Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dwight Hardy Leads St. John's to Road Win Over Villanova

Carmelo Anthony may have gotten New York City fans all gooey-eyed last week, but it is the St. John's men's basketball team, led by Dwight Hardy, which is the real feel-good story in Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm have an ongoing streak of five straight wins against ranked opponents at their home-away-from-home and took the show down the Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia and did it again.

Today, St. John's (19-9, 11-5) took an early 14 point lead against #14 Villanova and held on to beat the Wildcats on their home court, 81-68.

Hardy, the senior guard, scored a career high 34 points and D.J. Kennedy had 12 points to go with his 14 rebounds.

The Johnnies have proved they are a force to be reckoned with at the Garden but now they have beaten a ranked team on the road.  It's a sure thing other teams in the Big East have noticed the Red Storm's surging play and, with the upcoming conference tournament being played at the Garden, those teams have to be nervous.

Who would have thought first-year head coach Steve Lavin could have molded the St. John's squad into the beast it is today.  The senior-filled squad plays tough defense, grabs loose balls and hangs in at crunch-time.  It is the toughest team in the brutal Big East.

Struggling Villanova (21-8, 9-7) got close, 65-64 after a Justin Burrell faux-foul, but couldn't handle the Red Storm's frantic full-court press as St. John's scored 16 of the last 24 points to win.

Now that St. John's has overcome two common pitfalls of streaking teams---losing on the road and let-downs against weaker opponents (they routed bottom-dweller DePaul on Wed.)---they should have their sights set for the Big East Tournament in two weeks.

Lavin, who has Big East Coach of the Year written all over him, has pinned the label of go-to guy on Hardy over the past few weeks.  Ever since Lavin removed his tie and started sporting white sneakers the team is 8-1 but it is Hardy that has Lavin and college basketball talking.

Lavin has publicly started lobbying for his senior guard  as a candidate for Big East Player of the Year and he won't find many detractors.

The head coach has compared Hardy to "Astaire and Baryshnikov" for his play on the court and thinks he is the front-runner for the award.

"I think he's the runaway favorite," said Lavin.  "I know I'm biased.  I'm subjective.  But no player has done more for a basketball team.  He's had some remarkable games against the best teams in the country---Connecticut, Duke, at UCLA and Pitt.  He's electrified and elevated our program.  He's jumper-cabled our program."

Now, you can throw 'Nova into the pile of ranked victims his program has run down.

If Lavin continues to wear his white tennies and St. John's stays in fourth place and gets a first-round bye in The Big East tournament, 'Melo just might become a side-act in Madison Square Garden this spring.

And if the team goes deep in the NCAA tournament, Lavin might be looking at National Coach of the Year.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ex-Yankees Trying to Block Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Wife-Swap Film

Former Yankee pitcher Mike Kekich is attempting to halt production on Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's film "The Trade."  The movie, based on the 1972 drama when Kekich and another Yankee pitcher Fritz Peterson swapped wives, has yet to start shooting.

The scandal, which was outed in 1973, began when the two Yankee pitchers joked about switching wives--then actually did it.

According to a source from the New York Post, Kekich is desperately trying to block the film from seeing daylight and said," Kekich isn't too keen on having the scandal dredged up again after all this time.  He is panic-stricken.  He has moved away and has a new identity.  He is freaked out that those working on the movie found out where he is."

Boston-raised Red Sox fanatic Affleck and his brother Casey are rewriting the script.  The brothers are reaching out to veteran reporters and ballplayers from that era for more background on the story.  They aren't having an easy time.

The source said," Other Yankees from that time have also been really unhelpful with facts and details of what happened.  They are stonewalling."

The proposed film centers around Kekich and Peterson, both starting pitchers and friends on the fourth-place '72 Yankees, joking about swapping wives during the tail-end of the swinging, free-love era.  Marilyn Peterson eventually moved in with Kekich--which didn't last--and Susanne Kekich moved in with Fritz.  Susanne and Fritz are still married.  Kekich reportedly remarried, had another daughter and started a new life in New Mexico.  The current Petersons live in New Jersey and Colorado.

Affleck hasn't named anyone who would star as Kekich and Peterson but hinted that Damon would direct.  Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz and Rebecca Hall are all being considered for the female leads.

According to the Post, the script has not been shown to Major League Baseball or the New York Yankees and a start date hasn't been announced.

Affleck hasn't been quiet about making a film about the Yankees lean years and an episode which takes the Yankees superior image down a notch.  He told MTV, "I've come to have a little respect for the Yankees.  There are some of those guys...that look like good guys...But as an institution?  Disdain. Contempt."

Regarding the film's storyline, Affleck said, "Guys [bleep]ing each other's wives...that's those Yankees."

Can't wait to see who plays Horace Clarke.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Knicks Introduce 'Melo; Dolan: Isiah Participation "Fiction in some one's mind"

At 5:22 p.m. tonight, Carmelo Anthony was introduced to fans as a New York Knick for the first time.  The former-Denver Nugget stood alongside another former-Nugget, and new Knicks point guard, Chauncey Billups at a press conference at Madison Square Garden.

Anthony and Billups wore Knick warm up sweats and were introduced by Knicks owner James Dolan, who reiterated his statement that he, Knicks' head coach Mike D'Antoni and Knicks' president Donnie Walsh all worked in unison to land the 26 year-old superstar.

Dolan repeated what he said earlier that Isiah Thomas--who is in his second season as coach of Florida International University's men's basketball team-- had nothing to do with the Knicks getting Carmelo Anthony.  "It is untrue and fiction in some one's mind," stressed Dolan.

Last week Dolan, miffed by reports of Thomas' involvement in the dealing, said,"I'm assuming Isiah is getting ready for the NCAA Tournament.  That's what I'm assuming."

The low-key press conference was slowed by a group photo-op with Anthony, Billups, Dolan, D'Antoni and Walsh before it was crashed by Knicks' star player Amar'e Stoudemire.

The Knicks own version of the Big 3 stood together in public as New York Knicks for the first time as Stoudemire smiled for photos alongside Anthony and Billups.

It's Legends Night at the Garden tonight, but most eyes will be on the new #7 as Anthony makes his debut.  Tickets are going for up to five times face value.

Anthony said he was happy to be back home. "New York needed a moment like this," he said.  "New York basketball is back."

The former Red Hook schoolboy continued by saying, "At the end of the day I'm going in the right direction."  It's a dream come true and I'm ready to rock."

"This was about sitting down with my family and deciding New York was the place to bring my talent," he said.

Dolan said Walsh did a good job of making the trade with the Nuggets and made it sound like his job as president was secure.  "We wanted to wait until the trade deadline before talking about his [Walsh] contract which ends in JUNE!"  Emphasis on June was Dolan's.

Tonight, the new Knicks' Big 3 heads onto the Garden floor for the first time as teammates in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

There have been too few big moments at Madison Square Garden in recent years.  First, it was Stoudemire, now comes 'Melo.

For once, it's one big happy family at the corner of 33rd and Seventh Avenue.

230M Reasons the NFL is Considering Putting Ads on Jerseys

Only a few years ago, it seemed blasphemous that the NFL would pull a NASCAR and plaster tiny little ads all over their sacred team jerseys.  Now, according to a recent study by analysts at Horizon Media, there is financial windfall of over $230 million available if NFL teams let sponsors purchase space on that valuable acreage.

That kind of money must be very enticing to the NFL, especially since the NFL Player's Association will probably be demanding a larger cut of league revenues when they meet over a new labor pact this spring.

"Within a three-to-five year period, I would be very surprised if one of the leagues wasn't sampling [logos on jerseys] on a large-scale effort," said Michael A. Neuman, according to the New York Post.

Neuman, a managing partner at Horizon Media, said, "The prospect of allowing NFL jerseys to be used for advertising has been kicking around for a number of years.  Ads on uniforms have been standard in the European soccer leagues for years."

Sewing little corporate patches on cute futbol jerseys is one thing but cluttering up a traditional NFL uniform is another.  The outcry from NFL fans would be heard from the swamps of the Meadowlands to coffee kiosks of Qwest Field.

According to the New York Post, an NFL spokesperson said, "We are often approached by companies that want to put their logo on NFL jerseys--the most valuable real estate in sports, but we have no plans to do so."

"Valuable" is a word the NFL likes.  If there is money to be made and the league has a chance to reap the benefits, how long off could it be before we see Viagra plastered on player's helmets?  It's already started.

Over the last three years, many NFL franchises have subtlety put corporate logos on practice uniforms during the pre-season.

The New York Giants sported Timex ads last summer and Gillette, Sanyo and even the University of Phoenix popped up on other team uniforms.

One problem in having players look like mini stock cars on the playing field is the fact that network broadcasters will need to find a way to appease sponsors paying for expensive 30-second blocks of commercial air time while a competitor with his logo on the uniform gets free air time--and more of it.  They will only be able to sit and watch the shot clock run down while Tom Brady lines up with a rival logo emblazoned across his chest--60 times a game.

Paid advertisers will have to take into account the fans who grab a beer while the paid commercials run, that you can't TiVo game action and you can block paid advertising.  Uniform ads could become very ubiquitous.

Logo-dotted uniforms seem inevitable, so lie back and think of the positives and the possibilities.

A UPS patch on a Cleveland Browns jersey with their slogan "What can Brown do for you?" on Peyton Hillis' sleeve.  Nothing, most fans would think.  Probably not a good example.

But you could throw a Dr. Scholl's ad on Rex Ryan's sweater vest or a Go Daddy patch above Antonio Cromartie's number.

What would Peyton Manning's jersey look like?  Is there a product that wouldn't be on his uniform?  He'll change from #18 to # 1 to fit more ads.

Some product placement would be natural fits.  The Detroit Lions with a Ford Motors patch, the Miami Dolphins with a SeaWorld emblem or the New England Patriots promoting, what else,  Gillette razors.  Some placement may be a little stickier. 

Think Alpo would put their logo on Michael Vick's jersey?  Maybe PETA would jump at the chance?

It's probably only a short time before fans see corporate advertising on NFL uniforms.  Probably about the same time most games can only be seen on the NFL Network.

The NFL talks about integrity of the game but already sells naming rights to stadiums, fifty-yard lines and every score update on network television.  It uses the excuse of nostalgia for using throw-back uniforms in regular-season games but everyone knows it's only to sell more NFL gear.

The uproar from fans looking at 300-pound sandwich-boards would, at first, be significant.  But, like every other change--PSL's, paying for Thursday night games and Rex Ryan's weight loss--fans will accept it and move on.  They got over that annoying protecting the quarterback rule, didn't they?

 Imagine one day, a Carolina Owens-Corning Pink Panthers vs. the New York JetBlues in the Beef O'Brady Super Bowl. 

$230 million is going to look pretty inviting to the NFL after these labor talks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

St. John's Surges Past No. 4 Pitt, 60-59

Six nationally ranked teams have entered Madison Square Garden to face the St. John's men's basketball team and five have left the building on the losing end.  The Pittsburgh Panthers were the the latest squad to fall to streaking Red Storm, 60-59.  You would be hard-pressed to call it an upset.

Dwight Hardy, the red-hot St. John's guard, drove from mid-court to the baseline, head-faked Gilbert Brown and rolled in a basket from underneath the net with 1.2 seconds left to get the win. Hardy finished the game with 19 points.

The victory was sweet revenge for the senior-laden St. John's team who have never beaten Pitt in four years.  Last year the Johnnies were swept by the Panthers, lost by 23 in 2009 and were pounded by 24 in 2008.

The Red Storm (17-9, 9-5) are getting back at a lot of teams this season, especially at the Garden. The ranked teams who have fallen to St. John's reads like a potential Final Four.  Georgetown went down in January.  So did Notre Dame and Duke.   Connecticut bit the dust last week.  Don't forget road victories against ranked teams like West Virginia and Cincinnati.

Ironically, Pitt--the No. 1 rebounding team in the conference--lost a rebound after Hardy missed a free throw with 11.3 seconds remaining and a 59-58 lead.  The ball went to Hardy for the third straight time and he delivered the winner.

Hardy, who has emerged as a leading candidate for Big East Player of the Year, is averaging 27.8 points a game and shooting 56% on threes the last four games.

The Red Storm's head coach Steve Lavin can't say enough good things about his guard from the Bronx.

"He's been carrying us," Lavin said.  He's Big East Player of the Year.  A runaway."

In the head coach's own Lavinese, he continued, "It's a team effort but he [Hardy] is Baryshnikov...Fred Astaire.  He was Frank Sinatra today."

There is little doubt that St. John's deserves to be selected to the NCAA tournament next month.  The team's has the toughest schedule in the country and after flirting with a top-25 ranking all season the team should crack the top 20.

Pitt (24-3, 12-2) might have just played themselves out of a #1 seed come tournament time.

St. John's rounds out their regular season against DePaul, Seton Hall and South Florida.  The team travels to Philadelphia against top-ranked Villanova on Feb 26.  Wildcats beware!

The Big East Tournament comes to St. John's home-away-from-home court in Madison Square Garden in March.  The brutish conference is expecting to put up to 11 teams in the NCAA tournament.  If St. John's wins the trophy, nobody will call it an upset.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yankees Looking At Adding Millwood To Pitching Cage-Fight

The New York Yankees continue to try and fill up the vacuum at the back end of their rotation by saying the team has a "strong" interest in signing free-agent Kevin Millwood.  GM Brian Cashman seems to be compensating for the loss of Cliff Lee by accumulating rehabbing or fading bodies and tossing them into a brawl for the No. 4 and 5 spots.  Who said the MMA and cage-fighting were illegal in New York?

Millwood  is a workhorse who has averaged almost 190 innings per season over the past six years.  That average would have been second among Yankee starters last year. 

Millwood's name has already been bandied about the Yankees front office, along with just about every other available hurler out there. Is Cashman serious this time?

The big right-hander's asking price may be too high.  Millwood is coming off the last year of a five-year $60 million contract but it is substantially more than the Yankees laid out for Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon this winter.

The Yankees have already signed veteran right-handers Garcia (one-year at $1.5 million plus performance bonuses) and Colon (one-year at $900,000) to minor league deals.  Millwood would probably be asking for a major-league contract.

As a journeyman pitcher, Millwood had his best years when he came up with the Atlanta Braves.  He pitched for the bottom-dwelling Baltimore Orioles last year and finished with a record of 4-16 with a bloated ERA of 5.10.

While Cashman continues to stockpile arms for the No. 4 and 5 starters, manager Joe Girardi may have narrowed the competition to only the last spot.

Girardi has been praising Ivan Nova's all week and it sounds like the 24 year-old rightie is leading the pack after starting only seven games last season.  Nova was 1-2 with an ERA of 4.50.

"I would think it gives him a better understanding of what he has to do to stay here," said Girardi.  "He faced pretty tough teams in our division last year.  He pitched in the toughest month of the year when, we're trying to win our division.  He knows what it takes, but you still have to go out."

Could Girardi's subtle endorsement of Nova leave only the No. 5 position as the real battleground and Millwood's signing would make things tougher?

It is too early to say who's leading who,  since the Yankee pitchers are still only working out of the bullpens, but the odds are good that the 35 year-old Garcia could fit the bill.  Last year's record of 12-6, an ERA of 4.64 and and 157 innings in 28 starts for the White Sox would get Girardi's heart fluttering if he could repeat those numbers for the Yanks.

"He [Garcia] finds a way to get it done," said the optimistic manager.

The jury is still out on the inconsistent Sergio Mitre and Bartolo--who was inactive last year--and a group of kids who are on the outside looking in.  Girardi already said he doesn't want to push the young players until they "are ready to perform."

Cashman can't discount the possibility of No. 3 starter, A.J. Burnett, flaming out again.  Millwood's numbers--even on a worse team--were almost as good as Burnett's.

If Nova has a breakout season, Millwood could be an important acquisition if not only for insurance puposes, but it could move the kid up a notch.

Girardi said, "The chances the fourth and fifth stater roles will be answered sooner than later are not very good.  I think we will spend all spring evaluating everyone in camp."

If no one rises to the top, expect the Yankees to go after the best pitcher on the market come the July trade deadline.  This time he won't pull a Cliff Lee and get away.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

St. John's Basketball: 5 Reasons Johnnies Ready to Storm Big Dance

Next month the NCAA selection committee will meet to determine which 68 teams will make up the field for March Madness and St. John's is ready to crash the party.

A huge victory over then-No. 10 UConn at the Garden and two tough road wins against good Cincinnati and Marquette teams in the past week have turned the Red Storm into an opponent no team may want to face in the Big Dance.

Just a couple of weeks ago, St. John's lost three games in a row and were precariously looking down at another NIT bid.  Fundamental mistakes, sloppy play and second-half collapses emptied the stands and turned the fans' chant of "We Are St. John's" into "Who Are These Guys?"

All that has changed in a big way for the Red Storm (16-9).  The Westminster Dog Show may have left the building but St. John's basketball is now the big dog in Madison Square Garden.

The Johnnies are 7-1 at their home arena.  Beginning with their MSG Holiday Tournament Championship and rolling over ranked teams Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke and UConn, St. John's had flexed it's muscle at home and now they are taking their winning ways on the road.

The Red Storm are playing and winning in ideal tournament conditions:  top-notch competition, traveling, winning road games in short spans of time and playing under big crowds.

Here are five reasons the St. John's basketball team should be feared--did I actually say feared?--by teams in the NCAA tournament.

Road Wins-  For once the Red Storm can actually call themselves road warriors.  This week's two decisive wins in three days in the hostile confines of Cincy and Milwaukee are just a rehearsal for the Big Dance.  A 3,000-mile jaunt to Pauley Pavilion--a game that could have been won by St. John's--and the distraction of Steve Lavin's homecoming was nothing compared to the 6,000 flight up to Alaska where the Red Storm won the Great Alaska Shootout at the beginning of the season.  No team has more frequent-flier miles this season.

Free Throw and Three-Point Shooting-  Once the bane of the St. John's team, it is now one of it's most consistent strengths.  As a team, they are shooting nearly 72% from the line and making a third of their shots from over the arch.  This is a team that missed 22 treys in one game earlier in the season and looked the Washington Generals second team at times.

Dwight Hardy-  The 6'2" guard from the Bronx has been on fire.  Last year's sixth man is currently fifth in the Big East in scoring and lit up UConn for a career-high 33 points last week showing up fellow Bronxite, and McDonald's All-American Kemba Walker.  Hardy was named Big East Player of the Week for the second time.  The go-to guard makes almost 90% of his free throws.  Nice clutch player to have in the final minutes.  Hardy brings back memories of great New York City players and is adding to the legacy of St. John's guards in the tradition of Erick Barkley. 

Experienced Teammates-  The senior-laden team is filled with players that are interchangeable.  Sometimes it seems like no five players have been in the game at the same time.  There is Justin Burrell clogging the inside and D.J. Kennedy picking up the slack for Hardy.  Nine tournament-hungry seniors make up this tight-knit squad who have learned to hold on to a second half lead.

Battle-Tested-  No team in the nation has played a tougher schedule that the Red Storm.  Their S.O.S. hasn't bobbed over No. 3 in weeks.  Their RPI now stands at #17.  The Big East is potentially sending 10 or 11 teams to the Tournament and it seems like the Red Storm has faced them all.  St. John's has 4 wins over top-13 teams.  Their Big East schedule reads like the Sweet Sixteen weekend of the Tournament and the Johnnies are 8-5 against these teams.  Don't forget that the Big East Tournament is played at Madison Square Garden.

If that isn't enough, there is the coaching.  First year head coach Steve Lavin took over this an experienced but undisciplined bunch of players and molded them into a team stronger than Gene Keady's brow.  They are playing like a senior-dominated team should--unselfish and fundamentally sound.

Those set-backs against local rivals St. Bonaventure and Fordham in December?  Fugeddaboutit.  Remember the Miami Heat a few months ago?  Sometimes it takes time for a group to gel.

And speaking of gels. It looks like Lavin has eased of the hair retainer, slipped off his tie and resorted to wearing white sneakers while his team rolls. Liking the new casual coach.

The Red Storm are playing their best basketball at the right time.  Their last appearance in the NCAA's was in 2002.  These players don't need to be reminded about that fact, even though Lavin continues to use the tournament as a motivating carrot.

Lavin delivered a 'fire and brimstone" speech during the Marquette game to "put the light under their fanny."

"I just jumped them in that timeout.  'This is what will get you beat in the NCAA tournament when you come out lackadaisical against quality teams,'" he said.

The coach should know, he was there enough times when he was at UCLA.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

O.J. Beaten Unconscious in Prison Attack?

Disgraced football great O.J. Simpson was pummeled senseless in a prison yard attack according to a story in The National Enquirer.  On Tuesday, the Enquirer said the 63 year-old Simpson was beaten and kicked to pulp by a young skinhead.  Are your eyes welling up yet?

USA Today said the prison is denying that anything occurred.

The Enquirer recap said Simpson was punched and kicked so thoroughly and severely, the NFL Hall-of-Famer spent nearly three weeks in the prison infirmary after the surprise attack.

The alleged beatdown--which was cheered on by other inmates--sent Simpson into such a deep depression, 'The Juice' is afraid to leave his cell, according to the Enquirer.

The article said the celebrity jailbird's mugging became such an embarrassment to prison officials, they did their best to keep the incident a secret.  Nobody has given the exact date of the fight.

Simpson, the former college and NFL star is serving 33 years in Nevada's Lovelock Correctional Center for his participation in an armed confrontation with a sports memorabilia dealer in Las Vegas in Sept. 2007.  He is eligible for parole in 7 years.

According to The Enquirer, Simpson was a "marked man" and was secretly targeted by white supremacists for boasting about his sexual escapades with 'beautiful white women.'

Simpson's former business partner Bruce Fromong said, "Unfortunately for O.J., a group of young skinhead punks were within earshot--and they were enraged."

A spokesperson from the Nevada Department of Corrections denies the Enquirer story is true and simply said it is "totally bogus."

Poor O.J..  Imagine being pounced on in a sneak attack?  Remember, if the glove fits...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cashman: Joba Chamberlain is Expendable

New York Yankees Brian Cashman's message to pitcher Joba Chamberlain wasn't exactly a sweet, rose-colored valentine card the day before the team opens spring training tomorrow in Tampa.  It sounded more like a pink slip.

The Yankees GM said the right-hander could possibly be in the team's 2011 bullpen but wouldn't guarantee that Chamberlain would even play at Yankee Stadium.

According to the New York Post, Cashman replied," Anybody who has [minor-league] options is not a lock for anything.  Any player with options has to re-earn everything.  You earn more or you earn less--New York or Scranton [Triple-A].  I fully expect Joba to be in our bullpen.  If not, he would have worked his way out of it."

Chamberlain, who showed up last week at the minor-league complex weighing about 30 pounds heavier than last season, has his work cut out for himself.

After three years of being pushed and shoved in the starter/reliever debate, Chamberlain headed into this year's camp looking like a valuable commodity.   Now he looks like either an extra middle-reliever, Triple-A call-up or trade bait.  It can't be good for his confidence.

In 2007, Chamberlain was the wonder boy of the Yankees staff.  He had a murderous fastball and a slider which brought batters to their knees.  Three years of being babied by the 'Joba Rules', shuttled between starter and reliever and mind-game expectations have messed up the head.  Now he shows up with the additional poundage and as much job security as Hosni Mubarak.  Another "fat toad" in the making?

Most fans expected Chamberlain to be the heir apparent to closer Mariano Rivera, or at least the eigth-inning set-up man by now.  That hasn't been and won't be the case this year.  The Yankees signing of Rafael Soriano for three years and $35 million squashed that scenario.

Chamberlain could still prove everyone wrong.  Maybe the gym in his basement and the extra muscle on his body will rejuvenate the 25 year-old?  Maybe the shoulder he injured in 2008 as a starter has healed?

Since that injury, Chamberlain has had his ups and downs.  In 240 1/3 innings, he has allowed 249 hits with an ERA of 4.53.  He struck out 224 and walked 101.  There are a lot more worse pitchers in the majors.  Too bad for Chamberlain, they are not in the Yankees pen.

Now that Phil Hughes has secured the No. 2 spot in the Yankees starting rotation, Chamberlain won't have to play that tired game anymore.  For now he gets to battle David Robertson as the go-to rightie in the bullpen.  And Robertson has been good.

Chamberlain still has value as trade bait.  He is young and his one-year $1.4 million contract with the team is inviting to teams missing a piece to a winning team and don't want to break the bank.

As it stands, it looks like Chamberlain, who has three minor-league options remaining, will look for a spot in the bullpen if he has a good spring.

"We won't decide, he will decide his role," said Cashman.  "Players always dictate [from their performance]."

Chamberlain can only pitch well then wait and see how Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova fare in the battle for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the starting rotation.  If one of them isn't in the rotation, it probably means Chamberlain will be pushed out of the bullpen and could be headed out of Yankee Stadium.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Relief in Sight for Yankees Joba Chamberlain?

Just when New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain finally thought his role on the team was secured firmer than George Steinbrenner's Monument Park plaque, he must be starting to wonder--will he start again or is he in the bullpen to stay?

The much maligned, and often realigned, Chamberlain made his first appearance at the Yankees' minor-league complex on Wed., after a winter of expecting to be a middle-inning reliever but, with the team's failure to sign Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte's retirement, there are now two openings in the starting rotation.  Here we go again.

Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, made it clear this winter that the 25 year-old Chamberlain would stay in the bullpen.  Now, with the addition of set-up man Rafael Soriano, the debate of whether Joba would be more valuable as a starter or reliever has been revived.

Chamberlain appeared to be 10-15 pounds bigger than the end of last season but doesn't want to be the heavy in the starter/reliever drama.

"I don't know if that debate is ever going to stop," said Chamberlain.  "I knew it was coming, especially with us not signing [Lee and Pettitte].  I guess you take it with a grain of salt.  That's all you can do."

The noticeably bigger version of Joba may be of concern to the Yankees but the pitcher says its due to his new conditioning program.

"I put a gym in my house," he said.  "I think it was the best thing I ever did.  I feel good.  It's easy to go downstairs and get it in and continue to work."

"I actually feel better.  My delivery feels better.  My weight feels better, stronger.  Man strength, I guess is what they call it.  I feel great."

Besides the physical difference, Chamberlain said his son, Karter,  kept his mind free from all the Yankees winter controversies.  A bigger man with smaller worries.

"I didn't think about baseball," the right-hander said about his off-season.  "When your son is four, he keeps you busy with other stuff.  I didn't watch 'SportsCenter.'  I pretty much watched (with his boy) 'Ben 10,' 'Clone Wars,' and 'Spongebob.'  If it wasn't on that channel and they weren't talking about it there, I probably didn't hear much about it."

Chamberlain will be joining one of the best bullpen crews in the majors.  Besides Soriano, the set-up group includes Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano and Dave Robertson.

With a well-stocked bullpen and 5 or 6 guys battling it out for the the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the starting rotation, could Chamberlain be wondering what his role on the Yankees is once again?

"I've got to take my role and embrace it and try to be the best I can to help us win another championship," he said.

Hopefully Chamberlain, the man who has been passed from bullpen to starter to bullpen, dangled as trade bait and brought us the 'Joba Rules,' will find a permanent place on the Yankees team.

After throwing a bullpen session under the scrutiny of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Chamberlain was asked if he hopes to start again.

"I worry about whatever today is and getting through today," Chamberlain said.  If that comes up in the future, then we'll answer that question.  But right now you can't think about it."

As long as there are two openings in the rotation, it's hard to believe Joba Chamberlain won't somehow be thrown into the equation.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dodgers Pay Back Brooklyn 54 Years Later With Throwback Jerseys

It's enough to get any one's Brooklyn up...especially if you're from the New York borough.  The Los Angeles Dodgers plan to wear replica Brooklyn Dodger uniforms for six home (Los Angeles, in case you forgot where they play) games this season.

Old Brooklyn Dodger fans are saying fuhgeddaboudit to the promotion and are wondering if this is some sort of belated peace-offering or just a cruel joke. Most broke off their allegiance with the team after they went west.  The name Walter O' Malley is still followed by choice curse words.

According to the New York Daily News, the L.A. Dodgers are allowing fans to vote until Feb. 17 on the team's website for one of three throwback uniforms. 

The Dodgers, who broke the hearts of thousands of fans by abandoning the brick confines of Ebbet's Field 54 years ago for the sun-soaked skies of Chavez Ravine, have narrowed the picks down to three uniforms.  The choices are  a  1911 era pinstriped jersey with "BROOKLYN" running down the front; a 1931 version with a capital "B" on the left front; and the most well-known--a 1940's uniform with "BROOKLYN" scripted across the front.

The Dodgers players will be wearing the L.A./Brooklyn (?) throwbacks during midweek home (L.A., remember?) games at Dodger Stadium beginning April 21.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz shook his head at the gimmick.  "If they have any interest in nostalgia, they could leave L.A. and come back home," he said.

Los Angeles thugs will probably turn the new Brooklyn version into gang colors.

I can't wait to hear how Mookie from "Do the Right Thing" feels about this sacrilege.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pettitte Officially Gone. Core Four Whittled Down to the 'Key Three'

And then there were three.  Andy Pettitte, one of the four cornerstones of the New York Yankees championship teams over the past 15 years has finally made his retirement official.  This morning, at Yankee Stadium the popular lefthanded pitcher said he was through as a player.  The Core Four is now the Key Three.

Pettitte's exit leaves Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada as the only remaining members of the Core Four and a gaping hole in the starting rotation.

The press conference was a sad moment for Yankees players and their fans but Pettitte didn't turn it into a funeral march.  Pettitte smiled--suspiciously more than usual--and looked happy to know he was leaving on his terms and would be spending more time with his family at his home in Texas.

The pull of a more stable home life nagged at Pettitte for years.  Today he made it clear this wasn't any kind of Brett Favre or Roger Clemens "retirement.  "It's not a one day decision," he stated.  He said he knew his playing days were over "weeks ago."

All the rumors of Pettitte working out in Texas, cancelling autograph shows to meet with Yankee management and possibly wanting to pad his stats for a better shot at Cooperstown were just that--greatly exaggerated hearsay.

The Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, started murmurings weeks ago that he thought there was little chance of the 240 career game winner returning for a final year.  Pettitte even said "Don't count on me' right after the 2010 season, but the "will he or won't he" drama continued throughout the winter. 

Cashman might have played a small part in Pettitte's decision.  The GM went all out for Cliff Lee and left Pettitte dangling but, after Lee went to the Phillies, Pettitte became an important factor again.  It was too late.  Pettitte had already made up his mind and was taking his famous game-face stare with him.  The soul searching was over.

Now the Yankees worst case scenario is reality and there are major holes to fill.  The team goes into spring training relying on the arms of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and basket case A.J. Burnett.  Call it Two and a Half Starters.  Even a blitzed Charlie Sheen might fare better than the burnt-out Burnett.

Filling out the starting five rotation is a pile of bargain basement signees and a couple of young untested hurlers.  Even Hughes value is questionable.  In his first full season as a starter, Hughes was cradled by manager Joe Girardi, and was limited to a certain amount of innings.  Who knows if he can hold up to the rigors of a full season?

Recycled players like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia now loom large in the Yankees' plans along with Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre.  The scary part is that probably the success of the rotation lies in the inconsistent arm of No. 3 starter A.J. Burnett.

Burnett, who throws a cream pie better than a baseball, is being restored by pitching coach Larry Rothschild.  If Rothschild can figure a way to get into A.J.'s head, tighten a few screws and get his fastball up to par, there is hope.  Throw in either one of the kids having a breakout year or one of the former All-stars--Colon and Garcia--coming back from the dead, there is a playoff season.

Babying pitchers, counting pitches and holding back younger arms will not be apart of this year's Yankees philosophy.  It will be put up or shut up. 

Pettitte's retirement is only the beginning of the dismantling of the Core Four era.  One by one, it could be a steady parade of the four potential Hall of Famers out of the Bronx.

Posada's contract is up after this year and he has been demoted to regular DH action.  Rivera just signed for two more years, and it's conceivable that the still reliable closer might call it a career after that.  Jeter will begin his march to the Hall of Fame in three years. In four years, the Core Four will be no more.

Pettitte's legacy, besides the huge numbers (240 career wins, 19 postseason wins, 3.88 ERA, 5 rings) is his clutch play and work ethic.  No pitcher was more reliable and there never seemed to be a situation Pettitte couldn't handle.  He has more post-season wins than any other pitcher.  Think back to Game 5 of the 1996 World Series when he beat the Braves 1-0.  It was a typical  Pettitte outing-- businesslike and efficient.  It started the current Yankee mystique.  Big-game pitcher doesn't begin to describe him.

The only blotches on Pettitte's Yankee resume are his three years with the Houston Astros and being mentioned in the Mitchell Report, where he admitted he used human growth hormone.

Pettitte made his decision to retire and the Yankees, wisely, didn't try to convince him to stay.  The man leaves a big chapter in Yankee lore.  Arguably the second best pitcher in the Yankees' modern era behind Whitey Ford.

  The Yankees were desperate for Pettitte's services this season.  He could have asked for George Steinbrenner's Monument Park plaque and gotten it.  He could have added ring number six.  Andy Pettitte knew what his heart wanted and he appeased it.

Too bad the next time we see him will probably be at Roger Clemens' federal perjury trial in July.  Then, it's the road to Cooperstown.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Few Reasons Super Bowl XLVIII in NJ Could Be The Best

The weather at Super Bowl XLV in Dallas must have the NFL wondering how many helmet-to-helmet hits they took after they awarded the 2014 Super Bowl game to New Jersey/New York.  All these airport closings and frozen roads.  Where is this?  Chicago? 

If all the forecasts are correct, this Sunday in New York--the night of the big game in three years--will bring snow and icy rain to New Meadowlands Stadium with temperatures dropping to 20 degrees.  Don't forget the wind chills which sweep across the swamplands.  Perfect for football purists, hell for everyone else.

Right now, the temperature over/under for Super Bowl XLVIII in NJ/NY is 32.5 degrees and snow comes in at 5-to-1 odds.  Global warming is the handicap.  There isn't a retractable roof.

Bad weather aside, it's the pomp and promotion leading up to the game that should really keep people away.  Here are a few of the things to look forward to that could make Super Bowl XLVIII the best ever.  One can only wish.

  •   New Meadowlands Stadium is now named Giants Stadium once again.  New Meadlowlands Stadium.  What genius came up with that one?
  •   Seeing newly-appointed NFL Commissioner Keith "I know everything" Olbermann blame the inclement weather on George W. Bush.
  •  Watching ESPN and other networks insist on having their talk show analysts broadcast from freezing, open booths outside the studio.  Mike Greenberg shivers to death on live TV and no one notices.
  •  Mexican "reporter" Ines Sainz shows up and no one cares.
  • Media Day is cancelled due to the foul weather.  Players and reporters are instructed to use Twitter from hotel rooms.  Rachel Nichols wins stupidest question after she tweets Mark Sanchez and asks why he and "Entourage" actor, Adrian Grenier have never been seen in the same room together?
  • A Super Bowl Tribute to "Jersey Shore" and Jimmy Hoffa pre-game extravaganza beats out a "Twilight" themed mope-fest.
  • After Justin Bieber's hair malfunction in last year's Super Bowl XLVII half-time show in New Orleans, Bruce Springsteen gets the call in 2014.  Why?  Because Jersey's favorite son can do whatever he wants in the Garden State.  Wyckoff's own Jonas Brothers feel slighted and vow revenge by releasing a cover album of Greetings from Asbury Park.
  • Jerry Jones is still waiting to get back into the Super Bowl.
  • The NFL begins plans to fore go Roman numerals after they can't figure out how to fit Super Bowl LXXXVIII on tee-shirts and other souvenirs.
  • The 20-4 New York Giants--after the 20-game season and expanded playoffs--beat the New York Jets in Super Bowl XLVIII.  Giants head coach Bill Cowher frisks, then hugs Plaxico Burress after he catches the game winner.
  • Jets fans finally notice that Rex Ryan's lap-band surgery is working after he removes parka.  The new Dr. Scholl's spokesman barely tips the scales at 133 pounds.  His head alone weighs in at 45. 
 Hey, if Ricky Gervais can get a third shot at the Golden Globes, why not a second shot for an uncovered stadium in a cold-weather city?  Hear that Pittsburgh and Green Bay?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pettitte Postpones NY Autograph Appearance. Could He Be Signing Contract?

The will he stay or will he go saga with New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte keeps getting more mysterious.  While the free-agent lefthander keeps Yankee management waiting in the wings, he has now left Yankee fans standing in the cold.

Pettitte postponed a private, New York area autograph signing tomorrow until February 15--one day after pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training voluntarily.

According to the memorabilia dealer, Steiner Sports, Pettitte opted out of the appearance--leading to speculation on a number of fronts. 

"He's just not in town," Steiner Sports executive vice-president of purchasing and player relations Chris Amaroso said on Monday.  "I would assume he's not in town because right now he's thinking about what he's going to do."

The 38 year-old Pettitte has already told the Yankees he will not pitch in 2011, according to the Yankees GM Brian Cashman.  It has been reported that Pettitte is in his home state of Texas and has not worked out this off-season.

Cashman said he has been in contact with Pettitte and are hoping the veteran hurler will change his mind and play another season.

Could Pettitte be planning a New York to Tampa trip.  He isn't saying.

Meanwhile, Cashman continues to load up on aging, low-priced former All-Stars for the Yankees pitching rotation.

Yesterday, the team signed 35 year-old Freddy Garcia to a minor league contract.  Garcia pitched in 28 games for the Chicago White Sox last season.  He was 12-9 with an ERA of 4.64.

Garcia joins the other over-30 Club the Yankees have signed--including Bartolo Colon, 37 who hasn't pitched since 2009, and rehabbed thirty-something Mark Prior.  It looks like Cashman is loading up on a surplus of rusty arms to battle it out with youngsters Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the rotation.

Sadly, it's looking like "Sex and the City 2" for this year's Yankees signees.  A bunch of once sexy arms reduced to desperately finding a little love in a Big Apple rotation and only after the Yankees' own heart was broken by their Mr. Big--Cliff Lee. 

Cashman has been frantically trying to fix the Yankees sagging rotation after the Lee fiasco and now the Yankee rotation's Botox is beginning to show.

Pettitte could be the logical cure.  He now has the upper hand.  A couple of  months ago, when Cliff Lee and his $150 million contract with the Yankees was all but a slam dunk, Pettitte was the odd man out.  The team saw CC Sabathia and Lee as their lefthanded 1-2 punch and the reliable Pettitte was wanted, but not a priority.  Pettitte now looks like a prize bull at a slaughter house.

And the Yankees are looking at an old and wobbly starting rotation.  They can only hope one of their youngsters has a breakout year or one of the old timers just doesn't break down.  Pettitte could be the glue that holds the rotation together and the money ball is in his mitt. Not so long ago, Lee's $150 million was all over the headlines.  It must look pretty good to Pettitte's agent right now.

Even if the current crop of possible Yankee starters can muster enough six inning games,  hand the ball to the improved bullpen with newly-signed, and over-paid, set-up man Rafael Soriano and closer Mariano Rivera, Cashman would be still be in a  better off place with the crafty Pettitte.

Pettitte still hasn't said if he plans to return.  He really  hasn't made any kind of public statement about his plans for next year.  If Pettitte returns to pinstripes, he will get a lot of money and deservedly so.

Pettitte was 11-3 last year with an ERA of 3.28.  He was injured for a few weeks but he didn't break down.  When healthy, Pettitte is still one of the best.

If Pettitte doesn't come back, it will be fun to see who wins the battle for the No. 4 and 5 spots--one of the New Kids on the Block or Carrie or Samantha. 

In the meantime, Pettitte's price is going up.