Saturday, October 28, 2006

Making MLB better, again

After further thought, it boils down to one thing for me: the season is much too damn long. It has to end at least three weeks earlier. They can start it sooner or they can shorten the playoffs.

I'd favor eight divisions of four teams who play each other a lot, and the extra round of playoffs is needed for that. So I'd suggest they start it sooner and trim the schedule to 154 games.

83 wins

So MLB has gone and made a schedule and a playoff schedule that results in an 83-win team taking the championship. I've long argued that just about any team can win 82 games, my baseline expectation for just about every team (including the Pirates) year after year.

Far be it from me to question the business judgment of MLB's owners, who are selling plenty of tickets and making money hand over fist, but the game has lost some of its appeal as a game for hardcore fans. Perhaps they are fine with that. The circus sells plenty of tickets and hardly anyone identifies themselves as a loyal circus fan.

To improve the quality of competition, which may have nothing to do with ticket sales, the league should do these things: (1) reorganize the leagues and divisions into even, geographically-tight groups, (2) shorten the season, and (3) adopt a playoff structure that more heavily favors the teams with the most wins during the regular season. I won't hold my breath; the league is happy, I think, to sacrifice anything for the sake of their bottom line. That may even be the best long-term strategy.

Congratulations, St. Louis. All championships are equally awesome. Enjoy the offseason.

Ben to start

Barring another injury on the trip to Oakland, Ben will start on Sunday, Dulac reports. Hampton will join Duce on the sideline, but Haggans and Porter will both start.

Marino prediction

Also from Dulac's notebook is this Dan Marino quote from this week's edition of HBO's "Inside the NFL":

"The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-4 with five division games left. They are going to win that division."
To think I used to hate Marino. All hail winning the division!

Rooney fined $25,000

Dan Rooney doesn't care.

But Rooney apparently had no qualms about speaking out, or about suffering the consequences that came down Friday. "I don't care. They need to know," Rooney said.

In fact, just to make sure he drove his point home, Rooney handed Goodell a copy of the Post-Gazette, including his quotes, at a league meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday.

Is a bigass fine an appropriate way to thank someone for getting you a job? Shame on you, Roger Goodell.

All hail BIGFISH!

For going 9-4 to bring home the Week 7 HW NFL pick 'em pool shout-out. Do Rowdy and I just suck this year? Or are we getting unlucky? Or has someone stolen our mojo? Not understanding why, we continue our Littlefieldian freefall.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hall of Fame

Carnell Lake, Dermontti Dawson, Kevin Greene, and Donnie Shell nominated.

Hines proud of Hines superhuman speed

Gerry Dulac has Hines quotes: "I'm the only receiver since I've been here to take a skinny route all the way and I've done it twice. I did it last year against New England and I did it this year against supposedly the fastest man in the league. I like to call it running scared."

I like to call it losing, as the Steelers lost both of these games. Hines Ward "Superfast Hines". He's got smooth dance moves too.

Ben

Cowher will wait til Sunday morning to announce if Ben or Batch is starting.

Off the field, Ben has had a busy week, getting teased by the Onion, Sportspickle, and Deadspin.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Burnitz bought out

Ed Eagle reports. No surprise here. Burnitz gets 700K to just go away. Now DL wants to look at anybody else:

"When we originally signed Burnitz, we felt that we wanted to sign someone to a one-year contract -- in his case with a club option -- with the idea of giving some other players time to see how they developed. Right now, our feeling is that we're going to look in another direction, whether that's internal or through a trade or maybe through another free agent."
Which is to say, those other players were either given away by Chief Littlefield, didn't develop quite as hoped, or maybe never even existed in the first place.

In hindsight, DL should've read the writing on the wall. There was no reason to think Burnitz would bounce back from his lousy 2005 .258/.322/.435 year. BBTF's Dan Szymborski wrote this upon the JB signing:

"Horrible, horrible move by Dave Littlefield. If the jury's still out on Littlefield, it's only because the jury asked for their Chinese food to be poisoned so that they wouldn't have to watch this team. I strongly suggest that Pirate fans really make an effort to do what I do with the Orioles - vote with your wallet. Say no to David Littlefield and his Tall Fetid Devil Id. OK, I couldn't think of a better anagram."

At the time, DL rationalized the cockblocking of CW:

"Whether it's media or fans, everybody has to realize that, if we are going to get better, part of it is having better backups," Littlefield said. "Through ownership, we've been able to increase payroll, so you're going to have the opportunity to have quality backups."

(Sounds familiar...) Tracy played it safe with the "We are a different team with Jeromy Burnitz" quote.

Not too surprisingly and despite DL's hopes, JB crashed and burned with a disappointing .238/.289/.422 line. For these struggles he came to epitomize everything that was wrong with the organization and invoked the hatred of the fanbase, culminating in "Buck Furnitz" shirts. At times I felt bad for JB, the 2006 whipping boy, as he took beatings that the front office deserved. He took it all in stride, though, as one would expect from a $6,000,000 man. My favorite JB quote was the one Billy called JB's reflection on the essential inscrutability of reality:

"I realized a while back that the world doesn't make a lot of sense, so trying to understand it doesn't make sense," Burnitz said. "I'm not judging it. It just is what it is."
Best of luck, JB, to you, your family, and your Maltese named Fluffy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Duce is Jim Brown reincarnated

Ed Bouchette gets silly in today's chat. Ed relates that Ben might practice tomorrow, James Harrison will miss Sunday's game, and Troy won't drink Gatorade.

Ben's injury not severe

Ben's agent thinks Ben seems fine, otherwise Ben would've stayed in Atlanta or not waited a full day to see the UPMC neurosurgery experts, EB reports. Lucky for Ben, UPMC knows concussions, and has found NFL players are typically fine "within a week or so" after suffering one. Meanwhile, the Carbolic Smoke Ball breaks the terrific news of a Big Ben miracle.

Monday, October 23, 2006

All is not well with Ben's head

Concussions are like timeouts--you can't have many in a short period of time.

Get well, Ben.

Shame on Dan Rooney

I disagree with Bones on this one. The Steelers lost that game fair and square. The Steelers have no business pointing fingers at the officials. Yes, they beat up the Falcons good. The defense was great. But the team, especially the offense and the special teams, utterly failed to do the simple things--e.g., protect the ball--required to translate that beat-up into victory. As with the Cincinnati game, the Steelers let this one get away and they have only themselves to blame for it.

The officiating was inconsistent, sure, but the refs are human. We know that going into the game.

The top story on Ballbug this morning is the piece of crap that maybe was or maybe wasn't on Kenny Rogers' hand for one inning. So he forgot to wash his hands after using the bathroom. That's no way to summarize the game.

What's gotten into so many sports fans? The city of Seattle leads the way when it comes to public reactions to sporting disappointment. The country has gone nuts with all this working of the refs. Why such outrage, such suspicion, such disrespect for the rule of zebras? Next thing you know, people will be hollering about "purity of elections." If we can't practice civility as sports fans, there's no hope for us as citizens. What if, some day, (knock on wood), we are shaken from our prosperous slumber to debate real-world emergencies such as a war, a coup, or an environmental disaster?

There can be no sports of any kind without referees. And there can be no long-term enjoyment of the game if people don't respect fundamental rules of sportsmanship. Unless the zebras screw up as terribly as they did with Polamalu's interception in the 2005 Steelers-Colts playoff game, there's no reason to do anything but hold your tongue and sublimate that anger into any more worthwhile activity.

Ridiculous calls

Of course the fumbles had more to do with the loss than the officiating, but the zebras were suspect enough to make Dan Rooney call them out:

"These officials should be ashamed of themselves," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said. "That last call, you don't call that kind of call."

Rooney did not limit his criticism of referee Ron Winter's crew to that one call, either. He made reference to "ridiculous calls," including one in which Reed was penalized for tripping Falcons return man Allen Rossum near the end of the first half.

"They said he tripped him," Rooney said. "He got beat out, the guy dodged him, he got faked. He didn't trip him, he [Rossum] ran over him and fell."

Shame on you, officials.

Did you feel bad icing a 62-year-old kicker?

Mondesi's house has some questions for coach Cowher.

Labor agreement

MLB players and owners have tentatively reached a labor agreement.

"Everybody's pretty happy with the industry. In baseball, everybody's making out pretty well," Cardinals reliever Jason Isringhausen said.
Speak for yourself, Izzy.

Beer

Despite the Bucs losing for 14 years straight and the Steelers sitting at 2-4, we still have beer. This Full Sail Wassail Winter Ale lives up to its billing as "ridiculously tasty" (6.5% alcohol). It's no Jubelale, but it's damn good. Any other beer suggestions?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Worst game ever

That was the worst football game I've ever seen. It was a nightmare from start to end. A long nightmare. If all the games were like that, there would be no football fans.

Ben hurt, Steelers lose

Happy freaking Sunday.

NFL week 7: Steelers at Falcons

What's the over/under on number of Steeler fans in the Georgia Dome? I'll take the over.

Watch for the option draw.

Ben does not love Heath

Ed Bouchette's daily answer suggests they are not getting the damn ball to Heath Miller because Ben is not looking his way.

Michael Vick = Kordell Stewart

For years, Steeler fans have been saying they've seen this Vick thing before and know how it turns out. Ed Bouchette does his version.

While Vick has been superior to Stewart in some aspects of the running quarterback game, Bouchette's right that still, star wideouts want to start for Atlanta as much as star outfielders want to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the way Vick mouths off to the media, you have to acknowledge that Stewart was the superior team leader.