Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who is Josh Towers?

Far be it from me to pretend that Casey Blake and Aaron Boone don't deserve their fair share of criticism for their lackluster performance at the plate much of this year. Only recently has either one been able to rescue their offensive statistics from the gutter.
Blake and Boone are now both batting .248. Boone needed a smoldering August just to get that high.
But Blake and Boone have every right to be upset at Toronto pitcher Josh Towers, who apparently had a hissy fit after giving up homers to both guys during the Indians' 4-1 win Sunday.
"Those (pitches) just happened to be perfect mistakes for those two hitters," Towers reportedly said after the game. "Those two home runs, they aren't very good hitters. Nothing for nothing, but they are hitting .240 for a reason."
Now, if Roger Clemens said something like that, I'd gnash my teeth a bit and think it was a classless thing to say. But Josh Towers? That's like Donald Trump accusing Bill Gates of being too rich.
Towers, like Blake and Boone, is thoroughly mediocre. He's 10-10 with a 4.04 ERA. The 10 wins are a career high in four seasons.
For Towers to think he's too good to give up home runs to Blake and Boone is absurd. For him to make a public statement to that effect is downright stupid.
Tuesday, Indians players fired some volleys back at Towers.
"On the record? I think he's a clown," Boone reportedly said. Boone said teammate Travis Hafner gave him a copy of Towers' stats so he could keep track of his "mediocre career."
Blake took the high road, telling reporters there were a lot of things he wanted to say, but "I'm not going to go to that level. It doesn't do any good."
Perhaps the most stinging retort came from Kevin Millwood, who said, dead serious, that he had never heard of Josh Towers before this season. He told reporters he needed to type Towers' name into an Internet search to find out who he is.
Granted, Millwood played his entire career in the National League prior to this season, but he also played in the NL East. His Braves and Phillies teams must have played Toronto in interleague play, giving Towers ample time to make his presence known to Millwood, which he didn't.
Millwood told reporters he would lecture Towers if they were teammates.
"This is a very humbling game," he said. "You start saying stuff like that, it's going to come back and bite you."
Millwood, it should be noted, is enduring a humbling season of his own, one filled with an atrocious lack of run support that has caused him to have a sub-.500 record with one of the best ERAs in baseball. He has handled it with outward professionalism, never publicly pointing fingers and always speaking up in support of his teammates, as he did with Blake and Boone Tuesday.
The moral to Josh Towers: shut up and pitch before you're mopping floors for a living. Millwood would lecture him. I'd probably smack him upside the head for being a disrespectful, ungrateful spoiled brat.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Winslow on the mend

Could this be the breakthrough we've all been waiting for? Could this be when Kellen Winslow Jr. turns from devil-may-care hothead to an older, wiser, more sensible version?
If it's true, call him "K3."
Today, reported Winslow appeared to have every last vestige of "I'm a soldier" removed from his being. Talking to reporters, he was said to have been quiet and contrite, much thinner and suffering from a staph infection that he said might have been caused by rubbing a kind of vitamin E cream on his skin.
He said he was wrong for risking his neck on a motorcycle. He said he knew he had a clause in his contract that forbids him from engaging in risky activities.
"I made a mistake," he reportedly said. "I just have to prove everybody wrong and come back from it."
It looks like Winslow doesn't want to be the heir to his father's throne anymore. He doesn't want to be the prodigy, the larger-than-life character he was coming out of the University of Miami.
He's just a young guy trying to salvage his career now.
He's finally had too much. Too much hype. Too much of the Poston brothers. Too much face time on TV. Too much StarBoyz. Too much of his father and Chuck Galeti. Too much Sharon Reed.
His life has been a circus since turning pro. Some of it has been his own doing. Some of it was thurst on him. He might be finally ready to take hold of his own reigns with a bitter-but-necessary bludgeoning at the hands of common sense. We can only hope.
Today, we started to see Winslow for what he really is: a confused kid with poor judgment skills. Someone who desperately needs a worthwhile mentor.
We've seen busts in Cleveland, but none have been as talented and few would be as tragic as Kellen Winslow Jr. He still needs guidance, but my sincere hope for him is that he starts listening to the right people.

Overrated and underrated

Dayn Perry of is now showing his choices for the 10 most overrated and 10 most underrated players in baseball this year.
Three Indians make the list: C.C. Sabathia, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner. Brownie points area available if you can guess which Indians wound up on which list.
I'll give you a few hints:
Sabathia's ERA is 4.75 and he's considered a staff ace.
Hafner is batting nearly .320 and he didn't make the all-star team.
Peralta is having one of the best offensive seasons ever by an Indians shortstop, and some people still think his first name is a typo.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A super dome

I've never been to New Orleans, but I have spent some time over the years questioning why a city not much bigger than Cleveland needs a sports edifice like the Superdome.
It's a fortress that must cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars to maintain every year. And for what? So the sad-sack Saints can play there eight to 10 times a year? So the city can host the Sugar Bowl every Jaunary, and the Super Bowl every four-to-five years?
And New Orleans, a mostly warm-weather city, couldn't do this with an outdoor facility that would cost a fraction to maintain?
Then Hurricane Katrina made landfall today, and I saw the light.
Somewhere around 10,000 people took refuge in the massive structure Sunday as Katrina, one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, beared down on Louisiana.
The Superdome isn't a matter of opulence, it's a matter of necessity.
Certainly, the Superdome's planners wanted an impressive structure when they set about concieving the 250-foot-tall dome that has a diameter of about 680 feet. But the Superdome was completed in 1976, less than a decade after Hurricane Camille laid waste to the Mississippi gulf coast in 1969. The building's planners almost certainly had to envision its possible use as a large, above-ground bunker where citizens could ride out a natural disaster like Camille.
When Katrina hit this morning, the Superdome was put to the test. News reports showed several holes torn in the roof, and much of the fabric covering on the roof tattered by the storms relentless winds and rain. But the Superdome appears to have survived without any structural failures. Thousands of New Orleans residents who didn't make it out of the city in time might have had their lives saved by having a domed giant to hide in.
The people of New Orleans gained notoriety by wearing paper bags on their heads while attending Saints games during any one of their many losing seasons. But if the Saints cause New Orleans periodic embarassment in the NFL standings, no one in Louisiana should be ashamed of the place their team calls home.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

No way, Clarett

Maurice Clarett is the anti-LeBron. LeBron James is the northeast Ohio native us Clevelanders were praying would be playing for our team when he was in prep school. We had our prayers answered.
Clarett is the northeast Ohio native Clevelanders (at least this Clevelander) are praying gets snapped up by any one of 30 other teams when the Broncos inevitably release him in the next few weeks.
The Browns are rumored to be among the teams interested in Clarett. A big reason why is probably Jim Brown, who turned into a major advocate for Clarett when he was fighting Ohio State and suing the NCAA to get into the draft a year early, a move that was futile and created a lot of enemies.
The Browns might figure having Brown, who has re-embraced his standing as a Cleveland institution thanks in large part to his relationship with Browns owner Randy Lerner, might be the firm-but-fatherly influence Clarett so desperately needs.
But placing Clarett on the Browns could backfire terribly. It could force Brown to take sides.
Clarett made enemies in Columbus. He's making enemies in Denver. Why would Cleveland be any different? Once Clarett turns higher-ups in the Browns organization against him, he might try to turn Brown against the team he has found new love for in the past few years.
If the Browns try to divorce themselves from Clarett in the future, they might lose Brown in the process if Brown turns a sympathetic eye to his wayward young friend.
The Browns are deep at running back. Even with the injury to Lee Suggs sidelining him for a large chunk of the upcoming season, there are still plently of capable runners to pick up the slack. Once Will Green, Reuben Droughns, Terelle Smith and (hopefully) Sultan McCullough get their touches, what is left for Clarett?
Nothing? That's right.
If Clarett is stuck four or five deep on Cleveland's running back depth chart, what do you think are the odds he'll accept that graciously and work harder to improve himself?
Not good? Right again.
If I know Maurice Clarett like I think I know Maurice Clarett, he'll start spouting off to the media, accusing Romeo Crennel, Phil Savage, offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, Green, Droughns, Suggs and whoever else he can get his grimy little hands on of a wide-ranging conspiracy to hold him down.
Think I'm overshooting a bit? In Denver, he recently turned down a $400,000 guaranteed signing bonus to take a stab at $7 million in non-guaranteed incentives because he believed, purely and without reservation, that he was going to be the Broncos' feature back this season. Why else would he turn down guaranteed money for non-guaranteed money if not for the unwavering belief he was going to push Mike Anderson and Ron Dayne aside at some point this season?
Clarett's moves and apparent skewed view of the amount of work it is going to take to be a starting NFL running back have already turned off many in the Broncos' organization, an organization that turns almost any running back they find into a 1,000-yard rusher.
If the Broncos think you are beyond saving, that is the biggest red flag that can be attached to a rusher. If the Broncos say you are too slow, too arrogant for you own good, and have the work ethic of a tree sloth, that is a neon scarlet letter pinned on your jersey.
Not that Clarett is heeding any of that. If you aren't telling Clarett what he wants to hear, you might as well be mute.
Savage, for the love of all that is good and decent, if this nightmare from the backfield comes knocking in Berea, bolt the door shut and pretend you're not home.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Armed and dangerous

Our blogging homeboy Zach posted today on the woes of former major league pitcher Dwight Gooden and current pitcher Sidney Ponson. Gooden is facing legal action after driving away from a cop during a traffic stop, and Ponson is (yet again) charged with DUI. It is the paunchy Ponson's second DUI to go with allegations of decking a judge on an Aruban beach this past offseason.
Zach tells us to consider any major league pitcher to be dangerous, and to approach with caution. Below is a list of major league pitchers to, in particular, be aware of. Certain groups should not mingle with certain pitchers.

David Wells: dangerous to George Steinbrenner and Joe Torre, as well as any other general manager who has the misfortune of having a "handshake" deal with his team when the Yankees come calling. Also dangerous to people who like to walk down the street eating hero sandwiches and drinking beer in plain view.

Brad Penny: dangerous to Florida Marlins bat boys who accept $1,000 dares to drink a gallon of milk in under an hour.

Pedro Martinez: dangerous to Einar Diaz. Also presents a danger of vocal strain to Yankee fans who think "who's your daddy" is the funniest phrase ever concieved.

Bob Wickman: dangerous to the blood pressure of Indians fans. Probably also a danger to people who like to eat hero sandwiches and drink beer in broad daylight.

Kenny Rogers and Randy Johnson: dangerous to cameramen. Dangerously seductive to arbitrators.

Roger Clemens: He will eat you and use your bones as jewelry, then strike you out. Don't make eye contact. If aproached, place a firm but confident hand on his head and say "down!" in an authoritative voice.

Sidney Ponson: See David Wells and Bob Wickman. Also presents a danger of headaches to people who are wracking their brains wondering how, exactly, he's still on a major-league roster after two DUIs and punching out a judge.

The starting rotation of the New York Yankees: dangerous to people who believe in the concept of "aging gracefully."

Jack Morris: dangerous to people who would like to believe their team's first pennant race in four decades is more important than a wheat crop in Montana.

Gaylord Perry: dangerous to batters who didn't want to get splashed with a foreign substance when the ball whizzed by. Also a danger to umpires who didn't want to have to physically undress another man in front of 27,000 people.

Joe Niekro: dangerous to umpires who are phobic about flying emery boards.

C.C. Sabathia and Dontrelle Willis: dangerous to ex-Marines who had to do 50 push-ups if their hat was so much as a degree off center.

Dwight Gooden: dangerous to pretty much everybody. His f-bomb in the ear of umpire Joe Brinkmann, however, ignited a playoff series win for the Indians in 1998, and remains a classic playoff moment in Cleveland.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Training camp ends

With the end of Wednesday afternoon's practice, the Browns finished their first training camp under new coach Romeo Crennel. Now the focus shifts from fundamentals to preparation for the regular season.
Friday night's preseason game against Carolina is the third exhibition match, largely considered the "dress rehearsal," when the starters get the most playing time prior to the regular season.
Friday's game might settle a lot of preseason battles, but we can already get a thumbnail-sketch view of the opening day roster from what has happened since the start of camp.

Here's what training camp taught us about the Browns:

1. Lee Suggs can't stay healthy, no matter who is coach.
Every year, Suggs makes our mouths water with his potential. Every year, he gets hurt and becomes anti-matter early in the season. And every year, he rebounds with a couple of 100-yard games in December to make us dream about his potential again. Why should this year be any different?
Suggs is out indefintely with a high ankle sprain, which is to a running back what a sprained throwing shoulder would be to a quarterback. Don't count on him contributing anything meaningful before the weather turns cold.

2. Luckily, Will Green appears to be an honestly-changed man.
Many athletes with off-the-field demons pay a king's ransom in lip service to the idea of recommitting themselves and getting serious about their careers, only to wind up back in the police blotter again.
It's still early, but Green appears to be making an honest commitment to improving himself, and it has shown on the field, where he has looked better than he has since his late-seaon surge in his rookie year, when he helped the Browns reach the 2002 playoffs.
If Green's newfound focus sticks, he could make the injury to Suggs a whole lot less painful for Crennel and his staff.

3. Charlie Frye and Braylon Edwards will be starting sooner rather than later.
Before you invoke the name "Tim Couch" when I mention "Frye," "rookie" and "starting" in the same sentence, let's make a few differentiations:
Couch was thrust into starting on a hastily-constructed expansion team. Everybody from the head coach down was in a messy process of trial-and-error those first few years, which certianly didn't help Couch's development.
While Couch was tough, he wasn't that quick in the pocket and he had a slow release on his throws, which opened him up for a lot of hits he wouldn't have otherwise taken. Frye initally appears to be much quicker on the draw and more agile in the pocket than Couch. Frye is also taking snaps behind an offensive line that is at least marginally better than the one Couch had to work behind during his time in Cleveland.
If Frye starts, so does Edwards. They are roommates on the road, and their chemistry is going to be essential to the development of the Browns offense.

4. The switch to a 3-4 defense won't happen overnight.
Crennel might have made his way up through the defensive ranks to his first NFL head coaching gig, but his first NFL team is going to start out with a more advanced offense than defense.
The defense has no premier playmakers and is dangerously thin at linebacker and cornerback. One of the starting linebackers -- Kenard Lang -- is a converted defensive end who lost 30 pounds this offeseason to accomodate his new position.
The Browns were in such bad shape at the end of last season, everyone in the organization knows (or should know) it's going to take a couple of years to get every aspect of the team to the caliber of a contender. The defense appears to be starting from the deepest hole.

5. Josh Cribbs has this team made. For now.
Cribbs apparently has the field vision of a quarterback leftover from his days at Kent State, and enough acceleration to outrun members of the opposing coverage unit on kickoff returns. His stellar game against Detroit, which included three kickoff returns of 30-plus yards and a tackle, drew raves from Crennel and cemented Cribbs' spot on the team. But we'll see what happens once the regular season begins and Cribbs starts making his way onto other teams' video footage.

6. Those Lutheran West boys can play ball.
Ben Miller (Lutheran High School West class of '98) not only throws blocks, but he can long-snap, too, as he demonstrated on the extra point that put the Browns ahead 14-13 against the Lions. Ben has certainly come a long way from his days as the starting center for the Longhorns basketball team on which I was manager (I'm class of '97).
(Yeah, it's a blatant plug for my high school. St. Ignatius and St. Edward grads shouldn't have all the fun. Go Longhorns.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Addition by subtraction

With the Indians in wild card contention (and possibly on the verge of being back in the division race), a lot has been made recently of grading GM Mark Shapiro's trades these past four years.
The Roberto Alomar trade still failed miserably. The Bartolo Colon and Chuck Finley trades yielded Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Coco Crisp, three major contributors to this year's success. And let's not forget hosing the Rangers by swapping them Ryan Drese and Einar Diaz for Travis Hafner and Aaron Myette.
But let's also remember the Milton Bradley trade to the Dodgers last year. The Indians are still benefitting from depositing that walking sideshow on the West Coast.
Need more convincing in addition to his on-field temper tantrums and getting hauled into court for verbally assaulting a policeman after a traffic stop on Interstate 480? Try this on for size.
Milton Bradley, an African-American, is Krakatoa, and percieved racial slights are what make him explode. And, as the linked article shows, he thinks something as simple as reporters converging on his locker first is racially-motivated.
Granted, Jeff Kent isn't the most soothing presence in a locker room. He got into altercations with Barry Bonds as a member of the Giants. But heaven help any white player or coach if they get into an argument with Milton Bradley. They might as well be wearing Ku Klux Klan robes in Bradley's eyes.
This snafu with Kent reportedly resulted from Kent chiding Bradley for not hustling on the field. Sound familiar?
Bradley blew his stack at Tribe manager Eric Wedge after he was lifted for not sprinting out a ground ball in a spring training game last year. Bradley left the stadium in a taxi while the game was still in progress, and was promptly dealt to Los Angeles days later.
After the trade, Bradley's mother was interviewed on a national radio show, where she accused Wedge and the Indians organization of being racists.
Wonder where Bradley gets all that anger from? It probably started at home.
The Indians spent five years protecting Albert Belle when he threw a ball at a fan and then a photographer, took his bat to clubhouse buffets and a thermostat, and screamed at a national television reporter in the dugout prior to the first World Series game in Cleveland in 41 years.
To try and contend while having to once again put ridiculous positive spin on the antics of another clubhouse sociopath would be cruel and unusual punishment.
Milton Bradley can't control himself. It would surprise no one, I think, if he physcially assaults someone and winds up in jail at some point. The Indians, who appear to have a pretty good clubhouse atmosphere, don't need the anger-and-immaturity-fueled circus Bradley brings to town.
Good riddance, Milton Bradley. If I never see you in Cleveland again, it will be too soon. And it's not because you're black.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The promised land (sort of)

So this is what the land of milk and honey looks like. At least the outer suburbs.
After rallying to defeat the Devil Rays 11-4 Monday night, the Indians pulled into a "virtual tie" with the Athletics and Yankees for the wild card lead.
The Indians (69-56) are one percentage point behind Oakland and New York (both 68-55) in the wild card chase.
Get ready for a dog fight these next six weeks.

Below are preliminary capsules for teams in the AL wild card race. I am not predicting a winner, and for the sake of brevity, I am including only teams currently over .500.

Oakland (68-55, 0 GB).
The Athletics are in much the same boat as the Indians in that they are relying largely on youngsters. They don't have anyone among the league leaders in hits, doubles, triples, homers, stolen bases, wins, strikeouts or saves. Much of that might have to do with their slow start. Barry Zito has had a strong second half, and Danny Haren and Rich Harden have managed to stick (in some cases, flourish) in Oakland's starting rotation.
Oakland has burned a lot of fuel in a short amount of time to carry themselves to 13 games over .500. They could sustain it, but two losses in three games to the lowly Royals this weekend might be a sign of the boosters giving out.

New York (68-55, 0 GB).
The Yankees in a playoff chase is kind of like Michael Jackson drawing gasps and stares when he enters a room: it can't be helped.
A $205 million payroll will probably yield some dividends, even if the team is woefully underachieving by George Steinbrenner's standards. The Yankees' offense is carrying them, as it has pretty much all season. New York's starting pitching, no secret, is downright elderly. Shawn Chacon is their best pitcher right now, which is ridiculous considering he shares a clubhouse with Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano and Al Leiter. That fact could kill them should they make the playoffs. A bullpen, which has been not too good in front of Mariano Rivera, could be taxed and exploited if New York's senior-league rotation has no endurance.
The advantage to having your offense carry you is that you feel as if you are never out of a game. Should the Indians and Yankees end up tied for the wild card lead at the end of the season, how big will that sweep-saving win for the Yankees at Jacobs Field Aug. 4 look? Bob Wickman's ninth-inning implosion gave the Yankees the season series over the Indians 4-3, and means a playoff game between the Indians and Yankees for the wild card title would happen at Yankee Stadium.

Cleveland (69-56, 0 GB).
The Indians don't have a Johan Santana on the mound, or an A-Rod in the lineup, but they might be the most complete team in this chase. The starting pitching is reliable, the bullpen is one of the two best in the AL with Chicago, and the offense is capable of outbursts like on Monday.
Cleveland's biggest obstacles are six games with Chicago in the final two weeks of the season, and this seeming tendency to let tough losses get in their heads. This team can't allow themselves any more discombobulation-induced sweeps like at the hands of Tampa Bay two weekends ago if they truly want to give themselves a shot at the postseason.

Minnesota (66-58, 2 1/2 GB).
The good news for Twins fans: Johan Santana is pitching well again. The bad news: the absence of Torii Hunter leaves a pretty large hole in the middle of the lineup, not to mention center field.
Minnesota will, at the very least, hang in there until the end of the season. While Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are in their first full big league seasons, this team is still laden with playoff experience. Those three straight division titles will count for a little something in this chase.

Toronto (63-61, 5 1/2 GB).
I vote no. The Blue Jays are above .500, yes, but the lineup is full of guys having good-but-not-great seasons. Shea Hillenbrand, Vernon Wells and Frank Catalanotto are good, but not enough to carry Toronto over their deficiencies, which include a relatively thin pitching staff behind 12-game winner Roy Halladay.

Good to be a Davis

It's good to be a Davis in Browns country.
Butch Davis is being paid $12 million to not coach the Browns. He wouldn't have gotten that good a severance package had he led the Browns to multiple Super Bowl titles.
(The moral of the story: if you can't be good, then suck so bad that your team will be willing to do anything to get rid of you.)
Monday, Butch Davis's second-round pick in 2002, receiver Andre Davis, had an equally cat-like landing after being pushed off the table. The deep threat with the fragile ankles was traded to the New England Patriots for a reported fifth-round pick.
The trade of Davis had been long-rumored. He was sliding down the receiver depth chart, and with the addition of Braylon Edwards and the emergence of Antonio Bryant and Josh Cribbs, Davis was quite obviously being phased out in Cleveland.
We should all be so lucky to be phased out the way Andre Davis was. Yesterday, he was a member of a team trying to once again claw their way out of the primordial soup of rebuilding. Today, he's on a team that has a good chance of winning an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title in February.
Somehow, I don't think placement on the depth chart is going to be as big an issue for for Davis now. He could probably be talked into being Tom Brady's personal helmet waxer if it means a Super Bowl ring.
Davis is eligible for free agency next spring and a chance to cash in with a big contract, one the Browns had no intention of offering him. He will have plenty of spotlight time in the form of appearances on national telecasts to increase his profile. If his ankles and toes hold up.
He'll also have the incredible healing powers of Bill Belichick at his disposal. One laying on of the hands from St. Bill, and no one will be surprised if Andre Davis morphs into Jerry Rice with the leaping ability of LeBron James.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Browns 21, Lions 13

Some good points and bad points for the Browns in their second preseason win this afternoon:

The good...

Trent Dilfer rebounded from a sluggish performance against the Giants to look fairly sharp today. His 50-yard touchdown bomb to Antonio Bryant caught the Lions' secondary napping and made Dilfer look like the savvy veteran the Browns hoped they had received when they traded for him.

Charlie Frye continued to impress, so much so that he led the offense at the end of the first half and all throughout the second half. He dodged Lions blitzers all day long, buying time, and making big throws when he needed to, including a corner lob to Braylon Edwards in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal to give the Browns a 14-13 lead with less than three minutes to play.
On the previous play, a false-start call pushed the Browns back from the two-yard line to the seven-yard line. Frye didn't panic, showing a very cool head in adverse circumstances. Aside from field vision and an accurate arm, composure has to be the most valued asset in an NFL quarterback.

Edwards had the ball ripped away for an interception in the first half. On the touchdown play, he went up like Dennis Rodman hauling in a rebound and made sure the ball was in his hands and his feet touched in bounds. This was what GM Phil Savage envisioned when he drafted Edwards in April.

Orlando Ruff, a linebacker who has come out of nowhere to make his presence felt with two hard-hitting, energetic games. Browns TV commentator Brian Brennan predicted the seven-year NFL veteran would be starting this season.

Reuben Droughns rebounded from a bad hamstring to fill in nicely for Will Green. Green spent the first quarter trying to turn the corner (which he did with reasonable success), and Droughns provided a nice change-up with his brute strength between the tackles.

The bad...

Kicker Phil Dawson missed two field goals, both short. The 56-yarder early in the contest was a gamble, but the 52-yarder to end the first half was a bit more unsettling. The kick, indoors, was both wide right and short. Dawson slumped for much of the second half last year. I hope this isn't indicative of lingering problems with Dawson's leg.

Browns receivers were plagued by dropsies early on. Dennis Northcutt, Steve Heiden and Andre Davis all had trouble hanging onto the ball. Outside of Edwards and Bryant, no Cleveland receiver really had a standout game.

Penalties, again. Last week, holding was the en vogue infraction. Today, it appeared to be false starts.

The cornerbacks continued to be the cursed unit this preseason. On the first Detroit drive, Gary Baxter helped save a touchdown by drilling Mike Williams shoulder-to-shoulder out of bounds. In the process, however, he and Williams banged helmets, and Baxter wound up with a concussion. He didn't return. Later, Ray Mickens, signed earlier this week, was burned deep on a touchdown pass from Jeff Garcia to Charles Rogers.

The Browns defense overal appears to be making a slow transition to the 3-4 scheme. Twice, the defense was backed up into goal-line stands. Both resulted in field goals, but so far, Cleveland's defense has shown kind of a soft underbelly. That might change as players get used to the new scheme.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Mark Cuban is insane

You know, Mark, signing a player to a one-year contract doesn't make you any less of a billionaire. It's just smart business sometimes.
Have you paid even remotely close attention to the Cavaliers these past few years? Do you have any idea what kind of a player you are getting in DeSagana Diop?
Do you have any idea what kind of player you just agreed to put in a Mavericks uniform for the next three years?
His stat line in four seasons with the Cavs: 1.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocked shots per game.
That's in addition to an average of about one stint on the injury list per season.
Diop grew up playing soccer in Senegal. The only reason he switched to basketball was because he sprouted to seven feet in height. He lacks a passion for basketball. His skill set would fit very neatly onto the period at the end of this sentence. He was drafted prematurely, straight out of high school in 2001 by former Cavs GM Jim Paxson, who was taking blind stabs at the time to find a replacement for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, still battling broken feet then.
Diop lacks the coordination to be more than a mediocre NBA center. The only thing he was proficient at in Cleveland was picking up fouls.
Cuban, you get all this for the next three years.
Of course, Diop was also tutored by some of the worst teaching coaches in recent NBA history in Cleveland. His first coach was John Lucas, who is far more remembered for his super-raspy voice and quotability than for anything he actually did leading the team. His second coach was Paul Silas, who apparently based his substitution patterns on how his coffee tasted at breakfast.
Diop also endured the interim tenures of Keith Smart and Brendan Malone. In that light, I don't blame him for being quoted as saying "I think it is good for me to switch teams."
Maybe Avery Johnson will reach Diop in ways other coaches haven't.
But three years? Come on, Mark. You can't be that hard up for a center.

Rounding corners

After some minor flirtations, the Browns didn't sign former Patriots all-pro cornerback Ty Law this offseason. They did, however, get the guy he replaced.
Law, plagued by injuries the past few years, went to the Jets earlier this month after New England released him. The Jets, in turn, released nine-year veteran corner Ray Mickens to make room.
Mickens signed with the Browns earlier this week.
Law might have a high profile after winning three Super Bowls with the Patriots, but Mickens is more desperately needed by his new team.
The Browns are suffering at cornerback right now. Prior to Mickens' arrival, they had offseason acquisition Gary Baxter and a bunch of question marks.
Daylon McCutcheon, one of only two holdovers from the 1999 expansion team (along with kicker Phil Dawson), is out of action with persistent headaches and dizziness. No one has yet be able to pinpoint the cause, but the Browns are wise to assume they won't be able to count on McCutcheon this year.
Michael Lehan left practice Wednesday with a strained hamstring. Rookie Brodney Pool is probably taking it easy after nearly being knocked unconscious trying to make a tackle on the opening kickoff last Saturday.
Mickens is more than a stopgap. He's the cavalry riding to the rescue.
Browns fans have longed for a shutdown corner to pin on the likes of Hines Ward and Chad Johnson in AFC North contests. But finding a shutdown corner is unfortunately not the most important issue at the moment. Having a pair of capable corners who can stay on the field and not get burned deep is the necessity.
To that end, Baxter needs some work. He did, in fact, get burned deep on a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in the first quarter of Saturday's game.
Maybe if push really comes to shove, Braylon Edwards can play both ways. Might as well get maximum return on that nice, big investment if you are the Browns.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Indians 9, Rangers 4

A series win this afternoon after getting swept over the weekend. Not only that, a convincing win the day after a shutout loss. Dare I hope this is a sign of inner strength that has been missing from the Indians?
Winning pitcher Jake Westbrook and the Tribe bullpen let the Rangers get no closer than 5-4 in the fifth inning.
The scariest part of the game was Ronnie Belliard colliding with an umpire in the field as he tried to make a play. Belliard left the game with a stiff neck and is listed as day-to-day.
The Indians remain three games back of idle Oakland in the wild card race. Baltimore comes to town to open a three-game series Friday night.

Moving up in the world

This is either really good news for Outdoor Life Network, or really bad news for the NHL.
Or both.
ESPN said "thanks, but no thanks" when the NHL tried to extend the league's television contract with the cable network. As a fallback, the NHL negotiated a two-year deal with Outdoor Life Network that could be extended up to six years.
Aside from specials on RVs and boating, OLN's contribution to sports broadcasting to this point includes coverage of this year's Tour de France, and yearly tape-delayed coverage of the Gravity Games.
Like I said, this is either a sign that OLN is going to vault into the cable powerhouse realm occupied by ESPN, CNN and TNT, or (more likely), the NHL is sliding closer and closer to minor-league status in the U.S.
This means the NHL now doesn't have a U.S. free TV contract or a contract with cable-sports leader ESPN. This can't bode well for viewership.
Other sports leagues can now blow their noses on the relatively puny money advertisers and TV networks are apparently paying to be associated with professional hockey.
The NHL has no marketable superstars that transcend the sport (maybe Pittsburgh first-round pick Sidney Crosby will become that, but not as of now.) The NHL has little mass-appeal. The NHL is still expensive, even though most teams are lowering ticket prices in the wake of the lockout.
The NHL is struggling. It might even be dying. Something big, bigger than baseball's homerun record chase of 1998, is going to have to happen to rescue hockey's top pro league.
When a purported major-league sport is downgraded from ESPN and ABC to OLN, it's losing a lot more than alphabetical placement in the alphabet soup of cable networks.
Hockey is an indoor sport, anyway. What is it doing on the Outdoor Life Network?


The irony is...
In order to have a ghost of a chance to re-sign Kevin Millwood this off-season, the Indians are going to have to make significant improvements to their offense and prove to Millwood that 2006 won't be another double-digit loss season with one of the best ERAs in the league, as 2005 has become.
But in order to make those improvements, the Indians are probably going to have to spend themselves out of a shot at Millwood.
Millwood dropped his 10th game of the year Wednesday night at Jacobs Field as the Indians were shut out by the Rangers 3-0. You might justifyably think this was about the 20th time the Indians have been shut out this year, but it was actually just the ninth. Millwood has been the hapless victim in four of those blankings.
He's lost two other games by 2-1 scores.
Millwood sports a very nice 3.11 ERA and a day-old-chicken-salad 6-10 record. You'd excuse him if he goes to sleep at night and dreams about pitching for the Yankees or Red Sox.
Wednesday night, Millwood was outdueled by Chris Young of the Texas Rangers.
Young is the same height as Randy Johnson (6'-10"), but the similarities end there. Young is a righty with an average fastball settling around 91-92 mph. He has just one other major-league pitch, a change-up. He had a 9-7 record with a ERA well over 4.00 heading into last night's start.
But he used his fastball/change-up combo to flat-out dominate the Indians lineup, allowing two hits in eight innings.
To listen to Tribe manager Eric Wedge describe it to reporters after the game, Young was an unsolvable riddle. His height confounded Cleveland's lineup, The Plain Dealer reported Wedge as saying. He had some kind of a hitch in his delivery that made the ball especially hard for hitters to pick up.
But if Young's height is a legitamite excuse, how do you explain the runs the Indians have scored off the two other 6'-10" pitchers they have faced this year -- Johnson and Kansas City's Andy Sisco?
Instead of pawning it off on being dominated by a pitcher who had just one win in his last eight starts prior to last night, let's be real about this. Wednesday's loss sounds suspiciously like the attention-deficit disorder that has plagued Cleveland's lineup all year, especially when Millwood is on the mound.
Locked in one night, putting great at-bats together. Mentally absent the next, swinging early and often.
This Cleveland offense, through financial necessity, is designed to need discipline to survive. There are no musclehead ball-clubbers in this lineup (besides maybe Travis Hafner).
If Tribe hitters go up to plate hacking away randomly, nights like Wednesday will happen. And continue to happen. This offense isn't talented enough to get lucky on most nights by simply slashing the bat through the hitting zone. What the Indians' offense lacks in physical ability, it has to make up for with mental approach.
It was already going to be a hard sell trying to convince Millwood to stay in Cleveland when deeper-pocketed teams come knocking in November. The offense, and its inability to remain focused, might be sealing the deal.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More LeBron

The man is just everywhere this week. First, he's in Summit County Common Pleas Court with a small battalion of lawyers, defending himself against promoter Joseph Marsh, who is alleging LeBron reneged on an oral agreement to produce a biographical documentary.
Marsh is reportedly seeking millions of dollars in damages, The Plain Dealer reported today. Marsh testified he loaned LeBron, and his mother, Gloria James, $100,000 in 2003, prior to LeBron being taken by the Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the NBA draft. Gloria James and Eddie Jackson, LeBron's father figure from his days at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, agreed to pay back the loan with 10 percent interest prior to the trial, The Plain Dealer reported.
However, the documentary still hasn't been produced and Marsh is claiming he has lost $5.75 million from LeBron's backout.
LeBron's legal team is claiming no contract was ever signed or agreement made between the two parties concerning a documentary.
An eight-member jury will decide the case.
If litigation wasn't enough, LeBron will also debut his new PowerAde flavor this week, the promotion of which led to this unlikely photo op.
Yes, that's right folks. LeBron James and NASCAR. Together at last.
The graphics job on Bobby Labonte's car is pretty cool, though.

They killed Kenny!

Kenny Rogers finally found a place where he can't hide behind an army of sympathizers and sycophants. And I'm proud to say, it's Cleveland.
Ronnie Belliard found a Rogers pitch to his liking with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and treated it like Rogers treated the equipment of two cameramen in June, yanking it for a bases-clearing double that proved to be the decisive blow in an 8-2 Indians win.
This victory is satisfying on so many levels. First, and most importantly, it clotted the remaining blood still flowing from this weekend's embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Devil Rays. Second, it came against Rogers. Sure, it was nice to beat baseball's No. 1 thug in the heat of a wild card race, certainly after arbitrator Shyam Das gave Rogers a shoulder rub by reducing his suspension from 20 to 13 games.
But let's not forget Rogers is a slop-throwing lefty in the mold of Jamie Moyer. Soft-tossing southpaws give the Indians fits no end, every year, regardless of how good or bad the offense is. To get a six-run win against a pitcher like Rogers is important if for no other reason than it doesn't happen everyday.
Finally, C.C. Sabathia, persecuted by fans and media (including me) for his struggles in July, picked up the win. He dueled Rogers to a 2-2 draw through seven innings before Belliard and the Tribe offense picked him up. Sabathia showed some of the intestinal fortitude fans have been waiting for recently. He is now 3-0 with a 3.79 ERA in his last three starts.
Now, the Indians have to build on this win. Considering the Rangers have now lost eight in a row, I'd say a series victory is a must.

(Side note: Bill Livingston, in his Plain Dealer column today, reported WEWS Channel 5 cameraman Tom Livingston -- no relation -- decided to play a joke and showed up to work Tuesday at Jacobs Field with a hard hat on, apparently ready for anything Rogers was ready to throw at him. Sure, it was a smart-ass move, but it's not like Rogers doesn't deserve it. Livingston took the construction hat off before entering the Rangers clubhouse.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My LeBron day

I can't explain why, but LeBron James was extremely prevalent in my day Monday, a day in the middle of August when virtually no one is thinking about basketball.
I come to work, and realize I had to return to someone a copy of LeBron James' biography that's been sitting in my car for a couple of months. So, while carrying that around, I go to Medina Municipal Court for my daily check on felonies. Leaving the counter, one of the clerks calls for a man with a last name of "LeBron" to come to the window. The man's last name was also listed on the daily docket I check.
On my way to returning the book, Medina's finance director tells me Dru Joyce, LeBron's former coach at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, and the current coach at the University of Akron, will be speaking to his Kiwanis Club meeting on Thursday. I'll be going. Stay tuned for a blog post.

So, is this all coincidence? Or a series of cryptic messages telling me I need to become part of LeBron's posse? You decide.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Hopes down

The teeth of the fans are clenching again. The roller coaster is careening back downhill.
The low point of the Indians season was still probably the four-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox in mid-July, but being swept three straight at home by the last-place Devil Rays has to be a close second.
What's worse, this sweep was already in the works by the second inning of Friday's game. The Indians looked like they were going to pick right back up after six stright wins against the Tigers and Royals, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning Friday.
Then Jake Westbrook took the mound in the second, and sealed the fate of the game, and most likely the series, by hacking up six runs (with the aid of a Jhonny Peralta error) in the top of the second.
A totally different team took the field after the second inning. A team with no focus, no patience and no stomach for adversity. Once again abandoning the "one-through-nine" team hitting mantra, Cleveland's delicate offense fell down like a house of cards, abandoning disciplined at-bats in the name of pressing for production, which never works.
Cleveland hitters grounded into four double plays, including an Aaron Boone 6-4-3 job to end the game. Numerically, it fit nicely with four Cleveland errors, including a botched pick-off throw from Westbrook and an aimless heave to second base by Victor Martinez in a futile effort to cut down a base stealer. The throw sailed into center field.
No one, I think, would be surprised if this sweep ignites a three-week strech of losing that kills the Indians' playoff hopes once and for all. I'm not so sure today's off day is a good thing, giving players an extra day to stew over getting swept.
You are seeing a team that is not yet mature enough to handle real contention. They haven't yet learned to let a loss be simply a loss. After a week of Houdini acts in Detroit and Kansas City, the Indians were due to receive a shin-kick of their own, which they did on Friday night.
A more veteran team would be able to shake off Friday's loss and come back to the ballpark ready to compete on Saturday. The Indians let Friday's loss get in their heads and haunt them for the rest of the weekend, which is kind of ridiculous considering even the best teams lose 60 to 70 games a year.
By Sunday, the sweep was kind of a given. Indian hitters went to the plate spooked, terrified of getting swept. The result was a 1-0 loss and a great pitching performance by Cliff Lee wasted.
This team isn't going anywhere toward October until they learn how not to let a semi-shocking loss turn into a three-week, 3-14 catastrophe. Some of that will come as guys like Martinez, Peralta, and Travis Hafner become veteran players. But this team could still use a few more Kevin Millwoods for the coming years.
Seriously, could you imagine this team with a lead in a first-round playoff series right now? They go up 2-0 in the series, have a 5-0 lead in Game 3, then the roof caves in and they lose, say, 8-5.
The series is over right then. The Indians would spend the remainder of the series in full-scale retreat and lose in five.
The Indians have to overcome themselves before they can overcome other teams.

Indian nicknames

In response to the comment to the post below, I forgot to mention while I do not believe in trying to convince people something they find offensive is not, in fact, offensive, I still support a team's or college's right to use a nickname.
In my mind, it is a case of agreeing to disagree. This era is far more focused on cultural sensitivity than the eras when most of these professional and college teams first received their monikers. But the teams now have a long-standing investment in those names, and most don't want to risk alineating their mostly non-Native American fan bases by undergoing a total identity change in the name of appeasing a few. Fans vote with their pocketbooks, and if a team or college sells merchandise with their Native American nickname and logo attached, of course they want to keep it.
I can understand that. Nobody said business was soft and cuddly.
I'll hit close to my own home and use the case study of the Cleveland Indians, who have had their nickname since 1915, and have used a stereotypical caricature of an Indian as their primary logo since the late 1940s.
This might surprise a few readers, but I don't totally support the Indians in their use of the caricature, which became known as "Chief Wahoo." Teams change logos all the time, and if the Indians one day decided they wanted a more culturally sensitive logo (like the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians), I'd have no problem with that.
However, I think changing the nickname "Indians" is going too far. That's the team's identity going back 90 years.
Changing a team logo is like painting your house. Changing a nickname is like legally changing your surname.
I think most of the people who have a problem with the Indians' appearance have a problem primarily with Chief Wahoo. In my experience, that's where the protestors have drawn the line.
(Ironically, the Washington Redskins are probably the reverse of the Indians, with a helmet logo featuring a dignified-looking Indian man, and a racial slur for a nickname. That's why this issue is so complex.)

Thanks to all my commenters, and keep reading.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Guilt trip

So the NCAA is going to "strongly discourage" the use of Native American mascots and imagery in association-sanctioned postseason tournaments.
Just Native American.
If that's the way the NCAA feels, fine. I am not going to sit here and type some idiotic belief that the mascots aren't offensive, or shouldn't be percieved as offensive. If a group bristles at the use of Native American images and mascots as sports trademarks, then, to them, it is an offensive practice, and far be it from me to tell them otherwise.
I do, however, have a problem with a practice of selective enforcement against ethnic and racial names that reeks of white guilt over this country's historic treatment of American Indian tribes.
So, we can have "Fightin' Irish," at Notre Dame, complete with a logo featuring a leprechaun-looking man with his dukes up, mentioned at NCAA posteseason tourneys, but nicknames like the Seminoles and the Fighting Illini are taboo.
How is Notre Dame's logo and nickname not offensive to the Irish when taken in the exploitation-and-stereotype context that many Native American rights groups use to justify their war against Indian mascots?
For crying out loud, the Fightin' Irish nickname has its roots in long-ago fans who thought the Notre Dame football team played hard like brawling Irishmen outside a pub.
For years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Irish immigrants were held in the same second-class-citizen regard as African Americans and Native Americans. They were viewed as dumb, drunk, violent, and incapable of holding a high position in society. It took the presidency of John F. Kennedy to finish erasing most of those perceptions.
But let's be honest: because most of those Irish immigrants and their descendants are as pasty white as the people who hold the power and money base in this country, they were assimilated into mainstream society sooner rather than later.
Now, we can uniformally look at a stereotypical rendering of an Irishman, much like an Italian or a German, and laugh.
But mix in increased pigment amounts in the skin, and then you start crossing racial lines, and then you have a problem.
White stereotypes in this country are viewed as humorous. Anyone with darker skin, it is viewed as offensive. Certainly, there is a track record of exploitation with blacks, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans that warrants that.
But when we say Native American nicknames and logos are exploitative, but nicknames that stereotype the Irish, the Scottish and the Dutch aren't, that's still a double standard.
Someone is wrong here. Either us white folk have to have a little more respect for our old-country heritage, or Native American rights groups have to re-evaluate just how much a sports team's nickname brands their people as Tonto in this day and age.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Braylon's contract

The past 24 hours of the Braylon Edwards contract fiasco demonstrates beautifully what is so messed up about the way the NFL handles rookie contracts.
But to the NFL, it might be the price paid to keep control of salaries and team finances.
Edwards is reportedly signed, sealed, in camp and ready for a highly displeased Romeo Crennel to go drill sergeant on him. But even that was in doubt as late as Wednesday evening.
Edwards, his parents and agent Lamont Smith were in Cleveland yesterday. As the Browns practiced, Edwards and his entourage were reportedly upstairs with Browns salary-cap coordinator Trip McCracken trying to hammer out the sticking points to his rookie deal.
The Plain Dealer reported this morning the pact seemed like just a matter of time.
Then, suddenly, talks choked again. News cameras caught a visibly sullen Edwards leaving the Browns practice facility in Berea with an equally-as-glowering Smith.
When reporters asked him if he had a deal, he simply shook his head. When pressed for more details, he pointed in the direction of his agent without saying a word.
Team Edwards reportedly retreated back home to Detroit.
Then, sometime after dark, daylight broke for both sides. Edwards and the Browns cleared the final hundred feet of the marathon negotiating process and Edwards finally, finally was cleared for camp.
This process, to some degree, was repeated in NFL cities around the country. Posturing, threatening, holdouts, playing to the media, not commenting to the media, smiles, frowns, clenched teeth and lots of aspirin ingested.
There has to be a better way to do this. There is, actually, but it would involve guaranteeing money in rookie contracts like the NBA does, and the NFL, which deals with arguably the weakest players' union of the four major-league sports, won't go there.
The NFL won't change the way they handle contracts, because they pride themselves on the non-guaranteed deal. Sure, there are astronomical dollars to be made in signing and roster bonuses, which are guaraneteed, but anything above that is not guaranteed.
Haggling and holdouts over rookie deals appears to be a necessary evil in the NFL's eyes. Non-guaranteed contracts means most every team is only several seasons away from being under the NFL's salary cap, no matter how overburdened they are with bad deals.
The system seems to work in the big picture. There is very little hand-wringing over the financial state of the NFL. While baseball watches the Yankees and Red Sox spend virtually at will as the Royals and Pirates are fielding essentially minor-league teams, while the NBA narrowly escaped a work stoppage in June, while a lockout cost the NHL an entire season and a lot of its relevance to the American public at large, the NFL hasn't had a work stoppage since 1987.
The NBA handles rookie contracts the sanest way a league can. A draft pick's guaranteed salary is slotted based on where he was picked. It's the same concept as hassle-free car buying: no negotiating. What the price is is what the price is.
But the NBA also has some of the largest guaranteed money deals in sports. Case in point: Shaquille O'Neal, who recently inked a five-year, $100 million extension with the Heat.
Baseball is a given. Alex Rodriguez's $252 million deal with the Rangers in 2000 is a worldwide public-service announcement on the dangers of overpaying athletes.
You won't see those kind of deals in the NFL, certainly not for guaranteed money. And that's just the way the league likes it, even if it causes agents and contract negotiators to chug more antacid.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


There are stumbles. There are collapses. Then there is what happened to the Royals in the ninth inning of last night's game against the Indians.
Leading 7-2 heading into the top of the ninth, the Royals appeared to be headed toward snapping their 10-game losing streak that has plummeted them to the worst record in the American League. The Indians, in the curb-your-enthusiasm fashion that has tempered the fans every time they get on a roll, were about to lose a dud of a game to said worst team in the league.
Royals manager Buddy Bell, highly cognizant of ending the 10-game slide, even sent out fireballing closer Mike MacDougal for the ninth in a non-save situation just to be sure.
It didn't matter.
Casey Blake hit a leadoff double. Grady Sizemore drove him in with a double wo make it 7-3. Coco Crisp singled home Sizemore to make it 7-4. MacDougal finally whiffed Jhonny Peralta for the first out, but the blood was already in the water.
Travis Hafner doubled to right, and Crisp went to third. Victor Martinez singled in Crisp to make it 7-5.
Then it was time for the Kansas City defense to get in on the act.
Shortstop Angel Berroa never got to a pop up hit by Ronnie Belliard, which fell in short center field to draw the Indians within a run at 7-6 as Hafner scored. Berroa managed to retrieve the ball and force Martinez at second, putting the Royals one out away from the win.
Then came the jaw-dropping moment of the inning. Pinch-hitter Jeff Liefer lifted a fly ball into the left field corner. Left fielder Chip Ambres should have had it. He did have it, actually. He was there to make the game-ending catch with plenty of time. But when he closed his glove, the ball wasn't there. It ricocheted off the heel of his glove and started rolling.
Belliard, chugging as hard as his legs could carry him, scored from first to tie the game. Liefer wound up at second.
The leaks had finally turned into a raging torrent. Aaron Boone singled home Liefer to give the Indians the lead. Blake came back up and drew an intentional walk off lefty Jimmy Gobble, who mercifully relieved MacDougal. But the Indians kept teeing off. Sizemore followed and got his second hit of the inning, driving in Boone. Blake scored on the play when the ball hopped up, hit charging right fielder Emil Brown in the leg, and bounced toward center field. It was Kansas City's third error of the inning, and made the score 10-7. Crisp followed and drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch.
Bob Wickman was warming up in the bullpen for yet another save opportunity, but Peralta gave him a rest by nixing the save situation. He hit a three-run homer to make it 13-7.
The inning ended on the 13th batter when Hafner struck out.
Thirteen batters, 11 runs, eight hits, three errors and none left on base. Bob Howry set the Royals down in order in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.
Scott Sauerbeck got the win for being the pitcher of record during the rally. He recorded the last two outs of the eighth.
It was the most runs the Indians scored in an inning since plating 12 against the White Sox in September 1999. It was, without a doubt, the worst and most demoralizing ninth inning in recent Royals history.
The win, coupled with an Oakland loss to the Angels, pulled the Indians to within 3 1/2 games of the Athletics in the wild card race.

Rogers coddled again

Add arbitrator Shyam Das to the long list of people who want Kenny Rogers' autograph. Or maybe some box-seat tickets to a Rangers game.
Das felt sorry for poor little Kenny, suspended 20 games by commisssioner Bud Selig for assaulting two cameramen in June. So he lifted the suspension Tuesday after 13 games. Rogers is slated to start against the Red Sox tonight.
I don't agree with Selig on a lot of things, but I am in his corner here.
Selig let his feelings be known in a statement sent to media outlets Tuesday:
"I strongly disagree with arbitrator Das' decision today. It sends the wrong message to every one of our constituents: the fans, the media, and our players.
"There is a standard of behavior that is expected of our players, which was breached in this case. The arbitrator's decision diminishes that standard and is contrary to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. In my opinion, the decision is seriously ill-conceived."
Rogers committed a crime more savage than Rafael Palmeiro testing positive for steroids. Palmeiro is the one who will probably be made an example of. Rogers, with an army of apologists that starts in the Rangers clubhouse and extends to the broadcast booth, the stands, and it turns out, an arbitrator's office in Chicago, gets a sympathetic pat on the back from everyone.
Perception is reality, it turns out. Rogers has been vindicated, and a deservedly harsh slap delivered by Selig is made a mockery of by a sycophantic arbitrator apparently eager to please a rich, famous athlete.
So, go on Kenny. Lose your temper. Shove people. Punch them, too. Heck, rob a 7-Eleven at gunpoint. There will always be ways for you to slither off the hook because of who you are.
There will always be another Shyam Das to give you a knowing wink from across the room.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Braylon's holdout: day 27

Seeing as how the holdout of Browns first-round pick Braylon Edwards is getting more ridiculous than even last year's Kellen Winslow Jr. circus, I started to wonder how Braylon passes the days. Biting his nails, no doubt, hanging on the edge of his BarcoLounger, wondering when that phone is going to ring, when he's going to hear those magic words:
"Large pepperoni for Edwards? I'm in the lobby."

A day in the life of Braylon Edwards: August 9, 2005.

12:30 p.m.: "Wake up. No Cocoa Puffs left in the cupboard, so have to settle for Lucky Charms. Too many of those little marshmallows make my teeth hurt."

1:24 p.m.: "Shower for approximately 45 minutes. Watch 'Pimp My Ride' on the cable-ready shower TV my high-school coach bought me as draft present. Draw fake play diagrams on the shower door condensation. Always a pass play to yours truly, of course."

2:20 p.m.: "Get dressed, which basically consists of throwing on a new t-shirt and basketball shorts. A least I think they're new. They smell kind of rank. I pulled them out of pile at the base of my dresser, so I really have no idea if they're clean or not. Every article of lounge and workout clothing I own is gray, maize and blue, so it makes discerning dirty from clean kind of hard. I miss the days when I could go home and have Mom do my laundry."

2:22 p.m.: "Resume watching TV. Sip on a bottle of Arctic Shock Gatorade (the kind that turns your tongue blue). Soap opera. Soap opera. "The View." "Real World" (seen that one about a hundred times already.) SportsCenter. Another first-round pick signed. Can't watch it. ESPN Classic has some wack tennis highlights on."

3:40 p.m.: "Lunch consists of cold pizza, Doritos and more Gatorade. Afterward, I can hear my conditioning coach from U of M telepathically yelling at me for my poor eating choices, so I appease him by eating an orange."

4:05 p.m.: "Daily phone conversation with agent. Nothing new on the contract front, but he assures me I am still the best player taken in the draft, and we won't settle for anything less than best-player money. Tells me the Browns are nothing without me. I'm the franchise, he says. I'm the future. I'm already the best receiver on the team simply by virtue of being drafted. As he keeps talking, I realize I have an itch in the spot on my back where I can't reach. After several seconds of contorting myself, I get up and scratch against a doorway. Relief. Now what was he saying?"

4:30 p.m.: "Daily workout. Every athlete needs to keep training. I have a neighborhood kid fling me some passes. After six reps, I'm done. Don't want to go too hard. I have a whole season ahead of me."

4:35 p.m.: "Homies come over. Spend next six hours playing Xbox and blasting hip-hop tunes from my sick new speaker system. Dinner is pizza for the 10th straight night."

11 p.m.: "Head out to the clubs. Homies get hammered. I'm the designated driver. Can't drink because I don't want to do something stupid and wind up on the police blotter. My agent called it the 'Kellen Winslow rule,' whatever that means."

2:56 a.m.: "Arrive back home. Dog tired. Hit the sack. Life as an NFL rookie sure is hard."

Monday, August 08, 2005

Truly depressing

Bill Simmons is the funniest and most readable columnist ESPN has in their arsenal, but I guess I have to add him to the legion of East Coast/West Coast media elitists who believe LeBron James can't possibly want to stay in Cleveland any longer that he has to, right?
Geez, the vultures come from all over, waiting for their favorite team, be it the Knicks, the Celtics, the Lakers, the Nets or whoever else to glean LeBron from the Cavs' rotting carcass. Simmons and others assume the notion of playing in Cleveland has got to be so repugnant to any millionaire professional athlete worth his weight in salt that they are all counting the days until they can cast off the shackles, especially when "real" cities like New York, Boston and Los Angeles are waiting.
I know LeBron isn't feeling the love in Cleveland now. I know last season ended badly. I know it's going to take a whole lot of winning in the coming years to convince LeBron that this is a place he wants to commit to long-term. But there's still time, and early returns show new general mananger Danny Ferry taking initiative, and new owner Dan Gilbert willing to spend money.
It's one thing if the Cavs can't get their act together. It's entirely another if you're assuming LeBron won't want to stay in Cleveland simply because it's Cleveland.
One is logical. The other is arrogant.
Did I mention the Cavs can offer LeBron the most money when and if he becomes a free agent? And that the Akron Beacon Journal reported some weeks ago that LeBron's Nike contract contains no escalator clause if he plays in a large market?
Some of LeBron's other endorsement deals do, but they are all small potatoes compared to his $90 million shoe contract.
Spare me the Boston-Los Angeles arrogance, Simmons. I find your stuff a little less funny today.

Hopes up

The teeth of Indians fans are once again unclenching. The roller coaster is on the way up again.
A 6-5 come-from-behind win over the Tigers Sunday clinched a three-game sweep. They have now won eight of their last 10 to improve to 60-52, the first time they have been eight games over .500 since being 46-38 on July 6.
A gangbusters June. A tepid July. Now, it appears the Indians are in for a winning August.
What does that mean for September? Or shouldn't I ask?
The fans keep waiting for the Indians to gain some measure of consistency, to find some kind of water level above .500. Is this hot streak it? Or are they going to tank again at some point this season?
One more stretch of baseball like the Indians had in mid-July, and that will probably be the end of playoff contention this year. As it is, they sit 4 1/2 games out of the wild card, and can't seem to make up any ground on the smoking-hot Athletics, who are in the midst of the best two-month stretch of baseball in team history.
It seems the only hope for the Indians to reach the postseason this year is for the Angels to fall and for the Yankees and their Jurassic Park pitching staff to remain inconsistent. At this rate, Oakland will win the AL West.
The Indians certainly have the schedule in their favor. The final two months are chock full of dates against dregs like Kansas City and Tampa Bay, and reeling teams like the Tigers, Twins, Rangers and Orioles. The Tribe is done with the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox, and has just three games left with the A's in September.
The biggest hurdle the Indians have to clear is six dates with the White Sox in the final two weeks of the season. By then, however, the White Sox should have the AL Central title formally secured and might be on pre-playoff auto pilot, more concerned with resting their regulars than running up their win total.
My preseason prediction of a Cleveland wild card berth is still possible, but the slide in July means the Indians aren't in the driver's seat. They need other teams above them to stumble.
There's a lot to be hopeful about. Travis Hafner is back from a beanball concussion and has picked right back up hitting. Victor Martinez has been hitting since June, Jhonny Peralta is hitting around .300, as is Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore has leveled off in the .280s and has held onto his leadoff spot, and even fan punching bag Aaron Boone hit over .300 in July.
Boone's July was enough for the Indians to pick up his 2006 option.
The pitching has no Cy Young candidates, but Kevin Millwood is among the league leaders in ERA, Cliff Lee is among the league leaders in wins, Jake Westbrook and Scott Elarton have been good, and even C.C. Sabathia has gotten off to a good start in August.
Bob Wickman is still tops in the AL in saves, too.
Last year at this time was when the Indians crashed and burned after a valiant run that brought them to within a game of first place. This season promises, if nothing else, playoff hopes extending deeper into the season. How much deeper depends on the intestinal fortitude of the men on the field and the coaches in the dugout.
The stats are all nice, but stretching the win column out is the only real goal.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The lonely field

"Hey, where's Frost? I want to see him shank a few more punts."

Last season, Derrick Frost was the Jhonny Peralta of the Browns. Like Peralta, the Indians shortstop who was charged with replacing a cherished Cleveland institution in Omar Vizquel this spring, Frost was the rookie punter brought in from Northern Iowa to succeed Chris Gardocki, arguably the team's MVP through the years of three-and-out possessions. Gardocki was a directional-punt expert, capable of consistently planting the other team's offense inside their 10-yard line.
Prior to last season, Butch Davis cast Gardocki aside without so much as a bat of the eyebrows, claiming Gardocki's leg was weakening. To many outsiders, it looked like another ploy by Davis to eliminate any remnant of the Dwight Clark regime.
Gardocki had handled every single punt and held every single field goal and extra point since the team's rebirth in 1999. Frost had big shoes to fill.
At first he did, garnering one of the top punt-yardage averages in the league through the first half of the season.
Then came a Sunday night in Baltimore, a seven-yard shank, and infamy.
Frost looked inept for much of the second half of the season. Not that he was alone on the Browns roster, but when a punter fails standing back there all alone 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, people tend to notice. Fans started releasing their frustration on the rookie punter as the season continued to rot.
Kyle Richardson was signed as a free agent this off-season by new general manager Phil Savage. The punter's job is his to lose, but Frost is still in camp this year to give Richardson his obligatory dose of competition.
The fans still haven't forgotten last year.

"Oh, you better watch out, 3! Sixty-four is showing you up!"

The practice field for kickers and punters at Browns training camp is no place to fade into the background. Stands line one side, and while herds of brown-and-white clad members of the offense and defense go through plays on adjacent fields, the kickers, punters and long snappers, less than 10 in number, are left to fend for themselves.
Frost, jersey No. 3, had his back to the stands and the few young men trying to get under his skin Friday evening. In between punt drills, he was playing long toss with long snapper Ryan Pontbriand, No. 64.
The few fans laid in wait, hoping for Frost to so something, anything worthy of a chide. Every time Pontbriand laid a tight spiral into Frost's hands, his detractors wanted to see a wounded-duck pass go the other way. Unfortunately, he gave them the ammo they were looking for when an errant pass wobbled and fell short of Pontbriand.

"Riiiii-chardson! Riiii-chardson!"

The good news for Frost is NFL punting is nearly itinerant work. Except for the blessed few, many punters don't stay in one place for very long. Frost has a very good chance of getting a fresh start elsewhere.
In the end, the Derrick Frost experiment was probably another poor judgment of maturity on the part of Davis. Davis, it turns out, was not a good judge of players between the ears. Frost probably wasn't ready to play and struggle in front of 72,000 fans every Sunday. Richardson is a better bet to be able to handle the pressure.
But Davis and his errors are gone, and left to take the bullet is Frost, a kid just looking for a chance to punt in the pros. A kid who is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The vultures are circling over the lonliest field at Browns camp. No more Gerard Warren, no more Quincy Morgan, no more Tim Couch, so some fans decided to make the loneliest field at Browns training a bit more hostile for someone else.

One thing I failed to mention while I was on vacation (which I am back from now, incidentally), is that this blog is now listed and linked on's blog list.
I'm looking for ways to publicize this site, and has a list of local-content blogs links. A perfect match, as far as I am concerned.
However, my blog link is listed only as "Erik Cassano," which doesn't really relate the sports content of my blog. As such, a blog name change might be in the offing. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


The Rafael Palmeiro steroid fiasco is getting much more serious than I originally thought.
Wednesday, I (and the rest of the country) learned three major things:
One, Palmeiro likely tested positive for steroids twice back in May and June, and has been part of a wide-ranging effort to cover up the results while Palmeiro fought the results through appeals channels. This means he eclipsed 3,000 hits with full knowledge he had tested positive for steroids.
Two, the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday that the type of steroid Palmeiro reportedly had in his system is rather strong, and it is unlikely he simply ingested it by not looking closely enough at the label of his protein shake powder.
Three, Palmeiro might have lied to a congressional committee last winter when he testified he never took steroids. That's perjury, boys and girls, and that's a serious crime.
If Palmeiro is found to have perjured himself under oath to a congressional committee, his 10-game suspension from Bud Selig will look like a walk in the park. Are we talking jail time? Possibly.
Sad to say, but Palmeiro might be made an example of by baseball and the U.S. government to show they are serious about cracking down on steroids. Other, more apparently blatant steroid offenders like the hulking Barry Bonds might have time to get right and get off steroids while the buzzards are busy picking away at the innards of Palmeiro's reputation.
I said two posts ago I believe Palmeiro is still worthy of the hall of fame. If someone comes forth with proof Palmeiro has played the majority of his career with the aid of steroids, I might change my mind. Right now, I'll labor under the pretense that Palmeiro did this recently because he was getting older and wanted to keep his athletic edge as he jockeyed for position in the history books.
But that might not be the case at all. That's the truly troubling part.
If Palmeiro's lifetime achievements, on par with all-time greats Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, has been found to be almost entirely the product of steroid enhancement, there will be little left for Palmeiro to stand on. And then his hall of fame eligibility might be in question.
And I'm not talking about what the baseball writers and veterans committee has to say with their votes. I'm talking banishment.
Pete Rose and eight members of the 1919 White Sox were banished 69 years apart for sins of money. This could all end with Palmeiro being the first man banned from baseball for sins of the body.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On the road: Washington, D.C.

If you come here in late July and early August, bring two things: sunscreen and walking shoes.
The Sun blazes away like you were in South Carolina this time of year. As proof, the highs are going to be in the 90s almost all week.
Once you have negotiated the Sun, there is plenty to do. Coming from a city like Cleveland, which has few main street shopping districts to explore (the browsing kind, not the Wal-Mart kind), Washington is like a breath of fresh air.
Alexandria, Virginia is about 20 miles south of D.C. and can boast over a dozen tree-lined blocks of restaurants and shops leading to a waterfront along that Potomac River. The waterfront has boat tours available, and a crane-your-neck view of the U.S. Capitol in the distance.
If you were wondering how Washingtonians are adjusting to life as a major-league city again, the Nationals have become part of the daily summer heartbeat of the city. The sports page of the Washington post gripes openly about the Nats' recent slide that has caused them to slip five games back in the N.L. East.
The Nats, on a road trip through Atlanta and Florida this week, were below the fold of the Post's sports page Monday. The big story was the opening of training camp for the Redskins.
FedEx Field, home of the Redskins, is viewable from Interstate 695 through trees. Amazingly, owner Dan Snyder doesn't require a deposit to see the stadium from the highway.
Once upon a time, Snyder tried to charge fans an admission fee to training camp. That has since been abolished, but I can't imagine a bigger moneygrubbing act than to charge fans to see players slam into tackling dummies and run scripted plays in shorts for two hours.

Rafael Palmeiro suspended

Rafael Palmeiro suspended 10 days, effective immediately, for reported steroid violations. Color me naive, but wow.
Not only is a top superstar being made an example of, but a top superstar who has already been at the center of a hurricane this year concerning his hall-of-fame eligibility.
If baseball had a reason to protect anybody, it was Palmeiro. He is one of baseball's nice guys, one of the men baseball is proud to bestow the title of "ambassador" upon.
In a summer filled with the flaky aloofness of Barry Bonds and the blatant thuggery of Kenny Rogers, Palmeiro offered us lifetime achievement as he became just the fourth hitter in history to reach both the 3,000 hit and 500 homerun plateaus.
I was among the legions who consider any argument that Palmeiro doesn't belong in the hall of fame to be outlandish. I still feel that way, but the events of the past 24 hours certainly gives the side that believes Palmeiro isn't good enough for Cooperstown a lot of momentum.
ESPN reported this morning that Palmeiro probably ingested something he shouldn't have. In other words, this was probably a diet supplement or "pep pill" that contained something banned by baseball. This probably wasn't something straight out of Jose Canseco's brain, with Palmeiro baring his buttocks so a teammate could shove a needle in.
Physically, Palmeiro doesn't even look like a steroid user. He's big, but not ogre-like as Bonds and Mark McGwire are. Not that it's any type of argument in Palmeiro's favor, but if you did a lineup of major-league sluggers, Palmeiro wouldn't be suspect No. 1 as far as steroids.
Having said that, Palmeiro is nearing 40, nearing the end of his career, and was probably thinking about his place in history. He knew as much as anyone that 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns would all but punch his ticket for the hall, and might have been looking for something medicinal that could trim a few years off his body for the time being.
With five years to meditate on this until he is eligible (assuming Palmeiro still plans to hang 'em up at the end of this season), Palmeiro has plenty of time to atone and sail into the hall of fame with flying colors. But the debate just intensified.
I thought the battle lines over steroids and the hall of fame would be drawn over Bonds. Turns out, the lightning rod might be decidedly skinnier.