Sunday, July 31, 2005

Standing pat

The trade deadline came and went today, and not surprisingly, the Indians did nothing.
Financially-challenged teams like the Indians can't take chances like other teams, either in alienating their fan bases further by punting away the season, or in taking on a contract that could turn out to be a 600-pound dead gorilla on their backs.
Other teams called about Kevin Millwood. Apparently, whatever was being offered for Millwood wasn't enough to offset the backlash from fans and media as the Indians, essentially, would have given up on yet another season.
Millwood will finish the season and most likely move on. The Indians will be compensated only with a draft pick for losing him in free agency.
The Indians called about hitters. Adam Dunn (Reds probably wanted too much), Carlos Lee (nope), Moises Alou (nope) and Kevin Mench (Rangers just traded for Phil Nevin. You think they're giving up on the season?)
The only other logical piece that would have fit the Indians' puzzle, Joe Randa, was whisked away to San Diego last week.
All of it adds up to no deadline deals. And the knowledge that what you see is pretty much what you will get with the Indians for the remainder of the season, in all likelihood: several games over .500 and no playoffs.
Adding pieces, if it can be done, will have to wait for the off-season.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


The title of this post is simple because there is only one "Manny." No matter how many other uniforms he wears, there is only one Manny to Indians fans.
He has a head for hitting and it appears not much else. He is an idiot-savant, studying pitchers, working tirelessly in the batting cage, perfecting his craft.
When it comes to life in general ... that's another story.
Manny does what Manny does and Manny wants what Manny wants. What he wants today might not be what he wants tomorrow, but Manny is a real "here and now" kind of guy. It's a big part of what makes him such a good hitter. He never concerns himself with the past or the future in between the white lines of the batter's box.
Manny thought Cleveland was all right. But then he hurt his hamstring in 2000 and then-general manager John Hart accused his prize hitter of sandbagging and milking his injury for time off. It should be noted that this was in the heat of a furious playoff push that was ultimately unsuccessful.
Manny grew upset with Hart. Strange messages began appearing on his batting-practice spikes, though the origin was never publicly determined.
As a free agent that off-season, Manny tore up any chance of a hometown discount for the Tribe and bolted for Boston. He told the media he was sick of being in Cleveland and just winning the division every year. He said he wanted to go someplace where he could win the World Series.
Many of us in Cleveland laughed, including me. After all, no franchise was more cursed than the Red Sox, right?
It took a few years, but Manny, like a cat, always seems to land on his feet. Not only did he get his championship, he received World Series MVP honors.
Last October, Manny's time in Cleveland officially became a footnote to his career, kind of like Randy Johnson's spell with the Expos.
Now, Manny wants something new. He did it all in Boston, and apparently he wants out. Rumors are flying that he could be shipped to the Mets as part of a three-team deal by Sunday's trading deadline.
Or he might stay put. He was almost gone to Texas for Alex Rodriguez two years ago when Boston grew fed up with his inability to be a baseball soldier. He was caught commiserating with Enrique Wilson, a member of the blood-rival Yankees, after a game in 2003.
We understood in Cleveland. Those two went way back as members of the Indians. But not in Boston. Even if he's your twin brother, you do NOT have idle chit-chat with a sworn enemy.
The deal was in place on paper, but Boston management couldn't justify taking on Rodriguez's huge salary. The rest is history.
Now, Manny appears to be the one who wants out. He's the king of Boston, he's rich, he's a champion, he has everything anyone would want from life. So why does he want out? If he's willing to go to New York, it sure as heck isn't to get out of the spotlight glare.
The answer might be that there is no answer. Boston fans, obviously upset with his trade desire, booed him during his first at-bat Friday night at Fenway Park. Manny was later seen smiling in the Red Sox dugout, but David Ortiz took umbrage in a postgame rant aimed at Boston fans.
Others care how Manny is perceived by the outside world. Others worry about what's going on in his head. Others spew their love or hate toward him. Manny is unfazed.
Manny wants what Manny wants. It frustrates others no end. Not that Manny cares.

The "Just shut up" award

...goes to Tim McCarver for his distinguished work during the ninth inning of today's Fox broadcast of the Yankees-Angels game:

"Sliding really well with that slider."
...commenting on the off-speed pitch of Los Angeles closer Francisco Rodriguez during his at-bat to Gary Sheffield.

"You could call this match-up 'Rod-Rod'." batter later when Francisco Rodriguez faced Alex Rodriguez.

Despite a late Angels rally, Francisco Rodriguez gagged, blew the save and lost the game 8-7, proving that not even a good closer can overcome the bad mojo of Tim McCarver's commentary.

Friday, July 29, 2005

On the road: Scranton

SportsCenter is doing their "50 states in 50 days" series over the coming weeks. Well, I'm on the road, too.
Call it "Papa Cass: Three states and one district in seven days."
Between yesterday and this coming Thursday, I will be road-tripping to the Poconos and Washington, D.C., taking in the sights, walking until my legs hurt, and eating a lot of food I probably shouldn't.
My trip includes the states of Pennsylvania (where I am now writing from), Maryland, Virginia and, obviously, the District of Columbia.
Today, I am in a hotel room in Hamlin, Pa., about 20 miles east of Scranton in the state's northeast corner.
Among other things, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area is the native region of former Cavaliers guard Bob Sura. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre (about 10 miles to the south) are towns that boomed in the 19th and early 20th centuries when coal was the lifeblood of America's industry, and mining the anthracite was one of the most in-demand (and demanding) jobs in the country.
Today, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre survive as the largest cities in northeast Pennsylvania, but are showing the wear that comes with time and the decline of coal mining. Like many towns in the Appalachians, Scranton has no shortage of decaying buildings.
The eroding brick and rusting steel and iron add to the muscular, industrial feel of the region, however. Scranton is home to the Steamtown National Historic Site, a federally-managed museum complex dedicated to the history of the railroads in the U.S.
Outside the museum, old rail cars, rusting, rotting, some dating back more than 100 years, wait to be refurbished. By themselves, they would be junk. Linked together on storage rails, they are pieces of history.
Just south of town is Moosic. Moosic is to the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area what Arlington, Texas is to Dallas and Forth Worth: a common town in which to place the stadium for the shared-allegiance baseball team.
The Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons are the Class AAA farm team of the Phillies. They're managed by former White Sox and Pirates skipper Gene Lamont.
As of the time of this post, the Red Barons were 51-55 and last in the International League's north division (the Buffalo Bisons, the Indians' top farm team, is in first place).
The hot story currently surrounding the Red Barons is pitcher Terry Adams, who gave up three runs in the eighth inning against Ottawa Thursday night, and then left the team "for personal reasons," the Scranton Times-Tribune reported today.
Manager Gene Lamont told the paper Adams "to the best of my knowledge is not coming back." He reportedly cleaned out his locker before Thursday's game. At 32, it appears Adams is abandoning his baseball career midseason for unspecified reasons.
As far as major-league allegiances, it would appear the majority of northeast Pennsylvanians follow the Phillies, the Yankees or the Mets, since Philadelphia and New York are the two closest major-league cities. The majority of football and basketball fans appear to hold their allegiances to the Eagles and 76ers, as opposed to New York's offerings: the inconsistent Giants and Jets, and the wretched Knicks.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre also has a minor-league hockey franchise: the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins of the AHL, the same league the Cleveland Barons compete in. The minor-league Penguins (affiliation obvious) play their games in the thoroughly modern-looking Wachovia Arena in Scranton.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Useful info

Have you ever had questions about the NBA's salary cap and why the Cavaliers can do certain things and can't do others?
Brian Windhorst, the Cavs beat reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, has a blog, and one of his most recent posts offers some great insight into the giant, throbbing, mutant brain that is the NBA salary cap.

The eve of camp

Some random thoughts and predictions as the Browns approach the opening of training camp on Thursday:

First-round pick Braylon Edwards isn't signed yet. If he doesn't ink on the dotted line, that would be the fifth straight year the Browns haven't had their first-rounder in camp on time.

The two most-hyped Browns draft picks, Edwards and quarterback Charlie Frye are the only two left to sign. The fact that Frye isn't inked is especially troubling. Quarterbacks need mental preparation to take the field more than any other position. Edwards can show up and run wind sprints for the first week and be cool. Frye needs to learn and implement the whole playbook.

General manager Phil Savage isn't a slick charmer like Carmen Policy. Head coach Romeo Crennel doesn't spew the word "guts" like Butch Davis. This might be the most low-key sports regime in Cleveland, personality-wise. Good. Let's shut up and build a winner, then. The less talking and more doing, the better.

Prediction: safety Brodney Pool will be the Browns rookie who will have the most immediate impact. He has the size to play safety and adequate speed to play the corner. He might find an immediate niche as a nickel-package back.

Prediction: the stability that Trent Dilfer will lend to the quarterback position will go a long way to helping the offense jell, even if Dilfer won't put up gaudy numbers.

Prediction: Dilfer will lend stability just in time to get injured again, paving the way for either Frye or Josh Harris to take over. How the youngsters react to being tossed in the fire could determine the course of the season.

Suggs will have a good season, but constant ping-and-ding injuries will prevent him from latching onto the feature running back role. With nobody among Suggs, Green and Droughns able to emerge from the pack, the running back position will remain muddled.

Much like last year, Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea will be good enough as tight ends to make us forget about not having Kellen Winslow Jr.

You won't notice much of a difference between having L.J. Shelton as the starting left tackle versus Ross Verba. However, the odds of veteran Shelton having 3 a.m. booze orgies at his house and winding up on the police blotter are probably less than with Verba.
(By the way, at last check, Verba still hasn't gotten that big, fat contract the Browns weren't going to give him. Come on, other NFL teams! He's one of the top five offensive linemen in the league! He would be a heck of an anchor along with Santa Claus and Quasi Modo.)

Bonus list time....

The Browns' first-round picks since returning to the league, ranked by effectiveness of the pick (Edwards not included since he has yet to play):

1) Jeff Faine, C, 20th overall, 2003. Injuries have hampered him, but who on the offensive line haven't they hampered?

2) William Green, RB, 17th overall, 2002. Has done so much wrong off the field, but has done just enough right on the field to apparently convince the Browns to hang onto him. Could potentially make the tailback position very deep with Lee Suggs and Reuben Droughns.

3) Tim Couch, QB, 1st overall, 1999. The C.C. Sabathia of Cleveland quarterbacks. Showed flashes of stardom, but could never sustain it. A chronically terrible offensive line coupled with virtually no running game until Green arrived didn't help matters. He was branded as a "system" quarterback at Kentucky, and his downfall in Cleveland was in large part the product of a system, too. An inept one.

4) Courtney Brown, DE, 1st overall, 2000. Maybe he lacked the "killer instinct" of a Jevon Kearse, but we can only imagine what could have been had Brown's knees not been destroyed by injuries. Fresh out of Penn State, he was 6'-7" and lightning quick.

5) Gerard Warren, DT, 3rd overall, 2001. Butch Davis's first draft pick as Browns coach was an overestimation of talent that would become synonymous with the Davis regime. He was ballyhooed as the next Warren Sapp coming out of Florida, but proved to be no more than a decent hole-plugger at his best. At his worst, he was a stone-dumb buffoon who called out the quarterback of a red-hot division arch-rival ("Kill the head and the body's dead.")

6) Kellen Winslow, TE, 6th overall, 2004. He might be a good tight end in the future. If he doesn't get himself killed first.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The meltdown continues

A caller phoned the show of local sports radio yakker Greg Brinda on WKNR AM/850 in Cleveland this morning. He tried to liken the struggles of Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia to those of Jaret Wright five, six and seven years ago.
Wright, you might remember, was the darling of the 1997 postseason for Cleveland. He beat the Yankees twice in the division series, and won Game 4 of the World Series. He became the second-youngest pitcher ever to start Game 7 of the World Series. His arrogance, bravado and 98-mph fastball made him a boy wonder at age 21. His 8-3 record during the regular season blinded people to his ERA, which approached 5.00.
In October 1997, Wright was on top of the world. We should have seen it coming, but that would be his 15 minutes of fame. The ensuing years brought shoulder surgeries and exposure as the one-trick pony he really was. Without that 98-mph fastball, he wasn't much of anything on the mound.
He rebounded with a 14-win season last year under the watchful eye of pitching guru Leo Mazzone in Atlanta, but is back on the disabled list after signing a contract with the Yankees.
In retrospect, Wright was an overblown creation of hype. He was never going to be as good as people expected him to be after his run in 1997, even without the shoulder problems. He lacked the maturity and pitching arsenal to be a staff ace.
The same, Brinda's caller suggested, could befall C.C.
C.C. gave up eight runs in Monday night's 13-4 drubbing at the hands of the Athletics. The Indians were in an 8-0 hole in the third inning when Rafael Betancourt relieved.
Monday's outing was the latest in a monthlong string of poor pitching by C.C. It's been a month in which he has all but abandoned everything Indians coaches and management have tried to teach him since his rookie year in 2001. He has lost his patience easily, opting to throw harder in tough situations instead of trying to make better pitches. His arrow-straight fastballs have been denting outfield walls as a result.
When he is pulled from a game after a rough outing, he opts to get into verbal sparring with heckling fans as opposed to ignoring them. Fox Sports Ohio microphones picked up C.C. dropping F-bombs toward the crowd following an early exit several weeks ago.
C.C. is crumbling under the pressure of being the organizationally-ordained "staff ace." He is crumbling under the pressure of an $18 million contract extension handed to him earlier this season, which was pretty much the Indians telling their young pitcher "lead us to the promised land."
Like Jaret Wright, he lacks the maturity and pitching prowess to lead the Indians to where they want to be taken. This is the danger of trying to christen messiahs before they have proven themselves. The Indians were in such a rush to appease the fans after the implosion to rebuild three years ago, so eager to show everyone how bright their future is, that they might have given C.C. more than he can handle.
A 17-win season as a rookie is far more attributed to run support than C.C. impersonating Randy Johnson. Other than that, his numbers have been average-to-good, but nowhere near ace-caliber. There would be nothing wrong with C.C.'s development if he had been branded as, say, a future middle-rotation pitcher. But he wasn't.
Now that the Indians have staked their reputation as talent evaluators and C.C.'s reputation as a pitcher on his ability to transform into a Cy Young Award candidate, there is no turning back. C.C.'s career, and possibly his mental health, might be getting run over in the process.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The curse of caution

For weeks, I have heard names surrounding the Indians in trade rumors. The Indians selling, the Indians buying, the Indians staying put. It's just like colonial times, except no wampum beads.
The trade deadline is now less than a week away, and I am becoming more and more convinced that if you are waiting for even a mildly-impactful acquisition, you are going to grow old doing so.
One of the best moves the Indians could have made, nabbing a right-handed .300 hitter from the Reds in Joe Randa, fell by the wayside over the weekend when Randa was shipped to the Padres.
Randa could have given the Indians a legit bat at third base. He wouldn't have cost a top-level prospect, and since he was playing for the Reds, his salary probably was manageable.
We're not talking about mortgaging the future for Alfonso Soriano here. Or even giving up someone like Jason Davis for a young power bat like Kevin Mench.
I am getting the feeling the Indians might be the most cautious team in baseball. There's nothing wrong with thinking things through. Considering all possible outcomes is only prudent. But I think, when it comes to making trades, the Indians are cautious to the point of waffling.
I have no proof, but my guess that the rumor that the Reds were going to hold onto Randa, as The Plain Dealer reported last week, was either not right or a well-timed pump fake by the Reds. Randa is 36. The Reds, as has been the case more often than not in recent years, are on the fast track to Nowheresville. A 36-year-old third baseman with a .300 average is more valuable to a sub-.500 team as trade bait than for anything he can do on the field.
My guess is that the Indians were at least marginally interested, but spent so much time hemming and hawing over what players they should be willing to give up that the Reds quickly lost interest in dealing with them.
The Jody Gerut for Jason Dubois deal was an attempt at a last-minute kick save by general manager Mark Shapiro, trying to land a right-handed power bat. But that's probably what is going to have to pass for a clutch acquisition in Cleveland this summer.
A big bat for the heart of the order, coupled with the (hopeful) return of Travis Hafner to the lineup soon, could at least keep the Indians in the thick of the wild card race for the duration of the season. But this is what happens when the owner handcuffs the team's decision makers with financial constraints. Instead of being able to get a proven bat like Randa to augment the lineup, the Indians have to settle for a young bat like Dubois, of which they already have plenty.
The Indians are proving adept at restocking their farm system and cultivating the talent that will form this team's core in the coming years. Tribe brass loves to trumpet their team's future. To an extent, they should. But I am concerned getting "the future" to become "the present" is going to be a major stumbling block, as this team spends more time considering moves than actually making them.

Sarunas Chitwood

Apparently the combination of LeBron James and countryman Zydrunas Ilgauskas wasn't enough to lure point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius to Cleveland.
Media reports Monday say Jasikevicius will re-enact his own version of "Hoosiers" and sign a three-year deal with the Pacers. This comes several weeks after Cleveland and national media outlets reported Indiana had dropped out of the race for the Lithuanian, who was his European league's player of the year two years ago.
Utah also reportedly made a play for Jasikevicius, but it is unclear how serious the inquiry was.
It looks like Indiana's playoff experience was the deciding factor for Jasikevicius, who told through his agent he viewed the Cavs as an up-and-coming team, but viewed the Pacers as a team that can contend for a title in the immediate future.
For the Cavs, the focus now most likely shifts to Clippers restricted free agent Marko Jaric, who has been rumored to be coming to Cleveland in a sign-and-trade for Drew Gooden, and Portland free agent Damon Stoudamire.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Salvaging the homestand

The Indians, sucking major wind the past three weeks, finally found an oasis to cool their loss-parched tongues this weekend. All they had to do, it appears, is bring in a team not from the AL Central.
The Seattle Mariners, at the bottom of the AL West, did just fine for Cleveland's purposes.
A heartbreaking 4-3 loss on Friday was followed by a nail-biting 4-3 win on Saturday and a 6-3 win today.
That, ladies and gentlemen, means the Indians have now won three of their last four. It's not total redemption, but for a team grasping at straws to find anything to feel good about, it's a start.
The Indians finished the homestand 4-7. Bad, but not as bad as it could have been, considering it got off to a 1-6 start.
But the road doesn't get any easier, as a cross-country flight and a series against the Athletics now awaits. When last the Indians saw Oakland, they were pitiful. The Indians walloped Oakland in a three-game sweep over May 27-29 that might have set the stage for Cleveland's 17-10 June.
But the A's always do this. They get off to a horrid start, and then the jets come on in May or June. Since the start of June, Oakland has baseball's best record, despite no longer having Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder, and losing designated hitter Erubiel Durazo to injury for the season. They are now 51-45, and boring holes in the back of Minnesota's head with their eyes in the wild-card race.
Northern California native C.C. Sabathia goes for the Indians tomorrow night. Get some home cooking, C.C., and keep the turnaround going.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Oh happy day

The Indians get to face Jamie Moyer again tonight when the Seattle Mariners come to town. This is like urinating on a wounded man when he's down.
Here's the battle plan: bunt. Just bunt, and keep bunting. Taking full swings against Moyer never works, so let's make him run that bony, 42-year-old body all over the infield chasing bunts.
If he can junkball the Indians into oblivion, they should be able to do the same to him.

Did I say...

Sarunas Jasikevicius was going to ink a contract with the Cavaliers? Like, a done deal? Thank heaven I attributed that to The Plain Dealer.
The Plain Dealer might have a bit of egg on its face for running a graphic earlier this week showing Jasikevicius and Donyell Marshall with the caption, "The newest Cavaliers."
Marshall is in the fold, but Jasikevicius could still be going elsewhere. The hot point guard rumor of the moment has the Cavs acquiring Marko Jaric from the Clippers in a sign-and-trade for Drew Gooden.
Of course, if the NBA salary cap is set higher than anticipated, the Cavs might have room for both. Life would be good with defenders Jaric and Larry Hughes in the starting lineup, and sharpshooters Marshall and Jasikevicius coming off the bench.
I can dream....

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A reprieve from sucking

This is why the Indians are so frustrating to watch. They drool all over themselves for two and a half weeks, then find a phone booth and change into "Superteam" for one afternoon.
This Indians team does more teasing than Paris Hilton at a Monaco night club. Reference today's 10-1 spanking of the Royals, in which the Indians hit a pair of three-run homers.
Last night, who on Earth though this team would hit two more three-run homers all season?
Suddenly, the offense erupts (without Travis Hafner in the lineup), tantalizing the fans with its potential, making us believe everything might be all right after all. They might take two of three from the Mariners this weekend, broadening our smiles, reassuring us. They'll sniff at the wild card like an interested dog, making us coax them along.
"Only two more games to the Yankees!" we'll say. It will be there, so close, so very reachable.
Then they'll keel over again at the most inopportune time and kill the season. They'll win seven of their final eight games in September when the point is moot, but management will make it their propaganda focus for next season.
And us fans will be waiting, growing older. Like we always do.

What's going wrong

Last year, when the Indians delivered a D-day-like offensive on first place, they reached a high-water mark of 63-55 in early August and came within a game of the first-place Twins. Apparently, they ran out of gas in an extra-inning loss to the Twins, which led to a nine-game losing streak that effectively ended their season.
Last year, we could chalk it up to an inexperienced bunch overwhelmed by their first taste of contention. But this year is proving that last year was not just the product of inexperience.
This year, the Indians got to 46-36 on July 4 and appeared to be a runaway steamroller ready to take over the wild card. The next night, they lost to Mike Maroth and the Tigers, and haven't been the same since.
They have lost 11 of 13 to fall to 48-47. While the brunt of those losses have come against the red-hot Yankees and the unconscious White Sox, the last two have come against the pitiful Royals. Not only that, the offense has possibly been worse than in April and early May. The Indians have been shut out three times in the past six games.
A lot of fans want to pick on their favorite whipping boy when things go bad, be it owner Larry Dolan, general manager Mark Shapiro, manager Eric Wedge, or offensively-challenged players like Aaron Boone and Casey Blake. But there's plenty of blame to go around.
I've isolated three areas I think contribute to the Indians inability to sustain success. Feel free to add to it by commenting below.

1. The lack of veteran leadership.
This might sound like a meaningless catch phrase spewed out by a "Baseball Tonight" commentator on ESPN, but it applies to the Indians. Look at the roster. Almost all the veterans are signed to one-year deals. Clubhouse father figures aren't designated on opening day, they develop over time. Kevin Millwood, Scott Elarton, Bob Wickman, Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard are all signed only through the end of the year. Over the span of a couple of months, veterans might not get comfortable enough on their new teams to start speaking up to the younger players, and might not be able to gain the trust of the coaching staff enough to advocate for younger players. Why would someone like Millwood go to the trouble of trying to become a clubhouse pillar when he knows there is a significant chance he won't be here at the end of the month, and a near-certain chance he won't be here next spring?
The result is that when the going gets tough, there is no calming, stabilizing effect on the team. It seems to become every man for himself.
Next year, it could be a whole new cast of veteran characters guys like Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore will be asked to look up to. That's not a recipe for stability.

2. The way the roster is built.
This plays into the point above. Ever since the rebuilding project began in earnest in 2002, Shapiro has had two main ways to stockpile talent: the farm system and the bargain bin.
The farm system is very necessary. It is this team's lifeblood, and should be. Teams with bad farm systems are either bad right now, or will be bad soon when their lack of depth is exposed.
But the farm system is a starting point. It's not the alpha and omega of baseball. Dolan has shown a willingness to spend on farm system development, but little else, since the rebuilding project began.
If the Indians want to seriously contend for a championship, they need to be able to make at least several impact acquisitions to augment their roster, either through trades or free agency. Jody Gerut for Jason Dubois isn't what I'm talking about, either.
Other than drafting or trading into the farm system, Shapiro has pretty much been relegated to sifting through the clearance rack to find players coming back from injuries (Millwood, Boone, Elarton, Scott Sauerbeck and Bob Howry), players looking to rebound from bad seasons (Belliard), and late bloomers (Blake).
There's nothing wrong with trying to find a bargain. All teams try to find the occasional scratch-and-dent deal. To Shaprio's credit, many of his bargain acquisitions have worked out to greater or lesser extents. But if thrift-store shopping is one of the two main ways you have to improve your team, that's a problem.
If Dolan thinks the farm system and bargain hunting alone are going to lift the Indians to legitimate contention, he is mistaken.

3. A tale of two managers.
If I had carte blanche to go anywhere I wanted in Major League Baseball this season, go into clubhouses as I pleased and hang out with teams at their hotels, I know two of my destinations.
I would spend several weeks shadowing the White Sox, learning what manager Ozzie Guillen does that enables his team to be so good. I'd take careful note of how Guillen and the White Sox players respond to losses.
I would then spend several weeks tailing the Indians, and contrast Wedge's managerial style with Guillen's. I'd take careful note of how high the Indians players get after wins, and how low they get after losses.
Something tells me there would be stark differences. Maybe it all wouldn't fall on Wedge's shoulders, but I have to believe there are lessons Guillen has gotten through to his team that Wedge hasn't gotten through to his.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No, they can't

Did I say the Cavs' free agents would be able to ink their contracts Friday? Silly me, I forgot business always gets in the way.

A new Marshall in town

The Cavaliers needed an outside shooting threat. So, logically, that means they signed a perimeter-scoring .... power forward?
I guess a shooter is a shooter.
Donyell Marshall became the third major free agent to jump on the Cavs' bandwagon Tuesday, reportedly agreeing to a four-year deal between $20 million and $25 million.
Marshall has been a NBA nomad in his 11-year career, journeying to Minnesota, Golden State, Utah, Chicago and most recently Toronto. His 6'-9", 230-pound frame makes him a sturdy low-post player who can body up on defense. But the dimension that makes him truly special for his position is his ability to shoot.
Last year, he was a modern-day Sam Perkins, nailing 41 percent of his three-point attempts. The percentage was 11th-best in the league and tops among frontcourt players.
He averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds as primarily a bench player for the Raptors last year. Over his career, he has averaged 12.4 points and 7.3 boards per game.
Unless rebound vacuum Anderson Varejao develops low-post moves and a mid-range jumper by this fall, Marshall is almost assuredly going to start for Cleveland, which could raise questions about his durability over the course of his contract.
Marshall is 32, which will make him a downright-ancient-by-NBA-standards 36 at the end of the deal. By the contract's second half, Marshall will probably be best-served coming off the bench, so the Cavs would still be wise to groom Varejao as a starter.
Marshall's arrival almost certainly paves Drew Gooden's road out of town. He is heading into the last year of his rookie contract, coming off a season in which he was plagued by inconsistency but still averaged 14 points and nine rebounds. The low contract and reasonably high numbers should make him very tradeable.
The Cavs' three-week spasm of free-agent signings should come to an end today, when The Plain Dealer reports Lithuanian point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius should agree to terms. Like Marshall, Jasikevicius is an outside shooter. The Cavs became the primary target for Jasikevicius when they re-signed close friend Zydrunas Ilgauskas last week. Indiana reportedly dropped out of the running for Jasikevicius last week, making Cleveland the lone remaining serious suitor.
Marshall, Jasikevicius, Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes will all ink their contracts Friday, the first day teams can sign players.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nature intervenes

Somebody up there took pity on the Indians last night.
In the fifth inning, right after last night's game against the Royals became official, the rains came and didn't let up all evening. After several hours of waiting, the Indians were awarded a rain-shortened 6-2 win, snapping a season-high five-game losing streak and giving the win column a little more breathing room in front of a fast-encroaching loss column. The Indians are now 48-45.
Starting pitcher Cliff Lee, teetering on the brink of another mid-season collapse, was working on his fourth straight shaky outing when he gave up two runs in the first. But he settled down long enough for the offense to erupt for their biggest output since an 8-7 win over the Yankees on July 9. The six-run outburst included two homers from Ben Broussard, alleviating concerns that he had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a cardboard cutout.
Lee finished with four scoreless innings to gain his 10th win of the season and keep his ERA below four (now 3.88).
After the game, the Indians announced the trade of Jody Gerut to the Cubs for outfielder Jason Dubois. It's a swap of extra outfielders. The Indians get a right-handed bat with more pop than Gerut's, and the Cubs get a left-handed bat who hits for a higher average than Dubois.
I think highly of Gerut. His intelligence separates him from the stereotype of the country-bumpkin ballplayer, and he is a very hard worker. Never considered a top prospect, he worked hard to not only make it to the majors, but be a good player once he got there. Gerut gets to go home to his native Chicago and play for the Cubs now. Good luck to him.
Back on the homefront, the Indians get a guy who has been productive in his minor league career, and has some major league experience. Last year, splitting time between the Cubs and the minors, Dubois his 31 homers. Dubois, 26, has spent most of this season with the Cubs, hitting .239 with seven homers and 22 RBI in 52 games.
Dubois is the latest in a long line of attempts by general manager Mark Shapiro to land a productive right-handed power bat. So far, the search has ranged from Shane Spencer to Ryan Ludwick to Jose Hernandez to Juan Gonzalez. Needless to say, it hasn't gone well.
Media reports say Dubois is expected to replace Gerut on the 25-man roster.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Rogers surrenders

At least Arlington, Texas law enforcement isn't into kissing Kenny Rogers' butt.
Of course, the case against Rogers hasn't gone into the court system yet. Rogers could still get a dropped charge if he smiles at the right people, and maybe makes some Rangers luxury box tickets magically appear in the right mailboxes. Or maybe I'm just being cynical.


The first four-game sweep for the White Sox in Cleveland since 1963 created a ton of fallout as the Royals arrive in town tonight for the start of another four-game series. Some of the blame for this weekend rests with the quirks of the schedule. Some rests with the Indians. Some of it rests with the White Sox being blatantly better.
I can't distill this into a nice, smooth column, so I'm just going to throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. Kind of like the Indians this weekend.

1. The White Sox are not a better team than Cleveland talentwise, but they are a better team. They were able to come in here and use their pitching to impose their will on the Indians. And when Chicago had the Indians down, they knocked them out. That's a killer instinct, and I gained a whole new respect for what I think the White Sox can do in October if they get a lead. The Indians, by contrast, showed just how fragile their collective psyche is. It doesn't take much to break the Tribe mentally. To me, that's a case of Ozzie Guillen vs. Eric Wedge.

2. Maybe the all-star break was a bad thing. Or maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. I thought, after losing three of four to the Yankees, taking a three-day break would be a nice mental health holiday for the team. Maybe it just made them rusty or sluggish, because I haven't seen the Indians be simply dominated in a series this season like they were this weekend.

3. While Chicago did dominate the Indians in every phase of the game, I will give the Indians this: you need to be lucky sometimes. The Indians hit their share of balls hard this weekend, and just about every one of them was drawn to a White Sox fielder like iron shavings to a magnet.

4. The White Sox led in 35 of 36 innings this series, and were tied only once after a scoreless first inning on Saturday. The only thing more amazing than that statistic is Chicago's record against the AL Central, now 30-5.

5. The division race is over. No more talk about catching Chicago, which is now 15 games up on the Indians. The chances of winning the division before this series were slim and none. Right now, slim has left the building and is on a flight to Rio. The Twins are the only team now standing between Chicago and the Indians' record 30-game margin of victory in 1995.

6. Per Zach's comment to my post below, I can see Wedge not wanting to be too aggressive on the bases. Let's face it, this series (with Sunday as a possible exception), the Indians had to treat baserunners like gold. They didn't get many of them. And, sooner or later, you're going to need a hit to drive the runners in. That didn't happen this weekend.

7. The good news? The Indians are still in the wild-card chase. The bad news? Six of their final 13 games are against the White Sox.

8. If the Indians are looking for relief just because the last-place Royals are coming to town, don't think that relief will come as easily as popping a Rolaids tablet into your mouth. The Royals are managed by Buddy Bell, who, as you might know, began the season as Cleveland's bench coach. The Royals are still bad, but have played respectable 20-22 ball since Bell took over. And who wouldn't want to have your opponent's former bench coach in your dugout? Bell can give his pitchers and hitters expert insight on handling the Indians. Whether the Royals players can carry out Bell's advice is another matter, but they will be well-prepared for this series.

9. This series against Kansas City is the hour of reckoning for the Indians. If Cleveland's team morale is so thoroughly shot that the Royals come in here and take three out of four, it might be time to start shopping Kevin Millwood, Bob Wickman and Ronnie Belliard for prospects. The silver lining to that cloud is, after what I saw of the White Sox pitching this weekend, teams like Boston, the Angels and Yankees would be wise to fortify their pitching before the trade deadline. The Indians could get a few really nice Class AA or Class AAA prospects from a team or two desperate to add good arms.

10. Of course, option No.1 would still be for the Indians to remain in close wild-card contention and be able to add a bat without blowing up the roster.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

10 years ago today

The resurgence of the Cleveland Indians might have had its breakthrough moment on July 16, 1995, when the Indians staked their claim as the rally kings of the decade.
The Indians and Athletics battled through 11 innings at Jacobs Field until Oakland scratched out a run in the top of the 12th for a 4-3 lead. On came Dennis Eckersley, Oakland's now-hall-of-fame closer.
Cleveland managed a baserunner before getting two outs. Manny Ramirez stepped to the plate as the Tribe's last hope and proceeded to foul off a number of pitches against Eckersley.
He was looking for a pitch he could drive. Eck eventually served one up.
Manny made it count.
The ball went about as high as it did far, eventually landing deep in the left-field bleachers, the thunderbolt that delivered the Indians to a 5-4 win.
As he walked off the mound, Eckersley mouthed the word "wow," making no attempt to hide his amazement at how far the ball traveled.
If the Indians and Ramirez hadn't arrived prior to then, they certainly had when that ball reached the fans.
Albert Belle had his own encore two days later against the Angels' Lee Smith, depositing a walk-off grand slam into the center field picnic plaza at Jacobs Field for a 7-5 win. Smith later said the ball landed "in the barbecue."
(Personal side note: I went to the game on July 17 that year, an 8-3 loss to the Angels started by then-rookie Chad Ogea. So, one step away from history on both sides, I went to the dud game sandwiched between two of the most memorable finishes of a memorable season. Such is life.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Ain't that a kick

The Browns roster has evolved and revolved over the years, to the giant pot of stew it resembled at the end of last season.
Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linemen, coaches, they all come and go. But for some reason, the kickers stay.
Kickers are usually viewed as throwaway parts in the NFL. A monthlong slump can get last year's Pro Bowler placed on waivers mid-season. But not in Cleveland.
Today, Phil Dawson became the latest Browns kicker to become a locker room institution, when he signed a five-year contract extension. Dawson was already one of only two players left from the Browns' 1999 expansion roster (Daylon McCutcheon being the other).
Dawson was signed as a free agent out of the University of Texas. He outlasted his first pro coach, Chris Palmer. Somehow, even though he was a Dwight Clark find, he managed to stay in Browns gear throughout the reign of Butch Davis, even as punter Chris Gardocki, receiver Kevin Johnson and quarterback Tim Couch were tossed aside based on Butch's "gut" feelings.
Through all the muddling and mud-slinging in the Browns camp, Dawson has still managed to put up some nice stats in his six pro seasons. He has two 100-point seasons to his credit, including last year. He is the Browns' all-time leader in field goal percentage at 82 percent.
He has also prided himself on being a football player who kicks, not just a kicker. His face mask is full-sized for a kicker, and he has shown a willingness to stick his head into a contact situation on kick coverage.
Dawson is one of five kickers who have handled the brunt of the kicking duties for the Browns since 1946. The list includes Hall-of-Famer Lou Groza, along with Don Cockroft, Matt Bahr and Matt Stover, who is still splitting the uprights for the Baltimore Ravens.
Kicking an oblong ball in a windswept lakeshore stadium in late fall and winter does not seem like a recipe for longevity of employment. Maybe having numb toes makes you a better kicker somehow.

Once a coach...

Larry Brown recently said he is hopeful he can return to coach the Pistons for another season. Hindsight being 20/20, I would be happy if he returned to Detroit next season, taking any temptation away from Dan Gilbert to renew his pursuit of Brown for the Cavaliers' presidency.
Why? The brewing storm in Miami about sums it up.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Somebody please explain the Chicago White Sox to me before I bang my head against a wall.
There is no reason on this planet they should be 58-29 following tonight's 1-0 win over the Indians. They aren't hitting like a team on pace to win 110 games. Their team batting average entering today was a meager .262, the exact same as the Indians, whose offense spent most of April and May passed out in the gutter.
It's not late-inning magic. The White Sox are batting .251 from the seventh inning on.
It's not power. Chicago's 106 homers eclipse the third-place Indians' total by just two. The Indians lap the White Sox in overall extra base hits, scorching them in doubles (171-126) and triples (20-6).
Like Cleveland, Chicago's pitching is reliable, but not dominant. Entering tonight, the Indians' team ERA was 3.82, the White Sox's staff stood at 3.62.
The White Sox haven't even had a full-time closer, with Dustin Hermanson, Damaso Marte and Shingo Takatsu sharing the role based on who has the hot hand. Tonight's save went to Hermanson.
The only conclusion I can come to is the White Sox are simply having a charmed season. Tonight's events strengthened that argument.
In the fifth inning, with Jhonny Peralta on second, Aaron Boone hit a Jose Contreras fastball right on the screws. Right up the middle. Boone couldn't have connected any better if he was swinging a boat oar.
I would testify in front of a grand jury that it was going to be an RBI single. But then, Juan Uribe laid out to his left and plucked the ball out of the air, about an inch off the ground. No throw to first needed.
Oh-oh, it's magic.
In the seventh, Chicago left fielder Scott Podsednik lost a fly ball in the Jacobs Field lights. A lucky break for the Indians. But when you are playing the White Sox, even your lucky breaks don't pan out.
As Podsednik threw his arms out in confusion, center fielder Aaron Rowand floated in behind him like one of those monsters from M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" and snared it effortlessly.
In the eighth, Marte hung a slider to Peralta, who cranked it deep down the left field line. It went foul. Of course, that was Marte's one mistake, and he got away with it. He subsequently struck Peralta out.
I usually save my incredulous disliking for the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to baseball, but as this season goes on and the White Sox continue to turn horse urine into fine wine, my dislike for them is quickly reaching 1994 levels again.

Don't call it '7/7'

As much as I hate to get into semantics about a national tragedy, I have to deviate from the sports content of my blog for one post to address a piece of fallout from last week's terror bombings in London.
It was no less wrong than what happened on this side of Atlantic on Sept. 11, 2001. The nature of the perpetrators is no less evil. But I dislike this national media attempt to brand what happened as "Britain's 9/11."
Don't call it "7/7."
Sept. 11, 2001 is on the level of Dec. 7, 1941 as a day that affected the conscience of the Western world, the U.S. and Britain included equally. While last week's attacks moved those of us stateside to sorrow, if only because we have been there as a nation, it didn't affect us the way the attacks of 9/11 affected people on both sides of the Atlantic. Two of the tallest buildings in the world fell that day. The headquarters of the most powerful military in the world was hit. Four civilian airliners were hijacked and used as missiles.
Sept. 11, 2001 is called "9/11" because we have no other way to digest the horrors of that day into one term. Targets in two cities, 300 miles apart, were hit.
What happened in London last week was on the level of the train bombings that occurred in Madrid last year. Those bombings were referred to as "Spain's 9/11" when they happened, but no one I know of is going out of their way to refer to it with a date reference. Nobody I have seen or heard is mentioning Spain's tragedy much anymore, period.
In trying to forever brand July 7 as a date of darkness, we forget London has been through far worse. Londoners witnessed numerous Irish Republican Army bombings in the 20th Century. London was also the subject of regular air raids from Nazi warplanes. In the true British fashion of handling adversity with a dash of humor, they condensed three years of torment and destruction into one phrase: "The Blitz."
London had a dark day on July 7, but far from their worst. Ask many Londoners, and they'll confirm it.
September 11 is going to be forever linked to catastrophe. If your birthday is 9/11, you probably can't utter it without being reminded about what happened on that day in 2001.
Let's spare July 7 that same fate. It's not deserved.

Back on the ice

The armistice has been signed.
The NHL and their players have reportedly hammered out an agreement, 310 days after their now-epic lockout began in September.
Canada is unofficially off suicide watch, and there will now be a full 2005-06 NHL season. Raise your hand if you live in the United States and you care.
That's hockey's problem, and it might make hammering out a labor deal with a salary cap seem like a game of checkers.
Who missed the NHL last season? At least when baseball went on strike in 1994, there was resounding bitterness, meaning the general public cared to a greater or lesser extent. Even then, most cities took five years or more to wash the taste of that labor stoppage out of their mouths.
But the NHL, the fourth of the four major sports leagues, cooked up something worse than even the witch's brew Bud Selig and Don Fehr concocted 11 years ago. The NHL lost a whole season. A whole season in a league already riddled with teams in the red, a league that already seriously overestimated their mass-appeal when they started to expand in earnest in the 1990s.
A whole season for a league without a national free-TV network contract in the U.S.
The NHL lost a lot of relevance in the past year. When baseball went on strike, fans from coast to coast swore they would never attend another baseball game in their lives. That was the hurt talking.
Hockey fans might skip the swearing and just not show up. That's the apathy talking.
Hockey will survive in Canada, at least the major cities, because it is in their cultural DNA. Hockey will survive in Detroit and Denver because they have good teams. Hockey will survive in St. Louis, New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Chicago because the cities have enough sports revenue to go around.
Miami, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Phoenix and Pittsburgh might be another story. Pittsburgh is a hockey town, but the Penguins are pitiful and in financial dire straits. The other cities are warm-weather towns. You try to be a Florida Panthers PR man in Miami and convince 20,000 South Floridians to come watch a losing team that plays on ice when there is sunshine and surf all around.
People move to Florida so they don't have to be around ice in January.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are still the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Who in Tampa is going to get pumped about defending a title two years after the fact?
I'll be interested to see how the landscape of the sport changes in the coming years. Will any teams fold or move? Will any eastern European players forego the NHL and its problems to play on their home continent? And, above all, will anyone be watching?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The irony is...

Carlos Baerga gets traded to the Mets, fans scream bloody murder.
Manny Ramirez bolts for Boston, fans scream bloody murder.
David Justice gets dealt to the Yankees, fans scream bloody murder.
Roberto Alomar gets traded to the Mets, fans scream bloody murder.
Jim Thome digs in at Philadelphia's money trough, fans scream bloody murder.
Carlos Boozer wriggles out of his contract and into the waiting arms of Utah, fans scream bloody murder.
Omar Vizquel amicably splits for San Francisco, fans scream bloody, torturous, gruesome, unspeakable homicide.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas decides Cleveland is where he wants to be, fans and media members stick their tongues out in disgust.
Judging by the cool reaction Z's re-signing received on Tuesday, you'd think the Cavs just pulled a Golden State Warriors and inked Adonal Foyle for the next half-decade.
The first time in my recent recollection a Cleveland all-star free agent has stayed in Cleveland, and nobody I came into contact with on Tuesday seemed terribly happy about it. The contract was too long, they said. It will prevent them from getting a shooter or bench help, they said. They wanted Tyson Chandler, or Eddy Curry, or Samuel Dalembert.
Or, for some strange reason, Udonis Haslem.
All of the players I mentioned above, sans Haslem, would have commanded as much, or nearly as much, as Z. All would have had strengths and weaknesses, just like Z. None of them are as tall.
I can see hand-wringing over committing five years and up to $60 million to a center who has had the career-threatening foot injuries Z has had. But if the Cavs had worked a sign-and-trade for Curry, they'd be dealing with potential career-threatening heart problems.
Dalembert is intriguing because of the defense and rebounding he brings. But he is a restricted free agent who plays without the ball, and I have a hard time believing the Allen Iverson-saturated Sixers would let him get away. Chandler and Haslem are power forwards, so that's for another discussion.
Maybe this was a case of the grass not being greener on the other side. Z's not that exciting to watch, he's not a "cool" player kids worship, like LeBron James. But at the end of the day, he gives you 17 points and nine rebounds. Stability is one of the keys to winning. Z gives the Cavs that, even if he's never going to power dunk like Shaq.

The All-Star Game

Some random observations on Tuesday night's MLB All-Star Game:

Kenny Rogers. What guts. What poise. Standing in front of the crowd during the introductions, taking his boos like a man. Those cameramen he assaulted took it like men, too, but man, Rogers should get a Purple Heart for the battle wounds he must have sustained last night.
Seriously, the type of apologist butt-kissing Kevin Kennedy ("let's put this behind us"), Joe Buck and Tim McCarver heaped on Rogers leads to his sense of self-entitlement and being above the law. It has to be a reason why Rogers thought he could attack two cameramen and get away with it. When you are a famous athlete, there is never a shortage of sycophantic fans and media members who want to be your apologists, in addition to the bunker mentality that exists among players and coaches when a teammate does something wrong. And, Kevin, Joe and Tim, prefacing your butt-kissing with "we, of course, don't condone what he did" doesn't make your comments any more objective.
(Rogers, by the way, has gotten away with his attacks so far. He has yet to serve a game of his 20-game suspension -- which will probably be reduced on appeal -- he has yet to lose a dollar of pay, he got to appear in the all-star game, and the only remorse we have on record is a prepared-statement apology nearly a week after the fact, along with one Q&A with the media Monday.)
Kenny, your wrists must be in agony from all those slaps.

Why was Joe Buck handling the pregame announcements anyway? Nine innings of on-air banter with McCarver isn't enough? Can Buck do it better than the Tigers' regular PA announcer, who mans the Comerica Park microphone 81 times a year? Or is ramming Buck down our throats a part of Fox's contract with MLB?

Class move: Having a brass quartet play "God Save the Queen" to honor Britain after last week's terror bombings. Unfortunately, to do it within the 45-minute parameters of the pregame festivities, the pregame organizers had to eschew "Oh Canada," even though an entire Canadian color guard was holding a giant Maple Leaf in right-center field, next to Old Glory.
The Blue Jays' Shea Hillenbrand, the lone representative from the lone major league team left in Canada, looked heartbroken -- as soon as he got done pinching himself that he was actually at the all-star game.

Tacky move: Fox desk maiden Jeanne Zelasko and her bright orange "please, please, please gossip about my pregnancy" dress, which looked like something Scarlett O'Hara would have worn to bed in "Gone With The Wind."
Most women as far along as Zelasko appeared to be are far too self-conscious to appear on live TV in front of several hundred million people ... unless they are trying to steal some of Jennifer Garner's thunder on the about-town pages of the New York Post.
Zelasko's dress was probably the most embarrassing girl-gossip moment to hit an American sporting event since Lisa Guererro dropped an "I'm getting married" reference into her sideline reporting during a Browns-Rams Monday Night Football game in 2003.

Oh, yeah ... there was a game, too.

The game's lead-off batter, Bobby Abreu, takes a meatball from Mark Buehrle and slices it into left field for a single. This after he hit a record 41 homers in the home run derby the previous night. Too bad all-star week performances don't factor into MVP voting. Abreu has, for the moment, supplanted Dave Concepcion and Omar Vizquel as Venezuela's favorite son.

Dontrelle Willis brings the spice, the hot sauce, the delivery that is all arms and legs and pizazz. If he were a Chinese dish, he'd be brought to your table sizzling with hot peppers as a garnish. But even if you are a human habanero pepper, you still need to be able to throw your breaking ball for strikes. Against Mark Teixeira in the sixth, he couldn't, and Teixeira took him deep. It was an opposite field shot, Teixeira's first off a lefty this year,and it was probably the back breaker for the NL. At the time, it was 7-0.

Bob Wickman threw only five pitches in the ninth inning. Thank you, Terry Francona. Wicky needs every last drop of juice he has left to save games for the Indians.

The NL rallied to within 7-5 before they ran out of outs. It stretched the NL's winless streak in the midsummer classic to nine. The last NL win was in Philadelphia in 1996.
If this keeps up, NL players aren't going to be too happy about this winner-gets-homefield-in-the-World-Series format. Unless you play for the Rockies. Then you won't give a crap if they move the World Series to a neutral-site field in Shanghai, China.
Wait, forget I said that. Bud Selig, are you listening? Forget I said that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Back in Z fold

This one is for Manny Ramirez. Jim Thome, too. This is for Albert Belle, Matt Williams, Ross Verba and Bill Belichick.
This is certainly for Carlos Boozer. And certainly, certainly for Art Modell.
This is for all the sports figures that clamored to get out of Cleveland in the past decade, driven by a noxious mix of ego and greed.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, an unrestricted free agent with the world as his oyster, opted to stay at home. See, LeBron? There is such a thing as loyalty in professional sports. Upwards of $60 million doesn't hurt, either. That's the amount to which the Cavs and Ilgauskas reportedly agreed on Monday, over five years.
Cleveland keeping Z is a major event in the scheme of NBA free agency this summer. Other Eastern Conference teams waited, hoping Z would either sign out west, or be signed and traded to a bottom-feeder like the Hawks. It didn't happen. Now, the Cavs, a team with two dominant scorers in LeBron James and Larry Hughes, has retained their dominant low-post presence.
You want your title trio that popular logic says every NBA contender needs? There it is.
The contract agreements reached with Ilgauskas and Hughes in the past week show indications the Cavs' brass has come to their senses after a shaky start to the off-season. After spending May and June chasing rainbows named Phil Jackson and Larry Brown, owner Dan Gilbert hired Danny Ferry as general manager. Ferry has come in and hit the ground running. Less than 24 hours after Michael Redd declined Ferry's offer, he had Hughes on board. Four days later, Z followed.
The hiring of Ferry probably increased the probability of Z staying put. Ferry and Z go back almost 10 years as teammates. Ferry knows how hard Z has worked to reclaim his career after multiple foot surgeries.
A different GM unfamiliar with Z could have easily convinced Gilbert to spend his money elsewhere. I think Gilbert would much rather have had a defense-minded center with livelier legs and a less-lengthy injury history. But Ferry must have done a good sell-job to Gilbert on why Z is so important to what the Cavs are trying to build. In that sense, he was the voice of the fans.
Z is slow. He can't really jump anymore. At age 29, there is good reason to believe this contract will be his last in the NBA. But he brings a set of skills rarely seen in someone 7'-3" and is still one of the top two or three pure centers in the league.
Z's signing gives a countryman-mentor to 19-year-old Martynas Andriuskevicius, the Lithuanian center acquired by the Cavs on draft night. Z's signing might also make Cleveland a prime destination for 29-year-old Lithuanian point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, a two-time Olympian largely regarded as one of the best European players not currently in the NBA.
Z and the Cavs have been through a lot together. A lot of injuries. A lot of losing. And a lot of good. It's only right Z stays in Cleveland, where we know his last name is pronounced "ill-GOU-skas," not "ill-GAW-skas," where we know he belongs.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A couple days off

After the past week of watching the Indians, I couldn't be happier that this team rendered only one all-star.
This team needs a rest. Physically, mentally and psychologically.
The reeling that began when the Indians lost the last two games of the series against Detroit turned into a weeklong backslide when they had the misfortune of finishing the first half with four games on baseball's biggest stage, Yankee Stadium.
To answer Zach's comment to the post below, yes, I do think the Indians had a sizable case of stage fright this weekend. They showed none of the poise and discipline that allowed them to win two of three in Boston, three of four in Baltimore, and dominate the July 4 doubleheader against Detroit.
The lack of composure was especially evident Sunday, when the Indians ran themselves into out after out on the bases. One at-bat resulted in an almost-always-inexcusable strikeout-throwout double play at third base.
miscalculated aggression on the bases is a hallmark of a team trying too hard to make things happen.
Factor in a red-hot Yankee club which has now won seven of eight, and it's easy to see how the Indians were put through the meat grinder this weekend. They barely hung on to win the lone game they did take, 8-7.
I am not stressing yet. The Indians enter the all-star break two games behind slumping Minnesota for the wild card lead. They have one of the softest schedules in the American League in the second half, packed full of dates against the Royals, Devil Rays and Mariners.
My biggest concern is that the Yankees might have found their stride, and could proceed to run away and hide with the wild card in the next four-to-six weeks.
As competitive as the first-half wild card race has been, it would be a shame if we have to endure another meaningless two-team race between the Red Sox and Yankees in the second half, with the wild card as the consolation prize.

Friday, July 08, 2005

High on Hughes

No Ray Allen. No Michael Redd. No worries, mate.
Media reports this afternoon said Wizards guard Larry Hughes has agreed to bolt for the Cavaliers, a move more surprising and sudden than Redd's quick decision to stay with Milwaukee on Thursday. Terms of the deal were not available at the time of this post.
Hughes reportedly wasn't happy with the way initial contract talks were going between his agent and the Wizards, and apparently when Redd declined Cleveland's five-year, $72 million offer, Hughes saw his chance to cash in.
Hughes, 26, isn't really the outside shooter the Cavs needed, but he stepped up his all-around game last season in helping to lead the Wizards to their first playoff series victory since 1982.
The 6'-5" shooting guard averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists last year.
The tandem of Hughes and LeBron James will unite two of the greatest ball-stealers from last season. In being named to the all-defensive NBA first team, Hughes led the league with an average of 2.89 steals per game.
Hughes has gained a reputation as an immature ball-hog, mostly earned during his time with the Golden State Warriors. But there is no question he was part of a successful concoction of players last year in Washington, and he apparently learned to share the spotlight with fellow stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Sharing the spotlight is important when LeBron James is your teammate (reference my post below).
If this deal gets finalized without incident or last-minute cold feet (I should bite my tongue for even saying that), and reports that the Cavs and Zydrunas Ilgauskas might be able to hammer out a deal by the end of next week are true, that will make me feel a whole lot better about the Cavs this summer.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


The worst-kept secret of the week is now open to the public: Michael Redd took the money over LeBron.
Far be it from me to overly criticize the presence of LeBron James on the Cavaliers. After all, at the tender age of 20, he's already the best thing that's ever happened to this franchise. But when it comes to luring stud free agents, LeBron might actually be hurting the Cavs.
In the egotistical world of NBA superstardom, everybody wants to be center-stage. Who wants to play second fiddle to a 20-year-old phenom on a team that can't even come close to promising title contention next year?
Money was the driving factor in Redd's decision to stay a Buck, just like money was the driving factor in Carlos Boozer's defection to Utah last year. But in both cases, I have to wonder how much ego factored in.
As Boozer was busy averaging a double-double in the 2003-04 season, he grew quietly sick of all the adoration and hype bestowed upon LeBron as a rookie. Redd, who has spent far more time on NBA undercards than Boozer, might have seen that storm swirling ahead of him had he opted to sign in Cleveland.
It's the kind "damned if you do, damned if you don't" bad luck that has been infesting this franchise for most of its 35-year existence. The Cavs need LeBron to have any shot of winning. But the prodigy who was supposed to make it easier to lure the missing pieces to town might actually be hurting those chances, thanks to pure, petty jealousy that does not involve him.

Tears after triumph

The picture on the front page of The Plain Dealer today shows victorious Londoners in Trafalgar Square. Confetti is riding the sky on the waves of cheers below. Smiles abound. Union Jacks wave freely. London is the newly-named host city for the 2012 Olympics.
The pictures tomorrow will be far different. Police in fluorescent vests. Bloody faces. A double-decker bus torn halfway into metal shrapnel.
Never before in my recollection has a populace been taken from the heights of triumph to the depths of terror so quickly. Less than 24 hours after London won a startling upset bid, nosing out favored Paris to host the '12 games, a coordinated series of bombs ripped through double-decker buses and subway platforms in the city. The confirmed death toll as of the time of this post was 33, but was estimated higher. Up to 1,000 were injured, many severely.
News reports say a European Al-Qaeda cell has claimed responsibility via a Website, but that has not yet been confirmed by authorities.
Great Britain had the misfortune of being in the spotlight, always an ideal target for terrorists looking to create havoc. In addition to its bid for the Olympics, the worldwide G-8 Summit was being held in Scotland. British Prime Minister Tony Blair departed the summit Thursday to return to London. Another British government official will take his place, news agencies reported.
As the terrorists had probably hoped, the attacks have had reverberations both in the U.K. and overseas. MSNBC reported many summit activities, including a group picture of state heads, has been scrapped. In the U.S., the threat level for the nation's railways was raised to orange.
The news and opinion pages have been full of stories and debates on the ethics of torture. Guantanamo Bay, where many captured Al-Qaeda operatives are sent, has been placed under a magnifying glass.
But while our defense organizations have been potentially engaged in torture to gain information, let's not forget Al-Qaeda has been doing the same. "Terror" is the root word of "terrorist."
A main torture tactic is to upset routine, make the subject unsure of when the next torture session will come, and what form it will take. That's what a terrorist group does: strike quickly from the shadows, raise a body count, spread fear and, if possible, panic, and get away.
Once you see what they've done, it's too late. There is seldom an organized state to strike back against. Now, the people of London know firsthand the fear and rage the people of New York, Madrid and Bali know. And that type of empathy is something you never wish on anyone.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Shooting guards

Danny Ferry's first stated order of business as general manager of the Cavaliers is to find a shooting guard to take some of the scoring heat off LeBron James.
Much like when his boss, Dan Gilbert, began his GM and coach search, I have to admire Ferry's desire to try and fry the biggest fish. But, like with Gilbert's search, I think Ferry is going to have to settle for plan C or D.
Ray Allen is already off the market, reportedly agreeing to a five-year contract with the Sonics on Tuesday. That's fine with me. Allen will turn 30 this year, and there is too much of a risk he would grow old before our very eyes in Cleveland.
The golden rooster the Cavs are chasing is Michael Redd. They have already reportedly offered 25-year-old Redd a five-year deal worth around $70 million. Milwaukee, Redd's current team, has offered six years and about $90 million. Both deals are the maximum allowed under the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement.
Milwaukee has first overall pick Andrew Bogut and unquestioned centerpiece status to offer Redd, in addition to the extra $20 million. Cleveland can offer Redd the chance to play alongside LeBron, a return home to Ohio, and a team that finished fourth instead of fifth in the Central Division.
Ferry had better start talking like a used car salesman when (if) Redd makes his scheduled visit to Cleveland today.
I am not holding out hope the Cavs will be able to satisfy any of their scoring needs in free agency. Odds are against Redd coming to Cleveland, a battle that probably begins and ends with the numbers that follow the dollar signs on the vying contract offers.
Plan B would be Larry Hughes. But again, Ferry would be asking a player to take less money. In this case, take less money to leave a playoff team in Washington for a non-playoff team.
Plan C is Bobby Simmons of the Clippers. "...Of the Clippers." Of course, that's the guy the Cavs have the best shot of landing, if only because the Clippers seldom pay to keep anybody.
Joe Johnson of the Suns is a restricted free agent, meaning Phoenix can match any offer made for him. A team that made the conference finals last season would probably bend over backwards to keep their only real outside shooter.
All of it means that when it comes to free agency, Ferry's first job should probably be trying to re-sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas, instead of chasing his tail to land a scorer he will probably have to acquire via trade anyway.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Mid-term grades

The first game of the July 4 doubleheader against the Tigers marked the 81st game of the Indians' season. After winning the game 9-3, they were 45-36, in third place in the American League Central, and a game behind Minnesota for the wild-card lead.
It's a long way from the 11-18 record this team had after 29 games. I shudder to think what my mid-terms would look like if the Tribe had continued on that track. But like a professor who manages to wake up a disinterested class and gets them to turn in their homework on time, I am much more pleased with the mid-terms I now get to hand out.

Following is my grade sheet for the season's first half, sorted by position. Stats are as of Monday morning, when I started writing this post:

Catcher: Victor Martinez, C-plus, and Josh Bard, C-minus.
Martinez's batting average hovered around .200 for most of April and May. He'd have one good series, then go back to beating ground balls in the dirt for the next two weeks. His recent resurgence, including a 14-game hitting streak, has bumped his grade signficantly. He was hitting .245 entering play Monday. If he stays this productive for the remainder of the season, he'll get a solid B at the end.
Bard's .175 average should denote a D or F, but backup catchers get leeway with their offense. Bard is a solid defensive catcher, enough to get him a couple steps out of the doghouse.

First base: Ben Broussard, C.
What you see is what you get with Broussard. A .263 average with nine homers and 34 RBI. He's a streak hitter. He'll get hot for two weeks, then spend a month making you wonder how he got to be an everyday major league first baseman. Unfortunately, teams with 40-odd million dollar payrolls will have guys like Broussard. Ideally, you'd want more power and production out of first base. The Indians could do better than Broussard. But they could also do worse.

Second base: Ronnie Belliard, B.
This is a guy who pulled himself out of the Dumpster. He was headed for a C-minus or D until he started punching base hits like he did for the first four months of last year. His average is up to .292 and he's fourth on the team with 75 hits. No all-star berth for Belliard this year, but with his quick bat and surprisingly nimble defense, he's a very solid second baseman. I hope Mark Shapiro can ink him up for another couple of years.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, B-plus and Alex Cora, C.
As scores of fans poured their wrath out on the Indians for letting Omar Vizquel leave, Peralta has become a rock-steady hitter, and one of the Indians' best clutch hitters. With a .283 average, he is showing signs that he will be a very nice offensive addition to the infield in the coming years. His defense isn't stellar, but after a slow start, he's become more than adequate at the infield's most important position.
Cora was signed as an insurance policy in case neither Peralta nor Brandon Phillips proved ready to be an everyday big-league shortstop. Like Bard, Cora would probably be hitting at a better clip if he was playing everyday. He's hitting .213. Bench players need to do one thing well, and also like Bard, Cora excels at glovework. Unfortunately, in the AL, bench players aren't needed as often, and Cora might get a handful of innings of work each week.

Third Base: Aaron Boone, F.
This is a failed experiment. At 31, Boone has struggled to come back from his second reconstructive knee surgery. When the Indians signed Boone last June, Shapiro wasn't sure if Casey Blake was a long-term solution at third. Then Blake finished strong, was signed to a multi-year deal and shoehorned into the outfield. Boone's presence has forced Blake to be a corner outfielder, which he isn't. Boone has responded with a .193 average, 28 RBI (somehow) and spotty defense. Boone is the kind of guy you root for (unless you're a Red Sox fan), but I think this offense is at its best when Blake is at third.

Outfield: Grady Sizemore, A; Coco Crisp, A; Jody Gerut, B; Casey Blake, C; Ryan Ludwick, D; Juan Gonzalez, F.
Criticize manager Eric Wedge's facial hair and managing style, but his decision to put Sizemore and Crisp at the top of the order started the domino effect that has led to the offense being effective again. Sizemore is hitting .296 and Crisp .291. Both have shown an ability to get on base, providing the baserunners guys like Martinez and Travis Hafner have desperately needed to drive in runs. Sizemore and Crisp have the two highest hit totals on the team (88 and 78, respectively).
Gerut has rebounded from knee surgery, making a May season debut and hitting a solid .283 since. His presence completes an outfield devoid of big boppers, but high on defense, hustle and contact hitting. Gerut's Stanford-caliber brain is evident as well. He is a heady player who seldom makes a dumb mistake.
Blake gets brownie points for moving to a position he is not suited for without a word of complaint, and doing well defensively at his new position. He has sputtered with a .227 average, but has hit 10 home runs. As a third baseman, he is OK. As a corner outfielder, spare me.
Ryan Ludwick created the most waves this season when he was designated for assignment to make room for Gonzalez. He somehow cleared waivers and is playing in Buffalo, where he stands to spend most of his time for the remainder of the season. Ludwick hit .220, but hit four homers in 41 at bats, a fairly high home-run-to-at-bat ratio.
Gonzalez had one at-bat, re-injured his hamstring, and is done for the year. That was an awful signing for Shapiro, and he should have known it at the time.

Designated hitter: Travis Hafner, A.
Hafner is the only Indians hitter with an average above .300 heading into Monday (.303). He is the team leader in home runs (14) and RBI (51). His production, like Jim Thome's, is the product of a combination of aggressiveness and patience. His 55 strikeouts is tied for second on the team, and he is far and away the team leader in walks with 40.

Utility player: Jose Hernandez, C-minus.
Hernandez is probably better suited for the National League. He is a made-to-order pinch-hitter who can play both corner infield and outfield positions. Hernandez has some power, but is proving to gather rust getting inconsistent at-bats in the AL. His batting average is a meager .237. He is a strikeout magnet going way back, and his eye-jarring walks-to-strikeouts ratio (four-to-29) is proof.

Starting pitchers: C.C. Sabathia, B-minus; Cliff Lee, B; Jake Westbrook, B-minus; Kevin Millwood, B; Scott Elarton, B.
Like in previous years, Sabathia has shown dominant ability, but has been unable to harness it over the long term. When he can't spot his fastball for well-placed strikes, it seems to throw his whole game off. He has little else to go to.
Lee quiety put together a solid first half yet again. Like last year, he leads the staff in wins (nine). Until he proves otherwise, I'll chalk up last year's second-half fade to inexperience. Lee has a very complete major-league reperatoire. When he throws strikes, he is a legit front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Westbrook's stat line gives him a raw deal. He actually has put together a solid season, less a few starts against the Tigers and maybe one or two others.
Kevin Millwood did some time on the disabled list, but when he's been on the mound, he has shown no signs of the elbow trouble that allowed him to fall into Cleveland's price range this winter. He by far has allowed the fewest earned runs of any Indians starter (29).
Scott Elarton was a rare gem rescued from the scrap heap. Last year, his career was in tatters after being released by the Rockies with a winless record. This year, he has shown the form that made him a front-of-the-rotation guy in Houston during the 1990s. In the aftermath of major shoulder surgery several years ago, he has to "save his bullets" (in his words), but his resurgence has helped create a Cleveland rotation with no major drop-off points in production. Right now, he's as good of a fifth stater as you will find.

Bullpen: Bob Wickman, A-minus; Arthur Rhodes, A; Bob Howry, B; David Riske, B; Scott Sauerbeck, B; Rafael Betancourt, B; Matt Miller, B; Jason Davis, B.
Wickman is the star of the show and the most indispensible part of the bullpen. If he succumbs to injury again, this unit is in trouble. He is Cleveland's lone all-star with 22 saves, and is pitching on borrowed time at age 36 with a reconstructed elbow. Hopefully the sand doesn't run out of the hourglass before the end of this season.
Rhodes is a born set-up man. After a disastrous year trying to close games for Oakland, Rhodes is back in his comfort zone, and is arguably the majors' best set-up man in the season's first half.
Howry has emerged as the bullpen's workhorse, leading the unit with 28 appearances. Riske's appearances dropped off after he went on a homer-coughing binge in June. Sauerbeck, like Howry and Elarton, appears rejuvenated after arm surgery and is staring to regain the form on his sweeping breaking ball.
Betancourt basically has only one major-league caliber pitch, his fastball, but has used is effectively enough to work as a long man and middle man this year.
Davis has made a handful appearances as both a starter and reliever. He still struggles with command at times, but has done enough to be effective. Above all, his emotions appear more in control than last season.

Manager: Eric Wedge, B.
He spent the first few months of the season with a caterpillar attached to his upper lip. He leaves pitchers in too long. But Wedge has also managed to hammer home to a team that lacks an abundance of all-star talent the importance of hustling and fundamentals. If I remember back to the Indians teams of the '90s, I remember one of the chief complaints was the team lacked fire and made too many mistakes. They don't have the raw talent of the John Hart Tribe, but this team plays the game "the right way" that so many fans professed to crave in their ball club not five years ago.

General Manaer: Mark Shapiro, B-plus.
Give credit where credit is due. Shapiro dug through the thrift store bin and came up with Elarton, Howry, Sauerbeck, Miller, Belliard and yes, even Casey Blake.
Ironically, his higher-profile signings like Gonzalez and Boone have been the ones that haven't worked out. When he couldn't sign Matt Clement, Shapiro took a flier on Millwood that has worked out so far. He got decent talent for the bench in Hernandez and Cora, even if Hernandez really isn't suited for this team. The decision to forego re-signing Vizquel to give Peralta a shot is working well enough.

Owners: Larry and Paul Dolan, incomplete.
This team is beginning to prove itself worthy of additions to bolster itself for a playoff run. This is where the owners come in. Will the Dolans open up their pocketbook wide enough for a more productive third baseman? A right-handed power bat? A contract extension for Millwood or Belliard? This team has a lot of pieces in place to win right now. When the Yankees, Orioles and Twins make additions for the stretch run, how will the Indians respond? Throwing in the towel sends a very bad message to the ticket-buying public.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A big gamble

There's a reason Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers never asked to be referred to as "Ken." By the time Rogers made his major-league debut in the 1980s, his name was already vaulted to celebrity status by a country music singer. The singer's song, movie and nickname, "The Gambler," quickly stuck itself to the namesake pitcher.
Kenny Rogers simply liked being "Kenny Rogers."
Rogers isn't a spotlight hound, but he's never shied from the spotlight in a major league career that is approaching its 20th year. When he suffered one of the most embarrassing moments a pitcher has ever had, walking in the NLCS-losing run as a Met against Atlanta in 1999, he rebounded, pitching for Oakland, Texas and Minnesota in subsequent years.
At age 40, he has every right to rest on his laurels, in the twilight of a career that isn't hall-of-fame caliber, but has been darn good. He boasts a 9-3 record at an age when many of his former teammates are whacking golf balls to pass the time.
Which makes Rogers's flip-out Wednesday perplexing. Before the Rangers' game against Los Angeles, he shoved two cameramen, including Larry Rodriguez of KDFW. When Rodriguez picked up his camera to keep filming, Rogers came back for more, pulling the camera away from Rodriguez, kicking it once it fell out of his hands, and threatening to stick the camera someplace fairly private on Rodriguez's person.
Teammates and coaches intervened to break up the scuffle, and Rodriguez later went to the hospital when he felt pain in an arm and leg.
Rodriguez told ESPN today that he had just re-aggravated a pre-existing condition.
John Rocker, I'd expect this kind of behavior out of. Barry Bonds in a really bad mood, maybe. But not Kenny Rogers.
Media reports say this has been brewing for a while. Rogers's relationship with the media has apparently grown increasingly tense this season. When media members approached Rogers prior to Thursday's game, he was laughing and joking with his teammates, and gave the media a predictably stone-cold shoulder.
If Rogers felt persecuted by the Dallas-Fort Worth media for whatever reason, he has a right to feel that way. He also has a right to not talk to them. This can be accomplished numerous ways, including having the team issue a press statement or a series of "sorry, I'm not talking to the media anymore" replies. Being a jackass and telling media members to shove it is less desireable, but in the macho realm of professional sports, falls into an acceptable category.
The behavior might be viewed as bizarre, and might spawn a few opinion columns, but it's not going to get anybody charged with misdemeanor assault (which Rogers should be charged with) and it won't send cameramen to the hospital.
Rogers is proving to be more of a punk at age 40 than he probably ever was in his 20s. That's the parachute other meltdown subjects, like Rocker and Ryan Leaf, have had. Young equals higher hormone levels and less maturity, so tempers might flare more easily, the logic (right or wrong) states. At 40, you're supposed to be mellowing out. At 40, with nearly two decades of major league experience under your belt, you're not only supposed to be more mature and less prone to emotional outbursts involving physical violence, you're supposed to be used to the media.
Cameras are there. They're in your face. Rogers played for both New York teams, for crying out loud. He struggled in the playoffs for both the Mets and Yankees. Somehow, he made it out of that fishbowl with his sanity intact enough to pitch six more years.
When Rogers's bases-loaded walk lost the NLCS for the Mets in 1999, I thought Rogers would never live that down. If there was going to be a Ralph Branca-esque black mark on his career, I thought losing the pennant for a New York team with a bases-loaded walk would do it.
But that moment has faded into the background. Demanding New Yorkers seem to have forgiven Rogers for that gaffe (winning the pennant the next year probably had something to do with that).
Unfortunately for Rogers, that gaffe has been replaced with a screw-up that indicts not Rogers the pitcher, but Rogers the person. With the cameras rolling, he assaulted someone. He didn't stick his hand in front of the camera lens, a time-honored gesture for "turn that damn thing off," he threatened to injure a camerman and attempted to damage his equipment. Based on his happy-go-lucky behavior in the clubhouse Thursday, his indiscretion doesn't really seem to be gnawing at him in retrospect, either.
Rogers is definitely "The Gambler" now. Nearing the end of his career, he is gambling with his reputation as an individual. Hopefully he comes to his senses and atones for his mistake before the sand runs out of the hourglass.