Friday, December 29, 2006

Mike Tyson or Martial Arts!


Today, The most dynamic heavyweight champion boxing ever had, surprised all of us one more time. "Iron" Mike Tyson was arrested today for driving under the influence and cocaine possession. Ok, to anybody who has followed Mr. Tyson's escapades this arrest isn't really a surprise, this man has destroyed himself and is a shell of the champion he used to be. That being said, Tyson's stories are one of the only reasons the casual sports fan even remembers boxing exists.
Lets face it folks the heavyweight division of boxing is dead and gone. There is no more Dempsey, Ali ,or yes even Tyson for us to enjoy. When we look at boxing we see, although talented, small men who pound each other longer than a bad Ron Jeremy movie. Most fights end with two bruised men waiting for a panel of judges to decide their fate. This is not what a true fan wants. We yearn for decisive beatings handed out in short order. We are men, and as men we need carnage and grown men going to sleep from crushing blows, right before our very eyes.
Don't fret men. I have a solution. This great solution is called Ultimate Fighting Championship. I could rattle on and on about how wonderful these contests are, but this isn't a commercial. So here are the facts. This Saturday, the Light Heavyweight Champion of the world Chuck "the Iceman" Liddell will be defending his title in a rematch of a 2004 fight, against Tito Ortiz. The last time these two men battled, Liddell laid a beating on Ortiz in the 2nd round and sent him to Neverland, it was beautiful. Besides this contest the card includes a great bout between Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski and Marcio Cruz.
These contests are as close as we can get to the coliseum in Rome. If you like violence, and who doesn't, this card is the must see fight of the year. So if you got the sack, order up the fight on Saturday and witness a return to a better time. When men actually got in the ring to hurt each other and not dance a waltz.
Oh yeah, the fight is going to cost you about forty bucks. So before you start crying, I thought I might remind of what you spent forty dollars on this year.

1. Cheese

2. Jerky

3. A present for some woman, who didn't even appreciate it!

4. Some ungrateful child.

5. Oil changes

Bottom line You deserve this! Do it for you! Plus it is a great excuse to get all the guys together and get drunk.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

It's Blackhawks Time

The home attendance at a recent Blackhawks game was 17,950 fannies in the seats.

No, Janet Jackson wasn't singing the National Anthem nor was Alanis Morisette singing "O Canada" for the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

No, some hibernating Blackhawks fans just found out that they're actually winning on west Madison Avenue these days. Since Denis Savard took over head coaching duties, the team is 9-3-3, and is actually a game over .500 at the midway point in the season for the first time in a long time, 16-15-5.

Strangely enough, they're winning without the benefit of a decent power play (12.3%, good for 27th in the league), but with Nikolai Khabibulin not stealing from the 'Hawks coffers anymore, the team can actually be counted on making all the games competitive.

They even beat Marty Turco and the Dallas Stars on Tuesday 2-1, Turco being a goalie who was 11-1-1 against the Blackhawks for his career. The Stars were also 23-13-0 prior to the 'Hawks game, a team currently in front of the Blackhawks for a playoff spot.

Dale Tallon's addition of 500 goal scorer Peter Bondra has helped lift the scoring even if the 'Hawks still don't have a viable answer at Center.

But I'm certainly not the best Blackhawk analyst by any means (my forte being more hoops and baseball), so I'd like to direct your attention once again to the best Blackhawks site around -- WirtzSucks.com -- and its administrator, MrMiller, as he hands out his mid-season grades for the Blackhawks.





Click on the above banner for the jump and enjoy!

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Are the Bulls Soft?

My thoughts on a topic that's gonna be discussed ad nauseum today on sports radio, Sportscenter and sports blogs.

Two incidents dominated yesterday's Bulls / Heat game:
  1. Dwyane Wade injured his wrist, and according to Pat Riley it happened because Kirk Hinrich yanked D-Wade's hand fighting thru screen. Riley, for all intents and purposes, said the play was dirty and goes unnoticed all the time.
  2. James Posey committed a flagrant foul on an airborne and defenseless Luol Deng, leaving Deng writhing in pain while holding his wrist.
Initially the incidents look separate and unrelated. The Wade injury happened before half of the first quarter was over and the Posey flagrant foul happened with about half of the fourth quarter left to play.

But I wonder.

Wade was conspicuously pissed about the wrist. He didn't leave the game right away; while trying to play thru the pain he delivered a shoulder block to the sternum of Andres Nocioni setting a pick for Kirk Hinrich. Olin Kreutz would have been proud of the hit, and Wade was clearly upset. Pat Riley voiced his opinion about the Wade injury after the game:
"Hinrich pulled his hand. Hinrich grabbed his hand, which he does all of the time," Riley said. "That's what he does anytime Dwyane comes off screens. They always either grab his shirt or hand. It's a little bit of a tactic down below the body. The officials can't see it. So he had Dwyane's hand and tried to pull it out of there."
Reading between the lines, Riley was calling the play dirty; he was calling Kirk Hinrich a dirty player. And to a greater extent, by his use of the word 'they,' he was calling all the Bulls defenders dirty. I don't have to remind Bulls fans that this is the man by and large responsible for the mucking up of NBA basketball in the 1990's. He was the architect of the defensive-minded New York Knicks and utilized tough, hard-nosed players like John Starks, Anthony Mason and Xavier McDaniel. Some might go so far as to call those players dirty. Some might go so far as call those players thugs. Some might even go so far as to say Pat Riley specifically used playground tactics in direct opposition to the high-flying style of basketball he once employed as the coach of the 1980's, Magic Johnson-led 'Showtime' L.A. Lakers. So Riley is no stranger to the nuances of dirty play and should be able to call it as he sees it.

But Riley is also no stranger to the psychological side of basketball either, and neither are Bulls fans like myself who can remember clearly the days of Phil Jackson at the Bulls' helm. So when Riley spouts off to the media about dirty play and Kirk Hinrich, he's more than calling attention to perceived dirty play. He's planting a seed in the minds of officials and NBA management to keep an eye on the Chicago Bulls and their style of play.

Obviously the ploy is working for D-Wade; he's second in the league in 10.4 free throw attempts per game, and anyone watching Game 5 of last year's NBA Finals recognizes a referee with instructions to watch out. (This isn't a conspiracy theory in favor of the Miami Heat but acknowledgment after watching thirteen years of MJ play.) As for the Hinrich side of the Riley ploy, Kirk is tied for third in the league amongst all guards at 3.4 fouls per game.

Are Riley's words and Hinrich's fouling related? Maybe, maybe not. But when one of the NBA's pretty boys (a la MJ) and major marketing toys becomes end
angered, you better believe the suits will intervene regardless of how much wolf is being cried.

Let's also not forget that Pat Riley is an old school guy. He played during the era of Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier, and in those days no rough foul went unrewarded or without retaliation. So when the opportunity presented itself in a meaningless regular season game to pay back the Bulls for their hard play with superstar and NBA stud D-Wade, should we be surprised that James Posey responded with a flagrant foul?

This isn't James Posey's first run-in with the Bulls either. During last season's playoffs, Posey intentionally blindsided Kirk Hinrich on a Bulls' fast break with a shoulder block; said blindside earned him a one game suspension. Opening night, Halloween 2006, Posey welcomed Bulls' rookie Tyrus Thomas with a flying elbow (needless and hence intentional after viewing the video) that broke the rookie's nose and required the use of a face mask by the rookie. He's been responsible for other little shots and fouls that, while not as egregious as the flagrants, still take their toll on the bodies and minds of his opponents.

Posey's place in the Heat scheme of things is seemingly complex. He has nice range from beyond the arc, can man up defensively and has length to utilize on the boards. But deeper than that he's an instigator, a player who can contribute but not fear the implications of league judgment on his rough play because his team doesn't necessarily need his contributions. Basically he's an enforcer with skills in the Charles Oakley mode if not in stature.

Picture Pat Riley in the locker room at half time inquiring about the status of D-Wade, and then giving the team a "win one for the Gipper" speech all while not taking his eyes off James Posey. The subliminal message does not go unheeded by Posey, and Luol Deng becomes the target of Posey's and -- latently --Riley's ire. Pat Riley is too smart to ever actually call for a flagrant foul, but incitement and motivation are certainly tricks of the trade, and he's a master at his craft.

But tell me this Bulls fans, where was the defense of Luol Deng? Where was a teammate with a shove or a even a harsh word for the punk play of Posey? Closest to Deng in terms of on-the-court spacing was big, bad Ben Wallace. Has the judgment from the Malice in the Palace so jaded him that he fears a small man in a suit more than he does a guy 6' 8", 217lbs.? Maybe Ben can be forgiven knowing the consequences of such actions, but where's Kirk Hinrich? Surely someone so closely acquainted with the dirty play of Posey would tire of the thuggery and do or at least say something. Where's Chris Duhon, team leader and voice? Where's Andres Nocioni, Luol's new, close friend? Were Tyson Chandler still around, I know he would did something.

Listening to Bulls coach Scott Skiles post game interview one could palpably feel his anger. Saying it would be "politically incorrect" to voice his opinion, I wonder if silently Skiles was disappointed in his team's reaction. I wonder if he thinks his team is soft. Were Skiles still playing, I have no doubt he'd do just what Nate Robinson of the Knicks did recently, only with a little more justice on his side, and jump head-first into the fray to protect a teammate.

And now after watching the video of the flagrant foul, I wonder how many other teams are gonna think they can get away with picking on the Bulls. How many other teams will try and push the Bulls around, take overly hard fouls? How many other teams will not fear repercussions of physical play against the Bulls?

But this is truly fence straddling territory, as throwing punches or retaliatory flagrant fouls would certainly cost the team in terms of game suspensions and even momentum, and I am not advocating violence. In fact I'm kind of impressed at the Bulls restraint, but just once I'd like to see a Y2K Bull pull an MJ-in-Xavier's-face just to show everyone they're not a bunch of sally's. Then maybe James Posey would think twice the next time he jumps at a Chicago Bull.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fleece & Flog's Week 16 NFL Top Five

It's celebration week here at Fleece & Flog. With 2006 about to be viewed from the rear-view mirror, we thought we'd celebrate a few of the interesting achievements and special players from this NFL season --maybe an MVP or ROY vote, maybe the player most likely to be caught in a compromising position with a lemming. We hope you enjoy 2006's last installment of the Top Five and the junk that usually precedes it.

The Rookies -- who knew?: Jay Cutler has been good, Matt Leinert better and Vince Young best; Reggie Bush has been a gift for New Orleans, and that big TE class, well, they've been less than stellar. But the true greatness has been the unknowns. Maurice Jones-Drew, Marques Colston (from Hofstra!) , DeMeco Ryans, Mark Anderson, Nick Mangold and Devin Hester head an unheralded group making a name for themselves in their first NFL seasons.

All Fellatio, All the Time: Two guys earn this title. 1) The ubiquitous Peyton Manning -- the man most annoying by being on T.V. even when there isn't a game, and 2) Brett Favre -- with the slimmest of an outside shot at making the playoffs in the final game of the season, the NFL allowed NBC to move the Sunday Bears/ Packers game to prime time. Yep, New Years Eve. There are gonna be a lot of pissed of women in Chicago and Wisconsin this Sunday night.

Just Shut Up and Play: Who else? Terrell Owens

Athletes Taking Pictures of Athletes: Using a mirror, Steelers kicker (yes, the kicker) Jeff Reed decided to show off his, umm, manhood to impress some chicks he met that night. This is why camera phones are a bad thing.

Biggest Overachieving Teams in 2006: Tennessee Titans (started 0-5 before inserting VY into the lineup, since then they're 8-2), New York Jets (no Curtis Martin, a lame Chad Pennington, and a team picked to be just above the Raiders can clinch a playoff spot with a win), and the hands down surprise team of 2006, the New Orleans Saints.

Biggest Underachieving Teams in 2006: Pittsburgh Steelers (don't even make the playoffs), Miami Dolphins (many a dark-horse choice for the Super Bowl) and the Carolina Panthers (maybe that underreported steroid scandal did take a toll ,or maybe karma's a bitch.)

Coincidental Play of the Year: Devin Hester of the Bears returns a missed field goal by the NY Giants 108 yards to tie an NFL record for longest return for a TD. The previous record was set a year prior, almost to the day, by the Bears Nathan Vasher against the SF 49ers.

My MVP: Landanian Tomlinson. Marty-ball is alive and well in San Diego, and unlike Shawn Alexander, Priest Holmes and Marshall Faulk in ten years when we are talking greatest RB's ever, LDT will be included.

Onto the Top Five------------------------
  1. San Diego Chargers (13-2): With one arm tied behind their backs, San Diego ho-hummed its way to victory over a charged up Seattle team that needed a win for momentum.
  2. Da Bears (13-2): Let the Grossman vs. Griese talk die. There is no controversy. There is no discord. The Griese playing time was planned. Maybe some should focus on the suddenly shoddy defense.
  3. Baltimore Ravens (12-3): I can't wait to see these guys square off with the Chargers in the AFC championship game. It's gonna happen. It happened earlier in the season. The outcome? One of SD's 2 losses.
  4. New England Patriots (11-4): Do you think Bill Belichick gives dating advice to Tom Brady? the two are breaking hearts all over New England and beyond.
  5. New Orleans Saints (10-5): Screw the Colts. The feel-good team of the year is led by a guy from Purdue with a mole the size of Rhode Island on his face. Ugly, like the state the city itself was in after Katrina.
Coming next week, Fleece & Flog's playoff predictions with what I can only foresee as heavily slanted in favor of Da Bears.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

It's Christmas Morning!

And so we wish all of our readers and friends Happy Holidays wherever you are.

We'd also like to wish a few things to a few extra special people, the ones who give us the inspiration for this blog.

For the Bears we'd like to wish a playoff victory; it's been so long that the diehards are even sucking the life outta the '85 team.

For Rex Grossman we'd like to wish a homing pigeon so he can start completing the long pass again.

For Tank Johnson we'd like to wish a judge with a sense of humor.

For the Bulls we'd like to wish a prototypical power forward to lend a hand on the boards on the days the regulars just don't have it.

For Kirk Hinrich we'd like to wish a new set of contacts so he can find his shooting eye again.

For Michael Sweetney we'd wish Richard Simmons' greatest hits.

For the Blackhawks we'd like to wish a trailer full of crash test dummies to at least give the illusion that the United Center is full of fans.

For Denis Savard we'd wish a quarry full of Energizer batteries so he can put some life into that dead power play.

For Martin Havlat We'd wish a bigger closet so he'll have a place to store all the hats he collects after hat tricks.

For the Cubs we'd like to wish a few more victories cuz I hate to see my Cubs fans friends so depressed in May after they've already conceded the division.

For Alfonso Soriano we'd like to wish a bottle of calamine lotion for when he comes down with a case of poison ivy after running into the wall at Wrigley Field.

For Mark Prior we'd like to wish a trade -- to the south side where Don Cooper can fix him, and the Sox can get the best years out of his career.

For the White Sox we'd like to wish a magician's assistant cuz smoke (BA) and mirrors (Pods) won't get it done in the outfield this season.

For Ozzie Guillen we'd like to wish a habanero pepper before each game so he'll have a different type of fire to extinguish when he opens his mouth.

For Joe Crede we'd like to wish all the man love and groupies in the world so he'll stay in Chicago after this season.

For Charlie Weis we'd like to wish a halo cuz when he beats LSU in the Sugar Bowl, he'll become St. Charles of South Bend.

For Bruce Weber we'd like to wish a CTA pass so he'll have access to the Chicago Public League top hoops recruits.

On a more personal note, I'd like to wish ChicagoCubbin a year's supply of tissue since he'll be crying in his beer after the Cubs average more than an error a game this season.

For Jeeves I wish another opportunity to run into Barry Bonds so he can stop straddling the fence and tell him how he really feels.

For Soxually Repressed, well, where do I start? Maybe a wiring kit to fix the negative circuitry in his head. And maybe a can of alphabet soup so he can suck on his P's & Q's. How about a Tardis so he has time for more posts and less comments. And maybe an internship at the Suntimes so he can ass munch his mentor, Mariotti, in person instead of in print.

So to all of you readers and blog brothers and sisters (Fornelli, CA, Panger, Dickie, Tank, etc.), Happy Holidays from the gang at Fleece the Pig, Flog the Pony.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Part 2 of Grandmaster Kenny Williams' Attack

In chess, a player must think ahead; he must plan his attack many moves ahead of his current move. It is said that a great chess player can see 20 (!) moves ahead of where he wants to end up in order to account for all scenarios.

When accumulating talent in today's MLB, a GM has to have the foresight of a great chess player. With minor league options, arbitration, and the Rule 5 draft all part of the landscape of MLB economics and scouting , he has to have a plan of attack talent-wise and salary-wise. He has to think not only for today but four years down the road. And let's not forget there's talent evaluation and speculation to take into consideration as well. A GM must have more than just one eye surveying the entire playing board of running a team; that's why he's paid the big bucks.

A few weeks ago when White Sox GM traded away pitcher Freddy Garcia to the Philadelphia Phillies for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, most people nodded in agreement knowing a spot must be opened for stud-in-waiting Brandon McCarthy. KW's underlying strategy: do not give up MLB-level pitching without getting young pitching prospects in return.

Today, KW made another deal with that same strategy in mind; he traded the aforementioned B-Mac to the Texas Rangers for the very highly touted John Danks and less regarded Nick Masset. Unlike the Garcia deal this move has left more than a few casual fans scratching their heads and for good reason. As it stands, without B-Mac or another move the White Sox are looking at an inexperienced pitcher (knuckler Charlie Haeger, Floyd, Danks) starting every 5th day in 2007, and the even the most casual fan will remember the debacle of 2002-2003 when the Sox had the unfathomable string of games where no starting pitcher in the 5th slot recorded a win for the White Sox.

But there's a deeper method to KW's madness.

From to 2003 thru 2005, KW somewhat ravaged the minor league system to bring in players who could immediately contribute. He traded away the future for the present, and a 2005 World Series championship says he was justified in doing so. Even though the White Sox didn't repeat, last year's moves were also shrewd and well thought out adding Thome, Vazquez, Thornton and MacDougal. But with those moves the minor league system was spread thin, and in a pinch, the Sox were left without much talent to develop looking toward the closing years of the decade. So beyond opening a spot in the rotation, this off-season KW has restocked the higher-level minor league pitching talent, and no longer can the Sox' system be looked upon as being devoid of true prospects -- both Danks and Floyd were high first round draft picks.

That Danks is a lefty (and he's younger than B-Mac) also gives the White Sox some insurance should Mark Beuhrle decide to move on after this season. Remember the AL Central has the likes of left-handed hitting Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Sean Casey, Joe Mauer, MVP Justin Morneau and even Sox killer Mark Teahan to deal with, and the odds of the lefty Beuhrle resigning with the Southsiders after 2007 are 50/50 at best.

As with the Garcia deal, the surprise moving of B-Mac -- once thought of as the only untradeable commodity on the Sox 40-man roster -- seems like a prelude to something bigger, some splashy move KW -- the new Jerry Krause? -- has cultivated quietly behind the scenes. Could some of the recently acquired prospects be used to pry a Rocco Baldelli or Carl Crawford from the Orlando Bay Devil Rays or maybe even an Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners?

To many observers and fans the LF/ CF situation is still untenable. Even though he resigned with the team, Pods has worn out his welcome with the fans, game winning homerun in the World Series be damned. And as last season showed, Brian Anderson -- he of the Venezuelan stomach virus -- learning on the job doesn't give the Sox the best chance at winning right now. (Impatience with prospects like BA is now the norm, especially when playing in the shadow of World Series trophy.) An upgrade at one of the two positions is expected in light of the glaringly bad 2006 seasons those two had, and now KW has the resources to make such an upgrade.

Or could there be an even bigger fish to catch, say one season of the Rocket Roger Clemens maybe?

So while other teams are dubiously and maybe even irresponsibly spending money this off-season (the Cubs, Red Sox, and even Kansas City -- Gil Meche for chrissake?), quietly KW first strengthened his bullpen and now his minor league system in a fiscally responsible manner. Although many look at his recent moves as mostly lateral, a closer look reveals KW has his eyes on not only the here and now but on the future as well. In three years when the Cubs are crying about the albatross of Alfonso Soriano's contract, KW will still have room to maneuver, be it in free agency or through the farm system and trades. Just like a chess grandmaster, KW's attack is not limited to one approach; he sees the whole board and can go in a different direction if need be. A lot of praise was heaped upon John Paxson and the Bulls' brain trust for their stellar personnel moves inciting some people to hail, "In Pax we trust!" Maybe it's time KW receives a little of the same recognition.

When he finally picks up that outfielder maybe then he can even say, "Checkmate!"

Initial reactions to the B-Mac trade from other baseball sites-------------------
This being Christmas weekend and the timing at which the B-Mac trade went down, there's not much in depth commentary yet posted. Fornelli's Foul Balls along with Black Sox Blog are all somewhat pissed and have reserved judgment, not unlike The Bard's Room, until they can take a closer look at deal. I expect Criminal Appeal over at Ron Karkovice Fan Club to chime in soon too and a Cheat rant can't be too far behind. But mostly the White Sox nation has expressed shock at the trade of the untradeable one; and, as I said, maybe KW should assume the old Jerry Krause moniker of "The Sleuth."

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Friday, December 22, 2006

What Will Dennis Do?

In the pantheon of good vs. evil rivalries there's David vs. Goliath, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader, George Bush vs. Osama Bin Laden (of course the last rivalry could just be evil vs. eviler.)

And now there's a burgeoning new rivalry to add to the list: the Dennis Rodman all-stars vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

Yes, you read that correctly.

One of the attractions in Las Vegas for the 2007 NBA All-Star game will be the venerable clown princes of hoops hi-jinx and harmony versus the original tattooed wonder and his team of merry misfits in addition to the Trotters' traditional circus show against the New York Nationals. While Dennis hasn't finalized a roster yet, I can only hope the lineup reads like the Syracuse Bulldogs or maybe the New York Knicks of 1990's.

Just think of the possibilities.

Imagine the happy-go-lucky Trotters facing off against a starting five of Bill Lambier, Anthony Mason, John Starks, Vernon Maxwell and the Worm himself with a bench of the likes of Ron Artest, Xavier McDaniel, Frank Brickowski, Kermit Washington, and Kevin Johnson. Add a Bill Cartwright for his elbows and a Reggie Miller for his chicken scratch fighting technique, and the Trotters might wanna think about playing in football pads.

No word yet on whether or not the recently divorced Carmen Electra will be the leader of the cheerleading squad or if Dennis will just pay the day staff at The Pink Palace to moonlight with pompoms.

Family fun for all!

(Photo courtesy of AskMen.com)

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bye Bye Brett?


Well today we are going to hopefully put to rest a wonderful myth that has been flying around the sports world. That marvelous idea, that I so wish was true, Brett Favre will retire after this season. NFL network has advertised tonight's meaningless contest as our last chance to see Favre at home in front of the cheese heads. Although this may get a few of us to watch the great match-up that is VIKINGS at Packers, the idea that Farve is going to hang it up after this year is right up there with velcro hats and electric water wings. Lets take a look at the facts. Brett Farve is 37 yrs old. This year his QB rating is 74.8 and he has a 56.8% completion percentage. Brett has thrown for 3,315 yards with 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and has taken 18 sacks. Ok, these aren't the numbers that reflect a player who in the 90's won 3 consecutive MVP awards and led the Packers to back to back Super Bowls, including a championship in Super Bowl XXXI. That being said, these aren't your Pappa's Packers, they are a shell of the team we love to hate. Almost every player is young and inexperienced. So with Favre not performing, and a bunch of youngsters, the Packers are 6-8 with a mathematical chance at the playoffs. Granted this is mostly due to the NFC and its abysmal state, but this season has been good enough so that Green Bay isn't calling for the head of there king just yet. Brett Favre sits 7 TDS away from Dan Marino's record of 420 passing touch downs. A Record that he would definitely come back to break if he isn't able to do it this year. Brett Favre is going to make his 256th consecutive start tonight. Brett Favre is an icon and a hero to a town were football is life, and the only way he is going to retire is when the owner of the Packers takes good old Brett out behind the wood shed and gives him the "old yeller treatment". Hey, look on the bright side, us Bears fans get to watch our once mighty tormenter fizzle and fade. A sweet show that I for one, will enjoy.

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Start Shredding the News

Sometimes it's impossible to fear something until it becomes real, until a face is put to an action, until a crime is perpetrated against you or a loved one. People can say they fear radioactivity. They can see the hazard sign, but without seeing the ionized radiation floating through the air, most people will shrug off the danger as harmless. It's the same lack of fear that allows a person to drive an vehicle without wearing a seat belt or safety harness. Until a person finds himself on the hood of his car lying face down in a pool of his own blood, he just won't put the damn thing on. Out of sight is, after all, out of mind.

Certain crimes have a face on them. When we think serial killer, we think Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. When we think assassin, we think John Wilkes Boothe or Lee Harvey Oswald. When we think securities fraud, we think Martha Stewart. We know the crime, we know the criminal, we fear to become the object of their dark obsessions.

Yesterday, a group of nearly a hundred MLB players -- and myself for that matter -- learned a new fear: identity fraud. A thirty-eight year old Chicago man, David Dright, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of identity theft after the police raided his home in response to an inquiry from a credit monitoring company. The first target, Bulls strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil, was informed that certain incongruities were occurring within his credit account, and the police did find two credit cards in his name at the apartment of the the suspect. Among the names of other potential victims were Jim Thome, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and Miguel Tejada.

But the real fear came in reading about exactly how David Dright committed the crime.

He was a dumpster jumper.

Yes, he pulled a Tyler Durden and crawled into the garbage bin outside the office building housing SFX Baseball in Northbrook, IL, in an effort to find personal financial information. What isn't clear is if it was a random choice or just dumb luck on the part of the criminal in choosing that particular dumpster. The police speculate that the office wasn't targeted, but if he had any brains as a criminal he knew exactly what the possibilities were jumping into that exact dumpster.

A few things frighten me about this. First of all, the company, SFX Baseball, disposed of their clients' info without shredding it. There's an irresponsibility apparent on the part of the trusted partner that boggles the mind. As a potential client, would I feel safe having them handling my personal business when they can't remember to do something as essential and yet innocuous as shredding papers with my personal info on it? Were I a directing partner at SFX, heads would roll.

Secondly, outside of Hollywood, the scrap truck guy and the occasional bum, do you ever see people rummaging around in the garbage? As innocent and harmless an act as throwing out the trash can now be added to the list of worst nightmares for people who don't have the foresight to tear up or shred private info. From now on every time a car stops in the alley will you have to worry it's someone trying to rob you of your identity? Some companies are smart and lock up their trash with padlocks and chains, but will Waste Management be forced to raise their rates because they had to hand out new safety trash cans with locks and they had to pay for all the extra time it takes for the garbage men to unlock the safety cans? Just what we need, bigger bills.

Thirdly, and most frighteningly, I wanna know how this guy thought he was gonna get away with saying he was Jim Thome -- you see, the guy was a black man.

Then again I hope all criminals -- black, white, red, green, etc. -- are that stupid. Evolution would be taking a turn for the better.

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Andres Nocioni: Gong Winner

We here at Fleece & Flog would like to extend our congratulations to Chapu, Andres Nocioni, for winning the prestigious Olimpia de Plata (Silver Olimpia for our Anglo-Saxon brethren ) award for basketball excellence in his home country of Argentina.

Each year, a group of Argentine sports writers vote for players in each of 41 separate sports, and the highest vote getter in each discipline receives the coveted award. A singular player of the year award, the Olimpia de Oro (Gold Olimpia for those who never took Spanish as a high school freshman -- the pic on the left is the actual award and Noc's is a silver rendition of the exact same statuette), is given to the best Argentinian player of the year covering all sports. Past winners of the award include Diego Maradona and Gabriela Sabatini.

Nocioni was lauded for his play this past summer at the FIBA world championships in Japan and his stellar work for the Bulls in the 2006 playoffs, but I have a feeling the writers were just tired of giving this award to Manu Ginobli, the so-called MJ of Argentina.

So if Ginobli is the MJ of Argentina, what does that make Nocioni? Barkley? Malone? Hopefully Noc's Bulls career is more productive of post season hardware (read: rings) than those two overrated, ham-fisted power forwards. Just imagine how Sir Charles must feel every time he runs into a Stacey King or a Danny Ferry knowing those two slouches have more rings than he does. Charles can hold his head high though; at least he beat out MJ for the '92-'93 MVP award.

But not an Olimpia de Plata.

Another Bull wins a Player of the Year award. Sounds good to me. Maybe it'll earn Chapu a few more flop calls with the referees, cuz we all know how the NBA caters to its stars, and how can you not be a star if you win the PotY award for an entire country?

(Editor's Note: Hat tip to Blog-a-Bull commenter, Paxson Jackson, for the heads up on the Nocioni story found at SportingLife.com, and Blog-a-Bull administrator, Matt, for finding the new Bulls blog added to our blog-roll called Thank You Isiah.)

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fleece & Flog's Week 15 NFL Top Five

So the Pro-Bowl starters were announced yesterday, and appropriately seven Chicago Bears were named, including three special teamers. Perennials Brian Urlacher and Olin Kreutz join two timers Lance Briggs and Tommie Harris as starters. Voted by their play rather than their reputations were kicker Robbie Gould, special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo, and rookie kick returner sensation Devin Hester.

I can't argue about any of these selections, even Tommie Harris, cuz they've led the best team in the NFC all season long. In fact, maybe the Bears have some complaining about the lack of offensive selections. Des Clark is definitely deserving, Berrian possibly, Tait certainly, and maybe Moose, but injury replacements have yet to be selected, so we'll see where things stand in a month or so.

Congrats go out to the Bears for consecutive double digit win seasons and back-to-back division championships. Jerry Angelo, the true architect of the team, needs commendations for his draft. While the fans and critics were crying out for the selection of a TE, and even after trading down Anthony Fasano was available, Angelo had the foresight to target defense first. Rookie Danieal Manning has been capable in replacing Todd Johnson, and Devin Hester, well, he has won 2-4 games for the Bears all by himself.

Unlike the luckiest team I've ever seen the 13-3 2001 team, this team has shown growth and progress. They have matured, learned from mistakes and found a QB to rally behind. Yes, I still have faith in Rex. He was the best player in last year's playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers, and he has the fearlessness to lead the team to the promised land.

With that said, it's on to F&F's NFL Top Five for the week........................
  1. San Diego Chargers (12-2): This is the only team, as a Bears fans, I fear. I watched LT go untouched on a 15 yard TD and a 85 yard TD. I was very impressed. And here's one more stat to scare any team: they lead the league in sacks. Scary.
  2. Da Bears (12-2): Minus five defensive starters, the Bears had a brain cramp. Oh, well. The offense was back to its winning ways, and Rex, despite being sacked for a season high four times, threw no interceptions.
  3. Baltimore Ravens (11-3): Brian Billick had better hope Steve McNair's injury isn't serious cuz Kyle Boller leading a team into the playoffs doesn't ring with confidence
  4. Dallas Cowboys (9-5): So how does a team survive a change in QB, a circus like Terrell Owens and a middle of the pack defense? Bill Parcells, that's how.
  5. Indianapolis Colts (11-3): So Peyton to Marvin is the most prolific passing tandem of all time by a wide margin. Marino to Duper is on that list too. And I'm actually starting to feel bad for Peyton.
ChicagoCubbin and I are in a little disagreement about our top five, but since I'm the main administrator, it's my call. And he's also a Cowboys fan so the heck with him. His top five: SD, BAL, CHI, DAL, IND. So we aren't that far apart in our choices.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

ISIAH THOMAS: Our Village's Idiot

There was a basketbrawl recently. Multiple players will be "enjoying" spectating due to their spontaneous combustion of stupidity. The current leading scorer in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony, made the most contact and subsequently the most spectating time. Considering the recent edict by David Stern for players to wear suits, it would appear that the NBA can make them dress up, but still not take them out. However, this is not to be a column focused on the moronic actions of people paid too much money to do what countless scores of others would do (albeit at a far less degree of skill) for far less or free.

This is a question to David Stern. Why did you let Thomas off the hook? For those who are unaware of what the hot-seated Knicks coach did to warrant a hook, here it is. Premeditated assault. You're saying, "Wha...? Who would do such a preposterous thing? Certainly not a coach; not a (supposed) authority figure." Alas, it is sadly true.

Now, there is a list of things that one could rest on the former St. Joe's star. Like how when the Bulls finally overcame the Detroit Pistons thuggery to advance to the Finals, Thomas led most of the classless chumps (notable exception being the current Pistons GM) off the floor without well-deserved congratulations for the Bulls. Even better is destruction of the CBA. After ambling along for decades as the then default minor leagues of the NBA, Thomas came in and after promises of grandeur and an increased association with the NBA, managed in relatively short order to destroy the league and all the work the owners had put into it. (The Isiah-less CBA is struggling to stay in existence to this day, says the research dept.) When things got bad, he couldn't jump to the Pacer's head coaching job quick enough, leaving the CBA's remaining owners to attempt rebuilding their life's work. Larry Bird took over the Indiana franchise eventually, and before his name was stenciled on the door he had fired the Indiana University star. So what would Thomas do next? Take his anti-Midas like touch to New York. The Knicks were already not in the best of shape before Thomas brought his Circus of the Craptacular to town. Many wondered what Knicks' ownership was thinking. Now Knick's ownership is wondering what Knick's ownership was thinking. Hired as the GM, Thomas has seen the great Larry Brown Experiment come and go, minus the countless millions Brown got in settlement. Now Thomas is the head coach on the clock. But all of this is just lead up to what should have been a fired-for offense.

In the moments before the brawl, Thomas is reported as having told Anthony to stay out of the paint. If you want to be upset that the leading scorer in the league is still in game with a huge lead and little time to go, fine. Take that up with the opposing coach, after the game, much like a normal adult would do in the same circumstances. Furthermore, if you suspect that your players will be committing actions that could actually hurt other players, it is incumbent upon you as a coach, as an authority figure, even as a human being, to prevent that from happening. Of course, maybe a former "Bad Boy" is clueless as to what the acceptable social morays of society are, but that leads back to the original question to Mr. Stern: Why did you let Thomas off the hook?

Even if he didn't order it directly, his complicity is secured by his own words. Not to mention his lack of action. If in "regular society" you tell somebody not to go into a theater and that building than burns, somebody might at least question why you didn't do more to stop the building from burning. Just because nobody was seriously hurt, this time, doesn't excuse indefensible behavior. David Stern missed a chance to prove that Mark Cuban isn't the only executive he can fine. If you can fine a dress code into existence, and try to change a billionaire owner's habits, he should be brave enough to keep his players safe...especially from the coaches.

Happy ChristmaHannaKwanzadan.
As always, be good.

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Bon Voyage, Ross Gload

Hello, Andy Sisco.

Yes, the White Sox traded away my favorite player not named Joe Crede for another Kansas City Royal and former Cubs farm hand.

Take in the gravity of the back end of that last sentence again: former Royal & Cub.

Together with David Aardsma, the lefty Sisco will be another big pitcher with nasty stuff (hyperbole) and even nastier control (the bad kind). There are so many reclamation projects now in the Sox bullpen and AAA that if the White Sox make it back to the playoffs next season, Don Cooper will not only be looking for a raise, he'll be looking for sainthood. He might as well just write a book and hand it out to all the pitchers detailing his pitching philosophy because he will pulled in many different directions and will just have to refer to page so-and-so of his manual to get anything done.

At least we can see Kenny Williams' pattern for success in this trade. Trade one of the interchangeable parts for cheap, unvalued relief help. His track record is stellar when it comes to relief, i.e. Vizciano, Marte, Thornton, MacDougal, Jenks.

But my guy, Ross Gload, had to go to improve the pen. We'll lose his hitting (maybe 150 at-bats, 50 hits), his glove (he has better range than Konerko) and his speed (6-6 in SBs), but Rob Mackowiak (who can rake and was originally an infielder) will most likely take his place, and to get Mack out of CF alone was worth the trade.

So, officially, Ross Gload has been freed, at least from the White Sox, which is fine cuz there's already too many former Cubs on the White Sox roster.

And one more note: the White Sox no longer require the services of Crusty the Clown, catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr., as they have signed Toby Hall to a two year, $3.65 million contract with an option for a third year. Now in September AJ will only be thrown out by 10 feet at home instead of 30 feet. Hall wants to start but followed the money, and while in theory this is a very good move by KW, I wonder how long it'll be until Hall starts whining about playing time to the media. This has confrontation written all over it.


As always, Sox links accompany a Sox story.

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Guns, Drugs, Tank and a Death

With the glory of not having to leave Chicago during the playoffs until February fresh on the Bears' plate following a closer-than-it-should-have-been 34-31 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs, the mold around the edges will receive most of the attention the rest of the way into the playoffs. With a healthy Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson's arrest and the tragic shooting of his "bodyguard" would simply add color to an impressive season; it would be a notch in the belt of overcoming odds. It would be a minor occurrence (if death can ever be considered minor) on the way to an inevitable birth in the Super Bowl. But the hamstrung Harris' missing place in the lineup creates a firestorm out of the mess that is Tank Johnson.

Many people have asked, "What was Tank thinking?" And I would never presume to know what was on his mind, but tell me why two men who were just arrested 24 hours earlier are out sowing their wild oats in a city that recognizes its sports celebs with a paparazzi-like zeal. Wouldn't a low key attitude be a tad more appropriate?

Was Tank Johnson asking for trouble by heading out to a nightclub? Knowing the fervor of Chicago fanatics a heckling should have certainly been suspected; looking back at Tank Johnson's past history, a response to such heckling would be expected too. I don't know Tank Johnson personally, I've never even seen him from a distance, but I'm assuming just from reading his bodily dimensions -- 6'3", 300 lbs. -- that he's quite the imposing figure, and sometimes simply being imposing can negate many an incident. But add alcohol to any incident and even the smallest man feels like he's Superman. Yes, I think Tank Johnson was asking for trouble by going out in public so soon after his humbling arrest. And in the eyes of public opinion, he's as guilty as Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire even though neither was ever caught taking steroids.

As for his gun possession charge, without an FOI card, he is guilty by the letter of the law. And he will have to answer for those charges, both to the Lake County District Attorney and to the NFL disciplinary committee. But like Ricky Manning , Jr., the time line for answering those charges would most likely reach beyond the NFL playoffs and into next season.

Unfortunately for the NFL, and the NBA, MLB, PGA, the PTA, WHO, NWO, etc. for that matter, the founding fathers found it necessary to include firearms protections when putting together the Bill of Rights, their thought process being every man should have the ability to shield himself from harm. And in 1789 those were noble causes and ideals, but -- and I promise not to draw this diatribe out too far -- in today's society, that right to bear arms is outdated. Guns are now more of a toy for the private owner -- a very dangerous toy -- than a tool necessary for survival.

Was Tank Johnson building a Branch Davidian-like stronghold in Gurnee? Was he a disillusioned patriot fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised? Was an army of cheeseheads threatening his home and family? I highly doubt it. More likely he was a wealthy athlete with idle hands, idle time and sense of entitlement bestowed upon most American professional athletes.

And now the eye of the media has descended upon Tank Johnson. Do not think for one minute that he and his "bodyguard," 26 year-old best friend William Posey, would not have made it into the front pages of Chicago's newspapers had the shooting of Mr. Posey never happened. I am certain there would have been some vigilant shutter-bug tracking his every move, and front and center would have been some form of the Paris Hilton-like headline: " Tank Parties to Forget." Tank's attempt at relaxation would have been splashed everywhere from ESPN to the smallest blog such as F&F.

But now as a Bears fan, I wonder what this does for a defense that is reeling. Am I shallow for not considering his feelings concerning the death of his friend? Absolutely. But Tank isn't my friend, he's my defensive lineman. Tank has had countless more resources to help with whatever issues he was facing than I'll ever see in a telephone book. His allowance of marijuana into his home was just stupid, (and I would be far far far from surprised if he took a puff or two now and then.) And now the Bears defense is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Does he not see the potential for greatness in earning the immortality that comes with a sporting championship, and the chance he was taking by inviting such destructive elements into his life? I guess not, and now as a Bears fan I have to suffer.

But maybe I'm the one with the problem; maybe I'm the one overemphasizing the importance of sports in society. Maybe I'm wrong for wanting to spit in Tank Johnson's face for screwing with the Bears' triumph. Maybe I'm wrong for wishing our athletes were perfect automatons without personalities. Maybe I need the help Tank Johnson shunned.

Or maybe I should just learn to live with imperfection. William Posey did, and look where it got him.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Welcome to the Show!

Well first things first. I think that is great that you guys have taken the initiative and signed a talent such as myself. I definitely think my presence is needed, due to the apparent anti-Cub environment, I will be a breath of fresh air, or least someone who hasn't yet drank massive amounts of the Kool-aid. That being said there has been some inquiry to what my opinion on the "Tale of two catchers" may be. For our readers who aren't familiar with this worn out tale, during the "Cross-town Classic" Michael Barrett punched A.J. Given A.J.'s past, my feeling is that he most likely deserved it. From a fans perspective It did anger me. Basically it just perpetrated the image of losers that the Cubs for some reason love to cling too. You've got a decent catcher in Barrett losing his cool and punching a superior player. Although I disagree with the way Barrett acted he should check into leaving the Cubs for the UFC, because he did lay a massive hurtin' on good old A.J. So now you know, although I don't agree with it, if your going to act like an animal that's the way to do it. To my fellow gents here at Fleece and Flog, I look forward to being part of your well informed, intelligent, cutting-edge, and sometime ridiculous antics!

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Obligatory Bulls Post

The Bulls have been blessed by two things during this current run: exceptionally good health and a string of lousy teams coming into the United Center.

Consider: when blowing out the Pacers on Monday night, Al Harrington, Jermaine O'Neil and Stephen Jackson -- arguably the Pacers' three best players -- all didn't play. Last night, All-Star guard Ray Allen missed the game for the Seattle Supersonics. The 76ers played amid the beginnings of the Allen Iverson turmoil, and Boston was without Wally Szczerbiak, Theo Ratliff and Michael Olowokandi. Who has missed a Bulls game due to injury? Malik Allen? Michael Sweetney early on? P.J. Brown? Not exactly Luol Deng or Ben Wallace now are those guys?

So while the run has been nice, Bulls fans need not get their hopes too high just yet. The streak also includes two games against the Knicks, one against Toronto and one against the NOOCH. They have yet to play Detroit, can't seem to beat LeBron and Cleveland, and still have another seven game West coast trip come February.

In spite of the bad teams the one other thing the Bulls have going for them is that, somehow, they've discovered an offensive. That added to their blitzkrieg defensive intensity and the Bulls are first in the Eastern Conference in point differential per game at + 4.2, fourth overall in the entire league. What's the difference? Most obviously better shooting, but looking a little further the Bulls have found a rhythm. Consider that they're second in the Eastern conference in assists per game at 22.4 which means they're finding one another with more frequency than most teams. And while only the New Jersey Nets average more assists in the East at 23.3, they have uber-point guard Jason Kidd 's 9.6 assist to pad those stats. The Bulls top assist guy, Kirk Hinrich, drops only 6.2 dimes per game, but Chris Duhon drops 4.2, Ben Gordon 3.2, and Luol Deng 2.4. Yeah, they're all in the starting lineup.

At 12-10, the Bulls have done well just to get back to and above a .500 winning percentage, but I'll hold my applause until that number reaches 10 games over .500. Until then I'll just smile, watch a growing team and hope this team doesn't end up like the 2001 76ers team that lost to the Lakers in the Finals a few years ago.

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National Sports Round Up!

The Boston Red Sox just gave the their new Japanese import more than fifty million dollars to pitch after giving over fifty million just for the rights to negotiate with him. This on the heels of signing J.D. Drew to a long term seventy million dollar agreement. Four points of interest.
1)Our trade deficit with Japan just grew instantaneously and exponentially.
2)For seventy million dollars it is hard to imagine not agreeing to almost anything.
3)Boston now has one player they wish they didn't need a translator for, and one they wish they did.
4)The Red Sox just invested 170 million dollars in two players who will only play every fourth or fifth day.

Allen Iverson wants out of Philadelphia. Again. For real this time. The problem for the team is that the market for a fading (probably former)All-Star with a sub-exciting shooting percentage isn't a seller's market. Iverson depends too much on throwing his body pinball-style toward the basket. That equates to a good deal of wear and tear on a body not built for rugby. Plus, where can/will he go and either be the new number one guy, or even more unlikely, the happy new second banana? Has anyone heard of Gary Payton? (Ironically, Miami.)

Terrell Owens now says he "faked" his eary season injury because his feelings were hurt. Seems someone within the Cowboys organization leaked about Owens being late to practice and meetings. Too bad Dallas couldn't have "faked" signing the moron. In other "hurt feeling" news seven year old Becky Fremd from Keokuk, Iowa was sad when her lollipop fell on the floor. The Cowboys presumably declined comment on both instances.

P.J. Brown sat out with a sore foot from a comfortable Bulls win against the Ray Allen-less Sonics. Barbaro, coming off a foot injury was still unavailable for action. His agent was quoted however, as saying that the one time phenom was "champing at the bit".

N.I.U. couldn't lose for winning. Explanation: By not winning their conference, the Huskies have to suffer in the warmth and sunshine of San Diego. Every other MAC team to receive a bid went somewhere colder. A great way to fail upwards.

Lamar Hunt, last remaining founding investor of the Chicago Bulls, founder of the AFL and Dallas Texans (which you might know as the Kansas City Chiefs), and coiner of the term SuperBowl (after watching his kids play with a Superball), died December 12,2006. When told by the NFL he couldn't buy a team and move it to Texas, did what the USFL and the XFL couldn't, started his own successful league. So successful was his league that he ended up with an NFL team anyway; when the AFL merged with the NFL in 1966.

That's all for now, hope you enjoyed this foray into the seamy underbelly of the Repressed's sport pysche.
Happy ChristmaHannaKwanzadan and as always, be good.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Our Latest Addition to Fleece & Flog

What is wrong with me? Am I growing soft in my old age? Am I feeling nostalgic for Andre and Ryno? Am I giving in to my love for all things Chicago?

Whatever the case, I'd like everyone to welcome our newest contributor here at F&F, ChicagoCubbin. Yes, he'll balance the biased White Sox coverage we at F&F provide with some very knowledgeable Cubs info. Yes, he will be a voice crying out in the wilderness, or more likely, Don Quixote taking on windmills. But mostly he'll be the whipping boy for our Cubs disdain.

That's not to say he won't chime in on another subject or two.

Quite the chipper and feisty young buck, CC has promised to keep up with the joneses here at F&F, and I, for one, believe him. Of course I had to mortgage the farm, sell the family goat and donate a healthy batch of last year's crops in order to keep my White Sox fan card, but I'm not worried about it.

Now the neighbor's daughter, that's a different matter.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Next Sox Step: Centerfield? Lead-off?

The White Sox traded Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia for a (so-far) bust, and a guy they gave to Philly a year ago to get Peoria Jim Thome. The move is blatantly geared at saving money just as much as it is to creating a spot in the rotation for Brandon McCarthy. The fact the two arms headed this way are young doesn't hurt Kenny William's feelings either. Added to this; Gavin Floyd has two things that Garcia lacks. The potential of youth and a cheaper contract. Some clubs are willing to trade for a young arm with a good contract if they have enough of another position to swap. Say, for instance, Floyd for someone like Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli is young, cheap, and oh, by the way, plays a fair bit of centerfield. Add to this that Baldelli has young(er) guys under him that his organization would like to see. The Sox could do worse.

Are there better guys to go after? Probably, but at what cost? The price for players like Cantu, or Carl Crawford keep climbing. As has been amply evidenced, Kenny Williams seems loathe to sacrifice his four year board for a one year bump, especially if that bump isn't a guarantee to make a dramatic difference. See last year's trade of Williams' favorite Rowand for aging, injury-recovering, unspeedy hitting monster Thome. Obviously not made for four years down the road. Plus, Vasquez had to be one of the more expensive fifth starters not employed by the Yanke(r)s.

Hence, expensive, fading, toking, un-Fast Freddy is shipped away for the same high prospect the Sox reluctantly gave up to obtain Thome. For the math-at-home crowd, this pretty much equates to Garcia and Rowand for Floyd and Thome. Obviously the Sox think (and fans hope) they can mine some gold from former Philly phenom Floyd (f-f-PH-ph-F, triple word score in alliteration Scrabble!) using Don Cooper as the sifting pan.

Posednik will be used as trade bait, make no mistake. Williams isn't the only GM that loves cost-certainty. Look for a couple of minor-leaguers to be thrown in the mix. Nobody sets the hook like Williams. (Go ahead, you're all saying to yourselves, "He's a Master Baiter". Terrible, simply terrible.) Williams, and Guillen, will get their coveted speedy leadoff guy. There is a lot time between now and opening day, let alone the trade deadline. The Winter Meetings are a good diversion in the crappy baseball dull days of December. They are by no means the end of the roster changes. It is called the hot stove league for a reason. Note:Just because somebody says Alex Rodriguez is coming to the Sox, it doesn't make it true. Kenny Williams can only make Scott Boras so happy. (We knew Crede was too good to be true.)

For those who might say that the White Sox traded Garcia away too soon; remember, it is always better a year too soon than a year too late. Too late is always too late. Fear not true believers, something will happen. Maybe multiple somethings.

That's all for now, have a Happy ChristmaHannaKwanzadan.Don't forget to be good.

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NFL's Power Five:Repressed Edition

Glad to see that a "Line of Fire" column didn't end in disaster for once. At least not yet. Sexy Rexy was back (but was Vexy Rexy just in hiding?). It is easy to feel good after a game like last night's. It put a another game between the Bears and their next conference runner-up for home field throughout the playoffs. It showed that hey, maybe Cedric Benson can run after all. Also, Grossman ran...for twenty-two yards! In one play! Still, there are questions to be asked, if any are brave enough to ask them. For instance: If the Bears do, as expected, clinch homefield, will a dome be built to replicate the conditions in St. Louis? Or: Why couldn't Grossman do better against a terrible pass defense (the Vikings), at home? Or: Why did it take so long to get Grossman back to throwing sane passes? Quick slants, dump offs to the running backs (hello Jason McKie) worked great at moving the ball. The BIG ONE: Can Grossman maintain this (which he hasn't all year) all the way to a SuperBowl win?

Now, on to the countdown.

1)San Diego Chargers
MVP probable runningback, more consistent rookie quarterback, good defense, and Antonio Gates. Only a spectacular collapse prevents this team from being the AFC SuperBowl entrant. That also translates as the early favorite in the big game.

2)Chicago Bears
11-2 in the weak sister conference. Hester is the greyhound, and he is hunting for endzone rabbits. Tommie Harris is out for the year, including any post-season. The frontline is already not stopping the run...or getting much pressure on the quarterback. The offense is carrying the defense. Still, is there another team in the NFC that looks any better?

3)Baltimore Ravens
Guessing that this defense might have had something to say about everyone but Jacksonville's craftservice people rushing for a 10+ yards per attempt clip. Everything being equal between the Ravens and the next team, except: The Ravens "D" should do okay against that Colts' "O". One has to believe Steve McNair and Jamal Lewis would fair well against that ever so stout Indy defense.

4)Indianapolis Colts
The defense was exposed in every sense versus the Jaguars. Stokley is gone for the year. Ricky Proehl Sighting! As long as Peyton doesn't become as inconsistent as his brother "I'll only play in New York" Eli, and Harrison and Wayne still have feet, you never can count the Colt's out. Of course, as long as the starting and the backup runningback both rack up over a hundred yards, you can't really count them to far in, either.

5)New Orleans Saints
Why not the Patriots? Because they were shut-out by a team they really shouldn't have lost to at all. Meanwhile, Dem' Saints went into Dallas (let the implosion begin) and beat the new "hot" team. With a three game win streak , they continue to disprove everyone who says they can't win. Probable MVP runner-up keeps staking the claim as best free agent signing of recent years.


It's put up or sit down time. Now is the time of the season when offensive coordinators pull out the trick plays just to keep their defensive counterparts up a few extra hours a week scheming against the fullback flea flicker in case it might be used in a playoff game.

Have a fun week of watching, happy ChristmaHannaKwanzadan, and, as always, be good.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

In The Line of Fire: Rex Grossman

1.3 As an earned run average it would be fantastic. As a golf handicap, you would fair(way) quite nicely. As many stats in various sports one could make something out it. Even in football. Just not as a passer rating. Especially not as a passer rating. Even as a near rookie. There are many ways to frame the argument against sticking with Grossman this long. Let us take one of the better ones in broad terms so there is no confusion. (Pay close attention football stupid of Chicago.) THE CHICAGO BEARS DON'T SUCK.

This probably doesn't come as a surprise to Bears fans who read this column. Or to fans who can read. Or just know what football, American style is at all. See, the exact issue is this is the NFL, where you're good today, and the Raiders tomorrow. NFL teams, all of the teams, every year, try to capture that lightening in a bottle. That magic mixture of offense, defense, special teams, lucky breaks, and few serious injuries. This year's Bears team has a good amount of most of each. Credit, indeed, must go to Grossman (and the receivers) for the seasons early success while the running game got better looking.

Grossman started out like his hair was on fire. Now he looks like the ball is on fire, and opposing teams are the guys who know where the water buckets are. Not just with interceptions, either. Too many Dave Krieg impersonations have the defense wondering if they should bother to sit down at all. As the turnovers mount the wheels on the Rex Grossman Bandwagon have been falling off more each week. Of course Grossman still has one wheel left to his wheelbarrow of love; or should it be called of Lovie.

Despite speculation that Jerry Angelo is the puppet-master pulling the strings on the quarterback follies, it is worth keeping in mind that he, not Lovie Smith, signed a very reliable, serviceable backup quarterback in Griese for an awful lot of money to hold a clipboard. Though ostensibly an insurance policy for the Grossman injury waiting to happen, it can't be out of Angelo's thoughts too far about the possibility of Griese seeing some action if Grossman continues to stumble. Another 1.3 QB rating would have to qualify. A junior varsity high school kid could accomplish that. So what are Grossman's issues?

Grossman is short. Not Eddie Geidel short, but NFL quarterback short. This could be overcome, but only by a quarterback that could, say, move in the pocket. No, running backward while being chased and throwing off his back foot into the loving arms of the opposing team does not count as moving around in the pocket. Another problem is that Rex can't read. As in, his receiver progressions. If the first receiver isn't open and waving a flag, instead of looking at the next option down the read, Grossman will do the football unusual; throw the ball back across the field weakly at nobody good (sometimes a defender will find the pass inexplicably landing at his ankles). Better to throw the ball out of bounds at some poor, unsuspecting drink-fetchers head. Look at the drop off in the tight-ends production as the season has gone on. This behavior also manifests itself with the singular focus Grossman will sometimes use on plays to wide-outs that end up in the opposing defensive backs hands. When the fans twelve rows up can see the play develop and can run down and still get a finger on the ball, just maybe it was telegraphed like Marconi. Of course, one can't forget, "Rex has that gunslinger attitude, though". The gunslinger attitude is only as good as the results it brings. It only takes a single bullet to bring the fastest trigger down. Every turnover is another shot in the foot.

If the Bears were 4-8, it wouldn't be a big deal. Stick with the "rookie" QB, let him get the experience. The Bears aren't 4-8. They are trying to win homefield throughout the playoffs. Too bad the Bears don't have a guy on the roster that is solid, reliable, if unspectacular. Somebody like Trent Dilfer was with the Ravens when that team rode a ridiculously good defense and a solid running game to a SuperBowl win not too long ago. Yep, it's just too bad...oh wait, that's right; the Bears have BRIAN "WEARING A BALLCAP AND HOLDIN' A CLIPBOARD" GRIESE on the roster. Wonder if he might limit the turnovers to something crazy like less than two a game. Might be worth a shot to find out. Forget all those football stupid arguments about Grossman's psyche or confidence. If his confidence is that easily shaken (which seems unlikely) he shouldn't start for the Rhein Fire. Forget about how everyone likes him because he is humble at the post game press conference. It should not be hard to be humble after special teams and defense have to bail out multiple turnovers again and again.

Grossman could very well be the Bears QB of the future. Remember, though, that the NFL despises dynasties. With all the other parts clicking and humming along, the coaches owe it to the other 52 players to do everything they can to guarantee the whole team, this team, this year, gets as far as it can. Let Grossman be the Bears starting quarterback of the future. Take a chance that Griese can be the new Trent Dilfer. If the results are the same, will anybody really care what style the QB used? Tony Romo sat around for four years before replacing the living statue that is Drew Bledsoe. The Bengals sat Carson Palmer for a year under the immortal Jon Kitna. It cannot possibly be beyond comprehension to replace a virtual rookie with a proven veteran in a SuperBowl run. This isn't an 8-8 team hoping to make the playoffs. Everybody raise your hand if you're confident in Grossman's ability to lead the Bears to a SuperBowl win. Not trying to scrape by into the second round with the defense. Tried that last year, remember? (Coincidentally, this serves as a dismissal to the football stupid notion of Kyle "dead otter face" Orton starting. So don't ask. Large men with pointy sticks will be sent after you. Seriously...they know where you are.)

Look Chicago, it's your team. Despite having lived here since birth, the lure of a big blue star was too much for a four year old lad who didn't even know what football was. If you are a fan of the local team, you should demand more. Maybe a more mature, polished, year older Rex Grossman will lead next year's team to glory. Future Rex isn't available for duty right now. Present day Rex isn't too fun to watch, and isn't too convincing. Tony Romo is giving this column hope unexpected. Still, with an erratic running game, defense, and suspect at best kicking team, Dallas is really just disappointment waiting to happen. It is interesting that Dallas has a coach who wants/needs to win now because his own window of opportunity is probably closing. He chose to bench a likely Hall-of-Famer for the new pride of Eastern Illinois University. Lovie Smith won't bench Mr. Concrete Spikes for the son of a Hall-of-Famer. (If that is factually wrong, please write, in long hand to the address below to our complaint department about our research department.) In either case, the Bears need to sort out this mess. If they do, it will not matter who they play in the playoffs. If they do not...it will not matter who they play in the playoffs. Good Luck. Somewhere there is a Danny White jersey waiting to be laundered.

Since it is officially the season,
Everyone have a Happy ChristmaHannaKwanzadan...and of course, be careful.

P.S. This was originally set for broadcast very early Sunday morning. Technical difficulties which resulted in a near computericide occurred, and a cooling off period was enforced. Apologies are asked for, with any complaints being sent to the above noted departments.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blogging Baseball, Blogging White Sox

I'm not sure why, but baseball and blogging go together like the air and Britney Spears' undergarments. Maybe it's the shear volume of numbers baseball can provide and the way those numbers can be applied to every single participant in a baseball game.

It's not like football, the game with players that can hide from the stats such as offensive lineman. The professionals themselves can grade an offensive lineman's performance, but ask the average fan to distinguish whose fault it is that a defensive lineman's stunt move resulted in a quarterback sack, and most people would look at you with that glazed, I-just-finished-reading-Proust look in their eye wondering why their head hurts so much when they only wanna see someone get smashed into little snow angels. There are so many specialty stats for individual performers in football. There's the QB rating for QB's, tackles for the defense, sacks for the d-line, kicking stats for kickers, rushing stats for RB's, etc. Not all football players are judged by the same criteria.

In basketball, you would think the lesser number of game participants would go hand in hand for the instant gratification of blogging. Less to keep track of, less to write about, right? Basketball's blogging niche, however, is based more on the personalities in the sport than on the game itself. LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade and even old timers like MJ, Magic and Barkley and their styles of play are what draw bloggers to basketball. (This is where I wanna point out that one of the greatest pieces of blogging I've ever seen was posted today at Free Darko. If you get a chance, check out Bethlehem Shoals and Big Baby's truly genius piece of writing about basketball styles called Wiggles From the Lavender Grave. It almost made me wanna give up blogging it was so damn good.) And for good reason, most philosophical sports blogging will be found dealing with NBA players, coaches and the games themselves.

But the true sports blog, the true sports blurb will focus on a game that can almost be played strictly by the numbers. And baseball is that sport. With the advent of SABRmetrics as a tool to guide the discriminating GM, stat-heads have a gained a foothold on the all-American game. Never before has Stats-101 been such an important class, and the thousands of students looking for outlet for their recently-acquired knowledge have found a home in blogging baseball.

Now all the above was to say that yesterday the White Sox traded big-game Freddy Garcia for one-time phenom Gavin Floyd and former Sox farm hand Gio Gonzalez, and that there are so many internet baseball people who have erupted with their own opinion on the trade, that what this one little blogger has to say will probably get lost or burnt up in the lava flow. But we're gonna try to shout above the din of our Rice Krispies, as Sting would say. And then as quickly as possible, link you to other blogs discussing the situation in much more depth. Yes, the shear number of White Sox blogs alone will run the gamut of the thought process and is why I think baseball and blogging are perfect partners.

My thoughts on the trade in bullet points form:
  • A starter had to be traded for B-Mac to make the rotation. Garcia and Beuhrle were the names most often mentioned because both would be free agents at the end of the season and the White Sox didn't want to lose both for no return on their investment. Beuhrle, however, is a lefty, and the only one in the rotation, and his starts give some balance to the rotation.
  • Garcia looked washed up until finding his slider in his last five starts. For a hard thrower his fastball disappeared in the high 80's, and was without any movement. At least Beuhrle was never a power pitcher and has had a history of mini-slumps here and there.
  • The addition of two young arms to the farm system adds some much needed depth to the pitching prospects for the White Sox, and bringing back the LH Gonzalez, the "player to be named later" portion of the trade, could be the steal portion of this trade. Many people were saying KW was a dumbass for adding him to the Thome/ Rowand trade in the first place.
  • As a move for the 2007 team, this really does nothing for the team other than opening the rotation spot for B-Mac, but in terms of looking to the future, KW doesn't need another 5th starter debacle from earlier in the decade, and at least he's given the team more options to choose from in AAA and AA in 2008 and beyond. Young pitching prospects are gold in the MLB.
  • I believe Gavin Floyd will benefit from some Don Cooper tutelage and shed the "club-house cancer" moniker he earned in Philly. Remember, Chicago is much easier place to play than the city that boos Santa Claus.
  • And to continue the 2007 thought, this, IMHO, is only step one for KW. He himself said, "The White Sox are still open for business."
As I did with the Podsednik post, what follows are some links to sites who are a lot better informed than me, and hence my "blogging is for baseball" PreRamble. (Tip o' the cap to Soxually Repressed.)
  • As always, our partner here at Fleece & Flog, Jeeves, leads off. (Chi-Sox Blog)
  • Up next, Fornelli -- or is it Panger today? -- says What.The.Hell? (Foul Balls)
  • Of course Mariotti has an opinion, and he's got his unofficial ombudsman to call him out. (Jay the Joke)
  • Phil Rogers calls this a gamble by KW. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Of course some people had to sleep on it to decide what they thought about the trade. (The Bard's Room)
  • And Jim didn't recoil in horror after first hearing about it. (Sox Machine)
  • Lastly there's Cheat, and the host of follow-up comments, with the clearest picture of why KW pulled this trigger. (South Side Sox)
  • Okay, one more link. Jeeves lyrical odes to Freddy from last season. (Chi-Sox Blog)
The above links are exactly why posting about the White Sox is sometimes a futile exercise for me, especially since (as Fornelli at Foul Balls put so well) I live three days behind everyone else.

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Can Ted Shake the Dew Off His Lilly?

For $40 million dollars he can have a pack of pygmy servants do it for him. Hell, for a measly million dollars I'll do it for him.

In the interest of bettering my life, I've decided to go throw a baseball off the wall at Wrigley Field for an hour a day in the hopes that some club executive will notice my pliable throwing motion, my broken-elbow curve ball, my fast ball that's only about one mile an hour faster than my change up and my slider that has more to do with the ice I'm throwing from than my pitching ability. Yes, I too believe the Cubs wanna give away their money, so who better to give it away to than someone who really needs it like me?

If a guy who's a game over .500 lifetime (59-58) can be offered $10 million a year, I suspect I can fake it into say $350, 000 a season, just enough to get the landscaping done and pay off a few credit card bills and buy a fancy new car -- oh, and one trip to Las Vegas where I'll spend my last few dollars throwing a chip on 23 at the Roulette Table. Maybe I can find Jim Hendry just as he's being sedated for surgery and convince him I'm worth something to the Cubs. I can only imagine what the bat boys and girls make. The way the Cubs are giving away money this off season, you'd think they found an oil reserve under Wrigley Field or maybe the infamous Al Capone missing vault of Geraldo fame.

Whatever the case, Lilly's numbers are far from stellar, but I'd like to throw out this caveat: for most of his career, he's pitched in the AL East, the fourth level of hell for most pitchers. (It would have been lower, but Tampa Bay is good for at least three wins a season. Editor's update: Lilly was 1-1 with a 6.70 ERA in 3 starts against the D-Rays last season. So maybe the AL East is the fifth level of hell.)

For as much as I wanna say this is a good move by the Cubs, there as some stinky numbers involved. I could say he's an innings guy (181.2 last season), but those will be shortened severely in the NL having to bat more frequently and being pinch hit for. I could say the Cubs needed a lefty starter, but Glendon Rusch and Rich Hill are lefties so there's no immediate need for the Cubs there. And one more number I'm sure will astound Cubs fans, his best seasonal ERA was in 2002 when he was a part-time starter (11 starts)/ part-time reliever (5 relief appearances) for the Yankees: 3.40; he hasn't thrown under 4.06 in the rest of his nine seasons including a hurl-inducing 5.56 as recent as 2005.

At least the Cubs have moxie; they're spending money and don't care how it's done. Now where's my video camera so I can make my audition tape for when Jim Hendry's job becomes available in June? Hey, if Theo Epstein can do it, so can I. And I'll only use half the team as Ted Lilly's personal shaker.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The DePaul/ Illini Connection

How can I let the DePaul defeat of Bill Self's #5 ranked Kansas Jayhawks stay off the Fleece & Flog radar for three days? (I know, my news is older than a subscription to a weekly sports magazine.)

Maybe it's the fact that Kansas already dropped a game to that fiercest of traditional basketball powers, Oral Roberts. (Quick ORU tie-in to the Southside: what's the name of the Argo High School alumnus who played with B.J. Armstrong for one season at Iowa before transferring to ORU? Submit your guesses in the comments and I'll post the answer in a day or two as an update at the bottom of this post.)

But Sammy Meija did his best David Booth impersonation and brought the Blue Demons all the way back from 14-point deficit at the Allstate Arena on Saturday to shock the Kirk Hinrich alma mater, or not shock the Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk group.

On behalf of Illini fans everywhere, I'd like to thank the DePaul Blue Demons for defeating the Self-ish one.

When was the last time Kansas actually won a big game? In their last national championship they were coached by a spry young man named Larry Brown who's now so old he's being paid NOT to coach the New York Knicks. In fact, Kansas has been an underachiever for years now. And with the hated Mr. Bill Self-ish at the helm of the Jayhawks, I really could care less. Roy Williams was someone I could root for at Kansas even if he flat lied about not moving to North Carolina; I wish nothing but a porous defense and turn-over inclined point guard for Bill Self-ish and his new contract extension.

But this post was supposed to be about the Blue Demons and their marvelous win over a highly ranked opponent and how, come tourney time in March, this win will add big points to its RPI, but as an Illini fan, I can't help but look at it from an anti-Bill Self-ish slant, especially after watching the Orange Krush turn to orange mush in the desert on Saturday as they fouled away their chance at beating a highly ranked team on the road in #16 Arizona.

Talk about a team going cold, after shooting somewhere around 70% in the first half the Illini couldn't do anything right in the second half and gave up a 16 point lead as Arizona exacted some small measure of revenge for their 2005 tourney collapse against the runners up for the national championship.

So in a circle of life theme, one favorite team wins (DePaul) while another favorite team loses (Illini), and the devil (Bill Self-ish) gets his due. Two outta three aint bad.

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Fleece & Flog's NFL Top Five: Week 13

Too much of a good thing always seems to result in a backlash of sorts. Finding flannel on the runways and catwalks of the fashion world in the '90s had as much to do with Kirk Cobain's death as did the shotgun hole in the back of his head. Michael Jordan's wearing of baggy shorts have lead to the creation of men's capri pants 20 years later. And too much sun worship can lead to a healthy dose of melanoma or at the least being the object of affection to all cobblers.

And now Power Rankings are beginning to feel a backlash. Of course they started back in Old Testament days when Moses decided instead of dealing with sins on a case by case basis he'd make a list of things the Israelites just shouldn't do, and ever since the world and history and mankind have been wrapped up in the making of lists of things most important.

Like who should face the Ohio State Buckeyes for the National Championship.

Or who's the greatest rock band of all time.

Or who's the sexiest female of all time.

With the addition of the globe-shrinking internet and free speech machine blogs everyone, their mother, brother, sister, dog, and dust mites, have ideas or thoughts as to who is number one and everyone is saying so. And some people are sick of all the power lists. Sure they belittle the thought process even though they're generally followed by some explanation of as why the rankings are as they are. Sure they support the A.D.D. afflicted culture have helped turn a generation of people into blurbettes. But the thing about Power Rankings that makes them so accessible is that they're fun -- fun to create, fun to discuss and fun to discredit.

And I don't care if anyone thinks I'm small minded, I'm gonna keep giving you Fleece & Flog's Top Five until I too put a shotgun in my mouth.

Onto the Top Five-----------------------------------
  1. Indianapolis Colts (10-2): Yes, they lost this week, and to the Tennessee Titans no less, but the Colts have Peyton Manning and...
  2. Da Bears (10-2):...Have Rex Grossman. The Bears defense can only shake their head from time to time wondering what's going on with Rex. One more thing, Devin Hester is a legit Rookie of the Year candidate.
  3. San Diego Chargers (10-2): I didn't realize they were tied for the best record until I looked up the standings this morning. Are they the quietest 10-2 team ever? Maybe not, but they've played a lot of close games and had a few miracles happen which means they only get the 3 slot.
  4. New England Patriots (9-3): Troy Brown is really such a throwback, two-way player. His masseuse bill has to be outrageous.
  5. Dallas Cowboys (8-4): Wow, does it feel good to put another NFC team on these rankings finally. And the Bears had better watch out come playoff time for this team. Who the heck is Tony Romo?
So there you have it once again, my foray into the mind numbing world of Power Rankings. You don't like it? Take it up with the management, and I'll sic the resident arguer of this blog, Soxually Repressed, on your ass.

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