MLB: Welcome to the 21st Century

It’s about time Major League Baseball got something right.

With the new five-year collective bargaining agreement that was just signed, MLB finally pulled their head out of the sand and got themselves out of the 19th Century.

The most important things the new plan calls for are expanded replay, blood testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH), another wildcard team in each league (which will be 15 per once the Houston Astros move to the AL in 2013) and restraints on amateur signing bonuses. I just want to break all these down in small capsules real quick:

Expanded replay:
All I can say is that it’s about damn time. MLB will now include fair/foul calls and trapped catches in the outfield. I can’t remember how many times I’ve yelled at the TV over a crappy call over one of those calls that could’ve been reviewed in five seconds. Heck, they probably could’ve even reviewed it on the stadium jumbotron and still have gotten it right.

Honestly, I might even be okay if they eventually expand that to tags on stolen bases and a close call of a safe/out play at bases. Armando Gallaraga would have a perfect game right now if that were the case. Jorge Orta also would’ve been out at 1st base in the 1985 World Series. Umpires Jim Joyce and Don Dekinger would have been saved a lot of hate mail.

The only thing I would never go for is balls and strikes getting reviewed.

Blood testing for HGH:
I’m giving the most applause for this one since MLB is the first major sport in the US to implement this. To be honest, with all the scandal baseball faced in the early 2000’s, I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner. Urine tests can be beat but blood can be a bit trickier. The sport is seemingly cleaner since the Mitchell Report but hopefully this rids the sport of anymore cheaters.

Expansion of playoffs:
It seems like the last few years, the divisions are decided by September and the only interesting race by the end are the wildcard races. Two wildcard spots in the NFL have made things interesting – I think the same thing will happen for baseball.

Amateur signing bonuses:
Well, they don’t have money restrictions anywhere else so this is seemingly the best place to have some. Out of any sport, it’s hardest to predict if baseball prospects will turn out well or not because so much of the game is mental. I think this was a solid move and should help level the playing field for small-market teams. Often times, teams like the Pirates have to let a top-level prospect go by in the draft to someone like the Yankees because they can’t afford them. Some (*cough* sleazeball agents) will argue that multi-sport athletes will go to other sports instead because they can’t get enough money up front in baseball.

“If I’ve got a great athlete, why am I going to go to baseball? I’m going to focus on the other sports,” said agent Scott Boras.

Go ahead – take them somewhere else. I’d rather see someone go to a different sport than potentially get overpaid and fizzle out in Double-A.

 Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I’m especially interested in your thoughts on instant replay:



Verlander didn’t deserve the AL MVP

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander only was on the field 34 times. Photo: USA Today

Justin Verlander had an amazing 2011 season. He won pitching’s triple crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts) by going 24-5, 2.40 ERA and 250 Ks. Those stats won him BOTH the American League Cy Young and MVP.

In my opinion, he should not have garnered the MVP award.

There’s a reason that they make the Cy Young just for just pitchers. It’s because they are not everyday players and shouldn’t be able to win the MVP award. Verlander was on the field just 34 times the entire season. AL MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox and second runner-up Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays grinded through 158 and 149 games, respectively.

Since he was closest to Verlander, I’ll make an argument for Ellsbury. I’m not going to go into a bunch of sabermetrics and tell you that Ellbury’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was high, or anything like that. The basic stats besides games played stand out for Ellsbury as well:

In 2011, Ellsbury batted .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs and 39 stolen bases. As a matter of fact, you could argue that the only thing that kept the Red Sox close in the wild card race with the Rays was Ellsbury. In the month of September, he hit .358 with 8 HR and 21 RBIs. Pretty much the rest of the team was anemic. If that’s not MVP-worthy, I don’t know what is.

The fact that MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, not Pitcher. That’s the way it should’ve stayed this year as well.

Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments:

Week 11 report on rags-to-riches NFL teams

Everyone likes to see the underdog do well – unless they’re smoking your favorite team. Because of the NFL’s structure, teams can go from worst to first in a relatively short amount of time. After 11 weeks of NFL action, lets discuss how some of the teams that stunk last year, but started fast this year, are doing right now:

San Francisco 49ers: 2010 record: (6-10); Current record (9-1)

Season summary: With a team that was waiting to be led in 2010, head coach Jim Harbaugh has taken that role this season and has been beating teams with a nasty run defense and an attitude to match. This team has melded under Harbaugh, Frank Gore is running like a madman and quarterback Alex Smith finally has some confidence.

My take: This team doesn’t have any competition in the hapless NFC West – it’s just a matter of how far they’ll go in the playoffs after winning the division.

Detroit Lions: 2010 record: (6-10); Current record (7-3)

Season summary: Well, you can only go up from 0-16 record in 2008, right? The Lions had a great 5-0 start this season, but struggled recently with the surging Chicago Bears and barely handled the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers today, 49-35. I know that seems like a decent margin, but one of the Lions best attributes is their defense; It’s starting to fail to show up.

My take: The Lions are yet to face the Packers this year and will likely get lit-up in the Thanksgiving Day game. The game on the last week of the season will likely be different if the Packers choose to rest players. Based on the rest of their schedule including winnable games against the Vikings, Chargers and resting Packers in Week 17, I think that the Lions will barely reach the playoffs. What they’ll do? I’ll predict that later.

Cincinnati Bengals: 2010 record: (4-12); Current record (6-4)

Season summary: Wait, Cincy is decent? Before the season started, everyone thought the Bungals (yeah, I meant that) were in deep trouble with a franchise quarterback that didn’t want to play with them in Carson Palmer and an unproven rookie going to start from them in Andy Dalton. Turns out the red-headed kid from TCU isn’t so bad after all and the Bengals made a steal by getting rid of Palmer for high draft picks.

My take: Yeah, Cincinnati lost back-to-back weeks to Pittsburgh and Baltimore but they were able to stay close in both, losing 24-17 and 31-24, respectively. They won’t make the playoffs in a tough AFC, but look out for them next season. 

Buffalo Bills: 2010 record: (4-12); Current record (5-5)

Season summary: Somehow this looks familiar. In 2008, the Bills started 4-0 and by Week 11 they were 5-5. At the end of the season, that team was 7-9. As always, when they get a quick start, the Bills fans bought in and were ready for a playoff run. I’ll admit I was a bit excited for them too. I think Chris Berman was about to have a heart attack when they beat the Patriots to get to 3-0.

My take: They’re fading fast and haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999 when they lost on the Music City Miracle play. I don’t think the postseason is in the Bills’ near future. Never you fear all you “Billievers” out there – the team is improving and needs just a couple real playmakers to take the next step.

Indianapolis Colts: 2010 record: (10-6); Current record (0-10):

Season summary: Sorry, this should actually be saved for a post next year.

My take: Colts, over to the side here for a minute. Stop trying so hard to win the “Suck for (Andrew) Luck” sweepstakes just so you can groom someone to replace Peyton Manning. You’re not fooling anyone here.

Think my predictions are off about these teams or want to make some of your own? Leave a comment below:

Fans, businesses the big losers in the NBA lockout

On Day 137 of the NBA lockout, the NBA Players Association decided to decline the offer made by the owners and decertify as a union. This was so they could sue the NBA to force the end of the lockout.

Why does this sound so familiar?

The NFLPA tried the same exact thing in decertifying and it was ultimately unsuccessful. They even advised the NBA players that is was a bad idea before their lockout. So here we sit with the possibility of losing the entire NBA season.

To be honest, I really don’t care who wins the battle of billionaire owners and millionaire players. There’s only a couple groups that I care about in this battle that are so often forgotten: the fans and downtown businesses.

Orlando was set to host the All-Star Game this year with the city raking in millions of dollars. With Florida being one of the epicenters of the housing market crash, I have no doubt they could use that cash. Let’s not even forget the bars and restaurants that surround the arenas around the country. Who is going to go to a downtown restaurant near the arena in the dead of winter, unless there’s a game? Not as many, that’s for sure.

Fact is, neither the owners or players have an ounce of perspective. Instead of arguing over a few measly percentage points of revenue sharing, they should remember where 100% of that money originates from. There’s a percentage for you.

With that being said, I’m proposing something when the NBA comes back to play: a fan lockout. Avoid paying inflated ticket prices and go visit the restaurants and bars around the arena. That would give the billionaires and millionaires a dose of reality and give the business owners some help they’ve been waiting for all fall/winter.

Tim Tebow is not a long-term solution for the Denver Broncos

Tim Tebow is not the long-term solution.

Yes – Tim Tebow is 3-1 as a starter this year.

Yes – the Denver Broncos are just one game out of first in the anemic AFC West and Tebow played well against the division-leading Oakland Raiders.

Yes – Tebow made a beautiful pass to Eric Decker for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Guess what? That TD pass was only one of two passes that he completed on eight attempts in that game.

The Broncos rushed the ball 55 times  in order to beat the Chiefs – a very inconsistent team. The Broncos have done a great job adapting to Tebow’s strengths, including integrating the triple option. However, there’s a reason the triple option isn’t used by anyone else – it doesn’t work because NFL defenses have too much lateral speed. It’s kind of like the Wildcat formation – a “cute” gimmick that may be a popular fad for a bit but will eventually go away. Hell, Michael Vick has more speed than Tebow and HE doesn’t even do that.

When the Broncos face the Jets next week, it’s going to be ugly. I can already see Rex Ryan and the rest of the Jets defense licking their chops to put nine guys in the box and making Tebow throw all game long, especially to the solid secondary. A few weeks later against the Chicago Bears will be the same thing.

There’s no doubt that Tebow is a winner, he simply doesn’t have the skills to sustain long-term success. All this ” he needs time to develop” stuff is crap. Guys like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have come into the NFL and shown that they could do well right away. They both have the possibility of being franchise QBs.

John Fox and John Elway already know they don’t have the right quarterback on the roster right now. Look for Matt Barkley to be in a Broncos jersey next season.

Joe Paterno’s legacy is forever tainted

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno was fired immediately by Penn State - and deservedly so.

Joe Paterno was head coach of Penn State for 46 years, had 409 victories – the most by a D-I head coach, two national championships, six to eight children allegedly molested by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky since 2002.  That’s the year that Joe Paterno knew about the alleged crime by Sandusky and only reported it to the athletic director.

That last stat really makes it so the first few, and all the other great JoePa accomplishments, not seem to matter anymore.

For his apathy, Paterno was unanimously fired by Penn State’s Board of Trustees – and rightfully so. We’ve yet to hear his side of the story but we know that he was aware of an unfathomable criminal offense and never made sure it got to the proper authorities.

Paterno is a legendary coach and a great philanthropist. It’s a shame that he couldn’t go out on his own terms. However, as he wanted to, there was no way he should’ve been allowed to coach until the end of the season, or even one more game as the Penn State students chanted for.

Let the Penn State students riot all they want, Paterno’s reign is over. There’s no doubt, the next Penn State head coach will have a hard time bringing the tainted program back to its former glory.

Do you think Paterno should’ve been allowed to coach one more game or until the end of the season? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

LSU and Alabama need to face off again

Last night, LSU rolled into Tuscaloosa and beat the Crimson Tide in OT, 9-6, in front of 100,000+ hostile fans. In addition to their other big-time wins this year, that easily makes them the best team in the country. However, Alabama is STILL the second-best.

Disagree all you want by saying that Alabama would’ve won if not for early miscues (and one OT one) by kicker Cade Foster and Marquis Maze missing a catchable punt that pitted the Tide deep in their own territory. Fact is, LSU made the game great by being gritty and not making as many mistakes – on the road no less. Personally, I would love to see that match-up again on a neutral site.

The last time a #1 and #2 faced off in the regular season was Ohio State and Michigan, respectively, in 2006 when Ohio State won in a barnburner, 42-39. People back then were clamoring for that to be the rematch in the National Championship game. Instead, Ohio State got smoked 41-14 by the Florida Gators. You may remember that team being led by senior Chris Leak and freshman Tim Tebow- ah the good ‘ole days. Since then, the Southeastern Conference has had a stronghold on the game, winning five years in a row (including the ’06 game).

Since the SEC is clearly the best conference in college football with the best two teams in the country, let the the Tigers and Tide face off again in the BCS National Championship.

“I’d be honored to face that team again,” LSU head coach Les Miles said.

For the best match-up possible for the end of the season, let’s hope the Mad Hatter gets his wish.

The Univ. of Rochester hates kids with cancer…

…or at least that’s what they’re making it look like. Before I go into my rant, I’m going to give a little background:

For the past seven seasons, the University of Rochester Yellowjackets and St. John Fisher College Cardinals, both from Rochester, N.Y., have played in an annual regular season football game called the Courage Bowl. All the profits from the game go to Camp Good Days and Special Times, a camp to support children diagnosed with cancer. As part of that, the kids got to meet all the players, get autographed jerseys and be on the sidelines during the game. The game this season raised $30,000.

According to an article by Jim Mandelaro of the Democrat and Chronicle, the University of Rochester is only going to play this game for one more year.

Personally, I don’t know if UR is contemplating dropping this game because they get trounced every year or because they are switching conferences (and therefore will have less non-conference games).

According to UR athletic director George VanderZwaag in Mandelaro’s article, it’s about switching to the Liberty League.

“We feel it is important to make some changes in our schedule and focus our energies on competing effectively within our own conference.”

To be perfectly honest, I don’t care what the reason is. They need to play this game A) because it helps the kids and B) its a great Rochester-area rivalry.

In an earlier article by Mandelaro,  Camp Good Days founder Gary Mervis, a volunteer assistant coach for Fisher said he was “offended” by UR’s departure and that another opponent would be found.

Hopefully the next opponent realizes that this game is about much more than football.

Full disclosure: I’m an alumnus of Fisher and covered this game for my college newspaper when I was there. However, if Fisher tried pulling this, I would be ashamed and rip them even worse.

Update (11/2/11 – 11 AM MT): In response to tweets that I sent out this morning about UR, Camp Good Days replied (in 3 tweets):

The UofR has done great things for Courage Bowl in every year of its existence. Numerous kids have been touched by the players, coaches, fans and administration of the UofR. Not only that, but the University has given so much to cancer research since their creation. It is a leading University that truly contributes to society.

The Albert Pujols Sweepstakes

Now that the World Series is over, the free agent frenzy begins. This offseason, there is not a bigger prize to be had than Albert Pujols. He has arguably had the best 10 years to begin his career as anyone…ever. Now the big question is where he will land for the 2012 season.

The choices:
Before you can find out what team he’s going to choose, you have to know what he will have to choose from. Typically the big spenders in the past few years have been the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets and Dodgers. Just for the heck of it, we’ll toss the Nationals in there because they spent a stupid amount of money on Jayson Werth (.232, 20 HR, 58 RBIs in 150 games). That was totally worth it.

Automatically, we’ll throw out the Dodgers and Mets. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is going through a messy divorce and Mets owner Fred Wilpon was involved with the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. Both of those things = no money. Wilpon will have a hard enough tiome trying to keep NL batting champ Jose Reyes let alone get Pujols.

The Red Sox and Yankees already have fantastic first basemen in Adrian Gonzalez (.338, 27 HR, 117 RBI) and Mark Teixeira (.248, 39 HR, 111 RBI), respectively. The Red Sox had an awful end to their season but I don’t think they’ll overreact by getting rid of a productive player like Gonzalez.

The Nationals are a sleeper team because of the ridiculous money they are willing to spend, but Pujols will not be willing to be the cornerstone of a team where he will not have a chance at another World Series ring.

That leaves the top two contenders: The Cubs have money to spend and are looking to make a splash with Theo Epstein, their newest executive, at the helm. The Cardinals are desperate to keep the face of their franchise in St. Louis.

The Cubs will likely offer Pujols huge money but there’s a few thing that come into play. One – he’d be going to the Cardinals biggest rival and tainting his legacy in St. Louis. Two – Pujols has said that he likes St. Louis and seems like the kind of guy that wants to stay with one team his whole career.

The decision:
Pujols will be taking his talents back to the Gateway to the West, most likely with the Cardinals getting a hometown discount. The Cubs will get a very respectable “second place” by plucking Prince Fielder from the Brewers.

Epstein will be looking to make even bigger splashes in the Cubbie rotation. Personally, I can’t wait to see the match-ups next season between the World Series champs and what will likely be an upstart Chicago team.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.



Getting off the Bench

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been contemplating getting back into sport blogging. With this post, I’m finally getting off the schnide with my new blog “Foul Talk.”

I say “back” because the last time I touched a personal sports blog was nearly three years ago with my old blog, Below the Belt. Why abandon that one? I can’t figure out how the hell to back get into it; Plus, I couldn’t come up with a sweet Twitter username to accompany it.
(Shameless plug: Use to get my latest sports musings and when I actually decide to post a blog here)

I wanted to come back to writing a sports blog because sports is what I truly enjoy.  After going to college for journalism, working for my college newspaper as sports editor and interning for three Triple-A baseball teams, I thought I was destined to work in sports. I’m currently working for a nursing association doing social media marketing – so, pretty much the exact opposite. I really like my job but it leaves a void in being able to provide my humble sports opinions.

My hope is that Foul Talk will provide its readers an informal mix of sports and sarcastic humor. I’m aware that format has never been used before so feel free to call me an innovator.