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: ?