Thursday, December 30, 2004

King of the World

More weird and impressive news about our poised rookie.

Elmer the Great

In October 1936, the two New York teams were playing in the World Series. Lux Radio Theater, then considered the best and most high-brow of radio drama shows, performed "Elmer the Great," a play from a Ring Lardner story about a hayseed pitcher who is better than Dizzy Dean. He pitches in the "World Serious" until he's framed by a gambler. It's a pretty interesting look at the status of baseball players in the 1930s. Not much has changed since then, I think.

Carl Hubbell and Lou Gehrig also appear - star players from the opposing teams - and do what might be called a comedy routine if either man had any talent for radio.

You can find a free stream of the October 5, 1936 program here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Cool Steelers music

Please help Eileen name that tune.

On minor-league stats

Regular readers of the blog know that I can be impatient with fellow amateur Bucco writers who think they understand the value and potential of minor-league players more than the folks in the front office. It's the Allegory of the Cave, as far as I'm concerned. We fans and part-time baseball scholars can only work with shadows cast upon a wall by shapes and beings we can't actually see. And for all the beauty of the translation and projection systems that are publicly available, I'm pretty confident we can be sure that the big-league teams have models and systems that blow these away. And since they are proprietary, we'll never see them.

So I'm cautious when it comes to second-guessing a GM's decision to throw away some A-level pitcher, even if the numbers say that he throws the ball hard. I'll admit it's possible that the GM is a complete moron. I don't think so, but that doesn't mean much. Still, if fellow Pirate fans don't at least concede that it's possible that they can't know as much as him from their rumpus-room iMacs, then they lose some credibility with me. And so what if Rob Neyer, Royals partisan, wants to gloat about acquiring Leo Nunez for Benito Santiago and enough money to pay much of Santiago's contract? My fellow Bucco fans should buck up when it comes to such things. Of course Rob Neyer will look on the bright side of Leo Nunez.

Over at the Birdhouse, a Cardinals blog I just discovered through a link from Primer, Jeff Luhnow, Cardinals Vice President of Baseball Development, talks about the way the St. Louis team evaluates minor-league numbers. I'll quote the part that supports my view of the situation.

I think at Double-A and Triple-A, we’re very comfortable with our methods for converting those stats and projecting major league performance.  Once you get to Single-A and especially down to rookie ball, those leagues, even though they are competitive and you want to win, the pendulum swings more to the development side of things.  A player may be down there working on plate patience or how to hit a breaking ball or control if he is a pitcher.  So, you never know the real picture of what is going on.  Because those environments are more developmental than Double-A or Triple-A, you may be misled.  It becomes more of a challenge.  Our rule of thumb basically is that we look at the stats below Double-A, but the stats we consider important at the minor league level are the ones as the Double-A and Triple-A level.  Those are the ones that we feel are more predictive of major league performance.  That is one of the challenges of the lower minor leagues.
I don't think we have any idea what Leo Nunez is worth. And like most Bucco fans, I'm glad we're not saddled with two years of Charles Johnson. I had reasons to doubt the Bucs would find a use for Nunez any time soon. And while I didn't think Humberto Cota and J.R. House were so obviously insufficient that the Bucs had to go get another catcher, I'm not foolish enough to think that I have all the information I'd need to say, with complete confidence, that I'm smarter than the GM here.

All that said, more power to the folks who want to play it that way. It takes all kinds. Whatever gets you through the offseason, it's all right.

Brian Walton did a great job with that interview and I recommend the whole.

Trading with Arizona

John Perrotto reported last week that the Bucs might get involved in the Return of the Randy Johnson Trade. CNN/SI clipped his paragraph a few days ago.

What would we want off the Arizona roster? My hunch: Chad Tracy.

Tracy works the count and has better range at third than Wigginton. He's shown little power and for that, reminds me of Sean Burroughs. He's young (25) and has two more years of service before he's arbitration-eligible. And he hits left-handed.

The D'backs also have a number of young starting pitchers. But I don't see anything worth Kip Wells and Craig Wilson. Maybe that rumor, like the one Gammons reported with the Bucs non-tendering Fogg, really has nothing going for it.

All hail Bert

Rich Lederer has posted an interview with Bert Blyleven.

Blyleven was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 1978 season, and he helped lead the Bucs to a World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1979. Although Bert won two games in the postseason — including a “do-or-die situation” in Game Five of the World Series — he became disenchanted with the fact that he was only allowed to complete four games that year (after never having fewer than 11 in any full season) while setting a record with 20 no-decisions.

“Chuck Tanner and I did not see eye-to-eye. My only beef with him ever was ‘why do I have to wait five to six days to pitch if I’m only pitching five to six innings?’ What you’re doing is taking away about 50 extra innings.”

I'm not sure they were counting pitches in the 1970s. Still it's clear in his record that Blyleven's managers restricted the number of starts he made and innings he pitched after the early 1970s. Tanner looks like the first in a series of managers to deny Blyleven 40 starts and 300 innnigs. He gave Blyleven as many starts as any Pirate pitcher in the 1970s but, as Blyleven told Rich, he surely pulled him early often, as Blyleven's total number of innings pitched never got real high again until he returned to Minnesota. I'm away from all of my books and reference books that might explain Tanner's approach. Any old-timers remember what he was thinking? Obviously it's a four-man vs. five-man rotation question. I'm curious if anyone remembers what was the rationale for the latter under Tanner.

The Bucs dealt Blyleven to the Indians in the middle of 1980.

Looking over the Pirate teams from the 1970s, I'm struck by how many games they won. Those teams were good.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Steelers 20, Ravens 7.

Sweet. Stillers secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by pounding the crap out of the lowly cheapshot-artists/professional thugs/Cravens. AP recap and boxscore here. Post-game quotes here. Steelers never punted, put up 404 total yards, and stuffed Jamal Lewis for 26 pathetic total rushing yards. My favorite part was the dozen-consecutive-rushing-play-bitchslap:

Drive Summary: 14 plays, 71 yards
  1st-10, PIT29 B. Roethlisberger passed to H. Ward to the right for 7 yard gain
  2nd-3, PIT36 J. Bettis rushed up the middle for 7 yard gain
  1st-10, PIT43 J. Bettis rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain
  2nd-7, PIT46 J. Bettis rushed to the left for 11 yard gain
  1st-10, BAL43 V. Haynes rushed up the middle for 11 yard gain
  1st-10, BAL32 V. Haynes rushed up the middle for 9 yard gain
  2nd-1, BAL23 V. Haynes rushed up the middle for 5 yard gain
  1st-10, BAL18 V. Haynes rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain
  2nd-7, BAL15 J. Bettis rushed to the left for 6 yard gain
  3rd-1, BAL9 J. Bettis rushed up the middle for no gain
  4th-1, BAL9 B. Roethlisberger rushed up the middle for 2 yard gain
  1st-7, BAL7 J. Bettis rushed up the middle for 4 yard gain
  2nd-3, BAL3 J. Bettis rushed up the middle for 1 yard gain
  3rd-2, BAL2 B. Roethlisberger passed to J. Tuman to the left for 2 yard touchdown. J. Reed made PAT

Of course this was followed by my least favorite part, as the Cravens managed to get in another costly cheapshot, "injuring" Rotty's ribs. If anyone's got any info on the rib status, please pass on in the comments thread.

All hail the Bus for racking up 117 to pass Dickerson! All hail Plaxico! All hail James Harrison! All hail an undefeated Heinz field record!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Gone fishing

See you January 3rd. Feel free to amuse each other in this comments thread.

Go Steelers. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Joe Liggins

True or false: Lloyd McClendon looks more than a little like Joe Liggins.

More pictures here.

No wonder I like him as much as I do. I'm listening to Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers every chance I get. Including now.

Pink Champagne, that stole my love from me.

Honest Wagner NFL pick 'em: week 16

gnb 02.5 MIN .MIN* ..MIN .MIN*
oak 07.5 KSC .KSC* ..KSC ..KSC
den -4.5 TEN ..TEN ..TEN .TEN*
snd 06.5 IND ..snd .snd* ..IND
bal 05.5 PIT ..PIT .PIT* ..PIT
chi 06.5 DET ..DET ..DET ..DET
atl 02.5 NWO ..NWO ..NWO ..NWO
hou 07.5 JAX ..hou .JAX* ..hou
nyg 05.5 CIN ..CIN ..nyg ..CIN
nwe -2.5 NYJ .nwe* ..NYJ .NYJ*
bf -11.5 SNF ..SNF ..buf .SNF*
car 02.5 TAB .TAB*
arz 06.5 SEA ..arz .arz* .SEA*
was -2.5 DAL ..was ..was .DAL*
cle 06.5 MIA .MIA* ..MIA .MIA*
phl 02.5 STL ..STL .phl* ..phl
Asterisks indicate best bets.

Season to date:
Bones 122-102 .545
Scoop 121-103 .541
Rowdy 113-111 .504

Consensus 43-31 .581

Best bets
Bones 42-28 .600
Scoop 29-20 .592
Rowdy 43-35 .551

Altoona well promoted

All hail Stink Night!

More McClatchy

Dejan Kovacevic's interview with Kevin McClatchy continues. They discuss G. Ogden Nutting and other mysteries of ownership.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Thursday Steeler links

The team gets the Washington Post treatment from Camille Powell. Not much to see, but it's hard to tire of reading "the Dominant Team in the AFC." Too bad the Colts and even the Chargers have been pretty dominant, too.

Re: injury report. What did Hines Ward do to his hip?

Troy Polamalu got a hand from the team for making the Pro Bowl. Alan Robinson of the AP reports that

Polamalu called his selection a testament to perseverance and patience _ namely, that of his teammates for patiently waiting out his underachieving 2003 season.
But we know the real reason:
''If you look at all the great warriors, starting biblically with Samson, he had long hair. The American Indians, the Samurais, the Greeks, the Chinese -- everybody had long hair. I don't know of anything that says you have to have your hair short.''
Of course that's Troy from this wire story on the long-hairs in pro sports.

There's another Alan Robinson story making the rounds. This one is on Myron Cope, who deserves as much attention as anyone cares to give him. Now that he's 75, they should put him on the endangered species list. We'll never see another like him. I read his autobiography - Double Yoi! I think it is called - last winter. If you mainly know him from the radio, you might be surprised to see that Cope is a great writer.

ESPN's John Clayton also reported that former Steeler Jim Haslett won't get fired at the end of the year. I couldn't be much of a fan of the Saints; if I lived in New Orleans it would be hard to get past the food and the music. That's no kind of hobby, following the soap opera of the Saints.

For USA Today, Skip Wood wrote the article I would write about the Patriots. Losing to Miami like that is like taking one cannonball through both sides of the ship. Bail, boys, bail. The Jets have a great chance to further sink that ship this weekend. New England faces a new kind of challenge here.

Rod Woodson retired. Were there any discussions of moving him to safety before he left the Steelers? I always thought he got pushed away too quickly. And for what? Lee Flowers? On the other hand, I also thought that Woodson's second act in San Francisco/Baltimore/Oakland did much to motivate the Steelers to hang onto Jerome Bettis. We all thought he was done a few years ago. In football more than baseball, these hall-of-famers can really surprise late in their careers, given the chance and good fortune to get healthy.

Ben Roethlisberger's name comes up in this story about the role scholarship limits are having in the recent success of the MAC. Didn't Roethlisberger sign with Miami because they were the first team to make an offer? I remember there being some kind of loyalty lesson to his career at Miami. I mean, I'm pretty sure he would not have been a JV player at Ohio State before scholarship limits. He would have been a starter there.

Finally, here's another Steelers team: meet the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey Club.

Paul Meyer Q & A

Meyer says the Bucs can't win it all with a $50M payroll. A reader recommends that MLB cane and flog players who test positive for steroids.

We got Pro Bowlers

Six of them.

I'm confused. How can they make a list of bowlers and not include Bettis?

Ward signed for just under $1M

Daryle Ward was great pre-thumb injury, so this signing strikes me as a good gamble. Power is expensive. There's a chance - maybe not real great - that he puts together 500 productive at-bats. If the chance is one-in-three, this is a great gamble. If it's one-in-six, it's a solid bet. The team needs left-handed power. He's a good fit.

Payroll going up

Dejan Kovacevic interviews Kevin McClatchy. The owner suggests payroll will cross $40M soon and generally says the right things about competing as a small-market club.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

No Nishi

The Japan Times reports that Toshihisa Nishi will stay with the Yomiuri Giants. His agent, Scott Boras, attempted to get a major-league team interested in him. The Bucs obliged Boras but stopped short of offering a contract to Nishi.

Festival of Steelers links

Patriots nation is in full sour-grapes mode. All that is laughably stupid. They lost to a two-win team on Monday Night Football. The loss may not hurt the playoff chances, but anyone who watched that game and now says the Patriots should still be the favorite to win the AFC is in full-on denial. I'm more worried about the Chargers and the Colts. We can pick on Troy Brown and pick off Tom Brady, too. The way the Patriots played last night, it doesn't look like they'll see the Champtionship game, regardless of whether or not they get a bye. More on the home-field advantage angle in a moment.

This site has the Steelers as 4:1 to win it all.

All hail Dan Rooney.

Everybody wants a Steelers jersey for Christmas.

Down the hall at the Uniontown Mall, Sears general manager Wayne Pracel said because of the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the football team's merchandise, notably Ben Roethlisberger shirts, had to be restocked several times since the start of the holiday shopping season.

It's not just wives wanting to buy their hubby a great Christmas gift, instead, Pracel said, "there's no rhyme or reason" to the people who come to purchase Steelers merchandise.

There's plenty of rhyme and plenty of reason: everyone wants the Steelers this season. Or, shall we say, black and gold is the new black.

Here's a fun story about balancing football and church. Rowdy's dad, a Methodist minister, might not approve of the way we're raising Rowdietta. When we say "Sunday," she says "Football!"

More horse people supporting the Steelers. Ward is a good name for a horse, but I think Scoop's horse, Kip Smells, has the better Pittsburgh-sports-themed name.

Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune writes something I've seen in more than one editorial. Namely, that the Steelers don't really want home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They lost two AFC Championships at home under Cowher. So what? They can learn from mistakes.

And home-field advantage is not just about maximizing your chance of getting to the Super Bowl. It's about playing the championship in front of your fans. It's fine that the 53 Steelers wouldn't mind going on the road. What about the 60,000 Steeler fans who won't be there if the team goes on the road? You'd think the players and the media would know enough of the world to keep the fans first. And it's pretty pathetic how Hines Ward is more or less quoted (in that Pierson link) blaming the 2001 Championship loss on the "distraction" caused by reading the newspaper and getting tickets for his family. Hines Ward doesn't often play the crybaby; this is out of character for him; obviously someone asked a dumb question and he gave a dumb sour grapes answer. The athletes are trained to give all kinds of answers to inane, leading questions. They should add this one to the list. Why do you want the home-field advantage? To play in front of our fans, who did so much to help us get to this position. We think they deserve it.

On publicly-funded stadiums

For the record, I agree with these two editorials on not using public money to build stadiums. This is good, from Linda Robertson's essay:

The D.C. City Council voted 7-6 to tell baseball it is not accepting the financial risks of a ballpark that could cost upwards of $535 million. The owner of the Nationals was not only going to get a free stadium, but all the revenue from it. Whoa, council members said, that's not a boon to the city, that's a boondoggle. Councilwoman Carol Schwartz said she could picture owners ``high-fiving each other until they collapsed from exhaustion.''

All hail Councilwoman Carol Schwartz.

It's not the biggest boondoggling of public funds, but it's a big one. It may be mild compared to some of the other schemes for looting the public treasuries, but that doesn't make it any less wrong.

PNC Park, pigsty of despair?

How can I get one of these high-paying jobs to speechify like a complete moron?

In Pittsburgh, Steelers fans will suffer through lousy seasons at Heinz Field yet never confront the unforgiving truth that some teams spend tens of millions more on talent every year. Next door, in PNC Park, Pirates fans wallow in despair. They don't count the days until pitchers and catchers report. They count the days until the next pitcher or catcher has to be dealt to keep the budget from exceeding Alex Rodriguez's per diem.

Wallow in despair? The only dignified response to that is an unprintable string of expletives and insults. We're not a bunch of pigs. We don't go to PNC Park to "wallow." Unlike Kevin McClatchy - who O'Connor traps in shameless whining - at least this Pirate fan relishes the underdog role. Money can't buy everything; only crass materialists cling to this belief. As for not counting the days, O'Connor has no idea what he's talking about. The big-time pros should do their research before they fart out such inaccurate hyperbole for a national-circulation paper.

... oh, nevermind. Maybe he did his research. Maybe he read Ron Cook.

Dodgers becoming Pirates

That's the fantasy of Andy Kehe of (reg. req'd).

Here's what it means to be the Pirates in Bakersfield:

The Dodgers seem to be posturing, on the other hand, to become the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Having an owner with no money and a general manager who cut his teeth with the small-market Oakland A's, the Dodgers seemed destined to become baseball's first big-market team to conduct itself like a small market club -- acquiring little more than prospects for major stars, hoping they develop in time for a run at a championship every five years.

Posturing? For little more than prospects?

He writes that like it's a bad thing. Get with the program, Andy Kehe.

We can't all be the Yankees.

And, for what it's worth, we don't see the Pirates claiming scrubby left-handed relievers off anybody's waivers.

Contracts for everyone

Merry Christmas, you seven guys.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Steelers still full throttle

As they ought to be. Alan Robinson of the AP has this story now up all over the web.

"There are too many implications," Cowher said. "This is a very important game and we're going to approach it with that in mind. The way the AFC is right now, there is no margin for error. We need everybody we can get. If guys can go, they're going to go."

To that I say, right on. Hunger never saw bad bread. There is no little enemy. Would you live with ease? Do what you ought, not what you please.

Diligence is the mother of Good-Luck. Industry need not wish. There will be sleeping enough in the Grave. Look at the season as a marathon, and run each mile faster than the one before it. That is the way to win it all.

Ben Roethlisberger has not been as surprising to me as Chris Hulk Hoke. I had no idea he could replace Casey Hampton as well as he has. Vincent, Foote, Harrison, Mays, and Willie Williams. All the backups have stepped up. So I'm not afraid to see the Steelers go all-out the rest of the way. The bye will be nice. Better will be keeping their hunger and not breaking their diligence.

The Steelers can't be afraid of injury and maintain the edge that has them kicking everyone's ass right now. The prospect of playing in the playoffs or in the Super Bowl will work wonders on the sick and injured. Remember how Rod Woodson came back? I don't want to see the team resting anybody this week or next.

And fuck a whole bunch of the Ravens. I don't want a winning season tainted by the memory that the Steelers lost twice to those punks.

Individual records

All hail Peyton Manning for taking a knee.

A lot of what turns me off with pro sports right now can be traced to the growing respect for individual records. It will be no great feat for Peyton Manning to break some record for passing touchdowns. It will be no great accomplishment for Barry Bonds to break some record for hitting home runs. In context, neither thing is a big deal. I wish the sports media would stop talking about either achievement as though it's the equivalent of winning a playoff game. Or any game, for that matter.

Sports is about two things: team play and winning games. The average American loves sports because the rest of our lives are troubled by problems related to individualism and losing. It's always been that way. Fantasy sports are great but they should never become the basis for evaluating the relative value of pro athletes. If they aren't team players and if they don't win big games, they are nothing special and deserve no special praise.

The fans booed Manning because they wanted to be there when he broke the record. All boo that.

The 04-05 free agent market

As a Pirate fan, I've sat back and watched the free agent signings with a kind of detached amusement. We don't desperately need starting pitching and we don't expect to sign a top-dollar slugger. So all of this has unfolded at some distance.

There's no doubt that these signings significantly change the environment in which Littlefield operates. Here are some thoughts on the subject.

1. The Mark Redman contract, which the A's and the media called "bad" at the time of the Kendall trade, does not look so bad today. The Benson signing established 3 years and $7M per as the standard for pitchers of Benson's ability. Mark Redman is more than half the pitcher that Benson is, was, or will be, and we have him not only for $4.25M, but also just for one year. And it's better. If the trade-time reports can be trusted, we also a team option of about $5M for 2006 or a player option for $4.5M in 2006. In the new environment, Redman, who is only one year removed from being one of the "catches" of the free agent market, is very much worth that contract.

2. Teams are spending like drunken sailors. Especially drunk are the Diamondbacks, who have a tremendous amount of deferred-salary debt. Or so they have claimed. Maybe they have been fudging the books to make it look like they have financial problems. I don't know.

Either way, I see three explanations for all the new spending.

A. More Money. Many people have reported that the teams are all doing much better right now. Increased attendance, satellite radio contracts, revenue sharing, etc. means more money is flowing into all the teams. If all of baseball is flush with cash, that could explain the drunken-sailor spending.

B. Incompetent financial management. Maybe they are drunken sailors after all.

C. Funny Money. Perhaps the owners are betting that the federal government will monetize the national debt. The easiest way for the government to get out from under its massive debt burden would be to invite inflation and devalue the currency. The dollar has fallen like a rock against the euro. Maybe the owners have good reason to believe that it's no big deal to promise someone $8M for the 2006 season. Will the day come when baseball contracts are valued in euros instead of dollars? Don't ask me - I'm just a beer-swilling guy in the bleachers.

3. If the More Money explanation is the answer, then we have to wonder what the Bucs are doing with their new money. If the Brewers can afford to sign some big-name talent, why can't the Bucs? The Brewers' 2004 payroll was in the $28M range. Now they've added Carlos Lee for $16.5M over the next two years. They are also making noise about keeping Ben Sheets when he goes to free agency. Looks to me like the Brewers have more money.

4. If all of these signings represent Incompetence, then we may see good buying opportunities next off-season. I like how we got Redman on a contract that was "bad" in September but good, or at least OK, in December. If teams are overextending themselves this off-season, perhaps the Pirates will have some good "certified pre-owned" players to consider this time next year.

It's always wise to let someone else pay the depreciation. Imagine that the Red Sox drive Matt Clement off the lot. Say he puts in a year where he pitches great in every ballpark except Fenway. If the current contracts are overvalued, the Bucs can acquire him or someone like him in a deal which involves the Red Sox paying part of what now looks like a "bad" contract. That's one way to get more with less money. Could a team plan on making such deals in the future? Only if they are certain that these contracts are above what will be market value in a year or two.

The easiest and most cynical explanation, I think, will be to say that the Pirates are making money hand-over-fist and putting it into the pocket of Mr. Burns Nutting. While I can't rule that out - what do we know about their books? - I'd also say it's possible there are other explanations. The owners and the front office get the benefit of the doubt from me. I'm not a sports fan for the opportunities it provides to bitch about the way the rich are screwing the poor. I'm not saying that I wouldn't agree with such arguments. I just don't think sports is the right context for what should be more activist energies.

5. Oliver Perez's agent is Scott Boras. There's no way Perez is going to sign an extenstion with us. He'll play year-to-year for the Bucs until he's eligible for free agency. Then he'll go to the highest bidder.

6. What's the best way, long-term, for the team to spend its money? Say the Bucs have some extra cash, like the other teams, and could increase payroll by $10M per year for 2005. When would you spend that money? Right away? One pro for spending right away is that every team should want to win right away. There's no point in losing now because you think it will increase your chances of winning later. Losing only promotes more losing. On the other hand, the market right now - and perhaps this whole off-season - looks overpriced. It's hard to buy value when contracts are only going up. In the end, as with every move a GM makes, the decision to spend now or hold for later involves calculated gambles.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Rick Weaver: Santiago "a wack job"

Says he'll do.

Joe Rutter: Mack, Ward, Meadows on bubble

Joe Rutter gets you ready for the Monday deadline to tender contracts to the arbitration-eligible players. Rob Mackowiak may be the most expendable in terms of how these players complement the rest of the roster. But I'd think the Pirates could easily trade him if they decide they don't need his services in 2005. If I remember correctly, the Red Sox were interested in him last year. My guess is they find a way to keep all seven guys for at least the next few months.

Terry Pluto: Lawton's arm "is shot"

As he talks himself to sleep (reg. req'd), Cleveland sportswriter Terry Pluto rationalizes the Lawton-for-Rhodes deal:

The Indians have statistics showing there were five triples hit to left field against them when Lawton was out there. Lawton's arm is shot. The idea of him in right field "is scary," said one Tribe operative. That's why they made the Lawton-for-Arthur Rhodes deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. They believe Blake is a good guy, a gifted athlete with a strong arm who will be a better outfielder than Lawton and drive in as many runs.
We'll have to keep an eye on Lawton's arm in Spring Training. Such reports make me doubt the Bucs will use him in left.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Steelers at Giants

If the Steelers don't turn the ball over, they should have no trouble running through the Giants tomorrow. What are your predictions? Share them if you care in the comments thread.

No more posting from me until Monday. Maybe Bones or Scoop will favor us with a rant in the meantime. Go Steelers and have a good weekend.

...1:30 am ... so I did get to a computer after all (nothing like a little last-minute shopping at Nice game today, eh? It's was only close on the scoreboard. The Giants got an early special-teams touchdown and some of those turnovers I was worried about. And the Steelers moved the ball at will. They didn't punt once. They left something like 12 points on the field by settling for red-zone field goals. They converted more than half of their 3rd- and 4th-down situations and they held a ten-minute TOP advantage. The score could have easily been much more lopsided.

Ben has missed Plaxico, I think, who looked to me like Ben's security blanket in the early games of this run. Burress's time off has given Randle El a real chance to emerge. The Steelers have three #1 wideouts.

And Bettis was amazing again. Duce's situation reminds me a bit of Bettis's a few years ago. Running backs don't come back from multi-week layoffs without rust. I want to see Staley on the field pounding the ball in the next two games. Bettis may or may not need a rest, but I'll be nervous about Staley's ability to help the team in the playoffs if he doesn't get some significant playing time before the probable bye.

No me in team

Uh, wait. Uh, nevermind.

Ashley Fox does the whole "team unity" thing with the Steelers, Patriots, and Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer. All joking aside, I believe all that stuff. It's not just fluff.

Kevin Colbert

Mark Maske of the Washington Post identifies Kevin Colbert as a possible candidate for the Browns GM job.

The Plain Dealer reports the same thing.

Ban amphetamines from baseball

In this week's Sports Illustrated (Peyton Manning cover), on page 68, at the bottom in the left-hand box, Tom Verducci alludes to the prevalence of amphetamine abuse in the big leagues:

Players have been taking [amphetamines] before games for at least five decades, which is why it's unlikely the union would go that far [and agree to add them to the list of banned substances].

Players "bean up" to enhance focus and alertness and to give their tired and sore bodies a jolt of energy. The pills are often taken with coffee or highly caffeinated energy drinks.

As T.J. Quinn reports for the New York Daily News:
Greenies have been one of baseball's worst-kept secrets for decades, and many say that if amphetamines are added to the test list, it could mean a major change in the game. Many clubhouses have separate pots of coffee for players and coaches, with the players' variety carrying more than caffeine.

"One of our coaches tried the players' coffee one time," a former Yankee said. "He went on for days saying, 'Wow - you guys have really good coffee.'"

The spinach steroids issue has burst more than few blood vessels over the last few months, but no one seems to give a damn about amphetamine abuse. That should change. Now that steroids have our attention, let's consider the role of the even-more ubiquitous methylenedioxymethamphetamine/caffeine cocktails.

The easy equation of anabolic steroids with "performance-enhancing drugs" will bite the players in the ass and, in the end I think, do them some good. Fans are not upset about steroids per se; they are upset about the evidence that Popeye Barry Bonds has been taking spinach steroids in the off-season to magically create his Hulk-like physique. Like all forms of amphetamines, Amphetamine is widely recognized as a performance-enhanching drug. As Quinn writes:

Major League Baseball and the Players' Association have been haggling in recent weeks over whether amphetamines are performance-enhancing drugs. If they determine they are, then players could be tested for their presence up to four times a season. If not, then the drugs would be treated like cocaine, heroin or marijuana, and baseball could test for them only if it has "probable cause."

"We think they're (performance-enhancing)," one major league official said. "The union doesn't."

Union officials refused to comment, but one veteran player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he expected the two sides to agree that amphetamines are indeed performance-enhancers. The union has long held that players should not be subject to random testing for recreational drugs because they should be afforded the presumption of innocence. But union leaders have been willing to amend the steroids policy because performance-enhancers change the landscape of the game.

As that last paragraph indicates, obviously the union knows that amphetamines are "performance-enhancing" drugs. The drug is already prohibited by both the International Olympic Committee and the National Football League. As Quinn explains:
To many anti-doping experts, as well as players, there is no question that amphetamines enhance performance. A landmark 1960 study at Harvard University found that among swimmers, throwers and runners given amphetamines, 75% of the athletes showed improvement in their performances.
Dave Hannigan described the issue yesterday for the Guardian, a British newspaper. Tony Gwynn has described "greenie" usage as "rampant":
"Guys feel like steroids are cheating and greenies aren't. Sooner or later it's going to get out that there's a greenie problem, and it's a huge one. Guys feel like they need an edge. It didn't seem like there was a lot of it earlier in my career but I know that coming down to the end of my career it was rampant in my club. I would just laugh at the guys. I'd be like: 'You're 23 years old. What the heck, look at me, I'm in my late 30s, and I'm taking two aspirin and saying, let's go'."

Like [Jim] Bouton 30 years previously [for the descriptions in his book, Ball Four], Gwynn was roundly criticised for his candour, yet when the dust settled the substance of his allegations remained intact.

"I would say he is pretty accurate in that statement," the Atlanta Braves outfielder Chipper Jones said of Gwynn's comments. "There is probably a little bit more of a problem as far as that goes than with the steroids. This is a tough, tough lifestyle. Guys are paid a lot of money to show up at the right time and do their job and sometimes they need a little help."

These drugs have been illegal since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. They create a profound, "performance-enhancing" high, as this website explains:

Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system by potentiating the effects of norepinephrine, a neurohormone which activates parts of the sympathetic nervous system. Adrenalin like effects are produced at the brain's synaptic sites, causing the heart and bodily systems to race at high speed: Blood pressure rises, along with the pulse pressure and heart rate. Appetite is suppressed because of the drug's action on the control centers of the hypothalamus and the depression of gastrointestinal activity. The effects may last from four to fourteen hours, depending on dosage. Amphetamines may be detected in blood and urine by lab tests up to seventy-two hours after ingestion.

Amphetamines are quickly assimilated into the bloodstream. The roller-coaster ride begins with a tremendous rush accompanied by feelings of elation and confidence. Unlimited power seems to be at the speeder's fingertips. The pupils dilate; the heart pumps frantically, breathing is rapid, and the mucous membranes get dry. Speech becomes rata-tat-tat gibberish. The user may focus in on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. But the speeder doesn't care because he feels he is at the height of his intellectual powers. This initial flash of brilliance is succeeded by a euphoria, an elevated mood; as the body continues to release stored energy from its reserves; Physically as well as mentally charged up, he feels capable of superman feats. Life is a cartoon and the speeder is the Roadrunner.

Wow. That's vivid stuff. On second thought, I'm sure that description of the high is seriously embellished and exaggerated. It reads like Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Eater. If speed is like that for you on your first time, much of the reason for that has to be that you have these expectations. There's no way a player taking speed 100 times a year has this same euphoria day after day after day. That defies logic and science.

Still, there is a high, and this "high" is followed by a "low" which often requires, for the habitual user, another dosage, unless the user is willing to endure the full crash, which can take more than a day. Amphetamine usage impairs sleep and can cause malnutrition through loss of appetite. High-dosage users sometimes develop paranoid feelings and persecution complexes. The drugs have nasty side effects.

Where does the issue stand right now? As John Shea reported reported for the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday:

[Union chief Donald] Fehr has been opposed to more drug testing, citing privacy rights, Selig has fought for a policy similar to one used in the minor leagues: four tests year-round and a 15-game penalty for the first offense. He also wants amphetamines to be on the banned list and treated as performance- enhancers, a possible stumbling block.

Baseball fans eager to support the BALCO witchhunt better get behind an amphetamine ban. Absolutely those things should be banned and included in any stricter drug-testing program. All of the arguments used to persecute suspected juicers apply here. They are illegal; they "enhance performance;" they set a poor example for the children.

At the same time, though, baseball fans should also know that baseball has not been "ruined" by steroid use or by amphetamine use. The game is just as tainted and just as clean as it has always been. The playing field has not been tilted in any one player's favor by any one substance or cheating crutch. All of the different things players do as they seek some advantage probably cancel each other out.

I for one think the ability of these drugs to actually enhance baseball performance is probably overstated. Sure, maybe the first time a player does speed, he'll have a great game. But the next day, unless he takes speed again, he's going to be wiped out and have a poor game. I can't believe that speed confers any long-term advantage that we would see in, for example, wildly corrupted statistics.

Another thing to remember is that the players are the last people to trust on the question of whether or not steroids or amphetamines enhance their performance. As always, when it comes to the question of drug abuse, the biggest fools are the users themselves. If they knew that amphetamines would give them no more "edge," long-term, than daily consumption of two liters of Mountain Dew or six cans of Red Bull, then they wouldn't be breaking the law and polluting themselves with this stuff.

As I've written about the steroids issue, one of the things I've tried to say, again and again, is that people are drawn to illegal drugs because the politically-motivated hysteria about them sends the message that they are the ultimate cheat, imbued with some kind powerful, magical, dangerous, world-changing, godly power. We don't have to exaggerate or fabricate evidence that illegal drugs "enhance performance" to ban them.

One more time: we don't have to exaggerate or fabricate evidence that illegal drugs enhance performance to ban them. And by speaking more honestly about their limited ability to help, we'll do a lot more to discourage their use than we would by fueling the black-market with sensational, hyperbolic accounts comparing them to Popeye's spinach. Hannigan quotes an anonymous major-league manager as saying this:

"This is all going to be very interesting," said one Major League club manager in an interview with New York's Daily News last Sunday, "because if we do get steroids out of our sport, which we should, and we get amphetamines out, it will be real interesting to see what it does to the level of play. I know that's a scary statement but it's true."
What will happen to the level of play when amphetamines are removed? Probably, nothing. One of the most evil things about drug use is the fact that such a large percentage of Americans buy into the myth that "drugs change everything." Think the players will be tired with no amphetamines? Consider that they might sleep well in-season for the first time in their career. Think the players will get run down? Consider that, with a healthier appetite, they will probably eat more and better. If anything, removing amphetamine will probably elevate the level of play a teeny-tiny bit. And the kids will have better role models to emulate.

But most things will never change, no matter what. Daryle Ward, for example, will still have to avoid the buffet table.

The Art of the Deal

Jerome Bettis's favorite book. Donald Trump is a "great mind"? I should watch more television. Or maybe not.

Honest Wagner NFL pick 'em: week 15

pt -10.5 NYG ..pit ..pit ..pit
was -4.5 SNF .was* .was* .was*
car 03.5 ATL ..ATL .car*
hou 00.5 CHI ..CHI ..CHI .hou*
buf 00.5 CIN .buf* ..buf ..buf
snd -9.5 CLE ..snd ..snd ..snd
min -2.5 DET ..DET .min* ..DET
jax 03.5 GNB ..GNB ..GNB ..jax
sea 05.5 NYJ ..NYJ .NYJ* ..sea
dal 12.5 PHL ..PHL .dal* ..dal
stl -1.5 ARZ ..stl ..ARZ .ARZ*
nwo 07.5 TAB ..nwo .nwo* ..TAB
den 01.5 KSC ..KSC ..KSC .KSC*
ten 02.5 OAK ..OAK ..OAK .ten*
bal 07.5 IND .bal* ..bal ..bal
nwe -9.5 MIA ..MIA ..nwe .nwe*
Asterisks indicate best bets.

Season to date:
Bones 113-095 .543
Scoop 111-097 .534
Rowdy 103-106 .495

Consensus 39-29 .574

Best bets
Scoop 27-19 .587
Bones 38-27 .585
Rowdy 38-33 .535

Rowdy: Just combed the archives and counted up our consensus picks. Not bad at all. Before anyone gets a second mortgage to gamble on our consensus picks this week, consider that they've been right only five of the last fifteen times. In other words, they are running downhill from a .641 peak. That's probably my fault. My picks have sucked the last two weeks as I've been picking on fumes and whimsy. Never blow off your weekly reading if you hope to compete with the likes of Bones and Scoop.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's Our Great Beer

Something about this Cubs blog caught my eye.

For those of you who don't get the reference, "Old Style" is a midwestern beer that does a lot of advertising tie-ins with the Cubs. When I lived out that way, we called it "Dog Style." We meant that affectionately. We drank a lot of it. A 12-ounce draught is really good with greasy cheeseburgers.

What other good NL Central weblogs are out there, and not linked on the right-hand side of this page?

Benito a Pirate

It's official.

Bucs in San Juan

No, no, no.

The Bucs should resist this with everything they got. If the team wants to build attendance, they should fight all proposals which take them away from the locals or have them playing at odd hours when the locals can't or won't tune in.

Baseball is a serial drama. The more episodes you miss, the less you enjoy the ones you catch. And, just as important for a team whose payroll is tied to attendance, the less you look forward to the next one. The Pirates have to find ways to get the locals planning their days around the ballgame. Sending the team to San Juan for a "homestand" or two is not going to help.

And didn't they learn last year that the Bucs are no great draw in Puerto Rico?

Steelers links

A big reason I tanked in the pick 'em game the last few weeks: I haven't been paying attention to the rest of the NFL. Now that work has abated and I have an hour to pound coffee and catch up on the papers, I find all kinds of good Steelers reading. Here's another installment.

Ernie Palladino of the Asbury Park Press writes about Roethlisberger, Deion Sanders' comments about the Giants being quitters, and the further injury to the New York defense.

Mark Garafalo of the Staten Island Advance describes the world of hurt that is the Giants' defensive line.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe downplays home-field advantage in the playoffs. I wish the media would frame the home-field advantage goal not as a potentially slight edge for the players, but as a reward for the fans.

Speaking of fans, how many Steelers fans will make the trip to Giants stadium this weekend? I expect we'll see a large crowd like the one we saw at Dallas. New York's not so far away and you know tickets are available. Good seats are going on eBay for about $200 each. We can all find that kind of money, with our Wagner tobacco card, wedged down there in the couch.

Tom Coughlin sounds like a zombie in a quote gracing in this week's game preview from the AP:

``The rookie player that has this type of opportunity, and this type of experience, it is a priceless experience that does not come without pain,'' Coughlin said.

What is a priceless experience? Getting your face stomped into the dirt? Establishing a reputation as a Loser? Incurring painful injuries because you're too green to see how a blitzer will have a free shot at your back? Coughlin can't believe what he's saying.

Ralph Vacciano of the Daily News trots out the tired argument that Eli Manning has a no-good supporting cast. I'd take offense if I'm Jeremy Shockey.

Ben's "PFJ" shoe-graffiti comes up in this Philadelphia Daily News report about the NFL's fashion police (reg. req'd). The NFL should lay off guys whose socks aren't pulled up or whose shirts are untucked. But I'm pro-fashion police on the issue of ornamenting the uniform with conspicuous logos or messages. The NFL has to protect the players from the pressures and temptations they'd come under if they could regard little parts of their body as advertising space. I don't doubt the sincerity of Ben's religious beliefs, but if he can do it, then all the self-promoting hucksters will do it, too, and in a much less sincere fashion. We can't have an armbands-race between NFL players competing for the reputation of Mr. Good Guy, Mr. Jesus, or Mr. Patriot. Just as the highest form of philanthropy is anonymous giving, so is the highest form of worship selfless and silent. Don't tell me you can't honor Jesus if you can't write some initials on your shoe with a Sharpie. You don't need an audience to pray. If an NFL players feels a duty to proselytize, I say good for him. In the meantime let him respect the uniform and the game.

Mark Maske and Leonard Shapiro compare the teams with the NFL's best record for the Washington Post. They argue that all three teams are evidence that it's still possible to build dynasties in the NFL. Huh. I'd love to think this is the beginning of a dynasty in Pittsburgh, but there's still a lot of football left in the season. We can start talking dynasty a year or more from now.

Based on all the reading I've done, it looks to me like the Steelers should be able to pound the ball and own a significant time-of-possession advantage. The Giants will have to force turnovers to win this one. They'll also need Manning and Barber to take care of the ball. That's a little like saying the Giants will need to score more points if they hope to win, but it's still pretty true. They don't match up physically with the Steelers' running game so they better not pin their hopes on stuffing the run. Outside of turnovers, how else can they plan to stop the Steelers' offense?

Bay and Roethlisberger

Didn't take long to get these guys together for a photo.


Bob Dvorchak reports Santiago had his physical yesterday. Before too long, we should get news on whether or not he ran through the tires fast enough.

Charlie argues the team would have been better off with Kelly Stinnett. I don't agree, but it's fun to read what he has to say. Stinnett is coming off reconstructive elbow surgery.

How will Santiago fare throwing out baserunners this year? Will he provide some kind of mentorship that coaches couldn't provide for one-tenth of the salary? Charlie raises some good questions.

Bones on Bonds

I hate Barry Bonds. As a lifelong Pirates fan who was tragically scarred by the early 90s heartbreak trifecta, I have no control over this hatred, it flows naturally. Barry choked big-time as a Buc, posting OPSs of .542, .392 (!), and .868 in the 90-92 postseasons . His only postseason HR as a Pirate was in the 1992 8-run 2nd inning of the Bucs' 13-4 ass-whooping of the gutless Braves. But scrawny little Barry just couldn't prove to be the difference. Of course he couldn't since Ted Turner had already paid off Randy Marsh. But that's getting off the subject.

So now, 12 years later, Barry is the Greatest Hitter Ever coming off the the Greatest Season Ever.

Rowdy's argued at great length that steroids were not that big a factor for Bonds, and weren't to Bonds as spinach was to Popeye. As Supervisor of the Biomedical Advisory Board for HW, I'm contractually bound here to weigh in.

First off, I'd say I agree with a few of Rowdy's points. Such as:

1. That professional sports regulation is currently a bigger political issue than more important domestic issues (e.g. the environment) is mind-numbing.

2. In general I think drugs are poorly understood and often wrongly demonized by the American public and media.

But in general, I'd say I disagree with most of Rowdy's other points about steroids not being that big a deal, not obviously enhancing performance, and comparing them to other drugs. I won't belabor each of these points, but for the record, I think:

1. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are a serious problem to society today because young people are likely to emulate Bonds and Santiago and take whatever they can that might confer some kind of advantage. This being a problem hinges upon steroids having adverse long-term effects on human health, which I think (but don't know) is true.

2. Steroids should not be compared to nicotine, cocaine, alcohol, or other psychoactive drugs that to me are pretty clearly different in that they don't obviously confer an advantage. Sorry, Leyland's managerial record stands.

3. Evidence abounds that steroid use has enhanced the performance of MLB players. True, one never has an ideally controlled experiment (e.g. Bonds 2004 +/- HGH). But, c'mon. Look at the career stats of Bonds or Bret Boone. Bonds suddenly doubles his HR rate at the age of 35. The statistical unprecedence requires explanation. He got juiced and probably has at least 50 more career HRs than he would've otherwise.

But whatever, he stunk for us. Thanks for nothing, Barry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Not quitters

Deion Sanders, now a Raven, hopes to rouse the Giants by calling them quitters. The Giants didn't quit so much as they fell into a hole with two early fumbles.

Also working to rouse the Giants is the notion (e.g., see it here) that the difference between Manning and Roethlisberger is the supporting cast. This isn't exactly true. The guys surrounding Eli Manning are not Eli Manning's problem. The Giants' o-line, Pettitgout, Whittle, O'Hara, Lucier, and Diehl, is not bad. Tiki Barber puts the ball on the ground but he's otherwise an excellent back. Jeremy Shockey can catch the ball. So can Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer. I don't know why Eli Manning has been so wretched, but I don't think the blame can be laid on his supporting cast. You have to sympathize with these guys. First the coach sticks with the no-good rookie, and then the media blame you for his problems.

I expect Manning will stink for half the game. And I expect Warner will spark the Giants' offense in the second half. This spark won't light a fire, however.

Giants media quiz Roethlisberger

Ben did an interview with some Giants reporter. They ask him if he was hurt because the Giants skipped him to pick Manning. Of course he said no.

If Ben Roethlisberger wanted to be a Giant, why would he wear a black and gold suit on draft day? As they wrote in Sports Illustrated:

Roethlisberger had the presence of mind to wear Steelers colors -- a black suit with gold tie -- to Madison Square Garden for the Draft.

"Yeah, no one knew I was going here. But I knew. I thought I looked good in black and gold," he said.

My response was duh, we all look good in black and gold, but that made a pretty strong impression on me on at the time. Smart kid.

Bettis and retirement

This story's on the AP wire and figures to show up in a couple hundred papers tomorrow.

A couple years ago we were ready to push him out the door. The way he's running right now, he looks as good as ever. If the rest of the season unfolds the way the first 13 games have gone, I think Bettis could be our MVP.

Him or Farrior.

One of Littlefield's best

Paul Meyer writes that "the Kendall trade might go down as one of Littlefield's best, although there's still work to be done with it" in today's Q & A.

I like it but would emphasize the "may" in that sentence. We have to reserve judgment with trades. If Humberto Cota has a breakout year and goes to the All-Star game as a catcher next year, that Jose Guillen trade, years ago, will look pretty good. OK, that probably won't happen, but you get the idea. We just don't know what Kendall, Lawton, or Redman will do next year or the year after that. It looks like the team made some good calculated gambles. We'll see if they pay off.

The fans are still ranting about steroids as though they have the power of Popeye's spinach. Get a clue, people. I don't want to insult anyone who feels ripped off by the whole Barry Bonds and Balco story. That anger is real if maybe displaced.

But I keep thinking that mega-wealthy athletes and the player's union are being presented to the public as a kind of scapegoat. That ruins some of the pleasure of the game for me. I wish certain powerful people would stop demagoging the issue.

Fans and other people should recognize that steroids have become a political issue all out of proportion to the few facts we have about those drugs. This is the story of drugs in America: always getting demagoged. First it was alcohol, now it's illegal drugs. I don't expect any of this to change overnight. If you are reading this and remain unpersuaded, and still believe that steroids did for Barry Bonds what spinach did for Popeye, maybe you have time to consider Will Carroll's good editorial for the gray lady. The facts about steroids fail to support the hysterical conclusions some people are pushing as they seek to gather an audience impressed with their righteousness.

Baseball is not broken. Nothing's wrong with it. It's just as messed up as it's always been. It reflects all of things we do and values we hold. It reflects our stupidity and our intelligence. It reflects our generosity and our selfishness. It reflects our industry and laziness. I could go on. For me, this is what makes it great. Or at least important. For all of us.

More Steeler links

More Steeler links as we wait for Benito to get physical.

Matt Cmar found this great article from the Beaver County Times on Ben Roethlisberger's Monday-night South Side routine. Funny, he didn't mention anything about dancing midgets when he spoke at halftime two days ago.

Ryan of Heels, Sox, and Steelers recommends this article on Mark Whipple (reg'n req'd), Ben's quarterbacks coach. Hopefully Whipple can explain to Ben that the Steelers really aren't winning only because Ben goes to see the dancing midget.

Today's USAToday looks at that most important topic, how athletes express themselves by styling their hair. Troy Polamalu is featured, much as he was earlier in the season in Sports Illustrated. What is it with the tendency of modern sports reporting to look more and more at the wardrobes and toys of the players? Sports Illustrated looks more and more like GQ these days.

That said, Troy Polamalu is far cooler than any kind of GQ model:

Adds Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, also Samoan: "If you look at all the great warriors, starting biblically with Samson, he had long hair. The American Indians, the Samurais, the Greeks, the Chinese - everybody had long hair. I don't know of anything that says you have to have your hair short."
Let's keep Troy out of the military.

A Palm Springs, California paper copies this USA Today article on some of the lady doctors who care for the Steelers.

The Steelers-sponsored Halifax Midget Football team (not the dancing kind) went to Florida to play in a tournament.

The State College paper looks at the consistency of the Steelers offensive line and features quotes from Jeff Hartings.

The New York media continues to emphasize the negative as they look ahead to Saturday's game, as we see there in a piece from the Staten Island Advance. The Asbury Park Press has a similar tale to tell.

Jim Wexell of the Uniontown Herald Standard reports Plaxico might play this week.

Ed Bouchette discusses the Steelers' recent history with the bye.

All hail Honus Wagner

All hail the genius with this idea.

They need help. Dig around in the couch and see if you can find your old Wagner tobacco card. The museum asks for Wagner stuff, computer equipment, and other things, like money.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Some Steelers reading

There's a ton of good reading about the Steelers right now.

Bob Oates of the LA Times says Ben Roethlisberger gets no help from his coaches and should be rookie and player of the year. I swear, I don't even know why those LA people try to write about sports.

Lynn Swann might run for Governor as a Republican.

South-central Pennsylvanians continue to complain about the local and national media's determination to force-feed them coverage and broadcasts of the Baltimore Raisins. All hail Melanie Callen, the author of that letter to the editor.

If we've learned anything from the steroids issue, it's that American voters like it when politicians ignore the so-called "serious" or "real" issues and fret instead about the state of professional sports. Ed Rendell should get out in front of this brewing issue. He needs to declare that if he's re-elected in 2006, he'll force the NFL to cede south-central PA print and television markets to the Steelers. Lynn Swann can respond by declaring that, should he be elected Governor, he'll force the NFL to surrender south-central PA and the northwestern corner of PA, which is now suffering under coverage and broadcasts of the Buffalo Bills.

It's easy to see where this will lead. Both candidates will have to deal with the city of Cleveland. Obviously, it's only a matter of time before the Clevelanders petition to secede from Ohio and join Pennsylvania. The state of the Browns will prove to be the tipping point. As Pennsylvanians, they could appeal to Lynn Swann and Ed Rendell to get the Steelers games pre-empting the Browns broadcasts.

Oh, wait. Nevermind. While we have the crystal ball warmed up, I also see the Browns getting sold to a Las Vegas group who convert them into Major League Baseball's thirty-third franchise.

The crystal ball gets cloudy when I attempt to determine if this gets the Pirates back into the NL East.

In other news, former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mel Blount finished third in a Las Vegas rodeo.

The New York media have nothing nice to say about Eli Manning. Here's a sample:

Tom Coughlin has made it abundantly clear the Eli Manning is not coming out of the starting lineup, no matter how bad he looks. And against a top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers defense that picked Chad Pennington off three times last weekend, Saturday's game will be even more wretched than his unwatchable effort in Baltimore.
That critic, Stephen Edelson, is right I think. Losing only tends to promote more losing. The Giants should make Eli Manning force his way into the lineup Craig Wilson-style. I can't agree that it's right to hand him the job and tell the rest of the team to suck it up. The QB is not that important. Kurt Warner looked better in relief; he should be the starter this week.

True or false: Jason is to Peyton as Jeremy is to Eli. I'll give you the answer to that question in five years.

A Florida copy editor sizes up the running for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jason Bay and Ben Roethlisberger may be making appearances together next March.

I never knew there was a Korean soccer team named the Steelers. If you can read Korean, click here. Otherwise, check out "the Steelyard" and their cool Steeler logo here. Yes, they make steel in Pohang. It wouldn't surprise me if many older Pittsburghers know this too well.

Troy Polamalu is stuffing the Pro Bowl ballot box for James Farrior. Maybe you should too.

Do me a favor and post other links in the comments. One monkey can't find all the good stuff in half an hour.

Rumor round-up

If outrage is one thing that blogs do well (or often), so too is rumor. Sports Illustrated serves some up. It features mostly stale news for Pirates fans. But there are twenty-nine other teams out there. So have fun with it and stay off the steroids.

Matt Clement

The Indians hope to land Matt Clement because he's from this part of the country. Sheldon Ocker's report for the Akron Beacon Journal suggests Clement wants to be a Pirate:

The Tribe has one advantage over Toronto and Anaheim. Clement lives in Butler, Pa., near Pittsburgh, a mere 1 ½-hour drive from Jacobs Field. His family, his wife's family and their friends also live in Butler, and that means a lot to Clement.

Even before he became a free agent, he had expressed a desire to play for the Indians (even moreso the Pittsburgh Pirates), because Cleveland is close to home. Whether that will be enough to sway him is the question.

I'm constantly amazed that more players aren't vocal about their deeply-held desire to play for the Pirates. It's just not possible to be a gamer and not want to be a Pirate.

If the Bucs have a chance to add whatever payroll they'd need to sign Clement, they should do it. You know they'd sell some tickets from it, and a team can't have too much starting pitching. If the team got creative, maybe they could find a way to add him and stay under budget. I'd guess that the fans would be pretty understanding if they had to unload another big-name player to make room for him, too.

All that said, I'm not holding my breath.

... as Trev points out, the Pedro signing means Clement is in for a huge payday. The Bucs would probably have to offer more job security (i.e., more years) to compete and then maybe we'd have another Kendall contract on our hands.

Coming attractions

From Bob Dvorchak's report this morning:

While finding a veteran catcher remains the club's top priority, general manager Dave Littlefield said he will try to add another starting pitcher and a another corner outfielder/first baseman before spring training starts.

Any guesses?

Dvorchak also notes that Craig Wilson cut his hair. And talks with Jack Wilson about a multi-year deal aren't going so well. Dvorchak writes that Jack Wilson has three years of arbitration left. Since 2004 was his first year on arbitration money, I thought he had only 2005 and 2006.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Brewers get Carlos Lee

For Luis Vizcaino and Scott Podsednik. Lee will get $8M next year and has an $8.5M option for the year after that.

Scott Podsednik's 2003 season was, I thought, the best-case scenario for Tike Redman's 2004 season. I still think Tike Redman could have a season like that. But I'm doubtful. If it was going to happen, it would have happened last year, when the stars aligned for him and he had his bite at the apple.

The Bucs will have a lot of options for fourth outfielder. I don't think that Tike Redman's career as a Pirate as over, but I don't guess he's a lock to make the 2005 opening-day roster. Far from it.

P.S. The Brewers also picked up Nashville.

Santiago deal hinges on physical

Dick Kaegel reporting for Joe Rutter wrote pretty much the same thing yesterday.

I wonder how fast Santiago can run through the tires and climb the cargo net.

Rule 5 draft

For the minor-league portion, the relevant details are here. Yawn.

If you want to be knowledgeable about what did and didn't happen in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, go read Dayn Perry's rundown of the top 25 eligible players up at Baseball Prospectus. It's a premium i.e. subscriber-only article. BP is working its way back into my good graces. They seem to have realized that the Pirates have a lot of fans who mostly still have a lot of pride and dignity despite twelve losing seasons or whatever it was that just came and went.

Perry also wrote a shorter version, with an explanation of the whole Rule 5 thing, for Fox Sports.

The Bucs didn't take anyone and didn't lose anyone in the major-league portion of the draft. I guess they can pass the hair shirt to the Cubs organization.

I don't think Ruz will wear it but surely some Cubs fan somewhere will blow a gasket and be full of self-hatred because his team lost some potentially-good "prospects" in the Rule 5 draft. And maybe the Chicago Tribune will publish an editorial in which someone suggests the team left two guys unprotected so they could make $100,000.

Giants get Matheny

Got three years, $9M. Scratch him off the list of candidates for the Pirates' job.

Good steroids editorial

All hail Bob Russ of the Canton Repository. The hole in my argument - that steroids are not really a big deal - is that it's not realistic to expect a majority of fans to believe that any time soon. They are a big deal. Too many people have an extreme, if uninformed and ill-considered, opinion of their influence on the game. That makes them a big deal. It's not a cheating problem but a public-relations problem.

The players, by agreeing that it's a good idea to spend a lot of team revenue on a steroids-testing bureaucracy, basically do something which is the equivalent of hiring a lot of detectives to make sure they don't smoke cigarettes or drink too much coffee. It's not a bad thing unless this cost gets passed on to the fans.

KC Star: details of coming Santiago trade

Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reports:

The Royals were near a trade Sunday in which veteran catcher Benito Santiago would go to the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor-league pitcher Leo Nuñez.

Royals general manager Allard Baird confirmed the two sides were talking but said no agreement had been reached. Pittsburgh club officials also confirmed serious discussions.

The proposed trade seems to hinge on Santiago, 39, passing a physical later this week in Pittsburgh. Sources said the Royals have also agreed to pay about $1.4 million of Santiago's $2.15 million salary for 2005.

Deserved or not, and rightly or not, the Bucs have a reputation for being down on short pitchers. Nunez's listed weight is 150 pounds. With all our starting pitching and the likes of 6'4" 220 Jeff Miller on the roster, Leo Nunez is pretty buried on the depth chart. If he can find a way to add thirty-five pounds of muscle to his frame, maybe Nunez can be the next Roy Oswalt.

I don't mind paying the old guy $700K to call a savvy game and bat eighth. I like the rumor a lot more now that I learn that we're dealing Nunez and that we won't be paying all of the old man's salary. Financially, it's a much better deal than the situations we were looking at with Charles Johnson. With Bones, I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief that deal fell through. Say what you want about his PNC career numbers, there's no way I'm going to believe that Charles Johnson would hit more than .250 / .310 / .390 as a Pirate. If we payed him a lot to do that a lot, we also fail to realize any potential value stored in Cota and House and semi-regular catchers.

The front office must think that the team needs more than a catching coach to help Cota and House along. I suppose there is the depth question. As a fan, I want to see twelve starters on March 1. Why would we expect them to start the year thin at catcher? Kendall was unusually durable for a catcher. Who would back up Cota and House if the team were to go with them for 2004? Ronny Paulino? And with many of our eggs in the one basket labeled "young pitching," I can understand the conservative approach to the catching position. Since Santiago would come in with a one-year deal (I'm assuming), Cota and/or House would have a better chance to catch three games a week than they would with CJ on a two-year, $3M+ deal.

The deal has the virtue of dealing off the bottom of our stack of pitching prospects to get a guy that won't totally block our two catching prospects. It also protects the young starting pitchers.

...Bob Dvorchak reports the team is not looking for a full-time catcher.

...Joe Rutter also reports on the deal. He reminds us that old man Benito has a history with the steroids people. A lot of good that did him. Maybe he was massaging the clear into the wrong body parts or something.

Winning team

Hines Ward:

"Each week, it's another guy stepping up to make big plays," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward. "That's been the case all year. It's all about team. That's the special thing about it."
The Steelers are playing as a fused group.

Even Alonzo Jackson can step up for a game.

Great Chuck Finder column

I guess this was out yesterday, but I just saw it this morning. The man is right.

If you know who you are going to play next when the game ends, then you are looking ahead. FWIW the Steelers get a sweet national-television 1:30pm Saturday game this week against the Giants. If the Giants play Kurt Warner, the Steelers could be in for a world of hurt. They are a team that never sinks very low.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Joe Rutter: Johnson deal dead

Joe Rutter reports that Rox GM O'Dowd and the Bucs have washed their hands of Charles Johnson. It sounds like CJ and his agent held out too long for too much, hoping to leverage Johnson's consent to waive a no-trade clause for a one-year extension.

Rutter reports that the Bucs are looking at other no-hit types. I'm not sure why they can't go to camp with what they got and see what Jose Guillen Humberto Cota and J.R. House can do. If you're going to sign a bullpen catcher to bat eighth and call a savvy game, why does it have to be done before April?

More Lawton stories

Robert Dvorchak weighs in with his report on the Lawton deal. He notes that

Lawton's acquisition means that Craig Wilson, who is still being considered as an everyday player, will get most of his at-bats as a first baseman next season. But Daryle Ward is still in the mix at first.

As much as I enjoyed Craig Wilson's multi-month Jim Thome impersonation, I still find myself remembering his 2004 season not for that but for the second-half slump. He was the picture of inconsistency.

Joe Rutter tells us Lawton is no Brett Favre. Can Brett work the count? Snarkiness aside, he's right, Lawton has been hurt in his career. Rutter also notes that the Bucs are considering multi-year deals for Jack Wilson and Oliver Perez.

Steelers 17, Jets 6

I enjoyed that. (singing) Here we go . . .

What time is it &c. &c.

Just saw Ray Lewis and the Raisins doing the circle-up pre-game dog-chant thing for the FOX camera. Loved how half the team was slacking off, just totally standing around like "this is stupid," then nodding their heads and being "into it" when Ray Lewis turned and faced in their direction.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Bucs considering Clement, more comment from the Cleveland papers

Because you can have never have enough starting pitching. I guess. Jim Molony reports this for

The Akron Beacon Journal, which was in denial about the Lawton-for-Rhodes deal, now says it was a good decision because the Tribe can re-sign Ronnie Belliard. Uh, ok. They also write that Clement should command more than $19M over three years.

Good eye, Trev, thanks for putting the first link in the comments.

...Trev has a Bucco blog! I should click on homepage links more often. Way to go, Trev.

...more ABJ coverage of the trade here. Now they write good deal because Lawton's right field defense is "far below" the major-league norm. Also, with Belliard due to get re-signed and Coco Crisp's emergence, they didn't really need another leadoff hitter. Their loss, our gain. It might work out well for the Indians. But there's no doubt I think that Lawton fits the Bucs' team real well. He bats left-handed, works the count, can lead off. If his right-field defense is no good, then it's a good thing we have an "easy" right field.

All hail Matt Lawton

Lawton is a Pirate.

More here. One Justice B. Hill files for Ed Eagle must be passed out beneath the Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas, Pirate fans. And Happy Hannukah and Kwaanza while we're at it.

I don't know what you're thinking right now. My gut says this is a great deal for us. My gut also says has another beer to celebrate.

All hail David Littlefield! I like the trade.

PhillyNews: Brian Meadows available

Paul Hagen of the PhillyNews reports the Pirates are making Brian Meadows available this weekend. Any team that lacks starting pitching depth would be nuts to pass on him. We can spare him because we already have a number of reliable "innings-eaters."

Toronto Sun: No Alex Rios for Craiggers

Report here.

Honest Wagner favicon available

The wonderful and multi-talented Leeeny made and currently hosts the HW icon that may appear now to the left of the URL in your browser.

If you're curious about the origin of the image, look here. It's a detail from the picture of our junto. Depending on the extent to which it taps her bandwidth, it may only be available for a limited time. But no worry. It should be stored in your cache after one visit.

All hail Leeeny! Since it's a little early in the morning for all-hailing, I'll put some Bailey's in my coffee for her.

STLtoday: Pirates after Matheny

Story here.

Winter meetings, day one wrap-up

Jim Molony sums up all the action of day one of this year's winter meetings.

Joe Beimel Frank Brooks cleared waivers.

...hold on. Bob Dvorchak reports Brooks was claimed by Los Angeles.

More on Matt Lawton

Someone with the Cleveland organization is whispering in the ear of the Akron Beacon Journal. The Plain Dealer reports there's "merit" to the rumors that the teams are talking about a deal involving Lawton.

Joe Rutter also reports on the deal for the Trib-Review.

Suspicion of steroid use a factor quotes DL acknowledging that this a factor in their evaluation of free agents. As it should be. Teams should also be wary of players with a history of alcohol and other drug problems.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Honest Wagner NFL pick 'em: week 14

oak 007.5 ATL ..oak ..oak ..ATL
sea 006.5 MIN .MIN* .MIN* .sea*
cin 011.5 NWE ..cin .cin* ..cin
chi 007.5 JAX ..chi ..chi .chi*
nyg 009.5 BAL ..BAL ..nyg ..nyg
ind -10.5 HOU ..ind .ind* .ind*
cle 010.5 BUF .BUF* .BUF* ..BUF
nwo 006.5 DAL ..DAL ..nwo ..DAL
det 009.5 GNB .gnb* ..det ..det
nyj 005.5 PIT .PIT* .PIT* ..nyj
mia 011.5 DEN ..mia ..DEN ..DEN
snf 006.5 ARZ ..ARZ ..ARZ ..ARZ
tab 005.5 SND .SND* ..SND
stl 006.5 CAR ..stl ..CAR ..stl
phl 009.5 WAS ..phl ..phl .phl*
ksc -03.5 TEN ..ksc ..TEN ..TEN

Scoreboard, powered by the Bones-owned Diebold Corp.

Bones 106 86 0.552
Scoop 104 88 0.541
Rowdy 097 95 0.505

Best Bets
Bones 106 86 0.552
Scoop 104 88 0.541
Rowdy 097 95 0.505

Steelers own the Jets, historically, but I wouldn't give them five and a half. (Correction note: Jets have won last two; ditching Vinny cured their Pittsburgh woes. Correction to correction: one of the last two was an exhibition game. They don't count, duh.)

History, whatever. I can use the force and sense that the Jets have an edge coming into this game. The Steelers had to give 110% to beat sorry Jacksonville by a smidge when we all expected them to steamroller the team made up of former Steelers (Jason Gildon, Fu, Dewayne, Troy Edwards). Meanwhile, the Jets were chilling in the hot tub (yes, you can do that) trading tales of how great they were as they pounded the hapless Texans.

Chad (to Curtis): Dude, you know what took balls? The way I signaled first down after that scramble.

Curtis (to Chad): Funny I didn't see that. I must have been rushing for 134 yards.

Justin (to himself): Damn my ribs are kinda sore from catching all those passes.

Santana (to Shaun): My punt return - was it 36 or 46 yards? I can't remember I was running so fast.

Shaun (watching Steelers game): Damn. I woulda made that sack.

The Jets have a pretty big chump factor so I see them blowing this chance. Steelers 17, Jets 13.

If the Steelers roar back from last week's game and pound the Jets like they did the Pats and the Eagles, and win it all 27-3, then next week I'll be singing the "Here we go, / Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl" song.

On the reports out of Cleveland

One reason I've respected DL's plan to rebuild through starting pitching: it's always scarce and, like power hitting, often "overvalued." Everyone giggled when the Bensons massaged $22.5M from the Mets, but now the market for starting pitching is drying up and many teams will get even less value with the remaining options.

Reports out of Cleveland - in the Plain Dealer and in the Beacon Journal - suggest the Tribe are up a creek without paddles. The Bucs have about twelve guys in line to start without rushing a guy like Zach Duke. They may be able to deal a starter. Even a guy like Matt Peterson might command a lot of attention for teams with little organizational depth for their rotations.

Of our front four or five, I'm not sure who I'd deal first, or if I'd deal any of them. Not Kip Wells, but that would be selling him low. If his only problem last year was a little undiagnosed carpal tunnel, he's as good as new after the surgery to widen that tunnel in his wrist. Or so I say. Oliver Perez should be untouchable. Josh Fogg now reminds me a lot of Tim Wakefield. It might be a good time to trade him, or maybe not; it depends how much his durability and adaptability are valued on the trade market. Mark Redman is another innings-eater. And unlike Fogg, trade him now and we're selling him low.

I have no idea what the Bucs could get for John Van Benschoten of if they'd even consider trading him.

What about Brian Meadows? The man with the rubber arm could really help a team that is desperate for a fifth starter.

While it would be hard to part with one of our better or more reliable starters, it would be even harder to experience the 2005 season without a power upgrade. If the team doesn't think we can get that from Daryle Ward or Brad Eldred, then they have to go get someone.

One other thing. The PD writes that Shapiro "dismissed" the Lawton rumors, but the ABJ reports that he dismissed them by saying he wouldn't comment on rumors involving specific players. Both papers express some skepticism that the Tribe would want Rhodes. By calling him a "poor man's J.D. Drew" I meant to suggest that he's a guy, I think, with a reputation for being an injury-prone bust and some potential for a year or two that exceeds anything he's done to date. I'm looking at him as a potential leadoff hitter. The front office knows that the current team has terrible patience at the plate and they need to bring in someone who will work the count and show the other guys how to work the count. If the J.D. Drew comparison led some to think I consider Lawton a power hitter, well, then, it was a dumb comparison to make.

Who's unprotected

If you are wondering who could get taken from the Bucs in this year's Rule 5 draft, Robert Dvorchak has your answers.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Burnitz and Gibbons rumors

Ed Eagle reports that Littlefield may make a trade this weekend. Jay Gibbons and Jeromy Burnitz are mentioned as possible additions.

Here's my first impressions. Both these guys could be expected to hit more than Charles Johnson would. Bones has been a fan of Burnitz in the past; I'd like to see what he has to say about him now. Gibbons reminds me of a left-handed Craig Wilson. And that's a good thing.

Matt Lawton fan club forming here

I am a big fan of Matt Lawton, who I regard as the poor man's J.D. Drew - well, something like that - and I think he'd make a great addition to the current crop of Pirates. He's a tremendous leadoff hitter with all the patience of Kendall and more power. My memory (never to be trusted) says that some of the injuries that have made his career "injury-prone" were freak things and not the kind of injuries that actually suggest you can expect more injuries down the road. Not, that is, unless you believe in bad luck and think perhaps someone can be born under a bad sign.

He's gotten little love in Cleveland because he failed to meet expectations in his first season. If his health is sound and he can pass a Pirate physical, he's someone we could really use.

To complainers I'd say, put his .370 career OBP in your pipe, smoke it, and then tell us if you still feel like complaining.

OK, I wouldn't say that, because it would be ruude, but what's not to like?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Gammons: Fogg non-tendered?

The other PG is reporting that clubs think the Bucs might non-tender Josh Fogg. I'd be shocked if that happened. Perhaps they anticipate a huge payday in arbitration? I sure do wish I understood better how the arbiters arbitrate.

RockyMountainNews: details of Johnson deal

Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News reports (scroll down) that the Rockies and Pirates have some kind of tentative deal in place if the Rockies can't work something out with the Tampa Bay club. Ringolsby writes that the Rockies have agreed to pay $8.25M of Johnson's $10M salary ($9M + $1M bonus for waiving his no-trade clause). Johnson is also demanding a contract for 2006 worth about $1.25M. I don't report this as fact but as a summary of this Denver report. For all I know, it's wishful thinking on the part of this beat writer.

There's no word about who's the prospect the Pirates would send to Denver, if there is one. I hope it's not Zach Duke.


These fine ladies were before my time. I had no idea the Steelers had ever had cheerleaders.

Check them out. They are too cute in those hats.

Here's a good wallpaper-worthy action shot.

There's a lot more here. Mon dieu.

Here Comes Roethlisberger

Bwa-ha-ha. In a related note, Mrs. Rowdy decided the best thing in the whole Steelers catalog is the black-and-gold Santa. Not this one, which is also cool. This one. Or I think that's the one. Rowdietta destroyed the catalog. This is also a good look for Santa. This one appears to be wearing the alternate home uniform. The Steelers don't go for alternate uniform looks so that one looks a little bogus to me.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Eagle answers

Ed Eagle answers a bunch of questions I could have written myself. Shorter Eagle: No Charles Johnson if he's $2M per year, Craig Wilson is not a catcher, Littlefield promised to re-invest the Kendall savings and there's no reason to doubt his word, JVB will have a shot at the fifth starter position.

One of my hobby horses has been the fact that the five-man rotation is a myth. A team doesn't need five starters on April first, they need more like nine starters. Otherwise there's no hope of successfully weathering injury and unexpected suckitude. The only way that the addition of Redman limits JVB's opportunity is this: if everyone else is healthy and up to speed, the odds are longer for JVB to start the season with the Pirates. Otherwise I'm sure we'll be seeing him at some point in the season.

Eagle's mailbag also calls our attention to this recent interview with DL. There's a lot of good stuff in there. Sounds to me like Littlefield is ready to do some more trading. I'm all for unloading some of the minor-league depth for the right big-league proven veterans.