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.