Monday, December 29, 2008

The Big Unit!

There's been an ongoing debate chez nous about the man they call The Big Unit. My college-aged son thinks the Giants are crazy to spend $8 million to acquire the services of Randy Johnson for one season. I say it's one of the smartest moves the team's made in a long time.

Since I'm the one with the blog and he's the one sleeping in during winter break, you'll have to accept my version.

Sure, Randy Johnson is 45 years old. He's the second-oldest active player in the majors (behind Jamie Moyer, who just signed a two-year deal with the Phillies!), and he's had back problems. Sure, he has weird hair and he can be a bit cranky with reporters.

But ask any big-league hitter (especially a left-hander) who they'd least like to face, and Randy Johnson is high on the list. I don't care how old he is. Nobody wants to dig in against this guy. He's 6' 10" tall, he still throws hard, and he can still tuck one up under your chin. Hey, he once killed a bird with a pitch!

The Big Unit isn't what he once was (who is?), but he still threw 184 innings last year and struck out 173. His WHIP number (walks plus hits per inning pitched) was better than anyone in the Giants rotation except Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. In short, he's still a solid big-league starter.

There are also the intangibles. The Big Unit is a Bay Area native, and his presence is certain to put a few more butts in the seats at AT&T Park. He's Cooperstown-bound and will win his 300th game sometime this season. And while Johnson may not be the kind of guy to toss his arm over the shoulder of a young guy and give him pointers, you can bet the Giants kids will be watching carefully.

Now, my son's argument: Johnson's too old and the Giants should have spent the money on a bat. Perhaps they still will, but look what the Yankees paid for Mark Teixeira. The Giants had no hope of matching that kind of offer.

Bottom line: the Giants made an interesting pickup and didn't break the bank to do it. They could still use some offense, but they play in a park where pitching is pretty important.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kiffin and Etiquette

It's not just Raiders owner Al Davis who now thinks Lane Kiffin has bad manners.

The former Raiders coach, now the head coach at the University of Tennessee, has just broken protocol by hiring an NFL coach away during the regular season. Sure, the Raiders are going nowhere, but it's still considered bad form for assistant offensive line coach James Cregg to leave early for the UT job.

Sure, Cregg is not the first NFL coach to bolt before the season ends (remember Bobby Petrino's bailout from the Atlanta Falcons last year?), but it's still considered a violation of an unwritten rule. And as if to drive that point home, Kiffin's own father, Monte, is finishing out the season as a Tampa Bay assistant coach before moving to Tennessee. It would have been easy for Lane Kiffin to tell Cregg to wrap it up with the Raiders before heading to Knoxville.

Of course, there's plenty of backstory here. Kiffin and Al Davis probably aren't sending Christmas cards to each other this year. Kiffin must be having a big jolly laugh, watching his Raiders successor Tom Cable vent about this. Cable: "You don't do that. You never quit. You never quit, I don't care what it is. You don't quit.''

And while some enjoy watching Kiffin poke Big Bad Al in the eye, I have to wonder how that bridge he's burning behind him will eventually turn out for him. That old karma train has a way of coming full circle.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Happier Times

Every now and again, you read a story about an old photograph of a public figure surfacing. The hapless person is smiling it up with someone who later becomes infamous. Here's a link to a rogue's gallery of such photos, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

And then, there's this photo.
From left to right, KCBS reporter Doug Sovern, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, KCBS and CBS5 reporter Mike Sugerman, your humble reporter, and my esteemed colleague Steve Bitker.

All smiles, we were, because we'd just watched the Cubs clinch the National League Central Dvision title at Wrigley Field on a gorgeous September Saturday. The Governor had been sitting four seats away from me, rooting for the Cubbies and schmoozing an endless stream of well-wishers.

It occurs to me now that some of the well-wishers might have been offering inducements for a U.S. Senate appointment. It also occurs to me that some of the fans in the area might have been FBI agents.

Who'd have thought we would be the ones who would later be embarrassed about the photo?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Total Bozo

So the National Hockey League has decided to muzzle one of its biggest jerks. Apparently, it was a race between the league office and his employers to suspend Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery.

This came after Avery made crude comments about his former girlfriend, who's now dating Calgary's Dion Phaneuf (and naturally, the comments came just before Avery's Stars played Phaneuf's Flames). No sense repeating the comments here; they're the sort of sophomoric, misogynist garbage you'd expect from a lowlife like Avery.

While I certainly don't condone the comments, the fact that Avery has been suspended for them says more about the NHL's screwed-up culture than it does about Avery. The league has tolerated his bizarre on-ice behavior for years. At the time of his suspension, he led the NHL in penalty minutes, while ranking a stellar 210th in scoring.

Who can forget his performance in last year's playoffs, when he took his act to a new level by parking himself in front of New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur and then behaving like a man off his meds. Take a look:

The real question about Sean Avery is not, "what's wrong with this guy?". It's bigger: "What's wrong with the NHL?" Why would the Dallas Stars give this nutcase a multimillion dollar, 4-year contract?

If you're looking for some good news in all this, here it is: a year after posting one of the NHL's better records (without Avery), the Stars are now a league doormat, riven by dissension. I sure hope Dallas GM Brett Hull and owner Tom Hicks feel good about giving Avery that fat contract.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I Hate It When He's Right

I'll be frank. I'm not a big fan of the man you see here. Texas football coach Mack Brown slipped onto my Permanent Dislike List four years ago when his unseemly lobbying and whining got his Longhorns into the Rose Bowl. The berth came at the expense of a very good Cal team, which should have made its first Pasadena New Year's Day trip in 45 years.

But this time, Crybaby Mack has a good case. His 11-1 Longhorns somehow got jumped in the BCS rankings by Oklahoma, a team Texas beat 45-35 earlier this season. Oklahoma's #2 BCS slot means the Sooners will get to play Missouri for the Big 12 championship game and (probably) head for the BCS Championship game.

Could it be that the Karma Train finally caught up with Mighty Mack? Well, maybe, except we can't really tell how the heck Oklahoma leapfrogged Texas in the BCS rankings. The polls--the ones where human beings actually rank the teams--favor Texas (#1 in the Harris sportswriter poll, and virtually tied with Oklahoma in the coaches' poll). But the inscrutable computer rankings, which make up 1/3 of the BCS formula, give Oklahoma the clear edge.

Somebody has some 'splainin' to do. Just as they did back when Mack's Brown-out kept Cal out of the Rose Bowl.