Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's All About Distribution...or NOT

Ah! Vacation….nothing’s better. All around me the sports world is falling apart. Lin will be gone. The Mets are reverting to form. The Yankees are killing everybody. All over baseball, the stars are getting hurt. Paterno was a bad guy. Jason Kidd is a drunk.

 But I don’t care.

Lin-sanity was cool. It was such a nice story. A Chinese kid comes out f nowhere to play with intelligence and passion and help lead the Knicks to the playoffs. But it was only for a few moments in time. Carmelo Anthony was out at the time. So was Amare but that’s really not relevant to this situation. What matters is what Carmelo thinks.

 When Carmelo returned, and Amare, and Coach D’Antoni was gone, the victim of an early Carmelo ax-job, Jeremy was less effective. He turned almost ordinary. Carmelo helped make him that way. Carmelo is all about Carmelo. And the Knicks are all about Carmelo.

 That Carmelo runs the show isn’t even that strange in today’s NBA. Doesn’t Deron Williams run the new Brooklyn Nets? Don’t Kobe and Lebron have an extraordinary influence on decisions in their cities? It’s only natural. There are only five guys on the team. And nobody calls fouls on them. Talk about the most interesting man in the world.

Even Jeremy Lin called the Houston offer sheet ridiculous, 25 million over three years for a guy who played 25 games. That it would wind up costing the Knicks considerably more than that is the Knicks fault. Lin won’t be nearly as costly for Houston. And there’s no hair on those guys managing things in Houston. So, in a way, blame the NBA, blame the union, blame Houston if you’re so inclined but don’t forget to blame Carmelo too.

 If Carmelo really cared about winning, the union of Carmelo and Jeremy would work. But Jeremy was all about distributing the ball. Carmelo doesn’t even like the feel of that word…distributing. That would imply other players getting the ball.

 That’s why he didn’t like D’Antoni and refused to play hard for him. That’s why he doesn’t like Jeremy Lin. That, combined with all the attention Lin received (and that adulation might be the primary factor), was impossible for Carmelo to take. The ridiculous financial factors just made it a no-brainer.

And isn’t it amazing that, throughout all the ins and outs of the endless discussion surrounding the Lin signing, the GM Glen Grunwald wasn’t mentioned once?
But I don’t really care that much.

The Knicks will be mediocre for as long as Carmelo is on the team. Basketball is a team game. It’s a concept unknown to Carmelo. He doesn’t care about winning. When you think about it, just who plays well with Carmelo? Certainly not Landry Fields, another guy jettisoned in the latest round of free-agent madness.

They’ll be pretty good though. Tyson Chandler is the biggest reason though, not Carmelo and not Stoudemire. If and when Carmelo ever really wants to win, that will determine how far the Knicks will ever go. What if the fans booed whenever Carmelo took a stupid shot, or passed up an opportunity to pass? What if the media just drilled him every time he did something ridiculously stupid?

 I’d love to see Carmelo change his mind set.

 That’s the only chance the Knicks have of being a champion. Besides, how cool would it be if Jeremy and Yao become the best thing in Houston since oil. And it’ll be just as interesting if they fall flat on their faces. It’s a no-loss scenario for me. But the Knicks’ll be boring, more of the same nonsense we’ve witnessed before.

 But I can just tune in to the Nets.

 The Brooklyn Nets are also largely ruled by their star, Deron Williams. But Deron is a point guard extraordinaire; he’s all about distribution. Of course he can score too but he’d just as soon get assists. And he’ll have targets too. With Joe Johnson on board to add to Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez and with some tough guys to do the dirty work, the Nets actually look really good on paper.

 When was the last time anybody could say that? They’ll be athletic and versatile and fun to watch, the kind of team they had back when Jason Kidd ran things at the Meadowlands. It’s not so bad when your star player makes the decisions if he’s a really smart guy who wants to win. I think Deron’s doing really well so far with Billy King as his mouthpiece. And they’re over the cap and don’t care that much…..very nice.

 The Mets have been really disappointing lately. They’re playing as if they just really figured out how young they are. Even worse, their older guys, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, are beginning to very much look their age. Maybe the Mets will start to turn things around (once again) but I have a feeling they won’t, not this time.

 Meanwhile, my least favorite team has taken off and shows no signs of shutting down. They’re playing like all really good teams, always winning with somebody else, either Cano or Texeira or Swisher or Ibanez or Martin or Andruw Jones…it just never ends. Oh yeah, they’ve got some pitching too. And Jeter and Arod.

 But the Yanks might still be vulnerable. Facing good pitching, and a versatile team on the other side of the diamond, they can be beat. If they don’t hit all those homers, what then? Such thoughts give a Yankee-hater hope.

It is a shame though for the Reds to lose Joey Votto or the Jays to lose Jose Bautista. The races this year have really been exciting but the loss of these stars could very likely turn things around again.

 And Joe Paterno was apparently a very bad guy. Disillusion abounds. Jason Kidd drives after drinking and doesn’t always have a designated driver. I guess he’ll have to hire a limo for a while. What a shame!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Darkest Before the Dawn

The Mets are a shambles now. But it’s always darkest before the dawn. As bad as each of the Mets 3 losses against the Yanks were, there is hope in what we’ve seen in the lineup and on the field. The Mets are, after all, 32-29. They’re just 4 ½ behind the Nats and that’s after the worst stretch of injuries that anyone can remember. We mustn’t forget that the Mets had a really good stretch of wins just before their meltdown. They got great starting pitching from Johan and then Dickey and then Niese, back to back to back. Their relief pitching is almost non-existent. And they are now losing the close games they had once been winning. To me, the biggest changes from then to now are that Jason Bay came back, creating a pall around the club and taking up a roster spot, and that the shortstop position has become untenable due to injury. But that’s just in the short run. As silly as this may sound, Jason Bay may start hitting again. The change in dimensions of the fences at CitiField should help Bay more than anyone else on the roster. And there is almost no chance that any other team would give up anything of value for him. But he’s at least a power threat in the lineup and a credible left fielder. He also has speed and knows how to run the bases. The injuries at the shortstop position have been legion. No team could bounce back from losing its starter, then his replacement, and then his and so on and on. It seems to me though that the Mets could live very nicely with Quintanilla at short. He’s shown enough at the plate and in the field to become a credible presence at shortstop. Credibility is the key word to me. Especially with such a young team, it’s important to retain the look and feel of a major league club. The Mets are now losing that credibility, not because of the relief pitching necessarily but because the fielding hasn’t been major-league. Surprisingly enough, it was David Wright’s error that cost them that last game. But Wright has been magnificent. He’s been due for a letdown. It won’t happen much. Murphy at second base may never be confused with Robinson Cano but he has made some fine plays at a tough position. And it’s my belief anyway that Scott Hairston is and always will be a liability in the field and on the bases. Bay’s return gives the Mets credibility in the outfield. Jason in left, Andres Torres in centerfield and Duda in right, rotating with Nieuwenhuis at just about any outfield position gives them resiliency and it could definitely become a strength of this team, if it’ not already. Ike Davis, as bad as he has been at the plate, is a very good-looking first baseman. There’s every reason to believe he’ll shake his doldrums too, not just because he hit a double but because his at-bats have been better. He’ll be an asset very soon. I’ve been wrong before but I feel it coming. Okay, let’s return to the bullpen. The only really terrible presence there is Jon Rauch. For whatever reason, he just can’t get it done. How many times can you roll that guy out there with a lead in the critical 8th inning of games? At least Parnell has a future should he ever learn how to pitch. And the Mets must think about the future. There really can be no significant present, even in such a weak division. Just as the Mets have seen some very nice performances from position players such as Duda and Nieuwenhuis and Valdespin and Thole and now Quintanilla, there are very probably some potential gems that could be inserted into the bullpen. I won’t bore you with a real analysis but there are some good arms down there, arms that could lend, once again, credibility to a beleaguered group. The starting pitching has been very good, all in all, and, along with the outfield, is a position of strength. Parnell and Ramon Ramirez (on the 15-day Dl also) and Byrdak are credible. Batista and Hefner are not. Neither is Rauch. Neither is Elvin Ramirez. They have to go. There’s probably a kid in my neighborhood who could do as well on the mound. But surely there’s hope, maybe even more so now that we’ve seen all these replacement players than before when these young guys were all in Buffalo. Providing even more hope is the strong management from the GM Sandy Alderson to his front office staff and especially his team manager, Terry Collins. Through thick and thin, and this season has certainly had both, the management has been stable, even excellent, and more than credible. Has there ever been a manager as hard put to it as has been Terry Collins? On the 15-day DL right now are more reasons for hope, guys like outfielder Mike Baxter who had been tearing the cover off the ball until he hurt himself saving Johan’s no-hitter. Justin Turner resides there too, an all-around guy who gets big ribbies when needed. Ramon Ramirez and of course Ruben Tejada and Ronny Cedeno are two shortstops, one good and the other credible. There does seem to be a logjam in the outfield though, especially considering Mike Baxter as in the mix. Maybe Jason Bay could be traded. Somebody needs to be traded because the future outfield probably doesn’t include either Torres or Bay. <>Nieuwenhuis should play centerfield with Duda and Baxter in right and left fields. Surely Jason Bay could experience an uptick in his career anywhere else but New York. As a Met, he has provided a power threat without actually ever having been one, providing credibility perhaps but little else.The Mets need every bat they can put in the lineup and every glove they can put in the field. But it's always darkest before the dawn..

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Relievers, Colts and Riders

Okay, it wasn’t a totally perfect weekend. Anyone who has spent any time at all on the Belt Parkway will know what I’m talking about. The ride out to the Hamptons took forever and there wasn’t much on the radio either. But then there was nothing but warm weather, beautiful beaches, great food and drink and even a great ride back to Jersey Sunday afternoon, on that very same Belt. It didn’t hurt that the Mets game was coming in loud and clear the entire way either. They had lost those first two games in Toronto, one in spectacular fashion if you like lots of strikeouts by the opposing pitcher. But Dillon Gee and Frank Francisco especially wouldn’t give the Jays the hat trick, so to speak, as long as we’re talking about Canada here. Now anybody who’s been living and dying with the boys in blue this springtime knows that the last few innings are gonna be rockin’ and rollin’, and not always in a good way. Relievers Francisco and Rauch had been especially bad. Bobby Parnell had actually been the best of the pen along with lefty specialist Byrdak. Yesterday though, the pattern was turned on its head. Parnell was bad but Rauch and Francisco were awesome, at least for them. I felt sure Frank would blow a 1-run lead. Geez, if only all the opponents could be former Francisco employers. Meanwhile, the Mets keep winning by a little and losing by a lot and that’s just fine with me. They’ve really only lost a few 1 or 2-run games, which is saying a lot for a team with supposedly bad relief pitching. It seems to me that, despite averages, there have been already a lot of saves and holds in that bullpen. Another great aspect of the weekend though was the Preakness. What a great race!! That splendid I’ll Have Another not only ran down Bodemeister again but this time he did it despite the fact that Bodemeister was not tiring. In fact, Bodemeister seemed to even surge a little as the colt approached on the outside. I love those possible Triple Crown years. There have been a lot of them, eleven to be exact since 1978 when Stevie Cauthen drove Affirmed past Alydar once again for the Belmont win and the Triple. Two other horses won the last two races but lost the really big one, the Derby. A little math shows that in 13 of 34 years, one really good horse was able to win 2 legs but that third leg was just too much. The other great thing about I’ll Have Another is that he has never been favored in any race despite the fact that he’s won 5 of 7 including the Santa Anita Derby, and now the Derby and Preakness. The racing establishment doesn’t like this colt (he only cost $35,000), nor do they like his connections apparently. All I hear about the trainer is bad. All I hear about the jock is bad. That alone makes me want this horse to win three Saturdays from now. Almost nobody wants this horse to win it. He’s not owned by the Mellons or powerful Arabian princes. He’s not trained by Lukas or Baffert or Stevens or anybody anyone has ever heard of. He didn’t run much as a 2-year old but did win his maiden, then finished first in a Grade 2 before finishing sixth in his first Grade 1 race but it was on a sloppy track. The finishing time of 1:55.94 was not great but not bad either, especially considering the easy fractions Bodemeister was setting. The mile time was 1:38.69, which means the final 3/16 of a mile was run in a little over 17 seconds. Consider that Secretariat’s finishing quarter in the Belmont was 25 seconds after having run the first mile and a quarter in 1:59. Sure, it might be a bad analogy as the races weren’t the same distance but it does show that this horse can really turn it on in the stretch. If you were thinking your eyes were deceiving you, if you were thinking Bodemeister had slowed down even if it didn’t appear that way, if you were thinking the jock on Bodemeister was relaxing on the lead, the fractional times tell a little different story. I’ll Have Another’s rider is Mexican and nobody had ever heard of him either. He was young, sure, he’d been riding in Canada, it’s true, but I can’t help thinking that his being Mexican added to the general consensus that this kid couldn’t get it done. The “what-ifs” before the race related to what Gutierrez would do if the fractions were slower than in the Derby, what would he do if he had to rate his mount, what would he do if he didn’t get the perfect trip he had in the Derby? All he did was answer all those questions. The fractions were slow, the leader was strong at the end, but Gutierrez had the big chestnut right there, so to speak, all the way. He once again had a pretty perfect trip but that’s no accident to my mind, especially for a horse coming out of the 9- hole. This Mexican chatterbox is young and strong and smart and hungry and seemingly humble too. He’s not likely to get full of himself. He’s not likely to get into any bad racing luck, he’s not likely to let anything affect him on his way to the wire. It’s a long way, the Belmont, a mile and a half, the longest race any American horse will ever be asked to run. Bodemeister, as of now, won’t be there. Yes, there will be other horses, fresher horses, more expensive horses with richer riders sitting on top. It says here there won’t be better horses. There won’t be better jockeys. This colt won’t tire, this colt won’t break down, this colt won’t get into trouble; this jock won’t let him.