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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Next Week's Turkey Day - Miami vs. Virginia Tech

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and nearly everyone will be sitting around having turkey and giving thanks. Some of us though will be having a second Turkey Day next week, on December 4th at the Orange Bowl. If all goes as expected this weekend, Miami and Virginia Tech will be facing off on the 4th for the ACC football championship. Not only is the conference title and a BCS berth on the line, but for Miami, there’s also a rare opportunity to exact some revenge for a humiliating loss in Blacksburg last year that ended the Canes regular season winning streak, which at the time was more than three-years long.

While many would say that the Canes biggest football rivalry is with Florida State or even with Florida, my vote would go to Virginia Tech. In recent years these two teams have squared off with conference championship dreams, BCS berths, and national title hopes on the line. Both teams have won a number of important battles. There’s some bad blood – heck, even the mascots squared off underneath the seating area of the Orange Bowl in the late 90s. Next Saturday’s game should be no different. Tune in or show up to the Orange Bowl and you can fully expect to see championship level college football with future NFL stars lining up on both sidelines.

Saturday's game, in addition to deciding the ACC champion and BCS representative, may also decide the ACC player of the year. Senior quarterbacks Brian Randall, formerly known as the guy who replaced Michael Vick, for Virginia Tech and Brock Berlin for Miami have overcome many doubters and have elevated their games this year to extremely high levels.

In case you don’t remember last year’s game, here’s the only minute from last year’s contest that’s worth watching again (note that this video has sound, and it's best to watch with the sound turned up). That video probably says more about what to expect for this year's game than any written words.

It will also be senior day on December 4th. I hope the OB crowd is as loud as the Hokie fans in this video when Brock Berlin, Derrick Crudup, and the other seniors receive their final introductions.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Pedro Martinez to the Cubs

Well, judging from the mail today, it seems we have some new Cub fan readers as of late, courtesy of a recent article over at The Cub Reporter. I’m sure that Cubs fans were elated when they read this little snippet from today’s New York Times:

In comments published in El Caribe, a newspaper in his native Dominican
Republic, Martínez praised the Yankees' principal owner, George Steinbrenner,
and said he would be honored to be a teammate of the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez,
the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero or the Giants' Barry Bonds. And he insisted he
would not be afraid to leave the Red Sox after seven seasons. "I would play
baseball even in a goat's den," he said. "Anywhere. That doesn't worry me."
It’s not unusual at this time of year to hear owners, players, or agents speaking in code, so when you hear Martinez talk about playing baseball in a “goat’s den” you immediately have to make the connection to the Cubs, Wrigley Field, and the curse of the Billy Goat. Pedro helped break one curse. Maybe he’ll help break a second. I doubt it, but you never know.

I for one will eternally be thankful to Pedro Martinez for this quote, for from now on I will refer to Wrigley Field as The Goat’s Den.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Miscellaneous Updates

Lately there have been a lot of college football posts here. I'm planning one for later in the week, but otherwise I'll try to contain my football ramblings for this Canes' message board. Feel free to find me over there (and yes, this is the site that's responsible for generating the first death threat - against me - in the history of this blog). My handle, or username, or whatever the kids are calling it these days is "mike42".

Also, the good folks over at The Cub Reporter (yes, it's tough for me to use "good folks" and "Cubs" anything in the same sentence) quoted me today in a post about the Marlins ex-announcer Len Kasper. Good riddance, Len! Enjoy the Cubbies and WGN. Len seems to be part of a growing contingent of ex-Marlins with the Cubs (Moises Alou, Derrek Lee, Matt Clement). I suppose that just makes the Cubs like every other team in baseball.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Guzman, Vizquel Sign Elsewhere - White Sox Fans Rejoice

Yesterday the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos (maybe they’ll come up with their own Prince-like symbol) signed free agent shortstop Cristian Guzman to a 4-year, $16.8 million deal. A few days prior, the San Francisco Giants pre-emptively signed former Indians’ shortstop Omar Vizquel to a similarly unexpectedly rich deal. At least for fans of the former Expos, Guzman is relatively young and maybe there’s some upside. For Giants fans, unless there’s a time machine hidden somewhere inside SBC park that Barry Bonds is willing to share with Vizquel, Marquis Grissom, and even Michael Tucker, there’s much reason to worry.

The good news from these signings though is that the White Sox didn’t get stuck with either player or either contract. Originally, the rumors were that the White Sox, in the great tradition of signing aged former Indians greats (Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar Jr, Kenny Lofton, etc), were targeting Vizquel to be their shortstop. I suppose the theory was that the Sox could upgrade their defense (although Jose Valentin was generally always underrated because his statistics superficially show a large number of errors but hide the fact that he simply gets to a lot of balls) and could afford to sacrifice some offense as they traditionally have a lot of pop and power form the corners.

But the Giants struck early, leaving the White Sox out of the mix for Vizquel – thankfully. That led to rumors that the Sox were in hot pursuit of Guzman. You could almost hear the discussions in the Comiskey Park offices, “Well, he played for the Twins, and they keep winning the division – maybe if we sign him, we’ll win the division…” I’m sure that’s what the Sox thought – and that they didn’t go the extra step further to realize that the Twins won their division titles despite Guzman and were happy to rid themselves of his salary for the 2005 campaign. Luckily, Jim Bowden and the Washington team swept in before the White Sox could do further damage to their infield and lineup.

With two (relatively) marquee shortstops off the list of available players, it’s nowhere near time to consider the free agent shortstop sweepstakes over for this offseason. In fact, the two biggest names on the shortstop radar screen – Orlando Cabrera (ex of the Expos and more recently the Red Sox) and Edgar Renteria (from the Cardinals) are still on the market. Both will prove to be expensive, but solid investments. I fear though that they’ll be priced out of the Sox budget, which is unfortunate. Other options, such as Reds legend and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, are also available, but it’s probably more likely that Larkin will take a super-utility role with a team like the Red Sox than a starting role with the White Sox at this point in his career.

It will be interesting to see what the White Sox do at the shortstop position. Through their wheelings and dealings over the past few seasons, the Sox have acquired at least some stop-gap solutions at shortstop and they may even have a future star or two in the making (either at the major league or minor league level right now). Still, shortstop is a key position in major league baseball – both offensively and defensively, and winning a World Series is much easier if you’ve got a stud on offense and defense manning the middle. I hope the Sox dig deep and go after Renteria or Cabrera this offseason. I know I shouldn’t even hope for it because it isn’t going to happen, but I’ll do it anyway.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Expos Lawsuit Dismissed, Team One Step Closer to DC

This article is a little cryptic, but the lawsuit brought about by the Expos former minority owners against former Expos owner and current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was dismissed yesterday in federal court. This decision makes the likelihood of the Expos move to Washington much more likely, although it is far from a sure deal – particularly with the stadium financing issues still to be resolved.

I had been hoping that this would turn out differently, both so that baseball could continue in Montreal and so that there’d be some retribution against Loria and Samson, who seem to have been guilty of something in all of this (if nothing else, for leaving all of the former Expos employees without jobs right before the start of the 2002 baseball season). Where there’s smoke there’s fire. Apparently not enough smoke though to do the Loria clan in at this point.

You can find more details about the case and the ruling here.

Monday, November 15, 2004

ACC Football goes Suessical

I’m just starting to thaw out from the weekend trip to the Great White North, or at least to Virginia and the D.C. area for the Miami – Virginia football game. Aside from the site- seeing in D.C. on Friday and in Colonial Williamsburg on Sunday, there was a lot to say about this trip – and not necessarily about the part you probably already know about (i.e. what happened in the football game).

The University of Virginia, also sometimes jokingly referred to as Thomas Jefferson University, is located in Charlottesville, Virginia. You probably know UVA’s athletic teams as the Cavaliers, but the closer you get to the campus, the more you find people referring to the Cavaliers as ‘Hoos.

After spending a weekend in the area, I’m still not quite sure what a “Hoo” is. I did get a number of responses when I asked around. One thing was clear – “Hoo” is technically short for “Wahoo,” although that doesn’t really help to clear anything up. Here are some of the explanations I got from Virginians:

  • Hoo is short for Wahoo, which is a type of fish. To fishing Floridians, this made sense. A Wahoo is a tasty, colorful prizefish… but it still doesn’t seem to have much to do with a Virginia Cavalier
  • Way back when, people started referring to the baseball team as the Wahoos, because they could drink as much “booze” as a Wahoo could drink water. (This one may be a stretch, but it seems plausible, and definitely something the university would try to steer people away from remembering)
  • This one is my personal favorite: “Hoo” came into being after enough UVa fans were asked about their favorite college football team. These fans of course replied “Virginia” and the original questioner responded, “Who?”

Regardless of the truth behind the origin of the name, it’s pretty weird. For most of my time on the UVa campus I felt like I was trapped somewhere between a Dr. Seuss book (Hooville) and a Jay-Z concert (what with all of the Hoo-ing and UVa-ing starting to run together to create some sort of a HoVa college atmosphere in the hills of Virginia).

All in all, 'Hoo-ville was an interesting place. The stadium is nice, pleasant, and clean, but not very efficiently designed. Like the Orange Bowl, which is very old, lines for the concession stands often interfere with walkways for guests. Bathrooms at the stadium were small and had long lines. All of this surprised me because the Hoos fashion themselves amongst the elite of the elite and envision themselves more alongside the likes of the Ivy League than the ACC. If that were true, you would think that they could design a stadium to handle crowds of fifty to sixty-thousand people.

Apparently they didn’t though, and just like I struggled to navigate their concourses, their coaches have struggled to architect a roster that can navigate the treacherous football minefields that are the major college football programs in Florida. Here’s hoping that the ‘Hoos find themselves in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve in the Peach Bowl and that the Gators can make it a clean sweep for the state against Virginia this year.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Step Up Fish Fans

It may be the off-season, but the hot-stove season is heating up. And that doesn't mean that you have to be left out in the cold. Tangotiger is once again putting together a scouting report by the fans. You can find the Marlins questionnaire right here. You can also go to the main page to find out more about the survey, and to fill one out for any team.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

THE Ohio State Scandal

Well today was going to be the first installment of my offseason viewers guides for White Sox and Marlins fans. However, I didn’t quite get the preparation put in that I wanted to, and yesterday a big story broke that I’m sure a lot of us will be following over the next week or two: ESPN has reported that Maurice Clarett, and other Ohio State University football players, received numerous other benefits while members of the football team, including cash payments, free cars, free furniture, and custom-tailored academic programs.

Ohio State, using the classic rogue employee theory taught to Sports Administration students throughout the country (where blame is placed at the hands of one or two key individuals – in this case Clarett in an attempt to make it look as if the institution has handled the problem, if one even ever existed), has denied any wrongdoing took place. However, where there’s smoke there’s usually fire – and here there’s a lot of smoke. Sure, Clarett is not the most credible guy and some of the other players that ESPN dug up may not be either. But these fellows aren’t exactly Rhodes scholars either. Maybe someone’s feeding them the accusations to make, but if that’s the case, that will be exposed too. More likely than anything is that these players are for whatever reason (mainly that they feel jilted by the university now) telling the world how things went down when they were at Ohio State and the rest of us are finding out that things aren’t as innocent and pristine in college football as we might like to think.

Now this isn’t to say that I think Ohio State is the only program in the country where improper benefits are being given to college athletes. Ohio State surely isn’t. These benefits aren’t only extended to football players – student-athletes in other sports at other schools across the nation surely receive extras now and then too. That doesn’t make it right. It also doesn’t make what has happened – or is happening (since they haven’t admitted to any problems, who’s to say that it all still isn’t going on? Well, maybe boosters don’t give these sorts of benefits to three loss teams) – at Ohio State any more excusable. In fact, it’s probably less excusable at Ohio State than at a lot of other schools because of the holier-than-thou attitude promoted by the Athletic Department, particularly by Head Coach Jim Tressel.

Here are some links to help you keep up with the story. Since it’s still developing, I also threw in some Google News links to help you find new things as they happen:

My Side – ESPN’s lead story on the situation

Maurice Clarett sold out (by OSU)

Andy Geiger lies

Ohio State improper benefits

Jim Tressel bad guy

Jim Tressel liar

Ohio State football player arrested

Oh, and in other news, Roger Clemens stole his seventh Cy Young Award yesterday. I suppose we can’t blame Clemens because he played no role in the voting (other than his performance on the field). The real shock in the balloting – in my opinion – was that Ben Sheets finished as low as he did – in 9th place. BBWAA voters obviously weren’t as tuned into the on field performance this year as IBWA voters. Clemens had an outstanding year, and deserves great praise – but Randy Johnson deserved this year’s Cy Young. His win totals may not have reflected it, but if you’d swapped teams for Johnson and Schilling, we’d likely be talking about the all-time great year that Johnson had, and how it was time for Clemens to hang up his spikes.

Nevertheless, Ben Sheets was far better than the ninth best pitcher in the National League this year.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Blog Goes Big Time - Threats of Violence

Well, yesterday was most definitely an interesting day in the history of this blog. It was the first day that we ever got real traffic from a non-baseball related story. And this happened just as I was preparing to go into a baseball offseason related hibernation. But that just doesn’t seem like the thing to do today.

Actually, today I wanted to encourage everyone to go out and vote. But after some of the responses I got yesterday, I don’t think that everyone really should go out and vote. If you’re the type of person who takes college football so seriously that you can’t refer to a school other than the one you cheer for by its own name (i.e. you refer to every other school by some derogatory term), you’re probably better off not voting. Well, at least that’s what I’d like to think because I’d hate to think that your vote counts as much as mine.

Anyways, back to the football post from yesterday. No, I don’t think Larry Coker should be fired. Yes, Saturday’s loss was disappointing. Sure, Coker has amassed a record of 41 – 4 with “Butch’s boys” in large part, but it’s not like Coker wasn’t involved in the recruiting back then too.

I’m not sure what people expect. Butch Davis was at the helm for plenty of games that the Canes should have won, but didn’t. If you think back about it - and I won't get into the details here today - but that was the knock on Davis when he was here - great recruiter, poor executer of X's and O's, or at least not that great at getting guys motivated for Saturdays. Saturday night’s UNC game was the first that Coker lost, which by all accounts going in the Canes should have won. Sure, you can argue about last year’s losses to Virginia Tech and Tennessee and even the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, but those were all losses to ranked teams and only one of them was a home game. Saturday night’s loss was clearly the worst of Coker’s tenure. But are you really ready to fire a coach after one bad loss?

If you are, my biggest question for you is: who are you going to hire? There isn’t a potential candidate out there – employed or unemployed currently – who excites me. Plus there are the financials of the situation to consider. Firing Coach Coker, who has a few years left on his contract, would require Miami to pay him for the duration of his contract – or at least to come up with some sort of a buyout. I’m also guessing that this new coach, who’s going to do better than win 41 of his first 45 games, will have the team constantly motivated, and playing at the level of the 2001 team at all times, etc, etc will probably not come cheaply. Where exactly is that kind of money going to come from?

For those of you who don’t follow such things, even in recent years, when times have been pretty good on the financial end for the University of Miami’s Athletic Department, money isn’t just flowing in. Sure, the football team reaches BCS bowl games regularly and the payoffs there are rich, but those sums get divvied up amongst the other teams in the conference and Miami is left with less than you might think. And yes, being in the ACC will help things immensely as the television contract is better and there should actually be some financial incentives for having a basketball program from now on. But the baseball program now has to travel and there are a multitude of other “non-revenue”/Olympic sports that are played at the U. Those all cost money and digging up an extra two million dollars per year for a new football coach is a big expense, particularly when the results you can expect from that coach on the field cannot be much better than what you are getting from the current coach.

Another aspect of the coaching situation is that Larry Coker represents what a segment of the University community wants the football team to represent. He is calm, mild mannered, well spoken, and seems like someone (at least to those of us – like me – who don’t know him well, or even at all) that we would want our son or grandson to play football for. He runs a clean program, seems to genuinely care about the young men who are part of his program, and about the university as a whole. (Butch Davis was just about all of that too).

Coker helps represent a clear departure from the Miami teams of the eighties and early nineties. I know that isn’t every Hurricane fan’s favorite thing, because many people favor the style from back in the day, which included military fatigues, trash talking, lopsided wins, and running up the score. Those things are all well and good and plenty of fun, but they also brought along plenty of NCAA inquiries and infractions, and that’s just something that the leadership of the University (notably, in my opinion, Paul Dee and Donna Shalala) have decided that they do not want to be any part of. I’m on board with that way of thinking and will continue to support the University (by showing up at games and donating dollars) as long as we stay on this course.

Sure, this means that we will have some 10 – 2, 9 – 3 football seasons – maybe even some 8 – 4’s, and that the team won’t be 12 – 0 every year. But that’s going to happen with whoever you put on the sidelines. And if you look back at it though, Miami wasn’t undefeated every year and didn’t play for the national championship game every year – although it may have seemed like it.

Addressing some of the criticism
For whatever reason, unlike many other blogs, my blog seems to be allergic to comments in the comments section. See the end of this post for the comments link, where you are invited to leave your thoughts about this article or really anything. I do, however, receive plenty of emails from readers all over the world, which I really quite enjoy. Yesterday, through the miracle of being able to track where the hits to this site come from, I found out that the text of this article had been picked up by a Miami football message board. You can find the thread here which quotes this article and links to this site. Many of the posters agreed with me – at least in part, and many disagreed with me – some somewhat strongly. I wanted to address some of the issues that folks raised in that thread here.

First of all, I was totally unfamiliar with this website and message board before last night. That said, I’m amazed that my little post generated a thread which has been viewed more than one thousand times and was commented on about fifty times (as of this writing). It’s also interesting to me that my post was taken as an “article” or as something with some sort of credibility. In the year plus that I’ve been blogging, I’ve been quoted and referenced many times, but I don’t think I’ve ever been involved – at least indirectly – in something that generated as much emotion as this one innocent post that I put up yesterday. The most interesting part about it to me is that I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I didn’t think that anyone read my football posts. Actually, until yesterday the only communication I’d received from my readers about my football writing was that they wished I would stop doing it and that I would focus more on baseball instead. Well, for my loyal readers, I’m sorry to say that if people keep reading it, I’ll probably keep writing it, because it’s kind of interesting to have some dialog (as opposed to talking about who the White Sox catcher will be next season or in 2008 – topics which I’m hoping to get to later this offseason).

That said, I hope that the folks who are reading this realize that I am just an individual citizen/writer and not some paid authority or author. I can’t go to closed practices. I don’t have access to inside information. I just have my own opinions. That’s all. I’m a football fan and a University of Miami fan, just like most of you. I think the only difference is that I seem to be more verbose than the typical poster on a message board. That’s probably just due to the nature of a blog (like this site) and a message board. Here I post whatever I want to talk about for the day, whereas on a message board, it’s more like a real conversation between people and the snippets are much shorter. My point is, please don’t take what I’m saying as any more authoritative than anyone else, it’s just my opinion.

I was also surprised to see how seriously people take this. I give a fair amount of money to the school (at least based on how much money I have), and I go to a lot of games (home and away), and follow things pretty closely. Still, I don’t feel like I take things as seriously as a lot of fans on this message board – particularly those who have such strong and harsh feelings about Coach Coker, the coaching staff, the team’s recent performances, and college football in general.

Up until a year or two ago, I probably did. I “lived” and “died” with every loss. I did that with the Hurricanes and the White Sox and even the lowly Cardinals of the NFL. It was painful. Two of those teams lose more often than they win. Eventually I just realized that I couldn’t do it any longer – at least not the way that I was.

In recent years I’ve come to enjoy college football on a different level. I have a team that I love and support whole-heartedly. I’m a Hurricane through and through. There are other teams that I’ll root for when Miami isn’t playing, but I’m a Hurricane. If they win, I’m happy that they did. If they lose, I’m happy that I got to see the game, that I got to spend some time with some friends and family and some other Hurricanes, and that I probably got to enjoy an adult beverage or two. For me, it’s not the be all and end all. I suppose for the folks that would like to “take a pipe” to my head, it is.

For those of you that feel that way, I hope you can find some other outlets for your frustration other than my head. Maybe a good book, or a glass of merlot, or spending some time coaching youth football. Like Bobby Bowden said earlier this year, it’s easy to be a PlayStation All-American. Maybe you don’t think Larry Coker would be one this year. It’s your right to think that I suppose, but Larry Coker isn’t coming to your job or your house to tell you that you’re not good at your job or that you don’t raise your kids right.

Some folks took issue with me saying that Coker should get credit for starting Brock Berlin and Roscoe Parrish. I cited those players as examples because they easily came to mind and have been referred to widely in the media lately as choices that were clearly Coker’s own. Most of us – myself included – were ready to give up on Berlin a long time ago, but Coker saw something the rest of us didn’t. Maybe it was that Berlin would break out, like he has in recent weeks. Or maybe it was that Kyle Wright, for all of his physical gifts, looks like the sack inducing machine in practice that he has been so far in his limited game experience.

Those same folks went on to point out defensive and other starters who are also Coker’s picks who haven’t lived up to expectations recently. That’s fair and I suppose they haven’t. Some, like Baraka Atkins today in the Herald, came out and said the issue is that players like him aren’t executing up to their abilities. To me, that seems like a logical explanation, because in the first three games of the year, Atkins looked like an All-American, Coker seemed fine, and most of us were probably worried that Randy Shannon’s defensive wizardry would cause another school to swoop in and hire him as their new head coach. Now that’s not the case and folks want to see Shannon pack up his things along with Coker. I just don’t get it.

The other issue that Canes fans seem to have flip-flopped on is the offense. For the past year or more the cry has been that the offense is too predictable. That without a Willis McGahee type back, who’s going to break a 60-yard run every half-quarter or so, the conservative, run it up the middle offense just doesn’t work. Well, the Canes have been throwing the ball lately and throwing it deep. So what’s the criticism this week? That they throw the ball deep too much and don’t take advantage of the opportunity for steady, short gains. You can’t have it both ways folks. These coaches want to win just as much as the rest of us do. Obviously – through all the film they’ve watched and what they know about their players and the opponents, they think that the best opportunity to score and to win is to go deep.

Lost in much of the arguing about the problems with the team has been the outstanding performance of Devin Hester. Hester was seemingly everywhere on the field on Saturday – offensively, defensively, and on special teams. He caught a pass, ran for a touchdown, returned punts and kickoffs, made some tackles, and even came close to blocking the last second field goal. Had the Canes won the game, I’m sure that the media would be talking about how Hester carried the team through the game and he might even be getting more talk as a Heisman candidate. Ironically, if I was to take issue with the coaches, this is where I would take issue.

Hester didn’t get fast overnight. His natural ability on the field didn’t just come to him mid-way through this season. Why wasn’t Hester used like this earlier in the year? Why wasn’t Hester used like this last year? The young man is obviously a playmaker and is able to do special things with the ball. His punt and kick-off returns prove this, and he proved this at the college level (in a game situation) as early as last year’s opening kick off against Florida. Still, it took until Saturday for us to see Hester used all over the field. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the games to come. However, this is where I lay some blame with the Miami coaches for not having involved Hester more from the beginning of the year and throughout the season last year. A play or two from Devin in last year’s Tennessee game could have made the difference. A play or two from Devin in any number of other games that the Canes won by a close margin could have turned the games into blowouts. Had that happened, we’d all likely have a different opinion about this Miami club – or at least about Devin Hester.

In closing, some folks took issue with my statement at the end of yesterday’s article where I said that I thought we should all enjoy this run that Miami is on while it lasts. By that I did not mean that I think Coker is incapable of leading this team to championships and great heights in the future. What I meant is that no team, no program, no coach is capable of winning at a 91% rate for the long haul. The competition in college football is too great and too many teams gear their seasons around playing the likes of Miami to expect to win at that level forever. Think about it – how many times this year have we heard something like “a win against Miami this week would be the biggest win in the school’s history”? Granted, I do not recall hearing that going into the North Carolina game, but it was said repeatedly before the Louisville and Georgia Tech games. For Florida State too, winning the season opener would have been a turning point for their program, solidifying that they were back amongst the elite.

These programs – the North Carolina’s and Louisiana Tech’s of the world included – are not coached by inept people and comprised of unskilled athletes. More likely than not they’re made up of people who wish that they were at the University of Miami and the fact that they’re not motivates them to gear up extra hard, to lift more weights, to try new formations and plays, and to do everything possible to prove that they belong on the level that the University of Miami is at. If there’s a coach out there who can out-coach that kind of motivation and determination every game, every year, for the long haul, I agree – the school should go out and hire that person. I don’t think that person exists though.

I don’t know of a coach in any sport, at any competitive level, who coached for an extended period of time that won 91% of his games. In basketball Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, and Phil Jackson didn’t win that many games and didn’t win championships every year. In pro football Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Belichick haven’t either. In college football Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, and Steve Spurrier didn’t either. Forget about it in baseball – no one wins seventy percent of their games over a career. And unless you manage for the Yankees, it’s tough to win too many titles. You can even look at college baseball, where Miami’s own Jim Morris and Ron Fraser haven’t won at those levels and there about as good as it gets. I suppose you could say that John Wooden got it done at UCLA and that Miami should hire his equivalent to replace Coker (and maybe John’s son or grandson to lead the basketball team!). But if you think that, you probably haven’t been too tuned in to how competitive balance and the nature of sports has changed over the past few decades.

Yes, I’d like to see Miami come out every week fired up like it was a national championship game or a Florida State game and put thirty-five points on the board in the first quarter. But that isn’t realistic. Sometimes the team will be flat, or young, or hobbled by injuries. Sometimes they’ll be out-coached, or out-played, or out-lucked. That’s part of the beauty of sports. And that’s why we should all show up on Saturday night and cheer our hearts out against Clemson. Maybe this Hurricanes team will do something special and finish the year 11 – 1 and as Sugar Bowl champions. Maybe they won’t too. We’ll see.

And I think Larry Coker is as good of a match for this school as there is. Maybe that will change one day, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Go Canes!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Internet Baseball Writers Association Awards - My Votes

As some of you may already know by now, the Internet Baseball Writers Association Awards have been issued for the 2004 baseball season. I was privileged enough to be invited to vote on this year’s awards, and since (in some circles) there’s been some debate and discussion of how the votes went down, I thought I’d reveal how I voted here on my site. I also don’t want to hide in shame like some of the BBWAA do each year when we find unusual votes in the results of the “real” awards. As far as I’m concerned the IBWA Awards are the real Awards (at least until SABR gets its act together and starts voting on the same thing), because they’re the closest thing we have to the voice of the informed fan.

If you’d like to see the actual results, you can check them out here.

Keep in mind that the voting took place following the conclusion of the regular season. I submitted my ballot prior to the beginning of the playoffs, so my votes are purely based on regular season performance. However, everyone had the right to keep their ballots until the beginning of the World Series, and I am not sure how much (if at all) anyone/everyone let the playoffs influence their votes.

The following are my votes, along with some commentary (actual finish in the overall vote is found in parentheses):

1. Barry Lamar Bonds (1)
2. Adrian Beltre (2)
3. Albert Pujols (3)
4. Scott Rolen (5)
5. Jim Edmonds (4)
6. J.D. Drew (6)
7. Lance Berkman (9)
8. Todd Helton (8)
9. Mark Loretta (10)
10. Bobby Abreu (7)

First of all, I think this award should be renamed the Barry Bonds Award, and he should be made ineligible for it from now on. I’m sure that fifteen or twenty years from now some fool will use the argument that Albert Pujols didn’t win any major awards early in his career against Pujol’s case for Hall of Fame enshrinement. Bonds is on another level than everyone else anyway.

While the overall order differed slightly from mine, we had consensus on the top 10. Not much to add here.

1. Vladimir Guerrero (1)
2. Gary Sheffield (4)
3. Johan Santana (2)
4. Manny Ramirez (3)
5. Carlos Guillen (9)
6. David Ortiz (6)
7. Melvin Mora (7)
8. Mariano Rivera (16)
9. Ichiro Suzuki (8)
10. (10)

My most glaring omission here was Miguel Tejada, who finished 5th in the voting. This was simply an oversight on my part. I was trying to make sure that I got Carlos Guillen in my top 10 and Ichiro Suzuki also. I’m not quite sure how I managed to overlook Tejada, who simply had a monster year.

I suppose my vote for Mariano Rivera could have gone to Tejada instead, but I think Rivera’s dominance is highly deserving of credit in the Yankees ability to outperform their Pythagorean record. The Yankees won more games than they “should” have based on the number of runs they scored and the runs they gave up this year; this is the result of Rivera’s dominance on the mound, and also, to a lesser degree, the impact that simply having Rivera in the Yankees bullpen has on opposing managers and their strategy (i.e. well, it’s the seventh inning, Rivera’s probably coming in soon, so let’s hit and run now or steal a base and try to make something happen before he comes in and breaks all of our bats).

1. Randy Johnson (1)
2. Ben Sheets (3)
3. Carl Pavano (6)

Oh the joy of leaving Roger Clemens off of my ballot. Had one other voter followed my lead in this, Clemens would have likely finished third, behind Sheets.

Granted, my vote for Pavano is a bit of a stretch. It’s a bit of a home town vote and a bit of recognition for the solid year he had which is generally being overlooked. Pavano faded down the stretch, and had the results been tallied through two-thirds or three-quarters of the season, he likely would have finished higher. More than anything though, I was just trying to not vote for Roger Clemens.

1. Johan Santana (1)
2. Brad Radke (4)
3. Curt Schilling (2)

Mariano Rivera, who finished third, got his love here instead of in the American League Player of the Year voting. I suppose that’s understandable as Rivera’s a pitcher – and a closer at that – and there’s generally a hesitation against giving a pitcher a Player of the Year or Most Valuable Player type award, since they don’t participate on a daily basis.

Part of my reasoning for voting how I did though was to help get Brad Radke more recognition for the great season that he had. Many statistics and analyses of the 2004 season would tell you that Radke was the second best pitcher in the AL this year. Santana was far and away the best. The combination of having these two at the top of one rotation was what had me thinking that the Twins would go farther than they did in the playoffs.

1. Jason Bay (2)
2. Khalil Greene (1)
3. David Wright (4)

The results for this were about as close as I was torn in voting here. In the end I voted for Bay only because I thought I would be criticized for voting for Greene. Sabermetrically, Bay had a much better season than Greene. However, if I was building a team of my own, I would take Greene much earlier than Bay. Plus, Greene handled the bat plently well and I think that most of us have enough of his defensive wizardry embedded in our memories to recall that he’s pretty decent with the leather as well.

1. Shingo Takatsu (4)
2. Bobby Crosby (1)
3. Daniel Cabrera (5)

Largely on the strength of my vote, Takatsu finished as high as he did. If you accuse me of being a homer here and voting for a White Sox, I can’t argue too much with you. But I’ll also say that I’m scared to think about how ugly of a season it might have been for the Sox without Takatsu.

Not many others were on the Cabrera bandwagon with me. Maybe everyone was really disappointed when he showed up to Spring Training a few years older than when he went home after the 2003 campaign.

1. Bobby Cox (1)
2. Tony La Russa (2)
3. Frank Robinson (x)

It doesn’t look like my vote for Robinson was counted here. Granted, the top two guys were locks in my mind, and Cox received much more than a majority of the first place votes. Still, I threw in a third place vote for Robinson for merely holding things together in Montreal/San Juan. He did a heck of a job just to hold things together.

You could also easily make the argument that La Russa deserves the hardware this year moreso than Cox, because - generally speaking - although expectations were not at an all-time high for the Braves this year, they were generally lower for the Cardinals at the outset of the season (mainly because of questions about their pitching, and the overall perceived strengths of the Astros and Cardinals). My vote for Cox, and you can argue with me over this, was swayed by the fact that I think Cox - for his success over the past decade and a half with the Braves - is deserving of something of a lifetime achievement award.

1. Buck Showalter (1)
2. Ron Gardenhire (3)
3. Lou Pinella (8)

Not many others were with me in voting for Lou Pinella. I thought that getting the Devil Rays out of the cellar for the first time in their history was an accomplishment. The Devil Rays were even in the Wild Card race until the All-Star break or so. That’s a heck of a lot more than anyone expected out of them, and to think that Pinella could have gotten those results out of the talent that was available to him over the full season is simply expecting too much.

1. Walt Jocketty (1)
2. John Schuerholz (2)
3. Paul DePodesta (4)

Walt Jocketty either knew something about his St. Louis Cardinals this year that the rest of us sure didn’t, or he simply got lucky. Given that the Cardinals are either usually in the playoffs or at least in the serious running, I’m going to guess that he knew something this year.

Gerry Hunsicker finished third in the overall voting, but off of my ballot. Like Jocketty, he clearly knew something that the rest of us didn’t, because nearly everyone had the Astros written off for dead at the trading deadline, but they ended up making it to game seven of the NLCS. I didn’t vote for him though mainly because of a lack of movement around the deadline. Yes, Hunsicker acquired Beltran, but a move for another arm at the deadline likely would have put the Astros in the World Series. Still, he probably deserved a vote from me if only for not caving in to public sentiment and starting to build for 2005 and beyond when things looked bleak in July.

I’m also of the camp that’s for renaming this award for Braves GM John Schuerholz. He is clearly someone who knows something about baseball that most of the rest of us don’t. People – myself included – have written off the Braves as contenders for the division title for years now, but somehow they are always at the top. As the architect of all of these division titles, Shuerholz surely deserves much of the credit. I know that I for one am not picking against the Braves until after they fail to do it on the field.

1. Terry Ryan (2)
2. Billy Beane (7)
3. Theo Epstein (1)

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski finished third in the overall voting, and this was a deserving finish. The Tigers were historically bad in 2003, but – unbeknownst to us all – Dombrowski was building them into something respectable. In a few years, they’ll be a genuine, bona-fide contender.

Here again it looks like my vote wasn’t counted as Beane finished seventh and wasn’t credited with any second place votes. An extra vote for Beane wouldn’t have made much difference in the standings. I suppose folks have tired of the new Billy Ball. I think Beane deserves some credit, like Terry Ryan, for keeping a small market, or at least low revenue, team competitive. Sure, the Athletics didn’t make the playoffs this year, but if the season had been three games longer, maybe they would have.

I also would give Beane bonus points for having two former protégés in general managing positions currently (Paul De Podesta of the Dodgers and JP Riccardi of the Blue Jays). Those appointments are still recent and are either a credit to his skill in hiring talented people or in developing people (as a business manager) – or both. Those are traits that should not be undervalued, but are much harder to quantify from the outside.

Hurricanes Fall Victim to Early Halloween Trick

The Miami Hurricanes traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Saturday and were treated to an early Halloween trick, instead of the treat they were looking for. In the aftermath, aside from the dissipation of National Championship hopes and a significant tumble in the rankings, Hurricane fans are distraught, if not outright upset.

Fans want answers and feel entitled to an explanation as to why a berth in a national championship game has been taken away so early in the season. Mind you, with last weekend’s loss, Miami is now officially off to its “worst” start in the Larry Coker era and its worst since 2000. Each team since has started out at least 7 – 0, and this year’s Canes team is merely 6 – 1.
But Miami Hurricane fans have gotten spoiled. Nearly everyone who stuck with the team through the lean years of probation (does anyone remember the 5 – 6 team of 1997?) has forgotten about the brief drought the program suffered. Plus, there are a number of new fans who seemingly haven’t gotten over last year’s lack of a berth in the national title game and are now shocked that the Canes will go (at least) two years in a row without a shot at the title.

We’re spoiled folks. It’s as simple as that. Yesterday, on local sports talk radio, some folks went as far as to say that Head Coach Larry Coker should lose his job over Saturday’s loss to North Carolina. That’s simply absurd. Sure, firing coaches is a hot topic in Florida lately, with the University of Florida’s Ron Zook losing his job last week and Miami Dolphins’ head coach Dave Wannsdedt likely next on the block. But Larry Coker is 41 – 4 as the Hurricanes head coach. That’s not simply good or great, it’s historically great. It’s actually not even rivaled in anything near modern times. In fact, in Larry Coker’s lifetime no one has started out his career by winning 41 of his first 45 games as a head coach.

If you’re of the contingent that thinks Coker has outstayed his welcome in Miami, you’ll probably argue that Coker is winning with players that were recruited by Butch Davis and that the players Coker has brought in aren’t of the same caliber. That argument doesn’t hold water with me. First of all, if that’s your argument, you’re clearly forgetting the coach the Miami players wanted to replace the departed Butch Davis; the players wanted Larry Coker. They didn’t want Dave Wannesdedt, Jimmy Johnson, or Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez. They wanted Coker. There likely would have been a wave of early departures prior to the 2001 season had anyone other than Coker been given the coaching job. Had only one signficiant player (say safety Ed Reed) left early over the coaching decision, the 2001 national title likely would not have been Miami.

Coker is also responsible for bringing in starting quarterback Brock Berlin (say what you will, but he’s 17 – 3 as a starter – a record few others can match, including many of the Hurricanes all-time greats) and starting wide receiver Roscoe Parrish (a player that Davis wanted to pass on because of his size). Coker has also been the head coach, and therefore lead recruiter, for some of the nation’s top recruiting classes over the past few seasons. Only the coming years will prove if his ability to recruit and retain talent is as great as it appears to be on paper.

At the very least, Coker has earned the right for everyone to wait to reserve judgment. He clearly does not deserve to have “fans” calling for his resignation or firing. If anything, I would think it would be reasonable for the University to offer Coker a contract extension (if not a lifetime contract). Not only have the results his team has produced been outstanding, but he represents what many want the University of Miami to represent both on and off the field. Players are graduating, players are generally not in trouble, and this program is generally one that you can be proud to say you cheer for.

What else do you want? Would you rather be in the position of perennial in state powers Florida and Florida State? Clearly not. The Gators are about to go through a coaching change. This year (so far) alone the Gators have lost four games, which is as many as the Hurricanes have lost in the past two and a half seasons. During Coach Ron Zook’s tenure (which began with the 2002 campaign), the Gators have lost fourteen games, which is three more than the Canes have lost – since 1998.

Florida State has also suffered through some down years, although they appear to be back on the map this year. Still, since winning a national title in 1999 (so beginning with the 2000 season), the Seminoles have lost 17 games – or as many as Miami has lost going back through the 1997 season, when the Canes bottomed out due to the effects of probation.

A comparison to the in state powers is not fair you say - fine. How about Oklahoma, USC, and Auburn? Each of those schools is at the top of the rankings this year and has enjoyed something of a renaissance of their historically strong football programs in recent years. Let’s take a look at it in reverse order of current rankings, starting with Auburn first.

Yes, Auburn is undefeated this year and challenging for a national championship game berth. How did they get here you ask? Well, last year was supposed to be the Tigers return to glory. There were some bumps on that road though, and the Tigers lost five games in 2003 (more than Larry Coker has lost in his career). Prior to that Auburn had seasons of 8 – 5, 9 – 4, 7 – 5, 9 – 4, 5 – 6, and 3 – 8. Miami fans surely shriek in horror when they see those win totals of less than ten games. Its been a rough ride for Auburn fans these past few years, and I’m sure they’re enjoying the highs of this year’s great season.

How about Oklahoma then? We always hear that they have the greatest team and the greatest program in the nation. Surely they’ve been on a better run than Miami these past few years, right? Well, they haven’t been. Sure, they’re 8 – 0 this year and have the inside track to a national championship game. But in each of the past three years they’ve lost two games. For you non-math majors that adds up to six losses, which again, is more in three years than Larry Coker and Miami lost (actually, it’s more losses than Miami has in the past four and a half years). Prior to that Oklahoma did win the 2000 national championship, but in 1999 and 1998 they combined to lose 11 games (or as many as Miami has lost since 1998 cumulatively). In 1998 the Sooners weren’t even eligible for a bowl. So on the whole, both Miami and Oklahoma have won an equal number of championships since 1998, but Miami has won more games.

What about USC? Well, I’m sure you know how hot they’ve been this year, last year, and even the year before that (2002). But do you remember where the Trojans were in 2001 or the few years prior to that, probably not. In 2001 the Trojans went 6 – 6, which was a nice rebound from the 2000 season, as it came on the heels of 4 – 7, 6 – 5, and 8 – 5 campaigns. Since 2002 USC has lost only three games. This is about the only way you can slice it for a college football team to compete with Miami’s recent run. With Saturday’s loss to North Carolina, Miami has now lost four games since the start of the 2002 season. If you go back any farther than that, Miami has a decisive edge.

Still, many will be quick to point out that Miami lost to an inferior team on Saturday. They most definitely did. North Carolina has been handled by a number of teams, and other than on Saturday, has rarely looked anything like a team that could compete with a top 25 opponent. Still, this isn’t something that Miami does regularly. Let’s review their recent losses.

In 2003, Miami lost twice – once (always referring to the team’s rank at the time the game was played) to 10th ranked Virginia Tech and once to 18th ranked Tennessee. In 2002, Miami lost to then second ranked Ohio State. In 2001, Miami was undefeated. In 2000, Miami lost to a Washington team that was then ranked 15th in the country (that team ultimately finished the year in the top 5). Going back to 1999, when the Canes lost four games, you’ll see that Miami lost to 3rd ranked Penn State, 2nd ranked Virginia Tech, and top ranked Florida State. Tough losses, but there’s no shame in falling to the top teams. Miami did lose one game that year to an unranked team – the East Carolina Pirates. The game was early in the year and played at a neutral site because East Carolina’s campus had been heavily damaged by a hurricane.

So yes, it’s not unprecedented that Miami loses to an unranked team in a game where they’re favored, but you have to go back more than five years to find an instance of it happening before Saturday night’s debacle.

I’m not saying Saturday night’s loss was a good thing or is something that Hurricane fans should come to accept or expect. It wasn’t and shouldn’t be. Still though, we’re getting to enjoy an incredible and likely historic run of winning college football here and we should enjoy it while we can. The run will inevitably be over before too long and then we’ll only have the memories to enjoy.