Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jeff: Bill Walton Knows A Lot of Things You Don't

So during a fantasy football draft last weekend, Luke made a couple of comments about how entertaining Bill Walton was during these Team USA blowouts in the tournament of Americas or "Team USA vs A Bunch Of Guys You Wouldn't Choose in a Pickup Game." Whatever it's called, after watching the Americans slaughter Argentina's practice squad, I'm now upset with him that he didn't let me know about these games sooner. Before tonight, I hadn't paid much attention at all because the USA wins every game by 50, so really, I'm not missing anything, right? Bill Walton would say I'm an idiot for thinking that, because he knows that's not true. I think you'd be surprised to know what else Bill Walton knows that you don't, because while the Americans are dominating on the court, Bill is dominating the mic with information you never thought you'd get from a basketball announcer.

Did you know Argentina is one of the few countries in the world that's bi-continental? Did you know it has almost 3000 miles of coastline? Did you know that's nothing compared to Canada, which has like 128,000 miles of coastline? Of course not. But Bill Walton does. Sure you knew that Steve Nash's wife is from Paraguay? But did you know that Paraguay is one of only two landlocked South American countries? Of course not. But Bill Walton does. Did you know Macaw, China is like Las Vegas- but 10 times bigger? Wait, do you even know what bi-continental means? Well you're an idiot, because Bill Walton does. And if you were watching the Team USA blowouts, you would know these things too because Bill Walton is telling you. Idiot.

So anyway, the basketball hasn't been even remotely competitive, and besides Bill Walton, that's been the most intriguing thing to me. Since the original and ONLY Dream Team of 1992, I've been wondering why the USA couldn't dominate anymore. And I don't think I've been the only one to wonder this. All the excuses we've been hearing is how the world has caught up, how international basketball is different from the NBA, and that these guys play way too many games during the season to have anything left for the summer. While all of this may be true, Team USA still had by far the best talent in the world- they just didn't seem to care. To me that was the biggest reason the Americans weren't winning and dominating- because they just seemed to cruise through, and didn't seem to care if they lost or not. They acted like they SHOULD win, but if they didn't, well we've got all these excuses to fall back on.

This team, however, looks like the first since the Dream Teamers that's hungry. They're not going out there like they SHOULD win, they're playing like they WILL win. The team is playing like a pack of wolves or pride of lions or pod of killer whales or- ok you probably get the idea. But they look like predators out there. They're not out there to showboat and "get theirs" and try and get on Sportscenter. The goal seems to be to beat everybody by as much as possible, and to challenge each other to be their best since the competition can't. I know, I know what a novel concept eh? Playing with fire and hunger in the spirit of competition? Let's just say it's refreshing.

There are two reasons for this change in attitude: Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd. Those two guys, healthy and on the court together for the first time, are the engine that's driving this team. The Sports Guy has been saying for years that a basketball game and team is only as good as its point guard(s), and for this team, that rings especially true. With a bunch of guys who are used to being the star of their team, Kidd is doing what he always does- makes everybody better. He's showing that when healthy, he's one of the two best pure points on planet earth (the other has a wife who's from one of only two landlocked South American countries!). Before there was nobody to guide this group of young prima donnas- whoops I mean NBA Super Stars!- like a Ferrari being driven by a middle-aged woman on a cell phone. Now they have a professional race car driver, like Ricky Bobby or Jean Girard, and not surprisingly it's making all the difference.

And Kobe? Without question the best player in the world right now. He's on another level entirely, playing like it's the NBA Finals, not a summer hoops tourney. That drive, fire, and maniacal competitiveness is what's been missing from so many previous USA Teams. Lebron and Melo are being forced to step up their games to keep up with Kobe and Kidd, and when those 4 are playing that well, it only makes sense that everyone else is falling in line behind them. It's the best international basketball Team USA has played since 1992, and as long as Kidd and Kobe are healthy for Beijing next summer (want a fun fact about Beijing? You should have been listening to Bill Walton!), they're going to run away with Olympic gold. And personally, I couldn't be more excited to watch it.

A couple of other random things I've noticed while watching the game tonight:
* Does Dwight Howard have the world's smallest head, or the world's broadest shoulders? It has to be one or the other, right?
* There's a guy for Argentina, I think it's this guy, who has a Borat-esque mustache. To call it glorious would be like saying Kate Beckinsale is mildly attractive. Somewhere, Adam Morrison is hanging his head in shame- well for that and because he sucked this year.
* Argentina's jerseys are...gawd-awful? Atrocious? I would almost rather watch the WNBA than look at these jerseys anymore.
* Speaking of Jer's favorite league, that's been one of the few good things about Canadian TV: no WNBA. It's like it doesn't even exist up here. Please don't tell David Stern.

Finally I just saw two commercials: the first was one of those Holiday Inn ones. Not the Holiday Inn Express ads, which are good, but the regular HOliday Inn ones where the guy doesn't recognize Cal Ripken and it's supposed to be funny? They've also done stuff with Joe Buck, which was also not funny. I thought maybe when it was converted to metric for Canadian TV it would be funny, but not true. I think they're the worst commercials on TV.

The other one was for the movie 3:10 to Yuma. I don't know what that means, but I DO know it's a western, and it has Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Um is it too early to start camping out at the theater waiting for this one to open? Sign me up!

Jeremy: Things I learned this week.

*I learned this week LaDainian Tomlinson was the first consensus first overall fantasy football pick, according to Fanball, since they had Marshall Faulk pegged as the first pick overall in 2002. Every year since then they had at least 2 players that they figured to be solid #1 picks. I would also like to point out that I have LT in both of my leagues (a keeper in one league, and a $4500 first pick in an auction league).

*The New Shawn Kemp? I learned this week that Broncos running back Travis Henry has nine children by nine different women. According to the information that I can find, Henry's 9 actually beats Kemp's 7. The best part about the Shawn Kemp thing, for me, has always been that Paul Allen, on KFAN's PA & Dubay show, always plays the song "Don't pull your love out on me baby" by Glen Campbell.

*We all learned this week that the new starting QB of your Minnesota Golden Gophers Football team is Adam Webber. It's the feel good story of the year, really. Webber, a home town kid from Mounds View, grew up as a Gopher fan, a four year starter for his high school football team, a three-sport letter winner in high school, father played football for the Gophers... now, as a red-shirt freshman he will be leading his hometown Gophers. Personally, because of the type of offense that Brewster and Dunbar want to run, I was a fan of Webber since the spring game. He's more mobile, has a stronger arm and is more athletic than Tony Mortenson.

*I learned this week that the crazy world of podcasting is available to pretty much everyone. You will soon see a Midwest Sports Rubes podcast. If all 4 of you who read this blog also listen to our podcast, we'll consider it a success.

*I learned this week that Johan Santana has given up 29 home runs this season. That number happens to be the most in Major League Baseball. I was completely shocked to have heard this, but it's correct. Johan has given up more home runs than any other single pitcher in the game this season. This can partially be explained by the fact that he also ranks fourth in baseball in terms of number of innings pitched. For the record, he has the third lowest ERA in baseball.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Jeremy: Johan Santana

I've been mulling over this Johan Santana issue for the last week or so, and it's clear that the Twins need to sign him. It's clear that the Twins can't be successful right now, or in the very near future, without Johan. But I can't help but wonder, can they be successful right now, or in the near future, WITH Johan?
The question, as always in baseball, comes down to how much the owner is willing to spend. And really, until this issue becomes clearer for the Twins, I can't form an opinion.
Look, if the Twins are going to maintain the current company line on the payroll and only increase the payroll by 10% or so each year, and if Jeff is right that $20 million is the floor for Johan, then you are talking about a pitcher taking up AT LEAST 25% of your payroll. If that is the case, I personally believe that signing Johan is short-term franchise suicide.
I mean, look at the Wolves with Garnett. Obviously a different situation because of the actual salary cap, but the Wolves were strapped with Garnett and had very little options as far as signing talent. And while I think that signing Johan is more important than signing Torii Hunter, I do NOT believe that signing Johan is more important than signing Morneau, Mauer, Cuddy, etc, etc, etc. My point is, if Johan's contract is going to cripple you at 25% of your total payroll, and it causes you to lose most of your quality everyday talent, I just don't think it's worth it.
Now, having said that, if the Twins are only going to increase the payroll a small amount each year as they look forward to a new stadium, they aren't going to be able to compete at this level much longer anyway, in which case, Johan probably won't want to play here.
Unlike Jeff, I am personally of the opinion that Twins fans should absolutely EXPECT a payroll of $100 million when the new stadium opens, and personally if they are committed to winning, they should probably be pushing $110 million.
Here's my thinking: Say they are only increasing the payroll by about 10% each year (and that is a number that I pulled out of the air, so I might be way off), then they are going to be paying out almost $90 million ($89.5 million) in 2009 when the new stadium opens anyway. Pushing that number up another up another 20% would bring them to $108 million and they would easily recover this in increased revenue from stadium suites and concessions, both of which they will now be getting a much larger chunk of. It's a good investment on and off the field to make this commitment to young talent and the fans for the long term.
Carl Pohlad and Sid Hartman would have you believe that the Twins would be nowhere without the Pohlad family. I disagree. I think the Twins would be nowhere without Terry Ryan, Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jeff: Johan

A little late on the draw here, as you've probably heard by now the less than complimentary things Johan Santana had to say about his current employer, the Minnesota Twins. Of course there's still over a year until the 2008 season draws to a close and Santana can officially become a free agent, the Twins response and actions can change much of the perception that Johan has. Now I'm admittedly not a Twins fan, although I loved watching them play when I lived in MN and couldn't help but cheer for them as long as it didn't effect the Mariners (which, until this year, was never really a problem). Because I'm not a Twins fan, nor a native Minnesotan, I'm wondering if I'm possibly missing something surrounding the Twins reluctance to throw obscene amounts of money at the game's best player.

I'm not about to argue that $20+ million a year isn't a lot of money. It's a ludicrous amount, especially to play a kids game, but like it or not, after last season's free agent spending spree where an average starter like Barry Zito (who was living off of his Cy Young reputation a few years back) got $125 million over 7 years, $20 million annually is probably the floor for Santana's value, not the ceiling. The Twins have taken a hard line on keeping payroll as low as possible ($74 million to start the year but closer to $70 million currently with their latest trade of Ramon Ortiz), with the whining- I mean reasoning- from baseball's 2nd richest owner Carl Pohlad always being that he had a horrible stadium deal. Well with a brand new stadium coming in 2009 (for which he paid barely a 5th yet will get 100% of the profits), you would think those excuses should be gone right? I'm not asking for a Yankee-esque $200 million payroll, or even $100 million (only 8 teams- I'm including the Cubbies at $99.6 million- have at least payrolls in the 9 figure range, and of that group only the Mariners aren't one of the country's largest markets), but I think it's reasonable for a team in a mid market with a huge local following and a brand new stadium to have a payroll in the $85-$90 million range.

Whether it's because of Pohlad's titanium lock on payroll or Ryan's titanium lock on his prospects (news flash he has 9- NINE!!!- starting pitchers 25 or under at the major league level or AAA! NINE! He knows a rotation only has 5 spots right? Right? NINE!)the team refuses to raise the budget, and although I certainly don't have access to the Twins front office, it seems like they're shocked that Santana isn't going to give them a Brad Radke-like hometown discount. Gentlemen, the time to talk hometown discount was this time last summer, before the free agency lunacy began. Now a "bargain" would be that $20 million a year mark.

I know Torii, Mauer, Morneausy, Nathan and Cuddy are coming due for free agency themselves, but Santana should be priority #1 because he could quite possibly be THE BEST FREE AGENT EVER. Ever. Not only that, he could be the lowest risk free agent ever. He's 28 years old, will be 29 when he hits the market, and has been the best player in the league since 2003. You can have A-Rod, Big Papi, Pujols, Vlad the Impaler, Reyes, Cabrerra or anybody else you want to name. Johan has been consistently as good as any, and because he's the rarest of rare breeds, a left-handed power pitcher, in a pitching-starved market, he's easily the most valuable player in baseball. What's more, there's nothing that shows that he shouldn't continue to be dominant well into his mid 30's.

Simply put from an outsider's perspective, if the Twins are serious about being contenders and rewarding their fans for buying them a new stadium out of their own pockets, there is no reasonable argument why they wouldn't lock up the game's best player as soon as possible. Anyone care to disagree?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jeremy: Back to comment

*First of all, as Jeff mentioned, our thoughts are still with the folks who have been affected by the 35W bridge collapse. My wife and I were on vacation, camping, when the collapse happened, and it was surreal to hear about it from afar, then not see the images until 4 days later.
As someone who has driven over that bridge thousands of times, who used to live a 1/2 mile from that bridge, who regularly tailgates within blocks of that bridge, and whose wife works about a mile from it... it's just unreal to think of all of the implications that come along with this bridge falling.

*On that topic, I know there was some discussion surrounding the Twins game on the night of the collapse and the following night. Personally, I think the team made the right decision to play the game on Wednesday and not play on Thursday. Taking a break on Thursday was a good idea, but sending all of those people away from the Dome and out into traffic less than an hour after, and a mile away from, the collapse would have been irresponsible.

*So Bonds finally broke the record. Thanks goodness! Can we all get on with our lives now?

*I'm to the point where I wish the Twins would either collapse completely, or go on a historic run because this recent up and down streak business is driving me crazy. Honestly, they get within 4 1/2 games, then suddenly they drop a few games and they are right back to being practically out of the race. I can't take it. And seriously, could the trade of Luis Castillo possibly have been any more apathetic? That trade did nothing to say "we're throwing in the towel," and certainly didn't communicate "we're making a run." Terry Ryan is a fantastic GM, but his inability to pull the trigger on a deal still gets under my skin.

*24 days, 9 hours, 52 minutes & 3 seconds to the kick-off of Gopher Football season. I'm just sayin'.

*Look, I know the Wolves aren't going to be any good this year, and we'll probably be lucky to see them win 30 games. But you have to admit that they could be a little bit fun to watch because they are absolutely LOADED with young talent. I know that it isn't going to get them anywhere this year, but can you imagine if these guys start to gel? The average age of this team is under 26 years old. Do you realize that we now have 2 players that were drafted in the top 7 in the last two years, 5 players drafted in the top 15 and 6 in the top 20 in the last 3 years? I don't know about you, but I think that's exciting.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I-35W Bridge Collapses

Well I was signing on to write about Johan Santana's comments today in the Strib, but then heard about the bridge collapse. I hope everybody down there that I know is ok, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families, as well as to the rescue crews that are working diligently.