Monthly Archives: January 2009

SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE!!!

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

What possibly could have gotten into Joe Torre that allowed him in his mind to even think about (let alone write, with Tom Verducci) a book called “The Yankee Years”?  Who could have given him such bad advice as to take a wonderful reputation and, at a minimum, have thousands (tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions?) of Yankee fans shaking their heads in disbelief or disgust or shock.  What could he have possibly been thinking?

 

WHY EVEN BOTHER TO WRITE IT?

 

In a five-season span (1996-2000) doing a job that very few (if any) people thought he could do, Torre went from mediocre (at best) manager to Hall of Fame manager.  And he certainly deserved all of the accolades.  However, his last four years as Yankee manager were, from a post-season perspective, probably the worst four-year stretch in baseball history (the epic 2004, up 3-0 collapse against the Red Sox followed by three first round exits).

    

But Torre left town viewed, at least publicly (and certainly by this life-long Yankee fan), as the victim, as the guy who was wronged by the Yankees, who “only’ offered him a one-year, $5 million deal (plus those famous incentives).  While that was a 33% pay cut, it also still made him the highest paid manager in baseball, not a bad deal for a guy with a stunningly poor, recent post-season record.

    

Most thought Torre was wronged by the Yankees.  He certainly had won the PR race.  He left town for L.A. (and must have found out that, despite winning, L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home).  The final feather in his cap was that the 2008 Yankees didn’t make the playoffs and the 2008 Dodgers (a poor team that hovered around .500 until Manny showed up) did make the playoffs.  Short of staying in New York and winning, Torre couldn’t have scripted it any better.  

    

So we have a borderline legendary figure who won the public relations battle and the on-the-field 2008 war.  So what did Joe Torre do?  He kept playing after he had won the game (by writing a book) and, now, is on the precipice of a big loss.

    

Why did he write it?  Hard to believe it was for the money, because he’s made millions and millions more than he could ever have thought he would make in even his wildest dreams.  While people say Joe loves a buck as much as (or even more than) the next guy, he’s got to have tons of money.  Hard to believe it was to “get the truth out,” because the overwhelming majority of people believed he was right (when leaving) and was great (when managing).  Maybe it’s just sheer pettiness because the claims he makes (especially the anti-Cashman claims, killing his biggest supporter of his (Torre’s) prior three-year mega-contract) seem to be petty and, of course, unbelievably hypocritical.

 

TORRE’S MADE HIS BED AND NOW HE GETS TO SLEEP IN IT

 

Hard to believe a man would knock his players and his general manager just one year removed from a storied managing career in New York.  Remember when David Wells wrote his book and Torre slaughtered him with the now famous “what goes on in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse”?  Torre does essentially what Wells did by airing some of the dirty laundry in the Yankee clubhouse and the Yankee boardroom.  He’s playing the part of David Wells, the why-would-you-write-a-book author?

    

Oh, the hypocrisy of it all!

    

It’s going to be hard for Torre to save face and wiggle out of this one.  He’s already gone with “my name’s on the book” (exactly what he said to David Wells about Wells’s book when Wells tried to back away from it) so I have to deal with it.  Tom Verducci said, essentially, that some of Torre’s words were taken out of context in the New York media but that he stands by the book. 

 

And what would you do if you were a player on the Los Angeles Dodgers?  Would you be worried about what you say to your manager?  Absolutely.  The next book might be “The Manny Year” or “The Dodger Years.”  Unlikely, you say?  Maybe true, but who thought Torre would ever write a book like this?  You get the point.

 

COULD JOE TORRE, MASTER OF THE MEDIA, BE NAÏVE?

 

Much of the Torre criticism of Brian Cashman comes from the idea that Torre needed security, that he wanted a two-year deal and that Cashman failed to notify (until the very end) the deciding group of Yankee execs of Torre’s proposal – two years, if you don’t fire me in the first a buy-out for the second or two years, if you do fire me in the first I get paid for both years.

    

Assuming, for now, the truth of that statement, and aside from the absurdity of going into a season on an unbelievably negative note with an almost negative contract (fire me, fire me – the second option has an almost Marbury-like quality to it), could Torre have read the tea leaves (no Bigelow pun intended here) so poorly as to think the Yankees would go for that on any fact pattern?  On the one hand, he strongly believes that the Yankees didn’t want him back.  Yet on the other hand, he wants some kind of conditional payment if (when?) he gets fired.  It’s both naïve and bizarre.

 

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, CAN TORRE SAY TO BAIL HIMSELF OUT?

 

It’s clear from his first comments that Torre knows he’s in a bind.  The joke (sad part?) is that he put himself in this bind.  He can come out and say that he was just stating what others said about A-Rod (A-Fraud, immaturity, etc.), he can say he was just trying to tell the truth, he can say that, for the most part, he and Cashman worked well together until the (now, apparently) bitter end.

    

But whatever the average Yankee fan views the hit on Torre’s rep to be (large, medium or small), it says here that Joe Torre hit himself in the head with a hammer and, whatever he says, it will be virtually impossible to get back to where he was, reputation-wise, prior to his own book coming out.

    

It still all seems so surreal, so inexplicable.  Does he have the right to write such a book and say what he wants?  Absolutely.  But you’d like to think that someone with a brain who had Joe Torre’s ear would have said: “Joe, what could you possibly be thinking?  This book can’t possibly do you any good.  In fact, it will damage your reputation.  Please think long and hard before you write it.”

    

Apparently, that never happened or, if it did, that person was ignored. 

               

SO, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

 

Well, Joe Torre has a book signing in New York City next week.  He is supposed to appear on Larry King Live on CNN and with Mike Francesa next week on WFAN.  If he says “I was just trying to set the record straight,” hopefully somebody (Mike Francesa?) will say “the record was in your favor during and after your managerial success (at a Hall of Fame level) in New York.  What exactly was wrong with the record the way it was?  How could you possibly write this book?”

    

If it finally dawns on Joe Torre that he’s made a huge mistake, it’s hard to believe that he’ll take responsibility for it.  Remember, this is a manager whose baseball decision-making skills went down once Don Zimmer and, later, Mel Stottlemyre, left town.  In fact, in his book, Joe claims that his great error in the 2007 playoffs was not pulling his team off the field in game 2 against the Indians (forever known as “the bug game”).  Of course, the far greater mistake (and, essentially, season-ending one) was a baseball one – not bringing in the greatest closer on earth when your rookie reliever was clearly having problems (see Kallas Remarks, 3/29/08, A Torre Error Ended The Torre Era).

    

Maybe someone can ask him about that, as well. 

         

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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IN THE MFL (MEDIOCRE FOOTBALL LEAGUE), ARIZONA GETS TO THE SUPER BOWL

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

     

It’s been a mediocre league for awhile now and, with only the Patriots as an exception (due to Tom Brady and, arguably, the greatest coaching and player personnel decisions ever), it will continue to be.  With the salary cap and the multiple divisions and the multiple, dreaded wild cards (losers now can and do win it all), it almost seems that the goal of the NFL is to have 32 8-8 teams.  Maybe most people think that’s a good thing, but it says here that the continuous ups and downs don’t make for a good league but do make for an “exciting” one.

      

Which brings me to the Arizona Cardinals.  In the Super Bowl.  Do they deserve it?  Absolutely.  Kurt Warner, a Hall of Fame quarterback (in this writer’s opinion) before this year’s shocking playoff run, has shown these guys how to win.  With the second best receiver in football, Larry Fitzgerald (no, he’s not yet better than Randy Moss) and unhappy Anquan Boldin, Warner’s got some big-time weapons.  But the fact that they are even in the Super Bowl speaks to the overall mediocrity of the NFL.

       

For a six seed (the Eagles) to play a four seed (the 9-7 division-winning Cardinals) for the NFC Championship tells you all you need to know about the competitiveness and mediocrity of the NFC.  Would the Giants have rolled to consecutive Super Bowls with Plaxico Burress on the team?  We’ll never know, but Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning looked like the mediocre Manning of old against the Eagles on a windy day at the Meadowlands.  It would have been hard to beat the Eagles (even with Plaxico) the way the conditions worked against the Giants (i.e., the wind against Manning’s ability to throw).

       

In the wacky world of the NFL, who would you rather have quarterbacking your team, Kurt Warner or Eli Manning?  Well, Warner had the Giants at 5-4 a few years back when Tom Coughlin, no matter what he said then, threw in the towel for the season and started Eli the rest of the way.  The results were a very poor 1-6 for Eli the starter but all Giant fans (including this one) agree now that Manning’s on-the-job training was the start of the miraculous run of a year ago.  Despite my own personal feelings that there shouldn’t even be wild cards (losers win), it was exciting to see the Giants become a wild card Super Bowl champion.

       

It still seems that Kurt Warner is the better quarterback while the Giants reportedly will soon make Eli Manning the highest paid player ever in NFL history (timing is everything) to be the QB of the Giants for the next 10 years or so.

 

HERE COME THE STEELERS

               

While very few, if any, “experts” gave the Cardinals any real chance to get this far, it says here that this is the end of the line for them.  The Steelers should be able to run on the Cardinals.  Willie Parker won’t be running against the vaunted Ravens defense.  The Cardinals will have trouble running the ball against the Steelers excellent defense.  They can throw it as well as anyone but this is the game in a nutshell: who can run the ball?

       

The Cardinals were pretty bad away from home this year but they did pull off that stunning upset on the road against Carolina.  Hard to say how much of that was Jake Delhomme and how much of it was Arizona but Carolina was undefeated at home this year so give the Cardinals credit.  And while the Super Bowl is at a neutral site, the Steelers seem to be superior, especially defensively, to the Cardinals.

     

HOW ABOUT AN ALL WILD CARD SUPER BOWL?

             

It could have been an all-wild card Super Bowl if the Ravens could have beaten the Steelers.  Would that have been a good thing?  Not really except for this:  the goal of all of these major sports today is to keep as many teams alive for the playoffs (anything can happen then, right?) as possible.  Hope springs eternal and the more games late in the season with “playoff ramifications,” the more exciting a league exists for all. 

    

The regular season is greatly cheapened by the wild cards (it’s even worse in baseball where you play 162 to get knocked out in a best of five – see Cubs, Chicago) but nobody seems to care – now 12 teams (in the MFL) get a second bite of the apple.  Why not just have 16 two-team divisions (think of the rivalries!), no first round byes and make it like March Madness – the Sweet Sixteen.  Think of the possibilities, the excitement, the additional money for the owners!! Just kidding (I think).

    

So we now start the annual two-week Boring  Bowl before the game begins.  It’s almost amateur hour at Super Bowl time.  Apparently more people care about the commercials, the pageantry, the absurdly-long half-time show (with or without The Boss, somebody with a brain should make it shorter) and the even more absurdly long pre-game show than the game itself.  The half-time show, in particular, is an ongoing disaster from an “it’s all about the game” perspective because it can change the actual game itself, a terrible thing.  But hey, everybody’s got to make money so here we are.

      

The Super Bowl, once a stunningly attractive football game is, for all but hard-core fans (and/or gamblers), now a sideshow. 

      

But hey, who cares?      

         

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

IT (VIRTUALLY) ALL GOES BACK TO PLAXICO

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

It’s finally dawned on everybody how much the Giants missed Plaxico Burress in their failed defense of last year’s miracle Super Bowl win.  Could the Giants have won it all without him?  Sure they could have, but their margin for error disappeared in a Manhattan night club during Thanksgiving weekend.

If you’re a Giant fan, it didn’t take long to notice how much Burress would be missed in Sunday’s loss against the Eagles.  The Giants get the ball, get great field position on the opening kickoff (Eagles 35), go for it on fourth and two (Jacobs for three yards) and then have a third and eight from the Eagles nine (the game is barely four minutes old).  They’re certainly not going to run it from there and it’s hard to believe they would get a first down.

It was time for the perfect Plaxico play:  that fade into the corner of the end zone where, even if double-teamed by two 5’11” defensive backs, Burress would almost always find a way to bail out Eli, out-jump the DBs, give the Giants a lead and set the tone for the game.  The TV announcers didn’t quite understand that because this was about who was on the field, not who was off the field.

    

But, of course, Plaxico, rightly or wrongly (we’ll get to that later), had already been banished from Giant Land.  So Eli threw a short pass to Derrick Ward out of the backfield and Ward got five yards to the Eagles three which led to an unsatisfying field goal and a 3-0 lead.

    

And it would be mostly worse from there.

     

MVP:  JIM JOHNSON

      

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson made no bones about how much better off his defense would be in the Giant game with Plaxico off the field.  Indeed, it was obvious early on that Johnson put that extra man in the box and, while the Eagles didn’t shut down the Giant running game, they certainly limited it.  The wear and tear over the course of a game that bruising Brandon Jacobs would normally put on a defense never happened in this game. 

    

In fact, it was late in the game when the Eagle defense seemed fresher, stopping the Giants on third and short and fourth and short multiple times.  Say what you want about the play calling in the fourth quarter (especially that bizarre wildcat-like call on third and three), the reality is that the Giants couldn’t rush the ball for a first down on fourth and inches, fourth and two and a few other key situations.   

    

So Eli couldn’t throw to his favorite receiver and the Eagles put an extra man down in the box to control and, at key times, shut down the Giant running game.

    

And it’s all because of Plaxico.

      

THE WIND, THE DEFENSE

      

Others can blame the wind and the stunning difference between the ability of Donovan McNabb to throw the football and the inability of Eli Manning to throw the football.  And they’d be partially right. 

      

Others might blame the Giant defense but that would be unfair.  They played well and, even though they never sacked McNabb (for the third time this year, astounding), they shut down Brian Westbrook and made the Eagles earn every yard and point.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE FIELD GOAL KICKER?

      

Well, it’s hard to blame John Carney, who had a stellar season for the Giants.  But the whole should-we-have-two-kickers (Lawrence Tynes kicked off and was available for long field goals) and when-does-Carney-not-kick-it-and-Tynes-does (50 and out, according to the coaching staff) was always a little strange.  So, when Carney kicked and missed field goals of 46 and 47 yards (both had the distance but not the accuracy), it makes you wonder what would have happened if they had decided to let Tynes kick them from 45 and out instead of 50 and out. 

    

Of course, we’ll never know but that could have been a turning point in the game.

 

IS PLAXICO COMING BACK NEST YEAR?

      

Fascinating post-game stuff as Tom Coughlin, intelligently, refused to answer any questions about the possible return of Plaxico.  Interestingly, however, general manager Jerry Reese seemed to welcome the return “if things work out.”

    

The more interesting question was whether the Giants should have brought Plaxico back for these playoffs after a four-game suspension.  After all, he’s still innocent until proven guilty and he hasn’t been indicted yet (although that might be coming in March). 

    

The Giants made a decision in early December to rid themselves of Plaxico for the rest of the season.  From a football perspective, that was a damaging, even season-ending, decision.  But from a public relations perspective (presumably), it had to be done.

    

The notion that they will bring him back next year (absent an acquittal or dismissal of all charges, both longshots in this writer’s opinion) is strange.  If they’re going to do that, then why didn’t they bring him back for the playoffs?  He certainly seemed to have player support in the locker room.  Maybe the conflicting interests of Plaxico and team leader Antonio Pierce (at the club with Plaxico and he (Pierce) maybe – or maybe not – tried to “hide” the gun) got in the way of team solidarity.

    

Whatever the truth, the reality is that a stupid night clubbing in Manhattan with a loaded firearm cost the Giants a better chance than they had to win the Super Bowl.

    

And that has to be hard to swallow from the top of the organization down to the water boy.  And equally hard to swallow for the lifelong, die-hard Giant fan.

    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN CAN STILL FIX THIS!!!!

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

It’s not too late.  It’s a disgrace and, in the world of internet voting (vote all you want, people), it shows the absurdity of trying to bring false popularity to a great game.  But it’s not too late for Commissioner Gary Bettman to make a statement and do the right thing:  name superstar Alex Ovechkin a starter for the Eastern Conference in next week’s NHL All-Star Game. 

    

It’s hard to believe some of the names that made the grade.  We all understand why:  the game’s being played in Montreal, it’s the 100th anniversary of the legendary Les Canadiens, the fans have now discovered that they can vote again and again and again (fill in the word again here as many times as you want), etc.  All you really need to know is that, at one point, earlier in the voting, ALL SIX starting Eastern Conference positions were going to go to members of the Montreal Canadiens.  Somehow, some way, later in the voting, two guys named Crosby and Malkin passed Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay for starting positions.

    

Oh, the embarrassment of it all.

 

SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENED AND WAS FIXED IN BASEBALL

         

Many years ago in baseball something very similar happened – and the Commissioner stepped in and fixed it.  In 1957, according to Total Baseball (Fifth Edition), fans of the Cincinnati Reds elected eight (of nine) starters to the National League All-Star Team.  They “stuffed” the ballot boxes (no internet back then) and that led to the embarrassing situation that is similar to the one the NHL is in now.

    

So, what happened?  Well, according to Total Baseball, “Commissioner Ford Frick named Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to replace Reds Gus Bell, George Crowe and Wally Post in the starting lineup.”  Apparently, only people in Cincinnati were upset when the obvious (correct an absurdity) was done.

    

You didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out what happened and, thankfully for baseball, somebody with a brain AND some power took notice and did something.

 

BACK TO 2009

      

Something just as egregious happened in this year’s NHL voting.  To almost start six Canadiens and to have Alexei Kovalev (full disclosure – a favorite of this writer’s when he was a young Ranger) start over Alex Ovechkin, well, you can finish the sentence.  So, in 2009, to have Gary Bettman make a similar statement by announcing Ovechkin as a starter would, at least, restore a little bit of dignity to the process.  Sure, popular players win election every year.  Sure, people can argue the merits of many starters.  Sure you can argue that hockey starters (off the ice after a minute or so) are not like baseball starters (although that would totally miss the point).  But, again, when Mays, Aaron and Musial (all superstar Hall-of-Famers-to-be) were (unbelievably) wrongly snubbed, somebody (the Commissioner of baseball) actually DID something.

          

Here, too, when a superstar Hall-of-Famer-to-be (obviously Ovechkin has to do it over a number of years but understand, Aaron was only in his fourth year and Mays in his fifth full year (due to military service) in 1957) and reigning MVP who is having a great season (again) is snubbed for a very good player, it would be nice for the NHL if somebody, like the Commissioner, would actually DO something.

 

MAYBE IT WOULD BE BETTER IF ALL SIX FROM ONE TEAM STARTED

         

While it’s never happened, maybe the point would be better made if one city pounded the internet ballot box so much that all six starters would come from one team.  Maybe then the Commissioner would get the point.  Maybe he should reserve the right to change that starting lineup (if the Commissioner of baseball had the power to do it in 1957, you’d like to think that the Commissioner of the NHL has the power to do it in 2009).

    

The aftermath of the baseball fiasco was that, for a number of years, the voting was taken away from the fans.  It was eventually returned and now the fans have the same internet voting in baseball that they have in hockey.

    

If Bettman doesn’t do something (and, of course, it’s unrealistic to think that he will), then maybe next year there will be a national (international?) movement to make an average, likable player a starter in the All-Star game.  Maybe that would make the Commissioner do something.

    

Again, it’s great to argue about All-Star selections.  But, once in a while, something happens that makes a mockery of the game and hurts the image and integrity of the NHL, whether the powers-that-be understand it or not.  This (Ovechkin not being named a starter) is one of those times. 

    

Your move, Commissioner Frick (oops, I mean Bettman).    

    

                                                                                   

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

NO PLAXICO, NO SUPER BOWL?

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

Well, the Giants are at the toughest part of the season where they might very well miss Plaxico Burress the most.  They’re stuck playing the tough Philadelphia Eagles and that’s a bad thing for them (Tom Coughlin would never say it, but do you think that the Giants would prefer to have played the Cardinals?  You betcha).

    

As you probably know, the Giants split the two games with the Eagles, each team winning on the road.  In the first game, Brandon Jacobs had 22 rushes for 126 yards and two TDs and Burress had a TD catch.  In the second game, Brian Westbrook, with 33 carries, eventually broke through the Giants defense with a couple of big plays.  Jacobs came out midway through the third quarter with an aggravated knee injury and just had 10 carries for 52 yards and no TDs.  Burress, of course, had self-destructed eight days earlier.

    

The Giants can’t win the Super Bowl without Burress AND Jacobs.  But, with a bye week, the Giants (and Jacobs) will be healthier.  But will they be rusty?

     

Don’t forget, when the Eagles did beat the Giants, the Giants were 11-1 and cruising to the division and the playoffs.  And while you don’t want to lose three of four going into the playoffs (as the Giants have), the Eagles have been on life support for what seems like the second half of the season.  They needed that win at the Meadowlands on 12/7 much more than the Giants did.  You could even make the case that the Eagles are this year’s version of last year’s Giants.  The question is:  Will the Giants be playing the role of last year’s 13-3 Cowboys?

    

With the Eagles defensive genius, Jimmy Johnson, already scheming for next weekend, the Giants will have their work cut out for them.  What they lose with Burress is that guy who can outleap all the DBs to pull down a fade in the end zone.  Or, when Eli’s in a lot of trouble (and you know that he will be on a number of plays), he can’t throw it up for grabs and let Burress make a play.  That’s, potentially, very problematic for the Giants.  And, potentially, game-losing.

    

Everybody now understands that taking Burress out of the game means no guaranteed double-team on virtually every play by the Eagles defense.  Instead, they will bring another man into the box which will take away from the Giants dominant running game.  That, more than anything else, will be the key to the game.

    

On the other side of the ball, it will be mostly about Brian Westbrook.  He hurt the Giants badly in the second game, getting over 200 all-purpose yards and leaving all Giant fans with that view of Antonio Pierce haplessly chasing after him for that big touchdown.  While you can’t totally blame Pierce (how many linebackers really can cover Westbrook?), the point is the Eagles will pound away and then try and find a way to get that mismatch again.

    

While the Giants were (obviously) in a much bigger hole last season and pulled off a miracle post-season, this year they have a very difficult path playing one team (the Eagles) that beat them at the Meadowlands, another (Carolina, presuming that they both win) that was a 50-yard field goal away from beating them at the Meadowlands and a very tough AFC team waiting near the end of the rainbow.

    

The Giants’ road would be tough even with Plaxico Burress.  Without him, it’s much tougher.  While the Giant organization tried to do the right thing here (although some still say Burress should be playing under the he’s-innocent-until-proven-guilty theory, certainly a good argument from a legal perspective), you know they left their best chance to win the Super Bowl on the sidelines (or in a club) a few weeks ago.  Now the question becomes, can they actually do it now without Burress?  We’ll see what happens. 

    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL NETWORK PREMIERES ON JANUARY 1 WITH DON LARSEN’S PERFECT GAME

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

The MLB Network goes on the air at 6 P.M. on Thursday, January 1.  At 7 P.M., they will show the TV broadcast (beginning in the second inning) of Don Larsen’s perfect game from October 8, 1956.  This is the same broadcast that was shown in NYC this past summer.  Here’s a link (Kallas Remarks, 7/12/08) to my post about the game which was written after watching it in July 2008.

    

MLB Network will get its first test immediately – did they find tape (it exists) of Jackie Robinson hitting a line drive (in the second inning, right before the existing TV broadcast starts) off Andy Carey’s glove which was picked up by Yankee shortstop Gil McDougald who nipped Robinson at first (he looked safe to me)?  Clearly the closest thing to a hit in the game (and that includes the two foul home runs that the Dodgers hit), a superior network would have found this tape and shown it right before beginning the existing TV tape.  We’ll see. 

    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.