The Actual Final Four.

Great Hair. Expensive Suits. No Morals.

The Final Four kicks off Saturday night.  I’ve got to say it feels like months ago that I filled out my ill-fated pool.  That thing had no chance.  It was like getting DQ’d during the swim of an IronMan triathlon.  Thanks for coming.  From what I can tell, the interest level in this Final Four is high.  We’re getting a good idea of how basketball mad the state of Kentucky is (insane demand for tickets), and there’s also a lot of discussion about Kentucky’s place as one of the great all-time teams.  Of course, they will only be considered such if they win the next two games.  That’s part of the problem I have with the debate surrounding Kentucky’s greatness.  If they were that good, the next two games wouldn’t really matter.

The way I see it, you can either be a great team by winning or you can judge it more on the basis of talent.  Kentucky has won to this point, and not only are they talented–they’re young and talented.  When someone says this could be the best college basketball team ever, I think they are envisioning what this could be if it stayed together for another year or two.  Should they be penalized because players leave early for the NBA?  It’s hard to hold that against them, but it definitely forces them to win everything this year.

When I think of great college basketball teams I’ve seen or heard about very few strung together a run of titles (the notable exception being UCLA, which was well before my time).  You look at Michael Jordan’s UNC teams, Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown teams, UNLV of the early 90s, they all made multiple Final Fours, won a title, but there were glitches along the way.  Does UNLV losing to Duke, or Georgetown losing to Villanova really make them any less great?  I’d say just fractionally, but if Georgetown had lost to Villanova in Patrick Ewing’s only year of college basketball, then what? The way college basketball works now, I think it makes it difficult to compare teams.  Not only do they not have a chance to mature together, but the rush to the NBA depletes the level of competition.

Is Kentucky’s collection of young talent this year better than Michigan’s Fab Five?  They could be, but if they win a title they’ll be assured of that distinction.  For me though, I see Michigan losing to two, established, veteran great teams in the Finals.  Kentucky will not run into anything like that on their quest.  Even at places like Duke, keeping guys together for three or four years is proving to be impossible.  So, I have little doubt that this Kentucky team is a truly great collection of talent, but I’m not in any hurry to place them among the all-time great college basketball teams.

The Picks:  

Louisville (+8.5) over Kentucky.  

This is a pretty epic coaching match-up.  You’ve got Pitino, the previous coach at Kentucky, he of the restaurant bathroom scandals and white suits going up against Coach Cal, the man who has vacated a Final Four at two different schools.  An impressive feat. Putting that aside, I think Pitino is a pretty respected coach and Calipari has become a bit of legendary recruiter.  If Louisville is going to get by Kentucky, you’d have to think a lot of the responsibility with fall with Pitino.  They can’t hang in terms of talent.  The other issue in this game is the rivalry.  Can a rivalry game really keep things close, or do we just remember close rivalry games better and forget the blowouts?  I think Calipari mentioned that his players don’t have much invested in the rivalry aspect of the game, and I tend to agree with that.  The rivalry is for the fans as much as the players.  Kentucky hasn’t really been tested yet during this run, but I think Pitino will have his guys ready for a quick start.  If the Wildcats are going to have a hiccup, it could be here, but I think they’ll survive.  Coach Cal’s boys to win, but not cover.

Ohio State (-2.5) over Kansas.  

This is a total coin-flip for me, and in most cases in that situation I’d take the points.  They’re sitting right there, take them.  But, I’m going to back to my Big Ten theory.  I think that was a solid conference, and that Ohio State is more battle-tested right now than Kansas.  Just because Kansas has had close calls, that doesn’t mean they’ve been toughened up.   The Jayhawks put up 47 points in the 1st half against UNC, so I imagine there will be some questions about OSU’s ability to score, but they don’t need to score, they just need to play that good defense.  It’s a bit like football, when some run and gun team goes and plays Alabama, they don’t say how is the Tide going to score 50?  And, even though Roy Williams has long ago left Lawrence behind, I still can’t escape the fact that his stink is still somewhat on this tournament.  Let’s exterminate him for good.

***

Ok, that’s it.  Remember we’ve got Phillies mail bag coming sometime on Monday.  We’ll address what is becoming a swelling wave of panic.  The Phils will be back in town then for their “On-Deck” series.  Not much going on this weekend aside from the basketball, so enjoy those games, and maybe catch a little of the golf.  Phil is going off again–will he peak a week early two years in a row?

This Stuff Happened — 3/29/12

Bad Idea...

The Saints coaching situation is one of the oddest I’ve ever seen in sports.  Sean Payton, suspended for the year, will be back in 2013.  In the meantime, the Saints need a head coach.  Because this is the NFL, it isn’t such an easy position to fill.   If this were a baseball team, the bench coach would slide into the role, they’d grab someone from the minor leagues and no one would miss a beat.  But in football you can’t exactly just promote the offensive coordinator because then you don’t have an offensive coordinator.  You don’t have a minor league filled with coaches.  Continuity is important, competence is important and for Payton if someone had those qualities and wasn’t terribly ambitious–all the better.

That’s where Parcells comes in, because a one-year cameo in the Saints job would probably be more than enough to satisfy any lingering curiosity about his NFL coaching career.  Parcells could win the Super Bowl and would still step aside.  If someone else on staff took the reins and was successful, at the very least Payton is probably looking at him getting hired away by another franchise.  There’s clearly not a lot of candidates out there for this type of one-year job, if that’s how the Saints want to do it, and it makes Parcells a surprisingly obvious choice.  I’d be worried about the old Tuna’s lasting power, though.  At 70 years old is he prepared to get back into the coaching grind?  And, if he’s just going to come in as a favor and oversee things, is that what’s best for the Saints?  I think they’d be better off looking elsewhere, but I am anxious to see who they hire.  It’s the only thing about this Bounty controversy that catches my interest.

***

Every year at Masters time there is a ripple of varying size about Augusta National’s lack of female members.  In some years, the club has been picketed during the tournament, in others the male-only story is just a footnote.  For years there has been speculation about who would become the first female member.  Condoleezza Rice was mentioned.  So was Anika Sorenstam.  Augusta National maintained that it wasn’t a specific policy of exclusion, but if a woman was invited to join it would have to be an organic move by the club and not a knee-jerk reaction to media outcry and protests.  The issue has come back to the foreground this year, because Augusta has made a tradition of offering memberships to the CEOs of the companies who are the main sponsors for the Masters Tournament.  Enter recently promoted IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who if you are a little slow, happens to be a woman.  You’d think it would be a massive black eye to the club if they don’t extend Rometty the same courtesy they did former CEOs, but Augusta, if anything, is stubborn and committed to its policies.  The funny thing is, considering the level of secrecy at Augusta, it won’t be easy to find out if Rometty is offered a green jacket.

The issue of private clubs restricting membership is a touchy one.  I believe that a private club should be able to include and exclude whomever they choose.  This has become a less PC stance over the years, but if a group of bigots wants to get together and exclude people I think they have that right.  It’s unfortunate that people think that way and I’d never want to be part of such a club, but you’re never going to change the way people think.  You can force them to take a woman, or a minority, but they’ll still be bigots.  The Masters and Augusta National is a slightly different case.  If they were just a golf club they’d never be in the news, but they happen to host one of the most high-profile golf tournaments in the world.  Its their choice to expose themselves by hosting this event.  It seems slightly hypocritical that they want to open their doors for one week, accept all the accolades and prestige, but don’t want to be subject to a more liberal set of rules.

Of course, the members at Augusta would say they never set out to create a Major Championship.  They just host this invitational, the best players in the world happen to come, and the sport has deemed it a Major.  I suppose that would hold up in court, but it’s mostly horse bleep.  I think considering the membership at Augusta National, the high-profile people who call the club home, they’d be smart enough to realize what the right thing to do would be, especially now that their hand has been forced in a way.  We’ll see, change has always come slowly in the golf world.

***

Estimated 476 million dollar jackpot in the Mega Millions on Friday.  That’s a decent chunk of change.  I’m thinking about getting a ticket, because even if I don’t win, it’d be nice if the winner picked up $476,000,000.50.  That’s a nice round number.  I’d love to win the lottery, but it’s hard for me to get past the mental block of the odds against me.  I had a group of friends in college who bought a bunch of tickets for a big jackpot.  We were all together drinking the night of the drawing and as the night wore on they became convinced they were going to win.  Not joking around, actually convinced.  They were promising people a spare million–the works.  I actually felt a little bad for them when they won absolutely nothing.  But, if you do happen to win the Mega Millions, I’m not going to argue if you want to throw me some pocket change.

Mid-Week Mailbag.

Showtime.

Just another beautiful Spring Day in the greater Philadelphia area.  The Phillies could have stayed home for February and March this year with little problem.  You might think it’s a burden to be cooped up on such a day, writing the mail bag, but nothing can be further from the truth.  I’m actually writing this post in my apartment’s open-air courtyard, so it’s the best of both worlds.  On to the questions…

Q:  So, a while back Frank McCourt buys a baseball team he can barely afford, runs it into the ground, and then turns around and sells it at almost a 500% profit.  Despite being hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, McCourt stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the transaction.  The question is, should he buy a piece of the Mets?  Charlie Ponzi, Queens, NY.  

A:  That would be hilarious, and who knows, the Wilpons might be open to the idea.  I think if you show up to the Mets’ offices with a nine-figure check you can at the very least have a discussion.  But I think McCourt is more likely to get involved in something like another failed Spring football league.  That would be a good landing spot for his new fortune.  I have to admit when I saw the 2.15 billion dollar price tag for the Dodgers, I was a bit surprised.  After all, it was reported last week the Phillies were worth over 700 million dollars and that number was a bit jarring. To think the Dodgers are worth 3x what the Phillies are is mind-boggling–LA market, or not.  I guess the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what teams are selling for as long as they are sold to stable ownership groups.  Baseball and the other sports need billionaire owners.  That’s just the truth and they’re drawing new buyers all the time because a sports franchise remains a good investment.  I read an article in the Inquirer today about a new casino, Revel, opening in Atlantic City.  The price tag was about the same as what Magic and Co. spent on the Dodgers.  Now, would you rather own the Dodgers or an Atlantic City casino for 2 billion?  I’d take the baseball team every time.  

Q: Can you believe Nick Faldo is eligible to play in the Masters and doesn’t?  I assume his game is total crap, but if Larry Mize is still out there, you’d think “Sir Nick,” would give it a go.  I’m sure Ernie Els would love to take his spot.  C.J. Ving, Jupiter, FL.  

A:  The question:  Is Faldo a coward, or does he get credit for maintaining his dignity and being able to let go of his past glory?  As a fan, it’s easy to envision yourself in the Billy Casper mode, happily playing Augusta until you can’t break 100.  But most of these guys are very proud and can’t handle playing if they aren’t in form.  In my mind, there are several reasons why Faldo doesn’t play.  First and foremost, he’s clearly not the player he once was, or even a Champions Tour aged approximation.  Faldo didn’t age as well as a Tom Watson, Fred Couples, or even a Craig Stadler.  The chances of him doing anything but missing the cut by a mile at Augusta are remote.  Also, this is a different course and a different time.  Back in the day, the old guys could slap it around the 6,800 yard course and not disrupt the flow of the event.  They could also shoot their 80s and up in relative peace.  If someone shot ~102 ala Casper these days, they’d never stop showing it on TV.  The biggest reason I think Faldo stays away, though, is the type of career he had. He’s too big a name to play the event quietly–like a Larry Mize.  But, he’s not a big enough name where people just want to see him play golf regardless of score.  If Jack and Arnie decided to play this year and shot 80 and 90 respectively, everyone would love it (except Arnie and Jack), but if Faldo went out there no one would care.  In the end I respect Faldo’s choice to be a broadcaster and not a ceremonial golfer.  I’m actually more surprised he doesn’t still play the British Open Championship.  

Q: I have a great home design idea.  The “Dumpster Room.”  Basically, it’s a mega trash chute.  You just open a door and there’s one of those industrial dumpsters you see in parking lots, but from the outside it looks like just another room of your house.  Think of all the stuff you could chuck in there and then a week, a month later it’s gone.  G.P. Kidd, Tulsa, OK.

A:  I like this idea.  I have two trash cans in my apartment and they are both useless.  My main trash can is circular and holds approximately…NOTHING.  The other one in my bathroom is mostly decorative.   As a result, I just leave trash around and then once a week or so I give the whole place a once over and head down to the dumpster with multiple bags of trash.  If I had a dumpster room I could, IN THEORY, be a cleaner person.  My old computer for example–gone.  Various boxes, old golf clubs, old clothes–poof.  I don’t know why I have some of this stuff.  Perhaps I’m waiting for American Pickers to show up?  No, it’s just a pain in the ass to throw out.  The problem with the dumpster room is you still have to walk over there–that’s a tall order.  I’d need an elaborate system of tunnels and air suction added to my dumpster room so no matter where I was in the house I could be rid of trash immediately.  Finish a bottle of water?  SHOVE IT IN THE WALL!  Now that’s convenience.  

Q:  Do you think Don and Joan will ever hook up on Mad Men, and does the possibility of them eventually hooking up help sustain the show? Glen Weiner, Rye, NY. 

A:  Quick answer:  I hope they do not.  It wouldn’t be as troubling as Don hooking up with Peggy, but it’d be up there.  As much as we love these characters, it’s nice to think they have some boundaries and Don and Joan for whatever reason is an established boundary for me.  It’s also surprising that they’ve made it this long without hooking up just BY ACCIDENT.  It’s quite a streak and everyone loves a streak.  I don’t think Mad Men has a Ross/Rachel  or Jim/Pam element to it–it’s not a sit-com.  After Jim stopped pursuing Pam and they finally got together the show went downhill quickly.  If Don and Joan had a fling, and it could only be a fling, the biggest hit I think the show would take would be to its originality.  Taking the alpha male and alpha female of the office and throwing them together seems a bit too obvious for Mad Men.  If it did happen though, I trust that Mad Men could recover more quickly and more adeptly than The Office.  I do have some concerns, given Joan’s comments in this season’s premiere and the tenuous situation with her husband being in Vietnam, but in the end I’m rooting for the streak.  

Q: I saw a Real Sports segment on the Flying Wallendas the other day.  The tight-rope walkers.  Total insanity.  How far do you think you’d make it on a tight-rope that was only a foot off the ground?  Meaning, you’re in absolutely no danger–it’s just a test of balance.  Kenny Carny, Louisville, KY.

A:  Oh, there’d be danger.  I’d take one step out on the rope and that’d probably be it–rolled ankle.  MEDIC!  I’m trying to think back to my proficiency on the balance beam style playground apparatus.  How pathetic is that thing, by the way?  Oh, here’s a slightly raised piece of metal–walk around on it.  HOURS OF FUN.  Anyway, I wasn’t that great at traversing that obstacle and it was approximately 10x the width of the wire.  Without any practice, I’d be happy if I made it three steps.  I’d still be a little nervous.  I’m afraid of heights.  I saw the same segment on the Wallendas and my palms were sweating just watching it on television.  If I stepped on any wire I’d probably start to immediately think about them crossing between buildings 100 feet in the air and I’d start to panic.  I’d do the dramatic jump off, no way I just step off the wire onto the ground like a normal person.  I’d have to flail and awkwardly leap like the big baby that I am.  

Q:  I was at an indoor lacrosse game last weekend and there was a guy scalping tickets.  Um, what?  I guess I just really don’t understand how scalping works.  If you can walk in and buy any ticket you want, how is this guy making any money?  Billy Boxseats, Trenton, NJ.

A:  I imagine he’s not doing real well if he’s scalping lacrosse tickets.  Maybe lacrosse is like the Minor Leagues of scalping?  He’s on the bottom rung of some scalping syndicate and they send him out to the lacrosse games to work on his routine.  He’s got to practice his negotiating and his, “Got any extras.”  When baseball season starts you can’t have an amateur out there cutting into your profit margins.  I admit that I have also been puzzled by scalping.  I understand if it’s a high-demand situation, but plenty of times that is not the case.  I also almost NEVER see an actual scalping transaction go down.  And, I understand they don’t necessarily do it right out in front of the ticket office, but I’ve seen maybe 4 or 5 people in my entire life even approach a scalper and that’s after going to hundreds of games.  I imagine in non-sellout situations the scalpers are trying to turn around tickets they bought from someone just dumping them.  Say you had 4 tickets and two people cancelled on you, instead of eating them you just dump them quickly on a scalper for a few bucks and then he tries to sell them for more–a price that still may be under face value.  

Q:  What do you think is the average number of people needed to consume a Pizza Hut Dinner Box (1 pizza, 5 breadsticks, 10 cinnamon sticks) and do you think Pizza Hut came up with the idea for one super fatty or is really marketing it as a 10-dollar dinner option for a family? Leroy David Lawson, Ames, IA.  

A:  Pizza consumption varies wildly from person to person, family to family.  When I was a kid we ate heroic amounts of pizza. The men, the women, it didn’t matter.  When the pizza arrived, you best GET OUT THE WAY.  It was all business.  Sometimes a stranger would wander into this den of pizza destruction and be amazed/appalled.  And along the same lines, sometimes I’d go over to someone’s house, there would be like 8, 9 people around and they’d order two pizzas.  That’s when you start crying…ON THE INSIDE.  I’d say the average for the Dinner Box is probably two people with a stick or two leftover.  That seems reasonable.  Four people is an absolute joke.  That’s borderline starvation.  That said, there are plenty of people who take this down on their own.  PLENTY.  There are people who probably look at it as a challenge.  Pizza Hut knows this.  They might not come right out and say it, but they embrace it.  It’s like the Rangers announced last week that they are serving a 1lb chili dog for $27 at their ballpark this season.  They’re saying it can feed 4 people–no problem.  And, I guess it could, but what they’re really saying is, “Psst…biggun.  Hey you, think you can take this whole thing down?  It’ll cost you $27 to try.”  

 

Alternate Final Fours — Sports Movie Coaches.

Let's Crap Some Thunder.

Does the coach make the sports movie?  It might not seem that way at first glance.  Did you care who played Dan Devine in Rudy?  Absolutely not, but you can’t overlook the importance of casting the right coach.  The biggest role I see the coaches playing is adding authenticity to the movie.  Sports movies are often a bit over the top, but it’s the coaches who often keep them grounded a bit with some realism, even if it is a bit exaggerated and cliché heavy.  Of the alternate Final Fours I did this year, this was the most difficult to trim down to the finalists.  There are so many to choose from, good and bad…

It’s amazing how many decent actors are terrible at portraying coaches.  James Caan in The Program, Nolte in Blue Chips is hysterically awful, and of course, Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday was terrible in my opinion.  I know everyone loves that speech, which I also think is overrated, but that movie was 150 minutes of torture.  It gave the world its last taste of Bill Bellamy, but other than that it was useless.

Moving on, here are some movie coaches who received consideration.  This is the heavily populated honorable mention section.

–Rodney Dangerfield as “Chester Lee,” in Ladybugs.  This was a very important film for the teenagers of the 90s.

–Billy Bob Thornton as “Gary Gaines,” in Friday Night Lights.  Thornton gets a tough break here, because his two roles were made more memorable by other actors.

–Chevy Chase as “Ty Webb,” in Caddyshack.  The original sports psychologist.

–Tom Hanks as “Jimmy Dugan” in A League of Their Own.  Through the bluster and booze a keen baseball man.

–Pat Morita and Marting Kove as “Mr. Miyagi and Sensei Kreese,” in the Karate Kid.  Two close calls.  John Kreese is the best coaching villain of all-time.

–Kurt Russell as “Herb Brooks,” in Miracle.  It was just nice to see Kurt Russell in a decent movie again.  It’d been a long time since Overboard.  By all accounts Russell was uncanny in his portrayal of Brooks, but this is the ultimate team/underdog movie, coach gets too overshadowed.

OK, some others I’ll leave out and we’ll see if we get any nominations.  On to the Final Four.

4.  Walter Matthau as “Morris Buttermaker,” in the Original Bad News Bears.  

Wouldn’t it nice to go back to a time when you could make a movie about a drunk Little League coach whose team included Tanner Boyle, one of the great youth bigots in history?  Just slap a PG on that bad boy and bring the whole family!  We won’t get into the absolutely ludicrous plot of any of the Bad News Bears movies at this time, instead focusing on Matthau’s performance as the ultimate broken down Big Leaguer.  Matthau sets the template for most of the great baseball coaches who followed him.  He drinks too much, he’s bogged down by feelings of nostalgia for his own career, but deep down he’s incredibly competitive.  He’s got that edge.  What else sends you out to bribe a pre-teen, female map saleswoman to be your ace?

Best Quote:  “This quitting thing, it’s a hard habit to break once you start.”

3.  Gene Hackman as “Norman Dale,” in Hoosiers.  

Coach Dale is probably the default #1 for a lot of people.  I don’t want to say it’s an overrated performance, it makes the top-4, but old Geno is benefiting from a lot of other positive energy.  It’s also hard for me to ignore the turn Hackman did as the coach in The Replacements, but I did ignore it for the sake of the judging.  What makes Dale?  He’s tough, but sentimental.  He’s a bit mysterious.  Where did he come from again?  He just appeared at the smallest high school in Indiana on the heels of some scandal and started demanding the boys pass the rock.  Coach Dale confidently gives the finger to all established authority figures–a huge plus, and for once is not preoccupied with his own career.  How novel.  One of the few negatives I can think of, something that keeps me from elevating even more is his most effective strategies seemed to be getting tossed from games and “running the picket fence at them,” which if I remember correctly he may have stolen that play from “Shooter.”  Also, it’s easy to coach when Chitwood doesn’t miss a shot the whole movie.

Best Quote:  “Strap, in for Everett.  No shooting the ball unless you’re under the basket all by yourself.”

2.  Burgess Meredith as “Mickey Goldmill,” in Rocky.  

At first I was going to limit this to coaches of team sports, it seemed like a reasonable way to trim the candidates and a good way to evade my exclusion of Mr. Miyagi, but in the end, I had to have Mick on the list.  What often strikes me about boxing trainers is their appearance.  You at them, sometimes old, often out of shape, and you say, “You’re teaching that massive specimen how to fight?”  Mick certainly has that quality, he’s the old chihuahua barking at Rock’s ankles, but he pulls it off, because he’s just a feisty SOB.  Mick’s got fire.  He’s got snarl.  And, he commands the gym.  Think about how difficult it is to gain the respect of young fighters when you look like Mick, but no one dared cross him.  Mick is also responsible for the “alternative training montage,” that became the signature of the Rocky films and other sports movies.  You want to be fast?  Catch the chicken.  That sounds awful, “wax on, wax off,” to me.

Best Quote:  “Women weaken legs.”

1.  James Gammon as “Lou Brown,” in Major League.  

Lou Brown took the best elements from the baseball movie managers that preceded him and compiled them all into the perfect portrayal.  Brown’s a realist, he’s painfully dry and sarcastic, but it all rings true.  He also doesn’t need a vice, or a dark side to overcome.  There’s no feel-good kick the alcohol or gambling habit storyline.  He’s just a pure baseball manager.  In a movie filled with classic characters, it is always Lou Brown’s deadpan that steals a scene.  If you’ve ever spent any time around baseball coaches, Lou Brown is a guy who could have fit right in.  Often movies make the coach more of a caricature, or portray them as buffoons.  Not Lou Brown.  He’s got the telltale competitive streak and he uses it to unify his rag-tag bunch.  The fictional Indians win with Lou Brown, not in spite of him.

Top-5 Lou Brown Quotes:

  1. “You may run like Mays, but you hit like sh*t.”
  2. “We wear caps and sleeves at this level, son.”
  3. “Nice catch, Hayes.  Don’t ever f*cking do it again.”
  4. “Let me get back to you will you, Charlie?  I got a guy on the other line about some white walls.”
  5. “Forget about the curve ball Ricky, give him the heater.”

 

World’s Most Expensive Dog.

Meet, "Big Splash."

China’s got the materialism bug.  Bad.  I suppose when you live in a country with over 1 billion people, status symbols are tough to come by–enter the Tibetan Mastiff.  Or, more specifically a Red Tibetan Mastiff, one of the most rare and coveted canines on the planet.  The market for this dog is obliterating the notion that there isn’t money to be made in dog breeding thanks to long waiting lists and demand sending the price for puppies up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  That figure should be shocking enough, but Big Splash up here, or “Hong Dong,” as he’s known in Mandarin sold recently to a Chinese coal baron for 1.5 million dollars.

Considered to be a perfect specimen, Big Splash is just 11 months old and already weighs in at 180 pounds.  Full grown, he could top 250 pounds and will command at least $15,000 per breeding session.  So, if you can line up 100 female mastiffs, I’m sure Big Splash would happy to “pay for himself.”

The Deterioration of Utley Love, Ryan Madson, Etc.

If You Work in the Media, It's Easier to get an Audience with the Yak Woman.

When are we going to talk about something other than injuries when it comes to baseball?  This weekend it was Chase Utley’s knee update and Ryan Madson’s lost season.

Quickly on Madson, the former Phillie is headed for Tommy John surgery and will not pitch in 2012.  The injury costs the Reds a closer, costs them 8.5 million and costs Madson a chance at a big payday this off-season.  When Madson missed out on a 40+ million dollar deal with the Phillies, it was a bit of a black-eye for Scott Boras, but most people assumed he’d eventually make most of that money back.  Now, Madson will be pitching on the cheap in 2013 to rebuild his reputation as a healthy arm.  No one feels sorry for Madson only making 8.5 million, but it’s a good reminder of how fleeting things are and the danger of long-term deals.  Yes, it makes the Papelbon signing look a lot better, but Papelbon also must stay healthy.  In terms of Philly impact–I wouldn’t expect the Madson injury to encourage Cole Hamels to sign a long-term deal quickly and I wouldn’t expect to see Madson back in red pinstripes in 2013 as a set-up man.  He clearly feels scorned by the Phillies, adding a lost year of his earning prime on top pretty much guarantees Madson will have Philadelphia as #30 on his wish list.

Chase Utley’s health has a much more direct impact on the Phillies’ season.  For a few hours Saturday, there was wild speculation that Utley might retire.  Utley cultivates this reality with his position on talking to the media.  With nothing to go on, scribes seem to gravitate toward worst-case scenario.  I think Utley would rather go through micro-fracture surgery with no anesthesia than give a simple press conference.  It’s his choice to deal with the press and reveal information the way he does, but he shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t just happily reiterate his silence.  It seems ridiculous that Utley doesn’t at least understand why people are curious about what’s going on with his injury.

And, to that end, we can talk a little bit about some building animosity toward the previously untouchable Utley.  A fan looks at this at this and says we want to know what’s going on because we care.  We’re the reason you make 15 million.  We’re not being nosy about your personal life, we’re being nosy about our favorite team.  Utley seems incapable of making that distinction and when you play every day and hit .300 with 25 homers, no one pays much attention to this quirk.  But when you miss large chunks of time, your production falls off a cliff and you still happily collect that 15 million?  The least you could do is answer some questions.

Utley has always been able to do no wrong in this town, a printing press in his basement cranks out Get out of Jail Free cards at an alarming rate.  Hustle, drop an f-bomb on TV, that’s pretty much all it takes to get a free pass but fans have been treated to less and less Utley moments over the last year and the questions are finally starting to creep in.  Is he doing everything he can to play?  Is he hindering his own rehab with his aversion to surgery?  Is he forthcoming with the Phillies and the doctors?  Chase is still miles away from generating any real animosity among the fans, but the pedestal is on its way down, it’s at least returned to Earth’s atmosphere.  Utley no longer resides in the heavens.

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I’d say about 5 to 7 people over the last week have asked me what the Phillies are going to do with their lineup.  “Who’s going to play where and when?”  It’s a great question and one I’ll be taking a stab at in mailbag-style Phillies preview that I’ll probably trot out next Monday.  So, if you’ve got any burning Phillies question you want answered before the season starts, let me know, and I’ll include it in the Preview-Bag.  No pressure, I’m more than capable of making up the questions myself as you’ve seen in the past.

***

I’d like everyone to think of me this evening, take a moment and say, “that could have been me.”  I’ll be participating in an auction-style fantasy baseball draft.  There are 13 teams in the league.  It should take the better part of…all night.  I’ve never done a baseball auction.  In fact, I haven’t played fantasy baseball in years and years.  It is, the ultimate fantasy sports marathon.  If the 1st World War never occurred, the term “war of attrition” would still be a part of lexicon thanks to fantasy baseball.  You have to want it, and want it badly.  I’m not sure I do.  I have made preparations for the draft.  I’m going to give the draft an honest shot and we’ll see from there.  So, if anyone has any last-minute sleepers out there, you can hit me up.  One guy I won’t be bidding on?  Jamie Moyer.  I’d take Madson before him.

***

It was a wild weekend in terms of NCAA pool standings.  I was charging.  I looked like Tomba la Bomba attacking a slalom run, from the depths of obscurity into the top-5, but then, North Carolina lost and the air left the balloon.   Roy Williams is the absolute worst.  Anyway, I think three or four people held the lead at various times over the weekend.  Things are shaking out, but still plenty of candidates to take home the top prize–pride.  Some scenarios…there could be others.

  1. If Kansas Beats Kentucky…Da Dawg comes from nowhere.
  2. If Kansas Beats Louisville…Jessica Nixon’s bracket wins; presumably for Jessica Nixon
  3. If OSU wins…McNabb Eli makes Big Dub an unlikely champ
  4. If Kentucky beats Kanas…Cara’s Mom will beat Cara’s Dad by an eyelash
  5. If Louisville beats OSU…chalk it up for Switzen Suz

Tiger’s Win Sets Up Epic Masters.

"What is this oddly shaped metal thing?"

Well, it finally happened.  Tiger won a PGA Tour event after a two-year hiatus, and it has sent the golf world into a state of hysterics.  The pundits are acting like they knew it was going to happen all along, the haters have gone back underground to strategize, and golf fans are all focused on the Masters, which has the potential to be a historic affair.  The greatest part of Augusta National is its ability to conjure story lines out of mid-air, no embellishment or hype necessary, but this year people will be looking to the Masters to settle a score.  A Sunday full of unlikely heroes, like Charl Schwartzel, will not be as well received as it was last year.  This year it’ll all be about Tiger vs. Rory, and if Phil wants to throw himself in there as well, all the better.

Golf rarely gets this type of match race.  For a long time Tiger was the unquestioned favorite in every event he played.   A rival was propped up against him in many cases, but his best battles came against journeymen like Bob May.  In the last few years the Majors have been completely without a dominant player.  Take a few usual names, sprinkle in the hottest players and you’ve got your pool of possible winners.  In actuality, that will be the case for the Masters next week as well, but if you walked around polling fans for their champion, I imagine 99% would mention Tiger, Rory or Phil.  If you trimmed the field to just those three players, the TV ratings would hardly budge.

Adding to the excitement is that all three of the big names are in form, or close enough to top-form that you expect them to play well.  Rory has been the world’s most consistent top-level performer over the last year.  It’s impossible to envision a scenario where he isn’t in contention.   Tiger has capped a run of encouraging play with a win, and not just a win, but a convincing victory where he pulled away and made the rest of the field look feeble in comparison.  Mickelson’s form, as usual, is the most erratic.  He looked like the best player in the world a month ago, but has been mediocre since.  Phil has taken over ownership of Augusta, though.  He has the best recent track record there, and more than any other golfer out there Phil needs something to get his attention to play his best.  The Masters will get his attention.

In addition to form, there will be legacies on the line at Augusta that should add to the drama.  In Rory’s case, we have spent a good bit of the past year talking about a symbolic torch passing.  As Tiger struggled with his return, Rory emerged from a crowded field of precocious contenders to be deemed the chosen one.  His win at the U.S. Open, his rise to #1, it was supposed to be the emphatic stamp that finally ended the Tiger Woods era.  I wrote a while back that the biggest obstacle Rory could face in being the “next Tiger Woods,” was Tiger Woods.  If any player was going to truly stunt Rory’s development, keep his win total in-check, it’d be a rejuvenated Tiger.  Well, Tiger appears to be  rejuvenated.  So, is Rory going to kick Tiger off his top-step, or step aside like so many other contenders have done in the past?  And, what would a partial return to Tiger mania mean for Rory’s long-term outlook?  Remember that was Tiger’s 7th win at Bay Hill. Rory has 5 wins worldwide in his whole career.  He has a lot of accumulating to do, how much bleaker are the prospects?

For Tiger, it’s about returning the focus to 19 Majors.  That was the only number that mattered pre-scandal and I get the sense Tiger has been yearning to make that the discussion once again.  When you struggle with your health and making cuts, no one is going to give you five majors, but now that Tiger has won, he can start controlling the dialog once again.  You saw the reaction to his victory, the majority of golf fans just want to watch him play his best golf.  Tiger’s intimidation will be measured once again as well.  We’ve heard recently that a new generation doesn’t fear Tiger, especially on Sunday.  Would one victorious Sunday at Augusta change all that?

In these terms, those of legacies, Phil is once again unfortunately on the perimeter.  He’s stuck in numbers limbo, where it’s hard for him to impress anyone.  A win at Augusta would be his 4th, an incredible number, but not more than Tiger and still two shy of Jack.  It’d be a fifth major.  Another great number, but not terribly significant.  It wouldn’t get him to #1, and past 40, there’s only so much work he can still do.  But, if Phil ever wants to be mentioned as anything more than Tiger’s greatest foil, he’s got to keep winning, keep winning the big events at Tiger’s expense.  Who knows, if Phil wins this year, six green jackets isn’t out of the question.

The Masters isn’t going to answer the questions people will pose beforehand.  At least not in the long-term.  There’s a great chance that Tiger, Phil and Rory will all come up empty-handed.  There’s a chance one could win and bask in the praise for a few months, only to be unseated a couple of months later at the US Open.  But for the four days the tournament takes place it will feel like the be-all end-all of golf.  Especially if these three guys are battling it out, it’ll feel like the only golf tournament that ever mattered.  That’s what people will be hoping for, even expecting.  We’ll see if it can possibly live up to expectations.