Friday, October 3, 2014

OLD-SCHOOL MANAGERS AND ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS

As a longtime baseball fan, much moreso than a partisan fan of one team, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Pirates finally overcome The Curse of Barry Bonds, under manager Clint Hurdle.  After losing Bonds to the Giants via free agency following the 1992 season, the Pirates went on to set a North American major team sports record with 20 consecutive losing seasons, before finally breaking through with 94 wins last year and 88 this year, including back-to-back playoff appearances.  Hurdle has done a great job managing the team, winning NL Manager of the Year honors last year, and certain to get votes this year as well.

However, Hurdle made a major blunder that cost his team its best shot against the Giants in Wednesday night's Wild Card game, for which he was questioned but not roundly criticized, which he should have been.  Let me explain.

On the final day of the regular season, Hurdle started his ace, Gerrit Cole, in Cincinnati against the Reds, because the Pirates still had a shot at the division title.  For the most part, he was applauded by fans and the press, for doing everything he could to finish first, and avoid the Wild Card game.  But in the process, he wasted his ace, and had to depend on the less reliable Edinson Volquez against the Giants.  Bear with me, as we go inside the numbers.

For the Pirates to win the division title, three games had to go their way:
1.  They had to beat 19-game winner Johnny Cueto Sunday in Cincinnati.
2.  The worst team in the majors (not just the National League), Arizona, had to beat 20-game winner Adam Wainwright Sunday in Phoenix.
3.  If numbers 1&2 above happened, the Pirates then had to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in a one-game playoff on Monday.

In other words, the Pirates did not control their own destiny.  Far from it.  The Reds were fired up to win Sunday, with Cueto going after his 20th win.  The Pirates were not a strong road team this season, finishing 37-44.  The Reds were 44-37 at home.  Giving the Pirates the benefit of the doubt, let's call this game a toss-up.  Let's say the Pirates had a 50% shot at winning.

If the Pirates had won, the Cardinals had Wainwright ready to start later in the day at Arizona against the 64-98 Diamondbacks.  I'd say the D-Backs had no better than a 25% chance of beating Wainwright, and that's being generous.  You could say I'm giving Hurdle the benefit of the doubt.

If Arizona did, indeed, beat Wainwright, what are the odds the Pirates would have beat the Cardinals in St. Louis on Monday?  The Cards were 51-30 at home this season, compared with the Pirates road record, again, of 37-44.  But I'll give the Pirates the benefit of the doubt again, with a 50% chance of winning that game.

So, even giving the Pirates the benefit of the doubt in two difficult road games, do the math:  With these numbers, they still had only a SIX PERCENT CHANCE of winning the division:  50%x25%X50%.  I guarantee you that Clint Hurdle never analyzed the probability factors involved in the three games.  In this respect, Hurdle is very old-school, and I'm pretty sure that most managers are.  They think day-to-day, and they concentrate on what they can control.  In Hurdle's mind, he had a shot at the division title, so he was going to use his ace, the other critical factors be damned.

Hell, even ESPN radio didn't understand the factors involved, because the following morning, while the popular duo of Mike&Mike debated Hurdle's decision, they weren't even aware that a one-game playoff Monday in St. Louis was part of the equation.  They thought a Pirates win on Sunday, coupled with a Cardinals loss, gave the division to Pittsburgh.  Maybe that's what Hurdle thought.

So that's where Pirates general manager Neil Huntington enters the discussion.  It was his job to sit down with Hurdle to make sure he understood the strong likelihood that St. Louis was going to win the division even if the Pirates won Sunday, and then to collectively consider saving Gerrit Cole for the Wild Card game.  Huntington even could have--should have--pulled a Billy Beane and ordered Hurdle to save Cole.

Some, of course, would say that it wouldn't have mattered, since Madison Bumgarner tossed a four-hit shutout in Pittsburgh Wednesday night.  But once Brandon Crawford hit that fourth-inning grand slam off Volquez, the pressure was off Bumgarner and his teammates, and the collective air was gone from PNC Park and the Pirates dugout.  We'll never know how Cole would have done instead, but he's the Pirates ace, and unless you've got a good shot at the division title on Sunday, you've got to save your ace for the one-game Wild Card game on Wednesday night.  It's a no-brainer, because if you lose the Wild-Card game, your season is over. 

Gerrit Cole was the number one pick of the 2011 draft, out of UCLA  In parts of two major league seasons, the 24-year old Cole is 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA, with 238 strikeouts in 255 innings.  He is the Pirates ace.  He's their horse.  He's their Madison Bumgarner.  He should have been on the mound Wednesday night, to give the Pirates the best chance they could possibly have to beat the Giants.  Instead, he was needlessly watching from the dugout.  That's on Hurdle.

Monday, March 11, 2013

World Baseball Classic

Unlike my esteemed colleague at KCBS, Stan Bunger, I am a big fan of the World Baseball Classic.  Perhaps that's in part because I lived in Tokyo for three-and-a-half years, and became quite fond of Japanese baseball.  And over the years, since returning to the U.S., I've become a fan of international baseball in general.  In other words, baseball is the most popular spectator sport (and has the highest TV ratings of any sport) in Japan, as it is (I assume) in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and perhaps even in Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Taiwan and the Dutch Antilles as well.

Television ratings for the WBC in all of those nations, unlike in the U.S., have been off the charts.  The Japan-Brazil game drew a 35 share in Japan.  A 35 share!  More than one-third of all TVs in Japan were tuned in to the Japan-Brazil game.  Not even Japan-Korea or Japan-Taiwan, but Japan-Brazil.  That fascinates me.  I also love watching baseball games that mean something in early-to-mid March, as opposed to a lazy Cactus or Grapefruit League game.  Don't misunderstand me--I love going to a Cactus League game, but can't even come close to watching an entire Cactus League game on television.  But I have watched entire WBC games this month.  More than a few.

Why do I find the WBC so compelling?  In part, it's because the games mean so much to all of the nations I listed in the above paragraph.  It may not mean a lot to the major leaguers in the U.S., but if you watch the Dominican Republic play Puerto Rico, or Mexico play Venezuela, or Japan play Taiwan, you can not help but find the intensity of the games very compelling, both from the players and the fans.  If you can't, then your mind is closed to the possibility even before tuning in.

I attended the semifinals and final of the WBC in San Diego in its first year, 2006.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was the MVP as Japan beat Cuba in the final.  The stands, as well as the Gaslamp District downtown, were full of Japanese, Cuban, Dominican and Korean baseball fans (the latter two teams lost in the semis).  The whole experience was captivating, the fan enthusiasm was infectious, the quality of baseball was excellent.

In the second WBC, in 2009, I became a huge fan of the team from The Kingdom of The Netherlands.  Actually, the team from The Netherlands is made up of a combination of players from the European nation, and players from Curacao and Aruba, in the Dutch Antilles.  Despite having just two major leaguers on their roster in '09, The Netherlands upset the Dominican Republic twice en route to the second round.  It was incredible.  The Dominicans had just four players who were not major leaguers.

This year, in the third WBC, The Netherlands is providing fabulous theater once again, having upset South Korea in the first round, and then stunning heavily-favored Cuba twice in the second, reaching next week's semifinals at A-T-and-T Park.  This time, The Netherlands once again has two current major leaguers on its roster, in backup outfielder Roger Bernadina of the Nationals, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons of the Braves.

But the more I watch this team play, the more fun it is, and the more intriguing it becomes.  The 22-year old Simmons took over the Braves' starting shortstop job last summer, and hit .289 in 166 at bats, after hitting .293 in AA.  Their third-baseman, 20-year old Xander Bogaerts, is the Boston Red Sox top minor league prospect (also a shortstop), and hit .301 with 20 homers and 81 runs-batted-in at A-and-AA ball last season.  Their second-baseman is the Baltimore Orioles top minor league prospect, 22-year old Jonathon Schoop.

Their closer is 7-foot-1 Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, also known as Loek Van Mil.  He throws in the low-to-mid 90s, and had a 1.94 ERA in AA with Cleveland last season.  It may not be long before he becomes the tallest player in major league history, surpassing Randy Johnson by two inches, in  which case, he'll become the Really Big Unit.  They've also got five-time major league all-star Andruw Jones, who will play for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan this year.  Oh, one more worth mentioning:  The Texas Rangers' top minor league prospect, 20-year old shortstop Jurickson Profar, hit .281 with 14 homers and 19 steals at AA last season--he decided to stay with the Rangers this month in an effort to win a big league job, but may be added to The Netherlands roster before next week.  I'm not sure where he'd play, but I'm certain that manager Hensley Meulens could find a spot.

I'll be attending the WBC in San Francisco next week.  The Netherlands will be decided underdogs if they play Japan in the final, and certainly if they play the Dominican Republic or U.S. in the semis.  I'm looking forward to chatting with Meulens, the Curacao native and current Giants' hitting coach.  I remember talking with him at great length in the spring of 2010, about his experiences as The Netherlands hitting coach in the 2009 WBC.  He loved reminiscing about it.  The memories were still raw, and precious.  I don't know whether he envisioned where he'd be now--in 2013--but it was special for me to hear him say earlier today that his team's dramatic, come-from-behind 7-6 win over Cuba this morning, to clinch a spot in the semis, was the biggest win in the history of Dutch baseball.  It might not be for long, if his band of underdogs keeps winning.

Look, I totally understand why major league managers are paranoid about losing key players, not to mention critical investments, to injuries in games that have nothing to do with their own teams' use of spring training to get ready for the regular season.  I get that.  If there were a better time to stage the WBC, I'd be all in favor.  But as long as the WBC is being staged now, I'm watching.  And I'm enjoying.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Most Bizarre and Unlikely Super Bowl Finish

It turns out that the thrilling finish of Super Bowl 47 could have been much more thrilling than any of us could have ever imagined.  A finish that would have relegated the third quarter power outage to the back pages of the newspaper, if at all.

When the Ravens lined up to punt the ball from their own 20, with four seconds remaining, after taking an intentional safety, quarterback Joe Flacco told tight end Dennis Pitta and center Matt Birk that if the 49ers' Ted Ginn Junior appeared headed for the endzone, they should tackle him.  From the sideline.  Seriously.

Flacco's comments were revealed on the NFL Network's Sound FX program Wednesday night:
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-films-sound-efx/0ap2000000136915/Sound-FX-Ravens-win-Super-Bowl-XLVII

Flacco sounded serious.  You can hear him saying he wasn't certain what the rule was, but he was willing to risk tackling Ginn, rather than let him get to the endzone.  In fact, according to Rule 12, Section 3, Article 3--the NFL's Palpably Unfair Act--a player shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.  The referee, after consulting his crew, enforces any such distance penalty considered equitable, and irrespective of any other specified code penalty.  The referee may award a touchdown.

Ginn caught the ball at his 20, and returned it to midfield before being tackled by linebacker Josh Bynes.  If he had somehow broken that tackle, he might have broken free along the left sideline.  And if he had, would Flacco have tried to stop him?  We'll never know.  But we do know that he considered the possibility, which is extraordinary.  Amazing.  And he had done it, the Niners likely would have won, in the most incredible finish even imagined, in Super Bowl history.

And as long as we're talking about bizarre finishes that never happened, how about this:  If Sam Cook had skied his punt just 30 yards, instead of booming it 60, Ginn could have called for a fair catch, in which case David Akers could have attempted a 60-yard field goal, without a pass rush, to tie the game, by taking advantage of the rarely used free catch, free kick rule.  It was last converted in the NFL by the Chargers' Ray Wersching, in 1976, from 45 yards out, before he became a 49er.  If you've never heard of this rule, a player can fair catch a punt, after which his team can attempt a field goal from the spot of the catch, with the defensive team having to line up at least 10 yards away.   Most NFL kickers can find the back of the endzone on kickoffs, which means they're going 75 yards.  But for a free kick field goal of 60 yards, the distance would not be the issue as much as the accuracy.

Also, a couple of thoughts after having watched the Super Bowl, in person, at the Superdome, and then having watched replays of the game from the original CBS telecast, and from NFL Films:  Michael Crabtree was bumped from behind before touching the ball, on the 49ers' second down pass from the Ravens five-yard line, on their final drive.  Should have been a pass interference call.  Crabtree was held on the fourth down pass.  Should have been a defensive holding call, although a holding call there might have been reversed by the officials if they determined the ball was not catchable.

The entire Niners defensive line was held--blatantly--on the Ravens' intentional safety, which allowed the punter to take additional seconds off the clock.  I'm not sure what a holding call would have meant at that point.  Would the clock have reverted to 11 seconds for the punt, instead of running down to four?  Or would the Ravens been forced to punt from their 10-yard line, instead of the 20?  Just asking.  Could have meant something.  Not sure.

The point is, rules are rules, and I disagree that "you have to let the players decide the game" in the closing minutes and seconds.  I say, rules are rules, and should be enforced equally, for the duration of the game.  That includes the NFC Championship game in Atlanta.  If Navarro Bowman was bumping Roddy White from behind on Atlanta's fourth down pass, at the Niners' five yard line, before the ball arrived, he should have been flagged as well.

Finally, for the countless number of 49ers fans who wonder why there were no running plays for Frank Gore or Colin Kaepernick on their final set of downs, beginning at the Ravens' seven yard line, and ending at the five, if you watch replays of the second down play, you'll notice that Frank Gore moved ahead of Kaepernick, and to his left, after the snap from center.  It looks as though Kapernick had the option to run left on that play, and in fact, I recall Kaepernick saying after the game that he had the read-option on second down.  But that play was blown dead because Jim Harbaugh called time out with one second left on the play clock, not wanting to risk a five-yard penalty for delay of game.  The snap was, in fact, after the clock hit zero, and if Harbaugh hadn't called time out, the Niners would have been penalized.  If the ball had been snapped from center one second earlier, and if Harbaugh had not called time, what would the play have resulted in?  Ahhhh, we'll never know.

Just like we'll never know how the game would have ended if the Ravens had been called for defensive holding or pass interference.  The Niners would have had a first down at the one, and likely would have scored a go-ahead touchdown, but who's to say that Flacco wouldn't have led his team into field goal range for a game-winning kick in the final seconds?  Yeah, we'll never know.




Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

Some are calling this a dark day for the Baseball Hall of Fame, or moreso perhaps for the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Some are livid over the overwhelming rejection of Bonds&Clemens for induction this summer, in their first year of eligibility.  Others are upset over the rejection of Bigio, Bagwell, Piazza and Schilling, all of whom have HOF credentials, none of whom are linked to steroids, and none of whom got in.  

The HOF vote is hardly a perfect process, and never has been.  How else to explain the fact that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were not unanimous picks in their first year of eligibility?

But I don't think today is a dark day in the process at all.  Am I pleased that for the first time since the 1960s, no living person will be inducted in Cooperstown this summer?  No, I think it's highly unfortunate.  Do I think Bigio, Bagwell, Piazza and Schilling should have been voted in?  Yes, and I'll go a step further.  I firmly believe that Fred McGriff should have been voted in.  

The baseball writers--more than 550 of them--cast their votes, and in the process, sparked a nationwide conversation about who should be in the HOF, who shouldn't be, why, and what can be done to improve the process in the future.  And I think that's a good thing.  Schilling himself, in fact, told ESPN shortly after the vote was announced that what the writers did was send a resounding message to all concerned that they were disgusted by the entire steroid era, so disgusted that they rejected everyone on the ballot.  As Schilling put it, they rejected those directly linked to steroid use, and they rejected all the players who were clean for not doing enough to clean up the game.  The writers made a statement, and at least one player heard it loudly and clearly.  Schilling took the high road, and I give him credit for it.  He could have easily bemoaned the fact that he got just 37.6 percent of the vote, nowhere near the minimum 75 percent necessary for induction.  Keep in mind, Schilling is one of three pitchers in baseball history with three 300-strikeout seasons; he's got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among starting pitchers in baseball history; he went 11-2 in the post-season with a 2.2ERA, including 10-1 in the three years he led his teams to World Series championships.  And he, as much as any player over the last 20 years, did speak out often against the use of PEDs in baseball.  But he got the message from the baseball writers, and he's OK with it, because it's sparking a national debate.

I have little doubt that Biggio (68%), Bagwell (59.6%) and Piazza (57.8) will eventually get inducted.  I am guardedly optimistic that Schilling (38.8) will.  And I am pessimistic, but hopeful, that McGriff (20.7) will.  Fred McGriff.  Crime Dog.  His numbers would stand out more if they weren't inevitably compared with the ridiculous drug-laced numbers turned in by Bonds, Sosa and McGwire:  a five-time all-star, 493 homers, a .284 average, seven .300 seasons, ten 100 RBI seasons, .303 in the post-season with 10 HRs in 188 at-bats.  McGriff's numbers compare very favorably with those of McCovey, Stargell and Billy Williams, they're all in the Hall, and McGriff should be as well.  

I would not have voted for Bonds.  Sixty-four percent of the voters didn't either.  Yes, he was headed for the HOF 14 years into his 22-year major league career.  And then he became the biggest and most sophisticated steroid user the game has even seen over his final eight seasons.  His numbers went through the roof, from age 36 and up.  Four of his seven MVPs came while he was juiced.  He became a cartoon character, both in appearance, and in his production.  It was a farce, just as it was when McGwire and Sosa combined for 136 homers in the 1998 season.  Bonds disgraced the game, disgraced the Giants and disgraced himself.  I would never vote for him.  

Oh, I've heard all the sycophantic arguments for putting Bonds into the HOF:

1.  He was a HOFer before he began using steroids.
2.  Everyone was on steroids.
3.  Steroids were legal.
4.  He was never convicted of using steroids.
5.  What about the thousands of players who were on amphetamines?
6.  The Hall is full of other cheaters, like Gaylord Perry.

My comeback:

1.  Character, integrity and sportsmanship are part of what all HOF voters are asked to consider before casting their ballots.  He failed miserably on all three counts.  He cheated, plain and simple.  And he cheated willfully, flagrantly and defiantly for many, many years.  He would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer today if he hadn't decided to become a drug-infested cheat.  He deserves the widespread scorn he is now experiencing, both as a cheat, and as a convicted felon.  
2.  Pleeeeeeez stop.  There is no way of knowing how many players tried steroids, but to suggest that everyone was doing it is tantamount to saying everyone cheats on their taxes, and therefore it's OK.  It's not OK.  Furthermore, I think the overwhelming majority of players who dabbled in steroids did just that--they dabbled, some very briefly, like Gary Sheffield (read Game of Shadows).  Bonds could write a book on PEDs.  But he doesn't need to, since Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams already did.  
3.  Anabolic steroids were never legal.  Even baseball banned them in 1991.  
4.  This isn't a court of law.  He IS a convicted felon.  And the same jury that convicted him of obstruction of justice voted 11-1 to convict him of perjury, i.e., lying about the use of steroids.  
5.  Get serious.  Amphetamines allowed players to stay more alert.  
6.  Get serious (again).  On the one hand, we're talking about a player who took a wide myriad of illegal drugs to artificially build his body, so he could hit balls further and harder, after having seen the pitches better.  And on the other hand, we're talking about greasing up the baseball.  

One question that comes up often from those who support Bonds&Clemens is this:  What happens if a player already inducted into the HOF is later found to have been a steroid user?Good question.  In other happens, once you let the cat out of the bag, how can you put him back in?  It could happen.  One thought would be to add an asterisk, with a brief explanation, on or beside his plaque.  Another would be to create a separate wing of plaques for such cases.  

For those who ask how we can have a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens inside, I point out that both are inside.  Go to Cooperstown, and see for yourself.  Both have their uniforms on display, balls, gloves, bats, etc., for their achievements.  The HOF is much more than simply induction plaques.  

I know that writers such as Susan Slusser, John Shea, Mark Purdy, Jon Heyman, Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal all take their HOF voting responsibilities very, very seriously.  They all voted against Bonds and Clemens.  I also know that other writers such as Bruce Jenkins, Monte Poole, Carl Steward, Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark all take the same responsibilities just as seriously.  They voted for Bonds and Clemens.  Intelligent people can agree to disagree on this, and engage in a civilized debate, which is always a healthy thing.  

One final point:  Greg Papa expressed outrage this week (on 95.7FM) the fact that Bonds was unlikely to get enough votes for the HOF, and one of his points was that the living members of the HOF want him inducted.  Greg might want to check again on that.  In fact, countless current HOFers (last year's inductee Barry Larkin is the latest) have said they do not believe Bonds (or other steroid users) deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and some have gone so far as to say they would boycott the induction ceremony were Bonds to get elected.  







Monday, January 7, 2013

RGIII's Knee

First, I subscribe to the John Madden policy on Monday Morning Quarterbacking:  If you didn't question the strategy at the time, then don't bring it up after the fact.  With that said, it's interesting to note that the exact moment when John and I both felt that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan should have removed Robert Griffin III from yesterday's playoff loss to the Seahawks happened with just under 14 minutes remaining, with Washington ahead 14-13.  I know this because John and I discussed it this morning on KCBS (740AM/106.9FM).  

The Redskins had jumped to a 14-0 lead twelve-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter, outgaining the Seahawks in total yards 135 to minus-2.  RGIII was 6-for-9 for 68 yards and two touchdowns.  But in the remaining 47 1/2 minutes, Seattle outgained Washington in total yards, 382-68.  And RGIII went 4-for-10 for 16 yards, an interception and a lost fumble.  

RGIII had been hit hard and often, and sometimes he had fallen on his own, including twice when his right knee had simply given out.  In the Skins' first play from scrimmage early in the fourth quarter, he had limped around left end for nine yards on first-and-10 from his own 22.  He couldn't run.  He had become a shell of his former self.  He had repeatedly reaggravated the sprain of the lateral collateral ligament  (LCL) in his right knee.  He could no longer sprint, he could no longer scramble, he had become a drop-back pocket passer, but because he couldn't plant his right foot properly he couldn't throw deep, and even his short and medium-range passes were inconsistent at best.  On the bench was fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, who was most impressive in his one NFL start, December 16th in Cleveland, the week after RGIII originally injured his knee.  Cousins went 26-of-37 for 329 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-21 win.  

For John and me, the realization became clear, that the Redskins had a much better chance of maintaining the lead and winning the game, with Cousins on the field, and RGIII on the sideline, avoiding any further damage to his knee.  Unfortunately, as we all know by now, RGIII remained in the game for the remaining five plays of that drive, and the first two of their next drive, getting sacked on the sixth play, and then fumbling a bad snap on the seventh, during which his knee buckled and twisted grotesquely.  It was very hard to watch.  He was flat on his back, with one of his lineman screaming for medical assistance, done for the game.  In his post-game press conference, Shanahan acknowledged that while he coached from his gut, it was possible he made mistakes, and likely that he'd regret not having taken RGIII out sooner.  

Two more things that he said, though, were particularly illuminating.  He said he checked with RGIII repeatedly throughout the game, to see if he was OK, and that RGIII said he was hurt but not injured, and wanted to stay in the game.  And that was enough for Shanahan.  The coach also insisted that he did not want to do anything that could have meant further damage to RGIII's right LCL

Two quick points:  Is asking an elite athlete whether he's OK sufficient for determining whether he should stay in the game?  Put another way, what elite athlete is going to ask to come out of a game, unless he can't (in this case) even walk?  There is something terribly wrong when a coach thinks that the only necessary precaution is asking the player if he's OK to continue playing.  And where was the team doctor, and why wasn't he consulted?  

One more primary point to keep in mind, from someone who has had three ACL tears in the last 12 years: All the other knee ligaments are chump change compared with the ACL. An MCL can heal on its own. A partial LCL tear can heal on its own. A partial PCL tear can heal on its own. An ACL tear NEVER heals on its own. If the Redskins try to sell that idea, disregard it immediately. In essence, there is no such thing as a partial ACL tear. In other words, an ACL tear is an ACL tear, and requires reconstructive surgery, for any elite (and even recreational) athlete.  For Shanahan to say after the game that he would not have done anything to risk RGIII's LCL shows a naivete bordering on ignorance. The ACL should have been his primary concern, all along, once he knew RGIII had an injured LCL. I tweeted that Sunday night, in fact, before RGIII went in for his MRI.

On Monday afternoon, Shanahan said the MRI revealed that RGIII suffered a partial tear of his ACL, and a partial tear of his LCL.  And he said that RGIII would see team physician and renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday for clarification and guidance on how to proceed from here.

Dr. Andrews will need no more than a few seconds to manually examine RGIII's knee and determine whether the right ACL is torn.  And if, indeed, it is torn, Andrews will not call it a partial tear.  He will call it a tear and recommend surgery.  He'll reconstruct the ACL, and repair the LCL as well.  If the swelling isn't too bad, the surgery could take place within a week, and RGIII could be back on the field in six-to-nine months.  But there's no guarantee.  

The Redskins, and RGIII fans all around the country, are hoping the ACL is not torn, and that surgery is not necessary.  But if it is, chances are that Shanahan and the Redskins will be as vague as they can possibly be about the extent of the damage done.  The press will have to dig.  And the face of the franchise will have to go through the surgery and the grueling rehab that he is all-too-familiar with, having suffered a similar season-ending injury during the third game of his sophomore year at Baylor, in 2009.  

This all seems so unnecessary.



Monday, November 26, 2012

The Great Quarterback Controversy

For me, the best litmus test as to whether a sports story has permeated the collective consciousness of the general public is when my wife Alice knows about it.  Being the quintessential non-sports fan, if she is aware of the story, and the principals involved, then it's a BIG story.  Needless to say, she's aware of this one.  She knows who Alex Smith is, and she knows who Colin Kaepernick is, and I haven't said a word to her about The Great Quarterback Controversy.

Jim Harbaugh doesn't like the media's, and even the general public's preoccupation with this story, but he has to be pleased with one part of it.  The 49ers are the only legitimate Super Bowl contender with two solid quarterbacks.  If you don't believe me, check out who the backup quarterbacks are in Chicago, Green Bay, New York (Giants), New England, Baltimore and Denver.  It's a cast of relative unknowns with little NFL experience.  So, Harbaugh is very fortunate that if one of his two quarterbacks gets injured, the team will hardly lose a beat with the other behind center.  None of the other contenders can come close to making such a claim.

My esteemed colleague Stan Bunger blogged on this very subject earlier today, as I knew he would, after we debated the subject in a very spirited fashion during our 25-minute drive into San Francisco this morning.  It would have made a fabulous podcast.  Too bad we weren't recording.  Basically, Stan thinks it's unconscionable that Alex Smith might be losing his starting job while still recovering from the concussion he suffered two weeks ago yesterday against the Rams.  Stan subscribes to the old-school belief that no starter in any sport should lose his job while physically unable to play.  I'm not knocking that axiom because it's old-school.  Quite the contrary.  I like a lot of things considered old-school:  Respect for one's elders, respect for one's fellow man (and woman), baseball without the DH, basketball when three steps to the basket was considered traveling, and football with individuals who actually played both offense and defense.

But this particular axiom--that one should never lose a starting job in sports when one is injured--is absurd.  John Madden even told us on KCBS this morning that it's pure nonsense.  More specifically, John said it flies in the face of what every coach in the NFL knows to be true, that it's his job to put his very best players on the field who will give his team its very best chance at winning.  Nothing else matters, nor should it.  Stan even used me as an example, in trying to further his argument.  He asked how I'd feel if I were on the DL, so-to-speak, and someone else filled in while I was on the mend, only to have KCBS become enamored with my replacement to the point of hiring him/her full time to replace me. I said if the station decided the other guy was better, then the station would have the right to make the change.

If Alex Smith is healthy, and if Jim Harbaugh thinks he gives the 49ers their best chance at beating the Rams in St. Louis Sunday, then Smith will start.  But I am willing to bet money that this won't happen.  I am willing to bet money that Colin Kaepernick will start, because I am virtually certain that Harbaugh sees, in part at least, what I and so many others see (a list that includes former quarterbacks and highly-respected TV football analysts Steve Young, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski), that Kaepernick is a star-in-the-making right now; that Kaepernick has a fabulous arm and can throw deep and throw deep with accuracy (which Smith can't), and that Kaepernick is extremely mobile and can supplement his great arm with the ability to run, to run away from pursuit and to run for yardage (which Smith can't, with any consistency).  Hell, that's what John Madden thinks!

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying Alex Smith is not a good quarterback.  The numbers don't lie.  He's ranked fifth in the NFL in quarterback rating, and is tops in completion percentage, at 70%.  He led the 49ers to a 13-3 season a year ago, and if not for a couple of fumbled kicks, the Niners probably would have been in the Super Bowl.  And one impressive stat that even Stan didn't mention--Smith has completed 25-of-27 passes over his last two starts.  Not only that, but Alex Smith is one tough dude, one smart guy, and is a great teammate.  So what's not to love?

He doesn't throw deep, he doesn't run, and he has difficulty avoiding the rush.  Kaepernick does all of those things, and does them damn well.  He's completed 10 passes of 20+ yards in his two starts.  Smith has completed 22 passes of 20+ yards in nine starts.  Kaepernick has run for more than 200 yards this season, mostly as a backup, averaging seven yards a carry.  In his two NFL starts, he's been sacked only once.  In Smith's nine starts, he's been sacked 24 times.  And Kaepernick is also tough, smart and a great teammate.

But I don't want to get bogged down in statistics any more than I already am.  Simply put, Kaepernick has a higher ceiling than Smith, and this is something that has become clear in the 49ers locker room and on the field.  The players know.  The receivers clearly know.  So does the offensive line.  Listen to what they said after the last two games, and listen to how they said it.  If Harbaugh is thinking of using him at all in the playoffs, then the more experience he gets between now and then, the better.  I think Harbaugh is genuinely thrilled about the added dimension that Kaepernick brings to his offense, and believes that Kaepernick might be what the offense needs to bolster the team's chances of not just getting to the Super Bowl, but winning it.

Stan and I both know that Madden doesn't follow college football nearly as closely as he does the NFL, but John was a big fan of Kaepernick's when he starred at the University of Nevada, and was openly surprised that Kaepernick was not more highly regarded as a top NFL prospect.  Harbaugh felt much the same, which is why he engineered a draft-day trade last year to acquire Kaepernick, sending three draft picks to the Denver Broncos in exchange for the 36th pick.  Kaepernick is Harbaugh's guy, and Trent Baalke's, too.  Smith isn't.  Smith was here long before those two came on board.  That means something.  So does the fact that if the 49ers want to keep Smith next year, they'll have to pay him $8.5 million.  Maybe they're beginning to believe that Kaepernick will be their starting quarterback next season.

But the biggest factor of all is this:  Which quarterback gives the 49ers the best chance to win right now?  The guy with the experience, or the guy with the stronger arm and the ability to run?  The decision should have nothing to do with whether one of them is injured.  Sports is full of cases where a starter lost his job while rehabbing an injury.  Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp is merely the most famous example, but there are countless others.  And with good reason.  Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith figures to be the latest.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Giants' World Series Epilogue

I grew up within a stone's throw of Stanford University, which explains my lifetime allegiance to Stanford sports.  I also went to my first major league baseball game at the age of five, at Seals Stadium, at 16th&Bryant Streets, where the San Francisco Giants played their first two seasons, before moving to Candlestick Park in 1960.

In 1962, my parents were fortunate enough to score two tickets to each of the Giants' home games in the World Series against the mighty New York Yankees.  They were fortunate, because most years, as I recall, my parents were not so fortunate.  They'd send in their check each year the Giants were in contention (which was most years), hope that they'd survive the lottery, but more often than not be out of luck.  Not this time, however.

The Giants hosted games one and two, and eventually, six and seven.  My mother and I went to game one, which the Giants lost 6-2.  My father and my older brother went to game two, which the Giants won 2-0.  My parents went to game six, which the Giants won 5-2 to even the series at three games apiece.  And in one of the greatest gestures of love I can recall from my childhood, my parents let my brother and me (ages 12 and nine) go to game seven, which the Yankees won 1-0, but not before the Giants put the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth.  I was crushed.  Heartbroken.  My dad told me, don't worry, the Giants will win a World Series in the near future, they've got Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, etc.

Of course, the Giants played 52 years in San Francisco without winning a World Series until two years ago.  And now they've won their second World Series title in three years, something only three other National League teams have done in the last 90 years.  Despite being last in the majors in home runs.  Despite losing the first two games of the best-of-five LDS against Cincinnati, at home (!), before rallying to win three straight in the Reds' ballpark.  And despite losing three of the first four games of the best-of-seven LCS against St. Louis, before rallying to win game five in the Cards' ballpark, after which they won games six and seven at home, and then swept four from the Tigers to win the World Series.

Their ERA in the World Series was 1.46.  They finished the post-season with seven straight wins, outscoring the Cards and Tigers in the process 36-7, with an ERA of 0.98.  They played near-perfect defense.

Just the sweep of Detroit was unusual enough.  Only four other National League teams have done that, most recently the Reds in 1990, and including the New York Giants in 1954--the last Giants team to win the Series before the Giants of 2010.

I'm not sure what is most remarkable about what the Giants just did.  But one thing at, or near the top of the list would have to be the first of the six straight elimination games which they won.  They mustered just one hit through nine innings, with 16 strikeouts, yet won the game in the 10th on an error by the normally sure-handed Scott Rolen.

Post-season heroes?  Too many to mention here.  But just to start the list, you'd get few arguments if you put Marco Scutaro and Sergio Romo at the top.  The Giants traded a minor league infielder to Colorado for Scutaro in late July.  All he did was hit .362 for the Giants, in 243 at bats, with just 14 strikeouts and only 17 swings and misses.  He was the hardest player to strike out in the majors this year, and he swing-and-miss frequency was the lowest in the majors.  And then he hit .328 in the post-season, saving the best for last--a two-out, two-strike RBI-single to center in the 10th to win game four of the World Series.

It took awhile, but Romo eventually inherited the closer's job vacated by the season-ending elbow surgery for Brian Wilson.  And Romo delivered the goods.  He had 14 saves, a 1.79 ERA, allowed only 37 hits and 10 walks in 55 1/3 innings, with 63 strikeouts.  Romo also saved the best for last, recording his fourth save of the post-season (with an ERA of 0.84) by striking out the side in the bottom of the 10th of game four, including Triple Crown winner Miguel Carbera on a called third strike, on a fastball, after throwing 14 straight sliders to start the frame.  Sergio Romo is very generously listed at 5-10 and 183, but that cat has guts of a burglar.

And Texas manager Ron Washington is thinking to himself, my Rangers may have lost the World Series in five games to the Giants two years ago, but they've got the only win against the Giants in two of the last three World Series, covering nine games.  The Giants have been that hot.