Is Tiger Woods Toast?

golfballLet me start this by saying I am a big fan of Tiger Woods. As a man with a handicap in the stratosphere, I have always admired the ease with which he played – and conquered – perhaps the most frustrating game ever invented. That is why it pains me so much now to watch him floundering around on the golf course the way he has.

I know he’s been away from the game for a while, and I know it takes time to get it back. But… while this may be his first competitive round in awhile, it’s not like hasn’t been on the golf course constantly prior to the Waste Management Phoenix Open. I am sure he’s played dozens of rounds and played much better than he showed the last two days. If he hadn’t, I seriously doubt he’d have entered the field at all.

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but he looks healthy. I am also not a shrink – God knows, no one wants me digging deep into their psyche – but I can only conclude what’s going on with him is almost entirely mental. He looks lost and unsure of himself. It’s the only explanation I can come up with.

I know a short game is something you need to work on and something that takes a lot of touch, but Tiger’s case of the yips (or whatever you want to call them) around the green are unlike anything I’ve ever seen on the PGA Tour… ever. Look, everyone hits a bad shot or two, but Tiger is stringing them together. It just seems like he isn’t buying into the shot he’s trying to hit.

There was a lot of talk when he was “coming back” (again) about the change in swing coach, using a PhD candidate instead of a normal coach and gaining back his old form. I think he is still listening to too many people. I think he needs to just shut them all out, go out on the range and course by himself, and use his God-given ability and play the game naturally. Stop over-analyzing everything. Be more like Bubba Watson, who goes out every week and just seems to make shots up as he goes along. God knows, Tiger has the natural talent to do something like that.

Many great golfers have had slumps. Hell, people had Jack Nicklaus buried a couple of times during his career, and he found his way back. Make no mistake, Tiger Woods is still good enough to beat the crap out of 99 percent of the golfers in the world, but it looks like the person he can’t beat right now is himself.

I’m rooting for him though.

Courtney Stephenson; All-ECAC Gymnast to World-Class Doctor

This is a great story about what a true student-athlete can accomplish. She is the daughter of a friend of mine and someone who should be an inspiration to many.

Dr. Courtney Stephenson; All-ECAC Gymnast to World Class Doctor – ECAC Sports.

Rob Manfred Wants More Offense-Beware!

mlblogoIn an interview with ESPN over the weekend, new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred stated he wants to inject more offense into the game. My knee-jerk reaction is to ask why. My second thought is that Manfred needs to be careful what he wishes for.

Let’s start with my first reaction. If you are true baseball fan, you know there is nothing like the excitement of a 1-0, 2-1, or 3-2 game. Nearly every at bat is important, every mistake is magnified, and the excitement builds with every inning. I am sure Commissioner Manfred’s thoughts derive from a desire to appeal to the casual fan (read: young kids with short attention spans), who aren’t happy if they don’t see majestic homers flying out of the park and runners circling the bases like they are on a carousel.

That brings me to my second thought – be careful what you wish for. The last time baseball had a huge surge in offense and power was when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, etc. used whatever it was they used to cheat the system and put up XBox-type numbers.

Bud Selig turned a blind eye to it at first. Then it became like trying to close the barn door after the horse got out. He hired George Mitchell to conduct baseball’s version of the McCarthy hearings and smear the name of a lot of players without evidence, using innuendo and assumptions as “proof”. Granted, many of them were likely cheating, but I believe some of them didn’t, and there were others that did who were never named in the report.

I know Manfred has talked about eliminating the defensive shift as a way to do this. While not a fan of the shift, I am also not sure he should be legislating something out of the game that has been there forever. Hell, Ted Williams had to put up with it. Strategy is a part of the game, Mr. Manfred.

So let’s say that works and the runs per game increases. What’s next? Maybe he’ll decide we should only have two outfielders. Or maybe every batter starts an AB with a 2-0 count to force pitchers to throw more balls down the middle of the plate. Maybe he’ll decided we need a “juiced” ball, or that all ballparks should move the fences in 50 feet.

I realize I am using hyperbole here and taking things to an extreme, but baseball has remained essentially the same for a hundred years. There is a lot of talk about how the PED guys cheapened records by their actions. If the commissioner takes away a part of the game that has always been there, doesn’t that have the same effect? I realize eliminating the shift and steroids are apples and oranges, but both effect statistics.

I am sure Rob Manfred wants to put his personal stamp on the game and get out of Selig’s shadow, but I think the only thing he should concern himself with is pace of play – and that does not include a pitch clock. Stop batters from getting out of the box between pitches to take a stroll and adjust every piece of clothing and equipment they have on. Cut down the amount of time between innings. These are all things that have been gradually getting worse since the 1980s and increasing the time of games.

Doing those simple things will help the attention-challenged “fans.” At the same time, it will allow those of us who love the intricacies of the game to enjoy it alongside them. Attendance figures around the league are very strong. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We don’t need you tampering with our game just to appeal to someone that thinks real baseball should mimic a video game.

A Legend Passes Away – Ernie Banks

erniebanksOne of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball and one of the nicest gentlemen you ever want to meet passed away yesterday. Ernie Banks was 83 years old and even in his later years had the enthusiasm for the game of someone less than half his age.

I was fortunate enough to meet him once and it is a memory etched forever in my mind. It’s not every day that you get to meet a Hall of Famer and someone who is arguably the most-loved sports figure of an entire city. Yes, I know Chicago had Michael Jordan, and the Cubs also had Ron Santo who became more popular as a broadcaster than he was as a player. But Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub, and he was also likely the most approachable legend ever. He never got caught up in being “Ernie Banks.” He just loved the game, loved his city, and returned the love of the people who loved him.

Banks started his career in 1953 as a shortstop and won two MVP awards and played in seven All-Star games at that position. He moved to first base in 1962 and played in four more All-Star games there. He wasn’t what you would call flashy in the field, but he was steady. In fact, he won just one Gold Glove at short (1960).

You could also pencil him in the lineup nearly every day. With the exception of his rookie year and the two final years of his career, Banks never played fewer than 138 games in a season. He played 150 or more games 11 times in his 19-year career. He also hit 512 career home runs at a time when 500 homers was a really big deal. And think about this in the day when pitchers are getting 30 million bucks a year, he never made more than $60k in one season. In fact, his rookie year contract was for the whopping sum of $2,000.

I got to watch him play a few times on television in the final couple years of his career, but unfortunately my 11-year old mind didn’t register then that I was witnessing one of the all-time greats. I wish I had. He finished his career in 1971 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

I do know that when I met him when I was in my early 40s and well into my new hobby of being a baseball geek, I took the time to tell him that I felt honored to meet someone who had given so many people so much joy when he played. I remember him saying, “Aw heck, I was the one having the fun!”

I was in his presence for only about five minutes, and I don’t think he ever stopped smiling. I just hope he’s up there now telling God, “Let’s play two!”

RIP, Mr. Banks.

Deflate-gate Was Very Avoidable

footballI really resisted the idea of writing about the whole Deflate-Gate debacle. First of all, I’m not even a Patriot’s fan. Second, I don’t really care.

I’m tired of watching how people want to immediately accuse New England of cheating at every turn. Couldn’t they just be that good? Hell, I’m not even sure why the whole Spygate thing where they filmed Jet coaches to steal signs is illegal. Baseball teams have been trying to steal signs for a hundred years!

Having said that, no team in any sport should try to gain a competitive advantage by cheating. Baseball players have tried it for years by corking bats, scuffing baseball, and taking greenies and steroids. Hockey players have heated their sticks and changed the curve of the blade. If the Patriots knowingly did what they are accused of they should be punished – but you have to prove it first. In the court of public opinion, which is always overly negative and looking to tear down everything, they are guilty and should all be shot by a firing squad.

But here’s what I don’t get about the whole situation. Why does the NFL have teams providing their own footballs? That’s idiotic. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar operation. Can’t the league afford to supply all the balls and have them only under the control of the referees or a designated league official? The current system makes it easy for teams to tinker with the air pressure – and if you read a lot of the media reports this week, it sounds like it happens all the time.

Major League Baseball uses the same set of balls for both teams in a game. Otherwise, the Colorado Rockies might go out and buy the special “granite” balls that only their pitchers can use to keep the opponent’s from clubbing balls out of Coors field.

I don’t know if the Patriots did anything on purpose, and I really don’t care. I do think other teams have done it through the years, and I do think the Patriots would have beaten the Colts handily regardless. However, I know that the NFL created a system that makes it easy for teams to bend the rules.

Methinks it’s time to fix that.

Scherzer to Nats Good for Red Sox?

Boston-Red-Sox-LogoWith news that Max Scherzer has inked a seven-year deal with the Washington Nationals overnight, the first thing that came to mind is that it could prove to be beneficial for the Boston Red Sox. Not withstanding the fact that they benefit just from having him out of the American League, it potentially opens the door for a trade for another of the National starting pitchers.

Washington GM Mike Rizzo had stated his team would only be in the market for a big-name starter if they traded one of their other starters. The two obvious choices would be Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister, who will both be free agents at the end of the 2015 season. There has also been talk of the possibility of moving Stephen Strasburg, who cannot become a free agent until 2017 and just signed a one-year deal for $7.5 million to avoid arbitration. Washington also has Gio Gonzalez under control until 2018.

The Red Sox might be able to acquire one of those four and not have to pay the ransom of Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart that any talks with the Phillies about Cole Hamels have included. Certainly, Boston would have to give up one or two of their young pitching prospects. They also have a wealth of outfielders, and the Nationals could definitely use some help there. Washington has Denard Span, Bryce Harper, and Jason Werth (who just underwent shoulder surgery). After that, there’s not much of safety net outside of Nate McClouth (who hit .173 in 139 ABs last season) and Kevin Frandsen (.259, 1 homer, and 17 RBI in 220 ABs). Boston can definitely provide a potential upgrade there.

Obviously Gonzalez and Strasburg may be a little more expensive because they can be controlled longer, but any of those four would be just what the doctor order for the Sox rotation. Zimmerman has said he would not give the Nats a “hometown” discount when he becomes a free agent, so he might be the one most likely to be moved.

I’m convinced the Red Sox aren’t going very far with the rotation that is proposed for the coming season. Ben Cherrington should be on the phone first thing this morning.

MLB Pitch Clock Not Necessary

stopwatchThere are very few that would argue that Major League Baseball needs to work on speeding up pace of play.The average length of a game last season was almost three hours and ten minutes. I know one of the great things about the game I love is that there is no time limit, but modern-day players have abused the privilege.

Some of the issue has to do with the philosophy that some teams have of taking pitches and running up an opponent’s pitch count- the Boston Red Sox are a perfect example. Some of it also has to do with television and expanded time between innings. Hell, at least it’s not as bad as the NFL that seems to have a commercial break every two minutes!

Having said all this, I don’t think MLB needs to go as far as having a pitch clock. Frankly, I find the idea silly and there are plenty of other easier ways to trim 15-20 minutes off the time of a game. Here are some easy examples:

  • Batters have to get into the batter’s box in a timely fashion and stay there
  • Limit trips by a catcher to the mound to one per inning
  • Ensure that the defense makes defensive shifts quickly – i.e. run to the new position
  • Incoming relief pitchers get three warmup pitches on the mound
  • Umpires enforce the rule all ready in place to (8.04) that requires pitchers to throw a pitch within 12 seconds when the bases are empty.

I can’t tell you how many games I’ve watched/attended where batter leisurely stroll into the box so they can get as much of the “walk-up” music played as possible. Shane Victorino of the Red Sox is a perfect example. I love “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley as much as the next guy, but letting it run long so the crowd can sing in unison, “every little thing gonna be all right” is a ridiculous. Supposedly MLB limited walk-up music to 15 seconds last year. One, that wasn’t enforced. Two, why the hell do we need walk-up music at all? Did Babe Ruth and Ted Williams walk up to bat to show tunes of the day? I doubt it.

Now, once the batter is in the box – stay there, for God’s sake! So you’ve settled yourself in the box, adjusted your cup, your cap, your batting gloves, dug yourself a nice little toe-hold and the pitch comes in – ball one, high. You haven’t taken a swing, or even a check swing, but you’ve gotta take stroll, readjust your cup, cap, and gloves and dig another hole? C’mon, man!

College baseball, where a good number of these guys played, requires you to keep one foot in the box at all times. There’s no reason why MLB can’t do the same thing.

Frankly, I think the defensive shift in baseball has gotten out of hand. Look, I know sabermetrics is a huge part of the game these days, but I think it is used to death. Pretty soon they’ll be taking weather conditions into consideration. It used to be that a spray chart was used to figure out which way to shade your infield and outfield, now it’s an excuse to play musical positions. Sheesh. Anyway, if you are going to use it, let’s make the players hustle to the new spot, rather than taking a leisurely stroll.

So you’re in the bullpen and get the call from the mound to come in. Most of the time you’ve been up for ten or fifteen minutes and are plenty warm. I see no reason why two things can’t happen- the pitcher must run from the bullpen to the mound, and then they should be allowed just three warmups before the next batter steps in. How many times have you been at a game and watched the reliever walk in from the bullpen – often taking nearly five minutes before they’re ready to throw to the next batter. Maybe we should bring back the old golf carts they used to use to shepherd relievers in.

If a coach from the dugout is only allowed one trip to the mound before having to remove a pitcher, the same should go for the catcher. These days teams use the catcher as another coach to constantly be in a pitcher’s ear, or they’re used as human rain delays to allow relievers to get ready. Neither of those are good things.

Finally, all of this needs to fall on the shoulders of the umpires. With the addition of instant replay (which I am in favor of) adding time to games, the umpires should be even more diligent about speeding things up – and it should be their responsibility.

MLB needs to start in the minors and make sure the players have good time-management habits when they reach the Majors. Let the Lansing Lugnuts and the Mobile BayBears teach players the right way to play the game so it’s seamless when they get the call-up.

I don’t think anything I have suggested here will take away from the game one bit, and it might make the game more enjoyable for some of the younger fans that have short attention spans in this day of instant gratification.

John Fox Fired in Denver; 46-18 Not Good Enough

In a perfect broncoslogoexample of what’s wrong with pro sports these days, John Fox got fired by the Denver Broncos today after going 46-18 in four seasons and making the playoffs each year. He becomes the scapegoat for poor play by the guys on the field in yesterday’s game. I’m not even a Bronco fan, but this really got me riled up. Apparently, it’s his fault Peyton Manning got hurt late in the season and had a sub-par playoff game, and that his defense allowed the Colts to run up almost 400 yards of offense.

It’s really a microcosm of society today. Everyone had to have everything NOW. Our kids expect instant gratification, and it looks like they’ve learned it from a lot of adults – especially ones like Bronco GM John Elway. Good luck finding someone else that can do a better job than Fox, Denver.

“Although we came up short of our ultimate goal, I am proud of our team’s many accomplishments during these last four years,” Fox said in a statement this afternoon. “I truly appreciate all of the hard work put in by every player, coach and staff member within this organization.”

You should be proud, John, and I doubt you’ll be on the unemployment line long.

Peyton Manning – End of an Era?

broncoslogoAs I sit here watching the Indianapolis-Denver football game, I can’t help but wonder if we are seeing the final snaps of Peyton Manning’s career. He’ll be 39 in a couple of months, and he truly looks his age today. I know you have to give a lot of credit to the Colt defense, but Manning has looked a little unsure of himself and missed some throws you expect him to make. Heck, he overthrew a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders on consecutive plays. His passes have also seemed to wobble a bit.

Let me be clear – I am not saying he should retire. I am just wondering how he will feel about his performance at the end of the day, and if he really wants to do this again. I’ve heard it said that he loves to practice, so maybe the idea of another training camp and the daily grind doesn’t phase him. But if he does decide he’s had enough, he certainly has nothing to prove – nearly 70,000 career yards (2nd all-time) and 530 touchdowns (1st all-time) guarantee him quick entrance into the Hall of Fame in Canton.

How ironic it would be if his last game is against the team that drafted him, and that let him go in favor of Andrew Luck who, despite a couple of interceptions, looked like a quarterback that is going to fixture in the playoffs for years to come. And if Manning does retire, perhaps the only thing he’ll look back on and regret is his 11-13 mark in the playoffs.

He said earlier he intended to play next year, but recently acknowledged he’d have to give it some serious thought at the end of the season. I, for one, hope he comes back and gives it at least one more year. Give the fans around the country a chance to say goodbye if he does feel the end is near. He’s earned it, and I know there are football fans across the country that would like to have the chance to say thank you.

Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Drops NESCAC Opener

Joe Edmonds goes up for a layup late in the game Friday night.

Joe Edmonds goes up for a layup late in the game Friday night.

ESPN brings dozens of Division I basketball games into our homes every week. While that is a wonderful things for sports junkies, those of us in New England have a opportunity to see some excellent basketball in our own backyards. The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) is one of the best Division III leagues in the country – not just in basketball, but across the board in the 13 men’s and 14 women’s sports that it sponsors championships in. You’re really missing the boat if you don’t take the time to take check them out.

Friday night was the 2014-15 conference openers, and I had the chance to broadcast the men’s basketball game featuring Colby College of Waterville, ME and the Wesleyan University Cardinals of Middletown, CT. In a game that literally came down to the last shot, the visiting Colby Mules escaped from Wesleyan’s Silloway Gymnasium with an 82-80 win.

Wesleyan, which had a six-game winning streak snapped in the loss and fell to 10-3, led by as much as nine in the first half and held a 44-37 advantage at the half. The Cardinal front court of Rashid Epps and Joseph Kuo combined for 17 points and and seven rebounds in the period. Sam Willson led the Colby attack with 15 points.

Colby, which improved to 8-5 in the win, outscored Wesleyan 14-5 in the first six minutes of the second half and took the lead at 52-51 on a Connor O’Neil three with 13:50 left.

The two teams traded baskets and the lead for the next few minutes until back-to-back layups from Luke Westman and Willson gave Colby a 64-60 lead with 7:19 left in the game. Willson’s bucket have him 26 points, but it was his final bucket and his team had to rely on other’s down the stretch.

A BJ Davis basket for Wesleyan with 5:15 left tied the game at 66-66, but a Wesleyan foul on the next Colby possession resulted in two free throws for Westman. He canned them both to give the Mules the lead for good.

Colby stretch the lead to 78-72 with 1:27 left after a three-pointer by John Gallego, and the Cardinals appeared to have run out of time. With Colby leading 79-73, Kuo made a layup for the Cardinals to cut the gap to four. Davis then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and drained a three to cut the Colby lead to 79-78 with :53 remaining.

After a Colby timeout, Westman made a layup with :29 left to put the Mules ahead 81-78.

The next Wesleyan possession was a testament to tenacity, but heartbreaking all the same for the hometown fans. Davis missed a jumper, but Joe Edmonds grabbed the offensive rebound. He kicked it outside to Harry Rafferty, who had a three-point shot blocked by O’Neil. The rebounded went out of bounds off Colby, giving Wesleyan another chance with :12 left.

Rafferty missed another three off the inbounds pass, but Kuo grabbed yet another offensive rebound. He threw it out to Jack Mackey, who missed a trey, but Edmonds secured yet another offensive rebound and was fouled with :04 left. For those of you scoring at home, that’s FIVE chances.

Edmonds made both free throws to close the gap to 81-80, and Wesleyan fouled Westman on the inbounds pass to send him to the line for two shots (both teams were well over the limit by then). Westman made the first but missed the second. Edmonds grabbed the rebound with :3.5 left and raced to half court, but was unable to get his desperation shot off before the horn sounded.

The four or five hundred people in the building were treated to a wonderful game. I don’t care where you go, you will be hard pressed to find a game more exciting than what I saw tonight. There are no scholarships in Division III. There were 30 players on the two benches playing for the love of the game tonight. And every fan in Silloway Gymnasium tonight loved what they saw.