The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Playoff Races Heat Up

Yesterday I said I’d write about the National League playoff contenders today, but last night’s on the field action was just too exciting to go without comment. The two teams that I follow the most closely – the White Sox (a team that I’ve followed for my whole life) and the Marlins (a team that I can’t escape from following because I’ve lived in Miami for the past ten years) – are out of the playoff mix, and realistically have been for awhile. Given that, you’d think it would be difficult for me to find excitement in the playoff races.

But it hasn’t been. A number of teams that I casually follow – or teams with a player or two that I really enjoy – are most definitely in the mix, and that’s added to the drama. Plus, I’m already invested in the MLB Extra Innings package (although I’ve already gotten way more than my money’s worth out of it), so there’s plenty to watch on television at night. Actually it’s this way for me every year. Granted, the Marlins were in the playoff race and ultimately won the World Series last year, but more often than not the end of the year is like this – my favorite team (the White Sox) and my local team (the Marlins) are nowhere near the race.

This year though Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels are pushing Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s for the American League West crown. While I’m disappointed that one of these teams will ultimately not reach the playoffs, I am excited to see this race come down to the final three games of the regular season (if not a playoff game on Monday). In the National League, it’s possibly even more exciting as the Giants and Dodgers both have an opportunity to win their division, and, as of right now, the Giants, Astros, and Cubs are locked in a too-close-to-call three-way heat for the NL Wild Card. Wild card indeed.

Last night’s action only served to enhance the drama; about the only thing bad about last night’s games was that many of them took place on the West coast and since I live on the East coast, that meant it was a long night for me. It’s not that I’m complaining though – just saying that it was a little difficult to roll out of bed this morning.

American League
Angels – Rangers
Both teams entered this series with post-season aspirations. Now that the Red Sox have clinched the wild card, only the Western division crown remains an option for these two clubs.

Last night’s game was a back and forth struggle, with the Rangers coming back slowly after the Angels jumped out early to a three run lead. The game got most exciting when 2002 World Series hero K-Rod struggled against the Texas hitters. K-Rod entered the game with only three wild pitches over the course of the entire season; he managed to throw two wild pitches during one at-bat, and those two pitches ultimately led to the go ahead run scoring in the bottom of the eighth.

When the bottom of the ninth rolled around it appeared that Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero was either going to end the game with an out (meaning that the Rangers would secure the win) or that he’d cement his claim to the American League MVP award with a game-tying home run. Realistically though, tying the game with a home run in that situation was a long shot, and Guerrerro “only” came through with a single.

This would prove to be enough though, and it set the stage for one of the feel-good stories of the year, as it brought Curtis Pride to the plate. Pride was replacing another Angels’ superstar, Garret Anderson, as Anderson was removed from the game due to injury earlier. That’s not the story though. The story was Curtis Pride.

Pride is the only deaf major leaguer that I know of, and that’s far from the only adversity he’s overcome in his life. On the baseball field alone it’s been a struggle. Pride started out this year in independent baseball and likely wouldn’t have been available for last night’s game if not for September’s expanded rosters. Although he’s played in the major leagues off-and-on since 1993 (debuting with the Expos, of course), Pride hasn’t totaled one hundred major league at bats since 1997, when he split time between the Red Sox and Tigers. In his journey through baseball, Pride made major league stops with the Braves, Red Sox, Expos, Yankees, and now the Angels – all since 1998. He didn’t even appear in the bigs in 1999 or 2002. Still, Pride never quit and never gave up on himself. Last night, Angels fans were thankful for that.

Knowing that, it was almost comical to hear the Rangers crowd get into the game in the 9th inning when Pride strode to the plate. It was as-if they were trying to distract him with excessive noise. Little did they (likely) know that as loud as they might be, it would have no effect on Pride’s at-bat. Pride proceeded to lace a ball to deep centerfield, over the centerfielder’s head and off of the fence. Since their were two outs and the ball was hit so far, Vladimir Guerrero was able to score from first, tying the game at 6.

Eventually the Angels won in extra innings, securing themselves of at least a share of the AL West lead for another day (as the outcome of the A’s game was still undecided). The real story here though was more than just the Angels winning – it was Curtis Pride coming through and being an inspiration to many on the biggest stage that was available to him last night.

Mariners - Athletics
Other than the pennant race, last night’s M’s and A’s game featured two key storylines: the Mariners Ichiro Suzuki’s pursuit of George Sisler’s single-season hit record and the A’s Rich Harden’s continued emergence as an upper echelon major league starter.

Ichiro came into the game needing four hits in his final five games to break Sisler’s record of 257 single season hits. You can argue the merits of Ichiro’s assault on the record – and I would fall into the camp that would say it’s impressive, but not the most impactful thing I’ve seen in the game this year – but it’s difficult to argue that he’s a hitting machine. He managed “only” one hit in last night’s game (and even drew a walk), but that means he only needs three more hits in the M’s final four games to eclipse the record. It’s hard to imagine that he won’t break the mark at this point. Ichiro is working on a nine-game hitting streak right now, and he’s had a hit in 13 of his last 15 games. If he can extend that mark to 16 in his final 19 games, he’ll have the record.

Rich Harden’s case is an interesting one for the A’s. On a team noted for it’s three aces – Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito – Rich Harden is quickly making a case for referring to the A’s as having four aces, or even possibly keeping Harden separated from those other three – but as the ace of the staff. Harden is young (he’ll turn twenty-three in the off-season), but started his 31st game of the season last night and will end the season with nearly 200 innings.

That’s where the questions start to come in I suppose. In last night’s start Harden pitched effectively through the first seven frames. He began to tire in the 8th though and was removed from the game with a 2 – 1 lead, but with two men on and only one out. Ultimately the runners who were on base when Harden departed scored, so Harden was charged with the loss. Not only does the loss cost the A’s in the standings and give the Angels sole possession of the division lead with less than a handful of games left to play, but it also may be damaging to Rich Harden on a number of levels.

Harden through 124 pitches last night. That marks the fourth straight start in which he threw well over 100 pitches, and was the 18th time (in 31 starts) that he eclipsed the century mark. He threw at least 90 pitches in each of his other starts (sans one June start against the Giants when he suffered an injury). For an older, more established pitcher, this would not be disturbing. However, for a young fireballer like Harden, it most definitely could be, but only time will tell.

If the A’s make the playoffs they’ll be counting on Harden in a large way to come through for the team. However, this youngster has thrown the 37th most pitches in the majors this year (the 7th most amongst pitchers under 25 – and Harden is arguably the least developed of those ahead of him). He’s also thrown 13 more innings than he’s thrown in any other year of his career. Each inning that he tack’s on in the post-season is another that his young may be too fatigued to take. The A’s will likely need him though – barring a turnaround from one or two of their big three – as Harden has been the most reliable starter on the staff in the second half this year.

National League
Reds – Cubs
Last year the Cubs dragged out the suspense for their fans, only to lose in heart-breaking fashion in the NLCS to the Marlins. A crueler fate could be awaiting the Cubs this year as they appear to have primed themselves for a late season collapse of epic proportions. Maybe that’s just what I’m hoping for, but if last night’s game is any indication, that could most definitely be what we’re looking at.

The Cubs lost in extra-innings at home yesterday to the lowly Reds. Any loss is painful at this time of year, but last night’s took away the Cubs recent strangle-hold on the Wild Card lead.

A few weeks from now we could be talking about how Nomar Garciaparra is the Billy Goat reincarnate.

Cardinals – Astros
Not that long ago the Astros were left for dead. Experts everywhere chided ‘Stros GM Gerry Hunsicker for not unloading free-agent-to-be talent like Carlos Beltran at the trading deadline in hopes of starting to build for the future. It turns out the experts – and the losers, like me – were wrong. The Astros really were in this thing all along, most of us just didn’t know it at the time.

In fact, going into today’s action, the Astros find themselves atop the Wild Card standings and in control of their own fate. If they win out – and they will be paid a visit by the lowly Colorado Rockies this weekend – they’ll find themselves in the hallowed post-season. Granted they were in this position last year and blew it, but they didn’t have Roger Clemens or Carlos Beltran back then.

Last night’s game wasn’t particularly memorable other than that it was the first time in recent memory that the Astros weren’t just in a position of having hope – now they’re in a position of controlling their own fate.

Giants – Padres
Barry Bonds is in his twelfth year with the Giants and they’re seemingly always in the playoff chase. Sometimes this is due to the fact that Bonds is surrounded by other good players who are having very good years – Matt Williams and Jeff Kent in the past and J.T. Snow this year. The one constant though is Bonds. In his assault on home run records and other chapters of the record book, one thing has been regularly lost about Bonds that is truly the hallmark of what separates the great players from those that are amongst the greatest of all-time – they make those around them better. Bonds clearly does that.

On this year’s Giants team, which position player would start on your favorite team? Ray Durham? Maybe. A.J. Pierzynski? Maybe again. The point is that this lineup isn’t littered with players you wish you had on your team. It’s just Bonds and a handful of guys who are playing over their heads – in part because the hitters ahead of Bonds are seeing better pitches (as pitchers don’t want to see runners on base ahead of Barry) and the guys behind Bonds are seeing better pitches too (as pitchers don’t want to put anyone else on base, as Bonds has usually reached base before).

Last night’s game was a painful loss for the Giants though. They had an early lead, but lost in extra innings. The three errors, including one in the 10th, committed by the Giants were extremely costly.

Rockies – Dodgers
The Dodgers are about the biggest cause of me losing out on sleep. I’m not much of a Dodgers fan, and if the Giants or Angels are on at the same time, I’ll often tune into one of their games instead, but when Vin Scully is broadcasting a Dodgers game I have a hard time tuning away. Part of me knows that we won’t be able to listen to Scully much longer. Still, he’s on top of his game, and regardless of his age, I appreciate being able to listen to a legend, let alone a legend who can do the play by play and color commentary all by himself. Most of the broadcasters in the game today can’t do even one of those two jobs very well, but Scully does both. So I stay up later than I should, much more often than I should, just because I enjoy his dulcet tones.

Last night wasn’t a happy one though for Scully or his friends in blue. First of all, it was their first game without outfielder Milton Bradley, who has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season, and stud closer Eric Gagne, who was unavailable for yesterday’s game due to a (relatively) minor injury.

In a hard fought game, the Dodgers – like seemingly every contender in the National League not named the Astros last night – lost the game in the 9th, when their bullpen – now without Guierllmo Mota, who was traded to the Marlins at the end of July – surrendered three runs. The Dodgers were unable to score in their half of the ninth and went home with a loss.

The Dodgers still have a three game lead in the NL West, but a win last night would have been significant. It would have given the Dodgers a four game lead with only four games to play, including three at home this weekend against the Giants, the team that’s chasing them in the standings. With a win last night, they would have only needed one more win to assure themselves of a division crown.

It didn’t happen though, and as happened throughout the majors last week, we got some exciting games and a number of outcomes that will make the remainder of this week’s action that much more exciting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Playoffs! Who cares about the AL Playoffs? My Team is Out of It

The baseball playoffs are coming, and if you are like me and the team(s) you follow the most closely aren’t going to be playing, it might not seem as interesting to you as it probably is in other years. Well, it should be just as interesting, if not more so, and for lots of reasons. I’ll go team-by-team to give you some reasons – ones that you likely won’t find in your local paper – about why this year’s post-season could be the best ever. Granted, I’m writing this a week before anything starts, so I’m going to talk about some teams that aren’t going to make it, but you’ll get the idea anyway.

Today we’ll start with the Junior Circuit…

Minnesota Twins
If you haven’t been watching all year, unfortunately you won’t get to see the “Circle Me Bert” signs in the outfield, as the Twins local announcers lose out to the national broadcasts in the playoffs. You will though, at least you’re likely to, see all of the Nathan-Santana for president gear and signage in the stands at the Metrodome this October. This politicing at the ballpark was inspired by fellow blogger Batgirl. If you haven’t checked out Batgirl yet, you should. She is to blogging what Twins’ ace Johan Santana is to pitching – quite possibly the best thing out there, but something the bulk of the world simply doesn’t know about yet (check out Legovision).

If you live on the East Coast you may not have heard of Johan Santana yet, but you will soon. He’ll be starting a game or two in the first round against either the Yankees or the Red Sox and you’ll be made aware of his presence. Don’t sit too close to your television when he’s pitching, or you’re likely to find yourself ducking away from his nasty curve ball. Santana has essentially been dominant all year, and he’s been very nearly unhittable since the All-Star break. Northeasterns will likely want to give this year’s Cy Young Award to Curt Schilling, but if they do it’s only because they haven’t seen enough of Santana. There has not been a better pitcher in the game this year than Santana.

Oakland Athletics
You are probably well aware of this team by now. If you’re not, you still have some time to go out and read Moneyball. It was last year’s book of the year and a great insight into the inner workings of a major league baseball front office.

The A’s are a team to cheer for if only because they’re doing it all on a shoestring budget. The A’s have reached the post-season in each of the past four seasons (and amazingly, they have been eliminated in the first round each time). Somehow the A’s have been able to do this even though their total payroll for the past four years (adding each year – 2000 through 2003 together) totals to about as much as the Yankees payroll for 2004 alone.

For each of their post-season runs the A’s have been built around starting pitching. This year is no different as the A’s are again led by their big three of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito. This year they’ve added youngster Rich Harden into the mix, and Harden has actually had the lowest ERA on the staff since the All-Star break. Throw Mark Redman, from last year’s World Champion Florida Marlins, into the mix, and you have what is far and away the best starting rotation in the American League.

Anaheim Angels
While they’re only tied for the last playoff spot right now, the Angels are hot and have been gaining ground on the A’s. One of these two teams will make the playoffs (unless the Rangers really put it together here at the end), and the other will be left to watch from home.

There are a lot of reasons to cheer for the Angels, even though they won the World Series as recently as 2002 and weren’t the subject of a best-selling book like the Athletics. First and foremost is their right-fielder. He’s likely one of the three or five best players in the game today, and he’s also likely someone that you haven’t seen before, or at least haven’t seen much of. There’s also probably no better place to become acquainted with this all-star than baseball’s post-season. Vladimir Guerrero toiled in cavernous Olympic Stadium with the Montreal Expos for the first part of his major league career. This obscured him from the spotlight, if for no other reason than that the majority of Expos games are not televised, even on satellite and cable pay-for packages. Now, in his first year with the Angels, Guerrero is not as well known as some other superstars because he plays on the West Coast and most of his team’s games take place after folks in the East have gone to bed (yes, I know most of our readers here are East Coasters, but I stay up late just to catch Guerrero – and that other guy who plays for the Northern-most National League team.

Guerrero is an un-assuming super-star. If you dig around and find some reading material about Vlad, you’ll surely come across the story about how he wore a pair of unmatched and different sized shoes in his work out for the Expos when he was a teenager. Despite this obstacle, Guerrero’s abilities shown through and he was quickly put on a path to major league stardom. You’ll also likely come across stories of how Guerrero makes room for his mother in his house so that he’ll have company and someone to cook for him. Stories also abound about how Guerrero is hesitant to learn English (or possibly to own up to how much he knows) so that the media will leave him alone. My favorite Vladimir Guerrero story though is about how he rarely, if ever, scouts opposing pitchers. People have said that at times Vlad doesn’t know who he’ll be facing that night until he steps into the on deck circle before his first at bat. Others claim that the only knowledge he has of pitchers throughout the league has been gleaned from clubhouse Playstation video-game sessions.

If Guerrero alone isn’t enough to get you to cheer for the Angels, then new owner Arte Moreno should be. Moreno is a self-made multi-millionaire, and the first minority owner in baseball. He built his fortune by selling billboards throughout the Southwest. This is no small feat when you consider how much of that business is controlled by major media conglomerates and not regular people. Still, that’s hard to relate to. What is much easier to relate to is that Moreno’s first actions as owner of the Angels last year were to lower the price of beer in the stadium, and to make team merchandise more affordable. These are two fan friendly actions that, as far as I know, are unprecedented in sports.

New York Yankees
No discussion about the American League playoffs can take place without discussing the Pinstripers. As universally loved as they are hated, the Yankees are both America’s team and America’s anti-team. They spend and spend and spend, which is either an indictment or praise. They win – or at least they always seem to. Crushing World Series defeats at the hands of the (expansion newcomer) Diamondbacks (2001) and Marlins (2003) resonate strongly (at opposite ends of the spectrum) with the club’s fans and haters.

If you’re already a Yankees fan, you probably don’t need much talking to. The same is true if you’re not a Yankees fan. Most baseball fans will find reason enough to watch Yankees playoff games in that they are either strongly rooting for against Steinbrenner’s men.

In case you haven’t been following closely, this year’s club is somewhat different from those of recent memory. The starting pitching is not great. Actually, that’s about the only change. The bullpen is strong as is the lineup. Some of the names are different, but the results aren’t. Come playoff time though, George Steinbrenner hopes (expects) the results to improve. Losing the World Series does not appear to be an option for this year’s Bronx Bombers.

Boston Red Sox
This year’s Wild Card “champions” are as much the same as you remember them from before, but very much different at the same time. Yes, they are running a close second to the Yankees, as is seemingly always the case. But this year they’ve upgraded their starting pitching and now have a solid number two (and possibly even a new ace) to go along-side Pedro Martinez in offseason acquisition Curt Schilling.

Another major storyline (other than the curse) which will follow the Red Sox throughout the post-season is how much of their team is due for free agency at the season’s end. Pedro Martinez and All-Star catcher Jason Varitek headline the list of potential free agents this offseason. While the Red Sox ownership has proven that they are willing to spend the money to field a championship level ballclub, the bulk of their ballclub could go and play elsewhere after the playoffs. Translation: this could be the last serious run for the Red Sox for a few years.

Tomorrow I’ll run down the National League contenders. Once the teams and the matchups are set, I’ll get into some predictions for those of you who are heading to Vegas and are mistakenly looking for input from me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

BCS Meltdown Scenario - 10 Undefeated Teams

The college football season is still very much in its early stages. Many of the top teams are undefeated, and some teams have yet to play a conference or a ranked foe. This means that it’s the time of year when nearly every team has hope, and there’s still a very distinct possibility that the BCS (Bowl Championship System) could completely blow up in everyone’s face.

That possibility is more likely than ever this year, particularly with the defection of Virginia Tech and Miami from the Big East to the ACC (leaving an easy path to an undefeated season for West Virginia) and relatively strong rosters from some of the “mid-majors.”

At this point in the season, there are twenty-three undefeated teams (going into last week, there were a grand total of twenty-eight) in division I-A football. There are still some pretenders in the undefeated crowd, as I mentioned, it’s early in the season, most notably a four win and zero loss Navy team. By the end of the season, if not the end of October, Navy will likely have fallen to the ranks of the once (or twice) beaten.

Also, many of the undefeated teams will face each other over the remainder of the season, meaning that most of these teams will at least be knocked off by each other, if not another team. Some of the unbeaten teams that will square off later include Oklahoma and Texas (through Colorado and Oklahoma State into the mix of the Big 12 throwdown too), Miami and Virginia (possibly for the ACC crown), Southern Cal, Arizona State, and Cal in the Pac-10, Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee in the SEC, up to two teams from the Big 10 (between Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, and Minnesota), in the WAC, either Fresno State or Boise State will have to knock the other off. Southern Mississippi will also face their stiffest test towards achieving an undefeated regular season when they face off (at home) against Cal on the last weekend of the regular season. Louisville could run the table too, but to do it they’d have to knock off Miami (who would then need to fall to Virginia in order to have an undefeated ACC champion). Of everyone, now that they’ve beaten regular nemesis Maryland, West Virginia appears to have the easiest path towards an undefeated season.

In total, if I’m doing my math right, a maximum of x teams could go undefeated this season. That’s based on every team that currently has zero losses knocking off any team that has a loss later this year, and every team without a loss right now winning all of their games. Obviously, in the games where two undefeated teams meet, half of the teams will win and half will lose, so the field will be reduced significantly from now until the end of the year.

In conferences with a championship game (Big 12, SEC, MAC), I took the easy road out and assumed that only one team could emerge after the conference championship undefeated. I’m not sure if that’s possible, but I think that it is, because in the conferences with divisions I think you play everyone in your division once, meaning that everyone – except for one team – when it’s all said and done must have at least one loss. There are other scenarios with in conference and out of conference games (say Miami, Virginia, and Louisville) meet up in multiple games, meaning that the team which plays an undefeated team in its conference and out of its conference must lose both games in order to have the maximum number of unbeaten teams when it’s all said and done.

Atlantic Coast Conference
As of today, the only potentially undefeated teams are Miami and Virginia. These two teams square off in Charlottesville in November. However, in order to maximize the number of undefeated teams, Miami must lose this game (and to Louisville in mid-October); obviously this is not a scenario that I’m hoping to see play out.

Big East
It’s West Virginia’s table to run. Many will argue that their fortunes are different this year because Miami and Virginia Tech have fled for the greener pastures of the ACC and the down turn in the fortunes of remaining foe Pittsburgh, but the Mountaineers are a legitimate, experienced team. And there’s no team in the country that relishes a trip to Morgantown. WVU could well find itself undefeated on bowl selection day.

Big 10 (really eleven)
Somehow, amazingly, Minnesota and Ohio State will not face off against each other (again) this year. That leaves the distinct possibility that both of these clubs will end the year undefeated. Since Ohio State has been the conference champion more recently, it is my understanding that Minnesota would be crowned the champion (if for nothing else than BCS berth selection), should both teams reach the end of the season unbeaten.

Big 12 (really twelve)
Pretenders like Colorado and Oklahoma State are still lurking, and in all likelihood will only stand to knock one of the real contenders off of their pedestal down the line. As usual, the conference championship will most likely come down to Texas and Oklahoma. Lately, Oklahoma has owned this series, and there’s no reason to see that changing – despite Texas having all-everything running back Cedric Benson in the backfield. Anything can happen though – and in the end it’s likely that one of those two clubs will be undefeated. Based solely on ranking, I’ll have to go with Oklahoma here.

Purdue and Wisconsin are also unbeaten to date this year, but with the round robin conference play, I’m just assuming that these two clubs will get knocked off at some point.

Conference USA
Southern Mississippi, aided by an improbable win over Nebraska early in the year, could coast to an undefeated campaign. The biggest roadblock in their way is a rescheduled game against California which will now take place the first weekend in December.

There are three undefeated teams here, and each has looked impressive at times in the early part of the season. However, Arizona State, California, and defending co-national champion USC all face each other this year. No more than one of them will survive undefeated, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Trojans will win out.

Southeastern Conference
Now that Tennessee has knocked off Florida in a thrilling game at Neyland Stadium, only Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia remain undefeated. No more than one of those teams can be undefeated after the SEC Championship game is played in Atlanta. As much as I’d like to think that Tennessee will be that team, led by the play of their two freshman quarterbacks, Georgia is ranked higher right now, so I’ll assume they hold on.

Western Athletic Conference
The teams that no one wants to play. Until they square off, Boise State and Fresno State are likely to be undefeated. Throwing rankings aside, I’ll take Boise State and their blue uniforms and blue turf.

Potentially undefeated teams
ACC Champion (Virginia)
Big 10 Champion (Minnesota)
Undefeated Big 10 (Ohio State)
Pac-10 Champion (USC)
Big-12 Champion (Oklahoma)
SEC Champion (Georgia)
Big East Champion (West Virginia)
WAC Champion (Boise State)
C-USA Champion (Southern Mississippi)
Undefeated C-USA (Louisville)

That leaves us with ten undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, which is more than enough teams to fill up the eight berths in the BCS bowls. Personally, I’d love to see a scenario like this play out because it would cause utter chaos with the BCS system.

With the way the system is currently set up, the first six berths would be guaranteed to the conference champions. This would put Virginia, Minnesota, USC, Oklahoma, Georgia, and West Virginia on the inside track to the biggest bowls.

That leaves Ohio State, Boise State, Louisville and Southern Mississippi on the outside looking in for the last two spots. Two teams would be left behind and forgotten, likely relegated to the Humanitarian Bowl, or something else grossly unjust. It’s highly unlikely that Ohio State would be left out of the mix, based on their national appeal, recent success, and willingness of their fans to travel. That leaves Boise State, Louisville, and Southern Mississippi to vie for the last BCS berth (and that’s assuming that a one-loss Notre Dame or other such national power doesn’t steal the bowl committee’s attention). I have no idea who would be selected at that point, but one team would be in and two teams would be out – at least.

What happens then? Even more chaos, no doubt. From the four BCS games – and the one other bowl game that the outsiders of the Boise State/Louisville/Southern Mississippi contingent is left with – we would emerge with five undefeated teams. Who could crown a national champion from that?

By that point you’d have five teams that had each knocked off some very worthy opponents – in conference, out of conference, at home, on the road, and in bowl games. Each would have won between twelve and fourteen games at that point. Surely the media and coaches polls would disagree, but not nearly by the degree to which the opinion’s of fans would. We’d likely see championship banners raised in all five stadiums next August/September and we’d be nothing but inundated with Sports Illustrated special pieces featuring the leather-bound commemoratives of each team’s achievement.

But we wouldn’t have the one thing that sports fans everywhere crave, and that’s resolution. Five undefeated teams would answer little (although someone, somewhere would come up with the logic of team x beat team y and team y beat team z, so team x is the true champion) and would only raise the public outcry for a playoff to a fevered pitch.

It’s only late September though, so a scenario while a ten undefeated team scenario may seem possible now, it is very unlikely, if not totally impossible. It’s never happened before, and there’s no reason to think that it would happen this year. There is too much parity in the game and too much that’s simply unpredictable. It sure is fun to think about though.

P.S. As much as I dis-like college football’s overtime system as it does not reflect actual football, it’s a good thing it’s in place this year. Under the old system, when ties were possible and not completely uncommon, we could be in store for even more of a mess than we could be this year.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Marlins Eliminated; What's Next?

It became official yesterday. With the loss yesterday afternoon, the Florida Marlins were eliminated from post-season contention. The loss was the Marlins sixth in a row and it dropped Dontrelle Willis’s 2004 record to 10 wins and 11 losses. Fittingly, the defeat came at the hands of the Atlanta Braves.

While the Marlins have won two World Series titles in their short existence, they have never won a division title. Each year the Marlins have existed that honor has gone to the Braves (even including the two years before the Marlins entered the National League; the Braves have won each title that has been awarded since 1991 and the Marlins started play in 1993).

So it’s a sad day today in Marlin-land. But it shouldn’t be necessarily. Tonight’s game in Montreal against the Expos will be the Marlins first “meaningless” game since late in the 2002 campaign and for that alone Marlins fans should be thankful. Since that time – up until yesterday’s defeat – there was always at least a glimmer of hope that the Marlins would be able to put it together and reach the post-season. And as we all came to know in the last year’s playoffs, the Marlins have yet to lose a post-season series. That streak will live at least one more year.

This offseason should prove to be an exciting one for Marlins fans too – or at least an interesting one. Last year Fish fans got to bask in the glory of a World Championship offseason. This year, that won’t be the case, but there will be many interesting goings-on to keep the flames of the hot stove season stoked until pitchers and catchers report in the winter.

What’s to worry about?
First and foremost, there are a lot of free agents and potential free agents. Armando Benitez will likely be on the market, and he likely won’t be back. It’s not that the Fish don’t want him back, it’s that they likely won’t be able to afford his asking price – particularly after the stellar year he had in Miami. Benitez might think twice though before he inks a lucrative contract somewhere else. For a ballplayer who’s had as many ups-and-downs as Benitez over the years, staying in the relatively tame media market of Miami (plus the lack of a state income tax) might be worth something to him.

Carl Pavano, who for much of the year looked not only like the staff ace but also like a Cy Young candidate, has also earned free agency. Much like Benitez, he’s likely pitched himself out of the Fish’s price range. Pavano is a little younger than Benitez, and hasn’t yet had the opportunity to cash in on a big pay-day, so don’t be surprised to see him in another team’s colors come opening day. Plus, he has to be itching to get out of town just to get himself away from everyone who’s heard the smack that Alissa Milano has been talking about him since their breakup.

Possibly the most disturbing loss of all is the potential free agency of Mike Lowell. Lowell’s situation is quite different from most ballplayers in that the four year deal he signed last offseason is contigent upon the team finding financing for a new ballpark. Based on the language in his contract, Lowell will have the right to opt out of his deal. Now it’s just a matter of whether he will or not. Indications are that Lowell would like to stay with the team – he’s as much of a Miami native as anyone – as long as there’s at least a chance they’ll remain competitive. If he’ll have to go through something like what the Marlins went through in 1998, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him opt for free agency. Teams will be lined up for Lowell’s services, and he’d likely even be able to manage a raise for himself in the process of picking out a new club.

Not all of the Marlins players are in such high demand though, and two such players will likely be clogging up roster spots for the 2005 season. One will be Jeff Conine, who is likely to play out the final year of his contract (which is set to pay him $3 million in 2005). That pretty much solidifies the first base position for the Marlins next year, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. At least the Marlins will only have to see the relatively affordable and much more powerful Hee Seop Choi a few times next season (assuming he’s still wearing Dodger blue).

The Marlins also find themselves saddled with out machine Juan Encarnacion as they prepare for the 2005 season. Even with all the magic that general manager Larry Beinfest has been able to work over the last few seasons, it’s highly doubtful that he’ll be able to pull off anything satisfactory with Encarnacion. About the only good thing you can say about having Juan in 2005 is that Beinfest and the Marlins acquired him in 2004 as they made a legitimate and concerted effort to reach the post-season in 2004. You may not agree with the moves they made, but at least they made moves and did something they thought would work. They leveraged the future for the present, and even took on some payroll to do it. In the end it didn’t work out, but it’s hard to fault them for trying. I’d rather see them go wrong like this once in awhile than to stand pat and not make the playoffs that way. This at least gave us an extra month or two of hope.

Hope is about all that Marlins fans have with regards to the return of catcher Paul Lo Duca and pitcher A.J. Burnett. Both are due for arbitration and substantial raises this year. Depending on the status of the free agents discussed above, the Marlins may or may not be able to afford one or both of these players. Lo Duca will likely be retained, if only to have a daily reminder on the field that the Dodgers trade was just not a rental deal.

Burnett’s situation is a much more interesting one. Coming back from Tommy John surgery this year, Burnett pitched much like the staff ace that he was before his arm troubles, although his record did not indicate it. When Burnett pitched well, the Marlins bats were often anemic. Also working against Burnett was a late season injury, which he feels he has recovered from well enough to return before the end of the week, but which will likely nonetheless cause doubts about his long term health and therefore the potential value of any long term contract he could sign. However, with the ability to go to arbitration, Burnett will likely be able to earn himself a healthy raise for the 2005 season, and the threat of that alone may be enough to scare the Marlins into trading him away before they have to start writing those checks.

The Positives
Don’t lose hope though. There are still plenty of positives.

First and foremost, there’s Miguel Cabrera. No one can say for sure yet where exactly he’ll be playing next year, but he most definitely will be playing. Cabrera brings a potent bat to the lineup that only the most elite players in the game can match. Hopefully Lowell will be back next year, or at least Lo Duca or Conine, to provide Cabrera with some protection in the lineup, otherwise, Marlins fans might start to see him treated like Barry Bonds lite. With only the likes of Alex Gonzalez, Juan Pierre, and Luis Castillo around him in the lineup, there’s not much reason to pitch to Cabrera. Miguel may play third base or somewhere in the outfield, but regardless – he will be one of the most exciting players in the league to watch next year, regardless of age. And when you take into account that he’ll start out the season as a twenty-one year old, it’s simply mind-numbing. There’s a great future ahead of this young man, and if you keep watching the Marlins, you’re likely to get to see an entire Hall of Fame career unfold before your eyes.

Second, and still quite possibly first, is young pitching. Yes, the Marlins might lose both Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett this offseason; it’s unlikely, but still possible. My best guess is that they’ll do their best to keep at least one of them. Still, without Pavano or Burnett, the Marlins will still have World Series MVP Josh Beckett and 2003 Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis.

Sure, there’s the possibility that we’ll be referring to Beckett and Willis with those introductions for the rest of their careers (meaning that they’ll accomplish nothing else significant from here on), but that’s unlikely. Both are young, and while both are inconsistent, both have the most important thing you look for in a pitcher – and that’s good stuff. Plus, Beckett and Willis have proved that their good stuff is good enough to allow them to succeed – and at the highest stages of the game – on the major league level.

It’s true, the Marlins will not be brining the 1927 Yankees to their 2005 Spring camp (heck, they’d be old anyway) – and they’re not even going to bring back their 2003 club. They still should field a competitive club, and with their current budget and stadium situation, that’s about all you can ask for.

It will at least be an interesting – if not tumultuous – offseason for the Marlins. Stadium deals, free agency issues, and arbitration hearings will likely steal the headlines. Fans will be left to hope that if a stadium is financed that it doesn’t work out like in Milwaukee, where the taxpayers are left footing the bill for a team that isn’t really competing, or even in Arizona, where the people paid for the park, but now the team isn’t worth paying to see. Hopefully though those things can be resolved and attention can turn back to talking about how good Miguel Cabrera might be and whether or not young pitchers like Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett will really put it together or not.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Hurricanes Stumble Through Win over Houston

Last night’s 38 – 13 win over Houston was perhaps the most uninspired and unconvincing 25-point win in the history of Miami Hurricanes football. Still, it was a win and a win on the road, so it’s not all bad. It also looked like the Canes left Houston relatively free of any new, major injuries, so that was another positive thing. After that, it’s difficult to come up with much in the way of superlatives or even positives.

I’ll spare you the regular game commentary and play-by-play analysis today, but I will share some of my thoughts on the game with you:

This was arguably Brock Berlin’s best game as a Hurricane. From a statistical perspective, it most definitely wasn't. And yes, he fumbled late in the first half which lead to Houston’s only touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception. That’s a start.

Even more encouraging was that many of Berlin’s throws were on target, but were dropped for whatever reason. Ryan Moore, most notably, dropped a number of catchable passes, including one deep ball in the middle of the field late in the game which Berlin had neatly delivered between two Houston defenders.

Moore’s confidence seems to be at an all-time low, and if the coaches can’t turn that around before Miami’s next game at Georgia Tech on October 2nd, it may be time to throw more of a size and speed combination at the defense, with Kevin Everett and Greg Olson providing the size and Sinorice Moss and Roscoe Parrish providing the speed.

The running game was also decent last night, if not spectacular. Most Canes fans are probably spending today hoping that Frank Gore is healthy and that he just sat out the second half as the coaches didn’t want to risk injury to him in a game that was fairly well in hand (although it was still closer than Coach Coker would have liked).

Resting Gore also gave the Canes some time to feature Tyrone Moss, who seems to be emerging more as a bruiser type of a back than a speed back, which may be the role Gore is capable of fulfilling if he really is healthy this year. If that’s the case, the Canes will have a nice one-two punch that will be difficult for defenses to prepare for.

Although the defense didn’t look as impressive last night as it did in the first two contests of the season, overall the defense still looked very stout. Sure, they gave up 13 points, which is relatively a lot – particularly after giving up only 10 points in the first two games. However, seven of those points resulted from a Canes turnover on the short end of the field.

Also working against the Canes was Houston’s unusual offense. While this made things a little more interesting than Canes fans hoped for last night, over the course of the season this will likely be a good thing and a learning experience that the Canes will draw on, particularly in the more challenging upcoming games, like those against Georgia Tech, Louisville, Virginia, and Virginia Tech.

I was somewhat surprised to see Miami’s defense be as aggressive as it was against Houston last night. Over the past few years Miami’s defense has been criticized for being overly conservative and vanilla with it’s play-calling (i.e. very few blitzes). In their first two games of this season though, that has been anything but the case. The Canes have blitzed so much, in fact, that one has to wonder if they’ll have anything new to show opposing offenses later in the year that the other team hasn’t already seen on film.

That trend was on display again last night against Houston as Miami blitzed and put pressure on the passer from all over the field. However, Houston’s changing formations, spread offense, and unusual play calling was fairly successful in overcoming the advantages Miami had in terms of both skill and speed. It will be interesting to see if other teams adopt a philosophy similar to Houston’s – at least at times – in upcoming games this season. If they do, it will be interesting to see if Miami counters by sititng in a base defense, which may provide them with the opportunity to use their athletic ability and speed to neutralize the offense.

The play of freshman safety Anthony Reddick was also impressive. He not only blocked a punt, but forced a fumble, which was recovered and returned for a score by Baraka Atkins. Hopefully Atkins didn't bust out with something like Marquis Weeks when asked about running the fumble back for a touchdown. Instead of using something that's as tired as "it was just kind of instinct, like running from the cops," I hope Atkins said something more along the lines of "I just ran like I was late for school and wanted to get there before the bell rang." Something, anything that would just sound a little better than what Weeks said a few weeks back. A quote like that out of a Miami player would surely generate national headlines.

Special Teams
It’s probably too early in the year to make a pronouncement like this, but Miami’s special teams look like they’re on course to be a strength of this team and a major factor in how high the Canes rise in the standings over the course of the season.

That punt returns and kickoff returns are a strong suit is a surprise to no one. That Miami’s blocked a punt for a touchdown and blocked a key field goal attempt is also no surprise. Even Jon Peattie’s solid-ness has come to be expected after his strong freshman campaign of a season ago. What is a major benefit, and was a major hole last year – possibly costing the Canes the Tennessee game – is the punting game. Brian Monroe (on kick-offs too) is providing the Canes with a field position advantage that is of relatively little help to the defense, because so far it seems to be so strong, but is of huge advantage to the offense, which continues to struggle, because they have a shorter field to work with more often than not.

Other Thoughts
If you were as surprised as I was about how dirty the players’ jerseys got playing in an indoor stadium with field turf, I think I have an answer for you – beneath the field turf, mixed in with it actually, is ground up rubber. Many of the players’ jerseys appeared to have dark streaks by the middle of the game, which I can only think was caused by the rubber.

For those of you who were scoring at home, I thought it was unfair for Houston Athletic Director Dave Maggard to reference how the University of Miami “considered” dropping football back in the mid-90s. This was a mis-statement by Maggard – it was Sports Illustrated that urged Miami to drop its football program and as far as I am aware, this was not a suggestion that was taken very seriously by the university’s administration. Regardless, the comment was mainly inappropriate because Maggard, who served as UM’s AD from 1991 – 1993, was about as responsible as any one individual for the issues that prompted such an article or a thought process from ever existing. Maggard was the head of a renegade program at the time and he left without instituting any measures to clean the program up and return it to its championship level, like Paul Dee has done. Instead Maggard did the easy thing and got out. His presentation of the subject was biased and unfair.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Bonds Walks into Record Books

We’ll take a break from Marquis Weeks week here at The Book to talk about the incomparable Barry Bonds. Let me start out by saying that if you are as bothered as me about how many walks Bonds is receiving – particularly those of the intentional variety – you should probably consider seeking professional help. Actually, probably is definitely not a strong enough word.

If you are planning on catching at least some of the upcoming presidential debates between George W. Bush and John Kerry because you’re hoping that at least one of the candidates will take a firm stand on the issue of intentional walks, you are not alone (you’re at least with me), but you’re still in need of help.

How ridiculous has this gotten to be? Let’s take a look.

After last night’s 1 – 1 (with a triple), four walk performance, Bonds now has 213 walks on the season. That total means that Barry has already re-raised the single-season record that he already owned by 15 walks. This marks the third time in the past four years that Bonds has re-set the single-season walks record.

That’s simply absurd, particularly when you realize that the single-season walk record stood for seventy-eight (78!) years before Barry came around and obliterated it in 2001. The walk record that some guy named Babe Ruth set in 1923 stood at 170 until Barry started scaring everyone. In fact no one got closer than Mark McGwire’s 162 in 1998 (another memorable monster home run season) – it’s fair to note though that Ted Williams also reached the 162 mark twice in his career, both in 1947 and 1949.

What’s even more amazing is that the difference between the single season walk record set by Bonds and the pre-millennium record held by Ruth of 43 walks (as it stands going into today’s games) was enough to distant Ruth from the 69th place holder previously (the total of 127 walks has been achieved by seven players, including Jeff Bagwell most recently in 1997 – and Bonds in 1992). By the time the season has concluded and Bonds picks up even more walks (he’s projected to end up with 227) his lead over Ruth (57 walks) will equal the lead Ruth once held over anyone near the top-100 (it would take far too much time for me to compile the exact rankings since I can only find records that go as deep as 100 men – at that point we’re still 10 walks shy of the margin Bonds will hold over Ruth.

Rob Neyer wrote an article a few weeks back talking about the home runs we’ve been deprived of seeing because Bonds is walked so much (I haven’t linked to it here because it’s an Insider article, and I’m tired of everyone’s complaints that they don’t have access). Had Bonds been walked merely at Ruth’s previous record rate in his three recent record season’s, we most likely would have benefited from more than 80 Bonds at-bats. If you conservatively assume that Bonds would have hit a home run in one-of-every-ten of those at bats, that’s 8 more Bonds home runs that we’ve missed out on. And that’s about as conservative of an estimate as you’ll find. That assumes that Bonds was “only” walked at the previous record rate in 2004, 2002, and 2001 (Barry missed some games in 2003 so his total wasn’t that eye-popping – only good enough for 14th all-time). I think that’s conservative since no one came within 5% of Ruth’s walk record until Bonds came along and blew through it in three of the past four seasons.

It’s not just the run-of-the-mill, we’re afraid to pitch to Barry walks, that are running up Barry’s totals. The intentional walks are even more egregious. They’re excessive, ill-conceived, and are denying fans (and Barry) of the opportunity to witness something historic. One could argue that the free bases that managers are regularly giving the Giants and Bonds have likely propelled them into the National League Wild Card lead.

Barry has been intentionally walked 111 times this season. In 2002 and 2003 combined he was “only” walked intentionally 129 times. He’ll likely end up pretty close to that two year total this year. That’s simply absurd.

Like with the regular walks record, Barry obliterated long-standing intentional walks records with his recent performance. Prior to 2002, the record for intentional walks had stood since 1969, when the Giants’ Willie McCovey established the mark with 45 free passes. At the time that record was a significant “improvement” on the previously established total of 33 (by Ted Williams in 1957). Still, Bonds eclipsed both of those marks well before the All-Star break this season.

To help put Bonds intentional walk totals into perspective, consider some of the marks of other all-time greats. This helps to illustrate that Bonds is not merely selective at the plate, but that he is being pitched around to a greater degree than any slugger in history (although this is somewhat debatable as the records simply do not exist for Ruth – they weren’t kept until 1955).

Hank Aaron received 293 intentional walks in his entire 22-year career, including his career high of 23 in 1968. Willie Mays was walked intentionally 192 times in his career, including a high of 20 in 1956. McCovey, previously mentioned as the old-record holder, earned 260 intentional walks in his career. Mark McGwire, a contemporary of Bonds’, received a total of 150 in his career, including 28 in 1998 (the year he hit 70 home runs). Another current player, who is still adding to his total, Sammy Sosa, has earned a total of 144 intentional free passes (coming into this season), including his career high of 37 in 2001 (the year that the free pass to the big slugger really came into vogue).

How does Bonds compare you ask? Well, you already know that he has 111 intentional walk this year alone. That stacks up pretty well compared to those folks listed previously. You could take Aaron, Mays, McGwire, and Sosa’s career highs in intentional walks and find yourself in the neighborhood of Bonds’ total this year alone.

In just the last three seasons, Bonds has 240 intentional walks, which is more than McGwire, Sosa, and Mays totaled in their entire careers and stacks up pretty favorably with what Aaron and McCovey were “given.” When you look at it from a career perspective though, it’s not even close. Bonds has 594 intentional walks – and he’s still adding to that total, regularly.
At this point, I don’t think it’s even necessary to say anymore. I haven’t even gotten into any of the statistically sound analysis that has been done to prove that walking any player so regularly is not a good gamble (particularly when the player hitting behind him is on course to set the record for highest second half batting average of all-time; if it were not for Bonds, we might be talking about J.T. Snow’s MVP candidacy right now). Sure, Bonds is great and likely the greatest player of all-time and he’s in the midst of the greatest run of any player of all-time. That’s difficult to argue. However, it’s hard to argue that he’s twice as great as anyone who’s ever played the game before, but that’s how other teams are treating him.

Maybe other teams will keep walking Bonds throughout the rest of the regular season and it will propel the Giants deep into the playoffs – maybe even to a World Series win. I almost hope that doesn’t happen though. I fear that if Barry did get himself a ring this season, he might hang it all up and go home, just a little bit short of the few records he has left to break.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


As many of you have probably realized by now – at least if you’re a regular reader of this site – is that I tend to change the quote under the title (look above) pretty regularly. Usually I’ll get a comment or two here or there about whatever the quote might be. The current quote (by Virginia’s Marquis Weeks – “That was just instinct. Kind of like running from the cops, I guess you could say.”) has been by far more popular than any other.

In fact, most of the hits I’ve gotten this week – probably more than half of them – have been from people who type Weeks’ quote into a search engine and eventually find their way to my site. I hope that those folks are realizing that the quote is in the title area and – until this post – wasn’t really a part of anything that I’d written.

In the spirit of Marquis Weeks’ quote, I thought I’d share some other quotes I came across and heard recently that I particularly liked:

"I'm training Confuciusly everyday." -- Mike Tyson

I’m not sure of the origin of this quote, but apparently it’s from an interview that Tyson gave recently. On Monday (9/20) Mike and Mike of ESPN’s morning show played the interview and kept replaying this particular quote. Although I found it to be quite amusing, I’m not sure why. I’m also not sure what Tyson meant exactly. ESPN’s Mike Golic thought that Tyson might have meant “profusely” instead of “Confuciusly” but everyone agreed that wouldn’t make much more sense anyway.

One has to wonder though if Tyson just wished he could “fade into Bolivia” after uttering that line. For some reason I doubt that though.

"Yeah, good things don't end with -eum, they end with -mania, or -teria." - Homer Simpson

There’s really not much to add to that quote. It’s pretty much just true. If you can think of something that violates Homer’s Law drop me a line and let me know.

And finally, an old classic from San Diego Padres radio announcer Jerry Coleman (make sure to read this as it’s written – the wording is Coleman’s; obviously he meant it differently, but I’m sure if you were in your car and heard this come over the airwaves, you might have been a little scared for poor Dave):

"Winfield goes back to the wall. He hits his head on the wall -- andit rolls off! It's rolling all the way back to second base! This is aterrible thing for the Padres."

What really happened here was that Dave Winfield (then of the Padres of course) ran into the outfield fence at about the same time as he was trying to catch a fly ball. The collision (c’mon – you’ve seen this before – man versus wall, wall wins) caused Winfield to drop the ball. This was a terrible thing for the Padres because since the ball was not caught, it was in play. But do not worry; Winfield’s head was not taken off by the play. It was really the ball rolling back towards second base.

And of course, there’s always Baseball Prospectus’s Monday Quote article, which I always enjoy (and it’s one of their freebies for you non-subscribers).

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Amazing Barry Bonds

There’s been a lot written lately about what an incredible year Barry Bonds is having, what an incredible four year stretch Bonds is having, and what an incredible career Bonds is having. The superlatives abound and they probably still understate the greatness that we are witnessing at the present.

Here’s one that I haven’t seen mentioned before though: Entering today’s action, Bonds has a .610 onbase percentage so far this year. As many of you probably already know by now, the single season record for onbase percentage was established by Bonds in 2002 at .582. As I’ve mentioned before a difference like that might seem slight on the surface, but in more real person terms that variance of .028 is the same difference as you’ll see between x and y.

On an even more absurd level, it’s just about a mortal lock at this point that Bonds will re-raise the single-season onbase percentage record with whatever he does for the rest of the year. Look at it this way, through 150 team games, Bonds has reached base at the previously mentioned .610 clip. He’s played in 135 of the Giants games and has a total of 566 plate appearances (at bats, walks, sacrifices, and hit by pitches). That averages out to 4.2 plate appearances in each of the Giants games that Bonds has played in this year (a pretty healthy number considering that he has a fair number of pinch-hit, single plate appearance games mixed in there). Assuming that Bonds plays in each of the Giants last twelve games that means he’ll get 50 more plate appearances this year.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Bonds fails to reach base in each of those 50 plate appearances. It’s virtually impossible because even if opposing pitchers actually pitched to Bonds with an attempt to throw him strikes, he would invariably be walked a few times here and there – even if he came up to the plate without a bat in his hand. Still, let’s assume he goes 0 for his next 50 plate appearances. That would mean that Barry’s reached base 345 times (his current total) in 616 plate appearances, for a percentage of .5601. Granted, that wouldn’t eclipse the record Bonds set in 2002, but it would be the second best mark of all-time – even eclipsing the former record that Ted Williams set in 1941 (.5528).

If Bonds reaches base as few as 13 times in the Giants final twelve games (assuming he plays in each of them) Bonds is guaranteed to break his own single-season onbase percentage mark. It’s pretty much a given that he’ll do that, if only with the walks he’ll be issued intentionally (or unintentionally intentionally).

My words here don’t do much to illustrate Bonds’ greatness but many others recently have done a superb job at trying to put things into perspective. Another Mike talks here about how phenomenal Bonds’ numbers are and have been. Last week, Baseball Prospectus did a series (sorry, but these articles require a subscription to BP - but it's well worth it) of articles about Bonds. One of the articles talked about how Bonds stats are so different from everyone else’s that they’re even impacting league averages. My favorite article was probably the article that translated Barry’s dominance into what it would take for a pitcher to make the same impact that Barry has. The numbers are utterly incomprehensible.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Weekend in Review

Miami vs. La Tech
While the Hurricanes in a blowout (48 – 0) and did fairly well in containing Heisman hopeful Ryan Moats, questions still remain about the Canes offense. Miami did score four offensive touchdowns, but they weren’t going up against the Florida State defense this weekend (or even the Georgia Tech defense that they’ll face in a few weeks).

On their opening drive and their first pass attempt of the game Brock Berlin through an interception that appeared to be directly thrown to a Louisiana Tech player.

Luckily for Miami their defense appears to have not lost a step compared to last year’s defense, which lost seven starters, including four who went on to be NFL first round draft picks. After watching these past two games it seems like an appropriate name for the defense would be the “three-and-out” defense because the other team’s offense is lucky to stay on the field for more time than that.

Miami has to put it together quickly though this week, as they play Houston on the road on Thursday night in a nationally televised contest. Houston should not be the toughest of opponents for the Canes, but it’s a short week of preparation plus there’s travel involved (for the first time this year for the Canes). The Cougars also will likely provide a challenge to the Canes defense as they are much more heavily focused on the pass than anyone the Canes have come up against recently.

Florida State vs. UAB
The Seminoles rolled, as expected, but no one was happy with Chris Rix, as expected. Allegedly, Rix was booed throughout the game, as FSU fans were not quick to forget the role Rix played in his 5th consecutive loss to Miami a week before.

It would be fun to point out that Florida State gained more yards rushing on their first run from scrimmage against UAB than they did in the entire game against Miami and that they gained more yards on offense in the first quarter against UAB than they did in the whole game against Miami, but it would get tiresome to make those observations. Needless to say the speed and power of FSU’s offense and defense showed through on Saturday night and it would not be surprising to see FSU run the table and be ranked right around Miami come the end of the season.

Florida vs. Tennessee
Even though you could argue that Florida was hosed by a last-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (it should have been offsetting penalties against the infracting Gator and Volunteer), you have to feel good for Tennessee’s kicker, Wilhoit, who, after missing a potentially game tying extra point with mere minutes remaining in regulation kicked a 50-yard field goal with only seconds left on the clock to seal the victory for the Volunteers.

It was a big shake-up day in the SEC on Saturday, with pre-season favorites LSU and Florida both losing on the road in close, hard fought ball games. Florida though is making an early run to stake their claim to being the best-one loss team in the country, or at least the best one loss team in the state of Florida, for the time being. As you’ll remember, the Gators are the two time defending national champions of being the best five-loss team in the country. It doesn’t appear likely for the Gators to take that title for a third straight year though, as they only have eleven regular season games and do not have Miami on the schedule.

It’s a tough road ahead for the Gators this year, with a road games against Florida State, , plus tough home contests against Arkansas and LSU. Still, the Gators look tough and are likely to be in the mix at the end of the season. Now they’ll just have to hope for Tennessee to slip up somewhere along the way.

Marlins vs. Braves
The Braves took two of three from the Marlins and it now appears that all hope is nearly officially lost from the Marlins hopes of reaching the post-season for the second consecutive year. The Fish made a good run at it though and it’s tough to be disappointed.

It is disappointing though to read the article in yesterday’s Miami Herald which talked about all the players the Marlins are likely to lose either due to free agency (Pavano, Benitez, etc) or arbitration (Lo Duca, Burnett, etc) and that it will be even more difficult to sign them because of all the money the Marlins owe to Mike Hampton (who never even wore a Marlins uniform) and Ivan Rodriguez (who keyed last year’s World Series run, but was guaranteed money for a few years after his one year contract). In the long run, this is a small price to pay for having won the 2003 World Series, but for fans who hope to see the Fish contend again in 2005 it’s a tough pill to swallow – unless of course Larry Beinfest can pull off some more magic with offseason deals.

Yankees vs. Red Sox
Well, the Red Sox didn’t take two of three or sweep the Yankees this weekend like I thought (at least hoped) they would. Instead the Yankees took two out of three and increased their division lead to four and a half games, which is a nearly insurmountable amount at this point in the season. It doesn’t matter though because both teams are going to make the playoffs and will likely square off in another best of seven ALCS this year. At that point all best are off, especially if the Red Sox can get four or five starts out of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in that series.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Big Weekend In Sports

There are lots of big sporting events going on this weekend and I’ll try to give you some insight into what’s going to happen:

Louisiana Tech at Miami
Ryan Moats gets his first chance to turn himself into a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this weekend, when he goes up against the Miami defense, which last week, against Florida State, looked to be as fierce of a defense as might be seen anywhere in the country this year.

It’s unlikely that Moats will pile up the yardage needed to impress folks not familiar with Louisiana Tech this weekend, particularly if the Canes jump out to an early lead and the Bulldogs are forced to throw the ball in an attempt to catch up. If La Tech is able to manage an early lead and control the ball with Moats, it could get interesting though. I just can’t see that happening, however. In all likelihood, Miami will take a one to two touchdown lead into half-time and pull away in the second half. An opening drive score by the Canes would be a comforting factor, as it will likely make Louisiana Tech think twice about their grind it out game plan.

Prediction: Canes, big time

Alabama-Birmingham at Florida State
Many experts this week have questioned FSU’s decision to start Chris Rix this week, the logic of keeping Jeff Bowden as offensive coordinator, and the likelihood that UAB could pull off an upset here – if it were not for FSU’s strong defense.

I fully expect Florida State to win in a blowout here, and I think they will erase some of the doubts about their play-calling with an offensive romp. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

Miami and Florida State are both starting senior quarterbacks this year. If Miami is going to challenge for a national title this year, they’ll likely stick with Brock Berlin as quarterback (if only because I can’t see them changing quarterbacks mid-stream if they’re winning). If Miami does give some experience to a younger quarterback, it will likely be in mop-up time (which won’t be great developmental experience) or on the heels of a loss (which will likely knock the Canes out of national title contention). I’m not a big fan of that scenario – at least not this year. The flip side to that is that if the Canes win out and run the table this year, they’ll enter the 2005 season with a relatively (or totally) inexperienced starting quarterback (as both Brock Berlin and Derrick Crudup will be gone). If Florida State keeps playing Rix all year, they’ll be in much the same situation. Given that both teams open with one another next year, I hope that FSU is starting an inexperienced quarterback if Miami is, so I’d like to see Rix stay on the field.

Prediction: Noles, by a wider margin than the Canes beat the Bulldogs

Florida at Tennessee
Like with the Florida State – Miami game last week, this game is too close to call, particularly so early in the year. It goes without saying that having this game in Knoxville is a huge advantage for the Vols. Neyland Stadium is the humongous and will be filled with about 110,000 people wearing some shade of orange on Saturday night. It will be loud and it will be raucous.

That will be an interesting experience for Gators sophomore quarterback Chris Leak, who has gone up against hostile crowds, like against Miami last year in his collegiate debut, and has heard loud crowds, like for most of the games he’s played in at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Still, he’s never experienced anything like what he’ll see and hear on Saturday night. It’s possible that his brother, a senior with the Vols, gave him some insight, but I doubt it. This is a game that both teams need to win.

On the surface, a big disadvantage for Tennessee going into this game is that they’re rotating two true freshmen at quarterback. This is definitely not desirable when you’re facing a top 10 team early in the season. However, in their debuts, Tennessee quarterbacks Schaeffer and Ainge looked more than impressive. Couple that with the fact that the Gators defense gave up nearly three-hundred yards last week against Eastern Michigan (or about double what Miami surrendered to Florida State), and you have to have at least some hope if you’re a Vols fan.

Prediction: Volunteers by less than a touchdown

Braves at Marlins
Going into the weekend, the Braves essentially have the National League East sewn up. One could argue that they’ve had it sewn up since some point in 1991. The one time they didn’t, in 1994, there was a strike which kept the Braves seeming infinite run of division titles in tact.

The picture for the Marlins isn’t quite so rosy, but there is still hope. The Fish are only 3 ½ games behind the Wild Card leading Giants with eighteen games left to play. While the Marlins haven’t fared well this year against the Braves (4 – 9), they have fared well against one team that they have six games left – the Phillies (11 – 1). If the Fish can turn it around against the Braves and continue to play against the Phillies as they have the last few years, they could find themselves knocking on the door of the playoffs again, particularly as the Giants wind up their seasons against division rivals like the Padres and the Dodgers.

In reality though, I just don’t see it happening. The Marlins are likely to fade down the stretch, if for no other reason than the sheer quantity of games they’re going to play in September. More critical to the Marlins than this weekend’s games against the Braves is the doubleheader on Monday against the Cubs. If one team is able to manage a sweep, they’ll likely virtually eliminate the loser from wild card contention. A split in that series would only serve to make a tie at the end of the regular season more likely and would drag out this exciting race a little bit further.

Prediction: Marlins take two out of three this weekend

Red Sox at Yankees
Way back at the All-Star break all of us probably circled this series as a fun one to watch, but few of us (me included) probably thought they’d be playing for anything here. It was pretty widely assumed that the playoff fates of both teams would pretty much be decided by now, and in reality they are, but what wasn’t expected was the possibility that the Red Sox could actually win the American League East.

The task is tall this weekend as the Red Sox head into Yankee Stadium for a three game set. Sunday’s game looks like the highlight of the series, with Pedro Martinez taking the hill for the Red Sox and Mike Mussina opposing him for the Yankees.

Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the Yankees will still have a lead in the division. Granted, that lead may be down to a half game if the Red Sox can manage a sweep, but even at that point the Yankees will control their own destiny.

Sox fans almost have to be hoping for a sweep here because even winning the series two-games-to-one only picks up one game in the standings for the Red Sox. We’re starting to run short of time on the season, and there are only so many head to head games left. Both teams are going to end up in the post-season regardless – barring some unforeseen catastrophic collapse – so it doesn’t really matter who wins the division and who takes the Wild Card, but you’d have to think it’s a huge advantage for the Red Sox – at least psychologically – to head into the post-season as the division champions for the first time in a long time.

Prediction: Red Sox take two of three, including a Sunday afternoon thriller

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Aaron Gleeman Bashes the White Sox - Not the Surprise of the Day

“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Apparently that’s a phrase that Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times hasn’t heard of before. In his column today Aaron attacks the Chicago White Sox for some comments various Sox players made about the Twins and their playoff chances.

For whatever reason there seems to be a rivalry of sorts between the Twins and White Sox (which makes sense because they’re division rivals and one of the two teams has won the division title each year since 2000) as well as there’s a rivalry between the fans of the two cities. This is somewhat unusual, as Sox fans don’t really mix it up as much with Tiger, Royal, and Indian fans (even when the Tribe was at their peak – although Albert Belle moving between the clubs did help to stir up some emotions).

Still, Gleeman, like many others from the Twin Cities, is quick to point out the Sox flaws and quotes that are found in the newspaper. It’s almost as-if Aaron was at the game, or in the club house and actually has a feel for how this stuff is really going down. You have to keep in mind though that he doesn’t – and neither do I. We only know what’s being told to us by the media (online, in print, on television, via radio, etc.). Who really knows if we’re getting a fair take on the AL Central “rivalry” between the Twins and White Sox or if it’s just being hyped up to create some modicum of excitement in an otherwise boring division? Very few of us, I’d venture to say. Those of us in dorm rooms in Minnesota and the far reaches of Miami probably aren’t too tuned into the reality of the situation though.

What strikes me as funny though is how Gleeman uses statistics when it’s convenient to him and completely avoids them when it would work against them. To try to rub a little salt in the wounds of Sox fans, Gleeman – after droning on about what poor sports the Sox are and how they’ve failed since 2000 – lists the final records of both the Twins and the Sox since 2000 (he’s wasn’t generous enough to include the 2000 season, which was the last year in which the Sox took the division title). This is nice and neat and tells a pretty story for the Twins.

What it leaves out though is that the Twins have been extraordinarily lucky in each year since 2001, while the White Sox on the other hand have not been so fortunate. Many sabermatrecians favor metrics like a Pythagorean win percentage or a Pythagorean record. You can read more about the theory here. Essentially what it is is a predictor of a teams wins and losses based on how many runs a team scores and how many it allows. The theory is, and it makes sense, that better teams score more runs and allow fewer than poor teams. By this measure the Twins have outperformed (meaning they won more games than their Pythagorean record should have) in 2003 (5 games), 2002 (8), and 2001 (4). Using Pythagorean expected wins, the White Sox would have won the division title in 2003, and would have tied the Twins for wins in 2002 and 2001 (check out to confirm the details).

Gleeman also doesn’t address Mark Buehrle’s assertion (quoted in Gleeman’s article) that the Twins will struggle to make it out of the first round. This is probably because it’s simply true. The Twins (like the White Sox might have been if they’d been healthy this year) benefit from playing in a weak American League Central division. They are no better than the fourth best team in the American League this year, and if they were in any other division would likely struggle to make the playoffs. However, as we saw last year with the Florida Marlins and the Anaheim Angels the year before that, anything can happen in the post-season (both of the past two World Champions were Wild Card entries in the playoffs – they weren’t even the best teams in their own division during the regular season).

Well, that’s my rant for the day. I used to enjoy and The Hardball Times. I still enjoy The Hardball Times now and then, but overall many of their writers seem to have an axe to grind or a bent that I have a hard time relating to, and to me – especially since they seem to want to come off as Baseball Prospectus Lite – a more balanced approach would be more appreciated.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Canes - Bulldogs Preview

It’s probably going to be football, football, football here for awhile. As you probably remember, I’m not all that happy with the Marlins right now, and their race for the Wild Card is not that enjoyable for me, especially because the Cubs are involved. I suppose I’m rooting for the Giants and Barry Bonds, but I think I’ll be sick if the Marlins or the Cubs make it to the post-season this year (and yes, I apologize to all of you that I went to Marlins games with this year. My unusual hatred for the team is purely because of their front office shenanigans). The White Sox have tanked too, and when the team is out of the race, it’s just flat out difficult for me to listen to Hawk Harrelson. Heck, it’s hard to listen to Hawk even when the Sox are still in contention (I do have to say though that Ozzie Guillen’s comments last week about Buck Showalter were pretty funny).

We also won’t be talking much pro football here. Although I live in Miami, I’m not a Dolphins fan. Technically, as hard as this is to believe, I’m still a Cardinals fan. Yes, that’s even more painful than being a White Sox fan. But being a Dolphins fan this year isn’t much better. Ricky Williams is gone, there’s a debate between having A.J. Feely or Jay Fiedler at quarterback, and no one likes the coach, Dave Wannsdedt. All in all, it’s not a happy time in Dol-fan (that word makes me sick) land.

But, at least for the time being, all is well in Miami Hurricane country. Fresh off a comeback victory against the rival Florida State Seminoles, Miami takes its number four (or five – depending on your poll of preference) back to the Orange Bowl this weekend to face Louisiana Tech.

Many of you, like me - well, at least if you're a Canes fan, are probably looking forward to a breather this week against Louisiana Tech. You probably remember last year’s 48 – 9 season opening romp on the road against the Bulldogs and think that the Canes will just roll again this year, particularly because the game is at home. Hopefully they will, but they likely will not. Louisiana Tech is not some patsy that is just going to come into the Orange Bowl on Saturday and roll over.

The Bulldogs are led by Heisman-hopeful running back Ryan Moats, who has rushed for more than 500 yards in La Tech’s first two games this season (actually, he’s rushed for exactly 257 yards in both games). On the surface, this probably doesn’t concern Canes fans because Miami looked pretty good stopping the run last week against Florida State and even last year against Louisiana Tech. However, the Bulldogs abandoned the run for the most part last year – in large part because they were trailing, and also because they were led by senior quarterback Luke McCown. When they did run the ball though, they were effective. Particularly Ryan Moats (who is humbly nicknamed “Barry Sanders, Jr.”), who gained 44 yards on only three carries (Moats had one long run of more than 40 yards sandwiched in between two short carries, on the last of which he was injured after a hard tackle).

Granted, Louisiana Tech hasn't won by overwhelming scores (38 – 21 and 24 – 20) in their first two games this year. They also have only beaten two so-so teams at home (Nevada and Louisiana Lafayette). Still, this isn’t likely to be an easy game for Miami, and hopefully the Canes will take it seriously. Coach Coker, in his first three years at the helm of the Canes, has been excellent at preparing his team for games such as these. After winning a crucial, early-season rivalry game, after which most prognosticators have virtually granted Miami a berth in another BCS bowl, it would be easy for a team to let down and take it easy this week, figuring that if they can turn it on late against Florida State that they can surely do the same – if they even need to – against the likes of Louisiana Tech. That’s a dangerous theory to test out though, particularly with the pollsters watching. A loss – or even a close game – to Louisiana Tech is not something the Canes are likely to recover from, at least not if they intend to preserve their national title hopes.

From the Louisiana Tech perspective, this weekend’s game against Miami is just the first of four in what is a brutal stretch of games. Following their contest with the Canes, the Bulldogs travel to Knoxville to face the Tennessee Volunteers, then return home to face Fresno State, and finally hit the road again to play Auburn. All four of those games are against top 20 teams, and three of the four are on the road. And they’re not even just road games –Miami, Tennessee, and Auburn are three of the hardest places for a visiting team to win.

It’s likely that Canes fans will see the Miami defense tested with as good of a ground game as they will see all year, or at least as good of a back as they will see all year. This is another excellent early season test for a club with big aspirations this year.

An even bigger test will be to see how well the Canes offense can perform this weekend. It would be an understatement to say that the Miami offense was throttled by the FSU defense for the first fifty-nine minutes or so of Friday night’s game. What isn’t clear at this point, since Miami and Florida State have only played one game, is if Miami’s offense is that bad, if Florida State’s defense is that good, and/or if both teams simply know each other so well at this point (three games in less than one year) that it’s difficult to generate any offense. Starting with the Louisiana Tech game this weekend, we should start to get a better handle on things.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Talking Canes Football

Random thoughts and rumblings about Miami Hurricanes Football and some final thoughts about last week’s Miami – Florida State game:

Rix Couldn't Start in High School?
The latest rumor making the rounds is that Florida State quarterback Chris Rix wasn’t even good enough to start on his own high school football team. This rumor is substantiated by this article, which quotes Rix’s high school coach and also states that Rix’s replacement is now the quarterback at San Diego State. The notion that the quarterback at one of the nation’s elite college programs could have been benched as a senior at his high school is almost laughable, but it appears to be true. Check it out and judge for yourself.

Berlin's Record Outshines Heisman Trophy Winner
Miami, like Florida State, has a much maligned senior, starting quarterback in Brock Berlin. Although Berlin has a flare for the dramatic, as seen in Friday night’s come from behind win against the Seminoles, he also has a flare for making the dramatic necessary, much to the dismay of Canes fans. What is often overlooked though is Berlin’s record. Sure, this is partially due to the talent that surrounds him, particularly on the defensive side of the ball (and particularly last year, when the defense propelled the Canes to many of their eleven wins). Still, Berlin enters this weekend’s action with the fourth best winning percentage of all returning starters. His 12 – 2 mark (.857 winning percentage) exceeds reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Oklahoma quarterback Jason White (17 – 3, .850). It would be hard to argue that Berlin is surrounded by a better cast than White – it’s probably pretty close to equal – but Berlin’s winning percentage, if not overall numbers, stack up pretty favorably to White’s.

Can Anyone Catch the Ball?
Much was made coming into this season about Miami’s lack of established players at the wide receiver position. Going back through the years, like at many other “skill” positions, Miami has churned out wide receivers at a rate that makes NFL scouts flock to the Coral Gables campus in the spring. Over the years the likes of Michael Irvin, Randall Hill, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, and many others have gone straight from the Canes starting lineup to your television on Sunday afternoons.

Although it wasn’t clear who would do that for the Canes this year, it was expected that someone would. Most observers found Ryan Moore to be the most likely target, as Moore combines the blend of speed and size that is rare, but that Canes fans have come to expect after watching Michael Irvin and Andre Johnson develop into legitimate college superstars (it remains to be seen if Johnson will develop into the pro that Irvin was).

However, through one game of the 2004 season, Ryan Moore does not appear to be that guy for the Canes this year. Moore dropped at least four catchable passes on Friday night, most of which hit him in the hands or the shoulder pads. Those are not the signs of a star in waiting.

The real star in the making could be Sinorice Moss. He’s the younger brother of Canes great, and NFL star, Santana Moss and he appears to have his brother’s speed, play-making ability (as evidenced by his break-away, game tying touchdown run last week), and lack of size. With a few more performances like he had against Florida State, Moss will remove any concern about his lack of size.

Another star-in-waiting, or at least in some observers eyes, is Roscoe Parrish. Like Moss, Parrish lacks size, but he possesses game-breaking speed. Whether or not he can control his fumbles, which have been costly in games against Florida State and Virginia Tech, will determine how far Roscoe’s game goes.

Beyond Moss, Parrish, and Moore, Miami also has a plethora of speedy, and tall receivers, but at this point it isn’t clear if they’re speedsters or actual wide receivers and football players. Devin Hester, Darnell Jenkins, Lance Leggett and Aikeem Jolla lead this group, and for Miami to play at a championship level this season, at least one of these receivers must step-up and emerge as a go-to guy.

Can anyone catch the ball, and block?
Tight end is another position of question to some coming into this season, but many of those questions were answered in Friday night’s game. In recent years Miami lost Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey to the NFL, and both went on to almost immediately become Pro Bowlers at their positions. Last year, Kellen Winslow II left Miami early to take his skills to the next level, and many feared this ended the Canes run of play-making tight ends. So far though it appears it hasn’t.

Although Kevin Everett is most well-known to this point for dropping a sure touchdown in the end zone against Virginia Tech in last year’s loss in Blacksburg, coaches rave that he is both bigger, faster, and a better pass catcher than Winslow. If that’s true, watch out, because, in addition to excellent blocking, Winslow changed the defense’s game plan purely because of his receiving skills.

The tight end position is also much deeper than just Everett. Redshirt freshman Greg Olson looked comfortable on Friday and was extremely productive. Coming out of high school in 2002, Olson was one of the most highly regarded tight end prospects in the country. He looked like it on Friday.

The wildcard at the tight end position is converted quarterback/linebacker/special teams stand-out Buck Ortega. Buck is noted to be a good pass catcher and a solid blocker, but a key drop at the goal line against Florida State last week has observers asking questions. On the play before that though, he made a key block, which Brock Berlin mis-read, which could have made the next play moot, as Berlin may have been able to score had he read Ortega’s block correctly.

What were those draft picks worth?
Nearly everyone has heard the gaudy numbers bantied about regarding how many Miami players have gone on to the NFL in recent years. Last year six players were drafted in the first round. This established a new NFL record for the most number of players selected in the first round from one school, and all six Canes were taken in the first twenty picks of the draft, so the expansion of the NFL did not really play a role in the establishing of this record. Making Larry Coker’s job even more difficult is that the loss of the six first round draft picks came on the heels of losing four first-rounders after the 2002 seasons and five (a then NFL draft record) following the 2001 campaign.

To help put that loss of talent into perspective, it’s interesting to see what the NFL valued those six first round picks (Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, D.J. Williams, and Vernon Carey, as being worth. To simply sign those six players, the NFL teams that drafted them had to guarantee $92 million in contracts.

Larry Coker’s task was to replace that talent with equally gifted players as quickly as possible, so as not to lose out on a chance for another national championship. When other organizations value your talent so highly, it’s easy to see how the recruiting process gets out of hand so quickly and easily.

Can a six-game win streak be luck?
Many of the recent Miami – Florida State games have been decided at the very end of the game. In fact, last week’s game, the 2002 game, and the 2000 game were all decided on the game’s final play. Both of last year’s games were decided by less than ten points. Only the 2001 game, which Miami won 49 – 27, and it wasn’t really even that close, was not close. The regularity of close games has caused some to feel that Miami is simply lucky and that Florida State is not. Miami’s Art Kehoe, who has coached in this series for twenty years and participated as a player before that (his tenure in this series is only exceeded by Bobby Bowden), disagrees: "We're better than them," Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "That's why we beat them. I don't care what anyone says. We're better than them, and we're tougher than them."

From the other perspective, I suppose if you throw out enough variables, like being dominated in 2001, the rain in the regular season 2003 matchup, an inability of your team to make field goals and to block field goal rushers, being outmanned at the quarterback position, being outcoached, outrecruited, and out-adjusted, it does come down to luck. But you really can't exclude all of those things, because that's football and that's what wins and loses football games.

Improprieties in College Football (other sports too)
This will come as a shock to all of you, I'm sure, but not everything in college football is on the up-and-up. It's now come to light, courtesy of an investigation done by The Washington Post that some schools offer for-credit classes to their varsity athletes for participating in their scholarship sport. This is very different from the traditional physical education courses that colleges offer, which are designed to teach the theory of the sport, coaching strategies, and to prepare students to teach and coach various sports at various levels. These courses usually only require the student-athlete to show up to practices and games. There is no course work, papers to write, or tests to take, so essentially the athletes get credit for something they have to do anyway (it's kind of like all those credits you got for your extra-curriculars and off-campus jobs... oh, wait - you didn't get those either? Me too).

If you don't believe this could possibly be happening, check out this article. If that's still not good enough for you, check out Florida State's course guide, available to anyone online, which lists the courses that are offered exclusively to varsity athletes.