Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Young QBs Aren't Given a Fair Chance

Remember that badass Monday Night Football showdown between the Chiefs and Broncos sometime in 1994? Montana vs. Elway, as marquee a matchup as anyone could conjure, a fantastic game where one matched the other throw for throw, down to the wire. That game invoked goosebumps. Last night's Monday Night Football game between the Bears' Kyle Orton and the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson invoked those feelings... only the exact opposite.

We've also borne witness this year to such scintilating matchups such as Kellen Clemens and the Jets vs. Trent Edwards and the Bills, Brodie Croyle and the Chiefs vs. Josh McCown and the Raiders, and Troy Smith of the Ravens vs. Cleo Lemon of the Dolphins. Many would say we'd be better off dusting off Elway and Montana and sticking them back out there.

You know what though? It's not entirely the young guys' fault. They're talented, some of them very much so, but they're put in such terrible positions to help their teams win, given so little to work with, that I didn't feel it was fair for them to shoulder the blame. Allow me to break down three different reasons why I think QB play has suffered greatly over the past few years:

Not enough time
Fans have adapted such a vastly unrealistic "WIN NOW" mentality that folks seem to forget that rookie sensation QBs are the exception, not the rule. For every Dan Marino, there are 50 Todd Blackledges. For every Ben Roethlisberger, there are 50 Cade McNowns. One of the biggest stories of the 2006 was the emergence of Tony Romo out of nowhere. You wanna know why he showed up looking as polished and confident as he did? He was able to sit back and learn for 4 years before getting a chance. I don't believe the effect of that could be understated. We even had a more recent example, when Brett Favre went down a few weeks ago against Dallas, and Aaron Rodgers stepped right in without missing a beat, and looked pretty dang good. Now, take a look at a QB picked in the same draft as Rodgers, Alex Smith. He's been HORRIBLE in San Francisco, and one of the biggest reasons is because he hasn't had a chance to learn while sitting on the bench. Both Smith and Rodgers have been in the league just as long, but who's the better QB right now? Based on the evidence available, don't you have to say Aaron Rodgers? And why would that be? Because he wasn't rushed into anything.

Endless Coaching Changes
The best example of the detrimental effects the nonstop coaching haulovers and system makeovers can have on a QB is Daunte Culpepper. Now, I've watched Culpepper his entire tenure in Minnesota, and I can tell you just by watching him that he doesn't appear to be the brightest bulb on the tree. He has a "deer-in-the-headlights" look of which all other "deer-in-the-headlights" looks are compared to. Keep that in mind while I mention that he's worked under five offensive coordinators: two at Minnesota, two at Miami, and one at Oakland. You're to tell me that you're going to trust Culpepper to quickly learn and implement these systems within weeks, only to throw everything he's learned out the window after one season and start all over again someplace else? Ah, NO. But this is commonplace now in the NFL. Look at Phil Rivers this year; he looked like a perfectly capable quarterback last year, because he sat back and learned the system for a couple seasons as a backup. Suddenly there's a coaching overhaul, and he's gotta start over, he's playing like a rookie again, and he's getting roasted for it. Not exactly fair.

The Last Generation of QBs
The previous generation of quarterbacks not only had the benefit of having some bonafide legends, but seemingly even the middle-of-the-road guys were capable of throwing up a Pro Bowl type year every once in a while. I'm talking about guys like Phil Simms, Jim McMahon, Bernie Kosar, Boomer Esiason, Warren Moon, Tommy Kramer, Ken O'Brien... these guys weren't superstars, but they were perfectly capable quarterbacks. To make a pro wrestling reference, these guys would be considered the mid-card. Where's today's midcard? Where are the guys that are supposed to be in their 7th, 8th and 9th years of starting, waiting to pass the torch to the younger guys while they wait, watch and learn on the sidelines? That's how it used to be done, right? Don't blame the young guys for sucking, blame the generation before them for completely dropping the ball and putting the onus on younger QBs WAY before they're ready. I'm talking about guys that either just plain sucked like Culpepper, Aaron Brooks, Tim Couch, Chad Pennington, Brian Griese, David Carr, Drew Henson, Quincy Carter, Chris Weinke, Chris Redman, or guys that just decided to retire early, like Jake Plummer and Drew Bledsoe (or get thrown in prison like Michael Vick). Those guys should ALL be "the man" for their respective team, SOMEwhere, at least to be capable starters while their teams draft late round rookies and teach him their system over the course of a few years. Regarding the guys that plain sucked, an appropriate amount of time was invested in each guy, they all stayed in one place for at least 2-3 years, and they all were decidedly subpar.

(I need a breath after all that incessant name-dropping.)

So, while I believe there's hope for Tarvaris yet, I'd feel a lot better if he were holding a clipboard for at least another year, while Daunte Culpepper handles things within Scott Linehan's offensive system the next few years. Oh wait, you mean Linehan's gone? Culpepper's gone too? Well, maybe the current NFL culture dictates that developing a quarterback is a lost art, and only the obsenely talented and those lucky enough to fall into perfect situations will succeed, while everybody else jumps on the carousel, jumping from city to city, trying to tune out the cries of slightly irrational and misguided anguish directed toward them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NFL Defeatism

So far in the 2007 NFL season, fans of roughly 29 teams have turned into what I call NFL defeatists. That is to say, there are many fans saying, "Woe is me, this season is an exercise in futility, our victories now mean nothing since we stand no chance against the Patriots. In the big picture, our season is insignificant." (The three teams I'm skipping are Indy, Dallas and of course New England.)

Case in point, a blurb from danshanoff.com (and he's not alone with this sentiment) - "Three games to play in the regular season and playoff jockeying is beginning to take some shape. (Again: Not that it matters this season. Whoopee: Your team made the playoffs. They're not winning the Super Bowl, unless you're a Pats fan.)"

That's right, everyone, just stop watching the games. It's over. Channel your inner Nietzsche and ponder your teams relevance to the rest of the league. Forget about watching your team progress (or regress), forget about rivalries, forget about getting caught up in the excitement of a single game, forget about new players emerging, forget about any of that. Because your team isn't the Patriots, or the Colts, or the Cowboys.

Have we already gone from blubbering about parity to blubbering about a top heavy league? That didn't take long. Was it that long ago when everyone commiserated about how 3/4 of the league was hovering around 8-8, how there were different teams in each respective conference's title games every year, about how there was seemingly no continuity from year to year? And now, the instant we have a team threatening to go undefeated with only two teams with a realistic chance of knocking them off, lets start bitching the OTHER way. And the bitching this year is worse than the blathering about parity.

As I've written in the past, I'm a Vikings fan. Inexplicably, impossibly, the Vikings are 7-6 after starting 2-5. Let me tell you that there's not a single Vikings fan alive right now that isn't positively THRILLED about how this season has gone so far. Watching the emergence of Purple Jesus, the maturation of Tarvaris Jackson, the pleasant surprise of Sidney Rice, the all out badass play of the entire defense. But still, do the Vikings have a realistic shot at winning the Super Bowl? Probably not. Does that matter that much to us after what's happened so far? Probably not.

And I've already heard from other folks saying something like, "But the goal of every season is to win the Super Bowl. Anything less than that is failure." Okay, Spock. Thanks for your coldly logical interpretation of sports. You must be a blast to watch a game with.

"Did you see that?! That field goal bounced on the support bar and back outside the uprights!! I've NEVER seen that! And the ref managed to mess up the call even though he was standing right there!"
"It is meaningless. Your team cannot beat the Patriots."

"Holy shit, did you see Adrian Peterson just destroy the Chargers defense!! He's playing like its Tecmo Bowl and he's Bo Jackson!!"
"A useless gesture. The Vikings will not win the Super Bowl."

"There goes Devin Hester AGAIN! This guy is just insane!!"
"Your enthusiasm is illogical. The Bears are going nowhere."

I hate to turn this into such a widely generalized philosophical type deal, but really all I'm trying to say is, SO WHAT? So the Patriots are a great team, one of the best ever, so maybe realistically speaking the Colts and Cowboys are the only teams that can take them down... this is supposed to prevent me from having fun rooting for my team, or following the rest of the league for that matter? Fuck that.

And if it does prevent you, enjoy watching the games alone, Spock. Live long and prosper, jackass.

EDIT: And of course, the day after I post this, the always irrelevant Pete Prisco writes this piece. "What happened to parity? Wasn't I just bitching about that less than a year ago??"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Modern Dilemma: When is it time to part ways with your favorite player's baseball cards?

Okay, here's the problem. And I'm hoping some people (maybe some Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken collectors) can chime in about their feelings on this.

My favorite baseball player is Jeff Bagwell. It might seem odd that a Minnesota kid's favorite player growing up was someone who played for a team a thousand miles away and had zero connection to anything related to the entire midwest, but allow me to explain. Common logic would dictate that my favorite player should be from the Twins, right? Among my circle of friends (please bear in mind we're all between 8 and 10 years old) it all went without saying that everybody loves the Twins, and anybody who doesn't is a big stupid idiot and they smell like poop. Of COURSE we're going to root for them, of COURSE we're all gonna love Kirby, Herbie, Sweet Music, Jack, et al. Only problem with those guys is that their baseball cards weren't worth very much. So, as obsessed baseball card collecting kids, with ridiculous and obviously *realistic* dreams of someday getting crazy rich off of our jealousy-inducing collections, we all decided to pick a guy that wasn't on the Twins, a guy you would call your absolute favorite player for as long as you lived. You had to stick with this guy. You couldn't be cheap and just bail if he has one bad year or if his value goes down out of nowhere, or even shows up on Beckett's dreaded "Who's Cold" list.

Subsequently, seemingly *everyone* picked either Frank Thomas or Ken Griffey Jr. That was the easy way to go. You couldn't lose with those guys, they were sure things. I didn't want to go the obvious way, I wanted my OWN player to root for, a guy that nobody else knew a whole lot about. I picked Jeff Bagwell, mostly for the following reasons:

1. He had a really weird crouched batting stance that made him look like he was taking a dump in a public bathroom while trying to avoid actually sitting on the toilet seat.
2. The Astros also had a ton of other young guys that were fun to root for: Craig Biggio, Eric Anthony, Luis Gonzalez, Ken Caminiti, Shane Reynolds, et al . (A little like how Colorado is now)
3. Nobody ever talked about the guy, despite putting up fantastic numbers year after year and winning the NL ROY in 1991.
4. The Astros had just come out with cool looking new uniforms.
5. His cards weren't Griffey/Thomas level valuable, but they were still up there... all it took was one really good year to put him over the top.

After a couple years shortened by injury, my loyalty was rewarded in 1994, when he had that one really good year, tearing up the National League with stats that had him on pace to contend for the first Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967 (one forgotten thing lost among the strike). Bagwell's cards skyrocketed in value, and suddenly I wasn't alone on the Bagwell bandwagon. 1994 ended up being his best year, as he didn't approach those numbers or that pace ever again, but I'll always remember that season when I felt like a 12 year old genius for making a substantially wise financial (and emotional) investment. To this day I still have about 60+ Jeff Bagwell cards, including all of his rookies.

While his cards are only moderately valued now, there's a chance Bagwell will get to the Hall of Fame. If this happens, it's at this point where his cards would be at peak value, very likely for the final time (around when the actual inductions take place). I realize that there's no way I'll ever get back what I originally paid for his cards 15 years ago, but this would be my last chance to get ANYTHING for his cards. That would be the logical thing to do, right? That was the entire POINT of getting his cards in the first place, right? However, I find myself wanting to hang onto these cards, for several completely irrational reasons like: they remind me of my childhood, Bagwell is still my favorite player, and... I just CAN'T sell them, I'd feel guilty. It's completely stupid, but true. I can't even explain it.

Has anyone else encountered this? Post your comments.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2007 Minnesota Vikings!

I'm not ashamed to say it was one of the worst days of my life. Not that I actively keep track of those kinds of things. But January 18th, 1999 is in the top 10.

That's the day when the Vikings' incredible 1998 season came to a screeching halt at the hands of Chris Freaking Chandler and the Atlanta Falcons. I distinctly remember watching Gary Anderson's field goal drift to the left, his ONLY miss of the ENTIRE year of course, which would have given the Vikings a 10 point lead and essentially ice the game. I obviously was not the only fan who saw Chris Freaking Chandler (I insist on using his full name) trot out after the miss, feeling like I was looking at some kind of insane mutant hybrid concoction of Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Superman, essentially ready to say to everyone watching, "Hey what's up? We're tying this game, okay? You know that, right? I hope everyone here knows that. So, Vikings defense, can you just kind of roll over for us please? Yeah, like that. Thanks." To say I wasn't surprised at the proceedings is an insult to my Viking fanhood up to that point.

You know the rest of the story. Tie game, Denny Green inexplicably takes a knee, despite 40 seconds still showing on the clock, 2 timeouts yet to be taken, and the most powerful offense in the HISTORY OF THE NFL up to that point at his disposal, which essentially is like Phil Jackson saying to MJ during a playoff game, "I know the game's tied, and there's only about a minute left, but I'm gonna have you just hang out on the bench til we get to overtime, is that cool?" Or like going up to Denny Green and asking, "Can you just punch me in the face right now?" I could trot out a million examples of how devastatingly stupid this decision was, but the point is, there's not a Vikings fan I know that doesn't get worked up about it to this day.

They proceed to do nothing in overtime, eventually losing on a 38 yard field goal by Morten Anderson. I remember making the slow walk upstairs, peeling off my Randy Moss jersey like it were covered in infectious disease, and taking the longest shower of my life. Yeah, it was bad.

Little did I know that day would become depressing for another reason entirely: it was my peak as a Vikings fan, in terms of interest, passion, devotion, whatever you want to call it. It was all downhill from there.

These days, it's weird for me to look back at that game and remember how depressed I was afterwards. It feels like a million years ago. Recently I started to wonder why that is; I still watch at least 6 hours of NFL football (sorry, the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE) every Sunday, I'm in at least two fantasy leagues every year, I make friendly bets, football's always a huge topic of discussion both at work and among my friends, etc. Yet last year, as the season wore on, something changed. Watching the Vikings had become more of a chore, more of a tedious obligation, and it was BORING as hell.

I may be a Vikings fan, but I'm not a mindless idiot and I won't watch anything thrown in front of me. Trying to watch them last year was the equivalent of a band like Metallica releasing a pure disco album with some poor impressionable fanboy feeling obligated to listen to it, because god forbid if he didn't like it, he wouldn't be a REAL fan now would he? Well, screw that. I'm not going to watch 97 straight off-tackle handoffs. I'm not going to watch the same sort of playcalling I could walk down the street and see at Bloomington Jefferson high school.

In the past few years, there was seemingly ALWAYS something going on with the Vikings, on or off the field, and it all culminated with the comical Lake Minnetonka incident and Mike Tice's firing. Subsequently, they made a knee-jerk hire, getting the most straight-laced exciting-as-watching-grass-grow coach they could get, with the #1 priority being not to let himself or any of his players further embarrass the franchise. After watching the Vikings last season, or trying to, I get the feeling that during the interview process, they decided to tack on one more question for Childress at the last second as he was leaving, "Uh, you can actually COACH a football team and manage a game, right? Just checking."

Turns out, not only can he manage a game that drives me to go do my laundry instead of watch, but he also falls right into the head-coach-ego-circle-jerk that feels it is in the best interest to form the team according to his own system, rather than form his system to the team's strengths. Hey, he even said himself after he was hired, "This could be my only opportunity to be a head coach in this league, so I have to try it MY way." He might as well have kept talking - "Wide receivers, who needs em? Hell, any name players on offense at all whatsoever? Nuts to that! In fact, let's make a huge reach with our 2nd round draft pick to get a guy who only played Division II college football, because I'm full enough of myself to believe that I think I can mold this guy into what I want him to be for my system. And once I do that, who gets the credit? Me!"

I remember being so eager to get rid of Tice as a coach. "ANYBODY but him" was the sentiment. Well, we GOT anybody but him. I'm forced to remember when the Steelers were stuck with Kordell Stewart as their starting quarterback for years and years, with their fanbase begging and pleading for coach Bill Cowher to dump him and start someone else, ANYBODY else. And when they got ANYBODY else (Tommy Maddox), there was a brief honeymoon period, before the fanbase seemed to collectively realize, "Hey, wait a second... TOMMY MADDOX is our quarterback?!? How did this happen????" Call it the Kordell Corollary. That's really the only feeling I have this year about the Vikings, other than total apathy. I'm nostalgic for Mike Freaking Tice (let's also use his full name). And it sucks.

The old adage goes, "Tis better to have loved than not loved at all." There's a similar, more accurate adage for me these days that goes, "Tis better to have suffered than not rooted at all."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

When Baseball Cards Made Players Stars Before They Ever Did a Damn Thing

With each passing day, seemingly, people of my generation (born in the early 80s) are turning into the old Dana Carvey exaggerated-old-man character. "Back in MY day, we didn't HAVE iPods or PSPs! We had Tiger games! Those shitty hand-held games that ran off of 8 D-cell batteries and still only lasted 45 minutes! And we liked it, weeeeeeee LOVED it!"

These days, my tune is something like: "We didn't have this fancy shmacy technological computer garbage to waste our money on! We had baseball cards! Back then, we thought they were going to be worth thousands of dollars! What are they worth now? NOTHING! Does it matter? NO! Because we liked it, weeeeeeee LOVED it!"

This was all brought on by a price guide I found while going through some old crap at my parents' house the other day. A Beckett Baseball Card Monthly price guide, from May 1992, with Steve Avery on the cover.

1992 was in the middle of a great time for baseball. Fresh off an outstanding World Series the year before, still before anyone fathomed the thought of a strike or god forbid even the World Series getting canceled, with a slew of great young players coming up. Ehh, actually, scratch that last part. One of the great things about baseball cards is that it made huge stars of guys before they'd done a damn thing in the majors. Guys like:

Phil Plantier - 1991 Topps Stadium Club
Value circa May 1992 - $14.00 (Please bear in mind that $14 is a TON of money to an 8 year old)
Current worth - NOTHING

I was always kind of flabbergasted, even as an impressionable 8 year old, that this guy's cards were worth as much as they were. I distinctly remember having a conversation with a kid who lived down the road from me whose persuit of owning every Phil Plantier rookie card consumed his young life. It went something like this:
Me: How many home runs did he have last year?
Him, looking at the back of the card: It says he didn't have any...
Me: So why's it worth so much?
Him: I don't know...
Me, now looking at the back of the card: What team is Pawtucket?
Him: I don't know...
Career Stats - .243 career batting average, 91 career HRs, .771 career OPS in 8 seasons with 5 different ballclubs
What's he doing now? - Managing the Macon Music, current titleholder of the worst sports franchise name in recorded history.

Brien Taylor - 1992 Topps Stadium Club Dome
Value circa May 1992 - $14.00
Current worth - NOTHING

Yes, all you have to do is be the first overall pick by the New York Yankees in order for your cards to be ridiculously inflated in value! You don't even need to pitch an inning of actual major league baseball! Just make sure you actually GET to the majors eventually. Of course, a 1993 bar fight didn't exactly help that cause.
Career Stats - No Major League stats
What's he doing now? - Working in real-estate, so sayeth Wikipedia.

Ben McDonald - 1991 Leaf Studio
Value circa May 1992 - $0.35
Current worth - NOTHING

Alright, I have a cheat a bit here, because technically this card wasn't worth anything in 1992 (that's how fast this guy burned out), but still, everyone remembers Ben McDonald, who was pretty much a poor man's Ben Sheets (right down to the Olympic career). Everyone among my circle of friends at the time was also tripping over themselves to get their hands on the brand new Leaf Studio series, which featured pictures of really ugly baseball players in a photo studio. Awesome, I really want airbrushed pictures of Randy Johnson's mullet and Eric Show's mustache.
Career Stats - 78-70 record, 1.257 WHIP, 3.91 ERA... Hey, that's not that bad! What the hell!
What's he doing now? - Probably running around telling people "Hey! I wasn't THAT bad, you douchebags! I had a 3.91 ERA! THREE POINT NINE ONE!"

Todd Van Poppel - 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations
Value circa May 1992 - $15.00
Current worth - NOTHING

This guy is pretty much the reason I made this entry. Who doesn't hate Todd Van Poppel? In fact, I shouldn't even say this card is worth nothing, because its comedic value is almost unmatched. When you want to torture a contemporary, or even your worst enemy, just shower him with Todd Van Poppel cards. Horrible memories of wasted time and money will come rushing back. I still can't get that straight-as-an-arrow fastball out of my head. He made LaTroy Hawkins look like Roger Clemens.
Career Stats - 40-52 record, 5.58 ERA, 1.549 WHIP over 11 years with 6 teams, mostly as a reliever
What's he doing now? - Who knows.

Gregg Jefferies - 1989 Topps Future Stars
Value circa May 1992 - I don't know, I'm too angry to look
Current worth - NOTHING

Just looking at this card gets me pissed off. I wish I were kidding. I traded like four Tom Glavine cards for this and his Donruss Rated Rookie way back in the day, thinking I was totally fleecing my friend, because he was a Glavine fanboy. I even ended up getting a 1989 Topps set for Christmas that year, overjoyed that I now had TWO of these cards, completely oblivious that I would eventually get more and more depressed as Jefferies hit .210 like 57 years in a row. I feel like throwing on a black t-shirt, listening to Morrissey and cutting myself with a thumbtack while writing some crappy poetry about somehow finding a sabremetrical way to prove that Gregg Jefferies actually DOESN'T suck, and that somehow his cards WILL be worth something and that this impossibly deep emotional rollercoaster will have a happy ending. I'm not even going to post your career stats, and I don't CARE what you're doing now. Screw you, Gregg Jefferies.

Honorable mentions that weren't quite awful/anger-inducing enough to make this entry (just players in general) - Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, J.T. Snow, Steve Avery, David Justice, Earl Cunningham, Ryan Klesko, and Scott Erickson. We haven't forgotten about you. Bastards.

(Special thanks to checkoutmycards.com)

Monday, August 13, 2007

To Celebrate the Release of Madden 08

I present to you a song I wrote a couple years ago -

The No-Chance-In-Hell Game

(or, if you're into the myspace thing, it's here too)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What if there was no Tiger?

It seems like every golf tournament I watch, the broadcasters or people I'm watching with will throw out comments like, "I don't understand why he hasn't won more", "Why hasn't he won more majors?" or something to that effect. The answer to that question is... because Tiger keeps winning everything, duh. So I thought I'd take a look at the list of runner-ups to Tiger Woods at each of his 13 major tournament victories:

1997 Masters - Tom Kite
Would have been his 2nd major, alongside the 1992 US Open. Not sure it would have changed his place in history much, or even his place in Tom Henke's Army.

1999 PGA Championship - Sergio Garcia
Would be his only major, and would probably make him an even more arrogant, unlikeable prick. To think that everyone loved this guy back when, mostly because of the shot pictured here.

2000 US Open - Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez (tie)

Would have been Ernie's 3rd major at the time (would be his 5th overall as it stands today, including the next one listed). Would've been the Mechanic's first major, and I'm sure it would've only accelerated the insufferably snobby PC way CBS broadcasters pronounce his last name (hee-men-ETH).

2000 British Open - Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn (tie)

Would have been Ernie's 4th at the time, 5th overall. Would stand as Bjorn's only major, but surely would not have dampened his chances to blow another 14 or so tournaments later in his career.

2000 PGA Championship - Bob May

Would have been his only major, but surely would not have dampened his chances to completely fall off the face of the earth. Seriously, that's the biggest picture of him I can find.

2001 Masters - David Duval

2 majors for Duval, but still would have been known to many as "That Douchebag With the Sunglasses." Still, considering this guy's confidence issues, and how much he valued winning the Masters, there's a good chance Duval would have went on to dominate most of the next couple years.

2002 Masters - Retief Goosen

He'd have 3 majors (this would be his 2nd), and put him over the top and probably thought of as one of the best golfers of this generation. And the most electrifying personality on the PGA tour this side of Davis Love III.

2002 US Open - Phil Mickelson

Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, depending on your viewpoint), the only time Phil has finished 2nd to Tiger at a major. This would have been his first, of course, and 4th overall. Also, this picture never fails to crack me up.

2005 Masters - Chris DiMarco

Would have been his first major. Would also have filled Tiger's fist-pump quotient without a problem.

2005 British Open - Colin Montgomerie
Yes, this would have been Monty's first... oh who am I kidding, even without Tiger, there's no freaking way Monty wins a major. Fred Couples and Jose Maria Olazabal tied for third, we're all better off assuming one of those guys win, right? Also, that is not a picture of Bill Parcells.

2006 British Open - Chris DiMarco
It'd be his second if you include the '05 Masters. Personally, I'm rooting for DiMarco to win a major, just to see what style of fist-pump he busts out for the occasion. Maybe a first ever quintuple-swooping Mortal-Kombat-style uppercut that accidentally knocks out his caddie?

2006 PGA Championship - Shaun Micheel

Inexplicably, this would have been his 2nd major. I still have no idea who this guy is, but I'm sure Jim Nantz has a smarmy way to pronounce (read: over-enunciate) his name.

2007 PGA Championship - Woody Austin

Would have been his first, bringing us full circle back to Tom Kite if Woody were still sporting the aviators.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

I'm a Concerned Twins Fan

Big city sports are in a constant state of flux, in terms of who's relevant and who can really capture the imagination of the locals, but rarely are things as topsy turvy as they have been in Minneapolis the past few years.

Seven short years ago, the Vikings were the toast of the town, boasting star power that few other NFL teams could match, with Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, John Randle, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, et al. You couldn't walk 20 feet downtown without seeing a Vikings jersey. A division title was a foregone conclusion (blasphemous to think otherwise!), a Super Bowl APPEARANCE considered to be a relatively underwhelming expectation, let alone a Super Bowl win. This area lived, breathed and ate Vikings football.

Not too far behind were the Timberwolves, a team that had come tantalizingly close to breaking through, sporting one of the most widely recognized stars in the world in Kevin Garnett, with a promising supporting cast that included Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups and Wally Szczerbiak. They had lost the past three years in the first round of the playoffs, but THIS year was the year. The potential was too tempting to ignore. There was nowhere to go but up.

The Twins, on the other hand, were a disaster, a laughingstock. A losing record their past 8 seasons. Their latest big free agent signing was Butch Huskey. Matt Lawton was their only all-star. They finished the year 8 games behind Kansas City. Rumblings of moving the team to Charlotte had yet to subside. The word "contraction" entered the local lexicon. The team was a wide stain on page 7 of the sports section.

Now, the tables have completely turned. The Vikings' most popular players are offensive linemen and a running back that hasn't played a down of professional ball yet, bringing the fanbase to a level of apathy it hasn't seen in at least 25 years. The Timberwolves just traded away its greatest player in franchise history, after years of disappointment, and are left with a bunch of rookies and bit players. Needless to say, the word "rebuilding" doesn't exactly capture the area's imagination.

The shining beacon of hope? The Minnesota Twins. Quite the turnaround.

Division winners in four out of the last five years, including an incredible, history-making run in 2006 where won the division on the last day of the season. Once-in-a-lifetime talents and a myriad of all-stars, with names like Santana, Hunter, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Nathan, making the Twins the most likeable, easy to root for team in town. They do things the "right way": they develop their own players, make smart savvy trades, their players hustle and run out ground balls, they don't exclusively rely on letting other teams develop their players so they can snatch them away with a cartoonishly huge contract. Their reputation is heralded league-wide as "the right way to do it."

The Twins front office isn't stupid. They know all this. Not only has the organization reached consistent success on the field, they've matched that with an outstanding ad campaign (I've got some extra Joe Mauer sideburns laying around here somewhere), and they even got that pesky new ballpark built. So, I'm willing to bet that they know and understand the current condition of the local sports climate. It's theirs for the taking. The Twins could potentially OWN this area for years and years. All the ingredients are there.

The question is, why haven't they done anything about it yet?

They've at least had the foresight to sign their one absolute-home-run-sure-thing Joe Mauer, a local guy who oozes marketability, plays arguably the most important position on the field, and, oh yeah, he won a batting title. But lets face it, you'd have to be Kevin McHale to screw that up. What's concerning is, the front office seems to be content with just Mauer locked up. Justin Morneau is equally important to the Twins, in just as many ways as Mauer. The same could be said for Torii Hunter, who many fans perceive to be the face of the franchise. Michael Cuddyer's value to the lineup and to right field was proven the past couple weeks when he went on the disabled list; the team struggled mightily without him, leading to an embarassing sweep at the hands of Toronto. Joe Nathan is again proving this year he's one of the best closers in baseball. And of course, Johan Santana, whose importance to the team has gotten to the point where it just goes without saying, will command the most money out of anyone, as well as the most attention from other ballclubs. Point is, every single one of these guys is important in their own unique way.

I'd imagine most front offices would look at something like that and get slightly overwhelmed. Too many stars, too much money, too little time. In my eyes, the Twins should be looking at this as their greatest opportunity for as long as they've been in Minnesota. There is a drastic lack of star-power, a woeful amount of apathy, a gaping hole in the Minnesota sports scene. Dare I say, a lack of hope. The Twins have a chance to change all that. They've proven they can with their play. They know they have the right guys to do it. Now can they keep them all?

Based on their relative inactivity towards this situation, I'm not sure they really understand the ramifications, both short-term and long-term, if they're only able to sign a couple of these guys, or even god forbid, NONE of them. If that happens, we're back at square one. Same old Twins, too cheap to do anything, while a billionaire owner leans on a crutch labled "small market", the trust of the public lost possibly forever. The team would essentially be saying, "This is as far as we can go, and we're going to make it as hard as we can to root for your favorite team."

This is their chance to make a statement, to instead say "We give a crap, we're going to be good for a long time, we're contending for a championship with THIS team and THESE guys, and we're not screwing around. No more of this Butch Huskey, Sidney Ponson, Bret Boone bullshit. We're going to prove to the fans that we give a crap."

The Twins' time is now. But do they realize it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Just To Make Sure Everyone's Sufficiently Fired Up

SI recently posted a list of top 15 NBA draft busts, in no particular order, and I could not help but notice there were exactly ZERO Minnesota Timberwolves picks that made this particular list (yes, the world needs more LIST DRAMA). I'll be honest: the T-Wolves draft lore holds a special place in my heart. It's so outlandishly, laughably pathetic and sad that it's very endearing to me. In fact, a few years ago, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published a gigantic list of every player to have EVER played for the T-Wolves, and I enjoyed it so much, I cut it out and hung it in the back of my closet, to make sure I at least glance at it every morning to get my day started right.

Onward to the T-Wolves 1st round draft history, starting in...

Pick 10 - Pooh Richardson

Career Stats with the T-Wolves in three years (89-90 to 91-92) - 15.0 ppg, 8.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 spg
Others they could have had - Mookie Blaylock (12), Tim Hardaway (14), Dana Barros (16), not to mention a pretty badass forward by the name of Shawn Kemp (17).
▪ Okay, this was the first T-Wolves draft pick ever, and he was alright, nothing spectactular. It was smart to look for a PG/leader type for an expansion squad, but he wasn't the right guy to try and lead a brand new team. Of course, he was playing with guys like Brad Lohaus and Randy Breuer, so he was asked to do too much. He ended up being traded to Indiana for Michael Williams and Chuck Person, who was pretty good for a while, and was also one half of my favorite all-time worthless NBA Jam pairings, with Christian Laettner. Also: I wish SI still made posters like that. I'd at least have a Darko or a Ron Coomer poster in my office cube.

▪ Pick 6 - Felton Spencer

Career Stats in three years with the T-Wolves (90-91 - 92-93) - 5.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.2 bpg

Pick 20 - Gerald Glass

Career Stats in a little more than two years with the T-Wolves (90-91 - 92-93) - 7.8 ppg, 1.8 apg, 2.0 rpg, 0.7 spg
Other players they could have had - Uh, well, it was a pretty lousy draft.
▪ Spencer was widely considered a joke during his tenure in Minnesota, but went onto becoming a decent bench player after leaving (a recurring theme). The guy was part of the fraternity of Impossibly Huge Dudes That Can't Move, along with Will Perdue, Bill Wennington, Joe Klein, among others, including the guy drafted in 91. As for Glass, well, you know you're an awesome draft pick when you have barely any results on Google Image search. He was out of the league after four years.

Pick 7 - Luc Longley

Career Stats in 2 1/2 years with the T-Wolves (91-92 - 93-94) - 5.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.2 bpg
▪ Other players they could have had - Stacey Augmon (9, who would have been a good fit), Brian Williams (10, eventually Bison Dele), Terrell Brandon (11, who would join the team a few years later), Dale Davis (13), Chris Gatling (16)
▪ Come on, everyone knows Luc Longley. Everyone loves Luc Longley. He seems like a cool guy. Just not someone you'd draft 7th overall. Yes, someone drafted Luc Longley 7th overall, and yes, it was the T-Wolves 2nd year in a row drafting an Impossibly Huge Dude That Can't Move. I guess one stiff averaging 5 points a game wasnt enough. This was the first major sign that indicated perhaps this team doesn't know its ass from a hole in the ground.

▪ Pick 3 - Christian Laettner

Career Stats in four years with the T-Wolves (92-93 - 95-96) - 17.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.2 spg
Other players they could have had - No one of note, unless you consider Tom Gugliotta (5), who they ended up with a few years later.
▪ Realistically, there was no one else the T-Wolves could take here. Laettner was the Golden Boy, the savior, fresh off the freaking ORIGINAL DREAM TEAM for god's sake. Laettner put up good numbers while he was there, but he couldn't handle the pressure of being The Guy, whined way too much about not getting calls (you thought 'Sheed and Tim Duncan were bad?), and was practically unanimously deemed unlikeable and very difficult to get along with by teammates, fans and media alike. He was mercifully traded to Atlanta during the 95-96 season for approximately 40 cents on the dollar (with Sean Rooks for Spud Webb and Andrew Lang). This was the first major sign that indicated perhaps this team has atrociously bad luck. Also, it warrants mentioning that so far, Laettner is the leader in the clubhouse for most years spent with the T-Wolves as a first round pick, at a whopping three and a half.

▪ Pick 5 - Isaiah "J.R." Rider

Career Stats in three years with the T-Wolves (93-94 - 95-96) - 18.9 ppg, 2.9 apg, 3.8 rpg, 0.7 spg
Other players they could have had - Allan Houston (11), Sam Cassell (24), Nick Van Exel (37)
▪ Determined to screw up their locker room chemistry even more, the T-Wolves front office said "Pish posh!" to all the people that said J.R. Rider was a ticking time-bomb. He had talent, obviously, and had a number of "Holy Sh!t" plays (he won the 1994 Dunk Contest with an insane between the legs dunk), but several suspensions and one count of assault later, he was dealt to Portland after the 95-96 season for Bill Curley, James "Hollywood" Robinson, a conditional first round pick in 97 or 98, a 6-pack of padded crew socks and a slightly worn Extreme Pornograffiti 1990 World Tour t-shirt.

Pick 4 - Donyell Marshall

Career Stats in 40 games with the T-Wolves (1994) - 10.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg ▪ Other players they could have had - Juwan Howard (5), Jalen Rose (13)
▪ Marshall was traded to Golden State for Tom Gugliotta after 40 games, a good deal in retrospect, one of maybe two in franchise history. Marshall is still in the league, toiling with the Cavaliers, but still, it just goes to show that the T-Wolves used the 4th overall pick in the draft on a career 6th man with exceedingly mediocre game.

▪ Pick 5 - Kevin Garnett

Career Stats in 12 years with the T-Wolves (95-96 - 06-07) - 20.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.7 bpg, 1.4 spg
Other players they could have had - Shawn Respert! (8) Ed O'Bannon! (9) Big Country! (6)
▪ Kevin McHale's first and only good draft choice. If you count the Laettner pick (there's just no way they could've picked anyone else at the time) and the Marshall pick (for getting them Googs), that makes them 3 for 8 up to this point. If you want to be really generous you can count Pooh in there to make it 4.

Pick 5 - Ray Allen (traded to Milwaukee for the 4th pick, which was Stephon Marbury)

Career Stats in two and a half years with the T-Wolves (96-97 - 98-99) - 18.7 ppg, 9.4 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 spg
Other players they could have had - Uh, Ray Allen, for starters. Antoine Walker (6), Kobe Bryant (13), Peja Stojakovic (14), Steve Nash (15), Jermaine O'Neal (17). Let it be known that I vehemently believed that the T-Wolves should have traded down to get Nash (who I've loved since watching him help Santa Clara take down Arizona (a 15 over a 2) in the 1st round of the NCAA tourney in 93), because he would have fit a million times better than Marbury.
▪ I remember the debate that took place after this draft between the Marbury camp and the Ray Allen camp. One common theme throughout every Marbury-over-Allen argument was that "We already have two shooting guards, Doug West and Chris Carr," which is like saying "We're not drafting Mike Conley because we already have Earl Boykins and Ty Lue." Needless to say, this pick brought a LOT of hype in the Twin Cities area, as it was presumed that the KG-Googs-Marbury trio would lead the T-Wolves to the promised land. However, there's one pretty essential element that was overlooked in bringing these guys together: they didn't like each other. Well, at least Googs and Marbury didn't, so the T-Wolves solution was to trade Googs to Phoenix (where his career sadly fell apart due to health reasons). You have to consider this pick a huge bust because it was an absolutely loaded draft, and they ended up with a guy that didn't last with the team for even three years, who also managed to drive away one of their best players during that time.

And here's where the shit REALLY starts to pile up.

Pick 20 - Paul Grant

Career Stats in FOUR GAMES for the T-Wolves (98-99) - 0.5 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 bpg
Other players they could have had - Bobby Jackson (23), Stephen Jackson (43)
▪ Come on and say it with me! "Who the hell is Paul Grant?" Leave it to Kevin McHale to draft an Impossibly Huge Dude That Can't Move with already bad feet and bad knees.

Pick 17 - Radoslav Nesterovic

Career Stats in five years with the T-Wolves (98-99 - 02-03) - 6.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.1 bpg
Other players they could have had - Felipe Lopez (24), Al Harrington (25), Rashard Lewis (32), Cuttino Mobley (41)
▪ Determined to repeat the mistakes of past front office execs, McHale drafts a Impossibly Huge Dude Who Can't Move for the 2nd year in a row. Although to be fair, Rasho had a pretty dang good year in 02-03 (contract year, however) and seemed to mesh well with KG for a little while.

Pick 6 - Wally Szczerbiak

Career Stats in six and a half years with the T-Wolves (99-00 - 05-06) - 16.6 ppg, 2.8 apg, 4.6 rpg, 0.7 spg

Pick 14 - William Avery

Career Stats in three years with the T-Wolves (99-00 - 01-02) - 2.7 ppg, 1.4 apg, 0.7 rpg, 0.2 spg
Other players they could have had - Rip Hamilton (7), Andre Miller (8), Shawn Marion (9), Jason Terry (10), Corey Maggette (13), Ron Artest (16), Andrei Kirilenko (24)
▪ Wally, of course, was a perfectly serviceable player for many years, the type where you knew exactly what you were getting: 17 points a night with the occasional 30+ burst, consistent shooting, no defense to speak of and lots of injuries. He was caught in a position early in his career where he was asked to do too much. He would really have flourished with a team that could have given him a well-defined role (although when the T-Wolves asked him to come off the bench later in his career, he was none too happy about it), the point being that had the T-Wolves managed their picks better (like the Will Avery pick or the Rasho/Paul Grant picks), they could have put together a team based on guys playing to their strengths, a la San Antonio, and Wally would have fit extremely well into something like that. Will Avery is the answer to the question "Who the hell is Will Avery?" He had one of the all-time great "deer-in-the-headlights" looks anytime he was out on the floor (I think Daunte Culpepper took notes from him), and he ended up out of the league in three years. Another awful, awful pick.


No pick (given up for the chance to sign Joe Smith to a series of under-the-table one year contracts with the promise that he would get a long-term deal before the 01-02 season. Also, the draft was held in Minneapolis, giving the fans ample opportunity to voice their opinion of the T-Wolves 2nd round pick of Red Star Belgrade superstar Igor Rakocevic)
Players they could have had - Desmond Mason (17), Quentin Richardson (18), Jamaal Magloire (19), Speedy Claxton (20), Mo Peterson (21)


No pick (given up for the chance to sign JOE FREAKING SMITH to a series of under-the-table one year contracts)
Players they could have had - Richard Jefferson (13), Zach Randolph (19), Gerald Wallace (25), Tony Parker (28), Gilbert Arenas (31)


▪ No pick (given up for the chance to sign JOE MOTHER #$%*&#$*@# SMITH to a series of under-the-table one year contracts)
Players they could have had - Would have been in a perfect position to take Tayshawn Prince (23)

Pick 26 - Ndudi Ebi

Career Stats in 19 games (all garbage time) for the T-Wolves (03-04 - 04-05) - 2.1 ppg, 0.2 apg, 1.0 rpg, 0.3 bpg
Other players they could have had - Leandro Barbosa (28), JOSH HOWARD (29), Jason Kapono (31), Luke Walton (32)
▪ The NBA mercifully grants the T-Wolves a pick (seeing as the franchise was completely stuck in neutral going on six years), and McHale and Friends blissfully waste it on a "project pick". It's really sad that I honestly believe that even Jason Kapono would be roughly 293048923 times better than Ebi. Also, it simply cannot be overstated how perfect Josh Howard would have been for the T-Wolves at this point. He would have been perfect. PERFECT. Let's move on before I shave my face with a ceiling fan or something.


No pick (given up for the chance to sign-- ah, fuck it. *shaves head with lawnmower*)
Players they could have had - Jameer Nelson (20), Kevin Martin (26)

Pick 14 - Rashad McCants

Career Stats for 116 games with the T-Wolves (05-06 - 06-07) - 7.0 ppg, 0.9 apg, 1.6 rpg, 0.6 spg
Other players they could have had - Danny Granger (17), Hakim Warrick (19), Jarrett Jack (22), Luther Head (24)
▪ This one's obviously a wait-and-see, but I just wanted to call to mind that this guy had previously been an SI cover story detailing what a moody bitch he is. Welcome to the T-Wolves 1st round pick fraternity, Rashad! Have you met JR Rider and Christian Laettner?

Pick 6 - Brandon Roy (traded to Portland for Randy Foye)

Career Stats after one year with the T-Wolves (06-07) - 10.1 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.1 rpg, 0.6 spg
▪ Other players they could have had - Brandon Roy

▪ I like Foye quite a bit, and he got much better as the season went along, but I can't help but have a lingering feeling that this will turn out like the Marbury/Allen draft did 10 years prior. But hey, it's not like history ever repeats itself with the T-Wolves or anything, right?


...uh, don't answer that.

Anyway, that brings us to this year. As you can see, T-Wolves fans have many, many reasons to be very, very nervous about what happens on Thursday. A friend of mine is perversely hoping they pick Spencer Hawes. I'm nervous they pass on Mike Conley because they already have Randy Foye. Everyone's nervous that McHale will end up holding onto KG. I'm nervous they'll talk themselves into Jo Noah, despite that he can't put up points and would only thrive in an already established system (something the T-Wolves haven't had since Flip left, and they barely had one even when he was there) where he would play a clearly defined role. Everyone's nervous McHale will trade the pick for JJ Redick or something insane. Nerves are frayed, but in the end, nobody will be surprised. It's just another chapter in the outlandishly, laughably pathetic Minnesota Timberwolves draft lore.