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The View from the Cheap Seats

August 28, 2009 under Cheap Seats

By Eddie Mayrose


Major League MVP?

That Derek Jeter is enjoying perhaps the finest season of his Hall of Fame career comes as no surprise to those who cheap_seats_3_owumbelieved he should have always been the Yankees’ leadoff man.  Why it took so long to insert him into the top spot remains a mystery, especially since he was always the choice to bat first in most of the post season games played during the dynasty of the late 90’s.  Regardless, he’s there now and is one of the main reasons the Bombers seem poised for another World Series run.  What Jeter is not, however, is a serious candidate for the American League MVP award, as Minnesota’s Joe Mauer should be the unanimous choice.

Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen deserving, small-market candidates like Justin Morneau and Matt Holliday robbed of the award as voters focused on the more highly publicized exploits of Dustin Pedroia and Jimmy Rollins.  To shun Mauer, though, would be a monumental oversight, as his incredible performance at the plate may be second only to the job he’s done behind it.  Never has a catcher so prodigiously combined such excellent defense with as lofty a batting average.  That he’s also on pace for 30 HR and 100 RBI despite missing a month to injury only adds to the resume.

So, celebrate Jeter’s season as one of his best and settle in for a long playoff run.  Just don’t go overboard when Awards Season rolls around.

A New Yankees Closer?

Is Joe Torre a Cheap Seats reader?  Maybe not, but he was my hero for a day last week when he used his closer (and best available pitcher) Jonathan Broxton to face the middle of the Cubs’ batting order in the 8th inning.  George Sherrill finished the game by facing the bottom of Chicago’s lineup in the ninth.  Finally, a manager chose not to drink the Tony LaRussa kool-aid.

After the game, Torre faced questions about whether Broxton would be upset that he wasn’t credited with a save.  A sticky point, actually, as saves are the basis for a closer’s salary level.  “We’re not as concerned about who gets the stat, as the only stat that’s important is that ‘W’ on the left-hand side”, said Torre.  “If somebody gets offended by pitching to the 3-4-5 hitters in the eighth inning, they’re not the person I think they are.”

Regular readers are well aware of where I stand on how closers are used.  I do acknowledge, however, that, as long as the current statistical situation exists, bullpen stoppers will insist on being in position to get the save.  So, how about a rule change that puts the onus on the official scorer to assign the save?  After all, in facing the meat of the order, hadn’t Broxton done more to preserve the lead than Sherrill?  A similar rule already exists to cover situations where a starter does not go the mandatory five innings for a win.  In such cases, the win is assigned by the scorer to the reliever determined to be the most deserving; not necesarily the first man out of the pen.  Well, maybe that’s too much to ask in one column.  I’ll have to be satisfied with a little progress and hope for more.

NY Jets’ Worst Kept Secret

Jets’ Head Coach Rex Ryan revealed the worst kept secret in New York when he named Mark Sanchez his starting quarterback this week.  Considering all the Jets gave up to acquire Sanchez; two picks, three players and $50 million, there was no way Ryan could hand the car keys to Kellen Clemens.

Sanchez has a world of talent and all of the tools to become a star in the NFL.  It just won’t happen overnight.  So, with the Jets likely facing, at best, a 1-3 start to their season, here’s hoping Jets’ brass and fans have the patience to allow the rookie all the mistakes necessary to learn the league and achieve that lofty status.

Mets and the ER

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the emergency room, Oliver Perez and Johan Santana become the latest members of the Mets’ casualty list.  If you’re scoring at home, that’s four starting pitchers, one reliever and the number one, four and five hitters down for the season.  In addition, every opening day starter has had at least one stint on the disabled list.  So, how, exactly, can manager Jerry Manuel be held responsible for a lost season?   Love him or hate him, you can’t decide on him till next year.

Michael Vick

….appeared in a Newport News, Va. courtroom yesterday morning to address the details of his Chapter 11 filing and then returned to Philadelphia in time for the Eagles’ exhibition game last night.  In doing so, he might be the first person transported to and from his own bankruptcy hearing on a private jet.

Little League World Series Coverage

As I do every August, I’ve enjoyed the Little League World Series from Williamsport, Pa.; this year’s version, especially, as it featured the Mid-Atlantic champs from Staten Island.  And, as I also do each year, I’ve resisted the urge to throw a shoe at my television every time ESPN/ABC commentator Orel Hershiser tries to minimize the commitment, skill and aptitude of these accomplished Little Leaguers.

Hershiser would have us believe that the actual playing of the tournament games is almost an inconvenience to these kids; that the swimming pool, food and video games offered to the players in their living quarters, (“the Grove” as Orel endlessly reminds us), are the main reasons they’ve come to Williamsport.  Pitcher gives up a home run?  “He’ll forget about it in a minute once he starts playing video games back at the Grove”.  Second baseman makes a crucial error?  “He’ll be fine once he has some pizza and gets in the pool.”

Now, I have five children of my own and have coached a few hundred others so no one need educate me on the qualities of resilience possessed by a child.  However, to promote the idea that these players don’t really care all that much about their own performance is to disrespect the hours of practice and sacrifice they’ve endured to get to this level.  As a matter of fact, Hershiser’s very presence contradicts his own theory.  His employer pays big bucks for the exclusive rights to broadcast the event.  Would that be the case if, as Hershiser asserts, the outcome didn’t really matter to its participants?

When I was sixteen, I relieved our ace pitcher in the eighth inning of a championship game that would eventually go eleven.  In the top of the eleventh, the opposing catcher, big kid named Perez, took me deep on the longest ball I’d ever seen hit, costing us the title.  Today, thirty one years later, I just wrote that sentence with clenched teeth.  I rebounded, enjoyed the rest of my summer and came back the next season but never got to a point where I wasn’t upset when I thought about it.  I just thought about it less as time went on.   However, it still bothers me now because it mattered so much then.  Just as it matters so much to these Little Leaguers and, I suspect, just as it mattered to Hershiser when he was young.

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2009 SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PREVIEW

August 28, 2009 under College Football, Uncategorized

Think they take their football seriously in the SEC?  Most of this season’s Media Day was spent trying to determinesec-mini-pennant-set which coach didn’t vote Tim Tebow as the conference’s best quarterback.  Now, he was still the consensus pick as the league’s best, just not the unanimous one so, the investigation was launched.  Turns out it was South Carolina head man, Steve Spurrier, who pled ignorance to the fact that an aide had voted for someone other than Tebow.  Such is life in the SEC.

Heading into 2009, it’s hard to imagine Florida not repeating as National Champions, let alone Conference Champions.  However, two other coaches who have won national titles, Nick Saban of Alabama and Les Miles of LSU, may have something to say about Urban Meyer’s quest for a third ring. 

Can Houston Nutt build on last year’s momentum and guide Ole’ Miss past Florida?  Is Lane Kiffin all talk at Tennessee?  Check out our 2009 SEC Football Preview.

 

CALIPARI BEATS THE RAP AGAIN

August 27, 2009 under College Basketball, Uncategorized

In light of the NCAA’s decision to vacate the thirty eight wins amassed by the calipariUniversity of Memphis men’s basketball team in the 2007-2008 season due to compliance violations, the question of how to hold coaches accountable for their actions once again comes to the fore.  This was the second time around for head coach John Calipari, whose other appearance in the Final Four with the University of Massachusetts was also vacated because of his tendency to ignore the rules of the NCAA.  Sadly, in both cases, Calipari was able to skip town for a big payday while the schools and players were left to deal with the consequences.

Back at UMass in 1996, after a meteoric rise to national prominence guided by Calipari, Minuteman star Marcus Camby was found to have been given $28,000, jewelry and prostitutes by boosters.  Before the NCAA’s investigation was completed, however, the coach had skipped town for the riches of the NBA.  This time, in Memphis, it was falsified SAT scores that brought the program down, as it was found that someone other than Derrick Rose had sat for Rose’s test.  There was also a small matter of unpaid travel expenses on the team’s charter plane for Rose’s brother.  But, once again, Calipari was gone before the sheriff could lock him up; this time to Kentucky.

It seems like an easy fix for the governing body of collegiate athletics but, all too often, easy is a synonym for impossible in the world of college sports. How difficult is it to impose the same penalty on the offending coach as the one handed down to the school?  Can’t see Kentucky throwing $40 million at Calipari knowing it won’t be making a tournament appearance for two years.  Nor would Memphis have hired him eight years ago if the UMass probation had still been hanging around his neck. Remove that golden parachute and watch how fast compliance becomes the focus of the program.

And what of the players that committed to the coach? While the NCAA professes to operate in the best interests of the student-athlete, it turns its back on the shenanigans of coaches whose actions have such a negative impact on the very athletes for which they are responsible.  In Memphis’ case, the players who were lied to by Calipari must now continue on with a new coach and no chance to participate in the post season or transfer and sit out a year.  Why not allow players to change schools and play immediately when they’ve been victimized by a coach’s misdeeds?

A decade ago, George O’Leary was hired as the head football coach at Notre Dame, only to be released a few days later when discrepancies were found on his resume.  I’m wondering if Calipari will suffer the same fate at Kentucky.  After all, he’s been hired as a coach that’s taken two teams to the Final Four while a quick look at the NCAA record books now indicates no such thing.

The View from the Cheap Seats

August 20, 2009 under Cheap Seats, Uncategorized

I won’t go so far as to say Brett Favre lied to the Jets about his plans for retirement.  Not because I think Favre had a cheap_seats_3_legitimate change of heart or that no one in his right mind would turn down twelve million dollars.  I just don’t care.

Through all of the gnashing of teeth by indignant members of the media inexplicably insulted by the quarterback’s decision and fans with jilted feelings over his flip flopping, one point seems to be lost:  Favre is done.

Didn’t anyone else notice that the aging QB was the biggest contributor to the Jets’ late season collapse?  His performance over the last four games was abysmal, as was his failure to beat a number of the weak sisters on the Jets’ schedule.  Despite less than stellar seasons, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver all handled the Jets in a season where just one more win could’ve meant a playoff berth.

P.T. Barnum famously stated that there’s a sucker born every minute.  Seems like this minute’s sucker is Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf, who’ll soon find out that the increased ticket sales and apparel revenue will contribute nothing to Minnesota’s playoff effort.  The same will likely be true of Favre.

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The pitch count police had a great week.  Last Wednesday, Staten Island Yankees hurler Sean Black held the Auburn Doubledays hitless through six innings.  However, he was lifted after the sixth because he was over his allotted pitch total.  This on the heels of a report that the New York City Council is considering imposing a pitch limit in the city’s high school leagues.  Yes, the same uninformed City Council that removed metal bats from high school but ignored the infinitely more dangerous situation created by the same bats in Little League.

Dennis Canale, head baseball coach at Xaverian High School, a perennial city power, had his own views on the idea.  “First of all, we’ve always used a pitch count here.  I keep my Varsity guys to around 95 pitches.  Freshman and JV get 90 pitches a week but won’t appear a second time if they go more than 50 in their first appearance.”  “However, I think these decisions should be left to the individual coaches.  I’ll let one of my kids get up to 100-110 if it means closing out a game and that decision should be mine.”

He went on to share a terrific idea, one too logical to gain any support within the city’s bureaucracy.  “If the City Council is really concerned about the welfare of these kids, they should mandate that all coaches be certified.  All coaches.  Create a program where coaches learn the value of stretching, hydration and proper technique.  That way, you’ll have them making informed decisions.”  A great thought, but since it’s one that won’t generate headlines that turn into votes, it’ll never happen.

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“Please rise and remove your caps for the playing of our National Anthem.”  It’s an announcement we hear before every ballgame and I’m wondering when it became necessary to remind people to remove their caps.  I also can’t decide which is more embarrassing: That we now need to be prompted to do it or that, despite the advisory, so many fail to do so, anyway.

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Done much traveling this summer?  Not as much as Quentin Richardson, I’d imagine.  The former Knick guard, traded to the Grizzlies on draft night, has subsequently been sent to the Clippers, who dispatched him to the Timberwolves, who then traded him to the Heat.  He’s still in Miami as of this writing but has no guarantees regarding training camp.  He’s keeping his bags packed.

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Danny McCarthy was a Bay Ridge guy who brought a sweet swing to both the baseball field and the golf course.  He was part of one of those special families that seem to exist in most neighborhoods; the one whose every member serves the community.  In McCarthy’s case, it was the local little league, where his father served as commissioner while his mom repaired uniforms and raised funds.  Dan and his two brothers played in the league through elementary school and then became coaches, volunteer positions they held well into adulthood.  There were very few kids in and around our corner of Brooklyn that didn’t benefit from the generosity of Danny and his family.

We lost Danny on December 21st, 1988, when he became one of the 270 victims on Pan Am flight 103 that were murdered over Lockerbie, Scotland.  I thought of him today as I learned that Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, serving a life sentence after being tried and convicted for the attacks, was to be released by the Scottish government on “compassionate grounds” due to the fact that his prostate cancer is terminal.  Apparently, his sentence was for all but the last three months of his life.  I also wondered about the “compassionate grounds” that might have been exercised by Al-Megrahi when he, instead, made the decision  to murder so many innocent people.

Danny McCarthy was a good son, brother and friend.  He was a young man about whom no one ever had a bad thing to say.  Everyone he dealt with was better for having known him, especially those kids that were fortunate enough to have him as a coach.  It’s comforting to know that there are now young husbands and fathers that were influenced by Danny’s kindness and dignity.  Comforting enough, that is, to overcome yet another tragedy in Scotland.

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Happy Birthday, Gin.

The View from the Cheap Seats

August 12, 2009 under Cheap Seats, Uncategorized

It was the kind of weekend Yankee fans imagined when C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett cheap_seats_3_owumand Mark Teixeira were signed last winter. Burnett and C.C. each turned in a dominant performance on the hill while Teixeira’s big bomb sealed the four game sweep over the hated Red Sox.  Heading into the home stretch with a six game lead, the Yanks have hit their stride; getting contributions from every part of the lineup.  With Phil Hughes filling what was a gaping hole in the Bombers’ pen and Mariano Rivera enjoying a career year; it’s looking like there may be a deep October run in the new stadium.

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In what may be a sign that MLB clubs are feeling the effects of the weak economy, the Blue Jays jettisoned their two time All Star outfielder, Alex Rios, for, essentially, nothing but relief from the obligation to pay the balance of his contract.  Even more alarming is that, despite the fact that Rios is just 28 years old; no team other than the White Sox was interested.

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When they tee it up today in the PGA championship at Hazeltine, it’ll be the last chance in ’09 for Tiger Woods to win a major; something that hasn’t happened since 2004.  He comes in on the heels of two straight wins that followed a missed cut at the British Open.  The way things have gone for him this year, however, if he doesn’t get out fast, it’s not likely he’ll come back. 

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Could we please cease and desist with the ridiculous notion that the Red Sox and Yankees are part of the “greatest rivalry in sports”?  They play each other at least eighteen times each year, the regular season results usually mean nothing as both routinely qualify for the post season and they rarely meet each other in the playoffs.  Earlier this season, New York lost eight straight to Boston and yet, found themselves six games ahead of the pack just two months later.  If Michigan lost eight straight football games to Ohio State, they’d have suffered almost a decade of misery that likely included zero trips to the Rose Bowl.  That’s a rivalry. 

The networks and talking heads calling the games can say anything they want to hype the matchups but can’t undo the reality that the players just don’t care as much as the fans.  They’re too transient and have a much larger financial stake than emotional.  Head down to Philadelphia this fall and ask a Navy offensive lineman what it means to beat Army.  Walk into the Duke locker room on the first day of basketball practice and ask any of the players the date of the North Carolina game.  They’ll know.  There was a time in baseball when Jackie Robinson retired rather than accept a trade to the hated New York Giants.  Remind Johnny Damon of that little bit of history when you ask if he circles the Boston games on his schedule.  Yanks-Sox is a great watch because the teams are two of the game’s most talented and each is a contender for the AL East crown, not because the outcome is a matter of life and death to the participants.

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NationalFootballPost.com reported that the Jets have spoken to an NFC West team to gauge interest in RB Thomas Jones.  A Jet source claimed the report was untrue and I hope that’s the case.   Heading into the season with a new coach, new QB and a scarcity of talented receivers, it’s inconceivable to consider dealing the team’s best offensive player.

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I’ve been chastised at times by Cheap Seats readers unhappy with the lack of attention given to soccer in this column.  So, with the World Cup qualifying game (sorry, match) being played yesterday in Mexico City, I thought it’d be a good time to take a peek.  Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that, despite the fact that the U.S. hasn’t won a game (sorry again, match) against Mexico in its last twenty three tries, its players only worked out together for two days.  Two.  Seems that the players have other commitments and the whole qualifying system is an inconvenience to many.  Could it possibly be that this World Cup stuff isn’t as important to the players as my soccer antagonists would have me believe? 

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In a season that’s become unwatchable, Johan Santana gives disappointed Mets’ fans a reason to tune in every fifth day.  In an ongoing tribute to professionalism, Santana is tied for the Major League lead in wins.  Each offseason, the agent for a sub .500 pitcher will make the case for a salary increase by pointing out that his client’s team averaged a paltry amount of runs during his starts.  It’s a ridiculous argument as it doesn’t take into account how many runs the pitcher allowed.  It doesn’t matter if his run support was bad if his ERA was worse.  Anyway, think about Santana when you hear that argument next year.  If a pitcher is a big, tough guy who cares more about the team’s record than his own, he’ll have plenty of wins no matter how meager the run support.

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