Believe it or Not is written in dedication to those audacious claims(and those who make them) which so wholly occupy the collective consciousness of sports society. Browse through any major sports website or flip it on ESPN or Fox Sports for 5 minutes and you are guaranteed to hear an assembly of columnists, broadcasters, analysts and the like boldly proclaiming their robust knowledge of said sport. In most cases these claims hold as much water as the cone shaped pixie cups which come with purified water dispensers. My job is to analyze, probe, correct and every so often possibly agree.
1)Believe it or not: The Southern Cal defense is for real?
Not. Any fan that even remotely follows recruiting is well aware of the immense amount of talent the Trojans possess on either side of the ball. In all likelihood their 3rd and 4th string players could probably take it to half the teams in the nation. With guys like Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing, Sedrick Ellis and Taylor Mays, it’s hard to imagine this D not being a success. And that’s just scratching the surface. Priding themselves on stopping the run and forcing the opposition into mistakes, Pete Carroll’s schemes are some of the best in college football. In fact, what makes their defense unique amongst others in the Pac-10 is the physical brand they play. Until recently, USC was really the only Pac 10 team that would come up and hit its opponents in the mouth.
Considering all this, how could any sane person vote “not”? The answer is injuries. Ask any coach what it takes to win a championship, and it won’t be long before you hear the words “Stay Healthy”. In recent weeks the Trojans secondary (more specifically the corners) have taken a considerable hit. Josh Pinkard, largely considered one of the most talented players on the team, blew out his knee and will be unavailable for the rest of the year. Vincent Joseph, the nickel back, went down in the Nebraska game and had to be carted off the field on a stretcher. He suffered a bruised larynx and his return is up in the air. Cary Harris, who replaced Pinkard, separated his shoulder in last evening’s game against Washington State. Kevin Thomas, another solid contributor, is also likely out of the year. In fact, the Trojans haven’t made it a week yet without a corner going out due to injury.
This leaves Terrell Thomas, an experienced veteran starter, and young but uber talented Shareece Wright manning the corners. Yet Carroll still has to scamper, due to the imminence of the spread offense in modern college football. Mozique McCurtis has been moved from back-up safety to back-up corner. True freshman Marshall Jones is likely to have his red shirt burned, just to instill some depth into the corner position.
This raises serious concern for the Trojans who play in the most pass happy conference in the nation. Their stout running game should help keep their defense off the field for long periods of time, but it will certainly be of concern when playing against teams who love to spread it out and open things up (Oregon, Cal). While their defense is immensely talented, the lack of depth will prove costly as their season progresses.
2)Believe it or not: There are four elite teams in college football?
Not. Everyone is well aware of the christening of USC, LSU, OU and Florida as the top four teams in all the land. While I can admit these 4 have perhaps been the most dominant, it’s a bit early to roll out the horse and pony show for college football’s elite. Last time I checked National Championships aren’t won in September and I’m dually sure that coaches Carroll, Miles, Stoops and Meyer have been the quickest to remind their players of this.
Dozens of teams start out the year on fire, but it’s the ones that finish strong that determine the BCS. While these four have been particularly dominant, Oregon’s offense has looked just as, if not more so, unstoppable than Florida’s. While Texas hasn’t been overly impressive, you can throw out all the rules when the Red River Rivalry rolls around. The Kentucky squad is quietly ascending the rankings and has the fortune of playing both Florida and LSU at home, in potential trap games for two of the “Elite”. USC still has undefeated Cal on the road and that aforementioned Oregon squad in dreadful Eugene. West Virginia has maybe 3 difficult games left, one of which being this week on the road against a surging South Florida team. They could very easily make a sweep of their competition and end up at the top of the tier before the year is said and done.
3)Believe it or not: Darren McFadden isn’t tough?
Not. I heard this tossed around a bit by the so called “experts” and I had to chuckle. As a predominant force on the field, everyone and their mother knows when Arkansas comes to play, D-mac will probably touch the ball 40 some odd times (rushes, throws, receptions, returns). He doesn’t shy from contact and single handedly elevates his team to a different level. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch the film of his game against Bama. Arkansas would have never made that come back without number 5. People are quick to point out, “Yeah, but he has Felix Jones and Jones is just as good.” Think again. Jones is a nice player, but he excels mostly because teams are primarily focused on how to stop number 5. Trust me when I say, if McFadden isn’t on the field, it’s for more than good reason. No one should ever question any guy who does everything for his team.
4)Believe it or not: The Yankees are for real?
Not. Their rise to the top is unquestionably impressive. Their offense pounds out runs at alarming rate, led by Alex Rodriguez and his monster looming contract questions. But I can’t buy it. Let me clarify: I can’t buy it lasting until the World Series. Beyond Chien-Ming Wang, who hasn’t been nearly as impressive as “experts” would like you to believe, who else will toss the rock for the Yanks? Everyone is counting on Pettitte, Mussina and Clemens to come around, but isn’t that just because their names are Pettitte, Mussina and Clemens? I’m a believer in momentum, and just like the Cardinals late season surge last year, I can see why many would be excited about this club. But what people fail to realize is that St. Louis’ pitching took a drastic turn at the end of the year. The Yanks has not. The surge of late can be credited almost exclusively to the offense, and while they may overtake Boston for the AL East lead, they will be outmatched against far superior teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Their offense won’t be able to bail out bad pitching performances in the postseason.
5)Believe it or Not: The Indianapolis Colts are better than they were last year?
Not. The Colts are off to a fast start after easily blowing by the Saints, and squeezing by the Titans and Texans. Undoubtedly, winning two straight division road games deserves a pat on the back. But have they been tested yet? High expectations abounded in New Orleans, but those have since been squashed after 2 straight porous performances by the lackluster Saints. The Titans are a good ball club, and Vince Young possibly the hardest single player in the NFL to defend, but he can’t win games by himself in the NFL like he did in college. The Texans are a good story after their fast 2-0 start, but everyone in the league knows they don’t have the talent to really compete yet.
The questions about the Colts are, as always, on the defensive side of the football. They broke the bank to re-sign overhyped Dwight Freeney, making him the highest paid defensive player in the history of the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, Freeney is a nice player, but they paid 72 million for a spin move. He’s a one dimensional pass rusher, who has amassed through 3 games a whopping 6 tackles and zero sacks. Nay-sayers will point to him being double teamed and what that opens up for the rest of the defense, but the Colts rank 22nd in the league in sacks. It seems that if he is opening up the line for the other players, they aren’t taking advantage.
While the presence of Peyton Manning and the Colts virtually unstoppable offense will always make this team difficult to beat, I’d like to see their D battle tested against a strong passing offense before anointing them as better than their championship winning predecessors.
6)Believe it or Not: Arsenal is the class of the premiership?
Not. Yet. After their dominating play in recent weeks and unscathed record, it would be quick and easy to anoint them the “class” of English soccer this year. However, just as mentioned regarding the “elite” college football teams, it’s a long season. Can Arsenal’s defense remain impenetrable? Will their young attack continue to pour it on the opposition? Can Arsene Wenger keep his young talent focused? Or will they fold to much more experienced foes such as Chelsea and Man United? Much remains to be seen for the rest of the season, but as of right now, they are certainly setting the tone.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Believe it or Not is written in dedication to those audacious claims(and those who make them) which so wholly occupy the collective consciousness of sports society. Browse through any major sports website or flip it on ESPN or Fox Sports for 5 minutes and you are guaranteed to hear an assembly of columnists, broadcasters, analysts and the like boldly proclaiming their robust knowledge of said sport. In most cases these claims hold as much water as the cone shaped pixie cups which come with purified water dispensers. My job is to analyze, probe, correct and every so often possibly agree.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Baseball gurus and casual sports fans worldwide now understand that this is the new "number". 755 stood tall for 33 glorious years, but as is the case with records, they are made to be broken. But it is, in fact, the underlying subext of the "how" of the record, rather than the "what" which makes it all the more interesting.
There's not a single person on this planet who has ever question Barry Bonds ability to play baseball. In 1982, as a high school senior, Bonds was drafted in the 2nd round by, coincidentally, the San Francisco Giants. Both sides, were unable to come to a contract settlement, so Bonds opted instead to play college baseball at Arizona State. After a brilliant college career, Bonds entered the draft again, and was picked 6th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He hit 16 homeruns and stole 36 bases his rookie season and finished 6th in rookie of the year voting. He followed with a couple other impressive campaigns, but 1990 was when he really burst onto the scene as a top name. Hitting .301 with 33 homers, 114 rbis and 52 stolen bases he claimed the N.L. MVP. He also claimed his first Gold Glove the next year, this time finishing 2nd in MVP voting. Only to turn around and win it again in 1992.
After 1993, Bonds signed a then eye-popping 43.75 million dollar contract and headed west to the San Francisco Giants. He claimed his 3rd MVP award, belting a then career high 46 homeruns and officially cemented his position as one of the top players in all of baseball.
But that seemingly wasn't enough for Barry Bonds. Though he was a prominent slugger and generally considered one of the best all-around players in all of baseball, something was eluding him. 6 years of stealing bases, pounding homeruns, and winning Gold Gloves, yet he still seemed to be in the shadows of the big time sluggers Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas - these were the stars of the 90's. Not Bonds. These were the guys little kids wanted to be. Not Bonds.
And this is simply mind boggling. In every conceivable statistical category, Barry Bonds was the superior player. Sans the home run. He won Gold Gloves. He stole more bases. His OBP trumps the others. His average was better. He drew more walks. Yet when Major League Baseball selected its all century team in 2000, Bonds was curiously omitted. But Griffey found his way on to the list. Hell, Pete Rose made the list, and he's serving a lifetime ban from MLB. Keep in mind, this is all pre-steroid gate.
So to me, this begs the obvious question, why wasn't Barry Bonds more respected at this point?
An easy, and obvious answer would be that he's known for his surly off the field personality. While Bonds seems to be entirely playful and silly at times, he's more known for his blunt treatment of the media. However, those truly close to him seem to really admire and respect him. While he's had a conflict or two with a couple teammates (Jeff Kent comes to mind), he's not generally considered to be a "selfish" player, but well revered in the locker room. Yet, Bonds gets demeaned, labeled as an "asshole" or some other derogatory jargon casting him into the infamous line of un-admired but talented athletes. Yet, no one seems to care that Babe Ruth was an otherwise worthless human being, somehow he's an "American Hero". Sure, people will bring up his love for children, and his dedication to improving the lives of underprivileged children. Curiously... Bonds started his own foundation in 1993, "designed to improve the educational achievements, standard of living and quality of life conditions for African-American youth within the Bay Area community" (MLB.com). No one seems to care at this point that Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Or that Ty Cobb was was entirely pernicious. Frankly, pinning it on his off the field antics, just doesn't stick. The worse that could be said of Bonds is that he doesn't really care what anyone thinks of him - and it shows.
Yet, the mind boggling then turns to the absolute confounding with the advent of the Steroid Police on Major League Baseball. This is a somewhat troubling issue in every sense of the word. While I find it wholly disturbing that any athlete from any sport would seek to unfairly advantage himself through the use of anything (chemical or cork or whatever), its just not that simple. The litany of players who have been linked to steroid usage from the mid 80's on is particularly exhaustive. If you believe Jose Canseco, nearly everyone he seemingly came in contact with used "roids". So it then becomes this impossible game of cops and robbers, with lists of who dids and who didn'ts, things which are wholly impossible to quantify. Since steroids effect people in different manners (not all overuse to produce extensive muscle mass), who's to say who did use and didn't use in the 90's? Maybe those early Clemens years he was roiding? How much of baseball history does this wholly discredit? Are all of the World Series winners from 1985 on a farce? What about all the records broken within that time span? How much of it has to do with the general advances in science and exercise which have undoubtedly increased both the size and longevity of modern athletes?
The steroid game has become a collection of hence, then accusations and speculations. "If such and such is true, then such and such must also be true, therefore, [insert player name here] is unequivocally guilty." "He and she knew [insert player here] at this point, he is obviously guilty". These thinly veiled accusations are only more curious when its randomly connected ex-lovers, who seemingly have no dog in the race other than the potential for finanical prosperity it presents.
No one can deny that Bonds has without a doubt grown physically. His muscle mass has unquestionably increased. Some point to a growth in the size of his head (something I can't personally see). Being that all of this occurred around the time he turned 35 and thereafter (years when his play should have depreciated, but only appreciated), speculation ran rampant. Bonds was immediately labeled a "juicer" and a "roider". His homerun numbers went up drastically. His formerly lithe frame was now bouldered over with muscle. These things have all been well chronicled.
But the real question is still, why do people hate Barry Bonds? Mark McGwire is just as attached to steroids as Bonds, yet no one seemingly hates McGwire. Sure, people hate that he used steroids and how that mars the game, but do people really despise him? It's not a racial issue, because no one hates Sammy Sosa, though he's a dark skinned Latin, and again wholly connected to the steroid issue. No one hates Rafael Palmeiro. Another Latino player intimately connected to steroids.
But generally, Bonds is wholly despised outside of a very select group of people. He's become the face of the steroid investigation, the subject of an entire book regarding the matter, Game Of Shadows, the literal embodiment of everything which is wrong with baseball. But why? He has yet to be actually convicted of anything. I'm not attesting to whether or not he is guilty, but frankly all discussions of that are speculative. And therein lies the problem. Most everyone who despises Bonds, despises him on speculation. They hate him because "They 'know' he used steroids" which with out a doubt means, "They 'think' he used steroids". They can literally recount all the connected trainers and companies and stories which "definitively" link Bonds to steroids, vicariously feeling apart of his conviction. Yet, none of them are first hand witnesses or even know Bonds. Bonds moved from not respected to totally despised amidst the steroid scandal.
And for this reason, the number will always be 756. When Alex Rodriguez, or whoever it may be, approaches the homerun record, it will be 756 that is considered the record breaker to the baseball masses. Not the 800 something which tops Bonds (or whatever it may be at that point), but the 756 which beats Aaron.
The only thing Barry Bonds broke on August 7th of 2007 were the floodgates of wholesale hatred.
Posted by Dan at 5:38 PM
Thursday, August 2, 2007
The most overrated term in sports, is without a doubt, overrated. Here's a phrase which seemingly gets thrown out immediately after anyone successful meets any type of adversity. A phrase which gets tossed around when anyone good, hasn't been deemed "great" yet. "Lebron James is overrated" they say, because he didn't win the Finals this year (despite the fact that his team probably couldn't have beaten Florida for the National Championship this year and would have been bottom dwellers in the Eastern Conference if not for him). "Derek Jeter is overrated" they say, simply because he doesn't produce as much offense as one of the games most prolific sluggers of all-time, Alex Rodriguez. "Kobe Bryant is overrated" because he can't win the big one (or much of anything for that matter) without Shaq. "Donovan McNabb is overrated" because he choked in the SuperBowl. "David Beckham is overrated" because he's only good in set pieces and he's more of a media star. "Peyton Manning is overrated" because he can't win championships... oh wait.
These are just a sampling of phrases you hear thrown around in the sports world every time you turn around. If you were to take a giant cross-section of the entire world regarding overrated athletes, there is little doubt the list of who wasn't overrated would be very small and would probably look something like this:
That's truly the only names I could possibly fathom as not "overrated". Two of the most singularly dominant athletes in their respective sports in the history of athletics. Lucky enough for us, if you are reading this, you've likely been privileged to watch these two absolutely pillage the competition on their way to glory.
However, despite the fact that I find the term "overrated" to be completely irksome and overused, I shall join the masses and formulate my own "overrated" list. There should be due consideration given to the notion of what "overrated" actually means. Webster's defines the term "overrate" as: To overestimate the merits of; rate too highly. In some circles, it seems as if the term "overrated" has become synomous with bad. That's far offbase. Joe Namath is overrated, because he's largely considered one of the greatest QBs in NFL history. While his stats simply do not bare this out (more career INTs than TDs). Terry Bradshaw is underrated because he is considered an average QB, and while his stats do not bare out him being an all-time great, he won 4 Super Bowls. A feat only one other QB has been able to accomplish (though Tom Brady will inevitably smash this). While Joe Montana could probably best be qualified as "rated". Mostly because not only did he thrown more TD's and less INT's than either of the aforementioned, he was the other guy who won 4 Super Bowls. Not too shabby.
To make clear, for a coach to be "overrated" they must have at some point, been rated. You can't be overrated by simply being bad. The whole problem with "overrated" is that its largely based on conjecture. Someone is not "overrated" because of their performance, they are "overrated" because of people's perception of their performance. Nevertheless, I have created a list of the top 5 most overrated coaches in college football. Before you fire up your molotov cocktails and furious hate mails, I will admit - each coach on this list is undoubtedly good. You have to be good to be "overrated". But therein lies the problem, they are simply good, yet they are called great.
5) Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M
Franchione only registers at 5 because since joining Texas A&M more and more people have realized exactly how "overrated" he really is. What exactly has he accomplished you ask?
Franchione is probably most accredited for his drastic turn around of TCU in the late 90's. The season before he arrived the Horned Frogs went a miserable 1-10. His first season they went a decent 7-5 and clenched a Sun Bowl berth where they defeated the Mighty Trojans of USC (before the years of dominance began). In 1999 he again took TCU to another bowl, finishing an impressive 10-1. However, that one loss may be the most telling. A brutal upset at the hands of San Jose State - after all the talk of earning a BCS Bowl berth, the Horned Frogs instead packed their bags for Alabama, playing in the inaugural "Mobile Alabama Bowl".
Before the bowl Franchione announced his intentions for the next stop on his coaching tour, the famed University of Alabama. He again posted a somewhat remarkable turnaround. Taking a team which went 3-8 the previous season, he went 7-5 in 2001. The next year he went a very respectable 10-3, placing first in the SEC West, but due to sanctions was unable to play in the conference championship, or any bowl game.
Then in a ridiculously classless act, Franchione accepted the head coaching job at Texas A&M. Rather then returning home to notify his players of his leaving, after he had promised both in the lockerroom and publicly he would stay, he notified them via teleconference. Up until this point, Franchione was one of the hot names in coaching circles - generally considered a bright up and comer. The next four year proved entirely otherwise. 2003, his first year at A&M, the Aggies managed a meager 4-8 record, the worst of Franchione's career. The next year he improved to 7-5, which somehow qualified him as a finalist for Coach of Year. The next season the Aggies returned to subpar city, posting an entirely unspectacular 5-6 record. But in 2006 the Aggies seemed poised to be on the up and up, going an impressive 9-3, finally beating a major conference opponent, and big time rival - Texas.
To summarize, his career record since becoming a hot name at TCU is 59-36.
He's been to 7 bowl games, winning 4. But 0 zero BCS games.
Won 3 WAC championships, but never an SEC (possible due to sanctions) or a Big 12 title (hasn't even been close really).
In hindsight, it seems the bulk of Franchione's success could be placed squarely on the shoulders of LaDanian Tomlinson. He's posted only one double digit win season since leaving TCU, and if you've kept up with Tomlinson's career, you know he carried Marty Schottenheimer for more than a few years in San Diego. Arguing Fran's overrated-ness probably would have been much easier circa 2001, since his struggles at A&M are well noted, but A&M fans still seem to think he can take them to promised land - though all evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
4) Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia University
There is perhaps not a single coach in America who gets more uncasually affectionate media love than Coach Rodriguez. Every year his name is thrown out as one of the hot candidates for major coaching job vacancies and every year he's right back in Morgantown (what a regretful fate). Let's give credit where credit is due - Rodriguez played a large part in designing the widely popular Spread Option offense which has been manipulated dozens of times over in college circles nationwide. That alone stands as a reasonable contribution to the world of coaching, and may be enough to simply get him off the list.
But there is that other part of the job: actually coaching. In 2001 Rodriguez managed a disgusting 3-8 record. 2002 was a bit more promising with a 9-4 record and strong victories over Virginia Tech and Pitt. The next year they slid a bit, going 8-5. Which was followed by an 8-4 effort in 2004. All three years losing in their bowl games. Then West Virginia football skyrocketed from being a marginal team who could shock someone on a given Saturday, to being a "national powerhouse". Of course, this had nothing to do with Miami's departure for the ACC right?
In 2005, West Virginia shot onto the National Spectrum by recording an impressive 11-1 season. This season was capped by a shocking 3 point upset of the SEC powerhouse Georgia Bulldogs (a game which they nearly threw away in the final minutes). In 2006 Rodriguez again posted 11 wins, but failed to win the conference, this time earning a berth in the Gator Bowl, and again winning by 3 points against a fairly average Georgia Tech team.
You could easily point to Rodriguez's back to back 11 win seasons and note, that's a hell of a coach. However, when 9 of his 22 victories in the past 2 years have been over Connecticut (x2), Syracuse (x2), Mississippi State, Eastern Carolina (x2), Eastern Washington (x2) and Wofford, is it really all that impressive. I could name 30 teams off the top of my head that could have won those 9 games easily. And WVU struggled a couple of times in there.
In summary, while at WVU, Rodriguez has amassed a 50-24 record, not bad. He's won at least a share of 3 conference titles, 1 BCS bowl and has a top 5 finish. Yet, he's beaten only 6 ranked opponents in 6 years. By contrast USC's Pete Carroll beat 5... LAST YEAR.
3) Lloyd Carr, University of Michigan
At first glance, Carr's 113-36 record over the past 11 seasons just screams that his name on this list is blatantly stupid. No doubt, Carr has coached some of the best teams in nation year in and year out. But therein lies his greatest flaw. He coaches some of the best teams in the nation year in and year out, yet has mustered only 1 National Championship (a split nonetheless). Michigan undoubtedly produces some of the best NFL talent in the nation (see previous post). Yet still, only 1 National Championship.
I'll give credit where credit is due, Carr has won 5 Big Ten titles. He's beaten rival Ohio State 5 times, but only Jim Tressel once. He has a losing record in bowl games, in fact losing his last 4. He's won 2 BCS bowls - as many as any other coach on this list, but none since 2000.
What make Lloyd Carr overrated? It's the ability to routinely bring in top flight recruiting classes, yet have them never materialize into championships. With as much talent as Ann Arbor sees on a yearly basis, competing for a National Championship should be a semi-routine circumstance for the Wolverines, and that is simply not the case.
2) Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
In many ways including Weis on the list might be unfair. First of all, he's unquestionably had the shortest tenure of any head football coach on the list. After 2 years of coaching, an honest argument could be made that the vote is still out. But I lean towards the "overrated" side.
First of all, if you ask any Notre Dame fan why they have failed to compete in the last 10 years or so (losing their last 9 bowl games), they would cite a multitude of different reasons, but the unquestioned no. 1 reason on the list would be a "lack of talent." Something I find to be curious, if not downright wrong. If you refer to my previous post you will see that Notre Dame produces the 14th most talent of any team in college football. Now I can see some reasoning in saying they don't produce as much as the real heavy hitters, but when you consider that Oklahoma is 3 spots behind at 17 and has played in 3 National Championships this decade (wholly a credit to Bob Stoops), then it really makes you wonder, is Charlie Weis really THAT good?
Many Notre Dame fans feel that their marriage to Weis is the perfect couple; citing his Notre Dame alumnus status and deep running connection to the program. An understandable argument for sure, but not one which merits him being one of the best coaches in America. Furthermore, the excitement continues to build in South Bend as Weis has pulled in two consecutive top 10 recruiting classes. So there is good reason to believe in high hopes for the future.
However, when you survey his record as a head coach, it seems less than impressive. First of all, while the figures are unknown, Weis' contract is in the upper echelon (among the top 2 or 3) of highest paid coaches in America, reportedly making over 2 million dollars a year. But the real mind bender is that after merely 7 games he was given a 10 year contract extension worth between 30 and 40 million dollars. He wasn't he even undefeated at this point, 5-2 in fact. His massive contract extension was due in large part to taking football powerhouse USC down to the wire. No, he didn't even beat them. They lost to USC, at home, but apparently that's enough evidence that he deserved to be the highest paid coach in college football at the time. Nevermind that through 7 games in the year previous, Ty Willingham had the exact same record. Ok, so he lost to Brigham Young and a highly ranked Purdue squad, but he also beat a team that finished No. 7 overall, Michigan. It must be noted that Weis also beat Michigan, in their worst year in recent memory, but lost to USC and "powerhouse" Michigan State.
In his second season, high hopes abounded in South Bend. There was talk of Pre-Season No. 1, and their prolific offense with stud quarterback Brady Quinn at the helm (a Willingham recruit). The Irish narrowly escaped an average Georgia Tech team, 14-10, then proceeded to get spanked by Michigan... at home. The next week, against a very undermatched Michigan State squad, the Irish were down by 16 points going into the 4th quarter. In fact, they were never even in the game until the final 8 minutes. What proceeded was a series of crazy events which ultimately lead to a ND victory. Everyone is well aware of Weis' purported accusations of being slapped on the sideline, which lead to a costly Michigan State penalty, one which could have ultimately decided the outcome of the game. Weis then tries to smooth things over saying he was definitely slapped, but wasn't sure if it was a Michigan State player. Which begs the obvious question, then why bark at the referees and demand the penalty? Especially when no such action was caught on film. A highly supsicion action from a man considered to be a "class act".
However, the real creme brule of indictments lies squarely in his bowl game performance. Not only is Weis an unimpressive 0-2, due to Notre Dame's uncessary inclusion into the BCS, though being far from deserving; they have lost by a combined 41 points. In fact, Notre Dame hasn't even been competitive. They were out and out squashed in both matchups. Of course, the Notre Dame fan will quickly resort to their "lack of talent", which could be a case had they not played USC close and beaten a very good Michigan team who are every bit, if not more talented, than both Ohio State and LSU. But as is the case, Anytime Notre Dame beats a "good" opponent its because Weis is certainly a "genius" but anytime they lose its most definitely because of "lack of talent".
The fact of the matter is, Notre Dame has good enough talent to compete (see Oklahoma), but it would take a great coach to win with them. Which is exactly the reason, they don't win and exactly the reason Weis is overrated.
1) Nick Saban, University of Alabama
Oh my, the mother of all overrateds. There has been never been a more chronicled coaching move in the history of college football than when Nick Saban elected return to the SEC to become the Head Coach of the University of Alabama. From the repeated, "I am not going to be the Alabama coach" statements to eventually accepting the position and returning to the conference which made his name, its been an interesting ride to say the least.
If you ask any Alabama fan, they are utterly convinced that Nick Saban is the man to continue the great legacy of Bear Bryant. They believe he is unquestionably one of the greatest coaches in college football and from their brash exhortations, seemingly one of the greatest of all-time.
Ask a Bama fan about Saban's resume they will surely outline it something like this:
1) Rebuilt Michigan State, made them a powerhouse
2) Went to LSU locked down the borders of the state in recruiting
3) Rebuilt LSU, made them a powerhouse
4) Went to Dolphins to try to the NFL
5) Left the Dolphins because he didn't like, but was on his way to being a top 5 coach there
6) Now the head coach at the greatest college football university in the history of mankind
Now certainly there is a large amount of jest in my outline, but at times it seems as if they really believe a large portion of this. Perhaps I've just encountered the wrong fans, but it seems like everyday this is becoming the rule, not the exception.
However, anyone who takes a serious glance at Saban's coaching resume will find that he is certainly not among the top coaches in college football. Is he a good coach? Certainly. Is he as great as many Bama fans proclaim him to be? Absolutely not.
In 1995 Saban took over the Michigan State job, walking into a situation wrought with trouble, fresh into sanctions and misery. Caught up in a grade tempering scheme, Michigan State was sentenced to 4 years probation and the loss of a few scholarships. In his first 3 seasons Michigan State went a paltry 6-5-1, 6-6, and 7-5. The three years previous Michigan State finished 5-6, 6-6 and 5-6. Not much improvement. But I'll give Nick the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that the large part of their suffering was due to their sanctions.
In 1998 Michigan State pulled a major upset, defeating Ohio State in the horseshoe and defeating a highly ranked (at the time) Notre Dame squad. However, his 1998 squad went on to finish 6-6. Finally, in 1999 Nick had his "breakout" year, going a solid 9-2, beating Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame. However, he was also destroyed by both Wisconsin and Purdue - and failed to win the conference. Saban then abruptly resigned and accepted the head coaching position at LSU following the his club's regular season the game. Bobby Williams then took his team and won the Citrus Bowl over Florida. It stands to reason, therefore, that Nick's team must have been at least decently talented.
Nick often gets credited for "locking down the Louisiana borders" and building the LSU legacy. However, if you go back and look at when LSU recruiting really took a drastic turn for the positive, it was during the Gerry Dinardo era. Now, Dinardo wasn't a very good coach, so he never really developed all that talent at any consistent rate. Coming off Dinardo's horrid 1999 campaign the Tigers brought Nick in to take the helm in 2000. Undoubtedly he was walking into his first head coaching job with copious amounts of talent.
During the 2000 season LSU showed a lot of improvement, posting an 8-4 record and winning the Peach Bowl. However, during this same year LSU lost to UAB... at home. In 2001 Saban improved that mark, going an impressive 10-3, winning the SEC and the Sugar Bowl (against a highly undermatched Illinois squad). Things seemed to be geniuinely on the up and up for both the LSU football program and Nick Saban. His recruiting was going well, as he continued where Dinardo left off and he seemed to be getting production from his recruits, unlike Dinardo.
However, in 2002 LSU regressed. With high hopes entering the season LSU faced Virginia Tech and got thrashed 26-8. They then rattled off an impressive winning streak, including a destruction of the Gators in the Swamp (where starter Matt Mauck went down with an injury late in the game, when he had no business being in). However, 2 weeks later, LSU marched into Auburn and had it handed to them 31-7. Two weeks after that, a sanctioned Alabama team marched in to Baton Rouge and destroyed them 31-0. The Tigers finished the year an unimpressive 8-5, with a loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
2003 - might as well be titled the moneymaker year for Nick Saban. While he was certainly known as a good coach before 2003, this was the year which definitively placed him in the top 5 coaching realm. Cranking out a 13-1 record, his lone set back being to now Illinois coach Ron Zook and the Florida Gators at home, Saban won both the SEC and the National Championship. As a reward and due to a stipulation in his contract, Saban soon became the highest paid coach in college football, ironically topping his opponent in the NC, Bob Stoops.
2004 proved to be much more trying for Saban. The Tigers suffered some major losses on both offense and defense and struggled through a 9-3 season (the lucky Oregon State victory, playing a bad Mississippi team incredibly close, nearly losing to Troy at home), and a heartbreaking loss to Iowa on the last play in the Citrus Bowl. Ironically, the same bowl game he should have coached in before leaving Michigan State.
But seemingly everyone overlooks those bad games for Saban. Granted, every coach will have a bad game time and again. But this seemed to be a more than frequent occurrence with Saban. 2000 loss to UAB, spanking by Florida, near loss to Mississippi State, loss to Arkansas; 2001 again spanked by Florida, cheat death against Kentucky, narrow victory over Arkansas; 2002 spanked by Virginia Tech, Auburn and Alabama, cheat death against Kentucky... again (remember the Bluegrass miracle game, narrow victory over Ole Miss; 2003 loss to a struggling Florida, narrow victory over Ole Miss; 2004 lucky victory over Oregon State, narrow victory over Troy, narrow victory over Ole Miss. Every year, even the great years, there were the games that really shouldn't have been nearly as close as they were. Every year there was some kind of an upset. Attribute this to the toughness of playing the SEC, to the lack of talent, to whatever you will - it still stands that he was the head coach on those games and his Tigers seemed less than enthusiastic about a good number of them.
But the single biggest factor which makes Saban overrated is the ludicrous amount of money Alabama was willing to throw his way. Saban now makes around 4 million dollars a year (likely the highest paid coach in college football). Paying top dollar to a guy like Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll or perhaps the legends Paterno and Bowden would be entirely understandable. But Bama dug deep into their pockets to reel in a guy who played in only 2 BCS bowl games (something Bob has done 5 times, Carrol 5 times, hell Urban Meyer has done it twice already). The fact is, Bama paid for a legend, but all they got was a good coach.
Posted by Dan at 1:39 PM
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Anyone who follows football in depth understands that the process of being a successful NFL pro is a gradual one. With the changes in technology, the national interest in collegiate recruiting has skyrocketed in recent years (see Yahoo buying Rivals.com for 100 million dollars). Many athletes are sullied with bombastic comparisons to NFL and collegiate legends the second they step foot onto a high school gridiron as 15 year old kids. In reality, most of these kids never live up to their supposed potential. Yet, for the few hundred who continue to develop and grow physically as superb athletes, they then must endure a new set of challenges on the collegiate landscape. Again, more comparisons are thrust upon them, and yet again, even more are weeded out - and only a couple hundred finish college with the opportunity to play in the NFL. From that point, only a margin of those who make it into the NFL (whether drafted or not and regardless of which round) actually go onto have successful NFL careers.
So I have decided to compose a list of the ten most successful collegiate programs since the year 2000 (collegiate year 1999 - NFL draft year 2000) in terms of generating NFL talent. I have developed my own point system which operates as follows:
1) Draft pick points are allotted as follows:
1st - 3.5 points
2nd - 3 points
3rd - 2.5 points
4th - 2 points
5th - 1.5 points
6th - 1 point
7th - .5 points
2) Each NFL starter per school is worth 10 points.
3) Each NFL pro bowler per school is worth 15 points. Perennial Pro Bowlers (3+) are awarded another 5.
4) Each NFL player with a career of 5+ years per school is worth 5 points.
5) Each NFL player per roster is worth 1 point.
Obviously, this is not to simply gauge which school has the most players in the NFL (Miami, 61), or which school has the most first round draft picks (Miami also). That would simplify the manner too much. This study is more so interested in which schools turn out both the most and the best talent. While my point system slightly favors performance over mere presence, it does not seem fair to simply credit a university for having the most players when many of those players may be solely backups or minimal contributors.
A few notes about the point system:
1) This is by no means scientific. The system certainly has its fair share of holes. For example, Texas only gets 29.5 for Vince Young. Young's rating is slightly discredited since he is only a rookie. In four years he could be worth 41.5, the maximum value. Furthermore, teams get no credit for projected starters from draft picks. So essentially, while Laron Landry and Brady Quinn will by all means be starters for the respective teams, they were only worth 4.5 points. This makes a difference for teams like LSU with 4 first round draft picks who could potentially start, because that would be an extra 40 points, enough to move them ahead of Florida (even with Jarvis Moss and Reggie Nelson starting).
2) I've given schools credit for ALL of their current starters and Pro Bowlers. While this may somewhat skew the rankings, it's not a large enough point difference to move one school ahead of another. I felt by not including the players it would skew the rankings worse, because part of the reason some of the younger players may not be pro bowlers at this point, is due to the fact that some of the older guys are still holding down that spot. Also, I counted as a starter anyone who started consistently (more than 8 games or so in a given year), credit for being a starter. However, players who are penciled in as starters, do not receive starter points. For example Broderick Bunkley from Florida State will be a starter this year, but played minimally last year. He does not count for a starter.
3) Schools are not awarded for having a player who was an UDFA. Since a 7th round pick was worth .5, it wouldn't make much of a difference anyways. If that player turned out well, he was still rewarded points for his performance, just not his draft status.
4) All roster numbers were taken from www.sportsline.com, which has a player listing by their respective schools. All draft pick numbers were taken from www.nfl.com.
5) This list was compiled of teams that have at least 35 players in the NFL. All other schools I eliminated, figuring they wouldn't have enough players to compete with these.
Anyways, after all the number crunching these are the rankings I've arrived at:
1) The University of Miami - 834.5
And its not even close. Was there really any question about this though? I think most ardent followers of college and NFL football are well aware that Miami has been a veritable NFL talent factory since 2000. And its not just quantity (though they have produced the most players), their quality is stellar. Since just 2000, Miami has produced Pro Bowlers Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, Sean Taylor, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, and Andre Johnson.
All told, they have an outstanding 28 starters, and 16 Pro Bowlers.
Player Total: 61
Draft Pick Total - 148.5
Starters: 28 - 280
Pro Bowlers: 16 - 235
Exp.: 22 - 110
Grand Total: 834.5
2) Florida State University - 646.5
When I first composed the list, I completely figured the Seminoles wrong. As I expected, they were no. 2. The Seminoles have some of the best at a couple positions, the best LT - Walter Jones and the best WLB - Derrick Brooks. Couple that with stars Javon Walker, Warrick Dunn, Samari Rolle, Anquan Boldin and rising stars Ernie Sims, Kamerion Wimbley, Alex Barron and Michael Boulware and the Noles can't be ashamed of their production.
Player Total: 49
Draft Pick Total: 122.5
Starters: 22 - 220
Pro Bowlers: 10 - 160
Exp: 19 - 95
Grand total: 646.5
3) THE Ohio State University 642.5
Ohio State falls just behind Miami in sheer number of pros produced, with 60. While the USC/Texas 2005 National Championship game consistently gets the billing as the "Biggest Star Studded National Championship Game Ever", its my sneaking suspicion Ohio State and Miami's 2003 showdown may have actually been better. Coincidentally, those were the 2 best National Championship games this decade. Its hard to argue with the top flights guys Ohio State has churned out: Nate Clements, Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs, Terry Glenn - these are all Pro Bowl performers (Le'Charles Bentley deserves a mention, because he was well on his way to being one of the best in the game before suffering a career set back injury). But Ohio State's real testament is their emerging talent. Guys like Will Smith, A.J. Hawk, Nick Mangold, Chris Gamble and Mike Nugent are well on their way to superstardom and perennially Pro Bowling.
Player Total: 60
Draft Pick Total Total: 127.5
Starters: 25 - 250
Pro Bowlers: 7 - 110
Exp.: 19 - 95
Grand total: 642.5
4) The University of Georgia - 640.5
I would bet my bottom dollar that anyone who is not a Bulldog fan is shocked by this one. Not that other fanbases don't recognize Georgia as a perennial college football power, but I suspect most didn't think they would fall this high. But that is simply not the case. Since 2000, Georgia has basically fielded an NFL defensive line every year. Check out their list of just defensive linemen - Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Robert Geathers, Phillip Daniels and Charles Grant. David Pollack gets an honorable mention, because he seemed well on his way to stardom, before his tragic injury. Oh yeah, and there's that one other guy you might have heard of, Champ Bailey.
Georgia Lacks the Pro Bowl power of Miami (like everyone else), but they have produced an outstanding 26 NFL starters. The only measurement which places them behind Ohio State is the sheer number of players produced.
Player total: 55
Draft Pick Total: 95.5
Starters: 26 - 260
Pro Bowlers: 6 - 115
Exp.: 23 - 115
Grand Total: 640.5
5) The University of Michigan - 613.5
Michigan has long been one of the top producers of NFL talent. It's little surprise that they crack the top 5. Michigan has long been seen as one of the top QB manufacturers in college football. However, currently they have only 1 starter in the NFL at the QB position. Luckily for them, he's widely considered either 1 or 1a by every imaginable source (depending how much you like Peyton Manning). Tom Brady headlines an exceptional lot produced by Michigan. Charles Woodson and Ty Law have at times been considered two of the very best CBs in the league. But their offensive linemen are remarkable, Jon Jansen, Jon Runyan, Jeff Backus, Maurice Williams, and of course, Steve Hutchinson. Toss in a handful of more than solid contributors: Cato June, Amani Toomer, Shantee Orr, Braylon Edwards, James Hall and Ian Gold and its easy to see why they are ranked so high.
Player Total: 58
Draft Pick Total: 80.5
Starters: 22 - 220
Pro Bolwers: 7 - 125
Exp.: 26 - 130
Grand total: 613.5
6) The University of Tennessee - 562.5
There's a reason Phil Fulmer is considered one of the best in the business, just take a quick glance over the talent line up in the NFL, and its easy to recognize why. Tennessee has produced a smattering of talent which covers all areas of the football field. They've produced a handful of solid wide receivers: Donte Stallworth, Peerless Price, Cedrick Wilson (soon to come Robert Meachem). More than a couple great defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth, Leonard Little, Shaun Ellis and John Henderson. Two very good running backs in Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry. A Pro Bowl TE in Jason Witten. And of course, the crowning jewel for the Volunteers, Peyton Manning.
Player Total: 52
Draft Pick Total: 105.5
Starters: 21 - 210
Pro Bowlers: 6 - 95
Exp.: 20 - 100
Grand total: 562.5
7) University of Florida - 486.5
Florida might be best known for the fact that for all the high flying offenses Steve Spurrier produced, their NFL talent at the QB and WR positions never panned out at the next level. But it's impossible to ignore the girth of talent they have produced on the other side of the ball. Jevon Kearse (who, when healthy, is one of the best in the game) headlines the staff which also fields Lito Sheppard, Ian Scott, Mike Peterson, Channing Crowder, Kevin Carter, Alex Brown and Gerard Warren. This is not to say they haven't produced any offensive talent. Max Starks is a more than capable OT and Darrell Jackson is a highly regarded WR. You also can't neglect to mention Fred Taylor, who quietly racks up thousand yards season as he goes.
Player Total: 55
Draft Pick Total: 91.5
Starters: 18 - 180
Pro Bowlers: 3 - 50
Exp: 22 - 110
Grand total: 486.5
8) Louisiana State University - 471.5
Though a major talent void struck Baton Rouge throughout the 90's and the major instate talent fled to other schools (Warrick Dunn, Travis Minor to name a couple), LSU has rebounded nicely and once again rebuilt an extremely strong talent base, thanks in part to both Gerry Dinardo and Nick Saban. LSU alums lack the high profile superstardom of most other schools on the list, with the most recognizable names being Anthony "Booger" McFarland, Kevin Mawae, Alan Faneca, and now Joseph Addai. But they have produced a great number of quality NFL players. Marcus Spears, Andrew Whitworth, Michael Clayton, Corey Webster, Bradie James, Devery Henderson, Eddie Kennison, Kevin Faulk, and Robert Royal are all more than capable NFL players. But the real strength of LSU lies in the future. With 4 NFL 1st round draft picks this year (including 2 in the top 10 and #1 overall) and a good chance at 2 more next year, LSU could easily shoot up these rankings in a matter of years.
Player Total: 53
Draft Pick Total: 68.5
Starters: 19 - 190
Pro Bowlers: 4 (2) - 70
Exp.: 18 - 90
Grand Total: 471.5
9) The University of Texas - 435
What is perhaps the most impressive about texas cracking the top 10 is the fact that of the current top 10, they 13 fewer players than the next lowest school (Florida State). Texas has produced top flight NFL talent for ages, Mack Brown certainly didn't introduce the concept to Austin, though he may have perfected it. Texas has produced a montage of NFL players ranging from DL (Shaun Rogers, Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs and Casey Hampton) to RBs (Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes, Cedric Benson) to DBs (Quentin Jammer, Michael Huff). Not to mention WR Roy Williams and LB Derrick Johnson. Then of course, the poster boy for Longhorn football, Vince Young. As far as these ratings go, Texas achieves more with less than anyone on the list.
Player Total: 36
Draft Pick Total: 79
Starters: 16 - 160
Probowlers: 6 - 100
Exp.: 12 - 60
10) University of Nebraska - 410
Nebraska has been a collegiate powerhouse throughout history, making a Bowl game every year since 1969. Eons of talent have travelled through Lincoln, on their way to successful NFL careers. Though Nebraska now is not as dominant as Nebraska of the 90's, they still produce a very good crop of NFL talent on a yearly basis. Headlining the solid list is RB Ahman Green, though while on the downside of his career, had 4-5 brilliant years in the early 2000's. Nebraska alums which also contribute are Richie Incognito, Cory Schlesinger, Scott Shanle, Correll Buckhalter, Josh Bullocks, Mike, Josh and Kris Brown, Demorrio Williams, Kyle Larson and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Though none of the players stand out as perennial bests at their respective positions, each is a more than capable pro, who have been highly effective throughout their careers.
Player Total: 42
Draft Pick Total: 68
Starters: 17 - 170
Probowlers: 3 - 50
Exp.: 16 - 80
Grand total: 410
Best of the Rest:
11) Auburn - 401
12) Cal - 387.5
13) Southern Cal - 377
14) Notre Dame - 358
15) Penn State - 339
16) Virginia Tech - 322.5
17) OU - 309
I was a bit surprised to see USC this low, even more surprised to see Cal head of them. However, USC should sky rocket up the listen, because the aggregated talent in Los Angeles seemingly grows by the second, with new superstars on the rise seemingly daily. Pete Carroll's recruiting will no doubt launch USC not only into the top 10, but near the top of the list.
I was also shocked to see Oklahoma at the bottom. To me, it ultimately makes what Bob Stoops does all the more impressive. Particularly beating Florida State in the National Championship while having really only one superstar player - Roy Williams. OU's recruiting classes have been substantially improved lately - should be scary to see what Bob can do with that.
The SEC absolutely dominates the list. All told, the SEC teams in the top 10 produced 215 NFL players. Those 4 teams alone have produced enough talent to field 4 entire 53 man NFL rosters. They also produced 84 starters. Which is nearly enough to field 4 teams with starting caliber talent at every position. They unquestionably produce the most talent with double the amount of teams on the list of any other conference. And Auburn was barely on the outside looking in - being just 9 points from the ten spot.
Looking at recruiting classes and draft classes of the past couple years, LSU and USC have the most potential to shoot up the list. Ohio State's recruiting has been down a bit, while Miami and Florida State have been struggling. Florida and Notre Dame could also make a substantial move if they continue their level of recruiting success.
While I didn't do player breakdowns according to their original state of origin, I think its impossible to ignore the prominance of the 3 major Florida schools on the list, considering a good collection of their recruits come from their home state. Long ranked as one of the top recruiting states along with Texas and California, I think Florida not doubt produces the most talent in the land.
You may personally disagree with my list or its ordering and that's fine, but I tried my best to find some sort of statistical argument for this question and while I don't think my formula is by any means superb, I do think its a good indicator of which schools currently have contributed to the NFL talent base.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love. ~Bryant Gumbel, 1981
If you follow baseball this quote likely hits home with you. No one had to teach you to love baseball, you just did. When you showed up at the park you found an inherent beauty in the freshly groomed outfield grass, and perfectly chalked lines heading from home to first and third to home. Nothing tastes better than a ballpark frank and a beer. Even if your seats were absolutely terrible, there was something downright beautiful about being at the park.
In keeping with this love, there is nothing better than watching guys play that you can simply tell just love the game. They may not even be the best players, but they run out every ground ball, they hustle onto the field after the national anthem. They dive in the dirt any time any such opportunity presents itself. Those hard nose classic players like Pete Rose and Ty Cobb - however hated they may be, are still infinitely loved among baseball aficionados and not just because they are great, but because they loved the game - and they played like it.
In 2000, when Alex Rodriguez was anointed a 252 million dollar contract by then Texas Rangers General Manager John Hart (the single most lucrative athletic contract in sports history), major expectations were singularly foisted upon one of Major League Baseball's up and coming young superstars. After 3 personally successful seasons (though the team struggled mightily), A-rod grew impatient with the lack of success and with agent Scott Boras, began looking for other options. This was obviously complicated by the magnitude of his contract. In many ways, he seemed entirely unmovable - only certain teams would be able to handle the financial burden he brought with him.
Fortunately for A-rod, baseball's biggest franchise came calling. In 2003 Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, notorious for opening his wallet to bring home baseball's biggest names - Roger Clemens (on more than one occasion) and Reggie Jackson to name a couple - negotiated a trade sending rising star Alfonso Soriano and some prospects to be named to the Rangers for Rodriguez.
Yankee fans were flooded with excitement. Fresh off new Yankee hero Aaron Boone's miraculous game winning homerun versus the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS, he was ousted from his position by the incumbent superstar. Rodriguez got his wish - finally playing on a perennial contender, but with it came sacrifices - surrendering his career position - shortstop - to Yankee captain Derek Jeter, to move to third; and surrendering his career number - 3 - because it had long since been retired in honor of Yankee great, George Herman Ruth - better known as the "Babe".
A-rod amicably accepted his new role, excited to be apart of a team which undoubtedly would contend for a World Series birth every year. However, 2004 proved to be a troubling year for A-rod. Playing for the Yankees brought a new set of pressures - both from the media and his new boss. The Yankees win. Period. That's just what they do. A-rod's only job was to help the Yankees win. Personally, A-rod's batting average, homerun, slugging percentage, on base percentage and RBI totals dropped. Furthermore, his struggles at 3rd were greatly noted - as he fumbled around trying to find comfort at the position.
The ever impatient Yankee fans quickly became impatient. However, the Yankees trod along into the playoffs, racking up 101 wins and winning the Eastern division. They mowed through the Minnesota Twins in the American League Divisional Series, 3-1, A-rod growing quickly back into favor, going 8 for 19 with a HR.
Yet again the Yankees found themselves matched against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series - the baseball public knowing the Red Sox would inevitably tumble again - just as history dictated. The Yankees cruised to a fast start, jumping out to a 3 games to none lead, winning the Game 3 19-8 no less. After jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in Game 4, the Red Sox fired back in the 5th inning, taking the lead 3-2 off the bat of Boston hero David "Big Papi" Ortiz, who hit a 2 run single. But the lead was short lived as the Yankees fired back the very next inning, scoring 2 more. The score stuck unti the bottom of the ninth.
Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera came in and the baseball world watched, as the Red Sox seemingly helplessly let another slip away to the Yankees. After Rivera walked Kevin Millar to begin the inning, the Red Sox quickly subbed the speedy Dave Roberts as a pinch runner. On the first pitch Roberts took off for second and cleanly swiped the bag. Bill Mueller then singled and Roberts scored - effectively sending the game to extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th Manny Ramirez stepped up to the plate and hit a single. Yet again, Boston hero Big Papi stepped to the plate. This time blasting a walk-off homerun, giving the Red Sox the extra inning victory. The rest is history. A-rod was an unimpressive 8 for 31 in the series, but he did belt 2 homeruns.
And that is the closest Alex Rodriguez has ever come to a World Series. In 2005 and 2006 Rodriguez returned to his dominant offensive form. His 2005 was so impressive, he won the MVP, belting 48 homeruns and knocking in 130 runs. The Yankees again made the playoffs, only be quickly ousted by the Anahiem Angels in 5 games. A-rod struggled mightily in those games, managing only 2 hits in 15 at bats. In 2006 A-rod's production dropped slightly from 2005, but again the Yankees cruised into the playoffs, only to be ousted from the first round again. This time in 4 games and A-rod managed only 1 hit in 14 at bats.
Throughout the 2005 and 2006 seasons A-rod endured an onslaught of boos and harassment from the Yankee faithful. Casual observers found this criticism to be wholly undeserved, citing A-rod spectacular regular season production. Furthermore, Rodriguez had never been a troublemaker off the field, and was generally considered a well-respected individual away from the game. Those more in tune with the baseball world, saw some merit to the criticism, citing his monster contract and utter lack of productivity in the playoffs. Questions began to swirl - Could A-rod perform on the big stage? Was Steinbrenner's pressure too much? Was the New York media getting to him? Were the fans getting to him? Dozens upon dozens of questions were hashed and rehashed on ESPN and FoxSports and any sports coverage network, publication, and website daily.
Suddenly the debate turned in a new direction - A-rod vs. Jeter. Who was the better player - the big contract slugger or the longtime Yankee hero? Murmurings arose of a personal conflict between the two, only further embroiling the situation. Yankee fans' hatred for A-rod seemed to read new heights. But the question is: Why does everyone hate A-rod?
Baseball analysts would be quick to tell you that A-rod is despised and Jeter is beloved simply because of their post-season production. For all his career, Jeter has been viewed as a winner - since his '96 Rookie of the Year campaign, when the Yankees won their first World Series in 18 years. A-rod on the other hand has played on teams which were never truly contenders, in fact losing to Jeter's Yankees in the 2000 ALCS was as far as he'd gotten before becoming a Yankee.
But that's a far too simple assumption and assertion for the game of baseball. Even in a game where stats seemingly reign as the God of the baseball world, justifying Yankee hatred for A-rod as opposed to Yankee adoration for Jeter is far too systematic.
It comes down to one simply factor: A-rod doesn't love the game. And Yankee fans know it.
To say A-rod doesn't enjoy playing baseball would be a brash overstatement. But to say that he loves it, would be entirely untrue.
When you stack Derek Jeter up next to A-rod in terms of sheer statistical production, let's face it, Rodriguez trumps him in many major categories - homeruns, rbis, slugging percentage. In others Jeter has a slight edge - average, on base percentage and hits (by about 100 - his greatest advantage). These differences could easily be chalked up to the type of player each is - A-Rod the power hitting slugger, who drives in runs and hits in the middle of the lineup. Jeter on the other hand is more of a singles hitting, get on base type of guy, who scores runs and bats at the top of the lineup. As far as fielding goes, A-rod won two Gold Gloves before Jeter ever did. In fact, Jeter did not win a Gold Glove until A-rod became his teammate and moved to 3rd base (Jeter has since won 3 straight). A-rod's fielding percentage as a whole is slightly below Jeter's (.974 to .975); while A-rod's fielding percentage at SS is slightly above Jeter's (.977 to .975). So defensively it's essentially a draw.
But therein lies the problem: If A-rod is essentially producing just the same, if not better than Jeter, why does he receive all the hatred? Jeter's had his fair share of poor playoff performances, including a 6 for 40 in that same 2004 ALCS against Boston where A-rod struggled.
So I return again to that simple fact: A-rod does not love the game.
What evidence do we have to support this claim?
Well, the year 2000 is a tremendous starting point. When A-rod's free agent year approached, he made it abundantly clear he was leaving Seattle. He wanted the big pay day the Seattle Mariners simply would not (or probably could not) give him. Ranger owner Tom Hicks came calling to the tune of 252 million. A year later, Jeter was met with the same opportunity, to strike it rich in free agency. He opted instead, to stay with the Yankees (striking it rich to the tune of 189 million over 10 years). Some would casually dismiss this and say, "A-rod simply wanted to play for a contender and Jeter already had that luxury." But that just doesn't fly considering A-rod's 2000 Mariners made the ALCS and gave the Yankees a run for their money, finally losing in 6. In fact, the very next year, the Mariners won more games. It wasn't about "playing for a contender" - it was about making a payday. And that he did. It must be noted that Jeter did as well, but after signing his contract, CNNSI reported that he had this to say, "I never intended to play elsewhere," Jeter said, "and to be honest with you, never intended to look elsewhere." A-rod's intentions were not the same. Sure, Jeter was fortunate enough to play for a team which could both contend and afford to give him that mega contract, but he made his intentions clear: I want to be here.
Fast forward to July 1st of 2004. Deep into the 12th inning in another heated matchup with the Boston Red Sox, the game is tied 3-3. With two out and runner on second and third, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek hits a lazy pop up which is sailing towards foul territory on the 3rd base line. While A-rod slowly trots backwards watching the ball float foul, Jeter streaks towards the stands, making a beautiful back hand catch and launching himself into the stands. Seconds later he rises to his feet, his face cut and bleeding. Ball in his glove. Watch the video and watch A-rod lazily trot. He never so much as thought about risking himself for that ball, whereas Jeter, knowing full well the limits of Yankee stadium, (where he had played for 8 seasons at this point)went after the ball like a man on fire. He made the catch. Then a trip to the hospital. The Yankees won that game.
Here's the video: Jeter dives into stands
Fast forward now to later that same month. Before the Red Sox went on their magical run to the World Series, they encountered the Yankees on numerous occassions. On a rainy Saturday in July, and Rodriguez at bat in the 3rd inning, a pitch sailed in his direction, plunking him squarely on the elbow. Rodriguez began his trot towards first yelling at then Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo. Varitek stood between the pitcher and Rodriguez, attempting to ward off potential conflict. Rodriguez and Varitek began jawing, Rodriguez using language he would later admit which was "strong and ugly" according to CBS sports. Varitek, the grizzled captain of the Sox took offense and promptly shoved Rodriguez, which further escalated the brawl to bench clearing mayhem. After home plate umpire Bruce Froemming restored order, he ejected Rodriguez and Kenny Lofton of the Yankees and Varitek and Gabe Kapler of the Sox. The Red Sox went on to win the game in dramatic fashion, with Bill Mueller hitting a game winning 2 run homerun off Yankee closer Rivera.
Some could perceive A-rod's actions as passionate, but they were hard to perceive as such. The Yankees were up 3-0 at this point and obviously already had Arroyo on the ropes. A-rod could have much more sensibly helped his team by trotting to first - preserving himself for later at bats and opportunities to knock in runs. If he wanted to convey that he was not intimidated, a simple glare towards Arroyo as he trotted down the line would have easily accomplished this. But for whatever reason he felt like opening his mouth. He then proceeded to open his mouth to the wily Red Sox captain, which is what erupted the brawl. It's as if he had become some enraptured in his big money contract, his value if you will, that he felt the need to say, "Hey, do you know who you are throwing at? I'm worth 252 million dollars?" I realize this is highly speculative, but for what other reason did he feel the need to say something? Its as if he were honestly personally offended that Arroyo hit him. I can't pretend to know what Jeter would have done in this situation, but it seems to me he would have trotted to first base, maybe said a little something, but let it be done with. Regardless, A-rod getting fired up didn't propel his team to new heights - a old trick Braves manager Bobby Cox, or current Cubs manager Lou Pinella seem to have perfected. It instead served as a major distraction - and gobs of unnecessary negative media attention - of which he already had aplenty. The Yankees went on to lose the game. Very much unlike Jeter's team first effort diving into the stands just weeks before, A-rod's selfish actions hindered his team's success.
Fast forward again, now to 2007. On July 6th, Alex Rodriguez crushed his 493rd career homerun. A seemingly inconsequential number. However, this homerun tied him for 22nd all-time in baseball history. And with what player? None other than Yankee legend Lou Gehrig. When approached after the game by a reporter with this feat, A-rod's response was this: "Cool." That's it. Not only did his single comment simply forsake the Baseball gods, he didn't seem to see any significance to the fact that he had just tied a Yankee and baseball legend - one of the greatest players to ever grace the diamond. Earlier in the year Jeter hit a lazy grounder which turned into hit number 2215, passing another Yankee legend Joe Dimaggio for 5th all-time in Yankee hits. In the tunnel from the locker room to the field there is a sign hanging which reads "I want to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee," the immortal words of Dimaggio himself. Jeter touches this sign each night when heading to the field. He understands the importance, the history. Yet when asked Jeter downplayed the achievement, saying totals like that come when you play for so long. In a post game interview, with a dirt stained uniform, he responded, "Anytime you mention his name its something special. But more importantly we won the game." The reporter persisted asking him about it again and whether or not he got goosebumps, Jeter again replied, "Oh no question, you know the fans here are great, anytime they something like that it makes you feel good, but you have to put things in perspective, and the biggest thing we need to worry about right now is getting wins." So not only does A-rod express not a single sentiment of baseball history, he doesn't even defer and discuss the importance of helping the team. Jeter single handedly trumps him, accomplishing both in two short answers. He both deferred his accomplishment and brought up the importance that his team wins. Yet another reason why he will be infinitely more loved by Yankees fans than A-rod ever will.
When you strip away all the physical attributes and contract details and playoff performances, the singular difference between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter is this: Jeter loves the game.
A-rod plays it like he's paid to.
Jeter plays it like a kid.
A-rod wants personal accomplishment.
Jeter wants to win.
A-rod could careless about the records, unless he has them.
Jeter respects the records and doesn't even view his accomplishments in context of them.
Though I've seemingly strayed from my opening paragraph's about the fan's love affair with the game of baseball, it all comes full circle now. People love baseball. And people love watching people play baseball that love to play baseball. Alex Rodriguez does not love playing baseball. And that is why people do not love Alex Rodriguez.