Monday, October 31, 2005

Al Lopez dies

The Cubs won a World Series in Al Lopez's lifetime. He was born in August 1908, about two months before the Cubs topped the Tigers in the World Series.
The Cubs won the World Series in 1907 as well, meaning Lopez's life began and ended with a Chicago team as a champion. Lopez died Saturday at 97.
Not many people's relatives could brag that. Certainly not the descendants of any former Chicago baseball managers.
Lopez never won a World Series as a manager, but he was one of the best managers of his era, and carved an indelible niche in the Yankee-dominated 1950s.
The Yankees won every American League pennant from 1949 to 1964, save two: pennants by the 1954 Indians and the 1959 White Sox. Lopez managed them both.
Lopez was a players' manager without being a coddler or apologist. He thrived on consistency, rarely changed his lineup, and seldom lost his temper for the cameras.
He had the forture of overseeing one of the greatest pitching staffs in baseball history. During his tenure as Cleveland's manager (1950-56), he managed Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Art Houtteman, Ray Narleski and Hal Newhouser.
In addition to the pitching, Lopez's team also featured the last Indian to win a batting title (Bobby Avila, .341 in 1954) and Al Rosen's near miss of a triple crown (24 HR, 126 RBI and .300 average in 1953).
In addition to the pennant in 1954, Lopez's Indians finished in second place in 1951, 1953, 1955 and 1956.
After the 1956 season, Lopez left for the White Sox. Wynn soon followed, helping the "Go-Go Sox" to the '59 pennant.
Prior to being a manager, Lopez was a catcher for the Dodgers, Braves, Pirates and Indians from 1928 to 1947. He made one all-star team and hit .261 for his career.

The Morning After: Houston

Texans 19, Browns 16
Record: 2-5

Now do all you "start Charlie Frye" fanatics believe me?
The Browns' problems don't start with the quarterback. They don't end with the quarterback. In fact, the play of the quarterback is downright insignificant at the moment.
Sure, Trent Dilfer's play hasn't been great of late, but I'd be far more concerned with the dropped passes, the penalties, the complete lack of a pass rush even against the lowly Texans, the sheer ineptitude in the red zone, punter Kyle Richardson and his granite foot and turnovers, of which the Browns had two yesterday.
The Browns even had some semblance of a running game yesterday (Reuben Droughns, 99 yards) and still lost to a previously-winless team.
It's an issue of talent. It's an issue of discipline. It's an issue of injuries. And it's a long way from being cured.
Since it's Halloween, I'm going to give you a scary thought to gnaw on. Right now, in the next two months, we will find out if Romeo Crennel is worthy to be an NFL head coach.
This season is on the verge of falling completely apart with nine games to play. Either Crennel is going to figure out a way to rally his troops and make them believe the season is worth fighting for, or this team is going to completely give up, lose a bunch of blowouts, and we're going to have another Chris Palmer "runaway train" or Terry Robiskie "boys against men" situation on our hands.
For the sake and sanity of Cleveland fans, we had better hope he brandishes his rally monkey, or we are going to be facing Franchise Restart No. 4 by 2008.
And, as far as Frye goes, I might be right about the relevancy of starting him, but the Frye guys will have their way. My not-so-bold prediction is Crennel bows to pressure and starts Frye against the Titans on Sunday.

Up next: Tennessee, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, October 30, 2005

NBA preview: Northwest Division

Teams listed in projected order of finish.

1. Seattle Sonics
Last year, then-coach Nate McMillan turned an undersized but athletic team into a European-style scoring show, putting emphasis on shooting and the finesse aspects of the game. It was good enough to get them to the second round of the playoffs. This year, Ray Allen and Vladimir Radmanovich return after a summer as free agents, so there will likely not be a major drop-off in scoring. But questions still linger as to how this team can find a way to beat teams with dominant low-post presences like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
Shooting is a lost art in the NBA. But it still can't trump a dominant low-post player. And that is probably the barrier that will keep the Sonics from getting a whiff of the NBA Finals.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves
As long as Kevin Garnett is suiting up in the Twin Cities, the Wolves will be a threat in the West. Last year, however, illustrates just how GM Kevin McHale has failed to put an adequate supporting cast around Garnett.
Latrell Sprewell whined about not getting a new deal. Sam Cassell got older. Wally Szczerbiak got injured.
McHale can count former Clipper Marko Jaric as his big free-agent coup this summer. While Jaric has solid abilities across the board, he is far from the Kobe the Wolves need to compliment Garnett's Shaq.
If only McHale could go back in time and hypnotize Stephon Marbury into wanting to stay in Minnesota.

3. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets could be the Pacers of the West, if they didn't have a few lunkheads in key places on their roster.
The Nuggets have a battle-tested coach in George Karl, and have a cache of good role players. The trouble is, the guys who are supposed to carry this team are overrated, overspoken and injury-prone (Kenyon Martin), have limited games (Andre Miller) or get caught mugging in videos that threaten to kill anyone caught snitching on drug deals (Carmelo Anthony).
Somehow the Nuggets toe the line between Pacer teamwork and Blazer thug-circus and get to the playoffs every year. But the lack of roster leadership repeatedly limits how deep into May this team can play.

4. Portland Trail Blazers
I took a cheap shot at the Blazers a couple of lines above. Five years ago, this was goon central. Now, the Blazers have succeeded in putting a team on the floor that contains players who can at least stay out of the police blotter. Trouble is, they missed the playoffs.
The Blazers are rebuilding around the likes of Zach Randolph and Sebastian Telfair, who are both good players but have significant limits to their games. In the stacked West, this team of 40-odd wins is a fringe playoff team at best.

5. Utah Jazz
A year ago, the pundits proclaimed the Jazz rebuilt from the post-Stockton/Malone era. They went out, signed Mehmet Okur from the champion Pistons, then stole Carlos Boozer right out from under the Cavs' noses.
They were viewed as a pair of slick, heady moves by Jazz management. A year later, the Jazz are coming off their worst season in more than a quarter-century, and the moves were exposed as the money pits they are.
Okur is a finesse center who really lacks the coordination to be a great finesse center. In other words, he's not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Boozer developed a consistent mid-range jumper in Cleveland, and he stuffed the stat sheet to nearly 20 points and nine boards a game until a leg injury ended his season last year. But his athletic shortcomings were exploited in his first season in Utah.
Boozer lacks the arm range and leaping ability to hang with the West's best front court players, especially on defense.
This team's best player is still Andrei Kirilenko, and if the Jazz get an MVP-type season out of him, they are a playoff contender. If he gets hurt like last year, we have already seen that Okur and Boozer can't pick up the slack.

Up next: the Southwest Division

Nickel beer night

At the request of Abrasivist, here is a cursory background on "nickel beer night," also called 10-cent beer night because everyone was too drunk to remember exactly how much the beer cost during the 1974 game.
It was the Indians and the Texas Rangers at Cleveland Stadium. Needless to say about the Indians in the 1970s, but they were desperate to boost attendance, so in what was probably a fairly common practice at the time, team management decided to lure Clevelanders to the game with cheap beer. And if you know Cleveland, you know that's like setting out a bug zapper to catch mosquitos.
A quick check of the Internet showed me no detailed chronology of the events of the night, but I give you a bit of the flavor from memory.
(It should be noted that I was born in 1979, so I have no firsthand memory of the events, only newspaper accounts and old footage.)
Somehow, over the course of the early innings, the relationship between the fans behind the visiting dugout and Rangers players became rather chippy. I can't remember if fans actually started running onto the field at one point, or if they simply began tossing beer bottles onto the field, a la Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2001.
Whatever happened, Rangers manager Billy Martin soon decided it was time re-enact Pickett's Charge and led his players onto the field. Martin's paramilitary antics only encited the drunks in the crowd further, and before long, people were indeed running onto the field, confronting Rangers players fist-to-fist, and the game got out of hand.
After police couldn't restore order, much like during disco demolition night, the American League forfeited the game to Texas.
Even though Martin led his players onto the field, the Indians were the ones ultimately responsible for maintaining order in their home stadium, so that's why they lost.
Martin's antics that night don't get a lot of play in the media because everybody primarily remembers his five managerial stints under George Steinbrenner and the circus that caused. But nickel beer night, though started by drunk fans, might be the best example of Martin's notorious temper making a bad situation worse.

Friday, October 28, 2005

NBA preview: Southeast Division

Teams listed in projected order of finish:

1. Miami Heat
This team was within 90 seconds of the NBA Finals last year. So why all the changes?
Out goes Eddie Jones and Damon Jones, in comes Jason Williams, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton. Certainly, as long as Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade are present and healthy, this team is a threat to be playing in June, but the formula that worked so well last year has been blown up in the name of more star power. Two of the new acquisitions, Williams and Walker, might be among the most flighty players the league has ever seen. Williams has never met a pass he didn't like, and Walker has never met a shot he wouldn't take.
If the shots are dropping for Walker, it will take some pressure off Shaq, who isn't getting any younger, but if the shots aren't dropping, the only thing Walker will succeed at is alienating his teammates.
Stan Van Gundy gets the nod for "head coach on the shortest leash." If Miami stumbles out of the gate, how long do you think Pat Riley will be able to restrain himself from coaching again?

2. Washington Wizards
Luckily for the Wizards, Larry Hughes was probably only their third-best player.
While Hughes bolted for Cleveland, the state of Washington baskteball remained generally strong thanks to the continued presence of Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas. Washington made a signifcant score by pawning off colossal bust Kwame Brown on the Lakers for the noticeably-more-proven Caron Butler, who should replace Hughes' offense, if not his defense.
Factor in the signing of Antonio Daniels, and the Wizards had about as good an off-season as you can have after losing a starter who put in 22 points per game last year.

3. Orlando Magic
The Magic are a team loaded with x-factors. The maturation of Dwight Howard. The health of Grant Hill.
Factor No. 2 is already off to a bad start, as Hill will miss the first three to six weeks of the season with more leg problems.
Not to place too much pressure on Howard, last year's No. 1 pick, but he might have to find a way to become Orlando's Kevin Garnett as a matter of necessity. Other than Hill and Howard, the Magic have Steve Francis, who is quite adept at finding his own shot. Getting his teammates involved is another issue.
The Magic have enough talent to at least make the playoffs. Anything more than that is questionable.

4. Charlotte Bobcats
That fact that a second-year expansion team is something other than a last-place pick is a testament to A) the early draft job the team's general manager has done and B) the sad state of the last-place team (see below).
GM/head coach Bernie Bickerstaff is, slowly but surely, amassing a pool of quailty talent in Charlotte. Last year brought the low-post game of Emeka Okafor. This year, the Bobcats netted point guard Ray Felton and forward Sean May. All three have been on NCAA title teams.
The supporting cast is not great, but far from dead weight. The re-signing of Brevin Knight will give the Bobcats a veteran point guard to help groom Felton. There is ample athleticism in Gerald Wallace and Kareem Rush.
The Bobcats should crack the 20-win plateau this year, and could be a fringe playoff contender as early as 2007.

5. Atlanta Hawks
Only the Hawks could create an ownership coup by trying to trade for Joe Johnson. One owner got oustered for unsucessfully trying to stop the team from trading for Johnson, who just went from being a great supporting cast member on the playoff-bound Phoenix Suns to the best player on the lottery-bound Hawks.
Other than the Johnson fiasco, the only other news the Hawks made this off-season was the shocking death of center (and former Ohio Mr. Basketball) Jason Collier from an apparent heart attack.
This team is lousy, and will likely remain lousy for a long time to come, unless Dominique Wilkins finds the fountain of youth.

Up next: the Northwest Division

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Getting ready to pile on the Browns as the losses mount? No need. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have done it for you.
Thursday morning, the books for Sunday's games had the 2-4 Browns listed as two-point underdogs to the winless Houston Texans (0-6).
The Texans have been outscored 179-74 through six games, losing by an average of 18 points per game. Houston ranks dead last in the league offensively, third-last in defense.
How bad are the Texans? The 2004 Browns, last year's steaming pile of ineptitude and injuries, beat them the last week of the season.
The Browns have managed no offensive touchdowns in 15 of the past 16 quarters, but they are understandably upset at having to look up at a winless team in the weekly odds.
"That is sad. Really, really sad for us to be looked at that way," Andra Davis reportedly said.
Before you pray for lightning to strike the MGM Grand, keep in mind that the weekly odds are not made by the guidelines of any scientific formula. It's basically a bunch of guys sitting around in a room, watching a lot of football, taking into account trends and injuries, and making lines that they think will allow the betting houses they serve to turn a maximum profit.
Chances are, the oddsmakers looked at Cleveland's home loss to the pitiful Lions, Gary Baxter's season-ending pectoral tear, and the fact that the Browns are playing a road game against a team that is due for a win, and figured enough people would place money on Houston to justify pushing the line in their favor.
Remember, the oddsmakers aren't passing judgment on the better team when they make their lines. They are trying to cover their butts based on which team they think will garner the most bets.
Still, it would be nice if the Browns used this perceived slight as motivation. If they are worth giving the time of day this season, they should beat the Texans.

Bright White Sox

In July 1979, a Chicago radio disc jockey hatched a plan he hoped would increase his national profile, step up his ratings, and maybe sell a few thousand tickets for the White Sox.
In between games of a doubleheader against Detroit, he would set fire to a bunch of disco records piled up in center field to the delight of Southsiders who embraced the "disco sucks" movement.
Of course, the idea was brilliant to Bill Veeck, then the owner of the White Sox, who was always looking for attention-grabbing ways to raise attendance figures. At the time, the White Sox were in a several-decade slump, 20 years removed from their last pennant.
The idea worked way too well. Drunk and riled by the incendiary nature of the stunt, which included destroying disco records with fireworks, the fans started to riot. They stormed the field, tearing up grass and dirt. Police couldn't restore order, and eventually, the American League president's office ordered Chicago to forfeit the second game. Veeck made the announcement to the crowd from the field.
The incident became known as "disco demolition night," and it was the punchline that defined the White Sox for years.
Not that the White Sox were completely inept. They fielded their share of fine players in the 26 years since. Notables such as Harold Baines, Sammy Sosa, Lance Johnson, Jack McDowell, Carlton Fisk, Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez spent some or most of their careers in Chicago.
McDowell won a Cy Young Award in 1993. Bobby Thigpen set an American League record with 51 saves in 1990. Tony La Russa got his managerial start with the White Sox, leading them to a division title in 1983.
But all the small victories did not completely erase disco demolition night from the face of the franchise. The White Sox were still the less-appealing, working-class alternative to Chicago's beloved Cubs. While the Cubs routinely pack Wrigley Field, the White Sox struggle to draw half-capacity crowds to the South Side.
As such, it probably shouldn't surprise anybody that a group of baseball yeomen brought the White Sox their first title since 1917 Wednesday night.
Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, David Wells and Bartolo Colon didn't bury disco demolition night once and for all. It was Aaron "That dude in center field" Rowand, Juan "How do you say his last name?" Uribe, Scott "How do you spell his last name?" Podsednik, and Jermaine "That guy who used to play for the Braves" Dye.
The White Sox played the last three weeks like a team that has had to work for everything they have. They took nothing for granted, treated every aspect of the game like it was the most important, and never lost focus.
It is true they had a lot of questionable calls form umpires to aid them. It is also true that they had to take advantage of those calls with clutch hits.
The White Sox ended the season winning 16 of 17 games, including an 11-1 record in the postseason. To put that in perspective, the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 regular season games, a World Series, and were arguably the best single-season team in baseball history, went 11-2 in the playoffs.
Which reminds me -- the following trivia question could earn you some cash in the future: Who is the only pitcher to beat the White Sox in the 2005 postseason?
The baseball gods are apparently in a curse-purging mood right now. The titles of the White Sox this year and Red Sox last year now leave the Cubs (1908), Indians (1948) and Giants (1954) with the longest title droughts.
So, as fan interested in ending his own Cleveland suffering, do the baseball gods need their lawns mowed? Windows washed? What typed of baked goods do they like?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

NBA preview: Atlantic Division

Teams listed in projected order of finish.

1. Boston Celtics
In a weak division, handicapping is hard. I'd like to say this pick is based on more than a mental coin flip, but I'd be lying.
Typical of the Atlantic Division, sans Toronto, Boston has a few stalwart players and some playoff experience, but hardly a prayer of title contention. Paul Pierce is the team's best player and arguably the division's best forward. Ricky Davis was once a lunkhead who hogged the ball and shot at the wrong basket in a lame attempt to secure a triple-double. Now, he is among the best sixth men in the league.
The caveat with the Celtics are the departures of Antoine Walker and Gary Payton to Miami. Both made significant contributions to the Celtics' playoff run last year.

2. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers will always be about Allen Iverson until he leaves the team. As he goes, so goes the franchise. But there is a new force gaining momentum in Philadelphia, and he might help spur the Sixers back into the title hunt sooner rather than later. I speak of Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala has the legs to jump out of the building, and is a born finisher on the floor the way Iverson is a born play creator. He might emerge as the Sixers' franchise player as Iverson inches into his 30s and his athleticism begins to wane.
The Sixers also have a lethal outside game thanks to Kyle Korver, a Creighton product who was panned a bit as a rookie becauuse scouts thought his release was too slow and he couldn't do much besides shoot.
It turns out, Korver has a lightning quick trigger, and if all NBA players could shoot like him, nobody would bother ever putting the ball on the floor.

3. New Jersey Nets
The Nets made the playoffs last year thanks to a late-season surge and the Cavs' collapse. Once there, they were hammered in four straight by the Heat.
This team still has Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, but Kidd's knees are getting worse by the year. Jefferson was injured last year, but he's still on the upside and one of the game's best all-around players.
Jeff McInnis gets yet another fresh start in New Jersey. Supposedly, coach Lawrence Frank wants to use him in a dual role, playing two-guard alongside Kidd and helping to spell Kidd when he's not on the floor. How soon before he begins sandbagging on defense and making critics out of the Nets organization?
That's the beauty of being an NBA player. If four teams have told you to take a hike, there are still 26 others who believe they can salvage you.

4. New York Knicks
The Knicks' stud pick-up of the off season happened shortly after the NBA Finals ended. The hinted flirtations between Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown turned into a basketball love affair when Brown accpeted the Knicks' head coaching gig.
Brown is about all Knicks fans have to get pumped about, however. Brown had a team ready to contend in Detroit, a team put together masterfully by Joe Dumars. In New York, he will have decidedly less to work with.
Dumars might have been Thomas' underling as a player, but there is no question as to who is the better GM. Brown inherits a roster that is capped out for the next three years, counts Stephon Marbury as the franchise player, and now counts Eddy Curry, he of the questionable heart health, among its ranks.
It might not be an entire season before Brown is on the lookout for his next job.

5. Toronto Raptors
My early favorite to win the NBA draft lottery next spring. The Raptors are designed with a high draft pick in mind. That means they are bad. Very bad.
The brilliant strokes of drafting Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter are ancient history now. The Raptors still have the potential-laden Chris Bosh, so there is some hope for the future. But Jalen Rose is the closest thing the Raptors have to an impact player other than Bosh, and Rose is getting old.
With hockey back, the Raptors will struggle to get any attention while Ontarians are busy fawning over their beloved Maple Leafs.

Up next: the Southeast Division

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

NBA preview: Central Division

The weather is cold and miserable outside. In Cleveland, that narrows it down to about eight possible months of the year. How do I know the NBA season is on the horizon? It has something to do with the changing leaves, the shortening days, the "LeBron wants a personal manicurist or he's leaving Cleveland" rumors....

Teams listed in projected order of finish.

1. Detroit Pistons
Out with the flip-flopper, in with the Flip.
Larry Brown, who is to basketball teams what Liz Taylor is to husbands, has up and left yet another stop on his lifelong tour-de-force. The Pistons aren't sorry to see him go, not after he made eyes at both the Knicks and Cavaliers while still coach of the Pistons.
The trouble is, Brown and the Pistons made a great combination, winning an NBA title his first season in Detroit and reaching Game 7 of the NBA Finals his second. Now, Flip Saunders, who has won two playoff series in his entire NBA coaching career, takes over.
Luckily for Saunders, the personnel has changed very little over the summer, and the Pistons are still the team to beat in the East. He can thank Joe Dumars for that. A safe bet is that Saunders' playoff series win total will move upward starting this season. Rings we'll have to wait on. There is no question Brown got performances out of the Pistons' roster that other coaches couldn't have.

2. Indiana Pacers
Ron Artest is coming off the bench. Yeah, right. No matter how short a leash coach Rick Carlisle wants to keep his league-reinstated, troubled star on, it doesn't change the fact he is Indiana's best player and the only player on the team capable of singlehandedly changing the course of a game.
Having said that, the Pacers are as stacked with good role players as any team in the league, and Carlisle knows how to use them. The gold mine of role players only gets deeper with the addition of Sarunas Jasikevicius, a deadly outside shooter who should do much to offset the retirement of future hall-of-famer Reggie Miller.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Through all the lousy draft picks and trading for Jiri Welsch, give former GM Jim Paxson credit for this much: he circled the 2005 off-season on his calendar and made sure nothing would prevent the Cavs from having a boatload of money to spend in free agency. He shed the contracts of Shawn Kemp, Wesley Person and Lamond Murray, refused to overpay for Andre Miller, and stuck with low-cost busts like DeSagana Diop, all in the name of clearing the salary cap decks this summer and going on a spending spree.
Paxson didn get a chance to go on his spending spree. He was fired in May. But his successor, Danny Ferry, took Paxson's $30 million in salary cap space and used it to upgrade the talent level on the team drastically. A team that had LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and not much else last year now has Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones in the mix. This team is among the most talented in the league offensively, but the Cavs' ability to go deep into May will depend on how well the players adapt to rookie head coach Mike Brown and his defensive schemes.

4. Chicago Bulls
Coach Scott Skiles succeeded in putting a gutty, scrappy bunch on the floor last season, winning 47 games and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But that was last season. A team with heart makes for great headlines, but sooner or later, talent takes precedent, and the Bulls have three teams in their own division with more of the natural stuff.
The controversial loss of Eddy Curry to the Knicks even has some basketball pundits muttering the "o-word" (as in "overacheive") about last year's Bulls. Curry might or might not have serious heart problems. What is certain is that as a free agent this summer, he felt the Bulls demanding a heart test before offering him a contract was an invasion of his privacy. Off he went to New York in a sign-and-trade for the lackluster Tim Thomas.
GM John Paxson made some good moves this off-season, most notably signing Darius Songalia and re-signing Tyson Chandler, but the loss of Curry looms as a big one as the Bulls try to build off last year's success.

5. Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Redd said he thought long and hard about accepting a huge offer from the Cavs this summer, or returning to the Bucks for an even larger offer. Go to Cleveland, and you are two hours away from your native city, Columbus. You get the chance to play alongside LeBron on a team that is much closer to contending than the Bucks.
Stay in Milwaukee, get more money and you keep your leading role instead of becoming LeBron's Robin.
Redd chose door No. 2. He won't win an NBA title this year, but LeBron probably won't, either.
Redd returned to a team in transition, but far from the armpit of the league. No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut will give the Bucks a low-post presence to compliment Redd's outside game. In the East, which still has a small group of contenders followed by a large field of also-rans, Milwaukee might even be a playoff possibility if enough pieces fall into place properly.

Up next: the Atlantic Division.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pass the ammo

For those of you who don't know Dave, he's the Crankshaft to my Pollyanna. I try to squeeze the lemonade out of life, he reminds me that citric acid causes canker sores.
Needless to say, we have differing viewpoints on the heaven-sent postseason the Chicago White Sox are experiencing.
I try to bring myself to dislike a team that crushed the Indians this season, winning 14 of 19 games. A team that, until this season, counted Dr. Dre's headwear in videos off "The Chronic" as its major contribution to pop culture in the past 50 years. But seeing their fans pinching themselves, in a state of euphoria brought about by success after years of non-contention, I am whisked back to that first-love feeling of 1995, and I can't stay bitter.
Dave, our resident Mr. Spock logician, wants none of that saccharine, sentimental crap. The White Sox are winning for one reason, and one reason only, he says: the umpires.
Either the umpires are particularly myopic this October, or it is part of a broader conspiracy to bring a baseball championship to Chicago, a city that has had two teams since 1901, but hasn't reached baseball's summit since 1917.
I have feelings to back my stand up. Dave has ammo, most notably the passed-ball strikeout controversy of the ALCS, during which A.J. Pierzynski reached first base on a swinging strike three in the dirt (or was it?), despite the home plate umpire's hand going up to signal strike three.
The umpire later said the hand-up signal is his call for strike three, but not necessarily an out, which is not recorded until the catcher either catches the ball or throws to first base. The Angels began to trot off the field, thinking an out had been called, allowing Pierzynski to reach first base without a throw. In the confusion, the White Sox rallied for a Game 2 win, then swept three straight in Anaheim for the pennant.
Now, Dave has more ammo. Sunday night, the Astros were trying to maintain a death grip on a 4-2 lead in Game 2 of the World Series. Jermaine Dye came up and jumped back from Dan Wheeler's inside pitch on a 3-2 count.
The ball deflected off something. Astros manager Phil Garner said it was Dye's bat, making it a foul ball. The video replay concurred. Unfortunately, the opinion that mattered the most -- that of home plate umpire Jeff Nelson -- said Dye had been hit by the pitch and should be awarded first base.
Chad Qualls relieved Wheeler and promptly coughed up a grand slam to Paul Konerko for a 6-4 Chicago lead.
Houston fought back to tie the game 6-6 in the top of the ninth, but the White Sox are apparetnly a team of destiny this year.
Scott Podsednik, he of zero home runs during the regular season, hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-6 Chicago win. Chicago leads the series 2-0 and has all the confidence in the world going into Tuesday's Game 3 in Houston.
Sure, Chicago has had a lot of miracle finishes this season, but the question remains: are the umpires' calls a cause or effect of Chicago's success?
Dave knows where he stands, and if he has anything to say about it, a bunch of umps should be getting Rolexes from Ozzie Guillen this Christmas.

The Morning After: Detroit

Lions 13, Browns 10
Record: 2-4

The cry has officially gone out in Cleveland: start Charlie Frye.
After the Browns offense managed three measly points in Sunday's loss to the lowly Lions, the season that was settling into a state of comfortable mediocrity two weeks ago is now spiraling toward disaster, bleeding losses unchecked like last year.
Take away the two-touchdown spasm in the fourth quarter against Chicago, and the Browns' offense has scored just four field goals in the past three games.
Since the bye week, Trent Dilfer has been lackluster save for the second half against the Bears. Against Detroit, he was terrible: 10-for-19 passing, less than 100 yards, and three interceptions (though one was off a deflection). It is easy to make a case for starting Frye, but I say don't. And it has nothing to do with fears of a Tim Couch redux.
Today's loss, and the Browns' inability to sustain any positive momentum in recent years, is a painfully clear indicator of just how many personnel moves Dwight Clark and Butch Davis botched during their tenures. This team is woefully undertalented, and no matter who is under center, the Browns are still going to be a bad team this year.
The only thing that can ultimately cure the losing are good drafts, trades and free agent signings by general manager Phil Savage each off-season.
Anyone who is wishing on a star that by placing the offense in the hands of Frye, some miraculous transformation will occur, is misplacing their hope. You want Dilfer in there because he is the even-tempered, tough-hide veteran who can take the bullet of manning this team during a transitional phase.
By benching Dilfer, you are saying that Dilfer is making the team bad. It's the other way around, mostly.
Putting Frye in the game will likely not change the Browns' record, somewhere between 4-12 and 6-10. All it will do is increase the possibility that Frye will get injured.
Why risk that in year one of a extensive rebuilding project? Remember just how bad the Browns were last year, and how much work Savage and Romeo Crennel faced when they took their respective jobs last winter.
Next year, with two Phil Savage drafts on the roster, might be the best time to hand the reigns to Frye. As long as the Browns have a team capable of losing a home game to the Lions, it is not the time to go to your purported quarterback of the future.

Up next: at Houston, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

Friday, October 21, 2005

NBA's dress code

When I was heading into my senior year at Lutheran High School West in Rocky River, the powers that be sent down an edict that sent shockwaves through the school's hallowed, locker-lined halls.
Our dress code was tightening up. Big time.
No more jeans. No t-shirts to be worn as outerwear. No clothing that revealed too much leg, abdomen or any cleavage for girls. Boys were to wear hair no longer than collar-length and shirts and ties on chapel days, Tuesday and Thursday.
It was one step away from uniforms. Parents were pleased. Us kids, however, thought it smacked of fascism and talked about walking into the first day of school in the most faded t-shirts and ripped-up jeans we could find.
In the end, however, our power-fighting exercise didn't go beyond talk and we co-existed peacefully with the new dress code.
The same will probably happen in the NBA, but right now the players are going through the same whining stage we went through.
Unfortunately for NBA commissioner David Stern, he is a white authority figure trying to tighten standards on a mostly black employee pool comprised of millionaires, with egos to match their bank accounts.
These aren't some tantrum-throwing high school kids like we were. NBA players are among the most visible people in the world. When you tell them they can't do something they've been doing for years, it automatically becomes a debate issue for the population at large.
For the record, Stern's new dress code quashes a lot of the "gangsta" image NBA players projects. While appearing in public on the NBA's watch, players must eschew casual dress, oversized neck chains and throwback jerseys for slacks, dress shirts and sport coats. Ties are a plus, and chains must be worn inside clothing.
Predictably, former players like Charles Barkley have spoken in favor of the new dress code. Current player Stephen Jackson of the Indiana Pacers hates it, and said he believes it targets specifically young black males and the "hip hop" culture.
To an extent, Jackson has a point. The NBA embraced urban culture when it came time to attract young black males to the game. When it comes to selling jerseys, The NBA has done everything short of flashing gang signs to make the league appear hip and urban.
I didn't see the NBA shy away from "Dime" magazine, which covers the urban culture of basketball. You can hardly pick up an issue of that magazine without seeing an NBA player on the cover.
But young black males don't buy most of the tickets to NBA games. Those are usually snapped up by the white adults who can afford the extravagant prices to see an NBA game. Those are the people who look with disdain when they see an injured player on the sideline in cornrows with a large diamond-encrusted cross around his neck.
And that's who David Stern made the dress code for. The financially-secure white folks who provide most of the league's ticket revenue.
When you get right down to it, it probably wasn't much different than what happened at Lutheran West. Some well-endowed alumni show up, tell the principal they can't believe how some of the students are dressed, and the principal, always grubbing for donations, solemnly swears to tighten up the dress code.
With the NHL back, the NBA is back into a head-to-head competition for the winter sports dollar in a lot of markets. If rich white folks get too irritated by the NBA, there's always hockey. Even with the NHL reeling financially, Stern knows he is a swing of a few thousand season ticket holders away from a level playing field with hockey again.
Stern's dress code is the typical two-faced approached that makes for bad bedfellows, but good business. Give African-American boys tons of attitude and rap music with your product. Give the 50-year-old white couple Ozzie and Harriet.
When an NBA player next appears in an issue of "Dime," we don't know what he'll be wearing, be we can be certain it won't be a starched collar and wingtips.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

No-choke zone

Roy Oswalt didn't get the memo about how this was supposed to work.
The Astros suffer a catastrophic ninth-inning loss to the Cardinals Monday night, ruining their chances of clinching their first-ever NL pennant at home. This means that the Astros and their fans are supposed to become overwhelmed with anxiety, head into Busch Stadium tense and terrified of another collapse like last season, and lose the final two games.
Didn't Oswalt take notes on the 2003 Cubs? Or the 1985 Cardinals? Or the 1986 Angels?
Appparently not. Because Oswalt took the mound as cool as Maverick in the cockpit Wednesday night and proceeded to shut down St. Louis' powerful offense, propelling the Astros to a 5-1 win and the first pennant in the 44-year history of the franchise.
Game 3 of the World Series on Tuesday will be the first ever played in the state of Texas.
It was a massive pressure release for a franchise that was quickly becoming viewed as hexed in October. The Astros made the playoffs in 1980, 1981, 1986, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, last year and this year. They lost Game 7 of the NLCS twice -- 1986 and 2004.
All the years of great pitchers, from J.R. Richard to Nolan Ryan to Darrryl Kile to Shane Reynolds and Scott Elarton and Mike Hampton, the failed Randy Johnson experiment in '98, onto Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, and no World Series. Until now.
This World Series matches the Astros and White Sox, two teams that are far from small-market, but have underdog status nonetheless. It's Red Sox-Cubs without the hype and blubbering about curses.
And no matter who wins, chances are their egos are going to stay in check far better than this year's strutting Bostonians.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Maccabi beats Toronto

I don't know what troubles me the most about Maccabi Tel Aviv's win over the Raptors....

A. An NBA team losing to a team from Israel.

B. The fact that said Israeli team hadn't beaten an NBA team in 27 years.

C. The fact that the Raptors played their starters most of the way and still lost.

D. The fact that the Toronto crowd of over 17,000 was overwhemlingly full of Maccabi supporters.

E. NBA commish David Stern hustling off the floor at the end of the game like someone being chased by the I-Team.

F. How irrefutably and stone-coldly this proves that the Raptors suck.

Loss of a legend

Hal Lebovitz was one of the stewards of Cleveland sports.
Other people held the money. Other people held the spotlight. But Lebovitz, who died Tuesday at 89, held a lot of the sway.
He, along with Gordon Cobbledick, Bob August and Russ Schneider, was one of the pillars of Cleveland sportswriting during what might be considered its golden era. Lebovitz's career started in the 1940s, spanning the last World Series the Indians won, every NFL title the Browns won, the birth of the Cavaliers, the Tribe's 40-year slide into oblivion and the franchise's magnificent renaissance in the 1990s.
Close friends with Art Modell, he watched as the Browns were moved to Baltimore in 1995 and reincarnated as an expansion team four years later.
Lebovitz worked for the long-defunct Cleveland News, was the sports editor of The Plain Dealer, and continued his work with a weekly column for the Lake County News Herald. He wrote his last column two weeks ago, meaning his career stretched nearly 60 years.
Lebovitz wasn't the flashiest or most verbose writer in the sports pages. Most of the time, he strived for simplicity to reach the largest possible audience. But the work of Lebovitz was a testament to how influential a good writer with a soapbox can be.
Lebovitz made a lasting impact on sports in this area, whether it was Little League baseball, the big boys in pro sports, or anything in between.
In his obituary story today, The Plain Dealer's Bob Dolgan relates a time when Lebovitz might have saved the Indians from moving. It was September 1964, and the Indians were coming off yet another dismal season. Rumors were simmering that the team's ownership group was mulling over the possibility of moving the team to Seattle.
Angered that the team's owners, many of whom resided in the area, would consider robbing Cleveland of its baseball team, he published photos of the team's board of directors -- all 18 of them -- across the top of Page 1 of The Plain Dealer's sports page.
"Pictured here are the 18 deep-rooted Clevelanders who will hold in their hands the baseball future of their city," said the accompanying article.
The lynch-mob publicity worked. The Tribe's board of directors backed off the moving issue.
When the NBA's Cincinnati Royals began playing a portion of their home schedule in Cleveland each year during the 1960s, Lebovitz began calling them the "Ohio Royals," Dolgan wrote. Nick Mileti gave Cleveland its own NBA franchise in 1969, after considerable resistance from the NBA, but Lebovitz's refereneces probably added wind to Mileti's sails.
Lebovitz also offered his influence to neighborhood sporting disputes and youth-league rules inquiries in his "Ask Hal, the Referee" column. Whether he settled a barroom bet on the Indians' all-time leader in sacrifice bunts, or helped clarify football rules for a Pop Warner dad, he brought the same diligence to his Ask Hal column that he brought to covering the big stories.
And that was the crux of who Hal Lebovitz was as sportswriter. He earned the nickname "scoop" from his tenacious pursuit of the news, for his tremendous ability to find answers. He was the first person to learn that Jim Brown had decided to retire from football in 1965.
Many sportswiters compartmentalize, concentrating on their loves or their beats. Some know all there is to know about the Browns or Ohio State football, but only have a cursory background on the Indians or Cavaliers. That wasn't Hal Lebovitz. He followed the Browns, Indians, Cavs and all of Cleveland sports with the same passion.
There are few writers left like Lebovitz. Few writers who not only covered the news of sports in a town, but also advocated for the insitution of sports in a town.
He was a steward, not just a spectator.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Elation and frustration

Watching the playoffs when your team is not playing is kind of like those times in your life when you aren't dating anyone.
When you see couples holding hands in the park, it makes you feel lonely. When you see couples arguing, you are thankful you don't have to endure the same.
Right now, the White Sox are the happy couple trading smooches on a blanket under a tree. The Astros are the Mr. and Mrs. having a blowup in the supermarket aisle about which brand of spaghetti sauce to buy.
I watched the White Sox clinch a pennant this weekend with relative ease, dropping the Angels in five games and giving me wistful thoughts of what might have been had the Indians even played .500 ball over the season's final week.
How could you not be happy for the White Sox, no matter how hard you try not to? And believe me, I did.
The White Sox are a member of baseball's damned, like the Indians. They haven't been to the World Series since 1959, and haven't won it since 1917.
But, like the Indians, their suffering has largely been in silence all these years. While legions of fans and media played their violins for the Red Sox and Cubs, the White Sox were mostly ignored, the neglected stepchild of Chicago with a bad-neighborhood stadium on the city's south side and notoriously poor attendance rate.
Now, the White Sox are a national story, and Ozzie Guillen is four wins away from becoming a certified baseball genius.
The White Sox have a $75 million payroll, which hardly qualifies them as an underdog financially. But the White Sox are in the World Series with Bobby Jenks, a rookie closer who was in Class AA ball at the start of the year. They are in the World Series with one true power hitter (Paul Konerko), a rookie second baseman (Tadahito Iguchi) and undercard names like Aaron Rowand, Joe Crede and Juan Uribe in the lineup.
Guillen rode his pitching to this point, made Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras his horses. It worked unfathomably well. In the ALCS, Chicago starters became the first team since the 1956 Yankees to have four complete-game victories in a playoff series. In five games, Chicago's bullpen worked 2/3 of an inning.
If this continues into the World Series, Chicago's rotation might go down in history alongside the '90s Braves, the late '60s-early '70s Orioles, and the late '40s-early '50s Indians as the greatest rotations of all time.
If the White Sox are glowing, the Astros are burning. If they lose the NLCS now, they might take up residence among baseball's damned.
In the span of three at-bats, Houston closer Brad Lidge went from the World Series to the possibility of becoming this generation's Donnie Moore.
When you get right down to it, Albert Pujols' ninth-inning homer Monday was eerily similar to Dave Henderson's Game 5 blast off Moore in the 1986 ALCS that sent the Red Sox-Angels series back to Boston, where the Red Sox took the final two games.
Like Moore, Lidge was one strike away from the World Series, up 4-2 in the game and 3-1 in the series. The ever-pesky David Eckstein managed a rolling single between short and third to keep the inning going.
With stomachs turning all over Minute Maid Park, including Lidge's apparently, he proceeded to become unglued, walking Jim Edmonds to bring Pujols to the plate.
During the walk to Edmonds, Lidge became woefully tentative, bouncing curveballs in the dirt a la Jose Mesa in the 1997 World Series.
Pujols was hitting .333 in the series, but was a career .200 hitter off Lidge. It didn't matter, as Pujols took the first get-me-over fastball he saw from Lidge and nearly hit it out of the stadium for a 5-4 lead, and ultimately, the win.
Houston now heads back to St. Louis in the exact same position they were in after five games of last year's NLCS: up 3-2 and facing two possible games in loud, raucous Busch Stadium.
Last year, all the Cardinals needed was to get the series back home. They won the last two games. This year, given the end of Game 5, I don't think anyone would be surprised to see an identical outcome.

The Morning After: Baltimore

Blogger's note: Due to time constraints Monday, I am writing this post Tuesday, two mornings after the game. If this causes any inconvenience, please feel free to pretend it's still Monday. I'm sure your boss won't mind if you show up at work on Saturday pretending it's Friday.

Ravens 16, Browns 3
Record: 2-3
Divisional record: 0-2

It was kind of like watching the Indians during the last week of the season. Performance anxiety to the nth degree.
For the first time since the season opening loss to Cincinnati, the Browns played tense, reeled from their mistakes, and looked disturbingly like last year's team, incapable of regrouping after falling behind.
Trent Dilfer, it appears, plays better when nobody expects him to play well, including himself. If Dilfer begins pressuring himself, he turns into Jeff Garcia.
This was a classic "statement" game in Dilfer's mind. A chance to prove to Ravens coach Brian Billick that he screwed up royally by ditching him after Baltimore's Super Bowl season in 2000.
Instead, Dilfer looked as bad as Elvis Grbac, Kyle Boller, Chris Redman or any other quarterback Billick has trotted out.
The tone of the game was set on the first play from scrimmage, when Dilfer mishandled a snap from center Jeff Faine and lost the fumble. It set up the only touchdown pass of the game for either side.
The Ravens, a penalty-prone team that Billick was rumored to be losing control of, went back to basics against the Browns, focusing on aggressive defense and run-based offense. It worked, as Ray Lewis played a big role in overmatching the Browns' offense. Lewis followed an unnessecary roughness call in the third quarter with an interception of yet another hurried, flailing pass from Dilfer. Total, Dilfer was sacked four times as the Browns offensive line looked as helpless as last year's, incapable of stopping the relentlessly blitzing Ravens.
On offense, Baltimore used the running back tandem of Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor to control the clock for all but the start of the third quarter. The effectiveness of the running game, particularly Taylor, also allowed Ravens QB Anthony Wright to pick and choose his pass attempts, minimizing the possibility of another Baltimore QB implosion.
If you're going to beat the Ravens, you have to force them to pass. The Browns didn't, and probably couldn't, do that.
After one series, it was obvious the Browns don't match up well with the Ravens. The Browns don't blitz well on defense, don't handle the blitz well on offense, and can't run the ball. I am not looking forward to the season finale in Cleveland.

Up next: Detroit, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

Friday, October 14, 2005

An unenviable position

The Cavaliers and their fans think they were sweating the past two days as LeBron camped out at the hospital? At least the Cavs aren't in the predicament of the Suns.
Amare Stoudemire was everything Darius Miles never was: a wiry forward with breathtaking athleticism who could run faster and jump higher than any two of his high-school teammates combined.
Miles came to the NBA out of high school with all the hops and none of the skill, and has not really matured into much more. Stoudemire worked diligently at his game, and by last year was likely only surpassed by Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Shaq in the pantheon of NBA big men.
He avearged nearly 30 points a game in the playoffs. He averaged 37 points a game in the Suns' conference finals loss to the Spurs. He had the mid-range jumper to play soft, and the size and jackrabbit legs to play tough. He was a blossoming superstar.
Now, the future of the Suns as a contender, and the future of Stoudemire's career, is in doubt. Stoudemire had exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his knee over the summer to correct what was thought to be a simple cartilage tear. What doctors found was a severe cartilage defect that required microfracture surgery.
Microfracture surgery is a procedure where doctors try to promote the growth of scar tissue in a joint to act as faux-cartilage in places where the cartilage has worn away or become useless.
The procedure involves drilling notches in the end of the bones at the joint in question. The notches, or microfractures, promote the growth of scar tissue.
Microfracture surgery is still a relatively new procedure, and far from perfected. At worst, it can complicate an injury. At best it is far from a sure bet, as NBA players like Allan Houston and Chris Webber can attest. Five years ago, Houston and Webber were among the game's elite players. Since then, they have needed microfracture surgery, and it has done nothing to slow their decline into has-been status.
But at least Houston and Webber had gotten some prime years out of their bodies before they started to break down. Stoudemire, the 2003 NBA Rookie of the Year, was just getting started.

LeBron's alive

...but it was a bit more than a strained chest muscle that put him the hospital this week.
Doctors reportedly diagnosed LeBron with pleurisy, a viral condition that causes inflammation in chest tissues, including the membrane that covers the lungs.
He is out of the hospital as of Friday afternoon and on antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. His status for tonight's preseason game with the 76ers is unknown.
Cavs officials said they expect James to make a full and speedy recovery.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

LeBron hospitalized

LeBron James was admitted into the Cleveland Clinic Wednesday night with chest discomfort.
OK, Cleveland, everybody on the count of three...
One ... two ... three:

Aren't we lucky that we have basketball executives that already do that for us?
LeBron woke up with a sore chest Tuesday, he reportedly said. He doesn't know how he injured it, but the soreness, diagnosed as a strained left pectoral muscle, kept him out of Tuesday's exhibition win over the Celtics. When the injury forced him out of Wednesday's practice, Danny Ferry's franchise alarm went off and LeBron was quickly whisked to the Clinic.
If LeBron indeed had a gaping hole or parasitic worm in there somewhere, as per Cleveland's luck, it was better to catch it sooner rather than later.
All tests came back normal, our Cavs beat reporter at The Gazette told me this afternoon, but he remains doubtful for Friday's home exhibition game against the 76ers.
However, if you want to breathe into a paper bag until you see LeBron in uniform and on the court again, you are permitted.

Grand Theft Auto: NFL

Sex! Violence! Assaulting authority figures!
The only thing the NFL is missing right now is a cheat code for fellatio.
Sunday, Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber took a swing at Jets center Kevin Mawae in a scuffle and somehow his fist found an official.
Oops, said Barber, he was defending himself against the much heavier Mawae, who refused to get his hand off Barber's face mask. The official just happened to be in the way.
Good thing Barber didn't try to defend himself by attempting to kick Mawae in the groin. He was fined $30,000 as it was.
As the Ravens continued to melt down with a 35-17 loss to the lowly Lions Sunday, the officials were the intended targets of cornerback Ed Reed and defensive lineman Terrell Suggs, who were both fined $15,000 for "impermissable contact" with officials.
The incidents Sunday made the Ravens even easier to dislike, and intensified scrutiny on coach Brian Billick, who it appears more and more is an arrogant jerk to those outside the organization, but coddles his players like a Butch Davis clone.
If the Ravens don't turn around, Billick's days in Baltimore are numbered. But there is one coach who might be shown the door even faster.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration, Vikings coach Mike Tice.
When Tice himself was implemented in an investigation for alleged Super Bowl ticket scalping this off-season, it was only the tip of the iceberg.
Now, the Vikings have been fingered in the worst sex-allegation case to hit the sport since the University of Colorado was the subject of an NCAA investigation into alleged "sex parties" for recruits.
Earlier this week, a number of Vikings players were on Lake Minnetonka cruise boats that reportedly featured women in various stages of undress, and some Minnesota players might have been involved in sex acts.
Cornerback and boat passenger Fred Smoot reportedly denied the allegations vehemently, saying somebody is "going to have to pay" for trying to destroy his reputation.
"They're killing my name," Smoot told "Point blank. Somebody's going to have to pay for it." "Going to have to pay for it"? He reportedly meant taking legal action, but that comment still doesn't sound good.
But what can one expect from a league where Kellen Winslow Jr. nearly killed himself crashing a crotch rocket in a parking lot, where Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction in a double-murder case, where Jamal Lewis just got out of the hole after doing time on drug conspiracy charges?
Maybe Ricky Williams has it right. If the whole league was high on reefer and studying holistic medicine, everyone would be too stoned to embarrass themselves like this.
On second thought ... Abrasivist has it right. Just issue every new draft pick a nail gun and table saw and tell them to have fun.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Suggs is hurt

Surprise, surprise.
I'm not blaming Lee Suggs for again winding up on the meat wagon. Actually, I kind of feel sorry for the guy. But I felt sorry for Courtney Brown, too, and that doesn't mean he wasn't an unmitigated bust.
Initial reports have Suggs out for up to a month after having surgery Tuesday to insert two screws in a broken thumb susatined Sunday against the Bears. It really doesn't mean much to the Browns, who have for now settled on Reuben Droughns as the starting running back and William Green as his backup. But it continues a cycle of teasing and fading for Suggs.
Suggs is Cleveland's "Mr. December," which would mean a lot more if the Browns were a perennial playoff team. Instead, all it means is at some point during the second half of a given season, Suggs is going to emerge from injury-limbo, post some respectable games, then rip off a couple of 130-yard performances in December, and get the fans salivating over his potential during the off-season.
Always with a caveat: "if he can just stay healthy..."
Which he never does.
I wish I could say Suggs' injury is a big one for the Browns. It would mean he has solidified himself as a feature back candidate. But as the delicate third-string rusher on a team that doesn't run the ball that well anyway, Suggs might be earning another surname in Cleveland.
"Mr. Irrelevant."

While we're on the subject of the Browns and injuries, I'll take this opportunity to nominate Braylon Edwards' infected elbow as "most disgusting injury of the year."
It's not just the infection. Former Indians pitcher Steve Reed had a similar infection in 1999 after he scraped his elbow on a clubhouse stanchion. It's the fact that Edwards scraped his elbow during practice, and then reportedly proceeded to pick at the scrape until it became infected.
It got to the point that Edwards was wearing a protective sleeve on the elbow Friday to prevent him from picking. It's the same principle behind the huge plastic collars they put on dogs after surgery to prevent them from chewing off their wound dressing.
Braylon's mother should swat him for this whole episode. Isn't picking at scabs the type of thing you learn not to do in first-grade health class?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New York follows Boston

If one can't make it, apparently neither can the other.
The Yankees' season lasted only a couple days longer than the Red Sox's season. Boston was shown the door by the White Sox Friday; New York was dispatched by Los Angeles in Game 5 of their series Monday night.
When the Yankees and Red Sox meet with the AL pennant on the line, which they have done three times since 1999, it seems like destiny. When the Red Sox became the first baseball team ever to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series last year, the Yankees were the only team who could have been their opponent.
For the record, however, the Yankees have made the ALCS seven times since 1996, losing only once. In addition to the Red Sox (1999, 2003, 2004) the Yankees have also faced the Mariners (2000 and 2001) the Indians (1998) and the Orioles (1996).
Maybe it's less about destiny and more about big pockets.
Still, the Yankees double-or-nothing approach is odd. With last year as the lone exception, they have either been knocked out in the first round or made it to the World Series since Joe Torre took the managerial reigns. A team that makes the ALCS with such regularity, you'd think, would have a crooked number in the loss column.
The Angels were the last team to take the Yankees out in the first round, in 2002. That year, they won the World Series. We'll see if history repeats itself.
Even without the Red Sox or Yankees, this year's ALCS is hardly a victory for the little guy. The Angels come in sporting big-market backing and one of the top payrolls in baseball. The White Sox might be the forgotten middle child in Chicago, but they still managed a $70 million payroll.
In the NLCS, the Cardinals and Astros are among baseball's more well-endowed teams as well.
The TV ratings might suffer as disgusted New Englanders and New Yorkers flick off their TV sets and busy themselves with fantasy football, but this is still a big-market field remaining in the playoffs. Money still rules in this game.

Monday, October 10, 2005

J-Mac injures back

Nets guard and ex-Cav Jeff McInnis is reportedly out indefinitely with an injured back.
Maybe he's getting more efficient at this whole quitting-on-your-team thing. If he's not playing in a month, I'll know for certain he's onto this.
Why bother with all that annoying defense and coaches telling you what to do because they're all concerned with winning games and other trivial stuff? Just quit right out of the gate, milk a back injury for all you can, and still collect a millionaire's paycheck.
If you got paid any more for doing any less, you'd be an NFL punter. It's brilliant.

The Morning After: Chicago

Either the Browns defense was that good Sunday, or the Bears offense was that bad.
I'm more inclined to go with the latter.
The Browns' 20-10 win over the Bears was a quick-strike, come-from behind victory. To look at the line score, and see the 14 points Cleveland posted in the fourth quarter, you might get the impression that Trent Dilfer and the boys spent the afternoon stalking Chicago, waiting for the moment to spring the winning flurry of points on them.
Instead, Trent Dilfer was his usual resourceful self. That's not entirely a compliment. Dilfer slumped at the right time, recovering from a lousy first half to post a respectable second half. What he did do was never lose control of his team, even as he threw a couple of bush league picks reminiscent of Luke McCown last year.
Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, meanwhile, just slumped, and never really had control of his offense. If Thomas Jones hadn't pushed the Browns defensive line around for 137 yards on 24 rushes, this might have been a rout. Or at least a shutout.
When the Browns lost to the Colts 13-6 two weeks ago, I said if they played a game like that one against a lesser team, they'd win it. I was wrong.
The Browns played a worse game against Chicago, and still won. The crux of the win was the harrassment of Orton by the Browns' defense, forcing him into hurried passes and bad decisions. The Browns didn't net an inteception on defense, but held Orton to 16-for-26 passes and a meager 90 yards. Even with the two picks, Dilfer was 23-for-34 for 202 yards.
I hope the Browns don't get too big a head too soon. Facing the weak NFC North, the Browns might eke out other wins like this. But it doesn't mean there isn't still a long rebuilding road ahead. But wins like Sunday's soothe the bruises from last year, a least a bit. Last year, this is the type of game they would have lost.

Up next: at Baltimore, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Boston knocked out

If there is any glee to be wrung from an October of missed chances in Cleveland, I think I've found it.
The Boston Red Sox have been swept out of playoffs. It probably shouldn't, but that news made me smile.
Boston fans, many of whom have become quite pretentious and arrogant in recent years with the success of the the Patriots and Red Sox, have been taken down a notch. It was needed.
It used to be the Boston Red Sox stood for the rest of us. The Red Sox were the grubby everymen who life always got the better of. They were the pipefitters, the machine operators, the coal miners who continually tried to shoot the rich, mighty Yankees out of their ivory tower.
Every time the Red Sox played the Yankees with something on the line, we'd root for our New England brothers in arms. They were human, fallible, not like the Yankees, who were a cold, micromanaged machine designed to crank out championships with awe-inspiring efficiency.
Then the Red Sox got rich. Then they won a championship. And then, they became evern more insufferable than the Yankees. The soapbox that brainwashed us into believing the Red Sox stood for the rest of us turned into a bully pulpit extolling the greatness of the Red Sox and their fans.
For a year now, Red Sox Nation (a term I abhor) has been standing in front of a full-length vanity mirror, admiring themselves, patting themselves on the back for enduring 86 years without a title.
That alone doesn't peeve me. If the Indians won a championship, I'd do some of that myself. What I can't stand is the fact that Boston is using their big, East Coast media bullhorn to make sure we all know, and never forget, how great it is that Boston won the World Series, and how happy we should be for them.
This is the neighbor down the street winning the lottery, and expecting a congratulatory card in the mail. If you're well-to-do, that's not such a bad gesture. If you're still waiting for your ship to come in, you might be more inclined to photograph a certain hand digit and mailing that.
ESPN writer and noted Bostonian Bill Simmons, who I used to like but am now finding to be just another chest-thumping New Englander, wrote a book about the Red Sox winning it all, entitled "Now I Can Die in Peace." As long as Bostonians have a bully pulpit to spew their long-suffering tearjerker drivel while a million stories just as heartbreaking are left untold (at least to the general nation) in Cleveland, I have no sympathy for Boston. I never will.
Boston doesn't give a shit about Terry Pluto's book, "Our Tribe," in which he chronicles his relationship with his stroke-impaired, dying father in light of being lifetime fans of the Indians. It was written in the aftermath of the 1997 World Series, and deals with heartbreak every bit as much as the zillions of essays written about a ground ball hopping through Bill Buckner's wickets at Shea.
But we are supposed to shed tears of joy at love finally requited because Bill Simmons and his able-bodied, quip-quoting dad can now die in peace?
Sorry, Boston. One day, you might put down the preening mirror and realize what you've become. You might realize that you are the Yankees in different clothing. Your team's payroll was well over $100 million last year, and your team is just another big-city goliath to be loathed.
As a Clevelander, I could do some of my own gloating now that the Red Sox are home for the winter. But that's of no use. It will just be thrown back in my face when the Red Sox open their massive wallet and steal Kevin Millwood away in December.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Not my fantasy

Most of my life, I have steered clear of fantasy sports, mostly for one reason: I can't stand it when fans root against their own teams because an opposing player is on their fantasy team.
I was bound and determined not to be in a position where I was rooting for an opposing player to torch the Browns, Indians or Cavaliers for my own selfish agenda. As we in Cleveland all know, opposing players (John Elway, Michael Jordan, David Wells) need no additional incentive to take Cleveland out behind the woodshed, certainly not from Cleveland's own fans.
I got bitched out of my only foray into fantasy baseball four years ago because one of my league-mates took offense to my hoarding of Indians players. He accused me of being a slobbering homer. In reality, I snapped up Cleveland players because in that league (Internet-based and comprised of people scattered around the northeast quadrant of the country), I usually was the first to notice trends and upswings among Indian players.
Like it worked that well. I finished sixth out of eight teams.
After that, I made up my mind I hated fantasy sports, and was never going to get involved in another fantasy league again.
Then one of my local friends said some guys from his church were putting together a fantasy football league this year. He asked me to join.
I sighed. What was I going to say? No? It wasn't going to be a fight to the death, like some leagues. Just some guys playing fantasy ball for fun.
One more try, I thought to myself. If this turns out bad, no more fantasy sports.
Well, it turned out quite good for starters. Armed with draft picks Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, my team is tied for first place in my division through four weeks.
But my running game is sparse, and that is what is causing me some consternation this week.
Julius Jones is my only reliable running back, with Bears rookie Cedric Benson a distant second. The Bears play the Browns this Sunday, and I am kind of backed into a corner of hoping Benson puts up some nice numbers against Cleveland to give me a chance of staying in first place.
I find myself thinking "gosh, if Benson puts up 75 yards and the Browns still win, my day will be perfect."
I hve become just like those bar room fantasy braggarts who watch a 49ers-Cardinals game like nothing else matters because Marcel Shipp is on their fantasy roster.
I have become everything I loathe.
Shame me, Browns. Win by 21 points and stuff Benson at the line of scrimmage every time he touches the ball. Use my selfishness to spark a playoff run. Go on, I deserve it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hart failure

Success has officially dethroned John Hart, who abdicated Tuesday as the general manager of the Texas Rangers.
Gone are the jackpot draft picks (Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome) the astute trades (Joe Carter for Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga) and the bullseye bargain free-agent signings (Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser).
Gone are the World Series teams. Gone are the playoffs. Heck, gone are the above-.500 records.
Somewhere along the line, Hart became to baseball executives what Jimmy Johnson was to NFL head coaches: wildly successful at his first stop, then wildly overrated at his second.
In four seasons leading the Rangers, Hart's accomplishments included the disastrous signing of Chan Ho Park, trading for John Rocker (again) and one season over .500.
Save for a abberational bogey last year, Texas repeatedly fielded atrocious pitching and murderball offense, similar to his late-'90s teams in Cleveland. And like his Indian teams, controversy followed. This time, Albert Belle's violent antics were replaced with Kenny Rogers and his childish outburst this summer.
And the reason? Maybe it was because Hart had --get this-- too much money to spend.
In the early 1990s, a lack of funds forced Hart to do what his hand-picked successor, Mark Shapiro, is doing for the Indians right now: rely on the farm system both through drafts and trades. It worked. From the Indians' 1995 World Series lineup, only three players (Omar Vizquel, Eddie Murray and Paul Sorrento) never spent a day in the Cleveland minor league system.
Hart was forced to use his superb organizational skills and network of scouts to turn the Indians from eternal dreg to pennant winner. Then the sellouts started mounting, and the urge to replace youth with veterans grew. Young hitters like Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Brian Giles and Richie Sexson were traded in deals that had varying degrees of success.
The Indians' payroll grew steadily. It kept the Tribe in contention, but it also filled the roster with bloated contracts for aging, underproductive veterans. Hart tried to trim some money by dealing David Justice to the Yankees in June 2000, but the payroll was approaching $90 million.
Then frugality-minded-but-incredibly-rich Dick Jacobs sold the team to frugality-minded-and-less rich Larry Dolan that winter. Payroll-trimming mandates were in the offing, and Hart wanted no part of it.
By the time the epic sellout streak at Jacobs Field ended at 455 in 2001, Hart had announced his plans to leave the Indians after the season, giving control to understudy Shapiro.
The Indians quickly began trimming fat, initating a rebuilding process that has taken four years to bear fruit.
Hart, meanwhile, went to Texas, a team with some cash. A team that still had $252 million man Alex Rodriguez.
All that grunt work of building through the farm system was over, he probably thought. Now, he could spend money like John Schuerholz and Dave Dombrowski, the two GMs who beat him in the World Series.
But it didn't work like that. Instead of having a gold mine to work with, he inherited a team on the verge of finanical dire straits, willing to do just about anything to unload A-Rod and his obscene contract on someone else.
The Rangers are now paying the Yankees $9 million a year just to bear the brunt of A-Rod's deal.
Hart soon tired of having boatloads of money wrapped up in bad deals, like in Cleveland. He might finally be ready to go back to the basics, what he is really good at: farm system enhancement.
Possibly coming soon: John Hart, GM of the Kansas City Royals.

More on LeBron

No secret, LeBron's status as a Cavalier is a touchy subject with many fans. Some, understandably, are refusing to let themselves get too attached to him, telling themselves there is no chance of the Cavs keeping him so they aren't hurt when/if he leaves.
In response to Abrasivist's comment to the post below, "LeBron is leaving Cleveland the first chance he gets," you need to remember that LeBron's millionaire status can also help Cleveland's cause of keeping him.
Certainly, the logical though process says, if you were filthy rich like LeBron, and you had the choice of leaving Cleveland for a bigger city or warmer weather, wouldn't you? But I don't think LeBron views Cleveland like some of the rest of us, like this trap of urban decay to be escaped from.
Remember, if the cold, cloudy Cleveland winters get to LeBron, he is a road trip away from warmer weather. If he wants to spend Christmas in the Bahamas, and time permits, he can. If LeBron elects to stay in Cleveland, he is not a prisoner of the city.
I think a lot of overblown hype is being made of "Jay-Z is going to steal LeBron away and make him a Net." Yes, Jay-Z is a minority owner of the Nets. Of course, he'd love to have LeBron on his team. Does that mean LeBron is going to throw away all he's done for the Cavs (and all the Cavs have done for him) at the drop of a hat just to play for his famous hip-hopper homeboy? Not necessarily.
LeBron and Darius Miles were like two peas in a pod during LeBron's rookie year. Then Miles got traded to Portland. They are still friends to my knowledge, and LeBron is harboring no outward desire to bolt town for the Blazers.
Let's not forget the Cavs' biggest ace: the NBA salary cap. The Cavs can offer more years and more money than any other team could. LeBron also must pass through a year of restricted free agency, sign a one-year deal and play out that year before he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2008.
In other words, he would have to turn down repeated Cleveland offers and jump through a lot of hoops before he is free to go. If LeBron is a free agent in the summer of '08, it is because he is dead set on testing the free agent waters. And given that the Cavs will have thrown just about everything they could have at LeBron by that point, it would probably mean it's a safe assumption he's made up his mind to leave.
The Cavs will have plenty of opportunities to sign LeBron (or trade him if signing him appears hopeless) between now and the summer of '08. He is going to have to really, really, really want to be a free agent in 2008 to become one.
I personally don't think that will happen. With the additions the Cavs made this summer, I think they can sign LeBron for at least one more contract, keeping him in Cleveland until the mid-2010s.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

LeBron has spoken

Like LeBron James said Monday, we can't predict the future. As much as we want it, there is no 100 percent chance he'll be a Cavalier in three years. At least until he puts his name on a contract extension, which he can't do until next summer at the earliest.
But I'm still glad to hear him put his foot down and put away the conniving scumbags from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, etc. who believe it their birthright to have LeBron lapping up the spotlight in their towns.
You hear that, Spike Lee? Take a cold shower when you get all hot and bothered dreaming of LeBron James in a Knicks uniform.
Who'd want to go to the Knicks, anyway? Sure it's Broadway and bright lights and grease paint. But if you want to win a title, the New York Knicks is a bad place to start. They are going to be bogged down with overpaid players for years.
So please, Eddy Curry. Sign for as much as you possibly can in New York.
Who'd want to go to the Lakers and try to co-exist with Kobe Bryant? Who'd want to go to the Bulls, a team that just got markedly worse by dealing Curry to the Knicks?
And who, Bill Simmons, would want to play for the Celtics? Last I checked, the Red Sox and Patriots are where it's at in Boston. Any person or achievement that made the Celtics a marquee franchise is memorialized hanging from the rafters, covered in dust.
Simmons, you chowderhead shill, I know when you say there is a better chance of Leo DiCaprio appearing on a "Growing Pains" family reunion than LeBron staying in Cleveland, I know you are breathing heavy as you imagine LeBron in Celtic green.
Climb in the same cold shower with Spikey. That should take care of that.
You big-city mouthpieces are like gnats, buzzing around Cleveland, trying to plant the seeds of doubt in LeBron's head, biting your knuckles, hoping the Cavs fail, hoping LeBron will consider the Cavs beyond hope and will rush in to rescue your beloved teams.
There are other fans in other cities that no doubt fantasize about LeBron playing for their team. The difference is, you big city jackals have the bullhorn to making insinuations about the Cavs and owner Dan Gilbert's purported meddling. You are constantly in the media, whispering heaven-knows-what to heaven-knows-who about LeBron, where he wants to go, what rumors surround him, ever constantly trying to trip Cleveland up, trying to pry LeBron loose.
Cleveland doesn't deserve LeBron, you think. LeBron belongs in a real city with a real team, you think. And what better city than Boston? Simmons says.
"Boston? Get real! LeBron's a New York man!" Spike Lee retorts.
"East Coast? And deal with all that snow and cold?" interjects Jim Rome. "Hell, no! He's coming to L.A. and getting hooked up with some fine So-Cal honey!"
"Screw all of you!" snaps Jim Belushi. "We all know LeBron loves MJ, and he's going to play for MJ's team! Da Bulls!"
"Hey mama. Y'all bein' cruel if ya think LeBron's not playin' for the Memphis Grizzlies," says the ghost of Elvis Presley. "And you know what I say. Don't be cruel."
You can see why LeBron finally slammed his hand on the table Monday and said enough is enough.

Cavs camp

Training camp began for the Cavaliers this morning, officially kicking off Season Three of the LeBron James era.
Unlike the Indians or Browns, who were both kind of unknown quantities when they started their seasons, the Cavs know exactly where they stand.
They are supposed to win, often and convincingly.
Danny Ferry spent several hundred million dollars of owner Dan Gilbert's money this summer to bring in players we have actually heard of. And for the investment in Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and Zydrunas Ilguaskas, we the fans are expecting that LeBron finally has the supporting cast to lead this team among the Eastern Conference elite.
No one is expecting an NBA title this season, but 50 wins and a playoff series win is a good place to start.
Unlike this past season's edition of the Cavs, unlike the Indians, we are also expecting this team to make the playoffs with little suspense. By April, we should be concerned about what the Cavs' playoff seeding is going to be, not whether or not they'll make it.
Now that the ground rules are clear, le's take a look at some highlighted issues for your 2005-06 Cavaliers.

1. LeBron James is a self-proclaimed veteran. It's time for him to lead that way.
LeBron has put up with a lot of organizational garbage since coming to the Cavaliers two years ago, so he might be excused for not being able to lift this team singlehandedly to greatness, superlative talent aside.
Last year, while Paul Silas was busy getting fired, Jeff McInnis was busy quitting and Ira Newble was busy being Ira Newble, LeBron clammed up and tried to raise his game to the challenge of dragging a lazy, sulking, undertalented albatross to the playoffs by himself. This year, no more of that.
It has long been said Michael Jordan won championships not only by being great, but by making his teammates great. How? Well, it had less to do with great passing and far more to do with kicking ass and taking names in practice.
Jordan made his Bulls teammates afraid to fail, afraid to do anything that might hinder a chance at winning.
No one is expecting LeBron to turn into a drill sergeant, but if LeBron should encounter another group of teammates happy to let the boy wonder do all the heavy lifting, his response should not be to grin and bear it. It should be to hold his teammates accountable. That's what veteran leaders do. That's how leaders make a team out of group of players.

2. Drew Gooden must be content as a rebounder/defender, or Ferry must find someone who will be.
Drew Gooden was brought here last year to replace the rebounding of Carlos Boozer. To that end, he did a reasonable job, averaging nearly 10 boards a game. But he was also counted on as a third or fourth offensive option, allowing him to net a career-high 14 points per game.
Gooden is heading into the last year of his contract, and odds are he's not going to want to see those number slip just in time for a new contract. But on a team loaded with shooters, passers and penetrators, there almost certainly won't be enough offensive plays to go around for Gooden.
Gooden will be forced to make a name for himself as an enforcer. He unquestionably has the talent to be the team's best rebounder and low-post defender. Last year, only LeBron had more explosive legs than Gooden, something that serves him well as a rebounder.
But will he want that role? In the past, an unhappy Gooden has become a sulking, unmotivated and inconsistent Gooden. The Cavs lack a lot of size and muscle in the low post as it is. If Gooden is dogging it, or shooting the ball every time he touches it, Ferry might have to go the trade route to find a tried-annd-true low post man to replace him. One who doesn't need the ball to be effective.

3. Mike Brown must step in and take charge from Day One.
Brown has a chance to be a very good NBA head coach. Unlike Paul Silas, he is an adequate strategist who preaches team defense. Also unlike Paul Silas, however, he doesn't inspire fear in his players by his mere presence.
That's not to say Brown should adopt many of the people skills of Silas, who was known for a volcanic temper, talking down to his players, and inconsistent messages. One Silas trait Brown should examine, however, is the ability to make his players respect him at all times.
Brown needs to realize being an NBA head coach is about managing people. Assistants can busy themselves drawing Xs and Os on dry-erase boards, and get lost in the concepts of the game. Head coaches need to live in the here-and-now of practices and games far more. Assistants-turned-leaders who don't grasp that don't stay employed very long.

4. Enter the $76 million backcourt.
Damon Jones and Larry Hughes represent a hefty investment in improving a team weakness last year. They must jell and be as good as advertised for the Cavs to make the large jump to conference contender.
Last year, Jeff McInnis played hard on offense and treated defense like a side effect. By the end of the season, he was a malcontent and being followed around by the "Q" word ("quit," not "Quicken.")
Shooting guard was manned largely by bench players Ira Newble and Sasha Pavlovic. We'll not mention the failed Lucious Harris and Jiri Welsch experiments.
This year, $60 million was spent to bring All-NBA defensive first teamer Hughes to the shooting guard spot, and $16 million for Jones, a three-point specialist who was a favored member of Shaq's court in Miami last year, to man the point.
These guys represent the main difference between last year's team and this year's. If the Cavs get the production out of Jones and Hughes they are expecting, this team is a threat to make it to the Eastern Conference finals in May. If not, start slamming your head against a wall.

5. Z must pass more.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas got $55 million to stay in Cleveland this summer. It was a good signing, at least in the short term. Z is a low-post offensive talent with few peers, even if his defense is suspect and mobility limited. But Z, for all his offensive prowess, must realize this team has other scorers now besides he and LeBron.
He averaged 17 points per game last year by taking the ball to the rim almost every time he touched it. He's a good free throw shooter, so it's hard to argue with Z drawing fouls and getting himself to the line. But with Hughes, Jones and Marshall, in addition to LeBron, Z has to recognize when his teammates are open and get the ball to them. He needs to start realizing that the rim isn't the only option when he gets the ball in the block. If he becomes as good at seeing open teammates as he is getting to the line, the Cavs' offense will have a lot more texture and varied ways to beat teams.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Summer is over

Labor Day. The Autumnal Equinox. Lies.
Summer doesn't end when the calendar says so. For me, it ends when the Indians stop playing.
For me, summer ended yesterday. When the final out was recorded in the Indians' 3-1 season-ending and playoff-killing loss to the White Sox, it didn't matter that it was high sky and 80 degrees. Snow started falling. The warm breeze brushing my face Sunday morning turned into a cutting wind.
The Indians betrayed me. Then again, the promises of springtime always turn into the cold reality of fall.
Bart Giamatti was right. Baseball is designed to break your heart. Especially when you pin your hopes to a team with a $41 million payroll and the inexperience it buys.
The Indians choked. Anyone who says so is right to say it. The offense -- the element that betrayed the Indians at the start of the season -- was there to kill all hope in the season's last week.
The Yankees and Red Sox had inferior pitching to the Indians. They also had the cash to buy enough veteran hitters to surpass the weak-kneed Cleveland offense.
While Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp and Travis Hafner felt the weight of the world on their shoulders, and swung like it, Manny Ramirez took all the playoff lessons he learned in Cleveland a decade earlier and used them to remove all doubt about the Red Sox's playoff fate, clouting a three-run homer to put Boston up 6-0 Sunday, right about the time the game was ending in Cleveland.
There are several schools of thought as to why the Indians lost six of their final seven games. One says the offense was being its usual flighty self, and just happened to hit a downswing at an inopportune time. Another says the loss last Sunday in Kansas City broke their backs. Another fingers the aggressive managing of Lou Piniella. Still another says the Indians played so hard for so long to get back into the playoff race, they simply ran out of gas.
The truth is a mixture of all of them.
Analysis right now is in hindsight, which makes it kind of pointless, at least until the Browns or Cavs take our minds off this sad ending.
Talk will eventually turn to what the Indians must do this off-season, what will happen to Kevin Millwood, Bob Wickman, Bob Howry, Ronnie Belliard, and the other Indians who are eligible for free agency. We'll play hot stove GM, fantasize about trades and free-agent signings while Mark Shaprio likely does something entirely different.
A World Series champion will be crowned. Somewhere else.
Jacobs Field will lie dormant, cold and dark for another winter, and we'll endure the next four and a half months of no baseball like we have to. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year's. Snowstorms. Bitter cold.
Then comes spring training. March exhibition games. Freezing in April. Rain in May. Memorial Day. Kids get out of school in June. Fourth of July. August heat waves. Kids back in school. Labor Day. September. Roster expand. Then, who knows?
We'll still be here regardless, waiting another year of our lives for the Indians to take one more stab at making our dreams come true.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Queen and David Bowie sang about it. Billy Joel did, too.
"Pressure, pushing down on me, pressing down on you."
"You cannot handle pressure."
As I write this, the Indians are leading 1-0 in the sixth inning of a game they must win. Casey Blake drove in Ronnie Belliard, who beat out an infield single, then tagged up and advanced to second on Ben Broussard's long fly out.
One run. A run is like gold right now.
The Indians have been cracking under pressure since the Tampa Bay series. If they don't score early, the fretting begins, and tension leads to flailing swings and ruined at-bats.
Friday night, Grady Sizemore reached third base with nobody out in the first inning. If he could have scored, there is a good possibility the tone of the game would have been quite different.
Instead, the pressure was relentless. No runs until the seventh, when Chicago plated a tally. The Indians scored in the ninth, but missed chances to win in the ninth, 11th and 12th. At one point, they had the bases loaded and one out. At another, a runner at second with one out. No dice.
Pressure is the enemy of performance. Pressure led Jose Mesa and Mariano Rivera to cough up leads in Game 7 of the World Series. Pressure burned Ralph Branca in 1951, blurred Don Dekinger's vision in 1985 and made an eternal goat of Bill Buckner.
And there's no way around it. You either find your way of handling the pressure, or you fail. That's what makes it pressure.
The Indians are facing a White Sox team playing out the string at jog speed, more concerned with resting players than beating the Indians. Chicago's starter today, Jon Garland, is reportedly on an 85-pitch limit. Friday, Mark Buehrle was pulled after mystifying the Indians for 5 2/3 innings.
If the Indians fail to make the playoffs, it will have little to do with Ozzie Guillen's bag of tricks, and a lot to do with the Indians between the ears.
Right now, pressure is in control.