Archive for July, 2008

12 Thoughts On My 12th Anniversary
July 25, 2008

OK, I did this last year and it was met with such great indifference that I decided to do it again. In honor of my twelfth wedding anniversary this Sunday, here are twelve things I’m thinking about.

1. Brewers Deck The Cards. The four-game road sweep against St. Louis was perhaps the most impressive series I’ve seen the Brewers play possibly ever.  A four-game sweep on the road is rare enough, but to do it against the team you’re jockeying for position with not only in your division but in the wildcard race, and to win three of the four games in dramatic fashion (the other Sabathia simply dominated), is astounding. I’ve been revising my expectations for this team all season and lately my expectations keep getting higher. Another few consecutive victories and I’ll not only expect this team to win the NL Central, the NL Pennant, and the World Series, but I’ll expect them to strike oil during batting practice at Miller Park and single-handedly save the economy.

2. Brewers Doin’ It On The Road. Remember how everyone (including me) was complaining and bitching and whining about how lousy Ned Yost’s team was on the road? Well, they haven’t lost a road series in a month, they’ve one seven consecutive on the road, and as of Friday, they’ve now won more games (28) on the road than they’ve lost (26). Only the Angels and (yep) Cardinals have better winning percentages on the road. And looky here, the Cubs are eight games under .500 away from Wrigley Field. Is the Cubs winning the Central still a sure thing? Sure, if you also believe that The View‘s Sherri Shepherd is not legally insane.

3. Braun Thinks He’s All That. OK, so I didn’t much care for Ryan Braun’s narcissistic staredown of his game-winning home run on Thursday night. It’s not a big deal, and sure, the situation calls for a certain degree of chest-thumping excitement, but I still think it’s unnecessary. A move that like unnecessarily further embarrasses the pitcher whom you’ve already embarassed and sometimes leads to later altercations between pitchers and hitters. Either Braun will mature and drop that move or the phrase “Ryan being Ryan” will enter the sports vernacular.

4.  Leavin’ ‘Em Stranded. OK, if you’re looking for something to worry about with the Brewers recent surge, here it is. The Brewers are stranding a lot of base runners — three of the four victories against the Cardinals could have been by bigger margins had Milwaukee not had a team LOB total in the double digits. The Brewers are batting only .247 with runners in scoring position — only four (lousy) teams are worse in this important category. Good pitching will bail out teams having difficulty getting runners home, but it’s not something that should be overlooked.

5. Weeks Earns His Nights. You gotta love the Brewers bringing in Ray Durham for the struggling Rickie Weeks. But you don’t have to love them starting Durham on Thursday night after Weeks had been batting .348 with eight RBIs since Durham was signed. Durham went an ugly 0-for-5 as the lead-off hitter Thursday. Durham was the least impressive opening act I’ve seen since Lush opened up Lollapalozza 1992.

6. Bill Hall. Bill didn’t do anything in the final two games of the series, but after his game-winning home run performances in the first two games, I’m almost ready to anoint him as my second favorite person named “Hall,” right above “Monty.” But sorry, Bill, Daryl Hall’s pretty much got a lock on number one.

7. Favre Going Camping. Is this really necessary? Yep. If the Packers didn’t want the circus to come to the Packers’ training camp, they should have released him. Of course, Favre shouldn’t have retired in the first place, but we don’t have to go over that again, do we?

8. Favre Going Broadway. Or not. Despite reports, I can’t see Favre wanting to play in the biggest market in the country, especially for a rebuilding team that has many more concerns than who the starting quarterback will be. (Although that is a huge one for them.) More likely, Favre will go to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Who will then immediately trade him to the Vikings. Probably not, but in a story that has had more intriguing twists and turns than a David Lynch movie, that would be the capper.

9. The WNBA skirmish. With this and Brooke Logan’s inane comments about the possible effectiveness of a female commander-in-chief, this hasn’t been the best week for the fairer sex. Plus, both Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck continue to be seen and heard.

10. The Minor League Brawl. As if they were worried about the WNBA scuffle leading sports nation to think that women can be better fighters than men, players on the Peoria Chiefs and Dayton Dragons got into a much scarier brawl in Dayton on Thursday. Scarier because a thug pitcher on the Chiefs shockingly whipped a ball into the stands that sent a fan to the hospital. Hey, I understand why minor league players are prone to fighting. They’re a bunch of frustrated major league wanna-bes playing in the heat of summer in front of largely drunk and indifferent (and small) crowds. Minor league teams are usually good at garnering fan participation in an effort to drum up interest, but participation in the form of a 90 MPH fastball in the face isn’t what fans are looking for. Hopefully that thug pitcher’s baseball playing days are over.

11. Cubs Lose Again. While writing this, the Cubs dropped the second game of a home series against the Florida Marlins. Should the Brewers win Friday night, they’ll be in first place in the NL Central. Could be the best thing to happen since the late, great Comedy Central show TV Funhouse was released on DVD. (Seriously, check it out. But it’s not for the kiddies.)

12. Lance Smith Suspended From Badgers. With Smith’s career in jeopardy, it sort of makes figuring out the Badgers’ glut at running back a little easier. Now if Ryan Grant would only sign . . .

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Letters, We Get Letters . . .
July 20, 2008

Well, I got a little behind this week with things, so I thought a good way to sort of sum up a busy week in sports would be to answer some of the e-mails that I’ve received in the last few days. Sort of a “A Mr. Richard Fader from Fort Lee, New Jersey, writes in and asks . . . ” thing if you catch that old school reference. Here we go:

“Jeff, what did you make of the Greta Van Sustren interview with Favre? — Kyle in McFarland”

Well, first I have to admit that I saw only the first part of the interview. I watch Fox News only slightly more frequently than I watch the Retirement Living TV network, so I DVRed Monday’s Greta Van Sustren show and didn’t get around to watching it until later in the week. I was surprised when I found out too late Monday’s show didn’t contain the full interview.

Anyway, despite reports to the contrary, I thought Favre came across very sympathetically. Again, the major frustration for me was when Favre said he retired because he didn’t feel 100% like playing in March when he says Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy pressed him for an answer, but that that wasn’t unusual, because he hadn’t felt like playing in March for a few seasons. Now here’s a guy with apparently very little sense of himself. Because if Favre recognizes that his pattern is that he doesn’t feel like playing in March but he does feel  like playing once July rolls around, then why not say yes in March, knowing that the desire will kick in later? And if it doesn’t, well, then retire in July and leave Rodgers as the man. He’d be ready — hell, Rodgers could be the most ready-to-start back-up quarterback of all-time.

Anyway, I didn’t think Favre said anything to further burn any bridges that haven’t already been burned with the Packers nor did he say anything to change my opinion of the situation. Look, athletes — especially healthy, productive athletes like Favre — can’t be expected to retire like Johnny Carson did, with no waffling and when we still want more. They’re too young and have too much of their lives ahead of them to walk away cleanly. Yes, the Favre thing has reached ridiculous proportions, but the Packers are as much to blame as Favre is for that.

They should welcome Favre back as the starter or release him. End of story. Because as Favre said to Appleton’s own Greta Van Sustren, not doing so basically means the Packers are telling him, “You can’t play here and you can’t play anywhere else either.” Why? Because Thompson claims he’s worried about Favre’s legacy. What pigheadedness. What arrogance on the part of the Packers. What crap. Thompson’s worried about Favre going to Minnesota and watching Favre lead the purple over his old team at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football. Because that’s what would happen. So if you don’t want him to play elsewhere, you take him back, dump Rodgers as a courtesy, and groom Brian Brohm as Favre’s successor. Brohm will be a fine successor in two years — or three years — or four years — when Favre finally, finally retires.

You know, I’m not surprised that these Favre rallies across Wisconsin have generated little interest. I think Packer fans recognize that Thompson’s Texas-sized ego is not going to let fans’ opinions alter his decision. But I am surprised when I talk to people who have been drinking the Packers’ Kool-Aid who say they think it’s time for Rodgers, especially when they cite Favre’s overtime interception against the Giants as proof that Rodgers can do better. Uh, you have to get to the NFC Championship Game in order to lose it, and there is no way that Rodgers could have led the Packers last year to the NFC Championship Game or will lead the Packers to the NFC Championsip Game this year. Packer fan: I recognize your frustration with Favre. I agree with it. But don’t take Favre for granted. He’s one of the best ever, and you should hang on to him like grim death for as long as you can.

“Jeff, in light of this year’s marathon, what changes — if any — would you make to the MLB All-Star Game? — Nathan in Stoughton”

Well, first of all, baseball needs to drop this whole home-field advantage in the World Series is decided by the winner of the All-Star game thing. It’s the silliest thing in professional sports outside of Hank Steinbrenner. Because “if it counts,” then managers should be allowed to manage as they would any other game that “counts,” and that means playing whomever they wish, even if it means riding a hot starting pitcher for six or seven innings or leaving numerous fan favorites on the bench. But the overwhelming opinion is that’s not what fans want, so fine, manage it like an exhibition game, make sure everybody gets in, but don’t expect the outcome to mean anything more than the lyrics to Miley Cyrus’s new single.

Given that I would not “count” the All-Star Game for anything other than as entertainment, I would end the game no matter what after 12 innings. An exhibition game going five hours, past 1:30 AM in the city where it’s being played is insanity. Only morons like myself stayed with it to the bitter end, which came not with an exciting hit, but a — yawn — sacrifice fly. Wow. Glad I stayed up for that.

I was annoyed by all of the Yankee Stadium hype during the All-Star Game too. Especially since we’re going to have to sit through more of that when the Yankees host games this postseason, as you know they inevitably will. To me, Shea Stadium has a richer legacy anyway, thanks to the landmark 1965 concert appearance of four men from Liverpool.

“Jeff, you’re from Minnesota, what do you make of this tampering thing between the Vikings and Packers — Morgan from Janesville”

What, more Favre? Jeez . . .

Petty. I’m sure this sort of thing happens all of the time with no charges being filed. It’s just another way for management to turn public opinion against Favre — “Theodoric of York, I saw him, he consorted with the Devil!” On second thought, scratch that. Darrell Bevell isn’t interesting enough to be the Devil. He’s not even interesting enough to be Max Devlin.

“What’s the most interesting storyline going on with the Brewers? — Jeremy from Whitewater”

Well, the most interesting thing going on with the Brewers is that they’re winning, and  they’ve been winning consistently now since mid-May. But certainly the most fascinating thing happening is with their pitching, as Ned Yost has committed to the Dave Bush/Seth McClung experiment, with Bush pitching at home and McClung pitching on the road. I doubt it will work, and hopefully McClung will be called upon for middle relief, which is the most glaring weakness on the Brewers right now. But the starting pitching has been strong.

It’s also going to be interesting how long Ned Yost keeps Rickie Weeks in the lead-off spot. He’s kept him there longer than a player barely batting .200 should be kept there, and the Journal Sentinel is now reporting that the Brewers are close to landing Giants second baseman Ray Durham, possibly in a trade that could involve Rickie Weeks being shipped to the Bay Area. If this goes through, the Brewers could have solved their second biggest problem.

But I believe the Brewers will overtake St. Louis somewhere in the course of next week’s four game series and never look back. Their biggest concern now might be the Mets, who are quickly becoming a bigger wild-card threat than the Cardinals.

Well, many thanks for the questions and keep on sending them. I’m off to see The Dark Knight. That’s the one with all the ABBA music, right?

Beer and Sabathia: Two Clubhouse Cancers? Oh, And — Duh — More Favre
July 13, 2008

Corey Hart Beergate: This has been an unprecedented few weeks in Wisconsin sports, with much of the national spotlight shining on the Brewers acquisition of CC Sabathia, the Bucks acquisition of Richard Jefferson, and of course the Packers apparent re-acquisition of a certain Hall of Fame quarterback that they are welcoming back with all of the enthusiasm that most of us would welcome a bad case of impetigo.

 

With so much ESPN airtime dedicated to the Badger state, it’s a shame that a few Brewers players had to ensure that the nation’s oldest and deepest and most negative stereotypes about Wisconsin are enforced.

 

You know those stereotypes, the ones about how people from Wisconsin define a small town as one that has less than five bars or how people from Wisconsin are unaware that there is a legal drinking age.

 

Or those stereotypes that people from Wisconsin think that it’s OK to shower your friend with beer, even if he’s got his two-year-old daughter on his lap.

 

That’s a new one that might gain traction after the incident this past week in which several Brewers players doused Corey Hart’s two-year-old daughter with suds upon learning that Hart had won the All-Star fan vote and the final spot on the NL All-Star roster.

 

I understand that the press conference was a surprise to Hart and that he said he wouldn’t have brought his kids in there had he known that’s what he was walking into. But Hart or his kids are not to blame here; shouldn’t we expect grown men to pull up and stop their wacky beer escapades once they realize the recipient of the bath has a toddler in tow?

 

I’ve heard some say that kids should not be allowed at press conferences. I don’t have a problem if a player or coach wants to see his kids immediately after a game, especially in baseball when you can go days or even weeks – Sunday’s Brewers game is their seventeenth straight without a day off – without any time off. The real question has to be, why does beer continue to be available in the clubhouse? Thirteen major league teams, including the Twins and the Cubs, have banned alcohol from clubhouses. If it seems like those teams are being major party poopers, ask yourself: Does your employer provide beer for you to enjoy after a particularly productive day at work?

 

I’m not saying the Hart thing is a catastrophe or that Hart’s daughter is permanently scarred from her beer shower. But if the Brewers wanted to turn an embarrassing story into a positive, they would join half of their fellow teams and ban alcohol from their clubhouse. It’s a move that is long overdue.

 

Sabathia A Cancer?: So since last Monday’s formal announcement of the signing of former Cleveland Indians pitcher CC Sabathia that was supposed to turn the Brewers from pretenders to contenders, the Brewers are a lousy 2-4 (and at Miller Park, no less), while the Indians, the second-worst team in the American League, are 3-2 and riding a three-game winning streak against Tampa Bay, one of the best teams in the majors.

 

Obviously, CC Sabathia is a clubhouse cancer.

 

OK, I’m being ridiculous, but it’s clear that the Brewers are having some difficulty adjusting to their new role as favorites to reach the postseason. Instead of feeding off the confidence that Doug Melvin obviously has in this group and the increased (if that was possible) fan enthusiasm since Monday’s announcement and using the momentum to wallop bad teams – and Colorado and Cincinnati are bad teams – at home, the Brewers have instead responded by playing their worst baseball in almost two months.

 

Now I don’t expect this to last, nor do I expect to see many more games featuring appearances by either Eric Gagne or especially Guillermo Mota. These two middle-to-late relievers have been inconsistent at best (Gagne) and downright awful at worst (Mota). The good news is the bullpen should improve with Jeff Suppan’s return from the DL after the All-Star break as Seth McClung will likely fill in the void that Gagne and Mota (and Tavarez and Turnbow before them) are leaving. The bad news is the starting rotation will worsen with the struggling Suppan taking over for McClung. But few teams have four starters as good as Sheets, Sabathia, Parra, and the newly-invigorated Dave Bush. Brewers fans should not let a bad stretch here result in any significant panic.

 

And Yes, More Favre: The most interesting Favre news that has come out in the past few days is the revelation that Favre, Thompson, and McCarthy were set to formally announce Favre’s return in late March after Favre changed his mind about retiring only days after his tearful goodbye on March 4. But then Favre changed his mind again.

 

I’m starting to believe that Favre has crossed the line from being an emotional, indecisive guy to being mildly nuts. Obviously the Packers released the aborted comeback story to further sway public opinion in their favor, and I believe it’s working. But the Packers organization is still in a no-win situation here. Again, here are their options:

 

  1. Bring Favre in as a back-up to Aaron Rodgers. This simply won’t work. Can you imagine the pressure on Rodgers, knowing that the most popular player in the history of Packer football is breathing over your shoulder? Fans would use every incompletion, every missed read, every moment of perceived indecisiveness on Rodgers’s part to scream for Favre’s return. It would be ridiculous.
  2. Grant Favre’s request for an unconditional release. In a fair world, this is what would happen. Even though he’s selfishly put the Packers in a ludicrous situation, Favre deserves his freedom to play elsewhere. But the Packers won’t do this, because of the fear he would sign with a NFC team or – horrors – a NFC North team. I think Favre’s loyalty to the people of Wisconsin would prevent him from suiting up for either the Bears, Lions, or Vikings, but you never know. After all, Favre’s mildly nuts.
  3. Trade Favre. This is now the most likely situation. Unfortunately, the Packers would probably try to trade Favre to a miserable team with no hope for winning (i.e, the Dolphins) in the hopes that Favre would balk at the prospect of going 4-12 again and retire for good. A crummy way to treat Favre, but hey, football’s a business. This seems to be the best option for the Packers. The best Favre could hope for here would be that a mildly promising AFC team (Buffalo?) would come through with a decent trade offer.
  4. Play Favre as the starter. Seems unlikely at this point. For better or worse, Thompson and McCarthy seem to have moved on and are unwilling to let one player – even a player as beloved and great as Favre — continue to hold their team hostage. But if they want to do, as they say they want to do, what’s best for the team, then this option becomes more and more of a possibility. Because the bottom line is – and no one in the Packers organization has publicly refuted this – is that Favre as the quarterback gives the Packers the best chance to win.

Favre Favre and More Favre and Yet More Favre and Favre Again
July 6, 2008

God bless the ongoing Brett Favre saga. Based more on rumors, speculation, innuendo, and guesswork rather than on hard facts, it’s perfect for us bloggers.

Here’s what we know to be true: On Wednesday, ESPN reported that Favre and/or his agent had contacted the Packers about Favre either returning to the Packers or the Packers releasing Favre, thereby freeing the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer to play elsewhere. These same reports said that his family had been pushing him to un-retire, with his brother Scott telling WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee that Favre’s return was a “50-50” shot and that his brother had been “working out.”  Favre then told Mississippi’s Sun-Herald newspaper that the reports were “all rumor.”

OK, now that we have the boring facts out of the way, let’s get back to the much more interesting job of speculating by posing and answering some questions:

1. Should Favre make a comeback? Yes. He is still without a doubt one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Not in a historical sense, but in a current, who-would-you-build-a-championship-team-around sense. But that isn’t really the right question. (Yes, I know I wrote it, but hold on.)

2. Should Favre have retired on March 4? That’s the right question. And the answer is a definite no. Dude can still bring it.

3. Does Favre regret his decision to retire? Sure seems like it. Even if you don’t buy into any of the stories from the past week, you only have to go back to Favre’s April 24 appearance on Late Show with David Letterman as proof that Favre was feeling that he might have screwed up. If he was regretting it then, two more months of sitting around in Mississippi are likely to only have made those feelings stronger.

4. Should the Packers welcome Favre back? Here’s where it gets interesting. If the story stays on this level of rumors and what-ifs, then the Packers are in control of the situation. But if Favre calls a press conference or otherwise clearly and without any room for misunderstanding states that he wants to return to the Packers to be their starting quarterback for the 2008 season, then the Packers have almost no choice but to take him back. It would be a public relations catastophe for the Packers should they not allow the most popular player in their history and one of the most popular people in the history of the state of Wisconsin to return.

5. Do the Packers want Favre back? Obviously not. Favre’s mother told WITI-TV in Milwaukee that he not only feels that the Packers don’t want him to return now, but that he’s felt the Packers have wanted to move on without him for the “last couple of years.” Seems crazy, but also seems accurate.

6. Should the Packers take Favre back? Again, they almost have to if he pushes it, but the answer here is no. Despite Favre’s greatness, despite Favre’s legacy, despite everything he has given to the Packers organization, this retirement saga has become frankly ludricous. Favre is coming off like the youngest child in the family who wants to move away from home but can’t really bring himself to face the outside world and keeps returning home. The Packers are Favre’s parents who want to sell the house and move to a warmer climate but can’t do it until all their children are definitely on their own. You take the child back once, maybe twice, but sooner or later they have to be firm and put that house on the market. The Packers have not only put the house on the market, but with Rodgers and the drafting of two rookie quarterbacks, they’ve sold the house. The Packers are ready for a Favre-less future; Favre has to make himself ready for a Packers-less future.

7. Should the Packers release Favre? Yes. If they don’t want him and Favre still wants to play, the Packers owe it to him to give him that opportunity to play for another team.

8. Will Favre play elsewhere? I doubt it. And that’s what is making this so difficult. If Favre wanted to play somewhere else and he knew (as I believe he does) that the Packers don’t want him back, then he would be more public in his desire to return, knowing that by forcing the Packers’ hand, either he goes back to Green Bay or he goes to another team. There are numerous teams that would certanly sign Favre, so that’s not the issue. The issue is Favre’s loyalty to the Packers organization and to the Packers fans. I believe he simply has a very hard time picturing himself in any other uniform.

9. Where could Favre play? The fascinating thing is that the two most obvious teams for Favre to go to are the Bears and the Vikings. The Vikings make the most sense, as they appear to be one piece — the quarterback — away from being a serious contender. And they play indoors. Yes, I said that as a positive for Favre. Despite fans’ image of Favre playing in sub-zero temperatures, Favre has made it clear in recent seasons that he doesn’t like playing in inclement weather. And Favre has performed much better in domes, specifically the Metrodome, recently. I just don’t see Favre — here’s that loyalty issue again — donning the purple. And the Bears are in freefall. Favre is smart enough to stay away from that mess. Should Favre play outside of Wisconsin, it seems that Carolina, Atlanta, Houston, Tampa Bay, and maybe the Jets — all teams with positives outside of the quarterback postion — seem to be the likeliest candidates, with Carolina and Atlanta having the geographical position that Favre would likely favor.

10. If Favre did return to the Packers, what becomes of Aaron Rodgers? Despite Rodgers’s stupid comments about Packer fans needing to embrace him by “get(ting) on board now or keep(ing) their mouths shut,” Rodgers would be clearly be the biggest loser in this situation. And he would be wise to demand, and the Packers would be wise to grant, a trade should Favre return. Again, the situation is ridiculous and Rodgers is paying the steepest price for it. To avoid becoming a walking joke, he’d need to get out of town as quickly as possible should Favre be brought back to line up under center on September 8.   

So there you have it. Favre should come back and he has the right to come back, but the Packers shouldn’t take him back. Unless they have to. Favre should play for the Vikings if the Packers don’t want him but he won’t. Aaron Rodgers could be the next great quarterback in Packers history but could also be the biggest joke in Packers history. All good enough reasons from a blogger’s perspective to hope this story never dies.

Postscript: On Sunday it appeared less likely that the Brewers would win the C.C. Sabathia sweepstakes, as the Indians were apparently asking for more Brewers prospects than the Brewers want to give up. I’m fine with the Brewers not landing Sabathia. Despite Sabathia’s obvious talent, the Brewers haven’t had a lot of success in signing big-name, big-ticket pitchers (Eric Gagne — duh — and Jeff Suppan, who’s quickly becoming the least-reliable starter in the Brewers rotation) and their current starting pitching has been very strong as of late. A prospect like Matt LaPorta would not only be tough to lose, but he represents the kind of player that the Brewers have built their recent winning philosophy on. Of course, the Brewers may be preparing for life after Ben Sheets, but why give up more for Sabathia than they could possibly re-sign Sheets for? I’d be surprised to see Sabathia become a Brewer.