Ohio Sports Watcher

News and commentary about Ohio sports. Come here for news and columns about baseball, football, basketball and maybe even a little hockey involving teams from all levels all over the state.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The trade: one week later

Ok, we’ve all had some time to let the emotion subside a bit after the Reds’ huge trade with the Nationals last week. (In case you missed it, here are the details.
Judging by the reaction of many callers to local talk shows and some friends of mine, sending Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and erstwhile Ryan Wagner to the Nationals for three pitchers and two infielders was a certain signal of the end of the world.
Reds’ general manager Wayne Krivsky’s magic touch is gone! He’s lost his mind! Trade two regular starters with All-star potential for essentially two Major League relievers and a washed up shortstop (Royce Clayton)? What was he thinking?

While I will hear claims that – in general – trading position players for relievers is a risky proposition simply for the fact that relievers are very inconsistent, I’m not sure that risk is any greater than that involved in any trade that involves human beings who do not do everything the same every day.
So, getting beyond that, let us consider this trade a positive one for the Cincinnati nine, with one caveat: this is only a bad deal if you still believe Kearns or Lopez is really going to continue to get better and reach their “potential.”
Ah, there it is: that wonderful “P” word. That’s the word ruins everything in sports, really. We can’t just watch the damn games anymore because we have to worry about potential versus duds, overrated versus underrated and all that jazz. If a guy comes up with great potential, he is a disappointment if he ends up merely hitting .275 with 20 homers and 80 RBI. Now, on the flipside someone like Ryan Freel or Brady Clark comes out of nowhere and puts up the same numbers and it’s phenomenal.
That poison P-word is one that hindered current Nationals’ GM Jim Bowden during his time in the same position with the Reds, and I can’t help but think it has bit him again. He was always willing to trade away productive players to get flashy prospects (including the deal that brought in Lopez in the first place) and it is no stretch to say the Reds’ current spate of losing seasons – the franchise’s worst in 50 years – is largely a result of such moves.
So this is only a bad deal for the Redlegs if you are still in the belief that Kearns will become the player that made him a No. 1 pick of the Reds in the last century or that Lopez will regain the form he showed last year when he made the All-star game.
I feel very confident that either of those things happening is a 50-50 proposition at best.
Meanwhile, the cries about bullpen inconsistency are more a year-to-year thing, not for one season. Both MLB-level pitchers acquired by the Reds in this deal are having good years, so it is reasonable to expect them to continue to do so. For now, next year be damned. Considering the total disaster that had become the Reds’ bullpen – when even so-so performance in the past few weeks would have them very likely in first place as the Cardinals scuffled through June – it was time for drastic measures.
Bray has started paying dividends already. He looked pretty nasty in retiring a couple of batters with two on last night in the 8th inning of a tie game. His slider was disappearing and the Mets could only flail at it. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine young Mr. Bray’s stuff was too mysterious to the Mets: they play in the same division he came from.
But back to Kearns and Lopez. Kearns has never been healthy, and eventually we have to think that’s not a coincidence. He was a great story coming up as one of the original Dayton Dragons, where he and Adam Dunn became best buds. It was nice to see the Kentucky native trying to make it with his favorite team, but at some point we have to realize he has reached a plateau. Last year he was criticized and sent to triple-A for a lackadaisical attitude, eventually hitting .248 for the season. He’s always been a tremendous fielder and gives good at-bats, but he’s been prone to grounding into double plays this year and struck out 90 times in 92 games this season. Similar to a right-handed Brian Giles, can we expect to see more of Kearns’ line drives die short of the fence in cavernous RFK Stadium instead of home runs at cozy Great American Ballpark? That’s what happened to Giles when he went to Petco Park in San Diego, and Kearns (a career .266 hitter) has never hit for average over a whole season the way Giles has.
Lopez has speed, range, a cannon arm and pop in the bat. He also checks out mentally all the time. His defense has been abysmal since he came to Cincinnati (14 errors this season), usually because he goes lazily after routine balls then has to rush his throw and sends it into the right field stands. This year he vastly upped his stolen base frequency, but he’s still below average as a baserunner, and a betting man looking to put money down on which Red was most likely to get picked off in any given game would come out on top more often than not if he chose Lopez every time.
Sure, Lopez made the all-star game last year, but that’s really his only good year since he came up as a can’t-miss prospect with the Blue Jays in 2001. This season his triple-crown numbers are all down from 2005: Was last season an aberration? It’s very possible.
So did the Reds really give up that much? I’ve been hearing all season about how great their offense is, so doesn’t it make sense you trade away from an area of strength to improve one of great need? I should think so. Second, who says this offense is that great anyway?
Sure, they score lots of runs over the course of a season, but a great offense is one that is consistently churning out runs. They take early deficits and push them out of reach. They manufacture runs in tight games. This team does not do that. They hit four home runs and score 10 times one night in a 10-1 win, then get shut out the next night with not a clutch hit to be found. Is that a great offense?
And don’t forget the defense. They will make a vast improvement defensively with either Clayton or Juan Castro at shortstop, and while neither Chris Denorfia or Freel, who will most likely share right field have the arm of Kearns, they are both excellent fielders with great range.
Freel has already shown he is a sparkplug for the offense. Trading Kearns makes it easier to get him in the lineup without removing infielder Rich Aurillia, who has been among the team’s best clutch hitters all year. The team can also take a look at Denorfia, who was leading the International League in hitting at the all-star break. As more of a slap hitter, he might make this a more consistent offense even if some power is sacrificed.

Who is crying about losing power? The squad traded away 27 home runs. GABP turns average hitters into 20-homer guys, so how hard could it be to replace those lost dingers? Anyone who can hit long fly balls can homer at GABP, but not everyone can play good defense. Both teams will earn their share of runs: you can’t give them away in a homer-friendly yard (ask the Rockies). It is ok to have a few players who strike out a lot, but having everyone do it will kill a rally, so getting rid of Kearns and Lopez (66 Ks this year with the Reds; nine already in six games in Washington) should make the offense more consistent overall.

On the negative side, the Reds have now traded away two right-handed power hitters (including Wily Mo Pena) since March. That does reduce the protection of lefties Ken Griffey Jr. and Dunn in the lineup. The team was already susceptible to good left-handed pitching, and now we can only assume that will get worse. In addition to betting on Denorfia to hold down right field, at least until top minor league outfield prospect Jay Bruce is ready for primetime, the club must be hoping third baseman Edwin Encarnacion will continue to blossom into a legitimate run producer (Incidentally, trading the erratic Lopez makes it sting less when Encarnacion throws the ball away. A team can stomach only so many errors in one infield, right?)
The power is certainly thinned out. With the glut of outfielders now cleared, what should happen if Griffey or Dunn gets hurt? There would be a major power outage in the Queen City. That has to be a concern, but injuries are hard to anticipate. That’s just the nature of the game. Most teams have problems when their best players aren’t playing, so this is nothing out of the ordinary.

The verdict?
Wait and see, of course, but most likely to be a wash.
The players acquired by the Reds are fairly known quantities. They should be productive at the least, stabilizing a spot on the team that would have certainly prevented them from making the playoffs this year if left in the previous state. Bray has a chance to be outstanding for a long time, even showing the potential to be a closer.
As for the Nationals, they are probably getting what they see in Kearns and Lopez: a great defensive outfielder with an average bat and an erratic infielder with skills he’ll never fully cultivate.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Soccer will never be popular in the United States

The World Cup used to be the one time I rooted against the United States in anything.
As unpatriotic as that sounds, I felt it my duty because I feared if Team USA had too much success all those soccer zealots who claim their sport will some day be as popular in our country as it is overseas might be proved correct.
While I will still not root for the Yanks this year, I am taking an even more hands-off approach. I just won’t pay attention at all.
Why? Because I have come to my senses and realized soccer will never be popular in America, and that just makes me feel all warm inside.
I am bursting with Red, White and Blue pride because 10 years since the USA women won the World Cup and 12 years since the men’s event was actually held on U.S. soil, soccer is no more popular than it was then.
And there is no reason to think this will change any time soon, if ever.
Now, in the midst of the world’s favorite sporting event, let us count the ways soccer will never reach the status of football, basketball or baseball in America.

1. It doesn’t work on TV.
The erosion of baseball’s popularity since the 50s is a testament to the importance of a sports television viability in this age of technology. Baseball’s limited viewing screen makes it harder to follow the action – the bat off the ball in the air, the baserunners as the ball is being fielded, and even the distorted view of balls and strikes from the outfield camera view – and that has hurt it’s ability to reach people on TV. One could argue it’s just as easy to visualize what’s happening from a radio account as it is to piece together fractured screens of a TV broadcast. Now you have soccer, which is easier to watch if you can see the whole attacking zone to see passes developing, plus there are no stoppages in which to show commercials. (I don’t know if this might be a secret or not, but commercials pay for the broadcasts.)

2. Too much established competition.
The U.S. sports scene is full. There are four seasons in the year, and they are all spoken for by an American-made sport. First baseball claimed spring and summer, then football came along to shorten the hot stove league time with something to do on crisp fall afternoons. Dr. James Naismith saw the void left and dreamed up basketball as something for young men to do inside for recreation when it was too cold to go outside in New England where he lived. Those sports went into the marketplace and came out on top. Since then, they have held off all comers as well. Baseball isn’t even well run and it still rules the summer.

3. Soccer is an inferior product.
Some people might not think this is politically correct, but it’s a simple fact: soccer sucks. Who cares if it is more popular in the rest of the world? A lot of those countries have a struggle to get clean running water. They have more things to do than figure out how to attack a 3-4 zone blitz or when to hit and run. A ball and a goal is about their speed.
The world’s validation is meaningless. Until the USA came along, the rest of the world was mostly for monarchies and despotism. We perfected democracy and have never looked back. Sports are hardly different. Soccer existed before any of the established sports in North America – hockey and lacrosse included – yet it has been completely crushed by those games. Could this be because those games are inherently more entertaining and fulfilling to watch? It almost has to be, doesn’t it? Why go through the hassle of learning a new game or three if they didn’t have some appeal the old game lacked?
The Ivy League colleges that developed American football began playing soccer. The “first football game” played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 was a soccer game, with players forbidden from carrying the ball. Yet while they enjoyed that game enough to play it for a while, Harvard found rugby more appealing, so they took it up and convinced the rest of those schools to follow suit. They all began playing a game in which one could run with the ball to advance it past the goal, and that evolved into the modern American game.
Walter Camp felt there was something businesslike and American in football’s alternating possessions, and the other three American sports all have something similar to them. The American games all lack the totally helter-skelter way of determining who gets the ball that exists in both soccer and rugby, and that makes then easier to watch and break down.

With those inalienable truths, I’m done listening to people who say soccer’s day is coming, that Americans are just stubborn for not embracing the rest of the world’s favorite game.
I will argue the rest of the world is more stubborn than we are. We are the ones with the new, endlessly more intricate games. We saw your game and figured out how to improve it.
You can thank us whenever you want.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bush should worry about his Heisman

Dennis Dodd does it again!
“Bush has no Heisman worries as long as the Juice is loose,” declares the headline of Dodd’s most recent column on CBS Sportsline.
He then goes on to reason that because O.J. Simpson, Ricky Williams and Paul Hornung have gotten into legal and moral troubles after winning the Heisman and all of them still have their hardware (technically Simpson sold his, but the award has not been stripped from him by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York), there is no way Reggie Bush could lose his Heisman if he or his family is found to have taken illicit benefits from an agent trying to win his services.
The Watcher is simply baffled by the complete lack of coherence in this logic. It jumps off the page: Bush’s alleged transgressions were while he was in college, during the season in which he won the trophy. The rest had their moments of ignominy not only after they won the award, what they did was completely unrelated to the player’s collegiate career.
Simpson’s double-murder trial was about 25 years after he won his award and had nothing to do with football, let alone his time at USC.
Williams has never been charged with any crimes, but he violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy three times so he has been suspended for the 2006 season.
Hornung was implicated in a gambling scandal in the middle of his NFL career in the 1960s and suspended for a while by then-commissioner Pete Rozelle.
No one is saying the Heisman committee needs to become the morality police. Rather, doesn’t it make sense a player can’t win an award if he is not eligible to play that season?
YES. It makes so much sense The Watcher just can’t fathom how Dodd could have missed this.
That was the first thing I thought upon reading the headline.
“What? That has nothing to do with anything,” I thought. But I read the article, giving the author the benefit of the doubt.
Sadly, that was a mistake. All he did was prove he is completely off base here.
What Bush’s parents are accused of doing was not against U.S. or California state law (at least that I know of), but it is against NCAA rules, and as long as Bush was suiting up for the Trojans, up until the last second ticked off the clock in the Rose Bowl last January, he is subject to every rule the NCAA has.
That’s all there is to it. There are things in that NCAA world that are not permissible but that are perfectly legal in the real world. (Dwayne Jarrett getting a great discount on a nice apartment from the dad of one of his friends, for example – another possible transgression at USC being investigated by the NCAA.)
Dodd’s comparing potential NCAA rules violations with two instances of breaking NFL rules and another with a civil law 25 years after the fact is completely comparing apples and oranges.
I would agree the Heisman committee has no jurisdiction over what Simpson, Hornung and Williams did or were accused of doing, although Dodd did point out there is a provision in the bylaws that says post-award conduct can be taken into consideration.
Without question, Bush should lose his Heisman if he is declared ineligible for the 2005 season, and that has nothing to do with what he did or does beginning with the time Texas started rushing the field after Vince Young’s Rose Bowl heroics.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Off the mat

Ken Griffey Jr. has affirmed my belief in God. Does the Big Guy (God, in this case, not Griffey, although he’s pretty cool, too) work in mysterious ways, or what?
Here I sat, bitterly cursing the fact David Ross can’t catch, Rick White can’t pitch and the Nationals’ fat pitcher got as many two-out hits as the Reds could muster, awaiting an awful loss, and all of a sudden the Queen City’s favorite son enters stage right and wins the game in an only-in-a-dream fashion.
I mean, it’s such a natural thought, right? “Well, if Edwin can get on, Griffey can yank one out of here and we’ll be happy. That would be dramatic, wouldn’t it?”
And then the magnificent bastard does it!
We all think it whenever a hero steps up to the plate at winning time…but it never happens, does it? Of course not - this is baseball. Heroes fail seven out of 10 times on average. If guys won games like this all the time, it wouldn’t be so exhilarating.
But I guess that’s the point, huh?
This more than makes up for Bronson Arroyo’s missing out on win No. 6. Well I will take it every time.
This was about to be the second time The Watcher wrote this scrappy squad off this season! After they fell way behind the Marlins in an early April series and appeared on their way to unthinkably dropping a series to the NL’s worse team, I was definitely down in the dumps. “If they can’t stay in the race, at least be respectable, until at least June, what the hell am I going to do with my summer?”
Then, lo and behold, they came off the matt with a big comeback that day and went on to run off a long string of victories and claim first place in the National League Central.
Their lead in the division would have been down to a half-game without Griffey’s heroics, but instead they moved 11 games over .500, stayed a full game ahead of the idle Cardinals and have the best record in the division in the last 10 days, let alone the past month.
What a glorious game this is, with jubilation so often just one swing away, especially if that smiling centerfielder with the big black bat is in the batter’s box.
So for now we can overlook the negatives – a second straight blown save by David Weathers, Edwin Encarnacion’s 10th error, 12 men left on base, including the potential winning run left in scoring position in both the 9th and 10th innings.
Instead, let’s rejoice in another superb performance by Arroyo (8.0 innings, 8 Ks, 0 runs and 0 walks), five more team stolen bases, a wonderful diving catch by Griffey in center, three hits for Lopez and Griffey’s glorious return.
So the Reds stayed unbeaten in series at home, and this little nugget from the Associated Press is worth repeating, too:
“The more NL batters see [Arroyo], the less they seem to like him. Arroyo has now faced three teams twice -- the Nationals, Cubs and Cardinals. In those second-look games, he is 2-0 and has given up only one earned run in 24 innings.”

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On booing Barry

Seeing the way Philadelphia fans so eloquently expressed their displeasure toward Barry Bonds’ pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run total has made me question my desire to ever boo again.
No one has ever deserved to be booed more than Barry Bonds does this week. He is robbing baseball of its history, staining our documented record of our first favorite game, as the American public is left with nothing to do but watch in helpless horror.
Well, nothing to do but put up 60-foot signs that read: “Ruth did it on hotdogs & beer. Aaron did it with class. How did YOU do it?"
Or shirts that read, “Got juice?”
Or chant, “Ster-roids,” or “Cheater.”
While those are funny, I have to agree with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in thinking it’s also very sad. Tragic. How could it come to this? Why can’t this be stopped? Couldn’t this have been avoided.
Maybe, but it wasn’t.
And now this former heckler is questioning if I can ever really feel right about booing a player again.
What could any opposing player do that is worse than this?
I suppose he could kill someone, or intentionally apply a career-ending injury, but it seems very, very unlikely a player would actually still be allowed to play if he did something like that (Hockey, of course, excluded – but who cares about the NHL anymore, anyway?).
So with booing now our only recourse, as if our full-throated mocking can somehow convince Barry to stop this pointless, illegally fueled crusade, or if the combined wind from our catcalls can knock down any high fly ball before it clears the fence, keeping the Babe’s hallowed number safe for one more at-bat.
If that is the best that can be done against this most shameful sports betrayor, then how can we use this tool on anyone else?
It just seems unfair to me now.
Previously I thought the most galling thing I could ever see was an Ohio-bred football player scoring a touchdown in a Michigan uniform against Ohio State, but now? I mean, this is Babe-freaking-Ruth (to borrow a phrase from ESPN’s Jason Stark).
How would we feel if some molecularly enhanced jerk-off won seven NBA titles, took home a dozen scoring titles, won 73 games in a season, and finished with a higher scoring average than Michael Jordan? Pretty damn bad. Maybe even this bad.
I did not cheer when Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s NFL career rushing record. Smith’s talent and stardom pale in comparison to the legend of Payton, who operated as the team’s only weapon for many years behind a far inferior offensive line and played with such a zeal, a violent splendor that one could not help but love and respect him. Smith, a nice guy, I’m sure, was merely an accumulator, an average player who enjoyed playing behind the best line in the league – and probably history – for his whole Cowbys’ career.
But this is nothing compared to that. If some can’t respect Smith’s talent, at least we can salute his demeanor and his method. It’s not his fault he had such good blocking. He just took good advantage of being able to get three yards before ever having to cut. And that line was put together completely within the rules, just the way Smith’s muscles were packed onto his diminutive frame.
If there was a collective “sigh” outside Dallas when Smith broke the record, at least he was not roundly booed. No crusades were taken up against him, attempting to disgrace him at every turn.
I can’t even remember why Ihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif used to think people on the other team were so bad. What were they doing to me, besides perhaps making my team lose? Even those traitorous Buckeyes-turned-Wolverines were just doing what they enjoyed, going where they were wanted, and playing within the rules.
They never deserved my curses and taunts, at least not like this fatheaded behemoth wearing No. 25 for the San Francisco Giants.
No, nothing could be worse than this.
What a shame – shame on him, and shame for us.

Verducci’s summation of the sideshow

On the same site, Chris Ballard questioned what kids think, and found Bonds condemned even by his youngest fans.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

When a benefit is OK and when it ain't

While it’s fun to watch a program besides that of Ohio State’s roast over the coals, the most recent potential violation to come to light is an unfortunate consequence of the complicated world of the NCAA.
Wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett may be suspended and/or have to play $10,000 in back-rent because he got a sweet-heart lease deal to live with quarterback Matt Leinart in an upscale Las Angeles apartment last season. According to various media reports, including the LA Times, Leinart and Jarrett paid $650 each per month for the apartment, which cost nearly $4,000 per month and was leased by Leinart’s father, Bob.
Under NCAA rules, this is pretty clearly a violation unless it turns out Leinart and Jarrett were friends before becoming teammates. The loan from the elder Leinart is fine for him to give his son, but an illegal benefit for anyone else (Jarrett).
The shame here is that this does not appear to be cheating in any way. The apartment was not used to entice Jarrett to attend USC (he lived somewhere else with Leinart first, according to The Times); it was just a favor from the father of a friend.
I knew people in college who had similar setups, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just sharing the wealth.
The fact Jarrett will probably end up getting in trouble is just an unfortunate consequence of being an NCAA athlete. You get fame and a free education, but with those benefits also comes a prohibition from some “regular Joe” aspects of college life. I’m not crying for Jarrett here – he’ll be a rich NFL player soon enough, but it is too bad.
Overall, he will likely win in all this. He’s going to the NFL in a year or two and will be paid to do something he’s been training in college to do. Isn’t that the goal we all have in college?
He gets the benefit of going to school for free, but is it worth the short-term of having to live only within his means (means that are very limited in the case of some players who come from extreme poverty, although I have no idea if that situation applies to Jarrett), allowed to accept favors from no one but the university or family?
Probably, but it’s a touchy situation.

Stat of the day

From the Columbus Dispatch today
:

In the past five years, Ohio State has had 39 players selected in the NFL draft, compared to 20 for the University of Michigan.
To make matters worse for the Wolverines, the dominance is even higher in regards to first day (Rounds 1-3) picks, where Ohio State has had more than twice as many players picked, 22-9. And in the money round (No. 1), the Buckeyes have had eight picks with Michigan nabbing three.

Wondering the all-time count since the draft began in 1936?
Ohio State 372
Michigan 317

(Numbers courtesy Drafthistory.com

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Don't cry for Bonds

I have absolutely no sympathy for Barry Bonds in regards to Major League Baseball’s announcement they will not be having an official celebration for him when he passes Babe Ruth with his 715th home run.
This has been a topic of discussion on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio lately, and in bashing Bud Selig and MLB for this decision, Mike Greenberg has proven he is a perfect candidate to be the next commissioner: his decisions are wrong.
(For those who don’t listen to the show regularly, Greenberg has been talking for the past couple of weeks about how he would like to replace Selig when the current commissioner retires and has been doing some faux campaigning on the air.)
First of all, MLB correctly pointed out that they have never had a celebration for someone being second. There is not much debate about that.
However, Greenberg asserts that this is a special case because Ruth represents such an iconic figure in the history not only of baseball but American sports, and therefore it is a bigger deal than anything else. He says if this were anyone but Bonds – perhaps Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez – there would be an official acknowledgment by the league.
Ok, that’s probably true, too. This is my only question:
So?
Barry Bonds made this bed. He is the worst ambassador this game has ever had. He’s a cheat and a jerk. Why should MLB make any sort of exception for him?
These character flaws are not merely perceived. Every time he deems the media worthy of talking to him, he treats them like garbage, refusing to answer legitimate questions and berating both those who ask him things he doesn’t want to acknowledge and the group as a whole.
Beyond that, there is an endless stream of evidence that proves Bonds used steroids. Besides the circumstantial evidence we’ve all been observing for about the last eight years – bulbous head, sudden power surge, sudden gain of about 40 pounds of muscle for someone in his late 30s – there is now the book Game of Shadows, a __ page volume with over 200 documented sources indicating he used a litany of illegal performance enhancers. Not only does the book have grand jury testimony with Bonds’ own words, it has eye-witness accounts from his former mistress and calendars documenting when and what he used.
So if Bud Selig doesn’t think his league should make a big fuss about Bonds passing Ruth, what’s wrong with that?
The commissioner most likely would just assume Bonds didn’t exist. Why not go ahead and pretend? Bonds has earned as much with his shameless pursuit of baseball’s most important numbers and his behavior in the spotlight.
Is it fair to give one person different treatment from another? Absolutely. Why not? This is no regular situation; Bonds has already made sure of it.
In most cases, that would be reason to praise him, but not now. We love sports for the same reason we love nature – the greatest achievements in both are the result of a natural occurrences, a little perseverance (notice how a tree has to grow sideways for a while sometimes to find the sun?) and some luck (eventually that big tree gets a shot of lightning and doesn’t make it). We appreciate these things because they are not artificial, not conceived with some greater goal in mind. They just happen.
That’s sports and that’s life, and that’s all there is to it.
No apologies.