Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One-third way through a dismal Season 11, what's 10-year wonder Pujols worth?

Say this about Albert Pujols: He's not one of those slugs who underperforms for several seasons only to use monster stats in his contract year to land the deal of a lifetime.

Pujols is doing the opposite of that, and it will be interesting to see if:

A. It continues, resulting in the only bad season of his 11-year career.

2. Such a poor performance will matter once he hits the free-agent market.

I tuned in just long enough to Monday's Cubs loss to hear beleaguered Cubbie owner Tom Ricketts respond to a question about advice the fans have been giving him. He said most of the advice concerns another first baseman in the division.

That was a nod to rumors about the Cubs being the main suitors for Pujols -- a move that would have the double benefit of adding this generation's best hitter while subtracting said hitter from the archrival Cardinals. (Curious to see if Bud Selig believes that just mentioning Pujols, albeit not by name, amounted to tampering.)

Pujols supposedly wants one of the richest contracts ever bestowed upon a ballplayer. And if any ballplayer has proven worthy of such ridiculous moolah, it is Pujols.

His first 10 years rank among the best career starts in baseball history, as he never batted below .312, never hit fewer than 34 homers, never drove in fewer than 103 runs and never posted an OPS below .955.

Then came this season, when Albert's numbers are down significantly across the board. Incredibly, 21 first basemen have a higher slugging percentage.

One could say: Hey, he's Albert Pujols. He'll start hitting again. Even if 2011 ends up being substandard, everyone's allowed one off year; his track record speaks for itself. He'll have 5, 7, maybe even 10 more great years. He'll be worth every dime his next team pays him.

Or one could say: He's only 31, but it's a "hard" 31, as he rarely has missed any games while playing through numerous injuries. Throw in the steroid whispers, and it's strictly a Buyer Beware situation.

Or maybe there's some middle ground. Maybe he'll be another Frank Thomas -- who had a similar Ted Williams/Jimmy Foxx/Joe DiMaggio/Frank Robinson start to his baseball life while leveling off to a fine-but-hardly-eye-popping second half of his career.

How much would the latter be worth on the open market?

Of course, worth means only one thing: Whether you are tremendous, terrible or something in between, you are worth exactly what some owner will pay you. Not a penny more or a penny less.

And so, as Pujols' season unfolds and then free agency arrives in November, we will see what he is worth to the Cubs, Cardinals, Yankees and the few other organizations that have the money and/or inclination to get in the mix.

It will be interesting, indeed, especially if he has un-Albert numbers at the end.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Corey Patterson to White Sox: THANKS!!!

I didn't even know Corey Patterson was still in the majors. Really.

Turns out, he is. And, thanks to White Sox pitching, he's a .300 hitter.

The former Cubbie prospect-turned-washout is now with the Blue Jays. And after going 9-for-12 with 6 runs, 4 RBI and 2 HR in two games against the Sad Sox, his average climbed 33 points to .301. The homers matched his season total coming into the series, which the Blue Jays dominated to set Ozzie Guillen off on a couple more f-bomb festivals.

The White Sox next play Boston, and sources say Hee-Seop Choi is begging the Red Sox to sign him so he can resurrect his career, too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A campaign to save catchers

It's time for MLB to make a significant rule change to protect the most vulnerable player on the field.

Catcher Buster Posey is the San Francisco Giants' best player. He will miss the rest of the season due to injuries suffered on a totally unnecessary home-plate collision.

Notice I said "totally unnecessary," not dirty. What Marlins baserunner Scott Cousins did -- absolutely obliterate Posey, who was blocking the plate as he waited for a throw -- was completely legal by baseball rules.

What I'm saying is it shouldn't be legal.

A catcher shouldn't be allowed to block the plate while waiting for a throw any more than a second baseman should. And a baserunner should have to slide or otherwise avoid collision with the catcher.

Traditionalists no doubt will wail: "The catcher blocking the plate and the runner crashing into the catcher always has been part of baseball! Leave tradition alone!"

OK ... you know what else used to be traditional in baseball? No black players. No batting helmets. Players being indentured servants, tied to their teams for life. Spitballs not only permitted but encouraged. No ballclubs west of St. Louis. Trading cards, marketed to kids, in packs of cigarettes. Home runs awarded for balls bouncing over the wall. Gloves that looked like rags. Betting scandals. Pitchers being over-used and then discarded by their teams.

To name a few wonderful traditions.

Tradition almost always is the most idiotic reason to resist change.

Look, these guys get paid way too much money to be put in harm's way every single game. It makes no sense -- financially, physically, morally and every other "ly" one can think of.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hey Derrick Rose: Even MJ knew he didn't ALWAYS have to be The Man

The Bald Truth

Love Derrick Rose's game. Love it! As he matures, however, he has to realize that he need not always take the final shot -- even though he's by far the best player on the Bulls.

Late in regulation time Tuesday, the Bulls had two chances to beat the Heat on the road and even the series. Both times, Rose tried to take jump shots over LeBron James, who is at least a half-foot taller and can jump just as high. Predictably, both shots missed.

On both occasions, Rose had open teammates. Luol Deng, who has hit numerous big shots, would have been an obvious alternative.

(Overall, I've been impressed by Tom Thibodeau's coaching -- and, in fact, lobbied three years ago for the Bulls to hire him instead of Vapid Vinny Del Negro. Still, it's hard to say Thibodeau wasn't out-coached by Eric Spoelstra with the whole LeBron-on-DRose situation.)

Doesn't the superstar always take the big shot? Didn't Rose's hero, Michael Jordan?

Most of the time, yes. But not always.

John Paxson hit the championship-winning 3-pointer in 1993, with Jordan later saying: "Once Paxson got the ball, I knew it was over."

In 1997, it was Steve Kerr who took a pass from Jordan and won the title with a 15-footer. In the time-out before the play, MJ went out of his way to tell Kerr to be ready if John Stockton left Kerr to double-team Jordan. Stockton indeed left Kerr, and both Jordan and Kerr were prepared to make history.

Even Jordan's famed 55-point "Double Nickel" Spectacular at Madison Square Garden in '95 ended with Jordan feeding Bill Wennington for the winning basket.

So yes, Rose should be prepared to carry his team. That's what MVPs do. Sometimes, though, the shot simply isn't there. And on those occasions, the MVP has to be smart and brave enough to trust his teammates.

That's what they're there for.

The End Is Near

I will be very sad when the Bulls-Heat series ends, and it has nothing to do with the Bulls' precarious predicament.

The end of the series means the end of TNT's broadcasts. And that means no more Marv Albert until next season (if there even is a next season for the NBA).

The guy is such a pleasure to listen to, it makes me want to wear a toupee and bite some broad's back.

The Balder Truth

Good thing for the Bulls that Bennett Salvatore wasn't officiating Game 6 of the '98 NBA Finals.

In the closing seconds of regulation Tuesday, he ignored the unwritten NBA commandment "Thou Shalt Not Call Fouls On Superstars With The Game On The Line" and had the cajones to make a great offensive foul call on LeBron -- who had used his free arm to shove Ronnie Brewer.

It's fun to wonder if Salvatore would have made a similarly bold call against Jordan, who clearly shoved Utah's Bryon Russell out of the way before hitting the famed jumper that won the title in MJ's final game as a Bull.

Just Asking

In three years under Coach K, how is it possible that Carlos Boozer didn't learn to play even a little defense?


How hard up must ESPN be for NBA analysts if they are turning to Vapid Vinny for insight into the Bulls-Heat series?

As usual, Del Negro offered nothing of substance and repeatedly used cliches. He even disagreed with TNT's outstanding analyst pair -- Kerr and Reggie Miller -- by saying it was Rose's responsibility to attempt those difficult jumpers over LeBron.

Yep, Vapid Vinny truly sounded like a guy who deserves to coach the Clippers.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Not calling 'em like they see 'em

The Rapture didn't work for me. I got all the way to Heaven and was done in by my allergies to harps and wings. So I'm back, baby ...

Those who dislike NBA basketball often talk about the refs' refusal to call traveling, but here are the five calls/non-calls that really drive me nuts:

5. Offensive guys jumping into defenders but still getting to go to the free-throw line. What ever happened to the principle of verticality?

4. Three-second violation. It's called so infrequently, the NBA might as well just change it to a 12-second violation.

3. Palming. These guys take 2, 3, 5 steps between dribbles. And then the refs call a foul on the defender. Where's the justice?

2. Lane violations on free throws. It's gotten to the point where I half expect the refs to call a violation on the one guy who doesn't enter the lane before the shot is released.

1. Moving screens. This is my personal pet peeve because every time a player is allowed to set one, it creates an enormous, unfair advantage for the offense. And this isn't just a problem in pro hoops. The year Illinois went to the NCAA title game, I counted 17 uncalled moving screens on James Augustine in one game. Given his "production" at that facet of play, I'm surprised he didn't make it in the NBA!

Despite all of this, I still enjoy the NBA playoffs. And I still respect NBA refs, who probably have the most difficult officiating job in all of sports but seem to get the most important calls right about 95 percent of the time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Meet Simcha, the newest Nadel!

Our new little girl, Simcha!

Her name is pronounced "sim-kha" -- say the second syllable as if you had a little phlegm in your throat! It's Hebrew for "happiness," and it's a perfect fit. She is a happy girl and she makes us happy!

She's a black Lab, she's just about 4 months old, we brought her home from the shelter yesterday. It's amazing to think that somebody actually didn't want this well-behaved, lovable cutie!

She had a great first night in her crate in our bedroom. Didn't whine or make noise or have any accidents. Got up with Roberta to go to the bathroom and then, when Roberta went to work, Simcha went back to sleep until I woke up. She's sleeping at my feet under the desk as I write this.

She's been with us for barely 24 hours and already we're in love!!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baseball's kind "Killer"

Not long after I arrived in Minneapolis as a kid sportswriter for AP, I met Harmon Killebrew, then an announcer for the Twins. For the next several years, I enjoyed his company tremendously.

He was generous with his time, gracious with his words and gentle with his deeds.

Indeed, as a human being, he was the opposite of the nickname he earned as a home-run smashing Hall of Famer: Killer.

Harmon died Tuesday after a long fight with cancer. Baseball, and the world in general, is worse for his absence.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This can't be a good sign

So I opened today's Charlotte Observer comics section. After reading a few funnies, my eyes wandered to the Horoscopes on the left side of the page.

There was Virgo. Followed by Scorpio.

No Libra. Which is what I am.

Now, I don't normally buy into Horoscopes, but ...

Chilly reception for Heat in Chi-town

Dwyane looked a step slow and LeBron looked distracted. Having said that, the Bulls were so freakin' impressive in Game 1, it would be an injustice to say they won only because Wade and James were off.

The Bulls completely out-hustled, out-shot, out-defended and out-coached the Heat. They won by 21 points, and the game wasn't really that close.

For all of their high-priced individual talent, if the Heat can't keep Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls from dominating the offensive boards, they can't win the series. Period.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mariotti: reaping what he sows

So how 'bout that wacky Jay Mariotti getting charged with felonies for stalking, domestic violence and assault?

Even though he has pleaded innocent, we all know he is guilty. Why? Because if Jay Mariotti were writing this right now about somebody else -- especially an athlete -- he'd be assuming the alleged felon were an actual felon. Guilty until proven innocent.

This reminds me of Rush Limbaugh saying all drug addicts should be jailed. Until, of course, he became one himself.

Jay ... Rush ... there's nothing worse than a bombastic bully.

Oh wait, I'm wrong about that. A felon is worse. And soon enough, Mariotti very well might be found to be one of those, too.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Milton Bradley: 100th verse, same as the first

Can't wait for Milton Bradley to end his silence and blame Lou Piniella, Cubbie fans and Chicago media for running him out of Seattle.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Winning legacy assured, Phil Jackson goes out a big loser

Were Phil Jackson a lesser coach with a thinner resume, he might not have had the chance to retire after his team's showing in the NBA playoffs. He might have been fired at the final buzzer of his final game.

His Lakers had the look of an unprepared, out-of-control, uncoachable group of quitters and thugs.

Knowing Jackson as well as I do, it's hard to believe he mailed it in for Game 4 of the Dallas series. Having said that, what evidence was there that the Lakers were coached at all before or during that game?

It wasn't bad enough that they played with no heart? They also had to take cheap shots at the Mavericks, who deserve to be healthy going into the Western Conference finals?

If David Stern is as tough a commissioner as he claims to be, he will suspend Andrew Bynum for next season's first 20 games and Lamar Odom for at least 5. (If there is a next season, that is.)

As for Jackson, his legacy already was secure well before this debacle. He is the best coach I ever covered, better than anybody I've seen at getting selfish, spoiled millionaires to buy into a team concept. Yes, he was lucky enough to coach some of the greatest basketball players ever. That he turned that talent into 11 titles remains a remarkable achievement.

High schools, colleges and the NBA are filled with good X-and-O strategists. The best coaches are wizards at managing oversized egos. Nobody in the history of sports was better at it than Phil Jackson.

It's a shame he had to go out looking like a powerless loser.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yes, but bin Laden was a terrific dancer

The Bald Truth

Steelers lunkhead Rashard Mendenhall cannot believe all those not related to Osama bin Laden are so overjoyed about the cowardly murderer's demise.

"What kind of person celebrates death?" Mendenhall twatted. "It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side … "

Yes, and I wish Hitler had lived on to thrill us for years with his good side. You know, some historians say Der Fuhrer was a wonderful painter. In fact, he could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon ... two coats!

The Balder Truth

You know things are going bad for the White Sox when they get no-hit by a pitcher with an ERA of almost 10. Nelson Liriano's imperfect (6 walks) game Tuesday kind of reminded me of the first no-hitter I ever covered, also by a Twin: Scott Erickson.

Erickson, who walked four Brewers in the 1994 game, had allowed more hits the previous two seasons than any other pitcher in the majors. That's right: The Brewers couldn't scratch out a single hit against baseball's most hittable pitcher.

But at least Erickson didn't have an ERA hovering near four digits at the time.

By the way, the Brewers finished that lockout-shortened '94 season in last place. Which is where the White Sox currently reside - already 10 games behind surprise division leader Cleveland.


I'm supposed to be impressed that NBA MVP Derrick Rose isn't even 23 yet?

My son Ben just turned 23 a few months ago, and he can sink two straight free throws without getting winded. Three on a good day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

May isn't Fukudome's month. June, July, August, Sept and Oct ain't so great, either

It's May, so baseball fans know what that means:

Time to go short on Kosuke Fukudome stock. And by all means, sell Jason Marquis.