1. Sports Guy has a mature take on Johnny Damon's much-hyped departure from the Red Sox to the Yankees. (By the way, couldn't you just feel the squeals of delight in Bristol, CT when they had a new story to hype? They've been going through withdrawals since the end of the ALDS, but now, they have their obsession back. I see them playing the Princess Leia role, the Red Sox and Yankees playing the Han Solo role, and the Damon deal freeing their true love from carbon freeze. Between that and SHAQ-KOBE: THE COLD SHOULDER!!!, it's been a good week for the Worldwide Leader in meaningless bullshit. I digress.)
Bill Simmons' take reminds me of my feelings on Tom Glavine signing with the Mets. Many Braves fans were up in arms that he would be so "greedy" as to sign a contract that was one year longer and several million dollars richer annually than the contract offered by the Braves, as if those fans would pass on millions of dollars to keep playing for fans who love you as long as you're performing and then will turn on you once you aren't (although Atlanta fans, to our credit, are far more patient than fans elsewhere.) In sports, you have the occasional case of a player giving a true hometown discount, but those cases are rare and it's unfair to expect every athlete to live up to that standard.
Here is Simmons' rationalization of why he didn't want the Red Sox to sign Damon:
"Honestly? I didn't want the Red Sox to re-sign Damon for $40 million over four years, much less $52 million. All the classic "Guy signing a big contract and going into the tank" signs were there. For one thing, he has a ton of miles on him -- over 1,500 games in the past 10 years in one of the most grueling roles in the league (leadoff hitter, centerfielder) -- and by the end of last season, he was breaking down like Denzel Washington at the end of "Man on Fire." Physically, he's had ongoing problems with his right shoulder and post-concussion syndrome (the latter stemming from his ugly collision with Damian Jackson in the 2003 playoffs). His offensive numbers have dipped after the All-Star break for every season in the last four, including a dramatic drop last season (hitting .343 with an .859 OPS before the break and .282 with a .740 OPS after the break). And he's hitting his mid-30's next November."
Contrast that with this paean he wrote in mid-August, extolling Damon as an overlooked MVP candidate. Seems like someone is hyping a guy when he's playing for his team and then trashing him as soon as he leaves town, no? To Simmons' credit, he does say later in the article that he thinks that Damon is going to have a big year in '06, just like Pedro did, but that seems a little schizo with the quoted passage above.
Simmons' rationalization, unfortunately, reminds me of my own every time a player leaves the Braves. I decided that Rafael Furcal was the key to the Braves' surge this July, and then I decided that he was easily replaceable once he took the money and ran west. I thought that Raul Mondesi would come close to replacing J.D. Drew in right field at a fraction of the cost. (Well, he was cheaper.) I extolled Leo Mazzone as a payroll multiplier, getting good production out of cheap pitchers, and then when he left, I decided that he was replaceable and, after all, he was in charge of that atrocious bullpen last year. We sports fans have a delicious ability to delude ourselves.
One other thought: when Damon signed his deal with the Yankees, I was fairly amused because it gives me another arrow in the "Red Sox/Yankees rivalry is overrated" quiver, namely that the players clearly don't care if they're all too willing to jump from one team to the other. And then I remembered this prick and I realized that my argument doesn't hold water unless I want to concede that my archetypal rivalry is not really a rivalry:
By the way, don't think that I'm not extremely proud of myself for finding an image of Figo and the pig's head that was chucked at him at the Nou Camp.
2. I'll admit that after my threatened boycott of SportsCenter because of their ludicrous "Is USC the best team of all-time? We say yes!" feature, I actually watched one of the features the other night. It would have been hard for the segment to fail to meet my expectations, which resembled Rafael Belliard's on-base percentage, but it managed to do so. For those of you who haven't seen it, it involves Fowler, Herbstreit, and May sitting together in the L.A. Coliseum (as if these clowns didn't have enough trouble being objective with their ten-minute memories, they're in the home stadium of the team they're comparing against the best in history) and discussing the opponent for the day, before concluding that the opponent does not have the athleticism to stay with USC and Reggie Bush will be the difference.
The worst segment of this wretched series so far was the one matching USC against the '55 Oklahoma team, mainly because May and Herbstreit picked USC big because players now are faster than players from 50 years ago. (The least they could have done is gotten all Fisher DeBerry or Paul Hornung and pointed out that Oklahoma would have had trouble with USC because that OU team was all white.) If we're going to take the time machine approach, as opposed to asking the more legitimate question, which would be "which team was more dominant in their era?", then what was Oklahoma '55 even doing in the competition, as opposed to Oklahoma '85 or Oklahoma '00, both of which also had far more athletes with better nutrition and more skin pigmentation? Why even bother having them in the tournament if you're simply going to point out the obvious. A bunch of 200-pound white defensive tackles are going to struggle to tackle Reggie Bush after being blocked by 320-pound linemen who have been taking part in sophisticated weight training regimens for years? Really? Does water also flow downhill?
And I've yet to see Herbstreit or May mention that USC might have a few question marks on defense and that defense might actually be a relevant issue to discuss when determining which team is the best of the past 50 years. Apparently, May picked USC to beat '97 Michigan 49-14. Really? The same Michigan defense that held Washington State, who scored 42.4 points per game and were, at the time, the most productive offense in Pac Ten history, to 16 points is going to give up 49 to USC, or one fewer than mighty Fresno State allowed. Stop it, Mark, you're making me blush. The crowning glory of this pile of excrement is going to be the match-up between USC and '95 Nebraska, where Herbstreit and May will apparently inform us that USC's freshmen linebackers are going to dominate the best running game in modern college football history. Can't hardly wait.
An addendum: as a military history buff, I can't believe that I missed this chance for comedy, but hats off to Texas fans, who have a 20-page thread of predictions for USC tangling with great armies from history. Since we all know that Wehrmacht Group South couldn't have handled Reggie Bush's speed, how quickly would Barbarossa have been repelled with the Trojans serving under Stalin in June 1941?
3. And while we're on the Worldwide Leader, I also want to point out the shortcomings in this piece by Len Pasquarelli. I like Len's work and his "Morning After" columns are usually a nice summary of the prior day's games for those of us who prefer to read about the NFL than attempt to watch it in between 469 commercial breaks. Len certainly avoids the hero worship and general pomposity of Peter King. That said, his position that the Steelers are playing better because they're running the ball more and playing "Steelers football" is really weak.
The Steelers have won three in a row because they've allowed 12 points in those three games. They're winning because of their defense. Running the ball has very little to do with it. I suppose you could argue that running the ball has allowed Pittsburgh to control the clock, but there are two easy responses to that:
a. Forcing opposing teams to go three-and-out a lot also helps control the clock; and
b. If the Browns can't score a point in 25 minutes of possession time, then how much more would they score in 35 minutes?
Basically, the Steelers have the luxury of pounding their running backs into the line over and over again because their defense is dominating some really bad offenses. (Seriously, they just beat the 25th, 26th, and 28th best teams in terms of total offense. Cue the Wolf.) In the playoffs, they'll play opponents who can actually make first downs and complete passes, against whom they'll actually need to score. I love the argument that they lost to Cincinnati because they threw too much. Hello, here's a little primer on cause and effect. They threw a lot because they needed to score points instead of viewing offense as a fun sidelight. If they would have played "Steelers Football" and run Bettis over and over again, then the final would have been 38-21 instead of 38-31.
And one other note for Lenny: if January is the time when running the ball is so critical and it's the centerpiece of Steelers football, then why does the team have such a lousy record in home games for the AFC Title?