Contrarian For The Sake Of It : Barry’s My Kinda Guy

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 8:15 pm by

As noted earlier, I was kinda surprised Saturday night to see Barry Bonds acting like a giddy Little Leaguer (albeit a hulking, bald Little Leaguer with bad knees) after Ray Durham’s walk-off hit that clinched the Giants’ come from behind, 4-3 win over the Marlins. CBS Sportsline’s Gregg Doyel (above) noticed the same thing, and along with acknowledging the Sultan Of Surly’s unreported acts of kindness towards U.S. servicemen, tiny children and Rod Beck’s widow, finds a number of other reasons to commend the soon-to-be-crowned career home run king.

I like that Bonds went after Bob Costas, calling him “that little midget man who absolutely knows jack s— about baseball.” That’s a brave stand considering Costas wields a large microphone and is almost as important as he thinks he is.

I like that Bonds speaks to the media, even if he doesn’t do it every day. He doesn’t have to speak to us at all, and a smaller person — Albert Belle comes to mind — wouldn’t. The media, me included, have gone after Bonds with fury. Yet several times a week he talks to us, and sometimes he almost seems to enjoy it.

I like that Bonds grabbed teammate Ryan Klesko’s hunting bow Friday night, squinted an eye and scanned the room for a target. “Where’s Pedro Gomez?” he said quietly, referring to the ESPN reporter who has been tracking Bonds for more than a year.

I like Bonds’ response to the surprisingly petty words of shortstop Omar Vizquel, who told USA Today: “We might have someone throw a no-hitter one night and nobody will care. … Everyone will just walk over and stand by Barry Bonds’ locker.” That was Thursday night. On Friday, Bonds spent part of batting practice at short, chatting amiably with Vizquel.

So there you have it, folks. Not only is Barry actually a swell guy, but more importantly, he’s given Gregg Doyel an opportunity to take a gratuitous shot at Bob Costas.

Garnett Trade Likely/Already Happened, Danny Ainge’s Fantasy Team Looking Great

Posted in Basketball at 5:24 pm by

Gerard may be showing good news judgment in not rushing into covering the apparent trade of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics; the deal reported by the Boston Globe as being in the “serious discussion” stage this AM and currently being reported by the AP as actually happening does not rhyme with the one being reported by Marc Stein at ESPN, by the fairly wide margin of a backup forward and a couple of first-round picks. Either way, it seems like there’s something going on here. Because I like him the most, I’ll run Steinski’s version of the deal; to stack it up with the deal the AP is reporting, click one of the above links or subtract Ryan Gomes and the two picks from the deal. Then divide by Troy Hudson’s album sales.

Multiple sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that former teammates Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge revived discussions of a deal that would end Garnett’s 12-season association with Minnesota by sending him to Ainge’s Celtics, with the Wolves believed to be getting back two of the assets McHale coveted most last month — Al Jefferson and Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract.

It’s believed that the latest incarnation of the deal also would have Minnesota acquiring youngsters Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes. The salary-cap math involved would require both teams to account for Garnett’s $6.75 million trade kicker.

The Wolves would also receive a future first-round pick from Boston and take back the future first-round pick it sent to the Celtics in the Wally Szczerbiak-Ricky Davis trade in January 2006. (Minnesota still owes the Los Angeles Clippers one first-rounder as part of the Sam Cassell-Marko Jaric deal in the summer of 2005.)

The deal depends on Garnett backing off his well-chronicled unwillingness to play in Boston. Yet sources indicated late Sunday that Garnett was warming to the idea, raising hopes on both sides that the deal will finally go through.

There’s more Stein-ian detail in there, detailing the hows and whys of the Suns and Warriors dropping out of the Garnett sweepstakes. But while this doesn’t seem official yet, it does seem more likely than it has at any point prior. The newfound absence of KG-related pics from the Timberwolves official site doesn’t make it seem any less so. That can’t have been easy. I wonder how many season tickets that heavily retouched photo of Craig Smith is selling.

Generally, I leave the rumination to those above my hoops-wisdom station, but a couple of things strike me about this deal on first gloss. I love Garnett, he’s probably my favorite NBA player, and I’m sad to see him leave even though I have little vested emotional interest in the Wolves. He’s a one-of-a-kind player — none more loyal, none tougher, and historically speaking few have ever been more productive — and I 1) liked him with Minnesota and 2) will not like watching him push around my Nets.

Repercussion-wise, while I’m not exactly sure how the Celtics will fare with three superstars, a 20-year old point guard, and Brian Scalabrine as their first forward off the bench, it’s hard for me to imagine a way in which a team with three all-timers in its starting lineup doesn’t go deep in the NBA Playoffs, weak Eastern Conference or no. I know Doc Rivers isn’t the best coach, I know that they’re currently four players short of the minimum roster requirements and will be nearly $6 million over the cap from the three salaries of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett alone. That doesn’t sound good, but if they’re willing to go the Dolan-ian extra mile and pick up the right complimentary guys (or even get the best of the marginal free agents left for the signing — Matt Barnes: holler) they’ll have compiled a pretty good roster.

For a fantasy basketball team, that is. They have three big-time stars, two of whom absolutely require 20-plus shots per game (Allen and Pierce), and an inexperienced point guard with a rookie backup (Smilin’ Gabe Pruitt: you have not been traded). They’ve clearly got faith in Rondo, and everything I’ve seen of him says it’s not misplaced. But that roster seems weirdly top-heavy to me, and it’s oddly easy for me to see it not working. If it’s possible for a team with three potential Hall of Famers not to make the NBA Finals — and I think it is — then these could be your dudes. There’s probably an extension for Garnett in the deal, but if things don’t work, and Garnett opts out next summer, then the C’s just traded everything promising about their team for one shot at an NBA title. And I thought Mormons didn’t gamble.

Also, the Timberwolves basically turn into the ’06-07 Celtics, except with Mark Madsen filling Scalabrine’s role and, uh, Ricky Davis in the Paul Pierce veteran-go-to-scorer role. Lots of young talent up there, though. Early polling of my Minnesota friends reveals depression at the departure of the beloved star they — and no one else, to my knowledge — call “The Pharaoh” and relief that McHale seems to have managed a pretty good haul in exchange. (Such is their faith in McHale that Ben Polk wrote to me: “I’m just glad McHale didn’t draft John Cougar Mellencamp this year. I heard he was thinking about it after hearing “Jack and Diane” in the car on the way home from a game.”) One certainty: I will need to do a fairly extensive rewrite of the Celtics ’07-08 team preview I filed for Athlon last week.

Mets Acquiring Castillo?

Posted in Baseball at 5:20 pm by

The emergence of Ruben Gotay aside, I’m hoping there’s smoke to the fire described below by the Newark Star-Ledger’s Dan Graziano and Ed Price.

According to officials with two different major league teams, who requested anonymity because the deal has yet to be announced, the Mets and the Minnesota Twins were closing in on a deal that would bring second baseman Luis Castillo to Queens in exhange for two minor-league prospects, possibly Double-A Binghamton catcher Drew Butera and Class A St. Lucie outfielder Dustin Martin.

Castillo would give the Mets the second baseman they need with Jose Valentin out for the year with a leg injury. He likely would bat second in the batting order, behind Jose Reyes. The Mets have had problems getting consistent production from that No. 2 spot in their lineup this year, and the speedy Castillo could help there as well as shore up the infield defense.

While Gordon Edes is cynical about Boston’s chances of prying Jermaine Dye from the White Sox, it would appear the Braves have made their 2nd manuever of the afternoon, as the KC Star’s Bob Dutton reports they’re on the brink of obtaining former Mets reliever Octavio Dotel from the Royals in exchange for righty Kyle Davies.

Yahoo’s Tim Brown claims Texas’ Eric Gagne is a Red Sox target, but the goggle-faced Canadian will require a serious payoff to accept a) a trade to one of the 16 clubs on his veto list or b) any scenario where he’ll not be closing.

Only those with very short memories will fail to recall that Houston’s Jason Jennings gave up 11 earned runs while retiring just two batters in the Astros’ 18-11 loss to the Padres on Sunday.  In case you forgot, the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice would love to rub it in :

If you’re keeping score, Jason Hirsh has two more quality starts than Jennings. Hirsh’s ERA is lower, his record better. He has pitched more innings and is making $4 million less.

For a couple of months, the Jennings trade was evaluated in terms of all he players involved. That’s no longer necessary. Had Purpura traded either Hirsh or Willy Taveras to Colorado for Jennings, the hair of the Astros general manager would still be on fire.
If it were one of Jennings’ few bad days, that would be one thing. It wasn’t. In five July starts, Jennings is 1-4 with an 11.35 ERA. Hopefully, he’ll never have another outing like Sunday’s, in which he was lit up for 11 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning as the Astros suffered an 18-11 loss to San Diego.

I asked a friend with another team if he could check where this start ranked on the all-time stinkeroo list. An hour later, he e-mails: “Sorry, but our database only goes back 50 years.”

When you’ve had a bad start and someone says, “Eisenhower administration,” you know it’s not good.

Bill Walsh, Dead At 75

Posted in Gridiron at 2:18 pm by

Former San Francisco head coach Bill Walsh, architect of the West Coast Offense and a 3 time Super Bowl winner during the Niners’ dominant run in the 1980′s, has passed away at the age of 75 following a long battle with leukemia.

Though I’d recommend you read all of it, here’s an excerpt from Tom Fitzgerald’s obit in Monday’s SF Chronicle.

After losing their first two games in 1981, the 49ers would win 15 of their next 16 games in a methodical yet astonishing march. Behind Montana and wide receivers Dwight Clark and Freddy Solomon and a defense led by linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, pass rushing whiz Fred Dean and a secondary that started three rookies — Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson — they became the first NFL team in 34 years to go from the worst record to the best in just three seasons.

To do it, they had to shock the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC Championship Game. They won it on Montana’s scrambling 6-yard pass to a leaping Clark with 51 seconds left. The play, dubbed “The Catch,” is the most celebrated moment in Bay Area sports history.

“That was a practiced play,” Walsh said. “Now, we didn’t expect three guys right down his throat. That was Joe who got the pass off in that situation, putting it where only Clark could come up with it.”

Walsh showed his zany side two weeks later in Pontiac, Mich. Arriving before the team, he borrowed a bellman’s uniform at the hotel and collected the players’ bags at the curb, even holding out his hand for tips. His players didn’t immediately recognize him, including Montana, who got into a brief tug-of-war with him when Walsh tried to grab his briefcase.

He was named the “Coach of the ’80s” by the selection committee of the Hall of Fame. His impact on the NFL was evident in the number of his assistants who went on to head coaching jobs, including Seifert, Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, Sam Wyche, Bruce Coslet, Mike White and Paul Hackett. Those coaches in turn spawned a host of other coaches, all imbued with Walsh’s distinctive offensive schemes.

In 1966 he took his first pro job with the Raiders and made the switch from defense to offense, coaching the backfield. Although John Rauch was the head coach, Walsh later called owner Al Davis one of his mentors. Another was Paul Brown, who was awarded an expansion franchise in Cincinnati and hired Walsh as quarterbacks and receivers coach for the first Bengals team in 1968.

Brown gave Walsh free rein to refine his sophisticated passing game, but when Brown retired in 1976, he named offensive line coach Bill Johnson as his successor. Had Brown named Walsh, it’s conceivable that the Bengals, rather than the 49ers, would have been the Team of the ’80s.

Walsh, who had turned down several promising jobs because he was sure he was Brown’s heir apparent, was devastated. Miffed that “nobody would take me seriously,” he considered leaving football. “It was beginning to look as if I would never make it as a head coach,” he said.

The NFL Network Vs. Deion Sanders’ First Amendment Rights

Posted in Dogs, Gridiron, Sports Journalism at 2:02 pm by

Deion Sanders weighed in on the Michael Vick situation with a rambling column for his hometown (Fort Myers) News-Press last week. Along with comparing Vick to Wesley Snipes’ Nino Brown character from “New Jack City”, Sanders asked his readers to go inside Vick’s mind “so you can understand where he might be coming from. ” (“It reminds me of when I wore a lot of jewelry back in the day because I always wanted to have the biggest chain or the biggest, baddest car. It gives you status.”)

The NFL Network, who hold exclusive rights to Sanders’ public commentary, have axed his follow-up. From the News-Press’ Ed Reed.

Understandably, the NFL did not like that one of the faces of its network was being portrayed as a Vick apologist. Deion sent a column responding to the criticism to The News-Press and the NFL Network on Friday morning.

That night, I received an e-mail from Thomas George, the NFL Network managing editor, which read: œThis column and subsequent variations of it (are) not approved by NFL Network. It cannot run.

It™s unfortunate because Deion really wanted you to see it. It was his best work since he started writing his column in January.

I’m sure if Tim McCarver was available for comment, he’d be sure to advise Sanders that all kinds of negative things can happen when a journalist is just trying to do his or her job.

Is The NHL Returning To A U.S. Cable Outlet Anyone’s Heard Of?

Posted in Hockey, Sports TV at 1:29 pm by

(Barry Melrose : anticipating at least as much face time as those NASCAR schmoes)

From the Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand and Tripp Mickle :

The NHL and ESPN are in discussions about bringing the league™s games back to ESPN2 as soon as the 2008-09 season.

Multiple sources described the conversations as preliminary. The two started talking the week of July 16 when the NHL approached ESPN about NBC™s nine-game regular-season schedule, plus the playoffs. NBC holds the rights to air the coming season as part of a revenue-sharing agreement, and the network holds a one-year option for the 2008-09 season.

It™s not certain that NBC would exercise that option, given the sport™s tepid ratings on the network. Regular-season ratings on NBC averaged a 0.9 during the 2006-07 season and a 1.0 during the 2007-08 season over nine telecasts.

The key to this whole scenario is Versus, which holds cable exclusivity to all of the league™s games through 2011 and is paying the league a rights fee in excess of $70 million annually. Sources close to the Comcast-owned network, however, indicated that Versus would be willing to waive that clause, but only if it gets something in return ” either a lower rights
fee, a stronger schedule or a deal extension.

The talks with ESPN mark a turnaround from three years ago, when Mark Shapiro, then-executive vice president of programming and production, publicly questioned the value of having the league on TV ” remarks that still make league executives bristle. The arrival of Skipper in October 2005 could allow both sides to overcome that, as sources close to the league believe that Skipper values hockey more than Shapiro.

Atlanta Lands The Deadline’s Big Prize

Posted in Baseball at 1:12 pm by

Not only is this potentially bad, bad news for the New York Mets, but I’m also dreading the prospect of watching TV most of Tuesday afternoon for the sole purpose of learning Kyle Lohse’s next destination. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien :

The Braves have finalized a major trade for Texas Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, a deal that will also bring them much-needed bullpen help in the form of veteran left-hander Ron Mahay. An announcement is expected soon.

They’re paying a hefty price, sending a four-prospect package to the Rangers that includes switch-hitting rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, slick-fielding infield prospect Elvis Andrus, left-handed prospect Matt Harrison and another, lesser pitching prospect whose identity wasn’t yet known.

The Braves decided it was a price worth paying to fill arguably their most glaring weaknesses. They had no left-handed reliever, and their first basemen ranked last in the majors in most major offensive categories.

It could be the most significant midseason trade for the Braves in 14 years, since they got first baseman Fred McGriff from San Diego on July 18, 1993. The Braves hope Teixeira will help spark a playoff drive just as McGriff did.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney is amongst those who figure Rangers GM Jon Daniels did pretty well today considering the circumstances.

Teixeira will be eligible for free agency in 15 months, and he’s represented by agent Scott Boras, who takes his clients into free agency almost every opportunity he gets, and Texas had no plans for signing Teixeira; rival executives became convinced early last week that Teixeira was going to be traded.

But despite all of that, Daniels wound up getting Saltalamacchia, a 22-year-old catcher who is thought by some of his teammates to be at least the equal of solid Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, and perhaps even better — and Saltalamacchia can flat-out rake. In 141 big-league at-bats, he’s hitting .284, after hitting well at every level in the minors. In Texas’ bandbox, he is liable to become a 30-homer threat sometime in the next few years. Andrus is probably years away from playing in the big leagues, and he is rough around the edges — he has 25 errors in Class A this year — but he has a chance to be very good, according to the evaluators who’ve seen him.

The deal reminds me a little of the fire-sale trades made by the Padres in 1993. At the time, San Diego swapped perennial All-Star Gary Sheffield for young players that casual fans wouldn’t know, and Padres GM Randy Smith was excoriated for the deal. And one of those three young players is going to the Hall of Fame — Trevor Hoffman — rather then just a middle reliever with a great arm.

Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheenan goes a bit further in praise of Daniels, implying that Atlanta’s John Shuerholz might’ve been fleeced.

Not to take anything away from Teixeira, but I just don’t see where he’s going to be so much better than Saltalamacchia over the next 800 ABs to warrant throwing Andrus and pitchers into a deal.

The Braves could have played Saltalamacchia at first this year–they were prior to adding Julio Franco–gotten 85% of Teixeira in the process and retained considerable trade value for this winter. Teixeira makes them a little better, but–and I may be overrating Salty–I don’t think it’s a massive upgrade.

The one caveat I have to mention is John Schuerholz’s track record. The Braves seem to do a very good job of trading away prospects at or near their peak value, prospects who often go on to disappoint. It’s worth keeping in mind.

One Boy’s Passion For Sucking Machines

Posted in Leave No Child Unbeaten, non-sporting journalism at 9:15 am by

Granted, Katie Couric has some rating issues, but I hope for the sake of  the nation, stories like this aren’t a way out of the hole.

No disrespect intended to 12 year old Kyle Kirchbaum — otherwise known in his neighborhood as “The Human Punching Bag” — but why should it have been so hard to admit to his true inspiration?

Checkmate, Death: Ingmar Bergman, Tom Snyder RIP

Posted in Chess, Cinema, The World Of Entertainment at 3:58 am by

One of the few advantages — if you could call it that — of being an insomniac is the ability to find out about important or interesting news stories before your neighbors are awake. Which brings us to what I suppose is today’s third important death after Mike Reid and Bill Robinsonthe great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman.

There are no details as of yet, but AP is reporting that he died this morning in Faro, Sweden. As Bergman (above) was one of the most influential stylists of the 20th Century, I’m sure there will be lengthy obits in tomorrow’s papers chronicaling his fantastic career. Over the course of that career, Bergman’s films won 7 Academy Awards (for “The Virgin Spring,” “Through A Glass Darkly,” “Cries and Whispers” and “Fanny and Alexander”), though he is probably best known for the iconic “The Seventh Seal,” in which Max von Sydow plays chess with Death.

Which in turn inspired “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” in which the heroes of San Dimas High played Death in Battleship and Twister, among other challenges. Um. Anyway, you can read about Bergman’s fantastic life and work in his Wikipedia entry.

Update: Bergman’s full AP obituary is now available.

Double Death (?) Update: AP is now reporting that Tom Snyder has died. So forget about the rule of threes, I guess. No mention in the brief obit of his interview of Johnny Lydon, one of his funnier moments.

Is The KG-To-Boston Deal Alive?

Posted in Basketball at 2:42 am by

A day after the Globe’s Peter May pondered whether or not the Celtics would offer 22 year old Al Jefferson a new pact prior to October, Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman has something else for night owls to consider :

The on-again, off-again deal with the Boston Celtics acquiring Kevin Garnett apparently is back on.

According to sources, the current deal on the table has the 6-foot-11 Garnett heading to Boston and the Celtics dealing away Al Jefferson (above), Theo Ratliff’s hefty expiring contract and Rajon Rondo. There may also be other players and draft picks involved.

The deal would give Ainge a team that could compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference with the trio of Paul Pierce, Garnett and Allen. The Celtics would also have nearly $60 million in salaries between the three players for next season alone.

The Wolves would get one of the league’s top young players in the 22-year-old Jefferson, who averaged 16 points and 11 boards in 69 games a year ago, and a second-year point guard in Rondo with plenty of potential. They would also get Ratliff’s $11.7 million salary, which will come off the books after this season.

The only reason I won’t claim Michael Wilbon is unavailable for comment is because it’s almost 3 in the morning.