Thursday, June 30, 2005

Nice, Tice

This just in:
Vikings head coach Mike Tice is the June 2005 recepient of the Kellen Winslow Jr. "Didn't he know it was wrong while he was doing it?" award.
Congratuations, Mike. I'll look forward to seeing you manning a press box assistant coach's chair sometime in the near future.

A new center

It's taken most Cavaliers fans years of reading stories on busted foot bones before we managed how to correctly pronounce "Zydrunas Ilgauskas."
Well, get out the Scrabble board again. New general manager Danny Ferry thinks you all are ready for a new challenge.
Following Tuesday's draft, Ferry swapped the Cavs' 2006 second-round pick (their own, not the one they acquired from Milwaukee for Jiri Welsch) to Orlando for Lithuanian center Martynas Andriuskevicius. At 15 letters, it will be the longest last name ever stitched across a Cavalier jersey back.
Selected by the Magic with the 44th pick in the second round, Andriuskevicius, like Ilgauskas, is a 7'-3" big man cut from the cloth of of Arvydas Sabonis, the former Portland center considered one of the main trailblazers (no pun intended) of Lithuanian basketball.
Andriuskevicius (yes, I am getting tired of typing that) trained at Sabonis's big man camp in Lithuania. He was projected as a first-round pick last year before pulling out of the draft. The 19-year-old was projected as a first-round pick this year, but slid all the way to the middle of the second round.
R.C. Buford, the GM of the Spurs and one of Ferry's mentors, has said publicly he is surprised Andriuskevicius slipped as far as he did.
One reason might be his lack of skill. Andriuskevicius is very raw as a player. Now, when most Cleveland fans think "raw," they think DeSagana Diop. But Andriuskevicius isn't raw like that. He comes from the fundamentals-before-breathing European school of basketball. He is said to be a decent outside shooter who still needs strength, along with defensive and low-post skills. Most 19-year-old players do, though. Andriuskevicius is lean and lanky, and probably far more talented and coordinated than Diop.
In a perfect world, Ferry would re-sign Ilgauskas for another three or four years, let Andriuskevicius (the name is actually getting easier to type as I go) learn, mature and fill out, and at some point hand the baton to him.
If they re-sign Z, maybe the Cavs should hire Sabonis as an assistant coach.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Grand salami

Listening to the air go out of a Fenway Park crowd is almost as satisfying as listening to the air go out of a Yankee Stadium crowd. Yesterday, Travis Hafner afforded me that feeling, and to the Pronkster, I say "thank you."
Hafner didn't need a grand slam in the ninth inning Tuesday night. The game was tied 8-8. A single would have sufficed. But Hafner strikes me as the kind of guy who considers a slice of pizza to be somewhere between one-fourth and one-half of the whole pie.
The Hafner slam, which gave the game its final score of 12-8, was the most satisfying moment of the game. But it might not have been the most important.
Boston used a five-run sixth inning to turn a 5-3 Indians lead into an 8-5 Red Sox cushion. In April and May, when Cleveland's offense was all but comatose, that would have been lights out. But once Arthur Rhodes was pulled after his second straight brutal outing against the Red Sox (three runs allowed in one-third of an inning), the bullpen shut Boston down the rest of the way.
It allowed the Tribe's offense to chip away at Boston's lead. An eighth-inning rally provided two runs and forced Boston manager Terry Francona to go to closer Keith Foulke earlier than he probably wanted to.
The game was a tense 8-7 score when Foulke allowed Jody Gerut to double off the Green Monster with one out in the ninth. Jhonny Peralta, quickly becoming one of Cleveland's best clutch hitters, worked the count full off Foulke and delivered a game-tying single to right field. Coco Crisp scored as a pinch-runner for Gerut.
Noticeably rattled by the blown save, Foulke's pitch count skyrocketed as he walked Grady Sizemore and Casey Blake to load the bases for Hafner.
Foulke got Hafner to 0-2 before leaving a pitch over the inside half of the plate, which he turned on.
As the line drive sailed down the right field line, I had visions of the game I attended last week at Jacobs Field. Same hitter, same pitcher, same inning, and Hafner hit a long drive that hooked foul.
I waited for Hafner's ball Tuesday night to hook foul, but, luckily, it never did. The ball would have been a double into the corner in Jacobs Field or most other parks, but thanks to Fenway's short right field wall, and the curve that leads to the ultra-short "Johnny Pesky Pole" in right field, Hafner's line drive was a grand slam.
It was Cleveland's first slam of the year. That it came against Jimmy Fallon's favorite team and clinched a series victory made it all the sweeter.

Paxson's last gift

Much like Butch Davis's two-picks-for-one swap to acquire Kellen Winslow Jr. last year, trading for Jiri Welsch might be Jim Paxson's last, enduring gift to the fans of Cleveland.
Paxson, fired as the Cavaliers general manager April 21, traded the Cavs' 2007 first-round pick to Boston for Welsch in February. At the time, the deal made sense. The Cavs were in need of an outside shooter, and the Welsch deal was hailed by members of the national media as a great save when Paxson couldn't swing a deal for Michael Redd.
But, for a number of reasons, Welsch and the Cavs were like oil and water. Instead of being the long-range bomber the Cavs needed, Welsch just bombed. He averaged 2.9 points per game and shot a tepid 23.5 percent from the field.
The coaching of Paul Silas and Brendan Malone, which included inconsistent substitution patterns and a get-the-ball-to-LeBron-and-get-out-of-the-way attitiude up and down the bench, didn't help Welsch adjust to his new team. By April, he was unfairly branded as a stiff by the Cleveland basketball-watching public and his days in town were numbered.
The number reached zero Tuesday, when Welsch was dealt to the Bucks for a second-round pick next year. Danny Ferry's first move as general manager of the Cavs doesn't quite jive with the first-rounder Paxson gave up to get Welsch.
Not only did Paxson give Boston the Cavs' 2007 first-rounder, he also signed away the lottery-protected pick owed Charlotte via Phoenix to complete the 1997 Wesley Person trade. NBA rules prohibit teams from trading away first-round picks in consecutive years, which would have happened to the Cavs if they had made the playoffs in 2006 without first having signed this year's pick away.
At the time, it looked like the sign-away by Paxson was a moot point. The Cavs were a cinch to make the playoffs in February, which means they would have lost the lottery protection on the pick regardless. Then came their 12-20 finish and elimination from the playoff race on the last day of the season.
The Cavs would have kept the 13th overall pick and been able to use it had Paxson not signed it away. Charlotte used the pick to draft Sean May from North Carolina, at 6'-8" an undersized power forward who helped North Carolina win the NCAA title in April.
If May becomes an all-star and helps Charlotte into contention sooner rather than later, that would be Paxson's last, enduring gift stemming from the Welsch trade. As with many of Paxson's moves, like letting Carlos Boozer out of his contract in anticipation of signing him to a long-term extension, the Welsch deal was made in an attempt to do the right thing, but it might blow up in Cleveland's face in the end.
I don't like to think the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But in the case of Paxson and placing the Cavaliers in a perpetual basketball purgatory, it might be true.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Denney's luck

In the past year, Indians pitcher Kyle Denney is having a run of luck you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
Last September, he was made to dress in a cheerleader outfit as part of a rookie hazing ritual. Riding to the Kansas City airport on the team bus, still dressed in the outfit, he was shot in the leg. Nobody yet knows where the bullet was shot from, only that it entered the bus at a low angle and flew under several seats before it struck Denney.
The wound was all but superficial, the bullet popped right out of his leg, and the cheerleader outfit made the whole incident kind of comical, at least as comical as a shooting can be.
But no one is laughing at Denney's latest misfortune.
While on the mound for Buffalo Sunday, Denney turned his head but couldn't dodge a line drive hit by Joey Gathright of the Durham Bulls. The ball struck Denney behind the right ear, fracturing his skull in two places. He was rushed to the hospital in Buffalo, and is reportedly to be released today.
Denney also sustained a ruptured ear drum and cerebral contusion in the incident. He was placed on the disabled list. Nobody in the Bisons organization has set a timetable for Denney's return.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Indians 7, Red Sox 0

I am smiling a little wider right now.
A week after the Red Sox ended Cleveland's nine-game winning streak, the Indians turned around and ended Boston's seven-game winning streak. They did it by shutting down Boston's high-powered offense, retiring the last 14 batters in a row. The Red Sox managed just three hits.
Take that, guys who were wearing Johnny Damon jerseys last week at Jacobs Field.
I hope this is a great sign. I hope this means the Indians have finally gained a toe-hold above .500, something they were never able to do in last year's feast-famine season. They are now 40-34. If this offense is even somewhat consistent, the pitching is good enough to keep this team in the wild-card hunt all year.

Believing in Ferry

It's official, The Plain Dealer reported this morning: Danny Ferry, deservedly or undeservedly the patron saint of off-the-cuff trade busts in Cleveland, will be introduced as the Cavaliers general manager today.
Ferry will get right to work today preparing for Tuesday's NBA draft, in which the Cavaliers currently do not own a pick. Ferry's first job will be to try very hard to trade and acquire one.
Ferry is quite possibly the most important GM hire the Cavs have made since Wayne Embry, the man who, reportedly at the demand of then-owner Gordon Gund, traded Ron Harper to the Clippers for Ferry's rights in 1989.
(Lesson number one to Ferry: never, never, never trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. If he can't look in the mirror, he still has Lamond Murray and Darius Miles making a strong case that trades with the Clippers never work out.)
Ferry trade aside, Embry helped rebuild the Cavs from the disaster of the Ted Stepien years, acquiring Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Kevin Johnson (later traded for Larry Nance), John "Hot Rod" Williams and Harper, laying the groundwork for the most successful run in Cavs' history. Those teams won three of the four playoff series the Cavs have ever won.
Ferry has a similar task ahead of him, but maybe even more important.
Ferry's job is to pull the franchise out of the wreckage of a very disappointing end to a once-promising season. Ferry's job is to put a roster on the floor that can clinch the Cavs their first playoff berth in eight years next spring, and do it with relative ease. Ferry's job is to put a championship contender on the floor within several seasons.
And, above all, Ferry's job is to keep LeBron James.
Cleveland fans tend to spit out Ferry's name when they say it. After all, Harper went on to be a key component to the Bulls' three-peat of 1996-98. Ferry was never more than a decent bench player who could knock down a few three-pointers, a far cry from the "next Larry Bird" he was christened coming out of Duke.
Ferry did have some elements of Bird in him, though. He was heady as a player. He was tough, and wasn't afraid to be the bad guy. He was always looking for what he could get away with on the court.
You think the Bulls, with the royalty of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, were above the likes of Ferry? In the early '90s, while Jordan was busy calling the Cavs "cream puffs," and the Bulls eliminated the Cavs from the playoffs four times between 1989 and 1994, who was the one player that got under Chicago's skin enough to draw boos at Chicago Stadium?
Ferry clobbered Pippen once during a late-season game at The Coliseum, and subsequently became Public Enemy No. 1 in Chicago whenever the Cavs were in town.
Ferry needs to take that same knife-twisting mentality to his new job. He needs to be on the lookout for ways he can get the better of other teams. That's the jungle mentality of the NBA market: you're either a predator or prey. You only have to look at the Cavs' record in the past decade to know what side they've been on.
Ferry has some front-office street cred. Since leaving Cleveland in 2000, Ferry has been involved with the Spurs. He now has a championship ring as a player (2003) and an executive (2005). He has studied at the foot of Spurs GM R.C. Buford, one of the NBA's great money managers. He has learned from Gregg Popovich, a coach who belongs on the same pedestal with Larry Brown and Phil Jackson.
Ferry has not had the experience of running an NBA front office before, but numerous basketball people call Ferry "a student of the game." If that's the case, hopefully he's been a sponge these past few years, learning as many championship-winning tips as he could in San Antonio.
I don't care if Ferry ever was the next Bird. What I would really like him to be now is the next R.C. Buford.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Finals in hindsight

Some random, retrospective thoughts on the NBA Finals:

How on Earth does Tim Duncan get to be MVP over Manu Ginobili? Duncan finished with a team-high 25 points in Game 7, yes, and his second half probably was the biggest factor in the Spurs clinching the deciding game, but who had the better series was no contest.
Duncan suffered through arguably his worst playoff series as a pro, missing shots, getting pushed around down low by a far bigger Detroit front line. Ginobili was San Antonio's charismatic spark from Game 1, when he went off for 36 points.
Duncan came up big for one half, but he wasn't the biggest reason the Spurs won the title. Ginobili was.

Having said that, the Spurs are built in the mold of the New England Patriots in that their greatness is the product of a system and not all-star talent at every position. Duncan, and possibly Ginobili, are the only players who could go anywhere and be the type of players they are with the Spurs. Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, Nazr Mohammed and the rest of the roster are role players made to fit.

The Pistons are the same way. They probably lost the title only because they didn't have homecourt advantage. Their performance in winning game six on the road has to be among the greatest backs-against-the-wall performances in Finals history.

Larry Brown will never approach the number of titles Phil Jackson has. But I think he is a better coach. Much like Jackson with the Lakers, the Pistons didn't become champions until Brown took the reigns. Jackson is a very good coach, but he had Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal on his teams. Brown has three Finals appearances and an NBA title to his credit, and the best player he probably ever coached, talentwise, was Allen Iverson.

How good of a coach is Brown? Look at Detroit's roster, and look at where some of their players were prior to putting on a Pistons uniform. Chauncey Billups, last year's Finals MVP, was a shot-chucking journeyman who played on four teams in five years prior to coming to Detroit. Brown molded Billups into a modern-day Mark Jackson, an oversized point guard who compensates for his lack of ball-handling skills with physical play and ability to overmatch smaller guards by posting up.

Don't look now, but Gregg Popovich is one-third of the way to Jackson's nine-title total, a mark shared by Red Auerbach. Popovich now has more NBA coaching titles than Rudy Tomjanovich or Chuck Daly, but has yet to achieve the legendary status of those two.

Are you watching this, baseball? a team from San Antonio, a mid-sized market, now owns three of the last seven NBA titles. That's a dynasty by my count. They probably aren't done winning titles, either.
If the Spurs were a baseball team, Tim Duncan would already be a Yankee and .500 would be a good season.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Fenway West

Wednesday night, I attended an Indians game for the first time this season. At least I thought it was an Indians game.
When I got a closer look at all the red, white and blue gear people were wearing inside Jacobs Field, I had my doubts. An impossible-to-ignore amount said "Red Sox," "Boston," or "World Champions."
The replica jersey backs bearing "Schilling," Damon" and "Ramirez" routed the number of jersey backs featuring any Indians players.
I came to the game with Jeff, a fellow Tribe fan I know from Medina County. Long about the second inning, as we stood over what appeared to be two solid sections of Boston fans in left field, Jeff finally blurted out what I had been thinking all evening:
"Where am I, Fenway?"
It was true: Jacobs Field had become Fenway Park West. What was worse, we both knew there was no way what appeared to be at least 5,000 Red Sox fans had ventured all the way from New England to Cleveland for the game.
Many of these fans were members of the common species we refer to as the "North American bandwagoner." Like moths to a bug zapper, the North American bandwagoner is intensely attracted to the latest fad. In this case, the desire to be as much like Ben Affleck as possible. It's cool to be a Red Sox fan now that they are the world champions and free from any justified persecution, even in the Bronx.
(Of course, in the Bronx, a Red Sox fan would still not be free from fists or bodily fluids, a point Jeff brought up later in the game, as legions of Bostonians-at-heart began chanting "Let's go Red Sox.")
"Man, if this was a Browns game at the old stadium, there would be all kinds of things flying at them right now," he said.
At least a number of Indians fans tried to drown out the insurgency with a chant of "Let's go Tribe."
I guess this would be a good point to discuss the game a bit, which Boston won, 5-4, to complete a three-game sweep. The Indians tried. They didn't lose for lack of effort. Boston simply did to the Indians what the Indians used to do to other teams in the '90s.
Playing chess-match baseball, like the Indians usually have to do to win, is nearly impossible against the Red Sox. Like the mid-late '90s Indians, playing chess against the Red Sox is like playing chess against a club-wielding caveman. You make your intricately-planned moves, and they bash the board off the table with a three-run homer.
Boston out-homered the Indians 8-2 in the series.
Cliff Lee staked the Indians to a 4-2 lead through seven innings. As Bob Howry worked through a shaky eighth, I yelled to no one in particular, "Quit screwing around with Howry! Go to Rhodes!"
Arthur Rhodes, after all, had been lights out all season, with an ERA below 1.00.
Of course, no sooner do I say that, than the bullpen door swings open, out comes Rhodes, and he promptly allows two runs to score to tie the game again at 4-4.
And when Boston has you down, they find a way to finish you off.
Bob Wickman came on to pitch the ninth. He gave up a double to Jay Payton, who reached third when Grady Sizemore bobbled the ball trying to pick it up. Edgar Renteria, who hit a solo homer earlier in the game, drove in the winning run with another double, this to left-center.
The Indians went down in order in the ninth. The only drama was a Travis Hafner shot deep down the right field line which hooked foul.
I will say this about the mass of Red Sox fans, legitimate or bandwagoners: they were civil in victory, at least from what I could see.
I fully expected throngs of loud, obnoxious, confrontational Red Sox fans chanting pro-Boston and anti-Cleveland slogans as Jeff and I left the park. Maybe that was happening around other exits, but as Jeff and I left the park under the giant Jacobs Field sign at the corner of Carnegie Street and Ontario Avenue, all appeared quiet. In fact, the only interaction we had with a Red Sox fan was a guy who we nearly ran into walking toward the exit.
"Good game, guys," he said.
Wow. Maybe a championship really has changed these people. Then again, we weren't wearing Yankee caps.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Game 7

There is no way Larry Brown is coming to Cleveland now.
How on Earth could he leave behind the drama and pressure of Game 7 of the NBA Finals to sit behind a desk for the Cavaliers?
Tuesday night, Brown led his Pistons to a 95-86 Game 6 victory over San Antonio, sending the NBA's championship series to a deciding game. It was Detroit's first win in San Antonio since 1997, and the first time the Finals has been sent to a seventh game since Houston defeated New York in 1994.
The only way Brown leaves the bench now is if doctors at the Mayo Clinic tell him "if you keep coaching, you'll die within a year." Even then, I would think Brown would much rather go out doing his true passion than being a figurehead.
The fact that the Knicks have been stalling more than a filibustering senator in their head coach search, interviewing candidates like Bill Laimbeer, further strengthens the case that Brown will be on someone's sideline next season.
The Cavs, by contrast, will apparently have a pair of neophytes leading the team into the suddenly-saved NBA summer. Mike Brown, by all accounts a solid basketball man, but a man who has no head coaching experience on any level, has already been hired as Cleveland's bench boss.
And ex-Cav Danny Ferry reportedly is in line to accept the team's general manager post once Game 7 is concluded. Ferry is currently a higher-up in the Spurs front office.
The last time the Cavs hired both a GM and coach with no prior experience at their positions, it was Jim Paxson and Randy Wittman in 1999.
Of course, those guys didn't have LeBron James to build around. Neither one had much of a clue, either.
Has anybody noticed owner Dan Gilbert is hiring in the exact opposite direction than he planned on at the outset of the off-season? It was supposed to be GM and/or president is hired, if a president is hired, that person hires the GM, and the GM hires the coach. That way, it was thought, there would be a defined line of authority to follow, less chance of toes being stepped on.
Instead, the coach was hired first, the GM appears to be next, and no one at the moment seems to know if the Cavs will even hire a president for sure.
That's not to say it won't work the way Gilbert has done it, it just seems like this off-season has caught Gilbert off-guard so far, like so many other things that have transpired since he took over the team.
He seems to be reacting on the fly. Usually, that's not a good idea. But the Carlos Boozer debacle of last summer was the unintended result of careful planning, so in the savage jungle of Cleveland sports, there is no right way to do things.
But if Gilbert is still holding out hope that Larry Brown is going to ride in from the west on a stallion to make sense of this whole NBA ownership thing, he's probably got another thing coming. Larry has a really important game to coach Thursday night.
"Coach" is the operative word. Not "preside over."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hoop save

I know millions of people were gnashing their teeth at the prospect of the NBA killing off their entire off-season with a lockout. I know children were crying, grown men were begging on their knees, and some families were building underground bunkers in Montana in preparation for the upcoming basketball Armageddon.
Well, fear no more. The sky has parted and God (or in this case, David Stern) is smiling down. The NBA and their players union have agreed to a new deal today, reportedly a six-year pact.
One of the most controversial rumors hovering around the new deal is possibility that the league is going to up its minimum age to 19, meaning every American player dreaming of making the LeBron James leap straight out of high school to the NBA will, in all likelihood, have to find somewhere else to play until they are eligible for the NBA.
Logically, that would mean college for most players, but don't be surprised if more start playing stints with European teams straight out of high school. That could create some of the same signability issues baseball has with its draft picks. Players could start using their contracts with European clubs as leverage when they negotiate with NBA teams. Even if a player wants to go to the NBA, the overseas club could demand a pricey contract buyout from an NBA club. Buyouts, or threats of buyouts, have already come close to hindering the career starts of Yao Ming and Maicej Lampe.
Holdouts and stall tactics have been pleasantly absent from NBA contract negotiating tables, one way the NBA towers over the NFL and baseball. The fact that the NBA has apparently averted a lockout is great, but they might have just given players a way to stall for more money in the process.

C.C. gets a "D"

If the Cleveland Indians are ever forced to play a game against the devil's minions for my soul, C.C. Sabathia will not start that game. I will make sure of it.
At a time when the Indians could just about spin straw into gold, C.C. managed to find a way to foul things up and end the Tribe's nine-game winning streak Monday night against Boston.
The offense bailed C.C. out in his last start against Colorado, when he put the Indians in a 6-2 hole. Jhonny Peralta and Aaron Boone hit game-tying and game-winning homers, respectively, as Cleveland pulled the game out, 7-6 in 11 innings.
Last night was far worse against a far better offensive team than the Rockies. Against the Red Sox, C.C. coughed up a career-high nine runs on nine hits in five innings. Despite C.C.'s career-worst outing, the offense nearly bailed him out again. Indeed, David Riske gave up the losing run in the form of a solo homer to Johnny Damon in the ninth. Cleveland lost 10-9 with the tying run at second base.
But it should never have gotten to that. This pitching staff (and offense) is supposed to be built so the Indians seldom, if ever, lose on nights when they are fortunate enough to score nine runs.
C.C. sometimes feels like a holdover from the days of high-octane Tribe offenses. The days of Dave Burba and Charles Nagy on the mound, when a 4.85 ERA could still yield a 14-7 record due to fantastic run support.
That's not the case anymore. Even though the offense is grooving right now, realistically, the pitching has to hold the other team somewhere under six runs at the high end to give the Indians a chance to win.
The days of winning 12-10 slugfests on a weekly basis are over. It's not that C.C. never got that memo, it's just that his abilities lend themselves to giving up hits, sometimes in bunches.
C.C. throws a mid-90s fastball, but he is really not a strikeout pitcher. Sure, he gets his occasional nine-strikeout game, but usually his strikeout total rests around Monday's five.
C.C. is a fly ball pitcher. Many pitchers are fly ball pitchers, but C.C. has the added danger of having a straight fastball. He must spot the fastball well to be effective, like 98 percent of major league pitchers. But when your fastball doesn't do much besides go fast, you run the risk of putting it on a tee, especially to right-handed hitters if you are a lefty.
Manny Ramirez did just that last night. I don't know if he gave up the three-run homer to Ramirez on a fastball, and I know he was jammed on his chalk-shot bloop double. But that broken-bat double reeked of C.C. trying to pound Ramirez inside after leaving a fat, juicy pitch out over the plate on the homer.
C.C. is beginning to mature. He throws more off-speed stuff, to a solid degree of effectiveness. But I can't help but think that big, lumbering 6'-7" frame of Sabathia doesn't lend itself well to command or movement on pitches.
Every other Tribe starter, be it Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Kevin Millwood or Scott Elarton has some kind of good movement on at least a couple of pitches. Good movement gives a pitcher more leeway in spotting pitches. They make pitches harder to center on for a hitter.
Those pitchers can still get rocked (reference Westbrook against the Tigers this year), but more pitches, and more movement on pitches, gives a pitcher more weapons to go to in his arsenal, important because not every pitch will work every night.
If C.C.'s fastball is not cooperating, like on Monday, about the only other thing he has to go to is a work-in-progress change-up and a mediocre breaking ball.
C.C. is still an effective pitcher more times than not. His ERA took a beating Monday, but it was 3.91 heading into the game.
I just wish the Indians and the media pundits would stop crowning C.C. the Tribe's "staff ace." Staff aces are overrated as it is, there are are only a handful of true "aces" out there, and I'd rather have a rotation like what the Indians have, a solid five-man unit with no major drop-off points.
Let's look at C.C. for what he is: a young pitcher who appears to be on an average learning curve. He's not a prodigy. He doesn't have mind-blowing stuff. He's a solid workhorse, still prone to getting roughed up, who will probably peak as a good mid-rotation pitcher.
If you absolutely must crown a staff ace, go bother Lee or Millwood.

Monday, June 20, 2005

F-you, F1

Dave, make a mental note of this. We need to discuss Formula One during our next sports radio show, this Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Not because anybody cares about it, but because as few people as possible should ever care about these snobs.
As Ryan McGee of points out, it is remarkable anyone would want to put up with these insufferable, spoiled Euro-jerks

On guard

The fans' immediate reaction to the suddenly-unstoppable Indians appears to be guarded optimism.
The last time the Indians closed to within a game of the Twins, it was August of last year, and they lost a heartbreaker to Minnesota the very next day. That loss started an eight-game losing streak that sealed the season's fate.
The Indians have very obviously been playing their butts off for the last two weeks. They have swept their last three series at home, and their last three series overall. But one can't get around the fact that the current nine-game winning streak has come entirely against the National League. Cleveland has just one more interleague series left, against Cincinnati this coming weekend.
The Indians have absolutely bludgeoned the NL this season, going 13-2. If they make it to the World Series, I'll put them down for their first World Series title in 57 years right then.
But take away the record against the NL, and they are 24-28 against the American League, their opponents in 144 of their 162 regular-season games this year.
And we still have yet to get back to divisional play. The Twins and White Sox account for the only two series losses in the past three weeks. As I have mentioned before, divisional opponents have given the Indians fits in recent years. They are 9-13 this season, and with the unbalanced schedule, they will face the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Royals a total of 76 times this year. That's almost half the season.
There is no way around winning divisional games. You must if you want to contend in baseball. That's how the schedule is set up.
I shouldn't be this skeptical. I shouldn't be looking a gift horse in the mouth like this. The Indians still have the best record in baseball over the span of the past five weeks, going 25-12 since May 9. That stretch covers more than a couple intradivisional series.
I just know the Indians can't encounter too much more adversity in their season. They've fought valiantly to get back into the wild card race, and maybe to have an outside shot at the AL Central title. But when you start off as badly as Cleveland did in April, you force yourself to run just a little faster, work just a little harder for the rest of the season. If the Indians slip, even for a couple of series, fall double figures back in the division and give the Twins some breathing room again, they're going to need even more wins in an even shorter time frame to keep their playoff hopes alive.
It's June, but for the Indians, it's already the second half.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Omar's helping hand

Omar Vizquel still has the Indians' backs.
Less than a week after the Tribe swept his new team, the Giants, Omar helped the Indians pull to within three games of Minnesota for the wild card lead Thursday night.
While the Indians were busy finishing off a sweep of Colorado, Omar played a big role in dispatching the Twins, going 5-for-6 as the Giants routed Minnesota 14-7 in the Metrodome.
The game included a seven-run ninth inning for San Francisco.
The performance by Omar harkened back to last July 31, when he went 6-for-7 in the historic 22-0 victory over the Yankees.
It's still too early to begin counting along for keeps, but the Indians now have a six-game winning streak, have won nine of 10, and are 17-7 in their last 24. They have the best record in baseball since May 9.

I have to take one on the chin here. Maybe it was Eddie Murray. In an earlier post, I accused the Indians of looking for a fall guy for their slumping offense when they fired Murray as hitting coach. But the 9-of-10 streak began the day after Murray was fired. Farmhand coach Derek Shelton replaced Murray during the trip to San Diego, and the Indians have been outscoring their opponents by an average of about three runs per game since.

Follicle side note: Thursday's victory pushed the Indians' record to 5-0 since Eric Wedge shaved his mustache.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first.
Aaron Boone is still batting at a trained-ape-could-do-it-just-as-well .191 clip after Wednesday night's game against Colorado. He struck out after Jhonny Peralta homered to tie the game in the ninth inning.
He still gets the same chorus of boos after making outs at Jacobs Field. There are still plenty of fans who would rather see Casey Blake at third base and Boone somewhere between the bench and Buffalo.
But last night, in the 11th inning, after all the boos and eye-rolling subsided, Boone was whisked back to a chilly October night in the Bronx two years ago, when he became this generation's Bucky Dent. Boone (that Aaron-freaking-Boone Red Sox fans cursed until revenge was secured last October) banged his first walk-off home run since he put the Yankees in the 2003 World Series.
Logically, home runs in June would always pale in comparison to home runs like the one Boone hit two years ago. But for Boone, it might have nearly as much meaning. For one at-bat, he was able to place himself in the good graces of his new fans. He was able to be more than dead weight being lugged around by what is still the worst offensive team in the American League.
He was able to cap off one of the best rallies of Cleveland's season, from a 6-2 defecit in the fifth inning. He was able to rescue the momentum of Cleveland's four-game winning streak, which was burning out by the time the game was halted for about an hour by a rain delay.
In retrospect, Boone's homer might turn out to be a very important moment if the Indians are challenging for the wild-card spot a month from now. Remember, the last time the Indians went on a four-game winning streak, like they were riding heading into Wednesday, they gave it all back with a four-game losing streak.
Instead of gagging against unquestionably the worst road team in the majors, the Indians beat the Rockies Wednesday. Boone was mobbed by his teammates at home plate, and he gave Indians fans memories of the late-inning thrills of the '90s.
Any time you can conjure up memories of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez or Sandy Alomar, you earn brownie points with Tribe fans.
Next stop, Boonie, is the Mendoza line.

Tyson and teats

Kevin McBride, fresh off his six-round TKO of Mike Tyson Saturday night, told a British newspaper the following this week:

"Tyson is crazy. He bit my nipple. I didn't realize it at first but he had his teeth around it. I just felt a strange sensation and then realized what he'd done. He could not get up high enough to bite my ears — good job he wasn't a midget, otherwise he would have bitten something else."

Now, if I'm a boxing promoter, and my sport is viewed as barbaric in many circles, lags in mass-popularity and is largely a dinosaur of a sport whose glory days ended in the 1970s or earlier, I can take the previous quote one of two ways:

1) First ears, now nipples. That's disgusting. Mike Tyson is an animal. He must stay retired. His kind can't drag the reputation of our sport through the mud any more than it already has been.

2) Nipples. Nipples! He's biting nipples! Nipples, nipples, nipples! Quick, I'm thinking all-topless Tyson vs. Tonya Harding match in Atlantic City this fall!

What viewpoint wins? Well, what viewpoint can be sold on pay-per-view?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Speed bumps ahead?

The optimist sees the Indians are 32-30 and thinks this team is starting a serious roll that could breach the gap between third place and the playoffs in the next six to eight weeks.
The pessimist sees the Indians are 32-30 and figures, well, they've just been beating up on bad teams. They reference the two recent series losses to the division-rival White Sox and Twins as proof.
Both sides have some merit. Who is right has yet to be determined.
The Indians' recent success has been fueled in large part by interleague play, which has seen the Indians face National League bottom-feeders the Reds, Giants and Rockies. The Indians have owned interleague play to this point, going 8-2 against the those three teams and the Padres. Interleague play is the biggest reason why the Indians are a division-best 15-7 in their last 22 games.
Interleague play has helped save the Indians' season to this point, but ultimately, the Indians will vault themselves back into contention only by beating divisional opponents, thanks to the unbalanced schedule. To that end, the Indians have not gotten the job done. They are 9-13 against the AL Central, 23-17 against the rest of the majors. Only the abysmal Royals are worse against divisional opponents in the Central, at 5-17.
By contrast, the first-place White Sox have beaten up on divisional opponents, going 20-5. Three of those losses have come against Cleveland.
Interleauge play will be over in two weeks. The Indians have two games against the Rockies, and a pair of three-game series against the Diamondbacks and Reds left. Then it is back to the American League grind, and more divisional games.
Interleague play can serve only as a stepping-off point for the rest of the season. Maintaining the momentum they currently have is up to the players.
Having said that, beating up on bad teams can be a confidence-builder. If I was on a slumping team, give me a home series against the last-place Rockies over facing the White Sox six times in nine days anytime. The old adage once endorsed by Indians great Lou Boudreau is to beat up on the dregs and try to break even against the good teams.
For the Indians, that means the Twins and White Sox in particular.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Zen update

Phil Jackson is now officially off the radar screen for anything having to do with the Cavaliers, if he was ever on the screen to begin with.
In a move that reeks of returning to a personal comfort zone rather than a seeking out of a new challenge, Jackson returned to his former post as coach of the Lakers today.
Laker fans having a dream sequence about returning to the top should wake up now, before watching next year's edition of the Lakers does it for them.
Jackson returned to Los Angeles not because he has some great desire to turn the Lakers back to a winner. He retured because he has been dating Jeanie Buss, the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, for quite some time. He returned for the glamorous profile of the Lakers job, he returned for the sun and sand and Buddhism of Southern California in January.
The Lakers are a cozy little mountaintop Jackson never wanted to leave in the first place.
Jackson will return to the Lakers a happy man. What Jackson won't do is improve the team's roster, hampered by a cumbersome salary cap figure. The Lakers can't play defense, have no interior presence, and have no real shooters outside of Kobe Bryant.
Ah, yes, Kobe Bryant. Like David Wells returning to the Yankees, Jackson was so desperate to get back to his little golden corner of the world that he is back-burnering his previous spat with Kobe, the one that caused his departure from the Lakers in the first place.
Bryant reportedly called today's re-hiring "something I support," which is a far cry from "Phil's back? What took them so long?"
We'll see about Bryant's "support" once these two have to co-exist on a daily basis and share a hotel for two weeks at a time. Bryant is the embodiment of the philosophy "good fences make good neighbors."
Jackson and Bryant are both way too full of themselves to accomplish much of anything together anymore. The Lakers probably aren't a title condenter right now even if both guys are down-to-earth and best buds. The fact that both have easily-ruffled egos complicates matters exponentially.
Jackson has been called the "Zen Master" for years. The big difference is, he's starting to believe it now. If Jackson begins to fancy himself Mr. Miagi from "The Karate Kid" before he fancies himself a coach, that probably won't endear him to his players, many of whom arrived in L.A. after Jackson departed for his motivational speaking and meditation career.
Bryant has last year's rape trial hanging over him still. He is now a villain to many NBA fans. Who was once simply a quiet superstar is now being interpreted as a insufferable prima donna and a sullen malcontent to be kept away from.
Jackson and Bryant are both becoming caricatures of the people they were during the Lakers title run. This time around, it will be a wonder if they can get along with anybody, least of all each other.

I think ...

In the vein of Tony Rizzo's weekly "Top 10 things I think I think" on Fox 8 Sports in Cleveland, I offer some of my own things about Cleveland sports I think I think.

I think ...

... If the Indians had just one truly fearsome bat in the heart of their order, they'd be a legitimate playoff team.

... All you Tribe fans salivating at the idea of the Indians adding said fearsome bat before the trade deadline, grab a napkin and a beer. The best you can hope for is the jettisoning of Jose Hernandez for another utility player.

... Grady Sizemore will be the next Indians position player to make the all-star team. Next year.

... Cliff Lee is Cleveland's staff ace. Not C.C. Not Kevin Millwood.

... The Browns made the right move in letting Ross Verba go, even if his replacement, L.J. Shelton, is an unknown quantity.

... Kellen Winslow Jr. has the talent to be a perennial pro-bowler. The Browns shouldn't give up on him, no matter how frustrated they are with him.

... New Cavaliers coach Mike Brown will soon discover there are a couple light years of difference between being an NBA assistant coach and an NBA head coach. But he will be up to the task.

... Zydrunas Ilgauskas is gone. Eddy Curry or Jamaal Magloire will replace him.

... Larry Brown is not coming to Cleveland. Pin your hopes on Kiki Vandeweghe.

... Despite east coast media reports to the contrary, LeBron James is loyal to the Cavaliers and wants to stay in Cleveland, all things being equal. The equalizer, however, is the ability to win.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Death of the 'stache

Eric Wedge has heard the cries of his people.
When he showed up at SBC Park in San Francisco for Saturday's game against the Giants, his much-maligned mustache was no more, shaven clean off. He got a haircut, too.
Wedge offered no comment as to why the sudden change of heart. Whenever he has previously offered a comment on his facial hair, he always seemed to be of the belief that the people who were obsessing over his 'stache should find something else to do.
He was probably right. It looked ugly, but it was his mustache, and as bad as it looked, it was his right to keep it if he wanted. But there is no denying this: the Indians are 4-1 since beginning their west-coast interleague swing through San Diego and San Francisco.
If Wedge started contemplating a shave in San Diego, then Matt Glassman, the Webmaster of, can consider his site a success.
Here's to better, clean-shaven days ahead.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Cuckoo for Kiki

Just in case Larry Brown decides he wants to keep coaching, the Cavaliers are starting to formulate a backup plan.
(That's a smart move, by the way. Two NBA Finals appearances in as many years has got to make you believe coaching would Brown's first choice unless health problems dictate otherwise.)
Thursday, media reports said Cavs officials and Denver Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe have had "informal" conversations about the Cavs' open GM position. The Nuggets originally did not give the Cavs permission to speak with Vandeweghe, who is under contract for one more season, but eventually changed their collective mind for whatever reason.
Vandeweghe is not the basketball guru Brown is, but he has the front-office track record Brown does not. Since taking over the Nuggets in 2001, he has imploded the roster and rebuilt Denver into a playoff team. On his watch, the Nuggets have acquired Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, Nene, Andre Miller, Earl Boykins, and re-acquired Voshon Lenard.
Vandeweghe was also responsible for the hiring of coach George Karl during this past season, the move many credit with rescuing Denver's season and getting them to the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Cavs would probably be a backup plan for Vandeweghe as well. He most likely wants to stay in Denver, but contract extension negotiations have reportedly not even begun.
Vandeweghe would be an excellent "plan B" if the Cavs could make it work. Unlike Brown, with Vadeweghe, the Cavs would know what they are getting in a basketball executive.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Peralta's future

Zach brought up a good point in response to the post below.
Peralta's future probably isn't at shortstop. He can play the position, but I can't help but think this team would be better off with a defense-oriented player at short and Peralta at a more "offensive" position like third base.
My money is on Peralta eventually moving to third, not second, by the way. I don't think he has the range to play second.
If Alex Cora or Brandon Phillips could hit well enough to hold down a top and/or bottom spot in the order, ideally they'd be the shortstop of the future. Phillips, I think, has Gold Glove potential as a fielder. It's his bat and lack of maturity that have stood in the way to date.
Peralta's all-around offensive game will have to mature before he can move over. A third baseman has got to be capable of hitting about .280 with 30-plus home runs, or .300 with 20-plus. A third baseman on a good team should knock in a minimum of 90 to 100 RBI a year. Considering Peralta could someday become a heart-of-the-order hitter, that number could easily climb to the 120 RBI range.
Peralta's not quite there yet. We'll have to hold our breath and watch Aaron Boone for at least the remainder of this year.

Sweet glovework

I am not usually one to pine for yesteryear. It makes me feel like a jilted lover unwilling to let go of the past.
But in Wednesday night's 6-1 Indians victory over the Padres, San Diego infielders Khalil Greene and Geoff Blum combined on a double play that made me (just for a moment) miss Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar.
Jhonny Peralta banged a ground ball up the middle. It was headed for a base hit. Indeed, I don't think the man who hit it could gotten to it himself. But Greene is one of the more nimble shortstops in the field nowadays.
He ranged to his left, dove, and plucked the ball off a short hop. With a runner bearing down on second base, Greene, still on his stomach, flung the ball straight out of his glove to Blum, who picked it barehanded while covering second. In one motion he pivoted and threw to first to complete the double play.
ESPN made it No. 1 on their SportsCenter top plays this morning.
The glove-to-barehand flip between infielders is one of the more acrobatic and breathtaking moves in baseball. Omar and Robbie did it twice, once against Houston at Jacobs Field, and once at Yankee Stadium. Following the Jacobs Field show in 1999, the pair become the only players I know of who were asked to make a curtain call from the dugout for a defensive play.
I think Peralta is doing a solid job at shortstop. He's recovered nicely from a shaky defensive start to become a decent fielder. But he's no acrobat, not a showman like Omar, like Greene is to a lesser extent.
And sometimes, you just want to be wowed as a fan.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


The Cleveland Browns housecleaning continues.
The Plain Dealer reported today offensive tackle Ross Verba will be shown the door before the day is out, being paid only a $465,000 roster bonus.
Verba was arguably the Browns' best offensive lineman since first coming to the team in 2001. Granted, that's kind of like being named the world's fastest turtle, but parting with any offensive lineman that has reasonable talent such as Verba has is a bold step. It also shows at least an effort by the Browns to not take any crap, at least from players not named Winslow who have omnipresent hall-of-famers for fathers.
Verba whined his way out of Cleveland. After seeing the contracts offensive line pickups Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman got from the Browns, Verba wanted his share of the pie. There's nothing wrong with that, but Verba seemed to go about it all wrong. He tried to call general manager Phil Savage and the Browns front office out in public, taking his beef to the media, threatening a holdout.
As Reuben Droughns has found out, that's a bad idea. Eventually, the running back came slinking back to Cleveland when he realized the Browns weren't going to trade William Green after all.
The departure of Verba is the parting of one more player who gave this team an off-the-field public relations headache in the past year. Verba's perpetual-college-freshman party lifestyle is no secret, with seedy characters allegedly coming and going during all hours from his Westlake home. Last season, a woman cried sexual assault after a party at his house, and even if the alleged incident wasn't directly his fault, Verba became just another flawed Butch Davis acquisition.
The Browns have prepared for Verba's departure by adding linemen L.J. Shelton, and yesterday, Marcus Spears, in free agency.
Nobody will confuse either Shelton or Spears with perennial all-pros, but in Cleveland, that's not even the first order of business. Getting players who know how to conduct themselves off the field is a more basic need.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Wedge the orator

Gary Miller of ESPN thinks Indians manager Eric Wedge is a great public speaker. Those of us in Cleveland would love to see those motivational speaking tools manifest itself in his team somehow.
Miller attended a Wedge speech to the third annual Teen Summit before a recent game at Jacobs Field, and said he was so moved by what Wedge had to say, he had to share it in his column on
"It applies to any of us, at any age, every day of our lives," Miller said, before delivering a Wedge quote from the speech:

"When I was your age, and thought about the future, the future seemed forever away But when I look back, and think about the decisions I made, the right ones, the wrong ones, and think about how it affected me from year to year, I realize every decision you make is important. And you've got to believe that you're important. You can't let people around you bring you down, you're too important. Everybody here is important. I don't care what people tell you, or who tries to bring you down, you've got to believe that. If you can take every day, and get the most out of your life, do your homework, pay attention to people who care about you, be a good friend, and make good decisions; if you can take care of those things, every day, then you will have a future."

Miller said he gained "enormous respect" for Wedge that morning. His players seem to back it up. Wedge is known for giving speeches on the first day of spring training that rank right up there with "win one for the Gipper."
So we know Wedge brings solid orator skills to his job. That counts for something. Managers have to work with people, and working with people means communicating.
If only we all could be so sure Wedge is as good at getting through to his players on a day-to-day basis, when he's not on a soapbox. If only we could be so sure Wedge is at least an adequate tactician, capable of knowing when a pitcher needs to be pulled, when to bunt and when to use a pinch hitter.
If only we could be so sure Wedge, along with GM Mark Shapiro, didn't fire hitting coach Eddie Murray to deflect criticism over the team's anemic offense.
I want to be as impressed with Wedge as Gary Miller is. I want to see Wedge the baseball manager grow and keep pace with Wedge the benevolent orator, who took time out of his schedule to try and inspire 100 kids with his words.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Eddie Murray canned

The Indians are sinking ever-farther down the well of desperation, and Saturday's firing of hitting coach Eddie Murray proves it.
Murray, who has usually been the silent, glowering type in his baseball career, might not have made the best coach. Two years ago, when the Indians offense was struggling much like it is now, Murray was chastised for not taking enough initiative, for making players come to him for advice instead of seeking them out.
Last year, the Indians had a breakout offensive year, and all was forgiven. But that might have had more to do with having a healthy Matt Lawton and Omar Vizquel hitting at the top of the lineup than anything Murray did.
But whether Murray was or was not a good hitting coach isn't the point right now. This weekend's firing reeks of a desperate team looking for a fall guy. The move is a cop-out that doesn't address more serious talent and manager-oriented issues within the team.
Aaron Boone is as rusty as a 1978 Ford Limited, and having Ted Williams as your hitting coach wouldn't change that. Murray's firing also won't change Casey Blake's poor hitting instincts, Travis Hafner's bruised elbow, and the mental funk of Victor Martinez, brought about apparently by the pressure of a new contract.
Firing Murray also won't alleviate manager Eric Wedge's penchant for staying with pitchers too long and apparent inability to energize his team like, say, Ozzie Guillen with the White Sox.
A hitting coach's job isn't to push the buttons, it is to do the behind-the scenes work with players. A hitting coach is, above all, an advice giver. If the Indians are looking for a fresh start and more wins by canning Murray, they are misguided.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Ludwick is back

All you fans of getting value in return for your baseball players, take heart: Ryan Ludwick is back in the Indians organization.
Five days after being designated for assignment, Ludwick cleared waivers today and was assigned to Buffalo. It is an unlikely outcome for a young hitter with power. Most media pundits figured Ludwick gone, since his upside still outweighs his risk factor. When a team designates a player for assignment, they have 10 days to release, trade or get the player through waivers. A player must pass through waivers unclaimed for his own team to keep him.
Perhaps Ludwick's history of knee and hip problems scared some teams off.
Never in the history of Cleveland baseball has there been so much consternation and hand-wringing over the status of a fourth outfielder.
When Ryan Ludwick was designated for assignment Monday to make room for Juan Gonzalez, you'd think the Indians just released Manny Ramirez if you listened to talk radio.
Some of the complaints were justified; after all, Ludwick, a capable right-handed bat with power, was apparently being jettisoned for nothing to make room for a perpetually-injured outfielder who had at best a 50-50 shot of making it through one week without a relapse.
The heat intensified on the Cleveland front office when, sure enough, Gonzalez re-injured his hamstring on his first batted ball of the season. He might miss three months.
With the return of Coco Crisp to action far earlier than expected, Ludwick has been pushed even further down the depth chart. The Indians primary starting outfield is now Jody Gerut, Grady Sizemore and Crisp. Badly struggling Casey Blake will probably fight for playing time as the new fourth outfielder.
Unless someone else gets hurt, Ludwick is probably in for a fairly lengthy stint in Buffalo, considering he is out of options and can't be sent down without being designated for assignment again. But the bottom line is, he's back.
All those cursed-Cleveland nightmares of Ludwick getting claimed by the White Sox and crushing game-winning home runs against the Indians can be put to rest for now.

George Mikan dies

Shaquille O'Neal, right now you should be "The Big Historian."
Patrick Ewing, tip your cap.
Bill Walton, put down the microphone.
Kareem, stop your never-ending quest for respect in NBA coaching circles for a moment.
Even you, Bill Russell. You might have very well defined an era of NBA basketball, but you weren't the first.
George Mikan was.
Mikan, who died Wednesday at 80, might have been the first famous seven-footer who wasn't a member of a circus freak show. Mikan made tall cool. Mikan made tall dominant.
(Mikan was, in reality 6'-10", but keep in mind he played 50 years ago).
Mikan made the center position an unparalleled weapon. His ability to get closer to the basket than anybody in the game at the time made him the game's first real superstar. He carried the infant NBA in the late 1940s and early 50s.
And he did it from that wintertime outpost, Minneapolis.
Long before "Lakers" became synonymous with glamour and courtside celebrities in Los Angeles, the Minneapolis Lakers were a small-city dynasty. Mikan led them to five titles in the franchise's first six years.
How unusual was it to have a player of Mikan's size and skill in the early '50s? The NBA doubled the width of the key and instituted goaltending rules because of him.
Mikan was even instrumental in the creation of the shot clock. In 1950, the Fort Wayne Pistons used extreme slow-ball tactics to neutralize Mikan, resulting in a 19-18 loss for the Lakers. Other teams followed suit, grinding the pace of games to a halt, and resulting in the implementation of a 24-second clock in 1954.
Mikan helped open up the eyes of basketball coaches as to what a center could accomplish. Mikan was arguably the father of the modern center position, a big reason why Shaq is viewed as a primary scoring threat and not just a big tree in the paint. Mikan paved the way for Kareem, who is now the all-time leader in league scoring.
Mikan sported a look that was more "Revenge of the Nerds" than basketball star. But while he wore thick-rimmed glasses to correct nearsightedness throughout his career, he was far from afraid of contact, leading the league in personal fouls three times and suffering close to a dozen broken bones.
His injuries eventually forced him to retire in 1956.
After he retired, Mikan went briefly into coaching and then into the business world. Photographs of him off the court almost always show him smiling, even after diabetes and kidney failure cost him part of his right leg in 2000. A statue of Mikan was dedicated outside the Target Center in Minneapolis in 2001. At the dedication, Mikan said most young players don't remember him, but at least one of the Minnesota Timberwolves players did.
"When I think about George Mikan, I skip all the Wilt Chamberlains and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars and I call him 'The original big man,'" Garnett said at the time. "Without George Mikan, there would be no up-and-unders, no jump hooks, and there would be no label of the 'big man.'"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Extra innings

What is the primary difference between the Indians and the Twins and White Sox this year? All three have good bullpens, solid starting pitching and (to some degree) questionable offenses. Yet the Indians are the only one of those three teams below .500.
The answer: the Twins and White Sox are both good at scoring runs late. The Twins are among the league leaders hitting with runners in scoring position and the White Sox are an unbelievable 17-7 in one-run games.
The Indians, by contrast, are generally a terrible clutch-hitting team. They seem to have a hard time scoring late.
In today's 4-3, 13-inning loss in Minnesota, the Tribe's weaknesses were exploited to perfection by Twins starter Johan Santana and the Minnesota bullpen.
The Indians jumped on Santana for three runs in the first four innings, capped by Coco Crisp homering in his return from a thumb injury. Then the Cleveland offense powered down. Check that -- they went stone silent.
After Jody Gerut singled in the fifth, the Indians did not manage another hit until a Jhonny Peralta single in the 10th.
Cleveland let a great scoring opportunity get away that inning when Gerut was robbed of a single with runners at second and third and two out.
The Twins simply let the law of averages eat the Indians up. You can only let so many scoring chances slip away before the other team eventually capitalizes. In the end, it's probably better the Twins euthanized this game before it went 15 or 16 innings. The Indians needed a win, but moreso, they need a bullpen with a chance to recover before a series against the White Sox starts Friday.

Second anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of my employment at the Medina Gazette. Two years ago today, I walked into the office with a knot in my stomach and sat nervously at my desk, not knowing how or when to look busy, not really knowing what this journalism game is all about.
Two years later as I sit at that very same desk, I have learned that everybody has an idea of what your job should consist of, what stories you should cover, who you should be holding accountable. In the end, the only people you really need to listen is yourself (because that's who you have to live with) and your editors (because they employ you).
Everything else, good, bad or otherwise, is just advice.
I've been at the heights of ego-stroking compliments and won an Associated Press feature-writing award. I have been at the depths of having angry readers trying to confront me in person and of having to run corrections because I got something wrong.
I've thoroughly researched and meticulously written a piece only to have someone call me up and try to yell at me because they think I didn't explain something I did, in fact, explain in the article.
(People largely skim newspapers, I have found).
I've probably spent what amounts to hundreds of hours on the phone, and have put nearly 40,000 miles on my new Saturn, which I bought in July 2003 (It should also be pointed out I commute about 25 miles to work).
I've seen a city's moment of triumph getting an income tax passed, averting cuts and layoffs. I've seen high school kids lose their school sports, then get them back three days later.
I've covered a girl getting struck by lightning, a man being cut in half by a train, and the pain of a mother who learned her vanished daughter had been murdered by a drifter, 12 years after the fact.
I've covered an opening day at Jacobs Field. I've covered the renovation and re-opening of a local landmark theater, only to watch it close again a year later due to lack of funds.
I have seen the good, bad, benevolent, petty, selfless, bickering, smiling, scowling, crying and altogether human face of my beat.
I am not a grizzled veteran reporter. I don't think I want to become too hardened. Any feeling in my writing is fueled in large part by emotional response. But I am no longer a rookie.
This job is stressful. But it is rewarding. I don't know if I want to do this type of writing my whole life, but its been a great starting point.

Defying "Gravity"

The Gravity Games are no more, as far as Cleveland is concerned.
The Plain Dealer reported this morning that the weeklong extreme sports and music festival will be moving to two sites in Pennsylvania this year, bringing an end to Cleveland's three-year run as the event's host.
The loss of the Gravity Games leaves a big late-summer hole to fill on the schedule of North Coast Harbor, the site of the games, but Cleveland officials were quoted as saying they believe the success of the Gravity Games' run in Cleveland will open the door for other sports festivals in the city.
The games were a tremendous success, drawing thousands downtown each year. The games included a skateboarding and bicycle half-pipe, skateboarding and bicycle street course, and a dirt course for motorcross. A miniature skatepark for kids, interactive attractions and a stage for nightly entertainment were also part of the set-up.
The Gravity Games' success in Cleveland probably peaked in 2003, with Sobe beverages on board as a main sponsor and a live broadcast on NBC. By 2004, the water-skiing and wakeboarding competitions were moved to a separate competition in Australia and Sobe was no longer a sponsor. The games were bought by Outdoor Life Network, which ran only taped broadcasts.
One of the few drawbacks to the games was the timing, usually in late August or September. That time of year, it is usually still warm inland, but on the shore of Lake Erie, the wind becomes chilly, especially in the shade.
Here's hoping Cleveland can line up another extreme sports event. The Gravity Games tapped a unique market, the kids, teens and 20-somethings who aren't into baseball or football or basketball as much as grinding and spinning their handlebars.
We love the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers, but you're not going to catch every sports fanatic in Cleveland with just those three teams. Where their parents idolized Rocky Colavito, these kids idolize Tony Hawk or (gulp) Bam Margera.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Bell tolls

Indians manager Eric Wedge, as quoted in The Plain Dealer today:
"You can't replace a Buddy Bell."
Well, you'd better hope you can. The Indians coaching staff is loaded with guys who had their 15 minutes in the big leagues as players, like Wedge, Joel Skinner, Carl Willis and Jeff Datz. But only Bell and Eddie Murray had made a career of it.
Now, Murray is the only former all-star left on the Indians coaching staff with the departure of Bell to manage the Royals Tuesday.
I don't think there's any simmering disrespect brewing between Indians players and coaches, but the fact is, hall-of-famers like Murray and former all-stars like Bell can't help but be strong voices with players. Criticism players might shrug off coming out of the mouths of Datz or Skinner is criticism more likely heeded out of the mouths of Murray or Bell. These are guys players grew up watching, after all.
It helped that Bell apparently had a tell-it-like-it-is reputation throughout the Indians organization.
The Plain Dealer reported Wedge might consider taking aged Johnny Goryl out of mothballs to be his new bench coach. Goryl replaced Bell as the Indians bench coach under Mike Hargrove in 1996.
I have a better idea: let's swap up with the Royals and have Wedge hire Tony Pena as his new bench coach. Unlike 70-something Goryl, Pena would bring the energy of a young coach and the experience of having managed in the big leagues.
He would also have, by default, the best mustache in the Tribe dugout.

Gonzo gone

Juan Gonzalez might have had his first and last at-bat with the Indians Tuesday. Predictably, he re-yanked his hamstring running to first base on the first ball he put into play in his first at-bat of the season.
He's almost certainly going back on the disabled list, and now I'd appreciate it if the Indians front office would quit trying to sell Gonzalez as "the cavalry" who is going to give this offense the power bat it so desperate needs.
Gonzalez is washed up. I don't think he could even be a DH without injuring himself, and in Cleveland, that's not his first job. He was supposed to be this team's everyday right fielder.
He has as much of a chance to hold down that right field spot as another Fielder. Cecil, I'm thinking.
The siren song of Gonzalez's once-potent bat has already cost the Indians Ryan Ludwick, whom they had to designate for assignment to open a roster spot. Now, the Indians will have to promote an outfielder from Buffalo to fill the void until Coco Crisp comes back.
Please, Mark Shapiro, just release Gonzalez. Holding onto Gonzalez is starting to feel like someone who still has a crush on a high school sweetheart, even though she's moved away and gotten married. It's over. His career is over. Even the magic of Jacobs Field, which revived Gonzo in 2001 after a frustrating stint in Detroit, probably can't save him now.