Friday, August 30, 2013

The Biggest Reason Why Ruben Amaro Absolutely, Positively, Has To Be Fired

Ruben With All Of His Good Acquisitions
The following players suited up for the Phillies earlier today.

C Eric Kratz

3B Pete Orr

SS John McDonald

CF Roger Bernadina

3B Kevin Frandsen

CF John Mayberry

Result: 11-3 loss to those very intimidating New York Mets.

Now, the Phillies have absolutely nothing left to play for this year. Winning and losing games does not matter, and no one in the fan base much cares if they lose every game for the rest of the year. Honest and for true. They've already ran off the beloved manager, all of the beloved older players are becoming less beloved by the day because they are no longer among the best in baseball at their position, and the fun of watching the handful of players on the ascent is, well, secondary to the fun of just watching baseball. There's been nice weather, the club has won a World Series recently, and the people who get bent out of shape about wins and losses stopped coming to games months ago. There have been worse eras, and it seems like simple ingratitude to burn them at the end of the best era in franchise history.

Now, you can pick from any number of reasons why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. should be fired. The ham-handed way in which he ran Charlie Manuel. The clueless signing of any number of spectacularly bad aging players (Delmon Young, Michael Young) or wildly flawed young ones (Ben Revere, any number of relievers). The utter inability to pull the trigger on sell-by assets like Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee or, I guess, Michael Young, in that some franchise might have actually believed him to be an upgrade at third for the pennant chase. But even if you somehow wanted to give him a pass for all of that, I point you back to two-thirds of the Phillies lineup today.

None of those players listed above will, I assure you, have any utility to the team in all likelihood, 2014. If any of them are in MLB, for any team, in 2015, it will say something profound about the franchise that employs them. If you are in a fantasy league where any of them is on a roster, you play in a terrible league that geeks way too hard and goes way too deep, or has inactive owners. The chance that any of them will breakout and perform anywhere near even a replacement level is also infinitesimal.

An aside: when you have John McDonald on your roster, a 38-year old defensive shortstop whose offensive value is less than that of many of the pitchers on the staff... I start to wonder about the existence of compromising photographs. There really isn't much in the way of competing theories that have much in the way of feasibility.

Good franchises can have bad years, but they can not, and should not, get absolutely nothing out of them. Right now, there isn't a franchise in MLB that's getting less out of 2013 than this team. Having Pete Orr on your major league roster is sad, but having him in your minor league system (and his equally useless alter ego, Michael Martinez) is, well, the baseball equivalent of treason. It means that you have absolutely no faith in your minor league system to produce anything better than these men, or that you are so delusional as to consider this collection of flotsam as replacement level quality.

Next year, when the Phillies are playing meaningful games again, they'll want to know if, say, Cody Asche can overcome platoon issues, or if he wears down with everyday use. Maybe if Darin Ruf can do more than hit home runs when no one's looking, in late summer. If Maikel Franco has a defensive position, or if Jesse Biddle can overcome the inevitable issues that young pitchers run into. Or whether Ethan Martin and Jonathan Petitbone can withstand routine starts.

Instead, they'll look back on all of those at bats for Orr, and innings for the Raul Valdezes of the world, and wonder what the hell they were thinking. Since they gave a man who has no idea how to evaluate talent the keys to an MLB+ franchise that has the largest unrivaled metropolitan area to support the team, a fanbase of 3+ million turnstile passers, a huge regional television contract, and divisional opponents that are the weakest in MLB.

Who gave them Pete Orr. And John McDonald. And played them..

Or why no one will ever give him a GM job again...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from the NFL settling the concussion lawsuit

No Admission Of Guilt Here, No Sir
10) It turns out that you can put a price on human life and suffering, and that price is $765 million

9) This will severely impact the league's profitability for weeks to come

8) There is no truth to the rumor that part of the settlement is that NFLN will continue to hire the most afflicted victims as on-air talent, or that much of the money paid will be blood-soaked

7) Now that this settlement is in place and players don't get to come back in the game right away after losing consciousness, the NFL respectfully requests that everyone stops worrying their pretty little heads about brain injuries

6) As part of the settlement, ESPN execs forced to write "I will never work with PBS again" 100 times on a blackboard on a hot afternoon, then clean the erasers

5) The money will go a long way towards healing the families of players like Ray Esterling, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, though in some cases, its more like the extended families

4) Everyone now has to use those old-school leather helmets, which, frankly, look awesome and do a lot more towards getting you to not lead with your head than anything a ref will tell you

3) With 4,500 retired players in the suit, each affected player stands to make $170K before legal fees, and $170 after

2) Retired USFL players, in a separate agreement, will receive $3, because that never gets old

1) The NFL admits no liability, or that the injuries of the plaintiffs were caused by football, because they are in the habit of handing out over three quarters of a *billion* dollars for funsies

Jerry Jones, Super Genius

Just Ask Him
Reported in Deadspin.

“I’ve been told that I have, by Cat-Scans, that it’s like the brain of a 40 year old,” Jones crowed. “…The guy really did not know it was me. I was there anony- mously. He said, ‘And so I just wanted to come down. I saw your chart. I know how old you are. That part is really impressive.’”

Um, Jerry? You do realize that the best way to set up the long con, and really get lifetime value out of the mark, is to make them think they are really sma...

Yeah, forget I said anything. So, what do you attribute to the secret of your success, Jerry? Is it the cosmetic surgery keeping your brain skin tight, the presence of so much artwork at your celebration of self stadium, the benefit of brain-aiding radiation from your cartoonishly large tee vee in the field of play...

Just keep talking, sport. The rest of us have so much to learn from you!

The NFL Shows Bronco Fan Who's Boss

Neutral Site
Let's say you are a Denver Bronco season ticket holder. You've paid thousands of dollars for the privilege of going to eight regular season games. You also know, on some level, that you are locked into this behavior, since it took you years to get them to take your money. You are so all-in for your team that you, well, agree to go to regular season games in late fall and winter in freaking Denver. You also probably think that if your secondary simply knew how to execute a very simple prevent defense, or if your coach didn't play for overtime at home while having a Hall of Fame QB under center. you might have gotten a Super Bowl win last year. So you are anxious for the season to start, antsy to see how new additions like Wes Welker and Montee Ball impact the team, and if they will make up for the loss of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. It's a year where you have a reasonable expectation of going to a Super Bowl, and a very good expectation of winning a kitten-soft division. But first, you get the kickoff game and rematch against the Super Bowl champion Ravens, and since it can't be in Baltimore due to scheduling issues, it's in your yard.

Which the NFL has decided, in its staggering wisdom and hubris, should look less like a Bronco home game, and more like a neutral site Celebration of Self, with equal poster weight given to Ravens QB Joe Flacco on, well, the Broncos' own stadium.

Let's just say that Bronco Fan has a cause to be bent, but honestly it's not as if the league is going to give even half a damn about the happiness of the fan base here. The yard is going to sell out regardless, and no one buys merch because of the shield; they buy it for the team or player. It's also obvious that the league feels badly that the Ravens, a franchise with an eternal chip on their shoulder in regards to officiating, didn't get the courtesy of the home opener.

So why not take it out further on Denver Fan, really?

Prohibit the wearing of Bronco colors for every other fan, selected at random. Sell clam chowder and crab cakes in the stadium. Pipe in noise during the Bronco offensive drives. Put the Broncos in road colors, and give the game to Baltimore's radio team for the Denver feed. So long as we're just, you know, making stuff up to satisfy the whims of the NFL, let's avoid half measures. (Oh, and a small aside -- will anyone feel any safer, and will any security line actually go any faster, for these new restrictions on items you get to carry into the stadium? What a complete crock. Moving on.)

So, Bronco Fan? Just embrace it. Chant Flacco's name, since sarcasm will shock and impress the national audience. But whatever you do, don't stand up for your team, or show your displeasure toward the arbitrary and absurd decision making of the NFL.

After all, you don't want scab refs again, right? Or anything else to happen to your team. Youse got such a nice little team here, amirite? Be a shame if, you know, something happened to it...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Johnny Manziel Brings Subjective Reality To The Masses

Sullied By Dirty, Dirty Money
Going to get a little deep here, folks. It's past 2AM, I've just finished a double shift at the day job with the promise of another one tomorrow, and the respite that sports is supposed to provide is getting compromised by people puling about the NCAA, Johnny Manziel, or both.

Now, faithful readers (and bots) of the blog will know that I don't follow the college professional game; I only follow the professional professional game. Even if it wasn't morally compromised on levels that even the meat grinder that is the NFL considers rapacious, there's just too much of it, and the ugliest truth of sports is that you generally care about what you cared about as a child, just in a different way.

I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, where college football consisted of Penn State twerps from 200 miles away, or Temple getting its head handed to it by, well, Penn State et al. College football was easily ignored, especially once I got to teenager years and discovered that my state tax dollars were paying a public employee, eventually disgraced PSU head coach Joe Paterno, to go to the GOP convention and endorse Bush The Elder. PSU as a rooting interest went full-blown away at that point, and my single moment of really caring very hard about college football came when my college of choice and eventual alma mater, Syracuse, absolutely wiped the Carrier Dome floor with the plodding Lions. Soon after, they scuttled off to the Midwest (coincidence? I don't think so), and that was CFB for me.

So, I don't care about it, other than as something I have to pay attention to for the NFL D-League aspects of it, and I'm able to look at this Johnny Manziel autograph kerfluffle without caring, one way or the other, about Texas A&M's chances with or without him.

(Sidebar: Can we all agree that paying for autographs is a tremendously stupid waste of time and money, and needs to be regarded with the same general disdain that, say, you'd get from owning a Humvee in Manhattan? And that the Magic of Cursive Writing to verify your existence and intent is one of modern life's odder small traditions? Yes? Good, thanks, glad we got that cleared up.)

But that's the entirety of the issue here, isn't it?

No one is arguing about whether Manziel did damage to the sport by *allegedly* selling his signature, because everyone knows that there is no such thing as damage to the sport, at least not in the off-season. They might be saying that Manziel is stupid, or reckless, or out of control, or foolish... but corrupt? Hell and no, because when you find yourself in a whorehouse, one does not start judging by the propriety of the costuming, or the daintiness of the manners, of the staff. We're all bozos on this bus, and every CFB fan cares about the education of their laundry's players only to the extent that it doesn't take away eligibility. 

Now, the 10,000-foot view. In my two hours of non-work tonight, I went to the gym and slogged through the usual workout. One of the monitors had on Faux News with their tired Colbert parody on, and the point was made that if you hated military invention in Iraq, you better hate it in Syria, because it's the exact same thing, and pretending anything else just shows you're rooting for your party laundry, not your country laundry. And on some trivial extent, this has some basis in reality. Military intervention is far too frequently the item of first resort, it's staggeringly expensive, and had we spent the R&D and focus on alternative energy tech in the past 30+ years, rather than, say, cell phones, porn and reality television, you'd have to think we'd all have $5K Ferrari-esque Teslas that run on biowaste and sunshine in our driveways by now. But that's not a tact that the Paint 'Em In A Corner types want to hit, since our guys bombing their guys is usually good TV. Also, that we do not care about the well-being of our country's laundry players only to the extent that they don't show up limbless and homeless to badger us for change. Anyway, not quite the point I'm trying to make here, other than to note that the average "news" network wants to cover news like sports. Much to the detriment of the country.

The fact is that no one views L'Affaire Manziel with clean eyes, because no one cares about the NCAA"s rules; just their punishments. And no one cares (relatively; there are, of course soldier families who will have loved ones in harm's way) about the relative merits of continuing to be involved militarily in an eternal quagmire region just because we can't wean ourselves from the fossil fuels... other than as part of the unbalanced breakfast that is what we laughingly refer to as our political process.

So long as you only see in black and white, winners and losers, etc... well, everything gets pretty dumb, pretty unpleasant, and it happens with a quickness. And a game with an unstable moral center, which is what's going to occur if/when Manziel is exonerated or disgraced, that the public does not respect, has no reason to continue to exist.

Cue the howls of Tradition.

To wit: if the members of the SEC decided, screw it, we're not part of the NCAA any more, and we're only going to play each other, and we're going to pay our players and have our own television deal...

Well... would it impact the size of their ratings at all? Hurt their recruiting? Diminish their take from professional college football? Make for any worse of a game?

No, no, no, and no.

One of the first rules of economics: things that can't continue, won't. CFB as it currently exists, and the way that the NCAA regulates the money, can't continue.

And what you think about it will be entirely dependent on what laundry you root for...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why do only minority athletes have to save the world?

Not the end of their careers
Not going to apologize about this: I'm a Keith Olbermann fan. Don't mind his politics (well, obviously), love his writing, enjoyed him back in the day when ESPN was giving us all the fleeting hope that you could be smart and have a sports network, didn't take it personally when he tried to make ESPN2 work way back when, and was geeked enough about him coming back to The Deuce that I made sure to set a reminder and watch.

KO did not disappoint. His highlights made me laugh out loud and I suspect he's going to be a routine part of my evenings again, even if most of what he's doing is just giving air and context to stuff I already knew about from working in Blogfrica. "The sun would be an issue, as it has been since the age of the dinosaurs," over footage of Kansas City Royals players losing pop ups in the glare... well, I just like it. Probably always will.

But in the opening segment, after taking down the clay pigeons that are the New York media and Rex Ryan on the Sanchez Affair, he had on Jason Whitlock.... oh, hold on for a tic there. If Keith is really going to fill the show with guys who are supposed to never work for the World Wide Lemur again, I am completely all-in for this show. Will we have Jim Rome for a point-counterpoint with Jim Everett, Hugh Douglas to snarl at black co-workers, Harold Reynolds to hug it out, Sean Salisbury to... OK, maybe it wouldn't be that great. Back to the point.

Whitlock made the fairly canonical argument that sports is ahead of society in eradicating racism (Good On You, Sports!) because it's a meritocracy and all that... but that the superstar minority athletes are more involved in getting theirs, rather than helping those that come later. And wouldn't Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., if he were only alive today and somehow still able to speak truth to power despite being jaw-droppingly old, be disappointed.

And, well, sure. Michael Jordan paved the way for generations of gimme gimme by polishing the public image to the point where everyone became the safe Corporation Of Me, and the fact that Charles Barkley is having the last laugh by having the much more beloved second half of his life doesn't really matter, since MJ's got the rings. Tiger Woods was well on the same route until his waitress regimen was revealed, and LeBron James took a detour to screw/leave Cleveland, but will be back to the long boring ride to cashout. None of these guys are going to stick their necks out to talk about, say, inequitable financing of public education, the availability of fresh produce as part of an anti-obesity campaign in urban areas, a raising of the minimum wage, yada yada yada yada. In the immortal words of Jordan Inc., Republicans buy shoes, too.

And all of this is true, easy and sounds so much better when someone of the same skin pigmentation says it... but, um, Jason? Why is it that only minority stars get this noise? Why isn't anyone taking Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Joe Theismann, Tony Siragusa, Joe Montana, Joe Mauer, Cal Ripken and a million other white athletes who make a lot of advertising bank from, well, not pushing for the same issues?

The plain and simple of it is that athletes, like every walk of life and more, are predominantly self-involved people, most of whom will not overwhelm you with their charitable impulses. Expecting any of them to do for others and future generations is naive at best, and a double standard at worst.

I would also argue, perpetually, that athletes should be seen and not heard, and would gladly sign off on a minor infringement on our First Amendment rights by prohibiting athletes from being interviewed off the field or used in commercials. Think how much better our world would be. Anyway, I digress.

True equality is, well, equality: everyone gets to live down to the lowest common denominator and greed out with equal shamelessness. No one feels like they have to upheld their demographic or heritage, because we see all of these things as inherently equal and meaningless. (Oh, and we'd get to have monumentally more interesting television and movies, since you'd get to have heroes and antagonists of every demographic class, without apologizing back stories or third act softening or mitigation to explain it all away.)

Either chastise everyone for being a greedbucket, or no one. And welcome back, Keith.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Top 10 reasons why Rex Ryan put Mark Sanchez in for the fourth quarter of the Giants' game

A Comedy Legend
In case you somehow missed it, New York Jets' HC For Life Rex Ryan put possible starting QB Mark Sanchez into the fourth quarter of the team's third preseason game, despite what appeared to be the complete surprise of the player. This led to an injury that could end the team's starting QB competition by default (though it sounds like he's actually day to day).

10) Only way to make sure that his team got back page coverage, which is, after all, the most important thing to this franchise

9) If he gets the Sanchise hurt, he frees up a spot for the triumphant Tim Tebow return

8) After three godawful Geno Smith INTs and a Yackety Sax worthy Orlovsky Safety, needed to remind the paying public what they were getting away from

7) Like everyone else in professional football, lives to deny opportunities to Chris Simms

6) The home crowd really deserved another opportunity to see Mark's new thrilling midlife crisis hair

5) Really wanted to get a win for either team, and that's where the Sanchise is at his, um, best

4) If the third game of the preseason is a true dress rehearsal for the regular season, creating a media circus is oddly apropos

3) Ensured that the team would get some national media head scratching, along with the fact that either man is still employed in a professional football context

2) Owed Tom Coughlin a solid, since if he didn't do something goofy, someone might have noticed how the Giants have looked really awful

1) Wanted to recreate this scene with the New York media in the post-game interview, where he got to be "No Reason" Luther, and they got to the be the Gramercy Riffs

A Brief And Obvious Note To NFL Preseason Apologists

Woo Hoo, I Say, Woo Hoo
There was once a pro football league, in America, that flatly rejected the notion that they needed to subject their players to meaningless competitions starring players who, for the most part, had no future with the club.

That league had outstanding players, attracted some of the best talent around, and suffered no PR backlash from the paying public or media for how unspeakably sloppy their product was in the early going. Instead, their fans greatly appreciated the goodwill shown by the league for their disinterest in an extra thumb in the eye to the customers.

That league, of course, was the USFL.

If and when the NFL eliminates preseason football games, no one -- and I do mean no one -- will shed a tear for it. Especially if it means that we get more regular season games, fewer pointless injuries, less local telecasts, and the ability to, well, have your fantasy draft turn into real games ASAP.

So, please do not insult us with your obvious kowtowing to the corporate overlords. Preseason is what we thought it was; cheap money makers, priced to the season ticket holders at full price, with limited, at best, diagnostic or coaching value. This will go away in our lifetime. (Please.)

This Year's Fantasy Team: Welcome Back Russell

Preach, Russell, Preach
Apologies in advance for the essential naval-gazing nature of this post. If you get something out of it for your league, that's the dream.

Coming into this year's fantasy football draft, I had three protects for reasonable money -- you can see them below with the asterisks -- but not nearly enough in the way of star power. It's a single round auction where the team that names a player gets their man about 2/3rds of the time, so there is an advantage to picking first, because you get right of last move on any player you nominate. It's an interesting hybrid of draft and auction, and has elements of poker to it, in that if you are caught out of position on a player you want, it can cost you big. But it's no fun to come into this without front-line talent, because it just means you are running uphill all day.

Anyway, here's the team.

Player TM 2013 2014
Russell Wilson SEA 40 45
Darren McFadden OAK 25 30 *
Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 61 66
Danny Amendola NE 10 13 *
Randall Cobb GB 16 20 *
Hakeem Nicks NYG 35 40
Ryan Mathews SD 45 50
Fred Davis WAS 4 7
St. Louis STL 1 4
Robbie Gould CHI 1 4
Montee Ball DEN 32 37
Stevie Johnson BUF 16 20
Denarius Moore OAK 6 9
Denard Robinson JAC 1 4
Jonathan Stewart CAR 2 5
EJ Manuel BUF 3 6
    298 360

Start with the QBs. Wilson is my personal pain / love object, in that I got him for a buck last year, but cut him loose when injuries overwhelmed my roster. I'm fine with the price here -- had him as the 4th best QB available, and spent $5 less than I budgeted, but wow, could I really have used that money at other places. I don't love that he's in a run-first offense and could easily have a bit of a sophomore slump, but the running ability he shows gives him something of a floor, and I'm really thinking that the guy we saw in the second half of the year is a lot closer to the real player than the guy we saw in the first. I could have kept Aaron Rodgers here for a stunning amount of money, and this is a 6-point passing TD league, but I just think the Pack OL is going to be an issue this year, and their investment in RBs is going to mean less work for the QB in the red zone. You can be the best real QB in the league without being the best fake one. As for Manuel, he's my attempt to replicate the Wilson pick from last year, but hopefully with a little more patience. In Buffalo, he's going to have the starting job soon, and a cakewalk division to learn against. There are worse lottery picks.

Now to the RBs. There were two that I really wanted that were available in this draft: Alfred Morris and Matt Forte. I bid hard for both, but got denied; such is the value of position. MJD was the third best RB on my board, and while the price tag looks high for a guy with a lot of miles who missed most of 2012, he still went for a few bucks less than I was willing to pay. Jacksonville is still a bad team, but the line looks a little better, and I think he can have one or two more top tier years before the fire fades.

Ryan Mathews was my sixth ranked available RB, and the hope here is that between him and McFadden, I'll have one guy pull out of his career tailspin and provide an RB2 option every week, behind MJD. The Chargers are still a tire fire, but the line, like Jacksonville, looks better when they run the ball, and the hope is that there will be enough home and weak opponent games to pick and choose my way to contending.

Montee Ball is, to my eyes, the clear top talent in the Denver committee, and while I know Jon Fox's sad history with rookie backs, I also know that Ronnie Hillman can't block and Knowshon Moreno is, well, Knowshon Moreno. Finally, Peyton Manning is usually OK with running in the red zone, and that offense looks to me like it's going to be putting up pinball numbers, especially in the AFC West. I don't think it's crazy to see double digits in touchdowns for the big man.

Denard Robinson is a lottery pick, but a tantalizing one, along with a potential MJD handcuff. I could easily see Jacksonville trying him under center for more than a few plays per game, especially if the season gets out of hand, as it will. Stewart is price protection gone wrong, but DeAngelo Williams is aging and he's got the big contract, so maybe he finally ends that committee and becomes a feature back. (No, not counting on it.) I thought about handcuffing with Marcel Reese or Danny Woodhead, but I hate handcuffing on general principles. Had the rosters gone deeper, I would have thrown a dart at Knile Davis from KC, Chris Polk from Philly, and maybe even a stash injury move for the currently unemployed Michael Turner.

Next, the WRs. The best available on the board were possibly fading guys like Marques Colston, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith, with capped guys like Vincent Jackson and Reggie Wayne also in the mix. I saw the position as deep but requiring an investment, so I went for depth WR2/3 plays, which describes Nicks, Johnson and Moore. All have substantial questions -- I tend to gamble too much on injury risks -- but again, the hope is that some will rise, and that I'll be able to withstand the inevitable aches and pains. Nicks in particular is a guy with great talent and a defense that's going to ensure pinball scores, and the recent word has him healthy. Stevie Johnson has been fairly consistent with terrible QB play, so the hope is that Manuel fixes that. Moore needs Terrell Pryor to win the job in Oakland with a quickness, but he could have Garbage Time All Star numbers.

Wrapping up, tight end, kicker and defense. This team lost Aaron Hernandez (you might have heard of the reason why) in the off-season, and I just didn't think there was a huge difference in tiers of available TEs in this draft. The best on my board was Jermichael Finley, like he hasn't teased us before. Davis was actually #3 on my board, so getting him for this amount made me very happy. Kickers are fungible, but Robbie Gould makes a lot, so what the hell. As for defense, we give a 5-point bonus to the defense for getting a win. The Rams start the year with Arizona, who look terrible, and Carson Palmer is an INT machine. I'll stream both positions happily.

You do not, of course, win leagues on draft day, and my recent history in football has just been a train wreck. When I've gone to sites that rank your team, they aren't a big fan of this club, especially since this could easily be another M*A*S*H* unit. Having RB1 for three teams that could easily go 15-33 (that'd be Oakland, Jacksonville and San Diego) does not speak to four quarters of production.

But if any of these teams or guys surprise, and I stay just a little healthy, I could actually have some fun rooting for my fake team this year. Just like I could actually have some fun rooting for my real team. It's August; if you have no hope, it's a long slog to winter.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Eagles - Jaguats: I Know It's Preseason, But...

Lead On, Chip
Tonight in Jackson- ville, the Eagles turned the ball over and fell behind early. They made mistakes in special teams and the running game, with promising youngsters Damaris Johnson and Bryce Brown having killer fumbles. The defense gave up another huge long touchdown run. The game was on the road, in muggy conditions, and after a perfect punt, they were 99 yards away from paydirt and a win, with their scrubs in. Who cares, right?

Well, the guys on the field did. Behind back-up Nick Foles and the chastised Brown, they went 99 yards on the Jaguars, with RB Chris Polk pushing it across, then picking up a 2-point conversion on a mush run into the middle that was comically easy. The defense spent the last few minutes getting reacquainted with the woebegone Mike Kafka, and the club left with a win.

I also have to say that after three games of watching this team... I *adore* the offense. Hurry up and run it down your face? Never suffer another delay of game penalty again? Take the pressure off your QB to stand still for four seconds and go deep? Yes, please, and thank you. And I just don't get the sense that they are going to turn it over as much as previous years, if only because that seems statistically impossible.

Does any of this matter in the least? Well, no; last year's 4-12 ship of fools team went 4-0 in preseason, and if this defense has five current starters on the next Eagle playoff team (ETA: 2014), I'm an airplane. Shouldn't I focus more on the fact that 2-14 Jacksonville kind of handled them in the trenches, with the exception of the team getting a nice pass rush? Probably.

But it's still telling I think, to see the team show actual heart and grit, even if it probably has more to do with playing guys with experience who will get cut in the fourth quarter, over Jacksonville's guys with no experience in the fourth quarter who will get cut.

Oh, and a final point before I close this one up: is there anyone (and I mean anyone) who roots for this laundry that is pining for Andy Reid about now? Or the guy who got the Jags job, Gus Bradley, who Chip beat tonight? No, didn't think so.

Top Five Nonsense Preseason Game Conversation Points

Die, Die, Die
Heard on, well, every single preseason Week 3 game...

5) "(Team That Employs Me) has a really hard schedule this year."

Why It's Nonsense: Predicting schedule strength is absurd. Which teams are going to have spectacularly bad injuries? Which ones are going to underperform due to coaching issues? What weather conditions will prevail in games against weaker teams in strong cold or warm-weather conditions? Which rookies are going to break through? No one knows. Other than counting the number of games where your team is going to face a club that's coming off a bye, or extreme division differences, this is all a waste of breath.

4) "(Coach X) has some hard decisions to make."

Why It's Nonsense: The number of guys who have been cut from preseason rosters that have gone on to become stars is, well, trivial. The vast majority of pro football players are done in four years or less, and you generally go to war with the guys who make the club, or at worst, the practice squad. Coaches live with these guys on a day-in, day-out basis, and have any number of extra eyes staring down the talent. Decisions may be distasteful if the coach is empathic to the players as human beings, but they are not, well, hard.

3) "(Player X) is just sick about that turnover. That's the kind of mistake that gets a guy cut."

Why It's Nonsense: Coaches always feel they can overcome physical mistakes; that's the hubris of coaching. Every talented RB with fumbling issues can have the Tiki Barber career, because you will never have a coach that thinks they aren't as good at this as Tom Coughlin. Young players make mistakes; every coach worth anything understands this. If a special teams guy coughs up a ball in a game, but hasn't been doing it in practice, they'll chalk it up to random chance. And they'll probably be right.

2) "(Coach X) has to be just sick about the first-team offense production."

Why It's Nonsense: Well, he's probably not thrilled about it, but if he's running a tenth of his playbook to prevent any scouting edge for the regular season, he's also probably not staying up nights over it. The Patriots got their heads kicked in by the Lions this week, and on some level, I have to think Bill Belichick is thrilled, because it means he's going to be able to treat his veterans like dirt for a week or more, and get better practices out of them. The only thing they really care about is...

1) "You never want to see a guy get hurt in preseason."

Unless, of course, the guy wasn't likely to make the team while healthy, but still has some skills or traits that makes the coach want to keep him around on the IR. Medical redshirts, assuming that they don't happen to key personnel, do not make a coach unhappy. They are kind of cutthroat that way.

Feel free to add your own, really...

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Need All Of You To Stop Talking About Fantasy Football

Your Evil, My Swamp
I'm the kind of guy who, the more popular something becomes, the less interested I am in watching it. Remember when you watched "Friends", "24", "Survivor", "American Idol," "The Sopranos" and all of those MTV Young People Behaving Badly shows? I don't, because I've never. How about when you saw "Avatar", "Titanic", "The Avengers" or "The Dark Knight"? Those are only, according to IMDB, the four largest grossing U.S. movies in history with a combined box office of $575,770,757... and none of those dollars are mine. I am uncomfortable in big crowds, even if said crowds are nowhere near me.

Also, for the first time this year, I have the NFL Network as part of my cable package. Next, I got involved in a gym program that pushed me from every other day to more like 4 out of every 5. So my nights are spent in recovery and pain, and staying up too late, because I can't eat before exercise (digestive issues; age is fun!) and can't go to sleep very soon after eating (second verse, same as the first). The final part of the puzzle is that I have been doing a damn near terrifying amount of work. July was busy, and August has already eclipsed July. So we've been in a 8 weeks and counting experience of trying to stay out of the weeds, with dozens of client calls, special projects, company-wide presentations, and more nights where I'm working a double-shift than a single.

So here's what has been happening, dear readers... I've had preseason games on in the background constantly to keep awake while I plow through the work. Which means that every commercial break, I hear someone hyping their fantasy football broadcast or podcast. And every few minutes, I hear how so and so is a great choice for your fantasy team, because every local telecast team (and preseason is mostly local, and will make you long for the dulcet tones and relative intellect of the major network mouthbreathers) thinks they are being very, very edgy and youth-oriented to mention fantasy teams. (In another 3 to 5 years, someone is going to say PPR during a telecast, and the world will end.)

Now, I play fantasy football. I'm watching these games for small little tells like first quarter line play or usage tendencies, along with how athletic and hungry the special teams look, because that's a good leading indicator of how well the team is evaluating talent at the back end of the roster. I've also been known to bet a football game or hundred.

But do you know what I'm not looking for? The breathtaking news that, say, Calvin Johnson is a really good guy to have on your team. Or that Obvious First Round Pick Guy is also really great.

No, you think? And where do you get the stones to say such things!

The final straw comes when a panel of chuckling meatheads push something called National Draft Week, as if this is the only time to draft a team, or that the presence of hundreds of hooting twerps in a theater makes all of this, well, something to cheer.

You see, here's the thing. I believe that fantasy sports are an essentially nerdy and nitty experience. The idea that more people care about their fantasy team than the real ones, or that people feel very enthused about telling you about their team, is not a positive development. This is, at its heart, masturbatory and timesucky to the extreme, and if you really need to talk about your experience... you should probably stop.

There's also this. It used to be a little bit difficult to grind your way to good fantasy football intel. There were always guys that slipped through the cracks, players who were overvalued on name recognition, running backs who had passed their sell-date. And now, all of that grindwork has been taken away, because it's become stunningly easy to just click on a few good columns, listen to a few podcasts, do a little average draft position research, and then just get lucky with injuries.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it's become too popular. No one goes there any more.

So. Here's what I need.

The oceans to recede, the planet to reverse, the nerds to find something else to ruin, and personal shame to return. And for everyone to stop, in the inspiring words of Swamp Thing, bringing their evil into my swamp.

Somehow, I don't think I'm alone in this wish.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Allen Iverson Reitres, The Only Way He Can

Alone in a crowd
Announced today in Slam Magazine, nearly as dated a document as the player, Allen Iverson announcing his retirement.

It is, of course a courtesy to call this a retirement. If someone offered him a job playing ball tomorrow, he'd take it. But let's stay with the courtesy, and leave aside the fact that retirement has an implication of voluntary behavior, and that no one has been interested in paying AI to play basketball for a long time now. Let's also leave aside the man outside of the player, which is clearly all kinds of train wreck, so much so that if Vegas put up a prop bet for homelessness, I'm pretty sure it would look like even money. Instead, I want to get into something a little more esoteric and enduring: why the man is still loved in this town, and probably always will be.

It's about this: if you combine any kind of talent with a work ethic that's downright pathological, you will be loved as an athlete, on some level. Iverson on the court, in his prime, was as outcome-dominant as any player in the history of the game. There were very few games where he played poorly and the team won, and vice versa. There were even fewer games where he looked like he was not relentlessly involved in the outcome.

It goes without saying that this was also a huge part of his downfall. Truly great players make their teammates better, and will allow games that aren't as necessary to be at risk, in the interest of developing younger players. No great players exploded into stardom in the periphery of Iverson. Larry Hughes did not reach his potential, nor Jerry Stackhouse, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony et al; they all became better when he was gone. He averaged six assists a game, most of them spectacular, rather than ordinary and routine. If you wanted the ball, you needed hands to handle a laser, or a taste for o-boards. The same relentless drive to compete did not stop with the opponent. Iverson was an equal opportunity rage.

That combination of skills and pathology was, of course, rocket fuel; not going to age well, not destined to wear a ring, the creator of memories, rather than the caretaker of wins. His single greatest moment, stepping over Tyronn Lue, gives the Shaq Kobe Lakers their only playoff loss of 2001, and as moments go, I guess that has to be enough.

So why, really, is he so loved? I get pitied, I get appreciated, and I even get admired. There will always be room in the heart for small, fast and fearless, but at the core of it all, Iverson is, well, a supremely talented but self-defeating loser, and we're not supposed to love those folks. And yet, well, we do... because the single defining trait of Iverson on the court is this: work.

Everything Iverson did looked like he was, well, working harder than anyone who has ever played the game. He'd dunk, but barely. He'd finish in the paint, but only while looking like he was going to be disassembled. He needed the refs to be effective, and yet he railed against them. He was most effective when he played 5 out of every 6 minutes, and just wore out the men who were tasked with checking him, but he looked like he was dying while doing it. He was the fastest man in the Association with the ball, but it never looked smooth, or effortless, or that he wasn't completely aware that the speed was only going to be there for as long he willed it.

It's impossible, on some level, to not respect work. People who sneer at it do so privately if they have any sense, because it's downright unpatriotic. Few of your co-workers will ever admit to not working hard with sincerity, and those people never seem to be very happy about that, or with their lives in general. We believe, at least historically, that our work defines us. Work defined Allen Iverson.

So, no, there was no other way for him to "retire." If he had been a cop, he'd have been on the street into his 60s. If he was a fireman, he would have died in a blaze. Something less noble, sure to the last beat. There is no retirement for men like him; there is only dying in the harness, or having the effective impact of dying occur, when the job is taken away from him.

Men like Iverson "retire" all the time. The only difference is that Iverson never believed he was good enough to go out any other way, or could imagine any other way to be.

And that, more than the quicks, more than the handle, more than the fire, more than the crowdwork and emotion, will be what we never see again. Because to work like that, and to have your work define you, should go away with tens and hundreds of millions of dollars... but with Iverson it never did. For good and ill.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Top 13 takeaways from Michael Vick winning the Eagles' QB competition

No Turnover
13) Those incredibly tiresome people who need to tell you how they can never root for Vick based on his past don't need to learn any new talking points

12) Vick's inevitable post-football bankruptcy just got pushed back a few more weeks

11) Chip Kelly just gave him the job so he can show up Andy Reid by actually having him stay healthy and take care of the ball

10) Racist White Eagle Fan clearly thinks it's a conspiracy, which extends down to the Eagles' opponents in preseason only trying when Nick Foles was in

9) Racist Black Eagle Fan clearly thinks it's a conspiracy, in that Vick actually had to compete for the job with a guy who has a future as a CFL stiff

8) Matt Barkley's cool with this, since he's pretty sure he'll have the job by Halloween

7) Now it can be told: Riley Cooper's YouTube racism video was simply done to test Vick, and he passed

6) Vick is said to have regained his confidence and love of football from being around Kelly, which sounds like BS until you realize that what he's really saying is that being around Reid drains people of both of these things

5) This makes the Eagles' offense much harder to plan against defensively, since with Vick under center, the ball fumbler can be anywhere

4) Kelly wanted to keep the competition going on longer, but Dennis Dixon just kept demanding an answer

3) With the news, Vick's jersey is officially off the clearance rack at local retailers, but there's a pretty good chance it'll be back there again soon

2) The league's officials and chain gangs are happy with the news, since it's going to make for a slightly slower offensive pace

1) By winning the job, Vick allows for one of the more curiously enduring NFL traditions to continue: the annual overrating of Eagle offensive players by fantasy football honks

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hitting Nowhere

Not DJ Swearinger, But Better
This weekend, Dolphins TE Dustin Keller more ore less suffered a career-ending injury when Texans S D.J. Swearinger (and is anyone else having a "Deadwood" flashback when they read that name?) came up in coverage and made a clean, but low hit. The shoulder caught Keller with awful perfection on the knee breaking both ligaments and dislocating the kneecap and the footage is as gruesome as you might imagine. So the story today, remarkable because Keller isn't exactly a star or a QB is whether the hit was dirty.

Um, seriously?

Not to belabor the point too strongly on this, because it really seems kind of obvious... but if the defender is not allowed to hit the defender hit for fear of concussion, and is also going to catch noise for hitting him low... well, um, the real problem with the play is that Keller was hit from behind. (That cad Swearinger!) Clearly, the safety should have waited for Keller to plant his feet, turn and prepare himself for the contact, and perhaps signaled his intentions with a raised flag, glove slap, or sternly written letter.

Tackle football is an indefensible moral atrocity, a weekly car crash with men who are making the devil's bargain of a shortened life span for money, and the players we are watching are the winners of a long-term talent sluice. The only way we get around that is to, well, not think about it very much, or secretly delight in the shortened life span and quality of existence of various players. The players all know this, know that their time is fleeting, know that the facts are their for the laundry much more than they are for the individual. Such is the way of sports and really, in the case of blood sports, and football, as sanitized and as safe as they can make it is a blood sport.

What Swearinger did to Keller wasn't dirty. It also wasn't really avoidable, at least not until the game becomes two-hand touch. (And seriously, can't you see that? Pressure sensitive uniforms with sound activation, but only if you have the ball in your hands. Big thunderous sounds piped into the stadium sound system like it's a pro wrestling event. Voila, no concussions, Chris Berman having orgasms all over the place, and everyone who grew up with the game as is throwing up but watching anyway, because it's the only game in town. I'm already depressed. Moving on.)

It's just sad, and unfortunate, and football. At least for now.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pam Oliver Getting Hit By A Football Works On So Many Levels, And Fails On So Many More

Do More Of This, Pam
This is Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver in a pre-game moment in tonight's Colts-Giants game, in a clearly viral experience.

Now, here's the problem with this.

I hate sideline reporters. They are, like many aspects of modern football telecasts, pointless wastes of time at best, and utterly pointless annoyances (see Siragusa, Tony, who is really best served as a diaper pitch man, but I digress) at worst. There is nothing that a sideline reporter does that could not be better executed by a faceless PR intern with a Twitter account for injury updates, and the less that we see and hear of athletes, the better. Keep, please, your in-game interviews and coach irritation. Forever.

I also, well, hate Fox. Just a little more than ESPN and NBC and CBS and NFLN, because they try harder, and really earn it. I feel just a little bit more stupid when I watch their games, and they just seem to hire as many ex-Cowboys as humanly possible, just to raise my blood pressure a few ticks more.

So I'd like to just enjoy, without racism or sexism or the inevitable -isms that accompany any viral moment, Oliver's moment of misfortune here. After all, Football In Face is nearly as good as Football In Groin, and that works on so many levels!

I'd also like for NFL players to see if they can work in Hitting The Sideline Reporter as part of their routine pre-game ritual, and for such a thing to become a meme. That would be, well, A Hoot, and the No Fun League needs more hoots.

But then there are the commenters, and... dammit, you people ruin everything. I won't share the worst, but it went to worst really, really quickly. Not to the point of making me feel sorry for Oliver, but to the point of taking away all of the joy of Football In Face.

The Internet: Where We Can Have Nice Things... so long as we don't let anyone comment on them. (Or, at least, moderate the hell out of said comments.)

FTT Wildly Off-Topic: PBS Takes You To Stalingrad

Where No One Wanted To Be
So when faced with the dual "appeals" of the usual 4-hour goat ride to tedium that is a Red Sox - Yankees game, or the only NFL exhibition game on the roster (Giants vs. Colts, like any preseason game, OK for about 15 minutes if you aren't personally invested in the laundry)...

Well, kids, I called an audible, and went to the Neftlix queue. And dialed up a PBS special on the new research into the decisive battle of World War II, which is having the histories rewritten based on the recent release of heretofore undiscovered records.

The simple story of what is now universally regarded as the deadliest battle in the long sad history of warfare is that Stalin, displaying realpolitick cunning and the tactical advantage of more men and home court advantage, played rope-a-dope with Hitler, allowing the Germans to advance too far into the region of his namesake city, then closed the trap around the Sixth Army, taking a quarter of a million soldiers as prisoners, and more or less showing how the next 2+ years were going to go for the Nazis -- i.e., very badly indeed.

But the real story, as you might guess, is actually far more complex and interesting.

Stalin actually doesn't agree to any retreats at all -- he more or less expected the soldiers to die as they stood rather than retreat, and was spending his time working out secret police purges of anyone who ordered a less than rigorous defense. Which made the Red Army even less effective, and cost them dearly when it came to the city's defense.

What really happens is threefold:

1) Hitler gets overconfident because the Russians look so ready to fold -- overconfidence being a pretty common problem for the unspeakable monster -- so he sends the tanks south to secure oil fields south of the area. Not the best move when it comes to needing to secure a city in house to house fighting. By the time they get back, it's too late for the Sixth, because...

2) The Russians get the Second World War's best tank into the game, the T-14. The Germans get to have the experience of watching shells bounce off their enemy, and can only take them out from short range, with soldiers on the ground. Soldiers who are not, well, protected inside of a tank. Not terribly conducive to winning battles.

3) By the time the Sixth gets to Stalingrad, they've been exhausted by a surprisingly tough fight along the Don River, and the Siberian shock troops that get wiped out in the northern burbs of the city. It also didn't help that Stalingrad really didn't have great military value, beyond being named for the country's dictator. There is, of course, much more the story and the documentary, but you get the gist. What is seen as simple is nothing but.

The documentary producers wrap it all up by noting that had the Russians failed to hold back the Germans at Stalingrad, the war might have ended very differently... and there is no denying the fact that no country did more to stop the Nazi menace than the Russians, or suffered more. Never in human history had a country given up more land and casualties without falling. But on some level, I can't imagine that the Russians were going to just collapse had they lost the South, given the uninterrupted output and fresh contribution to the effort that the Americans were soon to make, or that the regime was more or less built on theft and racial purity. It's not as if the Nazis were adding to their armies with each conquest; they were just spreading the best per capita fighting force in the world over a wider and wider area. Finally, it's note as if someone was about to take power away from Stalin even if his city fell. People generally miss that ol' Joe actually makes Hitler look like a piker when it comes to total body count, but I digress.

The big takeaway I got from all of this -- and the archival footage is kind of astounding, really -- is how when you dig into the details, history is rarely simple, and so much is missed when you don't get into the nuance. Both sides, independent of their pathologies, made howling errors: both sides treated their resources capriciously, and acted as if the public perception of their will and power was more important than any form of pragmatism. Lessons that ring true for all kinds of things, really.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Flyers Want You To Watch Paint Dry, Because On Some Days, This Snarky Sport Blog Writing Hobby Just Writes Itself

Oh What A Piece Of Work Is Flyer Fan
From the Stop Making My Hobby Too Easy file...

The Philadelphia Flyers (that's NHL, for those of you who do not watch hockey) are using social media to try to set a new Guinness record for the most people ever to watch paint dry at once.

No, seriously.

Monday at 11am, the region's jobless and lifeless will converge on the Wells Fargo Center to watch team personnel paint logos on ice.

(Side note: Guys? It's August Freaking 19th. Hockey doesn't start for another six weeks. I get that the Phillies are completely unwatchable and that the Eagles only work one day out of seven, and that the Sixers are taking 2013 off to the approval of the surviving 18 Sixers fans... but still. Know your role and wait your turn.)

Now, I get the appeal of Flash mobs, and surrealism, and intentionally goofy humor... but coming from a franchise that most NHL fans consider to be something along the lines of the Evil Empire (more along the lines of the bozos who couldn't keep a self-destruct button in an accessible area then the folks who can blow up planets), this is just, well, off brand.

But there's still a chance for Flyer Fan to make this all work out.

Which is to say, fill the arena to the rafters and set the record...

And then boo like your life depends on it for the entire time.

Perhaps with a chanting side order of (owner Ed) "Snider Sucks"...

The WWE Has A Gay Wrestler

Fred Has Issues
The fellow on the left is Darren Young. Well, that's not completely accurate; the fellow on the left is the pro wrestling character named Darren Young. Young's a heel, which is to say, the wrestler the crowd is supposed to hate, and as such, he's got to be egotistical, ill-tempered, contemptuous of the crowd, and if need be, deranged. Anything, really, to get over, because if the crowd isn't howling for his blood and wanting to see him get a comeuppance, he's at risk for being unemployed. It's a living. A strange living, but a living.

Now the guy who *plays* Young is, according to Wikipedia, a guy named Fred Rosser. (Good idea to change the name, Fred.) Rosser is 33, from Union, NJ (hey, a Jersey guy), a former college football player, and a legit 6'-1" and 239 pounds.

At which point, provided you are still reading this, you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and wondering why I know something about a middling pro wrestler.

Because, well, a couple of days ago, in an interview with TMZ that has been bubbling its way up through the sports blogs I check, Rosser revealed that he's, well, gay.

Which makes him the first guy to do this job, actively, to admit that in public. And makes for a pretty amazing litmus test for a publicly traded company (i.e., the WWE) whose audience is more and more staggering (20 million a week, according to recent numbers) in an era of time-shared audiences. Seriously, there's something like 8 to 10 times the number of people watching the fake fights than, say, "Breaking Bad." Let alone stuff like regional regular season baseball games.

For the record, the company and several of its performers have applauded the move, and none have chastised him for it. Which is, of course, giving the story more legs than the initial interview.

So, what happens now? The most likely course of action is that nothing much will change for Young / Rosser. He was Just A Guy before, he can be Just A Guy now; no reason at all to get into what's going on with his life outside of his job. Rosser is, of course, not the same guy as Young; there's no reason for the former to be the same as the latter.

But the thing about wrestling is that it's a crowd-driven deal, and many in the crowd want to conflate the actor with the role. If the audience decides to make Rosser's orientation an issue, or chant something regrettable in unison... the company isn't going to be able to just ignore it. Somewhat less likely but still possible, the crowd could mark out for the guy, and make his current character story line untenable. Having him turn "face" (hero) after this, or having others feud with him because they hate his orientation... well, it's playing with fire, but that's kind of what they do, really. And could get them a lot of free PR, as well as hatred from people who would seem, demographically, to be part of the paying audience.

One final point on this. Equality and tolerance and progress are not best measured by things like, say, when a wealthy state or area does something nice, or when the upper crust behave more humanly. Rather, it's when the second through fourth tier come around to do something decent, and flyover country and blue collar majorities choose something different.

Fred Rosser decided, either through professional opportunity, fatigue over hiding his true self, or just not wanting to lie an interview, to bet that his audience and his career would not be adversely impacted by admitting his orientation.

It's an interesting bet in 2013. And probably on the winning side of history, and not a story at all, say, in 2020.

You can call him courageous, or calculated, or contrived, or naive, for the decision.

But in the end, what really matters is what his employer, and if they allow it, his audience, thinks.

And no one really knows that right now.

Which just might make this the biggest story ever told, by a company that says it tells stories all the time, but didn't plan this one at all...

Editor's Note: In his first appearance post-news, Young got a win with his tag-team partner over a much infamous heel team, working as a de facto face and enjoying the strong cheers from an Anaheim crowd. No mention was made of  his interview, there were no chants about his orientation, and he had a pretty prime position at the end of the show in a scene with a lot of extras. All things considered, I call it Progress.

A Brief But Obvious Point About MLB Players Not Liking A-Rod

Ready, Aim, Fire
Story in the Gray Lady today about players not being too thrilled about having to pay union dues for the defense of the biggest active PED cheater...

Um, guys?

If you really feel that he shouldn't be in the game, well, you've got the ability to take him out. And that goes for his teammates, too. Especially in a game that's out of hand. Just don't come to his defense when the hit comes.

But that's not how it works, is it? Throwing at a guy, even a guy as reviled as Rodriguez, might lead to a suspension. Sliding hard into a base he's covering, or throwing at him while he's in the base paths, and more or less taking the law into your own hands... it could mean money out of your pocket.

And as for his teammates, there's this... Rodriguez is hitting .279 since his return, and getting on base at a .378 clip. A homer and a steal in 40 ABs, 4 Rs and 4 RBIs doesn't sound like a game changer... but have you seen the cavalcade of clowns the Yanks trotted out at third before the last two weeks?

So the fact that guys don't like him? Does not matter. The fact that everyone, even Rodriguez, knows he cheated (again)? Does not matter. The fact that he's basically doing what he's doing right now purely to make it difficult for the team to wiggle away from the remaining years of his contract, rather than an honest effort to make the team better, or get them into a playoff?


And on some level, given that no one in their right mind will hire Rodriguez for anything ever again after this final fiasco is finished...

And "taking him out" just means that you'll save the world of a handful of more days before the tent collapses...

Well, it couldn't go down any other way, really. And in the interim, it tells us more about the players complaining about Rodriguez. Since we all know everything there is to know about him by now...

Editor's Note: Um, well, so much for my predictive powers. Ryan Dempster becomes a treasured Red Sox for lining A-Rod up; less of one for giving up a home run to him in the next at-bat. Red Sox vs. Yankees remains opera for people who don't think that opera is melodramatic enough.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Top 12 reasons why the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel

Did Him Wrong
12) After all these years. just couldn't stand watching his terrible clock manage- ment any mo -- wait, sorry, wrong entrenched dude

11) Short of arson, a sex scandal or a killing spree, it's just about the only thing they can do to get noticed during the far more entertaining and meaningful Eagles preseason

10) Would have canned him a long time ago, but they got a free sammich when he reached 1,000 managerial wins

9) Needed to hurry up and give the job to Ryne Sandberg before the Cubs stole him in a historically awful trade

8) Disaster GM Ruben Amaro Jr. just wants to see what it's like to fire a man while he still can

7) Manuel somehow wasn't able to get a better performance out of the very worst bullpen in baseball, headed up by the least likable closer in baseball

6) Were keeping him around just long enough to convince Chase Utley to sign a deal that will help them stay old and locked into the fading memory of the best era in club history

5) By kicking Manuel to the curb, they are much less likely to convince Roy Halladay to stick around, and at this point, that's addition by subtraction

4) Given Cholly's age and issues with the language, didn't want to be on the hook if he were to suddenly request assistance, but have no one on staff who could understand him enough to provide it

3) Since the rest of the year should be spent evaluating minor league talent at the major league level, you might as well bring in the manager that saw those guys in the minors

2) If Sandberg can just find a way to win out the last 41 games, they can still make the playoffs, maybe

1) Know that, given the, um, regard that Amaro has in MLB circles, Manuel will be hired within a week by a contender

Friday, August 16, 2013

Five Things I've Learned From The Eagles' First Two Preseason Games

Go Palindrome Scrub Go!
5) Vinny Curry belongs in the league, and the lineup

One of the more maddening things about the end of The Reid Era was his steadfast refusal to find out about young guys in the second half of the journey to the floor of the NFL. Curry, a second-round pick with athletic promise, didn't see the field for the better part of forever, even as Jamar Cheney, Jason Babin, Akeem Jordan and a host of other bad ideas got snaps that just proved what we already knew; those guys needed to get gone.

This year, Curry is bigger, all over the field, and downright disruptive, on a defense with few things to smile about. I'm still not sure if he gets a ton of snaps, as he really doesn't have a role in a 3-4 lineup that fits his physicality to a T... but he's making plays and will be in the league for years to come. After last year, you couldn't say that.

4) The special teams coverage and return units will be better

I can't tell you how dispiriting this has been, because it spoke to just how nonathletic and small the back end of the roster was... which was a big problem once the injuries started. So far this year, we're seeing far better coverage and body language on those units, and the crispness is startling, especially for preseason. It's not going to be the kicker, Colt Anderson, and nine other guys not helping very much this year.

3) I'm already in love with this offense, simply because they snap it fast

For years and years, we'd watch the play clock tick down to the small numbers on play after play, even when the club was trying to score quickly. It also made the wasted timeout on offense such a routine first quarter occurrence that I made a pool bet out of it. Kelly's not having that, and as a result, the opposing defense is far less likely to come off the line like they are shot out of a cannon, since the ball was always getting snapped at one. Those delay of game flags are also going away, too. Yummy.

2) Cary Williams is going to be hated, because he got CB1 FA money, and isn't that good

Williams is just not good enough to be a #1 CB, especially in a division where he gets six games of Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon and (yikes) Dez Bryant. Tonight, Steve Smith joined the gravy train of guys who pick him apart, and this is going to be a routine thing. At least he seems to tackle fairly well after giving up first down catches. After last year's team, it's growth.

1) The Annual Mirage Guys Are Named Russell Shepard, Earl Wolff, Brad Wing and Greg Salas This Year

There's nothing better in preseason than starting dumbly at fourth quarter "action" and trying to talk yourself into anyone as more than practice squad fodder, since the idea that the entire exercise is pointless would get you to turn off the tee vee, and we're not having that. Especially when Shepard is making plays in special teams, Wolff looks like the first safety since Brian Dawkins who enjoys hitting people and might be good at it, Wing is an adorable Aussie punter and that's always fun, and Salas could make the team as a surviving WR that you kind of recognize because he's already been on a bunch of teams and had fleeting fantasy relevance.

Breath, folks. This happens every year. And none of these guys -- either here or on the other 31 NFL teams where the same four to six deep names are getting hyped now -- make an impact in the league right away, at least not without the buzzard luck of an injury or six in front of them on the depth chart. But by all means, keep watching!

This Just In: Michael Vick Is Winning The Eagles Starting QB Job

Together, They Form Voltron
This isn't going to make the people who have been longing for the end of the Mike Vick Era any happier in Philadelphia. Nor will it matter very much for the NFC playoff race, because as much fun as this Eagles team looks, they really aren't going to win more than 8 games in 2013, and that number might include exhibition games. But for the sheer and simple of what's going on between the lines, there really isn't any doubt. Vick is a better QB, at least right now, than Nick Foles.

And it's not so close as to make the team put a thumb on the scales and go with the younger and cheaper guy, either.

When the Chip Kelly offense is going well, and the new/old offensive line is pancaking people (a lot of that has been going on in preseason, which is downright encouraging, especially since Jason Peters has yet to make an appearance), it doesn't even seem to matter who is under center. After all, they are just the point guard; it's the RBs running through gaping holes, the WRs running after simple catches, and the TEs roasting mismatched defenders that look like the real stars. Assuming, of course, that you don't just want to hype the coach.

But the QB still has to get them all to the line with the pace that's making everyone look better than they are, and they have to make the throws. And while Foles has been doing that, he does it without, well, any margin for error... and as the first quarter pick in his part of the Panthers game tonight showed, his ability to avoid turnovers isn't exactly airtight, either. He's a big kid without much foot speed; if the rush gets to him, the play is over. Like, well, most QBs, but not like Vick.

There's also this, which probably doesn't matter that much, but should be said anyway... Vick played better than Foles last year. Not by a ton, but still. The team also had a better won/loss percentage with him, too. (I know, deck chairs on the Titanic, yes.)

So, let's assume what our eyes are telling us, and that Vick's winning the job from Foles. (Tonight's 9 for 10 effort from Vick was also pretty damned great; the 10th was a Hail Mary pick at the end of the half, and really shouldn't count.) Does he keep it? Well, betting on health from Vick is like betting on a flush draw; you might get paid, but you should be prepared to suffer, too. And the guy that's under center for the Eagles right now is still likely to hold on to the ball and try to do something big with it, with the likely consequences. But instead of having that happen a half dozen times a quarter, as it did under the old regime, it's more like six times a game... which means that his opportunities for injury have dropped as well. (Admittedly, I'm probably making the error of thinking the Patriot and Panther defense are league average, when they are probably below.)

Two exhibition games does not a war make, and it's telling that Kelly hasn't announced a victor yet. Once the live bullets start flying and the team starts needing to put up 30+ points to give itself a chance to win (and don't doubt that's coming -- this secondary won't be as historically clowned as last year's, but the confetti bucket will still be a weekly occurrence), I don't doubt that Vick's going to try too hard and force mistakes, and Kelly will likely have a quick hook.

But on a beautiful August evening that was tonight, Vick looked like anything but a 33-year-old guy with injury issues. Foles looked like, well, a young backup on his way to becoming an old backup, rather than someone who was going to break down the door and seize a job.

But Foles does have one thing going for him. He looks better, so far, than Matt Barkley, so the fan base isn't going to throw him over for the New Flavor just yet...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Five NFL Players That Won't Be On My Fantasy Team In 2013

Keep Walking, State Farm Boy
Here's the obvious caveat that we're obligated to say, because morons won't read it: these players aren't bad. And if the world changes a lot in the next 10 days, and their average draft position drops 4 to 5 rounds, I will swoop in with a quickness. But since they won't, let's have at it.

5) Aaron Rodgers

The best QB in the NFL. A common #1 pick in 6-point passing touchdown leagues. A man who is in the prime of his career, who is a mortal lock for 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns. Am I high to avoid him?

Not this time. Rodgers has been sacked more than any QB in the league in the past few years, and hasn't missed time; that's a condition that can't continue. He's got real running backs now in Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin, which means his third-down short touchdown passes and scrambles are going to go down. His offensive line is already battered, and there is a very real possibility that his WR corps is going to take a downturn this year, with Jordy Nelson already sidelined and Greg Jennings in Minnesota. Add it all up, and I'm seeing a lot more risk than you should ever have for the consensus #1 at his position...

And, oh, by the way? QB is *crazy* loaded this year. Yahoo ranks them as Rodgers, Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson... which means that Matthew Stafford, the guy throwing to Calvin Freaking Johnson is a low tier QB1, and so is Tony Romo, Andrew Luck and even Eli Manning. (Note: I do not love Eli Manning, but he might have the best WRs in the NFC if they stay healthy.) Paying a lot for QB this year is something that someone else is going to do. Not me.

4) Arian Foster

Every year, there's a guy like this -- an absolute blue chip stud of a back, a guy with a ton of production in the past few years, a player who seems borderline unassailable... and he takes it easy in pre-season. What's there left to prove, after all? Save him for the regular season. Ignore the bumps and bruises at the start of the year, when everyone else is, well, pretty healthy. He's played 45 of the last 48 games! Over 1,000 carries and 150 catches! 47 TDs in the past three years!

Folks, there's a reason why fantasy football leagues are popular; it's because they are nearly as random as NCAA fantasy basketball pools. And that randomness is most clearly shown when the blue-chip RB that never gets hurt... gets hurt. Or just isn't the complete work horse any more (Ben Tate, as always, is lurking), or he takes most of the final month off because his team is coasting to the close. Take a look around the AFC South: Jacksonville, Tennessee, and an Indianapolis team that's screaming out regression to the mean. There's every chance that the Texans won't play a meaningful game past Thanksgiving this year, which makes your first round pick of Foster... well, not mine. This way lies disappointment.

3) Brandon Marshall

1,400 yards and 12 TDs just seems like you can write it down and go about your business, having closed up shop on WR1, right? Not so fast. Last year, Marshall got there on volume volume volume as the only credible WR on the roster (seriously, they were still trying to convince us all that Devin Hester was on the rise). This year, new head coach Marc Trestman has other ideas, and he's also got new offensive line players that actually belong in the NFL. Combine that with a contract year for QB Jay Cutler, who will see his path to Gaining The Wealth as Spreading The Wealth, and I'm seeing a whole lot fewer footballs thrown to Marshall Marshall Marshall.

Make no bones about it: Cutler is going to want to get paid, and the best chance that he's got to make that happen is to play nice and distribute all over the place (which will make his coach look like a genius), rather than just dump it to his big security blanket before eating turf, which was 2012's business method. Earl Bennett is healthy, and Alshon Jeffery is turning heads in training camp. Martellus Bennett is going to see targets at TE, which really wasn't that big of an issue for the Bears last year. Hell, I even like Matt Forte's chances for breaking the plane a dozen times this year; this offensive line actually has some hope now. Oh, and there's also this: despite his size and skills, Marshall has never been effective in the red zone: 45 total TDs on 612 catches, with a career high last year of 11. Put it all together, and it's really easy to see Marshall looking more like a ho-hum WR 2 (1,000 yards, 6 TDs)... which isn't where he's going. Also, keep in mind that Brandon does not exactly suffer a lack of passes in silence. This could get ugly, which is not where you want your first WR drafted to be.

2) C.J. Spiller

The explosiveness! The six yards per carry average in 2012! The extra 500 yards as a receiver! The knowledge that new head coach Doug Marrone isn't beholden to leaden RB option Fred Jackson, and that he's already talking up CJ's chances of a 2,000 yard season. Why, you'd have to be crazy to not love this guy!

Well, call me crazy. Or perhaps bitter for drafting Spiller as a rookie, where he became the living embodiment of all of my disappointments. Or, well, highly suspicious of the cheap Bills for wanting the soon to be free agent Spiller to have a monster year to cash in... or wondering just why every defense that faces the Bills this year won't sell out like mad to stop Spiller, rather than working too hard to make life difficult for E.J. Manuel or (ulp) Kevin Kolb...

I'm not loving life here. There's also this: Spiller has played 46 NFL games in 3 years as a 5'-11", 200-pound running back. Despite a 5.4 career yards per carry average, he's only gotten to double-digits in carries 16 times. He's also only crossed the plane 10 times on the ground, and 5 times as a receiver. So your #1 RB here isn't just an undersized guy with an injury history on a team that's either going to play a retread QB on his third team in four years, or a super-raw rookie... you also get a guy that's no real threat to get the goal line carries.

I get that Spiller has highlights, and talent to spare. I get that his division looks like cake, and that when he's right, he's a threat to go for 200 all-purpose yards and make you squee with joy. But there's a ton of risk here for the ADP, and the fact that some systems have him going at RB5 (ahead of, ahem, Shady McCoy, Trent Richardson, Forte, Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch)...  Well, I like my RB1 to be a guy that's going to touch it 25 times a game, and who will be the first option down low, and who isn't going to leave me high and dry for about a quarter of the season as his team tries to disguise some injury.  Leave him to someone else who is ready to buy into the eternally pending Bills Renaissance.

1) Vernon Davis

Every year, someone remembers the last time they saw Davis -- in a playoff game that doesn't help anyone in fantasy -- looking utterly dominant. The next move is to project his skills into a true TE1 role, where his physical ability just seems to demand a breakout, and rub your hands together over what a value you got.

Well, the reality of Vernon is that the yards and TDs have gone done every year he's been in the league, all the way to last year's 548 yards and 5 TDs, which is to say, a guy that should be freely available in the free agent pool. Those numbers went deep in the toilet when Kaepernick took over, because for some reason a QB sprinting through open spaces for touchdowns seemed better to the Niner brain trust than trying to force feed a whiny head case.

The biggest problem with VD is that, like many of the players on this list, he's better in reality than in fantasy. Since he can run block, the Niners actually have him do that. Not good for the fantasy player. Since he's got the ability to stretch a defense deep, the Niners use him to do just that, then take the underneath routes to move the chains. And since he's had years of mostly keeping quiet on low targets, most weeks, he gets low targets. I have no doubt that he's one of the five best real TEs in the NFL... but this isn't about reality, it's about numbers. I'd rather have any number of other, cheaper options here (an Antonio Gates last hurrah year on a Charger team that will be behind constantly, and can't keep their WRs upright? Dustin Keller with a semblance of an NFL QB in Miami, and no real competition for balls? Bennett in Chicago, Brandon Petitgrew in Detroit for a team that throws it 50+ times a game, maybe even sneaky Rob Housler in Arizona for the corpse of Carson Palmer to play short ball with...

Well, all of them sound like more fun to have than VD. And at a lot better price, too.

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