Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Insight Bowl: Mizzou vs. Iowa—live game blog

Welcome to The Sandlot—I'm in my basement, toasty warm in front of the fireplace and hoping that Missouri plays better this year than they did last year against Navy. If Blaine Gabbert is serious about attracting serious NFL draft attention, he better have a big game. Let's get ready for the kickoff!

8:56 p.m. Commentator Sean McDonough just called Missouri "the best team in the country that's NOT playing in a BCS bowl." Can we just all agree that the BCS system is utter crapola?

9:03 p.m. Mizzou's secondary just gives up a huge pass completion on 3rd and 5. Just pathetic. Looks like we'll be playing from behind right from the get-go.

9:06 p.m. Touchdown Iowa. Nice to see our defense showed up to play.

9:19 p.m. 3rd and 19 and Gabbert throws a frozen rope for a first down. That was money.

9:21 p.m. It's disappointing to take the field goal, but it's still too early to just give away points. Now let's see if we can play some defense. Iowa 7, Mizzou 3.

9:39 p.m. No defense whatsoever. This is looking more and more like an Iowa blowout. Mizzou looks like crap tonight. The offense is slow and boring, and the defense can't tackle or cover. They better turn this around and score a TD the next possession, or it's gonna be a long night.

9:53 p.m. It's completely unbelievable how poorly the MU defense is playing. It's like they've never even been on the field before. If they score a TD here, I don't see how our ineffective offense can make any sort of comeback.

10:07 p.m. Touchdown Mizzou! Only down by seven now. Need some defense at the end of the half, though.

10:21 p.m. Good grief, catch the ball! Gabbert's gonna get stuck with the INT on the stat sheet, but that is the receiver's fault. That should have been a tie game. What a crappy half. Pinkel ought to tear them to pieces at the half.

11:05 p.m. Great drive by Gabbert and the MU offense. Down by 3. Will the defense step up? I doubt it, but maybe we can just outscore them the rest of the way.

11:11 p.m. Interception by Missouri defense—the line had some pressure on Iowa QB Stanzi before he threw the ball. This may be the break we needed. Time to score a TD!

11:20 p.m. Touchdown Tigers! Our first lead of the evening. Perhaps the tide has turned. Let's see if our defense can step up and play up to the same level that our offense has this half.

11:42 p.m. Another pick by Mizzou's defense. They stepped up when the offense crapped the bed on the previous series. Time for a long, clock-killing drive. Play was upheld by official review. Mizzou ball...let's go offense!

11:49 p.m. Pick six by Gabbert; just an awful decision. We're down by three now and will have to score late to win the game. Just a crushing turn of events.

12:03 a.m. Game over. We won't get another chance. Won't get the ball back. We deserved to lose this game for crappy play all over. Pinkel sucks in bowl games, which is why we don't get invited to the big ones. Have fun in the NFL, Gabbert—you never did anything for us.

12:05 a.m. Why is Pinkel not using his time outs?

12:09 a.m. Congrats to Iowa—they deserved to win the game. Mizzou really played a poor game all around tonight. Why Pinkel can't prepare them for bowl games is a mystery.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It takes four quarters, guys

Well, the Rams let another win get away, and this was the most inexcusable loss so far. For a team that has shown signs of improvement from the recent dismal past, today was a significant step backward. The Rams, after jumping out to a 17-6 halftime lead, gained less than 100 yards and didn't even get close enough to even try a field goal that would have won the game. Instead, they let their defense try to hold the lead for two full quarters, which they couldn't do. In addition, they dropped at least three sure-fire interceptions and missed recovering a Josh Freeman fumble.

I don't blame the defense; they played as hard as they could, considering they were on the field for 20 minutes in the second half. Blame a boring offensive scheme that doesn't have a plan B if Steven Jackson can't gain 10 yards in three downs. Sam Bradford was wasted today with dink and dunk three-yards passes. The kid has a great arm; let him throw the ball downfield, especially when teams are loading up the line to stop Jackson.

The real shame of this game is that the Rams were the better team and should have won the game going away. The puzzling thing is figuring out why the Rams coaching staff couldn't figure out how to make it back to the Tampa 30 yard line just one more time today. I guess it's a sign of progress that the Rams have raised expectations, but now it's time for them to start meeting them.

NFL Week Seven

It's time for our second edition of "Can You Pick Better Than a Kindergartener?" where I match NFL picks against my five-year-old daughter, Chloe. She is up one on me, having picked the Rams to upset San Diego last week. I think I'm gonna take her this week, though; she picked Buffalo to beat the Ravens. If she's right, I'm not even going to pick any more; I'll just play her picks every week.

Cincinnati at Atlanta
Sandman: Falcons; Chloe: Bengals

Washington at Chicago
Sandman: 'Skins; Chloe: Bears

Philadelphia at Tennessee
Sandman: Titans; Chloe: Eagles

Jacksonville at Kansas City
Sandman: Chiefs; Chloe: Jaguars

Pittsburgh at Miami
Sandman: Steelers; Chloe: Dolphins

Cleveland at New Orleans
Sandman: Saints; Chloe: Browns She may be the only one in America who got this right!

St. Louis at Tampa Bay
Sandman: Bucs; Chloe: Rams

San Francisco at Carolina
Sandman: Panthers; Chloe: Panthers

Buffalo at Baltimore
Sandman: Ravens; Chloe: Bills

Arizona at Seattle
Sandman: Cardinals; Chloe: Cardinals

New England at San Diego
Sandman: Chargers; Chloe: Chargers

Oakland at Denver
Sandman: Broncos; Chloe: Broncos

Minnesota at Green Bay
Sandman: Packers; Chloe: Vikings

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Sandman: Cowboys; Chloe: Giants

This week:
Sandman: 9-5; Chloe: 3-11

Last week:
Sandman: 8-6; Chloe: 9-5

Totals:
Sandman: 17-11; Chloe: 12-16

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NFL Week Six: Can You Pick Better Than a Kindergartener?

Frustrated at my lack of picking success this season, I've challenged by five-year-old daughter Chloe, a kindergarten student, to pick teams this week to see if a complete lack of awareness of football altogether is actually an advantage in picking NFL winners.

Seattle at Chicago
Sandman: Bears; Chloe: Bears

Baltimore at New England
Sandman: Ravens; Chloe: Ravens

Detroit at NY Giants
Sandman: Giants; Chloe: Giants

Atlanta at Philadelphia
Sandman: Falcons; Chloe: Eagles

Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Sandman: Steelers; Chloe: Browns (because brown is my favorite color)

Miami at Green Bay
Sandman: Dolphins; Chloe: Dolphins (what the heck is a Packer, anyway?)

San Diego at St. Louis
Sandman: Chargers; Chloe: Rams

New Orleans at Tampa Bay
Sandman: Saints; Chloe: Bucs

Kansas City at Houston
Sandman: Chiefs; Chloe: Texans

Oakland at San Francisco
Sandman: Raiders; Chloe: 49ers

NY Jets at Denver
Sandman: Jets; Chloe: Jets

Dallas at Minnesota
Sandman: Vikings; Chloe: Vikings

Indianapolis at Washington
Sandman: Colts; Chloe: Colts (I don't like red skin; it's itchy!)

Tennessee at Jacksonville
Sandman: Titans; Chloe: Jaguars

(Sandman: 7-6; Chloe: 9-4)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

NFL Week Five picks

Jacksonville over Buffalo*
Tampa Bay over Cincinnati*
Atlanta over Cleveland*
St. Louis over Detroit*
Indianapolis* over Kansas City
Green Bay over Washington*
Carolina* over Chicago
Baltimore* over Denver
Houston* over NY Giants
New Orleans over Arizona*
San Diego over Oakland*
Dallas* over Tennessee
San Francisco* over Philadelphia
NY Jets* over Minnesota

(* = home team)

Pray for Gwynn, then ban spit tobacco.

First, this:
Tony Gwynn Diagnosed with Cancer

The time has come for major league baseball to once and for all ban all forms of spit tobacco, from snuff pouches to long-cut chew, from the game. Spit tobacco causes mouth cancer and kills athletes. It has no place in our national pastime. The evidence is clear, and action is demanded. Don't wait for Congress to pass legislation. The league and the players union should step up together and make this happen. Ban spit tobacco now.

Friday, September 17, 2010

NFL Week Two: Let's not get too excited...

There's always a tendency to overreact to both good and bad performances. Friends assume that because the Vikings, Colts and Rams all lost last week that I'm already giving up on the season. Please. Sixteen weeks is a long time, and there are about 1,000 different things that can happen. November and December is much more important than September and October. Most offenses are still not in sync in the first three or four weeks, and injuries are always a factor. So let's take the season one week at a time, and that leads us to Week Two...on with the picks!

Arizona at Atlanta
Atlanta couldn't do much against the Pittsburgh defense, and Arizona's coaching staff comes from Arizona. Neither one of these teams really excites me, but 'Zona played a good road game last week at St. Louis, so I'm sticking with the Gridbirds this week.
Cardinals 24, Falcons 13 WRONG!

Baltimore at Cincinnati
Baltimore's defense is getting older, but they're still nasty-tough. Cincy's offense is getting older and just nasty.
Ravens 17, Bengals 7 WRONG!

Kansas City at Cleveland
Every season, there's one team that moves from the outhouse to the penthouse. Could KC be that team? To be great, you need to crush inferior opponents and win games like these, especially on the road. Even if they're not this season's movers, after Cleveland's performance last week, there's no way I'm picking them.
Chiefs 21, Browns 10 GOT IT!

Chicago at Dallas
Two teams that are vastly overrated, but I can't see Jay Cutler beating Dallas' defense in the Lone Star State.
Cowboys 20, Bears 13 WRONG!

Philadelphia at Detroit
Michael Vick almost came back last week to be Green Bay; Detroit's not nearly as good as Green Bay. Advantage: Philly.
Eagles 27, Lions 17 GOT IT!

Buffalo at Green Bay
There should be a mercy rule on this one. What's the record for most TD passes in one game? (checking...) Seven, done five times, most recently by Joe Kapp of the Vikings in 1969. I'm taking Rodgers for eight, then.
Packers 56, Bills 0 GOT IT!

Pittsburgh at Tennessee
Chris Johnson is just superhuman. And hey, why not award the now-vacated Heisman Trophy to runner-up Vince Young? It's a popularity contest anyway, so let's treat it accordingly.
Titans 24, Steelers 10 WRONG!

Miami at Minnesota
Someone want to explain to me why, other than Brett Favre backlash, so many people like Miami in the Metrodome this Sunday? I mean, Bill Simmons is a freakin' idiot, so his pick didn't surprise me, but this is a no-brainer. The 'Fins only scored 15 against Buffalo, and they're easily the worst team in the league. Let me set you all straight...
Vikings 38, Dolphins 16 WRONG!

Tampa Bay at Carolina
If this were the only game on TV this Sunday, I'd just have to watch golf...or NASCAR...or three hours of cooking gadget informercials. Ugh. I have to pick one? Only because I have to...
Panthers 13, Bucs 9 WRONG!

Seattle at Denver
Last week confirmed what I suspected—Pete Carroll's been waiting a LONG time to have another chance in the NFL, and he's not going to waste it. Plus, Kyle Orton still stinks and Josh McDaniel is overrated, as is Denver in general. However, Denver's still a big home field advantage, and I need to see Seattle win big more than once before I'll believe they're real.
Broncos 27, Seahawks 23 GOT IT!

St. Louis at Oakland
The Rams really should have beaten Arizona last week; except for that dropped fumble return, that's a Rams win. Plus, Oakland is just terrible. I'm still drinking the Bradford Kool-Aid.
Rams 20, Raiders 17 WRONG!

New England at New York Jets
You know someone who talks a lot but never backs it up? Especially when it counts? And then that other guy, the one who almost never says anything because he never needs to because he's too busy kicking so much ass? Well, watch this game and you will.
Patriots 34, Jets 9 WRONG!

Jacksonville at San Diego
This is a classic week one overreaction game. Jax isn't as good as they looked against Denver, and SD's not as bad as they looked in KC. This week you have the Bolts at home and Jax suffering from jet lag.
Chargers 23, Jags 17 GOT IT!

Houston at Washington
Big potential for an giant emotional letdown for Houston this week, but Washington didn't look very good at all last week, and this whole Albert Haynesworth thing is going to wreck their clubhouse soon. Tip for 'Skins defense: tackle the guy with "Foster" on his jersey, if you can.
Texans 30, Skins 10 GOT IT!

New York Giants at Indianapolis
Let's make it simple: Who wins, older brother or younger brother. That's what I thought.
Peyton 33, Eli 21 GOT IT!

New Orleans at San Francisco
You know what? This week, I WILL wear the "Who Dat?!" cape. Remember, I hate the 49ers!
Saints 31, Niners 14 GOT IT!

This week: 8-8
Last week: 11-5

This season: 19-13 (.594)

Friday, September 10, 2010

NFL? I'm just not feelin' it.../TUESDAY APOLOGY

I mean, how would you feel in my place? My three favorite teams are Minnesota, Indianapolis and St. Louis. 1-15, lost the NFC Championship they should have won, lost the Superbowl they should have won. On top of that, we have the Sword-of-Damocles-like prospect of a work stoppage due to labor strife next season, a pre-season expert consensus of Green Bay vs. New York Jets in the Superbowl (and I won't even watch the commercials for THAT one), and a preseason prediction pileup so baffling that I can't even venture a guess on who will even make the playoffs, much less conference championships or the Superbowl. I suppose after this week I'll pick eight teams from each conference who I think have a chance at the playoffs. Until then, I will continue the weekly Sandlot tradition of game-by-game picks. I'm not excited about the football season, but at least it means that baseball is almost over. As always, these are my official picks entered in the "Pigskin Pick'em" contest at espn.com.

Minnesota at New Orleans
Already picked the Saints to win last night, which they did. Go ahead and kick me when I'm down. I can't believe I have to listen this craptastic Katrina redemption championship story for the next five months.
Saints 14, Vikings 9 (final)

Miami at Buffalo
Buffalo still has a team? Really? Huh...
Dolphins 31, Bills 6 [MIA 15 BUF 10]
I feel sorry for anyone who actually had to watch this game.

Detroit at Chicago
I'm so old, I remember when this was a game to look forward to.
Bears 13, Lions 9 [CHI 19 DET 14]
Don't care what the stupid rules say; Detroit got totally hosed on this one. Oh yeah, and Jay Cutler still sucks.

Oakland at Tennessee
If I owned a football team, I'd pay Jeff Fisher whatever he wanted to be my head coach.
Titans 24, Raiders 14 [TEN 38 OAK 13]
This was just too easy...

Cincinnati at New England
Brady's had a year to rehab his knee, so he should be good to go, which is bad news for everyone else in the league.
Patriots 31, Bengals 27 [NE 38 CIN 24]
They're BAAAAA-AAAAAACK!!!

Carolina at NY Giants
I hate Carolina. I don't know why, but I just hate everything about this franchise.
Giants 23, Panthers 13 [NYG 31 CAR 18]
Well, at least one of the Mannings won; that's something I guess...

Atlanta at Pittsburgh
Steelers fans, are you really excited about Dennis Dixon? Let me repeat that: Dennis Dixon? I didn't think so.
Falcons 24, Steelers 17 [PIT 15 ATL 9]
Will someone please remind me not to go against the Steelers at home against the NFC again?

Cleveland at Tampa Bay
Yeah, I know it's Jake Delhomigod he just threw another pick, but Tampa is just cover-your-eyes awful, and did they add anyone at all in the offseason?
Browns 13, Bucs 10 [TB 17 CLE 14]
Oh wait, you meant CLEVELAND, didn't you? Ugh...

Denver at Jacksonville
Flip a coin with either of these teams, but I think this whole Tebow thing is going to make good things happen for Denver, even if it's just his enthusiasm rubbing off on the rest of the team. I also have a hard time seeing Jax shake off the malaise of an utterly disinterested fan base.
Broncos 17, Jags 13 [JAX 24 DEN 17]
Why, oh why do I ever believe in Denver?

Indy at Houston
Someday Houston has to be able to hold a three-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter against the Colts, right? Well, I'm counting this as the official Superbowl hangover letdown game...unless all it did was piss off Peyton so much he's determined to take them back again...see why I can't get a handle on this season?
Texans 33, Colts 31 [HOU 34 IND 24]
Sometimes I just hate it when I'm right.

San Francisco at Seattle
Just because I freaking HATE San Fran; always have, always will. I had a hard time cheering for Joe Montana when he came over to KC just because I spent so many years hating him in SF. Did I mention that I HATE SAN FRANCISCO?!?!?!?
Seahawks 49, 49ers 0 [SEA 31 KC 6]
Nelson Muntz: "HAA-HA!!!"

Green Bay at Philadelphia
Aaron Rogers is Jesus Christ and the Packers will win the Superbowl. Happy? Can you just leave me alone now?!?!?!?!?!!!
Packers 38, Eagles 24 [GB 27 PHI 20]
Now we know why Philly didn't trade away Mike Vick.

Arizona at St. Louis
I'm drinking the Sam Bradford Kool-Aid. I'm not just sipping it. I'm not just drinking a big glass of it. I'm sticking my head right down into the cooler and swallowing gigantic gulps of its cold, fruity goodness. Sam Bradford, Boomer Sooner, the savior of St. Louis football. Hey, after 1-15 and watching my big boys fall, I want the Kool-Aid. I need the Kool-Aid. Let me drink my Kool-Aid in peace, my friends.
Rams 28, Cardinals 24 [ARZ 17 STL 13]
For God's sake, Rams, trade for or sign a big-time receiver, right now!

Dallas at Washington
Why the 'Skins? Because of Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan. And because I won't ever jump on the Dallas bandwagon. I wouldn't do it in 1978, and I'm sure not going to do it now.
'Skins 20, Cowboys 17 [WSH 13 DAL 7]
What a boring game—virtually unwatchable

Baltimore at NY Jets
I missed the game in my predictions, but I picked it right in the pool.
Ravens 10, Jets 9

San Diego at Kansas City
Are we still sure that Phillip Rivers is God and Norv Turner really can take a team far into the playoffs? Because I keep hearing the tune but I never get to see the dance. Meh, it's still the Chefs, tho, so I guess this seems like a safe pick.
Chargers 24, Chefs 10 [KC 21 SD 14]
Way to go, KC. I hate the Chargers, too.

This season: 11-5 (.688)
Last season: On suicide watch through the end of March

Friday, September 03, 2010

...and fight for old Mizzou!

This is as close as it gets to a college football preview for me, because without a playoff system, there's no legitimate championship. The BCS system is like major league baseball saying that the only teams who get to play in the world series are the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies or Dodgers; no one else even gets a chance, regardless of their record. Sorry, Alabama, but you didn't win a national championship—you just won a bowl game, like everyone else.

Having said that, Mizzou is completely off the national radar this year, which I think is just excellent. After several years of hype, one glorious week at number one, and a lifetime of utter futility against Oklahoma, no one is paying attention to Missouri's football program. As far as the national press is concerned, the only team in the Big 12 North is Nebraska, and they're moving to the Big 10 (?!) next year. (Hate to see you go, don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, hope to never see you again, blank you very much.)

The problem with Missouri has always been expectations, and although this hold true for basketball as well as football, at least the basketball team has had some legitimately great teams. The same can't be said for football, even during Chase Daniel's glorious career. The team that beat Kansas and spent a week at #1 in the polls didn't play Oklahoma during the regular season, and they got stomped by the Sooners the very next week in the Big 12 (?!) championship.

The hard, cold reality that Mizzou fans have to accept is that we are a mid-major program, which explains our recent success with mid-major coach Gary Pinkel. Missouri is never, ever, ever going to be the kind of football program that can compete with Oklahoma or Texas, never mind Florida, Alabama, LSU, USC or Ohio State. It's simply a matter of reality. Some things just are the way they are. Winona Ryder's cute, but she's not ever going to have Julia Roberts' career. Life's not fair, and neither is football.

Once we accept that as reality, we can enjoy what should be a very nice season. I'm excited to see what Blane Gabbert can do with a year's experience under his chinstrap and two healthy ankles. After tomorrow's game in St. Louis against Illinois, we have three home games against mid-majors followed by the Big 12 (?!) opener against Pac-10 defectors Colorado. I think that game should be an opportunity to take out some serious conference realignment frustrations on the Buffaloes, who should still be awful this season. So we're looking realistically at a 5-0 start, 4-1 at the worst.

The next four weeks are just brutal. At Texas A&M, always a difficult road game for anyone. (I dated a girl in college who lived in Austin and hated the Aggies; she called their pre-game student activities "Hitler Youth Rallies.") Then its back to Columbia for the annual beatdown at the hands of the Sooners, off to Lincoln for another humiliation at the hands of the most smug, insufferable, repulsive fans in any sport, then back to Texas to watch our defense get spun like a piƱata by Texas Tech's indefensible spread offense. Going 2-2 in that stretch would be a miracle, and that's only if we can win two road games in Texas. 0-4 is more likely.

The back half of the schedule is favorable; K-State, Iowa State, Kansas. I think we can expect at least 7-8 wins and a modest bowl appearance, which we'll lose to an inferior opponent, just like we usually do. That's Mizzou football, folks. But I was in Columbia from 1986 through 1992 and suffered through 1-11, 2-10, 3-9 seasons. Seven or eight wins and a bowl game is great. This is like Christmas; don't complain about rankings or BCS. That's for the big boys. For us, good enough is good enough.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Don't bother to turn in your Cy Young ballot...

So, can we assume Lincecum just locked up another NL Cy Young?


I mean, it's not anything like last year, is it?


Funny, I was just about to tamp down the dirt on the Cardinals grave today.

(Thanks to TUCK! for another great baseball cartoon. Go see all his toons at http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/authors/tuck/2010/)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

That Terry Pendleton Moment

Some of you may have noticed that I've not written about the Cardinals-Reds series that concluded yesterday. I wanted to wait until the whole thing was over and take it all in. It's too easy to look at just one game and read more significance into it than is warranted, and that's true of this series as well. After a dispiriting extra-inning loss in Florida and the Cardinals dismal road record of late, I wasn't optimistic about our chances. Before the series started, I was hoping for that Terry Pendleton moment.

Back in 1987, the Cardinals spent much of the season in front of the old NL East (there were only two divisions then), but the hated NY Mets (Pond Scum) were close on our heels, and we were going in different directions. The Cardinals were struggling and inconsistent, while the Mets (Pond Scum) were ripping off winning streaks and closing the gap day by day. The Cardinals traveled to Shea Stadium (garbage landfill) for a pivotal three-game series.

Essentially, if the Mets (Pond Scum) won the series, they most likely would have taken the division. The Cardinals were down or tied late in the game (I don't remember if it was the first or second game of the series) when third baseman Terry Pendleton came to the plate and hit a home run right into that stupid top hat out in center field. The Cardinals won the game, pulled away from the Mets (Pond Scum) and eventually won the NL pennant in 1987.

Not only did this series provide us with a Terry Pendleton moment, it gave us no less than three: 1) Skip Shumaker's grand slam in game one; 2) Yadier Molina's line in the sand to boneheaded loudmouth Brandon Phillips in game two; 3) Colby Rasmus's grand slam in game three. Three unlikely and pivotal actions that could, when we look back on the season, mark the turning point when the Cardinals separated themselves from the Reds.

It's easy to put the blame on Phillips for instigating this uprising, but one thing is certain: the Cardinals have been inconsistent to the point of baffling, especially in key games and big moments. We knew that the Cardinals had the talent to rise to the occasion, but they had already failed in moments like these previously this season. So what was the difference?

Here's what I think: Tony LaRussa hates Dusty Baker, and Dusty hates Tony. I don't think Phillips said what he said out of turn. I even think Baker approved of him calling the Cardinals "little bitches." Tony's an animal lover, so this was a shot directly at the Cards manager, as well as questioning the manhood of the Cardinals players. Have we seen three games in a row where almost every player (except Brendan Ryan, who's a putz) was so intense and focused? Does anyone else fear meeting Chris Carpenter in a dark alley (other than Brendan Ryan, who's a putz)? Is anyone else reminded of a mafia don when LaRussa gives off that dark scowl he does so well? Why on earth would the Reds have gone down this particular dark alley?

Here's why: When you haven't done anything before, you talk. When you're champions, you don't talk, you play. The Reds did all the talking, but the Cardinals hit, pitched, fielded and fought harder. This whole series revealed the character of each team. The sprint to the finish will reveal whether this series truly was this year's Terry Pendleton moment.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tiger Woods needs to go away

For now, Tiger Woods' golf career, as it once was, is over. Scores that would inspire me to gold-plate at frame my card (under 80!) are the same that put Tiger at 78th place after the third round at the Bridgestone tournament. Despite what you might have thought about today's headline, I still like Tiger. As a husband, he acted like a complete turd, and it's going to cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. But the stress of having his personal life turned inside out for the whole world to see (also deserved) has destroyed his golf game, so I'm offering my friendly advice: Go away.

Politely tell the PGA that you're taking the rest of this year (including the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup) as well as next year off. You're not playing any more golf at a professional level until 2011.

Tell Nike (your only sponsor left) that you're not doing any more commercials this year or next year. Tell them to give the money from your endorsed products to your kids. Just do it: go away.

Tell Elin she can have whatever she wants—money, houses, etc., then sign the papers and give her a private cell phone number that only she and the kids can use, then pack a small suitcase and head to the airport.

Finish growing that beard and shave your head bald and put on some sunglasses and take a plane to somewhere in Africa or Asia where they don't have televisions, internet or golf courses and figure out who Eldrick Woods, Jr. is before you try to come back and be Tiger again.

Go away and go to spend some time with monks in ancient Buddhist temples. Go serve with relief workers in Africa and help deliver food and water to desperate villages. Walk along the Great Wall of China. Go fishing in Thailand. Go walk around Ayers Rock in Australia. Get away from the tabloids, the sports reporters, the gossip, the girlfriends, and most especially, get the hell away from the golf course. Go away and don't come back until you have to come back.

Don't come back for the expectations, or the money, or the all-time records, or even because you think you owe it to the fans or the game. Don't come back until you just have to come back because the desire to be the best golfer the world has ever seen burns inside you like an unquenchable flame.

If that never happens, then don't come back, because we just can't stand seeing you like this.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Favorite Baseball Movies

The Cardinals have a day off, there's no new Brett Favre news, and it's still too hot to get seriously excited about football just yet. So here's the first in a series of posts about sports movies: My starting lineup of my nine favorite baseball movies.

9. "The Final Season"—Most people have never heard about this movie, but it's about a championship Iowa high school baseball team who plays their last season before their school in consolidated into a larger district. It's cheesy and predictable, but it also starts Sean Astin, a.k.a. Rudy Ruettiger, so you know it's going to be inspirational. It is!

8. "The Rookie"—There's just something really believable about Dennis Quaid playing this role. Bonus points for the fact that it's a true story, which makes it even cooler. And yeah, the little kid is Jake from "Two-and-a-Half Men."

7. "The Bad News Bears"—What a classic cast: Walter Matthau as the drunken grouch, Tatum O'Neal as the awesome girl pitcher, Jackie Earle Haley as Kelly Leak, and of course, the immortal Tanner Boyle, played by Chris Barnes, the most memorably foul-mouthed kid you've ever known. All the sequels and the remake were just pale imitations of this classic.

6. "A League of Their Own"—This one is best watched on DVD so you can skip the beginning and get right to the scenes with Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. They have a genuine chemistry as the washed-up drunken coach and the star catcher that most real baseball teams wish they had. Plus, if you don't get a little choked up at the end, you have a grinchy heart.

5. "The Sandlot"—My favorite scene is the one where the rich kids challenge the Sandlot team to a game on their fancy field, and the Sandlot kids just beat their brains in. That just warms my socialist heart all the way down to the red part.

4. "The Natural"—I don't care about the rest of the movie; I just want to watch the last scene when Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) comes to bat with the game on the line, breaks his "Wonderboy" bat, then hits one into the lights. The music and the drama of that final scene always brings tears to my eyes.

3. "Major League"—The most quotable of all baseball movies..."JUUUUST a bit outside." "Hats for bats." "You may run like Mays, but you hit like s***." "Nice catch Mays. Don't ever freakin' do it again." "Too high! Too high!" "Swing, and Heywood hits one toward South America; Tomlinson's gonna need a visa to catch this one." "Heywood's a convicted felon, isn't he, Monty?" "Up your butt, Jobu!" Bob Uecker should have been nominated for an Oscar for this one.

2. "Bull Durham." I'm gonna let Crash Davis speak for me on this one: "Well, I believe in the soul, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."

1. "Field of Dreams" I've actually been to the real-life field in Iowa, thanks to my good friend Wags. It's an amazing experience to see it for real. As far as the movie goes, I completely agree with ESPN's Bill Simmons: "There are two kinds of people: those who love 'Field of Dreams,' and those who have no heart."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Vikings After Favre

So, is Brett Favre really retiring? Even if he says he is, he's gone so far beyond "the boy who cried wolf" that no one will seriously believe him until he watches an entire season from his sofa in Mississippi. I've already considered that there's no way he has the kind of season he had last year, so even if he does return, it's hard to believe he can take the Vikes back to the NFC Championship. But what if this news is real? What can the Vikings look forward to?

Scenario A: Tarvaris Jackson grows up
This, I think, is the most unlikely scenario. Vikings fans remember two years ago, when the Eagles were practically giving a playoff game away, and all T-Jack could do is throw the ball into the carpet like a toddler pitching lawn darts. But who knows? Maybe a year watching Favre and getting hungry for not only that kind of success on the field but the kind of "hooray, our savior has arrived" reception that Purple Nation gave Favre will enable him to take his game to a new level. He certainly has enough weapons at his disposal—but can he lead, and more important, can he make the big throws?

Scenario B: Vikings play smashmouth football
Last year, many experts thought Favre would be a play-it-safe game manager whose main job was to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Without Favre, that may be T-Jack's main role as QB. With middle linebacker E.J. Henderson coming back from injury, the defense gets tougher up the middle, freeing up Jared Allen to cause more havoc in the backfield. Combined with a running game consisting of AP, rookie Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart, and even T-Jack's speed, the Vikings could look a lot like the Baltimore Ravens. Hey, they won a Superbowl with Trent freaking Dilfer at QB.

Scenario C: Rookie QB Joe Webb gets thrown into the fire
I'm not saying Webb, who was drafted as a WR even though he set QB records at Alabama-Birmingham, will start the season. But if T-Jack starts the season 1-5 and Sage Rosenfels is still Sage Rosenfels, then why not see what the kid can do. Evidently he's shown the Vikings coaching staff enough in camp that they have him playing QB exclusively; he's not even working out as a WR anymore. Say what you want about Brad Childress, but he was Donovan McNabb's QB coach to start in Philadelphia, so I trust his expertise...at least in that area. On the other hand, he voted to draft T-Jack, so...

Scenario D: Vikings trade for an established veteran
The main problem with this scenario is that most of the QB shifting is done, and anyone who might be available—such as Brady Quinn, for instance—aren't really better options than what the Vikings already have. Michael Vick might be a possibility, but Zygi Wilf is big on player character, so that's unlikely, and that's about everyone. Crazy dream suggestion: lure Kurt Warner out of retirement.

So what's the most likely scenario? Probably a remarkable improvement in Favre's ankle followed by him starting his 20th NFL season wearing purple...I hope.

Farve to Retire (and he really, really, really means it this time!)

Breaking news from multiple sources: Brett Favre has informed the Vikings that he will not return this season. My comments tonight after this news is confirmed by Favre and the Vikings. Reports indicate some type of press conference and/or statement this afternoon.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Real Reason Ryan Ludwick was Traded

Most of the "experts" who get paid to do what I'm doing for fun have widely panned the Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook trade. Some of the reasons include: 1) Cardinals need hitting more than pitching; 2) Ludwick has more value to the team than Westbrook's pitching skills; 3) Mozeliak overpaid for Westbrook; 4) the trade could mess up team chemistry. Let me address these individually before I give the true answer, the real reason why Mozeliak made this trade.


Myth: Cardinals need hitting more than pitching.
Fact: Pitching wins championships.
Does anyone really believe that the Cardinals can stay ahead or pull away from the Reds if they only win 60% of their remaining games at most? Because what we faced before the trade was Blake Hawksworth and Jeff Suppan pitching every 4th and 5th game. That puts added pressure on the big three in the rotation, Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia, to win every game. With Westbrook in the rotation and a healthy Kyle Lohse returning soon, the chances of extending winning streaks past 5-6 games increases greatly. In addition, now you put Suppan and Hawksworth into the bullpen, which reduces the load on Boggs, Motte and McClellan. In other words, LaRussa and Duncan have about a dozen more options for their pitching staff each game. Most of all, they can reduce the pressure on the Big Three and get them fine-tuned for the playoffs—if we make it there.

Myth: Ludwick was a integral part of the team.
Fact: Ludwick's age and injury made him tradeable.
No one denies that Ryan Ludwick is a quality ballplayer and a great asset to the ballclub. Unfortunately for him, he got hurt this year and spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. During that time, the Cardinals went on an eight-game winning streak and retook first place from the Reds. The Cardinals needed a No. 4 starter a lot more than they needed to plug Ludwick back into an already crowded outfield rotation. And at age 32, there's no guarantee that Ludwick could put up All-Star numbers again. Much of the angst over the trade has to do with how much fans and media really liked Luddy. Hey, I did too, but I'd much rather be watching Cardinal baseball deep into October.

Myth: The Cardinals overpaid for Westbrook.
Fact: This trade was our only real option for starting pitching.
Whiners complained that Houston and Arizona just "gave away" Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren for marginable prospects. Reality check: Oswalt and Haren are both carrying big contracts that would have put more strain on the Cardinals payroll even this year, so they didn't make the same kind of financial sense that the Westbrook deal did. Plus, Houston had no intention of trading Oswalt within the division, and especially not to the Cardinals, unless we gave them Shelby Miller. Not. Gonna. Happen. On the down side, since we did wait until the trading deadline, we pretty much had to make the deal we could. Every other team knew we wanted a pitcher, so Mozeliak was smart to resist the urge to trade away a top prospect.

Myth: This deal could wreck team chemistry.
Fact: Cardinals management is building through the farm system.
The reason Walt Jocketty is in Cincinnati is because Cardinals ownership decided to side with Jeff Luhnow and build through the farm system instead of trading pieces for veterans each season. With the emergence of Jon Jay, Allen Craig, David Freese and Tyler Greene, it is clear that the youth movement is a permanent fixture for the time being. With all these young players contributing, it made Ludwick expendable.

AND NOW, THE REAL REASON LUDWICK WAS TRADED...
Albert Pujols.

Simply put, the Cardinals have to figure out how to pay Albert between $27-$30 million a year. He makes $15 million now. Ludwick would have cost $7-$8 million next year. Do the math. It also explains why we took Westbrook, who's only costing us a few million for the rest of the year, instead of Oswalt, Haren, or another more expensive pitcher. It also justifies going with the kids from Memphis in three or four lineup spots instead of more expensive veterans. Owner Bill DeWitt is not going to expand the payroll to cover Pujols' pay raise, and Pujols won't settle for anything other than becoming the highest-paid player in baseball. Ludwick's salary makes the math a lot easier. As fond as we were of Ludwick, does anyone in Cardinal nation really want to see Albert in Bronx pinstripes in 2012? That really would be the end of the world.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

It's Good to be Back!

Hello again, Sandlot fans. It's been a long time. The day job devoured all of my time since last year's football season, but the job situation changed this summer, and I am rededicating myself to posting about the sports we all care about on a more regular basis. If this is your first time visiting, welcome! For readers both old and new, you can expect honest opinions from a fan's point of view about what's going on in Missouri and midwest professional and college sports. Just to give you a sample and to wade back into the waters, I'm offering short takes on a variety of topics to give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Why is the offense underachieving and inconsistent? What effect will the Ludwick-for-Westbrook trade have on team chemistry and performance? Can the Cardinals pull away from the Reds, or will the race go down to the wire? We'll talk about these issues and more, including the future of Albert Pujols.

ST. LOUIS RAMS
The $78 million question is simply, "Is Sam Bradford worth that much money?" The quick answer is, "Not until he proves that he's worth it." This team is not going back to the Superbowl any time soon, but in terms of fan priorities, I'll list a few: 1) More competitive in games, even when they lose; 2) Bradford shows potential, makes some great throws, gives fans hope; 3) Defense gets tougher, harder, more physical, more punishing, even when they lose; 4) Coaching staff makes smarter game plans and game day decisions. Even if they only win five or six games, if these things can happen, they'll at least be worth watching.

MIZZOU TIGERS
Last year was a "pass" year, with the loss of significant talent and Blake Gabbert's first year as the starting QB. No more excuses this year, but even bigger challenges ahead with back-to-back games against Oklahoma at home and then on the road against Nebraska. Until we beat the big boys, we're nothing more than a second-tier program, and that's just not good enough for a program of this size. Key issue: defense, which gave up way too many points last year.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Yes, of course Brett Favre is coming back, but the odds of him having the kind of season he had last year are unlikely. The window of opportunity is far slimmer this year than last, and with a labor lockout stoppage likely for next season, this may be the last chance for Purple Reign this decade. Key goal: win home field advantage for entire NFC playoffs.

I'll be tackling these topics and many more in the days and weeks ahead. If you're a Facebook friend, I'll update new posts there, or you can subscribe to free RSS feeds and notices. However you get here, I hope you have a good time!