Monday, December 25, 2006

Say it Loud...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Best bets

Last week: 2-2
Year-to-date: 22-20-2

Yeah, I know that the NFL playoff race will come into clearer focus after this weekend's games, but I really don't care. There is only one game that matters, the rest of the slate is nothing more than a filling bunch of Hors d’oeuvres that look nice but really have no nutritional value. Kind of like a little piece of melon wrapped in bacon.

And though everyone loves bacon (and melon), it's better to focus on the main course. It is the holiday season, after all, and it's common for folks to put on a few unwanted pounds from talking themselves into having that bowl of sugary treats at a party.

"Well, it is dark chocolate. That's supposed to be good for you like red wine... right?"

Sure, whatever works.

Anyway, to keep slim and trim as the new year approaches, let's get to the feast:

Eagles plus 7 over Cowboys
Seven points? It's like stealing candy from a baby... and I know you have stolen candy from a baby. Shame on you!


The Lucadello story's Gare Joyce wrote a really interesting story about long-time Phillies scout Tony Lucadello. Based in Ohio, Lucadello was responsible for signing Mike Schmidt, as well as Ernie Banks for the Cubs during a long career that ended when he mysteriously (and apparently) killed himself in 1989.

It's a fascinating story about a baseball lifer who was unceremoniously dropped by the Phillies when he was 76, which led to his demise.

I would liked to have seen comment from the Phillies in the story, but aside from a few hangers on most of the people from Lucadello's time are gone.

Anyway, the story: Wall of Dreams


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Powder, man… we’re talkin’ ‘bout packed powder

Vacation time. It’s use-the-days-or-lose-them time. It’s also recover from a 16-hour day that was Tuesday when Allen Iverson was finally traded away from the 76ers. Needless to say, there is a bunch of server space that has been impeded upon in the name of delving into the intricacies of the trade.

I’d say trees were killed, too, but we all know that newspapers, in their hardcopy form, are irrelevant.

Apparently, Iverson said he never asked to be traded, which is a unique spin after being inactive for the 76ers for six games. Unless Iverson lives in a cocoon or cave he surely heard the stories saying that he did, indeed, ask for a trade. It’s a wonder he didn’t say anything sooner.

Meanwhile, as a regular traveler to Colorado and parts of the Denver metro area, I’m going to make an easy prediction in saying that Allen Iverson will take over the sporting landscape of that area unlike any other athlete, excluding John Elway, Dan Issel and Frank Shorter. Iverson immediately makes the Nuggets viable in Colorado, which is something. Afterall, the big events out there are Broncos games, track or cycling Olympic Trials when half of Boulder empties out, and the annual Colorado vs. Colorado St. game.

The hard part, as everyone has been writing, will be to get shots for Iverson and leading-scorer Carmelo Anthony. Who knows, perhaps the new dynamic duo will just start playing one-on-one against each other in the middle of games.

Another concern is getting Iverson to practice in the medium altitude in Denver. Then again, he likely won’t have the same distractions in Colorado that he had in Philadelphia. Atlantic City won’t be 45-minutes away, though there are the low-stakes gambling halls in Central City and Blackhawk.

Better yet, forget about Friday’s and Dave & Busters. Just try to keep Iverson off the slopes in Aspen, Vail, Crested Butte or Telluride.

Powder, man… we’re talkin’ ‘bout packed powder.

Of course he can always go up to Boulder and play hacky sack on the Pearl Street Mall, too. Who cares that the team is now being re-nicknamed from Nugs to Thugs… personally, I prefer Carmelo and the Super Sucker (punchers), but that’s me.

So with Iverson gone what are the 76ers going to do to remain in the news? How about an encore for Larry Brown? That’s definitely a unique one. Has Brown ever returned to any of the 274 teams he’s been with during his career? I don’t think so.

Other stuff
Apparently there is a big football game on Monday night. What intrigues me the most about the game – other than the fact that it could determine whether the Lancaster Crackers are the PSFL champion or merely the runner-up – is what if it were to be played in Philadelphia like the NFL originally wanted?

Elsewhere, I enjoyed reading Todd Zolecki’s Q&A with patron saint Bill James. I suppose it’s fair to label Todd as a “sabergeek.”

Goofin’ off
So what does a vacation mean around here? Well, yesterday it meant a 20-mile run that beat me up a little bit. To recover I ate a half gallon of mint chocolate cookie frozen yogurt on top of a chili sauce and tofu with rice dish my wife makes.

Tonight I plan on a modest recovery run since I struggled to run 6:45 pace during the 20-miler, followed by a trip to the haircuttery with our 2-year-old boy and dinner at one of the Japanese restaurants here in town.

Yeah, it’s pretty wild around here.

Later in the week some traveling, movie-viewing and other domesticated tomfoolery is on the agenda. Plus, since a lot of my friends work at home or in offices nearby, I might stop in and bother them.

See, told you it’s going to be wild.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Garcia has Eagles on right path

It seems so long ago that Donovan McNabb went down with his knee injury. Along those lines it seems kind of funny that there was actually a debate over whether or not Jeff Garcia should be the Eagles’ starting quarterback.

It’s funny what a couple of big victories do, huh?

With Garcia at the helm, the Eagles have gone from a team simply playing out the string to one that controls its own destiny in the NFC East. If the Eagles beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Christmas night and the Falcons in South Philly on New Year’s Eve, they win the division.

Who would have guessed?

If the Eagles win both of those games and get some help (the Saints lose two games and the Seahawks lose one), they will get a first-round bye in the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. In fact, the Eagles’ PR staff has even e-mailed out the NFC playoff scenarios:

(Before 12/18 Cincinnati-Indianapolis Monday night game)
For Week 16

Dallas has clinched playoff berth.
Dallas can clinch division with:
1DAL win.

Philadelphia can clinch playoff berth with:
1) PHI win, OR
2) PHI tie + NYG loss or tie, OR
3) PHI tie + ATL loss.

New York can clinch playoff berth with:
1) NYG win + MIN loss or tie + ATL loss + PHI win or tie + SEA win or tie, OR
2) NYG win + MIN loss or tie + ATL loss + PHI win or tie + SF loss or tie.

Chicago has clinched homefield advantage.

New Orleans has clinched division.
New Orleans can clinch first-round bye with:
1) NO win + DAL loss.

Seattle can clinch division with:
1) SEA win or tie, OR
2) SF loss or tie.

One thing that no one is talking about is the Eagles not making the playoffs even though that possibility is realistic. How goofy is that? Based on the results of the next two games the Eagles could be the divisional champions, a No. 2 seed with a first-round bye in the playoffs, or on the outside looking in.

That's with Jeff Garcia, not Donovan McNabb as the quarterback.

Now here’s the big question:

How in the world did we get here? Didn’t the season end a month ago during that nasty loss to the Titans?

Apparently not.

After the crucial victory over the Giants on Sunday, Brian Dawkins said the Eagles’ resurgence was a matter of the team clicking at the right time. Certainly there is no doubt about that. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles’ dash for the playoffs has been the team clicking as Dawkins suggested along with Garcia handling the offense.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions I am not suggesting that the Eagles are a better team with Garcia at quarterback instead of McNabb. I’m not smart enough to make that argument. However, I took the time to ask certain folks who spend a lot of their time with the Eagles and other NFL teams whether or not the team’s changed fortunes are simply a matter of the offense doing what it’s supposed to do or if Garcia is playing well.

The consensus is that it’s both with an emphasis on the latter. The Eagles, I’m told (including by’s bulldog Eagles’ scribe Andy Schwartz), always had the players to fit the offense. But Garcia, they say, has been really good.

In that regard the numbers don’t lie – Garcia has thrown just one interception (yeah, it was a big one) with nine touchdown passes and nearly a 62 percent completion percentage. Statistically, Garcia compares quite favorably with McNabb excluding the rushing.

In another regard, Garcia lived up to some minor hype in rallying the Eagles past the Giants. Prior to the game, the 36-year-old veteran was the subject of a small feature in The New York Times and just may have resurrected a career that even Garcia thought was on the doorstep of fading into oblivion after uninspiring stops in Cleveland and Detroit.

“I'd started to lose faith in football and having fun like I've been having the last three or four weeks, just making plays and letting loose like I used to when I was younger,” Garcia said after his solid 237-yard performance against the Giants. “A year ago, I wasn't thinking this would happen again. But it's starting to come for us.”

But better than good stats and a feature in the paper of record, Garcia’s teammates have full confidence in him. On Daily News Live, Monday, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter heaped praise on the quarterback noting that he prepared every week as if he was going to start the game even though McNabb was off to a Pro Bowl-caliber start to the season. That’s especially important following a lost 2005 season when McNabb went out with an injury and Mike McMahon was asked to guide the ship. Mix that with the Terrell Owens debacle and the difference between last season and 2006 is as different as night and day, noted sure-bet Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook.

“Last year, we were a team divided. We weren’t together at all. We didn't have a hope,” Westbrook said after Sunday’s game. “This year, when Donovan went down, we rallied. This team is real resilient. Garcia comes in, he doesn't make many mistakes, he runs this offense, he leads the team, and with him back there, we have a chance of winning. That's what we need.”

Garcia, of course, wasn’t around last season. Instead he was playing out the string in Detroit at this time a year ago. Needless to say, the situation in Philadelphia is much better.

“It's just exciting to be able to fight for another week,” Garcia said. “We're just glad to be in a place where we all can live another week.”

Now here’s the craziest part…

Maybe – just maybe – the Eagles can wiggle through the ever-fickle NFC playoffs and get all the way to Miami for a game in early February.

One thing at a time, of course, but then again, crazier things have happened.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

A long, long time ago...

On this date in 1891, Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball at the YMCA in Springfield, Mass.

No, I don't have a joke about the 76ers to insert here.


Best bets

Last week: 3-1
Year-to-date: 20-18-2

This is a big weekend for the NFL. Not only are playoff berths on the line and the balance of power in every division and conference teetering on a thin, fickle line, but also all around the country regular folks like you and me are involved in their fantasy football playoffs.

Here’s an admission – I was never a regular viewer of the NFL until fantasy football came around. In fact, I’m not even a regular watcher now. I follow the stats as they pertain to my fantasy football team, which I’m sure bothers people. The hand wringing and drawback in this, according to some football fans, is that people end up rooting for certain players against their favorite team.


Perhaps I have the luxury of not having a favorite team. Oh sure, I suppose I follow the Eagles closer than the other teams, and I definitely rooted for them when we moved back to Pennsylvania in 1981, but I also liked the Washington Redskins when they had John Riggins and Joe Washington with his single bar helmet. I also liked Mark Moseley’s straight on, toe kicks, though they weren’t as cool as Tony Franklin’s barefoot boots.

The same thing went for baseball, too. When we lived in the D.C. area, we followed the Orioles very closely and rooted for them to win the 1979 World Series. In fact, I was at Memorial Stadium for the final game of the 1982 season in which Robin Yount slugged two homers off Jim Palmer to send the Brewers into the playoffs. Don Sutton pitched for the Brewers that day, and Ben Ogilivie made a tough, sliding catch near us in the left-field corner to ruin an Orioles’ rally and shove the momentum the Brewers’ way.

In 1983, though, we lived in Lancaster and followed the Phillies closely on TV, but when it came time to actually go to a game we opted for Baltimore over the Vet.

Can anyone blame us?

Unfortunately, after ’83 the Phillies and the Orioles started to decline in the standings, which meant I began to follow individual players even more. Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Roger Clemens were big names through the ‘80s.

As a side note, I really liked Larry Bowa and Eddie Murray when I was a kid and was excited to talk to my childhood favorites when I started writing about baseball... and then I met them.

In the 1990s I went to college and don’t recall following any athletes very close at all. Well, I watched every game of the 1993 baseball season, but who didn’t?

Anyway, here’s which teams are going to win this weekend:

Falcons plus 3 ½ over the Cowboys
I have the Falcons defense in my fantasy league playoffs. Does it matter that I can’t name a single player on the Falcons other than the quarterback who can’t throw?

Colts minus 3½ over the Bengals
Hey! This could be a good game.

Eagles plus 6 over the Giants
Initially I thought the Giants would win. But the only reports I’ve seen (or paid attention to) from New York have the Giants talking and bickering too much. Good teams don’t do that.

Panthers PICK Steelers
Take the Panthers. Why not?


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Goofin' off

Whenever I want a good laugh I read my horoscope. Better yet, the astrology stuff that attempts to pinpoint my personality and future based on my birthday are the best. Because I was born on December 10 – like Emily Dickinson, Susan Dey and that big dude from The Green Mile – I’m supposed to be inscrutable and philosophical… or something like that.

Be that as it may, there are a lot of people who take their astrological sign and star charts seriously. In fact, some people treat it as a religion.

Along those lines is a report in The New York Times where Japanese baseball players are judged on their blood type.

Why blood type and not eye color?

Anyway, new Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is a warrior who can face down any difficult situation – like facing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez with no outs and the bases loaded – because his blood type is O.

Think I’m kidding? Read this story… like I wrote, it’s in The Times.

On another note, I happened to hear former Phillies manager and current Red Sox skipper, Terry Francona, on Dan Patrick’s radio show this afternoon while driving home with my son from his school. During the show, Patrick asked Tito if he anticipates and communication problems with the new, $52 million man who is set to pitch for the Red Sox.

No, Francona, said, adding, “If he wants to go out and pitch seven, eight or nine innings every night, I can pat him on the butt in any language.”

This is from sometime contributor and former “Best Damn Sports Show, Period” researcher, Bill Sudell:

Here's how things are going at the Wachovia Center: The Flyers have won eight games, the 76ers only five. There are 31 teams - 23 in the NHL, which has played more of its schedule, and eight in the NBA - with as many or more wins than the 13 the Flyers and Sixers have combined.

Don’t let the door hit you…
Here’s a surprise – some Philadelphia police officers are happy to see Allen Iverson (reportedly) on his way out of town.

Here’s the money quotes via Philadelphia Will Do, via the Inquirer’s police blog:

“"He's a hoodlum, a thug" proclaimed one police officer. Another one of Philly's finest said, "He doesn't make our lives any easier as cops. He thinks he can drive a thousand miles an hour down City Avenue and that no one is supposed to say anything to him." Another officer commented how disgusted she was when he allegedly turned down a young fan looking to get his autograph at TGI Fridays.”

Just for the sake of nothing, I decided to look up all of the 76ers’ coaches during Allen Iverson’s time in Philadelphia. They are:

Johnny Davis 1997
Larry Brown 1998-2003
Randy Ayers 2003-2004
Chris Ford 2004
Jim O’Brien 2004-2005
Maurice Cheeks 2005- present

Meanwhile, just for fun, I decided to look up the managers Scott Rolen has played for during his career. Like Iverson, Rolen was the Rookie of the Year in 1997.

Jim Fregosi 1996
Terry Francona 1997-2000
Larry Bowa 2000-2002
Tony La Russa 2002- present

As one can tell from the list, Iverson really didn’t become a coach killer until Larry Brown bolted for Detroit. Meanwhile, Brown has been in and out of two organizations since leaving Philadelphia.

Downloaded playbook
Apparently, Eagles' rookie Jeremy Bloom is resourceful. How resourceful? Well, instead of using his iPod to listen to music or watch movies, Bloom uses his handy-dandy little computer to learn the Eagles playbook.

According to a story on, the rookie out of CU-Boulder records himself reading the playbook, loads it onto his iPod, and then works out while listening to himself tell himself what to do.

The winning graf:

Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh observed Bloom doing his solo work, but had no idea what he was listening to. "I thought there was music in that thing," Harbaugh said.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The fine print

Ever wonder what quirky incentives some baseball players have in their contracts? Are you like me in that you enjoy reading that some players actually have it stipulated that they must travel to road games in an airplane fueled by bio-diesel?

Actually, I made that last one up. In fact, writer Rick Paulas made up a few like that on his own for the web site of indie publisher Timothy McSweeney’s, home to such literary all-stars like Dave Eggers, David Byrne, Neal Pollack, Nick Hornby and Jonathan Lethem.

Paulas even got his eyes on new Phillie Adam Eaton’s deal where it reads:

Upon signing, Eaton received a certified doctor's note from the best psychiatrist in Philadelphia addressed to the commissioner's office, informing them that he must wear an iPod while pitching to drown out the inevitable boos that come with playing in Philadelphia. This, the doctor argued, will keep Eaton's fragile psyche in check, allowing the city's residents to sleep in peace without worrying about another “ugly incident.”

Actually, that might not be made up.

More: Contract Bonuses Are Getting Out of Hand


Deal or not?

According to a few newspaper reports, it sounds as if Allen Iverson – once again – is controlling the 76ers. Apparently, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Iverson balked at a trade to the Charlotte Bobcats, which ruined a potential deal.

That’s one story, but there are others.

Those other stories are all rumors, of course. The Kings, Celtics, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Globetrotters, Real Madrid, and yadda, yadda, yadda, are all interested in making a deal for the 76ers’ star-crossed All-Star but have yet to cross the eyes and dot the tees.

Needless to say, on the record the teams rumored to be involved in negotiating for a deal to get Iverson have all denied their involvement. So in other words, no one knows who knows what is true.

Or false.

But here’s a theory no one in Philadelphia is really giving much credence. In fact, the idea of it just makes the head spin and is so hard to grasp that it could make the feint of heart break into convulsions...


Maybe no one wants Iverson.

Let me write that again…

Maybe no one wants Allen Iverson on their basketball team.

There it is.

Oh sure, big-time players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will say they want the so-called Answer. General managers like the T'wolves' Kevin McHale and owners like the Kings’ Maloofs will say that Iverson would be a lovely addition to their franchises, too. But when it comes down to putting the money, the soon-to-expire contracts and the draft picks where the mouth is, the Iverson trade watch is dragging on like a hostage situation complete with TV graphics that spell out the time that has passed.

In that regard, I suppose we’re at “Day 5: Iverson Watch.”

It has a little bit of a cool ring to it, but maybe we should add an exclamation point at the end.

Punctuation and splashy graphics aside, lending some fuel to the ugly-stepchild theory is all-time three-point shooter Steve Kerr, who not only played and battled with Michael Jordan, but also serves as an NBA analyst on TV. That, I suppose, makes him an expert on most things related to the NBA. According to Kerr, who talked to Dan Patrick on the eponymously named ESPN radio show, the only teams that would make a trade for someone like Allen Iverson are the ones that are beyond desperate.

“There are only a few teams in the league that would even think about wanting to pull the trigger because the baggage is just too heavy,” Kerr said about trading for Iverson on Patrick’s show. “I’m like everyone else in that I love the way he competes and I love his talent, but part of being a winner is understanding team dynamics and the importance of practice and being professional and being at team functions. If you’re going to take a guy like that and pay him 20 million bucks a year, that’s a pretty big risk.

“In my mind, the teams that will do it are really desperate.”

There’s another caveat, too, said Kerr. In exchange for Iverson, the Sixers will likely want expiring contracts and draft picks in return in order to build a team for the future. But with Ohio State phenom Greg Oden likely to enter the NBA Draft this June, there aren’t too many teams that will want to hand over a lottery pick if they have a ping-pong ball in the mix for the No. 1 selection.

“But who is going to give up a first-round pick this year when you know Greg Oden is probably going to come out,” Kerr asked, wondering if a “deal is going to happen at all.”

Is it likely that we could enter, "Day 37: Iverson Watch!"? Probably not. But let's at least lend some weight to the notion that the 76ers just might tell Iverson to stay at home for the rest of the year.

Don’t worry, Alley I, the checks will keep coming.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Workhorse Garcia Hoping to Pile on Innings

According to baseball people, the most noticeable item about Freddy Garcia’s pitching was just how much his velocity dropped during the final month of the season. What made it especially noticeable was that Garcia has always leaned heavily on his fastball. For the White Sox in 2006, the right-hander threw it 51 percent of the time and more than 60 percent of the time when he was either behind in the count or for his first pitch.

So when that bread-and-butter pitch is coming in at a rather pedestrian 85-m.p.h., well, people have a tendency to notice.

There’s a good explanation for all of that, Garcia says. The heat dissipating from the fastball could have been from a touch of tendonitis.

“We played in the World Series [in 2005 with the White Sox] and the World Cup [before the 2006 season for Venezuela]. I threw a lot,” Garcia explained. “Right now I feel pretty good and I have gotten a lot of rest.”

The wear and tear may have taken its toll on Garcia’s fastball, but it didn’t do anything to help the hitters. Though he struggled a bit after the All-Star Break with an ERA well over 5 through the dog days of July and August, Garcia regrouped to go 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA in September where he held opponents to a .190 batting average and notched 29 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.

Add in the fact that Garcia has been incredibly consistent during his eight-year career by pitching more than 200 innings in seven seasons even though his strikeouts per nine innings continues to decline.

Maybe Garcia has leaned how to be a pitcher instead of merely a thrower.

“I concentrate more,” said Garcia, noting that he has four pitches in his repertoire with a newly added split-finger pitch. “I know how to pitch. I go out there with whatever I have that day and try and figure it out from there. If I can throw hard, I’ll throw hard.”

Either way, Garcia will be pitching at the top of the Phillies’ rotation in 2007.

But whether he pitches for the Phillies beyond 2007 remains to be seen. Garcia is in the final year of a three-year deal in which he’ll earn $10 million this season. That’s a relative bargain for a pitcher of Garcia’s capabilities given the state of the current market, and he’s sure to command a significant raise if he hits the open market. However, Garcia and starting pitcher Jon Lieber are both in the final seasons of three-year deals, but whether or not that’s the case when spring training starts remains to be seen.

Lieber, of course, is rumored to be dealt away for bullpen help and likely won’t have his contract extended in Philadelphia. Garcia, on the other hand, is just taking it as it comes. If the Phillies want to talk about adding a couple of years to his contract, he’ll listen.

One thing he’s not concerned about, though, is Philadelphia’s reputation as a hitter’s haven. After all, Garcia spent the past few seasons working for the White Sox in the ballpark formerly known as new Comiskey, where more home runs (1.3 per game) were hit than at cozy Citizens Bank Park (1.2). Considering that Garcia allowed 32 homers last season, and more than 30 in three of the past five seasons, the dimensions at the Bank might provide a bit of a break.

“When you play in Chicago, it’s worse,” Garcia said. “I don’t get concerned. If you pitch you’re going to give up home runs. I don’t worry about it – you move on and make a better pitch. If you make a better pitch, you won’t give up home runs.”

And Garcia pitches… a lot. In 2006, no Phillie pitched 200 innings so to add a guy who has pitched that many innings in six seasons in a row is significant. The only pitcher in the big leagues with a longer streak is Livan Hernandez with seven season, but even more telling is that only Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts have equaled Garcia’s streak of 200-plus innings in the modern era.

Count on 200 more innings in 2007.

“I feel good,” said Garcia who is resting in Venezuela. “The end of the season I felt pretty good. I started pitching the way I know how to pitch. Hopefully, I can show that to everybody the way I did it last year.”

In the meantime, he’s excited to have landed in Philadelphia after all of the trade talk from the White Sox and hopes to repeat the 2005 season.

“I’m happy because I didn’t know where I was going,” Garcia said. “We have a really good chance to make it to the playoffs. We have a really good, young team.”


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The art of the deal

The NBA salary cap is a very difficult thing to figure out. In fact, it's so complicated that teams cannot just go out and make trades whenever or wherever. A NBA GM has to have a degree in statistics and calculus in order to make the simplest of trades.

Fortunately, the good folks at ESPN have come up with The Trade Machine to help with all your NBA trading needs. Simply plug in the teams and the players to make a deal and the software will indicate whether or not the deal is in compliance with the NBA bylaws.

More: The Trade Machine


The long good bye

Needless to say, NBA followers are speculating and watching where Allen Iverson might end up. Slam Magazine has its choices, while the Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett wants his boss Kevin McHale to get on it and make a deal pronto.

How crazy would it be for Iverson to end up with the Sixers' once-hated rival, Boston?

So if this is the end for Iverson, perhaps we should start the long tributes. Why not start with the coup de grace:

And then this one:

How about his best game ever:


Best bets

Year-to-date: 15-15-2

The task now is to get over .500. Once that happens, anything is possible.


Colts plus 1 over Jaguars

Giants plus 3 over Panthers

Eagles plus 1 ½ over Redskins

Saints plus 7 over Cowboys


Wrong Answer?

Years from now we will be still debating Allen Iverson’s legacy with the 76ers and as a Philadelphia professional athlete. Certainly, it’s hard to rate Iverson on par with Wilt, Julius, Barkley or Moses Malone. Aside from reaching the top of the NBA as members of the Sixers, there is just something about those guys that illicit wistful reminiscences from people who think on those things.

That’s not to say Iverson didn’t accomplish a lot during his time with the 76ers. After all, his 2001 season is up there with one the all-timers and there was a stretch where watching Iverson was just as exciting as it was during the era that featured Doc, Bird, Magic and Jordan.

By now, of course, most folks who follow these types of things have heard the news regarding Allen Iverson's desire to be traded from Philadelphia, and his boss's desire to accommodate his request. Nevertheless, unlike everything else that occurred during Iverson's past decade with the 76ers, the upcoming ending to his time is not at all unpredictable. Everyone saw it heading this way years, and years ago.

Then again, if it didn't end badly it would never end.

Iverson was a rarity in the post-Jordan NBA in that he was a player that was actually worth the steep price of admission. Throw in the fact that he is built more like a middle-distance runner than an NBA MVP and it made Iverson even more intriguing.

But intriguing is pretty much all Iverson was during his soon-to-be completed career as a 76er. He was never the self-proclaimed “Answer” despite carrying the team on his narrow shoulders to five games of the NBA Finals in that magical 2001 season. Oh sure, Iverson made his teams competitive, interesting and a threat, but he never made them better.

He never made them a contender.

With the 76ers, Iverson was a lot like a middle-distance runner on a track team or a collegiate wrestler. In those competitions the focus is on the individual result with the team a secondary thought. With Iverson the only way to discuss his game was to talk about the numbers.

For instance, Iverson was a lazy team defensive player but always seemed to poach enough steals to make the league-leader lists and even crack the All-Defensive charts a few times. Meanwhile, Iverson averaged 28.1 points per game during his career on nearly 24 shots per game. Compare that to Doc (24.2 points/18.8 shots), Bird (24.3/19.3), Jordan (30/23), or Barkley (22.1/14.5) and it’s clear that Iverson is the perfect NBA player for the video game age.

For a historical context, perhaps the best comparisons are notorious gunners Bernard King, Alex English, Dominique Wilkins or George Gervin… without the finger roll.

Or the ring.

That last part is hardly Iverson’s fault. Actually, Iverson was always adamant about winning being his top priority. It’s just that winning is more than playing hard in the regular-season games scattered on those nights between November and April. Winning is an everyday thing. It’s a summertime time. A weight room thing. A get-to-bed-early-so-you-can-recover-for-the-next-one thing.

Winning also takes a commitment from the front office, too, and oftentimes it appeared as if the Sixers weren’t putting team together with the correct pieces. Whether that’s a by-product of having Iverson on the team or the state of the modern NBA is for smarter people to figure out, the point is that if Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Julius Erving or Magic Johnson needed the right teammates, Allen Iverson certainly needed them, too.

Let’s not pile on the criticisms of Iverson and the 76ers because that’s not totally fair. Surely Iverson was an inspired player and tons of fun to watch. Like it was stated previously here, those traits are hard to find in the current NBA. But it’s hard to wonder if there was something more with Iverson. Did he get the most out of his ability and talents or was some of it wasted? Make no mistake about it; Iverson gave us everything in games and in interviews when he chose to do them. But it’s hard not to wonder if there was some more left.

Could there have been more for the Sixers and Iverson during the past decade or are we just being greedy?

You know, greedy like Iverson dribbling the ball with the shot clock winding down.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

The Get Over Yourself Award

Like last week, this week’s Get Over Yourself Award was easy to dole out. We’re bestowing the honor on The BCS.

Oh no, we’re not giving it to the governing body of NCAA dolts who devised the system that determines the college football national champion through nothing more as significant as the team are “liked” and well thought of. Instead we’re using The BCS as a catchall for the folks who burn lean tissue and time by actually paying attention to college football.

Shame on you!

The problem with The BCS and college football is just that – people pay attention to it and write about it. I guess, in that regard, I am just as guilty as everyone else for actually spending time on the inanity of Division I college football, but I guess I just can’t help myself. But mark this down – I will not watch any of the college bowl games that will be played between now and whenever.

Neither should you.

Actually, if you (yeah, you) are one of the folks who complain about The BCS system or the fact that there is no playoff in Division I college football, then yes, by all means tune in. The networks and corporate sponsors know you are weak and will give in because you want to watch their games.

So until you (yeah, you) tune out and let the NCAA, the networks and the sugar daddy sponsors see the ratings go down, there is not going to be a change.

Do you really think the NCAA wants change? Do you think they care which team is the national champion in any of their sports? As long as the cash from CBS, NBC, ABC/ESPN rolls in, George Mason can go to the Final Four and Boise State can go undefeated and have no shot at winning anything.

In all actuality, it’s a pretty basic system the NCAA has devised for college football… you’ll get what we want to give you unless, of course, you don’t.

They don’t care either way.

So if you really want to support college football, go see the local Division II or III team play. At Franklin & Marshall College, the Division III school blocks from my house, the admission is free, the games start around noon on Saturday and move at a nice pace because there are none of the ubiquitous TV timeouts.

Better yet, the players are actually playing because they love it. There are no delusions about an NFL contract like too many big-time college and high school athletes have in Division III sports. Oh sure, the quality of play is only slightly better than a good high school football team, but your kids won’t be able to tell the difference.

According to Peter Vecsey (yeah, I know... ) in the NY Post, Allen Iverson has asked to be traded away from the Philadelphia 76ers.

I have nothing else to add here.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winter Meetings: Cleaning up

Who would have guessed that the team that made the biggest splash at the winter meetings was the Phillies?


But unless Barry Bonds decides to snap his fingers for that mysterious deal to conjure itself from thin air, it appears as if the trade to bring Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia was the thunderclap of the week.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t all sorts of stories floating around. Like that one that has Jon Lieber on his way to the Brewers in a trade that may or may not include both reliever Derrick Turnbow and slugger Kevin Mench.

Or the one that has the Phillies in the mix to make a deal with the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells or the Nationals for Ryan Church.

Finally, how about the one in which Aaron Rowand – even though he didn’t wind up back in Chicago – could be on the move to Texas for one of the Rangers’ relievers.

According to a story by Joe Cowley in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rowand has mixed emotions about the trade talk:

Now hearing that the Phillies have been shopping him this week during the winter meetings, with both the Sox and the crosstown-rival Cubs as possible suitors, Rowand is doing his best to keep his emotions in check.

"There is reason to speculate that I could be traded because [the Phillies] have a guy in Shane Victorino that can fill my spot and comes a lot cheaper than myself," Rowand said Tuesday. "And I know they wouldn't mind bringing in another pitcher to try and make the club better."

Sox general manager Ken Williams often talks with Phillies GM Pat Gillick, and Williams said of Rowand: "Would I be interested in somebody like that? Yeah, I would."

Gillick told Philadelphia reporters that trading Rowand would leave the Phillies short on outfielders, but he said he would like another starting pitcher -- of which the Sox have a surplus.

The major stumbling block in a Rowand reunion? Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

"I love Aaron Rowand," Guillen said of the trade talk. "[But] I wouldn't trade Rowand for one of my pitchers. Hell, no, he's not that good. And I love Aaron, and he knows that."

So for now, Rowand sits and waits.

"I was a rumor for five years before [a trade] happened," he said, "so I'm not going to get emotional over rumors one way or the other."

Sorry, Freddy
Jayson Stark had a great quote from White Sox GM Kenny Williams on the Garcia trade:

"Man, Freddy Garcia was so great," the White Sox GM said, his voice literally quivering with emotion, Wednesday night, "he thanked me for the opportunity to come over and win a World Series. He asked me, if he saw me in a bar, could he sit down and buy a drink for me. By the end of the conversation, he had me apologizing for trading him."

One man’s opinion
I’m not a big fan of overweight right-handed pitchers. I figure that if a person’s job is to be an athlete, being fit is the easiest thing to do. That’s especially the case with baseball, football, basketball and hockey players who have the best facilities and the best health care in America. Get in shape… how hard is that?

I’m funny like that, I guess.

Nevertheless, when Jon Lieber is healthy and pitching well he’s tough to beat. In fact, the Phillies might be a better team with Garcia and Lieber… if Lieber is fit.

But relief pitchers aren't free. Sometimes they cost a lot.

Add Brett Myers into that mix, too. Aside from his legal trouble, Myers’ fitness was a serious question mark as well. Plus, Cole Hamels has pitched just one complete season of professional ball – is he headed for an injury?

Along those lines, when has Adam Eaton ever been healthy?

It’s kind of funny that the guy in the best shape (Jamie Moyer) in the Phillies rotation is the team’s weakest link.

  • Barry Bonds to the Cardinals? If that happens would there be a team that Philadelphia fans dislike more this side of the Cowboys?

    The funny thing is that when asked if the Cardinals were interested in Bonds, GM Walt Jocketty said, “No.”

    It’s hard to read anything else into that.

    According to a report on ESPN:

    The Giants appear to be the only option for Barry Bonds at this point. The Cardinals are out of the running, and the A's, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox, Devil Rays and Mariners -- all teams loosely considered open-minded -- did not take a meeting with the seven-time MVP when he was in Florida for the winter meetings, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

    Bonds is seeking a one-year, $18 million contract with a vesting option that could bring a similar salary in 2008. The Giants don't want to pay that much and are offering around $10 million in guaranteed money, so the two sides remain far apart on a deal.

    How funny would it be if the only offer Bonds gets is from the Devil Rays?

  • Could Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens be on the way back to the Yankees? It seems possible.

  • Three years and $34 million for Vicente Padilla?
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    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Gillick standing pat no more

    Just when it looked as if the Phillies were settling in for a quiet time spent in a posh resort in Disney World, general manager Pat Gillick pulled off a deal.

    Make that a big deal.

    In an announcement late Wednesday night, Gillick finally landed that top-of-the-rotation starter he coveted since he took over the gig in late 2005. In exchange for top pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez and former first-round pick Gavin Floyd, the Phillies received two-time All-Star Freddy Garcia.

    Just 30 years old, Garcia is 116-71 in eight seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox. Aside from an injury-plagued 2000 season, Garcia has pitched no fewer than 201 1/3 innings in every one of his seven full seasons in the Majors, including 444 1/3 for a 31-17 record during his past two years in Chicago.

    "I think the Phillies just acquired a 17- to 20-game winner," White Sox GM Kenny Williams said. "We're going to miss Freddy Garcia."

    Better yet, Garcia is 6-2 in nine postseason starts, including a four-hit gem in the clinching game of the 2005 World Series. Featuring a big fastball, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound native of Caracas, Venezuela has averaged 6.58 strikeouts per nine innings with just a tad more than two walks per nine innings.

    "Getting a veteran guy who has been in the heat of a pennant race and done the things Freddy has done, we just felt it was the right move to make," Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said.

    In 2006, Garcia went 17-9 and earned $9 million in salary. In 2007 he is slated to earn $10 million.

    "We're very pleased to acquire Freddy," Arbuckle said. "He'll fit very nicely into our rotation. He gives us innings and is a proven winner."

    The trade could be just one in a series of moves for the Phillies. The chatter from the Winter Meetings at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort during the past two days was that the Phillies were hoping to land Garcia so that they could deal away oft-injured starting pitcher Jon Lieber for bullpen help. Initially, reports had the Phillies sending Floyd and outfielder/fan-favorite Aaron Rowand to the White Sox for Garcia, with Lieber heading to Milwaukee for reliever Derrick Turnbow.

    Instead, the Phillies get to keep Rowand, who they acquired, along with Gonzalez, from the White Sox in the deal for Jim Thome.

    Now, with six starters with bona fide big-league experience on the roster, it remains to be seen if Lieber will be on the move.

    "It gives us more options," Arbuckle said. "It gives us the opportunity to do more things."

    With Garcia in the fold, using Lieber for bullpen help seems like it’s elementary. Sure, Lieber won 20 games once upon a time for the Cubs, and he won 17 for the Phillies in 2005. When the big right-hander is healthy, he’s a steady and consistent a pitcher capable of turning in seven innings every time out. But Lieber has been plagued by injuries during his 12 seasons. He has pitched 200 innings just four times, missed a full season after Tommy John surgery, and looks as if he’s a step away from a pulled hamstring or groin.

    And frankly, the Phillies are a little concerned about Lieber's growing waistline.

    According to published reports, Phils manager Charlie Manuel said Lieber’s fitness – or lack thereof – was (and is) an issue.

    “He did let himself go, and he knows it," Manuel told reporters on Tuesday morning. “I think probably he's tired of hearing it.”

    Manuel had talked to Lieber about his fitness during the 2005 season, too, though the pitcher didn’t seem to be paying attention then.

    “From here, it's up to him,” Manuel told reporters.

    Then again, Lieber could be another team’s problem in 2007.

    That’s the case with Floyd, the frustrating 23-year-old righty who was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft. Though he showed flashes of brilliance during parts of three seasons with the Phillies, Floyd’s record indicates otherwise. In 2006 he was 4-3 with a 7.29 ERA in 11 starts for the Phillies and 7-4 with a 4.23 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being demoted in June.

    Though he cracked the opening day roster in 2005 and 2006, Floyd went from one of the team’s top pitching prospects to a pitcher that no longer figured into the team’s plans. That’s a severe 180-degree turn from where the Phillies were with Floyd after they gave him a $4.2 million signing bonus in 2001 to lure him away from enrolling at the University of South Carolina.

    Once in the minor league system, Floyd’s ascent was quick with very few challenges. His domination in the bushes – one that included a no-hitter in Single-A ball – got to the point where team insiders and observers said that it appeared as if the tall right-hander was bored.

    The difficult part, some offered, was hoping that Floyd became engaged in a game, or that his interest was piqued. Still, no one ever doubted Floyd’s talent, which is why the Phillies were loath to simply give him away.

    “I think Gavin's going to be a little bit of a late bloomer,” Arbuckle said.

    That very well could be the case, but in his stead the Phillies got someone who is already ripe. With Garcia joining Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer and Lieber as a lure for even more pitching, the Phillies’ troublesome rotation has come a long way since last April.

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    Hangin' in the lobby

    So what really happens at Baseball’s winter meetings? Try hanging out and talking – kind of what happens when the season starts.

    The only difference is that every team from the Yankees to the lowest level minor-league affiliate turns up for the winter meetings no matter where they hold them from year to year. This year, of course, the meetings are at a Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the little burg conjured up by Walt Disney for his park. Last year baseball showed up in Dallas, and before that it was Anaheim, New Orleans and Boston.

    It doesn’t seem as if baseball is going back to Boston for the winter meetings any time soon. In fact, next year they head to Nashville before going to the place the ought to just permanently stage the meetings:

    Vegas, baby. Vegas.

    Of course they follow Vegas with Indianapolis. That hardly seems fair for the good folks in Indiana’s biggest city.

    Still, the winter meetings aren’t just a place for job seekers, back slappin’ and grab assin’. In the old days it seemed as if the winter meetings were where teams were assembled. Check out the small print on the top portion of the back of an old baseball card. Next to the agate type reading, “Acquired:” the date that follows usually coincides with the winter meetings.

    That’s hardly a coincidence.

    Sometimes nothing happens, too. During the past six years for the Phillies, the winter meetings have been places where things get squashed. Like in 2001 when Scott Rolen was traded to Baltimore before the Orioles backed out when they decided they probably weren’t going to be able to re-sign the third baseman.

    Another year a member of the Phillies media contingent was shoved off an elevator by a colleague as it stopped between floors. Because of that incident there hasn’t been a day at the ballpark where a writer hasn’t attempted to push a fellow scribe off an elevator when the doors open on the way to another floor.

    What, you were expecting tweed and elbow patches with that bunch?

    Nevertheless, it seems as if there is another quiet stay at a warm-weather resort for the Phillies’ contingent at the winter meetings. Of course that could all change over night when the GMs head to another luau full of drinks with umbrellas, colorful leis and a limbo contest for guys dressed in wacky summertime shirts.

    That’s not so different from the old days when GMs would wake up where they fell during the early morning hours with a trade scratched out on a crumpled up cocktail napkin.


    College football stinks

    Winter Meetings: Naming names

    The names leap off the page so quickly that they make you dizzy.

    Freddy Garcia.
    Derrick Turnbow.
    Akinori Otsuka.
    Octavio Dotel.
    Rod Barajas.
    Preston Wilson.
    Rondell White.
    Kevin Mench.

    According to reports there is a good chance that at least one of those players could be with the Phillies by the close of the Winter Meetings in Disney World this week. More interestingly, all of the players listed fit one or more of the team’s needs. Garcia, of course, is the top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher that general manager Pat Gillick has coveted since the first day he took the reigns with the Phillies.

    Turnbow, Otsuka and Dotel are relievers who meet the team’s criteria of a set-up man, which, according to manager Charlie Manuel, means they have all been closers at one point or another.

    Barajas is a catcher who could take over the starting job, while Wilson, White and Mench are veteran hitters/outfielders that provide a little depth.

    In a nutshell, the Phillies would be smart to get any one of those players.

    But everything has a price. In this regard the names that pop off the page are equally as compelling.

    Jon Lieber.
    Gavin Floyd.
    Aaron Rowand.

    According to the dispatches from Florida, Lieber could be dealt to Milwaukee for Turnbow. To get Garcia from the White Sox, it could cost the Phillies Rowand and Floyd.

    Yikes… on Rowand.

    Losing Lieber, if Garcia is acquired, is no big deal. Oh sure, Lieber won 20 games once upon a time for the Cubs, and he won 17 for the Phillies in 2005. When the big right-hander is healthy he’s a steady and consistent a pitcher capable of turning in seven innings every time out. But Lieber has been injured a lot during his 12 seasons. He has pitched 200 innings just four times, missed a full season after Tommy John surgery, and looks as if he’s a step away from a pulled hamstring or groin.

    And frankly, the Phillies are a little concerned about Lieber's growing waistline.

    Floyd, simply, is a huge disappointment. Yet for as much as the Phillies don’t feel as though Floyd is a part of the team’s future, they also don’t want to simply give him away.

    Rowand is the tough one. Yeah, he gets injured a lot, and yes, his offensive numbers aren’t stellar. But it’s hard to deny Rowand’s influence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Plus, it’s so clear how much the guy loves baseball. No one needed him to smash his face into a fence to see that.

    Nonetheless, if the Phillies can get Garcia, the relievers they need and the extra bat or two, Rowand might have to be the casualty.

    Baseball is tough like that.


  • On another note, the best blog from the Winter Meetings is Scott Lauber's.
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    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Check out the big brain on Big D

    Honestly, there is a lot about Dallas Green that is easy to dislike. He’s brusque and curt kind of like Grandpa Simpson, though, sometimes, Green has a handle on reality. His criticisms of Scott Rolen nearly five seasons ago were ridiculous, just as his rip job on Charlie Manuel last summer was deserving of what the manager wanted said he wanted to do to Green.

    Sometimes Big D can be a big joke, like poking a crazy old bear with a stick just to make it angry and do something crazy.

    But to be fair, sometimes Green is right on the money. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that without Dallas Green the Phillies could still be looking for that first World Series title.

    Green, of course, is in the sports news again for something he said. This time his remarks were directed at much-maligned slugger Pat Burrell, but different from the case with Rolen, Green was dead-on accurate.

    In Jim Salisbury’s (how does he always get all of those tremendous quotes?) dispatch from sunny Disney World where the Winter Meetings are being held this week, Dallas took Burrell to task saying that the so-called “Midnight Mayor of Philadelphia” shouldn’t seek another term in office. Instead, Green says, Burrell needs to focus on being the best baseball player he can be before it’s too late.

    Says Green is Sully’s story:

    ”It's time for Pat to look in the mirror,” Green, an adviser to general manager Pat Gillick, said in the lobby of Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort yesterday. “His career is really at a crossroads.

    “He's got to focus and get a priority. That's No. 1 on the list. He's got to become a baseball player and want to be a contributor and want to be the Pat Burrell that we all anticipated he was going to be when we signed him as a kid. He's 30 years old. Damn, time is slipping by here.”


    “I think Pat's going to have a hell of a year [in 2007],” Green said. “But it's up to him. He has to recognize where his career is. I like the kid an awful lot. I always have. I talk to him all the time. I tell him, ‘You've got to get your act together and know what your priorities are.’ ”

    Dallas is right on the money. He hit the bull’s eye. Life, as they say, is short. Baseball careers are even shorter. At the current rate, Burrell probably has three years, tops, to make something of his career before the inevitable descent into mediocrity. However, there still is time for him to push back the aging process if Burrell acts quickly. Actually, he should have gotten the message when he was 26 or 27 when he discovered he wasn’t bouncing back as well from day to day. That’s when a choice had to be made.

    But giving up the so-called perks of being a Major Leaguer is probably a difficult thing to do.

    Again, from Salisbury’s story:

    Not that this makes him a bad guy, but Burrell has a reputation for enjoying the Philadelphia nightlife.

    “Probably well-earned,” Green said. “I've been out with him a couple times in Florida. We have a secret [watering] hole every now and then.

    “There's nothing wrong with that. There are tons of guys in the Hall of Fame that were like that.

    “It's neat to have money, it's neat to have good looks, and it's neat to have broads all over you. Every place I've managed, I've talked to kids about the same thing. It's a hell of a life. But there comes a time in every player's life when he needs to get his act together.”

    It’s not up there with, “Practice, man… we’re talkin’ ‘bout practice… ”, but Green’s money quote is a real doozy. But then again, Green is the only man to win a World Series as the manager of the Phillies and is rumored to have stopped Ed Wade and the gang from hiring Darren Daulton as the team’s manager over Larry Bowa.

    How much fun would it have been if he hadn’t?

    Anyway, the onus, as they say, is on Burrell for 2007. That’s a good thing. They say an animal that’s cornered will do one of two things – fight or roll over and reveal it’s soft, rounded belly.

    Here’s betting that Burrell will fight.

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    Monday, December 04, 2006

    The B(C)S

    Ed. note: John Turner, formerly of Comcast SportsNet, offered his perspective regarding the Bowl Championship Series.

    A Perfect Mess
    by John Turner

    The BCS is a perfect mess. It really is. Can you even imagine any other sport allowing its championship to be decided the way college football is?

    By the logic employed by this ridiculous system, Duke and Connecticut would have faced off against each other for the college basketball championship, no one on earth would have seen the way Florida dominated everyone in March and George Mason would have been relegated to playing the fifth best team from Conference USA.

    Thank God that the powers that be get some things right.

    Bashing the BCS is almost too easy. Year in and year out some team feels snubbed by the selection process and their only recourse is to go play in what amounts to a glorified exhibition game. Really, what does winning the Sugar Bowl even mean to a team if it isn’t for the BCS Championship?

    This year, like almost every year in its’ nine year history, the BCS has managed to screw things up. Since they edged out Michigan at home, everyone has known that Ohio State would be playing in the championship game.

    No problem. They are an undefeated team from a "power conference."

    The controversy comes because they will be playing Florida for the title.

    I have nothing at all against Florida and actually believe that Florida might be the best team in college football. Will a win over Ohio State confirm this in my mind?

    Of course not.

    My question is, what makes Florida more deserving of a shot at a National Title than Michigan, Louisville, or (dare I say it) Boise State?

    Let’s first look at Michigan’s case. This is a team who is coming off a dynamite year in which its only blemish is a three-point loss at Ohio State. Who can legitimately claim that the three-point differential might not have gone the other way had the game been played in Michigan?

    So dominating through their season was Michigan that each one of their wins was by a touchdown or more. In fact only three times all season, excluding the OSU game, did Michigan look up at the scoreboard and not see themselves in the lead (twice against Wisconsin and once against Ball State).

    The reason that Michigan isn’t getting a rematch against Ohio State is because somehow in not playing the last two weeks, poll voters decided that they are no longer a better team than Florida. Perhaps Florida’s SEC Championship victory over Arkansas convinced voters that Florida deserved the shot. My belief, however is that if No. 1 beats No. 2 by three points, it still probably means that the No. 2 team is still the second best team in the country. How could a loss to the No. 1 team diminish that? Had Michigan lost to a team ranked lower than it, than a drop in the rankings would make sense. A narrow loss to No. 1 when you are No. 2 should if anything affirms the fact that No. 2 is the second best team.

    Moving on to Louisville. Here is a team that was all the rage early in the season as a possible Championship contender. One loss to Rutgers, who is a triple overtime defeat away from being included in this article’s argument, and Louisville gets thrown right under the BCS bus.

    Finishing the season at 11-1 and winning games by an average of 24.6 points did not even get them a mention in the whole National Title debate.

    Sure, he argument can be made that the Big East is not as powerful as it once was and that Louisville was the beneficiary of a softer schedule, but couldn’t the same be said for the Pac-10 champions? Until a startling loss to UCLA on Saturday, everyone had USC penciled in to be Ohio State’s opponent in the championship, despite a loss to Oregon State, a team whose profile was significantly less prestigious than Rutgers. This loss however, never took USC out of the conversation despite the fact that their conference finished with a .554 winning percentage compared to the Big East’s .625.

    Which brings us to Boise State, the nation’s other undefeated team. Boise State, much like USC also played Oregon State this season. Unlike the Trojans, however, the Smurf Turfers beat the Beavers like they stole something in a 42-14 victory.

    Now, I will not argue that the WAC has the strength at the top that the Big Ten or SEC has, but don’t the Broncos at least deserve a chance to prove they can mix it up with the big boys? After all, no one thought George Mason would make a peep on the national radar until they actually blasted their way into the Final Four.

    So alas, here is the scenario that I am hoping for. I want Florida to defeat Ohio State for the BCS Championship. This would give each team one loss on the season. I would like USC to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl making both teams 11-2. I would like Louisville to down Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl to lift the Cardinals to 12-1 and Wisconsin to drop Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl to move to 12-1. Finally I would like to see Boise State top Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season as the only undefeated team.

    If this were to happen, no one could legitimately claim the National Championship with the possible exception of Boise State.

    Sure Florida would proudly raise the banner, but with an undefeated that played in a BCS bowl and three other one-loss teams from power conferences who could possibly take the Gators claim seriously?

    Oh yeah, the knuckleheads who run the BCS.

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    Dear Pen Pal

    When I was a kid I was a notorious letter writer. These were the days before the proliferation of cable television so forget about e-mail or the Internet. Unless one was making an un-fiber optic and scratchy-sounding, long-distance hard line phone call, the only way to communicate someone not in the same zip or area code was to write a letter.

    Everyone got letters from me. Relatives, friends, athletes, writers, etc. Most of these letters were mailed unsolicited and more than 50 percent were to people that could probably be categorized as celebrities. Regardless, almost everybody replied -- especially the athletes, who usually sent back autographed photos of themselves and nothing else. I always thought that was odd and a bit presumptuous because I didn't ask them for an autograph. I guess I was just looking for a pen pal.

    But generally speaking, from my experience media people were the worst at answering mail.

    It figures.

    Anyway, there was an interesting story on today where writer Bryan Curtis, who seemed to share my passion for letter writing, received a response from former Phillies pitcher Don Carman 15 years after it was sent. It seemed as if Carman stashed a bunch of his mail into a box before moving and forgot about it. When cleaning out his garage recently, Carman came across the old box of letters, but rather than simply pushing it to another side of the garage or tossing them out, the old lefty sat down and answered them all.

    Meanwhile, I don't think I'm ever going to get a response from Dave Winfield. However, Mike Schmidt appears to have dictated a letter to a secretary to send to me back in 1983. The same goes for O.J. Simpson, who sent along a 8x12, personalized autographed photo. Larry Bowa never did that, which fits because 20 years later that guy would barely even look at me.


    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Googling yourself

    Some more clerical things: first, there's a chance that I will have a guest writer handling things tomorrow. For now I think I'm going to keep his identity a secret just to build the anticipation and the drama. Hey, I like a show.

    Secondly, I think I might watch the Eagles game tomorrow night. I may even show up at the cozy and elegant U.S. Hotel on Main St. in Manayunk. I will probably have a guest game watcher or two with me there as well, but like the mystery writer I'm going to keep the names under wraps.

    That's just the way I am.

    Thirdly, occasionally I like to Google myself. What do you want, I'm shameless. But on this instance of digital navel gazing I came across a story I wrote while working for a newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa.. This story isn't one that appeared in the paper because if it was it would be really, really boring. Instead, it's a story about the time I went out to lunch and walked out on the check.

    Yeah, I was crazy like that.

    Anyway, this story isn't my best work. In fact, it's a rather stupid story and I dislike it very much. But even though I wrote this in 1999 I figure if I post it here I'll retain the publishing rights or something like that, so here it is:

    Stick 'em up
    Remember that opening scene in Pulp Fiction when Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are talking about the advantages of robbing a restaurant? Well, yeah, of course you do. Anyway, it certainly seemed as if Pumpkin had analyzed and rationalized why he and Honey Bunny should steal from crappy coffee shops when he presented the notion to her. He really made it sound like a good idea.

    Well let me tell you, unless you have a gun or a well-thought out escape plan, my suggestion is not to attempt to rob a restaurant. It’s way too hard and definitely not worth the trouble. Stick to liquor stores and gas stations. There’s more money in it…

    OK, OK. I digress. I never really robbed a restaurant -- at least not intentionally. Technically, yes, I suppose I have knocked over a dining establishment, but I didn’t really mean to. I mean, I didn’t go in there thinking I was going to eat a big meal before casually skipping out on the check. That’s just the way it worked out.

    Kind of.

    Here’s what happened:

    In one of those spur of the moment, "Hey, why don’t I go out to lunch at the Indian joint around the corner," revelations that we are all prone to, I decided to walk from my office on 2nd Street in Harrisburg to a restaurant called Passage to India, which is located near the city’s waterfront. Initially, my plan was to simply order a bowl of take-out soup so I could dine outdoors while staring at the river on what was turning out to be a glorious autumn afternoon. But when I arrived at Passage to India, I suddenly decided that I would indulge in the buffet luncheon. They served the basmati rice, lentils and other delicacies that I enjoy. Plus, there were lots of different curries, fennel and naan.


    So, just like that my soup in the sunshine turned into a leisurely feast. As I ate, tearing through two heaping plates filled with veggies, rice, lentils and the buttery naan, I read the newspaper accounts about the New York Yankees’ World Series clinching victory against the Braves the evening before. They had some type of cucumber soup, but I decided the soup would have to wait for another day. I already had my hands – and belly – full with the offerings from the buffet.

    Twenty minutes passed and I was finished with my feast. I continued to scan the stories about the Yankees while taking in the sights through the window of cars speeding toward the on-ramp of the Capital Beltway. If I craned my neck to right a bit, I could watch boats sailing on the sun-soaked Susquehanna. It was a beautiful day.

    Just then the waiter came by and snapped me out of my buffet-induced daydream and asked me if I “needed anything else.” He was a thin fellow dressed in a jacketless tuxedo with a sparse mustache that looked like crab grass sprouting next to the base of a flag pole. In his left earlobe was a bad, stud earring and his dark hair was brushed back and feathered in a way that made him look like he was an Indian adolescent trying to break away from his parent’s “old-world” mentality. This look, more Travolta circa ’77 than Metrosexual, was the waiter’s way of making himself appear "American," I told myself.

    "No thanks," I answered. "I’ll just take the check."

    With a flourish, Travolta produced the check for $7 from his back pocket and placed it on the table. Before he could walk away, I stopped him with a wave of my right hand as I searched my pocket with my left. I knew when I left for work in the morning that I didn’t have any cash on me, but I always carried a credit card. After digging around for what seemed like 10 minutes, but was actually only 10 seconds, I corralled the card from my pocket and handed it to him with corny flair. When he took it and left, I returned to the Yankees.

    Lost in my reading, I suddenly realized that it had been five minutes since Travolta took off with my credit card. Scanning the room, I saw him shake his head at the register that held the credit-card machine before ripping off a receipt and holding it high above his eyes to read it. Then, he thrust his arms back to his sides and made a beeline toward me.

    "Uh, sir. There was a problem," he said when he reached my table. "Your card came back like this… "

    He showed me the yellow slip with the word DECLINED printed beneath my name.

    "Uh-oh," I said. "That’s weird. I just used that thing this morning when I bought gas. I doubt that I could be over the limit."

    He had no retort. How could he? I figured I had paid off most of my balance the month before, but apparently the gas had pushed me over the top. But since I owned a few maxed out credit cards dating back to my days as a penniless, jobless, shiftless undergrad, I figured the folks at MBNA were sick of my act. No more free lunches for Johnny-boy, the message said.

    Nevertheless, Travolta remained standing over me searching for ways to help me out of my jam. After all, it was his tip that was on the line. And if I didn’t pay that $7, it would probably have to come out of his pocket. Judging from my natty business attire, he undoubtedly assumed that I liked to take care of the people who served me, even when it was buffet style. Then again, he could have thought that I was some type of scam artist who went to cheap lunch joints using nice clothes as a cover so that I could sneak out without paying my $7 tab. Come on, everybody’s seen that act.

    Suffice it to say, I was nervous. My palms began to sweat as my eyes scanned the restaurant for a familiar face or anyone who wanted to slip me a 10-spot.

    No such luck.

    "You don’t have any cash at all?"

    "Who walks around with cash these days?"

    It’s always good to answer a question with a question when you’re trying to skip out on a bill.

    Without a word, the waiter picked up my declined credit-card slip and marched to the cash register near the door. I folded up my newspaper, tucked it under my right arm and followed my card, which was now in the hands of the large woman manning the till. Quickly measuring her body language and demeanor, it was plain to see that she was the owner of Passage to India. Hopefully, she would listen to me as I pled my case and come to some kind of agreement for a payment. With any type of luck, I thought, she would notice that my way-too-soft hands would become cracked and damaged if I was forced to go in the back and wash dishes.

    "My credit card worked this morning when I bought gas, but now I don’t know what the problem is," I offered. "Can I give you my driver’s license or passport to keep until I come back with the cash?"

    I emptied my pockets right there at the register. She could take whatever she wanted as long as I could escape without performing some form of manual labor.

    "Don’t worry about it. You’ll be back. Just bring the money when you come back."

    I flashed a sheepish, apologetic grin as I refilled my pockets. Just then, the waiter chimed in.

    "No. Take something. Make sure he comes back."

    Damn. If I had any money I would have docked that smart ass’s tip. No one likes a lippy waiter. Not even people who are skipping out on the bill.

    Nevertheless, the waiter was silenced by his boss’s angry stare and my anguished look. Who did he think he was? All he did was poured me a glass of water. I got up out of my seat to get my own food. Sure, I didn’t pay, but he didn’t have to be a jerk about it.

    "You’ll be back," the boss said, still staring at her waiter. "Just sign your name on the back of the check in case you don’t come back."

    I signed. Happily. I wrote my full name, address, work and home phone numbers and my e-mail address. She had enough information to dabble in identity theft or at least run a credit check on me if she wanted, but we all knew how that would have turned out.

    "Thank you. Thank you very much," I said, working the doe-eyed-boy routine to the max. "I’m so embarrassed. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Thank you very much."

    The next day when lunch time rolled around, I walked back toward the river and Passage to India. This time, I didn’t want any soup and I didn’t want any rice or lentils. I was going to walk in, hand over a $10 bill, and walk out. Bing, bang, boom.

    But as soon as I walked through the door, my eyes immediately locked on my waiter. He was still dressed in the jacketless tuxedo with the crabgrass over his upper lip, and the bad earring pinned to his left lobe. His dark hair was just as puffy as it had been the day before. I took two steps before he noticed me and gave me a look like I was coming in to rob the place. Then again, technically, I did rob the joint a day ago.

    "I know why you’re here,” he smiled like one of those evil cartoon cats with all of the horizontal orange and black stripes.

    "Yes. Here you go." I handed over the $10 bill and turned to walk away.

    "Wait for your change," he hollered. "You must have your change."

    “Keep it. I owe you.”

    I thought that was fair. A $10 bill for a $7 check. So what if it was a day late. But for some reason, he wanted me to take the $3 in change. He pulled three bills out of the register and started after me.

    "No. Seriously. I’m not taking it. It’s yours."

    He insisted. He was becoming a pain in the butt – kind of like that kid in that John Cusack movie who follows him around on his bike repeating the same thing over and over again to the point that it has become a part of the pop culture lexicon. Actually, whenever I see John Cusack, with his dark coif and his sincere eyes, I immediately think of that crazy kid riding around on his bike and repeating the same damn phrase.

    "Three-dollars. I want my three-dollars… "

    I did not want my three dollars, but this guy wasn’t getting the point.

    "No," I finally shouted. "I don’t want it."

    With that, I put my head down and trotted out of there. I didn’t want to look back because I was afraid Travolta might be chasing me with $3 in his hand.

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    Burrell ain't so bad... is he?

    It's funny what a few ridiculous contracts can do for a guy's reputation. Suddenly, after Carlos Lee's mega-deal and a few other inflated pacts had been offered and signed by some rather mediocre free agents, Pat Burrell is beginning to look like a bargain for the Phillies.

    Believe it or not, the Phillies might be lucky they have Burrell.

    Check out the latest dispatch from Joe Sheehan in Baseball Prospectus:

    It will be interesting to see if Pat Gillick completes the hat trick and trades Pat Burrell, clearing the last of the three massive contracts he inherited a little over a year ago. At $14 million per through 2008, he's pretty much a bargain; heck, he’s 90% of the hitter that Carlos Lee is, and in any given year could outhit the Astros’ $100 million man. Burrell would be a good pickup for a team savvy enough to pick up the money on his deal instead of swapping prospects. The Twins would be a pretty good fit, actually. Maybe the White Sox as well, where Burrell could sit 30 times against the toughest righties.

    If they do trade Burrell, the Phillies will potentially have the worst-hitting outfield in the league. A Michael Bourn/Aaron Rowand/Shane Victorino combination would be fairly good with the gloves, and replacement level with the bats. Trot Nixon could be worth a gamble here, or perhaps Aubrey Huff. The Phillies were carried by three hitters during their run late in 2006; it would be a mistake to go that route again.

    Here's my theory: Burrell isn't going to hit .222 with runners in scoring position or .167 with runners in scoring position with two outs for two years in a row. In fact, if Burrell had hit just .250 with runners in scoring position, the Phillies just might have made the playoffs last season. He can probably do that by accident in 2007.

    At least he should do it by accident.

    You heard it here first -- Burrell will be good in 2007. Let's rephrase that... Burrell will be better in 2007 than he was in 2006. For $14 million with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the most prolific offense in the league surrounding him, Burrell isn't the Phillies' biggest concern.

    Besides, with the way most people have been writing him off this winter, Burrell should show up in Clearwater in three months with something to prove.

    Let's see -- 29 homers, 95 RBIs and .890 OPS? That will work.


    National Marathon: 16 weeks

    I had planned on writing about how it was 70 degrees at 1 a.m. on Dec. 1 and 30 degrees with wind chills in the teens just three days later. But since I don’t understand science or meteorology, I’ll just skip it. Today I did my first 20 miler since the before the Harrisburg Marathon even though I had planned on quitting at 9 miles. Then 10 miles. Then 11… 12 and 13.

    When I got to the 13-mile mark, I figured I would run a quick two-mile loop around Franklin & Marshall before calling it an afternoon. But suddenly I started to feel OK. It wasn’t necessarily a second wind, but my hamstrings felt better, each step was no longer a chore and the wind that sent the temperatures spiraling near single digits was either at my back or absorbed into the building or the trees.

    That’s when I figured I might as well get 20 miles under my belt and grinded it out in 2:13:38.

    Considering I was ready to pack it in 11 miles earlier, I did pretty well.

    Besides, after eating and drinking like a pig the day before I figured I owed it to myself to run long. My wife and I had a few friends and their kids come over for her “soup night” so I figured I had to indulge.

    And imbibe.

    I did all the above.

    Since I’m gearing up for the National Marathon on March 24 it was time to get serious – diet excluded, of course. Add in the fact that I plan on racing a 5k next Sunday, it’s time to run off the pounds of bread, cookies, wine, beer and soup(s) I stuffed into my stomach.

    It couldn’t have been that bad, though. Despite running just 11 miles on Sunday as part of a 10-mile tempo run (in 59:23), I put in 94.5 miles last week. It didn’t plan on doing so much, but I just couldn’t help myself.

    Here’s what happened:

    14 miles in 1:33:05
    The first 5 miles went in 32:37 just like the second 5. The last 3.3 miles on the field were slower, but I was oddly consistent.

    14 miles in 1:32:31
    Same run as yesterday, except that I ran 3 x 1,000 meters during my final five miles. I ran the surges very controlled at around 5-5:30 pace.

    first 5 - 33:15
    first 10 - 65:57
    last 3.3 - 20:48

    15.5 miles in 1:49:14
    Felt solid and relaxed, which is the way I needed to be after the past two runs. I ran a bunch of hills, which seems to affected the time, because I was running easy 6:45 miles.

    13 miles in 1:28:29
    Ran very consistently and slow. I felt a little tight and maybe even tired after three decent workouts this week. It was also 70 degrees today, which is odd.

    16 miles in 1:45:07
    I liked this one. I rushed to get out the door before the windy storm and even though I started a little tight and couldn't do another set of intervals, I worked on running each loop faster than the previous one.

    First 5 miles - 33:50
    Next 5 miles - 32:37
    Last 5 miles - 31:43

    11 miles in 1:12:28
    I actually stopped myself from running 13 or 14 today. I figured 11 was enough, especially since I had only planned on running between 70 to 75 miles this week. Nevertheless, it seems as if I'll be at 100 miles before the new year. I guess that's good.

    Today I felt a little tight and tired because of yesterday's run and not enough sleep last night. Plus, it was very windy and colder than it has been. Nonetheless, I battled through and did my first five miles on the field in 33:00. I kept that pace for the following two circuits before doing the last one a little quicker to finish in 32:37. I definitely didn't feel that fast, but I'll take it.

    11 miles in 66:00
    Ran strong but surprisingly didn't feel like a labored. In fact, it feels as if I really didn't push it at all. I ran the first 5 miles in 31:16 and the second 5 in 28:07 for 59:23 over 10 miles. I thought I could go a little faster, but to go 59:23 and not feel tired is pretty good.

    That’s 94.5 miles with a little more than three months to go and a 20 miler in the bank.


    Saturday, December 02, 2006

    The gift that keeps on giving

    Mike Lieberthal has definitely received more than his fair share of gifts from the Phillies during his 13 seasons in the big leagues. There’s the estimated $53 million is salary, as well as all of the other perks that baseball players have come to expect.

    That isn’t to say Lieberthal is greedy or selfish – at least no more or no less than any other person. He’s just a guy who is blessed with the rare talent of being able to hit a baseball reasonably well, and squat for a few hours a night while taking the routine punishment that goes with being a Major League catcher.

    Through all of it – the fickle, one-sided treatment from the fans and media – Lieberthal was able to turn in two All-Star appearances, a gold glove award, and a handful of surgeries all while catching more games than any other player in the team’s 123 season history.

    To be fair, all sides involved have received fair compensation. The Phillies got all those games and service, the fans got an above-average catcher for a few seasons, and the press got one of the better quotes and more interesting baseball minds to come through town in a long, long time.

    But just to show Lieberthal how much they really like him, the Phillies gave one last final gift to their all-time squattiest catcher.

    How about no offer of arbitration?

    By not offering Lieberthal – a free agent who made $7.5 million in 2006 – salary arbitration, the 34-year old can sign to play anywhere without that team being saddled with offering a compensatory draft pick back to the Phillies. That opens the door for the Southern California native to ink the reported one-year, $1 million deal to play for his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers as the club’s backup catcher in 2007.

    Had the Phillies offered Lieberthal arbitration, the reported deal from the Dodgers likely would have vanished.

    How’s that for a parting gift?

    The Phillies also bestowed the same kindness on free agent relief pitchers Aaron Fultz, Arthur Rhodes and Rick White; as well as infielder Jose Hernandez. Because all of those players were Type A free agents – meaning teams must give up a first- or second-round pick to sign them had the Phils offered arbitration – they become much more attractive to potential suitors.

    Instead they are free and unfettered.

    That’s not the case for outfielder David Dellucci, who was offered arbitration by the Phillies before Friday’s midnight deadline.

    This is significant because Dellucci had reached a three-year, $11.5 million agreement with the Cleveland Indians earlier in the week. Now, the Phillies will receive the Indians’ second-round pick and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds if the Tribe and Dellucci finalize the pact.

    If the deal falls through, the Phillies will be able to negotiate with Fultz, Rhodes, White, Hernandez and Lieberthal unlike in years past. Under the new collective bargaining agreement ratified last month players can continue to negotiate with their former clubs instead of waiting until May 1.

    That doesn’t appear likely, though.

    Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds declined to offer arbitration to Type-A free agent David Weathers, a player whom the Phillies are reported to be interested in adding to their bullpen. Regardless, it appears as if the Phillies were taking a wait-and-see tact with Weathers with general manager Pat Gillick admitting on Thursday that the team had not offered a proposal to the pitcher.

    Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants did not offer arbitration to Barry Bonds, which lead to the controversial slugger to sign with the A’s or Padres.

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    © 2006 - John R. Finger - all rights reserved