Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 NBA All-Stars -- West

Though the Eastern Conference continues to close the gap in talent-level with the Western Conference, the West remains superior -- for now.

West starters

Steve Nash, PG, Suns -- Nash earns this spot by averaging 16.8 points and 12.4 assists per game for the Suns. Nash paces the Suns up-tempo offense and has Phoenix right behind the Spurs for the West’s second-best record. Not really a surprising choice here, but Nash does have some company now from other top point guards in the West -- more on that later.

Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers -- Bryant finally realized that not only would a trade to Chicago be a really bad idea, but that he also had some pretty good players already on his team. Bryant is averaging 27.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 2 steals per game, and he’s helped to lead the Lakers to a strong 19-11 record.

Shawn Marion, F, Suns -- Although Marion shoots like he’s heaving a medicine ball towards the rim, he continues to be one of the most reliable and versatile players in the entire league -- 16.3 points, 10 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. Carmelo Anthony may be voted in by fans, but Marion is the better choice because he plays hard-nosed defense. Marion, playing an undersized power forward for the Suns at 6’7, routinely matches up against bigger players and shuts them down. He very rarely creates his own shot, but he plays with Steve Nash, so why would he have to?

Carlos Boozer, PF, Jazz -- The Utah Jazz (16-16) have definitely underachieved so far, but don’t blame Boozer, who’s averaging 24.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. Boozer and Deron Williams have formed one of the NBA’s best 1-2 scoring punches. Boozer was selected to the All-Star Game last year but was unable to play. This year he should definitely see plenty of time on the court.

Marcus Camby, C, Nuggets -- Plenty of other centers could start in this spot, such as Yao Ming or Amare Stoudemire, but none of them plays defense like Camby has this season. Camby is averaging just 9 points a game, but he’s also grabbing 14.2 rebounds and blocking 3.7 shots a game as well. He seems like a strong possibility to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. (Just to note, I fully believe Camby will get left off the team. These things happen.)

West reserves

Carmelo Anthony, SF, Nuggets -- 25.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists -- No surprise here -- Anthony is an outstanding player and can score points in bunches. It’s very hard to believe that he’s only 23 years old.

Chris Paul, PG, Hornets -- 21.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 3.0 steals -- Paul is one of the best point guards in the league, and also one of the fastest. He leads the NBA in steals per game by more than a half a steal, and he also commits less than 3 turnovers per game -- almost one less per game than Nash.

Baron Davis, PG, Warriors -- 22.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 2.5 steals -- Finally healthy for an extended period of time, Davis is showing that he’s one of the elite guards in the league. Just ask the Mavericks about how good Davis is.

Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Mavericks -- 21.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists -- Nowitzki is averaging almost three points less per game than he did last year, and he seems a little more timid this year. He has still played solid basketball, but if the Mavericks are ever going to overtake some of the elite powers in the West, Nowitzki will have to be the reason why.

Amare Stoudemire, C, Suns -- 21.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks -- Stoudemire has been much more efficient so far this year. He’s averaging 1.4 more points per game, fewer turnovers, and slightly more assists. But if the Suns are ever going to win the West, he’ll have to improve his defense against Tim Duncan, which is easier said than done.

Allen Iverson, G, Nuggets -- 26.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.4 steals -- This is the hardest pick because Iverson’s addition means that Deron Williams gets left off the team. Williams is averaging 19.4 points and 8.8 assists per game, but Iverson can play both the one and the two guard and is simply a more dynamic scorer. With all of the talent in the Western Conference at point guard, it’s not that hard to believe that someone as good as Williams doesn’t get to play in the All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, PF/C, Spurs -- 18.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.8 blocks -- Duncan is arguably the best player in the NBA, and even though he’s been hurt and he’s scoring a couple less points per game this year, he has still led the Spurs to a strong 21-8 record. As long as Duncan is healthy, he’ll always deserve a spot on the All-Star roster.

The West is so talented that these are some of the names that I had to leave off of the roster:

Yao Ming
Chris Kaman (seriously, he's been great this year)
Josh Howard
Tracy McGrady
Deron Williams
Tony Parker

But, again, that’s what happens with only 12 spots available on each team. There are more than 24 elite players in the NBA, so plenty of talent will get left off of each roster.

Let the debate begin nationwide -- and by debate, I mean countless NBA analysts getting way too angry about which players aren’t invited to New Orleans. Be prepared for Stephen A. Smith and some guy named Bill Walton. You’ve been warned.

2008 NBA All-Stars -- East

The NBA All-Star Game, which is being played in New Orleans this year, is still more than a month and a half away (Feb. 17). Fan voting for the game is already well under way, with Kevin Garnett currently leading LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in total votes.

Every year, some players who are less deserving than others end up in the starting lineups or on the bench, but that’s just the way it is. The starters are selected by fans, the reserves are selected by the coaches, and other players are selected by the commissioner, David Stern, to replace injured choices. With only 12 spots on each team, every worthy player can’t make the team.

Not counting fan or coach voting, here’s what my East and West All-Star Teams would look like:

East starters

Chauncey Billups, PG, Pistons -- Jason Kidd will probably get the starting role in the East, but Billups should be recognized for being the best player on a solid team. Billups is averaging 17.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game while leading the Pistons to a 23-7 mark, which is good enough for second-place in the East. Even though the Celtics have the NBA’s best record, the Pistons beat them the first time the two teams met, with Billups playing a huge role.

Michael Redd, SG, Bucks -- Normally Dwyane Wade would be the pick here, but he’s not completely healthy and the Heat have been a huge disappointment. Redd, though, continues to shine on a bad team by averaging 24.1 points, 2 threes, 5 rebounds, and almost 4 assists per game. Selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by Milwaukee in 2000, Redd, similarly to Gilbert Arenas, keeps improving every year and proving that he shouldn’t have been a second-round choice. Redd’s point totals are slightly below his averages from the past two seasons, but he’s improved his all-around game by grabbing more rebounds and compiling more assists.

Caron Butler, SF, Wizards -- The easy pick here is LeBron James; the right pick is Butler. Leading the short-handed Wizards to a 15-14 record, Butler has filled out the stat-sheet night-in and night-out while playing huge minutes -- over 40 a game. He’s averaging 22.1 points, 1.1 threes, 6.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 2.2 steals so far this season while shooting just under 50% from the field. Without Butler’s career performance this season to help replace the injured Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards would surely be well under .500 and no where near 5th place in the East.

Kevin Garnett, PF, Celtics -- Garnett has helped to lead the Celtics to a remarkable 26-3 record by putting up 18.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Teaming up with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and several other overachieving role players (Rondo, House, Perkins), Garnett has helped to completely turn the Celtics around and has transformed them into a championship contender this season.

Dwight Howard, C, Magic -- Perhaps no other player deserves to start in the All-Star Game for the East more than Howard. Despite recently only turning 22, Howard is averaging huge numbers -- 23.1 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. Howard is the best young center in the NBA, and it’s hard to imagine how he has gotten this good in such a short period of time. Howard's strong play in the paint allows the rest of the Magic to get open looks from the perimeter. (See Hedo Turkoglu, who is having a career season.)

East reserves

Jason Kidd, PG, Nets -- 11.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 10.6 assists -- Excellent all-around numbers, but the Nets (as a team) have struggled so far. Kidd is also shooting only 37% from the field.

LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers -- 28.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists -- James has awesome numbers, but the Cavs should be better than 14-17. They pretty much have their whole team back, the team that somehow went to the NBA Finals last year, and they’ve been average at best. At this moment, Butler just deserves it a bit more.

Dwyane Wade, SG, Heat -- 24.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists -- Wade has been great when he actually has played, and he’s not the reason why the Heat have been awful. Somehow Ricky Davis wasn’t the solution to improving the team? Wow, who knew? By the way, Wade also has the unique ability to announce his own name, which is helpful, annoying, and hilarious at the same time.

Joe Johnson, G, Hawks -- 22.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists -- Johnson has been the best player on a much-improved (15-13) Atlanta Hawks team. Someone from the Hawks deserves to go to New Orleans, and that player is Johnson.

Antawn Jamison, F, Wizards -- 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists -- Jamison has helped steady the Wizards frontcourt by averaging a double-double even though he’s an undersized power forward.

Chris Bosh, PF/C, Raptors -- 19.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists -- I’ve been trying to figure who the second best center in the Eastern Conference is for the past 15 minutes and Bosh wins. (Sorry Zaza Pachulia fans.) The Raptors (16-15) have been pretty good this season when Bosh plays strong in the paint. Fun Fact: Did you know Rasho Nesterovic makes $7.8 million this year?

Paul Pierce, G/F, Celtics -- 21.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists -- Tough choice for the last spot, but Pierce has been better than other possible All-Stars such as Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, and Ray Allen, at least in my opinion. Pierce has better all-around numbers than all of them, and he also happens to play for the team with the best record in the NBA.

Next post -- Western Conference selections…

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Redskins look to take Madden '08 title

The Redskins look to do the unthinkable tomorrow against the hated Dallas Cowboys and finish the regular season a perfect 16-0. There's just one catch -- the season is on Madden 2008 for PlayStation2.

"Look, the imaginary media was really tough on us before the season," said virtual Clinton Portis, who leads the NFL with 3,454 rushing yards and 75 touchdowns. "Basically, they hated on us. Nobody thought we'd be this good."

After reaching the 15-0 mark with an impressive 73-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Redskins definitely have the look of a team ready to make history.

"We really got tired of hearing all the negative crap from the same stupid analysts on TV," said London Fletcher. "Tiki Barber said we couldn't win because our teeth aren't as white as his. Shannon Sharpe said we didn't possess any 'stallion-like' qualities. Even Bill Cowher, when asked for his thoughts, would just stick out his enormous chin -- and then that's it. He wouldn't even give our team the dignity of an answer or opinion or anything. What a bunch of jerks."

The team has followed in Portis's and Fletcher's footsteps to destroy the competition and break many records along the way. Quarterback Jason Campbell managed to break Peyton Manning's record of 49 touchdown passes -- in Week 12. He currently has thrown for 62 of them. Portis has broken seemingly every record for a running back, and Santana Moss somehow caught 20 passes in the first half of last week's blowout win after the Redskins ran the same play 20 times in a row.

The defense has also been remarkable, led by standout rookie LaRon Landry, who has recorded a league record 63 user big-hits. "Even though we're breaking all these records, a few haters are still out there," said Landry. "They're saying we're not as impressive because we're doing all this on the All-Pro level instead of All-Madden. Well, you know what? Let them come and try to hit me then. We'll see what happens when we turn the injuries option back on."

No matter what is actually said, though, no one has been able to stop the Redskins on either side of the ball. Portis already knows the team is ready for their last game against Dallas and star receiver Terrell Owens: "Virtual T.O. is just as annoying as the real one. We're going to beat him and the rest of the Cowboys and give the imaginary city of Washington something to cheer about for once."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

To sign or not to sign

For the past few weeks, the Wizards (13-10) have played terrific basketball. Since Gilbert Arenas re-injured his knee on Nov. 16 against Minnesota, the Wizards are 10-5. The most recent win came tonight at home against Sacramento with DeShawn Stevenson leading the way with 19 points.

The end of their bench, though, is starting to get thin. After Antonio Daniels sprained his medial collateral ligament in his right knee during Thursday's win over Miami, only nine players remain on the roster healthy enough to play: Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Stevenson, Brendan Haywood, Roger Mason, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche, and Darius Songaila.

Daniels is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with his injury, which leaves Mason, Stevenson, and Young to shoulder the workload at point guard. But besides the temporary hole at PG that Daniels was already filling for Arenas, the Wizards have other concerns. With all of the untimely injuries and the uncertainty of when Daniels and rookie Oleksiy Pecherov (broken right ankle) will play, GM Ernie Grunfeld has to decide whether or not to sign another player, probably a guard.

Two main concerns come attached to that already difficult choice: the luxury tax and heavy minutes. The Wizards are very close to the $67.86 million luxury tax, and owner Abe Pollin would like to stay under that amount if possible. Teams that stay under the luxury tax get to share the tax money after the season from teams that go over the amount and must therefore pay the dollar-for-dollar tax.

Also, fewer healthy players on the bench means an increased amount of minutes for everyone else, especially star players such as Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Butler is currently tied for first in the league in minutes played per game at 40.7. Jamison is ninth with 39.5. Both players are in great shape and can take the pounding for most of the season, but they may start to wear down as the postseason looms. Arenas is supposed to return in three months, but even if he does, the Wizards will need Butler and Jamison at full strength to make any noise in the playoffs.

But no matter who goes down on the team, the Wizards continue to win, leading to more confusion in the front office. If the Wizards choose to wait and see how quickly Daniels recovers, they could force him to come back too early and have him risk a possible long-term injury. And if they choose to go ahead and sign a player now, they might be risking the chance to stay under the luxury tax for a player who may not really make any kind of impact on the team at all.

Either way, they're stuck in a Catch-22 scenario. It would be unfortunate if they exceeded the luxury tax limit, but building a winning team, especially with this solid group of players, is more important than trying to save a couple million dollars for an already extremely wealthy owner.

Why exactly? Because the Wizards have the talent to win now. With a completely healthy roster, they're arguably as talented as the Orlando Magic and the Detroit Pistons and probably only trail the Boston Celtics in the East.

They have a solid mix of young and veteran players, and they've done very well so far with all of the adversity that's been thrown their way. Butler and Jamison should both be All-Stars. Haywood seems to have turned into a real center who can hold down the paint and grab tough rebounds. Stevenson, Songaila, and Mason have been shooting well and are important role players. Blatche, Young, and McGuire are all young and seem to improve every game by bringing something different to the table. And of course, the return of some guy named Gilbert Arenas is looming in the near future.

Though the season is still young, the Wizards continue to pass every test with flying colors.

Signing a player briefly surely won't make or break the season, but by doing so the front office can still show that they're supporting this team the best they can and are fully committed to this season.

Who knows -- maybe Grunfeld can somehow land another Butler or Mason.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Trying to figure out college football

(Posted for Frostburg's The Bottom Line this week)

For several years now, the discussion of whether or not NCAA Football (Bowl Subdivision) needs a playoff has been ongoing. Many fans are dissatisfied with the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and the confusion of whether or not the best teams are meeting at the end of the season.

Some people have expressed their desire for a simple playoff where the top four teams would have the chance to square off and ease the pain of identifying the two best teams. Other people would like to see eight or even 16 teams given a shot in a playoff system to give more teams the chance to show they belong among the elite programs in the nation.

Many coaches, college officials, and analysts, though, have been rejecting any such system for years. They frequently use the same excuses: it would be too time consuming, too difficult to figure out, not fair to the players, it would make the regular season less important, etc.

A playoff wouldn’t take up a significant portion of the season if strong teams were forced to schedule fewer games against overwhelmed opponents. Previously #2 ranked Kansas’s schedule serves as a perfect example. Surely the Jayhawks (11-1) didn’t expect to have such a successful season, but their first four games this year included wins over Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo, and Florida International. Those four teams have a combined record of 15-31. Football teams that want to have their programs taken seriously shouldn’t schedule as many terrible opponents. A game like Michigan vs. Appalachian State can still happen where a stunning upset can occur, but the opportunities just won't be as often.

Teams may be forced to play a tougher game or two, but then again, several teams already play uneven schedules. If Ohio State played in the SEC, they probably wouldn’t come out of conference play with only one loss. Ohio State is definitely one of the nation’s top five teams, but it's too confusing to try and weigh schedule strengths while certain teams continue to play soft schedules and still get into BCS games. A team like Hawaii may have a smooth ride through its regular season this year and in the future, but if there's a playoff, fans would get to see them matched up against an LSU or USC and see how they'd really fare.

Complaining that a playoff system would too be confusing is also overlooking the currently baffling BCS system, which has been in place since 1998. Some of the matchups fans have seen over the years have been terrible, and the BCS hasn’t consistently enabled the right teams to face each other.

Much of the confusion began in 2003 when USC and LSU shared the #1 ranking at the end of the season. LSU defeated Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game and ended the season 13-1, and USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to finish with a 12-1 record. Even though LSU had won the official BCS Championship, USC held onto the #1 AP poll ranking, sparking debate around the country. A similar dispute took place the very next season when Auburn won the SEC, beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, and finished with a 13-0 record. USC, though, defeated Oklahoma 55-19 in the BCS National Championship Game and were declared the champions. Both teams finished undefeated, yet they couldn’t play each other.

Instead of worrying about who plays who in certain BCS Bowl games, teams should have the chance to play each other and determine their own fates. Other teams that have relatively successful seasons can still participate in other Bowl games -- just not the playoff. At the very least, Bowl games should reward teams who played well during the season. But when determining a national champion, the best teams in the country need to play each other in a playoff format.

Another knock against adding a playoff is the belief that it would negate much of the importance of the regular season. Every other major sport at the collegiate and professional level has both a regular season and a postseason, and the entire sequence is important. Teams want to do well in the regular season so they can get a better seed and more of an advantage if possible. If they don't play well to begin with during the regular season, then they don't participate in the postseason anyway.

Though these are just some of the reasons people have used to argue against having a playoff, they only get in the way of what's really important -- that millions of fans want to see a playoff system, and many fans are intrigued to see what would happen. Sure, it would force the NCAA to change the way it arranges Bowl games, but there definitely wouldn't be any money lost since that's usually the main concern for those in charge.

Even if current feel-good story teams like Hawaii and Kansas were to get blown out in a playoff game, many people would pay to see those games just to see what would happen. Even though some Bowl games in the past turned out to be outstanding battles, there still has to be some limited motivation when teams know they can't be number one, just number four or five.

In the end, the dilemma basically boils down to one main issue -- many fans would rather see a system where several teams meet to earn the right to be in the championship game by actually beating other top teams. The current Bowl system occasionally prevents the best two teams from meeting in the championship game, and the other Bowl games only serve to prove where teams rank after those two.

In this case, the NCAA should get rid of the BCS and organize a playoff system. Fans should get what they want; they're usually right anyway.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Quick Sean Taylor note

Some people say the most depressing thing in life is wasted talent. Well, I think that's only partly true. The saddest thing in life is when those with fully realized talent die so young with so much left to give. Sean Taylor had seemingly turned over a new leaf, a new, better chapter in his life, and in the blink of an eye, it's over.

I loved watching Sean Taylor on Sundays, and I'll definitely miss that. I hope that some good can somehow come from his loss, but right now, that's pretty difficult to fathom.

I don't know what else to say other than this: Rest in Peace Sean Taylor.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Trying to figure out college football

(still under construction)

For several years now, the argument of whether or not NCAA football (Bowl Subdivision) needs a playoff. Some people have called for a simple four team bracket and others for eight teams to be involved. But even though there have been some controversial issues in the past, this season more than any other demands a new system.

Many coaches, college officials, and analysts have been rejecting a playoff for a long time. They always use the same excuses: it would be too time consuming, too difficult to figure out, not fair to the players, it would make the regular season less important, etc.

First of all, many of these excuses are just ridiculous. A playoff would be too time consuming? Fine, so great teams are forced to schedule less games against terrible opponents. Yes, it's a shame that a team like West Virginia will get less chances to blow out someone like Western Michigan or William and Mary. Fans are definitely missing out on those classic contests. A game like Michigan vs Appalachian State can still happen where a stunning upset can occur, but the opportunities just won't be as often.

The playoff wouldn't be too confusing, either. What's really confusing is the BCS formula. Some of the matchups fans have seen over the years have been terrible and haven't correctly had the right teams play each other. There's no better way to determine that than to actually have the teams play each other and determine their own fates instead of leaving the choices to a computer. No more confusing co-champions like in 2003 with LSU and USC.

A playoff would definitely be fair to the players as well. Teams may be forced to play a tougher game or two, but then again, certain teams already play uneven schedules. Put Ohio State in the SEC and see if they still come out with only one loss. It's not fair to have certain teams play soft schedules and still get into a big BCS game. Hawaii may have a smooth ride through its regular season in the future, but if there's a playoff, fans would get to see them matched up against an LSU or USC and then see how they'd really fare. The Bowls could also still be used as a reward for teams who played well, just not well enough to make the playoff.

And finally, the biggest myth of all is that adding a playoff would negate much of the importance of the regular season. Just about every other major sport has a regular season and a postseason, and the entire sequence is important. Teams want to do well in the regular season so they can get a better seed and more of an advantage if possible. If teams don't play well to begin with during the regular season, then they don't get in the playoff anyway.

Though these are just some of the reasons some people have used to argue against having a playoff, they only get in the way of what's really important -- that millions of people want to see a playoff system. People are intrigued to see what would happen if college football added a playoff format at the end of the season. Sure, it would force the NCAA to change the way it does the Bowl games, but there definitely wouldn't be any money lost (since that's usually the main concern for those in charge.)

Even if cinderella teams, like Hawaii and Kansas currently, were to get blown out in a playoff game, they would earn the right to be there. Many people would pay to see those games just to see what would happen. Instead certain teams usually just get one chance against another team that didn't quite reach the top of the standings. Even though some Bowl games turn out to be outstanding battles, there has to be some limited motivation when teams know they can't be number one, just number four or five.

In the end, the dilemma basically boils down to one main issue -- I'd like to think fans would rather see a playoff format where four or eight teams meet to earn the right to be in the championship game by actually beating the other top teams rather than the Bowl atmosphere where there's one championship game and the other Bowl games only serve to prove where teams rank after number one and two.

In this case, fans should get what they want. They're usually right anyway.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NBA rookie watch

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

The two biggest names in the 2007 NBA Draft, obviously, were Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Durant is already playing significant minutes for the Sonics and is making a huge impact on the franchise. Oden, on the other hand, is out for the season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee, but he should be fine when he returns next year and may be one of the best centers in the league for years to come.

Besides Durant, several question marks remain about which rookies will step up this year and take their games to the next level. Many have to overcome a tremendous learning curve, and minutes for young players may be hard to come by. Nevertheless, here are some top rookies to look for in the 2007-2008 season:

Al Horford, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks have been one of the worst franchises in the NBA for several years now. Over the past eight seasons since their last playoff berth in 1998-99, they’re a combined 218-438. After making some bad picks in the draft for a while, the Hawks seem to have assembled plenty of young talent, including Horford. Through the first three games of the season, Horford has started at center each game and has averaged almost 30 minutes per contest. He’s also averaging 6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1 block through the first week of the season. Sure, it’s still early, but there aren’t many rookies around the league playing as much, let alone starting for his team, like Horford is. Horford will only get better as he learns and improves his post-game, but he’ll need to work on his free throw shooting.

Jeff Green, SF/PF, Sonics – Drafted out of Georgetown, Green is looking to make his mark alongside fellow rookie Durant. Green has averaged about 18 minutes per game off of the bench through the Sonics’ first four games of the season. An athletic forward, he’s averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in an improved up-tempo offense. Green is known for his great defense and slashing ability on offense, but he’ll need to improve his long-range shooting to increase his minutes as the season progresses. Since he can defend quick guards and power forwards, he’s versatile enough to be one of the bright spots for Seattle this year.

Yi Jianlian, PF/C, Bucks – Many NBA analysts were critical of this pick because they were unsure if Yi would actually report to Milwaukee. Yi tried to warn several teams, including Milwaukee, not to draft him because he wanted to play in a more popular area. Unfortunately for Yi, the Bucks called his bluff and drafted him sixth overall. The move, though, has been beneficial to both in the beginning of the season. Yi has started at power forward for the Bucks’ first four games, averaging 25 minutes along with 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 blocks per game. He seems to be a good player with a solid all-around game that includes the ability to defend, dribble, pass, shoot, and play in the paint. As he gains more experience, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t improve as the season rolls along.

Jared Dudley, SF/PF, Bobcats – Many teams were afraid to draft Dudley because he doesn’t seem to have a natural position. He’s a little too big for small forward, but as a power forward, he’s slightly undersized. Dudley was one of the top players in the ACC at Boston College during his college career, and he has the talent to play better than his draft slot (selected 22nd). He’s averaging 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds off the bench, and his playing time should slowly increase now that Sean May and Adam Morrison have suffered season-ending injuries. He may not fit into a specific position, but he can definitely play.

Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Pistons – Stuckey is out six weeks because of a broken left hand, so he hasn’t been able to get on the court yet this season. But he’s a young guard with a knack for scoring points in bunches, which is something the Pistons definitely lack off of their bench. In two years at Eastern Washington, Stuckey averaged more than 24 points per game, and he possesses many skills. When his hand heals and he returns to the floor, he should help solidify a strong Pistons team and an improved bench.

Some other rookies who could also have solid seasons include Corey Brewer, Acie Law IV, Al Thornton, Joakim Noah, Luis Scola, Daequan Cook, and possibly Arron Afflalo. Mike Conley, Jr. and Julian Wright could have good rookie seasons too, but they’re currently blocked by veteran players. Guys like Jason Smith, Glen Davis, Dominic McGuire, Brandan Wright, and Chris Richard may be some other names to look for down the road.

But that’s the thing about players just coming into the NBA – no one knows exactly what they’ll bring to the table.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Going through the motions

For the third time in four nights, the Wizards seemed very uncomfortable on the floor as they lost to the Magic on Saturday night. The Wiz were unable to feed off of the crowd in their home-opener and looked flat, uninterested and just plain sloppy.

Under Eddie Jordan the Wizards seem to be notoriously slow starters, but this season's start has been horrendous. They've looked competitive only at certain points and are finding ways to lose. The excuse in the past has usually been that the team always changes it's starting lineup and personnel, but this season, that reasoning won't work since the team kept the same starting five of Arenas, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison and Haywood. Sure, they've only played three games, but there are plenty of issues at this very moment.

First of all, what has happened to the Wizards' shooting? As a team, the Wizards are shooting 35% from the field and 20% from three-point range. Yes, 20% -- that's embarrassing for any team, not to mention an NBA team. Caron Butler (45%) and Brendan Haywood (52%) are the only Wizards shooting over 40% from the field, and Nick Young is the only player shooting over 30% from three, mainly because he's only taken one three-pointer and made it.

To make matters worse, the Wizards aren't even taking care of the ball while they chuck up brick after brick. They're averaging almost 18 turnovers per game, with Butler and Arenas totaling about five per game each. Last year, the Wizards were great at limiting their own turnovers while forcing other teams to lose the ball. They averaged under 14 turnovers per game and forced just under 16. The Wiz also totaled about eight steals a game last year and are only getting about six now.

If I told you before the season that Brendan Haywood would average 10 points and almost 14 rebounds through the first three games, you never would have guessed that the Wiz would start out 0-3. Haywood has played the best so far this season with Butler right behind him. But besides those two, no one really comes in at a close third. Arenas hit that amazing game-tying three-pointer in the team's opener against the Pacers, but he's currently shooting 1-17 (6%) from three. He has shot poorly in certain stretches before in his career but never that badly.

Meanwhile, as the starters have obviously struggled, the bench really hasn't been much better. Songaila has played well so far, but usually the team has to take out Haywood when Songaila comes in because neither one can really guard another team's power forward. Songaila isn't big enough or quick enough, and Haywood is a little too sluggish to defend tall, athletic power forwards like Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, etc. That's the area where Andray Blatche was supposed to step in and help this team, yet he's averaging less than 10 minutes per game. He's definitely struggled, and somehow he's only grabbed three rebounds in three games while scoring a whopping four points. Now that's what I call living up to the hype.

Guys like Roger Mason and Antonio Daniels are playing the way they normally do, but they can't carry this team and are just supposed to compliment the big three. As for the rookies, Nick Young isn't ready yet and apparently Dominic McGuire isn't either. Eddie Jordan has been very reluctant to putting either in, and neither has impressed with the sporadic playing time they've received.

Obviously through three games, the Wizards haven't looked very good. And even though DeShawn Stevenson has played very poorly too, he got it right in one of his post-game comments after the loss to the Magic.

"I think we need to get into the gym and just go at each other," said Stevenson. "We need to get one of those tough practices where everybody doesn't like each other, get that trash-talking going and make each other uncomfortable. I think right now, everyone is too relaxed and we don't play like that. Normally, we play with a chip on our shoulder. We have to get that attitude back."

He's exactly right. I know the season just started, but I've rarely seen a team play who looks so relaxed and comfortable while playing so horribly. There's no sense of emotion or energy, and many of the players look like they believe that just because they show up and have talent that they're supposed to win the game by default. It doesn't work that way. Just because Arenas writes in his blog that he's going to score 50 or lead the Wiz to victory doesn't mean it'll happen just like that. It happens on the court against quality opponents, not in front of a computer.

The Wizards won games last year with scoring, hustle and timely buckets. They aren't a good defensive team, and I doubt they will be with this core of players. Arenas looks lost on the defensive end, Jamison is undersized and struggles against both bigger and quicker players, and even the team's "best" defender, Stevenson, has his own weaknesses when guarding other shooting guards off the dribble. But they don't have to be one of the best when limiting other opponents, evident by having the Eastern Conference's best record before the all-star break until untimely injuries to Arenas and Butler ruined last season's promise.

I want the Wizards to get mad. I want Arenas to get angry at these losses and start wrecking opposing defenses the way he did last year. I want Jamison to throw up more crazy floaters that always seem to find the bottom of the net. I want Butler to stop turning the ball over like this was an And-1 game. And I want Blatche to show his skills on the court like he's capable of doing.

But mainly, I want the Wizards to show some heart on the court and stop getting stomped on like they're one of the worst teams in the league. They're definitely not, and it's time to get their identity back from previous seasons.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

2007 World Series - Rockies vs. Red Sox

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

Last Tuesday (10/16) the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Red Sox 7-3 to increase their American League Championship Series lead to three games to one. "Why should we panic?" said Manny Ramirez a day after the game. "We've got a great team."

Ramirez received plenty of criticism for his easygoing and laid-back comments, but apparently he knew what he was talking about. After taking Games 5 and 6 in the ALCS to force a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston, the Red Sox completed the comeback with an 11-2 win over Cleveland on Sunday night.

Dustin Pedroia homered and drove in five runs for the Red Sox, who return to the World Series for the second time in four years and the first time since their successful championship run in 2004. Kevin Youkilis went 3-5 with a two-run homer, and Jason Varitek added three more hits to help pace a Red Sox lineup that accumulated most of its 15 hits against Indians starter Jake Westbrook and an overworked Rafael Betancourt.

Looking shaky at times, Daisuke Matsuzaka managed to earn the win for the Red Sox after giving up only two runs in five innings. Matsuzaka, nicknamed Dice-K, gave up an RBI double to Ryan Garko in the fourth and a sacrifice fly to Grady Sizemore in the fifth. But after Dice-K left the game, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon combined for four scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Papelbon also managed to earn a two-inning save.

Leading 3-2 in the seventh inning, Pedroia homered to deep left-center to put the Red Sox up 5-2. The Indians led off the top of the eighth with two consecutive singles off of Okajima, but Papelbon relieved him and shut the door on the Indians rally by retiring Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Garko in succession.

With the momentum entirely on their side, the Red Sox blew the game open in the bottom of the eighth. JD Drew singled home Mike Lowell, and Dustin Pedroia hit a line-drive double into the left-center gap to score three more runs. Youkilis followed with a two-run homer that increased the lead to 11-2, sealing both the ALCS victory for the Red Sox and the Indians' fate.

The series loss for the Indians only adds to the frustration of a franchise that hasn't won a title since 1948.

The Red Sox will now face the surprising Colorado Rockies when the World Series begins on October 24th in Boston. Colorado has won 21 of its last 22 games, including impressive series sweeps of the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies' exciting run has sparked a rallying cry of "Rocktober" from fans hoping for the franchise's first-ever championship.

In Game 1, the Rockies will hand the ball to starter Jeff Francis, who will surely be opposed by Josh Beckett, the ace of the Red Sox staff.

Colorado has been idle since its NLCS victory over the D-Backs on October 15th. Only time will tell whether the time off will help or hurt the Rockies and their recent stretch of outstanding play.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

When will it stop?

I feel kind of stupid. I should have seen this coming. During the MLB Playoffs this year, I actually stopped thinking about steroids and performance enhancing drugs for a few weeks. I was more worried about the collapse of the Yankees, another disappointing finish for the Cubs, how Eric Byrnes could figure the Diamondbacks were outplaying the Rockies while getting swept, the Indians-Red Sox series and its Game 7 tonight, and the crazy Rockies run into the World Series that NO ONE saw coming.

Instead, baseball fans, Sunday's biggest story leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS won't be the game itself; the story will undoubtedly be a published report that Paul Byrd of the Cleveland Indians apparently bought $25,000 worth of HGH and syringes.

Just as most other people, I'm tired of all of these stories. But I'm not mad at the sports media for publishing them -- this one is obviously on the players. I can't be frustrated with all of the discussion surrounding steroids when these stories keep surfacing and certain players are found to have cheated. I question the timing which the story came out, but it's still important nonetheless.

Come on, Paul Byrd using steroids? How credible can many of the players be if Byrd is using performance enhancing drugs? Just take a look at this ESPN interview with Byrd. Sure, good guys can cheat too, but how many of them are publishing their own books just like Byrd is, entitled "'The Free Byrd Project,' a finished manuscript that details Byrd's spiritual journey through the major leagues and the pitfalls that pious jocks must leap in navigating a ballplayer's lifestyle." It looks like he may need to add a chapter or two that deals with making HGH purchases.

Byrd is not a power pitcher, but he has been pretty successful in the playoffs this year. Maybe that's part of the problem -- anyone could be using certain substances, not just guys who jack home runs, throw 100 mph fastballs, or look like they have been using something. Even the extremely religious guy (Byrd) who says and seems to do all of the right things may have needed a little extra help to latch on to another organization and stay in the league a little bit longer.

Over the last few weeks and months, names like Gary Matthews, Jr., Jay Gibbons, Scott Schoeneweis, Rick Ankiel, Neifi Perez, Guillermo Mota, and others have been listed as possible HGH or steroid users. Ankiel was actually part of one of the best stories in baseball this year until the report was published that he had ordered HGH shipments a few years ago. All the positive and uplifting feelings surrounding his name quickly faded afterwards. Barry Bonds is the guy everybody points to, but there has never been any concrete evidence that he used steroids. When will the big names surface and will anybody be shocked when they inevitably do come to light?

Again, I hate talking about steroids. I love baseball, but these little controversies are ruining the game. I'm sure Fox is going to blow up the story tonight, and I'm hoping it doesn't take away from the game.

And I'm going to try and not be surprised when other names are released in the future. You just never know whose name will be tossed into the fire next.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cherishing the moment

(Written on 10/11/07 for my composing processes class... still not completely satisfied with it...)

Few feelings for sports fans can rival the moments when their teams accomplish great feats. The sport doesn’t matter; the team doesn’t matter. All that counts is recognizing the exciting road it took for teams to get where they finished.

Over the course of sports history, hundreds of different teams and millions of fans have had the opportunity to bask in the glory of their teams’ successes, victories, and accomplishments. When teams have strong seasons, such as ones that end in playoff berths or simply steps in the right direction, both fans and players are encouraged and excited. The highest level of achievement is accomplished when teams have everything clicking and have all their pistons firing in order to capture a championship. But when that moment is over, nothing can replace it but another season capped off with a similar ending.

The sports world is constantly changing, and one year’s champion may be next year’s big disappointment. Very rarely is anything guaranteed in sports and enjoying certain moments remains extremely important.

But most fans are greedy -- and deservedly so. If they can't have their own teams win, then they more than likely want to be surprised. They don’t want the same teams winning over and over again; they want parity.

To try and recapture moments of past glories, fans frequently latch on to any current underdog team or story. Not many people outside of a certain team’s fan base want to see a favored team win. Some organizations spend millions of dollars to form winning teams, and they’re expected to win. They’re supposed to roll over all competition along the way, but few fans may feel fulfilled when heavily favored teams do win. Who, after all, really wants Goliath to beat David?

Teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox still get pleasure out of winning games, but the rules are different for them based on the pressure from their fans and the sports world. The sports media also plays an important role by constantly discussing large market teams and adding even more pressure to the equation. These two teams have the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, and if they finish with anything less than a championship, then the entire season is a lost cause. The journey is no longer important for them -- only the result.

For other winners in sports from previous years, including, to name a few, the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, and Indianapolis Colts, the ride was just as important, if not more so, than winning the championship. These teams all have expectations to win games, but different and more difficult standards apply for the Yankees and Red Sox.

The Yankees, with a payroll over $200 million, are currently talking about making wholesale changes after being ousted from the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians. Their current manager, Joe Torre, may not return, and several players will test the free agent market and assuredly travel elsewhere. Red Sox fans, too, will feel devastated if their team gets knocked out of the playoffs. They will demand answers and wonder exactly why a championship was not delivered.

Winning, obviously, is the overall goal for every single team; however, doing so every year is impossible. When fans expect their teams to have a spectacular season every year and give them memorable moments every game, they allow disappointment to swoop in and bring anger and frustration along with it.

Sports should be fun to both watch and play. They’re challenging, especially at the highest level of competition, and they’re supposed to entertain and bring excitement to everyone involved. Instead of enjoying their teams’ success, some fans demand victory at all costs and are worried about nothing else.

Eventually for most teams, good experiences arise at some point or another. As a fan, hope for victory but never forget to appreciate the special moments that occur.

Some time may pass before they return.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bobcats football -- Homecoming

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

In their latest matchup against NAIA opponent Southern Virginia, the Bobcats fell behind by 14 early and were unable to maintain much offensive rhythm as they turned the ball over five times. Playing without senior tailback Shanorm Young, the Bobcats pulled within eight in the 4th quarter, but the Southern Virginia offense drove down the field for a late touchdown to seal the game and pull out a 35-20 win.

Freshman tailback Anton Wade started in place of Young and ran for 102 yards and 2 TDs. Senior quarterback Andre Dixon also added a rushing TD of his own along with 85 yards on the ground and 103 through the air.

The key for the Bobcats, though, was losing the turnover battle. During the second half, Frostburg State fumbled on three consecutive possessions, leading to two Southern Virginia touchdowns.

The Bobcats (1-5) have struggled this season, but they look to salvage part of their season heading into Saturday's Homecoming game against NAIA Union (Ky.).

In last year's game against Union, the Bobcats pulled out an exciting 7-3 win on the road. After three scoreless quarters, the Bobcats surrendered a field goal midway through the fourth quarter. With a little over two minutes left in the game, the Bobcats sent a huge rush and blocked Union's punt and returned it 15 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

In that game, the Bobcat offense outgained Union's 255-175, and the defense forced Union to punt nine times. But they didn't force any turnovers and turned the ball over themselves twice on fumbles, keeping the game close until the end.

With only two home games and this Homecoming game being the last of those two, the Bobcats need to score points this year in order to keep the pressure on Union's defense. So far this season, though, the offense has had its share of problems. Unable to lead a balanced attack, the Bobcats have had to rely on a rushing game which has more than doubled the output of the passing game (957-467). The Bobcats have been outscored 185-64 and a whopping 91-16 in the first half. Scoring so few points has put tremendous pressure on the defense, often forcing them to stay on the field longer and play significant minutes.

But even though they've had their struggles, the Bobcats refuse to fold. In the loss to Southern Virginia, they never rolled over. They cut into the Knights' lead a few times and were right on the verge of evening the score if not for a few untimely turnovers and penalties.

The Bobcats won't be able to attain a winning record this year, but they won't give in or stop trying. They desperately want to win their last home game of the year and will give everything they have for a win on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

MLB playoff fever

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

Note: This article was written and submitted on Friday, October 5th, so some of these teams may be eliminated by the time this is published.

It’s October again and the Major League Baseball Playoffs are back. Most of the teams in this year’s playoffs, seven in fact, were not in last year, including the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Phillies, Rockies, Red Sox, Angels, and Indians.

Each team has its own certain identity or blueprint for how they want to win games. For example, the Rockies, already up two games to none on the Phillies, are one of the best offensive teams in the league, and they hope to get enough strong pitching from their starters and relievers to seal the deal. The Angels, on the other hand, are forced to rely on solid pitching, good base running, and timely hitting because of some recent injuries.

Every playoff team has some unsung heroes as well – some players who do not get most of the credit but still need to perform in order for their team to win. Making statements like “Alex Rodriguez needs to finally get some clutch hits” or “the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard to lead the way offensively” do not really add much to the discussion because they are obvious statements.

All of the playoff teams need their stars to perform. The game goes much deeper than that, and in order for each team to advance in the playoffs, they will need a helping hand from the following players:

Chone Figgins, OF, Angels – Though they lost the first game, the Angels are not done yet. Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson are the team’s main power threats, but they are a little banged up right now. Figgins needs to create some chaos at the top of the lineup and steal some bases. The Angels may just be the best base running team in the American League, and they will need to disrupt the Red Sox’s starting rotation to move on.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox – Similarly to Figgins, Pedroia hits leadoff and has had an outstanding season. However, besides getting on base and setting the table for David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell, Pedroia is a solid defensive second baseman. By leading with both his bat and his glove, this rookie must have a strong October for the Red Sox to go far.

Rafael Betancourt, RP, Indians – Betancourt usually pitches the eighth inning out of the Indians’ bullpen, and he is probably their best reliever. The Indians have a solid one-two combination of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in their starting rotation, but the bullpen performance may just determine the Indians’ fate against the Yankees and their formidable lineup. Unless, of course, the Indians hit like they did in game one and score 12 runs every game.

Joba Chamberlain, RP, Yankees – Chamberlain, a 22 year old rookie, has been lights out ever since his promotion to the Yankees in August. The Indians have a great lineup, and if the Yankees grab the lead, Chamberlain’s job is to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. Rivera may not be the same pitcher he once was, though, and Chamberlain should be prepared to shoulder a significant workload.

Yorvit Torrealba, C, Rockies – Mentioning Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki in this spot would be easy to do since they are arguably the heart and soul of the Rockies, but Torrealba plays a vital role as well behind the plate. He handles a relatively young pitching staff and calls a great game. He can also hit for power occasionally, and he has been known to perform well in the clutch.

Phillies Bullpen – The Phillies are down two games already and are in big trouble. They had both of their home games taken from them, and they will have to win the next three games to take the series. The Phillies should not have trouble scoring runs in Colorado, but they will need solid contributions from their entire bullpen if they are going to run the table. And for goodness sake, do not put Jose Mesa back in the game.

Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks – This choice may seem like a bit of a cop out, but the D-Backs have Doug Davis and probably Livan Hernandez as the second and third starters in their rotation. The D-Backs need to take advantage of every start Webb makes throughout the playoffs and win each game at all costs, as they did in game one against the Cubs.

Rich Hill, SP, Cubs – The Cubs are down two games to none after an awful performance on Thursday night by Ted Lilly, and now the series shifts to Chicago. The Cubs are seemingly backed into a corner and will definitely need a strong performance from Rich Hill to pick the team up. If Hill can get the job done, then Zambrano may return to pitch game four with motivation and the crowd on his side. The Cubs have taken some tough losses in the past, and a great game from Hill may help to reverse this team’s previous misfortunes.

For everyone watching the playoffs on TBS, enjoy the games -- and the endless Frank TV and Dane Cook commercials.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A little professionalism please

(Written for The Bottom Line)

The Oklahoma State football team won last Saturday, but many people would have figured otherwise after Head Coach Mike Gundy’s angry press conference following the game.

Gundy, holding a newspaper and having an intense look in his eyes, immediately started to voice his displeasure with a recent article published in The Oklahoman.

The article, written by columnist Jenni Carlson, discussed Junior quarterback Bobby Reid. In her column, Carlson described an off the field incident between Reid and his mother on Friday, September 14, after a game against Troy. She also noted attitude problems and a lack of toughness in regard to injuries as reasons for Reid possibly losing his starting job to Sophomore Zac Robinson.

Carlson criticized Reid for not handling pressure better than he has so far this season. She also wrote about seeing him laughing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter during that same game against Troy, which the Cowboys happened to lose. She believes he has the talent, but he just hasn’t been able to put everything together.

Most of Gundy’s anger was obviously directed at Carlson for attacking Reid’s character and his actions off the field. Gundy said he was annoyed with “certain people downgrading college athletes who are good people.” Gundy also questioned why the editor allowed the column to be published in the first place.

In a rant that lasted a little over three minutes (check YouTube), Gundy made a few haphazard points of his own. He referred to Reid as a “kid” and said he shouldn’t be penalized for trying to do right. He also tried to defend his position by saying that since Carlson wasn’t a parent, she did not understand how it felt to have a child made fun of for failing at something. When Gundy was finished with his shouting, he left in a huff with hardly any mention of his team’s big comeback win over Texas Tech.

Gundy had another press conference on Monday, mainly to discuss his actions from Saturday. “I don’t say things for people to disagree or agree with me,” he said. “I say them if I think they’re right.” What did he think Carlson did in her column?

To be fair, both Carlson and Gundy made mistakes. Carlson certainly made several loose connections when trying to use some of her observations of Reid off the field to explain why he has struggled on it. She barely commented on Reid’s performance during games, and she instead chose to focus mainly on other circumstances. Perhaps she wrote something that really should never have been published. And Gundy, driven by irritation and emotion, went into his press conference without first trying to regain his composure. He had an agenda to go and defend Reid, which is exactly what a good coach is supposed to do. But Reid is 21 years old; he’s not a kid. He has a full athletic scholarship to play football and is probably highly regarded among the student population at Oklahoma State. But regardless of whether openly criticizing college athletes is acceptable, Reid can handle the responsibilities.

If Gundy had gone into the press conference under control and made his feelings known in a calm and respectable manner, not only would he have been taken more seriously, but he may even have come out on top of the debate.

Instead, he added fuel to the fire and made the controversy take on a life of its own.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Let's not cheat ourselves

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

For more than a week now, sports reporters and journalists all over the country have weighed in with their opinions on the New England Patriots’ cheating scandal of taping New York Jets’ defensive coaches on the sidelines.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL over the ordeal, and the team was fined $250,000 and will either have to forfeit a first round draft choice if they make the playoffs, or a combination of later round picks if they do not.

When the story was first reported, fans did not know the details of what took place, and the whole thing seemed shocking and completely overblown. But people still don’t know what really happened, and they may never know. The Patriots were filming opposing coaches during the game, which is really the only specific information that has been made available. Insults were hurled at the Patriots from all directions, much like any story that breaks on ESPN.

After the Patriots were punished, though, other views started to come out about cheating in sports. Reporters and sports analysts were saying things like: everybody cheats; if teams or athletes are not cheating, then they are not trying to win; cheating is part of the game; the Patriots are not the only team to do this, but they are the first to get caught. These opinions greatly differed from the immediate blame.

Now, trying to debate that cheating in sports does not occur is pointless since it frequently does. Types of cheating recently have included steroids, bribes or gambling issues with referees and officials, and the current dilemma of dishonestly using videotape. But these examples, which are arguably the most serious forms of cheating, can not really be compared to the types of cheating that occur on the field.

One of the biggest cases that was being dissected was the relationship of stealing signs on the base paths in baseball to the Patriots using video equipment to steal defensive signs. But there’s a huge problem with this comparison – the first occurs on the field, and the second occurs off of it. What the Patriots did, whether they are the only team to ever do it, was far different from players who are looking to gain an edge while actually playing in a game.

In baseball, aside from stealing signs, pitchers can doctor their pitches and change the grip of the baseball, and runners can cut bases or take off early on fly balls if umpires are not paying attention. In basketball, defenders have been flopping all over the court for years now, hoping to draw offensive fouls. Defenders, like Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs, for example, also look for every edge they can get to stop players from scoring. If they are not caught, then their tactics can be effective. Even in football, defenses can simulate snap counts, put substances on their hands to make catching the ball easier, or make their uniforms more slippery by putting certain substances on their jerseys. All other sports, too, have their own little intricacies inside the games that are not always noticed or caught.

Sure, players may be cheating most of the time, but at least they’re doing so on the field where officials, referees, and most importantly, players can handle problems for themselves. If athletes are cheating on the field, good chances still exist for their opponents to adjust and even the score. But if cheating occurs off the field, athletes and coaches don’t have a fair chance to compete, which takes away the fundamental idea of sports in the first place.

Look, even the description of what cheating specifically includes in sports is extremely hazy. Some things are looked over while others are completely frowned upon and are forbidden at all costs.

I have a perfect example from my days of high school baseball. While playing centerfield one game, a ball was hit deep to the right-center gap. Only one umpire happened to be at the game, so he could not see everything on the field. The ball kept going, and it barely went over the chain-link fence. However, the right fielder and I both put our hands up to give the impression that the ball had landed in front of the fence and rolled under it, which would mean a ground-rule double. We both knew it wasn’t a double, but the umpire bought it anyway because he lacked another set of eyes in the field. Were we cheaters?

It ended up not mattering because we lost the game. I mean, it’s not like we had videotape of our opponent’s signs or anything.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Underdogs on top

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

When it comes to sports, everything goes. Each sport has its own certain rules and guidelines, but no boundaries exist with what can happen both on and off the field. Many people love sports for that reason alone – they never know exactly what’s going to happen next. That trend has been especially true over the last few years.

Appalachian State’s stunning upset of Michigan two weeks ago is the most recent example of an impressive achievement for an underdog. A Football Championship Subdivision (former known as Division I-AA) team had never beaten a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) team until the Mountaineers stormed into Ann Arbor and refused to lose. Appalachian State, though, is not alone in giving a heavily favored opponent a shocking defeat.

Underdogs have arguably achieved the most in Major League Baseball. With the addition of the wild card spot in 1995, more teams have had a shot to knock off division leaders and ride the momentum into the World Series. Last season the St. Louis Cardinals, only five games above .500, snuck into the playoffs, propelled themselves through the NL playoffs, and went on to beat the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Other wild card World Series champions include the Florida Marlins in both 1997 and 2003, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2002, and the Boston Red Sox in 2004.

Another shocking event occurred in 2006 when #11 seed George Mason went on an unbelievable run to reach the Final Four. Every so often college basketball has a surprising upset in the regular season or in the NCAA Tournament, but rarely has a feat as impressive as George Mason’s run been accomplished. This astonishing stretch, which included wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut, was perhaps even a more spectacular achievement than Appalachian State’s upset win since it took four separate victories.

Last year the Golden State Warriors shocked the entire NBA by taking down the Dallas Mavericks. The Warriors, only an eight seed, manhandled the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round. The Warriors pushed the tempo and made people believe that they were, in fact, the favorites. They ran with the momentum in the series, constantly feeding off of their raucous home crowd, but they still lost in the second round to the Utah Jazz. The upset in the previous round was impressive nonetheless.

Many people enjoy cheering for the underdog, but occasionally underdogs are turning into winners on the biggest stage. Fueled by momentum, the ability to unite, and the development of a chip on their shoulders, underdogs continue to give many sports fans reasons for watching certain games. When a few things go wrong and the favorites make mistakes and leave the door open, underdogs have been snatching opportunities and advantages away.

One of the best examples of the underdog role versus the favorite role can be seen in just one team – the New Orleans Saints in the NFL. Last year an increased fan base and a few new faces (Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, and Head Coach Sean Payton) helped the Saints surprise many teams in the league, and they reached the NFC Championship Game. Even though they lost to the Bears, many peopled believe that the Saints would be even better this year. But during their opening game on Monday Night Football against the Indianapolis Colts, the Saints were viewed almost as equals, and they definitely didn’t play with the same fire and intensity they had shown last year.

Things change fast in the NFL. But even if the Saints look great next week, they’ll never be able to completely capture the same atmosphere they played under last season.

Plenty of other notable upsets in all sports surely exist and are not included here, but the point is this – sometimes underdogs have their opponents right where they want them. There will always be more games to play, but even so, underdogs pulling off stunning victories will never stop.

And really, who would want it to? (Besides Michigan fans…)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

He of little patience

I just got finished playing some pick-up basketball less than an hour ago, and while I didn't see anyone act like a certain kind of individual I'm about to describe, for some reason I started thinking about it after I was done playing.

Back in July, I wrote an article about pick-up basketball in general -- how great it sometimes can be, but also about how many different types of people I, and others, have experienced while playing. I named ten different personalities of those I've played against or witnessed. And when I named "Stephen A" as the most annoying, I thought my judgement was sound.

That's until I remembered "I got next." No, seriously... he's got next.

For those people who have never played basketball, usually when there's a game going on, the next group of five has next -- meaning they're playing when that game is done. Simple, right? Apparently not.

A while ago, I encountered someone who didn't really get the whole concept of actually waiting his turn. You know, something that's learned in elementary school. "I got next" decided that he was going to jump in front of the group of players who were already waiting so that he could get on the court and play. Obviously, the guys who had been waiting a long time to get on weren't happy, and they refused to let him in front of them.

Instead of backing down, "I got next" chose to do something even worse than sitting on the side and complaining -- he waited for the next game to start and started shooting on that same court. He never moved out of the way, and since there was only one court available, he ruined the rest of the games that day. Everyone left because no one wanted anything to do with him. Not only had he acted like a baby on his own, but he single-handedly spoiled the remaining games.

While I'd agree that "Stephen A," the guy who complains all the time during a game and dislikes everyone who disagrees with him at any point, is surely an extremely annoying individual to deal with on the court, I now have to bump "I got next" to the top of the list. Anyone who walks into the gym and immediately declares that he's on next, no matter who else has been waiting for how long, doesn't really understand the whole concept in the first place.

And really, would you want to play on his team anyway?


I really enjoy writing about the kinds of people I play basketball with, good or bad. I may add to the list I've thought about and written about from time to time, so if you (if anyone reads this stuff) have any input or experiences of people you've played with, feel free to comment.

Everyone likes playing with other unselfish and good players, but usually the annoying and strange encounters on the court make for the best stories and descriptions.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Some thoughts on a Thursday...

-- On a day when the Orioles announced that manager Dave Trembley would return for the 2008 season, his pitching staff laid one of the biggest eggs in major league history. If you haven't heard by now, the Orioles lost to the Rangers last night 30-3. All thirty of Texas's runs were unanswered, as unbelievable as that sounds. The Rangers managed to hit six home runs while amassing 29 hits -- with 13 of them coming from their 7th, 8th, and 9th place hitters. The blowout left many people, mainly embarrassed Orioles fans, shaking their heads in disbelief.

Since the game was the first of a doubleheader, Trembley decided before the game even started that he'd try to save his best relievers for the second game to try and salvage at least a split. That plan surely backfired quickly, as each successive Orioles reliever tried to under-pitch the one before him. Daniel Cabrera allowed six earned runs, Brian Burres allowed eight, Rob Bell seven, and Paul Shuey nine!

This game was the first example under Trembley that I could give for the team looking disinterested and obviously, lackadaisical. Even one of the pitcher's friends wasn't convinced that he (Shuey) was giving 100%. "I had one buddy call and ask me if I was trying. I said, 'Yeah, I really was,"' Shuey said. Wow, I'm convinced.

To put it frankly, the Orioles pitching was just terrible last night, and the Rangers hitting was amazing (that's an understatement.) The O's just need to find some way to put that awful game behind them and move on while continuing to play, for the most part, much better baseball in the second half of the season.

-- In one of the happier stories to comment on, Eli Manning and former Giant running back Tiki Barber have been exchanging verbal jabs through the media this week. Barber, who is now a TV personality and NFL analyst, was critical of Manning in some of his comments the other day. He also seems to have a bitter tone when discussing his former team after his retirement.

I've never been a fan of either Barber or Eli Manning, with them being New York Giants and all, but I'd, unfortunately, have to side with Manning on this issue. Barber didn't like how he was treated after he announced in the middle of the Giants season that he was going to retire after the year was done. But, really, how was his team supposed to take it? The Giants were in the middle of a playoff push, and Barber picked a strange time to make his future plans known. If he wanted to retire, that's his decision, and that's fine. But he took a lot of the team's focus away by declaring his intentions to the media.

And as far as being a professional, if he's going to be an NFL analyst, he doesn't need to take little shots at his former team and teammates on-air. He may have some strong feelings, but taking out his frustrations by critiquing Manning during the preseason was a low blow. Good for Manning for defending himself.

-- I just finished watching a great Little League World Series game between Chinese Taipei and Japan. Japan won 4-3 on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. While watching the game, I had two main thoughts. First, I was surprised to see some of the kids wearing batting armor like some of the pros do. The kids are 11, 12, and 13, and a couple of them had elbow and arm pads. I thought that was confusing to see, and I'm not sure why they really need to wear them at all. And second, I'm glad to see the new 85-pitch rule that the league has installed. Most of the kids already throw so many innings before they even get to the world series, and just about all of them throw curveballs too. The pitch limit keeps teams from relying way too heavily on their one or two best pitchers, which means a more well-balanced team is better prepared to win. Throwing so many innings and curveballs can ruin a kid's future baseball career, so I'm glad to see some effort going towards having some of the kids throw less.

That's all for now. I'll try to write something else tomorrow.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Where did athletes go wrong?

When I was younger, I used to think the world of athletes. My two favorite players were Darrell Green and Cal Ripken, Jr., so obviously I happened to pick good role models at a young age. They both worked hard, respected teammates and coaches, and played the best they could at all times. Since I was focusing on them so much, and partly too because I was young, I didn't have much interest in looking at other players around different sports that were acting stupid or who were participating in activities detrimental to themselves and their team and sport. But those days are over, and it's hard to turn the other direction when every other sports story seems to be something negative about an athlete.

Back in those days, I always thought the vast majority of athletes were a special group of people. I thought they could do anything and were invincible; they could do no wrong, only great things. I eventually realized that some athletes are great at what they do, but not all of them are great people. They aren't superhuman.

The main event that opened my eyes was the whole OJ Simpson ordeal. I didn't even know who he was at the time, and I didn't even care, but that story was everywhere in 1995-1996. Athletes had been in the news for breaking the law or for other stupid things before, but that was the primary example of an athlete being in the most amount of trouble possible. It was shocking to see an individual with so much to lose in so much trouble.

I could go over an entire list of other notable events that happened with athletes, such as Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis, and Latrell Sprewell to name a few, but that wouldn't really add much to what I'm trying to say -- and that is, that athletes are real people too, and many of them make mistakes. And while that's not any really profound statement, it's important to sit back and realize that after the games are over, the lights are turned off, and no one is around, athletes are normal people too. I thought that I had realized that, but it took me a while for it to sink in.

Many people probably think the same way that I do, but then I keep hearing some people ask one main question, and it's a good one: "Why would an athlete put himself/herself in a situation that would jeopardize where he/she is right now?" Most people are only looking at the money aspect because, apparently, only people who don't have money do dumb things or are involved in things they shouldn't be. That's a pretty bad assumption.

For many professional athletes, and recently this applies to Michael Vick, from a very young age to the time they are in the pros, they're told they're the best and are given everything they want. Sure, they still have to work very hard and put in the time and effort, but they can get away with doing things that "normal" people couldn't because other people are there to look after them. I don't know Michael Vick, I don't know if he actually was involved with dogfighting or exactly what his relationship was with the whole operation at his Virginia home, but I'd like to think that if he actually was involved, that reason had something to do with it. Maybe he figured that it was okay to be there because he couldn't get in trouble. He has been told that he's superman, that he's above normal people because he has a cannon for an arm and can run faster than most people can only dream about.

I'd like to think that's part of the reason why a lot of athletes put themselves in bad situations like that -- because they want to and don't feel like it's risky, and they've rarely been told "no" by anyone else before.

There's another large piece to the puzzle, though, and that has less to do with athletes themselves. After the OJ Simpson trial, which I brought up before, I remember seeing an increased amount of negative sports news stories. If athletes broke the law or were put in a bad situation, more journalists and reporters focused on that rather than positive stories or good-natured ones where an athlete beats all odds. They'd rather publish a story where, say, a controversial athlete beats his wife instead.

Mentioning and using the OJ Simpson trial as the main instance where things changed may be an oversimplification, but for me, that's where I noticed a change and began to look at athletes differently. I don't really believe that athletes now are any more prone to doing drugs or committing crimes than athletes in the past, but the masses seem to be flooded with so many more stories that it's impossible to read sports news without escaping them. If a reader turns the page, there is another article about players cheating. The next page may have something about gambling, or drunk driving, or drug usage. That may be everyday life for some people, but it makes many athletes look a whole lot worse than they actually are (at least some of them.)

I think the biggest change in this whole problem is money. Professional athletes are making so much money these days, and I believe that most of the public feels that if an athlete is putting himself in a situation to jeopardize all that money, then he's just being stupid and he deserves to lose everything. I've felt almost the same way too, that to live that kind of life that so few people get to do so haphazardly and reckless would almost be to waste a golden opportunity. And yet, I've never lived that life and never will, so I don't know the pressures or demands of what being a professional athlete entails. And then again, most people are like me, and they only see what's on the surface and never what's really inside that world.

I'm starting to confuse even myself with what I'm trying to get at, but the world of sports has become too confusing that it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Michael Vick and Kobe Bryant were supposed to be good guys, and they still may be. All most fans and outsiders see is what's on the TV, and all they read is what's in the paper. That's all they have to judge the character of all athletes on unless they've talked to them or know them personally, which includes only a small group of people.

I guess the best way to think of athletes would be just like every other job or profession that anyone has ever had. There are good guys, and there are definitely some bad guys. There are guys who make great choices and help other people, and there are others who really aren't good individuals at all. Some co-workers treat people with respect, and some, plain and simply, just do not.

It's just that, with millions of dollars and so much risk/reward involved, the stakes for athletes are so much higher. If they mess up, then everyone will know about it. And at the end of the day, if Pacman Jones has another DUI, is it really all that different than one of your neighbors down the street? Probably not, many would think, and they both may be in the local paper the next morning.

But one will be in every other paper in the U.S. (And, no, it's not Randy down the street who has a little too much to drink every now and then.)

Touchdown vultures for '07

Inspired by the ESPN commercial with Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, I decided to come up with a list of players this season who could annoy fantasy football owners everywhere by stealing TDs from their favorite RBs. A TD vulture is a player who doesn't receive that many looks or carries during normal plays during a game, but he usually ends up making big catches or tough runs in short yardage situations to get the ball into the endzone.

Mike Bell and Cecil Sapp, RBs, Denver Broncos -- Travis Henry is slated to be the feature back for the Broncos offense this year, but many fantasy football owners know that Mike Shanahan loves to employ his running back by committee philosophy whenever possible. Henry should and probably will receive the bulk of the carries barring an injury, but inside the red zone, Bell or Sapp may receive some carries to punch the ball in the end zone. Over the past several years, it's been tough to trust any single running back.

Ladell Betts and Mike Sellers, RBs, Washington Redskins -- The Redskins hope that Portis will be back to full strength this year, but just in case he isn't, they're well prepared. Betts showed last season that he can handle a full workload (except for a few costly fumbles) and be the feature back if Portis goes down with another injury. If Portis does manage to stay healthy, he will still be sharing a few carries with Betts, especially on 3rd downs when Betts is usually in the game anyway for his pass catching abilities. Also, as a Redskins fan, I've seen how this team has struggled mightily when trying to score in the red zone. Portis never seems to be able cross the goal line inside the 5, and that's when Sellers may get a few more chances. The Redskins also started throwing the ball more often inside the 20 as defenders usually stacked the lines daring them to pass.

Najeh Davenport, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Willie Parker has been outstanding the last couple years, and there's no reason why he shouldn't repeat another strong performance this season as the team's #1 running back. Davenport, though, may steal some carries on short yardage situations in the red zone where the Steelers need to score. Parker should have a great year in yardage numbers, but he may lose a few TDs to Davenport this season.

Brian Leonard, RB, St. Louis Rams -- This addition may be a little premature, but I believe that Leonard will receive many chances inside the red zone this year and get a few TDs. Steven Jackson should have another outstanding season with both rushing and receiving totals, but with the additions in the receiving corps of Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael and the selection of Leonard in the draft, don't be surprised if Jackson gets a few less opportunities to score points this year.

Anthony Thomas, RB, Buffalo Bills -- Marshawn Lynch is highly thought of by the Bills, and they actually had him rated higher in their draft than Adrian Peterson in the draft. That's saying something. Lynch looks like he'll be a solid player, but the A-Train is the best bet to steal carries from Lynch inside the red zone.

Correll Buckhalter, Tony Hunt, RBs, Philadelphia Eagles -- Brian Westbrook may be the NFL's most versatile running back next to LaDainian Tomlinson, but he usually struggles when it comes to picking up tough yards in crunch time. He's an excellent running back, but he occasionally loses touches and opportunities to score a couple touchdowns every year. Buckhalter is currently positioned as the #2 running back option, but the rookie Hunt may soon overtake him.

It's important to recognize not only who a solid running back's backup is, but also who may get a few TDs from him later. Certainly, someone would never bench Steven Jackson, LT, or Larry Johnson or certain elite RBs. But if Lynch or Portis were going up against tough rush defenses, they may not only lose total rushing yards, but also TDs since they probably won't get too many short yardage carries if there's a better option on the team.

There's really nothing you can do if a running back loses the occasional touchdown to another player, but it can be valuable down the road to know what may happen against a certain match up.

At the very least, you'll know the names of some players who may annoy you this season now that Alstott is gone.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bonds was great... but...

I fought with the decision to write something about Barry Bonds for a couple months now. I was very reluctant simply because his name was mentioned everywhere by the minute, and there wasn't really that much I'd be able to add. But now that he's broken Hank Aaron's home run record and the attention drawn to him has died down a bit, it's time to put some things into perspective.

While looking over some of Bonds's career statistics, I viewed one main thing that I had never really noticed before or heard anywhere. I figured that Bonds has stayed consistent during his career with power, and for the most part, he has. But, oddly, Barry Bonds only had one season where he hit over 50 home runs -- in 2001 where he hit 73, (SEVENTY THREE) homers! His next closest home run total was 49. It also seems rather strange that his highest home run total came at age 36 while playing in a large ballpark as well.

None of these observations, though, really prove anything. And the most important or even relevant question, for me at least, is does anything about performance enhancing drugs or steroids even have to be proved at all? People aren't stupid. I'm not going to bother to say go look at Bonds with the Pirates versus Bonds with the Giants. People have paid attention, and they aren't buying it.

Even though Bonds now owns, arguably, the most prestigious record in baseball, he's already lost much of the value it should have. Bonds has had his abilities questioned by reporters, analysts, previous legends of the game itself, and most importantly, fans. He has maintained that he has never used steroids or gained any advantage in that manner, but he's in trouble because every time his name is mentioned from now on, in any conversation about baseball, he will forever be linked to such words as steroids, asterisk, BALCO, and cheater.

Bonds continues to say that he doesn't care what other people think because he knows he didn't cheat. He wants everyone to believe that he's all natural and that's fine. At the end of the day, whether it's fair or not, whether Bonds really did use steroids or not now doesn't matter. He's already lost the battle -- many fans don't respect him, and even Aaron himself despises what Bonds has done for the game of baseball. Aaron can't even bring himself to talk to Bonds.

No one wants to have his or her abilities and accomplishments questioned. If someone creates a brilliant work of art, people don't want to find out later that the artist had the help of others who were never mentioned. If another person comes up with a tremendous idea or theory, people don't want to find out later that he or she stole the idea from someone else and just never gave anyone else credit.

Here's the point: Bonds undoubtedly put a significant amount of hard work to get to where he is today. He's an extremely talented hitter who used to be one of the games best all-around players. But it's also possible that he had a cheating hand that assisted him in certain steps along the way at some point in his career. The issue should not be whether or not Bonds did cheat because it won't matter down the road. He was a great hitter, but what's the real story?

He'll forever have a black cloud hanging over him. If he didn't cheat, he still allowed himself to be put in that situation with the people he surrounded himself with. And if he did cheat, really, no one would be surprised anyway.

It's not like this would be the first instance of an athlete disappointing fans and being dishonest.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Perez's suspension leaves many questions

Neifi Perez of the Detroit Tigers was given an 80 game suspension on Friday after his third positive test for a banned stimulant. The suspension officially ends Perez's 2007 season and leaves his future employment with another organization in doubt.

Throughout his career, Perez has been known much more for his glove than his bat. Always a slick fielding middle infielder, Perez has managed to hit .267 for his career with 64 home runs. His best offensive seasons came during his time with the Colorado Rockies from 1998-2001, where his best single-season home run total was 12 in 1999. Since 2001, he's bounced around the MLB, playing for the Royals, Giants, Cubs, and now the Tigers, having very little offensive success -- though he did manage to hit .274 for the Cubs in 2005. But obviously, with a career on-base percentage under .300, Perez was never an outstanding hitter by any stretch of the imagination.

My main question is -- why would Perez start using steroids or any performance enhancing drugs at this point in his career? He's played 12 major league seasons, and he's put together a decent career. He was playing on a winning team as a backup, certainly with his best seasons behind him. Perez almost had the chance to win a World Series ring last year with Detroit, and he may have had that chance this year. Why would he knowingly jeopardize that?

According to this article on, Perez was diagnosed with ADHD last season, and he took medicine so he could focus during games. He claims that after his pills ran out after the season, he was given a new prescription and eventually started taking another medication. Perez remains furious over the way he was treated and the lack of information he received over his positive test results.

"They called three different positives on a 20-day-period," Perez said. "I was using a medicine that was supposedly authorized by the doctors due to [my] personal condition."

Perez had more to say: "Many people might be trying to understand how is it possible that a player tests positive for the same substance three times in half a season. The truth is that they tested me four times between May 10th and June 1st and they never told me if there was anything wrong. I have been using that same medicine all this time."

I'm one of those people who can't seem to comprehend why or how this happened. Perez isn't the type of baseball player who needs to take any type of performance enhancers at this point in his career. It doesn't make sense that he would take something now during the twilight of his career when he serves mainly as a pinch runner or late-game defensive replacement.

I'm not usually very interested in wondering why people do things, but sometimes, and especially in this case, things just don't seem to add up. Even though everyone can't go back in time and find out if certain players really did use steroids or not, it seems rather odd that currently Barry Bonds is leading an assault on Hank Aaron's home run record while a back-up middle infielder, who has remained essentially the same size his whole career, might find playing another game in a major league uniform impossible next year.

Perez firmly believes he was treated unfairly -- "They tested me during spring training and everything was negative. But then in May I guess I tested positive, but they never told me there was something wrong. Even twice, they only tested me, when the regular procedure is to test at least four or five players."

If what Perez claims is true, then there needs to be a whole lot more communication between baseball officials and players during these drug tests. Keeping players clean and steroids out of baseball is extremely important, but not at the cost of ruining someone's career over medication for ADHD. Perez has problems focusing on games; he's not looking to gain any edge in an unfair manner.

Sure, Perez still failed his tests, but if he was never told about what was found in his system or what was causing the problem, how was he supposed to fix it? If I was Perez, I wouldn't have figured that my ADHD medication was causing the failed drug tests. Where is the communication? And it also seems rather odd that Perez was tested by himself on some occasions instead of with other players, as he claims.

This whole ordeal makes very little sense. Hopefully this situation causes some sort of positive change in the way drug testing is done in the MLB. I guess it's possible that Perez may have indeed used steroids, but I'm not sold on it at all. "I can't care less about the money," he said. "I'm worried about my family's honor."

That's good enough to leave some doubt in my mind. What about you?