Sunday, January 25, 2015

Top-of-the-world Warriors fans happy to eat crow after that Monte Ellis Trade wasn't so bad afterall

The three-year anniversary of the Monte Ellis Trade by the Golden State Warriors is approaching and with the Boston Celtics making their annual appearance in Oakland it is as good as time as any to remind Warriors fans how good, so good, times have become.
This turnaround is the equivalent of a pumpkin becoming Cinderella’s uber.
Lest we forget that Warriors fans immediately following that trade royally booed team owner Joe Lacob during an unforgettable and unfortunate on-court ceremony to retire Chris Mullins’ number. That led Rick Barry to be, of all people, the voice of reason and criticize Warriors fans that eventually did a “disservice” to the team and left the arena in droves after the Dubs suffered a bad home loss to the sub .500 Minnesota Timberwolves.
At the same time the Celtics, with a winning record, were making a final push at the playoffs with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, trying one last time to bring success and dignity to a proud and historic franchise.
Well since that MET it’s been a tale of two franchises. Only four of the 20 players on the Celtics’ 2011-12 roster are still with the team and general manager Danny Ainge has collected enough future draft picks to fill my garage. The Celtics are as close to getting to the playoffs as we are to getting to Mars. Their fans are deflated worse than Patriots balls.
The Warriors, meanwhile, now have the best record in the NBA. They recorded their 104th consecutive Oracle Arena sellout crowd with the Celtics in town Sunday night and defeated Boston for a franchise record 19-game home court winning streak, tying the 1996-99 49ers for the second longest home winning in Bay Area professional sports history, one behind the Oakland A’s “Moneyball” 20-game streak.
“This is a team that is playing as well as any team I have coached against,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens who has coached against the world champion San Antonio Spurs, LeBron James’ Miami Heat and Duke Blue Devils to name a few championship teams.
That wasn’t the case on March 13, 2012, the Warriors’ first game after the MET. That night Golden State head coach Mark Jackson played Draymond Green for only 4:32 off the bench and he had a line of one rebound and everything else zeroes.
Green is now starting for the Warriors and averaging 31.8 minutes along with 11.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists while generally defending the opposing team’s best player.
However , the biggest change with the Warriors is the change in attitude by Warriors fans toward center Andrew Bogut, the man the Dubs acquired in the MET. Fans, at first skeptical that they had acquired a virtual Humpty Dumpty in the injury-prone Bogut, now have arrived at a consensus that the Warriors cannot possibly win an NBA championship this year without him.
The last professional athlete to make such a dramatic switch from villain to hero was Hulk Hogan.

Hence, the same fans who saw the MET as the RIP death knell of the franchise are reveling in a record-breaking season. They should have listened to Rick Barry.
The Warriors –with Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson riding a tidal wave excitement -- have become the most entertaining, fun team to watch in the NBA.
“We have a special thing going,” says Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Ya think?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Super Bowl 49: Pete Carroll's Revenge?

The Seattle Seahawks had to wait only one year to get back to the Super Bowl, but Pete Carroll has had to wait 15 years to get back at the New England Patriots.

Whereas the NFC champions are aiming to repeat as NFL champions, their head coach – who is driven by competition the way Moses was driven by commandments -- may privately be looking for some internal measure of nerds-like revenge. Winning the Super Bowl last year was professional exoneration. This time it’s personal for Pete.

It’s versus the Patriots, an ideal victim-to-vindication scenario perfect for Disney.

Following the 1999 season, Carroll was unceremoniously fired by the Patriots, though he never had a losing season in three years as their head coach. He was replaced by Bill Belichick and we all know how that worked out. The Patriots selected Tom Brady 10 weeks later with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL player draft and he and Belichick went on to five Super Bowls, winning three in a four-year span.

The Patriots and Belichick are the last to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Carroll now has the Seahawks primed to do the same and unseat them for that honor.  Poetic justice?

Understand that Carroll loved being head coach of the Patriots. So did his parents. When Carroll was named head coach in New England, he had a giant satellite television dish installed in the backyard of his boyhood home in Greenbrae, California so his mom and pops could watch all the Patriots games in their living room rather than get in their car and drive 15 minutes to the nearest sports bar. His mother, Rita, had her recliner positioned closest to the TV set, watching over Pete on the sidelines long before Erin Andrews.

When Carroll returned to coach the Patriots for the first time in the San Francisco Bay Area in an exhibition game against the 49ers in Candlestick Park he arranged for his dad, Jim, to have a press pass and ride the elevator to the press box to watch the game rather than have to maneuver up and down steps in the stands. Jim sat in the back row of the press box wearing a Patriots cap and jacket and forgot about press box protocol that there is “absolutely no cheering in the press box.” Jim couldn’t contain his enthusiasm – now you know where Pete gets his DNA spirit – and cheered loudly whenever his son’s team had a big play in that preseason game. I had to leave my press box seat to gently and quietly remind Jim of press box etiquette.

It was annoying to some in the press box, yet it was obvious to me how proud Pete’s parents were of Pete to be the Patriots head coach.

However, the puppy love the Patriots had for Carroll waned like lobsters in boiled water. He had the misfortune of succeeding the popular Bill Parcells, who left the franchise over lack of power with his famous parting shot, “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal, I’d like to be able to pick the groceries.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft moved quickly to hire Carroll, but player personal decision-making remained in the hands of Bobby Grier. Carroll loved Boston and Pats fans, but never lived up to expectations of Parcells-loving Patriots media who perceived Carroll to be a high-strung, back-slapping California surfer dude way in over his head and about  as tough as clam in chowder.

Carroll couldn’t buy their respect – or the groceries. Kraft relented to family advice and outside pressure and fired Carroll, though he still calls it the most difficult decision of his career. Kraft and Carroll remain friends.

It turned out for the best. Carroll learned from his experience in New England and became a more focused and better prepared coach for it. We all know how that’s worked out. Carroll climbed to prominence by coaching USC back to national championships and Seattle to an unexpected first Super Bowl win.

Unfortunately, Jim and Rita didn’t live long enough to see that day. They left a year apart shortly after their son was fired as coach of the Patriots. 

So if Pete Carroll has extra motivation to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 49 you can understand. The Seahawks should want to beat the Patriots not only for Pete’s sake but for heaven’s sake.

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Baseball Hall of Fame ballot isn't numbers crazy

Baseball, more than any other sport, revolves around numbers. We analyze them. We debate them. We even invent them.

A line of BA, HR, and RBI used to be the standard measuring stick yet now we have OBP, OPS, WAR, JAWS and seemingly countless other acronyms construed to determine a player’s worth and importance. ERA isn’t enough anymore so someone created PERA which I thought was a country in South America. Sabermetrics is now on steroids.

Hence, we have more statistical information and ballyhooed data as wide as Kim Kardashian’s behind at our fingertips to decide who belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and, lord knows, every talking head and blogger that doesn’t have a vote has an opinion, the most common being the HOF voting eligible members in the Baseball Writers Association of America are as clueless as TMZ without cell phone cameras and video.

What’s become concerning, however, is that we are relying more and more on these new-fangled numbers to compare candidates for the HOF with players already in the Hall of Fame. This amuses me because as a baseball society we have become so enamored with numbers and lists that we overlook awards and accolades. If the best actors are measured merely by Oscars and Golden Globes, why can’t HOF baseball players be measured simply by trophies and plaques?

One of the biggest determinants as to whom I, as an honorary member of the BBWAA, vote for for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is how candidates rated and ranked among their peers that they played against in the era that they played in.  I try to examine how many All-Star Games they were chosen for and how many MVP, Cy Young , Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards they may have won in their careers because where they finished in voting for post-season awards is an excellent gauge of how dominant  they were when stacked up against like players in a similar period in their baseball lives.

For example, I never voted for Jack Morris for the HOF in part because, in 18 years in the big leagues, he made the All-Star Game five times, never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting and never finished higher than 13th in MVP voting. His post-season numbers were impressive, but that represents only about 2.5 percent of his career innings pitched. He was an outstanding pitcher, but not a Hall of Famer in my mind.

Yet too often now I see career statistics and -- how well they are presented and packaged -- being cited as the absolute, tell-all, slam-dunk determining factor as to why a player should be in the Hall of Fame or not.  The case for these players is built solely on where they fit into a certain statistical category with little if any regard for awards and All-Star Game appearances. And these numbers are usually being sized up and compared to players in the Hall of Fame, though they may have played the game 10, 15, 20 or more years ago when the game was different.

With that in mine, it was easy for me to vote for pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, first-timers on this year’s ballot. They passed the eye-test on the big stage better than Victoria’s Secret models.

The Big Unit won the Hall of Fame milestone 300 games, was second all-time in strikeouts and was a 10-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award winner. He also was a World Series MVP.

Pedro was an All-Star Game MVP and appeared in the Mid-Summer Classic eight times. He won three Cy Young awards and finished second twice. He also was second in MVP voting in 1999.

Smoltz , an eight-time All-Star, won a Cy Young award in 1996 and a Rolaids Relief Man award in 2002.  He is the only pitcher in baseball history to win 200 games as a starter and save 150 games as a reliever.

All three were clearly and consistently dominant players in their era. 
I checked five other names on my ballot this year:

Craig Biggio, who was an All-Star as a catcher and a second baseman, had 3,060 hits, including 668 doubles – the most by any right-handed batter in the history of the game.

Jeff Bagwell, his teammate, was a four-time All-Star who was the National League’s MVP in 1996. He averaged 32 home runs and 103 RBIs in his first 14 seasons, playing more than half of his games in the pitcher-friendly Houston Astrodome. He scored 1,517 runs and knocked in 1,529 and every other player who has ever reached the 1,500 plateau in those two categories is in the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines was an All-Star for seven consecutive years. He won a batting title and four stolen bases titles and is considered the second best lead-off hitter of all time behind Rickey Henderson who just so happened to play in the same era.

Mike Piazza was a 12-time All-Star and 1996 National League MVP who is arguably the greatest offensive catcher in the game’s history. He won 10 Silver Slugger awards and finished his career with a .308 batting average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs.

Jeff Kent, a five-time All-Star and the NL’s MVP in 2000, is arguably the greatest offensive second baseman in the game’s history. His 377 career home runs are the most of any player ever to play that position.

The only other acronym that enters into my HOF induction equation, unfortunately, is PED. That comes down to a gut, moral and somewhat educated decision that I reserve the right to change someday if more information comes to light. Until then, I rely on the Mitchell Report.

We can all go around and around arguing about who does and does not belong in the Hall of Fame and that’s the beauty of baseball. We argue about it more than Johnny Manziel’s practice habits. More people care passionately about the Baseball Hall of Fame than any other sport so there are naturally going to be more differing opinions, especially with so many statistical angles and oddities.

Mine is this:  Just because I can vote for up to 10 players doesn’t mean that 10 are Hall of Fame worthy each year. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is more special and harder to reach than other sports hall of fames. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has averaged seven inductees per year this decade. The NHL HOF has averaged four. The Pro Baseball HOF has averaged 11 in the 2010s
The Baseball Hall of Fame has averaged 1.4 players being elected to the Cooperstown this decade and 1.5 players the past 10 years. Baseball sets the standard for Hall of Fames and I like the standards high, not watered down.

For now for me the face value of a Hall of Fame candidate is all-encompassing measured in the era they played, how they played the game from April through October and what individual recognition they received for it afterward.

So please don’t declare WAR on me.