Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Sporting News

The pop culture take is a little more involved than I thought. I want to do it right, so it may take me an additional day or two. Fret not, though; I will have something soon. In the meantime, I wanted to comment on recent and timely sporting news:

** The Royals have reportedly targeted Reggie Sanders as a free agent solution to their abysmal outfield production. I think Reggie Sanders is a stand-up guy, but he's 37-years old and has an extensive injury history. How this fits into our youth plan is beyond me. Additionally, GM Allard Baird is interested in Elmer Dessens as a middle reliever. The same Elmer Dessens with the 4.40 career ERA. Of course, he had a 3.56 ERA last year for the Dodgers. But Baird obviously isn't aware of the existence of park effects which give Dodger pitchers shinier resumes because they pitch half their games in Dodger Stadium. Think of Dodger stadium as the opposite of Coors Field in Colorado: pitchers thrive in L.A. and die in Denver. Jose Lima reminded us of that when he was re-signed by the Royals a year after posting a 4.07 ERA for the Dodgers. His 6.99 ERA for the Royals last year was the worst in baseball history by a pitcher who started at least 30 games. All of this is to reiterate that Allard Baird has absolutely no idea how to acquire proven major league talent.

** The NCAA suspended KU forward Darnell Jackson for nine games. The suspension came as a result of Jackson's friendship with KU football alumnus and booster Don Davis. Davis met Jackson when Jackson was in high school and had yet to even be recruited by KU. Davis befriended Jackson and his family, becoming a mentor and spiritual leader to the boy who had previously lost his father.

I realize that the NCAA has to have strict guidelines in place to avoid unfair treatment of athletes and universities, but this just doesn't seem appropriate. How can you punish a kid for a sincere relationship he had with someone before he was even a college recruit? On top of that, Davis, who is one of the few successful KU football players currently in the NFL, has been disassociated from the university, revoking his ticket privileges and ability to donate to the Williams Fund. All I can say is that this is all very unfortunate.

** The NFL announced that Kansas City is eligible to host a Super Bowl, assuming they make renovations to Arrowhead Stadium that include a roof and climate control. This should have been a happy day, but the $500 million estimate to renovate and add a roof has dampened enthusiasm. Since Lamar Hunt tried earlier this year to bilk Kansas City taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars (and was voted down), it seems he's been holed up, trying to figure out how to leverage his enormous clout into getting these renovation dollars. And he seems to have found the perfect plan: Throw your weight around with the NFL offices and owners ("I founded the AFL, after all!") to ensure an opportunity to host the Super Bowl and then pawn off the ever-increasing costs to the Kansas City taxpayer. That way, if the taxpayers vote it down, they'll be stuck with the stigma of not doing enough to help attract a Super Bowl and improve Kansas City while Hunt sits back and says, "Hey, I did my part." I'm tired of this crap. Maybe if we had won more than one Super Bowl since 1970 I'd be more willing to pony up some dough for this ridiculous proposal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Kansas State and Missouri. One's a respectable, good-natured, in-state rival. The other is a low-down, mangy, despicable screw-up. I'm sure you'll figure out where I stand after reading the following opinions:

**Bill Snyder is retiring at the end of the season as Kansas State's head football coach. Though it seems like an appropriate time, it's still kind of a shocker. Snyder transformed the worst college football program in history into a national power. And while the team has slipped of late, he has left the program in a position to reclaim some of the glory he had once brought the school. Though it would be great fun to write about what how wooden he's been and so on, I'll prefer to just give the man his due. He accomplished a monumental task at K-State, sacrificing many years of family time that he can never recapture, in order to put that program on the map. And regardless of the fact that he coaches on of KU's main rivals, this is a time to put that aside and give him his much-deserved respect. Unlike the recipient of the next topic...

**Quin Snyder's Missouri Tigers lose (at home!) to SAM HOUSTON STATE. Blink a couple of times and read that again: SAM HOUSTON STATE. This gives Missouri losses three years in a row to teams that have absolutely no business beating them. Belmont, Davidson and now SAM HOUSTON STATE. In Missouri's home opener. A game they haven't lost in 32 years. If this doesn't begins Quin's death march, I don't know what it takes. Get a load of these quotes:

“Obviously,” Snyder said, “if we play like this, it’s going to be an awfully long season.”

“I think it’s reflective of us not accepting who we are,” Snyder said of the implication that Missouri took this opponent lightly. “And frankly I’m really surprised by that in light of what these guys have been through.

“I’m shocked that we don’t understand that. I thought that’s something that would be burned on our heart, the lessons about how much energy we have to play with.”

Maybe it's just me, but I'm pretty sure the coach's main responsibility is to make sure he puts his charges in a position to do the best they can. That might entail having them run to achieve superior cardio-vascular fitness. That might also entail imploring to them to understand that each game is important and deserves maximum focus. Old Sam Houston managed to do that, defeating Santa Anna after Texas forces got whupped at the Alamo. Looks like Quin needs to take a page out of history if he wants to stay at Missouri much longer.

**I'm working up some thoughts for a take on pop culture. Stay tuned in the next day or two...


Up and down.

Good and bad.

Exciting and boring.

In my opinion, this is the sort of game that is going to define the upcoming regular season for KU basketball.

A decent first half showing followed by a sloppy and out-of-rythm performance in the second half. On a team so young and inexperienced, there is little reason to expect anything other than this. There were flashes of brilliance and flashes of immaturity. In the end, it makes me dream of what's to come.

The Kansas big men were aggressive once again, with C.J. Giles having the banner game with 24 points. Both Giles and Sasha Kaun looked to score nearly every time they received the ball. The willingness to be assertive and take a leadership role was certainly appreciated, but that willingness needs to be balanced with the ability to kick the ball out to the wings when the shot isn't available. I can remember less than a handful of times that the ball entered the hands of a Kansas big man and was subsequently kicked back out.

Joining the inside game was Darnell Jackson, making an impressive debut this season after being cleared by the NCAA regarding mysterious "eligibility" issues. After the game, Coach Self said they hoped to have these issues cleared up in the next 48 hours. But during this game, Jackson asserted himself, looking to score, rebound and defend. His presence will be much needed as these big men learn how to keep themselves out of foul trouble.

KU's perimeter players were less impressive, making one of their first eleven from three-point range. To be fair, the guards had plenty of good looks and open shots, but it was just one of those nights where the shots just weren't falling. Russell Robinson did manage to direct a couple of floaters for alley oops to Giles and Brandon Rush, but he was unable to finish on several drives to the basket. Mario Chalmers made some nice passes, including a no-look, behind the back dish on the fast break to Julian Wright, who was able to finish for two points. And Jeff Hawkins was pestering Pittsburgh State guards with his quick hands and quick feet.

As Coach Self mentioned in his post-game interview with Max Falkenstein, the Jayhawks were definitely lacking energy when compared to their game versus Fort Hays State. Rush and Wright didn't seem to be in just the right spot every time as they were in the previous game. And Robinson and Chalmers seemed to lack the quickness on defense that caused Fort Hays so much trouble.

But there were plenty of bright spots that left me to daydream about what's to come: Alley-oops to Giles and Rush; great entry passes by Micah Downs and Chalmers; several blocked shots by Giles; the picture-perfect shooting technique of Downs; Jackson ripping down rebounds; the unselfishness of the freshmen.

This year will have its share of highs and lows, shouts of delight and groans of despair and blowouts from both the winning and losing sides. But it will be great to watch this team grow up and dish out a little damage along the way.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Weekend at Gurney's

Well, that weekend sucked.

The sports portion of the weekend, anyway. KU gets a nationally televised football game for the first time in at least ten years and the game was over before we were even able to see it. Because the OU-A&M game went late, ABC didn't cut over to the KU-Texas game until it was already 14-0 in favor of the Longhorns. And it wasn't really worth watching after that anyway. In fact, spirits were so low at Chad's, Ryan busted out the 2002 KU basketball highlight video. Watching Collison/Hinrich/Gooden and Boschee and Simien/Langford/Miles helped ease the pain of watching KU's football team get loaded onto hospital gurneys and wheeled out of the State of Competitiveness. Of course, when the highlight video ended, we flipped back to the game and saw the finishing touches of the 66-14 flogging. Oh, well. At least I won a game of poker during it all.

Following that football downer was the Chiefs game on Sunday. The Chiefs were fresh off a last second victory over Oakland and looking to stay in the thick of the AFC West race. Turns out that the team was fitted with some new footwear: toe tags. Those guys were D.O.A. The offensive line played very politely. They simply stepped out of the way of oncoming Buffalo linemen, so as to not obstruct their journey. Poor Trent Green looked like the guy from the NFL Apparel commercial who zipped himself into the tackling dummy and took a beating all day just to get some NFL jerseys.

But I'm not sure what's worse: Getting beat up or getting torched. Which is what happened to Eric Warfield. Twice he was beaten deep for touchdowns.

Really, though, Larry Johnson was the only guy who seemed to show up for the game. He ripped off 130+ yards on the ground and ran with his usual angst. It just so happened that no one else was up to the challenge. And now the Chiefs playoffs hopes are dim at best. With the exception of Houston, every remaining team on the schedule has a winning record. And we would have to go 6-1 to have a reasonable shot at the division.

Chiefs fans, say hello to a long, cold winter. This team is going nowhere this year or in the near future. Coach Dick Vermeil will likely retire after the season. Priest Holmes best days are behind him, even if he is able to play again. Willie Roaf and Will Shields are beginning their trek to Canton. And Trent Green's hair just keeps getting grayer.

At least we've got basketball, though. Tonight, the Kiddie Crew takes on Pittsburgh State in what will most likely be a carbon copy of the Fort Hays State game. Tune in tomorrow for another look at the basketball Jayhawks through rose-colored glasses.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lowered Expectations

All during this off-season for KU basketball, I've been pretty realistic (some would say pessimistic) about our team's chances this year. We just lost four seniors, three of whom started and one of which (Wayne Simien) was an All-American. J.R. Giddens was involved in a bar fight and was stabbed in the leg, another data point on his ledger sheet that was filled with erratic behavior. Giddens transferred to New Mexico, stripping the team of yet another starter. The only returning starter just happened to be a walk-on.

That left the bulk of this year's minutes in the hands of four sophomores and four freshman. There is no question that these underclassmen contain bucketfuls of talent (particularly the freshman), but experience, strength and toughness generally win out in a league as tough as the Big XII.

So, I figured we would definitely take our lumps this season and build toward next season. With that in mind, I was really looking forward to seeing just how talented these freshman were and to see if the sophomores had bulked up any and improved their games.

Watching last night's exhibition game (the first of the season), I was pleasantly surprised. The sophomores were aggressive and looking to take charge. The freshman were active and eager to display their much-hyped talent.

To break down my impressions on the first Jayhawk action of the season, I'll go over the good and the bad, first for the whole team, then for each player.



* Perimeter defense. Jeff Hawkins, Mario Chalmers, and Russell Robinson were all relentless in pressuring the Fort Hays guards. Those three only combined for four steals, but the constantly harassed their opponents into making poor decisions.

* Ball distribution. The ball didn't stay in one place too long when the 'Hawks were on offense. Lots of unselfish play. The team had 24 assists on 35 made field goals. A very good sign.

* Hustle. KU was never beat down the floor on defense. There were several instances of players diving for loose balls. This is a central theme of a Bill Self-coached team.


* Fort Hays is a Division II school. This wasn't much of a test. There are something like 300 Division I schools and Fort Hays was picked to finish third in their conference. There are scores of much better teams than this. They had no size inside and were clearly overmatched.

* Free-throw shooting. Sasha Kaun was the main culprit, making only 3 of 10 from the line. But Christian Moody and Russell Robinson were a combined 2-7, as well. Considering that big guys get fouled a lot during the game, Kaun and Moody missing free throws is troubling. And if Robinson is going to be handling the ball at the end of close games, you want him to be more reliable from the stripe.

* Strength. Only Kaun looked like a regular in the weight room. C.J. Giles reportedly put on some weight, but didn't look noticeably beefier. All the freshman have typically svelte builds. This team is going to need to hit the weight room and training table with the same intensity they take to the practice floor.



* Jeff Hawkins. Hawkins started the game at the point and played well. He ran the team and shot well from three-point range (3-5). As mentioned previously, he played tenacious perimeter defense, something that has been consistent from the fifth year senior throughout his career.

* Russell Robinson. A somewhat surprising starter considering his troubles with turnovers last year and the hype of incoming freshman Mario Chalmers. But Robinson turned the ball over only twice in 27 minutes and handed out 11 assists. He and Sasha Kaun seemed to be on the same page as exemplified by Robinson's lobs for Kaun dunks. And Robinson was a major pest on defense to the Fort Hays guards.

* Steven Vinson. Definitely a surprise starter. Bill Self has not been shy about experimenting with different lineups or playing walk-ons. Vinson came out and contributed immediately with a three before giving way to Chalmers and Brandon Rush.

* Mario Chalmers. This is the one freshman nearly everyone expected to start. He didn't. But he did show why people had such high hopes. He shot the ball well, his only two misses coming behind the arc. He showed the ability to drive to the bucket and finish. And he displayed tough perimeter defense.

* Jeremy Case. Case didn't play much but did score with the home crowd when he hit a three with one second left in the game, making sure that every available player scored.


* Julian Wright. Possibly the most highly touted player of the freshman class, Wright looked like he wasn't quite up to speed yet. He did seem to possess excellent court vision and the desire to find the open man. He was also quite active on the boards. His shot looks like it could use a little work, but he also showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish.

* Micah Downs. Has a nice looking shot from long from long range. He'll need to put on a significant amount of muscle in order to endure the intense grind of the college season. Downs does seem to have long arms and athleticism that will help him on the defensive end. Blocked a shot with his elbow, which was both odd and impressive.

* Brandon Rush. Probably the crown jewel of the freshman class. Rush didn't start the game, but ended up with the most complete stat line of the night: 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, 5-of-6 from the line; 10 rebounds, seven on the offensive end; a team-leading four steals; three assists. Rush employed a complete offensive game, taking his man off the dribble; pulling up for the mid-range jumper; even a reverse dunk on a breakaway steal. Very impressive debut.


* Christian Moody. Got the start and played his typical solid, though unimpressive, game.

* C.J. Giles. Also started and took the initiative as a scorer in the first half. He showed off the 15-foot range Self had touted from practice and was confident in taking what the defense was giving him. Giles blocked a couple of shots and altered numerous others, though his aggressive defensive style did result in four fouls. This is something he'll need to improve given the lack of depth in the front court this year as opposed to last year.

* Sasha Kaun. Kaun had a very encouraging beginning to the season. Taking advantage of the lack of size in the players guarding him, he repeatedly took the ball to the rim and finished with powerful dunks. Unfortunately, he was miserable at converting his free throws after being fouled repeatedly. And he seemed to disappear on the boards, only collecting three in 19 minutes.

* Matt Kleinmann. The big redheaded walk-on got some garbage time minutes and made the most of his opportunity, scoring on a decent move around the basket.

All in all, the team performed much better than I had expected. We've had lots of highly touted freshman over the years at Kansas and even the best ones are generally pretty inconsistent. I don't think that will be any different with this class, but the talent is there, without question. If we make it to the tournament this year, I will be more than pleased. Anything more than that will just be icing. I guess that's the good thing about having lowered expectations.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Good Times

How about this lineup for the football games of weekend past?

University of Kansas: 40
University of Kick-Kansas-Ass-36-Years-In-A-Row: 15

University of Colorado: 41
University of Perpetual-Mediocrity: 12

Iowa State University: 45
Quickly-Losing-Respectability-As-A-Top-25-University: 17

Kansas City Chiefs: 27
Oakland Raiders: 23

In case you haven't been notified of the name-changes of several universities within the Big XII, KU beat Nebraska; Colorado beat Missouri; and Iowa State beat K-State. First and foremost,


No one has been able to truthfully write this sentence since before I was born. I guess all bad things must come to an end, and the Jayhawks were finally able to put 36 years of futility behind them. Of course, a lot of stars had to align to make this even a remote possibility:

1) Tom Osborne retires as head coach at Nebraska, begetting Frank Solich. Solich wins "only" 9 games per year and is forced out, begetting former Raider head coach Bill Calahan. Bill Calahan decides the best way to pick up the tattered remains of the recruiting classes Solich brought in was to institute the vaunted "West Coast Offense", even though none of these kids were recruited with this system in mind.

2) Roy Williams decides to accept his "dream job" at North Carolina, releasing his stranglehold on the rest of the KU athletic department. Lew Perkins decides to leave the burgeoning empire he created from scratch at UConn and try his hand at boosting the *entire* KU athletic department, rather than just the basketball program. Noted friend of Roy, Terry Allen, finally receives his just desserts and is fired, replaced by sizable head coach Mark Mangino.

3) Calahan institutes a system of confusion and turmoil into the Nebraska football program and winds up missing a bowl game for the first time since football was invented.

4) Mangino institutes a system of hard work and preparation and winds up taking the Jayhawks to the Phillip Rivers Bowl, er, Tangerine Bowl, the team's first bowl game since 1995.

And, finally, Memorial Stadium was not filled with Husker Red, but overflowing with Jayhawk Blue as a new stadium attendance record was set. Over 51,000 people got to witness something that a whole generation of KU football fans had never seen. Unfortunately, Kansas football still doesn't carry the same weight as Kansas basketball and so the game wasn't televised locally. But I was able to listen to Bob and Max on the radio as Bob screamed at the top of his lungs after every noteworthy play. And there were plenty of noteworthy plays:

* 40-yard TD pass on KU's opening offensive drive
* KU blocks a punt and recovers for a touchdown
* KU RB John Cornish rips off a 72-yard touchdown scamper
* A Kansas safety
* Mark Simmons catches his second TD pass for KU
* KU linebacker Kevin Kane picks off a screen pass and runs it 40 yards for a TD

I'm not sure Bob still had working vocal chords after this game. And to top off the day, main rivals MU and KSU get completely destroyed, seriously hindering their chances at ending the season in a bowl game. Meanwhile, KU needs to beat Iowa State in Lawrence (a tough, but winnable game) to make itself bowl-eligible, two weeks after at the possibility of a lost season.

This team has been both exciting and maddening at the same time. The offense, until the last two weeks, has been wretched. The defense, on the other hand, has been one of the nation's best. It had been disappointing watching the defense play its heart out only to have the offense piss away victories, game after game. Add in the fact that it's a senior-heavy defense and you could just see a potentially special season going down the drain. Now, after dismantling Brad Smith and Missouri for the third straight year and finally ending the streak against Nebraska, there is some hope again for this team.

This week, the Jayhawks travel to Austin to play second-ranked Texas. Normally, that would sound like a momentum buster, but KU was one horribly-botched call away from beating Texas last year. I'm not saying Kansas won't get annihilated by UT, but these guys have seen the possibility of beating this team and won't be intimidated in the least.

It doesn't take much to brighten the spirits of a Jayhawk football fan. Here's hoping we can send these seniors out on a bright note.


And as if all that college lunacy wasn't enough, the Chiefs managed to pull a game directly out of their collective ass.

The first half was a terrible snoozer, with both teams combining for five field goals and a 3-point lead by Oakland. But the second half saw KC's offense start to wake up, even though it was without Pro Bowl lineman Willie Roaf and Pro Bowl running back Priest Holmes. And once it looked like the Chiefs might take Oakland by the throat, Kerry Collins finds Jerry Porter in the end zone and makes it a 5-point game. And with time running out in the game, Randy Moss decides to show up and makes his first catch of the day: a 7-yard touchdown that, with the two-point conversion, puts the Raiders up by three. The Chiefs somehow manage to chip away and get the ball down the field, aided by a leg whip call that goes against the Raiders and negates yet another late game sack of Trent Green. With new life breathed into the offense, Green finds Eddie Kennison along the sidelines and gets close to field goal range for Lawrence Tynes. After a time-out with nineteen seconds left, Green checks off and dumps a short pass over the line to Larry Johnson.


Larry Johnson has been itching to be in this situation from the moment the Chiefs drafted him and hasn't been afraid to tell anyone who will listen. After being drafted as a bargaining chip in Priest Holmes's contract negotiation, though, Johnson had been stuck riding the pine. After much whining, Johnson was able to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves in the way of Priest Holmes injuries. He had a respectable second half of the season last year after Holmes went down and parlayed that into more carries in the preseason this year. He had added patience to his repertoire and was ripping off 15 yard runs left and right, forcing the Kansas City coaching staff to find a larger role for him in the offense. The staff settled on a rotation that alternated Holmes carrying the ball for two series and Johnson for one. Johnson has thrived, scoring as many touchdowns as Holmes in less carries and keeping himself ready for the inevitable Holmes injury. And ready he was when it was announced that Holmes would not play against the Raiders and Johnson would get his first start of the year.


Larry Johnson catches the dump pass and turns to find no Raiders within 15 yards of him. In his most impressive run to date, he took off, full-speed, toward the goal line. Johnson is a big guy, but can make people miss if he wants to, but most of the time he runs as if oncoming tacklers have burned down his house and stolen his girlfriend and he's looking for revenge. I've never seen a more "angry" runner than Larry Johnson. Anyway, he sprints 35 yards downfield and just lowers his head as two Raiders finally realize that they'd better do something or else they'd end up like Brian Bosworth after a Bo Jackson steamrolling. They manage to stop Johnson at the one-yard line with five seconds left. The Chiefs immediately call time-out and try to decide whether to take the safe route or go for the win.

Thankfully, Vermeil decided that the offense was good enough to get one yard and didn't put the pressure back on the defense to potentially get torched in overtime. And Larry Johnson and the offensive line came through. Johnson leaped over the line for the winning score with time running out while the line blew open several hole for him to run through. The Chiefs were celebrating wildly and deservedly while the Raiders walked off the field.

It's always fun to beat the Raiders (even though we do it all the time), but this was a particularly rewarding victory. Trent Green has been mourning his father's unexpected death and his focus has been understandably distracted. The best offensive player in Chiefs history (Holmes) suffers yet another injury. Willie Roaf, arguably the best left tackle in the game, missed another game. Off-season acquisition Patrick Surtain was out due to injury. All these things could have easily derailed this team and no one would have batted an eye. But the revolving door of mediocre lineman filled in and gutted it out, just enough; our increasingly suspect secondary sustained injuries, but managed to limit Randy Moss to just one catch; and Larry Johnson turned in a much-needed professional performance when his team needed it the most. Now, instead of allowing Oakland to join the fight in the AFC West, the Chiefs put them away and remained a game back of Denver and a half-game in front of San Diego. I'm not sure this was a "season-saving" win, but it sure was a good one.

Friday, November 04, 2005


There's a guy who works at the Wendy's down the street from my office that I suspect might have Tourette's Syndrome. Why? While he's bussing tables, he'll often let out an emphatic, "SPORTS!" With that in mind, let's dig in:

--The Jayhawks come off an impressive victory over hated rival Missouri to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lawrence. KU has lost 36 straight times to Nebraska, the second-longest streak in Division 1-A football. They had a great opportunity to end the streak last year in Lincoln, but couldn't quite do it. This year, the Hawks' defense is one of the best in the country and should keep Nebraska bottled up. The huge question mark is whether their "Without A Trace" offense can score any points. They managed to have a fairly effective running game versus Missouri, but the quarterback situation is a revolving door of ineptitude. If Mangino can somehow convince Swanson to hold on to the football and not turn it over, I think KU probably wins this game. One of my former co-workers, a 61-year old cornhusker fanatic, told me that he wouldn't live to see the day that KU beats Nebraska in football. I told him that I thought this would be a very short and uncomfortable weekend for him.

--Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil intimated that Trent Green may not start this Sunday against the Raiders. Green's father passed away last week apparently Vermeil wants to make sure that Green is "OK" before he makes a decision. If Green doesn't play at all this week, the Chiefs are screwed. He's the one indispensable player on the roster. We've managed to gut out wins without the amazing Priest Holmes; we've won some games when we started a defense that would have a hard time stopping 10-year olds in a game of "Red Rover"; we were able to get by while Big Willie Roaf was out a couple of games. But if we have to rely on backup QB Todd Collins for more than a couple of snaps, we're doomed. Trent Green is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league. Not because he has tremendous physical ability, but because he knows exactly what needs to be done in this offense and is completely comfortable executing it week after week. Even with Priest looking more and more doubtful for this week's game, we could still get by with Green under center and Larry Johnson getting all the carries. Unfortunately, what this all boils down to is that the Chiefs' offense is aging like Mel Gibson in "Forever Young". Priest can't stay healthy, Roaf and Shields are starting to break down and Eddie Kennison's not anyone's idea of a spring chicken. We could be getting our first possible glimpse of a post-Green/Holmes/Roaf offense and it doesn't look good.

--A positive off-season Royals note: Mike Sweeney won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, voted on by his peers as the player who best combined skill in the field with positive impact in the community. Of all the whining I do about the Royals, it IS nice to have a stand-up guy as the face and cornerstone of your franchise. Even if he only plays 120 games a year.

--Another note on off-season baseball: the first trade of the winter was pulled off yesterday. Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden, roundly considered an overrated and egomaniacal GM, pulled the wool over the eyes of Padres GM Kevin Towers, widely considered one of the sharper minds in the game. Washington pawns off the desiccated remains of third baseman Vinny Castilla for the unspectacular, yet serviceable arm of Brian Lawrence. This quote by Towers helps explain the apparent George Costanza/Elaine Benes personality swap that must have transpired as well:

"In the 10 years I've been a general manager, I was tired of Vinny hitting home runs against us, either in Colorado or Washington," San Diego GM Kevin Towers said. "He's always been a Padres nemesis, not only from the offensive standpoint, but from a defensive standpoint. This guy, I think, is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game."

Castilla is going to have to be the second coming of Brooks Robinson to justify that deal. In addition, what does this say about Sean Burroughs? After failing miserably to live up to his Little League potential, the Padres brought in Joe Randa and sent Burroughs to the minors to help restore his ability/confidence. Randa files for free agency and apparently Burroughs didn't register on Towers' radar screen enough to avoid bringing in one of the worst regular third basemen in the game. Sorry, kid; looks like it may be time to see what that high school degree has in store for you.

--Bad news for the Miami Heat: Shaq is out 2-4 weeks with a sprained ankle. That's not the worst news, though; more minutes just opened up for Antoine Walker. Even though the Heat would have made the Finals if it weren't for Dwyane Wade's injury, Mad Scientist Pat Riley decided to blow up the roster and bring in noted "shoot first, ask questions later" Hall of Famer, Antoine Walker. Walker might be the most maddening player in the league, alternating 30-point, 12-rebound, game-winning shot performances with 3-for-19, 1-for-14 from 3-point range, shoot-my-team-out-of-the-game-in-the-first-quarter performances. How do you trade for a guy like that on a team that should be funneling the ball into Shaq 65% of the time and letting Wade do his thing the other 35%? Mind boggling.

--Last night, the guard lined up beside Kobe Bryant in the Lakers' starting lineup?

Smush Parker.

That's gotta be the best nickname in major sports right now.


Trent Green WILL play this Sunday versus Oakland, Willie Roaf and Priest Holmes are "very doubtful". We'll avoid our first taste of a Green-less lineup, but the mere thought of it should make Chiefs fans shudder.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Opportunity Knocks

Two highly-qualified and highly-attractive general manager candidates arrived on the market this week. Paul DePodesta, recently dumped unceremoniously by the Dodgers, and Theo Epstein, the architect of the much-ballyhooed 2004 Red Sox world championship are available at this very second. DePodesta was the one-time assistant to Billy Beane in Oakland who first found fame by appearing in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Theo Epstein was apparently fed up with the constant lunacy and obsession of Red Sox Nation and decided to step down from his post rather than accept a 3-year, $4.5 million contract extension.

I realize that the Royals are still in the "honeymoon phase" of the Allard Baird era (wink, wink), but allow a guy to dream a little. Wouldn't it be amazing (and so totally out of character) if Royals owner David Glass actually used some of the creativity and business sense that made him successful in other aspects of his life and hired one of these fellows? Sure, he'd have to kick Allard Baird to the curb - or would he?

If Glass had the cajones to hire one of these young, brilliant and thoroughly competent general managers, couldn't he offer Baird the proverbial "job within the organization"? I think Allard Baird is a hard-working man of high character, but I think he's in over his head as a big league GM. He would fit in well as an assistant GM or director of scouting (a position he used to hold). The idea of demoting the GM isn't as far-fetched as it seems. The Chiefs hired Gunther Cunningham to be their defensive coordinator after his failed attempt to be the Chiefs' head coach. Why couldn't it work in this situation?

Even if Baird didn't want to accept the demotion, this would be a risk worth taking. These are both guys with something to prove. DePodesta was canned after two years of a five year contract. He didn't get a chance to fully implement his system with the Dodgers before the McCourt family went with the knee-jerk decision to let him go. DePodesta was a master at identifying talent when with the A's, a skill that needed in Kansas City's front office as much as anything. Building and maintaing a quality farm system is the only way to compete in today's economic climate and he's got the skills to see that through. Epstein was adept at finding cheap, high-impact talent. Not to be confused with Baird who was proficient at finding cheap, mid- to low-impact talent. He was also quite skilled at handling the press and personalities of his various high-paid stars. If Glass ever decided to open up the checkbook, Epstein would know how to use it. Both guys have vaunted educational pedigrees, a passion for baseball and, now, the additional motivation of wanting to show that they can succeed in a new situation.

Obviously, there are more attractive vacancies available. But the Royals do have some young talent to build upon and a relatively weak division to operate in. And stranger things have happened. Like a 29-year old GM leading the supposedly-cursed Red Sox to a world title. Maybe, just maybe, David Glass will hear the knock this time and actually be brave enough to open the door.