Thursday, July 30, 2009

2009 AFC North Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a great season, as they plowed through the AFC on their way to another Super Bowl title. 2009 is a new season, and they should have a smooth sail into the playoffs with no competition coming from within the division to spoil their attempt for another AFC North championship. The Cincinnati Bengals will have to endure one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and that could disqualify them. The Baltimore Ravens showed great promise last season, but have they lost some of their nastiness on defense with the move of Rex Ryan to New York. And how bad are the Cleveland Browns…well we will find out later this season.

In order of finish:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are looking for back-to-back titles and securing their seventh Super Bowl ring in the 2009 season. Their interior defense is the best in all of the NFL, with nose tackle Casey Hampton anchoring the seven-man front. He continuously takes on multiple blockers to allow room for the inside linebackers to stuff the run. Hampton’s interior play also allows the outside backers to be more aggressive and apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their offense has held them back from becoming a full-blown dynasty in the sport, as QB Ben Roethlisberger has a tendency to hold the ball too long for a sack or throwing an interception. Head Coach Mike Timlin has built this team to control the game clock with a strong running game.

2. Baltimore Ravens
What an impressive rookie season, as QB Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the AFC Championship game last January. Defensive intimidation is still their calling card, as opposing teams will run away from LB Ray Lewis or throwing in the direction of S Ed Reed. And all teams must respect the pass-rushing talents of DE Terrell Suggs. The Ravens biggest weakness for several seasons has been not acquiring a game-breaking receiver to stretch out opposing defenses. Their running game just isn’t strong enough to overcome the liabilities in the receiving corp.

3. Cincinnati Bengals
Team turmoil is back for another season together and they have a lot of unanswered questions. Will Chad Ochocinco return to Pro Bowl form this season? Is Carson Palmer back to full health and ready to lead this dysfunctional group to the playoffs? The Bengals had a great draft last April, as a couple of rookies on both sides of the ball could have a major impact on their success. OT Andre Smith of Alabama is considered by scouts to be the best pure run blocker coming out of college and is projected to be an above-average pass protector, which will put a smile on Palmer’s face. LB Ray Maualuga of USC could become the vocal on-field leader desperately needed for a young defense. Patience will be needed from the Bengal fan base, as talented rookies are slow to develop and prone to make mistakes.

4. Cleveland Browns
Eric Mangini has been hired to bring stability to a team that was in disarray for most of last season, as they were last in the league in scoring and giving up points. His first acquisition was LB Eric Barton, who led the New York Jets under Mangini in total tackles last season. The Browns still lack cohesive pieces and standout performers on the offensive side of the ball. They shipped often-injured, hot-headed TE Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay, and WR Braylon Edwards has talent, but drops too many passes to be considered a big-time receiver in the league.

Written By Thomas Conroy

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Around the NBA: Technology Edition!

Starbury: Baller, Dancer, Vaseline Eater

It would appear, after watching his web show, that Stephon Marbury is up to something. Why else would he parade around the Internet shirtless and singing songs? This is just a big joke, right?

Well Shaq is concerned. So much so that he tweeted his concern for all to see:

"I kno dats not strawberry flavored vaseline, starbury is eatin, wow wow wow"
"Why is starbury cryin, what the hell is goin on, geeeez"

Watching his show for about 20 minutes, he had some pretty entertaining, or bizarre, things to say. Some of the highlights:

"I love proving people wrong."
"I don't pay for no marketing!" (I don't know what this is then. He tells us it's therapeutic. If that's so, I guess Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole and anybody else with a reality show are the healthiest people around.)
"When I buy the Knicks!" (It's the only way he can play for them.) Followed by, "I'll go to Seattle… I love the Key Arena!"
"NBA trying to offer me peanuts…We gonna eat peanuts."

After wishing us all a good morning, he then provoked and responded to all his 'haters' whose comments he encouraged as he offered himself as a punching bag. (My favorite comment has to be, "Why can't I stop watching this?") He even ridiculed all the writers who see this as all a little too creepy for writing negatively about his show. Starbury then offered some inspirational lessons followed by a lecture on business and investing in technology and people. He even told us about overhead and profits. Then he danced.

His tirades have already drawn the attention of bloggers and sportswriters around the nation. J.A. Adande commented on this "sad show" and compared his antics to those of Shaq and LeBron James, with Shaq's and James' antics winning out.

Oh, and the guy ate Vaseline.

Wade's Tweetin' Heart

Dwyane Wade is pulling out all the stops when it comes to recruiting Lamar Odom via Twitter. In more than one tweet, Wade has actively tried to persuade his former teammate to rejoin him on Biscayne Boulevard.

The latest: "the beginning..look who's jersey is waitn for them in mia(no 7)". The tweet is accompanied by a link to a picture presumably shot from a camera phone of what appears to be Wade's computer screen with an image of Wade, Odom and other members of the 03/04 Heat.

Past Odom related tweets include: "I'm in LA to bring odom bac to miami with me lol lol lol. LA fans dnt get mad at me.."
"This is for Lamar Odom...come back to where it started for the both of us..the franchise u help build back up wants u to End it all here".

With Wade's Twitter page reeling him in, Lakers fans have little hope it seems. Actually, there are two conflicting reports circulating the internet (albeit not from any of the 'trustworthy' sources) claiming that a deal with the Heat is in the final stages and one saying that a deal with the Lakers is imminent. Who really knows? All we can do is sit and wait for Wade to tweet us an update from the West coast.

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Big T Chimes In

Terrell Owens called Michael Vick's further suspension "kicking a dead horse" and told reporters that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should "sit in jail for 23 months" to get an idea of what Vick went through as he paid his debt to society. While he was merely arguing a point of view held by many others, T.O. argued his point in a way that only T.O. could.

In his first controversial statements as a member of the Buffalo Bills, Owens gave fans in Buffalo, a city not used to strong national media presence, a taste of what they have to look forward to: attention for all the wrong reasons.

Hey, I'm pulling for Owens more than most people. I'd love nothing more than to see the guy turn things around in Buffalo, coexist with his quarterback for more than a few games and become a positive role model for young people not only in Buffalo, but around the country. I'd also like to see the guy keep a job for more than a few years. It'd be a great story to tell: argumentative, quarterback-crushing, hot-headed wide receiver that just needs to be hugged turns nice guy for all to love and admire. And I really think he has it in him.

It's not like the guy hasn't tried to overhaul his image. In fact, in a recent episode of 'The T.O. Show' or whatever he's calling it, T.O. went to Los Angeles to "work on his love life and explore some post football career options" according to the show's website. Not sure who decided L.A. was the perfect place for that, but he was partying with L.A.'s 'finest' nonetheless. I'm also not totally clear on what role the two women who travel in his four-person posse play in his life. Girlfriends, friends, advisors? The website calls them his publicists, but I don’t know if a reality television show that shows him buying a pair of $137,000 earrings like it's nothing and then proceeding to wear them out of the store like we'd wear a belt out of the Gap is the best way for T.O. to improve upon his busted image. Maybe he should keep his mouth shut, or at least censor what comes out of it. Perhaps the FCC should act as his publicist.

He even wrote a children's book: Little T Learns to Share, in hopes of improving his image and making a little money. I don't know how either of those endeavors eventually panned out (maybe that's how he paid for the earrings), but in case you're wondering, yes, that's actually the title.

What's interesting about Terrell Owens' case is that he does not face the same image dilemma as some professional athletes. He's not fighting manslaughter charges. He's not facing charges for shooting "himself in his leg with his own gun" like Cheddar Bob, oh, I mean Plaxico Burress. (Not sure if that was insensitive for a man facing a couple of years in prison for a crime committed upon his own person. Yes, I know carrying the gun in the first place was a felony.) And he isn't trying to make a comeback after serving almost two years in jail for killing dogs in ways that would make your blood curl. Terrell Owens does not face accusations of being a 'thug'. He's not labeled a menace to society, but rather a menace to his teammates and probably a menace to himself. What's different about T.O. is that he's not a bad person. He's a passionate person. He's a selfish person and some may say a stubborn person. But he is not a bad human being. I'd even call him a good person at heart.

Does T.O. make bad choices? Sure. Does he make those choices with the intention of actively hurting his teammates? I don't think so. It's probably driven by a desire for attention among other things. That said, would I want him on my team if I'm the head coach, general manager or a part of the locker room in any way? No.

Before Terrell Owens can become valued member of any football team he must make serious overhauls to his image, his attitude and the things that he says. Even if he doesn't mean for it to happen, his words are monitored so closely that any misstep can be a distraction to his entire team. Of course, there is something to be said for T.O.'s rights as a person to do and say what he wants as long as he acts within the confines of the law. He constantly violates 'NFL Law', but has not thrown his name into the ring of wide receivers in trouble with this country's legal system. Many people forget that. Then again, should we recognize and praise somebody for staying out of handcuffs? Isn't that a responsibility we are all faced with?

Now to current events. Owens is rounding up support for Michael Vick's immediate reinstatement via Twitter although his "dead horse" comment probably did very little to help his cause. On Sunday, T.O. tweeted, "Who's w/me on the Vick situation? All n favor, lemme get a tweet 2 support Mike Vick! He did the time 4 the crime! Let the guy play!!" Many football players share Owens' sentiment that Vick's time served is enough and that the time spent in prison should serve as his suspension from the game of football. Does killing innocent and relatively defenseless dogs warrant a lifetime ban from football? Not only does Goodell have to consider several legal matters and his own NFL policies, he must also weigh some touchy ethical and moral matters. Plus, he'll probably have PETA chewing his ear off.

Now that the waters following Vick's initial arrest and trial have calmed, it allows us to take a step back and maybe devise a new opinion on the matter. At first, most of us were calling for his lifetime banishment from the NFL. Now that things have settled and he served his time, some people are changing their stance. Of course, this is all relative to one's own experiences and preferences towards dogs. Dog lovers and anybody who has seen the horrors that come from dog fighting may be less inclined to believe that he deserves a second chance.

Goodell has allowed Vick to sign with a team, if they would have him, and play in two preseason games. A decision on his NFL future should be made by Week 6, which leads us to believe that Vick is facing a four to six game ban this season after already missing the past two seasons. It's a tough decision that Goodell is mulling, and fans should thank the heavens that they don't have to make it.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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2009 NFL AFC East Preview

As we approach the month of August, NFL training camps will begin to open in preparation for the coming season. We will preview all eight divisions and help you get up to speed with all the information needed before they kickoff in September. Today, we will preview the AFC East, and wonder if it is too early to pencil in the New England Patriots for this season’s Super Bowl. Or is the real race in this division for second place between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins?

In order of finish:

1. New England Patriots
The Patriots are coming off an 11-win, non-playoff season, in which they lost their top talent evaluator Scott Poli to Kansas City, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Denver and they’re still considered the favorite to win the division. Why? Well, Bill Belichick is still at the helm. The Patriots offense should return to Super Bowl form, with Tom Brady returning to the starting lineup after sitting out all last season with a knee injury. Their biggest opponent for the upcoming season could be age, as 20 players on the current roster are 28 years old or older.

2. Miami Dolphins
Bill Parcells revived football back in South Beach, and the Dolphins won a division title last season. His philosophy for successful was simple, they needed to find a quarterback with a low-turnover ratio. Chad Pennington, exiled from New York, managed the game right by making few mistakes and executing enough big plays to lead the Dolphins to an 11-win season. This year’s reclamation project is the return of Jason Taylor to Miami after an injury-plagued year with the Washington Redskins last season. The Big Tuna is hoping for resurgence in Taylor’s career, as he averaged 10 sacks a season in his 11 year career.

3. New York Jets
Life was good for the Jets last November; they secured road wins over the Patriots and Tennessee Titans in back-to-back weeks, as they were heading towards a post-season berth. Then, their luck abruptly ended in December. After a disappointing conclusion to their season, head coach Eric Mangini was fired and QB Brett Favre retired. The Jets front office quickly went back to work to establish a new identity for their franchise. They hired Rex Ryan as head coach and traded up in the NFL Draft to secure the rights to QB Mark Sanchez from USC. Ryan made no friends within the division, especially after his comments on the Patriots ‘mystique. The Jets will field a strong, athletic 3-4 defense, anchored by the free agent acquisitions of LB Bart Scott and CB Lito Sheppard. Their success will depend heavily on the play from the quarterback position, as the big question remains is Sanchez ready for the big time after starting only 16 collegiate games.

4. Buffalo Bills
Please enjoy the new soap opera series entitled “As the Buffalo Bill Turns,” as we see if Terrell Owens can be happy in the snowy community of Buffalo, N.Y.? This will be the biggest story in the NFL this season, as a talented team could turn into a disarray group by season’s end. The powder keg of TO could be set off if QB Trent Edwards continues will his poor decision-making on the field that plagued him all last season.

Written By Thomas Conroy

It’s Official: The Extinction of The Complete Game in Major League Baseball

Texas Rangers team president Nolan Ryan predicted in spring training that his starting pitchers will finish what they started this season. He is fighting a losing battle in baseball, as no team wants to run the risk of getting their star pitchers injured by throwing more than 100 pitches every fifth day. They’re considered heavily invested commodities by team owners, who are paying them multi-million dollars to perform on the field for an entire season.

Ryan is looking for a Jack Morris-type to lead his starting rotation, as he completed 175 games in 18 seasons, and Ryan himself, completed 222 games in his 27-year major league career. Last year, the entire major league recorded only 136 complete games total, as C.C. Sabathia and Roy Halladay led each league with a combined 19 complete games. Ryan’s team only compiled five complete games from the entire staff last season.

On July 2, 1963 at Candlestick Park, the greatest pitching duel in major league history was played on this date. Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants and Warren Spahn of the Atlanta Braves each pitched 16 innings of scoreless baseball, and by some written accounts, both pitchers were estimated to have thrown over 200 pitches in the game. Their mentality was never to seek assistance from the bullpen, as it was their job being the ace of the pitching staff to lead their team to a victory.

Today’s hurlers work on a five-man pitching rotation, as their pitching coach will sit in the dugout with a counter and account for every pitch thrown in the game. When the count is approaching the 100-pitch mark, the phone will ring in the bullpen for another pitcher to begin warming up. Fearing injury to their treasured prize, the manager will stroll out to the mound and remove the starting pitcher from the game.
The athletes of today are supposed to be bigger, stronger, and faster than the players of yesteryear. So, why the hell can’t they complete more games?

Its how the game is being taught at the minor-league level, as the team’s goal for starting pitchers is to earn a quality start (three or less runs allowed in six innings). We’re not teaching them the art of pitching out of trouble, as the moment two or more hitters reach base, everyone is looking toward the bullpen for help.

The Advent of the relief pitcher has made the complete game a rare feat in baseball today. Unfortunately, the darkest day in baseball came when the save became an official stat for the 1969 season, and the specialty player became the norm in the sport.

Written By Thomas Conroy

Perfect!

The world already knows about Mark Buehrle’s perfect game from Thursday afternoon. By now every sports website, blog, newspaper and television station has covered Buehrle’s perfect game in some way or form. And by now everybody knows that it was only the 18th perfect game in Major League Baseball history- the 17th in the regular season. In fact, not one minute after Jason Bartlett grounded out to shortstop to end the game, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the other major sports outlets ran stories chronically the achievement.

This story has oversaturated the sports media by now, as every sports writer in the country has contributed to, or mentioned, the recognition that has so deservingly been steeped upon Mark Buehrle. So why add another story? Because every sports writer or blogger covering baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, tennis, swimming, track and field, gymnastics, ping pong, handball, sumo wrestling, strongest man competitions or water polo owes Buehrle-and the game of baseball-some degree of recognition whether it be a detailed story, a short kudos, an ‘ata boy’ or at least an insincere pat on the back if that’s all they can muster (I’m looking at you Cubs fans). He deserves every moment of what is sure to be a season long tribute to this rare feat.

For those of you who don’t know, a perfect game doesn’t come around all too often. As stated, it was only the 18th perfect game ever thrown in MLB history and was one of the more exciting occurrences of such. A no-hitter occurs when a pitcher does not allow one hit the entire ballgame. A defensive error may allow a base runner or a pitcher may allow a walk to put a man on base. But a perfect game only occurs when there is no base runners all game. Not one.

There were few opportunities for Buehrle’s defense to help secure his place in history, but Dewayne Wise, playing center field, found an opportunity to provide a little defensive help for the man on the mound. Wise, who had sat in the dugout for the previous eight innings, had just come into the game for left fielder Carlos Quentin, which pushed Scott Podsednik over to left. Wise patrolled the center of the outfield. And patrol it did he ever.

The first batter in the top of the 9th was Gabe Kapler, who drilled a ball deep to center. The ball would’ve been outta the ballpark if Wise hadn’t leaped just high enough to keep the ball in play. He bobbled the ball once as he fell to the ground, but was able to hold on with his bare left hand. He pushed himself up, threw the ball to the infield and gave an ‘I got your back’ point of the glove to Buehrle, all without as much as smiling or acknowledging the unbelievable play he had just made to save what would become the 17th regular season perfect game in MLB history.

Buehrle will be remembered in the record books for his unbelievable day of no walks, no hits and no errors for as long as at least one human being on the Earth still cares about baseball. But Wise’s contribution may be forgotten in the annals of time.

It was an uneventful day for the defense on Thursday afternoon, which was a testament to Buehrle’s lights-out pitching. But for a brief two seconds, Dewayne Wise rose to the occasion in what may be the most exciting and remarkable play to save a perfect game or no-hitter in the history of baseball.

This was Buehrle’s second no-hitter (the first coming on April 18, 2007 against the Texas Rangers- he walked Sammy Sosa in that game, but he was picked off at first) and first perfect game. His changeup was his savior on more than one occasion with three balls, as he was able to avoid walking anybody in this one. He was on the mound for only 32 minutes.

Please leave your comments with memories of other tremendous defensive efforts to help save a perfect game or no-hitter.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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T-Wolves roll a seven with Flynn at the Vegas Summer League

The Las Vegas Summer League ended last weekend, and all observers came away impress with the play of two players, Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Jonny Flynn.

The T-Wolves front office envisions Flynn bringing a strong presence to their starting lineup and providing a spark with their lackluster fan base. And time and time again in summer league action, he worked the hard screen option to perfection with his big man that allows him to explode through the lane for an easy basket.

Flynn’s passing had also been impeccable all throughout the week, as he shown the classic behind-the- back pass, a two-hand over the head dish to a open man, and the lane penetrating kickout to a shooter beyond the three-point arc. NBA scouts criticizes Flynn prior to the draft on if he would be able to score over 7-footers in league play. Now, their impress with how he can cut their size in half by drawing contact when driving into the lane.

Flynn told reporters in media briefings that he understands that the Timberwolves will not change their style of play to fit him in the lineup. With Ricky Rubio’s arrival to Minnesota pending, he will have to be open-minded about sharing the handling of the ball with the Spanish superstar next season. Flynn contends that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be successful, and Coach Boeheim wanted him to dominate the handling of the ball during his two years at Syracuse University.

His summer work isn’t over, as Flynn will need to develop a mid-range shot. This is essential for him to be successful in the NBA, as this will force defenders to play honest and open some space up for the T-Wolves outside shooters. His high turnover ratio from college will need to go down, as scouts have whispered that Flynn is careless with handling of the ball and doesn’t value each offensive possession. But, no one questions his toughness on the court, as he played 67 of the 70 minutes in the epic six-overtime win over Connecticut in the Big East Tournament last March.
The potential is there for Flynn to become a star in the NBA. Now, we wait for him to evolve on the court this season.

Written By Thomas Conroy

Monday, July 20, 2009

A League In Search Of Self: The UFL's Inaugural Season

A Google search of the term 'UFL' churns up the website for the University of Florida as its top result. Second is the website for the new four-team professional football league, the UFL- 'Where the Future Stars Come to Play'.

We've seen this before: another football league is trying to take a bite out of the NFL's market. The XFL was a joke. Vince McMahon's attempt at professional football was short-lived due to a lack of fan support and market exposure and some pretty unconventional-some may say ridiculous-rules. The USFL lasted three seasons in the 80's, but plans a return in the spring of 2010. While the USFL seems to be in direct competition with the NFL, despite playing their games in the spring, the UFL, who will play in the fall, seems content to serve as a launching pad for future NFL players and NFL players who failed to make an NFL roster in the summer. If they accept the NFL's immovable position as the preeminent football league, they just may stick around for more than a few seasons after all.

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The United Football League is set to kick off in October with the championship game slated for Thanksgiving weekend. The league has been given exposure recently with Michael Vick's release from federal custody. Analysts are predicting that Vick could play in the UFL's inaugural season before joining an NFL team late in the year, or for the 2010 season. The Vick name would garner the league some much needed attention as the sports media would religiously monitor his development and achievements in the league.

A quick glance at the current rosters turn up very few names that even the most passionate and informed NFL fans will recognize.

Each of the four teams (New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Orlando) currently has a quarterback on their roster that at one time served as an NFL starter. Ken Dorsey (NY), J.P. Losman (LV), Brooks Bollinger (ORL) and Tim Rattay (SF) are presumed to lead their teams onto the field in October. If Vick decides to give the UFL a go, the Orlando team would own his rights. The league has set up a system based on a team's geographic location in relation to the NFL's eight divisions. Orlando owns the rights to players who last played in the NFC or AFC South.

Other recognizable players currently on UFL rosters include SS Adam Archuleta (LV), FB Cecil Sapp (NY), RB LaBrandon Toefield (NY), RB Chris Perry (ORL), G Zach Piller (ORL), DT Larry Triplet (ORL), SS Mike Doss (ORL), WR B.J. Sams (SF) and FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo (SF). Marcus Fitzgerald, the younger brother of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, will make his professional debut when he suits up for the San Francisco squad in October. Brian Johnson, the quarterback for the 2008 undefeated Utah Utes, will compete with Dorsey for the starting job in New York.

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Without Vick the UFL offers very little name recognition to attract curious football fans. The closest thing they have to that now is Losman, whose tenure in Buffalo was far short of spectacular. What the league does have is a solid plan and structure for the future.

The league will impose a salary cap of $12-$20 million per team and hopes to pay about 10 players on each squad more than $1 million a season. Part of the reason the USFL folded in the 80's was a lack of regulated spending. In the inaugural season, a six-game shortened season, a smaller cap will be established. Games are to be played Thursdays and Fridays, in competition with high school games in some areas, and with a select number of college games. The UFL is already investing in training facilities for its teams; one out west in Arizona, and another possibly on the site of the former Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida.

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The league has said it will target markets where the NFL does not have a stronghold or even a presence; San Francisco and New York are the curious exceptions. The Las Vegas team will likely play one game in Los Angeles in hopes of building a fan base in the city when a Los Angeles team is added for the 2010 season. A second team in Hartford, Connecticut is scheduled to join the league in 2010 as well.

The four head coaches will be familiar to NFL fans. Jim Fassel will head the Las Vegas team, Jim Haslett the Orlando team and Dennis Green the San Francisco team. Ted Cottrell, a former defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, will coach the New York team.

The UFL has all the right ideas to succeed in the shadow of the NFL. They do not compete with the NFL on Sundays or with college football on Saturday. They seem content to sign and play the NFL's leftovers, although they are likely hoping for some sort of strike or holdout in 2011 when the NFL /player's union contract comes to an end. They've even accepted "a soft launch", as Commissioner Michael Huyghue put it, playing with a four team, six-game regular season format for the inaugural season.

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On second thought, how many Minor League baseball games have you tuned into this year? When was the last time you grabbed a cool beverage and spent the night watching an NBA D-League game? And when was the last time you were on pins and needles awaiting the kickoff of that big Arena Football League matchup? Showcasing scrubs may be best left to the medical dramas and parodies of such. But if any one secondary outdoor, 100-yard field, 11 on 11 football league is to at least 'survive', in the most basic interpretation of the word, the UFL has a chance. A joint venture with the NFL as a developmental league the way NFL Europe served in the capacity may be the best thing for a league such as the UFL. Playing and developing young players at home, rather than across an ocean, may attract more fans and may even garner a little added fanfare for some of the players. It works for baseball, it might work for football.

Written By Danny Hobrock


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Riley Drawing on an Old Formula

The trade winds are blowing. Rumors are swirling. Pat Riley's hair is unflappable. It's about that time that a team which has flown under the radar makes an offseason splash. That team this year? Pat Riley's Miami Heat.

So far, no splash. But it seems as if something is afoot in Miami. When Heat fans in Miami got a hold of the news Friday that Lamar Odom may be returning to the Heat, a wave of excitement rolled through South Beach.

In his one season in Miami, Odom averaged 17.1 points, the second highest total of his career. Then a rookie and budding star, Dwyane Wade considered the then four year veteran Odom one of his finest teachers. In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Wade's comments painted him as jubilant at the prospect of reuniting with his former teammate. Wade wasn't shy about publically expressing his feelings, proclaiming that "we want him back home."

Come late October/early November, Odom will begin his 11th season in the NBA. He will also be turning 30 a few days into the season. As for the uniform he will be wearing, that's yet to be seen.

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Sources report that Miami has offered Odom a 5 year deal worth $34 million. But it seems as though Odom's contract negotiations with the Lakers are not quite finished. Lakers owner Jerry Buss reportedly withdrew a $27 million, three year deal when he grew upset that Odom had not given a clear indication of his intentions. ESPN is reporting that sources around the league believe that the Odom/Buss talks are not yet dead. The consensus around the league seems to favor Odom and Buss reaching some sort of amiable agreement.

Nothing is final yet, however. Avoiding the math, let's just say that Odom will have to weigh all of his options and take into account the state tax laws of California and Florida before he turns his back on a deal from the Heat.

Another Boozer on South Beach?

Adding another boozer to the South Beach scene may seem redundant, but Heat fans are aflutter nonetheless. Carlos Boozer has been rumored to be heading to all of the other 29 teams in the NBA this offseason, except for Utah of course. This is not the first time that rumors of Miami's interest in the power forward have surfaced. Speaking to a group of season ticket holders, Riley indicated that Miami is monitoring Boozer's availability and could make a run at trading for the big man.

Boozer will turn 28 shortly after the season starts in November. Not exactly an old geezer, but brining him to Miami wouldn't exactly be a youth movement. Rumors have Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright heading to Utah in exchange for Boozer.

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Again, this deal is not set in stone either, so everything at this point is completely speculation. But, if Riley succeeds in swaying Odom away from the Lakers and Boozer is brought to Miami via trade, the Heat's lineup on opening night may look something like this:

C: Jermaine O'Neil, 31 years old
PF: Boozer, 28
SF: Odom, 30
SG: Wade, 27
PG: Mario Chalmers, 23

The big question here would be: What becomes of Michael Beasley? The Heat did spend the 2nd overall pick in last year's draft on him and he began to show progress deeper into the season. Some think he would be traded for a veteran point guard.

If anything is clear from Pat Riley's comments throughout the offseason, however, it's that he's high on Beasley and Chalmers, his rookies from a year ago. Slating Beasley as the starting small forward and relegating Odom to 6th man duties may work, although it's tough to see Odom coming to Miami to start games on the bench even if he eventually bought into and flourished in that role in Los Angeles.

The whole add-veterans-when-things-seemed-to-be-moving-along-just-fine-the-previous-season scenario is familiar to Heat fans. After the Heat's 2005 season ended in a Game 7 loss to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, rather than make another run at a title with the same team, Riley put the team through a total makeover. Damon Jones, Eddie Jones, Keyon Dooling and Rasual Butler, were out. Antoine Walker, James Posey, Gary Payton, Jason Kapono, Derek Anderson and Jason Williams were in. Other than Kapono, who was entering his third season, Riley's new team was all veteran. And it worked. The Heat won the championship that year with Wade and Shaq leading the way with a supporting cast ripe with been there, but haven't done that's.

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We all know that Wade wants to see the Heat make some improvements to the roster before he signs an extension, so I won't mention that other than to say that adding Odom and Boozer would seem to be a step in the right direction if Riley is trying to appease his superstar.

Now, as Riley looks to add two proven veterans (and maybe a third in Allen Iverson…eh) to his roster and possibly lose Haslem, the Heat's co-captain with Wade and an unsung part of the Heat's roster for the past six seasons, Heat fans mustn't question the 'do. Riley knows best. His seven rings will attest to that.

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Friday, July 17, 2009

Brady vs Manning- Who's Really Number 1?

With the 2009 NFL season approaching, there's been a lot of talk lately of certain lists or rankings of who is the best quarterback in the league today. And, while many people still put Peyton Manning in the top spot or say it is a toss up between Brady and Manning, I say it's not even close- Brady is the best. In fact, I'm not even so sure that Manning is my number 2. Of course, that's a different blog for a different day.

Firstly, you have to talk about the rings. Yes, it is a team sport so Super Bowl victories for a certain QB isn't the most important measuring stick. But, let's face it: until a QB gets at least one, there'll always be an unspoken asterisk after a statement of his greatness (think Marino). If you want to be considered the greatest or "one of," you must have a ring. And, generally, the more you have, the greater you are. Sure, there are exceptions, but few. And since Brady has three to Manning's one, Tom's got the edge there.

Let us also not forget what happened just 2 seasons ago. The Patriots were 1 fluke play away from going 19-0 and winning their 4th Super Bowl. Had they done so, Brady would be considered by many as the best QB in NFL history, much less the best right now. And, during that almost perfect run, I don't remember hearing a whole heck of a lot about Peyton.

A lot of people like to talk about Brady as being a product of a great team concept system, a product of a genius coach, a great offensive line and solid defense. This may be true. But, isn't it also true that Brady and the Pats won those 3 rings with "no real superstar." Who did Brady have at receiver? Brown and Patten were good. Were they great? Look what happened when Brady did get a superstar on his team. He and Moss embarrassed defense after defense in route to a record breaking 50 TD pass season for Tom, most of which went to Moss.

People can talk about stats and passer rating and who calls the plays all they want. But answer me this: who throws a better ball? Tom or Peyton? Who looks more poised in the pocket? Who has won more in head to head match-ups? I'll answer in the words of Family Guy's Peter Griffin: Tawm Brady, that's who!

My Top Five QBs Currently In The League:
1. Tom Brady
2. Ben Roethlisberger
3. Peyton Manning
4. Matt Ryan
5. (tie) Eli Manning & Tony Romo


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crucial NL East Matchup to Set Tone for Second Half in the NL

When the Philadelphia Phillies arrive at Land Shark Stadium for tonight’s game against NL East foe Florida Marlins, it will effectively begin the fight to the finish, divisional melees that are sure to ensue as we inch ever closer to the MLB postseason.

Although there are four other divisional matchups taking place tonight, the Florida-Philadelphia game is the only matchup where both teams have real shots at making the postseason. The Marlins currently trail the Phillies by four games in the East and sit four games out of the Wild Card spot in the NL. A series win for the Marlins would not only weight in on the standings, but it would give confidence to a young Marlins team eager to prove their valor among the game’s elite.

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On the other hand, a Phillies series win would do wonders for the Phillies. Such a large divisional lead to start of the second half would leave the Phillies in a prime position to get to the postseason and defend their World Series crown. That’s not mentioning the impact they are hoping Pedro Martinez will have on the team. His presence should provide a spark for the World Champs and his play- they’re hoping- will bolster their pitching staff down the stretch.

Yes, this is without question a season-defining matchup for both teams. A series win has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the season. It’s something intangible and does not have a place in the box score. But the momentum such a win would bring would be huge for either the Phillies or the Marlins. Then again, they could just split the four game series.

The Marlins got off to a hot start only to fizzle in May. They have been off and on ever since, taking advantage of a horrid Mets team, a sub-par Braves squad and the Washington Nationals (who they have not yet lost to in nine games this season) to stay within four games of the division leading Phillies.

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The Phillies have been steadier. They too have taken advantage of their weaker divisional opponents; except the Braves, who they are 2-7 against this year. The Phillies currently own the season series lead against the Marlins, winning four and losing two, including a three game series sweep at Land Shark Stadium in April.

Of course, the Braves are only 6 games behind the Phillies for the division lead and the Mets sit only 6.5 games out of first place in the NL East. Even with a series win this weekend, the Phillies will not find themselves coasting comfortably towards the postseason.

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The consequences of this series extend beyond the obvious impact it will have on the NL East divisional race. Currently, San Francisco holds the NL Wild Card lead. Colorado is two games behind the Giants and Milwaukee and Florida sit four games back. Houston is five games back. A series win for Florida would not only move them to first place in the NL East, but secure them as serious contenders for the NL Wild Card should they lose the NL East to the Phillies down the road.

This series is only the beginning. There will be dozens of series and games with serious impacts on the postseason landscape. As the second half begins, the postseason becomes visible on the horizon. It’s still a ways away and anything could happen. That’s the beauty of professional sports. In baseball, every game counts: all 162 of them. There’s still August and September. And that’s why we watch this game.

Written By Danny Hobrock

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'A Midsummer Night's Dream': The Beautiful Performance of Major League Baseball

The All-Star Game is hours away and fans everywhere are anxious to see the game's best go at it tonight on what promises to be a warm, cloudy summer night in St. Louis. But fans should not despair at the game's conclusion. Second half baseball is about to begin.

The baseball season works like a Shakespearean play. The first half of the season acts as a preamble, a sampling of what's to come as all the teams and characters are put into place. We are introduced to the year's contenders, the pretenders and the hopeless fools. It's the exposition, the first act.

The All-Star Game is a sort of intermission before the second half begins. We can take a few minutes to breathe and enjoy a refreshment or two without worrying if a loss tonight would put our team further back in the standings.

Act Two commences with the start of the second half. Division races begin to heat up. Every division game is crucial. Every series victory deepens the plot. The second half is the buildup towards the season's climax. Every swing of the bat, every out and every missed opportunity plays into the drama. This is the rising action.

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The postseason is the climax of the MLB season. The Division Series and the League Championship Series are the Third Act. It's where everything changes. This is where Romeo kills Tybalt. It's where the Boston Red Sox come from three games back to take down the King of Baseball, the New York Yankees. It's where Florida Marlins defy expectations and advance through the ranks in only their fifth season of existence. It's where the Tampa Bay Rays continue their yearlong saga through the ALDS and ALCS, but just as in a Shakespearean play, sometimes things end in tragedy.

The World Series then is the falling action and the conclusion. In acts four and five, everything unfolds and we will soon have a champion of baseball. It's here that the protagonist (underdog- Rays, Marlins, Rockies) and antagonist (favorite- Yankees, Red Sox) duel it out to see who will reign supreme when all is said and done. It's the final battle. It's Brutus' and Cassius' last stands. Act Five is Game 6 or Game 7. The final outcome is revealed and one team rejoices while the other laments. Unlike a Shakespearean play, however, the folding team can make things right the next season.

Other parallels also exist between the great English playwright's body of work and America's pastime. You just have to look hard enough.

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Just as Shakespeare teases us, Major League Baseball does the same. Shakespeare gave us fleeting hope that Cordelia would survive in 'King Lear', when Lear cried out, "This feather stirs; she lives!", only to reveal her death shortly thereafter. In the Majors, the Tampa Bay Rays made us believe in a worst to first finish. It proved to be only a tease. The Rays finished with a league worse .409 winning percentage in 2007 only to win the AL Pennant in 2008 before falling just short of the ultimate prize as they were defeated by a hungrier Philadelphia Phillies team.

At the season's intermission, it's hard to say what Act Two has in store. The contenders and pretenders have been named. The Dodgers are so far the number one contender out of the National League while the Red Sox lead things in the American League. The title of pretender in the National League has to go to either the Astros or the Mets. In the American League, it goes to the Blue Jays, who started the season hot, or the Mariners only because of their uninspiring offense.

As alluded to earlier, every series against a divisional opponent has the potential to make or break a team's chances of making it to Act Three. A clean sweep of a tough divisional opponent can act as the dagger that sends the team into the third act and thickens the plot. So who will be the surprise team in the second half? Will the Giants give the Dodgers a run for their money out West? Will the Marlins shock the defending champs and take the NL East? Will the Red Sox win their third World Series title in six years? Will the Nationals finish with a sub-.300 winning percentage? Will Albert Pujols make a run at 62 homeruns? And would that make him the single season homerun champion? Intrigue, surprise, suspense, tragedy, comedy, history; this show has got it all!

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Mr. Phelps is back!

Arguably the greatest swimmer in international competition, Michael Phelps had to prove once again to the public that he is the most celebrated Olympian of our time. He punched his own ticket to the World Championships later this year in Rome, by winning the 200m, 100m butterfly, and the 200 freestyle at the USA Swimming National Championships in Indianapolis last weekend.

In a swimming competition that was billed as his “comeback” to the sport, Phelps broke the world record in the 100 butterfly with a time of 50.22. It should also be reminded that he currently holds the world record in the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly events as well.

He has been a prisoner of expectation, as each time Phelps steps onto a starting block, flashbulbs will go off simultaneously. An once-in-a-lifetime performance could occur, and this projects him into a rock star status with his fans. Phelps strives to become the standard in swimming for generations to come.

But it almost didn’t happen that way, as Phelps refused to put his head into the water during his first swimming lesson. Sensing fear, his instructor encouraged him to float on his back. And within no time, he mastered his first stroke, the backstroke. By the age of 13, the swimming community began whispering about how Phelps had an outside shot of making the Sydney Olympic roster, and by the age of 15, he became the youngest world record holder in the sport.

With added fame comes an assortment of pitfalls, an unfortunate photograph showing Phelps smoking out of a bong was leaked to the press following the Beijing Olympic Games last year. Embarrassed by his actions, Phelps called his conduct unacceptable. And at times, he has thought of quitting the sport to try to live a normal life. But in the end, swimming is all he knows, and his savvy business deals has netted him a cool $5 million per year in income. This makes Phelps the highest-paid swimmer in U.S. history.

His physique notwithstanding, Phelps’ endurance could be his greatest asset in the upcoming World Championships. He also has the ability to relax, focus, and block the distractions surrounding him. This makes him a unique athlete, as Phelps never appears to be nervous before a big race, and this could be a plus in Rome.

Written By Thomas Conroy



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Monday, July 13, 2009

He's Not 'Just Albert' Anymore

Opposing teams have only one game plan against the St. Louis Cardinals, and that is not letting Albert Pujols beat them…yet he continuously does. At the All-Star break, he is currently batting .332 with 32 home runs, 87 RBIs, and is on pace to hit 62 home runs this season.

Roger Maris held the major league single-season record at 61 home runs for more than three decades, and that was the summit for sluggers to climb for each season. Unfortunately, many of them succumb to the pressures of chasing an unbreakable record. That was until the steroid era of the Nineties.

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St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire reached the summit on a September night in 1998, as he hit his 62 home run over the left field fence in old Busch Stadium. Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa engaged him in a season-long race to Maris’ crown that many in baseball believe saved the sport from extinction. McGwire ended the season with 70 home runs and followed that up with hitting 65 in 1999. Sosa ended his 1998 campaign with 66 home runs, and went on to hit over 60 bombs in two of the next three seasons. Then Barry Bonds began to flex his newly-develop muscles, as he became the new single-season record-holder by hitting 73 home runs in 2001. In four years, three players combined to hit over 60 home runs six times, a feat that hadn’t taken place in over 30 years. That’s odd, was it something in the water?

Look, everyone was guilty of being na├»ve during the steroid era; fans cheered for over-sized hitters and ignored the fact that their added bulk wasn’t natural. There’s currently a growing movement in baseball to re-establish Maris’ mark as the legitimate home run record. Fans want their all-time home run king to be natural, and Pujols stands out as their new hope. Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and more recently, Alex Rodriguez are not worthy of this status. And as far we know Pujols has passed every test administered to him.

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King Albert is a different type of home run hitter, as he draws walks and has a low strikeout ratio. The career .334 hitter is the prototypical baseball player, a hard worker who is very graceful in the field. Pujols has shifted from LF to 3B and finally is anchored at 1B without much fanfare. Despite all the position moves, he never stopped hitting, especially at the art of smacking the ball out of the park.

The only way a hitter can challenge for the home run crown is to get at-bats. The Cardinals are lacking protection behind Pujols in their lineup. Look for opposing managers to intentional walk him rather than pitch to Pujols. So far, the lack of a big stick behind him hasn’t mattered much this season.

Pujols is the perfect candidate that could allow us to put the steroid era in our rearview mirror. We need baseball to recapture being the glorious game of our youth, and unfortunately, it hasn’t been for a long time.

Is this a home run chase to savor? Well, with his swing and demeanor, Pujols is the obvious choice to break the record. And unlike Bonds, he is someone that we all can root for.

Written By Thomas Conroy



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Sunday, July 12, 2009

No More Fun and Games at the All-Star Game

There was a time when the all-star game was a respite for the league's best players. While they still played in the game, they still enjoyed the two or three days the all-star break offered without consequence. Fans could see their favorite players from across both leagues compete against one another on the same field. From 1959 to 1962 they even played two all-star games each season! For a day, fans get to see two superstar studded lineups go at it with only fun and a collective love of the game on everybody's mind.

Not anymore. For the past six seasons (seven including this season), the winning league enjoys home field advantage in the World Series, seemingly a huge deal for teams with a legitimate shot at playing for a title, but I'm still not sure if the all-stars care enough to risk injury in a game that really doesn't mean all that much in terms of actually getting to the World Series in the first place.

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'This Time It Counts' has been met with a mix of praise and contempt. Fans that hold the 'This Time It Counts' notion in contempt see it as taking something away from what used to be a fun respite for both the players and the fans. Fans watched the game for the sheer fun of it and players could hit the diamond without worrying about home field advantage, the standings and the playoffs for a few days and just play baseball.

As Jim Litke points out in a 2007 article, I'm not sure that even players and managers with a real shot at playing come October place too much importance on the game. Litke points out that "today's ballplayers wouldn't risk knocking over a Wheaties box - let alone each other - in a game that doesn't count in the standings." Selig's attempt to make this thing mean something has actually had little effect on the way the game is played.

In the 2007 All-Star Game, as Litke also notes, Aaron Rowland of the NL squad hit a pop fly with the bases loaded to end the game. NL Manager Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals held his own first baseman and one of the league's best players, Albert Pujols, on the bench despite the game's 'importance'.

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Until we have a World Series where home-field advantage actually seems to make a difference, the outcome of the All-Star Game won't mean squat to any all-star that participates.

Since the rule was put in place in 2003, the AL has won home-field advantage each year.

In the first year the new rule was in place the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series despite AL home-field advantage. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in a series where home-field advantage seemed to mean very little. The Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros in 2005, another instance where home-field advantage did not seem to matter. The next year, 2006, saw the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 despite AL home-field advantage. In the 2007 World Series the Boston Red Sox completed a clean sweep of the Colorado Rockies. In the 2008 World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, stealing the home-field advantage from the Rays with a Game 1 victory in St. Petersburg.

It should be pointed out that in all instances except for 2004, the AL teams had better records than their NL counterparts and would have enjoyed home-field advantage anyway if the home-field went to the team with the better record, as it should. In 2004, the Red Sox were coming off the comeback of the ages when they defeated the New York Yankees in the ALCS despite being down three games to none. Nothing, not home-field advantage, Albert Pujols or Batman himself could have stopped that momentum.

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So, until the team with an inferior regular season record wins home-field advantage because of the outcome of the All-Star Game and the World Series comes down to a Game 7, bottom of the 9th walk-off, I'm not sure the all-stars or the managers will place much stock in the All-Star Game's whimsical 'This Time It Counts' slogan.

The American League has not lost an all-star game since their 1997 victory at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. The 2002 game ended in a tie when the two sides ran out of pitchers. Since the rule took effect in 2003, the AL team has won three World Series and the NL team has won three World Series. The AL team has held home-field all six years.

How about they play the game just to play the game? Before the new rule, the NL and AL were awarded home-field on a rotating basis. Not so sure that screams fairness either. Let's award home-field to the team with the better regular season record. Some argue that the AL team would be at a disadvantage because the American League is much stronger than the National League. But as I just pointed out, in the six years the rule has been in effect, the AL team has had the better record anyway five times despite this supposed 'disadvantage'. If the AL is stronger and at a disadvantage in this model, let them prove their strength come October.

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Friday, July 10, 2009

A Little Baseball History: Stealing Home, the Walk-Off and the Weird

Baseball enjoys the most extensive history of any American sport. Professional baseball dates back to six years after the Civil War ended when the Philadelphia Athletics were champions of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871. Baseball historians dispute this league's status as a 'Major League', but baseball as a sport predates the Civil War to sometime in the mid-1850s. Through the years, we, from casual observers of the game to baseball gurus, have witnessed some of the most exciting plays in the history of American sports. We have seen records that were considered unfathomable to begin with eclipsed time and time again. As baseball fans we have seen our share of remarkable moments, heartbreaking defeats and the downright weird. We have seen some of the sports' most beloved players crossover from sports idol to cultural icon. Perhaps most importantly, we have witnessed players, whose courage and dedication goes unmatched throughout the course of history, inspire people the world over.

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But enough of that. That's nothing new. We all knew that, right? The exciting plays that I am referring to are walk-off homeruns and straight steals of home. Jackie Robinson made the straight steal of home famous when he stole home base in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series (Yogi Berra still claims that Jackie was out), but his 20 steals of home plate are not the most in baseball history. That distinction goes to Ty Cobb with 54 throughout his career. Coming in second is Max Carey who played from 1910 to 1929 for the Pittsburgh Pirates and later the Brooklyn Robins. He stole 738 bases in his career including 33 straight steals of home. Jackie comes in 9th with 20. Many historians and statisticians credit Jackie with 19 steals of home, excluding the steal in the 1955 World Series game because it came in the postseason. If credited with 19, Jackie would still come in 9th all-time, but would share the place with Frankie Frisch, a Hall of Famer who played for the New York Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The most successful stealer of home in the modern era was Rod Carew, who stole home 17 times. Lou Gehrig stole home 15 times and Babe Ruth stole home 10 times. It's become a lost art in the modern era of baseball, although Jacoby Ellsbury's straight steal of home against Andy Petite and Jorge Posada on April 26 has sparked renewed interest in the play. Later, Gary Matthews, Jr. and Chris Gertz would steal home on the same day, June 28.

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Walk-off home runs are much more common these days, but they are exciting nonetheless. You'll never see a walk-off met with indifference no matter what ballpark you visit. There's always a roar. It does, after all, only occur when the home team is up to bat.

So what put this article idea in my head? A Nationals victory. That's right, a Washington Nationals victory. Didn’t think it could happen, did you? Neither did I.

When the Washington Nationals walked off the field at Minute Maid Park in Houston as the home team victors, something did not seem quite right. The game went 11 innings, although they only played for 7 minutes. The winning pitcher's name, although credited in the box score, was nowhere to be found on the Washington roster. And the winning run was scored by a player who did not begin the game as a member of the Nationals. It was like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone only I didn't recognize any of the cast members. This was all too much for me and I passed out.

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After I came to, I found out that the game was actually begun on May 5, but was suspended until Thursday. Although the game started in Washington, the final 7 minutes were played in Houston. And the winning pitcher, Joel Hanrahan, was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 30, which explained his current absence from the roster. In exchange for the pitcher, the Nationals received Nyjer Morgan. It was Morgan who scored the winning run on Thursday. This explained his absence when the game began over two months ago. Interestingly enough, this is what sparked me to look up a little baseball history to see if something as crazy as this has ever happened before.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find out if a pitcher was ever credited a victory for a game in which he was not on the roster of either team when the game finished. I did, however, discover quite a few surprising statistics and records that I never knew existed, including the stark difference in successful straight steals of home in the modern era of baseball compared to baseball history.

Most fans would assume that the New York Yankees have had the most players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nope. They have 41 players currently in the HOF, good for fifth best. The Giants have had the most inductions with 55, followed by the Dodgers and Braves with 45 and the Cardinals with 42. The Marlins, Rockies and Diamondbacks are the only current teams with no Hall of Famers. Yes, even the Rays have a Hall of Famer (Wade Boggs).

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Eight teams have never won a World Series: the Nationals, Rangers, Rays, Mariners, Padres, Brewers, Astros and Rockies. Only the Nationals, Rangers and Mariners have never played in the World Series. The Yankees have won the most World Series titles with 26, followed by the Cardinals with 10, the Athletics with 9, the Red Sox with 7 and the Dodgers with 6. The Giants, Pirates and Reds have each won 5 World Series titles.

The highest winning percentage of all-time belongs to the New York Yankees with a .567 winning percentage. The Giants are second at .538 and the Dodgers are third at .524. The Tampa Bay Rays have the lowest winning percentage at .423. Second to last is the San Diego Padres at .461 and then the Texas Rangers at .469. The Phillies and Mariners come in next at .470.

Surprisingly, the best batting average of any team throughout the history of baseball belongs to the Colorado Rockies with .278. The Yankees are second at .268, followed by the Cardinals with .267. The Mets have the worst all-time batting average at .250. Second lowest belongs to the San Diego Padres with .252 and then the Washington Nationals with .254.

The research for this article was done at Baseball-Reference.com and on various sites across the web. I also referenced a 2002 article about stealing home as a lost art in today's game written by Paul Post and Ed Lucas. Researching statistics, reading baseball historians and shuffling through vintage and iconic baseball photographs are great ways to relive or discover baseball's rich past. Although stealing home is not an officially charted statistic in the MLB, fans and observers of the game recognize the incredible feat that Ty Cobb and other 'home stealers' accomplished throughout their careers. It is because of fans, dedicated statisticians and sports historians that baseball has survived as America's pastime since the days of the Civil War.

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is Strasburg the Savior for Baseball in the Nation’s Capital?

Have you ever read a story about an individual that regretted winning the lottery? It’s a sad tale of how they succumb to the demands of their new found wealth. The Washington Nationals are in a similar situation following the 2009 Amateur Baseball Draft, as they chose San Diego State University pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first overall choice in the draft. And now, the big question for them is do they have enough money to sign him to a contract.

His agent Scott Boras has gone on record with various media outlets that it will take a record-breaking offer to secure Strasburg’s signature. His collegiate numbers this season are very impressive, as Strasburg went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and lead the Aztecs to their first NCAA postseason berth since 1991. His primary pitch is a fastball that has been clocked by Baseball America at 102 MPH. This year, Strasburg lead Division-1 pitchers with 195 strikeouts in 109 innings pitched.

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Before too long, the Nats will need to sign him. Besides the congressional hearing on steroids, there hasn’t been much buzz about baseball in the nation’s capital. Last year, National fans had to endure a 102-loss season, and signing Strasburg could show that the team’s luck might be changing in the right direction. Having him on the hill every fourth day could generate income from added attendance at the ballpark. The Nationals are currently rank 27th in MLB attendance, and this despite playing in a recently-built stadium.

ESPN’s Peter Gammons has gone on record that he believes the Nationals will eventually sign Strasburg to a record contract (in the range of $15-18 million) later this summer.

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The major league playing career of the #1 overall pick hasn’t been successful, as only 40 percent of them have been chosen to an All-Star Game. None have been selected to the Hall of Fame, but three active former #1 choices (Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Chipper Jones) certainly have the credentials for consideration.

The Nationals must decide if taxing Strasburg’s arm in meaningless September games is worth it for everyone involved. They don’t want him becoming another David Clyde, who was rushed to the majors by the Texas Rangers seeking to keep fans in their seats. His star shined brightly for a short time before arm injuries ended his career. Team management must institute a plan to bring Strasburg along, and that must include how many innings he can pitch for the remainder of the season.

Either way, the Nationals upcoming decision should be a costly one for them.

Written By Thomas Conroy



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Updates from an Unheralded Offseason in the NFL

It's been five months since Super Bowl XLIII ended and the Steelers claimed their sixth Lombardi Trophy. Now, five months later, we are still discussing the NFL future of Brett Favre, one of the league's all-time great wide receivers is still searching for a home, we are all mixed up in a couple of legal battles (involving WR's) and another wide receiver still won't shut up. It's just more of the usual from the NFL offseason.

Don’t get me wrong, this offseason has had its share of developments and trades that will shape the 2009 season. The Broncos tried to bring in Matt Cassel in a deal that would have sent away franchise quarterback Jay Cutler. The deal did not go through and Cassel eventually wound up in Kansas City, where he will be tested without the league's best supporting cast by his side. Nevertheless, Cutler felt slighted, pouted and was traded to Chicago. Now Cutler will be tested without the Brandon Marshall/Eddie Royal duo catching all of his passes. His best wide receiver in Chicago is a cornerback/kick returner.

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In Green Bay and Minnesota, fans are still waiting on a decision from Brett Favre. Favre is considering a return to the gridiron after his weeklong retirement. Favre will return to football if his shoulder can withstand another NFL season, he is guaranteed a starting job and the Vikings agree to retire his number after the year is finished.

BREAKING NEWS: NFL Legend Brett Favre is mulling an offer from the Chicago White Sox to play third base, taking over for the young, heralded prospect Gordon Beckham. Favre has not played baseball competitively since his days at Hancock North Central High School. Favre's strong arm and quick release make him natural fit to play one of baseball's toughest positions. He has been guaranteed the starting job and the third spot in the batting order.

Rumor has it that Marvin Harrison could be joining the Minnesota Vikings as well. According to ESPN's rumor mill, citing a source speaking to Pro Football Weekly, Harrison will join the Vikes if Favre signs with the team. The future Hall of Famer to future Hall of Famer combo would sell a lot of tickets, especially on October 5, when the Packers are in town.

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In Chad Ochocinco news, the wide receiver and co-founding member (along with Terrell Owens) of the backwards, bizarre world of Wide Out Land, now promises to tweet during his games this season. Not sure how this is going to go over with the coaching staff or the ownership of the Bengals, but it probably did not surprise too many people. He was speaking on KGOW radio in Houston, Texas when he made the claim. Fans are on the edge of their seats after hearing the news. Comments left by fans on Sports Illustrated's page covering Chad's promise include:

· "If he played as hard as he yaps he would have broken Jerry Rice's records by now"
· " Great...now I can not give a flying crap about this **** in real-time. I'm definitely excited."
· "This doesn't sound like a very good idea, which is why Ocho will be all over it."
· "Tweeting is for girls..."

Who knows where this will go, but it's safe to say that Coach Marvin Lewis has had enough trouble with his team that he doesn't need some fool tweeting during games.

It's been quite the usual NFL offseason in 2009. The draft produced few marquee surprises that turned the league on its head. Some good players were picked, a quarterback posed shirtless for GQ and everything was normal after the draft was all said and done.

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It's Win or Bust in Boston

By now the basketball world is aware that Rasheed Wallace has agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics come Wednesday. He picked Boston over San Antonio and Orlando, becoming another veteran weapon in the Boston arsenal. Reports have Wallace signing a two year deal for the mid-level exception with the Celtics, nothing groundbreaking, but significant nonetheless.

Wallace had little chance of escaping Boston's grip when a barrage of All Stars, the team president and coach Doc Rivers came to visit him at his home. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, along with team president Danny Ainge and Rivers, persuaded Wallace to come on board and further their cause to return to the NBA Finals once again.

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But the question now becomes: How many seasons does this team have left in them? Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Stephon Marbury, Eddie House and now Wallace; at some point they have to inject their team with a talented young player other than Rajon Rondo. Glen Davis is coming along, Leon Powe shows promise and Kendrick Perkins is no slouch, either, but it's hard to say that any of the three will develop to become one of the perennial forces at their position.

Now reports are swirling that Grant Hill may be in the mix for the Celtics. Hill is familiar with Doc Rivers, having played for him in Orlando, although he was injured for much of his tenure with the Magic. Still, the Celtics seem to be setting themselves up for an implosion in the next couple of seasons. They have to go in with a 'win now' attitude because when later comes, it may be too late.

The Celtics quick fix in 2008 instantly catapulted the team to an elite level. Now, after losing to the Magic in the semifinals, the Celtics seem to be in search of another quick fix by adding Wallace and possibly Hill.

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Instead, Boston should be looking to add a few young sparkplugs that will sustain this team's respectability for years to come. They have the core in place for this season and the next and probably the next, but when Garnett, Pierce and Allen call it quits or their age begins to get the best of them, Boston will be lost unless they grab a few younger intermediaries to keep things alive until that special player comes along once again. Then, you grab him and win a title.

But no, the Celtics are bolting to a weeklong Vegas vacation and blowing their bank roll the first night at Caesar's. It won't be long before they realize how hot and unpleasant it is when you're sitting idly by the hotel pool with no prospects or means for having a good time.

I can understand the 'win now' attitude that Boston is carrying into this season, but I have to wonder how Boston fans feel about this philosophy. Boston could win this year and the rest of the city would rejoice in winning two titles in three years. Or they could fail in the semis, the conference finals or the NBA Finals. The Celtics are leaving little wiggle room for failure this season. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe a little sustainability in a franchise that has a history of longstanding dynasties would be a good thing too.

Written By Danny Hobrock



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Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Blame Canada!" Recent moves stir things up in the NBA

President Obama is apparently furious at the Canadians. Canada has ruined the Fourth of July for many basketball fans. Reports surfaced Friday night that Hedo Turkoglu had agreed upon a 5 year, $53 million contract with the Toronto Raptors. Earlier reports had him signing with the young Portland Trail Blazers, but it looks like, after a visit to Portland, he prefers the east coast city of Toronto to the west coast city of Portland.

The Turkish player drops this bomb on the American Independence Day, a day that is supposed to be filled with friends, family, fireworks, fries and frankfurters. Magic fans and Blazers fans now find themselves at odds with our neighbor to the North who just stole the breakout player in this year's playoffs.

The Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers find themselves wondering: 'What just happened?' Orlando will struggle to fill the hole left by Turkoglu despite having traded for Vince Carter and Portland will continue to look for the player that can provide them with that little extra push.

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Nothing is set in stone yet, but according to sources reported by Sports Illustrated and ESPN, the deal seems imminent. Turkoglu isn't the only player on the move, however. It looks as though all of this summer's free agents are on the move, except for Carlos Boozer, who I had all but guaranteed would leave the Jazz this offseason. Orlando should look to take advantage of this trend and look for a replacement for Turkoglu, or at least another weapon to add to their arsenal.

The biggest news of the summer comes from Los Angeles, where, in contradiction with the California economy, the rich just seem to get richer. Ron Artest joins Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol on an already powerful Lakers team. He replaces Trevor Ariza, who will replace Artest in Houston. If you ask me, though, the Artest signing helps the Lakers more than the Ariza signing helps the Rockets, even if it's Houston's intention to free up cap space.

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Rasheed Wallace and Allen Iverson are sure to leave Detroit, especially after last year's debacle and the addition of their replacements to the roster. Ben Gordon will be the scoring threat who doesn't like playing off the bench and Charlie Villanueva will replace Wallace at the power forward spot. Iverson is reported to be interested in joining the Memphis Grizzlies and has been in discussions with the Miami Heat as well. After all these years, it would be in Iverson's best interest to finally understand that we already see him as a great player. Maybe then he'd just play his part on a team instead of constantly trying to validate his talent by scoring a bunch of points.

Meanwhile, Rasheed Wallace was wooed by the Boston Celtics brass this week and is apparently deciding between Boston, San Antonio and Orlando. Maybe the Magic will come out of this alright after all. That leaves Jason Kidd, Andre Miller and Lamar Odom as the most recognizable free agent at this point. Kidd is reportedly being pursued by the Mavericks and Knicks. The Knicks may be looking to add Kidd, who would start at the point guard position even if Ricky Rubio somehow joins the team.

Miller and Odom have many potential suitors and the status of other free agents such as Marvin Williams, Anderson Varejao, Mike Bibby and Shawn Marion remains in flux. In what has been a busy start to free agency, we may see more players on the move in the coming days.

Written By Danny Hobrock