Archive for July, 2006

Sports leagues and teams enact measures all the time that make them more money yet are detrimental to fans, such renaming ballparks for corporate sponsors (Comiskey, despite being the last name of the cheapest bastard in baseball history, should still be the namesake of wherever the White Sox call home forever) to stretching out postseason play to last two months (I seriously love David Stern and the NBA Playoffs, but we do need have some parameters in place). Yet, if you ask the average sports fan how he or she would like to have the champion of college football be determined, the overwhelming response is that there needs to be some type of playoff system. At the same time, the television networks would fall all over themselves in writing checks that would dwarf what CBS currently pays for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (which hopefully won’t be screwed up) to broadcast college football’s “December Madness”.

Despite such a rare confluence of interests between the fans and the financially-driven institutions, however, the college presidents seem to get more stubbornly deadset against a playoff system every season while backing the less-than-satisfactory Bowl Championship Series. This continues to be one of the world’s great mysteries, right up there with the location of the Holy Grail and how “Two and a Half Men” is not only still on the air, but is a certified top 10 hit.

Therefore, I propose the following relatively simple solution that ought to appease the fans’ clamor for a playoff system, keep the bowls intact for the college presidents, and has a realistic chance to be actually implemented: take the 4 BCS bowls, keep the traditional matchups (i.e. Big Ten vs. Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl) with the at-large bids given to the two highest ranked teams that didn’t win their BCS conference or were champions of a non-BCS conference, and make those games the quarterfinals in a national championship playoff that will be played on a weekend in the middle of December. The winners would then advance to semifinals that are played on New Year’s Day and the championship game would be played a week later.

From my perspective, this playoff/bowl hybrid would address all of the most frequently cited reasons and impediments against having a playoff system. Let’s go through the reasons why I believe this hybrid model would work and have a reasonable chance to be put in place:

1) BCS Schools Keep Control – Forget about all of that lip service about academics or the season being too long (although I’ll touch on those subjects later). The largest reason, by a landslide, as to why there isn’t a playoff system in place right now is that the BCS schools receive wildly disproportionate financial benefits under the current bowl arrangements. Thus, they have little monetary incentive to have an NCAA Tournament-style playoff for football.

Under the playoff/bowl hybrid, the BCS schools would be able to retain their financial advantage, or even add to it, while finally giving the fans what they want. This might not appease the supporters of the smaller conferences that want more access to the top tier games, but they would at least have an equitable chance at an at-large spot under my proposal (as opposed to having Notre Dame get invited as long as they win 9 games regardless of their ranking because of the school’s popularity). The reality is that the BCS schools will never willingly go to a completely NCAA Tournament-style open playoff system or give up their automatic bids (they would seriously secede from the NCAA before that ever happens). If a playoff for college football is ever going to be put into place, the BCS schools are going to insist upon receiving similar advantages that they currently have. In the end, a playoff/bowl hybrid, even if the BCS retains its power, is a whole lot better option than what’s in place now.

2) The Season Wouldn’t Be Extended Any Longer Than It Is Now
– I have always felt that the detractors of a playoff citing that the season would be too long were always full of bunk. The lower divisions of college football all have playoffs, while BCS bowl participants currently have a layoff of a month or more between their last regular season games and the bowls. Not only that, the national championship game will be played on January 8th beginning next season.

There’s no reason for such a long layoff between games (don’t give me academics as a reason – Division 1-AA teams play in playoff games that go straight through December), so that’s why I proposed moving the quarterfinals to a weekend in mid-December. That would allow the semifinals to be played on New Year’s Day (with the added benefit of having the games being played on that holiday mean something again) and the championship game would be played no later than it is now. As a result, the “season would be too long” argument carries no water here.

3) Regular Season Would Mean More Rather Than Less – The small number of fans that are against going to a playoff system almost always argue that they do not want to diminish the importance of the college regular season (i.e. they say that the season is already a 12-week playoff). I sympathize with those thoughts. The beauty of the playoff/bowl hybrid is that every BCS conference regular season championship race now also has national championship implications as opposed to having just one or two games that matter across the country by the end of October.

A perfect example of the problems of the current system is how last season played out, where by the middle of the year the only games that had national implications were the ones involving USC and Texas. In my opinion, spending half the season where 60 games per week don’t really matter isn’t a great way to have a strong and interesting regular season for fans across the country. By using the playoff/bowl hybrid, however, the regular season will have more meaningful games involving more teams and conferences up until the last week since winning a BCS conference championship automatically means a chance to play for the national championship.

4) No More Judgment Calls Regarding Championship Participants – One of my biggest pet peeves over the past two seasons is hearing people state that the BCS system has “worked” since the best two teams have been placed in the National Final. This is a ridiculous notion – the BCS got lucky by having two straight years where there were only two teams at the end of the season that were undefeated. Did all of those current system supporters suddenly forget the previous seasons when there were multiple one-loss teams vying for a spot in the championship game based upon a convoluted formula? That is anything but a system that works.

Now, my proposal keeps the BCS rankings, but they are instead used for the two at-large spots as opposed to determining who should play in the final. While there would inevitably be controversy regarding which teams deserve those at-large spots, that would be no different than arguing about the last at-large spots to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Besides, if a team takes care of business during the regular season and wins its BCS conference, that school is going to have an automatic chance for the national championship. Having controversy over a team that didn’t win a BCS conference getting into the playoffs is a lot more acceptable than what has happened under the current system, where top teams that did win their conferences have been denied a spot in the national final. It’s not perfect, but I believe that it’s a solid trade-off that’s on par with what is in place its college basketball counterparts.

5) Tradition of the Bowls are Kept Intact – As a Big Ten alum and fan, there is definitely something special about the conference’s relationship with the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 that I would never want to see go away. Under the playoff/bowl hybrid proposal, the paegentry and tradition of each of the BCS bowls would still carry on. Not only that, all of those bowls would matter again as the quarterfinals to the national championship as opposed to being the glorified consolation prizes that they are now.

There you have it – a proposal to create a college football playoff that also keeps the bowls and addresses all of the arguments that have been levied against a normal playoff system. The vast majority of sports fans want to see this happen and the BCS would make even more money than they do now. So, the only question is how much longer the presidents of the BCS schools continue to be stubbornly tied to a position that makes no sense. Judging by what little advancement there has been on this issue over the years, it will probably a lot longer than I’d care for.

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About a week-and-a-half ago on a Saturday, a small fire occurred in the building next door to my company’s offices in the Loop. On the following Monday, every store and restaurant on the floor where the fire occurred, which includes Bank of America, Dunkin’ Donuts, Nestle Toll House Cookies, and Gateway Newsstands, was closed with the glaring exception of one right in the middle of it all: Starbucks. God forbid that the zombie-like addicts don’t get their caffeine crack during the Monday rush-hour. The point here is that whatever you think of Starbucks, they obviously have such a well-tuned disaster plan that they ought to be put in charge of running FEMA. Anyway, on to today’s links:

1) Welcome, All Chorizos! (Deadspin) – Usually, “South of the Border” to people from Wisconsin means FIBs.

2) 2008: The Case for Barack Obama (Washington Post) – If I were Barack, I’d be running for President right away. Out of the 5 Presidents that we’ve elected over the past 30 years, the only one that had any substantive national experience was George H.W. Bush. If anything, the more time that you spend in the U.S. Senate, the worse presidential candidate you become (see John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bob Dole).

3) White Sox Acquire MacDougal (South Side Sox) – For all of the Alfonso Soriano rumors, acquiring Mike MacDougal from the Royals to shore up a less-than-stellar bullpen was the move that the White Sox really needed to make before the trade deadline. Even South Side player-hater Minneapolis Red Sox approved of the move! Of course, it would help if we started winning again.

4) Chicago Bulls’ New ‘Bench Seat’ Runs $125,500 Per Season (Crain’s Chicago Business) – While this might sound expensive, the cost of this seat for an entire year is almost $60,000 less than what Ben Wallace will be making per game from the Bulls during the life of his new contract. From that standpoint, this is a steal, right?

5) Camp Starts Thursday (Da’ Bears Blog) – I don’t know about you, but Bears training camp, which opens up tomorrow, has completely snuck up on me.  This is noteworthy because I usually start counting down the days to the opening of training camp by around the Fourth of July, particularly when the Bears are coming off of a playoff run as they are this year.  However, with everything that has been going on with the Sox and Bulls over the summer plus an even worse than average season for the Cubs, we’re in a rare period where the Bears aren’t dominating the Chicago sports scene.  That being said, I’m starting to get the annual football itch.

And finally…

6) New Monopoly Version Uses Debit Card (Yahoo! News) – No word on whether we need to pay $1.50 for each time that we pass “Go”.

I’m not happy with the performance of the White Sox lately at all. If this keeps up, we might be worrying a lot more about the AL wild card contenders behind us right now than Detroit. Well, at least there are some links to take away attention from the slumping Sox:

1) Making Money in Basketball (Blog Maverick) – Mark Cuban’s suggestion on how to build a successful minor league basketball franchise: pay off high school kids… seriously. While his “business plan” here starts with this unfathomable leap, he does make an excellent point as to how European basketball teams make their serious profits from the buyout clauses of the players that they develop that go on to the NBA and that there’s no reason that an American minor league club couldn’t do the same. The Wall Street Journal had an article a couple of weeks ago about how the reverse of this money flow occurs in the soccer world, where European soccer clubs will pay large “transfer rights” to Latin American clubs for the top players that they develop, which are completely separate from the actual playing contracts for those players (it’s a virtual stock market regarding the value of soccer players, which is why the Journal reported that hedge funds have been getting into the action). In the case of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United paid his old club in Portugal $19.2 million for his transfer rights. Something tells me that the Pistons paid a bit less for the rights to Darko Milicic (although I could be very wrong in that thought).

2) Scientists Plan to Rebuild Neanderthal Genome (New York Times) – They’re exclusively using DNA samples from Patrick Ewing and Bill Laimbeer.

3) Ex-Village People Singer Answers Charges (Los Angeles Times) – You knew it had to be the cop, right? By the way, it might be just me, but I always have an internal chuckle at every wedding that I attend where all of the grandmothers are whooping it up to “YMCA” since it’s obvious that they have absolutely no clue what that song is about.

4) Remini Held Suri Cruise During L.A. Visit (Washington Post) – There still hasn’t been any denial that this baby is an alien cyborg. Hmmmm….

5) Quite Frankly, Baker Bails Out (Chicago Tribune) – A number of Cubs bloggers received emails that appeared to come from the producers of Stephen A. Smith’s show on ESPN, urging them to join the studio audience during a Dusty Baker interview and boo him. Smith stated that he believed it was a hoax and then blamed Deadspin for all of this. Of course, Deadspin has a nice retort to Stephen A’s accusations.

And finally…

6) Pennsylvania Man, 80, Admits Dealing Crack for Sex (San Francisco Chronicle) – On that note, have a great weekend!

Dennis Rodman. Ben Wallace. John Salley. Magglio Ordonez. Al Simmons. Chris Chelios. Erik Kramer. Bobby Layne. All of these prominent sports figures from past and present have one thing in common: they have played for teams in both Chicago and Detroit during their careers. Chicago sports teams might have individual rivals from cities other than Detroit such as the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals that are more pronounced. However, Chicago and Detroit are linked by having geographically defined and historic rivalries in every sport across the board whether it’s in the professional or college (when taking into account the Big Ten plus Notre Dame) ranks. Not even New York vs. Boston (they have the pro sports covered, but you couldn’t pay enough money to the average person on the street to watch Rutgers play Boston College in anything on the college front) or Los Angeles vs. San Francisco (L.A. doesn’t have an NFL team while the Bay Area only has a quasi-NBA franchise in the Warriors) have sets of sports rivalries that run as wide and deep as Chicago vs. Detroit. With the important series between the White Sox and Tigers (the Sox took game 1 last night after a marvelous performance by Jon Garland) occurring this week, here’s my ranking of the top Chicago vs. Detroit rivalries taking into account history and present fervor:

1) Bulls vs. Pistons – As I’ve stated before, the Bad Boy Pistons were the first team I ever had pure hatred for during my childhood. During the late-1980s and early-1990s, this was the most heated rivalry in all of sports with annual nationally televised Christmas Day matchups at the old Chicago Stadium and inevitable meetings in the NBA Playoffs, coming to a peak when the Pistons walked off of the court after being eliminated by the Bulls in 1991 without even acknowledging Michael Jordan and his team. The rivalry subsided when the Bulls, during their 1990s dynasty, eventually found new foils in the Knicks and Pacers and then the Pistons rose back to dominance after the start of the new millennium right when Chicago went into the cellar. However, with Ben Wallace defecting from a Motown fan base that loved him to go to Chicago out of all places (the basketball equivalent of Johnny Damon spurning the Red Sox for the Yankees), these two franchises are going to be rekindling that old hatred this season and beyond.

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2) Notre Dame vs. Michigan – Michigan fans will tell you that while Ohio State, without question, is their biggest rival, they save their harshest vitriol for the Irish. At the same time, even though Domers count USC as their most important game of the season, there’s a certain respect for the Trojans in contrast to the pure hatred for the Wolverines. Notre Dame and Michigan are the two winningest programs in college football history with fight songs that are beaten into everyone’s heads, whether or not they care one iota about these teams, from birth. When you add in the pompous fans on both sides, the only thing comparable to this game is watching the Yankees play themselves in an intrasquad game: you hope there’s a way that both teams can lose. Regardless of how much I might hate these teams, the college football season really doesn’t start until Notre Dame plays Michigan in September.

(Sidenote: I really wish I could put Illinois vs. Michigan on this list, but I’ve learned over time that the “rivalry” is completely one-sided with my Illini brethren. Now, the most emotionally scarring sports moment that I have ever witnessed at an event that I actually attended was the 2000 Illinois – Michigan football game, where the Illini had the game stolen by the Big Ten referees who, with less than four minutes left in the game with Illinois ahead, incorrectly called a fumble by Illinois’ Rocky Harvey when he was actually down and then seconds later inexplicably didn’t call a fumble on Michigan’s Anthony Thomas when he dropped the ball when his knees weren’t anywhere near close to the ground. Michigan would go on to score the winning touchdown on that drive. The errors were so egregious that the Big Ten issued an unprecedented apology to Illinois a couple of days later and spurred the conference to begin using instant replay. What happened in Champaign that Saturday evening wasn’t a case of heartbreak a la Illinois losing in the 2005 NCAA Championship Game. Instead, it was probably the only time I’ve ever felt completely violated after watching a sporting event. To say the least, my disdain for Michigan peaked at that point.

However, when I went to law school at DePaul, the two undergraduate schools that matriculated the most students there by a substantial margin were Illinois and Michigan. Everytime I spewed my anger toward the Maize and Blue, my Michigan alum classmates were sincerely and genuinely perplexed. They had absolutely no feelings toward playing us whatsoever. In fact, a number of them upon moving to Chicago even started cheering for Illinois when they weren’t playing Michigan. They simply didn’t think about us at all as any sort of rival – we might as well have been Northern Illinois. While learning about this apathy was initially even more enraging from a personal standpoint, it also made me realize that Illinois vs. Michigan was a fictional rivalry and we, as Illini fans, look pretty petty into making the matchup into something more than what it actually is. This is now so apparent across the Big Ten that the Michigan Daily even had an article a couple of years ago examining how much we hate them in contrast to their ambivalence toward us. From that point on, I decided that if I was going to hate a team that really wasn’t a true rival of the Illini, I’d redirect more of my sports rage toward someone outside of the Big Ten: Duke. Of course, that’s not to say that I won’t continue to drop “Muck Fichigan” lines at every opportunity.)

3) Bears vs. Lions – In 1934, the Detroit Lions began their tradition of playing on every Thanksgiving Day by matching up against the Chicago Bears. When examining longevity and frequency, only the Packers are bigger rivals to the Bears than the Lions. While in terms of sporting excellence this rivalry has seen better days, the Bears and Lions are, year-in and year-out regardless of records, the most important franchises in their respective cities. So, as we wait for Matt Millen to put together an offensive formation that features one quarterback and ten wide receivers, we can appreciate the history between these two NFL teams along with the passionate fan bases that they bring to the table.

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4) Blackhawks vs. Red Wings – As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this rivalry once would have been the clear and undisputed #1 on this list. However, this matchup is looking more like Illinois vs. Michigan as opposed to Bulls vs. Pistons with every inept team that the Blackhawks trot out on the ice. Still, there’s incredible history here, from their mutual status as Original Six franchises to the Bobby Hull vs. Gordie Howe boxing matches.

5) Illinois vs. Michigan State – A continually growing college basketball rivalry that is based more on excellence as opposed to bad blood. When looking at the Big Ten over the past decade, these two programs have perennially been at the top of the conference, which makes their annual matchups that much more important. For the record, if I had to pick the one head coach in college basketball other than Bruce Weber that I respect and admire over everyone else, it would definitely be the Spartans’ Tom Izzo.

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6) White Sox vs. Tigers – This season, these two teams are battling for supremacy in the American League. I’ve got to rank this rivalry at #6, however, because they have spent the last one hundred seasons as pretty lackluster franchises. It wasn’t very long ago that the Tigers were battling to avoid losing 120 games in a season, while the White Sox finally broke an 88-year World Series championship drought in 2005. If these two clubs can sustain some success over multiple seasons after this year, then we’ll have another true rivalry on our hands.

And finally…

7) Cubs vs. Tigers – This isn’t a real rivalry at all, but it serves me with an opportunity to remind my readers that are Cubs fans that your team (a) hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, when they defeated none other than the Detroit Tigers in five games and (b) hasn’t won a National League pennant since 1945, when they then lost to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series in the maximum seven games. The Circle of Life continues (as well as the Curse of the Billy Goat).

(Images from Pistons.com, Beckett.com, Beckett.com, FightingIllini.com)

Have the Mets stopped scoring on the Cubs yet? All jokes aside, my White Sox didn’t fare any better against the other New York team this weekend. The three game sweep at the hands of the Yankees makes the series beginning tonight against the Tigers a pivotal point in the season. I still don’t quite believe in Detroit because of their inexperience, but I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention that the baseball world didn’t think the Sox were for real until the last out of the World Series last season. In fact, the 2004 Red Sox are the only World Series winners of the last five years that really had any “big game” experience prior to their championship season. Until tonight’s game, here are the links for the day:

1) The True Nature of Bo’s Tecmo Dominance (Deadspin) – The Big Three of Old School Nintendo: Mario in “Super Mario Bros.”, Link in “The Legend of Zelda”, and Bo Jackson in “Tecmo Bowl”.

(Update: Per TK, the Bo Jackson footage was from Tecmo Super Bowl as opposed to Tecmo Bowl. The original Tecmo Bowl didn’t use NFL teams or players.)

2) Oprah: I’m Not Gay (Washington Post) – Crisis averted for American males: there will not be an Oprah/Rosie love child.

3) The Deal-Breakers (Chicago Tribune) – Rationally, to paraphrase the former Hollywood magnate Samuel Goldwyn, I believe that verbal commitments aren’t worth the paper that they’re written on, so I can’t really be shocked by this or play the “unethical” card here. Emotionally, however, if Kelvin Sampson and Indiana somehow steal Eric Gordon from Illinois, my hatred for the Hoosiers would catapult them past Duke and the Packers on my personal list of the most evil teams in all of sports (and that’s akin to switching the order of the Ten Commandments for me). If you’re not up for a couple of rants per week on this blog for the next umpteen years about how Sampson is the Anti-Christ, you absolutely do not want this to happen.

4) DePaul Big East Basketball Opponents for 2006-07 (DePaul Blue Demons) – Having two games apiece against Notre Dame and St. John’s is a good thing. However, what’s up with South Florida (who I don’t believe should have ever been invited to the Big East) appearing twice on the schedule instead of traditional rival Marquette? That’s not very cool. All in all, I have some doubts as to whether DePaul is going to have enough to get to the NCAA Tournament next season since the tough Big East gauntlet is coupled with a brutal non-conference schedule with home games against Kansas (speaking of a school with a coach that is the Anti-Christ), Wake Forest, and California, along with a trip to the Maui Classic that will feature Kentucky, Memphis, UCLA, and Oklahoma.

5) Chicago Weighs New Prohibition: Bad-for-You Fats (New York Times) – If Ed Burke had read my list of Chicago buffets from last week, he never would have proposed such a clamp on the joys of humanity. Do we live in Russia or something?

6) Never Say Never (Chicagoist) – See, Naperville isn’t such a bad place to live! However, I do remember seeing the noted T-shirt being sold around the corner from my old apartment in the city right before my wife and I made the move out west.

And finally…

7) Snoop Dogg Planning West Cost Dominance (AllHipHop.com) – Tell us what you really think about non-West Coast rappers shooting videos in your ‘hood, Snoop.

There are a number of factors that make America great – freedom of speech, the dedication to innovation, our steadfast refusal to adopt the metric system, and, most importantly, the preponderance of all-you-can-eat buffets across the land.  As a moral duty to all my readers, I’d like to share some of my favorites from the Chicago area in no particular order (please note that these are old school eat-from-the-trough buffets, so the amazing all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouses such as Fogo de Chao that are on a whole other level aren’t included here):

1) Aurelio’s Pizza Buffet (506 West Harrison Street, Chicago) – My favorite food in the entire world is pizza and my favorite pizza in the entire world is from Homewood-based Aurelio’s. Thus, when Aurelio’s began a lunch buffet a few blocks away from my Loop office, my cholesterol level shot up about 100 points just with the marvelous foodie thoughts dancing through my head. Plus, the salad bar has crushed up bits of real bacon (that’s really the only time I ever touch the salad bar over there), which means you can turn any slice of pizza into a bacon special.

2) KFC Buffet (700 North Milwaukee Avenue, Vernon Hills) – Did I just say that there is KFC that allows a patron to delve into an orgy of Original Recipe, Extra Crispy, and sides without limitation? Damn straight. As far as I know, this is the only one that exists in Chicagoland. After having lived in nearby Libertyville for a couple of years, I can no longer eat KFC like a normal human being. Unless I get 15 wings and 5 breasts, I’m not satisfied. Damn you Colonel Sanders, with your beady little eyes!

3) Malahini Terrace (321 West 75th Street, Clarendon Hills) – Pretty much all Chinese buffets are inherently good. However, the last time I went to this place, it had Peking duck as one its offerings, which makes it inherently stupendous. (Sidenote: How about a pay-per-view battle between General Tso and Colonel Sanders for chicken supremacy? That would totally kick the hell out of that Burger King chicken fight from a couple of years ago.)

4) John Barleycorn’s Sunday Brunch (3524 North Clark Street, Chicago) – Yes, I know that the bar is played out for anyone that is more than two years removed from college. However, the breakfast spread here with made-to-order omelettes is surprisingly good at an inexpensive price, although my memories might be colored by the fact that I was probably nursing a hangover during my visit.

5) Bobak’s (5275 South Archer Avenue, Chicago) – It’s Xanadu on Archer. Chicken stuffed in pork stuffed in beef stuffed into a deep-fried pierogi… that essentially describes the experience at this Polish classic. In the end though, it all comes down to how many of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning bacon-wrapped hot dogs you can down Kobayashi-style. That is not a misprint. I would never, ever joke about the existence of a restaurant that offers hot dogs wrapped in bacon, which has been verified by Dan Brown as the main course at the Last Supper. Just be sure to duck your heads while you’re in the parking lot to avoid the jets flying into Midway.

Every once in awhile, Frank the Tank’s Slant unintentionally prints erroneous information and is not able to update it within a reasonable amount of time. Unlike the vaunted New York Times, which buries its corrections in the middle of the obituaries section, this blog will devote an entire post on its front page from time-to-time to rectify its unaddressed errors. Please review the following:

1) In the Land-o-Links – 6/15/2006 post, Frank the Tank’s Slant reported that the opening line for the new Jay-Z/Beyonce song is “I used to run the bases like Juan Pierre”, which is incorrect. Instead, the opening line is actually “I used to run base like Juan Pierre”, where “base” is a reference to free base cocaine, A.K.A. crack. Frank the Tank’s Slant sincerely regrets the error and apologizes to Shawn Carter A.K.A. Jay-Z A.K.A. Jigga A.K.A. Hova. This blog should have known better.

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2) In the 2006 American League Preview post, Frank the Tank’s Slant has managed to bungle every prediction as of this year’s All-Star Break. While this blog stands by its predictions and will not issue a full retraction unless it is warranted at the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season, Frank the Tank’s Slant sincerely regrets influencing anyone that would have been intoxicated enough to actually base wagers on such predictions.

3) In the 2006 National League Preview post, please see all of the comments for the 2006 American League Preview above, except that this blog will issue a full retraction of its idiotic and insane prediction regarding the Chicago Cubs immediately (and please note that the prediction was made by a diehard White Sox fan, which makes this whole situation completely unacceptable).

A special non-sports post is on tap for tomorrow that everyone can relate to. Until then, enjoy your Thursday!

(Image from Wikipedia)

It wasn’t exactly an exciting All-Star Game up until there were 2 outs in the 9th inning last night, but it was nice to see the American League clinch home-field advantage for their pennant winner, who will hopefully be the White Sox. By the way, I really can’t stand the fact that Bud Selig decided to use an exhibition game to determine home-field advantage for the game’s championship as opposed to using the individual records of the teams involved like every other sport. However, I’ve got to admit I was on edge when Michael Young had 2 strikes on him in the top of the 9th as well as when Mariano Rivera was closing it out at the bottom – this really did have true implications for AL manager Ozzie Guillen and my White Sox in the future. It was artificially created and completely unfair drama, but it was drama nonetheless. Anyway, here are today’s links:

1) New Gender Divide: At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust (New York Times) – Case study used: a comparison of the performances of Frank the Tank and his wife at the University of Illinois.

2) In Tijuana, the Real ‘Nacho Libre’ (Washington Post) – The happiest place on Earth!

3) Shock and Gone (Chicago Tribune) – I have never listened to Mancow with any regularity, but I do remember back in high school when he announced one morning that he was going to pay for all of the customers at a Homewood gas station around the corner from my childhood home, which caused the worse traffic jam that has ever been seen in the South Suburbs (and with the perpetual construction surrounding the I-80/I-294 interchange heading into Indiana, AKA “The I-PASS Lane to the Gates of Hell”, that’s saying something).

4) Sports Bars May Be Left With Shania, ‘Simpsons’ (Chicago Sun-Times) - It’s the day after the All-Star Game, which means it’s also the worst day of the year for sports fans.

And finally…

5) Awkward Moments Abound in Penis Pump Trial (San Francisco Chronicle) – Our nation’s justice system at work.

On a day where Italy bested France on penalty kicks to win the World Cup and the Chicago area hosted a PGA Tour event (following up on my diatribe on this subject a few months ago, Rick Morrissey beautifully tore a new one into the PGA president for dropping the Western Open and rotating the tournament out of Chicago every other year starting in 2007) and a NASCAR race (pretty boy Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag in the USG Sheetrock 400) within a few miles of each other, the White Sox and Red Sox engaged in a 19-inning game that brought to the forefront a lot of issues for the second-half of the baseball season. A few thoughts heading into the All-Star break (no White Sox or Cubs games until Friday???):

1) The Pair of Sox Are Baseball’s Best – At the beginning of the year, I had about as much faith in Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett holding up for the entire season as I did in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood (who might be done forever) doing the same, which is the reason why I had picked Boston to finish behind both the Yankees and Blue Jays in the AL East. Well, it turns out that Schilling and Beckett haven’t broken down while the Bosox have solved their closer problems (Minneapolis Red Sox had a nice post last week on what makes a quality closer) with the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon (save for Jermaine Dye’s line drive rocket out of the park with 2 outs in the 9th to bring the White Sox back to life yesterday). With their pitching staff largely in order and possibly the strongest batting lineup from top to bottom in baseball, the Red Sox look like they are in better shape this season than they were when they won it all in 2004.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are bashing the ball on offense a lot better than last season, but the pitching staff has taken a step back. Bobby Jenks, of all people, has become the most stabilizing and consistent force off the mound for the ball club. The White Sox starting rotation hasn’t been clicking on all cylinders for quite awhile despite the fact that Jose Contreras hasn’t lost a decision since last August. Contreras has continued to be a rock, but the consistency from game-to-game for the rest of the starters has been lacking so far. Fortunately, the superior depth that the White Sox have in this spot means that they have a great chance to rectify this in the second half. I’m more considered about the middle relievers, who, outside of Neal Cotts, continue to fail to inspire confidence in me. That’s the area that I’m looking for Kenny Williams to shore up prior to the trade deadline. Still, we’re in a great spot here. I don’t think the White Sox have been playing up to par pitching-wise at all, yet they still have the second-best record in baseball.

Regardless, this weekend’s White Sox-Red Sox tilt was a possible ALCS preview with a look at the top two teams in the game at this time (the Tigers are just mercilous with their continued winning, but until they beat the White Sox head-to-head in a series, they’ve got a gaping hole on their resume). For that matter, if we took a combination of the top starting position players from just the White Sox and Red Sox and put them up against the starters from the National League All-Star Game, the only spot where I believe the NL would have an advantage would be at first base with Albert Pujols (and even there, a combined Sox team wouldn’t be giving up much at all with Paul Konerko or one of the virtual first basemen of David Ortiz or Jim Thome). The Red Sox took the weekend overall, but the White Sox winning a marathon game with two separate comebacks has got to have some carry-over effect the next time these two clubs meet in September at Fenway Park.

2) The White Sox Aren’t a Small Ball Team and Never Have Been – During the White Sox playoff run last season, there was a myth propogated by the national media that the team engaged in “small ball” or a bastardized version call “Ozzie Ball” that was the antithesis of the Moneyball philosophy advanced by Oakland’s Billy Beane and his follower Theo Epstein in Boston. This seemed to become the conventional wisdom despite the fact that the White Sox were fourth in the American League in home runs last season with higher power totals than the perceived-to-be-stronger-on-offense Red Sox.  I guess the media forgot that teams other than the Red Sox and Yankees actually existed in the American League, so they went and continue to go overboard in attempting to differentiate the White Sox.

All of this wouldn’t bother me if the White Sox themselves didn’t buy into this myth and just realize that they win a lot more of their games by Moneyball-esque power than by small ball. Instead, we get situations such as the bottom of the 17th inning yesterday. At that time, the White Sox had runners at first and second with nobody out and all they needed was one run to score to win the ballgame. It’s perfectly smart baseball to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move a runner who wouldn’t reasonably be able to steal from first base to scoring position. However, I’m not a fan of attempting a sac bunt when there is: (a) a man already in scoring position, (b) an advantageous 2-0 count in favor of the hitter, or (c) two strikes on the hitter. All of this occurred in the same at-bat by Tadahito Iguchi in that 17th inning, who ended up popping out straight to the pitcher on an attempted bunt with two strikes on him. Of course, the White Sox then grounded into a double play after that to kill the potential for a win in that inning. Fortunately, Iguchi redeemed himself by hitting the game-winning single in the 19th.

The point here is that the White Sox are not a small ball team and, therefore, shouldn’t try to act like a small ball team. If a guy is already in scoring position, the team has good enough hitters where a bunt has more of a chance to hurt them than to help. This is the only thing that Ozzie Guillen does as a field general that I have any criticism over.

3) Player to Dye For – Jermaine Dye was the MVP for the White Sox yesterday with both his bat with a 2-out 9th inning homer to tie the game and glove with an outstanding catch to prevent possibly a triple by the White Sox. For that matter, he has been the MVP for the White Sox for this entire first half of the season. If a World Series MVP could ever be underrated, Dye would fit the bill. While Jim Thome has certainly electrified the crowds at U.S. Cellular Field with his moonshot home runs, Paul Konerko gets the “Paulie” chants, and A.J. Pierzynski attracts attention in every way, Dye has quietly gone about his business by killing the ball at the plate and snatching everything in right field. An even better reward than the invitation to tonight’s Home Run Derby for the White Sox leader would be the opportunity to start in the All-Star Game itself as a replacement for the “injured” Manny Ramirez (he didn’t look hurt in playing all 19 innings yesterday). This is bigger no-brainer for Ozzie Guillen than any of his discretionary picks of White Sox players for the All-Star roster. Jermaine Dye should be starting in right field on Tuesday night.

In the Fall of 1993, Jerry Reinsdorf was at a high point. His basketball team, the Bulls, had just won a third straight NBA championship with ESPN’s greatest athlete of the 20th century at the helm. Reinsdorf’s baseball team, the White Sox, had clinched the American League West with a roster filled with young and rapidly improving talent. Meanwhile, he had under contract four of the biggest stars in sports at the time (at least when it came to shoe endorsements) with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Frank Thomas, and Bo Jackson. Considering the curse-worthy collective lack of success of Chicago’s sports franchises in the past, Jerry Reinsdorf should have been the most celebrated team owner in the city’s history from that point on. Instead, he became the most vilified.

Even though the Bulls would win three more championships following MJ’s first retirement, Chicagoans blamed Jerry Reinsdorf and his stubborn loyalty to Jerry Krause for prematurely sending His Airness into his second retirement along with running Pippen, Phil Jackson, and everbody else on probably the most popular team in all of sports history out of town. That led into multiple failed rebuilding plans that saw Krause trade future All-Star Elton Brand for a straight-out-of-high-school prospect in Tyson Chandler (whose time in Chicago has just ended pursuant to a great trade to the Hornets for P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith – watch out for Smith, who was a throw-in here, to become the real impact player in this deal), MJ allegedly coming out of retirement to play in something other than a Chicago uniform (once again, the sports seasons of 2001 through 2003 are completely erased from my internal hard drive, so I can’t confirm that this actually happened), Jay Williams tragically end his career along with a lot of Bulls fans’ hopes in a motorcycle accident, unsuccessful bids to bring Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, and any other decent free agent to the team (culminating in the franchise blowing a wad of money on Ron Mercer just so that it could spend its money on something), and the horrific sight of the Bulls turning back the clock by playing five pasty white guys on the court at the same time on a regular basis in 1999 (they were awesome at the Mikan Drill, though). Simply put, the most exciting team that any us had ever seen or will see in our lives turned into the most unwatchable club of all-time literally overnight.

That would have been enough to give Chicago fans several legitimate reasons to hang Reinsdorf in effigy, but the sad thing is that the news was even worse for the White Sox during the same period. At least the Bulls had built up substantial capital with its fan base during its 1990s dynasty to weather through the lean years. The Sox, however, were still stuck with a franchise that hadn’t won since 1917 and built a sterile ballpark that was outdated within a year after Camden Yards opened up. Then came the two biggest blows to the Sox fan base on top of that already shaky ground. First, Major League Baseball players went on strike in 1994 right when the Sox had the best record in baseball. With Reinsdorf being the most visible ringleader of the owners that wanted to dig in against the players, he received an inordinate share of the blame for the cancellation of a World Series that a lot of Sox fans thought we would have won. After that traumatic event which tested the faith of Sox and baseball fans in general, the team then proceeded with the infamous “White Flag Trade”, where they traded away a number of veterans in exchange for a bunch of prospects at the trade deadline in 1997, even though they were only 3 1/2 games out of first place. It became the ultimate symbol of a baseball franchise that was willing to give up in the middle of a season even though it was in contention and, in the process, destroying its relationship with its fan base. (Note: Ultimately, this was judged to be a positive long-term trade for the Sox as it put into place the pieces for the team’s division winner in 2000. Therefore, the substance of the trade was actually fine, but the timing of the trade caused the fallout that wouldn’t be rectified for nearly a decade.)

So, as a quick recap, Reinsdorf was blamed for running the most iconic athlete of our time out of town, breaking up the greatest basketball team in history, cancelling the World Series just when a star-crossed franchise was in position to win it all for the first time since 1917, and flat-out giving up on a contending team and its fans in the middle of a season – while doing all of that in a 4-year timespan. If he wasn’t considered the worst owner in Chicago sports (with Bill Wirtz, the McCaskey family, and the Tribune Company as competitors on the scene, this exercise has always been like picking your favorite son of Sadaam Hussein), he was certainly the most hated.

Yet, look at where the Bulls and White Sox are at today. The Bulls have finally climbed out of the abyss of the post-Jordan era to field playoff teams again and were able to grab the top free agent prize of this offseason in Ben Wallace, making them a legitimate threat to get back to the NBA Finals next year. Meanwhile, on the South Side of Chicago, the attitude of the White Sox and its fans has gone from negative to a glorious passion for winning. Riding the motor mouth of Ozzie Guillen, the Sox finally won the World Series last season and then proceeded to take steps to field an even stronger team this season. A franchise that was ignored and had a completely apathetic fan base up until a couple of years ago has now become the model team for all of baseball.

What has Reinsdorf done differently since the debacles of the 1990s? The answer: nothing. Reinsdorf has proven to be one of those people that rewards loyalty over anything else, which was a severe detriment in his continued backing of Jerry Krause but has been in boon in terms of his current organizations. As Bob Verdi pointed out in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, a lot of credit has to go the owner for hiring a superb pair of general managers, John Paxson and Kenny Williams. At the time of each of those hirings, Reinsdorf took a lot of flak for staying in-house as opposed to going after the marquee names such as Jerry West and Billy Beane or bringing MJ back into the fold. Meanwhile, the Cubs were thought to be bold in bringing in a battle-tested pennant-winning manager in Dusty Baker rather than engaging in “conservative” nepotism such as the Sox in hiring Ozzie Guillen as the team’s field general. Instead, Ozzie is now the one that gets to manage in the All-Star Game as the defending World Series champion next week while Dusty might be searching for a new job.

Reinsdorf has also had somewhat of a reputation of being cheap considering that his teams are in the nation’s third largest media market. I personally never thought he really could be blamed too much for being a relative penny-pincher since he didn’t enter the world of sports with billions of dollars in his pockets in the manner of Mark Cuban or Tom Hicks and the White Sox never have been and never will be a spontaneously regenerating cash cow like the Yankees or crosstown Cubs. However, during the very period when Reinsdorf was hated the most in the 1990s, he actually had the largest individual contracts in the histories of both the NBA (MJ) and Major League Baseball (Albert “Corky” Belle) on his teams’ payrolls at the same time. Thus, the way the Sox and Bulls have been spending money today shouldn’t be surprising at all. The owner can hardly be called a cheapskate when the Sox currently have a payroll that’s higher than the deeper pockets of the Cubs and the Bulls put up the mega-dollar long-term contract to lure Ben Wallace from his comfort zone in Detroit.

The fact is that I believe Jerry Reinsdorf is as commited to putting winning teams out on the field and the court as anyone else in sports. He won’t sign random players to huge contracts just to appease the fans in the offseason a la the Knicks or Mets, but if he sees a viable plan to winning from one of his general managers, he will fully make the necessary financial commitment. At the same time, while Reinsdorf isn’t the most charismatic person with the media, you can count on one hand the number of owners that have won world championships in two different sports while setting both of his franchises up for extended success. So, it’s time that Chicago sports fans to forget about what was conventional wisdom for over a decade and reassess the world we live in now. Mark Cuban might the most fun owner out there, but it’s hard to argue against Jerry Reinsdorf as being the best.