Friday, December 30, 2005

LeBron turns 21

Happy legal drinking age, LeBron! The next time you suit up at The Q, for Saturday afternoon's game against the Pistons, you'll be able to legally visit the bar at Gordon's afterward.
Twenty-one is a milestone for anybody, but in the case of LeBron James, it's a landmark.
It's a landmark for professional basketball. And certainly a landmark for Cleveland sports.
Nobody in the history of professional basketball has been this good this quickly. Not Magic Johnson. Not Michael Jordan. Not Kobe Bryant, who was the previous king of the under-21 class.
LeBron has averaged 20 points per game in each of his first three seasons. This year, he is averaging 30, even with the scoring help of Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones.
Last season, he was one of three players in league history to average 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for a season. Jordan and Oscar Robertson were the others.
It's difficult to define a player's game as "limitless." There really is no such thing. But LeBron is the closest I've seen anyone come to no boundaries.
He honestly can be as good as he wants to be. If he wants to score 50 points, he can do it. Dish out 20 assists? Check. Be a top-10 rebounder? He could probably do that, too.
If the defensive fire continues to grow in his belly, he can be a shutdown defender in the mold of Ron Artest as well.
Other players have the athleticism of LeBron, but not the size (Allen Iverson). Some have the size and scoring ability, but not the passing (Amare Stoudemire). Still others are burdened by selfishness that won't let them be a conduit for their teammates (Bryant).
LeBron has the speed to burn defenders in single-man matchups. He has the size (6'-8" and nearly 250 pounds) to draw contact inside and still be able to put the ball in the hoop. He has the ups ... well, if you've ever seen him elevate his elbow above the rim before a throwdown dunk, you know about his ups.
He has the coordination to dribble through traffic and thread the needle with his passes. He has the width to defend and post up. He has the height, quickness and coordination to rebound. And he does it all with a team-first mentality that allows him to always look for the best way to help his team win, be it by scoring himself or by finding his teammates.
Keep in mind that he has required no major development as a pro. LeBron came into the league requiring some sanding and polishing, but no major construction or reconstruction for his game or attitude.
He is 21, but at 18 already had the look and mentality of a veteran. That is incomprehensibly rare. Some great players (Artest, for one) might never learn to grow up.
Everything he has improved since coming into the league he has taken on himself. He worked on his outside shot over the past two summers, and now is an upper-echelon shooter. Now, with defensive-minded Mike Brown as his coach, LeBron is starting to value defense. He's still coming along, but we are starting to see flashes of LeBron's potential as a defender.
Could LeBron be the greatest ever? He has a long way to go. He needs to stay healthy and win some rings along the way, hopefully in a Cleveland uniform.
LeBron already has only Jim Brown standing between him and the title of "greatest Cleveland athlete ever." If anybody is going to break the four-decade title drought in Cleveland sports, LeBron stands the best chance. Now that he has the people around him to help get it done, hopefully he sees things the same way. Realistically, the best chance of getting LeBron and an NBA championship in Cleveland at the same time is probably going to require at least one contract extension. The Cavaliers can offer LeBron a maximum contract beginning July 1.
But it's so Cleveland to worry about the the thunderclouds that might or might not form on the horizon two or three years from now. In the meantime, Northeast Ohio's boy wonder has officialy become a man. And he is taking us all on the ride of a lifetime. We should enjoy every minute of it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Your Catholic duty

I am not Catholic. I don't profess to know what it is like to be Catholic. So would someone please explain to me this hallowed position the University of Notre Dame holds among Catholics nationwide?
I have nothing against rooting for Notre Dame. The campus is beautiful and there is most definitely a magic about football there, something you don't need to even watch the movie "Rudy" to sense.
It's more this sense that Catholics (at least the ones I know) almost feel it their duty to root for Notre Dame. Like God views it as a sin to root against the Fighting Irish. This is coming from people who have no connection to Notre Dame beyond their Catholicism and have never been to South Bend.
Would an Ohio Catholic even root against Ohio State in next week's Fiesta Bowl, an Ohio Catholic who is an avid Wolverine-despising Buckeye fan under any other circumstances?
Maybe not. But apparently the Notre Dame factor makes loyalties waver more than you'd realize.
Poll the Catholics you know. Not the Catholics in name only. Poll the ones who go to mass every week. You might be surprised at how many are at the very least walking the fence ("Does there have to be a loser?")
It's a unique phenomenon. Kind of like, "Man, I do want Ohio State to win. I really do. But if I root against Notre Dame, God might be looking over my shoulder, tapping his foot like a parent who caught his kid going through cookie jar before dinner."
No other school enjoys the benefit of implied wrath of God. And you wonder why Notre Dame will never join a football conference.
Notre Dame could really exploit their position if they wanted to. My guess is that if they wanted to build a new football training facility, they could get the money in about two weeks. Just place donation bins in every Catholic church narthex in America.

The tithing priorities for your average Midwestern Catholic:

1. Starving children in Africa
2. World Youth Day
3. Notre Dame
4. Local soup kitchen
5. Restoration of the Sistine Chapel
6. Notre Dame

Sometimes I wonder if other Catholic schools feel left out. Do officials at St. Bonaventure sometimes say "Hey, where's our piece?"
But the Bonnies don't wear gold-flake helmets. They were never asked to "win one for the Gipper." And they certainly don't have "Touchdown Jesus" painted on the side of their library.
Every religion has their pilgrimages, their own holy places. Muslims have Mecca. Jews have the wailing wall. Catholics have a college in northern Indiana where football and Christ are both kings.

Blog bash, Day 2

Today, we highlight some suggested posts from Zach Baker, like myself and Joel a decorated veteran of The BG News who remains in the professional biz. His blog was really the impetus for me to start my blog. Unlike my blog, which pretty much focuses solely on sports, Zach fearlessly switches between sports, music and politics. Zach's many loves include the music of Van Morrison and being perpetually suspicious of Indians owner Larry Dolan.

Zach's selections:

St. Belichick, February 7
Erik's comment: Pure hyperbole, but what can you expect from a bitter Cleveland fan? We sat here and watched an inexperienced Bill Belichick help run the Browns into the ground in the early '90s, either intentionally or unintentionally adding fuel to Art Modell's movement to relocate the team. Five years later, with the Baltimore Ravens hoisitng a Super Bowl trophy and Cleveland left with a miserable expansion facsimile of their team, Belichick resurfaces in New England and becomes the greatest coach of his generation. Modell and Belichick get the hardware, Cleveland gets screwed. Sucks to be us, I guess.

Summer is over, October 3
Erik's comment: Another post born out of bitterness. Every year, summer ends for me when the Indians season ends. But this past year, it was especially bitter. The Indians might not have gotten past the White Sox, since Chicago was having a season on loan from God in 2005, but that could have been them playing the White Sox in the ALCS instead of the Angels. They had the pitching to get there, and enough offense to get by. The last week of the regular season killed all of that.

Redemption in Buckeye, May 14
Erik's comment: I ususally use my blog as a diversion from work writing, but when Buckeye's school board took sports away due to lack of funding, I had to blog about it. The lives of most high school kids exist in the small world of their school. Who they are within those walls is how they view themselves. To take sports away is to take a huge piece of a 16-year-old's athlete's identity. Three days after the tears, however, there was redemption. The school board voted to accept an alternate funding proposal from district boosters, using donations, fundriasers and pay-to-play fees. Buckeye is still trying to pass a levy that would restore district funding for athletics.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Blog bash, Day 1

Today we highlight a few preferred posts of Joel Hammond, a fellow Bowling Green grad who recently started his own blog.
Like yours truly, Joel did just about everything a sportswriter could do at The BG News, the student newspaper of our hallowed alma mater. He was a dutiful foot soldier, a respected sports editor, page designer, columnist and is now making it in the outside world at a paper in Greenville, S.C.
He also gets the title of being the only writer to ever say he "pulled an Erik Cassano" in a column.

Joel's selections:

Harken the masses, February 9
Erik's comment: I am surprised and pleased anyone picked this post, the as-yet-unfinished Shakespearian tragedy of Romeo Crennel. I thought it started out kind of lame, and might leave some readers scratching their heads. Truth be told, I gave up on it because I thought the story would drag on and get pointless. Then the Cavs season heated up and I forgot about it.

An inferiority complex, January 12
Erik's comment: An appropriate selection in the wake of the Browns' 41-0 loss to the Steelers. If you are a Browns fan, really, what football ammo ccan you come at Pittsburgh with?

The Browns-Indians dynamic, December 12
Erik's comment: When you get right down to it, it's the fans threatening to boycott the Indians every year that pisses me off. Don't agree with their moves? Fine. But let's not treat the Indians like Nike using Vietnamese peasants to make $120 shoes. Not unless you are willing to boycott the Browns for the same principles. And we know that won't happen. Asking Clevelanders to give up the Browns is like asking Clevelanders to give up cheap beer.

Five stages of bracket death, March 30
Erik's comment: It was a post that just kind of happened naturally. It was truly how I was feeling at the time. I came into the 2005 NCAAs with all kinds of dynasty sugarplums dancing in my head. I won the 2004 pool at work, and apparently was in need of a dose of humility, which I got, and then some. My Final Four completely folded by the championship round, and if I remember correctly, I barely missed going from first to worst in a year. The only consolation would have been geting my $10 entry fee back, but even that didn't happen

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The first year

One year ago today, I sat down at my laptop, logged into for the first time, and created "Erik Cassano's Weblog."
It has been a busy first year chronicling the ups and downs of Cleveland sports, and sports in general. From the Cavs' springtime collapse to the Indians near-miss of the playoffs in October to yet another long, highlight-challenged season for the Browns, I have strived to post my takes on all of it.
This post is my 300th. A nice, round number for the first year.
Since setting up a CQ hit counter on April 27, I have netted 2,169 hits and am averaging eight visits a day. Thanks to everyone who has visited my site over the past year, in particular Zach, Joel, Dave, Marc and Abrasivist. And to anyone else, please come back often and post your comments.
I have asked Zach, Joel and Dave to point out some posts that have stood out to them in the past year. Anyone else is invited to contribute as well by e-mailing me at
Over the next few days, I will highlight the posts selected by my readers as past of my first anniversary "blog bash."

The Morning After: Pittsburgh

Steelers 41, Browns 0
Record: 5-10
Divisional record: 0-5

Blogger's note: Yeah, I know this is actually three mornings after, but so what? After that performance, I'm not bending over backward to analyze it over the Christmas weekend.

Believe it or not, the final score isn't what bothers me the most about Saturday's death-star ass whupping. I truly believe it was an abberation. The Steelers aren't that good, and the Browns aren't that bad.
But the Steelers are still much better than the Browns, and that's what bothers me.
The Steelers don't always beat the Browns 41-0, but they almost always beat them. You have to go back to October 2003 to find the last time the Browns beat their purported arch-rivals. You have to go back to 1989 to find the last time the Browns were markedly better than the Steelers.
The Browns are now 3-11 against Pittsburgh since returning to the league in 1999. They are 5-20 since Bill Cowher took over as Pittsburgh's head coach in 1991, including a pair of playoff losses. When your record against your arch-rivals begins to resemble the 2003 record of Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth, things aren't going well.
You think John Cooper had it bad against Michigan? At least he only faced his rivals once a year. The Browns have to go through this twice, sometimes three times, in a year.
Some might even question whether this is a rivarly anymore. The Browns are 0-5 against all division rivals this year, and Pittsburgh has had bigger fish to fry recently, like Baltimore and New England.
It appears to be a rivalry kind of like Ohio State and Illinois is a rivalry. Long-time conference mates? Yes. Game has meaning? Yes. Big for Illinois? You bet. Big for Ohio State? Well, kind of.
But, as The Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi pointed out, the Pittsburgh players still treat it like a rivalry. They relish coming in here and beating Cleveland's brains out, something that makes Cleveland fans fume, and stokes the rivalry's flames.
Now, if we can only get Cleveland's players and coaches to think the same way. Coach Romeo Crennel was non-committal when asked if he thought the fans deserved an apology for such a pathetic game.
"If you go out an purposely lay an egg like we laid, then an apology was definitely needed," he told The Plain Dealer.
Great. Just so long as you were trying, Romeo.
Luckily, Reuben Droughns apparently felt differently.
"We have to apologize," he reportedly said. "They (the fans) wanted a better showing than that, especially against a rival."
Droughns, however, said he was upset by fans who left early, leaving Cleveland Browns Stadium to be taken over by Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans at game's end.
It seemed approporiate, however, since the only thing keeping the Steelers from owning Cleveland Browns Stadium is a title deed. They have won five straight in Cleveland.
Droughns offered this bit of defiance in Tuesday's Plain Dealer:
"(The Steelers) better enjoy it now because it won't happen again. We just can't accept a loss like that."
You're preaching to the choir, R.D. Tell it to your teammates.

Up next: Baltimore, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (season finale)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

This will probably be my last post before the holiday weekend, so let me take a moment to wish the best to you and yours.
Stay tuned next week for my first-anniversary blog bash, as I celebrate the first year of "Erik Cassano's Weblog."

Happy Holidays.

From triumph to tragedy

The Indianapolis Colts are 13-1 and are still the odds-on favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl despite losing their first game of the season last Sunday. But that must all seem so far away to coach Tony Dungy right now.
He is preparing to bury his 18-year-old son, James, after he was found unconscious and not breathing in his Tampa-area apartment early Thursday morning. Efforts to revive him were not successful.
Pre-autopsy reports list James Dungy's death as a suicide.
Tony Dungy has fought uphill battles in his football life before, but probably none like this, none where his personal and public lives collide so sharply.
Dungy is one of the NFL's true good guys, soft-spoken but at the same time a strong leader and excellent tactician. As coach of the Buccaneers, he was unfairly pigeonholed as merely a defensive specialist with no feel for the offensive side of the ball. Three appearances in the NFC championship game with no victories only perpetuated the myth. No one seems to remember how good the Buccaneers were on defense, that they held the high-octane St. Louis Rams to 10 points in the 1999 NFC title game.
Nobody remembers the Bucs had a slog-it-out offense, relying on running backs Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott while limiting the effect revolving-door quarterbacks like Trent Dilfer and Shaun King had on the game.
Dungy made the sad-sack Bucs a league force for the first time in franchise history. His reward? To be fired after the 2001 season and replaced by Jon Gruden, who promptly led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl win.
That year, the Bucs had Brad Johnson for a quarterback, a sizeable upgrade over anybody Dungy had under center.
Dungy landed in Indianapolis, where he took over a team that had offense in spades, but no defense. He molded the Colts defense into one of the fastest units in the NFL, and paired with the Colts' dominant offense, led Indy to a 13-0 start this season, prior to a loss to San Diego this past week.
Somewhere, the 1972 Dolphins were toasting the end of this lastest, failed attempt at a perfect season.
Dungy has handled all the near misses, all the close brushes with greatness, with the same quiet dignity that has made him popular in NFL circles. No matter the failure, he always seems to be working toward the next goal. It is a great trait for a coach to have.
Now Dungy and his Colts will have to endure a horrible time that will test the mettle of the team. James Dungy's death could unify the Colts and steel their resolve, but that is asking a lot a mere 48 hours after his death.
There will be too much grief, too much stress, and too many distractions these final two weeks of the regular season as the Colts try to maintain a grip on their rudder, the rudder Dungy has so expertly handled this year.
Football has been on the minds of the Colts pretty much nonstop since July. It is a shock, two weeks from the start of the playoffs, when football seems so distant. But there is still a job to do.
If the Colts can emege from James Dungy's death a stronger team, it should cement Dungy's greatness as an NFL coach, even if he never wins a Super Bowl.
Sometimes, greatness isn't measured in hardware. Sometimes, it is measured in your ability to maintain inner strength through the pain life deals you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Browns-Indians dynamic

There is a double standard in Cleveland sports I can't ignore any longer. The past few weeks have laid it out for me.
I'm really starting to get irritated by the favored-child status the Browns have in this town, and the whipping-boy status the Indians have.
Does this exist in other cities? No matter how lousy the Browns are, we still hear fans calling up talk shows, plotting out draft picks, talking about this player and that player and how they are the guys the team needs to build around. This year's golden boy is obviously Charlie Frye.
No matter how good the Indians are, all we hear about is how cheap owner Larry Dolan is, and how the team is doomed to fail because they won't spend any money.
The Indians won 93 games last year, remember? They did it with farm system-grown talent and a payroll that ranked near the bottom of baseball. The Browns, playing in a parity-driven league with a salary cap, have so far have won five of 14.
In a stuggling economy that has forced many to do more with less, the Indians did just that. The Browns are trying to claw out of years of wasteful management. Do fans of cash-strapped Cleveland, Ohio admire their "little guy" baseball team that so embodies who they are? No. Maybe it's too much like looking in a mirror.
Fans come to sports to forget about things like financial constraints and the daily struggle to make ends meet. They want their teams to spend like Daddy Warbucks, and storm through the opposition like Patton taking North Africa. The Indians, however, scrimp and save and are unable to make dream purchases, just like you.
Maybe that breeds contempt.
The Browns, meanwhile, might make fans upset by posting losing records year after year. But seldom do their fans doubt, and never do they entirely lose faith. That perplexes me.
When you get right down to it, the right team left Cleveland in 1995. Fans rasied holy hell to get their Browns back. I don't think the same effort would have been put into keeping the Indians or Cavaliers around.
Even when the Browns make questionable offseason moves, fans seem to take a wait-and-see attitude. The geniuses that run the Browns, after all, might have a larger plan in mind. But don't you dare try to sell Indians fans on Paul Byrd over Kevin Millwood. They just might threaten to boycott the Indians all summer (some have, just like they threatend to boycott the Indians when they traded David Justice, Roberto Alomar and Bartolo Colon, and let Omar Vizquel leave.)
Only with the Indians would retaining a 45-save closer from the year before be viewed as an underachievement. Only with the Indians could the return of Danny Graves be met with a lukewarm reception, after fans pined for him for years, lambasting John Hart for the short-sighted John Smiley trade.
And yet, fans are still divided to this day on whether the Browns should have cut ties with Tim Couch, who is now out of football. Somehow, they think Couch still had a chance to be a Pro Bowler, even after being jerked around by Browns coaches and management for five years.
The Indians do things the right way, even with limited money. General manager Mark Shapiro has surrounded himself with young, talented executives who have replenished a farm system that was withering in 2000 and 2001. The farm system has yielded wins, from 68 in 2003, to 80 in 2004, to 93 last year.
Certainly, the Indians haven't had a great offseason. But let's not forget that all the young guys who helped the team get to 93 wins are still here, and there are still trades that can be made. If anybody is going to figure something out, it will be Shapiro and his crew.
In my mind, the Browns are where most of the skepticism belongs. They are the team with the questionable track record. They are the team with more to prove.
But apparently, I'm in the minority in feeling that way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Losing out on Booz

Carlos Boozer bolted Cleveland in the summer of 2004, and the running has yet to stop.
Tonight, for the second straight season, Boozer will be thousands of miles away nursing an injury when his Jazz pay a visit to the Cavaliers.
Last season, it was a foot injury. This year, it is a tender hamstring that has sidelined him all season.
Boozer might have this plotted out so he can duck Cleveland from now until the end of his career. Next season, a stomach virus. The following year, a chipped fingernail. Sure, his injuries are legit, but so is his desire to stay away from the wrath of Cleveland fans.
Boozer could soon be finding ways to duck Utah fans if this season is any indication. He bought a 10-bedroom, 13-bathroom mansion in Malibu, Calif. during the off-season, and has reportedly made himself scarce in Salt Lake City, opting to stay in California and rehab with a hand-picked personal staff of trainers and physical therapists.
Rumors have begun to swirl that Boozer would like a trade to the Lakers. Apparently that "next Karl Malone" thing isn't working out so well in Utah, where he has played only 51 games in nearly a season and a half. Perhaps now he's thinking the next James Worthy?
Boozer was called out by Utah owner Larry Miller for a lack of toughness last year. This year, the Jazz had to call a news conference to reassure everyone that, yes, Boozer really is injured, and no, he isn't sandbagging it.
Only Boozer know for sure. What is certain is that Boozer's career is spiraling downward. The Cavaliers, perhaps being naive, trusted him enough to let him out of the final year of his contract with the anticipation he would sign a new deal in Cleveland. To roll the dice on a purported franchise player, the Cavaliers must have gotten some assurance from Boozer's camp that he was staying. But then Adonal Foyle inked a ridiculous five-year deal with the Warriors. Then the Jazz came calling with a six-year, $68 million offer, and Boozer reneged on his Cleveland promise.
It was then Boozer's true colors showed. It was then his career took a bad turn.
Boozer played the part of a nose-to-the-grindstone yeoman basketball player his first two seasons. He looked like the type of guy that put personal gains aside to help his team win.
But underneath that workman exterior was a self-centered, bitter individual, who apparently felt his blood pressure rise every time a reporter reminded him he was a second-round draft pick in 2002. He put up 15 points and 11 rebounds per game in the 2003-04 season. Current Cav Drew Gooden, picked fourth overall in 2002, has yet to have a 15-and-11 season, but made far more money than Boozer his first two years.
Boozer was looking for a payday that would prove he was as good or better than any other power forward picked ahead of him that year, and apparently was willing to step over whomever he needed to so long as he got the money.
Boozer has been branded as selfish since then, and the negative things have kept happening to him.
Bill Simmons of calls it bad karma for "screwing over a blind man," meaning former Cavs majority owner Gordon Gund, who lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa at age 21.
Predictably, Boozer's reaction has not been to meet questions or criticism head on, it has been to go into hiding. In the months after he left Cleveland, he spent much of his time in his native Alaska, waiting for the heat to die down. Now, he is hunkered down in Malibu, hiding from two cities.
Boozer is becoming a basketball version of Roberto Alomar without the superlative ability. He is making a habit of quickly wearing out his welcome wherever he goes. It doesn't seem to bother him, so long as he can keep running away.
If and when he does get traded to the Lakers, expect him to buy a house in San Antonio and begin dreaming of becoming Tim Duncan's understudy shortly thereafter.

These are the Packers?

If you are the Green Bay Packers, now is the time to cover your face.
Kyle Boller dropped 48 points on Green Bay on national television Monday night, passed for 253 yards, three touchdowns, and led the Ravens, who had scored 20 points in a game only one time previously this year, to 24 in the first half.
Sure, it was a statistical abberation. But so are plane crashes.
Remember all the fuss about how the Texans were leading the Reggie Bush first-pick sweepstakes? Well, the Packers (3-11) are very much in the Bush fray, too.
If it's any consolation, I think the Packers, a winning organization, would have a much better idea of what to do with Bush than Houston or any other scrub team chasing the first pick (that includes Cleveland).

Monday, December 19, 2005

No Nomar

Suprise, surprise. Nomar Garciaparra isn't coming to Cleveland, opting instead to wear Dodger blue for the upcoming season.
But Nomar's decision probably had less to do with money and more to do with Mia Hamm.
Garciaparra and his soccer-star wife own a house in the Los Angeles area, something that had to have contributed to his decision.
Nomar's contract isn't beyond Cleveland's grasp, either: one year at $6 million. It's a reclaim-my-career contract, similar to the one Kevin Millwood signed with the Indians for the 2005 season.
Play one year. If that goes well and the injury bug stays away, the door is once again opened for the big bucks.
The difference is, the Dodgers will have a fighting chance to keep Garciaparra if all goes well next season. Cleveland, not so much.
The Indians, meanwhile, put some names in the hopper for the right-handed set up man's job, signing a pair of blasts from the past --Danny Graves and Steve Karsay -- to minor-league contracts today.
Graves' career is in tatters after a couple of dismal years with the Reds and Mets. Karsay was cut by the Yankees midway through last season with recurring back problems.
It is a similar approach to what the Indians took in signing Scott Sauerbeck and Bob Howry two years ago. Roll the dice on a player down on his luck and rub your rabbit's foot. With Sauerbeck it worked. With Howry it worked too well, as he bolted to sign a multiyear deal with the Cubs last month.
In New York and L.A. and Chicago, the suspense comes on the field in September and October. In Cleveland, it comes over the news wire in December.

The Morning After: Oakland

Browns 9, Raiders 7
Record: 5-9

It was exactly the game I expected from a pair of 4-9 teams. Low-scoring and full of mistakes.
The Browns continued to bring Charlie Frye along with training wheels, while the Raiders are just spinning their wheels.
It was a game in which the Raiders could not make the Browns pay for a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers, in which the Browns needed a Reuben Droughns fumble call overturned to set up Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal as time expired.
It was a game in which the winning team failed to reach the end zone, a game in which the winning team was probably the losing team in the long run. Five wins might be enough to force the Browns to draft as low as 10th in April. A sixth win almost assuredly would drop Cleveland to 10th or below.
The Browns' lone chance at a touchdown was stuffed in the first quarter. I'd like to credit the Raiders and their defensive front for stopping everything the Browns threw at them, but that would give Cleveland too much credit. Inside the Oakland five yard line, Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon elected to run Droughns up the gut four straight times, and he was stopped all four times.
I recognize the need to keep things simple for the inexperienced Frye, but there is a saying credited to Albert Einstein. It finds its way onto office walls every now and then:
"The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result."
No harm in mixing in a sweep, or even an old-school option play. Lee Suggs, noticeably faster than Droughns, is healthy for his annual December breakout. He is pretty good at turning the corner with a head of steam.
I'd also like to give the Browns defense credit for holding the Raiders to one Kerry Collins-to-Randy Moss touchdown pass, but again, that would paint an inaccurate picture.
Collins' game was in discord after being benched for Marquez Tuiasosopo last week, then being re-inserted as a starter this week. He and Moss were speaking different football languages all afternoon, save for the touchdown pass, which was mostly due to some soft Cleveland coverage in the secondary, and the Moss' height, which allowed him to snare a high over-the-middle pass from Collins.
The Browns allowed another 100-yard rushing game, as preseason fantasy favorite LaMont Jordan racked up 132 yards, mostly inconsequential due to Oakland's impotent passing game.
An assist in the win also goes to Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski, possibly the most overrated kicker in the league. The former first-round pick badly missed a second-half field goal that would have pushed Oakland to 10 points.

Up next: Pittsburgh, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cool to the Heat

When Damon Jones signed with the Cavaliers in September, Ric Bucher of wrote a pretty bold column insinuating that Jones might be in the Cavs' camp, but still very much yearned to be with the Heat, where he was the starting point guard on a conference finalist last year.
I thought it was a dose of East Coast arrogance from Bucher, a "How could Jones take Cleveland over Miami without being forced?" dig at the Cavaliers and Cleveland's cold, snowy winters.
Three months later, I'm starting to think there was some validity to the column. Most of my suspicions have been aroused by what has come directly out of Jones' ever-moving mouth.
Turns out, Jones thinks Heat GM/coach/puppet master Pat Riley had a pretty good thing going last year, and is more than a little bitter that Riley saw fit to whitewash the team around Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, tossing Damon and Eddie Jones aside for the likes of Jason Williams, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker.
Jones is a spurned lover. He is on the Cavs' arm now, but makes no bones about looking with hurt and longing in Miami's direction.
Losing the starting point guard job to Eric Snow didn't help matters for Jones, who clammed up to the media for most of November because of his bench assignment. Once he opened up again, he reportedly likened his Miami-to-Cleveland transition as going from being in the Beatles to being a backup singer for the Isley Brothers.
During the Cavs' win over the Nuggets last week, TNT's broadcast team of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr shed light on the comment. Albert called it "an insult to the Isley Brothers."
What about the Cavs, who now pay Jones? Seems pretty insulting to them, too.
Jones' bitterness fully blossomed leading up to Saturday's win over Miami at The Q. He hit Riley with both verbal barrels, saying recently-resigned Heat coach Stan Van Gundy was "set up to fail" because Riley was looking for a reason to re-install himself as Miami's head coach.
Jones could very well be right, but the truth seemed less important than sticking it to Riley, the author of Jones' one-way ticket out of Miami.
Riley didn't take the verabl shots laying down, firing back prior to the Heat-Cavs game. He said Jones was "being Damon Jones," an apparent hint that Jones' relationship with Riley has been less-than-fuzzy for some time.
Riley doesn't want anything to do with Jones. The trouble is, Jones would probably put up with Riley again in a heartbeat if it meant he could go back to being the starting point guard for the Heat, the team with which he had his breakout season, the place where he was a favored member of Shaq's court.
Not that being a second lieutenant for LeBron James is a bad gig, but the first thing Jones acknowledged when he signed with the Cavs was that they are more than a few miles behind the Heat in terms of being a title contender.
Jones is a bit reckless when it comes to shooting three-pointers, but he is a professional. He has shown a willingness to take the job assigned him and perform it with enthusiasm. In Cleveland, that means coming off the bench.
But if you are one of those Cleveland fans who thinks every player who suits up for your teams should only have eyes for Cleveland, avoid eye contact with Damon Jones, because you'll probably see images of Shaq, Dwyane and palm trees.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thursday roundup

There were a few story threads to follow around the Cleveland sports scene Thursday, but not enough to sustain an entire column. So I'm going to bounce around a bit today.

The Cavaliers looked about as good as they have looked in quite some time in dropping the Nuggets Thursday night at The Q, 94-85.
Two days after their worst performance of the season in a loss to Atlanta, the Cavs rebounded with tight defense and clutch shooting to snap a three-game losing streak.
LeBron James did what he ususally does when the Cavs win: eschewed his own scoring to get his teammates involved. Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones hit four three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Jones finished with a season-high 17 points. He was still a bit reckless in heaving threes, but exhibited more control over his game than recently.
Defensively, the Cavs prompted me to ask "Where has this been since Thanksgiving?" Their spacing was good, energy up, and LeBron, possibly motivated by playing good friend Carmelo Anthony, helped hold him to 23 points on 23 shots. At one point in the second quarter, the Cavs had four straight defensive stops.

All you Browns fans who think linebacker Andra Davis is overrated and underproductive, I have bad news: he's going to be here for a while after inking a five-year contract extension Thursday.
It's not as bad as you think. Davis was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week following Cleveland's 22-0 win over Miami four weeks ago. While he's not a franchise defensive player, he could be a nice compliment to an as-yet-unacquired stud linebacker (A.J. Hawk, anyone?)
After struggling early to adjust to coach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 schemes, Davis apparently looks like a keeper to the Browns. The contract is a huge vote of confidence for Davis, considering how crucial linebackers are in a 3-4 defense.
It also might help reverse the fortunes of Davises in Cleveland, which haven't been too good recently (Ricky, Butch, Andre).

The Indians are still waiting for an answer from free agent Nomar Garciaparra, which could come by today. If general manager Mark Shapiro gets Garciaparra to spurn offers from the well-endowed Astros, Dodgers and Yankees to sign with Cleveland, he might have a future in sales if this whole baseball thing doesn't work out.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Soul searching

It's only mid-December, and I don't think the Cavaliers have reached an "hour of reckoning" point of the season just yet.
But the Cavs are in a stretch of 10 home games in 13 prior to taking off on a long, tough West Coast trip in mid-January. A poor showing over the next 13 games combined with taking their lumps on the West Coast trip could jepoardize the season.
So far, the Cavs are 0-2 in the stretch of 10 home dates. Denver, a playoff team last year, comes into The Q tonight.
Cleveland is 2-7 in its last nine games, causing their record to careen from 9-2 to 11-9. The Cavs now sit a mere half-game out of last place in the stacked Central Division, where the Bulls are bringing up the rear with a 10-9 record.
Tonight's game isn't a must-win, but as the losses continue to pile up and the West Coast swing draws closer, the pressure to start winning will grow. Many of the players and coaches weren't here to witness last spring's collapse that caused the Cavs to miss the playoffs, but after narrowly missing the postseason two years in a row, the pressure to make the playoffs is great this year. If the Cavs are below .500 and in lottery position come mid-February, the likelyhood of the team narrowly missing the playoffs for a third straight year is high. That's not progress. And the "LeBron is leaving" murmurs will grow louder. Even though LeBron has played a hand in the Cavs' recent skid.

Below, I size up some Cavs players and coach Mike Brown, and find out what they can do to help the Cavs rebound before it's too late.

LeBron James
What he is doing: Carrying the scoring many nights, being a willing team leader, not getting down on himself or his team.
What he is not doing: playing consistent defense, spreading the workload around, demanding more of his teammates.
What he needs to do: LeBron has the athleticism to be a lockdown defender, but too often, he is trying for the steal, missing, and consequently giving his man a clear path to the basket. LeBron needs to begin taking as much pride in his defense as he does in his almost-limitless offensive game. While it is great he is not badmouthing his team, there comes a time when LeBron needs to assert himself and demand more of his teammates. Like last season, when the going gets tough, LeBron puts all the weight on himself, and allows his teammates to become passive observers. That's not going to win any playoff series, let alone championships.

Damon Jones
What he is doing: bringing energy on a nightly basis, showing an unwavering confidence in his outside shot.
What he is not doing: playing any kind of real defense, showing good judgment when hoisting three-pointers.
What he needs to do: Jones is, at the moment, not doing a good job of playing within himself. He appears obsessed with the three-ball. During a game against New Jersey last Friday, he grabbed a long-carom rebound at the free-throw line off a missed Donyell Marshall three. Instead of taking the ball to the basket or trying to draw contact inside, he dribbled back out to three-point land and hoisted another miss.
Jones is not Reggie Miller. He is a good but not a great outside shooter, and needs to realize that anytime is not a good time to hoist a three. Jones would also be best-served to focus his energy at the defensive end, and at least be an undersized, disruptive pest even if he can't really guard anyone.

Larry Hughes
What he is doing: being that long-sought scoring compliment to LeBron, showing fearlessness when penetrating to the basket.
What he is not doing: Living up to his reputation as a first-team All NBA defender.
What he needs to do: This is where a Ron Artest trade becomes intriguing again. Artest and LeBron in the lineup could move Hughes to the point. At 6'-5", rail thin and quick, Hughes has the body of a modern NBA point guard, and could shut down smaller guards on defense. But as long as he is a shooting guard, he needs to use that quickness to at least slow down opposing two-guards, if not stop them.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas
What he is doing: Getting to the free-throw line, playing well within his limitations, showing a willingness to work at his defensive game.
What he is not doing: like LeBron, not demanding more of his teammates.
What he needs to do: Z is the elder statesman of the Cavaliers, with 10 seasons under his belt. That level of experience lends itself to leadership. I'm sure Z works with younger players, but he and LeBron could be the standard-setters for the roster if they'd be willing to speak up more often. Not being jerks about it, but leaving strong hints that lax efforts like the one Tuesday against the Hawks is beneath the team and will not be tolerated. To a lot of players, one sentence from a teammate is worth more than an hour-long lecture from a coach.

Mike Brown
What he is doing: saying all the right things, preaching defense, acknowledging that building a team is a process. What he is not doing: building a bridge between the complexities of his playbook and his players, who have to to execute the plays, not just learn them.
What he needs to do: becoming a head coach is like being in a new country for Brown. From the high language of NBA scholars, he must now find a language that reaches the NBA's million-dollar peasants, the players. The players want simple concepts, since they not only have to learn the plays, they have to execute them on the floor. Lengthy skull sessions on the intrcacies of pick-and-roll defense only educates players to a point; after that, it bores them.
Keep it as simple as possible, Mike.

Nomar's decision

Arn Tellem, the agent for Nomar Garciaparra, said in The Plain Dealer today that his client could choose a team by the end of the week.
The finalists are reportedly the NL champion Astros (big market), the Dodgers (even bigger market), the Yankees (King Kong market) and the Indians (mom 'n pop grocery market).
To quote a little ditty from Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the others."
Can you pick out the one that doesn't belong? I'll give you a hint: it's the team whose general manager recently said, "We'd love to have Kevin Millwood back on a one-year contract," likely causing Millwood's agent, Scott Boras, to wet his pants laughing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Life at the top

No one can guarantee that the White Sox will win another World Series in the next few years, but they certainly are setting themselves up to dominate the AL Central for the foreseeable future.
While the rest of the division is standing pat or making marginal improvements, Chicago has gone out and bolstered their championship roster with big names.
Jim Thome was added in a trade with the Phillies last month. Today, the White Sox added Javier Vazquez to their starting rotation in a trade with Arizona.
The largest price they paid? Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia and Orlando Hernandez to Arizona.
Did I mention they kept free agent slugger Paul Konerko, too?
While the Tigers keep attempting to crawl out of the muck of previous regimes' bad management, and the Indians, Twins and Royals are handcuffed with extremely limited finances, the White Sox have gone out and made the few bold brushstrokes that will ensure "Chicago" will be the name at the top of the AL Central standing for most of 2006 and possibly 2007.
There is a catch. Sooner or later, Thome's contract will be an albatross as he gets older and more injury-prone. Sooner or later, all these big names and big contracts will take their toll, and toward the end of the decade, Chicago will likely have to do some payroll-trimming.
But heck, if they get another world championship or two out of this cast of characters and go down in history as the "team of the 2000s," they will have gotten their use out of them.
The good jobs Cleveland and Minnesota have done in building up their farm systems should keep some semblance of competitive balance in the division. In other words, Chicago probably won't be able to pencil themselves in as division champs on April 1, as the Indians did so often in the '90s.
But the White Sox have the most resources in the division, and they have the rings, which means a predictable bump in attendance and merchandise sales. So while the rest of the division, sans Detroit, is dealing in "Monopoly" money, the White Sox will consistently have the ammo to go out and make meaningful acquisitions. And that will probably be the difference maker come September and October.
If you are a fan of the Indians, Twins, Tigers or Royals, be thankful for the wild card. It might be your team's only chance at the postseason for the time being.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cavs and Ron Artest

How times have changed. The Cavaliers used to be a black hole players tried their hardest to stay away from. Now, when a mercurial all star wants to be traded from his current team, he calls the Cavs by name.
Ron Artest recently told the Pacers he wants to be traded, and the reaction of the Indiana front office seems to be, "With pleasure."
The Pacers stuck by Artest through all his antics, his request to take time off to produce a rap album, and most notoriously, his 73-game suspension last season for igniting the worst fan-involved brawl in NBA history. I don't blame the Pacers, a class organization, for treating Artest's desire to defect as the last straw.
In making his trade request, Artest reportedly said he'd like to be traded to the Cavs, or to his hometown Knicks. The Pacers, meanwhile, might be exploring an Artest-for-Peja Stojakovic swap with Sacramento.
With regard to the Cavs, he reportedly said he'd "love to come off the bench behind LeBron James."
I admit, the prospect of Ron Artest on the Cavs is an intriguing one. The Cavs have been struggling defensively, and Artest was the 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. With Artest in the lineup, Cleveland's league-worst defense against the three-point shot would be bound to improve.
Artest and Cavs coach Mike Brown have a working history. Artest was Brown's star pupil in Indiana, where Brown was the architect of one of the NBA's best defenses prior to landing the Cavs' head coaching job.
But selfish, mercurial sorts like Artest have a history of quickly wearing out their welcome in Cleveland. Albert Belle was gone by 1997 after the Indians made a half-hearted attempt to keep him in free agency. Milton Bradley was quickly traded in spring training 2004 after he was yanked out of a game for dogging it, then ditched the team via taxi.
Jeff McInnis wasn't even offered a contract by the Cavs after the way he finished last season.
Unlike Bradley or McInnis, Artest gives his game maximum effort every time he is on the floor. When he steps onto the court, winning matters to him more than just about anything. That, and his excellent skills at both ends of the floor, are the two most compelling reasons to want Artest on your team.
But Artest's horrible temper and sense of judgment that borders on batty are always simmering just below the surface. In a way, he is Milton Bradley with a large dose of Manny Ramirez mixed in. This season, he has by all accounts been a model citizen. But that didn't stop him from having the words "tru warier" carved into his hair for no apparent reason.
He is as unpredicatble as a mine field. One day, he is a good soldier. The next, he gets into a fight or decides he'd rather be P. Diddy than an NBA player. Those are the most compelling reasons to not want Artest on your team.
One has to wonder about the LeBron-Artest dynamic should Artest end up in Cleveland. If the No. 1 job of general manager Danny Ferry is to keep LeBron happy and do his best to ensure LeBron signs that big, fat contract extension the Cavs will likely slide under his nose next summer, Artest is a double-edged sword.
Winning is the staple ingredient to making sure LeBron stays a Cav for a long time. Right now, thanks to a lack of defense (the defense Artest could provide), the wins aren't coming.
But LeBron's happiness is also dependent on a healthy team environment, free of locker-room cancers and distractions from winning. That is the warning light pulsing when Artest walks into a room.
Artest could be the defensive yin to LeBron's offensive yang. He could raise the defensive bar for the Cavs and turn Cleveland into a team that prides itself on defense.
He could also be the selfish grenade that detonates the best team atmosphere the Cavs have had in quite some time. Buyer beware.
This could all be much ado about nothing. The Cavs would have to make it worth Indiana's while to trade Artest to a division rival. That probably couldn't be accomplished without getting a third team involved, like Sacramento.
We know LeBron, Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Donyell Marshall are off limits in any trade. Damon Jones and Eric Snow would be tough to move because of their salaries. Trading Drew Gooden would open up a whole new hole in the front court. The Cavs are tapped out until 2009 with regard to trading first-roun draft picks.
There is one potential trump card the Cavs might have, however: Luke Jackson. Dangling Jackson as part of a three-team trade could entice the Pacers. Indiana team president Larry Bird likes Jackson. He even reportedly tried to move up on draft day 2004 to get Jackson, but he went to Cleveland with the 10th pick.
Jackson has been mired deep on Brown's bench for much of this season, and has provided limited production when he has played.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Morning After: Cincinnati

Bengals 23, Browns 20
Record: 4-9
Divisional record: 0-4

See how much more natural a quarterback transition can be when a team has nothing to play for?
Charlie Frye was poised, confident, alert and mostly impressive in his second NFL start. And all it took was to play a playoff-bound team on the road in a game nobody really expected the Browns to compete in, let alone win.
Frye couldn't pull off the latter, but the competitive part was alive and well. His stats were warm-but-not-hot (16-for-24 passes, 138 yards, 14 rushing yards) but his poise dwarfed that of Bengals QB Carson Palmer, a potential Pro Bowler of USC pedigree.
Frye led the Browns on two touchdown drives, scrambling for one of them and finding Steve Heiden for the other. He looked resourceful for a rookie, avoiding sacks to find Antonio Bryant downfield on two occasions.
He wasn't able to completely pull off the look of a seasoned veteran, getting sacked twice for 14 yards, a week after Jacksonville planted him in the Cleveland Browns Stadium turf five times. He forced one pass that was intercepted by Bengals corner Deltha O'Neal, and forced another that should have been.
O'Neal leads the NFL with nine interceptions, and the Browns coaches should have red-flagged him for Frye since Wednesday.
There are still three games remaining, and plenty of time for the luster to wear off, but based on the first half against Jacksonville and Sunday's effort against Cincinnati, the Browns might finally have a keeper at QB. Frye won't put up glossy stats, but seems to inspire confidence in his teammates. Making something out of nothing as Frye did on several occasions Sunday will do that.
Frye is heady and doesn't try to remedy difficult situations by throwing harder, as gunslinger Luke McCown did last year. Hopefully the rookie mistakes will be just that for Frye, something he'll outgrow.
With Frye and Reuben Droughns, the Browns might have found the cornerstone players they have lacked since re-entering the NFL. Foundation players are the first essential in building a winner. You only need one or two to get things going in the right direction.

Up next: at Oakland, Sunday, 4 p.m. ET.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

No defense for defense

There is an old axiom in pro basketball:
"The distance between the assistant's chair and the head coach's chair is the longest journey a man can take."
Mike Brown is finding that out firsthand.
Brought in over the summer to give the Cavaliers a defensive rudder, he has not done that through nearly six weeks of the season. The Cavs are defenisvely improved at times, but at the end of the day are still a poor defensive team, prone to missing assignments, running toward the ballhandler like sheep, and being as soft as an Oreo cookie inside.
They also rank dead last in the NBA in defending the three-pointer.
The Cavs sprinted out to a 9-2 start thanks in large part to blistering teams with their offense. But then, they lost a blowout to the Pacers on Thanksgiving night. The offense has cooled considerably since then, and the defense hasn't been able to pick up the slack.
They looked as bad defensively as they have all season in back-to-back losses to New Jersey Friday night (109-100) and Milwaukee last night (111-106). LeBron James scored 52 last night, an alarming throwback to last season's loss at Toronto when LeBron scored 56 and his teammates stood around and watched him.
Since Thanksgiving, Cleveland has a 2-6 record, including a 1-2 record at home, where they started the season 6-0.
Before I get too carried away with a forecast of doom and gloom, let me say I don't think the recent slide is due to incompetence on the part of Brown, or indifference on the part of his players. This is not a team of Jeff McInnises (Damon Jones possibly withstanding).
I think, however, there is some kind of communication breakdown between Brown and his players. Somehow, the message Brown is trying to convey is being lost in translation. And part of it might be due to Brown treating defense like quantum physics.
The Cavaliers beat reporter at my newspaper told me Brown fills blackboards upon blackboards with diagrams and minutiae at practice. It makes the media's eyes cross, so imagine what it does to Drew Gooden.
Assistant coaches spend years building up knowledge about basketball, so much that, if a college offered it, a lot of NBA assistants could probably earn a PhD in basketball theory.
Then an assistant becomes a head coach, and suddenly it becomes all about taking complex concepts and distilling it into a simpler format your garden-variety NBA jock can get his head around. That might be the transition Brown has yet to make.
Stephen Hawking wouldn't explain astrophysics to a group of high schoolers the same way he would explain astrophysics to an MIT symposium, would he?
Brown has to reach his players, educate them, then crack the whip and make them carry out his orders on the floor. It is a system of constant maintenance until the idea of dominating defense takes root and the Cavs begint to pride themselves on it.
Until then, we are probably going to be witness to more 110-point outputs by opposing teams. Here's hoping Brown makes his breakthrough before the Cavs careen too far down the standings in the East.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ridiculously-long droughts

It's more than just the 41 years and 114 seasons the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers have gone without delivering a championship to Cleveland. The city has also endured a lot of individual sports droughts that droned (and continue to drone) on for way too long.
Much of it is a testament to the lack of star power on Cleveland teams the past 40 years, which in turn is a poor reflection on the management of the teams. But some of it is just luck. Dumb luck. And luck is pretty dumb work around these parts.
Below is a look at the how-low-can-you-go achievement famine that we've had to endure, along with the lack of championship banners.

Browns: 20 years without a 1,000-yard rusher (1985-2005)
Considering that this franchise cut its teeth on the rushing of Marion Motley and rose to prominence on the superlative legs of Jim Brown, going 20 years without a 1,000 yard rusher is utterly disgraceful.
(OK, statheads, it was actually 17 years because the team didn't exist from 1996 to 1998.)
Reuben Droughns broke the 1,000 yard barrier last week before a meteor could hit him and extend the streak to 21 years. Droughns is the most complete running back the Browns have had since Kevin Mack, who last broke the 1,000-yard barrier along with Earnest Byner in 1985.
Since then, the list of three-digit rushers included Leroy Hoard, Tommy Vardell, Eric Metcalf, Lee Suggs, William Green and the forgettable Terry Kirby experiment.

Cavaliers: 34 years without a 50-point game (1971-2005)
LeBron James is the obvious answer behind door No. 2, pouring in 56 in a loss to the Raptors last season. But how many people know the name of the only other Cavalier to score 50 in a game?
Austin Carr? Good guess. Bingo Smith? Nope. Jim Chones? Not a chance.
The answer is center Walt Wesley, who dropped in 50 on Feb. 19, 1971 during the Cavs' inaugural season.
I might add that team was 15-67, meaning the Cavs dont have a 50-point game in a playoff season.

Indians: 25 years without hitting for the cycle (1978-2003)
When Travis Hafner broke the quarter-century drought on Aug. 14, 2003, it was within hours that the largest blackout in American history began. Coincidence, or this week's signs that the Apocalypse is nigh?
Andre Thornton was the last Indian to hit for the cycle on April 22, 1978. Between Thornton and Hafner, 80 times a player hit for the cycle (a single, double, triple and homer for the unindoctrinated).
the Indians didn't have the longest drought going at the time of Hafner's cycle, which is some small cause for relief. That honor goes to the Dodgers, who have gone 35 years (Wes Parker, May 7, 1970).
Other lengthy cycle droughts include the Orioles (Cal Ripken Jr., May 6, 1984), the Braves (Albert Hall, Sept. 23, 1987), the Twins (Kirby Puckett, Aug. 1, 1986), the Reds (Eric Davis, June 2, 1989) and the Royals (George Brett, July 25, 1990).

Indians: 24 years without a no-hitter (1981-present)
Len Barker is a legend in Cleveland. He isn't a legend anywhere else, but in Cleveland, everyone remembers May 15, 1981. Everyone remembers Rick Manning leaping up and down after catching the final out of Barker's perfect game against Toronto.
Every May 15, at least one sportscaster commemorates the occasion by saying, "If everyone who said they were there there that night actually were there, Cleveland Stadium would have held 300,000 people."
Since then, there have been a couple blips on the radar. Bartolo Colon took a no-no into the eighth inning against the Yankees in 2000, and Billy Traber one-hit the Yankees in 2003, but no cigar.
Prior to Barker's perfecto, the story was much different. Indians pitcher achieved three no-hitters between 1966 and 1977. Sonny Siebert blanked the Senators on June 10, 1966, Dick Bosman blanked the A's on July 19, 1974 and Dennis Eckersley goose-egged the Angels on May 30, 1977.
Since Barker's perfect game, the rest of Major League Baseball has combined to produce 53 no hitters, the most recent being Randy Johnson's perfect game in 2004.
The Indians were last the victims of a no-hitter in 1993, when they were handled by the Yankees' Jim Abbott.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What about Bob?

To quote a Richard Dreyfus line from the movie:
"Bob's not gone. Bob's NEVER gone!"
Despite the fact that, like Dreyfus to Bill Murray's skittish, obsessive-compulsive character, everybody in Cleveland seems to want Bob Wickman gone.
But he never is. We in Cleveland just don't know what's good for us. That includes the Indians front office, which is supposed to be the voice of reason when fans and the media get star-struck by the idea of stitching a big name across the back of an Indians jersey.
For the past two years, the Indians have neglected Wickman to chase after Armando Benitez, Dustin Hermanson, B.J. Ryan and Trevor Hoffman. But the sexy names keep turining them down. In Hoffman's case, he turned away a Cleveland offer that smacked of desperation: three years and $22 million to a 38-year-old closer.
Zach is right. Wickman has every right in the world to be humiliated. The Indians have done everything short of coming out and telling Wickman "we think we can do better than you."
But Wickman, who quickly re-signed for one year and $5 million after Hoffman spurned the Indians, keeps standing by, the trusty fallback. He's overweight, doesn't strike many hitters out, and has mastered the shaky save in ways Mitch Williams can only dream about. But when the game is on the line, he figures out ways to convert saves, to the tune of 45 last year.
When you get right down to it, what more can you want than what Wickman has delivered? He's hard to rattle, has an extensive knowledge about how to pitch (a rare quality in the rear-back-and-heave-it world of short relief) and can even resort to trickery (reference last year's intentional balk against the Angels).
But all Cleveland and the Indians can seem to muster is "oh, it's you again" when Wickman re-signs.
I can't help but think that if another pitcher notched 45 saves for the Indians, he'd be certified as a franchise player and fans would revolt if the Indians even considered not bringing him back.
But because Wickman is his usual, steady, non-glamorous self, we all somehow view him as second-rate.
The good news is, Wickman doesn't care what you think. He doesn't care what the media thinks. He might not even care what Mark Shapiro thinks. And, come summer, when we're all griping about how many runners he lets on base, Wickman will still be there, saving games for the Indians.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

That one team

Why do offseasons in baseball seem to go the route of "The Posiedon Adventure?"
One money-engorged middle market team goes berserk and makes a couple of through-the-roof signings, and suddenly everybody panics.
In past years, it has been the Dodgers (Kevin Brown, Shawn Green, Darren Dreifort), the Rangers (Alex Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park) and Phillies (Jim Thome, David Bell) warping the free-agent market, overpaying for mediocre talent (or in the case of A-Rod, vastly overpaying for great talent), driving up the asking price for every other free agent.
This year, it's the Blue Jays. Dripping with cash for the first time in a few years and eager to create a fan-base buzz, the mediocre Jays have made B.J Ryan, a one-year closer who saved 36 games last year, the highest-paid reliever in baseball.
Ryan, at $47 million over five years, will make more than Mariano Rivera next year. More than Billy Wagner. More than Eric Gagne.
Tuesday, The Jays practically drowned in their own drool in shoving a five-year, $55 million contract under the nose of starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, which he promptly accepted.
Burnett is this year's Carl Pavano, a former Marlins pitcher with an inflated reputation who just nabbed a market-setting contract. Pavano has proven to be a good, but not great, starter for the Yankees. Here's believing the same will happen with Burnett in Toronto.
Now, I want the Indians to re-sign Kevin Millwood as much as the next Clevelander. But does it make sense that Burnett, a relatively young pitcher whose postseason experience is limited to one middle-rotation gig during the Marlins' World Series title in 2003, is slated to make more than Millwood, a veteran hurler who learned from pitching guru Leo Mazzone in Atlanta, was teammates with future hall of famers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, and won an ERA title with the Indians this year?
This is the madness of offseason baseball. For some reason, Burnett and Ryan were considered fashionable in a weak market, and the Blue Jays were eager to flaunt some cash.
But there's a caveat, a conscience that should be whispering in the ear of Toronto management after vastly inflating their payroll while adding just two players.
Learn the lesson of the Dodgers, who couldn't wait to dump the reaminder of Brown's seven-year, $105 million contract on the Yankees two years ago after Brown's pitching elbow finally failed him. Learn the lesson of the Rangers, who woke up one morning and realized the record $252 million contract they gave A-Rod in 2000 was suffocating their team financially. They are now paying the Yankees $9 million a year for the favor of taking A-Rod off their hands in 2004.
Learn the lesson of the Phillies, who didn't want to pay Thome and his unraveling back anymore, and shipped him to the White Sox.
In three years, that could be you, Toronto. Don't say you weren't warned.

To remember -- December 7, 1941

Each year, fewer and fewer people remain who were alive when Japanese bombers struck Pearl Harbor, Hawaii early that Sunday morning 64 years ago. But it was such a tragic -- and important -- day in our nation's history.
Thousands of Americans died that day. We were slammed headlong into World War II, and suddenly became a major player on the worldwide stage.
One might argue that Dec. 7, 1941 caused the United States to become a world superpower.
If you are a 20-something like me, and you still have grandparents alive, talk to them about the war, about life during the war. Record your conversations with them as an oral history. Do it while you still can. They are a link to a time in our country's history which is quickly slipping away.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Byrd in hand

The Indians finally made their first free-agent splash. And guess what? It's a multi-year contract.
Paul Byrd won't turn many heads or many turnstiles. But Byrd is a solid signing, particularly if the Indians add another veteran arm.
Byrd is a meat-and-potatoes pitcher with the swinging-arms retro windup to boot. For $14.25 million over the next two years, he'll provide the Indians with a Dave Burba-esque ability to pound the strike zone with his fastball and take hitters off the fastball with decent off-speed stuff.
But he shouldn't give up runs like Burba did. Blessed with an ability to keep the ball in the yard without a devastating sinker, he finished last year 12-11 with a sub-4.00 ERA. He also won the only game the Angels took in the ALCS, Game 1 in Chicago.
Byrd has playoff experience, pitching for Atlanta in 2004 prior to to the Angels last year.
Byrd is a former Indians farmhand who has bounced around during his career, from the Mets to the Royals, then onto the Braves and Angels.
As baseball's winter meeting unfold this week, the focus of Indians' GM Mark Shapiro now likely shifts to Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and Cubs infielder Nomar Garciaparra, both rumored to be high on Shapiro's free-agent wish list.
Bob Wickman is the trusty fallback should Shapiro not be able to reel in Hoffman.
A trade is also possible. Devil Rays outfielder Aubrey Huff is a name to remember.

The Morning After: Jacksonville

Jaguars 20, Browns 14
Record: 4-8

Any scrap of glory the Browns can snatch at the moment seems to come with a heavy price.
Reuben Droughns broke a ridiculously-long two decade drought without a 1,000-yard rusher when he went over the mark late in the second quarter Sunday.
The price? Braylon Edwards tore a ligament in his knee in the fourth quarter. He left the field on a cart, will certainly miss the remainder of this season, and could miss a large chunk of next season.
It is another chapter in along spell of horrible luck to befall Browns first-round draft picks, one of whom is not currently in football (Tim Couch), two of whom are trying to reclaim their careers elsewhere (Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren), and two whom are now going to be watching from the sidelines with leg braces (Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr.)
Charile Frye got the start yesterday, made some good plays in the first half, struggled in the second half, and all in all looked like a rookie who might blossom into a solid starting quarterback with the proper tutoring.
Frye showed the elements that made him an NFL prospect in the first half. He is good at leaving the pocket, scramibling along the line of scrimmage and buying time until he finds a pass opportunity downfield. His arm isn't the quickest or strongest, but he can lay the ball in the air for a tall receiver to jump and snag, as demonstrated in his second-quarter touchdown heave to Edwards.
I am finally willing to relent to the Frye guys. Now is the time to hand the offense to Frye for the remainder of the season. With a 4-8 record, no Edwards, and a remaining slate that includes Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the season can now be certified as dead and buried.
This lost-cause situation was what I was waiting for. Now is the time for coach Romeo Crennel to turn Frye loose and see what he can do. The landscape of this April's draft will depend greatly on what Frye shows between now and the end of the season, since the Browns could draft in the top five-to-seven and have a shot at a top college QB, like USC's Matt Leinart or Texas' Vince Young.

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

10-win month

For the first month of the season, the Cavaliers met LeBron James' goal of 10 wins per month.
Sustaining that will be the challenge, particularly as the Cavs embark on a three-game West Coast swing to Seattle, Sacramento and Los Angeles to start December.
Achieving 10 wins in November probably wasn't an abberation, but how the Cavs reached the mark was.
Cleveland needed an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the month to reach the 10-win plateau. They needed a furious come-from-behind victory at Philadelphia and overtime wins in Orlando and last night against the Clippers.
Last night's 112-105 overtime win allowed the Cavs to finish November 10-4, the third time in franchise history they have won 10 games in the season's first month. The Cavs finished November with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Detroit (11-2).

Below, I tell you what I learned about the 2005-06 Cavaliers in the season's first month.

1. The Cavs still aren't a top-echelon team.
I don't think many people were expecting elite status out of the gates, but the Cavs still got a good barometer of how far they need to go to challenge for an NBA Finals berth.
Road games at San Antonio and Indiana were blowout losses as the Cavs had no way to defend the speedy guards of the Spurs and the pinpoint jump shooting of the Pacers. Indiana in particular showed how stingy defense can stifle and frustrate a loaded offensive team. The Cavs are at their best when LeBron and Larry Hughes are running the floor, and they kept both caged on Thanksgiving night.
The Cavs are going to have to learn to fight fire with fire, locking down on their defensive end when a good defensive opponent is clamping off scoring chances. An 80-75 win is still a win.

2. Having said that, this team is improved defensively.
You only need look at the fourth quarter last night to see how this team is buying into coach Mike Brown's defensive playbook. The Cavs coughed up the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but hung tough and tied the game on a Donyell Marshall three-point play with less than a minute remaining. Zydrunas Ilgauskas challenged Elton Brand at the buzzer without fouling, and the Cavs forced overtime.

3. Larry Hughes is a better fit than Michael Redd would have been.
Some perpetual skeptics bellyached that Hughes would just be a LeBron clone, that the Cavs didn't address their need for an outside shooter to compliment LeBron when they signed Hughes in July. But what is wrong with having two LeBrons?
Hughes is a heady player who gets his teammates involved and plays agile defense. In Cleveland's offense, Redd might have turned into a glorified Wesley Person, relegated to camping out on the three-point arc waiting for a kickout pass.
Hughes is a more dynamic and athletic player than Redd. He doesn't shoot it like Redd, but he does many other things better.

4. Brown will have to make sure it isn't all on LeBron.
For the most part, the Cavs have been playing as a team, sharing the ball, setting each other up, and doing all the minimal-ego cap-doffing that great teams are supposed to do. But during the Cavs' losses to Indiana and Minnesota, the same sandbagging alarms went off as at the end of last season, when LeBron's teammates did a lot of standing and watching of their prodigy teammate.
This team is a lot more veteran, and should be far more self-starting than previous editions of the Cavaliers. But Mike Brown must continue to emphasize team basketball. When you have a superstar for a teammate, it can be easy to view him as a safety net when the going gets tough. But only team effot is going to make this team elite.

5. This is fun.
I am sitting here trying to recount all the Browns free agent acquisitions worth a damn in the past seven years. I can't think of many. I am also sitting here with the knowledge that Bob Howry isn't coming back to the Indians, and Kevin Millwood probably isn't either.
Isn't it nice to have a Cleveland team reap the benefits of a spending spree for once, and not have to hear about blown chances or financial constraints?