Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Brown and Brown, part 2

From reports in The Plain Dealer and ESPN Monday and today, it appears the Cavaliers might have their Browns.
Last night, ESPN reported Pacers assistant Mike Brown has agreed verbally to a four-year deal worth around $10 million to become the Cavs new head coach. If the story is true, it would be Mike Brown's first NBA head coaching job.
Mike Brown isn't what the average fan was salivating for. Most fans wanted Flip Saunders because of the local-native connection. But Mike Brown looks like a solid hire, a top assistant from a perennially-winning organization. However, Mike Brown's coronation might very well be overshadowed by the hiring of his new boss.
The Plain Dealer and ESPN both reported today that Pistons coach Larry Brown has accepted an offer from owner Dan Gilbert to become the Cavs new president once Detroit's season ends. For his part, Brown will almost certainly remain mum on his future until after the season. The Pistons currently trail Miami 2-1 in the Eastern Conference finals, with Game 4 tonight in Detroit.
On SportsCenter this morning, ESPN pro basketball reporter Chad Ford cautioned Clevelanders against getting too attached to the idea of Larry Brown as the team's new boss. The Lakers and Knicks still don't have coaches, and Larry Brown has been on the record professing his desire to coach in New York. There is still time for another opportunity to catch Brown's notoriously-wandering eyes.
The one thing that could make the Cavs' offer more attractive than the Lakers or Knicks is power. Brown would get a chance to prove his mettle as a basketball executive in Cleveland. In New York and Los Angeles, he'd be answering to Isiah Thomas and Mitch Kupchak, respectively.
Cleveland offers LeBron James to any front-office brain trust. LeBron by himself doesn't turn Cleveland into an NBA Mecca, but building around a superstar with an unselfish, positive attitude, maturity beyond his years and no apparent prima donna tendencies whatsoever is far better than having to build a team around Kobe Bryant or Stephon Marbury, either of whom needs to have their own stat sheets and egos satisfied before they look to their teammates.
If Larry Brown does become the new president of the Cavs, he would most likely hire a general manager to work under him. Former Cav Danny Ferry has been mentioned among the candidates.
(Before you choke on your Cheetos, don't judge Ferry as an executive based on Ferry as a player. Ferry is smart, even if he couldn't put the ball on the floor. Above all, he's spent the past several seasons working in the front office of the San Antonio Spurs, which should at least tie the New England Patriots as the best organization in pro sports. Half the battle of running a sports franchise is learning how to do things the right way.)
Having both a president and a general manager might become a case of too many chiefs at the top, but if responsibilities are defined and separated from the outset, and those in control are willing to listen to each other instead of trying to circumvent their workmates, a front office can build a system that works.
And a system is what the Cavs should be trying to build, remember?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Deep breath

I know Zach (of vitaminz.blogspot.com) is not happy the Indians aren't playing on Memorial Day. But after splitting a hard-fought series with the Twins and sweeping the Athletics, the Indians could probably use a day of hamburgers and back-yard horseshoes before embarking on a very important road trip to Minnesota and Chicago.
I should mention the Indians dodged Johan Santana in last week's four-game series against the Twins. That won't happen this week, when the Indians will have to be on the short end of a dreaded fifth-starter-vs.-staff-ace matchup Thursday. Scott Elarton draws the unenviable task of facing Santana.
On Wednesday, Cliff Lee will face Brad Radke, who the Indians have yet to beat this year.
That means Tuesday night's game is very important. C.C. Sabathia must find a way to steer the Indians to a victory over Carlos Silva.
I'd like to see the Indians playing on Memorial Day, but with another pressure-packed series against the Twins waiting in the wings, I'll let the Tribe have their mental health day in peace today.
Just keep the beer consumption to a minimum, boys. Hangovers are a bad idea right now. And no showing up at ghetto parties wearing $20,000 worth of jewelry. You hear me, C.C.?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Broom time

The Indians are slowly rising from the ashes. With today's 6-2 win over the Athletics, the Indians completed their first three-game series sweep of the season.
The Tribe is now 24-25, and 7-2 in their last nine. Looking up at the White Sox, who entered play today nine and a half games in front of the Indians, is still ominous, but the Indians stay five games behind Minnesota in the wild card.
The wild card is in the cards for the Indians, I'm telling you. I stand by my early-season prediction.

Brown and Brown

Reports Saturday said the Cavaliers are close to signing Indiana Pacers assistant Mike Brown as their new head coach. Combine that with rumors that owner Dan Gilbert is going to chase Pistons coach Larry Brown for the general manager's job once Detroit's season is over, and the Cavs might soon have more "brown" than Cleveland's footballers.
The selection of Mike Brown would make a heck of a lot more sense than the Shangri-La rumors of hiring Phil Jackson or Chuck Daly as the Cavs' bench boss. Mike Brown is 35 years old and one of the main architects of a Pacers defense that was among the league's best this season.
The Cavs, no secret, had a defense that made wet tissue paper look like reinforced steel plating many times.
Mike Brown also studied at the foot of Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, usually regarded as one of the league's top coaches.
(Carlisle formerly coached the Pistons, so there's your Gilbert-Pistons connection).
If Mike Brown is in place during or shortly after the Memorial Day weekend, that is one major load off the Cavs' back. But getting a general manager in place could take a bit longer, especially if Gilbert is dead set on giving Larry Brown the right of first refusal.
If Gilbert wants Larry Brown, he'd better have a plan B and C in place. He's tried to make inroads on Grizzlies GM Jerry West (nice try, but no dice) and Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe (ditto). Larry Brown is a nomad, the basketball world is his oyster, and there is simply no telling what is going to catch his fancy once the NBA season ends.
If you're waiting at the altar for Larry Brown, have a Game Boy in your pocket and ice water in your veins, because there's no telling when or if he'll show up to marry you.
Personally, I'd rather see Gilbert hire a top front-office assistant as the new GM, such as Indiana's David Morway or Denver's Jeff Weltman, who have both been mentioned in connection with the Cleveland job.
As I have mentioned before, Larry Brown is 64, has accomplished just about everything a basketball coach can, and might not be as motivated as Gilbert would like to believe to put a winning roster together for the Cavs. He might let off the gas pedal is soon as the road is bumpy. The only thing that could probably be motivating Larry Brown to take a look at the Cavs GM position right now is the belief some hold that Brown was a lousy shot-caller during his time running the roster in Philadelphia. Brown might want redemption for selfish reasons, and with Joe Dumars in Detroit, he's not going to get that chance with the Pistons.
But with LeBron James' desire to stay in Cleveland at stake, and riding a seven-season playoff drought, the Cavs' success means more to Cleveland fans than just Larry Brown's ability to say "See, I told you so."

Friday, May 27, 2005

A heartfelt apology

Kellen Winslow Jr. issued an formal written apology from his family, via the Browns, over the river and through the woods yesterday for "an unwise attempt to learn to ride a motorcycle without a professional instructor in a controlled environment."
His whereabouts, injuries, and overall status of his existence on planet Earth remain a closely guarded secret, much like Saddam Hussein. But even Hussein was photographed in his skivvies.
One can only imagine what the writing and editing process of the apolgy issued Thursday was like. So imagine we must...

OK, Kellen, fire away.

"Ahem. Uh ... yeah ... I'm Kellen Winslow Jr. and uh ... I .. I'msorryicrashedmymotorcycle."

Sorry, Kellen, what did you say?

"I said I ... I ... Geez, are you deaf or something? I said I'm sorry, or something."


"Cr ... for ... Crashing my bike. There! I said it! I'm wrong! Are you happy?"

Just for crashing your bike?

"And for trying to learn a dangerous activity barred in my contract without proper supervision or lessons. What is this, Get Kellen Winslow Day?"

No. And you apologize to whom for disappointing whom because you won't be doing what this season?

"Uh, to my dad for not living up to the stifling, suffocating expectations that come with the Kellen Winslow name..."

No, Kellen. You apologize to the Browns -- check that -- the Browns family. That sounds more personable. You apologize to the Browns family for disappointing the fans because you won't be playing this season.

"Uh, yeah. And I also apologize to the Starboyz for failing to execute that sick endo I was trying to emulate. You guys are the sickest, crunkest motherfu--"

Kellen, we're not going to be swearing or mentioning the Starboyz in this apology. We're trying to create some distance between you and motorcycles right now. Now, who is hurt the most by the fact you won't be playing this season?

"The Cleveland Browns. Breaks my heart. How are they going to win without me? I just hope they don't have to forfeit any games because I'm not there, like my agent Mr. Poston says."

No, Kellen. You are hurt the most. You are. No one is more disappointed by the fact you won't be playing this year than yourself. It's called empathy. It makes you look like you share the pain of everyone around you.

"Are we done yet? I left my Xbox on pause, and it'll burn out if I leave it on too long."

Yeah, I guess so. We'll just have some PR people polish it up and send it to the media.

"Cool. Hey, you know what? I think I'm done with motorcycles. I took up a new hobby. Once my leg gets better enough, I'm going to start riding all-terrain vehicles. The guy at the dealership said they are like 100 percent safer than motorcycles. I'm getting an ATV delivered next week. It's going to be sweet!"

Kellen ... oh, nevermind....

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The (really) old guard

Slightly more than a month since the Cavaliers season ended with a thud, and the team is still without a coach or general manager.
That wouldn't be such a big deal, except the rumors of who owner Dan Gilbert is chasing to fill those roles are becoming more and more outlandish.
The rumors started with realistic names, young up-and-comers in NBA front offices, like Indiana's David Morway and Denver's Jeff Weltman. Head coach candidates included Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman.
Then Gilbert had to go wooing Phil Jackson, and since then, he seems set on reeling in the biggest name he can get his hands on.
The Jackson rumors gave way to rumors that 74-year-old Chuck Daly was to become the next head coach of the Cavs. This week, the hot rumor has Gilbert chasing 64-year-old Pistons coach Larry Brown to be his new general manager.
When did Gilbert decide the cast of "On Golden Pond" would make a good NBA front office?
In the event Daly and Brown both wind up with the Cavs, golf lockers should be installed near the executive entrance at Gund Arena, and representatives for Viagra and Cialis should be notified for the sake of promotional deals.
Seriously, what would hiring people eligible for senior discounts at Bob Evans do for the Cavs? At the press conference to introduce Daly and Brown, Gilbert would be in his own Utopia: the coaches responsible for all three Pistons titles, and all four of their NBA Finals appearances to date, would be under his umbrella.
In case you didn't know yet, Gilbert is a Detroit-area native and resident, and an avid Pistons fan. His company, Rock Financial, is one of the Pistons' biggest sponsors.
While Gilbert was busy talking of the foundation being laid for a great championship run, Daly would be checking his pulse, wondering if his heart could take the stress of another season coaching in the NBA, something he hasn't done since 1999.
Brown, who never stays anywhere for very long, would probably be wondering if the Lakers coaching job will be open next summer, once Jackson and Kobe Bryant discover that, yes, they really do hate each other's guts.
If that arrangement were to happen, I'd be shocked if it last more than one season. Stunned. My jaw would go through the floor, even if the marriage resulted in a 55-win season and a deep playoff run for the Cavs in '06.
Brown and Daly have both been to the top. Daly has two NBA titles and a gold medal in the Olympics as a coach. Brown has an NCAA title, an NBA title, and (ahem) a bronze medal in the Olympics as a coach.
(You remember that bronze medal, right, LeBron? The one you won for sitting on the bench per Brown's orders?)
I find it hard to believe Daly and Brown would bring the enthusiasm and energy needed to put the Cavs in the top echelon of NBA teams. At the first sign of adversity, the instant the job is no longer fun and the ego-stroking stops, I would expect Brown and/or Daly to start looking for a way out. Nether one has much left to prove. They are both bona fide basketball gurus. A bad experience in Cleveland at the tail end of their careers probably wouldn't do much to damage their reputations. The media pundits would chalk it up to being over the hill, much like they did with Lenny Wilkens' disastrous tenure with the Knicks.
The one thing Brown or Daly could do is court a capable successor to groom, which Gilbert should demand they do upon accepting the job.
This off-season is a critical one for the Cavaliers. Critical for Dan Gilbert, too, but if Gilbert makes the star-struck decision in hiring a coach or general manager instead of the smart one, he gets pegged as a fantasy-league fan who just happens to be rich enough to afford his own team. He can still go home to his billion-dollar Internet loan corporation and feel like a success.
If Gilbert makes lousy decisions this summer and LeBron James leaves in couple of years, we in Cleveland are the ones left holding the bag. Again.

Logjam in the outfield

Indians outfielder Coco Crisp might not be out as long as originally thought, according to The Plain Dealer on Wednesday.
When Crisp injured his right hand sliding into third base against the Angels last week, it was diagnosed as a partial tear of a thumb ligament that would need at least three months to heal, regardless of whether surgery was performed or not. That would have put Crisp, who was leading the team with a .283 batting average, out of action until at least mid-August.
Now the swelling has gone down, and Crisp was referred to a hand specialist in the Baltimore area, who said Crisp could begin playing ball again within two to three weeks. With a likely rehabilitation assignment in the minors, that means Crisp could be back in Cleveland by mid-to-late June.
Crisp told The Plain Dealer he became suspicious of the earlier, more ominous prognosis when he had little pain and full range of motion in his hand several days after the injury.
That's great news for the Indians, since Crisp has been one of the few consistently good bats in their lineup this season. But it creates a logjam in the outfield when he returns.
If there is a snowball's chance in you-know-where he can play, the Indians will soon promote Juan Gonzalez from his Buffalo rehab stint. By process of elimination, that could mean the end of the road for Ryan Ludwick in Cleveland. Ludwick has no minor-league options left, and the Indians might be forced to designate him for assignment once the time comes to activate Gonzalez.
Ludwick is a solid hitter with a right field-capable throwing arm, and it would be a shame to simply cut him loose. But that decision could be easy compared to the one the Indians might have to make once Crisp is ready to come back.
Grady Sizemore has options left, but he's settling into the leadoff hitter's role. If he becomes a good leadoff hitter, that is a 500-pound gorilla off the back of general manager Mark Shapiro, who traded Matt Lawton away in the off-season. A stampede of wild horses couldn't demote Sizemore right now.
Jody Gerut is considered a building block like Crisp, and Casey Blake was signed to a multi-year contract in the off-season. Manager Eric Wedge will bend over backwards to make sure those guys get at-bats. Obviously, Gonzalez's power potential will keep him in the lineup so long as he stays healthy.
By my count, that's five outfielders clamoring for playing time. Even if Wedge and Shapiro listen to radio talk-show callers by returning Blake to third base and putting struggling Aaron Boone on the next freighter to Russia, it still doesn't entirely erase the logjam.
Too much talent is always a good thing. Finding ways to keep said talent happy and rust-free is another story.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Wrath of the 'stache

You know, I thought the mustache of Indians manager Eric Wedge was proof that he didn't take himself too seriously. How you can go around wearing a Groucho Marx facial hairdo like that and not have a sense of humor about it is beyond me.
But then I logged onto www.shaveericwedge.com yesterday to find that Indians media relations man Bart Swain has apparently been acting as Wedge's henchman, trying to muscle Webmaster Matt Glassman into shutting the site down.
Wedge has apparently found no humor in the site, on which Glassman joshingly blames the Indians' slow start on Wedge's 'stache, and implores Wedge to shave it off. If he shaves the mustache and the Indians offense doesn't immediately pick up steam, Glassman says on the site he will pay for all of Wedge's facial hair care products for the remainder of the season.
In a written response to Wedge posted on the site, Glassman said the site is "not meant to be an offensive site" and says "we are your friends."
He did manage to get a dig in about the Indians offense, still the worst in the American League:
"The ironic part is that this site may be the only thing 'offensive' in the city of Cleveland; for the nine men that daily make up your batting order certainly haven't done a thing that could be even loosely labeled 'offensive.'"
Someone needs to tell Wedge the story of another mastermind coach in Cleveland's recent history. He came in with a smile on his face and a song in his heart, but soon began to take himself way too seriously. Within a couple of years, not only did he bristle at the slightest morsel of criticism, he began to eliminate people from the organization and playing field he perceived as threats. By the end of his tenure, his brain was so fried people began to question his mental state.
That coach was Butch Davis or Paul Silas. Take your pick.
Wedge is the manager of a Major League Baseball team. He deserves a high amount of respect. But it is good to temper the duties of your job with some humor, even if you're the butt of the joke.
No one will ever confuse Charlie Manuel with Billy Martin in the pantheon of managers. Martin was a little general, he won a World Series, he got into fist fights on the street, and sometimes in the dugout. Manuel is viewed as a country bumpkin with a rudimentary grasp of the English language. But Manuel has a great self-effacing sense of humor. He is still alive and loving life, even managing in Philadelphia. Martin had personal demons eat away at his mind and body until he died drunk in a car wreck.
Please, Wedge, your mustache is funny. If you're going to keep it, at least learn to laugh about it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

An interleague twist

Interleague play came early this year. The yearly foray into the foreign waters of the opposite baseball league started May 20 as opposed to the early June start dates of previous years.
With interleague play comes the annual debate over its usefulness, its abrasiveness toward the traditional "you stay in your league, we'll stay in ours" mentality in baseball, the confusion over the use of the designated hitter and/or pitchers batting, and the holes it creates in other parts of the schedule.
Interleague play, plus the unbalanced schedule that sees every team play each one of its division rivals 19 times a season, means the Indians get to see old-time rivals such as the Yankees and Red Sox (rivals that are hated far more than the White Sox or Tigers) a mere six to nine games per year. The same goes for any other team that resides outside the American League East.
Usually, it isn't the unbalanced schedule that gets most of the heat for this. It's interleague play. Simply put, opponents say, fans of an AL team don't want to forego a series against the Yankees to see a series against the Milwaukee Brewers. There is logic in that.
But there is also logic in saying that fans of AL teams would like to see Barry Bonds in action. Fans of NL teams would like to see the mighty Yankees come to town. That's the driving (and money-making) principle behind interleague play. Natural geographical rivalries also pique fan interest, such as in two-team towns (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) and AL-NL cross-state rivalries (Ohio, Missouri, Texas and now Baltimore-Washington).
As was pointed out in The Plain Dealer this morning, interleague play is here to stay. Attendance figures signal their approval, and that will always drive what owners agree to do. If Indians owner Larry Dolan could guarantee a sellout every night by having Bob Wickman pitch in nothing but a g-string, well, avert your eyes.
But there are still things baseball can do to spice up interleague play further. This morning's Plain Dealer column shed some light on the concept, promoted by Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon, of playing by the opposite league's rules in the home park. In other words, pitchers would bat in AL parks, and the designated hitter would be used in NL parks.
This twist would benefit the fans of AL teams more than anything. While fans of the Indians would be treated to seeing C.C. Sabathia swing for another home run to match the one he got this weekend in Cincinnati, fans of the Reds would be treated to Willy Mo Pena sitting on his butt between at-bats. But fans of the Reds would also see a potential infusion into a lifeless offense by having an actual hitter batting in the lineup, as opposed to Aaron Harang or Eric Milton.
Again, it's novelty. And newness equals people in the seats, according to most major-league promoters.
In a sport that has given us wild-card play, interleague play and the winning league of the all-star game being awarded home field advantage in the World Series, no traditionalist-chafing idea is too outlandish.
Coming soon, Bud Selig allows the use of aluminum bats in the fifth inning only. He'll call it the "rally monkey inning" and get Pepsi to sponsor it nationally.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Why Hafner sat

In answer to Zach's comment in the post below:
Travis Hafner sat because he still has elbow problems from last year's surgery, which were inflamed when he was hit on the elbow earlier this year. In a nutshell, he can't throw a baseball well enough to play first base, otherwise I would have been asking the same question as to why he wasn't playing.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Crispy Coco

The Indians just had to get in on the long-term-injury-to-a-key-player kick, too.
The day after media reports had Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. missing the entire 2005 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Indians outfielder Coco Crisp is now reportedly gone until at least mid-August with a partial tear of a thumb ligament.
At least Crisp injured himself playing. He injured the thumb sliding into an out at third base in Tuesday's 13-5 win over the Angels. Televison replays showed Crisp holding and shaking the hand as he walked back to the dugout.
Within 24 hours, Crisp was on the disabled list and Jody Gerut was recalled from Buffalo. Gerut had been rehabbing a knee he injured making a sliding catch attempt in the outfield last September.
Crisp takes speed, defense and a team-high .283 batting average with him to the disabled list. The good news is Gerut gets some much-needed playing time, and Grady Sizemore (second on the team with a .282 average) gets to stay in the bigs.
If and when Juan Gonzalez gets healthy enough to play, the Indians will have to figure something else out to clear a roster spot for him. Sizemore is the only outfielder with any minor-league options left, but it's hard to believe they would demote who is now their best hitter.
Gonzalez begins a rehabilitation stint in Buffalo next week. When the Charlotte Knights come to town, they will be toting fellow broken-down big leaguer Frank Thomas, also on a rehab stint. If Jesse Orosco comes out of retirement to pitch for one of the teams, I might buy a ticket and drive up there.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Winslow is toast

Tell me, did you need binoculars to see this one coming?
Kellen Winslow Jr. is almost certainly out for the entire 2005 season after doctors confirmed what Browns management had feared: Winslow tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when he did his dipsy-doo over the handlebars of his crotch rocket two weeks ago. The injury will require surgery and about a year of rehabilitation.
Winslow might be the cheapest draft pick in recent Browns history. Last year, he missed out on a ton of performance bonuses when he broke his leg in Week 2 and missed the rest of the season. This year, the Browns are fully within their rights to pull a good chunk of Winslow's 2005 salary out from under him because he was injured riding a motorcycle, which media reports have said is an activity specifically prohibited in his contract.
The Browns probably should take back some of Winslow's contract now that they know for near certain he's not going to play this year. But they should act without anger. The point isn't to stick it to Winslow for doing something monumentally stupid. It's to save some cash on a guy who won't be helping your team this year.
From a fan's standpoint, the money isn't even the biggest issue. Those hopes of having Winslow and Braylon Edwards as a one-two receiver punch are now put on ice, if not outright dashed.
Much like the Cavaliers prior to Zydrunas Ilgauskas' triumphant return to all-star form in recent years, the Browns have to proceed like Winslow isn't a part of their future. Winslow is quickly proving to be a guy this team cannot rely on as a building block. It's a sad fact that sports managers have to be cynical in some cases when dealing with players.
We could write this off as youthful indiscretion, assume Winslow learned his lesson and will emerge wiser next year. That's until he puts his Ferrari into the front end of a Pizza Hut at 140 m.p.h. next off-season.
Until Winslow proves otherwise, he cannot be trusted to grow up and act mature. The Browns always have to assume their young tight end is immature and needs frequent supervision to protect him from himself.
Why do I get the feeling this is all going to end in a couple of years when the Browns finally get disgusted enough to release Winslow, and Junior winds up playing for his dad's old team, the Chargers?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Daly dosage

Cavaliers flagship radio station WTAM-AM 1100 in Cleveland reported Tuesday that Chuck Daly might be in negotiations to become the next head coach of the team.
It's a predictable move since Daly is viewed by some in Detroit as a saint. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is a Detroit-area resident and a die-hard Pistons fan (except when they are playing the Cavs, we'd hope).
Daly has the credentials. Two NBA titles heading the Pistons in 1989 and 1990. An Olympic gold medal as the coach of the first "Dream Team" in 1992. Unlike fellow basketball guru Phil Jackson, Daly isn't viewed as an eccentric. He helped put together a tough, workmanlike team in Detroit that embodied the blue-collar ethic held as high standard in the Great Lakes region.
If you needed more proof, Dennis Rodman didn't flake out until he left the Pistons.
Daly has a small local connection, previously coaching the Cavaliers for a forgettable 72-game stretch in 1981-82, where he first encountered a center named Bill Laimbeer, who has also been named in assorted Cavs-related rumors.
The Cavs have changed a lot since that young, spry Daly led his team onto the floor. For one, they now have a superstar who headed into the off-season with his head hung low, not feeling great about the direction of this hometown team he was supposed to save.
(That's LeBron James, on the off chance you didn't know).
They are a team trying to rebuild on the fly, needing a new coach and general manager and a lot of new players. To boot, they won't have a pick in next month's college draft unless they make a trade.
A lot is at stake, but by his mere presence, Daly would be a tremendous upgrade in the coach's chair, probably the best coach the Cavs have had since Lenny Wilkens.
There is one major hang-up, though: his age. Daly will turn 75 before the start of next season. Can he bring the leadership and energy needed to point this team in the right direction and keep them on course? Will he develop hindering health problems? He hasn't experienced the stress of coaching in the NBA since 1999 with Orlando.
Daly sure as heck wouldn't be a long-term solution. He'd be more of a tug boat, towing this team toward contention, setting them up for a successor.
To that end, Daly could pick from a small army of younger coaches who would love to be his protege. Someone like Eric Musselman, a former Gold State Warriors coach who might not intern for, say, Jeff Van Gundy, might be willing to learn at the feet of Daly for a couple of years, preparing himself to take over once Daly retires for good.
It's all about setting up a template, a system, not just getting one or two guys who can help a team win. Whoever is named the coach and general manager of the Cavs must put a successful system in place that future team leaders can follow. That's how the Cavs can stay in contention for a decade or more.

Too much Yankees

Just when we were all rubbing our hands together and cackling at the idea of the Yankees below .500 and in last place, at the idea of George Steinbrenner going berserk and firing anything that moved or breathed, here they come.
Following Tuesday's 6-0 win over Seattle, the Yankees have now won 10 straight, bumping their record from 11-19 to 21-19. They are still in fourth place, five games behind AL East-leading Baltimore, but once the Yankees have won 34 of 38 a month from now, that will probably have changed.
The Yankees have too much of everything. Too much owner. Too much money. Too much talent. Too much media. Too old. They are baseball hedonism personified.
If they were a person, the Yankees would be some grotesque version of John Belushi meets King Midas, snorting, drinking, and eating everything in sight, passing out blind drunk and stoned at 4 a.m., and still showing up at work the next day to make everything turn to gold.
You think they can't keep this up, that sooner or later, the mistakes will mount and this baseball Titanic will finally plunge into the deep. But it never happens.
Jason Giambi, implicated in steroid abuse investigations, is getting hits again. Derek Jeter might need an inner tube, but he can still walk on water when needed. Alex Rodriguez is still A-Rod.
And they keep winning.
I was hoping for one, glorious October without the Yankees. One year when they seem at least temporarily mortal. But the Yankees haven't missed the playoffs since 1993, and have never missed the World Series in consecutive years since.
I guess the smart money is to just assume the Yankees are going to the World Series this year. Yankee-haters had April to gloat. The rest of the season will probably be dedicated to shutting them up.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wedge's caterpillar

I've tried to ignore the mustache of Indians manager Eric Wedge, but after seeing www.shaveericwedge.com, a Website imploring Wedge to shave the caterpillar-looking facial hairdo off (discovered via Zach's blog, vitaminz.blogspot.com), I have to say something.
Funny thing about baseball. If the Indians were 27-12 like the White Sox, that cheek-to-cheek strip of facial hair would be a good luck charm. If the Indians win the World Series this year, the 'stache will be on display at the Great Lakes Science Center, right next to the skinless cadavers at the BodyWorks exhibit.
But the Indians are below .500, in fourth place, and Wedge's mustache is viewed as the baseball equivalent of breaking a mirror.
This is the point where I wish I knew how to drop pictures into my blog, because I could give you a quick pictorial history of Wedge's facial hair. It's actually quite extensive. Wedge probably changes his hair styles more often than his wife does.
Who can forget the clean-shaven Eric Wedge of late last season? Or the full-bearded "Grizzly Adams" Wedge of early last season?
I'm pretty sure there's a goatee-mustache combo in there somewhere, too.
The mustache Wedge currently sports is about the same as the caterpillar he displayed in 2002, the year before being named Cleveland's manager. He apparently likes to rotate hair styles.
But there are so many other facial hair variations the follicly-versatile Wedge has yet to experiment with. There might be some good karma for the Indians laying around in that hairy forest somewhere, much like there was on every pre-game plate of chicken Wade Boggs ate.
There's the Phil Jackson soul patch. The Brady Anderson "90210" sideburns. The Abraham Lincoln beard like Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar sported last year. The "never cut or shave anything" approach of Johnny Damon.
(Personally, I'd like to have a manager with a beard hanging down onto his shirt and over-the-collar pelt of head hair. If your manager looks like he goes home to a hollowed-out tree and hunts bear for his next meal, nobody will ever challenge his authority.)
There's Victor Martinez dreadlocks. Ronnie Belliard wears them, too. With Wedge leading the charge, dreadlocks could be a new sign of team unity, like high socks in 1997. It would be a new kind of "Rasta-Tribe."
What do you say, Eric? Let's at least wax that mustache of yours into handlebars. Rollie Fingers would approve, and he's in the Hall of Fame.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Karsay cut

The New York Yankees released pitcher Steve Karsay Thursday, possibly bringing to an end the career of one of the Indians' shooting stars of the 1990s.
At the age of 32, it appears the storm of injuries just became too much for the hard-throwing righty to endure anymore.
Karsay came to the big leagues as a prodigy of sorts in 1993. He was one of the highly-regarded prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, which knows a thing or two about good pitching. The Blue Jays system has also yielded the likes of Al Leiter and David Wells.
Karsay wasn't long for the Jays, however. He was sent to the Athletics in a package for Rickey Henderson in 1993.
In Oakland, he took a while to mature into an everyday starter. When he did, however, it wasn't with glowing results. He started 24 games for Oakland in 1997, but amassed a 3-12 record with a 5.92 ERA. The main reason: his pitching elbow was starting to unravel.
Karsay needed Tommy John ligament transplant that year, and was subsequently traded to Cleveland in the off-season.
(Trivia question: Karsay came to Cleveland in a three-team trade involving two pitchers who never pitched for the Indians in a regular-season game. Name them.)
Karsay had a meager introduction into the Cleveland system in 1998, going 0-2 in a handful of appearances. But the next year, he blossomed into a money man for the back of Cleveland's bullpen.
In 1999, he went 10-2 in 50 games, 47 of them out of the bullpen. He had 68 strikeouts against 30 walks as one of the primary set-up men for closer Mike Jackson. But shaky starting pitching overtaxed the Indians bullpen that year, and by the end of the season, Karsay and his pen-mates did have much left to give.
The pitching staff presided over one of the more embarrassing postseason collapses in recent baseball history, as the Tribe wasted a 2-0 series lead against Boston in the first round. The three-game collapse contained a 23-7 rout in Game 4.
With Jackson departed via free agency in 2000, Karsay became the closer to start the season. Like his then-teammate Paul Shuey, Karsay always made ninth innings an adventure. He converted a career-high 20 saves that year, but also blew nine.
His inconsistency led general manager John Hart to trade for Bob Wickman in July 2000, placing Karsay back in a set-up role, which made him at least privately unhappy. To his credit, he gave full effort as a set-up man and appeared in 72 games that year.
In 2001, Karsay was part of one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Indians spent most of the season chasing the Twins, and Karsay, along with Wickman, Shuey and Steve Reed kept them relatively close.
But it didn't stop Hart from making a bold, and ultimately bad, move. In late June, Hart (with the blessing of current GM Mark Shapiro) traded Karsay and Reed to Atlanta for the one and only John Rocker.
Rocker got some saves for the Indians, but his temper and thick-headedness turned out to be worse than anybody could have imagined. He alienated many of his Cleveland connections within weeks, and was a piece of background scenery by the time the Indians took on Seattle in the playoffs. Rocker was traded to Texas in the off-season.
Karsay pitched a career-high 88 1/3 innings in 2001, with 83 strikeouts against 25 walks and a 2.35 ERA.
His performance that year earned him a lavish contract from none other than George Steinbrenner.
When the Yankees opened their considerable pocketbook for yet another off-season shopping spree, they offered Karsay a four-year, $28 million contract.
It was an obscenely large contract for a set-up man, and a blatant example of Steinbrenner flaunting his team's financial girth. Steinbrenner would get his comeuppance, but unfortunately, it was at the expense of Karsay.
Karsay was solid for the Yankees in 2002, going 6-4 with a 2.86 ERA. But then the injury bug bit again, this time in his shoulder.
He missed the entire 2003 season with shoulder problems, and was never really the same afterward. After managing just 13 appearances last season and this season, the Yankees decided to eat the remainder of his contract and designate him for assignment.
If this is indeed curtains, Karsay's career will probably be forgotten to the baseball population at large. He didn't have much of an impact in Toronto, Oakland, or New York, and just stopped for a cup of coffee in Atlanta.
But in Cleveland, he did make a difference. He carved a niche, saving the bullpen on many nights, closing, setting up, even starting a few games.
He wasn't on World Series teams like Omar Vizquel or Jim Thome, but in Cleveland, he should never need a ticket to get into Jacobs Field.

C.C. rider

In response to Zach's Indians question:
Yes, the Indians are playing better than they were a couple of weeks ago. Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard and Grady Sizemore in particular seemed to be the most energized by this most recent road trip. But, even though they are 7-5 in their last 12, I am reserving judgment. Let's see them get above .500 and stay there first.
If I get too pumped about the Indians, games like Sunday cool me off in a hurry. The offense was facing Roy Halladay, so I am not too bothered they were essentially shut down. What bothers me is C.C. Sabathia's performance. It is largely the same thing that bothered me about Bartolo Colon when he was an Indian ( "largely" is not a segue into shots at Sabathia's or Colon's fat rolls).
My beef is that Sabathia cannot string three good outings in a row together, much like last season, much like when Colon would strike out the side in order in the first inning and give up five runs in the third. Again yesterday, knowing the caliber of the opposing pitcher, Sabathia let the Indians get into an early hole, and just when they might have scratched out the tying run in the ninth, Sabathia gave up a three-run homer to Vernon Wells in the eighth, putting the game out of reach.
Sabathia blinked. Aces aren't supposed to blink when facing another ace. Is that demanding of me? Yeah, but Sabathia keeps getting called an "ace." His percieved ace status got him an $18 million contract extension.
Maybe this is a potshot at Sabathia's weight. There is a school of though that says Sabathia and Colon have never been able to fully spread the wings of their talent because their bodies break down under the excess weight.
Sabathia's a workhorse like Colon, but I don't know if he'll ever rise above that into the rarefied air of acedom. If I could swap him straight up for Dontrelle Willis, I'd do it.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Redemption in Buckeye

Buckeye kids need cry no more. They are getting their sports back.
Three days after the school board voted 3-2 to not accept a proposal that would have used private donations, pay-to-participate fees and gate revenue to fund athletics for the district in Medina County, the board voted 4-1 to accept a revised proposal Friday afternoon.
There were two main keys to the revision: one, the amount of the initial fund balance was upped, and two, the Buckeye athletic and band boosters must secure a "contingency pledge." All money is due by July 15.
The plan that was rejected Tuesday included a $50,000 initial fund balance from private donations, which would be placed in a separate district account. Friday's revision upped that to $60,000. In addition, a contingency pledge of $25,000 is due at the same time.
The $25,000 will be used as an insurance policy in case athletic participation and gate revenues fall below expectations.
Athletics won't come cheap for the students and their parents. The pay-to-participate fees are $365 per sport.
The district's money-movers spent days re-hashing the proposal, trying to make it work. Eventually, they came to a middle ground with the boosters. Varsity, junior varsity and eighth grade sports will proceed next school year. Seventh and ninth grade sports are still on ice, but those kids (if they're good enough) can participate on the other levels.
It's a bandage. It's a compromise. It is a stopgap until a levy passes or the state of Ohio drastically changes school funding (I'm betting on the former happening before the latter). But, like on Tuesday, the speeches and spreadsheets of the adult world aren't the real story here. Kids, and the sports teams they love, are.
Financial caution prevailed Tuesday. The kids prevailed Friday. Many juniors and seniors got to hear the news as they arrived at prom in the evening, an especially sweet cap to the school year.
It will be even sweeter when the football team pulls on their pads for two-a-days in August. Never will slogging through tackling drills in 90-degree heat have felt so good.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The curious White Sox

Somebody please explain the Chicago White Sox to me.
They're trying to win ballgames with the same smoke-and-mirrors approach of the Indians, relying on an offense with little star power, a largely young starting rotation, and an improved bullpen.
The difference is, while the Indians grand plan has largely beared no fruit in the first six weeks of the season, the White Sox have sprouted an orange grove.
Entering play tonight, they are a major-league best 26-9. Last night, they beat another first-place team, the Orioles, 3-2.
Jon Garland, last night's winning pitcher, is having the same kind of breakout season Cleveland's Jake Westbrook had last year. Maybe better. He's 7-0, treading in early Cy Young Award candidacy.
Baseball pundits are convinced the White Sox can't keep this pace up. They say they don't have the offense, that they can't compensate for the off-season losses of Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez all season. They say they can't count on Frank Thomas to get (or stay) healthy. They are convinced Chicago's pitching has deficiencies, and at some point, they will be exploited.
But it's May 13. the season's seventh week begins Sunday, and the White Sox show no signs of cooling off. Even if they hit a mediocre stretch later on, the Sox might have so thoroughly buried the rest of the division by then (save possibly Minnesota), that it might not matter.
Baseball yakkers also point to Chicago's unearthly 14-3 records in one-run games. They say no team can dominate in one-run games like that for an entire season. But that's one of the quirks of the game. Some teams, in some years, win a bunch of close games. If anything, the Sox' ability to win one-run games is a testament to their pitching, in particular, their back-end bullpen trio of Damaso Marte, Dustin Hermanson and Shingo Takatsu. Manager Ozzie Guillen essentially has three closers to work with.
The offense gets the pitching a lead, be it one, five, or 10 runs, and the pitching protects it. Nearly every night.
The Indians are coming off a 5-4 road trip through Minnesota, Texas and Los Angeles. But even if the Cleveland offense continues to show signs of life, Tribe fans would be best advised to start looking at the wild card race now. Catching Chicago is going to be very difficult.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Heartbreak ridge

The following post is a rare mixing of my blog and my newspaper work.
Tuesday night, I had the unenviable task of watching several hundred Buckeye High School and junior high kids have their hearts broken.
Unable to fund athletics without a levy passage, the school board of Buckeye, a district located in western Medina County, had to cut the program. All of it. Football, baseball, basketball, soccer, track, cross-country, wrestling, volleyball, tennis, golf, cheerleading and marching band.
The loss of the program existed only on paper until Tuesday night, when the board voted 3-2 to not accept an alternate funding plan that would have used private donations, pay-to-participate fees, and gate revenue from sporting events to front the nearly $500,000 it would have taken to keep the program afloat next school year.
Members of the board said they weren't convinced the money would be there to keep the program all of next school year.
Now, the loss of the athletic program is all too real. The program isn't coming back until a levy passes, and the next opportunity for that won't be until November. For the first time in its 52-year history, Buckeye won't field a football team next fall.
Looking at it objectively, it seems like jettisoning ballast for a sinking school district. Sports are great, I'll be the first to say, but compared to academics, they are far less important.
Then you look at the faces of the kids as they streamed out of the Buckeye High School auditorium Tuesday night. Their lives were over. Not in the literal sense, of course, but what was probably one of the biggest identifying aspects of their lives was being taken away.
Football players slammed lockers. Girls basketball players embraced in groups. Everybody was crying.
When you're 14,15 and 16, there isn't much that makes you somebody to the outside world. You don't have a career. You probably aren't that active in community causes. You are a student, a kid, just like everyone else your age. What makes you stand out, gives you purpose, an identity apart, are your extracurricular activities.
Many kids wore their brown and orange Buckeye uniforms to the meeting. They pleaded with the school board to keep athletics.
Several members of the school board were on the verge of breaking down emotionally, but in the end, the cold, calculating principles of risk and cause-and-effect prevailed.
Buckeye has finger-pointing to spare right now. Everybody has a culprit or culprits as to why sports has taken an indefinite leave of absence.
There are no happy faces in Buckeye right now. The adult world just interrupted the childhoods of about 800 kids. Before the first digit is pointed in blame, that is the saddest part.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Changing of LeBron's guard

Was it a verse from Ecclesiastes that said something to the effect of, "when I was an adult, I put away childish things"?
Whether or not LeBron James is an avid student of the Old Testament, he is reportedly indeed going out with the old and in with the new as he approaches legal drinking age.
Media reports have LeBron firing agent Aaron Goodwin, possibly as early as today, and replacing him with a combination of close friends and New York-based Def Jam Recordings, better known for repping rap artists than athletes.
Def Jam has represented rapper Jay-Z, a.k.a. Shawn Carter, a minority shareholder in the New Jersey Nets, who reportedly would like to move the team to a new arena in Brooklyn.
LeBron-to-New York conspiracy theorists, start your engines.
However, while LeBron's public relations team could get a distinctively New York flavor, there are still going to be plenty of Northeast Ohio ties left intact. Fellow Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary graduates Maverick Carter and Randy Mims will continue to work closely with LeBron, as they have since the moment he graduated and became a brand name.
LeBron makes it a point to surround himself with trusted friends who knew him before he was "The Chosen One", a very smart move considering how many leeches would love to have a piece of him for their own benefit.
Mims is his road manager. He coordinates almost all the hotel bookings and public appearances when LeBron travels with the Cavaliers. Carter is LeBron's Nike liaison.
Goodwin's presence on Team LeBron is rendered pointless by several factors, including the presence of Mims and Carter, who do a great deal of the work an agent would otherwise perform.
LeBron's next basketball contract might also require surprisingly little haggling.
The NBA's current collective bargaining agreement means the amount and length of LeBron's next contract offer will pretty much be slotted beforehand. The amount and years the Cavs can offer him will be known by next summer, when LeBron is eligible for a maximum deal. The Cavs can also match any offer sheet LeBron could sign with another team, should he become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2007.
Should LeBron hit the unrestricted free agent market in the summer of 2008 and actually need a contract negotiated, he knows he could probably get hooked up with a top-flight agent easily enough. But he can cross that bridge when (if) he gets there.
In addition, Goodwin's own diligent work might have sealed his fate.
Goodwin negotiated $135 million in endorsement deals for LeBron before and during his rookie year. After signing on to plug Nike, PowerAde, Bubblicious, Juice batteries and Upper Deck trading cards, and another large deal involving McDonald's reportedly in the works, it is unlikely LeBron will be lending his name to any other major products any time soon.
Goodwin oversaw the launch of LeBron's career. The severing of business ties with Goodwin is probably a sign that LeBron is promoting himself to captain of his ship.
It's kind of the way Michael Jordan did things, if you needed another LeBron-Jordan comparison.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Power of the 'pen

Running the Cleveland Indians is apparently like trying to hold a handful of marbles. One falls out of your hand, and when you go to pick it up, three more fall.
Last year, the Indians dragged their bullpen around like a big, ugly goiter. Until Bob Wickman and Bob Howry arrived off the disabled list for the season's second half, the bullpen had no real go-to guys. Jose Jimenez and Scott Stewart were flaming busts. David Riske took almost two-thirds of a season to recover from a disastrous start, and the relief corps had no reliable lefties.
The Tribe sat and watched as countless solid efforts by the offense and starting rotation had a torch taken to them by the bullpen. We still can only wonder how many more games the 80-win Indians could have won last year with a good bullpen. Enough to wrestle the AL Central away from the Twins? That answer is lost to the ages now.
This year, it is just about the exact opposite. The Indians now have the bullpen of a contender. Playoff-tested lefties Scott Sauerbeck and Arthur Rhodes have joined Wickman, Howry, Rafael Betancourt and a revitalized Riske to form one of the top bullpens in baseball.
The trouble is, the offense is now the worst in baseball, entering play today with a major-league low .231 team average, and the starting rotation is inconsistent with a penchant for coughing up home runs.
Now, the offense and starters aren't getting a lot of leads to the later innings for the bullpen to protect. Despite having a bullpen that is arguably as good or better than baseball's top team to date, the White Sox, the Indians enter play today 12-17 and in fourth place, 10 1/2 games out in the Central.
And it's only May.
After last season's late-inning minefield, I'd like to consider the bullpen the one problem solved on this team. I'd like to think owner Larry Dolan is going to supply general manager Mark Shapiro with the funds and permission to seek out pieces to augment the offense and rotation.
But as long as the Indians draw sluggish numbers at the Jacobs Field gate, I know that probably won't happen. And as long as the Indians stay near the back of the bus in the American League, fans probably aren't going to turn out in droves to see them play the Royals or Tigers for the eight millionth time.
It's a self-perpetuating thing, and it might lead to the dismantling of the Cleveland bullpen before the July 31 trade deadline.
The longer the Indians stay out of contention, the harder it is going to be for Shapiro to resist trade offers for his relief pitchers. Texas has already reportedly inquired about Riske and Howry.
If the Indians don't find themselves any closer to the playoff chase in July than they are now, expect Shapiro's cell phone to ring until it melts and burns a hole in his pants pocket.
July is the time when legitimate contenders start behaving like debutantes getting ready for a black-tie gala, fretting over every little imperfection. Nothing is fretted over more than bullpens, so very important in the late-inning chess matches of October.
Big-money contenders like the Braves, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers will be willing to pay the Indians handsomely in prospects for Rhodes, Riske, Howry or Sauerbeck. It means Shapiro to could get his hands on the power bats missing from the Indians' lineup presently. The trade-off is, it puts the bullpen back on the shaky ground of last year, as we would then have to hold our collective breath and hope Jason Davis turns into a bona fide door slammer.
I think everybody that follows the Indians was really hoping this would be the year they could add pieces for the stretch instead of once again serving as a garage sale for the rest of baseball. But a stacked bullpen doesn't do a lot of good on a fourth-place team. If the Indians never get to breathe down the necks of any contenders this year, Shapiro will have to start looking when teams fling open the doors to their farm systems.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Jeff Van Gundy

If we remember back to spring 2003 when the Cavaliers were conducting their previous most-recent coaching search, we remember the search came down to two primary finalists: Paul Silas and Jeff Van Gundy.
A lot of people had Van Gundy rated higher than Silas. After all, they said, Van Gundy's Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1999, and the Knicks were a perennial playoff contender under Van Gundy.
Silas brought the disciplinarian aspect, they said, but Van Gundy was the master tactician.
It's hard to argue between the track records of the two coaches now. After two years with the Rockets, Van Gundy has taken them to two playoff appearances. Silas' Cavs narrowly missed the playoffs last year, and he was fired by the time they were eliminated on the last day of this season.
Van Gundy certainly looked like he would have been the better choice for the Cavs to hire two years ago. That is, until last week, when Van Gundy showed what a temperamental, yappy chihuahua he really is.
Van Gundy accused the NBA of a wide-ranging, referee-driven and Mark Cuban-funded conspiracy against Yao Ming and the Rockets.
As has been previously reported across the country, coaches blowing smoke about referees is nothing new. Phil Jackson, the high Zen priest of NBA coaches, has been guilty of accusing referees of bias or incompetence. But going Oliver Stone with conspiracy theories is an entirely different ballgame.
If your opponent is the Knicks or Lakers, one of the league's flagship franchises, your conspiracy accusations might hold a bit more water with the public at large. But Van Gundy accused the NBA of trying to grease the skids of Houston's playoff opponents, the Dallas Mavericks, into the second round. Despite being a perennial playoff team, the Mavs have never been to the NBA Finals, and have advanced to the Western Conference finals only twice in the history of their franchise. If you're keeping count, that's as many times as the Cavs have reached the conference finals.
But apparently, that wasn't enough to convince Van Gundy, who must think league commissioner David Stern is bound and determined to see Dirk Nowitzki hoist the NBA Finals MVP trophy, and send Yao back to China.
Stern came down hard on Van Gundy, levying a $100,000 fine along with a public tongue-lashing.
And you thought Silas' feud with Jeff McInnis was a sideshow? At least Silas was only 50 percent responsible for that.
This lack of dignity isn't even out of character for Van Gundy, who will always be remembered for pathetically latching onto Alonzo Mourning's leg during one of the fight-riddled playoff series between the Knicks and Heat in the 1990s.
Van Gundy is also known for crashing his car on more than one occasion because he was busy thinking about basketball instead of driving.
No matter how many screwball things Van Gundy does, there will always be a market for him because he knows basketball. But if a pilot is going to fly you cross-country, what is going to be more important to you? The fact that he knows the cockpit inside and out and has logged thousands upon thousands hours in the air, or the fact that he is a nut prone to letting his emotions get the better of him?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Costs of Kellen's crash

Three days after Kellen Winslow Jr. crashed his motorcycle in a Westlake parking lot, and information is still flowing slower than molasses.
Media reports from the Cleveland Clinic and Browns headquarters say Winslow has a bruised kidney, shoulder injury and other possible internal injuries. But what appears to have the Browns the most concerned is an injury to Winslow's right knee, which is still reportedly swollen.
The Browns are worried Winslow might have torn the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee, which would most likely quash most or all of Winslow's 2005 season. As it is, he probably won't be able to participate in any of the Browns' minicamps this spring.
Winslow's tenure with the Browns is quickly reaching the disastrous territory of Dajuan Wagner's three seasons with the Cavaliers. After missing 14 games and a $5 million performance bonus after breaking his leg against Dallas last season, Winslow stands to possibly miss all of this season and might have to pay back a $4 million signing bonus because he was injured during a risky non-football activity.
Winslow was a bonehead for trying to get in touch with his extreme side, but much of the blame could also belong on the shoulders of Winslow's agents, Carl and Kevin Poston.
Winslow's contract with the Browns reportedly lists motorcycling specifically among the non-football activities he is prohibited from engaging in. The fact that he was nearly killed in a crotch-rocket crash, and the fact witnesses told the media they saw Winslow pop wheelies on his 2005 Suzuki earlier in the day, as he left a motorcycle store in Canton, means one of two things:
1. Winslow has no regard for his responsibilities to the team that employs him, and doesn't give a damn what his contract says.
2. The Postons did not hammer home to Winslow his responsibilities to the team, and the importance of honoring the contract.
There will always be an element of issue number one floating in the air, but if you remember back to Winslow's two-week holdout from training camp last July, you'll remember the Poston brothers and their single-minded pursuit of top dollar for their clients. The Postons, in many NFL circles, define the word "shark."
There is nothing wrong with agents trying to get a good deal for their clients. That's one of the reasons they are employed. But another capacity agents serve is to advise their clients, to be their voice of reason. That is especially true in the case of some like Winslow, who is young and has a history of using poor judgment.
Perhaps the Postons were too obsessed with getting Winslow (and themselves) paid, and forgot about going over the contract with Winslow, including the boring stuff that doesn't involve paychecks.
Since we now know Winslow was blatantly riding a crotch rocket around northeast Ohio the day of the crash, we also know that if anybody had asked Winslow prior to the crash if he had a clause in his contract prohibiting motorcycle riding, the only two possible answers could have been "I don't know" or "I don't care." Both are fairly disturbing. Both show a high disregard for the Browns' organization, from Winslow, his agents, and possibly Winslow's hall-of-fame father, Kellen Sr., who has been closely involved with his son's career.
In the future, the Browns might not be able to take for granted that their players are going to use good judgment. Unless a Browns official tells a player to his face not to do something, apparently they have to assume it is as good as giving them permission to do it. It might insult the intelligence of many Browns players to be treated that way, but Winslow and his entourage have just lowered the bar for everybody.

Slick Wickman

We've all heard about an intentional walk. How about an intentional balk?
With Michael Cuddyer on second base, two out and the Indians leading Minnesota 4-2 in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Bob Wickman reportedly did just that.
The Plain Dealer reported that Wickman thought back to his blown save April 21 against the Angels. After Garrett Anderson hit a bloop single to score Darin Erstad from second in the ninth and tie the game (a game the Indians eventually lost in extra innings), Wickman became suspicious that Erstad might have tipped off Anderson as to the pitch.
With third base open, a two-run lead, two out and right-handed hitting Shannon Stewart batting, Wickman apparently thought the time was right for the first balk in his career.
He set himself, moved his left foot, then came off the rubber, faking a move toward third. Two umpires immediately signaled the balk.
For those of you who aren't as familiar with baseball terminology, a balk is committed when runners are on base, and the pitcher, working out of the set position, breaks his stance and makes a move toward home plate without delivering the ball. The idea is that a pitcher can unfairly fake the runner into breaking for the next base, then toss him out by throwing to the base.
When a balk is committed, the runners on base are awarded the next base. Runners on third score.
In Wickman's case, however, the balk might have worked to his advantage. Putting Cuddyer on third took him out of the line of sight for catcher Victor Martinez's signals to Wickman. Runners on second are a favored method of stealing signs in baseball.
Initially, the balk looked like the start of Wickman's undoing. He walked Stewart to bring Matthew LeCroy to the plate as the potential winning run. During the at-bat, Martinez visited the mound multiple times as it appeared he and Wickman couldn't get on the same page, pitchwise.
The pace of the game ground to a halt, and amid a cascade of boos from impatient Twins fans, pitching coach Carl Willis popped out of the dugout for a conference with Wickman and most of the infield.
Maybe that was part of the script, too.
After much consternation and hand-wringing, Wickman finally got the count on LeCroy to 2-2. Then, in a display of veteran guile surpassed only by the intentional balk, Wickman got the best of LeCroy. Wickman threw an 80-mile per hour back-door slider that missed its mark by at least two feet, but tied up Lecroy high and tight. The pitch was a ball, but LeCroy gave a half-hearted jab swing and struck out to end the game.
It was save No. 6 for Wickman, putting him on present pace for about 35.
Wicky will never be confused with Eric Gagne or Mariano Rivera in the pantheon of closers. He doesn't throw 98 mph. He doesn't have explosive stuff, or even a true strikeout pitch. He lets runners on base. He lets runs score. But there is something to be said for having a 35-year-old veteran closer who has been through the wars many times over, who knows just about every trick in the book and is savoring every outing after having his career threatened by elbow problems, blown save or converted save or otherwise.
Wickman might never throw free and easy. He might not look in command on the mound. But he is.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Kellen Knievel

Apparently, donning an NFL uniform and being chased down by Ray Lewis just doesn't satisfy Kellen Winslow Jr.'s adrenaline fix.
Sunday night, Browns tight end Winslow reportedly flipped over the handlebars of his 2005 Suzuki motorcycle when he clipped the curb doing 35 miles per hour in a Westlake parking lot, where he and four other guys were riding motorcycles.
His injuries weren't termed life-threatening, but a Westlake police lieutenant told The Associated Press Winslow was being "real evasive" when police asked him about his injuries at the scene, adding that Winslow was complaining of chest pain.
Winslow was reportedly wearing a helmet. Unfortunately for Winslow, the chin strap wasn't buckled, which makes even the most padded helmet as useful as one of those plastic novelty batting helmets you can buy at the ballpark. Winslow's helmet reportedly came off in the accident as he landed in a landscaped area, damaging a small tree.
We don't know what injuries Winslow sustained in the accident, but the man was just coming off two surgeries on a leg he broke in Week 2 last season.
For a millionaire athlete who relies on his body for a living, and could have a good portion of next season's fate resting on his health (and ability to remain alive), Winslow sure used poor judgment when he decided to mount that crotch rocket. Awful judgment. Ghastly judgment. Apparently Winslow had never heard of Jay Williams, the Bulls guard who has yet to resume his career after being seriously injured in a motorcycle accident last year. Or maybe at 21, Winslow is young enough and arrogant enough to feel invincible.
Maybe it's not Winslow's legs and joints we should be worrying about. Maybe it's his head.

The Force is with us (for now)

If this world was fair, every other sports entity in Cleveland would get in line behind the Force.
While the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers have become proficient at unenviable skills like losing, or only getting good enough to fail in the end, Cleveland's indoor soccer franchise has won three league titles since 1994. In their previous incarnation as the Crunch, Cleveland won National Professional Soccer League titles in 1994, 1996 and 1999.
Guess what? The Force, re-named in honor of the old Bert Wolstein-owned franchise in the 1980s, is back in the title round of the reborn Major Indoor Soccer League. They will face the Milwaukee Wave in the first game of a two-game championship series starting May 14 in Milwaukee and ending May 21 in St. Louis. If the series is tied after regulation time in Game 2, sudden-death overtime will decide the championship.
The Plain Dealer reported today that Cleveland was shut out of a home date because ESPN2, which will most likely televise Game 2, could not be guaranteed a date and time at the Wolstein Center (formerly the Cleveland State University Convocation Center.)
Cleveland could be the champion of something by May 21. That's the good news. The bad news is, the Force might not be around to defend their title next winter.
Owner Richard Dietrich is trying to find a buyer for the franchise, which, like many minor-league sports teams in big-city markets, is losing money. After Sunday's 10-6 league semifinal win over the Philadelphia Kixx, seven front-office employees were laid off, The Plain Dealer reported.
If Dietrich cannot find a buyer (he is reportedly seeking $1.3 million for the team after purchasing it for $1.75 million in 1999), it is unlikely the Force will take the field next season, bringing to an end an era of indoor soccer in Cleveland that has existed since the early '80s.
The heyday of indoor soccer, concieved as a hybrid of soccer, basketball and hockey, appears to be over. The reincarnated MISL had two teams suspend operations in the middle of this season due to lack of funds. The indoor "hybrid sport" of choice now looks like arena football, which has a national television contract with NBC.
If the Cleveland Force folds, indoor soccer will lose one of its capitals. In their salad days, the Force arguably had as passionate a following as the Cavs at the Richfield Coliseum. And that was before the Crunch title run when indoor soccer moved downtown.
If indoor soccer dies in Cleveland, the sport itself might be following suit.