I hope you like hockey. That is going to become the prevalent theme for sports fans come November if things don’t change in the NFL or the NBA. The NFL lockout has been in place for almost four months, and despite rumors of a new collective bargaining agreement being reached in the near future, there is still doubt whether a deal can get done in time to avoid missing portions of the season. Now, the NBA can be added to the list of major sports suffering from a work stoppage. As of 12:01 AM on July 1, 2011, the NBA owners officially have locked out the players upon the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. The first hard-felt loss in this process was the fact that free agency did not open as it normally does on July 1. This marked a stark contrast to one year ago when LeBron James and his circus sideshow teased with several teams by making himself available to be pitched on the idea of joining those teams.
Knowing that this was going to go to the deadline, the NBA owners and players had been engaging in discussions to try and bridge the gap between their differences on several issues, including a new salary cap, total salaries, and revenue sharing. Despite the league experiencing its biggest success since 1998, man of its owners did not share in that success. Collectively, the owners claim to have lost at least $300,000,000 this past season with only eight of the 30 NBA teams making a profit.
While the NFL has instituted various rules and restrictions during the lockout preventing team members from having contact with the players, the NBA has taken it a step further in terms of the penalties and consequences for such actions. For example, teams will be fined $1,000,000 if there is contact between the staff and members during the lockout period. Additionally, references to players and all images have been removed from team websites.
Owners want to change the salary cap structure and institute a hard cap or flex cap that players feel is close to a hard cap (this was instituted by the NHL after the 2004-05 season was lost due to a lockout, and the players ended up ceding to a hard salary cap as demanded by the owners). The NBA owners want to relieve spending so teams do not go over the cap, as opposed to the current salary cap where teams went well over the cap to contend for championships (anyone remember where a certain somebody took his talents last year?).
Another issue at the heart of this labor dispute is revenue sharing. The owners want to overhaul the entire system that has guaranteed the players receive 57% of all revenue. The owners want to create a system where small market teams can compete with the bigger markets, and where all teams turn a profit as compared to the eight that did in 2010/2011.
Several NBA owners also own NHL teams. The memory of the 2004/2005 NHL season that was lost is fresh in their memories as those owners wanted to completely change the system. After a stalemate lingered too long, the season was cancelled and the players eventually capitulated to the owners’ demands. Could that be the same M.O. with these NBA owners? Deputy NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stressed that no owner wants the 2011/2012 season to be lost.
Not that there is ever an ideal time to have a work stoppage in one of the major sports, but the NBA is coming off of one its most popular and prosperous seasons. With the soap opera that was LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the renaissance of the New York Knicks, the conclusion of Phil Jackson’s career, the dramatic and exciting NBA playoffs, and the storybook championship for Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, the NBA was as popular as ever in recent years as indicated by the enormous TV ratings and merchandise sales. Commissioner David Stern stated that he is “resigned to the potential damage that [the lockout] can cause to the NBA.” He went on further to say: “If we were out as long as it appears the NFL will be out, even on a best-case scenario, given the length of our season, that would take us to a place that would assure a lot, I think, more damage because we have such a long season,”
When a deal does get reached is anyone’s guess. But it is a safe bet it will not happen anytime soon. According to ESPN.com, NBPA union executive director Billy Hunter said the sides hoped to meet again in about two weeks and would perhaps start with other topics instead of going right back to economics. “Progress is made the more time you have the opportunity to sit down and work with each other,” NBPA president and Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher said in an interview on ESPN Radio.”
But as fans, much like the NFL, this has to make us sick. In a world with a struggling economy, high unemployment rates, and multiple wars being fought on various foreign fronts, it is a difficult pill to swallow for Joe Q. Public to hear a bunch of millionaires fight over who gets what percentage of even more millions of dollars. New Orleans star guard Chris Paul understands this. ”At the end of the day, we just want to do what’s right. We want a fair deal. We just want to hoop. Like I’ve said before, it’s all about our fans. I think the worst thing about this whole situation is our fans. They want to see us play.”
Chris Paul is right. Having a lengthy work stoppage and potentially missing the entire season will make us yearn for the days of when star players have hour-long ESPN specials telling us where they are taking their talents.
It is fascinating to see and hear what people, specifically New York Giants’ fans and football fans in general, think about Tiki Barber. Generally speaking, fans only care about players’ performance on the field. The off-the-field shenanigans only gets brought into the equation when someone does something horrific, commits a crime, goes to prison, or is so completely outrageous that his personal life overshadows his athletic career. But deep down, there is a respect and appreciation for what a player did for your team during his career – usually. I am not so sure this is the case for former Giants’ running back Tiki Barber.
It is hard to believe that a player who holds almost every Giants rushing record in history could be booed on a night at Giants Stadium honoring him along with other all-time great franchise players. It is hard to believe that some people argue Barber’s departure was what catapulted the Giants to becoming Super Bowl champions in the 2007 season. It is hard to believe that people are so willing to castigate and judge a person who has not done anything illegal or so grossly outrageous like some other professional football players that are still revered despite their “mishaps.”
Now four years after his retirement from the NFL and a failed broadcasting career, Tiki Barber is looking to make a comeback at an age where very few running backs have ever had success. During an interview with HBO that aired on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Barber acknowledged that he now needs football more than it needs him. This is partially due to his failures off the field after he initially retired which led to an extremely long bout with depression.
“I remember there were days where I would literally wake up, have coffee, get something to eat and sit on the couch and do nothing for 10 hours,” said Barber to HBO.
Barber has spent the past four months working out in an attempt to make a comeback, although his chances rest on the league and its players reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. He said football represents a necessary anchor in a life turned upside down by the depressive aftermath of scandalous divorce and disintegration of his television career. Upon his retirement in 2006, Barber was on his way to an illustrious career in television beginning as a NBC football analyst for Football Night in America. Earning $2,000,000 per year, Barber progressed to having a featured role on the Today Show. But things did not turn out how Barber had envisioned, and he was eventually demoted and fired. This led to his bouts with depression.
“I crafted this career, right? And I had gotten to the point where I was right where I wanted to be and then I failed. It’s hard to deal with.”
In addition to his career struggles, he was also dealing with major strife in his personal life as his marriage had started to fall apart just months after he ended his ten-year playing career. Then his image as a “good guy” took a serious blow when he ended up moving in with Tracy Lynn Johnson while his wife was pregnant with twins. Even though Barber proclaimed that he had separated from his wife before he moved in with Johnson, the tabloids and media painted him as an adulterer. Barber did all he could to defend himself and his honor. He tried explaining that his wife getting pregnant was right in the middle of his marital problems, and things did not change for the better.
After retiring from the game he loved to play, then having his NBC career crash and burn, and then having his reputation and integrity shattered by the public’s perception of his failed marriage and new girlfriend, Barber sorely needed something to grab onto to change the cycle. That is when he was encouraged by friends and other players to attempt a comeback.
Assuming he is in game condition shape and works off a lot of the rust that may have accumulated over the past four years, Barber should get a shot on an NFL team to contribute. One option that is not going to be available to him is a return to the Giants. This is what is so disheartening about the whole situation, and Barber has no one to blame but himself. In an ideal world, this would be an amazing story of an all-time great player making a comeback to the only team he ever played for and being embraced as a returning hero. Unfortunately, there will be no storybook ending for Barber and the Giants. And there are many reasons why.
First, it should be noted that Barber truly is one of the greatest players to ever play for the Giants. Some of his career highlights include: one of twenty-one players to ever rush for over 10,000 yards; third player to ever rush for more than 10,000 and receive more than 5,000 yards; three-time Pro Bowl selection; first player in NFL history with 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in one season; one of three players to ever have at least three 200-yard rushing games in one season; one of four players to have four 2,000 total yard seasons; third player in NFL history to be the career leader in both rushing yards and receptions with their team; and holds an NFL record of leading his team in rushing every game for 80 consecutive games from 2002 through 2006. He also holds practically every Giants team rushing record in history, despite not winning a Super Bowl.
So with a resume like that, how can this man not be revered by Giants fans? There are several examples of how Barber crossed the line and raised the ire of Giants players and fans. In 2002, Barber publicly criticized All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan’s negotiating stance on a new contract. Barber commented that Strahan was being selfish and greedy, a tact that fellow teammate Keith Hamilton took exception to as being a violation of a cardinal rule never to speak about other players’ contracts.
Additionally, Barber did not hide the fact that he disliked Tom Coughlin’s coaching style and demeanor. This, despite the fact that Barber saw his statistics and performance improve exponentially under Coughlin’s tenure. Nevertheless, after the Giants were handily shut out at home during the first round of the 2005 playoffs by the Carolina Panthers, Barber made post-game comments that he felt that the Giants were outcoached by Panthers’ head coach John Fox (the former defensive coach of the Giants). After receiving a lot of media attention about this comment, Barber apologized and insisted he only meant to convey that the Giants’ performance was unacceptable. Additionally, after a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2006 season, Barber criticized the team’s play-calling for abandoning the running game too soon. On the eve of what would be his last game with the Giants, Barber told ESPN that he is “demeaned and talked down to” by Coughlin. Taking it another step further, Barber attributed his decision to retire to Coughlin’s unrelenting style in practice.
“Coughlin pushed me in the direction of television. I don’t know if you realize this, but we were in full pads for 17 weeks, and with the amount of injuries that we had, it just takes a toll on you. You physically don’t want to be out there, when your body feels the way you do, in full pads.”
After he retired, Barber was interviewed just prior to the start of the 2007 season where he questioned Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s leadership abilities. Barber was quoted as saying that Manning’s motivational pre-game speeches sounded “almost comical.” Manning fought back in the media by bringing up Barber calling out the coaches and all of the articles written about his decision to retire in the middle of the season. After retiring without a Super Bowl victory, Barber seemed at peace with leaving the game without a championship ring. However, the very next season after he retired, the Giants went on a miraculous run to win Super Bowl XLII by defeating the then-undefeated New England Patriots for their third Super Bowl victory. Eli Manning led the game-winning drive down the field and was named MVP. At this point, Barber looked foolish for his caddy questioning of Manning’s leadership skills.
Since then, Barber has been the subject of Giants fans anger and dislike. When several Giants were honored during the last season at the old Giants Stadium, Barber received a chorus of boos when he was announced. He has even further tarnished his reputation with his mouth when he was quoted in the May 30, 2011 Sports Illustrated comparing hiding in his agent’s attic with his girlfriend so they wouldn’t get caught to Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis. I don’t think that Barber intended anything offensive by this comment, but it was another instance of him being unable to think before speaking and sticking his own foot in his mouth.
All of these things have added up to the point where Giants fans have ostracized Barber from their team. His accomplishments on the field have taken a back seat to what we think of him personally. No, he never committed a crime or spent time in prison. No, he never did anything so truly offensive to warrant extrication. But he had bitten the hands that fed him one too many times and attacked other beloved figures in the franchise. All of it seemed like sour grapes because deep down, it had to have killed him that the Giants won a Super Bowl the very next year after he retired.
Personally, I will always respect and admire Tiki Barber for what he accomplished on the field. He progressed from being a fumble-happy third down back to one of the premiere rushers of his and other generations. He was a warrior who played hurt and did whatever he could to help the team win. What he chose to do and say after his retirement is unfortunate because it has effectively ruined his reputation. But his legacy should always be that he was the greatest running back to ever wear Big Blue. His lack of championship rings and chronic case of verbal diarrhea does not negate the fact that #21 was one of the best ever. I thank Tiki Barber for his contributions to the Giants during his career and I only hope he finds success and happiness in returning to the NFL. Unfortunately, he has a lot of fences to mend before he is welcomed back by the Big Blue faithful.
Right now is an exciting time to be a baseball fan as teams begin elevating highly touted prospects to the big leagues. The reason this happens at this point in the season is so clubs can save an arbitration year by avoiding the “Super Two” status. It does make sense from a financial standpoint for teams to do this because purchasing early arbitration years in a long term contract has been the recent trend for teams to save money later on by spending right now. This injection of youth begins and ends with the Kansas City Royals who have one of the deepest and most talented minor league systems in all of baseball. Both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are now with the big league club and look like they are here to stay. Hosmer has been extremely impressive since his promotion in May, holding his own in 37 games by batting .288 with 5 homeruns and 22 RBI. Moustakas was just called up this week and already has his first major league homerun. Hosmer (1B) and Moustakas (3B) look like they will be the cornerstones for a hopeful renaissance by the Royals as they build for the future. Oh yeah, they also called up one of their top pitching prospects, Danny Duffy, who likes like he will be a fixture in Kansas City’s rotation from now on.
Another notable call-up is Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of the top prospects included in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Thus far this season, Rizzo is hitting .365 with 20 doubles and 16 homers in just 52 games. In those 52 games he has knocked in an amazing 63 runs, giving him an OPS of 1.159 in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Rizzo will be relied upon to inject some power into an otherwise pedestrian offensive team playing in a true pitchers’ park. Based on the numbers he has previously compiled, it looks like the Padres have found their man to try and fill Adrian Gonzalez’s shoes.
Other notable call-ups include Dustin Ackley (2B-SEA), Jemile Weeks (2B-OAK), Charlie Blackmon (OF-COL), and Dee Gordon (SS-LAD). Not far behind are Brett Lawrie (3B-TOR) and Desmond Jennings (OF-TB). These rookies are all top prospects with which expectations come attached. Recent trends have shown that players do not necessarily need 5-6 years in the minor leagues to develop and learn how to properly play baseball. This new crop of young stars should all have at least moderare success in the big leagues barring unforeseen injuries or other circumstances. At the very least, they will all be given the opportunity to prove they belong. If any of these players are available in your fantasy baseball league, grab them. It doesn’t matter if you are in a keeper or non-keeper league, these young players are contributing more at an earlier age so it is highly advisable to snacth one, two, or all of them
In July 2010, LeBron James was the star of an hour-long ESPN production called “The Decision” where he revealed to the world which team would be blessed with his talents. As we all know, King James decided to take his talents to South Beach where he joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the most dominant trio in the NBA. The backlash against this decision was tremendous, including a scathing letter from the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron instantly became the most hated sports figure in recent history. His transformation into a villain was akin to Hulk Hogan turning his back on the Hulkamaniacs and forming the n.W.o. in 1996.
Admittedly, some of the criticism towards LeBron for his decision to sign with Miami was hypocritical. The public vilifies athletes who just go for the money and have no desire to win. However, LeBron left millions of dollars on the table by signing with Miami because his incumbent team, the Cavaliers, could have given him more money. Instead, he signed with Miami bringing Chris Bosh with him to join Wade’s team. This decision would give James the best chance to win a championship, or so he thought. The consensus amongst NBA fans and the general public was that LeBron was taking a shortcut to win a title. At this point, the NBA Universe wanted nothing more than any other team to win the championship.
It took awhile for the Heat to click as a team, but once they got rolling they didn’ty stop. They entered the playoffs with some speculation that they could get picked off by Boston or Chicago, but that never came to fruition. In fact. LeBron was a monster in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls. It sure looked like nothing was going to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. The comparisons to Michael Jordan would be warranted as James would get his first of many rings to decorate his fingers.
But then the NBA Finals started pitting the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of the 2006 Finals. In that series, the Mavericks went up 2-0 and proceeded to collapse giving Dwyane Wade his championship that LeBron so badly wanted for himself. He had a national stage to showcase his talents and prove to the world that he belonged in the same realm as Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, all he did was prove that he should never be mentioned in the same sentence or paragraph as Jordan.
It was amazing to watch LeBron literally choke during the Finals. He froze up in crunch time and avoided getting the ball when it mattered most. Even on defense, he stood around watching his teammates and opponents play their hearts out. It was disturbing and inexplicable. Last year, he had a horrendous game against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals allegedly because he had found out his teammate, Delonte West, was sleeping with his mother. I guess one can understand why he wouldn’t be focused on that particular night. But there is no rational or logical explanation for his performance in these Finals outside of the fact that LeBron suffers from a crisis of confidence and fear of failure.
We as fans can only speculate about a professional athlete’s state of mind when playing in a game. It is easy to sit back and criticize when watching on TV or in the stands at the game. The truth is that these athletes are under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform at a high level all the time. But LeBron is a self-annointed King and so badly wants to be revered in the same manner as Jordan. He created the expectations when he signed with Miami and he had the sole burden of proving that he has the mettle, desire and passion to win under any circumstances. And he failed to meet that burden.
No matter what the circumstances of the game were, Michael Jordan never would have stood around and watch the game go by him. He never would have avoided the ball or passed up opportunities to take the game into his own hands. LeBron James ran away from every opportunity he had to become a champion. And he probably will win a championship someday given the talent the Heat have on their roster and the genius that is Pat Riley running the organization. But no matter how many rings LeBron ends up getting in his career, he can never be compared to Michael Jordan again. He can’t even be compared to Kobe Bryant. He will never be able to make up for the colossal failure that was the 2011 NBA Finals because it is firmly entrenched in the annals of NBA history that LeBron James choked big time and lacked the heart necessary to be a champion. If the Heat win a title going forward, it will more be a testament to Dwyane Wade’s greatness than LeBron’s “talents.”
Even more damaging to LeBron’s legacy and reputation was his reactions and responses after the game. We know he heard all of the criticism and we know he is aware of his own shortcomings, so in a way I can be mildly empathetic towards him for being the recipient of such profound and constant abuse. But his remarks about g-d not wanting this to be his time now, or that everyone else will wake up the next morning with their own lives and problems while he will wake up a millionairre, just make LeBron look like a spiteful and spoiled jackass.
All of this has solidified LeBron’s status as the most hated man in sports. It is hard to imagine a way for him to rehabilitate his reputation and legacy without some major changes in his personality, demeanor, attitude and performance. The fact that the Governor of Ohio made the Dallas Mavericks honorary Ohioans for a day speaks volumes about how much this man is despised. I made the comparison earlier between LeBron’s villainy and Hulk Hogan’s heel turn to the n.W.o. However, the difference is that Hulk Hogan was able to regain his Hulkamaniacs by putting the yellow and red back on and training, saying his prayers, and eating his vitamins. Unfortunately for LeBron, he seems to be eternally entrenched as the bad guy. And he doesn’t even have a ring to show for it.
The general consensus amongst Mets’ fans is that when they trade for or sign a star player, said star player will either get injured or lose his ability to play at a level which justified the aforementioned acquisition. There is a long list of examples dating back many years to justify this feeling – from George Foster, Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez (sans 2005), Carlos Beltran (sans 2006-2008), Johan Santana (he has pitched well when healthy), etc. True, there have been some that panned out such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza. But for the most part, big name acquisitions haven’t been the Mets specialty over the years.
Generally speaking, it comes as a surprise when these star players fail to live up to their hype and expectations. I admittedly supported almost every acquisition that was made involving these big names. That brings me to the topic at hand. In the winter of 2009, there were two big name free agent hitters on the market – Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Everyone knew Holliday would be worth more money and wanted to stay in St. Louis, so it came as no surprise when he re-signed with the Cardinals. Bay was available and was the perfect match for the Mets who were in desperate need of a left fielder and powerful bat in the middle of the lineup. Bay had experience playing in a big market environment with the Red Sox the previous year and a half, and he had a great reputation of being a hard-working player and a positive clubhouse guy. The Mets inked Bay to a 4-year, $65 million contract that was generally well-received by fans and the media. He would solifiy left field and provide a presence in the middle of the Mets’ lineup while also taking some pressure off of David Wright.
As it turned out, the only impact Bay really had was in a Sunday Night game against the Yankees where he hit two homeruns off of C.C. Sabathia. Check that, the other impact he had was with the outfield wall which gave him a concussion and ended his season in late July 2010. His final statistics for his first year on the Mets were a .259 batting average, 6 homeruns, and 47 RBI. In his previous six full seasons, he had never hit less than 21 homeruns or driven in less than 81. He clearly hit rock bottom, right?
Coming into 2011, Bay was fully recovered and ready to make up for the lost season that was 2010. However, just before Opening Day, he suffered an oblique injury during batting practice that would land him on the disabled list for most of April. By the time he came back, it was almost 9 months since he had seen a pitch from a big league pitcher in a regular season game. The Mets got off to an awful start, but Bay’s return coincided with a six-game winning streak that brought the Mets back to respectability. However, since the beginning of May, Bay has been non-existent in terms of production with the bat. In 39 games, he is hitting .207 with 2 homeruns and 10 RBI. Yes, 10 RBI. Ruben Tejada has 9 RBI thus far – just for comparison. He only has 4 doubles along with those 2 homeruns giving him a slugging percentage of a whopping .279. And this is supposed to be the Mets’ cleanup hitter?
As bad as those statistics are, it is even worse when you watch him play everyday as I do. He looks completely lost at the plate with no idea how to approach each at bat. He cannot catch up to average fastballs, and he is consistently fooled by off-speed and breaking pitches away. When he does make contact, he either softly grounds out to the left side of the infield or pops up to the outfield. He has become an automatic out and makes Rey Ordonez look like Willie Mays.
Given the Mets’ injuries, they have been relying on Bay more than ever to anchor their lineup that consists of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and a bunch of minor leaguers. Instead, Bay has been outplayed and outperformed by guys like Jason Pridie, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, and Ruben Tejada. It reached the point where Bay has become a liability to the Mets because he is contributing nothing from an offensive standpoint. Manager Terry Collins has moved Bay down in the order to try and take some pressure off of him, but that didn’t work. Now, C0llins has benched Bay on several occasions and almost looks like he is creating some sort of platoon in left field.
Granted, if Bay starts hitting then he plays everyday – no questions asked. But I must give Terry Collins credit for proactively dealing with Bay’s lack of production because he was hurting the team by being in there. Collins wants to win, and despite having a banged up roster, he is going to put a lineup together that gives the Mets the best chance to win. Right now, Jason Bay does not give the team the best chance to win. Kudos to Collins for ignoring Bay’s contract and the back of his baseball card. To his credit, Bay seems like a class act and has handled all of this with dignity. He doesn’t have any history of selfish behavior, so there shouldn’t be concern over that. Bay has to straighten himself out, and then he will be right back where he should be. But until then, he cannot continue to hurt the team by being in the middle of that lineup producing absolutely nothing.
What could help Bay resolve his issues? Perhaps a two-week trip down to the minors to work on his mechanics and timing would serve him well. It has worked in the past for pitchers Steve Trachsel and Bobby Jones. But Bay would have to agree to the demotion and buy into the theory that it will help him. He is just going to have to keep working on his swing and his approach, and somehow regain the stroke that netted him a $65 million contract. If he cannot do this, than Mets fans are going to have fonder memories of Mo Vaughn than Jason Bay.
Here are some of the questions and responses in the article:
Do you think the NFL lockout will affect your fantasy football league(s) this year? If so, how?
“Yes. It’s reducing interest in football, which naturally reduces the normally rabid league interest in fantasy football. Aside from any missed games and diminished interest, the lockout will ostensibly kill the preseason evaluation period. Most people in my league watch the preseason games to scout for draft steals, and I think the lack of a preseason will lower the overall quality of teams in our league.” – a 5-year fantasy veteran and Redskins fan in Washington, DC
“…Already has affected it…we usually get together to watch the draft…also, our league is a keeper league, which means roster management with trades can be a 12 month deal…no one is of the mind to talk trade…it’s a downer…” – an 18-year fantasy veteran and Steelers fan in Parkland, FL
“Every year I go to Waco, Tx for my fantasy football draft. Leading up to draft weekend, most of the participants have studied training camps, made offseason grades, and compiled their draft strategies (a couple even make notebooks). I travel the furthest for this annual ritual. This year we haven’t made our reservations (we typically rent a cabin, lake house, or stay out at someone’s ranch for the weekend), we don’t know what dates to begin blocking off the calendar, and we are forced to discuss basketball to fill the time.” – a 10-year fantasy veteran and Cowboys fan in Washington, DC
“We already decided to cancel the fantasy league and start a pool league on Monday nights. Both sides are greedy, bloodsucking, overpaid, egomaniacs that are destroying minimum wage jobs while they (complain) that they can’t live on only 20 million a year. What a bunch of sniveling little babies that don’t deserve any attention or respect.” – a 25-year fantasy veteran and Bears fan in Waikoloa, HI
“Most definitely it will. This is one of the aspects of NFL football that brings even casual fans closer to the game. I know some women, who can’t even tell you the rules of football, but play fantasy because they enjoy it. It’s kind of like filling out NCAA brackets, everyone does it. The NFL even markets fantasy, and I’m assuming spends millions on it. For instance everyone knows the classic T.J. “Who’s Your Mama” commercial. This is just one more aspect of the “golden goose” that this lockout will kill.” – a 5-year fantasy veteran and Redskins fan in Durham, NC
Has your league made contingency plans if the lockout stretches into August?
“Yes, we have a keeper league with non-standard rules that have necessitated that we already start planning for possible adjustments to our rules depending on whether or not there is a season and how long it is. We have already pretty much decided we must have a draft this August even if the labor dispute is unresolved at that time.” – an 11-year fantasy veteran and Redskins fan in Alexandria, VA
“We are going to try to find a fantasy UFL or college football league and if we do that there will be an asterisk on the trophy.” – an 8-year fantasy veteran and Redskins fan from Fisherville, VA
“Since our league is a fairly turnkey operation, we are flexible as to when we start. The only thing that will change will be the entry fee; Likely lowered based on number of weeks missed. So ultimately, the end-of-season prize pool may not be as large. That would be a disappointment.” – a 12-year fantasy veteran and Redskins fan in Silver Spring, MD
“Nope. We’re counting on the NFL getting it done. To quote Harold Camping, “There is no Plan B.”” – a 10+ year fantasy veteran and Redskins fan in Baltimore
This is just a small sample of the fantasy sports population. In the United States, there are approximately 27 million people who play fantasy sports, and a majority of those play fantasy football. By far, fantasy football is the most prosperous sport within the industry. If there is no NFL season, the ramifications could be disastrous to the fantasy sports industry, including the companies that provide services and the people who spend money to play. Obviously the fans want there to be football, but amongst those fans is a very important demographic of people who play fantasy football. The delay or cancellation of the season will have a far-reaching impact on many industries, and it is important to remember that the fantasy sports industry is one of them.
To my knowledge, this Washington Post column is one of the only articles written about the NFL lockout where the impact on fantasy football was addressed. I realize that fantasy football pales in comparison to the popularity of the NFL, but in many respects they are part and parcel to each other. The popularity of the NFL helped launch the massive growth and popularity of fantasy football. Additionally, the mainstream acceptance of fantasy football has given the NFL newer and more casual fans. The business and companies that write the fantasy magazines, create the draft boards, run the websites providing stats and advice, the websites that host leagues, make the trophies, host parties, and so on, will be in dire straits if the season is affected. While NFL fans will eventually go back to their teams and either watch games on TV or go to the stadium, the same cannot be as definitely said for the fantasy football companies. They may not have the flexibility or financial ability to close shop and reopen. Just something to think about.
If you have been living under a rock for the last 48 hours, then you should know that Giants’ catcher Buster Posey suffered a horrific injury on May 25, 2011 when he was run over by Scott Cousins of the Marlins trying to score the go ahead run in extra innings on a sacrifice fly. Posey, the budding superstar and key component of their 2010 World Series championship, suffered a broken fibula and potentially serious ligament damage. He will require surgery and could miss most, if not the rest, of the season. From a pure competitive standpoint, this is devastating to the Giants to lose their catcher, cleanup hitter, on-field leader, and one of the best young players in all of baseball.
Clearly the team and manager Bruce Bochy are upset that they will be without Posey for quite some time. But after the game, Bochy stated that he thought there should be some modification to the rules in order to help protect defenseless catchers from being bulldozed in a collision at home plate. Bochy, a former catcher himself, said he understands that this is part of the game. But his comments and suggestions seem a little self-serving. First of all, Scott Cousins did nothing wrong in his physical confrontation with Posey. Cousins’ job is to find a way to score, including doing whatever he can (within the rules) to knock the ball away from the catcher. Posey was rightfully and appropriately trying to block the plate waiting to catch the one-hop throw from right field.
In a sport that does not contain much contact outside of inadvertent touching, it is perfectly legal for a baserunner to plow directly into the catcher in his attempt to score. Of course there are situations where a baserunner goes beyond the scope of fair play and plows into the catcher with the sole intent of inflicting injury. Those are rare instances and should be dealt with accordingly. But here, Cousins clearly had no intent to inflict injury. His initial reaction after touching home plate was to express concern for Posey who was laying on the ground in obvious pain. Cousins has since said he couldn’t sleep that night knowing he had inadvertently injured Posey.
This was a legal and fair baseball play that had an unfortunate result. Catchers are taught at an early age how to block the plate on incoming throws to prevent a baserunner from scoring. The rationale is simple…don’t let the other guy score. Of course there is an inherent risk of injury any time there is fierce contact at that rate of speed and with a catcher’s attention also focused on receiving the throw. Posey knows that. Bochy knows that too. No one was complaining about the rules regarding contact at home plate before this happened, but hindsight is always 20/20. Protecting players from injury is always a primary concern and priority for any major sport. But injuries can happen anywhere and anytime. Remember, Luis Castillo injured himself walking down the dugout steps. Does that mean that all dugouts should be equipped with escalators to prevent such further injuries?
Collisions at home plate are a part of the game and always have been. Catchers assume that risk, as well as a myriad of other risks, simply by playing the position. There is a reason that catchers’ equipment is called the “tools of ignorance.” The position itself leads to more injuries because of how physically demanding it is on the human body. The plethora of injuries to catchers, especially superstar catchers, seems to be at an all-time high. Joe Mauer is constantly injured and he is being considered for a position change in the near future. Victor Martinez has played a lot of first base and DH over the last few years to keep his bat in the lineup. When Posey eventually comes back, it is highly likely he will exchange his catcher’s mitt for a first base glove. The Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper deserve a lot of credit for recognizing these risks by grooming Harper as an outfielder. If he remained behind the plate in his professional career, he would be more at risk for frequent injuries and a lesser impact with his bat. The trend of moving good-hitting catchers from behind the plate has started and will now really pick up steam.
What happened to Buster Posey is unfortunate. The primary concern is that he is able to fully heal after surgery and regain the full range of motion and use in his leg. He is young enough where his body is more apt to recover. But anyone who complains about the legality of the play or the rules that govern it is missing the point. I understand why Bochy is so upset and why he questions the rules. But was he questioning a pitcher’s ability to throw inside fastballs when Matt Cain hit David Wright in the head in 2009? The answer is no.
I do not hide the fact that I am a Mets’ fan who also happens to despise the Yankees. My friends and family know full well how much I dislike the Bronx Bombers, but maybe everyone else needs to be made aware of my hatred (or jealousy). In 2001, I celebrated Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single to win the World Series as if it had been the Mets playing. This, just two months after I survived being in the World Trade Center on September 11 and the entire country was emotionally rooting for New York to win the championship. Bear in mind, I do not dislike the Yankee players (aside from Alex Rodriguez), and I do not dislike my friends and family that are Yankees’ fans. I need to point this out because I actually do have a lot of respect and admiration for several Yankees…none more than for the great Mariano Rivera.
On May 25, 2011, Rivera appeared in his 1,000th career game…all as a member of the Yankees. He became just the 15th pitcher to ever make 1,000 appearances, and the first to ever do it all with one team. In an era of free agency and constant player movement, this is a remarkable achievement. Sixteen years ago, not many people would have predicted such a journey for Rivera, then an inconsistent and relatively ineffective starting pitcher on an up and coming Yankees team. The Buck Showalter regime saw something else in Rivera and moved him to the bullpen at the end of 1995 where he would remain as the Joe Torre administration took over in 1996. Rivera became the set-up man for John Wetteland as the Yankees went on to win their first of five recent championships. After Wetteland departed via free agency to Texas, Rivera was annointed the new closer and has never looked back.
It goes without any debate that Rivera is a first ballot, unanimous Hall of Famer. He is second all time with 572 saves (and should overtake Trevor Hoffman later this year or next year), and is the greatest post-season pitcher in the history of baseball. Yes, I said that. I realize he is a relief pitcher, but when the most important games were on the line, he came through almost every time. I would even go so far as to say that he is the most IMPORTANT player of this entire generation. The Yankees success since 1996 is not solely because of him, but it would not have happened without him.
What makes Rivera so good? How has he been so dominant? As we all know, he primarily throws one pitch…the cut fastball. It eats left-handed hitters alive as it moves towards their hands creating more broken wood than the cast of Ax Men. It sails away from right-handed hitters making them look more foolish than Donald Trump discussing his platform for a presidential candidacy. He generally throws it at the same speed and doesn’t possess any off-speed pitches to provide a contrast. Even though the batters know what is coming, they still can’t hit it. At 41 years old, Rivera is still the most effective closer in baseball. He will blow his fair share of games, including three thus far in 2011. He will probably blow a few more during the rest of the season. However, once the calendar turns to October, Rivera becomes a different player.
Eventually the day will come when Rivera hangs up his cleats and “Enter Sandman” will turn to Exit Sandman. That means that someone else, whether they are in the organization or not at the time, will have the unenviable task of trying to fill some very large shoes. So for now, Yankees fans, appreciate what you have in Rivera. Because as a someone who strongly dislikes the Yankees, I can sure appreciate Rivera’s greatness and dominance.
As if there hasn’t been enough drama surrounding the Mets with their pending lawsuit in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, employing two people who were caught distributing steroids in their clubhouse and stealing team memorabilia, and their epic failures on the field since the end of the 2006 season, owner Fred Wilpon has certainly created more. In an article for the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/30/110530fa_fact_toobin?currentPage=all), Wilpon spoke to Jeffrey Toobin about Bernie Madoff and their history. While that topic in itself is controversial, it was the more casual words spoken by Wilpon about three of his premiere players that has garnered a lot of attention.
Wilpon provided three honest but critical assessments of his players. Regarding the Mets’ prized possession and pending free agent shortstop, Jose Reyes, Wilpon said he “He’s a racehorse. He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” (referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.” Then David Wright, the face of the Mets, was assessed. “He’s a really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.” Finally, it was Carlos Beltran’s turn – the same Beltran who still has his bat frozen on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright’s curveball crossed the plate for strike three to end the 2006 NLCS. The same Beltran who parlayed a magical playoff run with the Hosuton Astros in 2004 into a seven year, $119 million contract before the 2005 season. Wilpon, clearly exhibiting regret about this decision, said referring to himself: “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series. He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.”
After six weeks and eight fantasy games played, it is now time for the first edition of the 2011 Power Rankings for the Old Bridge Fantasy Baseball League (“OBFBL”). The OBFBL is an 18-team, non-keeper, head to head, points, mixed NL/AL fantasy baseball league that has existed since 1999 and is currently in its 13th season. We will rank each team in the league based on their overall record, points scored, roster trends, significant transactions, and other general criteria. Without further adieu, here are the first official power rankings through the middle of May 2011.
1. The Ewok Rebellion (7-1, 1st place AL Central)
Abe, the brash-talking tech guru of the league who always has a Star Wars theme for his team name, is sitting in first place in the AL Central and is currently tied for the best record in the league. He suffered his first defeat of the year this past week and conveniently he had a lot less to say. The Ewok’s early success can be attributed to several hot starts to the season by 1st round pick Robinson Cano, pitcher Dan Haren, and Ryan Howard. Russell Martin has provided an unforeseen amount of offense at the weak catcher position, and veterans Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Aramis Ramirez still have yet to catch fire.
2. Benny Enjoys the Moment Being My Bee-otch (7-1, 1st place NL East)
Marc, an OBFBL original and two-time champion, is off to a fast start tied for the best record in the league. His draft strategy based around pitching has paid off thus far as Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester have anchored his staff. Closers Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria haven’t provided the results he anticipated yet as Feliz was injured and Soria hasn’t had many save opportunities. Marc intuitively drafted an injured Brandon Morrow and is now reaping those benefits. Much of his early success can be attributed to good waiver wire pickups like Alex Avila, Jed Lawrie, Kyle Farnsworth, and Darwin Barney.
3. Fellowship of the Orange Veal Cutlets (6-2, 1st place NL West)
After having the worst record in the league in 2010, Maury has stormed back with a vengeance to begin 2011. His top draft picks have performed well, including Justin Verlander and his no-hitter. First round pick Ryan Braun has been a stud as expected, and Brian McCann is one of the best fantasy catchers in the league. Young pitchers Jonathan Sanchez and Ian Kennedy have provided depth to Maury’s pitching staff, and Jason Kubel’s resurgence has given him another potent bat. Maury is scoring more points per game this year than he has in his previous 8 seasons. Someone ought to test his urine for HGH or steroids…or viagara.
4. Madoff’s Marauders (6-2, 1st place NL Central)
Joey I. finds himself in first place in the NL Central despite suffering from injuries to crucial players such as Ryan Zimmerman and Ike Davis. His pitching trio of Roy Halladay, Yovanni Gallardo and Brett Anderson is as good as anyone in the league. Closers Craig Kimbrel and Jose Valverde round out one of the top pitching staffs in the OBFBL. He also has Jordan Walden and Sergio Santos on his bench, so Joey I. can likely leverage some of his excess pitching for infield help. With gaping holes at first base and third base due to injury, Joey I. has the Braves’ middle infield duo of Dan Uggla and Alex Gonzalez, both of whom are struggling.
5. Mets in 2011 (5-3, 1st place AL East)
Jordan got off to the best start to a season in terms of points scored in league history. The 2004 champion scored the 3rd highest point total in one scoring period ever during the Week 1 double-header. He has already won two $20 weekly awards for most points scored as he sits in first place in the AL East. Powered by Joey Votto, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, Jordan has amassed all of these points despite getting nothing from Carl Crawford. Jordan’s pitching staff is deep and productive with Josh Beckett regaining his old form and looking dominating again. Jaime Garcia, Tim Hudson and Brian Wilson have also been very effective, and he has Jake Peavy stashed on his bench and ready to be activated (despite not being in his lineup this week when he threw a shutout). Oh, and he has Johan Santana stashed away too.
6. Len Tuckwilla’s Nuts Over My Chin (5-3, 2nd place NL West)
It has been an all or nothing season thus far for Craig. Everything he has touched has either turned to gold or sent to the disabled list. Taking Troy Tulowitzki in the first round was a no brainer, but drafting Jered Weaver so soon in the second round caused a couple heads to turn. Well those heads were wrong. Weaver had arguably the most dominant April in recent history, and then he missed a start due to an illness and has been brought back down to earth. But for the first time in his OBFBL tenure, Craig has a deep and talented pitching staff that is also comprised of Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Garza, Michael Pineda and Kyle McClellan. On offense, Gaby Sanchez, Martin Prado and Carlos Beltran have all gotten off to quick and powerful starts. Craig is known for fading in the second half, so hopefully he has built up some OBFBL endurance.
7. Jewish Mafia (5-3, 2nd place NL Central)
The OBFBL’s resident Hebrew gangster is following up on his deep playoff run from 2010 with another fast start. Randy has benefited from some production from unlikely sources such as Alfonso Soriano, Leo Nunez and Francisco Rodriguez. His top picks, such as Carlos Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Mat Latos have all struggled getting out of the gate, but each have shown signs of breaking out. Brandon Phillips, Jason Heyward and Casey McGehee round out a solid offense. Randy’s weakness may be at first base where Freddie Freeman is the only option he has. His other weakness is Leonardo DiCaprio movies…he gets emotional.
8. RAD (4-4, 2nd place AL Central)
After another slow start, Matt has been on a roll lately putting up some big time points and proving that his success in his rookie year was no fluke. Adrian Gonzalez and Andrew McCutcheon are the most dangerous hitters he has, with veterans like Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon contributing to the cause despite their advanced age. On the contrary, Matt has solified his reputation as someone who values and recognizes young pitching talent. Daniel Hudson was the first pitcher he drafted, and he has rebounded to justify such a selection. James Shields has also rebounded from a poor 2010 to have one of the highest point totals in the league. Homer Bailey, John Axford, Zach Britton and Jordan Zimmermann round out Matt’s impressive young staff. I think Ian Kinsler just injured himself reading this.
9. Pap Smears (4-4, 1st place AL West)
Jared has brought back the team name of Pap Smears for the first time since 2000. And with the return of the vaginal swabs has come a return to glory as Jared currently resides in 1st place despite a .500 record. Injuries have been a major theme for Jared starting with the draft as he selected players like Jair Jurrjens, Corey Hart, and Shaun Marcum who all had injuries prior to the season beginning. Since then, he has withstood DL stints for Victor Martinez, Aaron Hill, and a scare with Josh Johnson getting hit by a ball on his right forearm. For the record, Jared selected Corey Hart only because he himself wears his sunglasses at night,
10. It’s Gotta Be Mooses…or Meese (4-4, 2nd place AL West)
When everyone is healthy, Cory has one of the deepest and most talented pitching staffs in the league. His staff includes C.C. Sabathia, Chris Carpenter, Chad Billingsley, Ricky Romero and Francisco Cordero. With all of that pitching, something had to give…and it gave in deep positions. Derrek Lee has been on the downturn for a few years, and his recent oblique strain won’t help matters at all. Additionally, Aubrey Huff and Carlos Lee do not look like they once did (and yes, I admit, I predicted big things for El Caballo coming into the season). Matt Holliday has been terrific despite missing the first couple weeks of the season. The biggest surprises on Cory’s team have been Asdrubal Cabrera and Erick Aybar both hitting for more power than anticipated.
11. This is the Business We’ve Chosen (4-4, 2nd place NL East)
Despite being the first and only team to suffer from the illegal lineup penalty, Jason still has a .500 record and is in 2nd place behind Bee-otch. Even more surprising that he has won four games is the fact that Hanley Ramirez has been horrendous and Evan Longoria missed several weeks with an injury. In keeping with his tradition, Jason is relying on young stud pitchers to carry him through, such as Clay Buchholz, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Drew Storen. A trade for another hitter could be in order since his current utility player is Melky Cabrera.
12. Montreal Espos (3-5, 3rd place AL West)
The Espos were dealt a serious blow this week as David Wright was placed on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back. This type of injury and the recovery necessary could keep the Espos’ second overall pick on the shelf for quite some time. Not that Wright was doing much when he was playing, but Pat will have to rely on other hitters like Shin Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson to pick up the slack. One thing that Pat does have going for him is the formidable pitching duo of former Cy Young award winners Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke. Greinke is still a bit of a wild card, but if he can revert back to his 2009 form, then Pat should be able to compete for the division title with this closely grouped bunch.
13. Blue Horseshoe Loves Giant Douche (3-5, 3rd place NL West)
The Commish is off to another slow start and has been dominated in double-header weeks, just as he was in 2010. Mike has been bitten by injuries thus far with Josh Hamilton missing almost the whole season thus far. His strategy of taking two top closers as his first pitchers drafted hasn’t worked out well so far because Heath Bell and Carlos Marmol haven’t had many save opportunities yet. Mike did draft Lance Berkman in the late rounds which turned out to be a steal. He then parlayed Berkman’s torrid start into a trade to acquire Cliff Lee, the stud starting pitcher he needed. First round pick Miguel Cabrera is still sobering up from his off-season DUI.
14. Dawg Eat Dawg (3-5, 3rd place NL Central)
The defending OBFBL champion is off to a slow start in his quest to become the first ever repeat champion in league history. In typical fashion, Benny drafted aging hitters like they were going out of style. He was immediately burned when Manny Ramirez tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and subsequently retired. A-Rod started off strong but then suffered an oblique injury and has struggled since returning. Jason Bay, Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero look like shells of their former selves. And Grady Sizemore is on the DL again with an injury to his other knee. However, Benny does have David Price and Roy Oswalt to match up against anyone else’s top pitchers.
15. Cole Hamels Adopted Charlie Sheen’s Kids (2-6, 3rd place AL Central)
The Philadelphia Boys and their fetish with Cole Hamels bastard children are off to a slow start in the basement in the AL Central. Jeff and Mike drafted a team of players who are known for their hot and cold streaks. Mark Teixeira had an uncharacteristically hot start to the season but then cooled off considerably. Rickie Weeks, Stephen Drew and Jayson Werth have had their production limited to a confined period of time. The eponymous Cole Hamels and Andre Ethier have been consistently productive. A turning point in Jeff and Mike’s season could be the pending return of all-star second baseman Chase Utley. Jeff and Mike can either plug Utley into the lineup along with Weeks, or they can entertain a trade offer to upgrade somewhere else.
16. It Byrnes When I Peavy (2-6, 3rd place NL East)
While Ari has the best team name in the league, his actual team is not the best at anything except underachieving. After drafting Albert Pujols with the first overall pick, you could have etched in stone that Pujols would have his typical season, or even better due to this being a contract year. However, it has been anything but typical for the game’s best hitter. Pujols has struggled mightily through the first 6+ weeks of the season, and this has been problematic for the OBFBL Co-Commissioner. Mix in the struggles of Kevin Youkilis, plus injuries to Adam Dunn, Vernon Wells and Nelson Cruz and you have the recipe for a 2-6 record. Ari has a proven track record of winning, so don’t be surprised to see him make a second half run.
17. Sharks With Frickin’ Laser Beams (1-7, 2nd place AL East)
Now entering his 3rd season in the league, Jim has finally learned that drafting Jimmy Rollins in the first round is not a good idea. Despite taking Tim Lincecum with his first pick, the Sharks are being hunted by Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. Jose Bautista has easily been Jim’s best player by establishing himself as a true dominant fantasy stud. However, Dustin Pedroia and James Loney have been major disappointments. Delmon Young was producing but missed some time due to injury. Jim has never shied away from making trades in the past. He may need to shake things up before the Sharks jump themselves (if you don’t understand this, then Google or Wikipedia the term “jump the shark.”
18. Admiral Ackbar (1-7, 3rd place AL East)
In only his second season in the OBFBL, Mario has clearly established himself as one of the streakiest teams in league history. In 2010, he began the season 8-0. In 2011, he began 0-5 and is now 1-7. The problem has been Mario’s lack of offense because his deep pitching staff has consistently been carrying him. In fact, his offense has been so bad that he still lost one of the double-header games during the week that Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter. Mario recognized his problem and dealt away Cliff Lee in exchange for Lance Berkman (the top point scorer in the league at the time) and Aaron Harang. The good news is that Mario can only move up…there isn’t anyone below him.