Category Archives: sports

It’s Starting to Feel Like Baseball Season

Padres' and Mariners' spring home in Peoria, AZ - taken on my cross-country trip to to California in November of 2009

It’s unseasonably cold and damp out here in Los Angeles, but somehow that makes it feel like baseball season is around the corner. Having lived on the East Coast up until late 2009, this is the type of weather I am used to in mid-February. This is the weather that makes spring training sites in Florida and Arizona feel like millions of miles away, but at the same time lets you know those chilly, dreary April days at the ballpark — in the Northeast anyway — are getting close.

While my transition from football to baseball has clearly gone into effect, I am not one of those fans who gets goose bumps from the now-cliched phrase, “pitchers and catchers.” Pitchers and catchers reporting to their teams’ spring training camps serves as the official start of the baseball season for some. For me, it’s one big tease. At the same time, knowing the players are starting to toss the ball around down south gets me thinking about baseball again; about how the Mets can avoid a bad season, and ditto for my fantasy team.

For sports fans like me, who put baseball and football at the top of their lists, there isn’t a whole lot going on right now. As a Knicks fan, I am enjoying their new-found success this season, but the playoffs are still two months away. I love college basketball, but the fact that my favorite team and alma mater, the UMass Minutemen, have floundered since a good start has tempered my excitement for the time being. So why not start thinking about baseball? Why not have some of those bar stool conversations about whether the Yankees or Red Sox win the AL East? or listen to your wife gloat about her Phillies?

For some reason, in baseball more than the other sports, every team thinks it has a chance when it arrives at spring training. At least that’s what you hear anyway. It’s strange how that philosophy seems to go along with baseball, since it’s the only one of the four major sports without a salary cap. I guess people in Pittsburgh and Kansas City don’t think their teams have a chance when spring comes. The notion of every team starting at 0-0 and being on equal footing before Opening Day might not be rooted in reality, but it has its merits; did anyone think the Tampa Bay Rays would be American League Champs in February of 2008?

While the time frame of the baseball season is actually shorter than that of basketball or hockey, it feels longer. In much of the country, the season begins with a nip in the air. It takes us through spring and into early summer. In July and August, we take the game with us to the beach or sweat through the heat and sometimes humidity at the ballpark. In September, baseball fights with football season for attention, and less kids show up for games, as the words “school night” re-enter their vocabularies. The playoffs in October take us right back to where we started, bundled up in everything from sweatshirts to winter coats.

Right now we’re in the exploratory stages of the 2011 baseball season, and even in typically warm and sunny LA, it’s a little cold and breezy.

It’s starting to feel like baseball season.

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Super Bowl XLV Thoughts: A Bad Rendition of the Anthem, A Good Game, and an Overrated Stadium

My predicted score of Packers 27, Steelers 21 didn’t quite happen, but I’ll give myself a pat on the back for nailing the margin of victory. Anyone who claims he predicted 31-25 is a liar by the way.

All in all, Super Bowl XLV was another good one. Certainly not a classic, but anytime a Super Bowl comes down to a potential game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining, it will be considered a memorable one. That now makes eight straight Super Bowls in which the games ranged from decent to outstanding. This is a far cry from a mostly dull run in the 1990s.

Looking a little deeper into my prediction from last week, the game wasn’t decided by anything fluky like a safety or blocked kick. However, you can say the fumble by Rashard Mendenhall and the ensuing Packers’ touchdown are what turned the game. Even though the Steelers answered right back with a touchdown plus a two-point conversion to get the game back to a three-point deficit, their huge momentum swing was thwarted just long enough for the Packers to regain their footing and their swagger offensively. In the end, despite having a crack at it with nearly two minutes left, the Steelers had too big a hill to climb.

The game itself gets an A- from me. The second half was about as good as it gets, but the first half woes of the Steelers keep this from being a truly great Super Bowl.

As for some of the peripherals, there weren’t many positives.

I’ll be blunt. Christina Aguilera was awful. Botching one line of the Star Spangled Banner, while embarrassing, didn’t even bother me all that much. It was the fact that she attempted to turn a two-hundred year old American classic (they don’t call it an anthem for nothing!) into her next radio single that irked me. It’s been going on for years now, but artistic freedom with the Anthem has gone way too far. I’m all for Christina singing it with passion and giving it some of her own personal touch, but contorting certain notes of the song to the point where I forgot what I was even listening to is not acceptable. If we want to hear your vocal range in all its glory, we’ll see you in concert—if you’re even still touring!

The Black Eyed Peas at halftime made me feel old. I didn’t see the appeal. Most of the songs sounded familiar, but didn’t bring up any emotions one way or the other. I enjoyed seeing Slash make a cameo, though I am sure Axl Rose spit up his beer after seeing Fergie give a karaoke-quality performance of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Despite the fact that the performance didn’t do much for me, I understand the NFL and FOX shifting over to a pop act after years of legendary/AARP rockers like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. I’m hoping for Metallica next year, but I doubt I’ll get my wish.

I really didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the commercials, so I’d be foolish to give a review. On the whole, as the Super Bowls have gotten better in recent years, the commercials have seemingly declined—but I’ll take that trade.

While I’m being a bit negative…can NFL analysts and broadcasters stop fawning over Cowboys Stadium? It’s huge, it’s state of the art, has every modern amenity you can imagine; I get all that. But it’s a football stadium, not a luxury hotel. It’s a hunk of steel with astroturf on its floor, if you want to get down to it. Football is rough, gritty game. To talk about the aesthetic beauty of Jerry Jones’ “palace” just doesn’t jibe with that. So this place hosted a Super Bowl, but what else has taken place there? 400 fans were turned away from the big game because the NFL didn’t get the OK for a chunk of temporary seats; six people were injured by falling ice in the week leading up to the game; the movie theater screen that covers nearly the entire field has had a punt hit it; and a worker died during construction of this massive stadium. I’m not placing any blame on any one person or groups of people for those things, but let’s settle down before we consider this thing the NFL’s version of Disney World.

Despite some of my complaints, it was an enjoyable late afternoon watching Super Bowl XLV while scarfing down a double-double and fries from In-N-Out Burger.


An Obligatory Super Bowl XLV Pick

As promised last week, here is my prediction for the Super Bowl. Rather than pretend to know what I’m talking about as far as things like blitz pickups, eight-man fronts, snap counts, and pass protection go—I do some of that on the weekly radio show—here is a simple prediction based mostly on what I’ve seen from the two teams and also what my gut feeling is:

Packers 27, Steelers 21

This might be the first time in a while where I have basically zero confidence in a Super Bowl pick. I really don’t see much of a talent differential in these two teams. I think the Packers might be slightly better based on what I’ve watched in the playoffs, but then again you can’t underestimate the fact that the Steelers have been here twice before within the last six years while the Packers are new to the party.

So I’m going with the eye test a bit for this pick. This is probably poor reasoning because it isn’t necessarily the Steelers’ style to obliterate teams. They win ugly, but more often than not they win. The Packers have been playing nearly perfect football since Week 16 of the regular season and while they haven’t blown every team out since then, I never really felt they were ever seriously challenged in any of the last five games. Throw in the fact that Vegas likes them—a little bit anyway (2.5-point favorites in most books)—and that’s good enough for me.

I usually have actual football reasons for picking Super Bowl winners. I felt pretty confident in picking the Saints last year. Even though they were underdogs I actually thought they were a superior team to the Colts. It’s much too close to call this time around. I have a sneaking feeling that something out of the ordinary will decide this game; maybe a blocked punt, a safety, a bad call and the coach is out of challenges.

After all the analysis before last year’s Super Bowl, the two biggest plays were an onside kick following halftime and a rare Peyton Manning interception that turned into a touchdown. No one could have predicted those events, and in a game that on paper appears to be an even match, it might take something just as strange to decide this Super Bowl.

And though I have no particular reason to be confident in my pick, I was 53-36-1 in picks against the spread that we did on the show this season (including playoffs). Entertainment purposes only of course.

As much as I’d like to be right, I’m just hoping this game is as good as advertised. The Super Bowl has been on a pretty good run in the last decade, and this one may need to tide us over for two years if there is no 2011 season.


FullCountPitch Has Relaunched

Courtesy of FullCountPitch, LLC

I’m proud to say that FullCountPitch Magazine relaunched this morning after taking a four-month hiatus.

I had the privilege of writing for the site in the final month of its previous incarnation. I am once again part of the staff of writers for the current version.

The e-magazine is the brainchild of Gary Armida, the company’s president. The FullCountPitch of today includes a staff of 10 writers. The group comes from a variety of backgrounds: some have written professionally; some have broadcasting experience; some are stat geeks. The common thread, of course, is our collective love for baseball. Individually, we all offer something unique, and hopefully our readers will feel they’ve learned something new when they’re finished with our articles. As a whole, FullCountPitch.com will be a place where baseball fans can get insights, opinions, and well-researched articles that they cannot otherwise find.

While I certainly enjoy doing my own thing when it comes to writing—this site is a case in point—I am thrilled to be part of a talented, diverse group of guys.

My first article comes out on Thursday, but two stories have already hit the site as part of today’s relaunch.


Predicting the Super Bowl XLV Storylines

Super Bowl XLV is less than two weeks away, so prepare for nonstop coverage of the game from every angle possible from outlets like ESPN to E! Channel. I’ll give my thoughts and prediction on the game sometime next week. For now, here are predictions of a different sort: the stories we’ll be bombarded with from now until February 6.

The Obvious Ones

  • Ben Roethlisberger – You can be sure that we’ll be hearing plenty about Big Ben, and not just because he’s the Steelers’ quarterback. Roethlisberger’s fall from grace—which included a four-game suspension—was probably the biggest story of the NFL offseason. His ability to bounce back and supposedly mature will be front and center leading up to the Super Bowl.
  • Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers has gone from the guy who took over for Brett Favre in Green Bay to being an NFC-Champion quarterback in just three years. Expect to hear a lot more about how he waited behind Favre all those years and how he’s climbed the mountain to the point where he’s playing for a title.
  • Brett Favre – This could be a Patriots-Saints Super Bowl and somehow Brett Favre would find his way into the discussion. But the fact that the Packers have made it this far just three years after Favre took them to the brink of a Super Bowl in 2008 means that old gray beard will be talked about. Cue up the old highlights of Super Bowl XXXI where Favre was running toward the sidelines, hoisting his helmet high in the air in celebration after the Packers won their last Super Bowl.

The Less Obvious Ones, But Still Likely

  • Hines Ward/Donald Driver – Ward is 34 and Driver is 35 and the similarities don’t end there. Ward had the more productive career, but both were All-Pro WRs during their prime years and are now possibly getting their last cracks at winning it all; Ward already has two rings of course. One of the networks will probably try to get Ward and Driver side by side for an interview before February 6.
  • Mike Tomlin – Tomlin will look to become the first black head coach to win multiple titles. Tony Dungy is the only other to win a Super Bowl. There are currently seven black head coaches in the NFL, and Tomlin’s success can only continue that progress.
  • James Starks – Even the most serious NFL fans had probably never heard of this guy before the playoffs. But the Packers have finally settled on a full-time running back with Starks. The rookie sixth-round pick from the University of Buffalo will no longer be a secret: As a starting running back in a Super Bowl, Starks will get plenty of attention over the next week and a half.
  • Vince Lombardi – This isn’t the first Packers Super Bowl since Lombardi passed away over 40 years ago, but the current run of the Broadway show, Lombardi, has rekindled even more memories of the legendary coach.

If They Dig Deep Enough…

  • Shaun Suisham – The Steelers kicker was out of a job this season until Pittsburgh signed him on November 16. It came as a bit of a surprise as mainstay Jeff Reed was sent packing. The fact that Suisham went from jobless to kicking in a Super Bowl could be a story.
  • Hair – Somehow this will come up at some point. Between Troy Polamalu, Clay Matthews, and A.J. Hawk there are lots of long locks of many colors and styles. The fact that these guys are really good players will draw attention anyway, but you never know which network or newspaper will decide to focus on something that has as little to do with the game as hair length.
  • Primanti Bros./Ed Rendell vs. Bratwurst/Scott Walker – You can be sure that the tradition of a governors’ bet will be taking place. More than likely Pennsylvania governor—an Eagles fan by the way—Ed Rendell will send Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, a famous Primanti Bros. sandwich if the Packers win, while Walker would send Rendell a brat if the Steelers win. Or would the winning governor send the food? I don’t know. Whatever it is, there will be food exchanged by the states’ respective govs. They’ll probably do a jersey bet too, where the losing state’s head man has to wear the winning team’s jersey.
  • Cheese Heads vs. Terrible Towels – Good chance you’ll see a comparison of the favorite accessory of each of these teams. My research shows that the Terrible Towel has been around since 1975, while the Cheese Head has been worn proudly by Packer fans since 1987. We’ll see a more in-depth history lesson over the coming days I would think.
  • Miscellaneous – I can’t predict which players, but most likely during media day we’ll find out about a special talent or strange superstition that various players have. Player A takes stuff animals on road trips, Player B can yodel, Player C plays the oboe. You get the picture.



Some Friday Links

Nothing specific to write about today, so why not point you in the direction of some sites of friends and colleagues?

The Talkin’ Sports with Balls Midday Show – My weekly sports talk radio show, cohosted by Mike Orzechowski and Scott Boutcher of The Sports Network. You can find podcasts and blog posts, most recently with our NFL playoff predictions and Power Rankings.

Baseball Assistance Team – My good friend, Erik Nilsen, is the Senior Coordinator of B.A.T. They do great work, helping former MLB players get through financial, physical, and emotional struggles. Erik has visited team clubhouses during spring training and during past All-Star game festivities spreading B.A.T.’s message.

FCP Baseball Report – Gary Armida’s FCP (Full Count Pitch) Baseball Report is a free subscription-based newsletter site where you can sign up to receive his articles (typically at least one per week) by email, in addition to being able to view them on the site itself. Being a fan and also having established friendships with baseball insiders, Gary brings multiple viewpoints to the table; from breaking-news analysis and stat-based articles to heart-felt opinion pieces.

Breaking In… – No, this isn’t a site teaching people how to be a burglar; it’s another project from Gary Armida. This blog details his journey as a baseball writer and the ups and downs that go along with it.

If you feel left out, I apologize. But feel free to post links to your sites in the comments section.

And now, since it’s Friday, here is what I’ll be watching this weekend:

  • NFL Playoffs
  • College Basketball
  • Worst Cooks in America
  • My weight, after eating way too much during my birthday yesterday

Bert Blyleven Gets Into Baseball Hall of Fame Despite Quiet 2010 Season

Bert Blyleven will join Ernie Banks plus 205 other former players in Cooperstown

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were voted in as the only two players in the 2011 National Baseball Hall of Fame class. Alomar made it in just his second year on the ballot, garnering 90 percent of the vote. Blyleven, on the other hand, had to wait until his 14th year of eligibility, picking up 79.7 percent of the vote.

I believe that both deserved the honor. If not for Alomar’s infamous spitting incident in 1996 he likely would have been a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Blyleven, who threw his final major league pitch in 1992, joins the exclusive club with just one year to spare before his name would have been wiped off the ballot.

So while there was very little debate as to Alomar’s Hall-of-Fame worthiness, Blyleven had to play the waiting game for 14 years without actually doing  anything on a Major League diamond to sway the last few writers to put a check mark next to his name. In his first year of eligibility, back in 1998, he only received 17.5 percent of the vote. Somehow, 13 years later, that percentage more than quadrupled.

This isn’t the first time a former player has waited for over a decade for his vote totals to take baby steps toward the needed 75 percent, and it won’t be the last. And I just don’t get it.

The question isn’t whether you think Blyleven deserved to get in or not, but it’s about the unnecessarily long 15-year time frame a player remains on the ballot. Other than some of the new-age sabermetric statistics that can be applied to Blyleven’s career, his body of work can be looked at today in the same way it was looked at after his final game in 1992. Did it honestly take 14 years for some of the baseball writers to think, “Hey, maybe these really are Hall-of-Fame numbers after all.”?

In reality it probably didn’t go that way. Without being one of those writers or knowing any of them, I can only speculate, but it’s likely that two things pushed Blyleven into the Hall: 1) Other than Alomar, the 2011 ballot was littered with a bunch of known or suspected steroid users, so Blyleven seemed more appealing in comparison and 2) writers talk to each other and perhaps peer pressure and politicking by pro-Blyleven writers eventually pushed some of the anti-Blyleven camp to the other side.

I would argue that a lot of writers are ignoring one of the vital aspects of voting. Taken right from the Hall of Fame’s website:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

If the voters didn’t think Blyleven had Hall-of-Fame credentials in these areas when they voted in ’98, why do they think he had them during the 2011 vote?

If it sounds like I’m in favor of only allowing one year of eligibility, I’m not. In fact, now more than ever voters need more time. There are simply too many questions about many steroid-era players (Jeff Bagwell was hurt by this in this year’s vote) and the last thing a voter needs to do is make a split-second decision to vote for a player only to find that the player was on the juice for most of his career.

The problem is that you often hear from baseball writers and baseball people in general that the Hall of Fame is reserved for the true greats of the game, yet for someone like Bert Blyleven it apparently takes 14 years for some voters to realize his greatness. If it takes that long to decide, how great could the guy have been anyway?

Again, I’m glad Blyleven’s in. Although I didn’t watch him pitch during his prime, seeing his statistics and knowing the era he played in, I have always thought of him as a Hall-of-Famer. If someone can give me one good reason it took nearly a decade and a half for this to become a reality I would love to hear it.

Bert Blyleven wasn’t Tom Seaver. I understand that. I admit that a vote for Blyleven isn’t a no-brainer. But it’s as if the voters are creating a tier system. First-year induction has typically been reserved for the best of the best. Perhaps I’m being too simplistic, but I say that a Hall-of-Famer is a Hall-of-Famer. I’m pretty sure Rickey Henderson will be served the same dinner as Ryne Sandberg the night before the induction ceremony, even though Sandberg had to wait longer to get in. Despite the writers’ insistence on trying to divide the group into “legendary,” “great,” and “good enough,” every Hall-of-Famer has the same sized plaque and the same time allotted for his speech (as far as I know).

I heard baseball writers/Hall-of-Fame voters Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci on MLB Network yesterday talking about how Barry Larkin getting 62 percent of this year’s vote means he’s gaining momentum and he should get in within a year or two. Gaining momentum? Is this is a political campaign? Is Larkin doing more marketing for his Hall candidacy on Facebook these days? Baseball writers, you are allowed to vote in 10 players each year; if you think Larkin should be in, vote for him! Don’t worry about too many players making it in one year. Don’t categorize him as a player not good enough to get in on the first or second ballot. If you think he’s a Hall-of-Famer, give him a vote! If you truly don’t believe his career warrants his induction, don’t vote for him. But either way, stick to your guns!

If it weren’t for the steroid era, I’d be in favor of five years of eligibility. With the steroid era, I still don’t see why 10 years wouldn’t be long enough. That might help eliminate some of these issues I’ve mentioned.

I am well aware that some people will read this and think I’m being too harsh on the Hall-of-Fame voters. If that is the case for you, I ask that you please bookmark this article and read it once every year. Maybe by the 14th year you’ll come around.