Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Stupid

Tom Brady did not win the Super Bowl for New England.  Coach Pete Carroll lost the Super Bowl for Seattle.

All Seattle had to do was make a half yard into the end zone in the last 40 seconds of the game to repeat as Super Bowl champions.  They had this year's most dominating short yardage back in the NFL.  It was second down.

Instead Coach Carroll got cute, called a pass play, the pass was neatly intercepted in traffic--and the game was essentially over.

How many ways can we count that this play was a stupidly wrong call?  The likelihood of an interception versus a fumble?  The lack of risk involved in a pass defense when an interference penalty would have resulted in meaningless yardage?  The time that could conceivably be left on the clock after a touchdown and extra point?

I watched only the fourth quarter, on my computer, and that turned out to be too much.  I didn't really much care who won, but a game decided on a play like that is just such a bummer that I regret watching any of it at all.

In another NFL note, Johnny Football (currently on the Browns roster) has reportedly entered "treatment" for an unspecified reason.  It's pretty clear from accounts of his behavior that they constitute a textbook pattern of alcoholics.  I'd be surprised if that doesn't turn out to be the case.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blount Talk in Pittsburgh

Let the moaning in Pittsburgh begin.  I guarantee it's already happening, and will happen big this week, after the New England Patriots blew out the Indianopolis Colts to represent the AFL in the Super Bowl.  They did so with 148 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 carried by LeGarrette Blount.

For most of this season, Blount was a Steeler.  But after a game which saw Le'Veon Bell dominate the running back carries and install himself as the starter as well as a league leader, Blount left the team early and was soon released.

Then in the final game of the regular season, in which the Steelers won their division, Bell was injured and could not play in the first playoff game.  Without Blount, the Steelers had no experienced quality backup and no running game.  They lost, badly.

The Steelers may have had few good choices but at the moment it's going to look to many like they managed themselves out of a Super Bowl.  With Blount they would have had a good chance to win their playoff game against the Ravens at home.  And on Sunday, Blount showed what he could do against Indianapolis, and perhaps what New England lacked without him.

(The counter-argument is that the Steelers offense actually outgained the Ravens, but their defense couldn't hold. But then there are all those trips to the red zone with only field goals.)

There's a real possibility the Steelers were punked.  Blount saw that he'd lost the starting role, and knowing how Belichick operates on both edges of the rules, I wouldn't be surprised if Blount had already been in touch with the Patriots (or that the Patriots "informally" got in touch with him), and deliberately got himself thrown off the Steelers so he could sign as the Patriots feature back.

Could the Steelers have kept Blount somehow?  Could they have promptly replaced him with an experienced backup, instead of assuming in what now looks like wishful arrogance that they could always depend on Bell?  Some of this discussion has already been raging, but now all of it will be hashed out endlessly and angrily in Pittsburgh this week and probably next.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pittsburgh Memories R.I.P. 2014

With the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the playoffs, and my annual Pittsburgh-themed Christmas gift from one of my sisters (this year, a Pittsburgh scenes calendar) I pay homage to my hometown city and some of the people from its past--and my past--who passed away in 2014.
Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 1970s glory days, winning 4 Super Bowls.  I met him after their 1979 championship, on a story.  I asked him about Pittsburgh fans, and his face lit up.  He loved them.  And they loved him.  In football he was above all a teacher.  In the rest of his life, a civilized man.  He was a class act, and Pittsburgh learned from him.

Ralph Kiner was probably the first baseball player whose name I knew.  He was not just the Pirates' best player in the early to mid 50s, he was just about their only good player.  He led the National League in homers for seven straight years, with little help from the rest of the lineup.  Later he became an affectionately remembered baseball announcer, though in a different town.
Bill Nunn, Jr. was the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, the premier African American newspaper in the US.  He then became the first African American executive of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hal Smith was one of two catchers on the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Smoky Burgess was the hitter--he was kind of the Pablo Sandoval of his day--he hit bad pitches, and came up big in big games.  But in the seventh game of the World Series, Hal Smith came up in the eighth with the Pirates behind, and hit a three run homer that put them temporarily ahead, setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's tie-breaking ninth inning solo homer.

Another former Pirate who passed away in 2014 was Eddie O'Brien, from their not great 50s team.  But when his brother Johnny played, he became half of the first twins to play for the same team in the same Major League game.

But life isn't all about sports, not even in Pittsburgh.  There's also music!  And Porky Chedwick was a legendary DJ in Pittsburgh and beyond, the original daddio of the radio, the platter-pushing papa, whose most influential era (even beyond Pittsburgh) was the doo-wop 1950s.  I was just a little too young (and a little too far away for good reception from his station) to catch him in his first flush of local fame, but everybody knew his name.  He brought a lot of attention to a lot of black acts in particular, not only on the radio but with live shows.

Pittsburgh had some great mayors, two of whom became PA governors.  Another great one was Richard Caliguiri, who I once interviewed at length.  But there was no Pittsburgh mayor who screamed Pittsburgh! in every way than Sophie Masloff.  As president of the City Council she became mayor upon Caliguiri's death in 1988, and was later elected in her own right.  Her proposal for a new baseball-only park was laughed to oblivion, but she lived long enough to attend games at PNC Park.  She left office in 1994.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Giants Trouble

Here it is late December and the World Champion San Francisco Giants are unable to attract the players they need while other teams in the division--notably the Dodgers and Padres--are trading like crazy, and at least on paper, improving immensely.

The Dodgers are putting together a formidable rotation of starting pitching, while the Padres are adding lots of power.  But the Giants, who need starting pitching, power and two key position players, are seeing their championship team losing important pieces without gaining any.  The Padres are in the midst of installing an entirely new and very impressive outfield.  The Giants can't seem to find a left fielder.  Or someone to play third base.

The Giants have lost two keys to their 2014 success: Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse.  While the Dodgers add pitching, the Giants don't have a starting rotation.  They signed reliever Romo, who was shaky for a period in 2014.

Sure, there's still time and other ways to get good players.  But it does seem mysterious.  In the competition for big name free agents (including Sandoval) their money offers were close if not the same.  And their reputation for a close-knit clubhouse, an exceptional organization, and great fans, presumably would have been an attraction.  The mystery is why it wasn't.

 It may be that San Francisco doesn't draw nationally.  The ratings for the 2014 World Series were pretty bad until the seventh game.

Last year the Giants had a great first half, then barely made it into the playoffs.  The competition within the division is likely to be greater this year.  Nobody knows of course whether all those new Dodgers and Padres will jell into a team, or when.  But the Giants will likely need to find some players somewhere just to remain competitive in 2015.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Panda Blues

It's not a decision that is easy to understand, and as this piece implies, one that Pablo Sandoval may come to regret, but the Panda is gone from San Francisco Giants baseball.  He's signed with the Boston Red Sox for about the same contract as the World Champion Giants were offering.  Anyway, a really good piece on Sandoval and the Giants, and their respective futures.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

They Might Not Be Giants

The constant is change in the three recent San Francisco Giants world championship teams.  At the same time, the teamwork and clubhouse attitudes were at the core of the team's success.  Manager Bruce Bochy is known for his loyalty to his players, and GM Brian Sabean is known for going the extra mile to re-sign his best players.

Still, next year's team is bound to be different.  Among the free agents now are pitchers Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo.  Jeremy Affeldt nears the end of his two year deal.  Position players include Michael Morse and the one everyone is talking about, Pablo Sandoval.

There was a lot of "this may be the last time in a Giants uniform" in the World Series, but negotiations start with Sandoval's uninhibited declaration that he wants to remain a Giant for the rest of his career.

Who could blame him?  Among the best fans in baseball come to watch "the Panda", he's a beloved player even when he's not playing all that well, his teammates and the culture of the clubhouse are nurturing and fun, and he's on a persistent winner.

Fortunately for the Giants, they've already signed Madison Bumgarner, or they might not be able to afford anyone else.

It seems likely that the Giants will want to resign Romo and Morse.  But Bumgarner's dominance can't long mask the problems the Giants have with their starting pitching rotation for next year.  Peavy and Vogelsong, as well as Hudson and Lincecum are big question marks in terms of coming back. Nobody knows how effective Matt Cain will be, coming back from his injury.  That's a lot of spots to fill.

The relief corps may also need to be refreshed.  Affeldt had a rocky season but he was stalwart in the postseason, so he'll be back.  Hunter Strickland demonstrated that he's not quite ready for prime time, so he probably won't, at least to start the season.

The rookies that the Giants would be nuts not to hold onto are Joe Panik, who can be their second baseman for the next decade, and Andrew Susac, who didn't play in the Series but showed signs of being a good backup catcher and pinch hitter, who can spell Buster Posey behind the plate during the season.

But this is going to be an active offseason for the Giants management.  Signing Sandoval is their first priority, but that's just the start.  The starters is where the real problems are.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's MadBum Time--Giants Are World Champs

An improbable year for an improbable championship team ends with an historic pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner in five scoreless innings of relief, just two days after his complete game masterpiece in the fifth game.  The final score was Giants 3 Royals 2.

Records fell all over the place with this win, including many for Madison Bumgarner, quickly named MVP of the World Series.  But this was a team that led the Majors for the first half of the season, and fell so far so fast that it squeaked into the postseason with the last possible playoff spot.  It started the playoffs with its best hitters in slumps, with Angel Pagan and Matt Cain out for the season, with Brandon Belt just returning from injury, and Michael Morse still not back from his injury.

The Giants won the World Series with only one starter who got a victory, and two who didn't get out of the second inning--but Madison Bumgarner got three of their four wins, though an scoring change gave the official win in this one to Affeldt.

The quote of the night belongs to Jeremy Affeldt: "Sometimes we sit around wondering if Madison is human.”

The most dramatic moment had to be in the last of the ninth, when just one out from victory, an error in the outfield by normally excellent fielder Gregor Blanco put a man on third for the Royals.  It seemed like one of those awful portentous plays that forecasts doom.

But on a 2-2 count, MadBum induced a pop-up with a pitch that rode high inside, the Panda squeezed it before falling to his knees, and the San Francisco Giants became 2014 World Champions.

Major contributions on offense by Pablo Sandoval (who set a Major League record for hits in postseason play), DH Michael Morris (2 of the 3 RBIs, including the winning run) and Hunter Pence (two hits this game, .444 average for the Series, and hit in all seven games.)  Major contribution on the mound by Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched 2.5 scoreless innings, stopping the bleeding after Tim Hudson was knocked out in the second, and before MadBum took over.

Major contributions on defense by Perez in left, Crawford at short and by Joe Panik at second, whose great grab in the third stifled a rally and started a double play (which was assisted by Bruce Bochy who appealed the safe call at first.  After lengthy review, it was overturned.)

When the Giants went back ahead 3-2, Bruce Bochy seized the moment to get MadBum into the game.  It was a perfect baseball move, and a perfect psychological move, since the Royals knew he had completely mystified them in two previous games.  Bochy's decision to play Perez in left for his defense also paid dividends.

In the end, this is Bruce Bochy's championship.  He managed the Giants through this crazy year, and made the right moves when they counted in the postseason.  It's no coincidence that Bochy was the manager for three championships by three quite different Giants teams in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Finally, there is the resilience and the attitude of this team.  I was really surprised by the buoyancy with which they and everybody with the Giants (including their announcers) greeted their wild card berth, which they backed into.  It was as if the burden of the questionable season were lifted.  They were a new team.  They played like one.

And so, San Francisco celebrated.  In Pittsburgh, the Pirates are the city's longest love, but the Steelers are the most intense.  But in San Francisco, it's the Giants.

Except for the Panik photo from Fox, all the photos--like all the articles linked to--are from the San Francisco Chronicle.