Monday, December 29, 2008

Somtimes that's just the way it goes

New England sports fans have been spoiled all decade long. Three Lombardi trophies, a pair of World Series titles, an NBA championship, another pair of regular season MVPs, a near-perfect campaign, a defensive Player of The Year award, more playoff games than satisfied Scott Boras clients… The list goes on.

But in the spirit of the gift-giving season, let’s not be brats of the spoiled variety.

Yesterday the Patriots became the first 11-5 team to be playing golf pre-postseason since the NFL developed its 12-team system. It came down to the fourth tiebreaker on two separate occasions for the Pats to be sent home before the New Year for the first time since 2002. Their conference record fell one game short of both the Dolphins and the Ravens, which is why both rookie coach-led teams will be continuing their seasons next week.

Unlucky? Sure. But unfair? Don’t be such a homer.

For once, luck wasn’t on the Patriots’ side. Remember 2001 when David Patten was virtually unconscious on the Buffalo sideline but somehow managed to have a body part touching the pigskin, allowing the Pats to continue their drive in the midst of what would become a 9-game win streak to ultimately grab the wild card and the subsequent Super Bowl? Need I mention the Tuck Rule? Both were instrumental in the beginning of the Patriot-Belichick-Brady dynasty. And both required a bit of leprechaun-like charms.

With three games left in the 2008 season, the Pats sat at 8-5 and yet didn’t control their own playoff destiny – as we saw. But make no mistake, it wasn’t all because of black cat luck and it certainly wasn’t because of a tough schedule, either.

Sure, the 8-8 Chargers will host the Colts this wild card weekend, but sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. San Diego’s admittance into the tournament is more in part to a pathetic collapse in Denver rather than a glitch in the postseason rulebook. And sure, the Bolts had the luxury of playing the Chiefs and Raiders twice each, but who do you think New England beat up on six times a season for the past eight years in the AFC East? It wasn’t Indianapolis or any other team that even sniffed the January brackets more than once in a royal blue moon.

The Patriots were 2-4 this season against teams that eventually made this year’s playoffs. They beat up on the JV (putting it mildly) NFC West, got embarrassed by the Dolphins at home, San Diego on the road and blew it against Peyton and the Colts in the dome. Yesterday they shutout the Bills, but needed help from either Brett and the Jets or the Jaguars to continue their season. Neither delivered the favor, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

We’ve watched Senor Hoodie out-coach the league all decade and this season may have been his most impressive masterpiece, gluing together an 11-5 season with a quarterback that had barely played since grade school, after losing the league MVP, the team leader on defense and almost everyone in between. The Pats finished the season on a four-game win streak, but the season is 16 games long for a reason. This time, it just wasn’t their turn for glory. And they weren’t screwed or stolen from and the league’s rules are just fine.

Sometimes you just have to tip you hat in admiration. This would be one of those times. Tony Sparano took a 1-15 football team and triumphed over the Foxboro favorites, starting in Week 3 by unveiling Arkansas’ “wildcat” offense just miles from the Rhode Island border. But I’m aware, it hurts the ego a bit to bow down in front of Sir Tuna – who undoubtedly had a hand (or two) in the Fins’ Celtic-like one-season turnaround. But as those in Motown know best, sports can’t always be full of titles and rings – or wins, for that matter.

This was the Dolphins year, folks. Chad Pennington fittingly beat the Jets in his final exam as the Pats could only sit and watch Favre and his miserable three-interception performance from their respective La-Z-Boys.

Of course it’s tough to swallow and pending Tom’s left knee, the dynasty may not be over. But be gracious, chowder fans. Cassel and the Pats gave it their all; nothing to be taken from them. This time – for once – it just simply wasn’t in the cards. No need to be sore losers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Conflicting thoughts?

Last week, CBS Sports' Gary Parrish disagreed with me in my column about Bo Ryan. But how much does he really disagree, seeing as he posted this a mere month before?

Aren't we arguing the same thing?

Final column and PCP:

So many lessons in such short amount of time

PCP: Favorite Herald memory?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NFL overtime inferior to college version

They can’t figure out that computers don’t watch the games, conference title games should be unified, the two-team-per-conference rule is flat-out dumb, the six automatic bid system is even dumber and no one likes calling it Football Bowl Subdivision. But to their credit, the college football masterminds have one thing figured out better than Roger Goodell and their professional counterparts. It’s got nothing to do with postseason and everything to do with post-four quarters.


Unlike in the NFL, the NCAA gives each team a fair chance to actually win the game following 60 minutes of hard-fought football. What a novel idea. First, one team gets the ball on the 25-yard line, then the second team gets the ball on the – yup, you guessed it, the same 25-yard line on the same end of the field. It truly is an amazingly innovating phenomenon, isn’t it?

The Sunday version is a bit different. Winning the fifth-quarter coin toss is like winning Goodell’s short-term vesion of David Stern’s lottery. Unless you’re Matt Hasselbeck, say, “We want the ball and we’re going to score,” then throw a pick-six to Crystal Crowns’ favorite Packer, Al Harris to end your season. Or you’re former Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg, win the toss, take the windless side of the field instead of the ball, watch Jim Miller and the Bears march down the field and win on a Paul Edinger field goal.

Of course, winning the overtime coin toss doesn’t guarantee you a victory. In fact, according to ESPN’s John Clayton, the team that wins the toss wins the game on the first OT possession less than 50 percent of the time. Still, I’ve seen it enough; what happened Thursday night shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.

The Jets-Patriots game was arguably the most exciting game of the season. Lifetime backup Matt (Tom Who?) Cassel leads New England back from the dead, hits Randy Moss on the side of the end zone with Patriot legend Ty Law draped all over him with one second left to tie the game at 31.

Then, the Jets win the toss, Favre nonchalantly leads them into field goal range and Jay Feely ends it with a 34-yard field goal. Cassel and Moss never see the field again.

Even for Jets fan, that had to be anti-climactic. It was like ending a Bond movie with an eyes-closed kiss and a bouquet of red roses. And yet, it didn’t compare to the stomach-aching finale that occurred three days later.

Ever seen a last-second Hail Mary after which nobody celebrates? It happens every once in a blue moon, a tad more often than safeties on back-to-back possessions, which happened here less than 24 hours before. Yes, I’m talking about a tie, a stalemate, words that make all competitors cringe worse than when Mark McGwire hears, “piss test.”

Sunday’s Bengals-Eagles matchup ended without a victor. Philadelphia now sits one-half game behind the Redskins and Cowboys at 5-4-1 for second place in the NFC East and 1-8-1 Cincinnati now sits with a stupid-looking record at the bottom of the AFC North.

After 75 minutes of football the game ended how it began. The players were left unsatisfied, the fans were left even more unsatisfied; a pointless ending to a now-pointless game. Stalemates are for chess. Ties should only come in tic-tac-toe.

College football is far from perfect; the BCS is a joke and yet only half as laughable as the mere existence of the Bowl. But the NCAA does have one ‘A’ on its midterm report card. Goodell should be asking for its notes.

Derek is a junior majoring in economics. Your thoughts on football’s overtime? Send them to

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Penn State loss hurtful in so many ways

It was only one kick, three points, a mere chip shot. But oh how one upright-splitting field goal can have such an effect on a coach, a team, a conference.

An entire begging sport.

Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field goal Saturday evening at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium had more impact than any Hawkeye fan who stormed the field could have imagined.

For one, it ruined Penn State’s perfect season.

The Nittany Lions’ 81-year-old coach may have trouble spelling “BCS,” but what a story this would have been. Joe Paterno – in what many believe is his 43rd and final season as PSU’s head coach – is no longer able to stand on the Penn State sidelines and gets driven around practice in a golf cart. But at 9-0, his Nittany Lions were staring a national championship berth square in the face. They merely had to beat Iowa on the road before returning to Happy Valley to face a pathetic Indiana squad and then Michigan State. A real heart-warming story it would have been, now impossible, thanks to Murray.

It also ruined the Big Ten’s chance for a savior.

After a pair of Ohio State defeats at the mercy of the SEC’s Florida and LSU in consecutive seasons, the Big Ten has been considered by many as the most overrated conference in all of college football. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi was to Princess Leah, Penn State was the Big Ten’s only hope. With their “Spread HD” offense run by junior Daryll Clark, perhaps the Nittany Lions could have competed with the nation’s elite on Jan. 8 and re-solidified their conference’s national reputation.

Instead, the Big Ten will continue to be the laughing stalk of the gridiron galaxy, especially if PSU loses to USC in the Rose Bowl, a now-realistic possibility.

It gave life-support to an ailing BCS, bolstering an inferior system while lessening its chance of utter chaos and confusion.

With the loss, Penn State fell out of national championship contention because the Big Ten season simply doesn’t compare to those of the SEC or Big XII, and the Lions’ non-conference schedule was easier than finding a penny at the bottom of a city fountain.

Had Penn State finished undefeated, the BCS droids would have gone haywire. Would a 12-0 Big Ten campaign – without a conference title game – have been more championship-worthy than a one-loss SEC or Big XII season? That sole question could have pushed the NCAA toward a postseason playoff the entire football-watching world has been yearning since the computers took over in 1998. Now, there’s a chance that exactly two BCS conference teams can finish undefeated, making the decision simple for that three-lettered nightmare.

Every sports fan enjoys the David over Goliath defeats; they’re why games are decided between the painted white lines and not the Microsoft margins. But unless you reside in Gainesville, Fla., Norman, Okla. or anywhere in the Lonestar state, Iowa’s victory over Penn State was a not-so-happy ending to a thrilling conference contest, especially if you don Badger Red, Spartan Green or Michigan Maize and Blue.

Funny thing is, after Murray’s 35-yard miss that would have beaten Pittsburgh on Sept. 20, freshman Trent Mossbrucker was supposed to handle the field goal duties inside of 42 yards for the Hawkeyes. Instead, head coach Kirk Ferentz went with his gut feeling, giving the sophomore one more chance.

Talk about redemption. Too bad a life-changing success story ruined so much for everyone else.

Derek is a junior majoring in economics. Were you cheering when Penn State went down? Now do you wish you weren’t? Let Derek know at

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Loss of Brady, loss of words

Packer fans, now I understand. Bulls fans, you too.

There’s a reason we watch every Sunday. We feel like we’re part of the team, one of the guys. We yell, “fumble!” at the tv screen when the ball pops loose, and we ask the coach – by first name only, of course – what he was thinking with play action on third and one. But when you get to root for a superstar, a sure-thing Hall of Famer, like a Brett Favre, a Peyton Manning, a Tom Brady, it makes cheering that much better. Your heart skips a beat each week when the offense takes the field because you can’t wait for that perfect spiral, that first touchdown pass. Just watching from your couch, you’re on cloud nine.

Now, according to, Tom Brady is out for the season with a torn ACL, and I feel like I just had to put my dog to sleep.

And I’ve never had a dog.

No, I feel like my team just lost the Super Bowl, falling one game short of perfection. Oh wait, that was seven months ago.

This is even worse.

For seven seasons we’ve watched No. 12 drop back to pass, standing calmer than a midsummer breeze in the pocket, firing touchdown passes left and right. Mistakes were a rarity, while third down conversions were aplenty. Brady brought us three Super Bowl rings, an MVP trophy, one Super Bowl-less AFC Championship ring and a whole lot of oohs and ahhs. But now, like we said for 86 years before 2004 for our other beloved franchise, we’ll have to wait ‘til next year.

Melancholy? Yeah, that’s a start. Dejected? Sounds about right.

In football, injuries happen. It’s a physical sport. We just never thought this – the one thing that couldn’t possibly happen – would actually happen. We thought he was immortal. We laughed when he was listed as “probable” for dozens of consecutive games.

And now we want to cry. We took it for granted.

People outside of New England can’t seem to understand why Brady is so great. I’ve heard, “If Brett Favre had Randy Moss and that kind of protection, he’d put up those numbers, too.”

But we know that’s not true. Ole Brett would still throw off his back foot – much like our formal signal caller Mr. Bledsoe – and chuck up floaters begging to get picked – like he did this afternoon, only somehow it was caught by a Jet in the end zone. And we knew that Brady was the best quarterback in the league before Moss and Wes Welker were served to him on a silver platter. We remember the David Patten, Troy Brown, David Givens days. Last year just made the playing field equal with Manning, only our golden boy blew him out of the water.

Brady always seemed to have the answer. He always made the right decision, which is what quarterback is really about. Comeback drives, late touchdowns, even scrambling for first downs, we saw it all from Tom. When they said he couldn’t throw the deep ball, he proved them wrong. When they said he was No. 2 to Manning, he proved them wrong again.

For seven seasons we’ve been spoiled, not just because of the wins and the division titles, but because of the experience, because watching Tom run the show brought smiles to our faces. We knew we were watching greatness.

The Belichick-Brady era has been a fantasy-like reality. But without Tom, it’s like Neverneverland without Peter Pan.

And I never want to grow up.

Cheeseheads, you’ll watch Aaron Rogers, but it won’t be the same. Bulls fans, has it been the same without MJ?

I still won’t miss a kickoff, but that sense of nostalgia will never cease, until I see Tom in the shotgun sometime in the way-too-distant future.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

School's around the corner: It's Badger Herald time!

With the kickoff to the college football season just nine days away, Derek will be working at The Badger Herald from now through the rest of the semester, leaving little time for his blog. Derek will be covering the Badgers football team throughout it's 12 game campaign, so make sure you check out the Herald's website and the Herald blog "Extra Points" for exclusive coverage all season long.

Friday, August 15, 2008

No past, present, or future for terrible Texas Rangers

You’d think they would have learned by now. Apparently not.

Since moving from Washington D.C. to Arlington, Tex. in 1972, the Texas Rangers have never won a playoff series. And as I sat in Fenway Park last night, watching the Red Sox put another white, crooked number (9) on the Green Monster scoreboard, I realized why.

John Hart became the Rangers’ general manager after Doug Melvin (now Brewers GM) left the club in 2001. Texas had made the postseason in 1999, but got swept by the eventual World Series Champion Yankees in three games. Nine years later, that remains the club’s most recent postseason appearance, due in large part to Hart and Co.’s pitiful managerial tactics.

It all started with a guy named Alex Rodriguez, whom the Rangers threw $252 million at in 2001. Fine, so you snag the game’s best player but it doesn’t exactly pan out. So three seasons later, Texas realized its mistake, and dealt A-Rod to the Bronx. Good move, right? Yeah, except for the fact that they got Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias – two hitters – for the quarter billion dollar prima donna.

See, every baseball fan knows that for the past decade, the Rangers could hit the baseball. The bats of A-Rod, Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Mark Texiera, Milton Bradley, and Ian Kinsler – to name a few – have filled their rosters. But when Chan Ho Park is your best pitcher of the decade (fine, Kenny Rogers, maybe), you’re not going to win very many baseball games.

In 2005, Hart stepped down as Texas’s GM. In came 28 year-old Jon Daniels, baseball’s youngest front office exec, to try and become the next Theo Epstein, to bring winning ways to Arlington.

Today, the Rangers sit 15.5 games behind the Angels in the AL West. Why? Because the likes of Tommy Hunter (1.2 IP, 9 ER), Luis Mendoza (4 IP, 7 ER), and Scott Feldman (2.2 IP, 6 ER) made their last three starts against the Manny-less Red Sox. Saying that the Rangers have a lack of pitching is like saying Michael Phelps has a lack of body hair.

So last night, my grandfather turns to me and says, “If they’re so bad, why don’t the throw the young kids out there so they can get experience?”

“These are the young kids,” I chuckled. “This is their future.”

Seconds later, as Hunter was chased with one out in the second, my dad texted me: “WTF was that?!”

“Awful management,” I replied. “They’d be better off with Jeff Tardiff (my senior co-captain) out there.”

What makes matters even worse is that the Rangers A) Have so many good hitters that they could easily trade for some arms and B) Already traded away their best future arm! Daniels and friends (one of whom being Hart, who still holds a position in Texas’s front office, imagine that) dealt hard-throwing righty Edinson Volquez to the Reds for outfielder Josh Hamilton. Volquez has quickly become Cinci’s ace as he’s put together a 14-5, sub-3 ERA, All-Star, and possible Rookie of the Year-type season. Hamilton of course was an All-Star as well, as he slugged 95 RBIs prior to the Midsummer Classic in New York, as he’s put together an MVP-esque campaign. Most have called the Volquez-for-Hamilton switch a “win-win” for both ballclubs.

Not me; I know offensive numbers don’t translate into W’s. Why doesn't Daniels understand that?

Hamilton has been everything the Rangers had hoped and more for them this season. But why on earth, would you trade pitching for hitting on a team stacked with bats and in dire need of arms? It’s simple economics. France doesn’t trade China for wine and cheese.

There seems to be no light at the end of this Texas tunnel. But don’t feel bad for this pathetic franchise. There’s a reason it scored 17 runs Tuesday and still lost. It comes from within.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From back stroke to butterfly: Phelps's swimming supremacy

The reign of Michael Jordan is ancient history. Roger Federer is slowly giving way to Rafael Nadal. Padraig Harrington is basking in Tiger-less glory as Woods waits helplessly on the PGA’s PUP list. Looking for clear-cut dominance in the mean time? Perhaps for the next two and a half weeks? Dive into the pools of Beijing and you’ll find it. His name, of course is Michael Phelps.

The 23 year-old from Baltimore entered the week looking to make history, setting a mere eight gold medals as his personal goal. So far, he’s yet to disappoint, going 3-for-3, setting world records each time his hands have reached the pool’s edge.

Calling him a gamer would be like calling Jessica Alba pretty. But apparently, those paid to comment on his mastery care more about an Aaron Rogers preseason screen pass than a man 14 time zones away representing their country: The United States of America.

This morning I turned on ESPN’s First Take as I ate my bowl of Crispix at the kitchen table. First question: Are you impressed with Michael Phelps?

I nearly spit out my crushed cereal/milk mixture. Is that even worth asking? What sports writer wouldn’t enjoy 6-foot-4 inches, 195 pounds of pure American muscle speeding past international foes like a porpoise among tuna?

Apparently three: All three on the show.

“Yeah, I guess I’m impressed,” said one of the Stewart brothers. “But at the end of the day, it’s just swimming. It’s not baseball, basketball, or football, so I can’t get too excited.” His brother sitting beside him agreed.

Since when was “sports” limited to those three games? And why are you a “sports” writer if you don’t even appreciate sport at its finest?

For 47 months out of every four years, I – like 99.9 percent of US sports fans – could care less about any event that requires one to surface for air. Scratch that, under normal circumstances, I’m still not going to lose sleep over who wins the 400 meter freestyle, but these aren’t normal circumstances by any means. And I can certainly appreciate an American athlete with the determination and ability to conquer his sport in all fashions to the point that I’d call it “impressive” (which would still be a vast understatement).

Swimming requires everything a sport should: Endurance, athleticism, agility, and speed. Ever swim 50 meters of butterfly? Maybe you’ll appreciate Phelps a little more.

After I was ready throw my spoon at the television, Skip Bayless offered his two sense: “I couldn’t agree with you guys any more.” Bayless went on to explain that swimming is like a cult in which few kids partake growing up, making the pool (no pun intended) of athletes far less talented than that of say, basketball, thus making Phelps’s accomplishments well, mediocre.

So Brian Urlacher’s linebacker skills are less impressive because he doesn’t have to tackle LeBron James because The King decided to pursue the parquet and not the gridiron? Didn’t think so.

I’m not trying to put swimming at the level of the three above-mentioned sports. But this is the Olympics. Why watch if you only care about the Redeem Team? For three weeks, we get to watch fencing, gymnastics, and badminton as if we actually care. And you know what, it’s fun, if you actually like sports and real competition. These athletes compete not for money, but for love of the game. They train endlessly for four years for a brief chance to take on the world’s best. Who doesn’t appreciate that?

We marveled over Lance Armstrong and his dominance of the Tour de France. Why, because we were all cycling junkies? How are Phelps’s achievements any different?

So Skip and friends, if you want to discuss Brett Favre text messages and Jessica Simpson luxury box visits, that’s fine, but go write for Star Magazine. In the mean time, I’ll be watching real athletic competition, like Dara Torres’s immortality and Phelps’s quest for golds.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Manny move necessary for Sox success

It all happened faster than you can say “Brett Favre’s retirement,” but ultimately, the right decision was made.

In a Red Sox uniform, Manny was no longer being Manny; he had simply been a spoiled brat over the past two weeks, publicly ridiculing the organization that pays him $16 million to swing thirty-four inches of maple a dozen times a day.

Selfish. Just like his agent Scott Boras. Coincidence? Doubtful.

No, Manny never broke a sweat sprinting to first on routine grounders and never received an A for effort on anyone’ report card, but the smiles, the pointing, the boyish attitude, and oh, the home runs and RBIs were enough for us to shake our heads, smile, and look the other way.

But it finally got past the point of production. “The Red Sox don’t deserve me,” Manny told the media earlier this week, as he compared his situation to those of former Red Sox superstars Pedro Martinez and Manny’s new teammate in Los Angeles, Nomar Garciaparra. Yes, the same Pedro that left the team for vacations to the Dominican and the same Nomar that ultimately quit on the team, whined in the clubhouse, and forced Boston GM Theo Epstein to trade him at the deadline in ’04, a move that sparked the Sox to a World Series victory months later. Again, not exactly a coincidence.

Good comparison, Manny.

One player can never be bigger than the team. Unfortunately, that’s what unfolded along Yawkey Way over the past few days, forcing Epstein to hit the panic button once again. Despite his overbearing presence and production in the cleanup spot, shipping Manny was a necessary move Thursday. I wouldn’t have put it past him to completely quit on the team down the stretch. Apparently Epstein felt the same, as he shockingly pulled the trigger just minutes before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Following Manny’s mockeries including a sign that read, “Trade me to Green Bay for Brett Favre straight up,” what kind of message would keeping him send to his teammates, players like Kevin Youkilis (the same Kevin Youkilis that Ramirez slapped in the dugout weeks ago) who put their heart and soul into every pitch night-in and night-out?

Not one that I’d like to divulge.

So now the Red Sox are stuck with Jason Bay in left, protecting David Ortiz in the lineup. Numbers-wise, Bay isn’t far behind the Dreadlocked Dominican. But let’s not pretend like Bay’s presence scares opposing pitchers like Ramirez’s did. It doesn’t.

Yeah, Bay for Manny is a sixty cents on the dollar type of trade, but since there was a good chance that that dollar was on the verge of becoming more worthless than a Charles Barkley golf lesson, dumping Manny became inescapable.

My issues with the deal don’t revolve around the departure of the future Hall of Famer. My issues revolve around everyone else involved. Why did Boston have to throw outfielder Brandon Moss and former first round reliever Craig Hansen into the deal?

It’s like getting your wallet stolen, then sending the culprit your ipod in the mail.

The Dodgers only sent two prospects to Pittsburgh and received Ramirez for free, since the Red Sox will be paying the remainder of his mega-salary this season. Why couldn’t L.A. have thrown the Pirates two more players instead of the BoSox throwing away more of the future to go along with their biggest offensive asset for the present? Either Epstein needs to work on his poker face, or he really believed that neither Moss nor Hansen had a future in Boston, which I find hard to believe.

In terms of the rest of the season for Boston, now what? How will Manny’s absence affect Big Papi’s bat? How will Bay perform under the spotlight of Fenway, playing in meaningful games for the first time in his big league career? Why didn’t Theo get another arm to rescue that drowning bullpen of his? Can the Rays really win the east?

Plus, the Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming! Four years ago, I’d end this column with, “Here we go again.”

Today, I’m at a loss of words and answers.

So I’ll just shrug and end it with: ?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

End is near for Red Sox-Ramirez relationship

He’s a hero, a nightmare, a child, and a prima donna all rolled into one. A Hall of Famer? First ballot. A role model? Not quite.

For seven-plus seasons the Boston Red Sox have been unhappily dating superstar left fielder Manny Ramirez. It’s been a roller coaster-esque relationship highlighted by two world championships, but ultimately the Sox have played the role of the overprotective boyfriend for too long. Since his arrival in Beantown, Manny has been the girlfriend that doesn’t treat you right, but you’re too scared to call it quits, for fear of her being happy with someone else.

Oh, but they’ve tried.

Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein has tried to part ways with his Latino luminary on countless occasions. Seemingly every offseason Manny trade talks simmer on the hot stove and just before every July 31 trade deadline, Manny says he’s unhappy, Epstein toys with shopping him, but he always ends up with BOSTON sprawled across his chest. In October of 2003, Epstein even placed Ramirez on waivers, daring anyone – even the rival Yankees – to claim him. Of course, no one did, and a year later Manny was named World Series MVP after the Red Sox were crowned champions of the baseball universe following a painful 86-year drought.

His mental state is as stable as Ruben Studdard on a tightrope, but there’s no doubting his talent or production. Every season you can count on Manny hitting .300, belting 35 homers, driving in 120 runs, and slugging .550. He’s an underrated outfielder with an above-average arm and a mastery of playing the monster that looms behind him. After his “I’m sick of them; they’re sick of me” comments late last week, it’s clear that Manny is tired of being Manny in Boston. But even when his hose are in a bunch, Manny still produces, as evidenced by his performances over the past two nights (5-10, HR, 5 RBIs).

So what’s the problem? Why has this unhealthy marriage taken a spin for the worst, again?

I can understand the Red Sox’s frustration. Since signing his $160 million contract in 2000, Ramirez has been treated like royalty (or Pedro Martinez, perhaps?) in Boston. He’s faked injuries, dogged it in the outfield, refused to pinch hit on days off, stood in the batter’s box on groundballs, missed a pitch while relieving himself in the Green Monster, jogged-out double play balls, rolled over a stagnant post-fly ball after diving and missing by feet, dove to cut-off a Johnny Damon relay throw from center, badmouthed the organization…

For seven-plus seasons, Red Sox management has turned the other cheek on Ramirez’s infantile behavior simply because of what he can do while standing left of home plate. But that last slip-up mentioned in that laundry list of Manny-isms, was the last straw. The line has finally been crossed. It’s time for Manny to go.

It’s obvious why the Red Sox want to breakup with their superstar slugger: They’ve had enough of his shenanigans. But what I can’t seem to understand is why Manny is so adamant about a uniform change all of a sudden. Like I said, Manny has gotten away with baseball murder since he put a down payment on his Ritz Carlton apartment. We know he hates the Boston media, but why, out of the blue, is Manny, a man so indifferent, so nonchalant about life itself, so angry?

Ramirez is in the eighth year of a ten-year contract with two $20 million, one-year team options in 2009 and 2010. Perhaps it stems from his agent, Scott Boras, baseball’s green-seeking bad guy who still pickpockets grade schoolers in southern California ice cream parlors. Boras was not Manny's agent at the time of the signing and would love to stir up controversy for a subsequent restructured contract with a new ballclub.

Feasible? Yes. But because Manny has been reluctant to be controversial (at least vocally) in eight seasons in Boston, I find it hard to believe that Boras has puppeteered his client into crying like a six-year old in the aisle of Toys R Us.

Then, what is it, you ask? Why doesn’t Manny want to play in front of the Fenway Faithful anymore?

Like Joe Paterno said Thursday: I. Don’t. Know.

What I do know, however is that the Red Sox have some decisions to make. The majority of Red Sox Nation wants their once happy-go-lucky left fielder to stay, as seen by the plethora of “Don’t Trade Manny” posters held up in Fenway last evening. They love the home runs, the entertainment. The organization? They, like me, appreciate the game being played the right way. The way the Los Angeles Angels, not Ramirez, play ball.

Because of his sheer production at the plate, a trade for Ramirez of equal value before Thursday’s trade deadline seems wildly unlikely. If the Rockies could package lefty closer Brian Fuentes and last year’s NL MVP runner-up Matt Holliday in a deal for Manny, I’d do it. If the White Sox sent outfielder Jermaine Dye and shortstop Orlando Cabrera – a vital piece of the 2004 Red Sox championship club – to Boston, I’d do that, too. But both seem incredibly unrealistic at this point.

What sounds more practical to me is for Manny to finish out the year in a Red Sox uniform. Next year, he’ll probably head home, where he can rock baggy pinstripes in a brand new ballpark.

As for this year, I foresee a change of events on Aug. 3, while I’m sitting in Fenway Park. I foresee a Ramirez walk-off bouncing single up the middle off Oakland closer Houston Street. In a postgame interview, Manny will announce with a smile: “This is where I want to play!” and everyone will cheer as if Ted Williams had risen from the dead.

From my crystal ball? Not exactly. More like déjà vu.

Yeah, we’ve seen that one before.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

All about fun for 81 year-old Paterno

CHICAGO – Sometimes, we all need a little reminder. It’s easy to forget why we’re all here.

Today I sat in front of an 81 year-old man and could do nothing but smile. Like a… college football fan who just met Joe Paterno for the first time. No analogy needed; that’s what happened with me today at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

This morning I sat in a conference room with a hundred some-odd Big Ten media members and listened to every Big Ten football coach talk about their respective programs. A room full of football dorks counting the days until Aug. 30th, when the first whistles will be blown and the first flags will be thrown.

But believe it or not, no one in that room full of gridiron junkies was more excited than ole Joe Pa. Why? Because for him, football is fun. No other reason necessary.

That, I envy.

There are plenty of people who become investment bankers who do it for the money, not for love of the game. But how many sports writers do you know hate sports? We get paid to write about what every guy talks about in bars, at the dinner table, and on the treadmill.

Some people forget that.

I don’t.

When Paterno addressed the media, five-inch thick glasses and all, he was bombarded by questions as if he were President Bush informing the nation that we are going to war with Iran. Granted, I understand that these people have stories to write and bills to pay, but this is sports. If it’s no longer fun for you, then you’re in the wrong business.

Paterno made it clear that he was sick of getting asked if it was his final season or when he plans to retire. But of course, people asked anyway.

“I. Don’t. Know!” Paterno answered deliberately. “Do you want me to spell it out for you? I-D-O-N-T…”

Everyone laughed except the moron who asked the question. Most people did so because they think the old man is senile. Yeah, he mumbled, stumbled, and slurred his words. But I get it. The man loves his job. Now what the hell is wrong with that?

In a world filled with advertisements, sponsors, and money-grubbing agents, we could all learn a thing or two from a guy who works for the right reasons.

“What has to happen this season, Joe for you to know it’s time to go?” moron No. 2 asked.

“There are no parameters,” Paterno answered in frustration. “Now, I'm just having fun. I’ll know when it’s time. We could lose ten games by 15 points each, and I could say we were one play away. I. Don’t. Know.”

I mentioned he was 81, right?

After Paterno finished, I walked into the corridor to go to the bathroom, where I found dozens of grown men waving their microphones at coaches, players, and ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, as if they were trading on the Wall Street floor. I smiled, talked to Herbstreit calmly about the Badgers when things calmed down, and went on with my business, all the while wishing one day I can be as happy and excited at 81 as Joe Pa.

Yeah, I want answers, too. I want to know who will be under center for Wisconsin a month from now. But life is too short to take too seriously. We get paid to talk about spread offenses and non-conference schedules. We should only be so unfortunate.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Questions for Big Ten coaches?

Derek will be attending Big Ten Media Day in Chicago Thursday July 24th and Friday July 25th. If you have any questions you'd like him to ask any of the Big Ten football coaches, email him at

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yankee fans make rivalry bigger than game itself

Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz understood it. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter understood it. Terry Francona understood it better than all of them.

But apparently the fans in New York couldn’t figure it out. And believe me, if it were Boston, I would be just as critical.

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is undoubtedly the most coveted rivalry in all of professional sports. And being part of it makes baseball even that much more exciting. But sometimes – like last night – the game, baseball, is bigger than any hand-crafted subplot you can fathom.

Last night’s Midsummer Classic was supposed to be classy, filled with Hall of Famers who live, breath, respect, and understand the game.

The Yankee faithful failed to recognize the latter two.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been known to chant “Yankees Suck!” from time to time within the Fenway confines. I own the t-shirt and I expect the favor returned within The House that Ruth Built.

But last night wasn’t the time. Or place.

A parade for the players. The Star-Spangled Banner. A pre-game ceremony honoring baseball’s living legends in America’s Pastime’s sanctuary. An accord of boos.

Like trying to fit the square block in the round hole.

Francona deliberately substituted Joe Crede for A-Rod and Michael Young for Jeter solely so they could receive standing ovations from the Bronx Bomber buffs. The pinstripe aficionados went nuts as their closer trotted toward the mound to the tune of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Why? Because Tito – the manager of the enemy – set the stage, yanking K-Rod, the league’s save leader, with one out in the ninth.

But an inning earlier came the entrance of Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who told the media that he believed he should get the ball in a save situation instead of Rivera. So, in a 2-2 ballgame in the top of the eighth, Yankee Stadium erupted with boos aimed at the Red Sox righty. Chants of “O-VER-RATED!” filled the air as Pap came to the set. Booing for their own team, the American League.


After a Miguel Tejada bloop single to right, a Dioner Navarro throwing error moved him to third and an Adrian Gonzalez sac fly plated the Astros shortstop. 3-2 NL. An unearned run.

More boos. More ignorance.

I can understand the home crowd booing Manny, Youkilis, and the like during introductions. Under the circumstances, I disagree with them, but I can understand them, for I know the same would happen in Beantown – although I wouldn’t participate. But to boo Papelbon in that situation – despite his self-promoting, anti-Yankee comments – is ridiculous, for once a year, those who slurp clam chowder and those who devour the largest of pizza slices root for the same team.

Except when they’re too proud to deal with it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wrigley fails to disappoint

CHICAGO – I’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower or traveled to Stonehenge. When I saw the Golden Gate Bridge at age 12, I wasn’t exactly enthused. History isn’t my thing and quite frankly, I have no urge to travel to view most ancient landmarks.

Except when it comes to sports.

I’ve been to Fenway Park a million and a half times, including Game 1 of the 2004 World Series, but I still feel like Paris Hilton on Christmas every time I walk up the ramp and stare into the eyes of the Green Monster. Needless to say, I felt like a six year-old in Toys R Us Saturday when I entered Wrigley Field for the first time.

I love to text message my friends during class and facebook chat when I’m on the clock at work. Heck, I even have a blog. But when it comes to baseball, I’m old school. So as I sat seven rows behind the Cubs dugout Saturday (thanks again for the great seats, Annie), I began to take it all in. Prior to Dick Butkus’s first pitch (and subsequent seventh-inning stretch “Take me out to the Ballgame” rendition, which was quite impressive, by the way) I stood up and observed the utter beauty around me. Don’t let (White) Sox fans tell you otherwise. The ivy is much cooler in person. The rooftop seating adds character to a ballpark that has everything but charisma issues. Few ads. No jumbotron. I nudged my friend Bryan next to me and pointed, “Bartman was right there!”

It was a baseball fanatic’s paradise. Wrigleyville, aside from the ballpark itself, is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Everyone dressed in Cubbie attire, drinking beers, hoping this year will finally be the year, after 100 non-years.

With that, I can sympathize.

So there I sat, in baseball heaven watching Rich Harden make his Chicago debut. His excitement made mine look like I was at a funeral, which was apparent after he failed to hold back his smiles during his sixth-inning exit complemented by a standing ovation. The Cubs led 7-0 and I was perfectly content with a blowout, as the outcome of the game really had no bearing on my level of utility. Little did I know what was about to unfold.

The visiting Giants scored two runs in the eighth then exploded off Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol for five in the ninth, knotting the game at seven. Two innings later Mark DeRosa scored on a bang-bang play at the plate after a Reed Johnson single to right. You would have thought they had just won the World Series (I forgive the fans, as obviously none of them know what that actually feels like) as the song “Go Cubs Go!” filled the Wrigley air. Even I stood up on my chair and sang along. What else was I supposed to do?

And like Harden, that, along with an afternoon of bar hopping, was my Wrigley debut. I will say one thing, though. The fans, at least within my earshot, weren’t exactly the most knowledgeable I had ever encountered. The guy behind me was telling his friend that Wrigley had the last manual scoreboard in baseball. And the friend was keeping score, wearing a Red Sox hat! Bryan and I looked at each other.

“You wanna tell him, or should I?” We refrained.

I couldn’t do the same the night before. Friday night we ventured over to Lincoln Park to our friend’s house downtown. Travis Beckum and TJ Theus unexpectedly graced us with their presence. I later found myself in a cab with two Western Illinois students from Park Ridge who were at the house earlier.

“You guys always chill with future NFL tight ends?” I joked, referring to Beckum.

“No, they are wide receivers,” the kid next to me replied.

Little did he know he was trying to argue psychology with Freud.

“Actually Travis is going to be the first tight end taken in the draft next year.”

“You think?”

“I know.”

I couldn’t help it.

On the L Saturday, Bryan, in casual conversation claimed that drinking reverts people back to childhood, as they have no fear and no shame.

Baseball has the same effect on me.

I sat in Wrigley all afternoon, lapping it up like a golden retriever in July, analyzing the game with Bryan, who has every bit the baseball knowledge as me. We explained to Annie and her friend Rachael how Ryan Theriot’s baserunning blunder cost the Cubs a run in the first. Derrek Lee hit a ball to the track with nobody out and Theriot on second. Theriot found himself near third base when Aaron Rowand made the catch. Had Theriot been two steps off of second, he easily could have tagged up or scored had Rowand not made the catch. Instead, he retreated to second and failed to score on the subsequent Aramis Ramirez line drive, which was caught in diving fashion by Rowand.

Man I love this game.

Wrigley Field: Check. On deck: Yankee Stadium August 2nd. Excited? You bet.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Packers: Forget about tomorrow, win today

I’ll make this quick because I’m sick of hearing about it.

So Brett Favre allegedly wants to return to the Packers but Green Bay has already handed the keys to the offense over to Aaron Rogers, its former first round pick, after patiently waiting behind No. 4 for three seasons.

Oh no, what do we do?!

Today on, 55 percent of the country said that the Packers shouldn’t let Favre come back because it’s time to move on, rebuild, give Rogers his well-earned chance.

Rebuild?! Move on?! Why do teams rebuild? The ultimate goal of course for any franchise is to win a championship. The Packers were one play away from reaching the Super Bowl last season. With Favre, they would be the favorites in the NFC. With Rogers, they won’t. Period. So you’re telling me it’s time to move on to eventually win championships with Rogers at the helm when you’re passing up a potential ring this season?

Packers GM Ted Thompson need not look far for advice. He needs to look just a bit southeast of Lambeau Field to a place called Milwaukee. Brewers GM Doug Melvin was sick of the “maybe next year” mentality. The Brew Crew have the talent to potentially win now. So he went out and got Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia. Yes, he gave up some of Milwaukee’s future in the deal. But what is a future when there is no present? I applaud Melvin for rolling the dice. If the Brewers fail to make the playoffs, then so be it. But he finally grew a pair, created excitement for the faithful fans, and made a move to better today’s team. Not tomorrow’s.

So the Packers now have a choice. As Annie would say, “the sun will come up tomorrow,” potentially for the Favre-less Cheeseheads.

But the sun is already up for the green and gold. If, of course they don’t give ol' Brett a vicious stiff-arm.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Federer, Nadal play one for the ages

As the Olympic torch continues its journey through China, Roger Federer did some torch passing of his own yesterday.

But, unfortunately for the Swiss superstar, his version was unintended. In fact, Federer’s torch wasn’t passed down at all. It was simply snatched in a five-set marathon match by Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

Federer has been ranked No. 1 in the tennis world for what seems to be an eternity. And although he remains as such, yesterday’s defeat may very well have marked the beginning of the end of the Reign of Federer.

In my mind – and I know I’m not alone – Nadal now wears the proverbial target on his back. After defeating Federer consecutively in the French Open and now at Wimbledon – virtually Federer’s home court, as he had won the previous five championships there – the Spanish southpaw is on top of the tennis universe at age 22.

And deservedly so.

As promised, I woke up at eight yesterday morning for a healthy serving of Breakfast at Wimbledon. I didn’t anticipate having lunch and dinner as part of the routine as well, but I’m glad I did. Yesterday’s final was as advertised.

And so much more.

Nadal took the first two sets with relative ease (6-4, 6-4), including winning the final four games of the second set after trailing 2-4. It looked as if the lefty (hey, at least one lefty can compete with No. 1, right Phil?) was going to give us an encore performance of the French, when he took down FedExpress in straight sets.

Switzerland’s Finest had other plans.

Federer won the next two sets in dramatic, tiebreak fashion, forcing, yup, you guessed it: A winner-take-all fifth set.

When Federer won the fourth set, knotting the match at two sets apiece, I got the same feeling I did not long ago during golf’s U.S. Open. As Tiger approached 18 needing a birdie, I just knew his Nike ball was going to find the bottom of the cup.

And I knew Federer, after clawing his way back, was going to find a way to win in five.

But, if you’ve read any variety of my previous posts, you’re well aware that I’m not exactly Nostradamus.

Yesterday proved to be no different.

Nadal won the set 9-7 (there are no tiebreakers in the fifth set at Wimbledon) and when Federer’s final shot found the turf-less net, Rafa, after playing off-and-on through rain delays for over seven total hours, collapsed to the grass in exhaustion, having just defeated the best tennis player in the world.

If you can’t appreciate that, then you simply don’t belong watching sports. Two great athletes battling it out in front of the world, representing not only themselves, but their countries and the sport of tennis as a whole, a sport fans should appreciate more.

Tennis is not only a game of amazing skill; it’s a game of incredible endurance and athleticism. Federer and Nadal are two of the most well-conditioned athletes in sports today. And if you enjoy Sportscenter’s Top 10 as much as I do, you should enjoy watching these two play.

Crushing serves, unthinkable returns, amazing volleys, and pinpoint ground strokes were just a few of the ingredients present in yesterday’s historical recipe. Like when I watch Tiger, yesterday I jumped out of my seat and even screamed like a little girl at times in utter disbelief.

I was watching a masterpiece.

Baseball has steroids. NBA players don’t play defense during the regular season. No one can even hold a candle to Tiger. And the No Fun League (or National Felon League, whichever you prefer) is exactly that.

Tennis, well, I can’t seem to find a current flaw. And I think these two have something to do with it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tomorrow's tennis too good to miss

We love our Chevys, Fords, and Freedom Fries, especially around the 4th of July. We love our baseball, our Tiger Woods, and our red, white, and blue. We’ll root for our swimmers in August, even when we don’t know the difference between the breast stroke and the butterfly.

We’re all proud to be Americans for one reason or another. But to the sports fan who’s disappointed that neither Andy Roddick nor James Blake will be playing in tomorrow’s Wimbledon Final, I have one piece of advice: Get up, and watch anyway.

Tomorrow’s Federer-Nadal matchup exemplifies everything great about sports. No. 1 vs. No. 2. The master vs. the apprentice (although Federer’s only four years older than Nadal and is still only 26). Two great competitors and athletes facing off on tennis’s biggest stage.

Tennis right now is everything that golf isn’t. There is no Nadal in golf to challenge Mr. Woods. This is the Borg-Connors-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi rivalry that makes individual sports so great. Federer has one a million matches in a row on grass. Nadal owns him on clay at the French. Federer is the greatest, most dominant competitor not to swing a nine-iron this decade. Nadal is poised to prove that he can compete with numero uno any time, any place.

The Swiss hits from the right side with a devastating one-handed backhand similar to none. The Spaniard is a southpaw with a little-engine-that-could mentality and a left bicep the size of Shaq’s left foot.

Both hit shots that will make you leave your seat and both want this title more than the Cheeseheads miss their Holy One.

Tiger won’t be in red tomorrow and the Sawks-Yanks don't start ‘til sundown. No one will be chanting “U-S-A!” in London tomorrow. Nonetheless, I’ll be up at eight.

And if you call yourself a sports fan, I suggest you do the same.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Amateurs wanted in Beijing

This was my mother’s idea. So you can credit her with the assist.

My mom grew up figure skating, a sport which is obviously a focal point of the Winter Olympics every four years. Whenever Michelle Kwan or Sarah Hughes was on ESPN performing triple-toe-loops growing up, my dad and I used to joke, “Quick, change the channel before mom sees!”

Anyway, what used to make the Olympics so refreshing was that professionals were not allowed to compete. Think about the Miracle on Ice. A bunch of college kids came together and somehow beat the Soviets amidst the tension of the Cold War. Remember in “Miracle,” Mike Eruzione no longer played for BU; he played for Team USA.

That was cool.

The Dream Teams who dismantled international foes, bearing gold medal after gold medal just can’t compare to The Miracles (don’t forget about the 1960 USA hockey team; the 1980 squad was the second miracle) simply because the players were paid to play.

To me, this issue is most relevant because of the upcoming Beijing Games, specifically basketball. We all know that March Madness is sports’ most exciting time of the year. Imagine those same athletes donned in red, white, and blue, representing the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.

At the very least, it would give you tips on how to fill out your bracket come next spring, right?

I don’t know, I’ve always been a more of a college hoops fan than an NBA guy myself. But this year especially, I feel like Mike Krzyzewski should be molding the minds of youngsters instead of those of multimillion dollar-making NBA superstars, creating an all-college, all-amateur squad to which fans could relate.

Plus, NBA players are bound by contacts, of course. They play 82 regular season games and in some cases, numerous subsequent postseason affairs. The Celtics suited up 105 times in all this past season. Do they really need any more basketball? If I’m Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, I don’t want Kobe Bryant playing in China this summer, for risk of injury or simply for fear of fatigue.

I admit, it will be fun to watch the league’s best come together to take on the world. But imagine Tyler Hansbrough out there. Imagine the intensity of March Madness overflowing into the international games.

Professional athletes don’t belong in the Olympics. It should be amateurs only, like the Ancient Greeks intended.

There’s something to be said about rooting for amateurs and not money-hungry pros. I’ve seen enough of Kobe, LeBron, and Melo of late. Let the kids play and improve their games on the international stage.

Do you believe in miracles?

I wish I still could.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

International ballers here to do more than just win, baby

If you sniff hard enough, you can smell it. The 2008 NBA Draft is just over 24 hours away, which means two things: 1) The Celtics can no longer bask in the glory of their recent championship because 2) The ’08-’09 season inauguration is already upon us.

No, I’m not going to discuss who the Bulls should select at No. 1 (cough, Derrick Rose, cough, cough); that’s already been beaten like a dead horse.

I’m not even going to ponder teams’ needs as Chicago’s clock continues to tick because quite frankly, Chad Ford, Bill Simmons, Jay Bilas, Andy Katz and Co. can simply do it better than I can.

Instead, I’d like to mull over a recent trend in the new-age NBA: The emergence of international players.

It’s no secret; in today’s world, sports are not only a mean of entertainment; each franchise has become a multimillion dollar business. That said, in some cases, owners and general managers alike have more than just winning on their minds.

In Boston, Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner have made it quite clear that winning championships is atop their annual agenda, as they have accomplished that goal twice in the last four years. Meanwhile, across town, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is notorious for pocketing extra cash in lieu of spending it on free agents that could subsequently help his team make a postseason run down the stretch.

The contrast of these two ideals poses an interesting question relative to Thursday’s draft: Do teams always select foreign players strictly to help themselves win games, or does revenue alone have anything to do with it?

Let’s see.

The Houston Rockets make a percentage of every Yao Ming jersey sold in China, which in turn, obviously boosts team revenue and everyone upstairs gets paid. The same can be said about Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki in Japan or Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki in Germany.

See, even if Yi Jianlian is a complete bust in Milwaukee (which isn’t the case, yet), the Chinese fan base will still care (see if you don’t believe me) and theoretically buy Bucks merchandise. So, even though there is a soft salary cap in the NBA, the money has to go somewhere, right? In this case, it would go to Bucks owner and U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, which then begs the question: Was Milwaukee’s Yi selection a year ago a good investment, even if he never helps the Bucks make a championship run?

Where I come from, the answer is no, absolutely not. In Beantown, winning is everything. But what I’ve realized as I grow older and wiser is that that is not the unanimous case around the country. No one cares as much as Bostonians or New Yorkers. Yeah, winning would be nice, but to your average sports fan, it just doesn’t matter that much. And when that is the case, owners don’t feel added pressure to win and can thus worry about things other than winning, like exactly how much loose change goes into their respective pockets.

Aside from Yao – and even he hasn’t accomplished that much since arriving in the states in 2002 – and Dirk – who perennially seems to choke in the postseason – international players have not had that much success in the NBA. That said, players like Italy’s Danilo Gallinari, France’s Alexis Ajinca, and Congo’s Serge Ibaka remain projected first rounders for Thursday's draft.

Will they succeed in the NBA? I have no idea. But maybe success in this case isn’t measured solely on W’s.

Ease the transition: It's time to switch to wood

I found a better analogy. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner.

On June 17 I wrote about the absurdity of the existence of Major League Baseball’s designated hitter, as it creates polarity within America’s pastime. What I re-realized recently (I realized it before, but was reminded of late, for obvious reasons) was that the usage of aluminum bats in college baseball is even more impractical than the longevity of Big Papi’s position.

College basketball isn’t played with a rubber ball.

It makes no sense to me that at the collegiate level, baseball is played with a completely different hitting utensil than that at the professional level. And do not underestimate the difference between the two, either.

In high school, my conference – the Bay State Conference – was one of the only conferences in Massachusetts to use wood bats, and thus, I have somewhat of a biased perspective. But let me tell you, making the switch from aluminum to wood (which is harder than the other way around) is not exactly like going from Nikes to Reeboks. In high school, our non-conference games were played with aluminum and each time I – along with many of my teammates – had difficulty making the transition.

Swinging with a wood bat is an altogether different phenomenon than that of aluminum. Wood bats are less rewarding. If you fail to make contact with the sweet spot of the bat with wood, hits became that much scarcer, as aluminum is much more forgiving. That’s why college scouts tend to add 100 points to the batting averages of wood bat users, to put everyone on an even playing field.

Like I said, I am biased. I like the wood bat game much better. In high school, wood bat ball was like NL ball, as teams like my Framingham Flyers played more small ball by implementing squeezes and sacrifices more often. Conference games tended to be much lower scoring affairs, as non-conference battles often saw run totals reaching over 20, like we saw last night.

Last evening, staring into the ugly face of elimination, Cinderella Fresno State defeated Georgia 19-10 in Game 2 of the College World Series Championship Series.

To me, that’s not baseball. Growing up, we used to play that game all the time. It’s called Home Run Derby.

Anyone who appreciates a 19-10 slugfest over a 1-0 pitchers’ duel (like my roommate Jordan – forgive him, he’s from L.A.) in a game of such magnitude doesn’t comprehend the true game of baseball. I’ll take a well-executed hit-and-run over a 440-foot solo homer any day of the week.

And I’d be willing to bet that Peter Gammons would, too.

We live in an era with DHs, pitch counts, and lefty specialists, which I guess is O.K. But the NCAA is doing a disservice to these college athletes bound for the pros. Making the adjustment to wood bats – especially for the first time, which is the case for many – isn’t exactly like remembering how to ride a bike. It’s more like finally taking off the training wheels.

Tonight I’ll be watching one Bulldogs team be crowned champions of the college baseball world. I just wish I was hearing the melody made by maple rather than a cacophony pings.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In recruiting world, stars aren't always what they seem

They say ignorance is bliss. But ignorance can also lead to misunderstandings and flat-out mistakes.

I’m a victim of the latter two.

On May 31 I wrote that UW coaches Bo Ryan and Bret Bielema need to dig deeper into the national well of talent and improve their respective recruiting endeavors.

But upon further review, this duo is actually doing just fine.

In my own defense, it is frustrating that Bielema was unable to land any of the Big Ten’s top 20 recruits and Ryan seems to stick to the Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma, Joe Krabbenhoft, Jon Leuer, (need I say more?) prototype. But I’ve subsequently made two conclusions about the world of college recruiting: 1) Top national recruits don’t always pan out and 2) There are always diamonds in the rough.

My complaints about Ryan’s recruiting regime were that he A) Failed to look past the Midwest bubble and B) Went after players with too similar games (heady, but not exactly outrageously athletic). However, Ryan’s 2008 recruiting class consists of a center from San Antonio (Ian Markolf) and a power forward from Arizona (Ryan Evans). Plus, Evans and shooting guard Robert Wilson from the state of Ohio fit the more athletic style to which I was referring.

Foot has already been inserted in mouth.

In hindsight, Ryan has also done a pretty good job of obtaining nationally acclaimed high schoolers. Keaton Nankivil and Leuer were both four-star recruits (according to in ’07. Trevon Hughes (New York), Jason Bohannon, Joe Krabbenhoft, Marcus Landry, and Stiemsma also received four stars upon arriving in Madison.

To put things into perspective, Kammron Taylor was a two-star recruit in ’03 and Maurice Wade and Ray Nixon each received four stars in ’02.

Case in point.

It’s been a similar situation across town during the Bielema/Barry Alvarez era. Bielema’s 2008 recruiting class is highlighted by four-star defensive end Tyler Westphal from Menasha, Wisc.

As a whole, Bielema/Alvarez has done a better job delving into the national recruits than Ryan; just look at the Badger backfield: P.J. Hill (New York), Lance Smith (Ohio), and Zach Brown (Florida). Also, Bielema’s ’08 class consists of 18 three-star recruits, including quarterback Curt Phillips (Tennessee) and cornerback Marcus Cromartie (Texas).

Wide receiver Lance Kendricks received four stars in ’06 while Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath – next season’s projected starters – each received three stars the following year.

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas – the most productive UW linebacker to date and team captain for the 2008 Badgers – and P.J. Hill – the 2006 National Freshman of the Year – were both two-star recruits in 2005.

Senior tight end Travis Beckum and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Josh Oglesby were both five-star national recruits in their respective years. Beckum could very well be a first round draft pick in the 2009 draft and Oglesby will be the third tackle on an extremely deep and talented 2008 UW o-line.

As you can see, this star rating system is better at creating constellations than it is accurately ranking high school players. That said, given their recent success on a national level, I still think both Wisconsin programs mentioned can improve their respective recruiting efforts. However, both are doing better than I initially believed.

In the world of college recruiting, things aren’t always what they seem. Former Badger Joe Thomas was selected third overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, en route to becoming a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season.

Not bad for a one-star recruit.