Saturday, January 22, 2005

Game tomorrow

What else is there to think about tonight?

Polamalu and Rooney

Two good reads from the Beaver County Times. First, this Chris Harlan bio of Troy Polamalu. He could move to cornerback if needed. Yeah, but can he play third base?

And here we have Mr. Rooney saying he'll keep Cowher for twenty years if possible. This I agree with a lot:

"Teams that make changes, that's their business and I don't want to call them names," Rooney said. "When you make a change, you are starting all over. I think that's foolish because it's almost like an expansion team where you're going back to the beginning.
Almost never does firing the coach, changing the GM, etc., produce immediate positive results.

Curve hot stove event

Leeeny attended. Somewhere, Neil Walker's truant officer is prowling the streets.

Our warrior on the mound

Red rover, red rover, Albie Lopez come over.

Winter Ball roundup

Ed Eagle talks to Brian Graham about the players who played winter ball. Castillo played in the outfield. I'd like to see him develop the power needed from a corner outfielder.

Friday, January 21, 2005

No Maddox, No Hope for Steelers

Looking through a stack of Post-Gazette NFLXtras, I'm pretty taken with the September 20, 2004 edition. Above the section title, there's a big picture of Maddox, doubled over in pain, holding his elbow, with a yellow hanky on the field next to him. Below it, Ron Cook has an editorial that never made the web (though it does appear to have been once posted here) called "No Maddox, No Hope for Steelers."

I quote: "There's no way to soften the loss of Tommy Maddox .... The Steelers' season is finished."

A lot of people agreed with Cook (but not this guy, FWIW).

Big Ben, Godsend indeed. It's not the QB that was a sudden, surprising gift so much as it was the whole season.

One game to win now. I say they do it. This time we get the flukey touchdown. Steelers 17, Patriots 6.

Built from the storm, for the storm

NYT story here.

Pardon me while I wipe a tear from me eye.

Life as a GM

You may have already seen this story about Billy Beane getting upset with reported and rumored trade offers. I'll link to it here because I won't find it again if I don't link to it.

Beane says only him and his assistant know much of anything about the talks he has with other GMs. My guess would be that the same is true with most of the GMs around the league. Loose lips sink ships. No doubt they have some kind of understanding among each other. If what GM A says to GM B winds up in GM B's newspaper, GM A is not talking to GM B again. In a sense, a big part of the job description for big-league GM must be Professional Keeper of Secrets.

I wonder if they enjoy that part of the job, or if it's just a burden or irritation to always have to keep your mouth shut when you could easily set the record straight and vindicate yourself from some of the sillier charges made by fans and media people.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

All hail Mahrn

Leeeny attempts to describe, with research, the eloquence that is Myron Cope.

More snacks

It's one of those days where I don't get to eat and have to live vending machine-to-mouth.

Meet Preacher Key. This kind of stuff is not going away anytime soon.

Bucco promotional calendar was released today. Hats off to the people who come up with these ideas. I love that they'll play a game as the Crawfords. Jack Wilson in the Box day is great fun, too. Kids Swim Goggles Day? Why not. Hopefully one eye is nothing but a black patch.

Come to think of it, where is Eye Patch Day? ..nyar..

More nuts

Joe Liggins was seen with near? LaTroy Hawkins at some kind of Indiana basketball event (scroll down).

Hawkins is an interesting character for Pirate fans to consider. He's clearly the best reliever in the Cubs bullpen. He's one of the best in the National League. But last year he struggled some and some Cub fans are ready to shit-can him for a retread like Ryan Dempster. Hendry and Baker are playing it cool about the closer situation, not wanting to give someone the title and the added pressure. The Cubs are all about trading or not trading Sammy Sosa right now.

I know all this because Hawkins is on one of my teams in a deep NL-only keeper league. I look in at my players every now and then.

The story with Hawkins appears to be this. Dusty Baker knows that Hawkins is his best reliever. Some Chicago reporters have written that the Cubs intend to use him in the eighth inning. With that, we've also seen reports that the people in Chicago have come around to the way of thinking that regards the eighth inning as more important than the ninth inning. And it is, you know. If your setup man gives up a game-tying run, your best reliever - if that's your closer - doesn't get the chance to keep the lead.

It looks to me like the Cubs intend to use Hawkins as a two-inning closer and/or an eighth-inning setup guy. If he gets three easy outs in the eighth and hasn't been overworked lately, Dusty Baker is not taking him out of the game.

This is relevant to Pirate fans for two reasons. One, we're gonna play the Cubs a lot. Two, some Pirate fans were upset when the team decided to re-sign Jose Mesa to pitch the ninth inning. As I figure it, the Mesa signing ensures that our best relievers, Mike Gonzalez and Salomon Torres, pitch in seventh and eighth innings. All hail Jose Mesa, he's a big gob of mature guile, but in terms of pure stuff, he's not the relief ace of the future. Now all we need to do is find a way to convince Joe Liggins to not yank Gonzalez and/or Torres if they have a quick 1-2-3 inning.

Another interesting Pirate-related article is this one. Here Rocky Nelson, the cornerman from the 1960 World Series team, complains about the high salaries of modern baseball players. There really is something to this. There's no doubt that the average baseball fan's attachment to the players has changed, especially over the last thirty years, and the high salaries are a big part of it. Is it any wonder that players are less respected and loved? One big complaint about "sabermetrics" is that its practioners don't love the game and the players the same way the old-timers did. How can we?

More so than football, baseball only succeeds as an entertainment on a daily basis. It's a soap opera. Historically, the stars of the soap opera were average Joes. Not so any more. The players are not only above-average in terms of raw ability. They are also well into the top tax bracket. In the decades after the Great Depression, a middle class appeared and prospered in America. There had never really been a middle class before, and more and more people are now becoming aware of the fact that this middle class has disappeared. Over the course of the century, the players have migrated into the ranks of the economic elite. Who really cares? Clearly some people - like Rocky Nelson - they care.

Is it any wonder that one of the tenets of the new way of following the game insists so stridently that most players are close to "replacement level" in terms of talent and ability? I wonder if the rising salaries are a context that at least partially explains why so many fans are eager to get their rocks off telling the world that Rob Mackowiak is "just average." There's a definite desire to take most of these guys down a notch in some of the writing about the sport.

Sports Illustrated has been profiling players in way that reminds me of GQ. This is not the way to go, I think. People turn to sports for a diversion from the drudgery and predictability and (sometimes) hopelessness of their everyday lives. Reminding fans that the players now live the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous - even if most of them don't - is not the way to do it. I don't want to read about how much they like certain kinds of cars or Bacco Bucci shoes. It doesn't add to my pleasure when I get back to watching the games. If we're going to talk about their money, maybe we should be talking about the players who invest it responsibly. Or maybe we shouldn't talk about the money at all. There's plenty else to discuss.

Mixed nuts

Good news, bad news with Kip Wells:

"I can still tell that my circulation is still off," Wells told Houston station KRIV-TV Tuesday night. "Like when we decided when we did the surgery, we were not looking for the perfect solution, we just need some relief."

The problem was particularly troublesome when temperatures dropped. Wells said he went through one six-game stretch last season when his middle finger was numb. He said he could hardly feel the baseball and was hit hard.

"It would just go numb," Wells told the station. "So I would just be out there basically trying to effectively pitch and get people out with a finger that felt kind of like a sausage. Try to throw a slider on the outside corner to get a guy out with two men on and two outs. It's a tough assignment with a numb finger."

That from Jim Molony's report on Wells' prospects for 2005. We need this guy healthy. reporters Ed Eagle and Jim Molony describe the second-base job as a Spring-Training competition between Freddy Sanchez and Jose Castillo. Eagle has far more detail; Molony's piece profiles all the middle infielders in the league.

"I look forward to beating them," says Ty Wigginton when asked about the Mets and their offseason spending. He describes the Pirates as a team on the rise for the Asheville Citizen-Times. Look for Wigginton to emerge as the Pirates' MVP this season.

Leeeny found that Big Ben song she was looking for.

Tony Alvarez signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox. Mark Guthrie did the same with the D'Rays.

Finally, the Rockies, who are going to field a crazy-young team of contact-hitting prospects, will switch to a sleeveless jersey look at the request of their players. Add another piece to the mountain of evidence that most ballplayers want nothing more than a chance to play for Pittsburgh. Sure, most of them repress this desire pretty effectively ...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thoughts on the NFL playoffs

Peter King leads the Overreaction Brigade. Don't let your in-laws mess with your game, Peter.

Pirate Soul Museum

Maybe not what you expected. Nyargh.

Can't win the big one


Years ago Cowher was asked why the Steelers had trouble scoring in the red zone. He said he wasn't aware that they had any trouble scoring in the red zone. And regardless, so long as they kept getting into the red zone, they had nothing to worry about.

It's good to have Steeler football in the middle of January. Not much else to say about that.

Mackowiak's arbitration case

Joe Rutter has the numbers here. Dejan Kovacevic has the story too. I think he'll lose. In every other case, I thought the Pirates got a good deal with their players. I don't doubt that Mackowiak isn't worth what he wants, but I do doubt the Pirates will need to pay that figure.

Few teams have relied as much as the Pirates on super-utility-guys. Until Rob hits left-handed pitching better than most right-handed pitchers, he'll have a hard time finding comparable players on other teams that make what he asked for.

Perhaps Rob knows that he will lose his case and submitted his number knowing he would lose. It's not a bad gambit for a guy who is trying to throw off the super-utility label. Let everyone pay a lot of attention to what he did and didn't do last year for the team. I doubt the publicity can hurt him in his more important case, i.e., his case for similar playing time in 2005.

All hail Kovacevic

It must be hard to be so right all the time. I'm not being sarcastic or ironic.

He does a little bit of everything in this week's Q & A. This is especially good:

An analysis of most successful teams would indicate that [what] the Pirates should be doing at this stage with extra money is setting it aside to ensure they can keep at least some of their young talent down the road. That is doubly true of those that do not spend much.
Also his observation that the team would strip down expenses prior to any sale.

The fan's worst nightmare would be this. Littlefield has been setting aside money to retain the worthy past their arbitration years. The team is sold, Littlefield is fired, and the new owners pocket the Jason Bay savings account.

I'm not rooting for a change in ownership for more or less just that reason. Littlefield strikes me as competent. I'd rather see him be the GM for the next ten years than see a new ownership haul in some new guy who will make his own rookie GM errors. Some internet writers are fond of licking the boots of guys like Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta, but I doubt they are really much better at what they do than Littlefield. There are some incompetent GMs. We all know that. But the differences between the competent ones are exaggerated, in my humble opinion. All they need is a reasonable plan, the patience to execute it, and the ability to hire other competent people.

Business social

A business social? (scroll down).

What is that? Is it like a church dance? Or non-alcoholic beer? Let the socials be socials. If you are going to have a party, dim the lights and play the music.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tuesday links o' plenty

Here's what I just read in my one hop on the internets today. In no particular order.

Josh Fogg and Craig Wilson signed. Fogg got $2.15M, reports Joe Rutter. With incentives, I see in Kovacevic's report. Dejan Kovacevic also reports that Craiggers got $3M. Wow. Less than I expected, in both cases. Mackowiak may go the distance with the process. I can imagine the conversation. Pirates; You are a utilityman. Mackowiak: Not-uh. Pirates: You are a utilityman. Mackowiak: How many utilitymen manage 550 plate appearances? Pirates: You are a utilityman. Mackowiak: I am a starter. Etc. etc.

All hail Dick LeBeau. And another toast for JC, who put that link in the comments. More in a moment, maybe.

...okay, here's more. At Baseball Prospectus the anonymous Bucco writer talks smart about salary numbers. Def. worth your time, I think.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Pirate links for you

I'm catching up with the weekend's reading today. Let me know in the comments if I missed anything.

Jack's older brother Andy Wilson will attend minor-league spring training, says Rhiannon Potkey of the Ventura County Star, who also provides a biography of their relationship.

George Vecsey of the New York Times lumps the 90-92 Bucs with the lose-four-Super-Bowl Buffalo Bills. Shudder.

Ed Eagle writes about rebuilding and Ty Wigginton. Rebuilding doesn't mean play only young guys. I scratch my head about Wigginton. If his defense was better, I'd have a lot more patience with him. Eagle quotes one unnamed Bucs player saying Ty will be the team MVP this year.

Speaking of Ty, UNC-Asheville retired his number.

Joe Rutter catches up with Mike Johnston, who was, for a month or two there, one of the better stories of 2004.

Dejan Kovacevic has lots of news. See his notebook and today's report on the fifth starter job. Not a lot of competition right now. Maybe the intimidating Steve Sparks will sign. Otherwise, Zach Duke has a clear shot at the spot, I think. I can easily imagine him beating out Vogelsong and Dave Williams.

More Dejan. This report on Ollie throwing again. Jose Bautista has a sprained wrist. Is this guy going to be injury-prone? Also Cota digs Santiago, which doesn't surprise me. We'll all be pulling for Graham Koonce in Spring Training. Sounds like he has a little more potential than Damon Minor. It will be interesting to see if one of those guys can make the team, especially if they have a monster 7-homer spring like Minor did a year or two ago.

Finally, Steelers open as three point home dogs. Take that to the bank. Dude misses a couple of 60% field goal tries and everyone thinks the Steelers are ripe for the plucking. I'd like to see the Patriots manage both a interception return and a punt return. They'll need them.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Morning after

* Right after the game, Cowher was talking about the two returns:

We overcame two returns for touchdowns.  If you look at the game, the big difference in the first half was the punt return for a touchdown and then in the second half, you have an interception return for a touchdown. Then we move the ball all the way down and we fumble.
And reminded us:
I thought defensively, we played a good football game.  We did not give up a touchdown. They gave up three points throughout the day.
Quotes from this link.

* The PG notebook includes this:

At halftime, New York owned an eight-minute advantage in time of possession. By game's end, the advantage belonged to the Steelers, 39:42 to 31:22. In short, after halftime, the Steelers' offense had a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession.
I'm going to bitch about the first-half playcalling this week when I get the chance. I did not like it. Too many shots down the field. They can't let the other team have the time-of-possession advantage. Not ever.
"When we're on the field longer, we're feeling good," guard Alan Faneca said. "We're kind of energized by being out there."

* Porter recognizes the twelfth man:

"They say home-field advantage is not really an advantage," Joey Porter said, "but I disagree. I applaud our fans. I promise you our fans had a lot to do with [Doug Brien] missing those kicks."
But also note that neither one of those kicks was a gimme.

* Polamalu doesn't watch football.

"I've never watched a football game in my life," safety Troy Polamalu said, promising that wouldn't change today. "But, hopefully, the game goes into, like, 50 overtimes and lasts a few days. I'd be OK with that."
I'd guess he doesn't play video games, either.

* Chico Harlan describes the tailgating scene. The Trib has an article interviewing fans.

* Foote called the win a miracle but no, it was not a miracle. It's been forever since the Steelers won a big game like that so I can understand thinking it was miraculous. But it wasn't even close to a miracle. The Jets were the lucky ones with the two returns.

* Kevin Smith describes the kicking conditions at Heinz Field:

Struggling kickers are nothing new to Heinz Field.

The wind swirls constantly, and the open end to the river has caused constant misery -- just ask Kris Brown and Todd Petersen.

Steelers punter Chris Gardocki is still learning the wind patterns in Heinz Field.

Reed admitted he is a Weather Channel junkie the day before a game. He also understands the changeable weather patterns which are part of Pittsburgh.

"It was 75 the other day at practice,'' Reed said. "I was sweating and the ball was jumping. Today it was cold, but if you got it solid ...''

In this game, the secret was that the open end was perhaps the easiest.

The wind was in Brien's face when he missed his tries into the closed end of the stadium. It was behind Reed on kick.

"(Brien) had it a little tougher with the wind at his face,'' Reed said. "You could tell by the way his first kick started straight and started drifting.''

* Willie Williams had a big game. That's one a few stories about the little guy.

* The Trib-Review notebook reminds me that the playcalling was not so shabby on those key plays in the second half.

* Sam Kusic writes about the things the fans do. I have an interesting story about the end of this game that I'll save for later. It was a little creepy.

* In football, it's the last impression that matters most. Looks like the Jets kicker will go down as the scapegoat. He should change his name to Doug Belinda.

* Another common theme to some of the post-game coverage is Jesus Loves the Steelers. Alan Robinson of the AP, for example, puts Foote's miracle quote right before Hartings' God-must-like-us quote.

* Finally, it sounds like the team emerged from the game without significant injury. All hail that.