Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tebow Receiving Jordan Treatment

When you hear the words "University of Minnesota", you probably don't get filled with deep-seeded emotions...unless you are a fan, student or alumnus of Minnesota or a rival Big 10 school. Maybe you applied to school there and they rejected you, so that could cause some animosity as well. But, for the most part, The University of Minnesota does not cause heated water cooler debates.

Now, if I said the words "Tim Tebow", well now everyone has an opinion. And it is backed by that deep-seeded emotion I was just referring to. For everything Tebow has done, on and off the football field, he has become a polarizing figure. And, judging by his press conferences and his actions, this is not something he intended to do. To be clear, I am a fan of the University of Miami. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Missouri. I interned for the Miami football program while receiving my Master's Degree. I do not like the University of Florida. I do not root for the University of Florida (unless they played Kansas, then you might see me do a Gator chomp). But, for all my dislike for the Gators, I cannot for the life of me fathom this sudden Anti-Tebow movement. And it's growing. Look, if I were an NFL GM, I would probably have Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy higher on my draft boards. I would probably even have Jevan Snead ranked higher than Tebow as an NFL QB prospect (maybe that's what Spurrier thought he was voting on).

Barring an injury or a collapse of epic proportions (which is highly unlikely), Tebow will be invited to New York in December for his third consecutive Heisman Trophy presentation. He's one for two in these things so far. Sitting right beside him will most likely be Bradford and McCoy, along with one or two other finalists. I'm just hoping that the sudden Anti-Tebow movement doesn't cost him the Heisman, like it did last year. Last year, and so far this summer, Tebow has reached Michael Jordan heights....for all the wrong reasons.

In 1993, Jordan was coming off back-back NBA MVP awards (and three of the previous 5 years, MJ had won the award). He had also led the Bulls to back to back NBA Championships (and was on his way to leading the Bulls to a third straight). But apparently, the media got bored with voting MJ as NBA MVP. The "Jordan is the greatest" slogans had apparently worn thin. Not sure why, but everyone seemed like they wanted to anoint someone else. Or at the very least, see someone else win some awards. Never mind that Jordan was head and shoulders better than everyone else in the league. In 1993, Phoenix's Charles Barkley won the MVP. He won the award despite averaging 7 points per game less than Jordan. He shot worse from the free throw line. He had fewer assists and steals than Jordan. Jordan led the league in scoring and and steals. Barkley did have the edge in rebounds. Maybe that's how he won the award???? For some reason, the voters just got tired of Jordan. It was as if they were saying, "yeah. MJ's the best. But let someone else win the thing for a change."

Tebow appears to be facing the same type of ridiculous backlash. Tebow is the best leader in college football. He does everything right on a football field. He threw 4 interceptions.....the entire 2008 season. In the Gators' only loss last year, Tebow still accounted for 3 TDs and threw zero interceptions. By contrast, last year's Heisman winner, Bradford, threw two costly interceptions in Oklahoma's loss to Texas. Bradford's numbers were more staggering. But they deserve an asterisk bigger than any steroid asterisk you can impose. OU head coach Bob Stoops routinely left him in blowout games. He played against more inferior defenses than Tebow did. Stoops put personal records over integrity and sportsmanship. With OU leading 48-21 in the Big XII Championship game, with less than 5:00 left, not only was Bradford still in the game, but Stoops had him throwing downfield.

The voters looked for any excuse not to give Tebow the Heisman last year. And Stoops helped orchestrate the perfect one. Don't watch game film, just look at the numbers - Bradford was more impressive. But Tebow is the better college player by far. I have heard many reasons from the Anti-Tebow camp- he won't be a good pro QB; he doesn't have a great arm; he tries to push his religious beliefs on others; he is being treated like a God when he is merely a college student; nobody can be this good of a person; he's a virgin (or the belief that he is somehow lying about this). None of these have anything to do with what he has done on the college football field. And if you don't like or believe in his religious convictions, then don't listen. Do your own thing. I am quite certain Tebow won't start bad-mouthing you if you do. Just please, please, please stop trying to find reasons not to vote for him. He is the best player in college football. And, if (and it is a big if) he plays to his potential yet again this season, don't rob him of what he earns....which would be most likely a spot next to Archie Griffin in College Football immortality.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Win for Topps is a Win for the Kid in All of Us

It was the summer of 1984. I was 9 years old at the time. My buddy, Mike and I were in Walgreens one Sunday afternoon, with his mother. She took us there to buy some baseball cards. Cards back then cost $.35 a pack. You got 15 Topps baseball cards and a stale piece of gum. Mike and I bought 10 packs of cards each and went back to his house to open them up. We sat on his bedroom floor and ripped open the packs. We read through the cards the same way fantasy geeks (myself included) read through their fantasy line-ups today. Tim Raines, Will Clark, Jack Clark, Cal Ripken, Bill Madlock. Then Mike and I got our respective crowned jewels. He opened a pack that had the Darryl Strawberry rookie card, and I opened a pack with the Don Mattingly rookie card. We were both so excited. These two cards were the prized possessions in the 1984 Topps set.

A couple days later, my excitement was tempered somewhat. I had picked up a copy of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly - a magazine that gave out the values of each baseball card. I quickly thumbed to the page that listed the 1984 Topps cards. Mike's Strawberry rookie card was worth $35 (with an up arrow next to it, signifying that this card was on the rise and would continue to gain in value). My Mattingly rookie card was only worth $12 (with no arrow next to it). I was confused and frustrated. I kept thumbing through the magazine in search of an answer. Listed on a couple pages prior, I found my answer. There was a Donruss 1984 set. The Don Mattingly rookie card in the Donruss set was worth $85 according to the Beckett magazine. That was the first time I realized that cards were no longer just cards anymore. This had become big business. The second time I realized this was a week later, when I went to a baseball card store in Coral Square Mall with my father and went to buy a pack of 1984 Donruss cards....and they were $3.75. My father bought me a couple packs. I didn't get the Mattingly card I was looking for, and left the card store very disappointed.

Over the course of the next four years, Topps, Donruss, and another card company - Fleer, began to saturate the market with cards. Not only did we now have 3 different card companies, but Topps began producing what was called a Topps Traded series and Fleer produced the Fleer Update series. It became cloudy as to which cards were the most valuable and increasingly frustrating for a child. Then, in 1989, baseball cards would be changed forever.....and not for the good. A new company, Upper Deck premiered. And their premier card in their first year was the Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card. This card vaulted as high as $250 in value and put Upper Deck on the map as a legitimate card company. Over the next twenty years, Upper Deck and Topps continued to try to one-up each other in the card business by putting out "special series" cards and everything possible under the sun to out-do the other. The one positive that came out of this was that Donruss and Fleer (and some of the other fly by night cards) went away. But this war between Topps and Upper Deck led to a flooding of the market that killed the card industry. Card values plummeted and the frustration over all the different types of cards to get led to kids turning to collecting other things.

On Wednesday, however, I felt like I got a piece of my youth back. MLB signed an exclusive deal with Topps to produce its baseball cards. It is a multi year deal that should make collecting baseball cards a lot easier and a lot more fun again. Kudos to Michael Eisner (CEO of Disney, who purchased Topps in 2007) for getting this done. I don't know if cards can ever get back to where they were in the 1970s and 1980s, but if they are going to, this was exactly what needed to happen in order to get it done.

Topps has been very innovative over the years. Recently, they jumped into UFC trading cards, and that end of the business has taken off with the growing popularity of the UFC. And now, if Topps can use their new exclusivity with MLB to resurrect the baseball card business from the dead, a new generation of sports fans may very well have something worth collecting. This old collector has high hopes for this deal. Oh and Mike, no I won't trade you my Mattingly card for your Strawberry card now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Putting a Cap on the Competitive Balance Argument

Listen to any talking heads these days and they'll tell you that Major League Baseball has a problem. Read any mainstream media column and they'll tell you that Major League Baseball has a problem. Heck, read countless sports blogs on any number of sports websites and they'll all say the same thing - Major League Baseball has a problem. And they're not even talking about steroids now. The alleged problem in baseball is competitive imbalance. And, we've been told by the media that a salary cap will solve everything. The big market teams won't be able to spend as much. The small market teams will get to be more competitive. They point to the three other major sports as examples of how the salary cap works to keep a somewhat level playing field. And this must be true, since the media is never wrong. Well, wait, what if someone went and actually did research? Would the media's assertion still hold true? Turns out, it doesn't. The media and all its sheep believe a bill of goods that not even President Obama and his minions would try to slip past the American public.

With the sample size being the current decade (since that's when this alleged competitive imbalance has hit its peak), there are some startling numbers. Just not the numbers the mainstream media ever shares (for either lack of research or just plain good old fashioned lazy reporting).

In the current decade, each sport has had the ability to crown 9 different champions so far. The NHL has crowned 7 Stanley Cup winners out of that potential 9. The NFL (the model by which all things are measured in America now) has crowned 6 different Super Bowl Champions. The NBA has crowned just 5 different champions. Meanwhile, MLB has had only one repeat winner (the '04 & '07 Red Sox). Meaning that out of 9 possible champions, MLB has had 8 different winners. But that's only one out of 30 (or 32) teams. You have to go deeper than that to prove your theory, David. Ok. Let's do just that.

Since their have been 9 championships awarded, that means there have been a total of 18 possible teams playing for their respective league's title. Again, here are the numbers. NHL - 11 total teams have played for the Cup. NFL - 13 total teams. NBA (pulling up the rear yet again) - 10 total teams. While MLB has had 14 out of 18 possible teams playing for the World Series. 14 teams. That means, in 9 seasons, almost half (14/30 = 47%) of all the teams in MLB have played in the World Series. 14 out of 30 fan bases have been 4 wins away (or fewer) from buying World Championship t-shirts and other swag. But David, that's still not enough information. You're skewing something. Ok, let's look at trends.

The NHL and NBA each invite 16 teams to their tournament. That's over half the league. Yet the NHL has only had 37% of it's teams play for the Stanley Cup and the NBA has only had 33% of it's teams make the finals. Even more disturbing is the fact that in the NHL, the last two Stanley Cup Finals featured the same two teams. The last time MLB had the same two teams play in the World Series in back to back years was in 1977-1978. Meanwhile, in the NBA, the Lakers have appeared in the NBA finals 5 out of the 9 years in question. Throw in the Spurs' 3 appearances in that span and the Lakers or Spurs have been the western conference's representative in 8 of 9 seasons (and NBA Champions 6 of 9 years). The NFL is a little bit better, but they have their share of competitive imbalance, too. That Patriots have appeared in 4 out of a possible 9 Super Bowls, and the Patriots and Steelers have combined to represent the AFC in 6 out of 9 Super Bowls (and 5 out of the last 6 Super Bowls).

All the while, the cap-less and "un-level" playing field that is baseball has not had a team in the World Series more than 3 times during the same span (the Yankees, who have not made a World Series appearance since 2003). And no two teams have combined to represent it's respective league more than 5 times in 9 years. Baseball has also produced at least one World Series team every year that is making it's first appearance in the World Series this decade. And in 5 of the 9 World Series', it was a first trip this decade for both teams. But David, you're still only talking about the World Series. In order to get to the World Series, you have to make the playoffs, and not enough teams in MLB can be competitive enough to even make the playoffs. Oh really?

The NHL and NBA each let 16 teams into the playoffs each year. The NFL lets in 12. MLB lets in 8. Paultry, by comparison. Yet, in just the last 9 seasons, 23 out of 30 teams in the MLB have made the post-season, at least one time. That's 77% of teams in a playoff system that lets in only 27% of it's teams each year. Only 7 teams have failed to make the playoffs this decade - Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Baltimore, Toronto, Cincinnati, Montreal-Washington and Texas (though the Rangers have a real shot at the playoffs this year). It has been reported that competitive imbalance is getting worse by the year. That big market teams are pulling away from small market teams. What they fail to tell you is that traditionally small market teams such as Milwaukee and Tampa Bay made the playoffs last season, while the biggest of big markets - New York - failed to put either of its teams in the post season. And god forbid anyone mention traditional mid-market teams, San Francisco, Colorado, Texas and Minnesota, are all in playoff contention this season.

In 2003, Larry Beinfest built a World Champion with the smallest payroll in baseball. And who did he beat to win the World Series? The highest payroll in baseball that year, the Yankees. Competitive imbalance has nothing to do with a salary cap. It has to do with drafting right. And trading right. And making the right decisions in your front office and on the field. Ineptness is what creates an un-level playing field, not how much money a team has to play with. Remember, it was just three years ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates (who allegedly have no money to spend) traded for an aging Matt Morris. They still had to pay Morris $9 million a season. They had the money. They just invested it poorly. Very, very poorly. Don't cry for a salary cap. Just cry for better management.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Plaxico Burress Case Just Doesn't Add Up...

Before we get to today's blog topic of Plaxico Burress, a quick note on a current New York Giants player - Elisha Manning. This morning, E. Manning agreed to a new $97.5 million contract with the Giants, making him the third highest paid player (based on annual salary) in the NFL. Higher than Ben Roethlisberger and E. Manning's older brother, Peyton. Let's recap, shall we. In the middle of the 2007 NFL season, Giants fans were calling for E. Manning's head and wondering why in the hell they traded Philip Rivers, and draft picks that resulted in Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding for this b-u-m. Two missed holding calls, a miraculous sack escape, a David Tyree once-in-ten-lifetimes catch (lest we forget none of that matters if Asante Samuel makes an interception he makes 9 times out of 10, a few plays earlier), followed by a home playoff loss the following season, and suddenly your $100-million man is Elisha Manning? Really? Ok. Good luck with that. Now, on to the topic at hand.....

Yesterday, former Giants Wide Receiver, Plaxico Burress was indicted by a New York grand jury on felony weapons charges. If convicted, he faces anywhere from 3 1/2 - 15 years in prison. If he pleads out before the trial begins, the DA says he will still face 2 years in prison. I know you all know this already. Just wanted to recap. One more time for the people in the back - Plaxico Burress, for all intent and purposes, appears to be headed to prison for somewhere between 2 - 15 years. Yes, he was carrying a weapon without a New York permit inside of the state of New York. That weapon did go off in a New York nightclub, whereby, theoretically, someone could have been injured or killed. He acted recklessly. He broke a law. He deserves to be punished. I am not disputing any of this. Of course, the only person that was actually injured when the gun went off, was Burress himself. And now, for his troubles, he's most likely going to prison - for probably no less than 730 days (731 days, if his prison sentence includes the leap year of 2012).

Meanwhile, in apparently unrelated news, Leonard Little and Donte' Stallworth got drunk and got behind the wheels of their respective vehicles. While they were each driving to their destinations, they each got in accidents that resulted in someone's death. Once again, quick recap - Little and Stallworth got drunk. They drove. People wound up dead. And the sum total of days spent in prison for Little and Stallworth........84 days.......combined! Burress is looking at no less than 730 days. Little spent 60 days in jail. Stallworth suffered through 24 whole days in jail. Little and Stallworth did have to do some community service work. I'm sure that comforts the victims' families.

In the case of Little, it gets even worse. Here is a man whose BAC was a whopping .19 when he had his fatal accident. Six years later, the courts saw fit to wipe the involuntary manslaughter from his record. And clearly Little had learned his lesson...because shortly after the manslaughter was wiped from his record, Little was arrested.....for drunk driving. Since the fatal accident occurred, Little has gone on to win a Super Bowl with the St Louis Rams and led the league in sacks. All because nobody saw fit to sack Little with a real punishment.

Stallworth's case is sketchy, shady and just flat out reeks. In the same state where former MLB player, Jim Leyritz killed a man while driving under the influence (.14 BAC) and now faces charges of vehicular manslaughter and may spend up to 15 years or more in prison, Stallworth, whose BAC was .12 at the time he struck and killed a pedestrian, spent 24 days in jail before being released. Stallworth is waiting to hear from the NFL on when or if he can play this season. Of course, let's not forget that after Stallworth was released from jail, it was leaked that he was also under the influence of marijuana while he was driving his car that killed a man. Somehow, 24 days doesn't quite seem like a reasonable punishment here.

Let me make one thing clear. I do not like Plaxico Burress. I do not like him in a box. I do not like him with a fox. I do not like him Sam. I do not like him Sam I am (sorry, when you have a 5 year old, Dr. Seuss plays a big role in your life). But the treatment he is receiving just doesn't appear to be on par or just. He's an athlete- but should not get preferential treatment. I get that. I agree with it. But how is Burress staring at 2 years or more in prison, while Little and Stallworth spent 84 combined days in jail? Then again, on a day when Elisha Manning just robbed the New York Giants of almost $100 million, I guess I can believe just about anything.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Sports Bucket List

While I rarely like to admit it, I have been very fortunate in my less than 35 years on this earth. Particularly when it comes to sports. I was thinking today of all the sporting events that I would really like to see in my lifetime, and I realized, I've actually gotten to see most of them already. I've already been to World Series games. I've seen the Super Bowl and an NBA Finals game. I have seen Stanley Cup finals games and even witnessed an NCAA National Football Championship game (Pre-BCS). I have seen important rivalry games in person, too. I saw the only rivalry in all of sports to span two coasts (a Giants - Dodgers game....the oldest rivalry in baseball, and save for the media hype, still the best). I have been to Cubs-Cardinals games and even made it to my share of Yankees-Red Sox games. And on a collegiate level, I have been to both Michigan - Ohio St games and Michigan - Notre Dame games. I've seen quite a fair share of championship events and classic rivalry contests. I have even seen one or two games featuring the oldest college rivalry west of the Mississippi River (second only to Harvard-Yale in all of college sports) - the Missouri - Kansas game.

But, despite having taken in thousands of sporting events from tennis to golf to pre-season football to horse racing and everything in between, there is still quite a bit left that I need to see. So, here is my personal sports bucket list of the 10 sporting events I want to see (or do) before I, well, you know....

  • Army - Navy Football game. This is a must for all American sports fans. It transcends sports. Kellen Winslow, II once said playing football was like doing battle....These kids actually do have to do battle when they're not on the football field, and they make K-II's comments seem dumber by the day.
  • The Iron Bowl. In Auburn. You see there is not much to do in Auburn, Alabama. Kind of a nothing town, save for the University. So, every two years, when the annual Auburn-Alabama game makes its way to Auburn, it's not just a game, it is an event. Of epic proportions. It doesn't matter the records, or when these two schools are on probation (since it seems like one or the other always is), this game is the Michigan-OSU of the south.
  • Duke - UNC Basketball game. At Cameron Indoor. My first house was bigger than Duke's minuscule Arena. But that's what makes watching a game there great. And the Cameron Crazies. The rivalry is intense. It's nasty. It's filled with hate and animosity. And I despise both teams and both head coaches. But I need to go just once.
  • Harvard - Yale football game. Like I said, I attended my fair share of the second oldest rivalry in college football. Stands to reason, I'd want to go and see the oldest. Probably not to scout the next NFL MVPs, but for historical sake.
  • NCAA Final Four. It's gotten a little corporate as of late (not unlike the Super Bowl or anything else having to do with the NFL) but it's still a great spectacle for all four schools and their fans. And anybody who watched the 2008 Championship game and didn't jump up out of their seat when Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying three at the buzzer, either went to Memphis.....or went to Mizzou.
  • NCAA Frozen Four. A championship event that flies under the radar all too much. Pure joy is an amateur hockey player scoring a game winning goal in an improbable, upset fashion. Don't believe me? Ask Mike Eruzione. No, it wasn't the Frozen Four. But the same type of amateur emotions shine through during the Frozen Four.
  • World Cup. I'm not a huge soccer fan. But the world is. And watching any World Cup soccer game on TV makes me want to be there, with the raw emotion the crowd shows, and the Patriotism and fervor with which they all cheer on their countries.
  • Kentucky Derby. Mint Juleps. Ridiculous Hats. Horse Racing. Gambling. Southern Belles. A beautiful May Saturday in the park. Really, what's not to love here?
  • MLB Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. I know, I know - the world's biggest baseball fan has yet to make it to one of these. The time is coming and it's coming right soon. This is the one that would haunt my soul if I didn't make it before I, well, you know....
  • Summer Baseball Stadium Tour. Me, my father, my son. 30 stadiums, one glorious summer road trip. I am going to need to make that one happen.

And there you have it, the sporting events that I have seen and the ones I still want to see. I'd love to hear your lists, as well.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts that popped into my head this weekend while pondering where I am going to get the extra money needed to pay for the middle class tax hike that is apparently coming even though Mr. Obama promised me I'd make MORE money as a middle class worker under his plan......

  • The New York Yankees pitchers gave up 24 runs in the two games following the trade deadline. The trade deadline that saw the Yankees acquire exactly zero pitchers in order to help them for the stretch run. Apparently, they think they are all set there.
  • Freddy Sanchez waited four games before finally making his Giants debut, following the trade then sent him to the Bay from Pittsburgh. He promptly made a throwing error from second base. He did redeem himself with a 2-rbi single to tie the game later. He's going to need about 20 game winning hits before Tim Alderson (whom the Giants traded to get him) wins 20 games in the majors for me to think this was a great trade.
  • If I had any discretionary income, I'd be investing in Gold right now. When the worst inflation in this country's history hits in about two years, Gold's going to be the only thing worth anything.
  • Terrell Owens does not make the Buffalo Bills any better. I'm sorry. They're going 7-9 this season. Again.
  • The biggest X-factor in this year's major league baseball playoffs may very well be Jason Schmidt.
  • LaDanian Tomlinson is no longer a top-5 fantasy RB. But when he slips in your drafts because he had a "down year" last year (1,300 yards still)...scoop him up. You'll be happy.
  • If you draft Frank Gore (and you should), grab Glen Coffee at the end of your draft. Just trust me.
  • It is August 3, and 18 MLB teams still have a very legitimate shot of making the playoffs (20, if you include the Mariners and Mets....which I don't). There is no competitive balance problem in baseball. This is an issue I will delve into further in it's own column later in the week.
  • Of the 18 teams still in contention, 4 of them have given up over 500 runs already (Yankees, Twins, Angels, Brewers). None of these teams felt the need to acquire any pitching at the deadline. This will cost each of these teams a shot at winning the 2009 World Series.
  • Fantasy baseball junkies - remember the name Brian Matusz. And remember I told you about him on August 3, 2009.
  • Fantasy football junkies - remember the name Andre Brown. And remember I told you about him on August 3, 2009.
  • The next time a Hollywood actor making $20 million a picture or TV show tells me that me and my middle class salary need to vote for somebody who will raise my taxes so my out-of-work neighbor can have $1 a day child care while she sits home on her ass collecting her welfare check that I pay for, I am going to punch him/her in the mouth.
  • 61 days until the Pittsburgh Penguins raise their 2008-2009 Stanley Cup banner at their home opener vs. the Rangers. I hope Marion Gaborik doesn't sprain his pinkie toe before he gets to strap on his new uni.
  • I will be watching to see who plays more games this season - Rick DiPietro (and his 15 year contract) or Marian Hossa (and his 12 year contract). The over/under is about 40 games combined for both of them.
  • There is still plenty of room on the USA Soccer bandwagon. But if you don't get on board now, the seats may fill up quick after we shock the world next year in Mexico City.
  • Jonathan Sanchez and Clay Buchholz should be traded for each other. They both suck. Yet they both threw one meaningless no hitter that kept their respective front offices from pulling the trigger on deals that could have helped their teams.
  • 1,266 days left. Say it with me. Loud and proud.