Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Drake scratches itchy trigger thumb again

I wrote about vacation fill-in ump Rob Drake and his itchy trigger thumb last month after a particularly bad performance in a Cubs-Sox game.

Well, he was back last weekend for the Marlins-Cubs series, and he got busy again. After blowing a call at first where he called Mark DeRosa out, he launched first base coach Matt Sinatro when he went to argue, and then threw out Lou Piniella as well shortly after he arrived from the dugout.

This guy really knows how to throw gas on a fire. Won't the game be so much better when this guy gets up to the bigs for good?

DeRosa, by the way, did one of those stupid head first dives into the base. I have no idea why guys do that, but all it does is slow you down.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rutgers losing arms race

One of the concerns of many in college athletics is what is called the "arms race," as teams try to build bigger and better facilities to try and remain competitive. That term is also applied to the ever escalating coaches' salaries.

Rutgers seems to be falling behind. In an effort to capitalize on their breakthrough season of two years ago, they decided to expand and renovate their football stadium. However, fundraising is going very poorly, according to this story in the Newark Star-Ledger.

My favorite line comes from the Rev. M. William Howard, the chairman of the Rutgers board of governors. He says, "We're looking at everything. I mean, Jesus, that's what prudent leadership is required to do."

In case you missed it, that's a reverend who is so frustrated that he was quoted taking the Lord's name in vain.

I'm sure that kind of thing never happens at Notre Dame!

Big Ten Media Day, Part 2

The second day of the Big Ten media festivities starts with some one-on-one-or-so time for the media with the coaches and selected players. A ballroom is set up with a table for each player and coach, and media types just float around the room to talk to who they want. It's a two hour session, and there are also tables for some of the Big Ten Network types and league officiating coordinator Dave Parry.

Unless I'm writing for someone else, I usually spend my time with Parry, the Purdue folks and the Big Ten Network guys.

As an ex-official, I always find the talks with Parry interesting, even though I never worked football. This year, I had questions about the new horse collar rule and the interpretation of unsportsmanlike celebration.

The horse collar rule only applies if the player is brought down immediately by the collar. I asked Parry why it was safer to bring the player down by the collar after a few steps, and he said it is because the player gets more of a chance to brace himself, and that the defender usually ends up grabbing something else as well, making it a safer play. I'm not entirely sure I agree with that, but we'll see how it's enforced.

I was also concerned that any individual celebration of a play might get penalized. That may not quite be true, but I think we are going to see a lot more of those flags this year. In short, anything choreographed, prolonged, and/or aimed at the opponent will be penalized.

If you take a flying leap into the end zone - penalty. If you take a flying leap into the stands after a touchdown - penalty. If you sack the QB, look down on him, and say or do anything - penalty.

Things like the entire Georgia team taking the field to celebrate a first quarter score will fall under "trespassers will be shot." Actually, that will just be something on the order of 60 penalties.

After that, I checked in with Purdue QB Curtis Painter. On his table was a bunch of calendars and videos promoting him as a Heisman candidate. That's probably a bit far-fetched, but you can't blame the school for trying.

Painter will have some new faces around him this year. In particular, he needs to find replacements for the production of TE Dustin Keller and WR Dorien Bryant.

Bryant will be easier to replace. He put up some big numbers, but was always a bit soft. Desmond Tardy will probably be an upgrade. Keller will be a little tougher. He was a first round pick after all, but Kyle Adams won't be too much of a dropoff.

As for Painter himself, he hopes to become more consistent. He cut his interceptions from 19 to 11 last year. He's looking for a similar improvement.

Joe Tiller enters his last year knowing more about his team than he usually does. That's because so many projected starters were injured in spring ball that a lot of backups got a lot more reps than they might have otherwise. That helped develop some depth, perhaps, but Tiller said he'd rather have had all his starters.

He also thought that put the team behind the curve a little bit entering fall camp. Although, it's not as bad as it might seem. Some of those 15 starters that missed spring ball were guys like Greg Orton and Sean Sester, who have been starters for a while. The missed time doesn't hurt guys like that as much.

The position of biggest concern may be linebacker. Tiller is hopeful that redshirt sophomore Kevin Green, a highly regarded prospect, has finally seen the light. Tiller said they recruited him because he was a physical player, but so far "has looked like Tarzan and played like Jane." He was much more physical in the spring, and if that carries over, "we'll have a hard time getting him off the field," Tiller said.

Tiller also talked about the situation he's in with his replacement being on staff. He said it wasn't his idea, but AD Morgan Burke's. He said he told Burke he was OK with it as long as the replacement was someone he was comfortable with.

There was a public flirtation with Wisconsin OC Paul Chryst that Tiller says probably would not have worked out for him. Neither he nor anyone on his staff knew Chryst or worked with him before, which would have made for an uncomfortable season.

Danny Hope, the man Purdue hired, was an assistant with Tiller at Wyoming and his first five seasons at Purdue. He's a friend of Tiller, so comfort is not a problem. Also, he's the offensive line coach this year, so he has an important job besides recruiting. Tiller is pleased with the way the line is shaping up under Hope, and the energy he brings to the job.

Once the media session is done, it's the fans' turn. Each school sets up a table for fans to come up and get trinkets and autographs. The Ohio St line seemed to wind all the way to lower Wacker Drive (or in that case, Wacko drive).

Following that is the luncheon, where fans get a good meal and hear each of the coaches speak about their teams. And take shots at each other.

The luncheon was hosted by ABC's Brent Musburger, who got off a few good lines of his own. He told of how the players were disappointed to see him instead of Erin Andrews. He also thanked Joe Tiller for providing the "snake oil and vinegar" dressing for the salad.

Most of the coaches introduce, or at least acknowledge, the players they brought with them, their AD, and/or their wives. Then, they talk about how excited they are about their team.

It used to be that you could tell what the coaches really thought of their teams by what they said. Coaches that mentioned their players "character" or "work ethic" usually had bad teams. Last year though, nobody used that phrase. This year, the only one who did was Tiller. Damn.

Tiller said he gets asked a lot about why he would retire back to Wyoming with it's rough weather. He said that the weather there is misunderstood. He explained that, "it's always clear and still. Snow clear up to your butt and still coming down."

He also said that since he announced his retirement, everyone has been very nice to him. In fact, "if I had known they would be so nice, I would have retired three years ago, and then came back. Then retired again, then came back."

While he was trying to welcome new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez (a man he recently referred to as a snake oil salesman), he mistakenly called him "Rich Alvarez." He explained that he confused him with Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez because, "I need a haircut and Barry and I use the same barber."

He then decided he had to tell one story, even though he doesn't usually.

At the Ohio St game last year, the Buckeyes brought "43,000 fans with them. Fortunately, we didn't have 43,000 seats available. Out in the parking lot though, one of our long-time season ticket holders was trying to give away one of his tickets."

An Ohio St fan tried to buy it, but he was insistent on giving it away. He said it used to be his wife's, but since she died, he has no one to sit with at the game and he just wants some company.

The OSU fan asked if he didn't have any children or family who could go with him to the games. He said, "yes, but they're all at the funeral."

After the laughter died down, Tiller said that just shows the remarkable passion Big Ten fans have for football.

The only person who could follow Tiller to the dais was Joe Paterno. I can't write fast enough to keep up with him.

Commenting on Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald being elected to the Hall of Fame, he said, "it's great that he got in so young. It took me 58 years."

To Tiller: "Did I hear correctly, 'Snow up your butt?' It's going to take a lot of snow to fill your rear end."

He had the most fun though with Rodriguez.

"We played them once when he was a player at West Virginia. His wife was a cheerleader. Cute as can be! We took a picture together.

"Then he becomes a coach. Our first Nike trip together, his wife comes up to me and says 'Do you remember me?'

"I said, 'Do I remember you!' I'm old, but I'm not that old!

"I'm really couldn't care less that Rich is in our league now, no matter how much he payed to get in, but I'm sure glad his wife is here."

Then, he had Rodriguez wife stand up. Really, if Paterno wasn't so old, his fawning might have been creepy.

He also took a shot at former UM coach Lloyd Carr, who wasn't there to defend himself. "I always loved following him because he was such a lousy talker. Even his wife used to wait for me to talk."

And, it would be Joe if he didn't get a shot in at the refs. "Sometimes, in a game, you gotta wait for the refs to screw the other team, like with Purdue last year. Boy, they got screwed. That was one of the worst officiated games, wasn't it Joe (looking at Tiller)? But at least the calls all went our way."

Minnesota coach Tim Brewster seemed relatively calm, which means he was only much more wired than any other coach. He did have one funny moment when he tried to introduce his wife, but she wasn't there. "Is she here? Did she stay in the room?"

He also talked about, "change being a painful process. 1-11 is pretty painful."

Indiana coach Bill Lynch was the halfway point, and he said he'd be brief "because if you're like me, you'll have to go to the restroom soon."

He also made RB Maurice Thigpen stand up and model his fluorescent peach suit and suggested everyone come down to Bloomington for a game and pick one up for themselves in the clothing stores afterwards.

He also thanked disgraced outgoing AD Rick Greenspan. That got a bit of a groan from the room.

When Musburger introduced Rodriguez, he mentioned all the "Wanted" posters hanging up in West Virginia. Rodriguez said it's not the posters that concern him. "They sell a lot of guns in that state."

RR also told Brewster that, "change isn't just painful, it's costly."

Then, he told Lynch not to worry about Paterno. "He'll just get up and go when he has to, whether it's the middle of a luncheon or the middle of a game." Sure enough, later on, Paterno disappeared for a while.

He's also excited about Michigan fans, although he pointed out that of the 110,000 fans that show up on Saturdays, "109,000 are offensive coordinators. I don't think I'm going to hook them up to my headset just yet, though."

I'll leave you now with some of the thoughts of Wisconsin coach and comedian-in-waiting Bret Bielema.

"One thing I've learned is that the older you get, the more you get away with. One guy gets up here and talks about snow up to his butt. I didn't even know you could say 'butt' here. Another guy gets up and goes on about Rich's wife.

"I'll save some introduction time because I don't have a wife. If anyone stands up, I'm in trouble.

"One thing I'm going to miss about Joe (Tiller) is sitting next to him at these banquets. He keeps me thoroughly entertained, and he helps me translate Paterno."

As for people who think the league is down, Bielema says, "the easiest way to shut people up is to win."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Notes from Big Ten media day

  • Our day started with a video reviewing the officiating points of emphasis. This year, they will be focusing on targeting defenseless players and hitting with the crown of the helmet.

    Also, the horse collar tackle is now illegal, but only if the player is brought down immediately with the play. They showed an example where a defender caught the guy behind with the horse collar, but it took him a few steps to get him down. That is not supposed to be a penalty. I think that's an odd line to draw.

    And, as usual, there is an emphasis on unsportsmanlike conduct. In short, just about any individual celebration of a play is going to get flagged. Anything remotely choreographed will get flagged. Any goose-stepping, flying leap, or other gyrations into the end zone will get flagged. It won't be long before bands get flagged for playing the fight song. Some probably should.

    I hope to as Dave Parry, the coordinator of officials, about some of these things tomorrow when he is available.

    There is one other rule change that got a lot of mention today. There is now a 40-second play clock that begins when the previous play ends. That figures to speed up the game a bit. Also, when a player goes out of bounds, the clock will now start when the ball is "ready for play" instead of at the snap, except in the last two minutes of each half.

    Gone is the 5-yard incidental face mask penalty. Now, only the 15-yard variety gets called. Face masks must get twisted, turned or pulled to get the flag. Also gone is the sideline warning. Now, the sideline just gets penalized for delay of game. There's no warning.

  • The top three teams predicted by the media are Ohio St, Wisconsin and Illinois. The preseason offensive player of the year is OSU RB Beanie Wells, and on defense, it's James Laurinaitis.

  • Generally, everyone in the media agrees that it's OSU and everyone else fighting for second. Penn St, Michigan, Michigan St and even Purdue are teams mentioned as possible runners up. Iowa and Northwestern are considered dangerous as well. Indiana and Minnesota bring up the rear, but neither is truly horrible.

  • Illinois coach Ron Zook spoke first. Like everyone (except Joe Tiller), he's excited to be here. That's because he hasn't lost yet. He is focused, as are his players, on making sure that last year wasn't a fluke. He thinks his defense could be very good, but his team still has questions. For example, who will replace Mendenhall and Leman?

    He was asked about the biggest difference between playing Missouri this year and playing them last year. Zook said that last year, the coaches were still trying to teach the team how to win. This year, they know they can.

  • Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald was next. He spoke about how there were some positives last year, but that they were not satisfied with a six-win season. He compared it to how things were 13 years ago when he came to NU as a player. Back then, "if we would have had six wins, we would have had a parade down Central Street, shut it down and had a purple party here in Chicago. Things are changed and I'm excited about that."

    There are a lot of new faces around Fitzgerald. He has new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and a new boss in AD Jim Phillips, who Fitzgerald called "a great role model for sleep deprivation." But QB CJ Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton are back, so NU figures to score a lot of points.

  • Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was having a good time. He talked about looking forward to back-to-back night games at the Madhouse saying, "Hopefully Wisconsin fans, if they have a couple more hours to relax in the stadium parking lot, we'll have a festive environment."

    On Michigan's conspicuous absence from the media top three, he said it was a "misprint." After two more questions about Michigan, he chuckled and said, "it's good to be at a Michigan press conference."

    He also patted himself on the back for picking Illinois as last year's conference sleeper. He hedged when asked this year, but came up with Michigan St or Indiana.

  • Tiller spoke next. He pointed out that 15 probable starters missed all or most of spring practice, so he knows less about this team than usual. That makes fall training camp even more important. He's glad to have a QB as experienced as Curtis Painter, so at least he doesn't have to worry about that.

    He said that having his successor on the staff (OL coach Danny Hope) is not a distraction at all because Hope was an assistant to him before and because they get along so well.

    He was asked about some of his most endearing relationships with coaches on his staff or other at other schools. He said that he generally gets along well with pretty much everyone. "I like to think that if you can't get along with Joe Tiller, there's something wrong with you." He singled out Penn St coach Joe Paterno, "probably because I'm the closest one to his age."

    He also felt that the one thing he'd miss is the camaraderie with his coaching staff. He said that they "gen-u-ine-ly" like each other and said that how well a guy might fit in with the group is at least as important as skills when he hired assistants.

  • Jim Tressel hasn't read Carson Palmer's grade-A trash-talk yet, but he said things like that don't bother him. He also hasn't seen Terrelle Pryor practice yet, so he hasn't figured out how he'll be used.

    He said (facetiously) that the fact that OSU is the overwhelming favorite does concern him because he thinks these picks haven't always been accurate.

  • Indiana coach Bill Lynch now carries the mantle of dullest speaker now that Lloyd Carr is gone. He did hint that Kellen Lewis' return to the team from a suspension doesn't mean he's a given to start at QB. He really likes backup Ben Chappell, who is more of a drop-back style QB.

    He also said now that they have accomplished the goal of Play 13, the next goal is to win that game.

    Lynch was also asked, given that IU plays eight home games this year, if they gave any thought to playing one of those games up in Indianapolis, where the questioner said they have a "tremendous fan base."

    He said that they want to play all the games in Bloomington they can, so they aren't considering playing in Indy. However, the correct answer is that they have a tremendous basketball fan base in Indy. IU fans still don't really care about football and don't sell out their own stadium, so why play in an even bigger stadium in Indy?

  • After Lynch (and lunch) was MSU coach Mark Dantonio. His 15 minutes can be described by only one word: Outstanding. He used it 13 times to describe everything from his recruiting, to his schedule, to his tie. OK, I made up the bit about the tie.

    When someone asked him about being the sleeper, he said his team expects to win every time they take the field and that their goal is to win the league. If they pull that off, it would be, um, outstanding.

  • Tim Brewster of Minnesota has figured out how to keep the media from asking him stupid questions. He doesn't leave them any time. The format of this event is that each coach has 15 minutes for some opening remarks and then some questions. Brewster is so wired that caffeine would probably bring him down. He started talking. And talking. And talking. By the time he stopped for air, almost ten minutes of his time was gone. He only had time for four media questions.

    The short version is that he feels that they have to get a lot better on defense if they're going to have any success. That happens not with better schemes, but with better players.

  • JoePa was next. He dispensed with the opening remarks, so we all asked him Minnesota questions.

    No, I'm kidding of course. We all asked him, over and over, when he was going to retire. This was after he said he got tired of answering that question because he doesn't know too many ways to say "I don't know." At one point, he got frustrated and spelled out "I D O N T K N O W"

    He also chastised one writer for asking him how Terrelle Pryor would impact Ohio St. "That's a dumb question, even though you're a Penn St grad. You should ask Tressel."

    He also felt honored to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, but said, "when you've been around as long as I have, they gotta do something with you."

  • Iowa's Kirk Ferentz started by talking to us about the weather damage in Iowa this summer and how that has affected everyone there. Reporters were more interested in the sexual assault scandal going on there.

    You can see the story here.

    He did say that he hopes to hire a life skills adviser, or what he called a "Player Development Coach," to help players make better decisions.

    He was also relieved that former Indiana WR James Hardy is now gone. "He doesn't have a brother or cousin there (at IU) does he? No? Good. We didn't cover him for three years. It was like he had poison ivy."

  • Finally, it was time for the new guy, Rich Rodriguez of Michigan. He said he was sorry he missed Tiller because he had "a new concoction of snake oil to show him."

    Mostly, people wanted to know about the goings on with West Virginia. He said that they settled the lawsuit because it needed to be put to rest so everyone could just go forward. He also said that he was sorry he didn't get his day in court to clear some things up.

  • There were three recurring themes that most coaches were asked to address.

    What do you think of the perception that the league is down based on BCS results of the last two years?

    In general, the coaches all feel the league is very competitive top-to-bottom. No surprise there. Tressel in particular felt it was unfair to paint the whole league because if his team's performance in the title game the last two years.

    Why do you think the spread offense is so popular?

    It's gives defenses trouble because it spreads the field. It also forces them into basic packages because you can just as easily run a four deep pattern as an option out of the same formation. You can also use it with almost any personnel. Although many run it with mobile quarterbacks, Purdue, for example, uses it with pro-style QBs.

    What is retiring Purdue coach Tiller's legacy?

    Zook: "He's a great football coach, he's been around and won an awful lot of games, and the things he's done with the Purdue program speaks for itself. Tiller's has come in and put Purdue in the upper echelon in the Big Ten, not once in a while but consistently. To be honest with you, I'm glad we don't play them this year"

    Fitzgerald: "I think Joe Tiller will always be looked at in the Big Ten as an innovator on the football field. He'll be looked at, I believe, within our coaching ranks, as someone who has never changed who he is, his personality has always been the same, a tremendous sense of humor, and I'm very excited to have Coach Tiller move into retirement. (He's) been a tough on us at Northwestern against him. Just look at our record. I'm honored to call him someone I've had a chance to be a colleague with."

    Bielema (who wasn't asked): "I'm a big Joe Tiller fan because he can walk in here without a tie. If I got up here without a tie, I'd get heckled, so I admire a guy going into his last year and can wear what he wants and no one is going to say anything."

    Tiller: "I think number one, a number of people are still curious about me. Some
    of the comments I've made, I'm coming here, by the way, from Wyoming and I'm going back to Wyoming to finish a little more trout fishing here before we head back to West Lafayette. I think the fact that when I went to Purdue they had 12 non-Bowl seasons and maybe 11 of the 12 had been losing seasons, what have you, to the fact where we've been competitive every year and will be once again this year, probably that's what most folks will refer to I suppose."

    Paterno: "He brought in a whole new concept of what you could do, and he did it with a lot of class. I'm very fond of Joe. I'm sorry he's leaving."

    Commissioner Jim Delany capped off our day. He was pretty sick with the flu, but if you only listened and didn't see him, you wouldn't know.

    The one interesting thing he said was about the BCS meetings where the discussion took place as to whether or not to look into expanding the format. He said that two conferences were in favor of examining the idea - not in favor of expansion - just looking into it. He said they weren't really committed to expansion itself, at least not yet. The other five parties (four conferences and ND) weren't interested. The whole discussion took about two hours. He said that the Big Ten and Pac 10 have been taking all the heat for blocking a playoff, but really, there isn't a big movement anywhere for one. It's not just them.

    More tomorrow.
  • Big Ten Media Day Live Blog - cancelled

    It turns out that once again, internet access does not exist in the interview room. I'll post something at the end of the day. I might also get something up during lunch.

    The order of the speakers today is:
    Ron Zook
    Pat Fitzgerald
    Bret Bielema
    Joe Tiller
    Jim Tresssel
    Bill Lynch
    (lunch break)
    Mark Dantonio
    Tim Brewster
    Joe Paterno
    Kirk Ferentz
    Rich Rodriguez

    They start at 10:30 and go until 2. At 2, Jim Delany takes the floor for about an hour.

    You can also watch all of this on Big Ten Network.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008

    Brees gets another weapon

    The Saints traded a couple of future draft picks to the NY Giants for TE Jeremy Shockey, giving Drew Brees another weapon in the Saint offense.

    Brees has always been good to his tight ends. He helped make Tim Stratton at Purdue a Mackey Award winner and an all-American. He and Antonio Gates had a good thing going in San Diego as well. So Shockey can expect to get the ball if he gets open, which is what he does best.

    Shockey was moved because of an attitude problem in NY. With the Saints, he's reunited with coach Sean Payton, who was his offensive coordinator his rookie year, which remains his best season, statistically. The Saints are counting on a change of scenery creating a change of attitude, and a very productive year.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    Another Uggly loss for NL

    Some thoughts and notes from the all-star game.

  • It took a record-tying 15 innings, but the AL finally pushed the NL off the Lidge (Brad, the losing pitcher) for a 4-3 win.
  • In terms of time, it was the longest game ever.
  • Every available player on both rosters got in the game.
  • Winning pitcher, Scott Kazmir of Tampa Bay, wasn't supposed to play, but manager Terry Francona ran out of arms.
  • JD Drew was the MVP, and he deserved it.
  • Dan Uggla was easily the LVP, and turned in quite possibly the worst performance ever by an all-star. He was 0-4 at the plate with three strikeouts and a double play. On the DP and one of the strikeouts, he had a chance to give the NL an extra-inning lead by driving in a runner from third with less than two outs. He also made three errors, all by failing to field a ground ball cleanly. He fumbled another grounder as well, but still managed to get the out. Two of the errors came in one inning, but none of them led to a run.
  • It was a rough night for some others too. The umps blew calls on at least two tag plays, one at second and one at home. Even announcer Joe Buck made three silly mistakes, like miscounting hits and confusing positions.
  • Honoring the Hall of Famers is nice, but MLB went overboard. It took longer to announce the starting lineups (and not even in order) than to play the first four innings of the game.
  • Tim Lincecum of the Giants missed the game because he had been hospitalized that morning with flu-like symptoms. Still, I thought they should have "introduced" him with the rest of the NL reserves, and announced why he wasn't there. Instead, they just skipped him entirely, like he wasn't even named to the team.
  • The locals had kind of hit-and-miss games. Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto, Carlos Quentin and Joe Crede were a combined 0-9. Aramis Ramirez batted once and walked. He immediately came out of the game for a pinch runner (who was caught stealing). The pitchers fared better though. Carlos Zambrano faced six hitters in two innings. He got a double play after giving up a hit in the third, and picked off a runner in the fourth. He was in line to pick up the win for the NL before Drew's HR tied the game. Ryan Dempster struck out the side in the 9th and Carlos Marmol struck out two of the four hitters he faced in the 13th. The only runner against Marmol reached on an Uggla error.
  • Washington SS Cristian Guzman played 3B for the rest of the game after pinch running for Ramirez, even though he has never played the position in the big leagues.
  • Colorado pitcher Aaron Cook pitched three adventurous innings, but didn't get scored on. In the 11th, he faced five hitters, the first four of which reached base. One was wiped out on a caught stealing and another was thrown out at home. Both of those calls were questionable.
  • Pretty bold of Budweiser to go on with the ad campaign referring to Bud as the Great American Lager, don't you think?
  • I could go the rest of my life and never hear another word about Yankee Stadium. And I like the place.
  • Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    Billy packs it in

    Billy Packer is gone from the airwaves of college basketball. CBS and Packer mutually agreed to end their relationship, and Packer will not broadcast ACC games on Raycom either. Packer says he is working on other college basketball projects.

    Presumably, that will not involve learning about the tournament selection process. For a guy who was supposedly intelligent, that was a subject upon which he was woefully ignorant. I suspect that was by choice. I used to dread the part of the selection show where he would get to interview the selection committee chair because he would usually beat the drum for some completely irrelevant cause. My favorite was a couple of years ago when he whined ad nausem about the selection of several non-major at-large teams instead of middle-of-the-road ACC teams because the ACC had a better tournament history. As if that had ever mattered.

    I have to say, I never really enjoyed listening to him call games either, mostly because he didn't seem to enjoy it. He seemed to be knowledgeable on the air, but there was no joy in his work.

    Fortunately, I didn't watch him much because I have been to the last several Final Fours in person.

    You may have noticed that I said he seemed knowledgeable "on the air." Off the air was different, and I say that from personal experience.

    I met him when I was working at Michael Jordan's charity golf tournament in Chicago the summer before Glenn Robinson was to start playing for Purdue. I asked him if he thought the addition of Robinson would make Purdue a contender in the Big Ten and he said, and I quote, "I don't know. I never watch Purdue." He was a bit surly about it too.

    I was floored. He has a reputation for being unpleasant off-camera, and he did not disappoint in that regard, so that's not why I was surprised. I could not believe a major national basketball analyst like him would admit to knowing nothing about Purdue.

    I suppose he could have just been blowing me off, but it's not like I asked him about Prairie View A&M. You know, as annoying as Dick Vitale can be at times, he could tell you something about Prairie View. He has a passion for the college game. I just never got that from Packer - on air or off.

    He'll be replaced by Clark Kellogg, who will be an improvement. Kellogg has always been one of my favorite analysts and it will be great to have him back courtside. Not that he was bad in the studio, but he should be doing games.

    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    Team charter gets no break

    The Cubs added a NL record-tying eighth all-star to the roster today when recent whipping boy Carlos Marmol was selected to replace Kerry Wood, who will miss the game with a blister.

    Marmol was selected because he had the highest vote total among relief pitchers on the players' ballot. He is the only pitcher on either roster who is not a starter or a closer.

    The last team with eight all-stars was the 1960 Pirates. The 1958 Yankees had nine. Of course, two Cubs will not play because of injury (Wood and Alfonso Soriano) and a third, Ryan Dempster, may not be available because he pitched today.

    The Cubs go into the break with a 4.5-game lead over St. Louis in the division and are tied with the Angels for the best record in baseball.

    Oh, and let's not neglect the White Sox, which are also in first. They have a 1.5-game lead over the Twins at the break after both teams lost today.

    It's the first time since 1977 that both teams were in first at the all-star break. Neither team made the playoffs that year. Here's hoping both teams get it right this time.

    Cub All-star count falling

    Cub All-stars are dropping like flies hit to Brant Brown.

    Alfonso Soriano was officially replaced on the roster this week by Mets' 3B David Wright after Wright failed to win the final fan vote. Colorado's Matt Holliday will take Soriano's spot in the starting lineup.

    Now, Kerry Wood has a blister on his finger and won't be able to play. He has not been replaced on the roster yet because the injury was only discovered yesterday.

    By the way, that does not excuse Lou Piniella for leaving Carlos Marmol in to blow a five run lead against the Giants in the ninth inning yesterday. When Marmol is good, he's unhittable, but when he's bad, nobody is safe out there. Not the hitter, not the catcher, not the umpire, not even the guy in the on-deck circle. It's not hard to tell when Marmol is off his game because he misses the plate by feet, not inches.

    Marmol hasn't been good much lately, and yesterday was no exception. Piniella did have the sense to get Sean Marshall up in the pen, but even after Marshall was ready, he left Marmol in to implode. Marmol's last outing was the other night against Cincinnati. He had a four run lead when he took the mound in the ninth. After getting the first two guys out, he lost it. He gave up a hit, threw a wild pitch, and walked two more before Wood came in and got the third out. This time, Lou didn't pull the trigger, and the lead went away.

    That poor decision cost Rich Harden a win in his debut with Cubs. He pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10. It was a hot, humid day and he threw 96 pitches, so that's why his day was a little short.

    The Cubs did come back and win in the 11th with a rally started by a lead-off single by Marshall, so the only victim of Piniella's slow hook was Harden.

    However, Marmol's ineffectiveness has to be a concern going into the break. In his last 12 appearances, dating back to June 19 at Tampa, Marmol has retired every batter he has faced only four times. Keep in mind that he rarely pitches for more than one inning. In the other eight trips to the mound, he has given up 14 runs, 13 earned, 11 hits, 10 walks, 4 hit batters, and has watched his ERA balloon from 2.09 to 4.13.

    Probably no Cub needs the all-star rest more than Carlos.

    Decluttering my life

    I haven't written for a few days because I have been very busy preparing for, then executing, a garage sale.

    There are two parts to a garage sale, deciding what to sell, and pricing it. Deciding what to sell is pretty easy for us. With four kids, and no more expected, we can try to get rid of clothes, toys and other things our youngest has outgrown. We also have a lot of furniture that we have acquired over the years, so we put the stuff sitting in my basement out as well. And then we grabbed a handful of things that we no longer used out (ok, junk) to see if we had any takers.

    Pricing things is harder. Some of our furniture came from my grandmother and is pretty old, if not outright "antique." Some of it is in better shape than others. Some of the things we wanted to get rid of pretty badly, and some we wouldn't be disappointed to keep.

    We ran our sale for six hours each on Friday and Saturday, and I was surprised that we made about the same amount of money each day. I thought Friday would be slower because it was a work day, but it was just as busy as Saturday. We did not sell any of our larger furniture items (couch, dining room set), but we did dispose of a dresser and some smaller tables and chairs. We were also able to find a home for a lot of our baby items, including a crib, bassinet and pack 'n' play.

    And, amazingly, just about every knick-knack and piece of junk we were hoping to get rid was sold. We got rid of things like an old shake machine, a stationary, recumbent bicycle, and a couple of plastic, indoor trees.

    One of the things I was least looking forward to was haggling, but even that wasn't too bad. Sometimes, people would ask if I would take a specific lower price for something (which I would accept or not based on how badly I wanted to be rid of the item), but most people just payed whatever I asked, or left it.

    My expectations for this experience were pretty low. I didn't think I'd move very much. I didn't think I'd make enough money to make it worth my time. I was leery of having so many strangers traipsing about my place, even on the outside. I have to say though, it was a lot better than I thought. I can't say that I was "hooked" and that now I'll become one of those garage sale junkies, like the people down the street from us who have garage sales almost every week. I will probably try another one though. Just not this week. I need a nap.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2008

    Cubs answer Milwaukee

    The Cubs went out and got one of the top starting pitchers in the AL when they acquired Rich Harden from Oakland.

    The right-handed Harden is 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts. He has 92 strikeouts and 31 walks in 77.2 innings. He missed most of April with an injury, and that's the rub with Harden. He seems to be a bit fragile. He has not made more than 12 straight starts since he did that in 2005. That might concern the Cubs a bit since his current streak is 11.

    The good news about his injuries is that he hasn't had surgery. Yet. But when healthy, he's been one of the best in the American League.

    The Cubs also got Chad Gaudin, a righty who made six starts early in the season, but has been in the bullpen ever since. He is 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA.

    Gaudin will probably be middle relief/setup, a similar role to that of Bob Howry and Scott Eyre. Obviously, he could spot start as well.

    The Cubs gave up Sean Gallagher, a young guy who could have a promising future. They also gave up journeyman OF Matt Murton, OF/2B Eric Patterson (the Cubs also traded his brother Corey a couple of years ago), and minor league C John Donaldson, who is expendable because of the emergence of Geovany Soto. Donaldson played Ryne Sandberg at class A Peoria.

    Harden, by the way, is from Canada. One of the Cubs best pitchers ever, Fergie Jenkins, is also Canadian. He will make his Cubs debut Friday or Saturday against San Francisco.

    You'd be hard pressed to find a better top three starters than the Cubs have in Zambrano, Harden and Dempster.

    The Cubs have also reportedly signed their top draft choice, TCU P Andrew Cashner.

    Cubs better watch their backs

    The Brewers picked up CC Sabathia from the Indians (for a ton of minor league talent) yesterday, sending a message to the Cubs and Cardinals that they intend to be in the Central race for the long haul.

    Sabathia and Ben Sheets become one of the best 1-2 starter combos in the league. They're right up there with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren of Arizona, and the Cubs' Zambrano and Dempster.

    There was talk that the Cubs would be in the market for Sabathia, but the Brewers made them an offer of minor leaguers that the Indians couldn't refuse and that the Cubs likely wouldn't have matched. The big name going to Cleveland is AA star Matt LaPorta, who already has 20 homers and 66 RBIs this year. LaPorta was Milwaukee's first round draft choice last year.

    The Indians also got two other minor leaguers and a third as a "player to be named."

    Sunday, July 06, 2008

    Real All star rosters

    The all-star rosters have been announced, and there were a couple of surprises.

    The AL starters held form. David Ortiz was voted as the starting DH, but because of injury, was replaced in the starting lineup by Milton Bradley of Texas, who was elected to the roster by the players.

    Other AL reserves elected by the players include:

    C: Jason Varitek, Bos (.218, 7 HR, easily the worst player elected by either fans or players - quite possibly the worst player ever selected as a reserve)
    1B: Justin Morneau, Min
    2B: Ian Kinsler, Tex
    SS: Michael Young, Tex
    3B: Joe Crede, Chi
    OF: Carlos Quentin, Chi
    Grady Sizemore, Cle

    The players also selected pitchers Roy Halliday (Tor), Scott Kazmir (Tam), Cliff Lee (Cle), Jonathan Papelbon (Bos), Mariano Rivera (NY), Joakim Soria (KC), Frankie Rodriguez, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders (Ana).

    Francona had five choices, but had to pick players from Baltimore, Detroit and Oakland, who were not represented among the players chosen by the fans and other players.

    He picked Orioles' P George Sherrill, P Justin Duchscherer of the A's and Tigers' OF Carlos Guillen. He also picked Tampa's C Dioner Navarro and Twins' closer Joe Nathan.

    So, five of the 24 players I would have chosen as pitchers/reserves were not among the 23 chosen on the AL squad today. I had AJ Pierzynski, who isn't terribly popular among players, Placido Polanco as the Detroit rep, Dice-K, Sox OF Jermaine Dye and Tampa 3B and desperate housewife Evan Longoria.

    Longoria and Dye still have a chance. They are among the five "final vote" candidates. Fans can vote at mlb.com for one last player. The other candidates are Jason Giambi of NY, who will win, Baltimore 2B Brian Roberts, and KC OF Jose Guillen. I would vote for Dye.

    In the NL, a last minute race between Kosuke Fukudome of the Cubs and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun for the final starting spot in the outfield ended up securing both of them spots and knocking out Cincinnati's Ken Griffey, Jr. In fact, Braun ended up the leading vote-getter at the position. So instead of Fukudome getting left off for the Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick, it was Junior who didn't make it.

    The other NL starters were the same as the week before.

    The player-elected reserves are:

    C: Russell Martin, LA
    1B: Adrian Gonzalez, SD
    2B: Dan Uggla, Fla
    SS: Miguel Tejada, Hou
    3B: Aramis Ramirez, Chi
    OF: Matt Holliday, Col
    Nate McLouth, Pit
    Ryan Ludwick, Stl

    They also elected pitchers Aaron Cook (Col), Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood (Chi), Brad Lidge (Phi), Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson (SF), Ben Sheets (Mil), Edison Volquez (Cin), Brandon Webb (Ari).

    Clint Hurdle's picks were SS Cristian Guzman, Washington's only representative, Atlanta C Brian McCann, pitchers Dan Haren (Ari) and Billy Wagner, the lone Met so far, and two guys that I cannot believe were not elected otherwise, Albert Pujols of St. Louis and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs.

    I missed on six reserves for the NL (counting that I mentioned I would take Ludwick if a spot opened for him). Two of the guys I missed, OF Carlos Lee (Hou), who gets my vote, and Pat Burrell (Phi) are among the five last chance finalists. The others are NY 3B David Wright, who will win, OF Aaron Rowand (SF) and OF Corey Hart (Mil).

    One of those guys may get added when it is finally determined that Alfonso Soriano can't play. That's not official yet.

    A couple of Cubs all-star notes. Soto is the first rookie to be elected to start as the NL catcher ever. He is also the first Cub catcher to get the honor since 1937 (Gabby Hartnett). Ryan Dempster's last all-star appearance was as a starter in 2002. He's a starter again, but last year, he was the Cubs closer. Kerry Wood's last all-star appearance in 2003 was also as a starter, but now he's the Cubs closer.

    There are seven Cubs on the squad (even without Derrek Lee), and no other NL team has more than two. The Red Sox also have seven all-stars.

    Saturday, July 05, 2008

    All-Star Rosters

    Not that Clint Hurdle and Terry Francona asked, but here's who should make the MLB All-Star teams, which will be announced tomorrow.

    Note that I am listing 32-man teams, but only 31 get picked tomorrow. The fans then vote on each league's 32nd player, and that winner is announced July 10th. Also, each team has to be represented. Actually, I'm listing 33 because each team has a player who will be voted as a starter that will miss the game with an injury.

    Kosuke Fukudome may not make the team if he doesn't get voted on. He's the only player among the likely starters in that position. If he doesn't make it, I would expect Ryan Ludwick (Stl) to take his place.

    *- Likely starter

    C: *-Joe Mauer, Min
    AJ Pierzynski, Chi

    1B: *-Kevin Youkilis, Bos
    Justin Morneau, Min

    2B: *-Dustin Pedroia, Bos
    Ian Kinsler, Tex
    Placido Polanco, Det

    SS: *-Derek Jeter, NY
    Michael Young, Tex

    3B: *-Alex Rodriguez, NY
    Evan Longoria, Tam
    Mike Lowell, Bos

    OF: *-Manny Ramirez, Bos
    *-Josh Hamilton, Tex
    *-Ichiro Suzuki, Sea
    JD Drew, Bos
    Jermaine Dye, Chi
    Carlos Quentin, Chi
    Grady Sizemore, Cle

    DH: *-David Ortiz, Bos (Inj)
    Milton Bradley, Tex

    SP: *-Justin Duchscherer, Oak
    Roy Halladay, Tor
    Scott Kazmir, Tam (L)
    Cliff Lee, Cle (L)
    Daisuke Matsuzaka, Bos
    Ervin Santana, Ana
    Joe Saunders, Ana (L)

    RP: Joe Nathan, Min
    Mariano Rivera, NY
    Francisco Rodriguez, Ana
    George Sherrill, Bal (L)
    Joakim Soria, KC

    By team (starters): 7-Bos(4), 4-Tex (1), 3-Ana, Chi, Min (1), NY (2), 2-Cle, Tam, 1-Bal, Det, KC, Oak (1), Sea (1), Tor

    C: *-Geovany Soto, Chi
    Russell Martin, LA
    Brian McCann, Atl

    1B: *-Lance Berkman, Hou
    Albert Pujols, Stl (DH)
    Derrek Lee, Chi
    Adrian Gonzalez, SD

    2B: *-Chase Utley, Phl
    Dan Uggla, Fla

    SS: *-Hanley Ramirez, Fla
    Jose Reyes, NY

    3B: *-Chipper Jones, Atl
    Aramis Ramirez, Chi

    OF: *-Alfonso Soriano, Chi (Inj)
    *-Ken Griffey, Cin
    *-Kosuke Fukudome, Chi
    Xavier Nady, Pit
    Carlos Lee, Hou
    Pat Burrell, Phi
    Ryan Braun, Mil
    Matt Holliday, Col

    SP: *-Brandon Webb, Ari
    Tim Lincecum, SF
    Ben Sheets, Mil
    Dan Haren, Ari
    Edison Volquez, Cin
    Carlos Zambrano, Chi
    Johan Santana, NY (L)
    Aaron Cook, Col

    RP: Kerry Wood, Chi
    Brad Lidge, Phi
    Billy Wagner, NY (L)
    Jon Rauch, Was

    By team (starters): 7-Chi (3), 3-NY, Phl (1), 2-Ari (1), Atl (1), Cin (1), Col, Fla (1), Hou (1), Mil, 1-LA, Pit, SD, SF, Stl (1), Was

    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    Falling off the mountain

    Last year, Dario Franchitti was on top of the racing world. He won the Indianapolis 500, only the second Scot to do so, and followed that up with a IRL series championship as well. He did all that as a member of Andretti Green Racing.

    He saw that as an opportunity to follow the money to NASCAR. He signed with Chip Ganassi's team to drive the #40 car, becoming the first European to drive on the good ol' boy circuit. Things have not gone well for Dario since.

    As of now, he is 41st in the point standings. That has him just above the Kyle Petty line (the NASCAR equivalent of baseball's Mendoza line). He has only started 10 races out of 17 and has finished in the top 30 only twice. His best finish was 22nd at Martinsville at the end of March. He missed the entire month of May with an ankle injury suffered in a NASCAR minor league race at the end of April. Two weeks ago, he failed to qualify at Sonoma, and had another DNQ earlier at Texas.

    In racing though, all of that is forgivable as long as the sponsors are happy. But, in Franchitti's case, he didn't have a sponsor. He was running on Ganassi's dime and yesterday, Ganassi decided it was time to cut his losses. He announced that he was shutting down the #40 car for the year.

    All this just 13 months after taking a sip of milk at Indianapolis.

    Don't feel too bad for Franchitti though. At least he's still married to Ashley Judd.

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    Sign of the day

    "Get Fireworks Here!" outside one of the 100,000 fireworks shops in Dyer, IN. The thing that made this one different is that it was hung on the side of an ambulance.