Archive for October, 2011

Road Kill

October 29, 2011

by John Furgele

Somewhere from above, Willie Stargell is smiling, so too, is Dave Parker and the rest of the” We Are Family Buccaneers”, the last road team to win a World Series Game 7.   In fact, as long as the roadies continue to lose these games, the now laughable Pirates will continue to get mentioned as the last roadie to conquer home opponent in a World Series finale.

Texas took a quick 2-0 lead, but after that, they went into a baseball coma, as the Cards, behind World Series MVP David Freese scored six unanswered runs to bag thier 11th world championship. 

The win ends an improbable run for the Redbirds, who played well down the stretch, and let’s be fair, needed a monumental collpase by the Atlanta Braves just to make the postseason.  The Red Sox collapse received more attention, but don’t kid yourself, the Braves was as bad, if not worse. 

As for the Rangers, they just couldn’t the 27th out and after taking a two run lead in the 10th, couldn’t get the 30th out, the outs they needed to capture their first title.  It will sting them for a long time, forever, unless they come through and win it all.  Of course, that’s what makes baseball great.  No taking a knee, no running out the clock, no scrubs checking in for garbage team, no clock.  You have to get the outs, or simply put, you don’t win. 

It was a compelling series that saw Albert Pujols have an epic game (don’t forget his leadoff double in the 9th in Game 6), Derek Holland pitch a gem, and David Freese become a household name, along with Allen Craig.  And, it also had the classic game in Game 6, a game for the ages.  Game 7 didn’t have the drama, but after Game 6, that would have hard to replicate. 

It is all over for now.  Pitchers and catchers will report in 13 weeks.


One for the Vine

October 28, 2011

by John Furgele

If you go back into the baseball annals, you will see lots of classic games, but for some reason, or at least in my mind, there have been more Game 6 classics than any other.  Last night added yet another chapter to the Game 6 legend as the Cardinals, twice down two runs and twice down to their last strike, remarkably rallied and forced Game 7 tonight. 

There has not been a Game 7 since 2002, when the then Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1 to win their only title.  But, that series will be remembered more for Game 6, when somehow, Anaheim rallied from a 5-0 deficit to force the decisive game.  While Game 7 has the ultimate urgency, Game 6 has a different urgency.  The team that’s down obviously has to win, while the team that’s up wants to do everything in its power to not play a Game 7, and last night, you saw that.  The Cardinals were so desperate that they used all their position players and had to rely on pitcher Kyle Lohse’s sacrifice bunt in the 10th to stage their second rally. 

Texas was desperate, but certainly not as much as St. Louis.  I was suprised that Ron Washington, didn’t let Neftali Feliz pitch a second inning.  No offense to the crafty Darren Oliver, but is he the one you want out there to close?  Now, the Rangers have to do something that is very hard:  win Game 7 on the road. 

The list of classic Game 6s is lengthy.  Most over 40 remember Carlton Fisk’s foul pole home run that forced that series to a decider.  There was Reggie Jackson’s three home run performance in the ’77 Fall Classic.  In 1985, the Kansas City Royals rallied for two in the ninth to beat St. Louis to even that series, with yes, a little help from umpire Don Dekinger, and the next year, was perhaps the ultimate of ultimates when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs still gives me goosebumps every time I see it.  I can still hear Vin Scully state, “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words.”  In 1993, it was Joe Carter, in 2003 it was Josh Beckett’s haunting, crowd silencing performance at Yankee Stadium. 

Now, for Game 7, as said, the odds are never good for the road team.  The last road team to win Game 7 occurred in 1979 when the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Orioles in Baltimore.  For some reason, it is tough to do, in all sports, not just baseball.  The Brewers couldn’t do it in 1982, the above mentioned Cardinals and Red Sox failed in 1985 and 1986 as did the. Cardinals in 1987. Like Texas, all four of those clubs brought 3-2 series leads into the Game 6, and lost both games.  Other roadies to fail include the Braves in 1991 (Minnesota), Cleveland in 1997 (Florida), NY Yankees in 2001 (Arizona), and of course the Giants in 2002.

So, tonight, it is one for the vine, a defactos Super Bowl game for baseball.  Deep down, the baseball execs are smiling.  It’s Game 7, it’s Friday night and hopefully, millions of casual fans will tune in for this “one off” to decide the champion.  While Friday is not a great TV night, the bad economy, and the fact that kids don’t have school tomorrow, and the fact that it is the last game, should help, not hurt the TV rating. 

If Game 7 is half as good as Game 6, it should be a dandy.

One Meeting Would Solve Everything for College Football

October 15, 2011

by John Furgele

Each day, there are reports of conference expansion and conference jumping.  One day, it’s Boise State going here, Central Florida there.  The Big East is expanding, folding, crumbling, merging, you name it, we’ve heard it.  To me, the solution is simple.  Let’s get all the conference commissioners together and has everything out. 

There are 11 Division 1 FBS conferences in the United States.  Six are members of the coveted BCS, meaning its champions and possibly a second team get to play in the juicy and big BCS bowl games.  For the reamining five, you basically have to go undefeated and finish in the top 12 of the BCS standings.  If you do that, you get to play in a BCS bowl.

It’s a flawed system to be sure, and each day, speculation looms over the great game of college football.  The college football season is like no other.  Short, sweet, but always riveting, but over the past two years, talk of the conference realignment has taken away from the always great storylines that are college football.

Look at TCU.  A year ago, they were the BCS busters.  They went 12-0, landed in the Rose Bowl and beat Big Ten champion Wisconsin to cap a perfect season and the number two ranking.  They were also frustrated, so they joined the Big East conference, knowing that all they had to do was win the conference—not go undefeated—to land a BCS bowl game.

A funny thing then happened.  Realignment.  The Big 12 one day, the Big East the next.  Texas A&M joins the SEC, Oklahoma and Texas threaten to go somewhere else.  With the Big East on shaky ground, TCU decided to leave a conference it hadn’t officially joined to play in the Big 12 conference. 

This is nothing more than ridiculous.  Everybody is scared, nobody wants to be left out, so each day, everybody is courting each other, for nothing more than security purposes.  The answer is simple.  Get together and hold a draft and get everything in place.  The inevitable is this:  there will be four 16 team “superconferences,” totaling 64 teams.  These will be the BCS leagues, with automatic berths to BCS bowls and hopefully, in the future, a legitimate playoff system.  The remaining 56 or 58 schools (I have lost track) will form the other conferences such as the MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West, Conference USA and WAC.  Right now, there are 66 BCS schools, so having the “4-16,” would force two current BCS schools to drop to non AQ status, hence the fear.  Of course, you could have one 18 team conference—why is 16 the magic number—or you could do what Conference USA and the Mountain West are doing and that is to merge for a championship game, but stay seperate for the regular season and scheduling purposes. 

A big meeting could get everything on the table and provide much needed security for the future of college football.  We all know that the regular season is the best of all the sports, and the postseason is the worst.  And, this is coming from somebody who likes the bowl games.  But, as nice as it is to see a 8-4 team get to play an extra game, a playoff would drip with excitement and would make the sport more money than it could ever imagine.  That day will come, because both ADs and college trustees have seen how much money can be made and it is substantially more than what the current bowl game driven system delivers.

Have the meeting, bring some sanity back to college football.  Yes, there will be some hurt, some pain, some hard feelings and yes, perhaps Baylor and Vanderbilt get dropped tp Conference USA, but let’s not have this ruin the sport.  And, sorry Big East fans, your conference shouldn’t make it.  I don’t rate the Big East much better than Conference USA and from top to bottom, the Mountain West is probably a better conference, and heck, even the MAC is closer to the Big East than the Big East is to the SEC.  Syracuse got an officials break to beat MAC school Toledo, how would they do at Alabama? 

Adding Navy, Air Force, Boise State and Central Florida does not enhance your football profile.  Navy is nothing more than a 1-AA program in disguise and Boise State could probably do much better if they hold out (Big 12).  Just because the Big East adds for survival, doesn’t mean it should retain an automatic BCS bowl berth. 

They can get this done, but it has to be sooner than later.  The game is too good to suffer because of it.

Another Failure For Yankees?

October 7, 2011

by John Furgele

When the Yankees are eliminated from the playoffs, it is always fascinating to turn to the YES Network for the breakdown, the whys and hows of the painful defeat.  As I have said, it has to be hard to be a Yankee fan/employee/anybody related to the organization.  If they win, it is relief, if they lose, it is an utter failure of epic proportions.  And, the YES Network only make exacerbates the concept.

Michael Kay, the lead announcer for Yankess games says it every time the Yanks are taken down,  “I think the Yankees are the better tem, but in this series insert team played better.  I guess we have to come to accept that in American sports.  When you win, you have overcome all the obstacles, you are gritty, determined and just would not accept losing.  But, when you lose, it is never because the better team won, itis impossible to tip your hat and acknowledge that you just plain got beat.

In a way, that’s what makes the Yankees so delicious.  If you love the Yankees, you love the fact that they—or those who work for them—never admit defeat, even when they are defeated.  It’s that arrogance that makes them a brand, not just another team in Major League Baseball.  There are 29 teams in Major League Baseball, and then, there are the Yankees.  I would think that only Manchester United of the English Premier League compares to them and it’s a vague comparison since the United States is very much immune to world soccer. 

That same arrogance makes you despise the Yankees as well.  If you hate them, you take complete delight that the team with the $170 million payroll can’t win a playoff series.  You tune into the YES Network to hear the magic words, that the Yankees lost to a superior team.  You want to hear it from Michael Kay, who in many ways, personifies the Yankee arrogance.  Even though you are satisfied with the result of the series, for some reason, it is not complete until Kay admits that the overpriced Yanks were taken out by the better team.  But, you don’t hear it.  You hear what losers always say—excuses.  As Kay stated, “one big hit here, the Yankees move on to the ALCS,” or,”The Yankees outscored Detroit, but couldn’t win the close games.”  In some ways, you take sheer delight in listening to the excuses, on the other hand, it makes you seethe, because you know that excuses are for losers and the reason for tuning in is that you want to hear them concede.  That’s why the Yankees are so polarizing, and so captivating.

As mentioned, I don’t think there’s much fun in being a Yankee fan.  The regular season is somewhat of a snoozefest because in Yankee land, the mission statement (borrowed from Kay) is to win the World Series, anything else is a failure.  Contrast that to the Tampa Bay Rays, who were absolutely thrilled to just make the playoffs and after losing to Texas in four games, their leader, Evan Longoria, said “we won’t hang our heads, we had a great run and to make the playoffs means we had a great season.”  If Derek Jeter said that, he would likely be reprimanded.  So, as fans in other cities get giddy over bir regular season wins, Yankee regular season wins only make the fans more nervous.  Each win means that they’re one step closer to the playoffs and also one step closer to failure.  To me, that’s no way to live, but that’s life in Yankeeland.

What will the Yankees do now that they completed another season of failure?  Does CC Sabathia opt out and seek an long term deal?  Hopefully, the Yankees call the bloated Sabathia’s bluff and let him opt out and go and find a better deal.  But, because the Yankees fear losing more than any other team, they will likely overpay to keep him.  When Derek Jeter became a free agent, they let him test the free agent waters and still responded by overpaying him a three year $51 million contract.  Yes, he is one of the best of all time, but had the Yankees let him go, he would have been lucky to get $10 million from another team. 

A-Rod looks broken down.  Since he stopped using PEDs, he has gotten hurt each and every year.  He misses significant time each year, but the scared Yankees reacted to his opt out/opt in by paying him through age 42.  He’s not done, but he will never be the dominate A-Rod that he was eight years ago. 

But, this happens all the time in baseball.  The Nats overpaid for Jayon Werth, the Red Sox for Carl Crawford, the Yankees for Jeter anf Rodriguez.  No matter who signs Albert Pujols, somebody will overpay for him, too, because that’s what teams do.  Is Pujols worth it?  On the field, yes, but why give him a seven or eight year deal, when you know that after four years, his best days will be behind him.  As Pujols and the Cards get ready for Game 5 of their Division Series, Pujols had to be excited about last night’s games.  With the Yankees out before the World Series, he knows that they have failed and maybe, just maybe, it will be the Yankees, out of panic will offer him the big contract so they can climb the mountain once again.  Had the Yankees kept winning, they likely would have decided not to pursue him.  Of course, the odds of Pujols landing in the Bronx weren’t high to begin with, but now, there is a chance, a sliver that they may get involved, because that’s what the Yankees do. 

Call it arrogance, call it cockiness, call it cleverness, but that’s why as much as one hates them, you love seeing the Yankees playing October baseball.  When they win, the hater says that they’re supposed to win; when they lose you can take delight, even though the guys at YES Network won’t give you what you’re looking for.


Mets Drop Ball Again

October 1, 2011

by John Furgele

Let’s face it:  the 2011 Mets did not enjoy a banner season.  The season began with the Wilpon family mired deep with the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme scandal.  The question remains how much money the Wilpons will have to fork over to the fruad victims.  Next, was the advertisement that the Mets were looking for a minority partner to infuse them with the cash. They appeared to find one, but of course, that didn’t work out either. 

Next, was the on-the-field play.  The Mets won 77 games, but they did hang in there despite numerous injuries.  Star shortstop Jose Reyes won the batting title, but spent two stints on the DL.  Despite his “controversial” bunt then leave the game, he was derserving of being the first Met to win a batting title.  I didn’t see anything wromg with what Reyes did.  He is not the first player to “protect” his average.  Many players—-too many mention to mention—-have done it.  John Kruk, in 1995, singled in the fifth inning of a gem while a White Sox, getting his career average to .300.  He retired right after the inning, the fifth inning to end his 10 year career. 

David Wright has regressed to the point that the Mets should listen to offers and consider trading him.  He seems permanently spooked by Citi Field and the hitch in his swing also appears permanent.  The Mets have to make decision of resigning Reyes or letting him become a free agent.  We know what will probably happen.  If they let him go, he will likely bat .310 with 25 triples and become a perennial all-star for year to come.  His hamstrings will never ache again.  On the other hand, if they resign him, he will likely be plagued by leg injuries and a .266 batting average.  Remember, this is a team where Ed Kranepool, an ordinary player is the all time hit leader with 1418 hits. 

If I were the Mets, I would let Reyes go.  They won 77 games with him, they can probably win 77 without him.  They should look at Carl Crawford as the blue print.  Both are spark plug players that rely on athleticism and speed to be productive.  But, how did Crawford do in year one on Boston?  Sure, he will get better—he has to—but $140 million better? 

The Mets also suffered another PR blow by saying no to the Yankees.  The Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees, the Yankees Triple A affiliate has a problem.  Their stadium, PNC Field, is being torn down and rebuilt, leaving the team homeless for 2012.  The team wanted to play its 72 game home schedule in Newark, New Jersey.  But, to do so, the Yankees needed permisssion from the Mets to relocate, since Newark is in the Mets territorial rights area.  The Mets, always lurking in the Yankees shadow, vetoed the idea and as a result, the SWB Yanks will play home games in Buffalo, Syracuse, Batavia. Lehigh Valley, Pawtucket and Rochester, which will host 37 of the 72 “home” contests.

Were the Mets really afraid that the Triple A team was going to hurt them at the gate?  Why not approve the move and score some much needed PR points in the baseball crazy New York metro area.  As Yankees GM Brian Cashman, the team was certainly within their right to say no, but why not say yes.  I don’t think the Triple A baseball fan is the same as the MLB fan.  Because ticket prices are so expensive, a Met game is more of a bring your friend proposition, where a Triple A game is a bring your family event. 

I think the Mets could have co-existed with the Newark/SWB Yankees, but the Mets would have none of it.  Sure, the Long Island Ducks play in Islip—-also Mets territory—but Newark, forget about it.  The Mets once again, dropped the ball.  It would have been fun to see Triple A baseball back in Newark, a city with a long history of minor league success, but the Mets had other ideas.