Friday, June 30, 2006
Apparently, GM Mark Shapiro is making up his mind for him.
The Indians dealt veteran first baseman Eduardo Perez to the Mariners today for Class AAA shortstop Asdrudal Cabrera. Ryan Garko was called up to take Perez's place on the big-league roster, and will probably take his place in the first-base platoon situation with Ben Broussard.
This trade comes a little more than a week after Jason Johnson was designated for assigment and subsequently traded to Boston.
Shapiro has repeatedly said the roster will not undergo a major overhaul, but the club would pursue trades of opportunity.
My guess is that Bob Wickman will probaly be dealt, or at least seriously shopped around, before the end of July. Bullpen help is hard to find, and the Indians could probably start a minor bidding war for Wickman's services.
The major hurdle is convincing Wickman to waive his 10/5 no-trade rights.
Other Tribe players potentially on the trading block are Guillermo Mota, Paul Byrd, Ronnie Belliard and Aaron Boone.
Northwestern football coach Randy Walker died Thursday night of an apparent heart attack. He was 52.
He had been treated for chest pains before, checking himself into the hospital in 2004 where he was diagnosed with myocarditis and ordered to begin changing his high-impact lifestyle, which he was reportedly doing.
At the time, Walker offered a quote that now makes his death truly sickening:
"I've really taken my doctor's orders to heart, because frankly, I want to see my grandkids someday."
It's a wonder this doesn't happen to more football coaches. Being a major college coach is a high-stress, seven-day-a-week job that seldom relents. Weeks during the fall are spent dissecting film, reviewing scouting reports, altering the playbook and conducting practices. In the offseason, a coach has to become a tireless recruiter, attending high-school showcase games, visiting homes and, once again, dissecting hours upon hours of videotape.
It's no wonder a coach's diet is comprised mostly of things that come in paper wrappers or plastic bags. It's no wonder a coach's sleep schedule is fractured and his exercise regimen is almost nonexsistent.
Combine a diet high in fat, sodium and cholestrol, a lack of sleep and no exercise with heart-pounding stress, and health problems are almost unavoidable.
We saw it with Butch Davis here in Cleveland. In his four years as coach of the Browns, he packed on the pounds and was admittedly miserable by the time he severed ties with the club in 2004.
Davis' responsibilites in Cleveland were similar to that of a college coach. He was in charge of both the playbook and the roster, which in this hyper-complex age of quasi-warfare football, seems like too much to ask of one man.
Maybe college programs should start operating more like NFL teams. Give the personnel responsibilites to a separate person, and let the coach do the job that's in his title.
Most coaches probably wouldn't go for that right off the bat. But if given a choice between surrendering control of his roster and dying an early death, hopefully most coaches will look home to their families and make the right decision.
For the family of Randy Walker, it's too late. All we can hope is that he serves as a cautionary tale for others.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
If the Cavs weren't able to cash in with the 25th pick and two second-rounders, at least it wouldn't be because Ferry whiffed on a top 10 pick the way Paxson so often did. There's a limit to what you can do with the fifth-to-last pick in the first round.
Picking 25th lowered expectations from the fans enough that Ferry knew he wouldn't be facing a lynch mob if he didn't find an all-star. He wouldn't be branded an incompetent drafter as Paxson was. It's one of many pieces of Teflon armor provided the general managers of good teams.
But that doesn't mean the 25th pick didn't carry some significant weight for Ferry's team.
The pick was potentially the only first-rounder the Cavs could have in the span of three years. Failing to come through with something good could have ramifications far worse than angry callers to radio shows.
Every move Ferry makes is an opportunity to reinforce the good feelings LeBron James has about the Cavaliers, or to begin eroding them.
Ferry cut his executive teeth in a Spurs organization that prides itself on finding gems in the back end of the draft. It's how the Spurs ensure that they keep drafting there. After winning a pair of championships in San Antonio, it can reasonably be expected that Ferry would know a thing or two about how late draft picks can turn a good team into a great team.
So given his credentials and the fact that he is charged with keeping LeBron in a Cavs uniform, maybe Ferry had more heat on him than we give credit. The fact that the ESPN-induced adrenaline rush of the first couple pick had long since worn off by the time the Cavs held the clock doesn't mean the 25th pick held no suspense.
As we now know, Ferry used that pick on Michigan State's Shannon Brown.
ESPN's Jay Bilas called Brown potentially "the steal of the draft." Other adjectives attached by pundits included "interesting" and "solid."
Ferry's own adjectives included "lucky." As in, lucky Brown slipped far enough for the Cavs to draft him.
My adjective is "logical." Brown was probably the best player on the board at 25. He's a 6'-3" combo guard who has height working against him at the off-guard spot, and a lack of skill working against him at the point guard spot.
What he has is athleticism to spare, which will allow him to hold his own at the next level. After watching athletically-lacking first rounders like Trajan Langdon, DeSagana Diop and Chris Mihm come through here, Brown's athletic pedigree can't be undervalued.
He's wide for his frame, which should help him on defense. He has a respectable outside shot, something else that can't be undervalued if you've watched the Cavs for most of this decade.
Brown should help bolster a Cavs backcourt that was among the lowest-scoring in the league last year. His pick might also spell the end for the similarly-skilled Flip Murray in Cleveland, unless the unsettling Larry Hughes trade rumor becomes fact.
Once Ferry selected Brown, the pieces began to fall into place. The Cavs were rumored to be eyeing Texas' Daniel Gibson at 25, but were inclined to pass when Brown fell to them.
No worries. Gibson was still there at No. 42 in the second round, and the Cavs got another both-ends-of-the-floor guard who could help them in the coming years.
The pick at 55 yielded Nigerian project player Ejike Ugboaja, a 6'-9" power forward who is raw, but has played in international competition.
Time will tell if this was the hit Ferry needed to get in his first NBA draft. If Shannon Brown is playing big minutes and contributing this winter, if Gibson starts to find a niche and Ugboaja begins developing properly, Ferry can't expect anything more from what he did Wednesday night.
If all that happens, given where we've been, Ferry will be considered a draft-night guru around these parts.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Tuesday, I e-mailed Brian Windhorst, the outstanding Cavs beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal, and here's what he said to me:
"This is rumor season, I take cover. Larry was not thrilled with his role in the offense, that is true. The Cavs weren't thrilled he missed 45 games due to injury."
In other words, Sam Smith's nugget in the Chicago Tribune is probably a half-truth. Yes, Hughes and the Cavs are not seeing eye-to-eye at the moment, but stitching Hughes' name across the back of another team's jersey might be a bit premature.
We'll see what the summer brings.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
But now, there might be trouble in paradise if Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune is correct.
In his weekly notes column, Smith reports that Hughes is dissatisfied with his role on the team and wants out. He goes on to report that the Cavs would be more than happy to accommodate Hughes' request if it would free up enough cap space to re-sign Flip Murray.
Much like the earlier Drew Gooden-for-Jamaal Magloire rumor, we can only hope this is a case of a big-market columnist with too many column inches to fill, stirring the rumor pot to get a reaction.
Unless Hughes yields another high-output shooting guard like Atlanta's Joe Johnson, trading him won't make the Cavs better.
Trading him for another shooting guard is a risky proposition, certainly as the Cavs are trying (or should be trying) to stabilize the roster around LeBron after several straight offseasons of upheaval.
But trading Hughes off for draft picks or expiring contracts with the idea that Murray is going to step in seamlessly is downright shortsighted. It wouldn't quite be Ron Harper-for-Danny Ferry, but it would be another colossal Cleveland blunder that could set the Cavs back years.
We all like Murray. He was a clutch pick-up by GM Ferry, and he saved the Cavs' bacon when they needed it most. But the prospect of Murray as a three-month stopgap is quite different than the prospect of him as the shooting guard of the future.
Hopefully, Ferry hasn't fallen in love with his one-time ability to uncover a diamond in the rough. Someone needs to tell Ferry that he does not necessarily have a knack for mining diamonds just because he snagged Murray for peanuts.
Yesterday's front-office genius is tomorrow's goat. Look at Mark Shapiro.
Water finds its level over the course of time, and the level is that Murray isn't as good as Hughes. Less injury-prone, yes, but a nonexistent defender and, hot stretch run aside, not a very good shooter. If we get a chance to watch Murray over the span of four or five years, we will see that clearly.
Neither Hughes nor Murray had a very good postseason. But Hughes at least had the excuse of 45 missed games and two hand surgeries in as many months.
Which makes his alleged discontent with his role on the team all the more perplexing. Hughes, more than anyone, should be able to chalk up his first season in Cleveland to a lost cause. He never really got into a rhythm prior to his injury, and by the time he arrived back in uniform, Murray was present and the Cavs had learned to make do without Hughes.
It doesn't mean Hughes is no longer important to the team. But according to Smith, he spent much of the Washington series griping to his former Wizards teammates about his role with the Cavs and questioning whether he really fits in here. Maybe it was hurt feelings on the part of Hughes. Maybe it was just banter between friends and ex-teammates that somehow found its way onto the pages of the Tribune. Maybe Smith is just yanking our chains.
Consider the source as well. Smith has been one of the loudest hornblowers on the "LeBron needs to move to a big market" bandwagon. In previous columns, he has trashed Ferry's competence at building a respectable roster around LeBron. He has said that LeBron playing in New York would be "huge" for the league. Since LeBron is apparently happy playing in Cleveland for now, Smith must think the only way LeBron is going to get jarred loose from his small-market habitat is for his team to betray him with a series of bad roster moves.
I'm sure few things would make Smith happier than to see the Cavs self-destruct to the point that LeBron wants out of Cleveland.
But Smith is just a guy sitting in front of a keyboard 300 miles away. The people I'm mostly concerned with are Ferry and Hughes. If it's all true, Hughes and his team have some patching up to do before the Cavs make a trade they could really regret in the coming years.
Monday, June 26, 2006
1. I'd like to see them use the 25th pick on either Texas point guard Daniel Gibson or UCLA point guard Jordan Farmar. If you don't think either one is going to be there, for crying out loud, use one of those second-rounders and try to trade up. Don't settle for Kyle Lowry or Quincy Douby or Maurice Ager.
(Keep in mind, however, that Gibson hasn't hired an agent. As long as he doesn't hire an agent, he reserves the right to back out up until the draft. But given the millions of greenbacks that await him, that's unlikely.)
2. If they get Gibson or Farmar without having to expend a second-rounder in a trade, they should package both second rounders to a team in a throw-crap-against-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks mode (i.e. Charlotte or Toronto) and move up to the top of the second round and select Mike Gansey from West Virginia. I think teams will be scared off by his age (24) and lack of athleticism enough so that he falls to 30-35th pick range.
In my opinion, they should do everything in their power to use both picks and trade up. That pick in the back half of the second round isn't going to yield anything more than a D-leaguer to keep Martynas Andriuskevicius company on those long bus rides through Alabama and the Carolinas.
A night that yields Gibson or Farmar, along with Gansey, should do a lot to improve Cleveland's bench depth next season.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
I don't pin Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Reds on Sowers. I pin it on the offense, which was incapable of picking up their rookie pitcher. The team's hitters knew they had a pitcher making his major-league debut on the mound, and weren't able to give him any run support.
But let's not go off on a tantrum about the offense. Let's concentrate on the good.
Sowers gave his team five innings of strong pitching. He lost his command and composure for about 20 pitches in the fourth inning, and it cost him the game. He fell behind to Ken Griffey Jr., hung a pitch, and gave up a two-run homer. He did the same to Adam Dunn.
But after the pair of homers, with Guillermo Mota warming up behind him in the bullpen, Sowers collected himself and got the final two outs of the inning.
For a first major league appearance, it was a remarkable show of intestinal fortitude by Sowers that he didn't let the inning get away from him to the tune of seven or eight runs.
Jason Johnson and C.C. Sabathia could learn a thing or two about toughness and perseverance from Sowers' outing.
I don't doubt there will be bumps in the road as Sowers adjusts to the majors. But, after spending most of the season antagonizing the Indians roster, I finally have someone to root for even as the season continues to take on water. I really hope Sowers is here to stay. His first outing was very encouraging.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
The Indians will win exactly one more game before the all-star break. I don't know when or where, but they will win one game and no more. When you consider the Reds, Cardinals and Yankees make up the bulk of the schedule between now and then, it's not that far-fetched a prediction.
And here's another educated guess: unless this team's attitude changes drastically, the Indians will lose 100 games, something they haven't done since losing a team-record 105 in 1991.
But that team had no talent as an excuse. This team is bad for reasons that aren't yet totally clear. We just know it has its roots between the ears.
The Indians are already on pace for 90 losses and it's only June. Another month of awful baseball could easily put them on pace for 100 losses.
One hundred losses would mean 62 wins, which would be a 31-game drop from a year ago. That's with 100 losses even. It's entirely possible that this team could threaten 110 losses if they never figure out a way to apply the emergency brake.
Think I'm being a frustrated, overreacting fan right now? Yeah, maybe. But if I'm frustrated, the Indians players are downright depressed. C.C. Sabathia admitted to throwing in the towel in Wednesday's blowout loss to the Cubs (a pretty bad team in their own right).
The postgame comments of manager Eric Wedge are growing more exasperated with each passing game. Wedge, his coaches, his players and the front office are all flabbergasted. They have no idea what is happening.
Fans want Wedge gone. Fans want trades galore. That won't solve anything. The misperception is that this team needs to be jolted awake. They are awake, and staring in horror at what their season is becoming. Taking a figurative machete to the clubhouse will probably just weaken this team's resolve even more.
If the Indians lose 100 games, you can rest assured Wedge will be gone. Rare is the manager who follows a 90-win season with a 100-loss season and keeps his job.
I am more concerned about what happens to Mark Shapiro. Some fans think he's a dope. Those fans are wrong. He had a bad offseason that could have been prevented if the Indians had more money to spend.
Shapiro talks about liking his life here. But if the Washington Nationals come calling for Shapiro -- a D.C. area native -- he might jump at the chance. The big-market Nationals will be able to compete with the likes of the Braves, Orioles and Phillies on the free agent market once the new ownership group is in place. The Nationals will be able to offer Shapiro the knowledge that he will head into many an offseason able to be competitive for free agents.
If Shapiro takes over a team like the Nationals, I'll bet he leads them to a World Series title within five years. You know that's how things go in Cleveland. Players and executives who fail here go on to win titles elsewhere. It's only a matter of time before Butch Davis is hoisitng the Vince Lombardi Trophy and being hailed as a coaching genius.
The same might go for Wedge. He'll learn from his mistakes here and resurface elsewhere as the second coming of Casey Stengel.
Meanwhile, Indians fans can look forward to a new era with John Farrell as the GM and Brad Komminsk as the manager. They can also look forward to C.C. Sabathia winning a Cy Young Award with the San Francisco Giants and Travis Hafner breaking the Cubs' curse, helping lift them to a World Series title around 2010.
When the Dolans finally give up and sell the team, it will probably be to a filthy rich, spend-crazy ownership regime ... that wants to move the team to Charlotte or Portland, Ore.
The rule in this city: it's never so bad that it can't get worse.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Go ahead. Try to hide your disappointment over the U.S. soccer team's early World Cup exit. Wrap yourself in a facade of American cowboy machismo. Tell everyone that soccer is for weenies and Euro-trash.
Make believe that you didn't, not once, check your computer at work to see the score of Thursday's game against Ghana. You might not have been able to tell Ghana from Angola from Burkina Faso on a map, but you knew one thing. The U.S. was losing to their team. And it sucked.
Because, even if you aren't a rabid soccer fan, national pride was still at stake. We all knew the rest of the world wanted to see the rich Americans bounced from the tournament. And they got their wish.
Even if all that didn't get under your skin, the thought of jubilant French fans celebrating America's exit across eateries in Paris had to do it.
Sad to say, but the U.S. soccer team came into the World Cup bearing all of the stereotypes the world holds near and dear about America. Our team was overconfident and hype-driven based on what now appears to be a lucky run in the '02 Cup. They arrived in Germany like rock stars. Soccer pundits seriously considered them a threat to advance to the second round or farther.
Then, when the ball hit the pitch, all the high-polished shine came off, and America was once again exposed as a third-rate soccer power.
(I will once again allude to the image of smug French fans toasting America's exit with bottles of Zima. Yeah, that's right. Zima. They probably put lemon twists in them, too.)
America's players spent most of three games out of position, on their heels, and constantly having to dig out of self-made holes. The players looked almost complacent, like they were satisfied that they had apparently arrived as an elite international soccer team.
Maybe they looked past the first round, anticipating later round matches with Brazil, Germany and England. Maybe they thought they could afford to look past the first round.
But elite reputations are not built on one run. In America, soccer success is so few and far between that a second-round appearance is cause for hype. To Brazil, a second-round exit would be humiliating. It's all relative.
The U.S. team became big fish in a small soccer pond, and were ill-prepared mentally for the level of competition the World Cup provides. Much of that blame should be placed at the feet of coach Bruce Arena, who almost certainly won't be back when World Cup qualifying begins anew in 2008.
Arena has done a good job in eight years, but I am in the camp that believes that eight years is too long, and a fresh perspective is needed from the manager's seat. And there's no rule, outside of nationalistic ego, that states the next coach has to be American. If we want to be able to compete with the like of Brazil and the European powers, why not mine their coaching ranks? It has worked wonders for some of the smaller nations in this year's Cup, many of which were far more competitive than the U.S. team.
I think the U.S. has the talent pool to hang with 90 percent of the world's elite soccer nations. As much as 2002 was a positive aberration, this year was a negative aberration. It might take a new coach, and some new players, to make sure that U.S. soccer reaches its full potential when the scene shifts to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
The Cavaliers pick 25th in the first round. A yawner pick that will yield a snoozer player? Possibly. But that 25th pick carries more weight than you might realize.
The Cavs had no picks last year. They currently don't have a first-rounder next year thanks to the ill-fated Jiri Welsch trade. So this first-ever draft pick of GM Danny Ferry must produce a player who can come in and make a meaningful contribution from the get-go. Raw project players are unacceptable. The Cavs, who many are already viewing as a dark horse championship contender next season, must find a player who can play now.
Below, in no particular order, I size up some of the players the Cavs might be looking at, their positives and negatives, and above all, their ability to step in and produce as rookies.
Mike Gansey, West Virginia
Gansey was in the stands with a "Witness" t-shirt during the Cavs' playoff run. A product of Olmsted Falls High School, his family is longtime Cavs season ticket holders.
Color me sentimental, but I think the hometown factor would serve as extra motivation for Gansey should the Cavs draft him. I want to see how he would perform playing for the team he grew up rooting for.
Gansey's skills match up well with Cleveland's needs. They need an experienced shooter, and Gansey is that. They need a heady, smart player who finds ways to contribute even when his shot isn't falling. Gansey will do that.
What Gansey isn't is a tremendous athlete. He's a 6'-4" backcourt player who will need to find ways to compensate for his lack of speed and hops. In the NBA, that could be difficult.
I think Gansey could be a solid bench player for many years. At 24 and with stints at St. Bonaventure and West Virginia under his belt, I think he'll have a decent ability to contribute next year.
Quincy Douby, Rutgers
Long story short, Douby is probably the second coming of Damon Jones. He's an undersized combo guard known for his shooting and not much else. I don't see him as a point guard of the future, and the last thing the Cavs need is a shoot-first point guard usurping open looks from LeBron James.
If the Cavs want another catch-and-shoot player who can put the ball on the floor with some proficiency, Douby is their man. I just don't see the point unless Jones is dealt.
Kyle Lowry, Villanova
Lowry probably fits the "point guard of the future" title more than Douby. But if Douby is another Jones, Lowry might be another Eric Snow.
The rap on Lowry is that while he's a good ballhandler, his shooting is suspect. He also has had trouble controlling his emotions. Extroverted players who wear their hearts on their sleeves are a double-edged sword. When times are good, they inspire their teammates. When times are bad, they self destruct and become technical foul magnets. Any meltdown candidate should come with a king-sized caveat attached.
Drafting Lowry might mean another year of Snow starting at the point and serving as Lowry's mentor. I question whether anyone really wants that.
Jordan Farmar, UCLA
About the only late first-round point guard who I could see coming in and starting at some point next year. He gained a reputation as a playmaker on a team that reached the NCAA national championship game this spring. If Ferry is truly following the Spurs template of drafting players who actually accomplished something prior to the draft, he should look long and hard at Farmar if he's there. Farmar might even be worth trading up for.
Shannon Brown, Michigan State
Brown is one of those run-fast, jump-high guys who is really tough to project as an NBA player. At 6'-3" he's an undersized two-guard who would have to make the transition to the point. But if he really put his mind and his vast athletic potential to playing the point, he could be a good one.
Of course, we all said the same thing about Dajuan Wagner, but injuries and a lack of interest in playing the point killed that off.
If the Cavs draft him, he'll likely find his groove as a combo guard providing energy off the bench, which would probably press Damon Jones into more of a traditional backup point guard's role. I don't know if Jones would be happy there.
Rajon Rondo, Kentucky
His draft status has fluctuated like a river in a rainstorm. One day, he's challenging Andrea Bargnani as the "it" player of this draft, the next, he's settled back into the mid-20s in the mock drafts.
What is known is that point guard Rondo is one of the quickest players in the draft. He has lightning legs and an ability to break down a defender off the dribble. Both are items the Cavs need in a point guard.
He's not terribly polished, so his ability to step in and contribute right away is a concern. As with Lowry, Rondo could probably use a veteran mentor. If that's Snow, drafting him really isn't going to make the Cavs better next season.
Tuesday, the clouds parted a bit, and the foolish romantic in me thought that maybe the Indians had just turned a corner. Jason Johnson had been designated for assignment, and the Indians played their best baseball in quite some time in a 4-2 win over the Cubs.
C.C. Sabathia was on the mound Wednesday, and I figured the Tribe had a good shot at taking two of three from the lowly Cubs. Then the coasting Reds come to town, and who knows? You go 4-2 over a six-game stretch, 4-2 becomes 7-4 over the span of 12 days, and next thing you know, you're rolling again.
Silly me. That wasn't the perfume of a fresh start I was smelling. It was cheap cologne.
GM Mark Shapiro is right when he says the Indians' problems are a moving target. Yesterday's strengths are today's weaknesses. There is no consistency.
Case in point: C.C. Sabathia. A month ago, he was the only starting pitcher worth paying attention to. I thought he had finally become the ace he was always supposed to be.
Then the calendar flipped from May to June, and suddenly, inexplicably, C.C. lost everything.
He's 0-3 in June. He followed up a treacherous outing in Milwaukee over the weekend with a brutal outing Wednesday. It all came apart in the third inning. C.C. took the mound with the score tied 1-1, gave up a pair of hits to start the inning, and the hits and runs just kept on coming. A pair of fielding brain cramps by Ben Broussard and Ronnie Belliard didn't help matters.
By the time newly-added Edward Mujica relieved and let the final three runs of the inning cross the plate, it was 9-1 and the game was over.
Keep in mind that heading into this series, the Cubs were the worst offensive club in the National League. The eight-run third on Wednesday was their biggest inning of the year.
Afterward, C.C. said he lost focus. He apologized to everyone he could think of for an outing in which he admittedly just stopped trying.
This is really bad news for the Indians. There have been mumblings around the media that the Indians aren't playing as hard as they should be, but C.C. is the first to admit it.
It's perplexing to watch this team fall apart. This was a team that was mentally tough and valued fundamental baseball the previous two seasons. They withstood a barrage of bullpen collapses two years ago to make a spirited run at the Twins down the stretch. They withstood a limp offense last year to make another spirited second-half run.
This year, all that resolve, all that focus is just gone. This team has zero leadership. Twenty-five players are wandering the desert in 25 different directions.
Is manager Eric Wedge to blame? I don't think he's a very strong day-to-day leader, but he was able to get the job done to some extent in years past. The fact that the team's focus could disintegrate like this still doesn't add up.
Is the loss of Kevin Millwood to blame? Maybe as far as the starting pitching. But what were the other veterans on the team doing last year? Were Bob Wickman, Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard exerting no influence whatsoever?
Unfortunately, someone could analyze the Indians' situation for days on end and still not come up with a clear-cut answer. We're not talking about problems that a trade or two can cure, or even a midseason managerial switch. This is a problem with the fabric of the team.
Of all the things the Indians' DiamondVision player analysis computer program can calculate and quantify, the ability to lead apparently isn't one of them.
When Shapiro and his associates dissect this season in October, they might want to start with their own leadership. What are they valuing in players beyond raw baseball skills? What are they valuing in a manager beyond organizational skills?
Somebody, somewhere has to fashion a rudder for this team, if not for the remainder of this year, then for 2007. The front office is a good place to start.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Dwyane Wade got there first. He has the ring, and the MVP trohpy. Scribes and scribblers from coast to coast and beyond will spend the next six months proclaiming him to be the real prize of the 2003 draft.
In the eyes of the rest of the country, Wade is now MJ, and you were the second-best player taken in your draft.
How will you respond, LeBron?
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Jason Johnson has been designated for assignment after going 1-8 with a 7-plus ERA over his last nine decisions.
I said the release of Scott Sauerbeck was a start. This is another step.
Johnson fell out of favor with me the instant he blamed the media for putting him "under a microscope" because he was struggling.
When you are slated to make $4 million for a year's work, and you constantly put your team behind the eight-ball every time you take the mound, you deserve to be under a microscope. Spend less time whining and more time working on your mechanics. I don't think Johnson ever got that memo.
Since we all know how things like this tend to work in Cleveland, it should surprise no one if Johnson is picked up by a contender, piggy-backs his way to a World Series title and gets the last laugh. But this was a necessary move. Johnson was doing nothing but dragging the Indians down.
Cutting Johnson clears space for Jeremy Sowers, who was pulled after five innings of work in Buffalo tonight. He will make his major league debut Sunday against the Reds.
Sowers' start is easily the most-anticipated pitching debut for the Indians since C.C. Sabathia first toed the rubber in 2001. Hopefully, he'll be as (or even more) successful.
Hockey's championship series did its sport proud. Then there's the NBA Finals.
More specifically, then there's the Dallas Mavericks, who are turning their first-ever championship series appearance into an embarrassing flameout that might rank as one of the worst playoff meltdowns in pro sports history with one more loss.
Since jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, the Mavs have become entangled in a bramble thicket of misconduct, both within and outside the rules of the game.
There was Dirk Notwitzki, who missed a free throw to lose a game, then booted the ball into the stands following Game 5, resulting in a $5,000 fine.
There was Jerry Stackhouse, suspended for Game 5 for putting a hit on Shaquille O'Neal.
There was coach Avery Johnson throwing temper tantrums.
There was Josh Howard, calling the Mavs' last timeout with 1.9 seconds left in Game 5. The timeout came between a pair of Dwyane Wade free throws, preventing the Mavs from advancing the ball to halfcourt.
And, of course, there was Mark Cuban, about to start World War III with the officials and getting slapped with a $250,000 fine.
This is so unlike the clean-cut Mavs, who were the good guys of North Texas sports.
Metroplex residents are used to moronic behavior in their sports teams, but usually it was Michael Irvin smoking crack or the Rangers signing their souls away for Alex Rodriguez. The Mavs were the entertaining, long-haired team that it was tough to root against, especially as the Lakers and Spurs kept racking up titles.
Now, with the chance to win a title of their own, the Mavs are blowing it in a way that makes them worse than any self-absorbed Shaq-Kobe Laker team that won a title.
At least those Lakers shut up and played when the ball went up. They had their squabbles on the practice court, but when the lights came on, it was all business.
Right now, the Mavs are showing such a blatant intolerance for adversity, it makes you wonder how they were able to take out the Spurs and Suns to get to this point. A Mavs team behaving like this would have been devoured by the Spurs.
Chalk it up to stage fright? A lack of preparation? Simply a nightmarish three-game set on the road?
The Mavs head home for Game 6 tonight facing elimination, but the key word there is "home." In a series between two teams with an equal number of strengths and flaws, the swing back to Central Time and homecourt might be enough to get the Mavs over the hump.
But the familiar surroundings around them won't do any good if they don't clear the garbage out inside their own heads. If they hit the floor tonight still seething over what transpired in the last three games, start engraving Wade's name on the MVP trophy at tipoff.
If the Mavs can't rebound and win this series, it would be such a waste. This shouldn't happen to a team that has been a model of perseverance, spending years fighting up the Western Conference playoff ladder to finally get their day in the Sun.
Once the Mavs topped the Spurs, they probably felt like they could beat anybody. Unfortunately, that might include themselves.
Thanks in large part to a link from Deadspin.com, I reeled in 223 hits Monday, obliterating my previous single-day record of 58.
Links and postings on sites such as Swerbs Blurbs, NFL Forums, Futon Report and the Cavaliers Most Valuable Network page (all linked at the right side of this page) have helped increase this site's profile.
Thanks, one and all, for getting my site out there. I'm starting to see some real results.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Dilfer whined his way out of Cleveland this spring when it became apparent he was going to be backing up Charlie Frye. The trade that sent Dilfer to San Francisco left the Browns with little-proven Frye as the starter, and Ken Dorsey as his primary backup.
The last time I checked, Dorsey was still picking grass out of his teeth from the 2002 national championship game. Based on his NFL performance so far, he is still having nightmares about the Ohio State defense. If he's going to remain in Ohio for any length of time, I suggest weekly therapy sessions.
So it doesn't take a clairvoyant to see the Browns could really use a veteran to back up Frye. Don't say "Kerry Collins." He's holding out for a starting job until the last minute. If I'm the Browns, I'm not about to wait until the last days of summer for a walking interception machine to make up his mind, take my money, and sit on the bench for 16 games.
No, if the Browns are going to sign a walking interception machine, I want it to be the man that made throwing the pickoff an art form. I want the man who once chucked the ball away on fourth down during a last-ditch drive against Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
I want the man who scored the first touchdown in Baltimore Ravens history, then handed the ball to a fan in the stands, reportedly saying after the game, "If I would have known it was important, I would have kept it."
I want Vinny Testaverde. And apparently, so do the Browns.
Nothing is set in stone, and Testaverde, 42, probably wouldn't seriously consider signing until near the start of the season, but The Plain Dealer reported today the seeds are being sown. Testaverde might join the exclusive club of players who have played for both Browns franchises. And, all poking fun aside, he might actually be able to help.
Unlike Dilfer, who rode a dominant Ravens defense to a Super Bowl title but has little else to show over his career, Testaverde has been a productive quarterback for two decades. He has suffered through the bad times in Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and has risen to the cusp of the Super Bowl with Bill Parcells' Jets.
He can't lace up his cleats and take a beating over the course of 16 games anymore, but he can join an accomplished group of veterans who have joined the Browns as player-mentors.
What Willie McGinest can be to Kamerion Wimbley, what Ted Washington can be to Babatunde Oshinowo, Testaverde can be to Frye, and maybe even Dorsey.
Veteran stability is something that has been lacking for the Browns ever since they re-entered the league. Testaverde, now something of an elder statesman, can add just that.
You might not think much of Testaverde. I might get a cheap laugh pointing out his various errors in judgment throughout his career. But when Parcells seeks you out not once, but twice, to quarterback his team, that speaks volumes in NFL circles.
A return to Cleveland would be an appropriate way for Testaverde to end his career. We have some patching up to do. Testaverde was under center for the dark days leading up to the Browns' move. He was the beneficiary of Bernie Kosar getting released. In a lot of ways, he was unfairly tied to the fan-alienating disaster the Browns became in the early '90s.
To have Testaverde back for the beginnings of what will hopefully be a great resurgence in Browns football would be a nice way to make peace with the past.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Well, it might finally be getting ready to do a sole-plant.
Sure, it's just a mild slump right now, but it's hard to not notice the fact that since last Saturday's blown save in Chicago, followed by his postgame staredown with Paul Byrd, Wickman has not been the same pitcher.
He dodged bullets last Sunday to get the save in a 10-8 nailbiter that shouldn't have been. He waited a week, then followed it up with his worst outing in quite some time this Saturday in Milwaukee. He walked a pair and gave up two hits, including the game winner to Geoff Jenkins in a 3-2 loss.
It will be very interesting to see if the flameout that occurred just over a week ago is a turning point for Wickman. He has been pitching on borrowed time for almost two seasons. After missing half of 2002, all of 2003 and half of 2004 recovering from Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his pitching elbow, he made a strong return in the second half of '04, followed by a career-high 45 saves in 2005.
After converting his first eight saves this year, the blown save in Chicago was his first in over 10 months. But the recent success wasn't the product of finding the fountain of youth. Wickman relied on guts and guile to get most of his 45 saves last year. His devastating sinker abandoned him long ago, forcing him to rely on sliders and well-placed fastballs to get hitters out.
Wickman's resurgence in the past few years can probably be attributed to personal relief more than anything. He probably received a lift from the fact that he was pitching pain-free for the first time in years. He took the mound grateful for every appearance last season.
This year, as the confrontation with Byrd indicates, the burdensome side of baseball has gotten back to Wickman. At this stage of his career, with a reconstructed elbow that has to last him the rest of his life, it's doubtful Wickman has the desire to fight through excessive adversity to keep pitching at a high level.
Wickman has been a good soldier for the Indians for (it's hard to believe) six seasons. But all the dominoes are lining up for Wickman to finish his Indians career as a malcontent. He has at least one known clubhouse antagonist, and he's watching possibly his last major league season end on team in a rapid tailspin.
He's pitching once every 10 days to two weeks because that's all the save opportunities his teammates can manage to hand him. Now he's blowing even those chances.
In the end, it might be best to unload Wickman. He's quite obviously not a part of the Indians' future plans. He wouldn't even be a part of their present had GM Mark Shapiro orchestrated a more successful offseason.
The White Sox, Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox are all looking for bullpen help. Wickman wouldn't yield a stud prospect in return, but his departure might allow the Indians to begin a much-needed bullpen shuffle.
A team like the Indians doesn't need a fulltime closer, a pitcher whose sole job it is to come in for the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less. The Dennis Eckersley one-inning closer model works great for winning teams who can hand that pitcher many leads to protect.
The Indians, Royals and Devil Rays? They don't win enough to need a pitcher expressly for that role, a role that Wickman is suited for almost exclusively.
Trading Wickman would let Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Guthrie and Rafael Betancourt close by committee. Scary notion? maybe, but at least that trio would get more work, and on the rare occasion a save situation comes up, somebody would get a chance to prove themselves in advance of the (hopeful) day the Indians can, once again, make use of a fulltime closer.
The young, faltering Indians and aging, wilting Wickman are on divergent paths. Hopefully, the Indians will realize that soon and let their battle-scarred veteran closer move on and finish his career in a better situation.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
If I am among a minority of sports fans around the country who have never experienced a hometown championship, who have never known the feeling of skipping work to go downtown to watch the title parade, I should at least get something out of my near-lifelong devotion to the teams of Cleveland.
And I think I have. It doesn't quite qualify as a consolation prize, but King Solomon would have been proud. I have gained wisdom.
Read on, and drink in the lessons that have come from the city by the lake.
Never underestimate yourself. Your opponent is not the Big Bad Wolf, and you are not the Three Little Pigs.
Keep things in perspective. No matter the final score, a billion people in China don't care that you played the game.
Never challenge the fat guy to a fight.
It's OK to let your anger out in a constructive fashion, such as destroying a buffet table with a baseball bat.
Always wear a helmet when you are practicing high-speed motorcycle stunts in a deserted parking lot.
--Kellen Winslow Jr.
If Michael Jordan is going up for a game-winning shot, make sure you're not the one guarding him, otherwise you are going to be immortalized in a very bad way.
The most important six inches in football are between the breastbone and the backbone.
...Unless those six inches are right in front of the goal line in the AFC Championship Game.
In Cleveland, winning a playoff series qualifies as a miracle.
If your man isn't open, always, always, always throw it to the blonde in the fifth row.
Never insult someone's momma right before he's about to take the mound against you.
Stick with the fastball when the game's on the line.
If your team is bad, admit it.
--Bill Fitch, Chris Palmer
If your team is bad, don't admit it.
If your team is bad, say it's "all part of the process."
In theory, a contender can be manufactured out of toothpicks and rubber bands.
If you really don't want people to publish your postgame comments, just mumble.
If you are going to move your team and rip your city's heart out, make sure you go about it in the most up-front, dignified way possible.
--Art and David Modell
Rehab is for quitters. So are diets.
It's never, ever about the money.
--Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Kevin Millwood, etc., etc.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The magazine reported that the Cavaliers are trying to get restricted free agent Drew Gooden to agree to a sign-and-trade deal so they can ship him to the Bucks for Jamaal Magloire. The deal, ESPN says, would allow the Cavs to rid themselves of Zydrunas Ilgauskas in a subsequent trade.
A great many fans would hold a parade down Euclid Avenue if the Cavs found a way to dump Z. His critics point to the fact that he has a terrible lack of athleticism, long injury history, pet moves he falls in love with and a history of coming up short in big games.
(Ironically, that essentially makes him the basketball equivalent of Bernie Kosar, who is revered as a legend in Cleveland. But that's another story for another time.)
But unless a Z trade yields a stud power forward, I fail to see how a Gooden-for-Magloire/get rid of Z sequence makes the Cavs a better team.
You might think Z is a stiff and Gooden is terminally inconsistent, but be careful what you wish for. Z isn't going to land you Kevin Garnett or Allen Iverson, so get that out of your head right now. The most talented power forward the Cavs could reasonably expect to land in a trade this summer is Kenyon Martin, and he's vastly overpaid and overrated in equal amounts.
Ben Wallace in a sign and trade? Not bleemin' likely.
Once the sexy names are crossed off the "who can we get for Z?" list, the appeal of Jamaal Magloire in the pivot drops like a rock.
Essentially, you'd be trading a stable-if-not-spectacular center in Z and a flawed-but-athletic power forward in Gooden to get Magloire and an unknown quantity alongside him.
Magloire averaged double figures in rebounds in only one season: 2003-04. That year, a weak crop of Eastern Conference centers allowed him an all-star berth. Not exactly what you want if you think Z doesn't grab enough rebounds.
Z's career averages: 15.0 points and 7.7 rebounds. Magloire's career averages: 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. If you are expecting Magloire to come in and do what Z can't, you are mistaken.
Alongside Magloire could be a conveyor belt's worth of underproductive power forwards. Start Anderson Varejao, you say? OK, but you'll lose that depth off the bench he provides. Remember, Varejao can't stay out of foul trouble, so if he starts, the probability of him spending many second quarters and third quarters glued to the bench is high.
Reggie Evans has been rumored as a possible Cavs target this summer. You know, the guy who got fresh with Chris Kaman in the playoffs? He could be a rebounding machine for the Cavs. Or he could be nothing more than a part-time player as he has been in Denver. He's undersized for a power forward at 6'-8," so I am leery of signing him with the idea that you are going to hand him the starting power forward's job and leave him there.
Look at the tandem of Z and Gooden. Then look at a frontcourt with Magloire and a power-forward-by-committee of Varejao, Evans and Donyell Marshall. Do it before you wish on a star that Z is drop-kicked out of town.
This is supposed to be the summer that the Cavs turn the corner toward becoming a legitimate title contender. For a team that won 50 games and reached the seventh game of the second round in the playoffs, I doubt that corner is going to be turned by dismantling the frontcourt and rebuilding it with masking tape.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Thirteen months ago, Winslow lost control of his bike during a stunt attempt in a Cleveland-area parking lot. He flipped over the handlebars and into a patch of small trees, tearing a knee ligament in the process. He missed the 2005 season.
Winslow was wearing a helmet, though the chinstrap reportedly wasn't buckled.
Roethlisberger was out for a ride on Pittsburgh-area streets Monday when he collided with a car, reportedly slamming his head against the windshield. He wasn't wearing a helmet, and sustained a broken jaw and nose, among other injuries. There is no telling how long he'll be out.
It would seem that Winslow took the bigger risk of the two. He was trying to mimic stunt riders in an unsupervised environment. Roethlisberger was doing what thousands of people do around the country: taking his motorcycle out for a spin on a pleasant day.
But there is a not-so-fine line between Joe Blow taking his bike out for an afternoon joyride, and a franchise NFL player bombing down the street on a high-performance bike with no helmet.
Joe Blow crashes and misses work. Ben Roethlisberger crashes and puts the Steelers' upcoming season in peril.
On the surface, Roethlisberger wasn't doing anything wrong. Pennsylvania has a lax helmet law, and away from football, Roethlisberger is just another citizen-driver. But just below the surface is a layer of personal responsibility that doesn't exist for private citizens. Some players have it built into their contracts, as Winslow did. Some don't. Regardless, it's always there as an unwritten rule, or should be.
It's part of the trade-off for making millions of dollars every year. You gain a life of luxury and six months off each year, but you lose some privacy and the right to do certain, risky things because it could hurt the team if you are injured or disabled.
Roethlisberger, as Winslow did, ignored prior warnings about the dangers of motorcycle riding. In this ESPN interview conducted last year in the aftermath of Winslow's accident, Roethlisberger attempts to justify why he rides motorcycles with no helmet. He says he is "the safest rider I can be." Even at that time, we knew those words were a load of mularkey.
No one except Roethlisberger knows whether he was oblivious to the danger, or felt invincible, or was simply able to justify the risk in his own mind. Just like Winslow, either Roethlisberger didn't know the level of risk he was assuming, or he didn't care. Either way, the answer is not good.
Now, because of unrepentant practice of a dangerous hobby, Roethlisberger faces months of rehab. News reports say he hurt both knees, but if he did not sustain a major injury to an arm or leg, the odds of him being back at some point in 2006 are much higher than Winslow's were.
But this accident toys with the Steelers season far more than Winslow's accident did with the 2005 Browns. At the time of Winslow's accident, the Browns had just drafted Braylon Edwards, and had a deep enough receiver corps to buffer the loss of Winslow. There is no adequate replacement for Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
And, Clevelanders, let's try to resist the temptation to act smug. Yes, this is a potentially huge blow to the Steelers. But not one worth celebrating.
Like Phillips, he has been nursed through the minors and early years of his big-league career by a very forgiving Indians organization. They put up with his highs and lows, they put up with his inability to keep his emotions in check, they suffered through performances like his near-giveaway against the White Sox Sunday night.
Why? In both cases, the player had eye-catching talent. No one has ever doubted that Phillips is an exceptional athlete, but he could never put it all together in Cleveland, largely because of his own immaturity. Now, he's a new man, tearing up the National League for the Reds after the Indians dumped him for beads and trinkets.
Davis has a live arm and and upper-90s fastball. There is no question he could be a dominant pitcher. But, like Phillips, he's having trouble harnessing his talent because of what's going on between his ears.
My question is, at what point will the Indians' patience with Davis finally snap? He's been nothing but inconsistent in parts of five seasons with the team. At what point will they throw up their hands and pawn him off for a B-level prospect and player to be named?
At what point will Davis get a new lease on life, and become a Cy Young Award contender in another team's uniform?
I fear that day is coming.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Usually, you can tell a team is crumbling when they start misbehaving outside the white lines. It's a sign that the team's chemistry and professionalism are falling apart.
For the Indians, it began when recently-ditched Scott Sauerbeck was caught hiding in a stranger's bushes with a drunk woman.
Following Saturday's extra-inning loss to the White Sox, pitchers Paul Byrd and Bob Wickman reportedly confronted each other in the clubhouse.
The Plain Dealer reported that the two went nose-to-nose for a couple of minutes. Byrd reportedly told Wickman to "take it off your arm," an apparent reference to the ice pack he was wearing after blowing his first save since last August.
Reporters overheard Wickman respond "We can take this outside."
If something like that happens, it's usually a series of events that have finally come to a head. One source told The Plain Dealer that Wickman and Byrd, in general, do not get along.
It might finally be happening: burdened by what has been a disappointing season so far, and faced with a palpable lack of clubhouse leadership, players might be starting to faction. In the world of the clubhouse, that is like placing explosive charges on the supports of a condemned building and pushing the button.
If players start dividing the clubhouse between friends and foes, kiss any hope of a salvageable season goodbye. In the end, to save what is left of team chemistry and prevent a 100-loss season, GM Mark Shapiro might be forced to lop more than Sauerbeck from the roster.
The Indians are committed to Byrd for another year at more than $7 million. Wickman, a free agent at season's end, has proven his worth as a serviceable reliever so far. If issues like this continue between Byrd and Wickman, the larger of the two might be gone before season's end, traded off to a big-market contender.
If Byrd and Wickman reached the point where they couldn't hold their anger in any longer, it makes you wonder what other feuds are simmering in that clubhouse, who is blaming whom for the failures of this season. You know finger-pointing is going around behind people's backs. It's human nature to blame others when things aren't going right.
Manager Eric Wedge has publicly blamed Jhonny Peralta and Ronnie Belliard for lack of hustle. Jason Johnson has blamed the media for his struggles, claiming he has been placed "under a microscope."
It's hard to believe a team that won 93 games a year ago could freefall like this. But it shows how much the Indians miss the stabilizing veteran presences of Kevin Millwood and Bob Howry. It shows how much chemistry means to a team that needs every advantage it can get to counteract the deficiencies of a $55 million payroll. And it shows that the Indians, in all honesty, overachieved last year and probably overestimated themselves at the outset of this season.
This could all end with Wickman and Belliard traded to other teams. This could also end with Wedge losing his job.
Is Wedge to blame for the sinking season? Partly. Will firing him solve anything? No. But as the old adage goes, it's far easier to replace one manager than 25 players.
But if this season continues on its current track, there will be plenty of players who warrant replacing.
Friday, June 09, 2006
The lousy performances on the mound, combined with an embarrassing off-the-field incident that involved hiding in a stranger's bushes with a drunk woman other than his wife, were more than enough to warrant his departure.
To the Indians, I say: it's a start.
Mark Shapiro has a lot of knots to untie from what is quickly proving to be a flaming wreck of an offseason. Two other products of Shapiro's (and ownership's) wayward offseason -- Guillermo Mota and Jason Johnson -- will be much harder to pry from the roster because of their salaries. Luckily, the Indians are committed to neither past this season.
Unfortunately for the fans, we are going to have to limp through the remainder of this season with the team. When you are a team on a shoestring, even when you do things mostly right, all it takes is one or two bad moves to derail a whole season. The Indians are finding that out.
It's a roll of the dice every year. Last year, Shapiro rolled the dice on Kevin Millwood, Bob Howry and Sauerbeck and came out looking like a genius. This year, he rolled the dice on Mota, Johnson and Sauerbeck, and came away with a face full of egg.
It's the facts of life for a small-market GM. What I wonder is how long a talented GM like Shapiro is going to put up with it. He's free to go in two years.
If you can't form the English words "cheesesteak and large fry, please," you can't eat in his restaurant.
No shirt, no shoes, no English, no service.
Apparently, the language barrier became enough of a problem that Vento posted a sign about six months ago stating "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING `SPEAK ENGLISH.'"
On one hand, Vento has a point. Your average cheesesteak shop employee shouldn't have to be versed in six different languages to take orders. But the "This is AMERICA" line bothers me. As the linked story says, Vento's own grandparents struggled to learn English after migrating from Sicily in the 1920s.
That line reeks of the idea that us native-born English speakers are American and non-native-born, non-English speakers aren't. Legally, that might be true. But at one point within the past 150 years, chances are your ancestors were also one of them, and struggled with learning the complex, piecemealed and downright confusing language that is modern English. And, much like with Vento's cheesesteak shop, they didn't get a lot of sympathy from the born-and-bred locals.
Vento's sign is more evidence of just how conceited we've become as a country, and it's going to hurt us in the long run. We think we're global, but we're not as global as we'd like to believe.
It's bad enough that your average German college student knows English as well as most Americans. When we go to a Western European country, we almost expect that the locals are going to be near-fluent in English. On the other hand, we can barely say "me go potty" in their native tongue.
The rest of the world goes out of their way to conform to us, because the language of America is the language of money. But that promotes laziness on our end, and those other countries are going to gain ground on us because of their multilingual abilities.
The best place to start learning other languages is when immigrants come to America with their language and customs. But, again, as the sign says, this is AMERICA. Conform to our standards or get out.
Vento says he's doing recent immigrants a favor by forcing them to learn English. Maybe he's doing them a less obvious favor, too. If you don't learn English, you can't buy a cheesesteak, which means you can't make them a regular part of your diet, which means you won't keel over from heart disease at age 50.
That means more cheesesteaks for John Q. American. So while all of us English speakers are getting angioplasties and quadruple bypasses, our far-healthier immigrant neighbors will take over the country, teaching us multiple languages and how to be a better player in the global market.
Maybe there's hope for us yet. Keep it English, Mr. Vento.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
In America, soccer is still something of a curiosity, played by little children on dew-soaked municipal park fields on Saturday mornings, when any self-respecting seven-year-old should be watching "Power Rangers."
It's played by long-haired guys named Paolo and Sergio, who brought a piece of their homeland with them to America. It's played by high-school basketball players as a fall tune-up for the hardwood sport that really matters.
In America, soccer is a means to an end. It's not the end. But in the rest of the world, that attitude is liable to get you injured, or worse.
As this ESPN.com article shows, American soccer players know what they are getting into as the World Cup gets underway this month in Germany. They have been through two years of qualifying rounds. Anytime they set foot off U.S. soil, they are the enemy.
Really, they are the enemy. Not just the bad guys. Not just the opposition. They are the enemy. They represent the big, bad, filthy rich world superpower. In countries where soccer is far more than a game, the U.S. soccer team is far more than a group of athletes.
Individually, they might not represent much more than themselves. As a group, with "U.S.A." emblazoned across their shirts, they are guilty by association to the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the long-standing Cuban embargo, civil wars in Africa, and anything else America has been linked to either by action or inaction.
Even the most apolitical of U.S. soccer players knows that by pulling on the U.S. jersey, he becomes a target.
U.S. players compete in front of foreign crowds that gleefully taunt them about September 11, chanting "Osama bin Laden." They dodge bags of urine, bags of blood, and who knows what else. Their games are intentionally funneled by foreign governments to rickety stadiums along jungle backroads, with no running water in the visitors locker room. They try to sleep in hotels where fans of the host country honk horns and set off firecrackers all night.
If it was only that severe, the U.S. players could handle it. Outside of the bags of blood, its nothing worse than what used to happen prior to Browns games at old Cleveland Stadium. But when Americans venture to another country and wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes, there is always the potential for violence on a much larger scale.
It's the reason why the 2004 U.S. men's basketball team stayed on an aircraft carrier during the Olympics in Athens. It's the reason why the 2006 U.S. World Cup team travels with a security detail surpassed only by the gaggle of Secret Service personnel that follow the president around. To a great many foreign fans, the anti-U.S. sentiment carries a strong flavor of gamesmanship with it. But as the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics showed, there are extremists and fanatics everywhere, looking for an opportunity to take a high-profile sporting event and pervert it as a stage for political violence.
With Thursday's news that highly-sought terrorist Abu Masab al-Zarqawi has been killed by American forces in Iraq, it makes the need for security higher than ever.
Brazil and Germany are the soccer superpowers. They have their share of bitter detractors around the world. But for the U.S., it's a whole different ballgame. Our soccer team is an up-and-comer, but our government rules the roost. In many ways, that makes our soccer team a bigger target than Brazil can ever hope to be.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
They get a rap as pompous, arrogant, self-centered, spoiled rich kids who view pro sports as their own, private fantasy league. The team you grew up rooting for is their toy.
The list is short, including Cuban, the Maloof brothers and Pat Croce when he owned the 76ers. They whine, snort, stomp and howl from their courtside seats, seemingly wanting to be in the spotlight more than the starting five. They are the first to chastise a referee for a bad call, and the first on the floor at the end of the game.
"Go away," the traditionalist fans say. "You could be a swinging playboy with a woman on each arm. You could be in New York today, Monaco tomorrow and Thailand the day after that, and yet you insist on staying here, messing with my team."
There are plenty of people who hate the fact that the glory-soaking ego of Cuban can now experience the NBA Finals. I'm not one of them. Soak away, I say.
Why? Because he genuinely cares about his team. Beyond his wallet, he's invested his heart and soul in the Mavericks. You can't say that for every owner.
Every team should be so lucky as to have a fan like Cuban. A Pennsylvania transplant who came to Dallas to make his fortune in Internet ventures, he embraced a woeful Mavericks club in the 1990s. There were so many other things a rich, young guy could do in Texas, but he spent his time cheering for the pitiful Mavs, and trying to drum up interest in the team.
He tried to buy his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins. When that didn't work, he set his sights on the Mavs, eventually purchasing them from Ross Perot Jr. in 2000.
Within a couple of years, Cuban had raised the bar for what should be expected of a pro sports owner. He was passionately involved. He invested his billions in roster and facility upgrades. On his watch, the Mavs left the aging Reunion Arena and moved into the state-of-the-art American Airlines Center.
By the early 2000s, the Mavs had improved from a non-factor on the North Texas sports scene to the biggest non-football story in town.
In a league populated with tightwad owners like the Clippers' Don Sterling, and benevolent-but-detached owners like former Cavaliers chief Gordon Gund, Cuban's involvement and willingness to put his money where his mouth is has been a refreshing change.
We in Cleveland might be getting some secondhand benefits from Cuban as current Cavs owner Dan Gilbert appears to be taking some philosophical pages out of Cuban's book. Like Cuban, he has shown a desire to be an involved owner, and has shown a willingness to spend money.
Cuban might be pompous. He might jam his nose into on-court matters a bit too much. But the NBA would be in better hands if there were more owners that care the way he does.
Monday, June 05, 2006
For eight months now, Coleman has been fighting pancreatic cancer. He appeared to be winning the fight until he went to the doctor Friday, The Plain Dealer reported today. That's when he received the crushing news that the cancer had spread to his liver in the form of several inoperable tumors.
Doctors have given him between three and nine months to live. Coleman, however, appears upbeat about the situation, joking with other media members prior to Sunday night's Indians game.
After having two of my grandparents claimed by cancer in my lifetime, and watching Cleveland sportscasting legend Nev Chandler also lose his fight with the disease at a sickeningly young age, this news is terribly tragic to me.
Coleman's face on the television is one of my earliest memories of Cleveland sports. As a child, my family would eat dinner and watch the evening news, and I'd wait for Coleman to end every sportscast with "we're rounding third, and heading home."
Coleman's battle has been covered by the local media because he's a public figure. But, if anything, his fight against cancer should shed light on the thousands who suffer with the disease in silence. Pray for Coleman, but also pray for them.
One man's story is touching an entire city right now, but cancer touches just about every family in some way, shape or form.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Two first-time teams will face each other in the NBA Finals when the Dallas Mavericks host the Miami Heat Thursday.
I went back through my sports almanac, and found the last time the stars aligned this way for a pair of deflowered Finals virgins: it was 1971, when the Milwaukee Bucks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar swept the Baltimore Bullets of Wes Unseld.
NBA history is largely based on dynasties, with the Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, Pistons and Bulls, and more recently the Spurs, making serial Finals appearances. To have a couple of first-time teams facing each other is rare. How rare? Prior to 1971, the previous occurrence involved the Celtics.
It was 1957, when Boston, making the first of 19 Finals appearances, defeated the St. Louis Hawks of Bob Pettit. The Celtics would appear in the Finals in 12 of the next 13 years, every year but 1967. They lost the rematch with the Hawks in 1958, and didn't lose again during the run.
In fact, the next time the Celtics lost an NBA Finals was in 1985 to the Lakers.
The Celtics have the most NBA titles with 16, but their 19 Finals appearances is a drop in the bucket compared to the Lakers, who have been to the NBA's championship series 28 times, winning 15. That includes six appearances (five wins) as the Minneapolis Lakers prior to 1960. The Lakers are the only team to play in the Finals in every decade the league has existed.
Other teams that have made at least four Finals appearances include:
- Knicks -- 8
- 76ers -- 8 (two as the Syracuse Nationals)
- Pistons -- 7 (two in Fort Wayne, five in Detroit)
- Bulls -- 6
- Warriors -- 6 (three in Philadelphia, two as the San Francisco Warriors, one as the Golden State Warriors)
- Bullets -- 4
- Rockets -- 4
- Hawks --4 (all in St. Louis)
Even with the disparity between the Finals haves and have-nots, the NBA is comparable to other professional leagues based on the percentage of teams that have played in its championship game/series.
Out of 30 NBA teams, eight have now never appeared in the NBA Finals (Grizzlies, Nuggets, Cavaliers, Raptors, Timberwolves, Clippers, Hornets and Bobcats). Compare that with the NFL, where six of 32 teams have never played in the Super Bowl, and Major League Baseball, where five of 30 teams have never played in the World Series.
One last pair of tidbits about this year's Finals. If the Heat win, both the NCAA men's basketball and NBA champions will be from the same state. The last time that happened was in 1972, when the Lakers and UCLA both won.
If the Mavericks win, the NBA and NCAA football champions will be from the same state. The last time that happened was 1983, when Penn State was the reigning national champs and the 76ers won the NBA crown.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
After watching Friday's 10-3 beatdown at the hands of the Angels, that statement seems like a cop-out to buy more time, a stall tactic by the geologically-slow Indians front office.
It is becoming painfully obvious that the Indians' pitching staff would be a better, more productive place without the presences of Jason Johnson and Guillermo Mota.
Johnson is 3-5 with a 5.92 ERA. I wish it was even that good. In the month of May, he went 1-3 with a 9.13 ERA. His four-earned-run outing Friday gives him a 7.20 ERA to start June.
Friday, he had zero consistency finding the strike zone, walking four. When he did find the strike zone, it was with disastrous results.
Heading into last night, the Indians were the only American League team Vladimir Guerrero had never homered against. A fat first-inning fastball from Johnson remedied that. The Angels went up 2-0 and never looked back.
It's not all on Johnson. The Indians offense couldn't figure out Angels rookie starter Jered Weaver. But the point is, Johnson didn't give his team a chance to win the game. And he hasn't been giving his team a chance to win games for quite some time.
You can't tell me the rotation wouldn't be better-served with youngsters Fausto Carmona or Jeremy Sowers holding down the fifth spot. Sure, they might struggle, too. But at least they'd be gaining big-league experience that would serve them well down the road.
Johnson, 32, has topped out. He's not going to get any better.
Johnson left the game after five innings with his team in a 4-0 hole. Leave it to Mota to deliver the knockout blow.
In 1 1/3 innings, Mota managed to cram in five Los Angeles runs on four hits, including a pair of bombs off the bats of Dallas McPherson and Garret Anderson. By the time manager Eric Wedge mercifully pulled the plug on Mota, the Indians were in a 9-0 hole.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Mota was the vicious guard dog that protected the ninth-inning lair of Dodger closer Eric Gagne. Together, they formed one of the best late-inning tandems in recent history.
But the Dodgers abused his arm and shipped him to the Marlins, where the abuse continued. The Red Sox, who acquired him from Florida along with Josh Beckett, must have sensed Mota's arm was hanging by a thread and all-too-readily shipped him to Cleveland weeks later in the Coco Crisp trade.
Now, the great stuff he had in L.A. has been compromised by a worn-down arm. The movement on his pitches is gone, as is the ability to consistently throw strikes. Much as with Johnson, when Mota does find the strike zone, it's usually with a get-me-over fastball that gets crushed.
In 24 innings of work, Mota has surrendered eight home runs. Simple math tells you that if he works 72 innings this season, that's 24 homers -- a ridiculous pace.
Again, If this is all the supposed veteran stalwart is going to give this team, I'd rather see the youngsters from Buffalo get their sea legs, even if they struggle at first.
Wedge is saying all the right things about his pitchers, soapboxing about "having something to build on" and "getting (the pitching) straightened out." But it's already June. The Indians are already facing large deficits in both the division and wild card races, and can ill-afford to fall farther back.
Other Indians pitchers have also fallen on hard times this season. But if Shapiro is looking for some branches to start pruning, Johnson and Mota would seem to be good places to start. They're leading the charge toward the bottom of the standings.
Friday, June 02, 2006
But it doesn't stop the pins and needles for anyone involved.
I've tried to get my head around it for several years. Why is everyone so fixated on LeBron leaving Cleveland? Is it the "OIC" factor, that "c'mon, this is too good to be true, something bad is bound to happen" feeling every Cleveland fan either wholeheartedly embraces or ferociously tries to suppress?
Is it emotional scars left over from the Carlos Boozer fiasco?
Is it the leeches of the national media who are constantly slithering around the perimeter, whispering things like "LeBron will never be the next Jordan playing in Cleveland."
There wasn't this type of impending critical mass when Tim Duncan approached his contract year. Or Kevin Garnett. Or even Kobe Bryant.
Nobody is concerned about whether any other member of LeBron's stellar 2003 draft class is staying put. We seem to take it for granted that Chris Bosh is going to remain a Raptor, that Carmelo Anthony is content in Denver, that Dwyane Wade will be the centerpiece of the Heat for years to come.
Like LeBron, they are all eligible for contract extensions this summer. But unlike the others, LeBron has his team and his city intently and fearfully waiting for D-Day, the day he makes his decision.
He also has the rest of the NBA waiting. Many teams with cap room are likely waiting to see what LeBron does this summer. If LeBron signs, it will be business as usual. On the off chance he doesn't, more than a few teams with salary cap space will probably reel in their spending this summer, knowing there will be a LeBron sweepstakes in the summer of 2007.
Maybe it's the celebrity status of LeBron that has us so pensive. The other players mentioned above are fine players, but only Bryant is in LeBron's league. And when all is said and done, LeBron might leave even Bryant in the dust of history.
Cleveland is the unlikely bearer of a once-in-a-generation talent. Like someone entrusted with carrying a priceless artifact on a long journey, we're afraid of the worst case scenario. We're afraid of dropping it, and losing it forever.
The big-city and national media, which knows Cleveland's supersized inferiority complex, is only too happy to pile on, telling us our city isn't worthy of LeBron, that he'll never reach his full star potential in Cleveland, that GM Danny Ferry did a lousy job of putting a team around him.
Luckily, they don't make the decisions. And most of what they say can probably be chalked up to jealousy.
In reality, it would be in LeBron's best interest to sign his extension. For a guy who needs no more attention, to reject the extension would be to open a Pandora's box of frenzied media inquiries as to his future plans. Not to mention the hard feelings it would create on the homefront. No matter what happens, LeBron must still play a minimum of two more years here.
The Cavs say all signs point to LeBron signing. LeBron has repeatedly said he's happy here, and wants to remain here. Wouldn't it be nice if everybody means what they say, and this whole contract extension circus ends without a hitch this summer?
I hope it's like the getting a shot at the doctor. You're hating it, you're nervous, you brace yourself for the pain, then the nurse says "all done," and you didn't feel a thing.
Then we can all get our Band-Aids and lollipops, go home, and get ready for next season.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
You can now read selected posts from this blog at Swerb's Blurbs, a comprehensive site for Cleveland sports fans. My debut article is The Tribe's mess. You can scroll down to read the original post.
By saying that, I am probably assuring myself that the Pistons will rally in seven and advance to the NBA Finals for a third straight year.
For the third straight time this postseason, the Pistons stared elimination in the face and came out a winner, prolonging their season by at least one more game with a 91-78 win over Miami Wednesday night.
Logic would seem to tell you that the odds of the Pistons winning three straight against the playoff-toughened Heat would be far less than winning two in a row against the green Cavaliers. But Detroit is uncanny when it comes to these kinds of situations. It's almost as if they need the challenge of facing elimination to get truly motivated. John Elway was the same way in many respects.
Wednesday, after messing around in three of the first four games, playing sloppy offense and halfhearted defense, the Pistons stiffened in Game 5, much like they did in Games 6 and 7 against Cleveland. The relentless defense returned, and Miami was held under 80 points.
It will be interesting to see what transpires in Game 6. Much like against the Cavs, I think if the Pistons manage to wriggle out of Miami with a win, they will take the series.
Of course, the Heat could make this all a moot point by simply winning Game 6 and advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time ever. While the Pistons seem to be masters of rallying from behind, it's tough to overlook the fact that since Game 3 against Cleveland, they are 4-6. Long stretches of sub-.500 playoff basketball will result in elimination eventually.
Detroit has been doing just enough to get by the past several weeks. In the end, that's what a team has to do. But if the Pistons keep losing three games per playoff series, sooner or later, that fourth loss will get them.