Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: July 3, 2006
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
"The fans are stupid."
That's effectively the argument of the critics and cranks who don't like the results of the All-Star Game fan balloting.
What a delightful sentiment to mark the anniversary of the birth of the American democracy.
Dominated by New York and Boston? That's not baseball; that's the institutional advantage the Northeast corridor enjoys in lots of industries.
I don't agree with 9 of 16 All-Star position starters being from New York or Boston, but I respect the collective voice of the fans to make it that way.
(Besides, you have to look on the positive side: A few weeks ago, it was 11 of 16; Jason Varitek and Johnny Damon were both appropriately bounced.)
Small-market teams have no chance? Tell that to Pittsburgh. The team harnessed local enthusiasm as All-Star host plus the power of the Internet to get Jason Bay in the starting lineup.
(Plus: Freddy Sanchez was MLB's leading write-in vote-getter; I hope that factored into manager Phil Garner's thinking when he used one of his discretionary picks to put Sanchez on the roster.)
There's a corrective measure: Fans pick only the starters; players and the All-Star manager are responsible for the rest. You can't blame fans for Mark Redman; that's MLB's every-team-must-be-represented rule.
Most important, don't diminish the fans' role. Is it a popularity contest? Sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn't. Alfonso Soriano was reviled this spring.
But everyone should respect the collective judgment of the people. On the whole, it's a lot smarter than any cabal of so-called "experts" or baseball executives.
That's not my argument: Go back and read the Declaration of Independence for the original philosophical model for fan voting.
That's worked out OK.
Speaking of democracy, there's one chance left for fans to be heard: MLB's "Final Vote" campaign to let fans revoke snubs and name the final All-Star in each league. How All-American is it?
Despite being the most dynamic pitcher in the AL, Francisco Liriano has pitched "only" 81 innings, which seems to be the factor that's kept him off the All-Star roster and on the "Final Vote" ballot.
The only reason Mark Redman made the AL roster is because of the every-team-must-have-a-player rule. (5 straight wins doesn't outweigh that 5-plus ERA.) Tigers rookie (and "Final Vote" nominee) Justin Verlander is more deserving, and everyone knows it.
The, uh, American Way!
How many people will vote in "Final Vote" but won't vote in their local November midterm election? On the flip side, will A.J. Pierzynski benefit from Chicago's old "vote early, vote often" mind-set?
Plus: Runoff mania!
Every year, the 72-hour "Final Vote" surge has increasingly shown the power of online grassroots movements. Which force will lead the "netroots" charge this year?
Here's the campaign I'll be lobbying Quickie readers to follow: Line up (online) for Liriano!
Here's your truth: Liriano is 1st in the AL in ERA and Batting Average Against; 2nd in WHIP and Winning Percentage and 6th in K's (despite pitching anywhere from 25-30 fewer innings than the players ahead of him).
And here's your justice: I wouldn't just vote for him in the "Final Vote"; I would make him the AL starter.
Ironically, he was snubbed on the day he most demonstrated his thrilling dominance this season; he struck out a career-high 12 on Sunday, making his snub all the more ludicrous.
(This reminds me of 2003, when then-rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis, with an 8-1 record and 1.98 ERA, was left off the NL All-Star Roster, which everyone knew was ridiculous. MLB took over and named him to the NL team. Even if Liriano loses the "Final Vote," MLB can correct it.)
But let's not let it come to that. Spend your July 4 eating hot dogs and watching fireworks, but also let your voice be heard in a display of American democracy in action:
(Final) Vote Liriano!
More Star Snubs
Curt Schilling was snubbed twice: Once from the All-Star roster decision, but then again from the "Final Vote" ballot. What gives?
(Theory: Schilling was left off the "Final Vote" ballot because he would have been too obvious of a runaway winner in a 5-way online runoff.)
AL Intrigue: Ozzie Guillen was unrepentant in using his manager's discretion to take Mark Buehrle and Bobby Jenks (over Liriano and Verlander?!). There's no question: Ozzie is unashamed to promote his guys -- and maybe settle a few grudges.
It's hard to begrudge the reigning champ manager's discretion; Joe Torre did it for years. (Of course, it's Ozzie, so the haters will gripe.)
NL Anti-Snub: Phil Garner should be commended for using one of his discretionary picks to take Pittsburgh 3B Freddy Sanchez, who led all write-in candidates and surely will be an All-Star crowd favorite.
Meanwhile, there's no question: Travis Hafner absolutely should have been on the AL roster. He is Top 5 in the AL in HR, Runs, RBI, BB, SLG, OBP and OPS (1st.)
Was Hafner kept off the reserve list in the "Final Vote" ballot because he is a DH in a game in an NL park?
But there's an easy solution to Hafner's snub: Move Vernon Wells into injured Manny Ramirez's starting OF spot; put Hafner in Wells' reserve spot. (Hafner's pinch-hit grand slam Saturday might help sway Ozzie's decision.)
Presuming Ozzie Guillen gets over his anti-Indians bias and makes that move, that frees up your "Final" vote for the spectacular Liriano, who I predict will be in a fight with Verlander; AL-leading Detroit got a measly 2 All-Stars.
Big Ben to Bulls?
The Pistons will be better than the Bulls next year, but after that, I'd bet on Chicago eclipsing Detroit, with or without Ben Wallace.
The offers are roughly the same (DET: 4Y/$50M, CHI: 4Y/$52M), so if Big Ben's determining factor is on-court success, this sums up his choice:
(1) Try to squeeze out one more title with Detroit before decline begins? (Even '07 is no lock, given this year's fizzling finish.)
Or (2) join the rising Bulls (in the process helping them vault the Pistons) and be on the East's hot contender from 2008-10?
It's rare for a 32-year-old like Wallace to enjoy "upside" again, but the Bulls have it, and he should think hard about joining them for the ride.
(Update: Wallace's reaction to Detroit's offer isn't a good sign for the Pistons: "It was disappointing. It was not at all what I expected.")
More NBA Free Agency
Hornets sign Peja: Is 5Y/$64M too much to pay? Not if one of the NBA's best 3-point shooters can be paired with one of the NBA's best point guards.
(And the Hornets are about to sign versatile guard Bobby Jackson, too? Is it me, or are the Bugs positioned to become a lock playoff team?)
Lakers sign Radmanovic: Vlad is sort of "Peja Lite." But was he really won over by the idea he'd get more shots in an offense run through Kobe?
Clippers sign Tim Thomas: Apparently, L.A.'s slogan is, "If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em." Thomas' stellar playoffs for the Suns (who defeated the Clips in the West semis) won over L.A.
(And the Clippers re-signed '05-06 revelation Sam Cassel for 2Y/$13M, which should keep them among the Top 5 in the West next season.)
Nene stays with Nuggets: Gets married Saturday in Rio (but Brazil loses in the World Cup), then goes on his honeymoon Sunday, interrupted to sign a 6Y/$60M extension with Denver. So how was your weekend?
Carmelo: Max Domino? Presumably, Carmelo signing a 5Y/$80M "max" contract with the Nuggets will pave the way for LeBron and Wade to sign similar deals with their teams. Why would either delay?
Cubs Fan Riot
Here's my theory: Cubs fans didn't riot because the crosstown rival White Sox stole a win Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Or even because loathed nemesis A.J. Pierzynski had dealt the coup de grace, with a 2-out, 2-run, 9th-inning home run.
No, it was a coup disgrace: Finally so fed up with the team's awful season, the fans' resorted to chucking stuff on the field.
"Fire Dusty" has joined "Fire Millen" and "Fire Isiah" in the Triple Crown of sports executive executions that fans would like to see.
(Speaking of "fire," GM Jim Hendry denies that the team is planning a fire sale of talent like Prior, Wood and Ramirez. Talk to me on July 30.)
World Cup Wrap
France upsets Brazil: Continuing with the ongoing comparisons between these World Cup squads and college basketball teams, Brazil losing is like UConn losing to George Mason in March:
No squad in the field has a bigger collection of stars or talent, but they were outmatched by a lesser-skilled group playing as a team.
Given the expectations (for both teams), this loss was far more embarrassing for Brazil than losing to France in the Cup final in 1998.
Meanwhile, England's Wayne Rooney had his "Christian Laettner-Aminu Timberlake" moment, stomping on Ricardo Carvalho's crown jewels, then being baited by Portugal's Cristian Ronaldo into a shove -- and an ejection.
What a typically disappointing way for England to bow out of a World Cup.
Of the remaining four teams (Portugal-France and Germany-Italy), I feel that the uncommitted should root for Portugal, the only one of the four that has never won a World Cup.
Tour de Lance
For years, cycling snobs griped that the only reason the unwashed masses of U.S. fans followed the Tour de France (if they did at all) was for Lance Armstrong's dominance.
Now those purists might be wishing for the good ole days of U.S.-fan front-running, because the reason to follow it now is pure scandal: "Tour de Farce."
If there were ever a time that cycling enthusiasts should be hoping for the sport to stay far off the casual fan's radar, it's during the worst moment in the sport's history.
(And yet, there's still hope for this sport: U.S rider George Hincapie, who was in Lance's shadow last year on the Discovery Channel team, has emerged from the weekend wearing the yellow jersey. More U.S. dominance!)
"NFL Head Coach"
I have no problems admitting that I'm terrible at "Madden" -- probably, a combination of being too old and too uncoordinated.
But I'm really enjoying EA's "NFL Head Coach," the first-ever "strategy" football game that replicates the experience of the administrator, rather than the player.
I had to interview for a head coaching job, and ironically, I had a much better chance of getting one as a minority head coach (the virtual "identity" I chose) than in real life. I got five offers. (So much for realism.)
Meanwhile, one of my new assistant coaches wanted a raise. I scoffed and lowballed. I hope this doesn't come back to bite me later this season when my "trust" points with him decline.
Between hiring a staff, running the draft process, managing my owner's expectations and -- oh, right -- developing a plan for my team's actual games each week, I finally felt like I found a video game that challenges my mind as much as the other kinds challenge my limited dexterity.