Monthly Archives: September 2009

THE YANKEES REALLY SHOULD BRING HIDEKI MATSUI BACK NEXT YEAR

                                                            Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

If you live in New York, you’ve heard it all season long and as recently as last week:  Hideki Matsui won’t be back next year, he’s too old and hurt, there’s “no room” for him on the 2010 roster and/or the Yankees have to “get younger.”

Possibly valid points at the beginning of the season with a guy, formerly indestructible, who was coming off two knee surgeries and couldn’t play in the field, especially in the expansive left field of Yankee Stadium.

But have any of these “experts” been watching this year?  Matsui has been a legitimate star and clutch player on a team loaded with stars.  To cut this man loose now (unless he wants to retire) would be, in this writer’s opinion, both bush league and a mistake.

WHY WRITE THIS ARTICLE NOW?

Well, it seems that this is already a done deal (or, at least, presented by some “experts” as such).  Matsui is having a stunning season for the Yankees and his numbers against lefthanders are staggering.  You don’t find guys like this hanging off of trees or even on the free agent list. 

Hopefully, this can sway the conversation to at least become an objective one:  this isn’t a cripple on his last legs who’s slogging through the final year of his contract as he’s just about to ride off into the sunset.  This is a very valuable player to the top franchise in baseball trying to win its first World Series in nine years.

LET’S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

While baseball has been overrun (and overanalyzed) with statistics in the last 20 years or so, they still tell you plenty and, combined with some baseball knowledge, can help give a complete picture of a player and his worth.  Matsui is off the charts in intangibles (hard worker, great guy in the clubhouse, great teammate by all accounts, perfect citizen, never says or does anything stupid, and a quiet, lead-by-example guy).  He’s also off the charts in his money-making ability for the Yankees – he’s opened up a cottage industry for the Yankees, making inroads into the Japanese market as baseball (and the Yankees) looks to go international (plus, he’s a lot more likeable than Ichiro).

But it’s what he does with a bat in his hands that, as always, is the final decision-maker for success or failure – or, it is submitted here, for bringing him back or not.  The overall numbers are terrific:  28 homers, 90 runs batted in and a .280 batting average are all excellent.  The power numbers, however, are awesome when you understand that they came in only 443 at-bats.

It’s deeper than that, however.  In 130 at-bats against lefties, Hideki Matsui has 13 homers and 46 runs batted in with a .285 average.  His on base percentage (OBP) against lefties is .361 and his slugging percentage is .623.  That makes his OPS .984.  Hello, hello, is anybody listening?

A lefty who hits a homer in one out of every ten official at-bats against lefties?  Do these guys actually exist?  And, if you have one, do you just let him go away?  I don’t think so.

Of course, there’s more.  I think even old-timers will like this stat at baseball-reference.com.  It’s called Late & Close.  It’s defined as “plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.”  How are Hideki Matsui’s numbers there?  Well, his batting average in 91 plate appearances (81 actual at-bats) over 69 games is .321.  His OBP is .396 and his slugging percentage is .617.  That’s a staggering OPS (on base plus slugging) of 1.013.  Amazing.

With two outs and runners in scoring position, the man has 26 RBIs in 65 at-bats.  His average is .277 but he’s been walked 18 times in his 84 plate appearances (.440 OBP) in this situation.  That’s a combination of a good eye (his is excellent) and pitchers not wanting him to beat them (although he beat the Red Sox on Sunday with a two-out, two-run single to clinch the AL East).

Some of these numbers are video-game numbers.  And the Yankees are just going to let him walk?

WHAT IF THE YANKEES WIN IT ALL?

With good pitching (still unclear but better of late), the Yankees, of course, can win it all.  And if Hideki Matsui wants to ride off into the sunset with a World Series ring, good for him.  But that should really be his choice.

It says here that the Yankees should offer Hideki Matsui a one or even two-year deal.  The money won’t be a big problem because Matsui, if he wants to play next year (why wouldn’t he?), probably wants to remain a Yankee. It’s weird to picture him in any other AL uniform (not Joe-Namath-in-a-Rams-uniform weird, but weird nonetheless).

Maybe, with a winter of rehab on his knees, Matsui could play 20 games in leftfield.  But even if he can’t, he could DH in 95-100 games (giving Joe Girardi 65 or so games to use others at DH) and be available for pinch-hitting duties in the rest.  Remember, it’s hard to calculate what it does to the opposing manager when you have a lefty in the line-up or on the bench who hits lefties as well as (better than?) righties.

Did I mention Hideki Matsui’s 2009 pinch-hit, video-game numbers?  His average is .381.  His OBP is .500.  His OPS is 1.119.  These are, of course, off the charts. 

Here’s hoping that the Yankees do the right thing and bring back a true professional, Hideki Matsui.  He’ll only help the team win.    

 © Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

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BEWARE THE “NO PLAXICO, NO PROBLEM” “EXPERTS,” ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE A GIANTS FAN

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Well, the Giants young receivers have really lit it up the first two weeks of the season.  Steve Smith and Mario Manningham have crashed the party and emerged as bona fide NFL receivers.  But before you (the hard-core Giant fan) buy into the fact that the Giants don’t need a Plaxico (or even an Amani Toomer), have an understanding of what the other teams are doing to defend the Giants. 

Steve Smith has caught 16 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown in the first two games.  Mario Manningham has been just as good, if not better, catching 13 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.  These are stunning numbers.  But it’s also pretty obvious what defenses, at least in the first two weeks of the season, are doing when they play the Giants.

WHY SO MANY PASSING YARDS?

That’s pretty easy to break down.  Clearly the game plan of both the Washington Redskins in Game 1 and the Dallas Cowboys in Game 2 was to stop Brandon Jacobs.  Jacobs seems to have been virtually invisible in the first two games, carrying 16 times for 46 yards against the Redskins and 16 times for 58 yards against the Cowboys.  But what that really means is that defenses decided from the get-go to put eight guys in the box most of the time, something that rarely, if ever, happened when Plaxico Burress commanded double-teams on virtually every play.

With virtually no double-teams on the wide receivers, Eli Manning, Smith and Manningham (with protection from an excellent offensive line) went to town and put up great numbers the first two weeks of the season.  But both of the teams they played did what they originally planned to do:  shut down Brandon Jacobs and the running game.  The Giants are only averaging 100 yards rushing per game – not the stuff playoff wins are made of (which is what you’re really talking about if you’re a hard core Giants fan).

WHAT WILL DEFENSES DO NOW AGAINST THE GIANTS?

At some point (probably sooner rather than later), since the Giants have shown they can throw the ball, defensive coordinators will have a tougher decision to make.  Should they not gang up on Jacobs and leave seven in the box?  Or should they do what the Redskins and Cowboys have done – shut down Jacobs but potentially get exposed in the passing game?

Well, that will be the week-to-week decision that defensive coordinators will have to make when they play the Giants.

BACK TO NO PLAXICO

It’s very clear to an intelligent Giants fan how much the loss of Plaxico really hurt the Giants last season.  It was never more obvious than in the playoff loss to the Eagles (see Kallas Remarks, 1/13/09, It (Virtually) All Goes Back to Plaxico). 

You may recall the play.  Very early in the game, the Giants drive down the field and have a third and eight from the Eagles nine with the game barely four minutes old.  This was Plaxico time:  you know, that Eli Manning fade into the end zone where Plaxico goes up and jumps over the two smaller defensive backs trying to defend him.  But with no Plaxico, Eli throws a short pass to Derrick Ward out of the backfield for five yards.  The Giants settle for an unsatisfying field goal — and it only got worse from there.  

So the Giants can and should get enormous credit for quickly developing a passing game.  But what’s really happened is that they’ve been successful against defenses geared to stopping the run.  If and when defensive coordinators believe they have to go double-team a Steve Smith or a Mario Manningham, you’ll see their numbers go down and Jacobs’ rushing yards go up.

That’s one of the beautiful things about football:  it’s a balancing act between rushing the ball and passing the ball.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM IF YOU’RE A GIANTS FAN?

The problem is that, come the swirling winds and cold of maybe November, and probably December and January, it’s hard to throw the ball all over the field, especially at Giants Stadium.  So the balancing act is skewed towards stopping the run later in the season.

That’s when the real test will start for the New York Giants.  They’ve passed the first test in nice weather.

But it will be very hard for them to pass the final test in a playoff game in January because, no matter what you hear, they still haven’t replaced Plaxico.  Beware the “No Plaxico, No Problem” “experts.”

We’ll see what happens.               

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

KENTUCKY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH ACQUITTED IN 90 MINUTES; LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It took a jury only about 90 minutes to acquit former high school football coach Jason Stinson of felony charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment in the death of sophomore football player Max Gilpin last year.  While the verdict was not at all surprising (see Kallas Remarks, 9/14/09 – The Prosecution Rests; Hard to Believe a Jury Will Convict a Kentucky High School Football Coach of Reckless Homicide), its speed was somewhat surprising.  But there are no winners here, even though Coach Stinson keeps his freedom and will probably coach football again.

 THE CONFLICTING EVIDENCE

 As previously discussed in the prior column, there was just too much conflicting evidence not to give rise to lots of reasonable doubt.  Experts were at both ends of the spectrum; the prosecution’s expert said Max Gilpin’s life could have easily been saved (although that wasn’t really the issue in the criminal trial of a football coach); the defense came forward with its own experts who stated that this was a terrible accident, not a homicide.  If this were a sporting event, you could have turned your TV sets off right there since dueling experts (especially very credible ones on the defense side) almost always hurts the prosecution. 

 That’s what happened in this case.

 But there was lots more conflict.  Some players thought it was an amazingly tough practice.  Others thought it was hard but not brutal.  Max Gilpin’s father (who was there on that fateful day) said, after the tragedy, that the coaches had done nothing wrong.  But he would later change his mind and join in a civil suit (still pending, by the way) against Stinson and other coaches.  Some parents at a neighboring soccer game were appalled at the way practice was conducted.  Other people thought it was “just football.”  The medical issues (was Max Gilpin still taking creatine?; did the Adderall he was taking contribute to his death?; was he sick the night before and day of his death?) gave room for some good defense-lawyering and some difficult hoops for prosecutors to try and jump through.

 It was hard to expect a conviction on this kind of first-time prosecution.  And, not surprisingly, there wasn’t one.

 LESSONS TO BE LEARNED IN THE WAKE OF THIS TRAGEDY

 Well, there are plenty of them.  Michele Gilpin, Max’s mother, said after the trial, that the purpose of the trial was to “bring awareness” to these issues.  While one could argue that the pending civil suit would have brought awareness, nobody can argue that the bringing of a novel criminal case got the attention of coaches, parents and school districts all over the country.  Changes have already been, and will be, made in school districts all over the country.

For example, Ms. Gilpin is correct when she said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, that “[t]here’s already been so many changes because of this.”   Jeff Gilpin correctly added to that statement “in a positive way.”

And they are both right.  Already in Kentucky, it is now a law (in the wake of Max’s death) that high school coaches must complete training in sports safety and first aid for heat stroke emergencies.  It seems that, across the country, virtually everybody associated with high school and even college sports is simply more aware of the issues.  In the New York area, most coaches and athletic directors, already vigilant in the 21st century at protecting our youth (the “Junction Boys” days are long gone, although the mentality, sometimes, is still around), are going out of their way to take even more precautions.

In the wake of the death of Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer and now, Max Gilpin, there is simply a higher level of awareness on these issues.

CAN WE SOLVE THE NO-TRAINER PROBLEM NOW?

One of the biggest problems that confronts Kentucky and many other states (including, surprisingly, New York) is that there is no mandatory requirement that a certified athletic trainer be in the employ of a high school.  If one really good thing comes out of the Max Gilpin tragedy, it will be a national movement to require that trainers be at all high schools during practices and games.  While many will argue that it’s simply economically unfeasible to do this, it is submitted here that school districts and/or booster clubs must find a way to get this expense into the school budget and/or find a way to pay for it through other means.

It’s simply a huge hole that must be filled sooner rather than later.  The child’s life you save may be that of your own child.       

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

THE PROSECUTION RESTS; HARD TO BELIEVE A JURY WILL CONVICT A KENTUCKY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH OF RECKLESS HOMICIDE

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Many of you know the history of the prosecution of Kentucky high school football coach Jason Stinson, indicted for reckless homicide and wanton endangerment in the death of one of his players, Max Gilpin (see Kallas Remarks, 2/1/09).  On Monday evening, the prosecution rested its case against Mr. Stinson and the defense, after its motion to dismiss the case was (not surprisingly) denied, will present its case in the next few days.  Some believe that the jury will get the case by Friday.

 Given the prosecution’s case, and some evidence derived from the defense lawyers’ cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, it’s hard to believe that a Louisville, Kentucky jury will find this well-liked, former University of Louisville football star guilty of either reckless homicide or wanton endangerment.  The evidence discussed below comes from this writer watching the actual trial and/or from articles in the Louisville Courier-Journal, which has covered this case extensively from the beginning.

While, obviously, not all of the evidence is discussed below, there seems to be enough conflicting evidence to raise serious questions as to whether the prosecution can prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

THE PROSECUTION’S EXPERT WITNESS

The prosecution called Doug Casa, the director of athletic-training education at the University of Connecticut, who is a nationally-recognized expert on heat-related illnesses.  Casa, not a medical doctor, testified very aggressively on behalf of the prosecution.  He said that saving Max Gilpin’s life, after he collapsed on the practice field on August 20, 2008, was “guaranteed” if Gilpin had been immediately taken to the school’s locker room and put in an iced whirlpool.  Casa said that “[n]o kid should ever die from heat stroke” and, if immersed in the whirlpool with ice, “[o]bviously, this would have been life-saving.”

But this kind of testimony might cut both ways with the jury.  Defense attorneys elicited some interesting information on cross-examination of Casa.  For example, it was brought out through this witness that the defendant was not one of the people who was treating Max Gilpin on the field (indeed, later in the trial, when the prosecution played an audio tape of Coach Stinson’s police interview, Coach Stinson said that, the last time he saw Max Gilpin after running “gassers” (and before he collapsed), Gilpin was walking off the field under his own power.  Stinson stated he never saw Gilpin either in distress or when he collapsed).

The prosecution’s expert also admitted on cross that Kentucky high school coaches are not taught that athletes suffering from possible heat stroke should be immersed in ice water.  To make matters worse for the prosecution, Casa admitted that coaches in Kentucky receive approximately 10 minutes (yes, minutes) of training on heat illnesses every two (yes, two) years.  Finally, the prosecution’s expert admitted that the jury could not expect a coach to know as much as an athletic trainer, which Pleasure Ridge Park High School did not have at the time of the player’s collapse on the field.

If anything, this seems to be more of an indictment of the reaction to what happened after Max Gilpin’s collapse and to the fact that the high school did not have a trained, athletic trainer on the grounds.  The defendant had nothing to do with any of this.

OTHER CONFLICTING TESTIMONY

On the issue of whether or not Max Gilpin was dehydrated (part of the main allegations against Coach Stinson was that he denied the players water), there is much conflicting testimony.  For example, two doctors, who were at the emergency room when Max was taken to the hospital, testified to, among other things, whether Max was dehydrated when he came to the emergency room.  Dr. Leslie Greenwell, a pediatric emergency physician who was the first doctor to treat Max, testified that he was probably hydrated while Dr. Katherine Potter, a pediatric intensive care doctor who treated Max later that night, testified that he was a victim of heat stroke and dehydration.

Max Gilpin’s father also testified as part of the prosecution’s case.  Unfortunately for the prosecution, Jeff Gilpin told the media in Louisville, shortly after the incident, that the coaches who were at the practice when his son collapsed had not done anything wrong and tried as best they could to help his son.  Over time, his beliefs changed and he would wind up joining a civil suit that his ex-wife, Max’s mother, had filed against, among others, the coaches, including Coach Stinson (that suit is pending).

Various players have testified that the practice was a brutal one, where kids were running “gassers” and were deprived of water.  However, there is other testimony that the practice was a hard one, not brutal, that kids were given water breaks and that kids could walk or jog at their own pace during the “gassers” (or, in at least one case, stop if they weren’t feeling well).  Indeed, the prosecution’s expert, Mr. Casa, said that, while 8-10 of the players showed signs of heat illness (including one prior collapse), such as nausea or vomiting, he did not recall Max Gilpin being one of them before his collapse.

Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Sam Weakley also testified during the prosecution’s case.  But his initial testimony was that, after reviewing medical records and talking to the Gilpin family, he deemed Max Gilpin’s death a “horrible accident.”  He interestingly testified that he will now wait for the outcome of the trial to see if he will change his opinion on the reason for Max’s death in his coroner’s report.

WHAT’S THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS TESTIMONY?

Well, the point, in theory, is to prove Coach Stinson’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  But, in this writer’s opinion, there seems to be a lot of reasonable doubt to go around.  While this coach seems to be more “old school,” you know, the hard-driving former college star who works his team hard, it’s a far cry (in this writer’s opinion), given the evidence, to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of reckless homicide, especially since, if a trainer or a better-trained coach (that is, better-trained by school or state standards) had been there, Max Gilpin’s life would have been saved, according to the prosecution’s expert.

WHAT ABOUT THE WANTON ENDANGERMENT CHARGE?

A felony in its own right, it would seem to be almost impossible to convict this coach of this charge.  The Courier-Journal interviewed a number of legal experts prior to the start of the actual trial.  One was Robert Lawson, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law.  Professor Lawson told the Courier-Journal that the wanton endangerment charge requires proof that the defendant knew of the risks to Max Gilpin’s health and that he consciously disregarded them.  He told the Courier-Journal that “[t]hey [the prosecution] must prove he saw the risk and said, ‘to hell with it, I’m going to do it anyway.’”

This is important on two levels.  First, this coach, in his audio tape, testified to police that one of his players, who had asthma, slowed down during the “gassers” and told the coach he couldn’t run anymore.  The coach asked him if he had his inhaler.  After the player said no, he told the player to stop running.  The point being that, along with testimony that kids ran the “gassers” at their own speed, some even walking, this does not seem to be the kind of coach who saw a risk and ignored it.  If anything, this is the exact opposite.

Additionally, there is at least some evidence that Max Gilpin was taking creatine, at least in the spring of 2008 (something Coach Stinson said he never knew about until after the fact).  Of course, it’s a disputed issue as to when he stopped taking the creatine and what, if anything, it did to Max Gilpin’s health.

Second, according to the Courier-Journal, Professor Lawson is the main author on Kentucky’s laws on crime and punishment and, presumably (although not dispositively) would have the best understanding of the law as written.

THE DEFENSE STILL HAS TO PRESENT THEIR CASE

According to defense counsel, they had not decided (as of early Monday), whether or not Coach Stinson will take the stand.  Of course, he’s already “testified” as the prosecution played an audio tape of his police interview.  During this interview, Coach Stinson comes across as calm but upset that he had, in his words, lost “one of my boys.”  He went over, in great detail, what had happened that day (8/20/08), but while he was in charge of the “gassers,’ he simply didn’t see Max collapse, saw Max walking at the conclusion of the gassers with no signs of distress and was not involved in his post-collapse care.

The defense will apparently introduce as evidence a deposition of Dr. William Smock, a doctor who has worked closely in the past with the local police on various matters.  A professor of emergency medicine at the University of Louisville, Dr. Smock reportedly will testify via deposition (if admitted) that he believes that Max Gilpin’s death was a tragic accident and not a homicide.

One would think that this testimony will give jurors further reason to find reasonable doubt in the case against Coach Stinson.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

For the defendant, he will have to wait for the jury’s verdict, probably some time next week.  If he is convicted, there will certainly be an appeal.  He’ll lose his civil suit, if convicted, because of the different standards of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal trial v. preponderance of the evidence in the civil one).

It says here that a conviction is unlikely, although one never really knows what a jury will do with any given case.

But there’s a much bigger picture here.  After speaking with a number of coaches in the New York area, many, while already taking great precautions with respect to hydration and water breaks, etc. (both this trial and the death of former Minnesota Viking player Korey Stringer were cited by some coaches), are watching the outcome of this trial.  Most believe that this was a hard-driving but well-meaning coach who in no way wanted to hurt (let alone kill) a sophomore in high school. 

It says here that this is really the clash of the old versus the new, with the defendant somewhere in-between.  As recently as the 1970s, kids were routinely not allowed to drink water during practices (think about that).  In fact, it was a major sign of weakness if you even wanted water during practice.  Obviously, cooler and more intelligent heads have prevailed over the last 25 years or so and most coaches go out of their way to make sure that their players are well-hydrated. 

In addition, the bigger picture here may have to do with training and trainers.  It’s stunning to find out that a number of states, including Kentucky, do not require to have at the school a trained, certified athletic trainer.  Before anyone discusses the economics of this, remember that at least one expert firmly states that knowledge of how to treat this would easily have saved Max Gilpin’s life.  Here’s hoping that all states will require a trainer to be on hand at the school to protect these kids.  If the economics are too brutal, at a minimum, all coaches should be required to be better-trained in recognizing, and implementing procedures to deal with, dehydration and heat stroke. 

After all, the life you save may be that of “one of your boys.”          

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

FOR THE NY GIANTS, IT’S NOT JUST NO PLAX; IT’S NO TOOMER AS WELL

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Whatever they publicly say (we have a great defense, we have a great running game, etc.), the reality is that the New York Giants have done a woeful job with their present wide receiving corp.  It’s old news that the Giants couldn’t replace Plaxico Burress when they decided to cut ties with him last year; indeed, if you follow the Giants, you know it hurt them tremendously, in general, and specifically in the playoffs against the Eagles (see Kallas Remarks, 1/13/09).

Flying under the radar is the loss of old reliable Amani Toomer.  If Plaxico Burress was always Eli Manning’s security blanket when he was in trouble (you know, throw it up and Plaxico had a better chance than anyone to catch it), Amani Toomer was the older, wiser veteran who would find a way to get open and catch the ball from Eli.  Toomer’s numbers in the last two seasons combined were vital to the Giants’ success – 117 receptions, 1340 yards, an average of 12.5 yards per catch.  These are solid numbers that are necessary to supplement the star plays of a Burress – if you want to win Super Bowls.  In addition, 72 of those 117 catches went for first downs. 

 These numbers are going to be greatly missed by this year’s Giants’ offense.

 WHAT’S A QUARTERBACK TO DO?

 Well, despite Eli Manning’s Super Bowl success, nobody puts him on the level of the elite quarterbacks.  The problem for him now is that he has much less to throw to, despite (probably) a great defense and (probably) a great running game.  Manning, with that Super Bowl win and staggering new contract, may have already done his best work with the forever Miracle Drive, Miracle Catch and Miracle Win over the unbeatable Patriots.  But he got what he got out of a great sense of timing, if nothing else.

WHO’S FILLING THIS VOID?

Now that’s a tough question.  Steve Smith is a solid receiver but is he enough to pave the way?  Unlikely, it says here, although the Giants running game should give Eli lots of chances downfield in the passing game.  Is rookie Hakeem Nicks the answer to no Plaxico?  Well, he played well in the pre-season with some big-time plays.  But he’s a 6’-1” rookie, so that’s a lot to ask.  Rookie Ramses Barden is 6”6”, but if size alone could replace a Plaxico, every team would have a 6”6” receiver. 

 It just ain’t that simple.

Maybe Domenik Hixon? Sinorice Moss? My favorite coming out of Michigan last year, Mario Manningham?  Well, maybe yes, maybe no.

And that’s the problem for the New York Giants.  They have a lot of maybes at the wide receiver position.  And while they will do fine during the regular season (hard to see them missing the playoffs), it’s really in the playoffs where the lack of a playmaker like Plaxico and a solid receiver like Toomer really come back to haunt you.

WHAT DOES ELI MANNING THINK?

As you would expect, Eli Manning is saying all the right things.  He thinks he has playmakers at the wide receiver position, and hopefully he’s right.  But when he starts talking about beating the Redskins without Plaxico last year by throwing the ball after Washington put an extra man in the box to limit bruiser Brandon Jacobs, he talks about his 40-yard TD pass to Amani Toomer – as if Toomer is back this year.

Well, he’s not.

So the Giants are good enough on defense (no Steve Spagnuolo, but they get Osi Umenyiora back) and have a good enough running game (despite the loss of Derrick Ward’s 1,025 yards and 5.6 yards per carry).  But can all of this overcome the huge loss of Plaxico Burress AND Amani Toomer? 

Hard to imagine that it will be enough to make it all the way back to the Promised Land.  We’ll see.   

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

Steve on Rick Wolff’s The Sports Edge 9/06/09

s28671The pending trial of a Kentucky HS football coach who has been charged with “reckless homicide” in the death of one of his players;   what every coach, parent, and athlete needs to know.

LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES PITCH COUNTS STILL TERRIBLE IN 2009

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

When legendary Dr. James Andrews and his second-in-command, Dr. Glen Fleisig, made pitch-count recommendations to USA Baseball which were then made to, among others, Little League Baseball, they recommended 75 pitches per game and 100 pitches per week for 11-12 year-olds.  When Little League ran their pilot program in 2005 and 2006, they finished the program by allowing these same-aged pitchers to throw 85 pitches per game and, with four days rest, throw another 85 for a total of 170 in six days. 

In 2007, when the Little League pitch count became mandatory, Little League, without telling anyone, changed the days of rest from the pilot program’s four days to just three days.  Worse, for the Williamsport Tournament, Little League required only two days of rest (seriously) with one game in between.  Thus, 12-year-old Johnnie could legally (and Little League-sanctioned) throw up to 170 pitches in only four days and up to 225 pitches in only seven days.  Remember that the following numbers are always measured against the doctors’ recommendations to Little League of 75 pitches per game and 100 pitches per week. 

THE 2009 LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES (“LLWS”) 

While there are a number of Little League pitchers who threw astronomical amounts of pitches in four days, the first pitcher to focus on is Raymundo Berrones of Mexico.  Berrones threw 85 pitches on 8/22, 87 pitches on 8/26 and pitched poorly on 8/30, throwing 57 pitches to get only four outs in a consolation game (had he pitched well he no doubt would have reached the 255+ mark). 

In any event, Berrones threw 229 pitches in nine days, a staggering number for a kid who should only be throwing in the neighborhood of 100 in seven days (according to the doctors).  To compare, in the same time frame, good major league pitchers like Matt Garza (Tampa Bay – 198) and Chad Billingsley (LA Dodgers – 193) threw less.  Indeed, top pitchers like Chris Carpenter (St. Louis – 200), Mark Buerhle (White Sox – 201) and A.J. Burnett (Yankees – 202) didn’t throw as many during the same period. 

You had to go to stud pitchers like Tim Lincecum (S.F. Giants – a staggering 248) and C.C. Sabathia (Yankees – 231) to find pitchers who threw more than the Little Leaguer in the same time frame. 

IT’S WORSE THIS YEAR FOR FOUR DAYS 

The bigger problem in 2009 came for pitches thrown in four days.  For example, Trae Cropp, pitching for the Midwest, threw 86 pitches on 8/21 and, on TWO days rest, threw a staggering 90 pitches on 8/24 for a total of 176 in four days (remember, the 85 limit can be raised because you are allowed to finish the batter you throw your 85th pitch to).  Other staggering totals:  Marcelo Martinez of Mexico (173 in four days); William Mansfield of the Northwest team (162 in four days); and Jose Martinez of the Latin American team (156 in four days). 

To compare, the major league pitchers who threw as many or more pitches than these Little League kids threw in this time frame include …, include…, include…, well, NOBODY.  Nobody in major league baseball would throw a pitcher today on two days rest (shades of Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series).  The pitching coach and/or manager would certainly be fired if they tried to do it on a regular basis. 

And remember, the absurd numbers of the kids above is perfectly legal under Little League rules and has nothing to do with kids pitching in any other league. 

No matter what anybody tells you, this is a big, big problem. 

WHAT CAN REALLY BE DONE? 

Well, here’s what can really be done:  Steve Keener, President of Little League, is on the record as saying that, if Dr. James Andrews came to Keener and said the 255 in seven or 170 in four is too much, Keener and Little League would “take a look at it.”  Dr.  Andrews is clearly concerned with these big pitch numbers for young kids.  In fact, Dr. Andrews is starting his own “Council of Champions” to deal with this and other youth sports issues. 

Dr. Andrews, who should be considered a national hero for getting Little League to institute the original pitch-count rule, can now improve the rule by convincing Little League to go BACK to the way it was during the pitch-count pilot program – that is, four days of rest between starts.  If nothing else, that would put kids on a par with professional pitchers who routinely throw with four days of rest. 

Little League, an entity which should also be highly commended for instituting the original pitch-count rule, has gone the wrong way by watering down the days of rest so as to make pitch counts unrecognizable compared to the original doctors’ recommendations (today’s 255 pitches in seven days in no way resembles the 100 pitches in seven days originally recommended by the doctors and USA Baseball). 

If Steve Keener will listen to Dr. Andrews, who is now on the Little League Board of Directors, then hopefully Dr. Andrews will speak to Steve Keener and tell him this is simply too much and too dangerous for young arms. 

With the recent attempts by some doctors to “change the conversation” on curve ball use (see Kallas Remarks, 7/31/09) to focus more on overuse, how can anyone in good conscience allow children to continue to throw more than major leaguers?  It simply makes no sense.     

Here’s hoping that Dr. James Andrews will step up to the plate again and inform Steve Keener and the powers-that-be at Little League International that their pitch count is just too high and is hurting young kids’ arms. 

If he does, hopefully Little League won’t throw him a curve ball (pun intended).  We’ll see what (if anything) happens for 2010.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.