Tell Me I’m Crazy: If Some is Good, More is Better

[Trying to catch up on some old posts, here.  There will be plenty of Ryan Howard and Eagles draft stuff once I get a chance.] 

Yes, for the most part, when it comes to sports, I am a purist.  I hate the Designated Hitter.  I hate the Wild Card.  I hate the X-Games.  I even hate the sports mockeries that are the current day All-Star Games.  So, it would seem to make sense that on an issue where everyone seems to be against changing the format of one of my two favorite sports, I would be in agreement with the masses.  But…

Expand the tournament?  Sure.  Why not?

Maybe I’m crazy; maybe I’m not.

I have heard all the arguments, and some of them make a lot of sense.  Here are some of the most popular arguments against expansion that I have heard.  I tried to put them in order of how often I’ve heard them expressed:

  1. The current format is perfect, why mess with it?
  2. You’re going to let in some bad teams.
  3. It’s going to kill the conference tournaments.
  4. The only reason it’s even on the table is because the coaches want expansion to give them more job security because they’re more likely to “make the tournament.”
  5. Can you really take the kids away from class for that long?
  6. It’s going to kill the NIT.

Let me try and respond to them one at a time:

  1. The current format is perfect, why mess with it?  Yes, it is BY FAR the best annual sporting event on the planet.  (The Olympics might be a better all-around sporting event, and the World Cup definitely is, but they are not annual events.)  It would be hard to find someone that loves the NCAA tournament more than I do, so I do see some merit in this argument.  BUT…I do not think that the fact that there are 65 teams is the reason it’s so great.  I think it was probably great with 16 or 32 or 48.  I know it was great with 64.  Then, it went to 65, and it’s still great.  Honestly, it is not complicated why the tournament is what it is.  It is such a wonderful event because there is just so much basketball.  There are the amazing stories of small schools versus big schools, fans from small towns of 1,500 people versus those from multi-million-person metropolitan areas, and teams of country-tanned farmboys against teams of hard-knocked survivors of America’s inner cities.  Will any of this change if we went to 96 or 128 or 256?  Yes, one thing and one thing only–there will be MORE games.  More buzzer-beaters.  More Ohio U over Georgetown upsets.  More Bryce Drews; more Stephen Currys; more George Masons; more overly-excited child-like players we’ve never heard of picking up fat, Gatorade-drenched coaches we’ll never hear from again.  In a word, more MADNESS!
  2. You’re going to let in some bad teams.  First of all, let’s be honest, at 96 or even 128, the teams aren’t bad.  It’s not like 1-26 Marist is going dancing.  It will just be more middling big-conference teams and more second- and third-place mid-majors.  Am I scared that the entire Big East (except DePaul, of course) is going to make the tournament?  Sure, I am.  Do I think that North Carolina or UConn deserved a shot at winning the national title last year?  Absolutely not.  Am I excited about watching a matchup between 15th-seeded Mississippi State and 18th-seeded Texas Tech?  Not really.  But, in the context of March Madness, sure, I’ll watch that game.  I’ll watch any game.  In fact, I didn’t hear one person complain about Georgia Tech-Oklahoma St., Clemson-Missouri, or Texas-Wake Forest this year.  And, why not?  Because it was the NCAA tournament, and it was awesome.  Just like that Mississippi St-Texas Tech game would have been.  In fact, two of the more intriguing first-round games were Xavier-Minnesota and Marquette-Washington, and those were games that pit middling teams in bigger conferences.  Again, we’re talking about more madness.  How is this a bad thing?
  3. It’s going to kill the conference tournaments.  This is an argument that gets a lot of play, and I understand the concern and why people think that, but I just flat-out do not agree.  First of all, if this is true than the current format would be killing tournaments like the Big East and ACC, who enter every year with about half the field pretty comfortable with their inclusion.  Yet, we still see amazing, heartfelt games all the way through.  Both Syracuse and UConn were comfortably in the tournament two years ago, yet they played 6 overtimes in a Big East tournament game.  As much as the media is trying to take it away, there is still a lot of cache and a lot of bragging rights in the conference tournaments.  Obviously, the goal is to win a national championship, but they still hang banners for conference championships.  What is the difference between Ohio St. and Purdue this year?  They both made the tournament.  They both made the Sweet Sixteen.  But, Ohio St. won the regular season and the conference title.  Those kids get to relish in a conference title.  OSU is going to hang a banner that says “2010 Big Ten Champions.”  Purdue?  Well, they had a nice season.  They have stories of what could have been if Hummel wasn’t hurt.  But, they don’t have what the Ohio St. kids have for eternity.  No matter what you do to the NCAA tournament, these kids will play hard when it’s time to crown a conference champion.  That’s for sure.
  4. The only reason it’s even on the table is because the coaches want expansion to give them more job security because they’re more likely to “make the tournament.”  Now, I don’t know if this sentiment does exist among the coaches, but I do know that people are using the perception of this sentiment as a strike against expansion.  First of all, the rationale of “we shouldn’t expand because it’s only what the coaches want” is not really a logical argument.  Second of all, I think that if the coaches do actually feel this way, then they are way off-base.  I actually think that tournament expansion is going to hurt coaches’ job securities.  Look at Seth Greenberg.  He made a living off of his team’s “snub.”  He may have actually gained more national attention for his program and himself, as a coach, than say Florida St. who did make the tournament as a 9-seed and bowed out in the first round to Gonzaga.  Everyone was talking about Virginia Tech.  Everyone had an opinion on whether or not they should have gotten in.  That is actually good for Seth Greenberg, his job security and his program.  But, what if they got a 17-seed and lost in the first round?  Just another one of 96 teams that got in and didn’t do anything.  And…even more so, imagine the 97th team or the 108th team.  The teams that do not make the 96-team field–particularly those from big conferences.  How can their coaches look their ADs in the eye and say “bring me back for another year, we’re on the right track.”  Think about Mark Gottfried.  He brought Alabama’s program back to national prominence, including a brief stint at #1 in the country in 2002 and three straight tournament appearances.  But, in the next 6 seasons, they only made the tournament once (and probably would have only made a 96-team field once or twice).  Yet, Gottfried kept coming back (for the record, I think Gottfried is an excellent coach).  Imagine, though, if a proud program, like the Crimson Tide, in a big conference like the SEC, missed a 96-team tournament even TWO years in a row?  Gottfried is gone.  I do not think that tournament expansion will help coaches keep their jobs.  I actually think might have the opposite effect.
  5. Can you really take the kids away from class for that long?  Hahahahahahahahahahaha.  Hold on…hahahahahahahahaha.  Seriously, people?  This argument is absurd and probably not for the reasons that you think I’m going to cite.  I’m not going to talk about how the term “student-athlete” is a joke because I don’t think it is.  I think a couple O.J. Mayo’s ruin the reputation of a huge group of young men and women who are successfully juggling the pressure of big-time athletics with the rigors of higher education.  But, let me tell you something about this argument.  It’s a joke.  Student-athletes are used to being away from campus.  Going to 96 teams would add one extra game for 64 teams.  That means that 64 teams would have to miss two more days of class.  But, it’s during the season.  How accustomed to being away are these kids?  Hell, Boston College and Miami (FL) are in the same conference, which means every year the BC kids fly 1,500 miles for a road in-conference game.  And, think about the Maui Invitational or the Great Alaska Shootout.  Granted some of these are over winter breaks, but you get the point.  This is a ridiculous argument.
  6. It’s going to kill the NIT.  I actually kind of care about this, to be honest.  I don’t want to see the NIT get swallowed up by the NCAA tournament.  The NIT has been around longer than the NCAA tournament, and for the first two decades or so, was considered college basketball’s “national championship.”  It is a really good basketball tournament with a lot of tradition.  Granted, it is no reason to hold up expansion of the Big Dance, but it will be a sad byproduct if it ceases to exist.  And, for the record, the first ever NIT champions?  The Temple Owls.  Fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the White!

All in all, there are certainly drawbacks from expansion.  But, in my opinion, if some is good (and “some” madness is DEFINITELY good), then more is usually better.  You never know when you’re going to get a monumental performance, so why not give us 95 NCAA tournament games and, therefore, 95 chances to be amazed.  More Madness!

Tell me I’m crazy…

Tell Me I’m Crazy

Okay, this one may even go too far, and I can’t believe I’m even going to try and argue for this one, but:

Tell me I’m crazy, but the Phillies are probably better off, in the long-term, by not trading for Roy Halladay.

With one BIG caveat…UNLESS, they are willing to ink both Halladay and Cliff Lee to long-term deals (which would be AMAZING, by the way!) OR they are pretty sure that they cannot sign Cliff Lee long-term and would risk not having either in 2011.

Now, please understand that if I load up ESPN’s front page and it says “Phillies acquire Roy Halladay…” I will leap up from my chair and probably do cartwheels through the office BEFORE I even read further as to who they gave up to get him.  In fact, just writing this blog post is getting the pure fan in me very, VERY excited at the possibility.  That pure fan doesn’t care if they gave Toronto the entire minor league system, just as long as the Nationals have to face Lee, Halladay, and Hamels to open the season on April 5, 7, and 8.  But, that is the fan in me, not the armchair general manager.  GMs have to really look at the long-term implications much more than fans, managers, or even owners.  And, that is why, with my wannabe GM hat on, I hesitate on this move, even though, from all reports, Halladay is out there to be had, and all Amaro has to do is say “yes,” because they have the best package of any of the contending teams.

But, let’s just think about it for a second, and let’s think about past 2010.  I think it’s safe to assume that, no matter what happens this offseason, that the Phillies 2011 rotation will not feature BOTH Halladay and Lee, right?  And, I think it’s safe to say that the Phillies at least have a shot at extending Cliff Lee after 2010, right?  (ps…if that is not the case, and Lee is hell-bent on testing the market, then this whole argument goes out the window, and there is no doubt that the Phils should immediately go get Halladay and sign him long-term.)  So, then for all intents and purposes, trading for Halladay is a one-year rental because they will add an ace at the beginning of the season and, because of that addition, they will lose an ace at the end of the year (even if it’s Halladay who stays and Lee who goes).  Joe Blanton is eligible for free agency after 2010, and I seriously doubt that the Phils will resign him.  Jamie Moyer will be 97 in 2011, so he’s not in the picture.  Pedro will be 96, so he’s probably out, too.  That leaves Lee/Halladay, Cole Hamels, and whomever is left over from the Halladay deal (be it Happ or Drabek or, god forbid, neither).  What do the Phillies do?  They won’t be able to go get a free agent because with the built-in raises to Rollins, Utley, and Howard, the already large expenses of Brad Lidge, Placido Polanco, and Raul Ibanez, the extension demands of Hamels, the questions about the futures of free-agent-to-be OFs Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, and the humongous contract they will have to give to Lee/Halladay, they will be seriously strapped for cash.  And, they won’t be able to trade for a front-line starter because the Halladay deal will, at the very least cost them a SP and an OF, so the other SP will be needed as the #3 starter and the OF will probably be needed to replace either Werth or Victorino, whomever they decide to let go.  So, the once “loaded” farm system will be stripped.

So the question is:  Is Roy Halladay in 2010 worth living with Kyle Kendrick as your #3/4 starter in 2011?  I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s not really that big of a stretch.  And, please don’t even think about 2012 and beyond, when you have to extend or lose Hamels, you have to make major decisions on Rollins and Howard, you have to think about replacements for an aging Polanco and an aging Ibanez, and you have to eventually (depending on ML playing time) start thinking about the arbitration demands of a Drabek, a Taylor, a Brown, or a Gose.

Tell me I’m crazy…….

Hold on, there is a good news in all of this, and that is………….WOW, these are GREAT problems to have.  And, to play the other sidefor a minute (which sort of defeats the purpose of this post, but whatever), I kind of think Happ is, at best, a #3 starter, and Michael Taylor is not needed now and probably not needed later because of Brown and Gose, so if you can package Happ and Taylor and get Halladay, even for one year.  Just do it.  And, honestly, I think Ruben will do just that.  Happ’s value is at an all-time high, and Taylor is too good for AAA, but does not fit the Phils outfield right now.  If that will get it done, do it.  Please…

Tell Me I’m Crazy: Trading Werth Might Make Sense

werthOK, I’m borrowing Bry’s “Tell Me I’m Crazy” column here because I definitely think I might be crazy for proposing that the Phillies should trade Jayson Werth this off-season.  Before I make my case, let me acknowledge the multitude of reasons why this might seem like a terrible idea at first glance:

Reason #1:  To put it simply, Jayson Werth is awesome!  I’ve said that many times over the past year and a half, and I’m not backing down from that stance at all now.  After an injury-plagued start to his career, Werth has emerged as one of the premier right-fielders in baseball.  Much has been made of the “leap” he made this year to 36 homers, but he had a very similar season in 2008, but only hit 24 homers because he had almost 200 less plate-appearances (as a result of platooning with Geoff Jenkins for the first half of the season).  He also led baseball in pitches-per-plate-appearance this year, which not only wears down the opposing pitcher, but also gave him a stellar .373 on-base percentage.

Aside from what he can do with the bat, he’s also stolen 40 bases over the last two seasons, while being thrown out 4 times.  And in the field, he’s played a Gold Glove-caliber right-field, and has the ability to play a solid center-field if you need it.  Like I said, Jayson Werth is awesome

Reason #2:  It’s been well-documented that the Phillies have a lack of right-handed bats.  Their other three 30-home run guys of this year are all lefties.  Not only is Werth the only right-handed power hitter on the team, but he also crushes  left-handed pitching like few players I’ve ever seen, which is exactly what you want sandwiched in between guys like Howard and Ibanez.

Reason #3:  He’s clutch.  He pounded seven homers in 51 AB’s this postseason, and he hit .444 (8-18) with a homer and three doubles in the World Series against the Rays in 2008.  Have I mentioned that Jayson Werth is awesome?

Reason #4:  Although he’s getting a big raise next year, a $7.5 mil. price tag (up from $2.5 mil.) is still a steal for what Werth gives you.

So, those are some very compelling reasons to NOT trade Werth.  Here are the reasons why the Phillies SHOULD trade Jayson Werth this off-season:

Reason #1:  Starting off with one of the weaker arguments: the payroll.  As Bry detailed a few days ago, the Phillies have a lot of players getting raises in 2010, and with all the talent they have assembled, it will take a ridiculous amount of money to keep all of the key players on this team here for the long-term.  It’s not our money, but Ruben Amaro does have a budget, and every dollar spent in one place is one dollar less spent somewhere else.  Choices will have to be made about what players will get mega-contracts, and which ones won’t.  Werth will be a free-agent after next year and, make no mistake, he will be looking for one of those mega-contracts if he does anything close to what he did this year.

Reason #2:  Even if they can find a way to keep all of the current core for the long-term, they’d be setting themselves up to have an old team in a few years.  When Spring Training starts in February, Victorino will be the only Phillie regular under 30, and he turns 29 in a couple weeks.  Could we be setting ourselves up for a repeat of what happened after the 1980 championship, when the Wheeze Kids won a pennant in ’83, then the Phils spent the next decade in the basement?taylor

Reason #3:  His value will never be higher.  As I’ve said, I don’t think his production these last two years is a fluke, but that means that general managers around the league probably don’t think it was either.  I’m pretty sure there are more than a few teams out there that would be interested in a five-tool player that can hit 35 homers.  Werth could be used to bolster the pitching staff, or to stock up with some more nice prospects to secure the future of the team.

Reason #4:  Michael Taylor (and Domonic Brown).  As we heard about plenty during the Roy Halladay negotiations this summer, the Phillies have two elite outfield prospects.  Taylor absolutely dominated AA in the first-half of ’09, and then was rock solid at AAA in the second-half.  He’s basically knocking down the door, and the Phils will need to find a spot for him sooner rather than later.  Obviously, he could eventually replace Ibanez in left-field, but the presence of Brown means that the Phillies might have to open up two outfield spots in the coming years.  Taylor could replace Werth in ’10, and Brown could take over for Ibanez in ’12.

beltreReason #5:  Adrian Beltre.  Obviously, the Phils want to set themselves up for a title next year, and while I think Taylor would be solid, you can’t expect him to replace Werth’s production in the line-up as a rookie.  That’s why, if Werth is going to be traded, I think it’s imperative that the Phils sign Beltre to play third.  Beltre is the youngest (30) of all the third-base options on the market, and he’s also the best.  He might actually be an upgrade over Feliz defensively,  as he took the AL Gold Glove in ’07 and ’08.  He had an injury-plagued ’09, but he was really consistent at the plate from ’06-’08, with HR totals of 25, 26, and 25.  He was also playing in one of the best pitcher-parks in baseball.  Based on his road splits (which were not surprisingly much better than at home) and what it’s like at the Bank, it’s not hard to imagine Beltre duplicating Werth’s production.  After all, we only have to look at Ibanez to see what can happen with the move from Safeco Park to the Bank.  So, Beltre could slot into Werth’s 5-hole, and Taylor could hit 7th.

So, that’s my case.  Tell me I’m crazy.

Hey Doogan, What About This Idea? (Tell Me I’m Crazy)

So, Doogan and I started this blog a couple of years ago.  The idea was fueled by the rationale that, “Hey, we email each other with stupid sports questions and comments and random opinions anyway, we don’t we just start a blog and post what we would otherwise be emailing each other?”  So, that was the design.  No set content.  No set “tone.”  Just pretty much exactly what we would be debating over email, only in more of a public forum, so that we could have others join in the debate, as well, if they want.  If not, no harm done.

Well, Doogan posted a commentary last week that was a microchasm of our idea.  He posted his response to the Peter Gammons idea of changing the playoffs.  It struck me as something from the “old days.”  If this had happened three years ago, that post would probably still have been written only it would have been received as an email in my inbox (maybe with fewer punctuation marks and no pictures).  And, in turn, I would have responded, so I guess I will do it here–only I will actually use capital letters, since this is a “public forum.”

Doogan, you make a couple great points, and I agree with you that Gammons’ suggestion doesn’t really help.  But, let me throw out a truly radical idea that might be just crazy enough to work.  See what you think:

So, when people talk about about changing the baseball playoffs, they usually bring up a variety of things:

  1. The lack of any pennant races.  This is an argument that many people–especially Gammons–have perpetuated around this year because, well, it’s convenient THIS year.  As you said in your post, this year is different than most (if not, all) the other years of the wild card, in that there are no races.  But, for the sake of argument, let us defer to the “experts” and say that baseball could be helped by a change to the playoff format that would create more pennant races.
  2. The lack of any advantage for a team to win their division.  Basically, the Yankees are going to finish a far better season than the Red Sox, and have a very small advantage in the short postseason.  Even more so, the Red Sox catch a break considering that they are in the playoffs, without winning their division, and do not have to face the Yankees in Round One, while the Tigers, who are going to win their division, will play the Yankees.  I kind of agree with this point (though I get the argument that the Red Sox are better than the Tigers, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be true about the wild card).
  3. Not enough teams are still in the playoff hunt come September.  This has been a big argument against baseball for a long time now.  It’s sort of the opposite of the NBA, in that more than half of the NBA teams qualify for the playoffs, so every team is it, just about, whereas, only 8 MLB teams make it, so usually more than half of the teams’ seasons are over by the middle of August.  Not sure this is a huge issue for me–the purist–but I completely see the argument, both for the sport’s popularity and the individual teams’ revenues.
  4. You have these two extra days before the playoffs start, why not use them?  This is part of Gammons’ argument, right?  Or, at least, he says move the season up to start on a weekend and use this last weekend as a playoff round.  This is not a big issue, but it can certainly be addressed.  And, we all know that Turner Broadcasting is not going to change from their Wednesday start day, for TV purposes.

When people talk about keeping the playoffs as they are, they use a variety of reasons to defend the current system, such as:

  1. Baseball is unique in the fact that it is a very long season and the playoff structure has always rewarded the best teams–over the long-haul.  This is completely true, though I think the wild card has certainly put a damper on this (not necessarily a bad thing).  But, there is definitely something to be said for the purist opinion of rewarding the teams that played the best over a 162-game sample of play.
  2. The baseball pennant races are fantastic because they involve the best teams playing for something down the stretch.  No other sport has this–some of the best teams still fighting it out at the end of the regular season.  Again, the wild card has taken a little bit of steam out of this argument, too, but it still pretty much rings true.  Two years ago, the Rockies and Padres were two of the better teams in baseball and they were fighting the whole month of September.  Last year, the White Sox and Twins both won 88 games and were in a fight for their playoff lives.  Each of the last two years, the Phillies and Mets were both excellent teams that had to beat out one another just to earn a chance to play in October.  In the NBA, the last playoff spots are all being fought over by a couple of .500 teams, who are probably just playing for the right to be swept in the first round.  The best teams put it in cruise control for the last quarter of the season because the only thing left to fight for is seeding.  This is even true in the NFL.  The best three or four teams usually don’t even play their starters in Week Seventeen because they have the playoffs locked up.  Not true in baseball.
  3. The playoffs already run into November, you cannot extend them.  Unlike football, which can be played in any conditions, or basketball, which is played indoors, baseball HAS to be played in relatively decent weather conditions.  It’s already iffy to play games in any northern city in late October, so even a week later might make your championship decided under conditions that negatively change the contest.

Well, Mr. Doogan, I think that I have an idea (albeit extremely radical and probably will be laughed away the moment I publish this) that solves all four problems mentioned above without affecting (and maybe even enhancing) the good things often cited about the existing playoffs.  And, neither camp is at all against drama and intrigue, which I think are both increased by my idea in the regular season and the playoffs.  What do you think?

Instead of one wild card team in each league, Peter Gammons suggested two wild card teams.  I–despite being a purist–am suggesting THREE wild card teams in each league.  Bare with me…

Each league has six playoff teams–three division winners and three wild cards.  The division winners will be seeded 1-3, by record.  The wild card teams will be seeded 4-6, by record.  The division winners will not have to play until we are down to ONE wild card team, so the playoff structure, once each league’s wild card is decided will be exactly the same as it is now.  The only difference is how we select the 4th participant.

What happens is the 5-seed will play the 6-seed on Monday in a one-game playoff.  The winner of this game will play the 4-seed on Tuesday in a one-game playoff.  The winner of Tuesday’s game will qualify as the wild card (as it exists today), starting Wednesday or Thursday.  (Or, of course, if you want to take Gammons idea, you can).  And, since travel seems like it could be an issue, I figure all one-game playoffs will be played at the home ballpark of the 4-seed. 

Sounds confusing?  Maybe.  Sounds stupid?  Definitely…at first, because it involves one-game playoffs, which are so stupid for baseball.  But, stop and give it some thought–and give me a chance to explain myself here.

For simplicity’s sake, let us look at this year’s standings and use the actual records as examples.  Here is how the two leagues would be, under my crazy format (assuming today’s standings hold up at the end of the weekend):

NATIONAL LEAGUE:
1. Dodgers
2. Phillies
3. Cardinals
4. Rockies
5. Braves
6. Giants

AMERICAN LEAGUE:
1. Yankees
2. Angels
3. Tigers
4. Red Sox
5. Rangers
6. Twins

So, what would happen is that, after the games on Sunday, the Rangers and Twins would fly to Fenway Park and play one game Monday night.  The winner of that game would play the Red Sox the next night, with the Yankees awaiting that winner for the Division Series in the Bronx.  Likewise, in the NL, the Braves would play the Giants in Coors Field on Monday night, with the Rockies to face the winner on Tuesday.  Then, the Dodgers would await Tuesday’s winner for the NLDS in LA.

Now, this still might sound pretty dumb, but let me give some reasons why it might just be crazy enough to work:

It enables wild card teams to qualify, but, gives them a much harder path.  This format definitely addresses the concern about giving teams a postseason advantage for winning their division over the 162-game season, and penalizes the wild card teams for not winning their divisions.

It opens up the playoffs to more teams.  Obviously, with 6 teams in each league, more teams will have something to play for.  And, it would do this without eliminating the races that currently exist.

It has the possibility to create intense pennant races between teams that, otherwise would not be in races.  For example, just think how big the Yankees-Red Sox series last weekend would have been, if the division winner didn’t have to worry about a one-game elimination (where you lose, regardless, because you burn a pitcher…much more on that in a minute).  And, even better, think about this weekend’s Dodgers-Rockies series.  How big would it be?  The Dodgers are currently two games up in the division, but both have clinched playoff spots, so it doesn’t really matter.  But, if the alternative was having to play Tuesday, this series would be HUGE.

In fact, this format would create pennant races for just about every seed.  Think about the implications for each seeded team.  The only spots that do not really have much of a difference are 5-6 (no difference, at all, actually) and 2-3 (the only difference being home-field in the DS).  But, there is a stark advantage (much more than currently exists) for being the top-seed, in that you get to play a team that just had to play, at least one game, maybe two.  And, there is obviously a difference between division-winner and wild card (which currently doesn’t exist).  And, of course, there would be a heated race for 6th.  If this was in place this year, this weekend would be incredibly complex. 

In the NL, not only would the Dodgers and Rockies be playing each other for the division (a big deal), but the Phillies and Cardinals would be involved, fighting for that #1 seed.  Though, the Rockies-Dodgers loser would be assured the 4-seed (and, thus, a day off on Monday and a home game on Tuesday), there would be a pretty interesting battle for the last two spots, with the Braves and Giants both one game ahead of Florida.

Now, the AL would not be quite as interesting, but there would be a lot more intrigue than the current amount: ZERO.  The Tigers and Twins would still be battling for the division, but even if the Tigers win, the Twins would need to keep winning to get in, as a wild card.  The Red Sox would be the wild card “hosts,” and the Rangers would be the 5-seed, but that last spot would be incredibly contentious, as the Twins, Mariners, and Rays would all be in a dogfight.

And, the best part about this is the strategy that will be involved in managers’ selections of starting pitchers, and what the different implications would be to having to play these extra games.  For example, the last couple seeds may be down to the wire to get in, and then they have to play a one-game playoff for their season (who knows what pitchers will be available).  Then, they have to play another game, against a team that had the day off.  Then, the winner of that game will start a five-game series against the #1 seed that has had two days off to set their rotation.  I think it would be FASCINATING.

Yes, I am a purist.  And, yes, I get the fact that even five-game series are not true tests of the best teams, let alone a ONE-GAME SERIES.  But think about how exciting and intriguing it would be.  College baseball does the one-game thing all the time.  Plus, the purist in me kind of likes it because second-place teams shouldn’t even be in the playoffs, so let them struggle to EARN their way in.  Honestly, we would have this coming weekend of intrigue and intensity and then we have this for playoff week:

  • Monday 4:15 – Coors Field – one game, do-or-die, between the Braves and Giants
  • Monday 8:00 – Fenway Park – one game, do-or-die, between the Rangers and the Twins
  • Tuesday 4:15 – Coors Field – one game, do-or-die, between the Rockies and the winner of Monday’s Braves-Giants game
  • Tuesday 8:00 – Fenway Park – one game, do-or-die, between the Red Sox and the winner of Monday’s Rangers-Twins game
  • Wednesday – business, as usual, with the wild card teams, having been decided the night before, on either their second or third pitchers, but at least they’re in “The Dance,” right?

Is it weird?  Yes.  Is it unconventional and radical?  Most definitely.  Could it work?  I kind of think so.

Tell me I’m crazy.

Tell Me I’m Crazy

Blake Griffin will not participate in more NBA All-Star Games than Tyler Hansbrough

Tell me I’m crazy.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but let us think about it for a little bit before you knee-jerk react and call me nuts.  I am not saying that Griffin is going to be a bust; I am also not saying that Hansbrough will be a star.  All I am saying is that I think that if Griffin has what it takes to be a star in this league, so does Hansbrough.  And, if Hansbrough has all the makings of a “bust,” why do we not say the same for Griffin?

What do people think Griffin has that Hansbrough does not?

  • Freakish athleticism? – Yes, this is will concede this point without any argument.  Griffin is a freak athlete and Hansbrough is not.  Griffin is quicker, a better leaper, and just all-around more athletic.  Period.  No debate.
  • Age?  Again, I cannot debate this.  It is a fact that Blake Griffin is two years younger than Tyler Hansbrough.
  • Size?  No.  Actually, this is completely false.  I was shocked about this too because I thought Griffin was a true 6’11” and Hansbrough would be lucky to measure 6’9″.  But, as it turns out, Hansbrough measured one-half inch taller than Griffin at the official NBA combine.  In fact, Hansbrough’s standing reach is a full two-plus inches higher than Griffin’s and is actually slightly higher than Amare Stoudemire’s.  I always said that Hansbrough just isn’t big enough to play an NBA 4, but the way the league is going and the fact that Hansbrough’s standing reach is higher than Amare’s, I have completely gone back on that opinion.
  • Motor?  Okay, I have never actually heard someone say that Griffin has more “motor” than Hansbrough specifically, but I have heard all this talk about Griffin’s and very little about Hansbrough’s.  Did anyone else watch the player that I watched at UNC for the past four years?  Motor is what defined Tyler Hansbrough for four years.
  • Collegiate success against elite competition?  Yes, you will hear over and over again about how Griffin was the 2008-09 NCAA basketball Player of the Year–an honor that he undisputably deserved.  But, how quickly we forget that Hansbrough was the 2007-08 Player of the Year.  Also, Hansbrough finished second, behind Griffin, even though he battled through a couple minor injuries and was surrounded by a supporting cast that took a lot of the burden, and therefore statistics, off of him.  Griffin was everything for Oklahoma–impressive, but also allowed him to accumulate statistics.  And, “success against elite competition?”  Well, Hansbrough is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (arguably, the conference with the best basketball history).  He made the first-team All-ACC all four years.  He was first-team All-American three times (he made the second team as a freshman).  Plus, he was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in 2006, Player of the Year in 2008, and probably would have won Player of the Year again in 2009 if he had stayed healthy (instead, it went to his teammate, Ty Lawson).
  • Basketball pedigree?  Yes, Griffin comes from a basketball family.  We all watching his brother play side-by-side with him at OU for the past two years.  Well, has anyone ever heard of Ben Hansbrough?  If not, you will.  He is Tyler’s younger brother and played two years at Mississippi State before sitting out last year so that he can transfer to Notre Dame and finish his two years of eligibility.  Hansbrough is well on his way to becoming a 1000-point scorer–possibly even before reaching his senior season.  He averaged 10.4 points, 2.6 assists, and 3.9 rebounds as a shooting guard for the Bulldogs in ’07-08.

Now, what might Hansbrough have that tomorrow’s #1 draft choice does not?

  • Desire?  I am not ready to put Griffin down on this one, but it is clear that Hansbrough is a maniac on the court.  Griffin is one of the most naturally gifted rebounders that I have ever watched on the collegiate level, and that is great, but Hansbrough gets rebounds with desire and heart.  And, anyone who has ever played basketball knows that–on any level–rebounding is as much about desire as it is about ability.  Though I like Griffin’s makeup and heart, I have absolutely NO questions about Hansbrough’s
  • Leadership?  Now, maybe this is not fair because we only saw Griffin as a freshman and sophomore with a mediocre supporting cast, but this consensus #1 pick got beat by Hansbrough’s UNC team in the Elite Eight this year, as the Tar Heels went on their way to winning a national title.  Hansbrough was clearly the leader of the championship team.  He was also the clear leader on a Final Four team in 2008 (as Griffin’s Sooners lost by 30 in the second round to Louisville) and an Elite Eight team (that should have made the Final Four) in 2007.  Plus, as a freshman, he led a rebuilding UNC team to a #3 seed, before a surprise loss to eventual Final Four team George Mason.  Now, would Griffin have those credentials if he stayed four years?  Maybe, but we do not know.  And, that point leads us straight into…
  • Experience?  Hansbrough played in 12 NCAA tournament games (winning 9, including one title), 10 ACC tournament games (winning 8, including two titles), and almost all of his team’s 64 ACC conference games over the course of his career (UNC was 50-14 in his 4 years, with three regular season titles and one second place finish).  He has lived the “big game” for 4 years now.  Griffin has played in some big games too, in his two years at OU, but the Big XII’s regular season (and even the conference tournament) cannot hold a candle to the intensity of every ACC game, regular season or tournament.
  • Work ethic?  Again, this is not a knock on Griffin.  He probably has a strong work ethic, but do we know that for sure?  I think we can say definitively that Hansbrough will work his tail off, at all times, and has already shown (wait for it) that he can take a weakness and turn it into a strength simply by working at it…
  • Jump shot?  This is the big advantage Hansbrough has over Griffin heading into the NBA.  Can Griffin develop a jumper?  Maybe.  But, Hansbrough already has.  With hard work in the offseasons, particularly the one leading up to his senior year, Hansbrough basically doubled the range on his jump shot.  Plus, he took his free-throw percentage from 73% as a freshman (already pretty solid) to a remarkable 85% as a senior, including a streak of 28 consecutive made FTs.  Griffin, on the other hand, has basically no range outside of 8 feet, and shot free throws at an alarming 59% in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.  Unless you are a ferocious, once-in-generation defender like Ben Wallace or a physical god like Shaq or Dwight Howard, you are not making an NBA All-Star game without at least a mediocre ability to shoot the basketball.

Again, as I said in the beginning, it is not like I am in love with Tyler Hansbrough’s NBA potential, nor am I convinced the Clippers are making a mistake with the Griffin selection.  They both might be stars.  They both might be solid role players, but not All-Stars (more likely).  I am not sure.  All I am saying is that the skill sets are pretty similar if you really look at them. 

Basically, if you offered me even money that Blake Griffin would not make more NBA All-Star games than Tyler Hansbrough, I would quickly take that wager.

Tell me I’m crazy.

Tell Me I’m Crazy

Doogan, I like your thinking because I think going to get a pitcher should be the number one priority for the Phils right now, but tell me I’m crazy that I don’t want Jake Peavy–for several reasons.  (For the record, I would love to acquire Roy Oswalt and I would back up the truck for Roy Halladay).

1). He has played his whole career in pitcher-friendly San Diego.  He throws a lot of pitches and might struggle outside of that huge park

2). He makes a TON of money and will make even more if he gets traded because he’ll demand his options picked up through 2014, I believe.  That goes against everything the Phillies believe in when it comes to pitchers and not giving them more than 3 years.

3). He would cost more than money–he would probably cost a combination of Marson, Carrasco, and Happ, if not all three.  Right now, I think that one of the best offseason moves the Phillies have made was NOT trading Happ.  He is making the minimum and under team control for 5 years–and, he looks Major League ready, if I’ve ever seen it.

4). And, this is most important and multi-faceted:  I am VERY put off by how he is handling this whole thing, and I really struggle believing that this guy is the type of person you want on the mound in October, with the season on the line.  Bear with me on this:

  • He only wants to play in the National League.  He says he loves to hit, but we all know that that is crap.  He is a career .181 hitter.  It seems obvious that he just doesn’t want to face 9-man lineups.  I don’t want my “ace” scared of anything.
  • He wants to avoid a “Big Market.”  Again, scared of criticism?  Do we want another Scott Rolen?  I sure don’t.
  • He is terrified of a hitter’s park.  He even said this about our own Bank:  “That new Philadelphia park might be the worst in baseball.”  And, he went on to accentuate that statement by ripping one of our own Phillies:  “Look at Shane Victorino.  I love Vic to death.  He’s a great baseball player.  He’s got 11 or 12 home runs [already].  He’s not a 20-homer guy.”  Now, whether or not you agree with Jake on this or not (I personally don’t), isn’t there something to be said for a guy who doesn’t care about the park and just goes to get guys out?  That’s what I want.
  • Finally–and trust me, I TOTALLY understand the family thing–don’t you question a guy who has a shot at contending and doesn’t do it to stay with a bad team?  I mean what are you playing for, Jake?  What kind of professional competitor would veto a trade to a potential World Series team to stay in sunny San Diego and lose 100 games?  Jake, you can stay there, for all I care.  I hope the weather is nice.

Go ahead, tell me I’m crazy. 

Tell Me I’m Crazy – The ‘Zags

Tell me I’m crazy, but I think that this year’s Gonzaga team is the best team that they have ever had.

I know, I know, they have had 3-seeds and even a 2-seed, but did they really have better years than this team did? 

I know, I know, they have had guys like Adam Morrison and Dan Dickau, who were drafted in first round (Morrison even went #3), but were those guys any more talented than any of the guys on this year’s team?  And, even more obviously, they weren’t surrounded by the talent that this year’s squad has.

Well…this team went 14-0 in the WCC and dominated the conference tournament.  And, as a direct result of Gonzaga’s success, this is probably the best WCC ever.  And, look at the non-conference schedule.  To start the season, they won a warm-up game against a D-II school, then they beat a solid Idaho team by 34.  Then they won five straight away from home against teams from MAJOR conferences, including three tournament teams (Oklahoma St. by 12, Maryland by 22, Tennessee by 9, Indiana by 16, and at Washington St. by 22).  They only lost five games all year–all 5 to tournament teams, and all but one within single-digits.  These losses included Memphis, UConn on a neutral floor, and road games against Arizona and Utah.  The only spot on the whole schedule that you could question was a 7-point home loss to Portland St., who made the tournament, as a 13-seed and gave Xavier a run for its money in the first round.

Well…Austin Daye is a future first-round draft pick.  Jeremy Pargo will probably be drafted by someone, or at least signed as an undrafted free agent.  If Josh Heytvelt was not such a head-case, he would probably be a first-rounder.  Matt Bouldin should at least get a cup of coffee in the NBA.

So, they may or may not beat the most talented team in the country tonight, but regardless of the outcome, I think this is the best Gonzaga team ever assembled.

 Tell me I’m crazy…

Tell Me I’m Crazy – “Chalk”

Tell me I’m crazy, but I really like it when an NCAA tournament is “chalky.”  Yes, I know, the games you “remember” are when Bryce Drew and Valpo beat Ole Miss or when Harold “The Show” Arceneaux and Weber St. knocked off UNC.  I know that the games that are still talked about are Richmond over Syracuse, Steve Nash and Santa Clara over Arizona, and Hampton’s fat coach being carried around the court after beating South Carolina.  Yes, these games are “memorable,” but tell me I’m crazy, I think that the overall enjoyment level of the tournament may be higher without them.

I know this is a tough sell, and most people have written off this argument already, but that’s what these columns are for, right?  So, humor me.

Look at the schedule of games for tonight and tomorrow night.  Pretty awesome, right?  Right.  Now, what if you had these great “Cinderellas?”  What if it was Portland St. taking on Pittsburgh right now?  How excited would you be?  What if Northern Iowa (a pretty good mid-major) took out Purdue and then Washington and we got UConn versus Norther Iowa tonight?  I’m guessing that when your friends call and say “hey, wanna hang out Friday?” you’d be jumping at the opportunity if the alternative was to stay inside and watch Michigan State battle North Dakota State.

All these games would be good and “fun,” just like Davidson was “fun” last year, but I think you’d be lying if you didn’t admit that the true basketball fan in you won’t even consider going to bed until the last whistle (probably well after midnight) of the Duke-Villanova game tonight.  Would you do the same for Duke versus American or even Minnesota-Villanova?  I doubt it.

See, you like the chalk, too.  Tell me I’m crazy.

Tell Me I’m Crazy

Well, we are now less than two hours away from the tip-off of the most important game for USA Basketball since the Original Dream Team.  (On a totally unrelated note, I am only working a half-day today.)

Anyway, I know that there is a good chance that I may be proven crazy on this one, but here is my hypothesis:  This year’s “Redeem Team” is BETTER than the Original Dream Team, making it the best basketball team ever assembled.  Hold on one second and allow me to make a couple of points before you rip me apart for this.

1). I would never, EVER claim that if you take the players on the ’92 team in their prime against the players on this team in their prime, that this team is better.  A big part of this argument will rest on the fact that guys like Bird and Magic were far past their peak years.  I mean Magic was retired.

2). I will also not claim that the run that that the ’08 team is having through the Olympics even compares to the run through the Olympics that the ’92 team had.  Yes, the Dream Team opened the Olympics with a 116-48 win over Angola.  They cruised through the Olympics with a 9-0 record and an average victory margin of 44 points per game.  Their closest game was the gold medal game against Croatia, where they won by a measly 33 points.  They only trailed once in the entire tournament, and Coach Chuck Daly did not need one timeout in any of the nine games.

3). I have trouble believing that the Redeem Team would win a one-game, winner-take-all game between the two, even as they were constructed because the ’92 team had guys like Jordan, Barkley, Bird, and others that just would not lose.  However, I still think that this year’s team is better–meaning that if the two teams played the same 100-game schedule the ’08 team would have more wins, and even if the two teams played each other 100 times, the ’08 team would win the majority of them.

Why?  Let us start with personnel.  I think that this team is considerably more athletic (remember, Magic, Bird, and Drexler were all in the back-ends of their careers).  I think that this team is very well-constructed, in that they have a high-octane backcourt, with a lot of depth at the point (Paul & Williams off the bench), and they teamed that up with extremely athletic big men (Howard, Bosh, and Boozer).  Secondly, and this may come as a bit of a surprise, I think that this team plays better defense than that team did–particularly at the point and transistion, full-court defense.  Finally, I think that this team has even more scoring options than the ’92 team, which featured 10 of the 50 greatest players of all-time.  I still have absolutely no idea how anyone could possibly figure out how to stop this team on offense.  Not only do they have absolutely incredible scorers (LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Wade, etc.), but they all pass very, very well, so these phenomenal scorers all get good looks.  Then, you can bring a dead-eye shooter (Michael Redd) off the bench or let the offense run through a pair of point guards, who are not too shabby at scoring the ball either (Paul & Williams).  Yes, they lack the back-to-the-basket scorer, but they are proving that that facet of the game is not as important in the up-and-down international game.

Finally, let us just look at results.  Yes, as I stated above, the Dream Team won 9 straight by an average of 44 points per game.  Yes, I know that they only trailed one time (25-23 in the first quarter of the gold medal game against Croatia, which they won by 33).  But, I think it is inarguable that the level of play in these Olympics is astronomically better than it was in 1992.  I am not saying that the Dream Team would not win gold if they were to play in 2008, but I think they would struggle–and this team is not.  At least, so far.

Tell me I’m crazy…

Tell Me I’m Crazy (Part 1)

Okay, I have been away for a while now (planning a wedding 500 miles away is not exactly easy), so I probably have a bunch of pent-up opinions just itching to get ignored.  In fact, I have a three-part version of “Tell Me I’m Crazy” to unload because, well, I am not really smart.

I understand that the goal of every NFL team every season is to win the Super Bowl.  In the end, when it comes to American football, every franchise, every player, every coach, every stadium, every city, every generation of fans is defined by one thing and one thing only–how many Super Bowls have you won? 

I also understand that the ends justify the means in this vein.  In other words, it does not matter–at all–how you accomplish this.  The Super Bowl champion is the most successful franchise each and every year.

With all of that being said, tell me I’m crazy.  I think that, if I were the Patriots, I would rather lose the Super Bowl than any of the regular season games.  I know that I am probably in a minority of one here, but I really think that the undefeated regular season is accomplishment enough to warrant jeopardizing a Super Bowl title.

Now, obviously, the Patriots did not have to make that choice because they have a very good chance to get both.  However, I think that in the annals of NFL history, a 16-0 season without a Super Bowl title will be more historical, more memorable and, dare I say, more impressive than a 15-1 season with the Super Bowl title.  I will try and make the case for each

1). More Historical–This is an easy case to make.  There have been 41 years in the Super Bowl era.  Forty-one times has a team won the Super Bowl.  Two times has a team had an undefeated regular season.  I recognize the arguments against this.  I recognize that catcher’s interference, though extraordinarily more rare, is not preferable to a home run.  Either way, this undefeated season, obviously, is something for the record books.

2). More Memorable–History, in itself, is memorable.  But, over and above the historical significance, this accomplishment is utterly more memorable than a non-undefeated team winning a Super Bowl.  This should be another obvious point, but in case you do not agree, think to yourself:  Who won the Super Bowl ten years ago?  What about twenty?  Thirty?  Now, think about ten, twenty, even thirty years from now, is there ANY chance that you do not remember that the Patriots were the team that went 16-0 in 2007?  I doubt it.

3). More impressive–This is the tough one and the crux of the entire debate.  I do, however, believe that winning 16 regular season games is a more impressive season than winning the Super Bowl, despite a loss–and a lot of why I think this is because of the above.  Why do you want to win the Super Bowl?  Why is it the ultimate accomplishment?  Because you strive for history.  You strive to be “the best.”  I think the 16-0 shows that more than winning three straight in January.  It shows that you showed up every week and played.  It shows that you defeated any adversity.  And, it shows that for 17 straight weeks, you were the best.  Someone wins the Super Bowl every year.  A team goes undefeated about once every 25 years.

Tell me I’m crazy…