Checking in with the Phils and Birds

On the day before the calendar flips to March, it’s a good time for a non-college basketball post before BSB goes all-hoops, all-the-time, for the next month.  Eagles news has been coming in bunches the last 24 hours as free agency got underway, and just now I flipped on the TV and found a Phillies spring training game on the MLB Network.  I am loving the MLB Network so far, and it could be even better once the season starts.

Notes from the Phils game so far, which is against the Rays, coincidentally:

-The $54 Million Man, Ryan Howard, hit a two-run homer in the first, and that was followed up immediately with a homer by newly acquired outfielder John Mayberry, who is attempting to make the team.

kendrick-Kyle Kendrick has been named the favorite for the 5th spot in the rotation, and he looked solid in his outing today.  Apparently he’s working on a change-up and has been working a little with Cole Hamels on the pitch.  Seems like a good idea.  The Phils released Adam Eaton yesterday, which also seems like a solid idea.

-Apparently Miguel Cairo is now a Phillie.  Hopefully he’s just competing for a roster spot.  He has a home run and a double, but a quick glance at his statistics shows that he hasn’t homered in a game that counted since 2005, when he tallied all of 2 for the Mets.  Big-time prospect Jason Donald just knocked him in with an RBI single.

-Shane Victorino has been added to Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, which I’m happy about.  The Flyin Hawaiian gives me a reason to watch the WBC.

And now turning to the football team:

-It just became official in the last few minutes that Brian Dawkins is gone to the Broncos.  This is pretty devastating news dawkfor all Eagle fans, and we’ll have to wait and see what news comes out about it before putting too much blame on the Eagle front office.  There’s no doubt that Dawkins has lost a step and, at 35, is fairly ancient for an NFL defensive back.  But you have to think that he was worth more to the Eagles, for his leadership and for what he means to the fan base, than to any other team, and if the Broncos thought he was worth a 2-year deal, why didn’t the Eagles get a deal done?  I have to imagine that Dawkins has been feeling slighted by the team, but he’s too classy to come out and say it.  Maybe now that he has a new deal with Denver, the truth will come out.  More on this later…

-The two other notable moves from yesterday were the Eagles’ signing of OT Stacey Andrews, brother of Shawn, and the departure of Correll Buckhalter, also to Denver.  I’m ok with both of these moves.  Andrews, like his brother, is coming off an injury, but it looks as though he will take over at right tackle, and Jon Runyan’s days are probably over.  I’m almost happy about Buckhalter leaving.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a solid player and I have a lot of respect for the way he’s overcome injuries, but he’s 30 years old and has had THREE major knee injuries.  I don’t like the idea of committing money to a guy like that and, also, if Buckhalter is gone, it makes it more likely that the team will go out and get another, possibly more bruising, running back to pair with Westbrook.

BSB Announcement – The Conference Tourney Challenge

So, every year for the past half-dozen years or so, Doogan, J, and myself have had a running contest to see who could do better in picking all the conference tournament brackets (yes, we pick a lot of games between teams that we haven’t ever seen play a game, let alone know anything about this year’s team).  Ina and Stri joined us a couple years ago; Waters and Alexi joined last year. 

If anyone else is interested, just drop me an email or post a comment here, and I’ll add you to the list.  The scorekeeping is relatively simple:  we pick every conference tournament game and the conferences are weighted by relative “importance.”  For example, points gained in the Big East tournament are worth five times as points gained in the Big South tournament.  There is no money involved, but it is somewhat of a time commitment, as the brackets are not finalized until a day or two before the tournament is held, so it involves a lot of picking of games in a timely fashion.  Again, if anyone else is interested in joining us, let me know.  And, if you just want to follow along, recaps of the previous day’s action and previews of that day’s games–all in relation to the “challenge”–will be posted daily on BSB. 

A lot of smaller conferences’ seasons end this weekend and many tournaments start Tuesday and Wednesday, so final brackets for the first slew of tourneys will be sent out via email by Monday, at the latest. 

With Ina winning two years ago and me last year, we’ll see if anyone can take the crown away from our apartment…

The Official NFL Preview: BSB-Style (Recap)

As our loyal readers know, we here at BSB do our season previews a little bit differently than any old sports blog.  We have a contest, between Doogan and Bry, that is structured around whether we believe a each NFL team is better or worse than they were a year ago, and how confident we are in those predictions.  It is set up like a draft with all 32 teams in the hopper, and we go in order, selecting the teams we have the most (or least) confidence in their level of improvement (or regression).  For a better understanding of the system, feel free to check out either our NBA preview or our MLB preview, complete with midseason updates and, for the NBA, the final standings.  So, without further ado, we will begin our NFL preview.  Since Doogan had first choice for MLB, Bry will start the NFL.  [NOTE: The tiebreaker usually does not come into play in the NBA or MLB, but it is certainly something to watch out for in the NFL.  We do not have “pushes,” so if the team matches their total from last year, the person who selects them loses the bet, regardless of the direction they chose.  For instance, if you select the Eagles and the OVER, they have to win MORE than 8 games for you to get credit for that selection.]

So, now we are finished a pretty exciting NFL season, in which some teams made MONUMENTAL changes from a year ago.  In fact, I cannot remember an NFL season that was so different from the one directly preceding it.  Anyway, here we go with the final scoring of our annual “Preview Game – NFL.”  As usual, the updates will be in italics, directly following the pick itself–that was made before the season started.

BRY 1.  New England Patriots – UNDER 16 wins:  This is not exactly because I believe that the Patriots will take a large step backwards.  Though I do feel that they are not nearly as good as they were a year ago, I still think that they are at least among the best two or three teams in the NFL.  I just do not think they have a chance to go 16-0 again, even if they had the EXACT same team as a year ago.  But, they do not.  There are serious questions in the secondary and not-as-serious questions about the healthy of one Tom Brady.  Lord knows if Brady is hurt, even for one quarter, this will probably be the easiest prediction in the league.

11-5, CORRECT (bry 1 – doogan 0).  As Bry claimed, this was one of the easiest picks on the board–and it was made significantly easier when the forecast came true and Brady went down in Week 1, though I do not think the Pats would have made the “mistake” of going 16-0 again, regardless of Tom Terrific’s health.

DOOGAN 2. Miami Dolphins – OVER 1 win: I don’t think I need much analysis here.  I’d love to know when was the last time a team failed to win more than 1 game in consecutive years (I’m thinking the Bucs in the 70’s?).  An experienced quarterback like Chad Pennington should be good for at least 3 W’s.

11-5, CORRECT (doogan 1 – bry 1).  This actually turned out to be the best pick, as the Dolphins made a TEN-GAME TURNAROUND, with much to do with Chad.  There was little to believe that they wouldn’t win 2 games, but ELEVEN?

DOOGAN 3. New York Jets – OVER 4 wins: Looks like all the gimmies are in the AFC East.  This would be an easy pick even before Mr. Favre came aboard because this team under-achieved last year and has made numerous improvements, including solidifying the O-line with Alan Faneca and Damien Woody.

9-7, CORRECT (doogan 2 – bry 1).  Another very solid pick in the early-going, as the Jets were actually 9-3 at one point.  They had a terrible finish and fired their coach, but certainly improved over last year’s 4-win season.

BRY 4. Green Bay Packers – UNDER 13 wins: Don’t get me wrong, I actually think Aaron Rodgers is going to have a very, very good year.  I think this team is a legit playoff team, probably the favorite in the NFC North again, and maybe even good enough to earn a bye.  I see 10 or 11 wins, even without that other guy (what’s his name again?).  In fact, with their defense and weapons on offense, they are one of the two or three best teams in the NFC, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to me to see them in the Super Bowl.  However, I think 13 wins is just a really tall order, especially with an improved division.  PS…Doogan, good choices with the AFC East teams, especially since they get a real break on their schedules, playing the two Western divisions.

6-10, CORRECT (bry 2 – doogan 2).  Though a lot of this analysis wasn’t very good, Bry did get the important one right, in that the Packers would win fewer than 13 games.  He was also right about the fact that the quarterback would not be the reason for their downfall.  He was pretty good–the rest of the team was not.

Continue reading “The Official NFL Preview: BSB-Style (Recap)”

Cimorelli’s Question of the Day

Assuming they are all available to the Eagles this year (and not in jail), what would be the order of preference for the following:

a). TJ Houshmandzadeh
b). Anquan Boldin
c). Tony Gonzalez
d). Marvin Harrison
e). Plaxico Burress
f). Michael Crabtree
g). save the money for a running back, o-lineman, or defensive back

Tuesday’s Top Twelve – Dominating College Hoops Big Men

For this week’s Top Twelve, I am going to go right off the top of my head and try to come up with the most physically dominating college hoops players that I can remember.  The criteria, as I am defining it, is bruising, big men, who dominated both ends of the floor by sheer physical size and strength.

I am trying to rule out guys that were just big, but didn’t use it quite to their advantage (Florida’s Dmitri Hill, Arkansas’s Dwight Stewart, or Temple’s Ron Rollerson).  I am also ruling out guys who were intimidating on one end of the floor, but not quite as much on the other (UConn’s Emeka Okafur and Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis’s Lamont Dozier, or Ohio State’s Greg Oden).  Also ruled out are the pure shot-blockers (BYU’s Shawn Bradley, Seton Hall’s Samuel Dalembert, Washington’s Spencer Hawes, or GW’s Yinka Dare).  I also ruled out guys who were physically dominating, but as much on the perimeter are they were in the paint (Purdue’s Glenn Robinson, Indiana’s Alan Henderson, UNLV’s Larry Johnson, Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker, or Xavier’s David West).  I ruled out guys who were ridiculously intimidating and dominant, but more because of freakish athletic ability than physicality (LSU’s Stromile Swift and Tyrus Thomas, or K-State’s Michael Beasley).  Because it is hard to measure, I also ruled out guys who didn’t play top competition during their careers (Ohio’s Gary Trent (“The Shaq of the MAC” or Vermont’s Taylor Coppenrath).  And, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t get “homer-ish” and overrate some local favorites (Temple’s Kevin Lyde, St. Joe’s Ahmad Nivens, or Villanova’s Chuck Kornegay).  Finally, I did rule out some guys who were monsters, but did it as much or more with skill than they did with pure size (G’town’s Alonzo Mourning, Duke’s Elton Brand, Michigan’s Chris Webber, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, Kansas’s Nick Collison, LaSalle’s Lionel Simmons, Maryland’s Joe Smith, or UConn’s Donyell Marshall).

Here is a quick list of other honorable mentions that were not mentioned above:  Lou Roe (UMass), Sean May (UNC), Walter McCarty (Kentucky), Lonnie Baxter (Maryland), Lawrence Funderburke (Ohio St.), Al Thornton (Florida St.), Donya Abrams (Boston College), Stacey King (Oklahoma), Rodney Rogers (Wake Forest), Ace Custis (Virginia Tech), Andrew Bogut (Utah), Juwan Howard (Michigan), Carlos Boozer (Duke), Tyler Hansbrough (UNC), Trelonnie Owens (Georgia Tech), Torey Jackson (Notre Dame), and Darrell Arthur (Kansas).

So, now that you’re all sick of reading random names that came to my mind over the past couple of days, here is the Top Twelve Physically Dominating Big Men in my college basketball memory:

12. DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh).  Blair is the impetus to this list because of his ridiculous performance against Hakeem Thabeet the other night at UConn.  Blair is only 6’7″, but uses his body in a very similar way to the great Charles Barkley.

11. Eric Montross (North Carolina).  Awful flat-top aside, Montross was as physically dominating as I have seen.  His skills were not nearly as good as his numbers may indicate, but he was such a force under the  basket, that he dominated both ends without a lot of a ton of athleticism.  People don’t realize that along with his 15 points and 8 rebounds that he averaged his last two years at UNC, he also averaged almost 2 blocks per game.  And, he wasn’t exactly a great “leaper.”

10. Al Horford (Florida).  That team was, obviously, stacked, and a lot of attention went to Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, but personally, I always thought Horford was not only the best player on that team, but the one player that provided things that simply could not have been replaced, and that was physical domination.  He simply wore down his opponents on both ends of the floor because of his sheer size and intensity.

9. Marcus Camby (UMass).  The only reason Camby is not higher on this list is because my vision of this top 12 was more of the big, grueling post player (like Blair).  However, Camby was so physically dominant, during his time at UMass, that I could not justify leaving him off the list.  In his UMass career (92 games), Camby had 336 blocks and only 262 personal fouls.  He also averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists in his junior year.  He is one of only four players in college history to record more than 300 blocks, and he has the all-time NCAA tournament record with 43 in 11 career tournament games.  Well, he would have all of these records, if his feats were not scratched from the record books because of recruiting infractions.

8. Acie Earl (Iowa).  Earl goes back to some of my earlier days of college basketball viewership, and still to this day when I think physically dominant, I think Acie Earl.  Maybe it was because of his tendency to commit a ton of hard fouls, but Earl did win 1992 Big Ten Defensive player of the year.  He also ranks second all-time (behind David Robinson) for blocks in a single tournament game, when he blocked 8 Duke shots in a 1992 second-round loss to the eventual national champs.

7. Bryant “Big Country” Reeves (Oklahoma St.).  Reeves was not nearly the defensive dominator as some of the other guys on this list, but his sheer strength and dominance on the offensive end could not be ignored.  In each of the final three years of his OSU career, Reeves averaged about 10 rebounds a game, and his scoring averages were 20, 21, and 22, during that time–not bad for a guy without much of a game outside of four feet from the hoop.  Because he is big, white, and has a bad haircut, he is often compared to #11 Eric Montross, but I think Reeves college career is considerably more impressive because he did not have that much around him at OSU.  Whereas, Montross rarely had to face a double-team because of the talent he had around him, Big Country was the focal point of every opposing defense he faced. 

6. Marcus Fizer (Iowa St.).  Other than the points he scored, the dominant numbers do not jump off the page for Marcus Fizer’s career at Iowa State.  But, from what I can remember, he was so dominant for one reason–even more so than Reeves at OSU, Fizer was the one guy that every opposing defense just had to stop.  Yes, the Cyclones had a future NBA point guard in Jamaal Tinsley, but he was only a freshman in Fizer’s final year at ISU.  And, Marcus scored at will–dominantly.

5. Brendan Haywood (North Carolina).  Though Haywood might be best remembered for not living up to expectations and being a part of probably the worst 3-year span in modern UNC basketball history, there is nothing taking away from the utter dominance with which he played during his time at UNC.  Not only did Haywood log the first triple-double in the illustrious Tar Heel history (18 points, 14 rebounds, 10 blocks), but he is also the ACC’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage (63.7%).  In his junior year, Haywood was 191-274 from the floor–a ridiculous 69.7% for the year.

4. Erick Dampier (Mississippi St.).  At 6’11” and 265 pounds of pure muscle, Erick Dampier was an absolute monster for at Mississippi State, leading them to a surprising SEC title and Final Four appearance in 1996.  Dampier shot close to 60% from the field in this three-year career (including a gawdy 64% his sophomore year, playing close to 30 minutes per game).  His career offensive averages–13 points and 9 boards–were good, but defense was where he shined.  In 93 collegiate games (most of which were conference games in the brutal SEC), Dampier blocked 249 shots.

3. Derrick Coleman (Syracuse).  Okay, I have to admit, I was barely even 11 years old when DC graduated from Syracuse in 1990, so I can’t say that I really understood all that was going on in college hoops at that time.  But, I can honestly say, the one thing I do remember about that time–probably more than anything–is how absolutely unstoppable that big guy on the orange team was.  And, with over 2,143 points, 1,537 rebounds, and 319 blocks, the numbers are there to back up my childhood memories.  Just imagine this guy with a work ethic (sorry, I just had to post his police mug shot).

2. Corliss Williamson (Arkansas).  This is my list and I will put whomever I want on this list.  I will not be rattling off amazing stats or single-game feats or anything else.  This spot is reserved for, without question, the scariest, most intimidating, most dominating player that I can remember–stats notwithstanding.  “Big Nasty” was the emotional and physical leader of the back-to-back national championship Razorbacks teams.  There is nothing that you could do to get me to try and guard this beast of a man, and if there wasn’t such an obvious #1, he would get my vote for the most dominant physical player I have ever seen wear a college basketball jersey.

1. Shaquille O’Neal (LSU).  Is there anybody else?  I don’t think I need to write much on his because of his legendary status.  All I have to say is how awesome must the guy be for his personality to be even bigger than him–the largest, most physically intimidating man to ever play the game?  Yes, he will pop up again, whenever I do my Top Twelve sports figures that I would want to hang out with on a consistent basis–he may even be #1 there too.

As always, this list is final, binding, and completely and totally factual.  There is no debate about this, and there is nothing you can say that will change my mind about anything I have written here–so don’t try it………..

More Ridiculous Stats – College Hoops (plus one)

  • Jamie Dixon needs only six more wins to set the all-time D-1 record for most wins by a coach in his first six years of coaching.  Dixon has 156 wins in 5+ years at Pitt, after taking over for Ben Howland.  The all-time record holder is Everett Case, who started coaching N.C. State in 1946, had 161 wins in first first six seasons.  Roy Williams, who started at Kansas in 1988 and Mark Few, who started at Gonzaga in 1999, are currently second on this list, with 158 wins in their first six seasons.
  • The St. Joe’s Hawks get fewer minutes from their bench than any other team in the country.  And, last year, they were second in this category behind Pacific.  It makes some sense, I guess, since the Hawks do not play an uptempo or pressing style and have a significant drop-off from starting lineup to backup players, but still, this has got to catch up to them, eventually, right?  Ahmad Nivens (the Big Five’s best player this year, hands-down) is averaging about 39.5 minutes per game.
  • UConn has the lowest fouls per game average in the country (12 per game).  And, going into last night’s game. Hasheem Thabeet had been the only UConn player to foul out of a game and it only happened once.  Which makes last night’s performance by Pitt even more impressive, as they forced 19 fouls by UConn, including Thabeet fouling out in 23 minutes and Kemba Walker fouling out in 24 minutes.  I have a feeling that the injury to Jerome Dyson is going to be absolutely HUGE when we look back on this season.
  • There is only one player in the history of baseball to have 200 home runs, 300 stolen bases, a .300 batting average, and a .400 on-base percentage.  I’ll give you a couple hints as to who it is:
    • He is among my all-time favorite Phillies
    • He holds the record for most home runs in a home run derby
    • And, most impressively, HE JUST SIGNED A FREE AGENT CONTRACT WORTH $5 MILLION FOR ONE YEAR!!!
    • Yes, the Angels get the biggest steal of this crazy baseball off-season by signing Bobby Abreu for $5 million.  You would think that, given the boldface fact above, that, on the free-agent market, a player of that caliber would command beaucoup bucks…I guess not in 2009.

Ridiculous…

Tuesday’s Top Twelve – Steroids

Top Ten lists are trendy.  I hate trendy.  Top Twelve lists are not trendy.  I like Top Twelve lists.  I really like ordering things because, among other things, it can really lead to some interesting debates.  So, I’m going to try and come up with a Top Twelve list every Tuesday (like I can ever keep a schedule about anything), and this is the first one.  Some of them might be an all-time assessment.  Some might be a sort of snapshot assessment, but I’ll try and keep it interesting, if nothing else.

So, the A-Rod fiasco actually surprised me.  Yes, I feel really, REALLY stupid, but I thought he was clean.  It really hit me that when people say “everyone was doing it” or “it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that anyone was on ‘roids,” they may not be exaggerating.  So, I thought to myself, who actually would surprise me if they were on that list of 104 or if they, at some point, took steroids.  And, honestly, it wasn’t that easy to come up with twelve. 

[By the way, I had this idea before I listened to the Sports Guy’s podcast, where they talked about it–it almost made me not do it, but I liked the idea.] 

I limited it to hitters because, honestly, I don’t know how to tell about pitchers.  I mean from Ryan Franklin to Guillermo Mota to Roger Clemens to Andy Pettitte–all very different styles of pitcher, with very litte in common, so I stuck to hitters.  First, I stuck to the stars because, honestly, it would not surprise me at all if someone who was a borderline major leaguer did anything to try and “stick.”  I also tried to find players that either (a) did not depend on power for their skills, (b) have a naturally powerful build, (c) have consistent numbers throughout their careers, OR (d) just don’t seem like the “cheating” type.  Granted, this last one is pretty impossible because we don’t know these people and it’s wrong to try and place judgment on baseball players as people.  Anyway, here is what I came up with:

12. Vladimir Guerrero.  The thought behind Guerrero is two-fold.  One, he is so naturally gifted (maybe the most naturally-skilled hitter I’ve ever seen) that he wouldn’t need steroids.  And, two, he seems kind of aloof and not intensely competitive.  Yes, aloof (in the kind of dumb way that Guerrero seems) may actually lead some to be more likely to try steroids, but I just don’t see it in Vlad–and I’m not sure why.  Like I said, it was harder than I thought it would be to come up with 12 that would surprise me.

11. Ryan Howard.  Howard falls purely into the category of “naturally powerful.”  Again, I have nothing really scientific to base this on, but Howard’s strength looks like it fits his body type.  I don’t think it looks unnatural, in any way.  Yes, I know that I started this list of “clean” baseball players with two injury-prone power hitters, but I ran out of names.  Another thing that might make Howard less surprising is that he did spend a lot of time in the minors and may have thought he needed a “break.”  But, I really just don’t think the big guy is big for any reason other than genetics.

10. Bobby Abreu.  The main reason that I picked Abreu for this list is because, well, I just don’t think he cares enough to take the risk.  I never have anything but positives to say about Bobby Abreu (I admit to having an unhealthy, completely unobjective affinity for the former Phillies rightfielder), but the one thing that I do admit is that Mr. Abreu is not exactly the fiercest competitor.  That and the fact that, even though he loved be a 30-30 guy a little too much and took a LOT of joy in winning the home run derby, I don’t see power numbers being as important to Abreu.  Then again, he did have his biggest power numbers right in the heart of the steroid era…but, Bobby wouldn’t do that.

9. David Wright.  This one doesn’t really have anything to do with anything other than I have a lot of respect for David Wright, despite the colors he chooses to wear on gameday.  He seems like a respectable person and I think his game is so balanced that power is, sort of, the cherry on the top of his talent.  Yes, I know, 4 straight power hitters in top 5 markets–probably not the best place to find “clean” players, but I believe in them. 

8. Lance Berkman.  The only reason I even considered Berkman for this list is because he has been SO vehemently opposed to steroids and vehemently in favor of drug-testing for a long time now.  Granted, that does not prove his innocence because the guys that scream the loudest against something are often the ones with the most to hide, but for some reason, I believe the big ole Texan.  You know, as much as I believe another big ole Texan that starred for the Astros.

7. Miguel Cabrera.  Have you seen him, recently?  Does he look like a guy who, uh, spends a lot of time in a weight room?  If Cabrera is the example of what you become on steroids, do you think it would really be the problem that it is?  Plus, he combines a lot of the things that I see in Guerrero (insanely talented, but kind of aloof) and Abreu (doesn’t really seem as competitive as most professional athletes).  Throw in the fact that he’s been a superstar his whole life, so why would he need steroids?  You know, just like A-Rod told Katie Couric.

6. Omar Vizquel.  Omar was one of the first guys that came to mind when I thought of doing this because he clearly fits the bill of someone whose game really has nothing to do with power.  He is one of the two best defensive shortstops that I have ever seen, and I, as a light-hitting shortstop in my day, idolized Omar.  The one thing that kind of threw me, though, was the fact that Omar, in even fewer at-bats, had seven times as many home runs in 2002 as he did in 2001But, it’s not like 2002 was the heart of the Steroid Era or anything.  Even still, I think Omar is clean because his game was defense, and that did not require power.

5. Derek Jeter.  The poster-boy answer to this question.  He is probably the first guy on most people’s lists, and to be honest, he was probably the first guy that I thought of.  But, at the same time, that is also why I wanted to leave him off completely.  But, with all integrity, I do see an upstanding person who is a great (albeit, probably overrated for a number of reasons), great player.  But, he does not rely on power to be great.  He does not look like anyone with unnatural strength.  And, his work ethic has never been questioned (though, the same has been said for Mssrs. Rodriguez and Clemens, as well).  But, in the end, he did play in New York alongside Giambi, Knoblauch, Rodriguez, Clemens, Pettitte, etc.  And, he does seem to have that win-at-almost-all-costs competitive fire, so I do think that there are four players that would surprise me more if it came out that they were ‘roid-heads.

4. B.J. Upton.  One, Upton is insanely talented, with so much going for him, on his own.  Two, he was only 14 years old when McGwire and Sosa were going after Roger Maris, in the summer of ’98, so he may have missed the “culture” of steroids.  For those two reasons, I would actually be very surprised if it came out that Upton was on the juice.

3. Ichiro.  The one thing that I keep pointing to, in thinking about Ichiro’s place in this whole era is that he came to the United States in the middle of his baseball career.  I have never heard of any steroid controversies in Japan (though, I could be way off on this), and Ichiro was every bit the player he is in the States when he played over in Japan.  His game is about speed and quickness.  He is often put down because of his lack of extra-base hits.  And, he is about 150 pounds.  I would be downright shocked if Ichiro was involved in a steroid scandal.

2. Josh Hamilton.  Hamilton is a very interesting case in this because he made his major league debut last year–7 years after being picked #1 in the draft.  He has been described by some as having more natural talent than anyone in the history of baseball, so his recent major league success could certainly have nothing to do with anything illegal.  Also, Hamilton’s substance abuse problems have been well documented.  He has had major problems with both alcohol and many levels of drug addiction, including heroin.  But, he has been clean for two and a half years now, after being out of baseball for several years.  This is an interesting case because there is absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind that Hamilton is not taking any substance now because of his commitment to recovery.  Whether or not he dabbled in the minors is another question, but I believe that his drugs of choice were recreational, as opposed to “professional.”  And, he is dominating the major leagues now–completely sober–so I would be very surprised if Hamilton’s career has been aided, in any way, by steroids.

1. Joe Mauer.  Maybe an anti-climatic ending to this list, but there is no one in baseball that would give me more of a surprise that they used steroids than Joe Mauer.  Maybe it’s because he is a slender catcher.  Maybe because he’s been a superstar athlete his entire life, who never needed a “leg up.”  (Did you know that he only struck out ONE TIME in his 4-year high school career, including a .605 batting average his senior year?  Uh…what?!?)  Maybe it’s because he only has 44 career home runs in 5 major league seasons.  Maybe because he has that Midwestern “choir boy” reputation.  Maybe because he’s the hometown kid playing away from the pressure of the big cities or one of the coasts.  Or, most likely, it’s a combination of all of those things.  I would be absolutely DUMBSTRUCK if Joe Mauer joins Bonds or McGwire or Palmeiro or Sosa or Clemens in the minds of baseball fans.  SHOCKED…but then again, in the Steroid Era, it’s clear that anything is possible.

Please, feel free to chime in with any comments on this list or submit a list of your own.

A Final Word on Steroids in MLB

arodSo, we had yet another steroids “bombshell” hit the sports news world yesterday, when it came out that Alex Rodriguez tested positive in 2003.  My first reaction: Great, now I have to hear about this for the next six months instead of actual baseball.  I’m very tired of hearing about steroids in baseball, and I’m tired of talking about it.  What I’d like to do in this post is lay out my (pretty simple) opinion on the whole mess, and be done with it.  Hopefully forever.

I’ll leave it to others to decide what this news means for Alex Rodriguez.  People will debate how his steroid use compares to Barry Bonds’s and Sammy Sosa’s, and where his career will ultimately rank in the history of the game when viewed through this new prism. 

With the news that 104 players tested positive in 2003, it is clear that, while certainly not every  player has used steroids, there are literally hundreds  that have.  To me, that makes it fairly difficult to point at guys like Bonds and Roger Clemens, as much as I dislike both of those men, and say, “You’re the villain.”  I mean, they are villains, but not because they took steroids.  If there is any villain in this mess, it’s Major League Baseball, for looking the other way for so long.  The people running the league may not have known the extent of the problem, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that steroids weren’t even banned in baseball until 2004.  As soon as high-profile questions were being asked about Mark McGwire’s “supplements” in 1998, an investigation should have been launched.

All that being said, here’s where I stand on the whole thing.  First of all, the most important thing is for MLB to do everything it can to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the sport.  Use whatever amount of insane money it takes (maybe even skim some of that $18 mil./year from Selig), and get the most advanced testing system in place.  Some people argue: “Why not just make steroids legal instead of deluding ourselves that the game is ‘pure’.”  I am strongly opposed to that stance.  There are countless examples of the harm that these drugs do to a person’s body in the long-term.  Players shouldn’t feel pressured to use these drugs in order to compete.   Beyond that, so many fans have shown an outrage over steroid use, that the long-term health of the sport itself depends on convincing fans that the league has done everything it can to prevent it.

The other issue is how to assess the careers of “Steroid Era” players and decide who belongs in the Hall of Fame. mcgwire sosaUnfortunately, I think more investigations should be done to see who was using steroids and who wasn’t.  The fans have a desire and a right to know those things.  As for Hall of Fame decisions, I think you can take into account steroid use.  Obviously, it’s a very complicated issue because you’ll rarely be completely sure if a player did or did not take steroids, or how much it may have helped them if they did.  To me, if a player would have been Hall of Fame-caliber without steroids, like Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod, then they should be in the Hall and their steroid use should be noted on their plaque and wherever else deemed necessary.  If, on the other hand, the steroids most likely made them into a Hall-of-Famer, like McGwire and Sosa, then they shouldn’t get in.     

So that’s my take, let’s move on.  The Phils locked up Ryan Howard for 3 years and $54 million.  It’s a good deal, the guy is a champion, after all.

Wet Your Whistle

With less than a month to go until conference tournament action, I decided to take a quick glance at what we are to expect in the first two weeks of March.  Ina, Doogan, Stri, Jay, Waters, and Alexi (and anyone else interested) better start thinking about how you’re going to knock off the defending Conference Tourney Challenge champion this year.  It won’t be easy…

If the seasons ended today, here would be the matchups for the Big 7 conferences:

ACC:
With four teams in the top 10, the ACC may be a bit top-heavy this year.  Though, as of now, Wake Forest is the 5-seed–which forces them to play an opening round game.  BC is the surprise #4 right now, but expect the Big 4 (UNC, Duke, Clemson, and Wake) to get the byes.  Potential sleepers in this tournament include an athletic and gritty Va Tech team and a Miami team that, right now, is #8, but has the talent to maybe give this conference a “Big 5” instead of the Big 4.  Don’t believe me?  Check out what they did to Wake Forest last night.

#8 Miami vs #9 Maryland
winner vs #1 UNC

#5 Wake Forest vs #12 Virginia
winner vs #4 Boston College

#6 Virginia Tech vs #11 Georgia Tech
winner vs #3 Clemson

#7 Florida St. vs #10 N.C. State
winner vs #2 Duke

ATLANTIC 10:
Probably the best two teams in this conference–Xavier and Temple–face off tonight on ESPN.  A Temple win could open up this conference.  Xavier is the clear favorite to win this thing, but I’m sure that they are hoping to see teams like St. Joe’s, Rhode Island and UMass on the other side of the bracket.  Also, the interesting matchup, as it stands now (which I’m sure will change) is the first-round matchup between St. Louis and UMass–two dangerous teams if allowed to play their styles.

#8 LaSalle vs #9 Richmond
winner vs #1 Xavier

#5 Duquesne vs #12 Charlotte
winner vs #4 Temple

#6 Rhode Island vs #11 St. Bonaventure
winner vs #3 St. Joe’s

#7 St. Louis vs #10 UMass
winner vs #2 Dayton

OUT:  Fordham, George Washington

BIG EAST:
The best conference I have ever seen has expanded their conference tournament this year, for the first time, to include all 16 teams.  The tournament will start on Tuesday and finish Saturday night at The Garden.  Therefore, the regular season has become ultra-important because it will take a near miracle for a team to win five games in five consecutive nights against this type of competition.  Therefore, to win this tournament, a team probably has to finish in the top 8, to avoid playing on Tuesday.  Also, there is a pretty big advantage to finishing in the top 4, also, since those teams will get two byes, and not have to play until Thursday, in the quarterfinals.  Right now, it looks dangerous for teams like West Virginia, Georgetown and Notre Dame–all very talented teams that currently find themselves in jeopardy of playing on Tuesday.

#9 West Virginia vs #16 DePaul
winner vs #8 Cincinnati
winner vs #1 Marquette

#12 Notre Dame vs #13 Seton Hall
winner vs #5 Villanova
winner vs #4 Pittsburgh

#11 St. John’s vs #14 S. Florida
winner vs #6 Syracuse
winner vs #3 Louisville

#10 Georgetown vs #15 Rutgers
winner vs #7 Providence
winner vs #2 UConn

BIG XII:
This league is even more of a top-heavy league because the bottom is pretty bad.  In fact, if the season ended today, the Big XII may only be looking at three bids (Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas).  Missouri, right now, is in place for the 4th bye in this tournament and, even more importantly, will avoid having to face one of those three teams until the semis, at the earliest.

#8 Texas A&M vs #9 Baylor
winner vs #1 Oklahoma

#5 Kansas St vs #12 Colorado
winner vs #4 Texas

#6 Nebraska vs #11 Texas Tech
winner vs #3 Missouri

#7 Oklahoma St. vs #10 Iowa St.
winner vs #2 Kansas

BIG TEN:
This conference has been MUCH better than expected.  The top six are all very solid teams that should vie for tournament position.  The biggest surprises this year have been Penn St. and Northwestern.  Normally, the two doormats of this league, they have both played themselves into NCAA consideration (Northwestern is the only team in one of the top 6 conferences to never make the NCAA tournament).  Penn St. is probably even going to get a bye in the first round of the tournament this year.  Illinois has also been a big surprise this year, as they have cracked the national rankings.  The biggest disappointments this year are the two set to match up in the 8-9 game.  Michigan got off to a fast start, but has stalled in conference play, and Wisconsin almost never finds themselves in 9th place in the Big Ten–at least under Bo Ryan.

#8 Michigan vs #9 Wisconsin
winner vs #1 Michigan St.

#4 Purdue vs #5 Minnesota

#6 Ohio St vs #11 Indiana
winner vs #3 Penn St.

#7 Northwestern vs #10 Iowa
winner vs #2 Illinois

PAC 10:
Not quite the Pac-10 of last year, but still quite the difficult conference.  The down years of Stanford and Oregon are pretty bad, but Arizona St. and Cal have been very good.  This tournament should be pretty competitive–as always–starting in the quarterfinals.  With no truly dominant team, there may be some “madness” in the Staples Center.  The big surprise has been the Washington Huskies, so we’ll see how they hold up down the stretch.

#8 Oregon St. vs #9 Stanford
winner vs #1 UCLA

#4 Arizona St. vs #5 California

#3 USC vs #6 Arizona

#7 Washington St. vs #10 Oregon
winner vs Washington

SEC:
Talk about a down year?  Let’s talk SEC.  I heard one analyst say that he didn’t think any SEC team would crack the TOP EIGHT in the Big East.  I’m not saying I agree, but I’m also not saying that I disagree.  Tennessee is struggling, Kentucky and Arkansas are young, and Alabama and Vandy have been flat-out disappointing.  The two Mississippi schools and South Carolina have been playing pretty well, as well as the division leaders, Florida and LSU.  This tournament should be interesting, though, because as of now, there are no ranked teams.  Let me say that again, THERE ARE NO RANKED TEAMS IN THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE.

#4W Alabama vs #5E Vanderbilt
winner vs #1E Florida

#3E S.Carolina vs #6W Arkansas
winner vs #2W Mississippi St.

#3W Ole Miss vs #6E Georgia
winner vs #2E Tennessee

#4E Kentucky vs #5W Auburn
winner vs #1W LSU