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The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

April 24, 2008 under Cheap Seats

Jerry Seinfeld made his fortune with a show that was, admittedly, about nothing. Apparently taking their cue from Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine, the NFL and ESPN combine forces this weekend to bring us the annual cattle call known as the NFL Draft. Eight hours of coverage, five analysts, hundreds of video profiles, the biggest hairdo on television and an auditorium full of self proclaimed diehard fans booing and cheering players that most of them have never seen perform.  In the spirit of The Emperor’s New Clothes, they respond to selections as if they were puppets of the network.  If draft expert Mel Kiper says that their team should have taken another player they boo, even if they’ve never heard of either.  Then, they wrap it all up with my favorite part; The Scorecard.  Despite the fact that none of these players have ever pulled on an NFL jersey, the teams are graded on how successful they were during the whole process.  Sort of like figuring out which cake is the best in the bakery by looking at the boxes.

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Even though the draft coverage is tediously long, it is informative enough to give those fans that don’t follow the college game an idea of the types of players coming to their teams.  A far cry from the way the draft used to be run with fans lined up on the street outside a midtown hotel hoping to get one of the available seats.  Many, like my buddies and me who cut class to be there, were turned away.  And give Mel Kiper some of the credit he deserves.  He took a hobby and turned it into a million dollar job.  The only thing missing from the marathon coverage is a Kiper scorecard.  He gets to stand on a soapbox all day and criticize GM’s and entire scouting departments without fear of his own miscues being revealed to the viewers.  Every once in awhile give us a glimpse at how Mel’s past picks worked out.

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With the sixth selection, the Jets are said to be considering RB Darren McFadden from Arkansas.  An electric playmaker to be sure but didn’t they just throw a boatload of money at RB Thomas Jones last year?  Then, in the off-season, they managed to address weaknesses on both the offensive and defensive lines. How about giving Jones a chance to run behind these high priced linemen and using the pick to establish the best young secondary in the league?  Last time I Iooked, the Jets were still in the same division as Tom Brady and Randy Moss.  They unearthed a hidden gem three years ago when they drafted ball hawking safety Kerry Rhodes and made a great pick last year, moving up to grab cornerback Darrelle Revis who enjoyed a sensational rookie year.  Wouldn’t another shutdown cornerback on the other side make the defensive line more effective and allow Holmes the freedom to play centerfield in the deep secondary?  Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini; you know where to reach me.

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Like father, like son?  Now we find out that, according to Yankees’ co- owner, Hank Streinbrenner, he never signed off on Joba Chamberlain’s move to the bullpen.  “I want him as a starter and so does everyone else, including him and that is what we are working toward and we need him there now,” Steinbrenner told the New York Times. “There is no question about it, you don’t have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a setup guy. You just don’t do that. You have to be an idiot to do that.”  Funny how quickly Brian Cashman, who has been the General Manager through four World Series titles and thirteen straight post-season appearances, became an idiot.  You’d think that after watching Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy get knocked around early in the season Steinbrenner would understand the practicality of protecting young arms.  I guess not.  Do you think that Hank has already reminded Cashman that the GM was the one who staunchly opposed a trade for Johan Santana?
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Last Saturday, Mets vs. Phillies.  Bottom of the 8th inning, Mets up 4-2 and facing a bases loaded jam with one out.  FOX broadcaster, Tim McCarver, made what has become the unquestioned MLB logic, observing that the Mets’ Aaron Heilman would have to wriggle out of the sticky situation himself, as it was too early to go to closer Billy Wagner.  Huh?  How did it ever become logical to have anyone other than the best pitcher available handling a game’s most critical situation?  A quick glance at the record books shows that from 1978 through 1984, Hall of Fame reliever, Goose Gossage, averaged over 100 IP per season and had at least 10 wins four times.  Gossage was no stranger to multiple inning appearances and was often brought into tie games, something managers never do with their closers today.  Mariano Rivera, regarded in many circles as the best reliever ever, has never had more than 80 IP or 7 wins since becoming the Yankee stopper.  It seems that since Tony LaRussa had success with this system in Oakland twenty years ago, managers are more concerned with having their instincts challenged than the consequences of simply following the herd.
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Is there any single position in all of sports that is more important than a hot goalie in the NHL playoffs?  Every year, no matter how the teams are seeded, upsets are the norm, generally because the weaker team’s goaltender goes on an insane streak where he stops everything sent his way.  The Rangers, Avalanche and Stars have already knocked off higher seeds while three other series were going to a Game 7 as we went to press.  Which begs the question; if one player can make such a difference in the way teams match up with each other, why does the regular season have to be so long?  At any rate, while it hasn’t been quite as long between cups as the last two, Ranger fans are well aware that 1994 was a long time ago.  Here’s hoping the Broadway Blues keep the Garden hopping well into May.

The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

April 17, 2008 under Cheap Seats

Welcome back to New York, Joe Girardi.  If the Yankees’ new manager had somehow forgotten how closely each of his decisions would be scrutinized, he got a very sharp reminder last weekend when the Bombers invaded Fenway for the first time this season.  Girardi’s decision to pitch to Manny Ramirez with two outs and first base open during Saturday’s loss to the Beantowners turned out to be disastrous.  Manny drilled Mike Mussina’s first offering into the gap in right center for a two run double from which the New Yorkers never recovered.  Most fans were left scratching their heads when the skipper consulted his pitcher as to whether he wanted to face a career long Yankee killer like Ramirez instead of Kevin Youkilis, who has posted decent career numbers against Mussina but nothing close to the damage done by the future Hall of Famer.  While the results of the cumulative decision possibly cost them the game, the fact of the matter is that it was only game 11 of 162 and unlikely to have long lasting effects on the developing pennant race.  Lost in the rush to condemn, however, is the likely scenario that Girardi saw an opportunity to tell his new charges that he believes in them and took it.  Let’s face it.  This is a longtime Major League player renowned for his baseball intelligence who was named National League Manager of the Year just two seasons ago.   To think he suddenly had no idea that pitching to Ramirez was not the thing to do is silly.

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Girardi actually has much bigger problems on his hands than being second guessed by the New York media.  In a game in Kansas City that was likely to be delayed by rain last week, he pulled young starter, Ian Kennedy, deciding instead to use members of his bullpen to navigate the nine innings and spare Kennedy’s arm from the multiple warmup sessions that usually accompany bad weather games.  A prudent move but part of a larger issue.  With a full season consisting at least 1,450 innings, Girardi will be severely hindered by the organization’s decision to limit the pitch counts of Kennedy, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.  Someone is going to have to account for their share of the workload.  If the Yankees continue to pull back on the reins of these young hurlers, the new skipper will be going to battle with an extremely overworked bullpen come September.

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So, the winds started blowing on Sunday at Augusta and managed to squash the Masters hopes of all but South African, Trevor Immelman, who carded a final round 75 on his way to his first major title.  It’s always interesting to watch the faint of heart struggle on Sunday, no matter how well they played in the first three rounds.  Immelman, buoyed by the encouragement of his idol and fellow countryman, Gary Player, was able to ride the momentum of an early eagle and take advantage of a six shot lead to eventually win by three.  Perennial favorite, Tiger Woods, scrambling all day, managed to post an even par 72 and finish second.  In one of sports’ most curious oddities, Woods, despite having won thirteen majors, has never come from behind to win any of them.  There is no question about Tiger’s ability to come roaring back in the final round of a tournament, as he has done so many times in his career. Inexplicably, however, never in one of the four majors.

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For some unknown reason, I found myself at Madison Square Garden last week for an uninspiring matchup between the Atlanta Hawks and the hometown Knicks.  As if the process of the two teams trying to decide which one cared the least wasn’t bad enough, a second quarter odyssey to the concession stand served as the low point of the evening.  After waiting twenty minutes on a line that consisted of only six customers, I missed ten minutes of the period.  Finally, having redeemed my pre-paid  food voucher and juggling peanuts and popcorn, I managed to sneak a ten dollar bill into the fingers of one free hand in order to purchase a beer from one of the vendors.  Imagine my surprise, standing there looking every one of my forty six years, when he ask me for ID to verify my age.  Have to hand it to the Knicks for providing such a fan friendly environment both on and off the court.

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As the Mets continue what has become a three year search for a fifth starter, it is somewhat unsettling to watch former Met, Brian Bannister, follow up his strong ’07 season in Kansas City with a 3-0 start in ’08.  Making matters worse is the fact that the pitcher he was traded for, Ambiorix Burgos, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, having yet to make any significant contributions to the cause.  Here’s hoping that Brooklyn born Nelson Figueroa follows up the gem he threw at the Brewers last week with a few more strong outings.

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That didn’t take long.  Johan Santana, the game’s best pitcher, needed only three starts to become the target of some Shea boo birds.  Seems the two home runs he surrendered to Milwaukee didn’t sit well with a few of the faithful even though they came in the middle of Johan’s third straight quality start.  Ease up, folks.  Santana led the majors in homers allowed last year and still won 15.  Always a slow starter, he has the best second half record in baseball over the last five years.  Now, if only we could be sure that the Mets will stay healthy enough for the second half to matter.

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Finally, hats off and good luck to the New York Rangers as they try and remind us how much fun the Garden can be in the springtime.

The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

April 10, 2008 under Cheap Seats

In 1979, just ten years after they had captivated the Big Apple as the Amazin’ Mets, New York’s National League franchise had sunk to the lowest point in its history.  Not only did they steadfastly refuse to participate in baseball’s new free agent market, they stood by as the crosstown rival Yankees embraced the new system on their way to two World Series titles.  The denizens of Shea became so miserly that they traded the face of the franchise, Tom Seaver, and had co-owner, Bebe DeRoulet inquire in a board meeting as to whether the organization could save money by using old baseballs.
Finally, to the relief of the Met faithful, the team was sold and the new owners coaxed Frank Cashen out of the Commissioner’s office; assigning him the task of reviving the Amazins.  He soon drafted Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, traded for Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter and turned the reins over to manager Davey Johnson.  Six years later, they were, once again, World Champions.

Around the same time, the Giants had plummeted to depths so low that one of their fans hired a plane to fly over the stadium during a home game trailing a banner that read,” 15 years of lousy football…We’ve had enough!”
The entire losing era was symbolized by a single play that came to be known as “The Fumble.”  Quarterback, Joe Pisarcik, botched a handoff to Larry Csonka when a simple kneel- down was all that was necessary to end the game.  The Eagles scooped up the ball and scored the game winning touchdown, sealing the fate of head coach, John McVay.  That off-season, on the recommendation of NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, the Jints persuaded longtime Colts’ GM, George Young, out of semi retirement and charged him with saving the franchise.  Young started the reclamation project by hiring Coach Ray Perkins, who led the team to the playoffs in 1981.  He selected quarterback Phil Simms in his first draft and then turned his attention to the defense, using his first pick in 1981 to grab Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.  When Perkins left for the University of Alabama, Young turned the club over to Bill Parcells, who guided the Giants to Super Bowl titles in 1986 and 1990.

Now, all of these years later, we find the Knicks in the same predicament as the Mets and Giants.  Mismanaged for years and disgraced by scandal, they have become the laughingstock of the league; suffering through a period of ineptitude that can be traced all the way back to the decision to trade Patrick Ewing rather than let his contract expire.  They have been struggling unsuccessfully to establish some kind of salary cap relief ever since.

For the past four seasons, owner Jim Dolan, for reasons known only to him, has staunchly supported Isiah Thomas through a litany of horrendous trades, ridiculous contracts and a sexual harassment lawsuit that cost Dolan $11 million.  Last week, Dolan finally gave long suffering fans a glimmer of hope by installing former Pacer GM, Donnie Walsh, as President of the organization.  One of the most respected men in the game and cut from the same cloth as Cashen and Young, it will be up to Walsh to resurrect the NBA’s most visible franchise.  With no choice but to spend the next few seasons allowing bad contracts to expire, his first move should be jettisoning Thomas.  It is that decision, however, about which Knick fans should keep their collective fingers crossed.  While it is seemingly unthinkable that Thomas would be allowed to continue as coach after such a dreadful performance, it is equally difficult to imagine that Dolan, after standing by Thomas in the face of enormous public outcry for his firing, has suddenly become disloyal to Isiah.  Add in the fact that Walsh did hire Thomas as his Head Coach in Indiana and one can see where the possibility exists that Dolan hired Walsh simply because he was the only potential executive who would agree to take the job and keep Thomas on the sideline.  Stay tuned.

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One aspect of the NCAA basketball tournament that has become an annual fascination is the amount of responsibility handed to freshmen and how routine it has become for them to lead their teams through the post season.  It is hard to imagine that UCLA could have won its region without Kevin Love, while Derrick Rose was simply the best player in the country during March Madness ’08.  Either could be tabbed by Donnie Walsh in the June draft to lead the Knicks back to respectability.

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Joba Chamberlain’s performance over the first ten days of the baseball season should terminate any discussion of making him a starter.  Not only is his 98 MPH fastball almost impossible to hit late in the game, he also protects the aging Mariano Rivera from having to make two inning save appearances.  Why mess with success?
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The theme in Mets camp this spring seemed to be a focus on the fundamentals that were forgotten during last September’s collapse.  So, it was surprising to see Luis Castillo cost the Mets a run in the first inning of the opener by not running hard on a two out popup that dropped for a hit.  Four days later, Ryan Church cost them another run by failing to tag up from third on a liner to left.  Veterans or not, Willie Randolph needs to drop the hammer on these guys before it’s too late.

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Can someone explain why, time after time after time, basketball coaches whose teams are up by three points at the end of a game allow the opposing team the chance to tie with a three point shot rather than instructing their players to foul and give them the enemy just two foul shots instead?  Many coaches will explain that by fouling, you bring the possibility of a loss into the equation.  If the opponent should hit the first shot, miss the second, get the rebound and hit a three pointer, it’s over.  Sane people counter with the simple mathematical observation that it is more prudent to force a team to accomplish those four things rather than the one thing needed in knocking down a trey.  In the latest occurrence of this silliness, Memphis coach, John Calipari, gift wrapped a National Championship for Kansas.  Maybe such a high profile blunder will change the way these guys think in the future.

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The View from the Cheap Seats by Eddie Mayrose

April 3, 2008 under Cheap Seats

Here we are, right in the middle of the greatest sports week of the year.  Major League Baseball opened on Monday; the Masters starts today and the Final Four tips off Saturday.  Three huge events crammed into seven days.  May all of you who are faced with the usual, time consuming Spring projects around the house find suitable excuses to neglect them for just a little while longer as you plop down on the couch to enjoy the weekend.
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Johan Santana certainly came out of the box looking like he’s worth every cent the Mets gave him.  Now, if he can just dominate the Braves and Phillies the way he blew away the Marlins, Willie Randolph may be able to enjoy September, 2008 a little more than last year’s version.

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Thank you, Davidson, for reminding us why we bother to watch these games in the first place.  As if it wasn’t enough that we were captivated by your David vs. Goliath routine, you fashion one of the best sports stories in recent memory by loading  your students onto buses, putting them up in hotel rooms, handing them tickets to the Regional finals and picking up the tab.  Well done.

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Can’t believe that all of the veteran free agents that just signed with the Jets did so with the understanding that the team will be developing a young quarterback.  With the draft just a month away and Kellen Clemens still a huge question mark, could we be looking at the return of Chad Pennington?  If there’s some kind of plan here, GM Mike Tannenbaum and Coach Eric Mangini are doing a good job of keeping it to themselves.

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Speaking of quarterbacks, is it safe to assume that Giants fans feel a little more secure about their signal caller than they did going into last year’s draft?

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Couldn’t help but notice that, since acquiring Jason Kidd, the Mavericks are 0-10 vs. teams with winning records and have fallen into a tie for the last playoff spot in the NBA’s Western conference.  While it’s true that Dirk Nowitzki has been injured for a few of those losses, wouldn’t it be ironic if the Mavs miss the playoffs and the Nets manage to sneak in under the wire in the East?  That should be enough to give Kidd one of his infamous migraine headaches.

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The local High School baseball season got underway last week with all players prohibited from using metal bats.  It’s an idea that is extremely well intended but, has fallen way short of its most important target.  I have a very hard time trying to recall hearing an account of a pitcher on the Prep level suffering an injury due to a hot shot off a metal bat.  On the other hand, I can’t remember the last Little League season in which I failed to read multiple stories of players injured under the same circumstances.  These youngsters stand on a mound just 46 feet from batters who are twelve and, in some cases, thirteen and are swinging bats that are 32 inches long but as light as 21 ounces.  The bat speed generated combined with the short distance creates an extremely hazardous situation.  To ban the metal bats in High School and not on the Youth level is equivalent to treating a broken leg with an aspirin.

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Knicks’ coach, Isiah Thomas, announced this week that he is not a candidate for the vacant head coaching spot at his alma mater, Indiana University.  In an apparently unrelated story, comedian, George Carlin, announced that he is not being considered for the lead role in an upcoming revival of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

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I wonder how many times during this weekend we’ll hear talking heads like Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps refer to Memphis coach John Calipari’s second trip to the Final Four when this is actually his first.  In 1996, Calipari’s UMass Minutemen made their lone appearance in the championship round, only to have all records of their participation nullified after it was discovered that junior center, Marcus Camby, had taken $28,000 from two agents.  A year later there was no longer a banner hanging in the UMass arena and no sign of Calipari, who followed the time honored tradition of taking another job when the NCAA starts asking questions.

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Last weekend, XM Radio, offered a special channel called, Play Ball, which served up everything from classic radio broadcasts and interviews to comedy routines and music, all devoted to the national pastime.  While I enjoyed standards like John Fogerty’s Centerfield and Terry Cashman’s Willie, Mickey and the Duke, I was stunned to find out that Bob Dylan had recorded a song entitled, Catfish, a tribute to the great Jim “Catfish” Hunter.  Another treat was to hear Bob Murphy’s call of the 1969 Mets division clincher vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.  I was struck by the fact that during the entire ninth inning, Murphy never once mentioned the pitch count of Mets hurler, Gary Gentry, a rookie who was allowed to stay in the 6-0 game until the ninth as he worked on the complete game.  Don’t see much of that anymore.

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Make sure that Don’t Call Me Coach, an autobiography by St. Joseph’s University Men’s Basketball coach Phil Martelli, finds its way onto your list of books to read.  It’s a wonderfully candid account of how Martelli’s career path took him to the only job he ever wanted and everything he learned about himself along the way.  It’s a refreshing departure from the usual tomes by coaches who think they invented the game.  A must read for all aspiring young coaches, especially on the High School level.


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