Archive for May, 2007

Collect 5 Shrek Tokens And I Will Come To Your House And Cook You Dinner
May 25, 2007

Remember not so long ago when the Brewers had the best record in baseball? Well, the good news is the Brewers are still division leaders. The bad news is the Brewers are trying awfully hard to nail down what is probably their inevitable standing as the worst division leader in baseball. They are currently 4-9 in the middle of a stretch in which I said they would finish no less than 9-10 (Thanks, guys.) with series against the Padres and Braves upcoming. Their offense, which earlier in the season was making up for some questionable pitching, is now floundering, with three or fewer runs being scored in eight of the last thirteen games.

The good news for the Brewers is that — unlike in seasons past — they are in the enviable position of being able to improve from within by calling on some promising minor-league prospects to provide a jump-start. First up is third baseman Ryan Braun, who will make his major-league debut Friday night against the Padres. Braun is batting .342 with 22 RBI and 10 home runs this year with the Nashville Sounds. In comparison, the Brewers’ third-base rotation of Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell has been batting .214 with one home run so far this season.

If things work out, Braun will give the team the offensive spark it badly needs right now. If things don’t work out, Braun will not only struggle against big-league pitching (his first test? Hall-of-famer Greg Maddux. Despite being about 59 years old and about 18 years past his prime, the veteran Maddux won’t make things easy on the youngster) but also leave the Brewers more vulnerable on defense. With the way things have been going for Milwaukee lately, I fear the latter. But Braun should be given time to develop; with the Brewers’ NL Central competition being what it is (no other team over .500), they aren’t in danger of falling out of first place any time soon.

So the father of the St. Louis pitcher who died after he crashed his truck into the back of a tow truck is suing practically everybody and everything even remotely involved with his son’s fatal traffic accident. No matter that Josh Hancock — who had a blood-alcohol content of nearly twice the legal limit, was speeding, using his cell phone, wasn’t wearing his seat belt, and who was in possession of pot when he slammed into a tow truck — was undoubtedly and unquestionably the sole cause of the accident. He is even suing — and you are reading this correctly — the driver whose stalled car was being assisted by the tow truck.

I feel sorry for Dean Hancock. As a father myself, I recognize what a devastating blow it must be to lose a son. Even a son who is 29 years old and on long living on his own. The senior Hancock’s grief may be compounded by the feeling that he could have and should have done more to help his son of his now-well documented addiction to alcohol. He may be looking at these frivolous lawsuits as the chance to carve out some sort of victory, no matter how hollow, out of a nightmarish situation.

But I have little sympathy for those who drink and drive, for those who have such little respect for the rest of us that they see fit to treat their car not as a mode of transportation but as a deadly weapon. While those who Josh Hancock left behind are grieving, the fact remains that Josh Hancock put himself in a position where death — his or someone else’s — was a very real possibility. The tow truck driver — who is also being sued — and the person who called for the tow truck did not. Are the rest of us somehow not allowed now to call for assistance because we fear being sued? Should I cancel my AAA membership because I fear the use of it will result in legal action should someone not paying attention or who is too drunk to drive will smack into me as I await a lift?

If Josh Hancock had died in a home invasion, would his father sue the construction company for having the audacity to build on land that was prone to such criminal activity? Josh Hancock’s father needs to funnel his grief into donating his time and money to alcohol prevention programs or organizations set up to help eliminate drunk driving. That is the only way he can even hope to honor his son’s memory. Instead he is tarnishing it.

This Blog Features Green Shrek Filling. Yum!
May 18, 2007

Topics I didn’t get to earlier in the week . . .

The Favre thing. What I’ve been hearing a lot of in the past week since Brett Favre made public his frustration with Packer management for not landing Randy Moss is that Favre’s a crybaby. A whiner. Someone who only thinks about himself. Someone who should suck it up and concentrate on doing his job as quarterback and let management run the team.

I couldn’t disagree more with any of these characterizations of Favre.

I have never heard Favre make more sense than when he spoke last week of why he was in favor of acquiring Moss. He wasn’t whining; he was arguing intelligently for why Moss would have been a welcome addition to the Packer offense. His arguments — that since the running back position is in doubt (thanks to missteps by Packer management), a three wide-out package of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Randy Moss would have been the most “intimidating” offensive option for the team — were spot-on. Favre’s arguments were certainly more persuasive than Ted Thompson’s arguments for why the team didn’t get Moss — because Thompson didn’t make any arguments for why the team didn’t get Moss. Because Thompson knows he botched the deal and he doesn’t want to have to admit it.

Look, Favre’s frustrations should not be interpreted as being selfish. He knows that the Packers had the money for Moss. In the skewed world of the NFL, Moss would have come cheap and the Packers are far below the salary cap. So acquiring Moss wouldn’t have met mortgaging the future of the team, a future which Favre will not be part of.

And I’m sure Favre would like nothing more than to not have to worry about what management is doing and just concentrate on playing quarterback. But he’s smart enough and self-aware enough to know that he can’t perform as quarterback anymore without some offensive options. And management is simply not providing him with acceptable options. Favre doesn’t want to have to put the team on his back anymore because he knows the Packers can’t win like that. And he wants to win. Not just for himself or for his own glories (although that’s part of it for any athlete) but for the team that he’s been so loyal to for what seems now like forever. So Favre is putting the team first with his recent comments. And although some would argue that Favre is putting himself in the position of being able to say “I told you so” if the Packers do struggle on offense — which they almost certainly will — I don’t consider that to be a motivating factor behind his complaints. I think he’d rather win and be proven wrong.

Having said all that, do I believe that Moss was the Packers’ ticket to a Super Bowl? Of course not. He hasn’t been a scary player for years. But he was worth the very small risk to acquire. I have a hunch the Patriots, not to mention the Packers’ NFC North opponents, are going to be very happy that Ted Thompson didn’t land Moss.

(And let’s not let Thompson off the hook so easily for failing to acquire San Diego backup running back Michael Turner. I realize that the Chargers elected to keep Turner, so Thompson didn’t botch the trade, but he certainly seemed to make moves (or not make moves) in the off season as if landing Turner was a foregone conclusion.)

The Brewer thing. Despite winning Thursday, the Brewers have had a tough week. They’ve lost five of the first seven games in a stretch where they play sixteen of nineteen on the road. I wasn’t surprised they lost two of three to the Mets, but I was stunned they lost three of four to Philadelphia, a chronically underachieving team that was without its best player, Ryan Howard. Also troubling is the continuing meltdown of Derrick Turnbow and the Brewers’ increasingly obvious inability to score anyway other than the long ball; in the last five games, the Brewers have scored fifteen runs, a remarkable eleven of which have come off of home runs. Teams can have worse problems than middle relief and an over reliance on dingers, but championship teams don’t have those issues.

I originally said that Milwaukee would finish the next stretch at worst at 9-10. They are trying to prove me wrong by starting 2-5, meaning they have to win 7 of 12 from Minnesota, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Atlanta. I’m frankly worried about this weekend’s series against Minnesota, which as of this writing has yet to start. Milwaukee is catching the Twins at precisely the wrong time — the Twins are a talented team that has lost seven of eight. They are as happy to get out of playing games against their wickedly tough AL Central opponents as Milwaukee is sorry to get out of playing games against their soft NL Central opponents. I hate to sound wishy-washy here, but under the circumstances, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Twins take 2 of 3 or even sweep.

Fans shouldn’t give up hope that the Brewers can win their division. But they shouldn’t hold out hope that they can do more than that. But come on, a division win and playoff berth after 25 years of nothing? I think Brewer fans will take that.

The Spurs/Suns thing. The NBA has done a fine job attempting to screw up what will undoubtedly be the best series this postseason. Let’s hope for a game seven.

The NHL thing. What, hockey is still going on?

The Hot Milwaukee Brewers and the Rich Roger Clemens
May 11, 2007

The Brewers have the best record in Major League Baseball at 24-10. As of this writing, they are on a six-game win streak. They have won 21 of their last 28 games. They have not lost a series since the second series of the year when they dropped two of three to the Chicago Cubs — the only series they’ve lost all season. According to RPI rankings, the Brewers are the best team in baseball. Should the Brewers keep this pace up, they will finish with 114 wins, just shy of the record of 116 wins posted by the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

In short, for the Brewers, these are Good Times. They are hassling and hustling the rest of the NL, in particular the rest of the NL Central, who, except maybe for the .500 Chicago Cubs, are not able to keep their head above water and are not making any waves.

But there are still doubters who don’t believe the Brewers are for real. Wait until the end of May, these doubters say. Wait until the conclusion of the upcoming series with the Mets, Phillies, Twins, Dodgers, Padres, and Braves. Then the wheels will start to come off the Brewers Magical Mystery Tour of One Hundred Wins.

These people may have a point. The Brewers’ opponents over the last 28 games have a combined record of 101-133, while the Brewers’ opponents over the next 19 games have a combined record of 113-92. The Brewers have played 21 games at home so far this season with only 13 road games. 13 of the next 19 games are away from the friendly confines of Miller Park.

While I don’t doubt that the upcoming stretch of games should be the most challenging of the young season, I’m not buying into the panic. The Brewers are flat out better than the Phillies and Padres. They look to be better than the Twins, but it’s difficult to say since the Twins play in such a tougher division. (But the Twins series is in Milwaukee.) They’ve already beaten the Dodgers two of three.

That leaves the Mets (the series that starts the day that I write this) at 21-12 and the Braves (the series that ends this tough stretch) at 22-12. Statistically, the Brewers match up very well with both teams. While Milwaukee’s been taking advantage of the weak NL Central, the Braves and Mets have been taking advantage of the weaker teams in their division, especially the lowly Washington Nationals, the worst team in baseball. Should Milwaukee falter against New York and Atlanta, it will likely be because of the pressure put on the young Brewers players to “prove themselves” in these games, while the Mets and Braves have plenty of battle-tested veterans used to much bigger games than these upcoming contests.

I think the Brewers will be fine during this stretch. I see at worst — at worst — a record of 9-10 over the next nineteen games. While a sub-.500 stretch might sound awful for a team currently playing .700 baseball, a 9-10 run would still leave them with a record of 33-20 and no doubt high on top of the NL Central.

Bottom line is this — the Brewers have dominated the NL Central so far this year with a record of 17-8. No other NL Central team is over .500 in the division. They are in very good shape to take the division, which would obviously put them in the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. And even if they stumble into the playoffs because some team from the NL Central has to make it, I wouldn’t count them out. Being NL Central champs worked out pretty good for the Cardinals last year.

Speaking of working out pretty good, Roger Clemens’s life seems to be working out well for him these days. But what’s got people talking is not his $4.5 million a month salary to pitch for the Yankees starting in June, but the clauses in his contract that basically allow him to show up for games only when he is scheduled to pitch.

I have no problem with this. In fact, I think it’s great. The guy wants time to spend with his wife and four sons. How can you argue against that? If he’s not pitching, who cares if he’s there? It’s not like they’d ask him to pitch middle relief on his off days or take left field for an inning so Hideki Matsui can have a smoke break. And the Yankees don’t need him around for moral support — they’re a veteran team full of guys that can take care of themselves. Those guys are ecstatic to land Clemens, even for 2/3 of a season.

This smacks of some sort of sexism to me — would the same writers criticizing Clemens criticize a woman for working a deal that allowed her more time with her family, especially if it meant absolutely no change in her professional responsibilities?

Good for you, Roger. Now go out there and have a terrible season. Sorry, but I still hate the Yankees.

I’m So With It.
May 7, 2007

There’s a Tom Petty song that was released back (I guess by this point it qualifies as way back) in 1987 called “Think About Me.” In the song, the protagonist bemoans the success of someone who used his material goods to steal a woman away: “Your boyfriend got a big red car/Got a compact disc, got a VCR.”

Obviously, twenty years later, owning a compact disc player and a video cassette recorder are not that impressive. CDs are going the way of vinyl as more and more music consumers download music. And VCRs? With DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and DVRs, VCRs are most often used simply for their clocks.

(Where am I going with this and what does it have to do with sports? Stay tuned. I promise I’ll get to that.)

Well, I consider myself to be a fairly in-touch person when it comes to technology. I don’t know how I lived without my satellite radio and my TiVo; these items to me are as essential as refrigerators and air conditioners and probably more so. But until recently I was prepared to let the whole MP3 thing pass me by. But recently I broke down and bought an iPod, partially thanks to my winnings from being a genius at the March Madness predictions. Again, how did I live without this little thing?

And like my experiences with satellite radio and TiVo, I bought an iPod ostensibly for one purpose and found that it can assist greatly in my love of sports. (See, I told you I’d get to this.)

I honestly bought a satellite radio so I could hear Howard Stern. To be honest, I use it only for music and for sports. Have to run an errand but want to stay in touch with the Spurs/Suns game? Oh, it’s not on local radio? No problem. Satellite radio. Same with the NFL and March Madness. Oh, and Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption are there during my drive home.

And I don’t know how I watched football before TiVo. Dog has to go out? No worries about missing a play. Pause and pick up the game after you pick up after the dog. Better yet, just plan on TiVoing it and you can score points at home by watching the game later on Sunday in less time. (And no, it’s not sacrilegious for someone who works at a TV station to say that — in fact, I see more commercial content by watching a game on TiVo that I do watching it live and flipping around or leaving the room during commercials. Not to mention that I stop and watch lots of commercials/promos that I haven’t seen before or that I like. It’s like any other type of communication; if companies want consumers to pay attention to their commercial messages, they have to make them entertaining or otherwise interesting.)

Which brings me to my iPod — for the first few weeks, I used it for music. But I became more curious about podcasts, and specifically about sports podcasts. So I tried it out. Ingenious. I can listen to a day’s worth of ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in about 35 minutes. Why did I select Mike & Mike first? Because all good things come in twos. Like Mike & Mike, Bob & Doug, Hall & Oates, The Smothers Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, The Godfather I and II, and the Coors Light twins.
The downside to waiting to listen to a radio show’s podcast? Well, it’s sorta brutal to hear eight minutes of Kentucky Derby preview after the running of the Kentucky Derby, especially when you care more about Kentucky Fried Chicken than you do about the Kentucky Derby.

Not to mention that it’s hard to find the time for all of the extra information/entertainment now available thanks to the convenience of satellite radio, TiVo, iPods, and podcasts. But it’s better than going back to the days when VCRs and CD players were status symbols.

Draft Day Review Part 2
May 1, 2007

Give it up to NFL.com “Senior Analyst” Pat Kirwan and “Senior Writer” Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline.com. They alone out of the major NFL Draft “pundits” correctly picked that Green Bay would take Tennessee DT Justin Harrell with the 16th pick overall. Most others, including me (although I’m hardly a “senior analyst” or a “pundit,” I’m more of a “nitwit”) figured the Packers would take California RB Marshawn Lynch or Miami TE Greg Olsen or maybe Florida S Reggie Nelson.

(Does that make Kirwan or Prisco geniuses? Of course not. Kirwan got eight of the top ten picks wrong, while Prisco was almost a genius with five out of the top ten correct.)

So why did so many of us get it wrong? Well, maybe we didn’t. Maybe the Packers got it wrong. But again, I subscribe to the apparently idiotic theory that teams should draft based on need. Green Bay didn’t need help on the defensive line as much as they needed weapons on offense and help in the secondary. And picking Harrell, a player who missed most of his senior season after rupturing his biceps tendon, was a risky pick even if it had addressed an area of need. Now granted, Marshawn Lynch was already taken when the Packers picked, but at least three others that would have made more sense — Nelson, Olsen, or WR Robert Meachem — were available.

Maybe GM Ted Thompson thought that the areas of running back and wide receiver were going to be addressed by trades with Oakland for Randy Moss and San Diego for Michael Turner. Those thoughts went the way of the Van Halen reunion tour early this week: First New England announced it had secured Moss and had given up only a fourth-round pick to get him (in contrast, the Packers spent a third-round pick on a largely unnoticed wideout from San Jose State, James Jones. Now here’s the no-brainer question of the decade: Who would Packer fans be more excited about seeing in green and gold on September 9, Moss or Jones?) while San Diego announced that they were not trading Michael Turner. Now to be fair, the Packers did address the running back situation with second round pick Brandon Jackson out of Nebraska. But with shoulder injuries limiting his playing time (Jackson started just 11 games in his entire college career), it seems all the Packers did was add another back-up to their roster of back-ups (Morency, Herron, Pope, Beach).

Any draft analysis is mostly speculation and fans and pundits (there’s that word again) will have to wait two or three years to completely and fairly grade this year’s crop. But with no players seemingly primed to make an immediate impact in a need position, it’s tough to get excited about what happened over the weekend. The good news is that in the position that matters most, the Packers still have Brett Favre, while their NFC North rivals will try to make do with Rex Grossman, Tavaris Jackson, and Jon Kitna. But at least those three QBs got coveted weapons (Greg Olsen, Adrian Peterson, and Calvin Johnson) to play with. Favre wasn’t so lucky. And he’s likely not so happy. And neither are his fans.