Thursday, September 30, 2010

Miscellaneous Me

September was a month of baseball winding down, football starting up, hockey playing pre-season games, basketball playing world championships, and I think there was some kind of bocce tournament.

- FIBA was the basketball tournament to decide the best team in the entire world. Starting telecasts, the message that the announcers gave us was new players would have the hardest time adjusting to the bad and inconsistent officiating. And this is for the world title?
- Who'd have thought FIFA soccer would become the international gold standard for good refereeing and lack of players flopping?
- Didn't the US win gold in spite of the roster decisions and not because of them? No other country took the court with a solid team.
- Saying USA won gold because of choosing the small, small lineup is like saying you have a rock that keeps away tigers. I don't see any tigers so the rock must be working. US took home gold, so the roster must have been smart.

- Under no circumstances will I tune in for any episode of "The Event."
- Nor will I watched a single minute of "Outsourced" unless forced to by a mugger.

- I love all the early, out of conference college football match-ups.

- Is there anything worse than being out when it starts to thunderstorm and thinking you left your bedroom window open?
- I guess lupus would be worse.

- I haven't paid to rent a movie in years, ever since libraries started carrying a solid inventory of DVDs.
- Did you know libraries also have books?

- Proof fantasy sports don't always translate to real sports: Matt Schaub, Mark Reynolds, Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger, Derrick Mason, Ted Lilly, Shane Battier.

- I wish there were Snapple facts on every beverage I consumed.
- Bulls are not actually attracted to the color red.
- Nor are they color blind.

- After completing The Wire, I now get upset anytime any plot on any show doesn't make sense.
- Take a page from David Simon for God's sake and have every part of the show fit perfectly.

- The Kansas City Chiefs are now 3-0...I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 3

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week three.

And speaking of threes, we are down to three unbeatens. What a group of undefeated teams it is too. The Pittsburgh Steelers, without their franchise quarterback but with their heart and soul (Troy Polamalu) are 3-0. They have only given up two touchdowns in 12 quarters so far this season. The vaunted Steelers defense is back. It was missing last year, that was clear. But with defensive POY candidate Polamula playing, they'll be tough to score on all year long. And don't forget this: Ben Roethlisberger comes back after next game. Their week four game against the Ravens is pretty much just gravy. Going 3-1 into their bye week with Big Ben coming back is as good as they could have hoped for.

The Chicago Bears are also undefeated, the only NFC team that can say so. Some people thought their offense would rebound with Mike Martz but a lot more people did not. No one believed in Jay Cutler, who still is prone to throwing interceptions in the red zone, but is having himself a nice year. The real key is, much like Pittsburgh, this Chicago defense we were used to is back. No one can run the ball against them. Urlacher is back after missing much of last year (sound familiar?) and is anchoring a rejuvenated defense. I did not expect anyone to challenge Green Bay for this division, and that still might be the case, but the Bears winning the first match-up has put them in very nice position.

The last of the loss-less three is, of course, MY Kansas City Chiefs! Yes, the Sports Pinata's adopted sleeper pick from two months ago is off and running. Check out July's post 'Making the Leap' to see for yourself.

(Not that I'm in the business to continually pat myself on the back, especially since this is no business, I make less money than you think here, but I also tagged Thomas Jones as a nice fantasy sleeper for the season back in June, claiming he would get more carries than people thought. Jamaal Charles is clearly more talented at this point, but the Chiefs are using both guys pretty equally and Jones has value.)

The Chiefs already have a two game lead on every single team in their division after only three weeks. This really is the best start anyone in Kansas City could have hoped for. Too bad Jason Whitlock just moved to L.A. or he'd finally have a Kansas City team challenging for something to write about. The schedule is the deciding factor for this team's hopes of AFC West glory. After their bye, they have two tough road games, followed by a CAKE WALK. Here are their last 11 opponents: Jacksonville, Buffalo, Oakland, Denver, Arizona, Seattle, Denver, San Diego, St. Louis, Tennessee, and Oakland. Now I'm not saying the Chiefs are a proven top team yet, but wouldn't a good team win at least 8 of those 11? Pretty easily? With Matt Cassel having a nice game week three, Kansas City is resting easy during their bye.

Now on to fantasy stories, the stuff people really care about. We have a Michael Vick trend starting now. Of course, if you don't want to count the second half of the Packers game, the Eagles still have not played a strong defense with Vick under center. I don't know, I'm a believer. I see Vick as a top seven quarterback from here on out, especially with Matt Schaub being so inconsistent.

Chris Johnson rebounded nicely after his week on the 'stars who sucked' lineup. Many others were not so lucky however. Here is our week three starting lineup:

Quarterback - Eli Manning. Now Eli is not a top 10 fantasy QB necessarily, and Matt Schaub would have won this spot ordinarily (Schaub's second time on the team in only three weeks) but Eli's endzone interception alone makes him qualify. That Giants - Titans game was closer than the score indicated. If the Giants didn't make so many damn mistakes, the outcome could have been different. Throwing for 386 yards does not cover up a zero touchdown, two interception performance.

Running Back - Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice. This is back to back weeks for Jones-Drew on the 'stars who sucked' team. The Jaguars are not good, but if you are their best player, take a page out of Stephen Jackson's playbook and at least score a touchdown. 88 yards, no touchdowns, no receiving to speak of, 8 fantasy points. Not what you want from your first round pick, especially after a poor week two. Rice has been much of the same. A disappointing start to the season for a universal first round pick. 80 yards rushing, 16 receiving and no touchdowns. Good for 9 fantasy points. When Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson are putting up 20's and 30's, the supposed next best guys have to at least score in double digits. These are players who are relied upon to carry fantasy teams week after week.

Wide Receiver - Miles Austin and Greg Jennings. Austin had been stellar this season. Roy Williams decided to play like it was 2002 and came up huge, taking catches away from Miles. I expect a bounce back in no time. Of course, just because I expect a rebound, does not mean he can avoid making the lineup after gaining 20 total yards on Sunday. Greg Jennings, on the other hand, I am worried about. He made the lineup last week as well. Jennings ended with a touchdown, but only caught one other pass, and ended with 18 yards. For a guy who was supposed to be the big play threat on a monster offense, Greg is not off to a good start. Having no running game to speak of obviously doesn't help the Packers passing game, but with Rodgers we all expected Jennings to thrive. Packers' tight end Jermichael Finely sure is.

Tight End - Dallas Clark. There are only about three tight ends in the league right now that I would trust to perform each and every week. Clark was one of them. That's why he makes the list over some others who performed even worse. I can expect a no touchdown, 22 yard performance from Vernon Davis. Even Shiancoe ending with a zero isn't as surprising as Clark putting up a stinker. 4 fantasy points isn't going to cut it for arguably the best tight end in the game.

D/ST - Ravens. This was a hard crop to choose from after week three. The Patriots had a bad day and are widely owned but I am not sure why. I don't think they are a good defense to begin with, which would lead to allowing Buffalo to put up 30 points. San Fransisco should have been the winner here except it appears as though the 49ers are just all around terrible. I see no signs of the top rated defense from 2009 in this group. That leaves us, for a second week in a row, with the Ravens. Yet again, they were not awful. But, as a top flight defense, you expect more than what they are giving. 17 points allowed. Okay. Two sacks but no turnovers and a pitiful 2 fantasy points against the Browns. It was a disappointing showing for Ray Lewis and company.

Kicker - Garrett Hartley. He has to be the 'stars who sucked' starting kicker. I don't even care that poster boy Nate Kaeding scored fewer points. Hartley missed the chip shot, game winning field goal, in overtime. He has already missed three field goals on the year and the Saints are reportedly bringing in competition in the form of John Carney. A time share is the furthest thing from an ideal situation for a fantasy kicker, even on a team with a top shelf offense. Hartley has gone from universally owned to droppable just like that.

A lot of repeat starters on our 'stars who sucked' team. That is not good news for the guys who own those players. Championships may be won with late round flyers and good waiver finds, but the easiest way to lose is if your top picks have a bad year. There is no coming back from that.

This has been week three's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Monday, September 27, 2010

College football: as predictable as ever

Oklahoma, Nebraska and Auburn are holding top ten rankings. So is Ohio State. Michigan has vaulted its way back into the spotlight with a top 20 ranking, while Texas is out of the top 20. And Alabama is ranked ninth in the nation. 9th?...Wait, what?

Hold on a second. My mistake. I was looking at the AP standings from 1986. Alabama is actually still number one in 2010, but everything else is the same. Apparently not much has changed since the year I was born.

Okay perhaps schools like Boise State and TCU have made some progress in the past two decades, but are either of them 'coming out of nowhere' anymore? Both Boise and TCU have been ranked in the top 25 of the final AP poll seven of the past nine years. Sounds pretty consistent to me. After three or four years perhaps it's fluky. After seven? I'd call that a trend.

And really, does TCU have any national title chance? Does Boise St. even? To finish in the top two, once the other top schools start playing all their heavy weight opponents, Boise or TCU will have to go undefeated. That's a given. They will also need no one else to go undefeated. But they will also need every other title contender to have a 'bad' loss and not a good one. If Ohio State goes 11-1 with their loss coming at home against Purdue, sure Boise will leap them. But what if the Buckeyes go 11-1 with their lone loss coming on the road at Iowa with Iowa being in the top 10-15 at the time? Does Boise finish the season ahead of them? I say no.

So unless everything breaks correctly, the schools with a chance at the title this year include Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska or Oklahoma, and maybe Oregon or Florida. That's about it. Sound like a surprise bunch or could this group of half a dozen contenders been from any year at random? Sure specific schools are up specific years while specific other schools are down specific other years. If you pick one year at random, Ohio State might not have been a top five team. Texas is probably not getting back into the top five this season. But overall, aren't these contenders always the same? Throw in USC, LSU, and a couple others and there really is about 15 schools that are fighting for titles. Everyone else is battling to win their own conference and make a BCS game and that's about it. The year, the decade doesn't even really matter.

Nearly a quarter century ago, in that 1986 poll, Penn State, Miami, Oklahoma, and Nebraska finished in the top five. Sure Arizona State was in there and they don't really contend in the 2000's but those same other four could have been there in 1986 or 1996 or 2006. The top teams are always the same.

Before the uninformed start blaming this on the BCS, that there are so few teams in contention because of how the formulas work, be aware that there was no BCS before 1998. It hasn't been around that long. Long enough for people to hate it, yes. But Justin Bieber has only been famous for like 9 months and people already hate him. So having a mob turn on you quickly is no sign of anything. But the BCS cannot be blamed for this constant contender dilemma.

So what is to blame? Well part of the blame belongs to the nature of college sports themselves. Names matter. The name University of Florida or North Carolina or Duke in basketball mean something. High school kids want to follow and play for historic schools and classic programs. This is a self containing system in some respects. The big time schools have the history to attract the best recruits, thus sustaining their talent and success for another four year cycle. And so forth. This is so prevalent that young kids still want to go to Notre Dame for some reason. Notre Dame hasn't been nationally relevant in decades, yet the name still carries weight.

Another cause of this effect is rule breaking. Not every school breaks the rules when recruiting, but, I mean, at least 80% do. And that might be a light estimate. These days you cannot recruit big talent without bending. It might be a sad state of affairs but it is obviously true. And even those schools that aren't technically committing rules violations are still recruiting questionable kids who get in trouble with the law. USC, North Carolina, and Florida are just some of the schools in 2010 alone who fall into these categories. A common thread among the violators? There are not many 'mid-majors.' You don't hear about many rules being broken from Conference USA or from the state of Montana or North Dakota. The big schools, to get the big talent, must toe moral lines lightly to keep their players away from rivals. Because in the end, if "you" don't pay so-and-so to come to your university, "they" will and their team will be more talented than yours as a result. Perhaps this is too simplistic for what really goes on, but even a dumbed down version makes logical sense for why the biggest schools stay big.

Of course the next question is what can be done to fix this year to year, decade to decade predictability of college football? The short answer is how the hell should I know? The long answer is a bit more complicated. You could tell yourself schools like Boise State are making progress but can't some of that be attributed to the down years of west coast teams? Right now, there aren't many great schools in Washington or California and Boise is benefiting. The only way I see a tide shifting is if great recruiters and great coaches go to and STAY at "small" schools. Chris Petersen has stayed at Boise State, turning down other positions. That is rare. Coaches leave at the drop of a hat for more money and more prestige. But if good recruiters can build bases at these schools and continue to recruit year in and year out, the good high schoolers will take notice. I'm sure there are 16 and 17 year olds who want to go to Boise when they graduate high school, just to play for coach Petersen.

So that is our only hope. Of course, if Gary Patterson leaves TCU and if Petersen dumps Boise for and SEC job, we're doomed for another half century. I can see the year 2061 AP poll taking shape already.

(Image taken from

Friday, September 24, 2010

Up on The Wire

Yesterday was a sad day. I went to the library, returning the final disc of the final season of the greatest television show ever made. There are no more episodes to watch. There was not another disc to borrow. It was over.

No more Bunk. No more Dukie or Michael. I wouldn't see Carcetti anymore, nor Greggs or Daniels. Won't hear from Marlo or Gus again. No more Jimmy McNulty. I had finished watching The Wire.

For those unaware, I have a 'thing' when it comes to watching television. I wait. I wait until something is known to be worth watching and then I'm on board. With Lost, I hadn't seen a single episode until the summer before the final season. At that point I banged out all five previous seasons in time for the (highly disappointing) sixth. No matter the ultimate outcome of how the show ended, waiting and watching five in a row was brilliant. I wasn't forced to wait a week between episodes. I didn't have to wonder for days and days what the hell just happened. For the show Heroes I did something similar. The same time the show was being canceled for sucking, I jumped into season one. That's all I watched, season one. I heard the show dropped off after that, so I stuck with what was good. It worked. I call this smart viewing. Some might consider this jumping on the bandwagon because I wait until 'the public' tell me something is good. Well, with The Wire, that certainly was not the case. There was no bandwagon. No one watched this show.

(I now will talk about this show as if it didn't end a couple years ago. This is the only downside to my viewing 'technique.' It is like Jim Gaffigan's joke about the movie Heat. He just saw Heat and wants to talk about it with someone, but no one has seen it in a decade. You get the idea. I'm going to anyway though.)

On one hand, this fact is surprising, yet on another, it makes sense. The surprise stems from this being the best tv show I have ever watched. It is widely believed to be the greatest tv drama of all time. Anyone who has seen it would not disagree. In fact, if you have not watched The Wire, stop reading this post right now, just close your browser and go rent season one. The very first episode is a bit long but after episode two I was hooked. That's all it takes.

The reasons behind the lack of popularity do make sense though. There are the racial elements which I don't care to venture into too far, but they are there. Most people cannot, perhaps, relate to the plot of the show, or many of the characters, let alone understand the language and lingo throughout. This clearly drives away some viewers. Gettin' a re-up on a burner, corner boys slingin'; not language used in every walk of life.

Another reason for the lack of ratings was probably HBO's fault. I am told it had a bad time slot and was put On Demand before the original airing. This seems like a bad idea. Also, tv ratings don't take On Demand viewing into account, nor does it count anyone watching the show on other platforms obviously. And of course me watching every episode in 2010 after the show ended in '08 doesn't help David Simon's rating either.

All those are valid reasons for the public 'failure' of The Wire. Here is the real reason though: it was too perfect. This isn't even a joke. The show had too few flaws. Every scene served a purpose. Every character filled a role. Nothing was wasted. In the end, there was nothing to complain about. And isn't that what drives talk? Sure, after certain episodes you can call a friend and say "Can you believe Stringer had D killed?!" But then the other person says something agreeing with your amazement and the conversation is over. There were plenty of surprising twists and turns but everything made sense. There were no arguments created. David Simon made a show too perfectly.

Think about the most popular network drama, Lost. Why was Lost so popular? Because after every single episode, there were a million confusing things. People had to talk with their friends just to try to figure out what was going on. There were dozens of arguments about what certain things meant and what one character was going to do. In the end, it was all hogwash, they were all dead, but the point is, the plot drove 'water cooler talk' more than any show I can remember. People knew about Lost because everyone talked about Lost. Whether what they were saying was positive or negative did not matter. It's the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

The Sopranos ended with a similar boost. Throughout the seasons, it was more popular than The Wire ever was. The reasons for that can be argued. But the series ending is what made The Sopranos lead every entertainment discussion. I have never seen an episode of the show, it's on the list, but I know how the show ends with the fade to black. Everyone knows. The reason everyone knows is because a lot of people hated the ending and talked about hating it. Let's get cliche crazy. I have already gone this far. No one writes good restaurant reviews. The only time someone fills out a review is if they had a bad time/experience. It's the same thing here. If the ending was good and tied everything up nice enough, I would not have heard about it. Well, guess what? The ending to The Wire was perfect. There was no ambiguity. That is why no one talked about it.

And a lack of confusion by no means implies the show was boring and straightforward. It was a fantastic show. Surprises came routinely whether it was DeAngelo getting murdered, String getting gunned down at the height of his power, Avon getting released from jail, Carcetti turning the mayoral race around, Prop Joe getting taken out, Snoop getting shot, and of course Omar's demise. Nothing seemed forced to get a rise out of the viewer. Nothing was out of place. It was all just too perfect.

Of course not every season was as good as the others. Many people felt season two was weak. I kind of liked it. It was off the streets a bit, away from the show's core, which is why some didn't like it as much. But again, it was necessary. It told of where the drugs supply came from and characters in season two were intricate to the plot of the final season. The final season, the fifth, was actually the one I felt to be weakest. That is not saying it was bad; it just wasn't as tremendous as the others. The whole newspaper plot was a little much for me. And I know I was probably supposed to hate Scott Templeton but I did hate him and it lessened my enjoyment of the plots he was involved in.

Of course the great parts outweighed any weaker moments, even in season five. The cyclical nature of the streets was portrayed excellently. Season five showed Michael becoming the next Avon or the next Omar depending on your point of view. Duquan was turning into the next Bubbles as Bubs was saving his own life. And rather than, after the first three seasons, flash back to the main characters at their younger days, The Wire simply shows children, the next group coming up, as a parallel to how people become who they are. How does Omar or Chris Partlow become like that? Well just look at Michael. Look at Randy and how little control he had over his own life. Look at Namond and how gaining a parental figure can so easily save a child.

The only real discussion that arises after watching The Wire is who the best character was. Everyone's immediate reaction is to say Omar. Heck, my reaction was Omar as well. Ruling the streets without his own muscle, being a nightmare more than a real person, striking fear into the dealers by simply arriving at their door. Some of my favorite scenes of the entire series are when Omar is coming down an alley whistling Farmer in the Dell. Omar Little was certainly the most interesting character. And yet, I'm not sure he was the best, or just stuck in my mind because his scenes were the most dramatic.

Since he was killed in season three, it was easy to forget, but Stringer Bell was a fantastic character. Dying before the legendary fourth season makes it tough to count String as the show's best character, but through the first three he certainly was. He was a street thug and a business man. He ordered people to be killed and bought real estate. He was the coolest customer, Avon's business sense, and then realized he could run things on his own, better than his partner. He created the co-op which was later taken over by Prop Joe, and then Marlo. Stringer was the center of it all until his murder.

Perhaps it is best to say The Wire is so strong because it relies on no one. After all, Jimmy McNulty was clearly the main character in seasons one and two. Then for about two seasons, he became irrelevant. He was a cameo character at best. The show didn't need him. Season five saw Jimmy get back into the limelight, and the series ends with him, but at no point in seasons three or four did you miss him. The main character was not integral.

In the end, who really knows why the greatest television series of all time did not show it in the ratings? Maybe more people are like me than I think and thousands of viewers are watching online or on the DVDs right now. Or maybe it just missed that important factor that all popular television needs: the ability to criticize it. Well if that is the case, as Clay Davis would say, "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeit." Then you people don't even deserve to enjoy The Wire. As for me, I am going to miss it.

(Image taken from from HBO)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 2

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week two.

Welcome back Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Both men made last week's 'stars who sucked' lineup and rebounded rather splendidly in week two against the Redskins. Schaub, after throwing for barley over 100 yards in the first game of the year, threw for 497 yards and 3 touchdowns on Sunday. Meanwhile, Johnson caught 158 of those yards and one of those scores, after only totaling 33 yards the previous game.

As Mark Twain once coined, the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. The Jets can borrow that statement after their week two comeback against the Patriots. Mark Sanchez was, dare I say, good. The Jets offense as a whole looked far from the anemic, pathetic team that took the field in week one. However, the death of Shonn Greene as a star running back may still be official. Representatives are calling in the mortician as we speak.

In other league news, the Vikings and Cowboys are both still winless. I can't say I am anything other than delighted. Brett Favre feels there is a lack of chemistry between himself and the receivers? Oh, really? Perhaps that is what training camp is for you moron. The Lions are also among the winless, yet not because of playing poorly necessarily. After the heartbreaking week one loss, the Eagles squeak out a 3 point win against them in week two, even without the services of Matthew Stafford.

The most important thing each week is, of course, fantasy performances. Last week I made the mistake of crediting one of our Morning Quarterbacks with the idea of creating the 'lineup of no-names who would beat your team.' As I said, I had never read either person's column so did not confirm on my own. It turns out, this gimmick is done by a different writer. Nevertheless, with this being a homage article anyway, I will continue the 'stars who sucked' lineup.

Quarterback - Brett Favre. Three interceptions and no touchdowns thrown. Add a fumble for good measure. The Vikings were supposed to be happy Favre decided to take their money and come back. Instead, it appears as though Favre is hurt and not ready to play. Adrian Peterson carried the load in the loss, but should be carrying the ball 25-30 times a game. This team has no receivers until Sidney Rice returns and a quarterback who cannot be trusted. Ride the "best" running back in football.

Running Back - Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew. After a stellar game one, Johnson struggled to do anything against the Steelers defense. Netting 34 yards on the ground ended Chris Johnson's 12 game streak of rushing for 100 yards or more. Jones-Drew, on the other hand, was hampered by his teaming sucking. The Jaguars were behind too early to stick with the running game. This might continue to happen to Maurice in the coming weeks as the Jags are the worst team in their division. Excuses aside though, these were two terrible games from two of the top five picks in most fantasy drafts.

Wide Receiver - Randy Moss and Greg Jennings. As stated last week, wide receiver is a very fickle position. Oftentimes catches come in bunches or not at all. Randy Moss ended with a not terrible 9 fantasy points, but only had 38 receiving yards. Catching a touchdown saved him from disaster, but he still has not produced a big game in a long while. Jennings ended with nearly the same yardage total, gaining 36, but did not catch a touchdown, making for an even worse fantasy performance than Moss. For two of the top half dozen receivers, week two did not bring confidence.

Tight End - Brent Celek - I was going to give this distinction to Tony Gonzalez except prior to the season, many expected Gonzalez to start slowing down and saw 2010 as a poor year for the future hall of famer. He did not disappoint in week two, totaling a lowly 19 yards from scrimmage. Celek though was supposed to break out this season with Jermichael Finely. Finely had over 100 yards receiving on Sunday while Celek ended with 2 fantasy points. Perhaps this was in part due to the switch at quarterback, but more likely it just means Brent Celek is not a must start every week. Not yet at least.

D/ST - Ravens. The defense/special teams slot is often up for debate. Many owners rotate in their starter simply based on an opponent that week. Get whatever defense is playing the Rams! Others start a defense that is a good team, whether the defense is the strength or not. That seems to be why the Patriots and Eagles are so highly owned. There are very few defense/special teams that are a good start every week. Baltimore was supposed to be one of those. You could trot out the Ravens no matter the opponent. Although they did not give up a large amount of points, they forced no turnovers and only recorded 1 sack. Depending on league settings (as always) they totaled a pitiful 1 point.

Kicker - Stephen Gostkowski. No field goals. Two extra points. Two total points for the "second rated" kicker in the league. Meanwhile, Mike Nugent, owned by fewer than 5% of all teams, racked up five field goals and a possible week winning 15 point performance. I still pity anyone who spent more than $1 on their kicker.

So week two showed a slight comeback by offensive performances. There were a lot more points scored and yardage recorded the second week in the league as teams' offenses get back into the flow and defensive advantages wear away. (Don't try to confirm that. It just felt like that was the case even if it wasn't really.)

Lastly, my somewhat adopted Kansas City Chiefs are now 2-0: best record in the league! Sure they failed to score an offensive touchdown and sure they only fed the ball 12 times to their best player (Jamaal Charles) but you have to win ugly every now and then. And beating a Seneca Wallace-led Browns team by only two points sure is ugly.

This has been week two's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage post)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Turning over in his grave

John Heisman, the namesake of the fabled Heisman Trophy, must be turning over in his grave. No, not about Reggie Bush. John would be distraught at how pointless the Heisman Trophy really is.

Reggie Bush gave back his trophy like coaches resign a day before getting fired. But really, I don't care either way. So there is no Heisman Trophy winner for the 2005 season. Can you even name the past half dozen winners? Sure, we remember Ingram, Bradford and Tebow. Then I bet we lose some of you. Before that it was Troy Smith then (nobody) then Leinart. How about the 2003 winner? Anyone? Marco? It was Jason White. Rounding out the past ten were Carson Palmer of course, preceded by Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke and the immortal Ron Dayne. I rest my case.

The Heisman Trophy is only a big deal the year it is won. After that, no one cares to remember. It's like remembering who makes first team All-NBA each season. Sure you could guess, but do you really recall? But there are bigger problems with the Heisman than even remembering who won. The problem is with the actual winners.

First of all, the Heisman is awarded to "the best player in college football." That's what the award is. The fine print, however, reads "the best player in college football...who plays quarterback or running back on a top five team in the nation who ends on a high note rather than limping to the finish." Let's just say there are a select group of nominees each season. Who was the best player in college football last year? Everyone agrees it was Ndamukong Suh. The fact that he even made the top five is a testament to...something. But, of course, he did not win.

The last time a player besides a quarterback or running back took home the trophy was 1997. And before that, it happened in 1991. Those are the only two instances in my lifetime. Are you really telling me in the 24 years I have been alive, only twice was "the best player in college football" not a quarterback or running back?

Let's take this a step further. The QB's and RB's who win each year could probably be deemed the most influential players that season, just based on how often they touch the ball. But when was the last time the Heisman winner was a great football player? Of course it is slightly early for someone like Bradford, but the last winner to make an NFL Pro Bowl is Carson Palmer. Before him, we must travel back to the 1998 and 1997 winners, Ricky Williams and Charles Woodson. To pick nits, I wouldn't consider either Palmer or Williams a great pro. The last Heisman winner to actually be a great pro player was the last non-quarterback/running back: Charles Woodson. Is there something to be learned from that?

One more step further: How many of the last dozen winners (from most recent to Charles Woodson) were even serviceable in the NFL? Ingram, Bradford and Tebow are too soon to tells (although I doubt Tebow will make an all-pro team in his lifetime). Troy Smith was recently cut by the Ravens and has never done much besides show slight promise. No Reggie Bush on the list anymore but we'll tackle him anyway. For a number two overall draft pick, he is a bust. There I said it. Leinart is obviously a bust. Jason White never even made an NFL roster. Palmer, as we said, has been okay, and was very good for two years. Eric Crouch never played in the league. Weinke never did much. And Ron Dayne was a huge bust. Not that I must back up my opinions with factual data all the time, but that is a very high percentage of sucky Heisman winners.

And this 'phenomenon' is not brand new. Here are some of the names of winners from the ten years before Woodson: Danny Wuerffel, Rashaan Salaam, Charlie Ward, Gino Torretta, Ty Detmer, and Andre Ware. That group might be even worse than the first decade we covered.

As should be fairly obvious by now, every single player on the list of sucky winners was a quarterback or running back. The only star player out of any of them was the guy who did not play either position. What this tells me is, most obviously, the award is too often given to either a quarterback or running back. But, more importantly, this tells me the Heisman is rarely given to the actual best player in the nation. How can you have such a high, high rate of failure if the best player is really getting that award?

For some comparison, because this kind of stuff is such an inexact science, let's compare it to the past dozen number one overall draft picks. Not counting 2010 and 2009 (too soon) out of the past 12 'number one overall picks,' seven have made pro bowls and five of those seven, it could be argued, were literally the best at their position in the league when they did so. Of course there were terrible busts too, but again, pretty much all quarterbacks. I see a theme.

I'm not trying to force change upon our nation. I know how hard it is to change anything in sports. It took dozens of years before Cy Young voters in MLB started to actually give the award to the best pitcher, rather than the guy with the most victories. So I'm not expecting an offensive tackle to take home the Heisman any time soon. But I am hoping for one thing: for us to not really care about Reggie Bush giving his back or there being no winner in 2005 or any of that. Because, the fact remains, the award is pretty useless to begin with.

(Image taken from

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 1

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week one.

The term legend gets thrown around too often these days. Sure, a regular man can perform something legendary, but that does not necessarily make him a legend. Well, in this instance, the term is appropriate. I am of course referring to unanimously selected, number one fantasy kicker Nate Kaeding. Oh, he only scored two points you say? Only idiots draft a kicker for more than $1 you say? John Kasay, owned in less than 5% of all ESPN fantasy leagues, was the high scorer in week one? Alright, let's move on.

The real fantasy story of week one was Mike Vick. Yeah, Arian Foster went off. It happens. It's impossible to predict. He won't rush for over 200 in a game again, so hopefully you had him on your roster. He is the starting running back for a team with a good offense. He should score well the rest of the season. But the owners who won their head to head match-ups this week because of his 40 points, like the guy I faced, should be embarrassed is all. Take a cheap win. Go ahead.

Mike Vick, on the other hand, turned that Green Bay game into a dogfight. ... Kevin Kolb will probably sit next week with a concussion, but if Vick is running like he was in week one, Kolb might not get his job back and the Eagles can blame it on his concussion 'lingering.' He threw for 175 yards and ran for over 100 in one half, against a pretty good defense. That team has weapons too. As a Giants fan, I was satisfied with the Eagles being down this year. Yet with Vick behind center, it will never be a comfortable time playing them. As for fantasy implications, he has to be the best add after one week. Even if you're not sure how many weeks he'll start, wasn't one enough to show you he can still bring it?

On the other side of the coin, as always, there were many highly touted fantasy 'stars' who, frankly, sucked. I believe one of our aforementioned Morning Quarterback writers does a selection about the no-names who go off. Well, this will be the opposite: the stars who sucked lineup.

Quarterback - Matt Schaub. Has to be. For a team that put up that many points, how could the QB score so few? Schaub barely cleared 100 yards passing, threw 1 touchdown and 1 pick. That was good for 6 measly points (depending on league settings and scoring of course). For a guy who was supposed to have finally reached fantasy stardom, week one wasn't a good opening act. I blame Arian Foster really. Share the wealth next time jerk.

Running Back - Shonn Greene and Michael Turner. There were so many good choices for our running back slots but Greene and Turner take the cake. Ryan Mathews had a poor first showing in his NFL debut. Ray Rice, a unanimous top five pick, was very bad as well but that had more to do with his opponent, the New York "85 Bears" Jets. Michael Tuner ran for 40 yards. That's it. He too was a unanimous first round pick in all fantasy leagues, yet scored 4 points in the first week of action. Shonn Greene, who lined up against Ray Rice's team, faired even worse. Greene actually scored negative points. He ran for less than 20 yards and fumbled. Throw that in with the fact that he dropped a pass and pretty much got benched for most of the game for the 'ageless' LaDainian Tomlinson.

Wide Receiver - Andre Johnson and Mike Walker. Wide receiver is the hardest position to predict week to week. Touchdown grabs are almost random. The only thing that can stay consistent is how often a certain receiver is targeted. Eventually those numbers will result in stats. Well Andre Johnson is the number one guy. He is the best receiver in football. Thanks again to teammate Arian Foster, like Schaub, Johnson was nearly shut out of fantasy relevance. 33 yards is all he ended with. And yet, that was 33 yards more than Jags receiver and supposed 'next step taker' Mike Walker had, who ended with no catches.

Tight End - Jason Witten. Even more so than wide receiver, tight end stats tend to sway greatly one week to the next. Besides Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates, there isn't another tight end I'm positive will perform each time out. Jason Witten used to be on that level as well. Though for some reason, he's not anymore. Ending with only 2 fantasy points in a week where the Cowboys struggled to keep any offensive consistency is not a good sign. It seems Witten has fallen from the weekly tight end performer to just another question mark in the pack.

D/ST - 49ers. I would have given this distinction to the Bengals defense, but they at least faced an offense everyone knew would be able to put points on the board. Starting the Bengals week one was a semi-crap shoot to begin with. The 49ers, on the other hand, were facing what many expected to be the worst team in the NFC. Rather than dominate, they got shredded, ending with a negative fantasy score for the week. In other words, you would have been better off starting no defense at all. And this was against the Seahawks!

Kicker - Nate Kaeding. Just because.

That's week one in a large nutshell. There will always be a surprise breakout performance that wins a fantasy match-up. The key, however, is to avoid having any of your players make this lowly lineup.

In other news, the Kansas City Chiefs are 1-0. They were mentioned here ( as being the Sports Pinata's pick as this year's sleeper team. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I am going to anyway. Did you SEE Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster?! And don't even get me started on Jamaal Charles!

This has been week one's NFL homage to an homage.

(Image taken from

Monday, September 13, 2010

Best division in sports

The divisions in sports are usually geographic, and sometimes arbitrary. But there is no doubt that divisional opponents are oftentimes the key to victory. Living in a weak division can lead to unobstructed trips to the playoffs. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals or San Diego Chargers. However, get stuck in a death trap of talent and you may flounder in unimportance for a decade. Orioles fans know what this feels like.

So what is truly the best division in sports? The past few years it was probably the NFL's NFC East. All four teams were talented and solid. Three of the four could and would challenge for the conference title each year. The Redskins, meanwhile, were a good team stuck in a bad place, a la the Toronto Bluejays. Yet this seems to have passed, at least by what the first week of the 2010 NFL season has shown us. I know, it is way too early to make season judgments but judging the strength of a division may be clear after one go around. The NFC East is a bit down.

The Eagles, after trading away their franchise quarterback, have some rebuilding to go through. Whether Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick is quarterback going forward (and let's hope it's the latter) this team will hit some bumps. Not to mention, the defense is not what it once was. The Redskins, after gaining Philadelphia's former franchise quarterback, should be better. And yet, they looked dreadful in a win last night. Their offense has no young skill players. Their defense has a few pieces but really benefited from opponent's mistakes and nothing more. Speaking of that opponent, the Dallas Cowboys made enough errors to lose a game that should have been won rather easily. Does this make them a good team on a bad night or are they just not as good as suspected? Either way, it does not bode well for the strength of the division. The same could be said of the Giants. They made a ton of mistakes, yet still won rather handily. This may be just a sense of how poor their week one opponent was. The jury is still out on New York.

So if the answer to our question is no longer the NFC East, what is it? A real important factor is what determines the best. Some people argue that top to bottom strength is key. A division is only as good as its worst team, the weakest link argument. If your worst team is very good, that says how good the division is as a whole. Others will argue that being top heavy is more important. If a division contains two or three of the best teams in the sport, that overshadows if the bottom couple teams are terrible. The top strength is key. The best division in sports is probably the one with a slight mixture of each side: a bunch of powerhouses with, perhaps, only one bad team.

There are two other NFL contenders for the crown now that the NFC East is out. The AFC East is certainly a possibility. They may very well have three playoff teams. The Patriots clearly looked good on Sunday, as many suspect the Jets will tonight. However, the Dolphins looked anything but against what was supposed to be a lowly Bills team. Perhaps this helps the AFC East's argument: the Bills are even better than we thought. But I have a feeling it may be the Dolphins' shortcomings instead. Again, one week is not enough time to make season judgments, but I am going to anyway.

The other NFL division up for debate is the AFC South. This is a good example of 'only as strong as your weakest link.' The Jaguars are probably the worst team here (even though the Colts currently have the worst record!). The Jags will probably be solid this season. Average to below average is what I would expect. The problem with naming the South as sports' best division is I'm not sure how above average anyone else will be. The Titans looked unstoppable but that was against the Raiders. They still showed they cannot count on a passing game, and if someone ever manages to slow down Chris Johnson, which may not happen, but if it does, can the Titans compete? The Texans and Colts can both put up tons of offense. But the best division can't be run by teams that have no reliable defense. I see the AFC South as football's new top dog, but not top enough to beat the other sports.

The NHL has their own 'weakest link' contender in form of the Pacific Division. San Jose was the top seed in the conference for two years running. The Pacific also was home to two other playoff teams in the Coyotes and the Kings. What puts this division in the discussion however, is the strength of its bottom feeders. The "worst" team in the Pacific, the Dallas Stars, finished with 88 points. 88 points was good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. With that much talent top to bottom, the Pacific has an argument. It would have helped their cause if one of their three playoff teams managed to win the Stanley Cup though.

That leaves only the NBA and MLB. Each has only one contender for best of the best. And each of those has a nice mixture of top to (near)bottom talent with powerhouses at the top. The deciding factor may be which division's weak link is strongest.

The NBA's Northwest division had four separate teams win 50 games last year. The rest of the NBA combined only had eight. In addition, those four all made the playoffs, leaving only one of its five out. There is no question with how good the good teams in the Northwest can be. Denver and Portland may have their best seasons behind them now, at least for the foreseeable future, and yet they should still both be in contention for 50 more wins next season. If Denver trades Carmelo Anthony prior to the '10-'11 campaign, that will change expectations, but for now, both these teams are very good. Utah is even better and improving. With the addition of Al Jefferson, the Jazz should be one of the best teams in the West next year, along with their divisional foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are very young and inexperienced, yet still made the playoffs last year and gave the Lakers all they could handle. After gaining valuable experience in the FIBA world championships, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should come back even better, which is a scary thought considering Durant already won the scoring title last season. The Thunder will be a team to be reckoned with. The problem, the Northwest's only problem, is Minnesota. This was the worst team in the West last year and will not be much better this year. Of course that will have something to do with playing those other four playoff squads, and yet, I don't see the Timberwolves being good in any division, at least for the next few years still.

The best division in sports shouldn't really contain the worst team in that conference. And yet, baseball's offer has a similar problem. MLB's AL East is a monster of a division with one flaw, but how bad is that flaw really? Let's start at the top. Does the AL East have the best team in baseball? Check. In fact, for good measure, it also has the second best team in baseball. Does the AL East have the current world champion? Check. In fact, for even good(er) measure is has the last three AL World Series participants. Does the AL East have depth? Check. Four of its five teams are above .500. The emergence of the Toronto Bluejays this season is really what puts the AL East above the rest. They were expected to be very, very bad this year. Yet, their offense is the best in the league and they have held their own, three games over .500 in mid-September. Last question to clinch the title: Does the AL East not have the worst team in the AL? ...Check...Kind of. Here is where it gets sketchy. The Orioles are tied for the worst record in the league right now. And yet, since they switched managers, they have the second best record in all the AL, better than any of their fellow East members. And are they really that bad or just stuck in the best division in sports? The Orioles are 55 and 88 right now. 41 of their 88 losses have come against AL East members though, roughly half their losses.

I am making a stand. The Baltimore Orioles are not as bad as their record indicates, and if they weren't in the AL East, they may actually compete on a regular basis. Therefore, after much examination, the best division in sports, taking the crown from the NFC East of the National Football League, is the AL East of Major League Baseball. Congratulations. But just a heads up, if the Timberwolves are good this season this may be up for debate again in 2011.

(Image taken from

Friday, September 10, 2010

We need more BCS

Everyone hates the BCS. I know this. It pits two teams against each other at the end of a season to declare a winner with no one else getting a shot at the title. It is mostly a numbers game. Computer formulas and polls determine the top ranking teams, oftentimes swayed too much by the partly random slotting of where a team is ranked pre-season. Before the season starts, if your team is ranked outside the top 15, your championship hopes are slim to none no matter how good you are. This seems like a flaw. And yet, if you can manage to run the table, beat everyone on your schedule, take care of your own business, and you have at least two or three reasonably talented opponents on that slate, your team can work its way up to the top. Essentially, in the Bowl Championship Series, every game is a semi-playoff game.

That is what made the recent Boise State - Virginia Tech game even better. This has been mentioned before by Jason Whitlock, Chuck Klosterman, and others, but it warrants reiterating. Without the BCS, that game would have meant little to nothing. It would have been like a first month NCAA basketball match-up between top ten teams. Sure, it is interesting to see where each team stands, but the outcome is almost irrelevant. However, with the BCS, this early September game became a literal playoff game. If Boise St. had lost, their championship hopes would have been over, end of story. With Virginia Tech coming up short, their title hopes are pretty much over as well. They can still win the ACC and make the Orange Bowl of course, but the title game is now out of reach.

The BCS, for all its flaws, makes every regular season game mean something. And there are other major sports who need that same affect. When was the last time you cared who won an NBA regular season game? 1999? 1974? They mean nothing. And it is the same with the NHL. Over half the league makes the playoffs. No one, two, or even dozen regular season games mean anything more than bragging rights. College basketball has the same problem, and because of tournament expansion, it will get worse as the years go on. If Duke plays Purdue the first week of this coming basketball season, that could be a Final Four preview. Two top ten teams battling against each other early on in the year to see where they stand. But it will be nothing more than that. Three weeks later it won't mean a thing who won that game. Both schools will make the NCAA tournament no matter the outcome of that game. Neither schools' championship hopes will go up or down based on the final score. The regular season means nothing.

It could be argued that NCAA basketball would be better off with a BCS than with their current tournament. Since it could be argued, I will now argue it. Currently, the top 50ish teams make the NCAA tournament. The rest of the field is made up of conference winners who aren't as good as many teams being left out of the field. The tournament itself is so popular because of the atmosphere, the chance for a buzzer beating shot, and the hopes of a Cinderella run by a small school. And yet, if by some chance, a team clearly not in the top 25 in the nation, went on to win the tournament, would this be better than what the BCS would hypothetically supply? The argument against the BCS is that it doesn't always give us the best team because a school or two each year gets left out of the title game by the numbers. And yet, the BCS always gives us a champion who at least deserves to fight for it, right? Can the same be said for the NCAA basketball tournament? Does Utah State really deserve a shot at being national champion? Is there any scenario where Richmond could be thought of as the number one team in America? Butler had their chance, and yet Butler has been a top 15 school every year for the past half dozen. Should a school ranked essentially outside the top 50 in the nation really deserve the right to be battling to be number one? Basketball gives this chance. Football rightly does not.

I'm not in love with the BCS formula because, as I've stated, my school's championship hopes are already dashed, just one game into the season. And yet, the alternative seems worse. I have never in my life watched an entire NHL regular season game. Even though I love basketball, this past season, I only watched one NBA regular season game in its entirety, and that was because I attended it. College basketball is right around the corner and yet, no one cares until March.

In a world where so many leagues make so many games inconsequential, isn't it time to appreciate the BCS for what it does? Thank you Bowl Championship Series. Thank you for making college football four months of playoffs.

(Image taken from

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Storybook baseball

This is why 'they' say baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. This is why no one makes rash or impulsive decisions in the majors. This is why the sport of baseball is such a sweet science. 2010: The Year of the Pitcher has officially turned into a year of hitters. And it only took a month.

With pitchers dominating the headlines throughout the first four months of the season, with no-hitter after no-hitter being thrown, with only one player on pace for 40 home runs, 2010 was shaping up to be historic. It still is, but for reasons that have nothing to do with any of those things. For you see, all the stud pitchers have fallen off.

Cliff Lee's epic season is still statistically heroic, yet terribly disappointing. He still currently is on pace to record the greatest K/BB rate in any season in the history of baseball. Lee has struck out 161 batters and only walked 12 thus far, for roughly a 13.5 to 1 ratio. The record, as I've stated many times, is 11/1 by Bret Saberhagen in 1994. And yet, Lee's season has fallen off. He just missed his last start because of nagging injury. He only had one good start in the entire month of August. In fact, since coming to the Rangers, Lee is 2-5 with a 4.69 ERA. And I thought he was a shoe-in to win the AL Cy Young just a few weeks ago.

But Cliff Lee isn't the only one. Ubaldo Jimenez, after starting the season 15-1, only won three games in his next 10 starts. His season totals still look superb, and yet his dominance is apparently still on break. Jimenez has been plain mediocre since the mid-July all-star break.

The dog days of summer got to Josh Johnson as well. Posting a 4.46 ERA in the month of August, Johnson allowed more runs in that single month than he had in the previous three months combined. The three clear favorites to win the Cy Young awards all fell on hard times and put the award back up for grabs.

But they did more than just that. They allowed for the hitters to reclaim the sport. For you see, 2010 now has a chance to be an epic hitters season. Four players have a chance to hit for the Triple Crown. Yes, four. Not a single player has reached that achievement in the past 40 years. The last, Carl Yastrzemski, did so in 1967. But this year, Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols all have a reasonable shot at winning the NL Triple Crown, as does Miguel Cabrera in the american league.

There are only about 25 games to play in the season. To have a shot at leading the league in home runs, RBI's, and batting average, you must be within striking distance or currently hold the lead in all three. And, very obviously, only one guy in each league can hit for the crown, so the competition hurts in some respects. The lone AL competitor, Miguel Cabrera, currently ranks second in the league in average, tied for second in home runs, and first in RBI's. Not bad. However, he is not as close as we'd wish with so few games left. Even though he ranks second in batting average, he is still nearly 30 points behind Josh Hamilton in first place. Add the fact that Hamilton is injured and may take a bunch of games off, Cabrera knows he'd have to reach Hamilton, rather than Hamilton falling back to him. Also, with a second place rank in home runs, you would think Miggy would be in great shape. And yet, Jose Bautista is 10 home runs ahead of the rest of the league and the only man in either league over 40 for the season. The Tigers have 23 games remaining, and Cabrera, after getting some tendinitis last night, will probably not play in all of them. Hitting for the AL Triple Crown seems unlikely, but ranking in the top two in each category approaching the middle of September a'int too shabby.

So what about the chances of an NL Triple Crown being hit? The chances are better with three players 'in the running' but how likely is it anyone will do it? Albert Pujols probably won't. Although he ranks first in the league in home runs and is only three RBI's behind the leader, he has dropped to 7th in batting average, 32 points out of first. You would say, by the stats alone, he has a better shot than Cabrera being roughly the same amount out of the batting average lead, except while Cabrera has only that one man ahead of him to grab the lead, Pujols has six different players ahead of him in chase of the batting title. A monster month is possible for the best hitter in the bigs, but the numbers make it unlikely.

So what about Joey Votto? This man has been in contention for the Triple Crown and league MVP since the first month of the season. He got snubbed for the original all-star roster even though he was probably the favorite to take home the NL MVP at that point. The fans added him in on the final ballot, but perhaps that fueled him to keep his career year going. Votto currently ranks second in batting average, tied for third in home runs, and second in RBI's. He has a much better shot than either of the previous two players. Being only two RBI's and three home runs off the leader, Votto could make up that ground in one good series. The problem, again, is batting average. Votto is 19 points out of first. Especially since his average has stayed pretty consistent since May, jumping 20 more points this late seems unlikely.

That leaves one man. Four players with a reasonable shot this late in a season is rare. But this man is the clear favorite. It might be better odds that he wins the Triple Crown than that he doesn't! This man is Carlos Gonzalez. This is his first full season in the majors and he is making the most of it. The year's best fantasy bargain is currently first in the NL in batting average (by 19 points remember), tied for third in home runs and only three back of the leader, and leads the league in RBI's. He has it all: a rather comfortable lead in average, a very short deficit in home runs with only two players ahead of him, and a current lead in RBI's. Carlos Gonzalez may very well win the Triple Crown.

Whether he does or he doesn't, and even if no one wins the Triple Crown, these four men, along with Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista I suppose, have turned 2010 into the year of the hitters.

(Image taken from

Sunday, September 5, 2010

When it pays to be a novice

In most professions, coming in with no experience will yield you little return. The big bucks go to those with years of time honing their expertise. This makes sense. In fact, this practice exists even in industries where salaries are exorbitant. A famous Hollywood star may make $15 million for one movie. However, a newcomer, even with loads of talent and promise, will not have a salary even approaching that for their first role.

Even in Major League Baseball, where the top players make more than $20 million a year, the rookies don't. Baseball rookies, the good ones, make a couple hundred thousand a year, which is a nice chunk of change, but still fits the scale. The "great" ones, like Stephen Strasburg, technically the greatest baseball prospect of all time, received the largest rookie contract in MLB history this season. He got $15 million for 4 years: less than 4 million a year. Of course that is a giant payout for a novice, but for the greatest prospect in history to make a quarter of what the stars make isn't too outrageous.

What would be outlandish is if newcomers started making equal to, or more than their veteran counterparts. What is outlandish is the NFL. New NFL rookie Sam Bradford has never taken a single regular season snap. His first will come next week as he starts his first game. Nevertheless, Bradford has already been guaranteed $50 million and has a contract which could pay him a total of $78 million. Rookie lineman Ndamukong Suh was the prize pig of college football last season. He ended up getting drafted second overall with Pro Bowl written all over him. However, he has yet to make a tackle or record a sack in an NFL game. His first chance will come next week. And yet, Suh has already been guaranteed $40 million from a $68 million contract. And yes, I know what you're thinking. Most interior linemen don't put bodies in the stands and move the attendance figures. You know who else was thinking that? Every NFL owner.

This is why there is a labor dispute. This is why the most profitable and sustainable market in the United States (don't try to confirm or check on this, just take my word for it) will have a work stoppage. This is part of the reason why, even though both sides, the owners and the players, make loads of money, the league might not make any in 2011. Something must be done about the NFL rookie salary scale.

These first round rookie contracts are so egregious, they make other sports' egregious contracts look tolerable. Ilya Kovalchuk recently signed his NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils after their first attempt was rejected by the league for front loading the yearly figures. The contract that went through, the acceptable one, is a 15 year deal worth $100 million. Kovalchuk will be in his early to mid-forties when this contract is nearing its end. And yet, I still don't see this as being as bad as the NFL rookie contracts, not even close. Sure, it's a bit ridiculous to sign a player for 15 years. The Islanders did the same with Rick DiPietro a few years back and that already isn't working out. There is no way Kovalchuk is still on the team the last year of that deal, but really, at least he's a proven commodity. He is an offensive star. He's one of the best goal scorers in the league. It would be like someone signing Amare Stoudemire to a new 15 year, $100 million contract in the NBA...Someone did give Stoudemire $100 mill you say? Well they should have signed him for 15 years. It would have been a lighter cap hit each season.

But anyways, the point is, the other leagues have players sign 'questionable' contracts too. The difference is, in the other leagues, the players getting these deals have at least proven SOMETHING. I mean Ilya Kovalchuk is only 27 years old: he is in his prime and is a top line scorer. The contract is a bit over the top, but how about the NFL have their players play a down before they hand out their own over the top deals?

Hopefully Bradford and his fellow 2010 draftees are the last of their kind, the Aeris Gainsboroughs of the NFL if you will.

(If the reference to Aeris, the last of the Ancients, went over your head, you're obviously not as cool as you think.)

Whether it's in a shortened 2011 season, or in 2012, the NFL will come back with a new salary scale for those novices who have never proven a thing, other than that they have some potential. Potential doesn't buy you much outside of sports. If it did, I'd go to Best Buy later today and pick up a new PS3 and HD TV. The store clerk would see that I had the potential to get a new job and hypothetically afford these items at a later date. I'd be good for it, just like The Rams seem to know Bradford is worth that superstar money.

(Image taken from