Posted on: July 11, 2009 2:22 pm
 

Doc Could Cure the Phils' Pitching Ills

Rumors continue to swirl about the Phillies acquiring Roy Halladay from Toronto.  Blue Jays' GM JP Ricciardi said earlier this week that he would listen to offers for Halladay, whose contract expires at the end of the 2010 season.  The pitching-starved Phillies are reportedly one of the favorites to land Halladay.  Yes, the same pitching-starved Phillies who watched Pedro Martinez (37-years-old and last seen getting knocked around the majors) throw 2 simulated games this week.  Toronto would be looking for a bunch of prospects, and the Phillies have said that the only untouchables are pitchers Kyle Drabek and Jason Knapp, and OF Dominic Brown.

The most consistent rumors seem to be along the lines of Halladay for P J.A. Happ, who as pitched well in the majors this season for the Phils; and minor-leaguers among Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, and Michael Taylor

While normally I'm opposed to giving up young talent for a veteran player, the Phillies as they are constituted at the major-league level are built to win NOW.  The core players on this team are around 30, which gives them another 3-4 year window as a contender.  Halladay is 32, and with the exception of a tired arm in 2004 (which he attributed to a heavy preseason program), he has been healthy throughout his career.  The only time he has missed in the past few years was due to freak occurrences (appendicitis, a broken leg from a line drive off his shin, and a liner off his head).  After pitching for a non-contender in Toronto his whole career, he'd probably welcome the chance to come to Philadelphia and compete for a World Series (now THERE'S a sentence I never thought I'd write).  Joe Blanton has been pitching much better of late, and even Jamie Moyer has been pitching better after his rough start.  Ace Cole Hamels has been uncharacteristically inconsistent, but a 1-2 punch of Halladay and Hamels, with this offense and a bullpen that looks like it's getting back into its 2008 form, would make the Phillies a strong contender to repeat as World Series champs.  Halladay has been one of the best--and arguably the best--pitcher in baseball this decade, and they could do no wrong to add him to their roster.

The one thing I'd want before I'd pull the trigger on this deal is a conract extension though.  I don't want to give up that much talent out of the farm system (which isn't as deep as other teams) in order to rent Halladay for a year-and-a-half.
Category: MLB
Posted on: July 2, 2009 12:30 am
 

The slide continues....

The Phillies have just been pounded by the Braves, 11-1.  Atlanta tagged Cole Hamels for seven runs in four innings, while the offense struggled against Atlanta starter Jair Jurgens.  After their normal struggles in interleague play, and losing the first 2 games in Atlanta, the Phils have now dropped 11 of 14.  The four game benching of Jimmy Rollins hasn't helped, as he is mired in an 0-for-27 slump (although with his .205 average, it might as well ve called an 0-for-the-season-slump).  Hamels still hasn't regained the consistent form that he showed last fall while winning the MVP awards for the NLCS and the World Series.  And now they're making another trip to the Pig Farm, calling up 33-year-old Rodrigo Lopez to start the first game of the Mets series Friday night.  It will be Lopez's first appearance in the majors since 2007.

But at this point, what can the Phillies do?  True, they've been hit hard by injuries to key players such as Raul Ibanez, Brett Myers, Hamels, and Brad Lidge, but the Mets have struggled with injuries too.  Ibanez is eligible to return Friday, but most likely will not be ready, and a groin injury is not something you want to rush.  Myers is done for the year (although a possible return in the postseason if the Phillies make it that far is possible).  Lidge is back from his DL stint, and Hamels is hit-and-miss at this point.  Rollins traditionally has had strong second halves, but he looks far from breaking out of his slump at this point.  Pitching is a major problem right now; while the back end of the bullpen finally is back in order, the rotation is a mess.  As of now, there's not much out there in the way of help, and the pitchers that are available aren't worth the Phillies giving up highly-ranked prospects.  If more teams fall out of contention by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies might be able to pick up an arm or two, but their best option might be to go into the farm system for Carlos Carrasco, or maybe even Kyle Drabek.

For what it's worth, at this point last year, the Phillies were in the middle of a funk where they lost 17 of 26 games, Chase Utley was battling his hip injury, Brett Myers had just been sent down to AAA, and the team was two weeks away from shoring up the rotation by trading for Joe Blanton, so you have to hope that this is one of those stretches of bad baseball that even the best teams go through over the course of a season.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 21, 2009 5:06 pm
 

Time to panic yet?

The Orioles just completed their sweep of the Phillies, extending the Fightin's losing streak to 6 games, and ending one of the worst homestands in the team's history.  The Phils now head on a 9-game road trip before coming back to the Bank to take on the Mets over July 4th weekend.  The trip begins Tuesday night in Tampa Bay against the defending champion Rays, before moving on to Toronto to face the Blue Jays (who swept the Phils last week), and finally on to Atlanta.

The Phillies currently sit in first place in the NL East with a 36-31 record, a game and a half ahead of the Mets, and 3.5 games ahead of Florida.  How does this compare to last year?  At this time in 2008, the Phillies were in first at 42-34, a game ahead of Florida, and 4.5 ahead of the thrid-place Mets.  While the Phillies have gone through a brutal 2-8 stretch, no one else in the division has really taken advantage of it; the Mets are 3-7 in the same span. 

Murphy's Law has hit the Phillies recently, as they've seemingly had everything work against them.  The cries to replace Brad Lidge with Ryan Madson have gone silent, as Madson hasn't been an effective closer.  The bullpen, which hasn't been fully staffed all season due to J.C. Romero's drug suspension and Lidge's DL stint, has finally had its excessive workload catch up with it.  The starters have still been inconsistent and for the most part unable to eat innings and allow the bullpen to get a break (and losing an innings-eater like Brett Myers for the season will not help).  When the starters have turned in a good performance (like Cole Hamels today), the offense has failed to provide enough run support to win the game.  The defense, one of the best in baseball, has been sloppy, and at times, inattentive.  And they've lost their best hitter this season, Raul Ibanez, to a groin injury, which is the type of injury which can linger all season. 

It's not time to panic yet though.  It's only June 21, and the Phillies are still in first.  If you're going to lose Lidge and Ibanez, better June than September.  The Phillies need another starter, but the number of available starters on the block is pretty small at this point, and one name that's been consistently tossed around, Erik Bedard, is someone who I don't think could cut it in Philly (and third base coach Sam Perlozzo, who managed Bedard in Baltimore and was a coach in Seattle with him last year, has reportedly advised them against trading for him).  So the Phillies' best move for pitching might come from within the organization, or maybe making a run at Ben Sheets, who is currently rehabbing from an arm injury but should be able to pitch during the second half.  The players who are slumping (especially Jimmy Rollins), will snap out of it at some point, and they should be able to reverse the mystifying troubles that they suffer at home.  As far as the sloppy play goes, it's a long season, and even the best teams go through stretches of bad play; the Phillies are no different (remember, this is a team that for several years got off to really poor starts).
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 13, 2009 12:01 am
 

Matchup: Phils vs. Red Sox

I was thinking of things to write about, and I thought that every so often I'd do a post featuring a position-by-position breakdown between the Phillies and a team they're playing in a key series.  Since they're playing the Red Sox this weekend, I figured I'd start with them.

Catcher:  Carlos Ruiz vs.  Jason Varitek
They both have World Series rings, so no one gets an advantage there.  Varitek hits for more power (10 HR to Ruiz's 3), but Ruiz's BA is 50 points higher, and his OBP is 80 points higher.  Despite hitting 7 more HR than Ruiz, Varitek's slugging % is only 20 points higher.  The clincher is on defense.  While both are good defensive catchers, Varitek has allowed 47 SB this year to Ruiz's 17.  While a given pitcher's delivery time to the plate can have an effect on the number of SB a catcher allows, this difference is too big to blame on the Red Sox' pitchers.  Edge: Phillies

1B:  Ryan Howard vs.  Kevin Youkilis
Youkilis is hitting 100 points better than Howard, but Howard has the better power numbers (18 HR, 48 RBI to Youkilis' 10 and 37).  In the field, they've both each made one error, but Howard has had 200 more chances, and his defense is greatly improved this year over last.  Slight edge: Phillies

2B:  Chase Utley vs.  Dustin Pedroia
Even though Pedroia is coming off an MVP season, Utley is the best 2B in baseball.  Their BA are about the same, but Utley is a much better power hitter (15 HR to Pedroia's 2).  They both have similar fielding stats, but the Utley-Rollins DP combo is one of the best--if not THE best--in the game.  Edge: Phillies

3B:  Pedro Feliz vs.  Mike Lowell
Feliz is hitting 20 points better than Lowell, but Lowell has better power, which is key at a corner position (although Ruiz's lack of power isn't as much of a factor in this lineup).  Feliz is a better fielder, but not enough to say that he's the better player.  Slight edge: Red Sox

SS:  Jimmy Rollins vs.  Julio Lugo
Even though Rollins has been in a well-documented slump this season, Lugo isn't even starting full-time.  Offensively, their stats are similar right now, but Rollins' numbers will be up by the end of the season.  J-Roll is also a much better fielder.  Edge: Phillies

LF:  Raul Ibanez vs.  Jason Bay
Ibanez was the best free agent pickup of the offseason, and he's been everything the Phillies had hoped for, and more.  While Bay might win this battle against most LF, he doesn't win it here.  Edge: Phillies

CF:  Shane Victorino vs.  Jacoby Ellsbury
Victorino has developed into an excellent CF, and is the spark plug for the Phillies' offense.  Ellsbury hits for a better average; Victorino for more power, but Ellsbury's lead in SB (23-10) gives him the offensive edge.  Defensively, both players are pretty equal.  Edge: Red Sox

RF:  Jayson Werth vs.  J.D. Drew
Both players have similar offensive stats; the one area they differ is in SB, where Werth leads 10-1.  They've each only committed 1 error this season but Werth has had over 40 more chances.  Edge: Phillies

Rotation: After Cole Hamels, the Phillies starters, while pitching better over the past month, are inconsistent, being world-beaters one night, and seemingly getting knocked around the next.  Boston has five starters who range from solid to All-Star, future Hall of Famer John Smoltz working on a rehab assignment, and a pitcher in the minors (Clay Buchholz) who is dominating and would already be in the majors for most teams.  Edge: Red Sox

Bullpen:  Despite the struggles of Brad Lidge, the Phillies' bullpen has done pretty well this season, especially considering that they've been forced to throw a lot of innings due to the troubles of the rotation.  They lost Lidge for a few weeks right after getting J.C. Romero back from his drug suspension.  Setup man Ryan Madson moves into the closer's role.  The Red Sox have one of the best closers in the game in Jonathan Papelbon.  Slight edge: Red Sox

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 9, 2009 3:27 pm
 

Lidge Goes on DL

The Phillies placed closer Brad Lidge on the 15-day DL today (retroactive to June 7).  Lidge who has been pitching with pain in his right (pushoff) knee all season, has been far less effective than he was in 2008 (0-3, 7.27 ERA this season).  He has converted only 13 of 19 save opportunities, and opponents are hitting .306 against him.  Lidge blew 2 saves this past weekend in Los Angeles (the Phillies lost both games), after telling David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News that his knee was still bothering him before the series began.  Presumably Ryan Madson will step into the closer's role while Lidge is out, and J.C. Romero will take over Madson's role as the setup man.

The Phillies filled Lidge's spot on the 25-man active roster by recalling 36-year-old catcher Paul Bako from Reading (AA).  Bako hit .357 in 10 games at Reading, and his recall might help solidify the Phillies' bench, was has struggled this year, by giving them an extra catcher and allowing them to use Chris Coste as a pinch-hitter.

If the reports about Lidge's knee are true (no tears or serious damage, just inflammation), then hopefully a couple of weeks of rest will allow him to heal without needing more surgery.  The best thing the Phillies could do would be to let him rest now and come back at 100% for the second half of the season, as I wrote three weeks ago:

http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/11425682/15072112


Who says that CBSSports.com's team bloggers don't know what they're talking about?
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 7, 2009 5:59 pm
 

Fixing the NHL--4. Crack Down on Cheap Shots

One major issue that the NHL (not so surprisingly, since it's the NHL) has failed to crack down on is cheap shots, especially shots to the head and equipment (mainly sticks) being used as weapons.  Not only is this a major issue involving player safety, but it's an issue that affects the bottom line for the league, as they could see a loss of attendance or TV ratings if a star player is injured and misses a large amount of time.

The incidence of these cheap shots has gone up in the 15 or so years of the Bettman Era; out of the 10 longest suspensions in NHL history, 9 have been on his watch, and all of them for illegal hits or flat-out vicious attacks.  I personally think that rules enacted to cut down on fighting have played a major role in the increase in goonism (see my last post), as the players who are delivering these cheap shots are not facing retribution from the other team's enforcer nearly as much as in the past due to rule changes like the instigator penalty (which needs to go NOW), and the third-man-in rule.

The NHLPA, while in favor of opening up the fighting rules so that players can police the games themselves, have told the NHL that they want an outright ban on blows to the head, but the league's GMs have refused to address the issue.  Toronto GM Brian Burke said that there is "no appetite for an automatic penalty".  Some of them feel that it would take some of the physical side of the sport.

While there will always be instances where a player is unfortunately injured on a clean hit, where he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the league NEEDS to cut down on the intentional shots above the shoulders.  You can't allow goons to be headhunting other players (or running at their knees, or using their sticks as weapons, etc.), especially while you're tying the hands of the enforcers and preventing them from doing their job of protecting their teammates.

The NHL should remove the instigator rule and ban intentional shots to the head.  If it's incidental contact (wrong place, wrong time, or the player recieving the hit moves at the last second and inadvertantly puts himself in harm's way, cases like that), then no penalty should be issued to the player delivering the hit.  If the player goes at his opponent with an intent to injure (aims for his head, skates leave the ice, etc.), then that player needs to be fined and/or suspended.  The league's players need to be protected from these acts of goonism.
Category: NHL
Posted on: June 4, 2009 8:27 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2009 11:32 am
 

Fixing the NHL--3. Let 'em Fight

A  major issue that comes up when hockey is discussed is fighting.  I'll come out and say it right now: I LOVE fighting in hockey.  It's great when 2 players square off and duke it out, and while I wouldn't want to see this happen in EVERY game, I do like the occasional games where there are multiple fights breaking out all over.  Is this the only reason that I'm a hockey fan?  No, but if it was ever eliminated, honestly, hockey would lose some of its appeal for me (not to mention the fact that I'd feel that it was another case where the NHL has ignored its own traditions and alienated the true, hardcore hockey fans like me, who have supported this league most of my life, to try to appeal to people who most likely will still not pay attention to the sport).
Why should the NHL keep fighting?  There are several reasons why.  One of the most important?  Player safety.  Admittedly, to some people (namely, non-hockey fans), this may not make sense.  Fighting provides a way for players to police the game.  Fighting in the NHL is not a drunken, anything-goes street brawl; there is a code that the players follow that governs fighting.  It helps police the game and reduce injuries for the simple fact that players know that if they cheap-shot somebody, or go after a player (especially a star player) with intent to injure, that they're going to have to deal with retaliation from the other team.  Knowing that you'll have to answer for your actions is a big deterrent in most cases.  While players do occasionally get injured during a fight, in most cases, the worst injuries sustained are minor (a bloody lip, black eye, etc.).  Those injuries are MUCH less severe than the injuries that generally occur from a stick being used as a weapon, an elbow to the head, a hit from behind on an unsuspecting player, etc.  The retaliation factor also helps protect the star players; if the 18th (last) guy on the bench doesn't have the deterrent of on-ice, physical retaliation, he might be much more willing to take a run at a player like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, injuring them to the point where they miss a significant amount of time, or even see their career put in jeopardy.  Hockey is a fast, physical, intense game, and fighting also acts as a relief valve to blow off some of the tension and aggression that builds up during the course of a game.  The fact that the vast majority of current and former players, coaches, and front office officials--the ones who do or have done the fighting--support it for the reasons I've stated above should tell you something.  So remove the instigator penalty, and let the enforcers do their jobs.  I would make one change though--outlaw the instances when one player picks another up and bodyslams him to the ice.  A move like that could seriously injure a player if he slammed his bare head against the boards or the ice.
Another reason is the fact that the fans like it.  People may not admit it as openly as I do, but let's face it, games where 2 teams have an intense rivalry (with an increased chance of fighting) going draw more interest in the media, and put more asses in the seats.  The Colorado-Detroit rivalry in the late 90s was so intense that there was a very real possibility of fights breaking out every game, and they drew so much attention that ESPN showed their games whenever they played.  Just a few years ago, there was a game between the Flyers and Senators which was just filled with brawls.  Even though there has never been much of a rivalry between the 2 clubs, you better believe that people had their matchups circled for the rest of that season and early into the next season, until they realized nothing more would happen.  While there are people who love hockey and think fighting should be banned, these people are in the minority, and the non-fans most likely wouldn't pay attention if it was banned anyway.  People like that might rip it, but at the same time, have you ever seen the crowd at a hockey game when a fight breaks out?  Everyone's on their feet loving it, and I've never seen (or heard of) an instance where people have walked out of a game because a fight broke out, vowing never to return until fighting is banned, or seen a parent cover the eyes of their kid when a fight breaks out.  And it's a LONG season (going from October through June), and it does keep the fans interested.
Fighting can also help change the momentum of a game.  How often have we seen a team come out sluggish, give up a couple of early goals, lose the battles along the boards, only to see them (and the fans) get fired up after a fight, many times allowing them to get back into the game and make it more competitive?  While over the course of a 82-game season there will always be games where teams play uninspired (for lack of a better word) hockey, the elimination of fighting would lead to a higher incidence of these games.

And yet there are some people, led mainly by certain elements in the sports media, who say that the NHL needs to ban fighting.  Of course, the members of the media are the same ones who'll say that bench-clearing brawls in baseball are a joke because nothing ever happens, it's all posturing, or there might be one guy throwing a punch that's so off-the-mark it's comical; but when there actually is a serious incident, they start screaming about how the commissioner's office needs to give out long suspensions and ban pitchers from throwing inside--as much of a longstanding part of baseball as fighting is in hockey.  These are the same people who rip MMA for being "barbaric", yet can't get down on their knees fast enough to honor boxing, a sport which has been known to cause long-term damage, as well as kill, more than a few of its participants.  And the members of the sports media who are against fighting have jumped all over the tragic death of Canadian player Don Sanderson, who died shortly after a fight in which he slammed his head against the ice.  They report that "a player died in a hockey fight", but they don't report that he played in a league in which fighting was banned, and that he refused medical treatment and wanted to go back out onto the ice after the fight.  Just by reading what these people write about hockey, or hearing them speak about it, compared to how they are with other sports, you really get a sense that they don't like hockey to begin with, and would rather not deal with it, so yeah, I'd say I question their credibility on the subject.
I've heard the arguments of the anti-fighting crowd, and while I respect their opinions, none of their arguments make sense to me, or make enough sense that I can say, "yes, ban it".  They have many excuses for why it should be banned; I'll touch on some of them (and my counterargument) here.

1.  There's no fighting in international hockey, European leagues, college, or kids leagues.
Well, there shouldn't be any fighting in kids sports period--I mean, don't the overaggressive parents do enough to damage their kids when it comes to organized sports?  Although, I did have to laugh when I read that the Minnesota Wild's Derek Boogaard started camps for kids to show them how to handle themselves defensively in a hockey fight...it made me wish that they had camps like that when I was a kid.  In the college level, the ban is in place as the NCAA's main goal is to use sports to develop student-athletes as people (biting my own tongue on their REAL goals here), and they feel fighting doesn't match that goal.  Europe in general is just a completely different culture from North America, and the game there evolved without fighting (probably due in large part to the fact that their professional leagues follow international rules more than the NHL).  Hell, maybe they get rid of all of the aggression they bring to sports through hooliganism at soccer matches.  International competitions are staged with the intent of following Olympic ideals of peace, honor, competition through sports, etc.  While NHL players do take part in international competitions such as the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey, there are 2 important things to remember: the rink for international games is bigger than a standard NHL rink, which allows for less physicality (again, this applies to European leagues too), and the fact that while the games can be intense, these are EXHIBITION games for professional players, so they might not be as willing to put themselves at the same risk of injury that they would during a game for their NHL team.

2.  Hockey cannot be considered a family sport as long as fighting is allowed.
So do you want to tell that to generations of Canadian families who have been involved with hockey since it's beginnings?  Or to the families that attend games together (when they can afford to)?  The fact is, fake or not, there are MANY more violent acts at a WWE event, yet those events are packed with families in attendance.  If these people were really concerned about the amount of violence in hockey due to fighting, they'd pushing to ban wrestling, MMA, boxing, and any other violent sport--yet I don't hear about that.  While there are some parents who won't let their kids play hockey, or football, or skateboard, or participate in any number of activities due to its "danger" or "violence", it's driven more by ignorance of the sport as a whole.

3.  Fighting isn't a "necessary" part of the game and slows up the pace.
Like a football offense standing around in the huddle to max out the time on the play clock?  A batter stepping out of the box and readjusting every piece of equipment he's wearing before he steps back in?  Or one of my favorites, the excessive fouling at the end of a basketball game that can make the last 30 seconds literally last 20 minutes?  Fighting is an important part of the game for the reasons that I stated above, and let's face it, while it might slow up the pace that the game runs at, it's a MUCH more entertaining delay than in other sports.  And (maybe not so coincidentally), the 1970s and 1980s, when fighting was at its peak, also was the highest-scoring period in NHL history.  Maybe the fact that players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jari Kurri, and Mike Bossy were protected by enforcers who were allowed to fight had a LITTLE something to do with that.  So how is more excitement brought to the game through fighting, higher scoring, and protecting star players "not necessary"?

4.  Fighting is rare in the playoffs and they're still exciting, so that means that the regular season would be more exciting without fighting.
Ummmm, no.  There are differences in style of play in EVERY sport between the regular season and postseason, and the NHL is no exception.  In a best-of-seven playoff, EVERY game is important; the same cannot be said of every game during the grind of an 82-game regular season.  As you get deeper in the playoffs, the matchups become better and more even; seeing one of the top 2 or 3 teams in the league beat up on the 29th- or 30th-best team (out of 30) doesn't make for much of an entertaining game; fighting definitely draws more interest to matchups like that.  And FYI: fighting is UP in the playoffs this year; there were over twice as many fights in just the first 2 rounds of this year's playoffs as there were in all four rounds last year--and the playoff ratings are up from last year.

5.  Hockey isn't as popular as other sports because of the fighting.
Whenever critics of a sport in America refer to "other sports", they mean football, baseball, and basketball, and it's hard to compare any sport with another, but for argument's sake, I'll try here.  The NFL is the king of all sports leagues, due to many factors which I won't go into here, but one major factor is--wait for it--the violence, which the NFL plays up, and Americans eat up.  For most of the last 150 or so years, baseball was to America what hockey is to Canada--our national sport, which is still deeply ingrained in Americans (even though the NFL has long since surpassed it in popularity); also remember that MLB doesn't have a lot in the way of competition during the "dog days" of the regular season.  And while the NBA has dropped some in popularity from the days of Magic, Larry, and Michael, it was able to do an incredible job of marketing that popularity on a global level in ways Gary Bettman could only dream of.  Even Kim Jong Il's son is reportedly a huge Michael Jordan fan.

6.  Hockey would be better if you got rid of the goons and added more scorers.
I'd like to clarify one point: I consider "goons" to apply to the players who take cheap shots at other players with their bodies or sticks, and enforcers to be the players whose job is to fight and protect their teammates.  If you ban fighting, the enforcers will be gone, but the goons will multiply, as there will be no one to keep them in check.  Say what you want about "the league cracking down on them, suspensions, etc.", but on-ice officials will always miss calls, and there are acts of goonism that even by reviewing videotape, it would be hard to determine clear intent in every case.  And having enforcers, who take up one of the last spots on the roster, are NOT blocking another Crosby or Malkin; if more of those players existed, they'd be in the league.  If anything, the players who are enforcers now also bring other skills to the table, that enforcers from previous eras might not have had.

7.  And then there's the business argument: the league won't get sponsors and TV deals as long as it allows fighting.
This is the argument that for me makes the most sense, but it just doesn't hold up.  There might be advertisers who say that fighting is holding the league back, and that they won't invest in it until it's banned, and it could be the truth.  But I think that it's just another in a long line of excuses they've given the NHL as to why they won't get involved with the league.
Almost everything Gary Bettman has done since taking over as commissioner has been geared to making the game more "acceptable" to corporate America and mainstream American sports fans (while ignoring the fans who have supported the league all along).  The TV and money (advertisers) people said "We don't like that your division names are weird".  The NHL changed them to the same names the NBA used, but the money never came.  The TV and money people said "The NHL is only a regional league in the U.S.; it's not a national sport".  So the NHL went on a mad dash to expand and relocate teams to the Sun Belt, giving the league a nationwide presence in America for the first time.  The money never came.  The TV and money people said "There aren't enough Americans in the league; it's too foreign".  The league now has more--and better--American players than ever before.  The money still didn't come.  The TV and money people said "Your ownership is too archaic in their thinking; you need owners who are modern in their thinking".  So the NHL gave an expansion team in the LA market to Disney, who named them the Mighty Ducks after their successful movie franchise of the same name.  This was when Disney could do no wrong--if they had decided to take the "Hitler on Ice" bit from the end of The History of the World--Part 1 and made a tour out of it, they would've made money.  (And before anyone gets offended, that's an exaggeration to illustrate my point.)  And the money didn't come.  The TV and money people said, "We don't like tie games", so the NHL cheapened the game with shootouts.  The money didn't come.  The TV and money people said "Hockey's too violent".  The NHL instituted rules that have dropped the rate of fighting far below their peak in the 1970s and 80s, but STILL the money hasn't come.  So why should anyone believe the TV and money people now when they say "Get rid of fighting, and we'll become involved"?  All these changes have not only not increased the popularity of the league, it's regressed to the point where it's struggling to hold on to its status as the "4th major-league sport".  A very solid argument could be made that NASCAR has passed it.
Obviously, they feel that there isn't enough interest in the sport to get involved to a greater degree.  If they're so convinced that hockey would be a gold mine without fighting, why hasn't there been an attempt to start a league in which fighting is banned from day one?  They had a golden opportunity during the 2004-05 lockout, as they could've had their choice of top NHL players, and started with a league of 8 or 12 teams, that would've pushed out the more physical players in favor of the more skilled players due to the fighting ban and the fewer number of roster spots available, but nothing happened.  To me, that speaks volumes about how interested corporate America is in hockey, fighting or not. 
Most advertisers have never shied away from programming that featured sex or violence if they knew that they'd have a big audience, and you better believe that if the NHL went the Slap Shot route and was getting NFL-type ratings, the advertisers would be lined up.  There was even enough interest on the part of advertisers for the XFL that NBC went in as partners with Vince McMahon, and the league played for a year.  But the NHL doesn't even stir up that much interest in advertisers, even though the McMahon connection led to immediate doubts about the validity of the XFL as a true sports league.
Look at the NHL's history of making stupid long-term decisions in exchange for quick cash.  In the late 1980s, the league took their games off ESPN (the only national exposure the league had in America at the time) in favor of SportsChannel, a much smaller cable network (it's now Fox Sports Net), because SportsChannel offered more cash up front.  The league added 9 expansion teams in the 1990s, partly to appease the American TV and corporate people, but also to cash in on the expansion fees.  And they lost half a season in 1994-95, and the entire 2004-05 season, to lockouts in order to force a salary cap to provide cost-certainty (which has failed as many teams continue to lose money).  Given that pattern, it's pretty safe to say that if the TV and money people were knocking on the NHL's door with a fat, national TV contract based on the condition that fighting was banned, it'd be gone within a day. 
At some point in the future, the NHL might hit a tipping point where the league would explode in popularity if fighting was banned.  However, they're nowhere near that point today.  In fact, I think that if fighting was banned now, it would kill the NHL as a major league sport in America.  The mainstream fans and corporations that they've been chasing for so long still wouldn't care, and they'd lose a great deal of the hardcore fans who have supported the league up to this point.  While I'm not going to be one of those people who says if they ban fighting, I'll never watch a game again, I definitely would lose interest, and go from being a hardcore fan to a casual fan.  As much as I love all areas of the game, the fighting and physicality is a big part of my enjoyment as a fan.  It would also send another message to me that even though I've pretty much been a lifelong fan, and have supported this league through thin and thin, that the NHL views the business of the people who have constantly ignored it more valuable than mine.
To paraphrase Patrick Henry (and I feel almost sacrilegious doing it): "Give me fighting, or give me the remote!"

Posted on: June 3, 2009 6:33 pm
 

Should the Phillies take a flier on Glavine?

It's just been announced that the Braves have released P Tom Glavine.  ESPN is reporting that in a meeting with Glavine, they told him that his velocity was down, but it's viewed as primarily a financial move, as Glavine would receive a $1 million bonus if he was added to the active roster, and another $1.25 million if he was on the roster after 90 days.  Between that and ace-in-waiting Tommy Hanson, the Braves sent Glavine packing.  Glavine, who insists he can still pitch, and has pitched well in his last few rehab starts, is now a free agent.

So it poses this question: should the Phillies, who are in need of help in their rotation, go after Glavine?  Right now, after Cole Hamels, there's no one currently in this rotation who shouldn't be considered for an upgrade, and due to Brett Myers' hip injury, the back end of the rotation is currently staffed by 2 unproven pitchers in J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo.  Glavine, who has won 305 games in his career, also has an extensive postseason history, having started 35 postseason games, going 14-16, with a 3.30 ERA.

It makes sense for the Phillies, who are in a win-now position, to approach Glavine with an incentive-laden contract.  With that type of contract, they won't pay unless he reaches certain performance standards, it won't cost them any players (especially prospects) in a trade, and his experience (especially in the postseason) makes him more appealing than the inexperienced Happ and Bastardo in September and October.
Category: MLB
 
 
 
 
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