Monday, October 31, 2005

The Cleveland Clowns

Well, it's a good thing I'm not a betting man, because I'd be naked, homeless and without wheels after yesterday's catastrophe. What an ungodly mess! Think about it: the Browns lost to a team that not only hadn't won this year, it hadn't even led this year!

I can't even think about the game without having a bunch of questions running through my head:

  • Why did the Browns usually pull Reuben Droughns from the game when they got inside the red zone?
  • The Browns marched up and down the field on counters and trap plays, so why were their only red zone running plays straight dives and the dreaded shotgun draw?
  • Why do the Browns and every other crap team in the NFL think a low percentage play like the fade route is just a brilliant red zone call?
  • Why did the Browns not blitz David Carr more?
  • Why can't they cover a kick-off?
  • Why is Kyle Richardson still on the team?
  • Why did Dilfer take a sack on 3rd and 9 with a minute left in the game and the ball on the Texans 38? Why wasn't anybody running a 10 yard out on the play?
  • Why didn't the coaching staff notice that Dilfer's brains were completely scrambled after the sack?
  • Why is it unreasonable to expect a world-class athlete like Antonio Bryant to be able to drag his foot in bounds?

The thing that kills me about this game is that the Browns finally played a team that really was worse than they were in just about every aspect of the game, and yet they still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Vince Lombardi once said that "winning is a habit, and unfortunately, so is losing." The Browns have a loser's mentality in spades. They expect things like what happened yesterday to happen to them, and sure enough, they do. Just look at the way the second half unfolded:

  • First possession: Browns drive to the Houston 17 yard line, Dilfer's sacked and fumbles.
  • Second possession, Droughns runs for a first down, fumbles deep in Browns' territory on the next play.
  • Third possession, Browns can't convert 3rd and 1, and the second coming of Ray Guy rips off a 10 yard punt.
  • Fourth possession, Bryant can't come down in bounds, and they settle for a field goal (promptly followed by a 60 yard kick-off return).
  • Final possession...well, you saw it too.

Every time they needed a guy to step up and make a play, he didn't. In contrast, you could always count on a breakdown at the worst possible time. Both turnovers led to Houston scores, as did the ridiculous kick coverage. The Browns dodged the bullet on Richardson's 10 yard masterpiece only because Houston's kicker whiffed on a 36 yard field goal. I also think it was telling that the Browns didn't get a penalty until the last two minutes of the game--in other words, when they could afford it least.

Face it, the Browns are losers.

That's why Romeo Crennel's weekly comments to the effect that "we needed one play, and we just didn't get it" are really starting to grate on me. Earth to Romeo: you don't have enough winners on this team to get that one play--so you better put yourself in a position not to need it every week.

If you give them a chance, losers will lose, and that's the one area where the 2005 Cleveland Browns haven't disappointed.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Texans 19, Browns 16

Bobcats Win Again!

No one's been able to write that for a long, long time. But, the Ohio Bobcats won again. This time they beat hapless and winless Buffalo 34-20.

I'm glad Frank Solich is around.

A Great Idea

Benjamin Franklin is credited with conceiving the idea of Daylight Saving Time. At 2:00 am today, we turned all clocks back one hour. That's why even though I sat down to write this at 1:58 am, this will post shortly after 1:00 am. This is one of my favorite holidays. I just gained an extra hour to sleep.

When I was in college, I always made sure I was out drinking to gain another hour before last call. That was always a great night to be in a bar as the clock struck 2:00 am---but only for a moment. That fast, it was 1:00 again. It was a magic moment, and I can only say you needed to experience the unbridled glee and passion around campus.

On the other hand, it was a miserable time when the clock was moved forward, causing the loss of an hour's drinking time. I mean what's a college student to do?

Time Change Riots
Patrons of bars that stay open past 2:00 a.m. lose one
hour of drinking time on the day when Daylight Saving Time springs forward one
hour. This has led to annual problems in numerous locations, and sometimes even
to riots. For example, at a "time disturbance" in Athens, Ohio, site of Ohio
University, over 1,000 students and other late night partiers chanted "Freedom,"
as they threw liquor bottles at the police attempting to control the riot.

---Daylight Saving Time Web Exhibits

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Best Sports Books

About three years ago, Sports Illustrated published its list of the One Hundred Greatest Sports Books. Aside from the fact that everybody who ever worked at SI and wrote a book was represented on it, it was a pretty good list. It's a slow news day. Notre Dame has a bye, Ohio State actually found some offense today, and even though I've got Florida v. Georgia on in the background, I really can't get excited about "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." All of which provides me with an excuse to give you my own list of the top 10 sports books. Here they are (SI's ranking is in parentheses, if SI ranked the book).

1. The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter (SI #57) -- Sports Illustrated really blew it on this one. I can't believe this wasn't in the top 10. For me, it is really hard to imagine a more interesting book about baseball than this one. It isn't just a compelling read, it is an invaluable history of the game, obtained just in the nick of time, by NYU professor Lawrence Ritter. Ritter travelled the nation during the early 1960s to get the stories of ballplayers from the early part of the 20th Century, before they all passed away. You've heard of some of these guys, but not all of them, and I guarantee that you don't know their stories.

2. When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss (SI #26) -- This biography of Vince Lombardi is a masterpiece, and the single best sports biography I've every read.

3. I Never Played the Game, Howard Cosell -- SI rated one of Howard's other books, Cosell, #67 on its list. This one's more autobiographical than that one, but still mostly consists of opinions about everyone and everything. Hey, I don't care if you like Howard or not--get your own damn blog! I think Cosell is without a doubt the most arrogant, egotistical, obnoxious and unpleasant sportscaster who ever lived. He is also unquestionably the best, and the only sportscaster in history who made an event bigger because he was broadcasting it. Wanna argue about that? I got three words for you: "Down goes Frazier!"

4. The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, David Halberstam, ed. -- It is what it says: everything from Heywood Broun's account of the Dempsey v. Carpentier fight ("Fate gets us all in the clinches...the tragedy of life is not that man loses but that he almost wins.") to Updike's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," ("Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back...Gods do not answer letters."), to Hunter S. Thompson's incomparable "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" ("'Why in the hell do you think we left the restaurant so fast?' 'I thought it was because of the Mace,' he said. 'What Mace?' He grinned. 'When you shot it at the headwaiter, don't you remember?'"). If you don't own it, buy it.

5. Ball Four, Jim Bouton (SI #3) -- All sports writing can be divided into two categories: things written before Ball Four and things written after Ball Four. Funny, honest, and completely lacking in discretion, Bouton's book blew the lid off the carefully cultivated "see no evil, print no evil" world of sports writing.

6. Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer (SI #20) -- I read this book as a kid, and still think highly of it. It is Jerry Kramer's diary of Vince Lombardi's last season as coach of The Green Bay Packers, from training camp to the Super Bowl. It's just a very compelling, if undoubtedly sanitized, portrait of a season with the best professional football team of the 1960s, told by one of its great players.

7. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, Robert Creamer (SI #27) -- I suspect this might be Vinny's #1 choice. The definitive Babe Ruth biography, and a close second to Maraniss' Lombardi book in my mind.

8. A Season on the Brink, John Feinstein (SI #6) -- Feinstein's famous (or infamous) account of the 1986 Indiana basketball team, but really an extended portrait of one man: Bob Knight. I know that Feinstein's book was criticized for trashing Knight, but frankly, I think it's one of the best portraits of a complex person I've read. I liked Bobby Knight before I read the book, and I liked him more after I read it. Then again, I also like to pull the wings off flys and steal candy from children.

9. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James (SI #44) -- I DEFY you to put this book down. James explores, decade by decade from 1870 on, how baseball was played, where it was played and who played it. He writes about uniforms, which players were the fastest, slowest, best looking and ugliest (he got help from his wife with that). But that's only the first half of the book. He then ranks the 100 best players at every position in baseball history, and includes at least a paragraph of detail on each guy--sometimes segueing into a discussion of why this person is better than another player who is typically more highly regarded.

10. When All the World Was Browns Town, Terry Pluto -- I subscribe to the Beacon-Journal because Terry Pluto writes for it. He is an excellent sportswriter, and I sometimes wonder whether people in Northeast Ohio realize just how good he really is. Sports Illustrated ranked one of his other books, Loose Balls, a light-hearted look at the history of the ABA, 13th on its list. I haven't read it, so I can't comment. When All the World Was Browns Town is the story of the 1964 Cleveland Browns. Terry Pluto tells you why you should read it with his first sentence: "They were Cleveland's last championship team." The book is a really compelling portrait of that team and that season, and the seasons that led up to it. This is one that should be on any Browns fan's bookshelf.

What's missing? Most notably, The Boys of Summer (SI #2) because it is grossly overrated. More on that later. Also, books like Shoeless Joe, The Natural and A Fan's Notes, because they're fiction, which deserves to be considered separately. More on that later, too. Another reason that I've overlooked some of the books on SI's list is that I simply haven't read them.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Just in time for the Holidays

Speaking of George Takei, you'll want to check out George's website for some great Christmas or Hanukkah gift ideas for the trekkie on your list. But George's is by no means the only website that you'll want to visit before the holidays. You'll also want to stop by William Shatner's site--go on, try to resist the ripped shirt Kirk action figure! Just remember to send the kids to bed before you visit Leonard Nimoy's photo website. Lots o' nekkid ladies there, including sizes. Don't forget Mr. Chekov, or the seductive Lieutenant Uhuru. They're selling all kinds of wonderful tchochkies too. Finally, if you want all of your wildest Star Trek dreams to come true, be sure to swing by and pick up this item.

Now---Mr. Sulu

First, Sheryl Swoopes came out. Now, Mr. Sulu from the Starship Enterprise (aka George Takei) has jumped into the fray by coming out yesterday.

Could this be the start of an avalanche of celebrity announcements? I think I once heard something like, "as goes Sulu, so goes the Screen Actors Guild." Maybe not.

What shocking revelation will be next? Can you even imagine? Maybe we'll next hear someone outing Liberace.

In any event, there's still no news from the Jessica camp, other than that she did those famous shorts proud in the remake of The Dukes of Hazard.

Browns v. Texans

I may be nuts, but if I were a gambling man, I'd bet the house and cars on the Browns, who were so pathetic against Detroit that they are actually a two point underdog to the dreadful Texans this Sunday. I look for the Browns' moribund offense to show some signs of life against Houston. I think Droughns will have a big day against the league's worst rushing defense. I also expect the Browns' defense to tee off on David Carr, whose already been sacked a league high 35 times in six games.

The Texans are hungry for a win--they are currently on a seven game slide, which started when the Browns upset them last January in Houston. But my God, are they terrible! If the Browns lose this one, the game will mark their official entry into the Reggie Bush sweepstakes.

I don't think the Browns will lose this game. In fact, I think they'll win big. Cleveland 27, Houston 6.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

With friends like this...

I was surprised today, not by Swoopes' announcement, but by the one by Harriet Miers. I really thought she was going to tough it out and go to what would have been one of the oddest confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. When the darling of the right, Ann Coulter, started attacking a fellow conservative, you had to know Miers was doomed. As usual, Ann took a fair and balanced look at Ms. Miers:

"However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn't qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on `The West Wing,' let alone to be a real one."
----Ann Coulter

Big Deal

So, Sheryl Swoopes has come out. Big deal. I suspect the same number of people who believe O.J. was innocent were surprised.

I have no idea why the mainstream press even thinks its worthy of mentioning. Since her "stunning" announcement, I've taken the liberty of scouring the internet to see if someone more intriguing has anything to say.

Sadly, our girl, Jessica (above left), apparently has been utterly silent on the issue. Likewise, I've found nothing that would even hint that she has dabbled. I guess that, for now, I'll have to file that one away as what a buddy of mine might call a "happy fantasy."

Sheryl Swoopes

WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes has come out of the closet. I have several reactions to this stunning revelation. They are, in order:

  • Who cares?
  • Who is Sheryl Swoopes?
  • Wow, the WNBA still exists?
It does, however, give me an excuse to link to this. You go girl.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

St. Crispin's Day

Yesterday, October 25th, was St. Crispin's Day. Shakespeare immortalized it in his great play, Henry V. Both The Hornless Rhino and I are fans of the Bard and seemingly hopeless battles. It's a shame that I'm a day late with this, and on behalf of Vinny and the Hornless Rhino, I apologize.

But here goes. Henry and his army were encamped near a small castle the French called Agincourt. He was outnumbered by the French, and according to Shakespeare, here's what he said when one of his captains, Westmoreland, audibly wished for more men:

"This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.' Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.' Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, But he'll remember, with advantages, What feats he did that day. Then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words- Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester- Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red. This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Click here for an audio version of the speech from Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film version of Henry V

A little irony

This is Kid Gleason. He was a decent ballplayer, but he's known, if at all, as the Manager of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, who infamously became known as the Black Sox.

As the story goes, the Black Sox broke his heart when they threw the Series to the Cincinnati Reds. He was never the same and played out the string with a decimated Chicago team until 1923, when he left to coach for Connie Mack in Philadelphia. Despite having the winningest team in baseball in 1919, Kid never managed again. He didn't want to do it.

Yesterday was his birthday. So, tip a glass to Kid Gleason. He pitched a no-hitter; was an all-star infielder; and had his heart broken by the Black Sox. Wish you could have seen last night Kid. It would have made you smile.

The Series---as American as an insane asylum.

Of course I've been watching. This is America, after all. If nothing else, I had to watch the whole thing as my prediction about the Astros in six became a mathematical impossibility. This is one of those Series that neither of the coasts really cares about. Only we few from the center of the doughnut care and watch. That's too bad. It's been a pretty good one thus far. The Sox have proven amazingly resilient, have gotten a few good calls, and performed in the moments and at bats when it counted.

I would never think of skipping the Series and neither would Randle Patrick McMurphy.

McMurphy continues looking at the blank TV screen as the Acutes look from McMurphy to Big Nurse, not knowing what to do next when

MCMURPHY (jumping up and shouting at the blank TV screen): "A hit! It's a hit! He's rounding first, heading for second. Here comes the throw. He's sliding... and... he's safe! He's safe! (McMurphy whistles and claps his hands) Hoo-wee! Whatta game! Whatta game! Come on, Koufax! Strike 'em out!"

MCMURPHY: " 'Kay, it's two outs, bases loaded as Koufax steps up to the mound... Checks the runners... goes into his wind-up... Here comes the three-two pitch... And it's a fly ball into deep center. Mantle is going back. He's going back! Back! His back is up against the wall... and... he catches it! He catches it!"

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

White Sox 7, Astros 5

It didn't make the morning papers, but the White Sox beat the Astros in 14th innings to take a three games to none lead in the World Series. I admit it, I didn't make it past the 9th inning, but's Gene Wojciechowski did, and he's very proud of himself this morning. Click here to read Gene's column, which is mostly devoted to scolding you for going to bed, and for generally not tuning in to watch the World Series.

These "why aren't they watching ?" columns have become annual events among sportswriters with nothing better to do. You've got to wonder who they think their audience is---do these guys believe that people who aren't interested in the World Series read columns bemoaning the lack of interest in the World Series?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A little poem called "Fox's World Series Coverage Makes Me Want to Puke"

Now I sit me down to watch
another World Series game on Fox
This one's in Houston, but you know
you always get the same ol' show

So many graphics on TV,
you'll never even see strike three
No, you can't just sit and look
They'd rather you read an on-screen book

So they cover the infield with a box
that shows who's on base for the Sox
and then six replays of where that first pitch broke
or how Brad Lidge the last time choked

The World Series-- ain't it classic?
But we could live without the graphics
Also, not to scream or shout
But Buck and McCarver, we could do without

I'm tired of hearing them speak in awe
every time Joe Crede snags a ball
Hey Tim and Joe, give us all a break
and go ahead and ask him for a date

But I'm afraid we're out of luck
and with Buck and McCarver we're forever stuck
Yet although I may look antique
I miss Gowdy and Tony and "Game of the Week"
Frankly, even Costas and his blather
was better than this Fox disaster

So thanks for "The Simpsons" and "24"
But as for the World Series, please, no more
MLB, oh hear our plea
Give the Series back to NBC!

Rule Britannia

I'm not much of a soccer fan, or maybe I should say that I'm not a fan of the upper middle class suburban version of the game that's played in the United States. However, I will confess to watching English soccer on television every now and again. Watching American soccer, you'd never guess that football evolved from it. In contrast, it's easy to see the connection between the English game and its American progeny. I remember watching a match last year between Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal. This was an FA Cup semi-final, so it was a pretty big game. Rovers didn't have anywhere near the talent level that Arsenal had, so they adopted a strategy of beating the living crap out of the Arsenal players. In turn, Arsenal gave as good as it got. This match was particularly rough, but, in general, there is a standard of tough, physical play in the English game that is really admirable and enjoyable to watch.

Which brings me to my point. An English team called Nottingham Forest (seriously) has played pretty crappy over the past several games. Some of their fans cornered the coach at halftime of a recent game to air their complaints. His reaction? Come on into the locker room and let the players have it.

Can you imagine an American coach doing something like that? I can't either. What a shame, because every now and again, it's probably not a bad idea to make these guys face the people who pay their salaries. Some players realize how important these teams are to fans, but most don't. Cleveland's not a particularly prosperous area, but that stadium is consistently filled to watch teams that year after year aren't only consistently bad, but consistently boring. And it isn't just doctors, lawyers and CEOs filling those seats--it's people who can afford tickets once every couple of seasons, or once in a lifetime. Teams would do well to keep that in mind. Nottingham Forest seems to get it, I wonder if the Cleveland Browns do?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pete Best

If ever there was a guy who belonged in Cleveland, it's Pete Best. If you're so inclined, you can see rock-n-roll's answer to Wally Pipp and his band live tonight at the Winchester in Lakewood. I'm sure the assorted Beatle trekkies and accident fetishists who show up will have a swell time.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Horror! The Horror!

"He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision--he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: 'The Horror! The Horror!'"

-- Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

Even though I read Heart of Darkness in college (okay, I read the Cliff's Notes, but I saw Apocalypse Now several times), I never really understood what Mr. Kurtz saw in his last vision that made him despair so utterly. Now, it occurs to me that he may have been watching a Browns game.

If you were at home watching it on television, you were one of the lucky ones -- you always had the option of changing the channel. I was actually there in person with my 13-year old son. We didn't see a game this afternoon, we witnessed three hours of football porn. I give the fans credit, though, they didn't start chanting Charlie Frye's name until Trent Dilfer threw his second interception with about 57 seconds left in the first half. (Actually, I kind of felt bad for Dilfer, because that ball was tipped before it was picked-off, making it one of the few offensive catastrophes of the afternoon that wasn't of his making.)

Dilfer's scintillating performance earned him a whopping 22.4 QB rating (I used to think no pulse or respiration got you a rating of 22.2, although I believe El Nervioso actually pitched a shutout once last season). But you also gotta put your hands together for Antonio Bryant, who dropped a critical third down pass in the 4th quarter and once again showed why, despite his performance against the Bears, you don't want to have to rely on him during crunch time. Other guys who deserve a mention include the offensive line (4 sacks), Braylon Edwards (who doesn't appear to know the plays), Alvin McKinley (whom the Lions ran right at whenever they needed three yards), and, of course, Kyle Richardson (the only punter in the NFL who could make us pine for the good old days of Derrick Frost).

I'm starting to have my doubts about Maurice Carthon, too. As smart as his schemes looked against Green Bay, the last three weeks have been a game planning and play calling disaster.

I warned everybody about the second coming of El Nervioso, and while he wasn't as dominant as I feared he might be, he was without a doubt the game's offensive MVP. Of course, being the offensive MVP of this abortion is like being the proverbial "best hockey player in Peru."

To make matters worse, I missed the day's highlight--no, I'm not talking about Cribbs' kick-off return, I saw that. What I didn't see was a classic bit of trash talk directed at Larry the Lions fan. Larry was about three rows in front of me, and he didn't show off his Detroit Lions cap until they took the lead (which happened about eight beers into Larry's afternoon). Larry then put his Lions hat on cockeyed over the touque he was already wearing, thus giving us all the full Eminem "u wanna be me" experience. But then (or so I'm informed) Larry started to push his luck. He started crying pass interference when the Lions failed to convert a 3rd down late in the game. Now, I had my headphones on, listening to Donovan and missing Nev, but I have it on good authority that Larry made a fatal error when he turned around to make his plea directly to the fans in our section. His words were met with a single response from a Browns fan whose wits are a lot sharper than mine: "Sit down and shut up, 8 Mile!" Nice. We never heard from Larry again.

One ray of light in a bleak afternoon: if you listened to the Hornless Rhino, you made money again, for the third week in a row.

Bobcats Win!

I know no one else really gives a damn, but Ohio University spanked Ball State 38-21 for a rare Homecoming victory.

Frank Solich is all the difference in the world. Yes. They'll lose more games than they win this year, but I like the future.

For returning alumni, Friday's edition of The Athens Messenger, provided a couple of bon mots on the front page:

The headline read that bar owners refused the President's request that they open somewhat later than the customary 7:00 am, in an effort to curb binge drinking. Let's face it, the bar owners applaud binge drinking, especially by alumni who are buying something other than draft beers.

Another significant front page story dealt with the high honor Playboy bestowed upon the school. Unsurprisingly, Playboy selected Ohio as one of the Top 10 Party Schools. As a result, Playboy photographers will be on campus tomorrow to photograph a number of the scholars for inclusion in the May 2006 issue, which will hit the stands on April 7th.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Browns v. Lions

Sorry, folks, but this isn't a scenario that favors the Browns. By the time Jeff Garcia left town, there wasn't a single Browns fan who had anything good to say about him. His on and off the field antics and his inability to just shut up left everybody with a bad taste in their mouths. It isn't entirely his fault, but he was annoying and ineffective enough that it is probably fair to say all Browns fans would love to see him get his lunch handed to him. I know I would.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem. Mariucci hasn't officially decided who will start on Sunday, but Harrington stinks worse than my hockey equipment, so the odds are pretty good it's going to be El Nervioso--and you just know, because you live here, that he's going to eat the Browns alive.

Lions 24, Browns 13, for no reason other than my crappy attitude.

A link for Mrs. Vinny

In honor of Mrs. Vinny, we are proud to add a link to National Public Radio. Now, our loyal readers who get a lump in their throat when they hear The Internationale will be be able to get their weekly Frank Deford fix, compliments of Vinny and the Hornless Rhino.

So, arise ye workers from your slumbers, turn on "Morning Edition," and sing along!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Quick Hit

Sorry. Although the Rhino invited me to do a Series analysis, I don't have the time right now. The best I can do is pick the Astros in six. I like the Sox lineup much better, but I think this one, in particular, comes down to pitching. Everyone knows about Clemens and Pettite, but Oswalt's a killer.

The big difference is the bullpen. I think Lidge shuts 'em down, while Bobby Jenks plays the part of Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. I think this low-scoring Series revolves around the pen.

White Sox fans?

Jim Caple of ESPN misses the point here. It isn't that White Sox fans have suffered stoically since 1917, it's just that until about two weeks ago, there weren't any White Sox fans. Don't believe me? Check out Rob Dibble and Mark Mulder's exchange, quoted here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

World Series: You gotta be freakin' kidding me!

Vinny's the baseball expert, but how can you not comment on one of the unlikeliest World Series matchups of all time? I mean c'mon, the Chicago White Sox against the Houston Astros? Seriously?

Tribe fans are the last people in the world who need to be reminded that if ever a team appeared to be limping into the post-season, it was the White Sox. As they entered the last week of the season, the Sox appeared to be on the ropes. But then, once they clinched the Central Division, they became a different team. They swept the Indians on the last weekend of the season, and then went through the Red Sox and the Angels like, as Vinny's hero George Patton would say, "crap through a goose."

The Astros broke more of a sweat. While they only dropped a single game in the Divisional Series to the Braves, they lost two to the Cards, and after Pujols' dinger in the 9th to win Game 5, you could almost feel the collars tightening around the 'Stros necks. But, they went on to bury quite a few ghosts last night as they smacked the Cardinals behind some timely early hitting and a superb pitching performance by Roy Oswalt.

So, now we're faced with a World Series that nobody should win, right? The Astros are making their first appearance in a World Series in their 45 year existence, while the White Sox are showing up for the first time in 46 years. Whoever this year's winner is, it will be only slightly less of a shock to the system than seeing the Red Sox win last year.

Which brings me to my point: I freaking hate this. It's one thing to be America's most tortured sports city, but people, we are rapidly running out of being able to name any franchises that are more pathetic than the ones we've got. In less than two weeks, either the Houston Astros or the Chicago White Sox will be world champions. That pretty much leaves the Cubs and the Tribe as baseball's grand ol' men of futility.

The situation in the NFL gets worse with each passing year. I thought we hit rock bottom 10 years ago when the Chargers got to the Super Bowl, but things continued to go downhill. As miserable as it was -- and it was hell-- to watch first Horseface and then Arthur B. Modell hoist the Lombardi Trophy, in a sense, it was even harder to deal with the realization, just a few years later, that the TAMPA FRIGGIN' BAY FRIGGIN' SUCKANEERS WON A FRIGGIN SUPER BOWL BEFORE THE FRIGGIN BROWNS DID! HOW @#$#ED UP IS THAT??

Ahem. Sorry. Thank God for the LA Clippers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

They'll never be weaker than they are right now

A leading publication exposes Pittsburgh's vulnerability. Pittsburgh delenda est!

Important baseball stuff

With the NLCS grinding its way to a fan-tastic finish, I've been perplexed by what must be the biggest story of the post season---Tony LaRussa's managerial mullet. Jeez. He's 61 years old and it is 2005, after all.

I know. I know. He's from Florida. That alone entitles him to the mullet of his choice But, he's not from the panhandle, and he did go to law school. Either one of those things suggests the mullet is some sort of perverse statement of individuality.

This is really a tough fashion read, and Gianni Versace's dead. So, I've got no one to consult. I mean, you guys have seen the Rhino.

To be fair, I have to admit that the latest version of his mullet is only mildly distracting when compared to the full-blown Foxworthy he was sporting during his days in Oakland. And speaking of Oakland, did you notice that during that time, as his mullet kept growing, his players kept getting bigger and bigger? Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson and Carney Lansford all seemed to hit more home runs. It had to be the hair.

In a completely unrelated note, another pretty good major leaguer, Felix Heredia, was suspended for steroids.


Check out the guns on me! None of them steroids either. That's 100% natural rhino, baby.

In case you were wondering...

...that's what he looks like, minus the horn.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

RIP Hal Lebovitz

Hal Lebovitz died today at the age of 89. I was fortunate enough to receive a compilation of his classic articles from a friend of mine last Christmas, and while I've enjoyed reading his Sunday columns in the Lake County News-Herald for several years, I really didn't appreciate how good a sportswriter he was until I read that book.

I'm not originally from Cleveland, so growing up, I only knew him from his "Ask Hal the Referee" column in The Sporting News. When I first started coaching football, I read his famous "Never Cut a Boy" column. It is must reading for any coach.

For years, you couldn't attend a sporting event in this town without seeing Hal Lebovitz. He was about 6'7" tall, so he was hard to miss. He certainly will be missed now.

Know your dinner

I hope Vinny and the gang enjoy the tripe, and that they--and all adventurous diners for that matter-- remember the sage advice of the former president of the National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston:

"Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!!"


The baseball playoffs swirl around, the Browns stumble, Palmiero's still whining, Pierzynski's still gloating, and Pittsburgh still sucks, but I'm not thinking about any of that. I'm heading out tonight with a few compadres to eat some tripe.

The stuff's only good if it's cooked at least 12 hours. So, even as we speak, a bunch of little old Italian ladies are stirring the very stuff that will feed a few hundred guys tonight.

Since I'll be busy for much of the night, I'll leave the sports analysis and usual nonsense to the Rhino. Now that his football team's winning, he's almost bearable.

Crennel Gets His First Piranha Bite

At yesterday's press conference, Romeo Crennel was asked whether there might be a change at QB. He responded with words to the effect that the team will look at everything, and will make any move that makes sense "at whatever position it is." Naturally, that remark found its way to the front page of the sports sections of the Plain Dealer and the Beacon Journal.

Romeo, welcome to Cleveland. That sharp pain in your ankle is the result of the first nibble you've received from the media piranhas. Actually, you're kind of lucky. Your remark was quoted in Mary Kay Cabot's column in the PD. She tends to play things pretty straight, at least in comparison to some of her cohorts who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are T-O-N-Y G-R-O-S-S-I. By Friday, however, you'll probably be in the middle of a media firestorm, with everyone speculating about whether you'll bench Dilfer. With the possible exception of a coaching death watch, the Cleveland media loves nothing more than a QB controversy. They are very, very good at creating them too--just ask Jeff Garcia, Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, Paul McDonald, Brian Sipe, Mike Phipps, Bill Nelson, Frank Ryan or Milt Plum.

By the way, Romeo, opening your mouth on this issue was a really dumb move. My guess is that you know it, too. I've applauded your frankness in dealing with the media, but you need to learn some survival skills. Once you open this topic for discussion, it won't ever go away. The old cliche is that the second string QB is always the most popular player in town. Can you imagine how the residents of America's low self-esteem capital feel about a kid who grew up with Bernie Kosar's poster in his bedroom and played his college ball at Akron? I've got a funny feeling that you're about to find out.

Don't worry though-- the fans are patient. In fact, it is entirely possible that fans may wait until Dilfer throws his first incomplete pass to start the "we want Charlie...WE WANT CHARLIE..." chant. See you Sunday.

Monday, October 17, 2005

About what I expected

I'm typically not a great pigskin prognosticator, but you've got to admit, missing the actual spread by one point last week and two this week isn't too bad. As I said last week, the Browns aren't a good team. This week, that should have been pretty clear to everyone.

The reason they aren't a good team is that they just don't have a lot of good players. (Duuuuhhhh, do you really think so?) Nothing's fundamentally wrong with the offensive or defensive schemes, they just lack the players to execute them right now. For example, when you've got to convert Kennard Lang to linebacker in order to play a 3-4, you've got personnel problems. The mouth breathers among the fan base will immediately jump on that to say that the Browns' need to change their schemes, go back to a 4-3 defense, start Charlie Frye, William Green or the ghost of Ernie Davis on offense, fire Crennel, hire Vince Lombardi or Knute Rockne and then sign every top free agent in the league, regardless of cap considerations or the fact that those players don't want to play in Cleveland. Don't believe me? Just listen to the call-in shows today, and then tell me if I'm wrong.

Look, the Browns aren't going to the playoffs this year, and probably not next year, no matter what happens. The unflushed turd of a football team that Butch Davis bequeathed to Savage and Crennel will take at least that long to fix. They know it, and have taken a long-term approach that focuses on developing offensive and defensive schemes that they can build the core of a team around. They have made plenty of mistakes, but I also think they've shown more promise than any of their predecessors.

That being said, I think the coaching staff got flustered by the way the game started, and their play calling certainly helped the Browns to dig the hole in which they quickly found themselves. I'm still pretty high on Maurice Carthon, but three possessions without a running play is a little ridiculous, especially when you've got Trent Dilfer as your QB. By the way, have you noticed his sack count rising at an alarming rate? After avoiding sacks for the first two games of the season, Dilfer's been sacked 10 times in the last three games. If the Browns don't make Droughns a more integral part of the game plan soon, that's only going to get worse.

Anyway, I don't think fans can or should expect much from this team this year. But, as I've suggested in previous posts, I do think the team's coaching staff and front office is much more capable (or at least a lot less delusional) than the last group. If they draft well, I'm guardedly optimistic about their chances to build a contender here over the next three years.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Browns v. Ravens

While I've enjoyed their bad press as much as any Browns' fan, the Ravens aren't as lousy as advertised. Look for Jamal Lewis to have his usual gigantic day against the Pumpkin Helmets, and the Ravens defense to shut Dilfer & Co. down pretty well. Ravens win, 20 to 9.

Time for the Hornless Rhino to Suck it Up

Great teams win great games. Southern Cal is a great team. Converting 4th and 8 deep in your own territory by throwing an absolute strike to a well covered receiver is what makes a National Champion. So is going for the win with no time outs and seven seconds left. Major props to the Men of Troy, who earned every bit of their victory today against my beloved Irish.

It's simple

In his recent post, the Rhino puts forth his crying etiquette for men. I think it's a lot simpler. Just ask Vito Corleone. He helped his godson, Johnny Fontane, with the same thing when he felt like Jack Woltz wouldn't give him the part he wanted in a movie.

Johnny Fontane: Oh, Godfather I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do.

Vito Corleone: You can act like a man! (slaps Fontane) What's the matter with you? Is this how you turned out? A Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman.


Go Irish!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Stop your sobbing

Yesterday's post about Mark McGwire reminded me of a trend that I find really disturbing--the increasing number of men who are not ashamed to cry in public. McGwire's a big time weeper, but he has a lot of company among sports figures. Brett Favre, Dick Vermeil, Tony LaRussa, Butch Davis and Kordell Stewart are just a few of the weeping willows that I can name off the top of my head. Vermeil has to be the grand prize winner; the dude cried when he announced that he was releasing Lawrence Phillips.

When did this become okay? I'm not that old, but it seems to me that guys just didn't used to do this at the drop of a hat. In fact, damn it, I know they didn't. I suppose part of the reason this has become acceptable is that in recent years, we've all been taught to regard anything remotely masculine as a manifestation of society's violent and repressive tendencies.

Our efforts to eradicate those tendencies have been highlighted by programs encouraging men to get in touch with their inner child and express their emotions (yuck). The schools have also done their part to destroy any remaining vestiges of masculinity, by adopting enlightened zero tolerance policies that mete out suspensions or explusions every time 10 year-old boys throw punches at each other in the school playground. Remember being told by your Dad to fight your own battles? That's something nobody hears today. Instead, we have institutional anti-bullying programs in schools where kids are expected to rat each other out. Rather than receiving the traditional cure for bullying-- an ass-kicking from a pissed-off underdog who has finally had enough-- today's bullies meet a far crueler fate. They get labeled, counselled and officially welcomed to Ritalin Nation, where they join millions of other tranquilized kids who made the mistake of behaving like boys have behaved for thousands of years.

But I digress. Regardless of what you think about our society's views on masculinity, can we at least agree that some of the crying that's going on is a tad ridiculous? I propose that we agree on a list of situations where it's okay for a guy to cry, or if not okay, at least forgiveable. To me, that's a short list, and it includes the following:

  • When a member of your immediate family, a close friend, or your dog dies
  • When you experience physical pain of fairly significant magnitude (broken bone, knee injury, etc.)
  • When you win a World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Championship, Stanley Cup, NCAA national championship, or Olympic gold medal
  • When you win a Heisman Trophy, if you dedicate the award to your nine year-old brother with leukemia
  • When you're watching Brian's Song, a movie about a Heisman Trophy winner who dedicates the award to his nine year-old brother with leukemia, or Old Yeller
  • When you are dying from an incurable disease and are given a day at Yankee Stadium in front of 60,000 people, although it's cooler if you just whisper.

Now, about the dying thing--you don't get to cry if Princess Di, John-John, the Pope or somebody else you've never met dies. That's just weird. You also don't get to cry when you lose a World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Championship, etc. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up. You don't get to cry if your girlfriend dumps you (that's why they invented alcohol, road trips and strip joints, bunky). And you definitely don't get to cry if you release Lawrence Phillips.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Perfect Storm

Sometimes things collide in such a way that they create the perfect storm. When that happens with sex and sports, grab the lifeboats.

Speaking of boats, how 'bout those Vikings? For the unwashed, some of the Vikes went on a little pleasure cruise recently, with a big emphasis on "pleasure." Allegedly, the Vikes had several party guests who engaged in oral sex, masturbation, and some sex toy antics in public. The civilians aboard the boat didn't enjoy the show, and sadly, the 3-and-a-half hour cruise lasted only 30 minutes. Everyone involved is running for cover, especially Fred Smoot, who is alleged to have arranged the entertainment. I've never coached a football team, and as a result, I'm not gonna opine about how the Vikes prepare for their upcoming game against da Bears, but Freddie, come on. You've got the jack. Rent a private boat.

On a separate sports and sex note, didja see that Penn State's women's basketball coach, Rene Portland, has been under fire for inquiring about her players' sexual orientation and making anti-lesbian remarks to them? All I can say, to borrow a phrase from Captain Louis Renault, is that I'm shocked. Shocked to find lesbians on a women's basketball team.


Vinny's post about the execrable (see, you don't have to be Bill Livingston to use SAT words for no apparent reason) Barry Bonds and his cohorts prompts me to point the finger at the guy I think may be the worst villain of them all: Mark McGwire.

If Mark McGwire didn't use steroids in his quest for the home run record, he's a genuine American hero. He's honored the legacy of Roger Maris, and done great good for the community. About all I can fault him for is his repeated violation of the "no crying in baseball" rule. (By the way, I'm going to post later on about the whole guys crying phenomenon, which makes me ill).

On the other hand, if McGwire did use steroids, then the way he sidled up to the Maris family during his quest is beyond creepy. In fact, it was about as cynical a move as you'll ever see.

Of course, McGwire had a chance to clear all this up when he testified before Congress. Instead, he opted for a Clintonesque approach, combining the inevitable tears with a non-denial denial of steroid use. When asked during his testimony whether he was asserting his Fifth Amendment rights, McGwire responded, "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject."

I'm here to be positive on this subject too, Big Mac. I'm positive you'll never end up on a stamp, unlike the real holder of the single season home run record, Roger Maris.


I'm a baseball fan, and have been since I was six years old. During the winter, I count down the days until pitchers and catchers report in February. On Opening Day, which should be a national holiday, I feel all is right with the world.
When the season ends, I start looking forward to the next one.

But, this year was different.

I couldn't wait for the end of this season.

It's not because I lost my passion for the game. It's quite the opposite. I just can't stand the abomination that is likely going to occur in San Francisco sometime next year. Barry Bonds is going to pass Babe Ruth and maybe even Hank Aaron in home runs. That makes me want to puke.

714 stood as the goal that eluded the greatest hitters of the 40's, 50's and 60's. Studs like Mays, Mantle, Killebrew, Gehrig, Williams, DiMaggio, Robinson and Musial couldn't do it. Only Hank Aaron could eclipse the Great Bambino's record. He did it while ignoring death threats and despite that, at his biggest, he was 6 feet tall and weighed a buck eighty. Those two men, my friends, are baseball heroes. They are amongst the immortals of the game. Their accomplishments should not be sullied by that freak in San Fran. It sickens me that that Rat Conte and his disciples have cheapened the game I so love and the records I revere.

Just for the record, no matter what happens, Hank's gonna remain #1, the Bambino will be #2, and Maris is the single season homerun king with 61. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa never happened.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My friend, the romantic

As you can probably tell, my hornless friend is a bit of a romantic. That is, despite his original manifesto of gloom, he's a little quixotic. Imagine destroying Pittsburgh, leaving nothing standing over two meters tall, and then salting the earth. Yes, it indeed would be a day of great joy.

Like Cato the Elder before him, the Rhino calls for the destruction of the city that has so plagued us. But, in all honesty, that was probably much easier for the Romans than the task the Rhino lays before us. After all, Scipio merely had to overcome a stronger foe, fighting on its own soil, and led by perhaps the greatest military commander of his age. We, on the other hand, have to figure out how to overcome decades of choking and losing.

Pittsburgh Delenda Est

Can there possibly be a more hateful place to a Northeast Ohio sports fan than Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? While Cleveland teams have labored in utter futility since 1964, Pittsburghers have seen four Super Bowl victories, two Stanley Cup titles, two World Series wins, and an NCAA football national championship.

What's worse, when they do lose, it's to Modell's Ravens or Belichick's Patriots. Not a lot of satisfaction watching that, is there?

They've had great players over the years, but Lady Luck has also definitely smiled on the city's sports teams. Starting with the Immaculate Reception, things have just gone consistently right, most of the time, for Pittsburgh teams. This year, while we've watched the Cavs collapse down the stretch, the Indians' inability to buy a hit against the Chicago White Sox AAA team, and the Browns' last two number #1 picks spending more time at the Cleveland Clinic than Cleveland Stadium, Pittsburgh's run of uncanny good luck has continued.

For example, just last July, when their NHL franchise was on death's door, the Penguins won the Sidney Crosby lottery, and pick up the most highly-touted newcomer to the NHL since, well, Mario Lemieux. That's an extraordinary piece of good fortune for a bankrupt team that plays in the NHL's worst arena. But then, on Monday night, even Steeler-haters cringed when they saw Ben Roethlisberger rolling around on the ground clutching his knee late in the fourth quarter. Now, it looked like the Pittsburgh luck had run dry. When I heard Roethlisberger was going in for an MRI, I'd have bet big money on a torn ACL, since that's been the inevitable result of every MRI conducted on any Cleveland Brown since MRI's were invented.

Of course, because he's a Steeler, Big Ben's MRI showed a bone bruise and a hyperextended knee. In layman's terms, Ben doesn't have a season-ending knee injury, he has a bad boo-boo. The Pittsburgh luck comes through again!

Our sports teams sure as hell ain't going to do it for us, so, my fellow Clevelanders, we've run out of options. Cleveland's Carthage must be destroyed, and its fields sown with salt so nothing will be grown there again. Pittsburgh delenda est!

Big Money

It's nice to see the annual battle of the Haves in the respective League Championship Series. Don't be fooled that, just because the Yankees are out, this year's post season doesn't feature big money teams. The remaining playoff teams' salary rankings and team salaries (in rough numbers) are:

5. Angels $95 Million
6. Cardinals $92 Million
12. Astros $76 Million
13. White Sox $75 Million

On the other hand, our beloved Tribe ranks 26th with a team salary of $41 Million. The good news is that they narrowly beat out the Brewers ($40M), Pirates ($38M), Devil Rays ($37M), and Royals ($36). Now, what do the bottom four teams have in common with winning? The answer is "nothing." Each of the bottom four teams has been lost in the wilderness for at least a decade. Each is characterized by the annual exodus of good players who simply can't stand the culture of losing. This year, the Devil Rays distinguished themselves by having one of the best managers of the last ten years fire them. Sweet Lou, who is one of the toughest skippers in the bigs, just couldn't handle his ownership's continued complacency about losing. Poor Lou! He was under the delusion that baseball teams are supposed to win games and ownership's job is to give the manager the tools to do it. How quaint. Because I like him, I hope that, before Lou takes another managerial job, one of his friends has the common courtesy to tell him that the sole purpose of at least one third of all Major League Baseball teams is to show up expecting to lose 55-60% of their games and to pray for luxury tax money.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Terry Pluto Feels Vinny's Pain

In his Beacon Jourrnal column this morning, Terry Pluto scratches his head over the inept performance of the Buckeyes' offense. While Vinny focuses on the absence of a running game, Pluto points out what is, to me, an even more troubling fact--the offense's complete inability to get the ball to the Bucks' most explosive player, Ted Ginn, Jr.

Jim Tressel's made his decision to go with Troy Smith at QB, and based upon what I've seen, I think that's probably right. So, I'm with Terry Pluto: why are they running an offense designed to suit Justin Zwick's skills?

I'm a Notre Dame fan, so I've seen this problem before. Lou Holtz recruited top passing prospects like Rick Mirer and Ron Powlus, and tried to fit them into the option offense that he preferred. It worked out better for Mirer than for Powlus, but it still involved fitting a square peg into a round hole. Holtz and the Irish would have been better off seeking the next Tony Rice, not the next Joe Montana.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Woody's rolling over in his grave.

Yesterday, the Hornless Rhino bemoaned that Tyrell Sutton was passed over by Ohio State, but the bigger question is and has been, "why can't the Buckeyes run effectively with a stud running back?" This isn't the typical Cleveland or Ohio State fan panicking after a loss. Let's face it, the Buckeyes have been coasting because of their superior defense and lesser opponents for years. Maurice Clarett was almost an utter aberration. Sure, they've had a few solid runners, but where's the game breaker been?

For a school that built its football legacy on "three yards and a cloud of dust," the Buckeyes' running game has been attributable more to the ability of their stud linemen to manhandle opponents than the power or break-away ability of their backs. I'm not naive enough to think that a power running game begins with a back rather than the hosses in the trenches, but why haven't the Buckeyes been able to complement power blockers with a true all-purpose running back?

Tressel's proven that he likes to coach a game featuring a crushing defense and a low-risk offense that moves the ball effectively. Nothing would help that more than a great running back.

Browns win, and my middle school team does too.

The offense stunk, except for two late pass plays to Antonio Bryant, but that was enough to carry the Browns past the Bears, 20-10. Okay, so I said the Browns would win by nine and they actually won by 10. If you went with me, you still made money.

A Browns' win is always good news, but the better news as far as I'm concerned is that the 7th and 8th grade team for which I'm an assistant coach won for only the second time this season, 16-6. Last year's team won the league championship, but this year's team has been plagued by injuries, lack of self confidence and all of the other things that go into making a team play poorly (including some bad coaching by yours truly). Yesterday, they finally managed to chuck all the excuses aside and beat a darn good team. My guys drove 65 yards the first time they touched the ball, and chewed up all but 35 seconds of the first quarter doing it. As an offensive line coach, it's hard to imagine a better start to a game than that. They followed it up with another touchdown late in the second quarter, after another long drive. We almost let the other team back into the game in the third quarter, when we fumbled the ball deep in our own territory and they scored two plays later. But, we blocked their extra point (as in many other youth leagues, kicked extra points count for two points in our league), and our defense shut them down the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

How did Tyrell Sutton get out of Ohio?

The Ohio State Buckeyes rushed for 91 yards in a losing effort against Penn State last night. Meanwhile, former Archbishop Hoban star Tyrell Sutton continued to shred Big 10 defenses with a 244 yard, three touchdown performance against Wisconsin. All of this raises one big question for the Buckeyes' coaching staff:

Where were you guys?

Sure, Sutton is small, but wasn't there something about the leading rusher in Ohio high school history that might have prompted a second look? The Northwestern staff sure thought so, and now they look like geniuses for locking Sutton up before the first snap of his senior year at Hoban.

Jim Tressel and company have a well deserved reputation for cornering the market on prime Ohio high school talent. Ty Sutton is the one that got away. If you're a Buckeye fan, you better hope that this doesn't haunt your team for the next four years.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

He's just that kind of fun guy.

To those who are new to the piercing ramblings of the Hornless Rhino, you're probably assuming the bitterness in his post was borne of the Indians' choke of what would have been a terrific season. It's not. I suspect that it's also not that his wife is withholding. Nor is he being indicted for any involvement with Tom DeLay. Why then? He's just that kind of fun guy.

The cup of cheer he provided in his original post is pretty typical of the stuff you get from him in any conversation about a team he likes. The overly sentimental Cleveland fan generally hates what he has to say in crunch time, but sadly, he's often right. Now, enough about the Rhino. I've got to mention the Tribe.

The Indians had a very good season. Contrary to the bandwagon jumpers, Wedge should not win Manager of the Year nor should he be solely blamed for the failure to make the playoffs. Let's face it, this team wasn't built to win this year.

Step back from the fanaticism and face reality. To win 93 games and go to the wire with the BoSox, the Indians had to get very very lucky. And when I mention luck, I mean they needed a lot to happen beyond their expectations.

They were one of the best pitching teams in all of baseball, but does their rotation really look like a powerhouse? To make their September run, they needed Elarton to pitch like Koufax. He did.
They needed Carsten Charles to pitch like they hoped he someday would but hadn't really shown. He did. They needed Millwood to dominate and stay healthy, even though he hadn't been that kind of pitcher in recent years. He did. They needed Cliff Lee to have a big year and pitch like a veteran. He did. Of the staff, only Jake Westbrook needed to perform as he had last year, and he did.

The bullpen was equally impressive despite Wickman's sore right wing and Rhodes' "personal issues."

In some respects, the offense proved even more surprising. Although the last seven games exposed the weakness of the bottom of the order, those guys were monsters after the All-Star break. Boone, Broussard, and Blake hit the hell out of the ball in key spots in the second half of the season but not in the last week. Instead, they reverted to the bargain bin mediocre hitters they truly are. Most teams can carry one of those guys. The Tribe has literally cornered the market. Typically, a team's power guys are the corner guys. In this case, the Tribe's corner guys are little more than spot fillers. They truly are a new version of the Killer B's because they're killlin' us.

The real luck on the offense, however, was that two of the youngest guys on the team essentially made the batting order work. Jhonny Peralta was supposed to hit 7th or 8th. He ended up giving good right handed average and solid power in the three spot. He was the second or third best hitting shortstop in the AL. Michael Young was the best and you can debate about Tejada. Without Peralta hitting third, lefthanded pitchers would have beaten the Tribe like a rented mule. Instead, he pummeled them. He hit a homer in every 14 at bats against a lefty. That statistic is almost Ruthian.

Grady Sizemore was even more impressive. The "throw-in" from the Colon deal with the Expos was the catalyst that made the team go. He, too, was slated to hit low in the order, but he ended up being the only hitter on the team who could produce leading off. He was also one of the few Tribe hitters who wasn't stationary on the bases.

How many teams go to the playoffs with their two youngest starters hitting first and third? Peralta's and Sizemore's performances were, in large part, what allowed this team to stay in the hunt all season long. That, my friends, is what I call luck.

The Indians really had a great season. Enjoy it. It will be hard to duplicate. The performance of the young hitters would seemingly bode well for the future, but it could be, as the Rhino likes to intimate, the prelude to even greater disappointment. This offseason will be the crucible for your hope. Millwood, Elarton, Howry and Wickman are free agents. We need them or guys just like them just to tread water. Shapiro has said all the right things about signing Millwood, but his agent, Scott the Devil Boras, will insist that Millwood go on the open market. When the monied teams start to play, will the Indians get short arms? Think about their track record in signing pitchers. It shouldn't inspire a great deal of hope. The others may be easier to sign, but even if the Tribe were to sign them all, would the team be better or would it merely be the same but older?

Additionally, all of the pitching in the world still wouldn't solve the inability of the bottom of the order to produce. That, unfortunately, will take more money. The minor league system isn't likely to produce a hitter better than the Killer B's for next year. The best hope for that type of hitter would be Ryan Garko, Franklin Guiterrez, or Brad Snyder. Garko, the erstwhile catcher and future firstbaseman/designated hitter, is the most complete hitter of the three but absent a HUGE spring won't break camp with the club. Guiterrez and Snyder are both outfielders who will likely need another year in AAA to work out issues. The Indians lack an impact bat on the horizon due, in large part, to their notorious inability to get value in the first round of the draft. I have my own theory about that. It's all about money. They seem to go after guys who are easier to sign despite that they may have limited upsides. The Tribe has traditionally shied away from versatile high upside picks and Boras clients in the first round. They tend to do their gambling in later rounds.

I don't blame Shapiro for this. I may be dead wrong, but I believe he's highly constrained by the amount of dough the owner will shell out for talent. I think Shapiro should be voted Executive of the Year in a landslide. Forget about Kenny Williams of the White Sox. Shapiro did what few General Managers in any sport have done. He tore apart a winning team; said he was rebuilding; set a timeline; and stuck to that timeline. Think about how often a franchise says it's rebuilding. Then, in three years without winning anything, it's rebuilding again. Oh. Sorry. I didn't mean to talk about the Browns, who've been "rebuilding" in one form or another since Lindy Infante left. Anyway, I tip my hat to Shapiro and hope Larry Dolan will open up his wallet during this Hot Stove season. Otherwise, in addition to a season where the Indians merely tread water, we may be in danger of losing a pretty talented GM. Because when the big market teams come calling, it will be hard for Shapiro to pass on the ability to spend money to get the players he needs.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Browns v. Bears

The Browns aren't a good team right now, but I'm starting to think they're on the right track. They need players, and they know it, but what's more important is that they know that we know it too. During the Modell era, the tradition of winning NFL championships was replaced by a tradition of blowing smoke up the fans' rectums. That continued through the Davis reign of terror, but lately it seems the Browns have taken a different approach. Instead of Davis' teary-eyed "I'm tellin' ya, those guys played their guts out," we get Crennel's refusal to spin stupidity or poor performance on the part of his team.

Let me give you an example. After the Colts game, Crennel was asked about the brain-dead taunting penalties that Braylon Edwards and Antonio Bryant received. Undoubtedly, Butch would have spewed some bilge about how he doesn't like the penalties but appreciates the intensity, blah, blah, blah. Romeo Crennel said something like "don't stick the ball in a guy's face, hand it back to the official." He went on to say that discipline was one of the things that he felt the Browns needed to focus on.

Here's another one: lately, the media's been on a "when is Braylon going to get more playing time?" kick. You gotta love Crennel's response to that: when he makes more plays.

The attitude's refreshing, but can Crennel and company right the ship? You got me. But I kind of like what I've seen so far. I think Maurice Carthon knows what he's doing as an offensive coordinator. In particular, I thought the play-calling against Green Bay was superb. The jury's still out on the defense, but they've shown signs of life too. They give up a lot of yards (they rank near the bottom in both passing and running yardage), but not as many points as you might think (they rank 17th here, according to Grossi's column this morning). Plus, they've played two future Hall of Fame QBs and the hottest QB in the league (Carson Palmer) so far this season, so maybe we ought to cut them some slack.

The bottom line is that this team isn't going to win a lot of games this year, but this week is one where I like their odds. Orton's coming off a five interception performance against the Bengals and a stint as the Internet's bye-week bad boy, so I don't expect the Bears to be an offensive juggernaut. On the other hand, their defense has certainly been tough so far. The line is Browns by 3. I'm going to go with the Browns, 16-7, but I've got no plans to quit my day job.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Deserve's got nothin' to do with it

The idea for my nom de plume came from a comment that Vinny made at Sunday's Tribe game. I had predicted that the Indians would go down in flames in last weekend's series, but hope continued to flicker in Vinny, even after the Wahoos' performance against the Devil Rays and Ben Broussard's imitation of a tee ball player with ADHD during his 11th inning at-bat on Friday night. As reality began to sink in on Sunday, Vinny turned to his companion at the game and reportedly said, "what really bothers me most is the way that hornless rhino is gonna strut around about being right about this."

Strut? No way. First of all, on my best days, I look like a clean shaven version of Bob Wickman, so strutting would not be a pretty sight for anyone. Also, I'm not happy about what happened to the Tribe over the weekend--far from it. I'm like you. I got physically ill when Edgar Renteria singled in the 11th inning of Game 7 and when Byner fumbled. I still want to tar and feather the umpires for giving the Braves' pitching staff a strike zone that was a foot wider than the plate in 1995, and you'll never convince me that Karliss' field goal in overtime in 1987 was good. Michael Jordan is Satan. John Elway is the Anti-Christ. In fact, if the Browns, Cavs, or Indians win a championship, I'll be the first in line to pillage downtown. But folks, it just isn't going to happen.

There's a new civic boosterism campaign out there called "Believe in Cleveland." Okay, whatever-- I like it here too. But as we start out with this blog, maybe I should tell you what the H.R. himself believes, just so you won't get the wrong impression and starting looking for comments like "WOOF! WOOF! BROWNS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!" on this site.

I believe that the Tribe will never win a World Series.

I believe that the Browns will never win a Super Bowl.

I believe that the Cavs will never win an NBA Championship.

I believe that Cleveland will never get an NHL franchise, but that if it did, the team would never win the Stanley Cup.

I believe that the Force or the Crunch or whatever the name of the indoor soccer team is doesn’t count.

I believe that people who think the indoor soccer team counts are effete Eurotrash who ought to move to freakin’ France if they love soccer so freakin’ much.

I believe that bad Cleveland teams serve essentially the same function as the Washington Generals do when they play the Harlem Globetrotters.

I believe that good Cleveland teams are destined to be nothing more than role players in somebody else’s highlight film.

I believe that a victory by a Cleveland team should be viewed merely as setting the stage for a more painful defeat.

I believe that if a Cleveland team looks like Destiny’s Darlings, Brian Sipe will throw an interception, Jim Chones will break his foot or Jose Mesa will decide to throw sliders.

I believe that Cleveland is where talented sports figures with great credentials come to fail.

I believe that Cleveland fans think that the people at Fox (especially McCarver), ESPN (especially Gammons and Morgan), CBS, ABC, NBC, MLB and the NFL are biased against us.

I believe that Cleveland fans are operating under the mistaken assumption that we are somehow important enough to the foregoing people and organizations for them to develop a bias against us.

I believe that the entire population of Northeast Ohio was put on this planet to provide the rest of the nation with convenient, one-stop shopping for all their scorn and derision needs.

I believe that other cities beat our teams because the people who live there are better looking, smarter and more successful than we are.

I believe that the most important thing our schools can teach our children is how to conjugate the verb “to suck.”

Most of all, I believe that people who think Cleveland and its great fans “deserve “ a championship ought to remember what William Munny said to Little Bill in “Unforgiven” just before he blew him away:

Deserve's got nothin’ to do with it.


Welcome to Vinny and the Hornless Rhino. Vinny and I will provide periodic musings on the always dismal Cleveland pro sports scene and anything else we feel like pontificating about.