Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To carry pads, or not to carry pads?

Is this the beginning of the end for Dez Bryant?

Bryant fell to 24th overall in this year's NFL Draft due to character concerns, stemming mainly for his lying to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders and the resulting year-long suspension. I was against the suspension at the time and thought it was absurd to steal away a superstar's senior season over something so petty.

I am also a huge fan of Bryant's talents; he has the potential to be the best offensive player taken in this draft. Dallas got a definite steal in the latter third of the 2009 first round.

But then reports come out saying Bryant refused to carry veteran receiver Roy Williams' pads after practice. The obvious media firestorm ensued and now the previous questions about Bryant, which had died down thanks to him exhibiting professional behavior and signing before any other first-round pick, are back on the hot stove.

If I was in Bryant's shoes, I would have taken Williams' pads to the locker room. Then, I would've taken the next month to show off my serious talents in training camp and throughout the preseason, making it impossible for Dallas not to make me their number-two receiver ahead of the disappointing Williams. Then, I would make Williams carry my pads to the locker room on the last practice before the season opener just to say, "Hey, this is my spot and I'm going to run with it. Enjoy working against nickel corners."

However, I'm not going to bash Bryant for not carrying Williams' pads. I absolutely love what he said afterwards, that he was brought in to help the Cowboys win a championship and not to carry somebody's pads. He's absolutely right about that and the fact that this has turned into an issue is just plain stupid.

Keyshawn Johnson said the same thing after refusing to sing the USC fight song when he was a rookie with the Jets. All he did was catch 63 balls for 844 yards and 8 touchdowns as a rookie. Suffice to say, he gained the respect of the veterans with his play on the field, not by carrying pads, and I think Bryant will do much of the same. That's the way it should be.

But Bryant has to understand the baggage he came into the league with, whether it was just or unjust. He has to realize that pulling a stunt like this is going to make people question whether the Cowboys were smart to take a "risk" on him late in round one. That is the ONLY reason he should have carried Williams' pads.

Not because Williams is a veteran with the inside track to the second receiver position (for now). Not because rookies are supposed to go through some sort of hazing. None of that matters. But what does matter (unfortunately and possibly unfairly) is the public's perception of a player who already has question marks surrounding his character.

Did Bryant know refusing to carry Williams' pads was going to lead to lots of negative media attention? Even if he didn't he should have, and understanding the situations he has put himself in due to "questionable" behavior in the past is a key part of the maturation process, another trait Bryant has been knocked for lacking.

This isn't a big deal at all to me and I think Bryant will prove why once he settles in and makes an impact on the field. He's already better than Williams and even if he starts the season in the slot, I don't think it will take more than a few dropped passes by Williams to vault Bryant into the starting lineup.

But for now, Dez, just carry the pads. Prove yourself on the field before you start acting like you're god's gift to the Cowboys. I believe you will, but there are no guarantees in the NFL. And if you think there are, you might prove myself and all of your other supporters dead wrong when we peg you as the next Randy Moss. Don't make me look stupid, Dez. Just carry the damn pads.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What's wrong with Phil Hughes?

Yankees starter Phil Hughes got rocked again, this time by the Los Angeles Angels, allowing 6 earned runs on 9 hits in just 5 innings. Considering Hughes has just two quality starts in his last six outings, many Yankees fans are wondering what's wrong.

Here are the numbers from Hughes' first six starts this season:
39 innings, 22 hits, 39 strikeouts, 11 walks, 1.38 ERA

And from his last 11:
67 innings, 77 hits, 54 strikeouts, 21 walks, 5.51 ERA

A few things stand out to me. He's not going as deep into games, averaging 6.5 innings per start in his first six and 6 innings per start in his last 11. He went seven innings in four of his first six starts and has gone seven just four times in his past 11.

He's been much more hittable as the league has gotten a book on him as a starter, his strikeout rate has dropped (9.0 K/9 to 7.2) and his walk rate has risen (although not by much). After allowing just one home run in his first six starts, he has allowed 12 in his last 11.

So what do these stats tell us? For one, they tell us that Yankee Stadium is a bandbox. Four of Hughes' first six starts came on the road and he pitched great, while eight of his last 11 have come at home where he has struggled.

He has thrown 45.2 innings on the road and allowed 12 earned runs (2.36 ERA), while allowing 35 earned runs in 60.1 home innings (5.22 ERA). Hughes has yet to allow a home run on the road, compared to 13 at home.

It also tells us that perhaps Hughes' arm is tiring. His career high in professional innings is 146 in 2006, when he spent the entire season in the minors. He threw 110.1 combined innings in 2007, with 72.2 coming at the major league level and 105.1 in 2009, 86 in the majors.

Hughes is already at 106 innings this season, just 40 less than his career high. And he has thrown just 192.2 major-league innings in the previous three seasons. Maybe the Yankees putting an innings limit on Hughes is a good idea after all.

I personally hate innings limits like this, but it's a big part of baseball today. Pitchers are coddled from a young age and just aren't trained to throw a lot of innings or consistently go deep into games anymore. Then team owners wonder why their prized starters injure their arms. If you train a pitcher a certain way (by limiting their innings), they will inevitably be uncomfortable when asked to throw more innings.

On the contrast, if you train a pitcher to go deep into games and let him throw lots of innings in the minors (without overdoing it, of course), he will consequently be more prepared to throw a lot of successful major-league innings. But these days, nobody does that.

I know you have horror stories like Kerry Wood, but he had a violent delivery and a manager (Dusty Baker) with a reputation for running pitchers into the ground. There's being careful with a young pitcher, there's letting him pitch naturally, and there's overworking him. Wood was overworked.

But even Wood threw 151.2 minor-league innings in 1997 before bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2008, throwing 166.2 innings in the big leagues the next season before missing the last month with elbow soreness. He needed surgery the following spring and has been injury-prone ever since. This is why you can't look strictly at a number of innings as a barometer for young pitchers, because they are all different.

Edinson Volquez threw 192 innings in 2008 after pitching a career-high 180.2 combined the previous season. He needed Tommy John less than 50 innings into the 2009 season, but it's difficult to put that injury on being overworked. He was being slowly eased into more innings and the way he was pitching, he could have gone deeper into many games. He was not overworked.

Pitchers get hurt. It's just a fact of baseball. And many experts try to point out injuries happen when a pitchers throws significantly more high-stress (read: major league) innings than in the previous season, since a major-league inning is obviously much more difficult than a AA or AAA inning. But if you train a pitcher to go deep into games and not worry about pitch counts, then it won't be an issue once he reaches the majors, right?

We'll never find out if this is actually the case, since teams do so much these days to baby their young arms. Maybe it's the contracts they give these pitchers or the fact that these kids throw harder than pitchers ever did in the 70s and 80s, but as an athlete I know that you can condition your body to perform at certain levels and today's young pitchers are conditioned by constraint.

Let these kids loose in the minors (without going crazy) and some of them will flourish once they hit the majors and be able to handle the extra stress of the innings. Coddle them against lesser competition, and they may struggle when asked to stretch themselves out against the best of the best. This looks like what is happening to Phil Hughes, and it's a true shame.

I still think Hughes will be an excellent starter in a year or two. But it's obvious that the way the Yankees trained him in the minors (yes, I know he had some injury issues) has set him up to be unable to finish this season as a starter. He will close in on his innings limit and be banished back to the bullpen.

I just hope that doesn't stunt his development as a starter. Looking at what happened to Joba Chamberlain when the Yankees jerked him back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation and back, it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yanks wishing they had Cliff Lee right about now

It's easy to say that it was a bad weekend to be a Yankees starting pitcher. New York won in walk-off fashion on Friday night to honor George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, but C.C. Sabathia allowed 4 runs for the first time since May and walked more than three batters in a game for just the second time this season.

A.J. Burnett continued his recent struggles on Saturday, allowing 4 runs in just two innings in a 10-5 loss. He was shelled for 29 earned runs in 23 June innings but had thrown two consecutive quality starts before this poor outing. He also cut both of his palms raging through the double doors in the clubhouse but should make his next start, for better or worse.

Andy Pettitte has probably been the most consistent Yankees starter all season, so if anything he would break the streak of hard-luck Yankee starters against the Rays, right? But a pulled groin forced him to exit in just the third inning, taxing the Yankees bullpen for the second day in a row. New York is off today and the relievers will get plenty of rest but so will Pettitte, who is projected to miss a month with that groin injury.

The only two Yankees starting pitchers not mentioned yet in this post have had their own issues this season. Javier Vazquez has rebounded nicely from a slow start but is just one bad outing away from Yankee fans unfairly turning sour on him once again. Most of those stubborn, thick-headed fans just can't seem to get 2004's second half out of their minds.

Phil Hughes took the opposite route, starting the season hot with a 5-0 record and 1.38 ERA through six starts. But he has fallen back to earth in his last 10 outings, going 6-2 with a 5.08 ERA. His season ERA stands around 3.65, which seems pretty accurate to me pitching in the AL East. But the threat of an innings limit could push Hughes back to 8th-inning duty towards the end of the season and the playoffs (where he'd be a definite upgrade over Joba Chamberlain), meaning New York will need to find a starter to replace him.

Sergio Mitre will take the ball in Pettitte's stead on Saturday, but he's nothing more than a stop-gap solution. Unlike the rest of the Yankees staff, Mitre won't work deep into games and is fresh off the disabled list, meaning the Yankees will be stoked to get even five innings out of him.

I was against the trade for Lee at the time, because it seemed like the Yankees were going back to their early-2000s way of doing business, selling big-name prospects for older stars. It was when New York started to rebuild their farm system and use free agency (with good contracts like Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, not bad ones like Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano) rather than trading as the platform for bringing stars in that they finally returned to championship glory.

They signed Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira to big deals last season after years of hanging on to their top prospects like Robinson Cano (who is playing like an MVP), Brett Gardner (who is enjoying a breakout season as well) and Hughes (who isn't glad we wouldn't include him in a trade for Johan Santana?).

The trade of Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson went against that exact blueprint the Yanks had been following so well and while the early returns have been bad (Granderson has yet to find his swing and Jackson got off to a scorching start in Detroit), I won't look back and say much. Granderson is only 29 and while Jackson is already a solid player, it's hard for me to think that Granderson will hit under .250 all season with no power.

Trading Jesus Montero and other mid-level prospects for Lee would have been great in the short-term, especially considering the recent developments in the Yankees rotation. Sabathia is the only starter on the roster than has my undeniable trust, as will Pettitte when he returns. That third reliable arm (potentially Lee) would have been nice, then allowing Hughes to shift to the bullpen and Vazquez and Burnett to fight for the fourth starter's spot in the playoffs. And the three-man rotation would be unrealistic, considering Sabathia, Lee and Pettitte are all lefties.

Even with these rotational issues the Yankees still took two of three from the second-best team in baseball, so there's not much to gripe about just yet. It should be interesting to see if New York tries to make another move for a starter, but there aren't any great options out there now that Lee has been moved. I'd rather deal for a bullpen arm (Toronto has a few and they are selling) or a veteran that can come off the bench (kind of like Randy Winn was supposed to be before he stunk).

The Yankees don't need to be big players in the trade market like they would have been if they acquired Lee, but they do need to make a move or two to stay the favorites for a World Series repeat. Adding a couple players to fill a niche or two would go a long way towards that goal.

Monday, July 12, 2010

LeBron's a Yankee fan...are they now similar?

(Submitted by Josh Carey)

I finally get it.

For as long as I've been able to self-identify with a sports team as a "fan", I have supported the New York Yankees. Growing up in Upstate New York in the 90s meant the team was everywhere. Restaurant promotions to television coverage - it was focused on the Yankees. When Derek Jeter showed up and joined "good guys" like Paul O'Neill and Don Mattngly (and later Tino Martinez), with a shutdown bullpen featuring the likes of John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera... it was impossible for me not to throw my support behind the Bronx Bombers.

I also grew to understand why much of the rest of the country hated my team. It was hard for me to empathize with, even if I understood. The Yankees spent more money on free agents, were the first to create a dedicated TV network, made Johnny Damon cut his hair... okay, I think Steinbrenner did us a favor on that one. But while I could understand the gripes, I could never fully grasp the hatred. The Yankees merely are in the biggest market in the world: It's not their fault they have the most money, and I'm glad, as a fa
n, they're spending it to improve the team. The 2009 World Championship was no less sweeter because it was anchored by CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, and Alex Rodriguez than the "home grown" 1998 title.

So I was never able to truly comprehend the hatred for the Yankees - until last night.

As "King" James sat elevated on his throne above the masses in a Connecticut gymnasium - engaging in a self-promotional, ego-stroking television "special" of his own making - and shoved the knife into the heart of Cleveland sports fans, I understood how someone could have such a venomous hatred for a sports figure.

I have experienced dislike for sports figures before, of course. To this day I believe Kobe Bryant to be a rapist and will never be able to root for him on the court as a result. Sean Avery is a goon who has no business being in a hockey rink. I will never forgive Eli Manning for his refusal to play for San Diego and was willing to root for the "evil" Patriots in 2008 rather than see him receive a Super Bowl ring.

But none of those compare to the burning, seething hated I have to see LeBron James not just lose, but be humiliated. I want to see him utterly destroyed on the basketball court, humiliated, and forced to hang his head in shame. I would have been mostly indifferent if LeBron had simply announced a press conference, said he was leaving the Cavs for the Heat, and thanked the fans of Cleveland for their support over the last seven years.

Instead, LeBron chose to engage in a self-serving promotional orgy where he told Cavalier fans they should be grateful for everything he has given them and he has no desire to have to put up 30 every night to win.

Michael Jordan would go out trying to score 40 with the flu if the stakes were high enough. We know this because he did it. That is the mark of a great player. LeBron has shown he's not willing to work even half that hard for a championship. Were this the case, LeBron would have taken opportunities in Chicago or New York where he could combined with solid supporting casts to compete for a title. Instead, he will do everything he can to play second fiddle to Dewayne Wade.

And as with anything in life, I can forgive if you try and fail. I can not forgive refusing to even try. And for that not only do I think LeBron and company will fail, but I actively hope he will. I will tune in to Heat games next season - despite previously having almost no interest in the NBA regular season - not to see two of the best three players in the league and perhaps two of the best twenty of all time, but to see LeBron James fail. Every success will be greeted by a boo.
Every failure with a cheer. Today, I am more a fan of the Cavs than I ever was when James was on the team.

And thus I understand how the Yankees can be so despised. While I still disagree with the institution of hating "the Yankees" (the team's management is merely playing by the rules established for all teams), I can understand how someone can hate Alex Rodriguez for always chasing the money and using performance-enhancing drugs to get where he is. And I can understand wanting to tune in every single night to see if he loses and is humiliated. Because with any luck, that very thing will happen to LeBron James.

The King is dead. All that's left is a shell of a man who refuses to strive for greatness.

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron shows true colors and they are UGLY

This is not going to be a blog post bashing LeBron James (okay, maybe there will be some bashing). However, this WILL be a blog post discussing the ins-and-outs of his decision, the ramifications for the league and my personal opinion on what the ultimate ramifications of "The Decision" will be for LeBron, the Heat, the Cavaliers and the NBA as a whole.

I would like to start by saying that I was a HUGE fan of LeBron James when he first came into the league. I thought his game was naturally unselfish and that he was the ultimate team basketball player. When he was double-teamed in the final seconds of a playoff game and passed the ball to Donyell Marshall for a wide-open three-pointer (that Marshall missed), James was called out by the results-oriented media for passing up the last shot.

But his response landed in my Facebook profile under "favorite quotes." The response was, "I go for the winning play. The winning play when two guys come at you and a teammate is open is to give it up. It's as simple as that."

If I wasn't already a huge LeBron fan, this made me one. What a radical way of thinking in today's NBA, that even when double-teamed a superstar should find an open teammate for a shot that a teammate hits 40 percent of the time for the win. Somebody did scientific research after the fact based on shooting percentages from where Marshall was and where LeBron was to prove that James' decision to pass indeed had a higher positive expectation for winning than if he had taken the shot himself. And he never backed down from his stance that his decision was right and he would do it again in a heartbeat. ULTIMATE RESPECT.

The irony of this situation is now that James resides in Miami, he will be giving up the last shot most of the time to Dwyane Wade. Wade is a better pure scorer than LeBron, whose freakish athleticism allows him to get to the basket almost at will. But at the end of the game, the lane tightens up and we've seen before that James is unable to consistently deliver game-winning shots from mid-range or long distance (I know, he's hit a few ridiculous threes, but those are more luck than anything). Wade has a more polished offensive repertoire, is a better shooter and just finds more ways to score than James, which is what you need when the seconds are ticking off the clock.

Wade will have the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He is the league's second-best closer behind Kobe Bryant and if James' ridiculously large ego can accept ceding at least 80 percent of the final shots in important games, this situation might work very well. This is DWYANE WADE'S TEAM and anybody who thinks any differently is a fool.

How will LeBron handle playing second fiddle (or 1B to Wade's 1A)? That remains to be seen, but I think we can all envision some speed bumps arising along the way, despite the fact that James, Wade and Chris Bosh (who somehow hasn't been mentioned until right now) are great friends. But the real question is what will piggybacking off of Wade and Bosh do to LeBron's legacy?

I find it very difficult to say anything besides this: LeBron James will NEVER be mentioned anything but sarcastically in the same breath as Michael Jordan again. Hell, he shouldn't even be in the same discussion as Kobe Bryant. I know Kobe had Shaq for his first three titles but he wanted to do it on his own, as the unquestioned leader of his team. He had that desire, that will to win and be the man. The Lakers have built around him and Kobe has delivered consecutive titles as the team's unquestioned leader (for anybody who says Pau Gasol was the MVP of that series, quit it). But that's a discussion for another post.

By joining Wade and Bosh in Miami, LeBron will never be the unquestioned leader and will have to share Finals MVP awards if this team does contend for multiple titles. Jordan won 6 titles and 6 Finals MVP's. Kobe has 5 titles and 2 MVP's (Shaq has the other 3). Even if James wins 5 titles in 5 years with Miami, he won't win more than 2 or 3 Finals MVP's. Then he will be 31 and might try to build his own separate legacy elsewhere, when his freakish athleticism will be diminished post-prime and will actually have to work hard at perfecting certain parts of his game, like Bryant has. I'm not sure I see it.

For as cocky as LeBron is, I can't believe he didn't chose to be THE GUY in either Cleveland, Chicago or New York. Maybe this decision shows a subsiding ego, but I'll believe that when I see it. He wants to ball with his friends. He's shying away from the potential spotlight (New York) and the possibility of failure somewhere (Cleveland). He made a SELFISH decision and will forever be looked at as a pansy. A wuss. A scared little girl who couldn't win on his own and had to piggyback off his super-talented friends. If you couldn't already tell, LeBron has lost all my respect.

Not that he cares. He just wants to win and he's willing to take less money to do it with his friends. Did they have this plan in place when they signed their contracts like they did after the 2003 draft? Or was it the Olympics that sealed the deal if they could get all of their salaries to fit? I smell a rat and this was definitely in the plans of all three players involved for much longer than most people might think.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was obviously not pleased with LeBron's decision, calling it a "cowardly betrayal" and stating the Cavs would win a title before the "self-titled former King" does. I love the anger and enthusiasm, but that last statement is beyond blasphemous. Cleveland will not touch a title while James, Wade and Bosh are in Miami and that's just a clear fact. Sorry Cavs fans, but your Chosen One screwed you over.

On that note, how do you get drafted number one overall by your hometown team, lead them to great regular-season success (but no title) and then unceremoniously leave to play with your friends like it's a schoolyard pickup game. I'm on Gilbert's side when he calls this a "cowardly betrayal."

"Oh we have 8 guys, let's just play 3-on-5. LeBron, Dwayne and Chris versus you five." And that's essentially what will happen in Miami with their lack of cap space, unless veterans decide to come and take less money for a shot at what might be a guaranteed championship (given full health for the new Big Three). I've already heard Shaq's name floated around in rumors of a return to Miami and I'm sure more will come in the next few days and weeks.

Chicago will still be very good without LeBron, as adding Carlos Boozer alongside Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng will make them one of the top four teams in the East along with Boston, Orlando and obviously Miami. Cleveland might not even make the playoffs but the Knicks, well, that's another story.

The Knicks will still suck, which annoys me as a Knicks fan. But while all my friends are disappointed LeBron didn't come, I'm not. I would've preferred Wade in all honesty, as my former love affair for LeBron has turned in recent seasons. He's a selfish prima donna who is all about self-promotion and "The Decision" last night (both the show and the actual choice) prove that much. I'm glad he's not coming to New York and I'm glad I said he wasn't coming from the start. I'm in no way shocked or disappointed. As I said in my first free agency post, if you expect nothing you will never be disappointed. And I'm not.

At least now I don't have to worry about all the bandwagoners that would've been all about the Knicks if LeBron came. At least now I can enjoy my likely-still-terrible hometown team in peace with the other die-hards. But then again, bandwagon fans only exist when teams are successful. Would I rather root for a winner and deal with frontrunners (like I do with the Yankees and hate three-quarters of my team's fans) or root for a loser with the other crazy nutjobs? I guess I'd rather have my team succeed, but maybe Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony will come next year to become the second Axis power of the Eastern Conference and dethrone the Heat (and any other team in the conference).

This has been a very long post and I swear I'll end it soon, but first I have a question: Are the now-loaded Heat good or bad for the NBA? Is the league better with obvious villains that everybody else wants to beat, or is it better when the competitive balance is slightly less swayed?

I'm not sure the Heat stacking up is necessarily a good thing for the NBA, but I do know that no NBA championship is guaranteed. The Lakers may only have one player better than Miami's third best, but their depth will keep them in serious title discussion assuming the Heat fill out their roster with minimally-productive veterans and inexperienced rookies. Boston has one season left to show me they can compete, but it will tough considering their "Big Three" is nowhere near their prime while Miami's is. Although Miami's triumvirate doesn't include Rajon Rondo, one of my favorites who gets better every season and is the best player on the Celtics roster. Orlando? Chicago? Nope, sorry, not this year.

It all comes down to what players are willing to piggyback to Miami (like LeBron) for a title. I have a feeling their roster after the top three won't look so bad and if they add solid role players and stay healthy, they are easily favorites to win the NBA title. Hey LeBron, you may finally get your ring! Only you'll have to split it three ways and it comes at the price of the legacy you could've built in New York or Cleveland (screw Chicago, that's Jordan's legacy). Only James will know if this "sacrifice" will make him happy in the end. Because the only fun way to be a pansy is to be a happy one and now we all know now that LeBron truly is a bitch (excuse my language).

And I lied, this ended up being a post bashing LeBron. So sorry...NOT!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Should the All-Star Game count?

Many baseball fans are complaining about the inclusion of utility infielders like Omar Infante and Ty Wigginton on this year's All-Star rosters over players like Joey Votto or Kevin Youkilis. But the sad but true fact is, because the All-Star game counts for home-field advantage in the World Series, it might be more valuable to Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel to have these players on their roster for late-game flexibility than the big boppers that already populate the rosters.

Which begs the question: Should the All-Star Game count? I know the 2002 tie was a huge travesty but making the game count has taken the MLB All-Star game from a spectacle for the fans (like any other league's All-Star game) to a way for the previous season's pennant-winning managers to use the rest of the players in their league for a shot at World Series home-field. Wouldn't it make more sense to give home field to the team that had a better regular-season record than to the team whose league won a single game?

I can guarantee that if the All-Star Game didn't count for anything, names like Infante and Wigginton would be nowhere near the rosters. I'm okay with middle relievers like Arthur Rhodes, Evan Meek and Matt Thornton being on the roster because they have all had excellent seasons and deserve recognition. But if you aren't even good enough to play every day for one of 30 MLB teams (I'm looking at you, Omar Infante, and Wigginton whenever Brian Roberts returns), then you aren't good enough to be an All-Star. I don't care how many positions you can play.

Now from one rant to another. How is Jason Heyward an All-Star? I know he started the season well but he has tanked since with his average down to .251. What about players like Chris Young and Corey Hart (who made it anyway) or Matt Kemp and Colby Rasmus (who didn't)? That's the only real beef I have with the fan voting, outside of the fact Ichiro should not be starting (Brett Gardner has better stats in every category except batting average (.326 to .314) and Alex Rios is enjoying a huge season, potentially 30-40). But the Japanese voters will push Ichiro into the starting lineup until the day he retires.

I understand why Marlon Byrd and Michael Bourn made the NL squad as the lone representative of the Cubs and Astros, but Matt Holliday over Carlos Gonzalez? Gonzalez is better in every category besides average (.298 to .295) and deserves a spot on the roster. But Holliday was voted in by the players and got credit for his years of solid MLB service. New flash: This is the 2010 All-Star Game, not the 2006-2009 Career Achievements Game.

Fausto Carmona and Matt Capps are two other curious additions. Both are also the lone representatives from their respective teams. If the game counts, shouldn't managers not be forced to take non-All-Star caliber players from terrible teams? Mat Latos and Jered Weaver would help these managers much more pitching an inning or two than either Carmona or Capps, who could eventually blow the game for their particular side.

The All-Star Game is really just one big contradiction. If you're going to have the game count for something, then some changes should be made. The major one is that there should be no requirement to choose one player from each team. If each manager is playing to win the game I'm fine with middle relievers and utility infielders, but the spots taken by players like Bourn, Byrd (who may be slightly deserving), Carmona and Capps should belong to players like Votto, Gonzalez, Latos and Weaver. Wouldn't the teams have a better shot at winning with better players available?

Fan voting should also be eschewed, but that kills the whole allure of the game to the fans, who fuel any sport. When the best idea is to leave the fans out of the voting, that's when you know THE GAME SHOULDN'T COUNT. It's an All-Star game and should remain as such. And to prevent ties, add one more pitching spot to invite an extra player on the premise that he will be saved in case the game goes deep into extra innings. And make it a starting pitcher.

My ultimate All-Star game would be one that didn't count for anything. Then the fans can vote for whoever they want to start the game and the managers can fill their bench with the most deserving players without having to consider position flexibility. And even if there has to be one representative from each team it doesn't matter, because the game wouldn't count. It would be nothing more than a spectacle, which is what an All-Star Game should be. Not a determinant for home-field advantage in the World Series.

Bud Selig, I know you were thoroughly embarrassed by what happened in 2002. But it's time to get over it and move on (like everybody else has) and let the All-Star Game be what it always has been and always should be: A show for the fans. Get on it for 2011.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Could LeBron end up a Knick after all?

Anybody who has discussed NBA free agency with me knows that I have been skeptical about LeBron James coming to New York from the day the Knicks started clearing cap space to make a big splash this summer. I thought there were just as many reasons for him to stay in Cleveland (money, past success, hometown) or play somewhere else like Chicago (better roster), Miami (play with Dwayne Wade) or New Jersey (ties to Jay-Z) than go to New York to play in the World's Most Famous Arena.

And as a Knicks fan, I didn't want to get myself too excited over the idea of James coming to New York, only to have my hopes dashed when he decided to go elsewhere. This follows one of my most important life mantras: Except nothing and you will never be disappointed; expect the world and anything less won't match it. Call me depressing or morose, but I'm just a realist.

But once talks broke off between Amar'e Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns and rumors started locating Stoudemire in the Big Apple, the wheels in my mind began to turn. Knowing that Chris Bosh was most likely to go somewhere where he could play alongside LeBron or Wade, wouldn't the superstar not joining forces with Bosh feel the need to join Stoudemire in New York to compete?

For argument's sake, let's say Wade and Bosh end up in Chicago. James knows that he cannot compete with the Bulls if he stays in Cleveland alongside the likes of Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison. Miami wouldn't even have a roster if Wade left, the Clippers are the Clippers and the Nets, while rostering solid young talent, don't have a player like Amar'e Stoudemire (sorry Brook Lopez, maybe in a year or two). So that leaves New York as potentially the most viable option for James (or Wade if the roles were reversed).

Maybe I am starting to warm up to the vision of seeing James in a Knicks uniform, and the potential addition of Carmelo Anthony either via trade or through free agency next year is another way to intrigue LeBron to come to the concrete jungle.

It's still hard for me to put all my eggs in the LeBron-Amar'e basket just yet (see second paragraph above), but things are starting to look up for Knicks, especially since James' representatives had a second meeting with New York on Saturday. The odds are still good that he stays in Cleveland or joins Bosh with the Bulls, but the Knicks seem to be serious top-three contenders for LeBron's services.

Considering how I felt about this scenario playing out months ago and as recently as late last week, that's saying something coming from me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yankees back in first in AL East

I know, I know. The Yankees have been back in first for almost three weeks, so I'm behind the 8-ball on this one. But I haven't posted on the Yanks in over 2 months, so it's about damn time I give them some love!

The Red Sox slumped early in the season, finishing April 11-12 and standing at 20-20 in mid-May. The Rays have slumped lately, going just 14-20 in their past 34 games that started with a three-game sweep against Boston in late May.

While their major competition in the AL East has been up-and-down (and no, I don't include the Blue Jays), the Yankees have been a model of consistency with a 15-7 April record, a 16-13 May record and a 16-10 mark in June. Their steady play can be attributed to an offense that ranks second in the American League in runs scored despite injuries to Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson and less-than-expected production from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

Robinson Cano has done more than enough to pick up the slack in the Bronx, leading MLB in batting average at .353 and hitting a team-leading 16 home runs, including an MLB-best 10 against left-handed pitchers. Nick Swisher is playing like an All-Star (.287, 13 HR, 47 RBI) and Brett Gardner's .317 average, 49 runs and 24 steals have been a pleasant surprise to many who thought he wasn't an everyday player. For the record, I wasn't one of them and I was very happy when we traded Melky Cabrera to Atlanta to open up playing time for Gardner, but even I didn't expect him to be THIS good.

Add in the Yankees starting pitching, which has three of the AL's top 10 winners (C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes have 10 wins, Andy Pettitte has 9) and you can see why the Yankees have played consistent baseball all season with limited contributions from their two highest-paid hitters.

A.J. Burnett and Hughes have struggled lately, but the resurgence of Javier Vazquez (who I told fans to be patient with in April) has made that easier to stomach. After allowing 25 earned runs in his first 23 innings this season, Vazquez has allowed just 21 in his last 58 (3.26 ERA).

The bullpen is still a mess, and that's something I expect the Yanks to address at the trading deadline. I've heard rumors about trading for Cliff Lee, but I don't think they have the prospects to pry him from Seattle and frankly, they really don't need another starter.

Injuries to Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves have left the Yankees with no relievers outside of Mariano Rivera with an ERA under 4.00 except for Boone Logan, who I still don't trust. Joba Chamberlain has struggled mightily with his location despite just 12 walks in 32.1 innings.

He consistently misses within the strike zone and I can't count the times I've seen Yankee catchers set up on the outside corner only to have Joba miss a few inches off the inside part of the plate or vice versa. The constant moves from the bullpen to the rotation and back to the bullpen have obviously had an adverse affect on Chamberlain, but is it too early to think that he may never become the dominant pitcher (starter or reliever) that everyone thought he would be?

The bullpen struggles have been covered up by the fact that New York's starters have been able to work deep into games and bridge the gap to Joba and Rivera (or just Rivera). But that won't last into the summer and the Yankees will need to find a reliable seventh-inning pitcher and possibly a set-up man if Joba's struggles continue. San Diego's Heath Bell comes to mind, if the division-leading Padres decide to be sellers in the trade market.

I still fully expect the Yankees to come out on top in the AL East and even if they somehow don't, they should make the Wild Card. Rodriguez and Teixeira will start hitting like themselves soon enough and while players like Swisher and Gardner may tail off, Cano won't. He's a legitimate MVP candidate this season, right up there with Detroit's Miguel Cabrera. It's scary that this Yankees team might be even better than they were last season.