Sunday, August 23, 2009

The other story from the Track and Field World Championships

Of course, the #1 story is Usain Bolt ravaging the record books in the 100 and 200 meters for the 2nd year in a row. For Track and Field's sake, I really hope he's clean. Track needs Usain Bolt, and they need him scandal-free. What a talent.

Which brings us to the other sprinting story from Worlds: the US 4x100 relay team, which was disqualified for making one of their 3 baton passes outside of the allowed zone in the semis. Plus, one of their other passes in the race was almost a disaster. All this after the US team was DQd in Beijing for a bad pass.

As a fan of US Track and Field, I'm incredibly disappointed. As a former sprinter (and 4x100 runner), I am absolutely disgusted by the recent US 4x100 performances.

Yes, unlike every other relay, the baton passes are important in the 4x100, as bad passes can ruin the momentum a sprinter has built up and be the difference between 1st and 2nd or 3rd place. However, this isn't rocket science. Most of what goes into baton passing is pretty standard.

1) The hand you carry the baton in is the opposite hand of what the guy before you and the guy after you uses. For example, if the leadoff guy carries the baton in his left hand, the 2nd leg will carry it in his right hand, and so on. Usually, you give the anchor leg the choice, and everyone else falls in line based on that.

2) If you are carrying the baton in your left hand, you move to the right edge of your lane when it's time to make the pass. The next runner stands on the left of the lane. This allows runner 1 to simply extend his arm straight out to make the pass, rather than trying to cross his arm over his body. Interestingly, I saw at least 3 teams in Beijing where this was not done, which defies belief.

3) The runner receiving the baton needs to start moving before his teammate gets to the passing area, which involves turning his back on his teammate coming in. Therefore, the teammate needs to yell at the 2nd guy to extend his hand when he is in range to make the pass. Usually the runner will yell "stick".

4) When the receiver hears the call, he needs to extend his arm back somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees, keeping his hand flat and his thumb out of the way. The flat hand is crucial, as this provides the most margin for error for the pass. It's tempting to cup your hand since you're going to need to grab the baton at the end of the pass, but a cupped hand means the pass placement has to be perfect, or the baton is getting dropped, and you look like idiots. The other usual problem is the thumb tries to close in before the baton has been placed in the outstretched hand, effectively playing defense on the pass.

5) The pass is the responsibility of the runner giving up the baton. What this means is you cannot let go of the baton until you know your teammate has it in his hand. Effectively, he needs to take it out of your hand. This means you need to have a secure grip on the baton, but not a death grip. If the baton his the ground during the pass, 99.9% of the time it's the fault of the guy giving up the baton.

As you can see, the basics of passing a baton are pretty basic and pretty consistent. The only variable is the receiver figuring out when he needs to start running. Again, after 20-30 minutes, this should be figured out. Assume you need to know this info about 3-4 guys, and that's 2 hours. Add in a little refresher the following day (say another hour, tops) and you should be good.

Look, nobody's perfect, and mistakes will happen, but occasionally. If you screw up the baton pass in 2008, you should NEVER screw it up the following year. The only explanation is guys aren't working on it. Even for the guys who are there to run the 100/200 or both as well, the relay comes later. You should be done with your individual work by the time the relays come around. And even if you're not quite done, it's a couple of hours tops.

The only explanation for the continued problems the US 4x100 relay teams encounter with their baton passing is one of the following: laziness, arrogance, or they just can't handle the pressure. I don't know which it is (I suspect it's parts of all three), but I am sure it's a total embarassment to fans of US Track and Field, as well as anyone who's ever been a sprinter.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I am shocked, shocked, to find that...

...Brett Favre changed his mind again.

Yes, that's right, Brett Favre's attempt to pass on the NFL was intercepted. The NFL's master of waffling added yet another flip flop to his legacy, deciding to come out of retirement to play for Minnesota.

Given everything that's been said and done over the last couple of months in the Favreverse, it's understandable that some of you might be a bit confused. I figured I'd lend you all my Brett Favre bull**** translator for his press conference:

What Brett said: "We had some great games against this organization. Some we won, some we lost."

What he means: "Yeah, sure we were 6-10 in Minnesota when I played in Green Bay. So what? In all 6 games that I decided to show up and stick to the game plan, we won. If my love of the game overwhelmed my job of not trying to do too much in those other 10 games, well, if that's wrong I don't want to be right."

What Brett said: "But I think that, in time, I've been welcomed today, it feels great."

What he means: "I can honestly say that at this time I have no plans to stab you guys in the back 6 months from now."

What Brett said: "Bottom line, this is football. Once you step into the huddle, I don't look at helmets, I look at faces."

What he means: "If the face looks properly appreciative of being a part of a game with the legendary me, I try to make the experience a little sweeter for that person by tossing him a football. It doesn't matter what helmet he's wearing, I can see how appreciative in his eyes. And let me tell you, sometimes, after a few games, my teammates forget just how appreciative they should be. They take playing a game with me for granted, just because they see me 6 days a week. But my opponents, they know how special it is to play in a game with me, and they know how special it is to catch one of the balls I throw."

What Brett said: "I think all the guys will know that I'm in it for the right reasons. And that's because I still love to play."

What he means: I love to long as the temperature isn't below 55 degrees. Then I might do things that will get the game over with a little sooner so I can go inside and warm up."

What Brett said: "I still feel like I can help this team, or whichever team, that's willing to take a chance"

What he means: "Don't forget, I work for one guy: me. Stay on my good side, or all of a sudden I'll go colorblind out there on the field. And don't tell me to 'stay within the system' or some other garbage. I love Adrian Peterson, he helped me win my fantasy league last year (or so my kid tells me, I don't know how to turn on my computer). But I'm Brett Favre! No one wants to come to a Brett Favre game and see us run it 35 times. That's boring."

What Brett said: "There's people out there taking sides, you know, and whatever."

What he means: "Stop it Peter King, stop telling everyone how this is a mistake. I made you. And I can break you. Get back on the right side, or else..."

What Brett said: "This is not about revenge."

What he means: "This is entirely about revenge. Suck it Ted."

What Brett said: "You can't take away the 16 years in Green Bay, and that will be forever cherished by me."

What he means: "Green Bay loved me and paid attention to me for 16 years, and it ws good. Then they ignored me, so I moved on. The Jets loved me for about a season, then I just ddin't feel properly appreciated, so I moved on. Be warned, Brad. If you so much as look at another quarterback, I'm leaving so fast I'll leave tractor tire tracks on my way back to Mississippi."

What Brett said: "I think it's great for football."

What he means: "I'm a very important person who loves the game of football. You are all blessed to have the chance to watch me for one more season. Love me and shower me with attention!"

I hope this translator helped.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Raiders are still the Raiders...

...and the inmates still run the asylum. Head coach Tom Cable was supposed to bring stability and passion to the team. He "made the team competitive" after Lane Kiffin was axed last season, so Oakland fans were optimistic. They were also trying to ignore the fact that no one wants to coach for Al Davis except for those who have no other options (like Cable).

And then we get news like this:

Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable punched one of his assistants on Aug. 6 at the team's training camp headquarters in Napa, Calif., several media outlets reported on Monday.

The assistant suffered a broken jaw, but didn't want to press charges.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Goodell gets it right where Tagliabue didn't

Donte Stallworth got inebriated, got behind the wheel, then struck and killed a man when the man stepped out in front of his car. For this, Stallworth got 24 days in jail, 2 years of house arrest, 8 years probation, and a box of chocolates.

Roger Goodell determined that Stallworth merited further punishment, and suspended him for a year. This suspension is longer than Michael Vick got on top of his time in prison (minimum 4 games) and longer than Paul Tagliabue suspended Leonard Little for killing a woman as a result of a DUI.

Some people (mostly animal-rights activists) have resisted the arguments that Vick doesn't deserve an extra-long suspension based on the precedent that was set with Little (8 games), saying that Little made a poor choice, and Vick is a poor human being. On one level, they have a point, Vick is likely a worse person than Stallworth*.

However, results matter to a league looking to protect his image. As awful as torturing and killing dogs is, it pales in comparison to killing a human. Stallworth has looked very remorseful, and has taken responsibility from the outset, but at the end of the day, he still killed a human being. Goodell got it right, and if this keeps one NFL player from driving drunk, it's well beyond worth it.

*Note: I don't include Little here because 6 years after he killed someone while driving drunk, he was caught driving drunk again. That is inexcusable and, in my opinion, should have resulted in a year's suspension from the NFL. Since he beat the drunk driving charge, he got nothing.

Mexico 2 USA 1

Well that was monumentally disappointing.

At just about every level, the US failed on Wednesday. The gameplan was horribly flawed, the execution (with a couple of exceptions) was poor, and the result was negative.

The gameplan was terrible. I don't know why Bob Bradley decided to have his central midfielders (Clark and Bradley) give up so much ground and set up so close to the 18-yard line, but that gave Mexico, a team that wants to possess the ball, free reign to do just that. A big part of the reason the US was able to beat Spain is they forced Spain to push out wide, they didn't concede the middle of the field. Against Mexico, they inexplicably yielded the middle. The only reasoning I can come up with is they weren't afraid of Mexico hurting them with long shots, and wanted to make sure they couldn't dribble or give and go the ball into the penalty area without a lot of traffic. Either that, or it was an attempt to lessen the effects of the altitude and environment of the Azteca. If it was the former, that's at least defensible. If the latter played any part in Bradley's thinking, then he had to get the players back early to train at altitude.

So yes, the players entered the match with an arm (or a leg) tied behind their backs, but then they went out and played flat for the better part of 90 minutes, and pretty much the entire first half. With the excpetion of lone goal scorer Charlie Davies, always stout goalkeeper Tim Howard, and man of the match Oguchi Onyewu, no one else played anywhere close to well. All 4 midfielders were awful. Donovan had the pass to Davies for the goal, then disappeared. Dempsey was one of the only players willing to try and make something happen with the ball, but he failed do convert on most of his attempts. Bradley and Clark brought nothing to the table offensively, as their play was frought with quick turnovers right back to Mexico. And worse, they did nothing to stall Mexico's possession in the midfield. Bocanegra didn't seem ready to match the pace of Mexico, and Cherundolo was terrible.

By the way, that was Bradley's most indefensible lineup gaffe. Jonathan Spector impresses the heck out of everyone at the Confed Cup, and he gets benched for this game? Seriously?

The result, while disappointing, isn't the problem. The US could have come out of this game with 0 points and still maintained the momentum of the Confed Cup. The problem is the team came out flat, whether they were cowed by the atmosphere or simply didn't get up for the game, it was a horrid display, given how far they had come earlier this summer.

Like was said before the game, this wasn't a deathblow to the USA's qualifying chances. However, an unexpected wrinkle was thrown into the mix when Honduras smoked Costa Rica 4-0. That means the top 4 teams are separated by just 3 points (remember, top 3 go on and 4th has to win a play-in contest with a South American team). Mexico was in a much more dire position back in June, they needed wins at home against Trinidad & Tobago and the US to get back into things. They got both wins. The US now needs wins at home against El Salvador and at Trinidad & Tobago. They SHOULD win both games, and if they take care of business, they should be good to go for 2010. A win and a draw, and they'll face some pressure, but they still should be okay. Any less than 4 points, and all of a sudden things start to get a little dicey.

The US had a chance to make history and prove they were a force to be reckoned with, but it was not to be. Now they have to lick their wounds and focus on being a better team (maybe even one that can possess the ball and hold onto a lead) going forward.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Memo to Bob Bradley: Go for it!

Note: If you're interested in actually watching this game, it's on Telemundo. The English language broadcast isn't happening. ESPN termed the price the Mexican Football Federation demanded for the game as "extortionate".

Tomorrow is the first step for the new US Soccer team.

Sure, it's the 6th game out of 10 in CONCACAF qualifying and, yes, the US has played other, meaningful games as recently as earlier this summer (no, the Gold Cup doesn't really count), but this is their first real game since they turned the world on its ear over 135 minutes in the Confederations Cup. That run was billed as America's coming out party and the US serving notice for 2010 in South Africa.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, the US still needs to qualify for South Africa. They're in very good position, but the berth isn't locked up. Second, there's just under a year until the World Cup actually kicks off. So much can change in a year. If the US is content to coast on their Confed Cup showing, 2010 will go a lot like 2006. Third, the US will not get a chance to play many important games between now and the World Cup. All that's left are qualifying matches and friendlies (and friendlies are dog manure). And of the qualifying matches, the only one left that can approach playing a team like Brazil or Spain is the one tomorrow afternoon. At Mexico. In the Azteca stadium.

Now, the US does NOT in any way need a win tomorrow to qualify for the World Cup. The US doesn't even need a draw to feel good about qualifying. As explained in a blog post on ESPN's US Soccer blog, no CONCACAF team has not qualified for the World Cup with at least 15 points since the region got 3 automatic berths for the 1998 Cup. The US currently has 10 points with 2 home games remaining. Take care of business at home, and they'll practically punch their ticket. Even if they win one of the home dates and draw the other, that leaves them likely needed just a draw out of their remaining 2 away dates, neither of which involves Mexico or Costa Rica. So, by the math, the US does not need any result in tomorrow's match.

Which brings us to Mexico. Despite the 5-0 stomping of the US B/C team in the Gold Cup final, this is a team in turmoil. They ahve had 4 coaches since the 2006 Cup, and their current coach, Javier Aguirre, was suspended for 3 games of the Gold Cup for kicking an opposing player. Mexico also sits 4th in the 6 team group (the top 3 earn automatic berths to South Africa), and has never lost to the US in a home qualifying match (all-time record: 22-0-1) so there is a ton of pressure on the home side for this match.

For all of these reasons, the US needs to push for the win. They need to show that they can deal with a 2nd tier team in their most hostile home arena to give themselves the continued confidence that they can play with and beat the top teams on neutral (read: non-European) ground. This is by far the US team's best chance to break the Azteca hex, and there is no reason not to go for it, as a loss doesn't damage their chances of qualifying.

What does this mean for coach Bob Bradley? A couple of things:
1) Don't go conservative with formations. Don't start the game with a 4-5-1. I'm not asking for a 4-3-3, just the 4-4-2 that worked so well at the Confed Cup.
2) Start Benny Feilhaber in the midfield with Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan. The temptation (I believe) will be to start Clark with the other 3 as Clark's strength is disrupting the other team's midfield, and if you're playing for the tie, that's a big part of that strategy. Instead, let's see the US pushing for that early goal. Feilhaber isn't in 90-minute shape yet, so have Clark ready at the 45th or 60th minute, but push hard for that first goal.
3) Start Jonathan Spector at right back. Spector impressed both with his defense and his long ball service at the Confed Cup. He's earned the start in Azteca.

The easy, by the book play is to play for a tie in this road qualifier. Don't settle, Bob. Go for the throat. Let's see if this team can face a team that has everything to play for, and rip its heart out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Follow up to the Rios note

Well, the referendum on the economy and how it's affecting baseball has occurred, and the Toronto Blue Jays made the case for those who argue the economic downturn is greatly affecting baseball.

Toronto placed Rios on waivers, and he was claimed by the White Sox. Rather than pull him back off of waivers and keep a pretty good (though substantially underachieving) player, the Jays let him go to Chicago for $20,000 and the opporuntity to get out of paying him about $10 million a year for the next 6 years.

There was much surprise around baseball when word got out a team had claimed Rios. This is why.

Of course, the flipside of this coin is Chicago, who has added Jake Peavy (3 years, $52 million starting in 2010) and Alex Rios (7 years, $69.35 million starting this season) within 10 days of each other. Either owner Jerry Reinsdorf is sitting on a treasure chest no one else knows about, or he's about to slap GM Kenny Williams upside the head.

Editor's note: The White Sox are clearing $34 million from their books this offseason (per espn), which should take some of the sting out of these contracts going forward.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

MLB notes

- David Ortiz ended up on the list of players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003. That fact was made public recently. Ortiz said he would be upfront with any information he had, then announced midweek that he would discuss this positive test on Saturday.

His explanation? Tainted supplements. Seriously?

I'm not calling Papi a liar, but if you're going to announce a press conference ahead of time, it indicates you have either a) a unique explanation or b) a lot of information you want to publicize (like the then-legal supplements you took that you believe triggered the positive test). Instead of either of these, Ortiz went with, if not the most cited reason for one's name appearing on a banned substances list, it's certianly top-3. Again, simply because this sounds almost exactly like, "the dog ate my homework" doesn't mean it isn't true. However, if you're going to go out of your way to call a press conference, you could come up with a significantly less tired excuse or give actual details.

- I hope you're proud of yourself (umpire) Ed Rapuano. Rapuano called Philly's Ryan Howard out on strikes in the bottom of the 6th. Howard didn't agree with the call, and said a couple of things to Rapuano. In the top of the 7th, Rapuano called the 0-2 pitch to the 1st batter of the inning a ball, which prompted Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino to throw up his hands in the air. Rapuano somehow saw this act from about 300 feet away, and immediately ejected Victorino. Victorino was not involved in the Howard call in any way. He wasn't at the plate and he wasn't on base. And there is no way Rapuano can justify throwing someone out for a gesture made 300 feet away. What the heck was Rapuano doing noticing a gesture in centerfield, anyway? It would be one thing if Victorino made the gesture in the batter's box, as that's right in front of the ump's face. Shouldn't the ump be focusing on about 300 other things before what the centerfielder is doing? You shamed yourself Ed, and if MLB suspends Victorino, they will be shaming themselves too.

- Apparently, several MLB teams don't have scouts. From

Some National League teams, as well as the Texas Rangers, have interest in acquiring John Smoltz, major league sources say, which is an early indication that he will have another opportunity to pitch this year -- if he chooses to take it.

Smotlz worked hard to get himself back from surgery, and made 8 starts for Boston this season. In those starts, he put up the following line:

It all came to a head in Thursday night's game against the Yankees, where Smoltz couldn't get out of the 4th inning after surrendering 8 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks. Smoltz clearly had no out-pitch despite having a fastball clocked in the low-90s. He got to 0-2 or 1-2 counts on many New York hitters, and had no way to put them away. The Sox designated Smoltz for assignment after the game, hoping he will take a demotion to Pawtucket to transition to a reliever's role. But the Smoltz we've seen so far would be terrible as a reliever as well. With no out pitch, he's simply hoping the hitters hit the ball at someone. That is not a recipe for success. That several teams (even if they are predominantly NL teams) would be interested in Smoltz boggles the mind.

- We're about to have a referendum on the economy as it relates to Major League Baseball. Alex Rios is a Toronto Blue Jays outfielder, and circa 2006-2007, he looked like a rising star. He looked so good in fact, Toronto signed him to a 7-year, $69.35 million extension that kicked in this year. Rios responded by seeing his numbers drop across the board last season, and continue their fall this year (for example, his OBP is .315 this year). Rios was one of many players placed on waivers in the past week. Surprisingly (more like shockingly), at least one team claimed him.

Now, Toronto's front office has been told by ownership that they must cut payroll, and the team is scuffling (hence the Halladay derby before the non-waiver trade deadline). Since Rios was claimed, Toronto has a golden opportunity to get out of 6+ of the 7 years of his contract, all they have to do is let him go. True, Rios was considered a cornerstone of the franchise less than 2 years ago, but his baseball numbers do not measure up to his contract numbers, and the Blue Jays have been offered a get out of financial jail free card. If the Blue Jays do not take this opportunity to shed Rios and his onerous contract, every agent is going to throw it in the face of MLB's owners this offseason when arguing for contracts for their clients. If a team like Toronto can turn down freeing up almost $10 million a year, then the owners aren't in nearly as bad a position as they'd like us all to believe.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Most Ridiculous Trade of Deadline Day

Boston Red Sox trade 1B Adam LaRoche and cash to the Atlanta Braves for 1B Casey Kotchman.

This is a trade, that, on the surface, looks ridiculous. Yes, the Sox had just traded for C/1B Victor Martinez, giving them a legitmate bat at C/1B/DH. Given the presence of Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek already on the roster, the presence of Adam LaRoche (acquired from Pittsburgh 9 days earlier) became beyond superfluous. When word leaked out that the Sox were looking to dump LaRoche after the Martinez trade, it made perfect sense...

...until they got yet another first baseman in exchange.

The party line in Beantown is that Kotchman will be better suited to come off the bench than LaRoche was. Bullsnot. Kotchman does the following things better than LaRoche: play defense and get on base. The problem is, getting on base and playing defense is already the specialty of current infielders Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell. If you lift Victor Martinez for defense in the late innings, your best option is to move Youkilis back to first and insert Mike Lowell at 3rd, an option that does not involve Casey Kotchman.

How about pinch hitting in the late innings? Both Kotchman and LaRoche are left-handed, and LaRoche is the more dangerous hitter (his increased power threat cancels out Kotchman's OBP advantage in most pinch hitting situations.

Kotchman is cheaper (~2.8M vs 7M this season for LaRoche), but the Red Sox sent money to the Braves in this deal (presumably enough to cover the difference in salaries for the rest of the year). There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to this deal, so why make it?

WARNING: Full Speculation Mode ahead!

My belief is the Red Sox were trying to swing one more trade. And since they already grabbed some offense, I believe they were chasing Roy Halladay. Part of the reason Toronto was exploring the idea of trading Halladay is because ownership has demanded the front office cut costs. For a team with non-infinite resources like Toronto, Kotchman is a MUCH nicer piece than LaRoche. Not just because of the salary, but unlike LaRoche (who will be a free agent at the end of the season), Kotchman has a couple of more arbitration-elligible years remaining, which makes him cheaper to keep around for a couple more years than LaRoche would be. A package that includes Kotchman looks much nicer to most teams than a package including LaRoche. I believe the LaRoche/Kotchman swap was an effort to put together another deal (I'm guessing for Halladay, because the Sox were continuously linked to him over the last few days) which didn't end up happening for whatever reason. I have no evidence to back this up, but it's the only story that allows this deal to make any kind of sense.