Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Solving some Major League problems

With Memorial Day marking the proverbial end of the first third of the 2008 baseball season, I think it’s time to solve some of the problems we have seen in the Majors so far this year.

Amidst swirling rumors of his dismissal, embattled New York Mets manager Willie Randolph is questioning whether racism is playing a role. Randolph made comments in an interview with the Bergen Record suggesting that race may be fueling the animosity and also took issue with the Mets local TV station’s portrayal of him.
Solution: A good first step would be for SNY network to eliminate it’s popular, but slightly disconcerting, post-game “Willie’s DYNO-MITE hits of the game” segment.

At 31-21 the youthful Tampa Bay Rays are the surprise of the year with their lead in the always tough American League East. However, even despite their sudden success the Rays still can’t seem to draw a crowd, pulling in only 12,143 fans on Memorial Day.
Solution: Have a promotional “Swim with the Rays” fan day. And no I don’t mean let fans swim in the centerfield Rays tank. This Tampa Bay Squad is loaded with wealthy, virile young men. This promotion could double their female intake and even add a few valuable new male fans.

After last year’s refreshing success, the Cleveland Indians seem to be falling a bit short of their potential. In spite of having a solid 1-9 lineup, the Indians are tied for dead last in the league in team batting average at .233.
Solution: Invite Dennis Haysbert into the locker room for a motivational live chicken sacrifice.

When they signed outfielder Andruw Jones to an extremely generous off-season contract, the Dodgers hoped he might be the added production necessary for them to make a push in the National League. Now, only two months in, Jones is on the DL for 4-6 weeks after a knee operation.
Solution: Replace him in the lineup with a different batboy each night of the week. By platooning several of them, the Dodgers should be able to fill the gaping hole left by the absence of Jones’ stellar .165 batting average.

Late in May, the always dominant New York Yankees find themselves in unfamiliar territory at the bottom of the AL East. Among other struggles, the powerful Yankee lineup has struggled mightily batting with runners in scoring position.
Solution: Follow the Hank Steinbrenner mentality and transition Joba Chamberlain into the role of DH as well. Anyone who wouldn’t give this kid a shot at the dish is an idiot!

In a remarkably continuing comeback story, former drug addict Josh Hamilton is following his breakout season last year by cementing himself among the league leaders in home runs, RBI’s and batting average. However, due to his unseemly past Hamilton has become the victim of some vicious ridicule from opposing fans.
Solution: Rather than expelling these hecklers from the game, have a security guard take down their seat number and name. Then, during the 7th inning stretch have the PA announcer come over the loudspeaker and personally remind them of the fact that the “freaking crack head” they keep referring to is out earning them by several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

After a recent string of inexcusably missed calls, many fans and media outlets are calling for the implementation of instant replay in baseball. Thanks to 5 home runs that were taken away due to miscues within one week, it is hard to think of another viable option.
Solution: Outfit foul poles and all surfaces beyond the fence that may knock a ball back into play with those exploding dye-packs banks use to protect their money. Sure, a few fans may leave the game looking a bit more like a member of the Blue Man Group than when they arrived, but at least the game will be called correctly.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eastern Conference redux

The 2008 NBA Eastern Conference Finals are bringing back an old school match up; the Boston Celtics vs. the Detroit Pistons.

Two teams that have given us so many hard fought series in the past are once again fighting for a chance at the championship, and this one is likely to be another classic. These two squads have been tight at 1 and 2 in the Eastern Conference for the entire season, so let’s see how they match up nose to nose.

Point Guard- Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups
No one is really sure how to pronounce one’s name (Rah-jon? Ray-jon? Ron-jon?) and the other’s nickname is Mr.Bigshot; That about sums it up.

Rondo has showed a bit of promise for a young point man, but he didn’t inspire enough confidence from the organization for them to pass on adding backup guard Sam Cassell. Yes, Sam Cassell still plays ball at a ripe 76 years young. Rondo quickness and scoring ability has been essential in Celtic wins, but he tends to lose his composure late in tight games.

Billups has been the centerpiece that led this team to the conference finals 6 years in a row. If he can go at 100% after the injury he suffered against Orlando, he will likely be the most important player in this series. A confident Billups is near-impossible to hold down, and the Celts don’t have the personnel to match up with him. He will capitalize on Rondo’s inconsistencies and give Detroit the clear one up here.

Advantage: Pistons

Shooting Guard- Ray Allen vs. Richard Hamilton
In a battle of the big screen against the big stage, the matchup between Jesus Shuttlesworth and the Phantom of the Opera will be key.

After being held completely in check by a mediocre Cavs squad, Ray Allen will need to regain his confidence and his jumpshot against the much more defensively sound Pistons in order to be a factor.

The always reliable Rip Hamilton seems to show up whenever his team absolutely needs him, and when he does he can completely take the game over. If he can produce while also keeping Allen’s presence on the stat sheet at a minimum, this match up could swing the series.

Advantage: Pistons

Small Forward- Paul Pierce vs. Tayshaun Prince
The Truth gave us a showdown for the ages in a huge game against King James, but can he keep it up? If Pierce is anywhere as poised as he was in game 7, he can win games by himself. However, he has been known to occasionally disappear on offense when faced with a tough defensive task, and Prince is just that.

Tayshaun Prince may be the league’s most underrated player, and he will be a true test for Pierce. Prince can be a deadly spot up shooter, and despite his slightly lanky build (weighing in at 12 lbs 9 oz) he can take it to the rack and D up with the best of them. He is by far the most likely candidate to be the dark horse of this series

In the end though, the Truth came out on top over LeBron, so you’ve got to give him the slight benefit of the doubt here.

Advantage: Celtics

Power Forward- Kevin Garnett vs. Rasheed Wallace
K.G. vs. Sheed will, if nothing else, be the most fired up match up of the series. As the emotional barometers of their respective teams, this will likely be the most decisive one-on-one battle of the series.

Garnett has looked fierce with the ball thus far, getting unusually amped with each point he scores (has anyone else noticed after even the most conventional jumper this guy seems to run back up-court screaming profanities?). Well, at least until crunch time. K.G. has seemed to shy away from the big shots in the playoffs, but he’ll need to sack up in crunch time if he wants any chance to make the finals.

Rasheed is always at full throttle (I can just picture him laying down to bed with his wife at night, “I LOVE YOU!! YOU’RE MY WORLD, SWEET DREAMS!!!”), and his team follows suit. When he is using his emotions productively the Pistons are tough to beat. If he can keep the incessant whining to a minimum and focus on playing the post rather than drifting out to the arc for jumpers, Sheed can win Detroit this series.

Advantage: Even

Center- Kendrick Perkins vs. Antonio McDyess
Plain and simple, this is a match of role players. Both have greatly helped in their team’s success, but you wouldn’t notice much if either was missing. Their teams however, may feel differently.

Perkins can be a monster on the boards, so he needs to stay tough on the glass and help clog up the key when the Pistons slashers come through the lane. If he can help keep the Pistons’ points of layups down, he could be huge.

McDyess isn’t the same explosive player he once was, but he can still contribute. His versatility should allow him to lure Perkins away from the hoop and free up inside shots for teammates. He also gives the Pistons another solid spot up option on late game kickouts.

Advantage: Even

Boston brings solid backups off the bench in Leon Powe, Eddie House, and Sam Cassell. The only problem is, it always seems to interrupt the flow of their offense. Outside of their starting 5, Doc Rivers hasn’t been able to find a combination that flows together.

The Pistons bench is full of athleticism in players like Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell. They all have the ability to score, but more importantly their high energy level can wear opponents down while the starters get their rest.

Advantage: Pistons

Prediction- Detroit Pistons in 6
While the Celtics have shown brilliance at times, they haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations of being unstoppable. They inexplicably falter at times to far less talented squads, and have yet to win a game on the road this post season.

It comes down to consistency, and for years the Pistons have been the model of such. Each season they show the ability to hang with any team in the league on any given night. Their wide array of scorers also allows them to remain in any type of game. Bottom line is they can win in so many different ways, it’s hard to imagine they won’t against the unpredictable Celts.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The playoffs are buzzing...

The NBA Playoffs have, in some ways, been very similar to years past. The Spurs stole away the Suns hopes of glory with methodical, albeit boring, execution. Tracy McGrady and the Rockets were once again ousted in the first round (will someone please tell this guy to stop walking under ladders while spilling salt and kicking black cats). The Pistons steady D led them through a surprisingly tough series. But this year, the playoffs also have something they have lacked in recent years; the buzz of an exciting, young, and effective team. It’s the buzz of a team that plays the game unselfishly, and goes all out on every play. It’s the buzz of a team that is high-flying and entertaining, but also has the capacity to actually make a championship run. It’s the buzz of the Hornets.

For any diehard fan of the teal and purple (and my heart goes out to you if you’re out there) seeing their team finally climbing out of NBA anonymity seems like a miracle. The Hornets have been an afterthought since the days of ‘Zo and LJ, back when all it took to market a shoe was to have an ogre-sized man dress like an old woman and throw down vicious dunks. But this new Hornets team is once again relevant, and they are dangerous to boot.

Tyson Chandler has gone from consistent non-factor to soaring alley-oop dunker. Peja Stojakovic and Mo Peterson will absolutely bury you if left open beyond the arc. David West’s potential seems unending with each 30 point game he pours in. And their floor general, Chris Paul, is like some kind of freak hybrid of point guards past that can kill you on any given night in whichever way he deems most efficient.

This New Orleans squad is the one team that I haven’t been able to take my eyes off of this post season. They are the refreshing alternative to everything that has pushed the NBA following into disinterest in recent years. Their frenetic, yet fluid style of play is not unlike the Phoenix Suns teams that have been so enjoyable these last few years. The only difference being, it seems these guys may actually have a shot to win it all. The Suns were fast and fun but they continually ran into the issue of the humdrum, “we’re so talented it looks like we’re not even trying” teams that figured out a way to shut them down. But similar teams have had no such luck with New Orleans.

After running through a regular season which saw them lock up the 2nd overall seed in the ultra-talented Western Conference, the Hornets still had many doubters. Despite beating the Spurs by more than 20 twice, and handily defeating the East’s best squad from Beantown on more than one occasion, no one seemed to be talking about the Hornets as contenders. But the Hornets have youth. They have athleticism. They have speed. They have shooters. They have confidence. So what were they missing? What was it that made so many sure they’d trip over Dallas in the first round? They lack experience. They haven’t been there. The only problem for their opponents… the Hornets don’t seem to care.

Now in the postseason, when the youth and inexperience of this team was supposed to suffocate them, they have impressed more and more with each passing game. Save for one loss, the Hornets swatted aside a geriatric Mavericks team in round 1. Now in round 2, and facing the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, the Hornets look as explosive as ever. After stomping the Spurs in games 1 and 2 even the most steadfast nonbeliever has got to be wondering if these guys might just be the real deal. The Hornets have been absolutely on fire, and no one seems to know how to douse the flame (even their mascot has caused unruly combustion).

Sure it’s only round 2, and things aren’t even close to over. But the New Orleans Hornets have shown they have the potential for something great. They have proven they will not go down quietly. They are refusing to live up to the label of the electrifying, but ultimately inconsequential team that so many had stuck them with. The Hornets are fun, but they are poised. They are feverish, but they are organized. They are young, but they are fearless. And they have made one thing very clear, the rest of the supposed contenders had better watch themselves, because the Hornets are buzzing.