Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tomahawks in the Springtime

With the first Grapefruit League game tomorrow and a lot to cover, it’s time to play (as Bill Lumbergh would say) “a little catch-up”. With that, let the Tomahawks fly:

The Dirt Dog (Trotter Nixon) is nursing a still-recovering back, so let’s hope that he doesn’t follow the path of his former Red Sox teammate and follow the Foulker out of town. Ask Big League Choo and he’d probably have different hopes for the health of Trotman’s surgically repaired herniated disk (he would make about $275K more on the MLB roster than in Buffalo), but we’ll fall on the side of bringing the most possible bodies North to Cleveland to ensure a solid start to 2007

Let me get this straight: First, Peralta grows 1 ½” at the age of 23? Then, his vision regresses to the point that he needs LASIK surgery to allow him to see the catcher’s sign before a pitch? If the next nugget that comes out is that his shoe size went up 2 ½ sizes, I’ll contact George Mitchell myself.

SI com’s John Donovan is very impressed with the Tribe v.2007, though he thinks the Indians’ window of opportunity is already closing. Forget that Westbrook is the only FA after this year (Byrd has a club option for ’08) and that the farm system is among the deepest, right? Actually, call me a hopeless optimist, but I’m holding out hope that the Indians will sign one of their Big 3 (Jake, Pronk, and Sabathia) players for sure (Pronk is my best guess) and possibly even two (imagine the message it would send if Sabathia was the other) this Spring.

Speaking of Sabathia, he’s making $17.75M over the last 2 years of his deal, so it’s not as if he’s playing out a contract that is paying him peanuts. The upcoming Zambrano negotiations could be interesting to watch to set a comparable bar (the others being Zito’s deal at the “Pack your bags, C.C.” end and Oswalt’s being at the “He’s going to be in that house he’s building for a while” end). Zambrano is going to be looking for a TON of money and knows that he’s the top FA pitcher after this year. Sabathia, on the other hand, hits the open market with Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Ben Sheets, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland, John Lackey, Mike Maroth, and Oliver Perez (included because his agent is named Mike Fischlin) – among others.

There have been some awful baseball hats out there in the past few years, notably this one and this one; but their most redeeming quality is that they were never worn by anybody even close to a playing field (perhaps Wickman wore the camo one sitting in a tree stand). That’s what makes the new Spring Training hats so dreadful. They’re simply the normal hats with little splashes of color near the ears and at the bottom of the bill – the result is horrible. The comparable blatant attempt to sell more merchandise can be seen when the Cavaliers trotted out their “Hardwood Classics” jerseys to “honor” the 1986-1987 team. The same ’86-’87 team that went 31-51, right? And they’re not just trying to sell jerseys? Do they want to “honor” Phil Hubbard (as great as he was)? Or is it John Bagley? The greed and manipulation to sell more merchandise has gone beyond sickening.

Looking at that ’86-’87 notation for the Cavs, how great is it that baseball happens in one calendar year? In the NFL and NBA, you always have to specify which year you’re referring to. The ’86 Browns...which one? The one that went 8-8 in the 1985 calendar year, then lost to the Dolphins in January of 1986? Or the one that went 12-4 in the regular season in the 1986 calendar year and lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship in January of 1987? Even their official site isn’t sure.

Ken Rosenthal intimates that Chad Cordero is available, but the Nationals are looking for two high-end pitching prospects for him. Cordero could be a name to watch if there’s any more attrition in the Indians’ bullpen this Spring as the 25-year old Cordero is certainly a proven commodity (90 saves in 3 seasons). Seeing as how the Nationals’ ace is John Patterson (likely followed in the rotation by Mike O’Connor, Billy Traber, Shawn Hill, and Jason Bergman…you read those names correctly), Cordero is likely to see about 15 save opportunities – so he may be obtainable as the Nats come to that realization as Spring progresses.

In the same Rosenthal article linked above, he mentions Luis Rivas as a serious contender for the Tribe utility role. The more I read about Luna’s weight and Inglett’s inability to play SS, Rivas is looking more and more like a legitimate option. Though I know very little about Rivas’ defensive ability, his offensive numbers (career line of .262 AVG / .307 OBP / .383 SLG / .690 OPS in 1,884 career AB) are quite better than those of the man everyone holds as the ideal, Johnny Mac (career line of .236 AVG / .279 OBP / .311 SLG / .590 OPS).

In case you haven’t seen, Hafner is the new spokesman for FitWorks in Cleveland. He replaces the eminently replaceable Aaron Shea, who was probably the only 3rd string TE in the NFL in commercials.

Even though it’s Spring Training, even though the games mean nothing and these early games are simply glorified practice – it’s been a long winter. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer as each day passes. Let the Grapefruit League action begin!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Springing Into Action

With some full team practice workouts completed in Winter Haven and the first game scheduled for this Thursday, the Indians’ brass begins the process of sorting out the roster and determining the roles for said players on that roster.

But is there really that much to sort out? One of the signs of this team maturing and entering a new realm of contention and stability is that, with less than a week completed in Spring Training, very few question marks exist on the roster. Essentially the Opening Day roster can be rattled off fairly easily before the calendar even says, “March”.

LHP - Sabathia
RHP - Westbrook
LHP - Lee
RHP - Byrd
LHP - Sowers
Set in stone since about August of last year, that’s how the Indians figure to run their rotation out. In case of an injury (Byrd reportedly has been battling a stiff back, but should be fine), Fausto Carmona figures in as the first replacement. Despite conjecture that the Indians could return Carmona to the bullpen to fill the void of Keith Foulke (though not as a potential closer…God, no – not as a potential closer) and help out in the 7th or 8th, the Indians have repeatedly stated that they will keep Carmona in the rotation to be that acclaimed “6th starter”. And that’s a good thing. With the potential of Westbrook AND Byrd leaving after this season (Westbrook is a FA, Byrd has a 2008 club option), the Indians need to be sure that Carmona and Miller/Slocum/Perez/etc. are ready to step in to the rotation if need be in 2008.

Thus, the thing to watch in the rotation this Spring will be the health of the Tribe starters and the performance of the likely Buffalo rotation to see if one or more of the youngsters distinguishes himself to figure into the future plans more prominently.

RHP - Borowski
RHP - Betancourt
RHP - Hernandez
LHP - Fultz
RHP - Cabrera
RHP - Davis
RHP - Miller
The retirement of the Foulker pretty much settled that “battle” for the 7th bullpen spot as both Davis and Miller should be making the team. The young relievers (Mastny, Sipp, Mujica, etc.) will be given a look in Winter Haven, but they all figure to start the season in Buffalo. Miller still has an option left, but it’s unlikely to be used as the youngsters will get more regular work in AAA to slot themselves in the line of first to be called up in case of injury or ineffectiveness.

Understanding the limitations of what was available in the off-season, this unit still isn’t one that inspires complete confidence. The unfortunate retirement of Foulke leaves the 8th inning unresolved and leaves the Indians dependent upon a 42-year-old Hernandez or a reliever who has yet to make it through a full season without getting injured in Betancourt and one strike against him in the “not supposed to take horse pills from Mexico” policy.

After watching the team’s 8th inning troubles last year (until the emergence of Carmona), the importance of that role can’t be underestimated. Unless Cabrera recaptures his 2005 form or Davis finally harnesses his stuff, the 8th inning could be a weakness of the team as the relievers struggle to get a lead to Borowski. Even if either of those two young relievers has it figured out, the Indians are likely to give first crack to the experience of Hernandez and even Betancourt and would be more reticent to allow Cabrera and Davis to grow into that 8th inning role, for better or worse.

For some reason, the feeling persists that the evolution of the bullpen will continue throughout the season until the Tribe can find a mix reminiscent of the Cabrera-Howry-Wickman success of 2005 (and how Wedge rode those horses back into the playoff race can’t be forgotten). Whether that new mix includes an arm that emerges from Buffalo (Sipp has a very good chance to contribute in that capacity THIS season) or how it evolves is not the issue. The timeframe and the fact that the roles in the bullpen need to be determined before it gives away games is the true issue.

This Spring Training, watch how the arms slot to start the season (who will pitch the 8th, the 7th, etc.) and how the youngsters perform against big-leaguers to gauge how they figure to contribute this year. With the attrition that is so common throughout a full MLB season, it’s a near certainty that we’ll see 2 to 4 of them. Who they are and how they perform could be foreshadowed under the Winter Haven sun.

C - Martinez
C - Shoppach
1B - Garko
1B/RF - Blake
2B - Barfield
SS - Mr. Magoo…er, Peralta
3B - Marte
RF - Nixon
CF - Sizemore
LF - Dellucci
LF - Michaels
DH - Hafner
Utility IF - Apply at the Front Desk
Outside of the unsettled utility role, these spots are pretty much locked up. While the Indians won’t come out and say that Garko will be on the team, his RH bat’s ability to complement Trot Nixon’s LH bat in the convoluted 1B/RF platoon virtually assures him a spot. The only thing to watch this Spring regarding the majority of the position players is the health of the players (notably Nixon, Hafner, and Martinez who are all coming off of either major of nagging injuries) that have predetermined roles on the team.

The utility role is a whole other story as the Indians have Luna, Inglett, Mike Rouse, Keith Ginter, and Luis Rivas in camp to battle for the spot. Quite a list of names, right?
Realizing fully that this IS the 25th spot on the roster and this is one of the biggest concerns going into camp, the gladiators in this battle couldn’t inspire me less. The criteria for the spot includes the ability to play SS with range (thanks for the effort Mighty Joe), the ability to hit big-league pitching enough to push Peralta in the case that the much-ballyhooed LASIK surgery doesn’t restore his 2005 form (ba-bye Rouse, Ginter, and Rivas) and the ability to stay away from the buffet table (Hector Luna, meet Jenny Craig).

Seriously, multiple media outlets have reported that Luna was told that he had to report to camp in shape (also leaving his frying pan glove at the Orlando airport wouldn’t hurt) and Luna came in looking like he just spent the off-season eating 3 meals a day at Hardees (where the smallest burger has 3 patties, bacon, liquid cheese, and a gift certificate for $50 off of an angioplasty). Although Luna retains options, it’s unlikely that the Indians will send him to Buffalo and he’s the odds-on favorite to take the utility spot, mainly because Inglett can’t play SS.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Indians use some of their excess baggage or players that have been lapped by other players in terms of development (Luna and Gutierrez, I’m looking in your direction) to acquire a more solid utility IF (Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles come to mind) and possibly add another veteran arm (LHP?) to the bullpen.

Overall, it should be a relatively quiet Spring in Winter Haven (knock on wood) as most of the questions have already been answered. However, as we get closer to Opening Day, don’t be surprised if the Indians make a move to improve the last couple of spots on the roster with players caught up in the numbers game from other teams.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Thanks Time Warner!

A hearty “Thank You” goes out to the superb customer service folks at Time Warner (tongue planted firmly in cheek) for their correction of our DSL problem at home. Let’s see, in our 2 months of Time Warner, we’ve had our DVR box go out and our DSL go down 3 times.

After we finally get a person on the horn (after a solid 30 minutes); the “customer service” rep comes back with gems like:
“I don’t know what it could be, that’s weird.”
“We’ll get someone to take a look at that in the next few weeks, someday between 9AM and 4PM.”
“What do YOU think is wrong with it?”

I can’t wait to switch over to our other local cable option…oh, wait.

Anywho, there was obviously no Lazy Sunday for the denizens of the DiaTribe yesterday.

However, I couldn’t let this one go without a comment as I almost spit my coffee out yesterday when I saw it:
The Indians released their promotional schedule and one of the giveaways is Grady Sizemore…wearing a cape…diving for a ball…over a baseball that reads SuperSizemore! Really?

Obviously someone down at Carnegie and Ontario has visited the site, since I’ve been touting that one for a while. Since the trademark papers haven’t been filed, I’ll take it on good faith that the royalty check is already en route.

Much more regarding the makeup of the roster and what to watch for in Winter Haven as soon as Standard Oil…I mean Time Warner has some time to stop swimming in Scrooge McDuck’s money pool to fix the problem.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Evaluating "The PLAN"

Anyone who has heard a press conference or interview with the Indians’ brass is familiar with “The PLAN”. In Shapiro-speak (and it’s lesser known derivative language, Antonetti-speak), “The PLAN” contains the principles for the Indians to remain perennial contenders in the AL Central, the AL, and all of MLB.

Last December, “The PLAN” was examined and laid out in basic philosophies that the Indians seemed to be following in the pursuit of putting a consistent contender on the field. It’s time to expand on that post to look at a more detailed analysis of the implementation of “The PLAN” as it pertains to the players that the Indians include in their long-term plans.

The evolution of “The PLAN” has been an interesting thing to observe, particularly considering that Shapiro plied his craft at the knee of John Hart, who believed in a Beer League Softball way of bashing his way to an unprecedented success in Cleveland. When Shapiro took over in 2001, it was fair to assume that he would continue Hart’s philosophies and beliefs, assembling overwhelmingly talented position players, cobbling together a starting staff, and manufacturing a bullpen out of castoffs and graybeards. But Shapiro has proven to be his own man, with his own philosophies, more deeply rooted in the simple credo of “pitching beats hitting”, perhaps after watching the Murderers’ Row of Indians hitters baffled by the Three Aces in the 1995 World Series.

But “good pitching beats good hitting” is simply one principle of “The PLAN”.
The basic tenets break down this way:
Strong Starting Pitching
Obviously, if any team could develop the starting staff the Indians look to be entering 2007 with, they would do it in a heartbeat. But Shapiro, since his trade of Bartolo Colon (which was the only way to circumvent the seemingly mandatory 10 year rebuilding plan seen in Detroit and Kansas City, among others) has gone out of his way to stock what is often referred to as the “waves of arms” that are designed to hit Cleveland when the parent club is in need of some new ammunition. Out of his 6 1st Round Picks since 2002, ½ have been college pitchers – one with disappointing results (Guthrie), one with promise (Sowers), and one with very limited experience (Huff) – and one sandwich pick used on a high school flamethrower (Miller).

Those “waves” are starting to whitecap.
Sowers is in Cleveland and the rest of the 1st wave of Carmona, Miller, and Slocum are ready to possibly contribute this year. The 2nd wave of Lofgren, the Lewis Boys, Laffey, Ness, and Sean Smith is only a step lower.
Need proof that these aren’t just highly touted names with nothing behind them? Here are the 2006 staff ERA’s for the Indians’ farm teams:
Buffalo – 3.44
Akron – 3.74
Kinston – 3.44
Lake County – 3.60
Those are TEAM ERA’s!
Realizing that the Majors (where only 3 teams were sub-4.00 in 2006) than Minor League pitching, and a completely different animal, those numbers still speak to the quality and quantity of arms the Indians have stockpiled in Shapiro’s time as GM.

Will all of these pitchers pan out? Certainly not.
Remember that Jason Davis, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jeremy Guthrie, and Billy Traber don’t currently complement C.C. in the rotation. But the strength in numbers is a solid strategy in that only one or two of these players at each level are going to survive the grind and the gauntlet and emerge as viable options at the ML level.

Will Miller and Carmona replace Byrd and Westbrook for 2008?
Will Lofgren replace C.C. in 2009?
Even if they’re not going to have to, the idea of having a legitimate replacement starter emerge from the farm is much more palatable than seeing a contract to a middling starter replace them and do little more than clog up the payroll.

A Few (2 to 3) Exceptional Position Players
Truly irreplaceable MLB everyday players (or players that you would take over any other player that position in the Majors) are rare commodities in that few teams boast more than two at any time. Morneau and Mauer
Howard and Utley
Wright and Reyes
Ortiz and Manny
Pujols and Rolen
Chipper and Andruw (5 years ago)
And, of course, SuperSizemore and Pronk
There are other good players in baseball, to be sure, but the best of the best on the same team form the core of an offense and solidify a lineup every single game.

To have 3 or 4 of these players on one team, in their prime, is nearly unheard of – but not without precedent. The Tribe of the 90’s had Belle, Thome, and Ramirez entering their prime, complemented by Omar, Lofton, Baerga, and Sandy. Great players, but Joey, Jimmy, and Manny were the centerpieces.

Acquiring these rare players sometimes come by design (Mauer, the 1st pick of the draft), others by surprise (Ortiz, a FA reject). But when a team gets one of these players, much less two, it forms the foundation of a potent offense. With Grady signed through 2011 (an absolute masterstroke, particularly when you look at the contract numbers late in the deal) and Hafner signed through 2008, the Indians have a leg up on most teams when looking at offensive production.

How many of these players are in the pipeline for the Indians? That’s hard to say.
Would you have pegged Hafner as one of the top 3 hitters in baseball when the Tribe acquired him with Aaron Myette for Ryan Drese and Einar Diaz? Do you think the Rangers did?

Players develop into these players, they don’t usually don’t burst on the scene and announce their arrival with a Ryan Howardesque rookie season. Can Andy Marte develop into one of these players? Can Trevor Crowe? Can Jhonny Peralta revert back to the form of 2005, when he was mentioned in the same breath as Miguel Tejada in terms of overall production? Who knows?

For now, the Indians have Sizemore for 5 more years and some time to negotiate with Pronk. If he moves on, Shapiro and the boys hope that one of the aforementioned names will have moved into the realm of the elite to keep a few exceptional players on which to build the everyday lineup.

Reliable and Experienced, if Unspectacular, Bullpen
This is the one aspect of “The PLAN” that has likely undergone some revisions since Shapiro took the reins in 2001. We’ve seen the Good (2005 and Howry), the Bad (2006 and Mota) and the Ugly (2004 and Stewart/Jimenez…I think I just threw up in my mouth remembering those two), but have yet to see the year-to-year reliability that good teams crave.

The “throw it up against the wall and see what sticks” method seems to be the current strategy in constructing a bullpen league-wide. The fact that relievers are relievers for a reason (that is, they’re not starters or closers) is the most widely held belief in realizing that building a bullpen takes more than a little luck.

The key is to find a pitcher on the verge of a great season, not one season later. How do you figure that? Very simply, you can’t. You can throw gobs of money at pitchers that have experienced recent success (like the Orioles did), but there’s no guarantee that those pitchers won’t blow up and become a burden for the remainder of the contract.

Prospects can be developed to join the ML bullpen ready to contribute; but, as we learned last year, the pressure in Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo is a tad different than standing on the mound in Fenway looking at Big Papi. The progression of relievers from effective minor league relievers to cogs in a ML bullpen is a long and rocky one. Just ask Fernando Cabrera, the man with the nastiest stuff this side of Paul Shuey.

It would be great to throw the likes of Mujica, Sipp, Mastny, Perez, and Jason Dangerously (all terrific arms with great potential) out there and cross our fingers. But the reality of that option flew over the LF fence in Comerica with Pudge’s walk-off last year as Carmona raised his hands to his shell-shocked head.

In lieu of watching these guys learn their craft by sending them through the gauntlet, the idea is to find reliability and stability in a historically unreliable and unstable aspect of the team.

Affordable Complementary Players
Is it necessary to build a lineup of All Stars to put a consistent contender on the field?
Ask Scott Brosius after the 1996 World Series.
Or that Red Sox RF from 2004…what was that guy’s name again – Trot or something like that?
If the core of a team is in place to lend stability and potency to the lineup (Grady, Pronk, Victor, and to a lesser degree Blake), then the balance of the lineup can be comprised of either young players with promise (Barfield, Marte, Garko) or dependable veterans who have proven themselves to be more than proficient in one or more aspect of their game (Dellucci vs. RHP, Michaels vs. LHP, Nixon vs. RHP).

The strategy of complementing the core with these types of players keeps the payroll flexible (the young players aren’t quite arbitration eligible and the older players play on short contracts for less money as they try to prove themselves to be more complete than previously proven to earn a bigger contract), allowing the money to be spent on retaining the more important aspects of the team – namely starting pitching and locking up the core position players to long-term deals.

Ideally these complementary players come from the minors to fill the holes that exist on the ML roster. But Major League Baseball is no Xanadu. If the youngsters prove not-quite-ready-for-primetime, holes are plugged with available rosters on short deals until a viable replacement can be found in the minors.

Want examples?
Michael Aubrey’s body falls apart, halting his ascension as the “1B of the Future”. No other internal option exists and Benuardo is born, then replaced by Blarko.
Or Brad Snyder’s swing develops a giant hole, resulting in 158 K’s in 523 Akron AB, and Frank the Tank loses his power stroke somewhere between Vero Beach and Cleveland forcing Dellichaels to rear his ugly head.

Would we all like to see 7 Indians in the All Star lineup every year? Sure, but what that got us was a couple of AL Pennants and no World Series flag to fly over the Jake.

Bottom Line
A number of teams have executed these philosophies effectively, most notably the Atlanta Braves and their run from 1991 to 2005. They were built around their starting pitching – Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Millwood and solid 4th and 5th starters as the base. Chipper and Justice/Andruw Jones made up their “exceptional players” criteria, with the likes of Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, and Gary Sheffield complementing them. Noted stalwarts Mark Wohlers, Kerry Lightenberg, and John Rocker anchored the bullpen.

That sustained run of excellence by the Braves is what the Indians aspire to and the goal of “The PLAN” – the framework by which the Indians have been built and are being projected to remain. The names on the back of the jersey will change as the makeup of the team changes. But the principles they are evaluated by will be the constant.

The players are no different than the actors in a play. The scriptwriter has the framework of what he wants to see played out for a long run on the stage.
Sit back and enjoy the show.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lazy Sunday on a S-L-O-W Sports Weekend

On this, the worst sports weekend of the year, we’ll head into a quick take of Lazy Sunday:

It’s interesting that the Bill Bitterman is covering the Tribe in Winter Haven while Paul Hoynes covers something in Daytona for the PD. Can you say “budget cuts”?
The only interesting thing about Livingston’s notes column is the picture of C.C. that accompanies the article shown here.
Here’s the whole picture gallery to warm a cold February morning.

Ken Rosenthal thinks that the Foulke retirement opens the door for a young arm, like Cabrera or Carmona, to fill the Bobby Jenks (circa 2005) role for the Indians this year.

The Lorain Morning Journal breaks (probably Jim Ingraham…no author given) breaks down some questions facing the Tribe going into Spring Training.

Also from the Morning Journal is a column (the writing looks like old buddy Roger Brown…again no author given online) addressing ESPN’s Steve Phillips and his take on the Indians. Phillips lost all credibility with me when he identified Cliff Lee as the best LHP in baseball last June, over Santana, Sabathia, Zito, etc., etc.; so I’ll take the opinions of baseball analysts I respect (Gammons, Kurkjian, Neyer, Rosenthal, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) before the made-for-TV, walking-soundbite Steve Phillips enters the conversation.

Seriously, thanks to the Swerb for giving said hack some exposure and allowing the thoughts of one slightly obsessed Indians fan another forum.

I’ll put the post on the mothership later this week.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Forget about Meeting the Foulker

As you may have heard, Keith Foulke announced his retirement before putting on a Tribe uniform. By doing so, he forfeits the $5M he signed for when he passed his physical and hands the closer job to the Big Borowski.

To his credit, he could have reported to Winter Haven and retired, channelled his inner Keith Hernandez and just cashed paychecks. He opted to do the honorable thing and retired before he really put the Tribe over a barrel, like a week before Opening Day.
Those facts still don’t make it any more palatable or offer any more explanation.

Who knows what happened?
Maybe Foulke’s reluctance to sign anywhere or his turning down the Red Sox offer of arbitration lends credence to the thought that Foulke didn’t want to pitch again, that his heart wasn’t in it.

Maybe his elbow just didn’t “feel right”, regardless of what Indians’ doctors saw in the physical.

Maybe he realized that he has earned $32M over the past 10 years, got to Winter Haven, saw a full Spring Training in front of him to work himself back into playing shape and said, “Ahhh…no.”
We’ll never know, but before anyone invokes the name of LeChuck Bentley or Juan Gone, remember that the signing of Foulke was seen as icing on the cake and simply more insurance in the bullpen after most thought the Indians’ bullpen was set after the Big Borowski came on board. With Foulke’s retirement (at age 34, no less), the Indians are back to that point.

Borowski is the closer, but there was a chance that was going to be the case anyway. His retirement turns the 3-man race for 2 bullpen spots (Cabrera, Davis, and Miller) into a near assurance that all 3 will make the bullpen out of Winter Haven. The possibility exists that a Rafael Perez or a Tom Mastny forces his way into the plans; but that means that they earned it, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

The bigger effect from the Foulke retirement is that the competition for the set-up guy is wide open again.
Will Rocky Betancourt pitch the less than 30 minutes?
Will Roberto Hernandez fight off Father Time for another year and serve as an effective set-up guy?
Will a full Spring Training (with regular work) and no World Baseball Classic mean that the Fernando Cabrera we all thought would be closing games by mid-2006 will arrive in camp?

Who knows, but the Tribe’s Spring Training that started without many questions just got a few more and got a little more interesting.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Standing at the Edge of Happiness

So much happening, so little time.
Ken Rosenthal lists the Indians among the big winners this off-season, then throws the Rockies’ Jamey Carroll as a name to remember for the Tribe utility spot.

Next, the Tribe signs Cliff Politte, adding another arm to the bullpen mix, further clouding the 7th bullpen spot battle.
But there’s plenty of time for analysis and roster breakdown. Trust me, lots more coming.

For now, let’s celebrate some frivolity.
Because…we made it.

Pitchers and Catchers report tomorrow and all is good in the world, despite shoveling all day long. As a bit of a reward, here’s the latest round of the popular “Soundtrack of Life” to further whet your palate.

In case you’re new to the site, here’s last year’s edition, which essentially makes suggestions as to the entrance music for Tribe players. I was able to link them to YouTube clips (although Viacom’s wishes made it an exercise in creativity), so you can click on the player and song title’s name to hear the song in case you aren’t familiar.

And with that introduction out of the way, away we go:
Sizemore – Superhero
Not only does Grady lead a charmed life, like the boys in “The Adventures of Ari Gold”…I mean “Entourage”, but he’s developing a Vinnie Chase-like following with the ladies. The fact that the song is called “Superhero” fits the SuperSizemore persona and I could see him hanging with Turtle, E, and Johnny Drama over a few Dortmunders at Great Lakes.

Dellichaels – Endless Love
Two hearts…two hearts that beat as one. As Dellucci and Michaels try to combine do the work of one man by platooning in LF, one can only think of Diana and Lionel. Or the two in the video linked, which is a must-watch.

Pronk – Bulls on Parade
Regardless of whether Hafner in the field is like a bull in a china shop, have you ever seen the big guy walk up to the Batter’s Box? He’s like a bull, lowering his head, charging toward another extra-base hit. Plus, the guitar riff from Rage rules.

Victor – My Hips Don’t Lie
Since the salsa song that The Stick’s been coming out to for the past few years has become tiresome, it’s time to get some different Latin flavor for him. Since I recently found out that Jon Secada is no longer considered “HOT” in the Latin scene, it gave me an excuse to do some searches of Shakira…hours later, I give you the linked treat.

Blake – Seven Nation Army
The White Stripes’ simple opening riff on this one can get you fired up for just about anything. The addition of the drums is simple and amazing. All of that aside, I would have Casey (the Wichita State Shocker) come out to the verse starting, “I went to Wichita…”

Nixon – Rambo Theme
If Lou Merloni can come out to “The Godfather” score (and he did), then Trotman can come out to the memorable “First Blood” score (the horns in the clip, not the song). I’ll go with that or that classic exchange between Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy regarding the availability of body bags in the Pacific Northwest.

Marte – Andy, You’re a Star
As long as they don’t play the line after “Andy, You’re a Star” from The Killers (which is “…in nobody’s eyes but yours”), it works for the Dominican Dandy.

Peralta – My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me
I like to think that last year’s regression for Jhonny was between his ears and easily fixed. Perhaps after waving at another breaking ball low and away he would go home to “sit alone in a four-corner room staring at candles”. Oh, that thing is on?

Barfield – Numb/Encore
Still one of the all-time faves, particularly the version from the 2006 Grammys. Hopefully Barfield won’t succumb to a Peraltaesque sophomore slump and provide us with an encore of his rookie season…because we do want more.

Garko – Tuff Enuff
Chosen because it has to be the question that Garko asks himself after producing on the ML level (45 RBI in 50 games) and hearing that he still needs to earn his roster spot, mainly for defensive purposes. Though I can't find the old “NBA Superstars” video, which included some classic Mark Price highlights, the linked video is pretty good, particularly with the Bateman siblings cameo.

Sabathia – Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
Hopefully, whenever the ol’ Crooked Cap takes the bump, he’ll allow the words of Puff and Biggie (or these guys in the video) to seep in and forget about that big payday that’s coming in the fall of 2008. Hopefully, he’ll realize that he has it pretty good on the North Coast (when people aren’t booing him without reason or questioning the Hefty Lefty’s conditioning), and sign on that dotted line. We can dream…can’t we?

Lee – Finish What You Started
The master of the “5 and Fly” needs to heed the words from the Red Rocker and give the Indians a little more than his standard 6th inning meltdown. A complete game may be too much to ask, but maybe pitching into the 7th…or dare I say, the 8th?

Westbrook – State of Love and Trust
Like Carsten Charles, a song focusing on some level of comfort to keep him in the friendly confines of the Jake for a few more years can accompany Westbrook during his warm-up. If he comes out to Pink Floyd’s “Money”, I’ll start to explore trade options myself.

Sowers – Footprints by Miles Davis
Like the smoothness and unpredictability of Miles, Sowers makes beautiful music on the mound – even if you can’t figure out how he makes it so beautiful. Last year, Sowers was be-bopping and scatting all over the American League, using a plan of keeping everyone guessing as the basis of his genius. I don’t know if the kid from St. Clairsville is quite the epitome of cool yet, but his quiet demeanor and success certainly give an air of confidence from the mound.

Byrd – Time Intro by Pink Floyd
The ringing bells and ticking clocks that lead into the song will serve as a subtle reminder that there are arms in AAA vying to take his place if he starts 2007 like he did in 2006 – slowly. Tick, tock…tick, tock.

Foulke – Leash
I know that he comes out to Danzig’s “Mother”, but the fact that Eddie sings about him in this PJ tune makes the cut. You know that part - “Drop the Leash, Drop the Leash…Get Out of Keith’s Foulkin’ Face”.
Wait, what does he say then?

Borowski – Just Dropped In
How the fact that Borowski’s name is only 3 letters off that of Jeff Daniels’ classic character of “The Dude” evaded me for this long is surprising. But the mellifluous tones of Kenny Rogers can accompany The Big Borowski to the mound. A video screen showing flying bowling pins and Bob the Beer Guy bringing me a Caucasian in the Mezzanine would complete the perfection.

Cabrera – Slow Ride
It has been a slow ride for Cabrera to fulfill his potential as the future closer of the club. So, until he captures that magic in his right arm and translates it into the 9th inning, he is cursed with “Slow Ride”.

Betancourt – Patience
Tug the cap…adjust the sleeve…tug the cap…look in for the sign…tug the cap…reposition the jock…tug the cap…blow in the hand…tug the cap.
You get the idea.

The players aren’t alone in their need for some tone-setting tunes.
Here’s what I would suggest at certain times in ballgames:
Going into the 9th Inning behind – Win in the End
That’s right, if Scott Howard (as Scott Howard and not the Wolf) can beat Mick’s team, isn’t anything possible? Please click the link for one of the greatest MySpace pages ever.

After a Loss – Even the Losers
Think of the other team, congratulating each other on the field, when someone finally stops, listens, and asks, “Are they really playing this?” The look on those jerks’ faces would be worth the price of admission.

After a Win – Another One Bites the Dust
How great would it be if the Atomic Wedgie leapt out of the dugout to congratulate the team, taking his Tribe jacket off to reveal...the same yellow tank top that Freddie Mercury wears in the clip? Well, pretty great.

Spring Training is here and we have lots to discuss.
For now, in the immortal words of Clark W. Griswold, “we made it, dammit, we made it.”

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Slow Sunday

Very little on a Lazy Sunday (the day after a Bachelor Party Saturday...after which I would highly recommend the new Corner Alley on Fourth and Euclid, among other stops), with Shelden Ocker weighing in on the off-season additions and the Central and a prickly Hoynesie opening the mailbag.

In case you missed it, the Indians were ranked 2nd in’s Dayn Perry’s initial Power Rankings. Before you get too excited, remember had the Tribe at #1 at the end of the 2005 season. Captain Obvious told me that the key with these Power Rankings, obviously, is to be that high a little later in the season…or at least after Spring Training opens.

In a similar vein, last week I mentioned that my friend dropped an Andy Jackson down for me on the Indians’ to win the World Series while in Vegas watching the Super Bowl.
As a point of interest, here are the current World Series Odds:
Yankees – 7 to 2
Tigers – 5 to 1
Mets – 8 to 1
White Sox – 8 to 1
Cubs – 9 to 1
Red Sox – 10 to 1
Cardinals – 10 to 1
Angels – 10 to 1
Dodgers – 14 to 1
Phillies – 15 to 1
Blue Jays – 15 to 1
Giants – 20 to 1
Twins – 20 to 1
A’s – 20 to 1
Padres – 30 to 1
Indians – 30 to 1
Astros – 40 to 1
Braves – 40 to 1
Rangers – 50 to 1
Brewers – 50 to 1
Reds – 50 to 1
Marlins – 60 to 1
Diamondbacks – 60 to 1
Mariners – 100 to 1
Rockies – 100 to 1
Orioles – 100 to 1
Pirates – 200 to 1
Nationals – 200 to 1
Royals – 500 to 1
Devil Rays – 500 to 1

For reference’s sake, going into 2006, St. Louis was 7 to 1 and the Tigers were 75 to 1 (Tribe was 15 to 1). 30 to 1 looks like a pretty good value pick to me.

Let’s see it boys, put your money down.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

This week’s “Tribe Report” on STO featured an interview with Peter Gammons, who talked exclusively about the Indians. It’s rare that Gammons addresses one particular team and its players, without using the context of the whole league, so his comments are interesting to hear. Here’s what the man who graces the $20 bill had to say:

A Team Overview
The Indians have in Sizemore and Hafner, legitimate stars. But, the depth that they now have, with Blake and Dellucci and Michaels, that they have enough depth now that they can overcome injuries. And they have so much young pitching coming along. I love that they went out and got Foulke and Borowski to add some veteran presence so that when Cabrera and Miller and some of their young pitchers come along they have much more of a safety net than they did last year.

On Bullpens
I always point out that of the last 6 World Champions, the only team that ended up winning it that knew who it’s closer was on May 1st was Boston in 2004 with Foulke. Adam Wainwright never had a save opportunity in his entire life until September 10th and he ended up being up perfect in the postseason. So, bullpen is the easiest position in baseball to develop. The Indians have so many great arms, so even if Foulke and Borowski aren’t there in September, what they may do is provide a cushion so a guy like Cabrera or Carmona could end up the closer.

On T-Crowe
The guy that people talk most about around baseball is Trevor Crowe. Last year, when Akron was playing Portland in the Eastern League playoffs, two members of the Red Sox Front Office called me on their drive back from Portland to tell me about this incredible catch he made…and they started calling him Ty Cobb. That’s the way he plays, kind of “spikes high”, and plays hard all the time. That’s his nickname, that’s what they call him in the Red Sox Front Office – Ty Cobb.

On Sowers
The guy that’s been one of my favorites for a long time, since I got to know him when he pitched in the Cape Cod League is Jeremy Sowers. I think he’s going to be great. He’s got a presence, but he also really understands pitching and he really understands what scouting reports are about. It’s always been said that he’ll be better in the Major Leagues than he was in the Minors because he can take a game plan and execute it better than most because he’s so much more intelligent.

On the AL Central
I think that the Indians and Tigers are probably the favorites, but I like the Indians because of their depth. I like the Tigers a lot, but my question would be how much will a Justin Verlander, who never pitched more than 130 innings in his life, come back and try to pitch 200 innings this year. This is a very good division. The Yankees’ Brian Cashman told me the other day that everyone in the national media still focuses on the Yankees and Red Sox, but that he could easily see the World Champion come out of the American League Central.

Great stuff from Sweet Pete, as usual.
The thing that sets Gammons apart is that he’s an insider, but never tries to pass off the observations as his own. He always says what the scouts and executives are saying to him, which makes us obviously jealous of him and his influence while marveling at his humility and enthusiasm.

After hearing his insight (which was sorely missed while he was ill last year), it reminded me how good baseball talk can be. So, now can someone tell the folks at ESPN that a desk of Ravech, Gammons, Kurkjian, and Gwynn (or Hershiser or another cerebral player long on steak and short on sizzle) are preferable to the ridiculousness of Kruk and Steve Phillips?
It will make my summer much more enjoyable.

Also, here’s some news that should be celebrated on the same level as signing the likes of Pronk or C.C. to a contract extension.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Boob Tube

Living in Cleveland, this whole DirecTV-MLB Extra Innings deal went under the radar as I’m assured of seeing all Tribe games on STO. Not so for fans outside of Northeast Ohio.

With that in mind, it’s time for a guest column from serial poster Cy Slapnicka addressing how MLB’s new TV venture looks like the latest example of MLB teams looking like the figures on an Electric Football Game, nobody knows where they’re going or where anyone is else is going, with no semblance of an overall plan or any sort of foresight.

With that, I present the comments of an expatriate Indians fan, living in Chicago:
So, in case you haven’t heard.... MLB is talking about selling exclusive rights for the Extra Innings baseball package to DirecTV. This does not affect Indians fans living in Cleveland, but for those of us who live throughout the country; this is like telling us there is no Santa Claus. I know the NFL does this, so some of you may not think it is a big deal. However, if you want to watch a Browns game, you can easily head to your local watering hole and watch them lose once a week. With the Indians, I don’t think any of our wallets, waistlines, livers, or marriages could handle 162 games a year at the bar. Nor do any of us want to be forced to leave our own friendly confines to do catch a game.
I’ve done a bit of investigating and this is what I’ve found out thus far:

  • The team owns the rights to their games broadcast within their viewing area. So for the Indians, this is basically a big chunk of real estate around Ohio and a few surrounding states. The Indians own the ability to broadcast their games within that area.
  • MLB owns the rights to games outside of that area. So, the right to broadcast an Indians vs. Orioles game in Denver would be owned by MLB. What this means is, even if you can get SportsTime Ohio in Denver, you cannot see the game. That is because MLB has decided that if you are outside of a team’s viewing area, you can only see their games on National broadcasts or on Extra Innings.
  • WGN and TBS are considered “national” networks and have special agreements (made years ago) honored by MLB that allow them to broadcast Cubs and Braves games, respectively.
  • Networks such as STO, YES, NESN, and the Fox Sports regionals are considered “regional” networks. Regional networks are not allowed to broadcast games outside of the MLB approved viewing area for that team. Basically, I can get STO through Dish Network in Chicago, however all Indians games would be blacked out.
  • DirecTV does not even carry STO as a regional sports channel nationwide, as Dish Network does.
  • Congress is investigating MLB and DirecTV and whether they will be allowed to only provide Extra Innings via DirecTV. Obviously this is interesting, as the NFL has not drawn much attention with their deal. However, I feel MLB is so dysfunctional; they deserve to be embarrassed on Capitol Hill…. even though our government has more important things to do.
  • The current deal is rumored to be for $700 million over 7 years. This would be the rights to the Extra Innings package. MLB would also get a cut from each package sold, not sure how much.

I feel forcing consumers to use DirecTV (where MLB plans to launch its own channel by 2009) is a big mistake. There are three rational reasons I can see for signing up for this package:
1) You are a bar
2) You live outside your favorite team’s viewing area
3) You are a huge fan of all things MLB.

Now, most bars already use DirecTV, so the $700M is not well spent getting them to sign up. They will use DirecTV and buy the package even if Comcast or Time Warner Cable carries the package. And I am guessing that very few people exist that would sign up for DirecTV and the package because they can’t get enough MLB games. So again, a waste of money by DirecTV and MLB would seem to be limiting their market for the package.

So basically, you have to assume they are targeting people that are huge fans, but do not live in their home team’s viewing area. People like me. And this does not include Braves or Cubs fans, as most of their games are broadcast nationally. Same for teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, as they receive an awful lot of national coverage as games of the week, Wednesday night baseball, etc.

I have a number of problems with their approach to this and it shows they don’t understand people like me. And I also wonder how any MLB team can allow this to happen…. my beloved Indians or anyone else besides the Cubs, Braves, Yankees, or Red Sox.
Force me to switch to DirecTV? Not likely. I used to have DirecTV and life was grand. The NFL package was free the first year, I had TiVo, and the free premium channels were for a few months (i.e. Cinemax at 2am).

Then I got used to service interruptions whenever a storm hit. I called their customer support and realized how poor they were. (As an example, one time I called I was passed on to the “third”, and presumably more advanced, level of technical support and the phone line went dead. When I called back, I was told there was no “third” level of customer support). Eventually, my DirecTivo died and I was forced to buy a new one at a hefty cost, as there is no “rental” equipment like with Dish or cable companies. I then found out they phased out the Tivo interface for their DVR and went with their own DVR interface that was not nearly as good.

What incentive do I have to sign up for DirecTV? All of these problems, the requirement that you have a dish on your dwelling, have a line of sight to the Southern sky, cannot package your service with Internet and phone, and get an often times inferior HD package…just for MLB games?
No thanks. Fans are going to love this money grab.

I basically have two choices if I want the games. I can either not switch to DirecTV on principal OR sign up for the service in Cleveland just to stick it to MLB and DirecTV. Think about it, I sign up for DirecTV or even better DISH NETWORK in Cleveland and take the equipment to Chicago and install it at home. All my network programming will be the same AND at the same time, sans local news and broadcasts. I get Indians games AND Browns games (not sure if that is beneficial to my sanity) for FREE and I get STO’s other programming. If I really miss my local news and any other local programming (Oprah 5x’s a day), I can get an over-the-air antenna for HD. If you live in the Eastern or Central time zone, this solution for Indians games would work. And there is the added bonus of Dick Goddard and Wooly Bear Festival updates.

The me-first aspect of this aside, I have a serious problem with MLB doing this in general. There are a number of issues I’ll touch on:
First and foremost, how much money are they really going to make? If the $700 million number is split evenly among 30, that comes out to $2.3 million a year for 7 years. Wow, we can sign a utility infielder…. thanks Bud Selig. The competitive balance has been restored. Seriously, they sold their souls for a 5th OF. And when I say “they”, I mean MLB and the owners as a collective group. They may get a decent chunk of change for subscriptions, depending how the money is broken down between teams and DirecTV, but how much really? Apparently, enough to destroy lots of goodwill. And how many subscriptions will they lose from their current model of allowing many providers to offer Extra Innings? It would be interesting to see the numbers, as will the $700 million be enough to offset the decrease in subscriptions from cable and Dish sources over the next 10 years? Will it offset any loss of fans that occurs?

And secondly, IF they are going to tell consumers how they must consume their product, can they at least be innovative? Or perhaps do something that will make it worth my trouble to do what they say? For instance, with this model…DirecTV directly competes with Does that make sense? Who knows if will continue with the new agreement, but I have a revolutionary idea for Bud Selig. Al Gore invented the Internet at least 10 years ago. Why not package MLB to cable, satellite, and Internet companies. I live in Chicago. Comcast and RCN are the big cable companies and, of course, Dish and DirecTV are satellite. They all offer some form of bundled cable, Internet, and phone services. All things being roughly equal, what if one of them had an MLB package that got me access to Extra Innings, the regional sports networks I want, online access to, and the game day audio? I would happily switch to that provider yesterday. I wouldn’t care if I were buying my services from Bin Laden Communications and directly funding evildoers. I’d pay top dollar for this package, as I’m obviously not spending my discretionary income on season tickets at the Jake or Browns games. I’d pay much more than the approximately $200 DirecTV will charge me for Extra Innings only.

If the DirecTV deal does go through, I just hope they have enough sense to give Extra Innings subscribers access to the XM broadcasts. For those that didn’t know, XM radio is broadcast on DirecTV music stations…. but DirecTV currently does not provide access to the XM stations that broadcast all MLB games. And the XM discussion raises another point. Do they lack the foresight to see where communications and the Internet are going? They have a contract with XM radio for 10 years. What kind of recourse does XM radio have when people are able to connect to the Internet in their cars, from personal devices such as PDAs, phones, and iPods? is currently offering online audio broadcasts, the same as XM. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather sign up for the one if I could listen anywhere.

Another thing I don’t get with this deal is, why are the owners allowing this to happen? There are a number of factors that would seem to make this a bad deal. First of all, TBS and WGN are “national” networks and are allowed to continue to broadcast their games nationally? So, MLB has a deal with the groups that own the Braves and Cubs allows them to air their games across the country on cable channels owned by that same ownership group? How is that fair? No doubt they can use some of that cable revenue to support their team (even if the Cubs aren’t so good at that part).

What is interesting, STO is considered a regional sports network. So are YES, NESN, and the Fox Regional Sports Networks. With the Dolan family connection to Cablevision and Steinbrenner having more money than God, what is to stop them from creating a new “national” network and putting their games on it? All they’d need is a few Seinfeld reruns and a few old movies and they’d be another TBS. I know it takes more than that and they’d need to get providers to pick up the network, but they’d theoretically be able to do something. Well, MLB would prevent that. According to MLB, the only people allowed to do that are the Cubs and Braves. I would have a serious problem with that if I were the owner of another team.

Another point that brings up is how they figure out the revenue sharing percentages from Extra Innings. Do the Cubs deserve any of that revenue, when it is quite likely exactly ZERO Cubs fans purchase the Extra Innings package? What about the Braves?

And the owners have also invested a lot of money in their regional cable networks (at least the owners that own one). I’m sure it is hard to get those networks picked up by satellite providers and cable providers outside your team’s market when they can’t broadcast games. The Yankees have a distinct advantage over the Tribe due to their large fan base, but why not help all your teams out here? Why not use some of the negotiating power during this deal to ensure that DirecTV carries ALL MLB team regional sports networks? That way your fans have a good reason to sign up AND you are helping your owners out. If you aren’t going to allow those teams to broadcast their games across the country, at least allow their fans to get some of the other content they do want…such as minor league games, news about the team, spring training shows, etc.

And finally, if MLB is going to be ignoring the “regional” networks, can they at least provide some better content? At least the NFL provides a channel. It’s not great and it was an evil move to put games on it, but at least they have good content. Heck, at least they have a channel. And if this deal is struck, can you at least mandate that by a certain date all games will be in HD? This is a multi-billion dollar industry; can we at least see it ALL in HD? Is that too much to ask? If you cannot broadcast all games in HD, you deserve to be demoted to AAA.

And while this money grab is occurring, why not package the online broadcasts with advertising too? I’m sure there are agreements in place, but I’m also sure they can figure out a way to squeeze more money out this.At the end of the day, I think this shows just how weak MLB is from a unified ownership perspective. Can you imagine the NFL owners collectively allowing the Cowboys and Giants to have their own national networks on which their games were broadcast, where they were able to generate additional revenue, while everyone else was restricted by their viewing area. They can’t handle drugs, they can’t handle the players union, and they institute stupid rules like the All-Star game deciding home field in the World Series.

Thanks Cy. 8 days until the pitchers and catchers arrive in Winter Haven.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Hype Sunday

Very little news about the Tribe today in the fishwraps, which probably has something to do with some other game happening today in the sports world.

Not much in the increasingly irrelevant PD sports page (which was breezed through in about 10 minutes this morning, and I was looking for something to read to an interested 6-week old…I mean, how is Branson Wright employed by a major newspaper) other than a piece on Victor, who admitted that he played hurt last year. Anybody who saw Victor lumber down the line last year could have told you that.

Also, Paul Hoynes defends himself for picking the Indians to finish 4th in the Central last week. Think Hoynesie is feeling a little burned by picking the Indians to finish so high last year?
Even if he was burned in his predictions by an underachieving team last year, 4th?
Behind the Twins and their 2-man rotation? Really?

He’s going to have to stop hanging out with Livy and Shaw; their cynicism is obviously contagious.
Would anyone be surprised if the out-of-touch and persistently negative Livingston picked the Royals to finish ahead of the Tribe this year and somehow incorporated a rip job on Larry Hughes into the prediction?

Andy Call quotes Shapiro on the final couple of spots in the bullpen, along with a look at Josh Barfield. Interestingly, yesterday on WKNR with Tony Rizzo, Tribe VP Bob DiBiasio stated, very matter-of-fact, that the Indians final 2 spots in the bullpen would go to Cabrera and Davis. No surprise there, only that the VP of Public Relations would come out and say such a thing before Spring Training even started.

With only hype on TV today and the wind chill hitting the double digits under 0, it wasn’t a great week for the DVR to go on the fritz (Time Warner’s response, “Sorry about that, we’ll bring another box by when we can…and you’ll lose anything on your current box”. Lovely). Thank goodness for HBO running the “Star Wars” movies constantly so I don’t have to watch an interview with Peyton Manning’s 3rd Grade Teacher.

On this week leading up to the Super Bowl, how apparent has it become that the Worldwide Leader (or as I heard someone call it, “nothing but another four-letter word”) has become increasingly out-of-touch with their core fan base, both in terms of programming and website content?

If you want nightly highlights, don’t check out “SportsCenter”. All you’ll get is a steady dose of banter between Kilborn-wannabes and 5 ex-players walking around a fake football field “breaking it down” for 10 minutes.

Who cares? Who wants to see Michael Irvin or Steve Young endlessly preen and carry on with little to no insight or knowledge in lieu of seeing actual analysis and game highlights?
And don’t get me started on Stuart Scott.

Want an alternative? Check out Fox Sports’ “FSN Final Score”, which focuses on highlights and results…what a novel concept.

And the Worldwide Website has become less and less of a frequent target as the only thing worth reading has become The Sports Guy’s column.’s content and access to good writers has eclipsed’s coverage and has a vast advantage with Ken Rosenthal in terms of insider information…for free.

Don’t get me wrong, ESPN is still in heavy rotation for sports coverage, but this week leading up to the Super Bowl has illustrated how much ESPN has changed in the past 5 years…and not for the better.

My friend Berger, in Vegas for the Super Bowl, put down a double sawbuck on the Tribe to win the WS at 30 to 1 this morning for me.
The winnings are already spent.

If you need something to warm you on this cold Sunday, here’s a video to remind you that we’re getting close.