Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Missed Opportunities.

Everyone in the world believed that the Tribe was shopping for a reliever, but they didn't get one. I suspected that it wouldn't happen by the deadline when I found out that the Indians wouldn't trade Ben Francisco for Octavio Dotel. Dotel ended up going pretty cheaply to the Braves for Kyle Davies. In this case, the numbers don't lie. Davies is a bum. The Braves really gave up very little for a guy who's closed games. I guess I have some sour grapes about that one. A deal for Dotel was one that Shapiro and Jacobs should have liked: the Indians wouldn't have had to give up any real talent (Francisco ain't the guy he was the first week he was called up --- so don't bust my hump about that one) , Dotel is relatively cheap, and he would have improved the back end of the 'pen.

The Red Sox did even better. They got Eric Gagne, who's been lights out, for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre. While Gabbard has some value and Beltre could be a monster talent...in four or five years, the Red Sox successfully refused to give up any grade A talent like Jacoby Ellsbury, who's going to be a terrific lead-off hitter. Jon Daniels of Texas has to be catching hell that he didn't just get one good prospect rather than 2 pieces and one guy who's future is a long torturous way off. I never thought that the Indians would really be in the hunt for Gagne, but I'm not happy that Boston got him. The Sox are the team to beat this year, and will now trot out Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Eric Gagne and Jon Papelbon for innings 7 through 9. As they like to say in The Hub, that's wicked mean. Worse than wicked mean, the Tribe can't match up with that bullpen, and it's not even close. That matters. In the post season, a bullpen takes on heightened importance. If the Tribe's lucky enough to get in, their first round opponent will be the BoSox.

Shapiro's almost assured to be working the phones to get a reliever, but it's going to be tougher. Anyone he gets will have to pass through waivers.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Give Quinn a Break

I'm on record as not being the biggest Brady Quinn fan who ever lived, but seriously guys, give the kid a break. There's no doubt that Quinn needs to be in camp, but a lot of what's going on the media right now strikes me as piling on.

Quinn's holdout was a major topic of conversation in this morning's papers. Terry Pluto (here) and Pat McManamon (here) both took potshots at Quinn in this morning's Beacon Journal for not showing up on time, while Mary Kay Cabot added her two cents in one of the other local papers. The media was egged on in its assault on Quinn by Phil Savage, who made sure to tell everyone with a microphone at camp yesterday that Quinn was hurting his chances to start -- not that those chances were good to begin with.

The Browns fan in me desperately wants Quinn in camp, but the part of me that remembers how the NFL treats its players and retirees sympathizes with Quinn and his agent. I don't think there are a group of athletes in this country who are less well represented by their union than NFL players. While I would hate to see the NFL go to the "inmates running the asylum" model that the MLB has adopted, I would like to see a little more balance between the players and owners when it comes to contractual arrangements. Until that happens, when there's a holdout, my sympathies tend to run toward the player.

NFL contracts are a complete joke. Aside from what a player gets up front, most of the money usually isn't guaranteed. Compared to baseball, the pension is miserly and many players' careers are too short to qualify for it in the first place. The players union couldn't conceivably be more in the pocket of the owners, and NFLPA President Gene Upshaw's disdain for any constituencies other than active players is well documented. Under these circumstances, a holdout is often the only leverage a player has with a club.

Brady Quinn has been a Browns fan since he was a little kid. My guess is that he wants to play QB for the Cleveland Browns just about as much as you or I would if we were in a similar position. On the other hand, this may also turn out to be his one shot to parlay all of the sacrifices he and his family have made for his football career into a shot at financial security. Why begrudge him that opportunity?

Quinn has made some bad decisions recently (the autograph thing was idiotic), and his "I know you picked me 22nd, but I'm really a top ten pick" bargaining position seems delusional. But on the other hand, fans shouldn't let the Browns front office get away with pointing the finger entirely at Quinn and his agent for this mess. As Pat McManamon observed the other day, a lot of NFL people think the Browns could have prevented this holdout with a five minute phone call to Tom Condon before Quinn was drafted, so he's not the only one who has shown poor judgment on the contract front.

Besides, the most important thing about this holdout is that in the long run, it's irrelevant. Brady Quinn just isn't going to be the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns this season, and that would have been the case even if the guy signed last April. Many people are very high on Quinn's potential as an NFL QB, but putting him behind center this season would probably be suicidal not only to his career, but to the careers of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel as well.

Neither of those guys is stupid, and both of them (and especially Crennel), know that their job security depends on the Browns showing some improvement on the field this year. They also know that a veteran QB is likely to put them in the best position to do that. Tossing the keys to a new offense to a rookie QB is a big-time roll of the dice, and under the circumstances, I just can't see Crennel or Savage doing something like that.

So if Quinn and his agent want to play the holdout game a while longer, who cares? The big name rookies who the team is counting on this year are Thomas and Wright -- and Savage deserves a lot of credit for getting them both signed and in camp on time. My guess is that Quinn will be there shortly, but don't bust the kid's chops just yet. He's trying to get the best outcome that he can in a game that's rigged against him.

"Don't hate the playa, hate the game."

"Something wicked this way comes."

Bonds hit number 754 last night, and now it's just a simple waiting game. Since 1921, only two men have had their names associated with the title "Home Run King." Now, the next time Bonds connects, that miserable interloper will scrawl his name, like offensive graffiti, into baseball history. Few will like it. All will be exposed to it. And it will remain there until someone can erase it.

Some people will treat the new number as legitimate. Proud to Be Yer Bud grudgingly is one of them. He feels kind of stuck. He hates the situation. He knows that the record is tainted, but he's too cautious to start screwing around with picking which records are legitimate. I have to respect him for that, especially since Bud's guts have to be twisting. Hank Aaron may be Bud's best friend in all of baseball. He's clearly the former player that Bud admires the most. Although the Rhino talked about The Trouble with Hank, there's no doubt that that man, Henry Aaron, is the Home Run King and will remain so for another 10 years.

Someday soon, Bonds will jog around the bases to a cacophany of boos and ignorant cheers, and claim the title of Home Run King. That day, I'll be a little sad. Even though I'm too jaded to wax rhapsodical about the purity of baseball, there are still some things that should mean something. This means nothing. Bonds' record will carry all the legitimacy of an antipope.

So, while Bonds cavorts and gambols, I'll be the guy wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Best Cleveland Games I've Ever Seen

Sports Illustrated's website has been running a feature called "The Best Game I've Ever Seen," in which the magazine's writers contribute articles on the best sporting events they've ever witnessed. Some of the contributions are pretty cliché, such as the always tiresome Frank Deford's pick of the 1958 NFL Championship (way to go out on a limb there, Frank). Others are much more idiosyncratic. For example, Lisa Altobelli selected the 1995 Beanpot, which is a college hockey tournament that most people who aren't hockey fans or didn't go to college in New England have never heard of.

Most of the essays that SI's writers have provided are worth reading, and they've made me give some thought to the best games involving Cleveland teams that I've ever seen. So I've tried to pick out just one game for each of the three Cleveland franchises that really stands out in my mind. These may not have been the teams' greatest victories, but they are the ones that stand out in my mind as being the most exciting and most memorable.

It took me a while to mull over my selections for the Indians and Browns, but let's start with the Cavs, because that choice was a piece of cake. We all watched it just a couple of months ago -- LeBron's otherworldly performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. There's not much to be said about that game that hasn't already been written. It was, quite simply, the greatest individual performance by any Cleveland athlete in my lifetime, and the essence of that performance has been captured in what should become an iconic photograph of LeBron's final basket of the game.

Picking the "best" Tribe and Browns games that I've ever seen was much harder. For the Indians, I gave some thought to Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS (remember Kenny Lofton's mad dash to score from second in the 8th inning on a passed ball?), which is Tom Hamilton's personal favorite. I also thought about Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS. That extra-inning gem featured not only Tony Fernandez's game winning home run, but the guttiest pitching performance and some of the best defense I've ever seen. The Orioles left 14 runners stranded on that memorable afternoon, thanks to Charles Nagy and defensive gems like Matt Williams and Omar Vizquel's "wheel play" to keep Mike Bordick from reaching third on Robbie Alomar's bunt in the 7th.

In the end though, I didn't pick either of those games. For me, until the Indians reach the promised land, nothing will ever top Game 5 of the 1997 ALDS against the New York Yankees. The drama actually started in Game 4, when the Yankees were just four outs away from a rematch of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles. Then Sandy Alomar smashed a home run off of Mariano Rivera to tie the game in the 8th, and the Tribe won it in the ninth when Vizquel scored Grissom with a single off the glove of Ramiro Mendoza.

That set things up for Game 5, a game that the Yankees were still confident that they'd win. It didn't turn out that way though, as the Tribe got three runs off of Andy Pettitte in the 3rd inning, and manufactured what proved to be the winning run in the following inning, after Jim Thome -- I still don't believe this, by the way -- bunted to move Sandy Alomar to third base, where he was subsequently driven home on a sac fly from Tony Fernandez. The Yankees scored two in the fifth and one in the sixth to make the last three innings some of the most excruciatingly tense baseball I've ever seen.

Paul O'Neill doubled with two out in the 9th to bring the winning run to the plate, but then Bernie Williams came up and hit a lazy fly to Brian Giles in left, just in front of the warning track. I had the great good fortune to be there that night, and as the ball settled into Giles's glove for the final out, I watched as the 42,000 fans at Jacobs Field erupted with an explosion of joy that had been building up for 40 years.

The AL pennants in 1995 and 1997 were awesome, but in some respects, that 1997 ALDS was the high point of those great Indians teams of the 1990s. After all, it wasn't the Mariners, and it wasn't the Orioles, it was The New York Yankees that the Indians beat in that series -- and they were defending World Series champions to boot. Just eight years earlier, Hollywood had made Major League, which was a Tribe fan's fantasy based on the absurd premise that the Indians would beat the Yankees in a playoff. In 1997, they did just that.

When it comes to the Browns, there are also plenty of contenders for the title of best game I've seen, including the double overtime playoff win over the Jets in 1986 (thanks again Mark!), and the Don Strock led comeback victory over Houston that put the Browns in the playoffs in 1988. But for my money, the Browns 34-30 playoff victory against the Buffalo Bills in 1990 takes the grand prize. It is easily the greatest pro football game that I've ever seen in person, and the best Browns game I can remember. It doesn't seem to get the attention that it deserves from Cleveland fans, but boy, the Bills fans sure haven't forgotten it.

This game had everything: lead changes, long touchdown passes, spectacular kick returns, dropped touchdown passes and a critical missed extra point. Despite the offensive fireworks, it was also one of the most hard hitting playoff games I've ever seen, and featured one of the most memorable hits in NFL history. The game was in doubt until the very last seconds, as Jim Kelly engineered a drive that put the Bills in scoring position at the Cleveland 12 yard line. However, a wide open Ronnie Harmon dropped a sure touchdown pass, and on the next play, Clay Matthews intercepted Kelly on the one yard line with :03 left to seal the victory.

A couple of memories from that game stick out in my mind. The first involved a play late in the third quarter. Thurman Thomas had just scored on a six yard pass from Jim Kelly to cut the Browns lead to three points. My two brothers (both die hard Bills fans) were sitting next to me when Scott Norwood kicked the ball off. My youngest brother saw where it was heading and groaned, "Oh, no, don't kick it to Metcalf!" Sure enough, 90 heart-stopping yards later, Eric Metcalf was in the Buffalo end zone, and the Browns were up by 10 points once again.

The second memory, of course, involved Clay's interception. We were seated high up in the west end zone, right above where Matthews intercepted Kelly's pass, and I'll never forget that moment, as the old stadium rocked with noise. It was simply unbelievable.

But the best thing about that interception was the way that NBC covered it. After the game, I went to a friend's house to watch a tape of it. Charlie Jones covered the game for NBC, and when Matthews intercepted the pass, he said "intercepted by Clay Matthews!" That was also the last thing he said. Bernie came on with the offense to take a knee, while the NBC cameras showed the pandemonium in the stands at Municipal Stadium. The game ended, the Browns ran off the field, and Charlie Jones just shut up, and let the pictures tell the story.

For a town that hasn't won bupkis in 40 plus years, we've had our moments, haven't we?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Trouble With Hank

Hank Aaron is finally getting his due from the media. He made the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated, and was the subject of a fawning profile written by that magazine's best writer. Part of me is very happy for Aaron, who has always struck me as a gracious and classy man and a worthy holder of one of the greatest records in sports. But I've also got a problem with Hank, and it has to do with the Cleveland Browns.

As most Cleveland fans know, Hank Aaron was a long-time Browns fan who would even turn up incognito in the Dawg Pound at Municipal Stadium on occasion. Aaron's support of the Browns was a source of great pride to all of us, and his name would invariably come up in conversations about the Browns' large national fan base.

Some Cleveland fans may vaguely recall a little bit of unpleasantness 12 years ago involving the Browns, the City of Baltimore, a handful of moving vans, Al Lerner, Art Modell and a boy named "Honey." After that experience, I think every Browns fan could agree on one thing -- it would be a cold day in Hell before any of us would ever become a fan of the Baltimore Ravens.

Unfortunately, it appears that Hank Aaron didn't get that part of being a Browns fan. Aaron became pals with Art Modell, and when the Browns skipped town, he skipped with them. He wasn't quiet about it, either. For example, Hammerin' Hank not only showed up at the Ravens practice during Super Bowl week back in 2001, but also was instrumental in helping Ray Lewis lawyer up after the post-game festivities.

Hank, all I can say is "how could you?"

I have heard that Hank's become a fan of the new Browns, but as you can tell, I'm still bitter about this, and I don't think I'm the only Cleveland fan who feels this way. Hank Aaron was too great a ballplayer and is too great a man to ever really dislike, and God knows I'm not looking forward to Barry Bonds passing him. Nevertheless, Hank's transfer of his allegiance to the Ravens left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and it's definitely influenced my perception of him.

Maybe that's why when I read things that are intended to demonstrate Aaron's integrity, they seem more like examples of his sanctimony. For example, Tom Verducci's SI article notes that Aaron was and is a staunch advocate of playing the game by the rules. For that reason, Aaron supposedly wasn't crazy about the induction of spit-baller Gaylord Perry, who coincidentally was the Tribe's last 20 game winner, into the Hall of Fame.

I don't know about you guys, but as far as playing by the rules goes, I'll take getting thrown a spit ball by a MLB pitcher over having an NFL owner spit in my face any day of the week. But I guess Hank Aaron doesn't see things that way, and from my perspective, that's the trouble with Hank.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Being a Browns Fan Means Never Having to Apologize for the Uniforms

These are trying times for the National Football League. There's the fallout from Michael Vick's dog fighting indictment, PacMan Jones's Death Row Records lifestyle, and the criminal conduct of every person on the Cincinnati Bengals roster except the field goal kicker and the team chaplain. Then there's the contribution that Tom Brady and Matt Leinart have made to a disturbing rise in the illegitimacy rate among the "Caucasians earning more than $10 million per year" demographic.

While Roger Goodell is stressing out over these issues, I think that, in the end, all of these troubles are nothing that can't be fixed by a few well placed NFL-United Way ads. I wish the same could be said for an issue that's been bugging me for quite some time, and that's the ongoing uglification of NFL team uniforms. I'm not exactly sure which team started the trend, but there have been several uniform innovations over the past couple of decades that were godawful enough for everyone to take notice, and these seem to have become more frequent-- and more offensive-- in recent years.

The first change that really stands out in my mind was back in 1981, when the Bengals shed the blatant Browns rip-offs they used to wear in favor of a new look that was apparently designed by Tony the Tiger. Things went downhill from there, with carpetbagger teams like the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens raising the bar for ugliness, and established teams like the New England Patriots abandoning old school uniforms for the downright bizarre (goodbye Pat the Patriot, hello Flying Elvis). The ugliness trend reached its zenith a few years back when the Buffalo Bills unveiled their, ahem, distinctive design.

When I see uniforms like those worn by the Bills and Titans, I have the same reaction that I do when I walk into somebody's house and notice that they've got foil wallpaper in the bathroom. "Gee, they had a choice, and they actually chose this?" Honestly, those teams' two-tone jerseys appear to have jumped straight out of the pages of the 1973 Sears Catalog.

One of the unfortunate things about the NFL is that other teams frequently take their cues from what they see on the field on Sunday afternoons, and the uniform ugliness trend is no exception. The most notable example of this is the University of Oregon Ducks, whose horrific uniforms look like what James Caan wore in Rollerball.

If there's a silver lining in the dark cloud of uniform ugliness, it's that the Cleveland Browns have had nothing to do with it. There have been some bad ideas incorporated into the Browns' uniforms over the years, such as the orange jerseys that made them look like Creamsicles, and the brown socks, which have got to go, but the Browns wear basically the same uniform that they wore in 1952, when they went to the orange helmet full time (it was worn at night beginning in 1950).

Sure, the Browns uniforms are a little boring, and they don't make for real interesting throwback uniform days, but they definitely aren't aggressively ugly. Given what other teams have done with their uniforms, that's saying a lot.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A good evening

Last night, I joined some pals for what I thought was going to be a small cook-out. Well, our host surprised me by firing up shrimp, scallops, lamb chops, chicken and dogs. I hadn't seen some of those guys for too long, and it was great to catch up with them. There was plenty of cold beer to make a nice evening just right. Then, I took it to the gutter.

During a conversation with a buddy of mine, who is a law prof at CWRU, we got into a little light politics. That's when I casually mentioned that I'd read that Sen. David Vitters (R-La) liked his whore to diaper him (make sure you check out the impossibly weird campaign ad that Vitters ran in '04). He hadn't heard that, which kind of surprised me. He's a political hound, and stays abreast of important current events. Isn't that one? Anyway, my mistake was bringing it up while people were eating because Vitters alleged predilection made people speculate whether he occasionally NEEDS to be diapered. I guess that nugget probably was a little troubling to the several parents of young children who are still in diapers. They probably see enough sh** everyday and don't need to hear about Sen. Vitters' senatorial excrement. By the way, if you like piling on, go here.

It really was a good time.

When I got home, it was time to watch the Tribe spar with the Rangers. Paul Byrd kept the Rangers off balance for five plus innings, and everything else fell into place. Barfield went 3-4, drove in a pair, and stole a base. Even though he hasn't lived up to expectations feuled by a terrific rookie year, I like having Barfield on the team. He plays a pretty solid second base, and he's not utterly stationary on the basepaths. If he can return to the numbers he posted last year away from PETCO Park, he'd be a great two-hole hitter. Michaels and Martinez also chipped in with two rbi each, and the Tribe won 8-3. It was a good finish to a good day.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Good News, The Bad News, and The X Factor

The good news is that Mike Tanier from FootballOutsiders.com thinks very highly of Brady Quinn and expects him to develop into a Pro Bowl QB by 2009. The bad news begins with the fact that he doesn't feel that way about Frye and Anderson, and ranks the Browns' QBs 30th in the league overall.

Not surprisingly, the other components of the Browns' offense don't fare too well in the eyes of Tanier and his colleagues. Football Outsiders ranks the Browns' running game on a par with the QBs (30th overall), but they do manage a little more enthusiasm about Cleveland's receiving corps, ranking the Browns 16th overall. I don't really put a lot of weight in what most pundits have to say, but FootballOutsiders is kind of the bible when it comes to statistical analysis of professional football, and I tend to take their writers a bit more seriously than a lot of the other analysts out there.

Maybe that's just because statistical wonks intimidate me. After all, my math SAT score remains a painful memory and I still can't figure out how I was lucky enough to get a "C" in Calculus. On the other hand, maybe it's just because nobody in their right mind would rate the team any higher in these categories than they did at this point in the preseason.

While the FootballOutsiders writers don't think too much of the Browns, they're practically glowing in their assessment of the team compared to what other pundits have said. Fox's Peter Schrager puts the Browns dead last in his power rankings, as does Sports Illustrated's Peter King.

Still, in the midst of all the media's negativity toward the Browns, there's an "X factor" about the team that almost nobody is paying attention to right now, and that's the offensive line. I say almost nobody, because as our friend Dwayne Rudd discovered, someone over at CBS Sportsline has noticed that the Browns offensive line is much improved this season, and even has a chance to be--dare I say it?-- among the league's elite.

In order for this line to have a chance to be among the league's elite, LeCharles Bentley not only has to come back from his injury, but come back in All-Pro form. That's a lot to count on, but even if Bentley's not the same, this offensive line still has a chance to be a lot better than last year. That's because, as this analysis from Bitterfans demonstrates, any way you look at it, there's just a lot more depth on the offensive line than the Browns have had in years.

However, one of the biggest keys to realizing that potential is for Joe Thomas to get his ample behind into camp on time. Unfortunately, this appears increasingly unlikely, as Thomas seems content to spend his time speaking out against fish viruses, while Savage and the rest of the front office try to convince themselves and us that their negotiating position isn't really as idiotic and insulting as it sounds.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ghosts of Browns Stadium

There's a new film being made about Ernie Davis, a man whose untimely death has haunted Browns fans for almost 50 years. As I was reading about the film on Davis's life, I was struck by the fact that while he may be the greatest ghost to haunt the Cleveland Browns, he's not the only one.

The Cleveland Browns have other phantoms who live on in the bittersweet memories of longtime fans. Sadly, there are plenty of examples of athletes dying before their time, but with the possible exception of the Boston Celtics, I think you can make a case that no franchise has had its history altered more by untimely deaths than the Cleveland Browns.

That's because a couple of players who died before their careers had a chance to blossom were so good that you really do wonder whether the past 43 years might have looked a lot different, had they only been around long enough to live up to their potential.

Davis's tragic story is well known. While at Syracuse University, he led the team to the 1959 National Championship and became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Paul Brown fell in love with the idea of having Davis and Jim Brown in the same backfield, and traded All-Pro Bobby Mitchell to the Redskins in order to obtain the rights to Davis. Tragically, Davis died of leukemia before he ever played a down in a Cleveland Browns uniform. Although he never played for the Browns, no Cleveland Brown will ever wear his number 45 again.

Davis is a particularly haunting figure, not just because of his awesome potential, but because of what the Browns gave up for him. As I've contended before, whatever the Browns may have done with Davis, the loss of Bobby Mitchell almost undoubtedly cost them at least one NFL championship. Nevertheless, Davis is far from the only player whose absence may have helped to cost the Browns a title.

The 1962 off-season was devastating to the Cleveland Browns, so much so that it was included on the team's list of all-time memorable events that was put together for last season's 60th anniversary celebration. On January 18, 1963, Purdue halfback and Cleveland's 6th round pick Tom Bloom was killed in a traffic accident. Davis passed away in May, but what probably hurt the team even more was the loss of a rising star less than one month later. In June 1963, safety Don Fleming, who had been named to The Sporting News All-NFL team for the 1962 season, was electrocuted at a construction site were he was working as part of his off-season job.

The secondary was perhaps the biggest weakness on the Browns' defense in the mid-1960s. Ross Fichtner took over for Fleming in 1963, but it's hard to replace a budding All-Pro with a converted QB, and it showed. Had Fleming lived, he would've been paired at Safety with another All-Pro, Bernie Parrish, and the Browns defense of the mid-1960s would've looked a lot different.

All this talk about the secondary brings me to to the tragedy that undoubtedly had the greatest impact on the Cleveland Browns aside from the untimely deaths of Davis and Fleming. I'm referring to the loss of Safety Don Rogers in June of 1986. Rogers, who died of a drug overdose just days before his wedding in June 1986, was MVP of the 1983 Rose Bowl and the AFC's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1984. Don Rogers was 6'1" and 210 lbs. of pure fury. The man could flat out hit! He earned his Rose Bowl MVP award in part by knocking Michigan State's QB out of the game with a vicious hit.

What Browns fans wouldn't have given to see Don Rogers patrolling the secondary during The Drive! Third and 18 at the Browns 48 yard line? No chance, Horseface, no chance. "The Drive" goes down in history as "The Concussion."

It's hard to overstate the impact of the loss of Davis (and the related trade of Mitchell), Fleming and Rogers on the Cleveland Browns. Their deaths made an impression on their teams that lasted almost a decade. The Cleveland Browns of the 1960s appeared in championship games following the 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969 seasons, and had only the 1964 title to show for it. Would Davis or Mitchell and Fleming have made a difference? Almost certainly. The Browns of the 1980s made it to the AFC Championship game three times, and came away empty. Would Don Rogers' presence have made a difference? In at least one of those games, I think the answer is yes.

Aside from the Celtics, who lost two franchise players to untimely deaths less than a decade apart, I can't think of another pro team that you can plausibly argue has been as affected by death as much as the Cleveland Browns. The losses of Davis, Fleming and Rogers were tragedies that impacted lives of those who knew and loved them beyond anything that those who only knew them as fans could imagine. But we still can't help but be haunted by their deaths and by thoughts of how very different things might have been on the gridiron had they had the opportunity to reach their potential.

"For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these, 'it might have been.'"

Monday, July 16, 2007


...didn't Wedge pinch hit Shoppach for Barfield in the 9th? Barfield was 0-3 this season against Jenks, and Shoppach's never faced him. Rouse was available as a defensive substitution. Barfield was 0-4 going in to the at-bat vs. Jenks, while Shoppach is hitting .328 against right handers and has an OBP of .388. He's also hitting .359 with men on, and .400 with men on and two outs (check it out here). In contrast, Barfield's hitting .245 with men on, and .286 with men on and two outs.

If you go into that at-bat assuming Gutierrez gets to second base, Shoppach's hitting .444 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Barfield's no slouch either in these situations, but his batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position (.368) is still almost 80 points lower than Shoppach's. What's more, Shoppach is two for two as a pinch hitter with a game winning dinger against Oakland.

Barfield hasn't been swinging the bat very well lately, and with him coming into that at bat 0-4 on the night, why not opt for Shoppach?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A modest proposal

The Indians are in an AL Central Division pennant race with the very tough Detroit Tigers. If they don't win the division, they'll be in a dog-fight for the wild card.

For the big push, the Indians need some help. They could use another good, strong bullpen arm and a left-handed bat. The Texas Rangers can help with both. They could send Akinori Otsuka and Kenny Lofton to the Tribe for a good minor leaguer or two.

Otsuka would be a great right-handed set-up man and could handle the closer's duties if Borowski goes through a cold streak. He's 2-1 with 4 saves as Eric Gagne's set-up man. Opposing batters are hitting .218 against him. Only the Indians' two Raffy's---Betancourt and Perez have better batting averages against. Otsuka's been shut down for a couple of week due to a sore forearm, but he's supposed to be ready to go.

Old friend, Kenny Lofton, is also available. He's hitting .309 with a .391 on-base percent and has 20 stolen bases. He could play left field and lead off, which would let Wedge drop Sizemore to the three hole. Admittedly, that's a bit risky in that Wedge probably doesn't want to screw around with the top of his order, but it doesn't make sense to have Lofton and Sizemore back-to-back in the order. They're both left-handers. Kenny's only hitting .224 against lefties, and Sizemore's average against them is 30 points lower than his average against righties. The Brewers are supposedly sniffing around Lofton too. So, it's up to Shapiro to put together a nice package and to do it quickly.

Because they're the Rangers, they always need pitching, and this year is no exception. Of course they'd want Adam Miller, but he's too valuable for one year of Lofton and Otsuka. Chuck Lofgren (LHP) might be enough if paired with another minor leaguer. He's better than anyone the Rangers could get elsewhere and would give the Rangers a hard throwing lefthander who's not too far away from the majors. The other guy that the Rangers would really love would really test the Tribe's player personnel guys---Andy Marte. Texas would kill for a young thirdbaseman with some power. That sounds like what Marte is supposed to be but isn't yet. The Tribe's personnel people would have to decide what Marte's upside is and whether or not they'd be willing to part with him for a stretch run. I don't think the Indians have to give up Lofgren and Marte together. Each is a valuable guy, who could be paired with a solid but not great minor leaguer to get Otsuka and Lofton.

Both Lofgren and Marte are acceptable losses. I like them both. I'd like to keep them around to see what they could become, but I'd also like to see the Tribe win the World Series. Now, I'm not saying that Otsuka and Lofton get this team to the promised land, but it's a better team with them. On the other hand, standing pat could be fatal to any post-season dreams. The Red Sox and the Tigers are both great teams with strong pitching and formidable hitting. The Indians have to commit to winning it all, and they have to go get the pieces that give them a fighting chance to get out of the AL.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thank You Amy Hafner

It's hard to imagine much better news to begin the second half of the season with than the four year deal with Travis Hafner that the Tribe announced yesterday. Combined with Jake Westbrook's signing earlier this year, I think it's fair to say that Travis's extension provides some tangible evidence that the Dolans really are serious about building something here.

Ben Cox had an interesting post the other day about how the Coco Crisp trade explains a lot about why fans haven't been turning out in droves this season, despite the Tribe's performance. Ben's point is not that we're all sitting around pining for Coco, but that his trade was one of a series of events that helped to cement fans' belief that the Dolans just weren't credible when they said they'd spend money to win when the time was right.

After Mark Shapiro and his staff put together a bona fide contender in 2005, fans spent the offseason watching the Indians let guys like Kevin Millwood and Bobby Howry slip away to free agency without even putting up a fight. Then there was the Crisp deal, which most knowledgeable fans reacted to just like Vinny did. After that came the Brandon Phillips debacle, and the subsequent flushing of the 2006 season down the toilet.

The dismantling of the 2005 team made it easy for fans to overlook positive developments like the signing of extensions with guys like Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore. Frankly, I think a lot of us viewed those as classic "on the cheap" moves. After all, the Tribe didn't avoid free agency with these guys, just arbitration. The risk that was managed through these deals wasn't that the players would be lost to free agency, but the uncertainty of arbitration and the potential impact of an arbitrator's decision on the team's budget.

The signings of guys like Westbrook and Hafner are in a different category altogether. Let's face it, the Indians have flat out stepped up. The Dolans have made a $90 million commitment to the future of this ball club with these two players alone, and Paul Dolan's comments yesterday indicate that the team wants to be a serious player for CC's services as well. Frankly, his credibility when he says stuff like that is a lot higher now than it was before the season started.

Shapiro and Dolan are getting some well-deserved praise for this deal, but my guess is that a lot of the credit should go to Hafner's wife, Amy. She's from Cleveland, and Terry Pluto's column this morning mentions the prominent role that she played in his desire to stay with the Indians.

So while everyone else is slapping the guys in the Tribe front office on the back, I want to make sure to tip my hat to Mrs. Pronk. Hey, as every married guy out there knows very well, "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," so my guess is that, if anything, Pluto probably understated her influence on this deal. In any event, thank you, Amy Hafner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Boat Drinks

I thought I'd take this lull in the sports calendar to share some good news with you -- I'm getting a lot more enjoyment out of my summertime alcohol consumption than I used to, thanks largely to a very rewarding fling with rum.

I've always been good for a cocktail or two on a fairly regular (i.e., daily) basis, but my libation of choice has usually been beer or some kind of scotch whiskey (usually Dewar's). There's a lot to be said for scotch, but let's face it, it's nobody's idea of a refreshing hot weather drink. As for beer, well, when you're as big as I am and you've been drinking for as long as I have, you've got to consume enough to float a battleship to see any improvement in your mood.

I've recently rediscovered demon rum, and I must say that it's dramatically improved the quality of my summer buzz. For years, I stayed away from rum. I once saw a buddy of mine get second degree burns from drinking flaming shots of 151 proof rum. That experience kind of scared me off of "macho" rum drinks, and I wasn't confident enough of my masculinity to drink most other rum based concoctions, all too many of which come with a parasol stuck into them.

I decided to give rum another chance after reading a magazine article about bars that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent in Cuba. In that article, I discovered that Papa's favorite cocktails were the Daquiri and the Mojito. This wasn't the kind of drinking that I expected from the author of stories like The Killers, but it did prompt me to start rethinking my position on rum.

While I was willing to give rum another try, I wasn't going to go down the Mai Tai or Zombie path. Those drinks just have too much crap in them. I'm not looking for a drink that has 10 ingredients in it and takes 20 minutes to make. Also, I have an iron-clad "no blender" policy. In the summer, I want boat drinks minus the parasol.

The recent resurgence of the Mojito gave me the cover I needed to give rum another shot, so to speak. Yeah, it wasn't the most macho cocktail in the world, but since everybody else in North America was drinking Mojitos, I thought I could safely give one a try. I don't typically like sweet drinks, but I did like this one. It looked a little fruity with the mint and limes all over the place, but it was really refreshing and, with several ounces of alcohol in it, proved to be an extremely efficient mood elevator.

More recently, however, I've expanded my rum repertoire. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a soiree at a more sophisticated local watering hole than I'm accustomed to frequenting. The bartender was pushing a rum-based concoction that I'd never tried before. It was awesome. I asked what it was, and she told me that it was something called a "Dark 'n Stormy." For my money, it's close to a perfect summer drink. It's not too sweet, but goes down real easy and--like most rum drinks-- packs a wallop.

A little internet research led me to discover several things about this drink. First, I found out that I'm about a year behind the Dark 'n Stormy cocktail trend, which comes as no surprise to me. The second thing I learned is that this drink is sort of Bermuda's national cocktail. (You've got to love a country with a national cocktail. Good for you, Bermuda. This almost makes up for the shorts.) Finally, the most important thing I found out is that the recipe is ridiculously simple--it's a classic boat drink, just dark rum and ginger beer. In fact, the toughest thing about the drink is finding the ginger beer.

I guess the simplicity of the recipe wasn't the last thing I found out about this drink. I also discovered that the name "Dark 'n Stormy" is a registered trademark of Gosling's Rum in Hamilton Bermuda, and is only supposed to be made with their product, which is notoriously hard to get.

Hard to get, that is, unless you live in Hudson, Ohio, where the state store inside the local Acme has an ample supply of Goslings Black Seal Rum. God bless Acme, they even had ginger beer in stock.

So, while you guys have been sweating out the heat, I've been holding up just fine, thank you very much. My favorite new boat drink is keeping me cool. Heck, it even made the Antichrist's coverage of the All-Star game seem interesting. Okay, that's a lie, but it did make it easier to endure him.


Sunday, July 08, 2007


Rodger Federer just won his fifth Wimbledon title in a row! I think we can all agree that this feat ranks among the greatest (yawn)--excuse me, ahem... sorry ... the greatest (yawn) -- geez, I'm really sorry, I don't know why I'm so tired... Now, where was I--oh yeah, the greatest ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Saturday, July 07, 2007

So, the prez, in his infinite wisdom, commuted the sentence of Uncle Dick's pal, Scooter Libby. Is that news?

Is there a person alive who reads the news occassionally who ever doubted that Libby would get pardoned or that his sentence would be commuted? I can't believe there is.

I know that a lot of media people and politicians are expressing surprise or outrage at it, but that's what they're paid to do, including the members of Congress. Scooter fell on his sword to protect Uncle Dick and his other operatives, and this is the quid pro quo. It's as simple as that.

This post isn't meant to support Libby. He was guilty as hell, and others have gotten a lot of time for the same or similar actions---just ask Martha Stewart. I just know that in Youngstown, Ohio and apparently, in Washington D.C., nobody likes a rat. Scooter knew that. So, he dissembled. He feigned ignorance. He lied. But, mostly importantly for the neo-conservative cabal, he kept his mouth shut. As a result, the boys took care of him.

I'm tired of hearing people talk about the "implications" of the action, and a few hill-billy defense lawyers suggesting that the federal courts will be inundated with a flood of Libby motions seeking relief for a bunch of murders, thieves, perjurors, and obstructers of justice. So what?

Then, federal judges will deny a bunch of the so-called "Libby motions." Big deal.

The good news is that apparently 54% of the American people think Uncle Dick should be impeached. That really cracks me up because, even though he will, in characteristic fashion, tell whichever toady pads in to give him the morning's dose of bootspittle to fuck off, in the deep part of his gnarled and darkened soul, he'll be pissed off that what he believes is a bunch of morons (aka lots of Americans) dare think they could pass judgment on him.

The other bit of good news is that I love when the prez es-plains legal issues like his decision to commute Scooter. If I knew when he was going to do it each day, I'd set my TV to record him. For comedic purposes, this guy's a friggin' gem.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who's the "MAN?"

C-H-E-S-T-N-U-T. Joey Chestnut.

Today, he defeated six-time champ, Takeru Kobayashi, in the 92nd Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. That freak ate 66 hot dogs, including buns, in 12 minutes. It's a new world record, beating Chestnut's recent 59.5.
The great Kobayashi also beat the world record by eating 63 dogs. He had been consistently behind Chestnut by 5 dogs most of the way, but with 7 minutes left, Kobayashi made his move. He momentarily took the lead at 60 and appeared to have momentum on his side, but as the great Howard Cosell would have said, "But wait. Kobayashi had not reckoned with the indomitable will of Joseph Christian Chestnut. Chestnut would regroup and continue with his amazing onslaught."
I watched the whole thing. It was great.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Are you kidding me?

I just read that LeCharles Bentley said he was going to be in training camp and will play this season. That's stunning. Everything I've heard about his status has been pretty dire.

There has to be something else going on here like a need for him to show up to get some sort of roster bonus. Good news like this apparently is doesn't generally come out of Berea.