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Thursday, August 3, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: August 2, 2006

The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

It took a while, but finally (perhaps blissfully), it's time for Red Sox fans to return to their natural state of panic.

Last night, the Yankees took over first place in the AL East; the Red Sox are now the team that has to do the scoreboard watching.

Worse, while Boston blithely stood pat at the trade deadline, the Yankees' moves already are paying off:

New Yankees RF Bobby Abreu flashed his value last night with a nine-pitch at-bat that he flipped from an 0-2 hole into a walk, setting up a fourth-inning three-run double by Bernie Williams in a 5-1 Yankees' win over Toronto.

(And the Yankees have gone from Team Turmoil to having Idiot-like chemistry. Even Gary Sheffield: He volunteered to move to first base to make room in the outfield for Abreu. Let me have a Moe Syzlak moment: Whaaaaaa?!)

Even worse for the Red Sox, catcher and captain Jason Varitek went on the 15-day DL with a twisted knee, but he is expected to miss a month after surgery on Thursday to fix it. Good luck with Doug Mirabelli.

If the season ended today, the Yankees would win the division and the Red Sox would be in a one-game playoff with the White Sox for the wild card.

(And everyone remembers from last year how well the Red Sox do against the White Sox in a playoff situation.)

But there's no guarantee it'll even get that far: Over the two-month finish to the season, I'll take Chicago's pitching depth (all five starters have at least nine wins) over Boston's Big Three (plus Kyle Snyder and David Wells).

Yes, RSN: It's OK to panic.

Utley: 33 games
When is it appropriate to take Chase Utley's hit streak really seriously?

When I ask that, I really mean this: When do I want the live TV cut-ins whenever he has an at-bat?

At a minimum, Utley has another six games to go. That would match Paul Molitor's 1987 39-game streak, the ESPN Era's gold standard.

After that, "40 games" has the cachet, and passes Molitor. But it's really Pete Rose's 44 (from 1978) that carries the mythical status you wouldn't want to miss being matched.

If Utley makes it to 43, then for the next game I want ESPN to cut into whatever I'm watching.

And I want a split screen, with Utley's at-bat on one side and Rose's reaction shot on the other.

MLB Hit List
Carlos Guillen hit for the cycle, but that still wasn't as impressive as Tigers rookie Justin Verlander winning his MLB-leading 14th game (and seventh decision in a row).

Ack! Francisco Liriano scratched! The Quickie fave won't make his scheduled start tonight because of elbow inflammation. Cue ominous music. Tracking …

Cory Lidle backtracked from his comments critical of his old Phillies teammates; that didn't stop Arthur Rhodes from continuing to rip him, pivoting from calling Lidle a scab to knocking him as a wuss for backing off his earlier comments. Lidle can't win in this debate.

More: Stark's Rumblings, including serious praise for the way the Yankees owned the trade deadline.

Bush Makes Debut
Some fans were dazzled by a few flashes of brilliance, but others noticed he dropped a few returns. (Well, it IS only Day 1.)

But I was stuck looking at his feet: Reggie Bush wore spectacular gold-tipped black cleats. Will they make those in a "street-legal" version?

Vick = Pipp?
How many Falcons fans were secretly giddy that Michael Vick tweaked his hamstring and had to leave practice yesterday?

They represent the passionate minority that thinks backup QB Matt Schaub is the better fit for the Falcons offense the coaches insist on running.

(So: What's the chance Vick gets "Pipped" by starter-worthy Schaub? Injury to Vick is the only way Schaub will ever see meaningful P.T.)

Brady Returns
Tom Brady returns to Pats camp, and he's not talking -- unless it's to stick his nose in player personnel business.

By not telling us why he was gone, Brady and the Pats only fuel speculation that his absence was for something sensational.

Meanwhile, it's interesting Brady went public yesterday in support of holdout WR Deion Branch. I'm sure Bill B. ain't happy about that.

(Did Brady do it to try to turn the focus away from people asking why he was MIA from camp? Not a crazy theory for the media-savvy Brady.)

CFB Media Daze: Big Ten
Paterno's 40th anniversary: As one of those calling for JoePa to hang it up during Penn State's recent lean years, I admit that the old man showed last year that he still has it. More power to him.

Pat Fitzgerald's first media day: I'm betting D-I's youngest head coach (by five years) learns more in his first two months as head coach at Northwestern than he learned in the past two years. (Bowl eligible: That's all I ask for.)

Ohio State is the pick: A conference title won't mean much if the Buckeyes can't beat new nemesis Texas in Austin on Sept. 30. Quarterback Troy Smith is a lock for my preseason Heisman Top 5.

(After the Rose Bowl in January, I tabbed OSU as my 2006 preseason No. 1, and I caught a lot of flack for it. Today, it doesn't seem THAT crazy.)

NBA Schedule
Lakers-Heat on Xmas: If you didn't see this coming, you don't understand that the NBA is a business first. For all of the league's new stars (um, LeBron), the two biggest names are still Kobe and Shaq.

Hornets open in New Orleans: As inspiring as the opening night reception the Bugs got from their adopted fans in Oklahoma City last year was, this year's opener will be even more inspiring.

Season opener: Bulls at Heat. Are Ben Wallace's Bulls ready to take the East crown from the defending NBA champs? Someone in the scheduling office did a great job with this one.

USA Hoops
Perhaps in a symbol that, yes, this team is different from its predecessors, Team USA beat Puerto Rico in each of four quarters of a scrimmage; in '04, P.R. whupped the U.S. in a qualifier.

(It's going to be hard to care about these smaller steps along the way to the Olympics; the team has set up an expectation -- as well they should have -- that it's "Gold or Bust." I'm still saying it'll be "Bust.")

Post-Castro Cuba
With Fidel Castro's health in question, some political analysts wondered what a post-Fidel Cuba would look like.

It's worth speculating about the potential sports-related consequences, given the presumptive normalization of relations:

(1) MLB mother lode: That sucking sound you hear is the agents swooping in to sign talent, then auction it off around the league.

(2) The East Coast's Vegas: Imagine a 30-minute flight from Miami to a cottage industry of Havana sports books and casinos.

(3) Sports franchises: MLB and NBA expansions seem like naturals, but watch out for those marketing-savvy minor league owners.

McGwire HOF Vote
Rob Neyer has a must-read, polling 100 baseball writers on whether they will (or would) vote for Mark McGwire for entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here's what I really got out of it: Hall of Fame players need far less scrutiny than Hall of Fame voters, a stale, insular cabal that happens to be the gatekeeper of one of sports' most important public trusts.

Someday I'll write a more detailed plan, but for now, I'd like to see the BBWAA's influence on Hall entry cut to 25 percent, combining with baseball historians and SABR-metricians, non-newspaper media experts (i.e., Neyer, Prospectus, bloggers), and fans.