Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Lingo for the Modern Bowler

I grew up in Central New York where the Winters were long and the best places to spend them were at the local bowling establishments.  This was back when you had to keep score by hand, really good bowlers averaged just over 200 (or under), and your choice of bowling balls was limited to black dots and white dots.  Strike designations included double, turkey, four-bagger, and six pack, among others.  More recently, the term "hambone" has become popular on the Pro Bowler's Tour when someone throws four strikes in a row.  These terms have served the sport well.  But just like the changes in equipment, lane conditions, and bowling attire, strike combinations could use an upgrade.

During our most recent visit to the alleys, I had a pretty decent game going.  When I got to three strikes in a row, the screen for the automatic scorer flashed "Turkey".  This prompted my wife to ask what that meant.  I went on to explain to her how three strikes in a row was called a turkey, four in a row being a four-bagger, etc.  After commenting about how stupid the names were, my wife decided to come up with a new designation for all the strike combinations starting with the aforementioned turkey.  Here's her list.  We'll call it, Stringing Strikes 2012.

3 in a row (Turkey) -  Still Turkey.  Gotta have some tradition in the game.
4 in a row (4-bagger) - Owl.  Owls look like they wear glasses, also known as four eyes.  Obviously.
5 in a row (5-bagger) - Hawk.  A cooler bird than Owl.
6 in a row (Six pack) - Falcon.  Still cooler.
7 in a row  - Pterodactyl.  The king of birds. (Except it was a dinosaur, but go with it).
8 in a row  - Octopus.  Needed something that had eight somethings.
9 in a row  - Giant Squid.  Bigger and badder than the octopus.
10 in a row - Killer Whale.  Again, bigger and badder.
11 in a row - Narwhal.  I mean, have you seen the horn.  It's like the unicorn of the sea.
12 in a row (Perfect game) - Unicorn.  It's magical.  Enough said.

So there you have it.  Bowling has officially been brought into 2012.  I hope to one day be at the alleys and watch a kid throw his sixth straight strike and scream out "Falcon!"  Or have my teammates congratulate me on my first "Unicorn".  Until then, I still have my two "Narwhal" awards on my wall.    

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NFL Play-off Picture Coming Into Focus

Here are some questions that still need to be answered going into Week 16 of the NFL Regular Season:

1)  Can anyone take the crown from the Packers?

So far the Packers have been the clear best team in the NFL.  But, last week they finally slipped up against a less than prolific Chiefs squad that is fighting to finish at .500.  Has the grind of the regular season and trying to go undefeated gotten to the defending champs?  Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain.   The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Lambeau Field.

2)  Who wants the NFC East?

In a season where the Eagles were huge preseason favorites to win the division, the NFC East has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in football.  After a quick start, the Redskins have fallen on hard times until a recent win at the Giants.  The Cowboys have shown flashes of dominance, along with as many collapses.  And the Giants have battled injuries and inconsistent effort each week to hang around the division lead all season.  Eagles can still win the division if they beat Dallas and the Giants lose to the Jets.  But, I see the Giants defeating the Jets and setting up a winner take all matchup with the Cowboys at Met Life Stadium in Week 17.

3)  Who winds up with the top pick in the draft?

In a season that has seen the Colts struggle and Peyton Manning receive consideration for the MVP without playing a down all year, the easy money is on the Colts receiving the first pick in the 2012 draft. However, after their first win against a solid Tennessee squad, it doesn't look as obvious that Indy will be picking first.  With Minnesota and St. Louis both sitting at 2-12, the last two weeks will be just as intriguing for who makes the play-offs as it will for who gets the option to draft Andrew Luck.  I still see the Colts finishing with the worst record, and in doing so we have seen the last of Peyton Manning in a Colts uniform.

4)  Who wants the AFC West?

Similar to the NFC East, this division has been up for grabs.  San Diego started hot, then lost six in a row, but have now started to show life.  Denver turned to Tim Tebow and have won six of his eight starts.  The Raiders and Chiefs can win or lose to any team in the league.  Which sets up a possibility that any of the four teams can make the play-offs.  I'm going with Denver.

5)  Sleeper teams to keep an eye on.

Lately it seems that it isn't the team with the best record that makes it to the Super Bowl, but the team that is on the biggest roll going into the play-offs that have the advantage.  Who could those sleeper teams be this year?  New Orleans and New England have both won six games in a row and are coming off big wins.  As far as potential wild card contenders go, San Diego, Atlanta, and Detroit have the best chances of turning a late season run into something bigger.  Atlanta can build its momentum by winning at New Orleans this coming Monday Night.  Detroit still has a game with Green Bay to get it going, and San Diego has two road games to finish out their season.


AFC Division Winners:  New England, Baltimore, Denver, Houston
AFC Wild Cards:  Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
NFC Division Winners:  Dallas, Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans
NFC Wild Cards:  Detroit, Atlanta

AFC Championship:  New England over Pittsburgh
NFC Championship:  Green Bay over New Orleans

Super Bowl:  Green Bay over New England

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sports Shooting Themselves in the Foot, Part 1

I came home last night expecting to watch the Heisman Trophy ceremony and relax.  What I saw flashing across the screen was a shock.  2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun had tested positive for a performance enhancing substance and was facing a 50 game suspension.  And in one statement, all the good will that had been generated by baseball since drug testing was stiffened in the 2007 season went out the door.

Braun was the poster child for the new age of baseball, one where talent and hard work were the only ways to get ahead.  He had just recently signed a 5 yr, $105M contract extension that will keep him with Milwaukee through the 2020 season.  He, along with Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, Evan Longoria of the Rays, and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, are leading a new era where young players sign long term deals with the teams that developed them, trading in the opportunity to hit the free agent market for the stability and security of knowing where you will be for the next decade.  In a sport where most teams are seen as farm systems for high revenue franchises, these players gave their fans a reason to be excited about their teams for the long term. 

I have had Braun on my fantasy team for several seasons now, so I am aware of his skills.  He has consistently been a top 10 fantasy performer and is a force in all five basic categories.  During his MVP campaign this past season, he hit .332 (2nd in NL) with 33 HR’s (6th) and 111 RBI’s (4th).  Not to mention he scored 109 runs and had 33 SB’s.  He was ROY in 2007 and has been an All-Star and Silver Slugger award winner every year since.  All the while performing on a mid-market team in Milwaukee, leading them to their first division title since 1982, when they were in the American League East.

And now it appears that Braun has been cheating.  The typical ratio of testosterone produced by the body compared to epitestosterone is 1 to 1.  MLB considers a positive test when the levels become over 4 to 1.  If there is a positive test, the sample gets checked for synthetic, or non-man made, testosterone.  According to reports, this was found in Braun’s sample, indicating steroid use.  Braun has denied the allegations and is appealing the test.  But, the damage has been done, not only to Braun’s reputation, but to baseball’s supposed cleaning up of the sport.

More details are sure to follow as the appeal is heard and second tests are discussed.  Being a Mets fan I should be happy that the Brewers are most likely going to be without their top two offensive players from last season, with Braun being suspended for the first 50 games, and Prince Fielder likely to sign elsewhere.  But, being a baseball fan, I can only hope that it is determined that Braun’s test was inaccurate.  The sport is coming off one of the most exciting finishes to the regular season, along with a great World Series.  Not to mention over two decades of labor agreements without a work stoppage.  Fans are coming back to the ballparks.  Teams like the Marlins and Angels, hardly the biggest spenders in the past, have signed the largest free agent deals this off-season. 

One can argue that the testing has worked.  And with the implementation of HGH testing in the next year, it will only get better.  But, news like this only adds to the skepticism of what used to be the Nation’s pastime.  Will it ever get back to that?  Or has the damage been done?  Only time will have the answer to that.  As a baseball fan, I can only hope the game is on the right track.

Monday, December 5, 2011

So long Jose Reyes

Deep down inside I think I knew this was the way it was going to end.  Even back in June I was saying I needed to get some wear out of my t-shirt before it became outdated and needed to be retired.  But it still doesn’t change the way I feel.  Losing Jose Reyes to the division rival Miami Marlins just plain sucks.

Granted, it hasn’t always been the smoothest ride.  How many times did I watch him get picked off first or get thrown out because he wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t hustling out of the box?  How many times did I watch him go on the DL with another injury?  How many times did I sit and wonder when or if he was going to reach this “potential” everyone kept talking about?  More often than I want to admit in all three cases.

But, there is just something about being able to root for a talented, exciting, home grown player.  A player that made his major league debut a day before his 20th birthday.  A player who has been the longest tenured member of the roster for the past several seasons.  A player who just won the first batting title in franchise history.  A player who brings you to your feet every time he hits the ball into one of the gaps.  A player who has been selected to the All Star Game four times, won the silver slugger in 2006, led the league in stolen bases from ‘05-’07, and triples four times.  A player that unites different cultures.  Someone the fans can look up to.

But, let’s be realists.  Even with all the past adorations and typical attachment that fans have to players, I can’t fault the Mets for not bringing Reyes back.  With few exceptions, signing a player to a 6+ year contract, in excess of $100M, does not make smart business sense.  But, here is where the debate escalates.  Shouldn’t the Mets be able to spend the money needed to keep Reyes while still having enough reserves to fill out the rest of the roster?  Who cares if the last couple years are dead weight?  This is, after all, New York. 

Let’s look at the length of the contract.  Reyes will be 28 years old on Opening Day 2012.  Fast forward to year six, and he will begin the 2017 season at 34 years old, and 35 if his option invests for 2018.  It would seem that is hardly ancient history in the baseball universe.  But, for someone whose game is highly predicated on speed, this could become ugly for the Marlins, and quickly.  I point out two players who I feel fit Reyes’ profile quite well:  Roberto Alomar and Luis Castillo.  Yes, THAT Luis Castillo.

Alomar was 33 while in his final season with Cleveland in 2001.  He hit 20 HR’s, had 12 triples, drove in 100 runs, all while batting .336 and stealing 30 bases.  Oh, and he did this while winning his 10th gold glove and making his 12th consecutive All Star Game appearance.  The Mets acquired him in a blockbuster deal, a piece many expected to help them get back to the post-season after missing the play-offs in 2001. 

Alomar proceeded to hit .266 with the Mets in 2002, with 11 HR’s, 4 triples, 53 RBI’s, and 16 SB’s.  He followed that up in the first half of his age 35 season with a .262 average, 2 HR’s, 1 triple, and 6 SB’s before the Mets cut him loose by trading him to the White Sox.  This was a player that made the Hall of Fame on the second time he showed up on the ballot and rarely missed any time due to injuries.

As for Castillo, he led the league in SB’s twice and hit over .300 eight times in his career, including 2009 with the Mets when he was a shell of his former self.  However, while performing at a Gold Glove level from ’03-’05 while making the All Star Game three times, Castillo started to lose most of his range in his age 30 season with Minnesota to the point where he was considered a below average defensive second baseman when he was traded to the Mets in 2007.  And we all know where it went from there.

Castillo was never the player he once was while with the Mets.  He missed many games due to leg injuries during both the ’08 and ’10 seasons, and was released before the end of Spring Training last year, his final year of his contract.  His contract is just one of the many examples of past failures with the Minaya administration, and should provide a tale of caution to players who rely on speed going into their 30’s.

Granted, both Alomar and Castillo were second basemen.  But, the fact that Reyes is a short stop instead should only amplify the reasoning behind this argument.  It is quite possible, and highly probable, that Reyes will need to move to second base sometime during this contract due to a deterioration of his defensive skills and a reduction in his range in future seasons.  This likelihood only adds to the risk that the Marlins are taking with him. 

This leads me to the next question.  Why didn’t Alderson and the Mets try to trade Reyes if they didn’t think they’d be able to sign him to a deal that worked for them?  Why didn’t they try to sign him to a shorter extension after taking over as GM last off-season?  Those are honestly valid questions, and ones that will be discussed in length throughout the off-season.  My best guess is the injuries limited what the Mets could get in return for Reyes in the trade market, and the team expected to be able to compete for him on the Free Agent market with two 1st round picks the consolation prize for losing him to another team.

I highly doubt that Alderson could have predicted that the Marlins would be the team to sign Reyes, and compounded with the changes to the CBA, the Mets would be stuck with Miami’s third round pick along with the supplemental pick between the first and second rounds.  If he had that knowledge, I’m sure he would have looked a little harder to trade Reyes at the deadline. 

Then again, Jose was just coming off the disabled list as the All Star break ended and his value was quite a bit lower than during the beginning of the season.  A second trip to the DL was probably enough to make Alderson want to roll the dice going into the off-season.  Obviously we can sit here and second guess the front office all we want, but we don’t know what the offers were for Jose and what Alderson thought he could get with the picks in the upcoming draft.

But what about the extension last off-season?  Reyes was coming off two consecutive years with an injury, and was in no way showing signs of the season he was about to have.  Looking back, I’m sure Alderson wishes he would have offered a three year extension to Reyes last off-season to keep him through his age 30 season.  But, again, it’s easy to second guess at this point and there were no guarantees that Jose was going to perform any better than he had up to that point. 

And such is the predicament of the Mets going forward.  Not only do they have to rebuild the farm system after several years of trading away talent and bringing in limited replacements.   But the Mets also have to become viable financially again.  The Mets shouldn’t be forced to search through the bargain bin each year during free agency.  The Mets shouldn’t be worried about losing their home grown talent.  They should be able to make any deal that they want.  The only question should be whether they want a certain player, and not if they can afford him.

As a Mets fan I can only hope that the financial state of the franchise improves in the near future.  I feel like the organization has taken some steps forward in the past year in regards to player development and talent evaluation.  However, if the Mets are not able to keep the talent they develop or sign the missing pieces to the puzzle through free agency, then they will not be able to compete on a consistent basis going forward. 

Which leads me to my final thought.  If the current financial state of the Mets continues throughout this season and into next off-season, the commissioner needs to make it a priority to force a change with the Mets ownership.  No team should be hamstrung by the personal problems of their owner.  Especially a team in a major market.  The organization deserves to have the resources necessary to support the team.  The fans deserve the opportunity to root on its home grown talent.  And the players deserve the satisfaction of knowing that the team will do whatever it takes to add the necessary pieces to win.  This is, after all, New York.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Ultimate BCS Moment

So just when you think the college football season couldn’t get any dumber, it goes and pulls something like this…..and totally redeems itself!  I mean, how can any sports fan be upset with the kind of system altering chaos that has developed in the last two weeks of the season?  First it was Stanford getting knocked around by Oregon on its home field while Boise State lost its first regular season home game in 13 years.  That, in itself, was quite disruptive to the BCS system and set up some interesting debates.  But it was just a precursor of what was to come.

The real drama began Friday night with a second and way more chaotic weekend in college football.  While many experts thought Oklahoma State might lose one of its final two games, not one that I saw predicted that it would come on Friday at Iowa State.  Many thought Oregon would be tested by USC, but certainly they wouldn’t get beat on their own field.  Oklahoma had already had their hiccup and were on their way back into the BCS conversation.  And Clemson had an outside chance of slipping into the title game if all the right things happened. 

Well, all the right things happened, but Clemson forgot that they had to beat a scrappy NC State team to keep their shot alive.  It’s a funny thing, this college football.  One week a team looks unstoppable.  The next, all their flaws and warts are on display on national television.  Granted, there are no unbeatable teams in this day and age of college athletics.  Talent, coaching, and media hype are at an all time high.  If a team has a weakness, which they all do, someone or something will find a way to exploit it. 

And that leaves us with a possibly landscape altering scenario.  No, I’m not talking about conference realignment, although that could speed up the process.  I’m referring to the fact that it’s an almost certainty that the top three teams in the upcoming BCS standings will be from the same division, not just the same conference.  Last time I checked, only one team could win its division, and only one team could win its conference.  And we are faced with the distinct possibility that a non-division winning team could be playing in the national championship.

This brings me to my next point.  What if LSU handles Arkansas while Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl?  You would have the top team in the BCS playing a hot Georgia team in the SEC Championship while the second ranked Alabama squad could just sit at home and enjoy the game on tv.  With the losses by Oregon, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Clemson, I see Alabama as a virtual lock for the title game if the Tide is 11-1. 

But here is the biggest nightmare for the BCS.  What do you do if Georgia plays its best game of the season and beats LSU in the SEC Championship?  We have already established that Alabama would be a lock for the title without being a conference winner.  Would LSU fit that role as well?  You would have to think that wins over Oregon, Alabama, Arkansas, and West Virginia would be enough to put the Tigers in the title game, right?

Ultimately, it would come down to the voters.  Would the voters penalize Alabama or LSU if they don’t win, or play in, the SEC Championship?  Will they promote a one loss Stanford or one loss Oklahoma State to play in the game instead?  By the way, Stanford won’t be playing in the Pac-12 title game unless Oregon loses to Oregon State.  So, good luck making a case for them.  Oklahoma State could have an outside shot if they beat Oklahoma handily and the voters don’t want to see a rematch.  What about a one loss Virginia Tech?  With only one win against top 25 teams (@ Georgia Tech), coupled with a win in the ACC Championship against Clemson, I don’t think the Hokies have the resume.

So, it boils down to the ultimate of scenarios, but one that isn’t really that hard to imagine.  Two teams that didn’t win their conference.  Two teams that have already played each other.  One giant push for some sort of college football playoff.  But that’s just plain silly.

Friday, November 18, 2011

7 players added to Mets 40-Man roster

According to Adam Rubin at, the Mets have decided to add seven prospects to the 40-man roster to protect them from being selected in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  The following players have been added:

1) Robert Carson - LHP
2) Reese Havens - 2B
3) Kirk Nieuwenhuis - CF
4) Jeurys Familia - RHP
5) Wilmer Flores - SS
6) Cesar Puello - OF
7) Juan Lagares - OF

The Mets have several players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft who were not protected and who could be selected by other franchises.  The most notable omissions include Collin McHugh, Jefry Marte, and Brad Holt.  I had also mentioned Juan Centeno as a player the Mets would possibly look to protect.

These additions bring the total number of players on the 40-man roster from 31 to 38.  That leaves two empty spots for the Mets to use on free agents or selections in the Rule 5 draft from other teams.  It is highly likely that the Mets will remove other players as the off-season progresses, either through non-tendering arbitration eligible players, or through designating for assignment a player to remove them from the roster.  Any player who is non-tendered will become a free agent and will be able to sign with any team they wish.  Any player that is DFA'd will need to pass through waivers without being claimed by another team in order for the Mets to be able to assign them to the minors.

Players that are still up for arbitration are Mike Pelfrey, Angel Pagan, Ronny Paulino, and Manny Acosta.  Pelfrey and Pagan are highly likely to be tendered contracts, and Acosta is also likely to return.  Paulino is a toss up.  If the Mets decide to non-tender Paulino, then they may choose to go with light hitting Mike Nickeas as the backup to Josh Thole.  The deadline for their decisions on these players is December 12th.

Looking ahead, the Mets still have many decisions to make before Spring Training starts in February.  However, the roster is starting to take shape, and before you know it the Mets future will start to come into a clearer picture.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Potential Inter-league scheduling ideas

Based on reports, it looks like major league baseball will go into the 2013 season with inter-league play happening during every series of the season.  Many people are confused and don’t know how the schedule will work.  Here is my opinion of how the inter-league schedule should work.

First, each team should play 18 games against the opposite league.  This is consistent with the current schedule for all AL teams and several NL teams.  Each division would play all teams in a designated division in the opposite league on a rotating, three-year basis.  Here is how the divisional match-ups would look:

Year Divisions Play
NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Based on this table, each AL East team would play each NL East team in 2013.  Teams would play three of the teams at home and two of the teams on the road, or vice versa.  There would also be one “rivalry” series that takes place every year based on geographic or historic match-ups.  Those match-ups would be as follows:

AL Rival
NL Rival
AL Rival
NL Rival
AL Rival
NL Rival
NY Yankees
NY Mets
Kan City
St. Louis
Chic WSox
Chic Cubs
LA Angels
LA Dodgers
San Diego
Tampa Bay
San Fran

Each match-up would take place on a rotating basis, with one team being at home one season and the other at home on the following year.  On seasons when the team is playing their opponent’s division, both teams would have a home series. 

Could this system work for inter-league play?  If not, what suggestions would you have to improve the schedule starting in 2013?