Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Worst person in the world

Yesterday, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee announced… nothing. After much deliberation, posturing, campaigning and whatever else the baseball folks with their secret ballots do, the Veterans Committee decided to tell good folks like Ron Santo, Marvin Miller, Buck O’Neil, Gil Hodges, Walter O’Malley and Jim Kaat to, well… maybe we shouldn’t rephrase it.

Let’s just say it ends with “… and die.”

Some already have.

Let's start with the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame is watered down. Based on some invisible criteria that elected borderline players – statistically speaking – it’s a real crime that Santo, O’Neil, Hodges, O’Malley, Don Newcombe and gasp! Marvin Miller can’t get the votes.

Do those electors have a clue as to what their mission is?

So what’s the deal with these folks? Is there anything that can be done about possibly taking the Hall of Fame voting away from the Veterans Committee and some sycophants in the Baseball Writers Association of America?

No. Probably not.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we can’t pick on them. At least that’s what Keith Olbermann did last night on his show Countdown. In his nightly feature, “Worst Person in the World,” Olbermann awarded the top place to the Veterans Committee (ahead of Anne Coulter and some guy who e-mailed a bomb threat into his school) saying they should do the correct thing and quit.

Here’s Olbermann:

But our winners tonight: The Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans. Given a choice of such overlooked immortals as Gil Hodges and Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Maury Wills, and such movers-and-shakers as Dodger owner Walter O'Malley, and players' union founder Marvin Miller.

Today, they elected... nobody.

Santo came closest – five votes short of the spot in the Hall of Fame he has long deserved. There will not be another vote until 2009... 2011 for the non-players.

The electors – including 61 current Hall of Famers – should voluntarily resign their positions, or be compelled to. They have made fools of themselves.


The Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans, Tuesday's Worst Persons In The World!

Here’s an idea for the Hall of Fame – let’s start over. Let’s take everyone out of the Hall of Fame… Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, etc., etc. and vote them back in. You know, rebuild it all from scratch. This time contributions to the game, citizenship and playing ability all count.

And let’s get people to vote on them who really care. Olbermann should get a vote. Bob Costas, too. Just not the same old, same old people who have been doing it in the past. The world changes, elements of baseball should as well.

On another note...
Barry Bonds needs bigger shoes.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

They buy those things for the gum

Yesterday we noted the very real gaffe on the Derek Jeter 2007 Topps baseball card which featured Mickey Mantle and George W. Bush photoshopped into the background. Today there was even more baseball card news when it was announced that the Honus Wagner T206 card from 1909 was sold for $2.3 million.

Easily the most famous and valuable card in existence because Wagner, aside from being a very good player, asked the tobacco manufacturer that created the card to take his out of circulation. Wagner, it seemed, didn’t want to be a shill for the tobacco company.

But wouldn’t know it that some guy added Teddy Roosevelt and the Phillies’ Ed Delahanty just off Wagner’s shoulder? Those wacky kids and their computers…

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Abreu finally takes a break

It seems so long ago, but the Phillies used to have Bobby Abreu. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the current team going through its paces in Clearwater in preparation for the 2007 season filled with high expectations with a player like Abreu. Just imagine a lineup with Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell and Abreu.

Think those guys could post a few runs?

Isn’t that what they did when he was here? It’s so hard to remember.

It’s been seven months since Abreu was a Phillie, which in baseball time is almost a lifetime ago. Seven months ago no one talked about protecting Ryan Howard in the lineup, because Howard was protecting Abreu. The opposition preferred to pitch to guys like Howard and Chase Utley instead and gave him nearly a walk a game. Compare that to the total he got when he joined the Yankees (33 in 58 games) and it was clear that Abreu was The Man with the Phillies.

Abreu, as we all remember, wasn’t really appreciated by certain elements of the sporting press and fandom in Philadelphia. His crime, it seemed was that he wouldn’t injure himself. And then even when he was injured Abreu still kept playing. During the stretch run of the 2005 season Abreu was so injured that he should have been on the disabled list. But since the Phillies were chasing the wild card Abreu ignored suggestions to take some time off in order to play.

He just thought that the team was better when he played.

For more than 151 games in the last nine straight seasons, Abreu has been out there working counts and getting hits in order to post the stats and help his team win. It’s just that in all of those games he chose not to run into outfield fences because, well… he wanted to play. Abreu believed that he was more valuable to his team over the long season by playing rather than being injured.

In Philadelphia, it seemed, we want out players to be injured unless, of course, they are actually injured.

Now with the Yankees, it appears as if the durable Abreu is finally injured. Actually, Abreu is so injured that he is going to be shut down from activity for at least the next two weeks because there is nothing the Yankees’ trainers can do for him.

The problem: a pulled oblique muscle in his right side.

“It was painful,” Abreu told reporters on Tuesday. “You just have to hang with it, and don't try to worry about too much. It's sore. I felt a little pain there and thought it was nothing to worry about. I kept swinging and then, after one swing, I felt a big pain.”

But come opening day everyone – Abreu included – expects the right fielder to be out there.

Like it or not, that’s just what he does.

The Phillies announced that Flyers' play-by-play man Jim Jackson has joined the broadcast team as the host of the pre- and post-game radio shows.

Fear not Flyers' fans, Jackson is not giving up hockey. Instead, the 20-year hockey veteran will get his first taste of Major League Baseball action.


Monday, February 26, 2007

And you thought that Billy Ripken card was funny

I saw the Derek Jeter baseball card story on several blogs and web sites today and I still can't wrap my head around it.

Did this really happen? George W. Bush and Mickey Mantle photoshopped into the background of Jeter's card? Really? How does that happen?

I can't wait to see what Topps came up with for Alex Rodriguez's card. Please tell me for A-Rod they have Dick Cheney shooting the Easter Bunny with a 12-gauge on the outfield grass at Fenway with Babe Ruth standing off to the side eating a hotdog.


Mike Schmidt statement on Pat Burrell

As a former Phillies player, I'm honored to be a guest at this camp. As a guest I want to do my best to steer clear, and put to bed any issues that may lead to controversy. With regard to the past article where I commented on Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn, understand the article was about the propensity of power hitters to strike out. As you all know, I'm pretty well versed on that subject being in the top five of all-time, having K'd almost 1,900 times.

I believe a goal of any hitter should be to make contact, especially in crucial at-bats, by understanding how to hit defensively with two strikes, something that me 14 years to learn. My use of the term "mediocre" was in poor taste, and I'm sorry if it offended, but it was not intended to label Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn, or their accomplishments, but to point out that at some point, as a result of reducing strikeouts, their future accomplishments will make their past seem "mediocre."

Since meeting Pat six years ago, I have re-lived my career through him, as we have so many similarities. I root for him every game, and feel that in 2007, given good health and 600 at-bats, Pat will assert himself as one of the top run producers in baseball.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Taking de France out of the Tour

Here’s the question I assume that most Americans probably have regarding the recent developments in the Floyd Landis case, and I’m prefacing it with the fact that I don’t really understand Americans all that well. At least that’s the case when it comes to culture and politics.

Nevertheless, when it comes to Landis the question is this:

Is he getting off because of a technicality or is he getting off because the test results are wrong?

Which is it? And it’s just so black and white, right?

Be that as it is, let’s get one thing clear – Landis will be officially vindicated. He will not lose his 2006 Tour de France victory. (Doesn’t that sound like a weird sentence? He will not lose his victory?)

So do we apologize to Floyd, or what?

Let’s back track for a second… Landis, the Californian via Lancaster County, Pa., is out on his “Vindication Tour ‘07” as the case against him crumbles like trans-fat laden cookie. According to a story in The Los Angeles Times by Michael A. Hiltzik, the French lab that handled Landis’ urine samples for the allegedly dirty samples following the 17th Stage of last year’s Tour de France did not follow proper testing procedure.

The most critical error from the controversial French laboratory is that it allowed two technicians to analyze both Landis' initial and validating urine analyses. That’s a violation of international standards, according to the LA Times report, because the same technicians cannot analyze both tests.

In that regard it sounds as if Floyd will walk on a technicality. But it opens up the question of whether or not the technicians were covering up their own tracks seeing that Landis passed every other drug test he ever took.

In those matters, check out Steroid Nation, as well as Trust But Verify – the extremely thorough site devoted exclusively to Landis coverage.

Meanwhile, Landis claims there are more mistakes from the lab that apparently erred and destroyed Landis’ reputation in some circles. If it is in fact revealed that the lab is liable for the errors and the Tour de France is complicit in hiring a “criminal” lab to do its testing, then what should happen?

Obviously, the lab faces lawsuits galore not just from Landis, but also from other riders it may have implicated. In terms of credibility, that lab is out of business.

But what about the Tour? Could it be that the Tour is guilty, too? How does one punish an event?

How about taking it away from France?

Yeah, that’s right – take the Tour out of France.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sports in the last decade it’s that athletes go where the money is and no one really cares about the venue. Sure, places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park are cool to play in and in some regard the athletes enjoy the history and legacy and all of that stuff. But the reality is that those places are for the fans. If you give athletes money to run, jump, throw, ride or punch in someone’s backyard, they will show up.

Actually, they’ll show up early.

In other words it doesn’t matter if the Tour de France goes through the Alps and finishes at the Champs-Élysées. All that matters is if the best (clean) riders in the world are competing against each other at the same time. So hold the race in Spain, Germany, the United States or anywhere else for that matter. Put the money on the table and let the athletes go to work.

Just don’t let the same people continue to run people’s reputations and lives into the ground... if, in fact, that's what actually happened.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

The best and the worst

For a team that has won exactly one World Series title since its inception in 1883 and just one playoff appearance after 1983 (none since 1993), it’s a wonder that the Phillies haven’t run out of players to induct into their Wall of Fame. Yet year after year the Phillies keep sending out lists of players for us to vote on.

This year the 15 players on the ballot are:

Pitchers: Larry Christenson, Jim Konstanty, Ron Reed, Dick Ruthven, Rick Wise
Catcher: Darren Daulton
Infielders: John Kruk, Fred Luderus, Juan Samuel, Pinky Whitney
Outfielders: Lenny Dykstra, Von Hayes
Manager: Gene Mauch
Coaches: Mike Ryan, John Vukovich

The criterion for consideration, according to the Phillies, is:

Phillies players with five or more years of service are eligible. Managers and coaches need four or more years of service.

In addition to a player’s statistical record, consideration is given to longevity, ability, contributions to the Phillies and baseball, character and special achievements.

Out of the 15 eligible, I cast my vote(s) for Jim Konstanty, Darren Daulton and Gene Mauch. Too many more and there won’t be anyone left on the ballot for next year.

Konstanty gets the vote for one season. In 1950, as a relief pitcher, Konstanty appeared in a then Major League record 74 games and was National League’s MVP that season. When the Phillies got to their first World Series since 1915, Konstanty took the ball and started Game 1for his first start in approximately four seasons.

Ultimately Konstanty only won 51 games and saved 54 in 6½ seasons for the Phillies, but he was one of the pioneers in that he was a true relief specialist, who was versatile and strong enough to pile up more than a 100 innings.

Don’t tell me the Phillies wouldn’t like to have a relief pitcher to toss 50 or so innings this season.

I don’t think I have to get too into why Daulton should be enshrined. Simply, he may have been one of the most important players the franchise ever had. Importance of a player, of course, belies simple things such as numbers on a page and in that regard Daulton is both simple and complex. He led the league in both RBIs and knee operations… then moved to the outfield after two decades of squatting.

Better yet, he was the straw that stirred the drink in ’93. Ask anybody.

Mauch, on the other hand, was regarded as one of the best baseball minds as well as the most star-crossed. He’s has managed more seasons without reaching the World Series than anyone else. Worse, Mauch has come so excruciatingly close to getting there only to fall through a trap door.

There was 1964, which people around here remember, but then in 1982 he guided the California Angels to 2-0 lead in the best of five series only to drop the final three games to the Milwaukee Brewers. That was the first time that had ever happened.

In 1986, Mauch’s Angels were one pitch away from beating the Boston Red Sox in five games of the best-of-seven ALCS before Donnie Moore served up the famous home run to Dave Henderson. The Red Sox went on to win Game 5 and then games 6 and 7 to further extend Mauch’s curse.

Yet for the Phillies, Mauch turned a laughingstock into a contender by winning 646 games in a little more than eight seasons. From 1962 to 1967, Mauch’s Phillies finished .500 or better in every season, which was a rarity for the franchise.

We're the worst!
According to U.S. News and World Report my neighbor James Buchanan is still the worst president in the history of our union. But then again history is always evolving and an endless cycle and I’m sure that maybe in another two years or so, “Old Buck” as he was known, could be bumped up a notch.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Buchanan served from 1857 to 1861 and was in office when the first shots of the Civil War were fired. A contradictory figure, Buchanan was known as a southern sympathizer, yet would buy slaves and bring them back to Lancaster to free them.

Some of Buchanan’s “highlights” in office include:

  • Refused to challenge the constitutionality of slavery and supported compromises that allowed it to spread into U.S. territories.

  • Encouraged the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court in his Inaugural Address, which became one of the major factors that led to the Civil War.

  • Though he claimed secession was illegal, he claimed going to war to stop it was also illegal.

  • Watched silently as the southern states formed the Confederacy.

  • When Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina, stabbed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the United States Senate, Buchanan did nothing.

    Buchanan did a bunch of good things, too. Namely, he turned the union over to Abraham Lincoln and his name was on an excellent elementary school for which I am an alumnus.

    Buchanan’s stately mansion “Wheatland” is open for tours year round, and if you a presidential history buff it’s worth the visit. And if you come by let me know… I’ll give directions and the “insiders” tour of the ‘hood.

    More: The 10 worst presidents
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    Thursday, February 22, 2007


    It was probably at the training camp before the 1984 NBA season where I was rebounding shots for Andrew Toney during his regular, after-practice routine. As the resident gym rat at F&M’s Mayser Gym and a neighborhood kid who used the campus as a playground (and sometimes turned up at fraternity parties on College Ave. long before getting to the seventh grade), plum jobs during the annual 76ers’ training camp were a good way to learn about the game.

    Because I watched him shoot so much and threw him thousands of passes, my own shot was almost a copy of Toney’s. There was the little step with the right foot before rising to release one with a right hand that found the bottom of the net more often than the iron of the rim. No, Andrew Toney wasn’t a bad guy to develop a shot with.

    But during this outing as the fans who packed the gym to watch practice and a scrimmage were filing out, one man shouted at Toney – the noted “Boston Strangler” – that the Sixers’ top rival in the Atlantic Division didn’t have a guard that could keep him in check:

    “The Celtics are worried, Andrew. They don’t have any one who can stop you. No one.”

    But before returning the ball to Toney, I hesitated for a second and said to him just before firing another pass, “Yeah, but they just got D.J. didn’t they?”

    “That’s why we’re here,” he said, shooting another one… and then another one... and then many, many more until it felt like my arms were going to fall off. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned D.J.?

    D.J., of course, is the great Dennis Johnson, the defensive stalwart the Celtics acquired from Phoenix specifically to put the clamps on the Boston Strangler. Reports all over the Internet are that Johnson collapsed and died after a post-practice one-on-one game in Austin, Tex. where he coached in the NBA Developmental league. He was just 52 years old.

    Meanwhile, the rest who can recall watching D.J. play in vivid detail just got a little bit older.

    But as far as clutch players go, Johnson was right up there amongst the greatest who ever played. He had the wherewithal to streak to the hoop, catch the pass and lay it in after Bird swiped Isaiah’s pass in that playoff game at the Garden. He also stepped up and drilled a 20-footer at the buzzer – a shot that soared like a flying dagger at the hoop – to beat the Lakers and tie the NBA Finals in Game 4 in ’85.

    In addition to putting the clamps on Toney, Johnson was also charged with guarding Magic in the Finals and making sure Bird and Kevin McHale got their shots as the quarterback of two championship teams during the 1980s. When D.J. was handling the ball for your team, you felt safe.

    “He was one of the most underrated players in the history of the game, in my opinion, and one of the greatest Celtic acquisitions of all time,” said former Boston teammate Danny Ainge. “D.J. was a free spirit and a fun personality who loved to laugh and play the game. We had spoken at length just the other night about basketball and his excitement about coaching the Austin Toros.”

    Larry Bird once called Johnson the best teammate he ever had.

    That’s not bad for a guy who didn’t even play on his high school team and drove a forklift following school. Yet somehow Johnson was able to wind up at Pepperdine University for one season and the NBA a year after that.

    Three years after that he was named MVP of the NBA Finals.

    Johnson came to the Celtics after leading the Seattle Supersonics to the 1979 NBA title over the defending champion Washington Bullets. I remember watching the clinching game when we lived in Washington and thinking, “Man, that Johnson dude is a pest.” And when the Celtics got him I thought that the balance of power in the Atlantic Division just shifted away from Philadelphia and back to Boston.

    Johnson went on to greater acclaim with the Celtics largely in part because he was the perfect anecdote for superstars Bird, McHale and Robert Parish. Back in those days the Celtics were clearly Bird’s team, but it was D.J.’s show. Bird was the man but Johnson made everything run on time.

    But the one thing that keeps coming out in the reports on such a difficult day is just how fun Johnson was. That’s a pretty good way to be remembered.

    And man oh man could he ever play.


    Thomas Jefferson - The Remix

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    The return of Kelly Leak

    When asked about the most realistic baseball movies, my answer is simple – there are two that hold up. Unless you have a couple hours to kill the others aren’t quite up to the reality challenge.

    The two: Bull Durham and the original The Bad News Bears.

    At least from my point of view from spending the last seven years around a professional baseball team as well as a childhood and adolescence playing the game, those two films best captured the essence of the game.

    It’s probably me, though. I don’t like the sappy side of baseball simply because I’ve never seen it in real life. People strike out, coaches and parents push too hard, there’s always someone bigger, faster or better. The best way to deal with it is to enjoy it and not take it so seriously – that’s what they learned at the end of The Bad News Bears, and what Crash Davis taught everyone on the Durham Bulls.

    Although I do have that romantic, NPR, baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life buried deep in the locus of my mind, I only bring it out when I'm killing time and watching The Natural or Field of Dreams… alone. Maybe that's because I've seen the real side of baseball and know that the romanticized view doesn't exist except for on Old-Timers Day or in Cooperstown. Baseball is curse words, a hot grounder that misses a glove and turns the shin purple, spitting and an obstructed-view, upper-deck seat next to a drunk who just spilled another beer on your shoes.

    It’s also a bit of a metaphor for the life of Jackie Earle Haley.

    Haley, as most remember, played Kelly Leak – the hard-hitting, motorcycle-riding badass in The Bad News Bears. He also played Moocher in Breaking Away, the coming-of-age movie that first made Dennis Quaid a star. I remember watching it on TV – before the proliferation of HBO etc. – in the 1980s and being mesmerized by the story and the bicycle scenes. Maybe that’s where the fascination with endurance sports started… who knows.

    Either way, in two of the best movies released during the mid-to-late 1970s, Jackie Earle Haley was front and center.

    And then he disappeared.

    The transition from child star to adult actor appears to be a slippery slope that has claimed many – count Haley as one who didn’t make the transition from potential star to working actor so well. But in one of the great redemption stories that has caught the eye of just about every mainstream media outlet, Haley not only is back, but also will be in the running to win an Academy Award this Sunday night for his role in adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel Little Children. Prior to that, Haley had a significant role in the re-make of the adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.

    Not bad for someone who had spent the previous 15 years as a limo driver, pizza delivery man, construction worker and infomercial producer.

    Check out his story:
    from “I felt like it was supposed to happen this way”

    from The Washington Post: A Former Child Star's Grown-Up Reward

    Certainly, Haley doesn’t need a trophy to validate his work. And as we all know, the Academy Awards are the biggest bunch of b.s. out there. But if there is anyone up for the award who has paid more dues than Haley, then, yes, give them the trophy.

    Let's hope Tanner Boyle can make a comeback, too.

    Pat Burrell's engagement pictures are floating around on the Internets. Could the pending nuptials be the linchpin to a big season?

    All that and brains, too
    Chase Utley has joined a "virtual march" to help raise awareness about Global Warming. Let's hope that he can start his march by taking a sledge hammer to Jon Lieber's stupid truck.

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    Tuesday, February 20, 2007


    I’m not angry about anything today. The snow and ice (or “snice”) is finally starting to melt and it looks like I might be able to get my car out of the driveway by tomorrow some time. I also had a decent run that wasn’t impeded by too much snice that formed like a glacier over the neighborhood. I’m properly caffeinated, not over-fed and everything appears to be coming off without a hitch.

    Since that’s the case, let’s just do an old-fashioned link dump.


  • In New York the big deal seems to be the story about the relationship between A-Rod and Derek Jeter. Actually, it all sounds like the time in eighth grade when my friend John got angry with me for making fun of his parachute pants. Hey, he knew where he got those pants – why should I apologize because he wore the same pants as Micki Free?

    Nevertheless, Tyler Kepner and Ben Shpigel of The New York Times are keeping a baseball blog this season. Guess what? It’s pretty good.

  • No one asked, but judging from some of the photos from Clearwater, Ryan Howard isn’t in great shape.

    Remember in the old days when guys showed up at spring training and wore those rubber jackets the entire time? It’s interesting to see how far training and the science behind it has come.

  • Here’s one – three guys ran across the Sahara Desert. To cover the 4,000 miles in 111 days, the trio ran the equivalent of two marathons a day.

  • What’s going on with the Phillies? Check it out, I broke it down:

    In today's Daily News, Marcus wrote about Jayson Werth and how he hopes to catch on with the Phillies.

    In today's Inquirer, Todd wrote about Jayson Werth and how he thinks he can help the Phillies.

    In today's Courier Post, Radano offered this piece on Jayson Werth and his prospects for 2007.

    In Tuesday’s edition of the News Journal, Scott Lauber gets in to how Jayson Werth is looking to bounce back in 2007.

    On, Ken Mandel takes a look at the maturation of prospect Kyle Drabek.

    For today’s edition of the Bucks County paper, Randy Miller wrote about Jayson Werth and his recovery from surgery.

    The good people in Delaware County were treated to a story by Dennis Deitch about how Jayson Werth says he has something to prove in 2007.

    Stephen Miller of the Morning Call wrote in the Tuesday edition about how Jayson Werth is feeling ready to contribute in 2007.

  • Elsewhere, Paul Hagen’s updates on Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal were excellent.
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    Monday, February 19, 2007

    More Charles


    Same old song

    For as long as Ryan Howard has been a part of the Philadelphia sporting scene, which goes back to 2002, steroids never entered my mind. I never thought about anything regarding illegal drugs or performance enhancing substances when Howard was smashing all those homers.

    From my vantage I saw a guy who really had an idea of how to hit. In the batters’ box he also seemed to be thinking even if he struck out, and even in the minor leagues he was always making adjustments. He was always one step ahead of the competition.

    Last year, though, the steroid question popped up, which was equally rationale and infuriating. Because such sweeping ideas which are always lacking in depth and nuance come from the national media, it made sense. They don’t watch Ryan Howard play every day. They don’t appreciate the intricacies of his regime and day-to-day effort. All they see are the numbers.

    Anyone who has been in the Phillies’ clubhouse knows that if Ryan Howard is taking steroids he’s taking the wrong ones.

    Nevertheless, the steroid question sprung up again during Howard’s pre-Spring Training press conference in Clearwater yesterday.
    A bunch of other questions came up, too, but since the national media was there, the steroid issue was out in front.
    That’s fine and expected, but when is it going to end? Is it going to end? I doubt anyone really thinks Howard is cheating, but will there ever be a day when the questions about it ever stop?

    It’s very doubtful.

    Lance vs. Pound
    One thing is for sure: Lance Armstrong will never escape the questions about performance-enhancing drugs, and Dick Pound will never stop talking about Armstrong.

    In The New York Times, George Vecsey writes about how the pair are tied to each other – kind of like Magic and Bird.

    Making the rounds
    John Amaechi is not the first gay man to play in the NBA. He won’t be the last, either. He’s also not the first gay man to play professional sports to write a book, and it’s doubtful he will be the last.

    In other words, there is nothing particularly interesting about his story. Amaechi is not a trailblazer, was barely a marginal player in the NBA and was an above average player for Penn State mostly because he was a center who could get up and down the court.

    As far as being gay goes… whatever. The fact that something like that is still an issue in 2007 is sad. Just get in the pot already. It also reminds me of a quote from Gandhi when he was asked what he thought about American culture:

    “It would be a good idea.”

    Nevertheless, Amaechi was in Philadelphia doing the canned interviews with all of the outlets to sell more books – a fact that seemed to be lost on those doing the interviewing. Tim Hardaway, Shavlik Randolph and their unfathomable idiocy aside, the only reason Amaechi is even in the news is because ESPN published his book. His story really isn’t that extraordinary – in fact, it’s probably very normal.

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    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Barkley vs. Bavetta

    Does anyone think Barkley has been to sleep since landing in Vegas?


    Just waiting for the ice to melt

    Here's a few interesting stories from Sunday's sports pages to read while we contemplate whether it it would be a smart idea to use a bit of kerosene and a Bic lighter to remove the ice from the city streets...

    Homeboy Floyd Landis has a book coming out on the eve of this year's Tour de France. Entitled Positively False, Landis, obviously, is out to restore his name following last summer's drug testing debacle but it seems as if his real aim is to secure stronger rights for athletes and overhaul the anti-doping system.

    I’ll wager that even drug zealot Dick Pound believes the current anti-doping system needs a few repairs here and there, so it will be interesting to read what Floyd comes up with… better yet, if we get a copy of the book we’ll even offer a big-time, full review right here and on Whether or not anyone believes Floyd isn’t the issue – drugs/cheating is. How do we know we aren’t watching professional wrestling?

    Meanwhile, Steroid Nation discusses if Landis' lawyers are bleeding him dry.

    Speaking of cheating, check out Rich Hofmann’s column from Friday’s Daily News.

    On another note, because of the ice and snow problem here in near Franklin & Marshall, we’re about to head near Floyd’s old ‘hood for today’s run. It should be a fun change and very scenic.

    Even more: Trust But Verify

  • Anyone who doesn’t read Scott Lauber’s reports from Clearwater for the Wilmington News Journal is missing out. Scott is heading into his second season covering the Phillies and really knows his stuff… now, if we can just do something about his personality. He’s about as friendly as a punch in the face.

  • After reading Todd Zolecki’s story about Chris Coste in today’s Inquirer, I have determined that Todd has a baseball card collection buried in the back of a closet in Wisconsin.

  • Apparently the NBA All-Star Game is today…


    Heading to Farmersville…
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    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    Another blast from the past


    Boring ourselves to death

    Not too long ago, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban took the media to task for its fascination with salaries of entertainment figures (athletes included) as well as how much it costs to make a movie or buy a team, etc.

    Basically, Cuban wondered why salaries of rich people were so important to media types and why the financial side was always centered on the wealthy.

    He wrote:

    If making salaries public is so important, why don't reporters disclose their salaries? If weekly box office is so important, why don't newspapers report daily sales and subscription numbers? If box office is the ultimate reflection of the quality of a movie, shouldn't a newspaper, or magazines ' daily or by issue sales be a reflection of the quality of that issue?

    It's not hypocritical is it?

    Hearing Cuban on the subject made me look back to see if I wrote about individual salaries and how much money people make. Guess what? I did. A lot. Worse, I'm not even sure I noticed what I was doing. In retrospect, I suppose, I wrote about such things without even thinking – a salary, it seems, is just another statistic like batting average or ERA. And like those stats, salary figured in whether or not a player could be moved or if others could be acquired.

    But the part that is mystifying is that salaries never interested me nor did it really indicate anything to me about a person. The fact that Chase Utley recently signed such a large contract is not interesting at all. It proves nothing and doesn't make Utley smarter or a better player. It's meaningless.

    Needless to say, these types of ideas are not in line with conventional thinking. Actually, it's more like if the world is a rat race then it's OK to be a rat. Perhaps because of the way I was raised – in my bourgeoisie-ness with that safe and sound middle-class safety net where deeds and ideas are the most important thing, failure is easily fixed, and the total pursuit of money is viewed as a tacky move of a Philistine – I was never motivated by money. That’s both good and bad, but we’ll leave that alone for now.

    The point is that I never really thought much about advertising another man’s salary simply because he was paid a lot of money and was on a professional baseball team. At the heart of it, Cuban was railing against people like me and he was/is correct.

    But it gets deeper than that, too. Over the past two days regular readers of this site have been “treated” to a few not-so-subtle jabs at Jon Lieber’s purchase of a $211,000 truck, that, frankly, I find superficial, wasteful and disgusting for many, many reasons. But at the same time, I don’t know if I’m more disgusted that Lieber enjoyed flaunting his vehicle that cost about the same amount as the median price of a single-family home in the U.S. or the media’s coverage of it.

    Maybe what Cuban meant to write was that stories like this aren’t just hypocritical, they’re boring. Worse, it seems as if the media is more focused on the wealthy and superficial than the things that really matter.

    As of the January 15, 2007, the war in Iraq costs the U.S. $229 million a day, but space on web sites and newspapers is given to a guy with an expensive car because he can throw a baseball reasonably well.


    I don’t think anything will change, and I’m not about to wage a war against the celebrity culture and frivolousness. For one, I can’t win, and for another, I’m a participant. Overcoming personal hypocrisy and contradictions is never easy.

    But at least someone is taking notice. In a story in the National Journal, William Powers points out that the media’s fascination with wealth has become trite and ubiquitous.

    Powers writes:

    Stories about the rich are nothing new. Wealth is intrinsically interesting, and extreme wealth all the more so. You see a piece about the grandiose estates the hedge-fund crowd has been building in Greenwich, Conn., the new capital of conspicuous consumption, and some mix of admiration, envy, disgust and pure voyeurism naturally pulls you in. The mega-rich have always been a nice cottage industry for the news media, and there's nothing wrong in that.

    But we've crossed some line in recent years. The press covers these people not just as the narrow slice of society that they are, but more and more as the only slice that matters; not as exotic exceptions to the cultural norm, but as the norm itself. This is especially true in the leisure/lifestyle realm, where the market for eight-figure houses is sometimes covered as if it were a popular trend.

    More importantly:

    Indeed, the media are so saturated with the very wealthy, the story line is losing its novelty. When covering human excess, a less-is-more approach is the way to keep 'em coming. By normalizing the very rich, journalists are making them boring, which is the opposite of news.

    Meanwhile, the old middle class -- remember them? -- is taking on a strange magnetism. Did you know there are actually Americans who live very happily on five-figure incomes, without a single pied-a-terre? It's so amazing, it almost feels like a story.

    Full disclosure: I’m driving a 1998 Honda Accord with 136,000 miles on it. The car is blue, was recently inspected, and hopefully ready for 136,000 more miles. For some reason my golf clubs are still stashed in the trunk, too. I also drive a Saturn Vue that we bought in 2004. It’s black and drives fairly smooth even though I intentionally drove it into a pile of petrified plowed snow this morning… not a good idea. The front-wheel drive is no match for ice.

    In Clearwater…
    Pitching coach Rich Dubee wants the Phillies’ catchers to take more proprietorship in calling games.

    In Lancaster…
    It appears as if the snow and ice still hasn’t been removed (don’t get me started), however, nothing could stop the J.P. McCaskey Red Tornadoes from winning a third straight Lancaster-Lebanon League championship on Friday night in Hershey, Pa.

    The Tornadoes whipped Lancaster Catholic by 29 points for the largest victory in the league’s championship game. The victory also gave McCaskey 10 league championships in 34 seasons and it is just the second school to win three in a row.

    No L-L League team has ever won four in a row, but with 10 of the 14 players for McCaskey slated to return next season it’s going to be hard to stop them.

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    Friday, February 16, 2007

    He can act too?

    The talk around the Phillies on Friday in Clearwater wasn't regarding Freddy Garcia leading the rotation, or even Jon Lieber's mode of transportation. Instead, media-types were floored by manager Charlie Manuel's nuanced performance in one of the team's soon-to-be-released TV promotions.

    Click here to watch Manuel's acting chops that will soon earn him an appearance on "Inside the Actor's Studio."

    Yes, it's that good.


    Notes from the warmer ground

    Got an extra $1.7 million sitting around? Jon Lieber's house in Newtown Square, Pa. is on the market. Do you think he's unloading it to pay for his $211,000 truck?

    * According to the writers covering the team in Florida, Chris Coste has a big booster in manager Charlie Manuel.

    The skipper told reporters:

    "What Coste did last year definitely has to be considered. He caught for us in big games down the stretch. He showed he definitely can do the job in the major leagues, and he definitely can come off the bench and hit."

    More: And So it Begins
    Even more: Day 1: Chillin' in Florida

  • Though he only played with the team for a little more than two months, the New York Yankees announced that they will honor the memory of Cory Lidle by wearing a black armband on their trademarked pinstripes. Moreover, Lidle's No. 30 has not be issued to another player this spring.

    Meanwhile, after spending a little more than two years with the team, the Phillies reportedly will not memorialize their former pitcher in 2007. In fact they have already re-issued his No. 30 -- twice.

    More: The Cory Lidle Foundation

  • In drug news, some colleges that play Division III football are going to participate in a pilot drug-testing program.

  • Pat Burrell is in camp and talking about his role with the team in 2007. Yes, he thinks he can "protect" Ryan Howard.

    More: The Protection Myth
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    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Watching Clearwater from 6 degrees

    Let’s go out on a limb and guess that Jon Lieber didn’t see An Inconvenient Truth, nor did he read the briefings from the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol during his winter break. We’re going to guess that Lieber spent some time stalking and killing small animals, but whatever…

    Nevertheless, Jon Lieber showed up at camp with a ridiculous looking truck that is 9 feet, 2 inches tall and 25,000 pounds, with six doors, 45-inch wheels, seating for seven, a satellite dish and customized leather interior and takes $500 just to fill the 50-gallon gas tank that gets 12 miles to the gallon.

    As Marcus Hayes wrote:

    It was an audacious entrance for a player who doesn't really have a spot on the ballclub.

    There is no word whether roly-poly Lieber shot a spotted owl or clubbed a baby seal on the ride from his home in Alabama to Clearwater.

    Meanwhile, the oft-injured Lieber, who manager Charlie Manuel has told to trim down over the last two season, says he weighs 243 pounds after finishing the 2006 season close to 250. He said he wants to get down to 235 pounds before the season starts though he doesn’t think being out of shape affects an athlete.

    “That's been my whole career. When I weighed 215, they were on me about my weight. The weight thing, I've heard it my whole life. I'm not worried about it. If you guys think I'm fat and out of shape, you guys will say it. But I feel great. I'm ready to help.”

    Nah… maybe he’s just big-boned.

    On another note, Lieber is two-inches taller and 80 pounds heavier than 21-season veteran Jamie Moyer.

    More: Reason #56 To Love Philadelphia: Jon Lieber's Truck
    More: Debunking myths and bad jokes - Global warming? It’s 14 below!

    An interesting quote from Pat Burrell in the Inquirer regarding the Phillies desire to get some so-called “protection” for Ryan Howard in the lineup:

    “…he had a pretty good year last year, good enough to win the MVP. So something was going on right.”

    It’s cold, the roads are icy and I’m salty
    Looking to do something related to public relations or marketing or whatever it is companies do to revive a so-called “image problem,” the Inky publicized the addition of two new columnists to its Sunday roster.

    One of those columnists is Mark Bowden, a former Inky scribe who worked on the news side and covered the Eagles before becoming the best-selling author of Blackhawk Down and Killing Pablo to name two. Some have offered that Bowden was one of the best investigative journalists working so bringing him back into the fold is quite a boon.

    Though some called it a bit pedantic, Bowden’s first offering – on the need for diplomacy with Iran – was something new for paper increasingly concerned with local coverage. The fact that Bowden is also the author of Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam gave a little more weight to the words.

    Adding Bowden was a smart move by the Inquirer.

    Meanwhile, the second addition is a man named Michael Smerconish, who is a local radio talk-show host who appears to be a marginalizing figure the way Howard Eskin is for WIP. Smerconish, who also writes a column for the Daily News, plays on the mundane clichés of “liberal” and “conservative” and partisan hackery as if those ideas still have any real meaning.

    It’s boring stuff, but another good move by the Inquirer because people might talk about the Smerconish guy. Yes, his scope is purely local and when one gets out here to the far provincial outposts like Lancaster, no one has heard of Smerconish. But it seemed like a good addition nonetheless.

    That’s until his “column” appeared. Instead of offering ideas, engaging prose and story-telling, Michael Smerconish offered a litany of “what I believe.” Worse, the Inquirer printed it and posted it to its web site.

    And they wonder why people under the age of 50 don’t buy newspapers any more.

    After stomaching the first few paragraphs it was clear that the dude wasn’t suited for a column – a blog would be more apt.

    Hey, that’s just what I believe.

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    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    Go figure... it's warm in Florida

    Let’s start with what you are going to see in the first dispatches from the Phillies’ training camp in sunny Clearwater, Florida. They pitchers will be doing the requisite calisthenics and running along the outfield grass. They will be images of them smiling and laughing while playing catch – maybe even a whoop or holler from a hitter as the crack of the bat gives off the aurality of a shotgun report as a line drive rockets toward US-19.

    It’s fun just imaging it.

    But then it happens. Some TV reporter – or maybe even a coach or player – will come on the screen with a Cheshire-cat grin as they inform viewers that the current temperature is 68 degrees and the weekly forecast is only calling for temps in the mid-60s.

    “Getting a little chilly down here,” someone will condescendingly spit through that grin.

    Frankly, those moves are nothing more than the refuge of an ultimate hack, so get ready for it. Just resist the urge to shout back at the TV, “Hey Hack, I guess you’re trying to point out that it gets warm in Florida. Right? Gee, I didn’t know that. Guess what? It snows in Pennsylvania during the middle of February. Sometimes it even gets cold and I didn’t even have to get the meteorological society stamp of approval to figure that one out. Now get back to your 30-second ‘report’ while I sit here and wait for the 17 minutes of weather in a 22-minute ‘news’ report.”

    Thanks for indulging that little rant. I do it so you don’t have to.

    Anyway, here are the other stories you can expect to read (and then hear) about this week from Clearwater:

  • Pat Burrell’s health, outlook for 2007, whether he can “protect” Ryan Howard and his thoughts on Mike Schmidt’s assessment of his game. No, there will be no shortage of Pat Burrell reports this spring/season.

  • The bullpen – specifically, who is the set-up man. Will Antonio Alfonseca or Ryan Madson be able to fill that role or will the Phillies have to make a trade to get that much-coveted reliever?

  • Who is the odd man out in the rotation? Is Jon Lieber on the block or is Adam Eaton going to the ‘pen? To a lesser degree, can 44-year old Jamie Moyer continue to rack up the innings and be an effective fifth starter?

    Better yet, can 23-year old Cole Hamels continue to pitch as well as he did to close the 2006 season or is he doomed to suffer another injury? Has Brett Myers really “matured” or will he resort to his old habits when the new contract and season settles in?

  • Ryan Howard and the long-term contract issue… Let’s see if he turns out to be more like Willies Stargell and McCovey than Joe Charboneau or Bob Horner.

  • Charlie Manuel’s contract. In the last season of a three-year deal most fans would be content to let the skipper walk away. However, most fans don’t go into the Phillies’ clubhouse.

  • Who is going to be the every day catcher?

  • Who is going to be the every day third baseman?

  • Most importantly, are the Phillies really ready to challenge the Mets and the Braves in the NL East?

    So many questions and a lot of fun trying to figure out the answers.
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    Oprah, Thome. Thome, Oprah

    From the, "Yes, I have now seen everything there is to see in this life and there is no longer a need to climb Mount Everest or visit the Taj Mahal," comes Jim Thome's appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. While visiting the show as member of studio audience, good ol' Jim kept up with Oprah in a conversation about, well, let's go to the video tape:

    On another note, once -- back in 2004 -- while Thome and I were in the course of a casual conversation he used the term, "butthole."

    Ah yes, those are the things I remember the most.

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    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Snow, snow, go away

    As the snow falls over this corner of the Northeast, it’s fun to think about the warmer weather and the upcoming racing and training seasons ahead.

    The World Cross Country Championships are in Kenya next month, followed by the Boston Marathon in mid April will star top American Deena Kastor, defending New York City champ Jelena Prokopcuka, and defending Boston champ Rita Jeptoo.

    A week after Boston, the epically deep London Marathon field that will feature Americans Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi (2:09:53) and Khalid Khannouchi (2:05:38) will go after world-record holder Paul Tergat (2:04:55), and two-time Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie (2:05:56), as well as Felix Limo (2:06:14); Martin Lel (2:06:41); Hendrick Ramaala (2:06:55); Jaouad Gharib (2:07:02); defending Olympic champion Stefano Baldini (2:07:22); Benson Cherono (2:07:58); Hicham Chat (2:07:59); defending New York City champ Marilson Gomes dos Santos (2:08:48); and Briton Jon Brown (2:09:31).

    Outside of the Olympics the London field could be the deepest ever assembled.

    But more than the spring marathons and big track meets, the news on a snowy Tuesday focuses on the autumn, specifically the two big races in New York City on the first weekend in November.

    That’s where Lance Armstrong will take another crack at the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. Last year, as was well documented, Armstrong completed the hilly NYC course in 2:59:36 thanks in part to being paced through by Alberto Salazar, German Silva, Joan Samuelson and Hicham El Guerrouj. Actually, Armstrong’s outing in New York was a big-time production magnified by a phalanx of security, famous Nike runners, and a pace car reporting his splits along with the equally ridiculous “Lance Cam.”

    Meanwhile, Armstrong finished 856th.

    Afterwards, Armstrong called marathoning much more difficult than cycling:

    “I can tell you, 20 years of pro sports, endurance sports, from triathlons to cycling, all of the Tours – even the worst days on the Tours – nothing was as hard as that, and nothing left me feeling the way I feel now, in terms of just sheer fatigue and soreness.”


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    Doing the work

    I was probably 12-years old the first time someone told me I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA. At the time the thought of it made me laugh – I was one of the tallest kids on my basketball team, I was relatively coordinated, I could dribble with both hands and I was the best shooter in the league. Plus, I went to basketball camps and worked on my shooting as much as a kid my age could. When games were on TV (not everyone was televised in those days), I watched hoping to pick up some moves from Julius Erving, Larry Bird or Kevin McHale.

    Better yet, the Sixers’ pre-season training camp was held in the gym where I practiced after school. I went to every practice session because when the NBA champs were finished using the court, I was going to go through my paces. Sometimes a few players hung around to snag rebounds and offer a few pointers. Dr. J did once, and Leon Wood was very friendly. No one, though, was as helpful as Andrew Toney. It always seemed that Toney was working on his shooting long after his teammates had left the gym to do whatever it was they did in Lancaster, Pa.

    So when I was told that I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA it was laughable. How could that be?

    Looking back it all makes sense now. I grew up to be 6-foot-1, which is the same size as “Tiny” Archibald. Plus, I soon ventured out of my insular little world and found out that there were players just as good as me who sat on the bench for their teams. Sure, I was an above-average shooter – probably amongst the best two or three in my school – but there is a lot more to the game than just shooting the ball from the outside. On defense, chances were that I was going to allow just as many points as I scored. Occasionally I got in the way and stopped my opponent, but that was usually just dumb luck.

    More telling was the fact that I went to the high school regarded as the finest in athletics in the area. The basketball teams have won more league championships than any other school, while the other sports – specifically track and field – were sometimes powerhouses. Yet despite this, my high school has never produced an NBA player. Actually, we’ve had just three Major Leaguers, two NFLers, and just a handful of Division I standouts.

    So what’s the point of this? Simple. Mo Vaughn knew by the age of 12 that he was going to be a Major League baseball player. At least that’s what his parents said during a game at Fenway a few years back when asked when they realized their son was going to be a big leaguer.

    When Mo was 12, Mr. Vaughn said, he played in a men’s baseball league and, “he dominated.”

    It seems like 12 is the magic age to determine a person’s athletic future. Oh sure, there are late bloomers like Ryan Howard who was overlooked even when he was deep into his college career. But one thing is for certain: Ryan Howard was on the path to the big leagues long before that. A diamond in the rough is still a diamond.

    But baseball doesn’t last forever. Sure, these days getting a big-league contract is a lot like winning the Powerball. The thing a lot of parents and kids don’t understand is that the odds of getting there are just as slim. Yet even though Mo Vaughn dominated adults before he was a teenager, he was made to prepare for the day when the games ended. Interestingly, these days Vaughn is in real estate development, but he’s not simply putting up high-end McMansions that only other lottery winners can afford. Instead, Vaughn, according to George Vecsey's story in The New York Times, is building affordable housing for folks with modest incomes.

    Baseball, it seems, was nothing more than a tool for Vaughn to put him where he could do really important work. That’s the key – kids should use the games to put them where they need to be. Chances are that’s not going to be in the big leagues.

    Ryan Howard seems to believe that, too. According to what he told Bryant Gumble on the latest edition of HBO’s Real Sports that there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to return to school and finish his course work.

    Believe it or not, that’s much more important than hitting 60 homers.

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    Monday, February 12, 2007

    Believing the hype

    Deciphering the reports and the photos from last Saturday's big race in Boulder, Alan Culpepper sat back and allowed pre-race favorites Adam Goucher and Dathan Ritzenhein do all the hard work through the first 10 kilometers. It was then that the race went from Goucher trying to stick with the next great American distance hope Ritzenhein, to the former champ Goucher attempting to keep Culpepper from dominating that final two kilometers.

    It didn't happen.

    Culpepper, fully under control and surging toward to the tape, won Saturday's cross-country championships in Boulder, Colo. by completing the muddy and snowy 12k course in 37:09 to Goucher's 37:35 and Ritzenhein's 37:47.

    Interestingly, upon hearing the results by repeatedly refreshing hurriedly typed reports on a running message board, running geeks (like me) sounded a nationwide, "Wow! What a surprise… what got in to Culpepper?"

    Here's the thing about that – Culpepper, 34, has been to the Olympics twice in two different events, won two previous national cross-country titles, as well as a national title in the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon. In 2003 Culpepper ran a 2:09:41 at the Chicago Marathon and finished fifth in 2:11:02 after an aggressive effort at the 2006 Boston Marathon.

    Yet with those outstanding credentials Culpepper's victory on Saturday is an upset. Why? Was it the rough day he had at the New York City Marathon last November? Perhaps – after all, Culpepper had to drop out because he couldn't stay hydrated despite drinking throughout the race. Couple that with what I wrote about Culpepper before the New York City race and it's easy to understand why the running geeks (like me) believed Ritz, Goucher or Abdi Abdirahman were the runners to beat in the deep field. To wit:

    And of course I'd like to write that American Alan Culpepper is going to let it all hang loose and be risky instead of his typically intelligent tactics. Culpepper is always consistently steady, which produces great times but it isn't exactly inspiring. To steal a phrase from baseball players, Culpepper doesn't like to "get dirty."

    Culpepper got dirty, literally, on Saturday. Better yet, those so-called "intelligent" tactics served him well. In the end, when the race was on the line, Culpepper ran the two kids into another muddy ditch. There's definitely something inspiring about a tough race run well.

    More: Daily Camera (Boulder) running section

    Denver Post: "Boulder's 'Running Town' Reputation Safe"

    The results

    1. Alan Culpepper, Lafayette CO 37:09
    2. Adam Goucher, Portland OR 37:35
    3. Dathan Ritzenhein, Boulder CO 37:47
    4. Jorge Torres, Boulder CO 38:07
    5. Michael Spence, Ogden UT 38:15
    6. Zach Sabatino, Morgantown WV 38:16
    7. Fasil Bizuneh, Flagstaff AZ 38:24
    8. James Carney, Marina CA 38:25
    9. Jason Lehmkuhle, Minneapolis 38:26
    10. Edwardo Torres, Boulder CO 38:31

    What happened?

    Abdi Abdirahman, my choice to win the race, finished 21st in 39:07.

    Hyped just right

    Meanwhile, the press covering the event in The Running Republic of Boulder gave the race rave reviews. The town, the event, the course and the fans all lived up to the pre-race hype, which is saying something. In this distance running Super Bowl only the finishing times seemed lopsided with an estimated 10,000 fans lining the course two-to-three people deep to watch a cross-country race. According to the dispatches from Boulder, New York City has a high hurdle to leap for November's marathon Olympic Trials.

    We'll definitely have to see that one first hand.


    While the men's national championship was an upset with the old man knocking off the young bucks, the women's race was a coronation. And it wasn't just a new thing, as in Deena Kastor is the best American runner of her era. Nope, that's not good enough.

    On Saturday Deena Kastor proved that she is the best woman American runner ever.

    Yeah, she's even better than Joan Benoit Samuelson.

    Nevermind that Kastor owns three of the top four marathon times in U.S. history, or that Samuleson won the Olympic gold in 1984, the Sullivan Award in 1985, and at 50, Joanie can still run an Olympic Trials-qualifying time for the marathon, what Kastor did to the field on Saturday is ridiculous.

    Kastor won her eighth cross-country championship by covering the 8k course in 26:47. That's 61 seconds better than second-place finisher Shalane Flanagan, which is almost unheard of in a national championship race. A five-second victory is significant, but 61 seconds is more than domination if there is such a thing.

    Here's the crazy part. Just two weeks ago Flanagan set the American indoor record in the 3,000 meters, and actually led the race after two kilometers. But according to the race recap from, Flanagan said, "I think it was a little naïve to think that I could run with her."


    Kastor and Flanagan were well clear of the rest of the field not even 2k in, and in third was Kara Goucher who had a big gap over the rest of the field. Kastor however wasted no time in destroying the young upstart Flanagan. She pulled away from Flanagan and soon the lead was 10 seconds, 20 seconds, and then 30 seconds. Flanagan was not faltering, however, as she had 30 seconds up on the third place Goucher. Kastor was just putting on one of the most dominating performances in the history of American women's distance running.

    It's going to be really interesting to see what Kastor does in Boston in April.

    More: Watch the races and check out the entire day in Boulder on Flocast

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    Friday, February 09, 2007

    Schmidt to Burrell: Hit the ball

    One of the more memorable moments of this job came back in the 2003 season when Mike Schmidt -- the Mike Schmidt -- stood casually by the coaches lockers in the dingy and dark clubhouse in Veterans Stadium and broke down what it took to be a great hitter. During that now-infamous chat with a few writers, Schmidt demonstrated different batting stances, showed off various swings for all situations, and talked theory and philosophy until we were kicked out of the clubhouse.

    Needless to say, being on the front row for something like that with one of the great hitters of all-time was kind of cool. Plus, Schmidty wasn’t cranky, combative or moody that day, which made it even nicer. Schmidt, I was warned by a more-seasoned writer, had a reputation for being a “little crazy.”

    “One day he’ll tell you the sky is blue and get into why it’s blue for about two hours. The next day he’ll deny the whole thing and tell you the sky is purple,” I was told.

    But when I was a kid and an epic letter writer, Schmidt responded to one of my queries with a formally typed letter of his own. I think he sent autographs back, too, though I probably didn’t ask. I was more interested in a response, and in that regard Schmidt was OK in my book.

    So when his demonstration that June day turned into a rant against Pat Burrell’s season-long slump, well, we were on to something. This was better than a demonstration about hitting from one of the all-time greats -- this was a story. A good story is better than anything and Schmidt was dropping one straight on to our laps. Now he was more than OK in my book.

    It should go without writing that we all wrote about that conversation with Schmidt. I saved mine and reprinted it here. As most remember, we all talked about it pretty extensively. In fact, Schmidt felt compelled to apologize a few days later for his comments to us. When we saw him again in Baltimore for a 20-year reunion and home-run derby of the Orioles-Phillies World Series, he made sure we all knew the topic of Pat Burrell and his hitting was off limits.

    That’s until now. After nearly four years (has it really been that long!), Schmidt decided the statute of limitations was up and Burrell was fair game. While he was at it, Schmidty offered up some analysis on Adam Dunn’s (lack of) hitting, too.

    According to the great Hay McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, Schmidt, “unprompted,” cited Burrell and Dunn as two players that, “tick me off” because “they strike out so much.”

    I wonder if Schmidt showed off his Albert Pujols batting stance the way he did back in ’03?

    “I look at Dunn and Burrell and I go, ‘My God, if these guys cut their strikeouts down to 75 or 80, they put the ball in play 85 or 90 more times a year.’ That's at least 15 more home runs a year and at least 35 more RBIs a year.”


    “I mean, why would Dunn and Burrell watch what Pujols does and not want to be like him, as good as he is?” Schmidt said. “When their careers are over, they are going to wonder how much they left on the table, how much they left on the field. If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great, it is mediocrity.”

    Schmidt isn’t wrong – just like he wasn’t wrong during that initial consultation. However, no one, not even Schmidt, can “be like” Pujols. That’s like asking Picasso to “show me how to paint like you.”

    Schmidt’s other mistake is believing that Burrell cares as much about being a great hitter as he did.

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    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Much ado about something

    Aside from the obvious (you know… like everything), there are two specific sports-related stories that I simply cannot put together intelligent and unique sentences about. One of the stories is a parent’s worst nightmare realized and encompasses just about every emotion, theory, thought and any other type of lean-tissue burning catalyst anyone can conjure.

    The other, simply, has worn me out. Despite an interest in the topic that bordered on obsession last summer, these days my eyes glaze over when stories on the subject appear.

    So as far as Andy Reid and his sons go… what can anyone write? I honestly believe there is nothing smart a writer (not a novelist) can put together on the subject that will do anyone justice. In fact, attempting to just might be insulting – even what I’ve come up with so far fits into those categories. Even seasoned parents can just wonder and offer sympathy. What else is there? All I can offer is that hopefully things turn out OK.

    As a not-so-seasoned parent my theory is that one could be as involved as Ward Clever and as in-tune with their child as the most fair-minded and studied child-rearing clinician, and it still comes down to a bit of luck that one’s kids turn out alright and well-adjusted.

    That’s about it. Frankly, it's not really any of my business.

    Now with Floyd Landis… are we still doing this?

    The news came out today that Landis will not defend his Tour de France victory in 2007 as part of a deal with the French anti-doping agency. In return for staying out of France for the year (Stay out of Mailbu, Lebowski!), the anti-doping agency will postpone whether or not it will ban the Lancaster County native for two years from worldwide competition and strip him of his Tour de France victory.

    The French agency will reconvene no later than June to make its ruling, which will come on the heels of the U.S. anti-doping agency’s case against Landis stemming from his positive test for unusually high levels of testosterone during one stage of last year’s Tour de France.

    In other words, nothing has been settled, nor does it seem likely that there will be any type of conclusion any time soon.

    Not being able to ride in France hardly seems like much of a loss for Landis, who could rank along with President Bush (and maybe Lance Armstrong) as the most disliked Americans amongst the French. Besides, Landis, who was recently in New York trying to raise money for his legal defense, had hip-replacement surgery four months ago and would probably not defend his title even if that one dope test (in the 21 he took) came back as clean as the others. Instead, he hopes to ride in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo. in August, according to reports.

    Are your eyes glazed over yet?

    Here’s what gets me about this – doping in sports is and will be the most significant story as far as sports are concerned for the foreseeable future. Governing the major sports to be drug free is a raging battle that seems to be doing nothing other than treading water. In baseball, Congress is involved… kind of. In football, positive tests and suspensions for steroids are nothing more than fodder for the transaction wire like turf toe or a strained muscle, while the Olympic sports – running, cycling, swimming, etc. – are neck deep in an abyss of supposed cheating.

    In a story written by Evan Weiner of The New York Sun, the idea that wide-ranging investigations uncovering uses of illicit and performance-enhancing drugs could open up potential legal action from the fans is broached.

    Weiner writes:

    There is another problem with the Mitchell investigation that no one has addressed. What if Mitchell uncovers evidence of steroids and other banned substance usage? What kind of penalties can the industry impose on retired players, former team officials, and employees? What happens if people demand refunds for buying tickets to what they thought was a bona fide competition once they find out that the games featured cheaters? Other than a scholarly and possible legal report, just what is Mitchell's investigation going to prove? Major League Baseball lacked integrity six years ago, nine years ago, 15 years ago?

    Better yet:

    The difficulty they face is simple. No one in authority in terms of spending money on sports really cares about athletes using banned and illegal substances.

    Meanwhile, the fans yawn.

    As a side note to the Landis story, the two-year ban on Tyler Hamilton is up and the one-time top American rider is back racing and hopes to win the Tour de France this year. There's a big story about his drive to return to the top of the sport after his doping ban in the latest issue of Outside Magazine.

    Wouldn’t that be something if he did it?

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    TV is next...

    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    Have left arm, will travel

    Bruce Chen, the one-time, up-and-coming lefty the Phillies received from the Braves in June of 2000 when the Andy Ashby experiment went horribly wrong, signed a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers today. Word is Chen has a pretty good chance to crack the Rangers’ rotation as the fifth starter behind Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Robinson Tejeda and Brandon McCarthy. Take away McCarthy and add Nelson Figueroa, Brandon Duckworth, Omar Daal or Robert Person and it could be the 2001 Phillies.

    Nevertheless, the interesting part isn’t that Chen is joining the Texas ex-Phillies or that he is looking to rebound after a poor 2006 season where he went 0-7 with 6.93 ERA in 40 games for the Orioles. The interesting part is that Chen has a chance to pitch for his ninth Major League team and 10th organization since breaking in with the Braves in 1998.

    Yeah, that’s nine teams and countless minor-league clubs. Nine teams in 10 seasons. The Braves, Phillies, Mets, Expos, Reds, Astros, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles and now Rangers. He’s been traded three times, waived twice, granted free agency three other times and pitched for a team that no longer exists.

    He also pitched for Panama in the World Baseball Classic, which many suggest was the source of his rough 2006 season after winning 13 games with a 3.83 ERA in nearly 200 innings for the Orioles in 2005. But when looking at Chen’s record the 2005 season is a noticeable aberrance. Only twice in the seven prior seasons had Chen topped 78 innings or had an ERA below the league average.

    Plus, Chen has long baffled his managers with what they call a dearth of “toughness.” Needless to report, former Phillies manager Larry Bowa quickly ran out of patience with Chen. So too did Frank Robinson in Montreal and a bunch of GMs scattered about both leagues. Friendly and easygoing, Chen seemed to throw just one bad pitch in his poor outings or struggle with his training program from time to time. That seemed to disappear over parts of three seasons in Baltimore despite the struggles last year.

    But the big question still lingers: just how does Chen keep cracking big-league rosters year after year?

    The first answer is obvious – Chen is left-handed. Lefties not only have a longer shelf life that right-handers, but also are in demand. Every team needs one or wants one and sometimes a warm body will do just fine.

    Plus, Chen was once the minor league pitcher-of-the-year in the Braves' vaunted stable of up-and-coming pitchers. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone spoke highly of him even after he was traded for the first time.

    Another reason is Chen’s age. With all his experience (and left-handedness) Chen doesn’t turn 30 until June 19, which makes him a relatively young lefty.

    Then there are the glimpses of potential and greatness that warrant teams into giving him a shot time after time. For the Phillies, the high-water mark for Chen was when he baffled the playoff-bound Giants for 8 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. Chen took a no-decision in a game decided on Bobby Abreu’s walk-off, inside-the-park homer.

    The following season, Chen started the first game back at Shea Stadium following Sept. 11 by holding the Braves to six hits and no earned runs over seven innings in an emotional outing during the throes of a pennant chase.

    There’s more, like the seven-inning shutout Chen tossed at the A’s in his debut for the Orioles in 2004. Three starts later he turned in a complete-game to beat the Blue Jays. In his breakthrough 2005 season Chen’s first four starts were against the Red Sox and Yankees where he won two games, including a complete game to beat New York. In 14 of his 32 starts in ’05, Chen pitched into the seventh inning – in comparison, Vicente Padilla only reached the seventh seven times for the Phillies in 2005.

    Whether or not Chen hangs on with the Rangers remains to be seen. What is clearly evident is there is a team out there somewhere that will take a chance on him.


    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Myers talks about new deal

    Brett Myers talks to the Philadelphia media about his new contract.

    Myers Trim, Wallet Fat After New Pact
    There was a time – not too long ago – when Brett Myers was a workout fiend. Before he had made the climb through the Phillies’ system to the big leagues, Myers would no sooner finish a workout before he’d start the whole process over again. In fact, during his early spring training days it wasn’t uncommon to see Myers in a darkened ballpark running lap after lap around the warning track and stands long after everyone had gone home.

    Actually, Myers was downright arrogant about his training regime and the amount of time he put into it. Once, following a late-season start during his rookie campaign in 2002, Myers was asked when he planned on diving back into his off-season routine, the not-so big (at the time) right-hander responded with a dismissive, “two weeks.” When told that two weeks didn’t sound like a lot of time to allow his body to rest and heal after a long season of baseball, Myers curtly responded with, “That’s all I need.”

    But somewhere between the 2003 season and the close of the 2006 season, Myers decided he didn’t need to work out much. Actually, from the clearly superficial view, it seemed as if Myers’ in-season exercise program occurred every five days when he took the mound. That’s not likely the case, but for a professional athlete to be listed modestly at 240 pounds (he admits to being 250 at the end of last season and over 260 at the end of the '05 season), something must have slipped through the cracks.

    Maybe Myers was burned out from the sometimes tedious nature of day-in and day-out regimentation? Or maybe he was following the lead of Kevin Millwood and Jon Lieber – two big righties that Myers followed around like a lost puppy who didn’t exactly conjure images of the buff dudes on the early-morning workout shows.

    Either way, for a kid who grew up as a boxer and around athletics, it was quite out of character for Myers to get away from what got him to the big leagues.

    But things are a little different now… that is to say things are the same as they were. What got away from Myers has returned – maybe not with the ardor as before – and the righty is leaner, maybe meaner, and ready for another crack at the playoffs with the Phillies.

    “The weight doesn't bother me when I pitch. I just felt that I owe it to myself and the guys in Spring Training this year to work a little bit harder,” the pitcher said, in town to meet the press after agreeing to a three-year, $26.75 million contract extension. “If we missed it by 12 games, then I need to lose 12 more pounds. I think everybody left last year with a bad taste in their mouths.”

    Myers heads into camp next week at a more athletic 218 pounds, which, by his rationale means the Phillies should finish ahead of the pack by 20 games. Nevertheless, Myers said the difference this winter was watching what he ate, resisting his wife’s tempting offers of nachos and ice cream and getting on his program much earlier than usual.

    “I started (working out) a little earlier this year and I haven’t been able to fit into this suit in two years now and I finally made my way back into it,” Myers said, sporting a figure-flattering single-breasted design. “I just kept working and the weight just kept coming off. I really had fun doing it and it didn’t get boring so I hope I can keep at it during the season.”

    Be that as it may, Myers could be correct when he says that the excess weight didn’t bother him when he pitched. After all, he has been rather durable. He nearly pitched 200 innings last season even though he missed a bunch of starts stemming from his well-publicized arrest in Boston last June. Nor has Myers ever been injured… yet. Being back at his old fighting weight should only help in that regard.

    Then there is the other stuff… off-the-field stuff that made many wonder if the Phillies and Myers would ever be in this position. Sometimes irascible with a reputation amongst teammates, coaches and media for being immature and difficult to work with, some have wondered if Myers was worth the trouble.

    If Myers were any other pitcher, no one would have any concerns about the deal he just signed. In fact, most people probably don't have any trouble with it. The stats on the page speak for themselves. Per 162 games, Myers averages almost 207 innings, 166 strikeouts, and for the past two seasons his ERA was well below the league average. Somewhere, beneath all of that baggage, a 20-game winner lurks.

    It seems as if Brett Myers' biggest problem is being Brett Myers. But since he's now closer to 30 than 20, maybe the years and experience will help. Hey, some people mature later than others, and there always seems to be certain types of behavior that the talented and gifted possess. Maybe Myers’ impudent behavior has been tempered by experience?

    “I think every year as you get older you get a little more mature, but that’s just over time and being in this world and learning the people around you and who to trust,” he said. “Obviously, family is a big part of my life and if they weren’t there than none of this would be possible.”

    So about that incident in Boston where Myers was arrested for allegedly punching his wife on a street corner after leaving a bar (charges were later dropped), which resulted in his leave of absence?

    “Things are great,” Myers revealed. “I think what it came down to, we had trouble communicating. I'm gone half the time and when I'm home, I get home at midnight and everybody's in bed and I see you for an hour a day and it was one of those things where most of our communication is done by phone. I think it really benefitted us, not saying that the incident helped, but it was kind of an eye opener toward that. We just needed to talk a little more and be more supportive of each other.

    “Coming from never being in trouble before to being in trouble, it's definitely a humbling experience. I'm probably more humbled by it than anything.”

    Myers was also quick to point out how supportive the Phillies were in coming to the aid of him and his wife.

    “They were (supportive) from the beginning,” Myers said. “I felt terrible for the organization and my family that it had to come about, and it did come about. It was one of those things where everybody makes mistakes and we learn from them. None of these mistakes can ever happen again.”

    The support he heard from the fans in his return from his leave also weighed in his decision for wanting to stay in Philadelphia.

    “Just you asking me about it is giving me goose bumps. I really appreciated that,” he said. “Hopefully the support can keep coming in because this team really needs it. I grew a lot of respect for the fans after that day.

    “I like pitching here. I relate the fans to my dad when I was a kid. If I didn't play well, he was all over me. When the fans boo you, we already know we're not playing up to our capabilities. I kind of need that tough love sometimes.”

    That’s something he’ll get plenty of for the next three seasons.

    Myers talked baseball, too
    Brett Myers talked about a bunch of baseball-related topics during Tuesday’s press conference to announce his three-year, $26.75 contract extension.

    Did he think he would be traded after the Phillies acquired Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton?
    "No, because we didn't have contact with the Phillies. They didn't call us or anything like that. I was excited that we could add two more guys to our rotation, and at that point in time, I really wasn't concerned about it. Then we started negotiating and I started thinking about it a little bit."

    On general manager Pat Gillick's off-season visit with Myers in Jacksonville, Fla.:
    "It was real cordial. It was fun. We watched the Jaguars game together and sat around and just talked about life. Nothing really about baseball came up. I think he was trying to appease me by rooting for the Jaguars – I wasn’t quite sure."

    On the Phillies as the team to beat in the NL East:
    "Whatever Jimmy (Rollins) says I agree with.

    "I think with the guys we had last year we kind of want to be that team that has that necessary arrogance about us that we should be the team even though we realized it late in the season. I think this year we know we can compete with the Mets and we know we can compete with the Braves, so we have pretty much the same guys as last year and we’ve played together for an extra year. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun for us this year competing against those teams when we know we can beat them."

    On Cole Hamels:
    "It's going to be hard keeping up with Cole this year. Hopefully, everybody can stay healthy also. He's the young guy coming up. When I came up, I didn't really have anybody to talk to until we got Kevin Millwood, and he taught me as he could before he left. Since then, I feel like I need to take that role for Cole, and hopefully Freddy will. We're not left-handed... maybe Jamie Moyer will play a bigger factor for Hamels."

    On potentially being the opening-day starter:
    There's so much emphasis on being the No. 1 starter and all it really means is that first game. My philosophy is, whoever starts [on any given] day is the ace.


    © 2006 - John R. Finger - all rights reserved