Posted on: October 30, 2009 7:28 pm
 

MLB Awards

The season is a goner. Let’s see who walks away with the hardware.
AL MVP
Final Five: Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Kendry Morales, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis
Winner: Mauer
Teixeira had a monster year leading the league in RBI and tying in home runs. He was a vacuum at first base, third in slugging (.565), No. 6 in runs scored (103) and 10th in walks. But he had help. The Yankees topped the Twins in every offensive category except triples and dominated the pitching comparison. While the Yankees cruised to a division title, Mauer had to carry the load while his team made a late-season run to another division title. Mauer led the league in hitting (.365), slugging and OPS. He hit 28 home runs, was second in on-base percentage and struck out just 63 times. Teixeira will get the votes, but Mauer is more deserving.
NL MVP
Final five: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Derek Lee, Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez
Winner: Pujols
This contest is so one-sided that Pujols should finish first and second. The Cardinals’ first baseman not only added to his Hall of Fame credentials, but inched his way closer up the best-of-all-time list. Pujols led the National League in home runs, runs, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. His 135 RBI was six behind the co-leaders, he was second in doubles, third in walks and struck out a paltry 64 times. The question is not will Pujols win the MVP, but when will he surpass Stan Musial as the all-time greatest Cardinal?
AL Cy Young
Final Five: Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander
Winner: Greinke
No one did more with less than Greinke. The right-hander finished first in ERA, WHIP, second in batting average against and his 16 wins accounted for 24 percent of the Royals’ victories. He was the only one of Kansas City’s five regular starters to finish on the positive side of the .500 mark. Take out his 2.16 era and KC’s other four starters gave up an average of 5.9 runs per nine innings. He couldn’t even count on run support. Greinke had nine no-decisions during the season while giving up a total of 16 runs. The Royals’ hitters were awful. In the 14-team American League, the Royals finished 13th in runs, home runs, RBI and on-base percentage.
NL Cy Young
Final five: Chris Carpenter, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Javier Vázquez. Adam Wainwright,
Winner: Carpenter
The Cardinals’ right-hander got a lot of competition for Lincecum and Wainwright, but the 34-year-old pulls ahead with his 80.9 winning percentage and a league-low 2.24 era. While not an overpowering pitcher, Carpenter had a 3.78-1 strikeout to walk ratio, which combined for a National League second best 1.01 WHIP. Even in games when he was not the pitcher of record, Carpenter posted a 1.60 era in his seven no-decisions.
AL Rookie of the Year
Final Five: Elvis Andrus, Andrew Bailey, Gordon Beckham, Jeff Niemann, Rick Porcello
Winner: Niemann
It may say more about a club than the athlete when a rookie leads the team in wins (13) and ERA (3.94). But Niemann carried the load and performed when no other Tampa player seemed capable. He was solid throughout with 13 quality starts, a respectable .266 batting average against mark while losing consecutive starts on only one occasion.
NL Rookie of the Year
Final Five: J.A. Happ, Chris Coghlan, Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones, Randy Wells
Winner: Happ
Philadelphia’s Happ stands out in an impressive rookie class by leading his World Series-participating team with a 2.93 ERA while tying for the team lead in victories. He won 75 percent of his starts, which is also tops among starters. Happ struck out 119 batters in 166 innings and was even better on the road then home with a baseball-best 1.99 era.
AL Manager of the Year
Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire continues to win with an impoverished payroll. True, he competes in baseball’s worst division, but his team is a perennial competitor in the Central and he deserves a lot of credit.
NL Manager of the Year
Jim Tracy got the job in the 47th game of the season with the Rockies 10 games below .500. From that point  Colorado won 63.7 percent of their games. Enough said.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 23, 2009 3:24 pm
 

Wings Top of the Heap

While the Detroit Red Wings failed in their quest to tame the hype machine that is Sydney Crosby, and to take home a second straight Stanley Cup, the Wings can take solace in the fact that it is the best-run and most successful franchise in North American professional sports.

We’re not about to fold European soccer or subcontinent cricket into the mix. Let them have their own argument. And this isn’t an all-time argument — that honor belongs to the Yankees and their 26 World Series titles. The Montreal Canadiens come close  with 24 Cups.
But among the groups currently taking the field, court or ice, no team has been more successful or less problematic than the Wings since they returned to the Stanley Cup Finals after their 30-year drought ended 14 years ago.

Since 1995, the Wings have reached the finals six times while winning four. Their finals victory total is one more than the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl wins and is tied with the Yankees (titles in 1996, ’98, ’99 and 2000) and the Los Angles Lakers (NBA Finals wins in 2000, ’01, ’02 and ’09). The Lakers tied the Wings in finals appearances and have done more in less time than their best-of competitor, needing only nine years compared with the Wings’ 13. The lockout cost the NHL one year.

A second stat favoring the Wings is that the team boasts the highest winning percentage among its fellow league leaders over the stated time frame. Granted, styles of play, league rules, free agency, injuries, uptight athletes and a hundred other points of interest factor into the success and failure of an organization. But when it’s all said and done, Detroit tops the list by winning at a .668 clip. New England is second at .651, with the Lakers third at .650. The Yankees have won 59.6 percent of their games. Even if ties are factored in, which are unique to the NHL and were for that reason left out of the equation, the Wings still managed to win 60.9 percent of all the games played. An interesting side note to this comparison is that only the Wings and Yankees have failed to log a losing season during the period.

One of the best testaments to the franchises organizational skills is that the team has been able to remain successful after the league adopted a salary cap following the work stoppage. Prior to 2005, the NHL was the only league not to have a cap, luxury tax or some type of profit sharing program to help bolster the league’s weaker teams. The Wings took full advantage of their financial might. Just as the Yankees had done for decades, the Wings bought talent by the pound, culminating in 2002 when they traded for and signed three soon-to-be Hall of Famers in Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. The new collective bargaining agreement caused a fire sale around the league as teams were forced to dump talent to save money. Detroit didn’t miss a beat winning one title and coming within a single game of winning a second.

Their reputation for wooing talent was further enhanced when Marian Hossa, a four-time all-star with Pittsburgh, spurned the Pens long-term offer to take the Wings’ one year deal. Think back when Johnny Damon left Boston to sign with New York and you get an idea of how big that was.
The biggest factor in the Wings’ success is that they boast professional sports’ best front office executive. Ken Holland has been masterful in mining the deeper rounds of the draft for talent. Two-time Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk was a sixth-round pick, Henrik Zetterberg came in the seventh and goalie annoyer Tomas Holmstrom didn’t get picked until the 10th round. Two out of this three may end up in the Hall of Fame. This type of late-round success has enabled Detroit to bring along young talent at a reasonable pace and not rush them simply because of their draft status.

Holland’s leadership has also made the Wings one of sports few drama-free organizations. He’s greatly benefited by the efforts of former captain and current vice president Steve Yzerman, who set a professional level of decorum that each player is expected to follow.

Unlike the Yankees or Lakers, who get as much air time on Entertainment Tonight as they do on SportsCenter, the athletes in the red sweaters get attention for victories and not much else. This has much to do with the fact that the NHL just doesn’t draw the fan or media interest of other sports, and because the NHL boasts far fewer players head cases than their competitors.
Sean Avery notwithstanding.

smurray1984@gmail.com
Category: NHL
Posted on: June 16, 2009 4:49 pm
 

Another Bivens Blunder

On May 29, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens donned her most impressive polyester power pantsuit to join other sports honchos in handing out crystal tornadoes at the second annual SportsBusiness Journal awards ceremony in Manhattan.

While such participation is not in itself surprising, one must question whether said commissioner warranted taking part in any event honoring successful business achievement.

Bivens was not responsible for the guest list, nor was she involved in the brave, obvious and uninspired choice of naming a big-named franchise in a huge media market — the Boston Celtics — as the Professional Sports Team of the Year. The good folks at SBJ also went out on a limb naming Coke as best sponsor, ESPN best sports media and IMG best at client enrichment.

But I digress. I come not to praise the selections, but to bury the presenter.

If the good folks at the business journal — which in fact is a valuable yet expensive source of information — wanted to tap into the experience of a leader fearless enough to upset longtime sponsors thereby forcing their corporate contributions to the cash-strapped PGA, no better choice could have been made then selecting a woman willing to accept the resignations of the tour’s most senior officers less than a year after she took office — some of whom she herself had hired.

Bivens’ latest brainstorm, or blood-clot-induced stroke, is to encourage players to Twitter while on the course. According to Bloomberg News Service, Bivens said, “I’d love it if players Twittered during the middle of a round. The new media is very important to the growth of golf and we view it as a positive, and a tool to be used.”

The woman who announced her presence with authority at the 2006 Fields Open by trying to gain possession of all media photos taken and stories written at the event — which, naturally, blew up in her face when members of the press boycotted the event, thereby greatly reducing the publicity the LPGA had counted on — would also encourage her athletes to update their Facebook page while going all in at Texas Hold ‘Em or sending out gifts to would-be family members in Mafia wars.

Bivens went on to say, “For Morgan Pressel and Christina Kim’s following — her fans are 12-, 13-, 14-year-old girls and boys — they’re not waiting for the golf broadcast on Saturday and Sunday. They want to know what’s going on in the middle of the round. If we’re going to get out of the collared shirts and khaki pants and make golf chic, hip, happening, Christina Kim is exactly the kind of player to reach out and make golf a lot more relevant.”
Listen carefully and you can make out the laughter emanating from just about any place where Bivens’ White Rabbit-inspired delusions of rainbow bright marketing fail to find acceptance in the normally staid and successful golf community.

The USGA has maintained a full cavity-search policy when it comes to cell phones on the course, and outlaws the use of any device that may assist the golfer “in making a stroke or in his play; or for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play.”
Minute details like these are of little bother to the presenter in the Digital Sports Media category.

Such bizarre announcements have become commonplace for the commissioner of the world’s largest female sports league. This is just the latest since she tried to institute an English-only requirement for a business that has lost three tourneys and some $7 million in prize money in the last year. And just as she handled the language controversy, Bivens backtracked on Twittergate by suggesting she never suggested it.

Bivens posted her rebuttal on the LPGA’s barely usable website, saying, “Comments that I made in a conversation with a writer last week regarding the importance of social media and tweeting have been taken out of context. We have not discussed tweeting or the use of hand-held devices during tournament rounds with the USGA, or even within the LPGA, nor do we intend to. Our players will not be tweeting during the rounds of LPGA events.”

Well, that explains it.

One day — sooner rather than later — the organization's membership will figure out that the best way to make the game more “hip, chic, happening” would be to get rid of the woman who has not yet figured out how to market a sport with greater athletes and more eye candy than any time in its history.

Then again, maybe not.

smurray1984@gmail.com
Category: Golf
Posted on: June 8, 2009 8:06 pm
 

Howard Not Long For Orlando?

Dwight Howard wants the world to know how much he loves Orlando, DisneyWorld, Sea World, Universal Studios, Tiger Woods, Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster and, of course, the paying patrons of the Amway Arena. He wants to let the fans know how important they are to him and that, given their permission, he’ll remain in the city of congested traffic for as long as they’ll have him.

Now before everyone within shouting distance of the 407 area code starts renaming their sons after the 6-foot-11-inch center with Sly Stallone shoulders and a Cheshire Cat smile, it would be wise to acknowledge that the man has promised nothing. He, in fact, put the responsibility of his future decision in the hands of others. According to Howard, he’ll remain a fixture in the community so long as the fans pack the arena and are not too critical, that ownership surrounds him with a bevy of talent to ensure continued success and, most important, so long as he doesn’t slip into a lower tax bracket.

Saying to the Orlando Sentinel, “You want to feel loved. That’s the biggest thing. I show my love to the community. I show my love to this city by stepping on the floor every night and playing as hard as I can. That’s all we want back.”
Howard wants to be loved, and athletic admiration is shown one way — with cash!

Ron Artest was not thinking about putting food on the table when he turned down the Pacers’ contract offer three years ago. Nor was Howard when he said, “My responsibility is to my family first, then the organization and then my city.” What both men meant was that they deserve a certain level of recognition, and respect in professional sports is measured in dollars and cents.

The 23-year-old has four years left on his $85 million mutual-admiration deal with the Magic, so he’s not likely to go anywhere soon. Unless the bottom falls out of the Central Florida basketball market, Howard will not be traded, nor is he likely to ask for time off to become an A&R man for an unknown vocal ensemble. But he hasn’t been shy about what he expects from his employers. Howard wants victories and rings — lots of them — and he’s not shy about making his opinions heard.

“As a franchise, we all have to take on a championship mentality,” Howard told the Sentinel. “That’s the thing I’ve been telling (general manager) Otis (Smith) and (team president) Bob (Vander Weide) that we have to have a championship mentality every day.”
Dwight Howard is far too mentally maintained to start burning through teams, and he’s proven his love of community way too many times to discount his fan crush comments as simple PR ramblings. But the draw of bigger paychecks and brighter lights is always a seductive temptress. No longer is it enough for an athlete to compete and head home. Athletes want to act, dance and design clothing, all while releasing some of the worst hip-hop albums of all time.

The Sentinel article said Howard understands how the team and city were devastated when Shaq took his traveling road show to L.A. But is it beyond comprehension to consider that the guy who borrowed the Big Aristotle’s superhero moniker couldn’t find even more inspiration from the man who, like Howard now, once cut a rather trim figure in a Magics uniform? Or perhaps the king of the Cuyahoga?
“Everybody can say that LeBron should stay in Cleveland,” Howard said. “That’s where he’s from. But you have to think about what’s best for you and your family.”
Don’t be surprised.

smurray1984@gmail.com
Category: NBA
Posted on: March 31, 2009 4:35 pm
 

Athletic Prez Posts

In his first few months in office, Barack Obama has stirred supporters, stoked the wrath of opponents and, like every other man to have ever taken the job, has handed out appointments to election supporters. When the president named Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney as ambassador to Ireland, it no doubt provided even more fodder for followers of the famed  Feminazi instigator to take their shots. But while we debate what qualifies Rooney to represent the European Union’s second-richest country, we can ponder a few other names Obama may consider for administration posts.
Ricky Williams — Ambassador to Jamaica. OK, I readily admit this is a cheap one. Sending sports’ biggest pothead to the land most identifiable with this tasty, sticky and pungent weed may seem like pure caricature, but it has some real merit. The U.S. presidency is the toughest job on the planet, and who better to take the pressure off the top job and infuse the Oval Office with a little Rasta man vibration than a holistically trained running back.
Martin Brodeur — Auto Czar. No doubt that naming a Canadian to head the most American of industries will have people clamoring to condemn the nomination as just yet another example of badly timed outsourcing. But the U.S. auto makers are in desperate need of a win, and no one has done that better than Brodeur. The New Jersey net minder is a frequent visitor to Detroit, and is just a short drive or train ride from the D.C. powerbase from which he’ll have to lobby on behalf of his charges. Auto workers need someone who is hard-working and has taken a few hits of his own. During his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career, Brodeur has smothered some 29,000 shots, or about the same as the Ford Edsel.
Larry Brown — Secretary of Transportation. After 13 stops in his 32-year coaching career, no one is better at wrapping the glasses and limiting packing damage than Brown. The nation’s infrastructure, of which much was created during the administration of Obama’s kindred spirit of free spending, has been left to rot and is in dire need of repair. Obama can certainly find someone more politically connected, but not even the most-experienced Beltway backroom dealer is better to direct the reconstruction of said byways than the man who has spent more time on more highways while leaving more teams.
LeBron James — Secretary of Defense. James is not the first name that comes to mind when talk turns to NBA stoppers, but in appearance, poise and performance he embodies everything our military is about. James is pure GQ in his clothing options, and carries himself with a level of professionalism that most athletes never understand — not to mention that the dude is downright terrifying. And isn’t that the exact message a country should send to its enemy? LeBron is unmatched in his combination of strength, speed, ferocity and willingness to be part of a team. He’s a virtual recruiting poster.
Alex Rodriguez — Drug Enforcement Agency. Another easy shot. A-Rod has international connections in the world of illicit drugs and colleagues with a wealth of experience. Hiring Jose Canseco as his assistant would be smart and would keep him off reality TV. And since a high level of secrecy is necessary to infiltrate cartels, he could also bring in Bud Selig to brag about enforcement after denying any such problem exists.
Tiger Woods — Treasury Department. With his demand for secrecy it is indeterminable whether Tiger is an aggressive investor or prefers to limit his dollars while following the calm sensibility of Jim Cramer. What we do know is that the former Cardinal is a one-man growth industry. Earl’s boy has, near singlehandedly, turned PGA purses into a bull market with payments of $280 million, up from the $80 million investment a mere 13 years ago.
Kurt Warner — Secretary for Aging. Warner would be a great advocate and role model for the gray-haired set. Like many elders, Warner has been repeatedly cast off as someone past his prime and of little value, only to show remarkable knowledge and ability when given a chance. Who better to let a nation infatuated with youth to understand that, though there may be snow on the roof, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one last-minute Super Bowl drive on the fire?
Greg Maddox — CIA Director. Maddox sure doesn’t fit the G-man prototype of the wide-bodied, cold-staring public servant. With a less-than-threatening physical makeup, and soft, puffy eyes that make it look like he just removed his tape-supported spectacles, he appears more apt to check in late books at the local public repository than head one of the world’s most-talked-about and secret history-altering agencies. But like the men he’d direct, Maddox is a master of secrecy, misdirection and the unexpected. With almost no speed and a delivery that looked better suited to backyard barbecues than big league ball parks, he’s bobbed, weaved and beguiled his way into certain Hall of Fame inclusion.
smurray@midweek.com

 

 

Posted on: March 27, 2009 9:46 pm
 

A Classic In Need Of A Fix

In years to come, when Bud Selig looks into his chest of baseball memories to relive the glory days of his inconsistent reign, he’ll no doubt gaze with reflective pride on the international tournament he envisioned and championed into existence. Other mementos of the past, such as any mention of his role as enabler in the largest illegal drug scandal in the game’s history, have been tossed aside, along with the polyester leisure suits that made him the center of attention on the lighted dance floors of the 1970s.

The World Baseball Classic provided yet more proof that, though the names may be unrecognizable or unpronounceable, the skill is universal, even if it comes from areas far removed from the New Jersey meadow where the rules and dimensions of the modern game were born.
U.S. fans, used to big swings and even bigger misses, were treated, if they cared, to styles of play seemingly lost in the chase for immediate gratification. Anyone wondering what the game looked like before the advent of instant offense need only tune into any contest by the final pair to be transported back to a time when bat control, smart base running and crisp defense were mandatory and well-practiced keys to victory.
But no matter the merit of the Asian, Caribbean or European style of play, the WBC will not fulfill Selig’s prediction as a true World Cup-type event until changes are made.

The biggest hurdle to clear before the games restart in 2013 is coaxing greater support from Major League owners. Selig, during an in-booth television interview, said the owners will have to put aside individual need for the greater good of the sport.
This is going to be a tough sell even for a commissioner who is basically a displaced owner. Owners and executives are rightfully concerned that an injury to a key player could deter a title shot and affect their bottom line.
This fear of lost revenue will change when the merchandising and television dollars start rolling in — which they will, as long as the series can be kept afloat.

According to bizofbaseball.com, domestic TV ratings for round one jumped 40 percent over 2006, with viewership up almost 90 percent.
But more important than U.S. ratings is how the game does overseas. ESPN reported that the five first-round games were the highest-rated non-soccer events ever broadcast on ESPN Deportes. In Asia, where Major League Baseball is trying to make a big impact, the March 13 game between Japan and Korea pulled in a 37.8 rating in Japan with even bigger numbers in Korea. The Classic also helps the exposure of foreign players, so look for teams to tap into the under-used Korean talent pool.

For all the outstanding competition and international grudge matches the Classic brings out, watching teams play each other four or five times just gets old. Reseeding teams in the second round would prevent boring repetition and make for additional compelling matchups. Who wouldn’t want to see Cuba take on the U.S. and give Castro even more column fodder? The former revolutionary leader’s op-ed piece in the Escambray was a bit rambling, but he had a point about the disparity of having three of the four top-ranked teams by the International Baseball Federation in one division.

As important as the international element is to the Classic, a huge part of its future depends on U.S. success and the participation of American athletes.
Even with the majority of talent and viewers coming from places other than the United States, as goes the U.S. so goes the Classic. America still produces the best baseball talent, and fans in all countries want to see the best compete. Just as fans in the Netherlands celebrated like it was Nieuwjaar after their club defeated the mighty Dominicans, so do fans elsewhere want to take down an even more dominant U.S. team. But for this to be the case, changes have to be made to make it more attractive to players.

Baseball is an everyday game, and stretching a nine-game tournament over three weeks doesn’t give players the necessary time to prepare for both the Classic and their upcoming Major League season. Fixing this is a two-step process. Slicing a week off the schedule will eliminate the unnecessary down time players hate, and beginning training earlier will ensure proper health and team coordination. The later will be toughest to implement.

Counting spring training, the Major League season lasts nine months, which leaves very little off time to heal wounds or eliminate the stress of a marathon season. Getting 28 player to make such a commitment will be difficult. Therefore, use fewer players. This is not Little League. Not everyone needs to play. Pick a starting nine, plus pitchers, who are going to play each game and keep the rest in reserve with their clubs in spring training. Should an injury arise, fly in a replacement.

One final suggestion: Lower ticket prices. While the price tags may not have been out of order when compared to quality seating in Boston or New York, triple-digit prices are a bit much to watch Panama take on China. While the final numbers were good in Los Angeles, mainly because of its large Korean population,  TV viewers were greeted far too often with too many open seats to indicate they were tuning into an event worth watching.
And if seeing Derek Jeter cheer on Kevin Youkilis or David Wright celebrating with Shane Victorino doesn’t send you running to create your own Mastercard-inspired proclamation of financial support, nothing will.

smurray@midweek.com

Posted on: March 6, 2009 9:08 pm
 

Owens, Marbury: Buyer Beware

For one, it was a week of redemption. For the other, yet another bridge burned.
Stephon Marbury and Terrell Owens are skilled players who are cursed with more ego than talent, and who have brought more attention to themselves for their actions off the court and field then on. For the time being, Marbury has found a home with a structured team that doesn’t really need his help. Owens, however, will be in search for the last team willing to put up with his nonsense.
The Marbury experiment in Boston has gotten off to the start everyone had hoped: quiet and uneventful. In three games (as of this writing)  the Celtics’ new point guard has eight points and nine assists in 40 minutes. More importantly he’s yet to alienate his teammates, coaches and owners, with no hint of misbehavior. For most players and teams, that would be the expected minimum of decent behavior, but it’s been some time since the man with the $21 sneaker went very long without becoming a distraction. It remains to be seen how long he can hold out before venturing down that well-beaten path.
Owens’ time in Dallas was the soap opera everyone should have seen coming. The three-year docudrama starring the former 49er and Eagle was highlighted by tremendous skill, dropped balls, bizarre behavior, muscular superiority, locker-room bickering and one alleged suicide attempt. Even though Owens cried famously in support of the man tasked with getting him the football, and then later blamed said quarterback and tight end Jason Witten for conspiring to keep the ball away from him, it became clear that Owens and Tony Romo couldn’t co-exist, and no one, not even Jerry Jones — who, like all owners, favors performance over professionalism — is going to choose an aging receiver over a Pro Bowl quarterback. When Dallas imported Roy Williams from Detroit, it was only a matter of time before Owens left the Cowboys in search of sucker No. 4. He’ll find that team soon enough.
Though Owens is likely to have a bigger impact on his team, of the two, Marbury is the safer hire. Yes, he’s self-involved and is yet to find fault in any of his actions, but unlike Owens, who has literally torpedoed three teams, Marbury doesn’t seem to warrant immediate psychological assistance. So far the Coney Island native has deferred to Boston’s Big Three and has taken his minutes as they have come, but Marbury needs close watching because history, as they say, repeats itself.
In 2003, Rasheed Wallace was a technical foul-prone Pacific Northwest problem child who entered a very tight Detroit Pistons locker room and helped lead them to a championship. The suddenly well-behaved post man silenced all doubters, and the Pistons seemed to do the impossible. A team of strong leaders was able to rein in a temperamental star and convince him of his evil ways. But the good times didn’t last, and slowly but surely Sheed went back to his Jailblazers’ ways and began sabotaging his team with bad behavior and disinterest. The Celtics could be next.
Every team thinks it has the structure to rehabilitate troubled athletes, but the successful ones rarely enjoy much long-term success. One of the reasons the Celtics work so well together is they are not afraid to share the spotlight or to get in one another’s grill. Marbury couldn’t handle playing second plantain in Minnesota when Kevin Garnett was still too young to take on a strong leadership role.
What’s going to happen now that Garnett has shown the ability to make teammates cry? His new coach summed up the challenges ahead perfectly, saying that Marbury’s problems were in New York and everywhere else —the last two words being most important.
Whoever takes a gamble on the former Cowboy is going to face a challenge. Owens is a No. 1 option who, if he desired, could still earn a Pro Bowl spot. Physical receivers are a premium in the NFL, and any team on the edge of the playoffs or more will be tempted to breakdance with Beelzebub. And it may even work out for a year, but hoping for anything more is just foolish. If the Cowboys, who took  the fun out of dysfunctional, can only handle three seasons, how’s a team lacking blood lust for victory in ownership going to do any better?
Marbury and Owens are gambles. Vegas was built on such excitement. It’s the lure of sudden richness with only the house coming out ahead. Boston got a seat at the table. Will Minnesota or Oakland?
smurray@midweek.com

 

 

Posted on: March 3, 2009 4:06 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2009 4:07 pm
 

NHL Needs to Lemieux Rivalries

The uniform was different, but the feeling inside Joe Louis Arena was vintage 1990s.
Well, almost. Eleven years has a way of calming hostilities, even those toward uber villain Claude Lemieux, who a decade ago was as welcomed in the Brown Bomber’s playhouse as octopi on the ice in Denver.
The images are still clear: Lemieux’s check that sent Kris Draper hard into the boards and then to the hospital with a broken jaw, cheek and concussion — which, even though it came from behind, upon further review looks more accidental then purposeful. And, most famously, the March 26, 1997, retaliation by Darren McCarty 301 days later that sent the Avalanche’s instigator to the ice for protection, which included a scrap between goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy, and a second show of strength four seconds into the second period when Adam Foote and Brandon Shanahan tied up. It was hockey at its best.
The 43-year-old former master of the sucker punch played his first game for San Jose Jan. 20 and has been rewarded with 19 penalty minutes in 15 games, but it wasn’t until he skated against Detroit did his comeback become noteworthy. For better or for worse, after four Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, 785 points and 1,756 penalty minutes, Lemieux will be remembered most for the fights he instigated and for the rivalry he helped start. After five-and-a-half years away and seemingly a lifetime since the NHL has seen confrontation in all its former gory glory, the NHL could use a few agitators and retaliators.
In all truth, the league doesn’t need players such as Lemieux or McCarty, who before his groin injury had scored one goal and 25 penalty minutes, all for fighting majors. The league is blessed with international talent that has raised the skill level to unseen proportions. Commissioner Gary Bettman wanted his league to be celebrated for its athleticism and not fisticuffs, and from that aspect it’s been a success.
But the lack of fighting and story-ready characters has caused the league to lose some of its identity and attractiveness at a time when even the NFL is making cuts. The realities of the economy and a salary cap won’t allow teams to employ punch-first-and-ask-questions-later
players such as “Tiger” Williams, whose 3,966 penalty minutes has made him a penalty box legend. The league will never completely go back to the days of paid enforcers, nor should it. Even hockey needs to evolve. But the league does need something or someone to stir the pot and create matchups that make the regular season something more than an 80-game preview to the post-season. It wasn’t going to be Steve Avery and his camera-mugging comments and, as much as the league is trying, it’s not going to be Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Ovechkin is the game’s best player, Crosby its most-famous and best-marketed. The NHL and its broadcast partners are pushing these two as a latter-day version of Howe vs. Richard, but neither really fits the role. Ovechkin has the jaw-dropping talent, but Crosby is more inclined to hit and hide than menacingly stalk an opponent for a true face-to-face tussle against a force majeure. Then again, saving one’s aggression for a smaller target is standard operating procedure for Broad Street bullies in every city. And for 20 seasons, no one exhibited that belief more than the man named the No. 1 Most Hated Man in the NHL by ESPN in 2006.
Claude Lemieux was a jerk with the marvelous ability to get under the skin of his opponents. Detroit fans should have recognized a similar skill in its own well-loved 6-foot-11-inch, 260-pound Bad Boy. If they did, they’d never admit it. Such is the nature of pests. They are loved in their hometown, despised on the road and needed in today’s NHL — a fact that hasn’t escaped the now calmer vet.
“It’s good for hockey,”  said Lemieux in the Detroit Free Press. “I think hockey was at its best as far as TV ratings and the interest of the hockey fans (then). They couldn’t wait to watch those games, and I think we need more rivalries of that kind to develop to promote our game.”
There was a time when Toronto vs. Montreal, Edmonton/Calgary, Islander and Rangers and, yes, Red Wings/Avs meant something more than an evening out and playoff position. It was nearly life and death. The NHL needs to get that back, and Lemieux and McCarty are too old to lead the way.
Though they’ll help any chance they get.
smurray@midweek.com

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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