Monday, February 28, 2005

New column

Anybody viewing this blog is welcome to check out my newest column on and The column pokes more than a little fun at Jose Canseco, his rampant steroid usage and his "full disclosure" policy toward his former baseball colleagues.
The column should be up on 210west's front page soon, and can be accessed on 1greborn by clicking on "forums" and scrolling down to "sports."

Friday, February 25, 2005

The flying Welschman

The trade the Cavaliers made with Boston before Thursday's deadline was not flashy. It didn't garner the headlines the Chris Webber, Antoine Walker, or Baron Davis deals did. Heck, it probably falls somewhere behind Keith Van Horn to the Mavericks for spotlight time. But this trade is significant.
Jiri Welsch (pronounced "YEARY," for those not familiar with Czech dialects, like me) fills the one need the Cavaliers didn't have ready-made on their roster. Scoring inside, they have plenty of that. Athleticism, well, just look to LeBron. Rebounding can be a problem, but coach Paul Silas can always crack the whip on Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden to get some more hustle on the boards.
An outside shooting threat, someone very hard to mold in this league flooded with Darius Miles types, was one thing they didn't have. Lucious Harris has been a robust disappointment since the start of the season, looking like a 33-year-old quickly slipping toward has-been status. Sasha Pavlovic has shown flashes of talent, but he's still a young project player who needs time to ripen.
Welsch, 25, comes to the Cavs with perimeter shooting credentials. He's a career 36 percent three-point shooter in his third NBA season. He's 32-for-99 this year. Not only that, he comes to the Cavs with a history of being an all-around player with the capability of starting. That's important if, say, Ira Newble re-aggravates his partially torn Achilles tendon and is forced out the starting lineup again.
Welsch has started 100 of 173 career games, including 32 this year for the Celtics. His 7.5 points per game average doesn't look like that of a starter proficient at hitting three-balls, but his playing time has gone way down in recent weeks due to the emergence of other guard-forward swingmen on Boston's roster like Ricky Davis and Tony Allen.
At 6' 7" and 208 pounds, Welsch has some size, and can guard slightly bigger players with reasonable success. He has guarded LeBron in Cavs-Celtics matchups over the previous two seasons.
This trade might not put the Cavs in the NBA Finals this June, but they added a player who could become a piece of their long-term puzzle, certainly as a key contributor off the bench. Welsch is signed for this season at about $1.4 million and next season at about $2.1 million, after which he is eligible to become a restricted free agent.
That's another element: Welsch doesn't break the bank this year or next. With Ilgauskas a free agent-to-be and eligible for a fat, multi-year deal this summer, and rumors swirling about Cleveland chasing a top-flight shooting guard such as Michael Redd or Ray Allen, they didn't compromise their financial ability to retain or add a major piece or two around LeBron between now and the opening of training camp in the fall. That's huge, because if the Cavaliers make the playoffs and win a series this spring, fans and media pundits are going to be looking for them to challenge for a title in 2006. Anything less than legitimate title contention in 2006 will probably be a major disappointment.
If Welsch comes in here with a hot shooting hand, and can stretch defenses and unclog the middle for Z's post-ups and LeBron's drives, he could be as big a factor as any in how long into May the Cavs are playing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

It's not 1995 anymore

It's hard to be understanding, sometimes.
Goodness knows, I try. I know people developed an attachment to those great Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s. Those players, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy and Roberto Alomar, and even Albert Belle became heroes of a sort. It pains fans when they see their pride and joy, their bragging rights, the team with which they can go to other cities not named New York and say "look at us!" and watch it be systematically dismantled through trades and free agency.
Fans want to hold someone accountable. The owner is cheap. The general manager is clueless. The financial system of baseball is a joke.
It hurt a bit to look at the Indians as they trial-and-errored their way to 74-88, 68-94 and 80-82 records the past three years. It hurts a bit to watch the Minnesota Twins take Cleveland's place as the alpha dog in the division. Remaining angry and hardened as the Indians try to claw their way back to the top has become a favored practice in some circles of fans.
Some fans are holding onto those Tribe teams of the 1990s with bitter resolve, vowing to hold the Indians' 2001-2002 implosion to rebuild against owner Larry Dolan and general manager Mark Shapiro until, seemingly, their dying day. There is good and bad in that.
I am glad, for one, the 1990s clubs set the bar so high. Dolan and Shapiro have a large legacy to live up to, and the demanding fans should help keep them on their toes. I have no problem with demanding success. Mediocrity is a self-perpetuating danger zone, and bad should only be a move to clear the decks to get good again.
But hanging on to those sexy 1990s lineups like a jilted lover is a problem. Lofton, Ramirez and Thome aren't coming back. The best you can hope for is a creaky-kneed, late-30s Thome hobbling back to Cleveland as a part-time player in about five years.
Fans screamed bloody murder and vowed never to attend another game again when David Justice was traded in 2000. They did the same when Roberto Alomar was traded in 2001, when Sandy Alomar left as a free agent in 2000, when Thome departed for Philadelphia in 2002, and when Omar Vizquel took his magic glove to San Francisco late last year. Many don't want to hear about Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, or any other player that might become a new household name in Cleveland if given the chance. Winning will probably cure that, but the unwillingness to accept anything new is troubling, especially as Tribe attendance remains a far cry from the 455 straight sellouts of 1995-2001.
Are Tribe fans spoiled by success? Time will tell. The economy isn't booming like the 1990s, so nobody, least of all me, is expecting season sellouts before the first pitch is thrown, a Jacobs Field anomaly last decade. But one of my fears is chronically sluggish attendance from a fan base that has become jaded by "just" winning the division every year. Three years of non-contention should cure some of that by reminding fans what it was like before Jacobs Field opened and muscle-bound lineups showered the city with a vault-load of game winning homers every summer.
However, good teams have drawn little more than moths in other cities. The Florida Marlins won two World Series in front of September bandwagoners. A good Kansas City Royals team in 2003 was sparsely supported.
Good teams draw well, and in championship-starved Cleveland, fans will latch onto any team that promises the possibility of hardware. But the Indians, in a sport with no salary cap and a joke of a financial structure (that earlier statement was a true one), needs attendance to survive. They need merchandise sales. They need fans willing to give the team a chance if they prove themselves worthy.
It's not Omar. It's not Manny or Jimmy or even Orel Hershiser. But it's your team. And if they start to win, they deserve a look. They deserve a chance to carve their own niche in history.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My BAAAARF award

I admit it. I type my name into Web searches. I want to know where my name is out there. So far, searching has alerted me of two awards I have won. The first was quite nice, a 2003 award of merit from Ohio Public Images for a Crain's Cleveland Business story I wrote on workers with developmental disabilities. The second, ehhh...not so sure.
Turns out, I am the recepient of a 2004 BAAAARF award. The award stands for Butyric Acid Awards, Awful Accident Reporting For... (Don't ask me). The award is the product of Hazards Intelligence (HInt), and apparently chastises newspaper reporters for boneheaded grammatical errors or incorrect scientific references in their articles.
I know nothing else of HInt, but I suspect it is a front for the Transcontinental Institute of Grammar Hawks, Technology Advocates and Specialized Scientists. (T.I.G.H.T.A.S.S.) Apparently, I was bestowed this honor for a grammatical gaffe that appeared in the Dec. 31, 2003 issue of The Gazette. The article, about a tar tank that blew its top at a Medina factory, stated "the stench was apparently the most widespread casualty," to which the BAAAARF panel responds, "we wish the stench our best for a speedy recovery."
Now, I know casualty usually only pertains to human suffering, and I can't explain why that word crept into my article. I take the blame, and like "Gigli" at the Razzies, accept my BAAAARF with humility. But no one can take this fact away from me: I am now in lofty company. I join Jewel as the only people ever to be publicly chastised for misuse of the word "casualty." Kurt Loder, where are you? Set me straight.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

He's a Cavalier now

So maybe I was wrong. Maybe incoming owner Dan Gilbert is a flesh-and-blood Cavalier who just happens to be living in Pistons country.
This week, Gilbert limbered up his 42-year-old joints and played a pick-up basketball game near his home in suburban Detroit. Apparently, he wasn't limber enough because he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees. It will require surgery, according to The Plain Dealer.
Knee surgery and the Cleveland Cavaliers go together like Mexico and enchiladas. Over the years, orthopedic surgeons have cut, poked, drained and sewed the knees of Austin Carr, Mark Price and others scores of times.
So now Gilbert can maybe borrow a set of monogrammed crutches from the personal stash of former trainer Gary Briggs and trade "where were your when your heard your knee pop?" stories with Price, who is now a Cavs television analyst. When Price blew out his knee at The Omni in Atlanta in 1990, he said he felt his knee go in two directions at once. Top that, Mr. Millionaire Owner!
Gilbert joked after the injury that he wanted something to share with his players. Well, LeBron, J-Mac, E-Snow and Z, move over and make a space at the whirlpool. It's time to bond with the new guy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Harken the masses

As Romeo, new King of the Brown Warriors, enters the Grand Hall, he is assailed by a great light, from the many photograhic bulbs bursting against the air. Lord Lerner takes his arms and leads him to the King's Table, where he will have audience with the presse.

King Crennel, Act I, Scene Five: The Grand Hall conference

Romeo (shielding his eyes as he crosses stage left): I declare, mine eyes have never bore witness to such a show!

Lord Lerner: To this you must grow accustomed. The light will follow you to the ends of the Earth. (pulls out a chair at the King's Table). Here, take rest.

Master John Collins enters the room stage right, and approaches Lord Lerner.

Master John: We must carry the reigns on these animals. They'll surely scare the new King off.

Lord Lerner: Ah, John, but this is my manor. At my hand, they shall obey and quiet. (turns to the presse and raises his hand) Your eyes and ears, sirs! Your eyes and ears! Seated at the Table now is our new King, or new Chieftain for our Brown Warriors. What sayeth you, in quest? For he knows much of winning!

Tonyus Grossius: Winning is admirable, but what of men? For if he cannot favour his men, he cannot favour wins.

Romeo: I can answer with a free mind; I promise no gold, that is much in the hands of Providence. But I can promise men that will fight and bear their arms and souls for this manor. I promise men that will draw their last breath for the honour of this house.

Terrius Pluto: What of the soldiers who make discord and trouble among the ranks? How are they to be dealt with?

Romeo: One offence will be half a day's wages and a pence more; two offences will be a whole days wages and extra labour. Three and more will be cases sent to the dungeon until as time I see fit to release.

Tonyus Grossius: He speaks with an iron tongue. But what will his speech be when the Steel Men of Pittsburgh ride their legions and chariots over the hills? They threaten this manor at least twice a year when the leaves turn.

Romeo: I hope for the health, talent, and blessings to fight those men. In my mind, I glorify the day when we ride back to Lord Lerner with the vanquished foes behind us. That day, with God's will, is ahead of us.

Terrius Pluto: Who was your Master in the New Land of England? For whom do you credit this sure attitude you exhibit?

Romeo: The legions in the House of Patriot are full of good, fearful men who love their tasks and carry them to completion. But I have but one man to credit for the King I am today...

Lord Lerner (standing in front of the King's Table): Romeo, King of the Armies, we must end this presently---

Romeo: .... I shall credit him to my dying day...

Master John: Romeo! Speak no further! You are not known to the ways of this house!

Romeo: His name is Grand Master Belichick.

Lord Lerner and Master John both back away, stunned.

All Members of the Assembled Presse: Belichick!

Tonyus Grossius: Belichick was one of the traitorous house of Modell, who destroyed our will 10 years from the next frost!

Terrius Pluto: And we have associated us a member of his army? This cannot be!

Romeo: I assure you I have loyalty to my bones for this house. Fear not my teachers!

Members of the Assembled Presse: He lies! He lies! Cast him to the doldrums! To the Arizona Cardinals with him!


In part three: Romeo must answer for his past. And a special visitor shows.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Yon Presse Conference

Hark! What light through yon window breaks? It is the East, and sweet gleam of five rings!
Romeo doth have a lean and hungry look (OK, maybe not so lean). Shine forth, you bright gleam. It is hope! It is victory, dare I smell, on the Eastern Wind, caressing my face from the New Land of England.
He is king, Romeo. Long live King Romeo! King, Lord Master of the Brown Warriors from Cleveland.
Dare this not be tragedy like so many Shakespearian works. Boldly, say, we may step forth into a new dawn. An assemblage of newsmen carried forth the word from the land of Berea on Tuesday, 8 February in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Five.

King Crennel, Act I, Scene Four: The chamber of Lord Lerner, House of Brown.

Romeo (stage left): Dark, dawn crests over the airport hills and I arrive. Conquerer, not yet, but a willing combatant.

Lord Lerner: Much of my gold I shall bestow at your feet, if you shall only rescue my house from the shame Lord King Master Sultan General Butch doth left us to bear. My back is sore, my legs quiver at this burdenous load!

Romeo (drawing his sword): This, dear Master, is the blade which has slid across the throats of many dragons. Not least, the legions of Philadelphia, which I have come from slaying forthright. With your gold and trust, I shall go to battle with my men, and though I cannot guarantee the Ultimate Prize, I shall spill much enemy blood for this house.

Lord Lerner: The House of Patriot and Lord Kraft are indeed benevolent champions, to allow us your servitude.

Romeo: I have the knee of Grand Master Belichick to thank for my winning spirit, for it is at that knee I learned how to be a Dragon Slayer.

Lord Lerner: I understand, but thou must never speak that name, Belichick, within this manor, or face the Brimstone that shall well from the Earth.

Romeo: Very well. So when shall I meet the warriors and the masses?

Lord Lerner: Forthright. A mass of pressmen have assembled in the Grand Hall to meet your arrival. And do please put that sword away before. General Butch swung his blade like a club, and pierced the chests of many in this manor.

Romeo (sheathing his sword): That I shall. So I meet them, and onto another new horizon!

(Both exit stage left)

In part two: Romeo faces the beating eye of the Assembled Presse.

Monday, February 07, 2005

St. Belichick

OK, now it's official. Bill Belichick, with three Super Bowl titles as a head coach and two more as a defensive coordinator, now sitteth at the right hand of Vince Lombardi. He is the greatest living coach. Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, their accomplishments faded with time. But not St. Belichick. His accomplishments will live for centuries -- nay -- millennia after his passing.
This could only be the beginning for St. William of the Headbands. His mighty powers could make him one of the greatest human beings that ever lived. Consider the possibilities...
  • 2010: after winning his seventh straight Super Bowl and eight in nine years, Belichick resigns as the head coach of the Patriots. Hearing the wails of torment coming from Chicago, he switches sports and becomes the manager and general manager of the Cubs. Within one year, Belichick remakes the team with cast-offs and Cuban refugees, and delivers the Cubs their first championship in 103 years. The statue of Harry Caray in front of Wrigley Field is demolished and replaced with a statue of Belichick. Visitors can take an elevator to an observation deck in the statue's head, where it is rumored the secret of life is held.
  • 2018: France and Iran declare war on the United States. With French battleships steaming toward New York, the Pentagon asks Belichick to employ his remarkable strategic mind and formulate a defense plan. Within 48 hours, 10 French ships are sunk and the war is ended. Belichick's birthday, April 16, is declared a national holiday.
  • Belichick spends the ensuing years as a military strategist-for-hire. His airtight defensive plans thwart conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. Soon, fearing the wrath of Bill, nations stop warring, and world peace is accomplished. Belichick wins the Nobel Peace Prize four years in a row. After his fourth award, he calls it the "second-greatest four-peat of my life, after Tom Brady scorching Atlanta for 343 yards and five touchdowns in Super Bowl XLI."
  • 2023: In an independent poll of scholars, Belichick trumps Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Thomas Edison as the greatest genius of the past 200 years. Belichick is given a lifetime achievement award by by a group of world-renowed scientists and philosophers in Geneva, Switzerland, but does not attend the ceremony. He is busy breaking down game film for the Patriots, whom he has returned to as a consultant. In January 2024, New England wins their 15th Super Bowl in 23 years.
  • 2025: Bowing to intense worldwide pressure, the city of Cleveland finally recognizes Belichick's birthday as a holiday. Mayor For Life LeBron James invites Belichick to a state dinner, but due to suffocating debt, the only thing the city coffers can front is a chicken fajita platter at Applebee's. Belichick declines.
  • 2027: Belichick turns 75. Realizing he's not going to live forever, a group of government scientists and computer programmers write a computer program based on Belichick's mind. For decades after Bill dies, scientists, humanitarians, military strategists, and football coaches alike consult the "Belichick v. 2.0" program to solve their problems. With the help of the program, cancer and AIDS are cured, world peace is maintained, and winning percentages skyrocket on all levels of football.
  • 2102: on the 100th anniversary of Belichick's first Super Bowl win as a head coach, an image of him appears in the swirls of a oil puddle floating on the Charles River in Boston. Attendants use defibrilator paddles to shock Pope John Paul II, now 298 years old, back to consciouness long enough to ascend Belichick to sainthood. A new Christian sect based on the teachings of Belichick is formed. Within 200 years, Belichickianism rises to the largest Christian denomination in the Western world.
  • 3247: Human beings make contact with alien life for the first time. When the aliens step off their spaceship, their leader holds out an oblong object to the world leaders assmbled for the historic moment. It is a New England Patriots football. As the stunned Earthlings look at the prized possession of the newcomers, the alien leader utters the only two words he knows in English: "Belichick ... autograph."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The outsider

One of our worst basketball fears on the North Coast may be slowly becoming realized: Incoming Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert isn't the Daddy Warbucks everybody thought he was.
Just when we think Cleveland may have gotten its own Mark Cuban to free-spend (or at least spend without fear) to make the Cavaliers a perennial winner, and maybe end our four-decade championship drought, we find out he might be something to be feared: a bottom-line driven outsider who doesn't realize the adversity Clevelanders have dealt with in just trying to find winning teams, let alone title contenders.
Rumors are flying that Gilbert isn't too crazy about ponying up the money to re-sign center Zydrunas Ilgauskas for another four or five years. Ilgauskas has said the Cavaliers haven't even opened contract discussions with him.
The handwriting may be on the wall for the former all-star center who has not yet turned 30. If the Cavs don't deal Ilgauskas by the trade deadline at the end of the month, or have a remarkable change of heart on a contract extension, they are probably going to let him walk in the off-season.
If Gilbert doesn't want to talk deal now, it is hard to imagine him diving into the fray over the summer, when other teams will drive Ilgauskas' asking price up.
The problem might largely be Gilbert's lack of familiarity with Cleveland and the Cavaliers. Gilbert professes to be a huge basketball fan, yet his attitude toward Ilgauskas looks like that of a guy who has overdosed on news reports about "Z"s repeated foot injuries. That, understandably, is the view from Detroit, where Gilbert lives. Nationally, Ilgauskas is known as the guy who couldn't stop breaking his feet, so naturally Gilbert will be leery of paying him big money.
But times have changed since Ilgauskas' last foot surgery in 2001. He had his feet structurally altered in that surgery, a last-ditch effort to save his career.
So far, the surgery has been a rousing success, a borderline-miracle. Not only is Ilgauskas on the floor every night, he is one of the top offensive centers in the game and hands-down the Cavaliers' second-best player.
Gilbert must sit up and realize "Z" is not just the broken-foot man. Yes, that is an indelible part of his career, but to view him only in that light is doing him a great disservice. He is now playing with virtually no fear of foot problems, and if "Z" can do that, after nearly staring the end of his career in the face, those that pay his salary should be able to as well.
Ilgauskas is important to the Cavaliers, important to the team they are trying to build around LeBron James. If there is a silver lining to his foot problems, it saved wear on the rest of his body by keeping him out of action for parts of four seasons. Ilgauskas is less likely to develop back and knee problems that hamper other big men as they inch into their 30s. "Z" has not missed a game due to injury, foot or otherwise, in four years. Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal haven't done that. If that type of durability is not worthy of an extension, what is?
If Gilbert can't realize what Ilgauskas means to the Cavaliers, it is up to general manager Jim Paxson and outgoing majority owner Gordon Gund to educate him. Of course, with rumors seeping in about Gilbert wanting to bring in his own guy (namely, Bill Laimbeer) to run the Cavs, Paxson may follow Gund and Ilgauskas out the door.
If it's all true, Gilbert is playing Russian Roulette with his ability to keep LeBron in a Cleveland uniform in two years. He either has to keep LeBron happy, or win LeBron over to his way of thinking.
LeBron has a tremendous sense of loyalty to his coach and many of his teammates, chief among them the quiet yet likeable Ilgauskas. Loyalty is good in Gilbert's cutthroat world of business only when it serves you (read: makes you money). Usually, when you're a self-made millionaire, you are much more prone to do things your way because that's how you got rich in the first place.
But the caution, the warning, the red flag to Gilbert: For the first time in a long time, things are looking good for the Cavaliers. It wasn't always this good. Usually, it's been pretty bad.
If it ain't broke, Mr. Gilbert, don't fix it.