Monday, October 30, 2006

Twas the night before tipoff

This Cavaliers season is so highly-anticipated, I can't resist a little poetic license. Is LeBron James Santa Claus? We'll find out in June.

"Twas the Night Before Tipoff"

Twas the night before tipoff
And all through the town
Not a TV screen was safe
From watching the Browns

The loafers were stuck
in a quite violent manner
through the picture screen glass
which caused it to shatter

The leaves had dropped
The sky had turned gray
All hopes of the playoffs
Were slipping away

The fans needed someone
Brave and sincere
Some marvelous wonder
To dry all the tears

A man who can fly
A man who can shoot
A man whose star power
Was quite absolute

They waited and wished
For days and for nights
They hoped that a king
would hear of their plight

Then one night at the Q
There arose such a clatter
The whole town streamed in
To see what was the matter

The thunderous rattle
of spheroid through rim
Brought with such force
Nearly sucked the roof in

The town watched and gaped
Gawked and gasped
For the source of the sound
Was but 20 years past

A boy wonder stood
Six foot and eight
A man that young
A game that great

What shall we call him?
This elegant power
Too pretty to be a rock
Too strong to be a flower

We'll call him "LeBron"
"LBJ" for short
And he is the king
Of our basketball court

He'll carry us forth
To heights far and near
And save us from the funk
Of forty-two years

Born for the spotlight
He shines it on us
On our fair little town
the buckle of rust

Now the curtain goes up
On season number four
Will this be the year
He steps to the door?

A title run beckons
Greatness awaits
Failure's no option
For losing he hates

And with a flash of a smile
And a gleam in his eye
He took to the floor
He took to the sky

"On Larry, on Damon
On Z, Drew and Snow!
On Donyell, on Pollard,
On Andy Varejao!"

And with that he glided
To his small forward spot
And took over the league
The haves and have-nots

And with every fast break
And every play set
He'll tell you for certain
"You've seen nothing yet."

The Morning After: N.Y. Jets

Browns 20, Jets 13
Record: 2-5

I watched the first six games of the season. Then I watched Sunday's win over the Jets. And I came to two unwavering conclusions:

1) The offensive line loves having their position coach calling the plays.

2) The Browns' collective confidence is so fragile, a paper cut could burst it right now. But they can still win games in spite of it.

The offensive line showed their hand during the first half. Inept, they aren't. Sandbagging? Maybe. But the bottom line is they suddenly looked competent with Maurice Carthon out of the picture and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson calling the plays.

Reuben Droughns returned to his 2004-05 form, netting his second 100-yard game of the season. Charlie Frye was well-protected for three quarters. The end result: A 20-3 lead the inconsistent Jets couldn't overcome.

The startling turnaround of the offensive line would be a story in of itself. But the most amazing story of the game to me was the fact that the Browns committed blatant, horrible, game-killing mistakes and still won.

That hasn't usually happened to the Browns, an adversity-soaked team with a feather-fragile collective ego.

In the third quarter, Frye yet again tried way too hard to make something happen with his arm and flung a deep-ball interception that your average fan knew was going to get picked the instant it left Frye's hand. The Jets, however, turned it into a missed Mike Nugent field goal.

The game really had a chance to go south when Justin Miller returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to pull the Jets to within 20-10 in the third quarter.

After that, the Browns had a palpable drop in confidence. The Jets dialed up their pressure on Frye and Droughns, and the offense couldn't respond. A Nugent field goal early in the fourth quarter made it 20-13, and it looked like the Browns were in for another late loss.

But, just like turning the page from Carthon to Davidson, the Browns displayed a subtle little-extra-something to gut out the win against an overachieving Jets team.

In the end, it was a controversial non-touchdown pass from Chad Pennington to Chris Baker that sealed the deal. Baker might or might not have come down in bounds with the game-tying touchdown catch. The mere fact that it was in question was thanks to Brodney Pool, who slammed Baker out of bounds as he came down across the goal line.

It's so fundamental, yet so important: Just make the play, hit the guy, because you don't know what the side judge is going to call. That's the smart, heady football the Browns have been missing in recent years.

We can only hope the offense is going to have the same mental breakthroughs the defense has been experiencing these first seven games. If that happens, the Browns might be able to gather the tatters of this season and sew it into something to build on.

And isn't that what we've been crossing our fingers and hoping for every fall?

Up next: at San Diego, Sunday, 4 p.m.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NBA preview: Western Conference

Projected records listed in parenthesis.

1. Dallas Mavericks (61-21)
Dirk Nowitzki is aging about as gracefully as you can expect an NBA player to age. Approaching 10 years in the league, he has gotten even better. Of course, he opts to shoot over his defenders instead of driving past them, which helps save wear and tear.
The revamped defense installed by coach Avery Johnson is really what has lifted this team to title contender status. This team should be the reigning NBA champs, but owner Mark Cuban led a teamwide implosion in last spring's NBA Finals.

2. San Antonio Spurs (59-23)
I guess you know you're good when a second-round elimination sparks a torrent of "What's wrong with the Spurs?" comments.
As with Detroit, the sharks are circling what is largely being viewed as an aging roster. As with Detroit, don't call the undertaker just yet.
As long as the nucleus of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are together and healthy, this team will be a title contender.

3. Phoenix Suns (57-25)
If you could get some kind of guarantee that Amare Stoudemire would be on the floor dropping in 20 and snagging 10 each night for 82 games, the Suns would be a title contender. But you can't. Even though Steve Nash and Shawn Marion have been downright Hurculean in their effort to compensate for the loss of Stoudemire, the Suns still need their lean, athletic center in the lineup to vault past Dallas and San Antonio.
As of now, they have him. Will that be the case in February?

4. Sacramento Kings (54-28)
Mike Bibby and Brad Miller are the two cornerstones of the team. The x-factor is Ron Artest. If coach Eric Musselman can keep the flaky forward in check and his mind on basketball, the Kings are a dangerous team.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (51-31)
The Clips still aren't a terribly deep team. But if Sam Cassell can start to hand the point guard baton to the talented Shaun Livingston in an effective way, it's going to enable their powerful starting lineup to carry the load, much like they did a year ago.
It's hard to get your mind around: the Clippers could be in the NBA Finals in a couple of years.

6. Denver Nuggets (47-35)
It must be a testament to the coaching ability of George Karl, because the Nuggets are lugging around a lot of dead weight on their roster.
This is a team that still employs the vastly overpaid Kenyon Martin, then went out and signed Nene and Reggie Evans to huge contracts in the offseason.
Did I mention none of them score? When it comes to putting the ball in the hoop, it's kind of Carmelo Anthony or bust.

7. Los Angeles Lakers (46-36)
This is Kobe. This is all about Kobe. Kobe initiates, Kobe finishes, Kobe defends, Kobe passes. Kobe can do it all very well when he wants to. But, 81-point games aside, he just isn't having a lot of luck as a one-man show. It's not that Kobe doesn't have some teammates who can play. Lamar Odom is a Laker, for crying out loud. But Kobe is the best at everything on the Laker roster, and that just isn't going to work.

8. New Orleans Hornets (44-38)
This team was sinking a season ago. They didn't' even really have a home. Now, they are apparently re-committed to New Orleans and have a promising cast of characters. Chris Paul arrived in the draft, then Peja Stojakovic arrived in free agency. Then the Bulls, flush with the heady rush of signing Ben Wallace, pawned Tyson Chandler off on New Orleans for P.J. Brown.
The result is a Hornets team that should be respectable once again.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)
The loss of Pau Gasol for several months obviously hurts. But the rest of the roster is also in a state of transition. Gone are Bobby Jackson and Shane Battier, arriving are Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift. The Grizzlies might have to take a step back this year to take a step forward in the future.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (41-41)
Slowly, Kevin Garnett's celebrated athleticism is starting to wane. Slowly, he will transform into a back-to-the-basket post-up player. He's not quite there yet, but the Wolves are in need of an infusion of athleticism.
Ricky Davis isn't it. The Wolves are banking on rookie Randy Foye to take some of the heat off the aging legs of Garnett. Regardless, the Wolves are in need of restocking, and all the while, Garnett is getting older.

11. Houston Rockets (38-44)
Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are tremendous talents, but they aren't really peanut butter and jelly. McGrady does his thing, Yao does his, and the rest of the roster just kind of fills in the space around. Then Yao or McGrady gets hurt, and the team just becomes undesirable to watch.

12. Utah Jazz (35-47)
If you like fundamental, old-school basketball, Jerry Sloan is your coach. Unfortunately, Slaon hasn't had a Jeff Hornacek, let alone a John Stockton or Karl Malone, on his roster in recent years.
The ballyhooed free agent signings of Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur haven't really gone as anticipated, and the point guard spot has been a revolving door pretty much since Stockton's retirement.
Andrei Kirilenko is the guy who has to make it all happen. With him healthy, the Jazz could conceivably fight for a playoff spot. Without him, 35 wins is a dream.

13. Seattle Supersonics (32-50)
The trio of Ray Allen, Luke Ridnour and Rashard Lewis is the only thing giving this roster any teeth. Beyond that, Sonics fans will be treated to the limited low-post game of Chris Wilcox and the here-and-there scoring of Kareem Rush.
But there are more important things at work in Seattle. Job 1 is keeping the franchise in the Pacific Northwest. Taking away the Sonics, the only Seattle team ever to win a title, would be a crime.

14. Golden State Warriors (26-56)
And we're supposed to be impressed that Don Nelson is the coach of the Warriors again? Who exactly does he have to work with? Mike Dunleavy? Baron Davis?
Not exactly Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond, is it? Of course, Mullin is the GM now, so a lot of the slop this upcoming season is sure to produce will end up in his lap.

15. Portland Trail Blazers (21-61)
The draft day acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge is the first of what must be many brushstroke necessary to return the Blazers to respectability. This franchise has been allowed to wither on the vine for more than five years.
There is no one on this roster that inspires anything beyond indigestion. Zach Randolph is overrated to Kenyon Martin proportions. Beyond that, there is a big man corps of Raef LaFrentz, Joel Pryzbilla and and Jamaal Magloire.
Tell Blazer fans to go to sleep, and don't wake them until the draft lottery in April.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

NBA preview: Eastern Conference

Since divisions are pretty much meaningless in the NBA anyway, I'm going to try something new with this year's previews and just rank the conferences top to bottom.

Less than a week to tip-off, so let's hop to it. Today is the East. Projected records are in parenthesis.

1. Miami Heat (57-25)
Not often will you find a conference where the top team doesn't even sniff 60 wins, but this year, the even-Steven East is just that.
Miami is more the team to beat by default. They won the title last spring, and deserve the spoils that accompany it. Armed with what is still the best one-two punch in the conference in Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, the Heat are the team to beat until someone proves otherwise. And someone just might.

2. Detroit Pistons (55-27)
Rumors of the Pistons' demise are greatly exaggerated. While everybody has been harping on the fact that they lost Ben Wallace to rival Chicago, nobody has seemed to notice that the rest of the roster has remained remarkably intact. Losing Ben Wallace hurts, but I have a hard time believing that a team that still boasts Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince (for my money the best two-way player in the conference) has suddenly faded into oblivion.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28)
Two things need to happen for the Cavs to become a legit threat to reach the NBA Finals: One, Larry Hughes has to stay away from injuries that keep him out of the lineup for months at a time. Two, they have to buckle down on defense.
A lot of prognosticators (who shall remain nameless) finger the Cavs as a team of mismatched parts. I think the variety of playing styles on the roster is actually a strength, as demonstrated in the playoffs. Cleveland went small and quick against Washington, big and strong against Detroit.
Of course, the alpha and omega here is LeBron James. Without him, everything above is moot.

4. Chicago Bulls (50-32)
Yes, they signed Ben Wallace. Yes, they drafted Tyrus Thomas. Yes, they are a heady, gritty team led by a heady, gritty coach in Scott Skiles with a sharp knife of a GM in John Paxson.
When you get done drooling, remember that they still have no inside scoring and their backcourt is largely undersized. Grit and toughness can get you a long way. But when the likes of Shaq, D-Wade, LeBron and 'Sheed are standing in your way, it won't get you to the top.
Most underrated free-agent loss: Darius Songaila, now in Washington, who was pretty much the only low-post scorer the Bulls had for the past couple of years.

5. Washington Wizards (48-34)
With Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, this team is scary good at putting the ball in the hoop. If they can turn games into score-fests, they can rack up wins.
If the entire Central Division falters (not likely), the Wizards can make a run at the NBA Finals. But here's thinking they are a bit too finesse and not quite deep enough.

6. New Jersey Nets (46-36)
The nucleus of this team is getting old. Jason Kidd is past his prime, Vince Carter is on the verge, as is Richard Jefferson. Having said that, this should still be an exciting team to watch, a threat to win a playoff series, and the favorite to win the incredibly weak Atlantic Division.

7. Indiana Pacers (44-38)
We know the Pacers have one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle. His mettle is really going to be tested this year. Not only are the Pacers facing their first season in ages without Ron Artest, they surprisingly lost the guy who was supposed to take his place when Peja Stojakovic bolted to the Hornets.
That leaves world-famous gun toter Stephen Jackson as the team's best player. He's good, but not centerpiece quality.

8. Boston Celtics (41-41)
A lot of this hinges on whether Paul Pierce can stay healthy. He's been in the league for a decade and his body is starting to wear down. But Pierce still needs some help. The Celtics are in desperate need of a comeback season from Al Jefferson, or somebody, to achieve a playoff berth.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (40-42)
I'd like to say the Central Division can once again send five teams to the playoffs this year, but I just don't see it happening, and I think the Bucks are going to be the odd man out.
Andrew Bogut has shown some signs of injury problems, and without him, there is no real inside presence to offset Michael Redd's perimeter bombing. Charlie Villanueva just isn't consistent enough to pick up the slack, though I did like the trade.

10. Orlando Magic (40-42)
While you were sleeping, the Magic have been quietly accumulating a cache of impressive young talent. In addition to the blossoming Dwight Howard, the Magic hosed Detroit for the services of Darko Milicic, who is also blossoming away from the Pistons crucible.
Orlando isn't quite there yet, but they'll be a playoff regular in the next decade.

11. Toronto Raptors (38-44)
Another team quietly amassing some great young talent, but it's going to take a while to build something. Signing Chris Bosh to a contract extension this summer was a start. Now, first overall pick Andrea Bargnani has to develop an inside game to go with his outside game. If he does, the Raptors will be no stranger to playoff appearances, either.

12. Charlotte Bobcats (32-50)
A step behind the Magic and Raptors, but Charlotte is also building a nice arsenal of young players. Adam Morrison will be able to score on this level, but will he be able to defend his position? Ray Felton looks like a real-deal all star running the point.

13. Philadelphia 76ers (30-52)
This team is just getting way too old. Chris Webber isn't going to replicate the nearly 20-and-10 season he had a year ago, and while Allen Iverson remains one of the greatest offensive players in the game, he's not young himself. This team is going to be hampered with ping-and-ding injuries all year.

14. Atlanta Hawks (27-55)
When a team manages to land Joe Johnson and Speedy Claxton in consecutive offseasons, you'd think they'd really be building toward something. But these are the Hawks, and the rest of the roster is either really young or really unimpressive. Oh, yeah, Claxton's hurt, too. Mark them down for a spot on the draft lottery show next April.

15. New York Knicks (24-58)
The scary thing is, if this team had any real leadership, they'd be going places. A backcourt of Stephon Marbury and Jared Jeffries is nothing to sneeze at. Channing Frye is an exciting young frontcourt player, and I don't think first-round pick Renaldo Balkman is the running joke everyone thinks he is.
Alas, James Dolan and Isiah Thomas are running the show, so put the Benny Hill theme on the stereo, sit back, and watch the hilarity unfold.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Browns' Big Three

The Browns' dismissal of offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon late Monday is a significant event, and not just in terms of who is running the offense from here on out.

It also marks the first time that Romeo Crennel had his hand forced by those above him into making a decision he didn't want to make.

All businesses will have disagreements among the leaders, but this could be a sign of Browns leadership fragmenting. We can only hope not, because the last thing this team needs is another reset. But, more and more, it appears that in Randy Lerner, Phil Savage and Crennel, you have three different leaders with three different ideas of what needs to be done to pull this team out of the gutter.

It's a long way from the idealized hope that existed in January 2005, when Crennel and Savage were both hired.

Perhaps the John Collins fiasco of nearly a year ago was a harbinger of things to come, a red flag of the discord that exists within the Browns front office.

Any friction is magnified when a team isn't doing well, but it's a chicken-or-egg question: Are the differences among Browns leaders the cause, or the effect?

Below, I size up the Browns' Big Three, what they are doing, what they aren't doing, and their chances of even being around here in a couple of years.

Romeo Crennel

The good
It's getting to the point where being realistic and straightforward should be a requirement, not a plus. But Crennel still plays the "I'm just a guy trying to do his job" role to perfection.

You want to root for the guy because, lost somewhere in the crossfire, is a guy who basically has his head screwed on straight and knows what he's doing. Players respect Crennel to the end. The only real questions of his leadership involve offensive playcalling.

Since Crennel took over, the police-blotter Browns of Butch Davis have mostly gone away, Reuben Droughns notwithstanding. There is no doubt he is a strong leader of players.

The bad
When you take over your first team after 30-plus years in football, there is a chance you are going to be kind of hard-bitten and jaded. The fear of failure and eagerness to prove yourself can be easily overtaken with a sense that you have been there, done that, and know what to expect.

I suspect Crennel's age-toughened hide has blinded him, at least to an extent, to the magnitude of the task at hand. Turning around a bottom-of-the-barrel organization like the Browns takes tons of energy, a defined vision, and a willingness to adapt and recover from mistakes.

Crennel is on the downhill side of his career and has been around football long enough that it has, in a way, institutionalized him. In other words, he knows what he knows and that's that.

Now pushing 60, I don't know if he has the energy or vision to stick with this team through all of the "two-steps-forward, one-step-back" compulsories that accompany a massive rebuilding project, particularly in the paramilitary world of football.

Will he stay?
Crennel is performing the very valuable task of laying the groundwork of a solid foundation rooted in hard work and no shortcuts. But he's not going to be the guy to lead this team to a Super Bowl.

If Crennel and Savage are smart, they'll start grooming a hand-picked, younger replacement who will be in a position to take this team to contention once Crennel has done all he can do.

In a very real way, Crennel is the Browns' version of Paul Silas: A disciplinarian who can start the walk, but he won't finish it.

Phil Savage

The good
Savage was brought in to upgrade the talent on this roster, and he is doing just that. The Browns, talentwise, are not as bad as their 1-5 record would indicate.

The decision to sink or swim with Charlie Frye seems perplexing on the surface, but it's really rooted in logic: Give Frye a season to prove himself. Don't bring in a veteran backup and put the temptation in place to pull Frye if he struggles.

Unfortunately, Savage, like so many Browns personnel gurus before him, thought the offensive line could be repaired in a spackle-and-paste method instead of spending draft picks. That was a major whiff, on par with Mark Shapiro's trade of Brandon Phillips.

Roster holes aside, Savage is a tireless scout who realizes a talent jumpstart is the only way to enable a rebuilding process. He's not shortcutting his way to familiar ground, as Davis and Dwight Clark did before him. He's logging the miles to find the guys who will, in theory at least, make this team better.

The bad
Unfortunately, by doing that, he's really placed himself in more of a lead scout's role than a GM's role. When a franchise is in tumult, as the Browns have so often been, there is a need for a strong, benevolent front office presence. Too often, Savage is out of town scouting, and leaving the ship in the hands of Crennel.

When a team is winning, there is nothing wrong with that practice. When a team is a tempest, the GM needs to do more than scout. He needs to reign in and calm down, effect change and be the arbiter of disputes.

As Crennel did with the Giants and Patriots, Savage learned the ways of a winning organization with the Ravens. Unfortunately, In Cleveland he stepped into a losing organization that doesn't run smoothly when the boss is away like New England and Baltimore can.

Savage is finding out: It's remarkable what you can't take for granted when your team is bad.

Will he stay?
Of all the Browns' leaders, Savage's presence is the most important, for the simple reason that he is amassing players as he sees fit. A new coach can win with the same players as the old coach, a new owner can still sign the paychecks, but a new GM almost always means a complete roster turnover.

Crennel can be fired at season's end, Randy Lerner can sell the team, but Savage must stay put, or this team is going to be set back another 5-to-10 years.

Randy Lerner

The good
Lerner has done far more than I ever expected him to do when he took the reigns of the Browns after his father died. I expected him to view the team as an unwanted heirloom and quickly sell it.

Instead, he has embraced the role. If he hasn't effectively spurred change on the field, he's done so off the field. He has gone out of his way to embrace the Browns' alumni. Jim Brown is involved in the team and Bernie Kosar was calling preseason games, which would have been unheard of when Carmen Policy was running the show.

I expected him to not care, but he has. That might seem like a hollow quality when the team is 1-5, but if you don't care, you can't do anything else.

The bad
For a few years, the Browns, however homely, was Randy's best girl. But then another girl entered the picture. She has a sexy name and a fondness for short shorts, and -- oh yeah, she's British, too.

Now, Aston Villa of the English Premiership is vying for Lerner's attention after he purchased controlling interest in the club this summer. In addition to jetting to Ohio and back, Lerner, a Long Island resident, now also jets across the Atlantic to watch his new team have a go on the pitch.

Like any love-triangle relationship, we can already see this isn't going to work. One is going to become Lerner's favorite, and the other is going to take a backseat. The one that falls in back will suffer from neglect.

Will it be the team Lerner sought out and bought, or the team he inherited? It's something to keep an eye on.

Will he stay?
It depends on how infatuated Lerner becomes with Aston Villa. It's wise to remember that Lerner, who lived in the U.K. for a few years, is a genuine soccer fan. He doesn't view the team merely as an asset, like Malcolm Glazer did when he bought Manchester United. British soccer fans feel like Lerner is one Yank who actually understands them, and that might help lure Lerner overseas more often.

If the Browns' situation continues to stay one step above total hopelessness, one has to wonder how much longer Lerner will put up with them when he has another team to oversee, in a sport he appears to like more than helmet-and-pads football.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Morning After: Denver

Broncos 17, Browns 7
Record: 1-5

Some teams use their bye week to get healthy. Some use it to make some minor adjustments to the playbook. Some use it as a time for soul-searching.

The Browns, it appears, did none of the above.

More and more, this Browns season is starting to resemble a deer in headlights: frozen, stricken, incapable of altering course to avoid the impending disaster hurtling toward it.

Looking as bad as they have looked since the Week 2 loss to the Bengals, the Browns offense managed just 165 yards of total offense and ran about 30 fewer plays than the Broncos -- hardly an offensive juggernaut themselves -- ran.

The offensive line was an embarrassment yet again, allowing Charlie Frye to be sacked five times and knocked down countless others. At times, the offensive line seemed to serve merely as starting blocks for the Broncos' sprint to the passer. Many times, the Broncos got to Frye unimpeded.

This game was so bad, it could represent a turning point for Romeo Crennel's tenure in Cleveland.

Crennel had a chance to try something different. He had a chance to take the playcalling away from Maurice Carthon. He had a chance to shake up the playbook, to light a fire under the offensive line, to do something to salvage this season.

Instead, he played a fiddle while 72,000 fans burned in the stands Sunday.

Only Crennel knows if it's stubbornness, strategic paralysis or genuine cluelessness that is preventing change. What is known by the rest of us is that Crennel is starting to write his ticket out of town.

We know the fans and media aren't happy. But if reports are correct, Crennel's players are also wondering what is going on with the offense. That is the most important factor. If Crennel loses his players, he can't stay.

For a while, I've been wondering if 57 is a bit too old to be getting your first NFL head coaching job, as Crennel did. By the time you've been in football for 30-plus years, you generally know what you know and you don't want to hear about anything else.

To change the Browns, the tangled mess that they are, you need energy, adaptability and creativity. I don't know if Crennel, after 30 years of this grind, has those qualities in requisite amounts anymore.

Time may prove that time is working against Crennel, who will soon be 60. As he gets older, his desire to wade through the muck and turn this franchise around will decrease, not increase.

Ideally, if you're going to hire a first-time head coach, you'd probably want to hire a 30- or 40-something coordinator like Marvin Lewis or Lovie Smith. Of course, the Browns already tried that with Chris Palmer and it was a bust.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond Crennel, you have a detached owner in Randy Lerner, someone who has a new pet in Aston Villa, and might be more inclined to spend the bulk of his time in England following the Queen's football. At the moment, he's not really good for being a strong organizational leader on this side of the pond.

You also have, In Phil Savage, a GM who doesn't really perform all the GM duties. Savage's concentration on upgrading the talent level of the roster is admirable, but there is much more that goes into being a GM. In addition to forming the roster, you have to be the voice of the front office and facilitate change when necessary. Of course, Savage is all but a non-sequitur in Cleveland this time of year, opting instead to traverse the land looking for kids to draft next April.

That works great if you have a head coach who has everything together and has the team winning. But Crennel doesn't, and subsequently, Savage's job duties include "organizational watchdog" in addition to "roster architect," at least for the time being. He is performing the latter, but is negligent on the former.

So, combine the three factors: an old-yet-inexperienced head coach, a detached owner and a frequently out-of-town GM, and you have to ask, who is really running this ship?

One or more of the trio of Lerner, Crennel and Savage will likely be gone by the time the Browns figure out how to field a winning team again.

Up next: New York Jets, Sunday, 4 p.m.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Charley Rosen update

The sworn enemy of the Cleveland Cavaliers is back with another preseason gem. This time, Mike Brown is in the crosshairs of his team-by-team coach grades.

At the top of the list of "C" coaches -- "strictly average" -- is Brown, with the following comment from Rosen:

"Still learning on the job so his offense is predictable. Hampered by lack of defensive players. His misusage of James will sooner or later result in a serious injury."

What a shock. Rosen, the same guy who thinks Frankenstein was pieced together better than the Cavs' roster, thinks that Brown is such a bad manager of LeBron's minutes, he is going to essentially destroy LeBron's career.

(Say, you don't think Rosen wants to see LeBron go down with an injury? Bring him back to the pack a bit, so to speak? Make him -- ahem -- actually work for something? Nah. Rosen isn't that much of a spiteful bastard. Right?)

I have no problem with people pointing out what the Cavs need to do better, in an objective sense. But Rosen is far from objective about the Cavs. For whatever reason, he hates this team. He predicts horrible, franchise-altering maladies for the Cavs at every turn. He apparently wants them to fail. Maybe Danny Ferry or Dan Gilbert stiffed him for an interview once, or maybe he really does despise LeBron James for the fact that he's had so much success, so soon.

But what is known is that he thinks the Cavs would be in better hands if they were run by a blind chimp.

I've never seen a playoff team with so many national antagonists as the Cavs. Geez, after years and years of lousy basketball, you'd think people would be happy to see a downtrodden franchise finally winning, the same way everybody is all warm and fuzzy on the Tigers right now.

But, alas, not for the Cavs. While the national media can't stop drooling over a Bulls team that hasn't won a playoff series since Michael Jordan left, all the Cavs get are folded arms and glares at best, and Rosen's apocalyptic drivel at worst.

Maybe, in this case, it really is us-against-them. It seems the Cavs have no real allies, outside of maybe ESPN's Chris Broussard, in the national media.

Friday, October 20, 2006

MLB playoffs: World Series

Detroit Tigers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Need more evidence that the Tigers are a team of destiny? Then you're pretty dense.

Not only did Detroit sweep the ALCS, giving them a full week of rest for their young power pitching, they will be going up against the Cardinals, arguably one of the worst teams ever to make the World Series, fresh off a grueling, seven-game elimination of the not-much-better Mets.

With Thursday's Game 7 survival (moreso than a victory) in the NLCS, the Cards toted the second-lowest full regular season win total into the World Series. Their 83 wins are undercut only by the 1973 Mets, who won just 82 regular season games.

If there is a shred of historical hope for St. Louis, those Mets took the powerful A's of Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter to seven games before succumbing.

I doubt anything like that is going to happen this year. The Tigers are too good, and the NL, honestly, has been an October joke for the past three years.

The Cards, in particular, have been symbolic of the NL's futility in recent years. They were the lamb to the slaughter in 2004 when the Red Sox swept away the Curse of the Bambino.

Last year, the Astros spared the Cardinals another World Series humiliation, dropping them in the NLCS and taking the AL bullet themselves, getting swept by the White Sox.

But this year, the Cardinals appear to be more cannon fodder for an AL team on a mission. Less-talented, gassed by their emotional pennant-clinching win and opening the Series on the road, I expect the Tigers to win the first two games in Detroit with little trouble.

If St. Louis is really unlucky, they'll never recover and get swept. If they catch a break or two, they might steal at game at home. If they dig deep down, they might win two in St. Louis and force the series back to Detroit. But that's about as good as it's going to get for the fans wearing red.

I don't have the heart to predict a sweep. I just can't see the National League losing 12 straight World Series games. But, even if the Cards manage to make somewhat of a series of it, it still probably won't be as close as it looks.

Tigers in six

Charley Rosen is crazy

Some of you might already know this, but I just found out that basketball commentator Charley Rosen is crazy.

I mean nuts. Certifiable. Cuckoo. Cracked. Bonkers. Batty. Mentally eroded. Off his rocker. Riding the imaginary choo-choo train.

There is no doubt in my mind after Rosen named the Cavaliers among the NBA teams that will soon be in desperate need of a rebuild.

"The Cavs players, fans, and management continue to fanaticize about winning a championship. While this fantasy might someday come true, it certainly won't so long as the current roster is intact," he spouts.

Now, I've been burned before by criticizing analysts. I am still eating crow for my springtime assertion that Dayn Perry was smoking something when he predicted the Indians would be a major disappointment while the Tigers would be the surprise team of baseball.

Needless to say, if Perry ever e-mails me six numbers, they are going straight onto a lotto ticket.

But Rosen is different. For one, much of what he says never seems to make a lot of sense. Most of it just sounds like the nonsensical babbling of a elderly nursing home resident going on and on about the nylon shortage during Dubya-Dubya-Two.

Secondly, I've never really seen Rosen say anything good about anybody. All we ever hear out of him is how LeBron James is a woeful defensive player, basically insinuating that he's all sauce and no meat. We never see him break down LeBron's vast offensive game because that would require him to actually compliment a player. I don't think his Red Auerbach-era coaching sensibilities will allow him to do that.

Or maybe he's just one of those crotchety old geezers who sees all the cornrows and tattoos and thinks the entire game has gone to hell in a handbasket. If that's the case, he needs to put down the keyboard and find a nice retirement villa in which to live out his years. But I digress.

What really sticks in my craw is that he thinks the Cavs will need to be torn down and rebuilt within a year. That is one heck of an assertion to make, considering all the trial and error that has gone in to making the Cavs even as good as they are.

Most of the rest of Rosen's list is comprised of obvious choices, teams with aging stars like the Nets, Sixers and Pistons. Those teams were built, had a good run, and are now decaying.

But the Cavs, they just got here. Danny Ferry has spent the past 15-odd months piecing this roster together around LeBron, fine-tuning, attempting to stabilize it, and now Rosen says it's a horribly-constructed, Frankenstein-esque mismatch of fatally-flawed players that needs to be put out of its misery? Even after 50 wins and a playoff series win while missing Larry Hughes and Anderson Varejao for huge chunks of the season?

That's basically the equivalent of walking up to Danny Ferry, spitting in his face, and saying "You are a shitty GM. Your team sucks."

The final line of Rosen's Cavs analysis is particularly perplexing, suggesting that he was comatose for the entire 2005-06 season:

"All in all, this is a mismatched team that can barely afford another unsatisfactory season before frustration becomes institutional."

You can argue that the Cavs don't have all the right pieces. You can argue that they overachieved to get to Game 7 against the Pistons a year ago. You can argue that LeBron needs more help this season. You'd have valid arguments on all fronts.

But to argue that a 50-win team that was missing its second-leading scorer for almost 50 games last season, a team that needed stability more than anything else this summer and received it, needs to be imploded is just plain wrong.

Curiously, the alleged "team-first" teams that purported purists like Rosen sing high hosannas to, the Pistons, the Spurs, the Bulls, are the teams that are models of stability. Yet that stability isn't good enough for the Cavs.

I've seen what a lack of stability does. It creates the Browns. To put it in terms Rosen can understand, it creates the New York Knicks.

Maybe that's what Rosen wants. Maybe he isn't nuts. Maybe he just wants to see the Cavs -- and more importantly, their rich, young, tattooed superstar -- fail miserably. Maybe Rosen, in his own, twisted, senile way, views LeBron as everything that is wrong with basketball.

Maybe Rosen is just creepy.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The best fans in football? You bet

If Cleveland's recent (and not-so-recent) sports history is devoid of championships on the field, we at least have won a championship in the stands. has proclaimed Browns fans to be the NFL's best, filling Cleveland Browns Stadium to 99.8 percent capacity over the past seven years to watch a team that has gone 37-80 since returning to action in 1999.

That's 43 games under .500, folks. If that were the Indians, they'd be drawing college students, drunks and mayflies, and that's it.

Normally, you'd probably classify fans who consistently sell out games for a team that awful in one of two ways: masochistic or stupid.

Fans in Pittsburgh might disagree, but the tale of the tape shows Cleveland fans to be neither.

Ticket-buying loyalty is only half the battle when determining the best sports fans. They also have to be knowledgeable. After all, what good is all that losing if you can't truly suffer through it?

Pro sports is littered with fan bases that generally don't understand the intricacies of the sports they watch, for a variety of reasons. I have a feeling, for example, that with all the warm winter weather and surrounding theme park attractions, your garden variety Orlando Magic fan wouldn't be able to explain the intricacies of the pick and roll, let alone a 2-2-1 halfcourt zone defense.

Same goes for Arizona Cardinals fans. Did it break their hearts to watch their team implode against the Bears on Monday? Sure. Are they going to be driven to drink heavy doses of hard liquor by it? No.

In both cases, ignorance is bliss. Not so in Cleveland, particularly when it comes to the Browns. No, if you were born and raised in Cleveland, you not only were weaned on the Browns, you grew up in a place where there is nothing else to get you through the cold, dark winters. Well, now we have LeBron James, but before that, there was nothing else.

Either by choice or sheer limit of options, you watched the Browns. You absorbed the game of football like a sponge. You learned to tell the difference between an actual holding call and a bullshit holding call. You became aware that the receiver was dropping the ball because he was using his body instead of his hands. You even found out that those hapless Browns defenders were sliding off Jamal Lewis like falling leaves because they were taking poor routes to the ball carrier and not getting enough leverage.

For better or worse, you not only learned the Browns. You learned the game. And that's what makes you the best fans in football. Any fan base can sell out a stadium because it's the thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Heck, the final 75 percent of the Indians' legendary 455 straight sellouts was largely because the Indians were the "thing to do."

But you sell out the games because you know football, and you need football. It's in your blood like cholesterol. It's not necessarily healthy, but it's there.

When you get down to it, the right team left in 1995. If the Indians or Cavaliers had left, tears would have been shed, no doubt. But it wouldn't have created the almost militaristic opposition the departure of the Browns did. We wouldn't have fought to keep the other two teams the way we did the Browns. We wouldn't have hammered away at the NBA or Major League Baseball the way we did the NFL, persisting until they threw us the bone of an expansion team, just so football wouldn't leave Cleveland forever.

If there is a final litmus test necessary to determine the best fans in football, that should be it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

This night was different from all others

Being an NBA fan is like being married to 29 other teams. You roll over in bed every winter, and see the same head buried in the same pillow that you've been seeing since before your hair went gray and you lost your ability to achieve an erection.

So, who can be faulted when your team wants to -- shall we say -- do some swinging? In the strictly religious sense, of course.

That's what drew my wandering heart to The Q last night to watch the Cavaliers play a rare contest against a non-NBA team: Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv, a Euroleague team that counts NBA players Anthony Parker and Sarunas Jasikevicius as alumni.

It was a curiosity more than anything else. Will Bynum was about the only player I recognized on Maccabi's roster. The Cavs' stars played three quarters, then sat when the game was in hand, allowing Shannon Brown, Daniel Gibson and Co. to close out the 93-67 win.

I went for the basketball, sure. But I also went because, as the familiar Passover recant goes, "This night is different from all others."

I'm not Jewish, but the idea of a Jewish-influenced sporting even intrigued me. I wanted to be a part of hoops with a side of matzo ball soup, if you will.

Newspaper reports in the days leading up to the game said a large portion of Cleveland's Jewish community were buying up tickets and planned to turn the game into a cultural event as much as a sporting event.

It was the truth. As many of us, including my friend Justin and I, traversed the concourses in our wine and gold attire, a number of people came wearing the bright yellow and blue of Maccabi. Other Jewish men were dressed in their traditional black finery. Many men and boys wore yamikas to the game, some brightly decorated with basketball themes.

The Maccabi cheering section wasn't big, but it was loud. Images of Israeli flags, both purchased and hand-drawn, made their way up onto the scoreboard to loud cheers.

The game wasn't close after the first quarter. But you got the sense that it didn't matter to the Maccabi supporters, who were simply getting a chance to see their team play on the big stage, in front of a live television audience.

It was a rare chance to see the Cavs play a different team, sure. It was also a rare chance to see basketball portrayed in a different light than the narrow scope of the NBA. This was basketball as a source of ethnic and religious pride, this was basketball captured in the frame of the rest of the world, tinged with political significance, with more meaning than the final score.

This might have been a rare time when everybody in the arena, save maybe for the Maccabi players themselves, came away as winners. The Cavs got some much-needed practice for the fast-approaching start of the season. Cavs fans got to see a win. Maccabi fans got to see a little bit of themselves take the floor of an NBA arena.

Maybe that makes them the biggest winners last night.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A conversation between friends

With the Tigers so busy making the World Series, they haven't really had a chance to visit the old neighborhood and catch up recently. Fortunately, the Tigers' ALCS sweep afforded them an opportunity to relax for a few days and see what some of the other teams have been doing as their offseasons begin.

The Tigers had a cup of coffee with the Indians early this week. Here's what went down:

Indians: So .... you're in the World Series.

Tigers: Yep. I'm thrilled.

Indians: I'll bet. Say, I remember the World Series. Wasn't too long ago I was there. Orel, Manny, Omar ... those were the days.

Tigers: Yep. Too bad you didn't win one. So, what's up? I don't see you talking much baseball anymore.

Indians: (quietly reeling from the "you didn't win one" comment) Huh? ... Oh, yeah. Well, see, the thing is, I've found a new focus. I've learned that this baseball thing really isn't about baseball. It's all about this new idea called "market."

Tigers: Market?

Indians: Yeah, market.

Tigers: Like where you go to buy groceries?

Indians: No, see, the whole point is that instead of shelling out the money to win, you simply use your market size as a constant justification for why you can't win. That way, whenever something goes wrong, you are held blameless. It's the market's fault.

Tigers: (looking confused). Uh ... well, I thought the whole point of the game was to win. I mean, I was losing for 20 years, and now I feel great.

Indians: That's what I used to think, too. But, man, all that winning really takes serious spending. And all for what? A title you might or might not win?

Tigers: I still don't understand. I mean, I'm going to be going out there next week trying like crazy to win a title.

Indians: OK, how do I explain this? You remember how you dumped Travis Fryman on the Diamondbacks a few years ago?

Tigers: Yeah, we didn't want to pay him a huge increase in free agency, so...

Indians: No, man! Then you're held accountable. It's the market. The market couldn't sustain a contract of that magnitude while maintaining short-term competitive assurances and long-term financial flexibility within the organization.

Tigers: Why are you busting out the legalese? It's freaking me out.

Indians: That's how you gotta talk. If you use all that financial, legal mumbo-jumbo, it makes it sound all official for the fans and stuff. How are they going to question you? They wouldn't know the inner working of a baseball organization from the inner workings of a particle accelerator.

Tigers: I don't like where this is going. Where's the Tribe I've known for so long? I'd kick your ass for 10 years, you'd kick my ass for 10 years, it was great. We were rivals, our fans would pour beer on each other, it was kind of like football.

Indians: Those days are gone now. It's a new century, a time for new thoughts and ideas.

Tigers: And a new way to lie to people....

Indians: I'm telling you, man. This is the new wave. The Brewers, the Royals, those guys are really onto something with their small-market blues. I decided about five years ago that I was sick of trying to chase rainbows like World Series titles. I wanted something more substantial, more attainable.

Tigers: So you went on welfare.

Indians: Man, screw you! You'll see. If you don't get on the boat now, you're going to miss it. And then what are you going to do?

Tigers: (muttering) ... Polish my World Series rings ...

Indians: What?

Tigers: Nothing. Look man, I have to go. It's been nice hanging, but I have a lot of work to do for next week. So I'll catch you around, maybe in March.

Indians: (as the Tigers get up and leave) Enjoy the pressure of being a champion next year! And all those Series bonuses you'll have to pay out.

Tigers: Yeah ... that's cool, man. Uh, I'll figure out a way. Later.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

You don't know destiny

Shame on you, Cleveland. Back in 1997, you put words in the mouths of the baseball gods.

You called the Indians a team of destiny that fall. You said it was written in some celestial document that the Indians were destined to be the World Series champions that year.

But you were living in a world of make believe. The baseball gods smited you for such fanciful thinking with a Jose Mesa-led sock to the gut in Game 7.

The truth is, the baseball gods are very upfront about what they ordain as a "team of destiny."
The 1997 Indians: Not a team of destiny. The 2003 Cubs: Not a team of destiny. The '04 Red Sox, '05 White Sox and '06 Tigers: Teams of destiny.

It's not like a mysterious, trench coat-wearing man handed the message to Bob Woodward in a deserted parking garage. It's pretty obvious which teams have been blessed in recent years. The Red Sox became the first team ever, in any major league sport, to rally from an 0-3 playoff series deficit, knocking out the hated Yankees in the ALCS, then sweeping the Cardinals in an anticlimactic World Series for their first title in 86 years.

The White Sox had good pitching in 2005. In the postseason, their pitching became unreal as they posted an 11-1 playoff record en route to their first title in 88 years. We won't see a postseason pitching performance like that of the '05 White Sox again for decades.

This year, the Tigers disposed of an overrated Yankees team in four games. While that was going on, the A's -- a team that we can now say, in retrospect, didn't belong in the ALCS -- were busy sweeping the Twins. Sabermetric egghead Bill James could spend the next five years trying to quantify mathematically how, exactly, the halfway-decent A's could sweep the vaunted pitching staff of the Twins right out of the playoffs, and never figure it out.

The A's found Minnesota on the one week since June that they didn't play well. Oakland's victory eliminated Detroit's biggest obstacle to a championship, then the A's went back to being the champions of a weak division they always were.

These things don't just happen by accident.

The Tigers have nothing to fear as they await the winner of the NLCS. The baseball gods make damn sure their teams of destiny have no problems fulfilling their purpose. The winner of the NLCS is guaranteed to be a lamb to the slaughter.

Just in case the momentum and talent discrepancy isn't enough, the baseball gods will probably let the Cardinals and Mets slug it out for seven draining games, just to be sure the NL champion arrives in Motown not only overmatched, but dog tired as well.

The Tigers appear primed for a World Series sweep befitting a team of destiny. If that comes to pass, the NL will be on a 12-game losing streak in the World Series.

Detroit, Chicago and Boston, they know destiny. Cleveland, you have no idea what destiny is. And don't try to find out. The baseball gods, they'll let you know in no uncertain terms.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The legacy of Jim Paxson

With today's trade of Luke Jackson, one of the final pieces of Jim Paxson's Cavaliers was trimmed from the roster.

Paxson's last first round pick went the way of all the other first-rounders not named LeBron James. Jackson spent the majority of his time with the Cavs injured, unhappy or glued to the bench. Reports today said he had been pining for a trade for more than a year.

Jackson is Paxson's last brushstroke in a legacy of draft-day failure that created a hole the Cavs are still trying to completely climb out of, even with the presence of LeBron.

When Paxson was finally fired in May 2005, we easily saw it coming. Some of us thought it was overdue.

But his drafts, his coaching hires, his role in botching the contract of Carlos Boozer, it doesn't all add up to the sum of Paxson's tenure.

Many of the reasons Danny Ferry is enjoying initial success as the Cavs GM is because of what Paxson did before him. And for that, Paxson deserves to be viewed as more than just another pair of bad hands that mishandled the Cavs like so many before.

Don't get me wrong, the Cavs are most definitely in better hands now. But if Paxson understood one thing, it was that NBA teams need financial flexibility.

His moves (or non-moves) are a big reason Ferry has been able to build a competent roster around LeBron, a starting point to arrive, maybe someday, at a championship.

It started in 2000, when Paxson was able to dump Shawn Kemp's massive contract. You might poke fun at the fact that one of Paxson's greatest triumphs was getting rid of a player, but that $100 million contract Kemp signed after coming over from Seattle in a Wayne Embry-engineered trade could have saddled the Cavs for years with an overweight, unmotivated shell of a player.

It could very easily have been the worst contract in Cavs history. Instead, Paxson was able to push Kemp off the team's chest for expiring contracts.

In the summer of 2002, Andre Miller was the team's best player. He wanted a maximum contract, or he'd bolt town as a free agent the following summer. Paxson could have grasped at straws. He could have appeased Miller with a max deal, keeping the closest thing to a good player the Cavs had.

Instead, he went out on a limb and dealt Miller to the Clippers for Darius Miles. It wasn't so much that they got Miles, a career underachiever who desperately needed to play college ball, it was that Paxson didn't cave to Miller's demands. He kept the big picture in mind.

History has proven Paxson right. Miller, while a solid point guard and certainly better than anyone the Cavs have at the moment, is far from a max-deal type of player. The Nuggets, at times, appear to be less than satisfied with their investment in Miller.

Isiah Thomas could learn a thing or two from that approach as he continues to run the Knicks into the ground.

Prior to that 2002-03 season, Paxson unloaded the cumbersome deals of Wesley Person and Lamond Murray, looking ahead to coming summers with cap room. Eventually, with the departure of Carlos Boozer and the expiration of Zydrunas Ilgauskas' last contract, Paxson left Ferry with $28 million to spend in the summer of 2005.

On the heels of the Boozer debacle, in which Paxson and owner Gordon Gund can only be accused of being too trusting, Paxson had arguably his finest strategic moment as Cavs' GM.

With the franchise reeling from Boozer's shocking departure and every reason to throw in the towel, Paxson took his obvious anger and focused it on his work. Several days after acquiring Eric Snow from the 76ers, he authored a brilliant trade that could help the Cavs for years to come.

Winning the 2003 draft lottery might have been Paxson's finest moment at a GM, but trading bench big Tony Battie and a pair of second-rounders to the Magic for Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao was Paxson's greatest move, some karmic payback for trusting a player who went back on his word.

Armed with LeBron, Gooden, Varejao and $28 million in cap room, Ferry was able to hit the ground running in his first months as Cleveland's GM.

Ferry made the moves that put the Cavs in the playoffs for the first time in eight years, but Paxson made the moves that set Ferry up.

Jackson is gone. Sasha Pavlovic might be next. Slowly, Paxson's signature appears to be getting erased from the face of the Cavs. But, in a very real way, it isn't.

Early returns say Ferry is doing a better overall job as GM, but every time Gooden snaps off a rebound and Varejao takes a charge, every time Larry Hughes sinks a bucket, Donyell Marshall sinks a three-ball and Damon Jones nails a game-winner, Paxson is at least indirectly responsible.

Nobody will confuse Paxson with Red Auerbach, or even John Paxson, his older brother whom he now serves under in the Bulls front office. But Paxson deserves better than to have his name spat out when mentioned in Cleveland circles.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life, history and airplanes

One second was all it took. An errant left turn under a thick October cloud deck on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

In one second, terror gripped those below, sixty-one months to the day after the World Trade Center fell.

Fire and smoke, billowing out of a high-rise. Talk of impact zones and hurried evacuations. The nation's air defense pounced into action. It was all too sickeningly familiar.
Then we exhaled. Once. It was a small plane.

But the next breath, we choked on. It wasn't just any small plane. It was registered to a Yankee.

"God, who was it? Was he on board?" we wondered with that voyeuristic curiosity that only celebrities can provide.

Yes, we learned shortly. It was Cory Lidle. He was dead at 34. Within the next day or two, he would have flown home to his wife and six-year-old son.

Then another sickening tragedy came to mind. This was Thurman Munson all over again.
The 1979 death of Thurman Munson, who crashed near the Akron-Canton airport, was so similar, and so equally unfair.

A baseball player on baseball's most famous team in the world's largest media market, using his passion for the sky as a way to lift himself out of the crucible of being a Yankee in New York City, if only for a time. The vast wealth of Munson and Lidle allowed them to indulge their hobby. Their vast wealth allowed them to fly their planes with little air experience. Their vast wealth might have killed them.

Lidle wasn't a Yankee in the sense that Munson was a Yankee. Munson was the captain of two world championship teams, the rocksteady catcher who handled the masterpieces of Ron Guidry. Lidle was a journeyman pitcher who came to the Yankees from Philadelphia in July. The Yankees were his seventh team.

Losing Munson in a midseason plane crash was a terrifying shock. It ripped out the heart and soul of the team, and they never really recovered until their next World Series title in 1996.
Losing Lidle is more a tragedy to the baseball community at large. You don't spend time with seven different teams without meeting a lot of people.

Reaction poured out over the airwaves Wednesday evening.

It's just sadder than sad," Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson told reporters. "It's horrific. It's almost unbelievable. It's a surreal moment."

Peterson was Lidle's pitching coach during his time with the Athletics.

"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement released to the media Wednesday.

It's just not right. On the same day that Lidle died, Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson was charged in connection with an altercation outside an Indianapolis night club. Jackson reportedly was punched, hit by a car and fired warning shots in the air from a gun he was carrying.

While other athletes spend their free time smoking pot, getting into altercations at night clubs, recklessly riding motorcycles, shooting up steroids and abusing their women, Lidle was spending his free time trying to find peace in the one place where it always is: in the sky, hundreds and thousands of feet above the din of civilization. For that, he paid with his life.

"No matter what's going on in your life, when you get up in that plane, everything's gone," he told Comcast SportsNet in April.

Next April, he won't be in uniform. And there will only be an empty locker in Yankee Stadium that once bore his name.

Out in California, there is now a widow and a child without a father.

All it took was one second and a wrong turn in the October sky.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

MLB playoffs: LCS

Thank you, Mets. Thank you for saving me from an embarrassing 0-for-4 in my division series predictions. Not that 1-3 is much better.
So we're just going to reset ourselves and hope to do better with the league pennants on the line. I have a sneaking suspicion I will.


Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
In 1972, these same two teams met in the ALCS. The A's won, and it started a string of three straight World Series titles. Those A's had Reggie Jackson, these A's have Frank Thomas. But unlike the '72 team, there isn't a Catfish Hunter in the bunch.

The Tigers are fresh off an emotional series win over the overhyped and overrated Yankees (Doesn't it feel good to say that?), a series win that washed away the momentary disappointment of losing the division to the since-dispatched Twins on the last day of the season.

The Tigers are riding high, feeding off a fan base that has waited almost 20 years for this. They feel like they can beat anybody right now, and they have the pitching to back it up.

From a purely nuts-and-bolts angle, the Tigers have a far deeper pitching staff than the A's. That will be the difference in the series. The Tigers and A's will split the first two in in Oakland, but when the series shifts to loud, rowdy Comerica, it will be all Tigers.

A first pennant since 1984 is in the cards for Detroit.
Tigers in five


St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets
Maybe the ex-Indian factor played a role in the Padres losing their first-round series with the Cards. But on which side of the fence will the bad Cleveland karma land in this series?

The Cards have Ronnie Belliard, the Mets have Guillermo Mota. Both were purged as part of the veteran fire sale the Tribe conducted this summer.

On paper, this series looks like it shouldn't even be close. The Mets have the skindeep upper hand with deeper pitching and a better offense.

But the Mets don't have Albert Pujols. And they do have Mota in a very important late-inning role, charged with getting the ball to closer Billy Wagner.

My feeling is the Mets will win a squeaker, setting a dramatic World Series moment in which ex-Indian Mota is facing Pudge Rodriguez in the deciding game, and hacks up one of his trademark dead-red fastballs to Pudge. He'll hammer it deep into the Detroit night, handing the Tigers their first championship in 22 years, and proving that yes, Virginia, you can go home to Cleveland again.
Mets in seven

Monday, October 09, 2006

Catching up with Trajan

Saturday's exhibition matchup between the Clippers and Russian club CSKA Moscow gave us the answers to two burning questions:

Is former Cavaliers first-round bust Trajan Langdon still in professional basketball?

Has America's grip on the sport slipped to the point that a Russian club can stomp an NBA playoff team?

Yes and yes.

The Clippers were gracious guests in the Russian capital, playing the willing role of punching bag as Langdon and Euroleague champions CSKA Moscow rolled 94-75.

I think it's painfully obvious: the Clippers did indeed come within a win of the Western Conference finals last spring, but they are still the Clippers, and should not be representing American basketball interests overseas.

Langdon scored 17 points, which is roughly his aggregate point total during three seasons with Cleveland.

The Clips' reaction to getting schooled by a team from a hockey state that Ronald Reagan once referred to as "the evil empire"?

Ooooh, just wait 'til next time. We're going to show those Russkies.

"I'd love to come back and play these guys when we're definitely in shape -- to show them what we can do," Corey Maggette said.

Yep, that's right. Maggette is making excuses. For losing to a team from Russia. Next time, once his team lays off the Pizza Hut and hits the treadmill (which their zillion-dollar paychecks and free summers allow them zero time to do), they'll beat CSKA Moscow. For sure.

I'd love to see him make the same excuse when the Clippers lose to the Bobcats.

"It was the Grey Goose and the hookers from last night. I swear! If we weren't hungover and sexually exhausted, we beat Charlotte easy."

Langdon, who is apparently carving a nice living out for himself after being discarded by the NBA, was unavailable for comment.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Morning After: Carolina

Panthers 20, Browns 12
Record: 1-4

The Panthers are what the Browns want to be when they grow up.

In a game when both offenses looked impotent, both defenses had a chance to pick up the slack. The practiced Panthers defense did just that, giving Jake Delhomme and the offense enough breathing room to scratch out an ugly, eight-point win.

At some point in the future, the Browns would love to hitch Kamerion Wimbley to the wagon and ride him to paydirt the way the Panthers did with Julius Peppers Sunday. Peppers netted just one sack and five tackles, but he was in the backfield all day harassing Charlie Frye, stunting the running game, being a pest.

The Carolina defense was good enough that the 13 points Carolina's offense produced was enough to win the game.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Panther defense was good Sunday, true. But it's not like they'd be confused with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Cleveland's offense also deserves credit for being, once again, a tangled mess of penalties, botched plays and confusing playcalling.

Any time the Browns managed to grasp a shred of success, a penalty or dud play would suck the life right out of the drive. It would be upsetting if it wasn't so common. Instead, it's just annoying. By season's end, it will probably be accepted as the norm.

Once again, the offensive line struggled to protect Frye and open holes for Reuben Droughns. Frye was sacked twice but flushed from the pocket numerous other times. Peppers' lone sack of Frye caused a fumble and turnover shortly before halftime.

The blame can't all be placed at the feet of the O-line, though. Frye and the receivers also deserve some of the spotlight.

Frye, at times, looks like he should be holding a clipboard instead of playing. Frye is getting the full Tim Couch treatment of learning on the fly behind a porous offensive line that causes him to get the tar beaten out of him weekly. The difference between Couch and Frye is the Frye is far more mobile. That's a double-edged sword. One on hand, Frye can scramble, but he also tends to lead with his head far more than his legs when in the open field. Someday, that might result in him leaving the field on a cart.

Frye doesn't have the most reliable targets in the world in Dennis Northcutt and Braylon Edwards, who were both plagued with the dropsies again this week. When your starting tight end (Kellen Winslow) and your third receiver (Joe Jurevicius) have the best hands in your receiver corps, it doesn't bode well for your long passing game.

Winslow and Jurevicius combined for 11 catches and a total of 83 yards. Deep threats Edwards and Northcutt: four catches and 38 yards, though Northcutt did leave the game near halftime with a rib cage injury.

Stat of the week: in 12 career starts, Frye has thrown zero fourth-quarter touchdown passes and seven fourth-quarter interceptions. He's still young, but that's not a good trend by any means.

Cleveland's defense continued to look like the burgeoning force on the roster. They still allowed too many big running plays, this time to DeShaun Foster, but showed positive, if inconsistent, ability to stop Carolina drives and get into the backfield.

Daven Holly and Brodney Pool were the emergency starters at cornerback. On paper, you'd think Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson would have had a field day. But they were held in check, netting 11 catches and 129 yards between them. Johnson had the lone Carolina TD.

The Panthers were held to six second-half points by the Cleveland defense, which allowed the Browns to at least put the fear of an upset into the heavily-favored Panthers. But every time kick returner Josh Cribbs -- who totaled 162 yards in kickoff and punt returns -- put the Browns' offense in good field position, the drive invariably stalled and the Browns settled for a field goal.

Great for people who have Phil Dawson on their fantasy team. Bad for the Browns.

All second half, up until the final few minutes of the game, it appeared the Browns were one big play from getting back into the game, but the play never came.

When the big play was needed, the Panthers defense, not the Browns offense, came through.

That's the mark of a championship-caliber team. Even on a Sunday ripe for a letdown, playing a last-place team on a soggy field, the Panthers were still able to make the plays to win the game.

For the Browns, it's lesson time. The Panthers just gave them an excellent primer on how to win a game in spite of yourself. That's a lesson the Browns desperately need to learn. Luckily, they have two weeks to study before their next game.

Up next: Denver, Oct. 22, 4 p.m.

Shapiro unplugged

What Mark Shapiro would tell you if he were totally candid about himself and the state of the Indians:

1. The 2006 season disillusioned him about winning in Cleveland, at least temporarily.
Maybe it was the the bitterness of his first real taste of defeat as a GM, but Shapiro appears to be sulking his way into the offseason. The can-do attitude of offseasons past has been replaced with an attitude of "We're going to do what we can, but there's only so much we can do."

His quote in last week's Plain Dealer, "Had we not traded (Bob Wickman), we're looking at [an] 82-, 84- or 85-win season. That would have been a positive outcome for this market." is a dead giveaway that Shapiro is starting to view the Indians as a low-ceiling team.

You'd hate to think the Indians are going to get a half-hearted effort from Shapiro this winter, but all the offseasons of fighting the financial current with little to show for it might be taking their toll.

2. If the Indians are to get to the playoffs, it will be an overachievement.
Shapiro has come to the conclusion that he cannot put a playoff team on the field per se. The best he can do is put an 80-85 win team on the field and hope that the stars align better than they did in 2005.

Every year is a roll of the dice. While the White Sox, Twins and Tigers will be regular playoff (or at the very least pennant race) participants, the Indians will strike far less regularly, forced to patch new holes in the roster every year on a shoestring.

3. He's not chasing after big bats because he's been burned in free agency before.
Any major improvements Shapiro makes to this team will almost certainly come through a trade. Last offseason's free agency futility showed Shapiro that not only are the Indians financially overmatched, they're gaining a tightwad reputation among players and agents.

Usually, a visit to Cleveland serves only as a means for a free agent to up the ante with the team he really wants to sign with. B.J Ryan and Trevor Hoffman did that, playing the Indians to perfection last winter to squeeze huge deals from the Blue Jays and Padres.

Shapiro is probably sick of playing the pawn, so he's not even going to touch the upper -- or middle -- tiers of the free agent market this winter.

4. He's not satisfied with the job Eric Wedge did as manager this year, but ...
... firing him now would make him look like the fall guy for Shapiro's bad moves this past winter. Wedge was Shapiro's hand-picked manager. Both have expiring contracts next fall. They have one shot to make this work next year, or the Dolans reserve the right to perform an organizational reset.

5. If a bigger market team needs a GM in 2008, Shapiro is listening.
It's easy to be the GM of a small-market baseball team if you resign yourself to the fact that winning will be somewhere between extremely difficult and virtually impossible depending on the previous season's gate revenue.

If you don't accept that fact, being the GM of a small market team will inevitably wear you out. It takes so much more work just to keep pace with higher-payroll teams, and there is so much failure involved, that even the best small-market GMs reach their breaking point. After five seasons trying to spin straw into gold, Shapiro might be reaching that point.

Like any small-market GM, he is starting to see how ridiculous the market fight really is in baseball. He's human, he covets what he doesn't have. What GMs like the White Sox's Ken Williams do have: the safety net of a competitive payroll.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Indians final grades

In a follow up to my midterm grades for the team in July, it's time to give the Indians another progress report. "Progress" being a relative term. (Midterm grades in parenthesis.)

The lineup

Casey Blake, OF/1B
.282, 19 HR, 68 RBI
As far as manager Eric Wedge is concerned, Blake is an uber-Indian. He's so versatile, you need to wear versatility shades to watch him play. Once a serviceable third baseman who put his ego on the shelf to become a serviceable right fielder, he again put his ego on the shelf to become a serviceable first baseman.
Wedge and Mark Shapiro agree: he's a great player for this market.
Grade: B (B-plus)

Aaron Boone, 3B
.251, 7 HR, 46 RBI
In the words of Bob Hope, thanks for the memories.
Grade: D (C-minus)

Shin-Soo Choo, OF
.295, 3 HR, 22 RBI
If he's going to hold down a lineup spot, Choo has to do one of two things: hit for enough power to justify placing him in a corner outfield spot, or get on base enough to justify placing him first or second in the order.
My money is on the latter.
Grade: B (acquired after midterms)

Ryan Garko, 1B
.292, 7 HR, 45 RBI
I love what he brought to the table after being promoted in the second half. However, it would be a mistake to simply hand him the first baseman's job in spring training. He's not done earning his place on the team yet.
Grade B-plus (promoted after midterms)

Franklin Gutierrez, OF
.272, 1 HR, 8 RBI
He raised his batting average significantly from his .229 at midterms, but it's a hollow victory since it brought nothing in the way of production.
As of right now, Gutierrez is nary more than a fourth outfielder.
Grade: C-minus (C)

Travis Hafner, DH
.308, 42 HR, 117 RBI
And to think, he did it all in five months before a broken hand cost him September.
If the Indians can't find the cash to lock Pronk up past 2008, or at least force a big market team to pay through the nose to pry him away, the Dolan regime will officially be a joke in my book.
Grade: A (A)

Joe Inglett, 2B
.284, 2 HR, 21 RBI
See Shin-Soo Choo. And my money is on neither.
A respectable bench player, nothing more.
C-plus (Incomplete)

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B/DH
.214, 3 HR, 11 RBI
Right now, "The Kouz" serves the valuable purpose of pushing Andy Marte for the third baseman's job next spring. But as much of a fan favorite as Kouzmanoff is becoming, the only way he doesn't start the season in Buffalo next year is if Marte completely bombs in spring training.
Grade: Incomplete (promoted after midterms)

Hector Luna, IF
.276, 2 HR, 17 RBI
If his glove settles back down, he can be a good utility player, but little more. I still find it difficult to believe that both he and Inglett might make the 25-man roster next April. But that might be the case.
Grade: C (acquired after midterms)

Andy Marte, 3B
.226, 5 HR, 23 RBI
He has yet to impress, but he is still the frontrunner to be the team's starting third baseman on opening day.
In my book, he is a future Gold Glove third baseman who will never hit for a high average but should provide 30-homer power every year. Not a heart-of-the-order hitter, but a good option hitting sixth or seventh.
Grade: C (promoted after midterms)

Victor Martinez, C/1B
.316, 16 HR, 93 RBI
Martinez can thank Garko for saving his catcher's job late in the season. It would still be a better scenario if Martinez could take his proficient bat to a less-taxing defensive position, but it appears Martinez is locked in at catcher for the foreseeable future.
Grade B-plus (B-plus)

Jason Michaels, LF
.267, 9 HR, 55 RBI
Got to love his hustle, but I still get the feeling that Michaels is another Casey Blake, a "four-A" player who can only be a respectable major leaguer if he overachieves to the nth degree. Guys like Michaels and Blake are great for rounding out the roster, but you don't want them to be a major ingredient in your foundational concrete.
Grade: C-plus (B-minus)

Jhonny Peralta, SS
.257, 13 HR, 68 RBI
Too often this year, he seemed clueless or disinterested at the plate and in the field. He started to ramp up in the final two weeks of the season, but it's only a small sample of what is going to be needed for him to stay in the team's long-term picture.
As it is, the Indians are going to roll the dice and hope this year was an aberration. If it wasn't, they're in trouble.
Grade: C-minus (C-minus)

Kelly Shoppach, C
.245, 3 HR, 16 RBI
He played like a backup catcher and put up the stats of a backup catcher. The only thing that puts him in the conversation for starting is his arm, far better than that of Martinez.
Grade: C-plus (Incomplete)

Grady Sizemore, CF
.290, 28 HR, 76 RBI
He's so good as a leadoff hitter that part of me wants to keep him there. But with his bat in the third slot, he could easily have passed the 30 HR, 100-RBI mark. If they can find a competent leadoff hitter (Choo, are you listening?), I'd be all for a Sizemore-Hafner tandem batting third and fourth, the back-to-back lefties theory be damned.
Grade: A (A)

The pitching

Rafael Betancourt
3-4, 3.81 ERA
I still haven't seen anything out of him that makes me think he's any more than a solid middle reliever. But the Indians reportedly will continue to try and shoehorn him in as a setup man.
Grade: C (C)

Andrew Brown
No record, 3.60 ERA
Live arm, questionable control. Possibly trade bait to find a more experienced reliever.
Grade: Incomplete (promoted after midterms)

Paul Byrd
10-9, 4.88 ERA
He started slowly, improved in the middle of the season, then slumped again in September. A passable No. 4 starter, but there's no way he's earning his $7 million salary.
Grade: C-minus (C)

Fernando Cabrera
3-3, 5.19 ERA
Suddenly, like magic, the light bulb went on in August and he became competent again. Kind of like the team.
If he wants to realize his potential, he needs to bring it for six months, otherwise he's a waste of time.
Grade: C (D)

Fausto Carmona
1-10, 5.42 ERA
He was "Tim Couched" by the Indians in the middle of the season, thrown into the ninth inning fire with very little preparation.
Unlike Couch, his handlers suddenly came to their senses and reinstated him as a starter, where he showed steady improvement as the season drew to a close.
If Shapiro has any sense, Carmona will start next season in the rotation, otherwise they will mess up this promising young pitcher beyond repair.
Grade: C-minus (B)

Jason Davis
3-2, 3.74 ERA
His stuff is mouth-watering, but he rarely impresses. This has been going on for parts of five seasons. Something tells me he's going to be traded in the offseason.
Grade: C (D)

Jeremy Guthrie
No record, 6.98 ERA
His contract is up, as is his time with the Indians. Both sides tried and failed to make it work.
Don't be a stranger, Jeremy. Stop in and visit sometime.
Grade: D (Incomplete)

Juan Lara
No record, 1.80 ERA
The sample of his work is too small for any real analysis. He might have a future as a situational lefty.
Grade: Incomplete (promoted after midterms)

Cliff Lee
14-11, 4.40 ERA
He somewhat rescued a disappointing season in September. His ability to go deep into games is a concern. He simply can't fall as hard as he consistently did in the sixth and seventh innings this year. Perhaps conditioning is the issue?
Grade: B-minus (B)

Tom Mastny
5 saves, 5.51 ERA
He saved the closer's role to some degree, but he blew a few saves, too. He's not a closer, but he might have a future in the bullpen.
Grade: C (promoted after midterms)

Matt Miller
0-1, 3.45 ERA
I wrongly declared his career dead and buried when he reinjured his elbow for the umpteenth time earlier this year. He did a reasonably good job in September and appears to be in line for a bullpen spot next year.
Grade: C (injured at midterms)

Edward Mujica
No record, 2.95 ERA
Do the Indians really need two Raffy Betancourts?
Grade: C-plus (promoted after midterms)

C.C. Sabathia
12-11, 3.22 ERA
I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to fall in the trap. The instant I declare C.C. an ace is the instant he starts next season 0-4 with a 6-plus ERA. He had a fine finish, that's all I'm going to say.
Grade: B (B-minus)

Brian Sikorski
0-2, 4.58 ERA
Thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.
C-minus (acquired after midterms)

Brian Slocum
No record, 5.60 ERA
He moved to the rotation at season's end. I doubt he'll be there to start next season without an overhaul of the rotation. If anything, he can be a nice insurance policy at Buffalo.
Grade: C (promoted after midterms)

Jeremy Sowers
7-4, 3.57 ERA

The Indians were right to shut him down in September. I would have done it even sooner. He looks like the meal ticket for this rotation in years to come.
Grade: B-plus (Incomplete)

Jake Westbrook
15-10, 4.17 ERA
He's the quintessential middle-rotation starter. He keeps churning out consistent decent work. I have no problems with him.
Grade: B

Off the field

Eric Wedge, Manager
If a team is a reflection of the manager, look no further than the team's record as a mathematical quantification. In Wedge's case, it's a mediocre 78-84.
Grade: C-minus (C-minus)

Mark Shapiro, General Manager
His winter moves put this team behind the eight-ball. His summer moves were a direct consequence of the non-contention the winter moves caused, but they were still mostly good given the situation. Choo, for one, looks like a solid find.
Grade: C-plus (C-minus)

Larry and Paul Dolan, owners
They haven't earned their grades yet. They have set the table by promising a significant increase in payroll for 2007. We'll see what happens from here.
Grade: Incomplete (C)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pacers with guns

Want to know who is going to win the NBA's Eastern Conference this year?

You can probably eliminate the Indiana Pacers right about .... now.

This from the Associated Press via

"Indiana Pacers player Stephen Jackson was hit in the mouth, struck by a car and fired a gun outside a strip club early Friday, police said. Jackson, 28, told officers he fired his 9 mm pistol four or five times in the air in self-defense after he was punched and hit by a car outside the club, said Sgt. Matthew Mount, spokesman for the Indianapolis Police Department.
Jackson went up onto the hood of the car, Mount said."

"... An argument involving patrons, Jackson and other members of the Pacers began inside the club, Mount said. The players said they left the club, but patrons followed them outside.
'At some point when leaving the club, a verbal altercation ensued that turned into a physical altercation,' Mount said."

"... The other Pacers at the scene were Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels and Jimmie Hunter.
Tinsley and Daniels also had guns in their cars, and all three players had permits for the weapons, Mount said, although Daniels' permit was issued in Florida."

So let me get this straight: Jackson, the best player on the team, allegedly just fired a gun in the air and got rammed by a car? And Tinsley and Daniels, two other potential starters, had guns in their cars? In downtown Indianapolis, where the primary danger is uneven concrete on the sidewalks?

If this is how the Pacers celebrate their coach's contract extension, heaven only knows what they do at a birthday party.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rockin' the World

If you're a Cavaliers fan who thinks World B. Free is getting the shaft each day the rafters at The Q are left devoid of his jersey number, you're in luck.

Why let his old jersey gather dust in the rafters when you can slap it on the backs of the current team?

The Akron Beacon Journal's Brian Windhorst made a reference to the Cavs' forthcoming "orange" alternate uniforms in a column earlier this week. In a follow-up e-mail, I asked if that meant the Cavs were breaking out the World B. Free traffic-cone orange threads.

His response: "I believe that to be true."

Sweet. the World rocks once again, and we get to wonder what it would have been like with LeBron slashing to the hoop, drawing the double team and kicking it out to World for the three-point bomb. All the while, the Cavs get to prop up a highly-underappreciated era and player in their history, a guy who might very well have saved basketball in Cleveland.

Good karma pays forward. I can smell a championship from here.

Bang for the buck

What baseball team gets the most bang for their payroll buck? With 78 wins this year, you wouldn't think the Indians would be near the top of the list.

You'd be wrong.

According to a list compiled by's Dayn Perry, the Indians are one of the most dollar-efficient teams in baseball. With a 2006 ending payroll of $56,795,867 and 78 wins, each win cost the Indians an average of $728,152 this year, good enough for seventh place among baseball's 30 teams.

The most efficient team was the Marlins, with a Major League low $14,344,500 payroll and 78 wins for an average of $192,288 paid out per win.

Other teams more efficient than the Indians were the Rockies ($541,223 per win), Devil Rays ($580,622), Pirates ($600,519), Twins ($664,688) and Athletics ($670,129) .

Of course, it can be argued that the Twins and A's got the most bang for their buck in the end since they are the two most efficient teams that made the playoffs.

The least efficient team, no surprise, is the Yankees. With a $198,662,180 payroll and 97 wins, the Yanks averaged a whopping $2,048,063 paid out for each win.

To put it in perspective, to be more efficient than the Indians were with 78 wins, the Yankees would have needed 273 wins this year, which would have given them an average of $727,700 per win.

As we all know, 273 wins would only be possible if Major League Baseball converted to the metric system.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Swingin' in Baltimore

Roch Kubatko is a Baltimore Sun writer who maintains a daily sports blog for From my limited exposure to it, it appears he spends most of the time live blogging Orioles games and chronicling just how painful it is to follow the Orioles at the moment.

But a few weeks ago, he took some time away from baseball to weigh in on the Cavaliers' dismissal of Michael Reghi. Reghi, as many of you know, was also the Orioles' TV voice for quite a few years.

Kubatko echoed the sentiments of most of us: Reghi was jobbed, and it was a low blow on the part of Cavs management to can him so late in the off-season after all the good NBA announcer gigs were taken.

Kubatko also took the pulse of the Cleveland media. He quoted columns by The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston, The Akron Beacon Journal's Terry Pluto, the Lake County News Herald's Bob Finnan, the Medina Gazette's Rick Noland, and Erik Cassano's Weblog.

Whaaaa?? Erik Cassano's Weblog? Mentioned in the same analytical breath as Livingston, Pluto and two Cavs beat reporters?

Kubatko knows I don't get paid to do this, right?

Shapiro not looking for bats

Just so we're clear, Indians GM Mark Shapiro thinks his team has enough offense for next year.

In an Plain Dealer article Wednesday, Shapiro basically scoffed at the idea of adding a big bat to the lineup.

"So that would mean we'd finish first in the big leagues in runs instead of second?" he sarcastically asked reporters.

Any wet dreams you had about Gary Sheffield or Alfonso Soriano donning the Wahoo next year can be quickly put to bed. The Indians aren't looking for sticks. And to me, that's flawed thinking by Shapiro.

Is rebuilding the bullpen the number one priority? Of course, and Shapiro is right to jump on that the instant the World Series ends. But if you focus solely on the bullpen and neglect other areas of the team, it's going to become a repeat of last offseason. Shapiro and his crew are going to head into the winter with the best of intentions and come out with a team that is worse for the wear.

The ability of Shapiro to improve the bullpen is going to be extremely limited this winter, as will be the case for every GM in baseball. The well might quickly run dry.

This year's free agent class of relievers is downright sad. There isn't a Bob Wickman in the bunch, let alone a Trevor Hoffman or B.J. Ryan. All the big-name relievers like Eric Gagne, Keith Foulke and Dustin Hermanson come with major injury caveats. Beyond that is a long list of has-beens and never-will-be's.

There are always trades, but what are the odds that any team that has a reliever worth acquiring is going to want to trade him?

Look at it this way: if the infinitely-endowed Yankees are trotting out Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth in playoff games, you know the bullpen situation is bleak throughout baseball.

So while the Indians are busy grasping at straws, trying to find veteran relievers to stabilize the bullpen, a far stronger class of hitters and starting pitchers will pass them by.

If you can't really address a weakness the way you want to, strengthen the strengths of your team. It all adds up to the net sum of improving the team. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Shapiro is thinking that way.

If the Indians approach next season with the same offense, the same starting rotation and a markedly improved bullpen, I'll be happy. But if Shapiro doesn't widen his scope of thinking, it is highly likely that the Indians will approach next season with the same offense, the same starting rotation, and Octavio Dotel (or worse) as the closer. I have a big problem with that.

If you can't pull the bullpen entirely out of the mud, and the free agency and trade landscape says you won't, at least add to the offense and starting pitching so they can mask your weakness, and try to do some more tinkering with the 'pen early in the season.

This is a make-or-break year for Shapiro. He is a free agent GM next fall. If he wants to cash in with elite GM bucks, either here or elsewhere, he can ill-afford to sit on his hands this winter. GMs of 78-84 teams generally don't cash in. And that's what Shapiro is right now.