Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Attention, Media: There's News On The Field, Too!

In case you didn’t know, we’ve got some pretty interesting races going on in baseball this summer. In case you missed it, there are some very intriguing storylines being played out in NFL camps across the country. In case you didn’t know, we’re less than a month away from what looks like it might be an ultra-competitive season in college football.

And you couldn’t be blamed if you did miss these stories. Why? Because we have been distracted by other things this summer, that’s why!

We’re talking about steroids (again). We’re talking about players making idiotic mistakes off the field (Plaxico Burress). We’re talking about whether a convicted felon (Michael Vick) should get another chance after paying his debt to society. We’re talking about a guy who can’t decide if he wants to play or stay retired (Brett Favre). We’re talking about Twitter and Facebook. We’re not talking about what’s happening on the field.

That would be the fault of my friends and colleagues in the media. The Skip Bayless’ of the world won’t stop screaming about cheating in baseball. Websites like have now twice published a rumored list of the 103 players that tested positive for steroids in 2003. Plaxico Burress and his future – both legal and in the NFL are being talked about more than the baseball pennant races right now. Brett Favre and his flip flopping has taken our attention away from Tom Brady’s return from a blown out knee.

And then there’s the Twitter/Facebook controversy that seems to have writers like my friend Jay Mariotti at Fanhouse all hot and bothered.

So, athletes use Twitter and Facebook to get their messages out there. Is that a big deal? So Chargers defensive back Antonio Cromartie hates the food the team gives him during camp. Is that worth the fine they gave him? And, is it really worth spending an hour or two writing a column complaining about it? I sure as hell don’t think so.

The fans don’t spend nearly as much time obsessing about these off field stories as the media does. They do spend time obsessing about how their teams are doing. And the stories on the field are very compelling.

Let’s start in baseball, where nearly every division is up for grabs. The Yankees and Red Sox are going toe to toe in the AL East. The Tigers are trying to hold the White Sox and Twins off in the Central. The Angels haven’t shaken the Texas Rangers in the AL West.

Over in the National League, the picture is a little less murky. The Phillies have the upper hand in the East. The Dodgers are the class of the West. The only division up for grabs is the Central, where it looks like it will come down to the Cardinals and the Cubs. The wildcard race promises to be interesting as well, with the Giants and Colorado Rockies still in the picture.

In the NFL, there are compelling storylines that are beginning to unfold. Tom Brady is back under center with New England – will it make them the team they have been in the past? Jay Cutler is the new man in Chicago – can he lead the Bears back to the promised land? Now that Brett Favre has (for the moment at last) told the Vikings he will stay retired, can a team led by Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels play up to the potential it has on defense and in the running game? And, will this be the year that Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys finally get over the hump?

And then there is the upcoming college football season. Florida’s Tim Tebow will go for his second career Heisman. He will try to cement his legacy as (maybe) the best player in college football history.

Tebow will have plenty of competition for the Heisman. Colt McCoy is going to be in the race. Sam Bradford – who happened to have won the Heisman last season – is going to have something to say about this year’s race. And those three teams – Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma, should be in the mix for the BCS national championship as well.

I’m sure I’m leaving some things out. But at least I’m paying attention to what’s happening on the field. I don’t think a lot of people (outside of the media) really care who’s Twittering and who isn’t. Fans aren’t worried about who is and isn’t using performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. The average fan cares more about what happening on the field than what’s happening off the field.

That’s the biggest difference between being a fan and being a media person. There are plenty of people in the media who think that they are the watchdogs for the rest of us. That they are looking out for what’s right and wrong in sports. In reality, these media types just want to hear themselves talk and just want to be part of the story as opposed to covering the story.

So, for once, I beg my colleagues to just look at what’s actually happening on the field. Try it for one day (because I know it’s impossible to do it for a week). You might actually find out what a lot of us already know.

That it’s actually fun to be a fan.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Deadline Winners and Losers

The trading deadline has come and gone. Oh, I know the waiver deadline is still about a month away - and I understand more players might get through waivers because of the economy - but I don't think we'll see the kind of movement we saw for the last couple of weeks throughout Major League Baseball.

For the most part, teams are set. They will go to battle with the players on their rosters as we speak. So it's time to take a look at who won, who lost, and who gambled now that the shopping season has come to an end.

We'll start with the biggest gamble - and that would be the White Sox dealing four prospects to San Diego for Jake Peavy. I know that Kenny Williams is looking at the future - one that includes Peavy for another couple of years - but he also says the deal should put the Sox into the playoffs.

Yes, Chicago is within striking distance of Detroit, but Peavy isn't going to be available until the end of August. The Sox have to hang in until Peavy is able to help. They have to make sure the Tigers - who dealt for Jarrod Washburn - don't pull away. They have to worry about the Twins as well.

If Peavy is able to help this year, then obviously the White Sox are winners. But, if Peavy isn't able to contribute until 2010, then at least for the short team, Williams' gamble wouldn't have been worth it.

Here are my winners from the trading season (in no particular order):

* St. Louis: Yes, I know the Cards gave up multiple prospects to bring Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday to town, but they are clearly going for it now. The Cubs are clearly not what they were a year ago. The Brewers are within striking distance, but their pitching will likely wind up being their Achilles heel. I know some fans are unhappy that the kids were sacrificed, but prospects don't always pan out. The Cards brought known quantities into the fold - quantities which will probably put this team into the playoffs.

* Philadelphia: Did the Phillies need to make the Cliff Lee deal to win the NL East? Probably not. But they needed to do it if they wanted a realistic chance to repeat as World Series Champions. The fact they didn't have to give up J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek makes the move even better.

* Boston: Sure, Roy Halladay would have been great, but Victor Martinez isn't a bad haul by any stretch. He can catch - which will take some pressure off of Jason Varitek. He can play first as well. His bat is exactly what the doctor ordered - and like the Phillies - they didn't have to give up the farm to get him.

* Detroit: Washburn gives them another starter as they try to hold off Chicago and Minnesota in a tight AL Central. Seattle asked for the moon from other teams (reports say Manny Parra and top prospect Alcides Escobar was what they wanted from Milwaukee), but if you believe those who would know then the kids the Tigers shipped to the Mariners weren't of the same caliber.

* Dodgers: They were involved in the Roy Halladay talks. They were said to be talking about an Adrian Gonzalez deal with the Padres. In the end they sent two prospects who weren't in their plans for Baltimore's George Sherrill. Joe Torre's bullpen just got a lot better, and the combination of Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton is one that will scare a lot of teams in the NL.

Now, my list of losers:

* Toronto: Not dealing Roy Halladay will come back to haunt J.P. Ricciardi. Halladay's value will go down in the off-season because teams aren't desparate to land that one guy that will put them over the top. And, if you think his value will go up as we get closer to next year's deadline - think again! Why would a team give up mutliple prospects when they can sign Halladay for free a year from now?

* Cleveland: Mark Shapiro dealt two of his best players. He might have gotten some future stars in return, but we won't know for sure for a couple of years. In the meantime, the Indians might wind up being as bad as they were before their resurgence in the 1990's.

* Cncinnati: Let's see, you're ten games out in your division and you are a buyer??? Scott Rolen is having a nice season, but he's not the Scott Rolen of old. He's an expensive player who doesn't have the power he used to. I have no idea what Walt Jocketty was thinking here.

* Pittsburgh: Will the last guy out of PNC Park please turn out the lights? The Pirates play in a gorgeous ballpark. Too bad the team is minor league. There is no reason whatsoever to watch these guys right now. Or next year. Or 2011. Maybe even 2012.

* Washington: When you talk about losers in MLB, no list is complete without the Nationals. Even if you understand why Nick Johnson was dealt (and I do), they have made so many mistakes over the last few years that they are MLB's ultimate losers. Now the Stephen Strasburg watch can begin in earnest.

So there it is. The winners, losers, and biggest risk of the shopping season. Enjoy the stretch drive!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ho Hum, More Steroid Cheats

So, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz reportedly tested positive for using steroids six years ago. Is anyone shocked? Is anyone surprised? Is anyone stunned? If you are, then you just haven't been paying attention. Anyone who is surprised by players taking performance enhancing drugs these days probably believes the professional wrestling is still real. Anyone surprised by this bit of news is probably one of the most gullible, easily manipulated people you have ever come across.

Baseball hasn't been innocent for a very long time. The fans know it - deep in their gut they do. But yet they come out in record numbers most every year. If a player on their team is caught cheating, it's usually forgiven because the player was trying to help that particular fan's team. Players on opposing teams - that's not considered that much of a big deal anymore either.

If you want to be surprised by anything, be surprised that Ortiz was naive enough to think he could get away with calling for long suspensions if a player got caught using the juice. He took that stand back in spring training, and today probably wishes he had kept his big mouth shut.

It should have been clear to Ortiz, or to anyone that thought they failed those MLB administered steroids tests six years ago, that there is someone out there who wants to destroy their lives. It's probably some lawyer that feels slighted in some way - a lawyer who has an axe to grind with MLB.

That's why the 'Dirty 104' from 2003 are being revealed. Do I have proof? No, but just call it an educated guess. I would bet my last dollar that the person that 'outed' Alex Rodriguez is the same one that dropped Sammy Sosa's name. That same person is probably the one who dropped dime on Ortiz and Ramirez.

My reaction to the news that Big Papi and Man Ram are dirty is no reaction. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Guilty until proven innocent. It's not fair, but it's the way I feel.

I've also said I'm not going to take any of these steroid cheats to task. I've laid my reasons out before. I won't go over them again. But I will add another to my list by asking you one simple question.

What would you have done in that situation?

It's real easy to say you wouldn't cheat. But, let's take it out of baseball and put it into your real life situation. If you - in this economy - could get ahead or make sure you kept your job by cutting corners, would you? If you say no you probably don't have a family to support. If you have a wife and two kids at home you might very well cut those corners. If you have a mortgage you'd consider it. If it threatened your family and its well being you'd think long and hard about it. Hell, I'd think long and hard about it.

Players in baseball aren't only playing a game. It's their job. It's how they support their families. Don't think for a second that it's really any different from what you and I go through. Athletes put their pants on one leg at a time. They have real life concerns that aren't all that different from what you and I have. Bills. Strained marriages. It happens to the players we watch on television, too. They aren't immune from life's problems.

So, before you tell your buddy that guys like Ortiz and Ramirez are criminals, take a second and think about what you would do in their situations. It's very easy for us as fans to forget that because - hell - we aren't making millions of dollars a year. It's even easier for my colleagues in the media to forget it.

I'll protect the name of this particular talk show host because, well - stupidity like that deserves to be swept under the rug. But, I heard a guy on the radio today just tee off on Ramirez and Ortiz. I expected that. What I didn't expect was what followed.

Simply, it was one of the most ridiculous rants I've ever heard on the radio - and I've heard a lot of them. Hell, I might have gone on one or two of those rants myself. But, I've never said anything this stupid.

The host - let's call him Carl - blamed not only the players, other MLB executives for ignoring the problem, and fans for looking the other way, but he blamed the managers. The managers, Carl said, were responsible as well because they didn't force their guys to stop using PED's. He then singled out Joe Torre of the Dodgers and Tony LaRussa of the Cardinals. Most people think these two managers will be in Cooperstown one day. Carl thinks they should be kept out because they allowed their players to cheat. Carl even demanded that the World Series titles won by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals over the last fifteen years be vacated.

I'll give you all a minute to digest the utter stupidity of these statements.....

OK, time's up.

There are so many things wrong with these statements that I don't even know where to begin. So, I'll try to begin at the beginning. How in the world are the managers responsible for players who injected drugs into their system? They are managers, not parents. And, these are adults, not kids. What are they supposed to do, demand their players drop their pants so they can make sure there are no needle marks on their asses? Give me a break.

Besides, let's be totally honest here. The jobs of these managers are totally dependent on what these players do on the field. If you don't win, you are done in pro sports as a coach or manager. So, as a manager you might suspect that one of your guys is doing something wrong. But, even if you do, do you risk your own job.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not condoning anything that the steroid users in baseball have done. I'm not condoning the fact that MLB owners ignored the problem. I'm not condoning fans for looking the other way, and I am not condoning managers for not having more control of their players. I am just saying - as I have said before - that I will not take anyone to task over the steroid issue. And, maybe in a way, I understand why the players did what they did. And I might even understand why most in baseball ignored the problem.

Back to Radio Guy Carl and his stupid rant. Going on the record and saying that managers - specifically Torre and LaRussa - should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame - is lunacy. Look at their records, and look at the amount of World Series rings they have (that would be seven between the two). You judge their eligibility for the Hall of Fame based exclusively on how they managed. Anyone who looks at the record and rips Torre or LaRussa is just talking to hear himself talk (like Carl the Radio Guy).

And finally, the whole deal about vacating World Series Championships like the NCAA did with Final Four appearances by Michigan and UMASS. What a crock! Put an asterisk next to them in the record book. Hell, take them out of the record book if you want. But you can't change what you saw with your own eyes. And our eyes watched those teams climb to the top of the mountain.

The sense of righteous indignation that comes to light every time a baseball player gets outed for being a steroid cheat has gotten old. The players don't care - if they did they wouldn't have done the stuff in the first place. The fans, baseball executives, and a lot of other people looked the other way.

I'm not saying the media should look the other way. Not at all.

The Steroid Era happened. It is probably still happening. The time for being surprised and stunned has long passed. The righteous indignation; the pounding of the chests; the stomping of the feet on the sopabox - it all has gotten old.

I'm not saying the media should give everyone a pass. I'm saying the rhetoric you hear every time a steroid story breaks has just got to stop.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Favre Needs To Stay Out Of The Spotlight

So, Brett Favre finally made a decision. Instead of coming out of retirement again to play for the Minnesota Vikings, Favre has decided that discretion is the better part of valor. He is (at least for now) going to stay retired.

The shoulder that he was worried about? Apparently that was not the issue. The issues were his knees an ankle – which had been giving him problems during his workouts. The other major stumbling block was the fact that he wasn’t prepared mentally for the rigors of an NFL season.

So Favre has decided to take his ball and go home. It seems to me that he also may have realized that he was coming back (again) for the wrong reasons. It was clear to almost everyone that this dalliance with the Vikings was nothing more than a way to get back at the Green Bay Packers for whatever transpired over the last eighteen months. It wasn’t the right reason to come back. Favre may have realized that and decided it wasn’t worth it at the end of the day.

Was it the right decision? Maybe, maybe not. The only one that can say that for sure is Favre himself. He’s the one that has to look at himself in the mirror every day. He’s the one that has to live with the decision. If he’s comfortable with the decision – if he is happy with the decision – then it was the right one. But, only time will tell.

There will be many different reactions to this news. Talk to any Vikings fan, and there probably will be a lot of anger directed towards Favre. Maybe rightly so. After all, Favre basically held the Vikings hostage for the last three months while he decided whether or not he wanted to play again. Certainly Favre would have been a better option than either Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson. So you can understand if Viking fans feel like Favre teased them. You can understand if they feel like jilted lovers left at the altar by a partner who wound up getting cold feet.

By contrast, talk to any Green Bay Packer fan today and you will get a completely different take. For the last three months many Packer fans felt like Favre had committed treason – that he was for lack of a better term sleeping with the enemy. Now that Favre has decided not to play for one of Green Bay’s rivals he will probably be considered one of the good guys again. In Green Bay the Favre jerseys might very well be taken out of the closets and worn proudly by more than a handful of Packer Backers.

Then there are your average fans – those with no real allegiance to either the Packers or Vikings. They are probably disappointed to a degree – because let’s face it – the NFL with Favre on the field is a hell of a lot more fun than without him.

And there are probably more than just a few fans who don’t believe that this story is completely over. Those that think Favre might jump at the chance to play again should an opportunity come up during the season – an opportunity that would mean he wouldn’t have to go through the rigors of training camp or a sixteen game season.

And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that some team during the season – a team that has quarterback issues – would put a call into the old gunslinger. If a team thinks that a forty year old Favre is a better option than what they have, they almost have to feel Favre out. And, if you are Favre – should that happen – you might very well consider it.

But, considering it and doing it are two very different things. Something tells me this might really be it for Favre. I know I’ve said it before and had egg on my face as he returned to the New York Jets and teased the Vikings, but I really think it’s over.

My gut tells me that yesterday’s decision to stay retired was Favre’s and only Favre’s. I don’t believe he made the decision to play for the Jets on his own. I don’t believe he made the decision to consider Minnesota on his own.

Favre has surrounded himself with a lot of people who have become rich and famous just by being in his inner circle. People who don’t want the money to stop coming in. People who like to hear other people talking about the legendary quarterback. Favre is seemingly influenced very easily. Heck, three years ago – when he waited until late April to decide whether or not he was going to play – he followed the advice of Phil Simms. Simms didn’t talk to Favre privately. The advice was given to Favre on a national radio show that Favre just happened to be listening to.

I have no doubt that those people were in Favre’s ear telling him to stick it to the Packers by playing for one of their chief rivals. And, knowing that Favre doesn’t have a great relationship with Packers GM Ted Thompson, they knew that Favre would (at the very least) consider it.

The decision to stay retired, though seems to me to be Favre’s and Favre’s alone. The reasons he has given for staying retired sound like the reason he retired in January. Favre feels like he just cannot do it physically anymore. It’s not the first time he has talked bout that, and it isn’t the first time that he has talked about being mentally unprepared to go through what a player of his stature needs to go through for a sixteen game season.

Favre has long talked about just wanting to relax and take time off. Now he has the chance to do it.

But he also has to rehabilitate his image. The constant waffling on his football future has caused a lot of people to look at him and make jokes. The best thing Favre can do now is to go underground. No commercials. No interviews. No nothing. The best thing Favre can do now is to keep out of the public eye. As time goes by, people will forget about the waffling and flip flopping and will just remember the thrills he gave to millions of fans on the field.

As time goes by the wounds that were opened by Favre and the Packers will heal to the point that Favre will return to Lambeau Field to have his jersey retired.

But the only way that will happen is if Favre does what he hasn’t shown the ability to do for a very long time.

Stay out of sight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brewers Hopes Might Hinge On Melvin's Ability To Deal

When the season started in April, many had the Brewers and Cubs as the favorites in the National League Central. So far, that has played out. But, what the experts didn't necessarily count on was the way a seemingly undermanned St. Louis Cardinals team shot up the standings. What the experts couldn't predict was the way Cecil Cooper's Houston Astros got themselves off the canvas to become a threat in the division. Heck, up until recently the Cincinnati Reds were making some noise. About the only team out of it was Pittsburgh, and it looks like the Pirates are in fire sale mode again.

With a little over two months to go in the season, the picture in the NL Central is murkier than ever. There are four teams that have shows the ability to get hot and take control. But, showing the ability to do it and actually doing it are two different things.

Which leaves a lot of people around here wondering where the Brewers fit in. Are they as good as they showed when they went on that little 21-5 run earlier this season? Or, are they as bad as the team that has been well below .500 outside that run?

To me, it's real simple. They are neither as good as their hot streak showed, and they aren't as bad as their struggles have shown either. In most years, and in most divisions, a team like the Brewers would be forced to think about next year. But, we are talking about the NL Central here.

Look at the standings again. Yes, the Brewers are looking up at three teams. But do any of those three teams really scare you? The Astros recently lost Lance Berkman to a calf injury - one that forced him to the DL. Can the Astros survive Berkman's absence? If they can, then you have to worry about them. But, if losing two out of three to the New York Mets (a team that has looked absolutely awful lately) is any indication, Cooper's team has their work cut out for them.

The Cardinals didn't have the greatest of weeks last week - getting swept by Houston and losing two out of three at Philadelphia. Now the Cardinals are facing the Dodgers at home before a rematch with Houston this weekend at Busch Stadium. The Cards have been the most aggressive team in the division - dealing multiple prospects in order to acquire Mark Derosa and Matt Holliday. On paper, they have a potent lineup and their rotation - with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the top - looks tough as well. But, they have to start playing like the team that vaulted up the standings in June and less like the team that struggled against the Astros and Phillies. It might take a few more games for the Cardinals to get it figured out, but you'd have to think they will. Tony LaRussa has done more with less (as evidenced by winning a World Series in 2006 with a team that won just 83 games in the regular season).

The Cubs still have the most talent in the division, and are finally starting to play like the team most thought they were going to be. They have survived injuries and the struggles of star players like Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley. They were thought to be dead not so long ago, but here they are - smack in the middle of things. They, like the Astros - have another injury to fight through, though. This time it's Ted Lilly that's on the DL. So far the Cubs have dealt with all the adversity, but you have to wonder if they can continue to do so, especially with the problems Soriano and Milton Bradley have had.

Which brings us to the Brewers. Yes, it was nice to get a useful piece like Felipe Lopez, but he won't be the piece that gets the Brewers over the top. There are rumors about Cliff Lee (I'm not going to mention Roy Halladay because the Blue Jays' asking price is way too high if the publicized talks with the Phillies are any indication). There are rumors about Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn - who is enjoying a good season with a Seattle Mariners team that has been better than they were expected to be. I don't see the Brewers landing Lee, but Washburn is more than just a possibility. Remember that Doug Melvin would be working with his old scouting director in Jack Zduriencik - now the GM in Seattle. There won't be any secrets between these two. I could see the Brewers acquiring Washburn without giving up too many prospects.

If that trade - or a Lee trade - gets done, then the Brewers (at least on paper) have some things going for them. If no trade is made, then the Brewers will be hard pressed to turn things around. The pitching outside of Yovani Gallardo isn't strong enough (though Dave Bush will help when he returns). The bullpen - with the exception of Trevor Hoffman has been inconsistent (I'm being kind here). The lineup hasn't been nearly as potent as it should be with the talent that's out there (Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder could use some help from Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy). We've seen that the pitching isn't good enough to overcome the lack of production behind them.

So, whether or not the Brewers can make up what is not a big deficit in the division might very well come down to Doug Melvin and his ability to make a trade that will help this team. He's done it in the past. He might not be able to make a CC Sabathia type of trade, but he has more than enough ammunition to make a deal for Washburn.

The Cardinals have shown they are willing to go for it now. When it comes down to it, the Cubs probably will, too.

It's your move, Doug. Are you all in?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Halladay Might Have To Change From Labatt's To Bud

Attention all Roy Halladay shoppers! Time is running out on your chance to get the one player that could put your team over the top this season! Make your best offers NOW to Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi! But make no mistake. Halladay isn't for sale in these tough economic times. There are no coupons or special deals. If you want him, you will have to pay dearly for him.

That's pretty much what Ricciardi said when he announced a deadline of next week to consummate any trade for his star pitcher. Ricciardi claims that the offers he has gotten haven't been good enough, and that it's unlikely he will make any trade at all.

Don't buy it. Not for a single, solitary second.Toronto has no choice but to trade Halladay. You cannot put a guy on the market - and announce publicly that you are accepting offers - without making a deal. Halladay knows the Blue Jays would like to move him. If you knew you weren't wanted by your bosses, would you want to stick around? I didn't think so. You can tell me about Jake Peavy and his turning a trade to the White Sox down earlier this season and use it as an example of an unwanted player who wanted to stay with his current team. But, had Peavy not gotten hurt, I guarantee that he would have been dealt.

Toronto has to move him. After a terrific start this season, the Jays - well, they've become the Jays we expected them to be. They are under .500 and their deficit in a murderous AL East is now in double digits. They haven't won with Halladay, so they figure they can lose without him and rebuild what was once a proud franchise.

The deadline that Ricciardi has put on any Halladay deal is nothing but a smokescreen. All he's doing is trying to get a better offer. And he will. There is no doubt about that whatsoever.

As far as who will wind up trading for Halladay - well, if you believe rumor sites the everyone outside of Washington, San Diego, Baltimore, and a few other teams is in the sweepstakes. Frankly, I don't buy it. So, I figured I would try to sort out fact from fiction and see if I couldn't narrow the field of Halladay suitors down to two or three teams.

Let's start with the teams I do not believe are really in the Halladay race. And you can start with the team that always has money to burn in the New York Yankees. Sure, they could use Halladay - hell, Sergio Mitre started for them on Tuesday night. But, I cannot see the Yankees spending that kind of money when they already have a number of highly priced starters in the rotation. I think the Yankees will try to trade for a starter, but I don't see it being Halladay. I don't see the Red Sox getting involved, either. And I sure as hell don't see the Blue Jays dealing Halladay within their division.

The Phillies are the team that most seem to think is the favorite to land Halladay. If the reports are true, and the Phillies won't part with highly touted pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, then I don't see Toronto doing business with Philly. Besides, look at how weak the NL East is. Does Philly really need Halladay to win the division? Nope.

You can take the Dodgers and Angels out of the mix, too. If Toronto thinks they are going to get Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley in a Halladay package, then they are fooling themselves. And considering the Dodgers have a big lead in the NL West, acquiring Halladay isn't something they need to do.

The Angels managed to put a bad start behind them and move into first place in the AL West without Halladay. I don't see them pulling the trigger either - especially when you consider they have said they will not deal their top prospects.

I'm not sure the Giants have enough to make a deal for Halladay. The Rangers have the prospects, but owner Tom Hicks might be gun shy about bringing in such a high priced player in this economy. Kenny Williams - the GM of the White Sox will do his best to make a trade, but if he refuses to give up Gordon Beckham then he has no chance of pulling it off.

That leaves three teams left in my mind - the Tigers, Cardinals and Brewers.

I don't think Detroit will be the team that winds up with 'Doc.' Sure, they have the prospects and adding Halladay to their staff would make them the odds on favorite to win the AL Central. But, keep in mind that there are few cities that have been hit by the recession harder than Detroit. Does owner Mike Ilitch want to add another big money player when he has done that a few times over the last couple of years (with mixed success)? I don't think so.

I also don't believe the Brewers will pull it off. I know there are rumors that GM Doug Melvin is offering Toronto a package including Manny Parra and Mat Gamel, but it doesn't pass my smell test. First of all I don't think Melvin will trade his top prospect two years in a row. Milwaukee - a small market team - just cannot afford to do that. I also don't think that the Brewers will trade a guy they consider their third baseman of the future - especially when they don't have any other solid options at that position. And finally, keep in mind that Halladay can approve or disapprove of any trade Ricciardi comes to him with. Milwaukee is a good team and a nice town, but Halladay might not want to go there when there might be better options on the table.

All of which leaves the St. Louis Cardinals. They could be the team most motivated to make a move here. Halladay would put them over the top in a crowded NL Central. Not many teams would love the prospect of facing a rotation that includes Halladay, a resurgent Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright (who is just nasty), and Kyle Lohse (rounding into form after his injury). It might not be Maddux-Smolts-Glavine of the Atlanta Braves heyday, but it's damn close.

The Cards have the prospects to make a deal happen (they would have to give up third base prospect Brett Wallace in any deal). Halladay probably wouldn't mind going to a city like St. Louis - which just might very well be the best baseball city in America. And with the prospect of having to re-sign Albert Pujols in a couple of years, the Cardinals must do everything they can to show Pujols they are trying to win now (kind of like what the Cleveland Cavaliers did when they made the Shaq trade this summer).

I'm not saying you can make book on it, but come August first, don't be surprised if Roy Halladay is wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thank You, Tom Watson

With all due respect to Dan Croak and all the great people at the U.S. Bank Championship, the story in golf this past weekend took place in Scotland, where Stewart Cink won the British Open. I point out that Cink won the Claret Jug because when we talk about what went down at Turnberry years from now, we won't be talking about Cink. We'll be talking about the guy who didn't win the tournament.

That would be the great Tom Watson.

It doesn't matter that he lost Sunday. It doesn't matter that he failed to par the 18th to win the whole thing in regulation. And it doesn't matter that his dream turned into a nightmare on the third hole of the four hole playoff. Because what happened this past weekend was - quite possibly - the best sports story of the year.

Like I said a minute ago, this tournament will be remembered more for what Watson did than Cink's victory. If you don't believe me, well, tell me who won last year's British Open. I'll give you a minute.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Time's up. Stumped? It was Padraig Harrington. We don't really remember Harrington's win, but we do remember that thrill that Greg Norman gave golf fans by holding a lead entering the final round a year ago. That would be 54-year old Greg Norman. The guy who choked away the '96 Masters (and other majors) in spectacular fashion. The guy who hadn't played full time on any tour for years. And yes, the guy who married Chris Evert. His run was more memorable than anything Harrington did. It, along with Watson's incredible weekend, will be talked about for years to come.

I watched the final few holes (and the playoff) at an airport bar. The place was packed, no small feat considering it was in a small airport. And the one thing every person in that bar had in common was the fact they were all rooting for Watson to bring it home. There was the older gentleman nursing a Guinness - who kept talking about how great Watson was back in the day. There was the 22-year old Chicagoan who had never seen Watson in his prime who wanted the old guy to win it. There was a pretty diverse cross section of people all pulling for Watson.

I can't talk for anyone else who was in that bar. I can only speak for myself. What happened this weekend took me back to a time when life was much simpler. Watson turned back the clock to 1977, when he and Jack Nicklaus squared off in what was called 'The duel in the sun.' I was six back then. I don't recall how it all played out, but I do remember what I was doing all those years ago.

I was spending the summers with my parents and grandparents at a house they rented for the summer on Long Island. My grandfather, along with his brothers, owned a butcher store on the Washington Heights section of New York City. He would work Monday through Thursday and then drive out to spend the weekends with us on Friday.

My grandfather was a strong, hard working man. Back when he owned the store, he would get up at four in the morning to get everything ready. On most days he wouldn't come home until well after 8 o'clock at night. For ten months out of the year my grandfather didn't spend much time with anyone outside of his business. But, for those two months every summer he spent every moment of his free time with his family.

My Opa was born 94 years ago in Germany, and returned there to help fight Hitler in World War II. He fought for his country and fought against the genocide that claimed six million lives. There are memories he has from that time that he cherishes and talks about to this very day. There are also memories that are much darker - memories he never has, and never will, speak about.

I tell you all of this because I got to see my grandfather last week for the first time in months. It isn't easy to see your family when you are about a thousand miles away. It's harder when you see someone you love - someone you cherish so much - suffering through a difficult time.

That's what is happening with my grandfather right now. He mourned the loss of his parents. He mourned the loss of five brothers and sisters. He mourned the loss of my grandmother, who passed away suddenly nine years ago.

His health is failing as well. He fell in his home (where he had been living on his own) in April. He couldn't get up, and hasn't been able to walk since. He spent three months in a rehab center (which is just another way of saying nursing home). Despite intense physical therapy, he has not been able to regain the ability to walk.

We're talking about a man with a tremendous sense of pride here. Life has dealt him a lot of blows. But he's always been able to withstand those blows and come back. He's having a lot of difficulty getting off the canvas from the hand that life has dealt him these last few months. He isn't sad. He isn't angry at anyone. He's disgusted with himself. He never blamed anyone else for anything that happened to him. He took accountability for everything.

As I said, my grandfather has a tremendous sense of pride. That's why it was difficult for him to let anyone see him in the state he is in right now. It was even more difficult for me to see him as he is. This strong man - who I always looked up to as a giant in my life - is wheelchair bound.. This strong man has withered away - if he weighs seventy-five pounds it's a lot. His clothes no longer fit him. His glasses are too big for his face. He now requires a live in aid, and no longer sleeps on the bed he did for so many years. He now sleeps in a hospital bed that has been set up for him in his bedroom - with metal railings on the side to make sure he doesn't fall. It's not an easy sight to take in.

His mind, though, is still there for the most part. He remembers everything, and likes to talk more about the past than he ever did before. He may repeat stories every now and then, but I don't care - I still love listening to them. I could listen to those stories for hours and hours.

But it's tough to see him going through what he's going through right now. You can see the emotional pain on his face. The light in his eyes isn't nearly as bright as it used to be. I'm not one who breaks down and cries a lot, but that's exactly what I did when I left his apartment last week.

I know what you're thinking. What does this have to do with Tom Watson and his run at Turnberry this past weekend?


All the talk of '77 - all the talk of history - brought me back to that house in Long Island. I was no longer a thirty-eight year old man with his own family and his own problems to deal with. I was a six year old kid spending time with his grandfather - whether it was playing in the backyard or going to temple or whatever. He wasn't the man stuck in that wheelchair like he is right now. He was the strong man from my childhood - the one that I always saw as invincible.

What Watson did this past weekend was get me to remember the man my grandfather was and all the good time that we shared. Not the man suffering right now. And for that, I only have three words that I want to say to Watson.

Thank you, Tom.

My next podcast will be posted on Wednesday, July 22nd!