Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Well, This Sure Sets One Hell Of A Precedent

David Kircus, once known as a marginal NFL player, third-string wide receiver, and decent return man, now has one more bullet point to add to his resume: polygraph destroyer.

After Kircus got arrested on May 21 following a late-night altercation at a house party, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan threatened to kick him off the team if he was found to have been at fault.

But you know what? That legal system can be one slow bitch when it wants to be (especially when pro athletes are involved). So Pat Bowlen and Shanahan just brought in the ol' Flowers By Irene and hooked Kircus up to the truth machine. At Kircus's request, of course.

The result? Grab those shoulder pads, David, and get back to work. Oh, and try not kick random dude's asses. At 3:50 a.m. In their own driveway.

But how will this play out in the future? How many owners - who, invariably, have tons of money and presumably know plenty of people in all the right places - and coaches will now just strap their basset hound-faced millionaires to a lie detector and see what's what? And can they legally kick a player off the team and/or void a contract if he fails?

These are the delicious questions that will be raised in the near future. But, for now, we can imagine what kinds of statements would make that little needle sway back and forth like a drunken frat boy at a Staind concert...

"Of course it was a woman. She had boobs and everything." - Alex Rodriguez

"I thought it was Charles Barkley." - Jamison Stone

"Nah, I ain't into that shit, dawg ... I mean ... Cat?" - Michael Vick

"I can't wait for that West Coast road trip." - Roger Clemens

"No, my daughter will most certainly not take that multi-million dollar modeling/endorsement offer. She'll wait until she's old enough to take care of the money herself." - Allison Stokke's father

"I've already proven myself to be an excellent addition to the Baseball Tonight family. I am loquacious, I enunciate, I never stumble or stutter when I speak - basically, I am God's gift to gab." - Eric Young

"I really hate attention." - Mark Cuban

"I really just wanted a salad." - Tank Johnson

"I'm 19." - Greg Oden

And of course, "I like that Billy. He's not smug at all." - Jerry Seinfeld

Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Embracing the Unembraceable

In the tenth inning of a 3-3 game last night at Shea Stadium, Barry Bonds pinch-hit with one out. After an at-bat that has resembled literally thousands over the last decade or so, he trotted off to first, the glib recipient of yet another ho-hum, five-pitch, intentional unintentional walk.

Two batters later, with two outs, Kevin Frandsen roped a liner down the right field line. Bonds jogged, thinking it was foul. As it hit the chalk just beyond where the grass meets the warning track dirt and made a hard right into the stands, Bonds was lazily looking over his right shoulder. With the third base coach hopefully screaming obscenities at him, Bonds turned it up and strolled into third.

Then he smiled.

And that's when it hit me: I love Barry Bonds.

I love the way he wears more gear than the troops in Iraq, even though there are very few pitchers in the National League with enough short-and-curlies on their coin purse to actually plunk him.

I love the way he seems to have a forcefield around him at all times, with a look that suggests he wouldn't piss on his own kids if they were on fire; or, better yet, he would - if they paid him.

I love the way he possesses such a vitriolic hate for the media. Have you seen these clowns? Why the fuck should he talk to them? Have they hit 73 homers in a season? Can they take the one good pitch - think about that; ONE GOOD FUCKING PITCH - they've seen in about three days and move their muscles in such a way that the round, cylindrical object they're holding makes solid, square contact with a round, spherical object that's coming toward them at 94 miles an hour and breaking about six-to-eight inches from roughly fifty-nine feet away? You're goddamn right they can't.

Speaking of the media, I love the way he makes those bland, expressionless quotes and statements (like when he said it doesn't bother him that Hank Aaron won't show up for #756) with that benevolent, detached million-air - even though inside it's got to be like six Bartolo Colons and eight Sidney Ponsons fighting for the last ham sandwich of the clubhouse spread.

I love that he may have taken more performance-enhancers than the Rolling Stones touring the Playboy Mansion - or he may not have. And I love that he hit oodles and oodles of gravity-bending blasts off of pitchers who, most likely, were on something, too.

Most of all, though, I love Barry Bonds because he makes it so easy for me to hate him.

In the movie "Unbreakable," Samuel L. Jackson's character, Mr. Glass, explains about how the villain's head is always larger; Bonds has his ever-burgeoning cranium. Mr. Glass's mother tells how there are brute, thuggish villains who use their strength and might and wily, evil villains who use their brains; you can argue Bonds's case for both sides of that coin.

Mr. Glass lives in an isolated world, surrounded by drawings and fake people, and travels in a car padded with leather; Bonds is famously isolated, surrounded by yes-men, and relaxes in his infamous leather recliner in front of his locker in the clubhouse. Mr. Glass blows up planes and trains and burns down hotels to find the one person who completes him - the person who is his direct opposite; Bonds, on the other hand, blows up everything around him in the hopes of finding someone like himself - a comrade to defend him.

Without having someone to cheer against, you would never know who to cheer for.

So for tonight, Mr. Bonds, you get exactly what you got in the tenth inning - a free pass.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A BIRTH, of sorts.

Our kid sister site, Muting Michael Kay is born!


Escape Engine No. 2

(Editor's note: Escape Engine will be a series of baseball features on this site. The first month of the series will focus on bullpens.)

The fast rise and fall of a bullpen is a tragic thing to watch. A month of fantastic pitching could just as easily crumble as continue, as anyone knows, but to predict such a fall is divine. Since sportswriters mention bullpens more than they actually talk about them, we've decided to devote a little time to some contenders' bullpens (with little focus on the closer, since they get enough airtime already). This week we've focused on the Detroit Tigers, currently 1/2 game ahead of the Indians in the AL Central at 24-14.

(Ed. Note 2: I refuse to pony up for, so I watch what YES, SNY, ESPN, TBS and FOX decide to show me. Feel free to let me know where I am wrong in the comments.)

For years there was a glorious symbiotic relationship in Detroit. As the domestic car market crumbled under the weight of an efficient, affordable, and eco-friendly wave of foreign vehicles, the city fell apart. People had to decide if they wanted to pay the gas bill or go see a historically inept baseball team that hadn't done anything since Reagan was talking about star wars - and not the movie. No butts in the seats means no money spent, no money circulating means no buying cars - a vicious cycle turning like so many Goodyears on Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans.

But then they got a few things that make you a contender. A chain-smoking, cantankerous, brilliant manager. Some quality bats. And arms - lots and lots of arms.

8th and 9th: Although it says above we wouldn't talk about closers, how can you not talk about Todd Jones? He didn't sell his soul to the devil - he put a gun to his balls and threatened to blow off the demonmaker if he didn't turn him into a successful closer. Hell, Jamie Moyer wonders how he gets people out. But he does. Joel Zumaya, the Juggs-busting Jimmy Page wannabe, went out 10 days ago with a strained finger; he had surgery a week ago and will be out 2-3 months. Losing a 101-MPH fastball usually isn't a recipe for success, but Jim Leyland has performed miracles before. In Zumaya's place steps Fernando Rodney, who has pitched pretty well as of late. He got lit up in the first two outings of the year to the tune of four earned runs in 1.2 innings, but has settled down lately. Crafty veteran (that term is used very, very loosely here) Jose Mesa and journeyman Bobby Seay provide righty-lefty matchups and mild comfort.

Middle Relief: Jason Grilli has virtually the same stats from his last two outings. They are: 2.1 IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER; 2.1 IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER. Yeesh. A 7+ ERA and 1.84 WHIP aren't going to keep you your job for long as the top righty out of the pen. Wilfredo Ledezma, the lefty, has been up-and-down all year, but lefties are hitting .387 against him with a .940 OPS. To remedy this, the Tigers called up another southpaw, Tim Byrdak, on Sunday, and he then promptly threw two shutout innings against the Red Sox. Kenny Rogers is likely to be out for a few months, and Jeremy Bonderman might miss a start because of a blister problem, but when it comes down to it, this excellent Tigers rotation is likely to give you quality starts night-in, night-out. That means these three guys - Grilli, Ledezma, and Byrdak - merely need to be average and not pour the proverbial gasoline on the fire (not to be confused with the flame tattoo on Zumaya's forearm).

Long-term Eye: This all boils down to one question: Can Zumaya come back, be dominant again, and stay healthy? He's been groomed to take over the closer role for a while now, until the "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It" thinking gets hit by a speeding Dodge Viper. The man truly is scary. Jose Mesa, however, is scary only if you're a Tigers fan and he comes into the game in the 7th with Detroit up 5-4.

Fun Fact: Todd Jones threw the last pitch at Tiger Stadium in 1999. It's just now reaching the plate.

Projection: A healthy trio of Jones, Zumaya and Rodney makes this a top-third group. But there is plenty of potential here for pitfall, and Leyland might want to test the strength of those vines before he swings over the alligators (sorry, love a good Atari reference). The Tigers' rotation and offense should keep them near the top of the AL Central - our pick to win it, actually - but if that fails, this group is the one that might get the (strained) finger pointed at them.

Monday, May 14, 2007


This is, well, it just is. Enjoy. Props to This is Depression's Paul Nair and omgtru. Theismann joke courtesy MAYES.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Outside the Aviary: "A Half Life in Two Movements"

The movement of Josh Beckett from disappointing headcase (Media's take) to All-Star caliber pitcher (actuality all along) is in motion. The reasoning has been well-documented-- his penchant for hotheadedness was a force behind his fastball and it's failure-- but psychology had only one part in Beckett's sudden rise. Alongside coaching changes and an understanding of his surroundings, Beckett's 7-0 record has more to do with function than it does mindset.

The function of a pitcher is no longer to be the star of a baseball game. Since the advent of sporting television and the highlight, the throngs of sports fans have lauded their attention on offensive output: the home run, RBI, etc. The mindset of a team, however is split in half. Nowadays, the Ted Lilly's can demand top-dollar while the Alex Gonzales' (more important due to everyday play) are scrounging for tips from teams needing to plug holes. Beckett's superiority was dormant (labeled "potential")-- especially since his domination of the 2001 playoffs. Yet, the Red Sox said that they got a proven young winner, not a prospect.

That Beckett has proven them right in a young season is not surprising. As many times as being lauded for his "stuff," he has been criticized for being bullish. His penchant for fastballs in frustrating counts was noted on practically every blog and media site in the world of Red Sox baseball. However, this bullishness is exactly why he has relied on pithing off-speed this year. He's proving that he can out-pitch anyone that has traded his pigheaded idea of being the brand-name fireballer to being a Cy Young candidate. You could see it late last year. The frustration of trying to show everyone up who was complaining about his fastball has now turned to shutting everyone up about his value over two prospects.

Why the bullishness? It's simple: Bonds' need to be the best wound up getting him the spotlight for steroids and record chases, Clemens' need keeps him continually coming back, Schilling's need makes him baseball's player-politician. Those who will not stray from the spotlight find ways to bring it to them. Beckett realized that being a jerk in a jerk town just leads to frustration (Pedro learned this as well and though Schilling refuses to learn, that's what a politician does, right?). Beckett learned that simply being the best pitcher in a major market will garner you the attention you desire. Pitchers may not be the most watched superstars, but they are the most coveted.

I call it the Cowperwood Corollary. Dreiser's trilogy of a rich man shows a character motivated not only by avarice, but the attention it garners. Cowperwood wants to be rich and powerful, but refuses to be a politician to do it. Beckett wants to be considered the ace of a staff predicated on people vying to be the ace. It's a position that since the Pedro-Schill years that has become impossible to care about unless you are a fan of the Sox. Wells, Pedro, Schill, Beckett, and Daisuke all vied (or continue to vie) for the glorious position of being lauded as the best since Clemens in the early 90's. Attention and adoration, to be sure, are motivating factors before athletic dominance.

His 7-0 start is a simple case of function over form. To be considered the best, you have to be the best. To do that, you have to fool the best hitting and most overpaid division in the league. Fastballs weren't cutting it, so Beckett changed form. To gain attention as a pitcher, you either have to be a prima donna (Pedro, Clemens) or a loudmouth (Wells, Schilling) to try and outshine the sluggers (Bonds, Ortiz--albeit in opposite sides of the spectrum, so to speak) and be the bulldog at the forefront of the pack.

You also, more than anything else, have to sacrifice to win and be noticed. Schilling was willing to sacrifice his credibility in certain circles be a mouthpiece, Bonds was willing to sacrifice his name for famous records, Pedro was willing to kill his shoulder for wins. All Beckett needed to do was refine his talent. I don't know if he is now fully realized as far as potential is concerned, but at least the struggle has shifted. The need for recognition is going to become quelled, as long as the wins keep coming. If not, the next form will come. The fans are satisfied with wins, but will Beckett be as much? If the Cowperwood Corollary is right, then no. I hope I'm am wrong, of course. All-star caliber is something worth watching, but not at the expense of feigned star power-- just ask anyone following the news of Clemens, Schilling or Bonds as of late.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dirk and Cuban: The Text Messages

In the wake of the Dallas Mavericks' six-game emasculation last week at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, people wondered how Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki would react to the upset.

The Pretzel Factory came across a series of text messages between the owner and the MVP candidate that took place some time this past weekend. Enjoy.

MC: wassup big man?

DW: nuthin

how u holding up?

eh. im watchng drunk hasselhoff on utube

oh man that shits hilarious haha!!! ur boy looks all kinds of pathetic

hes not my boy ok! i h8 him i h8 him i h8 him. i h8 hoops. i h8 evrybdy

dirk don't say that. u wanna come over & ride atv's thru my house?

no im just gonna eat 12 tubs of americone dream n go 2 bed

hey i can't even get that ice cream. is it good? but srsly dirk lets go get sum drinks & pick up sum hooters waitresses

nah. i got no game. i sit @ tables against the wall & wait 4 grls 2 talk 2 me but they never does

lol u got game dirk! ur a big goodlkng guy & u make assloads of $$$ & women like that

i guess

u just gotta get in there man throw caution to the wind

but what if i get rejected?

then u pick urself up dust urself off get mad & get back in there n fight for what u want

i want 2 b the man mark

good. i'll swing by and pick u up in 30 mins ok?

ok. can we go somewhere dark? i dont want ne1 2 recgnze me



dammit dirk. ok. anything u want

& somwhere w/ a lot of tall ppl b c i dont want them pointing & laffing @ me either



maybe we should wait & go to gm 3 of the suns-spurs series in san antonio & u could study amare stoudemire & tim duncan

lol y would i want to do that? im a waaaay better shooter than those guys

dirk do u wanna get laid tonite?

umm yeah i guess that wld be kinda fun

ok just sit still i'm gonna send you a hooker

Friday, May 04, 2007

Escape Engine No. 1

(Editor's note:Escape Engine will be a series of baseball features on this site. The first month of the series will focus on bullpens.)

The fast rise and fall of a bullpen is a tragic thing to watch. A month of fantastic pitching could just as easily crumble as continue, as anyone knows, but to predict such a fall is divine. Since sportswriters mention bullpens more than they actually talk about them, I've decided to devote a little time to some contenders' bullpens (with little focus on the closer, since they get enough airtime already). This week I've focused on the Milwaukee Brewers, currently 1/2 game out of being the best team in baseball at 18-10.

(Ed. Note 2: I haven't seen everyone in action, though I watch an inordinate amount of baseball. Feel free to let me know where I am wrong in the comments.)

Milwaukee, Algonquin for "The Good Land" is not really the surprise of the league, per se, with their young talent, but what is surprising is how their pitchers have responded to their close games-- a canker sore for them in the past.

8th and 9th: Derrick Turnbow, once considered a future fantasy stud relinquished the closer job to ineptness. Former fantasy flop Francisco Coredero now makes his bed in the ninth inning after foibling the Rangers hope for an average bullpen last year. The weirdest part about this is the adjustment Turnbow made. With the pressure of the game alleviated, Turnbow has returned to the form that once had Baseball Tonight salivating. He has a 1.80 ERA and 1 save in 10 innings. Not to be exceeded by some upstart, Cordero is 10 saves in early on with a nothing ERA and 19-7 K to BB count. The change of league seems to be doing him well. If history is any indication, however, these two won't hold these numbers. However, the longer they stand together as this kind of force, the less likely those meltdowns are apt to show.

Middle Relief: There hasn't been much need, really, in this young season. After a month, this may be one of the better rested bullpens in the division. Former Dodger Elmer Dessens has been less than fantastic in 11 innings, but the offense has proven prodigious, so his 1.73 WHIP and 4.91 ERA haven't hurt the Brewers all that much yet. Brian Shouse is effective enough (8 IP, 4 BB, 1.38 and a 3.38 ERA) in non-quality at-bats to be a righty with some potential. He's seemingly a one-inning guy. One of the genuinely good pitchers thus far is Matt Wise with an ERA under 3 and 5 holds thus far on the season. He is currently tied for eighth in the league in Holds. If his impressive start continues to hold a bridge to the Turnbow/Cordero regime, this could be a strong bullpen when it counts. Carlos Villenueva has 4 holds and has pitched in upwards of 4 innings in games making him a valuable innings eater on his way to two wins. His ERA (3.18) is low, but his WHIP (1.53) could stand to be a little lower. Some of that WHIP is walks, since batter are hitting .208 against him his last seven games (including the 4-inning game).

Long-term Eye: This is a threatening bullpen. If Dessens can improve, the bridge to the (for now) lights out 8th and 9th guys will be that much better. With a combined talent range like this, I could see the Brewers continuing the hot April they've had of the starters work their magic. The offense will be there, most likely. There are down spots. Is Villenueva this good? The numbers suggest so over the past couple of years with a combined .218 BAA over 70+ innings). How long can Cordero be effective? Is Turnbow still a closer in the making? How long until the last two questions rear their ugly heads?

Fun fact: Did any one of these guys ever get drafted? The entire core of middle relief were undrafted. Doesn't baseball have like sixteen drafts? Wow. Cordero, Villenueva, Shouse? No draft. Maybe this is more common than I realize. Fun facts are usually stupid anyway. Sorry to waste your time.

Projection: This will be one of the best bullpens in the National League when all is said and done. The Brewers are our pick to win the Central, and the playoffs will truly test this group.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Outside the Aviary: "F-F-F-Foolin'..."

A report from Yankees stadium on Sunday (and another Red Sox victory).

I love fooling Yankee fans. Nothing beats doing it over the course of a Red Sox series either. It's like the dieting commercials you see on TV-- you can eat anything you want and still lose weight! It's simple-- wear anything you want without Red Sox paraphernalia on it and cheer as loud as you want for them! It's a guaranteed good time.

On Sunday, a particularly timid and tame group of Yankee fans filed into the section in which I sat. The combination of terrible pitching and losing record was beginning to grate on them-- you could tell. The kids in front of us were bored off of their asses by the fourth-- dumping peanut shells and stabbing holes in the plater's program faces with a pencil. The fans were yelling more at Mets and Rangers fans than they were at blatant Red Sox fans walking in and out of their seats. They were like a lame duck Presidential speech or a long-winded National Anthem rendition. It was as if the fans were ready for April to end rather than looking forward to the game's conclusion.

And with good reason, I suppose. Their Yankees, as has been well documented, are miring themselves in yet another slow start. This April, however, is different for one solitary reason: suspicion. When the Mets were ready to overtake the Braves last year, there was an attitude of, "Well, their due, but I can't pick against the front runners." People knew that the right amount of pitching mismatches and lineup adjustments had been made. The Braves were rife for domination, but the "hump" is never easily overtaken.

The stadium was never abuzz-- even in the ninth when Giambi came through with a double, even when Doug Mientkiewicz hit a three run job, and even when Alex Rodriguez came up in critical situations (welcome back Little Momma!). With last year's darling of the staff pitching, the fans were listless, yet unable to boo. They were in a conundrum-- there is no one to blame (injuries being the main reason) and no one to love. No heroes, no goats.

I know their pain. Last year's end of season came at the hands of a healthy Yankee squad versus a patched-together pitching dynamic including detritus from all over (Kyle Snyder?! Starting?!). The leftovers still remaining from last year were a past of the unraveling that could have happened in two innings: Tavarez unraveled in the third (wlks and a HR) and Timlin pitched a shaky eighth: (Jeter's HR and the tying run reaching the on-deck circle). The fact that the series is 5-1 thus far rests on the shoulders of new pitchers on both sides. Last year's domination has no carryover with Diasuke Matsuzaka or Jeff Karstens; Jose Vizcaino or Hideki Okijama. I understand the injuries, and stared from the stands at a team bereft of answers.

That's the biggest fool job on the Yankees this year. The trades of Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield may have strockpiled arms, but it doesn't plug holes. The Craig Hansens and Manny DelCarmens of the world are always on the cusp of ready. The Julian Tavarez guys are always in between good stretches. The Sean ("Robin Wright") Henns are always struggling to strike out the superstars of the league. All of this on top of inefficiency an d injury. It's the "smart" plan. It's the "hope" plan. When the clutch comes calling, do you want to watch Sheffield hack at a high hard one, or do you want Melky Cabrera or a 65% Damon or a struggling Abreu? I know these questions well.

The doubts are planted, and the Stadium is full of them. Most of all, there is a lifelessness right now. Of course, when I go in May, June and onward, the attitude will change. I'm sure the standings will change. But, more importantly, will the suspicion? The general rumblings are unsure-- as shaky as a Chase Wright fastball over the heart of the plate. The fans are occupied and languid for now. Will they come alive? Right now, apparently, not enough to worry about two guys in regular clothes celebrating right in front of them as Manny rounded the bases or as Alex Cora slid into third safely. Apparently, not enough to stick around while Giambi stood on second with his tenth multi-hit game or as Papelbon stood ready to deliver. Apparently not enough to hide their sneaking suspicions.

All this, and no one even noticed the shit-eating grin on my face. They were fooled, I suppose.