Monthly Archives: March 2008

LOOKING BACK, A TORRE ERROR ENDED THE TORRE ERA

                                         Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas

  

How did the Joe Torre era end with the New York Yankees?  Why did the Joe Torre era end with the New York Yankees?  Before looking forward to the 2008 season, let’s look back at, arguably, Joe Torre’s biggest mistake as Yankee manager.

       

It was Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, forever to be known as the “bug” game.  Cleveland had won the first game of the (ridiculous) best-of-five series.  If you go down 2-0, the series is pretty much over, except in rare instances (the 2001 ALDS against Oakland comes to mind but, as Derek Jeter has pointed out, these Yankees aren’t to be confused with those championship-winning Yankees).

    

THE BUG GAME

So what did Joe Torre do or, even better, what did he not do?

    

With the Yankees leading Game 2 (1-0) in the bottom of the seventh, Torre brought in rookie sensation Joba Chamberlain to relieve Andy Pettitte with men on first and second and one out.  Chamberlain, making his first post-season major league relief appearance ever, got the next two batters to protect the one-run lead.

    

So what would happen in the eighth inning?  Wouldn’t Torre have the world’s greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera, ready to start the eighth?  Wouldn’t Torre at least have the greatest closer ever ready in case Chamberlain got into trouble early in the inning?  After all, Rivera had pitched more than one inning in about 40 playoff games with rare failures.  Few doubt that he’s the biggest reason the Yankees have had the playoff/World Series roll that they’ve had, easily the best since baseball went the divisions route and added the losers-can-win team(s), the wild card(s).

       

The first sign to Torre, bugs aside, should have been the four-pitch walk to Grady Sizemore.  In the past, that would have been enough to go right to Mariano.  If that wasn’t a sign, the (first) wild pitch of the inning should have been.  Then, with Sizemore on third and one out, Travis Hafner lined out to first, hitting the ball about as hard as you can hit a ball.  Throw in the lunacy of the bugs, the delay that occurred, the seeming confusion from Joe Torre (he later said his mistake was not asking the umps to stop the game).  But that mistake would be a non-baseball one – the bigger mistake was not bringing in Mariano.

   

THE WRONG DECISION 

With three clear signs (four-pitch walk, wild pitch number one, rocket line drive to first) that Chamberlain was losing it, nervous, bugged-out, you pick the best one (or add your own), Torre nonetheless left his man in.  Eventually, they would all go down with the ship.  Where was the pitching coach? (Where have you gone, Mel Stottlemyre? – you know he would have said something).

    

Chamberlain stays in, throws another wild pitch (number 2), hits a batter, walks another batter (good grief) and finally ends the inning with a strikeout.  It was all inexplicable.

    

Or maybe it wasn’t.  It’s bizarre how sports are covered in the 21st Century.  A few announcers don’t know, some writers miss the obvious and the talk show hosts don’t get it (my two favorites are:  “It was Joba’s inning to finish” and one I heard recently on WFAN:  “he didn’t give up a hit in that inning.”).  Yikes!! 

    

Finally, and too late, as it turned out, Rivera came in and pitched his two lights-out innings (0 hits, 3 Ks, 1 BB), but it eventually didn’t matter as the Yankees would lose in 11, 2-1.

    

While the Yankees would win Game 3, since these aren’t the championship Yankees, they would go down to defeat in Game 4 (with Rivera entering the game in the middle of an inning and pitching an inning-and-two-thirds while trailing).

    

WHAT HAPPENED?

Could the end of the Torre era simply have been a mistake in judgment?  You betcha.  The decision-making in the Yankee dugout had gone down in recent years since Don Zimmer left; it only got worse when Mel Stottlemyre left after the 2006 season.

    

If Rivera comes in at virtually any point in that inning, it’s almost a sure bet that the Yankees win Game 2.  With the win in Game 3 (obviously much could have changed), they certainly would have been set-up to win their first playoff series since 2004.

    

Yet, virtually everyone seemed mesmerized by Chamberlain’s regular-season performance.  He simply didn’t pitch well in the post-season (he would give up one run and three hits the next game), bugs or no bugs (while they were terrible when Chamberlain was out there, they were problematic for other pitchers as well).

    

THE END OF AN ERA

What this did was put the nail-in-the-coffin of the Joe Torre era.  While he deservedly attained Hall-of-Fame status during his four World Championships in his first five years (1996-2000), from 2004-2007, he had arguably the worst post-season run ever – he presided over the greatest collapse in baseball post-season history in 2004 to the Boston Red Sox (up 3-0, then losing four in a row) and then was knocked out three years in a row in the first round.  A mediocre manager (much like Casey Stengel before he came to the Yankees and won five World Series in a row) prior to his Yankee run, Torre deserves his superstardom.

    

But it really makes you wonder what could have happened if he only had done what he did dozens of times before in the post-season –bring the greatest closer ever into the eighth inning in the biggest game of the year.  As it turned out, he didn’t, and the ensuing events (the “insulting” contract offer, the rejection, the move to the Dodgers, the beginning of the Joe Girardi era) all fell into line over the next couple of months.

   

WHAT NOW?

Both franchises (Yankees and Dodgers) then tried to lower expectations – just in case.  Virtually everybody laughed at Hank Steinbrenner’s “be patient with this young team” comments – they were laugh-out-loud funny (after all, these ARE the Yankees).  Torre was a little more subtle, with his “yes, we want to win, but more important is putting in place a culture of winning” comments.  Neither will fly.  Either you make the playoffs (at least) or you’ve failed.  That’s how it is with the Yankees and that’s how it will be this year with the Dodgers.  We’ll see how it all shakes out in 2008.       

                

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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THE QUOTE OF THE YEAR (TO DATE); CBS NEEDS HELP IN NCAA COVERAGE; THE KNICKS JUST NEED HELP

                                               Kallas Remarks  By Steve Kallas

  

THE QUOTE OF THE YEAR (TO DATE):  Seth Davis of CBS Sports is on WFAN on Monday to discuss the NCAA tournament.  The subject of sweet-shooting Stephen Curry of Davidson comes up:  Why wasn’t he recruited by the major schools?  After correctly explaining that recruiting is more art than science, here’s what Seth Davis said:  “The one thing that you never know in recruiting is what’s inside a guy’s head, what’s inside a guy’s heart and what’s inside a guy’s shorts.  Stephen Curry is three for three in that regard.”   You can’t make this stuff up.  

 

CBS NEEDS HELP IN NCAA COVERAGE:  You could never (and never will) properly cover 32 NCAA games in two days on one TV channel.  You can’t even cover eight games in one day if CBS insists on starting them at similar times (at least stagger the starts 20 minutes apart, not five or ten).  The absurdity of it all came home to roost on Sunday as CBS didn’t know what to do with the amazingly exciting Butler-Tennessee game, which went into overtime, while at the same time 10 seed Davidson was stunning 2 seed Georgetown.  First CBS essentially ignored the Georgetown game but once Butler-Tennessee went OT, they had no choice and proceeded to switch back and forth so many times as to give one a headache.  During all of this time, a very close, exciting (I think, we never saw it) game between 12 seed Western Kentucky and 13 seed San Diego was never shown down the stretch by CBS.

  

What can CBS do?  Well, there are a few things.  Besides staggering the start times in a more intelligent way, CBS should really consider using a second channel to show the tournament (imagine what ESPN could do – you’d have to think they’d have the ability to get to every big part of every game on one station or another (or another, or another)).  If necessary, as it clearly was on Sunday, CBS could have gone with a split-screen, showing both the Tennessee overtime and the end of Georgetown.  Personally, I don’t like split-screens (Direct TV’s four-in-one screen, offered for $19.95 a day, was poor because approximately one-third of the screen was devoted to other scores and, of course, commercials), but, in this instance, someone at CBS with a brain and some power should have been bold and put up both at once.

  

THE KNICKS JUST NEED HELP:  If you’re a Knick fan, it’s very sad what’s happened at and to the Garden.  I went to the Grizzlies-Knicks game last Friday (I promised to take my son at least once a season – stupid me) and it’s like a morgue.  Sitting downstairs, they give you those stupid thunder sticks at half-time to distract the opposition – disappointing that a New York crowd would stoop to that.  But that’s how it is nowadays at the Garden.  The on-the-court problems are much worse:  this is an Elias Sports Bureau question, but the Knicks have to be one of the only (maybe the only) teams in the history of the NBA to score 18 points in a row and STILL be losing (69-50 at the half, 69-68 after 18 in a row).  Worse than that, the Knicks went “young” at the end of the game (translation: no chance of winning).  Here’s who they put on the floor in the fourth quarter: Mardy Collins, Wilson Chandler, Renaldo Balkman, Jared Jeffries and Randolph Morris.  Who, of this group, can throw the ball in the ocean, let alone the basket?  If they’re really “watching” the young guys, as opposed to trying to improve their lottery position, they can’t like what they are seeing from this group.  Hard to believe there was a good NBA player on the floor for the Knicks during that time.  For sure, there were no future NBA All-Stars.  Donnie Walsh (if it is Donnie Walsh) has a virtually impossible task. 

  

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

 

 

MINDBOGGLINGLY STUPID RADIO COVERAGE OF THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

                    Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas

    

So you’re stuck in the car during rush hour on Friday and you want to listen to the NCAA tournament.  You turn on Westwood One’s radio coverage and you hear, at the half, that San Diego, a #13 seed, is beating UConn, a #4 seed.  Although I’m no UConn (or San Diego) fan, I’m happy to listen to a potentially huge upset, most of the time thinking that UConn will come back and win the game.

   

But stupid is as stupid does.  As often occurs on Days 1 and 2 of the tourney, there were four games going on at once.  If the other three games were all blowouts, surely someone with a brain at Westwood One would have the intelligence to just give us the UConn game, right?  Well, not exactly.

         

South Alabama-Butler was never really a game.  Up 17 at the half, #7 seed Butler was cruising to an 81-61 win.  Yet, inexplicably, we had to listen to the last few minutes of this game, right down to the final gun.  Unbelievable.  At the conclusion, the announcer told us that San Diego was beating UConn and we’ll get to that later, but first … .

        

UMBC-Georgetown was never really a game.  Up 12 at the half, #2 seed Georgetown was cruising to a 66-47 win.  Yet, inexplicably, we had to listen to the last few minutes of this game, right down to the final gun.  Unbelievable.  At the conclusion, the announcer told us that San Diego was beating UConn and we’ll get to that later, but first … .

       

Austin Peay-Texas was never really a game.  Up 15 at the half, #2 seed Texas was cruising to a 74-54 win.  Yet, inexplicably, we had to listen to the last few minutes of this game, right down to the final gun.  Unbelievable.  At the conclusion, the announcer told us that San Diego was beating UConn and we’ll get to that … right after these commercial messages.

         

Simply stunning.  The real joke was, if you were in the tri-state area (especially UConn territory), you had to turn off the Westwood One coverage and switch over to WFAN where they were giving you frequent updates on the UConn game.  Think about it – you were listening to “exclusive” coverage of an NCAA tournament game and had to leave that coverage to get better radio coverage of the only game that resembled a game in the tourney at that time (between about 5 and 5:20).  Eventually (with about nine minutes left in regulation), Westwood One got to the game they should have been on for the whole second half.  Thankfully for me, I was in front of a TV by then. 

         

Will they ever learn?  Just beyond stupid.       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

WHO DID ISIAH FOOL? DID JEFF GREEN WALK LAST YEAR?

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

1)      Who did Isiah Thomas fool?  We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of the most inexplicable extension in the history of sports:  Isiah Thomas’s four-year extension during his continuous destruction of the New York Knick franchise.  The reality is this:  Isiah only had to fool one man to get his extension.  Oddly enough, Isiah only fooled one man (no other Knick fan alive was fooled).  But the real strange thing is: What were the odds that that man in both instances would be the same person (the owner)?  One in a million?  I say one in 10 million.  You get the point.

  

2)      Did Jeff Green walk last year?  If you’re a college basketball fan, you’ll remember last year’s Georgetown-Vanderbilt Sweet 16 game where, with a few seconds left and Vandy up 1, Georgetown’s Jeff Green clearly switched his pivot foot and walked.  He made the shot (no call) and won the game, catapulting Georgetown to a Final Four appearance.  The only people on the planet who didn’t think it was a walk were Jim Nantz, Billy Packer and the officials.  In fact, you’ll recall, when CBS went back to the studio, everyone told us what a “big story” was brewing, the fact that Georgetown won on a missed call.  Clearly, the guys in the studio were right.  That is, until Billy Packer decided they were wrong.  Unable to see his obvious mistake, Packer started a national spitting contest, insisting that two plus two equals five.  Some people (John Thompson, for one) ignored the tape and agreed with him.

  

Fast forward to the Big East Final this past weekend.  Georgetown-Pitt, about 15 minutes left, the ball goes down to Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert in the same spot on the court that Jeff Green was last year.  On a virtual identical move to that of Green last year, Hibbert switches his pivot foot, an obvious (again) walk.  But this time, two officials call it, the announcers laugh (it was so clear) and even Hibbert, who knows he walked, runs back to play defense.  Since there was no big-time announcer there trying to cover his own mistake, play just continued with Pitt eventually winning the game.  It’s just another example of what generally good announcers can do to mess up game coverage when they make an obvious mistake and won’t admit it.

         

Of course, none of this makes Vanderbilt (2007 team) any happier.  Again, you get the point. 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION FOR THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

                                 Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It would be so easy to correct.  Virtually all the complainers, the whiners, and especially the teams with valid complaints (Hofstra two years ago, Syracuse last year, Dayton, among others, this year) could be satisfied while, essentially, still staying true to the NCAA tournament committee’s view.

 

The NCAA itself set the stage a few years back when they expanded the tournament to 65 teams.  The “play-in” (the NCAA hates that word but it’s appropriate) game was an embarrassment then and it’s an embarrassment now.  Two teams are identified as the two worst teams in the tournament and then play each other on, usually, a dead sports night to earn the right to get their heads kicked in against the best team in the tournament.

    

Here’s a much better, much more exciting solution:  Go back to 64 teams and then pick the last four “bubble” teams that didn’t make the tournament.  Have those four teams go on the road on Tuesday and play, respectively, the last four teams who made the tournament under the committee’s often incorrect view (understand, at that point, there will always be arguments and, often, mistakes made).  The winners of those four games are then plugged into the 11 or 12 seed and play on Friday – one in each bracket.

    

It’s so simple that it will probably never happen (feel free to send this to an NCAA committee member).  But here’s how it would have worked this year, for example:  Villanova, as a 12 seed, was obviously the 65th team selected, so they would not have been selected in a field of 64.  The bottom four who did make it (at-large bids, of course) were Baylor, Kentucky, St. Joseph’s and Kansas State, all 11 seeds.

    

While you can argue about the four left out, I’ll choose three with pretty good cases (Villanova would already be in as the 65th team selected by the committee).  I’ll choose Dayton (beat 3 seed Louisville at Louisville, 4 seed Pitt, had some injuries), Virginia Tech (even though he was right, Seth Greenberg might have talked his way out of the tournament after a tough loss to #1 North Carolina by 2, also lost to Clemson by 1, won 19 games, 9-7 in the ACC and when was the last time the ACC Coach of the Year didn’t make the tourney (rhetorical question)?) and my personal favorite, the recipients of this year’s Hofstra Award, Arizona State (beat Arizona – who made the tourney – twice, better in-conference record than Arizona, beat TWO 3 seeds, Xavier and Stanford).

    

The prize for being selected is a home game (and for the four teams that didn’t make it, they would have to go on the road (as they should) and win their way into the tournament).  So, depending on the geography (or the attractiveness of the match-ups) you would have four meaningful games (as opposed to one play-in game between #64 and #65), four sell-outs and four games that people would want to watch on Tuesday.  ESPN could show them at 6, 8, 10 and 12 Eastern or something like that.

    

This year, I’d have Villanova play St. Joe’s (if you know anything about basketball in Philly, you know what this means), Virginia Tech could go down to Lexington, Arizona State could play Baylor and Dayton could play Kansas State.  Great match-ups, meaningful games, sell-outs, what more could you ask for?

    

Why hasn’t this already happened?  Well, I just don’t think anyone has focused on it as a possible solution.  A 96- or 128-team tournament is absurd and more play-in games for the worst teams in the tournament have no juice except for the teams playing in them.

    

But wouldn’t the 69th and 70th team be upset?  You bet they would be, but simply announce, when this is put into play, that the tournament selection committee, which knows it has a difficult job at the bottom end, is doing this to give the best four teams not selected in the top 64 a chance to make the tournament.  If you, as a Division I basketball program, aren’t good enough to be picked for the top 33 at-large spots (31 automatic bids) AND aren’t good enough to make the next four (even if you’re hurt by that omission), you need to improve your program.  Get the word out early, tell the coaches why you’re doing this and even they might understand and limit the whining.  And, if you’re lucky enough to make the next four, shut up and go on the road and win a game.  This four-team “buffer” zone, in this writer’s opinion, is the best solution for the NCAA.

    

Good luck to all in this year’s tournament but, remember that there’s an easy solution to correct this annual mess (and if anyone thinks it isn’t a mess, at the bottom end, every year, they’re just kidding themselves).

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

EIGHT DIVISIONS OF THE SAGAMORE HILL HIGHLIGHT YONKERS RACEWAY

Jason Bartlett was the driving star, Scott Blackler was the training star and Scott Dillon was the winning owner as they all teamed up for two victories in the first leg of the Sagamore Hill Racing Series for three-and four-year-old colts and geldings at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday, March 8.  Driver Greg Grismore also had two wins in the Sagamore Hill.

    

A heavy downpour stopped just before the races began (track rated “good”), but high winds made for difficult conditions throughout the night.  Bartlett’s first winner came with Asbury Juke, who pulled first-over before the half and wore down pace-setting Real Platinum (Stephane Bouchard) to win by two lengths in 1:57.3  Real Platinum set fractions of 29.4, 59.2 and 1:28.  Asbury Juke looked him in the eye at the three-quarters and pulled away in the stretch with Real Platinum holding the place.  Basilio Blue Chip (Joshua Marks) finished third despite making a break.

    

Jason Bartlett said:  “This horse had been a little sick and I had to pull him a little earlier than I wanted to.  But he was real good tonight on a very windy night.”

    

The 9-5 second choice, Asbury Juke, a four-year-old gelding by Artsplace, won his third race in nine starts for seasonal earnings of $21,020 for trainer Blackler and owner Dillon of Anson, Maine.

    

Bartlett’s second winner came with Herzon, who was parked to the quarter in 28.3, made the top through fractions of 58.4 and 1:28.4, before coming home in 29.2 (on a very windy night) to win for fun by five-and-a-half lengths in 1:58.1.  Camityourinmyway (Greg Merton) slipped out at the three-quarters to gain the place and Aritsotle (Pat Berry) finished third at 53-1 despite a break.

    

Jason Bartlett knows he has a talented horse here:  “I raced this horse last year and he has a lot of speed.  He’s not yet where he was last year – he was a little steppy tonight.  But he was a little better than he’s been and he got the job done tonight.”

    

The 8-5 second choice, Herzon, a four-year-old horse by Cams Card Shark, won his first race of the year in seven starts for seasonal earnings of $10,990 for the aforementioned trainer/owner combination of Blackler and Dillon.

    

Eric Abbatiello won a division that made many Yonkers old-timers happy as he went down the road with the appropriately named Red Man A to win in 1:59.3.  Red Man cut fractions from post one of 28.3, 59 and 1:28.4 to win by three-quarters-of-a-length over the even-money favorite Crystal Guy (Jack Baggit, Jr.).  Chocolate Crush (Jeff Gregory) stayed third on the inside to finish third.

    

Many of you know that Eric’s father, for whom the horse is named, is the legendary Carmine Abbatiello, known for decades as the Red Man (for his bright red colors), who often dominated the driver standings at Yonkers, among other places.  Eric Abbatiello was happy with his horse’s performance:  “Red Man is a nice horse.  When he’s good, he’s good and since I got some relatively slow fractions [middle half of 1:00.1] tonight, we were able to get the win.”

    

The 2-1 second choice, Red Man, a four-year-old horse by Western Ideal, won his second race in eight starts for seasonal earnings of $10,574 for trainer/driver Eric Abbatiello and owner/breeder Marie Abbatiello, Eric’s mother, of Colts Neck, New Jersey.

    

Perhaps the most impressive Sagamore Hill winner was Art’s Image (Stephane Bouchard), who went wire-to-wire from post four in 1:57 to win by three in the fastest Sagamore division.  Art’s Image, who won earlier this year at the Meadowlands in 1:51.2, cut fractions of 27.4, 57.1 and 1:26.4.  He coasted home in 30.1 while never challenged.  Amerifin Idol (Jordan Stratton) came from second-over to be second.  Real Town (Greg Grismore) sat the pocket and finished third.

    

Bouchard knows he has a good one in Art’s Image:  “He was pretty good tonight.  I took it easy through the first turn, made the lead and never even had to pull the earplugs.  The last quarter [30.1] wasn’t fast, but I had a big lead and there was a big wind coming down the stretch.”       

    

The 4-5 favorite, Art’s Image, a four-year-old horse by Artsplace, won his second race in eight starts for seasonal earnings of $26,510 for trainer Nat Varty and owners Adam Victor & Son Stable LLC, Yannick Gingras, Joe Di Scala and Frank Canzone.

    

If Art’s Image wasn’t the most impressive winner, Victory’s Boy (Greg Merton) might get the award.  After pulling first-over from sixth coming to the half, Victory’s Boy wore down pace-setting Launch Angle (Jordan Stratton) and drew off by two lengths in 1:58.  Aint No Hearsay (Pat Berry) followed the winner to be second and Launch Angle, who cut fractions of 29.1, 59 and 1:28.1, finished third.

    

Driver Greg Merton was pleased despite the tough trip:  “He was pretty good tonight.  There was a very bad wind and he didn’t have an easy trip, but he’s a versatile horse and he knows what to do.”

    

The 3-1 second choice, Victory’s Boy, a four-year-old gelding by Artsplace, won his fifth race in eight starts for seasonal earnings of $15,687 for trainer John Berger and owner Win For Victory, Inc. of Staten Island, New York.

    

The other three divisions went to Bob’s Alibi, Cullens Blue Jean (both for Greg Grismore) and Fox Valley Tyrese (Pat Berry).  Bob’s Alibi, coming off a win in the Senior Trendsetter Final in 1:51.4 at the Meadowlands, won on the front end at Yonkers in 1:57.4 for the hard-to-beat team of Grismore and trainer Mickey Burke. He’s owned by Sylvia Burke and Weaver Bruscemi LLC of Pennsylvania.

    

Cullens Blue Jean got a perfect pocket drive by Grismore to win in 1:59 for another hard-to-beat team: trainer Virgil Morgan, Jr. and owner Joseph Muscara of Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania.

    

Another impressive winner was Fox Valley Tyrese, who made two moves to the lead for Pat Berry and drew off by three-and-a-half lengths in 1:58, with a 29.1 last quarter, the fastest last quarter of the eight Sagamore Hill divisions.  He’s trained by Julie Miller for owner South Of The Tracks Rac Inc. of Illinois.

    

The Sagamore continues for two more legs and the $50,000 added Final on Saturday, March 29.