Friday, September 30, 2011

MVPs (Mike's Value Picks)

When the baseball writers decided to start giving out individual awards 80 years ago, there was a reason they opted to call it "Most VALUABLE Player" and not just "Player of the Year."

Anybody can look at stats and say, "This guy's the best." There is nuance in determining "value." I had absolutely no problem with Willie Stargell winning the 1979 NL MVP (actually, a tie with Keith Hernandez) even though Hernandez had significantly better stats. Voters decided that Stargell's value -- the way he willed the Pirates to a division title -- was more valuable than raw numbers. And they were right!

The BBWAA left it up to each voter to define value. I like that, too, because it nets a nice cross-section of votes. Some writers won't vote for pitchers. Some vote for the guy with the best stats. And many -- including yours truly -- believes the only possible definition of value suggests a player who brought both outstanding stats and outstanding intangibles to a contending team.

Despite their superior stats, I have a hard time accepting Jose Bautista and/or Matt Kemp as MVPs this season. While the guys I chose faced pressure every single day, Bautista and Kemp had the huge advantage of playing in few games that mattered in the standings. Their ballclubs stunk with them and their ballclubs would have stunk if they had suffered season-ending injuries in April. Where's the value?

The Bautista and Kemp backers often cite precedence: Alex Rodriguez, Andre Dawsonand Ernie Banks, among other players for non-contenders, are former MVPs. Hey, just because voters made a mistake in those seasons, it doesn't mean we should repeat that mistake now. Most years, my BBWAA colleagues have agreed with me.

Anyway, if I had a vote, here would be the MVP ballots I'd cast in 2011:

American League

1. JUSTIN VERLANDER. I know, I know ... he participated in barely one-fifth of his team's games. Well, this is why we can't just let stats dictate these things -- not that Verlander lacks amazing stats. Let's look past his sheer brilliance all season, especially in the second half as the Tigers ran away with the division title. Instead, let's look at the intangibles: Because Verlander saved the bullpen every fifth day, Jim Leyland had a full and rested relief corps at his disposal the rest of the time; psychologically, the team knew it would never have a killer losing streak because every fifth day a win was all but guaranteed; for the first two-thirds of the season, Verlander was the only starter who kept Detroit in the race; inspired by Verlander -- and relieved of the burden of carrying the team -- other Detroit starters finally came around and several went on to exceed expectations. And let's consider this hypothetical: If an average ballplayer (say, Coco Crisp) replaced Curtis Granderson in center field, would the Yankees have won their division? Almost surely. Now, if an average starter (say, Trevor Cahill) replaced Verlander in the rotation, would the Tigers have won their division? Please.

2. CURTIS GRANDERSON. Many associated with the team believe Robinson Cano actually is the straw that stirs the Yankees' drink. Still, Granderson had the stats of an elite player and benefited the players both in front of and behind him in the lineup.

3. JACOBY ELLSBURY. One of the few Red Sox who didn't choke down the stretch. Besides having 105 RBI mostly from the leadoff spot, Ellsbury steals bases and plays fine CF.

4. MIGUEL CABRERA. The AL's best all-around hitter had another banner season for Detroit.

5. ROBINSON CANO. His performance made up for A-Rod's injury-filled year and for Mark Teixeira's occasional struggles.

6. MICHAEL YOUNG. A big reason the Rangers survived injuries to Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre.

7. JOSE VALVERDE. Forty-nine times, Leyland asked him to protect a lead. Forty-nine times Papa Grande came through. Pretty hard to ignore a guy with a 100 percent success rate.

8. JOSE BAUTISTA. Incredible stats, especially the first half. My definition of value, however, relegates him to this spot on my ballot.

9. CC SABATHIA. For much of the season, he had even less support in his rotation than Verlander did in Detroit's.

10. EVAN LONGORIA. While Adrian Gonzalez -- the midseason pick for this award -- was shrinking in the season's second half, Longoria was scorching: 24 RBI in August and 22 more in September, including the Rays' two biggest HRs in the wild-card clincher.

National League

1. RYAN BRAUN. I had a difficult time separating Braun and Prince Fielder. One could make a pretty good argument that with Fielder protecting Braun -- versus the likes of Casey McGehee protecting Fielder -- Braun saw far more hittable pitches all season. Still, Braun's statistical advantage in most categories gives him the edge.

2. PRINCE FIELDER. As I said, he helped make Braun's big season possible. Plus, he put up monster numbers despite opponents often pitching around him. He plays every day, hits the ball far and seems to have a lot of fun being the Brew Crew leader.

3. MATT KEMP. His Dodgers stunk, so I make no apologies for placing him here despite his great stats. You want precedents? Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941 and won the Triple Crown the following year; in neither season was he MVP ... and Matt Kemp is no Ted Williams.

4. ALBERT PUJOLS. His slow start contributed to the Cardinals having to play catch-up but he had 20 RBI in September to wrap up another impressive season and help the Cards rally to the postseason. There is no more feared hitter in the world.

5. RYAN HOWARD. I admit I'm not 100 percent sure he's even Philly's MVP, but he is by far the best run-producer on baseball's best team ... and that's gotta count for something.

6. LANCE BERKMAN. In addition to finishing with nice numbers, he carried the Cards while Pujols was all messed up and Matt Holliday was hurt. Slam-dunk Comeback Player choice.

7. ROY HALLADAY. Why Doc instead of rotation-mate Cliff Lee? Because Halladay is the tone-setter and acknowledged ace of a great staff.

8. JUSTIN UPTON. The top hitter on baseball's surprise team.

9. HUNTER PENCE. Did precisely what a guy going from a crappy team to a great one was supposed to do, taking advantage of more talented teammates by elevating his already high level of play.

10. JOHN AXFORD. Considered Jose Reyes here but he lost me when he took himself out of the season finale after one inning so he could preserve his batting-title lead. He might as well as told Mets fans who paid $100 a pop to go to h-e-double-Louisville-Sluggers. Instead, I'll give spot No. 10 to the Brewers' ninth-inning stalwart.

A few other awards:

CY YOUNG: AL -- Verlander (over Sabathia and Jered Weaver); NL -- Clayton Kershaw(over Halladay and Lee). Remember: Cy Young is best pitcher, not most valuable pitcher, and Kershaw was ridiculously good for the mediocre Dodgers.

ROOKIE: AL -- Mark Trumbo (over Ivan Nova and Eric Hosmer); NL -- Craig Kimbrel(over Freddie Freeman and Vance Worley). It wasn't Kimbrel's fault he was overused and had nothing left at the end.

MANAGER: AL -- Joe Maddon (over Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland); NL -- Kirk Gibson(over Tony La Russa and Ron Roenicke). Two obvious choices.

And before I wrap this up ...


AL: Adam Dunn ... by a landslide. He authored one of the statistically worst offensive seasons in baseball history: .159 BA, 177 K, .569 OPS. He was so bad that the White Sox -- who signed him to a $56 million contract -- benched him in favor of Triple-A kids in a desperate (and futile) effort to stay in the race.

NL: Derek Lowe. The diametric opposite of an MVP. Not only did Lowe lead MLB with 17 losses, he went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA in September to make himself the one most responsible for Atlanta's historic collapse. All for only 15 million bucks. Now that's the true antithesis of value!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who'da thunk it? Turns out that reality is the best Reality TV

Wow! What a night of baseball!

Just remember one thing: While you are ripping into the Red Sox and Braves for two of the biggest choke-jobs in the history of sports, don't forget to give a big thumbs up to the Rays and Cardinals for their amazing finishes.

See, this is why we don't need no stinkin' reality TV. Sports is the original reality TV ... and it's 100 times better than all of the pretenders.

Now where was I? Oh, yeah ...

How about those Red Sox and Braves? What a bunch of freakin' chokers!


And now the postseason predictions:

ALDS: Tigers over Yankees in 5 ... Rays over Rangers in 4. The AL has been weird all season, so why stop now?

NLDS: Phillies over Cardinals in 4 ... Brewers over Diamondbacks in 4. Going with chalk in the NL.

ALCS: Tigers over Rays in 6. Too much Verlander and Cabrera.

NLCS: Phillies over Brewers in 6. Classic matchup of pitching vs. pop, and -- surprise! -- pitching wins.

WORLD SERIES: Phillies over Tigers in 6. The best team prevails ... as long as the bullpen does its job.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ozzie, Marlins: Be careful what you ask for

So, how far into the 2012 season will Jack McKeon again become the Marlins' interim manager?

On another note, it's pretty hard to argue that Bud Selig was wrong about the wild card adding excitement to baseball.

Of course, I'm not saying those races are any more exciting than the Cubs' pursuit of a fourth-place tie with Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sox Nation deserves itself

A lot of Red Sox fans say they can't root for the Yankees even though, in the slog for the final AL playoff spot, the Red Sox desperately need the Yankees to beat the Rays.

A lot of Red Sox fans are stupid -- and deserve to be fans of a team that's on the precipice of one of the great collapses in sports history.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Random ramblings: Rosie O'Donnell's figure or Michele Bachmann's mind?

The last time the Brewers won a division title, I had just graduated from Marquette. As an AP intern in Milwaukee, I got to cover their run to the World Series. How long ago was that? Well, I had a full head of dark, thick, curly hair.

There are four unbeaten NFL teams. Three of them are the Lions, Bills and Redskins. Just as you predicted, right?

Mike Vick is accusing refs of treating him like a dog.

President Obama says all those doo-doo head Republicans have to stop the partisan bickering.

If Illinois is one of the nation's 25 best college football teams, Rosie O'Donnell is one of the nation's 25 sexiest women.

With Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant healthy again and reminding us how good they are for the undefeated Packers, the top sports story of 2011 had to be that Green Bay won the Super Bowl without them -- and a dozen other players who were hurt most of the year. Pretty much kills any excuse any team in any sport can make for having a lousy season. Forever.

If the president of the United States never had to think or talk, Rick Perry-Michele Bachmann would be just the ticket.

As impressive as the Cardinals' comeback has been, the Braves' choke job has been even moreso. It takes a special team to blow a 10 1/2 game lead in a month.

Tiger Woods has a new caddie. In less important golf news, Bill Haas won some tournament in which Woods didn't play.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Aramis Ramirez: good at compiling stats, money and losses in big games

Aramis Ramirez is down to his final week with the Cubs because he won't consider staying for "only" one more year at "only" $16 million. Were I a Cubbieland denizen, I'd be telling him not to let falling chunks of Wrigley concrete hit him on the way out of town.

The Cubs will miss his hot streaks and his occasional big hits. I still remember a home run against the Brewers that probably paved the way to the 2007 division title. Such hits gave him a reputation as a clutch performer ... but the cold, hard facts suggest otherwise.

Stolen from the Pirates in July 2003, Ramirez unquestionably was Jim Hendry's single best acquisition. Still, while Ramirez helped that team win the division title, he went 1-for-9 with zero RBI in the last three games of the history-making NLCS flameout.

The following year, he put up excellent numbers and helped the Cubs contend ... before going 4-for-25 with zero RBI during a final-week collapse that was amazing even by Cubbie standards.

Ramirez had 100 RBI seasons in 2007 and 2008 but choked like a dog each postseason: 0-for-12 with zero RBI as the Diamondbacks swept the Cubs aside in '07 and 2-for-11 with zero RBI as the Dodgers quickly dispatched the Cubs in '08.

The operative number is ZERO -- the RBI total for the Cubs' main run-producer in those clutch situations. Not even an accidental RBI by fielder's choice or sacrifice fly to go with his cumulative .105 batting average.

Add in the slow starts that condemned the Cubs to early extinction in several years -- and pretty much guaranteed the firing of Dusty Baker in 2006 and probably Mike Quade in 2011, and you've got a guy who merits a $16 million salary about as much as I merit a statue commemorating my golf exploits.

My friend Paul Sullivan, the outstanding Tribune baseball reporter, wrote in today's edition: "Despite nine mostly productive seasons on the North Side, Ramirez was never a beloved player for one reason or another."

One reason might have been a perceived lack of hustle, as Ramirez often didn't run out routine grounders. Newsflash for Cubbieland: Albert Pujols almost never runs out routine grounders. I'm guessing fans will get over that character flaw should Prince Albert accept the golden throne at Clark & Addison.

The main reason Ramirez probably wasn't beloved: He has been not a winner but a "stats compiler."

At the end of every season, his numbers always have looked good. Such statistical compiling has contributed mightily to his personal compiling of dollars: more than $100 million in earnings (and counting).

And yet when the Cubs really needed greatness, when they needed their big-money run-producer to produce runs, where was Mr. Clutch?

He's 33, his body has been breaking down and he has a history of shrinking when the lights shine brightest.

I don't blame fans for thinking it's time for him to compile stats and money elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Time for Ozzie to go - finally

It was six years ago today that Ozzie Guillen gave me one of the best stories of my journalism career -- telling me that if the White Sox beat the odds to win the World Series, he might celebrate by quitting. The stress was too much, he said, and he was sick of being unappreciated by the fans.

He didn't need the job. He could walk away anytime. "I'll make more money signing autographs," he said, "instead of dealing with this shit."

The next day, when the shit was hitting the fan because of his comments, he could have claimed he was misquoted or his words were taken out of context. That's the course of action of many public figures, cowards all. Ozzie didn't do that. He told waves of reporters that he said what he said and he meant every word. I'll always be thankful for that.

Well, as everybody knows, the Sox went on to give Chicago its first baseball championship since women earned the right to vote. And, as everybody knows, Ozzie stayed. I'm glad, because he's one of the most fun, colorful, interesting sports people I've known. Chicago baseball has been better because he's been a part of it.

In the years since our interview, Ozzie often has resurrected variations of that rant: When he gets fired, so be it; he doesn't really need the job and the hassles that go with it.

You know what? The time has come for him to leave the hassles behind.

Change is good. Eight years as a manager for one team is a long time, especially for a bombastic guy with absolutely no filter between brain and mouth.

Ozzie has one year left on his contract and wants assurances from Jerry Reinsdorf that he will be allowed to stay in Chicago beyond that.

If I'm Reinsdorf, I say no dice. Two division titles in eight years -- and two losing seasons the last three years -- hardly gives a manager leverage to dictate terms. Especially when that manager has spent this season overseeing a disgusting display of ineptitude by a team expected to contend.

I wouldn't think this would be a tough call for Reinsdorf, who coldly and unnecessarily imploded his Bulls dynasty after the second threepeat.

Ozzie Guillen has accomplished a lot and has stayed true to himself in doing so. He even has outlasted -- by several years -- columnist-turned-criminal Jay Mariotti.

It's not as if he would stay unemployed for long. The Marlins supposedly want him, and he loves Miami. (The Cubs could do a lot worse, too, but Ozzie probably needs the fresh start of another city.)

OK, so he wouldn't be going out on top, wouldn't be quitting just after a World Series triumph, but he'd be leaving a pretty nice legacy behind.

And if you don't think one championship is much of a legacy, you don't know anything about Chicago baseball.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Today's High Five - Weekend Recap

5. Syracuse and Pitt here, Texas and Oklahoma there ... more wild shuffling among major conferences and more talk of eventual "superconferences" of 16 teams or more.

It all seems rather silly because big-time college sport really needs only three mega-conferences:

Professional, Semi-professional and Amateur.

Sorry ... I know that's stupid.

As if enough schools could be found to fit the amateur category.

4. Lexi Thompson won the weekend's LPGA event. She was born in 1995.

Yes, 1995.

My electric toothbrush is older than she is. I'm serious.

3. Friday Night Lights had a nice run, and any sports fan -- or TV fan, for that matter -- who has yet to see show should rent its five seasons. That being said, Kyle Chandler, who was just fine as coach Eric Taylor, had absolutely no business winning the best dramatic actor Emmy over the likes of Steve Buscemi, Jon Hamm, Timothy Olyphant, Hugh Laurie or my choice, the amazing Michael C. Hall.

Even Chandler knew it, as he admitted when stunned by the victory. He hadn't bothered to prepare a speech because he felt he had no chance.

And while I'm on the subject ...

One thing we know for sure about the Emmys: At next year's Emmys, this year's Emmys won't win the award for best writing for a variety series. I actually felt sorry for the actors and actresses who served as presenters and had to deliver the pathetic, cliched, hackneyed, remarkably un-funny lines written for them. It was painful to watch.

2. The 2011 Red Sox seem determined to make the 2004 Cubs feel a little less choky.

1. On a day Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton earned exhilarating victories while Jay Cutler was pulverized in defeat, there are all kinds of NFL QB thoughts rushing through my chrome dome.

Cam Newton ... Wow! Another 400-plus-yard game. (And another heartbreaking Panthers loss.)

Tom Brady ... Ho-hum. Only a 400-plus-yard game. (And another routine Patriots win.)

Jay Cutler ... Called out his line after he got sacked six times. Hey Jay, it's not the linemen's fault they suck. You should have called out your GM and coach for giving you such sorry protection.

Tim Tebow ... The best darn blocking wide receiver on the Broncos' roster.

Aaron Rodgers ... Too good. Reminds me of Steve Young and John Elway after Young and Elway realized they could win mostly from the pocket. And no, I'm not the least bit uncomfortable comparing Rodgers to two Hall of Famers.

Kevin Kolb ... Please, please, please stop pronouncing your name "cobb." Or change the spelling.

Matt Ryan ... You don't think he's having a particularly good game; then you look up and he's got 4 TDs.

Mike Vick ... Spittin' blood like a pitbull on a bad day. (Sorry.)

Matthew Stafford ... How good can he (and his Lions) be if he can just stay healthy?

Drew Brees ... If he isn't the most fun-to-watch QB in football, he's in the team picture.

Tony Romo ... Finally comes through in the clutch, and with broken ribs no less. There's a good QB in there somewhere if those obsessed with America's Team will let him be more QB than soap-opera star.

Donovan McNabb ... Man, he got real old real fast.

Peyton Manning ... The NFL's MVP in absentia. With him, the Colts are championship contenders. Without him, they wouldn't win the new NCAA Professional Conference.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bottom's up!

Four weeks shy of my 51st birthday, I received an early present: a colonoscopy.

The procedure went well, with the doctor saying he discovered nothing scary health-wise. I was out for the entire time, no doubt dreaming of things even more lovely than a clean colon.

The 18 hours leading up to the event, however, were far less pleasant. There must be better ways to cleanse the system than drinking 4 liters of putrid chemicals; it seemed like a method from the 1930s or something.

But it worked, I guess, so why complain? Besides, it could have been worse.

I could have been forced to watch the Cubs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's called free market, not fair market

The big story in these parts is that Bank of America, which is headquartered here in Charlotte, plans to lay off at least 30,000 workers in an effort to pad profits.

The person who made the announcement, CEO Brian Moynihan, has a pay package this year worth upwards of $9 million.

As a capitalist through and through, it pains me to say that this is Example No. 8,559 why the free-market system isn't always the best thing out there. Never has the disparity between haves and have-nots been wider.

As B of A boosts profits on the backs of janitors and bank tellers and secretaries and IT folks, those poor shlubs are left to wonder what Moynihan's portion of shared sacrifice will be. I mean, it's not as if he'll be giving up his taxpayer-subsidized private jet or his taxpayer-subsidized vacation home any time soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Today's High Five -- 9/11, tea party and lots of sports

5. If you didn't know much about the tea party, you learned all you needed to know about it during one particular moment in Monday's tea-party sponsored GOP presidential debate:

Ron Paul was talking about personal responsibility (an admirable goal, of course), when moderator Wolf Blitzer presented him with an example of a 30-year-old man who chose to stop paying hundreds of dollars a month for health insurance. In Blitzer's example, something happened to the man and he needed expensive treatment in ICU. Would the man be entitled to hospital care? As Paul, a physician before he was a congressman, again tried to talk about personal responsibility, Blitzer interrupted and asked: "So you'd let him die?"

Several of the tea partiers in the audience shouted: "Yes!" or "Yeah!" and then dozens more clapped and cheered.

Paul then twisted uncomfortably as he avoided a direct answer. (Later, tea party darling Michele Bachmann also completely avoided answering the question, one of her favorite debate tactics.)

This was not a trick question by the "gotcha" media. This was an example of something hospitals face multiple times every single day: uninsured patients needing serious medical care. Currently, taxpayers foot the bill -- a hefty bill because neither market forces nor the government keep health costs low.

The tea party, remember, wants government out of the lives of every individual. Personal choice is the thing. Hmmm. I wonder if most tea partiers feel the same about women's reproductive choices?

(And let's not forget that the single loudest cheer at the first GOP debate came in support of Rick Perry's declaration that he was proud of being the governor who has executed the most criminals. Never mind that today's science has produced numerous cases of wrongly accused people on death row being exonerated years later by DNA evidence. Rick Perry and his ilk are not about to let science trump the pitchforks-and-torches emotion that fuels much right-wing dogma.)

4. An inordinate number of football fans, be they rabid followers or casual observers, actually believe Rex Grossman is one of the worst QBs ever. Please.

Statistically, he actually has been mediocre, with slightly more career TDs than interceptions and slightly more wins as a starter than losses. And he has had flashes of excellence.

When the Bears went to the Super Bowl a few years ago, they got off to a great start in great part because Grossman arguably was the league MVP that September. He went on to have several horrific games before making some big plays in two playoff victories and then playing poorly in the Super Bowl.

Grossman often makes stupid decisions but he does have some talent, as he displayed again in leading the Redskins to an enormous season-opening upset of the Giants with 305 yards, 2 TDs and zero picks.

Look, I'm not saying Rex Grossman ever will be confused with Peyton Manning, Dan Marino or the guy to whom he once -- ridiculously -- was compared, Brett Favre.

All I'm saying is that there have been hundreds of QBs worse than Grossman -- a disproportionate number of whom have played for the Bears.

3. The most interesting story so far this college season has been Notre Dame's ability to lose in the most inventive, exciting fashion.

2. Brave of tennis' governing body for coming down hard on Serena Williams, who repeatedly and unjustifiably berated an umpire during the U.S. Open women's final. The penalty:

A $2,000 fine.

Let's see ... 2 grand to Serena Williams is the same as how much to you and me? A penny? Maybe less?

In the famous words of John McEnroe: You cannot be serious!

(By the way, McEnroe might actually be a better TV commentator than he was a tennis player. And those of us lucky enough to have seen him play know that is a supreme compliment.)

1. I spent the weekend in Asheville with my wife. We took in some sights, did a lot of walking, ate well, enjoyed a beverage or three and just enjoyed each other's company.

The subject of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 did come up, but we didn't talk about it much.

Some would label me unpatriotic for admitting this.

Fact is, just as I don't wait until my wedding anniversary to think about how much I love my wife, I don't need the anniversary of a terrorist plot to make me remember that horrible day or to think about how lucky I am to be an American.

I feel for the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people affected by the events of 9/11/01. The best way to honor their memory would be by fixing what ails our country now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Snow job by the prez? Perhaps, but other side's not getting people working either

I liked most of the ideas in President Obama's jobs speech, and I liked his delivery, but ...

I had to laugh at the make-believe accounting he must have been using to guarantee the American public that the initiatives actually would be fully paid for.

Sometimes I wonder if he believes what he's saying.

Then again, even if you hate Obama, hate the Democrats and hate everything the president had to say, can you show me a credible job-creating suggestion made by anybody from either side of the aisle?

And no, cutting taxes for huge corporations in hopes that they use those savings to hire people -- instead of to pay their CEOs more and to line their pockets -- isn't the least bit credible.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Scorecard (were the Republican presidential debate the first round of a long golf tournament)


He had the most to lose, having been surpassed by newcomer Perry in just about every poll, but he was reasoned, reassuring and most Reagan-like. He did a decent job of reassuring conservatives while establishing himself as a viable choice for independents in the general election. He didn't card a spectacular score -- he was no Tiger or Jack -- but he avoided double-bogeys, even when the subject was Romneycare, and had a couple of nice birdies.


Gingrich started poorly -- all but coming out and saying he'd refuse to debate because he wanted to take on Obama, not his fellow Republicans -- but he rallied by making several good points on the economy. Huntsman seemed likable, mature and knowledgeable, and he nicely hammered home his record as Utah governor (a point nobody challenged). Cain quickly made solid conservative points, especially his 9-9-9 tax plan. Santorum stuck to the issues and sounded both compassionate and conservative. Unfortunately for these men, each entered the night so far off the lead he needed to shoot a course record just to get back in the running. Par wasn't nearly enough.


Some pundits have declared Perry the biggest loser because of his intractable stance on Social Security and his admitted faux pas on his executive order mandating HPV vaccines for pre-teens. He also stumbled and looked shaky on a couple of answers. However, his job in these debates is to secure the GOP nomination, and it's doubtful that he scared off his base with this performance.


I want to like Ron Paul. I do like a lot of what he says, especially about the idiocy of using our troops for nation-building thousands of miles away from home. But he came across as desperate and more than a little wacky. His accusation that some TSA agents are practically sexual predators was precious, though.


She was asked six questions and answered only two of them -- and one of those answers came only after the moderator repeated his question and demanded she answer. Frankly, she seemed out of her league, and this after such a strong performance in the first debate. With Perry now in the race, she quickly will be deemed unnecessary by her base. Too bad ... she's often such a fun sound bite.

Five more points:

1. It's early, yes, but based on what I know about the candidates right now, I could see myself voting for either Romney or Huntsman over Obama. I can't imagine any circumstance that would lead me to vote for Perry. And I like to think that I am the exact kind of independent voter the eventual GOP nominee should want to court.

2. Was it only me, or did it seem pretty contrived to invite the Telemundo reporter to ask the immigration questions?

3. I would have liked a question relating to Ronald Reagan raising taxes 11 times and the debt ceiling 18 times during his eight years as president. Is it possible that in today's GOP, Reagan would be dismissed as too far left?

4. It was refreshing that the debate avoided pandering to the religious right and that there was very little kowtowing to the tea party. Thank you, candidates.

5. Before the festivities, I watched The Colbert Report from the previous night. Stephen's guest was Tim Pawlenty, who was funny, intelligent, engaging, self-deprecating and confident. If only that Tim Pawlenty had run for president -- instead of the one who did a disservice to his own beliefs and to his admirable record as Minnesota governor by trying desperately to please tea-partiers -- he might still be in the race. How about Vice President Pawlenty on the GOP ticket? They could do a lot worse.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Golf on snooze control till spring

NBC tried real hard to make viewers excited about a golfer moving from 75th or 81st or 93rd in the standings to 63rd or 66th or 70th so he could continue competing in the "playoffs."


Now that the last event anybody cares about (the PGA Championship) is long over, the only thing even mildly interesting about this season anymore is Tiger's return to the tour in something called the Open next month.

Oh well ... wake me up in time for the 2012 Masters.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Today's High Five

5. Headline you don't expect to see at Notre Dame:

Crist Benched

I mean ... Jesus! ... is nothing sacred?

4. Cubbie closer Carlos Marmol said a seventh-inning rain delay was partly to blame for his troubles two innings later, when he gave up a hit, walked two batters and then served up Derrek Lee's go-ahead grand slam.

"I don’t make excuses," Marmol said, pausing for a second before making his excuse. "But the mound was a little slippery."

I guess the Wrigley mound must have gotten completely unslippery in the bottom of the ninth, when Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan retired the Cubs 1-2-3.

Lee had just come off the DL, where he had been since Marmol broke his hand with a pitch on Aug. 10. That led to this quote from Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, which perfectly summarizes why many of us prefer sports to real life:

"Isn’t it amazing? Sometimes in sports, you can’t write the script. The game plays out and gives you stories you never would have written up."

3. LSU's QB has been suspended for his alleged involvement in a bar fight. One of his top receivers has been suspended due to a possible NCAA infraction. And yet the Tigers shook off the "distractions" to beat Oregon in a rare Week 1 college-football battle that actually mattered.

One of my pet peeves about the media always has been the whole Distractions Thing.

What some of my colleagues obviously don't understand is that once the game starts, offensive linemen aren't saying: "I'd make this block but I can't stop thinking about our receiver." A Cardinals batter trying to get a hit off Roy Halladay doesn't have Albert Pujols' contract situation on his mind. When Kobe Bryant drives to the hoop, he isn't thinking about some goofy Ron Artest quote from four days earlier.

The game starts ... and athletes just play. If they were easily distracted, they wouldn't be high-level athletes.

2. Cubbie bum-in-the-making Tyler Colvin, batting .145, wants to be Adam Dunn when he grows up.

As for Dunn's team ... could there have been a better way for the White Sox to officially bow out of AL Central contention than by blowing a seven-run lead and losing to the first-place Tigers?

Thanks for pretending all season long, kids.

1. LSU's impressive win over Oregon took place at spacious, luxurious Cowboys Stadium, but I doubt LSU players spent any time daydreaming about their possible NFL careers.

You know, nobody likes to contemplate a pay cut.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Will Albert give St. Louis a hometown discount, meaning he'll only be able to buy one Maserati a month?

There is only one month left in the baseball season. Is there also only one month left in Albert Pujols' Cardinals career?

I seriously doubt he'll end up with the 10-year, $300 million deal his agent supposedly wants. We already know he rejected an offer from St. Louis that was in the eight-year, $200 million neighborhood. (Nice neighborhood!) Pujols professes to love the Cardinals, the only team he has played for during his amazing 11-year career, but if the "hometown discount" he has in mind actually exceeds 25 mil a year, he just might have to find a new hometown.

The problem for Pujols -- if getting only $200 million can be called a problem -- is that his options are pretty limited. Not only are very few teams able to pay one player more than $25 million per year, but a younger (and less pricey) slugging first-base alternative, Prince Fielder, also will be on the open market.

So where might Pujols land? Let's look at some options.


Remember how everybody was trying to make a big deal of that hug Albert shared with Jim Hendry? Well, Hendry has been banished from Cubbieland, so Albert obviously wouldn't be going there to get more lovin' from Big Jim. Stuck with several big contracts already (or stuck eating those contracts), would team chairman Tom Ricketts consider making a $275 million commitment to one ballplayer? Doubtful.


Sure, each always seems to be in the market for the best ballplayer available -- especially if each team learns that the other team wants that best ballplayer. But both already have huge money tied up in star first basemen. Would Pujols switch positions? At 32 (his age when next season starts), and with a gimpy arm, would you really want him at 3B or in the outfield? And would he want to be a DH after all those years in the NL? So unless the Yankees are going to trade Mark Teixeira or the Sox are going to deal Adrian Gonzalez, neither team figures to be serious players in the Albert Sweepstakes.


These would have been true alternatives before both suffered serious financial problems. The Mets, especially, would love to steal the Yankees' thunder. They simply don't have the wherewithal right now to take the Pujols Plunge.


This one is intriguing. Would this pitching-rich, offense-challenged team take a run at a once-in-a-generation ballplayer who, if he remains healthy, could help them contend for the rest of the decade? I'd do it, but hey ... I've always been good at spending somebody else's money.


They think they are on the cusp of greatness -- they do have lots of good, young players -- and they have been willing to spend money. They have some bad contracts, but Pujols certainly would help put fannies in the ballpark. The biggest question is: Would Albert want to start near the bottom after being with a team that contends most years? The Nats might have to blow away the competition, much as the Rangers did for A-Rod.


Peter Angelos used to throw money around like crazy but after getting burned a zillion times, he's been reluctant. The O's have some nice talent and Angeles could be talked into thinking Pujols is the guy who'd let them challenge the Yankees and Red Sox. Angelos has quite the ego and also might enter the equation if he thinks the Nationals, just down the street, are serious. Again, though, even if the O's want Pujols, will Pujols want them?


It's hard to believe I'm saying this about any team, but they really don't need Albert Pujols.


They desperately need a great hitter, but they are more likely to spend on medium-expensive ballplayers than on mega-contract guys.


Albert would love their ballpark, and he'd join a talented team that should contend for a decade. The owner who brought in a roided-up A-Rod is long gone, however, and new guy Nolan Ryan is going to have to pony up a lot of loot just to keep his team's core intact.


Could they wave bye-bye to over-the-hill Todd Helton and bring in somebody who probably would use Coors Field to set the all-time HR record? They already have committed quite a sum to Tulo and Cargo ... so it's hard to imagine they'd bring in Pujo, who would make more than those two combined (and then some).


One often overlooks Jerry Reinsdorf in these things, but he has been willing to sneak in there and throw gajillions at great players. Lately, egged on by Ken Williams, Reinsdorf has been throwing gajillions at the likes of Alex Rios and Adam Dunn, so would he really be willing to spend so much more on one ballplayer? No way.


A few teams - maybe the Cubs, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, a couple others -- will put their big toes in the water before they decide the temperature is too hot.

The Nationals will make a serious run. If the Giants can find a taker for at least part of Barry Zito's remaining contract, they could be a factor.

In the end, though, it's impossible to believe that any team will want and need Pujols more than the Cardinals. And Pujols will realize he can be a St. Louis folk hero by settling for a mere $26 million annually over a nine-year contract.

What a country.