Super Bowl

Great game last night. I picked New England to win. I wanted to New England to win for the sake of Tom Brady and Rodney Harrison.

I think New England is the real deal. They are the model franchise of the salary-cap era. They have a chance to become a true dynasty, because they remain a young team, a team that should be able to control costs, a well-coached team, and a well-balanced team. I wouldn’t be surprised if NE repeats next year. The only question, as with any team, is injuries.

As for the rest of the game — I don’t buy the “custom failure” argument. I think it was deliberate.

But the entire half-time show was inappropriate. Too much skin and too much grinding for family programming. It was embarrassing to watch with my grandmother in the room. The range of acts presented was too immature for the majority of the audience. The whole thing was ill-conceived from the beginning.

As for the commercials, they are beginning to get tired. Same themes. Same jokes. Just a bit cruder and more callow.

Pete Rose is banned, and it should stay that way

Pete RosePete Rose doesn’t get it. He thinks he can admit guilt and have it amount to apology. He thinks he can set the timing of his admission, and have it make up for 14 years of denial. He thinks he can dictate people’s response. He thinks forgiveness should come automatically with no questions.

As far as I can tell, Pete Rose still doesn’t understand that his betting on baseball was wrong.

But let’s review what Rose has done:

  • He bet on baseball. He bet on his own team. He did this even knowing (and he claims to be a student of the game who knows and appreciates its history) that getting caught betting on baseball carried a mandatory ban from baseball.
  • He denied betting on baseball for 14 years, even verbally abusing John Dowd and Fay Vincent. Where is his apology to them?
  • He didn’t admit his gambling in an interview or press conference. He did it in a book — a book that will put cash in his pocket.
  • He did it a way that upstaged the Hall of Fame election of Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley.

There is no evidence that Rose is contrite. Instead, he is combative, crying in his beer over the criticism he is getting. This is not the picture of a man who is mature, nor of one who wouldn’t do it all again if given the chance.

Rose should not be in the Hall of Fame. He should not be an official member of the baseball community. Nothing will ever diminish his accomplishments, just as Shoeless Joe Jackson‘s great playing record has stood the test of time, but if you bet on baseball, you are banned for life. End of story. And to change that rule for one man, no matter how many hits, would open baseball for future abuses of anti-gambling policies.

David Wells is back where he belongs

Am I excited about the Padres signing David Wells, who can be as dominating as any pitcher in baseball he’s throwing well? No. Am I happy about it? Yes. Certainly.

Wells is 41 with a history of back problems. He’s never been known for following a strict physical fitness regime. He’s no Rickie Henderson, my friend. But when Wells is healthy, he’s quite good. And I also believe he’s charged up and motivated to pitch well for the Padres in 2004.

But here’s the real reason I’m glad the Padres signed Wells: He’s always dreamed of being a Padre. It’s a dream I can identify with.

I interviewed Wells his rookie season with Toronto. We had an immediate affinity — two San Diego boys who loved Nate Colbert growing up. Wells used to play shadow baseball in his back yard, as I did. He would be either a player on the Yankees, or a player on the Padres, usually Colbert, who’s bat-on-the-shoulder crouch was easy to imitate (first homer I ever hit in a game that counted as a child was the first time in a real game I used the crouch — with the results never to be repeated).

So I understand David’s dream. And knowing David, there is a bitter sweet element to fulfillment of the dream — his mother didn’t live to see him in a Padres uniform. But I know there’s a bunch of guys in Ocean Beach this morning who are celebrating — their buddy is coming home.

In praise of LT

TomlinsonLaDainian Tomlinson became the first player in history today to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season and catch at least 100 passes.

Today, LT also set a career high with 243 yards rushing. It was his fourth career 200-yard game, tying him for second on the all-time list with Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders. O.J. Simpson holds the record with six. LT is only in his third year in the NFL.

And Tomlinson is doing this behind an offensive line that pretty much sucks, with a QB that is interception prone, for a team that usually falls behind in the first quarter and never gets in a position to exploit the run like it should.

Yet, Tomlinson isn’t going to the Pro-Bowl. Can you believe it?

I hope the Chargers stay in San Diego, because I sure what to see what this guy can do with his career. A lot of commentators think he may wind up as one of the greatest running backs ever. He’s got speed, strength, moves, durability, good hands and a will to win. Drafting him is the only thing the Chargers have done right over the last decade or so.

The best thing I like about LT? When he scores, he doesn’t dance, he doesn’t spike, he doesn’t run into the stands, he doesn’t pull sharpies or cell phones from hidden spaces — he simply lays the ball on the ground and slaps one of his lineman on the helmet to thank him. Now, that’s how a pro plays the game.

Winter’s dread

It’s the dead time of the year. Yes, the leaves are changing color. Bears are hibernating and sparrows are migrating. But the deadness of fall and winter has to do with forces far more fundamental than Mother Nature’s cornucopia.

It is the time of year when God snoozes. Football (yawn). Basketball (snooze). Hockey (zzzzzz). There isn’t even a good golf tournament to quicken the pulse.

But most of all, there are no four-seamers. No frozen ropes. No thawk. No thumpf. No dirt on the plate and no chalk on the uni. You can’t smell the grass, and you can’t yell at blue.

The year is officially dormant. And it won’t begin again until pitchers and catcher report.

Today I began my winter project. In my substantial collection of books are a number of titles that purport to tell us something about God’s Game. Most of these I’ve owned for years, or longer, and have never read. My project, beginning today, is take a baseball book with me to the gym as my shield against the monotony of the spinmaster. The goal — to get through three or four of them before Bruce Bochy fills out his first line-up card of 2004.

My salve against the cruelest of months will be words on paper — a ballpark of the imagination. Today, I started with Bernard Malamud’s The Natural.

The wait continues

Kerry WoodAt the beginning of every season, baseball fans and pundits play a little game — who will win and who will lose. You have about as much chance of meeting a space alien in your Jacuzzi as you do of guessing the season’s outcome on March 30. As hard as it is to predict the winners, it is even harder to actually win.

With the exception of the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees, and for the time being the Oakland Athletics, most teams and their fans know that chances at the ultimate prize, a World Championship are few and far between. The odds against all but the elite franchises who made the playoffs this year playing next October are slim, at best. Most teams watch decades pass between post-season appearances.

As the Florida Marlins celebrated their victory over the Chicago Cubs tonight, Fox focused its camera on one little old red-haired lady wiping tears from her eyes. At best, she was only a little girl the last time the Chicago Cubs played a World Series game. There is some chance, given the difficulty of the task and the vagaries of the game, that the Cubs will not make another post season appearance within the remainder of her lifetime. Harsh to say, but a possible reality. I hope I’m wrong, but if you look at the 2003 Cubs, you don’t see the seeds a potential dynasty. You see a team with flaws, aging stars and only a couple of young studs, who struggled to win 88 games this year and make the post season only by virtue residing in a weak division. The Cubs had the worst winning percentage of any team in the playoffs.

Baseball fans, true baseball fans, share in the disappointment of Cubs fans the nation over. It would have been special to see the Cubs finally make it to the World Series. It will be special, yet, to see the Boston Red Sox make it the World Series. But the Red Sox face a daunting task. Tomorrow, the Red Sox must beat the New York Yankees for the second straight day in Yankee Stadium. A daunting task. So while there will be no dream series between the Cubs and Red Sox, we may yet see the Sox in the big championship. It sure would beat the hell out of a Yankees vs. Marlins series.

Tony Pierce

Give me the ball

Cubs Fan CatchI’m not much of a Cubs fan, so you tell me. Is this the worst moment in Cub history?

Moments in history are forks in time and space — subtle changes, slightly different choices can have profound, unpredictable results. Tonight, a Cubs fan snatched a crucial second out from the glove of left fielder Moises Alou. But if Alou had caught the ball, and Castillo had put some pine under his butt instead of first base under his feet (via a walk), would the Cubs have avoided a disastrous 8-run inning? If these blue-cap wearing fans along the left-field line had fought every ball-hungry instinct in their body and recoiled rather than reached for that little white orb of cowhide and yarn, would Cub fans the world over be celebrating a trip to the World Series tonight? If the people in those nice box seats were not also souvenir hounds by breeding, would more than a half-century of frustration been erased?

We have no way of knowing.

The pragmatists will argue that Mark Prior had every opportunity to get Luis Castillo out after the play, but failed. Or that it was clear that Prior was tiring, that his location was slipping and his curve ball had gone flat, and one moment in the game was not the real harbinger of doom. Maybe Dusty Baker should have lifted Prior sooner. How would things be different if not for a fielding error by Alex S. Gonzalez?

We’ll never know the answer to those questions either.

It’s clear, though, that a few fans doing what fans do naturally will become the moment in history no Cub fan ever forgets. The only way these fans will be saved from infamy is if the Cubs win tomorrow night. Otherwise these fans become the Bill Buckners, the Donnie Moores and the Fred Merkles of the 21st Century.

My sympathy is with these fans tonight, and all Cubs fans everywhere.

Baseball!

If you haven’t been watching baseball the last week, you haven’t been paying attention to what you should be paying attention to. This may be shaping up as the greatest post season ever. It redeems the wild card and reminds us why baseball is the greatest sport in the world. No timed-sport, not football, basketball or hockey, can match the drama.

The Red Sox just won what may be the greatest division series since the advent of the wild card system. They came back from a 2-0 deficit to win the games they had to win, setting up the American League Championship all baseball fans would like to see — the Yankees and Red Sox, two of the storied franchises in history, and the greatest baseball rivalry. So much history. So many reasons to care. You’ve gotta be dead or completely misunderstand the importance of sports not to enjoy this.

Not even a call just this minute from radical left-wingers knocking Arnold can distract me from what is the true matter of the moment. Yeah, I’ll vote tomorrow, but I won’t vote for your radical left-wing agenda, you “concerned women voters of California,” as if you really cared about California, or women.

The Cubs and Marlins tomorrow — the Cubs who haven’t won a post season series since 1945. The Marlins who were supposed to be laughing stocks this season, but where charged by young guys like Miguel Cabrara and Dontrelle Willis to carry them to October.

Then you have the Braves and the A’s. Two teams that have been so close so many times, but can’t seem to come through when it really matters. It’s drama, but at some point you have to say, “Maybe you guys don’t really deserve it.”

What could be better than a Red Sox vs. Cubs World Series. Certainly not the California “Quagmire” Recall.

Now onto the league championships. As for the recall, do as I do — Yes on the Recall, vote FOR Arnold. This is the only way to tell the Sacramento fat cats that we’re pissed and we want them to fix this damn state!

UPDATE:
Matt Welch also knows good baseball when he sees it, and bad baseball, too.

The Giants rule the West

So, will Dodger fans take these as fighting words:

“It’s obvious: The Giants are a better club than the Dodgers or us,” Bochy said when asked about the disparity. “The Giants are the best team in the division. The Giants have more power than the Dodgers or us. The Dodgers and us are more similar teams. The Giants have a little more firepower.”

Of course, it’s true. But the truth hurts, doesn’t it?

The Padres in 2004

sean burroughsCall me crazy, but I’m going to make a prediction right now — the 2004 National League West Pennant belongs to the San Diego Padres. Forget the Giants, forget the Dodgers (and certainly forget the Diamondbacks and Rockies), the Padres are the team to beat next year in the NL West.

I write this as the Padres finish a two-game sweep of the Diamondbacks, giving them their fifth series win. Over the last 10 games, the Padres are 8-2, usually winning by decisive margins, as they did yesterday, 12-0. These are not the same Padres who went 5 for May.

What’s changed?

Two things, first Sean Burroughs has been batting leadoff. Second, the Padres acquired Brian Giles.

Getting Giles was big, but moving Burroughs to the #1 slot was bigger. Since making the move, Burroughs is hitting .429 with an OBP of .529.

The classic leadoff hitter is a speed burner who steals bases. Most of the time, these guys hit about .250 with an OPB of a tick above .300 and they get caught stealing more than 3 times out of every attempt. In other words, their value is often overrated.

Burroughs isn’t going to steal many bases, but he has enough speed to keep the infield honest when he’s at the plate. You don’t want to double pump when Burroughs is trying to beat out a hit, because if you do, he’ll burn you. But more importantly, Burroughs knows how to work the count and draw walks. The ability to make the pitcher work against the first hitter he sees in a game is the most valuable asset a leadoff hitter can have. Bochy plans to keep Burroughs in the #1 slot next year, and I applaud his decision. Burroughs is the prototypical leadoff hitter of the slugging generation — make the pitcher work, get on base a lot so the big guys can drive you in.

As good as Burroughs is as a leadoff hitter, he’s made even better with Mark Loretta hitting behind him, and Loretta is a better hitter with Burroughs on base half the time. And better still with Giles hitting behind him. This creates a situation where Loretta is seeing more fastballs, more pitches over the plate. These are pitches Loretta can rip. Over the last 10 games, Loretta is hitting .432. He and Burroughs have combined for a better than .500 on base percentage. Obviously, they won’t keep this pace up, but they will remain tough outs.

And when you have the second best left handed hitter in Giles hitting third, you’re going to score runs. Especially when you have a Phil Nevin hitting clean up.

You’re now talking about four hitters who hit for average and know how to draw walks. With the last two guys hitting for power.

But wait, we’re not done. Next year, a healthy Ryan Klesko will be hitting fifth. Again, power and average and plate discipline. After Klesko, as it stands now, is Mark Kotsay. Again, a good professional hitter.

That’s just want we know will be there next year — a 1 through 6 batting order that is going to make pitchers work. And when pitchers work, they get tired and become more mistake prone. And mistake pitches often have a way of reaching the seats, especially when guys like Giles, Nevin and Klesko have a bat in their hands.

But wait, we’re not done. The Padres say they are going to spend money this off season. That means we could wind up with a pretty good hitting catcher in San Diego — Ivan Rodriquez, say. Plus a couple of front line pitchers, like, say Javier Vazquez and Greg Maddux (not the pitcher he once was, but still a great veteran presence.

With Trevor Hoffman healthy again, and Rod Beck working as his set up man, you’re talking about a formidable bullpen to back up a young, strong starting rotation.

The Padres will also sport a strong bench, possibly the strongest in the NL West, certainly stronger than the Dodgers.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but if you’re a Padres fan, you can’t help but be excited about how this team is coming together.