Archive for January, 2009

Djokovic: The Weak

January 27, 2009

by John Furgele

In the past three years, we have learned a thing of two about tennis player Novak Djovokic.  The first is that he is an exceptional talent.  He is a wonderful ball striker and can move gracefully across the court.  Two, he’s a champion.  Last January, he beat Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, then took out Jo-Wilfred Tsongas in the final. 

There is, however, another side to the Serb, and that side is one that athletes do not like to be called.  Djokovic is soft….very soft, and he is the ultimate frontrunner.  When things are going his way, he is commanding and dominating, when they are not, you get what you got last night against American Andy Roddick……a quitter.

Citing cramps and fatigue, Djokovic retired from his match versus Roddick.  He won the first set 7-6, then lost set two 6-4 and the third 6-2.  If you watched set two, you knew as soon as Djokovic lost and realized that he wouldn’t get a straight set win that he was going to quit.  His body—and his body language—were not good, even when he was winning.  And, at 1-2 in set four, he was done.

Djokovic claimed the cramps were due to his late ending match in the previous round, but don’t bother with the excuses.  These are supposedly fine tuned athletes, the best tennis players in the world, and for some reason, many do not have the stamina, the endurance to play long matches.  Furthermore, this is not the Pilot Pen Invitational (no offense, New Haven); this is the Australian Open, a Grand Slam event, an event that if you win, it changes one’s career.  To quit without fighting to the end is difficult to comprehend. 

It is very hot in Melbourne at this time of the year, so hot that many are calling for the Open to be pushed back to February to give the players more time to get fit and more time for the weather to cool in the Aussie summer.  That would be caving in to the softie tennis players out there.  Why was Djokovic unfit to play a complete match?  Why didn’t he take IVs all day to properly fuel up for a match against Roddick? How about drinking more water?  Did he forget to cater his training to the schedule?    Roddick may not have Djokovic’s talent, but the kid never quits in a match and came to Melbourne lighter, fitter and ready to play long matches.

As for Djokovic, here’s hoping that he learns from the experience.  Yes, he has his slam, but in other big matches, he has gotten soft and pouted afterwards.  At the U.S. Open last summer, he baited the New York crowd after he beat Roddick and the New York let him know that they were not happy with that particular behavior. 

I’m certainly not happy with Djokovic’s behavior either.  He acts like a spoiled brat while playing and has all the typical mannerisms:  fist pumping when winning, pouting when losing.  Last night, we got neither.  What we did get was a man who didn’t want to play through the pain, a soft man, a man who did not give the fans their money’s worth.  Nobody likes to call an athlete soft, but it’s tough not to use that word when describing Djokovic’s actions last evening.

It’s a shame, because the man can play—-when he wants to.

A Hall of Famer Retires

January 22, 2009

by John Furgele

Jeff Kent will announce his retirement from baseball, as soon as tomorrow and in 2014, the Baseball Hall of Fame should be welcoming the sometimes mercurial Kent into its doors.

Sure, there will be detractors—there always are—that believe that only multiple MVP winners should be enshrined, but Kent’s numbers are very good; in fact, they’re excellent.  In 17 seasons, he batted .290 with 377 HRs and 1,581 RBI.  In 12 of his 17 seasons, he hit 20 or more home runs, including 20 as a 39 year old in 2007.  Last year, despite injuring his knee in August, he still had a .280 batting average with 12 HRs and 59 RBI. 

Kent won the NL MVP award in 2000, and helped the Giants reach the 2002 World Series, where they were on the cusp of a world title.  They led Game 6 5-0, a game in which Kent homered, but the Angels rallied to win that game and then Game 7 the next night.  For the series, Kent went 8 for 29, batting .276 with three home runs and seven RBI. 

He did have Barry Bonds to help him in the Giant lineup, but Gehrig had Ruth and Hank Aaron had Eddie Mathews; so Kent was not alone in that department.  Kent had eight 100 RBI seasons, including a career high 128 in 1998.

The person he is most compared to is Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who Kent surpassed for most home runs by a second baseman with 351.  Sandberg was a better fielder, but Kent, in his prime was solid.  Their numbers are below.

Kent:  .290, 2,461 hits, 560 doubles, 47 triples, 377 HRs, 1,581 RBI, 801 BB, .356 OBP, in 8,498 at bats.

Sandberg:  .285, 2,365 hits, 403 doubles, 76 triples, 282 HRs, 1,061 RBI, .344 OBP, in 8,385 at bats. 

Yes, Kent did play in the steroid era, and though he is not strongly suspected, does anybody really know who was clean or wasn’t clean from 1994-20008?  In the HR per at bat ratio, Kent homered once every 22.5 at bats, while Sandberg homered once every 29.7 at bats.

Like Sandberg, Kent never won a title, but baseball is about individuals playing a team sport, and Kent is no brainer.  He should be elected on the first ballot, but Hall of Fame voters are a squirrely bunch and one never knows how the vote will go in late 2013.  But, I suspect that sometime in January, 2014, Kent will get a congratulatory phone call from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Are the Islanders Moving?

January 17, 2009

by John Furgele

Newsday is reporting that the New York Islanders will be play a 2009-2010 pre-season game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  The Sprint Center opened in October, 2006, an 18,000 seat arena that is looking for a NBA or NHL tenant.  The Islanders have called the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum home since they entered the league in the 1972-1973 season.  Owner Charles Wang has plans to develop the area around the NC with stores, boutiques, restaurants in addition to building a new playpen for the Islanders, who won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983.

The Islanders lease at the NC is a bad one, and Wang, founder of Computer Associates reports that the Islanders lose $20 million per year playing in Uniondale.  Negotiations have stalled and with the economy in tatters, there won’t be any new arena—or other development—on this part of Long Island for quite some time. 

The Islanders have the worst record in the NHL but a storied history.  Players like Bossy, Trottier, Gillies, Nystrom, Bourne, Smith and Potvin are synonymous with championships.  Their legendary games with the rival New York Rangers still rev up the faithful, even in a long 82 game season. 

But, does the New York area need three NHL teams?  More importantly, can they support three?  Even with a brand new arena, Devils attendance has never been great.  The Rangers do well, because they play in Manhattan at the famed Madison Square Garden.  Perhaps the Islanders are just part of a market correction and no longer can fit in a crowded New York sports landscape.

The New Jersey Nets are planning to move to Brooklyn, but plans for an arena/development project have also stalled.  Rumors persist that eventually the Nets will move north to Newark and share the Prudential Center with the hockey Devils.  But, could there be a surprise?

The ABA New York Nets played and shared the NC with the Islanders back in the 1970s, winning ABA titles in 1974 and 1976 with Julius Erving as their star.  Maybe, just maybe, Long Island could woo the Nets back home, build a new arena and keep professional sports on Long Island.

But, that could be too late.  The Kansas City Tornadoes are ready to take the ice.

Random Thoughts

January 16, 2009

by John Furgele

This is the best weekend of the NFL season—Championship Weekend.   Two conferences, two championship games, two champions crowned.  For the record, I think Pittsburgh, at home, will win the AFC Championship Game and Philadelphia, on the road will be victorious in the NFC Championship Game.

Talk all you want about the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, and Cavaliers, but the NBA regular season product is still not very good.  When those four are mentioned, I will counter with the Thunder, Wizards, Grizzlies, and Clippers.  These bad teams merely serve as fodder for the good ones.  Why the NBA isn’t more like the NFL is puzzling.  Like the NFL, the NBA has a salary cap and one would think that there would be more parity, but that is far from the case.

Speaking of salary caps, there are rumblings by some Major League Baseball owners that the national pastime needs one, to control the Yankees from spending millions upon millions.  The players might actually accept one if there was a FLOOR and a CEILING, in other words, a minimum and maximum.  Of course, this will never happen because owners like Loria in Florida, the Royals, the Pirates would never put a floor in.  Sure, they would love to have a ceiling, but if  cap was ever going to come into baseball, it would have to include a floor and that would require each team to spend say $75 to $100 million on salaries.  No way. 

Notice how quickly the college football BCS controversy has calmed down.  A week ago, the Utah attorney general was threatening legal action because the Utes were denied a championship.  Now, the season is over, Florida has won all the poll championships and there is nary a word about college football, save for those who are declaring/not declaring for the NFL Draft.  And, that’s why there won’t be a national playoff in the near future.  If you want a playoff, the media has to beat the drum 365 days per year, and they simply don’t have the energy to do it.  Next December, they will be out in full force, whining again. 

The Baseball writers got it right this year.  Rickey Henderson, who was the first athlete in history to talk of himself in the third person was an easy choice, though, I disagree with those who say he should have been a unanimous choice.  He was great, but he did compile a bit and was “only” a .279 career hitter.  Jim Rice should have made it years ago.  Unlike a lot of HOFers, he was not a compiler.  His last full season was in 1988, when as a 35 year old batted .264 with 15 HRs and 72 RBI.  He retired during the 1989 season.  But, he was a dominant force from 1975-1986, and that should count more than what guys like Bert Blyleven and Tommy John did. 

They may complain, but Blyleven doesn’t belong in Cooperstown.  He does have 287 wins, but he also has 250 losses, a .534 winning percentage.  That is not dominance.  Same for John.  The Hall of Fame should be for those who are dominant players.  But, when guys like Bruce Sutter and Bill Mazeroski are in, once can see why the Blylevens, Johns and Dawsons are complaining. 

The Hall of Fame is not needed to be called a great, or outstanding player.  Dave Parker and Don Mattingly may never make it, but that doesn’t take away from their fabulous careers. Same for Blyleven, John and former Bum Gil Hodges.  Many think they HOF will validate a career, but that is simply not true.

I still think the most overlooked player is former Tiger shortstop Alan Trammell.  He was a better overall player than Ozzie Smith.  He outbatted Smith, .285 to .262, hit more home runs (185 to 28), drove in more runs (1,003 to 793), and won four Gold Gloves.  Smith did have more hits (2,460 to 2,365), but why is Smith a first ballot HOFer and Trammell gets nary a sniff?

And The Winner Is…..

January 10, 2009

by John Furgele

There were five major bowl games during the 2008 college football season, so before we unveil the Johnny228 Champion, let’s review them.

Rose:  USC 38 Penn State 24

Orange:  Virginia Tech 20 Cincinnati 7

Sugar:  Utah 31 Alabama 17

Fiesta:  Texas 24, Ohio State 21

Miami:  Florida 24 Oklahoma 14

If you go by bowl performance, Utah and USC played the best in their respective bowl games.  The Trojans cruised against Penn State and really could have named the score.  They ran clock in the second half and the Nittany Lions late touchdown made the score sort of respectable, but not really.

Alabama faithful can say what they want, that they didn’t take the Utes seriously, but the fact remains that Utah pushed the Tide around.  John Parker Wilson is an average college quarterback at best and managed 12 games well this year, the 12 that the Tide won.  But, in the big games, when they needed to establish the pass, JPW couldn’t do it, and the Utes, like Florida in the SEC Championship had the better QB were clearly the better team, and had perhaps the most impressive bowl perfomance of all.

Texas won their game, but didn’t look great.  Even Mack Brown appeared to acknowledge that when he voted Florida number one in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.  Style points are overrated, so give Texas credit for their win, but based on bowl perfomance, Utah and USC were better, and when there is a log jam, performance has to be used to break it, so Texas drops based on that. 

So, it is time for Johnny228 to crown its football champion, not national champion, but the Johnny228 champion, and for 2008, the winner is:

The Florida Gators:  2008 Johnny228 Champions!

As much as I like Utah and USC and as much as they deserve to get a shot, I do have to concede that Florida is a deserving champion.  The Gators are not the best team in the land; they are not the “national champion,” because in the system that is college football, they do not crown national champions, they award them based on many, many factors.  The Gators, the writers, the broadcasters, and the fans can call the Gators the national champions, but the real fan, the estute fan, knows that the Gators are nothing more than the Associated Press champions, BCS champions, and of course, Johnny228 Champions. 

Now, that the bowls are over, the matchup that I and perhaps most would like to see is probably USC-Florida.  But, a plus one with those two teams would be terribly unfair to Utah, and that is why a plus-one will NEVER happen under the current system in college football.  That said, USC-Florida would a game of athletes and a game that would be a tremendous one at that. 

So, the first ever Johnny228 Championship goes to the University of Florida.  I will send out the official Johnny228 Championship certificate to Urban Meyer in the next couple weeks. 

The rest of the Johnny228 top ten:

1)  Florida, 13-1

2)  Utah, 13-0

3)  USC, 12-1

4)  Texas, 12-1

5)  Oklahoma, 12-2

6)  Alabama, 12-2

7)  Penn State. 11-2

8)  Texas Christian, 11-2

9)  Oregon, 10-3

10) Ohio State, 10-3

It has been a great season, and all we can do is look forward to spring practice, recruiting and of course, Fall 2009. 

Happy New Year and rest up.

Should Overtime Change; Will America Accept Ties

January 6, 2009

by John Furgele

The overtime debate has begun again.  In the aftermath of  San Diego’s 23-17 AFC Wild Card win over Indianapolis, the critics of the sudden death rule are out in full force, crying that the Colts, and all the teams that lose the coin toss and lose without ever getting the ball deserve a possession in the extra session. 

The debate, like any, has pros and cons.  It was a great game, and the 18.0 rating/30 share 11 PM peak, indicated that the fans were settling in and wanted more.  Then, to have it end so fast, so quick—so sudden—left those 30 million plus viewers disappointed and let down.  Let’s assume that San Diego scored (like they did) and went up 24-17.  The Colts would then have their chance, and the tension at the former Jack Murphy Stadium would have been both tense and  frenetic at the same time. 

The con is that sudden death has been around since the 1958 NFL Championship Game, and sports leagues do not like to tinker with their history and tradition.   Another con is that defense is part of football and the Colts had just as good a chance to stop San Diego as San Diego had to score points to win the game.  Yet another con is that the longer the game goes, the greater the chance for serious injuries to the players. 

Of all the remedies proposed, the one that seems to be the most popular is to have the teams play a regular fifteen minute quarter, just like the first quarter of any other game.  In a regular fifteen minute quarter, teams may not score or may score an unlimited amount of points.  On Saturday, the Chargers might have scored, stopped the Colts and then scored again to win the game by ten or fourteen points.  Playing a regular fifteen minute game would keep the game more like the game, just like baseball and basketball. 

But, here is the big con, and this con is unique to America and American sports and that is the dreaded tie.  Ties are loathed by Americans, so much so that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb didn’t know that NFL games could end in a tie. 

In other parts of the word, tie games are not a disaster.  In Japanese baseball, if the game is tied after 12 innings, it is called a tie.  Soccer leagues, including the American based Major League Soccer allow games to end in  ties.  The only exception is at championship level/elimination play, then the tie is broken via two 15 minute overtimes, and if still tied, the dreaded penalty kicks.

That said, Americans hate them.  They pay their money, buy their beers and sodas and then go home saying, “that nothing was resolved,” or “why bother playing if the game is going to end in a tie?”  In sudden death, when the game is nearing the end, one can sense panic in the fan wondering, “is this game really going to end in a tie?”

Playing one fifteen minute non-sudden death period will result in more tie games and moreover, will put even more pressure on head coaches, something they probably don’t need and certainly don’t want.  Let’s say the Bills are leading the Jets 20-17 with 30 seconds left in overtime.  The Jets have a 4th and 3 at the Bills three yard line.  The field goal is a 20 yard chip shot and would get the Jets the tie.  But, now the pressure is on.  Go for the tie and you can read the headlines in the tabloids the next day; “For Tieing Out Loud,” or “It’s a Tieing Shame.”  Of course, if the Jets go for the TD and miss, the headlines will kill the coach.  Is that something the league and the coaches want? 

Look at the NHL.  For decades, the tie was an accepted part of the game.  It was not uncommon for a team to have a record such as 40-27-13 in the old 80 game schedule, a record which would be good for 93 points.  But, the NHL, because the fans loathe and despise ties,  added a five minute overtime rule.  If the game was still tied after five minutes, it was a tie.

But, that didn’t quell the masses, so the NHL decided that playing the overtime with four skaters per side (rather than five) would open things up and the result would be less ties.

Well, that wasn’t enough either.  Now, if the game is tied after the overtime period, teams have a shootout, a one-on-one shooter versus goalie competiton akin to having a free throw shooting contest to decide an NBA game.  Even more embarrassing to the NHL is that teams which lose in overtime or the shootout get one point—-for losing a game. 

If the NFL is ever going to change the overtime rule, it has to assure America that it is okay to be fit to be tied, that it’s okay for a game to end in a tie, because rest assured, if you play a regular fifteen minute period with mulitiple possessions, you’re going to have more ties.

Ties will create funny looking records.  Which team has the better record?  Team A at 11-5 or team B at 10-4-2?  Answer:  both teams have the same record.  Team B has 10 wins and two half wins as well as two half losses, so in essence, they have an 11-5 record.  If you use the CFL/NHL two points for a win, one point for a tie, each would have 22 points.  If Americans can figure out the math, then maybe ties can once again become part of the American sports fabric.

Don’t count on it.

Name Change for BCS Title Game

January 4, 2009

by John Furgele

Because the BCS Championship Game is not really a championship game, I will now refer to the game by its new and proper name:  the Miami Bowl.  The Miami Bowl will pit the Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida Gators, two very good teams, but are the better than Utah, Texas and Southern California?

After the Miami Bowl concludes, I will look at all of the bowl results and vote for the team that I think deserves to be the number one team in the Johnny228 poll.  Utah made quite an impression on Johnny228 and their win hurts Florida, because the Gators win over Alabama is now not as impressive as it once was.  And, Oklahoma’s case loses some steam because of how Mississippi beat up Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.  Mississippi also beat Florida in Gainesville, but I’m not sure if that helps Florida or hurts them.  It should also be pointed out that USC lost at Oregon State, a 9-4 team that beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.  They also beat 10-3 Oregon, who beat Oklahoma State (9-4) in the Holiday Bowl.

The Miami Bowl should be part of the championship equation, not the total equation.  Johnny228 will watch the Miami Bowl carefully and if the game is a classic, the winner will get high consideration for the Johnny228 Championship. 

But, unlike the BCS, it will not be the be-all, end-all.

Maybe the Old System Was Better

January 4, 2009

by John Furgele

Now that Utah and USC has rendered the BCS Championship Game an “almost afterthought,” this writer is wondering if the old system is actually better than this current BCS system for determining the phony “National Champion.”

Calling the winner of the Florida State-Oklahoma game the “National Champion,” is like saying that the economy is in good shape.  When Utah finishes a season 13-0; USC dismantles Penn State to finish 12-1; and if Texas beats Ohio State, they would also finish 12-1 you would have three teams with zero, one and one losses combined.  But, for some reason, only the winner of the phony BCS Championship Game can be called the “national champion.”  Outrageous indeed.

Let’s make one thing clear.  This is not an incessant call for a college football playoff.  Of course, I, like every fan, would like to see a 12 or 16 team playoff for Division 1-A football, but I will never lose sleep if there isn’t one.  But, what are the effects of having one bowl game (the BCS Championship) being so important that it basically renders the other big bowl games meaningless?

Under the old system, the Rose, Cotton, Sugar, Orange, and later the Fiesta Bowl all mattered.  Teams would go to those bowl games and look to play well and impress the voters enough to get voted the Associated Press (writers) or the United Press International (coaches) champion.  Once again, I refuse to use the word “national.”  Under the old system, the Florida-Oklahoma game would be just another bowl game and the winner would be looking for votes just as Utah, Alabama, Penn State, USC and Texas would in the other bowl games.  Now, the Rose and the Sugar Bowls really meant nothing.  Sure, the Associated Press could vote Utah, USC, or Texas (and I hope they do) their champion, but that would almost be a protest vote, since neither of these teams came into the bowls ranked number one.

This has happened before.  In 1997, Michigan was ranked number one in both polls, but Nebraska was also undefeated.  In the bowls, Michigan topped Washington State in the Rose and Nebraska beat Tennesee in the Orange and Nebraska was voted the champion in the coach’s poll, while Michigan won the AP title.  It also happened in 2003, when LSU beat Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game, but the Associated Press voted USC their champion.  USC was ranked number one in most polls, but that crazy BCS computer had them number three, so the Trojans didn’t even get a chance to play for the BCS title. 

Then, there was 13-0 Auburn, who because they were the “third unbeaten team,”  had to settle for a number two ranking at season’s end.  There were other split champions in 1978 (USC and Alabama), 1990 (Colorado and Georgia Tech) and  1991 (Miami and Washington), so it’s not like it couldn’t or shouldn’t happen again. 

The old system actually provided more drama than the current system.  Sometimes, there was the perfect storm that enabled a team to rally to become the AP or UPI champion.  In 1977, Notre Dame came into the bowl games ranked number five.  They beat #1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl, and then the perfect storm happened.  #3 Alabama beat Big Ten runner-up Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl; #4 Michigan lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl; and in the evening, #2 Oklahoma lost to Arkansas 31-6 in the Orange Bowl.  Alabama was ranked ahead of the Irish, but they beat Ohio State, which was considered a weaker opponent and the voters rewarded Notre Dame by voting them number in both polls the next morning.

It also happened in 1983.  Miami came into the Orange Bowl ranked fifth.  Earlier in the day, #2 and undefeated Texas lost in the Cotton Bowl to Georgia; #3 Auburn eeked out an unimpressive 9-7 win over conference runner-up Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, and Illinois, 10-1 was drubbed 45-9 in the Rose Bowl by UCLA, which came into that game at 6-4-1.

Miami knew if they could do the unthinkable an beat a Nebraska team, which had outscored its opponents by an average of 52-16, they could get one, if not both titles.  And, in the classic Orange Bowl game, they beat the Huskers 31-30 and got the AP and UPI titles.

If the old system were still in place, the winner of the Florida-Oklahoma game would have to wait and see what the voters would do.  It would also add significant importance to Monday’s Fiesta Bowl and the Rose and Sugar Bowls that have already been played. 

I am not a big fan of the plus one game, because that makes the bowl games even more meaningless.  Either keep the bowl games important, or get rid of them.  Remember, BYU won the 1984 AP/UPI titles at the before Christmas Holiday Bowl. 

If college football is going to stay away from a playoff, then get rid of the BCS Championship Game and elevate the Cotton Bowl, or another bowl to BCS status.  Play the Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls and play them on January 1 and 2 (three one day, two the next).  Try to create fair matchups.  If there are two undefeated teams, square them off, don’t put one against the 10-3 team and the other against the 11-2 team.  Please, use some common sense.  Play the bowls, watch the games, collect the ballots, then tabulate them and give out your phony championship plaques.

When you give out the BCS trophy and championship on January 8, it will ring hollow to Utah, USC and perhaps Texas, and it will ring hollow to those who watch and love college football.   Urban Meyer or Bob Stoops will raise the crystal and say that they are the “national champions” of college football.  They’ll say it and they’ll try to believe it.

But, deep down, they’ll know it isn’t true.