Friday, December 23, 2005


In the spirit of Christmas--and in the honor of the late Hal Lebovitz, Cleveland-area sports writer--I have corresponded with some of his old sources at the North Pole to find out just what St. Nick has in store for people, teams and events in the world of sports. Here's a few that may interest you:

The 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy - An event filled with compelling stories, international sportsmanship and most importantly, safety;

The Cincinnati Bengals - A trip to the Super Bowl; Though it's no secret my allegiance lies with Cleveland teams, I agree with Santa that if any Ohio professional team has a chance for a championship, it's "Who Dey."

The Pittsburgh Steelers - A playoff snub; I may have picked the Steelers to go to the Super Bowl in September, but the continued arrogance of their fans has them on Kris Kringle's naughty list.

LeBron James - Two things: A reasonable contract offer from the Cavaliers and a desire to stay at home--in other words, the desire to sign that contract;

Andy Roddick
- Another major championship; He's an incredibly talented player in the era of, perhaps, the greatest ever (Federer). But with his lone major, he's in the immortal company of Michael Chang, and he deserves better.

Maria Sharapova - Another major championship...and a new-found lust for sports writers.

The Cleveland Indians - More fan support; I realize Cleveland will always love the Browns, and with LeBron, how can you not love the Cavaliers, but Santa and I see the Indians as more than the step-child of Cleveland sports in 2006. They will have another winning season (they don't need help with that) but they do need more people to come out to the ballpark on a nightly basis. They also need a more positive attitude from the community.

Bob Wickman - The same fate he had this year;

The New York Yankees - The same fate they had this year;

Brett Favre - A peaceful retirement; In his final game of the season and career, Brett leads the team to a win and throws for 300 yards. As he leaves the field, the fans praise him with a standing ovation.

Barry Bonds - A peaceful retirement without any new records or controversy;

Bob Taft - A not-so-peaceful retirement, but a retirement nonetheless;

Sammy Sosa
- That he hear fewer boos;

Frank Solich - That he drink less booze;

A.J. Hawk - To get better acquainted with Notre Dame quarterback and Dublin Coffman product Brady Quinn;

Brady Quinn - A big bottle of Tylenol for after that meeting;

Maurice Clarett - That his old lawyers offer him a cut rate to negotiate his Arena League contract;

Reggie Bush - That he have no problem reading and understanding his first NFL playbook;

President George W. Bush - That he have no problem reading and understanding any book.

Merry Christmas, readers, and thank you.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Johnny Damon has been the face of 'Red Sox Nation' for the past two seasons. Say what you want about Ramirez, Schilling and Varitek, Damon had been the heart and soul of the Boston juggernaut since 2003. His home runs and clutch hits in the 2004 postseason are now staples of baseball lore. Beloved in Boston, Damon had been loated in the Big Apple.

In classic Yankee fashion, they now welcome him with open arms and $52 million.

Damon will be introduced as a New York Yankee today after he agreed to a 4-year deal yesterday. He fills a gaping void in centerfield for the Yankees and, likely, vaults himself into the leadoff position. In short, he does the unthinkable: improves a lineup that already has Jeter, Sheffield, Rodgriguez, Giambi, Matsui etc. What it really means is when the Yankees make their first trip to Fenway Park, a Bronx cheer (ironic title, don't you think?) will reverberate all the way down the eastern seaboard.

Why did this happen? No one really thought Damon would leave Boston, right? Well, from a business standpoint, Damon negotiated first with the Red Sox. He wanted to stay but also wanted at least four years. Boston wasn't willing to commit to that. The Red Sox and Damon were like an engaged couple who had been dating for five years when one of the parties wanted to push back the wedding date even more. Damon had enough. Like the baseball homewreckers that they are, New York swooped in, and now the adultery is on.

My post about this is inspired by two things:

A.) A rumor is circling around ESPN and RotoWorld that the Indians might be looking to deal Coco Crisp to the Sox (filling their centerfield void) along with other prospects for Manny Ramirez, a deal I would vehemently oppose. Manny is extremely overpaid, and for as much as Crisp produces, he is an extreme bargain.

B.) Perhaps most importantly, this scenario of beloved players coming back to face their former teams has become one of the sources of great drama in baseball. In fact, it's so prevalent that whenever a star returns to the old city, it becomes the headline in sports news for the day. When Jim Thome, with the White Sox, makes his first appearance in Cleveland May 1, you can bet the outcome of the game will be secondary to the greeting Cleveland fans give him. In an era where players are about as loyal to team as Enron executives were to shareholders, this betrayal notion has turned Major League Baseball into a perpetual Act II of Julius Caesar. As a fan, I hate it. As an unbiased writer, I must say I am intrigued by it. In a morbid, twisted way, it adds something to the game, and it gives me something to write about.

In other news, the Cavaliers disposed of the Utah Jazz without much problem last night, 110-85. Carlos Boozer missed his second opportunity to become re-united with the Cavalier faithful (another Caesar-esque storyline) but that didn't keep the fans from coming out to watch the carnage. Most people were extremely down on the Cavs a little over a week ago when they sat at 11-9 and had lost five out of six games. I tried to stay level-headed, though, and the Cavs has turned things around with a three-game winning streak. They will also be spending most of the holidays in the friendly confines of the Gund...errr..."Q," so I expect the winning will be a trend. Zydrunas Ilgauskas chipped in with 18 points last night, and I have always said Z, not LeBron, is the key to the Cavalier offense. When they are getting Z involved, James and the outside shooters don't have to do too much; they can let the game come to them. I think an increased Z presence will hurt LeBron's numbers but it will significantly improve the Cavaliers' number of wins.

At 14-9, the Cavs are fourth in their division. Don't worry, though. The Eastern Conference's Central Division is, by far, the toughest division in basketball. The Pistons, of course, are dominating everyone, and if the playoffs started today, every team in the division would be in it.

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Monday, December 19, 2005


I'll be honest: I really, really wanted to see Nomar Garciaparra playing for the Indians in 2006.

I thought a one-year deal in a place where Juan Gonzalez and Kevin Millwood resurrected their careers might appeal to Nomar. I thought he would fit in nicely at first base, and, eventually at shortstop if the Tribe moved Peralta to third in 2007 (Boone's contract would have been up by then.) That was my two-year plan for the Tribe, but now it's all moot.

Shapiro and Dolan (GM and owner of the Indians) made a reasonable offer to Nomar. They offered one year somewhere in the vicinity of $6 million. For someone who has spent more than half of the past two seasons on the disabled list, that's a competative offer. Nomar, however, has ties to L.A. Even though Wedge and recently signed Lou Merloni were lures for Cleveland, the Dodgers have Derek Lowe, Grady Little and most importantly, Mia Hamm (who has a house somewhere in the L.A. megalopolis) pulled Nomar to Hollywood.

I could be bitter about this, but instead, I choose to go back to my initial offseason philosophy for Cleveland: don't splurge on risky free agents. Save up that money to pay off the "core" (i.e. Sizemore, Crisp, Lee, Peralta) in a year or two when they have established themselves as stars.

Shapiro went out and signed Paul Byrd in late November as a contingency plan for signing Kevin Millwood. Millwood has now all but left Cleveland, and I expected as much. He wanted too much guaranteed money for his injury-prone arm. Elarton bolted for Kansas City, but this is no unpatchable hole. I liked "Big Scott," but I like Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers more. Both of these guys have star potential.

Shapiro has also brought back Bob Wickman after the failed courtships of B.J. Ryan and Trevor Hoffman. Most are lukewarm about this, but I'm OK with it. As long as Wedge and pitching coach Carl Wills think Wickman can still close games, I think it, too. He proved last year he's a mental warrior. You can't argue with 45 saves. Additionally, Steve Karsay and Danny Graves will report to camp with minor-league contracts. I don't expect both to become major contributors, but even if one of them makes the club and works into the bullpen rotation, it will turn out as a brilliant pickup.

Your typical, cynical Indians fans are already hammering Shapiro (who won almost every executive-of-the-year award you can win this offseason) for not keeping up with the champion White Sox in the Hot Stove race. I know all about the Thome signing, the Konerko re-signing and the Javier Vasquez deal. I also know that championships are not won in December. Sure, the Indians may not be making themselves look significantly better on paper, but the team's improvements will have to be made by Wedge, the coaching staff and the players' off-season training. Another 93-win season would probably put the Indians in the playoffs in 2006. To be honest, I would be perfectly content with that. We know from watching the playoffs that anyone can win it; it's only a matter of getting there. The Indians may not be as active as other teams in the free agent market, but right now they are good enough to win the wildcard or, who knows, even the division--if the Sox have a post-championship slump.

Look for potential trades involving Ben Broussard, Josh Bard, Jason Davis and maybe even Casey Blake. Though I wouldn't mind if the Indians walked away from the Hot Stove poker table, I have a notion that Shapiro isn't through dealing.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005


Watching ESPN2 Saturday afternoon, I couldn't help but think that it could have been Capital out there playing for a national championship on national TV.

The Purple Raiders grabbed a 28-7 lead in the third quarter and held on to win 35-28 over the University of Wisconsin--Whitewater. In the quarterfinals only two weeks ago, MUC narrowly defeated the Crusaders in Alliance 34-31 in one of the best football games--not d3 games, not college games--any football games I had ever seen.

We know that this is Mount Union's eigth national title but first since 2002. We know all about wide receiver Pierre Garcon (everybody's favorite Proposition 48 player in Division III.) But let's focus on Capital and the OAC for a second.

When the Crusaders met Mount Union, few gave Capital a fighting chance to win; therefore, for most, predictions were way off. In a losing effort, senior wide receiver Lewis Howes put on a show (245 yards, three touchdowns) against the nation's No. 2 defense. In short, the so-called dominant 'D' from Mount couldn't stop him. Rocky Pentello exorcised his Purple Raider demons, at least in the sense that he played well against them. The win, obviously, is still elusive. Seniors like Joel Sickmeier, who put a devastating hit AJ Hawk-style on the Mount Union freshman phenom tailback, proved they could battle with Mount Union in the trenches. The Crusaders walked off the field with a tremendous amount of respect from the opposition and from all around Division III. It might have been the most prideful loss a team could have. The "Mount-Union-is-down-this-year" argument doesn't hold water after what happened this weekend. It's possible that Capital was the second best team in the country, but regardless, they made a historic run unforgettable to the Bexley campus. It will be interesting to see if this year was a zenith for Jim Collins and the program or merely a stepping stone. Either way, it was a lot of fun.

Staying with football, let me move from guys who pay money to play the game to guys who get paid millions to do it. I'll start with the Bengals to please the "Who-Dey" fanatics. With their 41-17 win over lowly Detroit, Cincinnati claimed the AFC North championship. They will be in the postseason, which I told you they would. I, however, told you they would win 10 games. They are at 11 and still rolling. Let me tell you, though: the ones that will matter most are in January. Cincinnati has proved they have one of the top two or three offenses in the NFL; it's good enough to win you a championship. They key will be defense, especially against the other great offenses. Great defenses come up with big plays to win games. No one shuts out the Colts, but you can force turnovers and come up with goal-line stands. If the Bengals can come up with these plays in the playoffs, they have as good of a shot to win the Super Bowl as anyone.

If you'll remember, in September I singled out the Steelers and the Vikings as my Super Bowl picks. In Minnesota, Daunte Culpepper went down for the season, the notorious "party boat" incident occurred (which is still being investigated, by the way,) and at 2-5, I felt like an idiot. Then came Brad Johnson, who in messianic fashion led the Vikings to six straight wins and playoff contention. Today the Steelers and Vikings met in Minnesota, both 8-5, in a pivotal game for both teams. Pittsburgh won 18-3, and a serious hole was punctured into the Viking vessel headed for the playoffs. I won't rule them out of it completely. With the NFC as weak as it is, they could still slip in. Pittsburgh got a loss from Kansas City yesterday, also, which means if the playoffs started today, the Steelers would begin on the road at either Denver or Cincinnati. Honestly, I would love to see a Cincinnati/Pittsburgh third meeting, so that as an unbiased observer, I can watch the trash-talking unfold. I'll stand by those Super Bowl picks, but we all know it's not going to happen.

Finally, Charlie Frye (from Wi....Wil....Willard, Ohio) notched his first win as a starting quarterback today as the Browns got themselves a 9-7 win in Oakland. You can tell by the score Frye didn't win this one, but he didn't lose it either. For a rookie who wasn't expected to play much, he is stepping in nicely. I think we can safely say the Browns won't be drafting a quarterback. At 5-9, the Browns are proving there are several teams (Oakland included) who are actually worse than they are and deserve a higher draft pick. Even though every win means a lower draft pick, every win also is a good sign for next year. In my opinion, next year has already started.

Another big star snubs the Tribe? My thoughts coming soon (tomorrow if you're lucky.)

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Sunday, December 04, 2005


The Tribe inked a solid starter, OSU sowed up a BCS berth, the Bengals took a leap toward a division title and the Crusaders left it all on the field. Thoughts on the whirlwind weekend coming later, I promise.