Monthly Archives: June 2009

PLAN B FOR PLAXICO?

                                                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

                         

Maybe Plaxico Burress really thought he could beat the system and avoid jail time after shooting himself in the leg at a club in Manhattan last Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe Plaxico thought he could plead guilty to a lesser charge last December, January or February, do a little time and make it back for the 2009 NFL season.

                        

Unfortunately for him, as readers of this column are aware (see Kallas Remarks, 11/30/08 and 12/11/08), the law pertaining to gun possession (no intent to do anything, just actual possession of a loaded firearm) in New York State changed back in 2006 to make sure that people in Plaxico’s position would actually do real time (a Class C Felony, three-and-a-half year minimum), even if they would plead to a lesser charge (like a Class D Felony, two-year minimum). Prior to the change in the law, someone like Plaxico could have (and often did) plead to a lesser charge and do minimal or no time and just get probation.

                             

But that was then, this is now.

WHAT WAS PLAN A?

Well, Plan A was to beat the system or, at a minimum, get a top defense lawyer (Benjamin Brafman, of P Diddy acquittal (among others) fame) to keep the pain to a minimum. However, thanks to tougher new laws and (maybe) Mayor Bloomberg’s inappropriate comments (are you guilty until proven innocent now?), Plan A, while still a down-the-road potential minor miracle, seems to have been back-burnered by Burress and his lawyers.

WHAT IS PLAN B?

Well, with the recent nothing-happened court appearance and with no indictment immediately in sight (maybe September, by the next court appearance?), it seems that Plan B has become let’s-get-Plaxico-at-least-one-more-season.

                                            

Here’s how it works: the June court appearance, where nothing really happened, is followed by the September 23 court appearance. With maybe an indictment by then (remember the famous “a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich” quote), after motions are made by the defense, responded to by the prosecution and dealt with by a judge, it would be unlikely that a trial would take place before the end of the regular season or even the Super Bowl.

                                                   
Thus Plan B is let’s get Plax one more season of real money (with multiple teams apparently interested (the Jets, Bears and Bucs, allegedly)). Plaxico Burress might be in for at least one more big (single season, it says here) payday.

HERE’S THE POTENTIAL MONKEY WRENCH

The problem with Plan B works at the Commissioner’s office. Why would Roger Goodell allow this to happen? He certainly has the power to suspend Plaxico. Presumably he would and it would be challenged by the players’ union and taken to an arbitrator. The facts of the case are pretty undisputed. Everybody knows that Burress had a loaded firearm. Everybody knows that it was not licensed to be carried in New York. Everybody knows he shot himself, albeit accidentally. Everybody understands the threat (the danger, the stupidity?) of having a loaded firearm in a public place. And everybody now knows that the law was changed in New York a few years ago to send people like this (that is, those who simply carry a loaded firearm in New York without a permit) to jail.

                                      

So it would seem that the Commissioner, rightly or wrongly, would view this as an attempt to circumvent the law and the NFL rules and/or policies to get a big payday for Plaxico.

                                    

It’s hard to believe that the Commissioner of the NFL would allow this to happen.

WHAT ABOUT DONTE STALLWORTH?

Fascinating timing, but probably irrelevant to the Burress legal case. Stallworth, who killed a pedestrian while he (Stallworth) was under the influence, was recently sentenced to 30 days in jail, maybe (or maybe not?) two years of house arrest and ten years of probation. Stallworth “settled” with the deceased person’s family, reportedly for low seven figures.

                                      
The Commissioner promptly suspended Stallworth “indefinitely.”

                              

But Stallworth’s case didn’t happen in New York. It didn’t happen in a place where the laws were recently changed. It didn’t happen in a place where a powerful mayor is already on record as saying the perpetrator (Plaxico) should, essentially, do time.

                             

And while virtually all of us would agree that, if Stallworth only gets 30 days (and virtually all of us think that’s a very short sentence), it wouldn’t make sense for Plaxico to do serious time (one year, two years, three-and-a-half years), the reality is that’s comparing apples and oranges.
In New York, the law is the law is the law.

WHAT’S LONG-TERM FOR PLAXICO?

Once indicted (and it seems he will be), you have to think it will be back to where we started with the Class C and Class D Felonies (see Kallas Remarks, 11/30/08 and 12/11/08). Even a miracle worker like Ben Brafman will have an incredibly difficult time getting Burress acquitted, at least of the possession charge. If he tries to get a plea post-indictment, the Manhattan DA’s policy has only been to allow a defendant to plead down a C to a D (two years). Anything less, a real longshot, would raise eyebrows in City Hall and across New York. It’s hard to believe there will be special treatment here.

                                   

If Burress goes the distance at trial and gets convicted of a Class C Felony, he will also do real time. Of course, if he goes to trial and Ben Brafman works his magic, he could walk out a free man. But it says here that’s an incredible longshot.

                              

We’ll see what happens.

                                     

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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ORLANDO, LIKE EVERY OTHER TEAM, DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO DEFEND THE THREE

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

       

It happens all the time.  A team, up three late in the game, just doesn’t know how to defend the three.  It happens 50 times a season, maybe more.  In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it happened when, after Dwight Howard missed two free throws with about 10 seconds left with his Magic team up three, the Lakers came down the other way.

         

The ball winds up in Derek Fisher’s hands and, as he nears three-point shooting territory, his man, Jameer Nelson, inexplicably backs off into two-point territory as Fisher pulls up and drains a virtually open three to tie the game.  The Lakers, of course, would win in OT to, essentially, end the 2009 NBA Finals.

           

While this is only the latest example of something that happens all the time, it was so obvious and so game-changing that virtually everybody realizes what a mistake it was.  But still the analysis is weak and, at times, flawed.

       

JEFF VAN GUNDY STATES THE OBVIOUS

         

ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy slaughtered Jameer Nelson for his stupid defense, essentially saying that Nelson was an idiot (“the IQ of some of these NBA players always astounds me, not knowing the time, score and situation”).   He didn’t understand what Nelson was thinking.

         

And Jeff Van Gundy is right – to a point.  But he never mentioned his brother Stan, the coach of the Magic.

 

HERE’S THE PROBLEM

        

The problem is that, since the beginning of basketball, defenders were always taught to protect the basket, to stay between your man and the basket, to not let him get by and get a free look at the goal.  Of course, for the first 80-90 years of basketball, that was quite true.  BUT THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW.

        

THE GAME HAS CHANGED

        

As often happens, when changes are made in the basic rules of the game, there are consequences that the rule makers, the coaches and the players just don’t anticipate, just can’t adjust to, just don’t understand. 

              

And even though the three-point shot came into play in the 1980s (in the NBA), teams still don’t grasp the defensive concept.

         

In the 21st Century, when it’s very late in the game and you’re up three (like the Magic were in Game 5), YOU HAVE TO DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE, NOT THE BASKET.  You’ll never see a better example than Game 5 on the Fisher three.

         

BUT WHOSE FAULT IS IT, ANYWAY?

         

Well, it’s absolutely Nelson’s fault that he backed into two-point territory with his team up three in the final seconds of the game.  But what about the coach?  Here’s what Stan Van Gundy said after the game:  “In retrospect, we gave [Fisher] too much space to shoot the ball.  We played like we were trying to protect a layup.  We just didn’t play Derek Fisher.”

          

In retrospect?  Hold it now, the coach’s job is to anticipate these things, to coach these things in practice throughout the season, to tell a team during any break in the second half of the fourth quarter about three-point defense.  In retrospect?  Stan Van Gundy, if he hadn’t told his team late in the fourth quarter if your up three late, defend the three, then he wasn’t doing his job (and this writer thinks that Stan Van Gundy is an excellent NBA coach, see Kallas Remarks, 4/30/08).  And even as the Lakers are bringing the ball up the court in the final 10 seconds of regulation down three, Stan Van Gundy, at a minimum, should have been screaming at Nelson to “defend the three, defend the three.”

        

Apparently, none of the above took place.

             

Even the Stan Van Gundy quote “we played like we were trying to protect a layup” is fascinating.  Because that’s what players do virtually every second of every game.  They’re taught since day one to protect the basket, to not let your man get by you, to not allow easy layups.  And that’s true …  99.99% of the time.

           

So the change in defense (to defend the three-point line, not the basket) has to be practiced and practiced and practiced.  And, it seems, NOBODY does it.

           

AND IF IT’S GOING TO BE TAUGHT … ,

           

Well, if it’s going to be taught, teach it the right way.  Jameer Nelson shouldn’t stop at the three-point line, he should stop even higher up, maybe a foot or even two feet ABOVE the line.  That way Fisher, at a minimum, has to launch about five or more feet BEYOND the three-point line, a very low percentage shot.

         

This writer has long advocated a defense in the final seconds where you literally have four or five athletic defenders stand above the three-point line.  That way, if anyone throws a lob or drives to the basket, the game is over (see Kallas Remarks, 11/24/08).  If, in Game 5, Nelson had come above the line and Fisher dribbles past him, game over.  If Fisher lobs it inside, game over.  If Fisher pulls up for a very long shot, game (in all likelihood) over.

         

WHAT ABOUT FOULING?

        

Discussed at length elsewhere (Kallas Remarks, 11/24/08), some coaches don’t because you’re taught, as a coach, not to stop the clock and let the other team score points when you are winning the game.  It’s also the only way you can lose the game (make the first, miss the second, offense gets the rebound and hits a three – a longshot but possible).

        

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

           

It seems virtually impossible for the Magic to come back, even though you can easily argue that the Magic could be up 3-1 in games rather than down 3-1 in games.  But to beat the Lakers twice in L.A. (the stupidity of the 2-3-2 system aside and assuming the Magic win Game 5) is virtually an impossible task.

         

Teams should start reviewing tape of the last 50 times that any team down three hit a three in the last five seconds of a game to tie the game.  They will see the obvious:  that guys defend below the three-point line, that guys get picked at the foul line (why is the defender down there?), that the entire defense in basketball in the last few seconds of a three-point game should be totally changed.  And then they should coach the players to change the way they defend.

          

Someday, that’s how the game will be played.                    

           

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

DON’T PUT TOO MUCH OF THE BLAME ON CALVIN BOREL FOR MINE THAT BIRD’S BELMONT LOSS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

         

Calvin Borel has taken a real pounding for “moving too soon’ with 6-5 favorite Mine That Bird in this past Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. But if you listened to what was being discussed at length right BEFORE the race and know anything about the races, you knew Borel and his horse might be in trouble.

      

Here’s Jeanine Edwards of ESPN/ABC as she was walking over to the paddock with Mine That Bird’s trainer, Chip Woolley: “Chip was a little bit concerned that Mine That Bird has been quite rambunctious since he left the holding barn. He’s been bucking and kicking and playing quite a bit more than he normally does.”

     

If you’ve been around the race track, you know that is potentially a bad thing.

         

Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey (also on ABC) picked up on this immediately: “It’s a concern for me because if he’s [Mine That Bird] the least bit aggressive early on in the race and Calvin can’t relax him off the pace, and I mean really on a long rein relaxes him, then he’s going to wear himself out to a degree. It’ll minimize his [inaudible]. He’s gotta do what Calvin wants him to do and that’s relax.”

             

Even Kenny Mayne chipped in with “I’m no bloodstock agent but I would say Mine That Bird did not look as calm as we’ve seen him in the past.”

                 

Those are an awful lot of clues if you actually wait until the last minute (which you always should but rarely do) to bet the Belmont (or any race).

                

JERRY BAILEY STAYS ON TOP OF THINGS

               

But there was more to come. Jerry Bailey spoke to Calvin Borel right after the post parade and continued the questioning, asking Borel if he had any concerns about being able to rate Mine That Bird in the Belmont since he seemed more excited today than in the past. Borel said that Mine That Bird had been “dancing a bit” but, in response to Bailey’s question, Borel said, “I don’t think so, Jerry, like I say, he’s coming in a little bit harder [or hotter, it was unclear] than I thought he’d be.” Borel then confidently stated: “Nothing for me to handle” (meaning, presumably, nothing that he couldn’t handle).

            

And then the race began.

           

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

           

Dunkirk, the $3.7 million (that’s right) yearling, wound up setting the pace in a rather quick 23.2 quarter and 47 half. This is a quick first half, especially in a mile-and-a-half race. After getting away last as planned, Borel moved Mine That Bird at about the five furlong marker, surprisingly early to anybody who had seen the Derby and/or had heard his trainer talk about how the horse needed to be raced. After racing four or five wide the whole final turn (a very difficult thing to do), Mine That Bird took a brief lead at the top of the stretch. But he made the lead too early and Summer Bird, who had a Mine That Bird Derby-type trip down inside, blew by him to win rather easily. Even Dunkirk came back to beat Mine That Bird and finish a game second. Mine That Bird was third and, given his trip, raced pretty well.

             

Clearly, there had to be a reason why Mine That Bird came to the pack so early.

           

Jerry Bailey was on it right away, immediately after the race: “Calvin, on Mine That Bird, I think his horse got a little bit rank with him, he let him ease up a little soon and I think, if anything, the move might have been a little premature.”

              

Then, right before Borel was interviewed, still just a minute or so after the race, Bailey said “he got a little rank with him at the five furlong [5/8 mile] pole and pulled him up, pulled him up close to the lead.”

              

WHAT DID BOREL THINK HAPPENED?

              

Keep in mind that Calvin Borel had just lost his personal quest for an unprecedented jockey Triple Crown on two different horses. “They went so slow up front, you know, I mean I had to let him go a little bit down the backside. He was kind of fighting me a little bit.”

         

He also said, “He grabbed a hold to the bit so I didn’t want to fight him too much. I let him creep up easily.”

           

Of course, the reality was, with fractions of 23.2, 47 and 1:12.2 for the first three-quarters of a mile, that was slightly fast to fast – there’s no chance that the pace was “real slow,” as Borel stated.

           

WHAT DID TRAINER WOOLLEY THINK?

        

Understand now, that in these big races, the trainer and jockey don’t speak before speaking to the media and, in the case of immediate post-race coverage, to the national TV audience. Trainer Woolley, despite putting on a brave face, was clearly agitated. After saying he thought that his horse was the best in the race, he stated, “We just made a little early move there and he came up empty. Calvin set him down maybe a hair early.”

         

Woolley kept going, “Calvin was letting him drift up and when you let this horse do that he’s going to try to go, you know, and so he’d a been better off probably keeping him covered up down on the fence [the rail] for awhile.”

          

SO, WHY WASN’T IT BOREL’S FAULT?

           

Here’s why: If a horse is hot or grabby or rambunctious before the jockey gets on him, that’s not his fault, especially if he normally isn’t like that before a race. Borel probably thought he was in some trouble before the race; certainly Jerry Bailey did and said so with his comments literally minutes before the race.

         

While it’s a jockey’s job (and a tremendous skill) to keep a hot horse calm, sometimes there’s not a whole lot you can do. Even the trainer later admitted maybe he should have done something “to take the edge off” Mine That Bird prior to this third race in five weeks.

           

Clearly, Mine That Bird had not been like this before either the Derby or the Preakness (and presumably his other starts). So he had already raced in front of gigantic crowds in Kentucky and Maryland and there was no reason to expect this change in pre-race attitude.

          

If anything, the fact that he was too much on the bit has to be blamed on the trainer, not the rider. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault; maybe the horse got spooked or got nervous or got scared for some reason we may or may not ever find out about. But once he’s riled up (and by everybody’s account he was), it puts Calvin Borel in an almost impossible position.

                     

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

                

Jerry Bailey again got it right: “Calvin was in a no-win position. If you strangle him [take a strong hold of him], that will wear him out.” Conversely, if you let him run too early, that will wear him out.

      

And the latter is exactly what happened.

                    

Should Calvin Borel have raced a few times at Belmont the week before or the day of the Belmont? Absolutely. Was it a mistake not to? Absolutely. Did he overdo it with Letterman, the NY Stock Exchange, etc.? Maybe, although that’s not as big a deal as not racing at Belmont.

                   

        

WHAT’S THE REALITY?

                    

The reality of it all is that Calvin Borel was given a rambunctious, hot horse to ride who races best from the back in a mile-and-a-half (or, apparently, any) race. He couldn’t hold him back any longer than he did (in his view) because, if he did take a heavy hold, he might have shut off his wind or choked him or made him fight the bit – all guarantees of a loss. So he took a shot as best he could and moved early (I’m sure he knew he was moving earlier than he wanted to but had no choice). He made the lead too early for this (and possibly only this) race.

               

So while he gets some of the blame, most of it goes to whatever made this horse on this day something he hadn’t been before – rambunctious and on the bit.

          

AND THAT TOOK PLACE LONG BEFORE CALVIN BOREL MOUNTED HIS BELMONT HORSE.

                  

And, as they say at the track, that’s horse racing.

                   

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

A DISAPPOINTING “NEW” YANKEE STADIUM

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

            

I was hoping for the best but wasn’t overly confident. I was one of those life-long Yankee fans who had hoped that the Yankees would stay in The House That Ruth Built. I didn’t think they could bring the ghosts across the street but I was hopeful. I’ve now been to the new Stadium three times, sitting in three different areas and, frankly, it just ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

       

DOES IT REMIND YOU OF THE OLD (EARLY 1970S AND BEFORE) STADIUM?

      

Not to me it doesn’t. If it did, you’d have the old bullpens (in left-center and right-center) on either side of the bleachers where, back in the good old days, if you could only afford the bleachers, you could lean over and talk to Steve Hamilton or whichever guys were out there. If it did, you’d have only a four-foot or so fence in rightfield and leftfield where players would sometimes literally go into the stands to get a ball. If it did, you’d have that beautiful Yankee logo on the scoreboard in dead center that would always be there.

        

Sure the façade is back (and that’s great), but the curtains or blinds or whatever it is all around the stadium (that may or may not be contributing to balls flying out of there) actually blend in with the façade at times to make it look very strange. Sure the scoreboards in the right-centerfield and left-centerfield walls are back (and that’s great), but they seem smaller than the old versions and they’re harder to see (no electricity and smaller size numbers on the boards). The crowds aren’t quite there (or maybe they are but everybody’s just walking around?), but it’s hard to believe that, when it’s rocking, it’s going to be like it was across the street in October/November (the May/June cheering sounds muffled for some reason).

            

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, MONUMENT PARK?

         

Well, it’s there, but you really have to go looking for it. It’s buried behind the big blue wall in dead center, but it seems much smaller. You can never get on line to get in there 45 minutes before game time (you’d better get on line more like 90) because you can’t (it’s “closed”) and, when you do go in, you get a claustrophobic feeling. It’s way too small, it’s out of view and, if you sit at field level from first base all the way around to third base, you literally can’t see Monument Park. It’s more like Monument Alcove. What happened?

              

The Yankees can’t fix that but they can do this: in a stadium where clearly you’re encouraged to walk around or sit in a restaurant or watch half the game on TV, why not open Monument Park DURING THE GAME? I personally just like to go to the Stadium to watch the game. I care very little about the “extras.” But, apparently, many others do. So if you want them to mill around and spend money and eat in five-star (or whatever) restaurants, why not open Monument Park so anybody who wants to see it can see it.

         

WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE EMPTY SEATS?

               

Well, there were thousands of them at the three games I’ve been to in person. It’s not just the seats behind home – you know, the ones for the rich and famous. Up the third-base line, in two sections of what I’m told are $600 seats (but only $225 on the ticket – what’s up with that?), those sections are virtually always empty (although the Yankees are, apparently, giving away some of those seats to disgruntled season-ticket holders). And, if you’d like, you can go to Yankees.com right now and buy three season tickets in that area (between sections 115 and 125) and “get the fourth one FREE.” Yippee! How many of THOSE plans are they going to sell?

             

WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE SEATS WHERE YOU CAN’T SEE THE WHOLE FIELD?

            

The seats against the Mohegan Sun restaurant on either side in the bleachers are laugh-out-loud funny. They’ve literally mounted three big-screen TVs on each wall of the outside of the restaurant cause you can’t possibly see the other side of the field from where you are sitting. In other words, if you’re against the wall in the bleachers in left-center, you have no chance to see right field or maybe even parts of the infield.

            

But, hey, don’t worry, the Yankees solved that. You can watch it on TV and the seats are only $5. Isn’t that great? Go to the game to sit next to a wall and watch half the game on TV. Mistakes were made. What can the Yankees do? Unbelievable.

            

WHAT ABOUT THAT GREAT JUMBOTRON (OR WHATEVER IT’S CALLED)?

                 

Well, what about it. It’s big, it’s beautiful and it never shows you a negative Yankee replay. A guy on the other team hits a home run or makes a great play on the field. You won’t see it again on the big screen. A Yankee makes a mistake – sorry. A bang-bang play that doesn’t go the Yankees’ way. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the replay.

                

And, even though this may be the greatest big-screen TV in history, it only has room for what each batter did in three at-bats; if a player has been up four times, the biggest screen in the world can’t tell you what he did in all four previous at-bats. For example, Mark Teixeira homered in his fourth at-bat against Tampa Bay on Saturday, June 6th. When he came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the big board showed that he had popped up in the first, grounded out to short in the third and grounded out to short in the sixth. There was no room to tell you about that mammoth (Ruthian?) homer he had just hit in the eighth.

            

Now that’s something they have to be able to fix, no? You can’t make this stuff up.

         

HOW’S THE FOOD?

             

The food is great at those fancy restaurants. I was fortunate to go once to those close to the dugout expensive seats and eat in the fancy restaurant (as well as the Ketel Bar) at the game. While many people may want to do that (and that’s their right at $600 a pop), it seemed to me (as I was trying the lamb, I think) that this was over-the-top, opulent, something that the wealthy Romans would have had at the Coliseum if they had luxury suites way back when. When they start bringing you “free” food that you didn’t even order, it got to be a little weird. But, you know, it’s all part of the “experience,” it’s not just baseball, it’s “entertainment.”

              

Good grief!

               

When I got back to reality at the other two games, I had to take note of the $5 peanuts and the $5.75 Cracker Jack and the $4 cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (small, by the way). I went down to Johnny Rockets to look at the $17 burger and fries but passed on it in favor of the $5 water (a large). Yikes!

        

A buddy of mine had a great experience at the 11-inning loss to the Phillies on May 24th. He had heard that the hot fudge sundaes at the Delta Air Lines Suite were fabulous. He couldn’t wait to try one and so, when I saw that the line was long in the sixth inning, I told him to go on up. He came back 45 minutes later with a hot fudge sundae without the hot fudge (they had run out by the seventh inning). He also had to eat it with a fork (they had run out of spoons). But, hey, it was only eight bucks.

             

WHAT ABOUT THOSE FABULOUS OLD-TIME PICTURES OF THE YANKEE GREATS FROM YESTERYEAR?

           

They are truly fantastic. I encourage all of you to go see them. They give you a real sense of Yankee history. Except for one thing — THEY DON’T TELL YOU THE NAMES OF THESE GUYS. Seriously. The Yankees should immediately label every picture in the place (OK, maybe you can wait on pictures of the Babe. Gehrig, Dimaggio and Mantle). But 21st Century fans, for the most part, have no idea who Red Ruffing or Charlie Keller or Joe Gordon or (fill in 200 names here) are – they just don’t know. So, please, tell us.

          

IT’S A NICE PLACE TO VISIT …

           

It’s going to be a while before this remotely resembles the past – at least a championship or two. Until then, the least the Yankees can do is identify their greats of the past.

          

Oh, and one more thing, when I ask one of those guys with the “May I Help You” signs (there are dozens, maybe hundreds, walking around) if they can lower ticket prices, maybe they can now answer “Yes, come with me.” Just kidding. I think.

                  

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.