Bruins coach under fire

January 25, 2010

NEWS ITEM:Is firing Claude Julien the answer?

The Bruins are hurt. The Bruins are playing lousy hockey. To make things worse, the Bruins are playing with the sense of urgency of a Wednesday afternoon bridge club.

Is it time for coaching change?

The talk shows are already calling for Claude Julien’s head. Is that the answer for a team that seems to be going nowhere?

The answer, from here, anyway, is, in a word, no. But so many of the good feelings of Jan. 1 and the Winter Classic are crumbling.

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It really would be hard to justify canning the reigning Coach of Year for his first rough spot in three years behind the Boston bench, wouldn’t it? The Bruins, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup in what is approaching four decades, appeared to have finally achieved some stability in the job with Julien, who took them back to the playoffs his first year and led them to the top of the Eastern Conference the next. Sure, losing to eighth-seeded Carolina in the second round was a bad way for it to end, but the B’s had become relevant again in a town of winners.

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Now, it all seems to be gone. And the worst part about it is these guys have forgotten who they are, forgotten how to battle.

A team with NO natural goal scorer has become a finesse group, or, more accurately, a sit back and wait group. Patrice Bergeron and Daniel Paille have played well. Anyone else stand out?

The biggest problems, in these eyes, anyway, are the two biggest guys on the team, team captain Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, 13 feet and 483 pounds of muscle, aren’t doing anything to shake their teammates out of this. They have combined to score six goals this season, so that must be the reason why they don’t seem to hit anyone.

If you saw the ease in which Ottawa got out of its own zone in the closing minutes of Saturday’s game, if you saw the way the defense was beaten repeatedly by last-place Carolina Sunday, you saw a team that had quit on its coach. Chara was beaten badly for a goal in each of those games.

The only penalty of Saturday’s game, one where you’d figure Julien’s guys would come out charging, was against Miroslav Satan, a renowned ruffian known for his soft play. Chara, Lucic and tough guy Shawn Thornton did nothing in the way of scaring the visitors.

Where ARE these guys?

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Invisible, which is why the Bruins were already out of the current playoff standings and could actually be in 12th or 13th place by the next time they play, Friday night in Buffalo.

People talk about the Penguins coming from 10th place last year to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins fired their coach, but also had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on top of his game.

The Hurricanes also fired their coach and made it to the conference finals last year. They, too, had more skill guys than the Bruins.

Fire Julien? Last week, he publicly criticized defenseman Dennis Wideman, perhaps another sign he’s losing these guys. But it’s too soon to get rid of the guy, isn’t it?

Lou Lamoriello makes coaching changes in New Jersey and wins the Cup. This Bruins team isn’t winning the Cup, no matter who is behind the bench. This Bruins team, even trying, is dealing with what is already 115 manpower games lost to injury and illness and there are years teams just never seem to get healthy.

They get Marc Savard back Friday night. Savard and Lucic, two-thirds of the top line that also included Phil Kessel (he’s been lousy, too, in Toronto). This pair has played in nine games together this season, and Lucic got hurt in one and Savard 28 seconds into another. Let’s see if Savard’s return helps. Both got new contracts from the club. Both have been hurt, and Lucic, since coming back from his second injury of the season, has just been a big, lumbering body that doesn’t do much.  Maybe they should sign this guy.

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In the old days, Peter Chiarelli would have been able to pull a trade, any trade, that might have shaken things up. The salary cap makes that difficult and Chiarelli is not going to mortgage the future for an Ilya Kovalchuk or Vinny Lecavalier.

Chiarelli made some decisions, like the Kessel move, that come into question at a time like this. But you couldn’t pay a one-way player like Kessel $5.4 million bucks a year to play at one end of the ice, thus messing up your payroll. Did they overpay for Tim Thomas? Of course they did, but haven’t we seen enough of Tuukka Rask to know he’s not yet the second coming of Martin Brodeur?

Here’s the thing. Would I be shocked if I woke up tomorrow and found the Bruins had yet another new coach? No. Would I think it’s right move? No. Let’s see what happens and if this team can get to the Olympic break, get healthier and then finish the season.

Let’s also see if these guys care. If they don’t, if this continues, Julien WILL lose his job.

NEWS ITEM: Colts, Saints in the Super Bowl

So much for the know-it-alls who said these conference powers shouldn’t have sat players at the end of the regular season because it takes the edge off for the playoffs, right?

The two best teams in football will play in Miami. Should be fun.

Getting back to something we talked about here last week, about Sunday’s AFC championship game being a dilemma for Patriots’ fans, talking to people throughout the week and even on the day of the title games, it really was 50-50 on who Pats fans wanted to lose more. But, in the end, I’d have to say, of the people I talked to, there were slightly more who hated the Jets, and New York, than hated Peyton Manning and his Colts. Now they can turn their attention to being Saints fans and loving Drew Brees.

Bruins coach under fire

January 25, 2010

NEWS ITEM:Is firing Julien the answer?

   The Bruins are hurt. The Bruins are playing lousy hockey. To make things worse, the Bruins are playing with the sense of urgency of a Wednesday afternoon bridge club.

   Is it time for coaching change?

   The talk shows are already calling for Claude Julien’s head. Is that the answer for a team that seems to be going nowhere?

   The answer, from here, anyway, is, in a word, no.

   It really would be hard to justify canning the reigning Coach of Year for his first rough spot in three years behind the Boston bench, wouldn’t it? The Bruins, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup in what is approaching four decades, appeared to have finally achieved some stability in the job with Julien, who took them back to the playoffs his first year and led them to the top of the Eastern Conference the next. Sure, losing to eighth-seeded Carolina in the second round was a bad way for it to end, but the B’s had become relevant again in a town of winners.

   Now, it all seems to be gone. And the worst part about it is these guys have forgotten who they are, forgotten how to battle.

   A team with NO natural goal scorer has become a finesse group, or, more accurately, a sit back and wait group. Patrice Bergeron and Daniel Paille have played well. Anyone else stand out in your mind?

   The biggest problems, in these ayes, anyway, are the two biggest guys on the team, team captain Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, 13 feet and 483 pounds of muscle, aren’t doing anything to shake their teammates out of this. They have combined to score six goals this season, so that must be the reason why they don’t seem to hit anyone.

   If you saw the ease in which Ottawa got out of its own zone in the closing minutes of Saturday’s game, if you saw the way the defense was beaten repeatedly by last-place Carolina Sunday, you saw a team that had quit on its coach. Chara was beaten badly for a goal in each of those games.

   The only penalty of Saturday’s game, one where you’d figure Julien’s guys would come out charging, was against Miroslav Satan, a renowned ruffian known for his soft play. Chara, Lucic and tough guy Shawn Thornton did nothing in the way of scaring the visitors.

   Where ARE these guys?

   Invisible, which is why the Bruins were already out of the current playoff standings and could actually be in 12th or 13th place by the next time they play, Friday night in Buffalo.

   People talk about the Penguins coming from 10th place last year to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins fired their coach, but also had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on top of his game.

   The Hurricanes also fired their coach and made it to the conference finals last year. They, too, had more skill guys than the Bruins.

   Fire Julien? Last week, he publicly criticized defenseman Dennis Wideman, perhaps another sign he’s losing these guys. But it’s too soon to get rid of the guy, isn’t it?

   Lou Lamoriello makes coaching changes in New Jersey and wins the Cup. This Bruins team isn’t winning the Cup, no matter who is behind the bench. This Bruins team, even trying, is dealing with what is already 115 manpower games lost to injury and illness and there are years teams just never seem to get healthy.

   They get Marc Savard back Friday night. Savard and Lucic, two-thirds of the top line that also included Phil Kessel (he’s been lousy, too, in Toronto). This pair has played in nine games together this season, and Lucic got hurt in one and Savard 28 seconds into another. Let’s see if Savard’s return helps. Both got new contracts from the club. Both have been hurt, and Lucic, since coming back from his second injury of the season, has just been a big, lumbering body that doesn’t do much.

   In the old days, Peter Chiarelli would have been able to pull a trade, any trade, that might have shaken things up. The salary cap makes that difficult and Chiarelli is not going to mortgage the future for an Ilya Kovalchuk or Vinny Lecavalier.

   Chiarelli made some decisions, like the Kessel move, that come into question at a time like this. But you couldn’t pay a one-way player like Kessel $5.4 million bucks a year to play at one end of the ice, thus messing up your payroll. Did they overpay for Tim Thomas? Of course they did, but haven’t we seen enough of Tuukka Rask to know he’s not yet the second coming of Martin Brodeur?

   Here’s the thing. Would I be shocked if I woke up tomorrow and found the Bruins had yet another new coach? No. Would I think it’s right move? No. Let’s see what happens and if this team can get to the Olympic break, get healthier and then finish the season.

   Let’s also see if these guys care. If they don’t, if this continues, Julien WILL lose his job.

NEWS ITEM: Colts, Saints in the Super Bowl

   So much for the know-it-alls who said these conference powers shouldn’t have sat players at the end of the regular season because it takes the edge off for the playoffs, right?
   The two best teams in football will play in Miami. Should be fun.

   Getting back to something we talked about here last week, about this game being a dilemma for Patriots’ fans, talking to people throughout the week and even on the day of the title games, it really was 50-50 on who Pats fans wanted to lose more. But, in the end, I’d have to say, of the people I talked to, there were slightly more who hated the Jets, and New York, more than they hated Peyton Manning. Now, they can turn their attention to being Saints fans and loving Drew Brees.

Jets Giving Pats Fans a Headache

January 19, 2010

NEWS ITEM:Pats fans can’t be enjoying this

You know the old saying in sports: “I root for two teams, [my team] and anyone playing the [insert the hated rival],” right? Well, in New England, that rival is the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets.

It’s not that the Jets have really ever done anything to hurt the Patriots – they’ve been rather irrelevant for far too long, haven’t they?. But there’s history here: the Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick hiring fiasco, the Eric Mangini Spygate stuff. What’s happened on the field hasn’t really been a factor, even though the Jets did start the season with a win over the Pats.

But one thing New England fans never even thought was a possibility has come to pass (pardon the pun). The Pats and Tom Brady failed to show up for their only playoff game and quickly checked out of the tournament (using the express checkout on their TVs). The Jets, given a pass into the postseason because Indianapolis and Cincinnati both laid down in the final games of the regular season, upset both the Bengals and Chargers and now play the Colts in the AFC championship game, with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez still active and Brady not.

It’s good stuff and can only serve the rivalry well in years to come, especially when you realize that the rise of the Jets, the overall improvement of the Dolphins and the drop-off of the Patriots have all combined to make the AFC East more interesting. It’s no longer the Pats and the other three. This Jets team is young and talented and will only get better.

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So, back to this week’s game, and what might be a dilemma for the folks up here. Do Patriots fans dislike the Jets more than they dislike Peyton Manning and the Colts? Down deep, I’m thinking, yeah, they do, but you know there are many up here who don’t want to see Peyton get his second ring with plenty of time to catch and go by the Patriots.

But 41 years after the Jets upset the BALTIMORE Colts? It’s just too much of a natural.

More on the Pats: All year long people around here were hoping Charlie Weis would come back if things didn’t work out at Notre Dame, and that Romeo Crennel could also return, giving Belichick two guys who could tell him he was messing up, rather than the crew he’s got around him now. Both former coordinators wound up with Scott Paoli in Kansas City – another sign the Pats are just letting it slip away.

That said, it should be pointed out that the Patriots really haven’t gone away and aren’t about to. They just need to make the right moves, spend a little money and get someone to help Mr. Bill make some decisions. The dynasty, as we knew it, is over, but that doesn’t mean this team is about to become a perennial 7-9. It just isn’t as special as it used to be.

NEWS ITEM: Bruins playoffs standings suddenly in question

Last year, the Bruins were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, then won a playoff series and were upset by Carolina in the second round.

There was finally reason for optimism around here. The hockey team had become relevant again. But things have turned sour.

The Bruins, under a siege of injuries and still looking for a goal-scoring replacement for Phil Kessel (who is NOT scoring in Toronto), have lost two more games than they’ve won (something that’s hidden in this cock-a-mamie NHL standings/points system. They have old guys playing a lot of minutes and almost everyone has been hurt.

They just came off a trip where they were 1-1-1, with the win over San Jose (sorry, still a soft team). The 1-1-1 wasn’t bad at all, especially when you consider how shorthanded the Bruins were for the three games. But they had third-period leads in all three, a two-goal lead in Los Angeles, and couldn’t win. They came home and their GM, Peter Chiarelli, said he loved the way his guys competed. Then, 35 hours off the plane, they were too tired to complete against Ottawa, getting blown out at home.

This is another strange NHL season that calls for a compact schedule because of the Olympic nonsense, and the injury mess has left the Bruins as just another team, one suddenly that has to look behind at the other playoff hopefuls rather than looking up at the top to the East. Do I think they miss the playoffs? No. But a move has to be made to bring in some life, some legs.

Is Ilya Kovalchuk out of the question? Probably, but the thought, the dream, is a nice one.

NEW ITEM: Celtics treading water without Garnett

In case you haven’t noticed, the big fella is one of the most important players in the NBA and IS this team. There is another Big Three in Boston, but when it comes right down to it, isn’t it really the Big ONE?

McGwire Performance Needed Enhancing

January 13, 2010

NEWS ITEM:McGwire “confession” trumps NFL playoffs

It takes a lot to make people talk about anything but the NFL at this time of year (and we’ll talk about the Patriots later) but Mark McGwire’s little sit-down with Bob Costas did it, kept baseball in the news while anyone who cares is counting the days to spring training — and wondering if Vlad Guerrero and so many other will find new homes.

I watched most of “the confession” and I have to say I felt bad for the guy. Then again, I feel bad for all athletes and celebrities who get themselves into these messes. Yes, I felt bad for Steve Howe and supported all those chances he got. And Darryl Strawberry. And Doc Gooden. Even Tiger Woods.

Basically, I believe there’s no one out there who looks in the mirror and says, “How can I screw up my life today? What can I do to hurt myself?”

It just happens. And if you watched and listened to McGwire, there was like 10 years of this – that he was admitting to, anyway. That’s a lot of mirrors.

Two things stood out for me watching him. One was him saying the steroids did nothing to improve his performance. Did the PR people who orchestrated this thing tell him to say that? Was he on his own? Does he actually believe those tree-stump forearms and goal-post legs didn’t make baseballs travel an extra 10, 20, 30, 40 feet? Is he stupid or just lying? Take your pick – he doesn’t look good with either.

The other thing I kept thinking about had nothing to do with that interview. It had to do with something that happened while he and Sammy Sosa where phony-ing their way through their “saving baseball” tour (a myth, by the way). If I remember this right, the Pirates had the nerve one night to open their gates early so the fans could watch the Cardinals – and Big Mac – take batting practice. He then complained about the people being there watching, disturbing this cuddly teddy bear as he hit BP homers that did not go further because of illegal pharmaceuticals in his body.

Being in the business, we had all heard about stuff like this before, but there were people defending McGwire as a great guy back then. And I can honestly say my dealings with him while he was with Oakland were pleasant enough. But that Pittsburgh thing really bothered me. As the great Peter Griffin might have said, “You know what really grinds my gears?” That really ground my gears.

Now, all these years later, as he prepares to return to the game as the St. Louis batting coach (and doesn’t Tony La Russa look great in all this?), McGwire made an attempt to head off the anticipated media charge at the start of spring training – and everywhere the Cardinals went this season. Face it, batting coaches don’t usually get much attention and that would not be the case here. So, he ‘fesses up and gets it over with. Then, he comes out and says steroids had nothing to do with his performance? Performance enhancing drugs had nothing to do with his performance. That alone will keep people after him.

The only thing missing from “the confession” was the release of a book, a la Pete Rose.

One other thing, anyone who says McGwire lied to Congress is wrong. He never said anything to Congress.

OK, enough of that. Now, the Pats.

NEWS ITEM: Patriots don’t show up for playoff game

My buddy – we’ll call him Jack (because that’s his name) sent out an e-mail in the week leading up to the playoffs detailing reasons (some serious) the Pats “will win this Super Bowl.”

One of the factors was the injury to Wes Welker being a “blessing in disguise” because of how good Julian Edelman is. Jack probably had no way of knowing Edelman would be one of the few, if not the only, player on what became a rather dysfunctional group, to even show up for a home game that had fans leaving early.

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Way back when Richard Seymour was traded to Oakland – a move I still support, by the way, if they take the high picks and keep him – this year was about transition on defense. It was also a year where Tom Brady was coming back from knee surgery, and while No. 12 was picked for the Pro Bowl, he got there on reputation, doing non-Brady things all year long.

With Welker and Randy Moss on the field at the same time, the Patriots were capable of anything. With one of them missing, and considering the lack of spending any money on the rest of the receiver corps, this was just an offense, but not a special offense. The Ravens let Edelman catch his little passes, but Edelman is not Welker and Moss-Edelman is not Moss-Welker, the best 1-2 combo around.

The big question around here this week has been: is the dynasty over? Check the books, folks, this team last won a Super Bowl on Feb. 6, 2005. That means the dynasty has been over. It doesn’t mean this isn’t a good football team. It doesn’t mean that if certain things aren’t done right (and I believe bringing Charlie Weis back would have been one of those things but it’s too late for that), the Patriots can’t contend in 2010.

Look, the run was a great one, and it was done in a league where you have to re-load so often on the fly. But that doesn’t mean New England fans should be content thinking about 2005 and before. Money needs to be spent, important players like Vince Wilfork need to be kept and Bill Belichick needs some help, some real help, not a bunch of guys saying, “Good move, Bill,” both on and off the field.

Yes, the dynasty is over. But the winning doesn’t have to be.

NEWS ITEM: This and that while wondering if John Calipari and Pete Carroll have invited Lane Kiffin into their Get Out of Dodge Before the Posse Gets Us club?

Red Sox fans are fretting over their lineup for 2010: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Martinez and Youkilis is about as good as it gets at the top…Throw out the charts, I loved watching Jacoby Ellsbury run down fly balls and liners in CF…Watching the Baseball Network, I’m reminded that the three Mets’ catches in the 1969 World Series, two by Tommie Agee, one by Ron Swoboda,  were ALL on the level of the Willie Mays catch in 1954…People are wondering about current players as Hall of Famers:  Vlad Guerrero is a Hall of Famer. Well, in 14 years, he has a .321 lifetime batting average, 407 homers, 1,318 RBIS, nine 100-RBI seasons. He’s in, and we hope he’s not done yet because he’s one of those hitters you love to watch…We know this can’t happen, but any Baseball Hall of Fame voter that votes for David Segui or Jim Deshaies should lose his or her vote…Kiffin is 12-21 as a head coach…And from my Captain Obvious file: the Bruins need a real goal scorer and should explore every avenue on Ilya Kovalchuk. Make it, or some move for offense, or this season’s gone and non-hockey snobs around Boston will be telling Bruins jokes again. Just sayin’.

Pats Lost Welker For No Reason

January 6, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Welker out for the playoffs after senseless injury

Remember the days when the only controversy surrounding Bill Belichick was his videotaping other teams’ practices? Or, if you want to go into the archives, those 47 minutes he was coach of the Jets during that Bill Parcells sham?

You know Mr. Bill would welcome a return to either of those times in light of what he’s gone through this year.

In short, the feeing in New England has gone from “In Bill We Trust” to, “Hey, Bill, think ya shoulda done that?”

We can sit here all day and argue the fourth-and-2 thing, or other shaky moves he made after that. Another coach makes the moves, he gets fried by the press. But you know three rings gives you some leeway. Disagree with him all you want, but you have to see the side of the guy with the three rings, right?

That brings us to last Sunday.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I do not have a rooting interest in what happens to the New England Patriots. My Giants had already folded up their tents and my rooting interest on the final Sunday was a ridiculous NFL playoff system that was allowing the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets to make the playoffs.

Note: the sham that was the last two weeks and got the J-E-T-S in kinda reminded me of a time almost 40 years ago, in April, 1970, when the Detroit Red Wings, so hung over from making the playoffs by beating my Rangers the night before, stood by and let the Rangers score nine goals and make the playoffs via some cock-a-mamie system only the NHL could cook up.

Anyway, back to the Patriots. I had the game on and remember thinking: no way I let Tom Brady, Wes Welker or Randy Moss on that field. Anyone else? Yes. But these are three guys this football team just can’t do without. One of them gets hurt and it’s serious stuff.

One of them got hurt. The guy who has been as important as any non-quarterback in the league this year blew out his left knee.

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Then, the next day, Belichick rips the Reliant Stadium field. Was the bad field something he just found out about after Welker went down? Did he know this before? If he knew it before, then why was Walker on the field in the first place? There was no reason for him to play, even less if the coach thought the field was treacherous, right?

I didn’t understand the whole quarterback thing, either. Brady, cracked ribs and all, plays, then he doesn’t, then he does again, then he doesn’t. You want Brian Hoyer to get time against a team that’s trying to win? Fine? You want him trying to tie the game late? Fine. But why the in and out?

You always got the feeling in the past Belichick knew what he was doing and when to do it. This is the first year his moves have come into question. Now, we’ll see if he can win without Welker, who, after all, only led the league in receptions with 123 and was second (as a possession receiver) in yards receiving.

By the way, in a sports world where it’s easy to dislike people for so many different reasons, there is NO WAY to dislike Wes Welker. He’s one of those guys everybody has to root for. Hate him if he’s killing you, wonder why he’s always so open, but admire what he’s done – and just hope he makes it back so the injury he suffered when he shouldn’t have been playing doesn’t turn out to a career killer.

NEWS ITEM: Red Sox get defensive, map out future

The crazy offense fans are ticked at the Red Sox, pointing to their offseason moves as a worsening of a lineup that had trouble scoring in key spots last year. The ridiculously over-the-top defensive folks, with charts and graphs, are saying this team will catch every ball hit by opposing hitters in 2010, thus supporting a pitching staff that may never give up a run.

All that is up for debate, and it really is funny that with all the defense and pitching, DH David Ortiz, in the five-hole, may well be the key to this team in the coming season.

But here’s the thing about the Red Sox moves. With all the “bridge” talk to the young players arriving in 2012, the “bridge” the Sox actually built was to 2011.

By signing Adrian Beltre to a one-year deal and a reasonable rate that is going to be all but eaten up by the reported Casey Kotchman-Bill Hall deal (and the money the Mariners are sending Boston), the Red Sox left the door open for what might be out there after the 2010 season.

They must have gotten a real indication the Padres weren’t going to move Adrian Gonzalez (without Jacoby Ellsbury in the deal?), or that the Tigers weren’t going to deal Miguel Cabrera (or maybe Cabrera’s questionable character backed them off). So, they sign Beltre for a year, add defense, hope he gets his home run stroke back in Fenway, keep Kevin Youkilis at first, for this year, anyway, and see what happens later. They also covered themselves in the upcoming Josh Beckett contract talks by bringing in potential replacement John Lackey. And, you have to like Hall as a utility guy, right?

They’re still stuck with Mike Lowell, but you have the feeling that will all work out, they have a roster that will pitch and catch the ball and they may even score runs, if all things click – like Ortiz hitting.

NEWS ITEM: Hall of Fame announcement made and the Hawk Goes In

Ed Randall of XM Radio asked me the other day if I thought anyone was a sure bet to make the Hall of Fame this time around. I came up with no slam dunks – and then the  announcement came Wednesday that Andre Dawson was the only one who made it.

But to answer Ed’s question and as Bob Costas said on the MLB Network: “Alomar is the best player on the ballot.” This guy should have been a slam dunk!

Speaking of Dawson, one of the great people I have met in a hundred years in this business, here’s one of the reactions I got to my blog on my Hall of Fame ballot:

“I’m glad you’ve quit dragging your feet and realize Dawson does belong.  How can one of only three players who have at least 400 HRs, 300 SBs, and 2,500 hits not be in the Hall?  It is something Ruth, Mantle, Aaron, and Williams never achieved.”

Charley
Andre Dawson for the Hall of Fame
hawk4thehall blogspot

Congratulations to The Hawk!

———-

Here’s another one:

“Steroids don’t make your vision better, do they? Or your timing. Seems as though they tell only part of the story.

Didn’t realize that Oliva didn’t make the Hall. You’re right; that’s a shame.

Nonetheless, I don’t think your standard for who makes it should be based on who is already there. If someone is a mistake in your view (say Niekro), then he can’t be the reason to let in someone else. The standard should be “who should be in that creates a better standard?” not “who is at least above the bar set by others who may not really belong compared to those not in”

Thanks for paying attention, folks and congratulations to Andre Dawson.

Looking Ahead to 2010

December 30, 2009

NEWS ITEM: Boston teams with questions to answer

As the calendar year (and the decade, depending on how technical you get with such things, and, no there was no Year Zero) draws to a close, the four major Boston sports teams were all facing questions and issues in the weeks and months ahead.

Jason Bay has left the Red Sox and the fans are already saying he wasn’t any good in the first place, but we’ll deal with that later. First, the imminent stuff as we take this one team at a time.

PATRIOTS: It’s been a crazy year in Foxboro, but the Pats are headed back to the playoffs where they belong. Now, we’ll see how far they can go.

Tom Brady is going to the Pro Bowl, even though he didn’t necessarily have a Brady-type year, but coming back from what he came back from and having his reputation are enough – and now it should be his time of year. Don’t worry about him. Heck, don’t even worry about the running game, which can be invisible at times. The defense? OK, you can worry, especially when the Patriots hit the road later on.

Don’t worry about Randy Moss, either. He’ll be there, although Moss not making the Pro Bowl can’t be a good thing for his team. And, speaking of Moss, whether you believe he tanked it in the Carolina game (and even some in the weeks before that) or not, hasn’t his performance the past two games provided evidence that he did quit in the Carolina game? His detractors have always said he plays when he wants to, right? Has he wanted to play the last two games? Or was it all just a big coincidence.

Anyway, that really doesn’t matter now. What matters is that Brady gets to throw to Moss and Wes Welker in the playoffs and that makes this team a possibility against anyone.

BRUINS: As the B’s get ready to play at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day – has anyone thought how jammed those seats will be with bottoms covered by three layers of clothing? – we can only hope it doesn’t rain and just look forward to the spectacle. We can also think of what this team has to do to be a serious contender down the stretch.

When Phil Kessel was traded to Toronto in the classic “he-said, he-said” mess, naysayers screamed the Bruins wouldn’t be able to replace his 36 goals. Well, heading into their Wednesday night game against Atlanta, the Bruins had played 38 games. They had scored two goals or less in 20 of those games (four of the last five), been shut out four times (three of those in a six-game span in early November, only one since), scored one or less in 14, scored more than three in 11.

That is inconsistent offense, to say the least. And anyone fortunate enough to have seen Ilya Kovalchuk play here last week (and coming in again a week later) had to just imagine what a guy like that could do for this team. There’s so much that would have to work out for that to happen, and Kovalchuk leaving Atlanta could mean the end of a second franchise in that lousy sports town, but just think about Kovalchuk and former Thrasher Marc Savard being together again.

RED SOX: OK, let’s review. The Red Sox took a step back defensively and a step ahead offensively by letting Alex Gonzalez go and bringing Marco Scutaro in to play shortstop. They took a step ahead defensively and a major step back offensively by letting Jason Bay go and bringing in Mike Cameron to play left field. They took a giant step forward in adding John Lackey to what was already a strong starting pitching staff, especially if, as I expect, Dice-K bounces back. They traded Mike Lowell and then got him back, almost reminiscent of the time the 1962 Mets made a catcher named Harry Chiti the player to be named later in the deal that brought them … Harry Chiti.

All that, and trying to corner the market on Ramirezes (none of them named Manny or Hanley) is a lot in a short time. And it’s hard to imagine there’s not more, hard to think Casey Kotchman and a Cameron/Jeremy Hermida platoon will both be part of the every-day lineup, and that Lowell and David Ortiz will both be on the roster.

No, there’s more to come, and I think any part of dealing Jacoby Ellsbury as part of the more to come would be a mistake. Kids like this don’t come along very often and trading him would send the Red Sox back into the days of being a more-plodding team. If old pal Jed Hoyer (now in San Diego) or anyone else brings the name up in conversations, Theo Epstein should just move on.

Back to Bay: as an official scorer at Fenway, I don’t recall watching a horrible left fielder the past year and a half. Limited? Sure. Possibly in trouble in that spacious Citi Field outfield? Yes. But I can only remember giving him one error, and that was when a throw hit a runner and bounced away. He’s not a bad outfielder. Another thing: the Mets did some homework on where he and Matt Holliday hit the ball. Bay is a dead pull hitter and hitting the ball down the line at Citi is a good thing. Holliday is a gap hitter and the gaps at the place are Death Valley.

More Bay: Don’t you get the feeling there’s more to this story? His leaving was just too easy, for a team with deep pockets and a need for a bat. Stay tuned.

CELTICS: Great stat in this morning’s Globe: four of the Celts’ seven losses this season have come against teams with a combined 39-80 record. That should speak volumes about the boredom that has to set in during the long NBA schedule that’s filled with meaningless games.

Don’t read anything into the worst from the West beating up on the best of the East. The Celtics walked into Orlando on Christmas day and beat that overrated team and did it without Paul Pierce. There was something to prove. They then went out west with no motivation and played like it. This was being written the morning of the game in Phoenix, the Suns a team that should beat a Celtics team playing without Pierce. But, somehow, you just had the feeling the effort would be better.

A 35-17 first-quarter lead against Golden State and then allowing 86 points the last three quarters? C’mon. We’re not saying there’s not talent on that Warriors roster. But it’s boredom on the part of the Celtics. No, this team will not win the 70 or 72 I thought it might. Besides, if it got to the point where a wins record was on the line, Colts coach Jim Caldwell might force Doc Rivers to clear his bench.

The Celtics will be fine but, like everyone else, only if they’re healthy.

Anyway, Happy New Year to all and here’s to another busy sports year in Boston. One thing about this place: it’s never dull.

Hall of Fame Vote Getting Tougher

December 22, 2009

NEWS ITEM: The ballots are due.

HELP!!!

The annual arrival of the Hall of Fame ballot – and we’re talking baseball, here, the only Hall of Fame that can simply be referred to as the Hall of Fame and doesn’t need the sport attached to it – is a big deal around my house. I’ve been getting a ballot for two decades and its arrival feels almost like opening those first packs of baseball cards back in the day.

One of the first things I have to do when the ballot arrives in December is call my brother, Neil, my co-author on a book entitled “Out by a Step, the 100 Best Players NOT in the Baseball Hall of Fame” (yes, the publisher stuck ‘Baseball’ in the title). The book was a look at the hundred best eligible at the time and not in (Dick Allen was No. 1, Tony Oliva No. 2). It looked at the hundred best, explained why they weren’t in. It was not a campaign for them, but just the facts and the things that kept them out.

Anyway, I call Neil and we go over the list, analyze and dissect, if you will. But the whole thing is getting tougher.

Steroids. HGH. What do we do about them?

Personally, I’m still waiting to see how my fellow voters are going to handle the steroid guys, and the range is incredible, and I’ll admit to going back and forth between let them all in and keep them all out. We don’t know, in most cases, who did, who didn’t and what percentage of the guys they played against did or didn’t. It’s a mess, and Cooperstown is truly a victim of what has gone down.

Last month, I threw my Heisman quandary out there to my friends on Facebook and got a tremendous response. So, I did it again with this vote, and the range of answers on this one was just as sweeping. But when it comes to The Hall, it always seems to come down to Mark McGwire and Pete Rose.

At least for now.

“Until they qualify the records of the “users,” Zog is voting for qualified candidates. Yes on McGwire,” wrote Bob Herzog of Newsday.

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There were plenty of nays on Big Mac. Some just don’t think he belongs. They call him one-dimensional, but others argue folks like Ralph Kiner and Willie Stargell were also one-dimensional.

The responses, some of them deep and extremely analytical, came from voters, non-voters, friends and relatives in and out of the sports world. Everyone has an opinion. Many think Pete Rose did less to damage the game than the PED guys, but that’s a blog for a different day.

Wrote childhood pal Gary Flatow, in defense of McGwire: “He hit 583 career home runs. He decimated a record that had been held for 37 years, and he broke no rules that were in effect at the time he did it. Of course he should be in the Hall of Fame. But too many people get great satisfaction in crucifying tarnished stars, so he won’t get in.”

For this year, I’m leaning toward a “No” vote on McGwire. I’m sure he’ll get enough votes to stay on the ballot and I truly want to see what he says when he returns to the game as the Cardinals’ batting coach. OK, I’m stalling. Trying to get another year out of this.

Dan Schlossberg, who has written a thousand or so books on the sport, offered the following:

“Doesn’t all this crap with the steroids guys make DALE MURPHY look better? He should have been a first-ballot pick in ’99 but ran up against 3 guys named Ryan, Brett, and Yount. Murf has more homers and more MVPs than Rice, more HR crowns than Musial, more RBI crowns than Mays, and more total bases than ANYONE in the ’80s. And how about 5 Gold Gloves and 7 All-Star selections? Something’s not Kosher in the State of Denmark.”

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OK, I’m sold. I had wavered on Murphy but he’s good to go on my ballot.

The rest?

Roberto Alomar: Yes, he spit in an umpire’s face and yes there are rumblings of off-field problems, but, truly, have we ever seen a better second baseman than this guy?

Edgar Martinez: DH. You might as well say he had leprosy. There are many in the Hall who would have been DHs if there was a DH during their time. Martinez could have been a serviceable first baseman. He was a great hitter.

Barry Larkin: I drop him right into the category with Alan Trammell, and I’m going to vote for both. You don’t get more solid at a “solid” position than this pair.

Jack Morris: The best money guy of his time. Not getting a lot of respect and I don’t know why. If you like numbers, Morris was 254-186, 7-4 in the postseason. Don Drysdale was 209-166, 3-3 in the World Series (that’s all they had then). Catfish Hunter 224-166, 9-6 in the postseason.

Bert Blyleven: Sorry, but if Phil Niekro’s in … Blyleven, Tommy John and Jim Kaat should be there, too.

Andre Dawson: I’ve dragged my feet on this outstanding athlete for too long. He belongs. Match him with any number of Famers, and then realize how much of his career he had to play with no knees.

Don Mattingly: If you’re considered the best or one of the best players in the game for five years or more, doesn’t that alone make you a Hall of Famer?

Dave Parker: Hate to keep bringing up Stargell, but Dave Parker was a better baseball player than Willie Stargell, just as Tony Oliva was a better player than Harmon Killebrew. Numbers can’t be everything. Besides, Parker drove in almost 1,500 runs and was an MVP and a Top 10 MVP guy six times.

So, barring a last-minute change, I’m voting for 10.

Happy holidays, everyone!!!

Lackey Signing; Little Engine Is About to Roar

December 14, 2009

NEWS ITEM: Red Sox close on Lackey

Somehow, the Little Engine That Could is finding a way to scrape together a reported $85 million to bring John Lackey to Boston.

The move, which appears obvious (but was not official) amid reports Lackey is in Boston for a physical, came with folks around here wondering what was going to happen in regards to the Red Sox and Jason Bay/Matt Holliday in left field, or Adrian Beltre at third base, or if Adrian Gonzalez could be pried loose from San Diego. Oh, and whether the Engine could make a deal for Roy Halladay.

But the Sox, who have already laid out $12 million for Marco Scutaro and, if things proceed as planned, will be paying $18 million for Mike Lowell and Julio Lugo not to play for them in 2010, managed to surprise the baseball world with a swift and decisive move on Lackey — a bulldog of a pitcher who knows how to pitch against the Yankees.

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It’s funny how things work in these matters. “There’s no way we can compete with the Yankees when it comes to signing players,” is a popular refrain coming from the underdog Red Sox whenever a big name comes up. The Yankees sign players and it’s a crime. The Red Sox give $70 million to J.D. Drew or $85 million to John Lackey and it’s cool.

Bottom line in all this is that the Red Sox are rich.

The Yankees are richer but the Red Sox are rich. They put a value on a player and can sign anyone they want, just like the Yankees can. When Mark Teixeira was out there last year, the Sox put a cap in the $160 million range on him because that was the value they placed on the player. They were wrong, but that was the decision they made. The Yankees, with their whopping payroll, are the world champions.

Now, instead of trading for Halladay, and then having to sign the big righty to a $100 million-or-more deal, the Red Sox keep Clay Buchholz (still a huge chip in a deal for a hitter) and actually save some $20 million signing Lackey. That money can be used toward the contract of Josh Beckett, coming up after 2010. Or, it can be used to get another bat.

If Bay comes back to the Sox tomorrow and says he’ll take their $60 million offer, or something close to it, they’ll sign him, too. They’re rich. They have made all kinds of blood out of a stone money at Fenway, where people pay a lot of money to be very uncomfortable.

Oh, and what about all that “bridge” nonsense that has been making the rounds the past two weeks? The Sox were trying to “bridge” the years until their lower minor leaguers were ready, in 2012. A bridge? Absurd.

Here’s the thing: everything that happens in baseball, to the detriment of the sport, by the way, goes through New York and Boston. Any time a player becomes available, the Yankees and Red Sox are the first two teams you hear mentioned. It’s almost like they have first refusal. It’s not right, but it’s the way it is – and there are a lot of baseball fans who resent it, a lot of fans who don’t want to watch these two teams on national television all the time.

Then again, it is fun to watch the rivalry, both on and off the field, up close and does make you grateful to be so close to all the news these two teams make.

It really is funny, though, the perception of the two, like the Sox are like that little engine.

NEWS ITEM: Randy Moss a headache for the Patriots

Did Randy Moss quit on the Pats? I’m inclined to think he’s just taking a little vacation.

Think about it. The guy spends so much of his time getting double-teamed by defense, and has to be a decoy as Wes Welker gets all the attention. Things are going on behind the scenes, and what happens? Moss disappears.

I was at Gillette Stadium Sunday, saw the guy fumble away the only pass he caught, saw him drop one, saw him not try to break up an interception, something he has been doing during this little funk.

None of this is new with Moss, and I think he’ll come out of it. What is new is things like this aren’t supposed to happen to the Patriots, to Bill Belichick’s Patriots. Belichick isn’t supposed to have to stand in front of the media the day after a victory and talk about Randy Moss quitting. It’s just not done around here.

But many things have happened to this team this year that aren’t supposed to happen to the Patriots, and it’s all part of a transition that’s taking place. There is some rebuilding that needs to be done and you wonder how many hits Belichick’s image takes while it’s going on.

NEWS ITEM: Hall of Fame vote due in soon

Today’s entry was going to be devoted to my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which is due by the end of the month. But the Lackey/Moss news put that on hold for a week.

As a voter confused about what to do about the steroid guys, I threw it out there to Facebook friends and got, like the Heisman “poll” I took two weeks earlier, some great responses.

We’ll get into it next week. An early Christmas present.

Heisman winner is …

December 7, 2009

NEWS ITEM: Heisman race a mess

It’s Monday morning. Around 9:30. The letter from The Heisman Trophy Trust is sitting here on my desk, staring up at me with a 5:00 deadline. These people are serious, too – they sent two reminder e-mails and even called yesterday.

The call was a reminder. Vote!

A reminder? How could I forget?

I have been thinking about this for weeks, even putting the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot off to the side when it got here last week. This is the Heisman and it’s now.

I went into the weekend thinking Tim Tebow was my guy. Why not? All he does is win. Then he lost. He didn’t get much help from his friends and his coach was badly out-coached, but he lost.

OK, then it was on to Colt McCoy, for a few hours, until he almost pulled the biggest brain cramp in the history of college football. He’s out, in my mind, anyway. Well, maybe.

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Back to the Florida-Alabama game. Mark Ingram. Huge game in a huge game. He sounds good.

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Toby Gerhart? He had a great year, but what about factoring in what happened to Tebow and McCoy, who had to play against Alabama and Nebraska Saturday while Gerhart watched on television, his sample precincts already reporting in?

Before the weekend even started, I decided to get some help. For those of you who don’t know it, there’s a thing called Facebook out there. It seems to be catching on. You sign up, get friends, some of them you even know. You find old friends, say hi and even stay in touch with some of them. Heck, this column was born from a Facebook meeting with my boss here at Fandome, Arthur Pincus. So I like Facebook. I decided to have some fun.

I threw it out there. Send me your Heisman 1-2-3. The poll would reward five points for first place, three for second, one for third.

Fifty-one people (a sampling from both inside and outside the media) produced responses that counted. No, “Flutie, Flutie, Flutie” didn’t count, especially since that voter didn’t even say which Flutie – and I wasn’t going to give Bill Flutie, the current Flutie at BC, any points. There were first-place votes for Derek Jeter, Archie Griffin, and Peyton Manning, a second-place vote from the Griffin voter for Anthony Davis.

Sheesh, this is important stuff. And some people were joking around.

The winner?

McCoy, with 127 points, including 15 first-place votes, the most among the 51. Gerhart was second, with 113 points, including 14 firsts.

Tebow had 83 points (the “Tebow, Tebow, Tebow” counted for only five points, not nine) and Ingram just 55 (he had eight firsts, Tebow seven).

“Tim Tebow is the best college football player I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said one voter, who happens to be a Florida Gators hater. Another voter cast his ballot for Tebow, McCoy and Gerhart and added, “But mostly Tebow.”

I’ve always had this feeling people don’t like Tebow because he’s a good guy, a religious guy, and the crying thing didn’t do much to help his image in those eyes, either. There are also those who insist he joins the list of Gary Bebans, Gino Torrettas and Chris Weinkes who are college winners and that’s it. These doubts follow Tebow into the NFL. But I like the guy.

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It should be pointed out here that the balloting continued all weekend, and that the running backs gained all kinds of ground as the quarterbacks messed up (and even cried). Some votes were changed, giving us a true Chicago/Florida feel to the voting.

The other first-place votes – the real ones – went to Golden Tate, C.J. Spiller (did you see the game he had Saturday?) and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (is he a beast, or what?).

Thank you all for sending in the votes, even the goofy ones were fun and keep an eye on your mailbox because I’m sending out Seattle SuperSonics-San Diego Conquistadors tickets to all later this week, with the grand prize season tickets for both Northeastern and Hofstra 2010 football. But the balloting showed me what I thought it might – there is no clear-cut Heisman Trophy winner this year. There are a bunch of really good second-place guys, but someone has to win this thing.

My vote? Good question. But I give you the last paragraph of the Heisman Trust letter. It reads:

“Lastly, I would kindly ask you to please use your best efforts to keep your vote confidential. Thank you. It is our honor to have you as an elector for college football’s most prestigious award. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Sounds good enough to me.

I ain’t tellin’.

Patriots Just Don’t Get It Done

December 1, 2009

NEWS ITEM: Pats leave both Colts and Saints perfect
OK, echoing the words of the great American, Arthur Fonzarelli:

“I was wrooo”

“I was wroooooooooooooooooooo”

“I was wrooooooooooooooooong.”

I really thought it would be the Patriots who would end the undefeated runs of both Indianapolis and New Orleans. I thought both would be perfect coming into those games and imperfect coming out.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Patriots fan, so this wasn’t a fan-worship, drink-the-Kool Aid thing. I just thought Bill Belichick would find a way to beat these teams.

Ahhhh, but here’s the rub. Coaches really don’t win football games. Players do. And the Patriots really don’t have enough players.

They did actually beat the Colts. You know what happened there. That was just one of those things. The Saints? That was about 400 of those things, as in the yards Drew Brees ran up in the worst defensive game by the Patriots since 2001.

And it really all goes back to the defense, Belichick’s defense.

Once the Pats exiled Richard Seymour to Oakland, anyone who wasn’t sure this was a rebuilding phase became sure. The Celtics let their original Big 3 grow old together, then took 10 years to dig out from under that decision. The Pats decided not to do that, and there had to be bumps on the road.

This defense hasn’t been the same for a long time, anyway. The older guys kept getting older and had to be replaced. We saw Monday night there’s a ways to go, but being a playoff team isn’t such a bad thing during rebuilding, is it? Not being the elite of the NFL isn’t such a bad thing. Who remains the elite of the NFL? The system isn’t set up that way.

Was Monday night embarrassing for Pats’ fans? Sure it was. Especially after most of them felt the Colts game was handed away. But keep in mind the Pats were a Leodis McKelvin fumble on a kickoff in the Buffalo game and a Mark Clayton drop in the Balitmore contest from losing those games, too.

Bottom line? This is still a good team. Just not a great team.

NEWS ITEM: Decisions, decisions

Do you ever remember a Heisman vote this wide open? This is ridiculous.

I have thrown it out there that there’s no reason for me to vote for anyone but Tim Tebow. All the guy does is handle the hype, make plays and win.

The response I’ve gotten, mostly through Facebook, has been fascinating, ranging from Tebow being a slam dunk to Tebow not even being in the picture.

I’m still leaning his way.

Speaking of voting, the Baseball Hall of Fame list is out and the ballot is due in the mail soon. This brings up the latest chapter in the steroids mess, and what to do about Mark McGwire. That’s on hold here now. But a look at the ballot has three newcomers jumping out – Roberto Alomar (the best all-around second baseman I ever saw), Edgar Martinez (yes, the first DH in the Hall) and Barry Larkin.

As far as the holdovers, I think Andre Dawson and Jack Morris will get my vote, and I think Dave Parker (overlooked, I believe, because of his off-field problems) has to be kept alive.

McGwire? Who knows what to do about him? I still have trouble visualizing Big Mac being back in the game and can’t wait to hear his answers when he’s pressed on the steroid issue. There are those who insist he’s not a Hall of Famer with or without the help, but that’s a tough argument to get away with.

But every time the ballot comes out, every time the winners are announced, we are further reminded that the great Hall is perhaps the biggest loser in this whole mess. The entire era that’s being voted on now is tainted. It just will never really be the same.

NEWS ITEM: Red Sox, Yankees chasing Halladay

Down deep, you really do have to get tired of the rivals being the frontrunners to get every big name that becomes available. It’s not good for the sport. But, and borrowing the new hot catch phrase, having said that, the Yankees appear to have more to offer for Roy Halladay than do the Red Sox. Toronto needs guys who are closer to being big-league ready and unless the Sox will deal Daniel Bard, which I wouldn’t, you wonder if they can get it done.

Speaking of the Sox,  what’s going on with them and Alex Gonzalez. OK, he’s not an on-base guy, but does your No. 9 hitter have to be? Why do they keep getting rid of a fine fielder who can hit a little bit. Makes you think they think they just don’t have the offense to carry a fielder.

Do you give money and years to Marco Scutaro, a career utility player who had one big year? Perhaps. Remember, this is a team that has thrown money at shortstops with resumes at least as checkered as Scutaro’s, and when it comes to shortstop, let’s just say Theo Epstein has had a tough time.

Finally, nice job by Sports Illustrated in the selection of Derek Jeter as Sportsman of the Year. In this day and age of controversy, all the guy does is play ball, stay out of trouble — and win!


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