Sunday, June 26, 2011

Switch J.D. Drew with Jayson Werth to end his Misery

"Dad, how old is J.D. Drew?" my nine year old asked me as we were riding in the car listening to the Red Sox game.  J.D. Drew had just struck out looking, and even though we could only hear it, I knew exactly how it looked.  A close pitch that Drew always watches go by, Drew walking toward first half-heartedly and then being rung up by the umpire as he slightly slumps his shoulders and walks back toward the dugout.

Emotion-filled J.D. Drew                      courtesy of prorumors
"He looks 79 years old, he's so old!" C goes on to proclaim after I guessed that Drew was 35 years old,  "He's not very good and he always strikes out.  Why doesn't he swing?"  When you lose a nine year old in the popularity department, that's really saying something.

Almost halfway through the season and Drew's batting average is down 45 points from his career average and his OPS is over 200 points lower.  Even the on base machine (Remember when Theo Epstein defended the Drew signing by showing the Drew had the highest OPS in the American League in the last half of the season a couple of seasons ago?) has dropped to .333.  And this guy is only 35 years old, in a contract year!  Tim Wakefield, he is not.

Couple Drew's awful start with the Red Sox's need for another right-handed bat, and the Red Sox will be in the market for a right handed rightfielder with some pop in his bat.  Interestingly enough, there is a righthanded rightfielder with some pop that will likely be available at the end of next month.  I originally compared this player to Carl Crawford over the summer when the rumors were flying around baseball that the Red Sox were in the free agent market for an outfielder.  Although he signed with another team, he is merely a placeholder for one of the most highly prized rookie prospects in MLB.  Ready?

Jayson Werth.

Werth does have 10 home runs and 10 steals so he would provide the batting that the Red Sox need from Rightfield.  But he's mired in a slump batting just .236 with an OPS of .749 so it's not as if he is untouchable.  Werth's team, the  Washington Nationals are an interesting team.  It's manager just up and quit because the team wouldn't discuss a contract extension midseason.  It's most recognizable player and best pitcher is sidelined for the foreseeable future after Tommy John surgery last year.  But...BUT, the Nationals are also the beneficiary of one of the best prospects in minor league baseball.  And he just so happens to play the same position (rightfield) as Werth...Bryce Harper.

Harper, granted, is in Low A baseball playing for Hagerstown and is battling a minor thumb injury.  But he's tearing the league up right now with a .326 batting average and an OPS of .1000.  And he's carrying himself like a major leaguer even though he's merely 18 years old.  Most teams would let a player like Harper develop in the minor leagues, but the Nationals have a penchant for rushing their star young players through the system (see Stephen Strasburg).  Harper surely will be rushed through just as quickly.  And Werth is standing in his way.  Believe me, Werth is available.

But back to Drew and the Red Sox.  The Red Sox won't mind taking on Werth's remaining $126 million salary and Werth's bat will fit nicely into that 6 hole currently occupied by J.D. Drew.  Drew's final season with the Red Sox will not be his finest, but he will be a good bat to come off the bench for when a pinch hitter is needed for one of the catchers or for Marco Scutaro.  Drew won't complain about his role either because he's emotionless out there on the field.  Even if he were pissed off, we would never know.

Ultimately, the Red Sox have a powerful lineup, but they are struggling against lefthanded pitchers.  A recent game pitched by Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm demonstrates the Red Sox's lack of righthanded power.  It's the team's achilles' heal, especially as they face tough lefthanders in the AL East like Sabathia, Price and Romero.  This midseason trade would be the solution to that problem.

"Dad, why don't the Red Sox play Josh Reddick instead of Drew?"  Yeah, I say put Drew out of his misery and bring in a righthanded rightfielder.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Choking Down a Boston Bruins Victory Parade

It was parade day.  It wasn't quite the parade that the Hartford Whalers received from the City of Hartford for winning a playoff series in 1986 or the odd parade the City of Boston had back in 2001 for Ray Bourque when he won the Stanley Cup for the Colorado Avalanche.  This was a real parade for real Stanley Cup Champions - the 2011 Boston Bruins.  Good for them.  A hardworking team with no real stars known more for employing players who have lost significant time due to head injuries.

Embarrassing show just 10 years ago
Despite what my feelings might be about the Bruins (as Kevin Dineen recently agreed), jumping on the bandwagon with the kids to celebrate a parade was the natural thing to do this weekend.  We grabbed their buddies, boarded the train and made our way to Boston with the million or so other people.  For events like this, the journey is more important than the actual event.  We would see the players and the cup for about 15 minutes and then it would be over.  It was more about hanging out with friends and family, sharing some good times with your favorite teams and wishing that that was you for a minute.  They will forget the specifics of the parade, but they will always remember that they went to the parade.

Upon arriving in Boston, we walked through Chinatown and made our way to the corner of Tremont St. and Boylston St. with what seemed like 15,000 other people.  I immediately noticed that people were in a celebratory mood, but no one was acting like an idiot.  Sure, people were climbing the walls when perhaps they shouldn't be, but other than that, everyone was just genuinely excited.  A lot of people thinking the same thing I was.

They played with their friends for a while, sat on the ground and played rock paper scissors.  It seemed like we were waiting forever.  We were getting updates from friends watching the parade on TV.  Just rolled, just turned onto Cambridge street, riding past city hall plaza.  It was killing us.  We heard that Chara jumped out and started running around the crowd so they could touch the Cup. I hope he does that near us.  And just as the boys were getting restless 45 minutes after the parade began down on Causeway, police cars came roaring up the street, signaling to us that the Duckboats weren't too far away.  Everyone started mobilizing their cameras, children got on their parents' shoulders and the cheering began in earnest.  Too bad the boys are getting to old for me to hold on my shoulders, because it would have been a good thing to do since they couldn't see that well.  It didn't stop them from trying though as they both asked me to carry them.  Finally, I relented a bit and lifted G as far as I could.  He was excited to see, and bummed out when I had to put him down.

As the Duckboats were rolling a long, it seemed that each player of note had their own boat.  The Cheer squad and the Bruins' mascot had their own boat too.  we snapped pictures of the players and the trophies; the video capturing the scene was rolling, too.  They were taking pictures of us just as we were of them.  We were too far away for me to recognize each of the Bruins riding past us - except for Milan Lucic, who appeared to be in awe of the throngs cheering for them.  After the beating he took throughout the playoffs from announcers and journalists would make me question my value, too.   

The party was exciting for that 20 minutes that they rolled by, and just as quickly as they arrived, the party was over.  The crowd experienced that inevitable let down as the build up to the victory parade faded away to some confetti and broken glass.  The boys started asking me if that was it.  They are used to 2 hour affairs where little league players throw candy and marching bands go by playing tunes.  No Shriners dressed like clowns in this parade.  I explained to them that this wasn't that kind of parade.  They were rolling by us to get the end where they would give speeches.  I offered to walk down there too, but they weren't interested in hearing speeches.  Like I said, it was more about the journey.  And I guess the next one will be for the 2011 Red Sox.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mavericks are the Least of the Miami Heat's Worries

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were heroes in the JMR household not long ago.  G proudly wore his Dwyane Wade jersey and C would still wear his LeBron James' Cleveland Cavalier jersey because "LeBron James is the best player. I don't care if he's with the Heat now."  We were glued to the TV to watch The Decision and the Heat's first game of the season against the Celtics drew all of our eyes to the TV late into the night even though it was a school night.

We are the Most Hated Team in America!
Things have changed dramatically in these last 6 months.  And the NBA and the Miami Heat should be worried.  My 9 year old doesn't want to wear that James jersey anymore.  When I offered to get him another one for his birthday, he told me that he didn't like LeBron anymore.  In fact, when I asked him who is favorite three players were he answered John Wall, Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant (seemingly unaware of any Colorado issues).  My 6 year old then answered that his three favorite players are Ray Allen, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.  He went on to explain that Wade wasn't his favorite player anymore because he was mean.  When I asked him what he meant, he shrugged his shoulders and walked away.  He can't explain why Wade is mean, he just KNOWS he is.  A little different than the infamous welcome party in Miami a couple of days after the Heat signed James last Summer.  What does this all mean?

Fast forward to Game 6 of the NBA Finals and the Heat are on the brink of losing the first of many playoff series.  The boys join me to root for the Dallas Mavericks to win the Series.  As we watch, the Heat's problems can be explained by three quotes from the boys.

"Bosh looks like a giraffe his neck is so long." G remarks as the game starts.  I never noticed.

Chris Bosh has gone from being a part of the big three to a crying, blubbery mess.  He has become a real problem for the team because they don't what to do with him.  He's a guy who wants to take big shots  without any big shots to take.  His points and rebounds dropped by 20 percent.  Unfortunately, his assists also dropped by 20%.  His FG Percentage dropped from .518 to .494 on top of all that.  Kind of sad actually. Look for him to be with Sacramento Kings or New York Knicks by 2013.

"I hate LeBron James now!"  C tells me as he watches the game in silence, waiting for bedtime, after I ask him if he still likes LeBron.

One of the worst public relations disasters in sports history.  The saddest chapter in the NBA's and ESPN's history.  Just a few of the phrases being thrown around these days about "The Decision."  I don't know that many people outside of South Beach who think this was a good idea.  He was once featured in Gatorade and Nike ads.  Now he tries to sell energy tabs.  And he's in a no win situation on top of all that.  Despite going for a triple-double in Game 4, columnists and journalists just focused on him getting on 2 points in the Fourth Quarter.  I don't need to go into an essay about his psyche.  All I have to say is that LeBron James has emotional problems.  

"I don't like Dwyane Wade anymore.  Because he's with the Heat." 

Dwyane Wade was once the one man wrecking crew.  He once led the Heat to the 2006 NBA Championship by himself (Shaquille O'Neal did nothing in that series that he didn't do in a regular season game against the Golden State Warriors) and valiantly fought through injury and Michael Beasley's play to get to the playoffs in 2010.  He was considered superhuman and certainly one if not the best player in the League.  Now he's the guy who can't make the big shot.  Now he's the de facto leader of the most hated franchise in the NBA.  The Celtics and the Lakers don't like each other.  The Pistons and Pacers have a heated rivalry too.  But you go into any NBA arena and no one likes the Heat.  Wade, once becoming a media darling, he will now start to lose media opportunities.  When was the last time you saw him in a commercial?  Who wants one of the most hated athletes as a spokesman? 

This is really becoming a problem for the NBA.  Everyone likes to root against the front runners.  There were people out there who rooted Tiger Woods losing, not anyone else winning.  The Yankees were the same way.  That's ok.  It leads to higher ratings and more money for everyone.  This feels different though.  The Heat are turning people off from the game because they are so hated.  My children forget their feelings after about 5 minutes, but they remember that they don't want to see LeBron and Dwyane Wade.  A lot of people, instead of rooting against the Heat, simply dislike them so much that they don't want to watch.  That's a fact.  Ratings and ad revenue will decline in response.

That's not a good thing. And the NBA and the Heat should be worried.

photograph courtesy of

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bruins vs Canucks - Bite Me Again Will Ya

Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins promised to be an interesting game.  Games 1 and 2 were tightly-checked, well-goaltended matches featuring a Vancouver goal with just seconds left in regulation of a 0-0 tie (Game 1) and a Vancouver goal with just seconds elapsed in overtime (Game 2).  To make matters worse of the Bruins, the overtime goal in Game 2 was scored by Alex “Biteman” Burrows, who alongside Max Lapierre, taunted the Bruins with biting remarks throughout the beginning of the series.  The Bruins felt it necessary to inject a little bit of life into the team and activated tough guy Sean Thornton.  My guess is that Lapierre and Burrows weren’t going to be taunting anyone while Thornton was out there.

I would not Walk Around Like This Today
Now everyone knows that the Hartford Whalers were (and still are) my team.  I’ve also chosen to root for the Chicago Blackhawks so I don't look quite as foolish rooting for a team that doesn't exist anymore.  This game means nothing to me personally, but it would be nice if all of the  bandwagon Bruins’ fans coming out of the woodwork would shut up one way or another (and not the diehard fans who have called up 98.5FM all year or the folks on Twitter who have stuck around the team forever).  I think I win either way – either Vancouver shuts the fans up, or Boston goes into parade mode again.  Interestingly enough, I think I have tainted Bruins' fever for  C and G as they both choose to go to bed, or watch baseball, over watching the Stanley Cup featuring THEIR team. 

Period 1.  The game is on Versus tonight, so I immediately start cursing, since I have no idea what channel Versus is.  After much consternation, we finally we get to the game just as the play by play guy remarks, after a Thornton hit, that the heroes in this building tonight aren’t wearing white, they are wearing black. such poetry for the NHL! 

Oh Man!  It didn’t take long for the fireworks to start.  Just as Nathan Horton passes the puck past the Canucks’ blue line, Vancouver Defenseman Aaron Rome plows his shoulder into the chin of Nathan Horton.  I can’t tell if the hit is a blindside or not, but Horton looked to have been knocked unconscious almost immediately, as he falls backward and bangs the back of his head on the ice as he falls.  10 guys administer to Horton as the Bruins’ fans start making plans to sack the Canucks’ hotel later tonight.  I don’t think fans are going to appreciate the Vancouver Green Guys as much after that.  To add insult to the Bruins injury, they are given a 5 minute major power play.  I’ll bet you a million dollars that it will still be a scoreless game 5 minutes from now.

(5 minutes later) See?  Right again.  You can check the Evernote timeline on that previous remark if you want.  After a stopped puck, we are at least entertained by a hilarious sequence between Lapierre and Mark Recchi where Recchi, after a little shove from Lapierre, responded by intentionally sticking his fingers in Laperre’s mouth baiting him to take a chomp.  Suffice it to say that that was a little juvenile from a 43 year old guy.  Lapierre’s face is priceless (“Why is this man - old enough to be my Father - sticking his fingers in my mouth like a 3 year old?”).  C asks me why Recchi did that.  When I spent most of the First intermission explaining it to him, he still looked confused.  Apparently, this is even stupid to a 9 year old.  The First Period ends in a 0-0 tie.

Period 2.   As I’m wondering why Messier’s Leadership Award nominees were all shown checking, clutching or grabbing, Andrew Ference breaks the tie with just 10 seconds gone in the Second Period.  Just 4 minutes later, Mark Recchi’s pass through the crease is deflected into the Canucks’ goal by a Vancouver Defenseman.  2-0.  On the Power Play, even.  I look around for signs of Armageddon.

Thomas is playing exceptionally well to his credit, making difficult save after difficult save.  Tuukka Rask just stares blankly out at the ice, wondering how it came to this.  Before I start to think of a pithy Rask tweet, a Lucic slashing penalty leads to a shorthanded breakaway goal by Brad Marchand.  I see that he used the same move that I used to when I played dorm hockey back in college – passing it to yourself off the boards (walls in my case).  If another goal is scored, you have to wonder if there is going to be some sort of beat down by or to Sean Thornton.  Neither team looks especially pleased with the other right now.

4-0! David Krejci with a goal off a Ryder rebound.  The rout is on.  Even after a disturbing high stick by Johnny Boychuk leads to a double minor a couple of minutes later, Vancouver still can’t score.  4-0 lead after two periods.

Things I’ve learned so far.  Chara is not very good on either end of the ice.  The Bruins are feeding off some energy – maybe Thornton.  The Sedin twins are not as good as I thought and actually they're both kind of sissy.

Period 3.  After a Chara giveaway, Henrik Sedin is alone in front of the net.  Thomas pushes him down to the ice like he was 8 years old.  This game is over if the Canucks can’t score on that kind of chance; maybe they should just start some fights to set the stage for Game 4.  And almost on cue, another scrum breaks out led by the Biteman, Alex Burrows.  This time, he resists chomping on Lucic’s fingers as Lucic tries to stick them into his mouth.  Burrows looks hungry though.  Time to get the Fava Beans and Chianti!  Thrown out of the game at the 11 minute mark are Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Milan Lucic and Dennis Seidenberg.  We have to be approaching a record for most penalty minutes in Stanley Cup history.  I mean who fights this much going for the Cup? The ensuing power play for the Canucks leads to another shorthanded goal by Daniel Paille.  5-0.

As the period starts to drag on, I start to get nervous for some reason.  Despite a goal from Janik Hansen, the Canucks look lost out there right now.  Roberto Luongo for some reason remains in goal, despite the Bruins scoring another three goals in a 90 second span late in the Third Period.  This is a sequence that only a Bruins’ fan could love; for the rest of us, it’s like a horrific car crash that we can’t help but stare at.  If this were little league baseball, the mercy rule would have been implemented.  It’s just sad to watch.  Luongo’s save percentage of .789 has to be some sort of record, too.

After 20 more excruciating minutes, the Bruins mercifully win 8-1.  This game was great to watch for the first couple of periods.  Not one but two “fingers to the face” taunts made for high comedy.  The rough play of Game 3 will definitely lead to hard charging Game 4.  There could still be four more games of this.  Good Lord.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Promotion and Relegation in the NHL

Here we go again.  The recent purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers by the True North Sports and Entertainment Group, and the corresponding move back to hockey-desperate Winnipeg this week demonstrates one of the biggest problems that the NHL has - too many teams in too many cities that don't want mediocre teams.  This problem is magnified by both outcries and rallies in Quebec City for the Nordiques and in Hartford for the Whalers to bring teams back to those cities, as well as flagging attendance and death throes from franchises on Long Island, Phoenix and Florida.  In addition to Quebec City and Hartford, there are numerous metropolitan areas that do want major league hockey, as seen by the increasing attendance in the AHL, particularly for certain franchises in Houston, Providence and Hershey.

No celebrating in Atlanta next year?
Part of the NHL's problem lies with the fact that North American sports are unique in the sports world.  Leagues here are formed within a franchise system.  Once a team pays its franchise fee, it remains in that league under that same owner until it folds or is sold.  Teams that don't belong in the league, instead of being banished to another league, are allowed to flounder.  This is not just an NHL problem, as issues with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New Orleans Hornets will attest.  North American sport leagues would rather that a new franchise purchase rights to the team (and line existing owners pockets with franchise fees) and never do anything else, than not pay that franchise fee and have some say in how that franchise is run.  Maybe Bill Simmons was right when he wrote in his recent column - about the Maloof Brothers in Sacramento - that once an owner purchases a house and moves into a neighborhood, that new owner may feel free to disgrace the neighborhood anyway that he wants.  Teams that don't belong in a league remain there, while hungry teams remain in their current situations.

Somewhat foreign to us here in the United States is the European system of league participation - Promotion and Relegation.  While this concept dominates all European leagues, the best example to us here is the Barclays Premier League.  Teams in the top division that finish at the bottom of the league are dropped down (relegated) to the second tier league.  Teams in the second tier league that win their division are brought up (promoted) to the first tier league.  For instance, in 2011-2012, QPR, Norwich City and Swansea City will be joining the Premier League, while West Ham, Blackpool and Birmingham City will be relegated to the second tier.

The concept of Relegation and Promotion will work in the NHL.  The NHL has 30 teams in the league.  The AHL has 30 teams in its league.  Every year, the two worst teams in the NHL are relegated to the AHL and the two top teams in the AHL are promoted to the NHL.  I also believe that certain failing teams int eh AHL are either folded or are placed into a third tier league such as the ECHL.  Let me explain further.

1.  The two worst teams in the NHL this year were the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers.  Next year, these two team would play in the second tier AHL.  Conversely, Binghamton and Houston are vying for the Calder Cup.  These two teams would be called up to the NHL next year.  It doesn't matter who the teams are - the Maple Leafs could have been relegated last year.  Canadiens fans chuckle at the thought.

2.  The salary cap will remain in effect but will include all of the teams in the two leagues.  Instead of a draft for juniors, Europeans and American college players, these players will become free agents, available to be signed by any teams.  The Salary Cap will remain in effect to make sure that all teams have a chance at the next Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby and prevent Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin from determining that THEY want to take their talents to South Beach.  Instead of tanking games at the end of the season in order to draft the next great rookie, teams will still play hard in order to avoid relegation to the AHL.  Everyone wins.

3.  The financial aspect of Relegation and Promotion would have to be worked out.  First, many cities don't have professional-size hockey arenas.  Binghamton, Hershey and Albany would all have to catch up to larger cities.  Another option would be to relegate certain teams in small markets to the ECHL.  In addition, teams that are relegated will need to be compensated for having to be relegated in the first place, since relegation would taint a franchise until that franchise was promoted again.  These payments would be similar to payments made to relegated teams in other leagues.  Promotion bonuses may also be made so those teams that are promoted may hit the ground running.  Maybe the relegation and promotion races could be sponsored (Gillette or Bud Light, maybe?) and that sponsorship money can be used to compensate the teams switching?

4.  Players would remain with their teams, but upon free agency, any of the 60 teams could sign the player.  Affiliate agreements between NHL clubs and AHL clubs would end and NHL clubs would be able to keep two players from the minor leagues.  There would be a dispersal draft of everyone else who were not kept by their original NHL Clubs, or those players would simply remain with their clubs.

photo courtesy of