s not coming for them so they have to start manufacturing runs.

More later…..

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Post All Star Blues......

There are slow sports days and then there is the day after the All Star game. Unless you count the WNBA as a sport (and I don’t) there are no games to watch. With my girlfriend out of the house I had the TV all to my self, but nothing to watch. Oh the horror. Luckily HBO came though.

Their documentary The Brooklyn Dodgers:The Ghosts of Flatbush followed the history of “Da Bums” from the “The Boys of Summer” glory days to their move to Los Angeles. As a kid who grew up in Baltimore I didn’t take the time to learn the history of the classic New York teams. As far as I was concerned the only legends were the ones who wore orange and black. I knew the names, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Carl Erskine couldn’t compare to the Brooks Robinsons and Jim Palmers of the world.

HBO may run crappy movies into the ground, but they know how to product a sports documentary. Throw in a lot of classic footage of the team, weave together interviews with former players (in this case Johnny Podres, Carl Erskine and others) random famous people who followed the team as kids (Larry King and Lou Gosset, Jr.) and you have an enjoyable two hours of TV.

The Dodgers make for a great subject. From the integration of Jackie Robinson to the year after year of heartbreak at the hands of Yankees and the move to California there was more than enough drama to fill the two hours. Even those that don’t know the history of baseball may gleam some understanding as to why fans developed such an attachment to the teams of that era.

It was nice that they had a built in villain in Walter O’Malley the owner of the Dodgers who traded an aging Robinson to the rival New York Giants and is forever remembered as the man who moved the Dodgers out of Brooklyn.

Some random items I found interesting:

Johnny Podres, “I’d go have a cigarette. Let me know when there are two outs and I’d butt my cigarette and go out there”.

Branch Rickey – signed Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.

Liev Schrieber should narrate any and all sports documentaries from now until eternity.

Podres – 9-10 starter wins the biggest game in the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He shut down the Yankees 2-0 in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series to give the Dodgers their first Series title after 65 years of heartbreak.

How much have times changed? No one likes the Yankees and the owner was a son of a bitch.

Lou Gosset’s quote, “Until him (Robinson) all of my heroes were white comic book characters”.

O’Malley seemed to be a villain from central casting. Slicked back hair, fancy suits, tiny glasses and cigar and to top it off he was a layer. I half expected him to cackle and fly away like the Penguin.

If the Rays ever leave the TBA I doubt there will be much lamenting. They won’t find any old men lamenting their dearly departed heroes. Chances are it would be hard to find anyone who remembered the team was here.

Perhaps the best thing about these films is that they bring back the nostalgia of the glory days of baseball. One of the random people that they interviewed mentioned that you “could walk down the street and not miss a pitch” because of all of the radios out on the porches.

While the game today may have the greatest athletes that have ever played the special connection between the players and the fans has been lost. The Dodgers more than any other team of the era epitomize the “one of us” familiarity that the fans had for the players. It’s nice when a film like this comes along to remind us of those days.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Everything's fine here... How are you?

Is this rock bottom? Down 13-2 in the 4th inning to the Red Sox and well on the way to an 11th straight loss it looks like the Rays are ready to hit the ground harder than Wile E. Coyote. However, I’m wary of saying it can’t get any worse, because if the Rays have proved anything in the last 10 seasons it’s that it can (and probably will) get worse. So where do they go now?

For starters they head to Kansas City. After a three game series with the Royals the All Star break looms like a mirage in the desert for the battered Rays. The last two months have been costly as they have lost their starting centerfielder (Rocco Baldelli), their 2nd baseman (BJ Upton) and most recently their closer (Al Reyes) to injuries.

With the exception of Carl Crawford who will be flying off to San Francisco to represent them in the Mid Summer Classic the Rays are going to get a much needed break. Without a doubt they need it more than any other team right now. What had been a promising first half at 33-40 has burned to the ground with the 10 game losing streak.

Everyone on the roster is scuffling from the starting pitchers to the starting nine in the field. From Aki (.220) to Carlos Pena (.188) to Ty (.176) no one is hitting in the last two weeks or so. It’s really hard to win when not one single starter is hot. James Shields has cooled off over the last two weeks and is currently riding a 4 game losing streak. Scott Kazmir continues to battle his control and is nothing more than a 5-6 inning pitcher at this point.

Despite all of the chaos that is encircling the team recently there has been one constant and that is Manager Joe Maddon’s optimism.

“Everything’s been good, we just haven’t been winning. It’s a perfect growth moment.” Wow, I’m starting to wonder if California Joe isn’t starting to self-medicate, heavily.

It will be interesting to see if upper management is as patient as the Rays resident philosopher/manager. The firing season in the major leagues has already begun with the sacking of Sam Perlazzo and Jerry Narron.

Removing Maddon from his position will not help. The young players need to have his reassuring presence in the clubhouse. The fire and brimstone method that was the norm under Lou Pinella did not work, so perhaps it’s time to trust in the current leadership.

This season is still one of development for the team. Perhaps the mistake the Rays made was being successful enough to make fans want more. Now fans seem to expect more out of what is a last place team. Right now and for the rest of the season it’s about seeing which of these prospects can play at a major league level. Is Delmon Young ready to realize his fill potential, can Andy Sonnanstine step into the rotation, will Dioner Navarro hit his weight?

Those are questions that need to be answered now not if the Rays can finish next to last instead of in last. In the grand scheme thing of things does that really matter?

The Rays will eventually pull themselves out of this funk, but when they do you have to wonder how much momentum they might have lost from a season that started, if not promising, at least better than normal. Till then hang tough Rays fans.

(Can it get worse? Navarro just knocked in a run with a weak ground ball to first. In doing so he managed to slam his jaw against Josh Beckett’s shoulder and knocked himself woozy. Only with the Rays would an RBI cost them a starting catcher.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Quick Hits

More posts coming later this week (I know promises, promises).

I go out of town for a few days and the Rays fall apart. In case you were wondering the Rays get zero coverage in the West Palm area.

Jon Gomes has returned with a vengeance. I had a feeling that if got the chance he wouldn't take it for granted. It makes the benching of Elijah Dukes easier for Joe Maddon.

Speaking of Maddon, getting tossed in yesterday's game was one of the few times it seemed being the Rays' manager got to him. Sure Angel Hernandez made a bad call, but I don't think it was worth getting tossed for. Looks like he had some pent up rage that he needed unleashed.

Scott Kazmir is still struggling through his starts. No need to start dumping on him yet, but he doesn't seem to be making any effective adjustments. That's one of the main differences between him and James Shields at this point.

The Chosen One finally walked a couple of people. Still he is the best pitcher with an ERA over 7.00 that has come along in a long time. Look for the ERA to drop significantly. If he has a year similar to Shields' performance last year than the rotation for 2008 is starting to shape up.

Switching to hockey. Interesting move by the Lightning to pick up Chris Gratton for a second round pick. It seems like they're willing to try anything to help the special teams out. If not for anything else at least they'll be better on faceoffs next year.

Congrats to whoever had Sam Perlazzo and June for his firing. It's kind of a shame that he became the fall guy. After all he didn't put together that stellar bullpen.

That's it for now...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Don't Call it a comeback

The Rays wrapped up their series with the Toronto Blue Jays with a little afternoon delight. Ed Jackson pitched 6 innings and only walked 2 in the matinee affair. However, he had left the game long before Delmon Young’s 2 run single made a winner out of Gary Glover. The Rays are now 4 and 3 in June and 2-0-1 in their last 3 series. Despite the bullpen implosion that led to Tuesday’s atrocious 12-11 loss they are playing well as a team. The offense has picked it up and the starting pitching has seen a marked improvement since the beginning of the season.

That’s all well and good, but I’m not going to talk about the Rays today, or at least in this post. Instead I’m moving up the east coast to talk about the dreaded New York Yankees. That’s right the dynasty that is currently lying in ruins. Or so the national media would have you believe. With a sub .500 record and trailing the Boston Red Sox by double digits one would think that most storied of all baseball franchises has descended into the depths normally occupied by the likes of the Royals, the Nationals and yes our beloved Rays.

I submit to you that the reports of the death of the Yankees are a tad premature. The calendars rolled to June a week ago. Kids abandoned schoolrooms for swimming pools mere days ago. Network news has only had two measly tropical storms to over hype. With the season just passing the 1/3 mark the Yankees have plenty of games left to make their run.

Within a month, when New York has crept to within 5 or 6 games of the Red Sox the talking heads will begin cranking up the talk. Remember that you read it here first. The Yankees are going to make this race exciting. You may think I’m talking crazy at this point, but bear with me for the next few paragraphs while I lay out a few points why this is going to happen.

1. It’s Happened Before – That’s right. I’m talking about 1978. I was 2 years old and didn’t know a baseball from my elbow. However, all of you Red Sox fans know….wait…I’m talking to the real Red Sox fans. You all know what I’m talking about. Bucky “Bleepin’” Dent. His October home run capped an amazing comeback by the Yankees that crushed the souls of Boston fans for years to come. It was one of the main cornerstones of the mythical “curse” that the 2004 Red Sox club lifted from the organization with their World Series win.

What happened between July and October of that year could have similarities to this season. In 1978 the Yankees found themselves 14 games behind the Red Sox on July 19th. This season they’re only 10.5 games behind them and it’s only June 7th. New York has an entire extra month to run down the AL East leaders.

2. They’ve already made up 3 games this month – At the end of the day on May 31st, 2007 the Yankees were 22-29 (tied with the Rays!) and found themselves 13.5 games behind the Red Sox. Fast forward to June 6 and the Yankees are 26-31 and only 10.5 games behind Boston.

Boston currently finds themselves in a bit of a slump. A win on Thursday snapped their 4 game losing streak. However, the last week hasn’t been kind to them. They lost 2 of 3 to the Yankees and 3 of 4 to the A’s. The Yankees took the two games from Boston and are looking to take three from their four game series with the Chicago White Sox. If the Yankees keep winning series they will make up ground in a hurry.

3. They’re not this bad – The Yankees aren’t a sub 500 team. They are an old team and a team with holes, but they are one of the top two teams in the AL East. Toronto is too schzioprentic to be taken serious and Baltimore plays like the season ends in August. The Rays, well have you met their bullpen?

Not enough has been made about how damaging it was for the Bronx Bombers to be without the services of Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang early in the season. Add in the freak injury to Jeff Karstens and the continued debacle that is Carl Pavano’s Yankee tenure.

Without two stalwarts in the rotation (Mussina seems to win 18 games every year and Wang was their best starter a season ago) the Yankees were forced to use 11 different starting pitchers in 57 games. Starting such luminary pitchers as Darrell Rasner, Chase Wright, Karstens and Matt DeSalvo has forced manager Joe Torre to overuse his bullpen. Now that the rotation has stabilized look for the bullpen to be more effective as the starters chew up more innings.

Speaking of the bullpen much has been made of the struggles of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Overall his numbers are less than impressive. Three losses, two blown saves and a 4.87 ERA are not what the common fan comes to expect from the whip thin reliever.

Yet with the warm weather the native of Panama has had a bit of a resurgence. In his three appearances he has two saves and no runs allowed. He’s faced 9 batters and only one has reached base. Four consecutive seasons of more than 70 innings pitched has taken it’s toll on the reliever so he won’t reach the magic number of 50 save, but don’t be surprised to see him around the 30-35 save mark.

On the offensive side Bobby Abreu is not a .252 hitter and for the remainder of the season Josh Phelps will be more productive at first base than Jason Giambi. Alex Rodriguez is not going to cool off. His final average will be around .300 and he will hit 50 homeruns.

On the flip side Josh Beckett is going to lose games. His 8-0 record is nice and sparkly but this is the same pitcher who has never won more than 16 games. There is an extremely good chance that he will see some time on the Disabled List as well. His history or arm troubles and blister issues aren’t going away.

Curt Schilling is not getting younger. Despite the one hitter on Thursday his season has been marked mostly by his inconsistently. He even admits it. Just read his blog.

Those are only three points. Don’t count Brian Cashman out. He may make a move to kick the Yankees into another gear (Mark Texeria anyone?) Joe Torre may have had his head in the guillotine early this season, but it could turn into his finest coaching job ever. He may have benefited from a debilitated George Steinbrenner more than anyone on the club.

Another reason, a reason that has no basis in fact whatsoever, is that it would make me happy. I despise the Yankees as much as the next kid who grew up in Baltimore. They’re “mystique and awe” are annoying. Their wild spending is repulsive to a fan who believes in team chemistry and fundamentals.

Besides haven’t Boston fans become a little full of themselves. As if one World Series victory washed away 87 years of failure. With their pink hats and condescending sneers it seems they feel entitled to post season play. For fun ask your local Red Sawwwwwx fan when the last time they won the AL East was. If they say 2004 laugh at them. It was 1995.

Besides blowing a double digit lead to their heated rivals would bring them back to reality. When they surpass Yankee fans as the most obnoxious fans to attend games with you know something is wrong with the sporting world. Losing the division would bring some of the “woe is us” attitude that made Boston fans so adorable for the last few decades.

Finally, I have a dream. It’s not as noble as Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, but it is still a dream. I dream that in November the Yankees are lifting the World Series trophy and a champagne covered Alex Rodriguez is being honored as MVP of the post season. As drunken New Yorkers look on A-Rod kisses his wife, then kisses his stripper mistress, then watches as his wife kisses his stripper girlfriend and rips off the storied pinstripes revealing a Los Angeles Dodgers T-Shirt, looks into the camera and says, “F--- You, New York I’m going to Disneyland”.

That’s my dream. It won’t solve world hunger or bring peace to the mid east. But it will make me happy.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Quick Note on the Rays

I figured I would write a quick post since I’m bored as can be at work. It looks like there could be some shaking up of the roster this weekend. The St Pete Times mentioned that Andy Sonnanstine and JP Howell could be replacing Jae Seo and Casey Fossum as early as today (Friday).

As I surfed the web I didn’t see any mention of the move, so perhaps the DRO is waiting another day to start the ticking of Sonnanstine’s major league clock. I’m all for letting the kids play. The Rays have to find out if their farm system is ready to develop major league talent on the mound.

The masses of online fans and talk show callers have begun to anoint Sonnanstine as the chosen one. To hear them talk you would think that he is Sidd Finch incarnate. Forget Scott Kazmir, forget James Shields this 13th round draft pick is the answer to all that ails the Rays. His impressive control (13 walks in 71 innings) is making them overlook his sub par arm strength. I believe you can had a long and storied career without possessing a 95mph heater in your arsenal. However, your first few seasons will be tough.

He is going to have to face hitters that:

a. have better plate discipline.
b. foul off good pitches instead of missing them
c. hit mistakes very, very hard

Not to mention different (read tougher) strike zones from Major League umpires.

I don’t want to rain on everyone’s parade. Like I said let him play, but don’t expect miracles from him. Even James (Don’t Call Me Jamie!) Shields went through a stretch last year where he was pounded.

So rejoice when he is called up. Tune in for his debut, but don’t ditch him if his ERA floats in the 6’s or 7’s this season. Don’t expect him to lead the Rays to contention. The next four months should be spent finding out if he belongs in the rotation behind Kazmir and Shields, not fitting him for a yellow hall of fame jacket.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not enough

It took me a week to semi-organize my thoughts about the UEFA Final. AC Milan prevailed 2-1 over Liverpool last Wednesday. I watched the game on TIVO - taking a day off two days after coming back from a week long vacation is frowned upon at the Fun Factory - so that kind of dulled the pain.

After a week of thinking about it the same thoughts keep coming back. Rafa waited too long to bring in Peter Crouch. His game plan was solid, but the big names couldn't finish. Stevie Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and John Arne Riise all had chances to score and couldn't find the back of the net. Jermaine Pennant did a great job of creating space, but couldn't do anything once he was open. I guess a little bit of karma was paid back. The magic 6 minutes in Istanbul were repaid with 93---errr 92 and 1/2--- minutes of frustration in Athens.

Watching the replay of the first goal.... it might have been a handball, but there is no way the ref can make that call at real speed. Even watching slow down replays on the TIVO didn't show a definitive replay.

The second goal from AC Milan was the result of a sublime pass by Kaka. Pepe Reina hesitated off his line for a second and the ball was trickled into the back of the net. Crouch played strong once he was in maybe he would have been a factor on some of the wayward crosses from Steve Finnan and Pennant that were harmlessly booted away earlier in the game.

Kruyt's goal in bonus time brought a little hope into the hacienda, but I never had the feeling that they could pull it off.

Time for the mastermind to rebuild. it would be nice to see him build a team that is competitive in Europe and in the Premiership, but that will be difficult. Crouch has been assured he is still in the teams plans, but it looks like Craig Bellamy will be gone as will Robbie Fowler. It should be interesting to see what happens once the transfer window opens up this summer.

Lightning News

This is a little old, but I figured I'd still take the time to mention it.

The Bolts resigned Johan Holmqvist to a one year $1 Million contract. It looks like the goalie situation from last season will roll into next season. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. I think they need Holmqvist or Marc Denis to step forward and play as a true number one. The rotation won't work.

Craig Ramsey was let go by the orginization. Well they fired him over "philosophical differences" between him and head coach John Tortorella. If there is any doubt who is in control of the orginization the latest move should settle it. Torts is in complete control. That isn't always a bad thing.

No payroll cut.... it will still be hard to field a deep team within the salary cap limitations.

I've said in the past that Dan Boyle is a free agent. Apparently I was incorrect. He has one more season with the team. That's good news, bit it also means a year of "when will they trade Boyle" stories. That's not good for the morale of the team. I still believe that the piece that they have to move now is Marty St Louis. I'll expand more on that in the future.

Quick Hits

Some notes while watching the Tigers dismantle the Rays......

Aki is back. In Aki fashion he scores the winning run. The Rays are much, much better when he's holding court at 3rd base.

Gomes is gone. He needs at bats to get his swing back. Hopefully he has a solid visit to North Carolina and is ready to go when the Rays need him later this year.

New team in 2008. Andrew Friedman confirmed that the Rays have been in contact with the league office in regards to uniform and name changes for next season. He mentioned that the color scheme will be the biggest change. I would say the blue/yellow scheme rumors are true and the name change will offically make the team the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays may be holding a very, very big chip come trading time - Al Reyes. Several teams (the White Sox come to the forefront) have had bullpen issues. Look for the Whiz Kids (Friedman and Andrew Silverman) to make the best possible deal for Reyes.

The bullpen will get better..... it can't get worse.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Radio Ga Ga

Alright folks first off I’m sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve typed some words. I also realized that’s it has been quite some time that I’ve given examples as to why I named the blog the way I did. That is to blast fans in this area. With the Rays being swept by the Marlins I figured that there would be plenty of examples of the kind of fans the TBA has on the radio today.

Lucky for you and me the filters at the No Limits Fun Factory no longer block the streaming feed of the local sports station. If you’re familiar with the TBA you know that there is only one real sports radio station and that the local talent – well it leaves a lot to be desired.

I understand that negativity makes for better radio and that in order to fill 4 hours a day you have to take down some sacred cows. However, the local hosts in Tampa take it to a new level. It seems they revel in the current slide Tampa Bay sports has currently taken. The worst part is that they do it with a smugness and ignorance that is appalling.

For their parts the fans that call in aren’t much better. No matter what the topic of the day is 75% of the callers will state that Mike Alstott needs more playing time, the Lightning should never have let Nikolai Khabibulin get away and that they are Yankee fans, but they go to “a lot” of Rays games.

Any caller that has a strong argument or can point out a flaw in the host’s argument is usually subjected to verbal abuse or quickly hung up on. God forbid a caller point out any past errors on a host’s part or question his “sources”. You may as well curse his mother or kick his dog.

So today the plan was to listen to as much of the program as possible to show the world (or at least the 7 readers I have) what it’s like to listen to local radio. It will show you why I am more than willing to pay for Sirius Satellite radio.

I tuned in at 3.00pm expecting to hear the mindless rantings of the one referred to as “The Big Dog”. As mentioned before the Rays had been swept and a major gambling event, The Preakness, had occurred. Unfortunately today was the day of The Chris Thomas Memorial Golf Tournament. Chris Thomas was truly a one of a kind announcer. Articulate, well informed and slightly eccentric Thomas was the former morning drive time host for the sports station. His death 3 years ago has left a great void that hasn’t been filled to this day.

So the “Big Dog” had the day off and was replaced by a younger host, Justin Pawlowski, who does a weekly Saturday show and usually does a good job – if he focuses on football. I would argue that of the on air talent at the station he knows the most about the game and can talk about it very well. When he hosts a show with open topics it seems he loses a little confidence and bit of credibility.

To sum up today’s show: Joe Maddon has to go and the bullpen is horrible and Shawn Camp and Brian Stokes should be executed immediately. I agree the bullpen is horrible, but I would argue that it has been a known weakness going into the season and it’s being beaten into the ground. It would be like going to a Dane Cook movie and then complaining that it wasn’t Oscar worthy.

One fan chanted, “Joe Must Go!” during his call. Another stated that he was the worst manager in the majors right now. The host implied that he was a puppet for upper management while stating that he would “never call anyone a puppet”. Yet another caller, boosting of his status as a little league coach, stated he won’t go to another game until Maddon was gone. Not one caller defended Maddon while I was listening.

As for my take , I disagree 100% that he should be fired. I don’t agree with all of his moves, but I think he is the perfect manager for this club. He is even keeled and he is dedicated to playing the young players to see what they’re going to develop into.

Case in point from Sunday’s game. In the 9th inning and trailing by 1 run the Rays had Greg Norton on first base and Dioner Navarro at the plate. Navarro is hitting .194 on the season. On the bench was left handed hitting Carl Crawford. Maddon elected to let Navarro hit – the portly catcher promptly struck out to end the game.

Outrage followed on the radio. Pawlowski was the harshest as he accused Maddon of not wanting to win the game. Despite the fact that an injury to Josh Paul had left Ty Wigginton as the back up catcher the host was adamant that a team shouldn’t leave it’s best player on the bench in a close game.

Paulowski’s argument was that you deal with the catching problem if it becomes an issue. However, he was missing the object of this season – it’s to see who can play and who can’t. What if Navarro comes through in the situation? Maybe it turns his season around. What if Crawford pulls a hamstring running out a ground ball?

It was a decision that you could argue either way at the time, it’s not the type of decision that calls for the removal of a manager. I think he still has a lot to learn as a manger and he can be loyal to a fault (see Ben Zorbist and Brian Stokes), but to fire him would be a mistake. The fans to a man seem to want someone along the lines of Lou Pinella back with managing the club.

What good would that do? It might be more entertaining with all of the yelling and screaming and hat throwing, but would it be any better for the club? No. Managers like Sweet Lou have better success with veteran clubs. The noise out of the clubhouse in the last year of his tenure with the Rays suggested that the younger players were scared to make mistakes when they played for him. That’s no way to lead a young club.

Maddon may not win any umpire baiting contests or show up on SportsCenter throwing bases around the infield, but he allows the players to develop in the line up. That’s going to lead to losses, more losses than wins as a matter of fact. It will also lead to a better ball club. My friend Big Mike once used the phrase, “long term good, short term bad”. He used it to describe a doomed relationship I was in, but it also applies here. While short term success looks bleak, the lessons learned in losses this season will lead to wins in the long term.

As far as the bullpen goes – well that’s a matter for a whole different column.