Friday, November 04, 2005

CASTILLA IS PADRES ASSET

The Washington Nationals traded their third baseman Vinny Castilla to the San Diego Padres for right-hander Brian Lawrence and cash. The move is a wonderful opportunity for Ryan Zimmerman, the No. 4 overall pick in June's amateur draft, to start at third for the Nationals next season who is also believed to be a fixture at the hot corner in Washington in the years to come. Castilla has always been a Padres upshot, not only from the offensive stance, but from a defensive perspective. Indeed one of the finest defensive third basemen in the game. The Padres long search for a player to play at 3B has finally come to an end. Earlier the team considered Sean Burroughs who struggled so badly that he was demoted to the minors in July when the NL West champions procured Joe Randa in a trade with Cincinnati. Randa filed for free agency after the season. The Padres saturation has obvious to come after seeing Vinny hitting home runs against them either in Colorado or Washington. The 38-year-old Castilla, nagged by knee tendinitis, hit .253 with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs in his first season with the former Expos. He led the NL in RBIs with Colorado in 2004, and signed a $6.2 million, two-year deal as a free agent with Washington last offseason. But with the emergence of Zimmerman who hit .397 with 10 doubles in 58 at-bats and made some impressive plays in the field as a September call-up, put Castilla’s status at stake. Castilla is a .278 career hitter in 15 major league seasons with 315 homers and 1,078 RBIs. And now he goes to another big home venue in San Diego's Petco Park to produce prodigious scores.

YOUNGER FACULTY DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN WISDOM

The new trend of young GM’s on the block seems to have caught the fancy of owners after Theo Epstein became a legend in Boston after the Sox won the World Series. But I really need to mention that this joy is ephemeral because experience comes with time and wisdom is such a virtue that heavily depends on experience and time. At an early age one can seldom become a pro player, and without that pedigree, getting into a front office is pretty much impossible. For this one should have a nose for business, know the game, show the crunch numbers and if possible should read Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract.”

From the past few weeks the new trend of hiring young GM’s has shown a few drawbacks. Paul DePodesta, who was hired by the Dodgers two years ago when he was 31, got fired. Theo Epstein, who was given the keys to the Red Sox three years ago when he was 28, walked away from his job. The one who kept his job, Brian Cashman, was nonetheless on the verge of leaving the Yankees because their situation is so ridiculously messed up. Without any doubt, young GMs seem to be doing the business for money. Obviously a 50-year-old exec with 30 years of experience in the game is going to leave a different impact on the game. It is a debatable issue that can stretch for hours about Epstein’s execution. In a nutshell, he probably has received a little too much credit for the World Series. He didn't build the team from the ground up. Undoubtedly we can’t remark or show any disregard towards the moves he made but maybe they win without Epstein. DePodesta is a genius sidekick who has always overseen a pretty hefty payroll, which means big-name with big things to boast off. His lack of big-league experience seems to have been hurting him more than his youthful excitement.

A DOUBLE DOSE OF SETBACK


Shaquille O'Neal sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat's 105-102 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night. Jermaine O'Neal was celebrating and Shaquille O'Neal was on crutches. Shaquille O'Neal was so disturbed by his injury and the team’s loss that he ordered his bodyguard, Jerome Crawford, to cordon the doors of the Heat's locker room so that no one would see him leaving the arena on crutches. Indiana's O'Neal scored 27 points, six in the final three minutes to help the Pacers recover from wasting a 14-point second-half lead and beat the Miami Heat 105-102. Shaquille O'Neal dropped from sight halfway through the fourth quarter after landing atop Ron Artest's foot and spraining his right ankle. The Heats’ were having a chance to tie the game at the end with Dwyane Wade who had 31 points and 10 assists for the Heat, but his 3-pointer to tie flustered in panic as the buzzer sounded, allowing the Indiana Pacers to escape with a 105-102 victory to improve to 2-0.

CHICAGO BEARS THEN, CHICAGO BEARS NOW

It was 20 years ago when the Chicago Bears were scuffling their way to a Super Bowl victory. At that time their defensive line up was star-studded with players like Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Otis Wilson, Wilbur Marshall, Dan Hampton and The Fridge. The group was indeed a nasty one and a great fear factor. This was a quick recapitulate. At present, the Bears are once again playing a brand of nasty, in-your-face defense that has them 4-3 and atop the NFC North. You might be getting curious to know that who in the heck these guys are who are emerging as a fear factor for the rival teams? They are Tommie Harris, Alex Brown, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Mike Brown. This group of rising young players have combined to form a unit that is ranked second in the league in points allowed and is tied with Tampa Bay for fewest touchdowns (seven) given up. In the 1985 Super Bowl team Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was a backup linebacker who still becomes nostalgic about the team’s that year’s performance and is equally enthralled to see the same spur. Though the young players are searching for their own identity and to some extent have successfully found it by taking the defense of the Bears in first place for just the second time in the past 10 years indicating the Super Bowl Shuffle. They've already tore three consecutive victories, including a division sweep of the Detroit Lions, to take over the top spot in the fragile NFC North. Much like 1985, they are winning with defense, a running game and a strong-armed quarterback who plays with attitude.

DEMER’S SHAME OF ILLITERACY

In this jet age even coaching in the NHL involves more reading and complacency. But it is a matter to wonder how Jacques Demers would cope if he were still behind the Montreal Canadiens bench. Jacques Demer has been coaching from the last 15 years in the NHL without knowing how to read or write. Also known as the king of forgetting his glasses, Demer’s has put off his lame excuse of forgetting his spectacles. There's no doubt, if Jacques was coaching today he would have said 'To heck with computers, I'm going to go upstairs and we're going to talk. During his 15-year career as the most popular hockey personalities in Quebec and one of the most ostentatious coaches, Demer would pat his clothes and shrug his shoulders whenever someone asked him to read a document or article or fill out an NHL lineup card or sign an autograph. He coached the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in 1993, all while keeping his illiteracy a top secret.

Demer belonged to an abusive working-class family from Montreal, and dropped out of school in the eighth grade and since then never learned to read or write. He hid his incapability to read or write and childhood derogation beneath his endless reservoir of enthusiasm and raw emotion. When the Canadiens hired him, Demer created a small family of mentor and disciples and always remained up and upbeat always trying to turn a bad situation into a good situation. Demer’s revelation of this devastating secret for the first time has sent shockwaves through the tightly knit community of the hockey world. He never revealed this secret because he was insecure that the truth would take its toll. Would his first pro GM, Maurice Filion, have hired Demers to coach the Quebec Nordiques if he knew the fact that Demers couldn't read or write? That was the story when he was just a beginner and even after the culmination of his career he built enough strategies and safeguards to coach 1,007 NHL games, ranking 10th all-time, without divulging his secret even to his kids. Demers in true terms learned the game by sight and taught with words and motivation. To know more about his plight, his book, "Jacques Demers: En Toutes Lettres" currently available only in French with an English edition is the best source.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

HORNETS AND KINGS

The Hornets should now be happy to wear those "OKC" patches for a while. J.R. Smith scored 19 points and had two exhilarating dunks as New Orleans defeated the Sacramento Kings 93-67 on the NBA's opening night, which also marked the first of 35 Hornets "home" games in Oklahoma City. The festivity began with a street party outside the Ford Center. It became even livelier inside the sold-out arena as the Hornets, beat a Kings team expected to contend. P.J. Brown scored eight points during a 16-2 run midway through the second quarter that gave the Hornets a 38-27 lead. Brown finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Claxton added 17 and Chris Paul, the team's No. 1 pick in this year's draft, added 13. The Hornets which was the lowest scoring team in the league last season, built its lead to 20 points in the third quarter. Thanks to Smith’s energetic performance that revitalized the crowd. He had seven points during a 12-0 run that put the Hornets up 58-38. A street party before the game offered fans the chance to take part in interactive games, get their face painted in Hornets colors and listen to live bands. Desmond Mason, a former Oklahoma State star, and Paul received the greatest reverence and loudest ovation during introductions. The fans kept on applauding for the team and didn't sit down until Brown scored inside for the Hornets' first basket.

RED SOX TO REPLACE THEO EPSTEIN

Now it’s been a year the Red Sox won their first title since 1918. Unquestionably, the Red Sox expected another win this season also, but the destiny had something else to reveal. One year back the event that encouraged the patrons to produce books, movies, trophy tours and teary-eyed visits to ancestors' graves -- the Red Sox are once again immersed in bitterness and betrayal and above all a search for a general manager to replace Theo Epstein. The team that came off a world championship and was able to work its way back into the playoffs also has witnessed Theo Epstein’s contract expired. Acknowledged as the most successful general manager in franchise history, Epstein rejected the team's offer of a $4.5 million, three-year extension. He has left the team when the baseball organization is busy settling the contracts of the players in the baseball offseason. The team’s business of assembling the 2006 team has come to a standstill after Epstein stunned by his decision to walk away from his dream job with his hometown team. It is a matter of concern that is this the step a step backward already this offseason?

WHAT MAKES THE SPURS ELIGIBLE TO WIN ANOTHER TITLE?

When the San Antonio Spurs signed Michael Finley, he gave the Spurs an instant offense they coveted since long. Finley helped the Spurs to steady the team to a 102-91 win over Denver in their first game defending the championship they won in June. There's a reason the Spurs are the defending champions. They really perform down the stretch and just don't make many errors. San Antonio trailed most of the second half until Finley hit a 19-footer to put the Spurs up 79-78 with about nine minutes remaining in the game. With about seven minutes left, Finley made his play of the night. Both Denver and San Antonio are now in their 30th season as NBA franchises.

POWER RANKING

The teams that were anticipating emerging out the popular Super Bowl picks, but right now, they have even failed to become the NFC's elite. The Eagles are plummeting, the Falcons are still relying on their offense and the Panthers are just starting to get into a groove making space for the teams like the Giants and Seahawks. It is a matter to ponder upon that would be the case in the preseason, when we still are arguing to what to expect from developing Eli Manning. Probably there’s no player that has made bigger strides than Manning, but the Seahawks' offseason acquisitions – Bryce Fisher, Chartric Darby, Jamie Sharper, Lofa Tatupu and Kelly Herndon can’t go unnoticed. They have helped elevate the defense and to create a much-needed balance. In case of Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, both the teams went from power positions in the rankings to the bottom of the Top 12. On the other side of the range, Cleveland's loss to Houston and a quarterback controversy have the Browns falling like a rolling stone that is gathering no moss with it followed closely by the Vikings.

CAROLINA’S WINNING WAYS

The way many teams have swung back and forth between wins and losses, the Detroit Red Wings are still the team to beat in the NHL. The Red Wings have continued to dominate, but another team that is creating buzz in NHL Power Rankings is the Carolina Hurricanes. Eric Staal tops all scorers and Carolina is tied atop the East. During last year's season-long NHL lockout, the prediction was that franchises in untraditional markets alike would suffer irreparably and Hurricanes was among those. The Red Wings are off to their best start in team history (11-1-0) plus, no other NHL team has more than eight wins generating a huge economic benefit, but the Carolina Panthers in terms of performance also don’t lag anywhere. Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos is one of the hardest of the hard-line owners pushing for the shutdown has insisted on the fact that a new economic landscape would enable clubs like Hurricanes to flourish by competing on a level playing surface. And true to his prediction behind the league's leading scorer Eric Staal, the Hurricanes are now tied with Montreal for the Eastern Conference lead. But so far, it's hard to argue with that position, especially considering the way the Hurricanes have started this season.

Monday, October 31, 2005

COWBOYS VICTORY SET A PACE IN TIGHT NFC EAST

Cowboys played one of their best all-around games on Sunday. They way of scoring in variety of ways was nonetheless spectacular. They didn’t have any penalties and defeated the Arizona Cardinals by 34-13 on Sunday. Rookie Marion Barber rushed for 127 yards with two TDs in his first start. The Cowboys (5-3) stayed on pace in the jammed NFC East and also had a good performance going into their bye week. This time for a change the Cowboys were pressure free in their final few minutes. Except for a 33-10 victory over Philadelphia, the team they play next on Nov. 14, every other Dallas game was determined in the closing minutes.

DODGERS REFORMATION

Though the Dodgers don't have much standing as an organization these days, but the way they are setting the pace for offseason transactions is truly professional. To begin with the Dodgers have begun their general manager search. The Dodgers hired Paul DePodesta in 2004. They have received the permission of Gillick who is believed to have the recommendation of Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda, a special consultant to Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt, who will select the team's seventh general manager in the last eight years. The Dodgers are blindly holding conviction in Gillick’s conviction because he is one of the most accomplished former general managers still in the game, serving 26 years with Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle. His clubs reached the playoffs nine times and had winning records in 17 seasons. The Dodgers parted ways with Jim Tracy in October, and brought it to a close by firing Paul DePodesta. General Manager Paul DePodesta became the 11th high-level employee to be let go since McCourt purchased the team in January 2004. The Dodgers went 71-91 and finished fourth in the National League West one year after winning the division for the first time since 1995.

AN AMAZING PRODUCTION

Stan Van Gundy is having an extra-ordinary production that is indeed the delight of 29 other coaches around the NBA. He has too much of talent that any NBA coach would love to see in their player. Moreover, Miami has also added a talented group of offensive players who have yet to fit into the team. It's Van Gundy's job to make it all work. It was until Thursday the Heat were facing trouble integrating their new additions – Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Gary Payton – into the lineup. The Heat’s core of key players’ is formed by Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, but with the new players the mix didn’t look in their form. The newcomers tried so hard to fit in that they weren't playing freely enough. He even decided that if they could adjust to being "complementary" players and deal with lesser roles. The Heats’ 104-90 victory over the Magic was certainly an indication that Van Gundy should feel comfortable that his talented mix of players will eventually come together. Jason Williams looked terrific directing the offense, Walker picked his spots and showed patience in taking open shots, and Payton fit comfortably at either guard spot, showcasing the Heat's best performance of the exhibition season.

GIANTS HONOR ROLL: A TRIBUTE TO MARA

Initially the Giants were already leading the NFC East, which is unquestionably the finest division in the NFL, but their 36-0 victory over the divisional rivals Washington Redskins, which makes them the best team in their conference. After the death of the franchise's beloved Wellington Mara, the team's collective emotions could become either scrappy or focused. The squad chose the positive side. The Giants had plenty to pay obeisance to the owner Wellington Mara, who died of cancer on Oct. 25. Sunday's NFC East face-off between the Giants and the Giants eventual success looked as if the day was made for a man like Mara. The perfect mark of respect came when the Giants defeated the Washington Redskins by 36-0 by flourishing on the football ideals that Mara held closest to his own heart. With an offense that has the potential to rank among the league's elite and a defense, the team has once again showcased dominance and has rekindled Mara's finest hours in the NFL. The two players that catapulted New York into first place in the NFC East were Running back Tiki Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey, Veteran running back Tiki Barber, rushed for a career-best 206 yards and a touchdown. The Giants’ defense was also not any less. Mark Brunell, emerged as one of the most impressive comebacks in recent years. The Giants sacked Washington quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey five times registering their first shutout win in seven years and putting the Giants atop the NFC East at 5-2.

RED WINGS RIDING HIGH

Babcock has clinched the designation of the Red Wings head coach, though being acquainted with a less financial freedom and a new league to contend with. The situation is not that that embracing that every new coach would love to adhere with. This being the reason the foretellers have predicted that the Wings by the end of the season would become one of those formerly big-spending NHL teams to become a victim of the new economic system. Even though the team has lost its top defensive prospect Niklas Kronwall, who was sidelined due to an injury in his leg during training camp, and without captain Steve Yzerman, who has been limited to just two games with a groin injury, the Wings have retained themselves as the top defensive team in the NHL, having given up just 21 goals in 11 games. Their 47 goals rank the highest in the league. The Red Wings are also competitive because of the fact that many people underestimated the team this season by stating that they would decline as a perennial Cup contender. The team is indeed the toughest to coach since the Red Wings is a team of veteran players who are having their own style of playing, but since the team has the well-prepared coaching staff one could ever see. Chris Osgood has given the Detroit Red Wings quite a 1-2 punch in goal and has stopped the Blackhawks to improve to 11-1. A highly successful franchise that has won three championships between 1997 and 2002 is once again into Cup contention. Though the Wings aren't known for their speed team the way San Jose, Minnesota or Tampa Bay enjoy speed throughout their lineups, but smart and highly skilled from top to bottom line-up, the Wings know how to open a game to their advantage with a quick-strike offense and a kind of defense.