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Shades of 1992

John Zenor, an AP sports writer, has written an article comparing the Alabama ’92 squad to this year’s team. It’s a really good article, and very similar to the one I wrote back in October. The only difference was in October it looked like Texas was the team to beat. Now, it’s Florida.

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Throwback Golf

KnickersI like throwback themes in sports. Baseball and the NFL do throwback days with a lot of success, and I recently proposed that Nascar do the same. Just paint up some old cars with the new paint schemes and let them go at it once or twice per year. Well, now I’d also like to propose the same to the PGA: they could wear Houndstooth socks and knickers and those flat hats with the poofball on top of it. Just go all out, make Jesper Parnevic envious. And: use only clubs from that specific era. Wooden clubs with wooden shafts, none of this titanium and graphite we’re seeing today. Just for fun, y’know?

Picture by Michael Going

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Watched the Auburn-Georgia game Saturday night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Alabaster, AL, where there were a good many AU fans and a few Georgia fans. Georgia fans who forgot where they were at. It really doesn’t bother me that much, being an Alabama fan, but you’ve got to think of it this way: I live with an Auburn fan (my wife got her Master’s Degree there), and I work with AU fans. They’re all around me, and we rib each other and trade jabs, but the key is that they’re all right here. It’s one of the things that makes the rivalry so great, and it means that, though they are rivals, their fans are my brothers and sisters, and that’s kind of how I think of AU. Like a little brother who I fight with constantly and totally don’t get along with at all. I talk bad about him all the time because we pretty much can’t stand one another, but you know what happens if someone else decides to take liberty with him? Yeah: it’s on. Nobody messes with our own, especially in the South. Auburn is kind of like that little brother. Sure, he’s ugly, slow, fat, and dumb, but he’s my brother, and while it’s perfectly okay for me to knock his lights out every now and then it is in no way cool for anyone else to.

Georgia fans: You’re on notice. I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa and I know how you are. I’ve rarely had a good experience with a Georgia fan, and I can’t think of another school I can say that about. But if you want to start screaming at my little brother and kicking him when he’s down, well, my tolerance level ended Saturday night, and it was close to ending that Saturday in T-Town when a group of GA fans walked through the mall snickering, hooting, and making asses of themselves. And this wasn’t a group of students, no, this was a group of full-grown adults, who should have known better.

If I ever come to your town for a game I’ll probably wear my colors, but I’m not going to go into a public place and show my ass. I wish the Georgia fans I’ve met in the past would give us the same respect. I’m sure there are good Georgia fans. I’m one of those guys who believes, essentially, that every fan base is the same more or less, and that they’ve all got good along with the bad. But it’s personal experience that really counts, right? And the only experience I’ve got with Georgia fans is a handful of buttholes who need to act like grown ups.

If you’re at the game, let her rip. Go to town, scream til you’re heart’s content. But not everybody who lives in Tuscaloosa is a football fan, and a lot of people that go to the mall on a Saturday are just there because they need something. There’s a time and a place for everything. Learn the time, learn the place, and then get back to me.

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Okay, I’ve signed up for the FanU sports-specific social networking site, and I am not only underwhelmed but mildly aggravated. It’s an interesting concept, but they’re shoving their sponsor (Alltel) in my face at every turn. That idiot ‘Chad,’ the Alltel spokesperson (who is supposed to be the cool one in those commercials) is automatically added to your friends list when you sign up and you can’t delete him! So I’m alienated right up front, immediately.

I like the idea of merging the users polls but then when I look at the poll it looks like people were copying from the AP poll. There’s nothing surprising on it, anywhere. And the poll itself, the one you’re supposed to be able to modify and submit, is a pain in the ass to manipulate. You have to select teams from a drop-down menu that lists ALL the teams, and then select from another drop-down menu where you want them ranked. It would take HOURS to do this.

Also: there’s no option for adding more teams to your favorites list. I’ve got about a dozen teams that I watch, and it would be nice to be able to add them all to my favorites page so I can keep up with them. They could put stats on there, maybe even have a fantasy page so I can keep up with the players on my fantasy team. But for now it looks like you get the one team and that’s it. You can change that team, but you can only have one team at a time.

I don’t know, I may look at it some more, but for right now it looks pretty lame. If you’re in it and you think it’s grand I’d love to know why, and if you want to friend me there my handle is Houndstooth.

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SEC Power Poll

From Journalism is for Rockstars:

1. LSU
The guys from Louisiana still hold the top spot, in a league where everyone has one loss. A true No. 1 should come to the fore in the next few weeks.

2. South Carolina
The Gamecocks are winning ugly, but they are winning. It’s about survival, kids, not dominance.

3. Kentucky
The Wildcats’ win over LSU proves that Kentucky is among the best in the conference. But, they’ll still be No. 2 in the East unless South Carolina drops another, which is entirely possible.

4. Florida
Whither Gators? The game against Kentucky, which bounced the Alabama-Tennessee game to LFS, will decide whether Florida is No. 3 in the East, or still shooting for the division title.

5. Auburn
Those godawful people from Georgia east Alabama are on a roll, but came very close to losing to Arkansas. Still, survival marks the day.

6. Alabama
If loving being 5-2 is wrong, I don’t want to be right. The trend continues – if you can win, that’s all that matters. Plus, it’s not like Ole Miss hasn’t been a tough opponent. For the past three years, Alabama’s beaten the Rebels by three points. The game against Tennessee will hopefully prove some things.

7. Tennessee
The acolytes of the Fat One may think they have something here, with a thrashing of Georgia two weeks ago. The only problem is that one week does not make a season.

8. Georgia
If it weren’t for a last-second field goal at Vandy, we could be expecting the entire Dawgosphere to be in nuclear meltdown. I still can’t figure out how Alabama played so poorly as to lose to Georgia, but it happened. Remember UAB’s basketball team under Gene Bartow? That’s this year’s Alabama. And Georgia. Play to the opponent – no better, no worse.

9. Mississippi State
A bad team, playing above its ability. That portends well for the future, and speaks volumes about Sly Croom’s coaching ability.

10. Ole Miss
Believe it or not, Ole Miss is better than advertised, as well. The passing game is awesome, opening up running lanes for that four-named running back. The defense? Not so good. Still, L’Orgeron has got his guys playing above their heads, too.

11. Vanderbilt
Vandy is coming back to earth. Of course, if the ‘Dores had upset Georgia, I would be singing a different tune. O, you finicky gods of football.

12. Arkansas
Wanted: football coach.

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On a personal note:

I’ve been moving these last few weeks and have had no internet connection. I haven’t even been able to watch any games, I’ve just been checking scores on my mobile phone. My cable is still out, but I’ve now got internet back via satellite, so I can start immersing myself back into baseball. Sorry I’ve been away.

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Two things have happened to the Braves, one positive and one negative which have directly impacted the jump in the quality of play we’ve seen:

First, the negative:
They realized that if the offense doesn’t win the game the pitching can’t. That had to be a tough realization for these guys to come to. On Braves teams in the past if they had a one-run lead they could usually depend on the bullpen to hold it. Increasingly over the last few years that’s not been the case. This year, I believe, is the first year that the reality of the situation in the bullpen has finally been so painfully apparent.

One of my favorite things to do in the past was to pore over the stats of a visiting team’s sluggers before and after they played the Braves because, invariably, the numbers all would drop after a three- or four-game series, often significantly. Those days are gone, but we’ve still got a good core of players that could have been something special with a little help from management.

They never should have let Farnsworth go. They should have made a more aggressive attempt at shoring up the bullpen; they could have brought in Todd Jones (link to article) if Schuerholz would have just given him a two year contract instead of insisting on one he could have gotten him. It’s not like they’ve got anything better and with $6 mil to spare in their budget Jones would have been a cinch. The contract he took with Detroit was two years at $11 mil and he’s stated that he would have given the Braves a HUGE discount to play there. So if we could have gotten Jones for $4 mil per we still would have had $2 mil left to add another arm, but instead Mr. Schuerholz sat on his hands. Sure, Schuerholz had no idea Sosa would be the bust he’s been and he had no idea we would have so many injuries; but as GM he should have had a plan in place to deal with those possible eventualities, especially when the bullpen was already a known weak-link.

And now, the positive:
They realized that if they don’t win the division, if by some foul undoing they are the team that loses the first division title in 15 years, it won’t be the end of the world. In so doing, they’ve given themselves the opportunity to play the game as it’s supposed to be played: they’re letting go and having fun.

Can it really be that simple? Were the Braves of June really struggling so much because of the giant 1400lb gorilla was slapping them in the back of the head every time they took the field? It’s possible; but one thing is for sure: these Braves have had fun these last five days, and it’s sure been fun watching them play.

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There are two spots on every team that, it can be argued, individually, are the most valuable of all: the leadoff batter and the closer. For the Braves to make a serious run at the Mets this season these are two spots that will have to be addressed.

They are the first and last guys on the field who have direct control over what the game’s outcome might be (excluding the SP). It seems as though right now we’ve got all the middle players but don’t have the bookends. Marcus Giles has been filling the role of leadoff batter and has seen his production decline since moving up from the #2 spot in the order where he spent last year plus being mired by injury. The closer has been non-existent, with John Smoltz stubbornly deciding to move back to the starting lineup. Don’t get me wrong, I love Smoltzie, but I believe the closer’s role is the most valuable on a team, any team; without the closer, games don’t get won. The rest of the game is just a battle to see who can get to the ninth and finish, and Smoltz proved he was capable but unwilling to perform the task. How many more wins might the Braves have this year if John Smoltz was in the bullpen? Well, considering the bullpen has at least 18 blown saves this season the Braves could be looking at a record of 58-31 at the All-Star break. Granted, it’s not likely Smoltz would have saved all 18 of those games but the Mets mark at the break was only 53-36. Even if he’d blown 4 to 5 of them we still could be a game ahead of the Mets in the division! True, we would have to fill his spot in the starting lineup, but starters are more common than closers. What the Braves don’t have and have always had problems finding has been a quality closer. They’ve got one now, he’s just in the starting rotation.

Joe Torre once said, and numerous Yanks agreed, that Mariano Rivera has been their most important player of the last ten years. Not David Cone, not Andy Pettite or Roger Clemens or Mike Musina. The closer’s role is of the utmost importance. It can’t be said enough, and it’s high time baseball started to recognize that fact.

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Why would a trade for Livan Hernandez make sense?

1. We could possibly trade Marcus Giles for him, opening up the possibility for Wilson Betemit to become a regular player at second base. (I realize the rumor mill has Betemit on the trade block, but I feel like the kid could be a better player than Giles. I hate to say that, but it’s true.)

2. Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden is reported as saying that though Hernandez’s numbers aren’t that great, if he was moved to a team in a pennant race they would improve because he needs that competitive challenge to keep the fire stoked. I believe, and I think the Braves do, too, that the Braves are in a pennant race. If Livan wants intensity this Braves team could provide it.

3. My feeling is this: if Hernandez requires intensity to pitch well, it’s possible he could make an excellent closer. Or he could replace Smoltz in the pitching rotation and Smoltzie could move to the bullpen. I know he’s unproven as a closer, but I believe Hernandez fits the mold and could excel in that role. (I still shudder when I think of the 15K game he had against the Braves in the 1997 NLCS.)

I don’t even know if he would entertain the idea of moving to closer; or if John would. But in the current MLB climate, a solid closer would be a great, great, great thing to have.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo!/AP

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Baseball Tonight

Watching Baseball Tonight on ESPN, Harold Reynolds comments on the value of the closer, saying “No other team has the benefit of a Mariano Rivera in the bullpen,” continuing by saying that the Yankees are in good shape because of their closer.

Later in the segment, they move on to talk of the Braves, John Kruk is asked about John Smoltz and he says they should definitely trade him, insinuating that there’s no way the Braves can win the wildcard, much less the division. He said they should get a “couple of prospects while they still can.”

My position on this topic is obvious; I definitely would NOT trade Smoltz. I believe we are still in the postseason picture. But the one thing that escapes me, that I wish any of the Baseball Tonight analysts would enlighten me with, is why, when Atlanta DOES have benefit of having a Mariano Rivera caliber closer, should they trade him away for prospects when he could save games NOW. And why won’t they go ahead and make the move to put him in the bullpen. It doesn’t make sense to me. When John said in June that he would consider a trade he added, “If it would help the team.” If he’s truly got the team’s best interests in mind, why not just start saving games? Or is he only interested in helping the team as a starting pitcher? If that’s the case then maybe they should trade him, but if that’s the case he should recant his comment about having the team’s best interests in mind.

Also: Angel Hernandez has made an ass of himself, adding credence to my earlier post on umpires needing to learn their place.

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